Chapter 12

Rina arrives at the entrance to the garden and takes in scene of Helena surrounded by security trying to escort her out and the wedding guests watching with varying degrees of disgust and fascination. "Can someone please tell me what in the world is going on?"

Helena laughs in glee at her luck. "So this is supposed to be the new Mrs Cassadine? At least she isn't blonde." Her escort, Anton, makes another half-hearted attempt to get her to leave, but she brushes him off.

Ignoring Helena's caustic outburst, Rina turns to Stefan who is boiling with fury as he wages a silent battle with Helena. He appears to be silently willing her to disappear, as is he expected his thoughts to make her evaporate.

Stefan's eyes gentle when he rests them on Rina, his hand reaching out for hers. "Corrine..." It's then that Rina senses his fear, hidden so well under the rage she might have missed it if she weren't so in tune with the feeling herself. Stefan continues, "The situation here is well in hand. If you will leave me to deal with my mother for a few minutes, this ugliness can be resolved promptly and we can proceed with the ceremony as we planned."

Rina sees the silent plea in his eyes, that more than anything he wants her to go inside and leave him to deal his mother alone, as he always has. Instead, with a reassuring smile Rina slips her hand through his arm and stands next to him, presenting them as a united front. "Thank you for the offer, Stefan. But I prefer to stay."

Watching their exchange, Helena claps her hands together. "What a heart warming picture of the American dream, a woman standing by her man in the face of adversity. How unfortunate for you he doesn't deserve it." She turns to Stefan. "Really, Darling. Isn't it embarrassing to have your weakness made so obvious.? Even your blushing bride doesn't heed your requests!"

"Quite the opposite, Mother," Stefan counters smugly. "But I wouldn't expect you to understand. You aren't capable of comprehending the strength that comes with this kind of partnership."

"Oh please!" Helena's voice is shrill with derision. "Even you can't be that deluded. How can there be any partnership when the partners are so clueless?!" She turns her attention towards Rina. "Tell me, Darling. Has he told you why his last bride-to-be broke their engagement?"

Rina doesn't even falter. "Even if I were interested in Stefan's past, I'd know better than to listen to you, a bitter old woman who is so obviously envious of her son's happiness that she wants to destroy it."

Helena's eyes narrow slightly. "Well, well, Stefan. You seemed to have found yourself a ... what is the American term? 'Stepford wife'? How fitting." She shakes her head sadly at Rina. "You're a pretty young woman, you seem to have spirit, I just hope you can survive this marriage. The last one was lucky to get out al--"

Stefan cuts her off before she can say more, his voice a deep threatening growl." Mother, You have spread your venom, now it is time for you to go." He signals the guards, who descend on Helena and Anton.

Not to be deterred, Helena makes one last parting shot at Rina. "You really should get Stefan and Laura to show you the view from the parapet, My Dear. It's lovely. Though do watch your step. . . I hear the fall can be deadly."

Rina briefly halts the guards. Staring Helena down, she says, "In the future, I would advise you to refrain from coming to Wyndemere without an invitation. The experience will certainly be less cordial and pleasant than this encounter." Leaning in, she whispers. "Just a friendly warning from your new daughter in law: I can personally guarantee any insult or attack on my husband will be taken seriously and handled swiftly." With that subtle threat hanging in the air, she directs the guards to lead Helena away.

......................

While outwardly presenting the picture of calm confidence after her confrontation with Helena, Rina feels sick to her stomach. Whether it's with fury, uncertainty, or something else entirely, she isn't quite sure. Once thing she's certain of though, if she doesn't get out of here, she'll make a scene herself. Already she senses the looks of sympathy from the guests. And if there's one thing she can't stand, it's pity. On her wedding day no less. She feels Stefan touch her gently on the shoulder. "Corrine, I want to ..."

Rina puts up her hand to stop him and flashes him a brilliant smile. "It's okay, Stefan. Really." Taking a deep breath, she continues. "I need to get some air, excuse me please." Giving his hand a quick squeeze, she walks out of the garden at a brisk pace.

Alarmed, Stefan starts after her, but Alexis stops him. "Let me, Stefan. I think I can help her put Helena into perspective. We'll only be a few minutes, I'm sure."

Stefan starts to protest, but seeing the certainty in Alexis' eyes, he stops. "Yes, speaking to you about Helena will do her good. You'll send for me if there's a problem?"

Alexis kisses him on the cheek. "Of course."

......................

Huffing and puffing from the exertion of walking so quickly at her advanced stage of pregnancy, Alexis catches sight of Rina standing on the bluff, staring out at the lake. The wind whips wildly at Rina's hair, making it a tousled mess.

Alexis walks up cautiously. "This is Stefan's favorite view on the island."

Rina doesn't look away from the water. "I know. He brought me out here yesterday. I can't believe how peaceful it is. In fact everything on this island is peaceful. It's what I like most about it."

Alexis raises an eyebrow. "Most people in Port Charles think of Wyndemere as dark and gloomy."

"I don't doubt it." Rina closes her eyes and enjoys the feel of the wind on her face. "But they would be missing the point. Things are rarely as they seem on the surface. Stefan is a perfect example of that." She suddenly changes the subject. "Why does Stefan's mother treat him so horribly? I don't understand how a mother could hate her son so."

"It's complicated." Alexis begins carefully. "It started at Stefan's birth and it's become worse with time." At Rina's questioning look, Alexis continues. "But they've really been at each other's throats since Stefan staged a coup when Nikolas was seven, which freed them from her influence. Ever since, Helena has made it a point to be a thorn in Stefan's side. Even now, when Nikolas has taken over the Cassadine holdings and the battle is ostensibly over, she can't pass up the opportunity to antagonize him."

"So her taunting him today was just more of the same." Rina shakes her head sadly. "How cruel of her to torment him about his broken engagement on our wedding day... Katherine Bell, wasn't it? Stefan mentioned her once in passing."

"Yes, Katherine Bell." Alexis pauses for a long moment as she considers how much to tell Rina. When she does speak again, she chooses her words with care. "Let's just say Helena was responsible for orchestrating the end of that relationship.... which ironically, ended up being a blessing in disguise. Even Stefan has acknowledged that marrying Katherine would have been a disaster. Among other things, Katherine hadn't a clue how to handle the likes of Helena."

"I appreciate you giving me some idea of what to expect with Helena." They lapse into silence while Rina walks along the bluff a little further, looking a little uncomfortable with the conversation. "I really should be asking Stefan about this. I was just a bit thrown by the confrontation earlier."

"Of course," Alexis murmurs soothingly. "You just walked into a war zone without knowing where any of the mine fields are, much less what the war is about." She walks up beside Rina so they are enjoying the same view. When she speaks again, her voice is softer, warmer than it has been before. "I admire what you did back in the garden, it's a rare person who is brave enough to face off with Helena like you did. To be honest, I've been afraid of standing up to her in the past. It's only because of Stefan's support and protection that I've been able to at all."

Rina is surprised by Alexis' admission. "I just did what was called for at the time. I was not about to let Helena get away with insulting Stefan like she did." Her eyes flash angrily at the memory of the encounter. "I was sorely tempted to slap that smug look off of her face."

"We've all been tempted." Alexis chuckles suddenly. "And it's even been done on occasion. Actually Stefan's ex-wife slugged Helena once. Though not in Stefan's defense."

Rina looks at Alexis curiously, but doesn't ask for the details. Instead she says simply, "I'm sure the whole story is complicated."

Alexis grins. "Of course, more than you can even imagine. Cassadines don't know how to do it any other way. Suffice it to say, Helena deserved it even more then."

Rina takes in one more cleansing breath then turns towards Alexis. "I think I'm ready to get married now."

......................

No one could tell by looking at Stefan standing at the edge of the garden that he was nervous or upset. He had honed the skill of stoicism practically since infancy. It had been a vital skill to surviving his childhood and it had served him well in business, assisting him in making millions for Nikolas' inheritance. And now it was helping him preserve an outward appearance of calm assurance while Inside he was seething. He was infuriated by Helena's audacity and the possibility she could cause him to lose another bride.

"I don't think you need to be concerned ," Nikolas says as he leans in to speak in Stefan's ear. Nikolas isn't fooled by this aloof mask; he has seen it countless times and knows Stefan is brooding. "If she can handle the vitriol spewing from Helena's mouth, she's not about to cancel the wedding now."

"You underestimate the power of Helena's insinuations," Stefan almost growls under his breath. "Regardless of the outcome, Helena has succeeded in tainting this day for us. I wanted our wedding ceremony to be perfect for Corrine. She deserves happiness and now Helena has put a pall over the whole proceeding..." Stefan spies Alexis and he motions to her. "Here is Alexis."

Alexis approaches them. "Rina will be down in a few moments. She just needs to put the finishing touches on her hair." She leans in and kisses Stefan on the cheek, whispering so only he can hear. "You made a good choice, Stefan. I couldn't have picked her better myself."

The words bring a smile of pride to Stefan's eyes. "Shall we assemble the guests?"

 

Chapter 13

The wedding ceremony was mercifully swift and uneventful, with the exception of one minor glitch, and now the reception is well underway. A string quartet plays light classical music in the garden while servants mingle, pouring champagne and offering exotic delicacies flown in from all over the globe. Stefan and Rina circulate among the guests, happily accepting well wishes. After heartfelt but brief congratulations from Nikolas, they encounter Ned and Alexis.

Stefan and Ned shake hands. "Congratulations, Stefan, Rina. After the obligatory rocky beginning, it all went quite smoothly. The ceremony was one of the nicest ones I've seen.." Winking at Alexis he adds, "Not counting our nuptials, of course."

"Thank you, Ned," Stefan replies graciously. "I wish I shared your opinion. It is beyond comprehension that the prelate massacred Corrine's maiden name."

"Gibson instead of Gibbons? What was he thinking?" Alexis stifles a chuckle. "When he fumbled over her name, you looked like you were going to burn a hole in him with your stare. I half expected you to stop the ceremony right then and there and demand he start over."

Giving Stefan's arm an affectionate squeeze, Rina pipes up, "He would have if I hadn't pinched him, subtly of course."

Across the garden, Nikolas wistfully watches the newlyweds laughing happily and sipping champagne. To the outside world they look the picture of a couple in love, smiling blissfully at each other and their guests, moving together as a unit, even when they aren't touching an invisible elastic cord appears to connect them, stretching but always contracting to bring them together again. Already they look married.

For the first time in his life, Nikolas feels truly apart from his father's life. All the years Nikolas had exiled Stefan from his life hadn't broken him of the assumption that he was the center of Stefan's world. And now his place in Stefan's life has changed and he feels unexpectedly envious.

But it isn't that so much which upsets Nikolas at this moment. He doesn't begrudge his father the happiness he's found. He's pleased Stefan has found a partner to spend his life with, that he's no longer alone, and that Stefan has not only survived their estrangement, but has grown from it. It is good for both of them that Stefan has someone to share his life with who appears worthy of him.

Nikolas simply wishes he had the same thing.

"Penny for your thoughts," Emily whispers in his ear from behind causing Nikolas to start a little.

Turning around, he flashes her a smile with a hint of sadness as he takes the glass of champagne she offers. "Just admiring the happy couple."

"Your uncle is kind of cute when he's in love," Emily observes. "He doesn't have his usual foreboding Cassadine aura about him today."

Nikolas takes a long sip of his champagne and makes an effort to shake off his somber mood. "You dare suggest that the Cassadines aren't the life of the party?" He asks with an air of mock injury.

Emily leans in to whisper in Nikolas' ear, her warm breath on his neck causing a pleasant tingling down his spine. "I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you and your uncle have cornered the market on brooding. Not even Lucky or his father can outdo you and your uncle in the dark mysterious brooding department."

Nikolas finishes his champagne and beckons a servant to refill it. Despite Emily's innocent attempt at humor, the mention of Lucky and Luke douses the beginnings of his good humor. The fact that it's the truth is what burns the most. "And I suppose Lucky and Luke have the market cornered on having fun?"

Emily pretends to take his question seriously. "Well, now that you mention it... Yes. If this had been a Spencer wedding, you know there would have been raucous music you could dance to, lots of laughter..." At Nikolas' scowl, she busts out laughing. "I'm teasing, Nikolas. Honest. I'm having a lovely time."

"Lovely?" Nikolas says with a good humored grimace. The alcohol seeping into his bloodstream is already having the desired effect of lightening his mood. "That bad? Sounds like something your grandmother would say." He finishes the glass of champagne and takes Emily by the elbow. "We have to do something to turn this around. I will not have you walking away from our date saying you had a 'lovely' time. I'll never live it down. Come on."

"A date? A date?!" Emily protests playfully as she follows Nikolas out of the garden. Then she stops suddenly, throwing him off balance slightly. "Wait. We can't go yet."

Nikolas turns back, puzzled by her sudden balking. "Why not?"

"I haven't met the bride yet," Emily explains. "Or given the happy couple my congratulations."

Nikolas winces, embarrassed at his thoughtlessness. "Right, sorry. I forgot you haven't had a chance to congratulate them. Let me do the introductions." Taking her hand, he leads her over to Stefan and Rina who have just broken away from Lucy and Kevin.

But instead of Nikolas doing the introductions, Stefan, looking almost effusive, reaches out his hand to take Emily's in a rare gesture of affection. "Miss Quartermaine." Nonplused, Emily finds herself automatically pressing a kiss into his bearded cheek as if they are old friends. "I am pleased you could attend our wedding. It has been many years since the last time I saw you."

Squeezing Stefan's hand, she flashes him a brilliant smile. "I'm honored to attend. Your ceremony was elegant in it's simple beauty. I hope when I get married, the setting is as beautiful and the ceremony as touching."

"Eloquently put." In the midst of his conversation with Emily, Stefan feels a slight jolt and pauses momentarily. Something in her touch, in the timber of her voice, and in the way she moves strikes him as strangely familiar, more intimately familiar than their casual acquaintance years ago would explain. But the feeling is elusive given the frantic pace of the day. Releasing Emily, he places his hand in the middle of Corrine's back. "Corrine, let me introduce you to Emily Quartermaine. She is an good friend of Nikolas' and has recently returned to Port Charles herself. She is also Ned Ashton's cousin. Emily, this is my wife, Corrine."

"Pleased to meet you, Emily." Rina offers her hand to Emily automatically, giving it a firm shake. "Except for Stefan, everyone calls me Rina. He refuses to call me anything but my full name."

"It's great to meet you, Rina." Emily slips her arm through Nikolas' and brings him into the conversation. "Nikolas has been telling me a little about you. He says you come from Albany?"

"Yes, that's right. Though I never really considered it home." She smiles up at Stefan. "I'm hoping Port Charles will feel like home soon."

"We'll make sure of that, Rina," Nikolas assures her.

"It's a great little city, I think you'll like it here. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I came home again a few weeks ago." As Emily talks about her favorite places to visit in Port Charles, she notices Rina tilt her head to the side, narrow her eyes slightly and study her closely. Confused by the odd look, Emily stops mid sentence. "What? Did I say something wrong?"

Rina responds slowly, obviously working hard to puzzle something out. "Excuse my strange look, but you seem so familiar.... like I've met you before."

"Oh, that." Emily dismisses it with a wave of her hand. "You probably just saw my picture in the tabloids. There were tons of pictures of me in the papers around the time of Jason Morgan's funeral a couple weeks back. I'm his sister."

Rina shakes her head, still squinting at Emily, straining to remember to make a connection. "No, I don't think that's it. I would have remembered that because it was so recent. I can't shake the feeling that maybe I met you a few years ago or something. Did you ever live in Albany? Or Boston?"

"No, neither place," Emily answers. "In fact, the only place I've lived outside of Port Charles is at Sorbonne University and I was living there until my brother died."

"It's possible you saw her picture in a magazine ad," Nikolas suggests. "Emily was a model several years back."

Emily rolls her eyes. "It's a time of my life I try to forget, my awkward teenage years. I had my fair share of angst and embarrassment. I was a model for about 5 minutes. I loved it at the time, but boy am I glad I didn't go into it as a full time career."

"Yes, I remember now how it ended." Stefan interjects, making eye contact with Nikolas. While his voice holds censure, there is a hint of pride in Stefan's expression. "We were quite fortunate no one got hurt. Much to my consternation, Nikolas decided to play hero and almost got himself shot."

"I have to disagree with you, Mr Cassadine. Nikolas doesn't play a hero, he is a hero." Emily lays her head playfully on Nikolas' shoulder and bats her eyes. "My hero."

Nikolas looks up at the sky briefly, showing his displeasure at the turn of the conversation. What was supposed to be a simple introduction is turning into this strange interaction with no end in sight."It's a long boring story I'd rather not rehash, thank you. Either way you look at it, it was no big deal."

"A story for another time, perhaps." Stefan nods knowingly at Nikolas. "I know the look on my nephew's face. He wants Miss Quartermaine to himself, and we have other guests with whom we must mingle."

Fighting a rising blush, Emily gives Rina her best wishes for a long and happy marriage. "Best of luck to both of you in your marriage. You look so happy together, I hope you share a long life filled with love and contentment. Again Rina, it's been great to meet you. Maybe we'll see each other again, it's been fun talking with you."

Rina shakes Emily's hand again. "Thank you, Emily. If everyone in Port Charles is as gracious as you, I know I'll love living here."