Ghosts,

By Carla



DISCLAIMER: I don't own them. If I did, they wouldn't be cancelled. This does contain a lot of Spoilers from the three episodes not aired in USA… so if you don't want to know what happens, you should consider not reading.


ABOUT FOR YEARS AFTER THE SERIES FINALE…

"So… you're alive." Nick George sighed.

"Don't sound so excited." The older man muttered. They were both dressed in trench coats and they were both painfully avoiding looking into each other's eyes.

"Trust me. I'm not." Nick dropped his briefcase in the stairs. He was just coming out of the building were his New York loft was, he had just kissed his family good-bye and was making his way over to the Imperial. The last thing he had thought he was going to find was his supposedly deceased father waiting for him in the stairs.

"Look, Nick…"

"I knew you were alive. Simon Elder told me."

"Of course he did."

"That accident… his car…you did it, didn't you? You killed him." Silence hung around them. Simon Elder had told Nick that everything he had done, all his machinations to destroy the Darling family, had been orders he had carried on, and that those orders had come from this man, Devlin "Dutch" George, his own father.

About two weeks after Karen's miscarriage, Simon had been blown to pieces when he was going from the Imperial to the Octavius. The press had gone crazy; everyone thought it was the work of Tripp Darling, so that he could be the whole beneficiary from the profits of their new fuel. Tripp had swore that he was not responsible – although he didn't deny that he was quite alright with Simon's death – and his family had pretended to believe him. Even Nick had had his doubts, but at the time, Simon being gone had brought him peace of mind.

"I… it's complicated… I…"

"My family's here. They can't see you."

"Nick, I need to talk to you, there's so much I need to explain."

"What can you say that's going to change a thing? For me? For Letitia? For Brian? For anyone? What can you say?! You put that man in our lives… you know how much pain you have caused?! Do you have any idea what we all have been through because of you?!"

"I never meant to hurt you, son."

"Not good enough!"

"Please… let's talk. Let's go somewhere." Nick remained silent, thinking over his options. He had to get this man away from his family, away from his life. But he really wanted to talk t him; he needed to understand, to make peace with his past. Without saying a word, Nick got into his father's car, occupying the driver's seat. Dutch got in and they silently drove for around fifteen minutes, putting as much distance as possible between them and his home. Once he was satisfied that they were far enough, he stopped the car. Still, he didn't know what to say, so it was finally Dutch that started.

"I… I read in the news… about… congratulations."

"Thanks." Nick answered, not even turning to face him.

"Can I… I know it's not disclosed yet… but…"

"Courtney." Nick whispered his six-days-old daughter's name.

"Courtney. I like it. How is Kiki?"

"Fine. She's fourteen now."

"Wow. Fourteen."

"Yes."

"And… there's also a boy, isn't it?"

"Yes. My son."

"Right." Nick could feel his father's question lingering in the air. It irritate him, it made him feel like strangling him.

"Brandon's mine, dad."

"Nick… I just…"

"You just want to know if I signed Karen's lovebaby with that psychopath you send after her?"

"Nick, I never meant…"

"He's not Simon's." Nick continued, "What, Simon never told you? Karen did get pregnant, dad. She got pregnant and was terrified about Simon not leaving her and the baby alone. Then, she had a miscarriage. And after that, she had Elder haunting her over losing his child. He was making threats and harassing her… let's say we were not overly sad when you had him killed. Three months later, we got pregnant. Brandon's my son; I won't have you or anyone else implying he's not."

"I'm sorry."

"I was going to do it, though."

"Do what?"

"I was going to play daddy to her baby… because it was Karen's."

"Oh."

"Yeah." Silence. Nick took a deep breath, "I love Karen, dad. You knew this; it's been true since I was five. I love her and you sent Simon Elder to steal her away from her family. I love her and you had her heart broken… she's my wife now. You know? We have two babies together. We're happy. But sometimes… sometimes she's watching Brandon running around or she'll look at Kiki this way… or she'll be really silent when she has Courtney in her arms… I know she's thinking about her baby, the one she lost. I know she'll hurt over it for the rest of her life. And you did that to her. Why? She didn't deserve that. All she ever did was love me… why did you do this to her?"

"It was never about Karen… she's a nice girl. She hated my guts but I understood why. I… I couldn't anticipate the pregnancy… I know you love her Nicky, and I never wanted her to suffer."

"It was about Tripp, wasn't it? Simon was specific. He came for Patrick. He came for Karen. Those are Tripp's golden children. You wanted Tripp to lose them. Why?"

"Because… he deserves it. You don't understand, Nick. You don't know him."

"I know him better that I know you. He has always been there for me, more than you ever were."

"Nick…"

"Make no mistake; I know what Tripp Darling is capable of. He's everything everyone thinks he is and more… but for his kids… he was there."

"Really?" Nick was annoyed as his father laughed softly, "Patrick resents him so much… he thinks he's overbearing, manipulative and cruel. Jeremy has being terrified of him his whole life and he never felt like he was loved or even liked by his father. And Brian…" a dark shadow passed Dutch's face as he spoke Brian's name, "Brian always felt like an outsider. You're basing your speech on what? He adores Karen? He would do anything for Juliet? He's a bastard with a soft spot for his daughters, Nick. He even pimped your precious Karen to Elder, didn't he?"

"That was actually her idea."

"Didn't hear him say no, did ya?" Nick turned away. More often than not he had wondered himself how Tripp had allowed Karen to go through with that plan. He knew Karen worshiped her father, more so than she ever did her mother. Karen would do anything for her father, anything to make him proud. And in return, Tripp had always favored Karen with his acceptance and love. Still… he could not ever imagine a situation in which he would accept either Kiki or Courtney sleeping with someone on his behalf. Years before, he had learned that it was Letitia who had pulled the strings in Jeremy's relationship with Nola Lyons… he would never do that to Brandon either.

"They're Darlings. They see the world in a different way. They see family and loyalty in a different way." Nick hadn't meant it as a copout; it just something he had learned over the years was true.

"Tripp's a bastard." Dutch repeated.

"Ok." Nick said, "Granted, Tripp's a bastard. Let's say his kids would be better off away from him… let's say you were doing Karen and Pat a favor. When was Tripp ever a bastard to you? I remember, dad! He loved you! And you…"

"I," Dutch started, "fell in love. With Tish. That was a mistake; she betrayed me. And I agonized over it ever single day for over forty years, out of love for Tripp. That was a mistake too; Tripp would have killed me first."

"Maybe. You were the one who betrayed him though."

"Can you blame me?" Dutch asked, finding Nick's gaze; the accusation was clear in his eyes.

"It's not the same."

"Really, son? Then how come that it is Karen who is your wife now and not Lisa?"

"I never cheated on Lisa. I was never with Karen while we were still married."

"So you two managed to contain yourselves… mostly you I'm assuming. Karen's not exactly made of the strongest moral fiber, as you now. Can't blame her though, she was raised like that."

"Still, never happened."

"You didn't have sex with Karen, Nick. Don't pat yourself on the back too much. You were still in love with her. You still allowed it to come between you and your wife. Can you truthfully tell me that you never allowed her to get a little too close? That you never treated her differently than you did her siblings? That you didn't welcome having her back in your life?"

"I…" Nick started, before realizing that he didn't know how quite to finish the sentence.

"Don't judge me too hard, son. You and I… we both know what it is to love a Darling woman. Sadly, you just can't stop."

Silence hung over them once again, each of them immersed in his memories. Nick knew there were about a million things that he could have done better, for the sake of his and Lisa's marriage. He knew he was not a saint. Maybe, it he had been a better man, he would not have divorced Lisa, a wonderful woman by all accounts, and Kiki would never have had to go through their custody battle. Maybe Lisa wouldn't hate him now, and they wouldn't have this horrible relationship in which they just contained their resentment for the sake of their daughter. Maybe they would even have another baby like they had planned.

But if it had gone down any differently… it wouldn't be Brandon. And it wouldn't be Courtney. And it wouldn't be Karen waking him in the morning with kisses in his nose and trying to learn to make toast so that she could surprise him with breakfast in bed.

It wouldn't be every single dream he had had for his life since he was five.

"Not the same." Nick whispered, "I do regret what happened with Lisa, she deserved better. But Karen was not my best friend's wife. She wasn't someone else's. I didn't come in the middle of her family. She was mine from the beginning, dad. And I was hers. We gradually found our way back to each other, but we didn't betray anyone for our love. There's a reason, why Karen is now my wife and Letitia was always just your mistress."

"I… know."

"I have so many questions."

"Shoot."

"You really wanted Letitia to go to jail?"

"I knew she wouldn't be found guilty."

"Still… it was awful. Humiliating. She was processed…"

"She… she deserved it." Nick noticed his father's grim expression.

"You still love her, don't you?"

"Yes." Dutch answered without hesitation, "And I always will. Doesn't mean anything anymore, Nick. She did deserve it. You know, don't you?"

"About Brian? Yes. She had to come clean. After the briefcase… she had to admit to the affair. Tripp suspected that there was a possibility that one of his children was yours. He actually suspected the twins."

"He would have loved to be able to wash his hands of Jeremy."

"Letitia confessed." Nick didn't acknowledge his father's last comment.

"How did he take it?"

"Tripp or Brian?"

"Tripp."

"He seemed to be able to cope better with why he and Brian had never managed to find a common ground. Brian also had a… let's sake… breakthrough in his relationship with him. They're okay, I guess. Letitia and Tripp on the other hand… I don't think it will ever quite be the same."

"Good."

"Dad…"

"He was my son, Nick. Your brother. All along, Brian was ours. Can you imagine it? If Karen had never told you that your kids were yours and had gone back to one of her trophy husbands? And the worst part is that she allowed him to grow up hating me… despising me. She tried to defend me, of course, but I was his father. And some of the things Brian said… I was his father."

"For what it's worth… he regrets saying them." Dutch closed his eyes. Nick could see that he was trying to keep his emotions at bay… tears were prickling at his eyes.

"Do you think… if I were to… do you think Brian and I…?"

"No."

"Oh…"

"Maybe there was a chance… but now… he knows."

"He knows what?"

"That it was you behind it all… he knows. His mother, his brother, his sister… his father. You acted against them. He knows."

"How?"

"I told him. We have managed to find… our own common ground, I guess. We talked. I don't know if he's ready to forgive you for that. You'll have to find out on your own some day."

"I guess I'll have to. Someday."

"So what… Letitia allowed Tripp to raise your son… and you thought turnabout is fair? Tried to steal his children?"

"He's not a good person, Nick."

"This was all about vengeance. On Letitia for never telling you about Brian and for Tripp… what? Getting the chance to be Brian's father? The chance you never got?"

"They stole from me. They took my son away… and by the looks of it, Brian's not the only son I lost to the Darlings."

The silence that felt upon them was not a comfortable one. Not like holding Karen in bed and not saying a word. Not like reading a newspaper by Tripp's side as the patriarch wrote in his diary. It was an empty silence; a barrier between him and the man that was his father, his family.

It will never be like this with my kids. Nick vowed to himself, I'll help Kiki with her college applications, I'll go to all of Brandon's games and I'll teach Courtney to ride her bike. It'll never come to this with my kids.

"So…" Nick started again, "You were responsible… for everything."

"Yeah. I was the only one that knew how to do it… I'm surprised Tripp didn't figure it out himself."

"Maybe he did. Maybe he chose not to tell me. He… I told him what Elder said, that it was you."

"And?"

"He said that there was a chance, but he never wanted to pursue it. He never spoke to me of that again. He said he wanted to focus on the good things in live…"

"Oh?"

"He took Letitia to Barcelona for a month… he tried to make amends with Patrick. He and Brian have these… 'philosophical' sessions of them… so they talk a lot. He helped Jeremy get out of this scam marriage he was drunk enough to get caught up on. Juliet comes home more now. He was there for Karen too… when she had the miscarriage and everything with Simon… he lightened both of our schedules so we could have more family time. Sunday' family day now… all the kids, all the grandchildren…"

"Family."

"What?"

"Family. That's what Tripp always said it was all about. Maybe he's finally putting his money were his mouth is."

"Yeah. Guess so."

Silence again.

"So… are you coming back?" Nick asked.

"To the Darlings?"

"Yeah."

"No. It's over. I shouldn't have signed up my life to them. I should have been there for you… for your mom… I should have put my money in you two. Instead, I got caught up in the fame and the fun… in Letitia. I should have been a better man. Things would have been so different if I had just… a lot of things."

"Yeah." Nick's mind wandered for a moment to what his life would be like if his father had been there for him growing up. If his mom hadn't left. If he had not grown up in the Darling's shadow. He would be a whole different person, maybe even normal. Lisa had been right all those years back… in spite of all his complaining and rightful indignation, he had been brought up as a Darling. He was exactly where he was meant to be.

"I remember the first time you took me to the Imperial." Nick started. Dutch turned his head towards his son, regarding him intently.

"You do?"

"Mom had just left. It was just us and you didn't know what to do with me, so you took me with you. Of course, your 'boss' didn't mind at all, another perk of working for Tripp Darling. I remember you introduced me to Tish… she was so kind. She said we had already met but I was five and I didn't remember. But she was kind and she smelled nice. Then Tripp came in… he kneeled in front of me and welcomed me. He told me how happy he was that I had come to play with his kids and that he hoped I would keep coming back because I was family."

"Sounds like him."

"Yeah. Then the boys came… Patrick was nice but Brian pretty much demanded I be removed from his presence. He called me 'Potty-head' and said he hated me."

"I don't remember that."

"You weren't there. You had already left. With Letitia."

"Right."

"It was so uncomfortable… I was not home and I knew, just knew, that this people were the reason my mom was no longer with me and I hated them for it. Yet you had just left me there, in the middle of strangers, in a house too big for me. And Patrick was politely ignoring me and Brian was repeating often how much he hated me. It's a hard thing for a five-year-old to feel like they don't belong."

"I'm sorry , Nick. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have taken you there… I should have kept you away and safe from that family of lunatics."

"Since I was clearly not going to become friends with Patrick and Brian, I wandered off." Nick continued, "I was so lost! I got to this place… a pool. A kiddie pool; not too deep. It was in the middle of a garden with all these really tall and colorful flowers. It had a dome so I could see the sky, but no one could get it. I was thinking of jumping to the pool… then it happened."

"What?"

"Lightning struck." Nick smiled ruefully, "I heard this small voice 'You don't have a bathing suit!'. I turned around… she was there in all her three-year-old glory. She was blonde and had huge blue eyes… she was wearing this really cute orange one piece bathing suit, her nose had sunburn and she was holding in one hand this little blue shovel and in the other, a blue bucket that was filled with frogs. About five frogs. She was nice enough to offer me one."

"Frogs." Dutch smiled.

"Yeah. Karen had asked for frogs and Tripp bought her some, put them in the garden so she could have fun hunting them… it was worth the rest of the day, playing with her and her frogs. It was worth every single day after, when I had to go with you to the Imperial after school. We played, then we did our schoolwork together. We grew up… we knew we were getting married since we were six. She was my girl, you know? She was Karen Darling and she could have any man in the universe… but she wanted me."

"She loved you. Used to give me a hell of a bad time when you were in senior high and I would miss your games."

"Yeah. What I'm saying, dad… the Darlings didn't ruin my life."

"Right. I did."

Nick nodded.

"In a way, you did. I had to go through a lot. But at the same time… I met this girl in the orange bathing suit and she made my life. She made me, dad. I wish you would have been a better father… but if you hadn't been… how you were… I wouldn't have met Karen. I wouldn't be this happy now. You understand?"

"I think I do."

"I'll always resent you… I can't deny that. But maybe this will mean something to you… I'm happy with my life. I'm glad I met the Darlings… hell, two of my kids are Darlings! I'll be okay."

Nick opened the door of the car and climbed out. He was done now; he had finally had the chance tell his father what was in his mind. Maybe he didn't have the perfect childhood… but then again, who did? With all his money, he knew Patrick used to have anxiety attacks until he was seventeen. And Brian had tried to run away from home a whole total of eleven times before he was ten. Karen used to hide in her closet and cry with her favorite doll close to her chest because she thought her mommy didn't love her like she did her brothers. No one had the perfect life, just didn't happen. As a father, he did his best everyday to give perfection to his kids, but he knew he was falling short. Kiki would never totally forgive either of her parents for the custody fight and been dragged from out state to the other those first two years. Brandon had just asked him the night before why he couldn't go out and play like the other kids, instead of been saddle with a bodyguard all the time. And who knew how many mistakes he would make with Courtney before she started talking? Hell, he had missed Karen's first ultrasound this time, because he was in Napoli closing a deal for Darling Enterprises.

Still, he would try his best. This was his family and he would always try his best.

"One more thing." He said as he popped his head back into his father's car, "I want this to be clear: this is my family. The Darlings. I don't want you to come near them, ever. I don't want you to do anything more against them or I promise, I'll take you down myself. You need to go back to being dead, dad."

With that, Nick turned to leave and this time, he never looked back.

After all, why look back when all he had dreamed of was waiting for him right here on the present? And with any luck, the future would just keep getting better and better.