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Scene 103

He was relieved that he'd gotten himself overly concerned for nothing.

Johnny's strange expression and his own protective instincts had only stirred his imagination. She was physically and emotionally drained from pushing herself to do so much in one day, but Sonny understood her eagerness to reclaim her life and become an active participant in the world once again. He just hoped she'd allow herself to take it a little easier the next day…and the day after that. Maybe even for the rest of the week. Alexis could be stubborn as a mule, no two ways about it. But Sonny did have some influence - especially when he spoke to her mind. Playing the logic card was always a wise tactic where Alexis was involved, and he could usually find the right way to play it. Not that he wanted to manipulate her, but he did want her to take proper care of herself when he couldn't do it for her. As tightly as Sonny held on to those apron strings, he knew in his heart that keeping them tied wasn't always best. Not for Alexis, at least.

Alexis slowly, deeply inhaled, and Sonny closed his eyes with a smile at the feel of her body rising up against his. And he could feel her relaxing into him a little more with each breath they shared, her head still resting upon the pillow of his shoulder, and Sonny's senses overflowing. It felt nice. It felt more than nice. And Sonny could have happily and selfishly stayed right where he was for the rest of the night. It spoke to a cloistered place inside of him, the way Alexis went to him, held him, and released her self so fully into him. He'd barely even raised his arms to ask her for what he wanted before she was asking him.

No - she didn't ask. She didn't have to. She knew it was already hers. And when she went to him without a word, Sonny heard everything she said. He heard her telling him that he not only had her love, but also her implicit trust. He knew she already trusted him implicitly, but this was deeper and more profound. This was sacred. Alexis was entrusting him with her heart…her most precious, bruised heart. And as Sonny let his hand slip up her back one last time to settle at the nape of her neck, he silently swore to himself and to her that he would be worthy of it. Even if that meant he had to let her go, so her exhausted little self could get into something comfortable and cozy, get a hot meal in her stomach, and get into bed early for a good night's sleep with a guardian penguin by her side. It may be Sonny's turn, but Alexis still needed some watching through the night.

"Hey." He finally whispered.

No answer. He turned his mouth further toward his ear, calling to her in a light, singsong voice.

"Oh spuuuuud…"

Alexis laughed softly.

Sonny grinned. "I was beginning to think you'd dozed off on me. Literally."

"No, not dozing. Just vegetating. Letting everything clear out of my head and fall away. It feels good to just…be."

Sonny frowned. What did she need to clear from her head - her time with Ashton, or her time with Dara Jenson? And would Alexis share it with him easily, or would he have to coax her to unburden herself to him?

"You have a very nice shoulder to rest upon." She suddenly murmured.

He sighed into her hair as his palm curved along her waist. "It's all yours. Rest upon my shoulder to your heart's content."

Alexis suddenly lifted her head and looked into his face with curiosity. Sonny's eyebrow arched.

"Done so soon?"

"It just occurred to me that your favorite new name for me is illogical. I mean it's derived from an idiom that's derived from another idiom that directly conflicts with a whole other idiom that's supposed to mean the same thing."

Sonny stared. "Huh?"

"Why does the contemporary American patois have to have such a contradictory nature?"

"A contradictory nature?" He tilted his head. "Look who's talking?"

"It's an oxymoron."

"What is?"

"Calling a sedentary person a couch potato when being sedentary is also called vegetating. They're supposed to mean the same thing but a potato isn't a vegetable, so shouldn't the logical vernacular be couch carrot instead? Or…or…couch beet?"

"You hate beets."

Alexis squinted. "But do you see the oxymoron?"

The serious expression on her face was adorable. But Sonny was all too familiar with the signs that Alexis was kicking into mental overdrive, and she was doing it on purpose. He could see the sparks dancing in her eyes as they stared up at him, waiting for him to answer her nonsensical question, and he knew that Johnny was right. She was trying to distract herself and keep from fading because she didn't want him to leave. But she didn't need to. Sonny would be perfectly happy to stay and just be with her, quietly, holding her all night long while Alexis let everything clear out of her head and fall away. He slid his hand up, away from her back, and brought it up to the nape of her neck. Her lids fluttered lightly in response to his fingertips drawing lazy circles within the downy edge of her hair. It made Sonny begin to grin.

"I SEE is that someone is overtired to the point of punchiness and should probably go upstairs, put on some comfy, spud-like clothes and rest a bit while her houseboy makes her a wonderful, healthy dinner. I was thinking lemon chicken and grilled…carrots." His grin widened. "Sound like a plan?"

Alexis tilted her head. "It SOUNDS like Mr. Bossy Smarty Pants - you'll take note of the correct order, please - has returned."

"As if he ever left."

Sonny's fingers swept down the edge of her face, and Alexis smiled, eyes drifting shut with the feel of his feathery touch. It tickled, but in a good way. And it made her feel tingly inside. That was good too. Again, the soft fingertips touched down at her temple and trailed a path down her cheek. This time, the touch continued to travel down past her jaw, to the sensitive skin of her throat. It sent a gentle rush of warmth through her body - and yet, she shivered. A contradictory nature indeed. The corners of her mouth began to rise as Alexis reflexively scrunched her shoulder up, toward the feel of Sonny's hand now cupping the side of her neck. And the warmth inside of her began to spread.

Sonny stared down at her closed lids, wanting nothing more than to kiss them. And so he did. Alexis drew in a slow, shallow breath as he gently pressed his lips to one, then the other. Her bangs teased the tip of his nose, inspiring a blanket of goose bumps to rise up along his arms. And Sonny shivered within the heat of his desire, his tongue sweeping across his lips as his gaze drifted down to her mouth. The tentative bud of a smile she'd worn was on the verge of full bloom in response to his touch, his tender kisses on her tender lids. He'd lied to himself - he did want something more. He swallowed, flooded with the sudden memory of another time that he'd stared down at that tempting mouth turned up at the corners in a faint, provocative smile. He remembered the feel of a firm, wet, freshly cut peach in his hand and the sweet scent of it drifting into his nose as he stared…and wanted…and fell into a sensual fantasy of the forbidden - of the sweet feel and taste of Alexis's mouth.

Her mouth was no longer just a fantasy to him, and Sonny's sensual thoughts of it were no longer forbidden. It hardly seemed real, after all the time he'd spent thinking of her and wanting her and trying to keep it all inside while she healed. But Alexis was very real, and wrapped in his loving arms, and his desire for her was allowed. They were accepted. Welcome. Wanted. She wanted him, and she was waiting, eyes still closed and chin tilted up under the light touch of his fingertips at her jaw, for him to show his desire again. Sonny smiled and brushed his lips across the tip of her nose on his way down to the focus of his attention, whispering softly as he grazed the surface of her skin.

"Welcome home."

Her lips had already parted when his landed upon them. And Sonny could feel her body rising up on her tiptoes, her mouth pushing into him. One hand instinctively cupped her face, holding her steady and keeping her soft, warm mouth firmly against his. Alexis responded with a faint whimper that stayed locked in the back of her throat. The sound of it made Sonny dizzy. Every sound she made in response to his touch sent a current of electricity through his body, fueling his desire for her and making him yearn to elicit another beautiful signal of Alexis's desire for him.

Instead, he subtly pulled back. Her vulnerability was still fresh. He didn't want to take advantage of it. He didn't want his affection to scare her, he wanted it to nurture her. And in the back of his mind lingered the knowledge that earlier that day, Alexis had seen Ned. There were things Sonny needed to know, and questions he wanted to ask. But he wouldn't ask. The truth of Ashton's place in her heart had to come from Alexis, by her own desire to tell it. She would tell him her truth, and her choice, when she was ready and it was right. And Sonny was no longer afraid to hear it. He already knew, and he couldn't help but smile against the sweet, soft mouth of hers that was telling him without words. It wasn't Ashton who was in her mind at all. It wasn't Ashton who was feeling her kiss.

And as Sonny pulled back, Alexis moved with him, toward him, seeking his nurturing and affection as she kissed him back with an equal measure of both tenderness and need. He sighed against her, his other hand also leaving her back to come to her face. But it came gently, his fingertips caressing her silken skin as his lips and tongue caressed her warm mouth. And he felt her hands moving at his back as her fingers unclasped, and each palm found a firm place at his waist. Sonny continued to take his cues from her as to how deep his expression of desire should go, letting her subtle or not-so subtle advances and withdrawals guide him to where her boundaries lay.

Sonny suddenly felt Alexis begin to smile too, and he slowly opened his eyes as their mouths began to part. But before they did, the tip of his tongue teased her, slipping just back inside her mouth to lightly flick at the tender underside of her upper lip. Alexis teased him back, capturing his lower lip and giving it a gentle nibble before letting it go free. The feel of her teeth grazing his sensitive flesh sent a hot jolt of electricity to another sensitive place in his body, and Sonny gave into its melting pull. But the strength of his response stunned him. It stunned him that such a playful physical gesture could hold such an intensely erotic power over him. Everything about Alexis held an intensely erotic power over him, and Sonny was all but drowning in the desire to surrender to it - to her. He had never willingly surrendered anything to anyone, let alone his power…let alone to a woman. But for Alexis, he would surrender with joy.

For the love of Alexis, the rules of Sonny's universe had been changed. They'd been shaken and turned upside down, never to go back to what they used to be again. Loving her put things into a different light that let Sonny see the man he really was deep down inside - the man Alexis already saw and the whole world could have seen too, had there not been a Deke. Loving her gave him a greater sense of power than he'd had ever dreamed of. More than all his money, more than his territorial control, more than the ability to put fear into an enemy, and more than beating the system within its own bounds. The greatest power of all came from inside himself, and it was all under his control. To know it was both thrilling and frightening at the same time. So was loving Alexis. And so was believing with all his heart that she loved him back. Surrender could be a profound, beautiful, and aching thing.

Sonny suddenly felt Alexis's mouth press fully, briefly, into his one more time. And then the pressure of her touch released and was gone. As he opened the heavy lids he hadn't even realized were closed, Sonny's fingers moved to flutter over the surface of her hair. Alexis sighed lightly, lifting her eyes upward to meet the languid dark pools gazing back down at her. Her cheeks were flushed, as were the full, sensuous lips that still hovered close to his. The blood pounded like wanton fury in Sonny's temples as his eyes darted from her eyes to her lips, and he desperately wanted one of them to speak. But it clearly wasn't going to be him. His mouth was stubbornly holding onto the feel of their kiss, refusing to let it go too soon for the sake of forming words. Alexis blinked and flashed him a glimpse of shy dimples in response to the upturned corners of his mouth.

"Welcome home yourself." She murmured.

"I'll say." Sonny rasped, brushing the tip of her nose with his own.

Her dimples grew. He lightly cleared his throat.

"I think I'm going to leave and then come back so we can welcome each other again."

"No!" Alexis quickly firmed her hands against his sides. "Don't go."

"Alexis!"

"ALEXIS!"

Alexis flinched, blinking hard as she stared up at him.

"Honey, I'm not going to leave. I was teasing."

She continued to stare, rubbing at her forehead as her eyes widened. "I…I know."

She bit her lip as she began to pull back. The palm Sonny had set at her waist slipped down to the small of her back and held steady there. Alexis inhaled slowly, running her tongue across her swollen lips as she exhaled…all the while, gazing at him with an intense expression that Sonny couldn't let go unquestioned. His fingers slid back along the side of her throat and buried themselves in the downy soft hair at the nape of her neck, just below the loosening French twist.

"What?"

Alexis gave her head a vague shake as she slowly blinked, just once. She was amazed at how Sonny could always tell, even when she tried to hide it. But she couldn't tell him that the way he'd urgently intoned her name sent an echo of Stavros's voice into her ears. Thomas's mention of her long-dead brother was too fresh to analyze, and too unexpected to process just yet. She only knew that the strange remembrance of his strong, masculine voice calling out to her was unsettling, and it wasn't something Sonny needed to know.

"Hey - what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

She wasn't ready to tell him what was wrong just yet - what she did want to tell him. Who she'd seen, what she'd heard, and the things she now knew that Sonny hadn't wanted her to know. She wasn't ready to let go of the wonderful feeling enveloping her and let the scary, confusing things intrude. And the strange, strong memory of Stavros's voice assaulting her ears was something that Sonny didn't need to know about at all. That was one dragon she would slay on her own. Alexis just wanted to stay bathed in the warm, tingling bliss of Sonny's arm, his kiss, his hands in her hair and the beauty of his dark eyes looking at her with such sweetness that it almost took her breath away.

It hurt to imagine the pain that filled those eyes when Sorel made him listen as she was pushed into hysteria. She'd already seen so much of that pain herself…and she'd also been the cause. Alexis still felt guilty for what she'd put Sonny through, stubbornly refusing to take the easy way out of what Sorel had done to her. And what she learned from Thomas made it worse. She reached up and touched her fingertips to the highest edge of his cheek, watching with a gentle smile as Sonny's lids fluttered. His head instinctively leaned into her touch, and Alexis slowly drew her hand down the side of his face, now graced with a light shadow of whiskers. His eyes closed and a small sound reverberated in his throat. It sent her hand back up to take another travel down the same textured path.

"That's nice." Sonny managed a throat whisper. "But I…I must be needing a…shave by now."

Alexis was silent as he stammered, but her smile deepened. She turned her wrist and let the backs of her fingers know the smooth feel of his cheekbone melding into the prickly terrain beneath. Sonny swallowed.

"I don't…want to…to scratch you."

"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?"

His eyes drifted open. Alexis was looking at him as if she thought never see him again. A warning bell went off in his head.

"I don't mean in just the obvious way because you know you're beautiful in the obvious way. I mean in the way that really matters."

"Back at ya."

Alexis frowned. "Sonny, please don't make light. I mean it."

"I know that you mean it, Alexis. I know." Sonny let his fingers slip from her hair and took hold of her hand that continued to stroke his cheek, gently pressing her palm against his skin. "And there's no one on earth I'd rather hear it from than you. Because you're the truest, most beautiful person I know. In every way."

He pulled her hand from his face and held it first to his mouth, where he laid a kiss to her palm, and then to the center of his chest. And his eyes never strayed from hers as he sought to bring what troubled her closer to the surface.

"And I don't want you to doubt that, ever." Sonny whispered. "But I do want you to tell me why you're saying this to me now. What's going on in here?"

He tapped her forehead. Alexis smiled and tapped her chest, over her heart.

"The same as what's going on in here - a renewed appreciation for what the last few weeks have been like for you. And also the need to make sure you know that I don't take you or anything you've done for me for granted, even if sometimes it seems as if I do."

"It doesn't. It never has."

She sighed and gave him a small nod. "Good."

Sonny expected her to say more, but she didn't speak. She only continued to smile. His gaze shifted from her eyes to the hint of bruise still lingering on her cheek. His hand released hers and moved to the light-hued intrusion on her flawless skin, fingertips tracing a wide curve around its borders. Alexis's brow creased.

"You can see it?"

"Barely."

"I was so careful to cover it this morning."

"This morning was a long time ago, Alexis."

His hand fell away from her face as his eyes went back to hers, searching for a clue he might have missed in his eagerness to touch and kiss her the minute he walked in the door. He found one in the curve of her lower lashes. They had been rimmed in deep brown when she left that morning, but now, it was all but gone. Alexis had a habit of touching her face as she spoke, so it wasn't unusual that the concealer on her cheek would be rubbed away by nightfall. But he'd never seen her rub at her eyes out of habit - only when she was overtired…or when she let herself cry. Were her un-rimmed eyes telling him of her weariness from the day, or of the tears she'd shed? Alexis nervously glanced away from his studious stare and took a small step back, hand rising up to fidget with her bangs.

"I must be a sight, huh? Make-up half off, hair half falling out of its pins, shoes gone." She laughed as she cast a downward glance at herself. "At least my buttons are all in their corresponding holes and my skirt seams are straight."

"Will you stop?"

Alexis pulled two long pins free from her hair, setting the layered locks falling down to her shoulders. Sonny took in a quick breath. She clearly had no idea how sexy she was in her imperfect state of half off, half falling, and barefoot, but how could any woman not know that to loosen her hair from its confines could bring a man to his knees? He swallowed hard as took in the concentrated expression on her face as she continued to search for pins. He smiled. She didn't know. Alexis never knew.

"On second thought…" Sonny couldn't resist reaching out to run his hands through the silky strands than beckoned him.

Alexis found and removed the one last hairpin, and pointed it at Sonny with wide eyes.

"You never look disheveled. Never a hair out of place, never a wrinkle in your shirt, never a button erroneously fastened or, God forbid, missing. How do you do that?"

Sonny laughed and let his fingers slide down to the ends of her hair, where he gave a playful tug. "Oh, I can look plenty disheveled."

"I stand corrected. I see a wrinkle right now." She brushed her palm over a small crease in the crisp fabric covering his right shoulder. "I suppose I put that there."

"See? I told you I do disheveled."

"With a little help from me, maybe."

Sonny bit his lip. He could get all kinds of disheveled with a little help from her. And the fact that he'd almost said it out loud made his face begin to tingle with the beginnings of a blush. Alexis continued to brush at the laden green cotton with another look of purpose on her face.

"You can wrinkle my shirts any time."

He couldn't help himself. He had to tease - and flirt. Just a little. Alexis stopped her smoothing, eyes still fixed on his shirt. Within seconds, her cheeks pinked, and Sonny could see the dimples fighting to stay hidden so as not to encourage him. It made his own dimples deepen. Alexis finally allowed her gaze to meet his, and Sonny winked, giving the end of her hair one more tiny tug.

"I mean I'd hate to let my nice shoulders to rest upon go to waste."

Alexis sighed heavily, for dramatic purposes, and gave him a shake of her head. Though her dimples finally lost their fight to hide. She cleared her throat and ran her tongue across her lips as she took her hand from his shoulder.

"I'm…thirsty, so I'm going to go get some water."

"I'll get it."

"No, I'll go. Would you like something too?"

"Sure. Water's good."

"I'll make yours cold."

She widened her eyes at him as she turned on her heels. Sonny chuckled as he watched her make her way toward the kitchen, fussing with her tousled hair and giving him a sly backward glance before disappearing from view.

Sonny moaned and whispered to himself as he stared in her now empty path. "You could make mine ice and I'd still be wanting you with the heat of a thousand suns."

Alexis rubbed at her eyes as she rounded the corner. A dull ache had settled above her brow at Thomas's mention of how while fevered and drugged, she'd confused Sorel with Stavros. It wasn't going away, but at least it wasn't getting worse. It was making it hard for her to keep her eyes open. It made her want to sleep, but she fought it. She didn't want Sonny to see her weariness. He would see it though, if he stayed. He was too good at reading her to not see it. Alexis slipped her arms around herself as she moved toward the cabinet, remembering the feel of Sonny's arms. She may not be able to block out the memories and images that Thomas had stirred, but Sonny's arms, his mouth, his eyes had made her not care.

The feel, taste, sight and scent of him were all she did care about, and all her senses would hold. It was nice. It was more than nice. And Alexis could have stayed that way, with Sonny's arms all night filling her senses, all night long. But she had to let go - leave his arms, leave the ROOM in order to keep herself strong after an afternoon that had rattled her to the core. Sonny's comfort was welcome and needed, but she had to find the bulk of her strength inside of herself. Taking his would be too easy…and he might need it for himself after she told him the truth. She knew he'd be upset, but she was sure he'd ultimately understand.

Alexis had done what needed to be done, and she wasn't sorry. She just wished she'd been better prepared for any possibility. But there had been no way to anticipate hearing about certain things that had been done to her and why, or about the things she herself had done - and said. Thomas remembered everything in fine and thoughtful detail. And as reluctant as he'd first been to speak of those three days, once he began to talk the brakes on his tongue all but disappeared. He'd needed a catharsis, and he took it when the chance was offered. Alexis needed something too. She needed closure. But the closure she sought that day would have to wait for another. And she knew there would be another day for her and Thomas Malloy…just the two of them.

But closure with the haunting specter of Stavros was something Alexis knew she'd have to find on her own…once she knew why it was still haunting her.

Sonny stood silent in the threshold, staring at the silhouette of Alexis's body against the tall, cream-colored cabinet. She stood almost flat against it, head slightly bowed down and leaning into the wood. The palms of her hands formed silhouettes of their own as they pressed flush against the smooth surface of the tall cabinet, one on either side of her head. Even from across the room, Sonny could see her shoulders were rising and falling as she breathed at a rapid pace. The vision of her literally bracing herself, having deliberately left his company, made Sonny want to pull her right back into his arms, where she'd been so content with her head resting on his shoulder. What had taken her out of his arms and out of the room? What made her need to steady herself against a wall?

Alexis suddenly slid her palms down the wood, halting and holding them at shoulder level as her head began to roll to the side.

"Are we out of water?"

Her body jolted, head snapping up and away from the cabinet as she took in a sharp breath. She spun around just as sharply, eyes large and cheeks pale.

"God, Sonny." Her voice was barely audible. "You scared me to death."

Sonny frowned and moved closer to her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. You moved, and it looked like you were about to turn around. I thought you knew I was here."

Alexis pushed her bangs from her eyes and laughed nervously. "Maybe I should put a bell around your neck."

"Oh man. Talk about compromising my masculine image."

She laughed and shook her head as her eyes darted away from his face. The startle he'd given her had clearly turned to shyness.

"You were just in here for a while and I thought maybe…"

"Sorry. I was dawdling when I promised you water."

Alexis turned and opened the cabinet to fetch two bottles from a shelf inside. When she turned back around, Sonny was standing right behind her. She tilted her head.

"About that bell…"

Sonny grinned wide. "Did you ever see that Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie where they say that every time a bell rings, an ANGEL gets its wings?"

Alexis grinned back even wider. "Funny."

"Thank you."

Her grin did a one eighty into a pensive look of reproach as she held out a bottle. Sonny laughed, taking her offering. He tossed it into his other hand, then reached out to her again.

"What?" Alexis looked down at the bottle she held in both hands, then back up at Sonny. "You want both? How thirsty are you?"

He sighed and gently slipped his fingers around her wrist.

"Oh. Sorry."

She let go of the bottle and let him take her hand. Sonny smiled and nodded his head toward the doorway.

"Why don't you on upstairs and change into some sweats or your pajamas or whatever's more comfortable that your attorney duds, and I'll get started on dinner."

"I actually AM comfortable in my attorney duds. I mean, it's a nice change of recent pace to look and feel like a member of professional society again instead of…you know."

"A spud."

"Yes."

"Ah. Okay. But I still need you to take your corresponding buttons and straight seams out of my kitchen so I can work." He flashed his dimples. "Please."

He lightly pulled on her hand to urge her toward the door, but Alexis tightened her fingers around his and held her ground. She opened her mouth to speak. Sonny waited, but she said nothing. Instead, her cheeks began to flush and her eyes cast down to the ground.

"Honey? What?"

She shook her head and quickly lifted her smiling face back up to his. "Nothing."

Sonny's eyebrow rose questioningly as Alexis hugged her bottle of water to her chest. He took a step forward, closing the gap between them, and reached past her to set his own bottle down on the counter at her back. Alexis's eyes followed the movement of his hand with curiosity.

"Are you saying you really did want cold?"

Sonny tucked a lock of hair behind her ear with a crooked grin. She was making too many jokes - she was trying to deflect. He wasn't going to let her.

"Forget the water, Alexis. I don't want water. I want to know about you. What were you thinking about when I came in here, free of warning bells, and startled you?"

She shrugged a shoulder, eyes darting about. "S-stuff."

Sonny kept his focus on her face until Alexis couldn't keep her eyes away from his any longer. And when their eyes met, he smiled softly to assure her. Alexis took in a slow, deep breath and released it in a quiet sigh before speaking.

"I…do want to tell you some things. I just don't know how to start or the best way to word it to elicit the least amount of, um…upset, on your part."

Sonny's eyelids fluttered. Alexis shifted her weight as her teeth scraped her lip. She'd already made him nervous, and that was exactly what she wanted to avoid. She sighed again and loosened her hand from his. It felt cold when she let go, and her fingers began to fidget with blue paper label encircling the bottle.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make more of it than there is…to it…but you do worry too much, Sonny, and you can tend to overreact where certain…people are concerned and…"

"Alex…"

"I'm fine, really, and I want you to be fine too, so I'm…you know, just a little anxious right now is all, but I think that I should…"

"Alexis?" He lightly touched the side of her face.

Alexis halted her verbal stream and looked at him with big eyes sparkling in the overhead light. "Breathe?"

He nodded. "Breathe."

She did as she was told, her face now fully flushed and fighting to hold back an embarrassed smile. Sonny held nothing back, smiling freely at how adorable Alexis was when embarrassed. But underneath, he was still concerned about whatever it was that she wanted to tell him that she thought would make him overreact. Whatever it was, he wouldn't LET himself overreact. Not even if it was about Ashton. But how could it be? Alexis wouldn't have let Sonny kiss her like he did, or kiss him back like she did, if there was something about Ashton that he wouldn't want to hear.

It had to be about her meeting with Dara. Going through her statement again could have brought up things Alexis hadn't remembered before. Or things she thought she'd finished dealing with. But as Sonny watched Alexis's fingernails absently tear at the label glued around the bottle in her hand, another possibility occurred to him - maybe she made up her mind? Maybe she'd decided to proceed with prosecuting Sorel for what he'd done to her no matter what happened in the Ted Wilson case? If so, she was right to worry about his response. But he wouldn't let her know it. At least, not now. The blue paper continued to be attacked.

"Honey?" Sonny covered her fidgeting hand with his. "That's not the way to open it."

Alexis looked down at the shredded label paper sticking out from the plastic. Sonny took the bottle from her hand, gave the cap a firm twist, and handed it back. She looked up at him with a soft smile…and then her head tilted as a small crease formed between her brows.

"When did you start calling me that?"

Sonny blinked. Her question confused him.

"Calling you…oh."

He suddenly understood. And when he did, he felt his face begin to tingle with the rising of a blush that would probably rival Johnny's.

"I'm not…I don't...I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." He stammered, rubbing his fingertips along his lower lip.

Alexis bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from grinning. Sonny was embarrassed, and it was adorable.

"You didn't - you aren't making me uncomfortable. It's become second nature for me to hear it and respond to it, and I just suddenly wondered…when you started."

Sonny looked down at the floor, remembering the searing pain in his heart when he pulled Alexis's limp body up from the side of that cot and saw Sorel's violence marking her beautiful face and delicate throat. And even worse was desperate panic of finding no signs of life within her. He thought she was gone, and his heart cried out for it to not be so.

"When I found you." He whispered roughly. "I thought I was too late, and I begged you with all I had to come back. You responded." His dark, wet eyes rose up to hers. "You held on, and stayed with me. And it just became right - second nature, to keep saying it."

Oh God, she loved this man. She could hardly breath for the love she felt for him, and she swallowed hard against the lump that formed in her throat. Her eyes were burning with the salty rain invading them, but she didn't move to rub it away. Alexis just keep swimming in Sonny's wet, smoky eyes that locked into hers. She wanted to ask to not stop saying it - to never stop gracing her with the term of endearment that she'd come to take for granted before even knowing what moved him to give it. But the look in his eyes told her she didn't need to ask. Just to be sure, she slowly, deliberately leaned in close and pressed her lips to his.

Sonny was caught off guard. He didn't even close his eyes as he watched her moving closer, almost imperceptibly, until her mouth was suddenly on his. He had no reflex to move his hand to her face or run his fingers through her hair - he had no instinct to pull her into his embrace. All his sensation was centered on the firm, warm softness of her mouth, the only part of her body in contact with his. And it was perfect. But too soon, Alexis gently broke away with a light exhale of breath grazing his jaw. And as Sonny's spine straightened with the rising tingle up his back, Alexis looked more intently into his eyes than she ever had before.

"Thank you for not giving up on me. And for taking such good care of me."

Sonny's mouth had gone dry. Her voice had barely been an airy whisper, the timbre of it like a child who was suddenly aware of her own fragility in an all too breakable world. Oh God, he loved this woman. He could hardly breath for the love he felt for her, and he swallowed against the desert in his throat.

"Honey?"

She smiled. He smiled back.

"What did you want to tell me?"

Alexis took a small step back as she took a small swallow of water. "I am fine."

"Alexis."

"Just prefacing."

"Speak."

She ran her tongue across her lips and hugged the water bottle to her chest as she looked up at him with an unreadable expression.

"I didn't get to see Dara Jenson today."

Sonny's brow furrowed. "But you were at the station for a couple of hours."

"Yes."

"Well, what, was she stuck in court and made you just sit around waiting for her all that time?"

"N-no. I didn't exactly have an appointment with her because this trial she's in the middle of right now is making her schedule too erratic to plan much of anything, but Taggert said that she's been getting out of court by 4 o'clock most days, so I was hoping she'd maybe be done by that time this afternoon and I could see her…too." She took another swallow of water.

"What's going on, Alexis. Why else did you go to the station, if not just to see Dara?"

She took in a shallow breath.

"To see Thomas Malloy."