chapter nineteen

***camaraderie***

Keesha didn't return the rest of the day and that worried Andrèsj. A brusque male served his evening meal and later returned for the dishes. Calling on his will, Drè behaved himself as much as possible. He made no gestures and presented no argument when the unseen voices demanded he move this way or that. Bowing his head, he presented a picture of perfect obedience and followed their every command. Meanwhile, he reviewed her latest request on the notepad and wondered if she would ever return to see if he had responded to it.

Later, he waited until darkness cloaked his movements and he grabbed the notepad and pencil. Underneath the bedcovers, he flipped to a fresh page and furiously sketched a diagram of the surveillance that marked his every move. He hoped that would be enough for Keesha. Upon her return—God, please let her return—he would somehow discreetly let her know that he wasn't sure he had marked the correct number of recording devices, but he was certain that he came close. Next he prayed that his drawing would be clear enough for her to decipher it. He then closed his eyes and waited for morning to arrive.

~*~

"They haven't banished you from the home, so there's nothing to worry about," Frisco told an agitated Keesha. "When you go back to work, continue to be the same pleasant assistant that you've always been. They'll return you to Andrèsj soon enough."

"How can you be so sure?" she questioned. "You didn't see what happened. They jolted him for no reason! He was simply retrieving a book for me, and then later, I wasn't allowed to serve him. Something is amiss."

"If they knew you were WSB, they would have killed you-"

"Geez, Frisco!" Jagger interrupted. "She's standing right here."

Frisco folded his arms across his chest. "Keesha knew the risks when she took the assignment. She's not afraid. Are you?"

"No, I'm not. I'm afraid for Drè," she told them. "The charge hurt him and God knows what else they've done to him. I need to get back inside his room and get that notepad! We need to get him out of there."

"I agree," Frisco nodded. "The sooner the better. Tomorrow, Steve Jensen will be joining us. He's good in situations like this."

Jagger's eyebrows raised. "I've heard of Jensen. He lost an eye while on assignment, right?"

"Going after the prisms," Keesha added. "That's the story I heard."

"That's what happened, but it hasn't slowed him down. Listen to him. You'll learn a lot from him. I'm going back to the States after he arrives and he will be the Agent in Charge."

Keesha and Jagger nodded.

"Okay, that's enough for one night. We'll talk tomorrow. Jagger, keep playing the boyfriend role. It will make Keesha look less suspect in her relationship with Andrèsj. If either of you need me, you know how to reach me."

~*~

"Long time no see, Miss Thang."

Dawn gave her mother a sheepish smile as the older woman drew her into a hug. "Hi, Mama. How are you?"

"I'm fine all things considered. Steve told me that he talked to you and you know that he won't be around for a while," Carrie said as she went back to measuring some fabric. "I'm sorry that you didn't get a chance to see him before he left. What kept you so busy that you couldn't drop by to welcome us back home?"

Dawn shrugged. She wasn't feeling up to an interrogation, but her feelings wouldn't matter. Her mother had some valid points. If Nikolas Cassadine hadn't come into her life, she would have been at her parents' home angling for home-cooked meals. It's funny how a person's life could change by loving someone she mused.

"Now, I'm worried," Carrie quipped. "You have a silly little smile on your face. Did something happen while we were away?"

She immediately sobered and then frowned. Averting her eyes, Dawn started to play with her mother's endless supply of sewing equipment. "I don't know what you mean."

Her mother laughed and shook her head. "Cupid is having a field day with my girls. First Dara and now you."

"What about me?" Dara asked, brushing aside the curtain to step into the back workroom at Carrie's boutique. "What have I allegedly done now? Hey, Bright Eyes. What's up?"

"Not much. I'm on my way home from a grueling day on the towing circuit and thought I'd stop by the shop for Mama to browbeat me," Dawn replied with a teasing grin. "So what's this I hear about you and some man? You're not getting back with Marcus, are you?"

Dara rolled her eyes as she cut her eyes at their mother. "What have you been telling this girl, and what's so wrong with Marcus? You didn't say much about him when we were together."

"You wouldn't have heard me anyway," Dawn told her. "Ole Baldy had you sprung-"

"I was not sprung!" Dara interjected as Carrie started laughing.

"I have to agree with my baby," Carrie said amid chuckles. "Your nose was wide open."

"Yep," Dawn agreed.

Dara shook her head. "I am not having this conversation. Besides, I stopped by to ask you for a favor, Mother dear and not to be railroaded in some kangaroo court."

"What's the favor? A new dress to impress your new man?" Carrie asked, smirking.

"My family is comprised of comedians," Dara complained with a good-natured smile. "I'm not asking for myself. My new friend's mother is really into fashion. I told him to invite her to the store and that if she didn't find something she liked, you'd go over some designs with her. Was I out of line?"

Carrie shook her head and took Dara's hand. "No, hon. That's fine. I'm not too busy. Lucy asked for a dress that won't take but five minutes to create. I swear that woman just barely covers her ass. One day it will catch up with her."

"Every year it catches up with her," Dawn added, "at the Nurse's Ball. It's guaranteed you'll see more of Lucy Coe than you ever wanted to. It's not fair that it never happens to the guys."

"Like Mac Scorpio for instance," Carrie said, nodding. "That man is very well put together-"

"Mama!" Dara gasped.

"What?" Carrie asked. "Am I lying?"

Dawn shook her head. "Nope. The Commissioner has it going on. I can't believe you've never noticed."

Dara shrugged. "I didn't say that, but he's always been a friend and he's always been involved with Felicia."

"That woman doesn't have the sense God gives small animals!" Carrie snorted. "Leaving Mac for Luke Spencer of all people. I hope Mac will get some sense and realize that Felicia isn't the only woman out there. He's too good of a man to waste his time on someone who can't appreciate him."

"Okay! That's enough gossip for me," Dara interrupted. "Can you hook her up, Mama, if she comes in?"

"Sure. What's her name?"

"Philana DiMitri," Dara said. "I wish I could stay longer, but I'm running late. Thanks, Mama! Later this week, we should all do dinner. I'll talk to you later. Love ya!"

Dara breezed from the room and Dawn stared at the fluttering curtain. "Do you get the impression that the conversation was too much for her?"

"Mac Scorpio?" Carrie asked.

"Yeah. Do you think there's something happening she hasn't told us about?"

Carrie gave Dawn a pointed look. "I think a lot of that is going around."

Dawn shrugged and smiled. The less her mother knew about Dawn's love life the better. At least for the time being.

~*~

"Hey, Eckertt! Mind if I talked with you for a minute?"

Sly continued to lock up the shop, as he nodded. "Sure. Go for it."

Nik glanced around the parking lot. "How are you getting home? I know you're not driving with that cast."

"I was planning to grab something at Kelly's. Wanna come?"

Nik frowned and then nodded. "Sure. I guess we could talk there."

Sly wondered what Lucky's brother wanted with him. The two had never really gotten along. They usually tolerated each other because of Lucky and Lesley Lu. If Cassadine came all the way to the garage, he must really have something on his mind. "What's up?"

"You never answered my question about getting home," Nik said as they crossed the street. "I can give you a ride."

"Thanks. I'll take it." Just because he wasn't too fond of the guy didn't mean he'd turn down a ride in a Jag, Sly decided. "The new girl is pretty fast. I'll give her my order and I'll come back out."

"Okay," Nik replied, taking a seat at one of the outside tables.

Sly limped inside the restaurant and quickly gave Katie his order. She smiled at him as she noted it and he smiled back. Katie was a big improvement over Tammy who didn't like him at all. He planned to make sure that Katie got a nice tip when he left.

"I'll be outside."

"Okay. I'll bring it to you when it's ready."

"Thanks."

He grabbed the empty seat that faced Nik and Kelly's. Balancing one crutch across his lap, he asked, "Okay. Here we are. What's so important?"

"Lucky," Nik responded, leaning forward. "He's not good. He told me that you went with him to the doctor. Did you see what he did to his apartment?"

"No, but I heard enough. He trashed it."

"Well?" Nik responded. "That isn't like him. We have to do something-"

"We did something," Sly interrupted. "We took him to GH. Bobbie ran tests. We should find out what's wrong with him soon."

"And if the tests don't tell us anything?" Nik asked. "What then? He's staying with me right now and I don't mind having him, but I will admit that what he did to his apartment scared me-"

Sly bristled and his mouth thinned. "If you're afraid of him, he can stay with me. Tommy's out of town for a few days and I have the space."

"That's not what I meant," Nik explained. "I'm scared for him. Not of him. We have to do something to help him."

"Why are you so sure he's not sick or something?" Sly asked, becoming suspicious. "Did your warped family do something else to him? Your granny's fascination with Lucky-"

"I'm not saying it was her," Nik cut in. "Besides, she's been dead for a while now. She can't hurt him from the grave."

"With your family, who can be sure?" Sly asked without a hint of sarcasm. "I don't know what we can do for him. Just be there, I guess. He knows we care. As long as he knows that, Lucky won't be so bad off."

"I suppose you're right," Nik mumbled, "but I wish there was a better answer. I don't like seeing him like this. He's unpredictable and I don't like that."

"Neither do I, but he's not alone. Neither are you. If you need help with him, let me know."

Katie brought Sly's dinner to him and they left.

~*~

Carly stepped inside the elevator just as the doors started to slide closed. She and Gia were the only occupants and the solitude gave them leave to talk without censure.

"How are things going?" Carly asked. "Did you find a solution for that problem?"

Gia shook her head. "I'm still weighing my options. His family is strange. I'd rather not confront them if I can help it."

"There can't be that many of them left," Carly said. "Didn't most of his family kick the bucket in the fire?"

Gia bit back a laugh. "Yes, most of them did, but not all. Not nearly enough of them."

"Well, if you need anything, a friend to call on…"

The offer hung in the air as Carly realized that she was doing something she'd never done before. She was extending an offer of friendship to a female. Not since Carly Roberts' death had she been on friendly terms with a woman. Maybe her good friend's death bothered her more than she thought.

"I'd like that," Gia answered. "The same goes here. Have things gotten better for you? I was surprised there were no bodyguards jumping in the elevator with you."

"I told them to wait for me in the garage. I hate having them crowding me all the time. It's annoying."

The other woman nodded. "I can imagine. I'd hate that, too."

The elevator reached the parking garage and the doors opened. Two of Sonny's beefiest guards waited for her with the Town Car parked right in front of the elevator doors. As she moved towards the car, she glanced over her shoulder at Gia. "Would you and Nik like to join Sonny and me for dinner sometime?"

"Sure, Carly. Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Carly smiled and then disappeared inside the dark windows of the car.

~*~

Jason gently nudged Elizabeth. She awakened slowly, and he was almost embarrassed by the beauty of seeing her in such a vulnerable state. "We're stopping for the night."

"Are we in New York?" she asked. She covered her mouth while she yawned. "Was I asleep that long?"

"No," he answered. "We're halfway there. It's late and we're both tired. We might as well rest now."

"If I weren't here, would you stop and rest?" she asked, joining him as pulled their bags from the trunk of the car.

"No, but you are here," he said. "I don't mind stopping. It will give us a chance to talk."

Jason moved ahead of her to the lobby of the motel. She waited while he got a room for them and remained quiet as they walked to it. The room was on the bottom floor of the motel and within view of their car.

"You can shower first," he offered. "I saw a vending machine outside. Would you like a drink or something?"

"No thanks."

Jason bought a Coke and a bag of chips. When he returned, he sat one of the double beds and flipped on the television. He never had much use for the boob tube, but he needed something to take his mind off the fact that just on the other side of the door, Elizabeth was completely naked. Using the remote, he quickly scanned the available programs and decided on a cartoon. Michael liked the colorful images and so did Jason.

Elizabeth joined him just as the Road Runner tricked Wile E. Coyote again. She laughed softly as she crawled into the other bed. "I loved this when I was kid. Every Saturday morning, we'd watch this and then the Smurfs."

"Smurfs?" Jason looked over his shoulder at her. "What are Smurfs?"

"They're about three apples high," she said, indicating with her hands. "They're blue and they live in a village. Sarah reminded me of Smurfette so I was more into Gargamel and his cat, Azrael. He wanted to eat the Smurfs and he was always going after them."

"Why?" he asked, intrigued by the story.

She shrugged. "I'm not sure. He was a wizard, but none of his potions worked on them. Not to mention that Papa Smurf was a wizard, too. Well, I think he was. It was so long ago that I can barely remember. It was a pretty cool cartoon."

He smiled. "Yeah. I can tell by the way you're smiling."

Her cheeks filled with the color of Lily's pink rose bushes. Jason's smile widened. "You should smile more often. You're very pretty when you smile."

"Thank you. You should do the same," she said softly. She pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around her legs. "You said you wanted to talk. What about? Do you have an idea of where Em and Zander would go in New York?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I have a few ideas, but nothing specific. I wanted to talk about you being here with me. I'm not sure if this is a good idea. Center City was bad, but whatever we find in New York could be worse. You shouldn't be around for that. Go back to Port Charles in the morning."

The smile left her face. "You don't want me to stay, so you're ordering me to leave. Is that it?"

"No," he replied. "I think you should leave, but I won't order you to."

"So if I want to stay, you're okay with that."

"No," he answered, "but I'll have to deal with it. This isn't a vacation, Elizabeth."

"I know that," she told him. "I'm not here because I thought it would be a good time. I care about Emily. She's become one of my closest friends. I don't want anything to happen to her any more than you do. I know that I can help you, Jason. Don't send me away."

He was quiet for a moment and then he said, "I won't."

~*~

Nikolas couldn't get the sight of Lucky and his shrine to Elizabeth out of his mind. What possessed his younger brother to create something so grotesque? Loving Elizabeth was one thing, but that shrine wasn't love. That was obsession and that's what scared Nikolas the most. What happened to his brother?

He finished toweling himself dry and pulled on the pajama bottoms that Dawn gave him the first night. His treasured Medallion rested against his chest and his eyes were drawn to it. The heirloom represented a legacy and a curse, but try as he might over the past two years, he couldn't rid himself of it. He was a Cassadine, and he wouldn't turn his back on his destiny or those he loved.

He shrugged the top on as he left the bathroom and joined Dawn in the living room. She sat in the center of the futon that was pulled out for slumber. Just seeing her there waiting for him brought a smile to his face. His world had tilted off its axis, but her presence made it more tolerable. He crawled onto the futon and tugged playfully on her braids. "Greetings, my Angel."

The warmth of her smile echoed in her voice. "Hi, there. Did the shower help?"

"As much as a shower can," he said with a pout. "Perhaps you could offer your assistance and tend to the matter personally."

"We'll see what I can do," she offered, shifting to face him. "Tell me where it hurts."

He fell onto the mattress and groaned. "Everywhere. Could you stop at the top and work your way down?"

Dawn giggled. "You're gonna milk this, aren't you?"

"Milk?" he repeated, frowning. "I don't understand."

"It doesn't matter." She moved over him and straddled his lap. His hands grasped her hips as she bet forward and placed feather-light kisses on his forehead, cheeks and nose. "Does that help?" she murmured just inches from his mouth.

"A small amount," he answered. "More please."

She kissed him. Slow and deep. What she lacked in experience, she more than made up with her enthusiasm. His manhood throbbed with an immediate arousal. His fingers dug into her soft flesh when she rocked her lower body against him. Nikolas growled as her mouth left his. She buried her face against his neck and his arms closed around her back. Hugging her to him, he whispered, "Much better. Thank you."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yes," he said softly. He tilted his head so that he could see her face. "What's wrong? Why did you ask that?"

"I can feel what happens when we're close like this," she responded almost shyly. "I wouldn't want you to think I'm teasing you. Waiting until we're married is very important to me. I hope you understand that."

"I do," he told her. "I won't pressure you to make love no matter how my body may suggest otherwise. Believe me?"

She rolled off him and rested on her side. He moved to face her. Her fingers traced the line of his cheekbone and jaw line. "I believe you. This is happening so fast, and I've never been so intimate with someone before. I guess my insecurities are becoming apparent."

"There's no reason for you to feel insecure with me." He smiled tenderly at her. "I can be trusted."

She laughed. "I knew that the first moment I saw you."

The room became quiet as they simply gazed at each other. The love she felt for him shone brightly in her eyes. It soothed his conflicted thoughts. Needing to touch her again, he reached for her hand. With their fingers laced together, he spoke about his afternoon. "Have you ever been to the railroad car?"

She shook her head. "I've heard about it. I've never been there. When all that stuff happened between Lucky and his dad, I was in college. Sly's told me some things, so I know a lot about your past with Lucky and the rest of the Spencers. I'm sorry about that."

"It's not your fault. I've moved past it," he said. "I couldn't believe what I found. The shrine to Elizabeth was eerie. I thought some twisted kids did it to piss Lucky off, but when he came and looked at it so lovingly... It was frightening, Dawn. I can't imagine my brother being so out of his head that he would create such an obscene display."

"It doesn't sound like the Lucky I know," she replied, "but he's had a few episodes since he's returned... Maybe this is just a part of that."

"What do you mean by episodes?"

"Sly mentioned something about Lucky pulling a knife on Jason. This happened a few days before you came back. He's had a few loud outbursts, and usually he's very mellow."

A twinge of fear made Nikolas shudder. "I don't like hearing this, and knowing that my grandmother was responsible for his presumed death a few years ago... She was capable of anything and God only knows what she did to him."

"Do you think that's why he has that shrine and has been a little peculiar?" Dawn asked.

"I don't know. It's possible. Where does he live? I think this is a big chance, but I'd like to see him. Give me the directions and I'll go there while you're at work-"

"There's no way I'd let you go alone," she told him. "We'll go before I go to work in the morning. No arguments. Now, I'd better go to bed and you should get some sleep, too."

She gave him a quick goodnight kiss before crawling over him and leaving him alone. Nikolas reached behind him and turned off the lamp. In the darkness, he reached for his Medallion again. Arguing with her would be a waste of time. She could be as stubborn as he. He'd allow her to come with him and watch their surroundings very carefully. As he fell asleep, he prayed that no harm would come from their excursion in the morning.

~*~

"Thanks for dinner," Dara smiled at Zarek as they stood in the doorway to her apartment. "I enjoyed myself tonight."

"Really?" he asked, giving her a hard stare. "I didn't realize that. You seemed to be in another galaxy. I couldn't help but wonder what captured your attention so thoroughly."

She frowned. Her mind had been on her mother and sister's comments about Mac. She tried to push him from her mind and enjoy her date with Zarek, but the image of his warm green eyes and even warmer hugs kept returning to the forefront of her thoughts. Why now after all this time did he have to express an interest in her? Why not years ago? Why not before she met Zarek and before he married Felicia?

"See," Zarek said softly. "There you go again...to an uncharted universe. Is there something bothering you in which I can offer my assistance?"

"I'm sorry," she said, giving him a half smile. "I wish I could talk about it, but I can't. What can I do to make up for being a rude dinner guest? I'm not the greatest cook, but no one puts more effort into it than I do."

They both laughed. Once the laughter faded, Zarek took her hands and his dark eyes bored into hers. "You weren't rude, just distant. I know that my family has a reputation and I hope that hasn't brought an end to us before we've truly gotten to know one another. I would hope that you would judge me on my own merits and not my family's."

"Oh, Zarek... That wasn't it," she tried to explain. "I've heard about your family. I've even dealt with them on occasion in the courtroom. My distance wasn't because of them, but because something personal that I'm trying to understand. Please don't think I'd pass judgment on you based on your last name."

His stare became less intense and he smiled. "I hoped you wouldn't. You'd be surprised how often it's happened in the past. Thank you for your honesty, and yes, I would love to have dinner with you again. I'm sure that whatever you prepare will be delicious and beyond compare."

Dara laughed. "You are so good for my ego."

"I could be even better for the rest of you," he murmured, leaning toward her.

His mouth took possession of hers. Passion erupted quickly and when the kiss ended, she was left wanting more. God help her if Mac's lips proved to be as luscious as Zarek's.

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