Phantom Power

Prince Nikolas Cassadine tamped down the rising tide of anger that threatened to make him lose his equanimity. It had been over three and a half hours since his father and Faith so abruptly departed the celebration and he was no closer to uncovering the cause of their exit than before. He and Gia had been at the far side of the room enjoying a dance together. With the rest of the immediate family acting as buffers against the seemingly accidental encounters of family members and other guests looking to have an audience with Nikolas (no matter how brief), the Prince and Princess were able to enjoy a few moments of just being two young people in love.

Their pleasure was abruptly derailed when Stefan and Faith summarily ended their dance and walked out of the room. It took a few minutes for Nikolas to make his way to the door, only to be stopped by his father's personal guards. Silently they blocked the doorway, not allowing any of the family to attempt to follow. Nikolas was forced to pull up short when the guards did not break their ranks in deference to him. It had been so long since the servants ignored his wishes that the young Royal could only gape in surprise.

Several years earlier, when the time had come for Nikolas to assume the mantel of responsibility for the Cassadine family and its financial empire, the young Prince had geared himself for a power struggle against his father, who had led the family most of his adult life. Nikolas expected the struggle to be polite and extremely subtle. It would be private and only those in the innermost circle would be able to detect the barely perceptible traces of Stefan's behind the scenes maneuvering.

Nikolas could not afford to give ground in his quest for total control. Not because Stefan desired the status or influence the leadership of the Cassadine family brought with it. The older man was extremely wealthy in his own right and had not led all those years without amassing formidable resources and allies. No, Nikolas believed his father was unprepared to allow him to fail and thereby make himself vulnerable to factions within the family already seeking to hasten Nikolas' fall.

He'd been shocked when Stefan handed over the reins with a murmured endearment and kiss upon Nikolas' forehead. For the entire first year of his reign as Cassadine Prince, Nikolas examined every minute detail, vigilant for signs of his father's hand at work. It wasn't until his first public stumble in leadership that Nikolas accepted that Stefan had truly stepped away from the paper throne, leaving his son solely in charge.

Situations like these made Nikolas regret his father's decision

Nikolas caught sight of Yuri Petrov issuing instructions to the guards blocking the way. He attempted to press the former KGB agent for answers. If anyone might be privy to his father's thoughts, it would be Yuri. Some part of Nikolas realized how futile his attempt was. Yuri had earned his uncle's trust through his ability to keep a confidence. There was no cause to believe that the man's discretion would change now.

His suspicions were confirmed. Yuri stared at him impassively, allowing his silence to be Nikolas' answer. The Prince gritted his teeth, stilled his expression and turned to the remaining handful of guests waiting curiously around. Nikolas dismissed them to their suites with a tight smile. He was certain that every detail of the story of the guards' disregard for his orders would be relayed to any interested party with an agenda involving the Cassadine family.

After some thought, Nikolas ordered the immediate family to their suites as well. Andresj, Sabrina, and the others might have been tempted to disregard his wishes as the guards had done, but ultimately Nikolas knew that a lifetime of training and protocol would win out. However reluctantly, they would return to their suites of rooms and wait for some word from him.

He did not try to dissuade Gia from his side. With each passing year of marriage, she had grown more comfortable in her role as the Princess Cassadine. She was observant and smart, and at times more blunt than royal protocol would ever allow Nikolas to be. He had come to appreciate that bluntness. "I believe I have exhausted all my options," Nikolas quietly told his wife. "Unless you have thought of something I missed."

Gia didn't reply. Nikolas sighed and turned his narrowed gaze in the direction of his father's suite, as though by sheer will he would be able to see through the layers of mortar and stone that separated them. "Constantine says that we are all overreacting." Constantine was a distant Cassadine cousin and featured performer of the Bolshoi Ballet. "He believes that Father merely wanted time alone with Faith."

"I can see his point." Gia laid a comforting hand on Nikolas' arm. "Stefan is a man and Faith is a beautiful woman. But," she shook her head, "I have never known Stefan's personal feelings to make him ignore protocol as he did tonight. I mean, his whole life has been about securing your place in charge of the family. He had to know how it would look for the guards to ignore you that way."

"Exactly. He-" Whatever Nikolas was about to say was cut short by the sight of Jack Bauer slipping into the Great Hall. Jack approached one of the guards and murmured something Nikolas and Gia were too far away to hear. Jack looked over at them and crossed the enormous room to meet them halfway. "I was sure I would find my wife in here," Jack said.

"I ordered everyone to their rooms. It was not a popular decision, " Nikolas replied. "I believe you will find Sabrina very unhappy with me at the moment."

Jack just shook his head. "She'll understand." He turned to leave but stopped short. "You should go to bed. Both of you." His normally soft-spoken voice was softer than usual. "Morning will be here in just a couple of hours."

"Jack is right." Gia took Nikolas by the hand and began to tug him gently toward the Royal Suite. "It's pretty obvious that we aren't going to get any answers tonight. Let's just get some sleep and deal with things tomorrow."



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