*Friends…Old and New*
Dara's tour was such a success that Ned and Brenda decided to extend it and return to some of their favorite spots. Like Chicago. Despite the cold wind and rain of the beginning winter season, the Chicago natives flocked to Dara's performances. She ate the attention up, and her sets were pure perfection. Onstage, she could throw herself into the music and forget about the men who claimed her thoughts whenever the music stopped playing.
Near the end of her last set, while singing about finding love with a best friend, she looked into the audience. In the back, leaning against the bar, her gaze connected with a pair of familiar green eyes. Her heart did a mini-somersault when Mac smiled. Somehow, she finished the song with her usual flare. The last time they spoke he hadn't said anything about this trip, but he did mention a surprise. She supposed this was it.
"Hello, Dara," he said, waiting backstage with roses and a kiss. He closed his arm around her waist and they headed for her dressing room. "You were magnificent."
"I hate to admit it, but the last half was done on automatic," she confessed as she sniffed the roses. "I didn't expect to see you in the audience."
He grinned and perched on the rear of the counter. "That's why they're called surprise visits."
"Ah, I see." Her arms wrapped around him. As he returned her hug, she said, "I've missed you. Thank you for coming."
"You're welcome." His hands settled at her waist, keeping her close.
"I really am glad you're here," she said. "Chicago is not a city to be in alone. Ned and Brenda have been great and so has the rest of the band, but sometimes I feel like a third wheel. Now, that you're here with me, we can do the tourist thing together. Tomorrow morning let's—"
"Dara," he said, gently cutting her off, "I'll be on a flight back to Port Charles in the morning. I can only stay the night."
He hesitated, looking down at the floor before he returned her stare. "Katherine's trial starts soon. I told you about it."
"I remember," she said, "but what does that have to do with your trip here to see me. You're not her defense attorney. Aren't those people from Boston defending her?"
"They are, but she needs more than a table of defense attorneys with her. She could use a friend."
Dara pulled away from him then. She loved his loyalty to his friend, but what about his loyalty to his wife? Didn't he feel the strain between them? Their marriage could use a boost. His sudden appearance made her think—even for just a split second—that everything would be okay between them. Now, she wasn't so sure. Maybe they did rush things too much.
As her mind raced, she sat at the vanity and began to remove her make-up and jewelry. She could feel his eyes on her. He was trying to guess her thoughts while she was doing the same in regards to him.
"I tried to get here earlier, but the flights were delayed. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," she said quietly.
"I feel that I should. I want to be here with you, but I know she needs me. She doesn't have anyone else in her corner. I wish I could be two places at once, but I can't."
"I know, Mac," Dara said. "Don't worry about it. I have two more weeks here and then I'll be home."
He rose and moved behind her. His fingers combed through her hair before sliding down to knead her shoulders. "I'm looking forward to your return. We'll have to make tonight special. Okay?"
"Okay," she said, looking at their reflection in the mirror. Lines of strain marked the corners of his eyes. Although he hadn't said anything, he felt it, too. Dara knew he did. Suddenly, their future didn't seem very clear. She gave him a half smile she didn't really feel and said, "Yeah, tonight."
Sonny had set up shop as an importer of gourmet coffee. His offices were located in an upscale section of Port Charles. Apparently, the man had capitol stored away that the Feds didn't know anything about and weren't able to seize. Jason was aware of the specifics about the man his other persona clung to, but what he didn't know was the why. Why did Sonny choose Jason? Was Sonny partly the reason for Jason Morgan's cold demeanor to most of the people Jason Quartermaine held dear? He'd put off meeting with Sonny for as long as he could, but the questions nagged at him. He needed answers and he couldn't wait for them anymore.
The lone black Benz in the parking lot told Jason that the older man hadn't left. He was still in the building somewhere. Jason lingered outside for a few minutes. Anger and resentment threatened to build inside him. He didn't want to approach Sonny with the negativity controlling him. He had to be clearheaded and focused.
Taking a deep breath, he entered the building. A security guard stood at attention as he approached. The man in uniform swallowed hard as he recognized Jason. He took a step back and didn't say anything as Jason crossed the lobby to the elevator. Damn. Yet another response to Jason Morgan. Jason shook his head in silent sadness. Immediate fear. Jason Morgan must have been a real piece of work.
He found Sonny's office without any problems. It was the corner office facing the street. The door was opened and light spilled out to the hallway. Jason knocked once before entering.
"Jason," the other man greeted without moving from his desk. "Come in." He pointed toward the window that was to his left side. "I saw you downstairs. I wondered if you'd come up this time."
"You've seen me before?" Jason asked, crossing the room. He didn't accept Sonny's silent invitation to sit. Sitting was personal. He'd rather a distance was kept between them.
"Yes," Sonny answered. "I heard about the accident and its results. I would have visited, but you wouldn't have understood. I didn't think you'd need the intrusion. How are you?"
Jason's jaw tightened. "I'm adjusting," he said through lips that barely moved.
"You have questions," Sonny said, "about Jason Morgan and his association with me."
"What do you want to know?"
"Why me?" Jason asked. "Why did you turn me into your errand boy?"
Frowning, Sonny shook his head. "You were never my errand boy. You were my friend."
Jason snorted. "I find that hard to believe. Everyone who sees me fears me. A man like that couldn't have friends."
"You did," Sonny answered. "Me, Robin and there was something between you and Carly Benson. I never understood it, but it was none of my business."
"But your business is so extensive—"
"Was," Sonny interjected. "I'm in a new line of business now. The import business. I'm thinking about opening a jazz club near the docks. Something to give Luke a little competition. If you're interested—"
"No thanks." Emotions began to boil hotly inside Jason. His face grew hot and he knew that his anger showed as Sonny's frown returned.
Sonny stood and met Jason's hard glare without flinching. "Jason, I'm not the cause of what happened to you. You changed."
"And you took advantage of that."
Sonny shook his head. "Not the way you think. It wasn't intentional. You reminded me of… I know you don't want to believe this, but you and I were friends. You watched my back like no one else ever had before or since."
"What about the violence?" Jason asked. "People are terrified of me. Your security guard flinched when he saw me! Are you telling me you had nothing to do with that! I don't believe you!"
"You should! That had nothing to do with me. You were kicking ass at Jake's and tearing up your parents' place long before you joined me! And yes before you say it, I took advantage of that, too. You were strong, fearless and smart. When you got shot, I told you to quit! You didn't want to! The choice came down between working with me or being with Robin. You chose my life!" Sonny inhaled a ragged breath, visibly regaining control of himself. "If you want to know why, I can't give you the answer. It's inside you…buried somewhere."
Jason stood still. Sonny's outburst stunned him. He didn't know about that since Robin hadn't mentioned it. When Jason Morgan had the choice between love and danger, he chose danger. Why? He glanced at Sonny and found the other man watching him. The concern in Sonny's dark eyes unnerved him. Jason didn't want to be a part of this man's life. He didn't want to believe that they had ever been friends. The longer he stayed in the other man's presence, the less he felt he knew about himself.
He hurried from the office and went in search of the one person who could put it all into perspective for him.
Dawn strolled down the streets of New York with her arm tucked firmly around Vinnie's. They'd just come from a show at the Met and had decided to walk instead of ride back to their hotel suite. Despite the late hour and chill in the air, the city was busy with pedestrians and honking drivers. The Big Apple was certainly living up to its reputation for never sleeping.
They neared a Catholic church and Dawn's steps slowed. Vinnie looked down at her with concern. "You sure you don't wanna taxi." He jutted his chin toward her swelling abdomen. "You're walking for two now. Remember that."
"I couldn't forget if I wanted to," she said, subconsciously rubbing her belly. "Walking is good for us. I was just looking at the church. It's open."
"Yeah," he said, a strange note coming into his voice. "My brother Pete was a priest. Sometimes, he'd keep the church open late against higher orders to close it up. He didn't think a church could do any good with its doors locked."
"I remember you mentioning your brother," she said, recognizing the sadness in his tone. "Does it get easier?"
His broad shoulders slumped. "Not really. They killed him. All that was left was this." He reached inside his winter coat to pull a chain over his head. He held it out to Dawn. The crucifix was polished and beautiful. "I found that in the grill of the bastard's truck. No, ragazzina, it doesn't get easier, but Pete was prepared for it. Knowing that makes it less painful."
She started to hand the chain to him, but he refused. "It's your brother's. You should keep it to remember him by."
"I don't need that to remember Pete," he said. "Pete is here." He pointed to his heart. His arm closed around her shoulders and they moved away from the church. "I want you to have it. Consider it a present for the baby."
"I don't know what to say. Are you sure?"
He paused and gave her a look. The overhead lamplight showed the sparkle in his electric blue eyes. "Have you ever known me to not be sure about anything?"
She shook her head. "No, I suppose not." She pulled the chain over her head. "I'll wear it for now. Later, I'll tuck it away with the other items for the baby."
"You should tell him."
Dawn sighed. "I told you I will."
"You should tell him now," Vinnie persisted, "before he marries Carly. Don't play games. Nikolas has a right to know that you're having his child."
"I know he does," Dawn said quietly, "and I know it was wrong of me not to tell him. Do you know how upset he'll be when I do tell him?"
"The sooner you do it—" His words stopped and his demeanor changed. He grabbed her hand. "We're being followed."
"Don't look!" Vinnie whispered when she turned her head. "I just sense something. When I say run, be ready."
Her heart pounded rapidly. She thought the danger was over. Vinnie was with her as more of a friend than a bodyguard. What was happening? Her hand closed over her abdomen protectively. "Maybe it's just a mugger. You're so big. Of course, he'd be scared of you."
"Ssh, ragazzina," he said. His hand squeezed hers. "I'll protect you. You don't have to be afraid."
Just as he said the words, a loud roar broke through the silence of the night. She was torn away from Vinnie's grasp. The sound of gunshots rang in the air. She watched in horror as the bullets hit her attacker's chest and nothing happened. Her eyes flew to his and she saw that they glowed with fire.
She released a bloodcurdling scream. "VINNIE!"
Her bodyguard lunged at the frightening stranger. The force of Vinnie's tackle caused the man to loosen his grasp on Dawn. She stumbled backwards and somehow righted herself before falling to the sidewalk. The two men fought viciously, but the other man was wild, like an animal. Under the glow of the streetlights, Dawn thought she saw fangs. But that couldn't be. People didn't have fangs. Not like that.
Vinnie seemed to overpower the man, but then, he stopped and stared at the assailant. It was like for a split second in time, Vinnie was frozen. Then, he screamed to Dawn, "The church! RUN TO THE CHURCH! GO! NOW!"
She didn't want to leave Vinnie, but she was terrified. Kicking off her low-heeled shoes, she ran back up the sidewalk to the church in stocking covered feet. She could feel the heat of her attacker as he closed in on her. Fear and maternal instincts gave her added adrenaline. Breathing hard and screaming for help, she raced up the steps of the church. A man dressed as a Priest grabbed her as she tore into the building.
"Help! He's right behind me!"
The priest pushed her aside to stand in the doorway. Dawn slumped to the ground and just barely heard the priest say, "Be gone, demon. You're not welcome in the house of the Lord."
She waited, expecting her assailant to attack the priest and come in anyway. Seconds passed. Nothing happened. The priest closed the doors and knelt down to sweep her into his arms. He carried her inside and lowered her onto a pew.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"He didn't do anything to me, but my fr-friend… They were fighting! You have to help Vinnie! Please!"
"I will," the priest promised. "I'm Father Michael. What's your name?"
"Dawn. Please, Father Michael. Just help Vinnie. Please!"
"I will." He stood. "Stay inside."
The minutes passed like hours as Dawn waited for the priest to return with Vinnie. Her worry increased and she clutched the cross that once belonged to Vinnie's brother, Pete. Silently, she prayed for her friend. She couldn't imagine…
The door creaked open behind her. She jumped up, startled and ready to run. Dawn breathed a sigh of relief when she recognized the priest, but worry soon took over again when she noticed that Vinnie wasn't behind him. "Where's Vinnie? Did you see him? Where is he?!"
Father Michael shook his head and closed his hands around her upper arms. "I'm sorry, but it was too late."
"What do you mean, too late?" she cried. "Let go of me! If you're too scared to help him… Let go!"
"No, Dawn," he said gently. "It was too late. I'm sorry, but your friend Vinnie is dead."