THE PLEDGE CHAPTER 25

Dara walked into the maternity suite with a confidence she didn't feel. She was walking into the lion's den and she had to act ready.

"Good afternoon," she greeted everyone in the room.

Her salutations were returned to her by Nikolas, grinning happily, holding his newborn and sitting beside Gia on her hospital bed; Laura, Stefan, Ned, Kristina, Alexis, and Leslie. Mama Florence remained silent.

"Dara, I'm so glad you're here. Come see your nephew," Gia invited her, urging Nikolas to move.

Dara took the precious newborn from his father and peered down into the scrunched up face. Her heart melted. She remembered when Craig was this little and small.

"Marcus Stefan Mikhail Cassadine meet your Aunt Dara."

Dara's breath caught and she looked at Gia.

Gia nodded. "We wanted him to be named after the two most important men in our lives."

Nikolas nodded in agreement.

"He would have been so touched."

"I think so, too."

Finally opening his brown eyes, Dara swore she could see something of Marcus in them. She was sure of it. He lived on in his nephew just as he would live on in the baby she carried within her. Kissing Marcus gently, he began to fuss and she handed him back to his father.

"I'll take him into the other room, give him a chance to breathe," Nikolas informed his wife.

"We better go," Ned and Alexis said in unison.

"I'll walk you out," Stefan said, following the group out of the inner sanctum of the hospital suite.

"He is beautiful, Gia. You did a good job," Dara smiled.

Gia beamed. "Nik and I do good work, but after all that pain that might be all the work we do ever, especially since my new niece or nephew will get Mama off my back about having another one since her attention will be divided between the two babies."

"Gia, you are my only chance at having any grandchildren since," Florence pivoted and faced Dara, "you sold your body and soul to the devil- -"

"Mama Flo- -" Dara began.

"Don't you dare call me that. You are the same two-bit whore with a child that seduced my angel into marrying him and now that he's dead your true colors emerge once again."

Dara opened her mouth to speak, but no words would come out. She had known that Florence could be harsh and judgmental at times, but to think these things about her. That she seduced and cajoled and pressured Marcus into marrying her. He'd never hinted or said one word about his mother's dislike of her. She guessed she wasn't the only one in their relationship that had been good at keeping a secret.

She could hear Gia and Leslie trying to reason with her former mother-in-law. Leslie was seemingly succeeding in moving Florence closer and closer to the living room area of the suite.

"Why should I keep my voice down? This is my daughter's suite, she's the intruder," Florence declared.

"Mama, I- -"

"Now that I think about it, as quickly as you married my baby's enemy, the baby you're carrying probably isn't even Marcus'. How long have you been sleeping with that mobster behind my son's back? That's why you couldn't win a case against him- -"

"Florence," Stefan said in his most authoritative voice, walking back into the inner-suite. "Simon is here to take you back to Wynderemere."

"But Gia- -"

"Is tired and so is the baby. Nikolas is going to stay with them, while Laura, Leslie, and I attend to hospital business."

"I'll walk you to the car," Leslie offered before Florence could brook another argument and quickly escorted her out of the room.

"Dara, I apologize on Flo's behalf. The grief that consumes you when you lose a child- -" Laura shook her head, staving off the memories of herself after Lucky's "death." "You'll do and say anything even to those you love and care for the most."

Dara nodded. "Gia, you have a lovely little boy and I wish you all the happiness in the world."

"Thanks," Gia replied still uncomfortable with what had transpired in the room, "tell my nephew to stop by after school and come see his new little cousin and dad's namesake."

"I will." She said her goodbyes and exited the suite. As she came upon the outer door, Stefan caught up with her and opened the door.

They stood in the quiet and desolate hallway. "What Florence said was inexcusable and I am certain once she has control of her emotions and herself she will be immensely sorry and want to visit with both Craig and the newest grandchild once he or she arrives."

Once again Dara nodded because if she spoke she knew she would either curse that old bat to hell or dissolve into tears at the loss of another relationship.

Gently touching her arm, Stefan reached out to the woman he considered family. "Are you and Craig in any danger? Has this Achoy man contacted or frightened you?" he asked deeply concerned.

Despite herself, she found herself laughing. This fiercely private, strange, brilliant man whom she'd enjoyed conversing with whenever she could convince Marcus to go to what he termed the spooky place which wasn't often, asked the one question no one else asked.

"No," she answered, containing her laughter.

"I hope I made it clear at the funeral, you, Craig, and this baby are family and under my protection."

Just what she needed, another overprotective alpha male in her life. "Thank you," she replied, then suddenly the full weight of his words hit her. She stared into the crystal green eyes and instantly felt assured that her secrets and Sonny's were safe with him.

"Your marriage wasn't- -"

She shook her head. "No, it's- - it's complicated. I knew him before Marcus, before Port Charles, before I knew anything."

Stefan nodded in understanding.

"He's Craig's biological father."

Stefan nodded again.

Observing him, she knew he did understand.

"My own history with Lasha is complicated also," he admitted.

"Thank you for everything."

"My pleasure," he countered as he embraced her.

Stepping out of the hug, Dara walked down the long hallway lost in thought until she heard the ding of the elevator. She lifted her head to see Sonny standing in front of the elevator doors with his arms wide open and she ran into them. As they closed around her, she knew she was safe, she was loved, and she was home.

Like a warrior that fights
And wins the battle
I know the taste of victory
Though I went through some nights
Consumed by the shadows

I was crippled emotionally
Somehow I made it through the heartache
Yes, I did

I escaped
I found my way out of the darkness
I kept my faith

I know you did, kept my faith

When the river was deep

I didn't falter
When the mountain was high

I still believed
When the valley was low

It didn't stop me, no, no
I knew you were waiting

I knew you were waiting for me

Sonny felt someone watching him. He opened his eyes and found himself staring directly into Stefan's. Seeing vividly clear the path his life would take if any harm or pain was felt by Dara, Craig or the baby, Sonny communicated back that he would die before that would happen.

Stefan satisfied with his Sonny's answer and vow, turned and walked back into the room, leaving the couple alone.