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Scene 104

The air was still and silent - bracingly so.

Sonny stared, and Alexis stared back. But the way he stared made her want to look away. The moment Thomas's name left her mouth, she'd seen the pain register in the deep darkness of Sonny's eyes and it filled her with renewed guilt. But she didn't let herself look away from them. It would have made him think things that weren't so, and she owed him as much peace of mind as she could give him.

"I r-really am fine, Sonny." Her voice cracked as her heart thumped. "Please don't worry that I'm n-not."

Sonny swept his tongue across his lips. He hadn't expected what Alexis just told him, and all coherent thought escaped him as he fumbled for words.

"You went to...to see that man who..."

"Yes."

Her single word silenced him, her wide, expectant eyes continuing to hold all his focus. He knew what it was that Alexis expected from him - the fallout. Her whole body was waiting for it, with her spine pulled up straight, head erect and shoulders squared. Only her eyes gave away her unease...and her fingernails that lightly picked at the paper around the bottle, though Sonny's hand still covered hers. At least her anxious nails were no longer attacking the well-healing wounds on her arms. He withdrew his hand and slowly ran his palms across his hair. He wished Alexis wasn't anxious at all. Not about him. But the name of Thomas Malloy's from the precious lips he'd just kissed sent a quick pulsing of angry blood through Sonny's head, and he knew Alexis could see it in his eyes the same way he saw everything in hers. He closed his eyes to her for a brief moment as his palms slid down his cheeks, hands clasping together under his chin as if in prayer. His eyes opened again, and Sonny took in a slow, deliberate breath as he gathered all his thoughts into a single word of his own.

"Why?"

"Why?" Alexis repeated.

"Why did you do it?"

Her head gently tilted and she gave a small shrug of her shoulder. "Why did YOU?"

Sonny felt a chill shoot up his spine.

"I know you went to see him too."

Alexis knew. And she knew he'd deliberately withheld it from her. Sonny hadn't expected his secret to be exposed, and he didn't know how to respond except to do as Alexis herself was wont to do - deflect.

"I'm not the one he hurt, Alexis."

Alexis looked deep into Sonny's wounded eyes and wanted to protest. He HAD been hurt. Profoundly so. Even Sorel and Thomas knew it.

"Hurting Miss Davis got Corinthos right where he lives."

She held her tongue.

"Why in God's name would you want to put yourself in the same room with him again? Why would you subject yourself to that?"

"Because I had to." She whispered roughly.

Sonny's brow was heavily creased, and he stared at her in confusion. And Alexis also saw the worry that she knew would fill his eyes as soon as her mouth had spoken. She half wished she'd kept her mouth closed. But Alexis swallowed and shifted her weight, inhaling deeply before she continued to speak.

"But I WASN'T in the same room with him...exactly. Thomas was in the interrogation room and I was next door, watching him through the two-way mirror. He didn't even know I was there."

Sonny's shoulders visibly released their tension. "So you just needed to see him, literally? That was all?"

She pulled her lip between her teeth and quickly let it slip back out again as she shook her head.

"No, that wasn't all. I...well, Taggart was with him, asking him questions while I listened to what Thomas...."

"TAGGART was a part of this?" Sonny barked.

Alexis flinched, but Sonny didn't see it. He had already turned his reddened face away from her, trying to maintain control as he closed his eyes and rubbed at them with the heels of his palms. Taggart had helped put Alexis in contact with Malloy without letting Sonny know, and it enveloped him in a strange feeling of betrayed. He didn't expect any favors from Taggart and he never would. Working together to save Alexis hadn't really changed anything between them. It only humanized them in each other's eyes. Somewhat. But Taggart knew the hell that Alexis had been through, that she was still fragile, and that Sonny was the one who'd fought like fury to keep her whole. To let her face down Malloy alone, without Sonny even being prepared for when she returned home, was wrong. It was a betrayal of Alexis, and Sonny saw red.

"I asked for his help, Sonny, because I didn't feel ready to be face-to-face with Thomas. But I was ready to see him, from a comfortable distance, and to listen to him."

Sonny spun back around. "Listen to him say what, Alexis? That he was sorry for what he did to you? Did you really need to see and hear for yourself that the apology he sent through Taggart was sincere?"

Alexis physically pulled back. She wasn't sure how to read Sonny's tone, but it made her feel uncomfortably defensive.

"Maybe I did." She said flatly. "Why? Does that strike you as absurd?"

"N-no…"

"I didn't choose a lifestyle in which being the object of murderous intent would be commonplace."

Sonny's lids dropped, eyes squeezing tightly shut. The guilt over the danger he'd pulled her into was slapping him in the face, and it stung.

"I was a target at birth."

His lids lifted, and he met her sad gaze.

"I'm the bastard daughter of Mikkos Cassadine, and that alone made me the object of murderous intent, by his wife, from the day I was born. It may not make it any less frightening to know WHY someone wants to kill you, but an actual reason makes it easier to...process it intellectually. And knowing that Helena never has and never will be sorry for anything she's done or tried to do to me lets me to make a strange sort of peace with it because it's a fact that won't ever change."

"She'll never touch you again, Alexis. I swear on my life I won't let that happen."

"I'm not talking about Helena, I'm talking about Thomas. And yes, I did need to know for a fact that he was sorry. It closes a door, of sorts. And it's a totally separate issue from the fact that he did hurt me."

Alexis regarded the lost look in Sonny's eyes, and words she'd just said replayed in her mind. They sounded inept. And the ache in her forehead suddenly turned into a throb. Her shoulders reflexively tensed, and she gave out a small nervous laugh as her fingers fidgeted with her bangs.

"I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm not expressing myself very well."

Sonny tucked her hair behind her ear as he whispered. "Take your time. I'm not going anywhere."

Alexis smiled with one dimple and closed her eyes as she rubbed above her brow. Sonny felt his eyelid twitch as he watched her. Her tension was palpable to him, and he was sure that his was palpable to her too. He didn't want it to be. He wanted Alexis to feel unconditionally safe with him, no matter what weight she bore that needed to be lifted. But he'd been caught off guard by hearing Thomas Malloy's name come from her mouth, and his visceral response was impossible to hide. Alexis took a swallow of water and pushed her fingertips into another spot on her forehead. Sonny frowned and touched the back of her hand.

"Your head hurts." It wasn't a question.

"A little."

"Then let's not talk about this any more." He turned away and moved to open the top cabinet behind him.

"We need to talk about this."

"Look, your head hurts, you're tired, stressed...let it go, Alexis." He turned back around with an aspirin bottle in his hand and flipped off the cap. "You pushed yourself to do too much in one day, and now you just need to eat and get some rest." He tapped two tablets into his hand and held them out to her. "Take these, and I'll have dinner ready in twenty-five minutes."

Alexis looked down at the tablets that lay aloft in Sonny's open palm. He was big on aspirin, and even bigger on sidestepping the subject of her recalcitrant abductor.

"Avoiding the issue of Thomas won't make it go away." She whispered softly.

Sonny bristled in spite of himself. "Thomas". The way that name just rolled off her tongue, so familiar and casual as if they were old friends, disturbed him. He gave a nod toward his extended hand.

"Taking these WILL make your headache go away."

She stared into his eyes and considered letting it go…for now. Her head did hurt, and she was tired - but not at all hungry. That would not go over well with Sonny. Alexis suddenly felt her hand enveloped in soft strength and then lifted up. She looked down to see Sonny pressing the tablets into her palm and curling her fingers around them.

"Please?"

She smiled in spite of herself, and she did as he asked. How could she not when he'd said the magic word? The bitter aspirin taste still lingered in the back of her throat after the water pushed the tablet down, and it suddenly brought back a memory. Someone was putting a pill in her mouth and trying to make her drink. The taste was bitter, and she'd started to cough. But a strong arm was behind her back, raising her up. And then, the memory went dark. It was Thomas. She remembered his voice, coaxing her and pleading with her. He'd told Taggart that Sorel let him give her aspirin when the fever got bad. She hadn't remembered it then. She remembered it now. Alexis set the water bottle down on the counter and took a small, wobbly step to the side.

"I think I need to sit."

"That's probably a good idea."

Sonny slipped his arm around her back and tried to ignore the vacant look in her eyes as he led her into the living room and waited as she lowered herself into the corner of the couch. He took a seat on the edge of the arm, and Alexis tucked her legs up underneath her body and pulled a pillow into her lap.

"You okay?"

She nodded.

"Then talk to me. Finish telling me about Malloy."

Alexis stared up at him with large, uncertain eyes. And then, her eyes shifted down to the pillow hugged close to her.

"I know why Helena always hated me and wanted me dead, and I know what Sorel's personal motives were for doing what he did to me. Thomas had no personal reason to do me harm. He was just doing a job. And it frightened me more to know that a stranger could so easily hurt and/or kill me for no other reason than a paycheck. I think that's why matters so much to me that Thomas was sorry for what he did, and that he saw me as a human being instead of a thing - an insignificant, dispensable thing. It matters to me that he feels regret and even grief, and that my life was ultimately more important to him than his own."

Alexis looked up into Sonny's eyes and saw what she'd hoped she'd see. She gave him a single dimple of gratitude.

"You understand."

Sonny nodded vaguely. He understood, but he was also sinking into a well of overwhelming regret that Alexis hadn't wanted him to be there with her while she did the difficult thing that she needed to do. She had wanted Johnny - a semi-neutral party who might boss her around about seat belts but leave her private business alone. Sonny wondered if while she was on the other side of a two-way mirror, watching and listening to the man who helped Sorel bring her to her knees, Alexis had wished that she'd asked HIM to accompany her instead.

"It was also on my mind whether Sorel was picking up where Helena left off and really did want to see me dead. Thomas thinks not. He thinks that the overdose really was an accident and Sorel didn't intend to kill me."

Sonny stayed silent. He wasn't so sure Malloy knew anything of the kind. And all that really mattered to him was the fact that Alexis almost DID die. Whether it was intentional or accidental, Sorel and Malloy had almost taken her away from the world and away from HIM. And Sonny would never forgive - or forget.

Alexis shook her head and laughed nervously. "Don't ask me why that matters because I don't really know. It just does."

Sonny smiled and touched the sweet dimple gracing her left cheek. He knew why it mattered. There was nothing but light in Alexis's heart, and she found it nearly impossible to accept that anyone else's heart could be nothing but dark. Not even Sorel's. And Sonny adored her for it.

"I understand you better than you think, Alexis. So I don't need to ask why."

Alexis reached out to smooth the creases in his forehead. Sonny's eyes drifted shut. He wanted to melt under her gentle touch above his brow. She had the touch of an angel - light, warm, heavenly…blessed. He felt blessed with the feel of Alexis's skin upon his.

"Sonny?"

"Hmm?" His eyes reluctantly opened and lifted to her face.

"Thank you for making it okay for me to tell you about it."

"Why didn't you tell me before, Alexis? Why did you make yourself do this alone? I could have been there for you and, you know, just stayed quiet in the background if you wanted me to."

"Sonny, I told you this morning why I couldn't let you come with me. My professional credibility is at stake. It was already compromised enough when I became an unwilling lingerie model on every PC and above every cheap bar off of every state highway. Now I've been the victim of a violent crime, and that's just too much negative attention being focused on me in a very short amount of time. I want to be regarded and respected as an attorney - that's all. So there can't be any hand holding allowed in my work environment…by anyone."

"You needed to slay your own dragon?" Sonny whispered roughly.

The disappointment in his wide, dark eyes made Alexis want to cry. Sonny needed her to need him, and he was afraid that she didn't. Not so. She needed him more than she ever needed anyone - except for Stefan. That was an old, deep and different kind of need. And all her dragons were Sonny's to slay - except for Stavros. That was a vague, strange and different kind of dragon.

"Not slay. Just face. I mean did I fire you or something?" Alexis cocked her head. "Because I don't remember firing you."

Sonny grinned.

"And you were with me, Sonny. In here." She pressed a palm to her heart as she smiled. "And in woolen form as well."

His grin slowly faded. "I can't not worry about you, Alexis. Especially when I know that you've put yourself in a position where you could be hurt again."

"Thomas couldn't - wouldn't hurt me."

"Not physically, but...look, I know you hate hearing this word, Alexis, but you ARE still vulnerable emotionally. And your reactions to seemingly insignificant things have been unpredictable. And Malloy is hardly an insignificant thing."

"No, he isn't. Actually, in my mind everything is so much…bigger that it probably really was. Including Thomas. I thought it would help to see him in person, for the simple flesh and blood man that he is instead of letting him continue to be an overwhelming presence in my head. And I needed to hear his account of what really happened during those three days. Some of my memories are so clear and strong, but others are like something out of a funhouse. They've confused me and…scared me, at times. I needed some clarity, and the only person I could get it from was Thomas."

A quick flash of panic registered on Sonny's face. "Please tell me you didn't see Sorel too."

She gave a single shake of her head. "No, I didn't see Sorel."

"Promise me you won't."

"I...won't. I don't need to."

Her brow creased. She thought of the night that Sonny went to see Sorel, and the shaken state he was in when he returned to her after unleashing his rage. And she wondered when it was that Sonny went to see Thomas. Thomas had said that Sonny looked like he wanted to kill him, but he didn't do a thing. And she was grateful for that.

"Sonny? Is the PCPD where you went yesterday afternoon, when you left suddenly and said you had business to take care of?"

Sonny's gaze shifted away from Alexis's face. The business he'd taken care of yesterday was making sure Luke Spencer never darkened her door uninvited again. Alexis still hadn't told him about Luke's visit, nor had Sonny told Alexis about the visit he'd paid to Luke. It was an odd secret to have between them, and he didn't understand it. Why would Alexis keep silent about Luke, but not about Malloy? Was it a matter of their intense family conflict? Their long personal history? Their complicated kinship? It could be all three. Or it could also be a matter of the love/hate ritual that was ripe with sexual tension and impossible for anyone who watched them to miss.

Luke's twinkling eyes and lascivious tone when he spoke to or of "Natasha" made the hairs on the back of Sonny's neck stand on end. There was always an unmistakable edge of genuine softness under the outwardly abrasive display. And no matter how abrasive - or crass - crass the display happened to be, Alexis never shied away from lobbing one back with quick class and flair...and a twinkle in her eyes. Their verbal sparring was ripe with deep, unspoken subtext, like a secret language others could only sense but not know. The "antagonism tango" that Luke and Alexis danced was theirs alone, and it fed a part of them that no one else seemed able to feed. It made Sonny angry - and jealous as hell. And he wondered if somehow Alexis sensed that. Why else would she keep silent about Luke, but not Malloy? Malloy…

"No, Alexis. I didn't see Malloy yesterday. It was when you were in the hospital."

"But you never left my side when I was in the hospital."

"I did when you asked me to - when I told you what Sorel had really done to you."

"Oh." Alexis murmured, eyes dropping from his face as her teeth briefly caught her lip. "Right."

That was one memory that she'd rather forget, but she knew she never would. And she knew Sonny wouldn't either.

"I didn't want to leave you. Not then. Not that way. But I knew it wouldn't be good for you if I stayed and forced you to deal with what you'd just been told before you were ready. Or to deal with me, when I was sure that you hated me."

Alexis winced. "God..."

"I didn't blame you." Sonny whispered, fingertips touching her cheek.

Her eyes met his. "And I didn't hate you."

He shrugged and gave her a sad, one-dimpled smile. "I hated myself enough for both of us. You looked at me like all your faith and trust had just died."

"It wasn't your fault."

"We both know that's not entirely true."

"I'm not doing this blame thing with you again. I'm not." Alexis abruptly shoved the pillow from her lap, pushed herself up off the couch, and began to walk toward the kitchen.

"Wait, where are you going?"

"You know how I feel about it, and.."

Sonny quickly rose and moved around the corner of the couch. "Wait...Alexis!"

"Alexis!"

She halted in her tracks as Stavros's voice rang in her ears and his dark, angular face flashed before her eyes. And then there came the familiar sharp pain in the back of her head. Her hand moved up in response. Her lids quickly closed, a muted swirl of colors dancing behind them.

"Do you know who this Stavros is?"

Thomas's words revisited her, his muffled voice soon morphing into the sound of Sonny's voice floating toward her from behind her turned back.

"I'm sorry - what?"

"I said you deserve to know how I feel too."

Alexis gave her head one last rub and let her arm fall down to her side. She opened her eyes and lifted her gaze up to the last glimmer of setting sunlight sneaking in through the dining room window. It was beautiful. But something about the golden glow sent an icy rush of goose bumps across her skin.

"He's dead and he still scares her?"

"Always the truth, right?" Sonny murmured.

Alexis vaguely turned her head. Yes, she did always want the truth, even though it may not always be the easiest thing to hear...or have...or understand. She didn't understand the things teasing her mind, and she didn't know that she wanted to. Maybe it was best to leave some things alone. But they had to leave her alone first. Her eldest brother's memory refused. Alexis sighed and cast a quick glance at Sonny over her shoulder.

"The truth is...you weren't the one who shot me up with heroin, Sonny. You're just the one who had to tell me about it."

Sonny blinked. The blunt words held within the calm tone of her voice unsettled him. He tried to read her eyes, but Alexis turned them away too fast. A moment later, she continued to silently walk away. He hesitated, then followed in her path. And he watched with curiosity as she paused to give the dining room window a strange look. Sonny's eyes left her face to follow her gaze to the soft, warm, orangey hue washing over the glass. It was beautiful. But the expression on her face hadn't been one reflecting the appreciation of beauty, it was reflecting the rise of confusion. And when he turned his eyes back to her, he was sure that her cheeks had suddenly flushed. Alexis crossed the threshold of the kitchen and reached for her half empty bottle sitting on the counter.

"I'd have gotten that for you."

"No need. I'm fully ambulatory. See?"

She pushed the hair back from her face and took another swallow of water as she moved past Sonny and headed back toward the living room. Sonny turned and leisurely trailed after her.

"What you said isn't exactly true either, Alexis."

She stopped and looked at him before setting her water down on the coffee table and herself back down into the corner of the sofa.

"What isn't?"

Sonny stood at the edge of the sofa, staring down at the big brown eyes that looked at him with such innocence. A moment later, he was sitting beside her.

"Tony didn't want to tell you about the heroin until the fever had broken and your body was stronger. I went along with that, which meant I also had to go along with him continuing to drug you to hold off the withdrawal. It may not have been heroin and it may not have been my hand sticking another needle into you, but I still felt like I was picking up where Sorel left off. Maybe that's a part of what he wanted - I don't know. But I do know that I hated it, and I…I had no choice but to do it."

"No, you didn't. You and Tony did what you had to do. I was just too angry and scared at the time to appreciate the impossible position you were both in. But I didn't stay angry for long. The fear pretty much overrode the anger. Especially the fear that I'd been so awful to you that you wouldn't come back."

"Nothing could have kept me from coming back. Even if you refused to let me back in your room, I'd have taken Johnny's place standing outside your door."

Alexis gave him a crooked smile. "Did you know that he stayed in my room with me while you were gone?"

"Yeah?" Sonny feigned ignorance.

"He claimed it was cold in the hallway. He's a rotten liar."

"Like someone else I know."

"He tried to distract me from...things. He talked to me in a soft voice, and he made me talk back. He made me drink water. And he tried coercing me into letting Tony give me more Demerol."

Sonny frowned with mock annoyance. "Bossy wannabe."

"Take pride, master." Alexis tilted her head. "Grasshopper learns well."

Sonny's dimples blazed. Her smile grew.

"Grasshopper is also very perceptive. He told me you'd be back, no doubt about it."

"He told me you'd let me in when I did come back, no doubt about that either."

Alexis shifted her body, eyes drifting over to the water bottle sitting on the coffee table, wrapped in tattered blue paper. Blue was everywhere, and the confusion of memories and feelings it triggered was finally beginning to wane. It still put the image of Thomas's eyes into her head, but how it made her feel was…different. She'd looked into those bright eyes of his once more, for real, and the residual fear gave way to compassion - the compassion she felt for Thomas's grief, and the compassion he felt for hers. Alexis swallowed and lifted her gaze back up to Sonny's face.

"When the withdrawal symptoms started kicking in, Johnny helped with that too. He put a cool cloth on my face. For a few minutes it eased the pain and let me catch my breath before the next wave hit."

Sonny's back tensed. "I'm glad he knew how to make you feel better. When I couldn't be there to help you."

"The first few times Sorel drugged me, when I felt sick, and also when the fever started getting bad, Thomas did the exact same thing as Johnny. He put a cool, damp cloth on my face and told me I'd be okay."

"It wasn't the exact same thing at all, Alexis." Sonny murmured in a flat, dry voice. "Johnny's comfort came to you from his heart. He adores you."

Alexis wrapped her arms around herself with a gentle smile. "Back at him."

"Malloy's came from...someplace else."

"I still needed it. That's one of the many dichotomies I've struggled to reconcile. But the truth is, I needed what both of them gave me, no matter where it was coming from."

She ran her tongue across her lower lip and let her eyes settle deeply into his.

"And while Johnny was comforting me from his wonderful heart, in your place, you were at the PCPD with Thomas."

"Yes."

"Why? I know you didn't DO anything to him, like what you did to Sorel. So why did you go?"

Sonny swallowed hard, knowing Alexis would hate what he was about to say.

"To do what I did to Sorel."

Alexis paled. "But you…"

"Didn't touch him."

He looked away, then looked back at Alexis's studious face. Sonny abruptly stood up, moving around the couch and hovering by the desk. He couldn't look at her while he spoke, and he didn't know why.

"When I walked into that room and saw him sitting there I was so ready to do it. I just wanted him to look at me first. I wanted him to really look at me, and see who I was, and know what it was all going to be about. And I wanted him to be afraid. He did look at me, and I saw the fear. His eyes were all big, and..."

"Blue."

Her soft, unexpected intonation took him aback. He paused a moment, and then turned back to see Alexis's gaze fixed upon the water bottle. Malloy's eyes WERE blue - a clear, vibrant, piercing blue. And Sonny was suddenly struck by the fact that seeing Malloy had given him a small, but tangible means by which to empathize with Alexis. He couldn't share the burden of her physical suffering, but he'd looked into the eyes of her only source of hope and knew they'd given her comfort. The conflicted emotions it brought up in him made his gut twist. But he held onto the fact that it was all about her and what she needed. As he'd looked into Malloy's fearful eyes, he held on.

"Yes. And they told me he was expecting to get killed, but that he wouldn't be putting up a fight. There was acceptance in his eyes. Surrender." His voice broke, and he cleared his throat. "I couldn't do it. Because what it WAS all going to be about was YOU. And I knew you'd hate it if I hurt him in your name."

Alexis took in a quick, shallow breath. "You were right."

"But I wanted to hurt him, Alexis. I wanted to make him pay for the way you looked at me when you told me to go away. For all the fear and betrayal that filled the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen. I wanted him to feel the pain he'd made you feel."

"And you."

Sonny shook his head. "No."

She took in a sharp breath. It was déjà vu. Sonny had just done the same thing Thomas had done, when she offered him her gratitude.

"Don't do that!" Alexis rose and went to him. "Don't act as if your feelings aren't important while you're encouraging me to accept mine. It's not fair. I know…"

"What?"

"Corinthos got what he wanted too...Sorel let him hear her all right."

Alexis swallowed.

"He made him listen while he shot her up."

Her head began to throb.

"Corinthos was totally freaking and willing to do anything to get her back."

No - she couldn't tell him what she'd heard Thomas say. Sonny didn't want her to know or he'd have told her. But why wouldn't he tell her?

"I know...that what Thomas did caused you just as much pain as me. Maybe more."

Thomas. It was such an all American name. Such an unpretentious, unassuming name, and it was so unbefitting a man who would work for the likes of Sorel. Thomas. Alexis said that name as easily and naturally as she said Sonny's. And he remembered, with a tightening in his chest, the first time he'd heard her say it.

"That first night you were at GH, you called out for him."

"For Thomas?"

He nodded, eyes darting from the floor to the wall. Alexis's jaw tensed. She could see, even as he deliberately looked everywhere but her, the dampness welling in his eyes. The throb in her head intensified.

"The fever was raging inside of you, and you were confused - and scared from a bad dream. I was talking to you, and touching you." He slipped his hand through her hair, his voice cracking with held back emotion. "Trying to calm and comfort you. You called out his name. Your voice was so pleading, like you really wanted him - needed him. You thought you were still locked up in that dark, cold place. You thought I was Malloy."

"When Sorel was riding her so bad, while Corinthos was listening, she was all confused, thinking Sorel was this Stavros guy and that he was coming after her to hurt her."

Alexis felt dizzy, like she was falling. Like she was going to land hard when she hit the ground. She took hold of Sonny's face and kissed him.

"I know your voice, Sonny. I know your touch. I do."

"I know." He murmured.

She kissed him again, then tightly wrapped her arms around him. Sonny's arms encircled her back, holding her carefully close as she set her chin down upon his shoulder and whispered urgently into his ear.

"I'm so sorry I hurt you."

"Alexis, you didn't...-"

"I'm sorry I threw you out of my room, I'm sorry I called you Thomas, I'm sorry I couldn't bring myself to tell you what I was planning to do today before I did it."

One palm held flush against her waist as the other moved up her silken back. "Don't apologize to me. You have nothing to apologize for."

Alexis pulled back slightly to look up at him and put her fingertips against his mouth.

"Shhh. Please, Sonny. Stop."

She kissed him gently. He let her.

"You were right. Let's not talk about this any more, okay?"

With another, less gentle kiss, her hands came back to his face. He kissed her back. Alexis kept her eyes closed as she briefly broke contact and murmured with a throaty voice.

"Let's not talk about anything any more.

As her mouth found his once more, Sonny's hands rose up and hovered in the air on either side of her head. This time, her kiss was needful. His body responded. His mouth responded, pressing fully into hers as his hands finally moved down into her hair. But his instincts reared up, telling him something wasn't right - telling him "no". Sonny bowed his head and pulled his lips away from their sweet attention.

"Honey, wait."

Alexis opened her eyes halfway, a small flirtatious smile on her face. "What? You heard me say you were right and you want to gloat about it?"

Sonny couldn't help but smile. "Not now. Maybe later."

"Okay." She kissed his throat. "Later."

Oh God. Sonny's power of speech defied him. The power of Alexis's mouth on his flesh overtook him. She brushed the tip of her nose against his chin as she lifted her head and looked up into his eyes with languid pools of chocolate brown. And then, her lids closed as she pulled his head toward her. Sonny tentatively allowed himself to give in to yet another melding of his lips into hers and the feel of their bodies pressing together. Alexis needed something, but he knew that it wasn't really this. He wasn't sure what it was, or if she even knew herself. But he was sure that the kisses she showered upon him were another, newer form of deflection - a sweet, seductive form that took all of his strength to resist. An involuntary moan formed in his throat as he forced himself to break contact.

"A-Alexis."

"Hmm?"

She nuzzled his neck and kissed the curve of his jaw. His knees buckled. Her mouth moved upward.

"Honey, hold on…"

Her mouth descended on his one more time, halting his verbal protest. But Sonny firmed his hands against her head and pulled away with a decidedly stronger force.

"Alexis, stop!"

The sharp intensity of his tone snapped her eyes open. She looked at him as if in a daze, like she'd been abruptly awakened from a dream. His voice softened, and Sonny moved his fingers gently within her hair.

"What's going on with you? What's this about?"

She swallowed. Her eyes were widening as her flushed cheeks quickly drained of their color.

"Sorry."

Alexis's whisper was almost inaudible to her own ears. A cold tingle was creeping up her spine as she replayed the last few minutes in her mind. What had she just done? What was she thinking? What was Sonny thinking as he looked at her with the same expression on his face as when she'd woken from nightmares that brought her to the floor. She felt like an idiot and wished she could take those last few minutes back.

"I, um...sorry."

She turned her head, trying to break free of Sonny's hands. He wouldn't let her go, and Alexis was mortified. He was going to make her look at him when all she wanted to do was run upstairs and hide - to immerse herself in the refuge of hot, scented water and wash away everything from the strange and stressful day.

"Don't. Don't be sorry."

The loving warmth in Sonny's voice reflexively lifted her eyes to his. He smiled, and she looked away as shyness overtook her. It was the loving warmth in his eyes that moved her to want to bury herself in him to begin with. And also the sadness. Alexis wanted to let the feel, taste and scent of Sonny to chase away the shadows of Stavros, Sorel, and even Thomas, that had followed her home. But Sonny didn't want it. Her face tingled, and she smiled nervously as she shook her head.

"Um, that was...really inappropriate, and I didn't mean to make you feel, um..."

"Alexis? I'm not complaining about your kisses." One hand slipped down to her chin and lifted it up, forcing her to look at him. "I want them."

He moved into her, eyes open, and tenderly brushed his lips against hers. And then, he whispered against them.

"But right now, it feels like there's something else going on with you besides you really wanting to kiss me. It feels like you're…trying to hide."

Sonny pulled back and Alexis searched his eyes as she swallowed. But she didn't say a word.

"You can hide in me if you need to. But I'd rather you talk to me."

She took his hand from her face and held it as she prepared to lie. "I'm not trying to hide, Sonny. I'm just tired. Really tired. I did push myself to do too much, like you said. You were right about that too, and you really should just go ahead and say "I told you so" while you have the chance."

"Okay. I told you so." He winked and gave her hand a light squeeze.

"And now that THAT'S over and done with." She released his hand with a small smile and stepped back, eyes shifting away from his once more. "I think I'm going to go on upstairs."

"Good idea. You go get into something comfy and I'll have dinner on the table in no time."

"Please don't make a fuss about this, but I'm really not hungry."

"Alexis..."

"Really. I ate a decent lunch and I don't need food right now, I just need to sleep." She turned away from him and ran her hands through her hair.

"You also need to eat - at least enough so you can safely take your vitamins."

"I know." Alexis turned back to him. "And I will - after I take a long, hot bubble bath and before I crawl into bed. The refrigerator's full of leftovers, so it's just not necessary for you to go to the trouble of cooking yet another meal for me when I probably wouldn't be able to appreciate it as fully as it would deserve to be appreciated because I'm just not…"

"Hungry." His single word halted her nervous rambling.

Alexis cleared her throat. "Right."

Sonny nodded and slid his hands into his pockets. Alexis was still avoiding looking him in the eye and he wanted her too. He hated that she was so clearly embarrassed for her unabashed display of physical affection, but he didn't know how to take it away. And he was afraid that anything he did or said to TRY taking it away would only make it worse. She needed some time alone, and Sonny would give it to her…for now.

"Just promise me you'll eat something other than popcorn."

"You got it."

"Okay. I'll go on back across the hall."

Across the hall, not home. Sonny couldn't bring himself to call the penthouse home because Alexis wouldn't be there, and he only felt truly at home with her - no matter where they happened to be.

"Enjoy your bath, sleep well, and give me a call in the morning."

"You got that too."

Alexis bit her lip and played with the cuff of her blouse. Sonny hesitated, and then took a step toward her. Her face lifted up with his movement, and he saw that it now bore a light flush. He hesitated again before reaching out and touching her gently on her soft, rosy cheek - her left cheek, where Sorel's bruise had faded to a faint shadow.

"Sweet dreams, spud."

"Back at ya, bossy smarty pants."

He laughed. She smiled. And an ache was lifted from the heart of a man who loved and didn't want to leave. But he did. For now.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Alexis may not have been hungry, but the minute he walked into his own kitchen Sonny's stomach began to growl. He was hungry enough for two - so he cooked enough for two. And after he'd eaten, not quiet an hour later, Sonny was slipping his key into Alexis's door while holding a foil-wrapped plate in his hand. The click of the turning latch seemed magnified within the quiet of the living room, as did the click of the door closing behind him. There wasn't a single sound of human life as he stood listening at the bottom of the stairs. It was somewhat unsettling, though he knew Alexis was, in fact, right upstairs. Could she already be asleep?

No. Sonny was certain Alexis hadn't yet gone to bed. She was a very literal person, and he expected the "long, hot bubble bath" she planned to take would be just that. He hoped it would relax her body well, and sooth away whatever weighed on her mind. He couldn't help but wonder if he was right to have stopped her sudden flurry of kisses. It would kill him if he thought that Alexis believed - really believed, for even a minute, that he was rejecting her. If it hadn't been right then, after what they'd just discussed…but HAD been right then, with Thomas Malloy looming large between them, and it wasn't right. And whether Alexis could admit it or not, she had been trying hide…in Sonny. He could feel it.

Sonny glanced toward the kitchen door, and then made his way through the living room. The fragrant plate of roasted lemon and rosemary chicken was slipped into a low oven to keep it warm until Alexis ready to eat. He padded back through the living room, wondering to himself if a bath could stir a person's appetite. And as he quietly climbed one, then two stairs, the scent he would know anywhere drifted down to meet his nose. Gardenias...Alexis. He wasn't too late. She was still immersed in a sea of warm bubbles. And the vision his mind quickly conjured put a shameless grin on Sonny's face. Apparently, a bath COULD stir a person's appetite. He shook his head and rubbed at his mouth as he admonished himself. He needed to let Alexis know he was there, and why, and then leave her be.

"Alexis? It's me." He called out, continuing to climb. "Not that I didn't think you were capable of heating up leftovers on your own and without incident, but I was making dinner for myself anyway, so…"

Sonny's voice trailed off as he hit the top landing. It was still quiet, but the scent of her intensified. He moved toward her open bedroom door and stopped just shy of the doorframe, knocking lightly upon the wood.

"Alexis?"

He poked his head around the corner and looked into the room. The first thing his eyes found was silk - two small, shimmering pools of cream silk and lace laying on the floor by the side the bed. Sonny felt himself begin to blush, and he lifted his gaze up to where her white blouse and black skirt were casually draped across the foot of the bed. And the bed itself was still made, but the fluffy white comforter that covered it bore a faint, long, diagonal impression. He took a step into the room and his nose was rewarded with a new wave of the intoxicatingly feminine fragrance. He glanced at the bathroom door, which hadn't been fully closed.

"Hey spud."

Sonny frowned at the quiet that surrounded him. Why wasn't she answering him? Music - maybe she was listening to music, with her headphones on. But why would she wear headphones when she was alone? He moved to the door, following the call of the warm, damp, heady air that escaped through the narrow opening. And he spoke in a decidedly stronger voice.

"Alexis, it's Sonny. I went ahead and cooked tonight, so I put a plate in the oven for you."

All that he heard in response was the 'plink' of a water drop hitting water. His heart skipped a beat. Something was wrong.

"Alexis, answer me!"

Sonny didn't wait for her to answer. He somehow knew that she wouldn't. He quickly turned and grabbed hold of the doorknob, gripping it fiercely as he shot a sharp look through the opening and into the sultry, dimly lit room. A candle flickered from an unseen place, dancing both light and shadows across the sink and countertop within his direct line of view. And in the moment that it took for Sonny's eyes to focus, he made out the distinct shape of a small, cylindrical bottle sitting on the edge of the sink. A burnt orange bottle, with a white label taped around its middle. Another drop of water fell against water, another 'plink' deafened him. A quick chill shot up Sonny's spine.

"Oh God…"

He gave the door a hard shove, and a blanket of light from the bedside lamp was cast into the bathroom and across the large, white, footed tub. And all he saw of Alexis was the back of her wrist...hand...fingers...resting motionless over the porcelain's edge.