Sonny cupped Alexis’s head gently in his hands and pulled her close against his chest. He slid his arms underneath her limp, crumpled body, the warmth of her spreading into his skin. With a moment’s hesitation, he lifted her from the ground and rose up, turning toward the bed. He stopped abruptly, his eyes finding Ned’s anguished face silently staring at Alexis as Sonny held her up in his arms like a prize.
Tony took a step forward. He knew what Sonny was going and he would have none of it. His voice was low but harsh.
“Sonny - put her down.”
Sonny glanced first toward the sound of the voice, then down to the top of Alexis’s head tucked under his chin. He could feel the soft movement in her chest as she breathed steadily, gathered safe within his hold. He finally, reluctantly, lowered her onto the bed. Her soft hair grazed the sensitive skin of his neck as he eased her onto the pillow, and the feel of it sent a shiver right through him.
Tony moved in beside the bed, wordlessly edging Sonny out of his way as he pulled the rumpled bedclothes up to cover her bare legs. Her physical exposure made him uncomfortable in the wake of the emotional helplessness they’d all just witnessed. She’d been naked enough. He glanced briefly at the faces of these two men who stood on either side of her like lions staking claim to a weakened prey. She was weak, but she would NOT be used as one man’s pawn against another - not while she was under his care.
He lifted her right arm from the bed and laid it down outside the blanket, the bright trickle of blood still fresh from the IV she’d un-gently ripped from her tender skin. Sonny was forced to take another step back as Tony turned to the cabinet behind him, his face lost in concentrated thought. He reached for a small pad of cotton and an alcohol wipe, then set about gently cleaning the blood away from Alexis's arm.
A small intake of breath from beside the bed moved Tony’s eyes up to Ned, a stricken and pathetic figure if he’d ever seen one. His mouth was open, as if too many thoughts were flooding his mind and no one could fight its way out ahead of the others. The tears that had fallen from his reddened eyes left damp streaks along his face, now darkened with a two day stubble. Ned's hands hung at his sides, too frozen in shock to think of pushing the salty stains away. Sonny’s barely audible tone brought Tony back from his distraction and sent him back to his task.
“This has to stop.” Sonny whispered to himself.
“Please God, make this stop.”
Ned raised his face from Alexis and shifted his gaze to Sonny. “This? ‘This’ has a name, Corinthos. Got the guts to say it out loud?”
Sonny didn’t move, his head tilted down toward the ground. Ned’s eyes moved back to Alexis and Tony’s hands upon her. His voice was ragged, barely carrying in the face of his welling pain.
“Let me help you out. It beings with an ‘h’, and it is NOT to be confused with a word commonly found in romance novels…” His words hung in the air, unfinished as he lost the power of speech.
Sonny’s head jerked upright, eyes large and wild. They shot to the back of Tony’s head, teaming with accusation.
“He didn’t say a word.” Ned’s voice returned. His fervor was renewed by the indignant look crossing Sonny’s face, as if he were a Cassadine man.
“If you really want to give a look of betrayal to someone who deserves it…go find a mirror.”
Ned moved closer to the bed as Tony pressed a small bandage to the aggravated puncture wound on Alexis’s arm. His hand began to tremble for want of her…but he was afraid. He yearned to tend to her wounded soul. Her needs would be great, but the way to fill them eluded him. And so, he passively, helplessly watched as Tony tended her wounded body. Her pain was his, and he winced as Tony slipped a new IV needle under her skin and taped it firmly to her arm.
Ned’s eyes washed over her face, the markings of her time with Sorel more strident under the full, fluorescent lights. Her cheeks were still flushed and glowing, damp from her bout of disoriented fear. But the tension had blessedly dissolved as she lay deep in a quiet sleep. He wanted to touch her more than he’d ever wanted anything. It was all he could not to crawl in bed beside her, wrap his arms around her small, weakened body and hold her tight. He wanted to take it all from her and onto himself, every ounce of pain and fear that dwelled inside her, every evil that had been visited upon her. And before he was even aware of his movements, he’d taken her hand up in his. The feel of her was heaven.
Tony heard a rustling behind him and turned to see Johnny, holding out a small handkerchief to Sonny. But Sonny just stood, staring blankly at the small streak of red that crossed his palm – Alexis’s blood. His mind was racing back to the day his blood had covered her hands…the day he almost died in the snow, with her voice in his head and her scent in the air. He didn’t want what Johnny offered him. He didn’t want to clean himself of her - not yet. Sonny turned away, and Johnny somehow understood. He was no longer needed in that room, and he silently slipped outside the door.
As Tony scanned her temperature, Ned touched his fingertips to her forehead. “She’s warm.”
“Warm, not hot. The fever’s still coming down.”
Tony seemed pleased, but Ned was anything but. His hand hovered over her face, the marks of Sorel’s rage glaring boldly up at him. She must have put up a fight for Sorel to have done this kind of violence…she must have fought him. Ned’s body suddenly jolted, as he unthinkable crept up on him. What did she fight?
“Oh God. She…Tony, he didn’t…”
“No! No, Ned. He didn’t.”
Ned closed his eyes, his hand shaking with relief as he mumbled to no one...and everyone. “Thank you.”
He finally allowed his hand to set down on a strand of her hair that lay across her shoulder. His eyes traveled past his hand and down the length of her needle-marked skin. His hands followed the path of his eyes, lightly brushing alongside the undamaged edge of her arm. His voice was dry as he whispered, suddenly afraid that he would awaken her.
“Your choice of words a little while ago sent me over the edge, doctor. Damage…battle...I started to think I don’t even know what. But I had to see her. I had to be sure.”
“She didn’t want to see you.” Sonny’s tone was flat, defeated. He had failed to protect her…again.
Ned’s eyes fixed on the scrapes and tracks, feeling the sting of tears renew within them.
“Did you know what he was doing to her? Did you let it keep happening?”
“She didn’t want…”
“I had to see her. Just SEE her.”
“She didn’t want it!”
Alexis shifted slightly under the covers.
“Sonny…” Tony hissed, his head nodding toward the bed. This wasn’t going to happen in front of her.
Sonny looked at Alexis’s innocent face, remembering the words he’d slyly coaxed from her that morning as she drifted off. “Alexis didn’t want YOU to see HER.” He lifted his eyes to Ned. “Don’t you understand?”
“Take it outside. You don’t know what she can hear or feel, even now.” Tony stared each man down in turn.
Ned looked at Tony hesitantly, then slowly bent down to Alexis. He was no longer afraid as he lifted her hand and gingerly pressed his lips to her wrist, feeling her pulse beating a soft rhythm beneath his kiss.
“Sweetheart, can you feel this?” He whispered against her. His head swept up to her face, fingertips brushing along the curve of her jaw and up to her temple. He pushed her hair back, away from her ear as he continued his brazen outpouring.
“I love you Alexis. You’re my heart. Can you hear me?”
Sonny’s stomach was twisting into knots as he stared at the wall. He couldn’t bear to watch, to listen. His own heart knew no such freedom to spill itself out to her.
Ned straightened his spine, his head tilting to the side. “Why, Sonny? Why would Sorel do such a thing to her?"
His eyes caught sight of the glistening diamond that nestled against her throat. He bit down on his lip, holding on to the thought that this small part of him was with her and that it might have helped her hold on. It must have…she wanted it back. As he stood, mesmerized by the sparkle at her neck, Ned flinched at the unexpected touch of Tony’s hand on his shoulder.
“Ned - go on now. She’s okay.”
Ned smiled darkly and shook his head. “She’s not.”
He turned his head to Sonny, who continued to stare at the wall, then turned back to study Tony's face. “I asked you before…please don’t lie. Is she in pain?”
“How long will she sleep?”
“A few hours. Ned, you really need to…”
“Couldn’t I – just for a little while?” Ned’s dark, wet, swollen eyes begged.
“He told you to go. So go.” Sonny’s voice was lifeless. Ned glared at him in disgust.
“Ned – we’ll talk. Okay?” Tony’s anger had softened in the face of his own contribution to Ned’s panic. He felt deep down that being forced to see him could prove to be a good thing for Alexis.
“Damn right we will.”
Ned laid his eyes on Alexis one last time, taking her in as much as he could. Reluctantly, he let her hand slip away from his. He took one step back from the bed, then another, then turned to face Corinthos down. He stood, staring into his face until Sonny succumbed to the force of it. Sonny tore his face from the wall and met Ned’s fire-filled eyes.
“You should have died at Christmas.”
Sonny’s mind lost its focus. Ned’s words rang in his head, carrying a sound of truth that locked his jaw tight. He continued to stare not AT Ned, but through him, unflinching as Ned finally pushed past him and opened the door.
Ned’s eyes were weary, shutting against the stronger corridor lights as he stood in the narrow threshold. From behind his closed lids, the saw her face gazing up at him as she crouched on the floor. It had cut him to the core to see her look at him with such frightened eyes – the eyes that he could drown in, the eyes that gave him his music. He released his head from his shoulders and squeezed his eyes tight against a fresh onslaught of grief. His aching heart urged him to turn back around, to gather her up in his arms and spirit her away from the smell of that hospital, the sting of Tony’s needles, the effects of the heroin running through her body, and the evil of Sonny’s twisted little world. But he knew that he couldn’t.
Ned reached back and carefully pulled the door closed behind him. Johnny watched in silence as he sat, still and unnoticed in his chair. He watched as Ned’s legs clumsily carried him across the marbled tiles, past Johnny’s chair, and right up to the opposing wall. And then, arms rising, Johnny watched Ned’s fists slam fiercely into the concrete.
Sonny flinched at the harsh cracking sound that came from the other side of the door. He leaned his head back against the wood, eyes glued to the ceiling. Tony’s hand rested on Alexis’s hand, knowing that the time had come.
“When she wakes up, we have to tell her. You know that she knows we’re keeping a secret. Whatever else might be causing these…nightmares she’s having, her anxiety over that knowledge can only be adding fuel to the fire.”
“Do you think she’ll remember? About Ashton?”
Tony shrugged. “I have no idea. My instincts say yes…but what do I know.”
“She didn’t want him to see her like this.”
Sonny lowered his head and looked down at Alexis, lying calm and still, her breathing steady in her peaceful slumber. He slowly moved to the side of her bed, his eyes moving up and down her small form. He wanted so much to touch her, but Ashton’s words still haunted him. Was he any better than Thomas Malloy, bringing her harm and then offering her solace?
“If is it had been me at Christmas, it wouldn’t be her now.”
Tony shook his head. “I can imagine what Alexis would say if she could hear that load of self-pitying crap coming out of your mouth. Maybe she can.”
“Alexis knows that if I could, I’d trade places with her in a second.
“As I understand it, she could have made that kid trade places with her in a second. Three days later, she still said no.”
Sonny’s head snapped up to Tony. “That’s the kind of woman she is, doc.”
Tony got back to business. “I mean it Sonny. We tell her today, as soon as she’s awake and clear. And I’ll explain how I want to deal with it. It’s going to be a lot for her to grasp all at once, and you'll need to help her with it. But I don’t want her to have too much time to internalize it and scare herself into an irrational response. I want to get her consent quickly so we can do this thing tonight, if at all possible.”
“Tonight? Why so soon?”
“I told you before, Sonny, the withdrawal symptoms will get progressively worse – they ARE getting progressively worse, and the Demerol won’t keep them at bay after a certain point. That point is very near. She’ll be in acute physical distress…”
“She’ll be in pain.”
“Yes. Her body is simply too weak to handle it. And truth be told, I’m just as afraid for her emotional fortitude. It takes a toll on the mind too, Sonny. Now I don’t know what all you think you understand about what’s happening to her that way, but she’s doing damage to herself. If I have to call Kevin Collins down her for a consult, I certainly don’t want it to be while she’s in the throes of…”
“No - no Kevin Collins. Just let her get through what we have to tell her. Let her get through today. Please.”
Tony paused, then nodded. “I’m going to have to explain this all to Ned. And I intend to find out how he knew about the drugging.”
“Ashton’s slippery. He got Johnny away from the door in a way guaranteed to work, using Taggert's name. Besides, he’s got money, he’s got connections…he’s got family. I’m just surprised it took him so long to make his move."
"Neither Monica nor Alan would have done what you're implying."
"Whatever. But you don’t have to explain anything to him. He likes to find things out, let him go look for his own answers.” Sonny felt no more mercy for Ashton than he did for himself right them.
“He's a wreck, Sonny. Alexis is free to take me to the medical ethics board if she wants to, but I’m not going to let that man see what he saw and not put what fears I can to rest.”
“It was his own doing, Tony! He wanted to see her, he saw her.”
Alexis stirred against the pillow, releasing a small sigh. Both men froze as their eyes moved to her. Sonny’s instinct to make contact was again running strong, and he fought it for reason’s he didn’t quite comprehend.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Tony murmured.
Tony's words echoed in Sonny’s head, sending a chill of remembrance right through him. They were Sorel’s words set against the backdrop of Alexis’s cries that seared sharply into his ears through the speakerphone.
“You WANTED to hear her…” He sneared.
Sonny shook Sorel’s voice from his head, railing against his own fear as he took Alexis’s warm hand up into his own. He quickly settled inside at the feel of her, and he carefully sat down on the edge of the bed to watch her sleep.
Tony wasn’t at all looking forward to what he had to do next, but he would not let her get hurt any more.
“Sonny? Don’t fight me on this.”
Tony pulled the thin pieces of Velcro up from the side of the bed, his eyes avoided contact with Sonny’s.
“No.” Sonny grabbed Tony’s hand.
“Only until she wakes up and we know she’s okay.”
“NO.” Sonny’s jaw tensed. He would not let her be tied down like an animal.
Tony met his stare and laid down the final word.
“I won’t let her hurt herself any MORE or any WORSE than she’s what already done.”
“I’ll be here. I won’t LET her hurt herself.”
“Where were you twenty minutes ago.”
Sonny was silent.
“If you touch them before she wakes up, you’re out of here. I mean it Sonny.”
Sonny could see that he did. His heart pounded in his chest as he glared at the sight of Tony lifting her limp arm and slipping the Velcro strips around her. His throat closed up and he knew he couldn’t watch.
“Where, um…where’s Cassadine?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Oh God, I don’t know. I’m just glad he didn’t show up in here too.”
“Did Ashton tell him?”
“No. And he’s not going to either. No love lost there. All Stefan knows is that she’s here and you’re her guard dog - his words.”
Sonny nodded. He would have that talk with Alexis’s brother, who'd told her that she’d broken her body in an unremembered fall down the stairs.
“Sonny – go try his office. She’ll be sleeping for a while.” He checked his watch. “I can wait here. Sleep is highly overrated.”
Sonny pressed her hand tightly between his palms before laying it back down on the bed. Tony hesitated, waiting for Sonny to leave before finishing what he had to do. He tried to be sensitive, even to people who didn’t really deserve it. But this side he now saw in Sonny, the side Alexis brought out in him was confusing as hell. He didn’t want to feel sorry for this man who stood looking at Alexis like he was afraid he’d never see her again.
“This time tomorrow, we could be making plans for you to take her home.”
Sonny smiled. “I promised I would.”
“So, you’ll stay here until I get back?”
Tony smiled back. “I promised I would.”
Sonny took one last look at her sweet face before going in search of ugly things.