Chapter 30


After their talk, Rina and Stefan make their way back to the villa. Reaching the gardens, Stefan spies Sophia in one of the hiding places she showed him earlier, in an alcove, under a stone bench. She is huddled with her stuffed koala bear in the process of putting it down for a nap. Upon seeing her, Stefan stops and puts his hand out to halt Rina as well. They smile fondly as they watch Sophia mother her bear, giving it a small kiss on the nose. Once the ritual is complete, Sophia scampers up to Stefan, her doll Sasha tucked safely under her arm. "Hi Grandfather."

Stefan lifts her up into his arms. "Sophia, this is Rina, my wife. I believe that makes her your grandmother."

"Hi," Sophia says shyly as she nestles her head in the crook of her grandfather's neck.

Rina is struck by how natural and comfortable the two of them are already. It's quite amazing to her, having never seen Stefan with children, how at ease he is. "Hi, Sophia," Rina greets warmly. "I'm so excited to finally meet you. Is that your doll, Sasha? Your grandfather has told me all about her."

Sophia's smile grows wide and she thrusts out her doll for Rina, who strokes the doll's hair lovingly. "She's beautiful," Rina enthuses. "You know, I had a doll like Sasha when I was a little girl, her name was Mary. I loved her so much and I took everywhere I went. I think I still have her somewhere."

Sophia's brown eyes widen with interest. "You do? Can I see her?"

"I think we can probably arrange that," Rina answers indulgently. After Sophia wriggles out of grandfather's arms, she grabs an adult hand in each pudgy fist and leads them down the path to the villa.

After going several feet, Sophia looks up at Rina. "You're my grandmother?" She asks.

"That's right, but I don't feel old enough to be a Grandmother," Rina admits. "I used to call my own Grandmother Nana. Would you like to call me that?"

Sophia nods soberly. "I like it. I'll call you Nana."

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

The penthouse.

Emily is sitting beside Michael on the floor in front of the coffee table, helping him work on his penmanship assignment. The table is strewn with sheets of paper with divided lines used for practicing lettering, all in various stages of completion. After a few minutes of intense concentration, Michael throws his pencil down in frustration. "I can't do it, Emma!" He scowls.

Emily rubs his back soothingly. "Sure you can, Michael. You were doing great up until a few minutes ago. Give it another try." When Michael crosses his arms in mutiny, She sighs in resignation. "You know, you've been working hard. How about we take a break and you can try more of this later?"

Michael gathers up his homework and shoves it in his backpack before running upstairs and slamming the door to his room. Emily jumps to her feet to follow, but the phone halts her. Heaving a heavy sigh, Emily answers the phone. "Hello."

"Hello Emily, Lee Baldwin here," Comes the older man's voice. "I just wanted to update you on the adoption proceedings. Everything is going quite well. It's moved to the next phase, where a social worker will be coming by the penthouse to see where Michael is living and to make sure you're providing him with a good home. It's standard procedure, even with private adoptions."

Emily winces. If Michael is as miserable with the social worker as he has been today, then she had her work cut out for her getting this adoption through. "Thanks for the heads up, Lee. Has the date with the social worker been set up yet?"

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

Greece

After dinner, Rina retires to the balcony for a breath of fresh air while Sophia pleads her case for her favorite new companion to read to her before bed. Stefan, incapable of denying his granddaughter anything her heart desires, readily complies, leaving Nikolas free to relax. After pouring himself and Rina drinks, Nikolas joins her on the balcony. "For you," He offers.

After a moment's hesitation, Rina takes the glass he offers. "Thank you."

Nikolas joins her at the railing as they both admire the moonlight on the water. "I will miss this view when I return to Port Charles."

"Really?" The single word uttered by Rina doesn't communicate curiosity as much as it does disbelief and boredom, something Nikolas isn't used to getting from anyone, much less Rina.

"You don't believe me?" Nikolas finds himself asking before he can stop himself. "You don't believe that I intend to move back to Port Charles?"

"I have no idea whether to believe you or not," Rina answers in the same bored tone. "You will do as you wish. You've made that abundantly clear."

Nikolas steps back as if he's been slapped. He really hadn't expected hostility from her. She had been so polite earlier, not even a hint of this brewing. "You're angry. Tell me what I've done."

Rina turns to face him for the first time since he joined her on the balcony, her glacier expression sends chills down his spine. "If you have to ask, Nikolas, then you are not the man I thought you were. Regardless, this isn't the time or the place to have this discussion. Not with Stefan and Sophia in the next room."

Nikolas stares at Sophia in stunned silence until Stefan interrupts them. "Sophia is demanding a good night kiss from her Nana," he announces. Catching the disconcerted look on Nikolas' face, he smile turns to a frown. "Is there a problem?"

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

Emily sits on the edge of Michael's bed as they say their good nights. "This has been a hard day, hasn't it?" She asks sympathetically. At his tearful nod, Emily brushes the hair back from his face. "I miss them too, Michael. All the time." She pauses to consider her next words, but decides to risk it. "Your daddy used to help you with your homework, didn't he?"

Michael buries his face in his pillow to stifle his sob. Emily fights her own urge to cry as she lays her head down on his cheek. "I'm sorry, Michael. I didn't know. It'll be okay. We'll just take this slow. Okay? You just tell me when you're upset and we'll take it easy?"

Emily feels him tug on her sweater. "What is it, Michael?"

Michael pulls his face out from the pillow to look at her. "I'll try to be good! Promise you won't leave me, Emma?"

Emily pulls him into her arms, squeezing him tightly. "Of course I wouldn't leave you! Never ever. You could be horrible and I still wouldn't leave you. I love you, Michael!"

Michael's body sags with relief. Once he's composed himself, she lays him back down. "I have something to tell you. Do you know how I told you about my own mother. How I was adopted by the Quartermaines after she died?"

Michael nods. "And Grandma and Grandpa became your mom and dad."

"That's right. How would you feel if I adopted you? I know I'll never be able to replace your mom and dad, but I'd like make my promise to take care of you official." She takes his hand and gives it a squeeze.

Michael looks inward for a moment as he considers her words. "If I was adopted, you'd be my mommy, for real?" His blue eyes look up at her hopefully. "I'd get to stay with you forever?"

"Yes, forever," Emily promises. The knot in her stomach eases a little bit with the knowledge that Michael seems to like the idea. "And you don't have to call Mommy if you don't want to, Michael. You can keep calling me Aunt Emily or Emma... or if later you want to call me Mom, you can. When I was adopted, it took me a long time to call Monica, mom. The important thing is we'll be together as family. It won't really change much except it'll make everything more official."

"Does it mean Great Grandfather can't make me live with him?" Michael asks.

"That's exactly what it means," Emily answers, using a tone that's casual and confident and designed to put the fear to rest quickly. She pulls the sheets up to his chin and kisses his forehead "Now, enough stalling... time for sleep."

"Aunt Emily?" Michael grabs her sleeve again, and looks up at her with pleading eyes. "Stay with me?"

Emily sighs. One look in his sweet baby face and she couldn't resist him. She slides on top of the bed covers beside him and lays a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Okay, I'll stay for a little while."

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

After their endless airplane ride, Nikolas rests in the back of the limo with Sophia's car seat beside him. She naps soundly in her seat with her favorite blanket and Sasha clutched in each arm. After the chauffeur navigates them through the light traffic of Port Charles, they turn down the road that leads them to the outskirts of town, past the Quartermaine estate. A few minutes later, the driver pulls into a long winding drive, with trees lining it. The limo comes to a smooth stop at the apex of a circular drive.

Nikolas slides out of the limo and comes to a stand in front of his new home. The Georgian style manor is larger than his villa in Greece, larger than he would have wanted, but the agent he hired told him that his options were limited under his strict time constraints. It was either this or two story home in downtown. The agent even went so far as to say he was fortunate to get this place, since the woman, Amanda Barrington, passed away after a long debilitating illness, leaving her finances in shambles. Nikolas shudders inwardly; fortunate for him maybe.

He strolls up the stone path to the house. The large white columns frame the front entry to the two story home made of stone and wood. Extending from the main building are wings on either side, obviously added by future generations. The mansion's architecture emphasizes is symmetry and balance. The door is in the middle, framed by the large pillars. The double sashed windows are aligned horizontally and vertically in rows of five across. Nikolas notes with satisfaction that the house is in excellent shape.

Taking a glance at the expansive and well kept lawns, Nikolas concludes that the estate feels restful. It would provide him with a much needed sanctuary away from the prying eyes of Port Charles. A home where Sophia could flourish unhindered. The interior of the home was likely to be in the same shape, and was really of no consequence since he would remodel it to his own specifications. Pulling out his cell phone, Nikolas hits a number on speed dial. There would be time later to explore the numerous outbuildings that adorn the property. There were things that needed to be settled first.

A moment later, a woman answers and Nikolas speaks commandingly into the phone. "Yes, this is Nikolas Cassadine. I've taken a look at the Barrington property. Barring any major difficulties with the systems within the house, I'm prepared to purchase. Begin the paperwork and call me once everything is set up," Turning back to his driver, he motions for him to unload the car. "Yes, the escrow account will be set up with my banker in the next twenty four hours. I will talk to you soon."

 

Chapter 31


Nikolas Cassadine's estate.

Watching from the sidelines, Nikolas lets out a heavy sigh. He should have known it wasn't going to be easy. The familiar feeling settles on his shoulders like a yoke: he has no one to blame but himself for the mess he's made. Somehow he'd fooled himself into thinking Lucky would be the most understanding of the family when it came to his decision to keep Sophia a secret, but given the fact that Lucky has refused to even look at him since he dropped the bomb, that hope isn't likely to be realized.

As Nikolas expected, Sophia is completely enchanted by Lucky. Her momentary flash of shyness left the moment her uncle bent down to her level and gave her his trademark Lucky grin. Now the two were sitting in the sandbox scooping up sand and dumping it like they were best pals.

When Sophia yawns and rubs her eyes, Nikolas steps forward. "Sophia, it's time for your nap."

"But Papa!" Sophia protests. "I don't need a nap, I wanna play with Uncle Lucky!"

"We'll have plenty of time to play later, Squirt," Lucky assures her, giving her a friendly wink. "I promise."

Outnumbered, Sophia plops down on to the sand in a pout. Nikolas scoops her up and gives her a kiss before setting her down on the grass. "I think Francessca has some cookies cooling in the kitchen. I bet you can convince her to give you one before you lay down."

Given her choices, Sophia opts to given in. "Okay." She pauses to wave at her new friend before dashing into the house.

With Sophia's exit, the tension between the two brothers becomes suffocating. Nikolas steels a glance at Lucky and isn't surprised to see that all the warmth left Lucky the moment Sophia was out of sight. What Nikolas does see is cold fury.

"So what made you change your mind, Nikky?" Lucky's voice is laced with contempt. "Did someone find out your secret? Is that why you decided to tell me about Sophia?"

Nikolas forces himself not to react to Lucky's bitterness; he deserves it. "It wasn't like that. I had reasons to keep Sophia's existence a secret. At the time, I thought it was the only way to keep her safe, from Helena and possible kidnappers after the Cassadine fortune."

"Safe? SAFE?! You hide a child from family who would love her? All in the name of keeping her safe? Is that the only way you Cassadines operate?" Lucky laughs with derision. "That's not a reason for what you did, it's an excuse! God, this sounds so familiar. These are almost the exact words Mom used. The same 'reasons'. And it makes me as sick now as it did back then. The only thing you're missing is the tearful apology."

Nikolas closes his eyes and runs a hand over the top of his head. How could he make Lucky understand? The answer comes quickly. He couldn't because even to his own ears, his explanation rings false. "I screwed up, I get that now."

Lucky clenches his fists at his side to keep from slamming one of them into Nikolas' face. "Get any closer to an apology and I won't be responsible for what I do. I thought we agreed not to make the same mistakes as our parents did. We weren't going to let their baggage touch us! Damn it!" Lucky moves a few feet away and looks out over the estate. "I thought you trusted me. Heck, I even made sure you saw Lulu over the years. You had opportunities to tell me. Even if you didn't tell Mom or your father, you could have told me."

Nikolas tries to swallow the lump of shame in his throat but it gets stuck. "I wanted to tell you.... but I didn't want to put you in the position of having to lie to Lu or to Mother. Can you honestly say you would have wanted it that way?"

Lucky turns to glare hatefully at Nikolas. "Excuses, just more pathetic excuses! You're more like our mother than you realize, and the likeness isn't attractive. Admit it. You didn't tell me because you knew I would talk you out of it! I would have helped you find a way to keep her safe. We all would have."

"What do you want me to say? You don't want me to apologize...." Nikolas paces in front of Lucky. "I know I screwed up and I'm trying to make things right. What more can I do?"

"I don't know." Lucky turns his back on Nikolas and walks a short distance away. Silence descends on the two brothers who are lost in their own thoughts. After a few minutes, a thought occurs to Lucky and he turns back to his brother. "Where's Sophia's mother?"

Instantly, Nikolas' face turns to stone. "She is not an issue."

Lucky does a doubletake, and after a brief delay, Nikolas' meaning hits him square in the gut. It's happening all over again. "What do you mean, she's not an issue?"

"Just what I said." Nikolas' answer is terse, his expression glacier. "She's not an issue. Sophia doesn't have a mother."

"Where'd you find her, Nikky, in a cabbage patch?" Lucky retorts nastily. "And What happened to her mother... didn't she appreciate the Cassadine courting ritual of kidnapping and forced marriage?"

It takes every bit of Nikolas' self control to take a deep breath and stifle the urge to throttle Lucky. To keep himself in check, he makes a point of looking off into the distance and avoiding eye contact. "I'm going to ignore that cheap shot in favor of maintaining family relations. If you must know about Sophia's mother, then I will say this: She is out of Sophia's life by her own free choice. Her insatiable need for fame and fortune left no room for the needs of a small child." His voice turns bitter,as the memories of this brief and excruciatingly painful part of his life flood him. "Do you honestly believe after everything that has happened with Laura and me that I would want the same for Sophia?"

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

After placing their drink orders, Emily and Liz grab a table near the bar. Emily sighs as the sultry blues music infuses her body, putting her at ease. "I'm so glad you suggested this, Liz. I needed to get out."

"I needed this too," Liz says casually. "After spending the day with high brows pouring over my work in minute detail, I needed to kick back and relax. Luke's is the perfect place to do that."

Lucky brings over their drinks and grabs one of the empty chairs for himself. "Mind if I join you? I have a break and my feet are KILLING me." He drags up another chair to prop his feet. "Man, this day has been the absolute pits."

Catching his dark scowl, Emily gives him a sympathetic smile. "Uh oh, that bad, huh? It can only mean one thing... family. Nothing else gets you down like this."

Liz nods knowingly as Lucky takes a long sip on his drink. "Yep, it's definitely family. Spill it, Spencer."

"You don't want to know..." Lucky grouses as he shoves his glass around the table in front of him. Looking up at Emily, his mood darkens further. Damn Nikolas. If he had a chance, he would break Emily's heart in two. This latest thing with Sophia confirms it for him; Nikolas doesn't really care about anyone but himself. "Actually, Emily. It's about Nikolas and you need to know."

Emily's heart drops into her stomach. No one ever starts an innocent conversation with 'you need to know'. "What about Nikolas? Is he back in town?"

Lucky drains his glass. "You could say that."

Seeing the color drain out of Emily's face, Liz tries head Lucky off. "Lucky, isn't this between..."

Rather than Liz's words having the effect of slowing him down, Lucky seems spurred on. "But he isn't alone."

Emily's mouth goes dry, but she tries her hardest to sound unconcerned. "He isn't alone?"

"Nope." Lucky's voice is flat, almost sarcastic in tone. "It seems there's someone he neglected to tell us about."

If Lucky's feet were under the table, Liz would have kicked him. "LUCKY!"

Lucky looks over at Liz, the challenge in his eyes. "What? You think this should be kept as a secret? You think Nikky should have a chance to whitewash this? Or has he told you? You two are pretty chummy."

It takes everything in Emily's being not to scream. "JUST TELL ME."

"It seems that Nikolas has a daughter," Lucky's casual attitude does nothing to hide the bitterness he feels. "Didn't bother to tell a soul about her."

The air is sucked out of Emily's lungs. "A daughter? When... how?"

"Well Nikky wasn't giving out a lot of specifics." Lucky smiles brutally. "I assume the usual way."

Liz shakes her head in amazement. "I can't believe it. He must have had a reason."

Lucky rolls his eyes. "Yeah, right. Like Cassadines ever have to have a reason to hide children! Liz, give it up. Nikolas is Cassadine through and through, and the sooner Emily realizes that hanging out with Nikolas will only cause her pain, the better off she'll be."

Emily rises unsteadily to her feet. "I... I have to get out of here."

Through the fog of rage that engulfs his brain, Lucky feels a wave of guilt at the devastated look on Emily's face. Damn, he should have found a nicer way to tell her.

Liz stands up, concern for her friend is evident. "I'll take you home."

"NO..." Emily schools her voice to hide the hysteria she feels. Nikolas has a daughter? A daughter!?! "No. I just need air. I'll be fine." Grabbing her purse, Emily stumbles out of the club as fast as her legs will carry her.

Lucky runs a hand over his face. "Oh Hell."

Liz gives Lucky her most hateful glare as she punches his arm with as much force as she can muster. "You JERK! What Nikolas did was horrible, but what you just did to Emily was unforgivable! The boy I loved all those years ago would never have hurt a friend like that! You've always been judgmental, but this bomb was beyond cruel! You've changed Lucky Spencer, and at this moment I'm embarrassed to call you a friend!"

Liz stalks out as Lucky calls out after her. "What was I supposed to do? Let him break her heart?!"