Alexis awoke to the sound of a low rumble.
It came just once - just loud enough to rouse her. She listened carefully, but it didn't come again. She took in a deep breath and slowly released the air from her lungs as she turned further onto her side. A subtle gold glow met her eyes through her closed lids. Where was she? Was it night or day? Her eyes struggled to blink open. But once they opened, they quickly squeezed shut against a bright, full blanket of light. Alexis reflexively tried to move her hand up to extinguish the glare as a corps of colored stars danced before her pupils. But her heavy limb was unwilling to obey. It was only willing to lift a few inches from its resting place against her stomach before surrendering to gravity and falling limply over the side of the bed.
There it was again - the rumbling sound. Her brow creased as Alexis realized that the sound was coming from within her own throat. She shifted her weight, turning her face further into the pillow and away from the glow that seeped through her closed lids. Again, she tried to lift her arm. Her shoulder moved upward, toward her ear, and her fingers flexed. But her arm stayed hanging down along the side of the bed.
"Need some help?"
Someone was there. Alexis struggled to lift her head from the pillow, turning her face toward the voice, toward the glow...and then the golden glow was suddenly gone. Was she dreaming? Her head felt heavy, like her arm, and the blood was pounding out a steady rhythm in her temples. She let her head drop back down and swallowed with difficulty. Her mouth was dry. She wanted to get out of the dream and go back into sleep, so she could wake up without the sound of her own groans in her ears, the harsh light in her face, the throb in her head and the cotton in her mouth.
Sonny sighed as he watched Alexis slide her right arm in tight against her body, bringing a fistful of the soft blanket up to her throat. She looked as if she was settling back into sleep. He glanced at the clock. She'd slept for thirteen hours. He had slept for ten. It was unheard of. But when he was sleeping beside Alexis, the cloud of his insomnia was lifted. He felt at home. He felt safe. And he could get very used to it. Alexis was already used to sleeping with Sonny in the room - if not literally by her side. But the two blissful times he'd held her through the night, she'd easily melted into the warmth of his embrace and fit herself to the curves of his body like a piece of a puzzle finding its proper place. Like she felt at home...and safe.
Alexis squirmed with a frown, moaning lightly as her hand released the blanket. Sonny's eyes washed over her, a crooked smile visiting his face. Her body was twisted at the waist, with the upper half lying face down and the lower half curled on her side. She looked a little uncomfortable, but very adorable. Sonny scratched at his mildly stubbly chin and shifted his eyes back toward the clock. They found the penguin instead, settling on the tiny round circles of black glass flanking a fuzzy yellow beak. They reminded him of what he had to do, now that morning had come. He gave a small nod to the small creature, and took in a slow, deep breath. Alexis stirred beside him once again. Sonny needed to wake her up, and her restlessness provided as good a time as any.
A strange tingling in her left hand was pulling Alexis from her twilight state of sleep. The tingling crept upward, into her forearm. Alexis rolled onto her back, bringing her heavy, limp arm with her. It fell to rest across her chest, and she wriggled her tingly fingers as her legs stretched out along the fluffy comforter. Something was suddenly on her face - fingers, gently brushing the hair away from her cheek. Alexis turned her head toward the feel of it. The soft touch of a warm hand came again, to her other cheek. She was still unsure if she was dreaming, but the touch felt so real. And her recent dreams always left her with a lingering anxiety. She felt no anxiety now. But her head was heavy, and thick with fog. And her temples still pounded with the flow of her flood.
"Alexis?" Sonny leaned in closer as he pushed the bangs away from her brow. "Wake up."
She made a small sound and turned her head again. Sonny picked up her hand. Her fingers twitched against it. He tightened his hold and watched as Alexis's forehead creased into a frown. She was trying to respond, as she had the night before, and having a difficult time. The Halcion had hit her quick and hard, and the after-effects were doing the same so many hours later. She had to wake up. The longer she lay there within the hangover's grip, the worse she would feel.
"Come on, Alexis. I know you can hear me." He cupped a palm to her face. "Time to wake up. I have coffee ready for you."
Sonny picked the mug up from her nightstand and moved it back and forth over her face. Alexis groaned again and moved her fingers within his hand. He let her go, and she moved her hand up to her face. She rubbed at her eyes, and then her lids began to slowly flutter. Sonny smiled.
"I thought that would do it."
His smile quickly faded as he caught sight of those sleepy brown eyes opening to the morning - to him. And he took in a deep breath as he prepared to do a difficult thing.
"Sonny?" Alexis ran her tongue across her lips and rolled her head against the pillow, looking up at him with lids at half-mast. "What are you doing here?"
Her voice was rough, raspy, and barely audible. It made Sonny want to slip his hands through her hair and lull her back to sleep. Instead, he tightened his fingers around the warmth of the smooth mug. And then, he set it back down on the nightstand with a quick, hard force.
Alexis took in a quick, sharp breath as the loud cracking sound jolted her body. Her eyes blinked rapidly, darting from the coffee mug to Sonny's expressionless face that hovered over her.
"I would say good morning, but given how you're probably feeling right now, I won't."
She swallowed again and tried to clear her confused brain.
"What are you doing here?" She repeated, eyes still blinking nervously.
"I've been here all night."
"You don't remember?"
Alexis blinked slowly. She remembered Sonny leaving. She didn't remember him coming back. Her brow creased as her gaze shifted away from him, and Sonny saw her eyes searching. He knew she remembered nothing yet, and she probably wouldn't without some serious prodding on his part - or without some serious caffeine.
"Come on - sit up." Sonny pulled the blanket down to her waist. "You need to get some coffee into you."
Alexis was inclined to agree with him, and she tried to push herself upright. But lifting her head above her body sent a new round of pounding into her temples and she quickly gave up, slumping back down against the pillow.
"Oh boy." She mumbled, eyes closing. "Not now. Maybe later."
Alexis tried to turn back into her side, but the pressure of Sonny's hand on her arm stopped her.
"No. Now. I'll help."
His hand moved down to take hold of hers as he slid his arm under her shoulders and firmly pulled her up. Alexis grimaced as her hand reflexively tightened around his. Sonny angled his arm diagonally against her back, to better brace her while she got her bearings. She was unsteady, and her head dropped forward as if it bore too much weight for her neck to hold it up. He tightened his fingers and turned their entwined hands and pressed them against her chest to ground her. Alexis tilted her head and began to lift her chin...but she seemed hesitant to open her eyes. The Halcion had probably left her light headed, but the coffee would definitely help.
She vaguely nodded, and Sonny released her hand to reach for the coffee mug on the nightstand. Alexis was awash in déjà vu. She was on the cot, in that basement. It was after Sorel drugged her for the very first time. She suddenly felt something against her back - something firm and strong, lifting her upward. She hadn't cared. She could have kept sinking right where she lay, or kept rising as high as the strong force against her back would lift her. There was a voice...a male voice, unfamiliar to her ears, asking her if she was okay. It was Thomas Malloy. And her fingers were being firmly wrapped and held around a smooth, cool surface. She was holding a glass filled with water.
"It shouldn't be too hot to drink any more."
The déjà vu was fading, and Alexis began to allow her tired, heavy lids to lift. She knew where she was. She was home. The smooth surface held between her palms was a mug filled with hot coffee, and the voice belonged Sonny. She ran her tongue across her lips and swallowed as she tried to focus her brain.
"Why were you here all night?"
As her raspy voice questioned him, her gaze stayed low, her expression somewhat distant. He didn't respond, and Sonny knew the wheels were furiously turning in her mind. Alexis knew something was wrong, and it was scaring her that she didn't know what it was. He wanted her to be scared. And as Alexis let her eyes finally drift up to meet his, Sonny deliberately turned them away.
"What's wrong?" Her voice was small. "Why are you angry?"
Sonny's chill was being felt.
"Drink your coffee. It shouldn't be too hot." He said flatly.
Alexis was silent, staring at him through half-lidded eyes. Sonny wouldn't answer her. He wouldn't look at her. It made her feel a kind of sick unease that she couldn't even name, but she knew she'd felt before. And she didn't know how to respond to it. So she did as she was told and lifted the mug of dark, warm, fragrant liquid up to her mouth with lightly trembling arms to carefully sip her coffee. It wasn't too hot. Sonny was right. She almost told him so...but she stayed silent.
He waited several moments before allowing his lowered gaze to shift back to her. The quiver in her arms quickly caught his eye. He wasn't sure if it was caused by the drug, or by him. Either way, it made his jaw tense to see it. Alexis suddenly lowered the mug down to rest in her lap, and her right hand let go. Sonny's eyes followed the movement of her hand as it rose up, toward her face. Alexis closed her lids with a frown as she pressed two fingertips to the space above the bridge of her nose.
Sonny cleared his throat. "Does your head hurt?"
Her fingertips froze agaisnt her brow. "W-what?"
Alexis felt a sudden release of a weight from the bed, and her hand quickly moved down to steady herself against the movement. Her other reflexes were slower. By the time she opened her eyes, Sonny had disappeared from the room. Had he said what she thought he'd said? A squeak came from the direction of the bathroom, and her eyes darted toward it. Sonny was standing at the bathroom sink, running water into a glass. Another squeak was heard as he closed the medicine cabinet, and a moment later Sonny was on his way back to her. He set two aspirin down on the nightstand.
"You know the drill."
He set the water glass down beside the tablets - set it down HARD. Alexis flinched at the sharp sound it made, and Sonny bit down on the inside of his cheek. Her fingers tightened around the mug, and the tremble in her arms intensified. Alexis stared at the glass, watching as a fat trickle of water ran down the side and landed on the flat surface beneath. And then, she stared at the two round, white pills. She was waiting for Sonny to tell her what was wrong - what she'd done to make him mad. She'd searched her brain and still couldn't remember him returning after he left. All she remembered was what happened before he left - she'd tried to give him affection that he refused to take.
Sonny had sensed she was distracted and he didn't want to be used. She hadn't meant to use him. She had needed a distraction from the shadows in her mind, but the desire to shower him with affection was real. Her kisses were real. And Sonny said he wanted them...but not then. Maybe he changed his mind and didn't want them any more? Maybe feeling used offended him more than he let on? Alexis desperately wanted to know, but she was too afraid to ask. She was too afraid to even look up at him and see coldness in his eyes where there had always been warmth looking back at her.
"Are you going to stare at them, or are you going to take them?"
His abrupt tone snapped her eyes right up to his face and found it tight - expressionless. And his somber eyes still refused to meet hers, instead staying fixed upon the aspirin that lay on the nightstand. But after a brief, endless silence, Sonny couldn't stand it any more. He let himself look at her...and there they were, those impossibly big, dark, soulful eyes staring up at him like scared, confused little girl. And it felt like a knife in his heart to have to put that in her eyes, even though it was for her own good. Sonny swallowed against a mouth of cotton, and ran a hand over his hair.
"What did you do after I left last night?" He asked softly.
"Why are you angry?" Her voice was almost imperceptible.
Sonny sighed, his tone strengthening. "What did you do last night?"
"Why are you angry?"
"Do you even REMEMBER what you did?"
"Stop yelling at me!"
"ANSWER MY QUESTION!"
Alexis flinched again, eyes blinking rapidly as she stared up at his reddening face in shock. Sonny stared back, his stomach churning. He took a small step toward her, and Alexis reflexively pulled back. Sonny halted as if he'd been kicked. He knew the reflex well. Too well. And so did she. Alexis's body responded to him as if he were a physical threat...as if he might hit. He didn't mean to...it hadn't crossed his mind that...Sonny took a step back and Alexis dropped her eyes away from his. Her head lowered, a long lock of hair falling against her cheek.
Sonny wanted to reach out and tuck it back behind her ear. He wanted to take her face in his hands and kiss it softly, until the tremble in her chin subsided. And most of all, he wanted to tell her he was sorry for being cold, and harsh, and for yelling at her. But he couldn't do any of those things - not right then. Alexis turned her head toward the nightstand and set the coffee mug down with both hands. And then, she set her jaw, roughly pushed the errant lock of hair from her face, and shot him a direct, determined look.
"I will NOT be yelled at, by you or anyone else, especially not in my own home. So if that's all you intend to do then I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Alexis held his gaze for another long beat before finally pulling her eyes from his. And as they closed, she turned away and lay back down on the bed, curling her knees up and hugging the pillow to her head. Sonny stood quietly, still somewhat taken aback by Alexis's quick shift into self-defense mode, and he couldn't help but feel proud of the way she stood up for herself to take her control. But her chin was still quivering, she still didn't remember the night before, and it still scared her. Sonny's anger scared her as well, and she didn't know how to deal with it other than to try to make it go away - make HIM go away. Sonny was staying put. And he was about to up the ante.
"Don't turn your back to me when I'm talking to you, Alexis. It's rude."
Her spine straightened slightly in response. Alexis drew in a raged breath and squeezed her eyes more tightly shut.
"So is not leaving when I asked you to."
"I'm not leaving because we're not done talking."
"Talking?" Her head vaguely turned toward him, eyes opening. "You weren't 'talking', Sonny."
"Okay. No more yelling. We need to talk."
"I don't want to talk."
"Alexis, you can't...would you look at me please?"
"No! My head hurts and I just want to go back to sleep."
"You've slept enough."
Alexis turned her face further into the pillow.
"And lying there is only going to make your head feel worse."
"Leave me alone."
"Leave you alone?" Sonny parroted, his voice ripe with sarcasm. "If I'd left you alone, Alexis, you could be dead right now!"
She slowly opened her eyes as a familiar chill of dread ran through her. It made her heart pound. Alexis swallowed as her eyes stared down at the expanse of white beneath her...and soon began to feel the sting of tears invading them. She was used to being reminded of her emotional debts. Stefan did it, to secure the love and loyalty that were already immutably his. Ned did it too, to remind them both that the failure of Ashton marriage number six was HER fault, not his. But Sonny had never done it. Not until now, when her feelings for him had grown so deep and profound that hearing him speak of her debt to him made her cry.
Alexis closed her eyes and subtly moved her cheek gently against the pillow to brush the intrusive wetness away. Maybe Ned had been right after all. She now needed Sonny emotionally as much as he'd ever needed her professionally. Was that what he wanted from her? Was that all he really wanted, to secure her professional commitment to him by securing his place in her heart? Alexis shivered, her legs pulling upward, further into herself. And the back of her hand unobtrusively brushed the dampness from her right eye on it's way to raking fingers through her bangs. The last thing she wanted was for Sonny to see her tears.
"You don't have to remind me that you saved my life, Sonny. Twice in what, three months?" She laughed lightly. "That must be some kind of record. And I'm not going to forget either time."
She ran her tongue across her lips. "But if I've failed to express enough gratitude or to properly repay you, it's only because I haven't quite had enough time to..."
"Whoa - what are you talking about, expressing gratitude and repaying me?"
Alexis shifted, but kept her back to him. "I owe you."
"If either of us owes the other, it's me who owes you. You don't owe me anything, Alexis. Except for the truth, which we already agreed to give each other. Right?"
She bit her lip and rubbed at her nose. Her lack of a verbal response, or even a simple nod of her head, moved Sonny close to the edge of the bed where he could clearly see her face. At least, the profile of her face. She turned her head slightly, but kept her eyes low. She still wouldn't look at him. She only rubbed at her nose once more...and then turned back to face the window.
"Then why did you bring up the fact that I'd be dead if not for you? And just for the record, saving my life doesn't give you license to yell at me."
Sonny stared down at the delicate lines of her face. He was sure he saw the right dimple peeking out from her cheek, just for a quick, unguarded moment. He smiled back, willing her to turn around and look at him. She didn't. The chill he'd given her was being volleyed back, and he knew that his love had been tough enough to make an impact. It was time to bring the warmth back - and the soft love.
Alexis paused a moment before responding. "Good. Why did you bring it up?"
Sonny took in a deep breath and lowered himself to sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I wasn't talking about the shooting. And I wasn't talking about your kidnapping. I was talking about last night."
"What about last night? You've kept asking me about last night and getting more and more angry and you won't tell me why. Is it because of...because I...I kissed you and you didn't think I meant it?"
"I told you I wasn't...it has nothing to do with that."
Her legs shifted, uncurling themselves as her spine began to straighten. "Then what?"
The visible release of tension in her body didn't go unnoticed. It made Sonny's own tension subside.
"I need you to look at me. Would you turn around and look at me, Alexis? Please?"
Alexis always went soft inside when Sonny said 'please'. Sonny knew it too. But she WANTED to turn around and look at him. The strain between them felt too awful to let it go on any longer. She slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position and began to turn toward him. A renewed throb quickly filled her head. Her eyes snapped shut, her head dropping down from her shoulders. It made her feel dizzy, and Alexis braced herself against the mattress with one hand as the other rose up to rub at her temple. In a moment, the dizziness subsided and she opened her eyes again.
The first thing they landed upon was the deep blue velvet draped around her body. And Alexis was stunned to suddenly realize she was wearing her robe instead of her pajamas. Her gaze shifted, taking in the sea of white beneath her - the rumpled comforter. She was lying on top of the bed, not in it. What HAD happened last night? Alexis lifted her head, allowing herself to finally look at Sonny's face. His eyes were warm as they gazed back at her. The strange, scary chill was gone. But a strange, scary chill was beginning to travel up her spine.
Her mind raced. Sonny said he'd been there all night. Why? Had she had another nightmare, one so loud that it that brought him back across the hall? Maybe she'd done or said something awful in front of him, or TO him. She knew he'd been hurt when she confused him with Thomas. Maybe she'd done it again. Or even worse - confused him with Sorel...or Stavros? Her palms began to tingle as a light dampness formed on her skin. The silence was unsettling, and she needed to break it. And she needed Sonny to clear her fog.
"What did I do to you?"
Sonny's heart melted at the plaintive sound in her voice and the frightened confusion on her face. He could see that an awareness of something other than his anger was coming upon her - teasing her. He rubbed at his jaw as he shifted, turning his body to fully face her. Her smokey eyes stayed locked onto his, and before he knew it, his hand was reaching for her. Sonny's fingers gently brushed along the edge of her left cheek. Her skin was so warm, so silky. And he suddenly noticed that the bruises Sorel put there were finally gone. It made him smile.
"Sonny, why are you mad at me?"
Her murmur pulled his focus away from her cheek and back to her eyes.
"I'm not mad, I...honey, what DO you remember?" He took her hand into his. "After I left last night, what did you do?"
Alexis was calmed by the soft tone of his voice and the feel of his fingers curled around hers. She took a deep breath and thought back, trying to get a clear memory of last night in her mind.
"I came upstairs. I...wanted to take a bath before I went to bed."
She paused, and Sonny watched her eyes dart back and forth from the bathroom door to the expanse of white cotton between their bodies.
"Go on." He urged.
Her eyes went back to his. "I started running the water, and then I got undressed. I lay down for a few minutes while I waited for the tub to fill up, and..."
Again, her gaze turned to the bathroom door. Small, disjointed bits of sensory images began to come to her - the perfume of gardenias, the glow of a burning candle, the sound of a deep voice shouting her name and repeating like an echo, the feel of wet warmth enveloping her body, inch by inch by inch...and the sight of a chiseled, dark-eyed, thinly bearded face smiling. Alexis squeezed her eyes tightly shut and gave her head a quick shake to free herself of the images in her head.
"I, um...took my bath, and...then I went to bed."
Sonny sighed heavily. Alexis couldn't admit that she didn't remember the truth, so she told him what she THOUGHT was the truth. It made him angry with her all over again. And it hurt that she was trying to hide from him.
Alexis opened her eyes. "What?"
"You left out something very important, and you got something else very wrong."
She bit her lip.
"Try again, Alexis."
She abruptly turned away, pushing herself to the edge of the bed and swinging her legs over the side to stand up on shaky legs. As she pressed her palm against the top of the nightstand for support, Alexis slowly raked her fingers through her hair. And then, she turned where she stood and looked Sonny straight in the eye.
"If you have something to say to me, and clearly you do, for God's sake just say it! I'm starting to feel like I felt when Sorel was playing HIS little cat-and-mouse games with me, and I really can't take that again. Especially not from you."
Her words hit him like a bolt of lightening. The kid gloves she complained about were not just on Sonny's hands. Alexis was always careful with him in how she spoke to him of both Sorel and Malloy, treading lightly around the pain and anger she knew he felt and taking care not to pour salt in his wounds. This wasn't careful. This wasn't treading lightly. And this wasn't care with salt. This was raw, naked expression, and Sonny could see that it very well might be just the tip of the iceberg. There had to be so much more raw feeling beneath Alexis's protective wall that she didn't dare set free - if not for her own protection, then for Sonny's. And it would take some effort to pry it all loose. Even now, the guilt of having told Sonny that he'd reminded her of Sorel was overtaking her. He could see it in her eyes.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that."
"I know." She mumbled, eyes to the ground.
"Thank you." He added softly.
Alexis tilted her head and fidgeted with the tie of her robe. "For what."
"Your uncensored honesty."
He turned and headed for the bathroom. Alexis was taken aback by his last words, and her curious eyes followed him until he disappeared behind the door. She'd been appalled at hearing Sorel's name come out of her own mouth in the way that it did - all but comparing Sonny to that monstrous man. It wasn't what she intended, and she was grateful he knew it. A moment later, Sonny reappeared and stopped at the side of the bed across from her. Something was in his hand. He looked her directly in the eye as he tossed the thing in his hand onto the bed.
Alexis didn't know why, but her eyes were strangely hesitant to leave his and look at whatever it was that he'd retrieved from the bathroom and thrown down before her like a gauntlet. He was looking at her with patient expectation. He was waiting for her to look down. Sonny suddenly took his eyes away first and fixed his gaze intently on the middle of the rumpled comforter. Alexis had no choice but to let her own gaze follow. Her mouth slowly opened, though she said nothing, as she stared down at the small orange bottle lying on a snowy white canvas.
Alexis suddenly remembered.