"So, you will be back tomorrow, right?" Dawn asked, balancing the telephone between her shoulder and her ear. She stood in the partially decorated room of what would be her child's nursery. Her eyes narrowed as she compared Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and Paddington Bear. Which of the three deserved to be her baby's first playmate, she wondered.
"Well, it's not everyday that my youngest becomes a legal adult, young lady," Carrie told her across the telephone wire.
Dawn laughed softly. "So, is that a yes or what?"
"Don't get smart with me!" Carrie said, laughing. "Besides, I think your husband would never forgive me if I didn't show up."
"Show up?" Dawn asked, an inquisitive smile on her face. "Show up for what exactly?"
"None of your business. You'll find out soon enough. For someone who likes surprises, you sure can be a nosy somebody."
"Well…" Dawn laughed, knowing that she could not offer any kind of defense for herself. "I wouldn't have to be so nosy if people would give me a hint."
"Well, you'll get no hints from me."
"You're all in cahoots," Dawn mumbled, grinning. "So, is Simone okay with your leaving? If she needs you to stay longer, I understand."
"She's okay with it," Carrie replied. "She wishes that she could come back with me, but it's best that she stay out her for awhile. The sandy beaches and salty air are good for the soul."
"Yeah, I'm sure they are. So, are you coming back alone or is Tommy coming, too?" Dawn asked. Unable to make a decision on the stuffed animal dilemma, she moved to the rocking chair and sat down. Rocking gently back and forth, she waited for her mother to answer her.
"Ask him yourself," Carrie said. "Hold on."
A bright smile spread across Dawn's face as she listened closely as the telephone switched hands. As soon as she knew he was there, she said, "Hey, T-bird!"
Tommy laughed. "Hey, there, Mama Cassadine!"
Dawn responded with a laugh. "Not, yet, but soon." Her free hand patted her very round abdomen. In her third trimester, her pregnancy was very obvious. "So, are you coming with Mama? You know my birthday is tomorrow."
"As if I could forget," he said, with a smile. "By the way, I got your letter with the pictures. The house looks great. I can hardly wait to see it."
"Me, too," she told him. "We haven't had a housewarming party because we're waiting for you, so answer my question! Are you coming back?"
"Yes!" he said, laughing. "I will be there! Sheesh, woman!"
"Don't you start with that woman stuff," she said. "You mind your manners, mister!"
"Yeah, yeah," he said, laughing softly. "So, what's up with Nikolas? Is he there?"
"Blowing me off already? Dang, man, that's harsh!" She giggled softly as Tommy expelled a loud breath. "He's here, but he's in the shower. Do you need to talk to him? I can get him for you."
"No, that's okay. Just tell him hello for me and that I'll see you both tomorrow."
"Okay, I'll do that."
"See that you do," he told her, teasing her with the same bossy tone that she had just used with him. When she released a loud sigh into the receiver, he laughed and said, "I should go now. Do you want to talk to your mom again?"
"No, that's okay. Tell her that I said for her to hurry up and get her. Be sure to give my love to your mother, and I'll be sure to tell Gina the same for you," she said, with a smile.
"You'd better!" he told her. "Okay, this is it. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye."
"Bye." Dawn pushed the power button on the cordless phone and then rested her head against the back of the rocking chair. She let the phone slide from her hand to the carpeted floor as she closed her eyes. Her hands closed over her unborn child and she began to softly hum an old lullaby.
Fresh from his shower, Nikolas padded from the master bedroom to the nursery. The soft, melancholy sound of his wife's voice serenaded him as he crossed the hall and stood in the doorway of the nursery. The vigorous rubbing of his damp hair with the towel came to a stop as he looked at her. The overwhelming feelings of love, desire and tranquility quickly enveloped him as they always did whenever he was around her. A smile of contentment formed on his handsome face and he moved to close the distance that separated them. His footsteps carried him silently to her and when he reached her, he dropped the towel and knelt at her feet. His hands closed over her feet, gently massaging them as his eyes bore into her face, reveling in the peaceful smile that brought an abrupt ending to her song.
"What are you doing?" she asked, opening her eyes. She flexed her feet in the palm of his hands, silently begging him for more, even as her words teasingly questioned his actions.
"Giving you what the doctor ordered," he said, his voice somewhat husky. "She said more massages, so here I am…doing my husbandly and fatherly duties."
"But I thought you were planning to hire a masseuse for me. Sven was his name, right?" she asked, giggly softly as Nikolas playfully glared at her.
"Yeah, I got your Sven," he said, laughing softly as her eyes widened in surprised.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk! The things you say, Nikolas Cassadine. There shall be no usage of slang in this house," she told him, wagging her finger at him in mock disapproval.
He shook his head. Grinning at her, he asked, "Why are you playa hating, baby? This isn't a castle. This is an old farmhouse."
"'Playa hating'?" she asked, laughing. She cupped his face between her two hands and leaned towards him—as much as she could—to plant a soft kiss onto his full lips. She quickly pulled away as he parted his lips in a move to deepen the kiss. "Nikky, that does it," she said with a teasing smile, "no more boys' nights out for you…accusing me of playa hating…the nerve!"
Nikolas shook his head and lowered his eyes in mock sadness. The movement of his massaging hands as they roamed upwards from her feet to her calves nearly gave away his intentions. Leaning towards her, he raised his smoldering dark, brown eyes to hers. With a low, husky voice, he whispered, "Well, I guess punishment is in order then, isn't it, Mrs. Cassadine?"
A deep breath was the only thing that Dawn could manage before Nikolas released one calf to cup the back of her head, bringing her lips to his. His mouth was soft and teasing on hers and then sensuously demanding as he parted her lips and moved inside. His probing tongue sought and soon found hers. A low moan sounded deep in Dawn's throat and without her permission, her hands lost themselves in the silkiness of his dark, brown hair. Feeling more encouraged than he had in weeks, Nikolas emitted a low growl of his own. He wanted to feel her close against him, but the cumbersome rocking chair prevented him. Careful of tipping the chair too much, Nikolas removed his massaging hand from her supple leg to rest the heel of his hand on the wooden seat of the chair, raising himself up so that he could be closer to her. With his mouth still on hers and reeling in her response to him, he lowered his other hand from the back of her head to move slowly down her body until it slipped between the folds of her pajama top and gently cupped one full breast. His hand quickly received a response for his efforts and his burning need for her grew even more.
In the back of her mind, Dawn's head warned her that she should pull away before it was too late, but her body… Her body disagreed. Tingles erupted up and down her spine as his thumb rolled across her hardening peak. She grew hot and her heart raced. She wanted him so badly and it had been so long… She came so close to forgetting why it had been so long since they'd made love, but as his hand moved from her breast to dip lower, she quickly remembered. Ending the kiss, she pulled away and began to readjust her clothing. She averted her eyes as she made certain that each button was secure.
Nikolas watched her in stunned silence. He had been certain that this time the needs he knew that they both shared would be met. He couldn't believe that she'd done it to them again. He didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. He did neither. Instead, he covered her hands with his and stilled their restless movement. "Dawn…"
"Nikolas, don't," Dawn said before he could say more than her name. "I'm tired and I-"
"No, you're not," he told her. He raised one hand to gently lift her chin so that her eyes met his. "You didn't stop this because you're tired. We haven't made love in a while, and I need to know why. So, please tell me. What's going on?"
"There's nothing going on," she denied. "Do you mind? I want to get up. The chair is bothering my back."
Nikolas shook his head, but he did as she asked. He rose to his feet and extended a hand to help her to hers. She took it, and to his surprise, didn't release it upon standing. He laced his fingers with hers and allowed her to lead them from their child's nursery to their bedroom. The large queen-size four-poster bed mocked him, Nikolas thought as they entered the bedroom. He wasn't the least bit surprised when Dawn bypassed the bed, but where she led them wasn't what he had expected.
Dawn's eyes met Nikolas' as their reflections stared back at them. She took a deep breath to ready herself. This time he came outright and asked, and this time, she would be honest with him. Taking another deep breath for courage, she continued to hold her eyes with his and said, "I-I…well, I'm… Nikky, look at me!" she exclaimed when she found that she couldn't say what bothered her. "I'm not the same! I'm so…I'm…well, I'm huge!" Her lower lip quivered and within seconds, she burst into tears.
Nikolas simply stared at her as she buried her face inside her hands until common sense took over and he pulled her into his arms. She began to sob even more as his arms closed around her, but he didn't release her. Rubbing his hands on her back, he said, "Love, you're not huge-"
"Don't lie," she sputtered in between her sobs. "I-I know I am. I see myself. And, th-the guys…"
"The guys did what?" Nikolas asked, his voice becoming stronger as she surrendered to more tears. "Sweetheart, what did those idiots do?"
"Th-they called me Theodore!" she said, as her tears soaked his T-shirt.
"Theodore?" he asked, confused. "Who? Theodore Roosevelt? They called you a Rough Rider?"
"No, Nikky," she said, still crying. "Theodore! Of The Chipmunks! You know, Alvin, Simon and Theodore!"
"But, that's not so bad, sweetheart," Nikolas said, softly. "Chipmunks are cute, right?"
"Yeah, but…" she paused in her sea of tears to lean away from his chest to look at him. "I don't want to be compared to one! Or be told that I look like one! Yeah, look at me. I have cheeks like a chipmunk a-and Theodore's the heaviest one! Sly and Jordan were telling me that I was fat!"
Nikolas would regret it later, but at that moment, he couldn't resist. He laughed. The look of sadness and humiliation in her big, brown eyes just before another outbreak of tears closed them off from him quickly sobered him. When she pushed away from him and wandered to her side of the bed, he followed her. His eyes were apologetic and filled with love as he said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. It just slipped out."
"It's okay," Dawn sniffled, gently lowering her seven-month pregnant frame down onto the bed. "You think I'm fat, too. I knew you'd think so, too-"
"What?" he asked, incredulous. "I don't think you're fat. Sweetheart, you're pregnant! Of course, you're bigger."
"Nikolas Cassadine, don't patronize me!" she told him, wiping at her eyes. She took the Kleenex he offered her and pressed it against her face. Fresh tears began to flow as she said, "I know I'm pregnant!"
Again, Nikolas stared at his sobbing wife. He watched her as she pulled her legs onto the bed and continued to sob into her now thoroughly soaked tissue. He grabbed the box of tissues from the nightstand and crawled onto the bed, sitting next to her. Gently, he removed the tattered Kleenex from her hands. He then began to dab at her face with a fresh tissue. Soon her tears subsided and he again he pulled her into his arms. Choosing his words carefully, he said, "I'm about to say something that you might not want to hear, but promise me you'll hear me out. Promise?"
"Okay." She said, nodding her head against his strong chest. "I promise."
"Dawn Elyse Jensen-Cassadine, I think you're beautiful. In fact," he said, resting his chin on top of her head, "I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. And, my love, there's more. I think you're sexy, too."
"I used to be," she mumbled.
"No, you still are," he said, softly. "I find you irresistible, and I want to show you how much. I just wish you'd let me."
As Nikolas moved to kiss her, Dawn drew away from him and shook her head. "I can't. I don't feel irresistible or beautiful or sexy. I don't even understand how you could want me. My cheeks are round, my ankles are swollen and my butt… I don't even want to talk about that."
Nikolas smiled at her. "Your cheeks have always been round. Your ankles are swollen and I don't care. And, your butt…" With a seductive grin, he lowered his hand to firmly caress her backside. His voice became husky as he said, "I love your butt, so no bad-mouthing it, do you hear me?"
"I hear you," she said, grudgingly. "Nikky, I want to believe you, but being serenaded with "The Chipmunk Song" only reaffirms what I see in the mirror. I'm seven months pregnant and I've gained major poundage. It doesn't make me feel sexy. It makes me feel fat, and I can't be intimate while feeling this way."
"No, I'm not!" Dawn fired back with a frown.
"Yes, you are!" he told her, "And a few minutes ago, your actions belied your words. You kissed me back, Mrs. Cassadine, and I know that you meant it. I also know that you wanted me. You wanted to be intimate with me. You wanted to make love. Go ahead, deny it. I want to see you try."
"Well, I did, but-"
"No, buts," he said, firmly. "Got it?"
Smiling, she nodded. "I got it. I just don't want you to be disappointed."
"My sweet love," he said, as his hand gently caressed her face, "you could never disappoint me. I love you, and I would love to show you if you'd let me."
"Oh, Nikky," she whispered in a soft voice, "I love you so much."
"And, I love you right back. Now, quit your stalling, woman. Let me love you."
"You can love me, but later, we're having a discussion about this 'woman' stuff."
"Agreed," he said with a grin. Then he covered her mouth with his, kissing her remaining doubts away to oblivion.
The soft note, which wasn't even a word, spoke volumes. Nikolas obviously had something on his mind, Dawn thought. The pale moonlight that managed to stream through the lacy, lavender curtains was just enough for her to make out the smile on his glowing face. As their heads rested on their pillows and they stared face to face at each other, Nikolas' smile grew and Dawn couldn't resist not knowing what was going inside his head. "Okay, I'll bite," she said, smiling at him in return. "What's on your mind?"
Nikolas shrugged. He toyed with the idea of teasing her, by not answering her question, but he pushed the thought aside. He would tell her. "I love it when I'm right."
"Right about what?" she asked, playfully narrowing her eyes at him.
"Us," he said. Nikolas leaned towards her and reinforced his words with action. When his lips finally moved away from hers, both were at a loss for words. In the darkness of their bedroom, Nikolas wrapped his arms around his wife's shoulders and pulled her closer to him. His hand rested on her distended abdomen, lightly caressing her and their unborn child.
Dawn's head rested comfortably on Nikolas' chest. A sleepy smile of satisfaction and happiness was on her lips. He had been right, and she was glad that in the end, she had listened to him. In the last few weeks, their relationship had become a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Their love for each other had never wavered, but a chasm had slowly began to form between them. The lack of intimacy hadn't helped them any as instead of discussing what truly bothered them, they had focused on finding and decorating their new home. Their unborn child's gentle movement caused them both to laugh softly and encouraged Dawn to add a brick to the bridge that would close the distance between them. "Someone's feisty tonight."
"Like father, like child," Nikolas said, softly in a voice filled with pride.
"And, speaking of fathers-"
"Sweetheart, please," Nikolas said, bristling slightly, "don't, not now. Let's just lay here and enjoy this."
Dawn became quiet. She wanted to enjoy the closeness that continued to linger between them as much as he did, but her thoughts nagged at her. She had something on her mind, and she wanted to get it out there and over with. But, she didn't know how to do that without hurting him…or them. Again, as she had so many times before, she considered just dropping it. She could continue as she had before…visiting Stefan and remaining a part of his life while pretending that Nikolas' refusal to see him or even discuss him didn't bother her. But, she couldn't. Their recent visit with Dr. Newman produced the first picture of their child and she wanted to share it with Stefan. She wanted both of them to share it with him. Raising her head from his chest so that their eyes met, Dawn spoke again. "I want Stefan to see the sonogram."
"Fine. Show it to him." In a move to show her that he was done with the conversation, Nikolas closed his eyes.
Refusing to be put off by his response, she continued. "I want us both to do it."
Nikolas shook his head. "No, you can do it just fine without me."
"But, I'm not going to," she told him in an even tone. "You're gonna do it with me. We will give him a framed copy of it together."
"No, we won't," Nikolas denied. "I haven't tried to prevent you from seeing him and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't try to force me-"
"I'm not forcing you. I'm trying to help you!"
"Help me?" Nikolas asked, opening his eyes. "How? Giving the man who's lied to me my entire life a framed copy of our baby's sonogram is supposed to help me? Sweetheart, I know you mean well, but I think you should get some rest now-"
"I don't want to rest. I want this out and over with. I'm tired of watching you hurt yourself-"
"I'm not hurting myself-"
"Yes, you are," she said, pulling herself into a sitting position. She turned on their bedside lamp and then looked down at him. His arms were now folded across his bare chest and his eyes stared straight ahead. She thought he resembled a spoiled child and the words were out there before she could stop them. "You're hurting yourself and you're acting like a spoiled brat!"
"What?" he asked, angrily. He sat up in bed as he faced her. "I'm not spoiled!"
"I didn't say you were, but you're certainly acting like it! You sulk and you pout and you clam up! And, you continue to refuse to talk about him or Laura or any of it!"
"Well, tell me just exactly how I'm supposed to act!" he said, his brown eyes flashing. "What's the proper behavior for finding out the person you trust the most in the world is the same person who lied to you your entire life? What am I supposed to do, Dawn? Thank Stefan for turning me into a thief? For making me steal from my own family? For making me believe my father was dead? He had me believe in a lie my entire life! My entire existence has been a lie and I'm supposed to just forgive him for it in a blink of an eye. Just happily skip over to Wyndemere for tea and scones and present him with our baby's first picture as if nothing ever happened? Well, I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I don't think so."
Spent, Nikolas drew a long breath and turned away from her. Leaning forward, he buried his face in his hands. He could feel Dawn's eyes staring at him. He didn't know what to expect next from her. He hoped for a little sympathy, but he wasn't sure if that was forthcoming. He drew in another long breath as he waited for whatever was next.
"Unbelievable," she muttered, shaking her head.
"What is?" he asked, knowing that sympathy was the farthest thing on her mind.
"How you take him for granted."
"What?!" he asked, raising his head to look at her.
"You do," she said, staring him. "I never noticed it before, but…you do."
He released a humorless laugh as he rose from the bed. He retrieved his black robe from where it fallen on the floor during their lovemaking and quickly put it on. Tying the robe closed, he looked at her. "After all of this time…the master manipulator has gotten to you, too. That's it, no more meetings with him. I won't have him turn you against me."
"Whatever," she said, dismissing him. She readjusted the pillows and pressed her back them. She watched him as he padded to the window and stared out at the midnight blue sky. She took a deep breath and said, "He's not manipulating me, and he's never tried to turn me against you. Nikky, he loves you. He truly does, and I wish that for your sake, you'd stop taking his love for granted. What he did, he did because he loves you-"
"Because he wanted to control me," he corrected her. "Me and the fortune…the legacy…That's all he's ever talked about and that’s what's mattered most."
"You know that's not true. He loves you, and you know it. If you really believe that he doesn’t, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me. Can you do that?"
Nikolas' back remain rigid and he didn't move to face her. He knew that her words were true and that he could not dispute them. But still, he remained angry and didn't speak.
"You can't," she said. "You can't because you know that Stefan does love you. You know that he's always loved you. I think it's awful that all the time he was loving you that you didn't know the truth…that he was your father… But at the same time, it makes me so angry that you had his love and you act as if it doesn’t matter…that his loving you is of no consequence. You brush it aside as if it's a minor detail that can be ignored. And, in all honesty, I can't understand how you can do that. I look at you and at Stefan and I-I…" Her voice became hoarse and she swallowed hard in an effort to continue. When she spoke again, her words were soft and just barely audible. "And, I think about me and my father. He never loved me. He's never looked at me the way Stefan looks at you, and I wonder what it would feel like for me to know that he loves me the way that Stefan loves you…to see him look at me the way Stefan looks at you and to know…"
The words were spoken softly, but they managed to go straight to Nikolas' heart all the same. He left the window to return to his wife's side. He sat, facing her, and as she cried, he pulled her into his arms. "I'm sorry about Robert," he whispered softly. "I'm sorry that he doesn't realize what so many of us know. But, sweetheart, what's happened between Stefan and me is not the same-"
"It's not the situation that matters, it's the love," she said, lifting her head to look at him. "Whether Stefan was right or wrong…in the end, it doesn't matter. Love is what matters. Baby, why can't you see that? Stefan is not perfect. He's made a lot of mistakes, but he's done a lot of things right, too. Don't turn your back on him or take what he freely gives you for granted."
"You want me to forgive him. I would do anything in this world for you and you know that, but I can't find it in my heart to forgive him for the lies. Please, sweetheart, tell me that you understand that." He tenderly cupped her face, looking into her eyes.
"I do. I understand, but…"
"But, what?" he asked, gently. "What do you want me to do? Other than forgive him, what would you ask of me?"
"I ask you to let him share whatever you have planned for my birthday with us."
Nikolas smiled. "What makes you think I have anything planned? By the way, when is it again?"
"I know there's something going on," she said, laughing as she answered him. "I don't know what exactly, but I know. So, what do you say? Will you give that to me as an extra special gift in addition to whatever else you intend to give me?"
"I can give that to you," he said, kissing her nose before holding her close to him again. "I'll speak with him tomorrow. How's that?"
"That's perfect," she said, smiling as she closed her eyes. "Thank you, Nikky."
Holding her close to him, Nikolas remained quiet. Later, as she lay asleep safe within the circle of his arms, he thought about her heartfelt admission. He was upset with himself for failing to realize how deeply his relationship with Stefan had affected her. Now, that he knew, he would try to find a way to share a piece of his life with Stefan. He didn't know how or even if he'd be successful, but for the woman he held in his arms, he certainly would try.
Go to Chapter 121, Part 1.