Title: "Frozen in Time"
Author: monimala
Fandom: "General Hospital"
Rating/Classification: AC for language, adult situations, Stefan/Lydia.
Disclaimer: Nope. I still don't own them.
Summary: The third tale in this as-yet unnamed series, after "Touch of Frost" and "Ice Castles." Duty is a terrible, terrible thing.

He can hear her breathing on the other side of the door. She pauses on her way to the master suite, just an instant. Long enough to press her cheek, her palm, against the wood. But she no longer knocks.

She gave up around the fourth month. But she slid an ultrasound photo into the space between the door and the carpet, as if sending it into the ether. She does not know that he stared at it...traced the shadowy shape... and wept. It rests, now, pressed between the pages of his favorite book of Chekhov plays.

He has not been cold in a long time. His body burns and he craves the cool mountain air flowing over his bare limbs. That peace, that center.

No...he knows what he craves...and his fingers come away singed as he pushes back from the door and she continues on her way. To the king-sized bed that Nikolas still does not share with her.

The child has not softened his nephew's resolve nor weakened him to his neglected bride. If anything, he is more determined now, to have his dear Emily. "That baby is *yours*, Uncle. Why don't *you* take responsibility for it?" he'd spat after Lydia, with her hand on the barely-there rise of her belly, told him the news.

"That baby is saving *your* life," he had countered...even as the ice around his heart cracked and bled. *His*. *His* child. Up until now, he had always believed that Nikolas, his bright, passionate, boy, would be the closest thing he would have to his own offspring. That he was doomed to his solitary, frozen-in-time, existence.

Doomed he still is.

The Cassadine finances are secure with the imminent birth of the Karenin-Cassadine heir. Their loans will be paid in a timely fashion and Lorenzo Alcazar will call off the dogs of war.

He has done his duty. He has protected his family.

And he misses...he misses her warmth curled against his chest in the dark. Her slender arms draped around his waist on those nights where they were too sated to go back to their separate beds. He misses the spark of her eyes as she bites off some shrewish insult...for now she does not glance at him when they accidentally meet in the cavernous halls. She picks a spot somewhere over his shoulder, distant, and he stares at her rounded stomach beneath the stylish silk maternity dress, wishing he could kneel down and whisper to the tiny being within.

He used to pride himself on his self-control, on his aloof, icy, facade.

Now he curses it.

He curses the impulse that makes him walk, unsteadily, from the door and continue throwing clothes, haphazardly, into a valise. He is leaving at sunrise...back to the safety of Tibet. If he lingers any longer, it will only cast suspicions that could invalidate the inheritance. He announced it at dinner and he watched the soup spoon tremble in her grasp...the way her chin jerked up...and six months ago, she would have cried, "You're leaving me here alone in this mausoleum? Fuck you! You're just like your precious nephew!" Tonight...tonight she simply met his words with silence.

She was never silent in his arms. He drew choruses of gasps and moans and "god, yes...right there" from her throat, tender obscenities. And afterwards...afterwards, he would drowse, still inside her, and listen to her breathe.

He has done his duty. He has protected his family.

That is all he can do.

He cannot...he must not...melt for her.

Even as the thought takes root, he knows it is futile. Utterly foolish. And too late.

He all ready has.

On his way to the study to appropriate his passport, his personal papers, he pauses. Just an instant. Presses his cheek, his palm, against the wood. He does not knock.

But she still answers.

"Lydia..."

"Don't. Whatever you're going to say...just...don't."

Leaning against the doorframe, she glows with the elusive secret of impending motherhood. Her hair dusts her shoulders now...strawberries kissing cream. Her bare arms are still so slender...as is everything save the curve of her belly. Deceptively delicate. He alone knows the depths of her strength.

"I'm unwanted," she says, quietly. "I've always known that. No one has wanted to claim me. Not my parents...all the men I've been with... not Nikolas or Lucky. Not you. There's something about me...I'm cursed...I drive people away. I...I *knew* you would leave." She says it with a touch of her old defiance. Flint striking steel. "I knew you would leave me here...but I have *this*." Her palms flatten against her abdomen, fiercely protective. "This is *mine*. And she'll be wanted. She...she won't be like you. Or... or me."

"Lydia, I...I'm truly sorry," he begins, hands clenching so he does not reach out...

"Don't lie to me, Stefan." She sighs, weary, glancing down at his fists and then closing her eyes. "Don't tell me it meant anything. You did your duty as a Cassadine so well. *Bravo*." Six months ago, it would have been acid sliding down her cheek...now, simply salt tears. Like tiny ice crystals against her skin. "B-bravo," she repeats, turning away...hand pushing at the door.

Rationally, he knows he should let her go. He knows he should let her slam the door in his face.

He knows that the next time he sees her will be at the christening. By which time, Nikolas will have fallen hopelessly in love with the beautiful, innocent, baby she carries and gladly given it his name, his protection, as he once did himself twenty-five years ago.

But, he has not been cold in a long time. His body burns and he craves... he knows precisely what he craves.

"Wait." He covers her fingers with his own...stops the barrier coming down between them. He hasn't touched her in so long, but she feels like yesterday. Just past.

"Don't...*don't*..." she pleads, faintly, as he draws her close, lowers his mouth to hers. Her protests are the only weak thing about her. Ah, how he's missed them. Ached for this. Her lips parting, allowing him to drink of her cool bittersweetness.

"Lydia..." he gasps into her kiss..."I want you...*I* want you..."

Their child leaps between them, kicks, as she takes his face in her hands and murmurs, "Good-bye."

He leaves at sunrise.

Back to the safety of Tibet.

Where he is no longer safe at all.

--end--

September 21, 2003.



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