Alex brushed a springy curl from Dara's forehead. A faint smile turned her full lips upwards in acknowledgement. His gut clenched at her response. He wanted to return the gesture with a whole heart, but it was impossible. He ached to see her so listless and still. Allowing his fingers to trail tenderly over her thinning cheek, he wished that he knew what to do to end her suffering and to make her whole again.
"Feels nice," Dara murmured. She moved her head slightly against his fingers. Her eyelids drifted close again and she whispered, "Don't stop."
"I won't," Alex promised.
His other hand held hers in a firm, gentle grip. She squeezed his hand as much as her strength would allow. Seconds later, she drifted off to sleep.
Alex bent over her and lightly brushed her lips with his own. He stared at her for several moments before he slowly rose from the bed and moved to the window. Minutes later, when the nurse came in take Dara's vitals, he still stood in the same spot.
"Bonjour," the nurse greeted him with warm and compassion. She cleared her throat once and then quickly added, "The doctors would like to speak with you. They wait in the conference room."
"Thank you," he responded, turning away from the window. Before he left the room, he went to back to Dara. He caressed her cheek once again. "Te amo, mi vida," he whispered to her and then he was gone.
"What do you mean there was a fire and now the lab is gone? Completely destroyed? How could you let this happen?"
Matt and Ellen accepted Alex's fury without wavering an inch. They had anticipated his reaction and he had not disappointed them. His face was red with exertion and he opened his mouth again to bellow more accusations. Before he could begin, Carrie touched his hand and quietly silenced him. Together, the doctors released a deep sigh and braced themselves for her opinion.
"What happens now?" Carrie's hand clutched Alex's much larger one; she directed her attention to the Harmons and to her dear friend. "Simone, what does this mean for Dara?"
"It means several things," Simone spoke with calm assurance. She offered a smile filled with understanding to both Carrie and Alex. "The most important thing it means is that she still has a chance-"
"Stop it, Simone," Alex interjected. He pulled his hand free of Carrie's and began to pace. "Stop trying to give us hope when there is none. Matt and Ellen's research is gone, burnt to a crisp. Whatever hope there was for Dara came to an end in that fire last night. So just stop with the false encouragement and just tell us what we really need to know. How much longer does Dara have now? How can we make her l-last d-days…peaceful?"
Unshed tears glistened in the other man's eyes and Matt's heart went out to him. He couldn't imagine how he'd react if Ellen was in the same predicament as Dara. Leaning heavily on his cane, Matt went to Alex. In a voice that was loud enough to carry to Carrie, he said, "There is hope for Dara. It didn't die in the fire last night. We didn't leave our work in the lab. Ellen's female intuition worked overtime and because of her, all is not lost."
"Are you sure?" Carrie asked, her voice shaking with disbelief. "You can still save my daughter?"
"We believe that we can," Ellen said. "But there is something else that we need to tell you."
"By all means, what it is?" Carrie asked, frowning as she looked at the three physicians. "What?"
Simone drew a quick breath before she answered her friend. "We need to move Dara. Sonny's with her now-"
"Why?" Alex bit out. He moved away from Matt to face Simone. "Why is Corinthos-"
"Alex, please," Simone interrupted him with a firm voice. "I understand that you're upset, but please just listen to us." He grudgingly nodded his consent and she continued, "I asked Sonny to sit with her while we spoke with you and Carrie because we now have reason to believe that Dara isn't safe here."
"The fire wasn't an accident," Matt said when silence enveloped the room. "We need to move Dara as quickly as possible."
"I've gone to the liberty of drawing up release papers," Ellen began, handing the documents to Alex. "As soon as you sign them, we can take Dara away from here."
Frowning, Alex shuffled through the papers. He shook his head as he tried to make sense of the world around him. "I don't get it. You're acting as if Dara is in danger here. I admit that the doctors weren't able to diagnose her, but there was no malice there. Just ignorance. Are you telling us that they've intentionally misdiagnosed her?"
"No." Matt shook his head. "They were honest with you. They wanted to help, but couldn't. We're not moving Dara because of the doctors. It's the hospitable and its accessibility that makes us so concerned about Dara's welfare. We need to take her to a secure location. One where contact with her would be limited to the people who are in this room. It's imperative that we act on this today, Alex. Every second counts."
"I know. I know." Alex held his hand out. "Give me a pen and show me where to sign."
Ellen handed him a pen and indicated where he needed to put his signature. He moved through the documents as fast as he could scrawl his name and the date. Carrie watched Alex for a few seconds and then asked, "Where will we move her to? We have a few islands in Greece. Stefan isn't here, but I can contact him. He can tell us which would be best."
"That won't be necessary." Simone reached for her friend's hand. She looked briefly at Alex before looking at Carrie again. "We've already begun preparations for her arrival-"
"No," Alex interjected. "Not on Corinthos' island. I put up with him because I like you, Simone and little Shana, but I'm not… I can't take Dara there."
"He's not the same man," Simone said as she released Carrie's hand and crossed over to Alex. "He wants to help, and whether you like it or not, our island is the best place for Dara. We already have a facility and she wouldn't be safer anywhere else. For Dara's sake, forget about the past and concentrate on your future."
"Alex," Carrie began softly, "I haven't interfered too much because you're my child's husband. Please, don't make me pull rank. My daughter's life is more important than your pride."
Alex's face darkened with grief. "This isn't about pride, Carrie. This is about my wife's life. Corinthos has a habit of… I just don't want anything else to happen to her."
"I assure you that nothing else will," Simone told him.
"She will have round the clock care," Matt added. "One of us will be with Dara at all times."
"We're wasting time, Alex," Ellen gently chided when the man remained silent for too long. "We need to move. Now."
Alex swallowed hard as he looked at the four faces that stared back at him. "Okay. Let's move."
Dawn snuggled deeper underneath the comforter, instinctively her body reached for the warmth that only Nikolas could provide. Still under slumber's heavy cloak, she moved again in search of her mate. She found nothing, but a cold, empty space. In an instant, Dawn was awake.
Her eyes adjusted quickly to the dark room. Nikolas' usual perch on the window seat was empty. There was no sign of him in the room at all. Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was well past midnight. Filled with concern, she leapt from the bed. She grabbed her dressing gown and left the room.
She went first to Noelle's bedroom. The little girl was fast asleep. Dawn then went to Dominik's room. He too was sound asleep. Careful so as not to disturb him, she pulled his door close and moved down the hallway. She checked the other bedrooms and upon finding them empty, she decided to search the first floor.
As soon as she reached the bottom of the staircase, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nikolas would not be found inside Wyndemere or anywhere on Spoon Island. Where could he be? Where would he go? He had been quiet when they had gone to bed, but he had not been distant. She thought that he had made peace with her admission. Perhaps, he had not. What if she truly had lost him?
Chills tingled through her. She pulled her dressing gown closer around her to ward off the draft that had suddenly chilled the air. Knowing that sleep was not something she would experience that night, she remained downstairs. Besides, she could not go back upstairs to bed without Nikolas. Whether he realized it or not, she truly needed him and his trust.
The large grandfather clock chimed in another hour. The unexpected ring rattled her nerves and she jumped in surprise. "Get a grip, girlfriend," she softly scolded herself. "This was once your home. You have nothing to fear here."
"That's true, you know." Nikolas stole quietly into the living room behind Dawn. He went to the piano and sat down on the cushioned piano stool. "I'm surprised to see you up."
"I couldn't sleep," Dawn responded. She edged toward him, unsure of how close to him he wanted her. She would wait for him to let her know. "You weren't there."
"Come." He held his hand out to her. She slid her cold hand inside his warm one. He shuddered at the first touch. "You're freezing. You should have gone back to bed."
"The bed's too big without you," she whispered, looking down at their joined hands as she sat down beside him. "Where did you go?"
"I just went out for a while. I needed some fresh air…to think…about things."
She nodded. She understood that he needed time to sort everything out. "Did it help?"
Taking his time, he drew a long breath. "We'll see."
"Nikky," she said, her voice a soft plea. She raised tear-filled eyes to his. "I'm sorry. Tell me what to do and I'll do it."
"There isn't a quick fix solution, Dawn," he said, not unkindly. "I don't want you to do anything. You don't have to."
"I don't understand," she said, her voice catching towards the end. "You're hurting and it's my fault-"
"Sweetheart," he said, the endearment rolling easily off his tongue, "I told you before that I'm not made of glass. I've hurt before and I'm sure before it's all over, I'll hurt again. This is something that I'll have to sort out for myself."
"But it's my fault you're hurting. I don't want you to hurt. I want to take your pain away if I can or at least ease it…"
"You do," he told her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "Your love eases it." He placed a warm kiss on her forehead. "Having you and our children here together under one roof eases it." He lowered his hand to her waist, pulling her closer to him. "You ease it. You…here…with me."
"Okay," she whispered back, wanting desperately to believe him. "Well, if you ever need to yell or scream, I'm here."
"It will never come to that," he said, his tone matter of fact. "You're shivering still. Let's go upstairs where it's warmer."
They stood up, there arms wrapped around each other. As they neared the staircase, they were surprised to find someone staring down at them. Nikolas was the first to question their unexpected guest. "Sunshine, you should be in bed."
"Papa," she murmured; sleepily, she rubbed her eyes. "Where did Dommie go?"
"Baby, he's upstairs asleep," Dawn answered. Fearful that Noelle may trip, Dawn moved up the stairs to take her daughter's hand. "I just checked on him. He's in bed. Exactly as you should be."
"He's not, Mommy," the little girl answered her. She shook her head and light brown curls bounced around her face. "Dommie's not in bed."
"He's in the bathroom and will soon be in bed again," Nikolas said as he joined the two females. He picked up Noelle and the trio moved down the hallway.
"He's not," Noelle replied with a yawn. She covered her mouth and when the yawn was over, she added, "I looked in there when I heard the noise."
Nikolas and Dawn both came to an abrupt stop. "What noise?" Dawn asked. "Was it Dominik?"
Noelle shrugged. "I dunno."
Dawn looked at Nikolas. Her greatest fear was mirrored in Nikolas' eyes. She moved to rush to Dominik's room. Nikolas grabbed her and thrust Noelle into her arms.
"Stay here. I'll check."
"Be careful!" she called out as he disappeared down the hallway.
Nikolas entered Dominik's room amid a whirlwind of emotions. Fear, rage and helplessness all warred within him. He fought to detach himself from the feelings. He needed a clear head to process what his eyes were telling him—his son's room was empty. He called for a clear heart to guide him what he should do after finding that his son was nowhere to be found. He prayed for an even temperament in order to relay everything he knew to Dawn and prepare himself for her reaction.
After taking a deep breath, he rushed back to her and their daughter. He found them right where he had left them. He was surprised that Dawn had listened to him. But he was relieved, too. When he stood before her, he looked first at Noelle. The little girl had fallen asleep in her mother's arms. Nikolas carefully pulled her from Dawn's arms and held her close to him. He then lifted his eyes to Dawn's.
"He's not dead," Dawn told him. Her eyes bore into his. Rage boiled in their chocolate depths, turning them into a rich, dark brown that Nikolas had never seen before. "I know that he's alive, Nikolas."
Nikolas nodded. He knew the same. "There was no sign of a struggle. I believe that he's alive, too." He reached inside his pocket and handed her a folded note. "Be careful. We can still get the prints."
Dawn took the paper from him. She held it away from her, almost as if she was afraid to look at it. Before Nikolas' eyes, she swallowed her fear and toughened her resolve. A fierce frown creased her brow and marred her smooth forehead. Her eyes moved rapidly across the white paper. Nikolas tried to gauge her reaction, but she kept her face void of any emotion. Dear God, he silently prayed, they needed Him desperately right now.
"What does it say?" Nikolas asked, unable to bear the not knowing.
Dawn's eyes cut to his. Surprise, softened her brown eyes to their usual warm, welcoming color. "You didn't read it?"
Nikolas shook his head. "I'm sorry."
"Don't," she said quickly. Her hand shot out to caress his cheek. "Don't, Nikky." She took a deep breath and read the note to him.
"'Tis shameful when a child must pay for the sins of the parent. Fate has come to collect. Alerting the authorities will do you no good. No one can help you now."
A dizzying shudder shook Nikolas. Noelle clutched him and he willed himself to remain steady. His hand stroked her back, reassuring her with his loving touch. "I have to get you and Noelle out of here immediately," he whispered.
"I'm not going anywhere. We'll find a safe place for Noelle and we'll find our son. We won't lose him."
Unsure of his voice, Nikolas slowly nodded. The darkest had arrived.