Chapter 83

"Good morning, Stefan. I hope I'm not intruding," Dawn said softly as she stood in the doorway to his study. Her hand rested on her lightly rounded abdomen as if she was drawing strength from the life which was forming there. Her lips, a tad bit fuller because of the pregnancy, turned upwards in a relieved smile as Stefan smiled back at her.

"You could never be an intrusion." Stefan rose from behind his desk and moved to stand in front of Dawn. His hand beckoned for her to enter when she remained hesitant. "Please, come in."

"Thank you," Dawn said as she came further into the room. Her eyes darted around the room, taking in the books, the ledgers, the framed photographs of Nikolas...and herself. She was surprised to see a picture of herself on Stefan's desk. She and he had made much progress in establishing a relationship, but his having a photo of her was a shock to her. Without thinking, she blurted, "Where did you get that?"

"The photo of you and Nikolas?" he asked, moving to stand beside her. He picked up the sterling silver frame and looked at the happy faces it held. Then, he handed the frame to her. "Nikolas gave it to me."

"He did?" she asked. She smiled as she looked at herself and her Nikky. The photo was taken at a carnival a couple of weeks before they were married. Lizzie, always an eye for a great shot, had taken the photograph of them. She made them stand in various poses before she found the perfect shot, and that was it. Dawn knew that the photo was one of Nikolas' favorites and as a yet another surprise for his birthday, she'd had it placed inside a gold pocket watch for him. He'd loved it and told her he'd carry it with him always. Looking at the photo now in Stefan's frame surprised her because she'd had no idea that Nikolas had already made quite a few copies of it on his own.

She handed the frame back to Stefan as she said, "He didn't tell me."

"I asked him not to," Stefan admitted as he placed the frame back on his desk.

"Why? I wouldn't have minded if you had a picture of us. My mother does." She shrugged.

"I find that I have no answer for your question," he replied with a shrug of his own. "I asked for it a few weeks ago, and now, here it is. I can't imagine why I didn't want you to know. Forgive me."

"No, please." She raised her hand as she willed herself not to laugh. Stefan asking her for forgiveness was *not* something she'd ever thought would happen. "There's no need for forgiveness. I'm sorry for asking you about it. I shouldn't have. It's just that I was surprised to see it there, that's all. To be honest, I'm flattered that you would want a picture of us on your desk."

"You shouldn't feel flattered, Dawn," Stefan said, softly as he watched her closely. He felt an overpowering urge to draw her to him. To place his arm around her as he had done the night before, but he remained still. His instinct told him to do so, and he obeyed...even though a small part of him wanted him to disobey it. As the days came and went, Dawn Jensen-Cassadine was becoming the daughter Stefan never had, and the reality of it warmed his heart. "You're a part of us. Of course, I'd have your likeness among my possessions."

Dawn felt the sting of tears burn the back of her eyes at Stefan's softly spoken words. One of us, he'd said. She hadn't considered that before. Being one of them. She'd always thought of herself as being a part. Separate. An individual. Her relationship with Nikolas, in her mind and heart, was completely isolated from the Cassadines and the Jensens, but now...she was one of them. Slowly nodding her head, she agreed. She was one of them. Her voice was husky as she said, "Thank you...I'd never thought of that before."

"As you've told me, there's no need for thanks." As if it had a mind of it's own, Stefan's hand moved from his side and lightly cupped her cheek. The faint wetness he encountered there, surprised him and caused him to draw her into his arms. Patting her back, he murmured against the top of her head, "There, there now."

Dawn allowed herself a few more sniffles before she pulled away. Wiping her eyes, she took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about that. Dr. Newman said that I should expect to become more emotional as the pregnancy progresses. I also want to apologize about last night."

"Dawn, there's no need for an apology. Not for the tears, nor for last night. In either case, you did nothing wrong. Helena's meeting with you in the library should never have occurred and it is I who must apologize to you."

"Her being here wasn't your fault, Stefan. She and I were bound to meet. It was inevitable. She knew about me...about the baby. She knew things about my relationship with Nikolas... She was determined to meet with me one way or another. I have to admit that I was grateful that it happened here, and Stefan..." She abruptly stopped speaking as fresh tears glistened her eyes. Blinking them away, she continued speaking. "I'm especially grateful that you appeared when you did. I..I was scared. More scared than I'd been in quite some time...and I...well, I handled it all wrong. I did *everything* wrong and I shouldn't have cowered in front of her like I did..."

Stefan didn't pause for a second. He knew exactly what he needed to be said, and he intended to say it. "There's no need for you to be grateful to me. I'm Nikolas'...uncle, thus, I'm your uncle, too. My role in both your lives is to be there for you as needed. I intend to extend the same loyalty to my grand-nephew or grand-niece, as well. And as for, you doing everything wrong... I won't hear of it. From where I stood, you handled my mother with class and your special willfulness. You stood your ground with her as well as could be expected, all things considered."

"But, she *scared* me, Stefan, and she knew it, too. I know she did," Dawn persisted. Her eyes no longer shone with unshed tears as she looked at him, but with still a smidgen of self-doubt. The self-doubt which despite months of being away from her father, still lingered, as her meeting with Helena reminded her so much of him. Helena's eyes had glazed over her as if she was nothing, in much the same way her father's always had. The memory of both was chilling.

"I suppose she did know it," he agreed. "And, now she also knows that in spite of your feelings for her, you refuse to be intimidated by her. Dawn, a lesser person would have *actually* cowered in front of my mother. I'd seen it happen on countless occasions while I was growing up. My mother would meet someone, whom for reasons known only to her, she'd dislike on sight, and from there, she would proceed to make the poor unfortunate soul's life a living hell...with insults and horrible condescension. But, not so with you. You stood firm and held your ground."

"But, when you entered I ran to you Well, like a child!" she said, furious with herself and her behavior.

"And, where was the harm in that? I assure you that I saw none."

"You're being kind," Dawn said with a shake of her head, dismissing his words as only tools used to placate her. She knew what she'd done last night was the exact opposite of what she should have done.

"You insult me when you mistake my honesty for kindness," he said, turning his back to her, he moved to sit on the small settee. A glance at her told him that her eyes watched him, but her mind was somewhere else. He contemplated her stillness for a moment. He was pleased to finally have a real conversation with her. One which did not the include the possibility of extra-terrestrials. But, one where something of real importance to both of them was spoken of openly and honestly. He wanted the conversation to continue. He patted the empty space beside him.

Granting his silent request, Dawn sat next to him. She sat sideways so that she could face him as she said, "I wasn't trying to insult you, but you *were* being kind. But, the fact remains that I handled it all wrong!"

"According to whom? Certainly not to me, and if I know my nephew, not to him either."

"According to me," she said softly. Her eyes drifted down to the empty space which separated her body from his. Her fingers traced the patterns on the sofa as her eyes followed the movement. Her voice was low and filled with pain when she began to speak again. "I'm not sure how much Nikolas has told you about my relationship with my father. It wasn't nearly as close as the one you and Nikolas share. And, he would never have comforted me the did. Being alone with Helena reminded me what growing up with my father was like. The look in her eyes, her tone of voice...everything about her reminded me that I..." she faltered slightly. After swallowing hard, she said, "That I hadn't moved past any of it. I thought I had, Uncle. I wanted, too. But being alone with her told me that I'd react the same way with him again, and I don't want to be that little girl who puts on a big girl front while she's trembling like a leaf inside. I want to be stronger than that. I have to be. I'll be a mother soon and this baby will depend on me for everything. And, I refuse to be weak. I just refuse."

Stefan slowly released the air he'd held as soon as she had subconsciously called him 'Uncle.' In his heart, Nikolas' calling him 'Uncle' was akin to his son actually calling him 'Father.' Hearing her say the word brought them closer than any action, including his being a buffer between her and his mother, could have. A smile lit his eyes as he placed his hand under her chin and gently lifted it so that their eyes met and held. "You're not weak, Dawn. Despite how your father and my mother have treated you, you mustn't believe them. You must believe me when I say this to you. They're the weak ones, and you're the one who's your heart and in your mind. Your child will never want for anything with you as his mother. Never."

"Stefan, I want to believe you.."

"Then, do it. So many of us do believe it. Isn't it about time you joined us?" he asked with a coaxing smile as he released her chin.

"Maybe so," she agreed with a faint smile. She took his hand and gave it a brief, but firm squeeze before she released it and left him alone with his thoughts.

In time, Stefan left his still position on the settee and moved to sit behind his desk again. General Hospital budget issues were brushed aside as he thought about the young woman who reminded him of himself in more than a few ways. Her relationship with her father was altogether very similar to the horrible one he shared with his mother. He'd survived her tirades...somehow...and yet, he still found himself needing and wanting something neither Dawn nor he had been able to say...their parents' love.

He knew, as Dawn obviously did, that some things weren't meant to be. But, still, one question plagued his mind. Why? Of two children, why did their parents choose them as the ones unworthy of their love and affection, Stefan wondered. He sighed and told himself that maybe he would never know the answer, but try as he might to focus on something else, the question remained.


Chapter 84

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