Jason woke up to the smell of coffee brewing. He yawned and stretched, listening to the sounds of Elizabeth moving around the studio. A feeling of comfort swept over him. He'd lived his life on the edge and the penthouse had been the only home he'd ever known. He'd grown used to it, but it was never comfortable, not like the studio with Elizabeth.
"Good morning," he said, rising to his feet. "The coffee smells great."
She smiled. "How did you sleep? I hope I didn't wake you."
"You didn't," he assured her as he headed towards her. "I slept fine. Did you?"
"It was great. I like having you here," she admitted.
The quiet confession eased his soul and wrapped around his heart like a warm balm. He swallowed hard as he tried to put a name to what he felt, but nothing came. Shrugging, he decided to let it be and enjoy it while it lasted. She handed him a mug of steaming coffee and he accepted it with a smile. "Thanks."
Elizabeth blew onto her coffee before she sipped. She then carried it to the small dinette table where she had set their breakfast. She sat and waited for Jason to join her. When she did, she said, "What are your plans for today? I was hoping that we could spend some time together."
Jason frowned. He wanted nothing more than to give her what she wanted, but he had obligations. He'd neglected them enough as it was. He had to get back to work again. He needed to find Zander before it was too late. "I can't, Elizabeth. I wish I could, but I have some things I need to do."
"Maybe later?" she suggested, her expression hopeful. "After you're done, you could stop by again..."
He shook his head. "I can't. Once I do what I have to do, I have to leave again. I'm sorry. I wish things could be different."
"Why can't they?" she asked. "You can do whatever you want to do. It's all up to you. You can stay or you can go. Lucky and I aren't together anymore. We can see what happens between us. I thought you wanted to be with me."
"I do!" he gasped. "I don't want anything but that. Elizabeth, don't you know if I could, I'd stay here with you today-"
"What's stopping you?"
He abruptly rose from the chair and strode past her many works in progress to the window. With his back turned, he stared down sightlessly at the street below. "I have obligations-"
"That's not an answer, Jason," she told him. Her chair scraped across the floor as she stood. Her footsteps padded on the floor as she moved to him. "You told me before that I had to make a choice. One was made. I want to be with you, but I can't if you're not straight with me. I've had enough instability in my life. I'm not asking you to settle down, but I do expect you to tell me the truth. What's going on?"
Her heartfelt plea hit him in his gut. She was right. He'd demanded things from her. It was his turn to respond to her questions. He faced her and took her hands. "I'm watching out for Zander, making sure nothing happens to him."
"Sorel didn't kidnap him?" she asked, her eyes large with disbelief. "Em's been worried sick. Does she know he's with you?"
He shook his head. "I couldn't tell her. She couldn't know. Sorel could have used that against her. I guess it doesn't matter now because the kid skipped out on me and now, I have to find him. I should done that last night, but... I have to do it today. I have to find him."
"Can I help?"
Smiling, he cupped her smooth, cheek. "No, I can do it alone, but thanks. And please, whatever you do, don't tell anyone I told you."
"I won't," she whispered, pressing against his large palm. "Your secret is safe with me."
Sly finished processing the monthly invoices and closed out the program on the computer. Without his partner's presence, work was a lot quieter. He didn't like the silence so much. Flipping on the radio, he found a station that would take the edge off his mood. His admission to Tommy about his feelings for Dawn and losing her to someone else still burned inside him. He fought the urge to drown his sorrows in beer and decided to clean up his side of the office instead. Moving around was a lot better than sitting around feeling sorry for himself, he decided.
The bell for the front door rang as Lucky slammed into the office. He tossed the keys to the tow truck onto Sly's desk and took a seat at Dawn's. "It was right there in the garage just like she said. There are a few scrapes on the side like somebody knicked it, but otherwise, it's in tiptop shape."
"Thanks for picking it up for me," Sly said as he leafed through an old stack of comics he'd stored away in his filing cabinet. "You still gonna stick around and handle calls, too?"
Lucky bristled. "I said I would, didn't I? I picked up the damn truck for you, didn't I? If I had changed my mind, I'd have told you!"
Sly tossed the comics onto the desk and gave his cousin a look. "What the hell is wrong with you? It was a question. You didn't have to bite my head off."
Lucky frowned. He stood up and started to pace. Rubbing his hand through his hair, he said, "I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean it. Sometimes, my mouth goes off-"
"Among other things," Sly interrupted, "from what I hear. What's up with you pulling a knife on Jason?"
"Not you, too," Lucky groaned.
"Look, I'm not trying to bust your chops about this, but what the hell, Lucky? You pulled a knife on the guy. Are you nuts?"
Lucky's movements ceased. In a quiet voice, he said, "I hope not."
"What does that suppose to mean?" Sly asked. "What's up, man? Is this about what happened with you and Liz?"
"I'm not talking about Liz with you," Lucky told him.
"I'm not asking about her. You know how I feel, so I'm not saying a word," Sly replied. "Just tell me what's going on with you. Before the roadside cries for help start coming in, tell me what's up."
Lucky sighed. He sat across from Sly's desk. Leaning forward, he rested his forearms on his thighs. His face was drawn and pale. There were dark circles underneath his eyes and he looked years older. Sly frowned and wondered what was going on inside his cousin's head.
"Strange crap has been happening and I don't get it. I feel all bottled up inside sometimes like I wanna explode," Lucky explained, "and then later, I just feel numb. But that's not the worse. This morning, I woke up and..."
"And?" Sly prompted when Lucky became silent. "What happened?"
Lucky sucked in a harsh breath. "I woke up and my place was trashed. I thought someone had broken in, but it wasn't possible. The only person who could have done it was me, but I don't remember it."
"Maybe you had too much to drink last night," Sly suggested.
Lucky shook his head. "I didn't drink at the club and I didn't drink at home either. After you and Allyson dropped me off, I crashed."
This didn't sound good. Lucky was the levelheaded 'just say no' type of kid whereas Sly was the hell-raiser and rarely said no to anything. For Lucky to have a wild night and not remember it, something wrong was going on. Sly said the first thing that came to mind, "Maybe you should see a doctor. What if you're sick?"
"You mean crazy," Lucky bit out.
"No!" Sly corrected, "I mean sick. Get Bobbie to run some tests on you or something. Maybe a virus is screwing with you. You never know."
Lucky shrugged. "I suppose you're right, but... I'm scared. What if it isn't a virus? I'm almost afraid to find out."
"It's better to know what's going on than to live in a dream world, cuz. If you want, I'll go with you."
Lucky smiled and he looked his normal self. "Thanks. I'd appreciate that."
"I've reviewed your report," Bryan said as Tommy entered his office, "and it was well-done. We'll proceed with an investigation immediately."
"Thank you, sir," Tommy said. "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
"I have a meeting with the mayor, but I think I have time to answer a few questions," Bryan told him. "Have a seat and close the door behind you."
Tommy followed his superior's instructions and sat across from him. He laced his hands together and stared at the floor until the words for him. Once they had, he looked up and started speaking. "What did you think of Dr. DeLane when you interviewed her?"
"She appears to be an intelligent, competent professional. I didn't find anything in her behavior to suggest otherwise," Bryan answered. "I see that you interviewed her, too. Did you see something else?"
Tommy shrugged. "She and the deceased were close, and I know you know that. I thought it was odd that she'd identify the bodies and that the family chose to have them all cremated so quickly. That move has hurt our investigation."
"She acted on the behalf of Nikolas Cassadine. I spoke with him and he verified that he asked her to move quickly. He mentioned something about a family custom," Bryan explained. "I agree with you in that it has put a damper on our investigation, but we can get the proof we need from the remains of the fire. The evidence is all there and it will lead us to the arsonist."
"Maybe...if it hasn't been tampered with," Tommy said quietly. "Last night, I went to Wyndemere to look over a few things. Dr. DeLane surprised me by showing up."
"What? Was anything disturbed?"
Tommy shook his head. "Not to my knowledge. I advised her that if she didn't leave the premises, I'd be forced to arrest her. She didn't protest after that. Now, I'm thinking that I should have left her alone and watched her. Maybe I made a mistake in making my presence known."
Bryan gave Tommy a measured look. "You're one of the finest investigators to come out of the department in years. You rely on logic and your instincts, which is always the best combination. Don't second-guess yourself. Besides, it's too late now anyway. I'll assign someone to investigate her background further-"
"I'd like to take that assignment," Tommy interjected.
"Okay. It's yours." Bryan glanced at his watch. "I'd better run now if I hope to be on time. The mayor deplores tardiness and has never been on time for a meeting once. Let me know what you find in Dr. DeLane's closet. I'll talk to you later."
"This is a miracle," Sabrina said again, staring at Nikolas with loving eyes. "It's so good to see you alive and in one piece. Thank God for that."
Nikolas smiled. "It's good to see you again, too. I wish it was under better circumstances, but I'm here now."
"Yes, you are," she said in a voice choked with emotion. "Alive and well."
Nikolas glanced at Dawn. She didn't seem too uncomfortable with the family reunion and he was happy that she stayed. Her presence seemed right to him and as much as he loved Sabrina, he wanted his Angel beside him now more than ever. "Can you tell me how you knew where to send the telegram? How did you know he was an Impostor and I was really still out there?"
Sabrina's face darkened and she sighed. "I wish I could take credit for knowing your whereabouts and discovering the ruse, but that honor belongs to your father. Stefan realized that he was not you when Helena made the attempt on his life. While he was away on the island, he had time to think about the inconsistencies in your behavior and once he returned, he discussed his suspicions with me. Without the Impostor's knowledge, I performed a number of DNA tests and was able to conclude that he was not the true Nikolas that I have known and loved."
"What happened then?" Nikolas asked. "Did Father confront him?"
She nodded. "He wanted to, of course, but we both decided it would be unwise to reveal our knowledge to him. We needed to discover who employed him and more importantly, what happened to you. We feared that they had abducted you or worse. I can't tell you how relieved Stefan was when he found you at the lakeside property in Minnesota."
"Why didn't he contact me?" he asked. "If he told me what was happening, I would have returned and we could have defeated them together."
"You were safe," she explained, "and if he had contacted you, he could have unwittingly put your life in danger. You were never alone. He hired people he trusted to watch over you and he told me where you were so that if anything happened, I'd know how to contact you. He did everything he could to protect you."
"Just like always," he said quietly. Dawn's hand reached for his and he took it. He found himself at a loss for words and became quiet.
"What about Andrèsj?" Dawn asked. "Nikolas has told me about your family and you have my word that I will not betray you. I'd like to help as much as I can. Do you have any idea who took him or where he is?"
Tears glistened Sabrina's eyes and she shook her head. "I don't know where he is. He could be anywhere. The only thing I do know is that Philana is behind his abduction and the Impostor's existence."
"She's always been determined that Zarek is not ignored," Nikolas said. "She and Helena hated each other, but they certainly had the love of their firstborn sons in common. Do you know that Zarek is here in Port Charles?"
"You've seen him?" Sabrina asked. "You mustn't let him know you're here, Nikolas. You must stay away from him."
"I will only stay away from him for so long," he told her. "He doesn't know I'm here. No one except for you and Dawn know about me. I've been staying at her loft and I will continue to do so until it would be better for her that I leave."
"I told you my home is your home," Dawn said. "You're safe there."
Nikolas smiled at her. "My safety is only assured for a short while. There will come a time when I will have to make my existence known and when that time comes, I will not put you or Aunt Sabrina in danger. But until that time comes, I will be more than happy to be your humble guest."
Dawn returned his smile, as their eyes remained locked on each other. Then, Nikolas looked at Sabrina again. "I suppose we've taken up as much of your time as we can. I'll be in touch and you be safe, Aunt."
Nikolas stood up and Dawn did, too. Before they could take one step, Sabrina said in a hushed voice, "There's something else you should know..."
"Was it hard for you to leave tonight?"
Keesha took Jagger's hand as she closed the iron gates behind her. Hand in hand, they strolled down the narrow street. "It wasn't difficult. Thanos believes that we are interested in each other, so the Cooks are gossiping and since you're here and we're holding hands..."
Jagger grunted. "So you're using me, is that it?"
Keesha smiled up at him. "You got it, Dimples."
Rolling his eyes, he laughed. "You're one of the few who can get away with that. Don't let it get out."
"My lips are sealed," she said.
They walked along the quiet streets, pretending to be lovers out for an early evening stroll. But the whispers they shared had nothing to do with love. They spoke of their case and their findings. So far, everything was moving along according to plan and neither WSB agent could be happier about that. This was their biggest assignment to date. Jagger's goal was to move up in the ranks while Keesha's was more personal.
"No one's following us," Keesha said as they turned into a dark alley.
Jagger nodded. "We've been clear the entire time, but Frisco said that we shouldn't take anything for granted-"
"So, I can't see him tonight?" she asked, her expression sad and disappointed.
"That's not what I was going to say," he said softly. "Frisco okayed it. You can see him, but only for a few hours. We have to get you back before your cover is blown."
"They think we're together," she said.
"Even so," Jagger began to explain, "young women have to tow a different line here than at home. If we're out too late, it will be assumed that you are promiscuous. You could lose your position because of it. We can't take that chance."
He was right and Keesha knew it. "Okay. I won't be pushy. I'll take what I can get. Lead the way."
Jagger produced a key from his pocket and inserted into the lock of the almost hidden door. He unlocked it and allowed her to proceed him. The hallway was dimly lit, but her eyes quickly adjusted to the limited lighting. Aware of Jagger right behind her, she moved briskly down the narrow passageway to the room at the end of the hall.
Even without Jagger telling her, she knew where to go. Her instincts led her and her heart assured her that she was on the right path. She came to the doorway and paused. Her heart pounded rapidly in her chest at the sight of him. She still found it hard to believe that he had survived the fire with just a small amount of injuries. Once again, she thanked God for protecting him and then she rushed to his bedside.
"My darling," he said in a gravelly whisper. She sat on the edge of bed and he reached for her. He cupped his hand against her cheek and stroked her smooth flesh with the pad of his thumb. From behind the white gauzy bandages that protected his healing skin from infection, his emerald eyes twinkled with love and affection. "How are you? I trust that you are safe."
"I am," she said, pressing a kiss into his palm. "I've been so worried about you. I see that you are recovering well. Is it so? Do you feel better?"
"The journey to a healthy body is a long one, but one that I am willing to take," he answered. "Tell me. Have you seen Andrèsj? Is he well?"
"He's being strong like you," Keesha told him. "I talk to him everyday and I'm working to gain his trust."
"How soon before he can be free?" Stefan asked.
"I know it won't be soon enough for either of you," she began, "but Jagger and I are gaining the servants' trust. Soon, someone will slip and we will have the opportunity to free him."
Stefan nodded as if he accepted her explanation. Then, he asked, "What of Nikolas? Has there been any word? And Sabrina? Is she safe, as well?"
Keesha's face fell. "I'm sorry, my love, but there hasn't been any word on Nikolas. After he received Sabrina's telegram, he returned to Port Charles, but our operatives there lost him. My superior, Special Director Jones has increased the number of agents in Port Charles and they are doing everything they can to find him."
Stefan released a deep sigh and leaned back against the pillows. "And Sabrina?"
"She's well. Our people are watching her. As you predicted, Philana went to her, but nothing else has transpired between the two women."
Keesha looked around the room. Everything was sterile, clean and efficient. A bookshelf was against the far wall and it was loaded with books. A stereo rested on the bottom shelf and there were even a few paintings to even out the decor. She knew that none of it mattered to Stefan. Creature comforts did not compare to the safety of his family and she intended to do everything she could to ensure that he was reunited with his loved ones.
"Keesha?" he said quietly. "Do not be dismayed. We have come too close to the realization of success to fall into despair now. We will be victorious. Come," he whispered, opening his arms, "let me hold you. It has been far too long since I've had my arms around you."
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