FALL

"He's full of it. I know he is." Danny held the phone up to his ear as he stirred the pasta one more time. He didn't know if they were suppose to clump up together like this, but it did smelled good. "Are my noodles suppose to look like a disfigured transformer?" Emma sighed. Her brother was hopeless. "Add some olive oil and salt. And make sure to stir every few minutes or so until they're tender." He reached over and grabbed the olive oil.

"I want to his last doctor's appointment as some weird father...daughter bonding time and he was healthy as a horse. This has to be some sick joke to get us home." Scarlett added, while she googled types of cancer. Emma was searching who to call next in her call log. Her grandmother Anna was the first person she reached out to. She had no idea on if her father was making it up or not. She even sounded worried and said she would call him. Emma knew that selling their childhood home would bring up some sentimental feelings, but she never thought it would make her father fabricate an illness to get them home.

Or was he really dying?

That thought made her stomach plummet further into her chest. She tried Mason again, but he wasn't responding.

She thought about calling up one of his friends, but knew after his return he isolated himself from them. He couldn't handle large groups or closed off spaces. He was getting better though. He was no longer depressed, but thinking about her baby brother made her even more concerned about his whereabouts.

"We need to find Mason." She said, interrupting the conversation Scarlett and Danny were having. "We need to find him and we need to go home."

Sand got into his eyes. He tried to blink it out but it was just making it worst. The sun felt so close to him, as if it was sitting right on his back. He was burning up in his uniform. Cooking, actually. It felt like little fire ants were taking turns biting him all over his body. He just wanted a drink of water and to get out of the sun, but his commanding officer told his entire base to stay put. They had received intel that an ambush was going to happen any minute on their base and they needed to be alert. He tried his best to stay focus and keep a low profile, but his attention kept wavering. He wanted to scratch his back so badly, but he couldn't move. Orders were orders.

His sweat was drowning him and the sun was eating him alive. A slow prickly feeling crept across the exposed skin. He felt as if he was literally going to die in that moment. Mason eyes flickered over to his best friend, Phoenix. His parents named him after the city they conceived him in, which of course caused many laughs and jokes. Some he even came up with to lessen the blow. In this moment he wasn't laughing, he was focused on the task at hand and Mason couldn't understand how. He was dying over here and yet Phoenix was steadfast in his position. He was in control and ready for anything to come their way. Mason turned his head to the left, looking at his unit. They all had the same strong stance. While he was the only one going to crack. He couldn't help, but crack a smile. His mom was right. The army wasn't his thing. It was yet again another escape.

He could never sit still and after everything that happened with Alyssa, he needed to run, but running away to join the army wasn't the right decision.

He lift his arm to wipe the beads of sweat running down his face and into his eyes. The bullet that caught that arm was swift and painless. He didn't even know he had been hit in that moment and then all the shouting started. All the blood. All the death.

Mason jumped from his sleep. He didn't realize he was screaming. His ears hadn't registered the noise. He couldn't distinguish between anything in the dark. In his head he could still hear the explosions, his body reacted immediately. Crawling beneath the bed, which he now saw as a bunker. Shouting was all around him. He couldn't see anything, but the surrounding darkness. His fear was crippling and he couldn't overcome it. His chest began to tighten, making each breath he took difficult. He wondered, through each labored breath, was this how it felt when you died? An overwhelming amount of fear just as your heart gave out? He thought it would be much more peaceful. When he thought this was the end, a small light was turned on. It burned his eyes when it was flashed in his direction, but then placed on the floor. "Hey, bud." Nick's voice was calm. He was just a feet or two from where Mason lay. "I'm here. Just relax. I'm here." Mason wanted to shut his eyes and turn away, but there was something pulling him to keep his eyes on Nick. Nick didn't touch him or even try to invade his space. He just lay there beside him.

Soon his chest slowly unclenched. He gasped as his lungs welcomed the fresh air. Nick didn't moved from that spot. He lay there and helped him slowly get his breathing under control. Mason felt surprisingly at peace in a matter of minutes. His head was clear and he was able to think. He didn't remember what made him get under the bed, but he also wasn't perplexed by what happened. He rightly assumed it was a night terror. He had been suffering from those for some time now. So waking up in weird places was nothing new. What he couldn't understand was, why was he still lying there staring back at Nick, who obviously was still unaware of Mason's calmer state of mind. It was the dead of night, he had a job to get up to, and yet he was still here trying to comfort Mason. Making sure he was alright. This confounded him. He never had someone outside of his family care this much about him. He knew he should have insisted on Nick going back to his bed and getting some rest. He knew that would be the right thing to do, but he didn't care to do the right thing. Mason wanted Nick right here next to him in this moment. It made him feel less alone and he needed that. So, instead they both fell back to sleep right there on the cold hardwood floor.

That morning Mason pretended to forget everything that happened that night. Which wasn't hard to, since his memory was already a bit hazy. Nick didn't seem to mind it though. He sat at the little breakfast nook with a bowl of cereal in front of him and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Mason felt awkward approaching him, but waved that feeling off. They were best friends and Nick was there for him when he needed someone. That's what friend are for. So, he walked over and grabbed the box of Frosted Flakes and plopped down across from him. Nick didn't look up, but a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "Got something planned for the day?" Nick asked casually. Mason knew it was a simple question, but felt like it was leading somewhere. He shrugged and replied, "Not really. Probably get Prudence a wash. Why?" His mouth was filled with cereal now. Nick bent the paper down. "Nothing. I'm just having a small thing at the Shoppe. You should come by if you're not too busy." Mason felt stupid. He was letting the weirdness he was feeling get in the way of having a normal conversation. He nodded and said with a mouth full of Frosted Flakes, "Of course, man. You're paying right?" Nick rolled his eyes and tossed the paper at him. Clearing his side of the table he said, "Get a job." Mason looked down at the where the newspaper at fallen open to. It was the job listings. "Does this mean you're not paying?" Mason said to Nick's back, while he washed his bowl. Mason laughed. He dropped his spoon and got to his feet, heading over to his duffel bag he had left in the living room. He reached inside and grabbed his phone. He realized he hadn't check his messages in a couple weeks now. When he was on the road he didn't like to be bother with any family drama. His family could be a real nuisance with all their phone calls wondering where he was, when he was coming back, or to tell him about their stuff. He loved them, but he just didn't like to be around them. Maybe that was another thing going to the war took from him, because before then he enjoyed their company. Now, he felt as if they were suffocating him and that slowly he would soon run out of air in their presence. So with the money he made from a senseless war, he spent it on traveling. Truly seeing the world and really living. He wanted to know he lived his life to its fullest and not a short safe one.

Looking down at his phone, Mason could see he had a combination of over two hundred voicemails and text messages, from everyone in his immediate family except his mom. She understood he needed space. She always understood him better than anyone and he cherished her for it. Their bond was always the strongest. He remember his dad use to say they were cut from the same adventurous cloth. Which kinda scared his dad, because even though he was also fearless, his mom and him were sometimes reckless when it came to their own safety. So Mason made a promise to never do anything that would cause him any kind of grief. Which of course he broke as soon as he joined the army. Mason looked back down at his phone and tapped the first voicemail.

Sam pressed her hands gently at the top of her abdomen, just above her slightly protruding belly button. She waited for a couple seconds and then he responded. "You saw that?" She asked Patrick, who was watching her in awe. She was so mesmerizing to him in this moment. Watching as her body changed and prepared for the new life growing inside her was exciting. The way her face would light up anytime their son would kick or moved, made him happy they were heading in this direction with their lives. Sam was in a state of euphoria, it was something Patrick had never seen before. Each day she woke up at the crack of dawn to work on a case she got from Spinelli, work that could be done on her laptop, then she prepared breakfast. Well, frozen waffles, cereal, and some sausages she warmed up in the microwave. Even with her lack of culinary skills he still loved whatever she cooked. She tackled on more maternal adventures, like helping Emma with her soccer and dance.

"I bet you ten bucks my kid will score the next goal."

She also spent a good amount of time at Danny's preschool. Making sure she was involved in preparing their son for Kindergarten. She even took charge in leading the kids' play of Jack and the Beanstalk, where Danny was casted as the lead Jack. Though, some didn't believe the part was fairly won.

"Nepotism? You don't even know what that word means, let alone know how to spell it."

Patrick was there for it all. Watching them with close attentive eyes. His family. He never saw himself as a family man, nor did he ever strive to be one, but now having two kids, a wife, and one on the way, had him reflecting on his younger selfish self. He couldn't think of life without Sam or their kids in it. That younger version of himself was a vapid child, with no real purpose other than to challenge his father's status as a legend in his medical field. One, he did in fact achieve, but that was all trivial to him now. What he had now was the most important thing to him; his family.

"Emma is getting so big, man. I can't wait for you see her." Patrick thumbed through the photos he had brought with him. They were all out of place and it was hard for him to grab the right one after finishing a sentence. Matt stayed patient, though. He was just happy to have his brother here; even in a place like Pentonville. Patrick's presence always eased the tension for him. Seeing him happy was enough.

Patrick found the picture of Emma holding up her first place trophy, with a pregnant Sam and Danny beside her. "Look at them." Patrick said, holding up the photo against the thick glass window keeping him and his brother apart. Matt moved closer to see and crack a smile. "They're beautiful. I'm still in shock you were actually able to snag Sam and that she actually agreed to marry you." Matt said, still peering through the glass at the picture. Patrick shrugged nonchalantly, then added, "I honestly never thought she would say yes." This got them both to laugh. He was happy he could see his brother in a good mood like this. Being in a place like this did things to people and he was happy he could help in some small way. "I almost forgot our newest picture." Patrick proudly lift the sonogram he had tucked away inside his wallet. Matt carefully looked at the picture. It was amazing how better the technology was getting for internal examination. It was like a whole undiscovered world within of us, but with the help of science we got a deeper look into this whole other world and it was terrifyingly beautiful. "He's going to be a real cool kid. I can already tell he's going to take after his uncle Matt." Matt said. Patrick turned the sonogram around to face him. "You think so?" Patrick asked, staring at the picture of his son. Matt sat back in his cold steel chair and thought about it. After a minute he shook his head. "No." He replied. "He will be better."

Scarlett raised her hand up, facing the palm toward the leering sun, that snuck through the thick dusty blinds. Her sleep had already been interrupted by the three year old sitting atop of her chest. Laurel made sure to squeeze Scarlett's stomach with her thighs every couple seconds, just to make sure she didn't doze back off. Scarlett blew her breath and squinted at the sticky face toddler. "Why don't you go finish your breakfast and let auntie Scar go back to sleep? Now doesn't that sound like a good idea?" Scarlett said, hoping she could persuade her. Laurel simply shrugged her shoulders and kept on squeezing tighter. "How about if I give you a cookie?" She still didn't budge and this time she howled like dog. Laughing each time her voice got a little louder. "That's it." Scarlett pulled herself up, and throwing her niece off in the process. She laughed and kicked her feet out, hitting Scarlett in the butt. "Wakey wakey, Mousy!" Laurel screamed and ran. Scarlett took a moment to consider if Cam and Emma would miss one child, after that she got up to hunt down her sister and brother-in-law. It was a little after twelve, so she knew Cam wouldn't be home. So she instead looked for her sister, but instead found her oldest niece, Mckenzie, with her baby brother, Robbie. Mckenzie's eyes were glued to the TV that was politely on cartoons, while Robbie drunk his bottle in her lap. Laurel came running in soon after dressed in green rain boots, a pink tutu, with a Batman mask. Scarlett was confused. She stepped in front of the TV, blocking Mckenzie's view. "Where's your mom, Mac?" Mckenzie tried to look around Scarlett to see the TV, then sighed and gave up. She pointed toward the hall. "She's in her studio. She told me to feed Robbie, until she got back." The eight year old now looked at her younger sister. "Go eat your waffles." She ordered, but of course Laurel paid her no mind and continued to dance around the living room. "When was that?" Scarlett asked, making sure her niece still couldn't see the TV. "I don't know. Maybe twenty minutes ago." She replied, now more irritated than before. Scarlett left them and went to see what was keeping Emma.

The door to the studio was slightly ajar. Scarlett could hear a soft whimper coming from the other side. She quickly got to the door and pushed it all the way open. Her eyes grew in size and she immediately rushed over to Emma's side. Emma was laying balled up on the floor holding her left hand to her chest. "What happened? Did you fall?" Scarlett couldn't think clearly. Her mind was thinking of every possible reason for her sister to be on the floor in pain. Emma tried to give her a smile, but instead it turned into a grimace. "I think we should take you to a doctor. I'll go tell Mac to get the kids into the car and we'll get you there in no time." She tried to sound calm and hide the fear nestling its way into her chest. Emma pulled away from her. "Emma? We have to get you to a-" before she could finish that Emma cut her off.

"No!"

Scarlett became silent. Emma took a deep breath and in a lower tone repeated, "No." She released her left hand from the right, stretching the fingers one at a time. "See? I'm fine. I just needed for the meds to kick in. There's no need to worry. I'm okay now." Scarlett didn't believe her. She had been keeping this a secret for who knows how long. How could she?

Scarlett sat back on her heels, her eyes catching a glimpse of the bright neon orange pill bottle that lay on the dark brown throw rug. She grabbed it before Emma could and read the information on the front of it. After reading what it was, her heart sunk a little deeper into her chest. "When were you going to tell us you had arthritis?" Scarlett placed the bottle in front of her. Emma snatched it and glared up at her. "Maybe around the time you told mom and dad about your suspension." Scarlett couldn't stop herself from feeling attacked. In fights she always became defensive. No matter if she was in the wrong or not. It was a habit of hers. "That's different! My suspension won't hurt me in the long run. This affects your life. Your career." She was now getting angry. Emma could see what she had done, but her inability to control such small things in her life made her feel weak and vulnerable. She hated that more than anything. "What were you afraid of? That you wouldn't be able to play that stupid guitar?" Scarlett continued. Emma shook her head, but let her finish. "Stop being such a coward and get up off the floor. Come on. We're going to the doctor." That was a command. Emma took a deep breath and released it. She stared down at her still throbbing hand and said, "Alright. I'll go, but get the kids in the car first. I don't want them to see me like this." Scarlett nodded. She turned to leave, but before she did, she said, "Your ass better be off that floor by the time I get back." Then she was gone.

"Listen, lady, my sister is in a lot of pain. I didn't just drive here, with three screaming kids, to be asked to fill out paperwork." Scarlett gritted her teeth, as the receptionist at Mercy Hospital tapped her pen gently on the forms she placed in front of Scarlett. Emma knew she should intervene, the stare down going on between the two of them could go on for some time, but she already called her doctor and he said he was on his way. This was simply her entertainment until then. "Our dad is a very famous neurosurgeon at the more prestigious General Hospital. I bet you heard of him. Dr. Patrick Drake ring any bells?" Scarlett made sure to say his name slowly and concise. The lady rolled her eyes and raised the clipboard higher. Scarlett gasped. "Did you just roll your eyes at me, bitch?" This time Emma got involved. "Sorry, but she," The receptionist pointed at a apologetic looking Emma, "can't see a doctor until the proper paperwork is done. No matter who your "daddy" is, little girl." Emma grabbed the clipboard and Scarlett, bringing them both back to the waiting area. "Imma kick her ass." Scarlett declared once back at their seats. Emma raised the clipboard up to her face and whispered, "Language, Mouse." Scarlett waved the kids' existence off. "I'm really going to kick, Meredith Stevens' ass." Scarlett said, reading her name tag. Thankfully, Dr. Zahar walked up to them, greeting Emma with his usual warm smile. Then frowning when he saw a very angry Scarlett. "Umm..follow me." He instructed hesitantly when looking at Scarlett. Not sure if he wanted her to come or not. "Meredith, I'll take it from here." The kids, who were still wearing their pajamas, followed their mom and the doctor. Scarlett stopped when they passed Meredith's desk, handing her back the blank paperwork. "Here, Mere-dick. Have fun with that." Scarlett sauntered away from her desk, not hiding her smirk as she did.

The doctor used a lot of big words, so Scarlett just nodded and kept quiet. She was holding Robbie in her lap. His attention was on her black wrist coil holding her keys. He was so amused by something so little, while Scarlett sat back so terrified by something possibly too big for her to handle. Scarlett wished that Cam was here instead of her or even their mom and dad. This whole big scary doctor stuff was getting to her. Emma, on the other hand, seemed at eased with what the doctor was saying, like she had heard this all before. Then surgery came up and Emma shook her head at the option.

"I really wish you would reconsider, but ultimately it is your choice. I'm going to prescribe you a stronger dose of your meds and let's see if that helps." Scarlett looked at Emma, baffled, really. Once they were outside and Scarlett had handed Robbie off to Mac, she stopped Emma. "Why aren't you considering surgery? It sounds reasonable enough." Emma looked at her hand and then back up at her little sister. "I may never be able to play the guitar again with surgery. At least with this pain I'm still somewhat as good as I use to be. I can't let one surgery that might help, take that from me." Emma said, hoping she would understand. "You're selfish." Scarlett said, walking off in the opposite direction of the car. Emma made sure the kids got inside the car before going after her. "What are you talking about? You told me this could affect my career and you were right. Surgery would end whatever career I have left." Emma argued. She just needed time to finish the album she had in progress and then maybe after…. "Oh, don't pull that shit on me, Emma. That was before I knew how serious this was." Scarlett turned around to face her. "You know why you go to Mercy Hospital, and get treated like a second class citizen by ugly receptionists who wear Crocs, rather than go to GH?" Emma didn't respond. She knew Scarlett was trying to make a point and she really didn't have a good enough argument to stop her. "Because you're afraid that once mom and dad find out, you won't be able to hide in that bubble you put yourself in. A bubble of denial and delusion. I think holding your son is more important than strumming some chord on a old ass guitar." This time when Scarlett stormed off, Emma didn't follow her. She couldn't. So instead she headed back to her car and sat in silence while her kids screamed in the back for her attention. A tiny tear fell and she let it. Too ashamed to raise her hand to wipe it away.

"Fuck." Danny looked at the time and knew he was headed for a shit storm with Georgie when he got back. He had completely blew off their date. After his talk with his sisters about finding Mason, he went back to his office to look at each and every postcard he received from his little brother. Each one more vibrant than the last. Montreal, Santa Fe, and the list went on. Then he noticed the most recent one Mason had sent. It was a greetings from Georgia and it also was the third one he sent from there. Mason never sent more than two from the same place. So that had Danny thinking and got him to get in touch with his godfather Spinelli.

"Can you trace a postcard back to exactly where the sender is?" The task seemed like a difficult one to him, but for Spinelli it was as easy as wiping a hard drive. He was able to trace back the store it was bought which was also the same store he bought the other two postcards from, in the heart of Georgia, Atlanta. Well, East Atlanta to be exact. Thanks to Spinelli, Danny was able to get the exact whereabouts of Mason because of the tracker their mom placed in his phone. He also had to make sure his phone wasn't bugged or whatever. Spinelli assured him it wasn't, he didn't know if he should believe him or not. So, here he was on a flight to the south. He hurried and left Georgie a voicemail praying she would understand, but knowing her, she wouldn't. He would make sure to call Emma and Scarlett when he found their elusive brother. He always understood Mason's need to escape, he had the same desire when he left Port Charles, but knew their reasons differed from each other. Danny left to escape a past and a name he never wanted, while Mason still tries to escape the demons that live within his very existence. He struggles from PTSD and doesn't allow their help. Their dad tried to get him to see an old friend of his, Dr. Lainey, but Mason refused. He felt the treatment he received after his discharge was enough. He didn't want to prolong it. That ultimately lead to one hell of a fight between them. One he wasn't sure they ever truly repaired, but with their dad's latest stunt who knew how Mason would feel.

When he touched down in Atlanta, his phone started to ring. It was his grandmother, Monica. He stared down at the phone for a minute or so before he answered. He hadn't spoken to her since last Thursday. It was the day they always talked on, it was something he always expected and looked forward to. He was surprised by this abruptness.

"Hello? Grandma?"

"Your dad told me you were heading back into town."

"Oh, he did?" This confirmed what Danny already knew. His dad was lying about dying just to get them all back home.

"So are you going to come see me. I have something I need to tell you." What was it with everyone needing to tell him something. He pinched the bridge of his nose, suppressing a sigh. "Of course, grandma. You'll be my first stop." Now a promise he couldn't break was made. It seems Port Charles would be his next stop. He was going to kill Mason and then his dad.

He stood outside the Shoppe, watching Nick from his spot just outside. He felt kinda shitty for acting weird with him this morning. Especially after he helped him last night. The coffee place was busy, but not too packed to make him feel claustrophobic. He just wasn't a group kind of guy. He took joy in his solitude. Nick knew that better than anyone, but was trying to get him to socialize. He appreciated it. Just as his hand reached for the door handle another guy grabbed it first. He pulled it open and walked in. Mason watched as his best friend's eyes lit up at the very sight of this guy. He introduced him to each person in attendance. The guy gingerly shook each one of their hands and then placed his arm around Nick's waist. Mason pushed his face closer to the glass and watched as the two kissed. His hand suddenly dropped in the midst of grabbing the handle and retracted. He took a step back away from the door and turn, it was too late though. Nick had caught sight of him from his place inside and excused himself.

"Weren't you just about to come in? I want to introduce you someone." Nick said, letting the sweet smell of muffins and freshly brewed coffee, as well as the chatter from easy going conversations escape from inside the small shop. Mason bit his lower lip hesitant to turn around and then came face to face with a shock. "Danny?" His brother walked up to him so fast he wasn't expecting what came next.

Mason cupped his hand over his eye, reacting to the blow. "What the hell was that for?!" Mason said, releasing a stream of obscenities under his breath. Nick was by his side in a instant. "You alright? Do you know this guy?"

"Oh, get up. I didn't hit you that hard." Mason dropped his hand from his already swollen eye. "Unfortunately this asshole is my big brother." Danny extended a hand toward Mason, who resentfully accepted it. Upon standing Mason dropped his hand from Danny's. He nodded back toward the Shoppe. "You should get back to your friends. Don't let us interrupt." Nick didn't budge. "I think I'm good here." He said, giving Danny a look of contempt. Danny crossed his arms, not bothered one bit by him. "Nah, man. I'm good. Go." He pushed, even though he really didn't want him to leave. There was something about Nick that was comforting. It was also a familiar feeling he had with another so long ago, but she was in the past. This was the present and urged his best friend to go back to group of people who were now wondering where he was. Especially that guy, who got to the door handle first. Nick nodded and backed away. Pausing, but for only just a second before entering the coffee shop. Mason now turned his attention back to a lingering Danny. His brother looked exhausted and pissed. Mason blew his breath. "What are you doing here? And what was that lovely gift you presented me with when you first saw me?" Danny followed Mason over to a bench he sat down at. He handed his brother a wad of tissue to wipe the blood that was dripping down the side of his face from the cut above his eye. "Well to answer your second question first, that lovely gift was for not responding to any of our phone calls or messages." Mason knew that was kinda of a dick move on his part. He knew they were worried about him. "And well, dad's dying. So there's that." Danny said coolly. Mason now felt as if he was living in some alternate reality.