Sonny shivered lightly as a chill ran through him.
His hand reached out, fingers brushing down the warm softness of her cheek. He smiled and set the telephone back down in the cradle. The penguin stared up at him once more, and Sonny was taken back to the day Charlie gave it to Alexis. It was also the day that Charlie gave strong advice to Sonny.
"Make her see someone."
Sonny had laughed at the suggestion that anyone could make Alexis do anything. But his laughter also hid another truth - it was too scary for him to admit that Alexis could be damaged enough to NEED to see someone. He told himself he didn't want to push her when she still so physically fragile and emotionally guarded. He told himself he didn't want to upset her by challenging her autonomy. And he wanted to be the one to give her everything she needed. There was just no room in Sonny's mind for the notion that he couldn't - not until that night. That night, Alexis could have died…again. And the tiny round eyes of a stuffed toy admonished him with the echo of Charlie's wise words. They reminded him that the only thing that mattered was Alexis, and what was best for her. To love her right was to put his own ego aside. He WOULD love her right…no matter how hard it might be.
He shivered again. And Sonny realized that while he'd made sure Alexis was warm and dry, he himself was still cold and wet. The cotton shirt was coldly clinging to his chest, sending a sudden blanket of goose bumps across his skin. The broad damp patches on his gabardine trousers had the same effect on his thighs. Sonny rose to his feet and pulled his shirttails from the confines of his trousers and began to work on the buttons. He wondered if Zander left anything behind that would fit him, or if he should just give Johnny a call. Sonny slipped the stiff, wet cotton from his shoulders and moved away from the bed. He draped his shirt over the doorknob to dry, and kicked off his water-stained leather shoes as he made his way back toward Alexis.
But as his shoes made a light thunking sound against the ground, his gaze reflexively dropped down to where they landed - right beside the two small pools of white silk and lace. Sonny fought the urge to reach down and pick up the delicate camisole by its even more delicate shoulder strap. He knew it would feel like her skin. He knew it would carry her scent. He wanted to pick it up…but Sonny let it lie where Alexis had let it fall. It was only a piece of silk, after all. He'd felt silk before. He'd felt it on Alexis…who was now deeply asleep and under the care of a gentleman. Sonny sighed and cleared his throat as he sat back on the edge of the bed. But as he reached for the phone, he let himself wonder if Alexis ever wore anything underneath her clothing, or to bed, but silk.
Johnny's back straightened at the sound of the elevator car approaching the penthouse floor. Nobody was expected, and Zander never got home until late. His hand hovered over his weapon as the door slid open. His hand dropped down to his side as Ned Ashton stepped out.
"Don't you ever go home?" Ned said flatly. "Do you even HAVE a home?"
"Alexis didn't tell me she was expecting any visitors tonight."
"Since when does Alexis clear her schedule with the hired help?"
Johnny's jaw tensed. How did an arrogant jerk like Ashton ever snag a woman like Alexis in the first place?
"Let me simplify it into a yes-or-no question. Is Alexis expecting you?"
"You want simple? None of your damn business! Is THAT simple enough for you?"
Ned quickly moved toward Alexis's door, and Johnny quickly blocked him.
"I'll take that as a no. Which makes perfect sense, seeing as how Alexis said she was going to bed."
Ned looked at his watch. He frowned - and scoffed.
"At seven thirty? Right."
"She sleeps when she's tired. Do you have a problem with that?"
"I have a problem with you acting like Alexis needs guarding from ME! I'm not Sorel, or any other rival of Sonny's who's out to take vengeance on HIM through HER."
Johnny's eye twitched. Ashton wasn't a rival of Sonny's at all anymore. He wished he could crack wise, but he held his tongue.
"Look, I'm telling you the truth. Alexis was really worn out and she wanted to go to bed early. This was her first real day out since she got home from the hospital, and even though she may act like she's all better, she is still recovering."
"I don't need you to tell me that. I know Alexis a hell of a lot better than you OR Sonny, and I know that she isn't as well as she wants everyone to believe."
"Then let her sleep. I'll give her the message that you stopped by."
Ned opened his mouth to retort, but the trill of a telephone stopped him. He and Johnny both reached for their pockets. Johnny had the call. Ned crossed his arms and shot a glance at Alexis's door over Johnny's shoulder as Johnny answered his phone.
Sonny's unexpected voice on the other end of the line vaguely turned Johnny's head toward the closed door behind him. "Uh...hey."
"I'm going to be staying here with Alexis tonight, and I need you to go bring me a change of clothes - and my cell."
"Is everything okay?"
"Yeah. Alexis just took a sleeping pill and it knocked her out pretty hard, so I…"
Johnny's sharp tone brought Ned's focus back to his face. Johnny shifted.
"It's all right, Johnny. I checked with Tony Jones and he said what she took wouldn't hurt her. But I'm going to stay with her through the night, just to be safe."
Johnny's eyes darted from Ashton's suspicious face to the floor. "Sure, boss."
Ned's eyebrow lifted, and he stepped back and turned to look at Sonny's door.
"In my dresser, the middle drawer, you'll find some t-shirts. Any one of them is fine. And my gray sweats are hanging on the back of the closet door. Uh...my shaving kit - it's in the top drawer of the bathroom cabinet. And my cell is on the nightstand. I think. If not there, then on the dresser."
Ned turned back around and stared hard at Johnny.
"You can bring it right up to Alexis's room, the fist door on the left. Oh - and I need you to turn off the oven on your way upstairs, and put the plate in the fridge with some foil over it."
"I'll take care of it right away."
He clicked off the phone and slid it back in his pocket. And then, he gave Ned a look of bemusement.
"You still here?"
"You're the one who takes orders, not me."
Johnny sighed and glanced over at Alexis's door. Ashton wasn't going anywhere peacefully, so he decided to try a new approach - reverse psychology. He'd seen it on TV and it seemed to work pretty well on Ashton's type.
"When I said I'd tell you came by, I meant it. I don't lie to Alexis. But I also don't control who she does or doesn't see, so if you're determined to see her now…I'm not going to try to stop you." He stepped aside. "So go ahead. Ring the bell. But you'd better ring it a couple of times to make sure she hears it well enough to wake up."
Ned gave Johnny a long, hard look. He knew what Johnny was doing, and it pissed him off. It pissed him off more that he had no intention of waking Alexis up. Ned knew that Alexis's day had been full. And he'd seen for himself that her weariness was coming upon her quickly and often. Telling Nikolas what really happened to her with Sorel was difficult enough without having to go to the PCPD and re-tell it to Dara Jenson, her greatest professional adversary. And there had also been the somewhat heated debate she'd had with Ned about her deepening connection to Sonny. They never quite finished their discussion, though neither of them was exactly poised to change their mind on the issue. It was just as well that a hungry Nikolas interrupted them.
But Ned did want to talk to Alexis one more time, in private, to tell her how much he loved seeing her that day and to say good night. A deeper discussion about Sonny could wait for another time - a time that she didn't have somewhere else to be or something unpleasant to do. The subject of Sonny provoked enough unpleasantness as it was. But Alexis didn't answer the phone when he called, nor did her machine pick up. It concerned him. He only wanted to check up on her, not disturb her rest. Ned just didn't trust Sonny's lackey any more than he trusted Sonny. Johnny may not lie TO Alexis, but Ned had no doubt that he'd lie ABOUT her - or FOR her. And there was something a little…off about the tone of the phone call he'd taken from Sonny. Something felt wrong. But Ned didn't give himself away. He gave the PH2 door a final cursory glance and slid one hand into the front pocket of his jeans.
"I don't need you to tell Alexis anything for me. I'll call her in the morning and tell her myself that I was here…but she had already gone to bed."
Johnny shrugged. "Whatever you say."
Ned reached out to hit the call button, and the elevator doors opened immediately. He took two small, deliberate steps forward, and heard Johnny began to move behind his turned back. He slowly stepped into the elevator, watching out of the corner of his eye as Johnny headed for Sonny's door and keeping a finger pressed to the "open" button. A moment later, he heard Sonny's door open, then close. And Ned quickly stepped out of the elevator as his hand pulled a set of keys out of his pocket.
Sonny sat on the bed beside Alexis, a punctured capsule of Vitamin E in one hand. He'd found the bottle sitting on the dresser, beside her hairbrush. She'd been using it on her face and arms religiously, morning and night. And now, Sonny continued the rite for her, pushing the thick, rolled velvet sleeves of her robe up above her elbows and carefully rubbing the sticky oil into the fading needle marks and scratches on her arms. Her poor, pale skin had once been so angrily marred, and Sonny was glad to see she was healing so well. And as his fingers moved with firm, but gentle pressure on the soft, warm skin, his mind went back to the first time he'd tended to her like this.
Alexis had been sleeping off the last effects of the detox, and Sonny's hands moved with painstaking care on her arms as if they were touching the most fragile thing in the world. He'd barely used any pressure at all, he was so afraid of hurting her even as she slept. His fingertips just grazed the surface of her skin, letting it drink in the light oil on its own as the light sheen bathed the red marks - almost hiding them in the reflection of the overhead lights. And as his eyes intently studied the movement of his hands, the sound of a hoarse whisper floated unexpectedly into his ears and he looked up to see the sweet, sleepy smile of Alexis shining down on him. His touch had roused her, in a good and gentle way. It gave her comfort. And Sonny loved giving that to her. He loved giving it to her again, though he wished it were because she asked him to instead of because she couldn't. He took in a long, slow breath as he stared down at her shimmering skin.
"I was wrong, Alexis." He murmured, shifting his eyes to her peaceful face. "I shouldn't have told you that you could hide in me. I should have told you that you could lean on me, depend on me, and take all the strength that I have to share with you. But you shouldn't hide in me."
Sonny smiled and brushed the bangs away from her forehead, needing her hair out of the way before tending to the mark that Thomas Malloy had left on her face…by accident. He squeezed a drop from the capsule onto his thumb and propped himself up on one elbow beside Alexis's shoulder as he leaned over her to press the vitamin oil to her scrape. She would be happy to hear him admit that Malloy wasn't evil incarnate like Joseph Sorel, and he wished he'd been able to admit it out loud, to her, a few hours earlier. She'd need to hear it. She'd needed to not be made wrong - again. Wrong is what Alexis had been made to feel all her life. So had he. He wouldn't make her feel that way ever again.
"You shouldn't hide at all, my love. You're too beautiful to hide. I know you have trouble believing that sometimes, and I can't for the life of me understand why. But…"
He shook his head and gave a small, wry laugh. He slid his body down further alongside her, setting his chin into the palm of his hand as his elbow dug further into the soft fluff of the comforter beneath him. And his thumb continued along its careful path above her brow as he spoke from his heart to his sleeping beauty.
"What am I saying? Of course I understand why. It's the same for me, and you've told me so more than once. You were right. When you look at me and say you see beauty inside of me, I want to hide too. It's scary, because it's not what I grew up believing about myself. It's the same for you too. We weren't taught to believe we had any beauty…goodness …worth. We were taught to trust and believe in pain."
Alexis released a light, unexpected sigh, as if to let Sonny know that she was listening even as she slept. He ran his tongue across his lips and cupped his palm to her cheek, gently turning her face toward him. He wanted to look at her, and to know that if she opened her eyes, she'd be looking right back at him. Sonny's hand moved back to her forehead as he sighed back to her.
"Little kids...they soak up pain like a sponge until it just takes over. And when they're all grown up, there's not much room left for anything else - like love. I wish I could have known you as a child. I wish I could have been there to love you then."
He stroked her cheek once, then twice, in silence. And then he closed his eyes as he continued his touch, letting the feel of her silky skin fill his senses.
"But you know that I love you now. I know that you know it. And I'm going to keep loving you, as right as I can, and asking you to let yourself soak it all up until it just takes over and there's no room left for the pain."
Ned's mouth had gone completely dry as he stood in the shadows of the darkened hall beyond the bedroom door, just...staring...and listening...in silence. He'd done everything in silence to keep from waking her up as he snuck into the penthouse. He'd needed to quell the strange, nagging feeling of suspicion that took hold of him while he listened to Johnny's end of the phone call from Sonny. Ned slipped his key into the lock with the utmost care, gingerly closing the door behind him. He crept up the stairs with the stealth of a cat, following the familiar fragrant path of bubble bath - and the smoky scent of a vanilla candle that had recently been put out. He approached the path of light spilling into the hallway from the open bedroom door with continuing quiet care…until it struck him that if Alexis had gone to bed, the light would be out.
He all but held his breath as he slowly approached the open door, but stayed outside the path of light. And then, Ned saw the shirt - a man's shirt, hanging by its collar on the doorknob. It was dark green, with large patches of a lighter shade. Or maybe it was the other way around. All he could determine for sure was that it wasn't HIS shirt, either accidentally left behind when he and Alexis broke up, or deliberately pilfered by her as women tended to do with a man's clothing. She had a big, floppy, America's Cup sweatshirt that she'd pilfered from Jax. This wasn't Ned's green shirt. But he knew whose shirt it was. The painfully familiar voice coming from inside Alexis's bedroom told him. It was Sonny's. And Ned was suddenly paralyzed with indecision - did he want to keep moving forward, or to turn and walk away.
And his feet had suddenly moved him a small step forward, where his eyes found a trail of shoes and lacy underwear on the floor. His gaze moved up to a white blouse and skirt draped across the foot of the bed...and then, to Sonny's bare back as he lay right beside Alexis, who was clad in her velvet robe the color of midnight. Sonny was leaning over her, touching her, and murmuring words of love in a soft, low voice. And Alexis was letting him. She was letting him make love to her, and Ned was blinded by the sight of it. How could this have happened so quickly, and right under his nose? How could it have happened at all? How could he not have seen what was really going on in Sonny's mind and stopped it before it was too late?
Ned turned away from the sickening vision that filled his eyes and left PH2 as silently as he'd entered, but there was a deafening storm raging within him. He knew that Sonny had gone out of his way to work his charms on Alexis ever since she first agreed to represent him. And in the last few months, since Zander Smith blasted his way into their lives, it had only gotten worse. In the last few weeks, since Sorel blasted his way into their lives, it had taken over. But Ned thought all Sonny wanted from Alexis was control OF Alexis - for the best attorney in town to be totally under his thumb, at his legal and emotional beck-and-call.
Maybe that's all he DID want, but he knew that promising her love was the surest way to get it. It was her weakness, the need for love. Sonny had just said it himself. Ned shoved the heels of his palms into his closed lids. The image of Sonny, half naked and hovering over Alexis, was burning into his eyes. And as the elevator door closed before him, Ned swore to himself that Sonny Corinthos would pay for using Alexis's weakness for his own selfish gain. And more than that, he would pay for touching her the way only Ned had touched her since the day they'd first kissed. He'd pay dearly.
The elevator door of the Harbor View Towers suddenly sported a deep, heel-shaped dent.
Johnny made his not-so silent way through Alexis's door, around her kitchen, and finally up her stairs just as Sonny was putting the bottle of Vitamin E back where he'd found it on the dresser. He looked at Alexis with raw concern was Sonny took the small satchel from his hands and set it down on the overstuffed chair in the corner of the room.
"I don't understand, boss. Alexis was already tired out on her own. Why would she take a…"
"I don't know." Sonny unzipped the overnight bag and fished inside for his t-shirt. "But I'll find out in the morning."
Johnny suddenly noticed Sonny's water-splashed trousers. "Were you…letting Alexis help wash the dishes again?"
Sonny paused and turned away from his satchel to give Johnny a questioning expression.
"If you'll pardon the expression, you're all wet."
Johnny gave a downward nod. Sonny looked down at his damp trousers and smiled lightly.
"Yeah, I am. It's nothing the dry cleaners can't handle."
His gaze rifted toward the open bathroom door. Johnny's gaze followed. And then, Johnny's feet followed his gaze until he was standing at the threshold, breathing in sweet gardenias and the unmistakable, smoky smell of a freshly snuffed candle as his eyes surveyed the dim, damp room. They found a large white towel lying on the floor, a small orange bottle lying near the towel, and a handful of pills scattered near the orange bottle. And water sparkled from all about the room. Johnny turned his head, wide eyes settling upon Alexis's still form stretched out upon the bed.
"What happened, Sonny?"
Sonny was silent as he rifled through his bag. Johnny moved away from the bathroom door and came upon Sonny's back.
"Good God." He whispered. "She didn't try to…"
"No!" Sonny turned sharply, a fierce look in his eye. "She didn't!"
Johnny took a step back as he instinctively looked to the sleeping Alexis, expecting Sonny's bark to have woken her up. It didn't. She was, as Sonny said, knocked out pretty hard. It reminded him too well of when they'd found her overdosed on heroin. It reminded him too well of when he'd found Jessie. Sonny sighed heavily and looked down at the folded white t-shirt in his hands.
"She said she wanted to take a bath before going to bed. She had a headache and I gave her some aspirin. Maybe it wasn't working, so she took the pills to make sure she could asleep in spite of the headache. She just wasn't thinking straight and...took the pills before she took her bath, instead of after she was done."
"Are you saying she fell asleep in the water?"
"She could have drowned!"
Sonny bowed his head.
"If you hadn't come back here…" Johnny grimaced. "Jesus."
"Yeah." Sonny bit his lip.
Johnny turned to stare down at Alexis with a heavily creased brow. "Dr. Jones is sure that what she took won't hurt her?"
Sonny nodded. "My staying is just a precaution and 'cause, well, you know…'cause Tony put a gun to my head."
The room was silent.
"You're right. That wasn't funny at all." Sonny freed his gray sweatpants from the bag and laid them on the edge of the bed. "Hey? Don't worry. She'll be okay."
Johnny nodded slowly and released a tight, stress-filled sigh. Something weighed upon him as he looked down at Alexis. It kept him from moving to the door. He needed to tell Sonny something, even though it might violate Alexis's privacy…or hold no relevance at all.
"Boss? I'm not completely sure, but I think Thomas Malloy was at the PCPD today. And I think Alexis saw him."
"She did see him. She wanted to."
Johnny was confused. "No, boss, it was an accident. Alexis and I were in the squad room, getting ready to leave, and she dropped her scarf."
Sonny began to shake his head.
"One of the cops picked it up and handed it to her, and Alexis just froze up all of a sudden, staring through the window of the interrogation room like she was looking at a ghost. I came up behind her and I could see this big blonde guy staring back at her like she was a ghost too. Something in my gut told me it was him, but Alexis didn't say a word about it. I got her out of there as quick as I could anyway."
"Alexis was watching from the other side of a two way mirror while Taggart questioned Malloy in the interrogation room. She needed to get some kind of perspective about him, from a safe distance. And…that's what she needed to do to get it."
Johnny squeezed his eyes shut. "I knew something wasn't right. I knew it."
"She didn't tell me that she and Malloy actually made eye contact." Sonny murmured distractedly. "She kept that part inside."
"But she told you the rest. That's good. I mean, it's good that she didn't keep it all inside."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier. I just wasn't sure if it was Malloy or not, and I didn't want to get you…you know, upset for nothing."
Sonny gave a short, wry laugh. "There's a lot of that going around."
"Look, Johnny, you do a good job watching out for Alexis and being someone she can trust. Don't worry about what she chooses to do that's out of your bounds, okay?"
"So...you hungry? There's lemon and rosemary chicken in the refrigerator."
Johnny smiled. "No, thanks."
"Okay then. I'll see you tomorrow."
Johnny nodded his head and cast one more furtive glance at Alexis as he slipped out the door and went to wait for Francis to take over for the night.
Sonny began to unzip his pants, then stopped suddenly as he caught Alexis's reflection in the mirror above the dresser. He shook his head at himself and continued with removing his damp trousers and trading them for the comfortably dry fleece. He took his shaving kit into Alexis's bathroom, and within minutes he had dried up the bathroom floor with the discarded bath towel, washed himself up, and turned off the light on the nightstand. He'd made sure to put the nightlight on in her bathroom, and leave the door open a large crack. Just in case. Sonny pulled the lavender chenille throw blanket from the back of the chair and crawled onto the empty side of the bed next to Alexis. He threw one half of the blanket over her, tucking the fringed ends over her bare feet. Alexis made a small, sudden sound and curled her legs up as she rolled over onto her side. Sonny smiled and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders.
"Sorry, spud. I didn't mean to tickle."
Sonny drew the other half of the blanket over his own body, then snuggled close to Alexis and graced the apples of her cheeks, the tip of her nose, and the blushing rose of her mouth with gentle good night kisses. She didn't stir again, but continued to sleep. He sighed as he laid his cheek to the pillow and his chin down upon the top of her head. The soft layers of her hair tickled his throat, and Sonny's hand moved up to sift through it one last time before he encircled her with his arm. The time for a tougher kind of love would come soon enough in the morning. But through the night, Sonny would shroud Alexis in love of a soft and tender kind. And as he breathed in her scent and took in the feel of her body's warmth, his eyes drifted shut to the sound of voices in his head.
"How do they look at you, Alexis? What do you see in my eyes?"
He smiled, yawned, and whispered into her hair through a sleepy haze. "No misunderstanding at all…"