Sonny already knew. He’d already felt the stillness of her head within his hands and the soft ease of her breaths against his throat as he laid his goodnight kiss above her brow. Charlie moved up alongside the bed, and Sonny lingered in his way just a moment longer. His mouth finally, reluctantly pulled away from her, and he smiled as an errant strand of her hair playfully tickled his nose. He ran the tip of his tongue across his lips, tasting the salty hint of her that lingering there…like the ocean, rich with life. He whispered lightly against her skin.
Charlie hesitated, loath to intrude on the unselfconscious intimacy of it, but he had to proceed. He gave them a few seconds more before not-so-subtly clearing his throat.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Corinthos, but we need to get started.”
Sonny leaned his forehead gently into hers and vaguely turned in Charlie’s direction. “I know.” He sighed, smiling. “And call me Sonny.”
Sonny slowly pulled away from her, his fingertips sliding down the curve of either side of her face until they found themselves moving freely through the air. For now, all physical connection between them was given over to the sweetly odd, little man with the drugs and tubes and machines that promised to bring Alexis back to herself.
“I know, it’s hard. But I’ll answer any questions you have about anything that I’m doing – in layman’s terms, of course – so you won’t feel any more frightened or intimidated by all this stuff than you already are.”
Sonny shrugged and opened his mouth to protest, but Charlie beat him to the punch. “And don’t bother with any lame attempts at denial, Sonny. Nobody gets to float down that river in Egypt on MY watch. I believe in telling things like they are, but with simplicity and compassion. This process is a kind of teamwork between my patient and me, but as long you’re going to be in this room for the duration, I will treat you as my silent partner. Medical science may hold that Alexis can’t hear, feel or think anything while she’s under this deep, but Dr. Chuckles says that the voice, touch and simple presence of a loved one can be nothing but a blessed thing for her.”
Sonny felt his face flush and he grinned sheepishly. Again, the matter-of-fact utterance of the word ‘love’ from this stranger gave him pause. He wondered if it was possible for an emotion to have a life of its own, one that others could see and know as real. But then, his grin softened as he wondered about something else – this time, Charlie had been speaking of her. ‘Loved one’…Sonny would give the world to know what might have slipped out to this man, uncensored, while Alexis was falling under the haze of sedation. He wouldn’t dare to ask…or wish.
“Alrighty.” Charlie’s voice snapped Sonny’s attention back to the business at hand. “I’m going to start a second IV line to keep the flow of medications separate. I didn’t want to do it while she was still awake. I’m sure it’s a nasty reminder every time she gets stuck.”
“Yeah – she’s had enough.” Sonny diverted his eyes as Charlie placed a hand on her arm. The glint of the needle he held made Sonny’s muscles tense.
“Tony told me the details of her case. It’s important that I know who my patients are and what their story is. I have to know how to behave with them and what kind of emotional support they’re going to need from me. Tending to their mind before tending to their body is essential, and I have to be quite the chameleon sometimes.” He glanced at the back of Sonny’s turned head as he finished taping the new IV in place against her skin.
“Alexis was easy though. With her, I just got to be my own…what was it she called me? Oh, right – goofy. My own goofy self.”
Sonny laughed lightly as he looked up at Alexis’s peaceful face. “The pot calling the kettle – not too many people know that about her, I think. But Alexis makes me laugh...and most of the time it isn’t intentional. She acts all mad when I laugh at her, but I know she'd hate it if I stopped.”
“Okay – I’m done. You can look now.” Charlie moved toward the head of the bed and began adjusting the flow of liquid from one of the IV bags. Sonny shifted nervously as he stood watching it trickle down, slowly winding its way into her body. His staring face caught Charlie’s eye and he sought to distract.
“You been together long?”
Sonny laughed in spite of himself - there the man went again. His instinct was to confess the truth…but still, he yearned to know how it would feel if what Charlie thought WAS the truth.
“We’ve known each other for a few years, in a professional capacity. But maybe six, eight months ago we started getting to know each other personally. That’s when we started becoming good friends.”
“The best of friends can often make the best of something much more life-affirming.”
“Life-affirming…” Sonny mulled over the phrase, taking it in. He smiled - it was fitting.
Charlie’s nimble fingers moved to the second IV, sending a new stream traveling south through the thin tube. “So, how did you two meet?”
“I hired her. Alexis is an attorney.”
“She’s good, I assume?”
“The best. My one and only.”
“She do malpractice cases?”
Sonny’s staring eyes suddenly came back to life, snapping toward Charlie’s slyly grinning face.
Sonny smiled and wagged a finger at him. “My friend, I think under different circumstances, Alexis would enjoy your company very much.”
Charlie smiled. “Alexis is never going to want to see me again. It’s a professional hazard when your face reminds people of an acute physical and emotional trauma. And they say dentists are depressed! At least the rewards of this specialty far out-weight any downside…and this is also a personal issue for me.”
Charlie’s demeanor shifted. “You’d be amazed to know how many medical professionals are or were druggies. I was a smack addict for fifteen years.”
Sonny looked up, meeting Charlie’s eyes with surprise.
“Alexis knows – I tell all my patients. It’s good for them to know that there IS life after addiction, no matter how you overcome it. Still, I wouldn’t wish it all on…well, ALMOST anyone.” He turned his head decidedly away from her, his voice low. He took care with what his patients’ minds could still register.
“Did they get the sick S.O.B who did this to her?”
Sonny’s jaw tensed at the renewed thought of Sorel. He’d done well at pushing Malloy’s detailed account out of his mind until he had the time and opportunity to process it all. Sonny knew he couldn’t help Alexis with such blinding visions and unbridled rage flowing through him like hot blood, and he had to hold it all back. Just a little while longer, and he would make Sorel pay tenfold for every last hour of her suffering.
“Yeah.” He roughly forced the air from this tight throat. “He’ll be dealt with.”
Charlie nodded. He wasn’t an advocate of violence, but payback could be a bear…and often justly so. As he beheld Sonny’s hardened face and the distant eyes that gazed at the pale, unconscious woman, there was no doubt about payback. He knew who Sonny Corinthos was – who in Port Charles didn’t? Charlie turned his attention to the monitors behind her, reading the signs intently.
“Sonny? You might want to step outside for just a minute. Maybe get some air?”
Sonny’s expression held, unwavering. “I’m good.”
“Sonny.” Charlie’s voice was stronger, louder, and he waited for Sonny to look at him before he continued. Sonny finally did.
“I need to put Alexis on a ventilator, and while it won’t hurt her, it might be a little uncomfortable for you to watch it.”
Sonny’s alarm was clearly palpable. “W-why? What are you going to do to her?”
Charlie kept his voice calm and his attitude light. “It’s not a big deal – I’m just going to slide a small tube down her throat to keep her airway clear and to allow the ventilator to breath for her. The level of sedation needed for this procedure can be such that the patient needs help to breath properly.”
Sonny took a deep breath and frowned. The idea that she might stop breathing slammed him back into that cold basement and how he found Alexis so still, her chest unmoving and her pulse nowhere that his fingers could find. He started to feel dizzy, forgetting to exhale and take in a new breath of his own.
“You can stay if you want to…but I know that you couldn’t watch me put in the new IV, so there’s really no point in making yourself watch this either. To tell you the truth, you look like you could use a minute anyway. Take it.”
Sonny looked down at Alexis with the guilt rising up in him once more. He ached, knowing how much she would hate this. He tapped his fingers against her palm and leaned down close to her.
“Alexis, I’ll be back before you know it. I promise.”
He closed his eyes and turned way, his legs blindly carrying him the few yards to the door.
“I’ll give a holler when I’m done.”
Sonny nodded, and with his eyes still closed, he shut the door behind him.
“Oh God – what’s wrong?”
Sonny was startled by the sudden sound of Johnny’s loud and fearful voice. He opened his eyes to a panic-filled face gone ashen.
“What are you still doing here? I told you to go home and get some sleep!”
“I’m not leaving, I can sleep here just fine!” He nodded his head toward the chair that had become his second home.
“You can, but you WON’T!” Sonny countered.
Johnny stammered in frustration. “Well…but…don’t change the subject! Why did you leave the room with that…that LOOK on your face?”
“Calm down, nothing is wrong! Damn, Johnny. You ARE going home if I have to fire you to make you do it!” Sonny shot.
“What, like Luke fires Claude?” Johnny shot back.
“What do you know about Luke firing Claude?”
“I hear things! I like blues, okay? And why are you yelling?”
“I don’t know, why are YOU yelling!”
Sonny stared at Johnny, and Johnny stared back. Their sudden silence now made them embarrassingly aware of how heated and bizarre their quick exchange had grown. Sonny finally cracked a smile and Johnny sighed. He bowed his head slightly, giving a small shrug of his shoulders in semi-contrition.
“Yeah, me too. I guess we both need sleep.”
“Yeah.” Johnny glanced at the closed door. “She’s really doing okay?”
“She’s fine. She’s doing good. The doctor just need a little privacy for a minute.”
Johnny nodded, satisfied and relieved. “Oh. Okay then.”
Sonny cocked his head and regarded the crumpled paper bag on the floor beside the chair. “You eat?”
“Yeah. Thanks. You?”
“Before, yeah. And I’ll sleep in there with her…so to speak.” He grinned and watched Johnny’s face flush as he registered Sonny’s weak attempt at humor. “I mean it Johnny – you go home and I’ll take care of Alexis. When she wakes up, I’ll let you know. Alright?”
Johnny’s eyes returned to the door. He was so drained at that point, he thought if he did allow himself a few hours of sleep that it would surely turn into days. He was running on sheer will and intermittent boosts of caffeine. Johnny would go home, as Sonny asked, but only until Alexis woke up. But before he could speak, they heard Charlie call out his okay for Sonny to return. Sonny clamped a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“I want you to take a cab. I’ll call you in the morning, when it’s all over.”
Johnny nodded, then shifted his head to steal a glance into the room as Sonny turned his back and began to push the door open. He’d not been prepared, and he couldn’t silence his gasp at the sight of her small, helpless form connected to so many beeping and hissing machines. They surrounded her like a small, computerized army.
“It’s okay Johnny.” Sonny’s voice was soft, but Johnny’s fears were not so easily allayed.
“She looks like she’s on some sort of life support. I had no idea…” Johnny’s heart was racing and his voice became a mumble. Sonny closed his eyes briefly in understanding. The sight of that tube taped to her mouth had made his heart skip a beat as well, but he knew there was no choice about it - any of it.
“She’s okay. I wouldn’t lie to you. It looks a lot worse than it really is.”
“Hey, that’s what I always say!” Charlie piped in. “Sonny - I’m sorry, but I can only have you in here.”
“You take a cab, like I told you to. Okay?”
Johnny still stared, his ears filled with the harsh chorus of sounds that gave assurance of her life. It all looked so…extreme. If anything went wrong, after he’d pushed Sonny to make her consent to this, he didn’t know what he would do.
Sonny turned to Johnny and touched his arm again, the contact breaking Johnny’s focus. “Johnny!”
“What?” He’d been startled. “Oh – right, a cab.”
Sonny took another step into the room and turned as he closed the door in Johnny’s face with one more parting word.
Johnny stood unmoving as the frightening visage of Alexis disappeared from his view. As he turned his back to the door, he couldn’t help but think of Sorel, and how Johnny had stared at him through the glass window as he lay in that same hospital, tended by the same doctor…a prisoner, attached to his bed with heavy metal cuffs. And now, Alexis lay as a virtual prisoner as well, attached to her very breath with heavy metal machines. As he began the long, slow, reluctant walk down the hallway, Johnny knew that it wouldn’t be long before Sorel would pay. As soon as Alexis was strong - as soon as Sonny could bring himself to leave her - Sorel would dearly pay.
Sonny slowly approached Alexis, suddenly fearful of what was happening to her. Johnny was right – she looked as if she depended on all the tubes and wires for her very life. His eyes focused on her closed lids and the gentle curve of her eyelashes. He touched the back of his hand to her cheek and smiled down at her.
“I’m back. Did you miss me? Poor Johnny was about to fall on his face from exhaustion and I had to pull rank to make him go home and sleep. He didn’t want to leave you, but I promised him I’d watch over you well enough for the both of us.” Sonny moved his mouth close to her ear and whispered mischievously. “Now, don’t you go telling him I said this, but I think he might have a little crush.”
“Is your friend going to be okay?” Charlie rubbed at his beard.
Sonny sighed heavily and glanced back at the closed door. “He’ll be fine.”
He slid the chair up close to her side and sat, he and Charlie now flanking the bed. He smiled weakly. “It’s been a rough time – for all of us.”
His eyes scanned the length of her body, so still beneath the smoothed covers that accentuated the outline of her form. He lay his hand down on her leg and soon felt the comforting warmth of her as it rose up to meet him.
“Another four or five hours and you’ll have her back.” Charlie smiled to himself. “And most people think separation anxiety is just a parent/child thing. Please!” He stretched with a fairly loud groan as he prepared for the long night’s journey into day. “You might as well join her – catch some zzz’s.”
Sonny wordlessly nodded. He slid his chair back, enough to leave room for him to lean down and lay his head on the bed, alongside her legs. The hand he’d placed on her calf slid down and he draped his arm protectively over her. His other hand sought its favored place and settled into her upturned palm. As Sonny’s thumb rested against the inside of her wrist, he smiled at the feel of he steady pulse against it.
“You gonna lay like that for five hours?”
“I’m good.” Sonny had the world at his fingertips.
“Oye. Well, it’s your back. If you were MY age, you’d be in traction for days. Oh, to be young again!”
Sonny’s smile widened and he closed his eyes, his thumb brushing back and forth across her delicate softness. He sighed, content, and soon felt himself giving in to the pull of sleep. The rhythmic sound of the heart monitor hypnotized him into drowsiness, but then it began to hammer at the back of his mind, breaking away at the locks he’d carefully placed there. Behind his closed lids, the hammering filled his darkness – the darkness that Alexis now feared.
Malloy had given him what had wanted, and Sonny now knew that Sorel had shut her away for hours at a time in that small, windowless room, with all sights and sounds extinguished. He had sought to confuse her senses and disorient her mind, to weaken her into doing his bidding…and to have a little fun on the side. But Alexis was far from weak and it made Sorel rise up against her. She had challenged him, and the games began with a vengeance. Between the drugs and the fever and the overwhelming fear, she couldn’t help but retreat into another kind of darkness - the one hiding deep in her soul…the one both Malloy and Sonny had seen for themselves. And then, without warning, his visit to Malloy set the still-frames flashing through Sonny’s mind, one after the other, as if it were a movie…
Sorel - his fingers tightening around her throat, blocking the air from her lungs.
Sorel - his hands tearing at her clothes, making her to think she was going to be raped.
Sorel – his fist flying into her face with a force to knocks her off balance.
Malloy – locking her body within his massive arms, his fists digging into her back.
Malloy – throwing her into the wall, her forehead soundly meeting the harsh concrete.
Malloy – pinning her weakened body against the wall, the fight finally shocked out of her.
Sorel – his heroin-filled needle pushing under her skin.
Alexis – her eyes filled with fear as her body feels the hit and she drops to the ground.
Sonny’s body jerked, his arms instinctively clutching for her to cushion her fall. His large, frantic eyes flew open, furtively scanning his line of vision until they found and fixed on her face. His brain was still confused, his breath frozen within his lungs. The adrenaline still surged through him as he gasped for air, the fog between sleep and wake slowly lifting.
As his fight response subsided and his breath found its normal rhythm, Sonny swallowed against the dryness that overtook his mouth. His gaze at Alexis’s sleeping face softened as he reclaimed his awareness, finally knowing where they were and that she was safe.
“Are you alright?” A soft voice came from the other side of the bed. Sonny’s large eyes turned to Charlie’s face, filled with fatherly concern. He swallowed again and roughly shook his head.
“Yeah - sorry.” Sonny was suddenly aware of all the tension he’d been holding in his arms and he released it, along with Alexis’s hand that he’d reflexively gripped while trying to catch her within his sleep.
Sonny turned to Charlie, the ex-heroin junkie and still doctor, who owned a face that proved a life hard-lived and battles sorely won. Looking into that face, Sonny finally understood Taggert’s warning to back off from Malloy and leave it alone…and he had been right. The images that Malloy’s words had so graphically burned into his mind would stay with him forever.
“Yeah. But it wasn’t my nightmare...it was hers.”