Chapter 1 - San Francisco, CA, June 2002

I thought I saw a man brought to life
He was warm
He came around like he was dignified
He showed me what it was to cry

She clearly remembered the first time she saw Stefan Cassadine. It was at the Monster Pit, an artsy club that featured open mic poetry freestyle. Geordi, the owner and a friend of hers, tricked her into going onstage. He claimed his patrons loved her and after the depressing day she'd had, wasn't she entitled to a little love?

So, there she stood behind the mic, waiting for her flow. Her gaze scanned the crowd in search of a spark. Usually the trigger came from out of nowhere. She never consciously used her real life situation as a topic. Too personal. No one would get it but her. The vibe came from the audience. A man and a woman at the bar. The rhythm of the atmosphere. Little things spoke to her. But that night was different.

His bearing made him appear aloof, as if he sat heads above everyone else. She doubted if he was conscious of it. He was Greco-Russian royalty for goodness' sake. And that made her wonder what he was doing there in a place like that...a mostly black clientele. Then, it hit her. The words flowed in a stream of vibrations. A rhythmic tale about a lost soul who finds his dignity along the way. She didn't mean to, but she spoke the words to him. Every last syllable. When she was done, the crowd cheered. Geordi cheesed it up and she faded off the stage.

She headed to Stefan's table. Her intent was to apologize. She had a feeling that she struck too close to home. But his table was empty. The drink, she guessed Vodka, was untouched. He disappeared.

Unease that she'd crossed over into forbidden territory--another's deepest heart--nagged at her. She shrugged into her leather jacket and headed outside. The chill from the Pacific was biting. She zipped the coat and rushed to her car. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw him standing there…waiting for her.

Her mouth dropped open. Too stunned to speak all she could do was stare. Her hand clutched her key chain in a death grip.

"I assure you that I wish you no harm." He glanced pointedly at the sharp, jagged edge of her car key. "I wish to speak with you."

"I'm sure you do." Regaining the ability to speak, her voice came out breathy. She cleared her throat. The husky quality of her voice embarrassed her. Even as his green eyes lit up with a warm smile. "I should apologize."

"For what?" he asked, his voice gliding over her like maple syrup over warm biscuits. "Your ability bears no need for apology. To speak so freely and without forethought is a gift. You should be proud."

"I don't feel proud," she answered honestly. "I feel like I invaded your space. I hope you weren't uncomfortable."

"Ms. Jensen very few things, if anything at all, embarrass me. Actually, I was flattered."

"You know my name," she said in quiet in surprise.

"As you know mine."

"Mr. Cassadine--"

"Please, call me Stefan," he responded smoothly.

"Then you may call me Dawn."

That night was the beginning of more than just a friendship. There was a connection. Deep and profound. She found herself sharing things with him that she'd never revealed to her closest girlfriends or ever her older sister, Dara. And he reciprocated. He told her that he'd left Port Charles to embark on a journey of self-discovery. His travels took him all across America, but no place captured him as much as San Francisco and Geordi's Monster Pit. He loved the untamed quality of the open mic poetry sessions. He'd heard her on his first night and had come back frequently to hear her again. He was more than pleased when she took the stage.

"I guess that explains how you know my name."

Stefan smiled, oblivious to the ebb and flow of the coffee shop they'd sat to talk. "No, I remember you from Port Charles. Your work with the Charles Street Foundation was commendable."

"I was only a helper. Keesha's heart and soul keeps the Foundation breathing."

"I'm sure she misses you."

Dawn felt a smile come to her lips. His nosiness was subtle. She liked that. "She does, but not for long. In three months, I'll be back. CSF has expanded. We opened another branch here to service the West Coast. I've been here for almost a year. It's time for me to go home." She stirred sugar into her cup of decaf. "What about you? Any plans of going back?"

"Yesterday, I would have said no."

That was three months ago. As sunlight streamed into the hotel suite, she met the day with mixed emotions. Was she truly ready to return home?

The warm body next to hers shifted on the bed. A hand squeezed her hip and then flattened against her abdomen. He pulled her against his hard chest. His cold medallion pressed into her back.

"Good morning," Stefan growled in her ear. "I trust you slept well."

"When you finally allowed me to sleep," she said, teasing him. She rolled onto her back. His green eyes scrutinized her. She stroked his jaw, enjoying the prickle of his goatee. "Good morning."

He shifted his weight onto his side and elbow. "We don't have to return to Port Charles. Greece--"

"Doesn't have the Charles Street Foundation," she interjected. "I have to go. Keesha's expecting me."

"Your misgivings are in regards to me, then," he stated. "I'm too old."

She laughed when he made a face. "No, I don't think you're too old. Especially not after last night. I'm a little worried about my family's reaction. I don't want you to take anything they say or do to heart. They know we're together, but that doesn't mean… When you're the youngest, the rest of the family put into a mold. They expect you to be a certain way. Facing the real me hasn't been easy for them."

Stefan nodded. "I know."

His face grew tight, reflecting the pain of his past with his family. Hers hadn't been as difficult. But then again, everyone had his or her cross to bear. She hated to see the sadness in his eyes. She slipped her hands around his neck and pulled him to her. She knew a sure-fire way to bring him back to the present.

(Song Credit: "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia)

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