His last anchor had been lifted and Stefan Cassadine was drifting, alone and ungrounded.
He leaned back in his chair, his folded hands covering his mouth as his mind churned over and over, replaying the events that had led him to this unexpected solitary place. Everyone he’d held dear had fallen away from him, like leaves from a tree when their time in the sun had turned, and all blame had fallen squarely at his own feet. The plots and manipulations of his past had each run their course, for better or worse, yet none had left the well of his life so utterly dry. Nikolas was young and still unschooled in the ways of the world and its necessary evils. He would learn. He would, in time, understand.
Alexis was not unschooled. She’d learned early and well the cruelties inherent in the Cassadine legacy, and she was his longest and truest bond. She knew what lay deep in his soul - that Stefan was NOT his mother’s son. She should have forgiven him by now, forgiven him his trespasses as he’d forgiven hers. Their hearts were too entwined to stay hardened toward each other, and Alexis’s heart could tend toward a dangerous softness in the face of the worst transgressions against it.
And Alexis, of all people, knew the depths to which Helena could drive an enemy. Helena had meant to see him dead...she had succeeded in seeing Alexis’s mother dead. She was the enemy of both brother and sister, and they, in turn, were hers. Stefan would MAKE Alexis soften. He would make her understand he’d had no choice. The damage he’d done to those he loved could be mended, but the bodies left in Helena’s wake could not.
Stefan’s back suddenly stiffened at the thought of his sister’s assaulted body as she lay in a guarded room, fiercely hidden away from him. The Cassadine name had loosened the lips of one or two of the ER staff, enough for him to know that Corinthos had brought her in…and enough to know how she looked. This smacked of Helena’s handiwork, despite Ashton’s claims to the contrary. Stefan knew that his absence had left Alexis wide open to his mother’s malice, and his guilt around that swelled. But the Corinthos factor was puzzling. Clearly his involvement was heavy, yet Helena was the only one he knew who would wish his sister harm. Helena would be given the strong message that Alexis was NOT an acceptable target, no matter how wide their temporary rift.
Stefan sat up in his chair with a start. The possible reasons for Alexis keeping him away were starting to unravel. This could just be a test. She knew that Stefan always did as he wanted, as HE thought best, regardless of other peoples’ wishes. To hold himself back from her, even at her request, could be perceived as another abandonment. Perhaps she was reaching out to him in the guise of pushing him away…a test of his true devotion. Stefan smiled, knowing that he would not fail her – not this time. He would force his way into that room if he had to, but Alexis would have no more reason to doubt him.
As he pushed his chair back and rose to his feet, Stefan’s eyes lit upon Sonny Corinthos standing silent in the open doorway, a somber look masking his face. A twinge of fear shot through Stefan’s body.
“Has something happened?”
Corinthos stared at him a moment, then slid his hands into his pockets and lowered his head as he slowly moved into the room. Again, he lifted his somber eyes without a word. Stefan tensed, his adrenaline responding to the worst thing imaginable, and he rushed for the door.
“Alexis is sleeping.”
Stefan faltered just a foot away from Corinthos. He turned, heart still racing, and waited for further explanation. None came. Sonny turned his neck and met Stefan’s gaze.
“I came to ask YOU what happened. What happened to Alexis when she was a child.”
Stefan was stunned by the directness of his question, the vague accusation it carried. He took a step back and narrowed his eyes. “Excuse me?”
“And don’t bother with your usual display of righteous indignation. I’m not Ashton – I don’t lose my focus all that easily.”
Stefan’s smile dripped with sarcasm as he sauntered back into the room, moving toward the desk.
“Your focus.” He repeated, turning and leaning against the edge of the wooden surface, his arms folding across his chest.
“Focus meaning…Alexis? Tell me, Mr. Corinthos, what is it that makes your attorney the object of such ‘focus’? Your guilt? Did someone else open fire on her because your name is on her client list?”
“This isn’t about…”
“WHY is she in this hospital?” Stefan barked.
“Because she refused to allow a stupid kid go to his grave! And I’m in this room because I refuse to allow her to…” His voice trailed off. Sonny didn’t know how to finish his thought with the proper words.
Stefan gripped the sides of the desk with both hands. “You won’t let her…what?”
Sonny shifted his jaw and took in a deep breath. Stefan’s eyes were intense in their study of him, and he though hard before he spoke. This man could shed light or he could shut it out.
“Alexis needs help. And I need your help to help her.”
Stefan pushed himself up, away from his perch, his anger piqued. “If Alexis needs help, I’LL be the one to give it to her. It certainly won’t be YOU.”
As Stefan quickly moved for the door, Sonny grabbed for his arm. “You cannot go in there!”
Stefan jerked his arm out of Sonny grasp and spun around, his face ablaze with rage.
“Don’t you tell me what I can or cannot do! You have no authority over me, and you have no authority over Alexis!”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong. Alexis named ME to act on her behalf, not YOU. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Stefan sneered down at the pompous face before him. “You are insane if you think I believe that Alexis would willingly and without undue influence put herself into your dirty little hands. That she would reject me, Nikolas, and even Ashton and seek refuge in the likes of you.”
Sonny shrugged, his dimples flashing up at Stefan’s angry face. “Ask Dr. Jones if you don’t believe it. Oh – but you’ve already done that, haven’t you? I’m sure he made Alexis’s position very clear, or you’d have been up in her face already instead of sitting here nursing your wounded brotherly pride.”
Stefan fought to slow his breathing down, loath to show Corinthos any further evidence of his capacity to make him seethe.
“My sister and I had a misunderstanding. She’s been upset with me, and it will pass. I believe that her refusal to see me now is a way of making me prove myself – making me prove my loyalty to her. She expects me to force the issue and will only feel betrayed if I fail to do so.”
Sonny shook his head at the absurdity. “Do you know Alexis at all? She’s not like you! She doesn’t play those kinds of games, Cassadine. Everything about that woman is right up front…everything about her is real and true. Do you even know what that looks like?”
The tone in Corinthos’s voice, the look of earnest on his face took Stefan aback. His protective stance toward Alexis was disturbing.
“I’m not suggesting a deliberate manipulation on her part. In fact, I’m quite sure it’s an subconscious attempt to…”
“Speaking of subconscious.” Sonny loudly interrupted Stefan’s over-thought analysis.
“People can say some very intriguing things when they’re under the influence of certain medications that shoot that brain-to-mouth filter thing all to hell. Alexis, for example, let little bits and pieces slip out about…oh, gee, all KINDS of things.”
Sonny studied Stefan’s face as if it were under a microscope. Stefan eyed Sonny back with suspicion, knowing that the man was doing his utmost to elicit a response. Stefan would not be played.
“If you’ve come here on some sort of fishing expedition, I’m afraid you’re going to walk away with an empty net. You’re standing in shallow waters, Mr. Corinthos.”
“Then I’m in good company…aren’t I?”
“Let me make myself more clear.” Stefan moved closer to Sonny. “I have no intention of discussing Alexis with you, of all people. If there’s something specific in her medical history that Dr. Jones needs to know for medical reasons, he can ask me. As her doctor, he’s entitled to know.”
He looked Sonny up and down with unveiled disgust. His voice lowered in tone and left his mouth on a harsh current.
“You, however, are entitled to nothing.”
Sonny squared his shoulders and lifted his head up high. “What is Alexis entitled to? Is a little piece of mind too much for her to ask for? Can’t you give her that much?”
Stefan frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Sonny lowered his own voice to a whisper. “I’m talking about…the kind of nightmares that would chill your blood to witness.”
Stefan’s eyes betrayed a greater glint of recognition than he himself realized.
“You could at least try to look confused. At least try to keep up the front you’ve been working so hard to maintain.”
Stefan tilted his head. “I’m not trying to look any way at all, Mr. Corinthos. But what I AM trying to do is figure out why in the world you’ve appointed yourself my sister’s keeper. I’m also wondering why you’d think I’d tell you anything about Alexis that she isn’t willing to tell you herself.”
“She's not unwilling, she’s unable. There are things that Alexis’s mind had kept hidden from her…and they want out.”
Stefan turned away, rubbing his palms over his face. His head had begun to pound at the long-since forgotten sound of Alexis screaming in the dark. He had known that chill in his blood…he was beginning to know it again as he imagined what could have breathed new life into such old terrors.
“What? Just a few minutes ago, you were all into discussing Alexis’s subconscious, so let’s discuss it. How did she fall down a flight of stairs – IF she actually fell?”
Stefan spun around with an indignant look on his face. “If? I came home from Sunday service to find Alexis at the bottom of the stairway. I did the math!”
He moved away from Corinthos’s prying eyes, hardly relishing that awful memory. “Are you saying that she's now remembering it?”
“No. She only remembers what she says you told her. That she fell.”
“Yes. She had a head injury…” Stefan paced as the memory washed back over him.
“Lots of things broken?”
“Yes. She was in a coma for four days and I was afraid that she’d never wake up. But thank God, she did. Considering the trauma she suffered, I’m grateful for her lack of memory.”
Sonny crossed the line. “Was she alone when she fell?”
Sonny noted the way Cassadine fidgeted with his ring, twisting it back and forth on his finger. Stefan’s head suddenly snapped to Sonny, the subtext of his question finally registering. He pushed his chair up against his desk with undue force.
“Just what the hell are you implying?”
Sonny shrugged. “I’m simpy asking a question.”
“It would seem that you’re confusing your own sordid world with the one that the rest of us occupy. Alexis fell, plain and simple.”
Sonny smiled a full-dimpled smile. This man knew things.
“Uh huh. If you say so.”
Stefan glared at Sonny’s smug expression. “It would seem that Helena, the usual suspect, is actually innocent in this case. This according to Ashton, at least, and he does have certain facts at hand.”
Sonny bristled at the mention of Ashton’s name, and Stefan smiled at the notice of it.
“So if Alexis is having nightmares, perhaps you should be looking to yourself for answers. You know what really happened to her, Mr. Corinthos, not I.”
“I’m not talking about now, I’m talking about then.”
“Yes, I know. A very common diversion attempted by a very common man. Do you really expect to successfully turn the attention away from the issue at hand – your culpability in Alexis’s condition – and redirect it toward irrelevant childhood incidents?”
“It’s NOT irrelevant!” Sonny snapped, doubting that this man had ever himself been small and cowering.
“It’s not your business either.” Stefan casually stepped back, pulled his chair away and leaned down over the desk, pressing his palms against the smooth, flat surface. His eyes stared at the backs of his hands, then slowly raised up to Sonny’s face.
“Quid pro quo, Corinthos. You want information, I want information.”
Sonny took a moment, considering Cassadine’s words. Then he leaned his own palms flat on the grainy wood, mimicking Stefan’s posture as he stood across from him.
“You’d use Alexis’s emotional state as a bargaining chip? And you call MY world ‘sordid’.” Sonny pushed himself back upright, wiping his hands on his trousers. Cassadine made him feel unclean.
“You don’t deserve her for a sister. And she certainly doesn’t deserve you.”
“What DO you think she deserves…you? You might want to reconsider that when you go back into her room and look at all the black and blue marks on her face and her throat…and wherever else they may be.”
Sonny’s stomach tightened. His failures were flying up at him, one on top of the other. His protection of her was eroding and he had no idea how to prevent it. Stefan could see him wavering.
“Look at what was done to her and ask yourself what you think Alexis truly deserves. Then you get back to me. Quid pro quo.”
Stefan slowly sat back down in his leather chair and began tending to his business as if Corinthos had already left the room. Sonny stared down at Cassadine in all his dismissive arrogance, wanting nothing more than to slam him up against the wall and force all truths from his sneering lips. But this man was not of Sonny’s world and he had to take more care, laying out just the right kind of bait.
“I didn’t know that you’d been told about her…injuries. I can understand now why you’re so upset. I’ll do what I can to sway her - to convince Alexis to see you, if that will ease your mind.”
Stefan stopped with his busy work, holding himself still. He dropped the pen from his hand and took a deep breath. Sonny had hooked his fish.
“But her mind needs to be eased as well. If I’m prepared for what may come, I can cushion her from another fall. Nothing else in her needs to be broken. You’re her brother…don’t LET it be.”
Stefan closed his eyes, removing his glasses and laying them carefully on a pile of papers. He released his long-held breath.
“Just please…get me into that room. Get me in to see her.”
Sonny smiled to himself at the slight quiver that carried Cassadine’s last words. The fish was in the net.
“I’ll do my best.”
Stefan stared down at the small reflection of light that bounced off the glass lenses resting against the papers. He heard the rustling of Sonny’s clothing as he walked away. Stefan suddenly raised his head toward the door, just in time to see the last fragment of the man’s shadow as he disappeared out the door. He had meant to speak again, but his words had been un-chosen. It was for the best. To speak without thinking was often ill advised, and Corinthos was ill trusted. The man had an agenda with Alexis, and Stefan meant to know what it was.
Stefan frowned, angry with himself for his own lack of restraint. He was unprepared for the resurgence of that horrible memory which had finally ceased to haunt him…Alexis, alone, lying twisted and bleeding on the brightly colored tiles. He shook the image roughly from his head, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. He was sorry he told Corinthos what little he had, but at least the questions had stopped. Some questions were better left unasked, as Stefan’s had been that day…when Alexis had fallen, but had not been alone.