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Scene 79

Tony took another glance up the hallway to make sure Luke was gone before ushering Alexis into the room and closing the door behind them. “Sorry about that.”

She shrugged. “I’m used to him. Besides, if we all went around apologizing for our relatives – ex or otherwise – we’d never get anything accomplished.”

He set her file down on the linoleum counter and turned back to see Alexis standing stiffly beside the door, as if plotting a means of escape. Her eyes left his face and wandered, briefly surveying the unfamiliar room – the examining table, the counter covered with the intimidating tools of Tony’s trade, and the pale blue walls painted in a color meant to sooth. Tony slipped a hand into his pocket as he gave her a reassuring look and stepped up to the examining table.

“N-now what?” Her fingers played with the pink fringe. “You’re not going to make me put on one of those gowns with the ties in the back are you?”

Tony shook his head. “Not necessary. It is necessary for you to climb up here though.” He patted the table, and the stretch of white paper that covered it gave out a crinkling sound. “Need some help?”

She shook her head and moved toward him, easing herself up to sit on the edge of the table. She grimaced with the slight pain that accompanied the bearing of her weight into her arms as she scooted herself back.

“Your muscles are going to be feeling it for a while. Physical inactivity, especially when you’ve been laid up in bed for a long period of time, can take a quick toll. It’s kind of like when you’re used to working out regularly and then you can’t for a week or so. You sure do feel it, once you start back again.”

Alexis smiled. “That’s not a great analogy to use with me, but I get your point. Is there anything I should or shouldn’t be doing?”

“Just follow your normal routine of activity, only take it down a notch or two until you feel stronger. Your body is your best guide. Listen to it.”

“I’m trying to listen to a lot of things.”

Her thought was spoken softly, as if said more to herself than to him. It gave Tony pause. “You said you were sleeping a lot.” She nodded. “Are you sleeping well?”

Her eyes darted from his face to nowhere specific. “Yeah.”

“How come I’m not convinced?”

Alexis chewed on her lip and shrugged one shoulder, eyes moving to her fringe-entwined fingers. “I…did have another bad dream, my first night. The next morning, I started to remember bits and pieces of it.” She finally met his gaze directly. “But last night was good. I felt…different, when I woke up today. I felt…whole. And I knew right away that there had been no bad dreams.”

“Maybe your first night back home, you were just disoriented from having been in so many unfamiliar places. The second night, you knew where you were and you felt more secure.”

“I do feel more secure, in many ways. Sonny has been a real help with that. He’s been my one constant throughout this whole ugly mess, and he just knows how to keep me feeling anchored.”

Her face softened as she pondered her words, wondering how anchored she’d still feel when the line was actually cut. And she cocked her head, hugging Sonny’s warm, comforting gift to her neck with an opposing lift of her shoulder. The light tickle of the soft wool against her skin made her smile. Alexis glanced up at Tony and suddenly felt a twinge of embarrassment. She ran her hand down the length of the scarf and straightened her back.

“He gave me this, as a “going to the doctor like a good little patient” present, I think.”

“Cashmere. Not too shabby.”

Alexis laughed. “Shabby is not a word I would ever use in conjunction with anything having to do with Sonny. And I might as well admit to you, since I already admitted it to him, that in spite of my initial objections I was actually glad to have someone staying with me after I got home. So there. You were right. Are you happy?”

“If you’re happy, I’m happy. And if you’re healthy, I’m even happier.”

“Was that a hint for me to shut up, stop stalling and let you get on with it?”

Tony chuckled. “You and I communicate so well!”

“Now that we’ve gotten past the issue of who’s the doctor and who’s the lawyer.”

Alexis followed Tony’s movements with her eyes as he picked up the blood pressure monitor from its resting place. She wanted to keep her focus on him while she was in that room, rather than the bevy of medical accoutrements that surrounded her. The glass bottles of cotton balls, gauze and alcohol wipes were just as unnerving as the glint of metal instruments lying here and there on various metal trays. If she looked too long at any one thing, she could very easily find herself looking at the corridor while quickly on her way back to the lounge – and Sonny, who would take her home. And again, the entertaining of her childish fears shamed her. Alexis cleared her throat and gave Tony a renewed smile as an offer of permission to carry on.

“I’m going to get a reading on your blood pressure first, then I’ll do it again just before we’re done. Readings can fluctuate, especially during a particularly stressful circumstance.”

“Don’t worry about it, Tony. I already told you that I’m plenty used to Luke.” Her crack took Tony aback, and he looked up to see her sly grin. “Although he’d probably consider it a great achievement and an unyielding source of pride if he DID make my pressure spike.”

“Undoubtedly. Could you push up your sleeve for me please?”

“Sure.”

Tony waited while Alexis gently pulled up on the gray knit, exposing her healing puncture marks to his view. She’d put the oil on her arms after her shower, and her skin still bore the very light telltale glow. “Still using the Vitamin E a few times a day?”

“Yeah.” She watched as he carefully wrapped the cuff around her upper arm. “Do they look better? I’m hardly an objective observer, so it’s hard for me to…”

Her voice dissipated as Tony rapidly squeezed on the small rubber pump and the cuff tightened uncomfortably against her arm. The pressure made her uneasy, and she couldn’t pinpoint why. And then, the pumping stopped and all was quiet but for the light hissing of air as the pressure slowly released. Alexis studied the hospital ID dangling from a pin on Tony’s coat pocket, while Tony studied the numbers on the dial. The ID suddenly began to move, and Alexis realized she was holding her breath.

“Good.” Tony announced as he tore the wide plastic band from her arm. He didn’t notice that Alexis winced. He didn’t know that the ripping sound of Velcro would forever send a creeping chill up her spine. “One thirty over eighty five. Alexis, one – Luke, zero!”

“As it should be.”

Alexis tried to regulate her breath without being obvious about it. She didn’t want Tony to know that she’d almost forgotten that with each inhale, there must be an equal and opposite exhale. Tony looked away to make a note in her chart, and her sleeve was quickly pulled back down to her wrist.

“How does…” He looked back up and seemed surprised to see her arm so quickly covered.

“I’m sorry. Were you not done?” Alexis wore the expression of a guilty child.

“I was done. And the puncture marks look good. They’re healing nicely, so just keep using the E. May I take a look at how the other arm is doing?”

“Sure.” Alexis reached for her sleeve and pulled it up above her elbow. She knew the left arm didn’t look so good, and she didn’t want to see Tony’s face as he studied it. Instead, she fixed her focus on the small paisley print in his tie while his warm hands lit upon her skin.

“Hmm. Well, we knew the infection would make these scratches a bit more stubborn to heal.”

She cleared her throat. “Should I be investing in a more extensive wardrobe of long-sleeved summer items?”

“Have your past wounds healed easily, or have you tended to scar?”

Alexis stared at him blankly, and then a wry smile began to appear on her face. Tony had asked her a very loaded question. “I have a scar on the back of my head somewhere, from when I fell. But I can’t feel it anymore. And I’d had a couple of pins in my broken arm, but I think I’m the only one who can tell where they were.”

“Good. In that case, you would probably be safe investing in wardrobe of skimpy things.”

Alexis widened her eyes at him. “Well, alrighty then.”

Tony felt his face flush. “That didn’t come out right.”

She smiled at Tony’s mild embarrassment, but groaned as she shifted her weight to ease the dull ache in her back. The safety pin in the back of her jeans glinted under the lights.

“Speaking of pins, I see you still have one in you waistband. Have you gained back any weight?”

She looked down at the slight gap between the denim and her body. “The pin IS feeling a bit tight, so I think so. I should have gained some weight back because Sonny is cooking all the time – and very well too, I might add. He always finds sneaky ways to make healthy things not taste particularly healthy, so I’ll like them. He could sure teach your hospital chef a thing or two about eggs.”

“Want to hop on the scale and see how far you have to go to get back up to your normal weight.”

“I don’t know how much I weigh normally. I haven’t owned a scale since law school.”

Tony was impressed. “Good for you! I wish more women didn’t own them. They can be bloody tyrants.”

“I already have one tyrant in my life, and he’s probably thinking of new ways to boss me around right now, while he’s waiting for you to turn me loose.”

“NOW who’s giving hints.” He winked playfully. “If you still need that safety pin in your waistband by the end of the week, let me know. And I want you to keep taking the supplements I gave you until the bottles are empty, okay?”

“Right.”

Tony’s focus moved to her forehead. As his hand moved toward her face, Alexis followed it with her eyes. He tilted her chin up to the light as his other hand carefully brushed the bangs away from her scrape to examine it. Tony felt her jaw tense beneath his touch. “Am I hurting you?”

She shook her head, not knowing where to fix her eyes. Tony’s face was so close to hers and it was strange to feel another set of hands on her besides Sonny’s.

“I can see you’re using the E oil here too, so keep it up. It’s doing pretty well, but the skin on your face is delicate and may take a bit more time to heal.”

“That’s alright. My hair covers it up anyway.”

His hands slipped away from her face and Alexis gave her bangs a quick toss.

“I’m not going to ask you take your make-up off, so tell me how the bruising on your cheek looks.”

“It’s morphed from the purple family, as Taggert called it, to a lavender/green combo. It’s real pretty.”

Tony pulled a penlight out of his pocket and clicked it on. “Look straight ahead at my lovely nose, okay?”

“Okey-doke.”

He flashed the light into her left eye, then the right, with Alexis shifting her nervous gaze to Tony’s eyes in between. He smiled at her furtive glances, and Alexis suddenly felt very self-conscious. Her teeth laid claim to her bottom lip and Tony clicked the light off. He slipped in back into his pocket and Alexis turned her head to follow him as he moved to her side.

“I need to check your back as well – see how the bruises are healing there. I want to be careful about any residual swelling around your spine. Can you pull up the bottom of your sweater please?”

She nodded silently, reaching down to lift up the hem on each side of her hips. But she suddenly stopped with a frown. “Tony?”

There was a different timbre of her voice as she intoned his name, and it made him step back to better look at her face. “What’s wrong?”

Alexis shifted her eyes up to his, then lowered them to the floor. “Taggert said they’re charging Sorel with murder.” She looked back up at him with a vaguely expectant expression. “I didn’t know how close I came to being that kind of statistic. They told me that I almost died before they even got me out of that basement. I suppose you knew that already.”

“Yeah. You overdosed. You were really lucky.”

“You’re telling me.”

“I couldn’t believe it when they brought him in and expected me to…”

“Who?”

He’d had no ethical choice in the matter, but Johnny had still shamed him well. The doctor in Tony could talk the talk, but the man in him was made ill. “Sorel. His head had been smashed into the hood of a car.”

“What? Who smashed his head…?”

“I didn’t ask. But he was brought into the ER just a few hours after you. I was still on call, and having to treat that man after seeing what he did to you made my skin crawl. I sure as hell didn’t want to, but…”

“You had to. I know.”

“Johnny wanted to tear me limb from limb when he found out.”

“Johnny?” She shook her head. “No, he’s not the ‘tearing limb from limb’ type.”

Tony’s face was unmoving. “You didn’t see him. And by the way, Sonny doesn’t know that Sorel was even here at the same time as you. Johnny didn’t want him to know, just in case something accidentally on purpose happened to Sorel for which Sonny could be blamed. And I didn’t want him to know either, because he would have had the same reaction as Johnny about me touching you after touching Sorel.”

Alexis gave him a weak smile. “Sonny is more bark than bite, Tony.”

“Sonny didn’t want me touching you to begin with. But I was the only one in the ER, so he had no choice.”

“So I was really lucky twice that night.” She laughed uneasily, her forced smile fading quickly.

Tony smiled and tilted his head. “Is that something you’re having trouble dealing with, Alexis? That you almost died?”

“I’m having trouble understanding something.”

”What?” His voice softened. “Is it something that I can help you understand, or…”

“Yes.” Her answer was sharp. “Um…Taggert said that just because I overdosed, that doesn’t mean Sorel did it on purpose. But Sorel moves drugs – he knows them. Clearly, he knew heroin and what it would do. So I have it in my head that he had to know how to overdose me, just in time for Sonny to find me dead.”

“That’s not necessarily…”

“And he knew just how much to give me and how often in order to get me addicted - just in case the overdose didn’t actually kill me as expected.”

“Not that I want to give Sorel the benefit of the doubt, but Taggert was right. It’s very likely that the overdose was, in fact, an accident.”

“How?”

“Alexis, heroin is…” Tony searched for the proper way to elaborate as she looked up at him with confusion and need swimming in her eyes. “Unpredictable. It’s frighteningly easy and common for people to overdose on this drug. Life long users can take the same amount in the same way, month after month, year after year, and then one day it backfires. One day, that same amount will suddenly be too much for their body to handle and they have an overdose reaction.”

“Why?”

“Many factors can contribute.” Tony paused as he heard the crinkling of paper, and his focus was drawn to the edge of the table, where her fingers were tightening their grip. “Are you sure you want to hear all this? It’s over. Does it really matter that much now?”

“It matters.” Alexis stared up into his face with an intensity that urged him on.

Tony sighed heavily and leaned back against the counter. He didn’t realize that his hands wrapped around the edge in an empathetic mirror image of Alexis. “As I said, there are many factors that can provoke an unexpected overdose – the quality of the drug, what it’s been cut with and to what extent, the general health of the user, a change in the usual administration schedule, a change in the usual surroundings in which they…”

“I believe ‘shoot up’ is the expression you’re trying to avoid. It’s okay to use the right words, Tony. ‘Administration schedule’ just sounds a little ridiculous.”

He smiled through his uncomfortable stammer. “Yes…well. Okay. Um…stress can also be a big factor. I’m sure you already know that stress manifests itself physiologically under even the best of circumstances.”

As in forgetting to breathe. Alexis nodded – yes, she knew.

“Given the extreme situation you were in - the fear you were experiencing, the infection your body was trying to fight, the fact that you’d already had physical violence perpetrated against you…I don’t mean to scare you after the fact, but it’s a miracle you didn’t overdose a lot sooner and with a much different outcome.”

“I was already scared after the fact.” Alexis scratched at her arm. “It’s not as if no one had ever tried to kill me before, but this was so…at least with Helena, there's a lifelong motive that I understand. I’d just really rather not believe that the overdose was intentional. So thank you for providing me with some reasonable doubt.”

“Do you have any more questions?”

She shook her head and Tony moved around behind her. Alexis reached down again and rolled the edge of her sweater, tensing at the feel of the cool air hitting her warm skin.

“I’ll be careful, but you have my permission to smack me if I hurt you.” He pushed the knit further up her spine.

“Like I said, I’m a big girl Tony.” His hands were gentle as they moved along her ribcage, checking the progress of the bruising and swelling that she could feel, but had never seen.

“No one feels very big when they’re in a doctor’s office. Not even doctors themselves. How is it feeling back here?”

“Better. How is it looking?”

“Lavender/green.”

“Good. I’m all for consistency.”

He looked up to see her smile, and Tony was glad that it seemed to be genuine. “I’m going to check your lungs, while I’m back here. Prepare for an incoming stethoscope. Properly warmed, of course.”

Alexis glanced over her shoulder, but Tony promptly told her to turn back around and follow his instructions as he laid the warmed metal against her back. And she found it somewhat amusing that yet another person was now telling her how and when to breathe. Before she knew it, the metal and Tony’s hands were gone and the sweater was slipping back down to shroud her in its warmth again. Her hands moved up to the soft folds of cashmere than draped around her neck, enjoying the comforting feel of it against her palms. She sighed heavily and shifted on the noisy paper as Tony came around to stand in front of her. He lifted the small round disc at the end of his stethoscope to his mouth and exhaled on it. Alexis gave him a questioning expression.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to listen to your heart.”

“I repeat – what are you doing?”

“Warming. Haven’t you ever seen a doctor do this before?”

“I don’t really go to doctors. Unless I almost get killed, of course. Then, I’ll capitulate.”

Tony frowned. “When’s was the last time you had a complete…”

“Tony – please don’t even finish that well-intentioned sentence. My extended hospitalization in Greece didn’t exactly endear me to the idea of allowing medical personnel to touch me unless it was an absolute necessity. This last hospital stay certainly fell under that category, but the only reason I’m here right now is because of you. I got the distinct impression that you would take it as both a personal AND professional failure if you couldn’t coerce me into coming back. So consider yourself flattered.”

“I do. And your impression was very astute.”

She smiled and looked down at the instrument in his hand. “I think you might need to warm it again.”

Tony laughed and did as she suggested. “Can you pull your neckline down a bit for me please? And pull the scarf back a little too, please.”

She laughed lightly, and Tony couldn’t help but smile in curious response. “What so funny.”

“Nobody ever has to remind you to say ‘please’, do they?”

“Nope.”

“Sonny has taken some training with that one, but he’s coming along quite nicely.”

Tony shook his head as he pressed the metal to her chest. “Working your way up to the big things, like training him not to be a felon?”

“Tony!”

“Sorry.”

As Tony listened to the strength of her heart with a lingering mischievous smile on his face, Alexis looked for a new place to focus. She settled on the small wrinkle in the lapel of his white jacket, skirted by a small lock of his hair.

“Perfect.” He pulled away. “Lets see what that blood pressure looks like now.”

Alexis pulled up her sleeve and allowed her eyes to wander to the floor as Tony went about his business. Again, she felt the uncomfortable tightening of the cuff around her arm, again the hissing of air met her ears…again, the ripping of Velcro. Her fingers flexed in response.

“One twenty over eighty. Perfect again.”

“Alexis, two - Luke, still zero!”

Tony laughed and Alexis began to reach for her sleeve.

“Uh – not yet.” He watched her face register the knowledge of what was coming, and he wished he could let it go. He wished he could simply pat her on the shoulder and send her back down the hall to Sonny. “I really need to run a blood panel, if that’s okay with you.”

Her dread did battle with the sweet way that Tony had asked her permission, rather than insisting. “What the hell. Make it an even dozen.”

Alexis chewed on one half of her bottom lip and looked down at her arm. She had, in fact, counted the needle marks there. It was against her better judgment, but perverse curiosity got the better of her in the private safety of her bathtub – and she only counted on the right arm. “Good luck finding a new place to target.”

Tony smiled at how she was trying to make it easier for him. He hoped he could somehow do the same for her. Alexis looked up to see Tony’s back as he fished in a drawer for what he needed. She could feel the cold chill creeping through her before he even turned around and brought the things in his hand into her view. She cleared her throat and swallowed, telling herself that it was almost over. The thought of Sonny, waiting alone in the lounge, wafted into her mind - and Johnny, waiting alone outside in the car. She couldn’t wait to see both of those faces again. When she did, they’d be taking her home.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Hmm?” She re-focused on Tony’s face.

“Whatever it is, hold that thought. It was making you smile.”

“I was thinking that your twenty minutes were probably up twenty minutes ago.” Her gaze darted down to the small metal tray he’d laid down on the paper beside her leg. A blanket of goose-bumps revisited her skin at the sight of another syringe.

“Why don’t you lie back on the table? It’ll be much more comfortable for you than sitting up. And it will be easier for me too, actually.”

“Whatever you say.”

Tony helped her lower herself down, and the fluorescent lights over her head took Alexis back to another bed…another room…another hospital. She squirmed against the paper as she squinted into the harsh glare, and her free hand moved up to her stomach, tangling in the pink fringe that lay across it. Tony’s hands suddenly made contact with her skin, tying a sticky length of rubber around her arm. She stiffened, and Tony laid his palm upon her wrist in a gesture of comfort.

“You okay?” She nodded, and he slipped his palm down to her hand. “I need you to make a fist for me. Pretend your hand’s got a hold of my face, if that helps any.”

Alexis released a short burst of nervous laughter and did as he asked, curling her fingers up into a tight ball.

“Ouch! I’m glad that’s NOT my face…or anything else, for that matter.” He teased, eliciting another laugh.

The cold, wet alcohol-soaked pad grazed her skin just a moment before the smell hit her nose. Both made her flinch, and Alexis held her breath once more.

“It’ll be over in just a second or two. Just…close your eyes and think of England.”

She released her breath. “Excuse me?”

“It’s the advise English mothers used to give to their daughters when preparing them for their wedding night.”

Alexis narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re making that up.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not! Good grief - I’m starting to sound like Sonny.”

Alexis smiled and began to laugh again. A slight sting caught her breath in her throat. She blinked rapidly and looked up at Tony in surprise. He grinned, quite pleased with himself that he’d managed to distract her. The sting may have been quick, but she could still feel the pressure of what he was doing - and Tony’s hand was still holding onto her. She closed her eyes and was quickly greeted with the remembrance of Sorel leering down at her while he held tight to her arm.

Tony noticed the knuckles of her fist had grown white, and he tapped her hand. “You can let go now.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t let go.

“Alexis? Your fist.”

He covered it with his palm and Alexis slowly released, swallowing hard as she blinked her eyes back open. The feel of the plastic pushing against her arm made her head begin to spin. He was taking too long, and she was losing her equilibrium fast. Her mouth went dry and Alexis grabbed onto the side of the table with her free hand. Again, her eyes squeezed shut.

“I think I’m falling.” She whispered hoarsely. And suddenly, both the pressure and Tony’s hand disappeared.

“No, Alexis, you’re not falling.”

She heard the clanking sound of something hitting metal, and there came a brand new kind of pressure against her arm – and a feeling of softness. Tony pulled her clutching hand from the side of the table and moved her fingers to press against a cotton ball at the inside of her elbow.

“Keep a little pressure there for a minute or two.” Tony bent her arm and Alexis kept it where he positioned it. Her eyes fluttered open and he smiled down at her as he felt for her pulse. “Do you still feel some vertigo?”

“I feel like an idiot.”

“I think you just experienced a minor panic reaction and your blood pressure took a quick drop.”

Alexis felt her face flush with embarrassment. “A drop, huh? Do you think that means Luke has completely left the building?”

Tony grinned. “I think that means you just got stuck again, and your body doesn’t care who did it or for what greater good. You reacted to a perceived threat…and it would probably be odd if you didn’t.”

“Nice rhetoric, Pinocchio. I’ve heard of ‘spin doctors’ before, but this is ridiculous.”

“I meant what I said. Your reaction is not unusual. And your pulse is back to normal, so how about you try sitting back up now?” She nodded, and Tony helped up her without being asked, bracing her with a strong palm against the back of her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

He studied her face intently, lest it give a different answer from her words. She gave no words, instead offering another nod and a weak smile. Tony frowned down at her with narrowed eyes, and his doubting expression made Alexis laugh.

“I wonder if the look on your face right now is anything like the look I give Sonny when he flatters me.”

Tony slid his hand away from her shoulder and down to where her fingers held the cotton against her arm. “I think that’ll do.”

She watched him lift the white ball of fluff, decorated with a red speck of her blood. A tiny round bandage quickly took its place. As she stared down at the tracks on her arm, Alexis remembered another thing that would most likely see her returning to that hospital, just one more time, in the unwanted role of patient.

“Tony, could you give me Charlie’s phone number?”

Tony froze, just as he dropped the cotton into the wastebasket. The subject of Charlie came out of left field and he was stunned. “He didn’t give it to you?”

“Sonny has it. But I don’t want to ask him for it.”

Tony frowned. “Why? Alexis, is Sonny being too…invasive with you? I mean I know he’s been very protective and supportive, but you aren’t obligated to…”

“No, Tony, that’s not it. If I told him that I want to talk to Charlie, he’d only be afraid that something was wrong.”

“Is it?”

“N-no. There are just some things…questions on my mind, and I expect Charlie’s the only one who can answer them. I don’t want Sonny getting all worked up over it when there’s nothing he can do for me. And he would get worked up.”

“I don’t doubt that. I’ll get you the number. Or if you don’t want Sonny or anyone else to find it lying around, you can just call the main number here and they’ll connect you to his office.”

“Oh. Yeah, I think that’s best. Thank you.”

“He liked you, you know.”

She smiled, remembering that craggy face and irreverent manner. He made her laugh, and he was, above all else, kind. “I liked him too.”

Tony turned and picked up the tray from the counter. Alexis turned away at the sight of her own blood, lying trapped in the plastic cylinder atop the tray. He caught a glimpse of her hands tightening around the table’s edge once more.

“Are you sure the vertigo is gone?”

Her eyes widened in sincere innocence. “Mm hmm.”

“Mm hmm yourself. I want you to stay put, right here, while I go drop this off at the nurse’s station. And then I’ll go get Sonny and bring him back here.”

“Am I done?”

“You’re done.”

She smiled and pressed her palms to the paper, ready to slide herself off the table. Tony set a firm hand down on her leg.

“Excuse me, what did I just say?”

“I’m fine.”

“Would you please humor me and sit tight another couple of minutes, just to make sure that when you stand up, you don’t fall down, go boom.”

Alexis made a face. “I think even Lucas is too old to hear that expression coming out of your mouth.”

“If the expression fits.” Tony stuck her chart under his arm and opened the door. “Oh - and here’s another one of those animal references you enjoy so much.” He turned and pointed at her with a gleam in his eye. “Stay!”

She heaved a sigh of resignation. “Woof.”

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Luke watched the door open from his chosen post at the far corner of the corridor. A strong beam of light spilled across the marbled floor and he pulled his body back, to stay out of sight as Tony came into his own view. Tony lingered within the doorway with that chart tucked under his arm and something small and undistinguishable in his hand. There was a light mumble of voices floating into the hall – one male, one female. Luke couldn’t make out words, but the voice was hers. She was in there.

Tony laughed lightly before stepping back and fully into the hall. He pulled the door closed as he turned away, and a dark flash of crimson caught Luke’s eye. The undistinguishable thing in Tony’s hand was a small metal tray, and upon it lay a vial of blood - the blood of a Cassadine. As Tony walked down the hall in the direction of the nurse’s station, Luke slipped around the corner and boldly out of hiding. He stood, staring at the closed door of the third examining room from the corner.

Something was more than just up with little Natasha - something was wrong.

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Alone in that room, the lights seemed more glaring and the smells seemed likewise intensified. As her eyes darted from one pale blue wall to another, the room itself seemed to grow smaller.

Breathe, Alexis!

She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, attempting to take a stream of cool air into her lungs while bypassing her sense of smell. It didn’t quite work. The air was infused with rubbing alcohol, and now, so were her lungs. The very thought of it snapped her eyes back open, and the room made a vague tilt. That did it. She was not going to pass out alone in that room.

Alexis held tight to the edge of the table, paper crinkling in protest as she slid off the edge and her dangling feet found the floor. She made sure her legs were strongly beneath her before letting go and taking the few steps toward the door. With one quick, strong turn of the handle, she was freed from the confines of the small, suffocating room.

Alexis closed her eyes and turned to face the door as she pulled it shut, leaning her forehead against the cool, smooth surface to get her bearings before Sonny appeared to take her home. She didn’t want him to see her so unsteady and unsure. Not any more. She wanted him to see her as the woman he used to know…before.

“Long time no see!”

Alexis jolted at the unexpected voice behind her. Her heart pounded heavily in her chest and a hand rose up to push her bangs as far to the right as they would go.

“Not long enough.” She retorted turning around to face him, gently leaning her back against the door as her eyes slowly drifted up to his unshaven face. “What happened, Luke? Have you finally worked Bobbie’s last nerve to the point where not even your own sister wants to break cheap bread with you?”

Luke leaned his elbow into the door beside her head. “My little sister can’t break bread with me or anyone else until her shift is over in fifteen minutes.” He stared down into Alexis’ dark eyes, studying them as he would the combination to a safe. “So I just thought I’d mosey back over here and see what THIS little sister was up to.” He gave the end of her nose a single tap. “Whatchya up to, Natasha?”

“Five foot six, Luke. Same as always.”

He grinned and pressed his palm against the door, right above her head. Alexis straightened her spine as he leaned in closer to her and let his eyes wander down the length of her body.

“Sixty six inches of woman plus three inches of sexy boots. Now that all adds up to a very intriguing number, if you catch my…good lord, woman!” His free hand made a swift motion to grab her right wrist and pull her arm up between them. “Did they do this to you here?”

The air froze in Alexis’s throat as Luke stared down at the scatter of puncture wounds with one tiny bandage in their midst. She’d forgotten to pull down her sleeve. How could she have forgotten? Her brain began to buzz and Alexis twisted her wrist, yanking her arm from Luke’s not ungentle hold.

“Don’t touch me.” She whispered harshly through a hardened stare.

Luke watched her shaky hand pull the cuff of her sweater down to her wrist, shielding her arm in a cloud of pale gray. His jaw shifted as his mind went straight to Helena, and what fresh kind of hell the old bat could possibly be unleashing on the bastard child now.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“You didn’t hurt me, you touched me. Don’t.”

He held his palms up in the air in a gesture of non-hostile intent. “No harm, no foul. But if I were you, lady lawyer, I’d think about suing this place. They’ve made you look like a damned junkie.”

The color drained from Alexis’ face at a speed he hadn’t seen since the night she thought they’d killed an innocent woman. She stared into his eyes with an amalgam of curiosity, disbelief and utter horror. She stared until she was no longer looking AT him, but THROUGH him. Luke had never seen such an expression in those smoky, sexy, lost little girl eyes of hers, and it made his stomach clench.

"Hey, you alright?"

She saw his lips moving, but she didn't hear a word. And all she saw was blue. Her mind was swimming with it...swimming in it. Blue walls, blue eyes – Thomas…Luke…she looked like a damned junkie. Oh, God...he knew.

A strong hand unexpectedly wrapped around the curve of her waist and she jumped, eyes reflexively snapping shut and teeth clamping down on her lip. But Alexis forced herself to breathe...and soon, the sweet scent of cloves sent a flood of relief through her body. Luke Spencer all but disappeared from her mind as she smiled and turned her head with a knowing murmur.

“Sonny.”