Chapter 18

The evening sky was filled with stars, and the breeze across the waters surrounding Spoon Island was cool. As the launch moved steadily toward Wyndemere, Diane's head swivelled from one sight to another. Justus and Stefan shared a look of bemusement. Both men moved in exclusive circles of wealth and privilege. Diane's reaction was a pleasant reminder of their good fortune in life.

The launch pulled up to the docks, affording Diane her first clear look at the immense structure Stefan Cassadine called Wyndemere. Craning her neck to take in the entire building, she stared in amazement. So intent was she upon the building that the countless security personnel patrolling the grounds did not even register.

"Welcome to Wyndemere," Stefan said with quiet pride.

Diane could only nod. Wyndemere was even more impressive close up than it had been from the launch. "I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore, Toto."

"Toto?" Stefan frowned. "I am afraid I do not understand your reference."

"Dorothy? The Wizard of Oz?" Diane saw that Stefan had no idea what she meant. Disbelieving, she turned to Justus for explanation. "He doesn't know about the Wizard of Oz?"

"I'll explain it later," Justus reassured her. He flashed Diane a mischievous smile. "Beside, you haven't seen anything yet."

In the silence of the unmarked police vehicle, Mac's cell phone sounded abnormally loud. Fumbling on the dashboard to grab and silence the offending object, Mac uttered a rude comment under his breath.

"Yeah! Scorpio here," Mac answered abruptly. His body language quickly became relaxed. "Excuse me, Marcus," he said, climbing out of the car.

Like Taggert didn't know who was on the other line. He shook his head. Even though he was sure nothing had actually happened between the two of them, Marcus knew one day he'd have to tell the police commissioner that his reactions weren't as subtle as he imagined. Although it really wasn't any of his business.

Movement on the far side of the docks caught his attention. Raising the binoculars to his eyes, Taggert focused in on the area. He watched in curiosity as Luke Spencer pulled himself up onto the docks. For several moments he simply lay there, breathing heavily. Then he rose and began trudging in the direction of Ruby's Diner, leaving a trail of water behind him.

Mac firmly closed the car's door and cradled the tiny phone against his ear. Acutely aware of Taggert's presence within the car, he put several steps distance between them. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I needed to get where there was better reception," he explained.

"I didn't mind the wait," Dara said. "So how is the stakeout going?"

"It's pretty quiet. And Marcus is bored. You know how he gets when he's bored."

"Oh, my!"

Mac could hear the laughter in the assistant district attorney's voice. Of late it was a sound he never tired of hearing. Dara's laugh was just like her, rich and genuine and endearing.

"Well, I had better let you get back to the job. Say ‘hello' to Marcus for me."

The click of Dara's phone ended the conversation far sooner than Mac wanted. But he'd had no legitimate reason to keep her talking, only his desire to hear the sound of her voice.

Stefan entered the ballroom and found Andresj's party well under way. Immediately noticed by several European associates, he was quickly surrounded by those wishing to make their presence known.

"Yes, thank you for coming." "Of course, we must meet while you are in town." It seemed to Stefan that he repeated the same phrases over and over. Nonetheless, his attention to his guests did not deter him from his goal - reaching Andresj'.

"Father, at last! What is going on?" Nikolas cried.

"There is no need for alarm, Nikolas. A situation arose, but it is being taken care of even as we speak. Let us concentrate on the party and our guests."

Nikolas let the matter drop. He knew his father would share no more information for the time being. As he moved to rejoin Elizabeth Webber, Stefan's hand on his arm halted his progress.

"I have heard nothing save good things about your performance tonight." Stefan cupped Nikolas' cheek gently. "I am proud of you, my son."

"Do you think this thing is working?" Carly Roberts picked up the baby monitor and placed it against her ear.

"How long has it been?"

"Almost six hours now."

"Maybe this will be the night he sleeps all the way through." AJ Quartermaine loosened his tie and sank down onto the plush sofa. "He's come pretty close lately."

"Yeah, he has, hasn't he?"

AJ heard the need for reassurance in Carly's voice. It was a need he was all-too familiar with for most of his life. "Michael is doing well, Carly. The therapist said so. And you've done a great job with him."

"Yeah, well, I have had a little help," she grudgingly complimented him. As much as it pained Carly to admit it, AJ had been a rock through the whole ordeal with Michael. It was if a switch had been flipped inside AJ's head, and Michael's need coupled with Jason's absence had triggered it.

Jason. He was a subject Carly tried not to think about these last six months. She couldn't afford to. And so she'd thrown herself wholeheartedly into Michael's care. It kept her mind occupied. Most of the time. Oh, how she missed Jase!

"Carly!" AJ's voice broke through her thoughts. "I said you can go to bed. I'll stay up tonight in case Michael wakes."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, go to bed. Goodnight, Carly."

"Goodnight, AJ."

AJ watched her walk into the large bedroom they shared. Took turns sharing was closer to the truth. He and Carly had come together for Michael's sake. And no matter how much he wished differently, that was all that would be between them. Even now he knew that Carly's thoughts were on Jason. AJ read her mood. After being together night and day for the last half year, he had become good at it. Now when she became quiet and detached, he knew that she thought of his brother, Jason Morgan.

AJ didn't care. As pathetic as he knew that fact was, he just didn't care. Once more he had what he'd always wanted - a family of his own. He would enjoy them just as he did his newfound sobriety. One day at a time. No plans for the future, just living in the moment.

Keesha looked back over her shoulder. "Andresj'? What is it?"

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "It's just that every time I look up, my father is staring this way. I wonder if something is wrong?"

"Maybe," Keesha said pointedly, "he's heard that I have indecent designs on his son."

Andresj' quickly assumed his most innocent expression. "Why would he think that?" When Keesha scowled at him, he surrendered laughingly. "Okay, okay! Really, Keesha, I wouldn't have let you go through with it. Honest!"

She couldn't help laughing with the younger man. "I don't believe that for a moment. You would have enjoyed the look on Stefan's face. And mine."

"How did you find out?"

"I asked one of the professors at the university for an unbiased opinion of my accent. I told him that you had taught me in Russian how to thank your father for tonight's invitation, but that I wanted to add something of my own." Keesha teasingly reached out and tugged Andresj's earlobe. "You can imagine how amused he was when he told me that what you'd actually taught me was ‘I am madly in love with your son. May I have his hand in marriage?'"

Andresj' closed the slight distance between them. His expression intense, he captured her hand and placed it against his beating heart. "I accept," he said solemnly, tracing the outline of her lips with his thumb.

Keesha's smile faltered. She was thrown by the heat he seemed to radiate. Sensing her discomfort, Andresj' suddenly stepped back. "You know that I am enchanted by you," he said. "And I know that you think I am too young for you." She nodded. "Well, we'll always disagree on that," he smiled. "But for tonight, I just wanted to thank you. For making me feel so welcome at Ward House, and for being my friend."

"You're welcome, Andresj'." Keesha gave the younger man a warm hug, glad to be on safer ground. "Some young lady is going to be very lucky someday."

"Yes, you will," Andresj' vowed to himself. "I am not giving up on you. After all, you wore that dress for me."

"Thank you for coming tonight, Elizabeth."

"I like your brother. I was glad he invited me." Elizabeth Webber smiled at Nikolas. "My Gram was glad, too. She has been after to me to get out more."

Since Lucky's death. The words hung unspoken between them. Nikolas wondered once again if he did the right thing by not speaking of Lucky's absence. He couldn't deny his growing feelings for his deceased brother's girlfriend. But was he attracted to the person he had come to know, or was he attracted to the girl who loved his brother? Nikolas had certainly spent enough quiet hours analyzing and dissecting his motives.

Elizabeth watched the play of emotions across Nikolas' expressive face. Like her he was trying to deal with Lucky's death. Their grief bonded them. So for Lucky's sake, she promised herself, she would do whatever she could to help Nikolas through.

Stefan stood watching as Andresj' conversed with Keesha Ward. His son's face, as familiar to him as Nikolas' or his own, now held countless nuances that screamed out his paternity. How many times had others spoken of Andresj's resemblance to his father? Stefan had attributed it to a case of seeing what one desired to see. Most people, when presented with what they thought was fact, would adjust reality to reflect what they knew as truth. He gave a short, bitter laugh. Strangers had seen in his son what he had not.

"Stefan?" Alexis was concerned. Ever since her brother had returned to Wyndemere, he'd been acting strangely. "What is going on?" She turned to see what held such fascination for him. A smile appeared on her face. "Ah, you've finally realized that Andresj' isn't a little boy anymore! It won't be long before he is out on his own."

Alexis' words jolted Stefan. The revelation of Andresj's true paternity had somehow changed things for him. As ridiculous as it seemed, Stefan felt as if Andresj' had only been his a few moments. The thought of losing him anytime soon was unacceptable.

"Excuse me, Natasha."

Stefan walked determinedly through the crowd until he reached Andresj' and Keesha. "Good evening, Miss Ward. You are in great beauty, as always. Thank you for sharing this occasion with us."

"Thank you for the invitation."

"Will you excuse my son? There is one thing still to be done."

"Of course."

Stefan led Andresj' toward the center of the ballroom. He signaled to the servants, who began to circulate with trays of vintage champagne. "I am sorry that I was not here for the first part of your celebration."

"I assumed that you were out handling a last minute problem. Was it the file we discussed?" Andresj' asked.

"No. But there will be time to discuss all that tomorrow. Now I only wish to give you your gift."

"Then who am I to stop you, Papa?" Andresj' joked.

On cue, the music stopped. Most of the guests, having attended previous Cassadine celebrations, turned toward their host. Stefan stood waiting; Alexis at his left hand and Nikolas at his right. Facing the trio was the guest of honor.

"It has been the Cassadine way, since our earliest ancestors," Stefan said into the silence, "to acknowledge those who share our blood." Nikolas opened the lid of a black velvet jewelry box and presented it before his father. With unsteady hands, Stefan removed the contents. "This is a visible symbol of our family," he said as he placed the medallion around Andresj's neck. "It is immediately and absolutely recognized by all who bear the name Cassadine. Once given, it is always with us, to be passed on only to another of our bloodline."

Alexis stepped forward and handed Stefan a goblet of wine. It was one of the oldest family treasures, and it held a vintage almost as rare.

"We celebrate my son, Andresj' Mikhail Stefanovich Cassadine, who this night has become a Cassadine man."

Stefan raised his cup. "To the bloodline."

"To the bloodline," came the thundering response. As one, they toasted.

From the shadows, Helena watched the scene before her unfold. She could not deny the momentary thrill she felt at watching the two future heirs to the Cassadine empire.

Such beauty and potential waiting there for the taking. Oh, yes, once again all the power would be hers unchallenged. And she would use Nikolas and Andresj' to get it.


    *General Hospital and its characters are not mine. I make no profit from this. The characters Andresj' Cassadine, and Diane Jennings are my creation.*