Chapter 13

Trying her best to keep an amused grin from breaking out on her face, Emily silently watched Tommy as he moved away from her to stare sightlessly out the window at the snow-covered grounds. He was irritated with her, that much she could tell. Everything about him gave his emotions away. The flashing green eyes, the set jaw and now that she could no longer see his face, the way his cream-colored cable-knit sweater stretched across his broad, rigid back as his hands rested on his hips. All of it clued Emily in to the fact that she had struck a nerve.

She bit her lower lip as a laugh almost escaped her. She didn't want to enjoy this, but she found herself unable to resist. When they were still a couple, one of the things she enjoyed to argue about the most was his fierce over-protectiveness. She didn't quite understand where it stemmed from and after she'd asked him, she understood that neither did he. And, yet, there it was, still present, long after they had decided to go their separate ways.

Tommy folded his arms across his chest as he felt Emily approach him. He knew she enjoyed his reaction. She probably had a huge grin on her face, he grudgingly thought. Same as always.

Emily brushed her shoulder against his and laughed softly as he grimaced at her touch. "Aw, come on. Don't be such a grouch," she said.

"I wouldn't have to be a grouch if you'd listen to me," he said with a frown as he lowered his head to look down into her laughing brown eyes.

"I'm listening to you. I heard every word you said. Lucas was outside when you left last night, and you think he's stalking me," she replied with a straight face which surprised even her.

"Keep it up, Em," he said, softly. He shook his head at her and then, moved to sit on the sofa again. After he was settled and his black denim clad legs stretched out before him, he began to speak. "You think you're cute, laughing at me, but I'm serious. Lucas isn't right in the head. The way he wouldn't let go of you..."

"Lucas is a brat, but he's okay. Besides, he wouldn't let go of me because of you!" she said, plopping down on the sofa next to him. She brushed a wave of curls from her shoulder as she looked at him. "You know, he's never liked you. He knows that getting to me, gets to you."

"You know if I had an ego half as big as you claim I have, I'd believe that little scenario, but I don't. Lucas' interest in you has little to do with me and more to do with you. Remember how he bothered you at Ned's engagement party? That was almost two years ago and if you'll recall, we weren't even seeing each other then, so explain that," he said, arching his eyebrow.

Emily narrowed her eyes at him as she said, "You just think you know everything, don't you?"

Tommy shrugged, but a small grin gave him away.

"Yeah, you *think* you know, well, let me tell you something. Although I appreciate your coming all this way in your brand-new, top of the line, fully loaded, Candy Apple Red Mustang to tell me this, you really didn't have to. I'm not afraid of Lucas. I can handle him and anything the little pipsqueak tries to dish out. Got it?"

"Yeah, I got it. You're hard-headed and as stubborn as a mule. I got it loud and clear, Emily. Just don't let your 'no fear' attitude get you into a situation you can't handle."

"Oh, thank you, Great One, for your wonderful words of wisdom," Emily replied, rolling her eyes.

"You're welcome," Tommy said with a smile.


Nikolas glanced at Emily's bedside clock. Five minutes had passed since the last time he checked. Maybe Emily had decided she'd rather spend the day with her ex and had forgotten about him, Nikolas thought. Maybe it would be better if he just left. With that thought firmly in his mind, Nikolas rose from Emily's bed and left her room, closing her door behind him.

He walked slowly as he made his way down the long hallway. When he'd followed Emily up, he hadn't paid attention to where he was going. He had a vague idea, but since he'd never been there before he wanted to go slowly, so as not to walk in on someone or something, namely her grandfather. Nikolas shook his head as he remembered Edward's talk with him regarding his intentions with Emily. A tinge of green invaded his brown eyes as he wondered if Tommy had received the same lecture, too.

The sound of loud voices coming from the end of the hallway caused Nikolas to shrug thoughts of Tommy off. As he drew nearer, he realized that someone was screaming. Loudly. And, that someone was female. Nikolas ran down the hallway in search of the source of the agitated voices.


"No! Stop!"

Tears were streaming down Dawn's face as she doubled over in laughter. Two pairs of hands were touching her sensitive, ticklish body and she was near the breaking point as her cries became louder and louder.

"Mikey, stop," A.J. told his son and Michael immediately followed his order. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he looked at his gasping victim. Lying on the floor, she stared back at him with tear-glistened eyes and slightly parted lips as she tried to regulate her breathing. The urge to kiss her overpowered him and if his son hadn't chosen that moment to release one of his trademark giggles, AJ would have surely given in. He glanced at his son and smiled. "Whaddaya say, Michael? Does she get a break or should we tickle her some more?"

"A.J.!" Dawn gasped, her eyes wide in shock. He wouldn't dare torture her with more of his seemingly innocent touch. Michael's tiny fingers had tickled her while his father's larger fingers had tormented her. Being so close to A.J. in a relaxed setting without the constraints of work and being in a relationship electrified Dawn and she was very grateful that her little friend was there as a chaperone. She wasn't sure of how she would have reacted to A.J.'s proximity otherwise, but now... Now, he wanted to torture her all over again, and she knew she'd break if she let him.

"Tickle, tickle," Michael laughed as he smiled at his father. "Dawnie, we tickle you!"

"Uh uh," she shook her head, determined to escape their pesky fingers. Dawn tried to crawl away and then roll into a sitting position, but she didn't make it very far.

A.J. grabbed her from behind and wrapping his arms around her waist, he held her against him. His breath was warm against her neck and he felt her tremble. His voice was low as he said, "I've got her, Mikey."

"Tickle, tickle!!" the little boy giggled as he charged at her. He aimed for her sides, causing her to squirm and writhe with laughter.

"Mikey, no!" she shrieked, louder than she had intended, as bubbles of laughter released themselves from the pit of her tummy. She was having more fun than she had in ages, which should have warned her that it would be short-lived.

As Nikolas neared the loud cries, he realized that he recognized the voice as belonging to Dawn. Most of what she was trying to say was indistinguishable except for one word. No. Thinking she was in danger and needed him, Nikolas burst through the door.

His eyes found her immediately. She was being held by Emily's older brother while his little boy attacked her. He knew for a fact how she hated to be tickled so without another thought, he strode to where she was on the floor and pulled her away from her tickling attackers.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his eyes flashing with anger as he looked her up and down.

"I'm fine. What...Why did you do that?" Dawn asked, confused. Behind her she could hear AJ as he rose to his feet. In the back of her mind, she took note of Michael's silence, but for the moment her attention was focused on Nikolas.

"I heard you scream. I can't believe a grown man would hold you against your will while his child tickled you," Nikolas said, angrily, as he looked past her to include AJ and his son. "You're crying, for goodness' sakes!"

Dawn absently wiped at her face and she was about to speak when she felt a small hand pull on her leg. She turned her angry brown eyes away from Nikolas to look down at Michael. Her heart ached when she saw his little hazel eyes fill with tears.

"I'm sorry, Dawnie," he said, trying to refrain from crying, but unable to.

Dawn kneeled down before him and caressed his cheek with her hand. She wiped away his tears as she said, "You don't have anything to be sorry about. You didn't do anything wrong, baby."

"I made you cry," he hiccuped, as he cried even more.

"No, sweetie. I'm okay," Dawn said, trying to reassure him with a smile. When her smiles and tone of voice refused to calm him, she tried another tactic. She glanced at A.J. for his approval and he nodded, instinctively knowing that she had his son's best interest at heart. "How would you like to help me build a snowman? Your daddy thinks it would be okay if that's what you want. How 'bout it?"

Michael looked away from Dawn to glance at his father. A.J. forced himself to relax and smiled at his little son. "It's okay, Mikey," A.J. said, tousling his little boy's reddish brown hair. "Go with Dawn. I'll be down in a little bit."

"Okay, Daddy," Michael said, sniffing away his remaining tears, as he placed his hand in Dawn's.

Dawn smiled down at her companion, but the smile was vacant from her eyes as she looked at Nikolas. As she moved past him, she whispered, "This isn't over."

Nikolas gave a slight nod in response. He was silent as he watched her and Michael leave the room. The tension in the room was thick as Nikolas turned to face A.J. Folding his arms across his chest, he said, "I suppose you have something to say."

"Damn straight, I do," AJ replied through clenched jaw.

"Well...?" Nikolas asked with his Cassadine arrogance fully intact.

"Well?" A.J. repeated, mocking him. "Well! I don't know what your problem is, but the next time you even think about bullying my son-"

"What?" Nikolas interrupted him, his voice challenging A.J. All of sudden, the images of Dawn laughing and smiling in A.J.'s came into his mind and despite their recent break-up, Nikolas became furious. Who was A.J. to hold her like that? And, why did Dawn let him?

"I'll tell you what! You won't be able to see straight when I'm done with you. *And* you'll think twice about the tone of voice you use with children!" A.J. fired back at him.


"No, you listen! Michael's *my* son and I will not have you or anyone else reduce him to tears! Am I understood?"

"Yeah, you're understood," Nikolas said through gritted teeth. His eyes narrowed as he began to say what was on his mind, too. "Now, that I've listened to you, it's your turn to listen to me."

"Yeah? What?"

"Dawn doesn't like to be tickled . In fact, she hates it, and I don't understand how someone who's supposed to be her friend would reduce her to tears just so his *son* can have a cheap thrill."

"Cheap thrill?" A.J. repeated, his expression incredulous.

"Yeah! Cheap thrill! That was sick! Holding her down?! What the hell was that? You could have hurt her! The next time you want to have a little fun, have it at someone else's expense! Dawn may work with you, but she's not your toy!" Nikolas finished in a huff.

"Cheap thrill? Toy? You're a piece a work, you know that? What an incredible, smart and beautiful woman like Dawn would see in you boggles my mind. If you weren't so quick to come in here and claim your woman, you would have noticed that Dawn was happy, that she was enjoying herself. And if there's one thing I know about her, it's she doesn't do a damn thing unless she wants to!" A.J. said as he circled around Nikolas.

"That's rich coming from you...the man who was holding her down. I heard her screaming and yelling 'no' all the way down the hallway!"

"She was laughing!" A.J. said, bitingly.

"And another thing," Nikolas continued, ignoring A.J.'s last comment, "don't touch her again."

"Or what?" A.J. asked his tone challenging.

"Believe me, you don't want to know," Nikolas said, pushing past A.J. to exit the nursery.

Chapter 14