Chapter 36

AJ crouched beside Michael's bed for one moment longer. Although his slumber hadn't been ravaged by violent nightmares filled with monster cars, loud noises, or his hurt daddy, the sleeping child had suffered through a restless night. Several times he had awakened to the darkened room, calling softly for his father and asking him about his Dawnie until finally AJ had promised him that first thing the next morning, they would surprise her with a visit. Then a sleepy smile of satisfaction crept across his beautiful little face, his eyelids fluttered close, and just as Mr. Sandman whisked him away to a dreamy state, the little boy whispered, "Thank you, Daddy."

"I love you," AJ hoarsely whispered as he rose to a standing position. His hand gently caressed his son's red locks. After one brief kiss was lightly placed on the youngster's plump cheek, AJ promptly left the room, leaving the door cracked behind him.

"How is he?" Keesha asked, looking up from one of Michael's coloring books as AJ entered the room. She sat curled up on one end of the sofa. Her petite frame was enveloped in one of AJ's navy blue PCU sweatshirts, and with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she reminded AJ of the first time he saw her. Young, fresh faced and eager. And, very beautiful. He smiled at her and she returned the affectionate gesture, patting the empty space beside her as she did so.

"He's sleeping now," AJ told her. Rubbing his face with his hands as he stifled a yawn, he said, "I'm sorry, but he gets like this sometimes."

"You don't have to apologize," she said, placing the coloring book on the coffee table. "I should apologize to you for just appearing at your doorstep, an uninvited guest looking for a free meal."

"Oh…so that's what you wanted," he laughed softly. "Well, you should know by now that you can always bum a free meal from us, anytime."

"I know," she said softly. Another smile came to his lips followed by a companionable silence. Keesha chose that moment to ask the questions which had burned in her mind ever since she had returned to Port Charles. "AJ, forgive my nosiness, but… Well, you've mentioned before that Michael has nightmares. Would you mind telling me why? I know it's none of my business, but my training makes me wonder if…well, maybe something can be done to help him. He's too young to be tormented so."

"You're right. No three-year-old should have the memories that Michael has," AJ muttered, becoming angry at the circumstances, which had been the catalyst behind the nightmares. Nightmares, which AJ also shared… Would he and Michael ever be rid of the pain?

"AJ?" Keesha lightly touched his hand. "I didn't mean to pry. Forget I said anything, okay?"

"No, it's not okay." He squeezed her hand to reassure her that he meant what he'd said. "I appreciate your asking and that you care about my son." He took his time as he chose the right words to continue. Upon realizing that the attraction they had once shared was still in existence, AJ had known that the time would come where they would need to discuss their pasts. This would be the bridge that would either lead them to a starting place to reconnect or it would show them how to say good-bye. He was hoping that the result would be the former, and unknown to him, so was she.

"Michael was mine all along. Carly and Jason both knew it, and they continued to lie about it. Carly's old 'friend', Lorraine suddenly found a conscious and told me. I wasted no time in fighting for custody of him. It was a long, hard battle and Jason's deep pockets and connections within the judicial system, didn't help matters any. But, when the decision came down, it was in my favor. Jason wasn't happy with the ruling and neither was Carly. They tried to appeal, but it didn't work. They weren't too happy about that either."

"I can imagine," she said softly as images of her nemesis and the man who occupied the body of her first love came to mind. "I wish I could have been here for you, but you had the support of your family, right?"

"Wrong," he said, shaking his head as he remembered the chaos which had erupted in the Quartermaine mansion when he had voiced his plans.

"What do you mean by that?" Keesha asked, indignantly. "Of course, they supported you." When he arched an eyebrow and shook his head, she became insistent. "What?! Who? Ned, of course. I wouldn't expect him to support you, but the others did, right? I mean, Monica's your mother and I know that Edward wanted Michael even when he thought he was 'that hoodlum's child' as I remembered him referring to Michael as."

"Well, you're kinda on the right track. Grandfather was in my corner, and Dad, too. The others…well, they didn't think I had a right to know my son. Monica wanted *me* to compromise. And, Ned…well, you know Ned." "Monica wanted you to compromise? I can't believe this! Oh, AJ, I'm so sorry I wasn't here for you. But, what about Lila and Emily? They were supportive. They were, right?"

He shook his head again. The outraged expression on her face caused him to laugh and he had to fight the urge to hug her to him. He'd missed her fiery disposition so much over the years, he realized as he began to answer her question. "Grandmother and Emily were all in Jason's court. Their lines of reasoning continue to boggle my mind, but of the two, Emily eventually apologized. After Grandmother learned of the car accident, she had a fatal stroke and died. We never resolved our differences."

Without a thought, Keesha pulled AJ into a hug. The first second of the embrace was heady for both. The way their bodies still fit together and how good it felt to be that close again... It was like time had stood still. Keesha leaned against him, reveling in the solid wall of his chest as it pressed against her softness. His hands felt masterful and strong as rubbed her back in sweeping strokes. How could she have ever stayed away, she wondered.

AJ wondered the same. Why didn't he go after her? This first touch, the closeness… It was perfection. No awkwardness from residual issues from the past. Just two people holding each other. God, she felt so right in his arms.

The embrace lasted for a few seconds more until Keesha slowly pulled away. She wanted to look in his eyes, but she knew that if she did, they would lose the moment. And, they couldn't afford to do that. There were still a few more things to be said. And, then maybe…just maybe…they could allow themselves to lose themselves in the moment. Forever.

"I'm sorry to hear about Lila. What car accident?" she asked, her voice husky from unspent emotion.

"After Michael was in my custody, Jason and Carly tried to make life hell for us. At first, Michael, Leticia and I lived here, but after the constant threats and harassment, we moved back into the mansion. It was a good thing. Mom and I talked, and after witnessing Jason and Carly's tactics first hand, she understood why I was so adamant against compromise-"

"I'm confused. Did the Judge grant you full custody? Not joint with Carly?"

"Oh, she and I shared custody, but Michael was to remain primarily with me. She could see him on weekends."

"I bet she hated that," Keesha said softly.

"Yeah, she did, and that's when she and Jason decided to take Michael back. Their stupid little plan… God! It was the worst moment of my life, Keesha. I didn't know if Mikey was hurt or if Leticia was dead… The icy roads, the gunshots… I can still hear it and I can still feel the cold. It was so damn cold."

"What did they do?" she whispered. She sat close beside him, holding his hand in her own.

"They were coming after me. Later, Carly admitted that she and Jason had intended to eliminate me from Michael's life. They paid a member of my staff off to tell them my itiniery for a business trip I was taking for SNR, but what the staff member didn't tell them…because he didn't know…was that Michael and Leticia were coming with me. They had planned to run me off the road, pour alcohol all over me and make it look like I had been drunk. For some reason, Jason changed the plan on her at the last minute and started shooting at me. He missed and shot Leticia dead. Michael was in the backseat with her and saw the entire thing. He wasn't even two, yet. Anyway, I ran off the road. If the tree hadn't stopped us, we would have landed in Starlight Lake."

"Oh, my God…" She remembered the drop from the highway down to the lake. Michael and AJ were very lucky to be alive. "What happened after that? They're both in jail, I imagine."

"Well, not exactly. Just as Michael and I went over the embankment, Carly swerved to avoid a semi. She ran right into a tree. She walked away with minor injuries. Jason wasn't wearing a seatbelt and flew out of the car. He died at the scene."

"Oh, AJ… I don't know what to say."

"I think it's ironic in a sad, sorry kind of way. I almost killed him the same way years before. When I heard, I was in a state of shock for a long time," AJ finished softly. Pulling her hand into his lap and covering it with his other one, he began to question her about her life. "Why did you stay away so long?"

"It won't make any sense," she shrugged. "Thinking back on it now, I don't know why I stayed away. My family needed me so I went home. After your calls stopped coming, I decided that maybe I should start over in Philly. And I did. I would have stayed there if the job offer hadn't come along."

"I was a fool to not go to you in Philly. I'm sorry, Keesha. I'm sorry for the stupid way things ended between us. We had gone through too much to just forget what we had."

"I agree, and I never forgot. And, I never stopped thinking about you, caring about you, and loving you," she admitted to him without shame or fear. "When I got the job offer from Mr. Cassadine, I accepted with the full intention of making you fall in love with me again. Seeing you with Dawn made me doubt myself, but AJ, you've got to admit that there's still something between us."

"I would never deny it," he said, his voice husky. He released his hold on her fingers to lightly trace a pattern of a tiny heart on her full, brown cheek. His fingers trailed down to her lips and as her lips parted in anticipation, he raised his eyes to hers. He saw the love she still had for him shining in her eyes and as a smile came to her face, he knew that she saw the same in his eyes, too.

This time they would get it right. He would ask her to marry him, she would accept. Together, they would raise a family and grow old together. Happily ever after really did happen they thought as their lips met in their first of many deep, loving kisses.


The former couple sat side by side on the old wooden bench at the far end of the dock. Their hands were clasped as they sat so close that their thighs touched. If anyone happened by and saw the two together, an erroneous assumption would undoubtedly have been made. The closeness they shared and level of comfort was such that anyone would assume that the pair was in love, but that wasn't the case. The pair simply loved each other. They had for a very long time and they always would.

"Em, it's freezing out here," Tommy said, shivering as a breeze blew in off the lake. "You should go home and get some rest."

"How many times do I have to tell you not to tell me what to do?" she asked, poking him in the ribs with her elbow.

"I wasn't telling you. I was merely suggesting," he replied. Another stronger breeze blew and neither moved. To offset the chill, Tommy released her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her to him. He wondered if she would protest, but she didn't. Instead, she rested her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him.

"Boy, does this bring back a few memories," she said, softly, snuggling against him.

"Yeah, this is where we made out for the first time," he said. He rested his chin atop her wool cap covered head. "Remember, how Taggert busted us and took you home?"

"How could I forget?" she laughed. "I was so embarrassed. I had no idea what he was going to tell my mom and your face… Oh, I had never seen you blush like that before!"

He laughed. "Hey, I wasn't the only one blushing. Besides, it was just getting good when he showed up. Talk about bad timing."

"Yeah," she sighed, "but we more than made up for it later." She raised her head from his chest. She wanted to see his eyes when she asked him, "Do you regret…well, you know, considering how things changed between us?"

"I don't regret making love with you, Emily. It was everything I had hoped it would be. I don't think things changed between us because of that, do I? I would hate for you to think that I was after you to get you into bed."

"What are you talking about?!" she asked him. "Of course I don’t think that. Even when we broke up so soon afterward, I never thought that. Sheesh! Give me a little credit. I know you, okay? I might even know you better than you know yourself, and I know it wasn't like that."

"I wondered for the longest time," he said after breathing a sigh of relief.

"Well, you should have asked. I would have been very happy to tell you."

"Whatever. You would have hit me and you know it. You forget, Emily Bowen-Quartermaine, that I know you better than you know yourself," he said, smugly repeating her words.

"Maybe," she said, resting her head against his chest again.

"Do you regret it? Losing your virginity to me, now that you and Nikolas are together?" he asked, shifting slightly in his seat.

She was quiet as she pondered his question. Did she regret making love with Tommy Hardy, Jr.? Did she regret loving him and fighting with him? Did she regret dancing with him and kissing him? No, she thought, shaking her head. She didn't regret a thing. He had been a part of her life and making love with him in their suite at the Port Charles Hotel after their Junior Prom had been one of the most magical nights of her life. She would cherish the memory always and never regret it. Her past with Tommy, the loving and the sharing, was a part of her. It helped form the young woman she was today. What was there to regret? It didn't have a significant bearing on her relationship with Nikolas and it never would.

"I don't regret it. Why all the questions? Do you regret losing your virginity to me, now that you're head over heels in love with Dawn?"

"What?" he asked. "I never said I was in love with Dawn."

"You don't have to say it. It's been in your green eyes for a few weeks now, and even if I hadn't noticed it there, it was written all over your face when I told you that Nikolas took her away. It's okay to love someone else, and it's okay to tell me."

"That's not it," he said, releasing a long breath. "I know I can talk you to about it…well, I thought I could, but I wasn't sure. I really love her, Em. I've been attracted to her ever since she interviewed me, but…"

"Go on. It's okay to say that you didn't love me the same."

"Because you didn't love me the same as you love Nikolas?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yeah," she softly admitted. "I fell in love with Nikolas almost the moment I saw him. It faded when I was with you and I did love you, but… Well, it just wasn't the same. I don't think I'll ever love anyone the way I love him. People see him and they think one thing, but they're always wrong. I know the real him, the good and the bad, and it doesn't matter. You know exactly what I mean, don't you?"

"Somewhat. I haven't been in love with Dawn for a long time-" He'd actually said it. His heart pounded a little faster and an overwhelming need to laugh and cry consumed him. He'd never been in love before. He had been shy about even really thinking it was true, but it was. God help him, but he loved Dawn Jensen with all of his heart.

"Are you okay?" Emily became concerned by his silence.

"I'm fine," he breathed. "I just hadn't ever said it out loud before. I'm sounding mushy, but I don't care, Em. I'm in love with that woman. I've been dreaming about her and wanting her for weeks now, but last night…last night, I think that's when it hit me."

"Will you tell me what happened last night? I know that she swore you to secrecy, but when I spoke to Nikolas on the phone…he was hurting. I want to be able to help him when he comes back."

"I know you do, and you're right. She did swear me to secrecy, but I'll tell you. Last night… I can't believe it was just last night, Em. It feels like forever, a lifetime ago. Anyway, she and I were at SNR going over my personal statement. It was getting kinda late so we ordered dinner from Kelley's-" "Don't tell me. You ordered the pastrami, right?"

His throat constricted at her innocent teasing. "Right. Now, I wish that I hadn't."

"Why?" she asked, becoming chilled at the sorrowful tone of his voice.

"Because if I wasn't so predictable, maybe Lucas would have tried a different way to get back at me. And, maybe Dawn and Nikolas would be with us instead of God knows where, grieving over the loss of their child."

"So, she did miscarry," Emily whispered. "I wondered…because Nikolas sounded so… What did Lucas do to the sandwich? He drugged it, didn't he?"

"Yeah. Somehow, he got to it before it got to us and laced it with PCP." His heart leapt to his throat, and he swallowed hard to relieve the pressure. He had to continue. Even if the pain of seeing Dawn go on a life-changing trip that was meant for him hurt him deeply, he had to talk about it. He couldn’t bottle it up inside anymore. "Our sandwiches got mixed up and Dawn opened mine. She wanted it instead of the one she had ordered, so I just let her have it. The drugs hit her fast and she was tripping before we knew what was happening. I should have taken her to Emergency as soon as it started happening-" "Don't you dare sit there and punish yourself. You weren't the cause of what happened to her or to her…their baby. Lucas is sick. He's sicker than any of us ever realized, and he's the one at fault. Not you."

"I know, but maybe if I took her straight to the hospital…maybe they would have been able to save the baby. You haven't seen her since it happened, Em. I know you two aren't the best of friends, but she's great. She's funny and smart and alive, but now… When I first saw her after the doctors told her about the miscarriage, my heart broke. She looked…like she didn't have a soul any more. She didn't even know she was pregnant, Em, and for her to find out like that… It's not right."

"No, it's not," she nodded. "It must have been awful for her. I can only imagine how that must have felt, and then, Nikolas pretty much found out the same way. After the fact. This is gonna sound bad, but I hope that Lucas doesn’t make it"

"It doesn’t sound bad, but I disagree. I hope the little bastard does make it. I want him to pay for what he put her through. And, Nikolas, too. Death is too easy."

"You're right. Death would be too easy for him."

They sat in silence as the sunrise appeared before them on the horizon. The first rays of light bounced across the water, presenting a beautiful array of colors. The various shades of orange, yellow and red reminded them that a new day had come and with it, a new hope for the future.

"Thanks, Em. Thanks for being here for me."

"You're welcome, but don't ever thank me again. That's what best friends do. We're getting through this, and there is a bright side."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah!" she nodded vigorously. "The charges against you were dropped, remember? You won't have that hanging over you and none of the universities will ever know."

"Yeah, I know. That reminds me, I gotta call Greg and thank him for telling the cops what he'd heard. I guess it's only fitting that Lucas got his butt kicked by the dealers he got the drugs from."

"It was exactly what he deserved. I just wish you hadn't been blamed for it, but half the school was witness to your fight. Anyone could have turned you in," she said.

"It doesn't bother me that someone did. I did threaten him. Besides, you're right. None of that matters now. The bad guys are being punished and us good guys are dealing. Are you okay with the two of them going off together?" he asked, removing his arm from around her shoulders. He stood up and stretched. He was tired, but time for rest would come later. He would have to face his mother soon, and if she allowed it, then he would rest.

"I wasn't at first, but I'm okay with it now. I trust him to come back to me. He said he would and I believe him. They needed to do this together. It was hard, listening to him ask you if Dawn was pregnant. I was afraid that he would leave me and go back to her. And, later when he called me and I knew that something horrible had happened, my fears went away. Don't ask me to explain because I don't understand it myself, but it just hit me. Whatever they were going through, only they could share it. And, I believe him when he says he's coming back to me. He will come back to me, and Dawn will come back to you, too."

Chapter 37