Path to Power






Ned pulls into the gatehouse after a long day at the office that seemed even longer after not seeing Kristina all day long. As he is walking up his sidewalk he is looking down and distracted fumbling for his keys.

"Hey Mr. Ashton." The bodyguard mumbles from his seat right by the front door.

That stops Ned in his tracks. "What are you doing?"

The bodyguard looks over his shoulder and keeps his voice down low. "Your grandfather walked into the place today. Faith is hot. I screwed up; I should have stopped him. Anyway-- she changed the locks. I had to sit out here til you got home so you wouldn't be locked out." The guard slaps at a mosquito. They are a bitch this close to the river. He'd been eaten alive since it started getting dark.

That gets Ned moving. "FAITH!" He is hollering as he walks thru the unlocked door. The bodyguard follows him into the cottage carrying his chair, his magazine tucked under his arm. With a sigh, the guard locks the door and then double checks it. Maybe now Alice would make him a sandwich. The big nanny hadn't been happy with him either. Between Faith and Alice he felt like he'd been tag teamed by two female wrestlers of the WWE. And not in that fun letter to Penthouse way.

"Will you keep your voice down!" Faith hisses coming down the stairs in a hurry. "The baby is finally asleep. I swear if you wake her up; I will make you pay!"

"She ain't kidding." The guard mumbles in a low voice as he passes by Ned toward the kitchen.

"Did I ask you your opinion?" Faith snarls. The guard hurries into the kitchen. Ashton is on his own.

"Is Kristina alright?"

"The baby is fine! No thanks to that old fucker you call a grandfather." Faith goes over to the bar and pours herself a drink. She shows the tumbler to Ned who nods. She hands him the drink she'd poured for herself to him and pours another. "He walks in here like he owns the place. And that useless..." Faith takes a drink and shakes her head. "Nowhere to be found. That's two for him and as far as I'm concerned that's two too many."

"What happened?"

"I stopped the old goat from seeing the kid. And told the rocket scientist that he needed to change the locks so that this wouldn't happen again. Kristina did not like the sound of the drill and screamed the entire time he was here. Alice finally had to take the baby for a walk to get her out of the house and just now got the kid down for the night."

"You should have called me."

"For what?!" Faith makes a face and then brings her voice up an octave, flutter her lashes and bringing a hand to her bosom "Oh Nedly, I was so scared and needed a big strong man to get rid of the the wicked wicked man." Faith snorts. "Right. You were twenty minutes away. And you can't guarantee me that old man, or your auntie or anyone else in that monstrosity won't be strolling in whenever their little hearts take the notion without changing the locks. So I changed the locks. End of story."

"Ah-ah-ah." Ned waves a single finger. "You said that was two. Perhaps you should tell me what else happened."

"Zander didn't tell you?" Faith can tell that the kid didn't. "Stefan Cassadine showed up at the park today. And I figure he wasn't there to see me."






Natasha looks over at her window. There is a man sitting in the tree outside her window. "Who are you?!" She gets up and starts moving toward the door ready to call her brother to make this man go away. She recognizes him from when he'd tried to come into the house a few days ago and her brother had made him go away.

"Wait. I'm Zander. I'm a friend of yours." Zander can see that Alexis isn't believing it and is moving away from him. "Really. Look. I brought a present from your mother." Zander fumbles in his pocket almost losing his balance and then holds out a walkman.

"From my mother? Have you seen her? Where is she?! Is she with Papa? With Kristina?!"

Zander winces. But at least Alexis isn't still moving away from him. "No, she kinda sent this to me but I know she would want you to have it." He swings into the open window and promptly sits down in the window seat so that he isn't moving any closer to Alexis. He sets the walkman down on a nearby table.

Natasha picks it up hesitantly. "What is it?"

Zander realizes that maybe walkmans hadn't been around when Alexis was seven. Or at least not for little girls. "Let me show you how it works." He takes the walkman back and puts on the earphones himself. He shows Alexis the walkman and says. "When you hit this button, it makes it play. And this dial here that makes it loud or soft. With the ear phones on it makes it just for you. So here. You try it." Zander takes off the earphones and hands the whole thing to Alexis.

Natasha puts on the earphones and hesitantly pushes the play button. "Oh! It's Mama! I know this one." She closes her eyes and starts rocking from side to side along with the music-- humming along. Finally she opens her eyes and looks over at the young man. "Did you want to listen too?"

Zander shakes his head. "I listened to it earlier. Your mama has a real pretty voice."

"But you didn't talk to her." Natasha's shoulders slump in disappointment.

Zander keeps his voice low. "I need to know how much you already know."

"Because of the evil lady with the blonde hair? Who wants to hurt Kristina?"

"Yeah, cause of her. Can you keep a secret?" Natasha crosses her heart with her index finger. "Your Mama, Papa and Kristina are all together. Okay. And nobody can hurt them." anymore

"But what about me? Did I do something wrong? Is that why they don't want me anymore? I didn't mean to disobey Mama. Really. I'll be good. I swear I'll be good." Tasha starts tearing up. "I want to go home."

"Hey, hey.... none of that. You're the best, better than good, and everyone knows it." Zander wipes a thumb over Alexis' cheek, brushing away the tear. It's so weird to see her like this. "You didn't do anything wrong but you can't go home yet. Nobody is there. The evil lady knows where your house is and she's having it watched. So you had to move. That's why you're here. Cause it's safe here."

"Then Mama and Kristina will come here." Natasha says insistently.

Man-- what have I started? Even as a kid she's working the loopholes. Zander winces. "The evil lady is in town." He finally blurts out. "That's why you have to stay on the island. And it's why your Mama and Kristina can't come here. Cause they might be seen. But you are safe here."

"Oh." Natasha's eyes go wide. "But you got here. Why can't Mama and Kristina?"

"...Um... Alex... Nat... ah hell, Tasha,... do you know what a spy is?"

"Yes, I think so." Natasha frowns.

"Cause that is kinda what I'm doing, but for you. I'm keeping an eye on the evil lady. Seeing what she is up to, making sure that she can't hurt you."

"And that she isn't going after Mama or Kristina." Natasha says insistently.

Zander winces and instinctively crosses his fingers inside his jacket pocket. I suppose it's all in how you define going after. "I'll keep an eye out for Kristina too. And I'll come see you when I can. But I have to go now. Wait. Do you have a piece of paper?"

Natasha looks around and sees her journal sitting there. "Here."

Zander writes down his cell phone number in the journal. "If you need to see me, or talk. Just call this number and I'll be here as soon as I can. Leave a message if I don't pick up the phone."

"But won't the evil lady..."

Nodding. Alexis might not be functioning on all cylinders but she was definitely tightening the loopholes in the plan. Gonna have to really think this one thru. "Don't say your name... just leave me the message. I'll know it's you." He pulls out his phone. "See it's the number to this phone here." Zander opens it up. "And whenever I'm around the Evil Lady I'll make sure that it won't ring. That way she won't know that you've called. That's why it might take me a little bit to call you back or to come see you. Cause I have to make sure that it's safe."

"And it's a secret."

"Yeah, you okay with that?" Zander smiles when Alexis crosses her heart again. He goes back to the window and prepares to climb back down. He looks back over his shoulder. "You call me if you need anything from town."

"Because it's not safe there."


"Okay." Natasha watches as Zander climbs down the big tree. When he gets to the bottom he waves back up at her and then takes off to where he's got the boat he stole/borrowed hidden.

Natasha fumbles with the buttons of the walkman and then puts the earphones back on. She curls up on the window seat and listens to her mother's voice until she falls asleep.





"I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice." Stefan escorts his date into the Port Charles Grille. His hand is easy at the base of her waist discretely directing her to their table.

"I appreciate you making it a dinner meeting. I've been a little bit tied up all day. And I was going to call you anyway tomorrow."


Dara silently thanks Stefan as he seats her at the table and then waits until he takes his own seat. "Gia sent a letter out to Alexis' caseload and informed them that Alexis is ill and that it's unknown when she'll be resuming her practice. I've been getting calls all day since Gia put in a referral to me."

"How... presumptuous of her." Stefan is not pleased.

"She's between a rock and a hard place, Mr. Cassadine. And it's not like she was getting a lot of direction from your family. The people that depended on Alexis seem to be rather low on your priority list."

"Call me Stefan please. And other than her daughter... absolutely." Stefan makes no apologies.

"So Gia took care of it but she does need direction. And you are Alexis' guardian at this time."

"What kind of direction?" Stefan waits until after the menus are dropped off by the waiter and the water glasses filled before asking the question.

"What to do with the files. How you want the calls handled. Do you want to maintain that office space or store the files elsewhere. Details. Closing down a practice is just as complicated as opening one."

"Which is what you're in the process of doing since leaving the DA's office." Stefan nods.

"I might have been able to work with Alexis had she won the DA's race. Scott Baldwin? Never. It was time, past time for me to get out of there."

"He does appear to be an unfortunate choice." and in the Quartermaine's pocket. "Very well." Stefan makes a decision.

"Very well... what?"

"Move Alexis' law office to yours. Forward her calls to your office. Handle it."

Dara's brows go up at that one. "Oh really?"

"You are Alexis' attorney. It seems... proper."

They pause long enough to place their orders. After Dara has handed back the menu and the waiter has left again. "Well now you know why I was going to call you. I still don't know why you did call me."

Stefan's hand tightens around the water goblet and he forces himself to relax. He takes a sip of the water and then carefully sets the glass back down. "Marcus Taggart made an appearance on Spoon Island, without an appointment. Forcing himself into Nikolas' home."

Dara is already shaking her head. "That doesn't sound like Marcus. Unless your last name happens to be Corinthos. Random checks are part of Alexis' house arrest." Dara leans in. "She did kill someone." Dara takes one look at Stefan's face. "I don't care if you think Alcazar deserved it. I can believe that he needed to die too. But if Alexis had been in her right mind she would have agreed with me. He needed to be on the receiving end of a lethal injection after exhausting his last appeal."

"And when the system is subverted?!"

"Why do you think I got out?" This isn't getting them anywhere. "Do you want me to call Marcus? I can protest him coming over without calling but I won't win. It will just be for form. Lots of noise and no action."

Stefan sighs. "That will be unnecessary. Lt. Taggart informed me this will be an evil to be endured to avoid the greater disaster of having either uniforms or Scott Baldwin coming to the house and upsetting Natasha."

"Ah. Now it's starting to make more sense. Why Marcus was being so pushy. He's always had a soft spot for kids and kittens, and it is always mutual. He and Alexis used to push each other's buttons. Especially with Alexis defending Sonny. I bet Natasha adores him."

Stefan decides to not go there and instead changes the subject. "You prosecuted Zander Smith."


"What is your opinion of him?"

"He should be in jail doing 25-life." Dara's voice is cold and sharp. "And that's only because he flipped on the guy who actually killed an undercover cop-- otherwise I would have been going for the needle. The Death Penalty is meant for people who kill cops. Drug dealing, kidnapping. Had him cold on all of it. But Alexis was good." Dara picks at her salad. "It's always a big joke on the prosecuting side."

"Excuse me?"

"Everyone is entitled to bail, you know, you've had your own run ins. But when you're on the other side of the fence... once you have them in jail you really don't want them back out." Dara laughs. "I wish I had a dollar for every time some defense attorney claimed that their client was no danger to the community and should be OR'd. And I really wish I had a buck for every time I retorted that they should have their client come live with them if they were so sweet and innocent. Alexis actually did it. She had Zander living with her while he was out on bail waiting trial."

"And this punk knows-- that he would be in prison until he died if it hadn't been for my sister?"

"Oh yeah." Dara shoves her salad aside. Bunny food just wasn't cutting it. She sets down her fork to wait for the main course. "Why are you asking?"

"Zander wants to see my sister. But he seems to have ties to Faith... Ashton as well."

Dara snorts. "Why doesn't that surprise me. I told you Zander was a dealer. He used to deal for Sorel. Roscoe was one of Sorel's goons. Faith ended up the Widow Roscoe when the Corinthos organization went on a purge. The PCPD and DA's office had a number of open cases filed in the never gonna get a conviction cause the suspect is dead file." Dara shakes her head. "It doesn't make sense. Zander flipped on Sorel. He worked for Corinthos for awhile until Morgan got back to town. I think Alexis is the one that got him a job with Ned at ELQ."

"So his association isn't with Faith but with Ashton?"

"I have no idea." Dara shrugs. "I still have my connections in the system. I could find out for you."

"Yes. Do that." Stefan falls quiet letting the salads be cleared and the main courses delivered.

"I'll get back to you on it." Dara agrees. "I think you're making it too hard though really. It's not an association with Faith, or with Ned. He got the job because of Alexis. There are two people in this world that Zander Smith cares for as far as I can tell. Emily Quartermaine and your sister."

"And he kidnapped Miss Quartermaine."

"Yes. Why are you planning on setting him up as a cover for getting your sister out of the country? Say that Zander kidnapped her? Oh shit! Forget I even said that. I do NOT want to know."

Stefan grins at his dinner companion much to her surprise. She didn't even know that Stefan Cassadine could smile let alone would. "An interesting idea. But no." Not at this time. "How is your steak?"





Nikolas comes into Wyndemere and is greeted by Mrs. Lansbury. "I apologize for being tardy. I was accosted by a... television producer outside of the Port Charles Grille. Is my uncle here?"

"Master Stefan had a dinner meeting in town." Mrs. Lansbury can guess at the next question. "And Miss Natasha had an early dinner and has already turned in for the evening."

Nikolas glances down at his watch. It is barely eight o'clock at night. But guesses it's reasonable Natasha is keeping Lulu's schedule now. Early to bed and early to rise... "Did Uncle say who he was meeting."

"I'm not privy to that, sir. Did you want a drink before I bring you your dinner?"

"Yes, thank you." Nikolas goes into the front room and puts down his briefcase of estate business. It was constant and never ending. Alexis used to help with some of it. He was going to have to get another attorney that could be trusted-- an oxymoron in this situation. His Grandmother was too good at subverting the will of peons and making them her own. He goes thru the stack of new mail on the sideboard after pouring himself a drink. Maybe while he was hiring a new attorney he could try to find a secretary as well, no an administrative assistant. He sorts the mail into piles business, charities and then a very small pile that is actually addressed to him. Today there are only two. One is from the doctor in London and the other is a heavy vellum envelope without a post mark. He opens the envelope. It is an invitation for a charity dinner to be held at Club 101 to support the Ward House. He sets it aside to be added to the calendar later. Thinking he's got a few minutes before dinner he goes up to check on Alexis.




Easing the door open he sees the made and tidy bed. Where is Alexis? He opens the door wider and looks around finally spotting his aunt asleep in the window seat. The window is open. Nikolas frowns. Going over to his aunt first things first he shuts and locks the window. Then he picks Alexis up cradling her in his arms and carrying her over to her bed. He eases her in under the covers and then sees the walkman half being dragged along. Nikolas takes the earphones off and there is still music playing. He holds the earphones to his own ears and frowns at the opera music. The tune is familiar but the singer is not. And when did Alexis have a walkman? A Discman he seemed to recall from her days of walking in the park while she was pregnant with Kristina but a walkman? Nikolas picks up the walkman from the floor next to the bed and turns it off and then ejects the tape. On one side it is labeled in a familiar hand. Kristen Bergman and the musical selection. Then it comes to him whose handwriting it is. Luke Spencer. He wakes Natasha. "Where did you get this?"

Natasha tries to grab the tape back from Nikolas. "It's mine! Mama sent it to me. Give it back to me!"

"Who gave it to you?" Nikolas grabs her by the shoulders. "Tell me!"

"You're Mean! Mean! You stole it! Give it back!" Natasha breaks into huge sobs.

"Master Nikolas! What on earth are you doing to that poor thing!" Mrs. Lansbury races in to the room and pushes Nikolas aside. "There, there. What's upset you?"

"He took it. He took it. It was a present from my Mama and he stole it." Natasha hiccups into Mrs. Lansbury's shoulder.

"I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding."

"There is no misunderstanding." Nikolas says sternly. "And you're not getting it back until you tell me where you got it."

"I hate YOU! I'm going to tell Marcus what you did and he'll shoot you!"

"Oh no, Missy! You'll not be saying such things. Apologize now."

"But he..."

Mrs. Lansbury stands up and snags the tape from Nikolas. "I'll be hanging on to this for safe keeping and Master Stefan will settle things in the morning. Now lights out."


"Ah..." Mrs. Lansbury gives Natasha a look that brings her up short.

"I'm sorry! But he should have to say it too!" Natasha pulls the covers up over her head and ignores both Nikolas and Mrs. L. Mrs. L shoos him out of the room and then turns off the light and shuts the door sighing heavily. Cassadines.


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