~ At Face Value ~
The conversation Nikolas had earlier with Dawn wouldn't leave his mind. He couldn't believe how blind he'd been to his son's obvious affections for the twins. Perhaps, he still saw his two older offspring as children, about the same age as their younger brother, Adrik. Nikolas smiled faintly as he considered Dominik or Noelle's reaction to being thought of as an eight-year-old. Horror-stricken and mortified would best describe the expressions they'd wear, he thought with a chuckle.
Nikolas neared Dominik's bedroom and heard music coming from the other side. He knocked and his son called out,
"It's me," Nikolas replied.
"Come in, Papa," Dominik said. He smiled as Nikolas entered the room. Buttoning his shirt, he said, "I thought you were Adrik, looking for a hiding place for Peter the Great. I told him last night the answer was no, but you know how little kids are. They don't listen until they hear the answer they want."
Nikolas smiled. "Tell me about it."
He looked around Dominik's room. Most of his personal items were in his room at the dormitory. A few things remained, however. The chess set from Stefan. One of DJLS' framed platinum records for the CD they released the year after Dom was born. Photos of his family and friends covered the mantle above his fireplace and his desk. Nikolas noticed that images of Ciarda and Alanna were in abundance.
"Are you looking for something?" Dominik asked. "I haven't borrowed anything from you in a long time. I think I gave everything back before I moved out."
Nikolas nodded. "You did. I didn't mean to stare at your room. There were things I missed and never noticed before. It's a good thing your mother is more observant than I."
Dominik frowned. He stepped into his shoes and began to tie them. "What does that mean? I haven't been speeding if that's what Mama thinks. I don't want to be driven around like a baby. I promised to watch how I drive and I have been."
"It's not that," Nikolas said. He wanted Dominik's full attention so he waited for his son to finish with his laces. When Dominik was done, he said, "This is about you and the twins."
Crimson colored the teenager's cheeks. He looked at the floor and shrugged. "What about us? I thought you wanted me to talk to Ciarda." He raised his head and looked at his father. "I want to. Maybe I can help."
"I don't think that would be a good thing," Nikolas said. "You're attracted to both Ciarda and Alanna, aren't you?"
Dominik's jaw dropped. "Papa! That's personal!"
"I know it is," Nikolas agreed. "But it's something I feel we should talk about."
Dominik rolled his eyes. "First, Noelle and now you. I don't need this."
"What did Sunshine have to say?" Nikolas asked, surprised that his daughter was aware of Dominik's feelings, too. She was so much like her mother that it shouldn't have surprised him. But it did.
Dominik released a deep sigh. "She says I need to figure out who I want before I can help. She's wrong. What does Noelle know?"
"She's a female and she knows how she would feel if she were in Ciarda's place," Nikolas said. "Have you considered that the twins could be attracted to you, as well?"
"Papa, having this conversation with you is weird." Dominik turned his back and stared out the window. "I'd rather we didn't."
"I know, but we are," Nikolas said, refusing to back down. "You can handle this, Dom, and you can make the choice. Ciarda is in a fragile state right now. Life hurts and she's looking for a way to ease the pain. I've been there lots of times while growing up. I ran away from Greece to here and I ran away from Wyndemere. I was lucky because I had friends who cared, and then I met your mother."
"I know, Papa," Dominik said. "I know how much you and Mama love each other. I know how happy you are, but this thing with Ciarda..." He turned to face his father. "Noelle talked to me about it, and I've been thinking about what she said. What's hurting Ciarda isn't gonna change. Some people will never see beyond skin color. Ciarda's gonna have to accept that and deal with it."
Nikolas nodded. "Yes, she will, but before that happens, she will need to know that she can trust the people around her."
Dominik's face registered with hurt. "She can trust me!"
Nikolas crossed the room and took his son's shoulders. "Facing a broken heart and depression is a lot to ask of anyone."
"I wouldn't break her heart."
"You could if you're not careful."
Dominik stared at his father. "So you want me to tell her I have feelings for her? Do you think that will help her?"
"No, Dom!" Nikolas shook his head. "I want you to be honest with her about your feelings. That's all. If you're not ready or if you're not sure, just leave things be. Ciarda has a support system. Tommy, Gina and the rest of us are making sure she knows that." He gently cupped his son's cheek the same as Stefan had cupped his on many occasions. "Don't feel you have to do anything for Ciarda right this moment. Just that when you do approach her, know what it is you want from her. Friendship or love."
Keesha laughed as her children raced out the kitchen door. AJ stood at the kitchen sink with a mischievous grin on his face.
"You are too much!" she said, pointing at him. "Teasing them like that. There is no treasure map in the backyard!"
AJ laughed. "Yeah, but they don't know that." He crossed the room and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Besides, they were asking too many questions. If we're waiting for Michael, George and Grace to return before we announce our engagement, we have to distract the trio left here."
"I suppose there is some logic to that."
He raised his brows in mock hurt. "I think you're making fun of me."
"Never." She crossed her arms around his neck.
He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her as if there would be no distraction or interruption. He kissed her with love and promises. By the time he finally raised his head, both were out of breath.
"I'm ready for the honeymoon now," he announced, his voice husky and his breath warm. "I want you, Keesha. How long will I have to wait?"
"Not long," she promised. She lightly brushed his bottom lip with the pad of her thumb. "As soon as the kids come back, we'll tell them and have the ceremony. I don't want to waste any more time."
"So we'll apply for the marriage license today?" he asked, his blue eyes lighting with anticipation.
"Yes!" She kissed him again and slowly extricated herself from his arms. "We'll have to make a list. I don't want a big huge wedding. I want something simple with just our dearest friends and family, and not at the mansion!"
AJ laughed. "Definitely not. How about here? In the den? Or maybe in the backyard. That would keep it simple enough."
Keesha frowned. "Baby, that's too simple. I don't want to have to clean up afterwards."
"Well, how about the Port Charles Hotel?" he asked. "We could rent one of the conference rooms and let the Hotel staff take care of everything else."
"That's perfect!" She kissed him again.
His eyes danced as she pulled away. "I like making wedding plans. So much kissing is involved. Leave everything to me. All I want you to do is show up. Agreed?"
He held out his hand. Keesha shook it and nodded. "Agreed."
The front doorbell rang. AJ stood. "Want me to get it?"
"Thanks. I wanna check on the kids and make sure they're not digging up Granny Mae's daisies."
AJ waited until Keesha went outside before he moved down the hall to the front door. He opened it and could hardly believe who he saw on the other side.
"Robin," he said. "What are you doing here?"
"I was about to ask you that," she said. "You were next on my list, but it looks like you just moved up. May I come in?"
"Of course." He stepped aside and allowed her entry. After closing and locking the door, he led her to the living room. "Keesha is outside with the children. I can get her for you."
"No, since we're alone, I'd rather talk to you first," Robin said. "If you don't mind."
AJ frowned and pushed his hands into his pockets. "That depends on what we're talking about, Robin. I've put the past behind me. I'd like to keep it that way."
"That sounds like a good idea," she said, "but when you look at me, you remember the past. I'd like us to be friends again. In order for that to happen, we'll have to face what happened."
AJ shook his head. "I remember exactly what happened. You let me believe Jason was the father of my son, and when it all hit the fan, you skipped town. You didn't want to face your actions, so you ran away."
She swallowed hard. "I did. I won't deny it and although I couldn't admit it then, I was wrong. I should have told the truth."
"Damn straight," he said without batting an eye. He glanced toward the door and his chest tightened. Lowering his voice, he said, "If you're here to tell Keesha more of the same, you can leave right now. She's moved on. I don't want you coming here and hurting her again."
"You're so protective," Robin said quietly. "You always were. Are you and she together now?"
"That's none of your business."
Robin sighed in defeat. "So, we can't be friends? AJ, please. I was wrong. I'm sorry. Can't we forget my lies by omission and just be friends again?"
"Is that what you want for me to do, too?" Keesha asked, suddenly appearing in the doorway.
"It is," Robin said. "I said things to you the night I saw you and Jason kissing... It's pointless to repeat them now. Port Charles was my home and I'm back. If we can't make amends, seeing each other in the street will be awkward."
Keesha sighed. She crossed the room and took AJ's hand. "I'm willing to let go of the past," she said. "AJ?"
"I released it a long time ago," he said.
"Friends?" Robin asked. "Again?"
AJ looked at Keesha. "What do you say?"
Keesha shrugged and smiled. "Friends."
"It's official," Michael declared, his head resting on Grace's lap. "We've opened Pandora's box. Is it too late to close it?"
"I don't think so," George said from across the room. "It's obvious that Morgan is a real ass. He doesn't want anything to do with Mama or Jason-Everett. We can leave. It won't matter."
"It will matter," Grace protested. "He's our Dad!"
George shook his head. "My dad wasn't a racist prick. That's what Morgan James is and I don't want him anywhere near Mama, our brothers or Marissa. Let's just go back home."
"George, you're being stubborn," Grace replied. "Now, that we know he's alive, we can't just forget about him. Maybe he suffered a bad head injury during the crash. If we get him the right help..."
"You're grasping at straws, babe," Michael said. "He's lived like that for ten years. He won't change now."
"Call the airport and tell them to ready the jet, cuz," George said. "Let's get out of here."
"Not so fast," Michael said, sitting up. "I need to see him again."
"Why?" George asked. "He's not the man we remember. Let's just leave him to his stupid garage and stupid ideas."
"I agree," Michael said, "but not until I ask him about Eve. I have to know what happened to my Mom. I'm not leaving until I find out. You two can take the jet. I'll catch a flight on an airline."
George sighed and Grace took Michael's hand. As she squeezed, she said, "We won't leave you alone to find out the answers. We'll be with you, won't we, George?"
George nodded. "We're in this together, cuz. Here's hoping Morgan James doesn't dick us around with the answer. I resisted kicking his butt the last time. I can't promise that kinda restraint again."
Michael stood. "Well, let's go. The sooner we find out, the sooner we can go home."
[Author's note: So that there's no confusion, Morgan James is Jason Morgan.]