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Scene 72

Sonny’s darkness…Sonny’s bruises…Sonny’s secrets. They weren’t hers to tell.

“I was eight. You?”

“What?"

“How old were you, when it started – being shut away in dark places…being hit, maybe?”

Alexis frowned as she forced herself to focus and tried to relax the tightened muscles in her chest. How was she to explain it to one who couldn’t know? Alexis swallowed and heard Sonny’s voice in her head, telling her to breath. It made her smile and the fear began to fade. Slowly, her lungs began to release the air from within. And then, just as slowly, then drew a clean breath back in. Ned’s hand hovered a few inches above the bed. His instinct was to touch and comfort, but what Alexis had just told him made him hesitant. It didn’t surprise him that Helena would have hurt her as a child, but it wasn’t a picture he could easily allow to form in his mind. She had always called her brother her protector - but what protection could he have been against Helena back then? He couldn’t protect even himself from her now.

“Alexis, I want you to stop. You’re pushing yourself too hard and it can’t be good for you.”

She opened her eyes and turned her head back to Ned’s expression of worry. “You’re right, I am pushing myself. But I need to. I’m okay, Ned, I just…could use some water. Would you mind?”

He smiled and briefly cupped a warm palm to her face as he rose from the bed. “Anything you want. I’ll be right back.”

Her gaze followed him as he slipped through the door and disappeared from view. And when he was gone, her eyes drifted to the mirror and the reflection it held – not just herself, but also the room around her. The diamond at her throat sparkled up at her and Alexis suddenly felt uncomfortable where she sat. She didn’t feel right in the place that made Ned territorial - the place that surrounded them with memories of their physical intimacy. It was another kind of intimacy that needed tending, and it shouldn’t be tended to in that room. Alexis carefully pushed herself from the bed and made her careful way down the stairs - to neutral ground.

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Taggert’s voice on the other end of the line was not usually a thing that brought glad tidings of great joy - but as he hung up the phone, Sonny was grinning for all he was worth.

He’d have to buy Alexis a fresh newspaper now. He’d retrieved hers early in the morning and dumped it into the trash before she woke. She didn’t seem to remember what would likely be in there, and he saw no reason to let her stumble upon her name in print - again. But it seems Dara Jensen had a plan in motion. It had been unspoken, in case it went awry. It didn’t. The judge had come through and granted her request that the name of the victim in the latest state’s case against Joseph Sorel be sealed until the time of trial. Alexis could mend in peace, and her control over her life trengthened right along with the rest of her. Amen, and God bless Dara Jensen, who would soon be on the receiving end of an impressive bouquet of orchids. The card would be left unsigned, of course. Let her think they were from Taggert. That should add some spice to his day – and maybe even his night.

And there was something else for Sonny to smile about – something both personal and professional, and long overdue. Sorel’s operation had crumbled like a sandcastle in the path of Hurricane Corinthos. What Sonny didn’t absorb was simple eviscerated, and Bennie assured him the word on the streets was written in stone: the days of Joseph Sorel were over. Over…like the days of Sonny and Carly. But as he turned away from his desk, the sight of the closed door in front of him slowly faded his smile away. Across the hall, behind the closed doors of Penthouse #2, the days of Ned and Alexis were still to be determined.

He suddenly wondered what would have been, had Sorel never skipped town and made it necessary for Carly to leave. Would his feelings for Alexis have stayed hidden under the layers of denial that automatically flew from his mouth with each new accusation from his wife? Or would they have thrived with each new sight of those beautiful eyes, overtaking him until denial was no longer an option? He would never know. The chain of events that sent Carly and her son to the protective care of his best friend had also stripped Sonny of his need for defense. He could be at ease with Alexis, knowing that Carly would not walk in on something innocent and blindly lash out. He could enjoy his time with her, and he HAD - immensely.

Alexis made him feel…weightless - light. She made him smile, and she loved that she did. Sonny allowed precious few people to pry their way beneath his hard shield, but this woman had made it her mission. It was a mission more than accomplished. Sonny grinned to himself, envisioning the expectant, sideways glance she’d always cast his way while waiting for him to laugh at something she did or said. And then she would laugh too, dark eyes sparkling like chocolate rain. It was as if his smile was a gift to her, instead of the other way around. Alexis was the gift, and she had no idea.

A precious gift.

Something struck him, and Sonny glanced at the stairway. Before he knew it, his legs had carried him up to his room and he stopped in front of the dresser. He stared down at the brass drawer-pulls and thought of what lay tucked away inside, out of sight but hardly out of mind – the pale blue scarf, stained with blood. He wrestled with what to do...and finally turned away, his hands never making contact with the brass. Alexis was, at that moment, trying to rebuild the bridge that had fallen between her and her lover, and Sonny would not comfort himself with the softness that still vaguely smelled of her and bore her blood. She was safe and well and would stay that way by his life, and that was all that mattered. But Sonny would keep the scarf where it lay, as a reminder of what he almost lost and how close he came to losing it. He would buy Alexis a new one. Pink – the color of the shyness that flushed across her cheeks.

Alexis looked beautiful in pink.

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“Oh – hi.”

Ned was surprised to turn from the cabinet and see Alexis standing quietly in the kitchen doorway. She smiled.

“I needed to get up and move around a bit.”

“Ah.” He held up a bottle of water in each hand as he moved toward her. “Cold or not cold?”

“Not cold.”

He twisted the cap off the bottle without a thin film of moisture hugging the plastic, then handed it to her.

“Thanks.”

Ned watched her tuck her hair behind her ears and take a swallow of water. She caught him looking at her, and her eyes lowered, darting away. It made Ned feel guilty all over again for what he had done in the hospital. She didn’t really like being watched in the best of times, but she allowed his silent studies of her - so long as he stopped when she noticed and blushed in self-conscious shyness. She knew he looked at her with nothing but adoration, but he also knew that his stolen glances in the ICU were different. What he’d done had hurt her, and he wished with all his heart that he could take it back. Alexis hadn’t blushed with shyness at the eyes that studied her that day – she’d trembled and paled, turning to Sonny and begging to be told that her vision of Ned was just a dream. And now, Alexis had again turned away from him with distant eyes.

“Do you think you can ever forgive me?” He hadn’t even realized the thought left his mouth, but Alexis turned her eyes away from the cluster of bottles in the corner of the counter and looked at him in vague confusion.

“What?”

“For tricking Johnny to get him away from your door. For invading your privacy and seeing something you didn’t want me to see. For giving in to my own desperation and scaring you in the process. I wish I hadn’t done it - and not because of me, but because of you. I broke your trust, and I hurt you, and I’m so sorry, Alexis.”

“I know you are. You already told me and I don’t want you to apologize any more, okay? I forgive you. But…I’m not going to lie to you. I wish you hadn’t done it too. I’d give anything to not have the way you looked at me as a permanent resident in my head. And I don’t doubt that you have some regrets along those lines yourself.”

Ned lowered his eyes in silence. He couldn’t say the words, but he nodded his truth. Yes, he regretted holding the unforgettable image of the way she’d looked at him too.

“But you know something?” He met her gaze and Alexis tilted her head thoughtfully. “I can’t honestly say that if the situation had been reversed – if it had been you lying in the ICU, refusing to see me and not letting anyone tell me what was wrong – I can’t say that I wouldn’t have given in to some desperation of my own and done the exact same thing.”

Ned smiled wide. Alexis wanted to make him feel better, and it filled him with such love for her. It made him almost forget that when he left that day, Sonny Corinthos would return.

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The empty silence of his bedroom shrouded him like a dark cloud, and he suddenly felt intensely alone…adrift…bereft. And Sonny knew that it could very well be what he’d feel for the rest of his life. He used to think it was his fate, and he accepted it. After loving Brenda, and losing her to what she had done, he thought he was dead inside. He grew cold and locked himself down tight, no trespassing allowed. He thought he could live without the feel of his wanton heart pounding or his quickened breaths making him dizzy - without the touch, sight, sound, feel, taste, smell, and swelling rush of love…and those eyes, as compelling a force to his heart as gravity to his weight. Carly and Michael had opened up his long-closed heart, but it was Alexis who filled it to the brim. He knew he may never have her, but the simple and extraordinary act of loving her made him know that he could never return to the safe haven of an impenetrable soul again. He shook his head and quickly left the emptiness of his bedroom.

It just wasn’t fair. Why did Alexis have to go and do this to him when he wasn’t looking?

“Hey! I didn’t expect to see you here.”

The unexpected voice startled him, and Sonny halted in the middle of the stairway. He stood, watching, as Zander unzipped his jacket and flung it over the back of the sofa.

“How’s Alexis?”

Sonny moved to the sofa and picked up the jacket, holding it up in the air. “It’s called a hanger. And you’ll find one in that thing over there called a closet.”

Zander cleared his throat and gave Sonny a sheepish look as he reached for his offending piece of clothing. “Sorry.”

“Do you do this at Alexis’s place too?”

“Uh, yeah.” His voice grew muffled as he poked his head into the closet. “But it’s not like she even notices with all the books and files and crap…I mean, STUFF she’s always got scattered all over the place.”

Sonny shrugged with a light smile. “Okay. I guess I’ll have to give you that one.”

Zander chuckled as he made his way back to the sofa, glancing at the front door as he passed. “So if you’re here instead of over there, I guess that mean she’s okay. Or maybe she had enough of you trying to tell her what to do?”

Sonny’s dimples flashed. “Sick of ME? Get outta town.”

Zander shoved his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight. “Seriously. What’s going on?”

“Nothing. Alexis is fine. Emily’s cousin is over there, so I’m giving them some privacy and taking care of some of my own business. As soon a he leaves, I’ll be heading back over there.” He glanced down at his watch with a frown, muttering to himself. “She should be eating some lunch soon too.”

Zander grinned. “I guess Ashton finally realized what an idiot he was for letting her go. Well good. I’m happy for her.”

“They’re just talking, Zander.”

“And that’s good, right? I mean, we both know Alexis was pretty miserable after he walked. She still blames herself for it though, because of the wedding. She thinks that her freaking out like she did means that she deserves any misery Ashton makes her suffer, like, for the rest of time. It’s pretty stupid. Marriage is a big deal and lots of people freak about it. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love him.” He shifted his jaw and kicked at the floor with the toe of his sneaker. “Besides, I know that what’s really gone down between them lately is all my fault.”

Sonny frowned. “Zander – sit.”

Zander looked up at Sonny, but didn’t move. Sonny pointed to the sofa and the kid reluctantly sat for what he knew would be a small lecture.

“You were right the first time – Ashton’s an idiot. But his idiocy has nothing to do with you. He was born that way. And what the hell a woman like Alexis sees in him, I’ll never know.”

Zander shrugged. “Well, I haven’t known him very long and I sure don’t know him very well. But I figure if Emily and Alexis love him, then there’s gotta be something to him. I mean both Emily and Alexis saw something in ME worth caring about when no one else did.”

Sonny’s head rose up and he looked Zander’s straight in the eye. Zander realized his faux pas and quickly explained himself.

“You did too, of course. But girls are different. Girls, women…they seem to have this kind of x-ray vision thing going on that lets them see beneath all the garbage that a guy manages to dump all over himself, and they find the good. They find the one thing that makes you more than what everyone else on the planet sees when they look at you – a drug dealing kidnapper, a degenerate punk…”

“A mobster...” Sonny murmured, gazing at the closed door.

Zander turned, following Sonny’s focus. “Or, an idiot.”

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Alexis cleared her throat and reached out to take hold of the edge of Ned’s sleeve, tugging on it as she turned to lead him from the kitchen to the living room.

Ned sighed with contentedness, and Alexis gave him a shy look over her shoulder. As they approached the sofa, she released his sleeve and took a seat, curling up in the corner. Ned sat beside her, making sure to give her plenty of room to move if she needed it. He pulled a pillow into his lap, hugging it close against his body. Alexis took another swallow of her water and set the bottle down on the coffee table. She gave Ned a long, thoughtful look before venturing back into the muddy waters still before her.

“That nightmare of mine that you saw – you should know that it wasn’t the first time it happened.”

“I didn’t think it was. Actually, the way Sonny and Tony responded, I knew that it wasn’t.”

Alexis squirmed, wondering exactly HOW Sonny and Tony responded. She didn’t remember all of it, and she was suddenly glad for the lapse. “It wasn’t the last time it happened either.”

“I suppose that’s another reason it was best that you agreed to the detox.”

“Ned, the heroin didn’t cause it and the detox didn’t take it away.”

“What do you…are these episodes still happening?” She nodded, and Ned leaned forward with a frown. “I don’t understand. I thought it was just a product of the drugs in your system and the high fever.”

“N-no, not really. The drugs and the fever contributed to bringing it on, but that’s not where it came from. Something else was going on with me. Something like what I told you about Helena.”

“Being hit?”

“Yeah.” She smiled nervously. She was getting used to saying the word heroin, but to talk about being hit was still new, and it felt odd.

“What happened with Sorel set off a chain of events going backward and awakening things I thought I’d put to rest. And I couldn’t distinguish what was real from what just SEEMED real. I said and did things I couldn’t even remember. Those first couple of days in the ICU, I thought I was losing my mind. So did Tony. He even threatened to put me on a psychiatric hold to keep me from leaving the hospital.”

“What?” Ned was shocked. “That doesn’t make any sense! Why would he go to that extreme with you when he refused to…”

He stopped himself just in time, horrified that he almost confessed his own attempt to make Tony force her hand with the detox. But Tony had shut down the idea of having her declared temporarily incompetent to bypass her consent for the procedure. He refused to wrest that kind of control away from her after all she’d been through, and it didn’t make sense that he’d make a threat along similar lines to her face…unless something specific happened to frighten him into such an extreme.

“Refused to what?”

Alexis looked up at him with an innocent face and he felt himself flush with renewed guilt. He scrambled. “To…tell me the truth about what was wrong with you. That he’d try to force you to stay in the hospital, but respect your wishes for privacy. It doesn’t make sense.”

“They were very different issues. He was afraid for me because there were no real medical reasons for what was happening, and…he wanted to sic Kevin Collins on me. I don’t honestly know which scared me more – thinking that I was going crazy or knowing that Tony thought so too. I panicked and I just wanted to run. I mean, my God, it was bad enough to have just woken up and found myself…”

Her last words lost their steam as Alexis involuntarily shuddered at the memory of not being able to move – of being truly powerless and trapped, watching in shock as Sonny quickly worked to un-tether her wrists from the bed. She had felt so betrayed that he let them to do that to her, no matter what their reasons. Eventually, Alexis understood, and she’d also forgiven. But she’d never forget that feeling as long as she lived.

“Alexis?”

She didn’t hear Ned’s voice whisper her name. The shudder gave way to a full-body tremble and as her mouth went dry, Alexis began to scratch at her arm. Ned felt a twinge of anxiety rising up at the visible shaking of her body and the distance in her eyes. He’d seen it before and knew it would pass, but that didn’t make it any easier to ride out. He didn’t know what to do, but the tremble sent him instinctively reaching for the chenille throw that lay across the back of the sofa. He gently lay it across her curled-up legs and Alexis pulled her arm out from under, taking hold of the edge and finally looking up at him with her bottom lip between her teeth. Ned smiled and handed her the water, which she took with a grateful smile. As she replenished her body, Ned wondered if she would allow him to hold her again that day.

“Thank you.” She murmured as she set the bottle back on the table.

“Honey, you’re not in the hospital with Tony any more. You’re at home - with me. It’s over, sweetheart. You can tell me what scared you.”

No, she couldn’t. Not that. To be tied down like an animal was abjectly degrading, and her response was visceral. Alexis would never speak of it - to anyone.

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“Tell me about you and Emily. Things okay?”

“Yeah, fine. Why?”

Sonny tilted his head back and forth. “Well, you know. This thing with Sorel has put a lot of strain on everyone – Alexis and Ned, you and Emily…’

“You and Carly too, I know. But Em and I are good. We’re just really happy that it’s almost over. Mostly we’re grateful to Alexis for saving my life, and to you for saving hers. And we’re both relieved to know that she’s going to be okay after all that Sorel did to her. I don’t know about you, Sonny, but for that reason alone I sure wouldn’t mind watching when Sorel get fried.”

Sonny hung his head. He hated to hear such a thirst for vengeance from one so young, but he couldn’t fault Zander for desires he held himself. “Zander? Does Emily know everything about what Sorel did to Alexis?”

“You mean the heroin?”

“I mean the heroin.”

Zander went a bit pale and bit down on the inside of his cheek. “You know Emily, Sonny. She knew something was freaking me out and she wouldn’t leave it alone - I couldn’t NOT tell her. But I told her she couldn’t tell a soul, and I swear she never did! I just couldn’t lie to her, Sonny. I mean, people who love each other aren’t supposed to lie, right?”

Sonny sighed and rubbed at his face. “That, my friend, is one of those concepts that’s great in theory but a bear to practice.” He suddenly frowned. “Has Emily known all along?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Since about a couple of hours after you stopped me from going after Sorel to hand myself over to him.”

“And she didn’t even tell Ashton.” Sonny mused with admiration. “That little girl is one true and fine woman in the making.

“I though I was going to lose my mind, you know? I couldn’t believe that Sorel would do something like that to Alexis. I mean, why? Was it supposed to be some kind of message to me? Some kind of weird payback?”

“Zander…”

“I sold drugs for Sorel and I kidnapped Emily. Then I testified AGAINST Sorel, and he kidnaps my attorney and shoots her up with drugs. Do you think the irony of it has been lost on me Sonny, because it hasn’t! I get it, loud and clear, and I think about it all the time. I’m sure Sorel was thinking about it too.”

“Zander!” Sonny’s bark shut the kid up. “You’re right. What Sorel did to Alexis WAS a message and it was also payback. But it wasn’t directed at you.” He pointed at his own chest, right above his scar. “This was all for me.”

The kid’s mouth hung open and his innocent eyes stared up at Sonny in confusion. He thought he was being placated, and Sonny could see it in his face.

“Sorel and I have a long history of conflict, and we’ve made it our business to determine each other’s weaknesses. But the difference between us is that innocent people are off limits to me. I would not go after Sorel’s family or other people who matter to him if they were not also actively involved in his business. He knew that. He also knew that Alexis matters to me. But Sorel has no honor, and he has no problem using an innocent person – a woman – to get to me. I sent my wife and her child away because I knew damn well he’d go after them in a heartbeat.”

“And since they were gone, he went after Alexis instead.” Zander muttered.

“Yeah. I screwed up in not protecting her, so I don’t want you thinking this was your fault. You were just a very small part of a very old problem. If anything, you should be proud of the fact that you were such a large part of solving it. I am – so is Emily.” Sonny smiled a wistful smile. “And so is that amazing woman, now safe at home across the hall.”

Zander laughed with a faint blush spreading across his pale cheeks. “I know. And I am proud that I was able to make good on the faith you all had in me. I didn’t deserve it, but I’m sure glad I had it. I just…I wish I could make it up to Alexis somehow. Do you think I could see her later, maybe?”

“I’ll check with her, let you know. But when you do see her, you need to be gentle. Don’t make any sudden moves toward her, and be careful about touching her. I’m sorry I didn’t warn you about how she’d be when you saw her for the first time yesterday. I had my reasons, but I didn’t intend for it to kick you in the gut. You know what I’m saying?”

Zander’s smile faded as his eyes drifted away from Sonny’s face. He clearly remembered the way Alexis had jerked away from him when he went to put his arms around her. He’d been so happy to see her that he didn’t even think. And he also remembered the flicker of pain across her face when he took hold of her arm to steady her. The marks of violence on her face had been such a shock that he forgot about what his eyes couldn’t see. He would be careful from now on – very, very careful. And as Zander’s gaze returned to Sonny, he saw the dark eyes had filled with sadness. He felt awful for him, wishing he could do or say something to make him feel better. But he knew there was nothing to say to relieve the kind of guilt that Sonny owned – Zander cared about Alexis too, and he felt plenty guilty himself.

But if it had been Emily Sorel had hurt like that, Zander simply would have died.

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“I…had been hurting myself. I was pulling out the IV and hurting myself.”

Ned closed his eyes, remembering the trickle of blood he’d seen running down her arm as she crouched on the floor.

“It scared me that I could keep doing things like that and not know it, so I told Tony I wanted my brother. I told him I wanted Stefan to take me home. That’s when Tony told me that I wasn’t going anywhere, and he told me how he could stop me. As a lawyer, I knew that he could, if he really wanted to. You should have seen the look on his face, Ned. He was serious.”

Ned sighed and tilted his head. “Oh honey. You said yourself that he was afraid. Tony really cares about you and he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t think it was necessary.”

“I really didn’t care what he thought. I kicked him out. Sonny too.”

He couldn’t help but allow a slight smile. “Yes, I heard.”

“It was only for a little while. I was just too frightened and angry and…overwhelmed.”

Alexis bit her lip as she looked into Ned’s eyes. She was feeling somewhat overwhelmed right then - and tired. Too much talk was taking its toll, and she wasn’t yet finished with what she had to say.

“But Sonny knew I wasn’t losing my mind, and he kept Tony from doing anything drastic. That was a really big thing, because I couldn’t have handled being held against my will or…anything else that would have gone along with it. If anything could have truly taken me out at that point, it would have been that particular brand of friendly fire. I really owe Sonny for that.”

Ned frowned at her last words. It sounded like Alexis felt indebted to Corinthos, and he wouldn’t put it past the man to take advantage of her fragile state – using it to pull her further and more firmly into his deadly world. As his anger at Sonny rose, the blood began to hammer in his head.

“But Sonny’s not a doctor, Alexis. He didn’t know for sure that nothing was really wrong with you, emotionally. He could have kept you from getting help that you needed. What made him so sure that you weren’t…”

“He knew! He just knew. That’s the whole point, Ned. He was with me when I was confused and he… ”

Alexis sighed and pushed the blanket from her legs, uncurling them and straightening her back with a slight grimace. Ned sat up as well in a reflexive mirroring response. She cleared her throat and rubbed at her shoulder with half-lidded eyes. She was determined to push on, wanting it over.

“I was really afraid of the dark when I was little because, um…Stavros liked to toss me into closets and attics and other small places that were black as pitch. Another fond memory revisited, courtesy of Sorel.”

“Oh baby…” Ned moved his hand, as if to reach for her, but he saw Alexis pull back, almost imperceptibly. It wasn’t the right time for her to be touched, and his hand stayed where it was.

“For three days, Sorel had me locked in this room – this small, cold, concrete room. And whenever I was alone, which was a lot, the lights were out. So I would lie there, in that dark room, wanting Sorel to come back and turn on the lights. But I was also afraid for him to come back and do…whatever he was going to do to me. You can see where it was a bit conflicting.” She laughed nervously as Ned’s solemn eyes held steady to her face.

“And Helena…Stavros…it all came crashing down on you all over again.” Ned’s voice was a dry whisper as he took her hand into his.

Alexis hugged her arms around her chest and rubbed at her neck. “Not quite crashing. More like pelting me from behind in little bursts – like those angry apple trees in “The Wizard of Oz”.”

Ned nodded, his eyes drifting down to the pillow in his lap. His jaw shifted and he ran his tongue across his lower lip. “And Sonny knew you weren’t losing your mind because…he knew what happened to you as a child? You had told him?”

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“Is there something else you haven't told me, Sonny? Where else did he hurt her? I know you denied it before, but is there something else he did that I’m not supposed to know about?”

Zander bit down on the inside of his cheek, gnawing on it as his intense eyes bore into Sonny’s face. But Sonny groaned and shook his head, his eyes squeezing shut against the awful thought.

“No, no…God, Zander.” He reached out and cupped the kid’s head in his palm. “Sorel would be dead right now, and you know that!”

Zander nodded as he exhaled loudly. “Right. I know that.”

They both gave in to a small release of nervous laughter, and Sonny pulled his hand away. He rubbed at his face again, noting the need for another date with his razor. He wouldn’t want Alexis to reach for him and feel the sharp stubble she’d admonished him about before. If she reached for him, he wanted her to meet smooth skin that would make her want to touch him again.

“Okay, here’s the truth. Her arms hurt, from where all the needles stuck her. She had scratched at some of the punctures and she got an infection, which is why she was so sick when we found her. They’re healing well, but they still hurt some. You can see the bruises and such on her face, but there’s also some bruising on her back, along her spine. So don’t hug her or put your arm around her just yet.”

“How did she get bruises on her back? What did he…”

“It doesn’t matter how they got there, it just matters that you know to be careful of them.”

“I will.” He laced his fingers together and stared expectantly, expecting more in the way of warning. But Sonny stared back, silent. “Um…how is she aside from the physical stuff?”

Sonny felt a rush of warmth at the awkward expression, and the concern on Zander’s face. “I’m not going to lie to you, Zander. It was really rough her first couple of days in the hospital. Getting her through the detox helped a lot, and getting her home was a huge leap forward in helping her feel right again. But there’s a lot of stuff still going on in her mind. A lot of it’s confused, and a lot of it’s scary. She will be fine…but you know Alexis. It’s hard for her to be patient with herself, so we might need to remind her to chill every once in a while.”

Zander smiled. “Will do.”

“She just needs time, and she needs love.”

“Sorel messed with her head pretty bad, huh?”

Sonny sighed, wanting to deflect. “Yeah, he did. But as I understand it, she did a little head-messing right back.”

Zander’s smile turned to a chuckle. “I’ll bet she did. Alexis isn’t exactly afraid to say what she thinks. But I admit I’m a little afraid of maybe saying something wrong when I see her.”

“You just fallow her lead and you’ll be okay. The last thing she wants is to be treated like some…you know.”

“Invalid?”

“Yeah - because she hates it. You just be yourself, and she’ll be more her self too. She needs things to be normal.”

“Normal, huh? Maybe I should put my feet up on the furniture so she’ll have something to scold me about? That would be normal.”

Sonny grinned wide. “She’d like that.”

Zander watched Sonny’s eyes slowly roam away from his own and past his face to the door. He turned to see if someone had come in without his hearing it, but the door was still closed. He turned back to Sonny and touched him on the knee. Sonny’s eyes snapped back.

“Is there something else? You look kind of worried.”

Sonny shook his head. “No.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“You look worried.”

“I’m not worried!”

“Well if that’s not worry on your face than it must be something else. Tired. You’re tired, aren’t you?”

Sonny laughed out loud and shook his head.

“Come on Sonny, it’s not funny. You’ve been a wreck since Alexis was taken, and since she’s been found you’re taking care of her twenty four seven. If I can see you’re tired, Alexis can see it, and she won’t like it at all. And you know what she’d say too – she’d say exactly what she thinks.”

“And what would that be?” Sonny cocked his head and looked up as Zander rose to his feet and crossed his arms against his chest.

“I think someone could use a nap.”

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Alexis shook her head slowly, deliberately. She felt the energy seeping out of her with every new effort to explain herself.

“No, Ned. I didn’t tell Sonny. I never told anyone. I didn’t consciously remember anything until now. Stefan always knew, but we never even spoke of it growing up. I suppose speaking of it makes it too real – gives it too much power to affect you. I needed to forget…so I did. Until Sorel came along and pushed all the right buttons.”

“Then how did Sonny know? Did Stefan tell him?”

“No, of course not. I must have done or said something in my sleep that made him figure out what was going on. I don’t know, actually, because he never said a word to me about it. But he instinctively knew that I needed to be left alone so the memories would come back when they were supposed to, instead of being put in the psych ward and having them dragged out of me by Kevin Collins.” Alexis looked into Ned’s warm, wanting eyes and he hand reached out to brush light fingertips down his cheek. “If I HAD remembered before now, I would have told you. I hope you believe that.”

“I do.” Ned murmured, pulling her hand to his lips and pressing a kiss into her palm. “And it means the world to me that you told me now.”

Her dimples peeked up at him and she bit down on her lip. Ned felt his heart swell at the sight of it. He was grateful for the floodgates Alexis had opened to him, but he was still confused. If she could share her pain with him in this way, why did she still need Sonny? Because he shielded her from the invasion of Kevin Collins? Because he comforted her in the throes of her frightening dreams?

“Honey, I don’t mean to make this any more difficult, but I honestly don’t…” He froze, his eyes turning glassy as his brow furrowed in intense concentration. And then, his eyes slowly closed and his head bowed down as it all became clear. “Oh…that’s why.”

“What? Why what?”

Ned smiled as he opened his eyes to her confused expression. His gaze settled on the purple-hued cheek while his hand reached out for the other, tenderly stroking her face with the backs of his fingers.

“Sonny figured it out because he’d been abused too.”

Her jaw dropped.

“Lois told me about his stepfather, when she was trying to get me to cut Sonny some slack. She said he was a cop, and a real ass. She said there was talk in the neighborhood about what went on in that house, and none of it was good. Sometimes Sonny’s mother wouldn’t leave the house for days – wouldn’t even show her face at the door. And sometimes, Sonny wore long sleeved shirts in the middle of July.”

Alexis reflexively looked down at her own long sleeves, feeling a sudden quiver in her chin. Hearing Sonny’s secrets spoken by Ned was unnerving. She felt a sense of betrayal for him, that Lois would share his pain without his consent – even use it as a tool to engender pity from someone who was less than a friend. It may have been well intentioned, but Sonny would hate it. Alexis hated it too.

“I…I forgot that she grew up with him. Does Sonny know that she told you about him?”

Ned shrugged. “I don’t know. Why? He told you, right?”

She searched his eyes and found that he didn’t truly understand what it meant for that kind of intensely private pain to be public. It wasn’t his fault. He couldn’t know. Alexis cleared her throat and scrunched her stiff shoulders. She was truly weary and wanted to sleep – to obliterate her mind and not feel or think any more.

“Yeah, he told me – as his attorney, because of the custody case over Michael. I would never have broken his confidence and repeated it out of turn. But since you already know, you’re right that he did recognize what he was seeing with me because he’d been there. And that’s why I chose him to stay with me. He’s the one person who gets what I’m feeling, and I’m so glad that you don’t. I’m so glad that you haven’t been there, Ned, because it’s awful.”

“I know it is, and I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. But please, let me help you too. I know that I can.”

“And I want you to. But it will be in a different way than Sonny. This is too new right now, and I need someone who knows. As hard as you or anyone else might try to put yourself in my place, you can’t. You can’t know what I think or how I feel or why I behave like I do - you can only imagine. Like…I can’t know what it’s like to be a parent. You know what it’s like to hear your child’s first words, or watch them take their first steps, or feel them throw their little arms around your neck and give you the best hug of your life, but I can only imagine it.”

Ned’s brow furrowed and he gave her a begrudging look. “You had to play the parent card? That was really hitting below the belt.”

Alexis sighed and whispered lightly. “Shame on me.”

Ned smiled in spite of himself. “I love you, you know.”

An unexpected wet sting filled her eyes and Alexis furiously blinked it back. “Me too.”

She sighed heavily and began to laugh. She didn’t know where that had come from. “I’m sorry. Don’t mind me. I’m a little tired.”

“I know. I can see. Um…maybe you should eat a little something first, since you know you need to eat, and then you can take a nap.”

She nodded, shifting her weight against the cushions with a barely hidden groan. “Okay.”

“Does the veggie soup sound good? I can make you something else, if not.”

“It sounds good.”

“I’ll go heat it up for you.” He rose to his feel, and as he began to move away, he felt her hand grab onto his. He turned back to see her looking up at him with wide eyes and a plaintive face.

“You gonna make me eat alone?”

He grinned. “Never.” He bent down and kissed the top of her head as his hand slid down over her hair. “In fact, I’m going to sit right next to you and watch you very carefully, even though you hate when I do that, to make sure that you DO eat.”

With a heavy sigh, Alexis pulled the blanket back up over herself, bunching a fistful of chenille underneath her chin. “Very funny.”

Ned winked at her as he moved away from the sofa and made his way toward the kitchen. “Who’s laughing?”

Alexis watched him disappear and continued to stare at the empty path he’d taken. She didn’t really want to eat, though she knew that she should. Without warning, a new tide of emotions began to rise up and her vision blurred. She frowned, closing her eyes in frustration. She wanted it to go away. She didn’t want to feel anything, but something surely wanted to be felt. Her heart was pounding and she laid her head back against the cushion. She wondered if she’d pushed herself too hard and too far in one stretch. She was drained from the difficult climb, and the air was thin. A resonant voice told her to breath, and Alexis rolled her head against the cushion. Her eyes landed on the front door – it was shut and no one was there. She slowly inhaled and smiled as she whispered back to the ever-present voice in her head.

“Bossy.”