~… It's too late too much to forget about…~
Silence greeted Nikolas as he left the elevator and stepped onto the penthouse floor of his office building. At this time of the morning, he hadn't expected anyone else to be there. Not even the high achievers or ass kissers as his brother once called them. No, Nikolas had the space to himself and for that, he was glad.
After making a pot of coffee and responding to pertinent e-mails, he wandered to panoramic view of the Port Charles skyline. The tinges of pink, yellow and orange of the rising sun promised a beautiful morning. In fact, the day promised to be a lot better than he felt.
His private line rang suddenly, breaking him from his contemplative gazing. He crossed to his desk, plugged his ear piece in and pressed the appropriate button. "Cassadine."
"Nikolas, good morning."
His chest squeezed his heart, making it pound hard and fast. He dropped into his chair. "Dawn. It must be the middle of the night there."
"It is. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. I spoke with the kids--"
"Several days ago when you first arrived," he cut in. He sounded petulant and accusing. He couldn't help it. When she didn't call him, those emotions took root and wouldn't be denied.
"I should have called you," she said after a long pause. "But I didn't see the point."
"No, it isn't, but it is honest," she said. "How is everything?"
"You tell me. Nothing here has changed. The children miss you. I miss you. I hadn't allowed myself to admit it until now. How are Elizabeth and Bianca? I trust her reasons for summoning you weren't with cause for concern."
"Liz and Bianca made a formal commitment to each other. Tommy, Miranda and I were witnesses. They just wanted it to be small and without fanfare. The ceremony was beautiful. Their vows…" Her voice caught and she stopped speaking.
He inhaled a sharp breath. Would they ever move past this?
"I haven't broken my vows to you."
"Not yet," she said. Her voice came through hard and quiet.
"Thanks for your faith in me," he replied with sarcasm.
"From your tone, I gather Gilly hasn't started her work day, yet."
Through clenched teeth, he said, "For your information, I haven't seen nor spoken to Gilly since the concert. I don't know what you saw when you observed us through the security cameras… I am serious about our marriage."
She sighed. "I know." Her voice softened. "Let's not do this now. You need to sort out what you want. So do I. We've been together since we were kids. Maybe your attraction to Gilly was inevitable. Maybe you have more in common with her than with me."
"Dawn, we have three children and a history that no one else could fathom nor understand."
"But maybe that makes you feel obligated," she said quickly. "We've been through x, y and z together. We have to stay together because."
"You make it sound as if none of this has been based on love," he said. Framed photographs of their life together stared back at him. He randomly grabbed one from the early days of their relationship. They were at a fair, walking hand in hand. They were young, happy and innocent. And very much in love.
"That's not what I'm saying. I just called to… I didn't want to get into this with you. It's too early there and too late here. Nothing is coming out right."
"Do you miss me? Did you wish I was there with you while you watched Elizabeth and Bianca promise to love each other?"
"Against what little bit of good sense I have left, yes, I did. Then, I remembered Gilly, and I wondered if she would be better for you than I am. And when the answer eluded me, I knew that…"
He heard her sniffle. He closed his eyes shut tight. Her tears always had the ability to weaken him. They did so now. "You knew what?"
"I knew that you're the only person who could answer that. Look, I can't talk anymore. I have to go. Bye."
~… I'm only asking because I wanna know… ~
Dominik stood on the other side of his father's door. He didn't intend to eavesdrop. It just happened.
"I'd like to come back to work." The woman's voice sounded airy, breathless.
"I never asked you to leave," his father replied. "The choice was yours. It still is."
"Alan-Michael and I have come to an agreement," she said. "He understands that my career is important to me."
Nikolas laughed softly. "I'm surprised he hasn't purchased a studio for you."
"Don't think he hasn't considered it, but I finish what I start. I had a good beginning here. Nothing should interfere with that."
A moment paused before his father said, "Nothing should."
Dominik heard movement. He ducked around the corner and watched as Gilly Spaulding strode to her office at the other end of the hall. Memories of his mother's stricken face as Gilly and his father chatted returned to haunt him. His resolve hardened. He stormed into his father's office and closed the door behind him.
Nikolas looked up from his computer monitor and frowned. "Dominik. Yes?"
"What's your true relationship with that woman?" he demanded.
Dominik's eyes narrowed. "Papa, you insult both of us with that question. I am not a child. I'm a man and know what happens between a man and a woman. But what I don't understand is how a person who's lectured me on honor, duty, respect and familial obligation could be so blind to his own duplicity."
"That's enough, young man!" Nikolas abruptly stood. "You will not speak to me in that tone nor with those words."
"So, I'm supposed to ignore how you're dishonoring my mother--"
"You don't anything--"
"I know enough!" Dominik lashed out. "I know more than either of you realize. I remember things you both think I've forgotten."
"When Mama left…when she pretended to love Uncle more than she loved us…the looks that passed between you when she came to Noelle's birthday party. I was young then, but I've always been observant. Are you getting back at her for all those years ago?"
Nikolas' face paled. "How could you think that?"
"How could I not?" Dominik rubbed his chest, uncomfortable because of the pain that seized him there. "Noelle blames Mama, you know."
"And you blame me," Nikolas stated quietly.
Dominik looked away. "I understand more than Noelle does. She's too young to remember the things we went through to be a family. You seem to have forgotten them, too."
"I will allow you that one," Nikolas said in a low voice, "but there will be no further disrespect toward me. I admire your determination to protect Dawn. She has indeed earned your loyalty and certainly deserves it. However, our marriage is none of your business and it will serve you well to stay out of it."
Coldness chilled Dominik to the bone. He nodded. "Very well, Papa. As you wish."
Then, he turned and left, not bothering to close the door behind him.
~… And now you crossed that line…~
She sat alone in Elizabeth's den, looking at her friend's masterpieces that hung on the wall. The lovebirds went skiing to celebrate. Dawn and Tommy were invited to join them. Both declined. Dawn spent time reading in her room while Tommy entertained his own pursuits. They only seemed to reconnect at meals. Neither had much to say.
A soft knock interrupted her mental essay on Elizabeth's portrait of Jordan, Sly and Lorenzo. Tommy peeped through the cracked door. "Mind if I join you?"
"Of course not." Dawn waved him inside. "Come in. I was beginning to wonder if I had 'leper' tattooed across my forehead."
"Huh?" He frowned as he crossed the room to sit beside her.
She couldn't help but smile. On rare occasions, she caught a glimpse of the awkward young man that used to be Tommy. Enslaved inside the catacombs, he didn't always understand slang or sayings. He took things literally. Of course, he'd grown a lot since then, but there were times when that young kid reemerged. Like now.
"I meant that we haven't really spent much time together. I wasn't sure if we were avoiding each other on purpose."
He met her gaze. Emerald green eyes glittered with compassion. "I know that you and Nikolas are having problems, but I'm not avoiding you. I've had a lot on my mind."
"Want to talk about it?" Her offer was genuine. Anything to get her mind off her own situation.
"Tom Hardy has returned to Port Charles. He wants to make amends. Forgiveness isn't easy for me."
"I can understand that," she said gently. "He missed out on a lot. It was weird that he didn't show up when the press made a big deal about what you, Simone and the others went through. I couldn't understand why he wouldn't want to be there for you or your mother."
"Neither did I," he said, "and I still don't. You know I don't trust easily. He expects me to embrace him, happy that my dad's come back. I look at him and am suspicious. It bothers me to feel this way. I love my girls. I can't imagine willingly disassociating myself from their lives."
"Not every girl is fortunate enough to have a father as devoted and loving as you. My dad did horrible things. He's partly to blame for what you all endured." She hugged a throw pillow to her chest. "Yet, there are times when I wish for something more between us. He and I were never really close. It's hard to explain. I hate what he did, but I want to understand why. Did he aid Juan Valdez and Tracy Quartermaine for the money? Did he dislike me because I wasn't as good as Dara? Do you have questions like that about Tom? Do you find yourself wanting the answers despite the consequences?"
She frowned. "I don't believe you."
His mouth curved into a half smile. "So, I'm a liar, too."
"If you honestly believe what you said, you're lying to yourself. All of us have this inherent need for connection with family…a sense of belonging. I remember what Nikolas went through with Laura… Lorenzo trying to understand what Luke did to him and me… I haven't seen my father in almost twenty years, but there hasn't been a week that's gone by where I haven't thought about him. So much goes back to him and my relationship with him."
"If you understand all of that," Tommy said, "why haven't you visited him? He's at a maximum-security prison, but you could still see him."
"I've been afraid to cross that line, but now, it's looking like I don't have a choice."
He reached out and closed his arm around her shoulder. "Don't be afraid to see him. Whatever his reasons for mistreating you, you've always been better than good enough."
"I guess that little girl still lives inside of me, too." She closed her eyes, content to be held by an old, dear friend.