Chapter Eight

1.

Being an adult sometimes sucked.

It wasn't necessarily that she mourned the loss of her childhood. In fact, it was quite the opposite. She enjoyed being an adult, for there were certain advantages to being on one's own and independent, but, sometimes, Nadine had to admit that it would be nice to let go of everything else – all worry, all responsibilities, all pretenses of maturity – and just have fun again like only a kid could.

Lifting both of her legs to curl under her, she remained seated on the bench, the warmth of her own body, the winter clothes she was wearing, and the plastic cup of hot cider she was holding managing to ward off some of the chill present in the air on that particular November day. However, despite the near frozen temperatures, it was a beautiful afternoon. The sun was out, the skies were clear, and it would, in all likelihood, be one of their final chances that year to playing outside, and her companions for the day had insisted that they take advantage of it. So, bundled up even more than she was, Cameron and Jake played on in the fallen leaves, their infectious giggles bringing a wistful smile to the blonde's full lips.

The two Webber – soon to be Morgan – boys were absolutely adorable, and it was rare that she got to spend so much uninterrupted time with them. Even though Elizabeth was still working full time at the hospital, Jason seemed to be trying to make up for more than his year long absence in just a few short months, monopolizing the children he was about to legally declare to the world as his own. But he had business obligations that he couldn't worm his way out of, so as a favor to her friends, she had volunteered to watch the five year old and his precocious little brother, giving the two kids a chance to be outside instead of cooped up in daycare all afternoon.

And it wasn't as if her offer was a hardship or an inconvenience for her either. With a day off from work and an endless amount of free time she had no way of occupying all on her own, babysitting was the second best option she had, falling just shy of the idea of spending the late fall afternoon with the man she loved. Johnny had been busy, though, work, too, apparently, so Cameron and Jake became her temporary partners in crime. After lunch at Kelly's and a good hour of rigorous activity on the swings, the three of them had settled into a more wooded area of the park, an area where both the natural descent of the foliage and the gusting winds had cornered a large pile of dry, crackling leaves perfect for jumping in.

Well, she silently corrected herself with an indulgent smirk, the three of them and their three guards, one Zacchara employee and then two Corinthos-Morgan security experts.

But the men stayed pretty much out of sight, and, if she allowed herself, out of her mind as well. They didn't interfere with her handling of the children, they didn't speak up when she allowed Cameron two slices of chocolate cake for dessert simply because the little imp had smiled at her with his crooked, already frosting covered face, and they didn't pay her any 

mind when she held and lost a staring contest with Jake. The men seemed to realize that she would appreciate their discretion and their distance, and she was determined to remember to thank both of their employers for the considerate gesture.

She was just about to yell out to Cameron and tell him not to pile leaves on his little brother's face when she felt someone sneak up behind her. Already jumping in alarm, she relaxed immediately when she felt the man's laughter ripple over her ultrasensitive neck, his sudden close proximity and the warmth of his breath melting through the layers of clothes she had on to break her skin out in goosebumps. However, they were not of the unpleasantly cold variety.

"Oh, let them play," Johnny teasingly instructed her, coming around the bench to sit down at her side. He immediately pulled her against him, and she snuggled into his embrace quite willingly. "They're just fooling around. If Jake gets scared or uncomfortable, he'll wiggle around until the leaves fall off of him or he'll cry out. You don't have to worry so much."

She wasn't ready to concede yet, though, to his laissez-faire babysitting skills, so the pediatrics specialist argued, "but what if he swallows a leaf?"

"A kid could eat worse," the brunette beside her pointed out with a chuckle. "Besides," he added much to her halfhearted irritation, "we're talking about Jason Morgan's kid. He's only a year and a half, but he's probably already trained and capable of taking me out by the knees, and I'm a full grown man. I'm sure he'll be able to handle his big brother."

And, sure enough, not even ten seconds after Johnny made such a pronouncement, Jake was up and running again, tossing little acorns in his older sibling's direction, giggling freely at his own mischievous behavior. The toddler seemed to have an unlimited supply of the small nuts in his jean's pockets, and the two adults sitting together found themselves both grinning with amusement at his antics.

As the boys continued to chase each other around in childish circles, Nadine turned to her husband and asked, "so, what are you doing here?"

"Got done early," was all he would say in response, in answer. "So, I thought I'd search you out and join you. You know, you're pretty predictable, Mrs. Zacchara. This is the first place I looked, and, sure enough, here you are."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you just called my guard, and he told you where I was."

"That would be cheating, and I only do that in my professional life."

"You're terrible," she practically complimented him, laughing melodiously. Although her friend's two children looked up at the sound of mirth coming from the blonde, they soon went back to playing, having much better things to do than worry about what the adults were doing. But the petite nurse couldn't look away from the man she lived with even if she tried. His eyes, normally a rich, thoughtful chocolate brown were warmer that afternoon, 

almost bronze with amusement and sheer contentment, and, if she didn't know better, she would say that she fell in love with him all over again in that moment. He seemed to sense her revelation, so he grinned cockily, standing up and stripping off his warm, winter jacket.

"Keep that thought until later," he told her, bending down to place a lingering kiss against her mouth, but he pulled away much too quickly in her opinion, and she found herself pouting rather petulantly. In explanation, Johnny offered, "I'm going to go play with the boys, but don't worry," he promised her. "I'll play with you later."

"Do you want me to…?"

Her words trailed off when he gently pushed her back into a sitting position. She had been trying to stand up in an effort to join him, but, apparently, he didn't want her to. "Just stay here," he directed, his left hand lifting to feather across her windblown cheek and jaw. "Relax. Drink your hot cider."

"How did you…?"

Again, he interrupted her. "I could taste it on your lips, on your breath, on your tongue when I kissed you," the mob heir answered. "And I liked it. Maybe we should stop by on the way home and pick up some more. You know, for dessert."

Winking at her, he turned around and jogged off a few steps to where the boys were playing, immediately dropping down to his knees to be on their level, completely unconcerned about the expensive, designer pants he would surely ruin with such actions. As Nadine watched on, perfectly content with just observing her three favorite guys in the whole world mess around together, Jake and Cam ganging up on Johnny to tackle him onto his back so they could proceed to bury him alive in a pile of damp, brown leaves, she realized that her husband's arrival was the whipped cream on top of her piece of pumpkin pie day.

2.

"So, Johnny likes kids?"

Remarking flippantly, Nadine commented, "don't all mob bosses?" However, she noticed her younger friend's rather bemused countenance, so she clarified, "Yes, he does, and he's good with them, too. When he's around children, it's like he can forget all the ugliness he's seen throughout his life, and he can just be. It's actually kind of beautiful."

"Isn't everything about the man," the cancer patient returned, winking. When she glowered in the fifteen year old's direction, Abby switched gears. "Do you think he'll be a good father?"

"Surprisingly, yes."

"Okay," the balding teen responded, sounding somewhat stunned. "That's not exactly the 

emphatic, gushing response I was expecting. Care to explain?"

"Well, I've told you about Johnny's father, haven't I?"

"Oh, yeah," her balding companion agreed. "Bat shit crazy Anthony – he was the one who killed his attorney all those months ago on Port Charles' very own version of The Love Boat. Those are some impressive genes you married into, Nadine."

She ignored her friend. "To say that Johnny didn't have a very good parental role model growing up would be an extreme underestimation of just how much damage his father inflicted upon him, but, someway, and I really couldn't tell you how, he was able to move past all the terrible things Anthony did, and he's a better man because of it. He's kind and compassionate, gentle, and I know that he'll be the type of dad who won't put pressures upon his children or push his own failed dreams unto them. He'll allow them to grow up to be individuals, guiding them in the right direction but not forcing his ideas and opinions upon them."

"Cue the doves and pass me a paper bag, because I think I'm going to be sick."

"Hey," the pediatrics specialist challenged, laughing despite herself. "You asked!"

"Yeah, but you could have saved me from all this schmaltzy crap. No one, especially me, wants to listen to you wax poetic about your husband. Stick to the good stuff," Abby instructed her. "The sex, the drugs, and the violence."

"We're getting there."

"Oh," the terminal patient cooed out, sitting up slightly straighter. "That sounds promising. Skip to that part, please."

"Well, at least you said please, but I'm not ready to move forward yet," Nadine informed her. "Just like before, I want you to realize that there is a downside to this whole idea."

"Obviously," her friend returned mockingly. "Kids mean babies, and babies mean dirty diapers, three a.m. feedings, and stretch marks. Talk about your ultimate cock block."

"Abby!"

"Oh, don't be a prude," the fifteen year old returned, shrugging off her older friend's indignant protests. "You can't tell me that you haven't thought about this on your own, and, when you're married to a hot piece of ass like you've snagged for yourself, these are valid concerns."

"Not in a relationship where both people are adults who love each other. In fact," the nurse pointed out cheekily. "It's common knowledge that some men are even more turned on by seeing their wives full and pregnant with their child than they are when their wives are at 

their thinnest and most attractive."

"Kinky."

"And, besides," the blonde continued as if she had not been interrupted. "When I brought up the downside to the idea of Johnny becoming a father, I wasn't talking about sex; I was talking about the fact that he'll be coming into the role with a lot of emotional baggage." Finding herself getting emotional despite her best efforts, Nadine attempted to stave off the tears rapidly filling her aquamarine eyes. Sniffling and lifting trembling fingers to wipe the moisture away, she explained. "I have no doubt that he'll be an amazing father – the best, but, at the same time, the idea of fatherhood scares him."

"Alright," the cancer patient acknowledged, albeit slightly disbelievingly. "I have to tell you, though, from everything that you've told me about your husband, it's kind of difficult for me to picture him afraid of anything."

"Oh, everyone fears something, Abby," the medical professional returned confidently. "Some people are just better at hiding their fears than others, but Johnny's no different. He's scared of bringing an innocent life into the world he's grown up in. He's scared of the idea of his own child having to one day inherit the business he himself doesn't want. He's scared of failing his child, of passing down his father's insanity, of the violence his role in any kid's life will bring to the child. And, most of all, he's afraid that he simply won't be good enough, no matter how much and how often I reassure him otherwise."

Completely serious, the teenager remarked, "wow, that's pretty heavy. Way to bring down the mood there, Nurse Nadine."

"I just… No matter what I do," she changed topics, changing her mind and attempting to explain her remarks in another fashion, "you see to constantly look at my life as though it was one big fairytale, but it's not, and I just… I need you to realize that, no matter what the circumstances are, nothing's ever perfect."

"I'm dying," her younger friend pointed out. "So, do you really need me to recognize the flaws in your relationship with your husband, or do you just need to remind yourself of their existence?"

Without commenting, the pediatrics specialist changed the topic - again, refusing to meet the fifteen year old's perceptive gaze, for, sometimes, even when she didn't want to face the facts, even when she had already admitted them to herself, it was better to deny what she knew to be true. "Anyway, so you wanted some violence, huh? Well…"

3.

She refused to get out of the car until he came around to open her door for her, not because she insisted upon his chivalrous ways but simply because she didn't want to go inside of the looming mansion before them, and it wasn't until he practically lifted her out of 

the sports car that she let go of the door's armrest. She really was there, and she was really going to have to spend Thanksgiving with her husband's small yet unstable family, and all Nadine really wanted to do was run as fast as she could in the opposite direction.

"Do we really have to do this?"

"It's Thanksgiving," he reminded her, though she was well aware of the date mocking her on the calendar. "And you're not supposed to spend holidays alone, locked up in your apartment all day long watching television."

"But we had other invitations," the petite nurse pointed petulantly. "We did not have to come here."

Looping their arms together, Johnny dragged her towards the front door of the massive Zacchara compound. "And where else did you want to go?"

"Elizabeth and Jason invited us over…"

"There is no way I'd set foot within hundred yards of Harborview Towers today," the mob heir informed her, his tone brokering absolutely no room for argument. "You know that Elizabeth is too nice not to invite over every single person in their lives, even if she doesn't particularly like them, so that means Carly and Jax, Kate and Sonny, The Quartermaines, or, at least, what's left of them, all the guards and various employees that work for Corinthos and Morgan, and even her coworkers from the hospital all have free reign of the place today. Our luck, we'd get trapped on an elevator with half of them, and I'm sorry but, if my family is crazy, Jason's best friends are certifiable, and I'd rather eat my turkey instead of using it as a weapon to shut Carly Jacks up."

Mumbling grumpily, she admitted, "point taken."

"And besides," he added, all in an attempt, she could tell, to reassure her, "we won't have to be here long. We'll eat dinner, my father and Claudia will get into yet another fight with one another, and we'll be able to slip away and go home with enough leftovers to feed an army. Cook's always liked me the best, so she'll make sure we get the all white meat, too. And the wishbone."

"Back up there, please," Nadine insisted. "It's not the food I'm worried about. I'm more concerned with the idea of your sister and your father arguing, but you just glossed over that with a few words and a careless shrug."

"So what," he did it again – shrugging. "It's what they always do. I'd be more apprehensive if they suddenly started to get along." Dragging her several more feet towards the imposing entrance, the man she loved continued. "She'll rant and rave about how he never loved her and shipped her off to Italy when she was sixteen just like he got rid of her mother, and he'll accuse her of being a slut. It's all rather harmless, really."



"Tell me again. How exactly did your new family attorney manage to secure Anthony's day pass from the mental institution? The guy murdered his own lawyer, a man who had worked for him for more than three decades, loyally or not, in cold blood in front of a room full of witnesses, and they're treating his imprisonment as if it were an extended stay at a spa."

"It's just one of the many perks of being a Zacchara. Look at it this way," her husband suggested, turning them both around so that they were standing still and facing each other. "If my old man can get released for an afternoon in order to spend Thanksgiving with his family, then, if I ever get in trouble and have to go to jail, they'll probably allow me to come home every weekend."

"That's not funny."

Johnny laughed. "Yeah, it was," he contradicted her. They pivoted around to face the front door, and she took a deep, bracing breath, but, before the future crime boss could even knock, the screaming voices of his own two living relatives could be heard through the thick barrier, offering them a sneak peak at what they would soon be facing. And, just like he had predicted, Claudia and Anthony were arguing about the past, threatening each other heatedly. "Ready or not," he warned her, forgoing the polite custom of announcing their presence, not that anyone inside of the mansion would be able to hear them anyway, and, instead, choosing to just open the door himself, but, before the wide entrance could swing open, Nadine felt herself being pushed to the ground, her husband's body falling to cover her own.

Everything happened in flashes. Instead of the events occurring in slow motion as she had often heard of such moments, it was as if her brain could only accept and comprehend small snippets of the actions surrounding her. First, she saw the car careening up the driveway wildly, the driver maneuvering the vehicle recklessly in order to fire the automatic gun he held out the dark tinted, bullet proof windows of the sedan. Then she realized that there were bullets flying around them, pinging off the bricks of the house and chipping into the unbreakable fortress that was Crimson Pointe. Finally, she felt the man she loved repositioning them so that they were partially hidden behind a wide, stone pillar.

As quickly as the shootout had started, it ended, the assassin, no doubt sent to eliminate the heir to the Zacchara throne, fleeing the scene of the crime as quickly as his expensive, imported luxury car could possibly travel. He didn't stick around to make sure that his target was, indeed, dead, probably in fear of retaliation from the guards that patrolled the remarkably large compound, and Nadine was thankful for that small favor. But she felt the panic setting in belatedly, for Johnny was still unmoving on top of her, and she knew the hired gun's unconsciously accommodating gesture would be futile if the man she loved was dead anyway.

4.

After a hectic, lively day at the hospital, she hated going home to an empty apartment, and what made it even worse was the fact that the holidays were rapidly approaching. Christmas would soon be there, and, to prepare for it, she had drug home a tiny tree, no 

bigger than three feet tall, to decorate on her own, but the simple, festive action only proved to make her sadder. She certainly wasn't in the mood to celebrate, but, on the other hand, she was also a slave to tradition. There had been some form of a Christmas tree in her home – be it the house she had shared with her sister and aunt growing up, her college dorm, or even her apartment the year before while living in Port Charles when she had been more alone than any one person had a right to be, and, this year, she was determined would be no different.

Stringing the tiny, while lights through the miniature spruce's branches, she hummed softly to herself, the normally chipper holiday song sounding melancholy and depressed even to her own ears. At the realization, several tears slipped free of her tightly clenched and control lids, falling downward from the natural effects of gravity only to splash and pool out on the collar of her cheerful, red cashmere sweater.

She tried to wipe the telltale signs of moisture away, but, with every swipe of her quivering fingers, more fell, and, soon, she was giving up, tossing aside the tree's decorations and kicking the small, brown box which held the heirlooms she had inherited from her Aunt Rayleen. Hastily, she made her way to the bedroom, leaving the door open behind her in her rush to collapse onto the bed.

Alone.