'This is how life should be,' Stefan mused. He and Alexis sat in companionable silence, enjoying a glass of wine. He was reminded of all the times they'd spent together in Greece, each determined to be the other's safe haven.
"Do you remember," Alexis asked fondly, "the promises we made to one another?"
"Yes." Stefan was not surprised that his sister's thoughts had taken the same path as his own.
"We agreed that we would always be there for one another. And that we would always be truthful with each other," Alexis recalled. "And most importantly, we would make sure our own families knew the kind of love and stability we never had."
"How simple those promises seemed then," Stefan marveled. "We had no idea of the obstacles life would place before us."
"But we've done pretty well, Stefan. We have had some rough spots-"
"Such as the revelation of my true relationship to Laura and Nikolas."
"Or my bid for a share of the family empire," Alexis countered. "We have both made mistakes. But when I look at you, and think of Nikolas and Andresj', I feel that all those promises have come true."
Stefan smiled his agreement. "The Cassadines have become a family."
Two dark-haired siblings sat across the table from one another. Each one seemed totally focused on the task at hand. The older sibling worked methodically and painstakingly, but with an assurance born of experience. The younger was more carefree, indulging occasionally in moments of exuberance.
Laura observed quietly as Lulu held up a drawing for her older brother to see. Nikolas smilingly complimented her work, then returned the favor by displaying his artwork.
'Why?' Laura berated herself. 'Why wasn't I strong enough to fight for him?'
Nikolas looked up and saw Laura standing in the shadowed doorway. Instinctively he raised his emotional barriers against her. After all the hurt he'd suffered at her hands, such an action was automatic. It didn't go unnoticed by Laura.
Masking the pain she felt at his withdrawal, Laura smiled brightly and entered the room. "Alright, sweetheart, we had better let Brother get home. He's got a big day tomorrow."
"Tomorrow is Andresj's day. Father and I just want to make sure it goes perfectly."
"Will it be as large an occasion as your seventeenth birthday?" Laura asked carefully.
"Not quite," Nikolas acknowledged. "That was a celebration for the Cassadine Prince. But Andresj's party will be among the biggest the family has seen."
"It was very nice of you to include me."
"'Dre suggested it," Nikolas corrected her softly. "But I am glad he did."
A soft humming filled the small kitchen as the young woman checked the pots on the stove. Obviously enjoying herself, the dark-haired beauty lovingly prepared that evening's meal.
"How domestic," came a voice from the doorway, causing her to spin around in alarm. A thrill of fear ran through her. Helena Cassadine stood before her, a small, cruel smile upon her face.
Disguising her unease, the young woman demanded, "What are you doing here?"
"I am in search of the truth, my dear. You knew eventually I would come."
"What truth would I have for you, Mrs. Cassadine?"
"Let us not play games, girl. I have no patience for them." Helena's precise, refined speech could not disguise the menace it held.
"And I have no patience for this," the young woman countered angrily.
"I am sorry. Have I interrupted your preparation of supper?" The young woman was thrown off by Helena's change of subject and did not reply.
"I see that you have set another place at the table," Helena pointed out.
Seizing the opportunity before her, the dark-haired girl informed Helena, "Piotr is due to arrive at any moment."
"I would not rely on that, my dear. Piotr has been . . . detained."
Instinctively the young woman's eyes darted toward the next room.
"Your son is fine. I have seen to it," Helena assured her.
"If you have hurt him-"
Helena threw her head back in amusement. "Bravado? I am impressed!" But just as quickly as it had appeared, her amusement disappeared. "Did you think you could keep Stefan's secret?"
When the young woman failed to respond, Helena advanced toward her until they stood eye-to-eye. "Make no mistake," she continued, "I will have the truth about the child's paternity - any way I must."
Never losing eye contact, the young woman replied, "Do what you will, old woman. I have nothing to say."
"Defiant to the end. Very well."
Something in Helena's tone finally alerted the young woman to the absolute danger she faced. And with a flash of realization, all of Piotr's veiled warnings about Helena Cassadine made sense. But too late. There was a sudden pain, and the young woman felt herself slipping toward the floor - and darkness.
As she fell, Helena remarked "You chose unwisely, dear girl." Bending down, she gently brushed the hair from the young woman's face. "But I am not without maternal feelings. Rest easy in the knowledge that I will allow your little one to live."
Andresj' padded barefoot down the hallway to Nikolas' suite of rooms. He tapped twice softly on the door, a childhood signal between the two brothers.
"What's wrong?" Nikolas sat up in bed to ask.
"Nothing," Andresj' responded quickly. "I couldn't sleep and I wanted to see if you were still awake."
"I was just lying here," Nikolas reassured his younger brother as he flipped on the small bedside lamp. He motioned for Andresj' to sit on the bed. "What's going on?"
"Have you talked to Papa about my birthday celebration?"
Nikolas chuckled. "Is that what you're in here for? To try and get information out of me about your party?"
"Why are so many deliveries being made? And there is food constantly being flown in. Even security has been increased."
"You're serious, aren't you?" Nikolas frowned. "'Dre, it's your seventeenth birthday! Cassadine tradition says the family should mark the occasion with a celebration."
"But all I want is something simple and small."
"Come on, you know that's not possible. Our Cassadine cousins as well as our European allies will all attend."
"Why?" Andresj' protested. "I mean, I understood them coming and showing their allegiance to you. You were the Cassadine prince, after all. I'm just the son Stefan adopted."
Nikolas straightened up in indignation. "You are as much a Cassadine as anyone born into the name."
"I know that you feel that way, Nik. That's not what I meant."
"Andresj', when Father adopted you and officially gave you the Cassadine name, he told the world that you were his. But more importantly, your adoption told the family - and Helena - that you were his son in every way."
"I know all that, but-"
"But it won't be so bad, 'Dre. I have been through it. The evening actually goes by pretty quickly." Nikolas noticed the skeptical expression on Andresj's face. "Well, think of it as the small price you have to pay for everything you have."
"I realize how blessed I am. Really I do, Nik. It's just that I can't help thinking about Piotr and Ariana."
"It's probably natural that you would think about your parents at a time like this," Nikolas said.
"That's just it," Andresj' explained, "they're not my parents. I mean, they are . . . But every year it gets harder to feel any kind of attachment to them. And I never think of them as my mother and father." He paused. "I guess I'm feeling guilty about that."
Nikolas nodded emphatically. "I can definitely understand that feeling. Before the truth came out, not a day would pass that someone didn't remind me about my responsibility to preserve my father's memory. And they would tell me all these stories about him. But none of it seemed real to me, because I never really knew him. And all the time, Stefan was becoming more and more a father to me. After awhile, Stavros became just another piece of Cassadine history for me to remember." Nikolas leaned toward his younger brother. "I finally realized that I couldn't create a relationship that had never existed, and that it was okay to accept the love Stefan gave me without feeling guilty about it."
"Sometimes you actually make sense," Andresj' teased, lightening the mood. "You know, it's a shame that you aren't the Cassadine Prince anymore. You certainly sounded like one just then."
"Good night, 'Dre," Nikolas said pointedly.
"Good night, m'lord."
Nikolas good-naturedly threw a pillow at his younger brother. "Get out!"
Hearing the underlying affection in Nikolas' command, Andresj' smiled and left the room.
The clouds stretched endlessly toward the morning sun. Or so it seemed from the plane's small window. Diane had noticed them early in the flight. Now, however, she stared sightlessly at the vast expanse of sky outside her window.
'You don't know me,' she mentally rehearsed, 'but I know a lot about you.' Shaking her head, she discarded that as an opening phrase.
Diane had spent the majority of the previous three days making arrangements to travel to Port Charles, and rehearsing just what she would say to Andresj' when she saw him. It occurred to her that she might not get an opportunity to meet the young man. Her story was, after all, rather strange. Just trying to explain that she'd been sent to find Andresj' by his long-deceased mother would be an accomplishment in itself.
"We are now approaching New York," came the announcement from the pilot. "Welcome to our city. We hope your stay with us is a pleasant one."
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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.*