Chapter 25

"A deceitful bitch, huh?" Dawn sat up slowly as her hoarse whisper filled the silence of the room. Her brown eyes glistened with unshed tears. She swallowed hard to reduce the sudden dryness of her throat. Her trembling hands moved to right her clothing. The passion that had so inflamed her moments before had died, leaving in its wake a vast, coldness that pervaded her slender frame.

Nikolas' footsteps swiftly brought him to his wife's side. He slid onto the sofa beside her. The weight of his body pulled her to him just as his arms encircled her. "She was upset. I'm sure she didn't mean it-"

"Oh, she meant it," Dawn said, resting her head against his sturdy shoulder. "I'm not bothered by her saying it. She hates me and I don't blame her. I didn't like the way she said it."

"Love," he said with fierce tenderness, "it doesn't matter. You're not a deceitful bitch."

"But you thought I was," she said, "and you told her as much."

His sharp intake of breath answered for him when his voice could not. She shuddered within his arms and the tears began to fall. His embrace tightened, squeezing her against his chest. "I… Dawn, you know that I love you. I've always loved you even when it hurt to love you. I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize," she whispered between tears. "Please, Nikky. You don't have to. I'm not making sense right now. I think I'll go upstairs and check on Noelle-"

"Wait," he said as she pulled from his grasp and moved to her feet. She stood with her back to him. Sobs shook her and she tried to be quiet. Never strong enough to see her cry, Nikolas wrapped his arms around her. His chin settled in the curve of her neck. He whispered against her ear, "We're a team, Mrs. Cassadine. Isn't that what you always tell me? Don't run away from me. Not when we're together again. I'm the same man. I haven't changed. I share your pain just I share your bed. I want everything, Dawn. Don't run away when you're hurting. You don't have to pretend with me."

"Nikky…" she cried, burying her face in her hands.

Upon her cry, he moved to face her. His arms wrapped around her again. One strong, large hand pressed her head against his shoulder. The other hand stroked her back. His words and warmth comforted her and the sobs subsided until they were only sniffles.

"I love you so very much," she said.

Her words were muffled, but they still carried to him. He released a deep sigh upon her admission. "I know," he murmured with a soft kiss against her temple. With gentle hands, he cupped her face. Tenderly, he tilted her head upwards so that their eyes met. His thumbs wiped the wetness from her cheeks. Shaking his head, he released another deep sigh. "I hate this. So much sadness is in those beautiful brown eyes. I can't stand it. Talk to me. Why did the walls close in around you? Why did you think you'd have to run away…hide from me? The separation was long, but after everything you should know that I haven't changed. You can trust me."

"I-I trust you," she responded. She tried to tug her head free and move away from him, but he wouldn't let her. His eyes bored into her, obstinate and loving. She knew that he was right. In those moments, she didn't trust him, and the realization hurt. Both of them. Deeply.

"I've never slept with Sarah."

Dawn nodded, but didn't say anything.

Nikolas released another sigh. "Dammit, woman! I didn't and it's not because she didn't want me to. She did and out of spite, I almost… But in the end, I couldn't."

"I know that you didn't have sex with her," Dawn whispered.

"Then what is it?" he questioned. "I'm at my wit's end here. I can't have you closed off from me. That would be worse than what we've already been through. Tell me what's going on so that we can fix it. We were fine before Sarah showed up and now…we're not. We have too much fighting against us. I'm not willing to let them win. Are you?"

"NO!" she said, becoming angry more so with herself than him. It used to be so easy to talk to him. Why couldn't she just do it now, she wondered. "Nikky, please. Let just drop this-"

His mouth inhaled the rest of her words. He kissed her passionately. His lips and tongue devoured hers as if his life depended on it. Her fists pushed against his chest, which only made him more persistent, more passionate. His ardent tenacity weakened her. She uncurled her fists. Her hands slid down his chest and around to his back. She clung to him, her fingers digging into his expensive silk shirt. When he finally ended the kiss, she whimpered in protest.

Nikolas stepped away from her. Taking deep breaths to regulate his breathing, he watched her. His eyes darkened, revealing both anger and passion. "Is that the only way I can get through to you?" he asked harshly.

"Don't!" she said, pointing her finger at him to silence him. "I am not your whore!"

"No, you're not!" he nearly shouted. He turned his back to her and went to close the door. When he turned back around, his eyes were still blazing. "You are my wife! Why are we fighting about this? Just talk to me!"

"Why can't you just drop it?" she countered. "We wouldn't have to fight if you would just back off!"

"Well, I won't!" he bit out. "Not until you tell me what you're hiding from me-"

"I'm not hiding anything!" she choked.

"You're lying," he said, his voice deadly quiet.

She spun on her heel, turning her back to him. She moved to the fireplace. She felt cold all over and wanted the fire to heat her. It didn't. Behind her, Nikolas moved. His brown eyes burned into her flesh hotter than the fire that was less than a foot from her. Where the heat of his gaze didn't burn into her, the rest of her was cold…with fear. She couldn't lose him, but she couldn't talk to him either.

"Did you sleep with him?"

"No," she whispered. "I've already told you that."

"Did you want to?"

Still unable to look at him, she shook her head. Then she shrugged. "I don't know…"

"Either you did or you didn't," he said.

"I don't know what to say…" Her voice shook with fear. I can't lose you!

"The truth would be good," he told her. "Just be honest with me."

"Where do you want me to start?" she asked tearfully.

"Oh, God," he groaned.

"No, Nikky!" She whipped around and ran to him. Her ice-cold fingers gripped his hands. He tried to pull away and this time, she wouldn't release him. "It's not like that."

"How was it?" he asked, distant. "Was it good, at least?"

"Stop it," she begged. "I told you the truth. I have never been with him."

"But you've wanted to," he stated. His voice choked on the words, and he shuddered at the thought.

"I don't know what I wanted."

He tried again to pull away from her. She squeezed his hands, hurting both of them, but neither of them noticing the physical pain. "I find that hard to believe. You've always known what you wanted."

"I've always wanted you-"

"Not apparently!" he cried, cutting her off. "It hasn't always been me if you can't tell me the truth or even admit it to yourself."

"You have all the answers, right?" she said, staring at him. "I'm glad that one of us does!"

"You know what? You're right. Let's not do this!" He successfully wrenched his hands free. He crossed the room to stand in front of the window.

"It's too late for that now!" she cried. "If we stop now, I lose you and I can't."

"You haven't lost me," he said. "I'm still here."

"Your body is, but not your heart," she said with conviction. "Not if you think I've betrayed you. You would still be here and you might even still love me… But it wouldn't be the same. I need you to love me the same."

"Do you? Is that what you need?"

Dawn held her tongue. Her mind searched for the right words and came up empty. Her gaze drifted over him. His rigid back, statue-like stillness shouted to her in a deafening volume. He hurt and it was her fault. She would lose him if she didn't find the words. She inhaled deeply as she searched her heart for guidance. Finally, the answer came to her. She would have to speak from her heart and pray that he would understand. He would have to understand!

"Yes," she said, moving to stand right behind him. She wanted to touch him. She raised her hands and they hung suspended in the air for a moment. After taking another deep breath, she placed them on his broad shoulders. He stiffened, but he didn't pull away. She took that as a good sign and tears of gratitude fell from her eyes.

"Yes," she continued, "I need your love more than anything else except for our children's safety-"

"Is Noelle my daughter?"

Stunned, Dawn couldn't move. His question was unbelievable. How could he doubt-

"Of course, she is."

"Of course?" he repeated, hoarsely. "She has Lorenzo's eyes-"

"Who has your mother's eyes!" Dawn cried. "Noelle is your daughter! All this time, you thought she wasn't? Is that what you're telling me? I thought we were good together, but if you thought that… Shit! It's already too late."

Tears flowed freely down her face. She wanted desperately to stop crying, but she couldn't. Breathing became nearly impossible and she crumbled to the floor. Nikolas slid down next to her. He didn't try to pull her into his arms, but his hand stroked her hair and back. "It's not too late," he whispered.

"It is if you had to ask me that."

"No, too late is if I demand a paternity test. I believe you, but… I've known that she was mine, but… There were times when I wondered. I'm not proud of it, and I've never let it affect how I treat her. She's mine. She always has been since the first moment I held her."

"But you wondered anyway?" she said through sniffles. "Four years is a long time to think th-that…"

"Yeah," he agreed.

"This is all my fault," she admitted. "We need to resolve this, but I so terrified to do my part. I'm so afraid of hurting you that I can't think straight."

"I'm not made of glass," he reminded her. "I've been hurt before. I won't break."

She looked at him. "You promise?"

"I promise," he solemnly vowed.

Taking him at his word, she found the courage to release the burden that had been in her heart for a decade. "I don't know what it is that's between me and him. I feel…an attraction to him. I guess I even love him, but I'm not in love with him. I care about him and I want him to be happy. I can't make him happy."

"Did you try?" he asked, his eyes never wavering from hers and the truth he saw there.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "I've never wanted to. I've only wanted to make you happy."

"Why couldn't you just tell me?" he asked, desperate to understand.

She shrugged. "I was scared. I thought it was better if you didn't know. It's not like he was a threat to our marriage…to what we h-have…"

"If he wasn't a threat, you should have told me."

"I didn't want to admit my attraction to myself. How could I tell you?"

"But he knew, didn't he?" Nikolas asked. "Lucky's always known."

"Nothing has ever happened between us. I've never been with him. I've never really wanted to."

She started to cry again, and he reached over to wipe away her tears. "It's always between me and him."

Vigorously, she shook her head. "Not with me. I have always chosen you. I always will."

A single tear fell down his cheek. "Always?"

"If you want me, I'm yours forever." A moment passed and then she asked, "Do you still want me?"