Sonny’s fingers worked with gentle care, his eyes casting upward every now and then to revel in the sweeter dreams her serene face now held. She slept so soundly – truly slept. Charlie had said that her body would need sleep when then sedation was over, that they were not the same thing. It had been nearly two hours since they’d moved her from the ICU, and she’d barely stirred after Ned left the room. She was drained, body and soul. Not even the glow of the early morning sun, now filling the room with all its glory, tempted her away from her rest. Even so, Sonny’s touch was light upon her skin as he sought to help her heal.
Alexis felt him and it began to draw her back. Her body stayed still as her eyes slowly opened to the profile of Sonny’s face. He sat beside her, his eyes intently following the languid movement of his hands on her arm. She smiled and watched him through the lifting fog of drowsiness. A reflexive twitch of her fingers made him pause before turning his dark eyes to hers. He showed off his dimples and Alexis sighed.
Alexis swallowed with some difficulty, her throat still feeling the lingering effects of the tube it had held for so long a time. Her voice was rough.
“What are you doing? Playing ‘Connect the Dots’?” She grinned and Sonny looked down at her arm, laughing lightly.
“You looked so deep in concentration, like you were creating a work of art.” She tried to swallow once more, grimacing at the effort and the slight sting of it. “I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“It was Charlie’s suggestion. He swears that vitamin E will make these scratches and…and everything heal more quickly.” Sonny’s smile disappeared - it suddenly occurred to him that the marks could still be sore.
“Am I hurting you?”
Alexis weakly shook her head. “No, you’re not hurting me.”
She wanted to say more, but her head was still cloudy and she barely had her voice.
“How are you feeling?”
She hesitated. “I don’t know quite yet. Ask me again when I’m less groggy.”
She quietly watched as Sonny continued on with her other arm, pure contentment living in his face. Her eyes drifted and the sunlight finally caught her attention. She realized she was in a different place, and her eyes wandered curiously around the room.
“Where did they put me?”
“A private room. Well, semi-private. That cot over there is for me tonight. No more ICU.”
“I though it was going to be no more hospital after the detox was over. Is something wrong?”
“No, you’re fine. You are going home – tomorrow morning.”
“It’s standard to keep you twenty-four hours after the detox. Besides, Tony still needs to make sure you’re going to be able to start eating before he releases you.”
“I will, I promise. Please, I just want to go home.”
Her sad expression tugged at him, but Sonny knew that Tony was right.
“I know you’re disappointed, but tomorrow morning will be here before you know it.” He smiled reassuringly, but Alexis lowered her eyes and shifted her body under the covers.
“I’m beginning to forget what home looks like.”
She turned her head away from him, and Sonny felt like he’d just taken candy from a child. He silently resumed his fingers’ movements on her arm as he considered another approach.
“You know, if you think about it, you’re had a little part of home right here with you this whole time – you’ve had Johnny…and you’ve had me.”
He glanced up to see her eyes shifting back and forth. She shrugged a shoulder and tilted her head against the pillow.
“Well…I suppose it is a rare occasion that I open my front door without seeing at least ONE of you two standing there.”
He smiled, satisfied as his success.
“You really don’t have to look so pleased with yourself. Do you think I don’t know when I’m being ‘handled’?”
Sonny threw his head back with laughter. “Oh man! You just laid yourself open for SUCH a zinger!”
Alexis shook her head and covered her blushing face with her hand. “You are a bad, bad man and I don’t know why I even talk to you.”
Sonny continued to laugh. ''You don't sound so groggy any more. Can I ask how you're feeling now?''
Alexis bit her lip hard, the only way to keep herself from grinning and encouraging his folly. “Alright, if you’re done amusing yourself…could I please have some water?”
His laughter finally died down as he looked to the pitcher on the stand beside her bed. “I’m sorry. I should have thought that you’d need…”
“You’re not a mind reader, Sonny.”
He tried to be, at least where she was concerned. Sonny pressed a button to raise the head of the bed, then poured her a glass of water.
“No straw - I remembered. Can you hold it by yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
He handed her the glass and she took it carefully into both of her unsteady hands. The water began to spill as her hands shook, and Sonny placed his palm under the bottom of the glass to help her drink.
“I guess that answers your question. Thanks.” When done, she released the glass into his palm of his hand and used her new vantage point to more closely survey her new surroundings.
“It’s nice to have a window. I haven’t seen the sun since that morning…in the park.”
Sonny wanted to clear any thoughts of Sorel from her mind. He quickly jumped to his feet and moved to the window.
“Yes, the northern exposure IS the selling point of this particular room, but let’s not neglect the lovely, mass-produced replica of a famous painting – Monet’s “Water Lillies”, to be exact – or the equally lovely yet completely original floral arrangements, courtesy of the GH flower shop downstairs.”
“They ARE lovely. Thank you.”
“You do like pink, right? Most women – and I’m not trying to lump you together with all other women, trust me – but most women tend to like…”
“Yes Sonny, I like pink.”
He paused as she stared at him with a hint of amusement on her face. “Y-you’re not allergic to roses, are you? Some people are allergic…”
“Sonny?” She interrupted his babbling.
She studied his face, which she’d grown to understand so well. But this sudden mood of his eluded her interpretation. “Is something wrong?”
Yes – but he didn’t know what. His sudden rush of anxiety wasn’t something she needed to deal with, so he lied with a smile.
“You look…tired. Have you slept?”
“Sure. Every time you slept, I slept shotgun.”
Alexis didn’t quite believe him, but she understood that he wanted her to. She nodded with a smile. “Okay.” She shifted against the bed, trying to lightly stretch her stiff body. “Oh boy. I feel a hundred years old.”
“Charlie said you’d probably feel achy for a day or two, kind of like you have a light flu.”
“He was right.” She swallowed again, her throat still dry.
“Your throat should feel better soon though.”
“Why is it sore at all?”
He hesitated, but told her the truth. “They had to put a tube down your throat to help you breath.”
She looked at him through widened eyes. “I had to ask, didn’t I?” She sighed and glanced at the table. “I think I need some more water.”
Sonny re-filled her glass, a little less full than before, and handed it to her.
“I think I’ll try it solo this time.”
“Okay. You got it?” Her grip was weak.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Okay.” Sonny smiled and avoided staring as she handled the water glass alone. She was shaky, but the challenge of drinking unassisted was well met. As she handed the glass back to Sonny, a satisfied look on her face, the source of his sudden anxiety was thrown sharply into focus: Alexis wouldn’t be needing him much any more.
She moved her palms flat against the bed, on either side of her hips, and tilted her head down. Sonny watched as Alexis tried to pull herself upright, and he allowed her to maneuver on her own without interference. But the tremble in her weakened arms would only allow her so much control, and she soon looked up at him without a word. He offered her his upturned palms and she sighed before taking his left hand in her right. Her other hand moved instead to his shoulder, silently telling him she needed his support on her back, as she had once before. He knew. He carefully slid his hand behind her, low on her back, below the bruising against her ribcage.
As he lifted her up he felt her fingers closing firmly around the curve of his shoulder.
She was like a feather within his hold, almost weightless. He could feel her body wavering, unsteady, and he would keep his hand in place until certain she no longer needed it there. Alexis slowly lifted her head, her eyes almost level with his. Their faces were so close, and she smiled at the familiar spicy scent of him.
Sonny grinned back. “What?”
She lowered her eyes, embarrassed and shook her head.
But Sonny pressed her with a larger smile. “Tell me – what?”
She deflected. “And I thought passing the bar was a neat trick. Right now, I’m pretty pleased with this sitting up stuff.” Her eyes drifted down to the IV still stuck into her arm and taped firmly against her skin.
“When can I lose this thing?”
“Like I said, you need to be able to start eating first. Maybe later today?”
“Maybe? I’m going home tomorrow, Sonny, whether Tony likes it or not. And I’m not taking this thing with me.”
“I’m just saying that you’ve lost more weight than you probably realize, but you do know how weak your body is right now. Tony needs to make sure that it’s being properly addressed.”
Alexis frowned with a frustrated sigh. “You’re not going to make me have to pull it out myself, are you?”
Sonny’s expression went blank.
“That wasn’t funny.” His voice was flat and the look in his eyes made Alexis release her hand from his shoulder. She tried to pull her hand from his, but he held onto it firmly.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was a whisper as she dropped her head, unable to look into those eyes any longer. “Boy, I’m batting a thousand. First Johnny, now you.”
“First Johnny, now me…what?”
Alexis shook her head and bit her lip. “Nothing.”
“What, Alexis?” He slid his hand a little ways up her back, trying to command her attention. Her spine straightened in response.
“He called me on the carpet yesterday, for making a quip he didn’t find very amusing.”
“Johnny cares about you – a lot.”
Alexis finally lifted her head and looked at him. “I know. He got the same look on his face that you got just now. I can’t seem to stop myself. I get scared, out of the blue and I don’t think, I just say something flippant to keep it all from feeling so damn…big.”
As she tried to avoid his eyes once more, Sonny let go of her hand and cupped her face, making her look at him. “I have no right telling you how to react to what you’ve gone through, and neither does Johnny. You get scared…then we get scared. That’s all.”
“I don’t want to hurt you – either of you. So please, just keep telling me to shut my big mouth whenever I start getting awful.”
He smiled. “You’re not hurting me.”
“Do you think I don’t know hurt when I see it in your eyes, Sonny? I do. And I don’t want to put it there, so please don’t let me.”
Sonny swallowed and pulled his hand away from her face. The warmth of her soft skin was melting into him and his mouth had suddenly gone dry.
“Do you need any more water?”
She shook her head and allowed it to drop slightly. She was feeling her energy slip.
“Well I sure do.”
She smiled as Sonny released the pressure of his hand against her back, supporting her as he laid her down into the bed. He poured himself a glass of water and downed it in a few large swallows. As Alexis pushed the hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ears, Sonny’s eyes caught sight of the scrape on her forehead. Her bangs had kept it hidden before, but now it peeked out from behind the errant strands.
“I forgot about that.” He moved around to the other side of the bed and Alexis followed him with her eyes.
He sat down on the edge of the mattress and gently brushed the short layers up and away from the reddened mark. “Does it hurt still?”
Alexis suddenly felt shy under his intense scrutiny of the violence that had been done to her. She bit her lip and lowered her eyes as she lightly shook her head.
Sonny squeezed a drop of the vitamin oil onto his thumb and touched it to the skin above her brow, carefully smoothing it where it was needed. She was suddenly so tired. Her eyes slowly closed and she swallowed nervously, her whole focus drawn to the feel of Sonny’s touch.
“Charlie said, huh?” Her voice was low and raspy.
“H-he’s a very kind man.” She remembered his reassuring demeanor and the vague smell of pipe tobacco about him. Sonny smelled of cloves…
“He liked you too.”
Alexis opened her eyes again and raised them upward. “Sonny?”
When his gaze met hers, his hand stopped and rested in place against her temple. He saw a wealth of feeling in her face as she looked at him, searching for the words that failed to come. His heart began to pound and he felt himself disappearing into her dark, velvety eyes.
“I wish everyone could see the you that I get to see. Why don’t you let them?”
“Because…you’re you, and everyone else is everyone else.”
“Sonny, I…you’ve been…”
God, I love you...
He tightened his jaw and clenched his teeth to keep himself from overflowing, from blurting out the truth that thrived in every corner of his soul. Could she feel it in his touch…or see it in his eyes? Sonny had to look away.
Alexis swallowed and smiled a crooked, left-dimpled smile. “I’m sorry – my vocabulary seems to have taken its leave of me and left me stranded.”
Her eyes had already told him everything.
“Alexis...” He smiled and took a renewing breath before allowing himself to finish his thought with a soft, whispering voice. “I’d do anything that was in my power to do for you.”
She waited for him to look at her once more and then she answered with a softness of voice all her own. “Back at ya.”
“WOOPS! Bad timing, kids?”
They hadn’t heard the light rapping at the door, and Charlie’s big green eyes suddenly gleamed in the path of sunlight that spread across the room. Only his bearded face was sticking into the room from around the door’s edge, making him look a bit like a puppet.
Sonny pulled away from Alexis and waved Charlie inside. “Come on in. I was just telling Alexis about the virtues of vitamin E.”
Charlie grinned and looked at Alexis as he slipped into the room, his arms held behind his back. “Ya know, there’s nothing like having someone ask for your advise and then take it.”
She rolled her head against the pillow as he approached the side of the bed. “I know. I’ve made a profession out of it.”
Charlie squinted at her. “Hmm. I think Sonny was right - about your mind.”
Alexis frowned at Sonny. “Were you two talking about me while I was asleep and unable to defend myself?”
“Oh, yeah!” Sonny was emphatic as he chuckled.
“You know how I hate that.”
Alexis opened her mouth to fling a retort, then changed her mind. “Whatever he said about me, don’t believe it.”
“Oh, I believe every word!” Charlie winked at Sonny, who winked back.
“I saw that - stop it!” Alexis pouted, holding back a smile of her own.
“Alexis, I brought you a little something for being such a good patient. I know lollipops are traditional – call me a rebel.”
Charlie whipped his arms out from behind his back and held a small black and white stuffed animal up in his hands. Alexis tilted her head.
She squinted and looked at Sonny. “Is this another private joke between you two? Why a penguin…or shouldn’t I ask?”
“Because they’re funny looking.”
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
Charlie sighed and turned the penguin sideways, inspecting its profile. “I defy anyone to look at a penguin without cracking a big, honking smile.” He turned it back to face Alexis, who grinned wide. Charlie gently touched his fingertip beside the dimple etched into her cheek.
“THAT is why a penguin.”
“Aww…how sweet.” Her dimples grew as Charlie tucked the animal into the crook of her arm. She stroked her fingers against the soft fur of its head, and Charlie looked up at Sonny with a somber expression.
“Uh-oh. It seems you’ve just been replaced.”
Sonny laughed heartily. “Ouch!”
Charlie cleared his throat and looked at Alexis with a more earnest face. “So, how are you feeling?”
“Good!” Her bright tone was forced, and Sonny narrowed his eyes at her.
“You’re not going home today, Alexis, so you might as well tell him the truth.”
Alexis looked at him sideways, and Sonny raised his eyebrows in response. “I see those little wheels turning!”
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you?”
Sonny smiled and Alexis sighed – she was busted.
“I feel like you said I would feel, I guess.”
“Throat scratchy, muscles aching like you’ve been baby alligator wrestling.”
She smiled and widened her eyes. “Kinda.”
“Are you feeling anything else?”
Alexis looked at him intently for a moment, then swallowed and bit her lip with a slight frown.
“What? You can tell me.”
Her eyes darted to Sonny who began to rise to his feet.
“I can leave, if this is private.”
“No, Sonny. Don’t.” She looked at Charlie with a solemn expression on her face. “I’m just having a little trouble with my eloquence right now.” She took a deep breath and sighed it out. “I am feeling something else – I’m feeling…somewhat human again. Thank you, for that.”
Charlie smiled wide. “Eloquence is a matter of perspective. The life in your eyes is all the eloquence you need – and all the thanks I want. And I’m sorry I can’t send you packing today, but it is standard to keep an eye on you for at least…”
“Twenty-four hours, I know. What’s the big significance of that particular number anyway? What if a day was only sixteen hours long instead of twenty-four? Would sixteen hours be standard for keeping an eye on me insead? Sixteen is a good number, I think. The sky won't fall if it's sixteen instead of twenty-four.”
Charlie’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “This isn’t a court of law, councellor. You don’t get to plead for a reduced sentence. And don’t even think about trying to mix me up with a circular argument because it won’t work.”
As Alexis sighed and settled back into the bed, Sonny watched her eyelids lower in tired defeat.
“You really DID talk about me, didn’t you?”
“Mm-hmm.” Sonny grinned at her.
“Speaking of you going home, I need to know if you live with someone or if you live alone.”
Sonny looked at him questioningly.
“Easy there slugger, I’m not being fresh! We just want to make sure that the patient has someone with them for the first day or two after detoxing.”
Alexis laughed uncomfortably. “To do what, keep me from shooting up?”
Sonny closed his eyes and Alexis froze. She felt the shame rise up in her.
“Oh God…I did it again.” She turned to Sonny, willing him to look at her. She slid her hand across the bed to him and without looking up, he laid his own hand upon it.
“Sonny, I’m sorry.” She turned to Charlie, a pink flush taking hold of her cheeks. ''Charlie, I apologize. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Charlie cocked his head, green eyes warm and open. “You didn’t. I know a well-honed coping mechanism when I see one…and I expect Sonny here does too.”
Sonny smiled and finally looked up at her with nothing but acceptance in his eyes.
Charlie cleared his throat and continued with his explanation. “We want someone with you for support, Alexis. You’re healing not just from the effects of the heroin, but also from the other medical problems surrounding it.”
Alexis looked at him intently, still stunned at how smoothly the word ‘heroin’ flowed from other peoples’ mouths. “I have a house guest right now, so I won't be alone.”
“I’m not going to let Zander be responsible for taking care of you. He's a kid!”
“He doesn’t need to take care of me, Sonny.”
“I’ll bring him over to my place – he can stay with me for a little while.”
“And then what?”
“And then I hire a nurse to stay with you…”
“I’ll hire a nurse…”
Charlie sat up in surprise at the sudden strength in her voice, but Sonny simply raised an eyebrow.
“I mean it, Sonny! I’m not going to be hovered over and ordered around by some stranger in white polyester.”
“Fine! No nurse! You’ll get me instead. I’m not a stranger and I don’t do polyester, so I’LL hover and order you around!”
“You can hover from across the hall, and as far as ordering me around goes…”
Charlie whistled between his fingers. “Okay, time out!”
Alexis looked at him furtively, her fingers absently fidgeting with the penguin. She closed her eyes and sighed, the best of her strength depleted in this sudden surge of normalcy.
“Don’t mind us Charlie. This is what Alexis and I do best.” Sonny’s voice was soft as he watched her face, waiting for her to open her eyes and smile...to make that same connection.
“I guess I really do have a little part of home here with me.” She rolled her weary head toward him and flashed him her dimples, eyes slowly rising up to him a moment later.
Charlie cleared his throat again, feeling quite out of the loop. “You two can discuss it later. Alexis, just make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with, okay?”
She didn't respond, biting down on her lip instead - Sonny read the nervous gesture as a sign that she didn’t want that someone to be him.
“I’ll call anyone you want me to call. Or, um…Ned is still here, so I could just go ask him…”
His voice trailed off and Alexis stared at Sonny’s down-turned face, which bore a vaguely sad expression that she didn’t understand. Her continued silence at his utterance of Ned’s name made Sonny look up at her. It occurred to him that she might now recall her waking mind's fears and Ned's comfort.
“Do you remember when you first woke up earlier this morning, and you were so afraid for him? Thought something had happened to him?”
She nodded. “I thought I was dreaming, at first. But I know that he was here. Did I scare him again?”
“No. You made him happy.”
She smiled wryly and turned her head further into the pillow. “Making him happy would be quite an enigma for me these days.”
As Alexis shifted her body with some effort, a small pain shot through center and it lifted her chest into a slight arch. “Ow...”
Sonny and Charlie both sat up with a start, and Sonny reached out to her.
She nodded, grimacing. “My ribs are a little sore - it's just the bruises on my back, I think.” She sighed once more, curling the penguin up in her arm as the pain subsided.
“Charlie, is it normal for me to want to sleep again, because I think I’m halfway there.”
“Sleeping is good – it’s when your body repairs. If you feel like you want to drift off, don’t fight it.”
“Okay.” Her voice was already weakening.
Charlie rose from his chair. “Well, you think about your what we talked about and let Tony know what you’ve decided before you leave tomorrow, okay?”
“You got it.”
“And Tony will be giving you some medication to take for the next week, and he’ll also give you my phone numbers – including my home phone. You call me at any time, day or night, for any reason. That goes for both of you.”
Alexis smiled, her eyes still closed. “Any reason? Does that include asking you to come over and kill an errant spider that's found its way into my living room?”
Charlie shuddered. “Eesh! I hate spiders! Sorry kid, but you’re on your own where creepy-crawlies are concerned.” He reached down and took her hand, cupping it within both of his. “Alexis, it’s been a trip.”
Alexis laughed out loud and opened her heavy lids. “Good one…wiseacre.” She closed her eyes and snuggled down into the bed, penguin tucked close against her neck. “See ya Charlie.”
Sonny followed him to the door. “My friend, I owe you big time.” He held out his hand and Charlie shook it heartily. “If there’s ever anything that I can do for you, consider it done.”
Charlie smiled and glanced back at Alexis. “I don’t quite understand certain dynamics that have been going on here, and they’re not any of my business…”
“He’s her ex-fiance. He’s having trouble with the ‘ex’ part.” His eyes lowered. ''So is she.''
Charlie nodded. “Well, you know what they say – that worth having is worth fighting for.”
“She doesn’t need fighting, she needs peace.”
“Yes, she does.” Charlie smiled and cocked his head. “And so do you, my friend. So do you.”
In a heartbeat, Charlie was gone. Sonny stared at the now empty space beside him, quickly feeling the loss of the keeper of his truth. He silently made his way back to Alexis, now enveloped in the peace of childlike sleep with a soft, fluffy ball of comfort nestled against her skin. It was good for her to rest through the last early hours of the morning, as her day would not allow her much more peace. Taggert needed her statement – he’d run of stalling time and now she’d have to be strong. And then there was Ashton. Sonny knew she was ready - that today would be the day that Ned would either feed her strength or take away what little she had left.
He sat down in Charlie’s empty chair and leaned forward, laying his head on the edge of the bed just below her hand that rested upon the blanket. He looked up once more at her sweet, beautiful face before closing his eyes, pressing his cheek flush against the blanket. His mind held the image of her as he locked it into brain, never wanting to forget the sight of her. Soon, as he felt himself begin to drift, Sonny smiled at the imagined sensation of her fingertips gently brushing against his forehead and beckoning him to follow her into sleep.
Alexis smiled back...and it was she who then followed him.