* Greed *
Stefan Cassadine stared at his half-sister in wonder and dismay. Gone was the woman he trusted with his life. There was a time when he would have given anything for her happiness. For years, believing that she was a distant cousin, he protected her as best he could against Helena and Stavros. Looking at her now, as her brown eyes flashed with anger and spittle flew from her mouth, he felt, as he never really knew her. The words that came from her mouth took him by surprise and tarnished everything they ever meant to each other.
"The Cassadine Empire is in jeopardy because you took your brother's wife into your bed!" Alexis shouted. "There is no first son of the first son and I have a rightful claim to what you've hoarded! All that you had to do was trust me. All you had to do was treat me with the same loyalty and the same respect that I have always treated you. All you had to do was treat me like an equal. Instead, you cheated me and I will not be ignored by this family anymore."
A rightful claim? Stefan's jaw tightened. This gross display was based on a rightful claim? How could she dare to compare a 'rightful claim' to his son's life?
"Alexis, I am sorry you feel slighted," he said, trying to contain his anger, "but neither your feelings nor mine come first. When Nikolas was born, I had to fight for his life. How long do you imagine that an infant son of Laura's and mine would have survived? My mother or brother would have cut him down before his first birthday. But as Stavros' son, as the heir, he could not be touched. Now, what would you have had me do?"
She told him that he could have trusted her with the truth. He shook his head in denial.
"Alexis, you have deceived me, plotted against me. And Helena… You've allowed Helena to work you like a puppet. Now, given all that, I was to share with you a secret that means life or death to Nikolas?"
"You know very well that I would never, ever do anything to hurt Nikolas."
Stefan's anger neared the breaking point. He drew in a harsh breath and said, "But you must see that I've had good reason to doubt or mistrust you. Alexis, don't let your anger bring down this family. Let Nikolas lead. It will rest well with your conscience, for you do, when all is said and done, have one."
She refused to listen. Blotches of red colored her cheeks. "Be you warned," Alexis advised. "If provoked, and I am provoked, I can be as ruthless as any Cassadine before me. I am after all, my father's daughter."
* The Rebuke *
Alexis' violent outburst was never far from Stefan's thoughts. She was like a volcano that could erupt at any time. The thought of negating her position often came to mind. But how? Permanently eliminating her didn't sit well with him. Their past as close confidantes had been tarnished, but not erased. He loved her still even if presently, he didn't like her very much.
A soft tap sounded at his door. Nikolas' head peeked inside. "Am I disturbing you?" he asked.
Stefan smiled. He couldn't help it. His son knew the truth about his parentage and their bond had only strengthened in return.
"No, of course not. Please come in." Stefan rose from behind his desk and crossed the room to stand in front of his son. "I trust your day has been well."
Nikolas nodded. "And yours? Father, tell me, you're not still upset about Alexis said. She was angry. Besides, I won't lie about this. You're my father. I want the world to know and if Alexis decides to broadcast it to the world, she will have done me a great service."
Frowning, Stefan shook his head. His hands gently cupped Nikolas' face. "You don't understand."
"What don't I understand?" Nikolas questioned. "There is no greater joy to me than knowing that the man I've loved and respected the most in the entire world is also my father."
The words warmed Stefan's heart. They were what he had longed to hear since he discovered that Nikolas was indeed flesh of his flesh, yet…
"The greatest threat to you is Helena," Stefan explained. "Once she learns that I have deceived her all these years, that you are my son and not the child of her beloved Stavros, it is possible that she'll try to kill you out of spite. Now, I will protect you, of course, but the more time that we have to prepare, the better my chances of neutralizing her."
"I know she's a threat," Nikolas replied quietly, "but I have no fear of her nor do I wish to die. But if I must, I would rather it be knowing that I am your child and not that of someone Helena reveres."
Stefan's chest tightened. The thought of losing Nikolas now was almost too much to bear. He looked down at the floor and warred within himself for control. And the ability to demolish Helena before his greatest fear became reality.
"Do not be afraid, Father," Nikolas said, pressing his hand to Stefan's cheek. "All will be well in the end."
* The Result *
One winter's day at General Hospital, the truth was revealed. In front of the hospital staff, Luke Spencer and Helena Cassadine, Alexis made her fateful announcement. She told everyone within listening distance that Nikolas was his son and that any charitable contribution that he wished to make was invalid. Nikolas had no rightful claim to the Cassadine Empire as its heir and therefore, he had no right to donate money to the hospital. With that said, Alexis wrenched the bank check from Monica Quartermaine's hands and ripped it in two.
The urge to grab Alexis by her throat and squeeze the life from her seized Stefan. Only Nikolas' stunned presence held him in check. Helena's silence was deafening and also terrifying. He didn't know what she was thinking and there was only one thing he could do. Protect Nikolas at all cost.
He grabbed his son and ran back to Wyndemere. Before the night was over, they would be half way around the world. Far from Alexis' mindless greed and safe from Helena's wrath.
Or so, Stefan thought.
"We mustn't delay," Stefan said, standing in the doorway of Nikolas' bedroom. "I only agreed to come back here because you said there was something you couldn't leave behind."
"There is," Nikolas said, frowning. "I am certain it should be in this bureau, but I cannot find it."
The young man began tearing through the drawers, dumping the contents of each one onto the floor and searching frantically. Stefan strode to him. "Nikolas, we must leave now."
"I know, but I have to find it," his son replied. "Please, you're worried and it's affecting my search. Wait for me at the launch. I assure you, I will be right behind you."
"If you are not," Stefan promised, "I will return for you. Whatever you cannot live without will have to be replaced. You have less than five minutes."
Nikolas nodded. He gave his father a tight smile. "I'll be right there."
Stefan grabbed his belongings and headed for the dock. He discovered that Mrs. Landsbury and Windors were already there, waiting for him. Windors took his bags and set them on the launch. Minutes ticked by. Stefan stirred restlessly. Nikolas' delay worried him. He couldn't wait a moment longer.
"I shall return shortly," Stefan said. "Be ready."
He raced up the winding, wooden staircase that led to the walkway to Wyndemere. The heels of his shoes pounded heavily on top of the cobblestone path. As he neared the entrance to the estate, his footsteps faltered. A form, blocking the doorway, lay still. Stefan's heart lurched to his throat. It couldn't be.
He rushed to the motionless body. A cry of anguish ripped through him as Nikolas' lifeless eyes stared back at him. A gaping wound gushed blood from his throat.
Tears clouded Stefan's vision. He pulled his dead son into his arms.
* Blind Rage *
Windors and Mrs. Landsbury proved to be godsends. They heard Stefan's cry and came. With their own sorrow clearly etched across their ageless faces, they attended to Stefan and to his beautiful, deceased son. When Stefan became coherent, he instructed them that his plans hadn't changed. He and son were still leaving. He asked them to prepare Nikolas' body for transport. An important matter required his immediate attention, but he would return, and when he did, he would be ready to leave.
He found Helena on her yacht. Ari stood behind her, massaging the wretched beast's shoulders. Stefan disabled the manservant with one blow. Helena must have heard him for she moved faster than he anticipated.
"I gather you found my gift."
Blood boiled inside Stefan's ears. He couldn’t be sure he heard her correctly. "You admit to it?"
"Admit to it?" she repeated with a vicious cackle. "I glory in it! You took my son away from me and now, I have taken yours!"
"You degenerate beast!" He roared, coming towards her.
She didn't flinch from his approach. "You stupid fool! Did you really think I would let you get away with it? You dishonored my son and created a child with his insipid wife! I never suspected and if it weren't for Alexis' wonderful, insightful performance I would never have known! For eighteen years, I loved and worshipped the ground Nikolas walked on simply because he was my son's child. You made me look like a fool!"
"You're no one's fool," he said quietly, standing just inches from her. "I was a fool to think we could escape."
"No, you have paid a fool's price. How did you feel seeing the pool of blood surrounding his body? I know you're the one who found him. He was so eager to join you," she taunted. "He rushed from Wyndemere with an enthusiastic gait. In his hand, his prized possession."
His eyes narrowed as he regarded her. "There was nothing in his hand."
A humorless smile parted her lips. "That's because I took it." She shoved a photograph into his face. "He gave his life for a fantasy that never should have been."
Stefan's gaze dropped from her cold, emerald eyes to the photo just under his nose. It was an image of him, Laura and a newborn Nikolas. That photo was the only one of the three of them together. Stefan kept it hidden for years until Nikolas learned the truth and he gave it to his son as a precious momento. As proof that Nikolas was born of love.
"It was never a fantasy, Mother," he said in a deadly quiet voice. "It was something your son never had. Not truly. It was something you can never hope to experience. Not ever again."
Without warning, his hands shot out and circled her throat. Her fingers clawed him, but the pain meant nothing to him. He squeezed until her eyes rolled back and her body became limp. He continued to squeeze until his arms cramped. Then finally, he released her. His mother's lifeless body crumpled to the floor in a worthless heap. He took the photo from her ice-cold hands and left. He never looked back.
* The Conclusion *
He found Alexis outside of Luke's Bar. For reasons that Stefan could never understand, she went with him when he asked.
It was as they rode on the launch back to Spoon Island that she finally noticed his eerie calm. When she saw the look in his eyes, she tried to apologize. She got on her knees and begged for his forgiveness. Mercy was beyond him. His son's blood still covered his hands.
"You did this," he said.
Cold wind from the waters of Spoon Lake whipped against him. He didn't feel the chill. He was already cold from the inside out. With Nikolas gone forever, nothing would warm him again. There was but one thing that could ease him and allow his son to rest in peace.
"I never intended for her to kill him!" Alexis choked through her sobs. "I had a rightful claim! We were all equals! It wasn't fair!"
"No, it wasn't fair," Stefan concurred. "He was but eighteen and had his whole life before him. It isn't fair that he will never breathe another breath of air. He will never know the pleasure of holding his newborn child in his hands. All these things were taken away from him by you. Your greed and selfishness cost Nikolas his life."
"No, Stefan," she cried, shaking her head. "I didn't mean to."
"Do you know that when I confronted Helena she laughed?" he said, not hearing her. In his mind, she was already dead. "She delighted in sl-slitting his throat. I told you it would happen. She killed him to punish me."
"I'm so sorry! Please forgive me, Stefan. I can help you! We can take down Helena together. She'll be no match against the two of us."
He shook his head. "I don't need your help for that."
"Wh-what do you mean?" she stammered.
Alexis scrambled to her feet and Stefan advanced toward her. "There's only one way I can forgive you…there's only one way to prove you're sorry."
And, so she did.
* Final Goodbye *
Nikolas' ashes were scattered in the Aegean Sea that he loved so much. Alexis was laid to rest in the Cassadine cemetery in Greece. Stefan went to her grave and said his final goodbye. When he departed, it was to parts unknown. With the bloodstained photograph of Laura, Nikolas and himself in his pocket, he went in search of his soul, quite confident that he would never reclaim it. For after all, that was the price one paid for being a Cassadine.
[Some of the dialogue (the first Stefan/Alexis scene and a line from the first Stefan/Nikolas scene) were taken from the episode that aired on General Hospital in late November/early December 1998.]