January 1998

The sterile halls of the neonatal ward echoed with the heavy footsteps of the lone man. Every night, he made the trek, waiting until the activity had died down and the ward was nearly empty. All of the nurses new him by name, but none approached him. Despair draped around him like a cloak. He walked with his head bent forward and his eyes on the white, spotless linoleum. His outward display never changed until he reached the glass partition that separated him from the resting babes in Intensive Care.

Tentatively, he raised a hand to window. Sadness filled his heart as he gazed at one tiny baby boy in particular. In his mind, AJ pondered what life mean to him if the tests had produced different results. If Carly Robert's child had actually been his own.


Involuntarily, he stiffened. The soft voice belonged to a woman whose ability to comfort and guide him had never ceased to amaze him. Under different circumstances, her presence would have been welcomed. Her beauty would have electrified him and her warmth would have made him long for something more than friendship between them. This time, however, his reaction was much different. Embarrassment made his face grow hot, and a dark scowl claimed his rugged features.

Her soft hand floated in the air to finally rest on his arm. He resisted the urge to shrug it off and instead, accepted the gesture for what it symbolized. Despite their chaotic past, she still cared about him. "Keesha," he murmured, his voice husky with emotion, "what are you doing here?"

"I was worried about you," she simply stated.

He covered her hand with his and gave her a gentle squeeze before releasing it. Shifting slightly, he moved so that he faced both her and the window. "You didn't need to be. Besides, how did you know that I was here? Have you been spying on me?"

His strained attempt at humor fell on deaf ears. Keesha's brown eyes shone with concern. The lines around her mouth were etched with worry, not laughter. "I can't help myself. You know that I'll always care about you. Even during orientation, you were in my thoughts and when I came home, the first thing I had to do was call you…and leave yet another message on your machine."

AJ drew in a sharp intake of air. "Keesha, I'm sorry that I haven't called you back. With work and the AA meetings, I haven't had time-"

"Stop," she said, briefly pressing her fingertips against his lips. "You don't owe me an explanation. I know what those results meant to you. I know what that baby still means to you, but he's not yours. The blood tests proved it. It's now time to move on."
"I know that, Keesha, but it's not that easy." He balled his hands into fists and shoved them inside the pockets of his baggy black jeans. "I could have been a good father to him. Look at Carly! She's not even here. She had him and then ran away. I would never have done that to a child of mine."

"I know, but it's not like he's all alone, AJ," she said in her soft, caring way. "He has a father. Jason-"

"Don't remind me," he interjected. "Jason who can do no wrong. Jason who is perfect at everything. Jason, the mob boy in training, who will get his son killed if he's not careful. Even now…even when you factor his present occupation and how it feeds off of people, takes their souls away and leaves them with fear…even considering that, he still has it good."

"Don't turn this into another thing about Jason. This isn't about Jason. Jason will take care of himself."

"And that little boy?" AJ asked, raising his head to look at her. "Who will take care of him? What will happen to him if Jason lands in jail or worse, dead? Carly's gone. What then, Keesha?"

"Oh, AJ," she said, sighing deeply. "Then that little boy would have the comfort of knowing that he has an uncle who loves him very much and who would be more than happy to take care of him. There's nothing wrong with loving him, but be careful, okay?"

"Careful? Me?" he asked. Laughter escaped him as the cloak of despair began to drift from his shoulders. He turned away from the window and fully faced her. Her chuckles joined his and he had no choice except to wrap his arms around her. The embrace felt good and his spine tingle where her hands rested. He ignored the electrifying sensations and ended their hug. Placing his hand at the small of her waist, he led her down the hallway. "I'll see about being careful, but I think that's something I should be reminding you about. What's this about orientation? Don't tell me you went through with it."

Their footsteps took them past the nurses' station and to the elevators. After AJ had pushed the call button, Keesha answered him. "I went through with it."

"I asked you not to tell me," he grumbled. His brows knitted together as he looked at her. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I needed encouragement and considering how opposed you were the last time I mentioned it, I didn't want to tell you until it was a done deal," she explained.

"And is it?" he asked, his expression growing darker as he waited for her response.

Keesha nodded. "It is. You're looking at one of PCPD's newest cadets. Officer Keesha Ward here to serve and to protect."

* * *

Oblivious to the drizzling snow and the chilly air, Stefan Cassadine paced the length of the rooftop. His anticipation had gotten the best of him as he waited for his lifelong ally and the medicine that she had promised to bring. He was never a man prone to outward displays of emotion, but with his son lying downstairs, prone in a hospital bed, self-possession was the least of his concerns.

A faint whirring interrupted the tranquility of the late hours. Stefan ceased his movement and stood still as a statue. Through narrowed eyes, he watched the approach of the helicopter. The tension that had possessed him since learning of Nikolas' stroke slowly began to fade away. Swallowing hard, his green eyes followed the aircraft's movement as it lowered to the ground.

A large bulky man exited first. Stefan had heard about him over the past year. Curiosity and concern had caused him to investigate him. Despite a period of incarceration, underworld ties and disappearance, the man now seemed to have gotten his life together. As his dear friend's bodyguard, Stefan felt that she was in capable hands with Vincent Terranova.

The next to make an exit was the lady herself. Carlotta Christofides descended the aircraft with the gracefulness of a cat. Wrapped securely in an ankle-length, powder white fur coat, she stood regal and tall. Her smooth tawny skin was rich and beautiful against the ivory fur. Fine, ebony hair was secured tightly at the nape of her neck. Precisely cut diamond stud earrings sparkled in her ears and nearly blinded Stefan as they reflected the rooftop lights. As he blinked to right his vision, the stupor her arrival had left him in vanished. He approached Carlotta, just as the final occupant left the helicopter.


The husky cry of the woman-child who leapt into his arms was bittersweet music in Stefan's ears. Crushing her to him, he whispered her name. "Dawn."

A carbon copy of her mother in the making, at seventeen years of age, Dawn's appearance was that of a European sophisticate. Not a hair was out of place and her wool trench coat was simple yet also elegant. In her godfather's eyes, she could never be anything less than perfect.

"Mother told me what happened. I hope that you will not mind having another Christofides in your orbit. I couldn't stay at Oxford after hearing about what happened to Nikolas."

"I would be devastated if you were not here. Of course, you are welcome." Stefan ended his declaration with a sound kisses onto the girl's full milk chocolate cheeks. He looked at her mother and bent his elbow in silent invitation. "You both are."

Carlotta accepted his offered arm and with his arm Dawn's waist, they headed for the warmth of the hospital. Behind them, Vincent cleared his throat. Loudly. "Carrie-"

"Vinnie, I'm fine," Carlotta called to him over his shoulder. "Your services will not be necessary for the remainder of the evening. Please feel free to get acquainted with the city."

"But, Carrie-"

"Really, Vinnie," Dawn interjected as she paused in the doorway to look back at him, "we're safe with my Uncle. We'll see you in the morning."

* * *

The light and laughter of the Grille's bar beckoned to Alexis Davis, drawing her in like a moth to a flame. She paused only for a millisecond in the grand hotel's lobby before turning her back on the elevators and her lonely suite to head for the promise of entertainment or at least, the numbness that the alcohol would bring.

Straightening her shoulders, she took a deep breath and stepped inside the dark, classically decorated room. Her dark brown eyes scanned the room. She didn't see anyone that she knew and feeling relieved, she went to the closest stool and sat down.

The bartender approached without delay and without hesitation, she placed her order. "Martini neat. Thank you."

Focused on removing her overcoat and making herself comfortable, she didn't immediately notice when someone claimed the stool beside her. A long sigh and a weary Australian accent interrupted her "me" time. Curious, she shifted in her seat to get a better look at the gentleman.

Attractive was her decision upon her first perusal. Tousled, dark blonde hair, crystal blue eyes and a muscular frame were discovered upon a closer inspection. Pretty damn hot was her final judgment, she decided, taking a sip of the Martini that the bartender had set in front of her.

"I'll have an ale, please," the young man said. He shrugged out of his calf-length leather jacket, letting it fall between him and the back of the stool. Rubbing his large hands across his face, he released another deep, ragged sigh.

Unable to stop herself, Alexis lightly tapped his denim-clad thigh. "Are you alright?"

The man removed his hands from his face. His blue eyes were slow to focus and when they did, the orbs darkened, reminding Alexis of a storm. She opened her mouth to apologize for intruding, but he responded before she could get the word out. "I've had better days. And yourself?"

Feeling only mildly confident that she hadn't troubled him unduly, she nodded once in agreement. "The same."

"It seems like once you've gotten a handle on life…you know who you are and what you want, then BAM!" he slammed his hand hard down onto the counter for emphasis. The bartender hurried over with a frothy glass and set it before the man. The man nodded his thanks and kept speaking. "The impossible happens. And I don't mean the "impossible" good. I speak of the "impossible" bad. Something you never would have imagined and something you should have expected if you'd kept your eyes open. Do you know what I mean?"

"Despite the curvy road you took to get there," she said after sipping more of her Martini, "I understand you completely. Some day, you promise to ask yourself why didn't you see it. Why did you close your eyes? Why didn't you consider all the possibilities and have an alternate strategy?"

The man gulped down his beer. When he'd had his fill, he nodded. "Exactly. A day doesn't past when I don't question myself. Why didn't I see it coming, you know? I was the one closest to her. I should have known that she was hurting, but instead, I chose to believe the act she put on. I swear if I could do it all again, I'd take care of the sorry SOB- Um, pardon me, ma'am. I'm tired and am at my wit's end. I don't wish to offend you."

"You haven't," Alexis assured him. "There's a sorry SOB that I know of whom I'd like to settle a few things with, too. You haven't offended me. Not one little bit."

He smiled. "Well, that's good to know. I'd hate to think that in my brief moment of clarity I had turned away a potential new friend."

The dark blue eyes were now lighter. The azure crystals dazzled Alexis and took her breath away. She was beginning to think that the word "sexy" just didn't do him justice. A little stunned by his change in demeanor, she could only smile in response. It was all the encouragement he needed.

The man extended his hand. "Jasper Jacks. And you are?"

"Alexis Davis," she said, accepting his hand. "Very pleased to meet you. I feel like an idiot. I should have recognized you from the very beginning."

"Well, the same goes here," he answered. With reluctance, he released her hand and rose to his feet. "I appreciate your listening to my tales of woe. I hope that you will give me the pleasure of returning the favor. Soon."

"I will look forward to it," she answered, giving him her best smile.

He tapped his forward in mock salute. "Until then, Miss Davis."

"Until then, Mr. Jacks," she murmured after he left her at the bar. "Until then."

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