Alexis Davis sat reading the Wall Street Journal and sipping a glass of now-warm orange juice. The light from the newly risen sun flooded the study with warmth and brightness. It was one of her favorite rooms in the mansion for many reasons, not the least being that it reminded her of the man to whom it belonged. Even now she could hear his approach, and turned to greet him. "Good morning, Stefan. How was your ride?"
"Very pleasurable." He poured himself a glass of juice and took a seat across the table from Alexis. "Andresj', Nikolas and I rode to the far side of the island. Had you told me you were coming this early, we would have waited for you."
"Perhaps next time. I do wish that I had seen the three of you riding across the island. Some of my favorite moments come when you and your sons are together." She smiled. "It gives me hope that the Cassadines can truly be a family."
Stefan did not immediately respond to his sister's light-hearted teasing.
"I know that I am a very fortunate man, Alexis. You, Nikolas, and Andresj' are the joys of my life. I will not let anyone destroy that."
The last statement was said with a vehemence that worried Alexis. She leaned forward and asked, "What has happened?"
"Luke Spencer, and his campaign to 'rescue' Andresj' from me." Stefan spoke his lifelong enemy's name with a distaste that would have been humorous under different circumstances.
"What did he do?"
"He approached Andresj' and began his campaign of blood-bonds and family loyalty."
"What was 'Dre's reaction?" Alexis asked, her unconscious use of Andresj' childhood nickname indicating her concern.
"He was unmoved by Spencer's diatribes against me."
"Stefan, Andresj' loves you. And I know he considers you as much his father as Nikolas'."
Any response to Alexis' comment was forestalled by the very obvious sound of someone pounding up the stairs. The conversation ceased as they both awaited the arrival of the owner of such enthusiasm.
"Alexis! Good morning!" Andresj' bounded into the study, a smile of genuine delight gracing his handsome features. "Windors told me that you had come."
"Good morning, Andresj'." Alexis extended her arms toward him. "What - no hug?"
He signaled his refusal with a shake of his head. "I smell like Shakur." [Note. Andresj's horse, a gift from Stefan.]
"Then perhaps you should go and shower," Stefan remarked pointedly.
"Of course, Papa." Andresj' turned back toward Alexis. "Will you be here awhile?"
"Yes, most of the day. I thought I would join you for breakfast."
"Good. I have something for you. I won't be long."
"You speak of Andresj's love for me," said Stefan with a quiet smile, "but it is equally apparent that he loves you greatly." "I know. He is something special. You have done a wonderful job with him, Stefan."
Alexis' compliment did not have the desired effect. Instead, Stefan rose from the table abruptly, as if he had been insulted. "I am not proud of the circumstances which drove me to make Andresj' a part of my life," he stated. "But I do not regret one moment of his time with us. Nor do I regret making him my son."
"And he is your son in every way, Stefan." As if seeking to reassure her unshakeable brother, Alexis began to qualify her statement. "Andresj' is like a carbon copy of you. He loves his family, he's deliberate in his thoughts and actions, and I believe he outdoes even you when it comes to being the strong-but-silent type."
"Am I to take any credit for this remarkable young man who calls me 'Father'?"
"Please, Stefan!" Alexis said in disbelief. "You have reared not one, but two exceptional sons. And you have done it as a single father. Where is all this doubt coming from?"
"Amazing, I know, Alexis." Stefan turned and moved toward the large window of his study. He stood there with his arms crossed, seeing something visible to only himself. "For some years I prepared myself for the day when Andresj' would be confronted by the truth. I wondered if his faith in me would be shaken. Now that day has come in the form of Luke Spencer . . . And quite the contrary has occurred. Andresj' is firm in his resolve and unshaken by Spencer's tactics."
"So why are you so pensive?"
Turning to face Alexis, Stefan replied simply "Perhaps I wonder if I deserve such riches."
Further conversation was interrupted by the quiet approach of the Cassadines' longtime housekeeper and cook. "Yes, Mrs. Landsbury?" Stefan inquired.
"Shall I serve now, Mr. Cassadine?"
"In ten minutes, Mrs. Landsbury. Thank you."
"Very well, sir."
As they walked down the stairs to the dining area, Alexis sensed that Stefan's pensive mood had been broken by Mrs. Landsbury's interruption. And though she felt privileged to be given access to a side of Stefan he kept hidden, she was also grateful to see him back in full Cassadine mode. "What are we going to do about Luke, Stefan?"
"I have alerted the guards to be aware of Spencer's interest in Andresj'."
"What can I do to help?"
"Review all our paperwork concerning Andresj's adoption. I do not want any surprises. If Luke attempts to locate any biological relatives of Andresj', I want our legal position to be ironclad."
"Of course, Stefan," Alexis said, as she placed her briefcase on the table and withdrew a pen and legal pad. "But the adoption was completely legal. Everything was done by the book. We went over the paperwork countless times, not to mention the number of times your legal staff checked it."
"I know, Alexis. But I will not take anything for granted."
"Stefan, 'Dre is a month away from his seventeenth birthday. At this point, he is the only one who could undo the adoption. And I don't ever see that happening."
"Are you two discussing business?" Andresj' stuck his head into the room. "Should I come back later?"
"No. Alexis and I were waiting for you." Stefan indicated the steaming, covered dishes on the table.
"Yes," Alexis agreed, "Mrs. Landsbury refused to serve your father and me until you came downstairs. Oh, don't shake your head," she teasingly scolded her nephew. "I have seen the way you have her wrapped around your little finger."
Andresj' laughed. "Papa is the only one so favored by Mrs. Landsbury. Last week she baked his favorite dessert and would not allow Nikolas or me to taste until Papa got home."
"It was a very prudent move on her part," stated Stefan. "After my initial portion, I do believe you and Nikolas ate the rest."
"Where is Nikolas?" Alexis asked.
"He's gone to visit his little sister, and his mother." Andresj' began filling his plate. "Did Papa tell you that I spoke to Luke Spencer the other day?"
"Yes, he did," Alexis answered. "What did you think?"
"About Mr. Spencer? I don't know." He shrugged. "My first thought was really silly."
Curious, Alexis asked, "What was it?"
Running a hand over his hair, Andresj' replied, "I was glad that I didn't have a hairline like his." Alexis began to choke with amusement.
"I told you it was silly," Andresj' said apologetically to his father, who was struggling to maintain a straight face.
When she was finally able to speak again, Alexis continued, "And your next thought?"
"That's when it gets confusing." Andresj' put down his fork. "I kept listening to Mr. Spencer talk about my real family and how I should feel about them. But nothing he said meant anything to me." He addressed Stefan directly, "Does that make me a terrible person?"
"Of course not, son," Stefan was quick to answer. "The circumstances of our birth don't dictate our feelings. My brother Stavros was as close to our mother as I am distant."
Alexis hastened to voice her agreement. "Your papa is right, 'Dre. I think that you are perfectly normal in your reaction. People aren't born with some automatic affinity for their biological relatives. Families are formed through years of love and togetherness."
"Well," Alexis joked, "there are some people who would disagree that we fit the criteria, but I think that we do pretty well."
"Me, too . . . Here." Andresj' reached under the table and removed a festively wrapped box from a bag near his feet. Balloons and confetti adorned the paper that hid the box's contents. He placed it before Alexis and said, "It's a birthday gift. I know that it is a little early."
Reaching for the gift, Alexis smiled and said, "Don't you have it backward? We're supposed to give gifts to you on your birthday."
"Oh, I am counting on that, don't worry! But this is just to say 'thank you' for my life up until now." When she made no move to open the box, Andresj' instructed somewhat impatiently, "Well, open it!"
Slowly Alexis removed the festive paper and opened the box within. There, nestled in tissue paper, was a photograph encased in a shiny gold frame. "It is beautiful, Andresj'. Thank you." She read the inscription aloud, "To my Aunt Alexis, with all my love. 'Dre." Angling the photograph so Stefan could see, she added, "And you look so handsome! I am going to put it on my office desk."
"You don't have to do that. I just wanted you to have it," Andresj' said, with a shy smile. He reached once more into the bag. "Here's yours, Papa."
The second gift, which he handed to Stefan, was in direct contrast to the one he had given Alexis. Although similar in size, this gift was wrapped in elegant, but muted paper. Like Alexis before him, Stefan made no immediate move to open his gift.
This time Alexis did the honors. "Well, open it, Stefan!" she demanded.
Lifting a sardonic eyebrow, he nonetheless complied. Inside, he also found an inscribed photograph encased in an exquisitely carved dark-wood frame. Stefan stared at the likeness of his younger son in silence.
"You don't like it," Andresj' said hesitantly.
Looking up from the photograph directly into his son's eyes, Stefan stated sincerely, "I will treasure your gift. Thank you, my son ", he added in Russian.
" You are welcome, Papa ", Andresj' replied in kind. He pushed back his chair from the table and stood. "I have to go now. It is time for my studies and Monsieur will be angry if I am late." He smiled at them both mischievously. "I will just take a few pieces of bacon with me for energy." And he emptied the contents of the platter onto a napkin and left.
In the silence that followed, Alexis reached across the table for the photograph Stefan held. The pictures were slightly different, though they had obviously been taken at the same sitting.
"That's Russian, isn't it?" Alexis asked, pointing to the inscription. "What does it say, Stefan?"
"To my hero, my idol, my Papa. With all my love, forever. Andresj' Mikhail Stefanovich Cassadine."
Stefan's voice was unrevealing, but Alexis sensed the emotion behind the words he spoke. "We have to make sure that Andresj' seventeenth birthday is perfect. Do you think that Helena will be interested enough to make an appearance there?"
"I cannot begin to fathom my mother's machinations." Stefan said, distastefully. "I must assume that she is by now aware of Luke Spencer's interest. If so, I have no doubt she will welcome this opportunity to assist Spencer in disrupting our lives." "Will you increase security?"
"I increased the guards two months ago."
Alexis was startled. "I never noticed." She prided herself on being as vigilant as Stefan when it came to Helena.
"You were not meant to. Nor was Andresj' or Nikolas."
"How much does Nikolas know about all of this?"
"I have no doubt that Nikolas knows about Andresj's encounter with Luke Spencer. They have no secrets from each other."
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