Chapter 28

Push

~*~…she said I don't know if I've ever been good enough…~*~

Nikolas left the close confines of his Jaguar and took the concrete steps two at a time. Warden John W. Sims met him in the lobby and had the guards forgo the usual body search procedure. The other man attempted to engage him in small talk, but Nikolas' mind was elsewhere.

His thoughts drifted to the early morning call he received from Tommy. His best friend voiced a few misgivings about the nature of his call, but after a few minutes, those passed as he related what Dawn told him.

She said, 'I don't know if I've ever been good enough.'

Unresolved issues with Robert Jensen left its mark on her. Nikolas believed she'd long since overcome her insecurities about her father. Obviously, he was wrong. And regardless of the sorry state of their marriage, he wouldn't be a real man if he wasn't there for her and with her when she faced the man now behind the confining walls of a maximum-security prison.

The Warden's assistant appeared and whispered in his employer's ear. Then, Sims signaled to Nikolas. "Your wife has arrived."

"Thank you," Nikolas said. "I'll meet her at the front entrance."

He was too late. By the time he arrived, she was already there. Her eyes widened in surprise before narrowing into suspicion. "What are you doing here? How did you know?"

"I'm here because you shouldn't do this alone," he said quietly. He crossed to her and gently took her hands in his. A noticeable charge of awareness sizzled between them. Neither acknowledged it. "Would you rather I didn't go in with you?"

She looked down at their joined hands, but didn't try to pull away. "Does it matter what I want?"

He swallowed hard and nodded once. "Yes."

"I don't know if it's a good idea if you join me." She met his gaze. Her brown eyes seemed to search his for understanding. "It's not that I don't want you in there…"

He released her hands and carefully pulled her into the circle of his arms. Her body trembled against his. He sensed her emotions, knowing her as intimately he did. She was afraid to lean on him.

"The Warden has agreed to a private meeting. It can be just the two of you, but you haven't seen him in almost twenty years. Forced confinement changes a person, hardens him. For those reasons alone, I don't want you to be alone with him. I don't want him to hurt you any more than he has."

"It's too late for hurt. Maybe sinking to the lowest depth will enable me to rise to the top."

He frowned as she pulled away. "Dawn."

"However, I will accept your offer on the condition that you remain silent...no matter what he says to me."

Against his better judgment, Nikolas agreed.

~*~…and I don't know if I've ever been really loved…~*~

Nikolas' presence and determination to be with her stunned the hell out of Dawn. She'd spent the entire flight from Switzerland to the States preparing herself for the meeting. Robert's reaction to her was unpredictable. She hoped for a positive response, but their past warned her of the potential for a negative outcome.

Then, her driver pulled into the parking lot. The lone Jaguar gave her an inkling of what to expect when she entered the building. But still, he surprised her. After all these years, she should know to expect the unexpected from Nikolas Cassadine.

Warden Sims personally escorted them to the meeting room. Money certainly brought out the hospitality in some people.

"A security button is attached to the armrests on your chairs. Guards are posted right outside the door. Should you need them, simply press the button." He opened the door and led them inside the stainless steel room.

Florescent lights hummed overhead. A table and three chairs stood in the center of the room. Nikolas rested his hand on the small of her back as they crossed to the two chairs with armrests. He waited for her to sit before he followed suit. The Warden hovered in the doorway.

"If there is anything you need…"

"This is fine," Dawn said, offering a tight smile. "Thank you. I'd like to see him now."

"Of course."

The Warden stepped out and a guard replaced him. Robert Jensen, dressed in a muted gray prison uniform, looked haggard and worn. He shuffled into the room and sat where the guard indicated. His eyes remained downcast while his chains were locked to his chair. Dawn's breath caught in her throat as she watched. Instinctively, she reached for Nikolas' hand. The warmth of his flesh on hers reminded her that she wasn't alone in this. After twenty years, she would finally face her father.

Upon the guard's exit, Robert lifted his head and met her stare. "Here I am, the former Dr. Robert Jensen, chained like a junkyard dog. Is that what you came to see?"

Nikolas squeezed her hand. She appreciated the gesture. "No, I wanted to talk to you."

"Well, what took you so long?" he asked. "I've been in here for years. Were you too busy playing princess and touring the world to think about your father? Now, that you're getting older, you finally have a moment to consider pathetic, old me."

She clutched her husband's hand as she leaned forward. "Let's get one thing straight. You may have been a lot of things, but you were never really a father to me. And that's why I'm here."

Robert released a harsh laugh that turned into a dry cough. Once he caught his breath, he said, "Your life is horrible so it's my fault. Blame me for all your troubles."

Nikolas moved. Dawn looked at him and shook her head. Then, she turned to Robert. "Have you ever spoken to Dara like this? What is it about me that you dislike so much? What did I ever do to you? Besides, being born."

"It's nothing you'd ever understand," he said after a moment of silence.

"Maybe I can understand why you helped Juan and Tracy hold all those people captive."

Robert's granite mask of contempt cracked. He looked away. "It wasn't supposed to… I made a mistake. I never intended for it to go as far as it did. My practice, your mother and you girls should have been enough, but I wanted more. The power and the money… It was too easy for me to agree to them. I should have walked away."

Dawn leaned against the chair. She released her hold on Nikolas and wrapped her arms around her waist. Confronting her father wasn't what she thought it would be. The answers she thought she needed were difficult for him to share. She should have known that but a miniscule glimmer of hope kept her from acknowledging the possibility.

"Is that all you wanted?" His brusque tone broke the quiet.

"I suppose that's all there is." She stood and Nikolas followed suit.

Robert shook his head. He glanced at her before settling his gaze on Nikolas. "You've taken care of her far better than I ever did." Then he looked at her. "I don't know if I've ever really loved you. Not the way I did your sister. I don't know what it was about you or me. Maybe I knew you'd be a princess and what I could give you wouldn't measure up. Whatever the reasons, I'm glad they didn't hold you down. Don't waste your time coming back here anymore. I'm not worth it."

~*~…don't rush this, baby…~*~

Nikolas directed the Jaguar off the highway and turned onto a dirt road. He felt the eyes of his passenger bore into him. He gripped the steering wheel in preparation for her interrogation.

"I thought we were going home," Dawn said.

"This is a detour."

She shook her head and shifted, turning her head toward her window and away from him. "I don't want a detour. Take me home."

"Which home?" He parked the sports car beneath a large oak tree, cut the engine and disengaged his seatbelt. "The farmhouse or Wyndemere?"

"I was referring to Port Charles, but if you want to get specific…"

"I do," he said. "Let's get specific."

She slowly turned her head to face him. "Wyndemere. Stefan and Mama are expecting me."

"You won't spend one night at the farmhouse?"

"Why? Are you planning a seduction to make up for what Robert said?" She swallowed hard and her voice became hoarse. "I don't want that. We should work hard not to push this relationship in the wrong direction. You were my friend today, Nikolas, and I appreciate it. I truly do. Please, don't make us go backwards."

He opened the door and left the vehicle. A sudden flash of a field in France came to mind. Their marriage was still very young and suffering moments of misunderstanding. Dawn attempted a spontaneous romantic interlude, which he rebuffed. All these years later, he finally understood her reaction.

The other door opened. Footsteps crunched toward him. He looked over his shoulder at her. Brown tresses with golden highlights fanned across her shoulders. Her creamy milk chocolate complexion looked as pure as the first day he saw her. The familiar tug constricted his heart. What if she was right? One misstep could send them backward with no correction in sight. He released a ragged breath. Where were the easy answers?

In a surprise move, she slipped her arm around his. She rested her head against his shoulder. "Remember Paris?"

He nodded. "Do you want to talk about Robert? You haven't said anything about him since we left the prison. There's no need to hold it inside. You can trust me with it."

"I'm not ready to talk about it, but I am ready to see my children." She released him and gave him a faint smile. "Can we go home now?"

"Your wish is my command." He gave a slight bow. "I'll take you to Wyndemere."

"Thank you."

Her usually expressive brown eyes connected with his. Time stood still as the plethora of memories seemed to pass between them. Single words held remembrances that meant nothing to everyone else on the planet except for them. Moments of complete joy and utter anguish were shared within each other's arms. How was it possible that they stood at the brink of it coming to an end?

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