Chapter 49
Love
~...every time I'm close to you, there's too much I can't say...~

Nikolas returned to Wyndemere tired but determined. He felt on the brink of a big discovery. If he kept pushing the right buttons, eventually the solution would pop out. Just like turning the handle of Dominik's favorite toy when he was a toddler. The Jack in the Box always popped up when Dominik least expected it. Nikolas would never forget the look of joy on his firstborn's face every time Jack sprung from the box.

He headed straight to Dawn's room. His father had already called with an update on his family's whereabouts. Dara took Noelle with her and Alex for a little quiet time. Keesha invited Adrik to a sleepover with JE. Stefan and Carrie volunteered to stay at the hospital. Nikolas decided not to argue with them. A sleepless night and an emotional discussion with his brother depleted his stores of energy. His body craved rest, but before he could surrender to sleep, he had one more item on his list. Dawn.

Dressed in her favorite nightshirt, she sat in the middle of the bed. Music played and created a haunting sensation. He knocked once and then fully entered the room. To his surprise, she didn't react. He gave her hard a look and noticed the faraway expression on her face. Worry instantly tightened his chest. He paused at the foot of her bed.

"Dawn?"

Still, no reaction.

He grabbed the remote control from her upturned palm and brought an abrupt end to the music. Then he sat beside her and took her hand. "Dawn, can you hear me?" When she didn't respond, he squeezed her hand. "Answer me!"

"Nikky," she murmured. She blinked several times. "What are you doing?"

"Where were you?"

"I don't know. Was I asleep?"

"You've never slept with your eyes wide open." He pressed the back of his hand against her forehead. "Your flesh isn't warm. Do you feel sick?"

"I'm just tired," she said, stifling a yawn. She crawled under the covers and patted the empty space beside her. "You look tired, too. Come to bed."

"You want me to sleep with you?" Her invitation confused him. After what happened between them, he expected anger. This gentle acceptance made him nervous.

"Of course. Where else would you sleep?" She reclined against the pillow and gave him a sleepy smile. "I don't have the energy to do anything else."

Indecision gripped him. Her offer was like music to his ears. Yet, something wasn't right. Why had forgiveness come so easily?

"You're not angry with me? Not even a little bit?"

"You can't sleep in those clothes." She yawned and closed her eyes. "Take them off and come to bed."

"Dawn!" He grabbed her toes through the sheet and comforter. "Wake up! You have to talk to me. We can't pretend last night didn't happen."

"I'm not pretending anything," she murmured. "I'm tired and I want to sleep. I want you to sleep with me."

God help him, he wanted the same thing. He shrugged out of his leather jacket and the rest of his clothes landed in a heap on the floor. With only his silk boxers remaining, he joined her between the covers. Like a moth to a flame, their bodies came together. She rested her head on his shoulder and his arms closed around her. Their chests rose and fell in unison with their breaths.

"Are you asleep?"

"Not yet," she whispered. "You won't stay quiet long enough."

"Something's on my mind."

"Obviously. Can't we discuss it in the morning?" She kissed his chest. "I'm bone tired. I feel like I haven't slept in months."

"I know. The last few months haven't been pleasant for any of us."

He waited for her response. When it didn't come, he angled his head to look at her. Her eyes were closed and her lips were slightly parted. Just like that, sleep claimed her. A morning discussion would have to suffice. Perhaps in the light of day, the easy camaraderie would continue and they'd find a way to discuss the past without letting hurt and anger get in the way.

~* * *~

Ciarda fingered the fragile gold links that encircled her wrist. Doubts about accepting Seth's peace offering nagged at her. Did he really think an expensive bracelet could make up for the heavy blows of his foot on her legs? Even though she tried to keep her weight off the injured limb, pain still radiated with her every move.

"You really like it, don't you?" Seth took her hand and smiled. "I knew you would. The minute I saw it, I knew that you'd be crazy about it. The jeweler said any girl would thank her lucky stars for a bracelet like that."

"My grandfather gave Alanna and me diamond tennis bracelets on our sixteenth birthday," she said. "I left mine at home when I went to boarding school."

The smile on his face darkened. "Good for him. So my gift isn't good enough for you?"

"I didn't say that." She wrestled her hand free and scooted her chair away from his. "Let's go back to ICU. Maybe there's been a change in Dom's condition."

"You haven't touched your sandwich."

She glanced at her plate. One bite was missing from her pastrami sandwich. He'd cleaned his plate. What had he ordered? A burger and fries? The lasagna? GH's cafeteria was rated as one of the best in the state. Seth raved about the food from his first bite. She nodded at the right moments, but her mind had been somewhere else. What was she doing here with him?

"Ciarda!" He spoke sharply.

She jumped and nervously glanced around. The people at the next table stopped eating and stared at them. The heat of shame colored her cheeks. "What?" she whispered.

"You were thinking about Cassadine again, weren't you?"

"No, I wasn't. I'm not hungry. You can have the sandwich."

"Why did you let me buy it if you didn't want it? I told you to order what you wanted!"

"And I told you before we came down here that I wasn't hungry." She didn't like being treated like a child. Besides, there were more important things to think about. "I'll ask the server for a takeout box. I can eat it later—"

"No." He snatched both of their plates from the table and marched over to the trashcan.

She watched him throw her sandwich away and shove the empty plates into the open window. As Seth headed back to their table, she noticed Ben enter the room. Almost immediately, his gaze locked on her. Inside, a part of her sighed with the relief. But another part resisted his intrusion. Seth wouldn't understand their friendship either.

"Let's go," Seth said. He took her hand and pulled her from the chair. "It's time to go back to school."

"I'm not going back to school. I can't leave until Dominik is better." She tried to free her hand, but his grip was too tight. "Seth, you're hurting me."

"You're hurting me! You care more about that guy than you do me. He doesn't give a damn about you." His fingers dug into her. "He doesn't think you're good enough."

"Seth—"

"Let her go." Ben covered their hands and pried Ciarda loose. "Where do you get off touching her like that?"

"Stay out of it." Seth's hands flexed into fists.

"Not possible," Ben said through clenched teeth. He looked down at Ciarda's hand. Bruises were starting to form. "I won't ask if he hurt you." He stepped in front of her and between her and Seth. "It's time for you to go."

A strange light flashed in Seth's eyes. Ice-cold fear coursed through her.

"Ben, don't," she said. "Please. I can handle this."

"How many times has he hurt you?" Ben asked. "I'll hurt him back ten times over for each one."

"Stop it, Ben," she pleaded.

"Then, he'd better go," her friend said in a deadly quiet voice that she barely recognized. "Now."

"I'll see you later, Ciarda," Seth said. Then, he gave Ben a hard look. "This isn't over, Quartermaine."

"No, it's just starting."

Seth left. Seconds passed before either of them spoke. Ben didn't know what to say. He feared her reaction to him. She wasn't happy that he'd interfered but he didn't care. He'd never let someone hurt her. Even if it meant risking their friendship. He'd take that risk and he'd gladly beat the hell out of Seth Stevens the next time he saw him.

"Not one word, Ben," she said.

"Why are you protecting him?"

"You don't understand."

"No, I don't, but I won't fight with you about this. Dr. Simone and Uncle Sonny asked me to find you."

"You found me. Let's go."

He stepped aside to let her walk in front of him. She limped at a measured pace. When he first picked her up from the train station, he ignored the slight impediment but after the altercation with Seth, he wondered about the cause. "Is your leg okay?"

"I'm fine, Ben," she snapped. "Just fine."

"You're a horrible liar," he said.

"Ben—"

"Not a word, remember?" he said. "Let's just go. Your grandparents are waiting for you."

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