[Disclaimer: A few modifications have been made to the Cassadine/Spencer history…but nothing too major.]
December 20, 1981
Salty air blew from the Aegean Sea. Sunlight warmed the endless stretch of sand. Stefan's bare feet sank into its moistness. As his walk came to an end, he marveled at the beauty of his homeland. Across the sea and ocean, blankets of snow covered Lasha's homeland. He could not imagine celebrating the sacred holiday bundled from head to toe, but one look in his lover's cornflower blue eyes and he knew she could only imagine that. His heart ached to see her filled with sadness. If there was anything he could do…
"There, now," Stefan murmured. Nikolas stirred restlessly within the circle of Stefan's arms. The baby's tiny fist waved and his little foot pressed into Stefan's chest. "Our walk is nearing its end. We shall have you fed and ready for bed very soon."
Stefan moved quickly across the sand. Nikolas' cries subsided. Stefan glanced down at his infant son. The baby, although young, gave him a toothless smile. His brown eyes were intelligent, Stefan decided. His child was no ordinary babe. He was a prince, destined for greatness.
His footsteps paused. The responsibility of parenthood was not to be discounted. His parents, Helena and Mikkos, responded as if the task was tedious. They often left Stefan in the care of servants. Were it not for Mrs. Landsbury, he would have been completely alone. His older brother, Stavros, belonged to their mother. Stefan had no one…until Lasha and now Nikolas.
His lover's cry startled Stefan from his thoughts. His heart lurched. He cradled Nikolas close to his chest. Alarm rippled through him. What danger prompted Lasha's call? Stefan's pace quickened. He reached her at the large rocks that served as their hideaway.
"What is it?" he asked. He reached out, gripping her with one hand.
"My chance has come!" she said. Jubilation shone vividly in her blue eyes. Happiness brought a rosy flush to her cheeks. "It's now!"
Stefan's chest heaved in a sigh of relief. He mirrored her smile. "What chance?"
"To go home."
His smile faltered. "But your home is here."
Flaxen strands whipped around her head. She brushed them away with the back of her hand. "I know," she said with a faint frown. "I mean to the States. Port Charles. I can see my mother…"
"…and Luke," Stefan murmured, his voice barely audible.
"Well, yes," she stammered. "I can let them all know I'm alive. What better gift can I give them at Christmas?"
He nodded. "They will be overjoyed I am sure."
"Stefan?" Her golden brows drew into a frown. "I want you to be happy for me. It's not like I'll be gone forever."
Emotions surged inside him. His stomach twisted into a knot. He didn't believe her. Swallowing hard, he said, "This is Nikolas' first Christmas. You will not be here to share it with him."
"There will be others," she said with a quick shrug. "I'm coming back."
Stefan smiled despite the agony that pained his heart. "Yes."
"Let me have him."
Stefan placed the infant within the cradle of her arms. She kissed the baby's forehead and then, they headed toward the massive Cassadine estate.
"Did you hear that, Nikolas?" she cooed. "I'll be home for Christmas."
The single word burned a hole in Stefan's heart. He glanced at her and knew. She would never come back. They would never be a family.
December 25, 1997
The question ripped itself from Ellen's throat. It was a wounded cry. A tortured pondering from the depths of her soul.
Why her? Why now? Why a new complication just when she'd almost come to grips with her past…
"Ellen," Matt murmured, his voice hoarse and deep, "let me explain."
"How can you explain this?" she asked, pointing to the mountain of documentation piled high on her dining room table. All of it already explained in great detail how he wasn't the man she believed him to be. He was the son of a powerful family—the Mancusi family. A family that was unlike the one she'd unwittingly escaped.
"I can," Matt replied. "If you'll just listen, you'll understand everything."
Her watery gaze connected with his sorrowful brown eyes. "I understand that you lied. I married Matt Harmon, but he's not real. You let me marry a man who doesn't exist. If you loved me—"
"I do love you!"
"—you would have told me the truth. You would have given me a choice," she stated quietly, but firmly. "All of my life, people have made decisions for me. I've been lied to. When it came to us, I thought I'd put the lies behind me."
"They are behind you…behind us." Matt wheeled his chair closer to her. Leaning forward, he reached out and took her hand. "I'm sorry for the lies your parents told you. I did what I did to protect you."
"So did they." She pulled her hand away. Slowly she moved to the beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Their first Christmas as a married couple would forever be etched in her mind as the day another crack ricocheted her world. So much for having a merry little Christmas.
"I suppose they did," he said quietly. "If the world knew that you were Mikkos Cassadine's daughter, you wouldn't have been safe. The same can be said for being involved with a Mancusi. But Ellen, I'm not a Mancusi anymore. I left that world behind me. My father's world is not my world. We have a future. Separate from our pasts. I love you, Ellen, and I am still the Matt Harmon you fell in love with. Right here," he said, pointing to his heart, "where it counts."
Ellen dropped to her knees. Matt guided his chair to her. He ran his fingers through her reddish brown dredlocks, brushing the locks against her cheeks. His touch was so gentle and loving. Her heart ached to believe him. She hiccuped, choking on a sob.
"Ssh," he murmured. "Come here." He patted to his lap.
She rose to her feet and then sat on his lap. Her head rested on his shoulder. "I want to believe you."
"It's a trust issue," he said, knowingly. "You're right. I should have told you. I kept waiting for the right time. I never thought someone would make that decision for me. Ramsey—"
"No," she said. "Don't talk about him. He doesn't matter right now."
"What matters?" he asked, tenderly stroking her back.
"There's still an 'us'?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, "but I need some time. Stefan Cassadine wants me to be a part of the family, and now, this… Is your family a threat? Would they try to harm us?"
He shook his head. "I made my peace with them long ago." He pressed his lips to her temple. "I think you should get to know Stefan and Nikolas."
"Become Natasha?" Ellen frowned. "I don't know if I can do that. Mikkos Cassadine had a fling with my mother and here I am. I don't know who I am anymore and that whole Cassadine thing scares me."
"Having the formidable and formerly Dr. Ellen Burgess as a sister is probably a little scary for Stefan Cassadine, too. I don't think it'd be a bad thing if all of us were scared together." Matt tilted her head so that their gazes locked. "We can do this. We can do anything together."
"Including having a Merry little Christmas?"
He smiled. "Especially that."
December 25, 2010
'Here lies Lucas Lorenzo Spencer, Jr.
Devoted son and husband.
May he be remembered the way he lived.
She knelt at the grave and arranged the bouquet of red and white roses before the granite stone. Eight years had passed since he died. Every birthday and anniversary were marked within her heart. She lived through the grief and focused on the good times they shared, but Christmas could not be ignored. No matter where the road of life took Dawn, every December 25th her path brought her back to her deceased husband's final resting-place.
"Merry Christmas, Lucky," she said, her voice a husky whisper. "I bet you thought I wouldn't make it, but here I am."
A gust of air made her shiver. She pulled her coat close around her. "I know you hate losing a bet, but could you ease up on the wind?" The breeze slowly drifted off. She released a short chuckle. "Thanks. There is nothing like Christmas in Port Charles. Snow is everywhere… You know I walked past our old place. It's nothing like when we lived there. Someone bought it and really fixed it up. It kinda made me sad to see it. But life goes on I guess."
She guessed. Dawn inhaled a sharp breath. Lucky wouldn't agree with her on that. She hadn't really gone on. Not like he made her promise. Lying on his deathbed, pale and exhausted, he had no concern about himself. He wanted promises from her. That she wouldn't become a shell. Leukemia took him, but she would live. He wanted her to be happy…and to love. And be loved. She promised him she would. So far, this was the only promise she hadn't managed to keep.
Tears blurred her vision as she remembered his final days. They waited so long for a bone marrow match. Half of Port Charles was tested. No one came close. Then, Laura announced that maybe there was someone. Hope filled their hearts. But it was wasted. Laura's attempt didn't pan out. There was no ninth hour savior. After only four years of love and eight months of marriage, Dawn's Lucky was gone.
Christmas without him was awful.
You promised you wouldn't do this, the voice echoed in her head. Stop.
"I don't know how," she replied.
She stood too quickly and almost stumbled. She gripped the headstone for support. "I-I," she stammered, a little startled by the intrusion. "I was talking to myself."
The man nodded. His brown eyes shone with understanding. His olive complexion paled, as he looked past at her the grave. His brows knitted into a frown.
Dawn moved to the side. "Were you looking for Lucky's grave? Did you know him?"
"Lucky." The stranger said the word slowly. His gaze connected with her. "That's what everyone called him."
"Yes." She stopped herself from saying more. Usually, she didn't respond well to strangers, but there was something oddly familiar about this man. Something that weirdly drew her to him, yet, frightened her, too.
"I never met him," the man responded. "I didn't know of him until it was too late. Otherwise, I would have…" He hesitated a moment. "You were close to him and I'm intruding. I should leave."
He turned. She called out to him.
"Wait. Don't. My visit is over."
He shook his head. "You usually stay longer."
Her eyebrows shot up. "How do you know that?"
"I come every Christmas, too. I wait until… When I didn't see a car, I thought you were gone."
"Why do you come?"
He took a step toward. His voice dropped. "He was my brother."
"Lucky didn't have a brother. He was an only child. I know because--"
"Because you were his wife," he added. "He didn't know about me nor I about him. We have the same mother. Laura wanted me to save his life. My father refused. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry?" Dawn wrapped her arms around herself. "What kind of man is your father?"
"A complicated one with flaws and strengths like the rest of us. He meant no malice toward Laura's son. He was protecting me."
"Against what?" she asked hoarsely. She couldn't imagine how this stranger's protection could be more important than Lucky's life. "Having a bone marrow transplant? The procedure is painful, but you wouldn't have died from it."
"Not that," he stated. "Her husband, Luke, would have killed me."
"Why?" She blurted without thinking. But then she knew. Lucky told her all about his mother's kidnapping by the Cassadines. As she looked at the stranger, she understood why he seemed familiar. There were bits and pieces of Laura Spencer all around him. Subconsciously, she stepped back. "You're a Cassadine."
He released a humorless laugh. "You say it as if I'm a disease. Yes, I am a Cassadine. Nikolas Cassadine. And you are Dawn Spencer, my brother's wife. Finally, an introduction. I have dreaded and anticipated this moment for years."
She didn't know what to say. Her instinct had decided to wreck havoc with good old-fashioned common sense. This strange man--her husband's brother--brought a surprising reaction from her. Her flesh tingled. Her heart raced. Neither had happened in years.
"What do you want from me?" she asked, haltingly.
"Nothing I have a right to ask," he confided. "I cannot approach Laura for obvious reasons."
"You want to know about Lucky?"
He glanced at the grave. "Yes." Then, he looked at her. Not man to sister-in-law; nor stranger to stranger; but man to woman. "And you."
His stare left her breathless. Again, words escaped her.
Do it. Talk to him. Live, dammit! You promised you would.
Her breath caught in her throat. She moistened her lips in a quick, unaware movement. "What would you like to know?"
She glanced at the grave. Her hand slid over the headstone. The granite chilled her to the bone, reminding her how cold she was. How cold she'd been. For so many years. Cold and alone. It was time to live. She had promised she would.
Dawn stepped toward Nikolas. "Okay, but we should get out of the cold. This may take a while."
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