Mortal Stakes Mortal Stakes

"... only when love and need are one

And work is play for mortal stakes." --Robert Frost

He stepped from a dark alcove to turn and face the water, the mists seemingly parting for him as he did so. The moonlight cleared a path, cold and severe, as if to acknowledge his right to be here, this night. Here -- alone, in the dark, in the cold -- facing across the water, and the thing that was beginning there. Because, after all, where else would he be, tonight or any other night?

Home? The word had no meaning for him any more; it hadn't for a long time. Maybe it hadn't ever, he thought, then dismissed that. No matter what lay between them, he had had a home with her once. But that had been a long time ago, and now, home was a just a four letter word. And, not one of the four letter words he liked.

Across the water? No way in hell. He laughed out loud at the thought, a short, bark of laughter that spoke not of humor but something more akin to broken glass and a broken life. Crossing the water wasn't a matter of getting in a boat and paddling over there, though he'd done that when the need was great. Not for him. It was like -- stepping into hell, willingly, eyes open and unprotected. There'd once been reasons for him to take that plunge into hellfire, things to bring back from Hades' domain, but like home, like his life, those had all faded away into nothing. Or had chosen to live among the ashes and the flames.

He narrowed his eyes, half-convinced he could hear the laughter from that god-forsaken island. He knew he could see the lights, flickering, and it wasn't so far away. In actual distance. He started, violently, and began to turn away. But, he couldn't. No matter how much he desperately wanted to, he couldn't. It simply wasn't in his nature to allow himself any relief from the agony burning in the pit of his stomach as he kept his solitary watch across the water, his dark imaginings cutting cold tracks in his heart. No, his was to remain until the breaking point -- and past it. That, after all, was his penance, to torture himself in her name.

Just then, he tensed hearing a footstep behind him. Before he heard another step, though, he had relaxed, and begun to turn around, pulling a cigar out of his pocket and lighting it deliberately. "Counselor," said Luke Spencer, nodding towards the figure of Alexis Davis, walking towards him, "shoud've figured you'd be here tonight. Looking for an escort to the festivities?" Luke jerked his head towards Spoon Island and Wyndemere.

Alexis looked up, her eyes dull and tired. Unlike him, she seemed surprised to see another human being here, at least for a moment. Then, a recognition flitted across her features; where else would he be, tonight, she thought, pity touching her for a moment. "Luke," she began, then stopped seeing the hardening of his face. Alexis cocked her head slightly, modifying her tone. "Oh, of course I'm heading over to Spoon Island, gilt-edged invitation in hand." Alexis patted her very empty pocket. "I've only delayed over lack of an appropriate gift for the happy couple," she said lightly, hiding the deeper emotions behind a facade of irony. She shrugged philosophically. "Nothing seemed quite -- appropriate. Especially coming from the banished, more or less hated, half-sister of the groom. And, despite my family's reputation, a matching set of his and hers poison daggers just isn't my style. What about you, Luke?" she asked abruptly, not sure she wanted to know the answer, but asking nonetheless. "Don't tell me you're just standing out here waiting for the next launch."

He regarded her a moment, thankful, though he'd never admit it, that she'd set this particular tone. He couldn't handle pity or even compassion tonight, not from her, not from anyone. "Well," Luke drawled, blowing smoke out towards the water, "while I detect a certain -- irony -- in your voice, Princess, I actually did receive an invitation." He reached in his jacket pocket, tossing the crumpled piece of paper towards Alexis. "Gilt-edged and all, enough to make you sick. Laura," he bit out her name, "trying to extend the olive branch. Or trying to extend somethin'." He turned back to the lake for a long moment, his eyes unreadable before turning back to Alexis, meeting her eyes. "What d'ya say, Natasha? Wanna head over there and hand my --," something dark entered his eyes, or rather revealed itself to her gaze, and Alexis caught her breath in her throat. Luke continued, grimly, "hand Laura and Count Vlad our regrets in person?"

"She's not your wife, Luke," Alexis spoke in a low voice, the playful veneer having left her voice. "Just like Stefan's not my brother, not any longer. They've both made other choices despite," she hugged her arms tightly around her body, somehow able to speak the truth in the dark, to this man, that she couldn't speak in the light of day to anyone else, "how much we might desperately want it otherwise."

"What the hell do you know about what I want?" Luke spit out viciously. He dropped the cigar, grinding it beneath his heel with one quick twist. "You don't know me, Natasha! And you sure as hell don't know what goes on between me and Laura."

"What went on between you and Laura, you mean," she snapped back, her ire rising. "She's marrying Stefan, Luke." Alexis glanced down at her watch, "Let me correct myself; by now, they're married. There is no 'you and Laura', anymore. And, from what I've heard, there hadn't been for a very long time, Stefan or no. I may not be a fan of Laura's," Alexis looked Luke up and down, "but I think I can figure out exactly who's fault that one was."

"You don't wanna go there, Princess," Luke said, his tone forbidding and his fingers clenched as he took a step towards Alexis, his back to the water and Wyndemere for the first time that evening. "Laura, me, and blame -- that's not a pretty place, and not one I'm willing to go for anyone. Don't push me, Alexis," he warned her, seeing her eyes flash.

"Or what?" Alexis demanded. "Or what, Luke? I am so sick," she took a step towards him, not daunted by his voice or the desperate ring behind it, "of men telling me what to do. 'Divorce Jax, Alexis, or I won't love you anymore'," she mimicked, her hands flying wildly. "'Be Brenda, Alexis, or I won't want you'. 'Don't go after what's yours, Alexis, or I won't acknowledge you'!" She spun on her heel, her voice cracking. "What are you going to take from me, Luke, if I don't do what you want? My job?" She laughed, almost hysterically. "My life?? It's been threatened before, more than once; I managed to hang on. Though this time," Alexis' eyes focused somewhere over his shoulder, her voice low, "maybe I won't fight so hard."

Luke looked at her, the anger in his eyes slowly shifting to a bone-weary tiredness and something close to compassion. "If you're lookin' for oblivion, 'Tasha, you're not gonna find it here," he said, tiredly, turning to face the water and the island he couldn't seem to keep his back to. "Not by my hands. Though, if you want to throw yourself in the lake," he shrugged, "I'm not gonna stop you, not tonight."

Alexis tilted her head towards him, then gestured towards the water. "After you, Luke," she said, not entirely unserious.

"Don't think I won't take you up on it," he responded, his voice low. After a long silence, Alexis stepped up beside him, reaching up to put a hand on his shoulder. She didn't say a word, and when he glanced at her face, it was still as stone, facing the lights twinkling from Wyndemere. Luke closed his eyes, letting out a shuddering breath, knowing that he had been as close to stepping over the edge he lived his life on than he had ever been, until she came along. He reached up, pointedly not looking at her, and covered her hand with his own. And, there they stood, looking out at the water, at the lights and the stars that were so coldly reflected in it, at the life they had lost.

Alexis slid her hand slowly off Luke's shoulder, his hand loosing hers without looking or even seeming to notice. She studied his face a long moment, starting to speak, then stopped. A series of emotions crossed her face, the last being determination colored with a kind of fatefulness, and she stepped in front of Luke, looking up at him. "Luke, are you planning on standing here all night?" Alexis asked. "Because I for one," she took a deep breath, "could use a drink. And, I've come to know the dubious pleasures of drinking alone; it's not something I'd care to do. Not -- not tonight."

There was a long silence as Luke's face didn't change, set in stone as he looked towards Wyndemere. Alexis was about to restate the question when he spoke up, still not moving. "That an invitation, Princess?" Luke asked, something of his usual mocking tone back in his voice, neither his body nor his face moving at all.

Alexis shrugged, wrapping her arms tightly across her chest. "You could call it that. If you absolutely insisted. I prefer to think of it as," she searched for an acceptable phrase, "shelter from the cold," she said finally, her tone low.

He finally turned to face her, searching her face for -- something. Alexis wasn't quite sure what he was looking for, but he seemed to find it, nonetheless. "Okay," said Luke. He lifted his empty fingers to his mouth as if they held a cigar, his face registering surprise when all that met his lips was air. Alexis bit her lip at his expression; for whatever reason, his slight moment of bafflement before he found the cigar under his heel smote at her heart more deeply than anything else the entire evening. Luke caught her eyes, then without changing expression, jerked his head slightly. After a moment, without talking, they both starting walking away from the docks, disdaining her car for their feet and the walk to Luke's club, the wind blowing cold and clear in their faces.

It wasn't a long walk, though it was a silent one, both of them lost in their own private worlds, neither one pretty. Neither one even close. Luke unlocked the door, preceding Alexis into the club and shutting on the lights. He twisted his mouth in something that could have been a grimace; coming back here, out of the cold and the mists and his silent watch on the dark island where his heart had died, shocked him back to his reality in a particularly jarring way. And was comforting too. Whatever else he'd lost, he had a place in this life. A role to play. And, someone by his side, even if only for the next few minutes. Stepping behind the bar, he glanced up at Alexis. "What's your poison, Natasha? And, I don't mean that literally, baby; nothin' that'll kill you behind this bar. At least, nothin' that'll kill you quick."

"Anything," Alexis said, sitting down hard on the stool, exhaustion caused more by the emotional marathon she'd been on for the past few hours, days, weeks, months -- take your pick -- than anything else. "As long as it's not vodka. That I don't think I could handle tonight."

He poured a shot of a golden-amber liquid in a short glass, passing it to Alexis who took it without comment. Luke himself held up the bottle. "Let's hold off on the toasts tonight, Lexi. Makes me think of weddings, and I'm -- all weddinged out." She nodded, her eyebrows raised expressively and tossed back the drink in a smooth, practiced motion. Luke watched her with something akin to admiration before taking a swig out of the bottle.

Alexis' eyebrows raised even higher as she tasted the liquor, then, after a moment, a slow smile spread across her face, and she pushed the glass back towards Luke tapping it with a finger. He returned the grin, if only with his lips. "Pays to know the owner, baby doll. On occasion, he'll break out the good stuff. And, this seemed as good a time as any. You know, I've never gotten the idea of saving the good stuff for celebrations; people are so drunk on life when they're happy, you can pour tap water in their glasses, and they'll swear it was the best buzz they ever had," he said, refilling her glass and resting his elbows on the bar as he watched the play of light on the liquid in the bottle in his hand. "It's times like these, when your life's shot to hell and you're as down as you've ever been," he took a swig, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. Alexis managed not to wince. "That's when you gotta break out the stuff that makes you forget your name, your life, where it hurts." He looked at her. "You're quiet , Princepessa."

Alexis put her glass down, looking at Luke full in the eyes. "And you're not. Except that you're not saying a single word about the one thing we both know is the only thing you're thinking about right now." She took a deep breath and plunged down into those frigid, uncharted waters. "My brand-new sister-in-law, Laura Cassadine."

Luke's eyes went blank and shuttered, and he made a big show out of re-capping the bottle and stowing it back underneath the counter. "I don't talk about my relationship with Laura with anyone, Alexis. Especially not a Cassadine."

Alexis laughed, sharp and bitter. "Cassadine," she repeated, mockingly. "I'm beginning to hate that word just as much as I hated 'Spencer' once upon a time. And it's just about as meaningless." She stood up abruptly, skidding the stool she had been perched in sharply across the floor and leaning across the bar to glare at Luke. "You think you have a monopoly on pain and loss, Spencer? Well, let me tell you something, my partner, co-conspirator, enemy, your last name doesn't make you the only one who's ever based your life on something you thought would last forever only to have it vanish in the light of day when the harsh light scared all the secrets out of their dark corners. I had a life as Alexis Davidovitch, until I found out the truth about my mother. I was beginning to make a life as Natasha Cassadine, until my nephew switched fathers. I had even started to live a new life as Alexis Jacks, until that fell to pieces being born in lies upon lies! And you stand there," she gestured at Luke with flashing eyes, "saying I can't know what it is to be alone or in pain because of my last name?! Luke -- get over yourself!" Alexis spun on her heel, and began stalking towards the door of the club.

"I knew her," Luke said, his voice low and full of agony, brining Alexis to a complete stop. She turned around, and Luke walked slowly out from behind the bar, leaning against it and facing Alexis. "I'm not sayin' I understood her; there's not a man born can understand any woman, and Laura--" He broke off, passing his hand over his eyes. "But, I knew her. From the minute that our eyes met. She was seventeen, she was married, and I could see my life in her blue, blue eyes. I didn't have one 'til then. Didn't even know what the word meant. Then, twenty years pass, and one day I open my eyes, turn to my wife and realize I don't know where she is anymore. I mean, she's there, but -- I don't know her anymore. Don't know our life, where we are, and I'm startin' to doubt I even know where the hell we've been. So," he shrugged, and Alexis took a step towards him, "I moved out. And Laura moved on. Problem is she took my life with her, somewhere along the line. I can't figure out how in the hell to get it back," he said, his voice low.

"It's funny that you say that," Alexis said softly, taking another step towards him, drawn by his pain -- so like hers. "Because I never once knew Stefan. But I've understood every move he's made. Even lying about Nikolas' parentage, even," she glanced up at Luke, "even marrying Laura. How could I do anything but understand? We lived the same hell of a childhood, survived the same island, had the same enemies," she gestured at Luke with an ironic twist of her head, "had the same blood running through our veins. Almost. Maybe it's because of our mothers that I have never once been able to know my brother. I don't know. It doesn't matter, I suppose. Because that life you talked about that Laura gave you?" This time when Alexis looked at Luke, there were tears in her eyes. "Stefan gave me a life. Just -- a life on his terms. And when I wanted to change the rules, he took it all away. And, I was left with nothing, no matter how much I tried to put it back together first with Ned, then Jax. Once I broke the rules, my brother didn't leave me enough pieces of my life left to make a whole."

"Somethin' we've got in common, Natasha," Luke said softly. "Breakin' the rules. Laura and I broke every rule there was, first moment that we met. Problem was she started wanting to play by them again. And -- turned out neither one of us knew what they were anymore. And we couldn't figure out a way to match up the ones we had."

"Yes, something we've got in common," whispered Alexis, reaching out to lay a hand on Luke's arm, a hand he caught with his own, like a drowning man catching onto a lifeline. He closed his eyes as he felt her other hand slowly touch his cheek and let out a long, shuddering breath. Luke opened his eyes and looked into hers, feeling his hands lift almost without volition to cup her face, his thumbs brushing away the tears left there. He bent his head slightly, tilting it to meet hers, and slowly, their lips met in a kiss that was intended to comfort -- though who he was comforting, him or her, he wasn't quite sure. It remained that way only a moment.

Alexis' arms slid over Luke's shoulders, her hands meeting behind his neck as she pulled him towards her, needing to -- feel, feel something other than this blackness in her heart. Her lips parted under his, and she felt him catch his breath deep in his throat, and she knew that Luke needed the same thing she did at least for this one moment. To forget. He lifted his head a long moment later, looking at her. After a space that could have been seconds, minutes, years, Luke spoke. "I've got a room upstairs," he said roughly, all else disappearing into the night but her next words.

She looked at him, her heart pounding and her head oddly calm. Truth be told, Alexis had known this moment was coming the second she'd stepped out from the mist tonight and seen him turn to her. Because, for both of them, there had been only one choice tonight: either this or the cold, dark water. Alexis regarded his face a moment longer before inclining her head slightly. "Let's go," she said, and stepped back to let him lead the way.

The last part of Mortal Stakes is email only:) Drop me a line if you'd like to read it and I'd be more than glad to send it on your way! -- Elizabeth