AJ sat ramrod straight as he peered at the passing scenery. His heart raced. Nervous excitement rippled through him. Then, Keesha turned onto Charles Street and parked outside the Foundation.
"You no go," he said.
"I know." She turned off the car. "We've gone over this. Just promise me you won't overdo it. Dawn will bring you home if you get tired."
"Yes." He grabbed his cane, opened the door and moved around to the driver's side. "You nap. Eyes tired."
"I'm not as tired as I look." She leaned out the open window. "Kiss me."
His chest tightened. The light in her eyes warmed him. Tenderly, he pressed his lips to hers. "Love you, Kee."
"I love you, too."
He headed to the front door, pausing to see her off. But she waited and wouldn't leave until he was inside. Giving her one final wave, he went in.
His arrival was unplanned and unannounced to the rest of the staff. Only Dawn knew he would be there that day. And when he walked through the doors, their eyes met. She smiled and hurried to him.
"Welcome back," she said, hugging him. "We've missed you so much."
She slipped her arm through his and walked with him down the steps. As they reached the floor, others began to notice. Silence descended upon the office. No one moved. Then, there was applause. Loving applause. One by one, everyone greeted him. By the end of it, he was certain he'd made the right decision to come back.
"Your office is the same," Dawn said once everyone else returned to work. "I haven't used it."
"Yours. Use it," he said. It was pointless to pretend. Today was only a visit. More time and more therapy would be needed before he could return full time. He wanted her to know he trusted her and the job was hers if she wanted it.
"Mine?" She pressed her hand to her chest. Disbelief shone on her face. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. Yours. You do good. You stay."
"Oh, AJ." She patted his hand. "You're doing so much better. I'm glad you came in today. It's good to see you."
"Good being here." He looked around. The office vibrated with restless energy. Staff and volunteers alike worked diligently to honor CSF's credo. He longed to rejoin them.
"Are you ready to go home?"
Dawn's question broke him from his reverie. He rested his cane against her desk and leaned back against the chair. "No. You ready me leave?"
She shook her head with a smile. "No. The best part of this day is your being here. I can't get over how good it is to see you."
"Home you see me."
"I know," she said, "but it's not the same. You belong at CSF."
Her words eased him, made him feel useful. He didn't doubt her sincerity.
A hand closed over his shoulder. He looked up to find Nikolas Cassadine at his side. The younger man offered him a genuine smile while trying hard not to glance in Dawn's direction. Too hard, AJ thought.
"You're looking well," Nikolas said.
"Thanks," AJ said.
Nikolas's mouth thinned. "Dawn," he said in a curt greeting.
"Nikolas," she responded in kind.
After the younger man left, he asked, "Why?"
Like Keesha, her ability to understand him without extra explanation bordered on extraordinary. She shrugged. "It's nothing important."
His eyebrows lifted. "Wants you."
A coughing fit seized her.
Her eyes widened in surprise. "No!"
She nodded. "Positive. Wow, you are a lot better. I think you're well enough to stand up for me at a wedding. What do you think?"
"You want wedding?"
Again, she nodded.
He chose not to argue or question her. He simply said, "Yes, I stand for you."