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Scene 108

Alexis took her studious dark eyes away from the orange bottle, and Sonny watched them hesitantly rise up to look at him.

"I want more honesty, Alexis."

The dark eyes widened. "I didn't mean to accuse you of being like Sorel."

"You didn't accuse me of being like him. You told me I'm making you feel the way he did."

"I'm sorry."

"Did you mean it?"

She paused for a long moment, and then she answered him in a delicate voice. "Yes."

Sonny released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. That single word had been hard for her to say, and he knew it. That single word was a giant leap forward, out of hiding, and out of her instinct to spin the bad into the palatable. He smiled softly, wanting more from her. And he was going to ask for it - push for it, if he had to.

"Then don't be sorry." Sonny's eyes dropped back to the bottle on the bed, and he gave a nod in its direction. "Just tell me the truth about these."

"W-what do you mean?"

"I meant what I said. What are you doing with these?"

"They...were prescribed."

Sonny stared at her in silence. Her avoidance tactics weren't going to work. Alexis shifted her weight and scratched her arm as she squinted at him.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I KNOW they were prescribed."

"So?"

"What for?"

She impatiently pushed at the long bangs that kept finding their way into her eyes. "Why are you making a big deal out of it, Sonny?"

"Because you make a big deal out of taking an aspirin, and then I find you have a prescription for Halcyon."

"Halcyon, Sonny. Not heroin." Alexis saw the muscles in Sonny's abdomen tense. Her tone leveled. "It's just a sleeping pill."

"I'm...well aware. And I know you took them last night."

"One." She corrected, reaching for the bottle. "I took one. I...just forgot about it, that's all."

"But you remember now."

She nodded. "Yeah. I remember."

"Do you remember getting into the bathtub?"

"Y-yes." She only vaguely remembered.

"Do you remember getting out of the bathtub?"

Her brow creased, eyes gazing down at the orange plastic cylinder in her hand

"Do you remember getting into bed?"

Alexis swallowed, eyes lifting back up to his.

"Do you?"

She slowly shook her head as her bottom lip slipped between her teeth.

"I didn't think so."

"What happened?" Alexis whispered dryly.

"You fell asleep in the bathtub. If I hadn't come back to bring you a dinner, even though you'd told me not to bother, you could have drowned without even waking up."

Alexis stared, her cheeks quickly paling.

"One more inch. If you'd have slipped under the water just one more inch..."

"I...I..."

"You were up to here in bubbles." He held the edge of his hand to his mouth. "Almost up to your nose."

She hung her head. "Oh God."

"You were completely unconscious, and I didn't know if you'd already taken water into your lungs."

"I didn't mean to..."

"I got you to wake you up enough to look at me and talk to me, so I knew you were okay. But then you were out like a light again, and you stayed out until this morning."

Alexis turned her lowered eyes toward the bathroom. He could see the crease of a frown forming on her forehead.

"Y-you pulled me out of the water?"

He watched her fidget with the tie of her robe, and Sonny knew exactly where her mind had gone. An embarrassing realization was dawning on her, and he was about to deliberately fuel it.

"Technically, I pulled you out of the bathtub. I drained most of the water out first so the whole room wouldn't get flooded in the effort. All that really got soaked was me."

She paled even more, and Sonny watched the mortification creep across her face. Her hands twisted the belt of her robe as she glanced down at herself.

"So...y-you put this on me?"

"Well, you were naked Alexis. I thought it was a good idea if you didn't stay that way."

Her eyes closed as her head tilted down, and Alexis slipped her arms around herself. As much as Sonny hated seeing her so deeply embarrassed, he wanted the gravity of what she'd done to register. Alexis scrunched one shoulder up toward her ear as the nails of one hand dug into the velvet covering her arm.

"I...guess I put you in a pretty...embarrassing position."

"I was too terrified to be embarrassed. All I could focus on in those first minutes was making sure you hadn't inhaled any water and then trying to get you to tell me how many Halcyon you'd taken."

"Just one." She offered meekly.

"So you said. I just wish you'd been able to say so last night." Sonny couldn't stand watching her squirm any more. "And there's no need for you to be embarrassed either. I mean you should absolutely be embarrassed by doing something as stupid as getting into water after taking a sedative, but not about the...robe thing."

Alexis kept her head bowed, but slowly opened her eyes and lifted them to meet his.

"Your bath towel was right there and I wrapped it around you as soon as I made sure you were still breathing okay. And as soon as I was able to breathe again myself, I put the robe on OVER the towel and then I had to...okay, let's just say it would have been a whole lot easier to have just left you in your bubble-covered birthday suit."

Alexis groaned and covered her face with her hands. Sonny laughed.

"But whoever said being a gentleman was easy?"

She peeked at him through her fingers.

"Hand to God, I never once let my eyes stray below your shoulders."

Alexis's hands slid down her face, fingers interlocking and resting against her chin as she looked up at him in shy contrition.

"And I think it was a remarkable display of self-control."

"First you say there's no need for me to be embarrassed, and then you go and say something that totally embarrasses me. I mean it's not like you had to be a gentleman while fishing a naked Christy Turlington out of the bathtub."

"Who?"

"Sonny."

"You provided as much temptation as any one man should ever have to face."

He winked. Alexis began to blush, and again buried her face in her hands. Sonny chuckled.

"Speaking of embarrassing you, Tony Jones is expecting a call from you this morning."

"What?" Her hands dropped down. "Why?"

"I called him last night to make sure I didn't need to take you to the emergency room because I didn't know if the Halcyon would hurt you after everything else you've had in your system recently."

"Oh."

"I told him you'd call and tell him how you were doing."

"He's going to give me hell, isn't he?"

"What do YOU think?"

"That he's going to give me hell."

"You deserve it."

She glanced at the telephone. A pair of tiny round eyes looked back at her from within the furry penguin face beside it. The guilt rose up, and her eyes slowly drifted back up to Sonny as she tugged at the collar of her robe..

"I'm sorry I scared you."

The childlike tone in her voice was disarming. And Sonny suddenly felt too far away from her. He began to round the corner of the bed as Alexis began to ramble.

"I didn't know the pill would work so fast. I've never taken anything like that before, outside of what they gave me in the hospital, I mean, and I had no idea it would kick in that quickly or knock me out so completely..."

"Wait." Sonny frowned. "What do you mean you've never taken them before? The prescription was for ten pills and four are missing."

"Yeah, I know. But I didn't take the other three. I threw them out."

Sonny halted in front of her. "You threw...what's going on, Alexis? Why would you throw them out? Why do you even have them in the first place, considering how much you hate taking even vitamin pills?"

Alexis shifted, then cleared her throat as she sat down on the bed. "Ned."

"What?"

"When you saw how many pills were in the prescription, did you also see the date that I got it?"

Sonny sat down beside her and took the bottle from her hand. As he scanned the label, a deep vertical crease formed between his brows. Alexis quietly watched his face. His expression changed quickly as he found what he was looking for. It softened, lids slowly drifting shut as he took in and then released a long, slow breath.

"December 26." He murmured. "Two days after the shooting."

"Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was you lying in the snow, your chest and my hands covered in your blood. And Emily's voice screaming for help would ring in my ears. It made it hard to fall asleep."

Sonny opened his eyes and turned them to her. She was looking at the window, and her face was lit with the angelic glow of filtered morning sun. He slipped his fingers through her hair and her lids fluttered.

"If I did manage to drift off, I dreamed. I dreamed that things turned out differently. The paramedics didn't get there in time and you died, right there in front of me on the cold, wet ground, while I begged you not to."

"Oh honey."

Sonny's hand slid down to the back of her neck, fingertips gently stroking the warm, delicate skin. Alexis gave him a wary sideways glance before continuing.

"I didn't want to sleep because I didn't want to dream. Ned was worried, so I let him take me to see Monica. She said that the nightmares and sleeplessness were pretty common reactions to the stress of a traumatic experience."

Sonny's fingers halted their movement against her skin as her last words reverberated in his head. He knew what they really meant. What Monica was trying to tell Alexis, in a non-threatening way, was that the shooting had left her with post-traumatic stress. And it was the same thing Taggart told Sonny, flat-out, after Alexis got home from GH. He'd warned Sonny that despite her humor and her proud display of strength, Alexis had still been the victim of a sick and violent crime. And she would, without question, suffer the effects of post-traumatic stress. Like Charlie, Taggart was blunt in his opinion about it.

"I think she's going to need some help."

Alexis cleared her throat. "She gave me the pills and insisted I take them for at least a few nights, so I wouldn't get completely loopy from sleep deprivation. I didn't want to take them. I wanted to just get through it on my own. But the fact that Monica had such a quick, simple solution at her fingertips made Ned feel so relieved that I just didn't have it in me to make an issue out of it. We'd only just gotten back together after I thought he'd never even speak to me again. Whether I would or wouldn't take a sleeping pill seemed too trivial a thing to argue about. So I just let him think I was taking them."

"But you were really throwing them away."

She nodded, rubbing at her eyes. She still felt guilty that she'd deceived Ned, but she'd desperately needed to keep from creating any new consternation between them. He may have come back to her, but the bones of contention still existed - her defense of Emily's kidnapper, and the danger that Sonny brought to her life. Alexis was not about to change her position on either issue, and neither was Ned. Lying about the pills to keep the peace seemed to be her only choice. But she hated it.

"And you...what, played possum until Ned fell asleep, then went downstairs and watched infomercials?"

"Something like that. I worked on Zander's case. But it was only for a couple of nights. The day I found out that you were officially out of the woods, I slept like a baby all night." She smiled lightly. "And most of the next morning too."

Sonny smiled back, feeling both an ache and a joy. His joy was the knowledge that her fears were for him, not herself. But he ached to know that the shooting affected her so deeply, but she'd given him no reason to suspect it. Aside from her humble expression of thanks and shy confession of caring, Alexis was her usual focused, down-to-business self the first time she was allowed to visit him in the hospital. Now he knew that she was anything but her usual self. She'd covered it well. And she was still trying to cover.

"You love logic, Alexis. What is the logic in you suffering through the effects of sleep deprivation instead of taking a harmless little sleeping pill prescribed by a doctor you trust?"

Alexis rubbed at her nose as she glanced away. "It wasn't a big deal. It was over in a few days. And I was fine."

"Not sleeping was fine a few months ago, but it wasn't fine last night? Taking a Halcyon was a big deal a few months ago, but it wasn't a big deal last night?"

She shifted her weight to one leg and rubbed her nose again.

"You lied to Ned."

Alexis froze, gaze locked on the floor.

"Please don't lie to me." Sonny whispered roughly.

She slowly closed her eyes.

"You were already exhausted last night, and I don't know that just because you told me. I saw it myself. Why did you take a sleeping pill when you were already sleepy?"

"I wanted to...be able to sleep, through the night, without..."

"A bad dream?"

She turned her head, opened her eyes to his, and Sonny saw the truth within them.

"You've still been having them since I went back across the hall. And you've been trying not to sleep."

"No." She protested softly. "I've just not been letting myself sleep long enough TO dream. I set the alarm to go off every couple of hours during the night."

Sonny closed his eyes as he heaved a heavy sigh. And then, he abruptly pushed himself off the bed moved to the window. Alexis watched in silence as he rubbed at his face with palms.

"It's worked pretty well. But it has made the days a little harder - and longer. And I've started..."

He turned to face her.

"I've started having these quick flashes of things, from out of nowhere. While I'm awake, I mean."

"What kind of things?"

"Eyes. A face. A voice. A feeling of...dread."

"Sorel?"

"M-maybe. Sometimes. I'm not always sure. But when I am sure...it's not Sorel. It's Stavros. Only he's older than how I dreamed of him before. He's not a child - he's a man."

Sonny felt his jaw tighten, his own feeling of dread creeping up on him.

"I hear him shouting my name. Yelling at me." Alexis looked up at Sonny, her eyes squinting from the sunlight filtering in through the curtain behind him. "It makes my head hurt."

Sonny moved back to her, sitting beside her on the bed.

"I, um...I remember last night..." She faltered, unsure of how mush to say. "I was lying here on the bed, waiting for the bathtub to fill and listening to the water splashing against itself. It took me back to the island, and the sea - the waves splashing against the boats, against my body as I swam alone, early on the hot summer mornings. I loved swimming alone in the mornings."

Sonny smiled. He loved that too, though the time of day never really mattered that much to him. Swimming alone, on his island, was his bliss. And he loved that it was hers too.

"I remembered the taste of the sea and the heat of the sun, the cool water slipping up and down my arms as I dove under and came up through the surface. And as I lay here, remembering one of the few things about that island that made me happy, it came at me again. The smile...my name being yelled, then echoing...colors speeding past my eyes. And my head - the pain hit my head." Her eyes slowly, tentatively shifted to his. "I just wanted it to leave me alone, just for one night. And it did."

Sonny cupped her face in his hands to turn it toward him, searching deep within her chocolate eyes. "Why didn't you tell me this was happening to you? You've talked to me about this kind of thing before. Why not now?"

She opened her mouth and let her tongue graze the edge of her lip as she tried to find an answer. Her gaze unconsciously dropped down to his mouth. Again, the desire to immerse herself in the feel of his kiss and his arms overtook her. She wanted to feel protected, loved, and unafraid. She didn't want to talk, or try to explain what she couldn't quite grasp herself. And most of all, she didn't want to keep being an emotional train wreck in Sonny's eyes. A victim. Just the thought of that word made her cringe.

"Alexis?"

Her gaze quickly left his beautiful mouth, eyes returning to his.

"Tell me what's changed."

"Changed?"

"Something must have changed between us, or maybe inside of you, to make you not want to talk to me anymore when something's really wrong. Something must be different. If I can change it back, please tell me how."

Alexis scrunched one shoulder and glanced away again. What was different now was that she didn't understand what it all meant. She understood the dreams of being trapped and caught by a cruel young boy, being locked in small, dark places and unable to breath, and being found and punished by Helena. But she'd hardly known Stavros as a man. She'd barely spent any time in his company in the weeks after his return from school and before her departure FOR school...once she'd fully recovered from her fall down the stairs. There was no logic to Stavros haunting her mind except that his coloring was dark like Sorel's. But Sonny was dark too. So was Ned. And Nikolas.

Nikolas. Alexis felt a quick chill run across her skin. She remembered she'd had a flash of Stavros that morning, while in the company of his son. It was strong, and it brought a particularly strong pain stabbing her in the back of the head. Alexis couldn't make sense any of it, and trying only frustrated her. She wanted to ignore it, or bury it, until it went away. What Alexis didn't want was for Sonny to make more of it than there was - and worry. She cleared her throat and let herself look into his eyes again, giving him a softly dimpled smile she thought would ease his mind.

"Remember what you said to me before, when Stefan was here and I'd had a...bad night?"

"Nightmares. You'd had bad nightmares."

"Right." She cleared her throat. "You said that they would go away when they were supposed to. That if I let them just run out of steam, they'd be over. And you were right. Those nightmares DID go away. This will go away too, and until it does, I'll handle it."

"You didn't answer my question."

"What would you have done about it if I HAD told you? It's out of your control, Sonny. Just like it's out of mine."

"I could have listened. Like I've been doing all along. It got better after we talked the last time, right?"

"Yes, but I...this is..." She closed her eyes with a sigh.

"Hey."

Alexis nibbled on her lip as her lids reluctantly lifted.

"I thought you meant it when you said I hadn't been fired?"

Her eyes questioned him. Sonny sighed, slipped his hands back through her hair and brought his forehead down to gently rest against hers.

"As dragon slayer." He whispered.

Alexis smiled a genuine, deep-dimpled smile. Sonny smiled back.

"I meant it. But you've already...you've already taken too much of my baggage onto yourself. Enough is enough."

He pulled back to look at her, his hands holding steady against her head.

"Like you haven't taken mine on?"

"I'm your attorney. It's my job."

"I'm talking about been above and beyond what's billable."

She squinted at him with a crooked smile. "You don't send me bills."

His hands slid away from her hair, breaking all physical contact with her. "Alexis, don't. Don't joke about this. You almost drowned yourself last night and I don't see anything funny about it."

"I didn't TRY to drown myself, for God's sake. I'm not used to taking sleeping pills, I didn't know how fast they'd work, and I have no intention of ever taking them again so it's really quite irrelevant."

"Irrelevant? What almost happened to you last night is anything BUT irrelevant."

"Okay, poor choice of words. Look, Sonny, I feel like I have a hangover. My head hurts, I'm still groggy, and I feel like I'm moving AND thinking in slow motion. And I really think I need to get something into my stomach so I can take those aspirin you're so fond of." She pressed a palm to Sonny's warm, lightly stubbly cheek. "So could we stop talking about it please?"

Alexis let her hand drop as she stood up and moved toward her dresser. Sonny turned in his seat, eyes following her as she opened a drawer, pulled out a black elastic band and swept her hair back into a ponytail. She looked all of fourteen. He wanted to say yes to her, but he couldn't.

"No."

She regarded his reflection in the mirror. "It was a rhetorical question."

"It wasn't a rhetorical answer."

"I mean it, Sonny. I need you to drop it."

"You need me to NOT drop it."

Alexis sighed heavily and turned to him with a weary expression on her face. "I've apologized for what I put you through last night, I've promised to never take those pills again, and I'm feeling appropriately crummy as proper penance. Please don't keep making an issue out of something that I've already told you is making me uncomfortable."

"It's okay if you're not comfortable talking to me about certain things. I understand. I mean I love that we've grown so close and that the trust between us has deepened the way it has, but you still have your boundaries with me just like I have my boundaries with you. Of course mine are more of a business nature and yours are more personal. But ever since the minute I found you in that basement, you've trusted me completely. You let me in, without bounds, and it was a wonderful gift for you to give me. And I thought that as long as Tony and Charlie took care of your medical needs, I could take care of you in every other way. How's that for an overblown ego?"

He smiled softly, and Alexis shook her head.

"It wasn't ego. It was you being very...giving. You HAVE taken care of me, more than anyone in my life. Except for Stefan, when I was a child. But taking care of my own needs is something I've been doing my entire adult life and I'm suddenly afraid that I might forget how."

"Because of me?"

"I don't want you to be my confessor, Sonny. Or my shrink."

Sonny's back straightened. Alexis had just opened the window he was looking for.

"I want you to be...to...you know, you're right. We have grown very close, and it is wonderful. And even though we have trust, we also have boundaries. Just...please don't push mine, okay?"

"I have to." He murmured.

She stared at him through somber eyes, her head tilting as if to warn him away from where he was going to go. And as she spoke, her voice was measured.

"You know that last night was an accident."

"Which never should have happened."

Alexis squared her shoulders as her tongue grazed back and forth across her bottom lip. Sonny began to move toward her and opened his mouth to speak. Alexis beat him to it.

"Excuse me."

Before Sonny could blink, Alexis had turned on her heels and disappeared into the bathroom. Before he could take two steps in her path, the door was closed between them. And as he approached that closed door, intent on speaking his peace, he heard the loud, forceful sound of water running from the faucet. Alexis wouldn't hear him - she didn't want to hear him. But she couldn't stay in there forever. So Sonny sat down on the edge of the bed, facing the bathroom door, and waited.

When Alexis reappeared, she halted in the threshold the moment her eyes landed on Sonny, perched not six feet in front of her. Her pink cheeks were framed in wet tendrils, some sticking to her skin, and a small white towel was clutched against her throat. Sonny took a long, deep breath as he gazed up at the beautiful, freshly scrubbed face that regarded him with trepidation. And he watched as a drop of water fell from the end of a lock of her hair, landing on the apple of her cheek and rolling down toward her jaw like a single, salt-free tear. Alexis didn't seem to notice it. She let it blaze its thin, wet trail down her cheek as she stood silent in the doorway and held Sonny's gaze.

"I think you should consider..." The look in her eyes halted him.

"What?"

Alexis challenged with a flat voice and an expression of stone. She wanted him to stop, and it broke Sonny's heart to see the self-protective wall beginning to rise around her. But he refused to let it keep him out. He wouldn't stop.

"Talking to someone."

Alexis continued to stare. The wall continued to rise.

"If you don't feel comfortable talking to me, then you need to talk to someone else you DO feel comfortable talking to. Your brother, your friend Chloe. If you want Jax, I'll find him for you."

Alexis scratched at her arm. The subject of the disappearing Jax still hurt.

"Or...maybe someone neutral, with no preconceived ideas and no personal stake would be even better. A professional."

"You mean, a shrink."

"Yes."

"You think I'm losing my mind?"

"No."

"You think I'm a danger to myself?"

"No, honey..."

"You think I'm incapable of coping? Of handling my own baggage?"

"I think - no, I KNOW that you're capable. You're a survivor, and you've got the war wounds to prove it. But just because the bruises are fading and the scrapes and needle marks are healing, that doesn't mean the deepest wounds aren't still there...inside, where nobody can see them unless you let them see."

Alexis shook her head as her eyes fixed on the corner of the ceiling. "I beg to differ. Too many people have seen, and it wasn't because I let them."

Sonny nodded. He knew how much she hated having been seen the way Sorel left her, bruised, bleeding and drugged nearly to death. And even worse was that she'd been seen in hysterics, delusional and out of control, brought literally to her knees with all her mind's demons laid bare. It terrified her as much as it mortified her, and it would haunt her for a very long time - if not for the rest of her life. He wanted to spare her as much of that particular baggage as he could.

"You went through hell, Alexis. The kind of hell that most people couldn't get through with half as much strength as you. But we discussed this before - you can't pretend that it didn't affect you."

"I'm not. I'll get through it."

"You don't have to get through it alone."

"I've been through worse alone. I was alone when I watched my mother's throat get slit, and I got through it."

"You blocked it out, Alexis! You blocked out all memories of your mother, the first five years of your life, even your own name."

Alexis's jaw tensed against the tremble beginning to invade her chin. "Don't, Sonny."

"That's not getting through it, it's self-protection against the awful reality of it."

"Stop it."

"But you DID survive your childhood, just like you survived Sorel. You're a strong, healthy, beautiful woman...who's suffered more than her share of trauma and is feeling the effects. It's called post traumatic stress."

"I said stop it! God..." She threw the towel to the ground and headed for the bedroom door.

He followed her into the hallway. "That's what Monica said you were going through after the shooting, and it's what you're going through again right now. Taggart warned me that this would happen, but I didn't listen."

Alexis faltered, then quickly spun around. Her wide eyes blazed within an incredulous look veiling her face.

"What?"

"He said you'd probably experience some post traumatic stress, and that there was a councellor he knew who specialized in..."

"You were discussing my mental state with Taggart?"

"He sees victims of violent crime every day, Alexis. He knows what they go through, and he knows that it doesn't all disappear once the physical injuries have healed. And he no doubt brought the councelling issue up to me instead of you because he knows how fiercely independent and bull-headed stubborn you can be."

"I don't appreciate being discussed behind my back."

She turned on her heels and quickly made her way down the stairs with Sonny hot on her trail.

"The man gives a damn about you! You SHOULD appreciate it."

"I didn't mean..."

He took the last three stairs in one big leap and turned right in front of her, blocked Alexis's way just as she hit the last step. She blinked rapidly at the quick, sudden movement, and he hand grabbed on tight to the rail.

"And just for the record, I've discussed you a lot, with a lot of people who ALL give a damn. Taggart, Johnny, Tony, Zander, your brother, even your...even Ned. And Charlie, the doctor who cleaned all the heroin out of your body and gave you back your life. He told me that you should see someone too."

Alexis closed her eyes and rubbed at her brow as her head dropped forward from her shoulders. "Well this...this is great. Apparently everyone who knows what happened to me thinks I've been rendered an emotional cripple. Including you."

"No. Everyone who knows what happened wants you to be all right. Especially including me. But you're not all right, and you know it, and I should have listened to Taggart and Charlie because ignoring their advice only hurt you. I thought I was doing the right thing by not pushing you because you were already overwhelmed by feelings of powerlessness and I knew how much it scared you to have had so much control taken away from you. I didn't want to scare you by pushing you to relinquish more."

Alexis's eyelids fluttered before slowly opening again.

"But the truth is, getting help isn't relinquishing control, it's taking it back from the thing that's holding you hostage. Metaphorically, I mean."

"I know what you...mean." She muttered.

The corner of her lower lip unconsciously slipped between her teeth as she opened her eyes and let her self look down into his. The desire to wrap her in his arms and pull her mouth to his rose up like a phoenix. She was so close that he could smell the intoxicating scent of her skin, so close that he could feel the heat of her body radiating right through the sapphire velvet. And her soft, flushed, newly scrubbed cheeks beckoned for his hands to touch. He left his hands where they were, one on the end of the rail and one resting against the wall.

"I want you to be all right too, Alexis. And I want you to do something to make that happen."

Sonny paused for a moment, and then let his arms drop down to his sides. Her path was now clear to move away from him, but Alexis didn't move. He loved that she didn't move, and he watched her face as she took in the honesty he offered in exchange for hers. Her eyes told him that she was hearing him, and she knew that he was right. But they also told him that she was still scared, still resistant, and still bull-headed stubborn. He was sure that Alexis would keep on resisting him, at least for now. She would need time to make it her choice, and that was more than fine by him. Sonny didn't want her to give in just to appease him like she did with Ned, then to lie to him to keep from arguing, also like she did with Ned. He just wasn't sure if it was time for him to do as she asked and leave it alone, or if she needed a little more pushing.

"I don't want someone messing around with my head. Between my mind and my body, I've already been invaded enough." Her eyes darted toward the front door. "I'm going to get the paper."

She began to move forward and Sonny moved back, giving her room to descend the last step. As Alexis hesitantly walked past him on her way to the door, Sonny's eyes followed. She needed a little more.

"You sure as hell have. But you're deliberately missing my point, and you know it."

Alexis slowed her pace.

"What I'm talking about is you allowing yourself to be unburdened of whatever it is that won't leave you in peace."

She turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder. "It will go away."

Sonny said nothing. He'd heard it before. Alexis's brow creased as she turned her whole body to face him.

"I'm fine."

"You're a smart woman, Alexis. Smart enough to know that asking for help when you need it is nothing to be ashamed of."

She gave a nervous laugh as she shook her head. "I don't belie...how many times and in how many ways do I need to ask - no, TELL you to drop it?"

"I don't know yet. Keep going, I'll let you know when you hit the magic number."

"Damn it Sonny, I said I'm fine!"

"I don't think so!"

"I don't remember asking what you thought."

Sonny assumed a mocking tone of voice. "And I don't remember asking to have to pull your unconscious self out of a bathtub full of water."

"I told you it was an accident."

"You make a living from people asking you for help, and you love it. You take pride in being able to help them."

"You need to back off, Sonny."

"Are you too proud to step over the fence and be the one doing the asking?"

"I'm not losing my mind and I don't need 'help', so just stop it!"

"Maybe you just aren't as smart as I thought. Or maybe you really are a coward after all."

Alexis's body jerked as his words registered. Her eyes were filled with hurt surprise, which was quickly melded with fire.

"And maybe you're a hypocrite."

Sonny blinked. That wasn't the response he'd expected. But he'd purposefully touched the same sensitive nerve he'd touched after watching all he could take of Alexis suffering the beginnings of withdrawal and becoming desperate for her consent to the detox. She'd relented back then, when she was vulnerable and weak. She was still vulnerable, but now she was strong. And hitting a sensitive nerve only pushed her from a self-protective mode into one of attack.

"A hypocrite." He repeated blankly.

She wrapped her left hand around her right upper arm, as if holding onto herself would brace her.

"I remember a time or two, before I even knew you, when your mental state was widely and publicly regarded as...precarious, at best. In short, you were a mess. Did you 'talk' to someone? Did you ask for help?"

Lily. She was talking about Lily, and their unborn child. And to say he'd been a mess was an understatement. He and Alexis both knew it, and they both knew the answer to her question - her second rhetorical question. He gave her his second non-rhetorical answer in a dry whisper.

"No."

Alexis's brow furrowed. She swallowed, and then continued haltingly.

"W-why not? Pride, stupidity o-or cowardice?"

He smiled vacantly, giving a small shrug of his shoulders. "Indifference. I didn't care enough about myself to bother. I care enough about you to bother - to push. And I want YOU to care enough to bother, and to make the right choice for yourself."

Sonny stared intently into the dark eyes staring back at him. There was still anger in those big browns that he loved so deeply, but he also saw regret. Alexis wasn't a person who normally lashed out when hurt - or TO hurt. But she'd been pushed too hard and she instinctively pushed back. She'd lashed out, and she'd hurt him. And Sonny could see that she was about to shut down.

"Ch-choice being the operative word."

Alexis's soft-toned voice cracked as she spoke, and it seemed to take her aback. She frowned, biting down on her lip as she looked down at the floor and slipped her arms around her self in a protective gesture. She cleared her throat, and Sonny watched her down-turned eyes dart between his feet and the bottom of the stairway.

"Being harassed into doing something isn't making a choice. It's just being harassed. And since I'm tired of asking you over and over to leave it alone...I'm just going to ask you to leave."

Sonny didn't make a sound, didn't move a muscle. It was time for him to leave the ball in her court, but he would make one last hard volley before he walked out that door. And he wanted her look at him before he did. It felt like an eternity, but Alexis's eyes finally drifted up to his face.

"Please."

"Fine. I'll leave. Because I'm done with this! So go and eat some stale popcorn for breakfast, take a few aspirin for your Halcyon hangover headache and sit here waiting for the NEXT round of freaky flashes that you can handle on your own, however you see fit!"

Sonny stomped past her and abruptly flung open the door. Johnny came to full attention, arms uncrossing and back straightening as his head turned toward the sudden squeal of the door. Before he could say good morning, Sonny had stepped into the hall, grabbed the newspaper off the console beside the door, and went back inside leaving the door fully open. He watched with an open mouth as Sonny moved to Alexis's desk and slammed the paper down hard.

"I'm going to the warehouse. I'll clearly be more productive there. Have a nice day."

Sonny spun around and headed right toward Johnny. Johnny reflexively stepped back, his eyes darting to Alexis. She stood still as stone, just beside the desk, with her arms wrapped around herself and a very strange expression on her face as she stared at the wall. He didn't understand what was going on, and from the look on Alexis's face, neither did she. Johnny turned his eyes back to Sonny, who looked right past him as he reached the door. Sonny suddenly halted. And then, he turned his head and shot Alexis a pointed look over his shoulder.

"Try not to drown yourself while I'm gone."

He waited a moment for Alexis to look at him. When she did, Sonny grabbed the edge of the door and pulled it shut. Johnny was flummoxed. He didn't even know what to say. He simply stared, slack-jawed, as Sonny stood in front of the PH4 door rubbing his hands over his face over and over again. As Sonny heaved a heavy sigh and let his arms drop down to his sides, Johnny found his voice.

"Sonny? What the..."

"Don't say another word." Sonny looked Johnny sharply in the eye. "I can't...I couldn't let..." Sonny swallowed hard and turned his eyes away. "Just leave it alone Johnny."

Sonny quickly walked past him and disappeared into his penthouse. Johnny's heart pounded. Sonny had just yelled harshly at Alexis, and it turned him as white as a sheet. What the hell had happened? A muffled choking sound caught his ear. It was coming from behind him - from behind Alexis's door. He moved closer, gently laying his hand against the wood and pressing his ear just above it. The sound came again...and then again. It sent Johnny's stomach into his throat. Alexis was crying. Sonny had made her cry. It was surreal...and it wasn't right. It was terribly, terribly wrong.

"Alexis?"

The sound abruptly stopped.

"It's Johnny. I just wanted to let you know I was here...if you need anything."

Alexis held her breath as she roughly brushed at her wet cheek. The sweet, gentle sound of Johnny's voice made the tears flow even faster. So did knowing that he'd witnessed Sonny's angry outburst and probably heard her crying. She wanted to answer him and tell him she was fine. But she knew that if she spoke, he'd hear the quiver in her voice and know she'd been crying for sure. So she played possum and stayed quiet, wiping away the wetness as quickly as it sprang from her eyes and choking back the sobs as her chest rhythmically heaved.

"It's not my business, but...whatever it was that just happened, he didn't mean it."

She ran her tongue across her lips and took the clean, wet taste of salt into her mouth. It tasted like the sea.

"Yes, he did." She answered back. "And he was right."

A fresh trail of tears ran down her cheek as Alexis ran up the stairs. She didn't get to hear Johnny's sweet, gentle voice in reply.

"Sometimes, people DO hurt the one they love."