The little girl released Emily's hand and ran straight for him. Jason fought the overwhelming urge to draw her into his arms. To hold her close and run. To love her.
"Hi," she said, in her soft, high pitched voice laced with sadness. In a sudden move, she reached out, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Jason surrendered. He returned the embrace without second thought. Emily's stare didn't deter or surprise him. Ignoring his younger sister, he closed his eyes and inhaled the moment.
Maya's body was slight yet sturdy. Strength rippled through her as evidenced by her grip. Soft, glossy curls whispered against his jaw. She turned, resting her head on his shoulder. In a move that simply felt right, he pulled her onto his lap.
"Hello, Maya." His voice sounded hoarse and broken. He didn't care. He held his child in his arms. She came to him and hugged him. Hell, nothing else mattered at this point.
"Can I call you Uncle Jason?" She leaned back to look at him.
Eyes that mirrored his own stared into his. Tightness squeezed his chest. Damn. She was his! A child of his own. Only a few times had he allowed himself to imagine it. Taking care of Michael reminded him of what he'd lost and what he'd missed while running Sonny's organization. In those days, Jason believed his responsibility to Sonny was the one true thing in his life. Holding Maya on his lap only proved how wrong he'd been.
Right. Wrong. Those words had real meaning now. They made perfect sense.
"Can I?" she repeated, breaking him free of his past regrets. Her sweet voice reminded him that the present was far more important than anything else.
"Yes," he said.
"Aunt Emily says you are my uncle. I found pictures of you in Grandma Lila's photo album," she explained. "I didn't know. You never visit like Uncle Justus does. But Uncle Justus isn't really my uncle. He's my cousin. Are you really my uncle?"
No, little one, I am your father.
He swallowed the truth and nodded. "Yes, I guess I am."
"Will you visit me the way you visit Michael?" she asked. Her bottom lip trembled slightly.
He heard Emily start. Jason shook his head without looking at her. No one could interrupt this. Not even his sister.
"If it's okay with your Mommy…and Daddy," he said the latter with difficulty.
Her shoulders slumped. She leaned against his chest. The top of her head grazed his chin. She reached out and grabbed a button on his jacket. Playing with it, she said in a low, frightened voice, "Daddy's not feeling good. I can't see him."
A mountain of ache collapsed on top of him. The emotion in her tone shook him. Her love for AJ was overwhelming. Knowing that AJ returned the child's affection eased the pain, but only to a small degree.
"The nurses and doctors want him to be strong when he sees you," he said.
"That's okay," he said.
She shook her head. "No, it's not. I bet you don't get scared."
"Everyone gets scared." He rubbed her back. "Even me. Have you seen your mother?"
"Not, yet. Aunt Emily's taking me." She slid off Jason's lap but continued to stand close to him. "Want to come with us?"
He shook his head, all the while wishing to do the opposite. "I'm sure she's waiting to see you."
Emily came to take Maya's hand as the child asked, "Will you come next time? Please?"
A solemn expression claimed her sweet honey face. Her serious blue eyes mirrored his, but her face was a gift from her mother. Beautiful. Thoughtful. Intelligent.
Resistance eluded him. He found himself nodding. "Yes, next time."
She gave him a smile that he'd treasure until he died. "Thank you, Uncle Jason."
Emily bent forward and brushed her lips across his cheek. As she stood, she whispered, "Thanks, Jason."
With both the head and the heart of CSF recuperating at GH, Dawn moved into position as temporary leader of the organization. Stefan offered to help, but she wouldn't hear of it. His offer was appreciated. She just didn't trust herself with him around. Her fiancé's presence would only remind her of the enormity of AJ's condition. AJ's compassion and intelligence benefited CSF to no end. Knowing that the injury to his brain diminished a part of that was tragic. AJ was a good man. It wasn't fair that this happened to him.
As the days passed, she fell into a routine. The other employees and volunteers looked to her for guidance. Clouds of sadness hung low in the office. Day by day, she sought for ways to change the sentiment. By unanimous agreement, they decided to hope that AJ'd return to the Foundation in some capacity. Maybe not one day soon, but one day.
Most mornings, Dawn arrived at CSF early. She visited Keesha in the afternoon, helping her with Maya and relaying CSF's current events. Since the accident, Keesha hadn't returned to the Foundation, but her interest hadn't died. Her doctor advised that Keesha rested before diving back into everything too soon.
Dawn microwaved a mug of hot chocolate and began to review AJ's email for pertinent CSF business. As she read a note from a sister foundation in Dallas, the main door opened.
The warm, familiar voice came as a surprise. Slowly, she set the mug on her desk and looked at Nikolas. "Hello. What are you doing here?"
"Emily called and told me about the accident," he replied as he moved toward her. "I'm sorry."
"So am I." She stood and began straightening papers on her desk. Although she'd made her decision--Stefan was her only choice--Nikolas' nearness set her nerves on edge. Was it the quietness of the morning? The solitude of it being just the two of them? Whatever the reason, she didn't relish the sensation. She needed to be strong now. In every meaning of the word.
He reached out. She backed away and he dropped his hand. "How are you? I suspected you'd be here, holding everything together. Are you taking care of yourself?"
"Stefan makes sure I get the rest I need," she pointedly.
"Touché." He tipped his head in a mock salute. "But unnecessary. I care about you. Leaving Port Charles hasn't changed that."
"You and Emily could--"
"We could not," he stated firmly. "She's a good friend, but I won't use her. Not even to forget about what could have been with you. I'm not a man who thrives on regret. In time, this will all lessen."
Hesitant to respond, she nodded once.
"Emily also told me that you and Father postponed the wedding."
"Yes, AJ was to be my groom of honor," she said, emotion constricting her throat. "I can't imagine anyone else replacing him."
"So you'll wait until he's well?" Nikolas' eyes narrowed. "Father is in agreement?"
His mouth thinned into a line. He spoke in a low, raspy voice. "Then, you are proven correct. Father is the better man. For I wouldn't allow anything to delay your becoming my wife."
He stopped her retort with a raised hand. "No, I was out of line. My apologies."
"Have you returned to Port Charles or did you merely stop by for this?"
"I came to see you, and yes, I'm back. For now. As much as I try to pretend otherwise, Port Charles is home." He headed for the door. "I'd like to resume my responsibilities here if that's in agreement with you."
She noticed his jaw set and his stiff posture. He expected a fight. She refused to give him one. This could very well be a mistake, but she couldn't ignore that he was an asset to CSF. The boys' he mentored thrived under his attention. The donations they received multiplied almost one hundred per cent. Personal difficulties aside, she refused to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"It's fine. Whenever you want to start… Let Jenna know. She coordinates the volunteers."
His mouth opened and shut. Then, he nodded and left.
Dawn released the breath she'd been holding and went back to work.