The crisp mountain breeze combed through his hair as he put his mind and body through the ancient ritual of Tai Chi. The rejuvenating exercise and fresh air cleared the emotional clutter from his mind. It was because of this daily ritual that he had found peace with himself, for the first time in over two years.
The last three months on this mountain retreat, the place where he first discovered the healing power of the Eastern Arts decades ago, has been time well spent. He arrived disheartened and lost, his life in ruins. Nothing of his former life remained... family, duty, the hope for a future, his reputation, and worst of all, the love of the child he loved more than his own life. All of it dead at the base of a Spoon Island bluff.
Only now, after months of solitude and immersion in Eastern teachings, was he able to recognize it for the gift it was.
For the first time in his life he was free.
Stefan slowly pulled himself up to a sit on the steel bunk and gingerly touched the back of his head. It throbbed so painfully that he was half-convinced his skull was split open. He prodded it gently and found a sizable knot at the base of his skull.
Amidst the fog of pain, Stefan tried to piece together what happened. He'd been in Rome a few weeks after leaving Port Charles under the pretense of pursuing happiness. His true mission had been tracking Helena's movements in hopes of catching her. On the third week, news of a sighting and the promise of more information lured him to an alleyway. Last he recalled he'd been clubbed from behind. Grimly he realized his men likely suffered worse fates.
He glanced around the small room constructed of mortar and cinderblock. It was nothing more than a cell -- a sterile room with no windows or adornments on the walls. On the far end a wall jutted into the room to create a makeshift bathroom, complete with a steel toilet, sink and shower head. On the other wall there was a small steel desk with a chair, both bolted to the ground... and a door. On the wall opposite from the bunk was another large steel door.
The accommodations were consistent with Helena. He'd obviously fallen into her trap.
After a moment of indulging in self flagellation, Stefan rose unsteadily to his feet. Pain exploded in his head. He bent over in agony, fighting the urge to vomit on his feet. It was several minutes before he could bring himself upright again.
He lurched toward the larger steel door first and noted that it had no knob or handle of any sort. Just smooth steel. His fingers found no recesses or imperfections on the seal. There was no getting past this door through physical might alone.
The second door proved more interesting. While also made of steel, it had a recessed handhold. When he tugged it, it slid smoothly open, revealing a cell much like his own. It included another table and chair bolted to the ground. On the bunk huddled a disheveled occupant who became instantly alert at the soft sound of the door opening.
"So..." A voice drawled a short distance behind him. "Don't you think you've been hiding long enough?"
Stefan's limbs continued on their intended course as if the voice had never spoken. The interruption, while not anticipated at that exact moment, was about as significant as a mountain being touched by a slight breeze. When Stefan finally replied, his voice was rough with lack of use. "Scoff if you must, but I am not fooled. You know it's value well. It saved your life once."
"Eh, I wouldn't go that far." The owner of the voice, a young man, shoved his hands deep into his pockets as he fought the urge to shiver in the frigid air of the mountain. "And it might just kill me now, watching you. If I get any calmer, I'm going to be in a coma."
"Then you are free to hike back down the mountain the way you came."
The other cell mate was considerably younger with long stringy brown hair that fell in his face. At the sight of Stefan standing in the doorway, he rose up onto an elbow and shoved his hair out of his eyes. They were a startlingly blue, darting and suspicious. The eyes rounded in surprise for a moment then narrowed. "Cassadine," The prisoner spat in disgust.
Stefan froze in the doorway and studied the young man closely. Still he did not recognize him. "You know me."
"Of course I know you," The young man said scornfully. "You ruined my life."
Stefan stepped into the other cell. "How... do you know me? I do not recognize you. Where have we met?"
The young man didn't answer immediately. He sat up in bed and glowered at Stefan maliciously. He glanced at the open door that joined their rooms. "All this time the other cell has been empty... What happened? Did Mama Cass get tired of you buzzing around her and decide to do something about it?"
"How long have you been here?"
"No idea. I stopped keeping track after two years - when they moved me here. Knowing how long I've been locked up only seemed to make it worse, you know?"
"What is your name," Stefan demanded, afraid to let himself guess.
"Doesn't matter anymore," The younger man said dully. He lost interest in tormenting his new roommate. "I don't look like myself anyway." His face cracked into a cold smile. "Hey, maybe she'll give you a new face too."
Stefan crouched at the boy's bed and stared into the stranger's face. The eyes were so familiar... "It can't be..." He whispered as the horror dawned.
"Can't be what?" The boy challenged. "Thought I was dead, didn't ya? Yeah. Faison and Helena thought that part was pretty funny. They even filmed my funeral for me so I could watch."
Shaking, Stefan reached out a hand in wonder and the young man flinched away. "Touch me and I'll break your neck, Vlad."
It was true. "Lucky Spencer."
The boy snorted as he tucked his stringy hair behind his ear. "Lucky. That name hasn't fit me for a long time. Helena's goons call me Spencer. Took them a while but they figured out their noses don't get broken as often when they do."
"If you are Lucky Spencer," Stefan breathed in wonder. "Then who is the boy that took your place in Port Charles?"
(author note: If you're curious to see who is cast as Lucky spencer, click here: Lucky Spence His identity IS significant.)
"Why would I leave? I just got here." Lucky watched Stefan for several minutes more before breaking the silence again. "I would have called first but there aren't any phones."
"The presence of a phone would defeat the purpose of the retreat." In the same smooth movements he used to begin, Stefan brought the exercise to a close. He turned to face the younger man for the first time, noting the changes since they last met: Lucky's shoulder length light brown hair was tied back into a neat pony tail. He was dressed in blue jeans, a black turtleneck and a leather jacket. While still thin, he was well groomed and had the color of health.
"The time since we last met has served you well," Stefan noted finally. "Though you could benefit from more practice."
Lucky snorted, more to annoy Stefan than to disagree. It was an old routine they shared. "Why? You practice enough for both of us."
They found seats on nearby boulders and lapsed into silence as they gazed down the valley that unfolded below them. A forest of evergreens broken up by the occasional rock outcropping, the scene was primitive and untouched by man. It was easy to see how the Stefan found serenity at the apex of this vista.
"Do you really get answers doing this?" Lucky asked.
"The answers come from within as you know from our conversations. The retreat and meditation provide me a way to clear away the distractions and emotional clutter so I can see the truth more clearly."
Lucky rose to his feet, caught with a restless energy. The same energy that propelled him to climb this god forsaken mountain to see this man. He walked the length of the plateau and shoved his hands in his pockets again before staring at Stefan intensely, expectantly. "If this meditation retreat is so good for getting answers, why are you still at it, months later?"
"Who says I haven't found the answers I seek?" Stefan returned, a slight smile touching his lips. "Have you considered that there might be another reason I remain here?"
"Yeah, I think you're sulking," Lucky challenged, suddenly flaring with anger. "Your precious Nikky hates you and is glad you're dead, so why not climb some mountain and have yourself a pity party? That's about it, isn't it? What a waste of a second chance, if you ask me."
It was a long time before Stefan could have a civil conversation with Lucky Spencer. On more than one occasion the younger man attacked him without provocation. Only his quick reflexes and the fact that Lucky was weak from lack of nutrition and exercise kept Stefan from being seriously harmed. Helena's guards were not so fortunate. Lucky seemed to make it a sport to inflict damage, but more often that not they deposited Lucky in a crumpled bloody heap on his bunk.
After a couple weeks of watching this, Stefan had had enough. He wetted a wash cloth and sat on the edge of Lucky's bunk, prepared to clean away the latest damage.
Lucky flinched back from the outstretched rag. "What the hell are you doing?!"
"I am doing what you refuse to do for yourself," Stefan retorted, leaning over to dab the rag at one particularly nasty cut on Lucky's brow. "It is unappealing to look at caked blood on your face."
Lucky slapped the rag away. "Go to hell, Cassadine!"
"It's clear I'm already there. Now allow me to attend to the wounds or I will restrain you."
"You and what army?! Those goons will laugh in your face." Even as he said it, he didn't fight when the rag touched his face. A tremor ran through his body. The last one to touch him with anything approaching tenderness had been Helena right before she handed him over to the surgeon. He'd never been more terrified of anyone in his life.
Stefan's touch wasn't like hers. While gentle, it was businesslike, with the skill of a parent who had bandaged his share of knees. "You are no match for me, Spencer. You can't even stand up, can you?"
"Fuck you," Lucky hissed.
He watched as Stefan rose to wash out the rag and then returned to cleanse the rest of his face. Stefan noted the way that Lucky was holding his middle. "Why must you provoke them? It's a wonder you don't die from internal bleeding."
"Who says that isn't what I want?"
"I will not allow that to happen."
"As if you could stop them?" Lucky batted Stefan's rag away. "Why do you care what happens to me?"
"I would think it would be obvious. I have every intention of getting out of here alive. Our chances of success increase dramatically if we pool our resources."
Lucky groaned as he rolled onto his side toward Stefan. "What resources."
"Your body for one. You should be focusing your energies on more productive pursuits rather than weakening your health by fighting the guards."
Lucky opened one eye. "Oh, like contemplating my navel? Finding my fuckin' center?"
Stefan ignored the profanity. "If an opportunity for escape presented itself right now, would you be able to take advantage of it?"
"There are no opportunities for escape."
"So you've given up?"
Almost every available moment in the first two years of Lucky's imprisonment had been spent on either keeping himself strong or trying to find a way out. But every attempt had been thwarted with such ease that Lucky had gradually come to the realization that he would never be free. The only choice he had left was how he would would live the rest of his days. If he decided to fight his way through them, who was Stefan to criticize? "Leave me alone."
"I do not sulk," Stefan retorts, his voice losing it's humor at the mention of Nikolas. "And I do not waste the chances that are given to me."
"What in the hell are you waiting for, then?"
"Perhaps I have been waiting for you." The moment he said it, Stefan realized it was true.
Lucky froze, incredulous, he couldn't have heard right. "Come again?"
"For you. I hoped you would seek me out when you were ready," Stefan said simply. "And you have. Now we can begin. If you are willing to join forces with me."
"Waiting for me, my ass," Lucky spit out with as much venom as he could. "I'm not a gullible fool like Nikolas. You don't get to move me around like some pawn on your fuckin' chess board. I do what I want, when I want." He glowered at the ground, muttering. "Screw it and screw you."
Stefan watched Lucky start toward the path down the mountain. "I thought we were past this," He called after Lucky before he went a few feet. "That I proved I was someone you could trust with your life."
Things changed after Stefan challenged Lucky to look after his health. Lucky didn't pick fights with the guards and his body slowly began to heal. When his meals arrived, he forced himself to eat everything provided. Once his injuries healed sufficiently, Lucky exercised when Stefan exercised. Sit ups, push ups, jogging in place. The first time at it Lucky collapsed after a few reps. He swore a blue streak. How had he let himself get so weak?
"Pace yourself," Stefan advised as he finished his set of push ups. "The strength will return."
Stefan hooked his feet around the legs of the desk at one end and began a set of sit ups. "Is that your answer for everything?"
Lucky grinned. "Pretty much, yeah."
When they realized the guards were watchful of their growing alliance, they began to stage fights with each other in front of them. It was an activity they participated in with great relish, hurling increasingly eloquent insults. It amused them to put one over on the guards. But when the guards were absent, which was the better part of the day, they would seek each other out and discuss potential escape scenarios.
Their grudging friendship continued until Helena arrived at the compound.
"Has everything been prepared?" Helena asked as she breezed into the small compound where Lucky and Stefan were held.
"Everything is as you ordered, Madame." The guard bowed his head as she passed. "They await your convenience in their respective cells. Who shall I bring out first?"
Helena tapped a well manicured finger on her chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm Lucky Spencer. And be sure my son knows I've summoned him. What I have planned will be more effective if I let my son stew a bit about the well-being of his helpless cell mate."
"With respect, Madame, I don't believe this maneuver will be very effective. They loathe each other. At least once a week my men have to pull them apart to keep them from killing each other. I don't believe your son will be the least bit concerned about Spencer's welfare."
"You may be surprised at what my son cares about. Do as I instructed. Make sure Lucky is comfortable and give him a choice to have his hands free or not. He knows the rules." Helena's lips curled into a secretive smile. While Lucky hadn't appreciated the restraint of his hands last time, she had enjoyed herself immeasurably. She looked forward to renewing the acquaintance.
As soon as the guards shoved him into the room, Stefan began to pace. Lucky had been pulled out of his cell an hour before for an interview with Helena and hadn't returned. The look of fear on Lucky's face as he was hauled away had stopped Stefan's heart. What game could his mother be playing at?
The door opened to admit Helena before Stefan could give more thought to it. Two armed guards stood at the doorway as she approached him with a triumphant smile. "Have you missed me, My Darling? I apologize for not being here to greet when you first arrived. I had other pressing business to attend to. I trust my staff has made you comfortable?"
Stefan merely glowered at her. "You don't really expect me to answer that. Where is Spencer?"
"Oh, you've become fond of him, have you? Protective, even? It is exactly how I suspected! You may fool my guards but never Mummy." Helena strolled around Stefan. "Wasn't I a kind hostess to leave you such pleasant company? Lucky was not so fortunate. He suffered in the years of solitude, I'm afraid. Countless times I offered bring him a playmate, but he refused every one of my suggestions." She stopped when she was behind him. "Tell me, did I procure you in time to keep him from going completely insane?"
"You couldn't break him, could you?" Stefan taunted, turning to face her. "So you had to fashion a twin to do your dirty work. But why keep him around?"
Helena's smile widened. "It should be obvious! I enjoy Spencer men! He is handsome, intelligent, well built. While his old face was pretty enough, the new one has so much more character. Befitting the man I have molded."
The whole conversation was turning his stomach so Stefan went right to the point. "Why are you here, Mother? It can't be just taunt us or you would have been here when I arrived."
"Hmmm, that's true," Helena agreed. "I'm afraid I don't have much time for that pastime these days. Very well, down to business. I need some information from you."
"You know I won't betray Nikolas." Stefan crossed his arms. "You won't get one scrap of information from me. You may as well put an end to me now."
"Oh no," Helena protested. "Killing you would ruin my fun. And torture, while enjoyable for me, would take too much time.... I'm confident I'll get the information I require." She stared her son down as she spoke out to the guard. "Yuri, open the curtain, please." One of the armed guards opened the curtain on the far wall to reveal a heavy glass window. "I'll leave you alone to watch the drama. To think! I get to star in my own show.... it should be GREAT fun." Her laugh was rich and awful, causing Stefan's gut to twist. What nightmare did she have planned?
Unable to resist, he walked to the darkened window and discovered it was a mirror... a one way mirror with a view into the other room. He didn't have long to wait before he heard a click. The light turned on in the other room, and with it, the sound.
"Ahhh, isn't that better, My Darling?" Helena inquired solicitously. Behind her, Lucky sat still as a stone on the edge of a king sized bed, his fists clenched at his sides. Freshly primped and hair cut, he was dressed in expensive clothes that hung on his thin frame. "Have you missed me?"
"No." His voice was flat, shaking slightly.
Lucky's response didn't dim Helena's cheeriness. "I'm sorry I haven't had any time to spend with you the last few months. I know how hard it is when you have no one to keep you company. My son can be a terrible bore, only slightly better than being alone. But he was the best I could do since you wouldn't let me bring you anyone more interesting...."
Her words were like poison in his veins and he interrupted when he couldn't take anymore. "What do you want, Helena?"
"I want what I always want..." She sat on the bed beside Lucky. "You decided to follow the rules this time?" She tsked slightly when he nodded. "I was half hoping you would refuse. I do so like bondage..." She ran a tender finger along his forehead and tucked a strand of his hair behind his ears. "I find it adds to the thrill... don't you?"
Lucky closed his eyes and swallowed convulsively. "No." He didn't dare more defiance, as that only seemed to inflame her ardor.
"You miss your family, don't you?" She asked softly, sympathetically, turning his face to meet hers. She traced a long nail down his jaw, the side of his throat, his chest. "I'm sorry about that, My Sweet, but it can't be helped. They wouldn't understand the changes in you, and quite frankly, I couldn't bear to lose you. The face I gave you is perfect..."
"Don't--" Lucky began to protest, fighting down the fear and revulsion that was multiplying in his gut. She wouldn't take this to the next level... she was just toying with him like always. Helena cut off his words by covering his lips with hers, kissing him boldly. When he tried to pull away, she framed the sides of his face with her hands and deepened the kiss, stealing his breath. His head began to spin.
Loud pounding interrupted the kiss. Helena looked up at the large mirror in mild disappointment. "Like always, my son is quite predictable and no fun at all."
Lucky couldn't believe his reprieve as he watched Helena rise from the bed. "What...?"
Helena cupped his cheek briefly before parting. "Maybe next time we'll get to finish this, hmmm? My son requires my attention."
Lucky gaped at her in dawning horror. "He saw--?!"
"Yes, it was necessary, I'm afraid," She threw over her shoulder as she approached the door. "Now be a dear and run along with Sasha back to your cell."
"I want to see her!" Lucky demanded loudly as he got into the guard's face. "NOW!"
The guard named Sasha shoved Lucky away but made no other move to subdue him. With Helena in residence, he didn't dare to harm the Lucky for fear of the retribution she might exact. "Madame is busy. You have no rights here, Spencer. You see her when she wants to see you. Not the other way around."
"Did I hear my name called?" Helena purred from behind. The guard named Yuri held a bound Stefan in the hall.
"Spencer is demanding to see you," Sasha answered.
"You touch him and so help me...." Stefan threatened, attempting to yank free. Yuri landed a solid punch to Stefan's gut causing him to double over, gasping for breath.
"Who am I to deny Lucky's request?" Helena didn't bother to look back when she answered and instead smiled warmly at Lucky. "I only said I wouldn't pursue what I started, not the other way around. Sasha, take Lucky back to the room I met him in before. I will be there after I've freshened up."
"...SEE. YOU. IN. HELL--" Lucky swore. His hands wrapped around Helena's throat effectively cut off her oxygen.
Helena fell to her knees, purple and gasping unsuccessfully for breath. Sasha and Yuri burst into the room in the moment they realized Lucky's intent. It took both of them to pry Lucky's hands from her neck. Sasha slammed him into the stone wall as hard as he could, then landed bruising blow after bruising blow to Lucky's midsection until Lucky collapsed.
Yuri helped Helena to her feet. They'd be lucky they didn't die over this mistake. "Are you all right, Madame?!"
"What... took... you... so long?!" Helena gasped in outrage. "He nearly KILLED me!"
"I'm so sorry, Madame..."
"See that the boy is punished but do not kill him." Helena waved off the guard's help as her coloring returned to normal. "I still have use for him yet. Stefan has more information to give me and I will make Lucky's well-being contingent on the veracity of his answers. Once you are through here, deposit him in the cell at the other end of the hall."
"Do you wish to keep them apart from now on?"
"Only until they learn that their comfort hinges on their good behavior. Once they are properly cowed and I have the information from Stefan I need, Lucky can return to his care." Despite her sore throat she found reason to chuckle. "He always did enjoy playing nursemaid."
Several days later.
Yuri shoved Stefan back against the wall as Sasha dumped Lucky's limp body on the cot in his cell. Sasha spit at Lucky then turned to face Stefan with a malicious grin on his face. "He's all yours, such as he is."
Stefan forced himself to stay silent as guards laughed raucously before slamming the door behind them.
Only when they were alone did Stefan crouch at the side of the cot where Lucky lay breathing shallowly. One of Lucky's eyes was swollen shut and his face was a misshapen mass of purple, green and yellow bruises. "What have they done to you?" Stefan whispered in anguish.
"It's not as bad as it looks," Lucky muttered in a low voice, clutching his middle. "It was much worse a few days ago."
Stefan lifted the bottom edge of Lucky's sweater to check for further injuries and Lucky jerked violently away. "Get away from me, Cassadine! Go back to your cell and leave me the hell alone."
"What has she done to you that you don't want me to see?" Stefan demanded, not moving from the cot.
"Nothing special. She didn't take a liking to me trying to strangle her so she had her goons beat the hell out of me. I almost succeeded too," Lucky added. "Seeing her gasping on the ground was worth the beating."
"Do you have a death wish? With her guards right there?!"
"It's no great loss if I die," Lucky answered flatly. "It's better than being used as leverage. It's all your fault I was beaten up anyway."
Stefan recoiled. "No.... NO. All I've done is protect you."
"Why the hell did you do it, huh? Why did you give her what she wanted? She'll just use it against the people we care about."
"If I didn't, they would have killed you," Stefan retorted. "Or worse."
"SO WHAT!" Lucky exploded. Immediately he regretted his outburst when it set off a coughing fit that racked his body and intensified the pain of his bruised ribs. Once he caught his breath he continued. "I'd rather die or survive whatever hell that psychotic bitch put me through than give her anything she can use against my family! Why do you think I was in such bad shape when you first came? And you... YOU folded like a house of cards at the first sign threat. You sold your precious Nikky down the river for NOTHING."
"You are not nothing," Stefan argued. "You are Nikolas's brother and I did what he would want me to do - Protect you first. I wouldn't be able to look him in the eye again if... " The mere idea caused bile to rise. "I let her touch you..."
"I could have handled it!" Lucky yelled, the memory shaming him. "She was just playing games and you fell for it."
"I know my mother, Lucky. She wouldn't have stopped if I hadn't called a halt to it. I wouldn't be at all surprised if she had been grooming you for this moment."
"Go. To. Hell." Lucky gritted out.
Stefan rose to his feet, realizing it was fruitless to try and help Lucky now. "Her plan worked perfectly to set us against each other. She may not have bedded you, but she knew you'd hate me for protecting you. I did what I had to do so I could live with myself, and would choose the same again. While your stunt served to put yourself at risk and give her more ammunition against me."
"Consider yourself lucky that I'm too weak to beat the crap out of you." Lucky rolled over so his back was to Stefan. "You betrayed Nikolas and put my whole family in jeopardy. I don't want to talk to you anymore."
"Neither Nikolas or your family are in any immediate danger from the information I imparted. Helena wanted financial information-- account numbers, passwords, business contacts... I assume to siphon off money from the estate."
"And bankrupt the Cassadines. Well that'd almost be a public service. Wonder what Nikky will think of you when he finds out you gave Helena the information she needed to drain his inheritance."
Stefan gazed at Lucky's unrelenting back. "I gave her enough to satisfy her but not enough to escape detection if Nikolas is attentive. It is a risk, but one I was willing to accept. So tell me, which one of us is the fool?"
"Go to Hell." There was no fight behind his words.
"I do not regret buying time to for us escape so we can fight her on an even playing field." Stefan paused. "And don't doubt it, we WILL escape. But I need your help to do it."
Under the cloak of night, Stefan scrambled up the rocky slope, half dragging, half leading Lucky who stumbled behind him coughing and choking. Below them smoke billowed from the concrete structure from where they'd just escaped.
In their mad climb, some rocks gave way and Lucky, the weaker of the two, fell to his knees retching and panting.
Stefan took hold of the back of Lucky's shirt and hauled him to his feet. "Come, there is no time. Our best chance for survival is to get as far away as possible. My mother would have a contingency plan for just such an occurrence. She would not want us to escape alive."
Lucky nodded blearily as he regained his footing and tried to sprint up the loose rocks. He lost his footing after several yards and fell to his knees again. He was so weak and worn down from years of no exercise and fights with Helena's goons. His lungs were bursting with the combination of physical exertion and smoke inhalation. He had little strength or endurance with which to tap. His legs and arms were as useless as rubber. "Go... go on without me. They have ... they have to know. Please. You... you don't need me."
"We have not come this far to give up," Stefan argued as he hauled Lucky to his feet. Adrenaline gave him strength beyond what should be possible. "You have not survived this hell to let her win now, at the cusp of success. I will not leave you behind. We live or die together."
Tapping into a well of strength he didn't know he had, Lucky forced his legs to obey his instructions and run. It wasn't much higher before they'd reach a level patch and the going would be easier. He ran not for himself, but for Stefan's survival, the man who was responsible for any sanity he had left.
It seemed only moments after they reached the crest that the explosion hit. The whole hill shook from the force and they were thrown to the ground. Stefan scrambled on his hands and knees until he was shielding the Lucky's body with his own. More explosions followed in a chain reaction until they were sure the ground under them would disintegrate. It seemed to go on forever.
Just as quickly as it began the ground stopped shaking. Stefan raised his head and looked around. There was smoke and fire below them but nothing else. "It stopped. We must keep moving. We will find some cover in the trees, where you can rest. From there, we'll work on finding a way off this island and back to civilization."
"How to you expect to perform that miracle?" Lucky quipped wearily. He rose to his feet and took a few shaky steps.
Stefan wrapped his arm around Lucky's waist to steady him as they walked. "It's not much farther. Helena's men will assume that we perished in the fire and search the wreckage for our bodies. The search will buy us some time to make our escape. I promised you I would find a way off the island and I will. Now is not the time to lose faith in me."
"Nothing personal against you, but I lost faith in anyone or anything a long time ago."
"I will enjoy proving you wrong yet again, Lucky."
Stefan didn't turn from the window when Lucky entered, preferring to keep his back to the door and his gaze on the gray sky that fit his mood. By the tilt of his neck, the stretch of his shoulders, he appeared proud and unbeaten even as his voice relayed their grim reality. In his hands he held two envelopes. "The news."
Lucky carefully closed the door behind him before he answered. "She's gone, no trace of where she went and what she did with his body."
"I am not surprised. My mother is remarkably adept at scurrying into the nearest rat hole and disappearing from sight. It will be nearly impossible to find her now, given our limited resources." Fingering the envelopes, Stefan let out a soft sigh of regret. "We will have to change strategy."
"Haven't you had enough?" Lucky asked, addressing himself to Stefan's back, the frustration of the last several months finding voice. "Can't you see how useless it all is? She's won. No one cares if you're alive. If you reveal yourself, you'll end up in jail for Summer Holloway's murder. Or worse, dead by my father's hand. Everyone in town believes you are devil incarnate. Nikolas and Alexis are relieved you're dead. And if that's not enough to convince you, Alexis is defending the guy who 'murdered' you in cold blood." He scowled in disgust. "You'd be better off staying dead."
"I concur." Everything Lucky said was the truth. In less than two years his mother had succeeded in demolishing his entire life. He'd spent the better part of two decades tirelessly toiling to leave Nikolas a legacy the family could be proud of and now there was nothing left. The Cassadine Empire was in shambles; his precious youngest sister, Kristina, dead before he'd had a chance to know her; and perhaps the most devastating of all, he'd lost Nikolas and Alexis. The people he loved most and who supposedly knew him best believed he was a monster capable of murder. He never would have believed the magnitude of his mother's destruction if he hadn't seen and heard it himself. Luke's mock trial, the gruesome death of Helena's pawn followed by Nikolas's denouncement, the pathetic funeral, and the truth of Nikolas's mounting debt - the last being his fault for arming Helena with the necessary information. Death was preferable to living in this reality.
Now that his fate was sealed, Stefan turned his attention to his companion. Lucky's life had also been stolen and dismantled, with the added insult of his surgically altered face. "And what of your future? Your family needs you. Elisabeth Webber is alive and well."
"Did you know my double really believes he's me? Gotta give the witch credit, she did a great job replacing me." Lucky shook his head disbelief. "I can't be the hero my parents need me to be, Elisabeth is married to another guy. It won't help anyone to upset things by revealing the truth. With my mother catatonic and my father certifiably nuts, Lulu doesn't need another crazy relative. I won't go back and give Helena a target."
"Perhaps that is prudent." Stefan handed Lucky one of the envelopes. "One final imposition on your time before you're free to go your own way."
Lucky stared at the front of the envelope, which was blank. "What is it?"
"There are a few loose ends that Stefan Cassadine must tie up before he can die forever," Stefan explained. "It is an inducement for Judge Farmer to do what is right and return Kristina to Alexis's care. Farmer presides in my niece's custody case." A niece he would never know if everything continued as planned. Yet another loss to catalog.
Lucky tucked the envelope inside the breast pocket of his leather jacket. "Consider it done. It's pretty big of you to help Alexis, considering that she turned her back on you."
"Helena's pawn set her up to take the fall for something she wasn't guilty of. It is a simple matter for me to set it right. And once done, Stefan's obligation to her is over." How curious, Stefan mused. If asked a few months ago, he wouldn't have believed how quickly and easily he shed the persona that had ruled his entire life. The question remained, who was he now?
"And what about Nikolas?" Lucky asked. "Are you leaving him to the wolves?"
A shadow passed over Stefan's face. This child would always leave it's mark on his heart, no matter who he became. "There is little I can do for Nikolas, now. I do not have the resources to set the Cassadine finances right, nor would he appreciate it if I could. If the Cassadine Empire folds he will be free, which is what he has always wanted. He is content to be in love with Emily Quartermaine and that will have to be enough." It was his hope that the death of 'Stefan Cassadine' would help Nikolas come to a place of peace. Now that he was unable to prove the presence of Helena's double, it was the only choice he had left. It had required cutting out his own heart, but Nikolas wanted Stefan to be dead, and so he would be. It mattered little what it did to him to accomplish it.
Stefan held out the second envelope. "This is for you."
Lucky peeked inside and saw the a wad of $1000 bills and a handwritten letter. He shoved it back at Stefan. "No way in hell. I can't take this."
"You must," Stefan answered adamantly. "Consider the pittance as payment for the services you've provided to me the last two months. You will need the funds to begin your new life. The letter is to a man named Ballmer. He works for a computer company based outside of Seattle. The debt he owes me will get you in the door. You will have to prove yourself from there."
"Come to Seattle with me," Lucky blurted out suddenly, surprising even himself.
"No. Seattle is not my future. I will make a pilgrimage to the mountain top where I once found peace. Perhaps I will find my future there, or at the very least some answers." Stefan put a hand on Lucky's shoulder and squeezed. He would miss this young man who had been his only friend for months. "Live well and find happiness, Lucky. That is the best revenge, the only revenge against Helena."
Lucky blew out an impatient breath and ambled back towards the cluster of boulders where Stefan was perched. "I do trust you with my life. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here."
"So why have you come?" Stefan asked quietly as Lucky paced in front of him.. "This is a long way to go for a pleasure visit. Why did you travel thousands of miles and climb this mountain to seek me out?"
"You said you've been expecting me, you tell me." Lucky dug his hands further into his pocket.
"Evasions," Stefan retorted, batting away Lucky's words easily. "As the one person who shared a part of what you suffered, they will not work with me. You came here seeking something, perhaps something that is missing." His eyes narrowed perceptively, seeing the dark circles under Lucky's eyes. "Have you been unhappy in Seattle?"
From those who knew him in Seattle, Lucky looked to be on the path to success. Stefan's letter of introduction to the CEO had gained him employment as a computer programmer. "Things went well enough. I made a small killing on a special project for Ballmer, then invested the money in some speculative investments. Made some more." But apart from work, living in Seattle had been a prison of his own making. He lived alone in a airy light-filled flat up on Queen Anne Hill that he had come to hate just as much as Helena's compound.
Somewhere during the years of imprisonment, Lucky had lost the art of small talk - how do you make light dinner conversation when kidnapping is the only topic you know anything about? Is the Stockholm Syndrome appropriate to discuss over dessert? Not surprisingly his first (and only) date had been a disaster. His social ineptitude aside, all he thought of during dinner was Elizabeth. Now he settled for the hired girls. They didn't expect small talk, just money. And he had plenty of that.
Yet nothing he did kept his demons at bay. With disturbing frequency over the past month, he woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, convinced he was back on the cot in Helena's compound. During the day, he snapped at anyone who spoke to him. After two weeks of this behavior, Ballmer had called him into his office and suggested he work from home. We don't want to lose you. You're one of the best we've got. Take a couple weeks and get your head together. A couple nights later his violent nightmares scared his favorite girl so badly she'd fled his apartment in tears. Her agency called him the next day to tell him the girls wouldn't be staying the night any longer.
Stefan watched in silence as a myriad of emotions flickered over Lucky's face. When it looked like Lucky might not go on, Stefan prompted him. "What happened."
"Almost 5 years." Lucky's boot dug at a small rock embedded in the packed earth as he spoke in barely audible tones. "I lost almost 5 years of my life and you might as well put me back in that cell for all the good being free has done me."
"The difference is you have a future. Freedom, choices."
"What kind of future? What kind of freedom?" Lucky's temper flared to life. "I'm still that pathetic kid huddled on that damn cot waiting for a chance to beat the crap out of those guards. The same kid who can't wait for Helena to show up so he can kill her. Some days I wish I'd died there."
Stefan rose from his perch to stand before Lucky. "A part of you did die. Your innocence, your teenage conviction that you were invincible. She robbed you of them, Lucky. Once gone, you will never get them back." He placed a comforting hand on Lucky's neck, cupping it. "Yet, you survived. And for a reason. What is it?"
"You don't want to know." Lucky looked away and blinked hard. "It doesn't matter, I can never have it."
"A reunion with your family and the girl you loved," Stefan guessed. They would have been his dreams in Lucky's place.
Love. Lucky shrugged out from under Stefan's hand and stalked a few feet away. "I knew before I left I'd never get what I dreamed for. So I lived for something else."
"Why did you come, Lucky?"
Because he had no where else to go. He didn't fit anywhere: not in Port Charles, not in Seattle, not in a hundred other cities he could choose. Fact was, Lucky didn't fit in his own skin anymore. "In the end, I survived to see Helena die. To make her pay for what she's done to me."
All of Stefan's meditations had returned the same answer. While he may be free from the shackles of his old persona, he couldn't be truly free until the issue of Helena was resolved. "So long as she remains alive and free, she can and will try to destroy our families. It makes what we suffered meaningless if we allow her to continue unchecked. She has taken enough from us and the people we love. So we will bring Helena to justice and right the wrongs done to our families."
"So this is why you said you were waiting for me? You want me to help you bring down Helena."
"It seemed inevitable that we would come together on this mission, yes." Stefan put a guiding hand on Lucky's shoulder and motioned for him to take a seat on one of the boulders again. He continued again once they were seated. "I would not have sought you out on this matter," he explained, answering the unspoken question. "You have sacrificed too much already for me to demand anything more from you. But your assistance will make the task of defeating Helena much easier. And perhaps if we can't return to our lives, we can reclaim our self respect."
Something clicked inside Lucky and much of the restlessness of the last three months evaporated. This. This is what he'd come here for. He leaned forward, a small crooked grin of anticipation on his face. "What do you have in mind?"
Stefan returned his grin in kind. "I thought you'd never ask."