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Scene 41

“Seems like old times.”

Sonny shook his head as he lowered himself into a chair. For him to be in that room by choice felt odd, to say the least.

“I doubt that you’re here for the nostalgia.” Taggert sat down across the table from Sonny, the distance in his eyes telling him the man was not in good shape. The fact that he’d left Alexis’s side was an even greater cause for concern.

“And Zander did well this morning, by the way. Alexis did a god job in prepping him. She’d be proud.”

Sonny smiled. “Yeah, I heard. And she is.”

“He asked to see her. He wanted to go to the hospital straight from the courthouse but I told him no, that he’d have to clear any visits with you first.”

“Yeah, I talked to him. He understands that she can’t see him right now. She really can’t see anyone – including you, Taggert. How bad is it going to mess things up if you don’t get her statement for another day, maybe two?”

“Sorel WILL be indicted for Ted Wilson’s murder, that I’m sure of. And given the stack of evidence – my own eyewitness testimony included – the case against him regarding Alexis is rock solid. I don’t need to bother her about it just yet. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to stop by and check on her from personal interest, if I may.”

Sonny paused. “Not yet. I’m sure she’d appreciate your concern…but she doesn’t know that you were involved in getting her back. I don’t want to overwhelm her because I don’t think she remembers being found at all. And…Tony Jones and I just told her what Sorel really did to her.”

“God. I don’t envy you that.”

“I wouldn’t even wish it on YOU, Taggert.” Sonny grinned, though his eyes were wrecked.

“And the fact that you’re here, instead of back there with her means…?”

Sonny rubbed his hands over his face and sighed heavily. He didn’t have to answer. Taggert leaned forward, resting his folded hands against the tabletop.

“Alexis is strong, Sonny. And you know that she’s a fighter.”

Sonny grinned again. “That she is. But the problem with THAT is she’s fighting the wrong things. She’s fighting help. And I don’t even think it’s the fact of the heroin itself that’s got her so…she’s just got so little power over anything, you know? And that’s HARD for her. Alexis is so focused on her sense of order and logic and…and it’s all disappeared from her grasp.”

Taggert nodded in understanding. “The woman DOES tend to live in her head.”

“And even worse is that she’s really angry about how we kept things from her, even though it was for her own good.”

“I don’t doubt that.”

“She won’t listen to Tony and she wants nothing to do with ME right now. I’ve lost her faith and I’ve got to get it back. I’ve…I’ve got to get inside her head and figure out what’s going on in all those dark, secret, tucked away places because it’s the only way that I can…”

“Whoa! Back up there, Sonny. You’re her friend, not her shrink. Don’t be going places where you may not be welcome.”

Sonny stared at him for a long while. “You’re right Taggert, I didn’t come here for the nostalgia. I came here for Sorel. Get him for me, would ya?” Sonny flashed his dimples in an evil little display, and Taggert frowned.

“No can do. He’s still in the infirmary. Malloy clocked him, but GOOD.”

Sonny cocked his head, a new intent taking over his eyes. “You know what? That’s even a better idea. I’ll take Malloy instead.”

Taggert smiled. “Now THAT I can do.”

He rose and went to the phone. “Hey, it’s Taggert. Bring one Thomas Malloy down, would you? He has a visitor. Thanks.”

Taggert hung up the phone and looked warily at Sonny’s plotting face. “It’ll be a few minutes.”

“Good.”

Taggert saw the wheels of Sonny’s mind turning and he didn’t like the feeling he was getting from the narrowed eyes. He drummed his fingertips along the tabletop as he walked around to wall opposite Sonny’s gaze.

“Do I need to place a guard in the room with you two?”

Sonny waved his hand at Taggert. “Nah! I’ll be good!”

“Oh man. I think I’m going to lose my lunch.”

“What, Taggert? You WANT me to tear him apart, because believe me, it’s tempting as hell!” He dropped his head and released a heavy breath. “But I can’t do that because I need him. I need Malloy to make me understand exactly what those three days were like for Alexis.”

Taggert leaned his back against the wall, his jaw shifting back and forth as he contemplated where Sonny was hoping to go.

“Do you think that’s a good idea Sonny? Wouldn’t it be best for Alexis if you just dropped it and let her let go and move on, instead of keeping her stuck in all that…mess?”

“She IS stuck. The little bits and pieces of her memory are like this big jigsaw puzzle, you know? Some things fit right together and make something identifiable, but mostly it’s a mess. She’s frightened and confused…and you DO know Alexis. You know that she’s going to need to be able to put every last peice of that puzzle back together – she’s going to need to make it make sense.”

“And you think that by putting the pieces together FOR her, ahead of time, you’ll accomplish…?”

Taggert felt Sonny was grasping at desperate straws, that his inability to take away her pain had sent him fumbling down an irrational and possibly hurtful path. But Sonny was sure of himself and what he needed to do - for her sake.

“I already know certain things, and…I’ve just got to do this.”

Sonny shook his head, unable to explain himself any further or more pointedly to this all- too recent and unnatural ally. Taggert was still a cop, trained in detached and objective thinking. He only knew of the frightened cries that they’d heard together on the telephone, and he likely blamed her delirium on the drugs and fever. But Sonny knew different, and he knew more…and his heart was in too deep to turn back.

As he leaned back against the wall and rubbed at his throbbing temples, Taggert threw in his last two cents on the subject. “Sonny? Be careful, okay? For BOTH your sakes.”

“Hey, I already said I’d be good. I promise not to lay a hand on Malloy, so keep your guard out, no matter how much noise I might make.”

“I wasn’t talking about Malloy.”

Sonny frowned at him.

“You’re too damn close!” Taggert sighed in frustration, pushing himself away from the wall and dropping back down into his chair. His voice was soft as he intoned his warning.

“Don’t complicate her life any more than what’s already been done.”

“I’m doing what I have to do. Yeah, I’m too close, so what? It’s what I am. And if I have to scare things out of Malloy or manipulate them out of that sorry excuse for a brother of hers, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Taggert was confused. “Cassadine?”

“Don’t worry about it Taggert! Alexis is MY…responsibility, not yours.”

Taggert’s lopsided grin only served to irritate Sonny further. “What is that for?”

“If you don’t already know, I’M certainly not going to tell you.” Taggert’s grin grew bold – Corinthos was a goner.

“Just…shut up and do your job! Take me to Malloy, and let’s get this damn show on the road.”

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Stefan kept his head straight and his eyes forward as he made his was down the drafty corridor.

He’d been surprised to receive the message from Dr. Jones – Corinthos had made good on his intent to sway Alexis in his favor, and he’d done it rather quickly. A smug smile crept across his face, knowing how desperately Corinthos wanted something from him. But if Corinthos thought Stefan would hand Alexis over to him on a silver platter, he was sorely mistaken. His prying was unwelcome and his intent toward Alexis suspect. Corinthos would be thrown a placating bone in exchange for his efforts, and with that he’d best be satisfied. Stefan would assume his rightful and too-long empty place as head of his family, and he would begin with Alexis. She had asked for him, as he had known she would.

He turned the corner and the empty chair beside her room gave him pause. He seriously doubted that Corinthos would leave her unattended, yet Dr. Jones had said nothing of moving her from the ICU. Perhaps there were tests being done, as there always seemed to be tests. Stefan moved slowly toward the door, his irritation at Dr. Jones resurfacing. The man had still refused to disclose the nature or extent of her injuries, allowing only that she was no longer critical. The fact that Alexis had been critical at all, without his notification, was difficult for him to accept.

Beyond the signs of a possible beating, a fact he’d coaxed from an orderly, Stefan knew not what to expect. The man’s detailed description of the physical violence against his sister had hit Stefan like a wall. Helena’s set course of destruction still gnawed at him…he couldn’t let go of the sense that she was somehow involved, no matter how it appeared to the contrary. Physical brutality was not quite her style, yet Helena might get bored now and then and venture into tactics normally regarded as ‘slumming’. But now, as he wrapped hid fingers around the metal handle, he would ascertain it all for himself…and respond accordingly.

Stefan gently pushed inward, not wanting to disturb her if she slept. The door hit something with a dull ‘thud’. Suddenly, the door moved into him, then pulled back again to bring him face to face with Corinthos’s guard. The man moved his body, shielding her from Stefan’s sight, then attempted to edge him away from the door. Stefan would not be budged.

“Dr. Jones says that Alexis asked for me.”

Johnny studied him intently, not putting it past him to lie to get what he wanted. Stefan’s stance was form and his demeanor calm.

“Please, call him yourself if you doubt my word.”

Johnny shifted, unwilling to take anything at face value and feeling the duty to protect Alexis from any more stress.

“You bring him here, then I’ll believe you. I’m not leaving this door.”

Stefan smiled with confidence, tilting his head at Johnny. “As you wish.”

As Stefan took a step back, a noise came from within the room. He stopped, his eyes shifting beyond Johnny’s quickly turned head. Alexis was squirming, the bedcovers rusting under her unsettled limbs.

“Alexis?” Stefan’s voice was low and needful as it floated into the room. But the strange symptoms were staking a firmer claim to her body and she didn’t trust what she heard. She didn’t answer the voice calling out to her. Johnny kept his body in place between Cassadine and her bed as he listened to her moan.

“What’s wrong with her? Does she need help? And why isn’t she being attended by a doctor or a nurse…?”

Johnny was about to tell the man to pipe down and he turned his eyes slightly, enough to see the disarming look of helplessness and fear in Cassadine’s eyes as he heard his sister hurting.

“S-Sonny?”

Johnny’seyes snapped back to her. “No, Alexis. It’s Mr. Cassadine. He says that you asked for him. That Dr. Jones told him.”

There was no answer, as Alexis curled herself up on her side. She ran her fingernails up and down her arm as she sighed.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to see him. I’ll tell him to go away.”

“Wait…Johnny.” Her hand moved back up to her face, pushing the strands of hair away from the dampness that clung to her skin. “I’ll see him. It’s time.”

Johnny hesitated, watching her face carefully as she prepared herself for her brother’s often overwhelming presence. He carried their history around him like a cloud, and she just needed to keep breathing…as Sonny would say.

“If you need me, you know where I’ll be.”

Alexis smiled softly. “I do.”

Johnny finally relented and pushed at the door. He stepped to the side and gave her brother room to pass, and then he was gone. Stefan moved inside, as far as the foot of the bed. He stopped there, remaining silent. He listened to the sound of Alexis’s breath as it caught in her throat. She shivered…and he thought that he felt it in himself as well.

“You can come in. I won’t bite.”

She kept her weary eyes closed as he slowly and quietly followed along the line of the bed. His blood pounded in his temples as he came closer to her, the possibilities he’d entertained in his mind now replaced by the truth in front of his eyes. As Alexis turned slightly, rubbing as her eyes with the back of her hand, Stefan stopped in his tracks.

He stared, aghast at the visage of her. The red and purple bruises on her face and neck were as they’d been described, but he did not expect what was resurfacing in him. His eyes roamed from the bruises to her hand pressed against her eye, then down the white gauze wrapped from her wrist to elbow. The intermittent jerking and trembling of her small, frail body seemed unyielding, and her eyes were closed tight against his.

“Stefan?” She whispered, afraid that her mind was playing tricks once more.

But Stefan had lost his tongue to the memory of Alexis, some twenty-odd years ago, in a very similar setting…but in a far more grave condition. She was so…young.

“Am I dreaming again? Stefan, are you there?” Alexis’s voice was small and pleading. It was that of a child’s, to Stefan’s ears – the child to whom he had once been all things.

“Yes, Alexis. I’m here.”

He moved in closer, his gaze traveling from the IV bag, down the plastic tube and settling on her arm dotted with puncture wounds and what looked to be tiny cuts or tears in her skin. Without thinking, he reached out to take her hand, but his sudden contact sent her flinching. Stefan quickly pulled his hand away.

“Did I hurt you?”

The grimace on her face said that he had, but Alexis slowly shook her head. “You surprised me. I’m a little…um…hypersensitive, I guess. Raw.”

Stefan was suddenly overwhelmed. “Alexis…my God!”

“It’s not as bad as it looks. I think.” She frowned and smiled weakly. “Not that anyone’s been cruel enough to hand me a mirror. Not even S…”

“Who?” Stefan’s voice had an urgent quality, but Alexis didn’t hear his question. She had wandered, her memories beginning to blend.

“A little ugliness…” Stefan could barely hear the words as the whisper came from her. But the words were still given voice by her and it sent him reeling.

“S..s..sor..” Alexis appeared to be losing consciousness and Stefan wasted her there.

“Stavros?” He muttered, his face close to hers.

“S-Sorel…what?” She turned her head away from him, her legs giving way to a new wave of restlessness.

“Alexis? What are you trying to say?”

“Hmm?”

“A little ugliness. Why did you say that?” Stefan grew more insistent, Alexis utterance of Stavros’s cruel and taunting name for her cleared all else from his mind.

But Alexis simply groaned in response, biting down on her lower lip as she had done the very first time he laid eyes on her. She was such a tiny, frightened little thing who looked up at him with large dark eyes and her bottom lip pulled firmly in between her teeth. He’d felt the urge to protect her at first sight – the innocent lamb being led to the slaughter that was his family. But Stavros felt the urge to hurt, taking aim with his well-sharpened tongue to start her new life as an orphaned, female charity case within the Cassadine fold.

“She’s a little bit of ugliness.”

Alexis hadn’t flinched, her wide eyes locked on Stavros’s sneering face. It was HE who was truly ugly, and young Stefan had shot him a proper look of disgust.

“Leave her alone Stavros! She’s just a little girl.”

“A little ugliness!” Stavros shoved his brother to the ground as he ran off, laughing, no doubt to tell Helena of his triumph.

“Pay no attention to my brother.” He’d instructed, brushing the grass from his trousers. “You are NOT ugly, Alexis. One day, your face will grow and then those big eyes of yours will fit just fine.”

Alexis had looked down at him, still perched on the ground, and her bangs fell right into her lashes. Stefan had reached up to brush them away, and her pale, round cheeks had flushed with little girl shyness as his first touch.

Stefan smiled as he gazed at her through the eyes of so long ago, his hand retracing its first path to the strands of hair that flirted against her brow. “You are not ugly, Alexis.” He whispered soft and low as the backs of his fingers brushed against her warm, damp skin. But Alexis sharply recoiled from the hand upon her body, her arms striking out to push it away.

“No! Don’t…touch me!”

Her arms found no opposition to their self-defense, and soon her heavy eyelids fought their way open. Finally, she found the face that had always brought her salvation. Her chin began to quiver as she tried to catch her breath.

“I’m sorry…I…I wasn’t sure for a minute.”

“Shh, Alexis. It’s alright.” Stefan leaned toward her, wanting to reassure her that she was not with who ever it was that she’d just held in her mind…be it Stavros or…this Sorel. But he now regarded her with trepidation, as he harkened back to Corinthos and his veiled warning that Alexis’s mind was beginning to slip back to places she didn’t even know existed. If that was so, it was for family to protect.

“Alexis, don’t be sorry – be truthful. Tell me, who did this to you...and what, exactly DID they do?”

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

Thomas hunched his shoulders up to his ears, then released them with a loud exhale.

His fingers fidgeted with the chain that linked his wrists together, the tabletop lock keeping his limbs resting in plain sight. The public defender hadn’t been expected back until the next day, when formal charges would be filed, and Thomas was nervous. This late, unexpected visit could only mean one of two things: Sorel had gone south and a new charge of murder would be added…or it was something bad about her.

“No, it’s not her. She’s okay.” Thomas muttered to himself as he shifted anxiously in the wooden chair. He began to break out into a cold sweat at the sound of the opening door, as if he somehow knew that he wasn’t about to greet his attorney. His head shot up to full attention…but he was truly unprepared for the man who slowly and silently stepped into the room. Thomas held his breath, waiting for him to speak as the metal door closed shut behind him. He felt a tensing in his arms and the chain links between them scraped lightly against the wood.

Sonny Corinthos moved his hard, staring eyes up from the floor and fixed them on Thomas’s bound hands. Small beads of sweat were beginning to form on his face, and the recessed lights bounced off the dampness to give his face a look of recent labor. He didn’t move from where his feet had planted him, at the corner of the table, and his eyes stared – they were just as rooted to the chains. Thomas swallowed, unnerved to the core.

“Did you do THAT to her too?”

Thomas ran his tongue across his dry lips, trying to comprehend the question. He didn’t understand.

“I’m sorry, I don’t…”

Sonny’s body finally followed the pull of his eyes, and Thomas halted his voice. Sonny stepped slowly along the line of the table, then turned to face Thomas as his hands reached out toward him. He could smell Malloy’s fear, could see him flinch inside as he felt the power of the enemy in front of him. But Sonny’s hands stopped, hovering, one above each of Thomas’s hands, and his mind tried to hold onto the little pieces that she’d dropped in his path - it already held tight to the look of terror on her face at waking up restrained. Sonny’s fury rose up all over again and he crashed his palms down to grab two fistfuls of metal links.

“Did you use handcuffs on her? Huh? Ropes, maybe? Masking tape? Chains, your tie, what? What did you use to hold her down, to keep her from fighting back as I know she would do?”

Thomas looked up from Sonny’s clenched fists and into eyes of blazing fire held all too close to his own. He swallowed again, his throat dry. “N-no, I didn’t. I swear…”

“You swear WHAT?” Sonny slammed his fists back down into the table, the links crashing and scraping against the wood surface.

“She…she wasn’t tied, not with anything. I just…held her. No ropes, no ties…”

He frowned as he suddenly remembered Sorel angrily throwing his tie to the floor, ordering Thomas to get her under control. But as Sorel’s taunting of her morphed into a brief moment of something else, he’d relented and left her unbound. Sonny saw the sudden thoughts swimming in the cold blue eyes – he knew there were gems to be mined.

“The wall…you held her against the wall. It was hard, she said.”

Thomas’s eyes shifted over to the vertical bars that lines one wall of the room, not wanting to re-live it all over again. He was still so filled with shame.

“IS she…she’s going to be okay though, right?”

Sonny waited for Thomas’s eyes to return to his own, demanding respect. The wait was a good while. But when Malloy relented, Sonny saw the truth about him, as Taggert had told it. His eyes were begging as he held his face up to Sonny in submission, yet Sonny would show him nothing but a single-minded purpose. There would be no show of mercy in that room – not that day.

He released his hold on the chains, and drop of blood appeared on his finger where a tiny splinter of wood had become embedded. Sonny raised his hand up, in front of his own face, and watched as the drop trickled down the length of his finger like a thin, crimson thread.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to see blood on an item of clothing – a scarf, for example – and to know that it belongs to someone you care about?”

Sonny squinted as he carefully picked the offending sliver of wood from his finger and dropped it to the table. A clean handkerchief was pulled from his breast pocket and he wiped his finger clean. The blood-streaked cloth also fell down to the grainy surface. His studied, precise movements and measured voice eerily reminded Thomas of someone else...

“Guess where I was a couple of hours ago? The hospital, where Miss Davis was just told that you and Sorel turned her into a junkie.”

Sonny’s lethargic precision suddenly exploded into a burst of hot rage as he grabbed the empty chair and hurled it against the metal bars. The thundering crash sent a jolt through Thomas and his eyes flashed on the door, expecting the guard the burst in. But he and his visitor were left to themselves. Corinthos’s body was suddenly in front of him again, standing calm and quiet as he stared down at Thomas once more.

“That woman…” His voice broke – he cleared his throat and began again.

“That beautiful, gentle, loving woman, who would never intentionally hurt a soul, has had hateful things perpetrated against her…ALL HER LIFE.”

Thomas’s eyes shifted toward the wall, as he was overtaken with the memory of finding her huddled and whimpering in the dark corner of the room. Sonny watched him closely, the recognition in Malloy’s face telling him he was on the right road.

“You seem to have an idea what I’m talking about. Am I wrong?”

Thomas’s eyes clamped shut and his breathing grew fast and hard as he slowly shook his head. Sonny leaned forward, his arms stretching out to grab hold of opposite sides of the table’s edge. He let his head drop, his eyes renewing their study of Thomas’s chained wrists.

“And so you and Sorel take this woman’s pure - maternal, even - defense and protection of a kid and you wield it like a sword to bring her to her knees in this unspeakable way! And I can only imagine what other kinds of things she suffered at your hands while on her way down.” Sonny slowly raised his head to meet Thomas’s glazed-over eyes. They were full and wet, and Sonny glared at him in contempt.

“It is enough to make a grown man cry…isn’t it Malloy?” Sonny whispered. “So you go ahead – cry me a damned river!”

Sonny abruptly pushed himself back, away from the table as Thomas’s set jaw tried not to quiver. He moved to the iron bars and took hold with one hand as he reached down to pick up the battered but intact chair with the other. Thomas laid his palms flat against the smooth tabletop, bracing himself for whatever it was that Corinthos wanted from him. Sonny set the chair down in front of him and sat, back straight, hands folded and resting in his lap.

“I’ll just sit quietly, right here, while you tell me every single thing that you and Sorel said to her, every single thing that you did to her, every thing that she said and did, and I want the TRUTH! All of it. The truth may not set you free, in this particular case, but it will keep you from getting hurt.”

Thomas swallowed, afraid of what he’d seen in Corinthos’s eyes, yet somehow trusting his word. The chair creaked beneath the bulk of him as he shifted, trying to recall that first morning, when they’d followed her from the courthouse to the park…and then the days of hell that followed. He opened his mouth to speak, and Sonny leaned forward to catch and hold every word that flowed from Malloy’s mouth.

….Ninety minutes had passed, give or take, and Thomas’s shirt was soaked through with sweat. He was exhausted, his soul freshly drawn and quartered as he relived the atrocities he and Sorel had leveled against her. He waited, welcoming retribution from this man to whom she clearly meant so much, but Corinthos didn’t move. Sonny had processed Malloy’s confession in silent contemplation, allowing it all to run through his mind as if he’d been watching some horrific movie. Thomas watched Corinthos run his tongue across his bottom teeth, then finally close his weary eyes. It was all too much, and a whispered rush came from Thomas’s lips.

“Please, God, forgive me.”

Sonny’s eyes popped back open, staring. “You believe in God, Malloy?”

Thomas simply stared back “She’s alive…so’s the kid. I guess I should.”

Sonny paused, then slowly nodded. “Let me ask you one thing. Because I’ve been curious.” He leaned forward, resting his forearms back against the edge of the table.

“Did you make her cry?”

Thomas froze.

“See. Miss Davis isn’t what you’d call a weepy woman. On the contrary, she’s a bit of a rock. In fact, I think she’d rather jump from a ten-story building than allow herself the luxury of that kind of emotional release…if you understand what I’m saying.”

Thomas nodded in silence.

“So tell me, Malloy, did you and Sorel drive her to the point where she just didn’t care enough to hold it together? Did you make her cry?”

Thomas’s head throbbed, but he would tell him. “She was so quiet. I wouldn’t even have known…but I felt it, through my shirt. Her face was here.” He nodded, his chin indicating down toward his chest. “I never felt a woman’s tears on my skin before. And yes, it was enough to make a grown man cry.”

Sonny rose to his feet and turned toward the door without a word, rapping on it with his fist. The door opened and he took a step forward, then stopped.

“You know what the really funny thing is, Malloy? You ask for God’s forgiveness, but what you really need is hers. I don’t know about the almighty…but I’ll bet my right arm that her forgiveness is a done deal. You’re a lucky man, Malloy. You chose a victim with too damn much heart for her own good”

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

“Sorel is in prison and he can’t hurt me now, so, I…I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Alexis pulled her arms up against her chest, hugging them to her body. Stefan just looked at her, astounded by what he’d just heard. He was overtaken with rage and his quest for vengeance was already germinating. But more disturbing to him that what this Sorel had done to her was her own blatant lack respect for the concept of self-preservation. He had taught her better than that.

“You risked your life for the sake of a virtual stranger? This…this…”

“Zander. His name is Zander, and he’s a person. A good person with a lot of love inside him.” She pulled her knees up to her stomach, which made her look even smaller than she already did. Stefan could see her holding her breath against the pain.

“If it were Nikolas, or Ashton, even, I would understand.”

“I know. It’s very un-Cassadine of me to be so self-sacrificing when it’s not for the good of the family - and there’s nothing to be personally gained. I must be an even bigger disappointment to you than I thought.”

Stefan frowned, about to question her remark, but her sudden cry halted him.

“OW…God…” Alexis suddenly arched her back, her body shuddering violently. Stefan jumped to his feet and turned away, overwhelmed by his own helplessness in the face of her suffering.

“What IS this, Alexis? It’s certainly not from bruises or infected scrapes or even a fever. You’re either lying to me or you’re holding something back, and neither is acceptable. This is insane, and I am NOT allowing it to continue!”

Stefan ended his verbal assailing of her and forced himself to turn his eyes back to the bed. Alexis was lying limp in the aftermath of whatever it was that had gripped her. He eyes were closed and her head had fallen to the side of the pillow. Her breathing was rapid, her chest rising and falling in double-time.

“Alexis?” He knew she couldn’t hear him. Stefan stepped toward her, the turned his head to the door.

“HEY! You there! I need help!”

Johnny was in the room and at her side like lightning.

“Dr. Jones. Get Dr. Jones…NOW!”

“Shh!” Johnny shushed him, then turned back to study Alexis’s face, feeling her forehead gently with his fingertips. He’d seen this happen twice already. “She’s okay. She just passed out.”

Stefan wanted to slam this idiot into the wall. “I can see that.” He hissed. “Something is clearly wrong with her and if you’re not interested in seeing that she’s properly attended to, than I WILL!”

“It’s from the pain. She just goes out once in a while – it’s only for a few minutes at a time. Dr. Jones knows. Truth be told, she can use every minute of rest that she can get.”

Stefan’s jaw was locked shut, his teeth grinding together. He was livid that this kind of suffering was being spoken of as an acceptable thing – normal, even.

“Alexis?” Johnny had seen her stir and quietly called her name. “It’s Johnny. Do you want me to get Dr. Jones?”

Alexis blinked her eyes open, her face bathed in a fresh pink glow. “No.”

Johnny tried to urge her into relenting. He wanted to agree to that detox in the worst way. “Are you sure?”

Alexis shook her head, knowing full well what he was doing.

“Okay. Do you want some water? You look like you need some water.”

Stefan frowned at the man’s familial behavior with her, and he begrudged the local thugs attending her as if they were intimates when Stefan himself felt such the formal visitor. Alexis turned on her side, facing Johnny, and Stefan gasped at the sight of the newly exposed mass of bruises on her back as a flash of her skin appeared between the thin ties of her gown. Johnny shot him a look, then handed Alexis the small glass of water he’d had set on the table. He covered her shaking hand with his own to steady her until she was done. As he replaced the glass on the table, he caught a return glare from Cassadine.

“Thanks, Johnny.” Alexis closed he eyes and settled back into the bed. Johnny stared down at her, a worried look on his face that didn’t go unnoticed by Stefan. Johnny wished to God that Sonny would return soon and talk into doing the right thing. She’d never make through otherwise. Alexis knew he was still there, hovering. She smiled and opened one eye to him.

“I’m alright. And I know where you’ll be.”

Johnny nodded and shot her solemn, sulking brother one last harsh look - the message it carried sent Stefan’s eyebrow rising in offense. As the door closed, leaving the two alone again, Stefan moved to the other side of the bed and pulled the chair up close. He rested his elbows on his knees as he stared down at his clasped hands.

“Alexis, why won’t you tell me what’s wrong with you when everyone else seems to know?”

Alexis was still breathing heavily, and Stefan tried not to focus on her squirming legs or the blanket that had begun to bunch up around them.

“It’s…it’s just a bad drug reaction. Really, that’s all. I’ll be fine. Like they say, ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ And I was told that I’m a lot stronger than I know.”

Stefan paused, not believing a word of it. But he would let it go - for now. “Can you imagine what it felt like to be ordered to stay away from you? That you didn’t want to see me? That any attempt on my part to go against your wishes could do you harm?”

“To tell you the truth, I really didn’t expect that it would matter to you.”

Stefan’s jaw dropped. “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Why would I not?”

The wry smile on Alexis’s face disappeared into the throes of her body’s continued rebellion. She shuddered and pressed her arm into her cramping stomach. Stefan instinctively reached for her, but stopped himself for fear of a second adverse reaction. As the tension released, Alexis slowly opened her heavy lids and gazed up at him in spent exhaustion. She could see the pain and confusion in his eyes, but she needed to tell him.

“I’m not saying this to hurt you, but it’s not exactly the first time that I’ve been in life-or- death trouble, and you’ve never seemed overly concerned about it before.”

Stefan frowned reproachingly, and she pulled her eyes away from him as she continued, while she still had the wherewithal to do so.

“When Jax and I crashed in the desert, by all accounts you not only didn’t raise an eyebrow that it happened, but you didn’t lift a finger to help find us either. Now that’s gotta hurt.”

“We were not on good terms back then Alexis, and it was mutual.” Stefan sternly reminded her of the two-way street they were traveling in opposition to each other.

“But I never wished you dead.” Alexis whispered.

“Not did I.”

“Could have fooled me. And just a few months ago, at Christmas, did it matter to you at all that Sonny Corinthos took a whole barrel full of bullets that would have gone straight into my back had he not…taken them instead.”

She suddenly saw Sonny’s stricken face flash in front of her, and she felt an ache inside at the way she had turned him away in hurt and anger. She blinked it away and looked up to see Stefan staring at the floor. She didn’t even think he was listening to her and she suddenly wished she’d never let him into the room at all. But she pressed on.

“Did it even register as a blip on your radar, because it sure did on mine. And that was the second very close call for me that went un-addressed, ignored by…my own…brother.”

Her last words faltered. Alexis’s body was now shaking, but it wasn’t from withdrawal. She covered her face with her hands and Stefan could see her fighting back the tears, her stoic nature bearing arms against her grief. He felt a creeping chill run through him…had his own instinct to protect been perverted into his brother’s instinct to harm?

“I closed the door to you this time because I just couldn’t take watching you close the door to me. Not again…not now”

Stefan felt his throat tighten and his mouth go arid. He fought his emotions back with a ferocity that matched hers ten-fold, and he always had. But something was crossing over in him and he sought to release it – for himself and for her.

“I thought that you were still angry with me. That you hated me for faking my death.”

“I was angry, but I never hated. And I never shut you out. My door and my heart have always been open for you, but you didn’t see it. Or you didn’t want it.” Alexis began to laugh as the insistent tears finally pushed their way from past her closed lids and spilled down her cheeks. “And the funny thing is, as awful as it felt to believe I’d lost you to your grave…to lose you to something I can’t even point to is even worse.”

Stefan felt his own eyes sting in response, and he rubbed at them fiercely, taking in a deep breath. He leaned down and gazed into her trembling, wet face. He could see her trying to control her erratic breathing and he felt the overwhelming need to touch her in the calming way he had always done - since she was a large-eyed child with her tiny lip caught between her teeth.

“Alexis? Please tell me that it won’t hurt you if I…may I touch you?” Stefan’s whisper sent her bottom lip right where he expected it to go. He had his answer. He reached out and gently laid his fingertips to her cheek, beside the mark Sorel’s fist had made. Alexis shuddered slightly, but didn’t pull away from him as he slowly slid his fingers back into her hair and cupped his palm against the edge of her jaw. Alexis flashed upon the multitude of times his firm and comforting hands had steadied her inside, but this one time it was different. This time, she thought that it would make her crumble.

“Don’t you know that I adore you?” He whispered close to her ear.

She couldn’t open her drowning eyes to him. She could barely find her voice. “I know that you did. What happened? Are you even still my brother?”

Stefan’s voice cracked as Alexis finally gave herself up to the sobs she’d valiantly tried to contain. He slid his hand further back along her hair, and pressed his soft lips to her cheek. The saltiness of her tears seeped into his mouth and he took it in with love.

“Always, Alexis.” He intoned against her warm skin.