Sonny had fought against the protective, primal instinct to lie in wait.
The last of her barriers was about to fall away, and it was all too unnerving. He didn’t want to consider the things that could go wrong, and he was loath to walk away just in case something did. He couldn’t bear the thought that Alexis might have need of him and he wouldn’t be there for her…and the fear was just as much selfishness on his part. But he knew in his soul that Ashton would treat her with caution - he just had to follow some rules:
Don’t be fooled by the bravado she wields to keep from seeming weak.
Stay calm if she drifts, as any word or act could trigger distress.
Accept what she’s ready to give, but ask her for nothing else.
Know when she’s had enough and then, leave her alone.
As Sonny stood before him, the look on Ned’s face confessed an untenable fear. He had risen from his chair and stared, mute, as if Sonny’s words were a joke. Alexis was ready - but was he? Sonny smiled weakly as Ashton slowly made his way toward the door that Alexis was finally opening to him. He held the posture of someone convicted and about to learn his fate, and Sonny recognized an unwelcome twinge of pity. Even Johnny withheld the scowl of disapproval he usually brandished, giving Ned a slight nod instead as he turned the knob and allowed him inside. It was for her sake.
As Johnny closed the door and Ashton disappeared, an overwhelming wave of loss washed over him. Sonny pushed it aside – he had no right to feel such a thing. Johnny studied him with concern, knowing full well what was running through Sonny’s mind and searching for the words of comfort that likely didn’t exist. Sonny needed to be away from that room and whatever would take place within it. To stare at the door would only send him into a tailspin.
“Keep your ears open Johnny. I don’t expect anything to happen, but just in case.”
“Absolutely. Don’t worry boss.”
“I’ll be back.” Sonny turned to leave, his expression a blank slate.
Sonny turned back with vacant look.
“I mean it – don’t worry.” Johnny tilted his head back, toward the door, and Sonny’s eyes questioned him.
“Don’t discount what you are to her. Alexis doesn’t.”
Sonny stared at him as the fuller meaning of Johnny’s sparse words grew clearer. He smiled a crooked smile, allowing his mind to travel along Johnny’s philosophical path as he strolled down the hall. Alexis had allowed him to be her anchor, while Ashton had been her Sword of Damocles. Now the sword has been cut down from over her head, but her anchor would still be set. Sonny would be for her what Ashton couldn’t - he knew certain things that Ashton didn’t…and he would know even more. He checked his watch and hit the elevator button - his distraction from that room was suddenly chosen. Stefan Cassadine was owed a visit, and Sonny was owed something too. Alexis was owed even more.
Quid pro quo.
“Ah - Mr. Corinthos. I’d somehow expected you earlier.”
“I was busy…earlier.”
Sonny stared at Cassadine from inside the threshold, his contempt for the man renewed at the sight of him sitting stiffly behind his large, antique, mahogany desk. Stefan met his gaze directly for a long moment, then leaned back in his leather chair and slowly, precisely, removed his glasses from his face. He carefully placed them on stack of papers and resumed his part in the mutual stare.
“Alexis is doing well.” Stefan’s tone made it a statement, not a question, and his face bore a self-satisfied look that spoke of decided knowledge. Sonny cocked his head as he sauntered into the room, taking an uninvited seat across from the cold and distant man. How Alexis could be of his blood was unfathomable.
“Now, why do I get the feeling that you know something about Alexis that she hasn’t chosen to tell you herself?”
“So you’re not going to deny it? Well that’s mighty sporting of you.”
“Alexis told me a great deal – I believe you were banished from her room at the time.”
He paused, anticipating his words to have an effect. Sonny registered nothing.
“She was kidnapped - held hostage by your…nemesis. Is that proper word you people would use? The man attempted to trade her for that boy. And she told me she’d been taken ill with an infection but that it was under control and she’ll be fine.”
“Old news. What DIDN’T Alexis tell you that you seem to know anyway? I mean, I’ve heard of the divine right of kings, but how broad is the divine right of Cassadines? Did you finally invoke family privilege to gain access to her medical records?”
“Of course not!” Stefan scowled
“Of course not? You say that as if I’d insulted you.”
“Are you saying you didn’t?”
“And what privilege are YOU invoking, Mr. Corinthos, in your quest on behalf of Alexis, the attorney/client privilege? Oh - but that only applies to information given from the client to the attorney, not vice versa. How broad do you believe the divine right of Corinthos to be?”
Stefan sighed. He was growing weary of this word game, but he was also unwilling to relent. He knew what Corinthos was after and he was going to make him work for it. And he certainly didn’t trust the truth of this man’s stated intentions toward his sister...with the softness inside her. “What exactly is your purpose – or should I say, what do you want from her?”
“I want Alexis to come out of this intact. And I want to spare her as much pain as I possibly can. Unlike you.”
Stefan huffed at the flaccid attempt to insult him. “Would you care to clarify that obtuse accusation?”
“Would you care to answer my question from, like, five minutes ago? What do you know that Alexis didn’t tell you? And I won’t be played into breaking her faith, in case all you intend to do is manipulate me into telling you something that you really don’t know at all.”
Stefan sat up straight in his chair and rested his elbows on the desk. As he lowered his chin onto his clasped hands, he peered at Sonny through narrowed eyes. He stayed silent, and Sonny finally shrugged, preparing to take advantage of Cassadine’s false assumption that Sonny had coerced Alexis into seeing him. He didn’t have to know that it had been purely her idea.
“Whatever. I suppose I can convince Alexis that she can’t trust you…just as easily as I convinced her that she could. More so, actually, when she hears that you’ve broken her faith already by snooping, bribing, blackmailing, or ‘D - all of the above’, in order to uncover what she CHOSE to keep private.”
Sonny clamped his palms down on the arms of his chair and began to push himself upright in a deliberate show, fully expecting to be stopped by Cassadine’s indignant pride. He wasn’t disappointed.
“I did NONE of those things! And Alexis was going to tell me the truth her self. As it happens, I inadvertently spared her the difficulty of having to do so.” He looked Sonny straight in the eye.
“And you know it would have been difficult for her.”
Sonny leaned back into the chair. “Hmm. First Ashton, now you - there seems to be a rash of ‘inadvertant’ discoveries lately. Care to give me YOUR definition of the word?”
“Dr. Martin L. Charles - prefers to go by the single, informal moniker of Charlie.”
Sonny’s chest tightened. He couldn’t believe that Charlie would divulge anything about Alexis to anyone. He was a too fine a doctor, and too sweet a soul himself.
“I felt the need to make the usual and customary enquiries about an unfamiliar doctor who was suddenly treating my sister - Dr. Martin L. Charles, anesthesiologist specializing in the assisted detoxification of drug addicts. I know Alexis. I saw the thread of shame running through her and it simply didn’t make sense. At first, I thought…I thought that this Sorel had...but then I saw the marks on her arms. It wasn’t too broad a leap to make.”
Stefan lowered his eyes. “What I don’t know, but can only assume given the symptoms I witnessed, is that she was injected with heroin.”
“I guess a person would have to get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on you, Cassadine.”
Stefan pounded the desk with his fist. “She’s my SISTER - it’s my duty to make sure that she’s being properly cared for by the most accredited physicians! I was NOT attempting to invade her privacy, I was attempting to care for her as best I could!”
“Your concern is touching.”
“And Alexis was going to tell me the truth – today!”
“But as luck would have it, your inadvertent discovery spared her the difficulty.”
Sonny rose from his chair and began to rub at his face as he began to pace. Stefan watched him in seething silence.
“Well Cassadine, I have to admit that you’re right. It would have been difficult for Alexis to tell you, her adored brother, that she’d been turned into a common junkie. That she’d been hurled into a wall and held against it by the weight of a man three times her size while Sorel stuck her with that first sharp needle and pumped the heroin into her veins until she dropped.”
Stefan’s eye twitched and his body grew stiff with the shock of Corinthos’ graphic rendering. Sonny had succinctly hit his mark with chilling accuracy.
“What do you expect to accomplish with this vulgar and unwarranted display? Do you intend for me to be horrified, because I certainly didn’t need your help for that!”
“You need my help to GET IT! I know you saw Alexis’ shame, you saw her arms…but did you see her physical pain?”
“She was suffering, yes.” Stefan’s voice was dry.
Sonny stopped his pacing and abruptly turned to face Stefan. “What I expected to accomplish was you understanding of the enormity of what happened to her…from where she lives. Alexis WAS suffering, but she didn’t have to. She didn’t have to be in such pain for as long as she was, and you could have been the one to spare her that difficulty too. What I expect to accomplish is your understanding of THAT, so it won’t happen again.”
Stefan rose to his feet with slight turn of his head, eyeing Sonny in disbelief. “I could have spared her pain?” He gave Sonny a wry smile. “I believe that’s what those in the psychiatric profession refer to as ‘projection’. It was her association with YOU, Corinthos, that brought this unspeakable thing raining down on her head.”
Sonny would not be thrown off his set course. “Alexis was terrified of allowing Tony to do the detox - so terrified that she willingly spent the better part of the day in agony rather than consent to a quick and simple procedure that would take it all away. And do you know what it was about the procedure that terrified? The fact that she’d have to be put under sedation and knocked out cold. For some reason, she was afraid of never waking up. Now, I didn’t understand why something as routine as anesthesia would cause such a fear in an otherwise rational woman. Neither did Dr. Jones. Neither did Alexis…and that just made it all the more worse for her. She’s had a lot of trouble understanding herself lately, especially when it comes to her inexplicable fears. You remember the non-wedding, to the mad she truly loved?”
Stefan crossed his arms against his chest. “I assume you have a point?”
Sonny slammed his fist into the surface of hard wood, and the force of it made Stefan’s wire framed glassed jump from their paper perch.
“You’re damn right I have a point!”
He took a broad step back, and then another, fearing that his proximity to this smug man’s face would end badly. He breathed deep and steady, forcing his voice to stay calm. To lose his temper altogether would be to lose a most valuable tool. He regarded Cassadine’s hardened face and gently lowered his eyes in a calculated display of moderate contrition.
“Why didn’t you tell me the whole truth about that fall she took when she was a child? That Alexis spent days unconscious, in a coma…finally waking up to discover months of her life had been lost, apparently never to return? Does she even know the whole truth about her so-called accident, because all she knows is what you told her, and you tend to leave things out.”
“It was an accident! She fell - and she was alone!”
“I didn’t say anything about whether she was alone or not. You already told me that she was…are you protesting too much?” Sonny cocked his head and grinned.
Stefan angrily pushed his chair back and strode in front of the desk to more closely face his accuser. He leaned against the edge of the wood and crossed his arms again. “These repeated innuendoes of yours are tiresome and offensive.”
“And I doubt that Alexis would appreciate the course you’re taking in the name of her best interest.”
“You know as well as I do that somewhere, deep down, Alexis knows what really happened that day...whether you’ve told her everything or not. She fought against being rendered unconscious because something inside told her that it was a bad thing! If you had just told me about the coma and the time she’d lost, I could have helped her to understand her fear and deal with it and make her feel safe. With your help, I could have spared her countless hours of suffering. But you held back for I don’t know what reason, and I want you to know what your groundless suspicion of ME cost HER.”
“Am I to understand that you’re indignant because I failed to accept you and your motives with blind trust? That would have been, in a word, stupid - and I am not a stupid man.”
Sonny felt the dampness forming on his brow as Cassadines’s eyes looked coolly from within his equally cool face. Stefan was so unlike her. He often seemed more machine than man, while Alexis’ emotions were all over the map.
“I had enough trust in you, as her brother, to come here in the first place. Yes, I do expect your trust in return.” Sonny stated boldly.
“By virtue of what?”
“By virtue of Alexis! She trusts me, and if that’s not good enough for you than how highly can you regard her? You told me last night that if Alexis was counting on me I had better do right by her, and that is exactly what I’m trying to do.”
Stefan was not expecting to have his own words thrown back at him…used against him. He took a deep breath and let it out with a loud heaviness. Sonny read him as shifting in his stance, but he wasn’t quite sure.
“You might also want to consider the fact that I put myself between her body and a whole lot of bullets. Do you think I would want to harm Alexis after offering up my life for her? My motives, as you call them, are quite the opposite.”
Stefan’s head perked up at the veiled admission of what he’d suspected - Corinthos had more than just a casual regard for his sister.
“I’m not asking you to take a bullet, but what ARE you willing to offer up? A little truth is all I’m asking for. What could that cost you?”
Stefan’s head slowly dropped from his shoulders. He tilted his head, then raised his eyes back up to Sonny’s face as he moved to reclaim his seat behind the desk. The bearing of formal authority was one he hid behind often, though its effect was rarely felt by anyone but Stefan himself – his own small delusion of grandeur.
“Tell me, Mr. Corinthos - why did you take those bullets? I know that my sister is an excellent attorney, but to go to such drastic lengths…”
Sonny pressed his palms flat upon the surface and leaned over the desk to look Stefan closely in the eye. He tilted his head with a slight shrug. “I like her.”
Stefan smiled softly. “Indeed.”
“I thought you were supposed to be an educated man, Cassadine. How come I’m not hearing anything brilliantly relevant coming out of your mouth?”
“There’s a saying. Mr. Corinthos, about casting one’s pearls before swine.”
Sonny smiled and whispered softly. “Coward.”
Stefan glared at him. Sonny had found the one word to set him ablaze.
“Why did you deliberately keep those details of her accident to yourself? What was so confidential about a coma or a little memory loss that you felt the need to protect that information?”
“You’re making too much of this. What I kept from you seemed irrelevant to the issue at hand.”
Sonny smiled back. He pushed against the wood, lifting his palms from the desk as he raised his body to stand at his full height.
“Then I must be giving you way too much credit. I thought you probably realized exactly how relevant it IS, because there’s the very real possibility the trauma Alexis is going through NOW could stir up memories of the trauma she went through when she was…how old? Twelve?”
“Right. Thirteen. But she thought that she was twelve. Interesting. I expect there are a few memories you just don’t want to see stirred.”
“I don’t want Alexis to remember anything that will distress her! Do you understand that…or am I giving YOU too much credit?”
“Now, you’ve got my interest! Now, you’re saying something that might be of value.”
“I’m saying what is obvious! Yes, it was a very frightening and painful thing for Alexis to wake up with her body so injured and no memory of how it happened…or of the prior two months of her life. She refused to accept what she was told…she wouldn’t believe anyone but me, and even that was long in the convincing. It was, as you say, a trauma. So why would I tell you those details and risk her being reminded of it?”
Stefan shifted, taking and releasing a deep breath as he braced himself to continue in his own defense. It was as much for his own benefit as to get Corinthos off his back.
“I told you that I would disclose anything that Dr. Jones deemed medically necessary, and I did disclose it when he asked. If I had been told of her true situation, I would have certainly understood the need for an earlier and more thorough disclosure. But I wasn’t told…and I did what I thought was best for Alexis given what little information I had. My God…I do love her. Do you think that I would allow her to suffer if I thought it was in my power to s-stop it?”
Stefan’s voice faltered and he harshly cleared his throat, horrified at the emotion that threatened to weaken him.
“I did what I thought was best for her.”
“Fair enough. That’s what I’m doing too.” Sonny softened his voice and relaxed his stance, infusing his body with the language Stefan needed to hear.
“I can do it without your help, but that’s not what’s best for her.”
Stefan’s hand shook as he leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. A stabbing headache was promising to move in as he remembered Alexis at thirteen, broken and bleeding on the tiled floor, her torn dress and reddened, tear stained face telling him an impossible, silent story. And Alexis just the day before, shaking and fainting from pain in a bed two floors away, the bruises and puncture marks telling him another impossible, silent tale.
His heart was racing - his failures were like shadows that traveled behind him, dark and accusing. He couldn’t stop it…he couldn’t protect her, then or now. He couldn’t protect Nikolas, and he could barely protect himself. Stavros was the prince and Stefan was the failure. Helena always said it - she wished to see him dead because of it…his own mother. Stefan’s visceral bond with Alexis gripped him all at once, causing his body to shudder. As he felt Sonny staring down on him, he steadied his breathing and blinked hard against the throb invading his head. He quietly folded his hands in his lap before he spoke again.
“Do you think I’ve not yet been to see her today because I’m…too busy? To have this new knowledge of what was done to her, and then to…look in her eyes…what am I to say? Am I to offer my humble apologies for allowing this rift between us to grow inexcusably out of bounds? For ignoring her to the point where she could be taken, held for days, and had abominable things perpetrated against her while I lived in ignorance, not even knowing she was gone?”
“Alexis doesn’t want your guilt. She just wants love.”
“Love…” Stefan murmured softly. “Her Achilles’ heel since she was a child.”
His head suddenly snapped to attention, eyes darting to Sonny’s face. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud and was not even sure if he actually had. Sonny considered the perplexed and helpless expression on Cassadine’s face. It was like the look of a small boy who begged to take back a secret inadvertently revealed. Sonny nodded thoughtfully, mulling over his next words - about to go one step further while the fruit of brotherly tenderness was still ripe on the vine.
“I’ll bet Alexis was cute as all get-out when she was just a little bitty thing. Big eyes, dimples…that mischievous smile. And I’ll bet she was just as loving a child as she is a woman.”
Stefan’s jaw shifted, tightening. “Yes.”
Alexis was a loving child – to him. She showered him with the love that others knocked from her hands as she held it out to them. For Alexis to offer her innocent heart was to court rejection at best, cruelty at worst. His father – THEIR father – had tried to give her love, but the child fairly regarded him with fear. To accept his kindness or affection was to incur Helena’s wrath, and Alexis received enough of that as it was. And Stavros was just like his mother.
Sonny pretended not to recognize the dark thoughts coursing through Stefan’s mind. The look on the man’s face was a familiar one…more familiar than he allowed himself to admit.
“The amazing thing about children is that they ARE such loving creatures. They’re purely loving and open and they trust…until someone comes along and kills it.” He snapped his fingers. “Gone. And this much I know is true.”
Sonny regarded Stefan for a long, quiet moment while Stefan regarded him in kind.
“I’ve seen the child in Alexis, and she is one terrified little girl. In her bad dreams she can hardly breath. She’s afraid of the dark, of being locked up, of the smell of perfume, of being touched, of being found…of a ‘she’.”
He paused and watched as Stefan swallowed hard, his face turning into a well-worn mask crafted through a lifetime of pretense. Sonny’s voice grew soft and low, and the intent it carried was just this side of begging.
“Stefan, Alexis IS counting on me. Don’t make me try to help her with empty hands. If you don’t believe me, ask Ashton. Ask Tony. If you could have seen her and heard her, like we did…”
“Do you think I haven’t?” Stefan’s voice was low and feral with sarcasm.
Sonny’s voice was gentle in return. “On the contrary – I’m sure you have. That’s my point. So?”
“So…” Stefan closed his eyes. And then, ever so slightly, he bit down on his lower lip.
It took Sonny’s breath away.
Johnny was going nuts.
He turned his head and leaned in, ear first, against the door. The chair moved beneath him as he shifted his weight, squealing as if to rat him out - his intent to eavesdrop was without pretense. There had been no voices raised, no strong emotions heard. There came, at times, faint rumblings and murmurs, and one vague flutter of laughter…or so he thought. But now and for some time, all had been still. He had no real cause for concern, yet he yearned to open that door…just a crack…just to make sure. Instead, he sighed with weariness. His body was now rested, but his psyche would take longer to replenish. Johnny still worried for Alexis – for what lay ahead in her return to normal life, and for what lay ahead in her return to court as Sorel was brought to trial.
And Johnny still worried for Sonny, whose heart had been so badly bruised. It wasn’t a thing he easily gave away, but this time had been different - this time it had been stolen, and Sonny had allowed it. Alexis was both a wondrous surprise and a dangerous trap…an unwitting siren whose call Sonny answered with abandon, only to risk drowning in his want of her. This woman could undo him and not even know it. Johnny rolled his head against the door and fixed his gaze straight ahead, wishing to God that Ashton wasn’t still in that room. The length of time he’d spent in there did not bode well for Sonny…and where the hell had Sonny gone?
The light sound of a bell coming from down the hall brought the sight of Sonny’s form, shoulders dropping and head bowed with eyes to the floor. Johnny stood up and took a few hesitant steps forward. As Sonny slowly approached, he raised expressionless eyes to a face he found equally un-telling. He knew that something was not good, but he was almost too drained to ask.
“Yeah.” Johnny glanced back over his shoulder. “He’s still in there. I wasn’t sure if I should leave them alone or check in on her…”
Johnny’s voice faded as Sonny looked at his watch.
“It’s been quiet though, so I guess leaving them alone was the right thing?”
Sonny’s voice was flat. He was exhausted from the last hour’s worth of pulling teeth and matching wits…but above all else, it had just left him sad. He sighed deeply and then stood silent, not quite sure what to do with the new feeling settling in his stomach. He couldn’t help himself – Sonny put his ear to the door. There was no sound. He tapped lightly on the door, not waiting for response before gently opening it first just a crack, and then a few inches more. What his eyes found cut him to the bone.
Alexis lay asleep on her back while Ashton lay beside her, his right arm resting on the pillow above her head and cradling her within its curve. Ned's eyes were trained on her face, but they quickly turned at the sound of Sonny’s sharply taken breath. He put his finger to his lips and Sonny nodded numbly, not moving a muscle. Soon, Ned smiled at him in a way that delivered a message - the trophy was now in HIS arms. As his right hand curved inward to play with the ends of her hair, Ned closed his eyes and settled his head back down beside hers.
Johnny’s curiosity demanded to be satisfied, and he quietly slipped behind Sonny’s back to peer over his shoulder and into the room. He wished he hadn’t. As he felt Sonny begin to move back, Johnny quickly stepped out of his way. But then, Sonny halted, took a moment, and softly moved into the room. The rustle of clothing opened Ned’s eyes and he looked up to see Sonny standing beside the bed, a troubled look on his face. Ned opened his mouth, but this time it was Sonny with a finger to his lips. He took hold of the edge of the blanket, now pulled up to her chest, and gently lowered it down.
“She needs her arms free to move.” He whispered, gazing down with a soft smile at the beauty of her peaceful face. She looked no worse for wear, and it was a bittersweet to know it. He sighed lightly, fingers fidgeting with the corner of cotton he still held in his hand.
“Keep her face clear too.”
Sonny waited as the confusion in Ned’s eyes grew to a slow understanding. Ned nodded as he made sense of it, but his expression was awash in resentment. Sonny smiled at him – he’d just delivered a message of his own: the trophy needed special care, and Ned still needed Sonny’s help to give it. As Sonny turned and reached for the door, something on the wall caught his attention. He stopped and closed his lids, looking into the dark behind them, and thought of long ago…back to a place where she had been too. He opened his eyes again and turned back to Ned, all seriousness on his face and one final thought on his mind.
“And Ashton - don’t turn out the lights.”