There had been many firsts in the history of Ned and Alexis, but this first was intrinsically different. This was the first time she had ever shut him out.
He stared into the reflection of light bouncing off the surface of his coffee, his mind flipping back to a promise she’d once made - a promise that she’d never let him lose her. Ned closed his eyes and conjured the image of Alexis as she looked that day. It was the image he always conjured when he missed her and wanted her the most, one from a private hour stolen from her bogus husband and his same fiancé. All their time back then had been stolen, and so much other time wasted in the end.
Her face was as beautiful as he’d ever seen – soft, languid and radiant, flushed with the residual heat of the passion they’d just unleashed on each others’ bodies. She lay on her stomach and he on his, eyes locked in an intimate gaze as if the rest of the world had stopped. Their words were carried on whispers, as they often were though no one else was near. His hesitation to go through with a false union to another was soundly answered by her assurance. He never forgot what she’d said.
“I’ve waited a long time to be the best thing in someone’s life. I have no intention of letting you lose me.”
He had no words to respond, and his hand reached for her instead. He slid his hand down the angle of her shoulder, the descending slope of her spine and down to the upward curve of her hips. He couldn’t get enough of her, of the feel of her skin against his. Ned watched her face as his palm retraced its path. Her eyelids slowly lowered and her dimples began to resurface, his touch sending a gentle arch into her back. He was greedy, wanting her again…though he’d barely caught his breath from where she’d taken him just minutes before.
The familiar stirring inside of him sent Ned’s eyes open with a start. The strength of his longing had caught him off guard and he shifted, squirming against the back of the leather couch grown hot behind his back. The bittersweet memory was an exercise in masochism, to be sure, but it also strengthened his resolve. He refused to accept the idea of never feeling her touch again, never tasting her kiss or inhaling the scent of her hair. Never seeing her face gazing up at him, all sweet, spent and filled with unconditional love.
Ned looked back down at the cup he held, at his hands that encircled it. His finger was naked – no band of gold to proclaim his eminent domain over her. Things would be different if she hadn’t been so scared, and if he had only seen it. That small yellow circle would have put him in that room with her. No – it would have kept her from being in that room in the first place, and out of Sonny Corinthos’s sphere altogether! But Ned knew he was just fooling himself. As he looked up, the sight of the photograph of Alan and Monica that sat on the bookcase brought a wry smile to his face. As were those two, so were Ned and Alexis. He knew he could never really force her hand with Corinthos – with ANYTHING simply by virtue of marriage, and she knew it too.
This fear of losing herself just didn’t make any sense. Alexis was too strong to lose herself to anything, but now it was Ned who was losing his hold on her. She had promised she wouldn’t let that happen…and now she was shutting him out. Even on that awful day, even when she’s run from him she’d tried to reach back out to him. But he had been too stung with hurt, too blind with anger. He could barely look at her with her rumpled white satin dress, swollen eyes and tear streaked face. She wanted to erase what had already seared him, to go back to what used to be - but it was too late. He needed all of her or none, and it had been HIM who had turned his back and shut the door.
Ned’s response to betrayal was always immediate and sharp, and this was not the first time he’d shown her that. When he’d thought she’d betrayed him with Jakarta, when he KNEW she’d betrayed him by defending Tony Jones, he’d given her ice – cold, stinging, unflinching ice. Alexis never gave up. She came back for more, every time she could, his emotional wounding of her growing more and more dull. And each time he thought he’d slammed that door shut for good, she slowly, surely, found the crack and pried that door open…enough for Ned to let her slip back in. Now it was his turn to slowly, surely, pry.
Well, maybe not so slowly...
Sonny tried not to stammer as answered her question obliquely, Alexis staring up at him with those big eyes of hers.
“Well, you…you DO still have a fever, Alexis. It’s a lot lower, but it’s still there. And like Tony said, he’ll adjust the medication and you can let him know if it’s better or not.”
“In other words, asked and answered?”
Sonny grinned. “I may know what the word ‘re-hydrate’ means, but I’m still no doctor.”
Alexis shifted her legs, her right hand moving down to scratch at her thigh through the bedcovers. “You might have missed your calling. Your bedside manner is pretty…extraordinary.”
He watched her hand as it drew up and down her leg. “So is the patient.”
Alexis smiled and closed her eyes. “You say that to all your attorneys.”
“You ARE all my attorneys.”
“You should have a TEAM of attorneys instead of a one-woman band, what with all the work you generate.” Her eyes suddenly flew open. Alexis rolled over onto her back and looked at him with a worried expression. “What day is it?”
Sonny knew what she was thinking. “It’s Friday, and Zander is fine. Bennie’s taking him to the courthouse, he’ll testify as scheduled, and that will be it. I didn’t tell you before, but…Sorel is in custody. He won’t be a threat to you or Zander or anyone else ever again. I swear to you.”
Alexis tried to take it in. Her face showed a complexity of emotions, and Sonny wished he hadn’t burdened her with any thoughts of Sorel. But he’d had a sense that she would have asked, and soon. Any thought of Zander and his testimony would lead down the road to Sorel. At least she knew she was safe from him.
“Don’t worry about Zander. He’s already worrying enough about you.”
Alexis grimaced, the fingers of her left hand extending, trembling as the ache in her arm flared. As it subsided, she looked back up at him.
“Tell him not to. Tell him to be clear, calm, and to tell the truth. And that I’m proud of him.”
Sonny was too busy studying her face for her words to register. He touched her hand lightly and she responded with a smile.
“Your arm hurts.” It was an acknowledgement, not a question.
She nodded. It was useless to try to lie to him at this point. “Some.”
She swallowed with some difficulty, and Sonny reached again for the glass of water. “I think you should try to drink a little bit. Hydrate yourself.” He grinned at her.
Alexis nodded. “Okay.”
Sonny handed her the glass and she frowned. “I hate straws. I don’t know why.”
“Me too. Because they make me dribble.”
Alexis laughed and Sonny’s heart soared at the sound of it. His smile grew wide, matching hers dimple for dimple. Her eyes were so clear, so warm right then, as he was afraid they’d never be again. As her smile softened, Sonny couldn’t keep himself from staring and taking in every ounce of radiance…before the next wave of darkness could come and take it all away.
“God that’s a beautiful sight.” He murmured softly.
Sonny’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud. He felt a tingle creep into his face and he knew she’d soon see the faint blush about to follow.
“You – smiling, laughing. I’ve missed that.”
The first time he ever laid eyes on her, Alexis had made him smile, matching his acerbic pity-party zingers line for line. She was stunning, she was quick, and she was railing against the requisite holiday cheer with Ned’s own weapon of choice – martinis. When he left her that night, sitting alone at the bar, he never expected to see her again. Thank God for unfulfilled expectations.
Dorman. The only good thing to come out of that whole mess was the chance it gave him to see her…often. Amidst the pain and the drama that trial had caused, there was their first date. Which was also the first time that he sang for her, albeit unintentionally. She came up behind him as he sat at the piano, his back to the door. She smiled as she swung around in front of him, and then his song was all for her. They smiled a lot that night, as witty and charming as a proper Quartermaine and Cassadine can be while dining with their guard up. But under their respective veneers, as someone famous once said - there was definitely THERE there.
Ned hadn’t kissed her that night. Almost, but no - and he was glad. The long, slow burn leading up the occasion of it had made him all the more hungry for her when he did…on the roof, under the stars, while holding her in a close, private dance. He’d announced his intention like an old-fashioned gentleman, the advance warning sending a flash of anxiety across her face. Yet she was open, welcoming in a shy, tentative way…at first. He’d barely broken away from her when their mouths were drawn quickly back to each other, her arms sliding around his shoulders to pull him even closer, all shyness abandoned. To wish her goodnight and watch her walk away from him in those wee, small hours of the morning - as an old fashioned gentleman would do – made the pit of his stomach feel empty. But he knew, all stirrings aside, that it was just the beginning of another long, slow burn. VERY long…but very worth every hour of ache that led them to their first Valentine’s Day together, and all that they could no longer contain.
Ned had given her the world that night, and Alexis had shaken his - his world, his body, his life. While the city slept in darkness, he surrounded her with the warm glow of candles and the patter of a far away rainforest, and the current running between them finally exploded. They clung to each other with fierce possession, clothing pushed and pulled, flung to the ground as they dove into a brand new sea. They were gentle and urgent, heated and attentive, each studying their new lover’s eyes to know them, truly know them.
He knew that he was falling, right then and there, but he had promised himself to never again be the one who said it first. He did. And once he had said it, the words flowed like champagne at a wedding - quickly and often. Just that night alone he said ‘I love you’ a hundred times more, just to hear her say it back, and she had been as scared to first hear the words as he had been to say them. A grown man and woman, so frightened of three little words and the impact they could have, no better than adolescents in their emotional dexterity. Ned wondered if that was maybe the strongest factor in their passion, their unrelenting magnetic pull toward each other.
But he knew that magnets could also oppose.
Sonny rubbed at his stubbly face and pushed his rolled sleeves further up, above his elbows. Alexis looked up at him with concern.
“You’re tired. You always rub your face like that when you’re tired.”
Sonny grinned and pulled the offending straw from her water glass. He aimed and shot it into the corner of the room.
“What? You don’t like straws, I don’t like straws – exit straw.”
Alexis’s body shivered, her eyes squeezing shut. Sonny glanced back at the door, wondering what the hell was taking Tony so long with that Demerol. As she relaxed a bit, her hand wandered back to her itching leg. She sighed, catching her breath again.
“They’re called trashcans, buddy. And I’m sure there must be one in here somewhere."
Sony frowned at her. “You’re no fun.” He watched the corners of her mouth turn upward, in spite of herself. He loved to ease her, and she was so easy to tease. “Now, let’s get you drinking glass appropriate. Or, in other words, upright.”
Alexis opened her eyes and watched Sonny reach for the control panel on the inside of the bedrails. The head of the bed began a slow rise, the room buzzing with the mechanical sound of it. Alexis closed her eyes and turned her head away.
“No. I don’t know. My, um…equilibrium is off.”
“I can lower it back down and…wash the straw?”
She turned back to him. “I think I’d rather sit up instead. I mean, all the way, like a normal person instead of a sick person.”
Alexis looked down at her encumbered arms and bit her lip. She hated this. She hated being so weak and helpless. It made her feel like everything was out of her control. Sonny was looking down at her, waiting. He smiled, so warm…and suddenly she wanted to cry. She clenched her jaw, willing the wave of emotion away as she pushed at her eyes with the heel of her hand. She took a deep breath and cast her eyes downward, avoiding his as she finally asked.
“Will you help me?”
“Stop it!” Ned abruptly rose from the couch, shaking the bad thoughts from his head.
“We do NOT oppose, we ATTRACT. Which is why we’ve been doing this dance for so many years. We’re in each other’s blood.”
He downed the last swallow of now cold coffee and crumpled the paper cup in his hand. Ned moved to the desk and pushed Monica’s chair out of the way. As he reached down to the trashcan, her computer caught his eye…and his Quartermaine genes kicked in. Monica deliberately turned it off when she left the night before, not wanting to tempt him, she said. Not TRUSTING him was more like it. But she’d been right, as usual. She hadn’t even looked herself, loath to know something she’d be compelled to keep from him. She was a wise woman. She told him to leave Alexis alone and be there when she needed him. Ned had done both.
He could handle backing off, barely, but not knowing what was wrong with her killed him. The deliberate and cryptic way Tony talked about her condition had taken his mind to a million awful places, and he just wanted to relieve what was sure were unfounded fears. As he eyed the monitor, the guilt washed over him just thinking about it. Alexis would never have to know what he’d done…but it would be a secret between them. It would be a lie. Even so…
Ned sighed and plopped himself down in the leather swivel chair, staring at the seventeen square inches of temptation. Could he possibly guess Monica’s password in the short time he had before she arrived to start her shift? The minimum six characters ruled out the name of every family member but for Michael and Edward, which had certainly already been used by someone else. He frowned, glancing at he clock. He couldn’t think. Unless her password was the lucky guess of ‘itsmyhouse’, he was better off hunting down Tony and tugging at his heartstrings. Maybe he’d let something slip out, accidentally on purpose. It could happen.
His renewed energy sent Ned springing out the door and down the hall, knocking on Tony’s door. No answer. He opened the door, his eyes spotting Tony’s jacket thrown across the couch. At least he was there, somewhere. The glow of the monitor caught his attention, as did the pile of papers that littered the desktop. Before he knew it, Ned was standing behind the desk, eyes searching without hands touching. He was insane! Ned shook his head at the futility of what he was thinking of doing. He’d find nothing about Alexis lying scattered about Tony’s desk, not while she was being kept in the ICU. All her paperwork would be there…or in the computer. And Tony was logged on.
The high road Ned thought he had chosen was suddenly looking a little lower. He glanced at the door, knowing Tony could walk in and catch him red-handed. As he weighed his decision, Ned’s eyes lowered to the glowing screen. He squinted at the text of what Tony had been reading – a research article on heroin. He raised an eyebrow and mused to himself that at least there was ONE addiction his family had somehow managed to avoid.
Without a word, Sonny leaned in toward her and gently took her left hand in his, placing it on his shoulder. The other hand was lifted from her leg and pressed against his side. As he began to slip his arm underneath her body, he stopped, remembering Tony’s warning about bruises that he hadn’t even seen. Alexis looked at him curiously as he hesitated.
“I’m pretty sure I’m not contagious.” She teased.
Oh, yes she was.
Sonny took a deep breath. “I don’t want to hurt you. You have a little bruising on your back, Tony said.”
Her eyes drifted from his as she went back, remembering the feel of tightly clenched fists digging into her ribs, locking her to Thomas’s large, solid body.
“Don’t worry. I won’t break.”
“I know.” Sonny slid his hand lower, behind her waist, and carefully eased her upright as Alexis held onto him. Her head felt light and the room was somewhat drifting. He felt her fingers press into his waist and shoulder a little more firmly and knew that she was insecure and unsteady.
“It’s okay, just hold on to me as tight as you want. I won’t break either.”
Sonny’s arm supported her firmly and gently. The warmth of her body spread through the thin cotton gown and into his palm. His fingertips grazed her bare skin as they overstepped the edge of the opening left between the ties. Sonny avoided her eyes as he allowed himself the guilty pleasure of that small, innocent intimacy he was feeling right then. It was sinful, he knew, but…
Her voice pulled him from his distraction.
“You ARE tired. When’s the last time you slept…or ate…” Her fingers moved up to touch his whiskered chin. His eyes closed at the feel of her touch.
“I’m fine. Scruffy, maybe, but fine.”
“You don’t LOOK fine. I know this is the pot calling the kettle, but you look a wreck.”
Sonny smiled broadly. As her hand left his face and returned to his side, his eyes opened once more.
“I don’t want you to look like this because of me. Go home.” She whispered.
Sonny knew a spasm was grabbing hold of her when her grip on him suddenly tightened and her head reflexively dropped down onto his shoulder. He held her through it, then leaned his face against hers, his hand reaching up to cup the other side of her head. As his fingers slid through her silky hair, he whispered back.
“Not a chance.”
The sharp ring of the telephone sent Ned bolting upright and out the door. His body was still shaking from the start of it when he rounded a corner and bumped straight into the man he was looking for.
“Woa…Tony! Glad I found you.”
“Oh – God, sorry about that. I’m a little distracted this morning – AND I haven’t slept.”
Ned was alarmed. “Is it Alexis?”
“No, she’s okay. But yes, I did stay here last night, to keep an eye on her specifically.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Well, I appreciate you sticking around. Hang in there, okay?”
“I intend to.”
Tony tried to stifle a yawn, moving his fist to his mouth. “Excuse me. Oh boy, do I need some coffee.”
Ned saw the glint of something peeking out from within Tony’s closed hand.
“What’s that in your hand?”
Tony looked down at the syringe in the hand held down at his side. Ned chuckled.
“I KNOW what that is. The other hand.”
“Oh.” Tony opened his fist, revealing the thin strand of gold that bore a single, sparkling diamond. Ned’s face began to melt, his grin spreading warmly across his face.
“I guess you recognize it then?”
Ned swallowed, overcome with his first real ray of hope. “Yes.”
“They put it in the safe when she was admitted, as they do with all patients’ valuables. But when Alexis realized it was gone she got pretty upset.”
“She did?” Ned’s voice was dry and low.
“She begged me to let her have it back, so...”
Ned’s welling eyes stopped Tony mid-sentence. He smiled at the pure joy on the man’s face.
“You gave it to her, didn’t you?”
Ned nodded slowly, reaching out to take the necklace from Tony’s hand. “And she wants it. That’s got to be good for me, right?” He pressed the diamond to his lips, closing his eyes.
“I’d say that’s better than good.” Tony hesitated, looking from Ned’s silent reverie to the syringe of Demerol her knew she needed. “Ned, I’ve got to get going.”
Ned’s eyes snapped open. “Sure.”
He handed the necklace back to Tony, and followed along as Tony headed down the hall. As he wiped the dampness from his eyes, Ned noticed the syringe that Tony was absently thumping against his leg as he walked.
“Is that for her?”
Tony sighed. “Ned…”
“Just tell me she’s not hurting or anything.”
“A high fever isn’t exactly comfortable…but she’s okay.”
The continued thumping made Ned nervous. “Good. That’s good.”
As they walked, Ned’s thoughts went back to the diamond on Tony’s hand, and they unconsciously flowed from his mouth. “She wants my necklace…so that means she wants me. Even if she doesn’t know it yet.”
Tony came to a stop. “Like I said before, just hang in there.”
“I’m a Quartermaine – I’m resilient.”
“And Alexis is a Cassadine – so is she. I’m afraid this is where we part company.”
“Is this her room?”
Tony hesitated. “Yes.”
Ned looked around at the empty hallway. “Where’s the hired gun?”
Tony shrugged. “I suppose even bodyguards to the underworld need a potty break now and then.”
Ned chuckled. “Right.” As Tony laid his hand on the door handle, Ned halted him with one more thing.
Tony stopped and turned back around.
“Please tell her to remember what I said when I gave it to her. And that I’ll be waiting for her.”
Tony regarded Ned’s hopeful face, so raw with emotion. He knew he’d been going through hell and Tony hated having to allow it. He smiled and nodded, then slipped into the room.
Ned sighed loudly and hung his weary head. As he turned to leave in search of that hot cup of coffee, the sound of Alexis’s voice froze him to the spot. It was muffled and weak, but it was her. He turned back. The door was ajar, leaving just an inch or two of space for sound to escape…and for something to possibly be seen.
He stepped back and a bit to the side, his movements careful and quiet. Ned held his breath, willing Tony to move away from the inside of the door where the back of his coat blocked his view. Soon, his will was done and Tony stepped around to the right side of the bed. And when he did, Ned saw her. His heart was racing, though all he could see was her hand against the side of someone else’s body as they sat on the bed, facing her. He saw the IV tubes waving upward, in and out of his thin sightline. He saw layers of her dark hair dancing across the other person’s shoulder, where she was resting her head. And he saw the person’s arms encircling her neck.
A moment later, he heard Sonny Corinthos’s voice. Corinthos was putting Ned’s necklace over Alexis’s heart. Ned stopped breathing. He frowned and swallowed, desperate to see her face. As Sonny’s arms pulled back, his hands lifted her hair from underneath the chain and smoothing it back. Ned’s body tightened as Sonny slid his arm around her, holding her. Soon, he leaned forward and laid her back down on the bed. Still, her face was blocked by Corinthos’s back. Tony suddenly caught Ned’s eye and quickly moved to the door. Ned backed away as Tony gave him a reprimanding look…and softly closed the door.
He’d been shut out…again.