Chapter 26


"So what will you do while I am gone?" Stefan asks as Rina walks him to the door of Wyndemere. Beside the door, an overnight bag waits for him.

"I was thinking I'd check out the pediatric floor and see if they need another volunteer." As they come to a stop at the door, Rina runs her hands along his broad shoulders in a wifely manner and smooths out his jacket. "Working in the gardens here are nice, but I think it's time I got involved with the community, if it's to be my home."

"They will be lucky to have you." Stefan pulls Rina into a long slow kiss that lasts until they are both breathless. "Thank you," He says finally.

"For what?"

"For convincing me to search Nikolas out. I hadn't realized how oppressive the waiting was until I actually took action." He cocks his head to the side as he considers his next move. "It feels right to be doing something."

"In the end, Nikolas will listen to reason," Rina says, addressing the unspoken fears. "He knows how much you love him."

"I pray that it will be enough. I cannot lose him." Stefan draws her into another kiss. "I will miss your calming presence."

Rina smiles at his sadly. "I will miss you too, but I understand your need to face him alone. Your issues with him are private, and neither of you can be completely honest if I'm there."

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

Minnos

Nikolas stands on the veranda, overlooking the beautiful sight of the water as the sun rises. Living on a cliff had it's advantages, not the least of which was a breathtaking view. In a few moments, his daughter would be rising and his day would become hectic. Turning back to the house, Nikolas calls out. "Gus."

His servant appears. "Yes, Mr Cassadine?"

"I will be relocating to Port Charles with my daughter. Will you please make the preparations. You, Francessca, and the core staff will accompany me, of course."

Gus's eyes widen. "Are you shutting down the house here, Sir?"

"For the time being, yes," Nikolas answers cryptically. "I have acquired a house in Port Charles that will serve my needs. How soon can we be ready to move?"

"It will take some time to close this house," Gus answers thoughtfully. "But you don't need to be present for that, Sir. I will tell Francessca to pack the necessities."

"Where is Francessca going, Papa?" Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Sophia pads barefoot onto the veranda with her baby blanket trailing behind her.

Gus bows out. "I'll see to the preparations, Sir."

Nikolas scoops his daughter up into his arms. "She is going with us to our new home."

"Our new home?" Sophia asks, already getting excited about a possible adventure. "Where's that?"

"Port Charles, New York," Nikolas answers succinctly.

"I've never been there before, have I?" Before Nikolas can answer, she peppers him with more questions. "Do we go today? Can Sebastian come with us?"

"No, Sweetheart, you haven't been to Port Charles before. And we won't be leaving until tomorrow. And...." He kisses her on the top of the head. "Sebastian will be coming, just not on the plane with us, and not right away."

All thoughts of her pony are forgotten at the mention of a plane. "I'll be going on a plane with you?! You've never taken me on the plane before. Oh Papa, I can't wait!"

Nikolas chuckles as he squeezes her tightly. "Neither can I. There are some special people in Port Charles I want you to meet."

Sophia's eyes go wide. "Who?"

"You have a grandfather and a grandmother.. and an aunt and an uncle, just to name a few of the people you will meet."

"Really?!" Sophia hugs her daddy close. "Can Sasha come with us on the plane? I think Sasha would like to meet them too."

Nikolas carries her into the house as they continue their banter. "Of course she can... Are you hungry? I know I am. How about we ask Mrs Hobson for scones....."

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

Rina exits the elevators at GH, and looks around pensively. She's obviously picked a bad time of day to visit because patients, nurses and doctors bustle by her without so much as a second glance. Organized mayhem has erupted at the nurses station, as shift change is well under way. She realizes in retrospect, she should have made an appointment with one of the staff before coming. She knows from experience that impulse visits to the hospital were a bad idea.

Just as she is about to get back on the elevator, she hears someone hailing her.

"Mrs Cassadine!" Emily walks up behind her, flashing her a welcoming smile. "Hi, it's nice to see you again."

Rina smiles with relief. Finally a friendly face. "Emily Quartermaine, right? Please, as I told you at the wedding, call me Rina. Everyone does. Everyone but my husband, who insists on calling me Corrine."

"Okay, Rina it is. So what brings you to the hospital?" Emily catches herself too late. "I'm sorry, that was rude. It's none of my business. It's just you're looking a little lost."

Rina leans in, wincing a little with embarrassment. "I am VERY lost. And you're not being rude. I just came to take a peek at the pediatric wing and thought I'd offer myself as a volunteer. And I'm ashamed to admit, I wasn't thinking. I should have called to make an appointment first..."

"Oh, I'll take you down there. I'm on my break, I'd love the walk." Emily offers. When Rina accepts, they fall into step. "So are you are settling in at Wyndemere?"

Rina nods. "Yes, I have. And there's very little to do there. The house runs very smoothly without my interference, so I'm feeling at loose ends. If you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I do," Emily replies. "That's why I just took this job with the Wellness Center. Now that my nephew Michael has settled back into his routine at school, I needed to do something with myself or go nuts. And since this job is flexible, I can work it around Michael's school..." Emily stops when they reach the pediatric ward. "Here we are. Would you like me to go in and introduce you to the charge nurse?"

Rina smiles gratefully. "That would be great."

Emily leads her into the pediatric ward and introduces her to the nurse, then turns to Rina to say goodbye. "Hey, if you have time after you're done here, why don't you stop by the Wellness Center? We could have some coffee and I can try and talk you into volunteering for the center instead?"

The charge nurse scowls at Emily goodnaturedly. "No fair stealing my potential volunteers, Emily. Get out of here before I tell your mom!" Emily grins sheepishly at the teasing

"Thanks for your help, Emily," Rina says, while putting a friendly hand on her arm. "And I'll be sure to stop by afterwards."

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

Minnos.

Stefan blinks up at the sky made pink from the setting sun as he disembarks from his private jet. He is pleased that he has arrived so quickly and without difficulty. As he takes the steps down the the tarmac, a pack of Cassadine security surround the jet. Several of the staff recognize him from their years of working under him and step back a bit. The head of security steps forward. "Mr Cassadine, welcome to Minnos. We were not informed of your impending arrival."

Stefan, the picture of confidence, takes in the scene with casual arrogance that shows he's in complete command and that doubting his authority would be tantamount to betrayal. With a brief glance, he notes the villa at a distance. "Then it was an oversight, because Nikolas was the one who summoned me."

The head of security bows his head. "Of course. My apologies for questioning your arrival. If you'd like, we will call ahead to tell THE Cassadine you are here before driving you up to the main house."

"That will be unnecessary," Stefan retorts, his voice smooth and commanding. The last thing he wants is to give Nikolas a chance to dodge this meeting. He would speak to Nikolas tonight, and his best chance of success was catching him off guard. "It will delay us and time is of the essence."

If possible, the security officer bows his head lower and leads Stefan to a nearby utility vehicle. Within a few minutes, they arrive in the driveway of the villa. Stefan lets himself out of the car. "You may return to your duties, I will see myself to the house." Without looking back, Stefan climbs the steps to the white stucco villa.

As he arrives at the front door, it is flung open and a small beautiful pixie of a girl with dark brown hair and big round eyes looks up at him. Stefan's heart drops into his stomach. She is the last thing he expected to be greeted with.

"Hello," The little girl says shyly, clinging to her doll. "I saw you through the window."

Recovering, Stefan crouches to her level. his voice is quavering slightly. "Hello.... that... that's a pretty little doll you have there."

"My papa gave it to me," Sophia informs him, thrusting her doll out for him to see. "Her name is Sasha. I'm...."

"Sophia... you shouldn't be out here, come inside..." They hear Nikolas scold as he approaches from inside the house. The next moment, Nikolas comes face to face with Stefan. "Father."


Chapter 27


"Father."

The air was so silent, so deathly quiet, a pin could be heard dropping. Stefan rises to his feet, boring a hole into Nikolas, as if pleading for an explanation to this horrible nightmare come to life.

Confused by the charged atmosphere, Sophia looks from her father to Stefan and then back again. "Papa?"

Stefan closes his eyes, the word she just uttered strikes a blow deep in his heart, a devastating blow he knows he will never fully recover from. How could he after a lie of such magnitude?

"Sophia," Nikolas utters softly, but the tone he uses holds an urgency that brooks no argument. "Go inside and see Francessca. Now."

Sophia scampers inside without protest, leaving the two men alone. Nikolas, his heart in his throat, reaches out a hand to his father, and then realizing how lame it is, drops it. He waits in silence for some sort of an explosion or a demand for an explanation, but all he gets is silence... stretching on and on until Nikolas is sure he's going to snap from the tension. "Father, I...."

Nikolas' words serve to break Stefan out of his trance. He opens his eyes, but trains them on the ground at Nikolas' feet. Stefan's words are stilted and formal. "I have.... intruded on your family, please forgive me. I will not trouble you again." Stefan turns, forcing his legs to move by a sheer act of will.

Nikolas stands with his mouth gaping open. "You're just going to leave.. just like that? Without giving me a chance to explain?" He watches with growing disbelief and then panic as his silent father continues his retreat down the driveway. Then instinct propels him into action, the instinct that tells him if he lets Stefan walk away now, he will never get a chance to make this right. And he can't lose this man, not like this, not ever.

He jumps in front of Stefan, blocking his way. "Father, stop! You have to give me a chance to explain." Nikolas' eyes fly to Stefan's face and the desolation he sees makes his heart stop. His father wearing the same look he wore when Nikolas left Wyndemere in anger all those years ago. Except this time it's worse, Stefan even won't look him in the eye. "This isn't that you're thinking..." Nikolas' voice cracks. "God, it was never my intention to hurt you this way."

Stefan looks at anything but Nikolas. "How could I misinterpret what I just saw? That little..." Stefan's voice breaks as his despair wells up. "That precious little girl is a mirror image of you at that age. She is your daughter! Are you denying that?"

Nikolas feels the tears gathering in the back of his eyes. Shame, incredible shame swamps him. "No, she is my daughter...."

"Then I understand everything that matters," Stefan answers with grim finality. "The rest is just window dressing. Now please, allow me to leave with some dignity."

Nikolas blocks Stefan's retreat again. "No! No, I won't let you go. Not like this." He puts his hands on Stefan's chest, pleading, much like the teenage boy he was a decade before. "Please, Father. I need to explain, I HAVE to explain. Damn it, I gave you a chance!" Nikolas takes a breath to stem the rising panic. "Then if... if you want to leave after that, I won't stop you, but you owe me the chance to explain."

Stefan hears the sincere desperation in Nikolas voice, and looks up into Nikolas eyes which are wide with true fear. And even in his agony, he can't thrust his son away. He cups the back of his son's neck and presses him against his chest in a fierce embrace, believing it may very likely be the last time he touches his son. His dear sweet son. "Nikolas," He chokes out. "Why put us through the agony? The obvious conclusion is that my presence in your life is neither required nor desired."

"Please... just.. just come inside."

"You don't know what you ask of me," Stefan answers with a sad sigh. "And I can't fathom why explaining this to me would make any difference. But if it is what you want, then I will listen."



Once Nikolas has checked on Sophia to be certain they won't be disturbed, he returns to the living room to find Stefan still standing where he left him and still wearing the same shell shocked expression.. Going to the liquor cart, he pours them both stiff drinks. He hands one glass to Stefan, who stares at the clear liquid for a moment, then drains it in one sweeping motion.

Stefan looks at the empty glass for a long moment then puts it down on a nearby table. He looks around the unfamiliar room, taking in it's details, bewildered by how little he knows of his son's life, and then the realization hits home again that this is exactly how Nikolas wants it. He doesn't belong here. He is an intruder, in his own son's life. "How you must hate me," He whispers in despair. The words come out before Stefan can sensor them.

Nikolas' heart skips a beat. He had expected anger, recrimination, censure, but never a defeated and hurt Stefan. This isn't how he ever pictured their conversation going. "No... no, that's not true..."

"It has to be true. It is only explanation that fits..." Stefan runs a hand over the top of his head down to the back of his neck before letting it drop. He struggles to find a gentle way of putting the truth, but when he can't find one, he just states it plainly. "For the fact that you never intended to tell me about your daughter. I was never supposed to see her."

Nikolas is stunned; this had never crossed his mind. He was always going to tell Stefan: later, next week, next year, when Sophia was older, when he was less bitter, or when Stefan was more honest. But the idea of never telling him about Sophia had never been a consideration.

With a sense of urgency, Nikolas takes Stefan's face in his hands and presses their foreheads together and vows, "God...I could never hate you, not for more than a few minutes anyway. If there's anything you can believe about me, it's that. Not a day goes by when I'm with Sophia that I don't remember all you've done for me, how much you loved me when I was growing up, and how that makes me a better person and a better father to her."

At Nikolas' earnest words, Stefan's last bit of composure crumbles and the tears stream down his face. The day had been too much. So much time had been lost that could never be replaced with his son and granddaughter. But he also had hope that he would have a chance now to build some sort of future with them in his life.

Beginning to weep himself, Nikolas pulls his father into a bear hug. At this moment the battles of the past seem insignificant and even petty in the face of his father's grief. His father had always placed great importance on family, how could he have deprived Stefan and Sophia the joy of knowing each other, for even one day?

The men part awkwardly, the rawness of their emotions turns them inward to regain their equilibrium. Nikolas turns away to allow Stefan some privacy and Stefan walks on unsure legs to the nearest chair and lowers himself into it. Suddenly he feels old and tired.

Nikolas takes the chair across from him, leaning forward so that he's almost touching Stefan. "I must explain some things, to help you understand why I did what I did. In retrospect I'm not proud of what I've done, but there were reasons. And the first thing you need to know is that before you came, I was planning on returning to Port Charles with Sophia." At Stefan's look of surprise, Nikolas nods. "It's true. Just this morning, I began preparations to move back to Port Charles. The primary reason was so that Sophia could get to know you."

"I see..." Stefan pauses to be sure to pick his words carefully, but the doubt is evident in his voice. "Am I to understand that after our rather heated argument, you packed up all your things and left Wyndemere without a word to me or anyone, just so that you could return? Just so that I could meet Sophia."

"It wasn't that methodical," Nikolas tries to explain. "It wasn't until I came back to Minnos that I made the decision to move. And I never intended to move back to Spoon Island. That is your home, not mine."

Surprised, Stefan leans back. "If not Spoon Island, then where?"

"I have acquired a waterfront estate," Nikolas explains cryptically. "As to why I kept Sophia a secret all these years, the answer isn't simple." He rises from his chair and ambles around the room. "I am ashamed to admit this, I always considered myself above this kind of thing, but I hid her existence in large part because I wanted to lash out at you, hurt you like you have hurt me." Turning to see the knowing sadness in Stefan's eyes, Nikolas pushes forward, knowing that only with brutal honesty can they move on. "I was so furious at you for lying to me about being my father, about the DNA tests, for not trusting me, that for a long time I did everything I could to cut you out of my life. Keeping Sophia a secret was the best way to do that. Finally I had a secret that you didn't know about."

"I drove you to this. My lies made it so you couldn't stand to see me." With a slightly tremulous hand, Stefan strokes his goatee. "I have known this to be true for some time, that I drove you away. Even that you had secrets you didn't want to share with me. But I couldn't have guessed you had a secret of this magnitude. The blame for this can be laid squarely at my door."

Nikolas looks at him in bewilderment. "Why aren't you mad at me? I'm a grown man, for God's sake! By all rights, you should be furious! I kept your granddaughter a secret for over three years!" For some reason, Stefan's reaction serves to make him feel more guilty. If Stefan had ranted and raved, then Nikolas would have felt vindicated.

"And I broke faith with you time and again," Stefan responds with stoicism unusual even for him. "It is no wonder that you didn't tell me about Sophia. I brought this on myself. I do have one question.... have you ever considered telling me about Sophia over the years?"

Nikolas turns on a dime to face his father. "Yes, many times," He answers with complete certainty. "But the longer I kept the secret, the harder and harder it was tell you. Then there was the issue of Sophia's safety. If her existence became generally known, then she would be vulnerable as the daughter of THE Cassadine."

"The danger to her is a real one," Stefan reasons. "However, we both know it wasn't a plausible reason to keep her hidden from me. I am more than capable of safeguarding such an important secret." Having made his point, Stefan lets it drop, to bring up the other pressing question in his mind. "What does Sophia's mother think of your plans to relocate to Port Charles?"

"All you need to know is her feelings on anything regarding Sophia are unimportant."

Stefan bows his head in assent, getting Nikolas' message loud and clear. "Very well, I won't press it any further now. But this is a topic we will have to tackle sooner rather than later."