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Scene 45

“How ya doin’?”

Tony glanced down at her still-trembling body with a reassuring smile. Alexis bit her lip.

“Okay.”

“Anything yet?”

She shook her head as she groaned against a cramp.

“Hold on. It’ll kick in any second now.” Tony watched her face as he finished infusing the medication into her IV. He finally saw the crease in her forehead begin to smooth and the tremor in her body subside as he pulled the needle from the plastic tube.

“Better now?”

She lightly nodded. “Yeah.”

“Good.”

Her breathing quickly returned to a normal pace and she sighed. She was so tired from her struggle, and Tony thought she might fall asleep from the sudden overwhelming relief. But Alexis fought for every last second of awareness.

“Why does it feel so heavy?”

“Because it’s a muscle relaxant. You shouldn’t want to do anything but doze off.”

“Not yet…it’s too soon.”

Tony pulled a chair up to the bed. “Charlie will be back in a few minutes to get you...attached to the monitors.”

Alexis smiled and rolled her head toward him. “Were you just about to make a funny?”

Tony blushed. “A not-so-funny, I think. At least in this case.”

“Don’t stand on ceremony with me Tony. I dare you to say it.”

Tony took up the challenge. “Okay. Charlie will be back to get you HOOKED to the monitors.”

Alexis grinned widely. “I’d clap, but I can’t.”

Tony laughed. “I really don’t know what to make of you sometimes.”

“Join the club.”

Tony shifted in his chair, needing to talk straight to her. “Seriously, Alexis. You do know that all the monitors and machines are nothing for you to be frightened of, right?”

Alexis cast her eyes downward as she tried to hide the flush of embarrassment she felt. “I know. It’s not the machines. I’m afraid of not waking up. I don’t know why, but I’m still afraid to let this happen.”

He laid his hand gently down on hers. “I know that this isn’t an easy thing for you to do. But as much as I believe that this detox is the best decision, I don’t want you to feel you’ve been shamed or bullied into it.”

Alexis shifted, turning her body as best she could in his direction. She opened her heavy lids to him. “Y-you’re not doing that.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “I don’t really mean me. I expect that Sonny’s exerted more than a little pressure. His intentions are good, but this isn’t happening to him, it’s happening to you. Helping you make the decision is one thing, but I want to make sure that he didn’t cross any lines.”

She frowned and closed her eyes as Sonny’s face invaded her mind. He acted as if it WAS happening to him, as if her pain was embedded in him as well. The way he stared into her – his smoky eyes taking root in hers, his flushed cheeks painted with thin, wet streaks as he kneeled beside her with their faces so close. He laid himself open to beg away her suffering, and she forgot where she ended and he began…and whether she was doing this for herself, or for him.

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Sonny sat in Tony’s big leather chair, oblivious to everything outside himself. He was still reeling, enveloped in the glorious waves of feeling that he’d pushed away, disguised and denied. He’d allowed his body to fall to the ground and the tears to fall from his eyes, and still he thought he could hide from himself. There was no place else to hide. The simple truth that Ashton claimed, Sonny owned it too – Alexis was everything. He didn’t know how it had happened, how he’d allowed it to happen…or how Carly had somehow known it all along.

“I want her…” He freed his breath and let it out, making it real. Sonny’s eyes quickly scanned the empty room, as if the walls had ears. He laughed to himself at the absurdity of it. He wanted her – so what? His want was nothing and hers was all. Her NEED was all. Alexis needed him now and it nourished his soul to know it. He yearned to be her safety, her strength, her sanctuary, and he would ask nothing of her in return. In Sonny’s eyes, to love purely was to give. If he loved her right and true, it’s all Alexis would feel. He would not do as Ashton had done…he only wanted to give.

Sonny roughly shook his head, waiting for the inevitable sense of dread to overtake him. It always came when a woman set his heart to racing. For Sonny, to feel for a woman meant a sinking in his stomach - it warned him that he could be undone. But there was no dread in him now, no heaviness in his gut. This was different - this lifted him. Alexis lifted him. There were no doubts about her, no guile or pretense to peel away. Sonny put his life in her hands and she earned his faith. She challenged him, goaded him, accepted him and trusted him. Alexis made him smile and made him feel alive. Her face, her voice, the smell of her hair and the touch of her skin all made him alive.

He closed his eyes and bathed in the remembrance of the feel of her soft, warm palm against his face, now clean-shaven and so sensitive to touch. The sound of her sweet laughter lightened his heart, and he lost himself in those intoxicating eyes that gazed up at his with a bit of the devil hiding there…as if she held a wonderful secret. Sonny’s pulse quickened and he longed to be back in that room with her, to feel his fingertips brush against her cheek on their way to running through her strands of silky hair. His own desire taunted him and haunted him. He had to stop.

Sonny abruptly leapt from the chair and turned toward the door, the sudden movement making the room spin once again. He knew he had to eat or risk being of no use to her at all. He glanced at his watch – another twenty minutes at least. But Johnny was still there, watching over her. Thank God for Johnny…who also needed to eat - and sleep. He would run through the cafeteria and bring Johnny something to eat and then send the man home. For the next five hours or so, Sonny would watch over her while she slept and healed.

For Alexis to allow it was a gift...her gift to him.

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“Alexis?”

“Hmm?” Tony’s voice drew her back.

“I need to know that you’re committed to this – that it’s YOUR decision.”

Alexis smiled weakly. “Haven’t you ever heard that old expression about looking a gift horse in the mouth?”

“Huh?”

Alexis frowned. “Don’t push your luck?”

Tony chuckled and Alexis sighed heavily. Her face suddenly brightened. “Leave well enough alone – THAT’S the one I was looking for.”

Tony laughed at her as she settled sleepily down into the pillow with a satisfied smile on her face.

“It’s the rare patient who can make me laugh while they’re under sedation.”

“I’m not that far gone yet. And throwing humor into the face of terror is something I learned early on. It kept me from spending too much time behaving like the big baby you must surely think me to be.”

“You want to talk babies? You should have seen what I just witnessed between two adult men.” He left out the detail of the names Ned and Sonny. “Believe me, you’d know what a baby you AREN’T.”

Her words were beginning to slur as she weakened her fight against the medication. “I’m usually not like this. Ask anyone. I’m a rock.”

“Alexis – you’re the softest rock I know.”

Tony laughed again at the confused expression on her face.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ve been very sweet to me, Tony. Have I thanked you yet?”

Tony grinned. “You’re welcome.”

She struggled to open her eyes and looked toward the door. “Do you know where Sonny is?”

“He’s here. I told him we needed some time to get you ready and we didn’t need him underfoot. He’ll be back shortly.”

“Is…do you know if Ned left?”

“No, he didn’t leave. He knows that you’re doing this and he’s sticking around. He’ll respect your wishes and leave you alone, but he wanted to stay close by in case you decided…you know.”

Tony watched as her face registered a hint of pain mingled with guilt…but she stayed silent.

“Alexis, do you want to see him before…”

“No.” She was quick to answer as she bit her lip and squirmed under he covers. “Will you tell him…I don’t want him to…oh, damn.”

Frustration overtook her, but Tony needed her to calm down.

“Alexis, you need to stop talking now and try to rest.”

“No, not yet. God, I hate this muscle relaxer thing that you did.” She sighed heavily and began again. “Please, tell him that I need to be more myself first...before. I want to see him, but n-not yet. Tell him?”

“I’ll tell him. He’ll be glad to hear it. Now…” Tony pushed his chair back and rose to his feet. “I’m not kidding around anymore. I want you to relax, keep quiet and for God’s sake, stop thinking! Can you do that?”

She wrinkled her brow. “I can’t answer that. I’ve been ordered not to think. I have to think to answer, so therefore I can’t answer any more questions.”

Tony stopped at the door. “I’ll be back before Charlie starts, okay?”

“Question...”

“Wiseacre.”

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Stefan laid his glasses down upon his desk and sighed with exhaustion.

His day had been long and the hour was late, but there was no reason for him to leave. There was no one awaiting his arrival at home, not was the pleasure of his company requested elsewhere. His solitude had overtaken him, as does an insidious disease. Yet now, he had taken up the fight against it. Alexis had reached out to him with her emotions as naked as the wind. In her true time of need she wanted him, and he needed that like air. His sister was still his and they would always forgive, reach out and hold on.

But Stefan was stunned at what she’d held inside and for so long a time. He’d thought her to be more pragmatic – more stoic and contained. While she was still young he tried to toughen her, to teach her a kind of hardness. To dull her sensitivities and make her strong was to make her a true Cassadine woman and ensure her survival. He didn’t understand then that her formative years, her first few on earth, she’d been someone else - not a Cassadine. Alexis was a child born of love…the only of his family to be so conceived. He supposed it wasn’t all that strange that the core of softness deep within her would not be changed to stone. His sister was soft inside…and because it was so, she still was his.

He smiled softly to himself as he pulled his case from his pocket and carefully returned his glasses to their proper resting place. He was certain it was only a matter of time before his family was at his side once more: both sister and nephew. His loss of them was temporary, as his losses had always been before. But his smile quickly faded with the return of Alexis’s image from so many years ago, when his loss of her was almost real. His mind pushed it away, angry that Corinthos resurrected both the terror he’d sought to forget, and the unanswered questions that he hadn’t dared to ask. Stefan shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. He had been a coward, but to what purpose would he have been otherwise? Alexis had been spared - the only one with the lingering memory was himself.

Yet then there came the image of only hours ago. It grieved him to see the tension that masked her face as she fought against the fierce grip of whatever pain laid claim to her. The thing that wracked her body was still kept secret from him and it hurt him to be so denied. Alexis made excuses that she knew he wouldn’t believe and he chose to hold his tongue. She’d only just re-opened the door of trust between them and he feared to try to push it wide. But he meant to know the truth, and he would use whatever means necessary to get it.

Corinthos would be put to good use. He’d soon be looking for his obligatory handout and would surely want more after that. Perhaps another round of verbal thrust and parry would prove revealing. He would seek out Corinthos and volunteer his offering, as was the man’s due, then see what else could be gleaned. And maybe, just maybe, he would find Alexis still be awake. Even if she slept, it would ease his mind to see her once more before returning home – to kiss her cheek and whisper goodnight as he’d done when they were small…before a kiss and a whisper made her flinch.

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“This is a classic case of things looking worse than they really are.”

“I feel like a human public service announcement: ‘This is your body on drugs’.”

Charlie finished checking the last of the monitors, then leaned over the bedrail with a twinkle in his eye. “Tony told me you were a wiseacre.”

“I think that’s his word of the day.” Alexis smiled weakly, trying to hide her intimidation. All the wires and patches connected to her body made her want to rip them off and run…as she’d wanted to do to the IV that morning. It was all becoming just a little too real.

“Now, all that these noisy son-of-a-guns are doing is telling me that you’re okay. Your blood oxygen level, your respiration, your blood pressure – all that good stuff.”

“Tony told me.”

“I know all that beeping and buzzing can make a person nervous, but in another fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be off in dreamland and won’t even know that they’re there. So – do you have any questions? Usually, folks are driving me buggy with them but you’ve been awfully quite. I hope it’s not a matter of the beard.”

“Hmm?”

“My beard. I understand that facial hair can make people not trust you because it looks like you’re trying to hide something. Or so says this magazine article I read on how doctors can have a better relationship with their patients. What I say is, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to hide something - like maybe an ugly mug!’”

“Are you a goofy person, or is that muscle relaxant Tony gave me doing something strange?”

“The former.”

“Ah.” Alexis smiled and Charlie smiled back. So far, his attempts to relax and distract were going well. It was always the hardest part of his job, but he’d never encountered a circumstance like hers and it was fairly daunting. He’d expected her to be more delicate, somehow, but she was indeed a pistol. Still, he wasn’t fooled by anyone’s show of bravado in the face of the detox.. He admired it immensely, but he wasn’t fooled. They were all, always, scared to death.

“So, Alexis – is there anything else you want to ask me before we get started?” His tone had softened, his joviality tempered. If she had questions or doubts, her time to address them was running out.

Alexis considered the kind face looking down at her, then shifted her eyes to the door. “I don’t want to know any more than I do already. I’m too close to bailing as it is.”

Charlie frowned. “Listen to me. You don’t want to withdraw from heroin cold turkey. You have no idea what you almost let yourself in for, but I can tell you right now that you would have wished yourself dead just to make it over. Trust me - I’ve been there. And this kind of detox was not an option available to me at the time.”

Alexis swallowed hard, slightly unnerved.

“I chose to ride the horse - you didn’t. But you did get to make THIS choice, and it was well made.” He broadened his smile. “It’ll all be over before you know it.”

Alexis opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“Shh – you rest up. Even the most dedicated wiseacre needs a break now and then.”

The door had quietly opened, unseen, and Stefan peered inside. The fresh sight of her, tethered to hunks of beeping metal, tightened his muscles.

“What’s going on?” He eyes Charlie with suspicion. “Who are you?”

Alexis closed her tired eyes and turned away from him. “Stefan - why are you here? It’s late.”

Charlie bore Stefan’s stare with obligatory patience and professional silence. Stefan shifted his eyes back to Alexis as he moved to her side.

“I just came to say goodnight and I find…this. Alexis, I know that you were hardly forthcoming with me earlier today, but I would hope that now your confidence in me…has it been restored at all? Please, Alexis, let me help you with whatever it is that you’re going through.”

She opened her eyes and tried to move her hand toward him, but it was too heavy. Her fingers fluttered with the effort and Stefan saw it – he took her hand into his.

“Not now, Stefan. Tomorrow - we’ll talk.”

Stefan looked furtively at the strange little man standing beside her, then allowed his eyes to roam from one machine to the other.

“I meant what I said, Alexis. I will always be your brother. Tell me that I’m not going to lose you.”

“You won’t.” She whispered, her voice losing its strength. “ I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“Alright then. I’ll take you at your word. But…would you like me to stay with you tonight?”

Alexis closed her eyes and smiled. The medication was clouding her brain, tangling the joy with the fear. She slowly shook her head and tried to squeeze his hand.

“No. But thank you for that.”

“Are you sure? I wouldn’t press you, I’d just be here.”

“Sonny is staying with me. I’ll be fine.”

Stefan’s jaw set. “Sonny Corinthos is not family, Alexis. I am your family. You shouldn’t allow that man to insinuate himself with you any more than he already has. He’s nothing but a danger to you, as your presence here in this bed and in this condition can attest to.”

Alexis groaned as her stomach began to cramp from out of nowhere.

“Okay, visiting time is over. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave now. She’s getting a little too stressed out for my liking.” Charlie studied the heart monitor’s indicators and didn’t like what he saw.

“Are you a physician?”

“Why, yes I am. And this is my patient, who I’m sure would be more than happy to pick this up conversation tomorrow, like she said.”

Alexis smiled at both Charlie’s irreverence and the appalled look on her brother’s face. “Stefan, please. Do as he asks.”

“Tomorrow then.”

He slowly bent down to kiss her on the cheek and whisper his goodnight. Alexis didn’t pull away – instead, she tried to hold onto his hand as long as her fingers had strength. He cast a final look at the unsettling picture in the room before closing the door behind him.

The voice that greeted him was startling.

“Hey! Did the doc say you could go in there?” Johnny looked put-upon. He’d thought his quick trip down the hall would be safe with that doctor in the room.

Stefan simply raised his eyebrow in amusement. “Where’s Mr. Corinthos?”

Johnny scowled. “He’ll be back.” He quickly stuck his head into the room, just to make sure all was well. “Two minutes I’m gone...” He muttered to himself.

“Stefan! I’m glad you’re here”

Stefan turned to face Dr. Jones with an accusatory stare. It didn’t detract Tony in the least.

“I need to ask you something about Alexis’s medical history, just as a precaution.”

“There seems to be quite a bit of interest in my sister’s history – and all for just a few scrapes, bruises and a quelled fever.”

“I’m sure you’re enjoying your own sarcasm, but I really don’t have the time for it. We both know that Alexis is dealing with another issue, and it’s still up to her - not me - to discuss it with you. So you can either help me or not. What’s it going to be?”

Stefan cleared his throat and re-aligned his posture. The public dressing-down had caught him off guard and his eyes shifted to Johnny, who made no pretense of minding his own business. Stefan motioned for Tony to follow him as he wandered down the hall.

“As I told Mr. Corinthos, if it’s a matter of medical necessity I will tell you what you need to know.”

“Thank you. It’s a simple thing, really, and you may not even have the answer.”

“Ask.”

“Do you know if Alexis has ever had any kind of general anesthesia, and if so, did she have any problems with it?”

Stefan stopped walking. He stared at the floor for a good, long while before raising his eyes to Tony. They held a true and deeply rooted fear.

“Are you saying that she needs some kind of surgery? Is that what all those machines in there are about?”

“I’m not saying that at all. Look, I know from the skull series that Alexis has an old fracture and sometimes, given the circumstances, this kind of injury will precipitate the need for a procedure to relieve the pressure…well, there’s no need to go into technical jargon. But I do need an answer, if you have one.”

Stefan crossed his arms across his chest and cleared his throat once more. “Alexis sustained the skull fracture in a fall down a flight of stairs. There were a few other broken bones and a punctured lung from a cracked rib. As far as I was told, that was the extent of her injuries, aside from extensive bruising, and I have don’t recall hearing anything about a need for general anesthesia. She was unconscious already, you see.”

Stefan’s eyes had drifted away from Tony’s face and they stared, unfocused, down the hallway. He swallowed hard and his voice grew soft.

“Alexis wouldn’t wake up.”

Tony frowned. “Wouldn’t…are you saying that she was in a coma?”

“Five days. It took me five days to call her back to me. I thought she’d never open her eyes again.” Stefan inhaled sharply as he turned back to Tony. “Thank God I was wrong.”

Tony was incredulous. It was fitting together, and all it took was the asking of a simple question. In the light of her past, Alexis’s inordinate fear of going to sleep and never awakening made sense…and she didn’t even know it herself.

“Stefan, were there any residual effects when she came out of it?”

He shook his head. “No. She was young and strong and she recovered well, almost as if it had never…”

Stefan’s brow furrowed as he remembered something new.

“What?”

“She had no memory of the accident, which I was told was not unusual. But she also had no memory of the two months prior.”

“Two months?”

“Yes. Alexis lost the time since she turned thirteen. She refused to believe that she wasn’t still twelve.” Stefan smiled vaguely. “Odd.”

“Hey Tony!”

Tony turned to see Charlie’s head sticking out the door. The man hesitated at the sight of Stefan.

“Can I see you for a minute?”

Tony returned his attention to Stefan. “Thanks you for your help. I appreciate it. If you’ll excuse me…”

“Of course.”

Stefan watched Tony walk away and then stop to converse with the rude little bearded man. He studied their faces and gestures as they spoke, but he inferred nothing new before they slipped into Alexis’s room. Not a moment later, Corinthos rounded the corner with an urgent gait and a large bag in his hands.

“Hey Boss!”

As Sonny turned his head toward Johnny’s greeting, he caught Stefan out of the corner of his eye…standing silent and unmoving in the middle of the corridor. As Johnny spoke to him in a low and unintelligible voice, Sonny’s eyes held to their distant target. Soon, he clamped a hand on Johnny’s shoulder and handed him the paper bag before his feet followed his gaze. He stopped in front of Stefan and smiled.

“Cassadine.”

“Mr. Corinthos. I appreciate your influence with Alexis on my behalf. It was a great relief to be able to see her for myself.”

Sonny paused. He’d had nothing to do with Alexis agreeing to see him, but as long as he thought it was so…

“But if she says no more, then it’s no more.”

“I take it that you’re looking for your quid pro quo then?”

“You betcha!” Sonny’s smile widened.

“Sonny!” Johnny’s voice beckoned him, and Sonny turned to see Tony and Charlie flanking him. Sonny’s heart skipped a beat – this was it. He turned his face back to Cassadine.

“Here’s another word of Latin origin – manana.”

He spun on his heels and began walking toward the room. Stefan barked after him.

“Corinthos! If Alexis is depending on you, against all advise to the contrary, then you’d best make it your business to come through for her.”

Sonny kept his back turned as he continued to walk away. “It IS my business…and I will. Tomorrow, it’s your turn to do the same.”

Stefan watched as the three men held quick council outside her door. The bearded man soon disappeared back inside, but Sonny’s head was bowed, listening intently as Dr. Jones spoke to him. Suddenly, his head rose and slowly twisted in Stefan’s direction. Stefan met his wide-eyed stare, then gave Sonny the back of his head as he strode down the hall.

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Alexis tried to clear her mind, but the flurry of small noises surrounding her stole her focus. She took a deep breath and allowed the passage of a small shudder that she’d tried to keep at bay. With all the ugly things she’s faced down in her life, the easy way out of this particular ugliness scared her to the center of her being. It seemed TOO easy, and nothing that came that way could prove to be good in the end.

Charlie sniffed and she shifted her eyes toward him. He quietly went about his business of triple-checking everything, pausing briefly to smile at her and ask, “How’s tricks?” He was sweet and he was trying so hard. He reassured her that it would all be over before she knew it…but then what? All that had once been normal in her life was now miles away…and seemed not quite hers any more. She longed to be home. She longed to be out of that bed, unencumbered, to feel the warmth of the sun on her face and the fresh air filling her lungs. Such small things to want - such large things to take for granted. The click of the door handle turned her heavy head.

Tony smiled at her from the open doorway. “Alexis - you don't need me anymore tonight, so I’ll leave you in Charlie’s capable hands.”

“Hey! What am I, chopped liver?” Sonny pushed his way past Tony with a large, dimpled grin. Alexis gave him dimples right back.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s all about you. How do you stand this guy?”

“Practice.” Alexis whispered weakly.

“I’ll see you in the morning – and don’t worry, you’ll do great. Sonny, you have my beeper number.”

“Yeah.”

Alexis tried to respond, but Tony was gone. Charlie moved to her side and leaned his elbows on the bedrail.

“Ready to rock and roll?”

Her eyes shifted from Charlie to Sonny, who couldn’t keep himself from wrapping his fingers protectively around her hand. She couldn’t hide the terror still lurking behind her brave facade, but Sonny now understood. Her fears around this were justified, and he was enraged that her brother would withhold this enormous truth. Alexis had struggled with these unreconciled fears, and Cassadine could have spared her all along.

“Yeah, I’m ready.” Alexis moved her fingers within Sonny’s hold as she resigned herself to the next several hours of oblivion.

“Okay Alexis, I want you to close your eyes and start taking deep breaths. And when I tell you to, I want you to start counting backward from one hundred. Alrighty?”

Alexis nodded, but her eyes stayed focused on Sonny. Sonny smiled and tapped her lightly on the forehead.

“The man said close ‘em.”

Alexis obeyed, and Sonny let his fingertips trail along her brow, seeking to lull her into letting go.

“Breathe”

“Bossy…” But she did as she was told.

“Atta girl.”

“Okay, here we go. Deep breaths now.”

And before Sonny even knew what was happening, Charlie had lowered the mask onto her face. Alexis jerked her head back as he eyes flew open in fright.

“No! Don't…stop it!”

She tried to lift her arms, to push the thing away, but Charlie was swift. He pulled the mask away and placed his hand on her arm.

“Whoa! It’s okay - this isn’t going to hurt you! It’s just…”

“No, you don’t understand!” Sonny all but was frantic. “She can’t have anything over her face like that. Can’t you do this some other way?”

“No!” Alexis’s panic was beginning to consume her, catching her breath in her throat as she tried to speak. “I don’t…want this. I c-can’t…”

“I’m sorry, Alexis, I didn’t know that this would upset you! It’s just nitrous oxide, to help you go to sleep quickly, but I don’t have to use it.”

“Sonny, I’m sorry. I can’t…”

“Yes, you can!” Sonny’s voice was firm as he cupped her face in his hands and leaned down to fix her with another hypnotic stare.

“You can do anything – ANYTHING, Alexis. This is only a few hours of sleep, that’s all. Just like if you were at home, in your own bed. Only with you being such a workaholic, maybe here you'll get an extra hour or so.”

Her breathing began to slow as she locked her eyes into his smile.

“I know that you lost days once before, when you fell and hurt your head. But this is completely different. It’s not like being in a coma at all, it’s just sleep. I promise you.”

Alexis frowned, confused. She didn’t remember telling him.

“I’m here, and I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Do you trust that?”

She struggled to find her voice. “Y-yes.”

Sonny nodded and swept his fingertips across her cheek. “Good.” He looked over at Charlie, who waited patiently. “Okay doc – do your thing.”

“Is it okay Alexis? Are you ready?”

She turned her head toward Charlie’s voice, her eyes following the workings of his hands on the IV tubes. She nodded, her gaze shifting to the bags of pale liquid that hung above her head. Charlie kept one eye on her and one on the syringe he’d plugged into the IV line.

“Okay, let’s start that backward counting. Start at one hundred.”

Alexis’s eyes still watched Charlie’s hands, and she was silent.

“Alexis, look at me.” The gentle pull of Sonny’s hands on her face brought her eyes back to him. “Right here.” Sonny tapped the corner of his eye, then returned his hand to her face when she did as she was told. He leaned down closer, so all she could see was him.

“Come on, Harvard girl - show him how counting is really done.”

The drug was already hitting her, but she tried to form the words. “One…hundred…”

Sonny watched her eyes blink hard against the pull into darkness, as she haltingly tried to whisper out loud.

“Ninety nine, ninety…”

“Honey, don’t fight it. Let it go.”

Alexis stopped her counting and tried to hold onto his eyes. As her lids dropped for the last time, she released her head into his palm with a light sigh.

Sonny looked at Charlie. “Is she out?”

Charlie shook his head and replied with a soft, low voice. “Almost – not quite.” This man’s delicate strength was clearly keeping her whole. “She’s very lucky to have someone who loves her so much. I wish all my patients did. With you at her side, she’ll make it through this just fine.”

Sonny looked up at him with a start. The unabashed candor from a total stranger was both a wondrous and frightening thing. He looked down at the small, fragile woman whose face lay cradled in his hands. As the last seconds of her consciousness slipped away Sonny knew that he was loving Alexis right and true…and he felt as if he would burst.

A soft breeze floated across her face, blowing her bangs back and tickling her skin as the strands of hair danced away from her closed eyes. The last thing her body felt was a soft, warm kiss tenderly touching down on her forehead. The last thing her mind’s eye saw…was Stavros’s face.