At the Outback there was a somewhat smaller crowd than usual for this time of week. A low hum pervaded the room as diners relaxed and shared both meals and conversation. Mac Scorpio stood behind the bar engaged in his turn as the Outback's occasional bartender. He took time from his wiping up to survey the room. In truth, he was trying desperately not to be obvious. His attention had been focused on one spot almost the entire evening - the table where Assistant District Attorney Dara Jensen sat.
Where she had been sitting was more precise. At the moment, the object of his attention was approaching the bar, empty glass in hand. "You're going to give this place a bad reputation. Customers shouldn't have to fetch their own drinks," he joked, taking the empty glass from her hand.
"Don't worry," Dara reassured him. "I will just tell everyone that I wanted to spend some time with the bartender. He happens to be a friend of mine."
Mac placed a fresh drink on the bar before her. "If I didn't say so before, you look great." Dara was clad in a simple red sheath that accentuated her well-toned body. "Those workouts are really paying off."
She raised her eyebrows. "Are you saying that I was out of shape before?"
"No!" Mac exclaimed. "Trust me, there was absolutely nothing wrong with your body before the workouts." As soon as the words exited his mouth, Mac knew he'd stepped into a minefield. "Uh, what I meant to say was . . ."
Dara took pity on him. As much as she enjoyed Mac's discomfort, she enjoyed his appreciation even more. And she had only recently figured out why. She had feelings for Mac Scorpio. Her childish schoolgirl crush on this man she admired had blossomed into a grownup, barely controlled fire burning in her belly.
There were moments when she almost believed he felt the same. The unexpected glances, lingering touches . . . little things that separately meant nothing. But together-
"I think I know what you meant, Mac. And thank you for noticing."
Justus, Diane and Keesha sat uncertainly in the silence that followed Stefan and Andresj's departure. Uncomfortable with the kiss Justus had witnessed between Andresj' and herself, Keesha looked anywhere but at her cousin.
"Going home together is probably the best thing for them to do right now," Diane said. "That way Stefan and Andresj' can sit down and talk."
"I think you are right," Keesha agreed. "Andresj' has a lot of unanswered questions. I hope he gets some answers."
"I am certain he will . . . Now, since we've all agreed that Stefan and his family need some time to figure this all out, we might as well make the most of what is left of this evening. Why don't you ladies let me treat you to dinner at the Outback?" Justus offered, trying to ease the strained atmosphere.
"Not the Port Charles Grille?" Diane teased. "Do you think your family will understand your supplementing the competition's profit margin?"
Keesha snorted derisively. "Edward would certainly have a stroke. Not that it's any of his business."
"Speaking of the old man, I need to make a quick stop at the house before we go to dinner." He hastened to add, "You don't even have to get out of the car, Lil Bit. I promise."
She made a face. "I will pass."
Her expression softened. "I would have said 'no' anyway, Justus. I promised 'Dre I would be here if he called."
"Are you sure you won't come?"
"I promised him."
The soft nicker of horses could be heard through the evening air, and the familiar smell of fresh grains and hay wafted through the state of the art stables. "You know that any chance you had to escape is now lost?" Nikolas joked, petting Sheba's neck. He and Andresj' had made their way to the stables after meeting at the launch. Their bodyguards, as instructed, stood a respectful distance away.
"I have never felt the need to escape before now," Andresj' replied.
"'Dre, I understand how upside down your life must be right now. You know that I went through almost the same thing. So if you want to talk . . . "
Andresj' shook his head. "Thanks, Nikolas. I am thrilled beyond words to be a part of this family by blood. But everything has happened so quickly that I haven't had time to figure out just what that truly means to my life. Will it change how I feel about you and Papa and Alexis? I don't think so. What I would really like is some time to think. Time without anyone else around." He stroked Shakur's velvety muzzle. "No one wondering what I'm thinking or feeling. And no one staring at my face trying to find some similarity to theirs," Andresj' said pointedly, catching his older brother in the act.
Nikolas smiled sheepishly. "Come on! Don't tell me that you haven't looked at me or Father and made comparisons of your own?"
"I haven't," Andresj' insisted. When Nikolas continued to stare at him, he laughingly confessed. "Okay. I wanted to on the drive here, but without even looking up I could tell that Papa was staring at me."
"So what about now? I told you that I wanted to help anyway I could." Nikolas stepped forward into the light. "Here I am."
Andresj' considered his brother's offer. Accepting, he approached Nikolas, not stopping until they were about a foot apart. If either young man felt any awkwardness about being so near, it did not show.
'Dre ran his fingers through his own curly locks. Nikolas' hair, though dark as his own, lay smooth upon his head. "That's Cassadine," Nikolas stated firmly. "Even though Father is fair-haired, our Uncle Stavros was dark. Like us. So were some of our great-uncles."
"But none of the ancestors in the portraits I have seen had curly hair," Andresj' countered.
"So maybe you got that from your mother."
"Maybe. I guess I got my eye color from her," Andresj' commented. "Although your eyes are dark, too. Do you think that is Cassadine as well?"
"Father's eyes are green, and our grandmother's are blue."
"So are your mother's," Andresj' pointed out. "Your little sister has dark eyes, though."
"As did Stavros . . .Does this seem as pointless to you as it does to me?" Nikolas asked wryly.
"Yes," Andresj' agreed. "Because based on what we've concluded tonight, we apparently look more like our Uncle Stavros than anyone else."
Effortlessly the big 740 BMW traveled the streets of Port Charles. Justus was a careful driver, attentive to both the road and other vehicles. Like the car he drove however, a sense of restrained power exuded from him.
After a few minutes travel outside the city limits, Justus turned smoothly into a gated driveway. Even as he turned, the gate began to open, allowing him passage. A quick wave to the guard at the gate and they continued on.
"You enjoy driving, don't you?" Diane asked, finally breaking the silence.
"Yes. That was one of the reasons I bought this particular car. I wanted something I would enjoy being in often. If it were up to the old man," he admitted, "I would be chauffeured around in a limousine. As befits a grandson of his."
"I hope I am not out of line when I say this."
Justus glanced over at Diane then turned his attention back to the driveway before him. "Go ahead," he shrugged.
"I thought I sensed some . . . family tension between you and your cousin," Diane observed hesitantly. "When you mentioned your grandfather earlier, Keesha seemed upset."
"You noticed that, huh?" Justus smiled awkwardly. "It is a long story. One that I don't really have the time to tell you right now." He nodded toward the sprawling mansion and endless greens before them. "We're here."
Diane realized at that moment just how little she knew about the man beside her, a man she considered a friend. Yes, Justus had told her that his family owned the hotel in which she was staying. And the Port Charles Grille as well. And he had made several casual comments about 'the old man's' wealth. But she had no idea that he meant something like this. Diane took in the scene before her with wide eyes. "This," she asked Justus, "is your family's house?!"
He seemed almost embarrassed by her wonder. "Just about everyone in the family lives here. But the house belongs to Monica, my Uncle Alan's wife. It was his gift to her."
"He couldn't have sent flowers?" Diane joked.
"Yes, well, they're firm believers in excess," Justus apologized. "Look, why don't you come in and meet them?"
"I'm not dressed properly," she wailed, comparing their attire. As usual, Justus was dressed in suit and tie, as immaculate now as he had been when she first saw him that morning.
"You look fine," he reassured her. "And Lila won't care. Trust me."
Diane followed Justus up the walk to the front door. It was opened by a slender man who had been awaiting their arrival. "Hello, Reginald." Justus greeted the man warmly. "This is my friend Diane Jennings. I brought her by to meet Lila."
"Of course." Reginald shook Diane's hand. "I'm pleased to meet you." Turning back to Justus he smiled, "Miss Lila is in the garden. Shall I announce you?"
"That won't be necessary, Reginald. We'll just make our way there."
"Alright, but I have to warn you," he lowered his voice, "everyone is home."
Andresj' stood in the middle of a sterile white laboratory. "Papa says you have the results of the paternity tests. Give them to me now," he commanded Doctor Sabrina DeLane. "It is too late. I don't have them anymore," she said. Doctor DeLane instead pulled out a large metal table covered by a white sheet. She reached underneath the sheet and brought forth a sealed cardboard box. "These are all the things you thought you knew about yourself," she said sadly.
As he reached for the box, it became his grandmother Helena who held it before him. "Too late," she cackled triumphantly. With a flourish of her hand and a large puff of smoke, she made the box disappear. Andresj' could only stand there watching.
Gradually, the very real smell of smoke penetrated his unconscious mind. Andresj's eyes flew open just as a large hand covered his mouth. Momentarily panicked, he clutched at the hand which silenced him.
"Calm down, boy," Luke Spencer drawled. He sat on the edge of the bed, legs crossed and looking comfortable. If not for the hand pressed against Andresj's mouth, he would have been the model of domestic tranquility. "We don't want to disturb Papa Bat in his coffin, now do we?"
Andresj' tried to relax. "That's good," Luke said when the young man ceased struggling. "I am going to take my hand off your mouth," he explained slowly. "Don't you go and ruin our little visit by yelling or something else stupid like that. Okay?"
Cautiously he removed his hand from Andresj's mouth. When he was satisfied that 'Dre would not cry out, he resumed puffing on his cigar.
"How did you get in here?" Andresj' asked angrily. "You did not harm the guards?"
"Satan's minions are safe. For now. At least until the Count hears how easily I got past his precious defenses."
"What do you want, Mister Spencer?" Andresj' was rapidly losing patience.
"I want to help you, boy. I don't know why, but I do." Luke flicked the ashes from his cigar onto the floor. "It is not too late for you to escape this bunch. By the way, I know that Stuffin finally figured out that you were his kid."
Andresj's eyes widened. How did Luke Spencer know already?
"You gotta wonder why it took him so long. Hell, even I knew," Luke bluffed. Truthfully, he had only put the pieces together an hour or so ago. Sabrina's appearance in Port Charles combined with the folder Helena had slipped him could have only added up to one thing.
"A real father would have known you were his kid. At least if he loved you enough, he would have known. I knew from the moment my kids came into being that they were a part of me," Luke stated. "Funny how the Count never had a clue, huh?"
"Mister Spencer," Andresj' sighed, "I thought you realized by now that you can't turn me against my father. Ever."
"Do you know what you're in for now, boy?" Luke took a puff and blew the smoke up toward the ceiling. "Everything about your life is gonna change. You thought they loved you, gave you the best of everything, treated you as if you were one of their own. They didn't."
"Please go, Mr. Spencer. You are wasting your time and mine."
"I'll make you a deal, kid." Andresj' waited skeptically for Luke to finish. "I will leave you alone - completely."
"In exchange for?"
"You're gonna see how everything that was good enough for you before ain't good enough for you now. And how they treated you before ain't how they're gonna treat you now. Now that you're really one of them." Luke met Andresj's eyes with intensity. "When you've seen all that, find whatever part of you ain't Cassadine and be man enough to come to me and tell me I was right."
"That will never happen," Andresj' said with assurance.
Luke shook his head derisively. "You'll see, kid. Sooner than you think."
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*General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*