Grigori grabbed a couple of tissues from the nearby table.  He matter-of-factly wiped away the faint trail of tears that marked Stefan's gaunt cheeks.  Though Stefan's body was broken and paralyzed, Grigori knew that his mind and his spirit were indomitable. 

“I hired two videographers,” Grigori explained.  “One was instructed to focus on nothing but Nikolas and ‘Dre.”  He gave Stefan a shy glance.  “I thought it would make a nice surprise for you.” 

Stefan's quiet amusement was evident.  His mouth turned up at the corner and Grigori was instantly reminded of the little half-smile that Andresj' often flashed.  “Marriage has matured you.” 

“Yes.  Well…” Grigori unconsciously twisted his wedding band about his finger.  “Jolie is a wonderful girl.” 

“She must be, to allow this ruse to begin her life with you.” 

Grigori hit the mute button on the portable dvd player before starting the playback once more.  “Jolie has faith in my love for her,” he explained solemnly.  “I told her that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her nearly a year ago.”  He gave a wry smile.  “She would have married me right away, but I couldn't.  Not when I had nothing to place on the table before her father.” 

“Is that why you chose to enact this charade on my behalf?”  Stefan was curious. 

“You mean, for the generous settlement you knew Nikolas would give us?”  Grigori shook his head.  “No.”  For a few moments his gaze focused everywhere about the room but on Stefan.  “I did it because…”  Grigori took a deep breath and explained in a single rush of air.  “You were the big brother I idolized.  I know I didn't always show it,” he added sheepishly, “but I am grateful.”   

The young man finally locked eyes with Stefan.  “You gave me the kind of life I didn't even know to dream about.  If it weren't for you, I'd be back working the fields of our farm.  So if this is what it took to get Nikolas and ‘Dre acting like brothers again, it was worth it to me.” 

“But that does not mean that I agree with your choices.”  Grigori squared his shoulders.  He had already bared his emotions before Stefan.  He had nothing to lose by fully speaking his mind.  “You are wrong to let Nikolas and Andresj' believe that you are dead just because your body does not work anymore.”  The words were finally said and could not be erased.  “You live hidden in this plain little house in France when Nikolas and ‘Dre would move the very mountains to see you happy and comfortable with them at Wyndemere.” 

Stefan did not take offense to Grigori's words.  He knew that they were uttered out of genuine love for him.  “That is why they will never see me like this.”  Stefan's words could just be heard above the hum of the machinery that controlled his bodily functions.  “It is not pride.  I simply will not hold their lives hostage as they put their dreams aside to care for me.” 

The note of finality in Stefan's voice was evident.  Grigori let the matter drop for the time being, but he had no intention of giving up his fight to make Stefan change his mind and reveal to his family that Luke Spencer had not managed to kill him, only to damage his body beyond repair. 

“Very well, Stefan.”  Grigori forced himself to let the matter rest.  “Then I must leave you for now.  I have a bride waiting for me.  It is our wedding night, you know.” 

“Go,” Stefan commanded him indulgently.  “Treat her like the treasure she appears to be.” 

“I will.”  Grigori gathered up his things.  “I will come to see you again in a month or so.  Perhaps I will bring Jolie along to meet you.” 

Stefan just nodded and watched his young cousin leave.  In moments the servants would begin to pack up the house and medical equipment.  And by morning's light the only thing that would remain of Stefan's time there would be the empty building.

~the end~