“Good! You’re still here!”
Sonny had burst through the closed door without bothering to knock. Tony’s eyes widened in surprise as Sonny’s unceremonious entrance lifted him up from his chair.
Sonny smiled broadly. “Like a bad penny!”
He strode purposefully toward Tony’s desk and slapped his palm down onto the surface.
“Where’s that consent form? Let’s do this - before Alexis changes her mind.”
“She’s agreed to the assisted detox?”
Sonny’s smile dissipated, his body straightening as the voice behind his back registered in his head. He slowly turned to see Ned standing pale and unshaven, the weight of his world resting heavily on his drooping shoulders. The two men contemplated each other, Sonny giving no answer to Ned’s question. He abruptly turned his attention back to Tony.
“This can still happen tonight, right?”
“I’m all for striking while the iron is hot.” Tony picked up the phone and began to dial. “How did you do this? I was in there not two hours ago and she wouldn’t budge.”
Sonny ran his tongue lightly across his lips, a vague smile crossing his face as he shrugged. “I know where her buttons are…I pushed them.”
He turned his head slightly, his eyes shifting back toward Ned. The calculated jab made Ned bristle. He crossed his arms across his chest as he glared at the back of Sonny’s head. Tony gave Sonny a now-familiar reproaching look. He’d never seen such a current of deliberate antagonism between two men, and found it somewhat ironic that if Alexis were a witness, she’d have none of it. Tony’s face brightened at the sound of the voice on the other end of the line.
“Charlie? Tony Jones. Listen, you remember that patient of mine that we discussed this morning, the candidate for rapid detox? She’s finally given her consent, but I’m afraid that if we give her any more time to think about it she’ll change her mind. You know the situation - I’m sure you can appreciate how skittish she is. She’s pretty terrified at the prospect of allowing anything invasive, so I need to call in a huge favor and ask you to kill your plans for the rest of the evening. I just want this over for her as soon as possible.”
Tony smiled and lifted his mouth from the receiver, looking from Sonny to Ned. “It’s a go.”
Ned heaved a sigh of relief. “Well, at least THIS part of her suffering will be over with.” He had a few jabs of his own to put into play.
Tony glanced at his watch. “Yeah, about two hours ago and everything was good. She was just admitted yesterday so all the requisite tests have already been done. I’ll need about an hour to follow up on a few things, light a fire under the lab for the latest round. No she hasn’t eaten anything in at east thirty-six hours, maybe more. She was on saline for dehydration, now I’ve got her on a glucose IV. Okay, I’ll page you when we’re ready to roll. Oh, one more thing – I gave her a shot of Demerol early this morning, but she’s refused any assistance the rest of the day. She’s in a lot of pain right now, so can we give her something in the meantime? No, it’s best if I do it. What do you want me to…okay, I got it. Thanks Charlie. I owe you two!”
Tony scribbled on a note pad with one hand while he hung up the phone with the other. “Alright. I left the consent forms in her chart – wishful thinking on my part – so I’ll go get her signature and hopefully we can get started within an hour or so. As you heard, I need to take a few extra precautions first. It’s necessary with any administration of general anesthesia, but in Alexis’s case I want to be particularly careful.” He cast a wary eye in Sonny’s direction. “And I want to be absolutely certain that she’s doing this of her own free will.”
Sonny was offended. “What do you think Tony, I blackmailed her or something?”
“If there was any potential blackmailing to be done here, YOU’D be the one doing Alexis’s bidding instead of the other way around!” Another jab from Ashton
Sonny slowly turned his head as Tony noisily pushed his chair back to leave. “That’s enough.”
“A sore loser is not a pretty thing, Ashton.”
“I said cut it out!”
Sonny’s eyes followed Tony as he rounded the desk and headed toward the door. He shifted his gaze to Ned as he began to follow Tony. “After you, doc.”
But Tony abruptly stopped, halting Sonny in his tracks. “She doesn’t need an audience for everything, Sonny.”
Ned smirked, the sound of his contained laughter commanding a warning look from Tony. Sonny simply held his eyes to Tony.
“Give her a little privacy, okay? She’ll be fine. They’ll need about thirty, forty minutes to prep her and then you can go in for a little while before the procedure starts.”
“I…I’m staying with her during the procedure.”
“No, Sonny, you’re not.”
“Alexis wants me with her. She’s scared and I promised.”
“So, let me get this straight.” Ned moved in to Sonny, rubbing at his mouth as he pondered. “This morning Alexis wisely decided she wanted nothing more to do with you, but now she’s done a complete one-eighty and suddenly wants you to stick to her like glue…while she detoxes?”
Sonny tilted his head and flashed his dimples. “And I suppose you think she should want YOU instead? Is that why you brought her that noisy little plastic ball thingamajig? Because if making her want you was your intent, you failed…just like your intent this morning FAILED.”
“Oh, shut up Sonny! And before you can open your mouth, you shut up too Ashton! Are you both losing sight of the fact that Alexis has agreed to do what we all wanted her to do? How about you take a step back and look at the big picture - WHICH, I might add, is HER, not YOU! At the very least, you can act like a couple of grown men instead of a couple of schoolyard bullies trying to out-obnoxious each other. You’re making me sick, and I know for a fact that Alexis would be mortified!”
Tony looked from Sonny to Ned, who continued to stare at each other, but with a somewhat muted brand of contempt. He shook his head in dismay. He’d never seen such behavior from Lucas.
“Both of you care about her, and she cares about the both of you. Try making that count for something.”
As Tony turned to leave, Sonny thought of something. “Tony? That doctor you were talking too – did he say you could give her something for the pain now?”
“Yeah. I’ll give her something to relax her beforehand. I want her to be in the least amount of distress possible before going into this thing.” Tony suddenly frowned, uncertain. “Is she going to let me?”
“Yeah. She’ll let you.”
Tony nodded, then had some final words before he left. He abruptly pointed at Ned. “You - keep your distance from her until she asks for you, and no more tricks!”
He jabbed his finger into Sonny’s arm. “You – if Charlie says you can't stay with her, you’re out of there."
Tony reached the door, then paused one last time. "And BOTH of you – if things turn to fisticuffs after I leave, please take it out of my office. If you break it, you’ve bought it!”
There was an icy silence as Tony’s shaming voice of reason lingered in the air as the door closed behind him. Each man wrestled with the vitriol that he longed to spew toward the other. But each man also needed to focus on Alexis - the woman now connecting them to each other against their will. Sonny knew that Ashton was far from out of her life. Her emotional ties to him were old and strong, and they’d twisted into knots that now cut into her until she bled. It would always be so. No matter how much he tried to stop himself, Ashton would always twist her into knots and make her bleed.
Ned narrowed his eyes at Sonny, his mistrust ever growing as Alexis put more and more of her self into his hands. It was an unstoppable pattern, Sonny’s enveloping of trusting women whose open hearts and loving souls were drawn to his dark, lost, dangerous need. Brenda, Lois, Lilly, Alexis – all too accepting and willing to excuse, and all either damaged or dead.
“Is this ‘knight in shining armor’ act supposed to make up for all that she’s been through because of you? Tell me, what IS the going rate of exchange for being kidnapped, beaten, choked and shot up with heroin over and over and over again…before being left for dead?”
Sonny stayed silent. He had no answer.
“All this show of guarding her like some under-fed pit bull is really too little, too late, don’t you think?”
Ned leaned back against the chair, cocking his head as he looked up at Sonny’s blank stare. “And why is it, Sonny, that you’re ALWAYS doing too little, too late? At least when it comes to taking care to protecting the innocent people you’ve allowed – no, ENTREATED – into your sphere?”
Sonny’s mute staring at the wall began to quicken Ned’s pulse. Sonny’s pulse was quickening as well, but he refused to show it. He knew Ashton was speaking truths, but he refused to reward him for his efforts. Ashton would get no rise out of Sonny...but Ned pressed on.
“Alexis is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. She may take this client loyalty concept way too much to heart for her own good, and she would even admit to it…but Alexis does NOT have a death wish. And now she knows first hand what her association with you can cost. So maybe you can explain to me why she’d suddenly be clinging to you, rather than running for her life in the opposite direction?”
Ned slowly circled Sonny, moving in for the kill with a soft, conspiratorial tone in his voice. “Have you been secretly slipping her a little something too - BESIDES the heroin your friend already shot through her?”
Sonny’s eyes snapped away from the wall, as he spun sharply around and burned them into Ned’s face. His voice was frigid.
“You’d better shut your disgusting mouth and keep your ugliness to yourself!"
Sonny's didn't blink as he unleashed his torrent onto Ned. "Alexis is clinging to me because she trusts me, unlike you. I have no expectations of her, unlike you, and I have no needs of her, unlike YOU. Do you think she doesn’t get that? And after what you pulled on her this morning, tricking Johnny away from her door – and tonight – assaulting her mind with old memories while she’s fighting this assault against her body…you have no right to accuse or blame anyone else.”
“Like I said before - it’s not because of me that she’s lying in that bed, and it’s not because of me that she’s come close to dying TWICE.”
“Alexis saved a life! Does that mean anything to you, because it does to her!”
“Not if she’d lost her own life in the process, and certainly not if she’d lost it to save you!”
“She didn’t save me, she saved Zander!”
Ned laughed mockingly. “Oh, well then! Excuse me, that’s different!"
He paced to the other side of the room in frustration. The futility of his efforts to get through to Coronthos was beginning to solidify.
"Am I the only one who gets the irony of this? Alexis put her life on the line to save a drug dealer, only to be forcibly pumped full of drugs herself!”
“We all get the irony, Ned.” Sonny spit Ned’s name at him like a weapon, as he slowly moved in closer.
“What you DON’T get it the point. And what you don’t know is that she’d do it again. She told me she’d do it again. Alexis doesn’t care about what Zander did in the past. She cares about who he is now and who he wants to be. She sees the good in him and she responds to it and embraces it. She even sees the good in me, and she…she...”
Sonny’s voice drifted. His last vision of her warm, reluctant smile filled his senses. The way she tried to hold it back when she was being teased made him want to tease her all the more, just so he could watch her fight the urge…which she always lost. He pushed her buttons...and Sonny smiled back.
“Alexis sees good wherever it may be and however deep it may hide.” Sonny re-focused himself into the present, turning his full attention back to Ned’s furrowed brow and tightened jaw. The man was oddly quiet, as if he might actually listening…or recognizing.
“Hell, Ashton - she fell in love with you didn’t she? That alone should make my point.”
Ned’s breath hitched at Sonny’s unexpected acknowledgement of his place in her heart. He felt a flutter rise up through his chest, knowing that Alexis had spoken freely to Sonny of her love for Ned, and he remembered the night they’d both given breath and voice to what they’d each known, yet held back in fear.
Alexis had thought that ‘I love you’ was not enough to give him, and he loved her all the more for her shy, faltering way of expressing to him. Those three words from her had filled his heart to the brim - he could barely contain it as he stopped her from running and pulled her into his arms, holding onto her for dear life. And she had held him that way too...all night.
Ned slowly uncrossed his arms and allowed the memory of that time to keep him in its comfort for as long as he could. As his bearing softened, Sonny took a step back. There had been enough between them for one day, and he wanted to go to her.
“Sonny?” Ned looked at him with a sudden, calm clarity. “I believe that you care about Alexis. And I believe that you don’t want to see her get hurt any more. Can I also believe that you’ll do what it takes to prove me right?”
Sonny frowned. “Meaning?”
“Meaning you cut her loose. Fire her, evict her, and keep her far, far away from you, your home, your business, your associates and your legal problems. You keep her away from the next gun or knife or God knows what thing that’ll be aimed at you but could go astray and take her down for good. Prove you care, prove me right…cut her loose.”
Ned’s earnest eyes studied Sonny’s expressionless face, searching for a chink in his armor. The chink was there, hiding and smarting under the solid surface. More than anything Sonny wanted Alexis to be safe, he wanted her to be unafraid, he wanted her…he wanted her.
The room suddenly shifted, and Sonny grabbed for the back of the chair for balance and quickly closed his eyes to the blur spreading before them. In a reflex action, Ned reached out a hand to stave off a possible stumble, but Sonny steadied himself before contact was made. Ned swiftly withdrew his hand, wrapping both arms around his chest as he often did when they felt particularly empty of her.
Ned raised an eyebrow and took a deep breath before swallowing nervously. “I’ve had nothing but coffee since yesterday morning. You?”
Sonny's eyes slowly opened and he tilted his head as a vague smile crossing his face. It wasn’t the lack of nourishment making him light-headed -it was a hunger of another kind, and one that he knew would remain unfed.
“Should Alexis choose to push someone from the path of an oncoming car, or rush into a burning building to save a trapped animal…that would be out of my control. What IS in my control is the fact that Joseph Sorel is a dead man – he just doesn’t know it yet. Alexis will never be in danger again because of me.”
“You can’t control ANYTHING, Sonny! Don’t you understand that by now? There will be enemies for you, always! There will be another Sorel…but there will never be another Alexis.” Ned’s voice cracked.
“I could find a way to live my life without her, if that’s what she decides will be. I don’t think I could do it if I wasn't sure that she was still somewhere in this world...alive, well and happy.”
Ned took a step back, then another. He shook his head as he gazed at the back of Sonny’s head. His voice was a thick and throaty whisper.
“What am I telling you this for anyway? You wouldn’t understand. To me, she’s everything. To you, she’s just a guarantee to stay out of Statesville. My mistake – I thought you really did care.”
Sonny’s body was locked as he heard the gentle closing of the door. Every muscle tensed to the point of screaming, every cell expanded to the point of exploding…every fiber of his being told him that his heart would soon feel it’s last possible break. He’d had no warning - he’d not been prepared. This woman now held him in the palm of her hand and he couldn’t bear to move. He did care...he cared too damn much.
Alexis was everything to him.