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Scene 56

Sorel and Malloy's indictments were coming down and Alexis was going home – it would be quite the eventful day!

Taggert’s yawn was long and loud, the sharpness of it piercing the air. It had been a long night and it was still too early a morning. He looked down at his watch, feigning oblivion to the sideways glances that Dara shot his way from her perch a few desks down. He knew he looked like the proverbial cat with canary feathers protruding from its mouth, but he also knew Dara. She'd rather study him and decipher his secret on her own than ask him outright. Either way, his lips were sealed. He’d had made a promise to Corinthos, and Corinthos had taken him at his word. Honor among thieves one thing, but honor TO them was quite another...yet there was, as the saying went, a first time for everything.

And there was a time, on occasion, a time to bend. Taggert would never clear the sound of it out of his head – he would never forget that phone call of Sorel’s. Those few ungodly minutes of his life divorced him from his ethics and married him to the kind of vigilante vengeance that he’d always abhorred. To hear Sorel torment her with such satisfied malice, to hear Alexis so hurt and frightened in her altered state was horrific. It twisted him inside. Taggert had grown a certain detachment in his job, but the occasion of knowing a victim was rare and his visceral response was more human that he would have expected. So too was his response to watching Sonny’s face as it registered her cries like pummeling fists. What Taggert suspected was proven to be true – Sonny’s heart was in his enemy’s hands, and he looked as if he would die. Instead, he’d just gotten sick.

But Sonny stayed strong, for Alexis’ sake, and managed to keep his head…until forced to deal her the hardest card of all. To tell Alexis what had been done to her was devastating enough, but her reaction tore Sonny apart. Her hurt and anger was natural, but Sonny took it to heart. To feel hated by the woman he adored left him desperate and adrift - gasping for air and grasping for answers. Sorel was inaccessible, but Thomas Malloy was not. Despite Taggert’s warnings, Sonny was determined to wade in dangerous waters -he wouldn’t leave it alone. The visit with Malloy left him dazed, and Sonny walked right past Taggert on his way out the door, as if the man was invisible. He WAS invisible, at least to Sonny, whose eyes were filled with Malloy’s blazing images of Alexis’ three days in that basement. He saw nothing else but her.

Taggert was not surprised to hear that once the initial shock of disclosure had worn off, Alexis allowed Sonny back in. This was one time that the rock of an attorney could have easily crumbled into gravel, and Taggert knew that Sonny would keep her intact. Seeing him with her just the day before proved how right Taggert was. There was an instinctual connection between them that he never would have guessed possible between two such unlikely people. But there were cryptic remarks that Sonny had made, implying more commonality than met the eye. Whatever they shared, Taggert was glad for it when he had no choice but to question her so soon. Even though Dr. Jones allowed it, he was worried that it would be too much for her…and too awkward for himself. Taggert knew he’d have to tread carefully, on many counts. But he was glad that Sonny was there.

Taggert's worry proved unfounded. As Alexis greeted him from her hospital bed with a trademark witty quip, Taggert was set at ease. In fact, if it hadn’t been for what his eyes could see, Alexis wouldn’t have seemed so damaged at all. Her humor was still at full-throttle and her mind was its usual challenge to match. He knew that she was trying too hard to be strong for his benefit, but the things that made her uniquely Alexis were still untouched by Sorel. She made it easy to forget the detox she’d just been through and the pain of withdrawal she’d suffered as she subjectively relayed her story…and then quickly and easily fell asleep, with Sonny’s gently tending her.

To get Sonny’s sudden visit, just hours after that peaceful tableau, had been a shock. Something had swiftly changed the tide, and it drained the color from Sonny’s face and put a call for blood in his eyes. Taggert was almost afraid to ask what had happened to move Sonny toward finally crossing the line – dreams…the darkest of dreams from which there was no escape. Taggert nodded, remembering. He understood. For all that he did to Alexis, Joseph Sorel deserved more than the law would ever provide, and Taggert looked the other way. He kept his promise to Sonny, just this once - and accepted it as a neccessary sin to carry on his soul. After all, Sorel didn’t lose his life…not yet. All he lost was a whole lot of blood – his face was ugly to being with.

That face - Sorel’s bloody, broken face was the last thing Taggert saw before he went home to a sound sleep. As he loomed over his crumpled body from the other side of the bars, taking his sweet time to call the guard for help, Taggert remarked on the strange coincidence of it all. How funny, he mused aloud, for him to have found Sorel’s clumsy self, bleeding to death in the trunk of his own car, only to discover him yet again…on the floor of his own cell. He supposed it was lucky for Sorel that Taggert was in the mood for a walk that night, or Sorel could have bled to death for sure this time. Taggert had simply smiled as Sorel was laid on the stretcher, choking and coughing on the blood that dripping down his throat. He sputtered his accusations as he was carried away, but Taggert shook his head. He knew for a fact, he said, that Corinthos hadn’t been in the building for days. He was at the hospital, twenty-four seven…and Sorel, of all people, knew why.

Dara’s squinting stare was burning a hole in the side of Taggert’s grinning, self-satisfied face and it made him chuckle out loud. He gave a faint shake of his head to send her the message that, try as she might, the woman would never figure this one out. Taggert and Corinthos sharing a dirty little secret - would wonders never cease. He heard a quick cracking sound as Dara’s pen was hurled down against her desk. Message received. Taggert threw back the lukewarm remains at the bottom of his coffee cup and abruptly rose to his feet. He spun around and tossed the cup perfectly into the center of the trashcan beside Dara’s desk. Her eyes followed it, then shot up to Taggert’s devilishly grinning face. Before she could open her mouth to speak, he leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“Dara, Dara, Dara. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

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The scent of her was still soft in the air, and it made her absence overwhelming.

Ned stood quietly in the darkened room, as if in a state of reverence. His eyes drifted over the bed that waited for her body to sink into it, the curtains that waited for her hands to push them back, the mirror that waited her beautiful face to gaze into it as she brushed her hair…every morning and every night. The room held her in every corner, and still, it felt so empty. And though it had only been a day, his arms, once again, felt empty too.

He stepped closer to the dresser and looked down as he lowered his hand. It hovered nervously, as if afraid to touch, and Ned smiled at the silliness of it. Eyes closing, he lowered his palm a bit more and took in the feel of the tiny bristles grazing his sensitive skin. The light sharpness sent a trail of goose bumps up his arm and his breath halted in his throat. He remembered the precious day before, when the feel of Alexis’ hair against his face had sent the same rise through his flesh. The feel of her hair had always been a special kind of heaven.

Ned’s fingers slowly wrapped around the brush as he lifted it from the place where he’d left it the day he found out she was gone…the day he thought he’d truly go insane. That innocent token of her, sitting on the dresser, was his first sign that something was wrong. He was grateful for what it had told him, and he gently pressed it against his heart as if it was Alexis herself. He smiled and laughed to himself at his unabashed greed for the feel of her, which seemed to be boundless. Ned had waited so long for her to open that door to him, and it was all so much more than he dared to expect.

But the terrified look in her eyes when he entered the room broke his heart. Beneath the surface of their nervous smiles and banter lay two souls in fear of the unknown. Alexis bit her lip and Ned hugged his chest – the gestures of vulnerability they knew in each other like the backs of their own hands. It was comforting to know her like that, and for her to know him too. He looked at her with love and let her be. He made no demands, had no expectations as Taggert’s words of advise rang in his ears. He was glad for those words - when the defenses began to melt and she finally felt safe, she opened herself up to him in a way that he hadn’t seen before. Her fears and regrets flowed to him and he took them from her gratefully. And then, without warning, Alexis let him hold her.

To slip his arms around the familiar curve of her body was as natural a thing as to breath. And yet, his breath was held as she settled herself into him. He remembered the slight weight of her chest against his own, and how his palms reclaimed the downward slope of her hips as if they belonged to him and him alone. Her soft hair fell against his neck and the sound of her quiet, gentle breathing was music to his ears. And when Ned knew that Alexis had drifted to sleep, it was the sweetest harvest he could have reaped. He knew that she felt safe with him - she wouldn’t have allowed it to happen if there wasn’t trust.

Ned’s hand cupped the back her head as it rested on his shoulder, and he was in bliss. He didn’t think he could ever let her go, but the growing release of her body to gravity’s pull forced him to finally relent. He carefully laid her back down into the bed, but not before stealing a long, gentle nuzzle of her neck and placing a soft kiss against her hair. She didn’t stir at the feel of her lover’s touch – didn’t move at all until he pulled his arms completely away from her body. He watched in silence, smiling down at her as she settled herself with a childlike squirm and a long exhale, his diamond glinting up at him from the base of her throat. As long as she wore it, Ned knew she had to feel him in her heart.

As he gazed down at her, eyes caressing what his hands could not, Ned felt a nervous flutter in his stomach. He wanted her to sleep, as he knew she should, but he couldn’t bear to leave her just yet. And so, he lay beside her, holding his fierce desire to touch at bay. The instinct to encircle her protectively in his arms was overruled by the memory of her fitful dreams and the trigger that an unwanted touch could be. She was so vulnerable in her sleep, and Ned just wanted to guard her. And so he stayed…to watch and protect, but not to touch.

Ned’s head felt suddenly light and he opened his eyes with a start. He’d almost forgotten where he was, his mind held so vividly to the day before. He smiled and shook his head, getting his bearings back as he turned his head toward the window. The morning sun begged to be let in through the drawn curtains, and in one swift move, Ned flooded her room with the glory of the new day. Alexis would come home to the sun filling her bedroom. Everything would be so much better once Alexis was home, surrounded by all things safe, comfortable and familiar. And Ned would be the safe harbor that she’d always wanted him to be.

He turned away from the window and gazed at the wooden bed and the soft white comforter that lay upon it. Ned felt his face flush at the thoughts the sight of that bed put into his mind. He missed that bed and all the tales it could tell…and he hungered for what was yet to be. His hand reached out to brush across the crisp, cool cotton - always such a lovely contrast to the smooth, warm skin that snuggled against him beneath it. As Ned’s throat went dry, he pulled his hand away.

God, what was wrong with him? Alexis had barely invited him back into her life and he was already galloping too far ahead. He had to stop…slow down…not push. But there was one thing that still haunted him – that Alexis felt herself to be the object of his duty rather than his love. For her to believe that Ned felt only obligation toward her was wounding indeed, and the wound went both ways. But he was sure that when he left that room, Alexis knew she was and always would be sacred to him.

Ned glanced around the quiet, sunlit room one more time, satisfied that he’d thought of everything. The single, graceful stem of purple iris smiled at him from the nightstand. The flower was one of Ned’s own sacred things, a symbol of the first time that he and Alexis had dared allow themselves love. The vivid beauty of them always made him smile, as did the vivid beauty of her – tall, graceful and sacred. He picked up a canvas bag from the end of the bed and slung it over his shoulder as he moved toward the doorway. Moving past the dresser, he glanced into the mirror and saw that his fingers still clutched the hairbrush against his chest. He smiled broadly and slipped it into the bag, all anxiety for the future pushed aside. His only desire, right then and there, was simple…

Ned wanted to watch Alexis brush her hair.

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Alexis stirred lazily, halfway between sleep and wake.

Her body felt languid within the warmth and comfort of the bed, and she resisted the pull of morning. She sighed and turned her head away from the window, nuzzling her face into the soft pillow as her arms stretched out, hands grabbing at the empty air. The room was silent but for the sound of her body moving against the cotton sheets. A soft light bathed the room – she could feel it. Her arms pulled back into her body, her left arm sliding up to curve around her face. She sighed once more, wanting to curl up and sink back into sleep…but her legs wouldn’t obey her will to move.

Alexis wanted to ignore it, but the growing awareness of a vague heaviness against her body finally urged her reluctant eyelids to blink open. She weakly rubbed at her eyes and gazed down at the profile of Sonny’s sleeping face. His head lay propped upon a pillow on the edge of her bed, while his right arm draped across her calves. Alexis smiled through her groggy fog. Though his face bore a light pink flush and his poor back was surely going to pay a price, he looked so peaceful, and it was sweet to see his face rid of the tensions she’d seen within it the night before. Alexis was glad that he’d finally trusted her with what burdened him. She’d needed to be of use - to give him comfort as he had given it to her.

She watched the steady rise and fall of his upper body as he breathed deeply, steady. His left hand was tucked under the pillow, and the sleeves of his dark sweater had been pushed up to his elbows. She wondered when it was that Sonny had left his own bed to be by her side…and why. Alexis closed her eyes and tried to remember if she’d had a dream or woken up, but nothing came back to her. A deep exhale escaped from Sonny’s mouth and Alexis felt his arm sweep up the length of her legs, his palm curving gently around her left knee. She bit her lip to stifle a giggle – his fingers had grazed a ticklish spot, but she didn’t want to wake him. Sonny’s eyelashes fluttered and he swallowed in his sleep, the flush in his face making him look like a little boy...a little boy who also had once been afraid of the dark.

Before she knew it, Alexis’ hand was sliding down toward him, her fingertips just touching the hair on his arm. A slight movement went through Sonny’s shoulders and she thought she saw the corners of his mouth turn upward. Her hand froze as Sonny sighed and hugged the pillow closer against his head. As his body settled, Alexis gingerly released the weight in her arm, allowing her hand to set down upon the solid curve of his forearm. And there it rested, the soothing warmth of his skin rising up to meet hers. It felt nice.

She closed her eyes and began to give herself over to the gnawing desire to drift off again, the light fragrance of cloves drifting through her head. But soon, a muffled sound drew her back and she opened her eyes to Tony, who stood quietly in the doorway. He smiled at her, but before he could speak, Alexis brought her finger to her lips.

“Shh…”

Her eyes darted down to Sonny’s still form, then back up to Tony. He nodded and whispered.

“I’ll be back.”

Alexis nodded and closed her eyes again as Tony slipped out of the room. Her body felt heavy and she unconsciously wriggled as she turned her head away. The hand that rested on Sonny’s arm slipped down the smooth slope as she surrendered herself back into sleep, but her fingers still curved around the muscle and held themselves firmly against his skin.

And as his eyelids fluttered once again, Sonny slowly smiled.

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Thomas blinked hard as he drummed his nervous fingers against the scratched wood.

His eyes burned from the blinding fluorescent lights that seemed to be everywhere he looked. They were especially bright in that room…or so they seemed to be. He squinted as his head tilted up, trying to decide if he was right, or simply going a little crazy in the confines and the solitude. Thomas sought to keep to himself, although his size made him as desirable an ally to the other prisoners as it had made him a desirable employee to Sorel. He’d learned the hard way that it was best to stay alone rather than trust the wrong person. As he closed his eyes, which now were seeing stars, it occurred to him that his size might be the issue with lighting too. He was so much closer to them than the other men were.

Thomas stopped his fingers’ restless movement and flattened his palms along the surface of the table. His wrists were free, bound neither together nor to the table, and it worried him. If he was expected to defend himself, expectations would not be met. He’d heard about Sorel – everyone had – and he couldn’t help but think it was now his turn to feel the wrath of Sonny Corinthos. But he was somewhat confused. Corinthos had had his chance right there in that room, just a couple of days before. Thomas had been prepared – expectant even - but information was not what he thought would be exacted. Corinthos could have hurt him bad, and Thomas wouldn't have lifted a finger against him. He shifted in his hard chair, wondering why now. Perhaps Corinthos’ thirst for vengeance simply hadn’t been fully quenched by what he’d managed to do to Sorel, given his limited access. The man WAS still alive, after all…and Thomas had been his accomplice. Revenge was certainly due.

He moved his hands back and forth, feeling the roughness of the old, grainy oak and remembering the splinter that Corinthos had embedded in his hand. He had simply stared at the sharp shred of wood sticking out of his flesh, like a tiny brown arrow. Splinters could hurt like a mother, but Corinthos didn’t flinch. In fact, he seemed transfixed, watching in silence as a slight bit of blood sprang forth from his finger. As Thomas watched and waited, the splinter was carefully plucked from its burrow and a white handkerchief methodically wiped away the thin trickle of red. The man was eerily precise, eerily like Sorel in that one strange way.

The ritual-like motions make Thomas queasy. He’d watched Sorel stick her finger with a switchblade and squeeze out the drops of blood that would decorate her scarf and serve as Corinthos’ first warning of things to come. And then, there was the small patch of white - the simple cloth had come to mean so much, and sight of Corinthos pulling one from his own pocket made Thomas shudder. In giving Corinthos what he’d asked for, there was one detail that was deliberately withheld - the time Sorel had put the syringe, unwrapped from a white cloth, into Thomas’ own hands. That was one thing he couldn’t bear for her to ever know.

Thomas swallowed, his mouth going dry from the sickening memory of how much that woman was hurting - and how hard he tried to convince himself that what Sorel forced him to do would take it away. And it was if she sensed it was Thomas, not Sorel. She didn’t fight, didn’t even squirm when he took hold of her arm. He thought she must have recognized his touch, and that she trusted him…wrongly so. But even when she felt the sting, she stayed quiet. He didn’t understand it, but he simply prayed that she would never remember what he’d done. He would never forget it. Thomas licked his lips and let out a deep breath, wishing it could all just be over. It felt like he’d been sitting there in that cold, tiny room for days, waiting for Corinthos this one last time.

The door flew open and in the instant he heard the squeaky handle turn, Thomas saw Detective Taggert standing in the open doorway with a crooked smile on his face. Thomas straightened his spine and pulled his hands from the table top, folding them in his lap like a schoolboy. He cleared his throat, unsure of what to expect from this man…or what the man would expect from him. Taggert tilted his head and slid his hands into his pockets.

“You look surprised to see me, Malloy. Expecting someone else?”

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Sonny’s smile softened, and he held his body still a short while longer.

The room was silent – he couldn’t even hear the sound of her breathing, and it crossed his mind that Alexis knew he was playing possum and was playing it right back. He felt a bit guilty for pretending, but the first feel of her touch upon his arm sent a wakening tingle through him and he didn’t want her to pull away. His precious time alone with her was dwindling down and he wanted to to savor every last minute of it. He’d grown spoiled, having her so much to himself, hidden from the real world and all the people and things that would distract her away from him. And he grinned again at how Alexis had sent Tony away, as if she was holding on too.

He finally opened one lazy eye, and then the other as he gently lifted his head from the pillow. His neck was stiff and he fought to stay quiet while he wanted to groan out a complaint. Alexis would have little sympathy – she’d ordered him into his own bed, after all. He turned his neck and inadvertently cracked it, the sound unexpectedly loud. He lifted his head higher, to see if she'd been disturbed. Sonny smiled broadly and bit his lip at the sweet serenity of her face at rest and the gentle movement of her chest as she breathed in easy contentment. Alexis wasn’t playing possum, she was playing Sleeping Beauty...just as she had all night.

Sonny was grateful for that. There had been no visits from demons, no visions of Sorel. Her night had been blissfully calm and free of all dark, scary places. She’d slept deeply - not even the pulling of the tape and removal of the IV from her arm had taken her from it. She’d only wriggled in response, and drew her unencumbered arms in close to her body with a sigh, as if she somehow knew she’d been freed. Afraid she might be waking, Sonny gently ran his fingers through her hair, over and over in the way that always soothed her. And, in turn, the softness of her hair slipping between his fingers lulled him toward his own sweet dreams.

But the morning had come and his dreams of her gave way to light of a new day – the day she’d been waiting for…the day she’d go home. He didn’t want to think about the one question still unanswered, the choice Alexis had yet to make. Sonny swallowed and tensed his tight shoulders up toward his ears, then released them as slowly and completely as he could while keeping his upper body from moving too much. Though his back was feeling the full extent of his overnight posture, he didn’t want to get up just yet. He didn’t want to break contact and he wanted to watch her sleep. He lowered his chin back down into the pillow and let his eyes linger on her face. The strands of hair lying across her brow reminding him not to ignore the scrape that hid beneath them. It had only been used a few times, but he was sure that Charlie’s suggestion of the vitamin E was helping her skin heal better. He would tend to them again when she woke up. Alexis would not have scars on her body - not because of Sorel.

His eyes traveled down her shoulder and the edge of the neckline of her hospital gown - he worried that it was up too high around her throat. He should have found those P.J.’s for her, even though she said no. Sonny smiled as his gaze continued down the line of her body to the curve of her fingers around his arm. They rested along the place just below the edge of his sleeve, and her touch radiated through him as if her hand would leave a lasting imprint on his body…just as her smile had left one on his heart. As Sonny stared at the innocent place where skin met with skin, he knew that Alexis’ mark on him could never be erased.

Sonny slid his face toward her hand until his mouth was a whisper away. He allowed his lips to graze across her fingertips, kissing them gently. He desperately wanted Alexis to need him, but he desperately wanted her to be whole. To have both seemed impossible, and he felt a wave of shame at the selfish half of his desire. But Alexis wanted Sonny to need her too, and she was not afraid to reach out to him – she DID reach out to him, and he allowed her it. He closed his eyes and smiled in spite of himself at how she’d found all his buttons and so cleverly playing him, getting as deeply into his head as she’d already gotten under his skin. And the way she’d met the intensity of his gaze, locking her eyes into his and searching for the secret he held inside until he couldn’t hold it back any more. Alexis had rendered him powerless, and for the first time in Sonny’s life, he embraced it. He knew that something wonderful had crossed over in him and there was no turning back.

His eyes blinked open and again, instinctively, Sonny’s warm mouth found her soft fingertips. He relaxed his head back down into the pillow and ran his tongue over his lips, trying to find a lingering salty trace of her there. His right hand pulled inward, pressing close against curve of her knee and he felt a twinge of resentment toward the thin layers of cotton that lay between them. Alexis shifted slightly, her fingertips fluttering against his skin and a vague smile gracing her sleeping face. The way she looked right then took Sonny’s breath away...and so did something else.

Alexis knew Sonny’s touch.