Hi all – thanks for your reviews! This chapter was hard to write… you'll see why. Any reviews are greatly appreciated! Also – I try not to pull currently storylines on TV into things, but the Claudia/Johnny mother/son thing is super tempting to include. Any thoughts you have on that would be welcome. Thanks in advance!

Johnny walked out of his bathroom and groaned when he spotted the tuxedo sitting on his bed. It was just another indication of his sister's prolonged stay in his home. The room seemed emptier since he had ordered his guards to remove the Christmas tree and store all of Brayden's gifts in a safe in the basement. He hated himself for ridding his home from all traces of his son, but there was no way he was going to allow Claudia to find evidence that Brayden was his child.

In the six days since his sister had arrived, his life had been hell. She was on his back constantly about the business, and when he finally got her to shut up about that, she started in about Lulu. Their conversation the previous night still had him feeling nauseous.

"I had some guys dig into it, John. Lulu left Port Charles a few months before she gave birth to that kid. And according to Spinelli, the two of you had not been broken up that long when she ran off."

"What are you talking about?"

"This girl was willing to let you go to jail for a murder she committed. I don't think it would be beyond her to make sure she got pregnant with your kid and wait to use that as leverage against you when she needs another favor."

"You're insane…"

"I'm a realist," she argued. "I know girls like that. Hell, I am a girl like that."

"Will you just drop it?" he groaned, rubbing his temple. "If I had any suspicion that Lulu's kid was mind, don't you think I would have checked into that?"

"Have you?" she pushed.

"Have I what?"

"Asked for a DNA test."

Realizing she was never going to give up, Johnny gave in. "As a matter of fact, I did."

"Why didn't you just tell me that in the first place? Damn it, John… you take the brooding silence thing way too seriously. So, who's the daddy?"

"Not me," he sighed, pouring himself a drink. "That's all you need to know."

"Oh, come on, spill," she begged, moving behind him and placing her hands on his shoulders. "If you wanted a DNA test, then there was reason to believe the kid was yours. So Lulu must have been whoring herself out while she was still stringing you along."

Johnny felt his jaw tighten at Claudia's disrespect towards Lulu. He bit his lip hard to keep himself from lashing out.

"Girls like Lulu Spencer don't really want to be on their own," she continued. "There has to be a good reason for her to keep the father's identity a secret – which means it's juicy. And I can tell that you know more than you're telling me. Come on, John… it can be my Christmas present…"

"I already gave you a diamond bracelet as your Christmas present. Look, there's a good reason that Brayden's father is not in his life. If his paternity came out, he could be in danger. I don't owe Lulu much, but I respect her enough to keep her secret quiet in order to keep an innocent child safe," he continued, walking across the room to put distance between them.

"So the kid's father in involved in the business," she translated. "Do we know him?"

"You're not getting any more information from me," he insisted, climbing the stairs. "As far as I'm concerned, Lulu is no longer a topic of conversation."

Claudia had promised that if he accompanied her to the New Year's Eve party at the Metro Court that night, she would be on a plane back to Italy in the morning. He loved his sister, but she prevented him from spending time with his son. He had not heard from Lulu all week. It made him feel like he was going to lose his mind.

Even after Claudia left, he would probably need to get back in Lulu's good graces. She was definitely not happy to find her son in the same room as Claudia, and his sister's demeanor towards her did not help the situation.

He opened his dresser and looked at the gift he had never had the opportunity to give to Lulu. He could only hope that it would be enough to get her to open up to him again.

Lulu's Bedroom

"Try this one," Maxie ordered, shoving a blue dress into Lulu's hands. "It should be the perfect color on you."

"What? You don't like this one?" Lulu laughed, running her hands down the long sleeves of a dress she had purchased on clearance for a funeral a few years prior.

"There's no chance in hell that you are going on your first date in forever wearing a dress that would only be acceptable if it were worn by a ninety-nine year old widow in mourning. And even then, it would be a major failure."

"It has not been forever since my last date," she argued.

"Oh, really, then when's the last time you had sex?"

"That's none of your business," Lulu snapped back, grabbing the blue dress from Maxie's hands and bringing it into her bathroom to change.

"You're right. That's a stupid question because I can figure it out all by myself," Maxie continued ranting as she took a seat on Lulu's bed. "Let's see… Brayden is nineteen months old, plus nine months… that's more than two years! I know preachers who get more action than that."

"It's a first date, Maxie. One that I was tricked into going on, at that, so there will definitely be no sex for me tonight."

"You were not tricked into anything," Maxie clarified. "Patrick lost that game to Matt fair and square."

"You're right. But the fact that you made a bet with him that he would have to take me out on New Year's Eve if he lost – that's the trickery."

"I scored you a date with a sexy neurosurgeon who is a fantastic dad, at that. A good best friend would be thanking me!"

Lulu exited the bathroom to model Maxie's dress. "The problem with your brilliant plan, Maxie, is that Patrick probably has no interest in this date. His hand was forced, and he's a nice enough guy to follow through on his end of the deal."

"Do you want him to be interested?"


"Are you interested in Patrick enough to want him to want you?"

"It disturbs me that I understand you," Lulu shook her head as she dug through her jewelry box to find the right earrings.

"Answer the question."

"I don't know. Patrick is a great guy. He's funny and smart, and you're right – he's an amazing father. But I was there when Robin died. She was his soul mate. I'm just not sure he's ready to date."

"It's been three years. He's ready," Maxie assured. "Robin was my cousin, and I loved her like a sister. You know that I would not be pushing Patrick to find someone new if I didn't adore said new person. I saw the two of you at Christmas. There's something there, and I think if you get out of your own way, you could be really happy with Patrick."

"I'm not in my own way…"

"It's getting late, and I have to go get ready for my own New Year's Eve date," Maxie cut her off, getting off the bed and exiting the room quickly. "I'll see you at the Metro Court!"

Metro Court Restaurant, 10 p.m.

Johnny stepped off the elevator with Claudia on his arm. He quickly scanned the room to make a mental note of any attendee who could possibly be a target of his sister's criticism. Claudia was not a popular person in Port Charles, and a big public party would give her an opportunity to lash out, especially at her ex-husband.

He was relieved when there was no sign of his former brother-in-law. Claudia was still bitter about the dissolution of her fake marriage to Sonny and would take any chance she got to humiliate him in public. When she left for Italy, it had taken Johnny months to create a truce between their families. Any of his sister's antics that evening could reverse it, and now that Brayden living in Port Charles, he could not risk a war.

"You okay?" Claudia asked him. "You seem preoccupied."

"You know I hate these things, Claudia. I don't know why you dragged me here."

"Since when is it a crime for me to want to visit all of the people in this town I missed so much?" she asked sweetly.

"I'm getting us some drinks," he sighed, heading for the bar and leaving Claudia alone.

She scanned the room herself and smiled when she spotted Lucky walking out to the balcony. She had never spent much time talking with the man, but he was Lulu's brother. He could be the key to the information she was so anxious to obtain.

She crossed the room and positioned herself just inside the balcony door, listening to the conversation outside.

"You've been a mess ever since your sister came back to town. I hate to say it, man, but you have to get yourself together."

"How exactly do you suggest I do that?" Lucky snapped back. "This is my sister and my nephew we're talking about! It's my job to make sure they are safe, and I don't think she has a clue about the dangers of moving back here."

"Of course she does. Look, I'm Sonny Corinthos' son. I get the dangers that go along with that. Your sister sees it too. But you have to let her make her own choices. She's pulled her life together quickly and been an amazing mother. And she's making a sacrifice – raising her son alone to keep him safe."

"And what about when someone connects it all? How do I keep them safe when people figure out who his father is?"

"We're all going to make sure that doesn't happen. The first step in making that happen, though, is if you can just relax and enjoy yourself at a party like a normal person. So here's what we're going to do… we're gonna go inside, get some drinks and ring in the new year without obsessing."

Claudia took a step away from the door and watched as Lucky walked back inside with Dante Falconeri on his tail. She felt a smile form on her lips. "Bingo."

"You were totally right. That was, without a doubt, the best Chinese food I've ever had," Lulu remarked as she and Patrick got into the elevator at the Metro Court.

"I'm glad you liked it," Patrick smiled, "I was a little concerned that you would hate my idea to drive forty-five minutes away for dinner when the party here was already underway. I just thought it might be nice to hang out and talk without my well-meaning sister-in-law critiquing every move we made all night."

"Maxie?" she joked. "She would never…"

"You're right. She is one to keep to her own business," he laughed. "Even so, I was nervous enough about going on a date. I didn't need an audience."

She watched his cheeks turn red when he admitted that he was nervous. She couldn't help but smile.

"And now I'm just embarrassing myself," he groaned. "Sorry… you are probably so ready to get rid of me."

"Why would you say that?"

"Many reasons. I was late to pick you up because my daughter couldn't find the right pajamas to wear. I showed up with pink glitter all over my jacket from her current art project. Oh, then there was the part where I won't stop talking about my kid like some obsessed parent… I used to date all the time. I don't know what happened to that guy."

"First of all, I don't mind a little pink glitter. And we both spend a lot of time talking about our kids. I'm no expert; I haven't been on a date since before I got pregnant, but I think you're a great dad. I like talking to you about Emma."

"Really?" he questioned as the elevator stopped on the floor of the party.

"Absolutely," she smiled, allowing herself to look into his eyes. It had been a long time since she had felt butterflies in her stomach like she did at that moment, at least not with anybody except Johnny. She dismissed the thought from her head as soon as she felt his breath on her face. She closed the minimal space he had left between them and pressed her lips gently against his.

Johnny had been nursing a drink at the bar when the elevator doors opened across the room. He glanced up and felt his heart catch in his throat when he spotted Lulu kissing another man. A wave of nausea washed over him – one that could have been from the multiple drinks he had consumed on an empty stomach. However, he was sure that it was from the frustration of his sister ruining the progress he had made with Lulu. Now he was back to square one, and apparently she was starting something new with Patrick Drake.

He looked around for Claudia, hoping to convince her that it was time to go, but there was no sign of her. He was fully capable of leaving on his own. However, he knew Claudia may be ready to go off the deep end, and with Lulu now in the room, he did not want her to be the target of his sister's inevitable outburst. So instead of leaving, he signaled for the bartender to refill his drink and got comfortable hiding out at the back of the bar.

"Ten minutes until the new year," Lucky remarked as he pulled his sister into a hug. "And just so you know, Maxie is taking over/under bets on the length of your midnight kiss."

"Oh my God," she rolled her eyes. "I knew coming here for a first date was a bad idea."

"I'm just glad to see you on a first date at all. I want to see you happy, and if Patrick does that for you, then he has my blessing."

Lulu glanced behind her to find Patrick in conversation with his brother. "It's one date," she clarified to Lucky in a whisper. "Don't go marrying me off yet."

Across the room, Claudia stood poised to get her revenge on Sonny. She had been waiting for the appropriate timing to interrupt his night with Kate from the moment the two waltzed into the restaurant. They appeared unable to keep their hands off of one another, which was a complete smack in the face considering how he started his infatuation with Kate while he was still married to Claudia.

She glanced at the clock briefly, realizing that it was now or never. She would be damned if she was going to allow Kate to ring in the New Year with Sonny on a happy note. She marched up to the stage and grabbed a microphone, flipping it on before anybody noticed she was out of place.

"Excuse me," she began, "Can I get everybody's attention please?"

Johnny's head snapped up from his drink when his sister's voice rang out over the sound system. He watched how she had grabbed everybody's attention and knew that she was up to no good.

"I would like to make a toast," Claudia announced, holding up her champagne glass. "As we get ready to start a brand new year, I think it is only fitting for us to recognize Sonny Corinthos…"

Patrick returned to Lulu's side and handed her a glass of champagne. "Any idea what this is about?" he whispered.

"Not a clue, but I can assure you that it's probably not good," she answered, glancing across the room to Johnny, who was too focused on his sister to notice.

"Not only is Sonny a force in the business world, but he is a real family man. There is nothing Sonny would not do for his children. In fact, he has fearlessly raised them in a very dangerous line of work while others may have turned their back on their children because of the risk."

With that remark, she struck way too close to home for Johnny. He got up out of his seat quickly, noticing his inebriation when a wave of nausea swept over him. He grabbed the bar to stay upright and took deep breaths to maintain his composure, allowing Claudia the time to continue her rant uninterrupted.

"But Sonny Corinthos is not one of those men. Family means everything to Sonny. From his sons and his daughter, and now… well, who would have thought Sonny would live long enough to see his grandchildren."

"What the hell is this about?" Sonny piped up.

"Sonny doesn't have grandchildren," Kate added.

"Oh, doesn't he?" Claudia argued. "In fact, I met the little guy on Christmas. Lulu – are you neglecting to share updated pictures of little Benjamin with his daddy's family?"

Lulu felt the eyes of everybody in the room turn in her direction. She was still trying to process the previous statement that Claudia had made. She was referring to Sonny as Brayden's grandfather, which clearly demonstrated that she did not suspect Johnny as his father. Regardless, it was unsettling to have the woman in front of everybody in town announcing that he was a Corinthos.

"His name is Brayden," Lucky spoke up, crossing the room to his sister's side when she was clearly speechless. "And he has absolutely nothing to do with Sonny."

"Except DNA," Claudia announced. "Right, Dante?"

"Dante, what is she talking about?" Olivia questioned frantically from across the room.

"Isn't it obvious, Olivia?" Claudia answered. "Your perfect little angel of a son knocked up the town slut and is so noble that he is letting the kid grow up without a daddy so Sonny can't get his claws into him. I can't say that I blame him. Children in Sonny's life wind up shot and get in explosions… typically at Sonny's hands, but still…"

"I think we've all heard enough, Claudia!" Sonny snapped. "Now it's time for someone else to talk. Lulu? Dante? Can somebody explain to me what she's talking about?"

"This is all insane," Lucky spoke up before anybody could say another word. "Patrick, can you please bring my sister home?"

"Nobody leaves until I get some answers here!" Olivia exclaimed. "Is it true? Is Brayden my grandson?"

Dante took a quick look at Lulu, who was pale and obviously panicked. Without another thought, he opened his mouth to answer his mother. "Yes, it's true."

Lulu felt the only color remaining in her face disappear at Dante's admission. She moved to look towards Johnny, but lost her balance and fell backwards into Lucky's arms.

"Don't say anything," Lucky whispered in her ear. "Let Patrick take you home. I will deal with this."

"See, Kate? Your precious Sonny is such a prize that his own son had to give up a child just to keep him safe. Do you really feel like the winner now?" Claudia continued her rant.

"Shut up, Claudia!" Sonny screamed. "That's enough out of you!"

"Why wouldn't you tell me? How could you keep this a secret?" Olivia questioned her son. "I raised you better than that!"

"I want to meet my grandson," Sonny declared. "Now!"

"He is not your grandson!" Johnny screamed, having witnessed enough chaos in the room. There was no way he was going to allow Sonny to stake claim to his child. "Brayden is my son, not Dante's. Lulu never even met Dante until a few months ago."

"Oh my God," Lucky groaned, rubbing his temple. "This is not happening…"

"What's he talking about? Someone needs to tell the truth right now!" Olivia interjected.

"Brayden is my son," Johnny repeated. "That's the truth."

Olivia turned her attention to Lulu. "Which one is it? What is the truth here?"

"You don't have to answer to anybody," Lucky coached his sister, but she ignored his advice. She shook her head and stepped forward to answer Olivia.

"Johnny is telling the truth," she spoke softly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get home to my son."

The room erupted into chaos once again as Lulu rushed out of it. But all Johnny could think about was his admission and the ripple effect it was about to have on their lives. Now that their secret was out in the open, everything was going to change. He just was not sure if that was for better or for worse.