The anger and tension in the large room consumed everyone, including the small child who didn't understand what was happening. He felt the mood change and it frightened him. He wanted his Dada and his Ma Ma now! With arms outstretched towards Jason and Keesha, Michael squirmed again and began to wail.
"It's okay, Michael," AJ murmured gently. Moving away from Jason and Keesha, AJ bounced the baby as he tried to comfort him.
One glance at Jason's and her nephew's faces was all it took for Emily to stand her ground. Marching up to her oldest brother, she said, "Give him to me."
AJ shook his head. "No, Em."
"So, you'd rather listen to him cry than give him to me or Jason."
"No!" AJ's hazel eyes flashed at her. "What a stupid thing to say! Of course, I don't want my son to cry. I'd rather he knew me and my presence would silence his tears!"
"Jason, do something!" Emily implored as Michael's cries increased.
Jason's grip on Keesha's hand tightened. He wanted to go to Michael and hold him close to his heart, but he couldn't. It wasn't his place and besides, he knew that AJ wouldn't let him anywhere near the upset baby. Instead, he made a suggestion. "Give him to Em, AJ. Don't let him cry like that-"
"No." AJ shook his head again. "Eve, would you mind?"
As she came forward to take Michael from AJ, Carly moved to intervene. "You're not giving my son to some stranger, AJ! Give him to me."
"As if you're not a stranger to him, too," AJ laughed humorlessly as he gave him to Eve. Eve held the crying baby close to her and quickly left the kitchen, followed by Sonny with Emily right behind them.
"That's not my fault!" Carly said, casting one glance at Eve's retreating back before she looked from one brother to the other.
"Nothing ever is," Keesha replied.
"I've had just about enough of you! You don't know anything so why don't you just shut up!" Carly told her.
"Why don't you shut up?!" Keesha asked her. She released Jason's hand and moved to stand face to face with her nemesis. "That's your biggest problem. You talk too damn much. If you would just shut up and listened for once, you might surprise yourself and learn something."
"You never change, do you?" Carly looked down her nose at Keesha. "You're always on some high horse, or at a podium, preaching to the masses. You know, you're the one with the problem."
"Oh really? And what problem might that be?" Keesha asked, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
"You're jealous of me," Carly told her.
The eyes of the two brothers widened in shock and simultaneously, they both looked at Keesha for her reaction. They knew she would not disappoint. And, they were right.
Keesha laughed. She laughed so hard her sides hurt and her breathing became labored. After the tears subsided and her breath returned, she said, "That was funny Carly. I haven't laughed like that in ages. Come on, tell us another one."
"Fine, Keesha, laugh it up in front of them, but only a fool couldn't see it. I mean it was obvious when my son called you 'mama'! Why would *my* son call you of all people 'mama' if you hadn't told him to? And, I won't even go into how you've grabbed on to my leftovers." She pointed at AJ and at Jason. "Is Tony next on your list?"
"First of all, I *never* taught Michael to call me that. In fact, that was the first time he'd ever done it, so don't be mad at me for being the maternal figure in his life. You had the opportunity and you blew it, Carly. You!" Keesha pointed her index finger into the other woman's face. Carly slapped at her hand, but Keesha was too fast for her and rotated her wrist, keeping her finger in Carly's face. "And, leftovers??? Are you trying to say that Jason and AJ were yours first?"
"I am saying it!" Carly said, slapping at Keesha's hand again.
"Actually, Carly, Keesha was my first," Jason offered, enjoying the sight of his wife in action.
AJ rolled his eyes at Jason and folded his arms. Keesha wasn't AJ's first, but she was sure as hell a lot better than Carly. And, he wasn't just thinking of in the bedroom either.
"No-no, she wasn't," Carly stammered. She tore her eyes from the smug look on Keesha's face and looked at Jason. He smiled and nodded.
"That's right, Carly. The truth hurts, doesn't it?" Keesha asked, laughing softly. "Unlike you, I don't feel the need to showcase my love life to the entire free world."
"Maybe not," the other woman shrugged. "But you obviously don't mind coming between brothers-"
"What?!" Keesha asked, incredulous. "You broke up a family…and not just any family! Your biological mother's family! And, now you're accusing me of coming between AJ and Jason?? You don't know the first thing about any of it!"
"I know that AJ adored you, and for you to suddenly be with Jason must have hurt. Right?" She turned to look at AJ. His jaw was clenched and his eyes were downcast, giving her all the encouragement she needed to continue. "I saw the way he used to look at you. He was so in love with you, he couldn't see straight. But looking back on it now, I think we all *assumed* that you loved him. I mean, you were with him, so of course you cared for him, right? You say that I'm good at pretending, but I think I must bow down to you, oh exalted one. Somehow you were able to have your cake…" She pointed at AJ. "…and eat it, too," she finished, pointing at Jason. "And, since we've both had them maybe we could compare notes. Which one do you think was better?" Carly smirked, enjoying Keesha's reaction as the other woman's jaw tightened. Encouraged, Carly continued, "Or maybe we should ask them?"
"You're disgusting," Keesha said, staring hard into Carly's brown eyes.
"Jason didn't seem to think so. Remember those times in your room about Jake's, Jase? Remember how we couldn't get enough of each other-"
"Carly, don't," Jason bit out.
"It's okay," Keesha said, keeping her eyes on the other woman. "I can listen to it. It doesn't bother me. The Jason she's talking about doesn't exist any more, and if she's base enough to get her nasty little kicks by talking about her sex life, let her. Every time she opens her mouth, she proves just how pathetic she is. Pathetic, stupid and nothing more than a common tramp-"
"Hmm, tramp," Carly said with a smile. "Now, we're getting somewhere. I guess you would know about tramps. I mean, what else would you call a woman who's gone back and forth between brothers? Or maybe you're not a tramp. Maybe you would be classified as a slut instead-"
"That's enough, Carly!" AJ said, moving back toward the trio.
"Hmm…thanks, AJ," Carly told him. "You've helped me clear up my word choice dilemma. If your former lover defends you in front of your present husband without fear or worry of retaliation, that should definitely classify you as a slut. I mean, the sex must have been really, really good if AJ can't bear to hear the truth about you-"
"Truth?! There you go," Keesha said, cutting her off. "You wouldn't know the truth if it slapped you in the face! You're standing there making your simple-minded little comments. I guess you're trying to hurt me or humiliate me in front of them, but it's not working, Carly. Jason is still my husband and AJ is still my friend-"
"Well, I never implied that they'd turn their backs on you, Keesha. God, you're so sensitive. Lighten up, okay?" Carly smiled and a vicious gleam brightened in her eyes as she said, "We all know just how much the Quartermaine men favor you Ward women. Like grandmother, like granddaughter. It's obvious that being a whore for Quartermaine men runs in the family. Wow, maybe we have more things in common than-"
The balled fist connected with Carly's jaw without warning. Carly's head reared back just as Keesha hit her again. The second hit was much stronger than the first and the cracking sound was a lot louder. It was followed by a dead silence, until enraged, Carly let out an embittered cry and began to swing a few punches of her own.
His hand swept across her backside again, and Dawn almost tripped as she whirled around to grab it before it could happen again. "Nikky! What are you doing? My mother and your uncle are just on the other side of those double doors! Not to mention the rest of Keesha and Jason's friends and family!"
"I was trying to help!" was his indignant reply.
"Help?" she asked, holding on to both of his hands lest he forgot himself again.
"Yes," he nodded. "You said that your butt hurt. I was trying to make it better. Massage it a little, maybe kiss it-"
"Nikolas Cassadine-!" Her reprimanded didn't go any beyond than that as she became too tickled to chastise him.
Nikolas smiled as she laughed. "So, do you want me to kiss it to make it better, or not?"
"You are walking and talking hormones," she told him as her laughter faded into a few remaining giggles.
"Well, what do you expect?" he asked her. "I'm having a baby. I'm supposed to be filled with hormones. It says so in all of those baby books."
Dawn playfully rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. You were a mass of hormones long before *you* were ever pregnant!"
"Well!" he said, pretending to be taken aback, "it must have been the company I kept-"
"Give him to me!" Emily's demand and the sound of Michael's crying interrupted the young married couple as she, Eve and Michael, who were followed by Sonny came into view.
"No," Eve shook her head. Her hands continued to stroke Michael's back as she unsuccessfully tried to appease his anguish.
"Listen to him! He's crying for goodness' sakes! What is it with you and AJ? How can you do this to him?" Emily questioned.
"We're not doing anything to him, and especially not AJ. And listen to you! If you would lower your voice and stop shouting, maybe he'd calm down," Eve told her.
"Maybe if you'd giv-"
"I can't believe he's so upset," Dawn said, intentionally interrupting Emily before she could start in on her friend again and distress the baby further. She went to stand beside Eve and reached out her hand to gently stroke the baby's back. Michael turned at the sound of her voice and opened his arms to her again. "Eve?" Dawn asked before she fulfilled Michael's request.
Eve shrugged and moved to give the struggling baby to her.
"You won't give him to me, his aunt, but you will hand him over to *her*! Unbelievable!" Flustered, Emily threw up her hands.
"Emily, what's the problem?" Nikolas asked, putting a protective arm around Dawn as she gently bounced the baby in her arms. "Eve's right, calm down. He can sense that you're upset and it's not helping him any."
"You don't understand, Nikolas," she told him, shaking her head.
"Well, explain it to me," he told her.
"They're all doing it again," Emily said, looking at Eve with accusatory eyes.
"Doing what?" Nikolas questioned.
Emily nodded her head towards Sonny. "Ask him. He knows. I'm sure this one," she pointed at Eve, "knows, too."
Sonny shrugged as he turned away. A glimpse of Simone dancing with some guy he'd never seen before caught his eye and he moved away from them. He stood outside the door, watching her and wondering if they were connected somehow.
"All I know is that AJ's been separated from his child for far too long and you, little girl, were being unbelievably cruel to him," Eve told her.
"What are you-"
"Emily!" Dawn interrupted her as Michael began to squirm and whine in her arms again. "Cut it out. You're upsetting him."
"Give him to me," Emily moved to take him from Dawn. "You shouldn't even have him in the first place. He's nothing but a practice toy to you!"
"Em!" Nikolas stared at her in disbelief. "That's not true! How could you even say something like that?"
"It's okay, sweetheart," Dawn told him. "Emily, I can see you're upset about finding out that AJ is Michael's father, but all of this anger and stuff is really not good for him."
"Who are you to tell me what's good for my nephew?" Emily asked, glaring at her.
"I'm someone who's going to be a mother soon-"
"Soon isn't now, and you're not *his* mother!" Emily said, planting her hands on her hips.
"I never said I was his mother. For whatever reason, Michael likes me. I didn't plan for it and I'm not forcing it, but I can sense from him that he's really upset. Anyone with two eyes and common sense can sense that, Emily! I can also sense that you're mad at me or something, and although I'm dying to find out why, I'll be content to wait until your nephew has settled down." With that said, Dawn turned away from Emily and the others and began to walk around the hallway. She smiled as Eve joined her and the two young women worked together to calm the baby down.
Nikolas watched Dawn and Eve as they cooed and murmured to the baby for a few moments before he turned his eyes back to Emily. Her anger enveloped him as his disappointment in her grew. Choosing his words carefully, he spoke softly to her. "What's going on, Em? Why the coldness to Dawn?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Emily shrugged, avoiding eye contact with him.
"I don't believe that. I've noticed how you've been treating her lately and I'd like to know why."
"I don't know what she's told you-"
"She hasn't said a word to me," he said, continuing to speak softly, "but I know her and I know you. Talk to me."
"There's nothing to talk about, not unless you tell her to give Michael back to me where he belongs."
"I can't tell her to do anything. I can ask her, just as you can. You should probably consider that as an option instead of giving orders."
"Nikky, would you come here, please?" Dawn called to him.
Nikolas shook his head at Emily as he saw that his suggestion fell on deaf ears. He turned away from her to join Dawn and Eve as they sat on the steps on the grand staircase. Michael, content and quiet in Dawn's lap, stared back at him. "Is he okay now?" Nikolas asked.
"He's better than he was," Dawn said. "You didn't say anything to her about me, did you?"
"Who me?" he asked, pointing to himself. "Would I do that?"
"Yes." She smiled as he grinned at her. His hand gently cupped her face. As he moved his hand away, his fingers absently brushed her hair off her shoulder. The movement caused her dress to shift and as his eyes narrowed, she asked, "What's wrong?"
"You have a bruise," he said, his voice deadly quiet.
Dawn read the look in his eyes. She shook her head and reached for his hand. "Sweetheart, it's okay. I'm fine."
"She bruised you." He gave her hand a light squeeze before he released it and backed down the staircase.
"Nikky, hon, come on. Please, don't," she begged.
"I'll be right back," he promised before he turned away and left them.
Sonny stood on the peripheral, silently taking in everything. His dark, nearly black eyes, wandered over the small gathering of friends and family. He chuckled softly when he watched the Wards maintain a straight face while conversing with the always rowdy Quartermaines. The sound of laughter captured his attention and he turned his attention to the dance floor. The ADA and Detective Garcia appeared to be a happy little couple. He smirked when he noticed that Taggert was standing alone, and his smirk became a grin as he followed the direction of Taggert's gaze. His eyes were glued to an older woman who seemed to be quite taken with the elder Cassadine. "You don't stand a chance," Sonny laughed softly to himself.
Then as it had for the last several minutes, his gaze wandered back to Simone Hardy and her constant companion. Thinking back to their earlier exchange, he wondered again what could have caused her to have such a vicious reaction to him. He wracked his brain, trying to remember any past encounters they might have shared. None came to mind. As he began to question himself further, he stopped himself. He didn't know her, and her revulsion was of no consequence to him. He moved to leave the dining room.
"Sonny, wait," Tommy, whose hand was joined with Gina's, called to him and stopped him.
"Do you know my mother?" Tommy asked him. His question was offered without accusation, but with a need to understand.
"No," Sonny shook his head. "I don't know her. Never met her before in my life."
"Mm…that was weird," Tommy said, mostly to himself.
"Well, what happened exactly?" Gina asked. She had heard Tommy's version and now she was interested in what Sonny had to say.
"She looked at me with hatred," he simply said.
"Do you think it had something to do with…before?" Tommy asked, his eyes on Gina.
"It's possible-" Gina began.
"Tommy!" Dawn called, coming towards them as she balanced Michael on her hip.
"What's wrong?" Tommy asked, as she reached them.
"It's Nikolas. You've got to stop him."
"Stop him? From doing what?" he asked her. He briefly smiled at Michael as the baby, upon recognizing him grinned at him.
"I don't know, that's the problem! He's mad. Carla, or whatever her name is, well, she grabbed me and she left a bruise. Needless to say, Nikolas got this look on his face and he went back to confront her. He's mad, Tommy, and I don't want him to-"
"Did you say 'Carly'?" Gina asked. "She's here?"
"Yeah, I guess that's her name. She's back in the kitchen with Keesha, Jason and AJ."
"Oh, my God," Gina groaned. "Let's go, Tommy, before World War 3 breaks out."
"I won't let him do anything," Tommy reassured her before he and Gina headed down the hallway.
"Hey, Sonny," Lucky said as he approached them. His eyes drifted over Dawn and how adorable she looked with a baby. He swallowed hard, remembering that soon she would bear Nikolas' child. Choosing not to dwell on it or his growing interest in her, he asked, "Where's the fire? Why did Gina and Tommy take off like that?"
"The fire's in the kitchen," Sonny replied. Feeling the tension between the in-laws, he looked from one to the other. Lucky's heart was damn near on his sleeve, while Dawn's entire body was filled with denial. Interesting, Sonny thought. Aloud, he said, "Your cousin is back in town and causing problems."
"Carly?" "She's your cousin?" The two questions were asked simultaneously by Lucky and Dawn. Lucky and Sonny nodded in response.
"The Spencer side?" Dawn asked, shifting Michael to her other hip as he began to fidget.
"Yeah." Lucky nodded and shaking his head as he chuckled, he said, "We Spencers are a rowdy bunch. I'd better go see what mess she's gotten herself into now. Talk to you later, Sonny. Dawn."
"I take it being a Cassadine and all, you don't care for the Spencers much," Sonny softly commented as Dawn moved to go back into the hallway.
"Not particularly," was her dry response.
"Except for maybe one of them," Sonny said with a dimpled smile.
Dawn, knowing that he referred to Lucky, stared at him for a second. Whatever she might or might not feel for Lucky was for her to deal with and she would not let some guy she'd never even met before speculate on it. With a bright smile, she said, "Actually, there's two. Lesley Lu is a wonderful sis-in-law and this little guy, despite who his mother is, ain't so bad either. See you around."
Sonny chuckled softly as she walked away from him. She had spunk. He liked that, and he knew he wasn't the only one.
Tommy and Gina sprinted down the hallway to catch up to Nikolas. Upon reaching him, Gina told Tommy that she had to go to Keesha. He nodded and then approached his close friend.
"Nikolas, don't, man," Tommy said, grabbing his friend's upper arm.
"Let go," Nikolas told him, removing his arm from his friend's grasp.
"Okay." Tommy released him and took a step back. "I know what she did to Dawn, and I know how that makes you feel…but, Nikolas, you can't go in there and attack her."
"Who said that I intended to attack her? Besides, you don't know how I feel. She put her hands on Dawn. She willfully and intentionally hurt her."
"I *do* know how you feel," Tommy said quietly, "probably more so than you're allowing yourself to realize right now. Gina and my mom have been through a lot, and I know how it feels to want to hurt the ones who've hurt them."
"I'm sorry, Tommy," Nikolas said, remembering their past ordeal. "I wasn't thinking about that. I apologize."
"It's okay," Tommy shrugged.
"No, it's not. You've all been through a lot. I should have remembered that."
"Yeah," Tommy smiled, "you should have, but I won't hold it against you. Now, would you please do me a favor and go back to your wife? And, when you do, would you please tell her that I talked you out of doing something really, really stupid?"
"Stupid?" Nikolas asked. "Me? I think I'd better use a different word. She'd never believe that I would consider doing anything stupid."
"Sure. Just make sure to mention that I helped you see reason."
"And, give you a glowing report in my wife's eyes? I don't think so," Nikolas said, laughing softly. "I'll talk to you later."
"Yeah," Tommy said, watching as his friend turned back down the hallway. He saw Lucky and Nikolas cross each other in the hallway, he decided to wait for Lucky to catch up to him. "Hey," he said as Lucky reached him.
"Hey, man, I hear the fit is about to hit the shan. Are you going to check it out, too?" Lucky asked, falling into step as they moved down the hallway.
"Huh?" Tommy asked.
Lucky chuckled softly as he explained the phrase to his friend.
"Keesha, sweetheart, stop!" Jason grabbed her around her waist as she struggled to wound Carly as much as possible. Pulling her against his chest, Jason lifted her from the ground thereby enabling her to get one last powerful kick which connected with Carly's chin.
"Let me go, AJ!" Carly muttered as he dragged her away.
"NO!" AJ said, keeping a firm hold on the struggling woman. "You say you want my son and this is the way you behave??"
"She started it!" she yelled, her voice was loud and shrill as she glared at the other woman and her husband. The look on Jason's face as he tended to Keesha infuriated Carly and if AJ hadn't been holding her, she would have gone after Keesha again.
"You started it!" AJ corrected her. "You're never gonna learn, are you?'
"Shut up, AJ! Just shut up and stop defending your whore to me!"
"Why you little bitch!" Gina exclaimed as she entered the kitchen. As she ran down the hallway, she'd heard the comment about Mary Mae and knowing how much the woman meant to her best friend, she entered the kitchen enraged. "How dare you talk about Keesha like that?!"
"Who the hell are you?" Carly screamed. "Are you a Quartermaine whore, too?"
Gina's eyes grew wide and she made a move towards the other woman. Tommy entered just as she made that first step and he grabbed her from behind. "Tommy, let me go!" she fumed, struggling in his arms.
Lucky, who was right behind Tommy, looked at the scene and slowly shook his head. "Living up to the Spencer name, are you?" he asked with a wry expression. He went to AJ, who continued to hold her, and said, "I'll take care of her. You can give her to me."
"You're welcome to her," AJ told him. After he handed her off to her cousin, AJ made a show of wiping his hands off.
"Let go of me, Lucky! This doesn't concern you!" Carly muttered, pulling away from him.
"Yeah, it does. You're a Spencer and for the most part, we tend to stick together. We're getting out of here before you can do more damage-"
"I'm not leaving!!" she yelled. "They have my baby and I'm not leaving here without him."
"You better believe you are," AJ told him. "I told you before. My son is NOT leaving here with you! So, get the hell out of here before I throw you out!"
"You can't do this to me, AJ! You don't have any rights! You can't take my son away from me!"
"You think not? Try me," he said, his husky voice quiet in the kitchen. "You've lied to me, drugged me and kept my child away from me for damn near a year, and you have the gall to say that I don't have any rights? And, that I can't do this to you?! What about all the shit you've done to me, huh, Carly? What about that? And, you think I'll let my son leave here with a woman who's done the things you've done…allow you to raise him in your treacherous image?? I don't think so."
"What do you mean he's your son?" Lucky asked, looking from AJ to Carly. "You said he's Jason's. That's what you both have been telling everyone. Man, did you know?" Lucky asked, looking at Jason.
"Yeah," Jason admitted, keeping a protective arm around Keesha to keep her from going back for more. "I knew all along."
"Damn, I guess lying is in the blood," Lucky muttered to himself. He tightened his grip on Carly and said, "Come on! You've lived up to the Spencer name enough for one day. Let's go."
"This isn't over, you bitch!" she called out to Keesha. "You either," she said, referring to Gina.
"You're damn skippy it's not over!" Keesha told her as Lucky pulled her away.
"Keesha, are you okay?" Tommy asked, loosening his hold on Gina. He noticed her disheveled appearance and a bruise that was just below her eye.
"I'm okay," Keesha said, raising a tentative finger to her lips. Her flesh felt warm and sticky there, and upon licking, her lips she discovered a small cut.
"You're bleeding, aren't you?" Gina asked. "Come. Let us help you get cleaned up."
"Okay," Keesha shrugged. As she left the room with her two friends, she looked at Jason and AJ and knew that Round Two was just about to begin.
Behind hooded eyes, AJ watched as the swinging doors closed behind Keesha, Gina and Tommy. His hazel eyes were steely as he looked at his younger brother. "You must have enjoyed that."
"Excuse me?" Jason said, through narrowed blue eyes. "Enjoyed what?"
"Seeing them fight over you like that," AJ said. "Keesha exudes class and civility, but for you, she can forget all about it. I'm sure you just ate that entire scene all up."
"There it is again," Jason replied, folding his arms across his chest.
"What?" AJ bit the word out.
"Envy," Jason told him. "It's always been there. Always. Keesha wasn't fighting over me."
"Oh, please," AJ said, denying both of Jason's statements.
"She wasn't." Jason shook his head. "She's hated Carly for a very long time, and I'm sure it had less to do with me and more to do with you. And Carly, in her typical impulsiveness, went too far when she insulted Mary Mae. That's why Keesha slugged her. For Mary Mae, not for me."
"Maybe," AJ offered.
"Maybe? Maybe?" Jason repeated. "If that's the best you can do, then you never knew Keesha in the first place."
"Don't go there, Jason!" AJ said. "I knew Keesha long before you ever did, and I loved her, too! Not that it mattered to you. You saw her. You wanted her. And whatever Jason wants, Jason gets! From the woman I loved to the son I never knew about, some things just *never* change!"
"Keesha chose me, AJ!" He said, pointing to himself. "Me! Don't blame me if she chose me over you."
"What?!" AJ asked, incredulous. "You made sure to always be in here face, Jason! Back when she first came to town and recently when you *remembered*! What else could she do if you were always in her face?!"
"It wasn't like that," Jason denied. "The first time around it wasn't like that at all. The second time, yeah, I admit it. I wanted her back and I fought for her. So, don't blame me if you didn't fight hard enough!"
AJ clenched his jaw and his hand flexed. He wanted to strike out at Jason physically, but he chose not to. He'd win this one, but he'd win with honesty instead. "You're a liar. The first time around it *was* like that! I saw her first, man! *I* loved her first! And, every time I was within 5 feet of her, you made it your business to be within 2 feet of her. You can't deny that! You know it's true!"
"So what if it is?!" Jason asked him, refusing to deny or admit to anything. "I wanted to be with her and so I did. You could have done the same."
"You *still* don't get it! Maybe you'll never get it," AJ said, shaking his head. "It always has to be about you, doesn't it? Always you! Always the Golden Boy."
"Your jealousy of me is *your* problem, not mine! And if it's always about me, is that why you got her to lie for you? To keep your fall off the wagon from me as a test for her to prove some sort of loyalty to you? Was that it? Was that about me, too?"
"You're bringing *that* up?" AJ asked him in disbelief.
"You started this trek down Memory Lane, and now that we’re on it, let's keep going!" Jason said, beginning to pace. "What was that about, huh? You were testing her, weren't you? Intentionally putting her in the middle. Making her choose who to be loyal to!"
"Loyal!" AJ spat the word back out at him. "You make her sound like a damn pet! She's a woman. She's not a trophy, Jason."
"You don't have to tell *me* about *my* wife, AJ! I know Keesha, better than you do, so don't *you* go *there*!" Jason fired back at him. "So, tell me! Why did you make her lie for you? What sob story did you give her? Or was it all just a set up?"
"I didn't give her any sob story. I asked her not to and she didn't. End of story, and set up? What the hell do you mean by that? What 'set up'?"
"You know exactly what I mean," Jason said, quietly. "The accident."
"Don't, Jase," AJ shook his head. "Don't you *dare* say I did that to you on purpose!"
Jason shrugged and turned away. "Why not? It's possible. I am the Golden Boy as you've called me. The favored son, while you…weren't. Why not set me up and get me out of the picture? Then you could have it all. The woman I love, Mom and Dad…everything."
"Unbelievable," AJ said, disgusted. "You are truly unbelievable. I'm drunk, go to my car, and somehow in my inebriated state, force you to come along with me. Get this, Jason, that night was not about you! That tree was *not* meant for *you*!"
Jason felt a chill course through as the anguish in AJ's voice crept underneath his skin. He moved to face his brother again. "What do you mean? You hit that tree on purpose?"
AJ shrugged and this time, he turned away.
"AJ. Talk to me." Jason went to AJ and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Were you trying to kill yourself?"
"Wasn't I always?" he laughed humorlessly. "The drinking, the fighting and all the women… That tree was *mine*, Jason and you even took *that* away from me."
"There you go again," Jason said, pulling his hand away from AJ's shoulder. "I lost everything when you hit that damned tree and the only thing you can think of is your petty jealousy of me! Get over yourself! I lost two years of my life because of you! I *died*, AJ! Don't you get that?"
"You didn't have to get in that car! My drunkenness might have been the gun, but when you hopped in the car with me, you pulled the trigger on yourself!" AJ yelled at him. "You had a life. You had love. You had everything! But, you threw it all away to play hero! Only a fool or a child would get in the car with a drunk! And you were a fool that night, Jason. A fool!"
"I wasn't a fool," Jason said softly. "And I wasn't trying to be a hero."
"Yeah, well, I disagree."
"It's not like it's the first time we've disagreed," Jason said.
"Well, why did you?" AJ asked. "If you weren't trying to score brownie points with the family, why did you do it?"
"Because I loved you."
AJ and Jason stared at each in silence. The hum of the refrigerator and the buzz of the fluorescent overhead lights mingled with their ragged breaths were the only sound in the large kitchen. Until AJ spoke again. "Why did you keep my son away from me?"
"Because I loved him," Jason simply said.
"I see," AJ said, nodding his head in silence. "Well, that explains it then."
"No, it doesn't. Well, I guess it does, but it doesn't justify what I did. I was wrong. Just like you were wrong to tell Keesha not to tell me about your drinking, and she was wrong to keep it from me. Just like I was wrong to get into that car with you. All of these wrongs don't make any of it right."
"No, and there's no justification for any of them either. I won't deny that I've been jealous of you my entire life. Everything I've ever wanted, you got without effort. You said I didn't fight hard enough, and you were right. I didn't. I always assumed I wouldn't win so why bother. But, I have a son now, Jason. And I will fight for him and I will win. You can count on that."
"I don't doubt you," Jason said. "Not at all. He's worth fighting for, but remember this, AJ, he's not a prize any more than Keesha is a trophy. He's a real live person, and he's needy. You can't run away when the going gets rough. He will depend on you to take care him. Do that. Don't be to him what Dad was to you. Don't blame him for my and Carly's mistakes. Love him for who he is."
"I already do," AJ told him. "I held him in my arms, and the most amazing thing happened. He smiled at me. Me, Jason! It was all for me. And, I didn't see Carly or think of you. He was the only one I saw, my son. And, I will love him. You'll all see just how good I can love him and be a father to him."
"Don't do it for us, AJ. Do it for him and for you." Jason pointed his finger to the center of AJ's chest.
"I will," AJ vowed. AJ smiled and Jason smiled back at him.
"JUST WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN HERE?!"
The brothers' tender moment abruptly ended as their grandfather entered the kitchen. They looked at each other and laughed. By silent agreement, they both went to him and standing on either side of him, led him out of the kitchen. As they left the kitchen, they passed Reginald and Cook. AJ noticed a few greenbacks exchange hands as the co-workers conversed quietly with each other. "So, that's why we had the kitchen all to ourselves," AJ said to himself.
"What?!" Edward asked in his usual gruff tone. Inside, he was pleased to see his two grandsons together again under the same roof. After admitting it to himself, the wheels began to turn in his head. Maybe he could convince them to move back to the mansion. All of the Quartermaines under one roof with a few tiny ones on the way… Edward could just imagine the possibilities.
"Whatever you're thinking about, Grandfather, forget it. Keesha and I aren't doing it," Jason said.
"And, neither am I," AJ told him.
The two brothers laughed as Edward muttered to himself. Smiles were still on their faces as they entered the dining hall, pulled their family into the den and made the big announcement. As well as having a son, AJ also had a younger brother again. Of course, being Quartermaines and Wards, enthusiastic pandemonium ensued.