chapter two

***rude awakenings***


"What do you want from me?"

"I want the truth, Elizabeth," Jason said. "Until you're ready to give it me… Look, I'll be around."

Tommy frowned as he stood in the hallway outside his cousin's studio apartment. He hadn't intended to spy, but when he heard her plaintive voice mingling with Jason Morgan's deeper tones, he stopped. What was that thug doing with his cousin? When would she stop the merry-go-round act she was playing with him and Lucky Spencer?

"Hardy," Jason grunted in passing as he stomped down the hall.

Tommy looked after him without wasting his time with a greeting. The animosity the two felt for each other was legendary. Why should he feign polite conversation now? He turned towards Liz's door and knocked once before entering. He found her pacing back and forth and muttering angrily to herself. Upon noticing him, she stopped and pointed at him. "Don't say anything."

He hunched up his shoulders. "What's there to say? Other than you're doing it again."

"I'm doing what?" she muttered.

"Vacillating," he replied as he perched at the edge of a table and stared at her. "Make a decision for goodness' sakes!"

Her dark eyes flashed angrily. Heat flooded her cheeks. She grabbed a paintbrush and waved it at him. "This isn't any of your business anyway. Why are you always spouting out your famous words of wisdom? I haven't asked for advice."

Her anger didn't offend him, and the words rolled off Tommy. They were family. It would take more than some gripes for anything to change that. He just looked at her and shook his head, knowing that the silence would get to her more than mere words.

He was right.

"What?!" she yelled. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"What did the Saint want this time?" Tommy asked. "My plan wasn't to eavesdrop, but I heard some of the conversation. What happened now?"

The tension in the room began to lessen. Her expression softened and confusion entered her eyes. "Jason said that Lucky pulled a knife on him. He claimed he was defending himself when he beat Lucky senseless."

Tommy regarded Liz behind narrowed eyes. "That doesn't sound like Spencer to me. He's a little hotheaded, but he wouldn't pull a knife on him."

"That's what I told Jason," she said, her bottom lip trembling slightly.

He held up his hand. "Wait. You don't have to say another word. I can guess. He's mad because you didn't believe him. Right?"

She raised one shoulder and averted her eyes. "Well…"

"This is gonna keep snowballing until you put an end to it," he advised when she became silent. "If you're feeling a vibe for Jason, it's okay, but not at Lucky's expense. You wouldn't want him to do the same to you. Guys have feelings too, you know."

"I know," she mumbled. She tossed the paintbrush onto a nearby easel. Folding her arms across her chest, she tilted her head to look at her cousin. "I don't know what to do. How do I talk to him about something that has me so confused?"

Tommy pulled her into a warm hug, patting her back before he released her. "You have to find a way to try. He deserves the truth and soon before something else happens between them."

"Who deserves the truth?" Lucky asked from the doorway. "Who are you talking about?"

~*~

The fragrance of vanilla-scented candles filled Zarek's nostrils as soon as he entered the suite. The sweet aroma only belonged to one woman. Immediately, he tensed. She was supposed to leave Port Charles to him. Would there ever come a time when his mother would listen instead of acting upon her impulses? Slamming the door shut with more force than necessary, Zarek stepped down into the living room and shouted, "Mother!"

A tinkling sound rang in the air and then she appeared. Dangling baubles hung from her wrists and clanged together like wind chimes. Dressed in a vibrant purple flowing dress, Philana DiMitri flowed into the room. An air of otherworldliness wafted around her. Her dark eyes were bright with wisdom and mischief. Always, a secret smile played around the corners of her mouth and on this impromptu visit, there was no difference. Zarek's back stiffened and he waited.

"Dearest," she greeted, pressing a light kiss to his cheek. "You're back earlier than I expected. I wanted you to return to a décor that would remind you of home. I'm afraid my surprise is ruined now."

"I doubt that," he muttered. She was a mass of riddles tonight, he realized. Zarek went to the bar and poured Vodka into a glass. His mother didn't drink so he refrained from offering her anything. Again, he waited. He knew there would be more. There always was.

"Well, I suppose, you're right," she murmured, coyly. She watched him swallow the alcohol in one gulp and shook her head. "An inebriated mind makes mistakes."

Zarek's mouth tightened. "I haven't made any so far. It would seem to me that everything is moving along nicely."

"Correction: everything was moving along nicely," she said, giving him a hard stare. "A past error has resulted in present problems. I left Greece to tend to them."

"If you're in Greece, who's watching-"

"Never mind that," she said, raising her hand to silence him. "Unlike you, I only have the skilled and the creative in my employ. Besides, my role isn't up for discussion. Yours is."

"I spoke with Corinthos," he shrugged as he came from behind the bar. "He accepted my offer as I knew he would."

She rolled her eyes. "Do you think I would leave the comforts of beautiful Greece to venture to the cold, stale climate of the States for Corinthos? No, my dear son, Michael Corinthos is not the reason for my travels."

Zarek's patience snapped. "Mother, I don't have all night. Out with it."

"The Cassadine! There are now two of them and I am here to make sure that both are duly taken care of!"

~*~

"You're not really Nikolas Cassadine, or are you?"

Nikolas stared at the mahogany beauty with the long, curly micro braids in surprise. From her earnest tone and steady gaze, he had no doubts as to the sincerity of her question. Dawn Jensen was not having sport with him. He was not the brunt of some inappropriate attempt at humor. She was serious.

The earlier sizzle of attraction still floated in the air between them, but her doubts about his identity dampened his spirits somewhat. Careful of his throbbing arm, Nikolas rose from the high-back wooden chair and looked down at her. "I assure you that I am Nikolas Cassadine. I have no reason to make a false claim to my identity."

Her brow creased as a thoughtful expression crossed her flawless features. "Interesting."

"Interesting?!" he repeated. Although her beauty and her spirit intrigued him, her bizarre conversation left him rattled. With the problems he faced as the head of his family's empire looming over his head, the last thing he needed was confusion. He needed to leave before he lost the last bit of control he still held. Words of gratitude for tending to his arm were on the tip of his tongue when she shoved a newspaper in front of his face. "What is wrong with you?" he sputtered.

"Look at the cover page!" she demanded. Stunned, Nikolas continued to stare at her in wonder. She released a theatrical sigh and rolled her eyes. Pointing at a black and white photo, she said, "Look!"

The exasperation he read in her eyes did things to her. The flecks of amber in her brown eyes lit up and the effect was fascinating. Another sigh alerted him that he was staring. Reluctantly, he pulled his gaze from her and looked down at the newspaper.

Shock hit him first to be quickly replaced by outrage. His hand shook when he snatched the paper from her grasp. "What's the meaning of this?" he asked. "This isn't right. What the hell is going on?"

Her perfectly arched eyebrows shot up as she folded her arms across her chest. "That's what I'd like to know. The paper says he's Nikolas Cassadine and you look nothing like that fella. What gives? Are you trying to run a scam on me or something?"

"No," Nikolas ground out. "I am not the impostor! He is." He glared at the image and caption. The man in the photo looked nothing like him. There was no resemblance of any kind, yet, there the impostor was. Perhaps, the photo was in the wrong place and given to the wrong caption. He thrust the paper at her. "It's a mistake. Usually newspapers are more conscientious, but maybe there was a deadline."

She took the paper from him and tossed it onto the dining table. Without a word or a glance in his direction, she disappeared to the back room again. When she returned, she held a magazine in her hands. Quickly, she flipped through it until she found the page she wanted. Again, she shoved the magazine under his nose. "Look!"

Nikolas frowned at the rudeness of her display. He pulled the magazine free from her hand and looked down at the bright color photos. The images were taken at a party for the new faces of Deception. He saw pictures of his mother, Elizabeth, Lucky, a black girl with braids, and once again the young man's image appeared before him. Again, Nikolas' name was associated with this stranger.

Nikolas stared at the article and photos, trying desperately to make sense of it all. Nothing came to him. A peculiar sensation overcame him and he suddenly felt dizzy. He reached out and Dawn was there. She wrapped her arms around his waist and led him to the futon that occupied the middle of the large room. She helped him sit and briefly left him to return with a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin.

After she gave him the medicine and water, she sat on the trunk across from him. Resting her forearms on her uniform covered thighs, she leaned towards him. Her dark brown eyes bored into his. "What's going on?"

"I-I don't know," Nikolas stammered. He swallowed two pills and water. Rolling the glass between his palms, he looked down at the floor and then up at her. "A-And that photograph of Lucky… He died in a fire. Didn't he…? You have no reason to believe me, but I swear on my father's grave that I am not lying. I am truly Nikolas Cassadine. I have no idea who that man is and why he's using my name and why no one is questioning it."

She nodded. The wispy tendrils brushed against her cheeks. The urge to touch her hair surprised him and he quickly averted his eyes. Oblivious to his turmoil, she patted his knee in a friendly gesture. Offering him a half smile, she said, "This is gonna sound crazy, but I think I believe you."

Her words were like music to his ears, but doubts lingered. Looking down to where her slender hand rested on his knee, he swallowed hard and asked her the first question to enter his mind. "Why? Why would you believe me, a stranger? Please, do not mention Karma. The truth."

"The truth?" she repeated. To Nikolas' disappointment, she removed her hand and laced her fingers together as she sat up straight. "The truth is that I remember your face from the newspapers years ago. I remember that you were shot and I can see the small scar right there." She nodded her head towards it. "When I saw this guy's picture in the paper with your name, I didn't know what to think. Later, there was article about how you survived some crash in your expensive car and that extensive plastic surgery was done. Funny thing is, there were no reports about this mysterious crash. Just suddenly, Nikolas Cassadine had a new face."

"How long ago was this?"

Dawn shrugged. "About two years ago. There was a big write up about you getting married to some older chick...Kathie Bell or something like that."

Nikolas rolled his eyes and groaned. Even with the benefit of medication, his head throbbed. Painfully. He tilted his head back against the futon and closed his eyes. Bright red lights zigzagged back and forth. He ignored them as he asked, "How do you remember all this?"

He felt her shift and heard her rise. "It's no big deal. I have a photographic memory," she mumbled.

One eye opened at that then the other one. He raised his head and saw that her back greeted him. Without seeing her face, he couldn't be sure if she was serious or not. "Dawn?" he called out in an even tone. "Would you turn around?"

She did as he asked. A scowl darkened her face. Indignation glittered in her eyes. "I'm telling the truth. I have a photographic memory, so stop looking at me like that!"

"Like what?" he asked, a slow smile coming to his face. "This entire night has a surreal quality to it, don't you think? I keep waiting to wake up and find that it's all been a dream." The smile left his face and his throat constricted with sadness. "That every last bit of it has just been some bizarre nightmare. I'll wake up and everything will be the way it was before."

She moved and sat beside him. Her hand reached out tentatively for his and he gave it to her. She applied light pressure, but the gentle caress made Nikolas shudder. Her voice was husky with emotion. "I'm sorry about your family. If there's anything I can do... I know we're strangers, but... Well, if I can help in some way, let me know."

Nikolas kept a firm hold on her hand. His thumb brushed across her knuckles. Her fingers trembled against his. He smiled at her again. "You've already saved my life. It wouldn't be proper for me to ask for more."

"Ask away," she murmured, returning his deep stare.

The tenderness in her unwavering gaze made Nikolas' head swim. Awareness of her as a woman and him as a man slammed into the pit of his belly. Mourning made his heart ache for his lost family, yet the flame of desire sparked from the moment he met her on the road and continued to blaze within him. But he couldn't act upon it. Pandemonium had entered his world and until he had answers to it, thoughts of romance would have to be put on hold. Swallowing hard, he opened his mouth to make a request that would put his resolve to the test.

"Considering that I was shot at and someone has assumed my identity, I don't think it's a good idea for me to venture out into society unprepared," he began. "Would it be too much to ask if I could spend the night here until I get some answers?"

He held his breath, waiting. Of course, he expected her to refuse him. She appeared to be rational. Any rational person would push him out the door and never look back. When she shook her head, he wasn't surprised.

"I don't mind," she said. "You can stay here as long as you like."

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