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Scene 101

Alexis stood utterly still, thin whispers of air barely slipping in and out of her lungs.

Her muscles had grown rigid in record time, legs too frozen to bend and allow her tense body to release itself down into the chair that grazed the back of her calves. But her eyes moved with ease, shifting back and forth at a rapid pace - from Thomas, to Taggert, then back again. She didn't know which man would speak first, though she was sure it would be Taggert. Thomas was too much the cautious, silent type. He would wait for the man in authority to begin, then measure out his response. He hadn't even verbally responded to Sorel. At least, not at first. Not in front of her. And Alexis tried to recall when it was that Thomas started speaking to Sorel in front of her. Was it after the heroin began? After her feeble attempt to run? After the cramps in her muscles and the itch in her arms took hold of her? She couldn't remember.

But she did remember Thomas wordlessly following Sorel's cues and commands like a robot. The utter silence of the large, expressionless man had unnerved her, and Alexis thought that was Sorel's intent. She's been sure that silence was yet another command Thomas followed. Now, she wasn't sure. Now she believed the silence had likely been from fear of saying something wrong to a dangerous and volatile man. Sorel had buttons, and Thomas clearly knew where they were. When he did begin to speak, Thomas deftly sidestepped those buttons as if they were landmines. Alexis had watched him just as intently as she'd watched Sorel, unsure of what to make of him - or what he might do to her by Sorel's command. But she was sure that Thomas was smart. Smarter than Sorel, and smart enough to never let Sorel know it.

And there was something studied in the way Thomas's body language would change as he prepared to engage with Sorel. His shoulders would slightly hunch, sky blue eyes lowering in deference as just the right words were carried from his lips in just the right respectful tone of voice. His voice...she remembered the first time she'd heard it, the first time Sorel left them alone while the heroin flooded her body. Her mind was enveloped in a thick, sleepy cloud and Thomas was trying to reach through it. She had wanted to reach back and connect with the oddly soft voice that was shy, tentative, and more befitting of Zander than the hulking, expressionless man who just minutes before had held her with such strength that she thought her ribs might crack. Thomas's voice wasn't strong at all...

"Do you need some water?"

The soft timbre and simple question floated over her head and echoed in her brain. The sound of him was all her senses could hold onto as she fought the deepening urge to sleep. She'd felt so heavy and warm, and nothing seemed to matter at all...

"Malloy."

Alexis's eyes shot to Taggert. He was standing by the small desk to the right of the door, fingertips drumming against the telephone as he smiled at Thomas Malloy.

Thomas gave him a polite nod of his head and cleared his throat. "Lieutenant."

Taggert continued drumming against the telephone as he slowly turned around and looked directly into the window. Alexis reflexively tightened up. It felt like he was staring right at her - like the mirror wasn't a mirror at all, but a window through which Thomas could see her as well. She quickly turned her gaze to Thomas, who stared, wide-eyed and confused, at the back of Taggert's head. The mirror was indeed a mirror, and neither Taggert nor Thomas could see her. But Alexis was still slightly shaken.

Taggert shifted his gaze and looked at Thomas's reflection. "You seem surprised to see me again."

"A little."

An understatement. He was VERY surprised. He thought the lieutenant's business with him was done. But he remembered the Taggert's words of warning about the lawyer assigned to him - and his words of advise about Thomas's unconditional plea.

"Are you gonna try to talk me into changing my plea again?"

Again?

Alexis's back straightened.

"Look, lieutenant, it was real decent of you to want to throw me that "extenuating circumstances" rope, but I'm not changing my mind."

"Oh, Taggert." Alexis slowly shook her head. "You are so busted."

Taggert sighed heavily and crossed his arms as he moved toward the mirror, eyes lifting heavenward. He glanced furtively at the mirror, a sheepish expression on his face, and then his eyes were quickly pulled away. Alexis smiled to herself as she watched him turn and lean his back against the edge of the mirror

"You big softie." She whispered softly.

Thomas's brow creased as he looked at Taggert intently, trying to make him understand.

"I don't want to make like what I did wasn't as bad as it was just because I remembered who I was before it was too late. I regret the hell out what I did, but I did it and I have to take responsibility for that. I appreciate what you're doing though."

"I didn't bring you up here to talk you into anything, Malloy. Although I do still think you're an ass for flushing more of your life down the toilet than you have to. Whatever. It's your life."

"Yes sir."

Taggert tilted his head and contemplated Malloy for a long moment. Thomas contemplated him back, though his nervous gaze darted away every now and then. He was anxious to know why he'd been brought there and what Taggert wanted to tell him. He hoped it had something to do with the delay in his sentencing - that there was a reason for it and Taggert was going to explain it. The public defender hadn't even made contact with him since their first meeting on the day of his arraignment. Taggert had called him a shyster. It didn't matter. He could be good, bad or fresh out of law school without a single day in court under his belt. Thomas's case was open and shut, and all he wanted was for it all to be over. But waiting for sentencing was agony, even though Thomas knew it would be harsh.

He thought that having a solid number in his mind would somehow be a comfort. Thirty years, twenty...maybe even fifteen, with good behavior. All he wanted now was a number to count down, so he's know when and if justice would be through with him and he could try to do something good with whatever of his life was returned to him. He supposed he should just have come right out and asked someone how long these things took, but he was afraid to ask. Thomas had never been arrested before, but something in his gut told him that it wasn't something he should advertise. If he was going to survive the prison term that lay ahead of him, he needed to present an illusion that he understood the game - that he had been around, knew things, and was hard and dangerous a criminal as any other man inside. He had to make them think he was as big a threat as he looked.

Taggert finally turned and leaned his back against the edge of the mirror, mindful of giving Alexis and unobstructed view. "You doing okay inside?"

"Uh...sure. I keep to myself, keep my mouth shut."

"Good call."

Thomas stared as he shifted nervously in his seat. "I get the feeling that you're stalling on telling me why I'm here. Did something happen?"

"Happen? Like what?"

Alexis watched the pair of pale, chained hands slid from the table and disappear from view. Thomas's expression grew more worried with each passing second that Taggert dragged it out. He looked as if he was waiting for a grenade to explode - after Taggert pulled the pin. Thomas swallowed and let his blue eyes dart down to his lap as he nervously rubbed at his nose. The gesture made him look almost childlike to Alexis's eyes, in spite of his stature. And a moment later, Thomas spoke.

"I just expected it to be over. But it's not, so I thought something might have happened."

"Over?"

"Yeah. I expected to have been sentenced and send off to whatever prison the judge decided to send me to. But I'm still here, waiting for my lawyer to give me the word."

"Your lawyer's a shyster."

"Yeah. So you said." Thomas shrugged. "But it's not like I need Perry Mason or anything. I mean it's not a hard case. I don't even know why I needed a lawyer at all, 'cause guilty is guilty. If I confessed, straight up, why shouldn't the judge have been able to just sentence me on the spot and be done with it?"

"In most cases, it would be quicker. But you? You're a special case, Malloy. One we refer to as having special circumstances."

Thomas closed his eyes and let his head drop. "Right. I've heard that expression before. It means that what you did is as bad as it gets."

"Yeah, it does."

Alexis leaned forward, fingers wrapped under the edge of the table. "What are you doing, Taggert?"

"Sometimes." Taggert added.

Thomas opened his eyes again, but kept them lowered. "Look, lieutenant, if there's something about my case that I should know and my lawyer has been too much of a...a shyster to tell me, or if there's something that's happened with Sorel's case that might screw things up..."

He suddenly halted his anxious stream and looked up at Taggert with wide eyes. "Is it something about Miss Davis?"

Alexis felt her knees begin to buckle at the sound of Thomas's gentle voice uttering her name. Her fingers gripped the thin edge of the desk even harder, knuckles whitening in time to the color draining from Thomas's ruddy cheeks.

"Oh God." Thomas whispered dryly. "Did Sorel get to her again?"

Taggert scoffed. "Sorel didn't do squat to her again, and he never will!"

"Then did she get sick again? From the infection she had?"

"No."

"The overdose?"

"Didn't I tell you that they took care of the heroin problem at the hospital?"

"That doesn't mean she couldn't have a relapse or something."

"She didn't have a...look, Malloy, Ms. Davis is fine." He paused. "Let me re-phrase that. She's walking around, trying to go about her life again AS IF she was fine. But she's still recovering, and it's been a hard and slow process. I think a more appropriate word is 'okay'. She's okay"

"Are you sure?"

"I've seen her myself. Quite recently, as a matter of fact."

Taggert rolled the back of his smooth head against the glass and smiled a crooked smile that he hoped Alexis would see. Alexis did, and she gave him an unseen crooked smile right back. At that moment, Alexis was able to let go of enough tension in her limbs to allow herself to sit. And when she did, she found herself nearly level with Thomas's face.

"And she's a hell of a lot better than the last time YOU saw her." Taggert added with a backward wink.

"Good." Thomas slowly nodded his head. "Good. I didn't mean to act like I didn't believe you. I know you told me before that the doctors took care of the drugs and such, but I keep remembering how bad off she got. I can't get it out of my mind - especially at night."

Taggert blinked. There were some things he couldn't get off his mind too, and he didn't expect anything would make it better. But he knew that more time on the job would probably show him worse.

"Lieutenant? If this isn't about me, or Sorel, or Miss Davis, then what is it about?"

Taggert suddenly uncrossed his arms and slipped his hands into his pockets as he turned his attention back to the piercing blue eyes staring at him with curious expectation.

"I didn't say it WASN'T about any of you. It's about ALL of you. But it's mostly about Ms. Davis. See, she's the reason for the delay in your sentencing. And she's also the reason for the delay in Sorel's arraignment for these new charges for his actions against her."

Thomas sat up straighter. "I heard Sorel's attorney got that put on hold because of Sorel's 'accident'. Something about his busted-up face looking bad to the judge. Prejudicial. Is that the word?"

"That's the word." Alexis murmured.

"That's the word." Taggert echoed. "And you heard right. But it only applies to Sorel's indictment for murdering a cop, not what the two of you did to Ms. Davis. Full formal charges against him for that are still pending. By the time they're set, Sorel's face should be back to it's natural ugly self instead of its black, blue and swollen ugly self."

"Black, blue and swollen are also things that Ms. Davis didn't need to be before going back into courtroom." Taggert snapped.

Alexis winced, and noticed Thomas do the same.

Taggert slowly turned his profile to Alexis and began to leisurely stride back across the mirror. He was about to begin with his purpose - their purpose, and he cast his eyes into the reflective glass to touch base with the woman hidden from his view. He wasn't smiling, and that was on purpose. He wanted to give her a chance to think about the unpleasant things she'd very likely hear once he ventured down their chosen path. He wanted her to have one more chance to pick up that phone and tell him to stop. If she didn't, he'd continue according to plan. The phone didn't ring, and Taggert cleared his throat as he stopped and turned a chair around, set a foot down on the seat and leaned his forearm on his thigh as he fixed all his focus on Malloy's unnervingly vivid eyes. Taggert continued.

"If at all possible within the bounds of the law, we afford the victims of violent crime a generous amount of recovery time before having to finalize their statement. We want them to have every opportunity to remember the details and provide us with the information we need to make sure the charges are valid and that they stick. And that's where you come in."

"How? What can I do? Anything - anything I can do to help her, I'll do it."

Taggert rubbed at the back of his neck and contemplated Malloy's determined face. "Yeah. I got that already."

"She deserves every bit of payback she can get."

"Payback?" He frowned and shook his head. "No - that's not the proper word for what Ms. Davis wants. Payback is for the likes of Sorel, Corinthos...criminal types. Justice - that's what she wants. Ms. Davis may act as legal council for an aforementioned criminal type, but legal council is the right of all citizens. That's how justice works, even though it doesn't always mean the bad guys do time. And as much as it burns my hide, Ms. Davis does her job completely within the letter of the law if not always within its spirit. She's damn good at it her job. Too good. Corinthos has yet to be convicted of a single charge since putting her on retainer."

"That's why Sorel was so desperate to get that Smith kid before he testified. He knew she'd make it so the kid would be believed, and Sorel would be looking death row right in the eye."

"Which leads me to you. That justice/letter-of-the law thing Ms. Davis holds so near and dear applies to everyone in her book. Even Sorel."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean she wants him to be charged with the specific crimes he committed against her."

"Well, sure." Thomas was confused.

"The D.A. is inclined to make it a charge of premeditated murder with special circumstances. It's the harshest charge and an automatic death sentence if there's a conviction."

Thomas visibly blanched, and Alexis felt a shiver run through her. She knew what he was thinking - the charges against him, to which he blindly pled guilty, were just as harsh and he might see death row too. She frowned and slipped her arms around herself.

"No. Not you." She whispered as Thomas squirmed in his chair.

"Whatever Miss Davis thinks is right, the D.A. should do." Thomas said bluntly as he cast his eyes down to the table. "Whatever she wants is what should happen."

"What she wants is to know the truth. And you're the only one who can give it to her. I'm here at her request. So are you."

Thomas looked up. Taggert lid his foot off the chair and down to the ground with a smack, then slowly turned around and set a stare into the mirror. Alexis reflexively pulled back, fingers firming their grip around her arm and her side as the arms that hugged herself tightened. She watched as Taggert rubbed at his neck once more and adjusted the collar of his shirt. His eyes made a quick sweep down to where she sat, then back up again, as if he could see her. And then, his focus landed in the middle of the mirror, a little to her left of where she sat. He was looking at Thomas's reflection, and Thomas was looking back.

"By the way, I gave her the message you asked me to give her."

Thomas opened his mouth, but said nothing. He wanted to speak - to ask Taggert what she said, and how she responded. But he didn't know how to ask. How does one ask such a thing?

"You...what did...I mean, how did she..."

"Like I said, Malloy - she likes to know the truth. I wouldn't have offered her your apology if I didn't think it was real. And that's how she took it."

"She believed that I'm sorry?"

"The mea culpa was graciously accepted."

Alexis bit her lip as Taggert's gaze darted vaguely in the direction of her face.

"And I think it was something she actually needed to hear."

"M-me too." Thomas stammered, then shifted his jaw as he cleared his throat. "I mean, I needed to hear that she believed me. Thank you for telling me, lieutenant. And thank you for telling her."

Thomas lifted his chained hands to quietly rub at one eye. Taggert turned around to face him.

"I also told her that you were instrumental in us finding her in time, and that you even stuck close by to make sure of it...which also pretty much made sure you'd get caught before you could get out of town. She knows that YOU never wanted her dead. But she doesn't know about Sorel. And that's what she needs to know - now, from you. What was going through his head, Malloy? And did Sorel take her with the intent to kill her, or did that decision come after he already had her locked up and drugged up in that God-forsaken little cement block."

Thomas was stunned by the question. He didn't understand why she would want to hear about Sorel's abuse of her when she was still trying to recover from it. She should want to forget the awful things that had been done to her, not dredge them back up and relive them. But if Sorel really intended to make her testify against him in court, she'd be forced to relive them in front of strangers and people who knew and cared about her. She probably thought she needed to toughen herself up for the day when Sorel's sleaze ball lawyer would tear her to shreds on the stand, trying to make her fall apart to ruin her credibility. Thomas felt himself tensing up in anger at the thought of Sorel making her suffer all over again. He deserved the worse that the D.A. could do to him.

"So you're saying that if Sorel took her with the intent to kill her, that would mean he gets the automatic death sentence?"

Taggert cocked his head at the oddly hopeful lilt in Malloy's voice. "Don't start lying to me now, Malloy."

Thomas's face began to assume a veiled expression of guilt.

"You're been a perversely credible felon up until now. A regular Sunday school boy. Don't blow it. Not even for a motive that even I'D be tempted to get behind. If you're worried how Ms. Davis will react to whatever the truth is, don't be. She's a big girl. She can handle it. Hell, she survived it!"

Thomas's left lip twitched, as if he was fighting the urge to smile. Finally, he allowed himself that release. The corners of his mouth upturned, just slightly, and Thomas nodded his head.

"Amen."

"She deserves to have her request honored, Malloy. It's all she's asking of you, and you owe her. So, how about you answer her question." Taggert said flatly.

"I wish I could, but I don't know if I can. Not for certain. I mean of course Sorel wanted to get his hands on the kid to keep him from testifying, but he also wanted to make Corinthos eat some crow over it. He thought Ms. Davis was a way for him to get both."

"So he planned to keep her live until Corinthos agreed to give up Zander, then he was going to kill her?"

"No, he didn't actually plan to...I'm not sure what he planned or IF he planned. I mean he hadn't even mentioned Miss Davis to me before that morning, after he was released on bail and followed her from the courthouse. He called me from the park and told me to meet him behind the coffee bar at the end of the park ASAP. And I was to bring a bottle of ether and a thick cloth from out of this big black bag that he keeps in his office."

Alexis reflexively gulped in a large breath of air against the memory of a sickeningly sweet smell that filled her head. She'd regognized the smell too well, and her temples began to throb in response. An overwhelming panic quickly overtook her. She couldn't breath...she was suffocating. She couldn't get air into her lungs through the iron hand covering her nose and mouth. She couldn't move her arms against the force that kept them locked against her sides. Alexis tried to fight, but she knew it was futile. The déjà vu of being trapped was swallowing her whole, and soon her world began to spin. Against her will, her lids began to flutter, then close. And the last thing she saw as her body surrendered to the smothering sweetness of ether and the pull of gravity was a swirl of beautiful bright colors dancing before her eyes.

"We waited for her to leave and then followed her as she walked deeper into the park, where there weren't so many people around. And we listened in while Miss Davis took a call from Corinthos and told him that Sorel was out of jail. Sorel enjoyed eavesdropping on that one, 'cause he could tell by he reaction how pissed Corinthos was."

"Oh God." Alexis closed her eyes. "He was watching me all that time."

"When Miss Davis finally hang up, Sorel made his move."

"And you?"

"I hung back, behind them, while Sorel talked to her."

"Threatened her." Taggert corrected.

"Y-yeah. He'd told me on the phone that if Miss Davis failed to be cooperative about the Smith kid, I was to follow her and use the ether to take her out of commission so we could get her out of there quick."

The chair leg suddenly squealed against the tiled floor, jerking Alexis's eyes open. Her pulse was racing, breaths coming fast and furious as she grabbed hold of the edge of the table to steady herself. She was suddenly afraid, wondering if she'd made a big mistake in asking Taggert to do this thing. Alexis cast her nervous eyes to the telephone that sat just beyond her reach. And within seconds, she felt ashamed. She was stronger than that. She was braver than that. And she would stay in that room and listen to whatever Thomas could tell her that would fill in the blanks and answer the questions. Alexis let her fingers relax and let go of the smooth wood. Her hands automatically went to her neck, expecting to find a length of soft wool to twist around and hold onto for grounding and comfort.

Her hands found nothing but the collar of her jacket...and the diamond at the base of her throat. The source of comfort she now instinctively sought had been left at Taggert's desk...in the room just behind Thomas's back. Alexis took a deep breath and bit her lip as her hands dropped down to her lap. Her eyes made their deliberate way through the window and settled on Thomas's pale, anxious face. He looked as scared as she felt. She recognized the look of fear quiet well. And Alexis couldn't help but think it was an odd thing for a prisoner and his captive to share. As Thomas cleared his throat and ran his tongue across his mouth, Alexis tilted her head and leaned forward.

"We took her to the warehouse on...well, you know where it is. It's the only legit business Sorel owns, and it's under a dummy name so nobody would connect it to him. It makes it a good holding place. Anyway, Sorel had me take her down to the basement and I went to put her on the cot, but Sorel said no. He said to put her on the floor, so she'd know exactly what the score was the minute she woke up. That's when I knew for sure he was wanting to play some mind games with her. But I still wasn't so sure he was wanting to hurt her. Not at that point."

"At what point then?"

Thomas slowly shook his head and his brow furrowed as he looked down at the table. "Sorel...isn't an easy man to anticipate, lieutenant. Not even if you've known him a while, like I have. I know what pisses him off and what pleases him, and I can even see what's motivating him to do a thing. But he doesn't often come right out and tell you what he's gonna do for definite. I don't think half the time he knows himself what he's gonna do for definite. He's moody, you know? And the way he got with Miss Davis was as moody as I've ever seen him be. His attitude toward her - the way he reacted to her kept changing once he had her totally under his control."

Control. Alexis blinked slowly. The word was too much a part of her life - and it was a word that she felt as much as heard. She wished it wasn't so. Her eyes were drawn away from Thomas by the movement of Taggert scratching his head. He briefly glanced down into the mirror with a hesitant face, and Alexis's teeth began to graze her lower lip. She sighed and smiled a crooked smile as she watched Taggert's gaze shift to the telephone that sat like a fulcrum between him and Thomas.

"I survived it, remember? I can hear about it too." She murmured to the worried face behind the glass.

Taggert shifted his weight to one leg. "How did Sorel react to her? His attitude kept changing how?"

Thomas's brow furrowed as he tried to think of the right words to explain how quickly and strangely Miss Davis inspired Sorel to go from hot to cold, from menacing to seductive, from sadistic to fleetingly humane.

"It's...hard to say, in general terms."

"Then be specific."

"Okay." Thomas swallowed and let his eyes find Taggert's face again. "I don't think Sorel expected Miss Davis to be threatened into doing what he wanted right away. He wasn't very angry when she refused him in the park, so I took that to mean he was looking forward to the opportunity it gave him to play a little bit of 'cat and mouse' with Corinthos. And he was sure he'd win, because he was sure Miss Davis was pretty important to Corinthos. And not just as a lawyer. Personally, I mean."

Sonny's loving eyes and warm smile flashed through Alexis's head, and it made her slip her arms around herself with missing the feel of his. And she couldn't help but wonder how someone as cold and unfeeling as Sorel could see how much Sonny cared for her more clearly than she could see for herself. But she hadn't really been looking.

"That Smith kid was just a punk off the street. He meant nothing to Corinthos except a way to rid himself of an enemy. Sorel didn't doubt who Corinthos would choose."

"Wait - why do you say you didn't think he planned to do her any physical harm from the start? Didn't he start drugging her as soon as he had her?"

"No, not right away. He wanted to play around with her for a while first. Show her his fangs and see how she reacted. See how easy and how bad she'd scare. She didn't seem to scare too bad at all. At first he seemed to get off on how he'd try to intimidate her and she'd just crack wise without missing a beat. He was amused by her. And he liked that she talked to him like he was as smart as her. He took it as a sign of respect. And I think he respected her back, as strange as that may sound considering...well, considering. But then he got Corinthos on the phone and everything started going south."

"Why? What happened?"

"Corinthos did something Sorel didn't expect - he didn't agree to the trade right off. Now, I got why Corinthos wouldn't bend to an enemy without making a show of backbone about it. He'd lose all credibility with his associates and be ripe for a takeover. But all Sorel got was that Corinthos was showing him his back. It totally threw Sorel off and made him doubt what he'd counted on."

"That Ms. Davis was more important to Corinthos than the prospect of seeing Sorel sent to death row?"

"Sorel doesn't like being made to feel wrong. He was only acting on instinct about who Corinthos would choose, but he didn't know for sure. And by not agreeing to trade Smith for Miss Davis without batting an eye, Corinthos made Sorel feel wrong."

"Knee jerk paranoia in action." Taggert mused. "A wee bit of irony too."

"I'm sorry?"

"Always listen to your instincts, Malloy. They're usually gnawing at you for a reason."

Thomas felt his face flushing. His instincts had told him not to take a job with Sorel. But his sense of duty to repay a debt won out. He just hadn't known how much repaying this particular debt would cost him.

"Right." He whispered with regret. "I'll remember that."

"Go on."

"So Sorel was a bit put out, to say the least. And then, when he told Miss Davis to ask Corinthos to make the trade, she told Corinthos the opposite - to NOT give Smith up. Sorel snapped. He grabbed her by the throat and started growling at her, threatening her. I could hear Corinthos on the other end of the line, screaming out all frantic-like at Sorel while Miss Davis was trying to breath."

Alexis swallowed, fingers lightly grazing up and down the length of her neck where the fingerprint bruises used to be. She would never again take an easy breath for granted.

"And what were you doing while Corinthos was screaming and Sorel was cutting off Ms. Davis's air supply?"

Thomas's body jerked, as if the leg of his chair had been kicked. His face began to tingle with renewed shame and he could no longer look Taggert in the eye. He let his head fall slightly forward, lids dropping to block his view of both pair of eyes staring at him - both Taggert's and his own, which haunted him in from large mirror on the wall.

"I was holding her arms behind her back." He whispered roughly.

Taggert shook his head.

"Her legs started to wobble, like she was gonna pass out. Sorel must have realized he was going too far because he suddenly go of her. I let go too, and she hit the ground, still gasping for air. And then we left. Sorel wanted her to sit alone in the dark for a few hours to think about what she'd say when he came back and asked her, one more time, to make a request of Corinthos."

"But when Sorel did go back, her answer was still no."

"Yeah. I wasn't surprised though. I was sure she'd be determined to stand toe-to-toe with Sorel. God, I wish I'd been wrong."

"You and everyone else. Except for maybe Ms. Davis. She makes no apologies for being bull-headed - not to anyone."

Taggert angled his crookedly grinning face toward the mirror. Alexis smiled weakly at his teasing remark. She knew he trying to lessen the impact of the experience that Thomas's vivid description was making her relive. But her pulse had already begun to quicken, and a well-meaning tease wasn't slowing it down.

Taggert suddenly turned back around and regarded the pair of bright blue eyes that were fixed on him. "Is that when Sorel's attitude toward Ms. Davis changed? When she refused to cooperate one too many times?"

"It's when he started acting like she and Corinthos were the same person in his mind. It was like...since he couldn't get his hands on Corinthos to teach him a lesson, he was going to teach it to her instead."

Alexis shivered, though the room was warm. The image of Sorel's leering, angry face in her minds eye chilled her to the bone. Thomas was right - Sorel looked at her as if she was Sonny, and victory was about to be his. Alexis was grateful Sorel HADN'T gotten his hands on Sonny. She never would have seen him alive again. And she didn't think she could have stood the loss of the man who'd taken root in her heart long before she even knew the seeds were planted.

Thomas shifted in his chair and released a deep breath. "Sorel started to really screw around with her mind. He was touching her and talking to her like he was going to...violate her, you know?"

Taggert closed his eyes. Yeah, he knew.

"He wasn't - that's not his style. But he wanted her to think it. He wanted to see her squirm, knowing she had nowhere to run and no way to stop whatever it was that he wanted to do to her. He kept saying she was a mouse in his cage, and that's just what he wanted her to feel like."

"You're nothing but a little mouse in a little cage. MY cage. Don't you forget it."

Little mouse. Hearing herself called that name by Sorel had put a sickening creep up her spine. It's what Helena often called her, when 'orphaned peasant' didn't quite fit her purpose. It's what Helena still called her to that day. And Alexis found it ironic that the two most evil people she'd ever known could have something as petty as an insult-of-choice for her in common.

"But Miss Davis didn't squirm. She looked him right in the eye and pulled away from him, over and over, every time he reached for her. I couldn't believe the guts of her. It was something to see, I'll tell you that much. But I knew Sorel was gonna make her pay for it."

Taggert frowned and glanced at the silent telephone. He didn't understand why the hell Alexis hadn't had enough already. He certainly had. He took a deep breath and released it slowly, turning his gaze back to the wide blue eyes staring up at him with trepidation.

"Make her pay by way of heroin?"

Thomas cleared his throat. "That's what I expected him to do. I'd already brought him the stuff, like he'd told me to do. So I figured he was gonna start using it to keep her in line, since she'd gotten so defiant and all."

"You 'figured'? Meaning he didn't?"

"No. Not just yet. He had in mind another way to make her pay, before he started shooting her up." Thomas's brow creased as he let his gaze lower down to the scratched wooden tabletop. "I knew how harsh Sorel could be with his enemies, but I'd never seen him be violent with a woman. And it's nothing I expected to see from him."

Taggert's stomach began to gurgle.

"He'd always prided himself on being kind of a smooth one with the ladies - being a gentleman and such. But Miss Davis wasn't exactly the kind of woman that Sorel was used to dealing with. She was smarter than him, and he knew it. And she wouldn't back down. I guess he thought showing his muscle was the best way he had of really showing her who was in charge. He hit her. Right in the face."

Alexis's fingers curved tightly around the edge of her seat.

"And I don't mean just a slap either. He used his fist."

"I know." Taggert mumbled. "I saw."

Thomas shook his head, an incredulous expression on his face as he relived his shock at Sorel's unexpected attack. "I swear to God, I didn't see it coming. I couldn't believe he'd actually punched her like that - so hard it knocked her backward, right into me. It caught me off guard and I grabbed onto her, to keep my balance. I think I was as stunned as she was."

Alexis took in a raspy breath. "Oh God. I remember hearing your heart beating, so fast...just like mine."

Thomas's eyes darted from Taggert's face to his lap, then back again. He cleared his throat and lifted his trmebling hands to tug at the collar of his orange jumpsuit. The metal links of the handcuffs rattled as he moved.

"She was shaking like crazy. Not fighting or crying or anything - just shaking. And Sorel had this intense look on his face as he started moving up behind her. I was afraid maybe he wasn't through, you know? So I just kept holding onto her, thinking maybe it would keep him from wanting to grab her out of my arms and hurt her again. I also thought if I held her tight, it might calm her down and stop her shaking."

Alexis's blinked, her brow furrowing. She though the bruises on her back came from Thomas's deliberate use of force against her, but instead they came from his awkward attempt to comfort her - and to protect her from Sorel's worst. Right from the start, it was against his conscience to help Sorel do what he did to her, but he did it anyway. And along the way, he tried to soften the blows. She wanted to know why. Why would a man scare her, hurt her, comfort her and save her life all at once? Zander's scared, sad face suddenly popped into her head, and it occurred to her that she'd never asked those questions of him either. She wondered if Emily ever had. And as Alexis looked through the window at Thomas's scared, sad face, a torrent of mixed emotions welled up in her heart while a torrent of hot tears welled up in her eyes.

Thomas suddenly frowned and turned his head. His sky blue eyes gazed, unfocused, at the wall. Alexis stared at his strong profile as two wet trails formed down her cheeks. She felt no compulsion to wipe them away. But as she stared, her tongue swept across her lips and caught the salty taste of the cleansing, calming sea that settled at the corner of her mouth. The unexpected stimulation of her senses reminded her body that she was in the PCPD of her own choice, not a cold basement by Sorel's. And while her mind traveled back and forth at the sound of Thomas's words, she was safe and nothing he said or did now could hurt her. And soon, Thomas's eyes returned to her view, looking up at Taggert in all their brilliant blue glory. And Alexis stared into them with quiet calm as Thomas ran his tongue across his lower lip and prepared to tell the rest of the truth that she needed to know...for better or worse.

"And THAT'S when the heroin began."