Chapter 14

The offer was impossible to resist. He could switch places with his father and spend the day with his children and his estranged wife. He was certain his father thought he had turned a deaf ear to him, but Nikolas had been well aware of the consequences of Stefan's suggestion.

With his back to Stefan, Nikolas pondered his hesitancy to accept. It wasn't like he didn't want to spend the day watching his children glow with happiness and simply watching Dawn. He ached to join them. He longed to feel the cold breezes on his face and the warmth of his children's laughter as it embraced him. His body craved to be near Dawn again. Releasing a deep sigh, he knew that he had to answer his father, but how did he tell him no when all he really wanted to do was say yes?

"Nikolas?" Stefan questioned. "You mustn't allow your pertinacity-"

"Father, please!" Nikolas whirled around to face the older man. "I'm not being stubborn. I have work to do-"

"What work?" Stefan asked him, crossing the hardwood floors of the library to face his son. His green eyes stared at him in disbelief. "You haven't any work. You emptied your schedule to spend time with Noelle for her birthday. Lying-"

"Lying?" Nikolas repeated with a humorless laugh. "You're accusing me of lying? Well, Father, I assure you that I am telling the truth. With the fire, my empty schedule is a thing of the past. I think you should take them to the pond just as you had agreed to do."

When Nikolas moved past him to exit, Stefan grabbed his upper arm. "What fire? Why wasn't I informed of a fire?"

Shaking his head at his blunder, Nikolas groaned. Slowly, he turned to face his father. "There was a fire in Jakarta. PK called me last night. I called Tommy and he's on the jet right now. He should be there by nightfall."

"And your reasons for not telling me?" Stefan folded his arms across his chest as he waited for an answer.

Again, Nikolas shook his head. Releasing a deep sigh, he looked upon his father with weary eyes. Suddenly, he felt very tired and he wished that he could give it all back to him. His responsibilities, the hours, the worry, and the endlessness... Being the leader of the Cassadines and their many holdings was not nearly as easy as Stefan had always made it appear. Not for the first time, he wondered how the older man had done it all and why.

Patting his father's back as he moved past him to rest his backside against the large oak desk, Nikolas began to answer him. "I apologize for the oversight. It wasn't my intention. After Noelle had the nightmare, everything else slipped my mind until PK called me with an update. One of our warehouses was completely destroyed. The local officials have been assuring her that the fire was an accident..."

"So why is Thomas en route?"

"Because none of us believe that the fire was accidental. We haven't received any threats, but the officials have been too reassuring. When I last spoke with PK, she said that they seemed adamant to keep her away."

"I'm sure that didn't sit well with Ms. Kelly," Stefan said. His mouth twitched in a faint smile.

Nikolas laughed out right. "I won't repeat everything she said, but no, you're right. She ignored them and continued her investigation."

"She mustn't antagonize them. If she's in danger-"

Nikolas raised a hand to silence his father. "She's careful. She has of our own guards with her at all times, and when Tommy gets there, you needn't worry at all."

"Perhaps, I should join them."

"Father, no," Nikolas said. "You don't have to. Tommy and PK are more than capable of handling whatever needs to be done. Your time is your own now."

"If you're sure," Stefan said. "I assure you that I am not attempting to reclaim my role. I'm merely offering my assistance. I want to help, son. That's all I've ever wanted to do."

Nikolas smiled at his father. He pushed away from the desk and went to Stefan. He embraced Stefan and a warm and loving hug. "I know, Father," he said after the hug was over. "I appreciate that you want to, but if anyone should go, it would be me. I trust Tommy and asked him to go in my place. The children are in a fragile state right now. I couldn't just leave them."

"Which is exactly why you should accompany them to the pond!"

"Father, I would love to-"

"Very well," Stefan interrupted, "so you will. I believe that Dominik is helping Noelle in the playroom. I'll tell them. I'm sure they will be thrilled."

Nikolas opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it. Besides, Stefan was already long gone. Shaking his head, Nikolas laughed softly. His father was pushy, manipulative and the greatest man he had ever known. He was very proud to be his son.

Leaving the library, Nikolas' thoughts drifted to the skating excursion. After Dawn's reaction to the riding pants, he knew that he would have to find something that would impress her even more. He knew that the slacks that he wore wouldn't work. Remembering that she always liked a particular pair of jeans that he owned, he raced to his room to change. He became determined to make sure the skating party was one that his family would never forget.

~*~

"Could you explain to me what's taking them so long?"

Carrie pushed aside her own worries and fears to comfort her son-in-law. Linking her arm through Alex's, Carrie led him away from Dara's hospital room. They walked to the end of the hallway, stopping just in front of the window. With her hand resting on his forearm, Carrie could feel him trembling. She wanted to reassure him, but she didn't have the words. With tears clouding her view, she stared sightlessly out of the window.

"I'm sorry, Carrie," Alex apologized. "I know the waiting is hard for you, too..." His voice caught in his throat and he paused for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was a hoarse whisper. "So many tests. She's trying to fight, but she's so tired. If they can't help her, why can't they just let her be in peace?"

"Alex," Carrie choked," we can't let her give up so easily. Not yet."

"I don't want her to give up," he said, moving away from her. Alex was a handsome man, but the agony of worrying about Dara had aged him. He had lines on his face and circles under his eyes. He ran his large hands through his black, silky hair, now peppered with strands of gray, as he began to pace. "I don't want to lose her. We have so many plans. Things we never told anyone else about and then she started to get sick. It's not fair! No, I don't want her to give up, but I don't want her in any pain either."

"They are trying to help her," Carrie reasoned. She sniffled and brushed away her tears as she looked at him. "We just have to have faith and pray. She'll get better. She has to."

"Oh, Carrie," Alex said. He went back to her and pulled her into his arms. "I'm trying, but it's getting harder every day."

Patting his back, she said, "For me, too. But we have to be strong. Not for us, but for Dara."

"Of course."

"Excuse me?"

Alex and Carrie broke apart as Dara's newest specialist, Dr. Pierre LeBon, interrupted them. Alex clasped Carrie's hand as he looked at the older, smaller man. He swallowed hard before he spoke. "How is she? Is it lupus?"

"Non," the doctor replied in his soft French accent. "Her illness is clearly not lupus. Of that, we are now certain."

"Then what is it?" Carrie asked, tightening her hold on Alex's hand as she silently feared the worse. "What's wrong with my daughter?"

Dr. LeBon paused as he looked at each of their worried faces. With a slight frown, he quietly suggested, "Perhaps we should go into my office."

"No," Alex said, forcefully. "We don't need an office. Just tell us the truth. Do you even know what's wrong with her?"

Sadly, the doctor shook his head. "I am sorry, but we do not know."

"Still?" Alex cried. "But you were in there for so long! Surely, you know more than before. If it's not lupus, you have an idea of what it could be, right? Some kind of idea?"

"No," Dr. LeBon answered him. "We are...what is the word? Dumbfounded."

"Does she know?" Carrie asked softly. "What did you tell her?"

"We have not spoken with her. She was asleep when we left her." Shoving his clenched fists inside his white jacket, he added. "We are so very sorry about this. We never expected to-"

"So, that's it?" Alex asked, cutting off the doctor. "You're just giving up? What are we supposed to do? Wait for Dara to..." Unable to say the words, Alex stormed off in the direction of Dara's room. Dr. LeBon and Carrie stared after him.

"He's upset," Carrie said, in a faraway voice. "We all are. We can't give up even if you and your team intend to."

"You misunderstand, Mrs. Cassadine," Dr. LeBon responded. "We haven't given up. We just don't have the answers right now."

Carrie leveled her gaze onto the doctor. Quietly, she demanded, "Well, find them. Find a way to save my daughter."

Slightly taken aback, the doctor nodded. "Of course, Mrs. Cassadine."

After the doctor left her alone, most of Carrie's strength left her. Stumbling, she headed towards the nearby waiting room. She was relieved to see that the room was empty and she could be alone.

Salty, angry tears fell from her eyes. She felt so helpless! Her daughter was lying dangerously ill in a French hospital and there was nothing that Carrie could do. Sobs shook her body and she did nothing to abate them. In time, the sobs decreased and she tried to make herself presentable for Dara and Alex. She couldn't let either of them should see how afraid she was.

After wiping her eyes and blowing her nose, Carrie dug inside her purse for a mirror. Her hands latched onto her cellphone instead. Trembling, she pulled the phone out of her purse and before she could talk herself out of it, she had dialed the numbers for the overseas call. Their psychic connection must have been working overtime because he answered on the first ring.

"Yes."

"Stefan..."

"Carlotta?" he asked, his concern crossed the Atlantic and surrounded her. "What is it? How is Dara? What were the results of the tests?"

"I... They don't know. After all of this time, they still don't know," she told him in a tight, pained voice.

"I'm leaving. I'll be with you in a matter of hours, my love. I assure you that we will know what is wrong with Dara and we will find a cure. Carlotta, do you hear me? We will find one!"

"I hear you," she answered. "Please hurry."

"I will," Stefan said softly. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

~*~

Dawn arrived at the skating pond early. She couldn't help herself. She wanted to see her babies and she could hardly wait. Pulling her coat around her shoulders, she walked along the railing of that separated the skating pond from the passersby. A couple of familiar faces caught her eye, as they skated arm in arm on the ice. Taking a step closer to the railing, Dawn watched them. They moved like a pair hopelessly in love with each other. A bittersweet smile touched her lips as she remembered how good that feeling was.

"Who are you watching?"

Dawn's breathing quickened as Nikolas's smooth voice caressed her ear. What was he doing there? He wasn't supposed to be there! She wasn't ready to face him again so soon, but she didn't have a choice. Keeping her eyes on the skaters, she said, "Eve and AJ. They haven't seen me. They're too busy ogling each other."

"Oh, really?" he asked.

Did he move closer to her? Dawn wondered because his voice felt extremely warm against her cheeks. Also, her entire left side tingled as if a white-hot flame had scorched her. Looking at him would be her undoing. She knew it as certain as she knew that she still loved him. Too bad she had no self-restraint.

Her inquisitive brown eyes started at the ground. Impeccable hiking boots adorned his feet. Slowly, her gaze drifted upwards. Jeans? Surely, not the faded blue jeans that hugged him in all the right places? Oh, please, not that, she inwardly groaned. Biting her bottom lip, Dawn took a quick glance at his backside. Yeah, he was wearing the jeans all right. Figuring that the rest of his outfit would cause her to faint dead away, she skipped checking out his jacket and the black turtleneck sweater that peaked through and her gaze went straight to his smoldering brown eyes.

"What?" she asked when he began to chuckle.

"Did you enjoy yourself?" he asked her.

With no defense, Dawn's response was to roll her eyes. "Why are you here?"

A sexy grin expanded his full lips and he murmured, "Have the games begun? Are you play acting? Pretending like you're not happy to see me?"

He took a step closer to her and she stumbled backwards. He grabbed her upper arms to steady her, almost pulling her into an embrace. After glancing around frantically for those unseen forces that tormented her so, she pressed her hands against his chest. As she tried to push away from him, he only pulled her closer to him.

"Nikolas, let go!" Her voice trembled as she pleaded with him. "Please!"

"You're trembling," he said, continuing to hold her. "You're afraid. You know that I would never hurt you."

"Nikolas, please!" she cried. She pulled and tugged, but all to no avail. The more she struggled, the stronger his hold on her was.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "You're terrified and I want to know why! Don't lie to me! Talk to me so that I can help you. Is it Lu-Lorenzo? Does he watch you? Would you hurt you if he saw you with me like this?"

"Nikolas, just let go!"

"It is him, isn't it?" Nikolas asked. "He's hurt you. Did he raise his hand to you?"

His brown eyes had darkened, making the expression unreadable but deadly. Dawn frantically shook her head to reach him. "No! Never! I don't like being manhandled. I don't want the kids to see you grabbing me like this. Where are they anyway? You agreed to this meeting. Did you change your mind so that you can punish me?"

"Of course not!" he said, releasing her. "Michael came with AJ and Eve. He's helping them with their skates. They wanted to surprise you with their skill."

"Oh. Okay." Dawn glanced around at the other people gathered nearby. She didn't see any suspicious characters, but she couldn't be certain that they weren't there. Watching and waiting...plotting and planning to hurt her precious family. Scared that the scene with Nikolas could be misunderstood, she began to shake uncontrollably with fear. Knowing that she needed to get a grip, she turned away from him and began to draw in long, deep breaths. With her back to him, she hoped that he would think she was looking for the children.

"Dawn?"

"Hmm?" she mumbled, unable to speak coherently.

His two large hands grasped her shoulders. The heat from his hands scorched her shoulders and warmed her all over. She shivered underneath the innocent caress.

"You're trembling again," he said as he gently squeezed her shoulders. "I know that you're afraid. I wish that you would tell me, but I won't pressure you. If you need me..." He drew a ragged breath, but with determination, he continued on, "God help me, I'll come. Just come to me and I'll protect you."

It would be so easy to turn around and tell him everything. I still love you, her mind and heart silently screamed. She wanted to tell him. Scream and shout it loudly and with pride. But she couldn't. She had to protect him and their children. So instead, she shook her head and said, "I don't need your protection. I'm fine."

"O...kay." Nikolas released his hold on her and walked away. Inside both of them, their souls cried out in anguish and despair.

General Hospital ©ABC
Dr. Pierre LeBon, Carrie and Dawn ©2000 niklovr
All Rights Reserved

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