Alexis fidgeted with her bangs once more as she glanced into the mirror at the bottom of the stairs.
Her bangs were actually fine. It was her insides that felt a little off. She was nervous, but not in a particularly bad way. The prospect of seeing Thomas didn't scare her at all. In fact, Alexis knew it was she who scared him. Maybe that's why she was nervous. She was about to sneak up on him again and it was a crummy thing to have done to him the first time, even though it wasn't her intent for them to see each other face to face. But this time, Alexis was surprising him deliberately. She hoped that what she to tell him would make that all right.
A sudden knock on the door made her jump.
She pulled the door open and gave him a bright smile.
He smiled back. "Hey. Are you ready to roll or do you need a few?"
"I'm ready - I think."
Johnny nodded his head as he eyed her visage with appreciation. Her face was glowing, and the sides of her hair were pulled back in a sleek black barrette. And she was dressed a slim-fitting, deep plum colored skirt suit that he happened to have always liked. It was sophisticated and classy, just like her.
"You sure look ready." He offered. "You look real nice, I mean."
"Thanks." She grabbed her briefcase off the desk and her coat from the back of the chair. "Did I tell you where we're going?"
He shook his head.
"That would have been my guess."
"You know me too well."
"I do now."
She gave him a sympathetic look. "Sorry."
He smiled and stepped back to let her pass. "After you."
"You're so gallant."
She headed out into the hallway, with Johnny following after, and pushed the elevator button. When the doors opened, Johnny's knees nearly buckled at the sight of a small brown envelop lying on the elevator floor...with Alexis's name written in bold black letters across it. Alexis took a curious step forward, but Johnny, grabbed her by the arms and swung her around, out of the way.
He held his palms up, eyes shooting her a fierce look of warning. Alexis closed her mouth and clutched her coat tightly to her chest, letting Johnny move her further away from the open doors.
"Just stay back, okay?"
She nodded. He let go of her arms and returned his focus to the black letters spelling out her name. With care and caution, he picked up the envelope.
"What is it?" She asked softly.
He gave it a light shake, and then felt it gently all over. It felt soft. He couldn't tell what was inside of it, but he could tell what wasn't. And that was a great relief.
"Johnny? Is that for me?"
He turned to her. "Yeah. Sorry about grabbing you like that. There's just no return name or address and I can't be too careful."
"I understand. And I'll let Sonny know how well you're doing your over-protective thing."
"It's not over-protective. It's what's necessary."
She thoughtfully regarded his serious face for a long moment. Johnny was right. And she'd need to get used to it if she loved Sonny enough to live in his world.
"I didn't mean to belittle you. I apologize."
"You didn't belittle me, Alexis. You just don't want to have to expect bad things and it's my job to always expect them."
"Have I told you lately that you deserve a raise?"
"No. But feel free to tell Sonny too."
"Done." She held out her hand. "The envelope, please."
He handed it to her, and she slipped her fingers beneath the lightly sealed flap to open it. As she reached inside, her hand met something soft. Her brow creased in curiosity as she took hold of it and gently pulled it out.
"What is it?" Johnny asked.
The envelope suddenly fell to the ground. And Alexis's hand began to tremble as she stared down at the white handkerchief wrapped in a rubber band that she held between her fingers. The hairs on the back of Johnny's neck stood on end. He didn't know what she was holding, but Alexis clearly did. And it scared her.
He lightly touched her wrist and waited for her to look at him. When she did, he took the handkerchief from her hand.
"Don't tell him." She whispered.
Johnny frowned and looked down at the bound and folded white cloth. The initials "J.S." were stitched into the corner. He saw red.
"That son of a..."
"What is he threatening, Alexis?"
"Tell me the truth."
She stared at him, hesitant. Johnny snatched the envelope up from the floor and looked inside. It was empty.
"He's just trying to play another mind game with me." She murmured. "He knows he's lost, but he needs to throw just one more punch."
He clenched the handkerchief in his fist and looked her straight in the eye.
"What does this mean, Alexis? What kind of 'punch' is it supposed to be?"
She cleared her throat and nervously tugged at the cuff of her jacket.
"He, um...he kept the syringes folded in a handkerchief, with a rubber band wrapped around it. He liked to taunt me with it, holding it up front of my face and snapping the band until he was...ready to..."
"It's okay." Johnny said in a dry voice. "He can't hurt you any more and you know that."
"He knows it too. You're right - that's why he sent this. You won, he lost, and he's pissed."
"And that's the end of it." Alexis held out her open palm. "So I'm going to throw it in the trash where it belongs and go on with my day."
Johnny kept hold of the evidence and gave her a shake of his head.
"Johnny, I don't want you telling Sonny about this."
"I can't NOT tell him."
"You know why."
"No, I don't!"
"For one thing, it would mean we'd both be lying to him. And for another, Sonny knows how Sorel operates better than we do. It's possible that a threat IS being made and we just don't see it."
"What possible weight could Sorel's threats hold now? His operation no longer exists and he's on his way to death row."
"It's my job to expect the bad things, remember? And it's Sonny's job to decide for sure what they are so he can keep them away from you."
"But Johnny, you know him! You know how he'll react, and I don't want to be the reason he does something rash that can't be taken back. And..." She sighed heavily, both frustrated and scared. "I need him to be with me, not be locked away in a prison cell."
"Then tell him yourself what Sorel did. And tell him why you need him to leave it alone."
She stared at him with wary eyes.
"He'll do as you ask, Alexis. Because he needs to be with you too." Johnny held the crumpled handkerchief out to her. "Promise me that you'll tell him."
Alexis looked down at Johnny's fist, and then nodded in agreement. She knew she wouldn't be able to keep a secret from Sonny anyway - especially a secret like this.
"I'll tell him tonight."
Alexis stood rigid, with her back against the steel door. She could feel the cold metal handle pressing somewhat painfully into the small of her back. Still, she couldn't bring herself to move away from that door. She should have called before she came. But maybe it was better this way. Taggart was expected back at noon, which gave her almost an hour to find closure with Thomas without the well-intentioned detective trying to change her mind.
She glanced down at her watch, though she'd just looked at it fifteen minutes ago. It felt like she'd been standing there an hour already. It had only been seven minutes. The sound of heavy footsteps echoing down the hall jolted her deep inside. Her heart pounding, Alexis closed her eyes and took a deep, slow breath. She'd heard that same sound so many times before, knowing that it was Thomas coming to her...and sometimes, Sorel. The cold of the door handle now sent a chill up her spine. Or perhaps it was the clanking of metal keys that warned her of her last chance to change her mind.
Alexis swallowed and lifted her head, eyes turning to the barred wall. The footsteps grew louder...closer. She straightened her back, breaking her body's contact with the door. And then, the steps began to slow. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands as she clenched them tightly, allowing the light sting of it to keep her present in the room. It was the best way could think of to keep her self from being helplessly hurled back into that basement all over again when she saw those crystal blue eyes.
Thomas suddenly appeared between the vertical bars, his head bowed down and gaze fixed on the handcuffs locking his wrists together in front of his body. Alexis drew another deep breath, wondering what her first words to him would be. Her mind had become a void. But as the guard worked the key into the lock, banging his key ring sharply against the metal bars, she saw Thomas's body register a short series of flinches. Her fists unclenched. She wasn't anywhere but in that room.
The door squealed as it opened, and Thomas took a step forward, finally raising his eyes to his visitor. The face he beheld sent a shockwave through him. He blinked hard, his eyes and his conscience wrecking havoc in his head. He'd expected his public defender - or Taggart. He hadn't expected her. A firm hand pressed against his back, demanding he move further into the room. He wanted to comply, but his legs were rooted in place and he turned to give a helpless look to the impatient guard behind him.
"I can't..." He whispered.
"I just need a few minutes of your time."
The familiar timbre of her soft voice tightened his chest.
Please. Thomas had no right to hear that word from her - not ever. But she had every right to speak her peace to him no matter how sick it made him inside to hear it. So he turned his head back around, though he avoided looking at her face. Maybe when they were alone, without the guard, he'd find the courage.
"Anything." He cleared his dry throat and swallowed. "I'll do anything you ask."
"Just, um...I just need to talk. Please, have a seat."
Thomas silently nodded his head, and then he abruptly moved to the wooden chair. He set his chained hands down on table, one on either side of the open lock. As the guard reached for the latch to close it, Alexis frowned.
"Is that really necessary? I'd rather you didn't."
Thomas's eyes suddenly rose up to her face as the guard shrugged.
"Whatever you say, Ms. Davis."
"Just give a yell if you have any trouble."
She smiled with an arch of her brow. "I'll be sure to do that."
Thomas lowered his head once again as the guard left the room, clanking the metal door shut behind him. He kept his hands on the table, the chain links conjoining them still lying within the open lock. It was a small gesture, meant to let her know that he would understand if she changed her mind. She had no reason to feel safe alone with him. As he'd learned while in lock up, a pair of handcuffs could be a deadly weapon all on their own. She probably knew that too.
He suddenly heard the rustle of her clothing as she moved to the chair across from him and took a seat. He saw her black leather purse set down on the floor, and then her hands took hold of the edge of the table as if she was physically bracing herself for the emotions yet to come. And then, Thomas smelled the light scent of her perfume. It slammed him back to the first time he'd locked her body against his, when he'd forced the chloroform-soaked cloth over her face the morning he and Sorel followed her to the parking lot at the end of the park. The ten seconds or so that it took her fierce struggle to fade into limp unconsciousness was plenty of time for the scent of her to claim its place in his brain. She smelled so good. But remembering the first time he'd breathed her in made his eyes close in shame.
"Thank you for agreeing to speak with me."
Her voice jolted him back into the gray, hollow room. And he struggled to speak over the lump in his throat as he stared down at the table.
"I deserve everything you have to throw at me and...I'm ready for it. So lemme have it with both barrels."
Thomas heard her shift in her seat. And then, he saw her hands slide toward each other along the edge of the table. There was a slight tremble in her fingers as they moved. When she clasped her hands together, the tremble was stilled.
"Could you look at me please?"
Her voice was small and pleading. It sent a pang into his stomach to hear that kind of sound coming from her again. But he would submit to anything she asked of him. He closed his eyes before raising his head, and gave himself a moment to breath before daring to look at her face. And when he did look, he saw a woman regarding another human being, not the animal he felt himself to be. Her eyes held fast to him, studying them as if she'd never seen them before. It made him want to look away, but he didn't.
"Thank you." She smiled nervously. "I tried to get you to look at me the first day. You wouldn't."
"I couldn't." Thomas felt his eyes begin to burn as they filled. "I'm so sorry. I...I'm not an educated man and I can't think of anything better to say to you."
"Words can be over-rated."
He shook his head. "No. Words have power. And I want to find the words that will make you believe that I'd do anything to be able to take it all back. I know I can't undo what I did to you, and saying I'm sorry just isn't good enough, is it?"
"Mr. Malloy, I didn't come here to assail you with verbal bullets of outrage over what you did to me. You may expect acrimony, but I have none to give you."
A look of confusion crossed his face, his clear blue eyes gazing at her across the table as purely as a child's. Those eyes still stirred so many memories and feelings in her, both vague and crystal clear. But fear wasn't one of them.
"Yes, you did hurt me. And you did scare me - a lot...at first. I won't insult you by trying to claim otherwise."
Thomas's jaw tightened, and Alexis noticed a slight tremor in his lower lip.
"But you also kept me from giving up when I thought I couldn't hold on any more. You were gentle, and kind. And I know that ultimately, you saved my life at the risk of losing your own. You deserve to know that I'm grateful."
His eyes welled all over again. He felt his hands begin to shake, the chain between them lightly rattling against the wood in response.
"Please don't." He whispered. "I was weak, and a coward, and I sold my soul to a devil. The last thing on earth that I deserve is your gratitude."
"You aren't a bad man, Mr. Malloy. You just made a bad alliance. Sorel is purely evil, but that isn't you."
"You said that to me once before. You probably don't remember."
There was a long silence as Alexis's gaze settled on shackled hands. Finally, she shook her head.
She took a deep cleansing breath and shifted in her chair, remembering with shame how terrified she'd been in the wake of Katherine Bell's parapet fall that was meant to be Helena's. She'd been weak and a coward, forcing Stefan to once again be strong and brave in her place. She was lucky. Stefan forgave.
"Mr. Malloy, I know all too well that sometimes people start down a road without fully understanding where it could lead them, even though the warning signs are posted up one side and down the other. And by the time they open their eyes and allow themselves to really see those signs, the road behind them is closed and there's no turning back. So they just have to slow down, keep their eyes straight ahead, and hope for the best. That's what you did. Isn't it?"
Thomas nodded slowly as she spoke, overwhelmed by her compassionate understanding.
"The truth is, I've traveled an ill-chosen path or two myself. And by the grace of God, I avoided both my own undoing and the complete destruction of others. But I didn't avoid suffering any consequences, not the least of which was horrendous guilt. It took an eternity for me to forgive myself."
Again, her gaze was pulled to the steel bracelets around his wrists. They could have, at one time, been locked around hers. Her body gave over to an involuntary shudder, reliving her panic at awakening from an anxious sleep in the hospital to find herself tethered to the bed. She couldn't have handled being shackled the way Thomas was now, and the visceral empathy inside of her moved her to reach across the table, fingertips lightly settling on the edge of his large, cool hand. His hand flinched at the feel of her touch. It reminded her of how he'd pulled away when she sought contact with him while gripped in the first frightening hold of heroin. Even then, when it had only just begun, he felt too much guilt to let her touch him.
"I can see the depth of your guilt, Mr. Malloy. Thomas." She murmured. "You wear it like a second skin. And I can also see that you haven't even contemplated the possibility of self-forgiveness. But I forgive you."
His cool blue eyes stared, and she gave him a small, half smile.
"I hope knowing that will help you begin to forgive yourself."
Thomas continued to stare, speechless. He no longer cared about maintaining a stoic front, allowing her to see the depths to which her generous words moved him. He raised an arm to wipe the burning wetness of his eyes his sleeve, and then he looked at her with his head held high. She looked wonderful - and so different from the last time he'd seen her before leaving her to be found in Sorel's warehouse. The color in her cheeks was vibrant, but it wasn't a flush of sickness or fear. And her eyes were wide and bright, alive with life once more. But Thomas also saw the fading remains of the injury he'd caused, hiding behind a fringe of long bangs. His gaze fixed upon that mark. He didn't notice that she started to shift, uncomfortable under his stare.
"I didn't mean to do that."
"I know." She replied simply, allowing another small smile. "You told me."
"You remember that?"
She nodded. "I do."
"And you forgive me."
Thomas took a long, deep breath and then slowly released it. Corinthos had said she'd forgive him, but he didn't believe it. He didn't see how anyone could forgive what he'd done. But there she was, thanking him, forgiving him, and setting him free. How could he reconcile it all in his head?
"You look really good. Are you really all right?"
"Yes." She sat back in her chair and pulled her hand away from his. "I'm really all right."
He swallowed hard as his eyes unconsciously shifted to the sleeve of her jacket as she gave it a light tug. He wondered what her arm looked like under that sleeve - if the ravages of Sorel's un-sterile needles and the scratched of her own fingernails still lingered, or if the doctors were able to make that all right too.
"I had no idea h...how far he was going to go." Thomas whispered in a dry voice. "I had no idea."
Alexis leaned forward and rested her arms on the edge of the table.
"Will you tell me how it happened? How did you sell your soul to the devil?"
He shook his head and let his lids close. "It just...happened."
"If you'd rather not talk about it, I'll respect your privacy. I'm only asking because it will help me make better sense out of everything that happened."
"But there's no excuse for what I did."
"I'm not looking for an excuse - just an explanation." She tilted her head, set her elbow onto the table and settled her chin in the palm of her hand. "How did you meet Sorel?"
"His wife used to shop in my grandparent's grocery store when I was a kid. I saw her two, maybe three times a week when I helped out there after school. See, I lived with my grandparents since I was seven."
He paused, expecting her to ask him why. She just continued looking at him with studious interest, waiting for him to continue. So he continued.
"She was real nice, Mrs. Sorel. My grandmother liked her a lot. She'd go out of her way to make sure she ordered enough of what Mrs. Sorel always bought so she'd never go without. I only met her husband a few times in the ten years that we had the store. He'd only come in on his way home if she forgot something."
Thomas suddenly felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny of her dark brown eyes and the shadow on her forehead that haunted him. He let his gaze drop to his hands.
"When I was fifteen, the store got robbed by a couple of local gang punks and my grandfather got shot. He died."
"I'm sorry." She murmured.
He resisted the impulse to look at her again, knowing the empathy in her face would match that in her voice. He wasn't prepared to receive any more compassion from the woman who by all rights should want him to suffer.
"My grandmother was in a pretty bad way over the loss. But Mrs. Sorel was real good to her, going to visit her all the time, bringing her cannoli from her favorite Italian bakery, and even inviting her over for lunch when she was feeling up to getting out of the apartment."
"How did you handle the loss?"
He shrugged. "I just did what had to be done. I quit school to take over the store and look after my grandmother the way she'd looked after of me. One day, Mr. Sorel came into the store and told me it was a good thing I was doing, stepping up to take care of family. He said I was the kind of man he could use in his organization, once I got a little older. So when my grandmother died a few years later, Sorel said I was old enough and he asked me to come work for him. I wanted to go back and finish school, but I wasn't smart enough to handle working and studying at the same time. And I couldn't afford not to work."
"So you accepted Sorel's job offer."
"The money was good - lots better than I was pulling in from the store. And right before my grandma passed, I found out Sorel had tracked down the punks who killed my grandfather and made sure that they'd never hurt any innocent old man again. I also found out that he made everyone on his payroll who lived in the neighborhood shop at our store so we wouldn't go under. I kind of owed him."
"What kind of work did he have you do?"
"Mostly it was driving him around and going with him to meetings."
"You acted as his bodyguard?"
"Kind of. Mostly, he wanted me following him around to scare people. I didn't ever hurt anybody or anything, but my size has always scared people. Looking at me was all the convincing anyone ever needed to either back off of Sorel or do what he wanted."
Her unexpected quip raised his head. She gave him a soft smile and a shrug of her shoulder. All at once, every ounce of weight sitting heavily on his soul dissolved into dust, and Thomas smiled back.
"Yeah. Almost." He wiped at the corner of his hot, teary eye. "You really threw that son of a bitch for a loop."
She laughed, dark eyes sparkling with life. His cheeks grew hot.
"Sorry for the language."
"If the language fits." She pushed at her bangs and set her arm back down flush against the table. "Please, go on."
Thomas hesitated. "It wasn't until after his wife died that I ever saw him hurt anyone himself. He was so angry about losing her that he seemed to make up reasons to take it out on people who pissed him off. But I never saw him hurt a woman until he was scared for his life with that Smith kid testifying against him, and he decided to take you as a bargaining chip. I didn't like it, but I still owed him...you know?"
She closed her eyes and nodded her head. She did know. It's how she used to feel about Stefan. She owed him everything, and she did his every bidding, even when it cost her Ned. She understood Thomas more than she could possibly explain.
"But he crossed a line." Thomas continued. "I didn't know anything about smack except what Sorel wanted me to know - that it would make you more cooperative. But when I saw what it was really doing to you, it scared me."
"Me too." She said in a flat tone. "I'm just glad I didn't know what it was that he was shooting into me."
Thomas shifted his gaze, wondering if she knew that the day she was told the truth, Corinthos had come to that very room to vent his rage and demand an accounting of everything she'd endured while held captive. And he wondered if Corinthos knew that she was there now, bringing the forgiveness that Corinthos would never give. Thomas understood. He could forgive something bad that was done to himself, but he'd never stop hating the men who took the light from his grandmother's eyes by killing the man she loved. Alexis Davis was the light in Corinthos's eyes. She was the woman he loved.
"It's true what you said before, about being on a path and not seeing the signs. Except to me, it was more like being in a speeding car with no brakes, and you know you're going to crash and there's nothing you can do to stop it." He fixed his blue eyes onto hers. "But when you see that tree straight ahead of you, there's a kind of relief in knowing that once you hit, at least the fear of crashing will finally be over."
Alexis looked down at the table. "It seems we've all been given second chances at some time in our lives. You gave me another chance at life, and now I'm giving one to you."
She cleared her throat and mustered the will to let bring her gaze back to his face. When she did, Thomas's expression had morphed into one of confusion. Alexis clasped her hands together in her lap, assuming the professional stance as she kicked into attorney mode.
"All charges against you with regard to my kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault and attempted murder will be formally dropped by the end of the day. You should be a free man by this time tomorrow at the latest, depending upon how motivated Taggart is to quickly complete the paperwork for your release."
Thomas's eyes went blank.
"Release? How is that possible?"
"Because it's my call and I want it that way. But you should also know that given Sorel's indictment for the murder of Ted Wilson and the certain death sentence he'll receive, I've decided not to put myself through the ordeal of a trial and am dropping the charges against him too. That might actually be in your best interest as well because Sorel won't have reason to suspect that you were released as quid pro quo for your co-operation. He'll simply think, and rightly so, that there was no legal validity to accessory charges without primary defendant charges."
"I'm sorry, I don't..."
She smiled. "It's all right. All you need to understand is that you'll be free by tomorrow and Sorel will never be free again. Works for me. You?"
"I...yeah." He cleared his throat and allowed himself to smile back. "Wow. First I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am and now I don't know how to tell you how grateful."
"Just lead a life that's true to who you are. That'll do."
"I will. I promise."
Alexis's smile grew as she saw a light turn on in his sky blue eyes for the very first time. Thomas Mallow knew how to keep a promise. And she knew that he would be just fine. So would she. Alexis picked up her purse and rose to her feet. As a gentlemanly gesture, Thomas rose too. Her eyes lifted to follow his face, though she kept her head aligned straight ahead. She noticed that he looked thinner since he'd been in jail. And despite his still formidable bulk and height, there was nothing about him that intimidated her anymore. She smiled and offered him her hand, which he gently took after a long pause.
"Good bye, Thomas. And good luck."
She relaxed her hand and he let it go. And with a lightened heart and mind, Thomas quietly watched as she turned around and walked away, having cleared the last hurdle on her way to a happy life.
Alexis's heels clicked along the concrete path as she made her way back toward the squad room. She wasn't halfway there when she heard the squeal of another metal door and the rattle of more keys. As she continued walking down the hall, there came the sound of a deep voice...and then a second voice, which stopped her in her tracks.
"Where the hell is my attorney?"
"Shut up, Sorel."
"I'm entitled to speak with my attorney before being transferred anywhere."
"You ain't entitled to squat, you cop-killing piece of filth."
"Anyone ever explained the concept of 'innocent until PROVEN guilty', flatfoot?"
Alexis heard the sounds of a minor scuffle, shoes scraping sharply against concrete and metal slamming into metal. Her heart began to pound in her chest as she breathlessly clutched her purse tight against her body.
"I said shut your mouth! And park your sorry ass on the bench or I'll cuff you to the leg and you can sit on the floor like the dog you are."
She heard a thunking sound, and more metal.
"My attorney will hear about this too."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm shaking in my flatfooted shoes." The guard scoffed. "Your escort officer will be here soon - to take out the trash."
"I'm not going anywhere without talking to my lawyer!" Sorel shouted.
Alexis stood silent until the echo of the guard's footsteps merged with the sound of a door opening and slamming shut. And then, all was deathly quiet. She couldn't swallow, she couldn't breath...she couldn't think about anything other than the sound of Sorel's voice filling her head is if in a bad dream. She thought she'd never have to hear that voice again. Hearing it now blindsided her, and it took every ounce of her strength not to turn around and run in the opposite direction.
But Alexis knew that if she ran from him now, it would undo all the progress she'd made in reclaiming what he'd taken. She had to keep her head high, her stride steady, and her tongue as sharp as a tack as she walked right past him. He had to have been dropped in her path for a reason, and she was determined to find out what that reason was. So she straightened her back, set her eyes forward, and walked purposefully down the hallway. The minute she rounded the blind corner, Sorel's eyes were on her - and a large smirk took over his face.
"Well, hello angel. Miss me?"