A/N: I began this story way back in October of 2004 when JER was still writing and twisting Tony's character (and everyone else's as well) until they were unrecognizable and along the way it has evolved into something more than I planned. This is the story of a feud. It is based on the clues revealed during Stefano's funeral back in 2002, along with nearly thirty years of the show's history
Also, in this story, Tony throughout the 90s was Tony (except for Aremid), and though the writers have changed this now (and I'm very happy about that) I'm enjoying the chance to work things out in this alternate universe, where the past and it's consequences cannot be swept beneath the carpet so easily.
Time: late spring, 2002
Place: hospital room, Switzerland
Stefano opened the door to his son's hospital room and found Tony lounging in a chair he'd pulled next to the window. "Any more of that?" Stefano asked, nodding his head at the cup of coffee in Tony's hand as he dragged another chair over to sit down.
"Only the hospital variety," Tony said. He looked up at his father with a smile.
Stefano stared at him, hardly able to believe the miracle had finally happened and Tony was conscious, healthy, smiling with that sweet devil-may-care attitude he assumed so effortlessly. "You have no idea how wonderful it is to have you back again," Stefano said, his eyes dancing. "I've prayed every night that you'd awaken, be cured, and whole again, and just looking at you now gives me such hope for the future, our future."
Tony's expression sobered. "Ah yes, the future," he murmured thoughtfully, gazing out the window.
Seconds ticked by in silence. Stefano forced himself to sit patiently, knowing the folly of trying to push Tony after their argument the night before.
He'd rushed to the hospital after hearing that Tony was conscious but not quickly enough. Inventive as always, Tony had managed to sidestep the obstacles Stefano had left in place and discovered everything about Kristen's death as well as Stefano's plan to set John up for Tony's murder. The murder, of course, had been faked. Tony was already in a coma brought on by his blood disease, and nowhere near Arimed, but his replacement had died and John had been arrested for his murder. After digging up that bit of information, it had taken little imagination on Tony's part to determine who had been playing his double.
"Andre. You bastard," Tony raged at Stefano after the celebratory party in his hospital room had ended. "You dragged him out of that quicksand, and after you swore to me how you loved Renee. I know how you felt about my mother, but damn it, that monster has caused this family more misery than any satisfaction or revenge could possibly be worth."
"Are you sure?" Stefano had asked, assuming a calm demeanor and then a smile. "John suffered. Are you saying that does not please you?"
Tony's entire face grew cold. "You've never given a damn about my pleasure unless it furthered your own."
"Tony, Tony, Tony, please, this is a joyous night for me. You've been cured, and…"
"You are not changing the subject," Tony snarled. "I want to know why." He pounded his fist on the table next to the bed so hard that one of the glasses dropped over the side and onto the bed, spilling champagne. "What on earth could have possessed you to save that man's despicable carcass?"
Stefano's own impatience at Tony's rudeness got the better of him and he snapped back, "Stop behaving like an idiot. The man was useful. You don't honestly believe I would keep him alive for any other reason, do you?" but Tony's bitter laughter left no doubt about what he believed would be his father's devices for Andre.
"You forget how well I know you father. What a convenience, to have Andre around the next time I stepped out of line."
"I promised you that would never happen again," Stefano said, shaking his head. "Have I not proven to you how much you mean to me? Why do you wish to spoil this moment by tearing open old wounds and dredging up a past that is gone?" He hesitated for only a moment, and then walked over and laid his hand on Tony's shoulder. "Andre is dead."
"Is he, truly?" Tony asked, jerking his shoulder away and stepping back. His eyes bored into Stefano. "What if Andre had not died that night, after he set John up? He'd still be living my life with your blessing."
"Tony, please…" Stefano began, but Tony shook his head in disgust and said, "Your daughter's murderer? If it had been my daughter, I'd have ripped his lungs out and left him to rot."
The argument had stopped when a nurse strolled into the room. She'd informed Stefano that as it was very late, she was sure he wouldn't mind postponing any more celebration until the next day; after all, Count DiMera still required rest in his condition. Stefano thought Count DiMera needed a time out period. He could see that Tony, who had moved over to look out at the city lights was still livid and purposely ignoring him. Perhaps the rest of the night on his own would bring him to his senses, but in any case, Stefano wasn't about to waste this opportunity. Tony's recovery was about to afford Stefano the chance to pull off a feat he'd only dreamed about and he wasn't going to allow stubbornness or old resentments to ruin his plans.
"Of course it is late, and Tony must not risk his recovery," Stefano said, ignoring Tony and picking up his coat. "I will be back in the morning. Not too early, I promise."
Tony had wished his father a good evening but Stefano sensed the fury that still simmered beneath the polite behavior and he smiled to himself. Such anger was not merely about Andre, or Stefano's motives. Tony believed Kristen was dead and Stefano knew that the person Tony blamed for that outrage was John Black.
"You're being quite patient this morning," Tony said as he turned back from the window to look at Stefano. "That always makes me suspicious."
"Suspicion, guilt, lies; what nonsense it this when you have another chance at life? My God, Tony, you can do anything…"
"Anything," Tony said, with only the ghost of a smile, "like get to know my new sister?" He eyed Stefano questioningly. "Another long lost daughter? You must admit, they come and go so quickly, it is difficult keeping up," he said with just the merest hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I suppose I ought to be grateful this time, at least Alexandra and I never slept together."
Stefano closed his eyes, struggling to control his anger which threatened to burst in a flood of violence that would destroy the plans he'd nurtured so carefully. He reminded himself how betrayed Tony must feel, by his wife, and John, and his friends in Salem who'd lied and schemed to help Kristen be with John, and now by his father. Stefano knew something of the emptiness that Tony must be hiding, and how desperate he would be to replace it with any other emotion. All Stefano need do was control his temper and point Tony in the direction of his true enemy.
"Well, naturally, you want to get to know your sister," Stefano said casually. "So, by all means, you should go visit her. Go to Salem. I'm sure she'll be thrilled to welcome you home with open arms."
Tony threw back his head and his laughter reverberated through the room though to Stefano's ears it sounded quite humorless. "I'm sure she will, and thanks to you, so will her husband. Hell, Abe Carver will be waiting at the airport right next to John," Tony said, his smile lopsided. "With a noose." He got up and walked over to pour himself more coffee and then returned to stand behind Stefano's chair. "Can't you just see John's face? He'll be drooling to get his hands on me and how much persuasion do you think Abe and Roman will need?"
"Don't be absurd," Stefano said a bit shortly. "All they have to do is test the body in your grave."
"Ah yes, Andre's body," Tony said, not sounding convinced. "Tell me, what makes you think they won't suspect that you or I simply exchanged the bodies after I died?"
Stefano looked up at his son. "Well," he said, sounding impressed, "you obviously learned more from me than you'd like to admit."
"Oh yes, between you and Andre, I've gotten quite an education, but you didn't answer my question. Why should they believe me?"
Stefano played momentarily with the idea of telling Tony the truth but quickly thought better of it. Getting Tony to go along with him called for honesty in only small calculated doses, and only at the proper time, so sticking to his original plan, he said, "Use the hospital records. They'll prove you were here at the same time they believed you to be in Aremid."
Tony still looked skeptical. "John will never buy it," he said walking back around his chair to lean up against the window frame. "The man is relentless. He'll hound me until he's made his own version of the truth a reality."
Stefano resisted the urge to smile. "Surely you're not going to allow John to dictate your future to you," he said carefully.
Tony's eyes flashed in anger at his father and slamming his cup down on the table next to his chair he said menacingly, "That's enough. If John has a reason to want me dead, it was your doing and I can hardly blame him for that." He shut his eyes and shook his head impatiently. "You and your stupid games. They never end, and look who ends up paying; Renee, Daphne, Kristen, Alexandra," he said pointedly, and then laughed, "My God, even Andre got the short end of the stick this time. John, on the other hand, has everything he could bloody well want and I can only imagine the satisfaction he must feel knowing that he beat you at your own game." He stopped and shook his head again, slowly this time. "John and Marlena are my problem. I'm not interested in your advice, and I'm not about to allow you to meddle in my life. Is that understood?"
Stefano looked at Tony with genuine hurt. "Perhaps I need to remind you that without my meddling, as you put it, you would be dead."
Tony took a deep breath and folding his arms, he shot a look out the window before glancing back at his father, still frustrated. "I'm grateful, believe me. I know you are the only reason I'm standing here at all, but that doesn't give you the right to fix this for me. If John is going to pay for what he did to me and Kristen, I want him to know precisely who is responsible…" Tony paused, and for an instant, his despair afforded Stefano a bleak glimpse into the pit of Tony's soul. "He's going to be sorry he ever interfered in my life."
Stefano stood outside Tony's room calling his chauffeur. Inside, a nurse was checking Tony's blood pressure and temperature and had shooed Stefano out the door. "Maurice," he said, "I need you to bring my briefcase. Yes, fifth floor, room 532. Yes. Thank you." Sliding the phone into his pocket, he paced over to the towering plate glass wall on one side of the lobby and stared out into the city. How could he change Tony's mind? Stefano knew the letter would infuriate him but he also knew it would take Tony all of a few seconds to realize that Stefano ruined John's life specifically because of that letter. He couldn't afford to alienate Tony any further. What he needed was a lever; a piece of information that would either ruin John's reputation completely in Tony's eyes or make him realize that Stefano's assistance would be helpful. At the moment, the latter option appeared rather a long shot. Tony's memory was long. Learning that Stefano had once again replaced him with Andre had obviously allowed memories to resurface that were best left forgotten, like Tony's love for Renee and the torture Stefano and Andre had inflicted upon him for months as they used his identity to frame Roman Brady for murder. No, he had to find a way to make Tony's hatred of John so intense that Tony would jump at Stefano's plan.
After nearly twenty minutes of beating his head against the wall and coming up with nothing, he thought about taking a break and trying out the coffee stand on the next level down. Just then, Maurice walked into the lobby with the briefcase. Maurice inquired about Count DiMera's health and after a short exchange, he was sent to fetch two cappuccinos. Stefano sat and opening the case, began searching for the letter. Inside was his laptop and various papers, some filed in pockets and as he tried to remember which pocket he'd stashed the letter, he looked again at the computer. It was a sleek, expensive model, nothing like the first one he'd owned ten years earlier, but looking at it now, he began remembering Tony running into a burning plantation house to find that older model so that he could give it to John. A computer with John's past locked behind a password. Eventually Kristen had discovered the password, Stefano's pet name for her as child, and she'd read the secrets of John's past life. Stefano was certain that Kristen had only shared with Tony the information about John being a priest. Tony never searched the contents himself, at least not thoroughly. So, he wouldn't know if it contained the information Stefano was about to reveal to him about John.
Tony stood buttoning up his shirt as Stefano entered his room once more. "I wasn't sure if you were up to any more hospital coffee, so I had Maurice go pick this up," he said, setting a cup down on Tony's beside table.
"Ah, thank you," Tony said, flashing a smile, and then with a quick laugh, "I suspect the hospital filters their brand through the dirty dish towels."
Stefano sat back in his chair. "Did the doctor give you any idea as to when you'll be released?"
Tony pulled the lid off his steaming cappuccino and took a careful swallow, and then another. "He mentioned tomorrow or perhaps the next day. And no," he said, blowing on the coffee, "I don't know what I'm going to do after that. I haven't decided anything yet," Tony said eyeing Stefano, and then the briefcase. "Do you want me to guess what else it is that you brought for me to see?"
Stefano pulled an envelope out of the briefcase. "Before you make any decisions, I have something I think you ought to read first. Your mother wrote it."
That got Tony's attention. "To me?"
"No, no, to her sister, years ago…"
"Which you stole, or forged," Tony laughed, the sarcasm evident in his voice again.
Stefano waited for Tony to drink more coffee and watched him lean up against the wall. "I think after you read it, you'll understand that I would not make up such a monstrous lie."
Tony recognized his mother's handwriting, and felt a chill of unease as he slid the letter from the envelope. He sat down, uncertain and intensely suspicious as he glanced over at Stefano. No one knew better than Tony his father's power to manipulate a situation, to use every emotion and scrap of information true or false, every weakness, every conceivable doubt. Trust was such a liability in this family. And hadn't he discovered that the hard way, along with his sisters. He could still see Renee telling everyone off the night of that damn party, determined that she would survive in spite of all of them but when it came to Stefano, it was a lesson she and Tony had learned too late.
He looked at his mother's handwriting again and felt sure whatever information the letter contained, it was something he would rather not know. And why now? Stefano had obviously held the letter in his possession for years and deliberately kept it from him, so what message could his mother have sent to her sister that Stefano wished to reveal now that he was well again. "Now that I'm leaving," Tony thought to himself. He glanced once more at Stefano who'd left him alone and was standing at the window at the other end of the room. Cursing under his breath, he opened the letter and started reading.
He went through it twice. He hoped that maybe he'd missed something the first time, a word that might change the entire meaning, make it untrue, make it a joke. It was a joke he told himself, one of his father's demented tricks. There was no way in hell he'd ever believe that he and John were related, or that John was his brother. "My God, you really will go to any lengths, won't you?" Tony said.
Stefano turned to look at him and instantly saw the denial etched on his son's face. He waited.
Tony said, "You honestly expect me to believe that my mother would keep this from me? If she'd had another child, there is no way…" He stopped abruptly as he continued to stare at Stefano and then looked away.
"Unless she thought he was dead," Stefano finished for him.
Tony was putting the pieces together and he didn't like what they added up to. Without answering Stefano, or looking at him, he got up and turned to the window. He allowed himself to imagine his mother writing that letter, terrified of what her husband would do if he learned she'd betrayed him and begging her sister for help. Imploring her to raise the son Daphne couldn't keep. How long had it taken for Stefano to learn of John's existence and fake his death? Tony couldn't remember exactly. He squeezed his eyes shut and berated himself for not following his first impulse to rip the letter up and burn it. Why? Why let him see the letter now? He pounded on the window in frustration. He didn't want to know this. John had deliberately screwed with Tony's life, done everything in his power to play on Kristen's feelings because John wanted her, and because Tony had the misfortune to share Stefano's DNA. It was not Tony's fault that John hated Stefano. It wasn't his fault that John had suffered because Stefano needed to work out his revenge against Daphne on her son, but Tony was the one who'd paid for Stefano's handiwork. Somehow Stefano managed to wiggle free as always.
Without even thinking, Tony whipped around and reaching his father in just a few steps, nailed him square in the jaw. Stefano stumbled, a hand flying out to catch himself but before he could find his balance, Tony shoved him up against the wall and pressed his arm up to Stefano's throat. "God, how I wish I could strangle you," Tony snarled at him through gritted teeth. "You should have to pay for this, for John, for my mother, for so many bloody things I don't even want to remember."
Stefano had rarely seen such fury or pain in Tony's eyes and though seeing him this upset was difficult, he knew Tony was the edge. Push him just a little more, Stefano thought and he'd agree to any plan that would destroy John. Tony finally relaxed his hold and turned away. Stefano breathed in deeply. He knew Tony wouldn't kill him but he'd lost his son once before and hated driving Tony's anger this way. It was a dangerous risk. Tony might renounce the family and leave. He certainly didn't need the money and he was no doubt standing with his back to Stefano thinking that his family was nothing but a curse.
After what seemed an eternity to Stefano, Tony asked, "Why?"
Stefano closed his eyes. He knew Tony didn't expect an explanation about the past and what had happened. He wanted to know why Stefano chose this moment and Stefano was ready with an answer. "John knows."
Tony walked over and dropping down into the chair, leaned his head back with a sigh. "Well, you do know how to make a person glad to be alive again." The sarcasm made Stefano wince. Tony rubbed his eyes and then with another impatient sigh he said, "I assume you're going to tell me how he found out."
Stefano glanced over at his son. He was taking quite a leap of faith he knew, after all, Kristen could have read Tony the file. He stalled a minute longer but unable to think of another way that would be as convincing, he took the plunge. "The information was on the computer you saved from the fire at Maison Blanche."
The stillness in the room reached the point where Stefano could hear his heart beating. He looked over and found Tony staring at him. His face was unreadable. "Let me get this straight. My mother knew. You knew. Kristen knew which means Peter also knew. And, she either told, or showed the file to John, which means that he and, most likely, Marlena both knew. Anyone else I'm missing who could have told me I had a brother?"
Stefano swallowed past his dry throat and said, "Well, I have no idea who John might have told, the Brady's perhaps. He's close to them."
Tony said nothing for several more minutes and then with a hopeless sort of laugh, looked up at this father and shook his head. "Wouldn't it be amusing if the one with the last laugh here is my mother." He smiled enchantingly. Maybe she switched us." Stefano's look of astonishment and rage was visible for only a brief second, but Tony had the satisfaction of knowing the jab hit home. He got up and headed over to the closet where he found a shirt and a pair of slacks.
"Where are you going?" Stefano asked, sounding worried as Tony walked over to the bathroom.
"For a walk."
"Tony, it's late, you shouldn't…"
"Enough," Tony barked, slamming his fist against the wall. "You have said enough." He stood breathing deeply, feeling the adrenaline pumping through his body, knowing if he didn't get out of this room in the next few minutes he might very well hurt his father. It took every ounce of restraint he possessed to hang onto the doorway.
Stefano didn't look happy, but he bit his tongue and turning around, walked back over to his chair and sat down.
The afternoon had progressed by the time Tony returned a couple hours later. He looked worn out, but calmer. In his hand he had a bag and after slipping out of his jacket, he pulled out a large bottle of his favorite Irish whisky. It wasn't what Stefano had expected. He watched Tony pour himself a double, add some water from the tap and walk over to join him. "Cheers."
"You didn't leave the hospital," Stefano said, looking at the glass.
Tony chuckled. "No, of course not. Maurice picked it up for me and if you want to join me, you're going to have to call him and tell him to bring another bottle because this is most definitely a night for getting drunk."
Stefano raised an eyebrow. He debated suggesting that Tony's doctors might object to such behavior but it seemed that Tony didn't give a damn at the moment and would probably laugh in Stefano's face. "We need to talk about this."
Tony looked at him. "I think we've done all the talking our relationship can handle for one day. Go home."
"I'm not leaving you alone like this. You just awoke from a coma for God's sake Tony, you need to think about how important your life is."
Tony smiled and raised his glass. "Oh, that's very touching, Stefano, your concern but tell me, what exactly am I supposed to be grateful for at the moment? You? He shut his eyes and laid his head back on the chair. "You and your bloody secrets," he said, laughing and shaking his head. "Let me see, I have yet another long lost sibling, only this one despises me because, thanks to you, I can only imagine his life has been absolute hell. And," Tony said, glaring over at Stefano, "he thinks I tried to have him sent to the gas chamber."
Stefano smiled back at him. "I seem to remember it was you who bought a gun and invited John over so you could shoot him."
Tony nodded slowly. "Yes, that was me, your son, the fool who believed all the damn lies you fed me about your enemy, John Black. You remember those stories, don't you father?" Stefano watched as Tony took a drink and leaned his head back again.
This wasn't going well at all, certainly not the way Stefano planned, and he could feel his own blood pressure rising. "Don't pretend with me. You want to make him suffer even more than I do"
"Perhaps," Tony said, not looking up this time, "but then, he didn't steal your wife, only your mistress." An awkward silence continued unabated until Tony turned his head to look at his father. He was more than a little surprised he hadn't been slapped. In fact, his father's restraint at such a remark was so out of character that Tony's suspicions, which never completely disappeared in his father's presence, began screaming at him. "I'm sorry," Tony said carefully, glancing down at his drink for a second and then back at his father. "That was inexcusable, your private life is none of my concern and I apologize."
Stefano stood up and looked down at his son. "You were right," he said, without elaborating and then looking pointedly at the glass in Tony's hand, said "Be careful." He leaned over and kissed Tony on the forehead and left.
Once he was alone, Tony's anger and frustration nearly overwhelmed him. He no longer had any doubts about the letter. Stefano could have forged it, but the horror of what he'd done to John made too much sense considering everything that had happened and Tony understood for the first time just how panicked John must have been when he found Kristen intent on marrying a DiMera. Not that understanding helped, because there was no denying Stefano's assessment of the situation; Tony despised his brother.
He lifted his glass to take a drink but it was empty, so he set it on the table and leaned his head back. "God, mother. I never thought I'd be glad you were gone, but what a mess; what a god awful, bloody mess this is." He looked up at the ceiling and said, "Please tell me you didn't know John was still alive." Just considering the possibility and saying it out loud to himself stirred emotions he couldn't shake or ignore. He felt a tear on his cheek and brushed it away but another one followed and in seconds the rage burning inside of him seemed intolerable. "Why the hell didn't you say something," he yelled at the ceiling. Why didn't somebody say something, anybody; people he'd trusted and respected and cared about who knew that he and John could have shared more than the feud tearing them apart but they'd shut him out. Even Kristen.
But that was wrong Tony realized suddenly. Not Kristen, no matter how she felt about him, she would never have kept information so vital a secret. In fact, she would have told him in the hopes that he and John would have a chance to solve their differences, which meant whatever else was on that computer, it didn't include the truth about John and Daphne. So Stefano lied. But why? And why announce that he and John were brothers? Unless John did know, or Stefano planned on allowing John to find out, and just imagining this last possibility forced Tony's mind to clear with alarming speed, and he knew a moment of panicked desperation. Stefano figured to use him the same way he'd used Andre, as bait. Tony was to be the one who ruined John. It would be his father's idea of poetic justice, and though Tony admired its elegance, he was not about to allow Stefano to dictate the outcome of his relationship with John.
He got up and went over to pour himself another drink. A single this time which he took back and set next to his chair and stepped over to the window, staring down at the beautiful old city buildings, trying to calm his mind. What on earth was he going to do? What could he do? Talk to the ISA? And tell them what, that his father planned on getting him to kill his brother. Considering it was Stefano DiMera, the ISA might believe him, but they had a lousy track record where Stefano was concerned and Tony couldn't help thinking that this course of action would probably get him killed, or at the very least, locked away where he'd be unable to cause Stefano any more grief. And the same went for the Salem PD, in spades. Abe and Roman would never listen to him because John would be there on the other side, insisting Tony be thrown in the slammer for trying to kill him.
"Damn you," Tony whispered to himself. How he devoutly wished he'd never laid eyes on John Black. The memory of him standing behind Marlena that night at the carnival, eyeing Tony with such loathing, refusing to even shake his hand was like getting a knife in his gut; and Kristen. He shut his eyes. They'd barely started a life together when it was torn away from him, all gone and for what? Stefano's pathetic lust for revenge. Tony shook his head and laughed in despair, remembering Renee and his months in Andre's dungeon and here he was, all over again, stuck between his father and his brother. Why couldn't they wallow in this tragedy by themselves and leave Tony the hell alone.
"I guess I could leave," he said to himself in disgust as he reached for his drink. A tempting thought, but not one he considered seriously. He'd tried the disappearing act after Renee died and it hadn't worked, and besides, there was Alexandra. Beautiful, smart, married to the police commander and the last of the DiMera women. Tony wondered if she realized just how slim her chances of survival really were, none of the others had made it and he had no illusions that he'd be able to protect her from Stefano or whatever Stefano was planning, he'd done a damn poor job of protecting himself.
Taking a long drink, he rubbed his eyes that were starting to ache and sat down again. He wasn't ready to leave or risk his neck by going to the authorities and that left him with only one option; trying to beat Stefano at his own game. What a thoroughly depressing future, Tony thought as he stared at his glass that was nearly empty. He finished what was left and went to make himself another.