Chapter 19: Atonement

"Come closer," Rick said in a hoarse whisper as he slowly opened his eyes. "I won't bite."

Ross appeared at Rick's bedside. "I didn't want to disturb you."

"Disturb me?" Rick struggled into a sitting position. "I'm not busy. Just busy waiting."

A flash of grief raced across Ross's face. He swallowed hard and offered a tight smile. "Let me help you."

Rick grabbed Ross's arms in a weak grip. The older man lifted Rick and settled him against the pillows as if Rick was a child. Rick hated the helplessness associated with his illness. At that moment, his infant son had more strength. Rick squeezed his eyes shut. This really was a shitty way to go.

"Rick?" Ross gently touched his forehead.

"Yeah." He opened his eyes.

"What can I do?"

He shook his head. "Have a seat and take notes. I need to get my affairs in order."

"Okay." Ross sat. He pulled a notepad and pen from his briefcase and waited.

"My first obligation is to Jude. He's covered under my insurance policy. I want his name to replace mine on the deed to the house. Maureen knows this and it won't be a problem. We've already discussed Maureen. As for Mel…the insurance company says I can't add her to my policy. I wanted her provided for."

Ross nodded slowly. "Whatever you want, Rick."

"You don't sound convincing."

"What do you want me to say?" Ross tapped his pen against the pad. "I know you care about her—"

"It's more than that. I love her. If I weren't at death's door, I'd marry her. She wants to marry me, but… I can't offer her anything except my name. Maybe that would be enough, but I want to give her more than that. I want to build a life with her. I want her to be the mother of my children. There's a letter for her. After I'm gone, I want you to give it to her." Rick pulled the letter from his pajama pocket. He gave it to Rick. "She's upset because I refused her proposal. This will explain it to her. Please see that she gets it."

"I will." Ross carefully placed the envelope inside his briefcase. He inhaled a deep breath. His voice wavered as he spoke. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes. Take me to Cedars…"

Then, Rick's world faded to black.

~*~

"I don't believe I heard you correctly." Dawn met his steely gaze. "You should take a minute and calm down."

"No!" Philip stormed to her desk. "You heard me! How much will it take? I'll pay anything."

"Philip—"

"I can donate it so that no one gets suspicious. Just give me an amount and I'll write the check."

"There isn't one," she said, nearly overwhelmed by the desperation in his eyes. "I… Rick is next in line for a heart. We have to wait until one is available. Money can't decrease the time it will take."

"He doesn't have time," Philip said. He grabbed her shoulders. "Don't you understand? Rick could die tonight if he doesn't get a heart. Can't you get one from somewhere? I'll pay the costs! It doesn't matter to me!"

"I know—"

"He's my best friend. I can't lose him."

His grip loosened. His shoulders dropped. She closed her arms around him. He lowered his head to her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he choked. "I don't know what else to do."

"I understand." She rubbed his broad back in sweeping strokes. "Lillian and I have been placing calls all over the country since Rick was readmitted. When a heart is available. We'll know."

He held her close to him before quickly releasing her. As he turned away, he ran his hand through his hair. "Rick wouldn't be happy if he knew about our conversation."

"He won't hear about it from me." She grabbed a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and handed it to him. "Waiting takes so much out of everyone. You're tense."

"You're amazing. I've been a complete ass. You're not angry?"

"Angry isn't the right word," she answered honestly. "You questioned my integrity. I don't take that lightly, but given the circumstances, I forgive you."

His blue eyes darkened as he gave her an appreciative smile. "Nikolas is an extremely lucky man."

She nodded. "He knows."

~*~

"Give me twenty minutes," Nikolas said, "and I'll be there."

There was a slight pause and then, her response came across the telephone line, "I almost told you not to come, but please, get here when you can. Tonight won't be easy for anyone. I'm trying to be strong for Mel, but I do need you."

"I know. I love you," he said.

"Me, too. "

Nikolas hung up. He rested the palms of his hands against his forehead and released a low breath. He rarely considered his own mortality. Of course, tomorrow was promised to him. He was a Cassadine. He had a beautiful wife who loved him. His life was too perfect for it to end prematurely. But the truth was, h is life wasn't perfect. Something was missing. Actually, someone.

And Nikolas couldn't ignore Stefan's absence a moment longer. He dialed his father's private line. Stefan answered. They talked. They reconciled the past.

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