Flame Turns Blue

Chapter 20

Elizabeth watched in disbelief when Zander hurled the chair against the wall. She was scared. Not of him, but for him. He was shaking and out of control and she knew she was watching him fall apart from the inside out. She wanted to go to him, to hug him but when she took a step forward, Elizabeth felt Lucky's hand on her arm, pulling her back. Watching Zander was like watching a train wreck. She couldn't turn away. Not even when he slid down to the floor and Luke Spencer handed him that knife. Fear twisted in Elizabeth's gut as she watched Zander press the silver sharp blade to his wrist. Only then did she close her eyes. She couldn't watch him die.

Lucky held Elizabeth in his arms, wishing he could shield her from watching Zander self destruct. It was hard enough for him to watch and Lucky felt guilt whispering in his ear, taunting him. They had all had a part in bringing Zander to this moment in time. And it was going to end badly. But Lucky had never expected his own father to be the one to give Zander the means to an end. He closed his eyes and hoped that Emily was watching somehow and that she would find a way into Zander's heart and make him feel her. That even now she would find a way to save him when no one else could.

Gia jumped when the bottle of booze hit the wall and shattered. It was symbolic of what was happening to Zander. But whereas no one made a move to pick up the shattered pieces of glass, Gia was determined to help Zander sweep up the shattered pieces of his heart and soul. She wanted to help put him back together. But when Luke Spencer handed Zander the knife and she watched him press the blade to his wrist, Gia knew it was too late. Zander didn't want to be saved.

Nikolas had let Luke stop him from intervening when Zander went on his little rampage. He had stayed back but it was with effort. He wanted to go to Zander, to grab him and to shake some sense into him. To scream at him to stop wrecking everything, because he understood what Zander was doing. He even understood why. Every time Zander let himself believe in something, he lost it somehow. Zander couldn't take the pain any longer. He couldn't risk letting anyone care about him because it would hurt too much to lose them or to wreck it somehow. So he was trying to make them give up on him. Nikolas closed his eyes against the sting of tears. It was so sad and he knew that if Emily were still alive, things would be different. Zander wouldn't have lost the only thing he thought would last forever.

Alexis crumpled to the floor and sobbed quietly as she watched Zander trashing everything within his reach. She knew that he was trying to trash himself as well. That he wanted everyone to give up on him. She couldn't do that. She wouldn't do that. But she was at a loss as how to help Zander. His pain was so palpable it made her ache. And when he pressed the knife blade to his wrist, Alexis saw a strange serenity take hold of Zander. As if this was the peace he had been searching for. As if he were finally being given permission to give up on himself, and she felt anger surging up inside her.

Luke watched Zander smashing everything he could get his hands on. He wasn't concerned with the wreckage or damage, he would simply give Dr. Lewis the bill. He knew that Zander had to do this, he had to let out the pain and that this was the only way he knew how to do it. So Luke poured himself a drink and downed it as he waited for Zander to run out of steam. Then he went to him and offered him a choice. The only choice. But it was up to Zander to decide.

Cameron watched as his son pressed the knife blade against his wrist. He knew what Luke was doing. The psychiatrist in him understood what was happening. Alexander had to want to live. He had to make that choice. But the father in Cameron was screaming at him to make the choice for Alexander. Because he knew if he didn't, he would lose another son.

Zander felt the bite of the blade against his flesh. A little more pressure and it sliced through the first layer of skin and tiny beads of blood welled up. It didn't hurt. But as Zander stared at it, images played out in his mind and voices echoed in his head. He remembered Elizabeth in the crypt, telling him that she finally understood why Emily loved him. And he remembered Alexis telling him that he deserved a good watch. And he could repeat verbatim all the things Nikolas had said to him about not giving up on him because Emily wouldn't want that. Emily...

"Emily..." Zander whispered her name and he felt more tears slide down his face. There was an ache inside him that wouldn't go away. An aching emptiness that could never be filled again. Emily was the only one who could make him complete. The only one who could make him worthy of being loved. She had made him let go of the pain his father had inflicted. All the hateful words that Cameron had flung at him. Zander remembered every time his father had called him worthless and a waste of time. A waste of flesh. All the times he had screamed at him for being a mistake. But nothing had hurt more than hearing his father admit to wishing him dead. Zander closed his eyes and pressed the blade harder into his flesh. For once he could do the right thing. Maybe just this once his father would be proud of him. Zander slid the blade over his wrist and he felt the warm flow of blood and it was almost a relief. No more pain.

But suddenly Zander stilled his own hand. He opened his eyes and stared at the faces of everyone gathered around him. He saw fear in their eyes and sadness. He saw tears on their faces and marveled that they would cry for him. And Zander wondered why they would even waste their time on him. He wasn't worth it. His father had told him so often enough. They didn't want to save him because they cared about him. They cared about Emily. She was why they were here. But she was gone and Zander wanted to be with her. He didn't flinch as he pressed the knife deeper into his flesh. And the numbness he had felt became a dull pain, like the pain in his heart. The pain in his soul.

"NO!" Cameron broke away and ran to his son, reaching for the hand holding the knife, pulling Zander's arm away so that he couldn't do any more damage. "Please...Alex...please don't do this." Cameron felt tears slide down his face as he begged his son to choose life.

"Don't.." Zander yanked his arm free and shook his head at his father. "You don't get a choice in this, dad. You don't get....you don't get a second chance."

Cameron reached out and cupped his son's face in both hands. He wouldn't let him look away. "I know I don't deserve it."

Zander choked on a sob. "You never gave me one. Never!"

"I know." Cameron trembled as he forced himself to face the pain that shimmered in his son's eyes. Pain he had caused. "But you're better than me, you are, Alex. You're better than me. You understand forgiveness and you know how to love unconditionally. I want the chance to do that...for you."

"No!" Zander wouldn't let his father do this to him. He wouldn't believe him. It was just a trick. Another lie. He didn't mean it. "Leave me alone!" Zander pushed at his father, and he tried to stand, to move away.

Cameron wouldn't let him go. He grabbed Alexander's wrists, feeling the slickness of blood against his palm and it made his heart twist in his chest. He was losing his son. He couldn't bear that. "I love you, Alex. I love you! Please...don't give up on me. Don't give up on us! Please!"

Zander struggled in his father's grip but he couldn't break free. He went limp, defeated, hating himself for feeling a whisper of hope. He looked into his father's eyes and saw sorrow and pain and fear. And something that he never saw before. Acceptance...and love. Zander shook his head. He couldn't believe in it. It hurt too much to believe. "Please...please let me go," Zander begged.

"I can't do that." Cameron pulled his son to him, and it was almost too easy. Alexander had given up the fight and Cameron was both terrified and hopeful as he wrapped his arms around his son and cradled him against him. Alexander had never been a big kid, but he had always been tough and strong, but now he felt so fragile and it broke Cameron's heart. "I'm so sorry," Cameron whispered as he rocked his son in his arms. "I'm so sorry, Alex."

"Zander." The word came out as barely a whisper.

Cameron didn't understand. "What?"

Zander had felt surprisingly safe in his father's arms but he couldn't let himself be fooled again. He looked into his father's eyes and saw confusion. "I'm not Alexander...or Alex. I don't want to be them anymore. My name is Zander."

"All right. Zander." Cameron felt his son pull away from him and he felt the loss. But it was his own fault. "I'll call you Zander if you like." It felt strange on his tongue. But he realized that it was a *choice* his son had made a long time ago, and that he needed to respect it. It was a place to start.

"What did I do that was so wrong?" Zander asked, as he scuttled away from his father until his back rested against the wall again. He could feel the eyes of everyone upon him, but Zander's only focus was on the man in front of him. "Why do you hate me so much?" He needed to know. To understand.

Cameron started to rub a hand over his face but stopped. It was slick with Alexander's blood. He rose to his feet, feeling a hundred years old, and walked over to the bar to grab a hand towel. Moving back to his son, Cameron knelt down and reached for his bloody wrist. He was pleased when Alexander allowed him to wrap it with the towel. But it was only then that Cameron realized his son was still holding the knife. It brought home to him that Alexander had not yet made his final choice. Cameron had to be honest in every way. "You weren't Peter," he said softly. "It's that simple. You weren't planned and I didn't have room in my life or in my heart for another child. And the fact that you were so willful and that you wouldn't abide by my standards the way your brother did. You couldn't win, Zander. You didn't stand a chance from the moment you were born."

Zander nodded. "I get that you couldn't love me...but why did you have to hate me?"

"I don't hate you."

"You do. You have to." Zander felt anger wash over him and it burned in his eyes as he glared at his father. "You let me believe for five years that I had killed my brother. And when I saw you again you told me to my face that you wished I was dead. Everything you said to me was mean and hurtful, and you said it…knowing...that I didn't kill Peter. I saw it in your eyes...how you hated me."

Cameron couldn't hold his son's gaze. "I'm sorry."

Zander shook his head. "You're sorry? Do you honestly think that makes it okay?"

"No. I just don't know what else to say. Or what to do to make it up to you."

"You can't make it up to me, dad." All the painful memories from Zander's childhood welled up in his head. Every hurtful, spiteful word his father had screamed at him. All the slaps. The way his father would blatantly favor Peter in every way, almost gleefully throwing it in Zander's face. It all came rushing back to him and Zander almost rocked beneath the onslaught. Fresh tears slid down his face. "You can't erase all that pain. You can't make all the guilt I lived with for so long just disappear. Cause you know what? Even knowing that I didn't kill Peter...I still feel like it's my fault. I feel like I should have known and I should have stopped him. Or at the very least I should have taken the bullet for him somehow."

Alexis had watched the exchange between father and son and it was breaking her heart. Listening to Zander talk about his childhood, about the pain that he had carried inside him for so long. Pain and guilt that he had shared with no one. She went to him, her arms wrapping around him, holding her to him as her fingers combed through his hair. "Don't do this to yourself, Zander. Let it go, baby. Just let it go."

Zander let himself be held by Alexis for a moment. She was the only other person, besides Emily, who had accepted him flaws and all. Who took a chance on him and loved him in spite of his mistakes. Zander knew that she believed in him, he just didn't understand why. "I can't let it go," he whispered. "It's all I've got." Nothing left but pain.

"I know that it hurts to think of Emily, but that is going to fade in time. It's going to get easier to remember only the good times and to smile when you think of her." Alexis pressed a kiss to his temple. "Trust me...I know."

"I'm sorry."

Alexis pulled back to look at Zander and wiped away his tears with her shirtsleeve. "Sorry for what?"

Zander offered a shaky smile. "For all the stupid things I do. For all the mistakes I make."

"Don't do that, Zander. You don't have to apologize for being human."

"Zander?" Elizabeth moved to kneel down beside him and Alexis.

He shifted out of Alexis' arms and turned to face Elizabeth. "What?" Zander didn't know what to expect from her.

Elizabeth offered a watery smile. "This may be selfish of me, but I don't want to lose you. Okay? Because, you of all people have always believed in my ability to survive anything. You've never treated me like I was fragile, or someone that needed to be taken care of. And I repaid you by acting like you were someone to be pitied. I was wrong. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. You don't owe me anything, Elizabeth."

"I owe you respect, because you always gave it to me."

Zander shook his head. "I'm not angry with you. I'm not."

Nikolas stepped forward. "Are you angry with me?"

"I just don't like you," Zander shot back, and he was being honest yet a part of him was joking. "I hate what you did to me. But I understand why you did it. Because I hurt Emily and you hated me for that. I hated me for that too."

"Yeah...I did hate you for that, Zander," Nikolas allowed. "But you proved yourself and that's all that matters. What I did, setting you up for murdering a cop...that was wrong. But you didn't have a great track record at the time. Hell… even Emily went along with it at the time. But after you grabbed her, she started to believe in you. When she came back she kept trying to convince me to give you a chance. She believed in you, Zander, and I should have believed in her. Now I do."

Zander laughed and it was a bitter sound. "Then you're a damn fool." He rose to his feet, his knees buckling a bit so he had to press a hand to the wall to support himself. Then Zander locked eyes with Nikolas. "I'm everything you always believed me to be. A drug dealing, kidnapping thug."

Nikolas shrugged. "I'm no saint. I've done some bad things, I just got away with it."

"You wanted to see me dead." Zander whispered the words, echoing what he had said to his father. It was eerie to think that both his father and a stranger had wanted him dead, and now both were in his face, pushing him to stay alive when all he wanted was to end the pain. It felt surreal.

"I did at the time," Nikolas allowed. "I thought you were guilty, Zander."

Zander shrugged. "I might as well have been."

Nikolas sighed. "You know what, I can't make up for the past, Zander. I can't wish it back to do over again. You can't either. We can't undo what's been done, either one of us. But we can start over...here and now."

"I don't want to start over." Zander felt tired deep in his soul. He let himself sag against the wall.

"What do you want?" Nikolas prompted.

Zander closed his eyes. "I want out of here. I want all of you to leave me alone."

Alexis touched his arm. "That's not gonna happen, Kiddo. Not until we know you're going to be okay."

"I have never been okay, Alexis!" Zander felt anger welling up inside him and he used it to propel him off the wall. He let his gaze sweep around the room, coming to rest on everyone there in turn. "Do you know what I really want? Do you? I want every fucking one of you to stop making choices for me! To STOP telling me what to do, or how to feel, or what to think or who to be!" Zander turned on his father. "You decided it was better for me to live with the guilt of killing my own brother than to tell me the truth! Because why? Because that was better for me? Right, dad? My believing that I had killed the only person who cared about me as a kid...that was best for me!" Zander felt the knife slipping from his grasp and he clutched at it. It was the only way he could keep control. But his grip was lax and Zander felt weakness wash over him, making him feel suddenly sluggish.

"I was wrong, Alex...Zander." Cameron reached out to his son only to have his hand slapped away. "But after I realized what I had done to Peter, I thought it was better for you to hate me. That your hate would keep you away from me and I wouldn't lose you too."

Zander laughed and it turned into a sob that threatened to choke him. "You want to know something really pathetic? When I saw you outside of Kelly's...for one stupid moment...I thought that you had come looking for me. That...that you wanted to find me. That you might have forgiven me and you came to take me home."

Cameron brushed away a tear. "I am so sorry, Zander. God…I am so sorry."

"Don't be. That was just me being stupid like always."

"You're not stupid, Zander," Gia interjected. She went to him and framed his face in both hands. "You're smart and warm and witty and caring. You have a great capacity to love, and when you care about someone you are committed to them one hundred percent. And you deserve to be loved that way in return."

Zander pulled away from Gia's touch. "No...I don't deserve that, Gia. I deserve every bad thing that happens to me. I bring it on myself. God...even Emily lied to me once. She did it to protect me...she said. I almost lost her because of it." The memory of Emily breaking up with him in the barn shook Zander and he sank down into one of the few chairs he hadn't trashed. His hands were shaking and he looked down at the blood that slicked his skin. His blood, but it brought to mind all of the nightmares that had plagued Zander of a blood covered Emily dying in his arms. "I didn't lie to you," Zander whispered, wondering if Emily could hear him.

Then he shook his head and locked eyes with Gia. He didn’t notice that the knife had slipped from his hand nor that Luke had swiped it from the floor to put it safely back on the bar. Zander’s thoughts were jumbled but he had a point to make. "Despite all the stupid shit I've done...Emily loved me. She loved me in a way no one ever did before and no one ever will again. I didn't deserve that love. I didn't deserve her...but for a little while...I had it all. I even thought...I dared to dream...that it would last forever. I'm such a stupid fuck!" Zander buried his face in his hands and wished that everyone would disappear. That he could disappear.

Gia brushed away her own tears. "Believing in love and wanting it to last forever isn't stupid, Zander. It's human."

"I don't want to talk about this anymore!" Zander jumped to his feet and began pacing again. He felt trapped and scared and confused.

"What do you want to talk about?" Alexis interjected.

Zander shook his head. "Nothing."

Lucky moved in Zander's pathway, forcing him to stop pacing. "Were you jealous of Peter?" he asked.

"What?" The question came out of the blue and it shook Zander.

"Were you jealous of Peter?" Lucky repeated.

Zander closed his eyes against the sting of fresh tears. "Sometimes. Sometimes I almost hated him...and he was the only person who gave a damn about me as a kid. But sometimes I'd watch him with my father and I'd get so angry."

Lucky smiled sadly. "Yeah…I know the feeling. Nikolas and I have gone through some rough patches when he first came to Port Charles. We've done some terrible things to each other. I wanted him dead and I even almost succeeded once. I pushed him down some stairs."

"You did?" Zander was surprised. "Why?"

"Long story." Lucky paused to look at Nikolas, who nodded. "Reader's Digest version. I was jealous of him because he was able to save my sister’s life when I – her big brother – couldn’t. I never knew he existed and suddenly he took it all from me – being the big brother to my sister, being the first-born son for my mother, basically invading my family. I wasn’t ready to share my mother or my sister. They were mine and Nikolas...he didn't belong. I couldn't control what I felt, and most of the time I didn't want to.”

Zander nodded. "Yeah...I know how that feels. There were times when I wished Pete was dead." A tear slid down Zander's face at the memory. "I thought...if he was gone then maybe...just maybe...dad would love me. Pretty stupid...huh?"

Lucky shook his head. "No. I knew Nikolas wouldn't disappear so I wished he was dead because that way I could have my mom and my sister back, all to myself. So one night during one of our many fights, I accidentally pushed him down a flight of stairs."

"But you and Nikolas are close now." Zander felt dizziness rush over him and he swayed on his feet. He felt a hand on his arm and he let Lucky push him down into a nearby chair.

"Nikolas forgave me." Lucky looked at his brother then back at Zander. "He didn't have to, but he did."

Zander rubbed a hand over his face. He felt tired deep inside his soul. "I told Peter once that I wished he were dead. And he wasn't shocked. He just...he just hugged me to him and whispered *I know*. He didn't hate me for that. He should have. I didn't even mean it when I said it. I was just so angry and so damn hurt. And so stupid." More tears slid down Zander's face and he didn't even bother to wipe them away.

Lucky locked eyes with Zander. "We feel what we feel, Zander."

"Yeah...but everything I feel is wrong. It's fucked up...I'm fucked up." And Zander was so tired of feeling this way.

"You just need to forgive yourself, Zander. The way that Peter was able to forgive you. The way Nikolas was able to forgive me." Lucky's voice was soft yet firm.

Luke moved his son out of the way and stood before Zander. "You can change things, kid. You've got a roomful of people who want to help you. They want to save you. Don't fuck that up."

"I'm not worth saving!" Zander hissed, rising from the chair and pushing Luke out of the way. "Don't you get that? There's nothing left of me. I feel empty inside." He started to pace. "A part of me died with Emily. She was the only reason my life was worth living."

"Find another reason, Zander," Alexis whispered.

Zander glared at her. "It's not that easy." He sounded desperate even to his own ears.

Luke came forward and offered Zander a shot of bourbon. "Nothing worth having is ever easy, kid. Being with Emily wasn't easy...was it?"

"No. No one wanted us together." Zander took the glass, shot his father a look of defiance, then downed the shot in one.

"You haven't made your choice yet, kid." Luke smiled sadly. "But it's time. I can give you the knife back, or you can choose to let these people help you."

Zander shook his head and laughed. "Help me? How? By locking me away in some mental institution? That's the plan, isn't it dad?" Zander turned to his father and dared him to deny it. "Lock me up and throw away the key. That way I can't off myself, but at the same time you don't have to be my keeper anymore. Cause...two sons committing suicide would not make for a very good reference, would it?"

Cameron held Zander's gaze. "I think that you do need to be in rehab, Zander...and I know of a place. Alexis went with me to talk to a doctor there. Janice Murphy. I've told her about you."

"You had no right!" Zander was furious.

"I had every right!" Cameron shot back. "I'm your father!"

Zander hurled the empty glass he was holding across the room, and was pleased when his father jumped as it smashed into the wall behind him. "Since when?" Zander demanded. "When have you EVER been my father?"

Cameron flinched but didn't back down from his son's fury. "Since now," he said quietly. "I'm going to start being your father as of this very moment, Zander. And I am asking you to let me admit you to Brookside."

"Yeah...no problem, dad." Sarcasm practically oozed from Zander. "And how long will you be locking me away for? Ten...twenty years?" Zander couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"That will depend on you...Zander." Cameron refused to be baited. "I think you need time and I've suggested six months minimum to Dr. Murphy, but ultimately she would be the one to decide. They review your progress every three months."

Zander was surprised at how calmly his father was reacting. But he still wasn't buying his concern. He couldn't let himself believe in it. He couldn't be that stupid yet again. "And what if I wanted to leave before then? Hmm? Do I get to walk out the door any time I want?"

Cameron shook his head. "Not until after the first three month period. You have to stay for at least three months, but you can have visitors at any time after the first week. They like to be one on one with you for the initial adjustment period. Then you are free to go unless Dr. Murphy feels that you are disposed to hurt yourself. In which case she would have you admitted under the care of a guardian."

"Such as yourself?" Zander shot back, accusingly.

"Actually such as me," Alexis interjected. "Your father and I have discussed this, Zander. If you agree to this, you sign yourself in willingly. No coercion. But if Dr. Murphy believes you to be mentally unstable and a risk to yourself, then she can have you admitted, but only with my signature. I would be the one to make the legal decisions about your welfare."

Zander was stunned. "Why would you do that?"

Alexis gave him a watery smile. "Because I love you and I want you to be okay."

"You think I should do this...don't you?" Zander could feel Alexis' love for him and in some strange way it made him feel less broken inside.

"Yeah...I think you should." A tear slid down Alexis' cheek.

Zander reached out and wiped it away with the pad of one thumb. "I'm scared."

Alexis nodded. "I know you are, baby. Me too." She pulled him into her arms again. "You trusted me to save your life, once before. And I came through…didn't I?"

"Yeah...you did." Zander's voice was muffled by her hair. "I owe you everything. Because of you...I got to love Emily."

"Then trust me one more time, Zander. And believe me when I tell you that everyone in this room cares about you." Alexis pulled back and framed Zander's face in both hands. "You don't have to understand why. That doesn't even matter right now. All that matters is whether or not you're willing to start caring about yourself."

Zander closed his eyes against the sting of hot tears, but they slid down his face anyway. "I'm tired, Alexis," he whispered.

She kissed away his tears. "Then lean on me," she said firmly.

Zander opened his eyes and saw the love reflected back at him. If Alexis could believe in him after every stupid thing he had done, then he owed her this. "Will you go with me?" he asked.

"All the way," Alexis replied.

"Can we go now?" Zander didn't want to give himself a chance to change his mind again. He didn't want to let Alexis down.

Alexis nodded. "Come on." Arms around each other, she and Zander headed for the door.

Luke unlocked it for them and when Cameron made to follow, he stopped him. "Let Natasha take care of Zander right now. He needs her more than he needs you."

"That was painful," Cameron stated, ruefully.

"Yeah...the truth is like that." Luke smirked at Cameron then turned to the others. "Time to go home, folks. Drive careful. Last one out lock the door behind you."

Everyone huddled together, as if seeking comfort in physical closeness. It had been an intense time for them all and now it seemed unsettling somehow.

Nikolas voiced their thoughts. "I feel like it's not over yet. Like we forgot to do something."

"It's not over," Luke stated. "Zander hasn't even started the healing process yet. Truth be told, he hasn't even made his choice yet."

"That's not true," Elizabeth protested. "Zander chose to live. You watched him leave with Alexis. She's taking him to rehab."

Luke nodded. "Blah blah, he's gonna get all better now. Right?"

Elizabeth glared at Luke. "That's right."

"Wrong." Luke grabbed a broom and started sweeping up the broken glass. "Natasha let Zander off the hook. She let him slide on making the choice to live for himself, by allowing him the choice to believe in her. And he did that because she asked him to and because Zander feels he owes her."

"What's the difference?" Elizabeth countered. "Zander is going some place where he can get the help he needs."

Luke sighed. "You're missing my point. Zander is pretty much just running away...from you all. But he can't run away from the hell that's inside him and he's not ready to face that yet."

Elizabeth frowned. "Are you saying that we did all of this for nothing? That Zander is never going to get better?"

"I mean that just because Zander choose not to die today...doesn't mean he's ready to live." With that Luke waggled the broom at everyone, shooing them out the door. Once they were gone he locked it, started to sweep again then decided to hell with it. Luke dropped the broom and headed for the bar where he poured himself a shot of tequila and raised it in a toast to Zander. "Good luck, kid. You're gonna need it."

Chapter 21