Misplaced Priorities

During the horrifying news report, the couples in the room drew nearer. They held hands or leaned into one another, each half of the pairing drawing comfort and strength from the other's presence. The lone exception was Andresj, who had no significant other and sat alone in a high-backed chair on the outer edge of those gathered.

Marcus (as always) was a point of calm. In his vocation as a cop, he had seen some of the worst things humankind had to offer. None as jarring as earth's death sentence that had just been delivered, but still... Marcus' training and basic personality kicked in and he sat stoically listening to the details given. Every now and then his glance slid from the plasma screens across the room to his baby sister, Gia. Her marriage had not dulled Marcus' instinct to act as her protector and confidante.

Marcus' wife Alexis sat beside her husband. She leaned into his chiseled torso, but like him radiated a sense of calm. Her life as a Cassadine bid her push aside her understandable fears and assess the current situation without emotion even as her lawyer's training made her listen for all the small things that were not said during the press conference and subsequent reports. And the small things were certainly numerous. With each detail presented, Alexis found it more and more difficult to maintain her facade of calm.

Like her family around her, Sabrina sat in stunned silence. Her eyes were glued to the bank of oversized screens to her left. Stefan had muted the sound, but the reporters' frenetic hand gestures and shell-shocked faces spoke volumes. Sabrina had always fancied herself pretty unflappable, but it was only the feel of her husband Jack's warm hand curled around hers that kept her from drowning in what had to be a horrible, horrible nightmare.

She had already switched to what her family jokingly referred to as 'doctor mode'. All Sabrina could see in her mind's eye was a staggering amount of death. Men, women, children... Her breath caught as she realized that everyone she knew, all her fellow surgeons, all of her handpicked surgical team now fell under the same death sentence she had been handed. The horror of it called her.

It would be some time before Sabrina allowed herself to think about what the impending catastrophe would mean to those closest to her.

Gia was the first of them to find her voice. Like Sabrina, she sat pressed against her husband's side, drawing calm and comfort from the warmth of Nikolas' body. "Is this real?" Gia's fear was just visible beneath her bravado. She had never really learned to fully mask her emotions as some in the family would wish. Early on in her marriage Gia unapologetically explained that she had no desire to become comfortable disconnecting from her emotions. It would never be her way. Nikolas reassured his wife he would have it no other way. In fact, he was counting on some small part her openness to transfer to their children and guard the precious innocence that life as a Cassadine would soon enough dampen.

"Can this be real?" Gia posed the question to her husband as though he might somehow hold the power to erase the events of the morning.

"There are minor differences from what we have learned," Stefan answered in his stead. "But yes, the information presented is fairly accurate."

Sabrina turned to Jack. "Your meeting last night... This is what it was about, isn't it?"

Jack nodded. All eyes were fixed on him. "After six months the Undersecretary thought it was time that I be brought into the loop." The words were calmly uttered but Sabrina could read the underlying emotion beneath them. Jack was accustomed to having access to information on a world scale that very few men had clearance to see. Since the deaths of David Palmer and James Heller, that access had been virtually rescinded under the guise of national security. Quite a few parties in the White House felt that despite his unflinching service to the country, Jack Bauer was a rogue element too dangerous to be given the free rein he'd previously enjoyed. The current president, Eli Schoenberg, headed that list.

"They've known six months?" Sabrina squeezed Jack's hand. The passive-aggressive attitude toward him by those in charge angered the beautiful doctor. "Why were they keeping it a secret? To prevent pandemonium? Or were they looking for a solution?"

"Both, I believe," Stefan replied. "I am unaware, however, of any governmental solution that will aid any beside those in the presidential line of succession."

Sabrina felt Jack's body stiffen at her brother's response. The subject of Stefan and his seemingly endless sources of information was a minefield she and Jack had managed to carefully maneuver through during the course of their marriage. It did not sit well with the former federal agent that a private citizen's wealth could so easily provide him intel capable of toppling nations.

"Have you known for six months, too?" Alexis asked Stefan carefully.

"My sources alerted me to the government's discovery when it occurred."

The room was silent as each of them processed the information they had just received. To a man they reflected over the past six months and marveled that, even with Stefan's almost unreal self-control, he had managed not to reveal any sign that he was aware of the catastrophe to come.

"The renovations to Wyndemere." All heads turned his way when Andresj softly broke the deafening silence. Despite the family's attention, he did not elaborate on the cryptic statement.

Nikolas rose slowly from his seat. His face was taut with anger. "Nearly a year ago there were extensive renovations done to the exterior and foundations of Wyndemere," he explained to the others. "Father told me it was nothing more than due diligence, not worth my attention...A year," Nikolas bit out. "Not six months. You've known a year."

Stefan met his son's anger without flinching. "Yes."

"You found out a year ago and didn't tell anyone."

Faith took a single step forward. The move put her protectively in front of Stefan. "It was the other way around, actually. A fellow DarkNet hacker with a fascination for astronomy noticed a shift in the orbits of-"

"Have I ever truly been the head of this family?" Nikolas posed the question to his father as though Faith had not been speaking.

"Andresj Stefanovich ! " Stefan's whip-like command startled them all and momentarily paused Andresj in his tracks. The young man had instinctively reacted to what he felt was Nikolas' disrespect of the woman Andresj considered his mother. His affection for- and loyalty to- Faith was well known within the family. " Sit. "

Andresj did not give ground. He stood frozen, steps away from his older brother. Like Nikolas, his body radiated anger. "My brother's fit of pique does not entitle him to behave toward my mother as he has. He would do well to remember that despite the damage I have been told his mother has wreaked upon our family, I have shown Mrs. Spencer nothing but courtesy."

Sabrina winced. She had no love for Laura Spencer and usually cheered on anyone taking verbal shots at the woman who had abandoned her infant son. But not at the expense of the closeness the two brothers shared.

"You wish to know why I withheld all disturbing information for as long as possible? This discord is why. You have known of Earth's pending demise for less than one hour and you are already at one another's throats. How would you have managed to carry such news over months?"


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