Chapter 8

Neither of them knew who initiated the change in the kiss. It had gone from simple to complicated within seconds and when Nikolas and Dawn pulled away from each other, both were left breathless and very confused.

Their expressions became unreadable as they looked at each other. Both silently asking, "What just happened?"

In an attempt to clear his head, Nikolas looked away from her inquiring brown eyes. Glancing around the dance floor, a vision in red captured his attention. Again. Emily. But, this time she wasn't alone. He could almost hear her as she laughed at something her companion said. A grimace came across his handsome face as he continued to watch them.

"What's wrong?" Dawn asked, sensing another change come over him.

"Nothing," he shrugged, looking away from Emily to rest his gaze on Dawn.

Dawn followed his eyes as he looked away from the dance floor and back to her again. She wondered what he had observed that upset him so. The thought of AJ flashed into her mind and she quickly scanned the dance floor. What if Nikolas saw him looking at her? What if Nikolas wondered why?

Her search proved to be fruitless and she breathed a sigh of relief when she couldn't find AJ. But deep inside a part of her, the part she refused to acknowledge, she was a little sad that she wasn't able to find him. Shaking the feeling and the thought from her mind, Dawn's eyes went back to the dance floor. In a conversational and a tad bit curious tone, she said, "I didn't know they were back together."

"Who?" Nikolas asked, absently.

"Emily and Tommy. I'd heard from various sources that they had broken up. Maybe not," she said with a shrug as she watched them dance.

"I didn't know they were together," Nikolas said, immediately jealous and hating himself for feeling that way.

"Yeah, they were...or are. I'm not sure which."

"Well, that's nice," he said, trying to keep his tone light while inside him a whirlwind of emotions raged. He was jealous, yet, he had no right to be. He was angry because he felt as she'd betrayed him which was ludicrous. They had been friends, good friends, he thought and then, he began to berate himself. He wasn't much of a friend if he begrudged Emily's having found happiness with someone, was he?

"Yeah, I guess so," Dawn continued unaware of Nikolas' torment. "But if they aren't together... Never mind."

"No, what? What were you going to say?" he asked, suddenly interested in her thoughts.

"Well," she began slowly, trying to find the right words, "if they're not together, they seem awfully friendly about the whole thing. I mean, laughing and dancing together, pretty mature break up if you ask me. That is, if it's true."

"Well, maybe they're still together. Let's not speculate on them," he said, pulling her into his arms and not wanting to think about Emily with someone else. "Let's dance."


Let's dance, he'd said. And, they did. Dawn had spent the rest of the night in Nikolas' arms as he dipped, spun and swung her around the dance floor. They'd laughed and smiled at each other, and to the world, looked as if they were having a great time. But, were they really, she asked herself in hindsight as she looked at her reflection in the mirror.

Her reflection stared back at her and refused to answer, but she didn't need her reflection to tell her what she already knew. With a sigh of despair, she sat on the edge of the tub and began to run her bathwater. As she poured the fragrant and stress-reducing bath salts into the running water, her mind began to interrogate her. What's happening between them? How or why did things change? How could she allow herself to become attracted to AJ? And did Nikolas' sudden distance from her stem from that?

Tears filled her eyes as she realized that she didn't have the answers. Their relationship had always felt so good, and now that it began to feel so wrong, she didn't know how to feel or what to do. Turning off the faucet, she began to think back to the good times...

**The strands in your eyes that color them wonderful
Stop me and steal my breath
Emeralds from mountains thrust toward the sky
Never revealing their depth**

Dawn had no idea why she had chosen the path through the park. Normally, she would have been hesitant about choosing a route which wasn't well-traveled, but on that day, she felt as though she had no choice.

Walking briskly, she almost missed him as he sat quietly on the park bench. The leaves hid him well enough, but the soft sigh which escaped his lips gave him away. She slowed her steps as she wondered whether or not she should say something to him. She felt for him. She couldn't imagine what it would feel like to have an entire town gossip and whisper about her. Well, maybe she could. She'd hate it and with that thought, she decided to keep walking.

She went about two steps before she stopped. He looked so alone that she didn't have the heart to just walk away. She turned around and with careful steps, she moved to stand in front of him.

"Nikolas, hi," she said softly. She began to have second thoughts as he simply stared at her with empty, sad eyes. She started to back away, but then stopped when he began to speak.

"Do I know you?" he asked the question slowly, his eyes suspicious.

"Um...probably not. We had a few classes together at PCH. It was so long ago you've probably forgotten. I just wanted to say hi. I'll leave you alone now," she spoke hurriedly and as she started to ramble, she stopped speaking. Whether he'd been aware or not, he'd always had that affect on her...even though, they had never spoken before.

"No, wait," he said as she turned to leave. "I think I remember you. Your hair was shorter, right?"

Dawn ran a nervous hand through her shoulder-length hair as she nodded. "Yeah."

"Your name is...Dawn?" he asked, obviously struggling with the memory.

"Yeah, that's me," she said with a small smile.

A faint smile brightened his features for a brief moment. Surprising her, he slid over on the bench and indicated that she should sit. "I apologize for before. I thought you may have been a reporter."

"I understand," she said as she sat beside him. They sat in silence as they adjusted to each other's presence. Her voice was sympathetic as she said, "I'm sorry about... Well, about what happened."

"Me too," he said with a long sigh.

"Look, I know we don't really know each other, but if you need to talk to someone... I've been where you are...well, in a way, and I know how it feels to wake up one day and feel like everything has been a lie." Again, she spoke in a rush. Towards the end, her voice softened and Nikolas had to move closer to hear her, causing her to become excited and nervous at his proximity.

"Thank you," he said, his brown eyes warm as he gave her a heartfelt smile. His breath whispered against her cheek as he continued. "I believe you really mean that, so don't be surprised if I take you up on your offer."

"Please do."

**Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated
I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache that hang from above**

Toweling herself dry, Dawn laughed softly to herself as she remembered their first meeting. She'd been so nervous about approaching him, so certain that he'd push her away and wouldn't accept her offer of help. When he sought her out a few days later, she had been surprised...

**I'll be your crying shoulder
I'll be love suicide
I'll be better when I'm older
I'll be the greatest fan of your life**

"Dawn, hi," Nikolas said as she passed him on the sidewalk.

Dawn stopped in her tracks and with a tentative smile, said, "Hi. How are you doing?"

"Better," he said as he fell into place beside her. As they crossed the intersection, he asked, " Are you busy?"


"Yeah, do you have someplace to be?" Nikolas asked again, his voice sounding urgent to her sensitive ears.

"Not really. Would you like to go somewhere and talk?" she suggested, knowing it would make it easier for him.

"Yeah...if your offer still stands, of course."

"It does," she said with a nod, pleased that he would come to her. "We can go to the pond. I know an area where no one ever goes to."

"Sounds good," he said, placing a gentle hand against the small of her back as she led them to her secluded spot.

Once there, Dawn was quiet as she watched Nikolas search for the right words. Finally, the words came and he began to speak.

"You said you knew how it felt to live a lie. What did you mean by that?"

"Well, my situation was similar to yours in a way," she said slowly. "I discovered, not too long ago, that my...well, that my father wasn't really my father. He wasn't my biological father."

"What did you do? After you found out?"

"Raised hell," she laughed humorlessly at herself and her past.

"You?" he asked as a teasing light came to his eyes.

"Me," she reaffirmed. "I did some things that I'm not proud of."

"I know the feeling," he agreed. "I guess you know about the other... Well, the other stuff, too?"

She nodded slowly. "I heard bits and pieces. I read some things in the tabloids, but you never know where the truth ends and the lie begins when it comes to those rags."

"Well, the truth is, I had an affair with my father's ex-fiancee." He watched her closely as if daring her to be repulsed by his admission.

"Yeah. That's what I read," she said simply. She looked at him with caring eyes as she added, "Is that what's hurting you so much? What happened with her? ...Her death?"

"No. Yes. Both actually. I became involved with her to prove my independence and maybe to hurt my family, possibly to prove something to him. In the end, she told me the truth about my parents and I was the one left hurting. And then, she died in that car crash. Everything happened so fast. I just wish it would all go away. The whole lot of it," he said. In anguish at his past deeds, he balled his hand into a fist and pounded his thigh.

Dawn felt her heart constrict as she silently watched him literally beat himself up over something he had no control over. Needing to help him, she reached out and covered his clenched fist with her small hand. He immediately stopped hitting himself and maybe relaxed a little as she lightly squeezed his hand. Her eyes held his as she softly said, "None it was your fault. Your paternity...the car accident...her death... Things happen for a reason, Nikolas. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we learn the reason and grow from it. Sometimes, we don't, but even in that, we can't keep torturing ourselves and living in the past."

"That sounds good, but I'm not sure if it really applies to me," he said quietly. He turned his hand over and held her hand, palm to palm. He looked down at their linked hands and didn't speak again.

"It can, if you let it," she replied, her voice soft as her heart began to race at the innocent touch of his hand on hers.

"Will you help me?" he asked, looking away from their hands to look into her eyes.

The lost look she saw when he looked at her called out to her and before her mind could tell her differently, she said, "Yes."

**I'll be your crying shoulder
I'll be love suicide
I'll be better when I'm older
I'll be the greatest fan of your life**


Nikolas ran a hand through his silky, brown hair as he sat on the edge of his bed. He was worried. Something was going on between him and Dawn. The connection he had felt with her from the very beginning was slowly slipping away and he didn't know how to stop it. He didn't even know if he wanted to.

Frustrated with himself and his inability to know what the 'something' was, he rose from his bed and moved to stand in front of his window. His black silk pajama bottoms hung low on his hips as he folded his strong arms across his bare chest. The flames from the fireplace kept him warm as he tried to put his finger on what the sudden change stemmed from. The answers alluded him as thoughts of when everything was perfect came into his mind...

**Rain falls angry on the tin roof
As we lie awake in my bed
And, you're my survival, you're my living proof
My love is alive not dead**

The hike from the road to the abandoned farmhouse wouldn't have been so bad if the rain had let up, but it hadn't. Instead, it chose to make fools of them as it streamed down heavily. They barely made it to the sorry excuse for shelter before a huge clap of thunder signaled the beginning of an even heavier onslaught of rain.

"I'm sorry about the car," Dawn said with apologetic eyes. "I guess we should have used yours, huh?"

"Um... Yeah!" he said. "I hate to be the one to say it, but..."

"Don't say it. Please, don't say it," she said, rubbing her hands to warm herself.

"Okay, I won't," he said, softly. He pulled her into his arms and began to warm her as best he could, considering he was as soaked as she was. Holding her close against him, brought the urgings it usually did and soon his lips were on hers. He kissed her deeply and when he raised his head, both were breathing heavily. Leaning his forehead against hers, he grinned as he said, "I told you so."

He laughed softly as she pushed away from him. The pout on her lips made him want to laugh even more, but it also made him want her. They had been seeing each other for several months, but they'd never discussed taking their relationship to a deeper level. As Nikolas watched her peel away her drenched jacket and stand before him in a rain soaked blouse which left little to his imagine, he wished they had discussed it.

Needing to do something before he inadvertantly did something he'd probably regret later, he began to move around the one-room building.

"What are you doing?" Dawn asked, as she wrung out her jacket.

"Looking for some firewood. Old newspapers. Who knows how long we'll be out here. It may be nightfall before the rain ends," he replied as he closed and opened cabinets and drawers.

"I'll help you look," Dawn offered. She carefully placed her jacket on the back of the old flower-patterned sofa and joined Nikolas in the kitchen area.

Working side-by-side, they soon found what they needed. The fire was started in record time and in silence, they watched the blaze as it danced in the fireplace.

Dawn moved closer to the fireplace and held her hands toward it to warm them. Nikolas watched her. A light of affection and need shone in his eyes as he looked at her. He subconsciously moistened his lips as he noticed how the light from the fire illuminated the outline of her breasts as she stood in the warmth of it's glow. He groaned as he wondered how much longer he'd be able to maintain his self-mandated "No Sex" rule. Not much longer, he decided as her eyes found his.

"You should take off your jacket," she said, leaving the fireplace to stand in front of him. "I'll help you."

Her hands eased his jacket from his shoulders down his back and onto the floor. The sound of his jacket as it touched down wasn't heard by either of them as Nikolas cupped her face. His thumbs moved lightly across her cheeks as he began to kiss her. They shared another deep kiss and then another and then even more until they both lay nude in each other's arms before the fireplace.

**Tell me that we belong together
Dress it up with the trappings of love
I'll be captivated
I'll hang from your lips
Instead of the gallows of heartache, that hang from above**

Nikolas sighed as he remembered the first time they made love. He hadn't known it at the time, but he had been her first lover. He felt honored with the privilege, but thinking about it now, he also felt as if a heavy burden had been placed on his shoulders. If they ended it now, how would he be able to look her in the face, knowing he had taken something from her, he really had no right to take.

That right belonged to the man who would love her and cherish her for always, he decided. There was a time when Nikolas thought he was that man, but now... Now, he wasn't so sure. He loved her. He always would. She'd brought him out of a very dark place when no one else could reach him. They had shared the best times of their lives together. They had meant everything to each other. But...

But, what if it was over?

The question hung in the air and in his thoughts as he sat on the floor before the roar of the fireplace within the safe and dry confines of his bedroom. So deep in thought was he, he didn't hear the door open and close behind him. He wasn't even aware she was in the room until she placed a light hand on his shoulder.

"Hi," she said, as she sat next to him on the floor.

Her plum-colored dressing gown did little to conceal the teddy she wore underneath. Nikolas, as much as he hated to admit it, enjoyed the view of her body. No matter what, he decided, she'll always be one of God's most beautiful creatures. He smiled at her as he said, "Hi yourself."

"I just stopped by to say good-night," she said, watching as the flickering flames cast shadows on his handsome face and his bare chest. Dawn enjoyed the vision he created. He couldn't help it if he was built like a Greek god, she reminded herself.

"I'm glad you stopped by," Nikolas said. "I was just thinking of you."

"Me too," she admitted. "What were you thinking?"

"The first time we made love," he said honestly.

"Oh. I see," she said, looking away to look at the flames.

"What were you thinking?" he asked, moving into a reclining position he rested most of his weight on a bent elbow as he looked up at her face. He stole a glance at the rest of her and was a little surprised to see the Cassadine Medallion he had given her, dangling against her silk covered breast. He decided not to dwell on it and he raised his eyes back to hers again.

"The first time we met, and then the second time," she said, looking away from the fire to look at him again.

"I was in a horrible place then, but you brought me back," he said softly, reaching up to brush her hair from her shoulders.

"I didn't do anything but be there."

"That was enough. That was what I needed."

As Dawn continued to look at him, Nikolas raised himself into a sitting position. One hand balanced him while the other lightly stroked her face. When she didn't move away from his touch, Nikolas moved closer to her and slowly lowered his lips to hers. At the slight pressure of his lips, she opened her mouth to him. Their tongues dueled as the kiss deepened.

Dawn wrapped her arms around him and Nikolas slowly lowered her onto her back. As he covered her with the length of his body, they continued to kiss. The sound of their labored breathing was loud in the room as they both attempted to repair their failing relationship the best way they knew how.

Nikolas' hands stroked her thighs as he began to kiss and nibble her neck. Dawn's hands lost themselves in his hair as she willed herself to enjoy what he was doing to her. Actually, she did enjoy it. Her body did, but her heart didn't. Beginning to feel more and more uncomfortable with every caress and kiss, she shifted and squirmed until she was no longer underneath him. She kept her back to him as she pulled her dressing gown on and stood up.

Nikolas watched her silently and then, he too stood. He placed his hands on her shoulders as he said, "I'm sorry."

She covered his hands with hers and whispered hoarsely, "I'm sorry, too."

Her shoulders began to tremble and he knew she was crying. He turned her around and pulled her into his arms. As he began to stroke her back, he heard her whisper, "It's gone, isn't it?"

"I think so," he said, choking back a small sob of his own.

"So, this is it?" she asked, raising her head from his chest to look at him through eyes clouded with tears.

"Yeah...I guess?"

"Yeah, it is," she said, deciding for both of them. She leaned away from him and lifted the gold chain from around her neck. She held the medallion tenderly in her hands and then she held it out to him.

"I'm not taking it. It's yours," he said, shaking his head.

"But, I can't keep it. It's for Cassadines. I'm not one."

"Yes, you are. You'll always be a Cassadine to me regardless of what happened between us tonight."

"If you're sure," Dawn said with a frown.

"I'm sure," Nikolas replied, taking the chain from her to carefully place it over her head again.

The room was quiet as they adjusted to their new relationship. After a few moments, Nikolas lead her to his bed where they sat down. Holding her hand, he said, "This hurts."

"Yeah," she said, blinking back the tears that threatened to fall again. "It hurts a lot."

"But, it's for the best."

"Yeah," she agreed, wiping away the tear that had escaped despite her valiant effort at keeping it at bay.

"I'll love you always," he said, wiping the tear which had fallen down his strong cheek.

"I'll always love you, too," she said with a sniffle. "Mind if I ask you a favor?"

"Ask away," he said through his own sniffles.

"It's kinda stupid," she warned, suddenly embarrassed.

"I like stupid things," he said with a smile. Serious, he said, "What is it?"

"I don't think I can be alone tonight," she said, sadly.

"You don't have to be." He moved behind her on the bed and after he was comfortable against his pillows, he opened his arms to her and said, "Stay with me."

She moved into his arms and rested her head against his chest. Her hand rested on his flat abdomen as his arms pulled her against him. "Thanks, Nikolas," she whispered.

"Thanks, Dawn," he whispered back.

Nikolas reached over her and turned the lamp off, leaving them in complete darkness except for the glow which radiated from the fireplace. In time, their tears subsided and soon after they fell asleep.

**I'll be your crying shoulder
I'll be love suicide
I'll be better when I'm older
I'll be the greatest fan of your life**

[Song credit: "I'll Be" by the Edwin McCain Band]

Chapter 9