Flame Turns Blue
The nightshift aide found Zander on the floor, lying in a pool of blood. She had only been working at Brookside for two months. She was not prepared for the sight before her. "I NEED HELP!" She screamed, forgetting all about the call button. She fell to her knees beside Zander, searching for a pulse. It was hard to find. She screamed again then grabbed a pillow from the bed, ripping off the pillow case. She wrapped it around Zander's wrist and it was soaked red in seconds. Her stomach churned. "I NEED HELP in 303!" she shouted at the top of her lungs. When two nurses ran in, she almost wept in relief. "He's bleeding," she said, stupidly.
One nurse checked for a pulse, the other ran out in the hallway and snagged an orderly and a gurney. They rushed back in and got Zander on the stretcher. The aide kept her grip on Zander's wrist as they pushed the stretcher out into the hallway. When they reached the medical area the aide was pushed aside. She felt relief and sadness. She liked Zander and she hoped he would be all right. But then she looked at her bloodstained shirt. So much blood.
On shaky legs she walked over to the nurses’ station. "Shouldn't someone call Dr. Murphy?"
* * * * *
Janice was having a rather hot dream about George Clooney when the jangle of the phone woke her up. She felt a prickle of fear as she snatched up the receiver. A premonition of sorts about what she was about to hear. "Yes?"
"Dr. Murphy, you need to come in. Zander Smith slit his wrist. It's pretty bad."
"On my way." She slammed the receiver into the cradle and jumped out of bed. She pulled jeans on over the men's boxers she wore to sleep in and a sweatshirt on over the baby tee. She stuffed her bare feet into sneakers, snagged a scrunchy off the bedside table, along with her keys, then she was out the door.
* * * * *
Zander came awake with a jolt. He opened his eyes to familiar surroundings. He was in one of the hospital rooms at the rehab. He tried to sit up but he was in restraints. He felt disoriented for a moment, then he remembered. The shard of glass, the blood dripping down his hand. "NO!" Zander wailed, tugging futilely at the restraints. "NO! NO!" He wasn't supposed to wake up. It wasn't fair. "No…no…no…no…"
"Alexander!" Cam had been dozing in a nearby chair. He heard his son scream and he jumped up and moved to the bed. "Alexander...calm down. It's all right." His son was yanking on his restraints, his head thrashing against the pillows, body taut as he tried to break free. "Please...Alexander...take it easy."
"NO NO NO!" Zander screamed again. "Emily! I want to be with Emily! Please…Please!" He felt tears slide down his face and his vision was blurred. "Please…please…please." Zander begged.
Cameron grabbed his son's shoulders, pressing him back against the pillows. "Alexander...I'm here. It's going to be all right."
Zander shook his head. "No…NO! Please let me be with Emily! Please...dad...please." Zander was more than willing to beg. "If you ever loved me at all...please let me be with Emily!"
"Alexander…no!" Cameron was shocked by his son's pleas. By the anguish in his voice that was mirrored in his glistening eyes. "No, Alex. I won't let you go. I won't let you go." Cameron lowered the bedrail and climbed onto the bed so that he could enfold his son in his arms. He felt the resistance in the too slim body and held on tighter. He fought his own tears as he lifted one arm to cup the back of Zander's head. Cameron pressed kisses to the dark hair. "I love you, Alexander. I love you so much…I won't let you go." He whispered those words over and over again as he lost the battle against his tears. They slid down his face as he rocked his son until Zander went limp in his embrace. And even then, Cameron kept rocking.
* * * * *
Six hours passed. Zander had exhausted himself, but now he was awake again. He wouldn't talk to Dr. Murphy, or any of the nurses. He simply rocked in the bed, occasionally tugging at the restraints. He heard footsteps approaching and when Zander looked up he saw his father framed in the doorway. He vaguely remembered their last confrontation. It seemed somehow surreal. Zander watched his father walk towards him and he was stunned by his appearance. His father had never been a man of fashion but he had always been well groomed. At the moment his shirt was buttoned wrong, his hair stood up in tufts and his eyes looked rimmed in coal. "You look like hell," Zander stated.
"Sorry," Cameron drawled. "It was five in the morning when I got the call that you had slit your wrist open. I put on whatever was handy and jumped straight in the car." Cameron paused to take a sip of coffee from the styrofoam cup in his hand, then he crushed it and dumped it in the trash can before locking eyes with his son. "You almost died."
"That was the whole point of the exercise," Zander shot back. "But…as always...I failed."
Cameron closed his eyes and nodded. "Thank god."
Zander fought back tears. "God has nothing to do with this. Why can't I ever get it right? Answer me that, dad. Why? I tried so fucking hard to get it right..." Zander's voice broke on a sob. Tear slid down his face and he tugged at his restraints. When he felt a soft touch brush them away, he stiffened. His father's hand pulled back. "Peter and Emily...why was it so easy for them to die? Why? I want to know. I want to understand why they just...they just died, dad. Pete...there was no warning...he was just gone. And Emily....everyone tried so hard to save her...and she just slipped away so fast. But I tried and I tried to go with them....and I can't. Why can't I?"
"Because you're meant to live, Alexander." Cameron cupped his son's face in his hands, making him look at him. "I believe that."
"I don't!" Zander dropped his eyes and pulled his head back. "I don't believe that. I'm worthless…I'm nothing. I have nothing to offer anyone!"
Cameron was angry. "Stop saying that! You're wrong, Alexander...you couldn't be more wrong!"
Zander was shocked by his father's tone. Shocked enough to flinch away from him. He saw anger and pain and fear in his father's eyes. "You spent my whole life telling me how worthless I am, Dad. I got the message...loud and clear. I fucked up my whole life...I trashed everything that ever meant anything to me."
"You didn't trash Emily."
"I would have...if she hadn't died." Zander whispered, tearfully. And he firmly believed that to be true.
Cameron sighed. "Alexander...I know that I messed you up in about every way there is. But please...I am begging you...please don't do this to yourself. Don't trash the memories you have of Emily. Of what the two of you had together. It was real and it was beautiful and I will always be grateful to her for making you feel loved. For giving you something that I couldn't."
Zander didn't want to hear this. He tugged at his restraints in frustration then turned his head away. "Get out."
Cameron made to protest but then he turned and left the room.
Zander listened to his footsteps recede then he closed his eyes against the burn of tears.
* * * * *
Janice was in her office, glaring at her files when the phone rang. She snatched it up. "Hello?"
"Dr. Murphy, it's Dr. Lewis."
"How are you?"
Cameron sighed. "That depends. How is Alexander doing today?"
It was Janice's turn to sigh. She knew that Dr. Lewis had stayed away for the past three days, ever since Zander had asked him to leave. "No change. He's still unresponsive to everyone. He eats only enough to keep me from force feeding him and I have to keep him in loose restraints." Janice listened to the silence on the other end and she could feel Dr. Lewis' sadness.
"Can he have visitors yet?" Cameron queried. "Some of his friends have been asking. They want to see him."
"I don't know. Ms. Davis is with him right now. I'll see how that visit goes and get back to you."
Cameron cleared his throat. "All right. Thank you." He hung up.
Janice hung up as well then buried her face in her hands. Zander wasn't the biggest challenge she had faced in her career. But he had become the most meaningful.
* * * * *
"Hey, Zander. I brought you some flowers."
Zander didn't look up from the blankets as Alexis entered the room. He could hear the false brightness in her voice and he just wanted her to turn around and leave. But he didn't say that. He didn't say anything.
Alexis grabbed a stool and moved it over to the bed. "You still look pale. You need to get outside. It's beautiful out today."
Zander closed his eyes and remained silent.
"I can talk enough for both of us, Zander," Alexis countered. "You know that. So talk to me before I make us both nuts."
"Leave me alone."
Alexis shook her head and a smile trembled on her lips. "Can't do that, kiddo. I love you too much to just walk away from you. And you know that. You're stuck with me."
Zander looked up, locking eyes with her. "I don't want you to come here again. I don't care what you think or what you feel about me. Everyone is dead to me...you get that. Just like Emily."
"Zander…" Alexis didn't know what to say. Shock was apparent on her face at his words.
"Get out, Alexis." Zander knew his eyes and his tone were both cold. It was better this way. Better to just push everyone away. Then nothing could hurt him anymore. If he didn't feel anything, then there would be no more pain.
Alexis rose from the stool. She blinked back tears.
Zander didn't look away. He didn't react to her pain. He couldn't. He watched her turn and walk out of the room and it felt as if she took a part of his tattered heart with her.
* * * * *
"Rise and shine, Zander!"
He jerked awake, then blinked as sunshine spilled in through the windows. The shades had been drawn but Nikolas was snapping them up before striding over to the bed. Zander glared at him. "What are you doing?"
Nikolas smiled coldly. "Getting your attention, Zander."
"Why are you here?" Zander was furious. Almost a week had passed since Alexis had left in tears. It had been an uneasy time for Zander. He didn't know what to do next but he eventually had settled for living moment to moment. He would do his time by following the rules to a minimum. He would sign himself out then leave. Leave and never look back. Or maybe leave and find oblivion in a bottle of Jack and some uppers. Somewhere in a small town in Canada. Somewhere no one would ever find him again and no one would have to miss him. Since making this decision, Zander had been allowed back into his room, although he was still on a suicide watch, which meant his freedom and movement were restricted. But at least he was in more familiar surroundings and out of hospital gowns. "Why are you here?" Zander repeated, when Nikolas didn't reply.
"I came here to knock some sense into you," Nikolas stated.
Zander frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Nikolas leaned into Zander's personal space. "It means I'm sick and tired of you pushing everyone away, Zander! I'm tired of watching everyone walk on eggshells around you. They try to hide their own pain because they're afraid you can't handle it. But you know what? I don't give a damn! You don't get a free pass to hurt other people, just because you're hurting, Zander! You got that?"
"Fuck you!" Zander pushed Nikolas back, threw off the covers and got out of bed. If they were going to go at it, it was going to be on more even footing. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Your friend!" Nikolas shot back. "Whether you want to believe it or not! I am your friend!"
Zander had heard enough. "Get out!" He pushed at Nikolas only to find himself pushed back until he hit the wall. He tried to free himself of Nikolas' grip but he didn't have the strength. It frustrated Zander to be at a disadvantage and he glared at Nikolas. "Get off me!"
Nikolas shook his head. "No. You're going to listen to me, Zander. You can't put it off any longer. You have to make a decision now. If you want to die...then do it and get it right!"
"I tried!" Zander was furious and hurt, and that bothered him. He didn't want anything Nikolas said to him to effect him in any way. "I have tried several times to off myself. But like everything else…I failed. Excuse me for being a fucking failure!"
"Maybe that should clue you in to something, Zander." Nikolas's tone was soft, but the undercurrent was biting. "Maybe it's a sign that you're not meant to die. Maybe that sucks because your life hasn't been easy. Even when I did hate you...I could see that you never got a fair deal. And I did my part in messing up your life. I'm sorry for that. But something has to change now, Zander. You have to break the pattern. Make your choice and follow through. Find a way."
Zander found himself blinking back tears. "It's not that simple."
Nikolas locked eyes with him. "Make it simple. Every time you do this, Zander, you hurt the people who care about you. Alexis and Elizabeth and Gia and me. Your father is growing old before my eyes, Zander. Take a look at him and really see him. He made mistakes, like we all do, but you won't let him off the hook any more than you're willing to let yourself off the hook. But it's not fair to us and I'm telling you to stop hurting us."
"Okay…fine!" Zander was shaking with hurt and anger now. "Say I choose to die. Will you help me do it? Will you help me get it right?"
"Yeah...I will. If that is really what you want." Nikolas released Zander and paced to the window. "But let me toss a little challenge your way. Before you off yourself for good, why don't you make a real attempt at living. I dare you." That said, Nikolas walked out of the room.
Zander watched him go in disbelief. He was shaking so hard he was about to fall down. He couldn't believe what had just happened. That Nikolas had said those things to him. But in a weird way it gave him some hope. If he chose to die, Nikolas would help him. Still shaking, Zander made his way back to the bed and pulled the covers over himself. After a time he drifted off to sleep. And he dreamed.
* * * * *
"NO!" Zander shot up in bed, shaking, his skin slicked in sweat. He had dreamed about killing himself – Nikolas had helped him get it right this time. There had been a funeral and everyone had come and they had all been crying. His father had been there and he had collapsed over the coffin, dying of a heart attack. Alexis had been beside herself. Sad about Zander and then all the more heartbroken about Cameron, who she had been falling in love with. "No.." Zander whispered to himself, as he buried his face in his hands.
After a moment the shaking stopped and he got out of bed. He grabbed some clothes and padded into the bathroom. He took a long shower, got out and got dressed, then he stood in front of the mirror as he brushed his teeth. Zander ran a brush through his hair before taking a moment to study his reflection. He looked like hell. Pale and drawn, his eyes too big in his face. Emily would hate that he was doing this to himself. Zander knew that she would want him to live. Disgusted with himself, Zander went back to his room. His breakfast tray had been delivered and Zander took a piece of toast from it before going to a dresser drawer and removing Emily’s journal. With it tucked under his arm, he headed out the door to see Dr. Murphy.
* * * * *
Janice was stunned when Zander entered her office. She noticed Emily's journal under his arm. "Good morning," she offered. "I'm surprised to see you up and about."
Zander almost smiled. "Yeah…me too. Um...I came to ask a favor."
"Can I go outside today?"
Janice considered then nodded. "Okay, but you'll have an escort."
Zander understood. "That's fine. Also...could you call Monica Quartermaine. I'd like to see her."
"I can do that." Janice was more than willing to do that. "What made you change your mind, Zander?" She wanted to understand what motivated this almost glaring change in him.
"I guess I just...I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself. And I'm sure everyone else is tired of it too."
Janice was pleased but sensed there was more to it. However, she wasn't going to question it. For now. "You can go outside anytime, I'll call the front desk. And I'll call Dr. Quartermaine and let you know when she's coming."
Zander did smile this time. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Janice called out, as she watched him walk out the door. Somehow, for whatever reason, Zander had decided to make an effort at living. At least for the moment. But Janice knew that it was going to be a rough path. That setbacks were a given. But one thing she had come to learn about Zander Smith, was that he was like the catch phrase from Timex watches. *Takes a licking and keeps on ticking* - in spite of himself. Janice doubted that Zander had an actual goal in mind. He was just taking it moment by moment. For Zander that just might be enough to get him to a point where he might finally believe that his life was worth living.
* * * * *
Zander was pacing. Monica had shown up sooner than he had expected. Zander had been in the garden, reading Emily's journal, when Dr. Murphy showed up with Monica Quartermaine at her side. Zander had wiped tears off his face and glanced at his watch. He had been out here for five hours and no one had disturbed him. Now he and Monica were alone. "How are you?" Zander asked, still pacing.
"I've been better, but today is a pretty good day," Monica replied. "I'm glad that you're all right, Zander. I was worried."
"I keep hearing that," he countered, a half smile on his lips. "That...people worry about me. It's just...it's hard to believe sometimes. Most of the time."
Monica watched him pace. "You read the journal?"
Zander nodded. "Yeah."
"Then you know how much Emily loved you."
"She always did…and I always knew."
Monica rose from the bench to step in Zander's path so he would stop pacing. "Reading the journal reminded me of all the things I saw in you, Zander. Even when I hated you being a part of Emily's life, I saw the way you loved her. And when she described in the journal, it made me feel happy."
Zander was surprised. "Happy? Why?"
"Because everyone should be loved like that in their lifetime, and you gave that gift to Emily."
"She gave it to me," Zander countered. He saw the tears in Monica's eyes and he acted on instinct. He hugged her. Her arms went around his waist and Zander felt her tremble. "I'm sorry that I couldn't save Emily," Zander whispered.
Monica pulled back to see his face. "But you did save her, Zander. Reading about what happened with that Cop. Reading Emily's thoughts on why she went to the Rave and went with Ted in the first place terrified me. Almost more than when we lived through it. But knowing that she trusted you to save her, even after you grabbed her. Knowing what you went through…being set up to take the fall for a dead cop. You were just a kid, Zander. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair. But through all of that stuff...you and Emily loved each other. And when she was hurt on the bus, you loved her enough to let her go. And when she came back, even though you were dealing with the overdose and your father and your past...you loved her and supported her and you never stopped believing in her. You gave her hope, Zander. And you were the reason she wasn't afraid to die. Just like...she was your reason you weren't afraid to die, if they had given you the death sentence."
Zander felt a tear slide down his face. "Emily was so brave...but you already know that. And she wasn't perfect...but that made it easier for me to love her. Because she wasn't perfect in anyone else's eyes...but mine." Zander stopped and shook his head. This hurt too much to do. He pulled away from Monica and was ready to run, but then he saw the pain in her eyes and it made him stay. He hadn't put the pain there, but maybe he could take some of it away. Zander took Monica's hand and led her over to the bench. They both sat down. "Is there anything you want to know about Emily?"
"Everything," Monica replied.
"That could take a while," Zander replied, a shaky smile on his lips.
Monica smiled back. "I've got time."
Zander squeezed her hand then whispered, "I guess I do too."
* * * * *
Monica came to visit Zander for the next three days. They would sit in the garden, or in his room, and talk about Emily. And it both helped Zander, and it hurt him. The memories were bitter sweet. For the most part he thought he was doing better, but then Alexis came to visit.
They sat in the garden and talked about Kristina. Alexis brought more pictures and she told Zander that she was happy he was doing so well. And he told her that he was scared. Then she brought up his father.
"He wants to see you, Zander."
Alexis sighed. "Why not? You have to deal with the past, Zander. With everything that happened between the two of you. Peter. All of it."
Zander stood up and moved to a rose bush. He plucked at a fragile bud without realizing it. "Everyone says I have to move on, and that I have to let go of my past to do that. I want to let go of my father."
"Zander...you need him."
Alexis moved to Zander's side. "Okay then...he needs you. He's falling apart, Zander. He's growing old."
Zander was reminded of Nikolas, saying pretty much the same thing. He told himself he didn't care. He told Alexis the same thing. "I don't care. Not my problem." That said, Zander turned and walked away.
* * * * *
Janice watched Zander pacing. His past two sessions had gone well, today not so much. She could feel that he was angry, he almost vibrated with it. She wanted him to talk about it. He wouldn't. "What do you want to talk about, Zander?"
"I don't want to talk today."
"Why are you so angry?"
He glared at her. "I'm not."
She glared back. "Liar. Does this have to do with your father?"
"All roads lead to Dr. Cameron Lewis," Zander drawled. He stopped pacing and dropped into a chair. "Can we talk about my getting out of here? I'm getting close to the end of the three months."
"You are," Janice allowed.
Zander locked eyes with her. "Are you letting me out?"
Janice shrugged. "I don't know yet. You've done really well, Zander, but you're not miraculously cured. I've talked to Alexis about keeping you another month."
"And you can do that whether I want to stay or not, right?"
"Right. The final decision rests with Alexis and she agrees with me."
Zander cursed. "Of course she does."
Janice sighed and moved to sit in the chair beside him. "Zander....you tried to kill yourself a few weeks ago. The turnaround you've made is wonderful, but you're not ready to face the world by any means. You haven't even come close to exorcizing all of your demons."
"I never will," Zander shot back. "We both know that. Look...someday I may try to off myself again. Hell...someday you might try to off yourself. There are no guarantees in life…right, doc? So I'm just trying to live day to day. And every day it gets a little easier."
"You're catching on, Zander," Janice allowed. "And I'm very proud of you. But I still think you need the extra time. Why don't we play it day by day on that as well. Does that sound fair?"
Zander stood up. "As fair as I'm ever going to get," he stated, then he walked out.
Janice heaved a dramatic sigh and buried her face in her hands. Zander Smith was going to turn her gray before she was done, but for all that she felt hopeful. So she returned to the work on her desk with a smile on her face.
* * * * *
Zander watched Elizabeth pace. Usually he was the one doing it. She had come up with Lucky but had asked him to take a walk for a bit. Zander knew she wanted to tell him something, but he couldn't imagine what had her so nervous. "You okay?" Zander asked after a while.
"Not really." Elizabeth stopped pacing. "Zander...I don't know how to say this."
Elizabeth blinked back tears. "I'm so sorry about what happened. It's all my fault. If I hadn't given you the picture…you couldn't have hurt yourself…you almost died and it's all my fault and.." Elizabeth would have rambled on when a fingertip was pressed to her lips.
Zander smiled as he tapped Elizabeth's mouth with one finger, then he cupped her face in his hands and locked eyes with her. "Listen up. What happened was no one's fault but my own. I made the choice to die that day, Elizabeth. If not with the glass from the picture, I would have found another way. You aren't to blame for my actions. I am. Okay?"
"Sounds good in theory, Zander," Elizabeth allowed. "But--"
"No buts," He interjected. "Look...Nikolas has been coming up here everyday and getting in my face. Reminding me that I'm responsible for my own life, but that I'm also responsible for the pain that my choices cause other people. Like you. And as much as I wish that you didn't care about me…or that I didn't care about you...You do care and so do I. So...just let it go, Elizabeth. I'm still alive and that's how I want it. For now anyway."
Elizabeth couldn't stop the tears this time and she pulled Zander into a hug. "I love you, you know that, right?"
Zander kissed her hair. "I know. And thank you. I know I don't make it easy."
"No…you don't." Elizabeth pulled back, laughing. "But it's worth it. And I'm glad you're sticking around. I miss my friend. You know…the guy who always believed in me and kept me sane in the crypt. The guy who used his own body as a shield, twice, when guns and bullets were flying. The guy who thought Jason was a loser for blowing me off. The guy who bought me a night light and who made sweet love to me one summer night."
"Don't let Lucky hear that," Zander teased, as he blinked back his own tears. "I don't know if I'm ever gonna be that guy again. But I will always believe in you, Elizabeth."
She kissed his cheek. "Works both ways, Zander."
He smiled. "Yeah...I'm starting to figure that out. Hey…wanna go find Lucky?"
"Okay." Elizabeth looped her arm through Zander's and they headed off.
* * * * *
Zander wanted Nikolas to leave. In the month since Nikolas had gotten in his face, Zander had changed his life around, almost one eighty. He bonded with Monica and in that way kept Emily's memory alive in his heart. And even though it still hurt that she was gone, Zander realized that a part of her would always be with him. And whenever he felt as if she were slipping away, he could go to Monica. They could be there for each other.
More improvement was made in his relationship with his friends. Zander now counted Lucky among them and, most of the time, Nikolas. A fact that never ceased to amaze him. But today was not a good day for Nikolas to visit. First off, Zander had gotten back from a session with Dr. Murphy and she had told him that he would not be released when he had hoped. Which would have been next week. She and Alexis had decided it would be best for him to stay for another couple of months. Zander had exploded, grabbing the stapler off of Dr. Murphy’s desk and hurling it across the room. He had been ready to trash the place when she had made a call for the orderlies. Zander knew what that meant and he made himself calm down. He had even apologized for his behavior. Then he had tried to argue with Dr. Murphy that he was well enough to go home. She had argued back that he wasn't ready and that, legally, he had no choice but to stay. A point he could argue with Alexis if he liked. Which Zander had done, via phone. Alexis's reasoning being, when pressed, that she was afraid that if Zander left now something would set him off and he would spiral out of control again. She assured him that it was her own fears talking but that she felt compelled to listen to them. So by the time Nikolas had shown up, Zander was in another rage.
Nikolas had asked him what was wrong and Zander had told him, hoping that his friend would help. He had hoped in vain.
"You're not ready to come home, Zander," Nikolas stated.
"Fuck you!" Zander hurled his water pitcher.
Nikolas shook his head. "Thanks for making my point for me."
Zander turned and glared at Nikolas. He felt betrayed by him as well as by Alexis. "I did what you wanted me to do! I changed my attitude. I chose to live and take responsibility for my actions. I did it all the way I was supposed to! And you think I need to stay locked up? Fuck you, man!"
"Have you talked to your father yet?"
"No." Zander was not about to have this conversation. He made to leave his room but Nikolas blocked the door way.
He pushed Zander back. "When you get out, you're going to have to face your father. And I don't think you're going to handle it very well, Zander. I don't need to be a psychiatrist to know that it's gonna set you back if you don't deal with it now. Your father is the root of all of what's happened to you, Zander. He's the reason you've been an emotional mess most of your life."
Zander stalked about his room, resisting the urge to throw a punch at Nikolas. "My father issues are not your concern!" he snarled.
"You know what, Zander...you're right. Forget I said anything. Do what you want...you usually do and damn the consequences. And here I thought you had finally figured out the fact that the consequences of YOUR actions don't affect only you. But I was wrong." Nikolas made to leave, only this time his way was blocked by Zander.
"You like to fucking push my buttons, don't you?" Zander hissed.
Nikolas shrugged. "Is that what I'm doing?"
Zander nodded. "Yeah…it is. And what pisses me off the most is that it works." Zander fell silent for a moment, contemplating his own words, then he whispered, "You know why?"
"Because you're the one person who doesn't treat me like I'm going to break." Zander ran a hand over his face and sighed. "I got tired of that. I really did."
Nikolas smiled. "Yeah...so did I. In fact, I let Elizabeth and Gia and even Alexis have it for doing just that. I got tired of watching them feed into your need to self destruct. Because that's what they were doing, Zander. And you let them."
Zander didn't deny it because he couldn't. He moved over to his bed and sat down. "You know what...I wanted people to tell me that I was worthless and a loser, the way my father did. Cause that helped to justify my actions. But then Emily came along and she wouldn't let me make excuses. She didn't know about my past when we first got together, but she knew I was messed up and she loved me anyway. And she made me feel that love and want it. I craved it like a drug."
"Yeah...you kind of reminded me of a junkie when you were with Emily. I could see how much you needed her. And I could see when she went away to rehab, how you went back to being all wired and strung out, to use an analogy. You kept looking for a fix but you needed the real thing."
"And then I lost it and nothing mattered anymore. When Emily came back, I thought everything would be okay again. But it wasn't..."
Nikolas joined Zander on the bed. "How could it be? By then the thing with your father was going on. You weren't even ready to deal with that stuff when you found out Emily had cancer. And it just spiraled out from there. But the thing is, now you are dealing with the Emily stuff. So it's time to deal with your father."
Zander shook his head. "I'm scared," he confessed.
"I don't know...I really don't. I just…I guess I don't think I can take another betrayal, another let down. Another disappointment." Zander ran his fingers through his hair, stood up and began to pace. "All my life I kept waiting for my dad to be a dad. To be for me what he was to Peter. When I left home, a part of me hoped he would come after me and maybe we could *bond* or something, over Peter's death. I knew it would never happen...but I had hope. Until I saw him again at the PCPD. When I confronted him. And then I asked him if he wanted me dead and he said yes...all hope died inside me. And it fucked me up even more when he admitted I didn't kill Peter. I couldn't understand what I had done so wrong to make him hate me that much."
Nikolas went to Zander and put a hand on his shoulder. "You didn't do anything wrong, Zander. For once it wasn't your screw up or mistake. Your father messed up. In every way. But he wants to make amends for that. Maybe you can't ever forgive him for what he's done, but let him at least try to explain why he did it. Then maybe you can finally let that pain go and really move on."
Zander rubbed at his eyes, brushing away unshed tears. "Yeah...maybe," he allowed. In this moment he felt so damn lost and so worn out. Then, suddenly, strong arms were wrapped around him and he felt himself being pulled into a hug. At first Zander stiffened and tried to pull back, but then he let it happen. And a part of Zander wondered if Emily was watching them and smiling.
* * * * *
Cameron stared at his empty coffee cup. Alexis had asked him to meet her at Kelly's and she had just informed him that Zander had requested to see him. He was excited, but terrified. "What if I make things worse?" Cameron wondered. "I mean...he's been doing so well."
Alexis nodded. "Yes…he has. And believe me, I understand your fears. I'm terrified that something will happen and for every baby step he's taken, Zander will fall back a mile, or two. But we have to trust him. We have to believe that he can do this, for the right reasons."
"But I'm holding him back," Cameron said softly. "I'm the reason Dr. Murphy won't release Zander. I'm sure he blames me for that."
"Well...yeah. But he blames me too, if it makes you feel any better."
Cameron locked eyes with Alexis and tried to smile. "It doesn't. I really did a number on him, Alexis. I destroyed any and all feelings of self worth my son ever had. I made him believe he was worthless. Unlovable. I did all that."
Alexis touched his arm. "You sure did, but now you want to make up for your mistakes. You can help him, Cameron. Then the two of you can help each other."
"It's not going to be easy." Cameron stood up and fished in his pocket, tossing a ten dollar bill on the counter.
"Nothing worth having ever is," Alexis countered. Then she took his hand and they exited Kelly's.
* * * * *
Zander faced off with his father. At least that's what it felt like they were doing. They were in Dr. Murphy's office. Zander had agreed to see his father, but he wanted to do it in a place that felt like neutral territory. So here they were, on opposite ends of the room. Staring at each other. Zander sighed and combed his fingers through his hair.
"You've always done that," Cameron stated.
"Done what?" Zander frowned at his father.
Cameron gestured to his own head. "Run your fingers through your hair. I swear...since the day you were born you've done that. You know...you had a head full of hair from birth. Your mother loved it. She said you were going to have my hair. And she always kept it long when you were little. She would brush it every night and comb her fingers through it. It always seemed to soothe you. It was about the only time you weren't all hyped up and in motion."
Zander was surprised by the story, and touched by it. He tried not to think about his mother. She had sided with his father in the end and that had broken Zander in its own way. "I didn't know that," he whispered.
"You do have my hair. And my stubbornness."
Cameron shook his head. "No…I'm the one who's sorry. Not about the hair. You should thank me for that. You’ll never go bald."
Zander couldn't help but laugh at that. "Emily used to tell me that. She'd say that our kids were going to have beautiful hair…" Zander broke off and choked back a sob. He rubbed his eyes and turned away.
"Alexander…" Cameron went to his son but held back when he realized he didn't know what to do or what to say. He cleared his throat. "God…I have made so many mistakes with you. I don't know where to start to fix them."
"You can't fix them, dad," Zander replied. "It's too late for that. But maybe you could explain to me why you hated me so much. Maybe you can make me understand what I did that was so wrong. I mean...besides being born. Which...was a bit out of my hands."
Cameron nodded. "I can explain but I'm not sure you'll understand what I did, any more than I do." He moved to a nearby chair and sank down into it.
Zander made his way over to the couch and he studied his father. Alexis and Nikolas were right. His father did look old. "I overheard you and mom arguing one day in the kitchen," he began. "I was about ten and you were fighting about me. In a nutshell, you told mom that you never wanted a second child, that it was her fault for getting pregnant with me and that you hoped she was proud that the whole family had to suffer because of it."
"Oh god...Alexander...I'm so sorry." Cameron didn't know what else to say.
"Do you remember saying that?"
Cameron locked eyes with his son. "I remember."
Zander nodded and blinked back tears. Even fourteen years later, it still hurt to remember that day. "Did you mean what you said?"
"I did at the time," Cameron admitted. "We never planned on having more than one child. I wanted one son and when Peter was born I was ecstatic. He was everything I had hoped for. And then a few years passed and your mother told me she was pregnant again and I was furious. She had ruined my plans."
"It's always all about what you want…isn't it, Dad? You don't give a damn about what anyone else wants…or needs." Zander felt anger wash over him and he grasped onto it with both hands. It was better than feeling pain. "I used to hear mom cry herself to sleep at least a couple of times a week. And I knew you made her cry, yet I also knew that I was somehow to blame. When I got older I knew she was crying because I'd get into trouble. Because I didn't come home until morning from some party I wasn't supposed to be at. Because you and I got into some fight and you'd hit me and I'd trash something then disappear for a day or two. I understood why I made her cry then. But I didn't get why when I was little. But I knew it was my fault, somehow."
Cameron rubbed a hand over his face then he stood up and walked over to the window. "I resented your very existence, Alexander. And I took it out on you and your mother. I was wrong to do so, but I can't change the past."
Zander knew that better than anyone. "Would you change it…if you could?"
"In a heartbeat. I've spent alot of time talking to Monica Quartermaine, asking her about you. The same with Alexis and Elizabeth and Gia. Even Nikolas. I wanted to get to know my son and they were the only way I could do that. And I learned from them that you are a loyal, honest, caring, giving person. And that when you care about someone...when you love them...you give them everything you have. And I also learned that I'm not the only one who has let you down, Zander. And for that I'm sorry."
"Why? It's not your fault." Zander stood up and moved to Dr. Murphy's desk. He fiddled with her stapler. "I learned the hard way not to trust people. That they lie and they use you, then they toss you away like you were garbage. And I finally figured out that maybe that's what I am. Disposable."
Cameron shook his head. "That's not true, Alexander."
Zander blinked back tears. "Then why did you toss me away? Why? All the times you would come home from work and give Peter a hug or a pat on the back when he got older. And I would run to you and you brush me off or push me aside. You have no idea how much that hurt. How much I hated you for doing that? That's why I took pleasure in doing things that I knew would piss you off. I couldn't win with you no matter what I did, so why bother being good? At least when I was bad, you paid a little bit attention to me. And I was pathetic enough to be grateful, even if it was hate and anger and a fist, instead of love."
"Alexander.." Cameron went to his son and hugged him now. He felt resistance but held on tight, one hand fisting in the thick hair. One arm wrapped around the muscled back.
"Why couldn't you love me?" Zander whispered, even as he tried to push his father away. But the arms holding him were too tight and after a while the fight and the anger went out of Zander and he let his father hold him. "Why couldn't you just love me back?" Tears flowed down his face, and Zander was shaking.
Cameron just held on tight. "I don't know why, Alexander," he replied, his chin resting on his son's dark head. "I was a fool. A damn fool! But now I know that I do you, son. I do love you."
Zander clung to his father and they both sank to the floor. The pain was still there between them, but Zander felt a crack in his protective shell. He felt his father's love wrap around him and a part of him was afraid to believe in it. But he took a chance. And he let go of the past, one memory at a time.
* * * * *
The next month passed by quickly for Zander. His father came to visit every day. The first visit had been rough. After the hug, Zander and his father had fought. But it had been a healing time for them. They got everything out into the open. The pain, the anger, their fears and their hopes for the future. And Zander now had hope for his future.
Nikolas kept coming to visit and he made Zander an offer. A job as his assistant. Zander had been stunned by the offer, had blown it off at first, but then he had accepted. It would be a challenge. It gave hope and was something to look forward to when he got home. The next thing was figuring out a place to live. All parties, Zander included, agreed that it would be best if he moved in with his father at first. Living at Jake’s might offer a temptation that Zander, readily, acknowledged he might not be able to resist. So he was okay with living with his father for a bit, all the more so when Elizabeth and Lucky came on a visit and Elizabeth told him about a small apartment that had opened up. It was in the same building that she and Lucky had recently moved into. A corner apartment with a doable rent. Zander talked to Alexis and she made the legal arrangements for him to get the place. If things went as planned, Zander would stay with his dad for two months, then move into his new place.
So now he was counting the days to his release. Dr. Murphy was pleased with his progress and told him she would probably sign him out in two weeks. That had been yesterday. So now Zander was excited and a little bit afraid. But afraid in a good way. He had spent the morning out in the garden, rereading Emily's journal. He came back to his room to get ready for lunch and found Alexis waiting for him. Zander greeted her with a hug. "What are you doing here? Not that I'm not glad to see you."
"I came to take you home, Zander," Alexis replied.
"Home?" Zander frowned.
Alexis smiled and nodded. "I spoke with Dr. Murphy and we both believe that you're ready to go home. So…I packed your things and the car is waiting."
Zander was stunned. "Seriously?"
"Yep. You just need to sign some papers in Dr. Murphy's office and we're out of here."
"Let's go." Zander saw his bag on the bed. He grabbed it, tucked Emily's journal inside then shrugged on his coat. Then Zander took Alexis by the hand and practically pulled her down the hallway. But he stopped and said, "Wait here." Zander ran back into the room and headed for the window. He looked out one last time, his way of saying goodbye. He needed to do that so that he could move on with a fresh start. Then he saw the picture that Elizabeth had given him on the night stand. Zander grabbed it and headed back out. Now he was ready to go home.
* * * * *
They made good time back to Port Charles and Alexis asked if there was anything he wanted to do first.
"Get a cup of coffee at Kelly's," Zander had replied.
So that’s where they went. Zander was smiling as he opened the door. He ushered Alexis before him then walked in and froze. Gathered about a grouping of tables, were Elizabeth, Lucky, Nikolas, Gia, Monica, Ned and his father. They all stood up to greet Zander. Welcoming him home with hugs, kisses, and hand shakes.
Zander didn't know what to say, and anything he might have said got caught in his throat as his father gathered him into his embrace and whispered, "Welcome home, son." And for once in his life, Zander really felt like this was home.