Chapter 16


The launch ride back to the mainland passes in oppressive silence. At one end of the launch, Emily alternates between looking out at the inky black water and glancing toward the other end of the launch at the seething Rinaldo, who stands rigidly with his eyes on the horizon. Several times Emily considers approaching him, but the presence of the launch operator stops her.

She'd arrived just in time in the Wyndemere rose garden to avert disaster. A minute later, and there would have been bloodshed between Seth and Rinaldo. The fact that she caused Rinaldo so much worry eats at her. She screwed up, plain and simple.

The tide carries them to the docks faster than usual, making the launch ride mercifully short. Emily quietly thanks the launch operator and joins Rinaldo in the waiting limousine.

"Look, Emily." Rinaldo begins, his tone extremely serious as the limo whisks them away from the docks.

"Before you even start, Rinaldo." Emily offers limply. "I'm sorry I disappeared. That wasn't fair to you."

"That's not good enough, Em, not by a long shot." Rinaldo folds his arms across his chest and glowers at her. "I have to know where you are. I can't do my job if I can't find you."

"Rinaldo, I don't mean to make your job impossible, but I can't live my life on a leash." Emily explains. "I can't have you with me every single minute. I need space, and some privacy. I've got to have it or I'm going to go crazy."

At her mutinous look, Rinaldo softens. "I'm not saying I have to hold your hand, or wipe your. . . nose all the time. What I'm saying is that my only job is to keep you and Michael as safe as humanly possible. I can't do that if I don't know where you are. And it means even if I'm not standing next to you, I have to know how to get to you if there's trouble. I can't waste my time asking Cassadine's bodyguard where you are."

Emily looks at her feet sheepishly. "You're right... I know you're right."

Rubbing a hand over his jaw, Rinaldo scowls. "And besides, it makes me look like an idiot. You should have seen that Matzorkis guy. I've never met a smugger, more obnoxious... b--" Cutting himself off, Rinaldo fixes his gaze on Emily. "You understand now where I'm coming from?"

"Yes. I do," Emily answers quietly. "But do you understand where I stand? I'm used to pretty much coming and going as I please, having to report to someone feels darn right strange. But I'll try. I'll try not to make your job hard if you try not to make my life harder. Please... I'll keep you informed of my whereabouts, as long as when I say I want some room, you back off?" Her dark brown eyes look up at him beseechingly.

The limo comes to a halt outside the penthouse and Rinaldo climbs out of the limo, offering Emily his hand. "Deal."

......................

Settling herself in Jason's chair, Emily stares at the envelope from Jason, feeling a knot form in the pit of her stomach. Laticia had given her the letter the moment she had arrived at the penthouse. Apparently it had arrived from Carly and Jason's lawyer while she was at the wedding. She opens it slowly, instinctively dreading what might be in it. What does he want to tell her that she doesn't know already?

Her hands tremble as she reads. "Emily, I know if you're reading this then Carly and I are dead. And you know that we've trusted you to raise Michael. We know you'll teach him to be as strong, as smart, and as decent as you are. To be a man that we would be proud of, and even more important, a man that HE can be proud of. But if anything happens, there's something that you need to know. I know that Carly and I have always said that *I* am Michael's father. But the truth is that AJ is, not me. I'm sorry we lied to you, Emily, but Carly and I did what we thought was best for everybody, but most of all for Michael. I'm asking you not only to keep our son, but to keep our secret. Michael doesn't deserve the life that the Quartermaines would force on him. The expectations, the restrictions, their insane life... 'do this, say that, be this...' Right or wrong I did what I had to do to keep Michael safe, loved, and happy."

"No! Oh God Jason!" Feeling physically ill, Emily forces herself to read on further.

"I know you're going to be angry, Emily. You have the right to be. But I don't want you to think that I kept Michael's paternity a secret to hurt anyone. I did it because I believe it's the best thing for him. You grew up in their house Emily, can you imagine what you might be like if you were born to them? To have every waking moment of your life filled with their idea of right and wrong, their idea of good? I always figured the reason you turned out the way you have is because you knew right from wrong before you came to to them. I love Michael, and I think I've been a good father to him. I've protected him, and loved him, and tried to teach him that it's ... who he is, not what he has, that makes him special. I can't think of anyone else on the planet that I would rather take my place in giving Michael what he needs to grow up into something, and someone spectacular. And for you, all I can do is hope that some day you'll forgive me. Love you, Jason."

Carefully Emily refolds the letter and slips it into her pocket. Unable to stay in Jason's office for another second, Emily stumbles as if in a daze into the living room.

"Emily?" Rinaldo's quiet voice startles Emily out of her shock. "Emily? What's wrong?

Emily whirls to face him. "What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine." She lies blatantly, her voice high, her face pasty white, and her hands trembling. 'Michael is AJ's son. . . .Michael is AJ's son. . . .Michael is AJ's son.' The words ricochet in Emily's mind until she feels like flinging herself out the window just to make it stop. "I'm really fine, Rinaldo. But I need some time on my own, okay?" Her glazed eyes plead for understanding.

Remembering their newly negotiated deal, Rinaldo shrugs one hunky shoulder. "Sure Em. Whatever." Then he steps out of the penthouse.

On wobbly legs Emily sinks into the plush couch. "What have I gotten myself into?" She thinks back on all of the long lectures she'd given about how Michael needed his FATHER. About how Michael had all the family he needed with Jason and Carly. Feeling suddenly sick to her stomach, Emily places her head on her knees, feeling the walls begin to crumble around her world. Clutching the letter tightly, Emily moves to the fireplace, gazes into the smoldering coals, and tosses the letter in.

"Emma?" A small boy's voice interrupts. Still squinting from the brightness of the room after leaving his dark bedroom, Michael pads down the stairs in a pair of sweat pants and a tee shirt. "Whatcha' doin'?"

Stifling the urge to scream, Emily sits and pats the sofa seat next to her invitingly. "Just sitting here. What are you doing up, Baby?" Emily waits as he climbs up on the couch and cuddles the boy close so that he won't be able to see her hands shaking, or her brown eyes filled with tears.

"I'm not a baby, Emma." Michael yawns deeply.

"I know. You're getting so big. Bigger everyday." Emily agrees, pulling his head onto her lap. "Did I ever tell you the story about the summer I ran away with your cousin Lucky?" Forcing herself to rein in her emotions, she begins to tousle his hair and speak slowly and softly to the boy. Telling him of all her adventures with Lucky in Arizona. As Michael's eyelids begin to droop, Emily picks him up carefully and makes her way up the stairs to his room.

Returning to the living room, Emily is stunned to find Sonny sitting on the couch with two snifters of brandy. "Here kid, you look like you could use a drink." He offers one of the snifters to Emily, who upon remembering Edward, begins to roll the glass thoughtfully between her palms to warm the brandy and release its pungent bouquet. "I thought Rinaldo was here to keep people out." Resigned, Emily takes a seat on the sofa. "So I guess you're not here to borrow a cup of sugar?"

"Nahh. . . .I was wondering what was up?" Sonny asks casually over the rim of his glass.

"Rinaldo told you I asked him to leave me alone." Emily surmises accurately.

Nodding Sonny neglects to mention that Rinaldo's exact words were "She's acting loonier than your ex-girlfriend. But she won't talk to me, so it's your turn. Go fix it." Nursing his drink, Sonny crosses one foot over the other leg and waits. When Emily says nothing, he prods. "What was in that envelope you put in the fireplace?"

Nervously glancing at the fireplace, Emily swallows with difficulty. "What envelope?"

"The one you tried to burn. Didn't Jason teach you anything? If you're going to burn something, do it completely. . .toss it right into the middle of the fire, not off to the edge where it won't burn as fast if it burns at all. " Sonny answers smugly. "And then use the vacuum to get the ashes."

"More helpful house hints from the mob's own Martha Stewart."

"I can guess what was in the letter if you want me to." Sonny persists, despite her obvious reluctance to talk. "It was from Jason, labeled "Private" and it's got your knickers in a twist."

Building up her walls once again, Emily bites out, "Shouldn't you be putting a horse head in someone's bed right about now?"

"And you're getting snotty, so it's got to be about Michael. Lemme guess. Jason left you a note that explains everything."

Stunned at not only his perception, but at the meaning, Emily can only gape at the older man in silence. "Excuse me?"

"I know about Michael." Sonny responds flatly.

"You know WHAT about Michael?" Emily presses, not willing to divulge anything until she knows exactly what Sonny is alluding to.

"I know that Michael is a Quartermaine. But not through Jason." Sonny takes a slow drink of brandy, his dark gaze intense as he studies Emily.

"How?"

"When I came back to Port Charles to help Jason, I figured it out." Sonny replies. "Eventually, he told me everything. Of course, I knew immediately Jason wasn't the father. Even if I didn't know all the details."

"I can't believe this! I can't believe Jason lied to me! Lied to everyone! I can't believe that he stood up in that church and promised to love Michael and protect him!" Emily begins to pace. "The one person I thought wouldn't lie to me, LIED!"

Watching her prowl about the room, Sonny can feel the anger and confusion radiating from her. "Look. Jason loved Michael. It wasn't his idea to claim Michael for his own. That idea was Carly's, pure and simple. But when Jase saw just how badly the old man wanted to get his hands on Michael, how much your family wanted to cage him up like a zoo exhibit, Jason couldn't let them. And he knew that the Q's would never allow Carly within 50 feet of the kid."

"What about AJ? Did anyone think about AJ?" Emily spits.

"Yeah. A drunk who's ruined his life over and over again and lobotomized his own brother. He may be your brother, Emily, but you're not stupid, you know how weak AJ is. He never would have stood a chance against Edward, or Monica, or even your father." Sonny responds. "Do you remember living in that house? What was it like? Were you happy most of the time? Or were you sad? Did the family get along most of the time? Or would they sell Lila to a pack of wolves to get what they want? The only reason you had any hope at all of getting out of there alive is because A.) you're not genetically linked to them. And B.) you were pretty well grown up when you went to live with them. Otherwise you'd still be doing drugs, and probably sleeping with everything that walked by."

"That's damn unfair, Sonny! You don't get to make judgments about the Quartermaines! Or anybody else for that matter! You weren't there!" Emily snarls.

"Right back atcha', Babe. You don't get to judge Jason and Carly for what they did. You weren't there." Sonny returns smugly, putting his empty brandy glass down.

"I"m so mad and confused I can't think straight. What am I supposed to do?" Emily shakes her head unhappily. "I'm not going to be able to make a decision of what to do until I've had some time to let this sink in."

Leaning back into the cushions of the couch, he puts his hands behind his head and stretches. "Then give yourself some time to think this through. But promise me you'll talk to me before you take any action." When she shoots him a suspicious look, he adds. "For Michael's safety, if nothing else."


Chapter 17


"Nikolas Cassadine, don't you dare walk by without saying hello!" A young woman's voice scolds good naturedly from the direction of Kelly's Diner.

Nikolas stops dead in his tracks and turns in the direction of the voice, his eyes lighting up with delight. "Liz!" He admires the pretty brunette who approaches with a bright smile on her face. Her long brown hair is pulled back in an attractive French braid while large whimsical earrings dangle from her ears. She wears a billowy skirt and blouse in primary colors that match her earrings.

He embraces her warmly. "I didn't know you were in town. If I had, I would have looked you up!"

When Liz and Nikolas separate, Liz looks him up and down. "It should be a crime to look as good as you do. I swear, every time I see you, you're more handsome. And as for not telling you I was in town, well that's all your fault. You didn't keep in touch after you left Rome."

Nikolas shrugs sheepishly. "Yeah, things got complicated. You know how it is. You look fabulous, Liz. Married life must agree with you."

Liz's smile dims briefly. "Actually, I'm single again... long painfully dull story that you don't need to know. And yes, single life agrees with me. I'm happier than I've been in a long time. I moved here about a year ago, after Gram died. She left me the house."

Nikolas' voice is soft with sympathy. "I haven't been keeping up on the news from home, I hadn't heard. I'm sorry."

Slipping her arm through his with the ease that comes from being old friends, Liz walks with him towards the docks. "It was hard burying Gram, but I'm managing better now. I love living in Port Charles again. Would you believe after everything I'm a teacher?" Liz grins as she sees the surprise on Nikolas' face. "I love watching people's reaction when I first tell them. I'm an art teacher, I work part time at the elementary school. It's perfect because it leaves me plenty of time to paint while at the same time giving me inspiration. The kids are so jazzed by the creative possibilities and everything is so new to them, they can't help but be excited. It's contagious."

Not surprisingly, Nikolas finds his mood lifted by her glowing happiness."I remember how you used to be with LesleyLu. The way you care about kids just shines through and the kids can sense it. They can't help but love you back. It makes perfect sense, you being a teacher."

"Little kids are so easy to love, it's when they get older that it becomes more of a challenge. It still amazes me how anyone put up with me when I first hit Port Charles. I was such a brat." Liz chuckles at the memory. "But enough about me. What about you? You must be back in town for Stefan's wedding. Now that it's over, are you planning on sticking around?"

"For a little while at least," Nikolas replies cautiously. "There's nothing urgent requiring my attention elsewhere and I have a lot of people I want to see. And now that I've run into you, I have one more special person to add to the list."

"Well, Good!" Liz says as she gives his arm a squeeze. "Because you aren't leaving town again until we catch up on everything. How about we have dinner some time? You free tomorrow night?"

"It's a date," Nikolas answers immediately.

"Perfect. How about Luke's? They have the best music in town and I haven't danced in ages."

"Luke's? You sure that's okay with you?" Nikolas looks dubious. "I hear Lucky is running the place now."

Liz shrugs casually. "Sure, why not? You know that Lucky and I parted on good terms, even if we aren't as close as we used to be. Besides, if I avoided places because I might run into him, I'd never go anywhere."

Their pace slows as they near the pier where Nikolas picks up the launch. "I'm game if you are, it'll be fun seeing Luke's Place after all this time. Shall I pick you up at your place? Say 7pm?"

"Actually, I have a meeting with a gallery owner about a possible exhibition which should end around seven. How about if we meet there? We might have something to celebrate!"

Nikolas hugs her again before saying good bye. "It's so good to see you, Liz. Now it really feels like old times."


...............

Dressed in an elegant green silk kimono, Rina lounges on the veranda of a townhouse in Venice, watching Stefan go through his morning ritual of Tai Chi as the local paper sits in her lap. A light breeze off the water tousles Stefan's hair, making him appear younger, almost carefree. Her heart skips a beat, just watching him in his element.

The sound of the doorbell disturbs the quiet serenity of the morning. With a wistful sigh, Rina rises from her chaise and pads through the house to open the front door. She finds a delivery boy standing in front of her with a package.

"A package for Mrs Cassadine?" The boy asks hesitantly, in a thick Italian accent.

"Yes, that's me," Rina answers, taking the package he offers. "Hold on." Setting the package on a nearby table, she goes in search of her purse to retrieve some liras. She presses them into the boy's hands. "Grazie."

The boy gives her a brilliant smile and a bow. "Grazie Signora!"

After the boy leaves, Rina carries the package out to the veranda examining the label as she goes, noting that there is no return address or name.

"Who is it from?" Stefan asks, joining her at the table.

"I don't know, it doesn't say..." Rina slips a well-manicured fingernail under the tape at the sides and quickly undoes the wrapping. Inside she finds a simple white box, the size of which would hold a dress shirt. She lifts the top off and separates the tissue. Her eyes widen at the sight of a beautifully crocheted white shawl with a note card on top of it. She runs a hand over the shawl lovingly. "Oh, it's beautiful! Did you get this for me when you were in town yesterday?"

"No, I'm afraid not." With a sense of dread, Stefan lifts the note card off the shawl and reads it.

Congratulations on your nuptials and welcome to the
family, Dear. Here is a little something to keep you warm
on those long lonely nights.

All my love,
-H

Rina watches as Stefan scowls and tosses down the card. "What does it say?"

Stefan shakes his head dismissively. "Nothing of consequence. Merely Helena attempting to cause trouble where there isn't any."

Unhappy to see the tension return to Stefan's features, where it had been absent just a few minutes before, Rina wraps her arms around his waist and hugs him reassuringly, not giving the present a second glance. "Then we won't let her. I'll send it back to where it came from. Or better yet, I'll toss it in the trash."

A small possessive smile replaces the scowl as Stefan strokes her chin flirtatiously. "Not necessary. If you like it, keep it."

"Nonsense. She is a witch, I want nothing to do with it." Pulling his finger into her mouth, she bites it playfully before releasing it. "With my luck, she probably put a curse on it."

Stefan chuckles at her humor. "It wouldn't be the first time." He traces his wet finger down the side of her neck, smiling more broadly when he feels her pulse speed up in response. Placing a single seductive kiss at the base of her neck, he parts her robe and pulls her more tightly against him. "How is it that I can't seem to keep my hands off of you?"

"It's part of my charm?"

"Undoubtedly." Stefan lifts her into his arms and carries her back into the townhouse.

..................

"Yes, Sophia, I miss you too..." Settled in a chair in Stefan's study, Nikolas smiles into the phone. "Can you give Francessca the phone? ... Hello, Francessca, it's me. I'm just calling to check in. Tell me, how have things been going since my absence? Really? Well, that's to be expected.... Already?" Sighing, he relaxes against the headrest and takes a deep breath.

"Well, I suppose it is time. I will arrange to fly back soon, for a visit anyway." Nikolas informs the party on the other end of the line. "Within the next two weeks." Hearing a noise in the background, Nikolas frowns. "I better go, give everyone my regards."

.......................