"Why do you keep staring at me?" Dawn asked, as she and A.J. slowly walked along the boardwalk. Nightfall had put a chill in the air, and twinkling stars littered the dark blue sky, lighting their way.
"Was I?" A.J. asked, his eyes holding hers.
"Yes!" she laughed, playfully punching my arm. "If I had known about your staring problem, I would have taken Tommy up on his offer."
"Oh, would you have?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Oh, most definitely!" she said, grinning at him. "What self-respecting woman would past up the opportunity to ride in a...let get this right..in a brand-new, top of the line, fully loaded, Candy Apple Red Mustang with a cute guy?"
"Cute?" AJ repeated, turning up his nose. "You honestly think he's cute?"
"Honestly?" she asked, her voice serious.
"Heck, yeah! Tommy's a babe!" she said. She began to laugh as a scowl formed on A.J.'s handsome face.
"It's not that funny, Dawn," he growled as she continued to laugh. "And, he's not *that* cute."
"I gotta disagree there, A.J.," she replied. "Tommy is pretty attractive. *But*..."
"But what?" he asked grumpily.
All traces of laughter vanished from her eyes as she linked her arms through his. Her voice again became serious and she spoke softly as she said, "He's not as cute as you."
A.J. felt himself grow hot from the heat of her gaze, but he didn't speak. He couldn't. She had him spellbound and he waited patiently to see what would happen next. He didn't have long to wait as Dawn began to speak again.
"Do you have to go right back? Can we talk?" she asked, as she stopped walking to face him.
"Sure. We can talk, but what about the launch? Do you want me to ride with you over to Wyndemere or...?"
"We have the entire dock to ourselves. I'd like to talk here if you don't mind. It's kinda chilly, but... Well, the thing is what I need to say to you... Well, I'd rather for us to be alone for what I have to say," she said, her voice a little shy with uncertainty.
"The dock is fine," he said. He saw a bench and indicated that they should sit. After they had sat down, he said, "You sound serious. You're not angry with me about this afternoon are you?"
"No, not at you. In fact, I want to apologize. Nikolas was... Well, he was-"
"An ass?" A.J. supplied the word. His voice held laughter, but his eyes were filled with concern and a hint of anger. "Is he always like that?"
"No!" she said, shaking her head. "He's never been like that. I was surprised. He's always been wonderful. I don't know what possessed him to act like that unless..."
"Unless what?" he asked, his curiosity piqued by the unreadable expression in her eyes.
"Nothing," she said, dismissing her thought. She couldn't tell A.J. about Nikolas' disappearing pajama bottoms when she still had yet to tell him something which was even more important. She shook her head as she cleared that particular item from her mind. Her eyes captured his eyes as she began to speak again. "A.J., I have something to tell you..."
"I gathered that," he said with a gentle smile. He knew what her words would be, but he needed to hear her same them to make it real.
The gentleness of his eyes and softness of his voice gave her the encouragement she needed. After taking a deep, cleansing breath she said, "Nikolas and I broke up last night."
"I know," he said as he released the breath he had been holding.
"You do?" she asked, confused. "Nikolas told you?"
"No. Em did." His voice was husky with emotion as he asked, "Are you okay with that? With it being over?"
"I don't look at it as being over because it's not. I see it as a start for new beginnings."
"So...um...if I did this...," A.J. whispered as he moved closer to her. His hand gently cupped her head as he brought her face to his. Time stood still as his mouth hovered just inches from hers. His breath was warm against her mouth as he looked deeply into her eyes and whispered, "You wouldn't slap me?"
Before Dawn could respond, A.J.'s lips were on hers. He brushed against her lightly at first. Undemanding, gentle and sweet...until her lips parted and her tongue brushed against his. For the briefest second, A.J. was stunned by her probing, but soon his shock was overcome by passion. He kept one hand against the back of her head as his other hand brought her close against him, all the while, his tongue moved against hers, tasting her minty sweetness and drawing her deeper inside of him.
When the kiss ended, both were left breathless. Dawn rested her head in the crook of his parka-covered shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her shoulder and drew her closer. Her hand rested on his denim clad thigh and she began to trace tiny circles. She felt him shiver at her innocent touch and she smiled.
A.J. lowered his head to get a better look at her face. He saw the smile and couldn't resist the urge to tease her. "Well, at least you didn't slap me this time."
"Ha ha. Very funny," she said, laughing softly against him. She stopped laughing and again she became serious. "If what you were offering me last night still stands, I'd like to take you up on it. I can't pretend that I don't care for you any more. If you still want to be with me, I want to be with you, too."
"You don't know how much I've wanted to hear those words..."
"But?" she asked with a frown as he stopped speaking and looked out at the cold water.
"I don't want you on the rebound, Dawn," he said, looking away from the soothing comfort of the waves to gaze at her. He saw the disappointment and confusion in her eyes and he quickly spoke to reassure her. "But, don't think I don't want you because I do. I just want you to be sure about me...about us. Understand?"
Dawn released the breath she had been holding and nodded her head. She understood. A.J. was right. Rushing into a relationship was never a good idea. They had time. Besides, she had to settle a few things with the man who once held the key to her heart.
Nikolas' mind was in turmoil. His behavior at the Quartermaine mansion shocked and frightened him. He'd never been so aggressive before, especially not with Dawn. Remembering how he grabbed her from the A.J.'s grasp caused him to shudder. His hands flexed and he looked at them, hoping that he hadn't caused her any harm or pain.
Rising from his prone position on the bed, he sat on the edge. He looked around the room as he recounted the events of the previous night. She and he had broken up. They were sad about it, but both knew it was the right thing to do. He wasn't in love with her anymore. He was sure of it. But, why did he react so violently to seeing her with someone else?
The questioned repeated itself in his mind as he rose from the bed and left his room. He needed to move. He couldn't dwell on something which was determined to allude him. When he had returned home, Mrs. Landsbury had informed him that Stefan and Carrie had retired for the evening. As he continued onto the main floor and he headed for the library, he hoped their "retirement" lasted until the next morning. He and Dawn hadn't told them about their recent decision and he wasn't ready to face the barrage of questions they were sure to bombard him with.
To his relief, he reached the living room without seeing anyone. As he turned to go down the hallway which led to the library, he stopped when a saw that he was no longer alone. Dawn had arrived and the look in her eyes told him that his behavior a few hours ago had not been forgotten.
"Great, you're here," she said, her eyes flashing with fire. "We need to talk."
Nikolas gave a slight nod of his head and moved out of her way as she brushed past him to go back into the living room. He followed at a slower pace and folded his arms across his chest. The anger which had left him returned in full force as he waited for her to speak.
"What the hell were you thinking about? Manhandling me? And in front of Michael and AJ?! Do you realize he's terrified of you now?" she fired at him.
"Good! A.J. should be terrified of me! How dare he grope you and hold you down?! And in front his child no less! How can you work with him?"
"A.J. is *not* the one who's terrified of you although it looks as if your ego would like that. By the way, he was *not* groping me! We were playing!"
"Playing?" he repeated. His brown eyes darkened as he moved to stand inches from her. His hands were planted firmly on his slim hips as through narrowed eyes he said, "So, you were playing? Hmm. Did you 'play' with him all those times you told me you were meeting with him to go over his business plans? Was it really business or were those 'play' dates, Dawn?"
"Nikolas, if I were you, I'd stop while I was ahead," Dawn warned him, her voice deadly quiet.
"Nah, I don't want to stop. I think I'm on to something," he said, taunting her.
"You're not on to anything," she said angrily, turning away from the accusing look she saw in his eyes.
Nikolas grabbed her arm, turning her around to face him. "Oh, yes, I am. I can see it in your eyes. You were 'playing' with him all along. Judging by your swollen lips, you and he found more time to 'play.' I'm curious, Dawn, do you two normally begin foreplay in front of Michael or-"
The rest of Nikolas' taunting question was lost as Dawn balled up her fist and quieted him with a right hook to his jaw. The sound of the hit echoed in the room and silenced them both. Nikolas immediately released her and said, "I guess I have my answer."
Holding his jaw, he stormed past her and slammed out of the room. Dawn watched him leave in stunned silence. Cradling her hand, she sank down into the plush sofa and closed her eyes as the tears began to fall.
Emily stared sightlessly at her empty journal pages. Her journal had always given her the objective she needed to get through her often turbulent life. She started jotting things down when her mother became sick. Putting her emotions down on paper had helped her and had even given her comfort as her mother slowly drifted away from her. Later, as she grew older, she began to record the day to day events of her life, but after the trial, she stopped.
She didn't know why, but for some reason, her entries were limited to larger events in her life. Like when she learned the truth about her nephew's paternity, or when Alan left. Those entries had saddened her and she decided that she'd rather focus on the positive, so her more recent entries included her relationship with Tommy. When they first met...their first date...their first kiss... And despite, her 'emphasis on the positive' rule, she even recorded her thoughts on the events which led to their break-up. The break-up was by mutual agreement, but that didn't make the pain any less real.
Emily sighed and closed her journal. She placed it face down on her nightstand. She didn't want to think about the past. She and Tommy had resolved all of the old baggage anyway and there was no need to dwell on it. She was pleased with their present. They were better people because of it, but still...there was just something missing...
Resting her back against her pillows, she was just about to indulge in a few thoughts of him when her private line rang. She sat up in bed and grabbed her cordless from her bedside table. "Hello," she said.
"Hi, Emily," came the weary, muffled masculine voice on the other end.
"Nikolas? Is that you?" she asked, confused by the hollow sound of his voice.
"Yeah, it's me. I'm sorry I'm calling so late. If I'm disturbing you, we can talk later."
"No!" she replied, responding to lost note she heard in his voice, she clutched the telephone. "We can talk now. What's wrong? You sound awful."
"I feel awful. I've been awful..."
"Oh, Nikolas. I know that's not true," she said, her voice filled with sympathy. She rose from her bed and moved to stand in her bay window. She sat down on her window seat as she waited for him to continue.
"You may change your mind when you hear what I've done," he said, quietly.
"I'm sure it can't be that bad," she said reassuring him.
"It's worse," he mumbled. "Emily, would you like to go for a drive with me? I feel odd, sitting out here in front of your home, talking to you on my cell phone, when we could talk face to face."
"I had no idea you were down there," she said, a little surprised at his admission. "I'll be right down, okay? Give me ten minutes."
The time passed quickly and soon Emily was in the passenger seat of Nikolas' Jaguar. He didn't speak as he guided the sleek machine through the snow-slick streets of Port Charles. His eyes were glued straight ahead as his hands clutched the steering wheel.
Emily glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. His silence didn't frightened her. She felt safe with him, the same as she always had. She knew that inside he was beating himself up over something and she waited patiently for him to confide in her.
"Are we going anywhere in particular?" she asked as she watched the blur of houses and buildings fly past them.
"Huh?" he asked, distracted. They came upon a stop sign and he stopped the car. Looking at her, he said, "I'm sorry, Em. Sometimes, when I drive, I drift off."
"It's okay," she said, reaching over to briefly cover his hand which continued to clutch the steering wheel.
"It doesn't feel okay," he said with a deep sigh. "I made a horrible mistake today, Em, and when I could have fixed it, I made it worse."
"You mean what happened in Mikey's room? A.J. told me some of it. He said that the two of you argued."
"Yeah, that's a good way to describe it," he said, as he directed his attention to the open road again. He drove until he found an open coffee shop. He pulled into the parking lot and parked the Jag. Neither he nor Emily made any moves to leave the car. Nikolas shifted in his seat to face her.
Emily hadn't seen his full face until that moment. Without thinking, she reached out and caressed the left side of his face where a bruise was forming. "What happened to you?" she asked, her eyes full of shock.
"Something I deserved," he said softly, enjoying the feel of her hand against his sore jaw.
"Nikolas, come on. Tell me what happened."
He removed her hand from his face and held it between both of his. His fingers were gentle against her soft skin as he said, "I said some things to Dawn which were...horribly wrong and she-"
"She hit you?" Emily said, a frown creased her brow as she sat up straight in indignation. "She did *that* to you?"
"Yeah, she did. I was awful to her, Em, and I said things that I didn't even really believe. I accused her of having a sexual relationship with A.J. And the worse thing is, I just said it to irritate her...to hurt her."
"Why? That doesn't sound like you," she said, quietly.
"It didn't *feel* like me either. I've been asking myself 'why' since I left your place earlier. Why did I pull her away from A.J.? Why did I provoke him? Why did I provoke her to violence? All of these questions keep screaming at me."
"Have you tried to answer them? It seems to me like you already have the answer, but you don't want to accept it."
"What answer might that be?"
"You didn't really want to break up with her," she said, forcing herself to sound neutral, as if it wouldn't matter to her if it was true.
"No, that's not it," he said shaking his head. "Breaking up with her was right, but seeing her with someone else... That will take some getting used to. I think I'm just so used to her being with me that all of the old feelings took control and I felt as if I had to *claim* my role in her life. A.J. had me pegged when he said that I was in a rush to claim my woman."
"Is that how you felt? Like you had to claim her? Make A.J. know that she was yours?"
"Yeah, I didn't like seeing A.J. holding her and I didn't like seeing her enjoy it. It infuriated me," he said. He laughed softly to him...at himself.
"Ah...now, I understand," she said with a smile, as she watched him laugh.
"Oh, yeah? Care to elaborate?" he asked. He shifted in his seat and his knee brushed against her thigh, causing his nerve endings to tingle. Her sharp intake of breath didn't go unnoticed by him and he smiled to himself, pleased that she had been affected, too.
"The same thing happened when Tommy and I first broke up. It was hard to let go at first, to remember the boundaries that "just friends" cause to spring up. It took some getting used to."
"On his part?" Nikolas asked, interested, his hands still holding hers.
"On both of our parts. He's the captain of the football team. When girls heard he was on the market again, they almost knocked me down to get to him," she said, laughing at the memory. "And when I started singing at gigs... Well, I started to get a little attention which Tommy didn't like at all."
"How did you deal with it?" he asked, feeling reassured, knowing that she and Tommy were really a thing of the past.
"We fought, yelled and then almost made the mistake of getting back together. Finally, we saw the light and found a common ground."
"I'm not sure if I should tell you. In fact, I won't. You and Dawn have to find your common ground your own way," she said with an all-knowing smile.
Nikolas watched her closely, impressed by the wisdom of her words and gentleness of her voice. His voice became low as he caressed her face and said, "Have you always been so wise Emily Bowen-Quartermaine?"
"Always," she said softly. Her eyes were captured by his as he continued to gaze at her. When he lowered his head to hers, she didn't move except to close her eyes.
The brush of his lips against hers was soft, teasing her in its tenderness. Wanting and needing to taste him, she parted her lips and moved her tongue against his lips. He gasped in response to her sensual inquiry and parted his lips, too, giving her entry, answering her need. His tongue brushed against hers as they savored their first taste of each other and enjoyed their first kiss under the stars.