Part 30

The Recovery Room vibrated as a party to celebrate two occasions was underway. Streamers hung, music blared and everyone in attendance was happy to be there. The two guests of honor were just happy to be together again.

A sweet ballad came on and Sonny reached for his daughter's hand. Today marked her eighteenth birthday and his first official day of freedom.

Three years ago before a jury could find him guilty of manslaughter and illegal firearm possession, he told Alexis to cut a deal with Justus. At first, his attorney balked at the idea, but Sonny remained firm. He couldn't stand to see the toll the trial was taking on Hope. Her dark brown eyes were rimmed with redness from her tears.

He didn't know what to expect when he and Alexis walked into Justus' office. He was sure the DA would use him to make a statement, but to their surprise, Justus offered him something he never thought he would have: a second chance.

Adjusting to life behind bars hadn't been easy. The claustrophobia made it worse than it would have been otherwise. He toughed it out as best he could and now, a miracle happened and he was a free man. Well, as long as he didn't violate his parole.

So that meant no more of the organization and everything had to be legit from then on. Well, as long as no one knew. And no one did. But Sonny had plans to reclaim his empire and he would do it. One step at a time. But first thing's first...

"Happy birthday, mi hija," he said with a smile for his daughter.

"It is happy now," she said. "I am glad that you are free."

"So am I."

# # #

Dara watched father and daughter dance from across the room. Sonny and Hope moved together like they had never been apart. Her heart grew warm at seeing her daughter happy.

"Eighteen," Lois said, joining her. "It's amazing how fast time flies. She's a woman."

Dara smiled. "She'll always be my baby. I'm glad things are better for her."

"Me too. She is happy. Sonny is, too." Lois gave her friend a measured look. "What about you? Are you happy with how things turned out?"

"I don't know," Dara said. "Time will tell."

# # #

***Flashback***

Without Dara's knowledge, Marcus and Felicia began an investigation as to how and why Hope was taken away from her. It took them several months, but eventually they fitted the pieces together--Scully, Dara's father, Sonny, and Dara--and presented them to Dara.

"I don't want to believe this," Dara said, looking through the pile of evidence that Marcus and Felicia presented her. "My own father worked with Joe Scully. He took my daughter away. How can this be real?"

"It's real," Felicia said gently. She moved across the room to sit on the edge of the coffee table facing Dara. "What do you want to do about this?"

"Do?" Dara stared at them, finding it difficult to comprehend. "Scully is dead and my father... We don't have a relationship anyway. Cynthia has seen to that. Do? Don't do anything. Knowing is enough."

Felicia patted her hand. "I suppose you're right." The blonde private eye stood. "If you need anything, you know where to find me. Take care."

Dara rose. The two women hugged and Dara showed Felicia to the door. After she closed and locked the door, she took a moment before turning to face Marcus. His gaze bored into her. She could feel his thoughts running at a rapid pace inside his head. He wanted more, the things she couldn't give him. Now was the time to come clean, but she didn't want to. She wasn't ready to tell him goodbye.

"You asked me not to," Marcus said quietly from the window, "but I couldn't leave it alone. You had a right to know."

"Yeah," she said. Dara glanced toward the hallway that led to the bedrooms. Hope was with Mike for the day, but soon her daughter would return home. She wasn't sure if she should share this information with her or not.

"How's Hope?" he asked. "Seeing her father on trial can't be easy for her."

"It isn't," she replied. "But she's keeping her head up."

"And you?" he asked. "How are you?"

Dara shrugged. "I'm okay. I just wish that..."

"I wish that you loved me," he said.

"I do."

"Not as much as you need to in order to be my wife." He crossed the room. His knuckles brushed against the swell of her cheek. "I wonder if you ever will."

Tears lodged in her throat. Dara swallowed them down. "I want to."

"I know. That's what hurts the most." He leaned forward and kissed her. "I'll be around, Dara. Never far. Always close by if you or Hope need me. I love you."

As he left and the door clicked shut after him, she said softly, "I do need you."

***End of Flashback***

# # #

"Are you gonna stand over here hugging the wall or will you talk to her?"

Marcus grunted at Alex's question instead of answering it. Dara...God, she was so beautiful and smart. After resigning from the DA's office, she became a law professor at PCU and was a damn good one! He knew because he had sat on a few of her classes, always making sure to sneak in after the lights were dimmed and her attention was diverted from the late comers. It was the coward's way, but for him, it was the only way. Until he could purge her from his system. And the way it was looking, that would never be. Dara was under his skin. For now and always.

"She wouldn't have invited you to Hope's party if she didn't want you here," Alex reminded, ever the voice of reason.

"She invites me every year," Marcus grumbled. "It doesn't mean anything."

"It means she still cares about you."

"As a friend," Marcus said quietly, watching as Dara smiled and chatted with Lois and Justus. "Always as a friend."

# # #

"Well, she's legal now," Jamal commented under his breath as Lucky came within earshot.

Lucky frowned. Heat burned his neck and cheeks. Damn, he hated blushing! "So?" he said through gritted teeth. All the while, his gaze never strayed from Hope as she danced with her father. Yeah, she was legal now and dangerous as hell. And he wanted her body and soul.

"I'm just saying," Jamal remarked with a shrug. "She's my cousin. If you make your move now, proceed with caution."

"What makes you say that? 'Make my move?' She's a friend."

"I've never looked at a friend the way you look at Hope," Jamal said. "You bided your time and the wait is over."

"I haven't been waiting for anything," Lucky denied.

"Bullshit." Jamal bit into a mini-tamale and chewed. "Mama Bear and Papa Bear are hip to your intentions. I can't speak for Corinthos, don't know him that well, but I can speak for Dara. She won't take kindly to you breaking her daughter's heart."

Lucky's shoulders bunched. He folded his arms across his chest. "Double talk has never been your style. One minute, you're telling me to go after her and the next, you say that Dara will kill me if I do."

"No," Jamal said, shaking his head. "She'll only maim you...if you hurt Hope. The key is not to hurt her."

Lucky opened his mouth to defend himself, but Jamal quickly added, "I know you care about her, man, and the feeling is mutual. Don't play her is all I'm saying."

Lucky's defenses relaxed. From across the room, Hope's gaze connected with his. He smiled as he responded to Jamal. "I won't."

# # #

Mike took Bobbie's hand and raised it to his lips. A wicked gleam danced in her dark eyes. Their affection for each other came as a surprise but neither denied or turned away from it. During the darkest days of their children's divorce, they banded together and found there was more than just friendship between them.

"You made it," he said, resting his hand at the small of her back.

"Wild horses couldn't keep me from your granddaughter's birthday party."

"I wish that extended to your daughter," he commented quietly. "Hope really wanted her little brother here, and Carly, too. Her absence is..."

"Typical," Bobbie replied sharply.

"So, she's not coming?" Mike asked. "She has a right to her feelings about Sonny, but that's not a good enough excuse to keep Mikey away on a day like today."

"I don't know if she's coming," Bobbie answered. "She wouldn't say when I asked. I know that Mikey wants to be here and if she doesn't bring him, she'll have hell to pay. When it comes to throwing tantrums, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree."

Mike's mouth curved into a faint smile. "No, it hasn't."

# # #

"Mommy!" Mikey, now a precocious six-year-old, yelled at the top of his lungs. "Hope's party is at the Recovery Room! Not De'ption! I wanna go to Hope's party!"

Carly rubbed her temples. A headache threatened to cause her head to explode. Her son had a mouth and a temper, and both were pissing her off. "I have to make at a stop at Deception today. I told you that."

"I don't care!"

"Listen, Michael!" Carly snapped. "You do not yell at me. Ever!"

She glanced in the rearview mirror. He was strapped in his car seat in the middle of the back seat. A cap of dark, silky waves covered his head. His face flushed with anger and his bottom lip trembled. Then, his eyes watered and the tears spilled down his cheeks.

Carly inhaled a sharp breath. Shit! Tears. If all else fails, cry seemed to be Mikey's motto. Where the hell did he learn that, she wondered.

"Mikey, don't cry," she said, cringing as his wails filled the Mercedes.

"I promised Hope I'd sing happy birthday to her," he said through his sniffles. "She always sings to me. I wanna sing to her."

"I'll call her on my cell..."

"No. In person! She said she had a surprise for me. I want Hope and I want my surprise!"

A surprise, huh? Carly's teeth gritted. She knew about Hope's surprise: Sonny. He was a free man again, and unfortunately, three years apart hadn't changed the power he had over her...

Correction. The power she gave him. The sessions with Gail had decreased in the last six months. Carly had faced her demons and fought them all. There were the occasional slip-ups like choosing the next Face of Deception without consulting Laura, but other than that... Who was she kidding? Parts of her personality would never change no matter how many times her head was shrunk. Life made her who she was, but one thing she didn't want to be anymore was a liar.

She glanced in the rearview mirror at her son's sad face. Nor did she want to be a bad mother.

"I have a surprise for you, too, Mikey," she said. "Just sit tight, baby. I know you'll like it."

# # #

Sonny's plea included having Jason go free in order to pursue recovery. Sonny agreed to serve Jason's time. Jason balked at the deal. In the end, Sonny won, but so did Jason.

He and Keesha married a year after the shooting. To his dissatisfaction, Jason didn't stand before the altar. He was still confined to a wheelchair, but two years later and with the aid of crutches, he stood. And even walked a few feet. Therapy, time, and Keesha's love worked wonders. He didn't doubt that one day, he would walk again.

"I don't want him to feel sorry for me," Jason said, grumbling as Keesha removed the wheelchair from the trunk of their car.

"He's your friend," his wife replied, as she rolled his chair to the passenger side. "Sonny doesn't pity you. No one does."

"Right."

Her mouth pursed into a delectable bow. He resisted the temptation to kiss her and moved onto his chair. As she slammed his door shut, he stared at the bulge at her waist. His hand palmed the rounded curve of her belly. She leaned back against the car and smiled. Her hand covered his.

"Our baby won't pity you either."

Movement fluttered against his palm. His breath caught. "Did you feel that?"

"Yeah," she said smiling widely. "Our baby has spoken. Let's go inside and celebrate."

# # #

Hope soaked up her father's attention. Finally, the glass barrier that separated them was gone. She could touch his hand, hug him and dance with him. The three years behind bars had changed him. Gray mixed with his jet black hair. Lines stretched from the corners of his eyes. And he was quieter and more focused. But he was still her daddy and deep inside the dream of having her parents reunite still lived on.

"I shouldn't steal all your dances," Sonny said as a new tune began to play. "I'll sit this one out."

Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him. "You're tired."

"I haven't danced in a long time," he confided. Squeezing her hand, he added, "It's your party. Enjoy yourself."

"I am."

She led him to Dara. Her heart skipped a beat as her mother and father smiled at each other. Was it a special smile? Did it mean something? Did her mother feel tingly the way she did whenever Lucky smiled at her? Hope grew warm. Scratch that last question. In order to be a successful matchmaker, she needed to focus on her couple. She'd concentrate on Lucky Spencer later.

"Daddy's tired," Hope said in a loud, conspiratorial whisper to her mother. "Will you take care of him?"

Sonny frowned. "I don't need Dara taking care of me."

"Your father is perfectly capable of taking care of himself," Dara responded at the same time.

"I don't agree," Hope said, looking at each parent, "with either of you."

"The rebellious teenager," Dara commented without harshness or censure.

"I'm not rebelling," Hope said. "I just happen to know what's best for you. Talk," she said softly, taking their hands. "Please, for me. It's been a long time."

She turned on her heel and left them alone. Brooding and quiet, Lucky drew her like a magnet. She went to him and pulled him onto the dance floor. Her arms encircled him. "Enjoying the party?"

"It's not bad." His hands flexed at her waist, squeezing and sending shivers up her spine. "You?"

"Yes. My parents are talking and we are dancing. And I'm a legal adult. We can stop running away now."

Lucky's blue eyes darkened. "I never ran."

"You've never kissed me either."

His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. "Is that a request or an order?"

"Both."

He gave her a smile that told her things would soon change between them. "Just checking."

# # #

"She wants us back together," Sonny said staring into the eyes of his first love and lover. "She wants a family."

"She already has one," Dara responded. "She has parents, a grandfather and a little brother. It may not be in the traditional sense, but her family is real and we all love her."

Her eyes darted from his. They were on shaky ground. When he listened closely, he swore he heard it rumble beneath his feet. Three years ago, his marriage ended and his freedom was taken. The jail sentence gave him time to sort out the past.

Carly's instincts had been dead on. He and Dara never had real closure. He locked his feelings for her inside his heart. When they were kids, she gave him hope and he gave her the same. When they were together, he saw beyond Deke's abuse to the future. She forgot about her father's neglect. They found joy in each other in ways that only the very young could. Without the interference of her father and Scully, their paths would have been different. Better? He couldn't say. But definitely different.

"You're dancing around the pot," he said finally.

"There are no second chances," she said, raising her gaze to his. "You said it and I agree."

He met her stare. "I was wrong. Everyone deserves a second chance."

"HOPE!"

A high pitched cry prevented their conversation from going any further. Sonny's heart lurched as his son ran across the room and into Hope's arms. Whenever Carly brought him to visit, Mikey was calm and subdued. But this was a different version of his little boy. Animated and boisterous... Sonny's jaw dropped. He'd missed so much.

"Go to him," Dara said. "They're both yours."

# # #

Carly entered the restaurant without the grand entrance as her son. She and her mother made brief eye contact. Yes, Mama, I can be selfless, Carly thought. I can be more than you ever dreamed of.

A hand brushed her arm. "Thank you for coming." The smile in Dara's eyes was sincere, as was the warmth in her voice.

"We couldn't miss Hope's birthday besides, I have an announcement to make."

Dara's eyebrows shot up with interest. "Oh, yeah?"

"Would you mind?" Carly asked. Coming to an understanding with Sonny's former lover hadn't been easy, but Carly managed to do it. She and Dara had a lot in common. Both of them had loved a difficult man and given him a child. Carly suspected that they both still loved him and didn't know how to deal with it. Hell, she certainly didn't know how.

"Go right ahead," Dara said.

Carly moved to the center of the room and yelled for silence.

Justus, Lois, and Brook Lynne went to Dara's side. Justus' arm closed around his wife's waist as he murmured, "This should be good."

"Hush," Lois said with an elbow to his ribs. Brook Lynne giggled her agreement.

"An eighteenth birthday is certainly a cause of celebration," Carly said as the room became quiet, "but so is this!"

She pulled a framed magazine cover from the brown paper bag she held. Holding the image high, she said, "I present you the newest Face of Deception: Hope Jensen Corinthos!"

# # #

The party continued after Carly's announcement. While the music played and people mingled, Hope pulled the older blonde into a hug and whispered, "Thank you! I didn't know how to tell them."

Carly nodded. "I know. That's why I did it. If they get mad, they can take it out on me."

"No," Hope said with a shake of her head. "It's what I want. I hope Mrs. Spencer will be okay with it..."

"Don't worry about Laura," Carly said. "I can handle her--"

"Can you handle me?" Sonny appeared without warning. "I don't want Hope's face plastered around the world. How could you do this?"

"She did it because I asked her to!" Hope defended.

Dara joined them. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," Hope replied. "Will you be happy for me?"

"I can't be happy if you're not safe," Sonny stated.

"She'll always have guards," Carly said quietly. "I won't let anything happen to your daughter."

"Daddy," a voice chirped from below.

Sonny squatted to face his son. "You've grown."

Mikey threw his arms around his father's neck. "You are my surprise!"

"You are mine." Sonny's eyes locked with Carly's. "Thank you."

Unable to speak, Carly simply nodded.

# # #

"Thank you for coming."

Marcus shrugged off Dara's gratitude. "I couldn't miss Hope's birthday. You have a beautiful daughter."

"And smart, too."

Marcus smiled. "She gets both from you. You have powerful genes."

Dara laughed. "I can't take all the credit."

Marcus's smile faltered. "I didn't think you would."

He bent forward and brushed his lips across her cheek. He felt her tremble but refused to think anything of it. "I'll talk to you later."

# # #

In the following weeks, Hope shined as the Face of Deception. Her relationship with Lucky blossomed. Ignoring the watchful eyes of her family, they set their own pace and progressed from there. And when her parents started to spend more time with each other, elation filled her heart.

Dara never dreamed how things could change between her and Sonny. Second chances did exist. It just depended on how a person went about taking it. Her professorship with the university proved there was life after the DA's office. And what she and Hope shared...second chances didn't get any better than that. With all said and done, real happiness seemed to be on the horizon.

Sonny welcomed Dara's friendship. He didn't realize how much he missed it. They talked, argued, and laughed together. It was great. The time with her balanced the darkness of betrayal that burned his heart. He discovered the identity of the snitch he and Jason discussed so many years ago. It was someone he considered a friend, a confidante. And when the hit went as ordered and Johnny's body washed up on the shores of Spoon Lake, he grieved along with everyone else and then he set about reclaiming what was once his.

Carly honored her promise and handled Laura. Just as she thought, Laura wasn't too upset about her choice, but the other woman was pissed about how Carly made her decision. The women worked it out. Completeness with her family and her career brought light to her life and soothed the old pain in her heart. Things always had a way of working themselves out. She learned. She lived. She loved.

Marcus forged ahead. The private eye business was rewarding and Felicia proved herself to be an excellent partner. After Keesha gave birth, he and Felicia looked forward to her joining their team. And he looked forward to the future. His gut told him that things were gonna start looking up.

Around the time Jason and Keesha celebrated the birth of their son, their two friends celebrated love and their choices for mates couldn't have surprised the citizens of Port Charles more.

THE END

(Author's Note: Sonny's plea bargain is one of the beauties of fan fiction. It wouldn't have been that simple or that short of a sentence in real life.)

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