Chapter 57

Wide Awake

~ falling hard with an open heart ~

George didn't want to wonder if his presence at the Cassadine cabin was inappropriate or wrong. He didn't want to consider the age difference between him and Noelle. All that mattered was that she needed him. If going to her would help, he'd do it. With everything else in his life not making any sense, this one thing seemed easy. Maybe it crossed a few lines, but he didn't care. Going to her helped him, too.

The door opened before he raised his hand to knock. For a moment all he could do was stare. She was so beautiful. An amazing blend of Dawn and Nikolas created a unique young woman. With her looks and her status, George knew that many guys approached her. It boggled his mind that he continued to hold her interest. The little princess with everything… He pushed aside his thoughts. Anything more would define this. If that happened, he'd have to leave. After the night he'd spent, he didn't want that.

"You came," Noelle murmured.

"I said I would," he replied. "Should I come in?"

She nodded as she stepped aside. "It was damp so I lit a fire."

George shrugged out of his jacket. "Good job. A lot better than the first time you tried."

"I was ten."

"Okay," he said, smiling. "If that's your excuse."

"Hey!" Fire flashed in her pretty aquamarine eyes. Then just as suddenly it died. She turned from him and curled on the sofa. "There's food in the kitchen."

"I have food at home." He joined her. Without thinking and damning the consequences, he took her hand. "I didn't come here to eat. What's wrong?"

"We moved back to the farmhouse," she said quietly.

He knew that her parents had separated. Things had been rough in the Cassadine household before Dominik became ill. The return to the farmhouse should have been a good thing. But so should have Jason Morgan's return. Instead, only chaos ensued. He couldn't imagine her family being in the state that his was.

"Are they still fighting?" he asked, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

She shook her head. "No, not in the least. In fact, last night they—nevermind."

"They what?"

Noelle seemed torn between being sick and clamming up. George didn't know what to make of it. Noelle was always so open with her emotions and thoughts. Too open. It sometimes frightened him. This version of her put him on edge. What the hell was going on?

"Talk to me."

"He's not my real father…" she said in a rush. "I mean he's not my biological father. They think I'm stupid and clueless. Then Grandma slapped me! And Dominik's sick. Everyone's acting like it will be okay and it won't. He's not my uncle! It's all been a lie!"

Sobs overtook her. His arms opened wide just as she moved into them. He didn't allow himself to acknowledge how perfectly her slender frame fit against his. Instead, he closed his eyes and simply held her. In time, she slid her arms around him, too. Alarm bells rang in the back of his mind, but George ignored them. She needed to be held and he needed to be the one who did it. This soothed him after the hellacious night of searching for his brother and coming up empty. Ben and the police were not common phrases in their home. His younger brother kept a low profile. Ben was the calm one. Always. Well, he was until Morgan James moved in. Their family's world exploded with that man's return and the guilt of it burned George's gut.

As her breathing returned to normal and her hold on him lost its urgency, he began to speak softly. "That was a lot, Noelle."

"I'm sorry—"

"Don't apologize," he said. "Just spill. Who told you that Nikolas isn't your father?"

"No one has to tell me." She pulled back just enough so that their faces were a breath apart. "Just look at me. Look at my eyes."

Desire sucker punched him expectedly. So beautiful were her eyes. So kissable her full lips. She had no idea what she was doing to him. He inhaled a gulp of air and hoped for neutrality. "I'm looking."

"Well?"

"Well what?"

"Don't you see?" She cupped his face between her hands and held him still. "George, look at me!"

"Noelle…" Despite everything telling him otherwise, he pried her hands from him and leaned away. "I am looking. Tell me what I'm supposed to see."

"My eyes are blue!"

He shrugged. Her eyes had always been the color of the ocean. Why did that bother her now?

"I thought you'd see…" she murmured to herself.

"I'm trying, but…what I see is you. You look like your mom—"

"Oh God."

"Noelle, you can't deny that you resemble her and it's not a bad thing." He smiled as her frown deepened. "Come on. And you have your dad's—"

"Eyes!" she said in burst of emotion.

It was George's turn to frown. "Um, no. You have his cheekbones. His eyes? Who do you think your father is?"

"Lorenzo, of course."

"Oh, Noelle…" He reached for her as she moved and began to pace the floor. "He's your uncle."

"He's my father. I know it. I don't care what Grandma says."

George stood but opted to keep his distance. The space would aid in helping him keep his focus. She needed a friend, not a guy with less than honorable intentions. "Which grandmother?"

"Grandma Carrie says that Papa is my father and I'm wrong to even think anything else." Noelle shook her head. "She doesn't know what she's talking about. Mama and Uncle had an affair. I'm their baby and Papa doesn't even know."

As more tears threatened to fall, George went to her. She came willingly into his arms. Again. Resting his cheek against her forehead, he tried to coerce her with gentle reason. "Have you talked to your mom?"

She shook her head.

"Those are strong accusations, sweetheart," he said. "Hurtful, too. To you, your mom and everyone else. It says things that if aren't true… It's best to know than to harbor resentment."

"I can't ask now."

"Why not?"

"Dominik."

"He'd want you to know," George said. "He loves his family so much. He'd never want to see you hurting like this. You need to talk to your mom."

"She'll hate me."

"Or you'll end up hating her." He kissed her temple. "I don't want that for you."

"Why?"

"It's a waste. Hate makes smart people do stupid things. Besides, your mom loves you, and you love her." For a split second, he remembered how his dad used to love him and sighed. "I can't let you throw that away."

"I love you, too."

A shudder rippled through him. "Noelle, I…you can't…"

Her arms tightened their hold. "I do and I know you love me back."

He couldn't deny it because it was true. Lord help him, it was true.

~ falling from cloud nine ~

"I thought I could get away today, but things are a little crazy around here." AJ stood aside as Keesha entered his office. "I had something brought over from the Grille."

She dropped her purse and sweater on a chair before heading to a window. "It's fine. I'm not that hungry anyway."

After closing the door, he followed her. As if on automatic, he moved in close to hug her from behind. "I really am sorry about the last minute change."

"You don't have to apologize," she said quietly. "It's okay."

"You don't sound okay." He kissed her cheek. "You don't sound right at all."

"What's right?" she asked, closing her hand over his. "What do I sound like?"

"Not yourself," he answered. "Are the kids okay?"

"Ben's giving me the silent treatment. Marissa isn't saying much either. George and Grace are busy being adults, and JE isn't a baby anymore."

AJ pulled away. "Keesha, look at me."

It took longer than he expected, but she slowly turned to face him. Unease clouded her dark brown eyes. Tiny worry lines seemed to appear from the corners of her eyes overnight. He hadn't seen her look so defeated since the plane crash that changed both their lives.

"Ben is probably busy with school—"

She shook her head. "He's upset about Jas—Morgan. I should never have let him move out. It gave him the wrong impression."

"Ben is an adult. He's not a little boy anymore. He understands—"

"I'm glad he does because I sure as hell don't," she bit out. "The lunch is getting cold."

Suddenly, his appetite vanished. He had anticipated—what?—fallout, maybe, coming in one form or another with Morgan James living under Keesha's roof. When he had heard about the man's single-minded devotion to blood kin only, AJ was sickened. But an agreement, an arrangement, was in place. In order to have his happily ever after with Keesha, they had to play it out. According to the plan, sooner or later, the asshole would see that his intolerance had no place in their lives. But his stubbornness was on par with theirs. Whether they liked it or not, he loved his son.

She sat on the sofa and made busy work of preparing their plates. With a smile that almost reached her eyes, she beckoned to him. "Come on, AJ. We can't let it go to waste."

He could never resist her. That smile. That overwhelming need to protect her. Comfort her. Love her. AJ sat beside her and pretended that he didn't notice the slip of "Jason" coming from her lips. Or the longing on her face when she said it.

~ thunder rumbling, castles crumbling ~

"He thinks everything is okay."

Dawn stood at the window in Kevin's office. Earlier that morning, she and Nikolas had taken Adrik in to visit Dominik for a little while. Dara and Alex volunteered to handle their niece's disappearance. Dawn hated bringing her sister and brother-in-law in, but with things rocky between her and Noelle, she knew it was best if her sister found Noelle first. While Nikolas and Adrik returned home to care for the animals, Dawn stayed to have a session with Kevin. After last night, she needed to talk to a neutral third party. Being around Nikolas only made her more jumbled inside.

"I noticed the handholding and the kiss at the elevator," Kevin confided.

She nodded as she faced the therapist. "He doesn't know I'm here."

"You kissed him back," Kevin said with a faint smile. He gestured toward the chair opposite him. "You're safe in here."

"Safe…" She sat and met the doctor's gaze. "I never felt safe until I met Nikolas."

"You were young when you met."

She nodded. "Seventeen. A runaway. A hitchhiker with a dream. A black homeless kid. A statistic. "

"Is that how you saw yourself?"

"It was twenty years ago." She shrugged. "I don't know. I just remember being scared out there all by myself. It was dark and scary, and then this shiny, black car stopped. My brain told me to run, but I couldn't move. He stepped out and he was gorgeous. I mean, movie star hot."

Kevin laughed softly and Dawn blushed.

"Well, he was. He still is." She toyed with her wedding band as she continued. "He'll tell you that I was a smart ass, but I was talking shit because I was stunned. Not just by his looks, but his generosity. I'd seen things out there and had just missed a few scrapes myself. And there he was, wanting to help, and me knowing that he meant it. That he was for real. It was like all the tension that had pushed me forward disappeared the moment he looked at me."

"Considering it was twenty years ago, you remember a lot. Vividly, I might add," Kevin said.

"I've been thinking," she replied. "Ruminating as my grandma used to say. He loves me, Kevin."

He frowned. "You don't sound happy about that or rather uncertain."

"I don't know what it means anymore." Tears blurred her vision. She stubbornly blinked them away. "He almost had an affair. It crushed me. I never thought… He had sex with someone once to save our family and I could handle that, but this thing with Gilly… I've never been with anyone else and I've never wanted to. He's been everything."

Kevin moved to the edge of his seat. "What's really troubling you, Dawn?"

"Years ago, I was attracted to Lorenzo." She released a humorless chuckle at the blank expression on his face. "I know you're aware of the story. How I left my family to run off with my husband's brother. We weren't lovers. By the time we were forced to be together, my feelings for Lorenzo had long died. We are close, though."

"Do you want to have an affair with him?"

She shook her head. "No, and that's the thing. As much as I cared for Lorenzo and as easy as it could have been…" Dawn paused as she remembered what Lorenzo offered and what the changes would have meant for her. How simple her life and the lives of her children could have been. Maybe? Maybe not. Besides, it wasn't as simple as checking a box. She and Nikolas already had a child together. Nikolas already had her heart. She sighed as she continued, "I couldn't risk it. I never wanted to."

"It?"

"My marriage…my family…my everything," she said in a hoarse whisper. Keeping the tears in check was difficult, but she was determined. "I love Nikolas, but I don't know if this is right anymore or if it ever was. There's always been trouble and struggles and pain. Maybe we weren't supposed to be together—"

"You can't believe that."

"I don't know what to believe anymore," she said honestly.

"What happened last night?"

"He seduced me."

Kevin coughed to hide his smile. Dawn saw it anyway and returned the gesture.

"Okay, maybe I was a willing accomplice," she grudgingly conceded.

"That's why the handholding and the kissing," Kevin said. "He thinks everything is okay."

"Yeah." She swallowed down her despair. "I don't know what to tell him. I want it to be okay, but I'm scared. He doesn't make me feel safe anymore."

"What do you want to do?"

"Save my son," she said without hesitation. "The hypnosis brought back memories I had buried. I want to go back to that island where he was born."

"What's stopping you?"

She frowned. "Huh?"

"Go back to the island," Kevin said. "Maybe you'll find the answers that you need. All the answers."

~ everything you see ain't always what it seems ~

Despite working in the hospital, Robin discovered that certain areas were off limits. The main one being Dominik Cassadine's room. Burly guards refused to be persuaded by her feminine wiles or offers of coffee. Not to mention the friends and family who were never far from his room. She considered asking Nikolas about being added to the list, but decided against it. Her interaction with Dominik required discretion. Any conversations with Nikolas would undoubtedly lead straight back to Dawn and that would prematurely ruin everything.

So she found reasons to linger near the private wing. Brief inquiries into Dominik's status were met with equally brief responses. Griffin's connection to Dawn seemed to be effectively nipped in the bud, but Robin managed to find out that three esteemed doctors had been called in to offer their expertise. If the young heir was removed from GH, there'd be hell to pay. She had to find a way to get more details.

Code warnings echoed over the PA system. A multi-car crash sent the hospital staff in a mad dash. Robin decided this was her moment. She quickly donned scrubs and a mask and headed to Dominik's room. In the hectic foot traffic, the guards barely registered her deception.

Once inside, the silence stunned her. Well, save for the incessant beeping of modern medicine's answers to life support, there was nothing underneath but quiet. Standing at the foot of his bed, she marveled again at how much he resembled his father. For a moment, she was reminded of when Nikolas had been in intensive care. The gunshot wound to the neck could have been fatal, but somehow, he survived. He had fallen for her then, as she taught him to speak. If she had half a brain, she would have returned his affection. Instead, she'd chosen Jason. If only, she could find a way to turn back the hands of time. Dominik would be her son instead of—

"Hello."

She jumped at the greeting. Automatically, her hand went to her mouth to make sure her mask was in place. Then she turned to face the questioning blue eyes of Lorenzo Spencer. Suddenly unsure of herself, she simply nodded.

"How is he doing today?" he asked.

She shrugged as if to say about the same.

Lorenzo stepped closer, but she managed to side step him to reach the door. Before he could question her further, she left.

~ gravity hurts ~

"Hello, Dad. I need to talk to you. Call me as soon you can."

Tommy listened to Ciarda's message twice and was about to return her call when his phone buzzed in his hand. The ID said, 'Unavailable.' A distinctive chill ran down his spine. Not again. He considered letting it go to voicemail, but he had never been a coward. Besides, yellow didn't look good on him.

"Hello."

"Hardy."

"Who's this?"

Raspy laughter sounded hollow without the softness of humor. "You'll get your answers soon enough."

"What do you want?"

"What's done in the dark always come to the light."

Tommy hung up. He wasn't in the mood for games. If the person really had information about what happened that night in New York City so many years ago, playing phone tag would have little appeal. Somebody was on a fishing expedition. They were about to find out they'd messed with the wrong one.

Then his phone rang again.

Without thinking, he barked into the phone. "Yeah?"

"Daddy?"

Regret hit him like a ton of bricks. Sighing, he ran a hand over his face. "Ciarda, I'm sorry. What's up? I got your message. Is everything okay at Mom's?"

"It's great," she said quickly. "I like it here."

He rolled his eyes. Of course, she would. Anything was better than being with the ogre who laid down the law. "Your message sounded serious."

"It is." She hesitated. "Um…"

"You can tell me anything," he said. "Always." Tommy frowned. He thought his girls knew that.

"There's um… There's a video of Auntie Dawn singing to Dom. It's on YouTube," she said.

He managed to hold back the expletive that came to mind. Although he knew his angelic twins were well aware of profanity, he'd rather they didn't hear it come from him. However, that didn't mean he was any less pissed at knowing that his best friends' privacy had been invaded in the worst way.

"Thanks for telling me."

"Are you gonna tell them?"

"No," he said. "I'll take care it."

"Dad?"

"Yeah." What more could there be? He sat ramrod straight in anticipation of the worst. Please, God, don't let there be a video of what he and Sonny did to Juan that night. He'd do anything for his child not to know that side of him. "What is it, Ciarda?"

"There's another video. Could you take it down, too?"

The tears in her voice almost did him in. He took a deep breath before he spoke. "What is it, baby?"

"It's Ben. He beat up Seth. Real bad, Daddy," she whispered. "Please, take it down."

"Oh, boy" he murmured. "I'll do it. Are you in the video?"

"No, I was here. I'm not even sure when it happened. I don't even know where he is."

"Who?"

"Ben," she said with a sniffle. "I have to go. Thanks, Daddy. Bye."

"Bye, baby."

~ I'm wide awake ~

The darkness was so cold and lonely. He sensed others around, but reaching out to them was impossible. No matter how hard he tried he was unable to get through. The monotonous beep reminded him that he wasn't completely gone. Although he wondered. He felt adrift. Lost. Wanting to reach out, but unable to. Hearing his mother's voice yet unable to dry her tears. The fear that lay underneath his father's promises that everything would be fine made him uneasy. They were always the strong ones. He didn't want to be the cause of their weakness. He didn't want to be like this.

A rush of air drifted across his face. The distinct scent of jasmine seeped in. Alanna. She took his hand. Hers was so soft and warm against his cold skin. When she squeezed him, he wanted to respond, but his body failed to obey. Why was this happening to him?

"Dad and Mom found Dr. Matt and Dr. Ellen," she said. "They went all the way to Africa just for you."

He always knew having two godfathers was kickass. Tommy Hardy and his Uncle Lorenzo were two badass motherfuckers. Of course, he could never say that out loud. Hell, if only he could say anything.

"Everybody knows you will pull through this. I know you know it, too. I can feel you fighting. I really can."

Say something else, Alanna. Please?

But only silence followed. Well, the beeps continued. The beeps never stopped. The warmth of her hand stayed on his for so long that he lost track of it. Maybe he drifted off because he next became aware of a spicy cinnamon perfume and the touch of a hand he hadn't felt in awhile.

"Hey, Dom. I'm s-sorry," she stammered. "I should have come in before, but… Everything's so fucked up."

He heard her sniffle. Could clearly imagine her composing herself. Maybe pushing one of her wild, bouncy curls from her cheek with a flick of her hand or a toss of her head. Even though they were twins, they were so different. He'd called them Squirts. They were his Squirts. Being stuck in this place, this abyss, reminded him just how badly he missed them both.

"No one understands about Seth. He liked me," she said. "No boy has ever looked at me and wanted me. Just me."

If he could speak, he'd argue that point.

"I don't know what I do that makes him angry with me. I try not to make him mad—"

What?

"But I know it's not really me. And I know that Ben and Dad mean well…I just don't want anyone to get into trouble because of me."

Her hand released his and he wanted so badly for it come back. The bed shifted as she moved around. Then his hand was in hers again. The warmth soothed him. Perhaps, if he tried hard enough, he could open his eyes. For just a moment. He'd be freed from the darkness.

"Ciarda…"

Her mouth dropped open. She seemed ready to bolt, but she only stared, frozen as their gazes locked. "You're awake."

"It's not as bad as it seems."

"Dominik?"

He wanted to say more, but like a cloak, the darkness returned to wrap around him. It closed him in and refused to let go. In time, he couldn't even smell her or feel her.

"Dominik!"

Then, he faded again completely.

(Song Credit: "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry)

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