chapter six

***good-night***


"Well, one thing's for sure…" Dawn began as she rose from the futon and stood over Nikolas, "you can't go out looking like that."

Nikolas frowned. "What's wrong with how I look?"

A tiny smile played around the corners of her mouth, but she didn't immediately respond. Instead, her gazed raked over him from head to toe and her tongue moistened her lips. Her unwavering perusal affected Nikolas in several ways. His pulses raced with primal longing again, and a fire ignited inside his slacks. He quickly crossed one leg over the other to hide the obvious effect. "Well?" he demanded in a husky voice when the silence continued.

Her eyes danced with amusement and then she burst into a fit of giggles. "I'm sorry! It's just that… Well, there's nothing wrong with how you look. Believe me, okay? It's just that…" She stopped laughing and became serious. "It's just that you can't go out like that. People will recognize you and we can't let that happen. I'll have to come up with a disguise for you-"

"I will not wear a dress," he interrupted.

Dawn smirked. "Did I make that suggestion? Um, no, I didn't. Come with me to the laundry room. There's a box on the top shelf that will have what we need."

He followed her without further comment. He felt silly for making an assumption, but he sensed that she possessed a teasing sense of humor and he could just imagine… Inhaling a deep breath, he willed himself to keep an open mind. It wasn't too hard for him, considering the present view of her backside provided his mind with plenty of other thoughts.

"You're awfully quiet," she commented as they reached the laundry room. "Did you change your mind already?"

"No." He shook his head. "Where's the box?"

She pointed to the shelf above the washer and dryer. "It's too high for me."

"I can get it." Nikolas grabbed the box without any strain. When he set it on the washer, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Her gaze lingered on his backside and he smirked. It appeared that great minds thought alike.

~*~

The atmosphere at the Outback was warm and cozy. Dara and Mac lingered at their table long after enjoying their dinner and dessert. With the relaxed mood enveloping them, Dara wasn't ready to make the first move to leave. So, she accepted his offer of more coffee and resumed their conversation.

"You've been in the strangest mood, Commissioner Scorpio," she commented. "I've debated with myself whether or not to ask you about it and finally, I've realized I'm too nosy not to ask. Out with it. What gives?"

His low laugh rumbled from inside of him. Smiling at her, he shrugged. "I suppose I have a little something to share..."

She counted to ten and when he didn't speak, she squealed, "Mac! Tell me!"

"Okay!" he said, continuing to smile like a Cheshire cat. "I followed your advice, counselor. I resigned as Police Commissioner and applied for a PI license. Once it's approved, I'll be back in business for myself again."

Her mouth dropped open. "I don't believe it."

"Believe it. You presented a convincing argument. The case was decided quickly and the vote was unanimous."

Dara shook her head. "I don't know whether to shake some sense into you or hug you for making a change in your life!"

"I'd prefer the hug," he told her, as he rose and opened his arms to her.

Dara accepted his invitation. She stood and wrapped her arms around his waist. The embrace felt nice, but the feeling changed when his hands gently stroked her back. With her soft curves pressed hard against his muscular chest, she was reminded that her dear friend was also a sexy, vibrant man. She'd always found him attractive, but chose to concentrate on keeping things on a platonic level. Now, she wondered what was going through his mind as he held her.

The hug ended and they both sat again. Dara sipped coffee while she collected her thoughts. Mac's gaze stayed on her and he said, "You never told me what your plans will be. Are you staying in Port Charles?"

This was safe. She breathed a sigh of relief and set her cup down. "This is home. I won't leave. So far, I plan to keep my options open. I wanna play it by ear. If push comes to shove, I'm sure my little sister would give me a job at the towing service, or I could become a salesgirl at Carrie's Creations."

Mac laughed. "I can't imagine you working for Sly Eckertt or your mother. What about singing? The Outback could always use quality, live entertainment..."

"Thanks, but no thanks." She declined with a smile. "I don't want the limelight right now. I wanna keep it all low key for a while. Just until I get my bearings."

"I understand." He cringed as he glanced at his wristwatch. "I could talk to you all night, but it's getting late. I'd better take you home."

"Okay. I really enjoyed myself tonight."

"So did I," he agreed with a smile. "We'll have to do it again sometime. Real soon."

~*~

Michael and Sonny sat on the floor with several sets of building blocks all around them. Carly chewed nervously on her bottom lip as she watched them. Her little boy was oblivious to the frantic pounding of her heart, but she knew Sonny was well aware of her state. How he could continue to play and chatter with the toddler as if nothing was wrong was beyond her comprehension. Hadn't it occurred to him that they were on the brink of disaster?

"Sonny-"

"Carly, look at the tower Mikey's building," he interrupted, giving her a hard stare. "Pretty impressive, isn't it?"

"It's great," she retorted, "but what about Sorel?"

"We don't need to talk about that right now," he murmured. "Michael doesn't want to hear about it so we can wait-"

"This can't wait," she cut in. "He got off! He's free to roam the streets and come after you again. What are you gonna do about it?"

Sonny's face reddened. He pinched the bridge of his nose and then drew in a long breath before he answered her. "I handle my business, Carly. I don't know why we continue to have this conversation."

She knelt onto the floor behind Sonny. Her hands massaged his tense shoulders in hard, deep strokes. "This is different, and you know it. He's coming after you and we need to make plans to handle it."

"Correction," he said, grabbing her hand. " I need to make plans. You'll stay out of it."

Carly wrenched her hand free of his grasp. Stepping over him, she grabbed Michael. In a chilly voice, she said, "Well, don't be surprised if I'm not too willing to get inside any limos. Goodnight, Sonny."

With that said, she took Michael upstairs.

~*~

The outside patio at Kelly's Diner vibrated with tension. Nikolas felt it as soon as the old familiar brick building came into sight. Senses still reeling at his current predicament, his throat constricted when he recognized the faces of his half-brother and their friends. So much time had past since he'd last seen them. Lucky was alive and well! Emily had matured into a beautiful young woman. The same was true of Elizabeth. They moved on the same as he, but the emotional bond hadn't vanished for him. It was still as strong as ever, and as he looked at them from afar, he wanted nothing more than to reclaim his role in their lives again. He stepped out of the shadows, but a firm grasp of his arm pulled him backward again.

"No!" Dawn demanded in a fierce whisper. "What are you doing? You can't go out there!"

"The Impostor isn't even there!" Nikolas gestured wildly, whispering as well. "If I told them-"

"What if he shows up?" Dawn asked. "What if Lucky and the rest are being watched in case you contact them? What about that?"

Frustration was a bitter pill to swallow and he looked away in dismay. In a strained voice, he whispered, "I hadn't thought of that. I guess I owe you for my life again. At this rate, I may never clear the debt."

A humorless chuckled escaped him. Her hand closed around his, squeezing it tightly. Underneath the glow of the pale lamplight, he saw the beginning of a smile curve the corners of her mouth. "I'll give you a good interest rate," she promised. "I know this is hard and I wouldn't want to trade places with you for a minute. But you will get through this, Nikolas. I just know it. Let's stand here in the shadows and see what happens. Can you do that?"

Grateful for her ability to remain rational, he simply nodded.

They moved far back behind the row of short maple trees until their backs pressed against the wrought iron fence. Tucked safely within their hideaway, they watched and listened as the number of patrons increased at the full-sized table.

~*~

"Em, this won't be the end," Lucky said, wrapping arm around the sniffling girl's shoulders.

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and looked around the table. "It's not like any of you care. None of you like Zander."

"But none of us wish he'd die either!" Sly exclaimed to which he received a jab in the ribs from Elizabeth. "Ow!"

"Show a little sensitivity," she scolded.

"Em, you know what I mean," he said by way of apology. "This mobster dude... Well, he might be off now, but that doesn't mean, he'll come after Zander."

Emily gave him a hard stare. "You've got to be kidding me. Of course, he'll come after Zander now!"

She started crying again and Lucky's arms closed around her. "Emily, it may not come to that."

"For all we know," she continued, "he may already have done it."

Sobs consumed her and silence descended upon the table. Nik and Gia joined them and Nik immediately went to Emily. Kneeling beside her chair, he took her hand. "I saw the news. I'm sorry. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Just tell me and I'll see to it."

She sniffled loudly and looked at him. "I need for Zander to be safe from Sorel. Can you give that to me? Can you make that happen?"

~*~

"Oh, my God," Dawn murmured. "I can't believe it."

"What's wrong?" Nikolas asked. "Who are Zander and Sorel? Why is Emily so upset?"

"Sorel is a gangster," she answered. "He's on trial for murder and Zander is the primary witness. Zander is also Em's boyfriend. The trial was happening today. Dara is the prosecutor. I don't like what they're saying. I think I'd better-"

"Go over there?" he finished for her. His hand closed around her waist and he pulled her to him. "Is that wise?" he asked in a choked whisper near her ear. "What about the people who may be watching them? What if they tie you to me?"

Her skin prickled from the heat of his touch. Her thoughts spun for a moment before she grappled control over them again. Breathing deeply, she responded to his concerns. "If anyone recognized me last night, they would have come for you at the loft. No one knows about us. It's safe. I'll be right back."

"Be careful."

Warmth spread over her upon his quiet words. He cared about her. It felt nice, warm and sweet. Heaven help her, but almost being in his arms felt pretty damn good, too. Get a grip, girlfriend, she promptly reminded herself as she walked towards the table.

"Hi, gang," she announced as she joined them. "What's going on? Em, what's wrong?"

Emily's eyes cut daggers at her. "You should ask your sister that question, not me! She was supposed to do her job for once, but once again, another one walked! How much do they pay her for being a loser-"

"Emily!" Sly bit out, "that's enough! Dawn isn't responsible for what happened in court today and neither is Dara if you ask me-"

"No one's asking you," Emily responded in a cold voice. "I know why you'd stick up for her, so your thoughts don't count right now. I wanna hear what Dawn has to say. Well? Does your sister enjoy being in Sorel's...pocket?"

Emily's accusations stung. The younger woman was upset, worried and hurting, but that didn't give her the right to make wild insinuations about Dawn's sister. Swallowing hard, Dawn worked hard to maintain an even tone. "Look, Em, I know you're upset, but whatever happened today isn't Dara's fault. Dammit. I don't even know what happened today. Could someone tell me?"

"Sorel was acquitted of all charges," Elizabeth answered quietly. "It happened in court today."

"Damn," Dawn mumbled. "What about Zander? Does anyone know where he is? Has he been found, yet?"

"No!" Emily raged. "And because of what happened today, he could die!"

"I'm sorry-"

"Stop it," Emily cut her off. "I don't want to hear your useless apologies. They can't help Zander now. You know, if you don't mind, I'd rather you left. Or maybe I should-"

"No," Dawn interrupted. "It's okay. I'll go. I really do hope everything works out. Goodnight, guys."

Everyone mumbled goodbye. As Dawn turned away, she noticed the look in Sly's eyes. He wanted to know what was going on considering everything that happened the night before. She whispered, "Later."

A troubled frown darkened his brow, but he didn't say anything. She kept walking toward Nikolas when footsteps sounded behind her. She stopped and was surprised to that the Impostor had followed her. Praying that her newfound knowledge didn't show, she asked, "What's up?"

"Are you okay?" he asked. He placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "You know Em doesn't really mean it. She's just upset."

Unease coursed through her and she deftly removed his hand from her shoulder. Giving him a thin-lipped smile, she mumbled, "I know. I'll be okay. No big deal."

He glanced down the block before looking at her again. "I don't see your car. Do you need a ride?"

"Nope," she said, forcing herself to laugh softly. "I'm on foot tonight. Don't worry about me. Go be with them. I'm gonna crash at Dara's tonight. It's not too far."

"It's too far to walk at this time of night-"

"Not really," she interrupted as his persistence rattled her nerves. "Trust me. I'm okay. I'll see you around. Goodnight."

"Okay. Goodnight."

Waving, she stood on the sidewalk and watched him go back to the table. Once he was consumed by the turmoil there, she breathed a sigh of relief. Nikolas stepped out of the shadows and they walked briskly down the block. His costume, complete with beard, wig and glasses, rendered him unrecognizable, but they didn't want to test it. They reached the motorcycle Dawn 'borrowed' from her stepfather, shoved on the helmets and climbed on. As soon as Nikolas wrapped his arms around her waist, Dawn started the engine and they roared off into the night.

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