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Scene 49

“Ashton, you look like five kinds of hell!”

Ned opened his eyes to see Taggert staring down at him, shaking his head in sorry contemplation.

“So I’ve been told. Now ask me if I give a damn.”

Taggert sighed and jerked his head to the left. “Stop hogging the couch – move over, would ya?”

Ned stared up at him with a less than generous expression. He didn’t move.

“What?” Taggert knew Ashton had had a rough time of it, but he was taking this particular display of hostility personally.

As Ned turned his face away, Taggert shoved the tattered magazines to the other side of the coffee table and sat where they had lain. He leaned his elbows on his knees and sighed once more, studying Ned’s worn, unshaven profile.

“Is Alexis alright? Sonny told me that the detox went well and that she was…”

“God!” Ned burst into an ironic laughter that made Taggert sit up straight.

“What’s wrong with this picture, Taggert? I’ve had to beg, plead, pull dirty tricks or wait for Alexis to wake up hysterical from some terrifying dream before I get to know anything, but Corinthos gives a blow-by-blow to a man with whom he shares nothing but mutual contempt! What the hell am I missing here?”

Taggert nodded, knowing there were still so many things that Ashton didn’t understand about what had gone done down in rescuing Alexis…and what had strangely developed between him and Sonny.

“Look, aside from the fact that I don’t expect to hear about you EVER using my name to pull a stunt like you pulled to get into her room, I know that you’ve been worried sick about Alexis. And I know that your ego is a little bruised because it’s Sonny in there with her instead of you.”

“Well you seem to know everything, don’t you?”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud Ashton! Would you just get over yourself for a minute? I’m trying to show a little empathy.”

“Save it.”

“You seem to be forgetting the fact that while this is a personal matter for you, it’s a professional matter for me. A POLICE matter.”

Ned lowered his eyes as he leaned back against the couch, pulling his right ankle up to rest on top of his left knee. “I’m not forgetting anything, Taggert.”

Taggert’s eyebrows rose as the light bulb went off in his head. “Ah! You’re still ticked-off that we didn’t let you let you be involved in getting Alexis back.”

Ned glared at him. “I’M the one who went to you about the fact that she was missing! And what do you do? You go straight to Corinthos and leave me out of the loop. Yeah, I’m still ticked-off about that. But I’m not so stupid to think that I could have done anything to find her that you weren’t doing already.”

“So what’s with the attitude?”

Ned took a deep breath and exhaled loudly, frowning as he slid his foot back down to the floor, as if keeping is where it had been was too much of a physical effort.

“You lied to me about what Sorel was doing to her. I had a right to know the truth – as much right as you or Sonny. Or Zander - who, as it turns out, ALSO knew more about Alexis than I did.”

“Zander wasn’t supposed to find out. That was an accident.”

“And not telling me was deliberate.”

“You’re damn right it was!”

“Well thank you for at least being honest! Do you have any idea how belittling that s to me, especially given the fact that you all know damn good and well how I feel about her?”

“And what would you have done if we HAD told you? What exactly do you think you could have done about it?” Taggert shot back.

“That’s not the point!”

“It IS the point! Damn, but you can be thick! The truth doesn’t always set you free Ashton - sometimes it just twists a knife in your gut. Sometimes it’s an act of mercy to keep a secret.”

Ned pushed himself up from the couch in annoyance. “Oh please, Taggert. You’re not trying to convince me that you and Corinthos were trying to be noble?”

“It was MY first instinct to not tell you, and Sonny said it outright before I had the chance. Lord knows I’m the last person on earth to sing the praises of Sonny Corinthos, but I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.” Taggert rose and turned to face Ned. “Did Zander tell you how we found out about the possibility of Alexis being drugged?”

“No.”

“Well he should have. Sorel was taunting Sonny with little messages about Alexis. When he first took her, he sent him her scarf, stained with fresh blood. On Thursday morning, he sent an unmarked envelope - and I don’t mind telling you it’s been a long time since anything chilled my blood like the sight of the syringe that Sonny found inside of it. There were a few drops of an unmistakable amber colored liquid inside the cylinder…with an equally unmistakable taste.”

Ned turned his back to Taggert and wrapped his arms around himself, trying to contain the rage building back up again.

“As much as it goes against my grain to admit this, Sonny was trying to be kind. He was trying to spare you.”

“Spare me from what? Turning him into a punching bag?”

“Yeah, you and what army? Come on, Ashton. It’s not as if we’d known about the heroin the whole time. Hell, we didn’t even know if it was bluff, at first. But bluff or not, the minute Sonny opened that envelope he pulled out all the stops. At that point, he was even ready to go against Alexis’s wishes and use Zander to get her back.”

“With Zander’s full co-operation, I know.”

Taggert heard a tone of resolve in Ned’s voice and hoped the man was finally allowing reason to prevail over emotion. “Alexis didn’t even know about the heroin herself – not until she was ready to hear it.”

Ned turned back to Taggert with sad eyes, arms still tightly hugging his chest. “I should have been there Taggert – when you found her. She needed me. She needed to see the face of someone who loved her, and you and Sonny took that away from her.”

Taggert’s eyes fixed on the floor as he shoved his hands into his pockets. The look on Ned’s face harkened back to the look he’d seen on Sonny’s as he stepped into that basement and saw Alexis hanging limp over the side of that cot - the look that deepened as he frantically searched her lifeless body for proof that they weren’t too late. It WAS the face of someone who loved her…the face of raw fear, pain and guilt. As Taggert took control, Sonny simply crouched on the floor beside her, the panic all but paralyzing him in a way that Taggert would never have expected. Ned stared at Taggert’s silent form, sensing that more secrets were being kept from him.

“Taggert – what else aren’t you telling me? How was she when you found her? Did she know it was you? Did she know that she was out of danger? I think it’s time I knew some of the details, and I’d rather hear them from you.”

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“So?” Alexis looked up at Tony with expectant eyes.

“So far, so good. Your heart rate is normal, your blood pressure couldn’t be better, and your temperature is a perfect ninety-eight point six.”

Her eyes darted quickly to Sonny, then back up to Tony with an impish but determined look. “If everything is in such good working order, then tell me again why I’m still here?”

“Oh man, we’re NOT doing this again are we?” Sonny groaned.

Alexis feigned indignance. “I’m not talking to you, buddy!”

“She’s been like a dog with bone about this going home thing.”

“Hey! I don’t think I appreciate your ‘dog’ analogy.”

“Sue me.”

“You’ve already said that once this morning. You’re starting to repeat yourself.”

Sonny grinned wide and mischievously.

“Sue me…”

As he said it yet a third time, Alexis echoed him. “Sue me, I know! Say that a fourth time and I might take you up on it.”

Tony was both amused and heartened by Alexis’s return to herself, all wit and feisty attitude firmly intact. “Excuse me Martin & Lewis, but I have some medical business to attend to here – are you done?”

The innocent, good-natured quip abruptly erased the smile from Alexis’ face. Her eyes went blank and Sonny leaned forward, tilting his head and reaching out to touch her arm.

“Alexis?”

As his hand lit upon her skin, Alexis jerked her arm away with a quick intake of breath, locking it up against her chest as her eyes squeezed shut. She felt herself flying through space, stumbling across the floor – a sharp pain shooting through her head as the concrete wall stopped the force of her flight. The heavy weight of Thomas’ warm, solid body pushed into hers, rendering her limbs motionless against the cold surface.

“Are you done…?” Sorel’s voice dripped with weary contempt as he sneered at his prey – the little mouse trapped in his cage. It was out of her control…

“Alexis? Honey, what’s wrong?” Sorel’s voice faded back into the recesses of her mind and Sonny’s slowly rose to the surface. Alexis frowned and swallowed against the sudden dryness in her mouth. She shook her head, eyes still closed, as she willed herself to trust Sonny’s voice.

“Alexis, please talk to me.” Sonny was getting scared.

“I’m alright.” Alexis whispered. She sighed deeply and bit her lip.

“Where are you?” Sonny’s voice was low and calm – he knew were she was.

Alexis bowed her head and finally opened her eyes, looking up at Sonny with a sad resignation. “I suppose this is how it’s going to be for a while – someone makes a harmless, innocuous comment and Alexis suddenly finds herself in the twilight zone.”

“Probably. For a little while.”

She dropped her hand back down in her lap and shrugged. “Well that ought to go over well with my clients. I’d better double-up on my malpractice insurance, huh?”

Sonny held her gaze with a renewed sadness of his own. He would have given anything for a way to purge the bad memories as easily as the heroin. The pain may have had its way with her body, but it was still open season on what lay within her mind.

“I’m your biggest client, and I’d NEVER sue you…you’re the one who’s supposed to sue ME, remember?”

Alexis cocked her head and gave him a crooked grin. “That was four.”

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Taggert was careful in his handling of the truth. Ned did deserve to know, and with the charges being pressed against Sorel, he was going to find out sooner or later anyway. He sat down on the couch and motioned for Ned to do the same. Ned’s jaw tensed as he looked at the empty place beside Taggert, then sat.

“Alexis was unconscious when we found her. But we had the paramedics right along with us from the minute we got her location, and they brought her back in no time.”

“Back?” Ned swallowed hard. “Back from where?”

“She had a high fever from the infected marks on her arm – I doubt that Sorel was too sterile with his needles. And…she had also overdosed on heroin.”

Ned’s face went ashen. “Oh God...”

“It could have been really bad if the medics hadn’t known exactly what to do - but they did, and she woke up, and everything turned out just fine. I don’t think that she even knew that I was there, but she knew who Sonny was and she knew that she was safe.”

Ned’s eyes began to fill at the thought of Alexis lying so sick and hurting, afraid and alone. His chin began to quiver and his voice faltered. “It should have been me. She should have opened her eyes and known it was me, not him.”

Taggert sighed. “Ned, I don’t mean to be harsh, but hadn’t you and Alexis broken up – badly?”

Ned shook his head. “What, more tales from Corinthos? Alexis confides in him and then he passes it along to you?”

“You and Alexis didn’t exactly have a private relationship – at least, not since the inception of ‘Eddie’s Angel.’ And, unfortunately, your break-up was even less private.”

Ned hung his head and rubbed at his face, angrily pushing the dampness from his eyes. “That damned tape. If I hadn’t agreed to that one interview, none of this would have ever happened. That one choice destroyed everything, and for what? I don’t even want music anymore, so you know that? It doesn’t mean a damn thing without Alexis.”

“Look, I’m not exactly known for my sensitivity, but I was in pretty deep with this one and it was more than just a case for me. I know Alexis and I respect her. And I kind of like her too, if you must know - but don’t tell Dara.”

“Is there a point?”

Taggert glared at him. “I really hate that you’re giving me more things in common with Corinthos, you know that?” He sighed loudly, trying to remember that the man’s obnoxious attitude was coming from pain, but it didn’t make it any easier to be nice to him.

“My point is - if you want my two cents worth - try stepping back for a minute and look at this from Alexis’ standpoint. You might see that, all things considered, it’s probably best that it wasn’t you who found her. There can be such a thing as too close.”

Ned narrowed his eyes and Taggert held up his hand.

“Just listen to me! Alexis may have kept you at bay the whole time she’s been here, but has she asked anyone to send you away? She may not be ready to deal with you yet, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be. Besides, if you truly believed she had no use for you anymore, would you still be waiting here all this time?”

Ned pondered Taggert’s words, then shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. I’d need to hear it from her.”

Taggert nodded his head. “Fair enough. But do you get what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I get it. But what I don’t get is why Corinthos? Why is she clinging to him, of all people? Why not ask for her brother - or Chloe? Alexis knows she’d fly back from Milan in a heartbeat if she knew what had happened.”

“Do you really think Alexis would ask Ms. Morgan to drop her work and fly back here from Europe to hold her hand? Please! What shrinking violet are YOU thinking about? And I doubt she’d want to be under Stefan Cassadine’s thumb – aren’t they a bit on the outs too, since that little ‘faked death’ incident”

“Were.”

“Oh. Well, in my humble opinion, her choosing Sonny makes the most sense. He’s safe. She’s got no emotional baggage with him.”

“Unlike the twelve-piece matched set I’d drop at her feet?”

“I’ve dealt with kidnapping victims before, assault victims, you name it - but I’ve never dealt with anyone who’s experienced what Alexis experienced. All I can tell you, from a professional standpoint, is that people react how they react. It’s very common for kidnapping victims, especially those who’ve suffered violence, to cling to their rescuer. It’s usually a short-term thing because the rescuer is a stranger, but again, Alexis’ situation is unique. She was rescued by someone she already knows and trusts.”

“Trusts…” Ned shook his head. “The words ‘trust’ and ‘Corinthos’ shouldn’t even be used in the same sentence unless the word ‘never’ comes first.”

“It’s easy for other people to question and judge, but what the victim really needs is support and understanding. If you love Alexis like you say you do – like I think you do – you’ll support her and at least TRY to understand. If you’re hurt and angry because she’s more comfortable with Sonny right now, that’s fine, but for God’s sake don’t act like it in front of her. Just be thankful she’s alive and that she’s going to be okay.”

“I know…I am.” Ned looked sheepishly at Taggert. “I guess instead of criticizing you I should be thanking you - for saving her life.”

“Well let’s not get sentimental or anything. I wouldn’t want you to pop a shirt button or anything.” Taggert hesitated. “You do understand that even though Alexis is on the road to physical recovery, this thing isn’t over for her – not by a long shot. You’ll still have plenty of opportunity to be there for her in the next few months.”

“Are you talking about bringing Sorel to trial?”

“He and Malloy are being indicted. That’s why I’m here, actually. I need to get her formal statement.”

“Who’s Malloy?”

“Sorel’s accomplice. He’s the one…” Taggert stopped himself from speaking out of turn. Malloy’s betrayal of Sorel could still get the man hurt if discovered by the wrong person, and Taggert was not about to lose his star witness.

“He’s the one…what?”

“I can’t…let’s just say that Sonny and I had a little help in finding Alexis. That’s as much as I can say at this point.”

Ned understood. “Is Alexis up to this today? You know she had a long night. This morning was difficult for her.”

“Sonny said she’s alert and feeling okay - she’s just pretty exhausted. I’ll be as quick as I can. I put it off as long as possible, but I just can’t wait any longer. I’m not about to let anything slip through the cracks this time.”

“Tell me the truth Taggert – how awful could this trial get for her?”

“We’ll do what we can to make it easy on her, but I can’t make any promises. Sorel’s going down, no question, but I don’t doubt that sick ticket is going to want to pour salt in her wounds just because he can. Legally, he can.”

“Unless Alexis doesn’t testify.”

“She has to testify, Ned.”

“Why, if Sorel’s already going down for Ted Wilson’s murder? How many death sentences can the state carry out against one man?”

“Sorel and his lawyers are too slippery for us to take any chances. We can’t rest on our laurels with the Wilson murder rap. A conviction in even half the charges against him in Alexis’s case will not only put the last nail in his coffin, but it’ll bury that coffin under fifteen tons of cement.”

“And how deep will it bury Alexis?” Ned shook his head softly. “I’m not going to let that man hurt her any more than he already has if I have to send him to the gates of hell myself.”

Taggert raised an eyebrow. “The line forms to the left.”

“What line?” Johnny had quietly snuck up behind Ned, fresh-faced and with a cup of coffee in his hands.

“Johnny – what’s up?” Taggert rose from his seat. “Is Alexis ready to talk to me?”

Johnny shifted his stance with a frown. “Talk to you? What, about Sorel?”

“No, about being my date for the policeman’s ball.” Taggert rolled his eyes.

Johnny gave him a blank stare. “You think that one up all on your own, or did you have a little help?”

Ned chuckled.

“I told Sonny this morning that I was coming by to get her statement. I thought you’d be expecting me.”

“Sonny sent me home last night and I just got back. But don’t you think it’s a little soon, after what she went through last night? She’s exhausted and she doesn’t need to re-live Sorel’s crap on the first day that she isn’t wracked with pain and scared out of her mind! Can’t you give her one decent day before throwing it all back at her?”

“Well.” Ned rose up beside Johnny and nodded his head in his direction. “What HE said.”

Taggert hung his head. “I wish I could, believe me. But I promise to take it as easy as I can. And if it’s too much, I’ll back off. And you know that Sonny will make me.”

Ned tensed once more at the mention of Sonny’s name, and Johnny eyed Taggert with a certain suspicion.

“Let me see if Alexis is awake and willing to talk to you. Sonny said she’s sleeping a lot, so if she is you’re going to have to wait.”

Taggert threw his hands up in mock surrender. “Whatever you say boss.”

Johnny kept his head slightly turned, eyes on Taggert as he made his way down the hall to find her new room. He knew that no matter what, a visit from Taggert would do her some kind of harm and he hated that it was a necessary evil. Even more, he hated that his ability to protect her was quickly coming to an end.

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“Is there anything else I should know before I leave you in peace?”

Alexis shook her head, but Sonny volunteered on her behalf. “She’s having some pain in her back, where the bruises are.”

Alexis gave Sonny a reproachful look. “It’s fine, Tony.”

Tony frowned. “It probably is just the bruises healing, but there might be some pressure on your spinal column that’s causing a little nerve thing.”

Alexis made fun, wanting Tony to leave it alone. “Is that your professional diagnosis, ‘a little nerve thing’? Sounds good to me.”

“Let me just take a quick look.”

Alexis sighed. “It’s fine, really.”

“Humor me.”

She grumbled as she rolled over on her side, giving Sonny a dirty look. “Anybody ever tell you you’ve got a big mouth?”

“What? It’s going to hurt for him to look at it? You don’t want to mess around with your spine, Alexis.”

“He’s right.” Tony carefully moved his fingers along either side of her spine, noting that the bruises had spread down the length of it.

Alexis stiffened her back with a grimace as Tony touched a sensitive spot.

“Sorry.” The sound of a disembodied voice and the feel of invisible hands on her body suddenly made her want to scream. She clenched her jaw and told herself over and over that it was Tony…Tony, not Sorel with his hands on her. But she couldn’t turn her head, couldn’t see what he was doing…

“Tony stop.” She released the deep breath that she didn’t know she’d been holding, turning over onto her back. “I’m sorry, I just…I don’t know.”

“It’s alright. Don’t apologize. You were right, it’s just the bruises spreading and settling along your spine. It’ll hurt a bit, but not for much longer. It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

Alexis felt embarrassed and sought to change the subject. “Hey, did they tell you I was able to eat this morning? Sonny is my witness.”

“Yes, I heard. That’s a good start.”

“So, what kind of brownie points do I score for forcing down the nasty, red, wobbly stuff that no one over the age of ten should be made to eat?”

“It’s called Jello.”

Alexis narrowed her eyes at Sonny. “Nasty, red, wobbly stuff by any other name is still nasty, red and wobbly.” She looked up at Tony, agenda intact, as she weakly lifted her arm. “Can you take this out now?”

Sonny sighed. “The IV would be bone number two.”

“So I gathered. No, Alexis not yet.”

She dropped her arm back onto the bed. “What do have to do to get free of this thing? Sonny said you wanted me to eat and I did. No fair changing the rules on me without proper notice.”

Tony pulled himself up to his full height and looked down at her with a stern face.

“Uh-oh. You’re in trouble.” Sonny deadpanned.

Alexis hunched her shoulders as Tony put his hands on his hips. “You, lawyer. Me, DOCTOR! Got it?” He tapped his nametag for emphasis.

“Yeah, yeah - I got it” Alexis gave him a look of reluctant submission as she sank back down into the bed. She was feeling the pull of drowsiness and no longer had the energy to give Tony any more good-natured grief.

“Okay then.” Tony smiled, triumphant. “I’m glad we settled THAT once and for all.”

She smiled sheepishly and turned her head into the pillow as she began to release. “I don’t care WHAT your nametag says, I’m not eating anything else that wobbles.”

There was a soft knock on the door and Tony opened it to Johnny’s smiling face.

“Is she awake?” He whispered.

“She’s awake.” Alexis opened her eyes and smiled back at him. “Hi Johnny.”

“Hey.” He made his way into the room, stopping by Sonny’s side. “How ya doing?”

“I’m okay. You look a lot more rested. I’m glad Sonny made you go home last night. But I’m also glad that you’re back.”

Johnny turned pink. “I left under threat of bodily harm, but you’re stuck with me for the duration. I’m not going anywhere unless it’s to take you back home.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Really?”

“Yep.” Sonny nodded. “By hook or by crook, but not by way of Jello, we’re bringing her home tomorrow.”

Johnny’s face questioned the Jello comment, but it quickly passed. He was too happy that she was well and that the light had been turned back on inside of her. He sighed with a small shiver of relief. “Good. That’s really good.”

He smiled wide as Alexis closed her eyes and let her head drop to the side. Soon, Johnny felt Sonny staring at him, and he turned to see a goofy grin. “What?”

Sonny shrugged and raised his eyebrows in all innocence. “Nothing. I’m just glad you’re back too.”

Johnny suddenly remembered Taggert. “Oh – damn.” He glanced at Alexis. “Sorry Alexis. Um, I forgot that Taggert is outside. He said you were expecting him?”

“Yeah. I’ll go tell him that Alexis is sleeping…”

“No, she’s not.” Alexis opened her eyes and took a deep, awakening breath. “I want to see him.”

Tony jumped in, crossing his arms in concern. “Alexis, you really do need to rest. He can come back later.”

“No, I want to get this over with. Besides, he doesn’t have time to waste running back and forth to suit my napping schedule.”

“I don’t want you pushing yourself, and I KNOW that you will push.”

Alexis smiled at Tony, but she was determined. “Yes, I push. So what? The worst that can happen is I fall asleep and offend Taggert. It wouldn’t be the first time I offended him.”

Tony still frowned, as did Sonny and Johnny. Alexis sighed as she searched the somber faces surrounding her. “Could you all try to perk up? You’re making me nervous.”

Johnny glanced at Sonny. “Taggert did say he’d take it easy.”

Tony glanced at his watch. “I think I’d better stick around for this.”

“What, you don’t trust Sonny to toss Taggert out on his ear the minute he says something that makes me twitch?”

“Alexis…” Sonny’s admonishment was halted.

“Sonny – your protectiveness is all well and good, but you can’t protect me from this. Taggert isn’t going to hurt me. He just needs to do his job, and I need to be done with it. Okay?”

Sonny nodded, his restless hands playing with the edge of the blanket for want of contact with her. Alexis was now calling the shots. “Sure. You do what you need to do.”

“Johnny, would you bring him in please?”

Alexis shifted her weight and reached for the button to raise the head of the bed.

Sonny leaned forward, wanting to help. “Do you want me to get that?”

“No, Sonny, I can do it.” As the mechanics of the bed buzzed, she struggled to push herself upright while it rose. Sonny simply watched. Alexis was taking hold of her autonomy, harnessing her wherewithal and shifting into control-mode. He saw the attorney in her creeping out and the look in her eyes changed as she braced herself to face not only the details of her captivity, but also a familiar person from outside the cocoon she’d been living in for the last several days.

“Do you need some more water?”

“No, thanks.”

Tony glanced at his watch. He wasn’t comfortable leaving this situation, but he had other patients to tend to. “Well, I’ll leave you to it then. Alexis, promise me you won’t overdo, and that you’ll let yourself sleep as soon as Taggert leaves.”

“I won’t…and I will.”

“I’ll make sure of it.” Sonny added.

“He’s so bossy.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “I think you need bossy.”

Sonny flashed his dimples at her in a truly grandiose fashion. “Ha!”

Alexis was not amused. “You had to encourage him?”

Tony smiled. “I’ll check in on you later.”

“And when you do, be sure to leave the Jello at the door.” Alexis sighed. She barely had time to take a breath when Taggert appeared in the threshold before the door had finished closing behind Tony’s back.

He smiled at the sight of Alexis, alert, upright and with the nightmare of withdrawal finally behind her. “Ms. Davis. It’s good to have you back.”

Alexis gazed up at him as if she wasn’t sure who he was. Sonny’s eyes held to her face and he caught a glimpse of the scared little girl hiding behind the facade of a strong, self-contained woman. She nervously pushed her hair behind her ears and smiled back at Taggert.

“Ms. Davis, huh? Look at me Taggert – I think we can dispense with the formalities. After all, I do have a stuffed penguin beside my bed and will freely admit that it was, at one time today, IN my bed.”

Taggert laughed and threw up his hands. “Hey – whatever floats your boat.”

Sonny smiled in relief, and Alexis nodded toward the empty chair. “Come on in.”

As Taggert moved to take a seat, his eyes swept over her more closely. She was so pale, and the bruises on her face and throat were fading into a new scheme of colors. There was still so much of the familiar intensity in her eyes, yet it was of a different nature than he was used to seeing. He felt a little awkward with her now - the personal closeness he felt with this case conflicted with the detachment he needed to maintain. He wasn’t sure how much she knew of his involvement in her rescue, or the emotional roller coaster he and Sonny had shared in the search for her. But he knew that Sonny would tell her nothing of what they’d heard in that phone call from Sorel, and Taggert was determined to handle her with equal care.

Alexis was suddenly all-too aware of this new pair of eyes studying her – this colleague who now regarded her as a victim. The marks on her body, impossible to hide, were cutting Alexis Davis, the take-no-prisoners attorney, down to size. No one at the PCPD or the D.A. office would ever look at her the same way again. She was afraid to ask just how much was known and by whom. As if he’d been reading her thoughts, Taggert’s eyes unconsciously roamed across the tracks on her arms. Alexis swiftly pulled them up, crossing them protectively against her chest. Taggert was mortified. He closed his eyes and rubbed his face, not believing that he’d hurt her already and the questions hadn’t even begun.

“God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I’m glad to see that you’re mending so well. That’s all.”

Alexis looked at Sonny, then smiled weakly. “Don’t worry about it. I guess you probably already know all the gory details anyway, right?” She lowered her arms and sighed. “I’m told vitamin E helps heal them quicker. Actually, I should keep them around a while. It might be one more way to get the edge on Dara – track marks could very well unnerve her in open court.”

Sonny shook his head, but Taggert smiled. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve missed your big mouth around the station.”

Alexis’ eyes widened and she broke out into laughter. “Thanks, Taggert. My lemonade stand should be open for business any time now.”

“Lord knows you’ve been handed enough lemons.” Sonny’s fingertips now danced on the edge of the mattress, wanting so much to reach for her but not wanting to diminish her strength. Alexis watched his nervous movements for a moment, then gently placed her hand down upon his. The line between who was shoring up whom was decidedly blurred.

“Taggert, I think that’s enough distraction, don’t you? Let’s do this.”

Taggert nodded. She was solid, this woman, and he would do right by her. “I want to make it as quick and easy as possible. All I need are some specific facts, for now. We can talk more later, when you’re feeling stronger, but Sorel and Malloy are being indicted and I don’t want to delay it any further.”

“Malloy? Who’s Malloy?”

“Thomas Malloy. He was Sorel’s…”

“Oh...right. I know.”

Here gaze drifted away from Taggert’s face and focused on nothing, as the vision of Thomas’ crystal blue eyes flashed in her mind. She closed her eyes and tilted her head, remembering too his voice, soft and comforting as she tried to breath through the cramps gripping her body. “You’ll be home soon. I promise...”

“Alexis!”

“Hmm?” She opened her eyes with a start. Both Sonny and Taggert were looking at her strangely, and she knew that her name had been called more than once.

“Why don’t you start with when Sorel took you, where, and how?”

“Okay.”

As Taggert listened and took notes, Alexis told him of the encounter in the park, of the sweet, chemical smell of the cloth over her face in the parking lot, and of awakening on the cold floor of a windowless room with a fresh trickle of blood running down her finger. She told of Sorel’s demand for Zander and of her refusal to facilitate it, she told of being locked alone in the dark for hours, again and again…of Sorel’s fury…of his fist…of his needle unexpectedly jabbed into her arm…

But Alexis couldn’t tell him of the feel of the heroin as it coursed through her body and flooded her brain. She couldn’t tell of the rolling waves of heat that surged and exploded and left her in a languid state of oblivion. She couldn’t tell what it reminded her of…that it brought Ned into her mind…or that she eventually welcomed it to take the hurt away. Her words had stopped flowing and she was silent, soon focusing on the feel of Sonny’s thumb caressing the inside of her wrist. Her eyes drifted down and she suddenly realized how quite it was in that room. It had been quiet in that basement too.

Sonny watched her face carefully, knowing that she’d grown weary from her dispassionate laundry list of fact after fact. Her façade still held solid, but beneath it all he could see how she was fading. It took one hell of an effort to dissociate as well as she had just done.

“I’m afraid that’s as far as my facts take me. After he started with the drugs, it was so much like a strange dream. There are some concrete things, but I can’t trust that they were all real. I don’t even remember being found – just Sonny’s voice as a blur and then I was here. And the scent…” She hesitated.

“The scent of what?” Sonny’s fingers closed around her hand.

“Cloves. It was you.” Her eyes closed and she allowed her lids to stay lowered as she pulled her lower lip between her teeth.

Sonny looked at Taggert, who had already closed his notebook. “She needs to stop now.”

“That’s all I need. Alexis, you get some rest and I’ll see you later. Thank you for your help.”

“Ditto.” She had already begun to curl up on her side before Taggert had risen from his chair.

Sonny followed Taggert to the door. “Sorel out of the prison hospital yet?”

“Sonny, don’t even think about it. Not yet, anyway. I had to tell Ashton about when we found her, and now he’s out there wanting to break Sorel’s neck too.”

“Ned?”

Alexis turned her head toward the two men and opened her eyes halfway.

“Yeah, Ned is outside.”

She frowned. “He’s safe, isn’t he? Sorel can’t get to him?”

Taggert looked at Sonny in confusion. “Of course not. Sorel’s in jail and there’s no bail for him or Malloy.

Sonny moved back to the bed. “Alexis, did Sorel threaten Ned?”

She was silent.

“Hey, it’s okay. Tell me the truth.”

“You know Sorel, Sonny. For him to mention Ned’s name was a threat in and of itself.”

“Sorel can’t hurt you, or me, or Zander, OR Ned! He can’t hurt anyone, Alexis.”

“And he never will again.” Her eyes shifted to Taggert for a moment, then moved back to Sonny.

“Sonny?”

“Hmm?”

“I want to see him.”

“Ned?”

“Yeah. Not now – I’m too tired, but...”

Sonny pushed her hair from her face. “Later, after you sleep some?”

She smiled, content. “Yeah. If he’s still here.”

“He’ll be here.”

As Alexis sighed and pushed her face into the pillow, Sonny pulled the blanket up over her. He was careful to keep her arm above the covers, so she could move without feeling trapped. He ran his fingers through her hair over and over as she quickly drifted off, and Taggert watched in silence from the foot of the bed. The tenderness Sonny displayed toward her was still an unsettling thing for Taggert to witness. He hated his long-held beliefs being so dashed all to hell.

“I just had a little discussion with Ashton.”

“And?” Sonny was lost in the feel of her.

“And he’s not going anywhere.”

“That’s what I just said.”

“Yeah, but I’m not talking about just today. He’s not going anywhere – period.”

Sonny sighed. “Thanks for stopping by Taggert.”

Taggert shook his head. “Just thought you should know.”

As the door closed, Sonny continued to slip his hands through her hair and let the softness run through him, comforting him like a lullaby. For now, he was happy - for now, Alexis was his.

For now…