The sudden rumble of voices outside the door quickly moved his hand.
It seemed he’d been waiting forever - his heart raced with anticipation. But to his surprise, a moment’s hesitation had its way with him. What would he say to her? How should he be? And still, most of all, why did she do it? The questions bounced through his brain as he wrapped his fingers around the brass doorknob, preparing to face the woman who’d been willing to die in his place.
The two men on either side of her turned their heads, but Alexis stood still. Sonny’s arm was wrapped gently around her shoulders as she stared up at the large plates spelling “PH2” on her penthouse door, as if she’d never seen them before. But soon, her attention was drawn to the sound of the soft, sweet voice calling out her name. She smiled, though her stomach fluttered at the impending sight of another familiar face. Ready or not, Alexis was re-joining the world.
“Zander.” She murmured, her eyelids lowering.
Sonny felt her body start to move, and he kept his arm steady as she turned within his hold. The feel of her cashmere sweater brushing against his palm was an eerie kind of déjà vu, and he unconsciously glanced at the floor of the open elevator. Johnny shifted as he watched Sonny’s eyes. He knew exactly where his mind had gone – to a neatly folded, soft square of blue that carried her scent…and her blood. Alexis didn’t notice. Her smile deepened as she found the eager brown eyes that gazed at her from Sonny’s door. She knew he’d been safe while she was gone, but seeing him herself put every lingering, irrational fear about him to rest. Zander’s wide stare fixed on her smile. He wanted to move, but his feet were glued to the floor.
“You sure are a sight for sore eyes.”
Alexis sighed and tilted her head in a small, familiar gesture he’d come to know well. It told him Alexis was okay – that to go to her was okay. In matter of seconds, a big, goofy grin had taken over his face and he moved across the hall with joyous abandon. As he came closer, Alexis saw his arms begin to lift up. She could hear the sharp intake of her own breath as her reflexes jerked her body back, away from his fast approach. Sonny deftly moved his hand down from her shoulder to the small of her back, and she pressed into his waiting palm.
But the boy’s legs had already stopped of their own accord. As Zander had come closer to Alexis, the visual proof of Sorel’s violence drove into his eyes like knives. His mouth opened in dull shock – nobody told him she’d been hit. His shock began to morph into rage. Shooting her full of heroin hadn’t been enough for that monster to do. Zander’s jaw locked up as he stared at the large bruise on her cheek and the scrape that was barely covered by her short layers of hair. He frowned, wondering what else he hadn’t been told, and his mind slammed door after door on the urge to scream at Sonny for hiding the whole truth of what was done to her. And just as strong was the urge to crumple at her feet and cry like a baby for the love in her heart that she chose to show to him. He hadn’t known such sacrifice on his behalf from anyone but Emily and Alexis, and he felt undeserving of both. Though his first impulse stayed under control, Zander’s quiet tears began to fall from the corners of his eyes.
“Oh, Zander.” The breathy, half-scolding intonation of his name pulled his focus from the palette of colors across her cheek and up to her dark eyes. “It’s not such a big deal. They’ll go away.”
She saw his tight jaw shift as he held her gaze, the thin trickle of tears still making their slow path down his face. He shook his head, almost imperceptibly, and didn’t say a word. Alexis was lost for what else to say herself. She bit her lip and swallowed, turning her helpless eyes to Sonny.
“You should have had Emily pack me some concealer. I’ve only been on the loose for half an hour and already I’m scaring people.”
Zander’s shame rose up. He didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. “I’m sorry, Alexis. I didn’t know…what to expect.”
She turned to Sonny. “God, Sonny. Don’t you think you should have…”
“No.” Sonny was abrupt in his answer, but the look on her face demanded a fuller explanation. His voice softened as he justified his decision to withhold. “He’s a hot-head and he was already angry enough about what he DID know. I didn’t want him doing anything stupid.”
She frowned and lowered her voice. “So…this town’s only big enough for one dragon slayer?”
Sonny’s face grew hot. He gave her his dimples and lightly shrugged. “Something like that.”
Zander’s shifting stance drew Alexis’ eyes back to him and she watched his mouth nervously open and close, then open again. He swallowed, and Sonny felt Alexis lose contact with the bracing hand he kept against her lower back. She took a small step toward the humbled boy, who bowed his head as she reaching a hand out to his already tousled hair.
“I’m sorry that you weren’t prepared…and that I scared you.”
His head snapped up and she jerked her hand away, blinking rapidly. He didn’t know she was skittish, that such abrupt movements could frighten her and he had to take special care. Sonny and Zander would soon be having have a long and serious talk.
“Scared ME?” He shook his head. “What about how Sorel scared you? I swear, Alexis, if I had any idea what that freak was gonna do to you, I would have turned myself over to him in a second.”
”I know.” She tried to pacify him through a calm voice. “Sonny told me that he had to literally pull you from the elevator to keep you from going to Sorel, and I’m glad he did.”
“He shouldn’t have!” Zander’s anger rose and the force of it jerked his body backward. It made Alexis flinch, and Sonny moved both hands to her shoulders.
“Zander, you need to calm down! And Alexis, you need to let me take you inside now.”
“Please, Sonny.” Alexis turned to him imploringly. “Give me just a minute.”
Sonny heaved a heavy sigh and gave Zander a cautionary look. Zander stared back, directing his words to Sonny instead of her. “He should have turned me over the minute he knew Sorel had you.”
“I wouldn’t let him do that.”
His head swiveled back to her. “Why, Alexis? You didn’t owe me anything, so why?”
Her knees began to buckle and Sonny glared. “Zander, that’s enough!”
“No, you’re not.”
“You’re still weak, Alexis!” She bit her lip and he consciously tempered his voice. “This is the longest you’re been on your feet for days and you need to rest.”
Alexis sighed and turned to the silent Johnny. “And so, the bossing begins.”
“Mmm.” Johnny nodded with a knowing grin.
“It’s not funny, Alexis.” Sonny pointed at Johnny with an un-amused face. “And you – stop encouraging her.”
Alexis re-focused on Zander and made light of Sonny’s patronizing stance. “You see what I’m going to have to live with for the next couple of days? If you MUST have a reason to feel sorry for me…”
Despite the impish grin on her face as she teased the serious Sonny, Zander saw the weariness in her eyes and body. “Sonny’s right. You’re tired - you should rest.”
She took a deep breath and the concentration filled her face as she began to scratch at her arm through the sleeve of her sweater. Sonny realized he’d forgotten to put the Vitamin E on her arms before they left the hospital - he made a mental note to put the bottle out in plain sight, so he’d remember.
“I did what I had to do, and I don’t regret the choice that I made.” Her eyes drifted away from his as she remembered Ned’s words to her…no more regrets. She wanted to own that for herself too.
“But Sorel wanted me, not you.”
“Sorel’s motives were more complicated than that, Zander. I told you there were things at play that you wouldn’t understand and that I couldn’t explain. Now, it’s best for everyone, especially Alexis, if you just accept that fact and let it go. And make no mistake – this is NOT a request.”
His sharp, cold voice turned Alexis’ widened eyes to his face. It made her uneasy, having grown used to the gentle, nurturing side of Sonny – the side he’d shown to only her. The softness of him in her desperate time made it was easy to forget the hard core of stone that the tenderness hid from her view. Alexis wanted to see that tenderness back. Her hand lit down upon Sonny's arm, and the feel of her fingertips curving around him turned the stone into sand.
“I’m sure he understands you, Sonny. Don't you?”
But Zander didn't respond - he was staring at her throat. The angle of her head, turned slighty away from him as she looked at Sonny, let him see the small, fading trail of fingerprints Sorel had left on her skin. His mouth went dry and he swallowed against it, pulling his shoulders back as he raised his head up high.
“You didn’t have to move me out, Sonny.” He looked Sonny straight in the eye with a purpose. “I can take care of her.”
“I can do it! Please, let me do this for her.”
His boyish innocence in seeking to do a man’s job sent an unwelcome grin to Sonny’s face. Alexis smiled and laughed lightly, a warm flush filling her heart. She reached out to encircle him, gently pressing his arms to his sides to keep him from hugging her back. She didn’t want to tell him about the bruises he couldn’t see. As Zander allowed his body to relax within her careful arms, the confused expression his face assumed took Sonny aback. He stared – the acceptance of love could be a difficult thing to learn. That kid always seemed to mirror Sonny at the least expected times.
“I want to do something for YOU, Alexis.” He closed his eyes as his chin rested on her shoulder and his cheek leaned into her hair. “Saying ‘thank you’ just seems…I don’t know – stupid. It’s not enough.”
Alexis pulled away from him and Sonny saw her falter with the movement. Zander reflexively grabbed hold of her arms to steady her, and she winced at the sudden pressure on the healing puncture wounds beneath her sleeve. The pain he saw in her face made his eyes shoot down to where his fingers were wrapped, and he suddenly realized what hurt. Appalled, his hands released. Sonny pushed them gently away, placing his own upon her hips instead.
“Alexis, come on now.” Sonny was silenced by her sideways look. “I’m telling Tony on you!”
She laid one hand on top of his and it silenced him yet again. “Look Zander, you’ve already done something for me – you got on that stand and kicked Sorel’s sorry butt to the curb.”
Zander laughed at her uncharacteristic choice of words and it made Alexis grin. “Good – laughter! I like that. And as much as I hate to admit it, Sonny is right. I really do need to sit down now.”
Johnny quickly opened her door.
“Right – sorry. You go rest and just…let me know if there IS anything that I can do for you. Okay?”
“You got it.”
As Sonny firmed his arm against her waist and eased her toward the door, Zander’s voice moved with them.
“Take good care of her Sonny.”
Sonny rolled his eyes. “If she’ll LET me.”
Johnny closed the door behind them and set Alexis’ canvas bag down on the floor beside the stairs. Alexis suddenly stopped in front of her desk, resisting the light pressure of Sonny’s arm seeking to move her toward the couch. She took a slow, deep breath as her eyes drifted around the room, taking in the sight of all the things she’d nearly forgotten. Sonny watched her face reflecting the wealth of emotions running through her. It had been the same when she’d first set foot outside the hospital doors and felt the sun and light breeze of air on her face. She’d stood then as she stood now, with sparkling eyes and her face awash in the joy of a child seeing something wondrous and new. He knew that Sorel had made her think she’d never see the sun, or feel the breeze, or walk into her own home ever again. To do what he’d promised, to give it all back to her made Sonny’s heart swell.
As Alexis wrapped her arms around herself, Sonny saw a teaming in her eyes and it moved him to the same release…but he held it back. This moment and its expression should belong only to her. Her traveling gaze lit upon the mantle and Sonny felt a tremble run through her body. His eyes followed hers to a large frosted vase filled with delicate purple iris. Alexis pulled her lower lip between her teeth and Sonny looked to Johnny with a silent question on his face. Johnny shook his head firmly, the scent of crushed gardenias coming back to him in a bad memory of Alexis cowering and whimpering in terror on the floor.
“Not me boss. My last attempt at flowers didn’t go so well.”
“Ned.” Alexis’ intoned the name softly as she smiled at the bouquet.
“They’re beautiful.” Sonny offered, and her smile grew as she nodded in agreement. “And you’re starting to shake like a bowl full of that nasty, red wobbly stuff you hated so much.”
Alexis sighed with a reluctant grin. She looked tired, though she was fighting it.
“So, right now you have a choice - you can either sit yourself down and rest here on the sofa, or I’m going to have to pick you up and carry you to your room.”
“Okay - for one thing, you are NOT picking me up.”
“If you’re worried about my back again, don’t be. You’re tall, but you’re pretty light.”
“How do you know?”
He stared at her, not knowing what to say. Alexis heard Johnny’s clothes rustle as he shifted his weight behind her, and a memory started to drift back. She took hold of the edge of the sofa and rounded it, easing herself down onto the cushion with Sonny’s help. The smell of rubbing alcohol clouded her image…and the cold feel of linoleum.
“You…picked me up off the floor, didn’t you?”
Sonny crouched down beside her and looked into her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t see fear. He didn’t. “Yes. You were having a nightmare. To be truthful, it happened a couple of times.” He hesitated just long enough to let her know for sure that there was more.
“And when we found you, I carried you out of that basement and up to the ambulance outside. It was quicker and easier than waiting for the medics to get a stretcher all the way down there. And you weren’t afraid with me, like you were with them. That’s it.”
“Oh.” She lowered her eyes and cleared her throat. “So…your back was really okay after all that weight lifting I put you through?”
Sonny smiled. “It’s fine.”
She nodded and glanced shyly at Johnny before looking back into Sonny’s eyes. “You never did tell me about that – about finding me. How did you…”
Alexis was silenced by Sonny reaching out and cupping her face in his palms, but he quickly pulled them away again as he stood up. “I’ll tell you all about it – later. Are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable in bed?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’m tired of being in bed. I may just decide to sleep right here on the couch.”
“But it’s your OWN bed.”
She grabbed a throw pillow and hugged it to her chest as she looked up at him. “I know. But I need a break from any and all things that make me feel like I’m sick…or an invalid.”
“Me too.” Johnny added. “And from now on, I’d be happy to get you coffee any time you want it. Even leaded.”
Alexis leaned against the back of the couch and turned her head toward Johnny. “You’re a peach. Hey Johnny - how about YOU stay here and look after me instead of him?”
Johnny grew pink.
“Gotcha.” Alexis grinned.
“Why are you so mean to me?” Johnny teased back.
Sonny laughed and ran his hand over the top of her head, fingers sifting lightly through her hair as he made his way toward the kitchen. The gesture sent a small shiver through her back.
“I don’t suppose you’re hungry?”
“Me or him?” She watched him disappear.
“I’m not even going to dignify that question with an answer.”
“It should be all taken care of in there.” Johnny called after him.
“What’s all taken care of?” Alexis squinted up at Johnny as she absently rubbed at her shoulder.
“Stocking your kitchen - with something besides a movie snack.”
“Oh.” She pulled her knees up and snuggled herself into the back cushion. “Johnny?” She lowered her voice and briefly glanced over her shoulder. “Was Sonny telling me the whole truth about Taggert – that he just needs to see me and it’s got nothing to do with him?”
She studied his face. “Does he tell you…everything? I’m not trying to get you to break a confidence or anything, I’m just talking about his…business…stuff.”
“You’re talking about Sorel.”
She took a moment. “Yeah.”
“Taggert isn’t going to be in Sonny’s face, if that’s what you’re worried about. Not now, at least. Not over Sorel.”
She frowned, feeling sure that something was still rotten in Denmark. “That’s what Sonny said.”
“And he wouldn’t lie to you.”
“Well no, not…”
A vague shadow spread over the couch and onto the floor. The last such shadow she’d seen cross her path was made by Thomas, in the park…across the light fall of snow littering the ground. She tilted her head back and looked up at Sonny, who stood quietly behind her. She smiled sheepishly.
“Oh. Hi there.” She pulled the pillow up to hide her face, all but for her big eyes. Sonny grabbed the back of the couch and leaned forward, staring down into those eyes as he gave a dramatic sight. She dropped the pillow down to her lap.
“Okay, I know that you wouldn’t LIE to me, but you would try to protect me by maybe re-working the truth a little bit. Am I right?”
Sonny smiled and slid his hands from the fabric to her shoulders as he leaned down closer to her. He would not give more weight to her unfounded worries for him. “So, how does it feel to be home?”
“Surreal, somehow. But good.” She turned her eyes to Johnny. “No hospital smells. I feel like I can breath again.”
“Good. Then I won’t have to remind you to do it.” Sonny felt her tense beneath his hands and Alexis let her head fall slightly forward as she gave out a slight groan. He firmed his fingers around the curve of her shoulder.
“A little, still.”
“I’ll get you some aspirin, but you’ve got to eat something with it.”
“No – no aspirin. Thanks.”
“It’s aspirin, Alexis. Don’t be afraid of it.”
“I’m not!” She chirped defensively. “It’s just not that sore.”
She slowly stretched her neck from one side to the other, and he felt her muscles loosen under his steady touch. He didn’t rub or push, just kept the light pressure of his full palm against her. The feel of the cashmere that separated his skin from hers still made his thoughts drift to the scarf he kept hidden in a drawer, but the heat of her body rising up through the softness seduced him back.
“Hmm.” He didn’t want to move.
“When is Taggert coming over?”
“When I tell him you’re ready to see him.”
“Okay. Just give me an hour or two upstairs?”
“Did you change your mind? Do you want to take a a nap in your own bed?”
“Not exactly.” She wanted to take a bath in her own tub. With bubbles – gardenia scented bubbles.
She pushed the pillow off her lap and swiveled her legs around to set her feet back on the floor. Johnny stepped up to the sofa and offered her his hands in assistance. She took them and allowed him to pull her upright. His strength surprised her.
“Whoa! Someone’s been working out.”
Sonny laughed at the newest blush to grace Johnny’s face. “Alexis, you’re going to have the poor man looking like he’s got a permanent sunburn if you don’t cut that out.”
“What?” Alexis smiled and winked at Johnny as she squeezed his hands.
Johnny smiled back and looked down at their clasped palms. “Whoa. Someone’s really getting their strength back.”
She released her grip and slid her hands from his as her eyes gave the stairway a contemplative look. “Let’s see if I have enough of my strength back to get up those stairs.”
As she began to move, Sonny instinctively reached out for her. Alexis pulled away.
“No. I mean by myself.”
His hand stayed aloft in the air as Alexis held her eyes to his, making sure he knew she meant it. He did. Sonny’s hovering hand lowered back down to his side and he nodded.
“Sure. I’ll just follow you up with this.” As he walked behind her, he nodded toward the canvas satchel still resting on the floor. “Johnny, the bag from Dr. Jones is in here too?”
“Yeah. Right on top.”
Sonny pulled it out and set it down on the sofa table. “I’ll leave these down here, since most of them should be taken with food. It’ll remind me to boss you to take them while I’m bossing you to eat.” He clucked his tongue at Alexis and she arched an eyebrow.
“Johnny, you deserve a break – a long one. We’ll be fine here, so why don’t you go home and catch up on your sleep.”
“I’m fine.” Johnny protested.
“Then go hang out with Claude at Luke’s and listen to some smooth blues over some even smoother Scotch - on my tab.”
Johnny was unmoving.
“You don't want blues and Scotch, take yourself to a movie or…go work out.” Sonny grinned.
“I’ll call you tomorrow & let you know when I need you back.”
Johnny’s eyes shifted to Alexis. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stick around, at least until after Taggert leaves?”
Alexis placed her palm against the stairway wall and leaned her weight lightly against it. “I really appreciate all you’ve done, Johnny. You helped me more than you could ever know. But now, I want you to do me a favor and go take care good of yourself, like you took good care of me. Please?”
Johnny took a step toward her and leaned in, lowering his voice. “Just…do me a favor and let him boss you around – at least a little bit. I’ve done it for years, and it’s really not such a bad thing.”
Alexis sighed and leaned her forehead against the corner of the wall, beside her palm. “Yeah, yeah.”
“Have a good night Johnny.” Sonny pressed his hand against Johnny’s back as he moved with him to the door. “And, um…I second what she said.”
Johnny blushed his last blush of the day as he closed the door behind him. Sonny turned to Alexis, intending to pick up the satchel and follow her up the stairs. Instead, the sight of her froze him. Her hand stayed flush against the wall, but she’d pulled her head away. Her skin seemed pale - her eyes were trained in his direction, but they weren’t looking at him. A quick glance to his left explained the sudden draining of color from her face. He stayed quiet, watching and waiting for Alexis to react…for better or worse.
But her expression confused him…and it scared him. Alexis slowly tilted her head as she studied her own reflection in the mirror hanging innocently on the wall beside the door. She looked so calm, detached – as if she was looking at a stranger instead of herself. There was no fear or shock or even self-consciousness in her face, and it made Sonny ache for what he didn’t see in her eyes but knew damn well was living inside her. Alexis wasn’t vain, but neither was Sonny’s mother - yet for a woman to see such marks on her body, as put there by a man, was a devastating thing for the soul.
“Stefan told me that it wasn’t such a big deal – that it would go away. Just like I told Zander.” Her voice was breathy, as if she was afraid to give too much presence to it and make her thoughts too real. She smiled and turned her soft, soulful eyes to Sonny.
“I wonder if it made him feel any better just now than it made me feel back then? Would a boy of his age be more easy to placate than a girl of twelve?” She frowned and lightly shook her head. “Thirteen, I mean.”
Sonny drew a sharp, quick breath. More and more, her past intruded on the present, and he braced himself for whatever was to come. His arms were ready to catch her, hold her, lift her. They were also ready to push, if that’s what she would need.
“It hurt Zander to see you hurt. I know how he feels.” He and Alexis had both looked into unexpected mirrors.
“It hurt Stefan too. But the way he looked at me scared me. I asked him for a mirror – I wanted to know. I wanted to see what put that helplessness on his face and that pain in eyes. My body hurt so much…I knew it had to be bad.”
Her strange smile grew and she closed her eyes, lowering her head back down into the edge of the wall. The remembrance of Stefan - his young, frightened face laced with an edge of anger – flooded her mind’s eye. He had been the second thing she’d seen after she awoke from her long sleep, the first being a tattered brown bear staring at her from the foot of the bed. Her bear...her first gift from her second love.
“Stefan admonished me for my adolescent pride and refused my request. ‘It’s not such a big deal, Alexis. It will go away. And I promise it won’t happen again’...”
Her voice drifted and her eyes shot open, as if something surprised her. As she stared in bewilderment at her own image, a memory of Sonny’s own overtook him. ‘It won’t happen again...’ He harshly shook his head against the deep, slobbering, sobering voice that assaulted his head. As the sound of Deke fell away, the sound of Alexis took its place. He looked up at her confused face and replayed her last words in his head. What was it that Stefan promised wouldn't happen again, an 'accidental' fall? Sonny knew his instincts were right – there was more to the story than Cassadine would admit, and more than his sister’s waking mind would allow.
She moved her eyes to his somber face and wrinkled her brow. “Sonny?”
He smiled at the little name dance that had become a familial habit between them.
“I know that you finally accept that it’s okay to not be so strong all the time, even though you are a Cassadine.”
She smiled and bit her lip.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re about the strongest, most brave person that I know. I admire you a great deal, Alexis. I wanted you to know that.”
Alexis was stunned and she felt her knees begin to buckle. Her palm slid down the wall and her fingers wrapped around the corner as she lowered her eyes and began to stammer. “I…well, I…you…”
Sonny grinned and moaned. “Now don’t you get all strange on me! I don’t want to hear any more of your little protests when I give you a sincere compliment. ‘I’m not attractive, I’m an attorney.’ I mean, what was THAT all about? Did you think I was making fun of you, because if that’s something you really think I’d do, I’m insulted. Which is the direct opposite of a compliment.”
Alexis shook her head and laughed, feeling herself blush just like Johnny. Payback was a bear. “You’re not even supposed to remember that…incident. At the very least, you’re not supposed to think about it.”
“A man remembers when a women doesn’t seem to like being told she’s attractive. He remembers because it’s odd.”
“Are you calling me odd?”
“Are you trying to change the subject?” He watched her eyes slowly shift back to the mirror. She nodded, and his voice became a whisper. "Okay."
Alexis smiled and alllowed her gaze to return to him. "Well, let's see about these stairs, shall we?"
"You’d better be quick about it - before I decide I DO have to pick you up and carry you…like a sack of flour.”
The faint blush across Alexis' cheeks still remained, but her smile quickly faded as she sighed lightly.
“I know you weren’t making fun of me. Accepting compliments, no matter how sincere, has always been a dicey proposition for me.”
She narrowed her eyes just slightly, intensifying the connection between their eyes. He wasn’t sure if she was going to speak – it almost wasn’t necessary.
“Thank you, Sonny. What you said – both then and now – it means a lot to me. So do you.” She tilted her head and the corners of her mouth turned up. “I wanted you to know that.”
Sonny languidly closed his eyes. When he opened them again, his smile was at full wattage. Alexis took a deep breath and laughed lightly, her own dimples etched firmly into her cheeks. She turned away and took hold of the wooden railing. As Sonny stepped up behind her, Alexis glanced back with a firm declaration.
“But I DON’T want you picking me up. I'm not a sack of flour - I’m an attorney.”