Alexis closed her eyes and allowed her head to drop forward as the door clicked shut.
The smiled she'd held for Johnny vanished as she quietly exhaled and turned where she stood. She leaned her back into the door as her lids opened. Luke was standing not 6 feet in front of her, his eyes unabashedly consuming her from head to toe. Her back stiffened as her mind raced. She couldn't remember if her sleeves were still pushed up after her morning Vitamin E ritual, or if she'd absently pushed them back down. Her mind was a blank, but she wouldn't allow herself to look. Instead, she stood silent, tall and firm, waiting for Luke to make the first move - waiting for the firing squad of one to take his first shot.
Luke was wresting control, taking in her vibe and assessing how cooperative she was likely to be. She was nervous, but her suit of armor was still solid. And if she thought that anything she said could put her brother at risk, she'd shut him down cold. No, Natasha was not looking like a woman who would make this easy. Making her more skittish might be the best way to go - skittish about other things. He was in her home, on her turf, but Luke would have to level the playing field to get what he needed. He just hoped that Johnny would follow her request and refrain from calling for back-up. The little dude may be tougher than Luke thought, but Sonny would take no prisoners.
Alexis watched as Luke tilted his head and casually slid his hands into his front pockets. She responded to his movement by making one of her own. Her arms slipped behind her back. Out of Luke's sight, her hands immediately searched and found the cotton cuffs that lay settled at her wrists. Her sleeves WERE pushed down. It was all still hidden. Although he'd already seen a part of it the day before.
"You look like a damned junkie…"
He could feel her eyes on his face, boring into him. Waiting. He took his time, still studying the rest of her body, well covered from her neck to her ankles. She was barefoot, clad in back sweatpants with an elastic waist that rode along her hip in an ill-fitting manner. And her white, long-sleeved sweater made her bare face look all the more pale and young. The picture she presented was unbefitting. It was far cry from the perfectly put together Alexis Davis, lover of the conservative designer business suit and well-coiffed hair. If he'd passed her on the street looking this way, all injuries to her face aside, Luke wondered if he'd even recognize her. And he couldn't help wonder what else Helena had done that he couldn't see…and Tony had fixed.
Luke finally let his focus settle back on her face. She glared at his invasively studious face with her jaw set - stoic and challenging. But the minute he locked into her dark, smoky eyes, he saw another slight twitch in her lid. The mere act of being looked at was making her flinch inside, as if she expected another fist to come at her face. For a disturbing moment, he wanted to walk away. But her couldn't afford to go soft on account of a woman with bruises on her cheek and big brown puppy dog eyes. And Alexis wasn't expecting him to. He ran his tongue across his lips and prepared to end her wait for his first move. Alexis blinked and cocked her head, her expression suddenly shifting into one of curious amusement.
"If I'd known you'd regale me with such scintillating conversation, I'd have invited you over here myself days ago, instead of waiting for you to barge into my home uninvited."
Luke chortled. "I didn't exactly have to huff and puff and blow your house down, sweet cheeks. You opened it of your own free will."
"After MUCH huffing and puffing. And if I hadn't opened the door, Johnny probably would have tossed you headfirst down the elevator shaft just to shut you up." She smiled and lowered her voice to a murmur. "You should be thanking me instead of getting in my face."
He smiled and cocked his head right back at her. He didn't say a word, but took one, then two small steps toward her. Alexis pulled her arms out from behind her back and wrapped them around her chest in a defensive gesture as her straightening spine broke contact with the door. She lifted her chin higher and dried to ignore the dryness in her mouth as Luke came closer. He halted an arm's length away - close enough for Alexis to see that her left cheek had become the focus of his pale blue eyes. Blue, like the sky. Like…
Something abruptly moved into her peripheral view. Alexis jerked her head back as her eyes darted to Luke's right hand, held aloft in the air near her face. She swallowed and slowly shifted her eyes to his face. He looked like he'd been bit.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" She shot dryly, her brow furrowing.
His arm dropped. Luke gave a small nod. "Where was Johnny and his trusty elevator shaft when someone a lot worse than me was…getting in your face. Literally. Where was the all-mighty Sonny?"
"It's not your concern, Luke."
"Au contraire. All things Cassadine are my concern."
"Is that why you've been following my brother all over town like a love-sick puppy?"
"Ha!" Luke gave out a belly laugh as Alexis flashed him a sweet, satisfied smile. "That's good. That's cute, really." He cleared his throat as his laughter died down. "But right now, all my undivided attention belongs to YOU, darlin'."
Alexis sighed lightly and shifted her weight again. Her back was beginning to ache. Her whole body felt like stone, every muscle tense. She wanted to move, but was too rigidly rooted to her place in front of the door. Or maybe she just wanted to keep hold of the security in being close to her one means of escape…not that she'd use it. Not with Luke. Never with Luke.
"You came to ask me something. Ask."
Luke gave another quick nod toward her face. "Did she do that herself, or did she send one of her underlings. And I mean that term in the literal sense."
He winked knowingly, and Alexis squinted in response. "She?"
Alexis smirked. "You think Helena did this? Right. She's getting back to basics. Mellowing, if you will, in her golden years - trading in her speeding cars, poisoned wine and sharpened knives in favor of a good, old fashioned punch in the face."
Luke's left eyebrow rose. "Then 'lucky you' is right."
"Aw shucks." Luke shrugged. "It was nothing."
"Considering the source, that goes without saying." She smiled tightly.
"So which one was it - Andreas? Although that one doesn't strike me as the type who'd do anything that would wrinkle his Armani. If he WAS clothed, that is."
"If this were a game of Marco Polo, you'd be drowning right now."
"So throw me a floatie."
"How about a block of cement?"
Luke gave her a broad grin. "Well hello, Natasha! It's good to see you didn't get all the piss and vinegar…punched right out of you."
Alexis shook her head and glanced away with a wry laugh. Luke's lack of sensitivity was hardly a surprise, but he seemed to wielding it with an especially brazen brand of pride.
"What are you trying to do Luke, test my limits? Do you expect me to start assuming the role of delicate flower."
"I know you, baby..."
"That's what you think."
"Lemme finish! I know you, and delicate flower just isn't in your nature."
"Maybe someone oughtta fill in Mr. Elevator Shaft and his boss."
"No need. They DO know me. A lot better than you."
Luke stared at the hard-set line of her jaw, and suddenly flashed on the image of Lulu's face when she dug in her heels in a display of bull-headedness that did her paternity proud. He doubted that the orphaned little Natasha ever had the luxury of showing anyone a childish, stubborn face for fear of Cassadine wrath. But she sure as hell made up for it now. The grown up Alexis was a legal shark - a verbal steamroller in a skirt with a look on her face that said if you pushed too hard, she would have you for dinner. The corner of his mouth involuntarily twitched. Being Natasha's dinner was not at all an unpleasant thought. Maybe he should start pushing.
Alexis bit her lip and made a small sound - a vague clearing of her throat. His eyes moved to hers. They suddenly seemed wider, distant, and somewhat confused. She was looking at him as if she'd forgotten who he was. It only lasted a moment…a long moment. And then she blinked hard, squeezing her eyes tightly shut before opening them again. He pulled his chin back and studied her expression, which was unreadable. Maybe the sunlight pouring in from the window behind his back was hurting her eyes. Or she could be getting squirrelly. Her unyielding composure had lasted about as long the day before. It hadn't taken too much time in his unexpected company before the steamroller began to stall.
His attention was distracted by Alexis's small, sudden movement. Her arms were still crossed over her chest, with one hand gripping her side. But the other hand had released its hold from around her upper arm, fingers sliding down with nails grazing along the white sleeve to linger, just below her elbow. Lingering…scratching in place like lethargic cat at a carpet post. Luke's eyes refocused on her face.
"I know you well enough, baby. Well enough to know that your body language was speaking a whole new kind of dialect in the hallowed halls of GH. Just like it is right now."
He saw her hand freeze out of the corner of his eye.
"What you're calling a new dialect, I call tedium. You must see a lot of that in other people whose company you beg, given that you are…well, YOU. I'm surprised you don't recognize what it looks like by now."
"I recognize I've got an itch that needs scratchin'. And I need you to help me." He smiled, then boldly dropped his gaze down to the fingers Alexis had wrapped around her forearm. "When you're done taking care of your own, that is. Ladies first."
"Not interested. In other words, go scratch yourself."
Luke laughed with genuine amusement. She always knew how to zap him in a sharp-tongued yet ladylike manner that tempted him to fuel her fire and see what else her heated little brain could cook up to put him in his place. He fought temptation, and squinted at the hand she held still clutched around her left arm.
"All those needle marks Tony left you with are starting to heal up?"
Alexis opened her mouth. It was reflex - she had no response and said nothing. He'd blindsided her, but she should have seen it coming. She swallowed, and Luke suddenly realized that it was her other arm he'd seen naked and bearing tracks, not the one her nails attended to. Both arms had IV's? Was what Helena did to Alexis more just a lesson in the futility of a bastard's rebellion? And what the hell did Tony have to do to keep the lesson from being a fatal one? He took a small step back in a gesture of peace.
Alexis watched him with a wary eye, then finally pulled her feet from the floor. She held her head up high and pulled her shoulders back in a defensive stance. There was no point in denying or deflecting. He'd seen them. He knew.
Luke watched her stride past him, her back straight and an expression of proud dignity on her face. His question had been rhetorical, but the fact that she answered it was a positive sign. He smiled and turned as she moved toward the dining room window, walking somewhat haltingly in the path of light it welcomed into the room.
"As if being laid up in a crummy hospital bed eating crummier hospital food wasn't bad enough, every time you turn around those doctors and nurses are coming at you with a needle in their hands for one reason or another." He caught a falter in the movement of her arm as she reached for the curtains. "You'd think they were on some sort of quota for how many times they have to stick you - like traffic cops and meter maids writing up pointy, painful little tickets."
"I had an appointment with Tony AT the hospital, which is entirely different from being IN the hospital." She pulled the semi-sheer curtains inward, muting the strong stream of sun. "Being IN the hospital is a whole other story."
"It's YOUR story, darlin'." Alexis turned and gave him an accusatory look. "What's with the glare? I'm not the one who put you there. Hell, I'm trying to keep you from being put BACK - in the basement, with a tag on your toe."
"What did you do Luke, hack into the hospital's computer system to access patient private records? I know Tony wouldn't disclose anything about me, and I trust that your sister's ethics would preclude her from telling you anything either."
"Barbara Jean was taking care of you?" He nodded slowly. "Good. I'm glad to hear it."
Alexis stared at him, eyes still filled with suspicion. But she was right about Bobbie. She hadn't given Luke information about her. She probably didn't even know Alexis had been at GH at all. And Tony had been too protective of her privacy in Luke's presence to say anything once she'd left.
"No? No what?"
"Bobbie wasn't taking care of me."
"Well, that's okay. Tony was."
"It's a felony, you know."
"Who needs to go to all the felonious trouble of hacking when I have two perfectly good ears? If you're so concerned about the confidentiality of your patient status, you shouldn't stand around in open, public places discussing it. Those hallways are echo chambers, baby. Sound carries. It even manages to make its way around a corner every now and then."
Her mind raced back to twenty-four hours before and six miles away. What had she and Tony discussed out in the corridor? Had Luke spotted her right away and hidden out of sight, listening before making himself known? Or had he decided to eavesdrop after she'd left him in front of the examining room with the vision of her track-marked arm that she'd carelessly allowed him to see? She cleared her throat.
"So you HAVE been following me. For how long?"
"Following? Following where? You haven't left this building since you got back from the hospital yesterday."
"BEFORE you saw me at the hospital. Stefan said you were following him - watching him. When did you make the switch to me?"
"AFTER I saw you at the hospital."
"So…what, have you been staring at the building, waiting for me to go somewhere? How dull for you."
"Dull? You? Never! You fascinate me. Even when you're holed up within these four very pricey walls and under the lock and key of the attentive little mobster next door."
"Technically he's across the hall, not next door, the mobster accusation is alleged, not proven, and NOBODY has me under lock and key, got it? Nobody!"
The fire that suddenly flashed in her eyes took Luke aback. Her face had grown flushed, and her hands had balled into fists held stiffly against her sides. Natasha was kicking into fight mode, and Luke wasn't exactly sure what had put her there - slandering Sonny, or the words 'lock and key.' But he had a pretty good idea.
"Message received." He answered with a haughty voice, reluctant to back down from meeting her offensive stance. Being defensive wasn't going to benefit either one of them.
"But if you don't mind me asking, how come Eddie is letting Corinthos and company look out for HIS angel? Where is the comeback crooner, and how come I haven't seen him singing in your tree?"
"I do mind you asking. And again, it's none of your concern."
Luke's face twisted into a grimace as he snapped his fingers in the air. "Oh, right! You gave the halo and wings back - along with his band of gold. Bummer for him, maybe not so much for you."
Alexis narrowed her eyes. "You don't know a damn thing about Ned and me."
"Only what I read in the papers. But I have my own personal theory as to why you and Ashton tanked. It's the name - Ned. Look at the names of all the other fine specimens of manhood buzzing around you right now: Sonny, Johnny, Tony, Lukie…NED? Listen to how it sounds! It just lies there, like a dead carcass."
"As opposed to a live one?"
"You're the live one, Natasha. The one full of purpose and passion. And to my way of thinking, it would be a pity for you to throw it all away by jumping into the deep end of the Quartermaine gene pool and becoming a procreating machine to make the grand-pappy happy."
"You are such an ass, Spencer!" She hissed. "And if you intend to take this little game of yours into personal territory, I strongly suggest you cease and desist because I know a few not-too-pretty facts about you that would make the transgressions of the Quartermaines seem like child's play."
"I've lived in Port Chuck way too long to be under the delusion that any of my past secrets still exist here. So save your threats, baby. They only work when you've got something to hide, and I'm out of the closet…so to speak."
"You've got something to hide alright - the same thing I have to hide. And yet, in your stupidity and/or arrogance, you think it's something you can use against me. Do you remember when you found out who I really was, and you told me the whole wondrous and horrible story of how I came to be born, and how my mother came to die?"
Luke cocked his head with a sly grin. "As if I would forget such a momentous bonding experience between us."
"The minute you'd finished burying me in enough bloody imagery to last a lifetime, you made it clear what you would do with your newfound information if I didn't promptly ask 'How high?' when you said jump. Threatening to expose my true identity, so Helena could set about dispatching me like she did my mother. Tell me, just how satisfying a thrill did you get from detailing the gruesome death of a mother to her child, and using her fear of the same fate your advantage?"
"That was a long time ago. Before…well, before."
"Sometimes it was only yesterday."
"Sometimes it's kill or be killed. And it's not like I really would have told her anything. I figured you'd know that."
"Don't be patronizing! How would I know that? And how dare you add insult to injury by coming here now and trying to hold my one most desperate act of self-preservation over my head when you not only participated in it, but framed my brother for the whole damn thing." She shook her head with a defeated exhale. "I suppose that part was also just as much my fault as yours. I knew who you were and what you were capable of, and I threw in with you anyway. As a Cassadine, it's a lesson I should have already learned - lie down with dogs, you're bound to get up with fleas."
"You didn't lie down with me baby, you trusted me. Pity on both counts."
"Is there no end to your puerile depravity?"
"Clearly not. Because as awful a thing even the premeditated murder of a murderer herself is, I know you've done a lot worse yourself. I know what those worse are, and I have for a very long time. I knew about what happened between you and Laura all those years ago. Or rather, what you did TO Laura."
Alexis saw a slight wince in Luke's face. It didn't faze her in the least. She wanted to take back the control, and she was taking it with both hands.
"Ironic that it's the exact same thing you always enjoyed telling everyone that Stavros did to Laura - rape. I also know that your sister sold her body before she was barely old enough to drive and you had a hand in facilitating that. That would be called pimping. But did I ever throw any of that in your face? Did I ever threaten to tell your children what their father had done to their mother, or your niece and nephew what you did to THEIR mother? Not even in idle jest would the thought to do so EVER enter my mind. But you? You do that kind of thing out of instinct. It must be awful to be so cold and calculating as that. I pity you."
Luke's throat had gone raw from dryness. Alexis had slashed him but good - and every word of it was true. He just hadn't seen it coming. Kill or be killed…she'd taken his words to heart. He cleared his throat and swallowed as he stared at her fierce, wounded face and found no sign that Alexis was about to retreat.
"Geez, baby. Talk about cold. Are you taking wounding lessons from Johnny, or is he taking them from you? I bow to the master."
Alexis stared back in silence. He could see a slight tremble running through her, and what he swore was a glint of guilt in her eye.
"I didn't mean to touch such a raw nerve in bringing up your ex."
"Touching raw nerves is all you're here to do, isn't it? Well I'm not interested in providing you with a voluntary target for your batting practice. I've had enough."
Luke's eyes washed over her face, moving from the big, tired eyes, to the wound partially hidden beneath her bangs, to the small cluster of fading royal hues on her cheek. She'd had enough alright. But Natasha was still trying to dish it out. The barkeep in him wanted to ask her if she needed a drink. She could probably use one, but it would probably end up in his face.
"Hey, do you see a Louisville Slugger in my hands?"
"I HEAR one - in your mouth…making threats, in front of Johnny, that you have neither the intention NOR the ability to act upon in order to make me open that door to you."
"I didn't make you do anything. If you knew I was bluffing and opened the door anyway, then you opened it 'cause you were jonesing for a tussle with me. Otherwise, you'd have told me to piss off and let Johnny throw me down that trusty elevator shaft of his."
"Well that's a classic case of projection if I've ever heard one. You're the one always running around in dark corners and alleys, looking to see what kind of trouble you can find."
"True. But trouble sure found YOU this time, didn't it darlin'? And it just got all up in your face. Did you even manage to get few good licks in yourself, or was fighting out of the question if you wanted to keep breathing?"
Alexis's temples throbbed. She remembered the one time she did try to fight…to run. But she'd been too weak and slow to make it through that basement door before the crash of a metal chair at her feet paralyzed her, and she was quickly pulled backward into Sorel's vice-like grasp. His right arm locked around her neck, compromising her intake of breath, while his left arm pulled her hips tight against his body. And while she struggled to relax her throat and keep her consciousness, she felt the excitement of his power over her in the growing firmness of his crotch.
She began to shake with fear, her stomach clenching in revulsion as Sorel's angry words of her helplessness and his control were hissed into her ear. She was nothing but a mouse in a cage - HIS cage. He could do whatever he wanted to do to her, and there was nobody who could stop him. Her eyes squeezed shut, trying to hold back the tears that she refused to give to Sorel. And when they opened again, there he was…Thomas, with the blank expression and eyes like the sky. He was standing quietly in the doorway, looking down at the metal chair that lay collapsed on the ground at his feet. Sorel spoke, and Thomas lifted his crystal blue eyes to her face, staring hard and cold, and draining the last ounce of fight she had left. She began to relax within Sorel's arms before being shoved into Thomas's to be shot up with another hit of heroin. The only struggle she had to maintain was the one to keep breathing.
"Hello! Earth to Natasha!"
Her head quickly lifted up, unfocused eyes hovering somewhere in the vicinity of his chest. Luke's voice had startled her, and the strength of her sudden memory left her in a fog of disorientation.
"Fighting. Better late than never, that's my motto. So go ahead - consider me your own personal voluntary target. Think of it as a get-well gift from an admirer who's too big a cheapskate to spring for a traditional yet over-priced floral arrangement. I may not be the old blonde bat herself, but I'm the only one here. And we both know I've certainly done plenty to piss you off over the years myself."
Alexis blinked hard as she tried to focus. Her gaze slowly shifted up to his face and his pale blue eyes. And when they did, Luke gave her a mischievous grin. His arms rose up, stretched out wide as if offering her a hug. From his point of view, what he really offering her was much better.
"Come on, baby! Ya know you want to. Pick up that Louisville Slugger and knock a few out of the park, on me. You already got a hell of a start with those bullets about my past. I trust there's more where those came from."
Alexis was finally grounded and back in the present, though she continued to fix him with a somewhat glassy stare. She was trying to quickly rewind the last two minutes of reality in her head, but his eyes were keeping her in pause mode. His words were a blur, with only a few of his last words registering. She didn't want him to know she'd disappeared, and she tried to force some sense out of what he'd really said to her. If she could respond properly, even if it was brief, maybe he wouldn't catch it.
Luke caught it. He tilted his head in curiosity as she regarded his face as if it was a foreign map. He wondered what she was thinking - if she thought he's gone totally fruit loops for offering to let her tear him to shreds as Helena's proxy. Her eyes were unreadable. They looked through him. Maybe she was going to take him up on it and was simply taking her time to search her memory bank for more ammo? Alexis suddenly took a quick, sharp breath, as if she'd been startled. Luke frowned and slowly dropped his arms, grown heavy with the pull of gravity. He watched in silence as she blinked and ran her tongue across her lips. She swallowed, then licked her lower lip once more before it disappeared between her teeth. It was a habit of hers that he'd noticed before, and it was something else about her that reminded him of his little girl.
Alexis finally opened her mouth and emitted a low, dry murmur. "I don't want to fight, Luke." She closed her eyes to the two circles of blue looking back at her and sighed wearily. "It wasn't Helena, and it wasn't anyone who works for her. You're wasting your time here."
A tense silence fell across the room. Alexis was a crummy liar, and they both knew it. She wasn't even making an attempt to look him in the eye. A Cassadine capable of shame was a strange, yet wondrous thing. But at the moment, it was mostly cause for frustration.
"Uh huh." He drawled, crossing his arms.
Her eyes snapped open and were hit with a vision of blue. Alexis suddenly felt as if the floor had moved beneath her feet. She quickly turned away from him, grabbing hold of the nearest stationary object - the back of the couch. Luke took an instinctive step toward her, not knowing if she'd need help. But she held tight to the sofa and seemed to be alright on her own. She scrunched her shoulders and lifting her free hand to rub at her eyes. Luke knew he'd hit another nerve, but it was one he couldn't identify. He hadn't said anything, really. He'd only looked at her...and Alexis had looked back. But again, it was like she was looking through him. He took another soft step toward her.
"Look…Helena doesn't always leave a calling card printed in neon lights. She doesn't always want you to know when a strike is hers. Sometimes her target's ignorance works in her favor. Sometimes, her ultimate goal is more important that the ego trip of letting you know that it was her who slam-dunked you. If I'm not mistaken, wasn't that her modus operandi when your blonde designer friend met up with the bumper of a speeding car?"
Alexis winced and pressed the heel of her hand against her temple. Why did he have to bring that up too? It should have been her, not Chloe. It wasn't her fault, but the guilt still haunted her. So many innocent people had been hurt by her family, and it was ironic that someone else had managed to top whatever Helena's worst strike had been against Alexis herself.
"What I'm asking is how can you be so sure it wasn't her? Alexis?"
Luke spoke gently before taking another soft step toward her. He stopped, waiting. Alexis was clutching the back of the couch, her fingers alternately digging into the pale yellow cushion and then flexing away. He was growing impatient.
"What's with this Twilight Zone thing you keep doing?" Luke reached out and nudged her in the rib with his knuckle.
"Owe…" Her body stiffened, back sharply arching away from his touch upon the lingering soreness there. "Don't touch me!"
Alexis angrily spun around to face him and took a step back, layers of hair falling across her flushed, damp cheeks. Startled by her response, Luke stepped back too. He frowned, brows knitting in both confusion and real concern as she wrapped her arms around her chest like a protective shield. It was a rare moment in his life that Luke didn't know what to say, but this was one of them.
"I'm…sorry. I didn't mean to…"
He stopped as her face shot a new round of anger in his direction, strong, dark eyes blazing with fire. But Luke could see beyond the anger and down to the fear. Everything about her in that strangely charged moment told him that she wanted to run and hide…but she was trapped, like an animal in a cage. Even though she knew he would leave if she told him to - that Johnny would MAKE him, if he balked. Even though she was free to walk out the door herself, or leave the room, or go upstairs. Everything about her told him that in Alexis's mind, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It was exactly how he'd wanted it an hour before. He didn't want it anymore.
"Good God, baby. What did she really do to you?"
Alexis narrowed her eyes and ran her tongue across her lips. And when she spoke, her voice was measured and low. "It wasn't Helena. It has nothing to do with the Spencers or the Cassadines, and I don't understand why you can't get it into that thick skull of yours."
Luke shrugged and glanced down at his shoes as he rhythmically tapped his toe against the hardwood. "Are you going to try to tell me that it was just some random act of violence? Are you going to try to tell me you were mugged?"
"Since when is it incumbent upon me to tell you anything?"
Luke lifted his eyes up to her face. Whatever had overtaken her was gone. She was still angry, and clearly just as frustrated as he. But he no longer saw fear. He grinned.
"I love it when you talk legal. But you're right. You don't have to tell me a damn thing. And who knows if I'd even buy what you tried to sell me anyway."
Alexis watched as Luke slipped his hands into his pockets and let his head drop. He stared at the floor for a long moment, looking distracted…almost dejected. He'd expected her to give him something that she just didn't have to give, and under different circumstances, she might have felt halfway sorry for him. Her eyes shifted from Luke to the sofa. She inhaled deeply and released it with a long, quiet sigh. She was so tired, and all the tension she carried in her muscles made her ache. The sofa looked very inviting. She cleared her throat in a subtle hint to Luke that it was time for him to leave.
Luke's head rose up to see Alexis slowly uncrossing her arms from around her chest as she turned away from him. Her arms dropped to her sides as she rounded the corner of the couch. She bent down to pick up a throw pillow from the middle of the couch and drop it into the corner. His continuing stare finally caught her eye. Alexis stood back up straight and cleared her throat again. She looked drained, her posture lacking its usual regal air. And Luke suddenly wondered how long she'd been in the hospital…and how long she'd been back home.
"You know, if you're really that worried about what Helena's next move might be and against whom, why don't you go off on one of your little adventures and find her?" She gingerly lowered herself onto the sofa. "Follow HER. Watch HER. Keep watching my brother and me, and you'll keep coming up empty."
She settled into the corner of the couch, slowly pulling her bent legs in and tucking the soles of her bare feet under her cute, curvy little backside. Luke turned on his heels and moved away to perch himself upon the arm of the couch across from her.
"Duly noted, counceller. Stalking you and Vlad is a waste of time - irrespective of the eye candy factor of watching you, of course. And no offense, but Helena hates you both."
Alexis gave out a quick laugh. "You think that's offensive? I consider it a compliment."
"Good point. But MY point is that maybe I'm approaching this from the wrong angle? She's already made failed hit-and-run and poisoning attempts to do away with the only two people standing in the way of what, or should I say WHO, she really wants. She's probably figures you and the un-favorite son will both be on high alert, so why should she waste her time with you again when she could be working on seducing her way - if you'll pardon the grotesque choice of words - into the good graces of the heir? Prince Nik is the one I should be keeping a close eye on."
Alexis sat up straight. "You leave Nikolas alone!"
"Why should I?"
"He's going through enough right now without having to contend with you."
"Better me than Helena."
"She's not going to hurt him. She needs him too much."
"Right now, yeah. But she'd take what she needs from him, and THEN she'd hurt him! That's how Cassadines operate. Most Cassadines. Really, Natasha, I'm surprised at you. How quickly you forget the mad, mad, mad, mad world of the lunatic fringe from whence you came."
"I haven't forgotten anything."
The minute the words had left her mouth, Alexis felt the lie of them coming back to taunt her. She'd forgotten many things. She'd even forgotten two whole months of her life. She blinked against the squinting stare of Luke's blue eyes and pulled her gaze away, casting it toward the kitchen. Her fingers toyed with the edge of the throw pillow peeking out from behind her back as her tongue danced along the edge of her lip.
"I certainly haven't forgotten that you single-handedly put half my family in their graves."
"Oh come one! That was self-defense and you know it! Mikkos and Stavros hardly gave me any choice. Did Helena give one to you?"
Alexis frowned. She swallowed hard and kept her focus away from Luke's face. "I didn't think so at the time. But maybe there was another way. I don't know. And the damage has already been done."
Luke shook his head. "You are some piece of work, little sister. You were raised in the viper pit of all viper pits, but you somehow failed to slither out of it with your fangs sharpened and ready to strike."
She lifted her head and met his gaze. "You make one move against my family, you'll see yourself some fangs." Alexis smiled softly and held up one finger. "Correction - you'll FEEL them."
"She warned, with a menacing show of dimples."
"Leave my nephew alone." She said flatly. "And for God's sake, just take me at my work when I tell you that this time, it wasn't Helena who came after me. You got it? Am I making myself clear? Do you need me to take a polygraph?"
"Yes…perfectly…and since your nose doesn't seem to be growing, it's not necessary."
"Does this mean you're going to back off?"
He inhaled deeply and released his breath noisily. "I'll leave your precious prince alone. Unless I have good reason to believe he warrants my attention. Fair enough?"
"But speaking of backs…what's the damage to yours?"
"I'm not 'damaged', Luke! I got hurt, it's getting better…I'm fine. I'm fine."
Luke watched her bottom lip slip between her teeth, and then it was quickly released. She cleared her throat and swallowed again, casting a glance past the dining room table. He turned his head to follow her gaze.
"What's that way?"
"The kitchen. Why?"
"Be right back." Luke moved off the sofa's arm and strode purposefully through the dining room.
Alexis shifted in her seat to sit herself up on her knees as she watched him leave. "Hey! Where do you think you're going?"
"Duh! The kitchen!" He barked from beyond her sight.
She frowned, perplexed, staring at the open threshold. What the hell was he doing?
"I don't remember asking you to stay for lunch!"
"That's because you DIDN'T ask. Some gracious hostess YOU are!"
"Said the uninvited guest." Alexis retorted.
"See, now you're being redundant. We've already covered that ground. You DID, in fact, let me into your apartment of your own free will."
Luke appeared in the threshold, a smile on his face and a bottle of water in his hand. Alexis firmed her hold on the back of the sofa as she continued to keep her weight precariously perched on her knees. She glanced at the bottle in Luke's hand and gave him a raised eyebrow.
"Find everything you needed?"
"And then some. I'm impressed. That fridge of yours is stocked better than Kelly's." Luke moved into the room.
"Sonny did it!" She chirped in a slightly defensive tone.
He stopped behind the couch and stood looming over her as she looked up at him with those resolve-compromising puppy dog browns. "Are you having a party, 'cause my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail?"
Luke gave her a wink, then handed her the bottle of water. Alexis looked at it for a brief moment, then shifted her questioning eyes back up to his face. He shrugged.
"You looked thirsty. I didn't see any reason for you to have to move from your comfy snuggle spot when I've got two perfectly good legs. Very nice legs actually, according to some reliable woman-like sources." He shot her a cheesy grin. "Wanna see?"
Alexis sighed. "Your intuition really does swing from one extreme to the other, doesn't it? So wrong about Helena, so right about my thirst, then back to so wrong about my interest in seeing your legs." She took the cold, condensation coated bottle from his hand. "Thank you."
She lowered herself back down to her seat and pulled her knees up to free her legs from underneath her body's weight. Luke walked back around to where he'd sat before, but this time, he took residence upon the arm of the same sofa where Alexis rested in the opposite corner. She watched him with curiosity as she set her feet on the floor and twisted the cap free from the bottle. He waited until she'd taken a series of small swallows before asking the question that truly wasn't any of his business.
"If not Helena, then who? And more to the point, why?"
Alexis regarded him with a reasonable amount of suspicion. She knew that if Luke really wanted to find out the truth, he would. Somehow. Maybe it was best if it came straight from her. Maybe if she told him just the basic facts, the details could stay hers.
Luke's voice lifted her eyes.
"If you don't want to tell me, it's cool. But I'll always keep your secrets…just like you keep mine."
She took another swallow, then gently held the cool, damp bottle gently up against her left cheek. The small, mindless action distracted Luke for a split second. Though the hit she took looked to have been of substantial force, the bruising looked faded enough that the pain should be gone. He wondered if it had. Or if the pain was gone from her face but still existed in her mind - like a phantom that strong memory keeps alive. Finally, she spoke.
"I thought you said you read the paper."
His brow creased. "Uh…yeah, I read the papers. The racing reports and the Sunday funnies. And of course, anything pertaining to my favorite attorney turned internet icon always catches my eye." He winked again and Alexis narrowed her eyes. "But I haven't seen your name or likeness in ink for a while now. Sorry to have to break it to ya, but I think Eddie's Angel is officially SO ten minutes ago."
Alexis gave him an expression of mock disappointment. "Bummer."
"But the way everyone around you has been beating me away with a stick and keeping their lips locked tighter than the gates of Fort Knox, I'm assuming that reading recent headlines wouldn't have told me squat about the who's, why's and…what's of how Alexis Davis landed in General Hospital."
"You're right - it wouldn't have. Not directly, at least. But if you HAD been reading the recent headlines, you'd probably be able to put two and two together and come up with the customary four."
Luke pursed his lips. Alexis sighed with a shake of her head.
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are seen in the Sunday funnies, you bone head! I would think that the name Joseph Sorel might be of more than a passing interest to you, considering he's Sonny's most dangerous enemy, and Sonny happens to be married to your niece. I would think that the name in print would catch your eye on the way to reading Little Abner or finding out the favorite to win the last race at Del Mar."
"Sorel? Joseph Sorel attacked you?"
She raised her bottle of water up in the air in salute. "Ya see? I knew you could come up with four if you tried hard enough."
"I don't get it. Why you?
"Because Carly and Michael were unavailable." She stated simply.
Alexis ran a damp hand through her bangs, pushing them away from her eyes and leaving the scrape on her forehead even more exposed. Luke's eyes went right to it, and Alexis began to fidget with her hair to cover it back up.
"You know as well as anybody that you don't get to the heart of your enemy by aiming for HIM - you aim for those close to him. You get him where he lives by getting who he loves."
Luke's eyed widened as he drew in a slow, thoughtful breath as the pieces all began to fall into place. It made perfect sense. And he was certainly interested to hear more of Alexis's spin on why Sorel took aim at her.
"Sonny knew this - and he also knew that Sorel was desperate with nothing to lose. It was war. So Carly and Michael were removed from the situation for their protection. But as Sonny's attorney, I was right there with him on the enemy line and fighting with every legal weapon I had at my disposal. So I was Sorel's enemy too."
"Ah huh." Luke shifted his weight and scratched at his day-old beard. Her spin and his were somewhat different, though hers worked well on paper. It was rational…logical. Alexis liked logical.
"And Sorel also knew that removing me from the legal picture would compromise the chance that he'd be convicted of a first-degree, death penalty murder charge. So he took me, made some threats, did this…" She pointed at her face. "Then Sonny found me and Sorel was thrown back in jail. And as I said, I'm fine."
"That's twice." Luke murmured.
"That Sonny saved you from Sorel."
"Y-yeah. It is."
Luke nodded. Knowing Alexis, saving her life was something that would keep her tied to Sonny forever. He was sure it was the same for Sonny...and it wasn't something sweet Caroline would have stood for. Must be why there was so little of the usual fuss and flurry surrounding her abrupt departure for parts unknown - and the care and keeping of Jason Morgan. She never had to share his attentions with anyone. What she needed, Jason gave. It had always been that way, and only one unfortunate night with Sonny took it all away from both her and Little Red. Self-destruction, thy name is Caroline.
"My niece never liked you very much." He stated flatly and out of the blue.
Alexis looked at him with a measure of surprise. And then, she laughed.
"That would be both old news AND an understatement."
"Can't say that I blame her. You had everything she wanted but couldn't seem to catch within her grubby little grasp - class, status, education…respect."
"Carly always had more than she thought she did. She just tends to focus on the half of
the glass that's empty, rather than the half that's full."
Alexis was being generous. The only things Carly had that she didn't were a husband and child. And now, it was only a child. It made Luke feel somewhat sorry for her. But on second thought, payback WAS the proverbial bear. And Alexis hadn't even done it on purpose.
"You don't need to look so pensive. Carly and Michael are safe, and they're going to stay that way. Sonny's made sure of that. And Sorel isn't going to be back out on the streets in this lifetime, so you and Bobbie won't have to worry about your family getting hurt."
"If there's nothing to worry about, why is Sonny making sure you've got growling guard dogs at your feet, twenty-four seven? And why haven't Bobbie's daughter and grandson come back home - if they're even coming home at all."
Alexis began to rub at her shoulder as she thoughtfully chose her words. "Sorel has been known to have some degree of reach beyond the prison bars. Sonny thinks his operation has been completely dismantled, but there's a chance that one or two of his still-loyal operatives might be about. He's just being cautious."
"Mmm." Luke nodded.
"But as far as Carly's current situation or future plans are concerned, you'll really need to ask Sonny."
"No. It's simply Sonny and Carly's personal business, and therefore not mine to discuss."
"It's been tough on Bobbie. Lord knows why, but she really misses the little home wrecker."
Luke perused Alexis's face, searching for more signs of the guilt he'd seen before. He saw nothing but an attentive expression and the tucking of her hair behind her ears. He'd wanted to know for certain if she was as clueless as he thought she was to how Sonny was staking a claim to her. If she felt any guilt at all, he would see it somewhere in her face after the crack he'd just made. But there was none. How could one normally so astute be so obtuse? Odd. Luke shrugged to himself.
"Well, my own personal take is that the one she really misses is the carrot top."
Alexis glanced sadly at the front door. "So does Sonny. What's not to miss? Michael's a sweet, loving child."
"Kinda makes you wonder if there wasn't some big DNA screw up at GH and the kid really IS Jason's. The phrase 'sweet and loving' hardly describes either of his parents."
"Or perhaps Michael just takes after you." Her voice dripped in sarcasm as she flashed him a grand smile.
Her smile softened. "I am sorry for what Bobbie's going through. I know firsthand how devastating it is for a child to be separated from a parent, and it's probably even worse for a parent to be separated from a child. Physically, or emotionally." She noted a shift in Luke's eyes. He turned the pools of blue her way. "Life is short, Luke. Fix what's fixable while you still can."
Luke tilted his head in response to the knowing look on her face. She widened her eyes at him, as if to put an exclamation point on her veiled expression of empathy for the rift between him and his son. She saw the parallel with her brother and Nikolas, but knew better than to actually speak of it out loud. She would never be sentimental with him, nor he with her. Not really. Not blatantly. At least, not without adding an insult for an epilogue. Sentiment was otherwise cause for suspicion. Alexis took another sip of water as Luke uncrossed his arms and wrapped his fingers around the arm of the sofa, one hand beside each hip. He leaned forward and peered at her more closely.
"You're really okay?"
She momentarily froze mid-swallow. As she allowed the water to resume its travel down her throat, Alexis stared at him, as if waiting for him to say something else. Luke stared back unflinchingly. Finally, she bit her lip and nodded with arched brows. He wasn't convinced, and his guilty mind drifted to the small, stolen object in the pocket of his jeans.
"Then I want you to get your shapely little bee-hind down to the club so we can make some merry over a bottle of fine Madeira. If you don't feel like playing darts with Helena's unholy image, you can have at her with a black Sharpie instead."
Alexis smiled and set her bottle down on the coffee table. "If you do happen to get wind of anything she might be planning…"
"You'll be the second to know." He nodded once, then pushed himself from his seat and headed unceremoniously toward the door. "Give my regards to the alleged mobster across the hall."
"What am I, your social secretary?"
He took hold of the doorknob as he spun back around. "You offering?"
Luke flashed her a cheesy grin as he opened the door. "Be good, baby."
Before she could retort, he slipped through the door and quickly closed it behind him. Johnny pulled himself away from the edge of the elevator wall where he'd been leaning, and fixed Luke with a disapproving glare. Luke sighed heavily and walked toward him. Johnny reached up for the call button and gave it a hard smack. Luke imagined Johnny wished it were his face.
"Thanks, Jonathon." Luke clamped a palm down on Johnny's shoulder. "And no hard feelings about before."
Johnny glanced down at Luke's hand. The rumble of the approaching car took the hand away. Johnny stepped back and his eyes unconsciously turned to Alexis's door, eliciting a chuckle from Luke.
"Don't sweat it. Your little gold nugget is still safe and sound." The elevator doors opened and Luke stepped inside with Johnny's gaze following. "You and Sonny just make sure you keep her that way."
Johnny's mouth fell open in surprise. That wasn't quite what he was expecting to hear. "Don't sweat it. We will."
Luke smiled and tilted his head as he pointed a finger at Johnny. "Remind me to play you that Hartman CD next time you come down to the club."
Johnny blinked slowly, his mind still focused on what Luke had said about keeping Alexis safe. Had she told him? He didn't want to ask, so he answered instead.
"Sure thing, Luke."
"You're the coolest!"
He couldn't resist a parting shot. "Wish I could say the same."
The doors slid shut between them, and Luke slipped his hands into his front pockets with a noisy release of breath. His fingers curled around the small plastic cylinder and pulled it free from its denim confines. It had been sitting on the kitchen counter, not far from a collection of vitamin bottles like you'd find at any health food store. But this wasn't any vitamin bottle. This one was small, dark orange, and had her name typed on the label. And it was empty. Whatever it was, she was done with it. She'd probably never miss an empty bottle. She'd probably think she'd just thrown it away. Luke held his ill-gotten gain up into the glow of the overhead light. He squinted at the white label bearing the chemical name he hadn't even attempt to make out while still loitering in her kitchen. Naltrexone? Luke frowned. He hadn't a clue.
But soon, he would have the truth.