***joys and sorrows***
"I'm asking you to marry me, Dara Jensen," Zarek said, trying to keep urgency out of his voice. "Will you? Will you be my wife?"
In what seemed like slow motion, she nodded and said, "Yes, Zarek, I will."
His heart came close to exploding inside his chest. His arms closed around her, crushing her to him. "Oh, sweetheart, you have made me one happy man!"
She returned his embrace and when he kissed her, she responded with hunger and passion. Childish giggles sounded around them and Zarek was once again reminded of their surroundings. He gave the kids a smile and waved them away. The youngsters ran off and took their laughter with them.
Dara patted her hair down and removed herself from his lap. "We should cool it before we get arrested for indecency."
"I have a better idea," he announced as they started to gather the remnants from their picnic.
"What is it?" she asked, smiling at him.
"Let's get married!"
She laughed. "We are. I said 'yes' remember?"
"I know," he said with a smile, "but I mean right now! Let's get married today. I don't want to waste another minute, Dara."
"But there's so much we have to do," she sputtered. "We need a marriage license...our families... We can't do this without our family! My mother would kill me!"
"She'd understand." He reached for her hands. "Think of it. How romantic it could be. We're in New York City. We should just do it now and have a party when we return. Our families would forgive our spontaneity when they see how happy we are."
"It does sound romantic." She said and a dreamy expression appeared in her chocolate brown eyes. "But what about a marriage license?"
He smiled. "It's not an issue. I'm a Cassadine and soon, you will be, too. Obtaining whatever's required will be as simple as making a telephone call. Any other concerns?"
"No." She shook her head. "Let's do it!"
A knock sounded on Sabrina's office door and she called, "Come in!"
Tommy entered. "Hello, Dr. DeLane. You're a hard woman to locate. I didn't think you'd return to work so soon."
"Why, hello, Inspector." She couldn't help but smile at the sight of him. He was one handsome young man! "You were on my list. After I checked on a few patients, I planned to call you."
"Oh, really?" He sat on a guest chair.
"Yes. I wanted to thank you for your help in St. Petersburg."
"You're welcome. I enjoyed myself despite the skinheads' attempts to the contrary." He glanced at his watch. "How much longer will you be here?"
"What do you have in mind?" she asked with a teasing grin.
He returned her smile. "An early dinner first...followed by dessert. Interested?"
Sabrina finished making notes for her patients' files and gathered her things. On the way out, she gave her files to her secretary and she and Tommy left the hospital. They agreed to go in separate cars and to meet at The Outback. While she drove, Sabrina thought about Tommy and the time they spent getting to know each other while in Russia.
He was as intelligent as he was handsome. His youth hadn't slowed him down and he was well on the road to meeting his goals within the Arson Strike Force. In many ways, he and Justus were alike except in one small significant detail. Justus didn't make her pulse race with a glance or a single touch.
"Oh, Sabrina," she groaned. It wasn't like Justus had expressed any interest in her anyway. His disapproving glances at her and Tommy weren't necessarily born of jealousy. But then again...
She pulled into the drive and waited for the valet. The young man opened the door and the sight of Sabrina's long tawny legs brought a crimson blush to his face. She bit back a smile, rose from the car and accepted the claim ticket he handed her.
She waited at the door for Tommy and when he joined her, he placed his hand at the small of her back as they entered the restaurant. Mac Scorpio greeted them with his usual friendly smile and showed them to a cozy table in the back. Once they were settled with drinks and an appetizer, Sabrina allowed herself a few moments of greedy pleasure and indulged in admiring Tommy's striking features.
"Did I suddenly grow another nose?" he teased in a low voice.
She shook her head. "Not at all. Simply admiring the view."
He smiled, revealing a row of even, white teeth. "Thank you. You present quite an appealing view as well."
"A silver-tongued devil if ever I've known one," she said, with a soft chuckle. "You didn't mention it before, but why were you looking for me?"
"I wanted to talk to you about our trip. I spoke with my supervisor and we've both agreed that you shouldn't be listed as a suspect."
She arched an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware that I was under suspicion."
"In an investigation such as this, no one is above suspicion," he said. "I could tell that you and Mr. Cassadine were close, and although I didn't say it before, I am sorry for your loss."
"Would you care to hear a true story?" she asked, deciding that she could trust him with the truth. There was something in his eyes. The color was similar to Stefan's orbs as well as the light of integrity which shone so clearly. She suddenly wanted him to know as much as possible without putting him in danger. She suddenly wanted to know as much about him as he was willing to tell.
"Yes, I would."
The waiter arrived with their dinner salads. Tommy ignored the greens and delicious dressing and gave Sabrina his complete attention. Before starting her tale, she instructed him to eat. It would be better for him in there was something on his stomach she told him.
He pierced a cherry tomato with his fork. With a slight nod of his head, he said, "Keep going. I'm listening."
She glanced around at the other tables. No one was within listening distance, but she made sure to speak in low tones anyway. "You're right about my relationship with Stefan. We were close, but not romantically. He's my half-brother. Mikkos was our father."
"Wow," he said under his breath. "So, you're a Cassadine."
"Yes," she said, pushing the salad to the side. "I have been all my life."
"That explains your fluency in Russian," he commented. "All your life? Did you grow up with them?"
"Yes, I did. My father's affair with my mother was common knowledge in Greece, but my birth was a secret. My mother gave birth to me here in the States. Father would visit us here. When I was very young...about seven or eight, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Father remained at her side for the last six months of her life and when she died, he took me back to Greece with him. I remained there until I went to boarding school and then to university."
"Why don't you use the name?"
She shrugged. "I never wanted to. In the great list of Cassadines, my name is there. I don't have to use it to be a Cassadine. Besides, DeLane was my mother's maiden name. This way a part of her lives on with me forever."
Tommy reached across the table and covered his hand with hers. "Thank you for telling me."
"You're welcome," she said, squeezing his hand. "Very few are aware of my bloodlines and I would prefer that it remains that way."
"I won't tell a soul," he said, removing his hand. "You can trust me."
She smiled. "I know."
Nikolas sat in the passenger seat of the WSB's unmarked, darkened vehicle. Beside him, Jagger drove skillfully through the back roads to Nikolas' former cottage while behind him, Andrèsj sat with a cheery smile on his face. Nikolas grimaced. "I don't know why I allowed you to come. You should be at the safehouse."
"You should have family with you. Father isn't well enough, but I am. Besides, I wish to meet this dolt who dared to believe he could replace you."
"I am having second thoughts about you meeting him," Nikolas said, turning to stare at the passing scenery. "It could be too dangerous-"
"Then, you shouldn't see him alone either!" Andrèsj decided. "If I cannot go with you and Jagger cannot go because that will reveal our strategy, then you mustn't go at all. Jagger, turn the car around. There has been a change in plans."
"Andrèsj, please!" Nikolas snapped. "Jagger, do not listen to him. The plan is faultless even if my younger brother is too headstrong for his own good."
"I am merely looking out for your best interests," Andrèsj said, leaning forward. He patted Nikolas shoulder and then pulled on his shirt.
"Stop," Nikolas demanded, pulling free of his brother's hold. "What are you doing?"
"Where's your medallion?"
Nikolas' jaw tightened. Of course, it would be Drè who'd notice. "It's safe."
"Where?" Drè inquired. "You've never been without it. Not since Father gave it to you on your fourteenth birthday. Did you lose it?"
"No, I did not. I know exactly where it is."
"Andrèsj, you are as insistent as a-"
"Forget I asked," Andrèsj cut in. He leaned back. "If you know where it is, I suppose that will have to be good enough for me. I will say this. I hope she's worth it."
"Who is?" Nikolas asked, letting thoughts of Dawn drift into his subconscious for only a moment. He needed to be focused when he confronted the Impostor, but for the moment, one pleasurable memory shouldn't render him too far off track.
"Steve Jensen's daughter," Drè answered. "Tell me, is she beautiful? Does she have blonde hair and eyes green like his?"
Nikolas smiled. "No, she looks nothing like her father, but she is beautiful. Extremely so." He shifted to look at his brother. "You will meet her soon and you will see for yourself, but I warn you now. She's mine."
Andrèsj's eyes darkened and his gaze dropped to his clenched hands in his lap. "You will have no problems with me. I wish you well, Nikolas."
Nikolas frowned at his brother's odd reaction. If they were alone, he would have commented on it. Later, he intended to find out exactly what caused his brother's melancholy.
The vehicle slowed and Jagger steered it off the road behind a cluster of trees. "The cottage is only a few yards away. The car will be hidden here. Are you ready? Let's test the mike and your earpiece again."
They went through a series of sound tests. The equipment worked perfectly and the three men filed out of the car. Jagger led the way, followed by Nikolas with Andrèsj bringing up the rear. They neared a clearing and Jagger stopped. The two-story cottage was within their sights, and a black Jaguar was parked out front. Nikolas took a step forward.
Andrèsj's hand shot out and grabbed Nikolas' forearm. "Please, let me come with you."
Nikolas shook his head. "No, Drè. This is something I must do on my own." He faced his brother. "He won't harm me. I will see you soon."
He stepped through the foliage and went to the cottage. Using the key that still hung on his keyring, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. Blinding anger threatened to consume him, but he took deep breaths and willed himself to focus. The fool might use the Nikolas Cassadine name, live in his home and insinuate himself into the lives of Nikolas' friends and family, but the Impostor would never be him. Never.
Nikolas moved around the first floor of the cottage, noting the changes in decor and the different feel of the place. Once he returned to his life, the first thing he would do be to sell this place. Never again would he live there. He and Dawn would start their lives elsewhere. In a home all of their own.
Footsteps tapped along the second story and Nikolas moved to the foot of the staircase and waited. A masculine voice greeted him and the miscreant called out, "Gia! I heard the door. Welcome ho-"
The Impostor's voice faltered as he came to the top of the staircase and saw Nikolas waiting for him down below. His eyes widened first with anger and quickly narrowed with recognition. Then, fear replaced everything else. In a shaky voice, he asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Considering this was my home, you're not in any position to question me," Nikolas quickly informed him. He stepped back from the staircase. "Come down. You have nothing to fear from me. Yet. Hurry up!" Nikolas snapped when the Impostor simply stared at him. "I haven't got all day and neither do you!"
The Impostor moved cautiously down the staircase. He stood a few feet from Nikolas, his eyes darting back and forth from Nikolas to the front door.
"Escape isn't an option," Nikolas informed him.
"What do you want?"
"What do you think?" Nikolas asked, spacing the words evenly.
"Your life back?"
Nikolas folded his arms across his chest and stared down at the man who was a good two inches shorter than he. "I already have that."
"She told me you were dead!" The Impostor cried in an attempt to defend himself. "She said that nobody would be hurt!"
"And you believed her. I suppose you didn't consider how your lies would affect the people who care about me." Nikolas shook his head in disgust. "Dammit, I don't care what you think. What did Philana promise you? What would you get in return for living this lie? My title? The properties? What?"
"None of that. I signed it away a few weeks ago. It all reverts back to whoever. She promised I'd never have to want for anything and that I'd always be taken care of. Look, man, I swear I didn't know she'd kill Stefan and the others! I would never be a party to murder-"
Nikolas raised a hand and the man immediately became quiet. "Do not swear to me. What is your name?"
"Yes," Nikolas ground out through gritted teeth. "Your real name. What is it?"
"It's...um...Nick Cassidy," The Impostor mumbled. "I'm not making it up."
"Very well," Nikolas muttered, "Nick Cassidy, you are to contact Philana and tell her the game is over and she has not won. After that, you are to disappear. Forever!"
"What about Lucky?" Nick asked. "I can't just leave. Not without seeing him and Laura and Lesley Lu, too-"
"No!" Nikolas' hands clenched into fists at his sides. The urge to strike out hard and strong was overwhelming, but hurting this Nick Cassidy would be for nothing. The war was against Philana and her son. Not this dupe. "You were playing a role, Nick and it's over now! They are not your family. They are mine and you are not to contact them again! There will be no compromises here. If I find out you have contacted them, you will rue the day you were born. Do not test me. Do not provoke me, Nick. If you fear Philana's wrath, please know that mine is a million times worse!"
"I just wanted the opportunity to explain things to them-"
"You've had that opportunity. Every day for the past two years," Nikolas reminded him. "Call Philana and then leave!"
"What about Gia?" Nick asked. "Do you know about her? She lives here with me."
"Yes, I am fully aware of your lover. You may take her with you or you may not, either way, you will not remain another night in Port Charles. Have I made myself clear?"
Carly quickly pulled on the sterile smock, gloves and mask and then followed Bobbie inside to Sonny's room. He lay still, pale and quiet underneath a protective plastic covering. His breaths were slow and shallow and the machines noted each one with a sharp red line and a loud beep. Every breath made Carly's heart ache. Tears rolled unchecked down her cheeks and she moved to stand as close to him as she could.
"Sonny?" she whispered. "I know you can hear me. You heard me before. Please, hear me again. Sonny, please..."
Slowly, he opened his eyes. Staring at her, he choked out her name. "C-Carly..."
"I'm here, Sonny. It's me," she said. "Baby, I'm so sorry. I tried to stop this from happening. This wasn't supposed to happen. Oh, God..."
"Wh-What do you mean?" he whispered. "You tried to stop this...? How?"
"We don't need to talk about this right now," she said. "You just have to concentrate on getting well."
"How's Michael?" Sonny asked. "I tried to get him, but I couldn't reach him. Did they get him out?"
Carly stifled a sob by pressing her fist against her mouth. Tears flowed faster as she shook her head. "No. He didn't get out."
"Oh, my God..." Sonny started to cry. "I'm sorry, Carly. I-I never wanted this to happen. Never."
"I know, Sonny," she said. "You just wanted to protect us. I don't blame you. If Patroni had done what I paid him to do-"
"What?!" Sonny asked the question with so much force that he started to cough. The effort to recover himself shown visibly on his face, but soon, the coughs faded. He fixed her with a hard stare. "Patroni? What do you know about him? What did you do?"
"I paid him," she whispered, "to take care of Sorel. He was supposed to make our problems go away-"
"No, Carly." Sonny started to weep as he spoke to her. "No, Carly, no. He worked for Sorel. He'd never take care of him. Not for me, you or anyone. Oh, God. He did this! Patroni did this!"
"No!" Carly cried.
"Yes!" Sonny croaked. He tried to say more but the machines erupted with a series of loud, fast beeps.
Someone said something about cardiac arrest and Carly was pushed to the back of the room. Doctors and nurses rushed in and worked on Sonny with furious intensity. Carly watched everything from behind eyes that were bloodshot from her tears. She refused to think about what Sonny said about Patroni. Instead, she focused on Sonny and hoping that the doctors would save him.
But it was all to no avail. His body jerked once and then he flatlined. A nurse announced the time of death and Carly fell to the floor in a dead faint.
The whir of the helicopter blades made quiet conversation impossible. Jason lowered his head to Elizabeth's mouth in a silent request for her to repeat her question.
"I said are you sure that taking her back is the right thing to do? The doctors here are just as good as the ones in Port Charles!"
Jason shook his head and leaned towards Elizabeth. "Em should be with family now and New York is too dangerous! This is best!"
The accompanying nurse and doctor tended to Emily and Jason watched every move they made. Elizabeth clutched his hand, but he barely noticed. Emily needed him to be strong for her and that was what he intended to do.
Soon, the pilot landed the chopper on the roof of General Hospital. Everyone moved quickly and they found that the staff had been anticipating their arrival. Monica and Alan were waiting for them in a private room that had been set up for Emily. Monica went straight to Emily while Alan grabbed Jason by the arm.
"She was hit by a car," Jason informed him. He wanted to go to her. Being stopped by Alan irritated him.
"We know that much," Alan snapped. "We want to know the rest! Why was she in New York? What were you doing there with her?"
"I wasn't with her," Jason told him. "I went there to find her and to bring her back home. She was there with Zander-"
"Dammit!" Alan slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. "Where is he? When I get my hands on him-"
"He won't be coming here to the hospital," Jason said. "At least not right now. He's with some guys who are bringing him back here. Zander didn't do this to her. It was an accident. That's all it was, Alan."
Jason made a move to join Monica and Elizabeth in the room with Emily, but the sound of Bobbie's voice stopped him.
"Jason, I need to talk to you."
"Emily is being treated. She was hit by a car. I want to be with her. Can't it wait?"
Bobbie swallowed hard and took his hand. "I know, Jason, but what I need to tell you can't wait. Please. Just a few minutes."
"Okay." He looked at Elizabeth. "If she wakes up, tell her I'm still here." Elizabeth nodded and he followed Bobbie a few steps down the hall. "Okay, what is it, Bobbie?"
She lightly pressed the palm of her cold hand against his jaw. Her eyes filled with tears and she spoke just above a whisper. "There was a horrible ac-accident. An explosion. Michael and Sonny... Jason, I'm so sorry, but neither of them survived it."
"What do you mean?" he asked, not wanting to believe her. She was mixed up, he thought. She couldn't mean that they were dead.
"I mean that I don't have a grandson anymore," she said, tears falling down her cheek, "and Carly doesn't have a husband. The explosion killed Michael instantly and Sonny died a short while ago."
"NOOOOOO!!!!!!" Jason shouted. "NO, Bobbie!"
Elizabeth, Monica and Alan rushed from Emily's room at the sound of his shouts. Elizabeth went to him and tried to take his hand. He pushed it away. "No," he said, crying. "I don't believe it. No..."
"No, Elizabeth!" he cried. "Leave me alone! I have to be alone!"
And he ran, leaving them all staring after him.
Stefan wanted to go with Keesha, but she couldn't let him. There were some things a person had to do alone. Keesha stepped through the iron gates of the cemetery and walked down the small path towards the Quartermaine family plots. Blinking the tears that gathered in her eyes, she clutched the bouquet of flowers in her hand and continued on. When she reached the fairly new headstone, she dropped to her knees and began to speak.
"I heard the news about your little boy, AJ," she said, brushing away the leaves from his grave, "and I'm so sorry about what happened. I wish I could have done something to stop it or done something to help, but... I don't know why these things happen. He was so young...."
Tears streamed from her eyes and Keesha wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. She swallowed hard to gather the remaining words that lay buried deep inside her heart. When she heard the news about AJ's death in a drunk driving accident soon after he lost custody of Michael, she had been half way around the world, training for the WSB. The grueling schedule gave her little time to grieve for her former lover and friend. Since returning to Port Charles she planned to visit his grave when she found the time, but when she heard about Michael's death, she couldn't stay away. She had to come. She had to let him know that despite everything, he was still in her heart.
"I suppose he's in a better place now. I'm sure he's with you and Mary Mae, and he'll be in good hands now and forevermore." She sniffled and rearranged the bouquet she brought with her. "I don't know what else to say, AJ. There are so many things that we never said after I moved back to Philadelphia. I always thought we'd keep in contact, but it didn't happen. Friends are there for each other and I feel that I failed you. I'm sorry about that, too. I'm sorry things ended the way they did, but I pray that now, you have found the peace you never truly found here on earth. And I also pray that Michael is with you, too. It's a poor consolation considering what happened here, but I can't help but believe that everything happens for a reason."
She pressed a kiss against her fingers and then touched AJ's name on the headstone. Slowly, she rose to her feet and turned to leave. Jason stood a few feet away and she gasped in surprise. From his grief-stricken face she knew he'd heard about Michael. She knew he loved the little boy, but she didn't know how to offer him her condolences. She doubted if he would accept them, but she knew she had to try.
She went to him and tentatively placed her hand on his forearm. "Jason, I heard about Michael and I'm sor-"
Before she could say more, Jason broke down. Without thinking twice, she wrapped her arms around him and held him while he cried.
"Where are you?" Philana demanded to know as soon as she recognized Zarek's voice. "I've left messages for you all day!"
"I'm sorry, Mother, but I've been busy," he said, his smile coming through across the receiver.
"Well, so have I," she informed him. "I think you should know that soon everything will be yours, dearest. In only a matter of days if not hours."
"But that's why I'm calling," he said. "I have everything I've ever wanted right here with me."
"What do you mean?"
"Dara and I are married!" he announced. "I never knew marriage could feel so good. I'm on a perpetual high, Mother and whatever you have planned, I want you to stop it. I don't want the title or any of it anymore. I don't need it. I have everything I need when Dara looks at me and holds me in her arms-"
"No, Mother," he said, "I'm serious. I want it to end now. Leave them alone and go back to Greece. Forget about it and be happy."
"Zarek," she said in a hard voice, "it's too late for that. There is no going back now!"
"There can be. I know that there is for me," he said. "I love you and I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I am out of it now. I don't want to know what you're doing. I just want it to stop."
"I guess this is good-bye then," he said with regret and then, he hung up.
Dawn clutched a blanket around her shivering body and shuffled across the loft to the thermostat. She inched the dial closer to eighty. Surely that would warm her up some. She grabbed a box of Kleenex on her way back to the futon and sat down.
Curling into a ball, she pulled the blanket close around her and pressed the medallion close to her heart. Eventually, she fell asleep. Strange dreams about a dank dungeon, an evil witch and a handsome prince filled her subconscious, and she tossed and turned all night.
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