Alexis stirred as Sonny closed the door behind him.
Ned lay quiet and unmoving beside her. He watched as she languidly turned away from him and curled up on her side, pulling her arm up close to her face. He waited, making sure she was settled before lowering his head back down beside hers. The tangle of her hair was now temptingly spread out before his eyes, a whisper away - his face yearned to nuzzle into it. Their bodies were so close, yet his cautious care of her made the distance seem great. That she’d allowed him to touch her, to hold her…that she’d released herself into sleep while in his arms filled his heart with promise.
Yet Alexis didn’t know that he now lay there with her, keeping watch over her. She hadn’t invited it, yet he told himself that it was right. Ned sighed lightly and allowed his hand to slide up between them and stroke the ends of her hair as his eyes stole a glimpse of bare skin that teased him through the thin opening of her gown. But his winsome smile quickly vanished – the shadow he thought was darkening her spine was not a shadow at all. Ned’s blood surged as he stared at the bruises spread across her pale back, thoughts of Sorel’s violent death overtaking his mind.
Alexis stirred once more, her body gently leaning back into his as if she knew he was there…as if she wanted him close and his arms around her, the way they used to be. Ned was torn, his left arm rising only to hover inches above the curve of her waist that beckoned him. He wanted to wrap himself around her, keeping her close and safe. But his hand hovered - he was still afraid, and for good reason. A low, faint sound came from her throat and her breathing grew shallow and halting as she pulled her arms in tight. Ned lifted his head and watched her face as her closed lids tightened against the sleep-laden pictures in her mind’s eye.
The force of his arm locked around her neck made her shoulders reflexively freeze up. Her hand clutched at his wrist – not expecting to loosen his hold, but to keep herself from collapsing as her knees threatened to buckle. His hot breath burned into her throbbing cheek as he pushed his face close to her ear and whispered, reaffirming his total control. And then, his hips ground into the soft curve of her backside to prove the extent of his power. Her fruitless struggle only fueled his masculine pride and he wanted her to know its effect...
“Who is it that has control, Miss Davis?”
“That’s right, ME!”
Alexis was afraid to move, to incite him even further. Her body was still, fingers wrapped around the solid muscles of his forearm that pushed against her windpipe and shortened her breaths. She tried to relax her throat to allow for more air to enter in, but his hot breath came again to her face and his groin pushed into her flesh. Her arms tightened again and her body twitched against her will.
“You…” Alexis whispered, her voice dry as she squirmed beneath the hand that Ned had gently touched to her shoulder. He quickly pulled the hand away. Her fingers tugged at the neck of her cotton hospital gown, and she seemed to struggle for air. Ned didn’t know what to do – how to wake her, IF to wake her…or, to let her be. He glanced at the door, torn. To have to call for Sonny’s help would kill him…but Sonny had called for Ned.
Alexis suddenly pushed herself back into him, her spine rolling firmly into Ned’s chest. The sudden, strong contact jolted her body. “No!” She panted heavily, her limbs trembling as she jerked away from him.
“Alexis?” Ned’s voice whispered close above her ear, his warm breath brushing against her face, and she gave way to the panic that followed her out of her sleep.
“Stop…let me go.” Her eyes squeezed tight and her head tilted back, fingers still tugging at the neck of her gown while the other hand pushed at the bedclothes tangled around her.
Ned began to tremble as well. “Shh…sweetheart, calm down.”
“You…you have control.” She tried to move away from the masculine voice, becoming all the more tangled in her struggle. Ned wanted to help her pry the twisted sheets loose.
“It’s okay - let me help you.” He leaned over her as he spoke and Alexis shrank back into herself.
“Please…get it off…” Her left hand grabbed at her right arm, fingers finding the strips of tape wrapped there to hold the IV in place. Ned could see what she wanted to do.
“Alexis, no.” He took her wrist and she tried to pull her arm away.
Within seconds, Sonny was in the room with Johnny following close behind. Ned kept hold of her as she weakly tried to free herself, whimpering weakly. Ned’s grief-filled eyes looked to Sonny for help.
“Let her go.” Sonny’s voice was calm, but firm.
“I think she was going to try to take…”
“Don’t worry about it, just do what I said.”
Sonny moved closer and Ned released her, taking a step back. Alexis quickly curled back up and pulled her arms in tight against her body, fingers soon finding the tape.
“Alexis, you need to wake up now.” Sonny’s order was strong in tone as he slid the chair up beside her to hold his face at her level. He pushed her errant fingers away and clamped his hand down on her arm to cover the IV. She began to tug at his wrist.
“Stop, please.” Her voice was harsh, barely audible.
“It’s Sonny. Open your eyes, Alexis.”
“No. Let me go.”
“Time to wake up.”
Her fingers were curved around him, still weakly trying to remove his hand from her arm, but she didn’t respond to his words. Sonny suddenly twisted hid wrist and took hold of her hand, placing her palm firmly against his face.
“See? It’s Sonny.”
A small sound locked itself deep in her throat and her hand tensed at first feel of his cheek against her palm. She was conflicted inside, and Sonny knew. He lowered his voice and moved his face in closer to hers, so only she could hear him.
“Shh, Alexis. I know you can feel me. I know you can hear me and you want to wake up. Just let yourself open your eyes. You’re safe.”
The feel of the soft, warm skin against her hand began to sooth her. To touch instead of being touched eased her out of the groggy confusion that gripped her. To touch was to know some control…that elusive thing she’d had stolen away from her. Her breathing began to slow and the tension in her face released. Soon, Sonny felt the rigid fingers against his skin soften into him and he smiled.
“Alexis, are you with me?”
She swallowed and lightly nodded, her eyes finally blinking open, quite unfocused.
“Hi there.” Sonny held her palm to his cheek for another moment, then forced himself to take it away and lay it back down on the bed.
Alexis closed her eyes again. “I did hear you. I knew it was you…but it was still Sorel’s face in my head.”
“I don’t think I want to sleep any more.” She bit her lip and opened her lids to him again, her gaze then shifting up to tethered arm. Alexis stared at the ragged ends of the tape, and then she curved her hand down to rub at her bleary eyes.
“I almost did it again, didn’t I?”
Sonny shrugged. “No harm, no foul.”
She sighed and tried to focus on Sonny’s smiling face as she whispered. “Good think Tony didn’t catch me. I’d have been in a heap of trouble.” She swallowed again, her cheeks beginning to flush pink with embarrassment.
Sonny whispered back. “Your secret’s safe with me.” All of her secrets were safe with him.
Ned’s hands were clenched into fists. Sorel followed her everywhere, keeping her from finding sanctuary even in sleep. But Sonny was able to comfort her while Ned stood silently apart, frozen and screaming inside. He didn’t know how to comfort her or calm her fears or make her feel safe…and it made him feel invisible and more distant from Alexis than ever. He couldn’t stand it – Ned cleared his throat and slowly stepped forward. Alexis turned her head and hesitantly looked up at the smiling face she knew would be looking back at her.
She weakly smiled back. “Hi.” She glanced from Ned to Sonny, then back to Ned again with a mock expression of confusion. “Didn’t we do that already?”
Ned laughed lightly, moving even closer to her. Sonny lowered his head and stepped aside, giving Ned room. Her eyes quickly darted to Sonny’s movement, and Ned could see the edge of anxiety in her face.
“I heard your voice too, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. I didn’t mean to stay so long. When you drifted off I thought it might be okay if I just…stayed with you for a while.”
Alexis frowned. “I fell asleep?”
“While you were here?”
He nodded again, smiling warmly. Alexis closed her eyes with a sigh, gingerly shifting her body to lie on her back. She furrowed her brow as she looked back up at Ned, then shifted her eyes to her hands that fidgeted with the edge of the blanket.
“Well, that was awfully rude of me. Charlie said I’d probably sleep a lot today - I hope you didn’t take it too personally.”
Ned tilted his head and his face simply glowed with the memory of how it felt to hold her again. “You fell asleep in my arms. I WANT to take it personally.”
Alexis allowed herself to look back up at him, an edge of shyness washing over her face. Sonny shifted his weight from one leg to the other and glanced at Johnny’s silent form hovering in the open doorway. At the sound of her shifting under the covers, Sonny's eyes turned back to her. Alexis was trying to push herself up, and Sonny quickly reached for the button to raise the head of the bed for her.
“Leave it to me to try to do something the hard way.” She tugged at the neck of her gown, pulling it down and away from her throat as she squirmed against the mechanical movement behind her
“Do you need some help with that?” Ned longed to do something for her, and for a new invitation to touch her again.
“No, I can do it. Sometimes it just rides up so high I feel like I’m being…choked.” The feel of Sonny’s eyes looking down on her lifted her gaze to his face. Her fingers traveled from the fabric toward the fading fingerprints trailing her throat. There was still a dull ache from the light swelling that lingered there.
“Sorel had his hands on your throat. It’s natural you’d be sensitive to any kind of pressure.”
Ned was dumbfounded at Sonny’s abrupt and thoughtless statement. He watched Alexis frown and swallow, biting her lip as her eyes drifted from Sonny’s face to the floor. Ned frowned himself and made a noise of general disgust, crossing his arms as he glared at Sonny. Sonny raised his eyebrows at the seemingly unprovoked look, then turned to pour a glass of water from the pitcher atop the table.
“Something wrong Ashton?”
“You mean, speaking of ‘sensitive’?”
“What?” Sonny handed the glass to Alexis, who took the unsolicited offering with both hands.
“I seriously doubt that Alexis needs to be reminded of what that freak did to her.”
“Ned, it’s alright.” Alexis whispered, staring into the clear glass as it rested in her lap, cradled within her palms. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve already put on one little show for you today and I have no intention of giving you an encore.”
Ned stared at her tense face - her eyes unwilling to meet his. “I didn’t mean that.”
Alexis winced, her hand flying up to rub at her stinging eyes. She hadn’t meant to say it. “I know you didn’t.”
“I don’t want you reminded…”
“I know, Ned…I’m sorry.” She finally took a few sips of the badly needed water, and then put it back into Sonny’s waiting hand. “Sonny, you’re falling down on the job. You’re supposed to yell at me when I say something awful, remember?”
He remembered - but she’d said it to Ashton. “Right.”
Alexis took a deep breath and looked to Ned with a certain sadness in her eyes. “I’m still not used to waking up like that, especially not with an audience.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Johnny move. Her focus shifted to his bowed head as he attempted to back out of the room quietly and gracefully.
“Johnny, don’t - please. I wasn’t hinting for you to leave.”
Johnny lifted his eyes and looked at her soft smile. He knew she wasn’t hinting, but he surely felt the third wheel…or would it be fourth? “I’ll stay if you want me to. Let me know when it’s no longer for my ears.”
She tilted her head and shrugged lightly. “I don’t think I have anything left to hide from you. And I’m just grateful you’re still talking to me.”
Johnny waved his hand at her with a grin. “Aw, get out.”
She smiled at Johnny’s sweet gentleness. All joking aside, she WAS grateful, and she hoped he knew that she meant it. But then, Alexis returned her attention back to Ned.
“Ned, Sonny was right - Sorel DID have his hand around my throat. You can see the proof of it for yourself.” She turned to Sonny. “I remember it – that first day, when he called you to let you know he had me and I wouldn’t tell you to do as he wanted. He didn’t expect me to do that and he got angry.”
“I could hear him…growling at you.” Sonny felt a tightening in his chest as he recalled the distant sound of her, gasping for air. “I should have…”
“No, you shouldn’t have. And no guilt - I told you that before and I meant it!” She looked back to Ned. “I WANT to remember whatever I can. I don’t care if they’re bad memories as long as I know that they’re real. I need to separate the facts from the…the rest of it. It’s not knowing the difference that makes me feel like I’m going a little crazy.”
Ned’s arms slowly uncrossed and it was now his turn to rub at stinging eyes. “I understand.” He truly did, and it made him finally feel more connected to her than he had since she’d woken up. “You know I’ll do whatever I can to help you.”
Sonny stayed silent. His power to lead her to the facts she sought now scared him. He wasn’t sure how much she was ready to know or show much she SHOULD know…or if she’d regret what she’d wished for once it had been received. Alexis glanced at him, not expecting an answer. She trusted him to do as she asked.
At the sound of her voice, he took a step forward.
“I can still count on you to be straight with me, right?”
“Absolutely.” Alexis smiled and Johnny furrowed his brow. “But I’ve got to tell you - if you want someone to be straight with you about women stuff, like whether your shoes go with your dress, you’d probably be better off asking someone else.”
She grinned at him. “Don’t worry - I can match my own clothes just fine, thank you very much.”
“Speaking of clothes, how about I go to your place and bring you back your – OUR favorite P.J.’s? The ivory silk ones with the little pocket on the left...”
“Ned!” Her eyes shifted to Sonny with a faint blush crossing her cheeks. He had been so silent that Ned almost forgot he was still there.
“Sorry Corinthos. Didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
Sonny scoffed. “Embarrassed? Nah. You just gave me quite a nice visual to contemplate, that’s all. Thanks.”
Alexis grinned in spite of herself and swatted at him. Sonny laughed heartily and jumped out of her reach. “Stop it!” She scolded.
“I didn’t do anything, yell at him! He’s the one talking about silk and pockets on the left…whatever.”
Ned glared at Sonny, the familial energy between him and Alexis suddenly making him feel uneasy. "Alexis?"
She turned her warm smile away from Sonny and looked at Ned questioningly. “I’m serious. You’d be much more comfortable in your own P.J's than in that standard-issue hospital gown, and I’m sure it would help you sleep better too.”
“Thank you for offering, but you really don’t need to go to the trouble. It’s only for one more night.”
“One?” He looked at her in disbelief. “Tony can’t actually be releasing you already?”
“Yeah, he is. I’m going home tomorrow.”
Ned crossed his arms again. “Isn’t that a little soon?”
“Hey, whose side are you on anyway?”
“The side that says no more risks should be taken with you – ever!”
Sonny’s jaw shifted as his eyes locked to the floor.
Her face was set, determined. “I’m going home.”
“I mean it, Alexis. I don’t know what Tony is thinking, letting you leave before you can even…”
“You can barely force yourself to eat…and you just went through detox last night, for cryin’ out loud. You’re still weak – you know that you are, Alexis. You said it yourself.”
Alexis glanced at Johnny with a mock look of indignance. “A Cassadine? Admitting to weakness? Never!”
Ned was not amused. He took a step closer and looked down at her with a solemn face. “Alexis.”
She knew by the tone in his voice that he wasn’t about to leave it alone, but she just couldn’t face being pressured. Not again, and not by Ned.
“Alright – I confess.” She sighed heavily before looking back to Johnny. “I said it. Are you pleased with yourself?”
Johnny smiled and nodded. He knew she was playing her usual distracting game of verbal dodge-ball, but he WAS pleased. Their small encounter had at least left her with something to think about, and something that could help her.
“Alexis, this isn’t funny. Just give it one more day, please? Just one more day with Tony and the nurses looking after you.”
As Alexis stared at his worried face, she spoke softly. “I need to speak to Ned privately.
Could we have a few minutes alone please?” Her eyes never left Ned’s face.
“Sure." Sonny's voice was flat. "There’s something I need to do anyway.”
Alexis noted the far away look in Sonny’s face as he moved toward the door. His eyes avoided her as he spoke to her over his shoulder.
"Okay." Something felt odd, but Alexis shook it off. He was most likely exhausted.
“I won’t be long, but Johnny will be right here if you need anything.”
Ned frowned. “What a shock”
“Ned!” Alexis gave him a look.
Sonny lowered his head and muttered to Johnny. “Back in an hour. Page me if you need to.”
Johnny smiled as took hold of the knob, and Alexis watched Sonny’s somber profile disappear behind the closed door. She looked at Ned with frustration.
“Sorry.” He was mildly contrite.
“Don’t say that to me, say it to Johnny.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“He’s been wonderful to me and he deserves better.”
Ned sighed. He knew that Johnny cared – he’d seen it that morning with Taggert. “Okay. You’re right, and I’ll behave. But…as far as you leaving the hospital so soon goes…”
“Ned – I know you mean well, but please don’t push me. You know that I don’t react well to it in the best of times, and this is definitely NOT the best. My apologies to Dickens, but it’s been nothing but the worst of times for me.”
“I know. I’m just afraid for you and I want to help you.”
“Then let me do what I need to do…or not do, as the case may be. I’m working on nothing but instinct right now - it may not make sense to you and I may not be able to make you understand it either. I may not quite understand it myself.”
Ned smiled softly. Taggert’s advise had been well given. “So I’ve been told. But this is your health, Alexis...”
She turned her head away from him and it stopped him mid-sentence. Alexis raised a trembling hand to push at the strands of hair that had fallen against her face. Her eyes avoided his and she fidgeted with the blanket as she spoke in a dry, halting whisper.
“What I DO understand is that I need to go home, or I could very likely loose it.”
“You’re still afraid?"
She shook her head. "No."
"You don’t feel safe here?”
“Ned, that’s not it. I’ve been kept away from the real world – from my own life – for what seems like an eternity.”
“It’s still there, Alexis. And it will be there when you’re well and strong…”
“I feel trapped!”
Her three small words rang through the room, their stark power filling it with her pain. Alexis began to tremble and Ned fought the urge to reach for her. Instead, he leaned forward and tilted his head, trying to coax her dark, frightened eyes into meeting his. She couldn’t do it – not yet.
“I know I’m safe here in GH, instead of locked in a cold, dark basement. I know I have lots of people who care and want to help me, instead of Sorel leering and threatening and hurting me…but I still feel like I’m in a cage.”
Her voice broke and Ned wanted to cushion her. She was spun glass and he refused to let her break in his hands. She needed to be home, and he couldn’t argue with her anymore. Ned nodded in understanding, his focus pulled to the IV in her arm, the edges of tape now frayed from her fingers’ work.
“I suppose that’s why you hate the IV so much. It must add to the feeling of being – stuck.” He smiled weakly. “Pun intended?”
Alexis nodded and he saw her dimples trying to peek out from her cheeks. “Good one.”
She bit her lip, feeling newly self-conscious at the reminder of her difficult awakening in front of so may eyes. She didn’t know why she felt this way with Ned, who knew her so well, except now there was a large part of her that he couldn’t know…she didn’t want him to. Alexis could still hear Sorel’s voice in her head, feel his hands on her skin and his body pushing into hers...and always, the sting. She was free of his physical control, but in her dreams he still pulled her strings like a most practiced puppeteer. The little mouse was still in a cage – HIS cage.
Ned watched in silence as Alexis’ eyes slowly made their way toward the muted stream of setting sunlight that flowed in through the window. A look of pure loss and longing enveloped her face as she sighed lightly, gently shifting her sore back against the pillow behind her.
“What’s it like outside now? Did I miss the last days of snow?”
The extent of her isolation hit him like a solid right hook. Alexis had been trapped - one way or another, her mind, body and ultimate fate had been in the hands of both friends and foe.
“I haven’t been outside – not since yesterday morning, when I went to your place to get the sound machine.”
He suddenly froze as he realized that he hadn’t seen it in the room. He glanced at the table beside the bed – a stuffed animal sat beside the pitcher of water and a glass. He then turned to the dresser against the wall behind him – there were vases of pink roses, but what he searched for wasn’t there. Gifts from others, but not from him. As Ned turned his questioning eyes back to her, Alexis searched for the words to explain away the cloud of hurt that had settled around him.
“Was it left in the ICU?”
“No. I asked Sonny to take it back home for me. I didn’t want anything to happen to it here.”
“Ah.” He nodded lightly, his ache un-soothed.
“But thank you, for bringing it.”
Ned smiled weakly and Alexis felt awash in guilt. Her eyes closed tight as her head dropped down. Ned was alarmed.
“Do you need something? Some water?”
“Do you need a nurse? Tony?”
Ned didn’t understand. Alexis bit her lip as she looked up at him with half-lidded eyes.
“What, sweetheart? What’s wrong?”
“I lied. I wasn’t afraid something would happen to it. I didn’t want it here.”
Ned’s face fell. “Oh. Well, that’s okay. It’s not as if you asked me to bring it to you.”
“I just thought it might help you relax and…”
“Ned, please - listen. I didn’t want it here because I didn’t want it to become a part of all this ugliness. Just like I didn’t want to let you into my head when I was with Sorel. There are some things that are just…sacred to me.”
Ned felt himself letting go, the tears filling his eyes as he listened to what she was telling him – that buried under all the anger and hurt, there still lay sacred things.
“Things went bad so quickly.” Alexis looked numb as her vacant eyes stared down at the blanket. “I want to keep the good things good.”
Ned’s hand slid up along the sheet, his fingertips daring to brush against her covered leg. She didn’t react to his touch. “Everything about you is sacred to me, Alexis. And good.”
“That’s not true.”
“It IS true.”
“Ned, it's not.” She finally allowed herself to look at him, the surety in her face cutting him to the quick. “If I wasn’t here, if I wasn’t like this, you wouldn’t be saying these things to me right now.”
Her blunt, pointed statement stunned him. Ned swallowed and licked his dry lips before responding. He knew that abject denial would be dismissed – she had to hear the truth.
“Okay - maybe I wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t still be true!” His breath locked inside his throat and he swallowed against it. His voice was barely a whisper - he was just as afraid she’d hear him as that she wouldn’t.
“I miss you, Alexis. And it’s just proving impossible for me to stop loving you.”
Alexis felt the blood pounding in her temples. She hadn’t intended to say what she did, nor was she prepared to hear what he said. She couldn’t breath for the way Ned was looking at her…it somehow scared her, but she didn’t want him to see it.
“I didn’t say these things because I expect anything from you, especially not now – please believe that. But you said you wanted to know the truth. This is my truth and I’m giving it to you with no strings attached. Is that okay?”
Alexis nodded, unable to look at him and let him see the twinge of fear in her eyes. Ned knew he’d overstepped, but she’d opened the door and he had to walk in while he still could. “Well, I’d better let you get some rest. Tomorrow’s a big day for you.”
She pushed the heels of her hands into her eyes. “Yeah. But you’d better go home and get some rest too. You look like hell.”
Ned laughed. “Why does everyone feel the need to point that out to me?”
“Because they’d feel too guilty if they pointed it out to ME?”
“You’re beautiful.” He boldly moved his hand up to lay it down upon hers. “A little pale, maybe, but beautiful.”
Alexis sighed and snuggled further down into the bed. She was exhausted. “I guess there’s something to be said for not ALWAYS hearing the truth.”
“You!” He curled his fingers around her hand and she smiled at his familiar warmth and soft strength. “Is it okay if I come back and see you in the morning?”
She nodded. “I’m not sure what time they’ll spring me, but if Tony has his way he’ll probably drag it out until he can get breakfast, lunch AND dinner into me first.”
“I could live with that.” Ned winked.
“That makes one of us.”
“If you still have trouble eating, all you have to do is call. My offer of French toast still stands.”
Alexis smiled softly. Sanctity - French toast…sound machines…Ned. But there was still a strange flutter inside of her - she knew that the crisis had yet to pass.
The rhythmic clanking set the pace for his throbbing pulse.
The first laying of eyes was not to be his laying of hands. First, there would be the building of fear, and then the taking of action – an eye for an eye. His steel watch would be ruined, that was a given. He didn’t care.
“Hey! Shut the hell up out there!” The order barked at him from down the hall.
“I said, SHUT THE HELL UP!” The deep voice echoed, bouncing from wall to wall in the dimly lit space.
The sound of metal hitting metal abruptly ceased, and all was still.
“It’s a wise man who does as I ask!”
The hollow tapping of footsteps now sang through the air a cappella, no longer masked by its sharper partner in sound.
“Hey – who’s out there anyway?”
He saw fingers slip through the bars, the center slice of a face soon following - a face that haunted dreams. The corner of a large white bandage soon poked through as the head slightly turned, trying to see what could not. He stood just out of view, his mere silent presence a taunting thing to that face.
“Baker, is that you? What the hell is wrong with you – say something, you idiot!”
He suddenly swung his body around, kicking at the face and fingers with all the force he could bring to bear.
“Jesus!” The face and fingers moved quickly away, but not quickly enough. “OW, damn!” The smashed fingers were held tight within themselves, the face looking down to check for blood. “What the hell…” The reddened, bandaged face finally looked up.
Sonny cocked his head. “Jesus? Damn? Hell? You’ve got a very interesting vocabulary Sorel. Very appropriate too, because I may not be that sleazy attorney of yours, but I DO have one or two things to say. You can take them with you on your journey…to hell, because you are damned...”
He took a step closer to the bars and grinned like a Cheshire cat with a bowl full of cream sitting before him.
“And not even Jesus can help you.”