On Common Ground

Chapter 17


Zander glared at Nikolas, waiting for a reply. "Well? What's the matter, Nikky? Cat got your tongue?"

Nikolas glared back. "No. I Just don't know what to say to you, Zander. I don't know if I have a problem with this or not."

"I know you have a problem with me," Zander shot back. "Which I don't care about. Just don't take it out on your Uncle. He's a good man."

"I know that," Nikolas replied. "I just...I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that you and my Uncle are lovers. Add to it that you and I are...brothers. It's insane."

Zander laughed. "Yeah...well, welcome to my life. I'm sorry about the...brother...thing. I had no control over that."

Nikolas frowned. "Sorry?"

"Yeah...sorry. I know it must gall you to no end knowing that a worthless thug like me is related to you."

"I think I've moved past that stage in our relationship, Zander," Nikolas stated. "You made Emily happy and I watched you become a good man."

Zander was surprised. "Thank you...for saying that. Must have hurt...just a little?" He was teasing.

Nikolas smiled and nodded. "Yeah...just a little." Then the smile faded. "Do you love my Uncle?"

"Yeah...I do...and he loves me. And that's the amazing thing." Zander was smiling as he thought about Stefan.

"What about Emily?" It was Lucky who asked the question.

Zander turned to him with a frown. "What about her?"

Lucky shrugged. "I know you loved her, Zander. So it's just weird that you're in love with Stefan now."

"No kidding." Zander understood Lucky's confusion. It mirrored his own. "I never thought this would happen. I've never been attracted to another man before. I don't think I ever will be again. It's just that it's...Stefan. It's all about him. I can't explain it any better than that."

"You don't have to," Lucky replied. He held out his hand. "Welcome to the family, little bro."

Zander shook Lucky's hand and grinned. "Thanks."

Nikolas joined them and held out his hand as well. "Welcome to the family, Zander."

"Thank you, Nikolas," Zander replied, as he clasped hands with his other brother. And it felt like something out of a dream. But it was some kind of twisted reality, and one that Zander hoped none of them would come to regret.

* * * * *

Luke and Robert confronted Helena like a tag team. She seemed amused by them.

Luke got in her face. "What the hell are you planning, Morticia? We all know it's something evil. So you might as well spill it now."

"I really don't have much planned," Helena replied. "I just wanted to gather everyone into one spot to tell you about Zander. His parentage affects all of you in one way or another."

"That it does, you old bat." Luke held up the bottle of whiskey he had been drinking from and saluted her. "The question now is...what are you going to do to Zander? And don't tell me nothing. You have plans for that kid."

Helena shrugged. "My plans for Zander don't concern you, Luke," she replied.

It was Robert's turn to get in her face. "But they do concern me. I'm his father."

"Yes...you are," Helena drawled. "He's an interesting young man, isn't he? Imagine how he might have turned out had you been able to raise him. Thanks to having Cameron Lewis as a father, the poor boy has tried to kill himself twice now."

"I won't let you hurt Zander," Robert stated. "You know that."

Helena laughed softly. "I know, darling. Now...you two chat amongst yourselves, I have things to attend to." With that she swept out of the room.

Luke looked at Robert. "What are you planning?"

"When I leave, Zander goes with me," Robert replied.

"Kid ain't gonna go for that," Luke stated.

Robert sighed. "Perhaps not, but I'm not giving him a choice."

Luke took a swig of whiskey then held out the bottle. He was amused when Robert took it and drank. "Stefan won't let you take him, any more than Zander will want to go. I think they really do love each other."

"Stefan's love is poison to Zander. Helena will never allow them to be happy." Robert handed the bottle back.

"Maybe...but if you take Zander by force, you're going to lose him before you ever get a chance to know him. Trust me...I know of what I speak." Luke finished off the bottle then wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. "Besides which...you take Zander away from Morticia...and you'll never be able to stop looking over your shoulder." That said, Luke left the room in search of another bottle of whiskey.

* * * * *

Alexis found Zander outside. He was sitting on a bench in the garden and he looked so sad that she went over to him and hugged him, without saying a word. She felt the way he hugged her back, almost desperately. They held each other for a long time, then Alexis pulled back and she saw tears on Zander's face. She wiped them away then asked, "What's wrong?"

"Want a list?" Zander replied. He scrubbed a hand over his face and rose from the bench to pace. "I'm scared, Alexis."

"Of what?"

Zander sighed. "Everything. All of this. I'm scared of what being who I am means. Of who might get hurt." He stopped and shook his head. "I don't want anyone to suffer because of me. Especially not you. You've always been so good to me."

Alexis went to Zander and combed her fingers through his hair. "Zander...whatever happens is going to happen. Call it fate...or whatever. The moment you fell in love with Stefan, your fate was sealed."

"It was sealed before then," Zander countered. "Helena created me for a purpose. It's almost like she was waiting for this to happen. For me and Stefan to fall in love."

"You do love him, don't you?" Alexis was smiling as she asked.

Zander locked eyes with her. "Yeah...I do. Does that freak you out?"

Alexis shook her head. "No. I've known for years that Stefan was Bi. I was surprised about you, but I think I understand what happened. And it actually makes sense in alot of ways."

"Yeah? Then explain it to me, cause I still don't get it." Zander laughed but it was a shaky sound.

"I think that Emily is going to be a part of who you are for a long time, Zander. So loving another woman at this point and time isn't an option for you. But loving another man...that's different. It's not like you're betraying Emily's memory, and you don't have to let go of your love for her in any way." Alexis held his gaze and saw pain and sadness and fear in the beautiful hazel eyes. But she also saw love and acceptance and now, perhaps, understanding.

Zander leaned in to press a kiss to Alexis' cheek. "Thank you. For always helping me. I owe you alot."

Alexis smiled. "You owe me nothing. Just be happy, Zander. And be careful."

"I will."

"Good." Alexis took his hand. "Let's walk for a while." Hand in hand they strolled the gardens, both of them aware of the watchful eye of the guards. And that the beauty that surrounded them was little more than an illusion. And in time the illusion would be shattered for them all.

* * * * *

"Uncle...can we talk?"

Stefan looked up from the book he had been reading. Or rather, trying to read. Zander was out with Alexis and Stefan had wanted to give them some time alone, so he had retreated to the library. He smiled at Nikolas and set the book aside. "Of course, come sit with me." He watched Nikolas move to the other chair. "You have alot of questions."

Nikolas nodded. "I talked to Zander. He really loves you."

"Yes...I think he does. I'm very lucky." Stefan couldn't keep a smile off his face.

"And you love him."

Stefan nodded. "I do. Very much."

Nikolas sighed. "I don't understand any of this. It's too strange. I have another brother, who just happens to be in love with my Uncle. And that it's Zander...it's crazy."

"I know this is confusing, Nikolas. I'm sorry for that."

"It's not all your fault, Uncle. Grandmother has done her share of making me confused." Nikolas stood up and paced over to the fireplace. "I'm worried about what she has planned.  For you...and for Zander."

Stefan rubbed a hand over his face. He didn't want to think about what his mother had planned. It terrified him, what she might do to Zander. What she was capable of doing. And all in the name of torturing him some more. "I can take care of myself, Nikolas. And I will protect Zander."

Nikolas faced his Uncle. "I'm not so sure you can do it alone. And I just...I want you to know that you won't have to. Zander is my brother...I'll do what I can to protect him as well. To protect you both."

"Thank you." Those words meant more to Stefan than he could say. He went to Nikolas and hugged him, and was relieved when strong arms hugged him back.

* * * * *

Zander found Luke on the veranda steps, drinking. "Doesn't help, does it?" he commented.

Luke took another swig from the bottle of jack before replying. "Nope. But that doesn't stop me from trying." He shrugged. "Plus I like the taste."

"Yeah...me too. A little too much sometimes."

"Your life has changed in the blink of an eye...hasn't it, kid?" Luke commented.

Zander sat down beside him. "Yeah. I haven't figured out yet if it's a good change or a bad change."

Luke nodded. "Yeah...I know what you mean. You and Stefan...that seems like a good thing."

"It is. I'm sorry about Laura...I mean...her being my mom and all. I wish...I mean. I never even met her." Zander shut up, figuring he was just making things worse.

"It's not your fault, kid," Luke replied. "Actually...I think Laura would really like you. You're a survivor and you got fire in you. I think she would like you as well as love you."

Zander nodded, fighting back tears. "Maybe...um...maybe someday you could tell me about her."

Luke smiled. "I'd like that. Got a few minutes? I could tell you how we met."

"Yeah...I'd like that," Zander replied. And he sat with Luke for the next two hours, learning about his mother.

* * * * * 

Stefan was in the bedroom, waiting for Zander's return. When Zander entered, he could tell that the boy had been crying. "What's wrong?" Stefan asked, going to him and cupping his face in his hands.

"Nothing...it's just been a long day," Zander replied. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Um...I was talking to Luke...about Laura."

"She would love you very much, Zander," Stefan replied.

Zander nodded. "That's what Luke said." He felt a tear slide down his face and he brushed it away. "I'm sorry."

Stefan kissed away the next tear. "Don't be." He then moved to Zander's lips, wanting to taste their sweetness. He felt Zander kissing him back and they moved, as one, towards the bed. Hands roving over each other's bodies, needing to feel skin on skin. And when Stefan laid Zander out on the bed, he pulled back to stare at him in awe. But when he was about to speak, a fingertip pressed against his lips.

"You're the beautiful one," Zander whispered, drawing Stefan down for a kiss.

"I love you," Stefan breathed, as his body joined with Zander's. The connection they made wasn't just physical. Stefan felt it in his heart and in his soul.

Zander cried out Stefan's name as he came in a rush, then he felt Stefan's release inside him. As they lay together in the aftermath, Zander whispered, "I love you more than you will ever know."

Stefan kissed away Zander's tears, then held him as he slept.

* * * * *

Zander came awake to a warm touch. Fingers combing through his hair and his eyes fluttered open. He pulled away when he saw Helena smiling at him. "What do you want?" Zander snapped at her.

Helena smiled, watching the sheet slither down Zander's chest to pool over his lap. She reached out to touch his exposed skin. "It's time to talk," she said softly. "About my plan."

"What plan?" Zander countered, as he batted her hand away. Her touch made his skin crawl.

"My plan to drive my son...insane," Helena replied. Then she threw back her head and laughed.



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Shelly 2004