Life After Dark

Chapter 107

~ Christmas Eve: The Truth Hurts

The air had grown colder and the room had become darker. Minutes had passed, and Stefan hadn't moved. Nikolas had run from him, had ignored his pleas and had demanded that he never touch him again, and now, Stefan's heart ached.

When Laura had first approached him about making the revelation, he had thought of many scenarios, but none with an ending like this. Not one where Nikolas' eyes were filled with distrust, sorrow and betrayal. Had he ever envisioned any of that, he would have kept the knowledge to himself. He would have rather died a thousand deaths, be called 'uncle' for the rest of his life than risk losing his precious son.

But perhaps Stefan's worse fears wouldn't be realized. Nikolas was forgiving. He was so unlike the rest of them in that trait. There was a chance Nikolas wouldn't hold this against him, Stefan hoped. A noise on the staircase behind him alerted him that he would soon find out if his hopes would be realized. Stefan turned to face his son and he was momentarily grounded by what his eyes beheld. When he rediscovered the ability to move, to speak, to act, he did so...slowly. "Nikolas," he asked, moving towards him where he stood at the bottom of the staircase, "what are you doing?"

"We're leaving," he said, shifting the duffel bag he carried to his other shoulder. He found himself unable to look Stefan in the eye so he looked past him, to the spot on the wall above the fireplace where a portrait of his mother once rested. He shook his head. He should have known then.

"Where are you going?" Stefan stammered, reaching out his hands, but not quite touching him. "In Dawn's condition-"

"Dawn's condition is no concern of yours," Nikolas told him. "She's my wife. I'll take care of her."

"B-but where?" Stefan asked again.

Nikolas shrugged. "I don't know. We're going into town."

"Why?" Stefan asked, his voice hoarse. "You don't have to leave. Neither of you-"

"I can't stay here anymore," Nikolas told him. "We can't stay here anymore."

"Why not?" Stefan asked, hoping that his questions would make his son see reason. "It's Christmas Eve. Don't leave. Don't uproot Dawn like this. This is your home-"

"This is not my home. This is a place I don't understand…somewhere I can't be right now. Dawn is my home. Not these walls…this place of deceit and confusion," Nikolas said, finally allowing his pain-filled eyes to rest upon Stefan's tortured green ones.

"But to leave…if I am the cause of your turmoil, I will go," Stefan offered. "I will leave you and Dawn, but Nikolas, you must reconsider-"

"Nikky, sweetheart, guess what happened…" Having heard their voices, Dawn entered the den with a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes, but both disappeared as she took note of the scene before her. Her eyes moved from Nikolas to Stefan and back to Nikolas again. "What's going on? Why do you have a bag? Where are you going?"

"We're going," Nikolas said, correcting her. He backed away from Stefan and moved to her side. He wanted to pull her into his arms and hold onto her for dear life, but he willed himself to remain strong. He couldn't allow himself to break down…not yet. "We're leaving."

Dawn grasped the hand that Nikolas held out to her. She was surprised by the grip of his fingers on hers, but she didn't let go of him. She returned the pressure, silently telling him that she would do what he wanted. Even though she didn't understand what was happening, she would follow him. Anywhere.

Carrie's maternal instincts demanded that she find answers for the questions that echoed in her mind. The look on Nikolas' face read total devastation, as did the look in Stefan's eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, to question Nikolas' decision to move his family-her pregnant daughter-on Christmas Eve, but before she could utter a word, Stefan moved past her to block the young couple's exit.

"Nikolas, please, listen to me," Stefan said, clasping his hands in an effort to keep from reaching out to the son who told him never to touch him again. "It's too dangerous. It's better if I go instead."

"No," Nikolas shook his head and his grip on Dawn's hand tightened. He moved to go past Stefan.

"Nikolas, please," Stefan implored. "There's something I must tell you."

Nikolas stiffened, but he didn't make another step. He was aware that Dawn's eyes were glued to him, but even more than that, he felt her love enveloping him, giving him strength, as he knew it would. She hadn't questioned or resisted his need for them to leave Wyndemere. He had believed that he couldn't love her more than he already had, but he was wrong. In that moment, her unshakeable trust in him went straight to his heart, and he knew that he loved her more than he had ever thought possible. He loosened his grip on Dawn's hand, and he turned around to face Stefan.

With his eyes glistening with unshed tears, Stefan's hands reached out to Nikolas. He gently cupped the younger man's face as he hoarsely whispered, "I love you. You are life to me…sun, moon, sea…blood and breath… I would ask you both," he looked from Nikolas to Dawn and back again, "not to leave. Please."

Dawn's lower lip quivered at Stefan's impassioned plea. She wanted to tell him that they wouldn't leave him. Not on Christmas Eve…not for any reason… But she could not. For so however much as she cared for Stefan…*loved* Stefan, her loyalty was to her husband. She had no idea what could have transpired between them in just a short number of hours that would make her husband want to spirit them away, but even in her ignorance of the facts, she held her tongue…and looked to Nikolas.

"I'm sorry, Uncle-" Nikolas shook his head loose from Stefan's trembling hands. He looked Stefan straight into his eyes as he said, "See. I don't even know who you are anymore. Not even your name."

Shaken to the core, Stefan stood still as Nikolas and Dawn moved past him. He would very well have remained in that position had it not been for Carrie. She went to him, placed her arms around his waist and led him to the sofa. They sat side by side for seconds…minutes…without speaking. Her hand closed over his as she waited for him to regain his composure. In time, he did.

"Carlotta, I-I…" he stammered, fumbling for the words. "Thank you."

She nodded in response. She had never seen him in such a state before. He was not an emotional man, but that was not to say he was impassive. He had feelings, a sensitivity that few were aware of. She was very happy to consider herself one of the few, but still…the sorrow and despair she saw in his eyes worried her. He never allowed himself to reveal too much, even when they made love she sensed a thin wall separating them. But, looking at him and clearly seeing the agony in his eyes…she *had* to know. What had come between him and Nikolas that would cause them to part ways? She needed to know. She had a right to know.

"Stefan," she began, her voice soft and gentle, "what happened?"

Stefan's throat constricted as he swallowed back the answer. He should have thought of Carlotta and what her reaction would be to knowing this truth. She had entrusted him with her deepest desires, her dreams, her body and many parts of her soul. He was certain that she had felt that he'd done the same with her, but he hadn't. Trust wasn't easy for him. He knew that she understood that. Their many conversations about Helena and his childhood had enlightened her to what made him the man he was, but this… Nikolas was his son, and although he felt just and right in keeping that secret to himself, he knew in his heart of hearts that she wouldn't see it that way. "Carlotta, I-I," he stammered, still unable to say the words.

His hesitation was so unlike him, and it didn't ring true to the man she knew him to be. Subconsciously, Carrie stiffened and held herself erect. She didn't remove her hand from Stefan's, but she pulled back a little…just a little. It was almost as if she knew that the next words he uttered would be ones that she wouldn't want to hear or believe.

"You will soon learn this and it would be better if you heard it from me," Stefan began. She shifted away from him a tiny bit more and he drew a long breath. He really should have prepared himself for this. He continued on, "Nikolas is not my nephew. He is my son."

"Your…son?" Carrie asked. He nodded in response and without being consciously aware, she withdrew her hand from his. "Is Laura his mother?"

Stefan nodded again. "Yes, she and I-"

"Produced a child and lied about it for over eighteen years," she said quietly as she slid away from him and rose from the sofa. She kept her back to him as she went to stand before the fireplace. Her hands clutched the mantle as her eyes drifted over the framed photographs of her daughter and his son as they rested on the mantle. His son. Dammit, Carrie! She'd been duped again. Would she ever learn, she wondered.

Sensing the growing chasm between them, Stefan rose and went to her. He stood just behind her as he said, "Carlotta, the circumstances warranted that I-"

"Lie," she finished for him, keeping her eyes on the pictures. One photograph stood out of all the others and she reached for it. In the photograph, Nikolas was a young boy, maybe seven or eight. Dressed in a stylish riding habit, he sat atop a horse, Sheba's predecessor, and beside him, dressed in black, stood Stefan. The hypocrisy of it all angered Carrie and grasping the frame in her hand, she spun around. "You lied to this precious boy all of his life! You made him think he was parentless and you were with him all the while! Stefan, how could you do that to him?"

"Carlotta, I had to!" he fiercely whispered. "You know of my mother. Had she known of his true paternity, she would have had him executed without a second thought. Of this, I am certain! I did what I thought was best and I shall not apologize for it!"

"Who’s asking you to?" she asked, her brown eyes ablaze with anger. "I'm not asking you to apologize for a damn thing! I'm asking you how you could have lied to him for so long. No." She shook her head as Stefan moved to come to her. "I lied. I care about Nikolas. I love Nikolas, and my heart goes out to him, but," she said softly and slowly, willing herself the courage to go on, "how could you have lied to me?"

"I did what I had to do," he said simply. He knew the words were insufficient as soon as he had uttered them, but there were no others that would have sufficed. She wanted something that he longed to give her, but he knew that he could not. Undiminished confidence was not something he could give to anyone. He wasn't sure if he ever could.

"That's your answer for everything, isn't it?" Carrie asked, her voice just above a whisper. "'I did what I had to do.' A nice little mantra you have there, Stefan. You know, all of this time I thought there was something between us, but there can't possibly be if you couldn't even trust me with this. I sensed that there was something more between you and Nikolas' mother and now I know why. Because there was! Or is? Is there still something between you, Stefan? Was I a divergence? A toy for you to use until she came back to you?"

"No!" he exclaimed. "Lasha has nothing to do with us-"

"Lasha," Carrie repeated. Salty tears stung her eyes and she furiously blinked them away. She would *not* cry! "One minute she's Laura and in the next, she's Lasha. Do you think I've never noticed the slip? Oh, God forgive me, because we shouldn't even be discussing this…me! I'm not important. What we *had* is not important. Nikolas is the one who's important-"

"Yes, he is," Stefan agreed, "but so are you. You're furious with me for keeping this from you, but Carlotta, this had nothing to do with Laura or our past. I remained quiet for Nikolas. Tell me you understand that!"

"I do," she said, choking back a sob, "but if you believe that your silence was only because of Nikolas then he's not the only one you've been lying to. You've been lying to yourself as well. I've got to go." She placed the photograph of Nikolas and Stefan back on the mantle and turned to leave.

"Carlotta, wait!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her back to him. Her eyes remained glued to a spot on the floor and Stefan gently cupped her face, lifting her head so that their eyes locked. In her eyes, he found the truth and he wondered why or how he had missed it. She loved him. Her eyes lowered to the space as if she knew that her own secret had been revealed, and overcome with countless emotions, he pulled her closer to him. He embraced her, and rocking her slowly, he said, "I do apologize for causing you distress. That was not my intention."

Carrie allowed herself to be enveloped by him for one moment longer. She took a deep breath, hoping that would lesson the tremors, which were sure to be in her voice, when she spoke to him again. When she was confident that she was ready, she pulled away from him. Her eyes went to his and quietly, she said, "I know." And, then she was gone.


"This is a nice suite, don't you think? Great view."

Dawn offered a faint smile at her husband's attempt at small talk. She rose from where she rested on the chaise and went to him. He stood in front of the large picture window looking down upon Port Charles' snowy Christmas Eve. He knew she was there beside him and without a word, he pulled her into his arms. Her arms wrapped around his waist, and resting her head on his shoulder she said, "Will you tell me what happened?"

"Yeah," he said. He pulled her closer to him and closed his eyes. "But not right now, okay? Just let me hold you, and maybe you can tell me why you were so happy when you first came back. And, then later, I'll be able to talk about it. Okay?"

"Okay," she said quietly. Her soft voice stroked him just as gently as her hands stoked his broad back. "I had my first fan encounter."

"Oh, yeah?" he asked. "How did it go? Were Arman and Serguei nearby?"

"They never let me out of their sight," she reassured him. "It was…weird. First this boy, he couldn't have been more than thirteen, approached me. He seemed kinda shy, but he came on over anyway. Before I knew it, a few other kids showed up. One of them offered to marry me if you, and I quote, 'ever started tripping.'"

"Oh, really?" He raised an eyebrow as her brown eyes sparkled back at him and a grin graced her beautiful face. "Well, I hope you told him that his offer was unnecessary. You and I will always be together."

"I told him."

"Good," he said with a smile. He took her hand and led her back to plush, ivory sofa. He sat first and then he pulled her into his lap. He needed to feel her close to him, all of him as he told her the latest tale in the Cassadine saga. After she was settled on top of him and their entwined hands rested protectively on their unborn child, he began to speak.

He tried to be emotionless as he spoke of what he had overheard on the dock, and for the most part, he was. The dam of emotions didn't break until he recounted his interchange with Stefan. Then as he told her how he felt, living a lie…unsure of who he was anymore…the dam broke and so did he.

"Oh, Nikky, I'm so sorry," Dawn cooed, holding him close to her. "I don't know what else to say. What can I say? What do you want me to do?"

"You're doing it, sweetheart. Just hold me, okay? And promise me that you'll never lie to me. Please, Dawn. Can you promise me that?" he asked, rubbing his eyes so that he could look her with eyes free from tears.

"I promise," she said. Dawn framed his face between her two hands. "I will never lie to you. I promise."

"Thank you." He took a deep breath, and smiling through his tears, he said, "I won't lie to you either. We love each other so there's no reason why he can't be honest, right?"

"Of course," she nodded. "I trust you, Nikky, and nothing is more important to me than you and our baby. I won't let anything ever come between us. You won't either."

He laughed softly at the fierceness of her tone. "Nope. I won't either, and now that we have that settled, I have another question for you."

"And I have an answer," she said with a bright smile.

"You always do," he teasingly reminded her with a light tap of his finger to the tip of her nose. He became serious and he took another deep breath. He hated to request this of her, but he had to. He couldn't think of any way around it. "Dawn, love, could we have tomorrow just for the two of us? Just you and me. No family and no friends. Please?"

"Nikky, tomorrow is Christmas. I know you're upset with Laura and Stefan right now and rightfully so, but are you sure you don't want to talk to them about this? Get it all out in the open. Christmas is a time of peace and joy, baby. Are you sure you don't want to resolve this with them?"

"I'm sure."

"But, baby, come on. What about Lesley Lu and your Grandmother Lesley? Don't you want to see them? And Mama, Dara and Alex…this is our first real Christmas, you know," she said, lightly caressing his face with her fingertips. He wanted to withdraw from her and her questions. She could feel it and she refused to let him. He wanted to bury himself away, and if she could help it, she wouldn't let him do that either.

"We can see them the day after Christmas," he said, lowering his eyes to where his hand still rested on her growing abdomen. "I just want it to be us. I know I'm being selfish, but please, can I be? Just this once?"

The plaintive note of his voice rendered her powerless. She couldn't refuse him this. "Okay. Tomorrow will be just you and me."

"Thanks," he said. He wanted to say more, but the words caught in his throat and the best he could do was whisper, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she whispered back, holding him to her once again.


"No, thank you, Mrs. Landsbury," Stefan offered her a smile that he didn't feel. "Please, take your leave and enjoy the holiday."

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Cassadine," she said before she left.

"Merry Christmas," came Stefan's hoarse reply unaware that she had left him.

Once alone, he rose from behind his massive desk to stand in the window. The snow was bountiful and beautiful. It appeared to be pure and perfect, but it was only a façade. Due to the present state of the environment, it was far from purity or perfection. It could prove fatal if ingested. Stefan shook his head at where his thoughts had taken him. Who gave a damn about snow? His son was gone from him and he had no way of knowing if he would ever have him back again. Damn the snow! He wanted his son back.

Stefan took a deep breath and closed his eyes to the snowy night. This Christmas had promised to be one of the most joyful he would have ever experienced. Nikolas and his new bride were happy and in love, and whether they knew it or not, their feelings always had a way of enveloping everyone around them. Dara, after many months of avoiding him, had willingly conversed with him at Thanksgiving, and at Christmas, he had hoped that their tentative association would improve. And, Carlotta. In the last few months, they had shared so much more than their bodies. Stupid fool, he berated himself. Perhaps he should have shared Nikolas' true paternity with her as well. Maybe if he had, he wouldn't have broken her heart and he wouldn't be left alone to ponder his decisions. He released a deep sigh. What a way to spend Christmas Eve.


Stefan stiffened at the sound of the soft, feminine voice. He told her not to come. Why hadn't she obeyed? He turned around to face her. "Laura."

"I know you asked me not to come, but I had to see you. I'm so sorry that Nikolas left. That wasn't what telling him was supposed to be about. It was supposed to draw us closer," she told him, taking tentative steps to him.

"I know, Laura," he said. He offered her a faint smile. He gestured for her to take a seat and after she had done so, he sat across from her in the opposite chair. "Who knew it would turn out like this?"

"I certainly didn't." She looked down at her hands. Her eyes drifted over the empty space where her wedding ring used to be. For a moment, she wondered if he had noticed. She quickly shook her head at her thoughts. She was surprised by her curiosity. Their time had passed and he had found what he needed with Nikolas' mother-in-law. How dare Laura consider him that way now? Besides, they had more important things to discuss than her meandering longings. "Do you know who told him?"

"Perhaps you should consult your husband-"

"Luke wouldn't tell him," she said, shaking her head. "Luke doesn't even know."

"Can you be certain?" Stefan asked. "Would you swear to it that he wouldn't relish in battering Nikolas further?"

"N-no," she stammered, unsure. "He and I are… Well, he wouldn't tell him."

"You don't sound convinced. Know this, Laura, if Spencer had a hand in this, he and I will have our day of reckoning. I bear no doubt that he would delight in informing Helena of this, and if he does, I will not rest until we settle our differences once and for all."

"Stefan, please," Laura said, sliding to the edge of her chair as she leaned towards him. "Luke isn't the man he used to be. I admit that he has no feeling for Nikolas, but he wouldn't tell him this. And, even if he did know, he wouldn't go to Helena. He just wouldn't!"

"You can believe that if you must, Lasha," Stefan told her softly, "but I have no such faith in your husband and what he would and would not do. I've learned that he thrives on his own ego and imagines himself to be unpredictable; therefore, one must expect the unexpected. And if he has any part in making Nikolas' paternity common knowledge, he *will* be dealt with."

[Author's note: Once again, *some* of the Nikolas/Stefan dialogue appeared on General Hospital, but not all of it. ] Chapter 108

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