'Tell Stefan I didn't betray him.' "What do you suppose he meant by that?"
"My family is very powerful," was Stefan's thinly veiled warning. "Such power begets enemies."
"I see. Thank you for your help then, sir."
"One moment, please." The constable turned back toward Stefan. "I would like to speak to your officer, the man first on the scene."
Something within him urged the constable to deny the request. He had no doubt that Stefan wasn't being completely honest. But one glance at the quiet determination in the eyes of the man before him shook the constable's resolve. "Of course, Mr. Cassadine," he heard himself say. "I will get him for you."
He quickly returned with an obviously shaken young man. Barely out of his teens, the young man seemed an unlikely law enforcement officer.
"Thank you," Stefan dismissed the constable with a curt nod. When the older man had departed, he turned to the waiting man. "Have we met before?" Stefan asked.
"No, sir, we have not been introduced. But I assisted Piotr in the delivery of your last foal."
"Ah, his young neighbor. I am sorry I do not recall your name."
"I am Arman, Mr. Cassadine."
"The constable has told me what you reported concerning Piotr. I would like to hear the story now from you," Stefan requested quietly.
"You should. There is something I did not put into my report."
". . . Piotr Leonivich had no other focus but you, sir. I asked again and again who had done such a terrible thing to him and his family, but it was as if he did not hear me. 'Tell Stefan I did not betray him . . . I swore always to protect him.' That was the message he begged me to give you. I assured him I would, hoping to ease his mind. I could see that he was dying."
"And did it ease his mind?" Stefan asked somberly.
"I believe that it did, Mr. Cassadine. He stopped struggling against me. His eyes closed and his breathing eased . . . Piotr seemed to gain strength. He grabbed my uniform - his grip was very weak - and tried to pull me toward him. Even in the absolute silence of the room, it was very difficult to hear him. So I placed my ear against his mouth. The officer fell silent, reflecting. 'He belongs with his son' is what he said to me. Then a peace seemed to come over him. For just a moment I began to think that he might somehow survive his injuries. But then -"
"The little one came into the room, in the midst of all the blood and death. Oh, it was a terrible thing, Mr. Cassadine. His mother lay dead, and his father was surely dying. I rushed toward him to block his view of the room, but all I did was frighten him and make him cry."
" 'Get him out ,' I heard Piotr struggle to say. So I picked up the little one and left the room. By the time I returned, Piotr Leonivich had died."
Side by side they stood by the launch, silently watching the unbroken surface of the dark water. It wasn't a companionable silence, but a familiar, uneasy one. Finally, Stefan spoke. "Hello, Mother. To what do I owe this visit?"
"My grandson will turn seventeen this month. And since I do not expect to be invited to his celebration, I thought I would give him his gift."
"Did you?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. Earlier today at General Hospital. He was most appreciative."
"It will not work, Mother, whatever your plan. Andresj' will not be turned against me."
"What is the problem, Stefan? I gave Nikolas a similar gift on his seventeenth birthday. I should think you would be happy that I make no distinctions between the two . . . Really, haven't I always treated Andresj' as my own flesh?
"I am living proof of how you treat 'your own flesh'." He turned toward her. "I will not have my son hurt by your cruelty."
"How pathetic you are, Stefan!" Helena sneered. "I have no intention of harming Andresj'. Unlike his father, the boy has grown into a man worthy of the Cassadine name. And what a beautiful man he has become! I daresay he will decide for himself just what my place in his life will be." Helena waited for Stefan's response to her deliberate taunt.
"Do not make the mistake others have made, Mother, and think me weak. Harm my son and you will discover how true a Cassadine I am."
At that moment Helena saw in him a determination and ruthlessness that matched her own. 'Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Stefan.'
'Maybe I am missing something,' Diane thought, staring at the computer monitor. Thousands of people a day used the internet for all kinds of things. So far, it hadn't been very much use to her. Oh, she'd gotten an occasional hit here or there, but nothing that had led her anywhere. And the few things she'd printed out had been repetitious.
Diane started at the sound of the masculine voice so near her ear.
"I didn't mean to frighten you."
"You didn't, Kris," Diane replied, smiling. "I am afraid I was concentrating on what I was doing. I must say that I am glad you're here today."
"I had some free time, so I thought I would help straighten out the shelves."
"Does that mean you won't be able to help me? I haven't had much success using the internet for my search. And time is getting a little short."
Pushing the short locks back off his face, Kris asked, "Has something happened since last week?"
"Not really. I just realized that the boy I am looking for will celebrate his seventeenth birthday next week. I think it would be a nice surprise to give him the letter his mother wrote to him."
"I can imagine it would be nice," he agreed. Grabbing a chair from a nearby table, he sat and reached for Diane's stack of printouts. "Let's see what you've got so far."
Diane sat, silently studying the young man as he concentrated on the documents at hand. Kris had been so helpful to her. It was too bad that the media didn't spend more time discussing young people like him. 'He's not much older than Andresj' would be.'
"You've got the whole world at your fingertips," he declared, interrupting her thoughts, "but you've narrowed your search down to one continent. Let's send this out to the whole world and see what we get." He placed the keyboard on his lap, typed in a few keystrokes, and with a flourish hit the *enter* key. Almost instantaneously, the screen began to fill with responses to his query.
"How did you do that?" she asked in disbelief.
"There's no magic involved. I'll explain it while we work. That is, if you still want my help."
"Are you kidding? Let's get to work."
It was a fact that remained unacknowledged between them for nearly fourteen years. Helena, in her zeal to deny him one son, had unwittingly given him another.
The irony of the situation was not lost on Stefan. His actions that terrible day were motivated solely by thoughts of maintaining the secret and protecting his son. How, then, had he ended up so favored?
Stefan had taken Andresj' into the Cassadine household with every intention of finding him a suitable home. He owed that to Piotr. But almost immediately the benefits of having the small boy became obvious to him. Andresj's presence in his home and life had presented Stefan with a golden opportunity - the opportunity to have moments of fatherhood with Nikolas. After such tragedy in his young life, it was only fitting that Stefan show care and attention to Andresj'; to spend time with him, and watch him grow. How natural, then, during those first few months to simply extend that attention to his 'nephew'. As Cassadine prince and heir apparent, it was Nikolas' right to have that same attention and more. The townspeople, in discussing the tragedy, were forced to admit that Stefan showed great generosity toward the orphaned child. But there had been no generosity involved.
It seemed to Stefan a winning scenario for everyone but Helena. Nikolas had quickly become attached to the quiet, watchful child only a year or so younger than himself. When the two boys were together Nikolas enjoyed the carefree childhood he forfeited as Cassadine prince.
Despite the loss of his parents, Andresj' had gained all that the Cassadine fortune and power could buy. He would be educated in the best schools and provided with a secure upbringing. Some day he would take his place as Nikolas' faithful employee - much as his father Piotr had done with Stefan.
As for Stefan,- Well, the tragedy Helena spawned had become his salvation . . .
"Mr. Cassadine?" Stefan was shaken from his reverie by the soft voice of the Cassadine housekeeper, Mrs. Landsbury. "Miss Davis has arrived. She is in the dining room with the young masters."
"Thank you, Mrs. Landsbury. You may serve dessert there."
"Of course, Mr. Cassadine." With a nod, Stefan dismissed his longtime servant.
The sound of laughter drifted toward him from the dining room. Silently he traveled down the narrow hallway until he reached its doorway. Stefan stood just inside the room and observed its three occupants. Alexis and Nikolas sat smiling at Andresj', who no doubt imitated someone they all knew.
"I trust I am not the object of your amusement," Stefan remarked drily, causing Andresj' to pause momentarily.
"Not this time, Papa."
"No. We were discussing Edward Quartermaine," Alexis explained.
"Really, Alexis, you should not encourage him. It is not-"
"Proper Cassadine behavior," Alexis recited. "I know."
"Grandmother must disagree with you, Father," Nikolas commented, with a glance at his younger brother. "She obviously thinks 'Dre is an ideal Cassadine. She gave him a Cassadine stone for his birthday."
Alexis' eyebrows rose in disbelief. "Helena gave you a Cassadine stone? Where is it?"
Silently reaching into his pocket, Andresj' produced the object in question. Called the Cassadine stone by those who wore it, it was in truth a demantoid garnet, a rare gemstone long associated with Russia and its nobility. So rare was the stone that collectors worldwide often paid small fortunes for the occasional flawed example. The stone Andresj' held had no flaws. Set into a heavy, handcrafted ring, the fiery green gem shone brilliantly.
"Why are you not wearing it?" Stefan asked his younger son. "Cassadine men throughout history have worn rings such as this."
"I wasn't sure that I should. Did Grandmother give it to me because she really accepts me as your son? Or was it just to irritate you? I know she does that sometimes, and I didn't know if this was one of those times."
"Yes, Father," Nikolas added, "I understand what 'Dre means. At times Helena seems to detest you, yet she seems genuinely to care for Andresj' and me. In fact, she seems proud that 'Dre is a part of our family."
"Understanding my mother is a task for others far more devious than we. But as much as she is capable," Stefan said carefully, "Helena loves you. And Andresj' as well. But you must also never forget that she will use you to further her own plans, even at the risk of your life."
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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.*