"Oh, Holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth…"
Carrie could still hear the words so clearly as she stepped into the elevator and waited for the doors to close her in. Hours ago, Dawn had joined her friends to belt out her mother's favorite Christmas song as if somehow knowing that the simple gesture would help to ease some of the pain of Carrie's broken heart. It had. For a little while, Carrie could pretend that the pain she felt whenever she looked at her son-in-law or glanced at his mother wasn't real or at the very least, wasn't important.
Closing her eyes, she rested her back against the back wall of the elevator car and softly, she began to hum the rest of the tune. She remembered how every Christmas her mother would break out the old 45s and soon, the voice of Mahalia Jackson would fill their apartment. Her brother would roll his eyes and lose himself in one thing or another, but Carrie would be still and listen. Especially, when 'her' song came on. A smile in remembrance of happier Christmases past graced her face as instead of going down, the car went up. Still lost in her memories, Carrie didn't notice the elevator car's mistake.
"Long lay the world in sin and error pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth…"
Stefan could still hear his daughter-in-law's voice so clearly. Stefan smiled as he remembered. She had sung the one song with all of heart, her voice rising above that of her companions, before she and Nikolas had taken their leave.
Before she had departed his office, she had told him that in addition to the beautiful red scarf she had knitted for him, she had another Christmas treat for him. Of course, feeling that he really didn't deserve any more than what her presence had afforded him, Stefan had declined. The festivities on the lower floors of General Hospital were not the place for him. He hadn't said the words aloud, but he was an outsider and he had no doubts that the citizens of Port Charles would always consider him as such. Even at Christmas. Perhaps especially at Christmas, and therefore, he had declined her heartfelt invitation until… Until Dawn narrowed her beautiful brown eyes at him and presented him with the most determined look—a look which so reminded him of her mother—that he found himself unable to resist. And so he hadn't.
With his strong, lean hands clasped firmly behind his back, Stefan had stood on the outside of the circle of friends and families. His emerald eyes had glided along everyone and he had taken note of everything. His role as an observer instead of a participant reminded him of his many Christmases past. A deep sigh escaped the man as he remembered the loneliness he felt as a boy. Alexis had been a marvelous companion, but even she couldn't fill the hollowness of the place in his soul where his acceptance by his immediate family should have been. Christmas at the Cassadines had been a joyous occasion for his brother, but never for him. Had the secrets of the past remained just that for just a little longer, this Christmas would surely have made up for all the others.
But all was not lost, Stefan reminded himself as his eyes faintly registered the signal of the incoming elevator car. His dear daughter-in-law had made certain to include him on the Blessed day. Not once, but twice. And when her eyes had searched for and found his as she sung so passionately, he knew that all would not be lost. Not like it had been when he was child. Perchance, never again.
"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."
Carrie's eyes fluttered open as the elevator car came to a stop. She glanced at the overhead indicator and a faint frown creased her brown. "Why am I up here?" she whispered softly to herself.
Shaking her head as she muttered about the stupidity of elevators, she reached out to push the button for the first floor again. Her hand fell away from the dial as the doors whispered open. And she and Stefan stood face to face.
"Carlotta?" he asked. Had she come up to speak with him, he wondered. His soul brightened with a hope that he dared not speak of or give any outward regard to. He took a short breath and waited.
"Stefan," she said, keeping her voice void of emotion. She felt her throat constrict as their eyes locked and held. She hadn't expected this. Not today. Not so soon. She wasn't ready to face him. Not yet.
A small sliver of confusion coursed through him as Carrie neither stirred nor spoke again. Hadn't she taken the journey upward to speak with him? To settle their differences as the Americans would say? Hadn't she? He took a step backwards and moved his hand in a sweeping gesture. "Are you exiting?"
She looked past him. "No," she said, shaking her head. Drawn to him, her eyes went back to his. "The elevator made a mistake and brought me here. Are you going down?"
A mistake, he silently repeated the words. Oh. He drew a long breath and gave a brief nod of his head. "Yes, I am," he replied as he stepped inside.
Subconsciously, Carrie took a step back as he entered. She knew by his sharp intake of breath that her movement hadn't gone unnoticed, and if she could do it all over again, she wouldn't. The thought surprised her and a small mirthless chuckle escaped her. Hadn't he all but told her if he had the chance, he wouldn't have changed a thing? He would have lied to her all along. She laughed again. At herself.
Stefan glanced at her. Everything screamed at him not to question her, but he ignored the warnings. He asked, "Something amuses you?"
Bristling, her laughter came to an abrupt halt. She looked at him. "Yes," was her short response.
Refusing to be undaunted by her brusque tone, he spoke again. "May I be so forward as to inquire upon the riddle?"
"Sure." She shrugged. "The riddle is you and the joke's on me."
"I don't understand," he told her, although he did understand. Not quite, but almost enough to know that whatever was said next would be something he undoubtedly richly deserved.
"Maybe you do…maybe you don't. You'll understand if I don't accept your words at face value…if I don't accept your words at all." She shivered slightly and pulled her overcoat closer around her. She kept her eyes on the overhead indicator lights, silently praying for a quick descent.
"Of course," he began slowly, his tone smooth and silky, "I would understand that completely."
"Stefan, please," Carrie said, cutting him off. "I'm not in the mood for idle chit chat."
"Neither am I," he told her. "I simply wanted to comment on Dawn's performance. She sung the song quite beautifully. You must be proud."
"Extremely," Carrie said. "She has a remarkable voice."
"I agree. Carlotta, I-I…" He stopped speaking and reached across Carrie to pull the emergency stop button. The elevator came to a stop between the seventh and sixth floors with a screeching halt.
"What are you doing?" Carrie asked, her voice rising slightly. "Turn it back on!"
"I wish to speak with you and I fear that this shall be my only chance-"
"So?" she asked, clearly agitated. "And, I fear that we'll both die if you don't restart this thing at once!"
"We won't die. I merely applied a brake-"
"So? And what happens when you remove the brake? Free fall maybe? Stefan, I am not joking. Start this thing back up."
Stefan's jaw became set as he took in her facial expressions and body language. She was upset, but it was not induced by fear. She was upset at the prospect of being alone with him and was hiding behind the ruse of fear. Very well, then. So be it. Perhaps, he should give her something to really be afraid of. Her reaction to him.
In one swift movement, Stefan pulled Carrie into his arms. He held her closely against him. His face was so close to hers that he easily inhaled her scent. Spicy and sweet. He took a deeper breath and as he released it, he asked, "What are you really so afraid of?"
Carrie pulled away, but Stefan only pulled her closer to him. His voice was a low murmur as he asked again, "Carlotta, answer me. What is causing you to tremble? The fear of a hastened descent in the elevator shaft…or in my arms?"
Inside, Carrie remained firm. She would not weaken in his arms. She would not raise her lips to his no matter how badly she longed to taste him one last time. She would resist this magnetism which drew her to him, and she would resist it with all of her might. And instead of falling prey to his seductive charms, she would instead play up to her own. With the tip of her tongue, she moistened her upper lip. Stefan's eyes followed the movement and she felt him shiver against her. Good, she thought. Two definitely could play at this game. In a very throaty voice, she said, "You are causing me to tremble in your arms."
A smile of satisfaction brightened his eyes, and his strong hands moved to rest on her lower back, pulling her as close as their heavy overcoats would allow.
Carrie smiled as she continued, "You're holding me so tightly that it's giving me the shakes." Through gritted teeth, she said, "Let me go, Stefan."
Her words were lies. Stefan would accept no other explanation. "I will not let you go. Letting you go last night was one of the biggest mistakes in my life. I shall not repeat it."
"It's not up to you. There was a time when it was, but then you chose a different path. You chose to lie to me. I won't pretend with you that this is about the lies you told Nikolas for eighteen years. No. This is about the lies you told me for months. Do you really think that a moment in your arms will take all of that away? Do you really see me as that naïve? That foolish? I thought you knew me better than that."
"I do know you, Carlotta," he told her. "Never doubt that. I know that I hurt you terribly, and I know that there is nothing I could say or do that would remove the pain you feel. If there were something, I would only hope that you'd know that I'd do it. I would gladly take on anything to dispel the anguish and torment that I so clearly see in your eyes."
"The only thing that can help me is time," she said softly. She moved her arms so that her hands rested on his upper arms. She resisted the urge to caress him and simply allowed her hands to rest and not roam. "There isn't anything that you can do, not at this point, and I refuse to hold a grudge against you. I was all set to, but I can't anymore. I don't want to if you must know the truth. You told me you did what you felt you had to do. There is no room for discussion. It's over-"
"No," he said, emphatically shaking his head. "It shall not end before it has yet to begin. I know that you care deeply for me. I refuse to pretend otherwise. And, you… You mean more to me that I could dare express. Anyone who's ever meant anything to me has been taken away from me and I had long sense begun to expect it…anticipate it, if you will. Perhaps, my not telling you about Nikolas was another way of insuring that you would leave me, too. But that is *not* my wish, Carlotta! I wish for you to stay to-to…"
"To what?" she asked him when he stammered and then abruptly stopped. "What do you wish from me, Stefan?"
Unable to speak, he merely shook his head. He released her and turned his back to her, staring sightlessly at the closed elevator doors. Carrie watched him for a few moments more. She couldn't stand to see him close himself off and she *had* to know what he wished from her. She went to him. Placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, she gave him a small squeeze. Softly, she asked again, "What do you wish from me? It's okay if you say it. I promise to hear you out."
He drew a long, tremulous breath. Now, he had the 'shakes' he thought. He turned to face her. He cupped her face between his two hands. "I wish for you to share the remainder of Christmas with me. I would understand if you would rather not-"
"-I'm sure that you might have made other arrangements-"
"I said okay," she said, interrupting as he continued on. "I'll share Christmas with you. You've been alone today, haven't you?"
"Yes." He swallowed hard as her brown eyes bore into him and embraced his very soul. "Save for Dawn, I have spent the day alone."
"Well, you won't spend the night alone-" Stefan's eyes widened in sensual surprise and anticipation and laughing, Carrie shook her head. "That did not come out the way I wanted it to. I'll share the evening with you, but I can't promise the rest. This…all of this…will take some getting used to. I meant what I said about not holding a grudge, but I'll need time to forgive you, too. And, I don't know how long that will take."
"I shan't hurry you. I shall be patient," he said as he began to smile at her.
"Hmm….now, why do I find that hard to believe?" She gave him a teasing smile.
Stefan shrugged and his smile spread into a grin. He held her hand tightly within his own and a shudder of happiness passed through him as she did not pull away. Reaching across her to release the emergency stop, he looked into her shining brown eyes. She smiled at him again and he was certain that his heart stopped in that brief moment. He would have his merry Christmas after all.
"Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices.
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night divine,
O night divine."
And inside their minds, they could both hear the angelic voices of Dawn, Jordan, Lucky and Sly finish the song as the elevator doors opened and they walked briskly out into the snowy night.
(Song credit: "Oh, Holy Night" has been sung by a zillion artists, but my personal favorite version is by Tevin Campbell from the 'A Very Special Christmas 2' CD.)
[Author's note: I was too lazy to mention this in the narrative, but