Chapter 17

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The irritating noise woke Dawn from her fitful slumber. Opening her eyes, she was surprised to see that it was 6 a.m. She couldn't believe that she'd actually slept at all, but she guessed that two hours of sleep was better than nothing. Cradling her still sore right hand in the crook of her left arm, she reached over with her left hand and silenced the alarm clock. She had a busy day and she needed to get up.

Dawn showered and dressed in record time. A quick glance at her wristwatch told her that she was in the clear as she hurried down the staircase. No one would be awake at that time in the morning. She could make it to the launch and be on the mainland in no time at all.

She had gone two steps before she remembered that she and her mother had planned a special outing for the day. She stood in the doorway as she tried to decide whether or not she should leave a note for her or just call her later. She only stood still there for a second, but it was long enough for her plans to go awry.

"Where are you going so early in the morning?"

Closing her eyes at the sound of her stepfather's calm voice, Dawn took a deep breath. As she opened her eyes, she turned around to face him. A bright smile covered her lips and her eyes tried to match it as she said, "Good morning, Stefan. I'm surprised to see you up and about so early."

"Well, when duty calls, I must respond in kind," he said with a smile. He moved to sit on the sofa and patted the space beside him as an open invitation for her to join him. When she slowly shrugged out of her coat and trudged over to join him, a slight frown creased his brow. "We missed you yesterday."

"I'm sorry about that. The time escaped me and before I knew it, it was nightfall. I hope you and Mama didn't have Mrs. Landsbury hold dinner, or anything..." she said quietly, resting her eyes on her boot covered feet.

"No, we didn't hold dinner, but we were concerned. Usually, you and Nikolas inform us when your plans change."

"Stefan, I... We... Well, we weren't really together. We left together, but that's about it." She stole a quick glance at the Grandfather clock beside the fireplace. It stared back at her and told her that it wasn't late enough for her to use tardiness for work as an excuse. She'd have to indulge Stefan a few minutes more and then, she could safely be on her way to ponder the events of the previous day.

"You and Nikolas didn't share the day together?" Stefan asked with a frown. "I don't understand. I was under the impression that you two had special plans."

"No, we didn't," Dawn replied. Not ready to tell him about their break-up, she decided that the best thing she could do was leave. She moved to stand, and in an effort to stop her, Stefan reached for her injured hand, causing her to wince in pain.

"What's wrong with your hand?" Stefan asked. "It's swollen."

"It's really not that bad," Dawn said, moving away from him. "I hate to run like this, but Windors is waiting for me. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"But, Dawn, wait," he said, rising from the sofa and going towards her.

Dawn picked up her coat from the chair and raised her eyes to his. "Later. We'll talk later." And, with that said, she opened the door and left.


"Are you sure you don't want me to come in with you? I'd hate for you to have to endure the wrath of your family alone on my accou-"

"Ssh," Emily said, placing gentle fingers against Nikolas' soft, full lips. She smiled when he kissed her fingertips and then, she said, "I can handle them. Trust me. If you came in here with me, it would be much worse than if I went in alone. Besides, I doubt if anyone's awake, yet."

"Well, as long as you're sure?" Nikolas asked again, prolonging the moment until he'd have to say good-bye to her. They'd spent most of the night talking about their lives and rediscovering each other all over again. Now, as the night before, he continued to marvel at the beautiful, young woman before him. He also scolded himself for being so obtuse the years before. He'd wasted so much time, being her self-appointed protector, that he'd missed out on being so much more. As she smiled back at him with her soft lips and shiny brown eyes, he decided to make up for lost time.

"I'm sure, but thanks for the offer," she said, linking her arm through his as they continued up the brick path which led to her home. "Besides, you have more important things to do this morning than face the rowdy Q clan."

"Yeah," he mumbled, his eyes moving from her profile to rest on the lopsided snowman who still resided on the lawn despite the shining sun. The snowman brought images of a smiling, laughing Dawn to his mind, as well as, the angry and hurt Dawn who gave him what he had so richly deserved, he thought as he absently rubbed his jaw.

Emily noticed the movement out of the corner of her eye. Not one for keeping her opinions to herself, she felt compelled to say, "You do realize that you had that coming, right?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "I definitely deserved it."

"And, you do realize that you have to talk to her about it, right? As soon as possible?" she asked, pausing to stop in order to look at him. When his eyes remained on the snowman, she cupped his face with her hands and turned his head so that his eyes were focused on her. "Honestly, Nik, the sooner you two get whatever it is out in the open, the better you both will be."

"I suppose, you're right," he agreed with a sigh, but the thought of facing Dawn again was something he wanted to push as far from his mind as possible.

"What's wrong?" Emily asked, sensing that there was something more to the sigh and the bleakness she saw in his eyes.

"I hurt her on purpose for reasons I still can't explain, Em," he said, covering her hands with his and moving them away from his face as he continued to hold them. "I don't know how to face her. I don't know what to say that'll change..."

"That'll change what?" Emily asked when he stopped speaking.

Nikolas drew a long breath. "That'll change the way she looked at me. Even though we're not together, I still care about her. That won't change...ever, and... Well, she and I have been through a lot together, and I feel that in one moment of blind, utter stupidity, I could have lost one of my closest friends. Do you understand what I mean? It's not that I want to be in a relationship with her again. It's just that I don't want to lose her, either."

"I understand," she told him. "I told you before that Tommy and I had to work through a lot things, and we came very close to losing each other which was something neither of us wanted. Nik, you don't know that you've lost her. You won't know until you try and you've got to try, especially since she means so much to you, right?"

"I suppose you're right. Again!" he said, shaking his head as a small laugh escaped him. "I just realized something, Emily Quartermaine."

"And, what might that be, Nikolas Cassadine?" she asked, smiling at the change in his mood.

"No matter what, you've always been able to make me laugh," he said softly. "Thank you."

"No, thanks needed-" Emily began, but was stopped when Nikolas lowered his head to hers. His lips cajoled her into opening her mouth for him and she did without a moment's hesitation. Soon, his exploring, teasing tongue found hers, and when he finally raised his head, both where left breathless and speechless. A silent nod of good-bye was all they could manage as they went their separate ways.


Tommy parked his Mustang in the parking space which his promotion had awarded him. As he rose from his car, he realized that he was glad to be at work and away from his caring mother and his annoying step-father, at least for a few hours. A small twinge of guilt overcame him as he thought of a few more adjectives to describe Justus. It wasn't that Justus was a complete jerk, Tommy told himself, it was just that he wasn't his dad. And, try as Justus might, he could never replace the now deceased Tom Hardy in Tommy's life and in his heart.

Listening for the beep of his alarm as he set it, he backed towards the gym. Confident that it was set, he turned around and faced the direction he was headed. As he side-stepped the slush, he grudgingly admitted that his mother was right. Why *did* he go to the Qs instead of just calling her on the phone, he wondered. Were there still a few residual feelings left over? But, there couldn't be, he thought, shaking his head. He and Em had cleared that mess up a *long* time ago and there was no need to rehash it now. But, why the trip, the annoying voice asked again. "I don't know!" he answered aloud, as he unlocked the front doors.

"Mm...talking to yourself. Maybe we need to rethink this promotion," Dawn said, teasing him. As she smiled at his surprised and slightly embarrassed expression, she was thankful to be far, far away from Wyndemere and safe at work.

"Well, good morning, Miss Jensen," he beamed at her, refusing to surrender to the blush which threatened to redden his face. The last thing he wanted was for her to see him embarrassed, so he decided to play it off.

"I've told you before," Dawn said as she followed him into the dark, empty gym, "you don't have to call me 'Miss Jensen.'"

"But, we're at work. I didn't want you to think that I..." he faltered as she looked at him with an annoyed, but amused look on her face. He silently wondered how she could do that. Cute, he thought. Very cute...

Dawn frowned at him in confusion as he gave her a lopsided grin. She began to back away from him and go into the office she shared with AJ, "You're weird, Tommy. Has anyone ever told you that?"

"Nah, not really," he answered, honestly. He added with a laugh of disbelief, "I've been told that I can be annoying, though."

"I'll buy that," she agreed to herself. Aware that she had spoken aloud, she looked at him to find that his green eyes had become unreadable. "I'm sorry," she immediately apologized. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I was only teasing you."

"No big deal," he shrugged as he left her doorway. As he began his daily chores, he began to wonder why her agreeing with him would bother him so. She's taken, you idiot, he reminded himself.

Dawn watched Tommy as he ambled away from her. She'd liked him from the moment he won her over in his interview. He had a great personality and a commanding presence. She knew from firsthand knowledge that he made the clientele feel safe and secure. He didn't judge them as he assisted them in working out their demons with weights or other methods of exercise. He just guided them along the way.

A while back, she'd asked AJ if Tommy had ever been in recovery and if that was where he got his strength from. He'd told her no, but that he'd helped someone close to him find their way and that's probably what she'd sensed in him. Now, as she watched him move about, she wondered who was the influence that caused him to be the type of young man who would arrive at work so early and always give one hundred per cent...even at 7 a.m. in the morning.

She continued to watch him as he shrugged out of his long overcoat, and she couldn't resist the urge to peek at his firm backside as he bent over to retrieve something or other. Shaking her head at herself, she turned away from him and went back into her office. She needed to get her mind on the business of helping people and *not* firm butts, she reminded herself. A fresh cup of coffee should do the trick, she decided.

She went to the Mr. Coffee and was very happy to see that it had been left cleaned. Without thinking of her injury, she reached into the cabinet for her favorite Vanilla Nut coffee blend. When her hand came into contact with the canister, a yelp of pain escaped her and tears sprang to her eyes.

"Dawn! Are you okay?" Tommy asked, rushing towards. He'd come to ask her a question about the daily schedule, but it vanished from his mind when he saw her in pain. "Did you burn yourself?" he asked as he reached her.

"No, I just hurt it. It'll be okay," Dawn said, cradling her hand as she moved to sit behind AJ's desk.

"Well, let me take a look at it," he offered. "I've had my share of football injuries. Maybe I can help..."

"Tommy..." she began as she almost refused his kind offer. The throbbing pain made her quickly change her mind and she held out her hand to him.

"It's swollen," he said, as he carefully held her hand in his. "This may hurt a little bit, but I'm only checking for broken bones. I'll be quick, okay?"

"Okay," she nodded, watching him.

She winced with his first probe and he mumbled, "Sorry," but he continued with his examination. "I don't think anything's broken, but we should take you to emergency, just in case."

"That's not necessary. If I ice it, it should be okay," she said, pretending not to notice that Tommy still held her hand.

"Well, maybe," he said, uncertain about that method of healing. "When did you hurt it? That bruise looks kind of nasty."

"Last night," she shrugged.

"Last night?" he repeated, subconsciously stroking her hand with gentle fingers. "Why didn't you see someone then?"

"It was late and it didn't really start hurting until early this morning," she said, breathlessly. She wasn't sure if she was breathless because of the pain or because of the caresses, but either way, she knew the caresses had to stop. She liked Tommy, but she didn't want to lead him on, so she carefully removed her hand from his.

If Tommy was upset about the movement, he gave no indication. Instead, he continued to voice his concerns. "Well, how did it happen?"

"I'd really rather not go into," Dawn replied with a tight smile.

"Okay. I won't ask anymore questions," Tommy said, taking the hint. He rose from his seated position on the edge of AJ's desk and as he stood, said, "Grab your coat. We'd better get you to the ER as soon as possible."

"No. Really, I'm fi-"

"You should have it looked at just in case. I'll leave AJ a note, or something. Besides, Krista should be here soon. The gym will open on time. Your hand is more important, anyway," Tommy said as he went back to retrieve his coat from his locker. When he returned, he was relieved to see that she was waiting for him by the door.

"I left a voicemail for AJ," Dawn said.

"Cool. Let's go," he replied, unlocking the glass doors. He waited for Dawn to pass through and he quickly followed her. From the entrance to the gym, he clicked the alarm for his car and the little beep sounded.

They walked silently to his car. Both were so deep in their own thoughts that they didn't hear the car pull up beside them until the driver had stepped out and slammed the door shut.


Startled, Dawn turned around at the sound of her name. Her heart skipped a beat as she looked at Nikolas and saw the purple bruise that had formed on his jaw line. "Nikolas..."

"I was wondering if we could talk... If it's alright with you," Nikolas said softly, watching her closely and frowning at the way she favored her hand. "What's wrong with your hand?"

"We're going to GH, so maybe you can catch up with her later," Tommy interjected. He couldn't help but notice the bruise on Nikolas jaw, and he knew exactly who had put it there. Dawn. He didn't need to know the reason, but he knew that if she had to punch him, he must have deserved it. He suddenly felt protective of her and wanted her away from Nikolas...regardless of her relationship with him.

"Nah, I don't think so," Nikolas said, dismissing Tommy's suggestion. He moved towards Dawn, but stopped as she backed away from him. His eyes clouded with hurt as he saw the slight movement. Surely, she knew he'd never harm her, he thought. Well, not physically, at least. "Dawn, I'm sorry about last night. Maybe I could drive you to GH and we could talk."

Tommy felt a strong urge to answer for her, but he decided to resist it. Biting his lip, he watched her as she began to speak.

"Nikolas, I'm not so sure that's a good idea," she replied, after taking a deep breath. She didn't want to cause a scene in front of Tommy, so she kept her voice low and even.

"Please. Let me. It's the least I can do," Nikolas pleaded, with his eyes and his soft voice.

Dawn closed her eyes for a second as she tried to think of a way to get out of talking to Nikolas. She'd spent most of the night, trying to come up with the words to apologize to him for striking him in anger, but none would come. And, now, he wanted to talk, she asked herself, amazed at the unfortunate timing.

She wasn't one to run away from anything. She hadn't been that type of person since she experimented with a few substances which left her feeling out of control. She didn't like that feeling and she had been determined to never feel that way again. But, her determination wasn't strong enough and she had failed. The minute she struck Nikolas in anger, she became a failure, and the only way for her to right that wrong would be for her to face him. There was no other way. With a slight nod of her head, she accepted his offer.

Chapter 18