Chapter 55

Rooms on Fire

~...somewhere out in the back of your mind comes your real life and the life that you know...~

"What is it about her?"

The question tore from Morgan's chest. An ache had settled there since Keesha's late night escapade with AJ. Spying on them hadn't been his intention. Following them had been accidental. Watching their moonlit dance meant nothing.

"Liar," he muttered to himself.

Shadows danced before his eyes as he settled the portable dvd player on his lap. Confident that he had the house to himself for a change, he didn't bother locking his bedroom door. Family had been located for the eighteen month old and he had been picked up that morning. Afterward, Keesha took JE to the hospital to hang with the Cassadine kid. Morgan almost nixed that outing but one glance at the dark beauty's face alerted him that she anticipated that move. Instead, he gave his son a few bucks for the game center. Pissing her off and scoring points with JE provided a double whammy of glee. His son's smile and the flash of her brown eyes--damn. He enjoyed both.

But that was hours ago. Morgan brought himself to the present as he relaxed against a stack of pillows and dared himself to push play.

"Now or never." The low grumble sounded a tad cowardly and he hated it. He didn't have anything to fear. He'd only snagged a few dvds from the family collection. Nobody would miss them.

Employing delay tactics felt foreign to him. Diving in head first had always been his way. With clenched jaw, he cursed himself and pushed play.

Many images flickered across the small screen. Most of the faces Morgan recognized even though they were close to twenty years older now. Then the familiar chords of "The Wedding March" began. He sat transfixed as his mirror image stared back at him. A younger version of himself. Peace, excitement, and hope brightened that man's features as he stared down the aisle. As if on cue, the camera angle shifted to the groom's point of view.

And there she was. Morgan's tormentor. Jason's bride. Keesha was a vision in white. The dress, classic and tasteful, clung to her womanly curves, hinting at the promises that lay underneath. Her eyes danced with anticipation. A smile that she'd never given Morgan in life was all for Jason Morgan-Quartermaine as she glided toward him. Sure, her father escorted the bride to the groom, but the older man was an afterthought to Morgan. He never noticed him. He was transfixed by the bride and groom. The couple's love and completeness with the other was undeniable. Chemistry radiated in every glance and every touch. The promise of passion burned strong between them. Morgan's breath quickened just from watching them.

In a sudden dash of movement, he pressed the stop button and ejected the dvd. A wedding--fuck! Everyone's happy on wedding days. Without reading the title, he grabbed the next dvd and slid it in.

Once again, his finger hovered over "play." This little quest for answers began as a way to silence the angst that stirred whenever he and the woman were within two feet of the other. She tried to play it off, but he knew her looks of disappointment weren't just because of his solitary interest in his blood-kin. Hell, it wasn't his fault Ben had run out. The boy wasn't his. Anybody with two eyes could see that.

"Shit," he muttered. Another grumble came as he finally pushed play.

Childish squeals assaulted him immediately. The Asian twins were smaller than JE and were beside themselves. Morgan frowned. Judging from the video and the kids' clothing, it wasn't Christmas. Maybe a birthday?

A slender brown hand waved on the left side of the screen. Then, he heard Keesha's voice. She sounded younger, happier.

"Okay, calm down! He'll be home soon. You don't want him to hear you as soon as he comes through the door. Besides, you'll wake up Marissa and Benji."

"Sorry, Mommy," Grace said. Her wide grin revealed that she was missing a tooth.

George only giggled his agreement.

The distinctive roar of a Harley brought a faint smile to Morgan's face.

"He's here!" Keesha sounded just as excited as the kids.

Movement jostled the screen. Morgan guessed she set the camera down. He was proved corrected when her delectable denim-covered rear came into focus. Then the scene changed again when her face lit up the screen. Her bright smile promised a secret before she adjusted the camera again to a better angle to include both adults and little kids.

The twins moved in close. Each claimed a hand to hold. Morgan recognized the room as the downstairs den. They all stood facing the kitchen. Their excitement almost had him on pins and needles. Almost.

"Keesha?" A voice so similar to Morgan's called out. "Babe--"

"We're in the den," she said in a voice soft enough to carry.

"Okay." No sooner than Jason turned the corner than he was bombarded by two, fast little kids.

"Daddy!"

He was ready for them and picked them both up, hugging them to him before setting them back down. "Hello, my little munchkins."

"Daddy, look!" George smiled wide.

"No, look at me," Grace piped in.

Dropping to one knee, Jason took his time inspecting both, somehow maintaining a straight face while humor reddened his cheeks. "Oh, wow. Would you look at that? Sweetheart, have you seen this? They've both lost a tooth!"

"I'm shocked, too," Keesha said.

"You know what this means," he said, looking at each child.

They both shook their heads. "No, what?"

"Did you save your tooth?"

Grace nodded.

Jason looked at George. "Did you?"

"Yes, Daddy."

Jason breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. Okay, very carefully, take your tooth and put it under your pillow."

Grace's eyes widened. "For the Tooth Fairy?"

"Oh, yes," Jason said with a nod. "But you have to do it quietly."

Both whispered, "Okay." The twins held hands as they tiptoed from the room.

Keesha giggled as Jason rose to his full height. "You're so bad."

"What? The babies are napping, right?" he asked, pulling her into his arms. "Come here. Kiss me, already."

"You're so bossy." She dug her fingers into his shoulders.

"Yeah," he murmured against her neck. "Bad and bossy."

The conversation ended as his mouth claimed hers. Large hands spanned her small waist then dipped low to mold her behind. Gasps and growls emitted from the portable dvd player's tiny speakers. Morgan's manhood responded against his will. Envy bubbled in his gut. Look at that kid, he thought, taking in the sight of the younger man, standing at least six feet with thick muscles, shiny, blonde hair, and a devilish gleam in his eyes. Fuck him and the joy he felt in the arms of that woman. How could that be him? But it was him...the eyes, the voice...the DNA.

"Jason..." Keesha tugged out of his hold.

"Really, Keesha?" Jason grabbed her hand and tried to pull her back.

"No, wait...just let me...oh, Jason..." Despite his assault on her neck from behind and her obvious enjoyment of it, she somehow managed to grab the camera. "Let me turn this off."

"You don't have to," Jason said, a hint of laughter in his voice.

"Yes, I do."

The screen made an abrupt cut to black and then it was back on. This time the scene focused on Jason as he sat on the floor. A baby rattle and a teddy bear rested beside him. Gone were the black jeans and stretched t-shirt from the other video. In this one, he wore faded blues and a button-down shirt. The kid looked a bit more refined than Morgan ever had. Jason's arms were outstretched and his gaze was on something off-screen.

"Come on. You can do it," he said gently. "Come to Daddy."

Suddenly, Jason's face changed as his mouth dropped open. He moved to his knees. To himself, he said softly, "Thank God, I'm taping this. Keesha won't believe it."

Then a chubby baby toddled into view. Dark hair capped his round head. Four teeth peeked from his watery grin as he made a wobbly bee-line to Jason.

"That's it, Benji," Jason said. "Come on, son."

A few moments later, the baby headed straight to Jason's waiting arms. "Your first steps," Jason said, kissing the squirming child. "Your mommy will be beside herself because she missed it, but you'll do it again for her, won't you?"

"Da Da," Benji said with a pleased baby giggle.

Jason laughed. If there was more, Morgan missed it. He stopped the dvd and set the player aside. This was a lot. Too much. Pilfering through another man's memories was like rifling through his wallet. Stuff was there that no one else had a right to. Yet, a part of him nagged that he had every right. Those memories didn't belong to just any man. Those memories were his!

"I don't want 'em," he muttered. "I don't. I don't."

He grabbed his leather jacket, his keys, and stormed out.

~...it seems like it was the creation of some of those same old things...~

"We're not blaming you or accusing you of anything."

"I just don't want to talk about it."

Tommy sensed Gina's gaze land on him and he forced himself to join the conversation. Since all hell broke loose upon the discovery of Ciarda's bruised legs and her stoic refusal to talk, he and Gina had laid themselves at their daughter's disposal upon their return from Africa with Matt and Ellen. With Tom Hardy's reappearance, the mystery call, and Dominik's illness, Tommy's guard was already elevated. Knowing that his daughter had been hurt and he'd been powerless to stop it brought back more painful memories of his youth. Not being able to protect his mother and Gina against Juan and the other guards was one of the biggest failures of his life. Tommy would be damned if he let history repeat itself with his girls.

"Dammit, Ciarda," he snapped with more force than he'd ever used in his home. Both Gina and Ciarda flinched in response, but he ignored them. "We know Seth did this--"

"But it wasn't his fault."

"Of course, it was his fault." He rose from where he was sitting beside Gina on the sofa in his home office to kneel beside Ciarda, who sat on the window seat. "It was completely his fault."

She shook her head. Long strands of straight, light brown hair bounced against her cheek. Tommy lamented the loss of her wild, beautiful curls. No doubt another sacrifice for her relationship with the little prick. He willed away the urge to shout and moved to join her on the narrow seat.

"It was the middle of the night and Buffy woke him up for me. He was sleepy and disoriented, and I tripped."

"Did he help you up?" he asked, somehow maintaining an even tone.

"No, but I..."

"You took the train here," Gina said softly. "He didn't even bring you and when he did show up, he caused a scene in the cafeteria."

"Alana doesn't know what she's talking about--"

"Nikolas told us," Gina cut in.

Tommy's best friend had called him as he and Gina drove the Doctors Harmon across the African desert to the private hangar that housed the Cassadine jet. Concern softened Nikolas' voice as he relayed Ciarda's condition. Then anger darkened it as he asked Tommy how he wanted the situation handled. Immediately, Nikolas offered to take care of the Stevens boy himself, but Tommy told him no. The smell of burning human flesh came to mind so quickly that he knew revenge was not the answer. Nikolas had promised to be available for whatever Tommy and his family needed. So, Tommy requested another favor instead to which Nikolas' response was prompt and efficient.

Ciarda buried her face in her hands. "He shouldn't have."

Tommy gently rubbed her back. "You're right. Your godfather shouldn't have told us."

"You should have," Gina said when their daughter didn't respond.

"You don't understand." The girl's voice broke.

"I understand that your time in Connecticut is over."

Ciarda looked at him with a stricken face. "What?"

"You heard me. You're not going back there. You're already back on the roll at Port Charles High."

She jumped from the window seat. "No, Daddy!"

"Yes," he said, rising to his full height. "The boarding school was a trial run. I can't protect you there, but I can protect you here."

"It's not fair!" she cried. "It's not fair."

Ciarda ran from the room. Gina stood. She moved toward the open door, where Ciarda had run out, and hesitated before leaving. Her hazel eyes glittered with censure. "We didn't even talk about this, Tommy."

"Gina, don't." He sighed as he ran a hand over his face. "I know what I'm doing."

"This isn't just about you," she reminded him. "We have a family. You and I. Whatever's going on with you¡Kdon't lose sight of that."

"Never."

~...there is magic all around you...~

The digital images of the morning's photo shoot failed to hold Grace's attention. She normally worked at her office downtown, but with Michael's recent arrest, she had opted to come home to finish the enhancements for her client. Life as a freelance photographer gave her strange work hours and Michael's job as an investigator at Hardy International, Inc. made his work day even less typical. Before, this suited Grace just fine, but now that Michael's drinking had escalated, the lack of structure made her nervous. When she wasn't able to reach him, she worried.

But now, she knew exactly where he was. Her early arrival seemed to throw him off-kilter. Instead of welcoming her with open arms, he greeted her with a wave and then disappeared down the hall. Since his arrest a couple of nights ago, he'd been on edge. Hell, so had she. The knock-out drag-out fight with their parents and then between them hadn't been pretty. It all ended with promises from Michael that he'd go to AA with AJ. Tonight was the first meeting.

Curiosity got the best of her. Grace pulled away from her MacBook Pro and headed down the hall. Their condo was a wedding gift from their grandfather Alan. It was comfortable without being ostentatious. Shuffling noises carried from their master bedroom. She leaned against the doorframe as she watched her tall, handsome husband fill his gym bag with toiletries and a change of clothes.

"What are you doing?"

He jumped as if she startled him. "Oh, hey."

"Hey, yourself," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "What's up?"

"Nothing," he said with a shrug.

"Michael..."

"What, Grace? Come on," he said. "It's my gym bag. You wanna inspect it?"

He took the bag to her and opened it wide. She didn't look. Instead, she stared at his flushed face. He dropped the gym bag at her feet.

"AJ will be here any minute."

Michael frowned and walked away. He began to change out of his jeans and into his workout clothes, a t-shirt and shorts. "Look about that--"

"About what?" she snapped. "You promised!"

"Gracie, stop it," he said firmly. "I know but--"

"But what?" she asked. "You're not a man of your word? You don't honor promises anymore."

He paused in lacing his Nikes to glare at her. "That's not fair. I changed my mind. I don't need AA and I definitely don't need Dad hanging over my shoulder."

"You were arrested."

Michael released a loud sigh. "It was a misunderstanding."

"Please don't do this," she said quietly.

"What? Go to the gym?" He raised his arm and flexed. His bicep popped into a well-formed muscle. "I thought you liked that. It doesn't stay that way by itself."

"You're not funny."

He crossed the room to her and pulled her into his arms. "You have to lighten up."

"I don't want to compete with a can of beer or a bottle of Jack," she said, staring into his hazel eyes.

"Compete?" he repeated with a frown. "Baby, there's no competition. Don't you know there's magic all around you? You have me in flames."

"Michael..."

Protests failed to come to mind, and then the doorbell rang. His expression darkened. She watched in amazement as his mouth drew into a line. The ready smile faded from his eyes and mouth. Gone was the new husband on the verge of seducing his young bride. Grace couldn't believe that this was the Michael Quartermaine she'd loved most of her life. Surely one bender hadn't done this to him.

Unsure what to do, she slid her hands up his arms. He flinched at her caress, and his sudden release of her stung. The doorbell rang again.

"I'll get it," she said in a hoarse voice.

"I'll do it," he said, pushing past her. He grabbed his gym bag before he stormed down the hall to the door.

Grace followed at a slower pace. She lingered near the dining area as Michael wrenched open the door. To their surprise, George and Marissa stood on the other side. They rushed in without invitation. George's eyes looked wild and his hair was disheveled as if he'd been running his hands through it. Marissa, usually the wild one, seemed unusually calm and collected.

"Have you seen Ben?" George asked, almost frantically.

"No," Grace said, placing her hand to her chest as she moved to stand beside her husband. "Why? George, you're scaring me."

"Cops stopped by my place, looking for him."

"They found me at PCU," Marissa said.

"Why?" Michael took Grace's hand. "I haven't talked to him since he moved back to his apartment. I meant to call him, but...I..."

George stared at him for a few seconds before collecting himself. "I know. Look, I called him yesterday and he didn't call back."

"He's not answering my texts either," Marissa added.

"He had a mid-term the other day," Grace said. "Maybe he got a little side-tracked, plus with Dom in the hospital--"

"He moved out of Ward House because of Morgan," Michael said quietly, "maybe he ran away."

"That doesn't explain why the cops are looking for him," George said.

"Does Mom know?" Grace asked.

George glanced at Marissa and then shook his head.

"With Morgan around," Michael said, "she has enough to worry about." He dropped his gym bag on the floor. "I'll help you look for him. Mari, hang out here, okay?"

To everyone's surprise, Marissa nodded her agreement.

"But Uncle AJ--"

"This is important." He cupped Grace's face and gave her tender kiss. "I'm fine, Gracie. You have to trust me."

"I want to," Grace whispered as the door closed shut upon the exit of her husband and her brother.

~...the rooms are all on fire every time that you walk in the room...~

"So, basically, you're using me."

Dawn chuckled at the teasing, accusatory tone of her best friend although Liz's words were not without merit. "Of course not."

"Bullshit."

"Your language," Dawn scolded. Still clutching her iPhone to her ear, she kicked off her shoes and headed to the piano stool and sat. Her latest musical composition laid spread out before her. The notes and lyrics bared her soul to the world. Inside the safe haven of her music studio, she was confident that the music would be for her eyes and ears only.

"Language," Liz sputtered. "It's your first night back at the farmhouse and you're on the phone with me. Where's Nikolas?"

Dawn glanced at the door, hoping to God she wouldn't see him there. To her relief, it still remained closed. "I don't know."

"Let me guess," Liz said, in her no holds barred tone. "You're in the studio¡Ksitting at the piano¡Kand using me as your own personal cockblock."

"Elizabeth!" Dawn was torn between laughing and going into major denial.

"You are so full of shit," Liz said. "I'm hanging up. I will not be used as cockblock."

"That's not fair. I called to tell you about Dom," she said softly.

"Yes, you did¡Kat first, and I'm sorry he's not getting better, but at least Matt and Ellen are there now. I have faith they'll work another miracle."

Dawn choked down her worry and fears. Instead, she simply clutched the phone tighter and breathed a little harder.

"I can come," Liz offered gently. "But I won't do real-life cockblocking. At some point, you have to face Nikolas--"

"I am." Dawn sighed. "I will."

"I'm coming. Bianca, Miranda and I will be over on the next flight," Liz promised. "Everything will be okay."

Dawn chewed her bottom lip, resorting to anything to keep her emotions in check. The outpouring of love and support from family and friends had been enormous. She couldn't imagine where she'd be without any of them. To her dear friend who resided across the Atlantic and still managed to read her like a book, she said, "I love you."

"I love you, too," Liz said. "Cockblock signing off. Goodnight."

"Goodnight." Dawn ended the call and held the phone to her chest for a moment before placing it on the stool beside her. Then she started playing the music. Anything to delay the inevitable.

"It's never easy and you never know
What leaves you crying and what makes you whole
There ain't no way that I can hold it down
Falling to pieces forever in doubt

But it's alright, why don't you tell me again?
How you'll still be there when the heartache ends
But it's alright, why don't you tell me my friend?
How you'll still be there when the heartache ends?
Oh no, oh no..."

"I've been waiting for you."

Dawn's heart lurched. Damn. Her hands grew still and the lyrics lodged in her throat. Against her greatest intentions, she looked up and their gazes locked. Despite being dressed for bed in black silk pajamas and matching robe, her husband had an aura of lethal, focused intent. If she had to compare him to an animal, a panther would have been her first choice.

Nikolas stepped fully into the room, closing the door after him. The click echoed as if the door was locking them into a protective shield. His purposeful stride took him straight to her. Dark brown eyes raked over her from her head to her sock-covered feet before drifting to her hands that still rested on the ebony and ivory keys. She had pulled her hair free of the ponytail as soon as she'd found solace in her studio. It wasn't long before his hands slid under the unruly mass to grasp her shoulders. She tried to shift free of the sensations his firm hold created, but he held fast.

"You're so tense," he said, his voice an uncanny mixture of raw honey and steely grit.

"Yeah, I...um..." Dawn's eyes squeezed shut on their own volition. She wanted to hop up from the piano stool, but he had closed in behind her. She had no way out. Nikolas left her no choice but to endure the sensual torture of his strong, knowing hands that kneaded her corded flesh with expert skill.

"That song you were playing...the lyrics... I wish I could do that," he said. "That I could transform something raw and inexplicable into poetry."

"You just have to--"

The words faltered as his fingertips drifted into the opening of her shirt and skipped along the edges of her bra strap. Her eyelids popped open when he dared to go further. She grabbed both of his hands and squeezed. "Nikolas, stop."

"Why?"

"Because," she said, releasing his hands and scooting out of his reach almost simultaneously. She slid to the far end of the stool and stood. "Because we can't keep using sex...to...as a...as a..."

First a frown darkened his brow. As her words stammered out and then faded into nothingness, a faint smile dared to hint at his full lips. Dawn glared at him in response.

"I'm not laughing at you," he declared as his defense.

She gave him nothing but her back as she went in search of the shoes she had kicked off earlier.

"Dawn... I... Sex?"

"You heard what I said. Don't make light of it," she said, becoming defensive.

"I heard part of it, but you didn't finish." He hid his chuckle behind a cough.

When she didn't answer, he went to her. When she was ready to pummel him with the shoes, he took them from her.

"Don't touch me," she said as he seemed poised to do just that. "Just don't."

All traces of humor left him. "You're afraid of me? I'm sorry--"

"I know you're sorry. I know," she said. "You've apologized a bunch of times. I'm not afraid of you."

"Then what is it?"

"I don't want to have sex. I don't want to keep using it as a balm for our relationship¡Kas the basis for what holds us together--"

"What the hell are you talking about?" he said, his tone darkening with anger and frustration. "We've only had sex once."

"Nikolas."

"Dawn."

His glare spoke volumes and he refused to back down. "Once and that was a few weeks ago. And it was wrong. And it felt wrong. And it cheapened everything about us. Sex may work for some couples to get the edge off, but it's not what we do and it's not what we've ever done."

Dawn sat on her sofa and stared down at her hands that lay clenched together on her lap. Within seconds, he was beside her. His thigh rested just inches from hers. The heady aroma of his favorite soap, after shave, and personal scent assailed her senses. The combo was an aphrodisiac that made focusing difficult, but she didn't want to succumb anymore. Not like she used to.

He shifted. Immediately closing in as he placed his arm along the back of the sofa and his other hand closed over both of hers. "Look at me."

Against her better judgment, she did. Those brown eyes--dear God, his brown eyes were wide open with the depth of his emotions.

"Sex once in twenty years, but we've made love too many times to count. Even the adventurous escapades were all lovemaking. Sharing our bodies with each other is not the basis of our relationship, but it has been a healthy part of it. Other than recent events that I will eagerly spend the rest of my life making up to you, I have no regrets. None for loving you," he leaned against her ear and whispered, "or for making love to you."

"I should check on the kids--"

"They're asleep and have been for hours." His hand slid from her hands to rest at her waist. Meanwhile, his mouth suckled her earlobe.

"Nikky, don't..."

"Stop fighting," he murmured. "You want me. God knows I want you."

"There's so much that's unresolved..."

He gently cupped her face. "But there's a multitude we can resolve right now. Let's go upstairs."

"I don't know," she said, shaking her head. Resisting him proved to be a battle or maybe an incredibly high mountain. She wasn't sure which.

Nikolas pulled back and assessed the sofa. "This isn't big enough and the floor is too hard."

He stood and took her hands. The tent in his pants was impossible to ignore as was the ache between her thighs. Yet, still she hesitated.

"Were you planning to sleep down here?"

"I don't know." She swallowed hard and shrugged. "Maybe."

His mouth tightened. "We agreed to come back to the farmhouse as a family. Hiding out in your studio is not an option. I want you in my bed. I need you there beside me. I miss you."

She looked down at their joined hands. How many times had he held hers? How many times had she found comfort and solace there? How many times had those hands taken her to ecstasy? How badly did she want that again?

"I miss you, too."

(Song Credit: "When the Heartache Ends" by Rob Thomas)

[Author's Note #1: It has been a very, very, very long time since I have updated this story. Years even. Almost a decade, I'm ashamed to say. Thank you, Tammy Williams, for giving me the kick in the pants that I needed to get back to this. ļ In order to do this chapter, I had to start at the beginning. For the very first time, I enjoyed the story as a reader. When I say the beginning, I mean In the Dark of Night with Nikolas Cassadine picking up runaway Dawn Jensen and runaway Tommy Hardy arriving on his grandmother's steps. I went all the way back and it was a wonderful journey. So for every one of you who have read all of The Dark/Light Series and have been wondering if/when this one would be finished (if ever), thank you. I appreciate it so much. And thanks again, Tammy, a kick has never been so much fun. lol]

[Author's Note #2: You knew this was coming. E-mail only chapter for Dawn and Nikolas. They are so overdo for some loving. If you're interested, hit me up at niklovr@aol.com.]

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