On Common Ground

Chapter 5


Stefan dozed off but came awake with a start when he heard Zander cry out. He rose from the chair and moved to the bed, and saw that bed clothes were twisted around Zander's lean body as he tossed and turned, caught up in some dream. Or perhaps a nightmare. He was mumbling something and Stefan leaned in. He heard Zander whispering *Emily*. Reaching out carefully, Stefan tried to soothe Zander by stroking his hair. Dark hair that felt like silk against his skin. Stefan was so caught up in the sensation that he was startled when Zander's eyes suddenly flew open. Stefan jerked his hand back and wondered why he felt a bit guilty. "Zander...are you all right?" he asked.

"Yeah." Zander's voice was hoarse and his hand shook as he combed his fingers through his hair.

"Were you dreaming?" Stefan knew it was a dumb question but he didn't know what else to say. And he needed to distract himself. The bed clothes had fallen away from Zander's body, and the boy's smooth skin was sheened with sweat. He looked beautiful, like a sculpture and Stefan fought the urge to touch him. Zander was far too real for his peace of mind.

Zander slid out of bed, moaning as the movement pulled on his stitches. "What time is it?"

Stefan checked his watch. Better to look there than at almost naked Zander. "It's about six a.m. You should take another round of pills. I'll get them." He almost fled into the bathroom and was relieved to find Zander wrapped in a blanket when he returned. He held out the pills and a glass of water.

"I don't want them," Zander stated.

"You'll take them anyway." Stefan glared at the young man. He watched Zander glare back and wasn't the least bit surprised when hazel eyes eventually dropped away. Stefan could stare down a statue. He smiled as Zander accepted the pills and the water and dutifully swallowed them down.

Zander moved to stand by the window. "I need to go home."

Stefan felt rocked by those words. He didn't want Zander to go. "What's your hurry?" he countered.

"I need a shower." Zander wiped a palm over one forearm and it came away wet.

"I have working bathrooms." Stefan pointed. "You can use that one."

Zander smirked. "I don't have any clean clothes. Remember?"

Stefan had forgotten. "I'm sure I can find something among Nikolas' things. You're about the same height although leaner."

"Nikky would hate knowing I'm wearing his stuff." Zander chuckled as if pleased at the thought.

"I don't think he would mind." Stefan moved to face Zander. "I know that you and my nephew were not friends, by any means. But before he left, Nikolas told me that he was glad you were there for Emily. Because you made her happy and that even if he didn't like you, he knew that you loved her with everything you are."

Zander rubbed at his eyes. "I don't want to talk about Emily!" he hissed.

Stefan realized he had overstepped the invisible boundary between them. "Of course. I'm sorry. Why don't you shower and I'll get the clothes, then we can have breakfast."

"I don't do breakfast."

"You do today."

Zander sighed. "Then will you take me home?"

Stefan nodded, albeit a bit reluctantly. "Yes…then I will take you home." That said he turned sharply on his heel and strode out the door.

* * * * *

Stefan smiled as Zander entered the dining room. He looked elegant in the clothes that Mrs. Lansbury had found for him. An outfit that had been given to Nikolas as a gift from a lady friend who had gotten his size wrong. Surprisingly, they fit Zander perfectly. The lady had been some European noblewoman with dreams of marriage to Nikolas that he had quickly refuted. But at least she had good taste in clothing. Zander looked wonderful in the gray linen trousers and teal blue pullover. "You look nice," Stefan commented.

"I feel weird," Zander replied. He sat down where Stefan gestured. "Although I'm glad Nik never wore this stuff. That would make me feel weirder." He laughed.

"I want you to keep the outfit," Stefan stated. "It fits you perfectly and the items would only sit in a drawer otherwise."

Zander made a face. "I dunno. I'll think about it. Thanks." Without realizing it he rubbed at his shoulder.

Stefan frowned. "Did you dress your injury?" he queried.

"I slapped a pad on it," Zander replied.

"Did you use the ointment?"

Zander rolled his eyes. "No."

Stefan sighed. "I'll redo it for you after breakfast."

"It's fine." Zander searched the room. "Got any coffee?"

"On the side table." Stefan pointed. He watched Zander pour himself a mug then return to the table. He was amused by how much the boy enjoyed his caffeine. Almost gulping it down in spite of its temperature. Just then Mrs. Lansbury appeared with a tray. She placed one plate in front of Stefan, which held his usual repast. A croissant with butter and a fruit salad. In front of Zander she placed a plate filled with bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast and hash browns.

Zander's eyes went huge. "I can't eat all that!" he protested. "There's more than enough for three people."

Stefan hid a smile behind his napkin. "Mrs. Lansbury will be disappointed if you don't. I heard her clucking to herself over how thin you are."

"I'm not thin!" Zander studied his plate again. "I'm serious…I can't eat all of this. I don't even do breakfast, remember?"

"Then it's time you started." Stefan pretended to ignore Zander's grumblings as he applied himself to his own breakfast. He was pleased to note that the young man managed clear nearly half of his plate. Rising to pour himself another cup of tea, Stefan casually asked, "I assume you have a job?"

Zander shrugged. "I'm sort of in between jobs right now. I used to work for Ned at ELQ but after Emily..." He couldn't finish the sentence. After clearing his throat Zander continued. "I wanted to sever all ties with her family, for which I am certain they are eternally grateful."

Stefan nodded his understanding. "If you don't mind me asking, how are you paying your bills?"

"Odd jobs." Zander put down his fork, conceding defeat, and pushed his plate away. "I've been working a couple of shifts a week at Jake's, tending bar. It's enough for food and rent. I'm pretty low maintenance."

"You need a purpose," Stefan said softly. More to himself, about himself.

Zander frowned. "What?"

Stefan shook his head. "Nothing. How would you like to work for me?"

"You're kidding!"

"Not at all." Stefan hadn't thought about making the offer until now, but it made sense to him in alot of ways. For alot of reasons. "I need an assistant. Someone to run errands, schedule appointments, keep my paperwork updated and in order, do research and such. I'm assuming that's the type of work you did at ELQ."

Zander nodded. "Something like that."

Stefan could sense Zander's interest but he didn't want to push too hard. "For the record it pays very well, but I am a very demanding and hard taskmaster. The last two assistants I hired quit after less than three weeks each."

"Sounds like a challenge." Zander was smiling.

"It would be."

Zander's smile faded and he rubbed a hand over his face. "Can I think about it?"

Stefan nodded. He was pleased that Zander was willing to consider it. "But you should know that I would expect you to live here. I will need you to be available to me at all times." Stefan tried not to consider the double meaning his words took on, as the image of Zander wearing only his boxer-briefs flitted in Stefan's head.

"Ah...so you'd want me at your beck and call," Zander teased.

"More or less."

Zander drummed his fingertips on the table top. "I'll let you know. Can you take me home now?"

Stefan tried to hide his disappointment at Zander's eagerness to leave. "If you wish," he replied. But before you leave I have something for you." There was a small, squared, box on the table. A silver gilded box. "This is for you." Stefan slid it over to Zander.

"What is it?"

"A thank you for saving my life. And may I apologize for not doing so before now. I should have thanked you properly last night."

Zander shrugged. "No big deal. No one ever thanks me for anything."

Stefan prodded the box. "Open it."

"Okay." Zander popped the top then carefully removed the contents. A gold, filigree, pocket watch with a compass. "It's beautiful."

"It's old. A family heirloom." Stefan heard the pride in his voice. "It's so that you will never lose your way."

Zander blinked a few times then put the watch back in the box. "Thank you...but I can't accept it. You need to give it to Nikolas some day."

Stefan locked eyes with Zander. "I choose to give it to you, and it is mine to give to whom I please. You dishonor me if you do not accept it."

"Yeah?" Zander swiped at his eyes with one hand and tried not to sniffle. "Okay...if you put it that way. Thank you."

"You're welcome. I appreciate that you risked your life to save mine."

Zander laughed but it sounded more like a sob. "No big deal. My life isn't worth much anyway." He rose from the table and shook his head as if wishing he could take back his words. "Can I go home now?"

Stefan rose as well. "Of course." Silently he led the way out.


previous chapter

 Chapter Index

next chapter

© Shelly 2004