The door stood ajar as always. Ever since childhood, Andresj' had slept with the door slightly opened. At the time, Stefan suspected it was his unconscious desire to reassure himself that he was not cut off from his new family. Over time it had just become habit.
The room was dark, except for the moonlight which streamed in through the bay windows and illuminated the large bed. Andresj' slept curled up in a ball, too tired to retrieve the covers he had kicked off during the night. Stefan picked them up and placed them over his sleeping son's form. A rush of protectiveness surged through him as he looked down upon the face of the child he had long come to consider his own.
Careful not to awaken Andresj', Stefan sat on the edge of the bed and watched him sleep. Though nearly seventeen and a man, Stefan still saw the little boy who had won a place in his heart.
The past week had been an emotional drain on them all, especially Andresj'. It was hard to believe things had changed so over just a week or two; a lifetime since Andresj's trip to the mall.
"My presence is required at the hospital. I shall be home in time for supper."
"While you're at the hospital, I thought 'Dre and I could go to the mall. I want to pick out a gift for Lulu," Nikolas told his father.
"You don't have to pretend, Nik. I know that you're really going to pick out a gift for my birthday," Andresj' stated. He turned toward his father. "Maybe you should tell Nik what you got me, Papa. That way he won't get me the same thing."
"I already know what Father got you. And it is completely different from my gift," Nikolas said.
"That was a tactical error, Nikolas," Stefan said wryly. "Your brother will no doubt seek to ascertain the nature of his gift through endless questions. I do not envy you."
"I can handle him. It is just a matter of distracting him with something else," Nikolas explained.
"Hello? I am still in the room, you know!" Andresj' said indignantly. Upon seeing the expressions on Nikolas' and Stefan's faces, he realized he was being teased. "Okay, you got me that time."
Wyndemere slowly faded into the background as the launch moved steadily toward the docks. "I am glad you and Nikolas already have my gifts," Andresj' said innocently. "You must have gotten them here in Port Charles."
"I had no problem getting your gift," Nikolas replied, "but Father,-"
"Nikolas," Stefan warned, "you will ruin the surprise for your brother."
"No, he won't, Papa! What did you get me?"
Nikolas burst into laughter. "If could just see your face now, 'Dre . . . There is no way you are going to make it until your birthday."
"That was cruel. Just cruel."
The two brothers Cassadine stood in the food court of the mall, oblivious to the stares of the people going by. Several of them slowed as they passed, attempting to determine just who the two young men could be. The cold stares of the watchful bodyguards quickly sent them on their way, still wondering.
"Do you need me, Nik?"
"Not really. Do you have something else to do?" Nikolas asked his brother.
"Yeah." A sly smile appeared on Andresj's face. "I'll just meet you back here in a little while."
"I don't like the sound of that. Where are you going?"
"Now who sounds like Papa? You go find Lulu's present. I'll just be a little while."
Two hours later . . .
"There will be hell to pay," one bodyguard declared to the other as Andresj' approached. "Absolute hell."
The limousine idled near the hospital's garage exit. Stefan had informed the driver that he would be there promptly at six. The bodyguards nervously checked their watches, counting the seconds before Stefan would appear.
The garage elevator opened and the driver slowly opened the car door for Stefan to enter.
"Ah, on time!" he said as he climbed into the limousine. "I trust you found-"
The remainder of Stefan's statement was cut off abruptly as he stared in shock across the vehicle. Not one, but two gold rings pierced his younger son's eyebrow. A third ring adorned his left nostril.
"What do you think, Papa?" Andresj' asked curiously, angling his head to allow Stefan a better view. "I had it done at the mall."
Foregoing a response, Stefan turned toward Nikolas and asked, "Did you know that this would take place when you helped arrange this outing?"
"Oh, no, Father! I had no hand in this." Nikolas' response left no doubt that Andresj' would face the repercussions of his actions all alone.
"It's not that big a deal, Papa. Lots of kids today have them," Andresj' insisted.
Stefan's anger was almost a physical thing. "You are not one of those 'kids'. You are a Cassadine, and my son."
Andresj' was unmoved. "So you're saying that you don't like my rings."
At that moment, Nikolas coughed and turned his head toward the window. But not before Stefan saw the smile he struggled to hide.
"You find humor in this situation?" he asked Nikolas incredulously.
"He's supposed to, Papa. It's a joke. Look."
Andresj' reached up and removed the two rings from his eyebrow. These were followed by the ring in his nose. "They're squeeze-ons. I didn't really have anything pierced . . . It was just a joke."
"I told you he wouldn't find it funny," Nikolas muttered under his breath.
"You should have heeded Nikolas' advice. I am finding it difficult to understand the humor of your 'joke'. Perhaps an extensive report on the history of body piercing might give me a better understanding."
This time Nikolas made no effort to disguise his smile. Stefan had quickly managed to turn the tables on Andresj', and just like that, the joke was on him.
Stefan allowed himself a smile at the memory. He took great pleasure in his son's affectionate nature - so unlike his or Nikolas'. Andresj' wasn't afraid to make Stefan the object of his practical jokes. It was, he supposed, the greatest proof that Andresj' had fully accepted that he was truly and forever a part of the Cassadine family.
How had something so good come of such a bad beginning? Stefan had often thought of beginning that day again, of making different choices, only to be brought up short by the realization that to do so would cost him Andresj'.
His silent deliberation was interrupted as Andresj' changed position on the bed, only to change again seconds later. Stefan looked on his son with growing anger. 'Even in sleep you are not at peace. Damn Luke Spencer!' he thought. Softly he whispered a promise to the sleeping boy, "Do not worry. I will do whatever I must to make your life right again."
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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.*