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Scene 109

"I'll be at the warehouse."

Sonny shut the penthouse door behind him and walked past Johnny without even looking at him. Johnny nodded in response anyway. And he watched closely as Sonny hit the call button and shot a subtle, downcast glance toward the PH4 door. The two men stood in uncomfortable silence with Johnny staring at the back of Sonny's head. Soon, they heard the light rumble of the approaching elevator. The door opened, and Sonny stepped inside.

"If she goes out, stay with her."

Johnny didn't bother nodding. Sonny turned around and heaved a sigh as he lifted his head and looked at Johnny with a pair of sad, weary eyes.

"If she gives you an argument, do it anyway."

"I heard her crying." Johnny said in a flat tone.

Sonny's lids tried to blink, but they only managed to twitch.

"Thanks for that, Johnny." He whispered roughly, hitting the lobby button with a hard force.

Johnny felt a twinge of guilt. "I just meant that I don't think she'll be up for any more arguing."

Sonny's jaw shifted. "That makes two of us."

The elevator doors began to close.

"But boss, don't you want to check on her before you…"

The doors shut…and Sonny was gone.

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"Hi. It's me."

Alexis paused.

"I was hoping to catch you at the office today. I mean I was hoping to SEE you at the office today, maybe around one or so. I'll be out, so call me on my cell and let me know if that'll be okay. If not, maybe you could stop by here for a little while on your way home tonight? Don't worry - nothing's wrong. I just…um…"

She cleared her throat.

"Well, I thought it might be a good idea for us to discuss this situation with Nikolas and how we might best proceed now that the ice has been cracked…or if we should proceed at all. And I also just…felt the need to see my big brother."

She shook her head at her own transparent circularity.

"I'll talk to you soon, okay? I love you."

Alexis suddenly realized that she'd never left those three words on his voice mail before. She wondered if Stefan would realize it too. The phone was set back down in the cradle and Alexis opened the closet door. As her hand touched down on the wool sleeve of her coat, her mind went to the pink scarf tucked away in her dresser drawer. Half of her wanted to go upstairs to get it, the other half needed to leave it where it was. For a long moment, Alexis stared at the hand that clutched the black sleeve. And then, she pulled the coat from the hanger, grabbed her purse off the desk, and headed for the front door.

Johnny's eyes found her face before her eyes found his. He smiled gently as she faltered in the doorway, as if she was surprised to see him - as if she'd forgotten that he'd be there standing guard as he always was.

"Hey."

"Hey." She smiled back, pulling the door closed.

"Where to?"

Johnny had hoped she'd say she was going to see Sonny - to talk and make things right between them. It had only been twenty minutes or so since Sonny left, so Alexis would catch him before any problems needing his undivided attention had time to hit his desk.

"I'm…going to see my brother."

"Oh." He tried not to sound disappointed as he pushed the call button.

"But I'm going alone."

"Uh…"

Johnny didn't know how to respond any further. Not at that moment, at least.

"I need to be on my own today, Johnny."

"Well, you can do that. I'll just drive you. And I'll stay well out of your way when we get to…"

"Johnny, you aren't hearing me."

He hesitated before speaking. "Yeah, Alexis. I am hearing you. But you don't want to make me to have to answer to Sonny for letting you take off without protection…do you?"

Johnny was playing dirty with the guilt card. She crossed her arms over her chest and squinted at him.

"Letting me, huh?"

Johnny pondered, then nodded. "Yeah - letting. You know how he is when it comes to making sure you're safe."

Another guilt card well played. Alexis frowned.

"You don't have to talk to me or anything. Just pretend I'm not even there. I won't open my mouth. I won't even look at you if you don't want me to."

"Well that's a little extreme." She mumbled.

The elevator door began to open.

"Please let me take you. I promise to leave you alone."

She sighed and glanced at the empty elevator car. She was too weary to argue with Johnny. And Johnny was too sweet to be argued with. Alexis gave a slight shrug of her shoulder.

"'kay."

"Thanks."

He smiled and held the doors open with his arm and let Alexis enter ahead of him. As he hit the garage level button, Johnny cast a glance her way. A moment later, his hand was slipping into his breast pocket and pulling out something small. He handed it to Alexis, who tilted her head and leaned closer to see what it was.

"Eye drops?" She questioned.

"Yeah. They'll help with the…you know." His fingers fluttered beside his left eye. "I just thought that you might want too…I'm sorry. I promised I was going to leave you alone."

His fingers closed back around the bottle. But as he moved to replace it inside his pocket, Alexis's hand on his arm stopped him.

"You don't have to leave me alone. I mean every girl needs someone who's brave enough to tell her when her eyes are bloodshot. Right?"

Johnny grinned. "Right."

It was good to hear her joking again. It had been awful to hear the sound of her sobs.

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Stefan set his glasses down on the desk with a heavy sigh as he ended another tedious conference call.

He checked his watch - an hour and fifteen minutes of attempting to explain financial concepts to scientific minds. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered with the formality of trying. The voice mail light shone up at him. He rubbed at his eyes, contemplating ignoring his messages until after he'd had a second cup of coffee. His hand reached for the empty cup from his first morning's coffee, and Stefan leaned down to drop it into the wastebasket beneath his desk. As he rose back up, his eyes found Sonny Corinthos standing just inside the open doorway.

"Your sister almost killed herself last night. I thought you should know."

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Johnny parked himself in a chair by the nurse's station and folded Alexis's coat onto the seat next to him.

He'd expected to be taking her to the docks, to catch the launch to Spoon Island. Her instructions to drive to GH surprised him. He knew her brother had an office there, but he expected Alexis would want to avoid the hospital like the plague. Maybe she'd decided it was like falling off a bike - the more you avoid getting back on, the more afraid you are of riding. Since it was highly unlikely that Alexis could avoid GH for long, forcing herself to go back soon was probably a wise decision. The only thing still confused him was the fact that Stefan Cassadine's office was not on that particular floor.

Alexis slowed her pace as her eyes fixed on the nameplate. This was it - Charles L. Martin, MD. Charlie, the twinkle-eyed, irreverent doctor and giver of stuffed penguins. Alexis smiled at the thought of her penguin, waiting back home on her nightstand. It would be Sonny's turn to have him that night, if Sonny was even speaking to her. She sighed and ran her tongue across her lower lip. She'd make things right with him. She had to. Alexis stepped closer to the second to last door at the end of the hall, pushed her bangs away from her eyes, and knocked.

"It's open." The croaky voice called out.

Alexis turned the knob and pushed lightly on the door. A sweet, spicy, smoky smell hit her nose. She pushed a little harder and poked her head around the door.

"Um…is something burning?"

"It certainly is." Charlie looked up at her with a smile and wiggled a thin brown cigarette between his fingers like Groucho Marx.

"Ah." She smiled back. "I'm sorry for just barging in on you like this without calling first, but I…"

"Bah!" Charlie waved his hand, beckoning her inside. "Formalities are for sissies. Come on in - and feel free to smoke 'em if you got 'em."

"I…don't. Smoke, that is."

Alexis slowly slipped around the edge of the door as her eyes darted around the room. It looked and felt more like a den than an office. A large rubber tree plant held court by the window, under which there sat a small, weathered leather sofa the color of cognac with a colorful woven blanket draped over the back. The rows of wooden bookshelves that lined the walls were filled not just with books, but small, brightly painted, primitive carvings and an assortment of plastic wind-up toys. Her gaze made its way back to Charlie's ruddy-cheeked face, half-framed with a short gray beard.

"Does it bother you?" He held up the cigarette. "I'll put it out if it does."

She shook her head and moved closer to Charlie's desk. "No. It's kind of nice, actually. Clove?"

"Bingo." Charlie pointed at her with a wink.

"I had a roommate in college who smoked clove cigarettes."

"Rebel beat poet?"

"Chronic underachiever. Not that it had anything to do with the…cigarettes or anything…it just brings back nice memories. I liked college."

"Harvard, right?"

"Bingo." She pointed back.

"I got a mind like a steel trap since I stopped doing drugs." He tapped his forehead.

"So you remember me then?"

"Of course I remember you! The wiseacre."

Alexis laughed. "Yeah, that's me. Although I seem to have graduated from wiseacre to full-fledged pain in the butt."

"Speaking of which - have a seat." He nodded to the tan leather chair across from him.

"I'm not keeping you from anything?"

"Only paperwork, which was boring, tedious, and making my head want to explode. I could use the break. And my peepers always appreciate having something worth looking at."

Alexis smiled softly as she set her purse down on the floor and slipped into the chair.

"How ya doing?"

"I'm good."

"I'm glad to hear it. Charlie grinned as he leaned forward on his elbows. "You sure look good."

Alexis dropped her eyes and tucked her hair behind her ear as a shy dimple display showed its self. "It wouldn't take much to look better than the last time you saw me."

"True."

Her smile grew as she looked up to see Charlie wink at her.

"No joke, kiddo. You look really good." He nodded approvingly. "How are the needle marks healing up?"

The question startled her. She shrugged one shoulder, almost imperceptibly, and tugged on the end of her long, black sleeve.

"Slowly. But okay."

Charlie's eyes darted to the movement of her hand. "It's too soon to expect to see much progress. But it will go away, with a little time."

"I'm using the Vitamin E, like you told Sonny I should use."

"Good."

"Twice a day. It's…sticky."

He tilted his head and took a final drag on his cigarette as his sparkling eyes studied her.

"How's your little friend?"

Alexis's eyes widened. And then, she started to laugh in spite of herself. "I wouldn't let HIM hear you call him that."

Charlie's brow creased as he snuffed the remains of the slim, brown cigarette was snuffed out in a crudely molded, green clay ashtray with a tiny handprint in the center.

"A penguin with a Napoleon complex? Who'd have thunk it?"

"A peng…" She felt her face grow hot. "Oh! I thought you…never mind."

"You thought I was talking about your human friend?"

She bit her lip and nodded, thoroughly embarrassed. Charlie howled with laughter.

"Dude! Sonny Corinthos is SO not a guy I'm gonna make fun of. I like my kneecaps just the way they are."

"No, he's not really like that." Alexis protested as Charlie's laughter morphed into a cough.

"I'm just stepping on your wiseacre toes." He cleared his throat. "I saw for myself what he's really like. In my job, I see what everyone is really like. Watching a loved one in crisis tears down all kinds of facades, you know?"

"A loved one…"

Alexis let Charlie's words sink in, and a soft smile graced her face.

"Not even a notorious mobster is immune."

"Alleged mobster." She interrupted.

Charlie nodded. "I stand corrected. But still, Sonny Corinthos is a big ball of mush where you're concerned."

Her eyes drifted away from Charlie's warm face. "Not now, he isn't. In fact, he's pretty pissed at me right now. And I can't blame him."

"Uh oh. Wow." Charlie sat up straighter in his chair as he scratched at his beard. "I sure called that one wrong."

Alexis looked back up at him in confusion. "Sorry?"

"You broke his little alleged mobster heart and picked the other guy?"

She stared for a long moment. And then, she realized what Charlie meant. Her hand moved up to push her hair back from her shoulder, and Alexis felt the absence of soft, pink cashmere draped around her neck. Sonny's face suddenly filled her mind, and her palm slipped down to rest against her heart.

"No." She shook her head smiled softly. "I didn't pick the other guy. Sonny just doesn't know it yet."

"He doesn't know it…" Charlie leaned forward and slapped his palms on the desk, his big eyes twinkling away. "Pardon my French, kiddo, but what the hell are you waiting for?"

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Stefan stared, stunned into silence. Sonny stared back. Finally, Stefan rose to his feet, eye never leaving their target of the dark-eyed face in the doorway.

"Where is she?"

"Home."

"And she's okay…assuming that was going to be your next question."

"You assume wrong. You just walked in here and informed me that Alexis almost killed herself, and then you told me she's at home rather than in the hospital. You've been exceedingly attentive toward my sister, Mr. Corinthos. If she weren't okay, you wouldn't have left her to come see me. You'd have called me, as you did a few days ago."

Sonny chuckled lightly. "I see where she gets that analytical mind of hers. You taught her well."

"Answer the obvious next question, Mr. Corinthos." Stefan stepped out from behind the desk with a solemn frown. "What happened?"

Sonny turned and pushed the door shut. Stefan's body tightened.

"Alexis found out the hard way that hot baths and sleeping pills don't mix."

Stefan's face grew studious. "It was…an accident?"

Sonny nodded once. Stefan's heart began to pound with relief as he let go of a deep breath he hadn't realized was stuck in his lungs. But his relief was quickly invaded by suspicion…and anger.

"Your inflammatory announcement was clearly intended to make me think otherwise."

Sonny shrugged.

"Explain yourself!" He barked.

"I just wanted to make you feel a little bit of the panic that I felt when I found Alexis unconscious in the bathtub with water up to her nose."

"Unconscious from sleeping pills." Stefan murmured in confusion. "I don't understand."

"She wanted to sleep - a deep, dreamless sleep."

"But Alexis is adverse to taking medication of any kind."

"Now she's adverse to dreaming."

"Why would she take a narcotic now, particularly in light of what that animal from your criminal underworld did to her and what she went through to be rid of it?"

Sonny's jaw tensed. "You tell me, Cassadine. There's a saying that you're only as sick as your secrets. I know you love Alexis. But do you want her to be sick…or well?"

"Excuse me?"

"What secrets are you keeping for Alexis that her mind is keeping from her too?"

"Ah. We're back to more accusations, are we?"

"Damn right we are!" Sonny spat. "You may be able to hold onto your secrets forever, but Alexis can't. Her mind is getting tired of holding on, see, and it's starting to let go. She doesn't understand it, and it's scaring her. And it's got something to do with Stavros."

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

"I don't know…exactly." Alexis murmured.

"Do you know…kind of?" Charlie countered. "And does it have anything to do with why you came to see me?"

"In a way, I suppose it does."

"Bummer. I was hoping you just missed this gorgeous mug of mine."

Charlie cocked his head, smiled wide and framed his face with "L" shaped hands as he batted his eyelashes like fury. Alexis laughed, her heart warming even more toward this strange, sweet, fatherly man who was so easy to talk to. Charlie leaned his elbow onto the desk and his chin into the palm of his hand. His smile softened as he watched her laughter subside, leaving her eyes with a bright sparkle and her cheeks with a healthy pink glow.

"What's troubling you, kiddo? Are you really feeling all right, or is there something you're afraid to tell Tony because he might want to toss you back in here?"

She shook her head. "No, I really am fine. Physically. I just, um…I just had a few questions and you're the only person I know who can answer them."

"About the detox procedure?"

"No. About the heroin."

Charlie's brow lifted. "Well, you came to the right place. Ask away."

Alexis ran her tongue across her lips and gestured toward the small stack of files in the corner of the desk.

"Are you sure I'm not keeping your from something else that you need to be doing right now?"

"Is THIS why Sonny's pissed at you?"

"Huh?"

"Your habit of trying to avoid stuff if you think it will be unpleasant. You did it when I tried to start the detox too. You show up for what you know needs to be done, but you let panic get the better of you and you try to backpedal."

She frowned. "Apparently, Sonny wasn't kidding when he said he talked about me the whole time I was unconscious and unable to protest."

"Nah." Charlie waved his hand. "I'm just a recovering junkie who works closely with other junkies who WANT to recover. It's taught me a thing or two about human nature - especially human frailties and fears. There's nothing to be afraid of here, kiddo. And your instincts must have told you that already or you wouldn't be here."

"You have a good sense of logic. You would have made a good lawyer." Alexis took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Sonny thinks I've got some kind of post traumatic thing going on and that I need to get some…help. He said that the police lieutenant who's handling my case thinks so too. And so do you."

"I suggest it to all my patients. But what do YOU think about it?"

Her expression grew sheepish. "When he wouldn't drop the subject I kicked him out of my apartment. Does that answer your question?"

"I wonder when the word 'help' became a four-letter word of the negative variety? It really does get a bad rap. Of course, I help people for a living so I'm a bit defensive about the concept." His eyes settled on hers. "You help people for a living too, right councellor?"

"Which makes my resistance to accepting help both cowardly and hypocritical - I know."

"Ouch." Charlie winced. "Is that what Sonny said?"

"He was right." She said pointedly, folding her hands in her lap. "And that's why I'm here."

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"That's why she took the pills? She's been having nightmares of Stavros again, like the one I witnessed before?"

He shook his head. "No, not like before. He's in her waking dreams now. And he isn't a punk kid, chasing her down and locking her in the dark to face your mother's wrath. He's all grown up this time. And he's smiling at her."

"Smiling?"

"It scares her." Sonny repeated.

Stefan's mouth went dry. He ran his tongue across his lips and swallowed before speaking. "Has she seen Dr. Jones? Perhaps there's still some residual effects from her head injuries or the drugs that…"

"There's nothing physically wrong with her. This is something else, and I think you know what."

"You infer quite a lot from very little information, Mr. Corinthos."

"Yeah, I do. And if I didn't do it well, I'd be dead by now."

"And if I didn't protect Alexis well…God only knows."

"You did protect her well, when she was a child. But she's a grown woman now. And the last time you stonewalled me, thinking you were protecting her, all you really did was let her suffer needlessly from a fear that she didn't understand. You think you're protecting her now, but you're just letting her suffer again."

"You may have come to know my sister well in recent weeks, but you'll never…"

"I've known her well a lot longer than that. You were just too busy playing dead and seducing her friend Chloe to notice."

Stefan's back straightened.

"I know you only did what you thought you had to do to keep your family safe from Helena, but you don't know what it did to Alexis to think that she'd lost you. I know it, because I'm the one she turned to when everyone she loved was slipping through her fingers - you, Chloe, Jax. If you think about it, it's no wonder she was having panic attacks about marrying Ashton. It's no wonder she ran away from him so she could lose him of her own device before she lost him to forces outside her control."

"That was a blessing in disguise." Stefan murmured.

"I selfishly agree."

Stefan studied the other man's face through narrowed eyes. "Because you want Alexis for yourself. And not just as your attorney. Isn't that right, Mr. Corinthos?"

"Yes." Sonny replied simply, honestly…unflinchingly. "I want her. I love her."

Stefan's eyes closed as he turned away. He'd suspected the truth when Alexis was in GH, with Corinthos standing guard like a pit bull. He'd known for sure when he stayed with Alexis through the night and discovered Corinthos sleeping on floor outside her bedroom door. But hearing Corinthos admit it to him, out loud, surprised him. He wondered if Alexis knew. He wondered if Alexis had admitted, out loud, that she loved Corinthos too.

"But all that matters to me is that Alexis be happy, healthy and safe."

"With you?" Stefan turned back around. "How can that be? She deserves to be all of those things, and I want them for her too. But how can she be happy with you, in your world? And how can your world be healthy or safe? Alexis is living proof that it's anything but."

"There are other worlds - other choices. If Alexis…if she chose me, I would do right by her. I would make the choices that she deserved me to make. Would you do that for her too?"

"I would do anything for her." He whispered roughly. "Anything."

"Then don't choose to let a secret make her sick."

"I…know nothing for a fact, Mr. Corinthos." Stefan paused, fighting the dueling desires to withhold and release. "I have only conjecture. And I'm sure you understand how giving breath to conjecture can be a dangerous thing."

"Yeah, it can be. But Alexis is afraid of something, and she's trying to make go away. This time, she used pills. This time, I was lucky to be there to keep something unspeakable from happening. I tried to get her to talk to me, but she pushed me away."

"Why?"

"Because I pushed her first. Maybe that was wrong, I don't know. But she scared the hell out of me with what she did last night, and I came down hard on her this morning. She shut down, shut me out, and pushed me away. So if there IS a next time, I might not be there. The ball's in your court, Stefan. And I think that at this point, giving breath to conjecture is a danger worth risking."

"Does she even know?"

"Know what?"

"How you feel about her."

"I think that she does."

"You THINK?" Stefan gave a wry laugh as he shook his head. "It's no wonder she pushed you away."

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"I'm glad you came to me. How can I help?"

She cleared her throat and rubbed at her nose. "Um…I don't know anything about heroin."

"I don't expect that you would."

"I should have asked questions about it before, but I didn't quite know what TO ask…and I wasn't sure how much I really wanted to know, since it was…out of my…control…" Her voice drifted off, eyes losing focus.

"Alexis?"

Her eyes snapped back to his.

"You took control back, remember? The heroin is out of your body and out of your life."

"Are you sure?"

"Absatively. What makes you NOT sure?"

"I've been having these recurring images in my head that were never there before. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call them hallucinations, but…can heroin cause something like that?"

He shook his head. "It isn't a hallucinogen."

"Can it confuse old memories with new things? Fact with fiction?"

"That's not how heroin works. It isn't a 'scary' drug, it's a 'feel good' drug. It doesn't trip you out, it makes you high."

Alexis bit down hard on the edge of her lip as her eyes lowered.

"Is that how you experienced it? As a high?"

She nodded. "Yeah. But it was difficult to separate that part from the circumstances."

"You were kidnapped. I remember. And held for how many days?"

"Th-three." She murmured. "I know three days doesn't sound like very long, but it was dark a lot and I was alone a lot and I lost all sense of time, and I just never knew what he was going to do next."

"Three days is forever when you're terrified and at the mercy of a lunatic."

The corners of her mouth turned up briefly. "A lunatic who w-wouldn't…um, wouldn't tell me what he was drugging me with. I thought I was going to die. Each time he came at me with a needle, I thought, this could be it. This time could kill me."

Charlie listened to her quietly, and Alexis could feel him watching her intently as she wiped away the tears that welled in the corners of her eyes.

"But each time, after he was done, the terror suddenly disappeared and…and…"

"The mind-blowing rush took over." Charlie murmured wistfully, knowingly…sadly. "All hot, explosive, sending every cell in your brain and body into orbit."

Alexis lifted her eyes to his and released a sigh of relief. She hadn't been crazy. Charlie knew. He understood. Charlie smiled.

"Nothing feels like the rush of heroin. Except maybe…" He hesitated.

She smiled shyly. "We're both adults. You can say it - sex."

"I was gonna say, really GREAT sex!"

Alexis laughed once again, her embarrassment tempered by genuine amusement at Charlie's uncensored candor. Charlie's smile widened as he watched her bite her lip and shake her head.

"Feel good to laugh about it, huh?"

"Yeah, it does."

"It sure beats feeling guilty."

Her mouth opened in surprise, head tilting as she squinted at him. "H-how did you know?"

"You told me."

"I did?"

"Indirectly. You said it was hard to separate the heroin itself from the circumstances surrounding it. So intellectually you know that it IS separate, but emotionally you feel like it's wrong to have had a…positive physical response to something that was a part of an ugly, awful and terrifying thing that was being done to you. You think the drug should have felt awful too, right?"

Alexis swallowed as she nodded lightly. Her eyes were stinging with grateful release. She was grateful to Charlie for his empathy and wisdom, and showing her that she wasn't alone. And she was grateful to Sonny, for throwing his kid gloves away and forcing her to admit that 'help' wasn't such a negative four-letter word after all.

"Look, kiddo, you and I both know that there's no reason on God's green earth for you to feel guilty for anything that someone else did to you. But the confusion and guilt that come at you after a serious trauma, which I affectionately refer to as the 'coulda, shoulda, woulda's', are normal. And Sonny is probably right that you're having a post-traumatic stress reaction. But it will all get better with time. And it will get better more quickly if you talk about it because the more you get it out, the less room it's taking up inside of you."

Charlie sounded a lot like Sonny. And she felt better already.

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"You bullied her for her own good, yet you were too cowardly to tell her that you..."

Stefan folded his arms over his chest as a smug smile crossed his face. "And you claim to know her so well."

Sonny's face began to grow hot from the ridicule he knew was on its way.

"If you haven't told Alexis that you love her, she doesn't know it. She needs to hear words before she can trust the feelings. If you failed to give her the words, the only thing she received was the anger."

Sonny stared at Stefan's face thoughtfully. The man was right, though he hated to admit it. He slowly nodded his head.

"I'll give her the words, tonight, and I'll make sure she trusts the feelings. What about you? Will you check your cowardice at the door and talk to her?"

"I will. But I make no promises. I'll see what I can glean from speaking to her and use my judgment as to whether certain speculations are appropriate to bring up."

"That's all I ask."

Sonny turned and walked the few paces to the door. He hesitated, hand on the knob, and then he turned back around.

"I lied. I need to ask one more thing. Do you have any…any pictures of Alexis? When she was a little girl?"

Stefan's brow lifted. "Pictures?"

"Yeah. I just, you know…I want to know what she looked like as a child. I mean, I can imagine her, with her big eyes and dimples - a real heartbreaker that anyone would want to take under their wing and protect."

Stefan cleared his throat. It annoyed him that every now and then, his strong objections to Corinthos softened against his will. The way Corinthos looked at Alexis, the way he spoke to and about her, left no doubt that his devotion was sincere. She deserved such true devotion from a man. She just deserved a better man than Corinthos.

"…if she chose me, I would do right by her. I would make the choices that she deserved me to make."

Corinthos knew she deserved better too. And he promised to give it to her. Stefan would hold him to his word.

"I believe I do have a photograph or two…somewhere. I'll be in touch."

"I'll be waiting."

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"This is the first time I've talked about it at all, to anyone. What the heroin felt like, I mean."

"Nobody can really understand unless they've walked a mile."

"Right."

"I'm always available, if you need to talk. Please don't hesitate to stop by or call, any time."

"I won't. Thank you." Alexis smile and leaned down to pick up her purse. "And now, I should leave to your head-exploding paperwork."

Charlie scratched at his beard, regarding her thoughtfully as she rose to her feet.

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

She frowned. "I thought formalities were for sissies."

"Wiseacre." Charlie winked as he rose from his chair and moved around to stand beside her. "Are you maybe holding yourself back from loving Sonny because you're afraid of the prospect of making love with him? Are you afraid it might take you back to the feeling of heroin and a good thing will get confused with the bad things?"

Alexis tensed her jaw. "Maybe. I know I don't want to confuse my feelings for him with anything else - or anyone else. I want everything to be clear in my head when I'm with him. He deserves that."

"Is everything clear in your heart?"

"Very clear."

"Then tell him. Tell him what's in your heart, and the rest will take care of itself."

"You sound so sure."

"I'm very sure."

She bit her lip and squinted up at him. "A ball of mush, huh?"

"A BIG ball of mush!"

"Well then." Alexis sighed lightly, dimples etching into her cheeks. "What the hell am I waiting for?"

Stefan stood still as he watched Corinthos open the door and leave it open as he disappeared out into the hallway. He slid his hand into his breast pocket and withdrew his wallet, studying it in its folded form before opening up one flap, and then the other. His fingers carefully slipped a small, tattered, black and white photograph from the leather confines, turning it right side up before his eyes. A sandy haired boy of ten stared back at him with an oddly suppressed smile on his face. And clinging to his hand with both of hers was a thin, dark haired, saucer-eyed little girl. He could see no dimples in her round little cheeks - she neither smiled nor frowned. But half her bottom lip was sucked in and held between her teeth.

Stefan's fingertips lightly grazed the glossy, weathered images. His little one was heartbreaker indeed - under his wing and under his protection at his first sight of her at the age of five…until the age of thirteen. At thirteen, she slipped out from under his wing and down a flight of stairs. Silence…speculations…secrets…she was only as sick as her secrets. He'd heard that saying before, but he didn't know where. It was pithy, and it was true. His own family was as sick as they came, and the secrets were all but genetically inbred. He could live with them - he HAD lived with them, for a lifetime. Alexis was different. She was only half a Cassadine, only half bred for lifelong self- deception. Her secrets would always come out, one way or another. He should have known. He should have been prepared. It was only a matter of time.

The time had finally come…