Laura wrenched open the door to Stefan's office at General Hospital.
"Laura? Is something wrong?" Stefan asked in concern.
"Is what Luke told me the truth?"
Stefan sat back in resignation. "I am certain Luke has told you many things. Which particular thing would you like me to explain to you?"
"Is Andresj' adopted?"
"Yes, I adopted him into my family."
"He is so much like you, Stefan. He looks like you and acts like you . . . I always assumed -"
"That he was truly my son? No, there is no blood relationship between us. But he is no less my son because of that fact. Surely that is not all you came here to ask, Laura."
"Did you adopt Andresj' because you were responsible for the death of his parents?"
Stefan's simple answer caught Laura off-guard. She had expected any response from him but this.
"What could they have possibly done to you that would have cost them their lives?"
Stefan shook his head. "How righteously you hurl accusations at me, Laura. But you are as much to blame for the deaths of Andresj's parents as anyone."
"Me? How? I was nowhere near Greece when it would have happened."
"Precisely." He rose and quietly shut the office door. Turning, Stefan stared at Laura, debating whether he should continue. His decision made, he invited her to sit. "The best - and worst - moments of my life occurred when those private paternity tests showed that Nikolas was indeed my son. The joy I felt at knowing that there existed living proof of our connection was immense. You and I shared a child, Lasha. I wanted to announce it from the mountaintops."
Turning from her, he replayed painful memories inside his mind. "Just as quickly I realized that I would probably never know the joy of hearing my child call me 'Father'. That I would endure each day watching Stavros and Helena try to mold that helpless little being into their own images. Still, I took comfort in the knowledge that you would be there to provide the child the kind of love Helena never chose to give me. I harbored no long-term fantasies where you and I were concerned, but I never thought of my child's future without you in it."
Stefan suddenly looked at Laura, his gaze seeming to touch her very core. "When you deserted Nikolas-"
"I didn't 'desert' Nikolas! I entrusted him to you!" Laura cried.
"When you deserted Nikolas," Stefan repeated quietly, "I was unprepared. I had made plans for every eventuality, or so I thought. I knew what I would do if Stavros or Helena discovered the truth about Nikolas; how I would protect you both. But what I had no plan for was you walking away from him."
"My life became consumed with Nikolas and his safety from Helena. Each day I cared for him I walked the fine line between keeping the secret of his paternity and acknowledging that he was my son. Each day I sat across the table from my mother and wondered if that would be the day the secret was exposed and his life made forfeit." He paused, lost again in memory. "One day one of my men informed me that Helena was quietly making arrangements concerning a local child. I was afraid for Nikolas. Were these reports genuine, or a ruse designed by Helena to provoke me into action? Ultimately I realized it did not matter. I could not react, regardless. So I did nothing - but watch. And my mother's quest brought her closer to me and the few servants whose loyalty to me was unquestioned. It was only a matter of time before she sought Piotr out."
"Andresj's father?" Laura asked.
"And my loyal servant for many years. We were nearly the same age. I suppose that under different circumstances we might have been friends. Nonetheless, I knew that Helena would look for answers there."
"Of our alliance? I am certain he did, though we never spoke of it. If you will recall, Piotr was always with me during those moments you and I 'happened' to meet."
Stefan crossed his arms, unconsciously shielding himself from the painful memories. "It had become my custom to allow Piotr to return home during dinner each day to be with his wife and child. That particular evening he was to return with his small son, so that he might see the horses in our stable. We had agreed upon the visit earlier in the week. Piotr was punctual, almost to a fault. So when he did not return as planned, I became concerned. Thoughts of Helena's ruthlessness were never far from my mind. I know now that I should have followed my instincts and gone to check on him, but at the time I could not justify such action for an employee who could simply have forgotten my casual invitation to make use of the stables. So I waited. When several hours had passed and Piotr still had not returned, I quietly dispatched Spiros to check. He returned shortly, distraught and out-of-breath."
- flashback -
"Mr. Cassadine, you had better come with me!"
"What is it, Spiros?"
"It is horrible! Piotr and Ariana are dead, murdered in their home."
- end flashback -
"I knew before Spiros spoke that Piotr was dead, and that Helena was no doubt responsible. But even I did not anticipate the extent of her determination to discover the truth of Nikolas' paternity. Helena had sent me a message. By killing not only Piotr but his wife as well, Helena served notice of both her determination and her anger."
"That is horrible story, Stefan." Laura rose and walked over to the desk where he stood. Sympathetically, she placed her hand softly on his arm. "But what happened wasn't your fault. It wasn't anyone's fault but Helena's."
"How easily you absolve me of responsibility, Laura. And yourself. But then, you were not the one to see them lying there, throats cut, covered in blood. Nor did you have the constable tell you that Piotr's dying words were directed toward you. Or that dying, he struggled to calm his young son who was distressed by the bloody scene he had stumbled into." Stefan continued mercilessly, "How fortunate for you, Laura. You were here, with your true family."
Laura jerked her hand back as if she had been burned. "I am sorry for what happened, Stefan! But I had to do what was best for us all, and that included you and Nikolas."
"So you have said many times before," Stefan agreed wearily. "Go home, Laura. Luke is no doubt waiting."
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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.*