Chapter 9


After an afternoon spent in town attending to some mundane but necessary errands, Nikolas strolls the docks on the way to the Spoon Island launch. Now that it's evening, the familiar thick mist has descended and a fog horn can be heard blaring in the distance. The sound conjures up bittersweet memories of the years he spent in Port Charles as a teenager, a place where his horizons expanded, a place he made friends and enemies. In other words, it's his home. Funny, he hadn't considered it that until now.

He hears a faint creaking off to the left of him and he turns his head to find Emily sitting alone on a bench against one of the warehouses, her head down studying the water. A lump forms in his throat as he remembers how his last conversation with her ended. She had made it clear that she didn't want or appreciate his friendship. A part of him dreads the idea of meeting her again, especially so soon. The last thing he wants is stir up bad memories for her and he surely doesn't want to rub salt in his own open wound.

Just as he's about to retreat, she looks up and catches him staring at her. Feeling like a deer caught in headlights, Nikolas looks away, his eyes resting on the water. "Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. I was just on my way back to Spoon Island."

"You didn't," Emily replies. Then adding in a stronger voice, "In fact, I was hoping to run into you."

"You were looking for me?" Nikolas can't keep the surprise from his voice. He turns away from the water to concentrate on Emily again. Now able to see her eyes, he notices she seems tired and sad, like their meeting in the park. He's relieved to see that she seems calmer, more at peace.

Taking a deep breath, Emily rushes to fill the awkward silence. "Look,
Nikolas. About the park yesterday. I'm sorry. I never meant to lose it
like that."

"You have nothing to apologize for, Emily." Nikolas answers, making a point of addressing her more formally than the day before. "I imposed on a private moment, I had no right invading your grief like I did. If anyone should apologize for yesterday, it should be me."

"But I do need to apologize, Nikolas," Emily implores. "You were trying to be a good friend to me yesterday and I was so caught up with the past that I didn't think before I said anything. I've been so angry lately." Looking at her hands, she continues. "Angry at God, at the world for taking Jason away from me and Michael. And I haven't had any place to put that anger. You came along last night at the wrong time and you got the brunt of it. It wasn't fair when you were trying to be nice."

Nikolas shakes his head and gazes out at the water. "I think you're being too kind. But that's always been you. Kind and generous to a fault."

Emily stifles the urge to scream. If he tries to apologize again, she swears she's going to push him off the dock. "You know what I'd like, Nikolas?" She can't quite keep the irritation out of her voice.

"What?"

"To forget two moments out of my life." Emily responds seriously. "If I
could I would forget the moment Jason died, and before that I would forget
the moment you and I ruined a perfectly good friendship." Turning just in
time to catch the apologetic look on Nikolas' face, Emily shakes her
head. "Come on, Nikolas. How about if we make a deal?"

"What sort of deal?" Intrigued, Nikolas moves closer to Emily, drawn by the challenge in her eyes, like a moth to the flame, unable to bear the heat, yet dissatisfied with the cold.

"We apologize to each other... .one last time, here and now. And after today we never say we're sorry for anything that's happened before today." She pats the place on the bench beside her and Nikolas sits down. "And we can start our friendship over. No more apologies, no more guilt. I'll even start." She turns to face him. "Nikolas, I'm sorry for what happened in the park such a long time ago, and I am sorry for the way I treated you yesterday."

Nikolas considers it seriously for a moment, then takes one of her hands in his. To let go of all the guilt and feelings of regret... could it truly be as simple as she wanted it to be? Isn't this what he's wanted all along? So why did a small part of him resist? He studies her long slender hand intently, before bringing it to his lips for a kiss. If it's what she wants, then he's willing to try. Certainly nothing else has worked.

Still holding her hand between his, he begins, his voice rough with regret. "Emily, I want to apologize for what happened that night in the park. Mostly for hurting you as I did. I was so raw and self-involved at that moment I didn't consider how our making love affected you. Without intending to, I trampled your feelings."

"See?" She says in a voice that's a little too cheerful. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Nikolas gives her a crooked smile, enjoying the rare experience of following her lead. "Okay, Boss. So where do we go from here?"

"We're friends," She answers simply, then adds in a teasing tone. "You are familiar with what a friendship is, right?"

Nikolas winces inwardly. He vaguely realizes that she meant it to be funny, but she had no idea how close to home her joke hit. Being the head of Cassadine Inc and one of the richest men in the world, has left him open to countless opportunists. To protect himself he has kept most everyone at arm's length. Emily's question reminds him of how truly lonely and alone he feels. It's especially acute since leaving his home in Greece.

Emily pokes him, looking a little worried. "Nikolas? That was supposed to be a joke."

"Oh, Emily. You have no idea what my life is like." Sighing heavily, he forces himself to brighten. "I suppose asking you for a favor so soon would be a bad idea?"

Emily pretends to think. "If you're thinking of asking for a kidney, yeah, you're probably right, it is too soon." She playfully punches him. "Just ask, Nikolas! Do I look like I'm going to bite?" Catching his startled look, she grins impishly. "Oops, never mind. Don't answer that!"

Charmed by this unusually playful Emily, Nikolas chortles. "Well, my favor isn't that dramatic. I was just going to ask you to accompany me to my Uncle's wedding." Rushing ahead when her eyes widen, he explains. "I know, it's a family event. But I really don't want to go alone. Alexis has Ned, My Uncle will have Rina, I just thought it would be nice to have a friend with me for company."

"You can't convince me that you couldn't have your pick of dates?!" Emily is incredulous. "Come on, Nikolas. You're drop dead gorgeous and filthy rich. You've probably got women falling at your feet just to have you smile at them."

"But I don't want to bring just anyone, Emily," Nikolas explains."This is a intimate family event. Besides, if I do ask someone, they will misinterpret the invitation and think I'm seriously interested. And I really don't want to open that can of worms. I've made that mistake before and the damage control isn't worth it." He shrugs casually. "Going as friends, we can be relaxed and enjoy ourselves."

Emily seriously considers it. "Wow, this is so sudden. Isn't the wedding tomorrow?"

"Yes." Nikolas shakes his head suddenly, realizing the risk of asking her so impulsively. He could ruin their second attempt at friendship before it even got off the ground. "This was probably a bad idea asking you. My family is not known for being much fun. And it isn't fair putting you on the spot like this..."

Emily cuts him off. "I'll go."

"I'll understand if you don't want to go, Emily..."

Emily fights the urge to bust out laughing. The irony of this conversation isn't lost on her. How long ago was it that their roles in this play were reversed? "What, have I lost my invitation now?"

Nikolas looks sheepish. "The wedding begins at four in the afternoon. I'll send my driver at three."

"I have my own driver, but thanks for the offer." When Emily rises, Nikolas rises with her. She smiles at him encouragingly. "I'm looking forward to it. It's been a while since I've done anything fun."

"Well, with my family, there's no guarantee it will be fun. But I can assure it won't be boring."

Emily kisses him softly on the cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."


Chapter 10


As so ordered by Stefan Cassadine, the weather is balmy and beautiful on Spoon Island for the wedding ceremony. The rose garden is set up for the small service with two rows of chairs in front of an arch covered with elegant white Pemberton Hybrid Musk Roses called Pax. Obviously the Cassadine gardeners have been busy earning their bonuses because the garden is filled with roses in bloom.

A Russian Orthodox priest stands by for the ceremony as the limited number of invited guests wander into the garden. Nikolas, impeccably dressed in a tailored black suit with a white shirt, is stationed at the garden entrance to greet them. Alexis arrives first looking radiantly happy along with her doting husband Ned who is the picture of contentedness.

The men shake hands and Alexis and Nik exchange a kiss on the cheek. "How is my brother holding up?" Alexis asks.

"I think the best way to describe him is quietly excited," Nikolas replies. Kevin and Lucy arrive behind them. "Hello Kevin, I think my uncle is in the library waiting for you."

"Ah, duty calls," Kevin answers in a dry tone, giving Lucy a peck on the cheek. "If you'll all excuse me, it is time for me to begin my job as best man."

"Hi Nik, Ned, Alexis," Lucy says brightly. She glances around the garden admiringly. "Wow! The garden looks spectacular! I always figured Stefan Cassadine as someone too gloomy to have a garden wedding, but it's sure to be beautiful."

"Actually you aren't that far off base, it was Rina's desire to have their wedding in a garden," Nikolas explains. "Rather bold considering she hadn't set foot in it until just a few days ago."

"Not that bold, really," Emily pipes up, surprising everyone by her quiet entrance. "Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a Cassadine knows they don't do anything halfway. Stands to reason the gardens here would be spectacular."

"True enough," Nikolas admits with a boyish grin he can't seem to stifle. He'd half expected Emily not to show, and steeled himself for disappointment, but seeing her before him, smiling mischievously as Ned and Alexis look on in surprise, he cannot help but be thrilled.

"Emily," Ned stutters slightly. "I didn't know you were invited! How--?"

Emily slips an arm through Nikolas by way of explanation. "I had a last minute invitation from a friend I just couldn't turn down."

Just then, one of the men on Wyndemere's security staff taps on Nikolas' shoulder from behind. "Excuse me, Sir, but we have a small problem. I didn't think it would be prudent to bother Mr Cassadine just before his wedding with such a minor detail..."

Nikolas gives the man his full attention. "What is it, Seth?"

Seth gives Emily a scathing look . "It seems that Ms Quartermaine brought her own 'security' with her. We tried to explain to her bodyguard that Mr Cassadine has made ample arrangements to ensure the safety of ALL his guests, but he's very insistent that he remain... Frankly Sir, he's interfering with our ability to do our jobs."

"I'll go talk to Rinaldo," Emily offers, not looking the least bit affected by the potentially awkward situation. "Maybe between the three of us we can come to some sort of arrangement so everyone can do their jobs." She disengages herself from Nikolas to follow a disgruntled Seth and flashes Nikolas a brilliant smile. "Don't worry, I'll be back in a few minutes."

A minute later, Stefan and Kevin emerge from Wyndemere. Wearing a black tuxedo with a white shirt and bowtie, Stefan looks uncharacteristically relaxed and at ease as he greets each of his guests.

"Lucy, I am pleased you could come. Kevin mentioned you might not be able to attend because of an emergency at the European division of Jax Cosmetics."

"That emergency turned out not to be such an emergency after all," Lucy banters. "In fact it was a total non-emergency, so here I am, ready to wish you and Rina the best. Can I just say that I think your taste in women has improved since becoming involved with Rina? I mean, Bobbie and Katherine?" She questions, but she rambles on, not waiting for an answer. "What could possibly attract you to them? Now, don't get me wrong, I like Bobbie and all, but she just doesn't strike me as your type. Which is probably why your marriage ended in even less time than one of my marriages. And Katherine? I'm so relieved you didn't marry her. I wouldn't wish her on my worst enemy." She takes a quick breath and continues. "Now Rina, I don't know her very well, but she seems nice and all. And she likes my Doc's art, so she's definitely got class. I have a good feeling about you two."

"I think you should stop while you're ahead," Kevin suggests gently, wrapping his arm around her waist.

"I'm glad you approve of my choice, Lucy," Stefan answers smoothly, the corners of his mouth curved with bemusement. "I am certain we stand a better chance in light of your endorsement." He glances across the garden and notices that Alexis is alone. "Would you both excuse me for a moment? I see that my sister is momentarily free of her husband and I want a private word with her."

Excusing himself from Kevin and Lucy, Stefan walks up behind Alexis. "Marriage and pregnancy agree with you, Alexis."

Alexis turns around and blushes at Stefan, basking in his rare compliment. "Thank you. I'd say marriage agrees with you too. You look quite handsome. Rina is lucky to have you."

"And I am fortunate to have her," Stefan answers softly, in contrast to the sternness expressed in his face. "Despite an attempt by my family to frighten her away. I should be very angry with you."

Alexis' mouth goes dry. "Rina told you about our conversation. Stefan, I know you told me not to..."

Stefan puts a finger over her mouth to silence her. "Rina didn't have to tell me, I knew." His look of disapproval dissolves into a mixture of pride and playfulness. "You needn't worry, Alexis, I'm not angry. Though I should be given that you blatantly disregarded my orders."

"You aren't?"

Stefan cups her cheek with his hand affectionately. "I find it difficult to be angry with you for long. Especially when I have done the same for you."

Alexis smothers a smirk. "I'll try not to let my mouth hang open, but it is such a rare occasion. My brother, Stefan Cassadine, is freely admitting he interferes in my life."

"Don't push it," Stefan warns with mock sternness before placing a kiss on her cheek. He looks over at Nikolas who is conferring with the priest. "Now, I must speak with Nikolas."

He leaves Alexis and approaches Nikolas from behind. Observing him talking seriously with the prelate, it occurs to Stefan that merely having his son at home fills his heart. The last several days have been among the happiest of his life, second only to miracles of the magnitude like Nikolas' birth.

Reining in his emotions so he appears somewhat composed, he touches Nikolas on the shoulder from behind. To Stefan's amazement, Nikolas wordlessly turns to give him a warm embrace. Only with great effort can Stefan keep his voice steady. "Thank you."

Seeing the unconcealed love, joy, and gratitude in Stefan's eyes, Nikolas finds himself swept away by the same tide of emotion. Self-conscious about the dampness in the corners of his eyes, Nikolas blinks rapidly. "For what?"

"For coming back to Port Charles for my marriage; for making Corrine feel welcome and a part of the family..." Breathing deeply to try and compose himself again, Stefan continues. "And most of all, for allowing me back in your life again."

The lump in Nikolas' throat temporarily robs him of speech. How has he been able to nurse his anger against this man for as long as he had? At the moment, it seems ridiculous and petty. He doesn't put voice to those thoughts. Instead he says, "All I want for you is to be happy. After all the years you loved me, cared for me, and didn't ask anything in return, you deserve it."

A bittersweet smile crosses Stefan's face. "Dare I say I am happy at this moment? If I do, will fate intervene and take it all away to punish me for my audacity?"

Nikolas shakes his head adamantly. "NO, don't question your happiness, just hold on tight to it with both hands. This day is yours and Corrine's."

Just as Emily returns to the garden, another Cassadine security guard arrives on the scene, this time looking harried. He goes directly to Stefan and whispers something in his ear. Stefan's face darkens as they confer, it's clear to anyone looking that a serious problem is at hand. A moment later, after Stefan issues his orders, the security guard disappears.

"I wonder what that is about," Alexis murmurs in Ned's ear.

"Looks like we're about to find out," Ned replies, pointing to the entrance of the garden.

With great flourish Helena Cassadine arrives with a gorgeous young man on her arm. She smiles smugly at the shocked gathering. "Oh good, I'm in time for the ceremony. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

 

Chapter 11



Rina has appropriated one of the bedroom suites at Wyndemere to prepare for the wedding. She sits at a dressing table, looking in the large mirror as she puts on the final touches of her make up.

A deep sigh escapes her and she looks pensively in the mirror. It isn't the prospect of the wedding that has her unsettled. She is certain of her choice to marry Stefan. He is nothing like her ex, Sam. He's quiet, serious, steady, attentive. And under the tightly controlled exterior is a deeply passionate man who could make her knees weak with a look.

More than all of that, Stefan is a man who makes her feel secure, special. He has made no attempts to force her into revealing her sordid life story. If he had, she would have turned tail and run. During his proposal she had asked him why he wasn't more curious about her past, how could he marry a woman who refused to tell him everything, and he had said it didn't matter to him. What mattered was the woman she was now, with him. It was at that moment she decided to marry him.

Of course, she knows it is a two way street. Stefan is intensely private. He speaks very little about himself, his past, or even his family. And from the little he has revealed, she understands why. The only time Rina has seen Stefan's face soften on the topic of family is when he speaks of Nikolas and Alexis. He visibly puffs up with pride as he regales her of his nephew's latest successes in business.

And meeting Nikolas for the first time the other day has reconfirmed her decision to marry Stefan. She can see Stefan's influence on him. His inherent gentleness, his kindness.

She had learned quickly how to read people when she entered the social scene in Albany. Who to trust, who was lying. She was almost never wrong. Sam was the one exception.

Rina shakes her head to banish the gloomy thoughts of her previous husband. She is certain this marriage will be different. For one, she isn't entering it with stars in her eyes. She and Stefan aren't marrying for love. They are marrying something more permanent... for companionship. They know each other well enough to know they are compatible, that in the coming years they will remain friends. That in the long silences between them, they will be comfortable. There is no expectation of changing the other. Of being everything for the other.

For the first time in two years, she feels free from the deep bitterness that has consumed her since her breakup with Sam. Until Stefan had arrived on the scene, the only future she saw was one where she systematically destroyed Sam. Finding every conceivable way to humiliate him, as payback for all the ways he had humiliated her. It still puzzles her how she had actually refrained from using what she knows to destroy Sam. Maybe it is like Stefan said, destroying him isn't what she really wanted.

Rina fingers the simple silver locket around her neck and the pensive look returns. No, it isn't the marriage itself that concerns her. It is the fact that none of her family will be here. Not that she has any family now. She had been truthul to Nikolas earlier, at least from her perspective. She has been completely estranged from her famiy for years and years. But despite the estrangement, she wishes her sister could be here.

Rina opens the locket and looks at the faded old picture of two girls... she is just five in the picture, sitting on the lap of her much older sister. How she had admired Paige.. admired and later envied... even at times hated. Not anymore. The resentment, the jealousy has long faded into regret. Now she just misses her.

A soft knock on the door brings her out of her private thoughts. She clears her throat. "Come in."

The door opens to allow an attractive woman in her mid forties to enter. "Are you about ready, Rina? The ceremony's scheduled to begin in a few minutes."

"Yes, Natalie. I'm just about finished." She stands up and slowly makes a full turn to show off what she's wearing, which is a simple tea length silk dress in a becoming shade of ivory. The scoop necked dress shows off her slender figure perfectly by conforming to her curves. "Do I look presentable?"

Natalie smiles at the beautiful woman appreciatively. "The perfect combination of classic elegance and modest sensuality. Absolutely stunning. Stefan will be awe struck, I'm sure. "

Rina gives a short laugh. "Stefan doesn't DO awe struck, at least not in public. But thank you for the vote of confidence. And thanks for being my matron of honor. It really means a lot to me to have you here."

Natalie gives Rina a restrained hug, careful not to mess her dress and makeup. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm going to miss you, you know. Albany won't be the same without you."

There is a sudden knock at the door and a moment later, Mrs Lansbury sticks her head in. "I'm sorry, Mrs Lance, but Mr Cassadine asked me to tell you that the wedding ceremony will be delayed a few minutes because of an unforeseen problem. He wants you to wait here until he sends for you."



Looking at her brother's dark expression after the Cassadine guard disappears out of the garden, Alexis murmurs to Ned, "I wonder what that is about."

"Looks like we're about to find out," Ned replies, pointing to the entrance of the garden.

With great flourish Helena Cassadine arrives with a gorgeous young man on her arm. She smiles smugly at the shocked gathering. "Oh good, I'm in time for the ceremony. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Reflexively protecting her swollen stomach with her hand, Alexis scowls. "Oh great. Who let that witch on the premises? Something really must be done about her."

"Yes, but you aren't the one to do it. Last time you tried, you got yourself in a whole world of trouble." Ned puts a hand under Alexis' elbow to guide her away. "Let's get you out of here. Seeing her antics isn't good for you or the baby."

"You're right about that. I'd say it's morning sickness, but I'm way past that." She pulls back from Ned when she catches Stefan's murderous expression. "Wait, I need to stay... for Stefan's sake."

Rinaldo appears behind Emily. Next to Emily stands Nikolas seething silently. Lucy, riveted by the unfolding scene, holds on tightly to Kevin's arm. Helena notices all of this with great satisfaction. Nothing like causing the mother of all spectacles with a rapt audience. Her dark haired escort beside her has a slight smirk on his face.

Livid despite the smile pasted on his face, Stefan walks up to greet his mother. "Helena. I should have guessed you would force yourself on us today. You have no shred of decency."

Helena's false smile widens as she bats her eyes at him innocently. "Oh, my darling son, we have been apart far too long! Nothing could have kept me from attending your wedding. I was so hurt when your invitation never reached me." Circling him once tauntingly, she adds, "But then I realized there must have been some terrible mistake, there's no way my devoted son would have forgotten to send me an invitation to the blessed event."

When Helena attempts to cup his cheek, Stefan grabs her hand in a bruising grip that causes her to wince in pain. A brief struggle ensues until finally Stefan allows Helena to wrench her hand free.

Eyes glittering with hatred, Stefan says quietly, "You are correct, Mother. There was no oversight." He turns to Helena's escort, and locks his gaze on the icy gray eyes belonging to the young man. "You would be wise to escort her out of here, Anton. Your meager subsistence depends on it."

Helena pats the hand of the handsome young man beside her, who looks increasingly uneasy with each passing barb. "Perhaps it is best if we go now...." He says hesitantly, glancing around at the guests nervously.

"Nonsense, Anton darling. You have nothing to fear from Stefan," Helena says reassuringly. She turns her attention back to Stefan. "You know better than to try and intimidate family, Stefan. It won't work without the power of being Regent to the Cassadine fortune." She laughs nastily. "You are too weak to scare anyone! It must be a blow to your oversized ego that Nikolas has so aptly taken over the Cassadine holdings in such a short time." Helena turns to give Nikolas her warmest smile. "You're so much like your father, Nikolas. I am so proud of you."

There is no fear, no hesitancy in Nikolas as he steps forward to confront the monster of his childhood. No longer is he the helpless teenage boy who had reason to fear her. He carries himself with the assurance, the pride of a man who fears no one and knows exactly who he is. "You dare fawn over me as you insult Uncle, the man who in all ways that matter is my father? You have the gall come to this house, Stefan's home, and trespass on the day of his wedding?" His voice is full of disgust for the elderly woman in front of him.

"Nikolas, darling, don't be angry with me. I came because I hoped to see you. You've spurned all of my overtures over the years. Don't you see? This is the only way I could get to see you." Helena reaches out to him, trying to touch his cheeks with her hands. He jerks away from her angrily.

"Don't you get it? I don't want to have anything to do with you. And certainly not here. Not while you're trying to ruin this day for Uncle." Catching the signal from the security team that stands nearby, he steps back. "Go. Have the dignity to leave without creating a bigger scene than you already have."

The security guards flank her, each taking a hold of an arm to lead her away. "You would deprive me of the opportunity to meet my new daughter in law?" She protests. "After I have gone to all this trouble, come all this way?"

"Helena, please, we really should go," Anton says in a reasoning tone. "It's obvious we aren't welcome here..."

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 here?"