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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dance with the Devil: Chapter 71


Blair, Starr and Jack were hovering around Todd’s bed.  “God, Dad, you had us so scared,” his daughter told him.

“Yeah, what took you so long to wake up?” Jack asked.

“Jack, I don’t care.  I’m just so glad you’re awake,” Blair said to Todd. 

Todd looked at the three of them.  He lifted the mask off his mouth and nose again to say, “I love you all.”

Nothing further could be said because the doctors came in.  “We need to see how he’s doing,” Dr. Harmon told the family.  “Can you give us a few minute?”

It was Todd who replied, “They stay.”

Starr pulled her brother back from the bed.  “We promise to stay out of the way, but please, let us stay.”  It wasn’t really a question.  But when Matt nodded his head, Jack and Starr back up to the window, but Blair stayed at the bedside, Todd’s hand firmly in her own, with neither one of them intent on removing them.

Matt went to the foot of the bed and pulled out a needle.  “Even though it’s still early in your recovery, I want to just check something.  You may not even feel anything.  If that’s so, it could just be the pain meds in your system, so don’t panic.”  That said, the doctor proceeded with the test.

In the room, everyone named Manning held their breath.  Blair then looked at Todd’s face which was frozen in a wince.  “Todd, did you feel that?  Did you feel the needle prick?”

“Yeah, a little bit.  Not the greatest amount of pain I’ve ever experienced.  Sure as hell didn’t hurt like when you took the bullet out of my shoulder,” he said.

The sounds out of the room made everyone in the hallway jump.  Viki and Tina were holding each others hands in anticipation and Sarah had the baby when Danny Wolek came out.  “Danny?” Viki asked, hope in her voice.

He nephew nodded.  “It is looking like the surgery was a success,” he said as he smiled.

“Oh, thank God!” Viki cried as she and Tina embraced.

“Cane we…can we go in to see him?” came Tina’s question.

“Can you wait a bit?  I don’t think you’ll get Blair or the kids out of there without dynamite right now and we don‘t want too many people in their at one time,” he told his aunts.  “Also, Dr, Harmon has to run some more conclusive tests just to make sure there’s no post-operative complications.”

“Look, I think I’d better get this little guy home and get back to the station, see if there’s any update,” Victor said.  “Besides, you’ve got a brother and a sister who I know are dying to meet you.”

Viki turned back to Victor.  “Why don’t we come with you, give Todd time with Blair and the children and give Sam and your Danie the good news.”  When Victor nodded, she turned back to Danny.  “Please tell them we’ll be back in the morning.”  As Danny Wolek nodded, the rest of the family left the hospital.

Back in the room, even with their children there, Todd had his eyes locked on Blair.  The oxygen mask had been replaced with a tube soon after and he raised his head to meet her lips.  In full view of Jack and Starr, they kissed and stayed that way until the other two people in the room began to make gagging noises.  Todd turned his head and smirked.  “You two better get use to that,” he said and two sets of eyes rolled back. 

Danny walked back in. “So how are you really feeling?” he asked.

“Well, hungry, for one thing.  A nice porterhouse would probably be enough.  And a glass of single malt, twenty-five years, at least,” Todd told him.

“Well, unfortunately, it’s only going to be ice chips for the rest of the day, then we’ll get you back on solids with breakfast tomorrow,” Dr. Harmon rained on his parade.

“Oh, God, not hospital food!  A burger from Kelly’s at least?” Todd bargained.

“We’ll see,” Dr, Harmon said as he made his way out.

Todd turned back to Danny Wolek.  “Where’d the two mother hens go?  I thought for sure they’d be in here right away.”

“Well, we do try to keep the number of visitors in the rooms down to a minimum and I didn’t think Starr or Jack would want to leave.  Besides, your brother wanted to get his son home and he said something about going to the police,” Danny informed them.

“What, I got abandoned for the kid?  I’ve just been through a very traumatic experience!” he exclaimed, but with a mischievous glint in his eyes. 

“Todd,” Blair gently warned.

“Maybe we should go home, anyway,” Starr offered.

“You will do no such thing.  I want you to all stay here.  In fact, go get yourself something and bring it back for mom too.  We’ll have diner as a family,” he told the kids, then added, “or at least, you will.”

Jack looked at Starr and shrugged his shoulder.  “Sure, whatever.  Mom, a burger okay for you?” he asked.

“Yeah, thanks Jack,” she replied.

“Get me one too and fries, please,” Todd tried one more time.  Starr just shook her head and followed Jack out the door.  They made their way to Kelly’s and found Michael and Molly there.   

“Jack, how’s your dad doing?” Molly asked as she approached him.  Behind her, Michael eyed Starr expectantly.

“He’s awake and he had feeling in his feet!” Starr couldn’t hold back her glee.  Michael ran up to her, picked her up and spun her around.  Molly gave Jack a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “The doctors a very confident in a full recover.” 

“Oh, that’s awesome!” Michael said.

“How’s your dad feeling?” Molly asked.

“Well, he’s really hungry but they don’t want him to eat just yet.  But we get to torture him while we eat,” Jack said.

“Oh, and the other good news, well a least partly, is that Uncle Victor’s son is back,” Starr said.  Then she added sadly, “Helena Cassadine took Tea as a hostage for her escape, though.”

“I’m so sorry,” Molly said as she hugged Starr.  “That woman really is a curse on everyone in town.”

“John McBain is on the case.  We’ll get her back, I’m sure of it,” Starr eventually said.  “Listen, we need to get dinner and get back to the hospital.”  It only took a few minutes for the food to be done and the Manning children left, telling their friends they would call them soon. 

When it was just Michael and Molly left, the teenage girl turned to her cousin.  “I think we need to accept the fact that we’ll never be rid of Helena Cassadine.

As Molly was saying that, Helena sat in her cabin on a yacht going up the St. Lawrence River.  She was sipping a glass of champagne when the door opened and as associate brought in Tea Delgado.  “We also found this, Mrs. Cassadine,” he said, hold a tracking device.

“Excellent, Avrim.  You may go now.  Mrs. Lord and I need to have a chat,” Helena said.  The door closed and Helena put down her glass.  She smiled at Tea, almost friendly.  “Well, welcome back to the land of the living.  It is a pleasure meet a kindred spirit.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked as she tried to door, only to find it locked.  “From what I’ve seen, we are nothing alike.”

“Oh, but I think we are.  We are both ruthless, a quality that many find unappealing for our gender.  We are both devoted mothers, at least to one of our children, and we both will do anything to get what we want,” Helena listed, an elegant finger rising from her hand as she counted off.  When Tea continued to look at her confused, Helena elaborated.  “Well, your legal reputation precedes you.   How you got Todd Manning, I’m sorry, Victor Lord off on kidnapping that poor woman, Margaret Saybrooke a few years ago, well, it was brilliant.  You showing your devotion to my great-grandson while he was placed in you care  by Mr. Manning shows a remarkable maternal instinct and marrying both of Victor Lord’s sons to get a place in society, a place you always wanted, well, it is something I can understand.”

Tea stood there, openmouthed.  She didn’t know what to say.  “We are nothing alike,” she repeated as she came to the slow realization of what Helena was saying. 

“You were in essence the other woman between Todd and his wife, Blair, is it?”  Helena asked.  “Unlike I, whose husband was taken by the  governess, you managed to win the man and raise the child, at least for a little while.  Then, of course, there is your daughter, Daniella Manning.  But then she isn’t really Mr. Manning’s child.  How do you think he will react to that?”

“He knows the truth,” Tea admitted.

“Oh, silly me, I meant Mr. Lord.  How will he react to learning that they child you presented him with three years ago isn’t really his?”  Helena asked.  “A volatile temper, that one.  Much more unpredictable than his brother.”

Tea turned back to Helena.  “What are you going to do with me?” she asked.

“Well, Mr. Lord ruined my initial plans and now I must think these things through.  But don’t worry.  As soon as I know, you will.”  Helena went to a table and rang a bell.  Avrim returned.  “Take Mrs. Lord, or should I say Ms. Delgado, back to her stateroom and get her something to eat.  We have quite a journey ahead of us.”

“Wait!  Can you answer me one more question?” Tea asked.  Helena waited expectantly.  “Will I get to see my son?”

“All in good time, my dear.  All in good time.”  Tea was taken back out of the room.  Helena went back to her glass and took another sip, planning her next move.


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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Port Charles Chronicles: Chapter 13 (adult)




    Blair moved and sat down next to Todd.  His laughter was disturbing and she sensed he was close to the edge.  She had so many questions, but she didn’t want to push him.  “Care to share what’s so funny?  I could use a laugh.”  She leaned back against the couch resisting the urge to touch him.  She had already reached her limit of surprises for one day, if she touched him now, she’d never get any answers.

    At her words, Todd brought himself under control.   As his laughter died, he recalled how tenuous the situation was.  He hadn’t planned on dropping Irene on her, or his sudden decision to  move, but now both of those cats were out of the bag.  “What now, Babe?”

    “I don’t know, maybe it’s time we just went back to the beginning.” She turned and looked
at him.  “It’s something I wish I had done when you first came back into town.  Todd, what do you remember of your captivity?”

     Todd was surprised.  He hadn’t expected that question. “What are you bringing that up for?” He didn’t want to think about those years.  He had skirted the issue when he had told Starr, but no one else seemed to care what he  had been through, so he had pushed it aside.

     “Because it happened to you, I need to know.  Can you talk about it?  I’ll understand if it’s too painful.  But I wanted you to know I’m here, and I’ll listen now.”

      Todd gulped, “You know me, Blair, I keep that kind of pain locked away.  I told you they tortured me, and they drugged me.  If you’re wanting the details,  I’m not sure I can give them to you.  You have to understand.  When I couldn’t take anymore, I slipped away, and they would leave me alone.  Unfortunately, they kept finding ways to get through to me and everything would start over.  They would wake me up and seem all nice like I was in some hospital, but then they would start in with the questions.  If they didn’t like the answers, they would resort to filling me with drugs or worse yet....”  He stood up and moved, because sitting there he suddenly flashed on the chair and the restraints.  No, they were more than restraints.   The damn chair had been wired.  He didn’t want to think of how often they had used that chair.  He had only his most recent memory of it and that was enough.  He shoved his hands in his pockets as they began to tremble.

     She watched him from the couch.  Whatever he had been about to say was bothering him and she didn’t push.  She was sorry for bringing it up now, but she had wanted to get a picture in her mind of what he went through all those years.  The more she heard the more she wanted to kick herself.  She had stood in that park and let Tomas weave a story about finding Todd in the tomb half-dead.  She must have been out of her mind to believe anything else the man said that day.  “I’m sorry.  It must have been hell for you.  You seemed so okay with it, that none of us saw what it had taken from you.  I know that’s no excuse for the way we all ignored it.  It’s no wonder you were so angry when all the sympathy turned towards Victor.”

      Todd turned to her and couldn’t help feeling a little anger rising in him. “I had a right to be angry.  Even you tossed the ‘he was brainwashed’ line in my face.  Brainwashed or not, he lived my life and I was trapped in that compound being fried whenever the mood  took my captors.” He saw the look on her face as she realized what he was telling her.  “Yes Blair, I was strapped in an electric chair and they would throw a switch.” He jerked back around, not wanting to see her shock.  At that moment, he would have given anything to shove his mother into that God damned chair.  He would have pushed the control and never stopped it.

      It wouldn’t have freed you of me.  I don’t know why you keep trying.  I told you.  I’ll always be with you.

      Todd stiffened and looked into the picture on the wall seeing Irene’s face reflected back at him.  He closed his eyes and began his mantra in his head maybe then she’d leave him be for a while.  I have a daughter her name is Starr,  Starr has a mother her name is....

      His mother shook her head and said sardonically and with a deep sigh.  You can be quite tiresome, but yes my granddaughter is lovely but foolish.  You think she could have chosen someone better than Cole Thornhart to have a child with.   Oh, what am I saying, the child and father are now dead.  So much the better, now you can get her into a  proper relationship, one befitting Victor Lord’s granddaughter. 

     “Shut up! Shut up do you hear me?  You leave me and my daughter alone!” He turned around in a rage.  All he wanted to do was throttle his mother, and instead he found himself facing Blair.

       She was stunned.  She had been trying to absorb what Todd said about being given electroshock when he rounded on her in anger.  “Todd, I... What did I do?”

      Todd froze. “I...”  He didn’t know what to do.  “Nothing.  You did nothing.  Oh God, that wasn’t meant for you.”  Leaving her sitting there, he disappeared into the bathroom.  He leaned over the sink with the water running, his hands shaking as he splashed the water into his face.  He looked up at his fractured image.  Look at you. The one who felt you could take anything anyone dished out.  You were a fool.  She did something to you in that hellhole and now you can’t escape her.  Instead, you take it out on Blair.  “Way to go, Manning.”

      Blair stood in the doorway, it had only taken a minute to realize who Todd meant when he said the words hadn’t been directed at her.  “Todd, don’t beat yourself up.  Irene was here again, wasn’t she?”

     Todd’s eyes met Blair's in the mirror.  He reached up and smoothed his hair back off his forehead.  “You should go home.  You didn’t come here to take care of a nut case.  I think we can both say I’m walking around with a screw loose or something, now.  I mean, my God, my dead mother is haunting me, and it’s getting worse.”

     “No, I told you I was here for you and I’m not going, but we need to get you some help.  It’s obvious you can’t fight this by yourself.   I think more is going on here, but I’m not a professional.”  She moved to stand next to him.

      He closed his eyes and braced himself.  If she offered him sympathy right then, he feared he would lose his resolve to let her go.  When no touch came he reopened his eyes and found her just waiting.

      She smiled back at him from the mirror.  “One thing I’ve learned over the years, is how stubborn you can be.  You feel you need to push me away for my own protection.  I’m just supposed to forget that you love me and that just a short while ago asked me to move here.  I don’t think you really want that.  This thing with Irene has got you spooked,” she laughed, “I’m sorry that came out wrong.  What I mean is , I realize she’s something you have no control over and you hate not being in control.  I understand that.  I know what it’s like to lose control.  I also know how it felt when you helped me that night.  You were there for me even when I wasn’t making sense.  Do you remember?”

     Todd nodded.  He also remembered how he then betrayed her by keeping the clothes and turning her into Bo for shooting Max.  His jealousy had eaten him alive when he thought she had slept with Max the night before their third wedding.   He had ruined everything because he couldn’t trust her.  He hated that flaw in him, that need to strike before he got hurt even more.   This last year he had really wanted to prove he had changed, but it seemed that was impossible.  When he realized he had killed his brother, he had once again begun lying.   “Blair, I’m not going to change.  I’ll always manage to hurt you.”

     “How, Todd?  Do you have more secrets I don’t know about, more dead bodies somewhere?” She turned and faced him.

     “Hell no!  I just got out of trouble with the law.  Why would you ask that?”   He turned toward her, outraged she would even think such a thing.

     “Well, you’re standing here telling me you’re just going to hurt me again.  It’s the secrets and lies that have torn us apart all these years.  I thought all of them were now out in the open. You’ve been hiding Irene, the same way you hid the fact that you remembered killing Victor.  Let’s clear the air.  You say there are no bodies hidden anywhere.  No more secrets.  If that’s so, then we don’t have a problem.  We’re going to work at being together for a change. There’s only one rule.  From here on out, between you and me, there will be no lies.  No matter how painful it gets, we tell each other the truth. Agreed?”  She could tell by the look on his face, he didn’t think he could agree.  “One other thing.  I’m not going, even if you can’t agree.”

     Todd stared at her.  He knew he had lost the battle but he hadn’t really put up too much of a fight.  He was afraid of what he might do to her, but in his heart, he knew he didn’t want her going anyplace.  He gave into the inevitable and took her face in his hands and met her lush lips with his. He was so tired of talking and thinking.  “Help me, Blair!  Make me feel.”

      Blair wrapped her arms around his neck. “Always.”  She returned his kiss and then began getting him out of his shirt.  Minutes later, she crawled backward on the bed studying him as he came forward and joined her.  She marveled at how fit and stunning his body was.  From the sculpted chest to the trim waist, could there be a more beautiful man?  Her fingers moved across his chest, stopping to explore and caress the scars left by the ravages of his life, smiling as his muscles quivered under her touch.  Her lips soon joined her fingers in her exploration and his sudden intake of breath told her the effect she was having on him.

     Todd gasped as Blair took him into her mouth and lovingly caressed him with her tongue.  Sensations swept through his body as she worked her magic.  Her little moans of pleasure as she worked only excited him more.  “God, Babe!”  She climbed on top of him and began her ride and they moved together.  He steadied her, his hands on her hips and watched her as she became more and more excited.  She was beautiful and wild and most of all, his.  Closing his eyes, he let his feelings take over and joined her.  It was a precious moment when time stood still, and all that mattered was their love for each other and the bond they were sharing.

      Blair collapsed into his arms satiated and very happy. She looked up at his face and saw his love looking back at her. “How are you doing?” Her hand tenderly touched his face.

     “Better, thank you.  I found myself in you years ago, and then I wasted so much time listening to my fears, instead of my heart.  You are the only one for me, Blair.  I really can’t explain it.  I just know that when I had nothing else but that damn chair to look forward to each and every day, it was my love for you that helped me survive.   I’m going to count on that love this time and try not to ruin it.  I won’t try and send you away anymore, I promise.” He still had his fears but he pushed them away.  He pulled her up so that their lips were just inches away and tasted them again.  Soft, sweet and eager for his touch, they melted under his caress.

     Some time later Todd lay awake holding Blair.  He didn’t want to give into sleep because he was afraid everything would turn out to be just a dream.  The last couple of days seemed so surreal.  A few nights before, he had walked into The Floating Rib and began reminiscing about Rodi’s and suddenly Blair appeared.  He couldn’t stop himself, he hugged her making sure she was real.

     Blair stirred at his hug and sensed that he was struggling with something. “It’s okay Todd. I’m here.  Try and get some sleep.  I promise I’ll still be here in the morning.”  She lay there half awake listening to his heart beat and finally felt his hands relax, indicating that he had fallen asleep. She smiled and slowly drifted off..
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Hiatus almost over . . .

This evening, there will be fanfic updates posted!  Look for them!

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Fourth Life: Chapter 63 (adult)


Sister Rebecca Katherine fingered the letter that had just arrived, and hesitated to open it.  It was in a brown, simple envelope, and on the outside was the all-too familiar writing of her brother, Timothy.  Dreading it, she brought the letter into the solarium, and hoping, since it was mid -afternoon and session time for most of the clients, that she would have time alone.


She crossed herself, and kissed the cross on her rosary.  "Rebecca, ya must open it.  Ya must face whatever it is your brother has to say to ya."


She still held it, sealed, and scanned it.  The writing was his familiar scrawl, jagged in places with a flourish at the end of some of his letters.  The time stamp showed air mail; he was in Europe, this she knew.  Closer investigation gave her the knowledge she already had:  He was in Ireland.  Home.  She turned it over.


Wanting to open it, but still apprehensive, she stopped, looking at the point of envelope paper glued shut.  She closed her eyes a moment, and saw herself, Johnny and Timothy, playing on the foothills as children.  They would tease her and chase her.  She would always stop in the middle of a game, to pray for the winning edge.  They would always lose.  As an adult, she now knew that it was not God granting her the advantage, but her brothers, who loved her enough to let her win.  Tears welled up in her eyes, even as they were closed, and upon opening them, a few stray ones made their way down her face.  Delicately, she brushed them away with the knuckle of her index finger, and then, like ripping a bandaid off, she quickly opened the letter.


***


Todd received her kiss with his eyes opened at first, and then succumbed, closing them, and rolling over onto her, his hands in her hair, and then down to her breasts.  He wanted her so much, as always, and after all they had been through, he'd never hold back from her again.  He said, "I love you, Blair," as he moved his mouth over her neck and down, where he had opened her blouse and kissed along the lace edge of her bra.


She waited a moment, until he was back looking into her eyes, and said, "I love you, too, Todd.  I'm not going anywhere.  Ever."   


He moved back to her chest, where he took his fingers and traced a gentle line along the lace, and then down around her nipple.  She arched toward him, and he closed his hands around her back, kissing her passionately, and feeling beneath her blouse to undo her bra.  She helped him by removing her shirt and both pieces of clothing ended up in a heap next to them on the blanket he'd brought.  Moving back over her, he gently kissed both of her breasts, stopping to flick his tongue over them and relish the response he received from her body.


Her hands were already undoing his belt, and she felt the hardness of him through his clothes.  It thrilled her, to feel him that way, as it always had, especially knowing his love had been reserved for her most of his adult life.  Impatient, she tore the belt free, and tossed it with the other items.  He pulled himself away from her, stopping to look at her, lying back on the blanket, the sun against her skin, the whiteness of her contrasting to the pink-tan of her nipples, the slim line of her belly, now back to it's usual flatness, exposed as she slipped out of her leggings.  He scrambled out of his pants, and drew circles over her stomach with his tongue.  


She loved the feel of his hair in her fingers.  Being with him, there, and feeling the silk of his mane between them brought back every moment and memory of their first times together.  Full circle?  She prayed every day that they were apart for the last time during his time in Ireland the past year.  Thinking that way, she suddenly felt a surge of her past missing of him, and a tear trickled from one eye.  


She never understood how he knew so much about her every feeling and thought, but as soon as it sprung free of her eye, he brought his eyes back to hers, and with this thumb, brushed it off, gently.  "No more of that," he said to her, then kissed back down her body, finding her, and exploring her, in the ways he knew made her rapt with bliss.  She opened herself to him, and bent her knees on either side of him, still feeling his hair with her hands, and moaned softly.


***


Sister Rebecca Katherine studied the letter.  It read:


Creena,


By now, my dear sister, you have found me gone.  I've returned to home, our dearest Ireland, a place that may still welcome me, whatever may come.  Of course, you would call me a coward, or accuse me of not being able to forge ties, and my little sister, you most probably would be right.


I am a coward because I couldn't face you when I had to go.  This is true for my own, selfish reasons.  I've never found much importance in sharing, with anyone, since my beloved wife and son were taken from me.  This, you know about me, and yes, I remember you have warned me time and time again to fight the lust for revenge.  But, dear heart, I have failed in that task, as you've seen me do time and time again.  I've failed, I am human, and I am not, regardless of what you think, strong.


So, I left America.  I left you, and my new-found family, that I was becoming a part of, at last: Todd, Blair and their children.  Little Sam, I will miss very much.  If you have not seen the resemblance between him and my dead son, I would be shocked.  But Sister, I could not hear you tell me to stay.  I could not listen to you telling me how I am wrong.  And this makes me a coward, of the highest degree, and I accept.


As I sit here in my flat, looking out the window into the streets of Rialto, I remember as if yesterday, you, Johnny and I, running to that very same corner I am watching, but for a different reason.  The ice truck would come, and we would wait, hoping that the ice man would cut a piece of ice for each of us, to cool us in the summer sun.  Johnny and I would let you go first, and you would walk up, opening your little hand, for your own personal icicle.  By the time the two of us got ours, you would be crying because your fingers were burning and aching from the frigidity.  I know you remember what comes next, Creena.  I would hold your ice for you, while your hand adjusted, and then give it back to you when you could stand the cold again enough to hold it yourself. 


If you must think of me, I suppose it's best you think the worst of me.  Think me evil, cruel and hateful.  Don't pity me as a man torn apart by loss and destitution; think me the one who rejects God, the one who never believed in miracles or in faith.  Think this way of me, so that you may move on and prosper without sadness causing you pain.  Be angry with me; we both know that pity causes despair and anger, the better, causes inner strength. 


But, dear one, in my heart, I wish you to think of me as the one who has loved you, and protected you from the burn of cold, chased away the monsters in your wardrobe, and let you win at childhood games, simply because I loved you.  


Eternally yours,


Timothy John Broderick


The nun held the letter in her hand as she walked to the solarium doors, alone, and looked out.  The sun was at a perfect position in the sky, and peeking out from clouds, radiated through in streaks of light.


***

On her back, with Todd lavishing attention on her lower half, she looked up to see the sun, now sending banners of light through a patch of clouds, and she closed her eyes, wanting to feel and memorize every exquisite thing he was doing to her with his lips and tongue.  Suddenly, her need to be one with him overcame her need for release, and she, as was usual between them, gave him the inaudible signal to cease and bring himself to her.  Every nerve in her was at its height of readiness, as he kissed his way back up her body, and his head rested near her wounds.  For a moment, he gently touched the scar she now had from the bullet.  It was a small hole, and he flashed on the idea that such a small thing could take away something so immense.


Not wanting to dwell on those thoughts, he shifted himself, touching her with the tip of him, and looking into her eyes, he became lost as she embraced him with her arms and legs, and he felt her surround all of him.  He ran his hand along her outer thigh as he felt her lift her legs to allow him to be deeper inside her, and he closed his eyes, momentarily wanting the blackness to do nothing but feel her.  For a minute or two, everything vanished except the feel of her around him, and the sounds of her breathing and sighing.  He opened his eyes when she said, in a whisper, "Todd," and met her eyes with his.  The green of them was more vivid than he recalled, and her beautiful, still supple skin was touching his in ways he never wanted to miss again.  He reached down, and put a hand between himself and her body, and caressed her.  Her eyes fluttered back and she cried out, then sighed deeply.  Her hand went to his cheek, of course, on the right, and caressed him, and she said, hushed, "Always."


Todd could never explain to himself, or anyone else for that matter, how words could bring him immediately to his climax while making love to her, but somehow, hers could.  Just the right thing said at the right time, would send him spilling into her.  He looked into her eyes and face during this moment, and heard himself moaning and calling to her.  He collapsed onto her, then rolled so that she was lying on him, he shifted her a bit to the side.  Moving her was like moving a delicate parcel; she felt so light in his arms and against him.  They were quiet.


She said, "Something's different."


He said, "What?"


She answered, "All through our lives, I'd know every time we made love to each other, there was a possibility of a child.  I'll never have your baby inside me, again."  She went silent, and then said, after a long pause, "Not anymore."


He said, "I don't know Blair, you and I are always different than everyone else.  We're us, and we always break the rules, one way or another.  I don't think we know what's coming until it does.  We never have."


She wiped a tear away briskly and said, "I guess that's true."


He said, "Doctors are wrong every day.  If there is supposed to be another Manning around, there will be, one way or another."


She said, "I just love you so damn much, Mr. Manning."


He craned his neck back a bit to look at her.  Her hair was stuck to her face along the edges where her perspiration had matted it; her mascara was slightly smudged below each eye.  He said, "I love you, too, Missus."


"We're grandparents now.  Hard to believe," she said absently, tracing around his belly button, and running her fingers over his tight stomach.  "I mean, I feel like we were just in Dorian's penthouse, and you were making love to me for the first time, and here we are, lifetimes later."


"Three lifetimes gone, we're in our fourth and final one.  This is the keeper."  


"How can all that be over?"  


"It's not over for us, Blair.  It's never over for us."

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Dance with the Devil: Chapter 70


Into the conservatory of Wyndamere stepped Dr. Ewen Keenan, lowering the gun he had just fired off into the air.  The eyes of everyone in the room, as well as those of John and Luke in the tunnel, were on him, offering a range of confused looks. 

It was in the midst of that distraction that Helena grabbed Tea..  She pulled out a knife and held it to the lawyers throat.  “Nobody takes one more step,” she ordered.

“We need to move in now,” John told Luke urgently.  In his ear, he heard Anna agree with him.  “On my count.”  In a few seconds, Luke, Anna and John joined the fracas.  “Hands up, all of you!  PCPD!”

“I don’t think you want me to hold up my hands, Detective,” Heather said.

“Hand over the baby, Heather,” Anna ordered, her arms outstretched. 

Heather looked back at Helena, but did as ordered.  Helena sneered at her accomplice but Allison only laughed.  “I told you, Mrs. Cassadine, that she would disappoint you.”

Two uniforms came in to cuff Heather and Allison, but there was still a standoff going on between John, Luke and Helena.  Victor had let Sam go, but she stayed in the room, her son in her arms.

“I would advice you all to not move or I will make certain that child never knows it’s mother,” Helena warned.  Then she turned to Victor.  “You broke our deal, Mr. Lord.  Well, you have your son.  But I very much doubt you will get your wife back.”

“Helena, there’s no way for you to wiggle out of this one,” Luke told her.  “Give up the jig and you may get out of this alive.”

“Listen to them, Mrs. Cassadine,” Ewen said in an even tone. 

“And who are in this little cabal?” Helena asked.

Ewen reach into his pocket and grabbed his wallet.  “World Security Bureau agent Ewen Keenan, under the orders of Chief Sean Donely.”

Anna’s ears perked up.  “I’m glad to hear that Sean’s been keeping up on this,” she said. 

Helena had to laugh.  “Well, the old WSB.  I thought it died out with the Cold War.”  She pushed the knife harder onto Tea’s throat.  “Now, I really must me going.  Mr. Lord, you have your son, but I shall be taking your wife.  And I am warning you, no one will leave here until I say so.  You can all be seen by my associates and they will tell me every move you make.  If anyone should try anything, I will spill her blood.”  She made her way past Luke, John and Victor, none of whom moved  for fear that Helena would go through with killing Tea.  The moment they were in the tunnel, the door closed and a lock could be heard catching.

Victor made a move to follow, but Luke held him back.  “Don’t do it, buddy.  I know this woman.  She’s definitely got this place wired,” he said as he point to a red light in a wall sconce.  A small camera was visible. 

Victor threw his arms away.  “I’m supposed to wait here and let her get away?”  At that, Luke nodded his head silently.

“What do you think her plan is,” John asked Anna.

It was Luke, again, who answered.  “Knowing her, there’s probably a yacht waiting for her down on the water.”

“Yes, when I arrived here, I saw an unfamiliar boat docked.  Just in case, I tagged it with a GSP marker,” Ewen said.

Anna turned to him.  “And you’ve been on this case all along?” she asked.

“Well, at least since I was treating her daughter, Irina.  I had hoped to use her to gain more access to Mrs. Cassadine, but that never happened with her killing the woman.”  Ewen turned his attention to Victor.  “But then, when Mr. Manning showed up in Port Charles, we suspected that his disappearance in 2003 was somehow tied to Helena, especially after it was revealed you had been given all your brother’s memories.”

Victor was still staring where Helena had escaped through, but noticed the all eyes were on him.  “What the hell do I have to do with all this?”

It was Luke who connected the dots.  “Memories, as is brainwashing?  Of course!”  He focused on Anna and McBain.  “Lucky was kidnapped years ago and when he got back to town, he had been brainwash too.  Had no memories of me, his mother, no one.  It was one of Helena’s little schemes.  She had faked his death in an explosion and wham-o, he comes back to town a completely different person.”

“Well, it was suspected that your son was a trial run.  The effects didn’t last, if I recall,” Ewen told them.  “But with Mr. Lord, he still believed it, even after he had been told the truth.  Irene Manning’s procedure was much more effective.”

“That’s how she knew,” Victor said, as he described his encounter with Helena in that very room.

Just then, an officer returned to the conservatory, holding Victor’s son.  He turned the baby over to Anna, who call Victor over.  “I know we’re essentially being held hostage here, but until we’re allowed to leave, I think there’s someone who you may like to meet.”

Victor took his son in his arms.  As he held him, he was overcome with another memory of meeting a child for the first time.  That time, it was in an attic, with merely one other person there.  But now, with others around him, he had the same strong feeling.  “Hey there.  I’m…I’m so happy to meet you.  I’m your daddy.”

A voice came over a speaker.  “You are now free to leave Wyndamere,” Helena’s disembodied voice told them.  “And, Mr. Lord, in case you think this is the end of this, guess again.”

That comment sent a shiver down Victor’s spine as he recalled the same words being spoken to him, his brother and his sister at Llanfair.

Stepping out into a hall, Anna began making calls, with Luke following her.  John came over to Victor, who was still holding his son.  “Maybe we should get him to the hospital,” the cop suggested.

“And what about Helena?  She still has my wife.”  Victor’s voice harden.

“Let’s let the authorities deal with it.  Right now, you should worry about your son,” John said.  “Besides, I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Helena Cassadine.”

Everyone made their way back to the mainland and John got Victor and his son to the hospital.  As he walked in, Viki saw him immediately.  Putting her hand to her mouth, she met her brother and nephew, but asked him, “Tea?”

“Cassadine got away with her and held us hostage to make her escape.  The cops got Heather and Allison, though,” he explained.  He came up to Nurse Johnson.  “Can I have a little help here?  My son’s been held prisoner since his birth.  I just want to make sure he’s okay.”  The nurse to Victor and Viki to a cubicle to wait for a doctor.  As they sat there, cooing over the baby, Victor asked,  “Any word on Todd?”

“He’s still unconscious.  I think the doctors are getting a little worried because it‘s longer than they had told us,” Viki admitted. 

A pediatrician came in and examined the boy.  There seemed to be nothing wrong and the brother and sister made their way to Todd’s room.  In the hallways just outside, Starr, Jack, Tina and Sarah saw them approach. 

“Is that?” Starr asked.  When Victor nodded, a wide grin broke out on her face.  Then she asked,  “Tea?”

“We couldn’t save her.  Helena grabbed her and they’re still at large.  We just had some test run on him, but the doctor said he looked all right.”  He handed the baby off to Starr.  “Keep an eye on him, I want to let Blair know.”

He opened the door and Blair looked up from the bed.  As he closed the door, they could both hear the whole family’s reaction to the newest member.  “You got him back?” Blair asked.

Victor nodded.  “Helena Cassadine still had Tea, but I was able to get the baby back.”  He walked up to the bedside.  Taking Todd’s hand, he said, “Come on, they whole family is going gaga over my kid, it’s about time you met him, considering you brought him into this world.”

No reaction was coming from the corporal form of Todd Manning.  But he stood their with Merrie, who told him, “It’s time for you to go back, Todd.  You have a nephew to meet.”

Todd looked at his sister, then back at his twin and the woman he loved.  “I’ll…I’ll miss you,” he said. 

She gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “I’ll always be there for you.  Tell that to the newest Lord too.  Tell him he has a guardian angel in his Aunt Merrie.”

Victor looked over at Blair and shrugged his shoulders.  Blair could tell he was ready to leave the room.  “Victor, just try one more time.  Please?”

Victor let out a sigh.  “Fine.”  This time, his voice harsher, he said,  “Hey, jackass.  I want you to meet my son, so…wake up already.”

Just then, Todd’s eyes opened and he worked to focus on the figures above his bed.  Blair’s hands went to her mouth and she gasped out loud, “Todd!”

“Yeah?” he asked through a dry mouth.  He first saw Victor.  “Guess you got payback, cause you certainty weren’t the first person I wanted to see when I woke up,” came his voice from under an oxygen mask.  Then his eyes shifted to Blair and he smiled.  “That’s what I wanted to see.”

Blair took his hand and kissed it as Victor moved towards the door.  He walked back out into the hall and took his son from Starr.  “I think you oughta go in there,” he told her and Jack.

Starr turned to look through the window and then, both she and her brother were in the room, on either side of their father.  Victor turned back to his sisters and saw they had tears in their eyes.  He understood.  Their family was almost all reunited.


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Port Charles Chronicles: Chapter 12

            Anthony couldn’t believe it.  Tracy was trying to kill him.  He hurried down the trail away from the boathouse.  He would have to go see if Johnny would let him stay with him again.  Tracy was going to regret her actions.  He was looking back at the lake when he barreled into the man.

           “What the... this is private property.” Anthony looked at the man standing in his way.  It was shadowy in the shelter of the trees and the man’s face was hard to see, but his features looked vaguely familiar.   “I know you, don’t I?”  He disliked the quiet menace that seemed to be flowing from the man.

          “Anthony, I’m hurt.  I never thought you would ever forget an old colleague.”

          Anthony knew that voice. He looked harder and recognition hit him. “No, you’re supposed to be dead.  Everyone said Jason Morgan took you out.”

          “Yes, well, everyone was wrong.  But I’m afraid you, on the other hand, are going to be quite dead.” Tomas pulled his gun and slowly screwed on the silencer.

          “Lorenzo, your brother was one of my partners.  What are you doing?” Anthony cautiously began backing up at the sight of the gun.

          “There’s the problem.  You see, I’m not my brother.  You’ve already lived well past your time.  You also got greedy and now the original owner wants his territory back.  I’m here to set everything straight.”

          “Wait,” As Lorenzo’s words penetrated,  Anthony realized the error he had made. “You shot out my tires, didn’t you?   It was you that night.” He looked around, but the isolation of the area was exactly the reason the Quartermaines had bought this property.  There was no one around and no one would hear him if he yelled.

          “And they told me you were losing your wits.  I’m impressed.  Yes, unfortunately, I didn’t expect the other car.  It was a shame too.  That little girl and her father were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Collateral damage.  It’s time to complete my task.  This time, you don’t escape.”  Tomas looked at his target.  “I have to thank you, though.  You even made an enemy  of your wife and have given me the perfect scapegoat for your death.”  Before Anthony could get off a scream, he fired the gun at point blank range and watched the man fall at his feet.

         Tomas had been taking care of this kind of business for a very long time.   He moved the body and covered him with leaves.  “Don’t worry old man,  I’ll make sure your wife gets the blame.  After all, she’s been trying to kill you for a while.”  He made his way to the boathouse and saw Luke Spencer having a conversation with Anthony’s wife.  He got close enough to listen in on their conversation and smiled.  Things were getting better and better.  Luke had just promised to help Tracy get rid of her husband.  He waited until they left the building and headed back toward the house, then he went and retrieved the body and stashed him in the boathouse to be found by his  wife.  Placing the weapon inside, he left.

         The next phase of the plan involved Johnny Zacchara.  He pulled his phone out and made his call.  “I’ve done my part as ordered.  The rest is up to you.  Yes, I’m headed back to Llanview, I know the time isn’t right for Lorenzo to make another appearance in Port Charles.”  As he finished the call, he looked around.  Things were going to get pretty interesting in Port Charles with Anthony dead.

         Tomas made a quick call to the police to anonymously report gunfire at the Quartermaine estate.  Then he drove downtown to Carly’s hotel and parked hoping to catch a glimpse of Blair. He was still trying to figure out why she had dumped him so suddenly.  His eyes narrowed as he saw three people walking toward the entrance to the hotel. Damn!  It was as he had feared.  Blair was back with Todd.  There was no denying the possessive hold that Todd had around Blair’s waist.   What was it about the guy, that she kept returning to him?  Tomas watched until they disappeared inside.  His hands tightened on the steering wheel as he contemplated putting them around Todd’s neck.  Tomas put the car in gear.  He would have to delay getting back at Todd for the moment.  He needed to settle things with Tea and make sure she was okay before he cleared out of Llanview.  Todd Manning wasn’t going anywhere.

         ***

         Blair got Starr settled into her rooms at the hotel, then went in search of Todd.  He had been rather quiet on the ride back from the courthouse.  She found him sitting down in the lobby  reading the paper.   “Hey, why did you go off and leave us?  I could have used your help with Starr.”

        Todd looked at her over the top of the paper.  “Why?  What’s going on with Starr?  She’s free now.”

        “She told me her manager was very upset when she left LA.  She’s afraid he’s going to really go off the deep end when he hears she wants to stay here.”

        Todd put the paper down.  “What do you mean she wants to stay here?  Why?”

        “It seems she had a visitor after we left this afternoon before the trial.  It was Johnny Zacchara.  He offered to buy out her contract with Rick.  He said he heard her tape and felt bad because it was his grandfather’s car that hit them and it is the family’s fault that her daughter died.”

        “You mean to tell me she’s seriously thinking about taking the guy up on his offer?  I thought she was smarter than that.”

       “I don’t know why she wants to stay here.  But she won’t go back to Llanview and she says the memories of LA are too bittersweet right now.”

       “I know where she’s coming from.  I can’t go back to Llanview.  There are only two people in Llanview that care about me at the moment.  You and Sam,  I need to get away from there.  Starr is here.   If she stays here then I guess I’m staying here too.  How about it, Blair?  We could start over here without all of my baggage.”  He looked at her and felt his heart lurch.  He saw something in her eyes that told him she was going to turn him down.  “No don’t say it, I can see the answer.  I should have known it was asking too much of you.”

       Blair was stunned by the statement.  It hadn’t occurred to her that he wouldn’t come home.  “Todd, wait, you just took me by surprise.  When did you decide not to go home?”

        “After I had a talk with Hallie, I realized I’m never going to get better if I go back to Llanview.  I wanted to come home to all of you so bad.  I made all these promises to myself that things would be different and I would make better choices.  But I didn’t.  When I’m there all I see is the man everyone hates.  I can’t live like that anymore.  I love you and I need you and the boys and Starr.  If I go home I’ll ruin it.”  He met Blair’s eyes  and saw her confusion.  She was trying so hard to understand him.  Hell, he didn’t understand himself all that much, but for once he felt like he might be headed in a better direction.  He had found a little breathing room in this town.  The confrontation with Sonny had been the turning point.  He hadn’t been in control like that in ages.

         Blair was listening but worried.  She didn’t know if she was ready for a move.  It seemed like such a big step.  She had responsibilities in Llanview and she hadn’t even had a chance to talk to Sam or Jack about her changed feelings for Todd.  Todd had always been the one who made the instant decisions.  He had left for Key West and hadn’t looked back.  If she hadn’t gone looking for him, he would have stayed there and changed his life.  She had often wondered what would have happened if they both had just stayed there after the honeymoon.  Of course, back then she had an agenda and staying in Key West would have meant giving up Todd’s inheritance.  Now she couldn’t help wondering if he would have been better off never finding out about his parents.

      “Todd,  I need some time to absorb all this.  I came here to help you, but I thought once we got Starr freed, we would have time to sort through things.  I just assumed you would come back home.”  Even as the words came out of her mouth, she realized her error.  “You can’t go home, I see that now.  You’re right, Llanview has always been bad for you.   I’m not going to give you any answer right now.  Please don’t hate me.  I love you and I’ll figure this out.” She reached up and touched his face. She could see the hurt and it was tearing her apart.  Her only reason for coming had been to help him and now she could tell he felt she was pulling away.

       Todd closed his eyes at her touch, then reached up and took her hand.  “I  won’t pressure you.  It’s enough you’re here right now.  But I don’t know what will happen if you go.  I’m being honest.  I’m not sure anymore about my state of mind on a good day.”

        Blair realized they needed to move the conversation. “Starr said she was going to take a shower and stay in tonight.  Why don’t we go back to the suite?  We can order in Chinese and talk.”  She got up, moving her hand in such a way to grip his better and pulled him up.  They moved to the elevator but were unable to say anymore because of several other people with them on the ride up.  Todd hadn’t let go of her hand since taking it down in the lobby.  That in itself was a sign he wasn’t in a good place.  She was reminded of the night in the cabin when he had begged her not to leave.   He had grabbed her hand then and held on for dear life.  Why hadn’t she paid more attention?  She had stayed because he was so injured.  Now she realized Todd’s plea had been about so much more.

       When they arrived at the room.  Todd went and poured a couple of drinks and she called to order dinner.  Afraid to start the topic they had begun in the lobby,  he pulled out his laptop and looked up his email, after handing Blair her drink.  There was a message from Dr. Collins confirming his appointment the following day.  Then he listened as Blair got back on the phone to Llanview.  She gave the good news to Addie that Starr had been released. Then she began talking to one of the boys.  Todd was trying hard to not show any interest in her conversation, but he was waiting to hear Blair say she was headed home.  After he had blurted out  he wanted to stay in Port Charles, he had been  certain it was only a matter of time before she told him she was leaving.  A knock on the door prevented him from hearing the last portion of her call as he went to receive the food that had arrived.  He handed a tip to the delivery man and looked back into the room to see Blair had finished her talk and had gone into the kitchenette to find flatware and plates.

        “Sam and Momma send their love.  They were both pleased to hear Starr wasn’t going to jail.”  She was trying to feel out Todd’s mood, he had been so quiet since they had returned to the room.

        He looked at her in surprise. “Addie sent her love?”

        “She’s been on your side this whole time.  Who do you think helped Sam with his letters?  She kept telling me you would never hurt me intentionally and that there was more going on.  But you know me, I can be stubborn at times.  I only saw the obvious.  I’m sorry.”

        Todd just shook his head.  It had never occurred to him that Addie would be on his side.  Even Starr had been mad when she found out what he had done to Tomas, but she had been willing to head home from Los Angeles to hear his side of the story.  Unfortunately, that fateful trip had cost all of them sweet little Hope.  Suddenly he realized something. “Blair, if Starr is determined to stay here, we’re going to have to tell her about Kate Howard.  She needs to know who might be responsible for killing Hope and Cole.”

       “We’ve got nothing to really go on.  You said Kate thought she was responsible.  I don’t think we should tell Starr until we know a little more.”

      “You’re probably right.  If Kate has DID it’s going to come out pretty soon.  She was pretty distraught at the station.  I’m guessing Kate won’t be able to live with it any more than Viki was able to live with the fact that Tory killed Victor.”  It had been quite a shock to find out about Tory’s role in Victor’s death and an even bigger shock to both him and Viki when the old man had turned up alive in 2003.  Todd got up and went to get a second drink.  Victor’s resurrection was the start of his eight long years in hell and a memory he wished he could forget.  He gulped down the drink and poured a third.  Everything always led back to Irene.

       Blair had seen Todd’s face at the mention of Victor and quickly put two and two together.  If he was thinking of Victor.  It was only going to lead to one other person, Irene.  Todd’s biological father had been a monster. He had refused to acknowledge his son.  Todd’s mother had then taken matters into her own hands and turned Todd over to her cousin,  Peter Manning, and his life had gone downhill from that moment on.  The final blow was finding out the mother he thought loved him, was the very one who imprisoned and tortured him.  Not satisfied with torturing him all those years, she had finally proclaimed that she had killed all his loved ones and had attempted to kill him herself.  Although injured, he had fought back and killed her instead.

      Blair got up and went to him. “Todd, don’t think about her.  She’s not worth it.”

      Todd smiled sadly. “I wish it were that easy, Blair.  I’ve been trying to forget her but she won’t let go.”  He walked back to where the food was and picked up a fortune cookie.

       The first step to happiness is always the one most feared.

       He sat down abruptly and began to laugh.  The day couldn’t get any weirder.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

The Fourth Life: Chapter 62

Summer set in, and in the warmth of the season, some of the bad memories seemed to wilt and fade.  The boys, Jack and Sam, had taken off on a journey of a lifetime with Viki, to see the Mediterranean first hand.  Todd and Blair had brought them, via limo, to the New York City Harbor, to load onto the ship, Crystal Serenity, to depart.  The ride had been leisurely, with little traffic, and all of them had enjoyed movies and games in the compartment of the beautiful stretch Mercedes.


Saying good-bye to them was not easy; Blair broke down several times, and Todd, stoic in his way, supported her with his arm always lovingly around her shoulder or waist.  Viki promised to call them often, and have the boys write postcards at each port.  As difficult as it was to see them go, both parents knew it was best for them to be out and enjoying the summer months, while they attempted to refuel themselves and put their lives back together.


Todd would be seeing Ray again, for many of the things he had pushed from his mind to deal with Blair's need for him were not dead and buried as he would have wished.  Blair considered going to a grief counselor, and then settled on Ray herself, so that they could meet with him jointly, as well as apart.  Their plan was to spend the summer moving forward as much as they could, and start fresh, for their boys, by the following school year.


Zeus was struggling to overcome the loss of both of his parents.  Regardless of what they had done, he found himself back in the same place he was prior, and that was as a deserted orphan.  He had promised Tea to see Ray Martino about his residual feelings of bitter sadness, and planned to follow through.  Wanting to work through the grief and disappointment with him, Tea had promised to be there for him, whatever he needed.


Sister Rebecca Katherine had taken the news of Timothy's departure quietly, without much reaction.  She did not share her feelings about it with anyone, and when asked, simply replied, "He's a tumbleweed, that one, eh?  Place to place, settling nowhere."  Inside, she was torn apart by the notion that he may have been the killer after all, and waited, with patience, to hear something from him, not knowing when that might be.


One day, as Todd and Blair set into their regular routines at home, including therapy, care of Little Ray, and getting the yard and house ready for summer, he said, "Hey.  Remember a while back, we were going to have lunch at the Country Club?  And we couldn't go, because Sam was sick?"


She put down the cushion on the lounge chair she was fixing up, and said, "Todd?  Why the heck are you bringing that up now?  That was lifetimes ago!"


"Well, I was just thinking.  We never did get to have lunch there.  Since I've been back, we've never been there.  I like to hit all the important spots.  Now we don't have Sam running in with a fever, or Jack drunk, or any of the other things that might stop us."


"What about Little Ray?  Is he going to lunch at the Country Club, and then to the stables for a walk?"


"No, he can stay here with Starr.  Remember?  She said we can call her any time."


Blair, about to say that she didn't want to leave Ray, looked at Todd's expression and realized that he needed this, for whatever reason, and that she probably did as well.  "All right, I'll call her.  What time do you want to go?"


"Around 11:30?  That will give us time to helicopter onto the lawn."


"Todd!  Did you ask?"


"Of course, it's all set."


"You planned this before we even talked, I see."


"Yep.  Just go with the flow, Blair," and he traipsed off to his room to get ready. 


She continued to work on the chairs, beating and fluffing the cushions, and putting them back in place.  When she finished, she called Starr, who was somehow magically free to baby-sit.  She hung up, in time to hear him call to her, "Blair?  Come up here and shower with me."  She didn't hesitate, skipping to the steps.

***


Later, they got into the copter for the drive into Llanview.  Todd had her favorite champagne on ice.  She said, "Isn't it a little early for this?"


"Maybe, but why not?"


She poured a glass for herself and one for him.  They sat back, enjoying the view over the mountains, and he said, "Does this make you think of anything?"


"What, drinking in a helicopter?  High school?"


"No, I'm serious.  Does it make you remember anything?"


She played coy, "I don't know, what does it remind you of?"


"It reminds me of the day I asked you to marry me.  We were in my jet."


"I know, I was teasing you.  I thought of it, too.  Except, I couldn't drink then, I was..."  She stopped, and he did, too.  Her face twisted a bit, and then she gulped her champagne.  "To the future."


"You're supposed to toast first, then drink."  He softly reminded her.  The pain still hung in the air, for both of them.  He said, "I'm sorry."


She said, "That's a good thing.  If we forgot about it, for a while, then it means we can forget about it for a longer while."


He put his hand under her hair on the side of her head and kissed her, deeply.  Looking into her eyes, he said, "How did I get this lucky?"


She said, "You earned it.  Every last bit."  She kissed him back, even more passionately.  She played with a strand of his hair that had fallen loose from the ponytail.  She said, "Todd, you know I adore you.  Always have."


"I know, same here.  It's always been us.  You and me."


She nodded.  A bit misty, she turned to the window.  "There's the Country Club."


"Yep, and the stables.  We're going to land over there."  He pointed.


She snuggled close to him.  The wind was whipping against them, and the sun was in and out of clouds.  It made for a cooler ride than she expected.  After a leisurely lunch, he told her he had to use the restroom, and a waiter approached her.  "Mrs. Manning?"  He said, and when she nodded, he handed her a note.  "See a man in the stables," she read aloud.  She smiled to herself, and rolling her eyes, she picked up her sweater and purse, and headed out.


When she got there, the stables were very quiet.  She called to someone, but no one responded.  She looked up, and there were arrows pointing to the left.  She followed them, for a long distance, until she was at the last stall.  When she walked in, there in front of her was a beautiful black horse, with shining eyes and sleek jet black hair.  She gasped at the sight of him, knowing he looked precisely like Araby used to.  A note hung off his neck, like a pendant.  She took it, and read it, "To the unpredictable love of my life, nothing, not even wild horses, could keep me away from you."  Tears formed in her eyes as she reached up to touch the nose of the beautiful stallion.  As she talked to him, Todd approached from behind, and she heard the crunch of the straw under his feet.  She turned, "Oh, Todd," she said, hugging him.


"He's yours."


"He's the most beautiful horse I've seen in years.  He's so gorgeous, Todd."


"He was made for you.  Believe it or not, I called the same exact guy.  He's still in the business."


She could not stop looking at her gift.  She threw her purse and sweater down, and climbed on.  He was not like Araby, mostly because he was much tamer, but in appearance, he reminded her of him so much.


Todd admired her, from the ground below.  Her hair was cascading around her, shining, and her smile outshone it.  He said, "The surprise is not over."


She said, "I can't imagine anything more perfect than this."


"Well, remember back in the day..."


"Yes, back in the day," she repeated, laughing.  "When we're old and gray, many years from now..."


"You always wanted me to ride?"  he finished, "I am going to try.  That's the surprise.  You didn't notice this lovely girl back here, did you?"


There was another horse, and she was shocked that she never noticed her.  "No, I didn't.  I couldn't take my eyes off him."


"Well, her name is Maybel.  She's very tame, the easiest horse they have.  So, I get her, and you get him.  But you have to name him first."


"Oh I don't know, Sheik?"


"I like it.  Let's go, show me the ropes," he said.  She got off her horse and moved to the other, bringing it out and showing him how to get to know her.  Within a few moments, he was mounted and looking down at her. "It's going to take some getting used to."


"Todd Manning, you've battled just about everything, you can surely handle a sweet old horse like Maybel."  She mounted Sheik, and showed him how to start, and soon, he was walking Maybel along perfectly, as she did the same.


Once outside, Blair asked him, "Are you ready?"


He said, "If you can fly in that copter, I can do this."


She told him how to make Maybel canter, and took off, him following her at a decent but not overpowering pace.  As they crossed the meadow, he sped up, passing her, and looking back at her, smiled a huge grin.  She gave Sheik the nudge he needed and passed Maybel, looking back a bit with her hair blowing.  His was coming loose from the tie, and blowing in the breeze as well.  They rounded the field, and went through, at a slower pace, the trail she was familiar with.  It had stood the test of time, and was clear and accessible.  Following it at a slower speed, she lead, and he followed, and soon, they had reached the grove.  She said, "It's still here."


He hadn't seen anything like it.  In the middle of the woods, there was a clearing, surrounded by trees, with a small pond, covered in lilypads and algae, and weeping willows around the edges, with their branches skimming the water.  The sun was coming through the clouds, with the rays splaying apart.  He looked up, and then looked to her.  He said, "This is beautiful, Blair."


"I know, isn't it, Todd?"  She dismounted.  "When you were in Ireland, I used to dream about this spot.  I used to dream about seeing you alive, right here." She saw him opening a bag hanging from Maybel's side.  He extracted a blanket, and shook it out, lying it on the grass near the pond.  She walked over to it and sat, putting her hand out from below him.  In that moment, he flashed on her holding her hand out to him in Dorian's penthouse, in her Christmas off-the-shoulder dress, and saying, "Merry Christmas."  Overcome, he took her hand and sat beside her.  She tilted him toward her, and put his head into her lap.  Remembering the words of Sister Rebecca Katherine, she wanted to spoil her husband and let him know he could count on her.  He had been strong for her for weeks, and as guilty as it made her feel, she was ready to be there for him.


She loved how he looked, his hair coming loose of the elastic in places, and strands falling before his face.  She brushed them back, and said, "What are you thinking, Todd?"


He had his eyes closed, and then opened them, saying, "I'm thinking about what kind of man I am to deserve this.  A family, you."


His response was nothing she expected.  She said, "You're a man like anyone else, Todd.  It's not about that."


"I'm thinking of...I'm thinking about...when I got back from Ireland.  I was so...bitter.  Remember?"


She smoothed his hair, "Of course.  How can I forget?  Things were never quite the same, until last year, finally."


"I regret doing all that to you, Blair.  It makes no sense, when I think of it now.  You always 'got me.'"


"Yeah, I 'get ya.'  I feel the same.  Remember Max?"


"Yeah, too bad your aim wasn't better."  He paused, "But when you mentioned Ireland, my mind of course went to Hesser.  How long is that guy going to haunt me?"


She swallowed, "I don't know.  What were you thinking about him?"


"I realized, after that Finn woman killed herself, that I am a lot like Carlo.  I did what he did, Blair.  He took her child, and told her it died.  And I did that, to you.  I did a lot of terrible things.  That's why I don't see myself deserving all this."


"We don't know he took her child, Todd."


"How else did Zeus get to Greece?  He was a baby, he certainly didn't call up for travel arrangements."


"Does it really matter?  It's all over.  And you're nothing like Carlo."


"I've been dreaming, again, Blair.  I didn't want to bother you with it because of Sommer.  I keep seeing myself as him.  In the dream, it repeats.  I look into the mirror and his face is what I see."


"It's wrong that you think you can't tell me, Todd.  I want to be there for you.  But, that one's easy. Carlo was a man consumed by revenge and hate.  You're afraid that you're like that or that you'll end up that way."


He paused, "That actually makes sense.  How do you know me this way?  I mean, just know me?"


"How can I not know you, I love you.  And, I make sense most of the time.  He and Leona, two of a kind."  She said, and he felt her shake.  "You're nothing like them, Todd."


"I was a rapist.  A liar.  Heck, a kidnapper."


She stopped, and moved his hair aside, and looking into his eyes with her deep green ones, she said, "Those things were a lifetime ago."  


It was suddenly quiet between them.  After a long pause of letting her play with his stray strands of hair, and closing his eyes to feel her fingers gently touching him, he said, "Blair?"


"Hmm?"


"Did he rape you?  Michael Leona?  Did you hide that from me?  I've always been afraid of that, because when I saw you, in that room, with your nightgown in shreds..."


She stopped him, "Oh, no, Todd, he didn't.  It was close, but you stopped him.  He would have, if you didn't come home, right then, but he didn't."  She stopped a moment, and then pushed on, "I was more scared than I ever was in my life that night."  He could feel her shaking again, and pulled her onto the blanket, next to him.  She moved against him, and rested her head on his chest, and said, "You're afraid of that because of what he did...to you?"  


He closed his eyes a moment, and brought her closer.  It was her turn now to feel him shaking.  She said, "Todd?  Are you all right?"


He opened his eyes, and said, "It's hard to let go, Blair.  When I think about it, I just want to smash something.  I want to hurt someone.  I have to fight not to."


She propped up on her elbow.  "Well, you haven't smashed anyone or anything.  But I think you might need to talk to Ray, Todd.  You really didn't deal with this very much.  You tried, and then everything when haywire..."  she stopped, and then said, "with me and the baby."


He said, "You and the baby came first.  That's how it should be."


"You're still dreaming of being Carlo, questioning what kind of man you are, worrying about me hiding things from you.  It's not over for you, and I just want to say..." she choked up, "You did everything for me, Todd.  You were my rock, you were my direct line to sanity.  I never could have made it through all this without you.  I want to be there for you, now.  Please, let me do that."


When she said these words, everything rushed toward him in a spiral that he could not stop.  He seemed to stare off, as if looking at an imaginary screen.  Fight as he did, the images continued to swirl toward him in vivid clips of his life:  No, Dad, don't!  He stared at the lighter...Pushed to his knees, and kicked over onto his back, he could feel Peter hoisting him onto his stomach by his legs...he was on top of Marty, and she bit him, on the neck, and he laughed, ignoring her cries...."This is my house, and you are my wife.  You don't tell me what to do."  Throwing Blair on the bed, and undid his belt....pain seared through his back, as he grabbed the silver Celtic cross in his hand, and tearing it from his neck, called out her name, "Blair"...he paid Zeus to help him take Starr away, to hurt her, to pay her back for sleeping with Patrick, while he was away...."I wanted to say I'm sorry.  350 years in prison clouded my judgment." Viki's face was holding back tears in response..."Get rid of him,"  he studied the little beautiful baby boy's face, and repeated his directions to Paloma...Trapped.  He was inside the tomb, his father's corpse lying beside him, he couldn't breathe, he was bound....He woke up, his hands fastened to the chair, he was in white, and the pain, the pain.  Don't push that button again!  He disappeared into his safe place, catatonic...no one could hurt him...  Can't feel him cutting me.  He's peeling me, it probably hurts...I'll fade away....he cut me, he burned me and he raped me, Blair....my little girl is dead...


He jumped, covering his ears, "Stop!" he said, aloud, and clung to her like a child.  


"Shhhh, it's okay,"  she said, holding him.  The sun warmed them, and she undid his ponytail, letting all of his hair flow freely.  She moved her fingers through it, and noticed its appearance was of spun gold in places and chestnut silk in others.  Her heart broke for him, but at the same time, she knew he needed this emotional release and comfort that only she could give him.  He had been so focused on her, and so caring for her needs, that she almost forgot what he had been through.  She caressed every part of him, starting at his hair and working down.  She massaged his shoulders and told him softly all of her promises, that she was there, and not going anywhere.  She kissed his forehead, and moved herself across from him on the blanket, and kissed his eyes, then his scar and his mouth, gently.  


After what seemed a long time, he caught his breath, and let go of her, pulling back.  "I don't want to be like this, Blair.  Not anymore."  He wiped his eyes on his sleeve.


"You won't.  We'll face it, together.  You told me I'd heal.  You will, too."


He suddenly thought of Timothy, who had been consumed by rage enough to betray the love of the new family he had found.  He wondered how he would ever find the words to tell her about their 'surrogate father.'  "I don't want to end up all hate and nothing else."  


"You can't.  You love too deeply for that."


He looked into her eyes, facing her on the blanket, and said, softly, "Help me, Blair.  You always clear the voices in my head.  Don't leave me, though God knows, you've had enough reason.  Don't let me be like them."


"I don't have to help you, Todd.  You're not like them, I promise you.  Now, come here," she said, slightly opening her mouth and bringing it to cover his.   


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