"Earth to Stefan."
His eyes snapped up from the faded image in his hands to the crystal clear image in his doorway - from the child to the woman. He quickly tucked the photograph back within the folds of his wallet and smiled in greeting.
"Alexis! What are you doing here?"
He moved toward her as he slid the wallet back into his pocket.
"I take it you didn't get my message."
"No." He answered hesitantly as Alexis walked into his embrace. "I was on an extended conference call until just a short time ago. I've not yet had a chance to check my voice mail."
"No rest for the weary."
He smiled weakly. "The morning had been long, yes."
Stefan suddenly wondered if she'd caught sight of Corinthos leaving as she arrived.
Alexis pulled back to look at him. She tilted her head and frowned. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "The usual and customary inanities of trying to keep this institution afloat despite the repeated attempts of certain staff members to undermine my efforts."
"Ah. Got it."
Stefan regarded his sister's face with a measure of surprise. The serene smile, the sparkling dark eyes and the healthy pink glow in her cheeks were incongruous with what Corinthos had just told him about her near-miss the night before and a morning of confrontation. He would have expected her to look rather weary herself, but Alexis looked nearly radiant.
"And what about you, Alexis? You look quite well."
Her smile widened. "I am quite well."
"That's good to hear. What brings you to GH, then? Did you have an appointment with Dr. Jones?"
She shook her head. "Nope. I'm all done with Dr. Jones. I have a clean bill of health and don't need to see him again until the next Nurse's Ball, where I intend to pick up his entire bar tab AND the cab ride home. After asking him to dance, of course."
Stefan couldn't help but chuckle at her exuberance. "May I ask what's precipitated this jovial mood of yours?"
She shrugged. "Just a clearer view of some things that I'd let stay murky too long and for no good reason. And when you do have a chance to listen to your voice mail, you'll hear that I had something to do nearby and thought it would be nice to see you for a minute if you were free. Are you?"
"I am. And I'm glad you stopped by." He led her to one of two large leather visitor chairs set in front of his desk. "Actually, it's fortuitous that you did because I was intending to call you later on today."
She sat down and dropped her purse on the floor. "You were? How come? Did Nikolas contact you sometime after we spoke yesterday?"
"No. Not yet. Though I can't say I'm surprised. You did say that he was overwhelmed by what you told him. And I don't doubt that he's angry with me for not telling him the truth when I first learned it myself."
"The truth is that he was pleasantly surprised by your…uncharacteristic respect for my privacy."
His eyebrow lifted.
"Oh, come on Stefan! Don't act as if respecting my privacy IS characteristic."
Stefan cleared his throat and Alexis laughed, leaning back in her chair and gazing up at him with a loving expression that made him feel like a fraud. He moved in between the visitor chairs and settled himself into the empty chair beside her.
"The concept IS taking a little getting used to. I am trying though."
"I know. I appreciate that. So does Nikolas. And yes, he was overwhelmed by the heroin thing and by how close I came to dying. But give him some time. He'll call."
Stefan's brow creased. The words heroin and dying didn't enter his ears quite as easily as they rolled off Alexis's tongue. But he knew it was good that they had grown easy for her - that their power to scare her had dissipated, if not completely faded away. Not so with the power of Stavros. He leaned forward in his chair, hands clasping together as his forearms came to rest upon the tops of his thighs.
"I am grateful for your efforts on my behalf with Nikolas. And I trust your instinct that he will make a gesture toward me. But I didn't want to talk about Nikolas, I wanted to talk about you."
Alexis frowned. "Must you? I'm really tired of talking about me, not to mention listening to other people talking about me. And I'd really expect that everyone would be thoroughly sick and tired of talking about me anyway."
"I don't wish to belabor that which is already tiresome to you. Nor do I wish to make you uncomfortable by pressing the point of a sensitive issue."
"And I appreciate that."
She widened her eyes within an expression that clearly telegraphed how much she didn't want to talk about her self. But Stefan had an opening, and he was going to take it. He had to know whether Corinthos was right on target, or off the mark altogether.
"Nonetheless, after the other night I'm naturally still concerned for your…well being."
"Don't be." Alexis rose up and moved toward the corner table, where a pitcher of water and several glasses were always set.
"I'll get that for you."
Stefan rose and was halfway to the table in no time. Alexis turned and halted him with a palm to his chest.
"I'm not an invalid, Stefan. Sit."
He didn't move, eyes shifting to the pitcher.
"Sit!" She said more forcefully, pointing to the chair for emphasis.
Stefan frowned, arms crossing across his chest. "Honestly, Alexis. I'm not one of the Spoon Island hounds."
"Sorry. Would you like some water too?"
"No, thank you."
He held his physical ground, standing a few paces behind her as Alexis turned back to the table and reached for the pitcher. She could feel her brother's eyes upon her back as she poured. It made her uneasy. She cleared her throat.
"I repeat - I have the Tony Jones seal of approval so there's really no need for your concern."
"I don't mean your physical recovery, Alexis. I'm referring to the nightmares of your childhood that I saw you relive the other night."
Alexis froze for a brief moment.
"Interesting timing." She mumbled, picking up her glass and taking a sip.
She turned to find Stefan's face bearing a look of suspicion. Her unease grew. Something felt…odd, but she couldn't pinpoint what. Stefan took a step toward her.
"Why is it interesting timing? Have you had more episodes like the one that I witnessed?"
"No." She answered in a somewhat sharp tone. "I haven't woken up on the floor since the night you were there."
He continued to look at her expectantly, as if he knew what she wasn't saying and was waiting for her say it. He always seemed to know what she wasn't saying. And she began to feel a twinge of guilt for her lie of omission.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to sound abrupt."
"No apology is necessary. I'm glad that your nights have been peaceful." He took in a slow, deep breath. "Does that mean that the specters of my mother and Stavros are no longer paying you unwanted visits?"
He saw her fingers tighten around the glass as she began to move past him. Stefan set a hand down on her arm to halt her.
Alexis jerked her arm back, as if his touch was a flame. It was Stefan's turn to freeze. He was stunned, staring in silence as her eyes darted from his face to the water sloshing within the glass cylinder in her hand. The expression on her face told him she was just as stunned as he was, and that her reaction confused and frightened her. And Stefan knew in his gut that Corinthos had told him the truth. He'd spoken Stavros's name to see if she'd react, and if so, how. Alexis reacted - badly. What now?
"I didn't mean to startle you." Stefan slowly let his arm drop down to his side.
She stammered, fumbling for an excuse. "It's just a…a reflex because m-my arms were sore for so long that even now, when they aren't sore any more, I…automatically react as if they still were."
He didn't believe it for a second. Nor did he think Alexis believed it either. But he nodded in agreement.
"That's perfectly understandable."
Stefan smiled softly as Alexis pushed the hair behind her ears. She smiled back, turned away, and returned to her seat.
"It's also understandable that what this Sorel monster did to you would bring back vivid memories of our brother's cruelties."
She shifted in her chair and stared down into her water. Her hand was shaking. Stefan pretended not to notice.
"But I can't help wondering if I was also partly to blame."
Her head turned slightly, and he could see her forehead crease in confusion.
"I made you think I was dead, like Stavros. Perhaps that belief contributed to the resurrection of those painful memories because I had gone and left you alone. Stavros would only come after you when I was gone and you were alone."
Alexis laughed nervously. "Really, Stefan, this isn't something I want to dwell upon."
"No, of course not." He moved toward her. "But please bear with me for a moment, because I need to be selfish with you."
"What do you mean?"
Alexis looked up at him, and Stefan reached down to touch his fingertips to her cheek.
"I know how much I hurt both you and Nikolas by what I did."
"You went through the worst of this horrible thing because didn't WANT me to be there for you. You lost your trust in me."
"Stefan, let's please not go back to the bad time between us, okay?"
"I just need to make sure that you want me to be there for you now." He kneeled down beside her. "I want you to be able to trust me again, the way you used to when we were children. The way you did the other morning when all your walls were down and it was as almost if we were children again, with nothing to hide from one another."
Alexis reached out to touch his face. He closed his eyes and took her hand.
"I don't remember the last time I felt that close to you. And I believed, at the time, that it was the same for you."
"It was." She whispered. "I'm glad that you were."
"What if I hadn't been?" His eyes opened and slowly lifted to hers. "Would you have asked for me? Or would you have come to me after, and told me about your nightmares of Stavros?"
Alexis suddenly winced, hand flying up to the back of her head.
"What? What is it?"
"Nothing." She rubbed at the sore spot as Stefan looked on with worry. "It's just a little pain that comes quickly and goes away quickly."
Stefan gently laid his hand to her head. "Is this where the pain is?"
"Yeah." She took another sip of her water. "It will be gone in a minute."
"If I'm not mistaken, this is where the fracture happened, when you fell down the stairs back in Greece."
She looked up at him through squinting eyes. "How on earth could you remember that?"
"I remember everything about it."
Alexis swallowed as she felt Stefan's hand slid down the back of her head. It sent a strange chill down her neck. She squirmed against it and cleared her throat.
"I…still remember nothing."
Stefan carefully dropped a crumb. "Stavros had just returned from school."
Her eyes darted back and forth as a veil of concentration fell over her face. Stefan pulled away, still watching her closely as he sat back down on the edge of his chair across from her.
"How old was he then, twenty one?"
"Twenty two." He corrected with a tight jaw.
"Right." Alexis nodded. "Four years older than you."
"And nine older than you. You had just turned thirteen."
Another crumb was dropped.
"I know." She let her eyes drop down to her lap. "I think I only saw him twice after that summer - and before he died."
"That was perhaps two times too many."
Alexis shrugged one shoulder. "He didn't bother me either time. In fact, he seemed to actively avoid my company other than to offer a perfunctory greeting. Not that I'm complaining. Avoidance was preferable than his usual behavior toward me."
Stefan's back stiffened. Stavros avoided her. Even after all the time that had passed since Alexis's accident and with no mention made of it since, he'd taken Stefan's threats to heart and kept his distance from her. Stavros obeyed no one - not even Mikkos. But he obeyed his little brother. He had to have had his own reasons for doing so. And now, Stefan wondered if Stavros was not just avoiding Alexis herself, but also the possibility that anything more than brief contact with her could trigger her memories of what really happened on the day that she fell. The doctors had said there was no injury to her brain. What Alexis had lost could stay lost forever, or return at any time. All it would take was the right trigger, at the right time…
"Did he have a moustache or a goatee that summer he returned from school?" Alexis asked suddenly, wide eyes gazing up at him.
"What did you say?" Stefan's heart pounded.
"Stavros. Did he have a…"
"Both. He had both."
He watched as the wheels turned in her head, behind those wide, brown eyes fixed upon his.
"That's how I'm remembering him now. How I'm seeing him in my head - as a young man, with dark hair, dark eyes, dark whiskers around his mouth. And when he smiles…the darkness just takes over his face."
"Does it scare you?"
Alexis stared in silence. Stefan already knew the answer. Corinthos had told him. But he wanted Alexis to tell him her self, and the time for dropping crumbs was over.
"Alexis? Does the darkness of his face scare you as did the darkness of the closets and passageways where he locked you away?"
She dropped her eyes and took another sip of water. "Yeah, a little."
"Perhaps the sudden images you're having of Stavros at an older age means that your memories of the time you first saw him past his adolescence are trying to return. Perhaps your stay at GH brought back such strong memories of your stay in the hospital in Greece that other memories from that time are beginning to reawaken."
She shook her head. "I doubt it."
"Are you sure you sure you can't recall even a vague… "
Alexis pushed herself up from her chair. "No, I can't! One day I was sailing with you, and you cut your hand on a rope. And the next thing I remember is waking up in a strange, antiseptic smelling room, feeling as if I'd been used as soccer ball in the World Cup. And you were there, sitting right beside me, holding that old stuffed bear of mine in your hands."
Stefan smiled sadly. "That bear. I wonder if Nikolas still has it?"
She set her glass down beside the pitcher and turned back to him.
"Stefan, it's been over twenty-five years. If I haven't remembered it by now, I'm not going to remember it. And what would be the point of trying? So let's just leave it alone, okay?"
He released a long, quiet breath as he rose to his feet. "As you wish. I'm sorry if I did make you uncomfortable."
"You didn't. Actually…"
"Something you said keeps coming back to me."
"Oh?" Stefan braced himself.
"You said that thinking you had died - that you'd left me alone, so to speak, could have made thoughts of Stavros come up. It makes a lot of sense, and I think you might be right."
"And something else is that I didn't know he was my brother until long after he died. The word 'brother' was just a word with regard to him. It was never a feeling. You've been the only brother in my life - the only one in my heart. But after you died, when someone made a reference to my brother, I no longer knew to whom they were referring. It was no longer a given that they were referring to you…and both of you would come into me head. So it also makes sense that finding out you were really alive would have revived the image of Stavros for me too. Don't you think?"
She looked at him with hopeful eyes.
"Yes, Alexis. I can see where the shock of my resurrection, so to speak, would cause resurrected images of Stavros to follow in my wake."
It did make an odd kid of sense. Stefan couldn't deny it. But her intellectualization didn't change his belief that there was so much more behind her haunting by a grown up, dark faced Stavro - and that now, twenty-five years later, Alexis's memories of the fall that almost killed her would soon be released. Stefan would need to talk with Corinthos again soon. But right then, Alexis was smiling before him, bright eyes awash in relief at having put all the pieces of a troublesome mystery together and creating a picture that worked. He smiled back.
"Ever the analytical mind at work. No rest for the weary indeed."
Alexis laughed. She felt lighter, freer. She felt as if she'd finally taken back some of the control that had been dangling just outside of her reach. Sonny was been right - she'd needed to talk about her strange visions of Stavros, not bury or deny them. And her instinct to go to Stefan, despite his unease with the subject of their brother, was right as well. There were always rational explanations for things if you searched for them hard enough. Searching for them with Stefan had eased and clarified her frustrated mind. And to see him standing beside her, smiling with love, overwhelmed her with gratitude for the second chance they'd been given. And she was overwhelmed with love for both of the dragon slayers in her life.
"Thank you for being my sounding board. I know that discussing Stavros is hardly a pleasant thing for you."
"Stavros was hardly a pleasant man. But he is gone, and he cannot hurt us any more if we refuse to allow him to do so. If discussing him helps take away his power to hurt you then you must promise me that you'll come to me if you need to discuss him again."
She nodded with a smile. "I will. But I don't think it will be necessary."
Stefan cupped her cheek with his palm and tilted his head as he smiled back at her. He could still see the five-year old child in Alexis. And the thirteen-year old girl. They both broke his heart, as the woman she was now clearly broke the heart of Sonny Corinthos. Alexis's eyes suddenly shifted toward the door. Stefan turned, expecting to see someone there who'd captured Alexis's attention. The doorway was empty. He turned back around to see Alexis chewing on her lip with a somewhat distant look in her eyes.
"Is something wrong?"
Her eyes darted to his. "No. Why?"
"You looked momentarily distracted."
Her left dimple deepened.
"I'm sorry. My mind did wander somewhere else for a moment."
"From the look in your eyes, I take it that it was somewhere good?"
Her right dimple matched the left. "Very good. Although I'm not so sure you'd agree with me."
Stefan frowned. "Are you not going to let me be the judge of that myself?"
"Yes. Only not just yet."
"Curiouser and curioser." His eyebrow lifted.
"It is curious, in a way. Have you ever been afraid to express something that you know in your heart you need to express, so you keep putting it off as if that will somehow make the fear go away when all it does is make it worse?"
"On a…rare occasion."
He answered her haltingly. It was an ironic question for her to ask when his suspicions about Stavros had just been solidified. Stefan made a mental note to call Corinthos in the morning. There were things that he should know.
"The thing I've realized is that once someone or something gives you just the right kind of perspective, sometimes the fear does go away and you suddenly can't wait to let out what you've been keeping inside."
"Well then. You should go put your newfound realization to good use, if doing so will make you happy."
A vision of Sonny's warm, loving eyes filled Alexis's mind. She scrunched a shoulder up toward her ear and tilted her head with a smile.
"Then go. Make yourself happy."
"Actually, I already am. I just need to share that with someone who...makes it so."
Someone? Did she mean Corinthos? Had she not confessed her feelings either? Stefan shook his head as he laughed lightly. He should have known Alexis would be as reluctant to express her feelings as Corinthos - probably more so.
"What's so funny?" She asked with a suspicious look on her face.
"Nothing." Stefan shook his head as he reached out and pulled her into a farewell embrace. "It's just good to see you happy."
He could hardly share the humor of him knowing that she and Corinthos would be in for an evening of mutual revelations. If the players involved were anyone else, Alexis would appreciate the irony of it. And if they were anyone else, Stefan would feel the envy of it. He missed loving someone who loved him back. He missed the feeling that he saw living in Corinthos's eyes...and in his sisters. It gave Stefan hope. If a man like Sonny Corinthos could earn love from a woman like Alexis, he could surely earn it as well. Alexis more than deserved such reciprocal love. But she didn't deserve having it tainted by the past. He wondered if the sleeping dogs would maybe lie a little longer than he anticipated.
He wondered if his call to Corinthos could wait...