"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Dara smiled in reply to Alex's warm voice. She hadn't intended to voice her thoughts, but the word had slipped out without her permission. Like Alex, she saw the beauty in their surroundings, but she also noted the mystery, too. Some of it was scary, but mostly it was sad. Very sad.
Alex's large sun-browned hand closed over Dara's much smaller one. With their fingers linked, they walked down the beaten path towards the secluded gardens. His voice was soft as he said, "You're quiet this morning. What's going on?"
She shrugged. "Not much. Just thinking and hoping…the same as always." A frown creased Alex's brow, and she brought his hand to her lips, giving him a soft kiss. "I'm as okay as I can be. Did you and Stefan find out anything new?"
"Not really," Alex told her. "Our suspicions were proven correct. Nothing earth shattering, just that Spiros is a liar."
"Come again?" She tugged on his hand, stopping him as he moved deeper inside the maze of shrubbery and fragrant blossoms. "What is this about Spiros? I didn't know you and Stefan doubted him."
Alex changed course. Taking the lead, he led them out of the maze and towards the opposite end of the garden. A stone bench awaited them and there they sat. Once settled and with his arm around her, he said, "When that last lead didn't pan out, we became suspicious. We didn't say anything because… Well, you and Carrie can be quite vocal, and Nikolas and Tommy… Well, they can be lethal…"
"Vocal, huh?" Dara rolled her eyes. "Okay, I'll give you that and I second the sentiment for the guys. So, what happened? Is he working with that witch?"
"Yeah, and it's worse than that. He's bedding her, too."
"Eww." Dara turned up her nose in disgust.
"That goes double for me. Anyway, our trip to Karpathos proved informative. A few of the locals, who consider Stefan as the 'good' Cassadine, finally broke their silence. Yargo, an old fisherman, told us that he saw Spiros and Helena together. And, even though Helena and Stefan's relationship is legendary around here, he didn't make much of her spending time with Stefan's pal until he heard about Dawn's disappearance. He didn't really put it together until Valeria mentioned that Spiros was working really hard to find Nikolas' wife."
"How did Stefan take it?" Dara asked softly.
Alex looked at her in surprise. She cared. He didn't comment on her changing feelings about Stefan, but he did answer her question. "If he was surprised or hurt by it, I didn't notice. He didn't really give anything away until Nikolas and Tommy nearly ran us down."
"When did this happen?" she questioned. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Alex released a deep sigh. "It happened last night in Athens-"
"You went to Athens? One of you could have called and let us know-"
"Mi vida, there was no time," Alex said, placating her with the warmth in his voice and eyes. "We came back here to confront him and when he came tearing out of the HQ on the second floor, we thought the guys had figured him out, too. When they didn't go after him, we decided to follow him. He jumped around a lot and he led us to Athens-"
"What about Nikolas and Tommy? Where do they come in?"
Alex raised an eyebrow. "I'm getting to that. The guys became suspicious of him, too, and followed us as we followed him. We sensed them, and because we thought Spiros was on to us, we set them up. Those two were a hare's breath away from receiving some serious bodily harm."
"So, where's Spiros? Is he locked away here someplace?"
"He got away." Dara's mouth opened with more questions, and Alex quickly added, "But don't worry. Nikolas and Tommy are right behind him."
"But, they're boys." Her concern for them softened her voice and made her stare at Alex. She clutched his hand. "What if Spiros panics and goes after them?"
"Love, they're not boys. I don't think either of them even remembers what that feels like. They'll be okay. I think Spiros is this one who'll be in danger if they catch up with him. I wasn’t kidding when I said those two were lethal."
Dara rose from the bench. Her hands pulled on Alex until he stood, too. "Well, we can't let them have all the fun. I want a piece of Spiros, too."
"So, you're lethal as well as vocal?" Alex walked with his arm around her waist. Their footsteps were hurried as they went back to the main house. "Is that what you're telling me?"
"You'd better believe it, baby. Spiros fooled us and led us on more than a few wild goose chases. I think that entitles him to experiencing the true Dara Jensen."
Sleep had eluded her and now, the sun's first rays of light streamed through the thick, dark curtains, telling Carrie that her chance for slumber was now a thing of the past. She covered her mouth as a yawn overtook her and she snuggled closer to Stefan. Thoughts of him and his conception had prompted her insomnia, and even hours later, she still hadn't a clue as to what she should do. She trembled as she imagined his reaction. She tightened her hold on him.
"Carlotta?" he sleepily murmured. "What's wrong?"
"Ssh. Go back to sleep," she whispered as she placed a light kiss on his bare chest.
"No more sleep," he said, becoming fully awake as her lips brushed across his flesh. He shifted in the bed until their eyes were level. "You haven't slept. Believe me. I speak the truth when I say that we are much closer to finding her than we were before. Your sleepless nights will soon be a thing of the past."
She smiled as Stefan brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. Leaning against his hand, she said, "What did you find?"
"A truth that I had suspected, but didn’t want to believe."
Sadness clouded her brown eyes and caused her throat to constrict. "What truth was that?"
"I had been deceived."
"Who?" Carrie asked. She sat up in bed as Stefan stood. Her eyes remained on him as he covered his naked body with his trademark black robe. His hands trembled slightly as he tied the robe, and she asked, "Was it Spiros?"
"Ah," he said with a self-deprecating smile. "Everyone questioned his loyalty save for me. I should have been more attentive."
Carrie rose from the bed and went to him. Her hands covered his, calming them and ending their barely noticeable movement. "No, Stefan. Spiros' actions are his burden to bear. Not yours. Don't punish yourself for trusting in his friendship. And, don't think that I questioned his loyalty to you. I never did. We trusted him because he wanted us, too. So, don't even think about blaming yourself because I won't let you."
He raised an eyebrow. "You won't let me? So, Carlotta Jensen has made her announcement, and I must accept it. No questions asked."
"You're exactly right. You are not to question my authority on this. Just tell me what happens next. Is he here? And when will I have my five minutes alone with him?" Steely determination shone in her eyes. Spiros compromised her daughter's safety and she would make sure that he was punished. First by her, and then…if there was anything left…by the rest of her family.
"He isn't here. He's escaped capture and now, Nikolas and Tommy are following him." He kissed her cheek and went into the adjoining bathroom. Carrie allowed him a few moments of privacy, and after the toilet flushed, she went after him.
"When did this happen? Why did you let them go alone? We should have gone with them," she told him as she watched him brushed his teeth.
Stefan wiped his mouth with the corners of his hand towel before answering her. "We discovered his deception yesterday. While following him, Alex and I discovered Nikolas and Tommy doing the same. Alex and I had misgivings about leaving you and Dara here alone; Nikolas and Tommy were determined to follow Spiros with or without us. So, we compromised. And, now, as soon as we're ready, we will board a jet and follow both back to the States."
"So, Dawn never left the country?" Carrie asked softly after digesting Stefan's explanation.
"I can't say with any certainty, but I think not." He swallowed hard as tears wet her eyes. "I wish there was something I can say or something I could do that would turn back the hands of time-"
She blinked back her tears of frustration and opened her mouth to respond. The compassion she saw in his emerald eyes prevented her from making a sound. She burst into tears and he pulled her roughly against his chest. "I d-don’t bl-blame you. You must know that, but so much time, Stefan… So much time has passed and she could be anywhere… What if she thinks that we're not looking for her? What if she's crying out for me? Oh, God, Stefan-"
Sudden, violent sobs rocked her. Stefan's arms held her close to him. His tears streamed down his cheeks, but he didn't move to brush them aside. He held on to her. His low, gravely voice whispered against her ear. "She knows that we would never stop looking for her. Dawn knows that we love her, and that all of us would fight to the death to bring her back safe and sound. She knows that. I assure you that she does."
"I know," she choked out through broken sobs. "It's just that..." She pulled away from him and slowly began to pull herself together. She went through the motions of preparing a bath as she collected her thoughts. She was grateful that Stefan was a patient man and gave her the silence she needed to get herself together. With the water running in the background, she said, "Your mother is one, sick and twisted bitch. I'm sorry, but I just had to say that."
"No apologies necessary. I agree." Stefan rested his backside against the sink as he watched her pour a fragrant bath gel into the water. Her graceful movements brought a faint smile to his face, and he wondered if she would object if he invited himself to join her.
Carrie's anger with his mother lessened with one glance at the smile on his face. "I know what you're thinking."
"Who? Me?" he asked, feigning innocence with a sensual smile. "My thoughts are consumed with you."
"Smart man," she murmured. She reached past him for her brush. Her hair was quickly swept into a makeshift French Roll with a few wayward tendrils breaking free to frame her face. Turning her back on him, she disrobed and stepped into the bathtub and sat down. Smiling at him, she beckoned with her forefinger for him to join her. He didn't have to be told twice.
Stefan welcomed the time to hold Carrie close to him for a few moments more before they began the search again. Thoughts of loving her with his body drifted in and out of his consciousness until he forced them out completely. The time for lovemaking would be later. The time for comfort and compassion was now. He moved around the large tub until he was behind her. Pulling her against his taut chest, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "Tell me what stole your slumber. Sometimes talking helps."
Carrie laughed softly to mask her discomfort. She arched an eyebrow as she looked over her shoulder at him. "You are telling me that talking helps? The man who gives the saying that silence is a golden a whole new meaning? Are you my Stefan or are you an imposter?"
"I am yours, Carlotta." His fingers trailed her jaw line as his eyes held hers. "And, I'm your faithful pupil who has learned the power of communication, so talk to me. Tell me what troubles you."
"I…I…" Carrie took a deep breath. His eyes mesmerized her and nearly had her convinced. She turned away from their hypnotic charms and rested her back against his chest again. She closed her eyes as she searched for a resolution. She didn't want to tell him what she'd found, but she didn't want there to be any dishonesty between them. She had made that demand on him when they resumed their relationship, and she expected no less for herself. But, where was the happy medium? How could she tell him what she'd found?
"Carlotta?" he asked, becoming concerned when the silence lingered. "What is it?"
"I-I," she faltered. She took a deep breath and then prayed that one day he would forgive her. "It's nothing," she said, having quickly made her decision. "I'm just worried about Dawn and the baby. Her due date is very soon. I'm just hoping that we'll get to her in time."
"We will." He tenderly brushed his lips against her cheek. "We'll get to her in plenty of time."
Clouds reminded him of her.
Nikolas' tired and weary eyes stared out of the jet's window and watched as they moved over, around and through the snow-white clouds. A faint smile came to his full lips as he thought of the first time he introduced Dawn to The Aphrodite. She had stared in awe at his little boat and her squeals of delight when he allowed her to man the controls had rung in his ears. Later, while lying safe within the circle of his arms, she had told him about clouds. She had said that the clouds had faces and that each face had a story. Before discovering music, clouds had been her means of escape from the disappointment she saw in her father's eyes. She'd grab her things and find sanctuary in their backyard. Her favorite tree would shade her from the sun and through the green leaves, the clouds would drift by. Making up stories for the soft, cottony faces that floated by would distance her from whatever had driven her from her house that time. Nestling closer against him, she had demonstrated her skill at storytelling, and fascinated, Nikolas had listened.
The memory of that summer afternoon shook Nikolas and he released a long, shuddering breath. He lowered the shade and faced forward on the sofa. In the dark cabin of the jet, he could see that his close friend was no longer asleep. Tommy's eyes watched him, and a with clenched jaw, Nikolas waited for the lecture.
"Did you sleep?" Tommy asked. His still lay prone on the opposite sofa. With a pillow still underneath his head, he rolled over onto his side as he waited for Nikolas' reply.
"No." Nikolas shook his head. Subconsciously, his fingers twirled his wedding band around his finger.
"Well, go to sleep," Tommy softly commanded.
Nikolas sighed. "You make it sound so easy, but it's not."
"Why not?" Tommy asked, concerned. "Why isn't it easy?"
"Because…" Nikolas drew a long breath. His balled up fists rubbed his eyes furiously. In a husky voice, he said, "I dream of her. I see her when I'm awake, but when I sleep… All I do is dream about her."
Afraid of prodding too much, Tommy measured his words. Slowly, he asked, "Are they bad dreams? Nightmares?"
Nikolas opened his eyes and looked down at the floor. "No, they're not bad."
"So what's the problem?" Tommy asked, moving so that he now rested on his forearm and elbow.
"I don't know." Nikolas looked at Tommy. His friend looked at him with concern and worry strong in his green eyes.
Tommy lowered himself back down onto the sofa. He covered his hand with his mouth as a yawn escaped his lips. With an encouraging smile, he said, "Go to her, man. Go to sleep and go to her. Don't punish yourself for dreaming about her. Hold her in your dreams until we find her and you can hold her for real."
A yawn forced itself past Nikolas' lips and he covered his mouth, too. He shifted on the sofa until he was on his back, too. Sleepily, he said, "You think you're so smart."
"That's cause I am," Tommy said with a sleepy grin. "Now, go to sleep. We might need to whup some ass wherever we land, and sleep just may be our secret weapon."
"Yeah, yeah," Nikolas mumbled with a smile. His eyes closed eyes and soon, he slept. And dreamed of her.
"I've been waiting for you." Dawn's soft voice held no malice or accusation. A loving smile brought a warm glow to her eyes and face. Her hands reached out to him and held on tightly when he placed his hands in hers.
"I'm sorry I was late," Nikolas said softly. He drew her into his arms and his chin rested against her forehead. "I was afraid to come."
"I know. I was afraid, too," she whispered. "It was so dark and scary. The woods closed around me, and nothing was as it should be. We weren't together."
Her remembered fear caused her to tremble in his arms. Nikolas' hands roamed over her back and arms, trying to reassure her that everything would be as it should…soon.
His touch calmed her and left a side effect, too. She wanted him. She lifted her head and looked deeply into his eyes. She discovered that he longed for her, too. Her lips parted in anticipation of his kiss. He closed his mouth over hers. And, this time, her body trembled with desire and not fear. Her mouth opened underneath his and he took full advantage of her offering.
Their kiss took them on a journey. It reconnected them, and their souls once again became one. Slowly, the space between their lips widened until they were no longer physically touching. But emotionally, their bond had become stronger and invincible.
Nikolas took Dawn's hand and led her away from the darkness. A warm, bright sun beckoned to them and they went to it. With the darkness behind them, they found themselves on an expansive sandy beach. Salty air filled their lungs and dark blue waves appealed to their brown eyes. The view was spectacular.
"Where are we?" he asked, looking down into her eyes. "What is this place?"
"We're on an island somewhere," Dawn answered him. "I'm not allowed to go too far from…there." She kept her eyes on him as she pointed to where they had just come from.
He took her hand that pointed behind them. He looked down at their joined hands. He smiled as he noticed her large abdomen. Nikolas knelt before her and placed his hands and face against her swollen mid-section. "I've missed you, too," he whispered, as he planted a kiss on her roundness.
Dawn threaded her fingers in his dark, silky brown hair. She pressed him closer to her and their unborn child. "Oh, Nikky, we miss you so much. We're losing hope without you."
"No." Nikolas rose to his feet. He cupped her face and said, "You mustn't. Hold on and don't lose hope."
"I don't want to, but the baby…" Her voice disappeared to silence as tears sprang to her eyes. "I'm trying to hold on, but something is wrong and I don't know what it is. I'm trying so hard, Nikky."
"What's wrong, sweetheart? Is it the baby? Is something wrong with our baby?" he asked. Fear made his voice harsh, but the love in his eyes told her that he placed no blame on her.
"The baby doesn't move as much anymore," she told him. "I-I don't know why. I can't l-lose our b-baby."
He crushed her to him as sobs wracked her body. "You won't. I'm coming back to you. I'm only a moment away, I promise. We won't lose the baby. We won't." His vow was made, but he needed a promise from her. He moved so that their eyes were once again locked on each other. "Do you still believe in me?"
"I never stopped." She cupped his face between her two slender hands. Her thumb lightly ran across his full lips. She smiled through her tears. "I love you, Nikolas Cassadine, forever and always."
"I love you, Dawn Cassadine, and soon, my darling, we'll be together again. All three of us."
Dawn murmured softly in her sleep. A peaceful smile was on her lips as she clearly and sleepily whispered his brother's name. Lucky released a deep sigh and turned over on his side to get a better look at her. The night before, he had come back to her as he had promised. He had been all set to place his blankets and pillows on the floor as his makeshift bed. She had told him that her king-size bed would give both of them plenty of room. With a shrug and deeply hidden emotion, he had crawled in beside her.
They had talked deep into the night. Lucky guessed that Dawn's constant chatter had been due to her fear of what lay in wait for in her dreams. He hadn't commented on her hesitation, but instead, he asked her to tell him about her dreams. Since both of them had read C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, they had discussed her dreams in terms of the series. Understanding dawned in both of their eyes as they realized that Helena represented the White Witch. Suddenly tired, Dawn had said that she'd be glad when Aslan showed up and then she drifted off to sleep. Lucky had lain awake for a little while longer, wanting to make sure that Dawn was asleep before he made his move.
Quietly, he had tip toed out of her room and then out of the house. The dark night had shielded him, and he had moved with confidence. His earlier talk with his father had almost reminded him of the man he once knew and trusted with his whole heart. But, later, he began to question the things he had chosen to ignore at that moment in time. The coldness in Luke's voice and the distance in his eyes were hard to forget, and Lucky had tried very hard to forget. But as he and Dawn discussed the land of Narnia and its inhabitants, he couldn't help but remember that the White Witch hadn't acted alone. She'd had quite a few helpers all over that forest. The faun had befriended the young heroine with the intention of turning her over to the witch. A change of heart had saved her and he had sent her home. Later, Turkish Delight had been used to control the heroine's older brother and had enslaved him to the witch's deceptive will. As Dawn told him of how often she had dreamed about the story, Lucky began to wonder if there were more to her dreams than they gave them credit for. Determined to find out, he decided to investigate.
His footsteps had fallen deeply into the sand as he followed his father across the beach. Luke never glanced behind him or over his shoulder, and Lucky took full advantage of his father's negligence. Luke led them to the opposite end of the beach to the section where he had warned Lucky about. To the place where Lucky had been forbidden to see. A formation of rocks hid Luke from Lucky's view for a moment, and Lucky held his breath as he waited. He crouched low and moved to the side, keeping his eyes on Luke the entire time. With his head bowed, Luke had walked on and soon Lucky noticed what he hadn't before. A frame house, which was even larger than the one they left behind, stood a few yards from Lucky. Luke moved towards it with dogged determination. Lucky moved around the rocks and followed.
From a distance, the house seemed empty and forgotten, but as Luke stepped onto the porch, the front room of the house became flooded with light. Luke fumbled with the doorknob and soon, he disappeared inside. Lucky kept low and headed for the house.
Fearful of being discovered, Lucky had moved quietly along the house. His back had pressed against the house and he had listened with every fiber of his being. An open window revealed more to him than he had ever suspected or even wanted to know. The voice of his father had drifted out to him and feminine laughter soon followed. Bile had risen to Lucky's throat as he recognized the voice of Helena Cassadine. Overwhelming sadness had gripped him and bitter tears had made his eyes wet. He had listened closely as Helena questioned Luke about the progression of Dawn's pregnancy. His eyes had widened when he heard Luke tell her that he was spending the night with Dawn. Rage had boiled inside him as he fought the urge to confront his captors, but as Helena mentioned Dawn again and Luke bit out a reply, Lucky had known that he had something more pressing to do.
He had to become Aslan. He would have to save him and Dawn from the White Witch and her flunky. With that thought in mind, he had crept back across the beach. Now, as he watched Dawn sleep, his blue eyes darkened and reached out to lightly trail his finger down her full cheek. His soft touch awakened her, and he saw confusion in her eyes when she looked at him. Then she remembered where they were, but not the why. He still wasn't clear on the reasons for the capture, but he was certain that he couldn't allow them to remain prisoners for long. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead and told her to go back to sleep. In the morning, he would have a plan, but for now, they would rest.
Go to Chapter 133.