On Common Ground

Chapter 23


Things were strained between Zander and Stefan. They couldn't find a way to move past what had happened. It frustrated them both.


Stefan began drinking again. He was pouring himself a scotch when Zander entered the Study.


"It's early," Zander stated, glaring at Stefan.


"I know," Stefan replied. He took a sip of his drink, almost defiantly. "How was your session with Dr. Baldwin?"


Zander dropped into a nearby chair and sighed. "Irritating."

Stefan sat down across from him. "Irritating? Why?"


"She keeps throwing that word in my face."

"What word?"

Zander looked down at his hands and picked at a thumbnail. "Rape.." he whispered.

Stefan stiffened and took another sip of his drink. Here in lay the problem between them. He had talked to Dr. Baldwin about Zander. She hadn't betrayed any doctor/patient confidentiality, but Stefan knew that Zander's biggest hurdle, the one that was tripping them both, was that he didn't want to accept the truth. He could use the word himself, but he lashed out at everyone else who dared to say it. Stefan said nothing at this point, he just waited for Zander to continue.


"She wants me to talk about what happened. About how I feel about it."


"How do you feel about it?" Stefan interjected.

Zander exploded out of the chair and began to pace. "You know how I feel!" he snapped. "God...I'm so tired of talking about it. Thinking about it. I want things to be the way they were."

Stefan whispered, "You mean before I...raped...you?"

"Stop saying that!" Zander was screaming now. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" Like a little kid would, he clamped his hands over his ears as if that would make it all go away.


"Look at me, Zander?" Stefan said sharply. And when the boy faced him, lowering his arms to his sides, Stefan stated, "It was rape."


Zander shook his head. "I made you do it!" His tone was desperate.


Stefan set aside his glass and rose to his feet. He went to Zander, but kept a careful distance between them. "No. I chose to do it. To force you to say what I wanted to hear. To hurt you because you were hurting me."


"I'm so fucking confused!" Zander sank to the floor and wrapped his arms around his knees. He rocked a bit. "I don't know what to think or what to feel anymore. I love you, Stefan. I know that I love you. But it's like you and Dr. Baldwin are trying to tell me that's wrong."


"It's not wrong if it's what you feel, Zander," Stefan said as he joined him on the floor. "It's wrong if you don't accept the truth that goes along with it."

Zander was quiet for a long moment, then he locked eyes with Stefan. "I know that you...that you raped me. But the circumstances weren't normal, Stefan. Hell...they never are for us. But...I don't want this to ruin what we had...what we could still have."

Stefan smiled gently. He took a chance on reaching out to Zander, letting his fingers comb through the soft, dark, hair. It felt like silk against his sensitized skin. "I don't want to lose you, Zander. I love you more than you will ever know. But my love is dark and so am I."

"I'm no perfect prize," Zander shot back, letting his face nuzzle against Stefan's hand when a palm pressed against his cheek. "I have a dark side too, Stefan."


"I know. I know that we understand each other and are connected to each other in ways that some people would never understand," Stefan allowed. "But none of that changes the fact that we can't seem to get past what happened."


Zander closed his eyes and sighed. Then he moved towards Stefan, eyes wide open, zeroing in on the other man's mouth. And when their lips touched, Zander moaned softly. He deepened the kiss.


Stefan followed Zander's lead for a moment, but then he took control of things, curling his fingers in Zander's hair to hold him while he devoured the boy's mouth, reminding him of the fact that he would always want this kind of control between them. That it was part of his nature, part of who he was and would always be. And Stefan felt a surge of hope as Zander accepted it, his lean body eagerly pressing against Stefan. Then Stefan surged over Zander, pushing him back so that he was laid out on the floor beneath him. He broke the kiss, but only to kiss a trail down Zander's neck, then over his chest as he unbuttoned the boy's shirt. He felt Zander tremble a bit, but the hazel eyes were watching him and there was no fear. Not yet. Stefan continued on his journey, coming to the fastening of Zander's jeans. He opened them then nibbled at the silky trail of hair that led to the prize. But when Stefan slipped his hand inside to touch Zander, he felt the change.


"No…wait!" In a panic, Zander sat up and pushed Stefan away.


"This isn't going to work, Zander," Stefan said softly.

Zander stared at him in wild-eyed disbelief. "Please don't give up on us!" he begged. "I can get past this...I can. I just need time."

Stefan wanted to believe that, but he couldn't. Still, when he looked at the hope shining in Zander's eyes, he couldn't simply dash it to pieces. The way he had shattered the boy's trust in him. "I don't want to give up on us, Zander. But I can't think of any way for us to get past this."


"I have an idea." Zander scrambled to his feet and snatched up the phone. He punched in a number then said, "Dr. Baldwin? I need your help."


* * * * *


Gail watched as Stefan paced. It was odd to see that Zander was the one sitting, quietly, in his chair. But this was the pattern between them when in her office. This was their fifth group therapy session. It had been Zander's idea for them to do this and Gail thought it was a good one. So much had come out in such a short time. Most of it from Stefan. Things about his past and his relationship with his mother and his brother. Dark thoughts and secrets that he was willing to share now, for Zander's sake. Gail could see the love Stefan had for the younger man. It glowed in his eyes whenever he looked at Zander, and it was soft in his voice whenever he spoke to him.


At the moment, Gail had turned the topic of conversation onto the night of the rape. Zander had talked about it first, about Helena's threats against Alexis and Kristina and her desire to drive Stefan mad. Zander now had tears in his eyes as he begged Stefan for forgiveness. Gail sat back in her chair and kept silent. She knew that this could well be the breaking point for them both.


Stefan stopped pacing and dropped to his knees before Zander's chair. He looked up at the man he loved and whispered, "Why are you asking for my forgiveness, Zander? You did nothing wrong. I'm the one who hurt you." Stefan closed his eyes against the burn of tears. "I would give anything to take back that night. But I can't. I was so hurt and so angry...but I never meant to hurt you like that. I just...I just wanted you to stop lying to me and I thought...I thought I could make you do that if you remembered what it was like for us. The way we fit together, the way it was always perfect and amazing. And your body could never lie to me, Zander. And it didn't. You responded to me and in that moment I was lost. I had to make you see the truth...to say it to me. I had to make you stop lying to me.." Stefan's voice broke and he made to pull away, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.


"I’m so sorry," Zander whispered, his voice thick with his own tears. "I knew I was hurting you and I hated every minute of it. But all I could think about was what your mother told me she would do to Alexis and Kristina. She said she would hurt them....that she would kill Alexis and Kristina wouldn't have a mother." Zander began rocking in the chair. "She said everyone I cared about, including you, would die. And she meant it...she meant every word, I could see it in her eyes."


"Zander...God I'm so sorry." Stefan pulled Zander into his arms, and he felt Zander hug him back fiercely. He didn't know what to say. There were no words to offer comfort for Zander's fears. Stefan knew that his mother would have hurt Alexis and Kristina. Zander's fears were justified. For a long time they simply held on to each other and for Stefan it was enough. But then he felt Zander pulling away from him and Stefan let him go. He stood up to allow Zander to rise and he watched him pace over to the window.

Gail finally spoke. "What's wrong, Zander? What are you feeling right now."

He sighed. "Terrified."


"About what?"


"About Helena still being out there…somewhere." Zander swiped at his eyes with his shirtsleeve. "I have these nightmares that she comes back and I wake up in the dream and she's in my room. And she has these pictures of Alexis lying on a slab in the morgue...and she tells me that it's all my fault. That I killed Alexis because I betrayed Helena."

Stefan was horrified. He went to Zander and asked. "How long have you been having these dreams?"


Zander shrugged. "Since we came back home."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"For what? What could you have done about it, Stefan? Besides which...you had enough shit to deal with."


Stefan felt angry. "I would have helped you, Zander. You should have told me!"


Gail interjected again, moving to them to make Stefan focus on her. "Why are you angry?" she asked.


"Because Zander should have told me about his nightmares!" Stefan snapped. He realized he was losing control and he rubbed a hand over his face and tried to make himself calm down. But he was shaking and his emotions were still high.


"Do you feel he owes it to you to tell you everything he's feeling?"

Stefan glared at Dr. Baldwin. "We should be able to tell each other everything. That's how it's supposed to work. It's all about trust..." Stefan broke off when he realized what he was saying. He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry..."


Gail watched him put distance between himself and Zander. "What are you sorry for, Stefan?"


"For everything." He sighed. "For loving Zander for one thing. It was wrong of me.."

"You take that back!" Zander was across the room and in Stefan's face in a heartbeat. "Take it back, you sonofabitch!"


Stefan was shocked. "Take what back?"

Tears glistened in Zander's eyes. "That you're sorry for loving me. Take it back!"

"Zander.." It broke Stefan's heart to see the pain in the young man's eyes and to hear the desperation and pleading in his voice. "I meant....I meant that I'm sorry because my loving you has done nothing but cause you pain. Because of who I am and what that means....I don't regret loving you...don't ever think that."


"This is so fucked up." Zander's voice was hoarse with emotion and tears kept sliding down his face. "I'm so tired of this shit."


Gail touched Zander on the arm. "You need to decide what you want, Zander? Do you want to be with Stefan? Is it worth the effort? Is it worth the pain?"


Zander nodded. "It's worth it to me." He wiped at his tears with one hand then dropped down into a nearby chair. "When Emily died...I thought I had nothing left to live for. She was everything to me. She was my reason for living. Nobody loved me the way Emily did. But in so many ways...it was like a fairytale. You know...like a dream I had that just couldn't last. Like it wasn't meant to last because I didn't deserve it. Then Stefan came into my life and...I never expected to fall in love with another man. But it made sense somehow."


"Why?" Gail prompted.

"Because I would never love another woman the way I loved Emily." Zander shook his head as if to shake away a painful memory. "It would have felt like I betrayed her in some way. But it's different with Stefan. We're from different worlds, but we're alot alike in so many ways. We've lived through the same kind of hell."


Stefan moved to Zander. "We're still in hell, Zander," he said softly. "If you can't get past what I did to you...then this particular hell will never end for either of us."


Zander nodded. "I know that. But it feels different now."



"I understand now the sacrifices we're willing to make for each other. But I also understand the pain we can inflict as well. It can't get any worse than this, Stefan. So there's nothing for me to be afraid of."

Stefan wanted to believe him. "But a part of you is still afraid that Helena will follow through on her threats."

Zander tugged at the hem of his shirt, then nodded. "Yeah...that scares the hell out of me. And a part of me blames you for that. It's your mother. But Alexis is your sister and I know you love her and that you have the same fears. But I'm going to be honest with you."


"That's all I want, Zander."


"Okay then. If I feel that Alexis or Kristina or anyone I love, including you, is in danger...," Zander paused to lock eyes with Stefan. "I will lie to you again," he whispered. "Can you deal with that?"


Stefan nodded. "I don't like it, but I understand it."


Zander smiled. "Fair enough."

"Now I have to be honest with you," Stefan countered. "I could hurt you again, Zander."


"I know that...but I'm willing to take that risk. If you are."


Stefan held Zander's gaze and he hoped that the young man could see into his soul in this moment, to see the love that Stefan had for him. And to see the truth. "I don't know if I am," Stefan stated. "But I'll take a chance. However, you need to know that if I think I could hurt you again, I might walk away. Not only from any physical pain I might inflict, but if I think leaving will protect you from my mother. I'll just go and you'd never find me."


Zander closed his eyes for a moment. "I guess I'll have to trust and hope and believe that you won't do that."


"This is going to be like starting over in some ways, Zander," Stefan said softly. "As if we don't know each other at all. Because in a way...we don't. Because of what happened...all of it, we don't know what might happen or what we'll do in reaction to it. We're going to have to live moment to moment. Can you do that?"

"That's pretty much the way I've always lived my life." Zander cupped Stefan's face in both hands and kissed him.

Stefan kissed him back, breaking away only when he remembered that Dr. Baldwin was still in the room. He looked at her. "Thank you for your help," he told her.

Gail nodded. "You're welcome. But I hope you realize that this…breakthrough...is just a start. You and Zander need to continue with the counseling."

"We will." Stefan reached for Zander's hand, feeling strong fingers closing over his own. "Let's go home."


"I'm ready," Zander replied.


Stefan felt as if some of the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.


* * * * *


They knew their first time making love again wouldn't be easy. They had talked more once they got home and Zander had told Stefan every detail of what had happened to him when he was Helena's captive. It had been rough for them both. But then Stefan had taken Zander in his arms, and Zander had kissed Stefan. Then they had made their way upstairs.


They were in Zander's room. He wasn't ready to go back to Stefan's bed, and neither was Stefan. They had to make new memories, before they could attempt to erase the old ones. But there was tension in the air as they faced each other.


"We can take this as slow as need be," Stefan whispered.

"I know." Zander made the first move, cupping Stefan's face and kissing him.


Stefan followed Zander's lead. When Zander touched him, he touched back in the same way. They undressed each other slowly and Stefan was surprised when Zander stepped back to shuck off his jeans and briefs. Then he moved to do the same for Stefan. It was a moment of truth once Stefan was naked. He watched Zander as the boy looked at him. Then he caught his breath as Zander's fingers wrapped around his cock. Stefan was already hard.


Zander fell to his knees and took the tip of Stefan's cock into his mouth.


"God…you're killing me," Stefan moaned, his fingers buried in Zander's dark hair. He was too close to cumming. But maybe it was for the best. All things considered it was too soon to expect Zander to be ready for him. But in that moment, Zander released Stefan's cock and stood up.


"Make love to me," Zander begged.


Stefan bit his lip. He wanted to, more than anything. He didn't protest, but he did decide it would be best to play it moment by moment. So he smiled and leaned in to kiss Zander, then he led him over to the bed. He pressed Zander down onto his back then crawled between the strong legs, taking Zander's cock into his mouth. Because they had prepared themselves for this moment, there was a tube of lubricant on the bed. Stefan pulled off for a moment, his eyes locked on Zander's face.  He slicked his fingers, making his intent very clear. But Zander's eyes never darkened. There was no fear glimmering in the hazel depths, only love and desire.


Zander moaned as Stefan's mouth closed over his cock again, then he whimpered as a slick finger slid inside him. A knuckle brushed over his hotspot and he moaned at the pleasure overload. Then he moaned again as he came, hard and long.

Stefan swallowed every drop of Zander's release, then he moved over his lover, to kiss him. "Moment of truth," Stefan whispered. "We can stop right now."

"No." Zander shifted so that he could reach the lubricant. He pushed Stefan back so he could sit up, then he poured some lubricant into his palm and rubbed his hands together before reaching for Stefan's cock. Zander slicked it from tip to root, not missing an inch. "I want you, Stefan," He whispered. "I want to feel you inside me again. I want to feel that connection."

"I want that too." Stefan was aching with desire. "On your stomach," he whispered. He knew it would be less painful for Zander that way.

Zander rolled over, then lifted his hips as Stefan slid a pillow underneath him. He felt fingers opening him, then pressure.

Stefan pushed in slowly, feeling the resistant ring of muscle. He was hesitant to continue, but Zander took control by surging up onto his hands and knees and pressing back, taking Stefan's cock inside him nearly half way. Stefan bit his lip as he felt Zander's body stiffen and he knew it had to burn. So he leaned over Zander, kissing the nape of his neck, even as he reached around one slim hip so that he could stroke Zander's cock as a distraction from the pain. "Do you want me to stop?" Stefan asked.


"No…don't stop." Zander pressed back again, taking Stefan fully inside him.


"God...you feel so good," Stefan moaned. And it felt right in this moment.

Zander whimpered and his hips jerked a bit. "Move...move," he begged softly.


Stefan was more than willing to comply. He moved in slow thrusts in and out and felt Zander move with him in a perfect, counter, rhythm. It wasn't long before Stefan felt the tingling in his spine and then he was cumming, hard and strong. He collapsed over Zander in the aftermath of his release, only to feel Zander shifting beneath him. "Zander?" Stefan sensed that something was wrong.


"Get off me!" Panic made Zander's voice hoarse. The moment Stefan rolled to the side, Zander was off the bed. He grabbed the top blanket and wrapped it around him as he backed away.


"Zander?" Stefan rolled off the bed and grabbed his pants, pulling them on. It frightened him how pale Zander looked and the fact that he was visibly shaking. His eyes were wide and wild as he backed himself into a corner. "Zander?" Stefan approached him cautiously.

Zander practically curled into himself. "Stay away from me!" He hissed at Stefan.


Stefan froze. "I won't come any closer. Do you want me to call Dr. Baldwin?"

"No...no...just leave me alone."

"Zander...I can't leave you like this."

Zander began rocking. "Please...please...leave me alone...please..." he begged.

Stefan cursed then he retreated. He dressed quickly then left the room. He hurried to his own bedroom and grabbed the phone, thinking to call Dr. Baldwin, but something stopped him. Instead he headed down to the Study and poured himself a drink. He figured that tonight was proof that it was over between him and Zander, and that he might as well start to accept it. Stefan was on his third drink when Zander entered the room. Stefan took note that his hair was damp, which meant he had showered, and he was dressed in jeans and a sweater. "Are you all right?" Stefan asked.

"I'm fine...I’m sorry." Zander moved to the fireplace and hesitated.


"I wish I knew what to say," Stefan whispered.

Zander turned to face him. "Don't say anything for the moment. Just listen."

Stefan nodded and waited.


"I made a few calls," Zander announced. "I called my father...my real father."

"Robert?" Stefan was stunned.


Zander ran his fingers through his hair then moved to stand before Stefan. "Yeah. I called him because maybe he can protect the people I care about from Helena. Him and Luke."

Stefan's eyes widened. "You called Luke Spencer too?"


"He has connections no one else seems to have." Zander knelt down beside Stefan's chair. "Do you want to know why I freaked out earlier?"

"I think I know why," Stefan countered.


Zander shook his head. "It’s not because of the rape...at least not because of that in and of itself. It’s because of why that happened. It happened because of Helena's threats. Because of my fear of her. I can't get past that fear, Stefan. When we made love it felt right. Being connected to you...it made me feel safe and warm and loved. But then that fear took over. And I couldn't shake it. And I never will until I know that the people I love are safe. You and Alexis and Kristina."

Stefan understood. "Do you feel better now?"


"Actually...yeah, I do. Robert told me he has people watching Helena and that she's in Japan."


chuckled. "Yeah. He didn't tell me why. And Luke said he's been keeping watch over everyone and I believe him." Zander plucked Stefan's drink from his hand and eased down into his lap. "I'm still a little freaked and you're going to have to be patient with me...but we'll get through this. Okay?"

Stefan tangled his fingers in Zander's hair and pulled him in for a kiss. "Okay," he whispered against the sweet lips.

"I love you, Stefan," Zander said firmly.


"I love you too." Stefan kissed Zander again then he wrapped his arms around him and held on tight.




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