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Scene 36

"Corinthos, have you lost your rational mind?" Tony stared at him in utter disbelief.

"What?" Sonny stared back, wide-eyed and in all seriousness. He didn’t see the problem.

Tony groaned and closed his eyes, throwing his head back against his chair. "Oh, for cryin’ out loud."

"What?" Sonny repeated. "If you can do this thing and keep Alexis from suffering physically, why mess with her mind by telling her the truth at all? She’s already been messed with enough, don’t you think?"

Tony sighed heavily and pulled himself back up to his desk. "Sonny, I’d like to spare Alexis any further trauma as much as you would, but what you’re asking me to do is not going to happen."

"It’s not going to happen…" Sonny repeated Tony’s words in a mocking tone. He sprang from his seat and turned his back, quickly spinning back around and slapping his hand down on Tony’s desk.

"MAKE it happen!"

Tony was on his feet himself, not to be out-shouted or misunderstood. He met Sonny’s glare with equal intensity.

"I can’t and I WON’T! It’s one thing to temporarily withhold information from a patient, but I will NOT out and out lie to her!"

The two men held their standoff, both tempers needing to cool before either would make the next move. Bending Alexis’s will to his own was enough of a challenge, but Tony had his work truly cut out for him with Corinthos. His ferocity over her had proven to be unyielding…not to mention a bit of a shock to Tony’s sensibilities. When it came to Alexis, the intensity on Sonny’s face alone had the power to keep Tony’s thoughts from fully forming. Whatever it was that was spinning around in Sonny’s head, Tony had no intention of allowing it to interfere with her health. But for Alexis’s sake, he still had to learn to deal with the man…for now. He slowly, calmly, sat back down in his seat. Sonny watched him, then soon after, followed suit.

"Look, Sonny, we’re not just talking about a little shot of painkillers here."

"I GET that, doctor."

"But what you DON’T seem to get is that this is an INVASIVE procedure and there are certain risks involved – they’re minor, but they’re risks all the same and can’t do this without her informed consent. That means I’m obligated to give Alexis full disclosure. Do you understand what I’m telling you?"

Sonny rubbed his fingertips along his mouth, his mind working frantically to get around these details of Tony’s that he didn’t want to accept as being the final word.

"What I don’t understand is why you can’t get her consent without having to be 100 percent forthcoming about the reasons for it. Alexis already agreed to co-operate with you, to let you use your best medical judgment. Why can’t you just accept her trust and use it to do what’s best for her?"

"You just hit the nail on the head - Alexis TRUSTS me. I won’t violate that trust by pulling the wool over her eyes."

Sonny brushed the statement off with a dimpled smile. "What wool? Come on Tony. Is it best for Alexis to be told that on top of all else Sorel did to her, along with God knows who else…"

He stopped himself from compounding the blame with the other deserving faces haunting her. Sonny saw Tony staring at him curiously, and he continued with deliberately chosen words.

"Is it best for her to know that Sorel turned her into a heroin addict? Why can’t you spare her that Tony? If this procedure will make it go away, why does she have to know that it existed at all?"

Sonny knew it wasn’t only Alexis’s pain he was trying to spare, but also his own. The forces of guilt were coming to bear on him, and he didn’t know how he could live with the look he would see on her face as she absorbed the truth of what had really done to her…for the express purpose of getting revenge on HIM.

"Or, you can keep your precious medical ethics intact by just letting ME sign the damned consent form. She gave me the right to make decisions for her. You were there - you heard her."

"She gave you that right only in the event that she was unable to make decision for herself, which she’s not." Tony rose from his chair and came around to the front of the desk, sitting himself down across from Sonny. He’d spoken his peace as her doctor, now he would speak as her friend.

"Sonny, I know how much it hurts you to see her so afraid and confused and in pain and to not be able to fix it all. Believe me, I hate having to watch her struggle to process everything that’s happened to her. But I’ve known Alexis for quite some time now and I truly believe that for a woman like her, being told a difficult truth is preferable to being told an easy lie. And I have way too much respect for her to not act accordingly."

Sonny shifted his eyes away from Tony’s face as he did a little processing of his own. He sat forward in his chair, shoulders all hunched up along the sides of his tight neck. He knew that Tony was right about her, that lying to her now would ultimately do her more harm. And she’d certainly never trust Sonny again. He ran his tongue across his lips and swallowed, tilting his head in a display of acceptance.

"I guess too many people already know the truth anyway. People she’d have to see all the time. That would just be too dangerous. If she ever did find out from somebody else, accidentally…Alexis would never forgive me."

Tony shook his head. " No, she wouldn’t. And she’d sue the pants off ME – and win – if I obtained her consent under false pretenses." Tony got up from his chair and moved back behind hi desk.

"SO, now that we’ve both finished thoroughly talking ourselves into what was already a done deal…"

As Sonny clasped his hands together and leaned his forehead against the large fist they formed, Tony clicked his computer’s mouse. The printer began to hum and a few seconds, when it was quiet again, Tony pulled off a few sheets of paper, stapled them together and held them out to Sonny.

"This article goes into a bit more detail than what Alexis needs to know. Full disclosure is one thing, but scaring a patient to death with an abundance of technical jargon is quite another. And Sonny, this procedure may be a blessing, but it is isn’t like waving a magic wand. It doesn’t turn the addiction into something that never was, and I think it’s best that you fully understand what’s involved…since you might be the only person seeing her through this. That is, assuming she’ll agree to it."

"She’ll agree."

This symbiosis Sonny believed he shared with Alexis made Tony very uneasy. He felt the need to reiterate a certain point he’d brought up once before and didn’t want ignored.

"Sonny."

Sonny looked up from the papers he’d set down in his lap. The first few lines he’d read so far had already made him nervous in their complexity.

"Alexis should be encouraged to reach out to her family and friends, right now. She needs the support of the people who love her."

"She’s not ready."

"She needs to allow them to help her."

"She has me."

"And you think it’s in her best interest to encourage this kind of withdrawal?"

"Nice choice of words, doctor."

Tony opened his mouth, but Sonny’s last barb stunned him and all he could do was stare in silence as he tried to form his next comprehensive thought.

"Welcome to the new world of Alexis Davis. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to happen to her all the time. Or at least, it will after we tell her she’s a junkie. Good God, Tony, she’s only been out of Sorel’s twisted little hands for ONE DAY. Give her a some time, let her be however she needs to be."

"She needs to regain some sense of normalcy as soon as possible, and her growing dependence on you, no matter how...fulfilling you might personally find it to be, is NOT normal. Not for the Alexis I know."

Sonny narrowed his eyes at Tony, then slowly moved them down to the papers in his lap. He picked them up and carefully folded them length-wise, then turned and folded them again until he’d formed a small rectangle. As he rose from the chair, he slipped the article into his back pocket, avoiding Tony’s eyes. The implication in Tony’s last statement stirred so much resentment in Sonny, but he knew he needed to focus on her rather than expend energy addressing Tony’s snide comments. He finally looked up and regarded the purity of concern on the doctor’s face. He did know that Tony wanted only to do right by Alexis, but still…

"I appreciate how personally you’re taking all of this – how careful you’ve been with her, and how concerned you are for her well-being. Medically, you get to call the shots, but you need to leave the rest up to me. I…I understand certain things about Alexis that you just don’t. You couldn’t. So, I’m going to let her show me what she needs, and then I will make sure that she gets it."

Tony frowned at the cryptic nature of Sonny’s words, but he knew there’d be no more arguing with him. "I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I never sensor myself, Sonny. I will say what I think about anything that, in my opinion, affects Alexis’s current condition OR her recovery."

Sonny shrugged. "You say whatever you want to say, and I’ll do whatever I have to do."

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Ned yawned with such a loud and sudden force that he scared himself.

He hadn’t even realized that he’d begun to doze off in the middle of counting the number of tiles in the ceiling, for want of anything more distracting to do while he waited. He glanced at his watch, then cast a weary eye toward the hub of activity surrounding the nurses’ station. No sign of Tony, but it had only been a couple of hours. Ned was still too antsy, too on edge, and Tony’s pleas for his continued patience fell upon purely impatient ears.

But Ned did hold tight to Tony’s one offering of substance – the description of her face as she held his necklace close against her body. He’d said there was a kind of light in her eyes…that the soft smile on her face was one of grace. The image of her that Tony’s words formed in his mind’s eye brought Ned a tempered kind of bliss - a life preserver. He needed so much for her to need him. He couldn’t even consider the alternative – and so, he didn’t.

A slight tingle began to spread across his right leg, which was tucked beneath his body and clearly falling asleep. Ned pulled his leg out from under himself and rubbed at it as he shifted in his seat. He caught a slight movement out of the corner of his eye as he bent forward, still rubbing at his tingling calf muscle. He glanced up to watch a nurse’s legs, sheathed in green scrubs, walk past him. Her rubber-soled shoes squeaked now and then against the linoleum tiles beneath her feet. His spine began to straighten as the slight squeaking headed down the hall, until he once again sat upright and the nurse’s form was in full view. Johnny still sat beside Alexis’s door, and he rose from his chair as the woman came to a halt in front of him.

Ned had risen all the way to his feet. He watched as Johnny opened the door, the nurse’s hands being too full with things that Ned couldn’t distinguish from that distance away - things medicinal and intimidating, even to this man from a family of doctors. He cursed himself for not having paid more attention as she passed by him. Ned stared, fighting the urge to run down that hallway, grab Johnny away from her guard and throw him down the stairwell. Johnny suddenly turned his head, as if he could feel Ned’s eyes boring holes into his body. He took a small step toward the open doorway and turned his face back to the room. The light spread out of the room, across Johnny and into the hallway. Ned could see Johnny’s lips moving as he spoke to the nurse…or Sonny…or Alexis. And then, Johnny stepped back, carefully pulling the door closed.

He turned his head abruptly, re-visiting Ned’s intense gaze. Johnny held it a long time, as if sending him an unspoken dare from twenty yards away. Ned’s vitriol rose as Johnny slowly sat back down and folded his arms across his chest, his eyes never leaving their target. Ned felt like he had suddenly been dropped down the rabbit hole and was now sitting under the looking glass, right next to Alice. Everything was upside down and NOT as it should be. Even Corinthos’s lackey was privvy to Alexis, and Ned wanted nothing more than to smack the arrogant look right off of Johnny’s face.

The muffled but familiar voice behind him was a welcome distraction from his murderous thoughts. He turned to see Stefan Cassadine standing at he nurse’s station, his back to Ned. Thank God! Alexis had asked for her brother. That had to mean she was better, that her mind was clearing and soon, she’d be asking for Ned as well. Until then, he’s throw himself on the mercy of this man with whom he shared a mutual dislike for each other, but a mutual love for Alexis. He’d gladly throw his pride to the wind for any news of her that he could beg.

"Stefan."

Stefan turned to see Ned Ashton standing behind him, his appearance slightly disheveled. He looked him up and down, noting something is Ashton’s carriage that struck him as unusually passive.

"Ashton." Stefan turned back to the desk, continuing his interrupted perusal of a hospital document.

Ned was not going to be ignored, but he was going to tread lightly. "Please, don’t you do this to me too."

Stefan looked up from his papers but did not turn around. "I’m sorry Ashton, but I AM in the middle of something important right now. If you have something to say to me, please do so quickly."

"Have you even seen her yet, or are those spreadsheets or…whatever they are, just another thing in your life that’s more 'important' than she is?" The believed loss of her brother was a devastating thing for Alexis, but no more than the discovery of his lie. Ned’s interest in using Stefan now paled in comparison to his wanting to remind the man of how he had hurt her.

Stefan turned back to him, pulling his glasses from his face as he studied Ned’s countenance more closely. "I believe you ARE trying to tell me something, but your clarity is lacking. Have I seen WHO?"

Ned knew by the dispassion in Stefan’s voice that Alexis had not asked for him. He took a step back as he searched for a way to extricate himself from this inadvertent slip. He didn’t want to betray Alexis now, not even in a way that might do her some good. He cleared his throat while his eyes unconsciously shifted toward her room. As he opened his mouth to make up some fanciful diversion, Stefan’s head followed in the direction of Ned’s gaze. Stefan’s body grew more erect, his head lifting with a slight turn of his head like an animal on the scent of its prey. When he swiveled his head back around, the fire in his eyes gave further weight to Ned’s already heavy shoulders.

"That’s one of Sonny Corinthos’s men...but that’s not Corinthos is that room."

"I wish."

"You’ve clearly slept in those clothes…what happened to Alexis?"

Without waiting for an answer, Stefan dropped his important documents and was halfway down the hall. Ned stood back. He thought it best to watch from a distance, to let Stefan deal with Corinthos’s bodyguard on his own.

Stefan stood toe to toe with Johnny, who held his firm ground in front of Alexis’s door. Johnny’s jaw was locked in an attempt to show his unwillingness to flinch, yet he knew that this man was her brother…a precarious line to walk.

"Am I to understand that my sister is in this room?"

Johnny was silent, bracing his body with feet a shoulder’s width apart.

"Fine. I’ll see for myself." As Stefan moved for the door, Johnny quickly raised both palms up against Stefan’s chest. Stefan reflexively pulled away from the brazen physical contact. He narrowed his eyes at Johnny, glaring with a force usually reserved for Helena, and he issued a warning in a most feral, whispered tone.

"Don’t ever do that again."

"Don’t make it necessary for me to do that again." Johnny shot back, a slight tremble rising up through his solid limbs. He wished to God that Sonny was in that room – he wouldn’t make book on himself being able to hold this man back from her without using a force he might later regret.

The blood was pounding angrily in Stefan’s temples. He took a step back as he looked down on Johnny, studying him and smirking at the hint of trepidation that the man’s quivering legs betrayed. "Is Corinthos in there too? Why don’t you call out – how do you people say it – the "real muscle"? Let him do his own dirty work."

"I have a job to do, Mr. Cassadine, and I’m doing it."

The sound of footsteps coming around the corner made Johnny breath more easily. Sonny stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of Stefan Cassadine. He’d just been saved a phone call.

"Ah. Speak of the devil." Stefan turned to Sonny and strode right up to his face. "What happened to Alexis, and what has it got to do with you?"

Sonny smiled, peering up at Stefan’s face with a wry expression. "Funny. I was going to ask you the exact same question."

Stefan frowned. He took a step back and turned to gaze at Ashton, who stood watching the display from the other end of the hall. He had no idea what the hell was going on or who was guarding whom, but he had no intention of dealing with Alexis’s mobster clients or her fickle ersatz fiances. Turning on his heels, he strode purposefully toward the nurse’s station.

"Hey Cassadine!" Sonny yelled out after him. "We WILL be talking, you and I. Make no mistake about that."

Stefan froze, but did not turn back…and he did not yell. "I am not my sister, Mr. Corinthos. I do NOT take orders from you. Make no mistake about THAT."

--------------------------------------------------

"I want to know what happened to my sister. And why wasn’t I informed the minute she was admitted?"

Tony had barely refocused his attention, having been surprised by the unceremonious bursting of the two men into his office. He quickly clicked off his computer screen before they could see it.

"I demand answers, Dr. Jones, NOW!"

"Great, just great." Tony muttered to himself. He rose and walked toward Stefan, giving Ned a suspicious look along the way.

Ned was at a loss. "I saw him at the nurse’s desk. I assumed he was here for Alexis."

"Was she in some sort of accident?"

"I’m sorry, Stefan, but I can’t discuss it with you." Tony braced himself for the tirade about to come his way.

"You can’t discuss it with me?" Stefan smiled sarcastically. "If not me, Dr. Jones, then who? Her ex-fiance? Her gangster client? Her gangster client’s underlings? Don’t be absurd! You tell me what’s wrong with her and you tell me now or I’ll…"

"I cannot discuss Alexis’s medical condition with you or anyone else without her consent to do so, which I do not have!"

"Then GET it." Stefan’s eyes were full of fury. Being told "no" didn’t sit well with any man named Cassadine.

"Stefan, I’m sorry…but Alexis was adamant. She did not want you notified and she does not want to see you. Not yet. I tried to convince her otherwise, but she refused."

"Don’t take it too personally, brother dearest. She refused to see me too." Ned couldn’t help himself from making little dig.

"She’s refusing to see anyone at this point." Tony glared at Ned. He didn’t need Ashton fueling Cassadine’s flames.

"You mean she’s refusing to see anyone but Sonny Corinthos? Care to explain?" Stefan was incredulous.

Tony looked hesitantly at Ned. "I’m hoping that will change soon."

Stefan turned to Ned, his expression both gloating and appalled. "So Corinthos is acting as Alexis’s guard dog and you, Ashton, are growing a two-day beard in the lounge down the hall. Does this mean that your place in my sister’s life has been usurped by…what’s the expression? The boy next door?"

Ned glared at him. "You know Stefan, I do have SOME information about Alexis and I was intending to share it with you - WAS being the operative word."

"I don’t need you to tell me anything, Ashton. I’ll find out what I need to know about Alexis all on my own. I’m resourceful that way. Excuse me."

"Leave her alone Stefan! I am dead serious."

Stefan turned back around. "And so am I. My family funds this hospital, Dr. Jones. Do you really expect me to sit back and allow myself to be stonewalled regarding a MEMBER of my family? My own sister?"

"If you love Alexis then her recovery will be more important to you than throwing your Cassadine weight around. Don’t do her more damage simply because you feel slighted."

"Damage?" That choice of words rang in Stefan’s ear. "Was this my mother's doing?"

Ned raised an eyebrow. "Not this time."

Stefan glanced at Ned, then took a step closer to Tony. "If your intent is to frighten me, Dr. Jones, you’ve succeeded."

"Good."

"But if Alexis really is as ‘damaged’ as you imply…no matter what she says she needs me to be with her."

"Even so…"

"How am I to know whether she’s even in any proper condition to give or withhold her consent?"

"I can assure you that Alexis was very clear."

"Perhaps a judge should make that determination."

Tony’s back stiffened. "She’s not in any shape to do battle with you over her basic right to privacy. She’s got enough of a battle as it is…and that’s already more than I should have said."

The room was silent. Tony’s latest slip was now frightening Ned all over again when he’d worked so hard to talk himself out of the worst of his anxiety.

"Alexis does need me, now as always. You don’t know." Stefan turned to Ned. "Perhaps you do. I’ve always…WE’VE always been a source of support for each other, and I will not turn away from her now, even if she protests."

"Oh please!" Ned turned away in disgust. "Spare us your musty "I was a child and she was a child" gothic Cassadine history! Alexis is no longer a child who’s frightened and alone and looking to you for all of her love and protection. She’s a grown woman – a woman you now treat as an afterthought. You turned away from her the minute she stopped asking "how high" when you told her to jump. Tony is right – all this posturing is nothing more than your dressed-down ego crying ‘foul’! You have no more need of her, so why the hell should she have need of you."

Ned turned on his heels and walked out the door. Stefan watched him leave, then turned back to Tony.

"He’s wrong."

Tony leaned against the edge of his desk. "Stefan, I know that you’re upset about this, but let me see if I can put a whole new spin on this issue of patients’ rights – one you could appreciate. You just never know when you might suddenly find YOURSELF lying in one of those rooms out there, tubes and machines attached all over your helpless, vulnerable body. And then I might find MYSELF face to face with Helena, raising questions about your competency and making claims of her familial authority…over you."

Stefan was silent.

Tony smiled. ''That's what I thought you'd say.''

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Ned wandered the halls, traipsing his way back to the lounge with Stefan’s arrogant sense of entitlement still a thorn in his side. There was nothing humble about him – very unlike Alexis. He had barely deigned to apologize for breaking her heart and leaving her to needlessly grieve, and right on the heels of both Jax and Chloe disappearing from her life as well. His feet abruptly stopped as the thought rolled over in his mind. The more Alexis held people close, the more they seemed to slip away from her. What tighter hold could there be in her mind than marriage? That could be why she ran…at least a small part of why.

As he smiled to himself, awash in this new revelation, a small form crashed into him. The woman looked up at him, startled, but no more so than he - it looked to be the nurse who’d gone into Alexis’s room just a short time ago.

"I’m sorry! I turned into a block of stone there, didn’t I?"

"That’s okay. But I wouldn’t make a habit of doing it just around a blind corner."

Ned mustered all his charm. "Got it. I’m Ned - part-time statue."

She was just too busy for flirting. "Hi. And I’m sorry, but I need to get down to the lab right now. Was there something…"

"Um…didn’t I see you going into Miss Davis’s room a little while ago? Is Mr. Corinthos still in there with her? I need to talk to him about something."

"No, not right now. I had to kick him out for a while but I don’t know where he went. I DO know that he needed someplace with a good light. He had some sort of article be wanted to read. Maybe he went outside? You might try paging him."

Ned smiled. "Good idea. Is Miss Davis awake? I don’t want to disturb her if she’s resting."

"She is asleep right now, so…"

"Right. Well, thank you."

"You’re welcome."

The wheels of Ned’s mind began to turn. He hurried to the lounge, catching sight of Johnny firmly rooted at his post. Sinking into a chair, his back to the hallway, Ned snuck his cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a series of numbers. Soon, he smiled slyly and slipped it back. He listened carefully for the distant, muffled sound of ringing and that of heels clicking away. Turning his head, he saw the now empty chair beside Alexis’s door.

Ned rose and swiftly moved down the hall. All he wanted was one long look – to see her beautiful face as she lay safe and sound asleep. She’d never even know. His window of opportunity was short, he knew, but still his hand hesitated on the door handle. The thumping in his chest was distracting him as he turned the knob and pushed forward, allowing a sliver of light to bleed from the hallway into the darkened room.

As he cast his eyes into the forbidden dusk of her room, a faint breathy sound caught his ear. He blinked, his pupils slowly marking shapes, then objects as he gently pushed inward, opening the door wider. Another wave of nerves washed over him and he cast a furtive look over his shoulder. But as he turned his head around, ear to the open space inside, the faint sound grew harsh. It was uniquely human in nature, a sound of distress. Ned’s head spun around again, his hand widening the threshold even more until the spreading light found her.

"Alexis?" He held his breath as he gazed down at her, scrunched on the floor with her hands and face pressed against the wall. Her breathing was fast and labored, and a well of guilt and fear rose up in him. She couldn't have fallen, she was too far from the bed. But sleepwalking? She’d never done that before. She didn’t move, she didn’t speak. Ned carefully crouched to the floor, reaching out to lightly touch her back…

"OW! Don’t…"

Alexis jolted, throwing her small body back to the wall. Ned sprang upright with a start. Her cry was small, yet primal…and the light was now shed on the dark scrapes and bruises spread around her face and throat. He inhaled sharply at the sight, his tongue rendered mute as he helplessly listened to her whimper. She drew her knees up to her chest, pulling her left arm up and around her legs. The shredded bits of gauze fell away from her body as she moved. The other arm shed a thin trickle of blood that left a steak of red across her hospital gown as it, too, wrapped around her knees.

Ned’s throat was a desert as a blinding rage consumed him. "What the hell did that monster do to you?"

"Shh…" Alexis slowly rocked back and forth. "Don’t let her find me."

Again, Ned moved closer. "Sweetheart, it’s me. It’s Ned." His fingers lit upon her elbow and she jerked her arm away.

"No, please, don’t! Let me out…" She turned her head back into the wall, her palms rising to press against the concrete.

"Get the hell out of here." Sonny’s soft growl rained down on Ned’s hunched body. As Ned slowly rose up, his eyes stayed locked on Alexis, trembling and whimpering on the ground.

"Johnny, get Tony. Tell him she’s having another nightmare."

Ned felt Sonny’s breath against his neck, he was that close behind him. "Taggert didn’t page me. That was you, you son of a bitch."

Ned slowly tore his watery eyes away from her and turned his face just inches from Sonny’s fury. "I didn’t do THIS."

"Shh…it’s dark." Alexis moved her hands up and down the wall, searching for a way out. Her breathing was halted, her lungs resisting air. "It’s…so dark."

Sonny shoved Ned aside, knocking him against the edge of the metal bed frame. The clanking sound of it made Alexis curl up into herself again.

"NO!" She rocked, head down on her knees.

Sonny snapped on the light and lowered himself to the floor beside her. "Shh…it’s okay Alexis. The dark is all gone. Open your eyes and see."

Alexis was oblivious to all around her, as Tony rushed in with Johnny trailing behind. He looked at Alexis, then caught sight of Ned out of the corner of his eyes. He raised his face to him with an unforgiving anger.

"Tony, she was on the floor when I came in. What in God’s name did Sorel…"

"Shut up. You’ve done enough." Tony snapped.

"Keep your voices down. The lights were off - who turned the lights off?" Sonny whispered gently, his watchful eyes never leaving Alexis.

Tony glared at Ned, who shook his head. "I don’t know…there was a nurse."

"Dammit. There’s an order to leave them on at all times." Tony shook his head.

"Alexis, open your eyes. It’s not dark, and you’re safe." Sonny’s voice was growing stronger.

"No…no…" The staccato of her words worsened, and Alexis seemed to have forgotten how to breathe altogether.

"What the hell is wrong with her?" Ned was about to lose his mind.

At the sound of his voice, Alexis pulled her arms up against the sides of her face as she dropped her forehead to the wall. "He…he locked it. She…she’ll come…"

Sonny moved up behind her, taking her hands in his. She clenched her fists within his grasp, but he held steady as she tried to resist his touch.

"Alexis, open your eyes. Please, Alexis…listen to me." His begging want unheard as her throat suddenly seemed to close up, the air stuck in her lungs as she gasped and struggled. She rolled her head so her cheek was pressed flat against the wall, her hair falling in long streaks across her flushed face.

Tony quickly reached around Sonny and pulled the oxygen mask from the small tank beside the bed.

"No Tony, not yet." Sonny was afraid of what he’d seen before.

"She can’t breath!" Tony shoved the mask at Sonny, who hesitated, then reluctantly released one of Alexis’s hands to take hold of it. Tony withdrew the Demerol from his pocket - he’d prepared it the second he’d seen Johnny’s panic-stricken face coming toward him from down the hallway. Sonny watched Alexis fight for air as he fought for her to hear him.

"Alexis, it’s Sonny. Please look at me." He pushed her hair back from her eyes, and this time she accepted his hands on her. But still, she would not look.

"Her eyes are closed…is she hallucinating or is she dreaming…"

"I told you to shut up. And Sonny, will you please help me here? She needs to breath."

As Sonny finally aquiesced, gingerly placing the mask to her face. ''Try to breath, Alexis.''

Alexis swung her arms frantically to push him and it away from her. "OW! No, don’t…don’t!"

Ned stood with his back to the wall, staring mute as the love of his life cowered and fought like a trapped, frightened animal…and he could do nothing to help her. The hot tears spilled from his burning eyes that simply watched as Sonny held her down and Tony jabbed a needle into her arm, all the while her face closed tight, her body shaking like fury.

"Shh, shh…it’s okay, Alexis. You’re safe, I promise."

The fight in her arms weakened and they slowly gave up their struggle. Sonny began to release his grip on the arm he’d tried to hold against the concrete. Her breathing started to regain a normal rhythm as the oxygen filled her lungs and the Demerol filled her nervous system. Sonny looked to Tony before removing the mask from her dampened face. He cupped her head in both hands as she rolled the back of her head against the wall, all energy drained.

"Alexis? It’s Sonny. The lights are on and you’re safe. Open your eyes." His voice was soft as air and the sound began to sooth her. "Come on honey, open your eyes."

The term of endearment Sonny used slowly made its way into Ned’s awareness. But as Alexis raised her shaky arm, touching the back of Sonny’s hand with her fingertips, something else pulled all his focus. It was then that he saw the blazing red trail of pinpoints traveling up her forearm…the tracks. It was then that the image of the opened page on Tony’s computer screen came rushing back to haunt him. It was then that Ned wanted to die.

"Oh no. Oh God no…" He barely made a sound in his utter devastation.

Tony glanced up at him, the look in Ned’s eyes making him follow in their direction. He frowned as his eyes traveled to Alexis’s still angry arm, now nearly naked beneath the few remaining threads of bandage that she hadn’t quite ripped away. He looked back up at the horror engulfing Ned’s face. How the hell could he have figured it out?

"Sonny?" Alexis whispered softly, eyes still shut tight.

"Yes, it’s me. I’m here. Open your eyes, honey." She struggled to obey against the growing force of the drug seeping into her brain. As she finally met his sad brown eyes with her own, she once again begged something of him that he could not yet provide.

"Please…you promised. I want to go home."

Sonny swallowed hard, the anguish in her eyes and her voice overwhelmed his senses, and all he could do was brush his fingers through her hair, which he knew would make her feel safe.

"I’ll take you home."

All eyes but hers shot across the room. Ned’s chin quivered uncontrollably as his eyes continued to spill their grief down his cheeks.

Sonny quickly looked back at Alexis, terrified of what this sudden shock of recognition might do to her. But Alexis simply continued to look into Sonny’s eyes as if she hadn’t heard a thing. Ned took a small step toward her, ignoring the glares of Tony and Johnny.

"Sweetheart…I’ll take you home." His voice was choking in his throat.

"I’ll take you anywhere you want to go."

Alexis’s face became lost in confusion, her chest beginning to rise and fall at a newly rapid pace. She lowered her weary head and turned it toward the sound of Ned’s gentle voice. Her eyes slowly traveled, inch by inch, from the marbled tiles of the floor and up to the wounded face that called out to her. She stared for a long, silent moment, brow furrowed in uncertainty. She finally closed her eyes and tilted her head back toward Sonny. Her lids raised themselves halfway as she looked at him questioningly.

"Am I awake?"

Sonny took her warm hand in his and ran his tongue across his dry lips. "Yes, Alexis. You’re awake."

She looked down at their two hands, intertwined, taking his words in. She tilted her head back against the wall and turned again toward Ned, who stood gazing down on her with longing, and pain…and abject fear. Her head began to spin as she stared up into her lover’s eyes. A new kind of panic invaded her, and she began to shake. He was real.

"Oh God..." And all was dark once more.