"And this is the kitchen, with which I'm only vaguely acquainted myself."
Alexis kissed Kristina's chubby cheek as she carried her from the kitchen.
"But I promise that by the time you're off the bottle and able to eat real food, I'll have learned to cook something edible. Just for you."
Kristina grabbed hold of a lock of Alexis's hair and pulled it toward her mouth.
"Apparently your cooking reputation precedes you and she'd rather eat hair."
Alexis turned and gave Cameron a look.
"Pay no attention to the man with the beard." She whispered in her daughter's ear.
Cameron smiled as he followed Alexis into the hallway while toting Kristina's baby carrier in one hand. Alexis hadn't taken anything from the Quartermaine home with the exception of the clothes on Kristina's back. The first few toys she's had since birth were destroyed in the fire that AJ set, and there was nothing she wanted her daughter to have that came from those people. Anything Kristina wanted or needed, Alexis would provide it herself. It was a new beginning for mother and daughter. It was a new beginning for Cameron too. He could feel it. And his smile grew.
Alexis halted in front of the open door next to her own bedroom. "Next on our tour is YOUR room. And I hope you like ducks and bunnies because they're painted all over your crib. And the changing table."
"And the rocking chair." Cameron added, setting the carrier down in the corner of the nursery.
"Okay, so Mommy went a little overboard with the ducks and bunnies."
Cameron gently tapped Kristina's button nose. "But if you prefer dancing bears, just direct your attention to the exquisitely hand-crafted mobile hanging over your crib."
Alexis turned and walked to the crib. "This is your welcome home present from Uncle Cameron. Isn't is beautiful, baby?"
She reached out to a wooden blue bear wearing a tutu. The baby's eyes widened as her mother gave it a light push, sending the entire host of bears dancing in a circle. Kristina gurgled and smiled, pulling her thumb out of her mouth to point at the fascinating sight.
"Wow. Look at her face." Alexis whispered with awe. "She loves it."
Cameron felt himself fighting the urge to smile. A wave of mixed emotions was washing over him - the grief for a son who died, the guilt over a son who left, the joy for a child brought home, and the love for a woman who'd reminded him that he was alive.
"Zander loved mobiles. Pete couldn't have cared less about them, but I...well, I saw it and..."
"It's perfect, Cameron. Thank you."
His gaze fell upon a long strand of hair that had fallen across Alexis's cheek, and before he knew it he was gently lifting it and tucking it back behind her ear. She smiled shyly, looking up at him with such sweetness and warmth that all Cameron could think about was when he'd get to kiss her again. He cleared his throat and let his hand fall away from her face.
"When Kristina gets bored with the ducks, bunnies and dancing bears, she's got the rest of the animal kingdom well represented in stuffed form."
Alexis's eyes shifted to the shelves on either side of the large window. They were all filled with soft, furry creatures that she couldn't resist. The more she could fill her daughter's room with toys, the less she thought she'd feel the void. She was wrong. She felt it every second of every day, everywhere she went.
"And don't forget about that little lamb you've been carrying around in your purse like a security blanket."
Her eyes snapped back to his, her mouth opening in surprise.
"Busted." Cameron winked.
Alexis sighed lightly, stroking Kristina's back and closing her eyes as she pressed a cheek to the top of the downy little head.
"It smelled like her." She murmured. "That sweet, powdery, innocent baby smell. It helped me get through the times that a pregnant woman would pass by me on the street. Or a woman pushing a stroller."
"Now it's going to be YOU pushing the stroller. So you can give the toy back to her now."
Kristina made a grunting sound and Alexis pulled back to look at her. The baby looked back, her little forehead creasing as if she could feel the sadness in her mother's memory of missing her. Alexis kissed her nose and smiled, then kissed her worried forehead.
"Sorry sweetie, but it's true - Mommy napped your lambie pie. But Cameron's right - she doesn't need it anymore. She's got you."
She hugged the baby tight, eliciting a squirm and a slight sound of protest.
Kristina squirmed and whined some more. Alexis looked up at Cameron with concern as she felt around the baby's rear end.
"She isn't wet. Do you think she's hungry? Alice said she just got a bottle an hour before we picked her up. Would she be hungry again?"
"I think maybe...she just needs a little more breathing room." He tactfully suggested.
Alexis frowned and released the strength of her hold on the wriggling bundle in her arms. Kristina stretched out her little arms and began to contentedly gaze around her new, colorful surroundings.
She looked at him with a pained expression. "Uh oh. Am I going to be one of those smothering mothers whose children end up on your couch?"
Cameron couldn't help but smile, though he knew her question wasn't all in jest. He admired her humor, and he was grateful that she had it still intact. Even in the most desperate of times, it helped her cope. It helped her not break for real. And he found her quick self-deprecation disarmingly endearing, revealing to him the insecurities raging that lay beneath the quips. And Alexis wasn't limited to making fun of her self - she made fun of him too. Him with his psycho-babble and his pompous, patronizing ways. At first her little pot shots were irritating as hell, and his wounded pride shot back. But the irritation was accompanied by intrigue, and soon the jabs they traded began to feel like an acceptable way they'd found to flirt. They were playing a flirty game. And the more he yearned for her in the way a man yearns for a woman, the more contrarily he behaved.
But the game suddenly came to a halt. Her charade was exposed, and it devastated him. He was certain Alexis knew what feelings were stirring inside of him and she'd used it to play him for a fool and get away with murder. For a wrenching hour or two, before he confronted her, he hated her. He hated himself. But the minute her lie was thrown in her face, she crumbled like a castle of sand. She was terrified, ashamed, remorseful...and also relieved to not have the burden of upholding her fraud to him any longer. And the whole truth of how Alkazar really died came spilling out. Oddly enough, he believed every word she said. But something inside of him couldn't bend. It was his wounded pride. So he let her cry, grovel, and plead without shame for his help as he turned his back and left her alone to think that her life was over. By the time he got to the elevator, the sound of her choking sobs echoing in his head was making him queasy. He left anyway.
And by the next morning, Alexis had shut down. She thought she'd already been thrown to the wolves, and Cameron was there to 'handle' her when Baldwin came to drag her off to jail. She was so quiet and subdued as she sat on the bed and silently took in another round of Cameron's harsh, angry, insulting remarks like a sponge. She was too buried in fear and hopelessness to protest, and she looked at him with her eyes as large, sad and dark as he'd ever seen. Even when he confessed that he'd kept her secret and would keep it still, she looked at him in a disbelieving daze. She heard his words, but the feeling of doom had been too internalized for her to completely trust them. Cameron missed the Alexis he knew, and now he was afraid for her. She was lost in a sea of panic and grief, and he set about pulling her out. But Alexis was stubborn, and her trust was still tenuous. She fought his methods, his rules, his court-appointed authority over her...and she fought the six months of separation that was a lifetime to her.
It was only after she'd opened up to him, willingly, about the details of her lost baby sister that he truly understood the visceral anxiety over Kristina that nobody else understood. It broke Cameron's heart to know hers had been broken over and over again, and to watch it get broken even more. But she was strong and tough, and she would never stop fighting like a tiger for her child. And there came the day that Cameron had to start fighting WITH her instead of just for her. It was the day he caught her ready to run. His fear of never seeing her again overwhelmed him, and he berated, guilt-tripped and threatened her until the look of betrayal in her eyes made him queasy again. Cameron finally had to admit the truth to himself - he'd fallen for Alexis like a ton of bricks, and all that mattered was putting her broken heart back together again. And all that would un-break her heart was getting her baby back.
Cameron reached out and cupped his palm to her cheek. "You aren't smothering her, Alexis. Your arms have been too empty for too long, and now they're suddenly full. You do have a lot of lost hugging time to make up for, but you don't have to do it all at once."
Alexis smiled and leaned into his loving touch. "No, I don't. I have the rest of our lives to make up for it, thanks in no small part to you."
"I'm glad you finally let yourself trust me enough so I could help."
"I'm sorry that was so hard for me. I've just never had anything so critical as this perfect little being at stake before."
"I know. And your trust has been violated by too many people to go wantonly handing it over to a virtual stranger."
Alexis lowered her eyes. Only Ned's betrayal had truly hurt her. But she should have known that his family loyalties would always come first to any other. Even Brook Lynn knew. Alexis reached up to take Cameron's hand from her face and she held it, letting her fingers slip in between his.
"I feel awful about this, but...the truth is, when you started showing up at the NICU, bringing me lattes and offering me emotional support and an ear to bend, it made me suspicious. You didn't seem to have an agenda or want anything from me in return. Being shown such kindness from a virtual stranger was outside my frame of reference and it made me suspicious. I thought you might have been a plant."
"House or garden?"
Cameron smiled. Alexis groaned.
Kristina put in her two cents with a yawn.
"Everybody's a critic."
He stroked the baby's cheek and she cooed in response. He turned his attention back to Alexis.
"A plant by whom, and for what purpose?"
Alexis shrugged. "Pick any Cassadine or Quartermaine name out of a hat for the 'whom'. And the purpose would be hurting me by either hurting my daughter or taking her away from me. Thus, the background check that elicited your justifiable outrage."
"I believe I called you paranoid."
"Among other things."
"Sorry about that."
"I WAS paranoid. But with good reason. You just didn't know that at the time."
"I know it now. Your life plays out like a gothic novel of epic proportion, and that's a little outside MY frame of reference."
"I guess by all rights I should be even stranger than I already am, huh?"
"I like the amount of strange you already are." He frowned. "That didn't quite come out right."
She smiled. "I think it came out just the way you intended."
"Well then, since I'm clearly on a communication roll, I want you to know that you putting your complete faith in me, with the most critical thing in the world at stake, means everything. Keep doing it, okay?"
"Okay." She whispered.
"I want to be the one person in your life who you know, without a doubt, will never break your faith."
She stared at him, taking in the full meaning of his words and letting them take root. They felt right. They felt good.
"I want to be that for you too. I know I haven't earned that kind of trust from you yet, but I..."
"Now hold it right there!"
Alexis looked up at him with her big, smoky eyes filled with trepidation.
"First you try to read my mind and then you try to put words in my mouth. Cut it out."
She ran her tongue across her lips and swallowed.
"You've earned it, Alexis. In giving it, you earned it." Cameron took a deep breath and released it in a shaky, anxious exhale. "You have my trust and...more. You have my heart."
Her fingers tightened within his. Cameron pulled their hands up to his mouth and pressed the back of her wrist to his chest.
"I never would have kissed you like I did if I didn't feel...strongly. I don't take such things lightly. And I wanted you to know the truth because that's what trust is all about. But please don't misunderstand that I'm expecting YOU to say anything - or feel anything in return. Just because you kissed me back, I know that doesn't necessarily mean that you..."
"Okay, NOW who's putting words in whose mouth?" Alexis sighed heavily.
Cameron tilted his head. "Touche."
"I wouldn't have kissed you back if I didn't also feel...I mean I don't take such things lightly either."
"I know that about you. I like that about you."
Alexis smiled. He smiled back.
"This is odd."
"Trying to express this kind of feeling...to someone for whom I'm feeling it...well, it normally makes me feel like I was standing at the edge of an abyss and someone had their hands on my back. But I don't. Feel that way, I mean."
She laughed lightly. "You should be."
The sound of the doorbell made Alexis jump. Her eyes darted toward the door, and they were veiled in fear. She took a reflexive took a step back. It hurt Cameron to know that it would take Alexis a long to let go of the fear that Kristina would somehow be taken from her again. That would happen over his dead body.
"I'm not expecting anyone." She said quietly.
"Would you like me to see who it is?"
She nodded. "If it's Nikolas, I'd like to see him. Anyone else..."
"I'll take a message."
Alexis waited for him to leave the room before quietly moving into the hallway and loitering there until she heard a familiar voice that made her smile. And she walked Kristina out to the living room to greet their visitor.
"What I meant to say was, anyone but Nikolas OR Zander. Hey there."
Zander's face broke out into a big smile. "Hey. I hope it's okay that I stopped by without calling. I mean I hope it's not too late."
"No, not at all."
"Dad told me you were bringing Kristina home tonight, and I just wanted to come by and say congratulations. I'm really happy for both of you."
"Thank you Zander." She glanced up at Cameron. "And I know what you and Gia did to help me. I appreciate it more than I can say."
"I owed you so much, Alexis. I'm glad I could help."
She smiled and leaned toward him to kiss him on the cheek. Kristina gurgled and reached for Zander's nose. He smiled, transfixed by the sweet little face staring up at him with wide-eyed curiosity.
"I think she likes you. You want to hold her? I think she'd like that."
Zander looked at Alexis with a hesitant expression.
"She may drool, but she won't bite." Cameron promised. "No teeth yet."
Alexis shifted the baby's weight and carefully put her in Zander's arms. "Just support the back of her head and neck like this."
She positioned Zander's hand correctly, then stepped back and watched with a proud maternal grin as her daughter dazzled her first young man. Cameron was feeling some pride of his own. It was a profound thing to see his youngest son now grown into a man, old enough to be the father of the child he held in his arms. And it was even more profound that his son was holding the child of the woman Cameron had grown to love. For a moment, he was remembering what a real family felt like. He missed being a family. He wanted it back. And he wanted it with Alexis.
Cameron took a small step forward and slid his arm around Alexis's back, letting his palm wrap around the curve of her waist. She reflexively leaned back into him, resting the back of her head against his shoulder. And both parents proudly watched as their only children sweetly bonded. Kristina suddenly giggled as she succeeded in grabbing hold of Zander's nose.
"Looks to me like you might have your first babysitting candidate all lined up." Cameron quipped.
"Sure." Zander didn't take his eyes off Kristina's face as he let her happily poke and pull at his clearly fascinating nose. "Someone's going to have to teach me how to change a diaper first though."
"Sounds like men's work to me." Alexis piped up.
Cameron lifted an eyebrow as he looked down at her. She grinned at his silence, knowing full well that a strong look of protest was being cast her way from above. She didn't look back, but gently nudged him in the side with her arm. He nudged back, and then Alexis felt the palm resting at her waist being to gently move up and down her side. Her grin widened. The easy playfulness and soothing, affectionate touch made her want to turn and wrap her arms around him - and to feel his arms wrapped around her in return. She hadn't felt so safe and happy in a long time, and she didn't want to let it go.
Kristina suddenly rubbed at her eye and dropped her head forward onto Zander's chest. He slid his hand up to the back of her head and began to rock her back and forth.
"Wow." Zander murmured. "This is just so...awesome. I've never held a baby before. I think she really does like me."
He finally glanced up at Alexis and his father...and the way they looked together was striking in it's casual intimacy. Cameron was standing so close behind her that just a slight backward tilt of Alexis's head had brought it to rest against him. His father's arm was around her, his hand caressing her waist. And Alexis didn't even seem to notice, as if it was a natural thing for him to do.
"I think she's sleepy too." Alexis said softly.
"It's been a long, emotional day for everyone." Cameron smiled down at the top of Alexis's head. "Not to mention the most satisfying day I've had in a hell of a long time - if ever."
The dimples began to appear within her cheeks before Alexis had even lifted her eyes up to his face. And when she did, the look that passed between her and Cameron told Zander that his strong suspicions were right - his father DID have feelings for Alexis, and she clearly was working on some feelings for him too. His jaw clenched with anger. After everything Alexis had been through, how could he DO that to her? He was her doctor, for God's sake! Her shrink! She trusted him to help her and violated it. He took advantage of her emotional vulnerability and Zander wasn't about to let it go on.
"Alexis, I think Kristina's off in dreamland."
She smiled and reached to take the sleeping bundle from Zander's arms. "It would appear so. I'll go put her down. And if there happens to be an opportunity for that diapering lesson I'll let you know."
Alexis winked and turned to leave the room. The minute she was out of sight, Zander's smile disappeared as he shot a sharp, accusatory glare his father's way.
"What the HELL do you think you're doing?"