Title: "Thaw"
Author: monimala
Fandom: "General Hospital"
Rating/Classification: SAC, Stefan/Lydia, angst.
Disclaimer: Nope. I don't own them.
Summary: Fourth in Fire & Ice, after "A Touch of Frost," "Ice Castles," and "Frozen in Time."

The birth announcement runs in the 'Port Charles Herald'. Masha Nikolova Cassadine. Six pounds, eight ounces, twenty inches long, born on May 5th at 2:52 a.m. to Lydia and Nikolas Cassadine.

"Stefanova", she whispers, wearily, knowing that her delightful sense of irony is what makes her, officially, a Cassadine now. It should be 'Stefanova', but can't be, so she settled for something from Chekhov. "The Seagull." Her husband glanced at her with those shuttered eyes as he repeated "Masha" with a question in his voice. He signed the birth certificate and remembered a feisty young woman who loved one man but married another.

She supposes she should thank their childhood tutors for giving them literature in common.

Dr. Meadows ordered bed rest for the entirety of her ninth month and Nikolas read to her, haltingly, in Russian every night. His eyes never left the page and his accent was atrocious and they both pretended they were whiling away the hours with somebody else.

There were no such pretenses in the delivery room... so sterile and cold even as the sweat bathed her skin and she demanded an epidural. She swore, raged, when he told her to breathe... saw Emily and Lucky reflected in the window. "Go away...go to your girlfriend..." she hissed..."I'll be fine." And she was. She *was* because at the end of sixteen hours, she had Masha.

And Masha loves her.

Her daughter's eyes are ice blue. The doctor said they may change in the coming weeks, but she knows they won't. They're clear and wise and pure and they see her. They *see* her.

She wonders how long it will take for Stefan to hear the news. Perhaps Nikolas called him that very day, from the hall, but if he did, he hasn't told her. His petty revenge for giving another man's child his name...for saving all of their lives.

The strategically adjusted blood work is complete and there are billions of dollars in the Cassadine coffers...both events having occurred within hours of the birth.

Emily comes, boldly, to Wyndemere now. Usually with Lucky or Elizabeth in tow as her cover and an armful of gifts for the baby. Such the devoted friend. Lydia can't help but wonder if Lorenzo Alcazar is really that dumb...or if he's simply gotten bored over the course of the last nine months and finds other ways to occupy his time besides monitoring Nikolas and his martyred ladylove. Since he's now been paid every scarlet cent he was owed, he must not be glancing, too closely, at their home dynamics.

She sent him a clipping of the announcement just to be perverse.

He sent back a lovely silver spoon engraved with the baby's initials and a thoughtful card...and not one of those with the sappy mass-marketed poems inside. Hand written congratulations, a Spanish prayer, and then his swirling signature.

She thinks she'd like him. That they'd even suit each other. Were it not for the fact that he's seen, regularly, around town with the former Mrs. Sonny Corinthos. And she's altogether too aware of the excess of men in her life at the moment. Nikolas and Lucky are both, as she feared, enthralled with the new addition to the family. Doting faux father, doting faux uncle. While they hold no love for Masha's mother, they're forever playing with Masha's tiny toes and talking to her in nonsensical baby talk, as if she understands them better that way. They sound like idiots.

Sometimes, she pictures Stefan speaking with that stilted, formal, air, as if he's talking to a business associate, and the pain is so intense that she almost can't bear it. She bore labor with medication. She bears this with the soft weight of a two week old child in her arms.

No one told her that babies are like miniature space heaters...that they're a bundle of warmth and comfort and holding one close would melt the chill that seems permanently bonded to her bones. But, then again, who would she have to give her such knowledge? She's fairly certain, now, that her own mother must have, somehow, passed off the burden of birth to a maid or a housekeeper like she passed off all other unglamorous duties. Her husband and his merry band of musketeers are so young, so ridiculously young and naive, that they're still babies themselves.

Irony again...that the only person she knows who has raised a child...is the one who gave her Masha, kissed her until it bruised, and abandoned them both.

She wishes she could hate him.

No...no...worse...

She wishes she could love him.

And she's afraid she all ready does.

***

The birth announcement ran in the 'Port Charles Herald'. Masha Nikolova Cassadine. Six pounds, eight ounces, twenty inches long, born on May 5th at 2:52 a.m. to Lydia and Nikolas Cassadine.

"Stefanova," he whispers, regretfully, knowing that some things are never meant to be. She should have been 'Stefanova' for her father, but for the cruelties of fate. And he wipes dampness from his cheeks when he takes note of Lydia's nod to his love of Chekhov...naming their child after a mournful, silly, girl who marries one man but longs for another.

The announcement arrived at the monastery in a brown envelope, unmarked, and he knows who he has to thank...the man who helped put this sordid story in motion. He does not marvel that Lorenzo Alcazar knew exactly which mountain peak he sought refuge on. He is simply thankful that his enemy showed him a courtesy that Nikolas did not.

For all he has done for his family...it has cost him exactly that.

Attached to the birth announcement is a note...and a picture taken with a tele-photo lens. A profile on the bluffs...arms wrapped, tightly, around a newly slender middle...a baby carrier settled on the stone bench just within her line of sight.

*A new mother and a cherished wife should not look so terribly sad. I know these things.*

He crumples the mocking, and yet strangely empathetic, missive in one hand, even as he caresses the face in the photo with his thumb. Her eyelashes are a dark smudge against her pale cheek...and, yes...yes...she looks terribly sad...staring out over the water as if she's a seafarer's bride.

She's waiting for him to return.

It is the one thing he must not do.

He stares out the window of the private jet...whispers, "Lydia" and then "Masha." The second name is new...so beautifully new on his tongue... and yet equally beloved.

He was born a cold-blooded son of a bitch.

But also a black sheep.

He's never done exactly what he must. There have always been deviations. Adjustments. Unexpected complications.

That includes impregnating his nephew's wife.

And falling in love with her.

--end--

September 29, 2003.



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