"Hi friend."

Kevin’s warm greeting startled Ellen from her deep thoughts. "Kevin, hi," she returned lackadaisically, the slight smile on her lips not quite reaching her eyes.

"Try not to get too excited," he quipped as he joined her on the couch of the sixth floor waiting area.

"I’m sorry," Ellen apologized as she gave him a hug. "I have a lot on my mind."

"Looks like it," he remarked after the embrace ended. "A penny for your thoughts."

"A penny? Lately my thoughts are a little more upscale," she shared with as much levity as she could muster.

"You want to talk about it?"

She shrugged. "I wouldn’t know where to begin."

"Well, let me try," Kevin suggested as he settled back against the couch. "The last time we talked, you were about to have a long overdue conversation with Dr. Harmon. How did that go?"

"I spoke with my mother," Ellen replied, changing the line of questioning.

"Okay," Kevin smiled, taking the hint, for the time being. "Was the conversation productive?"

"I’d say it was, it was painful, but necessary. In the end, we agreed to be civil and to see what happens next."

"That’s wonderful Ellen, with estranged parents the first step is always the hardest, sorta like relationships." Kevin spotted an opening. "Speaking of which, how did things go with Dr. Harmon?"

"You think you’re smooth," Ellen grinned with an admonishing wave of her finger.

"No, just curious," he laughed. "So how did the talk go?"

"It didn’t," she answered. "When Matt came into my office, he explained that he had to leave town for a few days."

"It’s been a few days, you still haven’t talked to him?"

"You don’t know?" Ellen asked, knowing nothing was a secret at GH, at least not for long.

Shaking his head, "I don’t think so," Kevin said.

"Matt’s been hospitalized," she explained.

Kevin’s look of surprise prompted Ellen to continue.

"While he was away, he had a run in with an exploding can of turpentine." Ellen figured she could tell Kevin what was on her mind without betraying Matt’s confidence, besides, the turpentine story was the one that was out. "He left the hospital he was in too soon and had a relapse when he got back to town, but he’s here now and doing much better," she told him.

"That’s good to hear. I’m glad he’s doing well."

 

 

"Me too," she nodded.

"I imagine so." Taking in her pensive expression, "Ellen, what aren’t you saying?" he wondered.

"Am I that transparent?"

"Nah, I just know you. What’s troubling you?"

"The same old story…fear and all the uncertainty that goes along with it."

"I thought you were ready to deal with that?"

"I was. I am." Ellen groaned. "A lot has happened, Kevin."

"Have your feelings for Matt changed?"

"No, no, if anything they’ve gotten stronger, he’s a remarkable man, that’s not the problem. I just," she sighed, "I don’t think we can be together, for a lot of reasons."

"What reasons?" Kevin questioned, as he watched his friend struggle with her emotions.

"I’m sorry, I can’t go into it."

"Okay," he said, deciding not to push. "May I ask something?"

"Sure," she consented.

"Do you think you’re using these reasons, whatever they are, as a reason to not be with him?"

"I don’t understand the question," she answered, turning from his face to stare at her hands that were folded in her lap.

"I think you do," Kevin said, clothing his hand over hers. "What was it you said a few minutes ago,

something about fear. The thing about demons, Ellen, they won’t go away until you face them."

"Kevin, it’s different," she explained. "I faced the demons, but they…"

"They what?"

Ellen shook her head as she brushed her fingers through her mid-length locks. "Nothing, it’s nothing."

"No, it’s something," Kevin returned, "because it’s got you second-guessing yourself. Are you ever going to get around to telling Matt how you feel?"

Ellen was quiet for several seconds before she answered. "I don’t see where there’s any point. If we can’t be together, there’s nothing to discuss."

"Are you sure about that? If you told him how you felt, I trust you two could find a way to be together."

"It’s not that simple, Kevin."

"It could be," he said with a confident smile.

"No, nothing is ever that simple for me," Ellen said as she shook her head in resignation.

The sound of Ellen’s pager brought the conversation to an end. Checking the message, "Duty calls," she said getting up from the couch.

Joining Ellen as she stood, "If and when you decide you want to talk about whatever this is that’s on your mind, you know where to find me," Kevin said giving her kiss a cheek. "Give Matt my best when you see him."

"I will," she replied before leaving her friend and heading down the corridor. Give Matt his best, that she could do, Ellen thought, it was giving him hers that would prove a little more tricky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~***~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, you had enough time to calm down?" Mike asked, as he stuck his head into Matt’s hospital room.

"I’ve had another day to think about it and I’m not as angry as I was yesterday, but I’m still angry," Matt answered, closing the magazine he had been attempting to read.

"Well, I’ll take my chances," he said entering the room. "We didn’t really get an opportunity to talk yesterday, not with your extended conversation with Ellen and then all your friends and fellow interns coming in."

"All things considered, that was probably for the best."

"And now?"

"And now I guess I should thank you for bringing me to the hospital and saving my life."

"Okay," Mike said, as he took a seat.

"Okay what? I’m still angry, that’s as close to a thank you as I can get right now," Matt smirked. "I’m getting closer to it everyday. I should be all the way there, soon. Sometimes this journey can be a little difficult."

Mike chuckled. "Beggars can’t be Choosers, and you’re welcome. I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I didn’t want you to die, and if I didn’t bring you, Ellen would have. I’m just glad everything worked out."

"That’s still not clear," Matt remarked.

"But you did tell Ellen the truth?"

"For all the good it will do, yeah, I told her."

"That’s a good thing."

"How do you figure? My family is still looking for me, and Ellen insists on helping, which puts her in danger; the one thing I didn’t want. How can this be a good thing?"

"I’ll tell you how, I’ve been thinking, Matt."

"Well that’s reassuring," Matt retorted.

"Would you let me finish," Mike scowled. "Your family knew you were in the hotel in Philadelphia, but they don’t know where you came from are who you are now. You’re back in Port Charles, and as it seems you got back without being trailed. If they were on your scent chances are you wouldn’t be here talking about them right now."

"But they haven’t stopped looking for me. They know I’m not dead and I’m sure they’re checking every hospital on the East Coast for a man fitting my description with injuries consistent with a bomb blast. I’m an easy target, here."

"You don’t have to worry about that," Ellen said, entering the room after hearing Matt’s last sentence. "I changed the admittance dates on your medical files."

"You did what? You have any idea the trouble you can get in for doing something like that?!" Matt barked.

"Yes I do, but if I’m not worried about it, why should you? It had to be done," she said matter-of-factly. "Now there’s one less thing for you to worry about."

"As I see it, there’s no more things for him to worry about," Mike offered, standing from his seat.

"What am I missing?" Ellen wondered, looking from Mike to Matt.

"I’ll let Mike fill you in. Maybe if I listen to it again, I might actually believe it," Matt replied, a sliver of hope creeping into his voice.

"Mike?" Ellen prompted.

"I was just explaining to Matt that I think the heat is off him. His family has no idea where he is. You’ve changed his medical records so even if they are checking out hospitals there’s no warning flags to point out that he’s here. I think he can breathe easier."

"You really think he’s safe?" Ellen asked, not wanting to dare to hope, lest those hopes got dashed.

"Yeah, I do," Mike nodded with a smile. "As a matter of fact, I think the only thing Matt needs to concern himself with now is getting to 100 percent. Considering how he looks now as compared to how he was when he got here, I’d say he’s almost there."

"Excellent deduction Mike, he’s doing quite well. In fact I think he’s doing well enough to be released today."

"Today? I could really be released today?" Matt asked, not being able to conceal the excitement he felt at being sprung from the patient side of the hospital.

"I’ll need to take another look at that wound, but yeah, I think you can go home today. How do you feel about that? I mean your excitement is quite clear at not being a patient anymore, but I’m…I’m wondering about everything else," Ellen softly explained.

Matt heard the worry in her voice and attempted to allay her concerns. "Up until the moment Mike shared his thoughts about my situation, I would have said, ‘I don’t know’. Maybe I was too close to see it, but what he said does make sense. My family knew I was in Philadelphia to testify, but they don’t know where I came from or where I went back to. As it appears, everything is the way it was before I left, minus a few cuts and scratches." The same as it was? Things weren’t exactly the way they were when he left, Matt knew that, and he was sure Ellen knew too, the look in her eyes was saying as much.

"Okey-doke, on that note, I’m going to leave and let you two play doctor," Mike smirked, as both Matt and Ellen shifted uneasily. "I’ll come back later to give you a ride home." The grin on his face was filled with merriment. "Bye all."

Once Mike had left, Matt and Ellen went about their way in avoiding the elephant that was now in the room.

"I should take a look at your uh, your wound now," she said, making her way to his bedside, while trying valiantly to keep Mike’s choice of words out of her head.

"Okay," Matt replied, assisting her by unloosening the string of the gown that was tied at his neck and allowing the garment to fall below his well-developed pecs, before removing the bandage.

She had seen Matt shirtless several times over the past few days, but this time was different. He had been so sick before, but now, he was looking extremely healthy. Her throat felt like she had just eaten a box of saltines with nary an ounce of milk to wash them down. She didn’t want to stare, but she couldn’t help it.

"So, how does it look?" Matt asked, aware of his double entendre but feeling a little playful, with her uneasiness and appreciation being displayed so clearly to him, he couldn’t resist.

"Great," she murmured.

Matt chuckled which brought Ellen out of her daze. She gave him a crooked smile for toying with her, but his reaction made things a lot lighter, so for that she was grateful.

"Everything looks good," she said, taking a closer look at the wound. "This will be all healed in no time."

The feel of her soft, warm hands on his chest was dizzying. The idea that feeling could be a constant experience was a heady one. "That’s good," he murmured softly, in lieu of the moan he had to suppress. "So, how’s your mother?" Matt wondered as Ellen began to change his bandage.

Looking from the wound for a moment and into his eyes, "She’s doing well," Ellen answered, before turning her attention back to the bandaging.

"Yeah?"

"Yes. In fact, I took your advice and we talked."

"Really? How did it go?"

"Well, we’re not best friends, but, we got some things said and have come to a functional truce. I guess it’s a start."

"That’s terrific Ellen, I’m very happy for both of you. When did this happen?"

Now finished with her task, Ellen pulled the hospital gown back over his chest, "Right before I discovered you were back in Port Charles, actually, I had just left her apartment when I showed up at yours," she told him.

"Oh," Matt grumbled, feeling the elephant that had managed to leave the room making his way back in.

"Ellen I…"

"You don’t have to explain," she said, glancing briefly at him before fumbling nervously with the gauze and tape on the bed table. "I understand."

"Do you, really?" his voice desperate as he sat more erect on the bed. "Ellen, it’s essential that you understand why I behaved the way I did when you were in my apartment that day. I didn’t mean any of it. I had to say or do whatever necessary to keep you safe, and in my mind, that meant away from me. It killed me to act that way towards you, but I didn’t want you to be killed so I was willing to endure whatever I had to if it meant you’d be okay."

"You think that made me okay?" Ellen said before she could stop herself. That scene in his apartment had played over and over in her head so many times, but she thought she had dealt with it. Where did that comment come from?

Her obvious pain caused Matt’s throat to constrict. "I’m sorry," he uttered hoarsely, "I know I hurt you."

"Yeah, you did," she softly admitted. "I understand why you felt you had to do it, I do, but it doesn’t lessen the pain any, and I’m sorry for that because I know you did it for me. The catch-22 is you did it to me." Ellen felt her eyes sting as tears began to form.

Fear gripped him as he got an unsettling feeling as to where this was going. "Ellen, let me…" he choked.

She held up her had to stop his flow of words. This was very hard, but she had to say what was on her mind. She needed to explain herself, or at least try, because at the moment, she wasn’t sure what she was feeling or why she was feeling it right now. "Matt, I was coming to terms with some truths that you pointed out to me, that I was finally ready to deal with, when your ‘tirade’, false though it was, happened. You preyed on my insecurities, and took it a step further. We were friends, so I showed more of myself to you than I had a lot of people and I respected you, but you twisted that perceived friendship, masterfully, in your apartment that day, and I guess--" Ellen took a breath before finishing her words. "I guess it’s affected me more than I realize."

"What does this mean for us?" he asked, as a tear rolled unchecked down his cheek.

Ellen brushed away her now free-flowing tears. "I don’t know."

"Then why does it feel like we’re breaking up, when we haven’t even gotten together yet?"

She looked at him but she couldn’t answer. Why did it feel like that? She wanted to be with him but she was so afraid.

"You seemed okay with this before, Ellen, why are you so upset now?" Matt wondered, not caring if the desperation in his voice came through. "Is it because nothing is standing in our way? I understand you’re afraid Ellen, but--"

"Yes," she interrupted him, "I’m afraid. I’ve been hurt enough in my life, Matt, and you hurt me, for whatever reason and I just…"

"Ellen please, please, don’t do this. You said I preyed on your insecurities, and you’re right, I did. I know you, I know you so well and I was desperate to keep you safe. I needed you to hate me, so you would stay away…safely away, and I knew what would accomplish that, so I did it. I know it hurt, Ellen, I know. That pain is seared to my soul and I live with it, every day. But for me, if having that pain in my heart meant you would be spared, I had to take it, and I did so, willingly. I did that for you. I’d do anything for you, don’t hold that against me," he urged. "Give me the chance to show you just what you mean to me. My actions might have come off the wrong way, but they were done with the best of intentions. Ellen, I lo--"

Matt didn’t get to finish his declaration of love because Mike had raced unexpectedly back into the room.

Smoothing the tears from his eyes, "Mike this-- this is not a good time," Matt told him, taking his eyes off Ellen for just a moment.

"I’m sorry," Mike contritely offered, realizing he had walked in on something extremely intense when noting the tears in their eyes, "but--"

"Whatever it is can wait," Matt bit out, struggling to keep his voice from rising. Nothing was more important than making things right with Ellen.

"Matt there’s trouble," Mike blurted. "When I got to the Recovery Room there was a guy there, showing my new bartender a picture of you."

"What did the guy look like?"

"He was a white guy, about 6’0", 175 pounds, graying hair, mid to late 30s, real hostile looking."

Matt sighed in misery. What else could happen today? "That’s Bobby," he groaned. "My brother is in Port Charles."