Darkest Before the Dawn

FLASHBACK 4


Tempest of the Heart

The Sahara
Five years earlier...

The video shoot for "Message in a Bottle" had been in full swing for the past five days. The members of DJLS and the crew responded quickly and enthusiastically under Sly's direction. And if everything continued as scheduled, the shoot would only have a few more days to go. Everyone couldn't have been more relieved, especially Dawn.

She stood inside the air-conditioned white tent, sipping a bottle of ice cold water. The cool beverage slid down her throat as her sandal-covered feet slid across the sand floor. She paced back and forth in agitation, sipping the water while her mind was miles away. She should have been concentrating on the next shot, she dimly told herself. But she couldn't. The only thing she could thing of was the argument she and Nikolas had had two days ago. He hadn't called to apologize and neither had she. Their inability to compromise was a first and it frightened her.

"Hey, there."

Dawn stopped pacing as Jordan entered the tent. He stood hesitantly by the canvas door. She beckoned for him with a nod of her head. He sauntered over with concern shining in his brown eyes.

"You okay?"

She shrugged. "I'm hot and ready to rock and roll. What's taking Sylvester so long?"

"The crew is being weird," Jordan explained. "They started packing up the equipment and Sly had a fit."

"Ooh, I can just image. That Eckertt charm at work," she murmured. Jordan's eyes bored into her. There were questions there that he wanted to ask. Dawn saw them and turned away. She sipped more of the water as she crossed the floor to sit on the stool before the vanity mirror. "Why did the crew put the stuff away? They know we have a few more scenes to go."

"I'm not sure," Jordan mumbled. Swallowing hard, he opened his mouth to speak. His uncertainty caused him to hesitate. He grabbed a water bottle from the cooler and fiddled with the cap instead.

The noise alerted and annoyed Dawn at once. He was close to saying his peace, Dawn knew. She didn't want to make it easy for him, but he was her friend. She knew that his concern came from a good place. He had a good heart and she loved him for it, but good heart or not, she wasn't quite ready to talk about her marriage with him or anyone else.

"So, did they finish setting everything up again?" she asked between sips of her water. "How long will it take? I'm ready to get out of here."

"They were explaining themselves to Sly so I came in here to give you a heads up," Jordan replied. He stole a glance at her. Her eyes were downcast, staring at her wedding ring. He decided to take a chance. He cleared his throat and rushed the words out, "Is everything okay with you and Nik?"

"Jordan, please," she whispered, slowly tearing her eyes away from her wedding band. "I'm not in the mood right now."

"I'm sure you're not," he commented, carefully closing the distance between them. "You know I wouldn't say anything, but I care. You're like a sister to me, Baby Girl. If you need to talk about things, you can with me."

She gave him a brief smile as he reached her. "I love you, Jordan James...but I don't want to talk about it."

He placed his large hand on her shoulder. "Are you sure?" he asked, softly.

"I am."

He gently squeezed her shoulder before he left her alone. As the canvas door flapped behind him, Dawn breathed a sigh of relief. She was glad that he had left it alone. She wasn't sure if she knew how to explain to him an argument that she didn't fully understand herself. She set the bottle on the counter and then buried her eyes in the heels of her hand. Taking shuddering breaths as she thought of her husband and wondered if he felt as miserable as she...or if he was too occupied to even care.

~*~

Nikolas gripped his small cellphone in the palm of his hand. His index finger hovered over the "send" button. The digits that were Dawn's cellphone number stared back up at him in digital display. All he had to do was push the button and maybe the heaviness he had felt for the last couple of days would disappear. Just one little push and-

"Nikolas?" Sarah called from the hallway. Her blonde hair floated about her shoulders as she entered the bright, airy room. Her high-heeled sandals clicked on the marble floor as she moved down the steps. A curious frown was on her face as she came closer to him. "Didn't you hear me calling you?"

"No," he said with a shake of his head. "I'm sorry. Is your room lacking in some way? I can have our housekeeper-"

Sarah waved Nikolas' concerns away with the toss of her head. "No, of course not. The room is fine. The fresh flowers are fragrant and although the decor wouldn't have been my first choice, it's...fine."

The slight against his wife wasn't so subtle that Nikolas didn't notice it. His jaw tightened as he looked at his houseguest. "Our home feels right to us."

"No," she said, raising her hand. "You misunderstand me. I think the furnishings and art are well suited for you and your family. I was simply saying that my tastes are different. I didn't mean to imply anything else by that, Nikolas."

He nodded his head in acceptance of her explanation. His eyes drifted over Sarah and he took note of her dress. The yellow fabric clung to her. The effect against her ash blond hair was stunning and the yellow made her milk-white skin appear flawless. She truly was a beautiful woman, he decided. He briefly wondered why she wasn't involved with anyone.

"So, um," Sarah began with a smile, "did I interrupt you?"

"Excuse me?" he asked, frowning.

"The phone," she said, pointing towards the cellular he still held in his hand. "Were you ending a call or about to place one? I can leave you alone if I'm intruding. Dinner can wait."

Nikolas drew a deep breath as he looked down at the phone that he clutched in his hand. He willed his hold to relax and slowly, his fingers relented. He wanted to call Dawn. He wanted to hear her tell him that she didn't mean what she had said before. He had to know that she realized that the Cassadine legacy and protecting it wasn't more important than his family.

Yes, the matter with the download of their personal files had been handled, but he still had work to do. He had to make sure that no hacker would ever be successful again. Of course, he could wait to work on that and join her in the desert, but he felt compelled to do the task now. He didn't understand why she didn't understand that. She would be home in another week. They could make up the time they had spent apart. There didn't have to be misunderstanding and frustration between them. He wanted things to be the way they used to be!

He'd already agreed to consider having another child. She didn't realize how the possibility terrified him. With that compromise in mind, why couldn't she just get that making sure they were all always safe was his number one priority? The frustration of his thoughts caused him to expel a loud breath. Sarah looked at him in concern.

"Nikolas?" She went to him. "What's wrong?" Her small, pale hand rested on his tan forearm. She squeezed his arm once and her hand lingered there. "I know that we haven't been especially close in recent years, but I hope that we can change that with my visit. Please, if you need to talk, you can tell me anything."

He closed his hand over hers, lightly pressing it before he deftly removed it from his arm. He smiled at her. "Thanks, Sarah. That means so much to me to know that, but it's not anything that I can talk to someone about, okay?" He moved away from her as he spoke. He glanced at the numbers on his cellular one last time before he pushed the power button. He closed the phone and placed it on the nearby table. He turned to Sarah with a faint smile. "I'll see if Dom is ready for dinner. I'll be right back."

"Okay." Sarah's eyes drifted over Nikolas as he left her alone in the den. Her tongue darted out and moistened the tip of her tongue as she watched his strong, athletic body move across the foyer and up the staircase. She couldn't get over how handsome he was and she was surprised to see that even years later, her teenage attraction to him hadn't died. If anything, it had only matured.

Needing to calm her hammering heart, Sarah began to walk around the room. Her hands reached for the odds and ends that adorned the shelves and tables. There were framed photographs of Nikolas, his wife and their child. Overwhelming envy enveloped Sarah. Eyes narrowed as she stared at the happy couple. How was this woman—Dawn—able to win his love when Sarah had tried and failed, she wondered. What was it about Dawn that made Sarah's first love weak and strong? Why did he push Sarah aside and only a few months later go to Dawn?

The shrill ringing of Nikolas' cellphone startled Sarah from her musings. She set the frame back down and moved away from the shelf. Her eyes darted toward the entryway, waiting for Nikolas to appear to answer his call. The entryway remained empty and the phone continued to ring. She decided to help.

With heels clacking against the marble, she skipped across the floor. She grabbed the cellular and pushed the appropriate button to answer the call. "Hello?" she asked, breathlessly into the phone.

Silence greeted her on the other end. And, then a voice asked, "Who is this?"

"I'm Sarah, a friend of—Who is calling please? Who would you like to speak to?"

"Um...sorry," the female voice replied. "I think I dialed the wrong number."

The dull hum of the dial tone signaled the end of the call. Sarah stared at the phone in surprise. Behind her, Nikolas and Dominik entered the room. "Sarah? What's wrong?" Nikolas asked, holding on to his son's hand. "Was there a call?"

She shrugged. She crossed the floor and gave him his phone. "The phone rang, but it was a wrong number. Sorry."

"That's okay. We're ready for dinner."

Smiling, Sarah looked down at the silent little boy. "Are you ready?"

"Sure," Dominik murmured, pressing his head against his father's hand.

"Okay, then dinner here we come!" Sarah linked her arm through Nikolas' and led them out of the room.

~*~

The canvas door flapped open again and Dawn was no longer alone. She was oblivious to the new presence. With her mouth opened in surprise, she stared at her cellphone. Then, suddenly she dropped phone and it sent it clattering down onto the counter. Nikolas' cellular had been answered by a woman...Sarah. Just the thought made Dawn furious and scared all at once.

"What's wrong?"

Her response wasn't immediate. She seemed to not hear the voice and just when he was about to speak to her again, she said, "Nothing's wrong. What's going on out there?"

Lorenzo frowned at the clipped tone she used. He pulled up a straight back chair. Straddling it, he remained quiet and didn't answer her.

"Stop staring at me," she bit out. She moved to stand and his hand shot out, circling around her wrist. "What, Spencer?"

"You tell me," he said without releasing his hold on her. "Sit. Talk."

"I've been sitting around all day and I don't want to anymore. Talk? I don't have anything to say. Now, let me go." She tugged her arm free and stalked past him to the canvas door. She pulled it back and looked outside. The darkening sky was frightening and the crew seemed to be leery of it as well. They moved quickly to pack up the equipment and pull down the set. "What the hell?"

Lorenzo moved behind her. "Storm's brewing."

His breath caressed the back of her neck. Dawn's first inclination was to move, but she stood still. Her eyes followed Sly as he shouted orders. Beside him, Jordan shouted a few orders of his own. "So what's gonna happen now? If the storm is as bad as that sky looks, this will be filled with mud tomorrow. What does Sly want to do about the rest of the shoot?"

"He hasn't said," he replied. "We're all heading back to the hotel to ride the storm out. I came in here to get you."

"Oh, okay," she mumbled, indifferent.

Lorenzo stared at her for a second before turning away. He glanced about the tent. "Is there anything you need in here? We can take off right now."

"I'm good," Dawn said with a shrug. "What about Jordan and Sly? Are they riding with us or what?"

"Sly's pissed at the crew so he wants to ride with them...give them hell on the ride back. Jordan is going with them to make sure he doesn't get out of hand," Lorenzo answered. He noticed that her cellular was on the counter. He grabbed it and handed it to her. She stared at it in disgust before sliding it inside her purse. He saw pain reflected in her eyes, but he saw a wall, too. He knew better than to question her again so soon.

He went to the door and held it open for her. She walked through and soon, they were inside the ATV Sly had provided for his cousin.

From time to time, Lorenzo glanced at his sister-in-law. The expression on her face remained closed off. He wanted to reach out to her and tell her that he could listen if that was what she needed. He kept his mouth closed though. He reached to adjust the clutch and kept his mind on the road.

The trip back to the hotel was smooth until they were about five miles from their destination. Then, the storm hit. Rain poured down and made driving almost impossible. With his trademark stubbornness, Lorenzo maintained control of the vehicle.

They arrived in the small village amid chaos. People ran for cover and some of the power lines were down. Lorenzo hurriedly parked the ATV in front of his bungalow. Rain streamed down onto his back and slid into his eyes as he hopped out of the car and ran around to help Dawn. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her from the car and into his room. The door slammed shut behind them.

Sputtering and wiping the water from her face, Dawn said, "Unbelievable."

"Yeah, it's pretty bad," Lorenzo called out from the bathroom. He returned with two large bath towels. He gave one to Dawn. Vigorously, he rubbed his hair, face and hands. "I have an extra robe in the bathroom. Be careful, the lights aren't working."

"Thanks."

Dawn went inside the bathroom and closed the door. Left in complete darkness, she felt around for the robe. Once she found it, she stripped out of her clothes and pulled the robe on. She wrapped the towel around her head in turban and left the bathroom.

When she went back into the living area, she saw that Lorenzo had lit the room up with a few candles. The glowing flames gave the room a cozy effect. Dawn immediately wondered what Nikolas was doing and if Sarah was being helpful. She fought to hold in a sob, but she failed.

"You okay?" Lorenzo asked, tightening his robe around him. While Dawn was in the bathroom, he had quickly discarded his clothing, too. A white towel hung around his neck and he used it to wipe at his damp curls. "Dawn, what's going on?"

"I don't know," she said, crossing the room to sit on the mahogany colored sofa. "I don't know anything any more."

"Huh?" he asked, moving to sit beside her. He tossed the towel onto the coffee table and sat side ways to look at her. The candle that burned on the table beside her, cast a warm halo around her head. He swallowed down the old feelings of desire as he waited for her to respond to him.

She shifted, slouching down on the sofa as she looked up at him. "Why does life have to be so complicated? Why can't things be easy?"

"Wouldn't you find that boring?" he asked.

Dawn shook her head. "No. I'd find it comforting."

"Did...um...something happen between you and Nikolas? Everything is okay on the home front, right?"

"I guess." Dawn became quiet for a few moments. She thought deeply about her next words before she spoke them aloud. She spoke slowly so that the words would make sense. "Your brother is my best friend."

"I know that," Lorenzo quietly said, studying her as she spoke. Her fingers were clasped in her hands. Her wedding band shown brilliantly.

"I trust him more than I trust anyone, but I'm... Sometimes, I wonder..."

"About what? Dawn, you have to know that he loves you. You don't have to question that."

"I thought that before," she said. "There was a time when I never would have questioned it...Not even when we had a ridiculous argument the other day. I knew he loved me and his clinging was because of his love, but... He stayed behind because some hacker got into our personal stuff. He cleared it all up, but instead of coming to be here with me, he's still in Greece. I called him before we left the site and Sarah answered his cellphone. Lorenzo, tell me what's going here. She was his first serious relationship. Should I be worried? Is this all some crazy coincidence?"

Her voice cracked and tears cascaded down her cheeks. Lorenzo pulled her into his arms and brushed her tears away. "Shh," he murmured words of comfort. "You have nothing to worry about. Nikolas loves you."

Lorenzo rocked her back in forth within his arms. Her turban wrapped head rested on his shoulder. Her words were muffled against his chest as she said, "I want to believe that, but I get so scared. I don't want to lose him."

"You won't," he reassured her. His hand rubbed her back in large circles. "When you go back to Greece, talk to him. Let him have it for not coming here and tell him what you told me. I'm sure he'll tell you the same. He knows what an incredible woman you are. He may be pompous and arrogant at times, but he's not a fool. He wouldn't want to lose you."

Dawn sniffled a few times before she lifted her head from Lorenzo's chest. She smiled at him and murmured, "Thanks. You can be a real sweetie when you want to."

"Yeah, tell me anything," he said with a grin. He cupped her face between his hands. The electricity that surged through him at the contact of her soft skin on his warm palms was ignored. He focused on the woman before him and what she meant to him. Truly meant to him. She was a dear friend. He loved her probably more than he should have, but he would never do anything to jeopardize the closeness they shared.

He lowered his lips down to kiss her cheek. Outside his door, a stray dog barked. Dawn jumped and as Lorenzo moved to kiss her, his mouth touched hers instead of her cheek. Dawn gasped in surprised. Her lips parted, and their lips remained connected. The kiss didn't end.

To be continued...

General Hospital ©ABC
Dawn & Dominik Cassadine ©1998 niklovr
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