Chapter 28


"You're my grandfather?"

In the living room of Nikolas' home, Sophia stands in front of Stefan clutching her favorite doll to her chest as large brown eyes study him. Nikolas stands at the far end of the room near the window where he can be unobtrusive and still look on.

His heart in his throat, Stefan smiles awkwardly at the little girl. He can't get past the fact that he's missed so much of her life already. How will he get to know this little girl who is looking at him so warily? "Yes, I am your grandfather."

"I've never had a grandfather before," She murmurs doubtfully. "You're Papa's father?"

"Yes, I am Nikolas' father.... And you know what? I have never had a granddaughter before..." His voice is soft and gentle. "Do you think you could help me learn to be a good grandfather?"

Sophia's eyes widen for a moment, then a grin crosses her face. "I'm just a little girl!" She says with a giggle in her voice. "I don't know stuff like that!"

He cocks his head to the side, his eyes widening in good humor and his voice light. "You don't? Well then maybe Sasha can help us," He suggests, pointing to her doll. "She looks wise. I bet she has all sorts of ideas. Maybe you could ask her if you have a favorite book?"

Sophia's eyes light up and she brings the doll to her ear, as if she's listening to what Sasha is saying. "Okay, Sasha! I'll go get it!" Sophia dashes out of the room, leaving the two men staring at each other in bafflement. A moment later she comes back with a picture book. "Sasha thinks you should read this to me."

After getting out his reading glasses, Stefan takes the book from her. He glances at the title then looks up at Nikolas in amazement. "Where The Wild Things Are?"

Nikolas shares a crooked grin. "It's Sasha's favorite."

Stefan opens the slightly tattered book while Sophia settles herself and Sasha beside him, her body pressing against him as he begins to read. Her face is the picture of rapt attention, alternating between looking at the pictures and listening to her grandfather's voice. "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind...."

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

In the guest room of the villa, Stefan sits on the bed, shedding his shell of bravado to reveal an exhausted and battle-scarred man. The last few days have been too much. His fight with Nikolas, telling Corrine the secret of Nikolas's parentage, discovering that Nikolas had left Spoon Island and Port Charles, and then tracking Nikolas down here and finding out he had a grandchild. A little girl, the most beautiful precious little girl he's ever seen. An image of her cherubic face flashes in front of him. Joy and sorrow mix, and Stefan can't quite honestly say what he feels. Other than he will spend every free moment he can getting to know this amazing little girl. Sophia Cassadine. Already she has stolen his heart.

He picks up the phone and dials an international number. A few moments later, his heart skips a beat at the sound of his wife's voice. "Corrine."

"Stefan? Is everything alright? Did you find Nikolas?"

"Yes...." Stefan closes his eyes and clenches down hard on his emotions. Little would be gained by breaking down now, except to alarm his wife. "I found Nikolas... and much more. A daughter. Nikolas has... a daughter."

There is dead silence as Rina sinks down in the nearest chair, hard. "Oh my God... Stefan. You didn't know... he kept this from you?" The whole idea of keeping a child secret is unfathomable to her.

Stefan recounts the information , his voice dead, devoid of all emotion. "Her name is Sophia... Sophia Nikolasova Cassadine." The name sounds foreign to his ears, even surreal.

Rina winces, she knows he's shut down completely, her heart aches for him. "Stefan..."

Ignoring her plea, he continues in the same flat formal tone. "I came upon her by chance when I arrived at the villa. Who is to say how long it would have been if I had not taken the initiative to seek out Nikolas. I might never have known her." Stefan closes his eyes and clenches his teeth as the bitterness wells up at those last words

Damn Nikolas, Rina swears to herself. How could he willfully hurt Stefan like this? Rising from her chair, She strides out of the living room and up the stairs as she speaks to Stefan in a calm and decisive tone. "You don't need to be handling this news alone. I'll pack a bag and be on my way within the hour."

"NO," Stefan answers forcefully. "That is completely unnecessary since I will only be here for a few days. You need not worry about me, I have the situation well in hand."

Rina frowns. He's lying, she know he is. How could he possibly be handling this well? "Stefan..."

"I insist, Corrine." Stefan's tone brooks no argument. "A trip out here will only be in vain. Regardless, Nikolas is planning to return with Sophia. Among his surprises tonight, he has also bought a home of his own in Port Charles."

"So he was planning on returning to Port Charles all along?" Rina feels her own head spinning, she can just imagine what this is like for Stefan. "This is such a shock."

"Yes, there is much information to digest." Stefan runs a hand over his head until it comes to a rest on the back of his neck. "This whole ordeal is exhausting."

Rina's eyes suddenly fill with tears of helplessness. "I wish I could be with you."

Stefan's face softens, the haggard look inhabiting him vanishes for a moment at her simple words. "It means everything to know I am not alone, Corrine. That I have you at my side."

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

At the end of the day, Emily is on the phone at the Wellness Center. "Of course you can have a raincheck, Rina. I'm just sorry we can't get together tomorrow... give me a call when things settle down for you again, and we'll reschedule lunch...." Emily hears a knock at her door, and looks up to find Monica poking her head in, she waves her in. "I hope everything works out oka, and I'll talk to you soon."

"Hi Emily." Monica smiles brightly at her youngest child to cover the anxiety she feels. She sorely missed Emily when she was in Europe and was elated when Emily returned home. Then she discovered Emily had taken on her brother Jason's role of shunning the family. Jason.... she tried not to think of him for too long, or she'd lose herself in the grief.

But losing Jason had strengthened Monica's resolve to bridge the rift between herself and her children. All her children. Now that Emily was working at the hospital, she had a chance to build a relationship with Emily again on neutral territory. She wasn't going to pass it up. "I stopped by to congratulate you on your new job, and on the off chance you might have dinner with me? I'll buy."

Emily frowns as she considers the offer. "If this is part of some ploy to manipulate me into handing over Michael, it'll be a waste of time."

"It's not," Monica assure her with conviction. "I just want to have dinner with my daughter to congratulate her on her new job. I've missed you, Emily. Can't we put aside our differences on Michael and have a nice time? Please?"

Some of the wariness leaves Emily's face. She rises from behind her desk and grabs her purse. "Okay, I'll make a deal with you. We can have dinner as long as we don't discuss Michael and the Quartermaines in the same sentence."

Monica lets out the breath she'd been holding. "Deal. Where shall we go? How does the Grille sound?"

"How about the Outback?" Emily suggests, linking arms with her mother. "It's more relaxed and I'm not really dressed for the Grille."

Monica radiates happiness. "Sounds great. I've been having a hankering for one of their special burgers... So, are you getting used to the hospital bureaucracy yet?"

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

The Outback.

"The job sounds perfect for you, Emily," Monica enthuses as she takes a sip from her mineral water. "You've settled in so quickly."

"Helps being from the Quartermaine family and doing all that candy striping as a teenager," Emily quips. "It does feel like coming home, in a good way. It feels right now, being in Port Charles. Like I've come home."

"You look settled, content, " Monica agrees, moving lettuce around on her plate. "Living on your own, out of the Quartermaine insanity, suits you. I'm happy for you. I just hope you can have room for me and your father in your life. We both miss you terribly."

"It's never been my intention to cut you two out of my life. I love you all, even Grandfather when he's being insufferable. I just can't live with you anymore." Emily reaches a hand across the table and squeezes Monica's hand. "You can accept that, right?"

"Of course," Monica answers readily, squeezing her hand back. "So, tell me. Is the rumor mill true? Are you dating Nikolas Cassadine?" When Emily almost chokes on her drink, Monica backpedals. "I'm sorry, I'm being too nosy."

Emily wipes her mouth quickly while shaking her head. "No, it's okay you asked, I just wasn't expecting it." She pauses to consider the question. What is the state of her relationship with Nikolas? They weren't dating, and she couldn't even honestly say they were friends considering how they treated each other. But explaining all that to Monica would take days and would only make her mother worry. So Emily goes for the pat answer. "You know Nik and I go way back. We're friends, that's all. And now that he's left town, I won't be seeing much of him."

Monica's eyebrows go up in surprise. "Really? I hadn't heard that Nikolas left town again. In fact, it's my understanding that he's taking over as CEO at the next board meeting. Are you sure your information is correct?"


Chapter 29



Nikolas stands at the window of his villa, watching Stefan and Sophia exploring the gardens. A smile crosses his face when he sees Sophia leading Stefan in a tour of one of her favorite places to play, even going so far as showing him her hiding places. A casual onlooker might have thought the little girl and the elegantly dressed man were an odd couple, but Nikolas can only see how natural they are in each other's company.

A knock on his front door disturbs the quiet of the villa. With a puzzled look, he answers the door. The puzzlement changes to surprise when he sees Rina standing on his doorstep. "Rina!"

"Nikolas," Rina answers, the warmth she previously reserved for him is gone, replaced by cool reserve and a tinge of disapproval. "May I come in? I'm here to see my husband."

Nikolas quickly stands aside, welcoming her into his home. "I apologize for my reaction to seeing you. Uncle didn't give me any indication you were coming."

Rina lets him usher her in, standing by stiffly as he calls for a servant to take her overnight bag. Once they are alone again, Rina replies, "There is no reason to apologize to me. I'm the one who arrived on your doorstep unannounced. If there would have been another way, I wouldn't have come uninvited."

Nikolas shifts awkwardly in the face of Rina's cold and formal demeanor. "Obviously Uncle has told you about my daughter, and you're angry. You have every right to be, and I'm not proud of what I've done..."

Rina cuts him off. "How I feel about you and what you did isn't important to me at the moment. What is important is Stefan." Nikolas grimaces as her words hit their mark. "Can you tell me where he is?"

"He is out in the gardens with Sophia," Nikolas explains. "Sophia wanted to show him all of her favorite nooks and crannies. They should be back shortly."

A few moments later, Sophia and Stefan enter the room. Sophia dashes for her father. "Papa!" Nikolas scoops her up in his arms and kisses her on the cheek.

Stefan's eyes widen with genuine surprise at seeing Rina waiting for him. A momentary spurt of annoyance at her so completely disregarding his wishes is quickly replaced with pleasure. He approaches her, his eyes showing her a mix of disapproval and affection, while her gaze is steadfast, never wavering from his face. They embrace briefly, exchanging soft pecks on the cheek. "Corrine, this is unexpected."

Rina keeps a hand on Stefan. "I needed to see you." While her answer is soft, there is a confidence to her tone.

"Sophia, how about we go see what Francessca is cooking up for lunch?" Nikolas suggests. He carries Sophia out of the room, leaving the couple alone.

"Corrine, I believe we had an understanding that you would wait for me to return to Port Charles."

"No, you had an understanding with yourself," Rina points out, a touch of good humor in her voice. "I never agreed. And I needed to see you for myself."

"Are you ever going to do as I ask?" Stefan asks ruefully.

"Not so long as it means it will hurt you." She cups his bearded cheeks with her hands and gazes at him intently, communicating her conviction with her eyes. "This is not something you need to handle by yourself, Stefan. I know you're used to going it alone, but it's not necessary because you have me in your corner now. What kind of wife would I be if I left you alone to deal with a shock like this?"

"A wife who listened to her husband?" Touched again by her loyalty, Stefan pulls her into a fierce hug. What has he done to deserve a woman like her? And how could he possibly be angry with her when she did this out of concern for him? "This is becoming a disconcerting trend.... you knowing what I need and giving it to me despite my objections. I find it impossible to defend against."

"Music to my ears!" Rina says with a laugh. After a moment they part and she looks up into his eyes again, noting a weariness that he can't quite hide. Taking his hands in hers, she squeezes them meaningfully. "Let's go for a walk, hmmm? I could use some exercise after my long plane trip."

Stefan nods, leading her out into the gardens. "What I want to know is how you found me?" He asks. "I don't recall telling you where I was."

"I have my sources," Rina answers mysteriously. "I am your wife, that gives me a sizable sphere of influence."

They share knowing smiles. "Oh, does it? Remind me not to underestimate you again."

They walk hand in hand in silence for some time, until they are past the gardens and following a path to the cliffs. Both seem to breath more easily outside the immediate confines of the gardens. Once they reach the end of the path, Rina slips an arm around Stefan's waist. "Sophia is a beautiful little girl."

"She is..." Stefan searches for the right word, and decides the simplest describes her best. "Perfect. Beautiful, intelligent, imaginative, curious, and in possession of wicked sense of humor. The more I spend time with her, the more amazed I am."

"She seems to have taken to you immediately," Rina comments. "And you obviously adore her."

"I adored her the moment I laid eyes on her..." Stefan's eyes cloud with a mixture of pain and joy. "She opened the door when I first arrived here. I knew as soon as I saw her that she was my granddaughter. She smiled at me and introduced me to the doll she was carrying. I couldn't resist her even then."

Rina tightens her hold on his waist briefly. "She's lucky to have you as her grandfather."

"Is she?" Stefan wonders. "If it weren't for my choices, my lies to my son, he would not have felt it necessary to hide her existence from me and the rest of the family. My choices, my mistakes led us to this point." The self-loathing he feels wells up and closes his throat, keeping from speaking.

Rina turns to face him, grabs the lapels of his suit coat, and gives him a slight shake. "Don't you DARE blame yourself for the decision Nikolas made! He was an adult, and in full control of his faculties. He did this, not you!"

"And the choice Nikolas made is a direct reflection of my actions over the years. The simple fact is, Nikolas chose to keep Sophia a secret because he could not trust me." Stefan takes in a deep cleansing breath and forces himself to relax again. "Let us not discuss this any more now. I want to spend the little time I have here with Sophia getting to know her. I have no idea what the future will hold, and I want to savor every moment I have with that precious little girl."

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

The Harbor Gallery, a few blocks from Kelly's.

Emily helps Liz hang last picture on the wall. Looking around at the room hung with all of Liz's paintings, Emily whistles. "Liz, this is incredible! I always thought you were talented back when you first started painting. But your new work is incredible!"

Liz blushes. "You really think so?"

"I know so!" Emily strolls around the room casting and admiring eyes at the paintings. "This exhibition will be a hit, Liz. I know it."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence and the help getting everything prepared," Liz answers gratefully. "Give me a minute to talk to Harry, and we'll go to lunch."

While Liz talks to the gallery owner, Emily gathers her purse and takes down the dimensions of her favorite painting, the one of a mother and child in the garden, that she's particularly interested in for the penthouse. When Liz is done, they head out the door and down the street to Kelly's. "So, what's Nikolas up to these days?" Liz asks, by way of making conversation. "I haven't heard from him since our dinner at Luke's."

"Who knows?" Emily answers flippantly. Now that they've cleared the air and renewed their friendship, Emily sees no need to mince words. It's a relief to her to be able to be blunt."The man is impossible. I went out to see him on Spoon Island and was told he'd packed up all this things. As far as I know, he's gone."

"Wow," Liz exclaims. "He sure does move fast. Do you think there was some sort of business emergency?"

Emily shakes her head, opening the door to Kelly's for both of them. "I don't think so, Stefan Cassadine looked more shocked than I did. I got the impression that Nikolas isn't planning on coming back. What burns me is he didn't even bother to say goodbye."

The women grab a table and order salads for lunch. Once they are alone again, Liz resumes their conversation. "I just can't believe that Nikolas would leave like that! He'd have to have a reason."

"Yeah, wounded pride," Emily answers bitterly. "Liz, I'm just too tired and too impatient to deal with his garbage anymore. The guy blows hot and cold faster than anyone I know. He sees me for the first time in YEARS, and he acts like we're still best friends. Then he asks me to come to Stefan's wedding as a favor to him. The next thing I know he thinks he owns me, and causes a huge scene at Luke's when I show up with Sonny!"

Liz winces. "If he weren't so darn sweet most of the time, I'd smack him myself. So why did you go to Wyndemere to see him?"

Emily takes a deep breath. "If I tell you something, will you promise to keep it to yourself and not think less of me?"

Liz smiles encouragingly at her friend. "Of course. We're friends, Emily. You don't even have to ask."

Emily leans forward so that Liz can still hear her even though she's speaking softly. "I know this sounds pathetic, Liz, but I have to tell somebody. The reason I went see Nikolas was because I was ...." Emily bites her lip, her face going pink, then she finally bites out the words. "I was going to tell him I wanted to sleep with him." At Liz's shocked expression, Emily blushes even more deeply. "I know, I'm so pathetic! The man acts like a complete jerk and I still want to be his lover. How sick is that? But he kisses me and my knees go weak, Liz. Maybe if I get him out of my system, my brain will engage."

"Oh Emily." Liz shakes her head sympathetically. I don't think it works that way. I don't think you're the kind of person who can have a casual affair with Nikolas Cassadine."

"But what else am I supposed to do?!" Emily argues. "The guy is driving me nuts. I can't even be in the same room with him and carry on a reasonable conversation. I become this stuttering bimbo I despise. When I should be telling him to get the hell out of my life, I'm letting him kiss me until I'm senseless. What choice do I have?"

"And like the dog he is, he's gone and disappeared again." Liz shakes her head sympathetically. "This must be so aggravating, Emily. If this weren't Nikolas, I'd tell you he wasn't worth it. I'm not sure even Nikolas is worth this kind of hassle. So what are you going to do?"

"What can I do?" Emily throws her hands up into the air. "He's gone. It's over, and I didn't even have a chance."