The steamy mist engulfed him, wrapping him in its warmth like soft, enveloping arms. He lifted his face up to welcome the hot stream that thundered against his body. He moved the cloth back and forth, over and over across his skin to cleanse the murderous desires that seeped from every pore. It didn’t matter how hard he rubbed – they would still be there.
Sonny stepped back from the steady burst of water and his shaking hands dropped the cloth to the floor. His skin tingled and the deepening pink color glowed through the moist fog. His skin…her skin…so soft and warm. Sorel had stolen the feel of it from her and it made Sonny cringe. What had Alexis felt when Sorel’s hands were touching her skin? When his fingers were in her hair and his arms around her body? His blood pulsed in his temples, his desperate heart hammering him with its heat and rage and its unrelenting want.
He felt his body release back against the cold, tiled wall. He closed his eyes and squeezed them tight as a shiver ran up his naked spine. His hands rose up to rub at his face and he opened his eyes into his palms, staring…studying. Sonny’s hands had barely left her from the moment she was found, relentless in their need for contact. What had Alexis felt when Sonny’s hands were touching her skin? When it was Sonny’s fingers in her hair? She’d held Sorel’s face in her head while hearing Sonny’s voice – he couldn’t bear the thought of her also seeing it while feeling Sonny’s touch. His touch was all the love that he was free to give her, and now he feared to give it at all. He didn’t want to be like Sorel – stealing the feel of her to feed his own need.
Sonny’s eyes flew open and he turned quickly, smacking the water off with his fist. He couldn’t breath – the air too thick and wet. He slid the shower door aside and grabbed a towel as he walked, dripping, into the bedroom. The cold air hit him with a welcome shock and he shivered again, shaking himself off as he knotted the towel around his waist. He stood in the middle of the room, breathing deep and steady to calm the merciless pounding in his chest. He was a fool…such a fool. He had no right to love anyone, not with the irrevocable life he’d chosen for himself. Alexis deserved so much more.
He began to pace back and forth, his footsteps a dull, consistent thud in the stark silence of the room. Before Sonny knew what he was doing, he found himself standing beside the dresser, his hand reaching to pull open a drawer. He stared down into it, and the neatly folded cashmere scarf stared back...pale blue and tinged with the faint stain of her blood. His dark eyes were soon swimming, the hot salty tears quietly threatening to spill. His mouth went dry as he lifted the softness from its safe place, burying his face into the last lingering trace of her scent. He was overwhelmed, awash in her, and unexpected sob wracked his body. Sonny tensed, fighting it back.
He loved Alexis with all that he had, and it was killing him.
He knew in his soul that Ashton was right – for Alexis to be safe, Sonny would have to cut her out of his life for good. It was unthinkable, unbearable...but there would always be other Sorels. His fingertips grazed the light streak of red against the blue in his hands and Sonny conjured the image of Sorel’s bloody, twisted face in his mind. He thought that he would feel pleasure at what he had done, but it left him strangely numb inside. He conjured the sound of bone cracking against metal, of dripping blood gurgling in the man’s throat…and still, he was numb. There was nothing he could do to erase the pain and terror that Alexis had suffered - she would wear what was done to her forever. If Sorel lived or died, it would always be so. In the world of Sonny and Sorel, there was no such thing as justice - there was only protection.
Protection…Alexis would NOT get on that stand. If it meant that Sorel would pre-decease his own trial, Sonny would make it happen. So be it. His head slowly rose up, eyes locking into their own refection in the mirror. He pressed the scarf into his chest, where the scar from her last brush with death lay deep within his own body. He closed his eyes and remembered her wet hands on this face and her hair brushing against him as her voice commanded him to be strong.
Sonny sighed, flooded with ache for her - her strength, her softness, and her sweet, loving heart...and those eyes. He wanted to be with her. He missed her - and he couldn't help but hope that she missed him too. His lids opened once more and stared into the mirror, into the darkness of his own eyes…and he saw the darkness of hers instead. He took a deep breath, swallowed hard and smiled strangely as he whispered into the empty air.
“My God, Alexis. What have you done to me?”
“Dr. Jones wouldn’t like it.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
“I said no!” Johnny shook his head for emphasis, twirling the stuffed penguin by its wings.
Alexis wouldn’t give up. “I’m not asking for a pitcher of margaritas, just a little cup of coffee. What’s it going to hurt?”
Johnny gave her a blank look. “Caffeine isn’t good for you, Alexis. And you know it.”
She squirmed under the covers, knowing that he was right but refusing to admit it. She was getting too drowsy and she wanted the feeling to go away - she’d slept too much and the dreams wouldn’t stop…and she hated the way she was waking up. Alexis rubbed at her eyes with a frown.
“May I have my penguin back, please?”
Johnny looked down at the fuzzy toy in his hands and sighed. As he raised his eyes back to Alexis’s petulant face, he could see her frustration mounting.
“You see? This is why I won’t get you coffee. You may not WANT to sleep, but you clearly NEED to because…well, because you’re getting kind of grumpy.”
He handed the penguin back to her and she stared at him, hesitating before taking it with lowered eyes.
“Sorry.” Alexis whispered softly, her gaze darting back to the door. She leaned back and snuggled the softness into her neck, hugging the penguin against her body with crossed arms.
Johnny glanced at his watch, half wishing he could take back his teasing remark. He hadn’t meant to make her feel bad.
“You know, it would have been easier for you if you’d just gotten me a cup of unleaded and let me think it was the real thing. It would have shut me up and I probably wouldn’t have known the difference anyway.”
Johnny smiled. “Do you really think I’d pull a fast one on you? But it’s okay for you go to sleep, Alexis. I’ll be here – promise.”
A slight flush crossed her face as she glanced up at him, embarrassed by her lingering fear of being alone. Johnny knew he should to call Sonny - for his own peace of mind as well as hers. It was completely unlike him to leave her this way, without explanation and for such a long time, and Johnny was somewhat worried. But he didn't want her to see it, so he nodded toward the dark of the window and nudged her leg, urging her to follow his gaze.
“Besides, it’s nighttime, and sleep is what people do at night.”
“What time is it?”
He hesitated. “Seven forty-five.”
Her eyes widened. “What am I, six years old?”
“Asked the woman with the stuffed animal in her arms.” He grinned.
Alexis weakly swung the penguin at him and tried not to laugh. “I’m serious! Come on Johnny, it’s too early to go sleep. I’m usually still working at seven forty-five! I’m usually still working at EIGHT forty five.”
He shrugged his shoulders and his smile grew. “Yeah. Me too. But I say, the workaholic should take advantage of the down time while she can.”
Alexis leaned back into the pillow and propped the animal up in her lap, looking down at it fondly. She took a deep breath and sighed, her lids feeling decidedly heavy. She knew she was being ridiculous – she couldn’t fight her drowsiness forever, nor would she allow herself to use Sonny as a crutch. She wouldn’t burden him any more than she already had, no matter how much he was willing to give of himself. It wasn’t fair for her to keep taking from him like she was. Alexis glanced up at Johnny, who had pulled both lips between his teeth, biting down as he waited for her to do or say something.
“Okay, you win – again. I’ll close my eyes for a little while.'' She looked down at he IV. ''But if Tony comes to take this thing out, you have to wake me up.”
“You got it.”
She handed him the penguin, all innocence on her face. “Here. You can play with him some more if you want to. I only took him back because I was grumpy.”
Johnny instinctively moved to take it, then pulled back with reddened face. “No, that’s okay.”
He watched her dimples broaden as she took the furry creature back into her arms. He tried his best to keep from smiling back – Alexis looked too pleased with herself at having made him blush.
“Alright, you got me. Your turn next.”
Her eyes grew wide in mock fright as she nestled her head into the pillow. “Uh-oh.”
“Would you rather I stay in here, or wait back out…”
A soft knock at the door interrupted him. Alexis turned her head toward the sound as a renewed energy ran through her.
The door slowly opened and Stefan appeared in the threshold. His gaze shot straight to his sister’s face and he smiled, his entire visage lightened at the sight of Alexis so alert, her eyes bright…her body free of machinery.
“Stefan.” Alexis worked to push herself further upright as she bit down on her lip. Johnny reached to help her, but she shook her head. “I can do it, Johnny. Thanks.”
“May I come in?”
Alexis stared at him, studying his expression and unable to read it.
“I thought you’d forgotten about me.” Her voice was low and shy, and Johnny glanced at Stefan sideways, trying to give him a silent warning to tread lightly. Stefan ignored him, his eyes still firmly trained on her.
“Forgot you? Hardly.”
He stood in the doorway, waiting to know if he’d be welcomed inside and allowed to stay. Alexis was still as she peered up him, the small stuffed animal clutched against her chest. When Stefan’s eyes caught sight of it, a lump formed deep in his throat. There had been a similar source of comfort that he himself has laid in her young arms more than twenty years before – a small brown teddy bear that he’d given her as a child. Alexis had loved that tattered thing, and Stefan had snuck into her hospital room late that first night and tucked it under her sheets, hoping to keep her from feeling so alone in her deep, unyielding sleep...or being too afraid if she should wake up in the middle of the dark night. Alexis did love that little brown bear - and when Nikolas was born, she’d given her source of comfort over to him.
The silence in the room was making Johnny nervous, and he finally had to break it.
“Alexis, do you still want to sleep or…”
“I can come back in the morning.” Stefan interrupted.
“No – please stay. It’s too early to go to bed anyway, right Johnny?”
Johnny furrowed his brow as he rose. “I’ll make myself scarce then.’
“Not too scarce.”
He smiled. “I’ll be…well, you know the drill.”
“I know the drill.”
Johnny brushed past Stefan. “She’s had a long day.” His low voice held a solid warning.
Stefan glanced at him with mild amusement. “I understand.”
“Hey - I AM right here, you know.” Alexis scolded.
Johnny ignored her, holding his eyes to Stefan’s as he pulled the door shut behind him.
“I’m glad you’re being well looked after.”
“Yeah, I am.”
Stefan stood staring at her, hesitant to approach further. “Alexis, I…I don’t want to keep you from getting your rest.”
“You aren’t. Please, come in – sit down.” Stefan did as she asked and as he came closer, Alexis saw in the tired, strained look in his eyes. She knew that something was wrong.
“Stefan, is Nikolas alright?”
He frowned. “Of course – as far as I know. He still wants nothing to do with me, so I suppose if anything was wrong with him I wouldn’t be told any sooner than I was told about you.”
He couldn’t keep the bitterness from invading his tone. Although the bitterness was directed toward himself rather than Alexis, he still saw the hurt register in her.
“I’m sorry, Alexis. I know I have only myself to blame - not you and not Nikolas. But why do you ask if there’s something wrong with him? Is there something I should know?”
“No…it’s just the look on your face. I know you, Stefan, and something is wrong. It can’t be because of me because you’ve already seen…oh.” She stopped suddenly and lowered her eyes.
“You didn’t forget about me, you were just avoiding me.”
He hesitated. “Yes. I confess that I was.”
Alexis’ breath caught in her throat – he’d found out, as she suspected he would. “I suppose that means I no longer need to explain what you walked in on last night.”
Stefan looked at his sister in silence for a long while, his voice a whisper when it finally came. “No…no, you don’t.”
Alexis began to pale and she unconsciously pulled her telltale arms tighter into herself and away from his view. Her head followed down in the direction of her lowered gaze and she nodded slowly in resignation. Stefan could see the same glint of shame within her that he’s seen the day before, only now he knew the true source of it and it enraged him.
“Alexis, don’t!” He leaned toward her and she turned her face away, just slightly.
“Don’t you dare allow the evil this man did to you – what evil ANY person does to you – to make you feel ashamed! You did not invite this. It was not your fault...you had no control.”
Alexis burst into nervous laughter, her hand flying to her face as Stefan’s body stiffened at her outburst. Her eyes shifted to his face as her laughter quickly died and gave way to a quiet stream of unwanted tears. She wiped them away and sighed, her expression giving way to a wry smile.
“I had no control. Boy, don’t I know it.”
Stefan felt helpless. The only thing he knew to do was to reach out to her – Alexis met him halfway, their fingers interlocking midair. Alexis smiled up at him through her stinging, wet eyes, feeling secure in her brother’s touch. She gave his hand a slight tug and Stefan slid his chair even closer, leaning his elbows on the edge of the bed and clasping his other hand around their laced fingers.
“Alexis, I am not ashamed of you. I am, however, ashamed of myself. I hesitated to come see you because I was afraid of how I might react in front of you – I needed to let it sink in first.”
“Please, let me finish.” He took a deep breath and bit his lip, which made Alexis smile inside. “Clearly, I need to think more before I act. Or, react, as the case may be.”
Alexis felt a flush of pride welling up in her over this man she loved so much, who was trying so hard to prove himself worthy of it. There was nothing he could do that would take him from her heart.
“Alexis, I also need you to know that I didn’t set out to uncover that which you’d deliberately keep from me.”
“It doesn’t really matter any more.”
“It does matter. It matters to me that you trust me. My only intent was to learn something of that doctor who was in your room last night. I didn’t know the man and, quite frankly, I didn’t like him.”
Alexis smiled. “That’s because he booted you out and he didn’t care what your last name was.”
“Yes, well…he hurt your pride. And so did I, because I let him kick you out.”
“I do wish you’d been honest with me right then and there. You scared me, Alexis. Do you have any idea how you looked, hooked up to so many machines and half-conscious?”
“I really don’t want to think about it, Stefan. I was scared too – I mean irrationally terrified, and I just couldn’t deal with anything more than getting through the detox without coming completely unglued.”
Stefan’s breath hitched – Corinthos had been right. Alexis had been unduly terrified and confused about her fears.
“Dr. Jones asked me about the aftermath of your fall – the last time you were hospitalized. He thought it might be pertinent to the treatment you were about to undergo. If I’d known what you were facing, I’d have told him sooner. Or sought to calm your fears myself.”
“So that’s how Sonny knew. He said something to me about it.” She frowned and pushed at her hair, trying to clarify the fuzzy bits and pieces from the night before. The sedative that Tony had given her beforehand blurred things in her mind.
“I was afraid and I wanted to back out, but he said that it wouldn’t be like the coma. I didn’t remember telling him about that, but there are a lot of things I don’t remember too well.” She looked back up at Stefan’s somber face, still bathed in regret.
“I do remember that you surprised the hell out of me, suddenly showing up at my bedside the way you did. And I have to admit that I was glad when Charlie made you leave.”
Stefan scoffed. “That doctor had about as much professional decorum as…”
“That doctor gave me back my life.”
The earnest expression on her face quieted his protestations. Stefan’s gaze washed down her arms and he felt her fingers tense within his hold. He firmed his own hands around hers and looked into her eyes, commanding that they meet his.
“If that is true, then I owe him a great debt. I wasn’t there to protect you or to save you…I am grateful to those who were.”
Alexis’ eyes began to team once more as she took in the love that her brother’s eyes gave to her. “I really, really missed you. Don’t ever die on me again, okay?”
Stefan smiled, feeling wave of the familiar kind of closeness that they’d both allowed to languish for far too long a time.
“I never told you this, but when you suddenly appeared on the island, unheard of and out of nowhere, I thought you’d been sent there for me. I thought God had sent you to love me and be loved BY me – to give me a sense of hope and purpose, and someone to call my own.”
He cleared his throat and bowed his head, casting his watery eyes to the floor. If he’d kept on holding them to hers, he’d have lost his runaway tongue.
“You were so small – so frightened and confused. Everything and everyone you’d ever known was gone from your world…even your own name. For the longest time, you would look no one in the eye but me. You would willingly accept no one’s touch but mine. You wouldn’t even speak, but when I spoke to you, you would listen.”
Stefan’s chin was trembling against all efforts to keep it still. He could hear Alexis’ labored breathing in the full silence of the room and it made him smile. That sound had lulled him to sleep so many times, when the frightening dreams of children send them crawling into each other’s beds for solace in the middle of the night.
“I remember the very first time that it was you who reached out to me. You put your tiny hand into mine and you smiled at me. I was surprised to discover the dimples in your cheeks. You hadn’t smiled before - I hadn’t even known that they were there.” He laughed nervously.
“It was then, at that moment, that I finally understood what pure trust felt like...and pure love. You were, in effect, my first love.”
Stefan could no longer ignore the small sniffles he heard coming from her and he finally gathered the courage to look her in the eye. As his chin trembled, so did Alexis’ whole body, and a thin trail of water stained a path from the corner of her eye down the bruise on her cheek. She pushed the wetness away with the palm of her hand and laughed lightly when she caught him doing the same – when he thought she wasn’t looking.
“You were my second. My mother was my first - sorry.”
He smiled. “That is as it should be.”
“As it should have been for you too.”
His face tensed. “Helena is irrelevant. You are what matters to me – you and Nikolas. Alexis, do you believe that I was telling you the truth about Helena? That she tried to murder me?”
“Of course I believed you. I never doubted your story, it was your course of action that gave me a little trouble. Stefan, I’ve been on the receiving end of Helena’s vitriol my whole life and I know that it was only a trifle better for you. My father may not have been a father to me, but at least he never sought my death. I can only imagine what it did to you to know that your own mother…”
“I only ever vaguely regarded her as such.” Stefan’s tone was cold, his body rigid in self-protection against the emotions Alexis was dangerously close to stirring.
“Does it really matter? She was still your mother, in spite of all else.” Alexis suddenly recognized that her brother’s bearing was asking her to stop her course.
“I only wish that you had confided in me – that I could have been there for you, to make you know that you are loved. I know firsthand how easy it can be for a Cassadine to forget that someone can truly love them. You can count on me to be that someone who will always love you.”
Stefan swallowed and inhaled sharply, his hand leaving its place around her fingers and moving up to cup her un-bruised cheek. She turned her face into his touch and closed her eyes with a smile. Stefan felt a flush of warmth run through him as he was thrown back in time, back to when it was him and Alexis against the world.
“And for you, Alexis, it will always be me.”
Alexis opened her eyes and saw the twinge of sadness still inside him. He was grieving for the son that he’d lost, and the nephew that he now believed he’s lost. “The other someone is Nikolas. He will always love you, Stefan, he’s just hurt and angry right now. He will come around, I promise you he will.”
Stefan shook his head with a sad smile as his fingers softly stroked her face. “I’ve tried.”
Alexis covered his hand with her palm. “Stop trying. Let it go – let him come to you when he’s ready. I understand what it's like to need to be the one to reach out, and you know that I do. I hope you’ll listen to what I’m telling you.”
Stefan nodded and bit his lip. Alexis moved his hand down and turned her face to press a soft kiss against it. The pain she saw in him was like the pain she’d seen in Ned when he’d first walked invited, into her room – wordless and shy, afraid of where he stood.
“I don’t discount how difficult it is for you, and I’m sorry that I added to the pain and loss you were already feeling.”
“It wasn’t your fault. You did eventually ask for me, as I knew you would. That’s all that matters.”
Something new occurred to her - some way that she might help him. “Stefan - Nikolas doesn’t know what happened to me. It’s going to be public knowledge very soon, and I’d like for him to hear about it from you. Would you do that for me?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“What I don’t want is for him to read about me in the paper.”
“Of course not. Regardless of how Nikolas feels about me, this is a family concern and it is best that he hears it from family.”
“And…it’s also a perfect way for you to prove your willingness to back off – you can just go there, tell him what happened, and then walk away. At least this is a valid reason for showing up at his doorstep, instead of one of your usual transparent excuses that basically just succeeds in making him feel harrassed. No offense.”
Stefan cocked his head at her and allowed a small smile at her ribbing of him. “None taken.”
“But there’s no need to tell him the…details. Not yet. And in case he asks, I’m not ready to see him – not until I look better. I don’t want to upset him.”
She sighed and began to scratch at her arm as her eyes wandered across the room. She didn’t even try to hide the anxiety that was rising up in her at the thought of what was to come.
“I just wish I knew how much of it was going to be made public.”
“I’ll tell Nikolas the minimum and the most important thing – that you’re safe and sound.”
“And back home tomorrow.” Alexis grinned wide as she settled back against the pillows, stifling a yawn.
“You’re well enough? Already?”
“Mm-hmm. Not that it didn’t take a bit of arm-twisting. Tony Jones is one tough nut to crack.”
Stefan smiled wryly. “Yes, I know. Alexis, I want you to come home with me. Come to Wyndemere, where you can rest and regain your strength with a full staff of servants at your disposal. And me, of course.”
“I love that you asked, but no.”
“Alexis, you need proper looking after.”
She shook her head. “You sound like everyone else who’s come through that door. I can take care of myself, and I need to be home. MY home.”
“Then let me hire someone – a nurse, to make sure…”
“Good grief! Are you sure you aren’t in collusion with Sonny?”
Stefan stared at her, uncertain of what she meant and wondering if Corinthos had spoken of their meetings. No – he wouldn’t have told her.
“There’s no need for you to look so offended.”
“At my comparing you with Sonny, what with both of you threatening to sick a nurse on me. Read my lips – NO!”
Stefan sat up straight in his chair, loosening his hand from hers. “Apparently we do both have your best interest in mind, even though you flout that which is only common sense.”
Alexis ignored his admonishing tone. “You’re more than welcome to come check up on me any time you want - and often. But I promise, I’ll be fine.” Another yawn tried to break through, and she covered her mouth to hold it back. “Don’t worry about me.”
“But I do. Such an old habit is fairly difficult to break.” He shifted, watching his next steps carefully. “But this obsessive concern from Corinthos is fairly new. Can you explain him to me?”
“Can anyone really explain Sonny Corinthos?”
“And still, you jest.”
“You expected otherwise?”
“Alexis.” Stefan’s voice grew firm, his face reproaching.
“Okay.” She set her jaw and looked Stefan directly in the eye. “Sonny is my client and my landlord. He is also, despite the very strong objections of everyone I know, my friend.”
“And, his extreme attentiveness is nothing more than him taking responsibility for what someone else did to to me, which he mistakenly believes is his fault. As strange as this may sound to your ears, given your preconceived notions about him, Sonny is a man of some honor and he’s acting accordingly. He’s doing everything humanly possible to make sure that I’m okay, and at great expense to himself, I might add.”
Stefan frowned. “If there’s a matter of expenses…”
“I’m not talking about that kind of expense.”
Stefan studied her face carefully, trying to discern how much of Corinthos’ true feelings she’d really gleaned. He knew that this trauma had caused her emotions to run the gamut, and her sensibilities were very likely compromised.
“Alexis – please be careful with that man…and his associates.”
She shrugged her shoulders and raise her eyebrows with a grin. “Too late.”
“I do wish that you’d refrain from making light of the fact that your…relationship with Corinthos almost got you killed – twice!”
Alexis sighed and shifted her weight against the bed with a slight, tired groan. “I seem to be a bit of a cat – nine lives and such.”
Stefan opened his mouth to berate her, but Alexis closed her eyes and stopped him with her own quick words. “Alright! I’ll stop joking. But I won’t give in to criticism, threats or bullies when it comes to choosing my clients OR my friends. I’m a Cassadine, for heaven’s sake. Since when do we do anything just because other people want us to?”
She slowly opened her eyelids halfway to see his expression. In spite of his strong concerns, Stefan simply smiled at her life-long feisty nature. Her eyes closed again and she turned her head into the pillow. Alexis had kept herself awake for him, but now her weariness was overtaking her. He hesitated to pursue his path, knowing her mind would be closed to what else he had to say.
“Alexis – just watch your step with Corinthos.”
“I will.” She pulled a fistful of blanket up to her chest and rubbed her eyes.
“Please do. I believe that man has an agenda with you and you must watch out for yourself.”
“Agenda? Oh my, aren’t we sounding conspiratorial.” She sighed and yawned again. “The only agenda Sonny has with me is that I continue to keep him out of jail.”
Stefan paused, reaching out to brush the hair from her face. She smiled softly in response. “I mean, a more personal agenda. You always have drawn the attentions of the most unsuitable men. I do realize I’ve not much room to criticize, what with the women I’ve pulled into my own sphere, but this…” He breathed in deeply, preparing to cross the line.
“Alexis, I believe that Corinthos wants not only your legal expertise, but also…you.”
His last words were barely given voice as Stefan heard the soft, familiar sound of her breathing that told him he’d lost his chance. He smiled down at her sleeping face, his fingertips touching down upon her cheek once more. She wouldn’t have listened to him anyway. And, to his great dismay, something deep inside told him that Alexis would truly need Corinthos a while longer. It was his name that she’d called upon hearing Stefan at the door. Her face had been bright with expectation – Alexis had grown to count on him and Corinthos was indeed coming through. Stefan couldn’t help but feel the unwelcome sting of jealousy. Someone else was now claiming the role of her protector, edging him aside while concurrently enlisting his help. But if the memories continued to slip out of hiding, she would need Stefan as well.
Alexis would always need him - her second and always love.