On Common Ground

Chapter 21


Robert and his men searched the estate for Zander. They did not find him. Robert was furious, but a little bit proud. No way in hell should Zander have been able to escape but, somehow, he had done so. Robert was just about to pour himself a measure of scotch when one of his guards came running in.


"Sir, a chopper is landing."

"What?" Robert was stunned. But then he realized who it had to be. He ran from the room and out into the back of the estate. He could hear the chopper approaching and he waited with his men. His *armed* men. Soon enough the chopper was down and Stefan Cassadine exited. He was followed by Luke Spencer, Lucky Spencer and Nikolas Cassadine. Robert looked at Luke as the men approached him. "Nice work," he complimented.

Luke grinned. "Thanks. I thought so. You'll have to cover your tracks better next time."


Stefan shouldered Luke out of the way to confront Robert. "Where is Zander?"

"Good question." Robert saw Stefan's surprise and said, "He's gone."

"Gone where?"

Robert shrugged. "I don't know. He's very good at hiding. He hasn't been gone long so he has to be on the estate somewhere."

Stefan looked about him. The estate was huge. "I'm going to find him," he stated, turning on his heel and striding off.


He realized that Nikolas was following him. Stefan headed for the chopper and asked the pilot for a flashlight. Then he and Nikolas headed off. He knew that Zander was here, somewhere. He could feel it.


"We'll find him, Uncle," Nikolas stated, as he kept pace.


"I know." Stefan looked at his nephew. "Why don't we split up? We can cover more ground that way."

Nikolas nodded and headed off towards the east.

Stefan walked to the edge of the grounds, looking for some sign that Zander had been there. Anything. He found nothing. He kept searching. Eventually headed back towards the house and ran into Robert Scorpio. He wasn't surprised to see a gun in the other man's hand. "What now?" Stefan asked. "You kill me?"


"It's not that simple," Robert replied, moving closer. "I hate the fact that you hurt my son."

"I hate that fact myself." Stefan's tone was grim. "I would give anything to take that moment back, but I can't."

Robert nodded. "We can't ever go back. But I can make sure you never hurt my son again." He raised his arm and aimed at Stefan's heart.

Stefan watched, impassionedly, as Robert's finger curled around the trigger. He was not afraid to die. If the man was that threatened by him, then so be it. But even as Stefan waited for the shot to ring out, a body hurled itself in front of him, acting as a shield.
"Zander.." Stefan gasped.


"Leave him alone!" Zander shouted at his father, hovering protectively in front of Stefan.


"Get out of the way!" Robert ordered.


Zander held his ground. "If you shoot Stefan, I will hate you forever," he stated. "Is that what you want?"

Robert shook his head. "Zander...what I want is for you to trust me. I want to keep you safe from harm. Stefan hurt you and his mother did the same. You're not safe in his world. You're sure as hell not safe with him."


"Why should I trust you?" Zander countered. "I don't know you and I don't want to know you. It's that simple."

"What do you want?" Robert lowered his gun.

Zander locked eyes with his father. "I want to go home."


Robert held his son's gaze. "And where do you consider home to be?"

"Port Charles."

"With Stefan?"

Zander rubbed a hand over his face. "Maybe. I just want to go back to my normal, fucked up, life."


Robert holstered his gun. "All right. I won't force you to stay with me, Zander. But I am going to keep an eye on you. I'll do what I can from a distance."

"Thank you." Zander turned to Stefan. "Are you all right?"


"I'm fine. Thank you for saving my life, Zander."

Zander managed a wobbly smile. "You're welcome. Will you take me back to Port Charles?"

Stefan nodded. "Of course."

"Zander?" Robert called after them.


"Yes?" Zander turned to face his father.


Robert moved to him. "If I come to Port Charles in the near future, can we meet. Maybe talk. Get to know one another?"


Zander shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. I don't know anything right now." With that he turned and walked away.

Stefan followed him. The others were gathered around the chopper and Stefan watched as they welcomed Zander. Lucky gave Zander a hug and Nikolas shook his hand. Zander looked overwhelmed. They climbed into the chopper and headed off to the landing strip where a private plane was waiting. No one said much on the way there. Once on the plane, Lucky sat down next to Zander.

Stefan sat with Nikolas and all the while he could feel Zander's presence behind him. He closed his eyes and wished that he could sleep. Wished that everything that had happened in the past week had been nothing but a dream. But it was all too real.

Once they were in the air, Zander and Lucky moved to the back of the plane. Stefan watched them talking. But he was distracted when Luke sat down beside him. "Did you want something?" Stefan asked, his tone sharp.


"Well.. a *thank you* would be nice. I did find Zander for you," Luke countered.

"Yes…of course," Stefan replied. "Thank you." He was grateful to Luke for that. Not that it would change things in the end. He had destroyed what he had with Zander. It was over between them.


Luke shook his head. "You're a piece of work, you know that? You've already given up on the kid...and yourself."

Stefan sighed and rubbed his face with one hand. "It's over, I made sure of that with what I did. There is nothing to fight for." Sadly, Stefan truly believed that. He closed his eyes against the sting of tears and eventually drifted off into an exhausted slumber.


* * * * *


They eventually made it back to Wyndemere. Mrs. Lansbury greeted them all but her attention was focused on Zander. She hugged him to her then led him up the stairs and put him to bed. Then she bustled about making sure that rooms were prepared for everyone else. She hugged Nikolas till he about squeaked, then she arranged for a snack before sending everyone to bed.


She also made a phone call to Alexis, at Stefan's request, to let her know that they were home and that Zander was safe.

The next day Luke and Lucky left early.


Alexis arrived and asked to see Zander. He was still asleep but she tiptoed into his room and watched him sleep for a time. She was about to slip out when he called her name. "Hey...how ya doing?" Alexis asked, returning to the bed.

"I've been better." Zander sat up and combed his fingers through his hair. "How's Kristina?"

"She's great." Alexis sat down on the side of the bed. "I'm glad you're okay."


Zander nodded. "Thanks."

Alexis could see that he was upset and she pulled him into a hug. She felt him hug her back tightly. "Want to talk?"

"Maybe later." Zander pulled back and managed a wobbly smile.


"Okay." Alexis kissed his cheek. "Come down to breakfast."

Zander shook his head. "I'm not hungry. I'm just going to shower, then maybe go for a walk."

Alexis slid off the bed. "You have to eat, Zander."

"I will...later."


Zander laughed softly. "Yeah...I promise."

Alexis smiled then headed for the door. "I'll hold you to it." She left the room, fighting back tears.


* * * * *


Zander and Stefan managed to avoid each other for the next two days. Alexis ended up in a crisis with a client and couldn't come out, but Nikolas was still at Wyndemere, and he talked to his Uncle and his brother. But he didn't make alot of headway with either.


Nikolas cornered Zander in the game room. He watched his brother playing a game of pool, taking note of the way Zander focused on each shot. He was so caught up in his concentration that he never noticed Nikolas was there. Until Nikolas cleared his throat. "Hey, Zander. Can we talk?"

"What about?" Zander stalked around the table and made another shot, cursing when he missed. He tossed the pool stick onto the table and headed over to the window.


"About you and my Uncle. You can't keep avoiding each other, Zander." Nikolas joined him at the window, and realized that Zander wasn't admiring the view. The hazel eyes were haunted.


Zander rubbed at his face with one hand. "I know that. Stefan keeps avoiding me."

Nikolas sighed. "Because he feels guilty every time he looks at you. It's eating away at him. He won't forgive himself for what he did to you."


"He told you?" Zander was stunned.

"The night it happened."

Zander moved to a nearby chair and sank down into it. "What...what did he tell you?"

Nikolas sat down across from him and was blunt. "He said he raped you."

"No...it wasn't like that." Zander shook his head. "I pushed him into hurting me. I made him do it."

"Zander...my Uncle raped you. That's the bottom line." Nikolas was more than a little surprised by Zander's reaction. He hadn't expected him to defend Stefan. "The two of you have to face it and find a way to deal with it so that you can move on. Even if you don't stay together...you have to get past it somehow."


Zander blinked back tears. "I hurt him, Nikolas. I lied to him about not loving him…I did that to him. And I know how that feels…but I did it anyway."

Nikolas locked eyes with Zander. "My grandmother made you do it, didn't she? What happened, Zander?"

"I don't want to talk about it." Zander jumped up and began to pace. "It's my fault, though. It's all my fault."

"Tell that to my Uncle," Nikolas advised, then he left the room.


* * * * *


Stefan was in the gardens when Zander approached him. He could tell his lover had been crying, and it bothered him that Zander looked so pale and shaken. "Is something wrong?" he asked.


"Yeah...everything," Zander replied. "Stefan...I'm sorry. I'm sorry about what I did. I didn't want to lie to you."

"I know." Stefan smiled sadly. "My mother forced you, Zander. I know that. I just...I need to know what she did to you? What threat she held over you."

Zander shook his head. "That doesn't matter now. I just...I want you know that I'm sorry. And that...and that I still love you."


Stefan was stunned. "How can you say that, Zander? After what I did to you."

"It was my fault."

"NO!" Stefan shouted, stalking over to Zander. He reacted without thinking, gripping Zander by the shoulders and shaking him. Only to freeze when he saw the fear that blazed in Zander's eyes. And he could feel the way he was shaking. Stefan released him and backed away immediately. "My god…I'm so sorry."

Zander put out a hand to Stefan. "It's okay. You just startled me. I know you won't hurt me, Stefan."

Stefan laughed and it was a bitter sound. "No...you don't know that, Zander. I hurt you before and I have it in me to do it again."

"You won't." Zander's spoke with certainty. "You love me."

"I loved you when I raped you," Stefan shot back. He locked eyes with the man he loved then whispered, "It's over between us." That said, and with his heart breaking once again, Stefan turned and walked away.


Zander watched him go until tears blurred his eyes.


* * * * *


Nikolas learned from Mrs. Lansbury that Zander was packing to leave. He went to his Uncle first to ask what had happened. Stefan was busy downing shots and wouldn't talk to him. So Nikolas headed up to Zander's room. He tried to reason with his brother, to convince him to stay. Then he tried to block his way, only to have Zander's fist slam into his chin. By the time Nikolas had recovered, Zander was gone.


So Nikolas returned to the study, and his Uncle was still downing shots. "What did you do?" he demanded, holding an ice pack to his chin, courtesy of Mrs. Lansbury.


"I sent Zander away," Stefan replied. "It's for the best."

"You're a fool," Nikolas countered, then he stalked out of the room. His Uncle was too far gone to listen to reason.


* * * * *

Two weeks passed. Stefan was miserable and he took out his misery on the staff. Mrs. Lansbury threatened to quit, several times, and it was only because of Nikolas that she agreed to stay. And because she understood where Stefan's attitude was coming from. He missed Zander. They all did.


Nikolas made one last attempt to reason with his Uncle. He was leaving soon, heading back to Europe. He had made a new life for himself there and he was eager to return to it. But he had some parting words for Stefan.


"Save it," Stefan stated, before Nikolas could open his mouth. It was not even noon and he was already pouring himself a drink.


"Shut up and listen," Nikolas shot back. "My plane leaves in one hour but I have something to tell you before I go."

Stefan tossed back his drink then drawled, "Go for it."

Nikolas moved to confront his Uncle. "I talked to Lucky. He's been keeping an eye on Zander, as best he can. Did you know that Zander has been taking drugs?"

"What?" Stefan was stunned. "No...I don't believe you. Zander isn't a user?"

"He's not?" Nikolas snorted. "So how is it he managed to overdose twice in the past year? Don't you get it? He's as miserable as you are? He's hurting just as much. Only he's a master at self destruction, Uncle. Nobody does that better than Zander Smith. In fact, Lucky locked him up at the PCPD the other night, just so he could confiscate the drugs and keep him safe. But he got out this morning."

Stefan rubbed a hand over his face. "What do you want me to do about it? Admit that this is all my fault? Fine? It is my fault. I did this to Zander."

Nikolas resisted the urge to shake his Uncle. "Then go to him."

"I'll make things worse," Stefan protested.


"How? How could it get any worse?" Nikolas sighed. "Zander is trying to kill himself. He got lucky the last two times, but at some point he's going to get it right." With that as his parting shot, Nikolas strode out of the room, praying that his Uncle got the message and that he would act on it.


Stefan watched Nikolas go. He moved to the bar to pour himself another drink, but instead he hurled the glass against the wall and watched it shatter. Then he headed out the door.


* * * * *


Stefan found Zander on the docks with a pretty blonde. They were kissing. He strode over and cleared his throat, loudly. When they broke apart, Stefan politely asked the woman to leave. She gave him a funny look but agreed, but not before giving Zander her phone number. Stefan watched as Zander tucked the paper into his jeans pocket. He studied Zander carefully. The boy was drunk, and getting more drunk, as he was drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels. But it was more than that. He was high too, Stefan could see it in his eyes.

"What do you want, Stefan?" Zander asked, as he made to take another swig from the bottle.

"To talk," Stefan replied, yanking the bottle from Zander's hand and tossing it into the water. He ignored Zander's cursing. It struck him how much like
deja vu this moment was. "We need to talk."


Zander shook his head. "Too late for that," he whispered, then his eyes rolled back in his head and his knees buckled.

Stefan caught him before he hit the deck. He lowered them both to the ground and cradled Zander in his embrace. "Zander?" Panic surged over him as he stared at his lover's pale face. "Zander?" Stefan shook him then shifted him in his arms so that he could reach for his cell phone. Stefan punched in 911.


* * * * *


Stefan kept vigil at Zander's bedside. Alexis and Lucky came and went and still Zander remained unconscious. The doctors pumped his stomach but Zander had played it a little too close to the edge this time. Still, Stefan kept the faith. Zander was clinging to life and that was all that mattered. He had just dozed off when he heard his name being whispered. Snapping awake, Stefan was out of the chair and over to Zander's bedside in an instant. "You're awake." Stefan almost laughed at himself for stating the obvious. But it was wonderful to see Zander's beautiful hazel eyes staring up at him. "I'll get the doctor."


"No...don't go." Zander tried to reach for Stefan but the restraints on his wrists held him back.


"I won't leave you," Stefan promised.

Zander closed his eyes for a moment. "Thank you."

Stefan watched Zander's face. He was still pale but his color was better. Then his eyes fluttered open and Stefan had to ask. "Did you want to die?"


"What do you care?" Zander's tone was petulant.


"I care because I love you," Stefan said softly. He saw the surprise that colored Zander's eyes to gray.


Zander locked eyes with Stefan. "You have a funny way of showing it," he whispered.


Stefan couldn't deny the truth. I’m a Cassadine, we don't do things the way other people do, Zander. I thought you knew that?"


"I do." Zander blinked back tears then cursed as one slid down his face and he couldn't wipe it away. He watched Stefan free his hand and smiled his thanks before rubbing his face dry. "I love you too, you know."


"Love isn't always enough," Stefan countered. He wanted it to be, but it wasn't.


Zander worked on freeing his other hand. "It can be," he said. "If we want it to be." Both hands free now, Zander held one out to Stefan. "I want to go home."

Stefan reached for Zander's hand, twining their fingers together. He squeezed gently. "Maybe in a few days. You came a little too close to dying this time, Zander. You need to heal."

"So do you," Zander whispered, even as his eyes fluttered closed.


"I will," Stefan replied, even though he knew Zander didn't hear him. They would talk again later and he knew that this time they would listen to each other, and to their hearts.


* * * * *


Stefan took Zander home, three days later. Mrs. Lansbury greeted them at the door, hugging Zander to her tightly, then pushing him back to scold him soundly for his behavior. And she warned him that she would tan his hide if he ever took anything stronger than aspirin, ever again.

Zander promised her he wouldn't.

Mrs. Lansbury then made Zander go to his room and climb into bed. He argued with her that he wasn't tired, but they both knew it was a lie. She tucked him in then kissed his brow, before bustling out of the room.

Stefan watched from the doorway, a smile playing on his lips. When they were finally alone, he approached the bed. "Rest. We'll talk later."

"Lay with me," Zander requested.

"Zander.." Stefan wanted to do that. He wanted to hold him. But he knew it was too soon.


Zander sat up and held out one hand. "Please, Stefan. Be with me. Just...just hold me. I miss you."

Stefan knew he should leave, but he couldn't. So he climbed onto the bed and took Zander into his arms. It felt familiar and right as Zander curled into him. He let his fingers comb through the dark hair and it wasn't long before he heard Zander's breathing change. And it was then that Stefan closed his own eyes and finally let himself sleep.




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