~ Gonna Lay Down My Burdens ~

Alexis forced some energy into her stride. Her reserves of strength were low after a grueling bout of chemotherapy several hours earlier; still, she pulled generously from them to make the trip down the lengthy hallways of Wyndemere. The last thing Alexis wanted was for Nikolas to see how truly weary she was.

With relief, Alexis negotiated the last turn that would bring her only steps from Stefan's study. Funny, Alexis thought for a moment, how even now she never thought of the room as anything other than Stefan's.

A smile graced Alexis' lovely face. She could hear her nephew in conversation with someone, undoubtedly a business associate. His words were measured and slow. "Yes, that is a reasonable request. I am certain funds can be freed to assist you, Samantha..."

Nikolas' conversation trailed off as Alexis caught his eye. She shook her head in an unspoken signal they had established early in their handling of Cassadine family business. "I must," Nikolas smoothly shifted gears, "of course address the trustees of the estate first. Should they take issue, I will look into the matter personally." He listened for a moment. "Of course, Samantha. That is what family is for. Goodbye."

"That was Sam? What did she want?" Alexis carefully lowered her body into a seat opposite the desk. She concentrated on not groaning aloud.

Nikolas watched his aunt carefully. He was not fooled by her act. "Alexis, you should be home in bed. Mrs. Landsbury," Nikolas thumbed the intercom, "would you bring my aunt a glass of juice and several of your scones, please?"

Alexis sighed. "Nikolas, I am okay. Just... wiped out. And if I'd had to spend another minute in bed, I would have lost my mind." She looked pleadingly at her nephew. "I need this right now." Alexis gestured toward the desk full of paperwork. " This is my distraction."

"Very well," Nikolas allowed. "We'll discuss business - for a while."

"Thank you." Alexis smiled softly. "Now tell me what Sam wanted from you."

"An investment in a business venture she has decided upon." Nikolas considered his next words. "I think that what she really wants is our family's investment in her. Isn't it time?"

Alexis' response was forestalled by the arrival of Mrs. Landsbury. The longtime housekeeper bustled into the study bearing a tray of scones and an icy pitcher of fresh pomegranate juice. "Miss Natasha!" The housekeeper clucked her tongue. "You haven't been caring for yourself properly, have you? Well," she cleared Alexis' lap, "no business talk for you until you finish this."

The thought of eating two scones was monumental for Alexis. It would take all of her willpower to force a single scone down.

Her hesitation must have shown on her face. "A compromise, Mrs. Landsbury." Nikolas gracefully intervened. "Alexis will eat a single scone and drink a full glass of juice while I recount Cassadine business for her."

Mrs. Landsbury nodded. "That is agreeable. I will return in a bit for the empty plate."

"Thank you," Alexis said when the housekeeper left.

Nikolas dipped his dark head in acknowledgment. "I intend to hold you to the compromise," he informed Alexis. The young prince's voice grew rough. "Try to eat something."

Alexis made a show of breaking off a piece of scone. Dutifully she nibbled at it. "Your turn now," Alexis prodded her nephew.

"Yes, Cassadine business." Nikolas pushed aside his worry about his aunt. "I suppose first on the table is Sam's proposal."

"Don't do it."

Nikolas was thrown by his aunt's firm reply. "May I ask why you don't want to finance Sam's business venture? Nikolas shook his head. "As your daughter Sam is entitled to what she is asking - and far more. Think about it, Alexis," Nikolas urged. "Working together on her business venture might give us all a chance to build some common ground between us."

"Sam and I already have common ground." Alexis was too weary to hide the truth from Nikolas any longer. "She's been sleeping with Ric."

*Title - 'Nothing weighs on us so heavily as a secret.' Jean de la Fontaine