"Mommy still sad?" Lulu asked, climbing into her mother's lap, stroking her cheeks with small hands. "Don't cry, Mommy."
Laura wished she dared tell her little daughter the truth, but Lulu was too young to trust with this kind of deception. Indeed, she wished that the child could have stayed elsewhere for this, but that, too, would have been too difficult to explain. "Mommy is very sad," she whispered to Lulu. "But Mommy loves you more than life."
"Laura," Stefan began, approaching from behind her. Seeing her tears, he knelt beside her, taking her hand, and Lulu's hand. He looked up at her, smiled and continued. "The two most precious women in the world to me. I look at you, Laura, and see the love that only a mother can feel for her children, a love so rare, so perfect that it amazes me. My own mother never felt such devotion to me." He squeezed Lulu's hand gently and held it to his lips for a light kiss. The child shyly brushed her fingers across his mustache, then his beard. He closed his eyes to savor the gentle caress, then reopened them, looking at Laura. "Your daughter is a wonder, Laura."
Could she be wrong? Laura wondered, seeing the obvious joy Stefan felt in receiving the child's affectionate touch. Was he nothing more than a man who wanted to help, to enjoy the pleasures of being a father to her daughter?
Suddenly, the cellular phone in Stefan's pocket rang, and he stood. "Excuse me, ladies. I've been expecting a call."
Moving a few feet away, he spoke softly. Then, a smile split his face. "Yes. Immediately. We're in the garden."
Hanging up the phone, Stefan turned to Laura, his eyes alight with anticipation. "Laura. Lulu. Your prayers have been answered. And, you were right all along, Laura..."
Turning at the sound of a voice she'd thought lost to her forever, Laura saw Lucky coming towards her, the hand of a little brunette held in his.
Suddenly, he was in her arms, hugging her and Lulu.
"Where have you been?" she asked, before pulling him back into her arms for another hug.
"It's a long story," he began.
Looking over her son's shoulder, tears running down her cheeks, she sobbed, "Thank you, Stefan. Thank you for returning my son from the dead."
Then, she felt Lucky stiffen in her arms. "Don't thank him, Mom. He's the one responsible for my disappearance."
"I heard that," Luke said from behind a tree. He walked towards them, flanked by Mac Scorpio and a few officers.
"Stefan," Mac started.
"Lies, all lies." Stefan stood stunned, his face a mask of disbelief and shock. He looked from Lucky to Laura. "I found you, Lucky. I arranged for your safe passage from my mother's henchmen."
"Then you won't mind telling us where that was, and bringing them in for questioning."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible...."
"No doubt they were killed in the rescue, or they escaped somehow. We still want to see the place where he was held. Surely you can show us that," Mac suggested.
"Laura," Stefan turned to her, reading betrayal in her eyes. "What have you done to me? You begged for my help, persuaded me that my mother was behind this, and I did as you asked. This was all for you. How could you?"
"It was all a ploy to get to you, Mom," Lucky explained. He held Brooke Lynn, giving the little girl a hug. "They took Brooke, too. I guess he was planning to make a move on ELQ at the same time."
"He?" Mac questioned Lucky who responded,
"Stefan Cassadine, Haven't you figured this out yet? It's all and always about Stefan Cassadine."
The old man limped down the docks of Port Charles, mumbling to himself, his clothes as old as he was, a patch over one eye, the other dimmed by white. He bumped into a barrel, then muttered an apology, then continued to walk. Finally, he found a bench where he could rest his ancient bones. He sat for a while, then appeared to fall asleep, occasionally snoring loudly.
Unnoticed by those who strolled up and down the docks that day, Robert Scorpio watched and waited.
Robin Scorpio met the plane later that day. She met Tom Hardy who wheeled the patient to the special elevator that was employed for wheelchair bound people, then took custody of the woman who stared straight ahead, her eyes vacant, blinking from time to time, a veil drawn over her head to give her some privacy. Robin blinked back tears, then patted the limp hand on the armrest while Tom looked on in sad resignation.
"Everything will be okay," she promised the woman, as Mac helped with the luggage. "Thanks, Uncle Mac."
Mac nodded. He knelt beside the woman in the wheelchair, whispered words of encouragement. "Okay. You're on. I've arranged for a car to take you to the house. Just enough secrecy to guarantee that you'll be noticed. Robin, fill them in on the last few hours. Things are happening fast-don't know where we're going just yet."
"We'll be okay, Uncle Mac," Robin answered.
"Tom, you okay with all of this?"
"Never better. We're prepared for any eventuality."
"Good. Okay, I've got to get back to PCPD in a little while. This whole deal with Stefan came up rather suddenly. The station is crawling with attorneys and the press, and they're expecting a statement from me soon."
"Oh, and Tom-Simone and Tommy have gone on a vacation. They're safe. Your mother and Lizzie Webber are staying in town. Lizzie refused to leave Lucky's side when she finally got to him."
That evening, Ned held his daughter as he barked orders at the team of attorneys that sat in the study of the Quartermaine mansion. "I want full and sole custody of my daughter. I don't care what you have to do-do it."
"Ned," Lois injected, reading resolution in Ned's tone. "Don't do this to me. You promised me that..."
"That was then, this is now," Ned told her. "You dragged my daughter all over everywhere, subjected her to dangers that put her life in jeopardy, nearly getting yourself killed at the same time. That negates any previous agreement. Now, if you wish to remain in Port Charles, that's your business. Brooke will live with me, in this house." His voice softened. "Lois, things have changed greatly since you left. Look around you. Grandmother is in the hospital-she may never return. Grandfather spends most of his time at her bedside. AJ is dead. Jason is gone, and Michael is no longer a Quartermaine. Monica and Alan spend most of their time consoling each other. My mother has seen the light and knows better than to challenge me in any way, shape or form. This family has been shaken to its roots, to its underpinnings. We're holding on by our fingernails, and this time, I'll fight you tooth and nail if you try to take my daughter again."
Lois, hearing a determination in Ned's voice that she'd never heard before, knew that arguments were futile.
"Okay, Nedly, I'll stay at the gatehouse."
"It's Ned, and no, you won't. That's already occupied by my assistant, V. Now, if you intend to stay in the area, I'd suggest a room for the time being at the Port Charles Hotel."
"And if I want to stay here?"
Ned shook his head. "You mean, leave your things here while you wander the world promoting various bands? Sorry, Lois. Not this time."
"Ned, this is so..."
"Deal with it, Lois. Times have changed, and so have I."
"So you see, he can't implicate me without implicating himself in the bargain," Faison assured Helena. "He will be hard pressed to tell how he managed to find Lucky, and with Lucky busily telling the police that Stefan was the kidnapper, his fate is sealed for some time to come. A trial may exonerate him, but as for Stefan, the damage has been done." He exhaled a plume of smoke. "And, we may even arrange for the body of the missing Ms. Bell to be discovered in a bog on Spoon Island."
"I thought you had it destroyed. Cremated. All the evidence eliminated."
"Helena," Faison smiled, turning his eyes to hers. "Don't underestimate me like Stefan did. My plans have always remained fluid, subject to change as I deem necessary. Perhaps I changed my mind. I forget...."
"Just don't forget who is paying you," Helena warned him.
"I forget nothing," Faison promised. "And you'll get everything that you paid for. Everything and more."