Flame Turns Blue

Chapter 19

Nikolas thanked Liz as she set a cup of coffee in front of him. After his run in with Zander, Nikolas had called Gia and she was at Kelly's. It was closing time but Liz was on shift and had agreed to keep it open so the trio of friends could meet. To talk about Zander. "We have to do something," Nikolas stated.

Liz smiled sadly as she sat down. "It's strange to hear you say that."


"Why?" Nikolas prompted.

"Since when have you and Zander become friends?"


Nikolas shrugged. "We're not. But I've come to realize that Zander isn't a bad guy, he's just messed up. And I think Emily would want us to help him."


Gia took Nikolas' hand. "She would…and we will."

"How?" Liz asked. "We can't make Zander want to help himself. He's just in a world of hurt and he doesn't know how to stop the pain."


"Maybe it's time to talk to his father." Nikolas took a sip of the coffee then rubbed his face with one hand. "He's psychiatrist. He should know what to do."

Gia snorted. "He's almost as messed up as Zander. Trust me on that one. What he did to Zander growing up is horrific."


Nikolas sighed. "Maybe so, but he's still Zander's father and he'd have a better idea of what to do. Maybe he can have Zander admitted into a psychiatric facility or something."

"That would destroy Zander!" Elizabeth protested. "You know that, Nikolas."


"Yeah...I don't really want to go that route. But we have to do something."


Gia stood up. "Okay then, let's go see Dr. Lewis." She waited for the other's to stand then the trio left Kelly's with heavy hearts, but determination glinting in their eyes.


* * * * *


Cameron stared at the three young people seated on his sofa. He shook his head. "There is nothing we can do right now. Just leave Zander alone."


"He's working for Faith Roscoe! Did you know that?" Nikolas was on his feet and in Cameron's face. "What is it going to take for you to do something to help your son?"


"I understand what you're saying," Cameron countered, stepping away from Nikolas and rubbing his temples. He had a tension headache that would not go away. "But if we push at Zander now, we lose him. You have to trust me on this. Zander has a session with Dr. Baldwin tomorrow. I'll call her tonight and let her know how on edge Zander is. She should be able to ground him a bit."

It was Gia's turn to get in Cameron's face. "That's it? We just sit around and hope that one session with Dr. Baldwin will fix Zander? I don't think that's going to happen, Dr. Lewis. Do you?"


Cameron glared at her. He knew it wouldn't but he had to make them understand. Pushing Zander now would send him over the edge. They would lose him forever. Cameron couldn't bear the thought of losing another son. "Give Dr. Baldwin a chance," he pleaded.


"Okay, we can do that," Elizabeth interjected. She stood up and gestured for the others to go with her as she made her way to the door. "Is it all right if we call you tomorrow?"

"Of course." Cameron opened the door and was relieved when they left. He closed the door then reached for the phone. But he didn't call Dr. Baldwin. Cameron was afraid that if he did then she would decide to ship Zander away and if that happened, Cameron knew that he would lose his son forever.


* * * * *

Zander smiled at Dr. Baldwin. He knew she was surprised by his attitude and he liked putting her off balance. She was also surprised by his suit.


"So I take it you have a job now and that you like it?" Gail ventured.

"I do...and yes."


Gail jotted down some notes. "Where do you work?"


Zander smiled again. "For a business woman."

"What do you do?"


"Whatever she needs. You could say I'm in training." In truth Zander hadn't yet done much of anything for Faith, beyond being her escort. But he wasn't complaining. Faith was a beautiful woman. She was fun to be around, she walked on the wild side and Zander liked that. And she paid him pretty much just to hang around. When he needed a pill she gave it to him. And then there was the sex. Sometimes it was a fuzzy memory, but Zander didn't care. He was feeling no pain. And that was the way he wanted his life to be. Painless and fuzzy.


Gail studied Zander for a moment then asked. "Are you high?"


He smiled. "High on life."


"It's a serious question, Zander."

"I gave you a serious answer." Zander locked eyes with Dr. Baldwin and she was the first one to look away.


She sighed. "Your behavior worries me."


Zander stroked his chin. "Why? Do you think I’m going to try and off myself again?"


"Are you?"


"Would it matter if I did? Would you miss me?" There was a touch of anger in Zander's tone as he fired the questions at Dr. Baldwin.


She rose from her chair to stand before him. "Alot of people care about you, Zander. Whether you like it or not. You can tell yourself it doesn't matter. You can tell yourself you don't care back. But none of that changes the truth."


Zander took a shaky breath and glanced at the clock. Five more minutes and he was out of there. Faith was waiting for him at Luke's place. "Define truth, Dr. Baldwin," Zander challenged her. "We all interpret it in our own way. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes…sometimes we do that. Is that what you're doing, Zander?"


"I'm doing what you told me to do. Focusing on my work." He stood up. "Time to go."


Gail stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I have to send in a report to the courts at the end of the week."

Zander narrowed his gaze as he stared at her. "Sounds...ominous."


"To be honest, I'm not sure what to tell them. I think you're spiraling out of control and heading for a big fall. But I haven't caught you out on anything to the point where I feel you should be locked up."


"And your point in telling me this, is?"


Gail sighed. "I want to give you a chance to turn your life around, Zander. To make the choice to live again. To care again. To be…alive again. I want you to make that choice. I don't want to make it for you."


Zander realized what she was offering and he nodded. "Well…I'll do my best. But we both know what a fuck up I am." He winked at Dr. Baldwin then headed for the door.


* * * * *

Zander hadn't dreamed in a while. Most of the time he figured he was too high or too drunk to dream. But tonight he was exhausted enough to come home early and practically collapse on the bed. And then he dreamed. About Peter.


The images were vivid. Zander could hear the thunder-like crack of the rifle blast still echoing in his ears. And the blood on Pete's chest looked so brilliant and wet and with every indrawn breath he could smell copper. "Peter!" Zander screamed. Then he looked down at his hands and they were stained with blood. The images shifted and Zander was with his father. Cameron was screaming at him, calling him a murderer and Zander shook his head in denial. "I didn't mean it.." he whispered. "I didn't mean it, dad."


Another shift of images and he was on the bus with Emily. One minute they were talking and the next Zander was kneeling beside her on the grass, the torn metal of the wrecked bus, scattered around them. "Emily!" Zander screamed, but she didn't reply. He lifted her into his arms and she was as limp as a doll. Zander felt wetness on his hands and when he laid Emily back down, he saw that her shirt was stained with blood. Blood covered his hands and arms. "NO!" Zander screamed. "NO! NO! NO!"



The sharp tone ripped him out of the dream and Zander sat up with a jolt, feeling wetness on his face. Tears. He wiped them away with a hand that trembled and couldn't look at his father. He felt the bed shift as Cameron sat down beside him. "Leave me alone," Zander whispered.


Cameron reached out but stopped short of touching his son. "What were you dreaming?"


"What do you care?" Zander slid off the bed and his knees almost buckled. He felt sick and he barely made it into the bathroom before heaving the contents of his stomach into the toilet. When he was through he accepted the wet wash cloth his father held out. Zander wiped his face then rose to his feet. He made it to the sink and rinsed his mouth with mouth wash.


"Tell me about the dream," Cameron persisted.


Zander turned on him. "Why? What's it to you? Get out of my room!" Zander shoved his father back then tried to step past him. He felt a hand on his arm and he shrugged it off. "Don't touch me!"


Cameron followed his son back into the bedroom. "I can help you, Alexander. Please...let me try."


"You can leave me the hell alone!" Zander hissed. "That will help." He yanked off the tee shirt he was wearing, it was soaked from sweat, and grabbed another one. He couldn't stay here. He could shower and change at Faith's. Without another word he stormed past his father and left the house.


"Alex…" Cameron whispered, then he reached for the phone.


* * * * *

"What's wrong baby?" Faith purred, her fingers sliding into Zander's hair.

He let her kiss him then he pulled away. "Nothing. Just having a bad day."


Faith nuzzled his ear. "I can relate to that. I've got something new that might make you feel better. It's a pretty blue pill. Interested?"


"You know me...I'll try anything." Zander could hear the subtle desperation in his tone. He followed Faith over to one corner of the room and watched her rummage in her clutch purse. When she held out the tiny blue pill, Zander took it from her without hesitation and swallowed it dry. "Thanks," he whispered.

"Anything for you, baby." Faith kissed him again. "I'm going to go mingle. Enjoy yourself." With that she was gone.

Zander closed his eyes and he could feel a warm flush spread through him, like a tingling in his blood. Whatever she had given him, it was fast and powerful and Zander was glad. A few minutes later he was ready and willing to have fun.


* * * * *

Nikolas cursed. He had spent the last three hours looking for Zander. Cameron Lewis had called and asked Nikolas to look for his son. He had almost refused, but then he had started to worry so here he was, hitting all the usual spots Zander visited. But he wasn't at Jake's or at Luke's or even at Kelly’s. So Nikolas headed for the docks and was stunned to hear singing. Very loud singing but the voice was quite good, if a bit slurred. It took Nikolas a moment to recognize the song. Elvis. *I Did it My Way*. What surprised Nikolas most wasn't that it was Zander singing it, but that Zander was singing while walking the railing at the edge of the dock. Nikolas didn't want to think about what would happen if he fell in. The water was cold and deep and Nikolas had no doubt about the fact that Zander was either drunk or high, probably both. He wanted nothing more than to haul Zander down from his perch, but Nikolas approached with caution, not wanting to startle Zander. He was almost relieved when Zander noticed him.


"Hey…Nikky…come on up and join me. Great view." Zander laughed and almost stumbled off the railing.


"Zander…come down." Nikolas found himself holding his breath as he watched Zander regain his balance. He released it slowly as Zander steadied himself. More or less. And it was then that Nikolas noticed the bottle of Jack Daniel's clutched in Zander's left hand. He sighed then said, "I need to talk to you."

Zander grinned. "I can hear you just fine from up here. Talk away." Zander turned and walked back down the railing, pausing only to take a swig of Jack.


Nikolas followed him from below, his body tensed to reach out for Zander at any moment. "You're making me nervous, Zander. Please come down."


"I'm too high to ever come down, Nikky." Zander laughed and threw out his arms, and the bottle of Jack slipped from his grip and crashed to the dock, shattering into dozens of pieces. Zander cursed at losing the bottle and stumbled, which set him off balance and he began to fall.


"Zander!" Nikolas leaped forward and caught him, pulling him down towards the dock before he could topple into the water. They both hit the ground with a thud. Nikolas had enough presence of mind to pin Zander down before talking again. It was a wise move. The moment Zander registered what happened, he tried to get up to do it again.

Glaring at Nikolas, Zander snarled, "Get off me!"


Nikolas shook his head. "I'm not going to do that, Zander. You're higher than a kite. If you had fallen into the water, you would have drowned." He then noticed the shards of glass, and realized that had Zander hit the deck he would have been just as broken.

"And that would be a bad thing...why?" Zander laughed as he spoke. "My dad would throw a party. Bet he would invite you."


"Shut up, Zander," Nikolas hissed. "What did you take?"


Zander shrugged. "Don't know...don't care. Why? You want some? I know a few dealers…some might still sell to me." Rabid laughter escaped Zander but then it stopped cold and he struggled again. "I said get off me!"


Nikolas was hard put to hold Zander down. Luckily he weighed more and he used it to keep pin Zander. "As soon as you stop giving me a hard time, I'm taking you home."

"I'm not going home!" Zander snapped.


"You have to go home, Zander." Nikolas wished he could simply slap some sense into Zander, but he was too far gone to even want to listen to what anyone had to say.

Zander went still again. "I think I'm going to be sick."


Nikolas watched Zander go pale and he knew he was telling the truth. He backpedaled off him and helped haul him up and over to the nearest trash can. Wincing, Nikolas listened as Zander puked up his guts. "You okay?" he asked, once the retching had subsided.


"No." Zander's tone was small and defeated.


"Here." By luck Nikolas had a small bottle of water in his jacket pocket. He hadn't been sure how long he would be looking for Zander, so he'd brought it with him.


Zander took the bottle, rinsed his mouth and spit. "Thanks. Now leave me alone."


Nikolas sighed. "You know I’m not going to do that."


"You know I'm not going home."


"Yeah...you are." Without warning Nikolas lashed out, punching Zander on the jaw with a hard right. He winced as Zander hit the docks with a thud, then he checked him before hauling Zander over his shoulder and heading off for his car.


* * * * *

Cameron pulled the blankets over Alexander then smoothed his hair back. The only time he was able to touch his son was when Zander was unconscious in one form or another. It made him sad. But what happened tonight made him mad and very scared. Nikolas had told him how he had found Alexander on the docks and what he had been doing. Cameron knew that Zander was slipping away from him. One last look at his son's face, Cameron brushed the bruise that was forming on his jaw then he left the room. Nikolas was waiting for him downstairs.


"How is he?" Nikolas asked as Cameron approached.


"Still out." Cameron rubbed a hand over his face as he sank down into the nearest chair. "But more from the drugs than from your punch."


Nikolas nodded. "Good. I mean...you know what I mean."


Cameron nodded.


"So...are you ready to do something now?" Nikolas moved to confront Cameron. "If we don't...your son is going to die. You get that...right?"


"I get that." Cameron blinked back tears.


Nikolas glared at him. "So? What are we going to do?"


It gave Cameron hope that Nikolas kept saying *We*. He rose to his feet and reached for the phone. "I have an idea. Let me make a few calls." With that Cameron punched in the first number. The most important number.


* * * * *

Two days had passed since Nikolas had brought Zander home. Zander had pretty much slept away one day and then he had suffered through the after effects of the pill Faith had given him, so he hadn't strayed far from home. Just one little pill and the withdrawal made Zander wish he were dead. His best friend became the toilet and his stomach hurt and his throat felt raw from puking.


Faith hadn't been too happy about Zander's absence, but she hadn't called back after Zander had hung up on her twice. He figured she must have gotten the hint after he dropped the phone during the second call to heave in the toilet. It wasn't until afterwards that Zander had realized he had missed the off button so Faith had probably gotten an earful. Plus Zander figured he could apologize to her later. As much as he enjoyed hanging out with Faith, he was tired of Nikolas being in his face. So tonight he was hanging out at Luke's and shooting some pool. Zander figured he would pick up some pretty blonde and have some fun, his style.

But three beers later he was still playing pool alone, the place was empty. Strolling back out to the main room, Zander asked for another beer. He looked around. "No customers?"


Luke shrugged. "Happens some times. It's a Thursday night, kid. Maybe everyone is resting up for the weekend."


"Bullshit." Zander took his beer and headed for the back room. "I'm gonna finish my game then I'm outta here!" he called over his shoulder. He would go home, put a suit on and track down Faith. After all, he didn't want to lose his job. So Zander set his beer down and made another shot, sinking a striped ball. Then he heard it. Voices. Finally, a few customers. Maybe he could make some cash after all, and this time he wasn't going to let Luke take any of it. Grabbing his beer, Zander headed back out to the main room, only to freeze when he caught sight of the *so-called* customers. "What the hell are you doing here?" he snarled.


Cameron was the first to step forward, but he was not alone. Nikolas, Gia, Elizabeth, Lucky and Alexis were with him. "We came here to help you, Alexander."

Zander didn't believe him. Especially when he watched Luke go over to the door and lock it. He pushed past his father and strode over to Luke. "You set me up!" He wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew he wasn't going to like it.


"You set yourself up, kid." Luke smiled at him. "I didn't ask you to come here tonight. I just knew you would show up eventually."


"You kicked out the customers!"

Luke nodded. "Lit up the closed sign right after you got here. You came early and made it easy on me."


Zander felt anger wash over him in waves, but it wasn't Luke he was mad at. Turning around he stormed back over to his father. "So now what? Huh? What are you going to do? Beat some sense into me?"


"Like I said…we came here to help you, Alexander. We just want to talk to you. To make you understand that we care about you and we will do whatever it takes to get you to help yourself."


"Fuck you!" Zander felt like punching his father but instead he retreated to the bar then he glared at everyone. "I don't want your help!" he snarled. "I don't want to hear anything any of you have to say! I want you to leave me the fuck alone!"


Nikolas stepped forward. "I've said it a million times and I'll say it again, Zander. That's not going to happen. You can hate us all you want. You can tell yourself you don't care. But we care...about you. And you can't change that."


Zander shook his head. "You don't give a damn about me. None of you! This isn't about me...this is about feeling guilty."


"What are we feeling guilty about?" Alexis interjected.

"Emily!" Zander heard his voice crack on her name. He didn't want to do this. He couldn't do this. He wanted out.


Alexis moved to Zander. "I don't understand. What about Emily?"


Zander glared at her. "Everyone loved Emily. Everyone. Now she's gone and because she was stupid enough to love me...everyone feels like they owe it to her to try and fix me. But you can't do that. You can't fix me. I'm not broken...I'm just the same fucked up, worthless piece of shit I've always been." Zander turned to his father. "Right dad?"


"Alexander...I know I've made alot of mistakes with you. I've hurt you in a way that can never be undone. I damaged you and I can't fix it…" Cameron broke off to wipe away a tear. "Alex...I have no excuse for what I've done to you. And I have no reason to expect you to believe me when I say...I love you. I have always loved you...I just could never figure out how to show you."


"Nice speech, dad," Zander drawled, sarcasm oozing from every pore. "Did you practice it in front of the mirror?" In spite of his taunting, Zander felt shaken. There was something in his father's eyes that he hadn't seen before. Desperation and fear, and maybe love. But that was crazy. Zander knew his father didn't love him. Couldn't love him. Zander knew he was a total screw up and not worth loving. That was the one lesson his father had taught him that had actually sunk in.


Nikolas grabbed Zander and turned him to face him. "What are you doing, Zander? Hmm? What is the point of trashing yourself in every way possible? Does it make you happy? Does it help you deal with the pain of losing Emily? Tell me."


Zander shook Nikolas off and glared at him. "What do you fucking care? Why won't you leave me alone? And spare me all that bullshit about doing it for Emily or whatever excuse you've been throwing at me. We're not friends, Nikky. Never have been…never will be. So what the fuck do you get out of this?"


"I asked you first." Nikolas held Zander's gaze and held his ground. "Do you want to die?"


"Get out of my face." Zander pushed Nikolas away and tried to go around him, but Nikolas stepped right back in his personal space. Crowding him. "Leave me alone!" Zander screamed at him then shoved him again, only to find himself grabbed and slammed up against the wall.


Nikolas pinned Zander with his body. "Answer the question, Zander. Do you want to die?"


Zander couldn't hold the intensity of Nikolas' gaze. "I want you to leave me alone."


"To do what? Kill yourself slowly?"


"Fuck you!" Zander shoved hard and Nikolas stumbled back. Without waiting Zander ran for the door. He knew it was locked but he tried it anyway, then he kicked at it in frustration. He howled his fury for a moment then he turned to find everyone watching him. "Stop looking at me!"


Cameron stepped forward. "You can't get out, Alexander."


Zander glared at his father. "Watch me." He whirled and slammed his fist into the paned glass. He felt the broken shards cut his skin but didn't feel any pain. He pulled back and made to throw another punch but hands grabbed him and hauled him back. Zander fought against them but they pinned him down and he went limp.


"He's bleeding," Alexis whispered, as she hovered over them.


"I have my doctor's bag," Cameron replied.

Zander tried to pull free but Nikolas and Lucky held firm. "Let go," he ground out.


Nikolas shook his head. "Not unless you promise to behave."


"Like you would believe me anyway?" Zander was no fool.


"If you don't I'll have Lucky handcuff you to a chair," Nikolas shot back.


Zander studied Nikolas' face for a moment and knew he was being serious. "I won't fight," he whispered. He felt them ease up then they helped him to rise and he allowed it.

Cameron had his bag. "Come over to the bar," he ordered.


Zander obeyed, all the fight had left him. For the moment. He sat down on a stool and let his father clean his hand. It was starting to sting but he didn't care. Zander looked at Luke who had remained a silent bystander. "Can I have a drink?"


"Sure, kid," he replied. "Anything non alcoholic. I got soda, orange juice and milk. What'll ya have?"


"Water." Zander knew better than to argue at this point. He accepted the glass and drained it then looked over at his hand. His father was wrapping it. "Done?"


Cameron nodded. "For now."


Zander slid off the stool and turned to glare at the others. He stalked over to Elizabeth. "Why are you here? Aren't I just one big mistake to you?"


"Zander…" Elizabeth began.


"What? Am I wrong? You let me believe you cared about me, that you would be willing to go away with me and start a new life. But you were just using me, Elizabeth. I helped you out so you felt you owed me and I became a pity project for you. But oh…how you wished you could just erase what happened between us. I was the biggest mistake of your life. Wasn't I?"


Elizabeth shook her head. "No Zander…you weren't a mistake. Not like that. It was a mistake for me to use you the way I did. You were good to me, you've always been in my corner and supported me. You've always believed in me and you never treated me like I was some fragile little flower. And that means alot to me."


Zander snorted. "I'm happy for you." He made to turn away but she touched his arm and he looked at her. Zander could see tears in her eyes. "You don't have to feel guilty anymore, Elizabeth. I'm not worth it anyway. No one cares, not even me. So you can go home now and forget I exist. I really wish you would."


"That's not going to happen, Zander. I do care about you. And I am sorry for hurting you."

"This isn't about you, Elizabeth."

She nodded. "I know. But tell me, Zander. What is it about? Emily?"


Tears stung his eyes but Zander blinked them back. He would not cry. "She was the only one who believed I was worth something. The only one who didn't judge me. I would make mistakes and she would forgive me. I miss her."

"So do I." Elizabeth let her tears fall. "But for the record, I got to know you, Zander…and I believe you're worth something. You don't judge others for their mistakes, even when they're judging you. And you love with everything you are when you love someone. That's special."

"That's bullshit!" Zander turned away and stalked to the far end of the room. He felt trapped and he could feel the prickly sensation under his skin that denoted an impending panic attack. He couldn't deal with that now. Breathing deeply, Zander hoped to ward one off. He felt Alexis watching him and he glared at her.

She didn't look away. "Zander...are you all right?"


He smirked. "Peachy." But he felt like shit. His heart was starting to thud in his chest and he felt his palms grow sweaty.


"You look pale," Alexis persisted.


"I'm fine!" Zander snapped, then he felt sorry. Alexis had always been good to him. She was always there for him. But he didn't want her sympathy now. Unless… "Alexis...please make this stop," Zander begged. "This isn't helping me...please."


Alexis shook her head. "I'm sorry, Zander. But I don't want to lose you. And I think this is the only way to save you."


A choked laugh escaped Zander. His lungs felt as if they were shrinking and he knew he was trembling. He pressed his back against the wall and tried to concentrate on breathing. "I'm not worth saving," he whispered.


"I think you are." Alexis smiled gently and reached out to touch his face.

"Don't!" Zander evaded her touch and tried to ignore the pain that glittered in her eyes. Pain he caused. But that's all he ever seemed to do. That was the only thing he was good at. Hurting people.


Cameron made another attempt to talk to his son. "Alexander...I can help you get through this. We can help each other."


Zander looked at his father in disbelief. "You're nuts. You can't even help yourself, dad. You're almost as fucked up as I am."


"I know that. I need help too."

"I don't need help!" Zander let anger wash over him, hoping it would hold off the panic attack. "It's all your fucking HELP that's messing me up! The fucking therapy sessions. The fucking curfews! I feel like I'm trapped and suffocating! That's what's wrong with me!"


Cameron shook his head. "Your life is in chaos, Alexander. You need to deal with everything and work through it."


Zander laughed and heard how bitter he sounded. "I have a job and a purpose in life, Dad. Okay? What more do you want from me?"


"Getting high and screwing a different woman every night is having a purpose?" Cameron shot back, letting his own anger out.


"Fuck you!"

Cameron glared at his son. "Is that your answer to everything, Alexander? Fuck you?"


Zander got in his father's face and smirked. "Works for me. Maybe that's your problem, dad. Maybe you need to get fucked more often." The crack of his father's palm against his face sent Zander into peels of hysterical laughter. He heard the shocked reaction of the others. The gasps of surprise and the whispers between themselves. Zander could guess what they were saying and it amused him to no end. Let them see the ugly truth. "Nice shot, Dad. I kinda missed that. You know...there was a time when I was a kid that I used to do everything in my power to provoke you to hit me. I did. You wanna know why?" Zander didn't wait for a reply. "Because at least then I knew you were paying attention to me. Even though you were furious with me or disappointed or whatever...at least for that five minutes or so...I existed."

"Alexander.." Cameron closed his eyes as if in pain.


"Pretty fucked up of me...huh?" Zander laughed again but then the laughter faded. So much for holding off the anxiety attack. The itchy feeling was getting worse and Zander could feel his heart rate speeding up. He glared at his father even as he used sheer force of will to hold back the rising tide of panic that fluttered in his gut. "Worked for you, Dad," Zander shot back. "You blew me off from the moment I was born. Nothing I did was ever good enough. Even when I used to do everything in my power to make you love me…it was never enough. I was never good enough for you to love." Zander broke off, feeling his body tremble. His breathing was becoming labored and he wanted to fall through the floor. But there was no place to go, no place to hide. He sank down into a crouch and rocked himself.


Alexis moved to kneel beside him and smoothed his hair, but he turned away from her. She didn't have to be a doctor to know something was wrong. Alexis looked at Cameron. "What is it? What's wrong with him?"


"Panic attack." Cameron knelt down beside Zander. "Remember the breathing exercises I taught you."


Zander wasn't listening. He felt nauseous and a cold sweat sheened his skin. He fought against the images that danced in his head. Family moments where he was the outsider. Watching Peter and Cameron heading out to do some father and son thing, leaving him behind. And then the image that would forever haunt him. Peter, lying on the ground, blood on his chest, dying. Dying. "NO!" Zander screamed, covering his ears with his hands for the echo of the gunshot throbbed in his head.


Alexis wrapped Zander in her arms and rocked him. She spoke soothingly, fighting back tears. "It's okay, Zander. I'm here. It's okay." She looked at everyone. "Give us some privacy...please."

Everyone pulled back but there really wasn't anywhere to go.


"Peter…Pete…I'm sorry," Zander whispered. "I'm so sorry."


"It's over, Zander. It's over."


Zander held on to Alexis. She had always been there for him, even when he had jumped bail and stolen money from her, she had forgiven him and supported him. "I'm sorry," Zander whispered, his voice hoarse. He could feel the anxiety fading away and his breathing eased up.


Alexis hugged Zander tighter. "It's okay. We're going to make it okay, Zander." She felt him pull away and let him go.


"You can't do that," he said flatly. "You can't make it okay." Zander ran a hand over his face and it came away wet, and he realized he was still shaking


"We can try." Alexis offered.

Zander pushed away and rose to his feet. He felt sick and drained, but he wasn't going to let anyone use it against him. He wasn't going to let them railroad him into anything. "Try what, Alexis?" Zander queried. "Try and fix me? I told you…I'm not broken. I'm just being realistic and if you don't like it…tough shit." He loved her but he wasn't going to make this easy on her or on any of them.


Alexis frowned. "Realistic, in what way?"


"No one really gives a damn about me." Zander looked them all in the eye before he continued. He moved to stand before Nikolas and Lucky. "Do you remember Dead Ted?" He could see by the look in their eyes that they remembered all too well. "I know I wasn't perfect. Far from it. I sold drugs at Raves. I was involved with the murder of a cop. But you guys took one look at me and decided I must have killed the guy. Ever done jail time? You know…when they keep your hands cuffed to your sides during visits and stuff. Where the cells are so small you feel like the walls are gonna close in on you and crush you. Where it's never quiet even at night, so you can't hear yourself think." Zander held up a hand when Nikolas opened his mouth to respond. "I'm talking," he hissed. "My dime…you listen. You know what was really fun about that time? The death threats. Yeah...nothing like a good ole death threat to keep you awake at night. Especially when you don't know who's worse? The drug dealers or the officers on the inside. They were as liable to slit my throat as Sorel was." Zander turned to look at Liz when he heard her gasp of horror. He smiled at her and continued.


"I was nineteen and on death row for a crime I didn't commit. And you…" Zander turned back around to point at Nikolas and Lucky. "You two helped put me there. You didn't know the truth or care about it. You just wanted to put me away. You wanted me dead."


"Zander…it wasn't like that." Nikolas tried to explain. "We were upset about Emily. And at the time you just proved us right by kidnapping her."

Zander laughed and shook his head. "What did you expect me to do? The minute I saw the body in my car, I knew it was over for me. I was scared, man. Terrified. But I never hurt Emily. I never would. I even gave her chance after chance to walk away from me. Even after I got arrested. But she wouldn't. Because she believed in me. Because she didn't judge me like everyone else."


Nikolas sighed. "I'm sorry about that, Zander. I was wrong."

"So was I," Lucky chimed in.


"Big fucking deal!" Zander snarled. "You know what really bugged me? And it was stupid on my part, but it really bothered me. It was the fact that I turned state’s evidence against Sorel. And I did it for Emily. To get Sorel locked up so Emily would be safe. And for the record. I didn't bring her to the Rave and I didn't make her go to that hotel room with the cop. And news flash...what I did to her was horrible…but it saved her life. And that's all I wanted to do. I just wanted to save her." Zander felt tears burn his eyes and they slid down his face in spite of his efforts to hold them back. Angrily he swiped them away with the back of one hand. "I did all that and it mattered to Emily. But none of you would listen to her about me. You judged me without knowing a damn thing about me. You wrote me off like I was nothing. And it's not that you're wrong…cause I am nothing. But what hurt was that it was so easy for you to do that. To judge me that way. I mean...I was used to my father doing that but it pissed me off that you guys did it too. I guess mainly because it meant dad was right. I'm a waste of space and better off dead."


Lucky shook his head. "No one thinks you're better off dead, Zander."


Swiping away more tears, Zander whispered, "Sure they do. Right dad?" He turned to face Cameron. Zander saw the look of anguish on his father's face and it confused him. He turned away from it and back to Nikolas and Lucky. "What pisses me off most of all is that you feel you have some right to make judgments about me. To make decisions and choices for me. But you don't. You don't know me and you don't want to know me. You only ever put up with my existence because of Emily. Now she's gone so you can stop pretending." Zander turned away and came face to face with Gia.


She smiled at him sadly. "I got to know you, Zander. You can't deny that."

He nodded. "Yeah…you did. Because you're pushy. And to be honest, I still don't know why you bothered. Beyond pity."


"It wasn't pity." Gia shook her head.


"Then what?" Zander rubbed his good hand over his face. He felt about a thousand years old right now. "You found out about Peter and my dad and you felt sorry for me."


Gia cupped Zander's face in both hands and locked eyes with him. "Yeah…I did feel sorry for you. You spent five years living with the guilt of having killed your brother. And after meeting your father, I could understand why you were so messed up. I heard the things he said to you, Zander. I'll never forget them. And even though he finally told you the truth about Peter, I can't forgive him for what he did, so I understand why you won't either."


Zander pulled away from Gia's touch. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Alexis glaring at his father. No big surprise that Cameron had never told her the whole truth. Zander also saw Elizabeth's stunned expression. He turned back to Gia who gazed back at him with something that wasn't pity, but even the alternative was unacceptable. Zander didn't want her sympathy or her understanding. "You don't understand anything, Gia. You don't. See…the thing is, my dad is right about me. I'm worthless, a waste of time and a waste of space."


"That's not true, Zander," Alexis interjected.


"Sure it is. I can prove it to you."


Alexis shook her head. "Zander..."


He brushed her off with the wave of one hand. "I'll give you the list. After what happened with Peter, I ran away from home. Dad probably spent all of one week looking for me and I'm sure that was my mom's doing. He didn't care what happened to me when I was gone. He didn't care that after a few weeks when he learned the truth, that Pete killed himself…he didn't come looking for me. He thought it was better for me to live with the guilt. He didn't wonder or care what I was doing. How I was living."


Lucky grabbed Zander's arm. "Wait a minute. What's this thing with Peter? Who's Peter?"


"My brother. My dead brother." Zander tugged his arm free. "I thought I shot him six years ago. Turns out it was suicide. But dad only told me that AFTER he told me he wished I was dead. *After* he reminded me, once again, that I was worthless and a waste of time."


"You did that?" Lucky glared at Cameron.


Cameron nodded. "Yes...I did that."


Zander was surprised by his father's admission.

Lucky shook his head. "What an unbelievable bastard you are."


"Zander." Gia refocused his attention on her. She refocused everyone's attention. "After you left home, where did you go? What did you do?"


"Everywhere…anywhere…and I did whatever I had to." Zander replied. He was strangely glad for the distraction. He didn't want to talk about Peter. The hurt was still too raw. Too deep. Zander shook his head at Gia. "It doesn't matter now anyway."

Cameron moved to him. "I want to know, Alexander. Tell me."


Zander whirled on his father. "Why? Why do you want to know? So you can hear about all the stupid things I did and then you'll have even more justification for hating me?" Zander didn't want to feel hurt by what he was saying, but it hurt all the same, like someone pouring salt into an open wound.


"I want to know because I think you need to tell me," Cameron replied.


"More psychobabble, dad?" Zander oozed sarcasm. "Okay…I'll tell you when my career as a thug started. This guy kinda helped me out in Miami. But he wanted something in return. I worked in his restaurant and he wanted me to steal from the customers. I didn't want to at first, but after he beat me up, I got the hint. And any other time after that when I wouldn't do what he wanted, he would lock me in the basement after the beating." Zander heard more gasps and he flinched when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to see Elizabeth staring at him with tears in her eyes. Zander shook her off and continued his story.


"After a while I'd get hungry enough or be cold enough to do what he wanted." Zander rubbed at his forehead almost wishing he could rub away the memories. “But all the while I skimmed enough tips so that I could buy a bus ticket out of there. I didn't care where I was going and then I ended up in New Orleans and got caught up in drugs. Believe it or not, it wasn't intentional. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I got slipped a Mickey and this dealer set me up to take the fall for a robbery. Only the DA was dirty and he was willing to pay the guy off to let me go...if I would deal for him. I didn't want to go to jail…so I did it. Pretty pathetic right?" Zander turned to look at his father as he continued. "And that dealer was connected to Sorel. He kinda sold me off to him, so that's how I ended up here in Port Charles. I had to make a delivery and then Sorel forced me to deal for him. Said I would blend in perfectly at the raves and that I had a baby face and looked innocent, so that people would trust me. Oh…and he used to beat me too, just not in the face. Didn't want cops asking questions and stuff."


Cameron was horrified. "Alexander…I'm sorry."


Zander snorted. "Why? Cause you're the only one allowed to hit me? Sorry about that. Just another fuck up by me.


"That's not what I meant and you know it." Cameron shot back.


"No dad, I don't know it. I don't know anything, remember?" Zander knew he was pushing his father's buttons and he didn't care.


Cameron took a deep, calming breath. "Alexander...please believe me. I am so sorry about what happened to you. I should have kept looking for you. I was so angry at myself and I took it all out on you. I wasn't man enough to accept the blame for Peter's death. I'm sorry…I'm so sorry."

Zander shook his head. "Too little too late, Dad. I don't care anymore. I got the lesson everyone tried so hard to teach me. I am nothing. I am worthless. I am replaceable. I am a mistake. I get it."

"That's not true, Zander," Elizabeth interjected.

"Sure it is." Zander smiled at her. "After Emily broke up with me…which I could understand. I fucked up with that AJ mess. But I thought I owed Sonny my loyalty. I thought that would mean something to him, of all people." Zander turned to look at his father. "He treated me better than you ever did. Sad ain't it? Anyhow. I did what he wanted, I was loyal to him. And to Carly. And the minute Jason Morgan came back to town, they both tossed me aside like garbage. I was nothing to them. Replaceable as always. But the kicker was that my loyalty meant nothing to Sonny. Jason came back and I no longer existed. I was something to be disposed of. He sent Jason to kill me, but I got off with a beating." Zander turned to Elizabeth who looked horrified by what she was hearing. "Do you know why Jason let me live? Because of you. I'm sure after he realized you didn't really care about me he wished he had pummeled me to death. But he missed his chance. And then I tried my damndest to get him to put a fucking bullet in my head. But I guess he spared me because of Emily. It's always about Emily." A fresh wave of pain washed over Zander, bringing with it more tears. He didn't even bother to wipe them away this time. He simply closed his eyes. "It shouldn't even hurt anymore," Zander whispered. "But it did then and it does now. And I did like I always do. I lash out and do stupid shit. That's my pattern, and I don't see any reason to break it now."


Alexis went to him. "But you did break that pattern, Zander. And we've seen you change and grow. We know that you're just having a hard time dealing with losing Emily. It’s been hard on everyone."

Zander's eyes blazed with anger. "Weren't you listening?" He shouted. "I haven't changed, Alexis. I'm still just a fucked up piece of shit!" Grabbing a nearby chair, Zander hurled it across the room. Then he grabbed another one and smashed it against the bar.


"Zander!" Nikolas made to intervene but Luke held him back.

"Let him go," Luke said.


Nikolas nodded and simply watched as Zander trashed one corner of the bar.


Glasses and furniture and bottles of booze all shattered as Zander wreaked havoc. But then he suddenly stopped and hit the wall, sliding down it and laughing uncontrollably, but the laughter turned to tears. "FUCK YOU ALL!" Zander screamed at them. Then he closed his eyes because he didn't want to see the disappointment in their eyes.


"Nice job, kid," Luke drawled as he moved to crouch down before Zander. "You lack finesse, but you get the job done."

"Fuck you too," Zander growled at him. He couldn't believe Luke was smiling at him. Then he saw it, the knife Luke was holding out. "What's that for?"

Luke shrugged. "Decision time, kiddo. Do you want to live or do you want to die? I'm giving you the option to choose. And no one is going to stop you if you slice your wrists open."


Zander snorted. "Yeah….right. You're setting me up for something."


"Nope. Just telling you it's time to decide. Live or die?" Luke put the knife in Zander's hand then rose to his feet and returned to the bar.


"Live or die," Zander echoed. He could hear the others talking. They couldn't believe what Luke was doing, but Zander trusted Luke for some reason. He was going to be allowed his choice. And it was so easy to decide. Zander curled his fingers tightly around the hilt of the knife and closed his eyes. "I love you, Emily.." he whispered, as he pressed the sharp edge of the blade against his wrist.


Chapter 20