Sonny stood just outside the threshold, hesitant to follow her and intrude on this private place.
As he watched Alexis move through her bedroom, gently running her eyes and hands across each missed and cherished thing within, he thought of all the hours and days he’d been with her – watching over her, intuiting her, connecting with her and comforting her. His touch and attention had been unyielding, and fueled by more levels of feeling than he knew existed. He’d never lost himself in anyone so completely as when staring into those deep, dark eyes and when Alexis stared back. At times, it nearly drove him insane, his mouth was so hungry for hers and hungry to tell her the truth. But even as his lips held back what lay in his heart, his eyes told her a thousand silent times in those long, breathtaking stares. It was a torture both sweet and unforgiving. But now, Alexis was home and there would be a new set of rules. His touch and attention would take their cues from her, and what lay in heart would simply stay locked away.
His eyes snapped to hers.
“You were right.” Alexis murmured, her face all softness as she slowly drew her fingertips along the length of the fluffy, white comforter. “My own bed does look pretty darn good.”
She smiled up at him as she turned and sat down on the edge of the bed with a small, contented sigh. Sonny smiled back, still unmoving.
“I guess there really IS no place like home.” She brushed her palms back and forth across the soft cotton, then tilted her head at him. “What’s wrong?”
But Sonny was lost in the blissful sight of Alexis, sitting on her own bed and completely at peace. He didn’t hear her question, didn’t register the quizzical look that she gave him as he stared with his crooked, one-dimpled grin. Alexis laughed and her legs began to swing slightly, her feet just grazing the floor.
“I think all this trying to get me to take a nap is just projection on your part. I think maybe YOU’RE the one who needs a nap. Zander’s room is just past the guest bathroom, down the hall.”
Sonny finally heard her. He turned his head and glanced down the short hallway, then tilted his head. His other dimple joined the smile. “I know.”
Alexis rolled her eyes as she shook her head. “Right. Of course you do – you OWN this place. I forgot.”
“But I haven’t been upstairs in a long time.” Sonny mused.
He hadn’t been in that bedroom since Jason left, and then it looked decidedly different. It was spare and functional, uncomplicated. It would be hard to describe the man from the expression of his room, but not so with Alexis. Hers was a perfect reflection of the woman – classic and strong, feminine and warm. The solid beauty of rich wood, delicately carved, demanded first focus, but it was the small details that captured Sonny’s interest. His curious eyes took in the assortment of candles scattered across the room, the small perfume bottles of frosted glass and the curtains of sheer ivory lace. And of course, a stack of files awaiting her perusal at the foot of the overstuffed, slip covered chair set in the corner of the room. Alexis was in everything his eyes could see. And as he breathed in deep, the scent of her teased him…vanilla, gardenias, and ocean. He smiled, remembering – the taste of her skin had had been like the ocean.
“Hello?” Alexis pulled one knee up, resting a bent leg on the bed as she waved her hand back and forth in the air. “What is wrong with you? You look like you’re about to walk into a minefield. Feel free to just drop the bag and run, but I promise you, it’s safe.”
Sonny laughed, and as Alexis smiled at him he felt a twinge of guilt for the latent desires still breathing inside him. He was, indeed, at the precipice of dangerous ground – the bedroom of the woman he wanted like fury. He rubbed at his eyes and shook his head in a feeble attempt to clear his thoughts, wondering if maybe he SHOULD get some rest. But the sweetness of her smile beckoned him and his legs finally found themselves moving toward her. As he came closer, Alexis peered up at his face and studied him intently.
“I’m serious, Sonny. Are you alright?” She didn’t wait for him to respond. “Because I know that this has taken a tremendous toll on you, and I worry. I’m sure you think you have a monopoly of that kind of thing right now, but you don’t. You’ve hardly eaten or slept or had a moment’s peace since this whole thing with me started, and I’m afraid it’s all going to catch up to you and do some serious damage.”
The word damage made him cringe – he’d heard it too many times about her.
“Even Johnny’s been worried, although he’d never admit that to you. So here’s the deal - I won’t let you look after me unless you look after yourself too. I mean it, Sonny. And don’t you dare laugh at me because I’ll toss you out of here right now. I will.”
“I…believe you.” It was almost impossible not to laugh at the comically stern expression on her face. “And I appreciate that you worry, but you don’t need to. I’m just fine.” He set the canvas bag down on the bed. “But, if it will make you feel any better to boss ME around a little, I can live with that.”
Alexis straightened her spine and cocked her head. “Okay.” She pointed to the door. “Then I say you should go take a nap. I think you need it.”
“I will. After lunch - and only if you will too. Deal?”
Alexis was already tired, so avoiding that argument was fine with her. “After a bath AND lunch. Deal.”
“Oh, okay!” He teased with wide eyes. “How big IS that tub, anyway?”
She laughed and playfully slapped at his arm. “And here I believed you when you said you were a gentleman! But you’re free to take your own bath in your own bathroom…down the hall. If you want bubbles, just ask.”
"I’ll ignore that remark. And I’ll let you do your own unpacking.” His eyes caught sight of the small collections of items on her nightstand – especially the single stem of purple iris.
“Since you don’t know where anything goes, I think that’s best.”
Sonny pulled his focus from the flower and took note of the short stack of books with her glasses sitting atop them, and the brass alarm clock beside the silk-shaded lamp. The other nightstand that flanked her bed held only a matching lamp, and he then knew which side of the bed was hers. The realization made his face tingle.
“You can claim you’re fine all you want. I still say that you don’t look right.” Alexis frowned at the somewhat dazed expression that Sonny’s face had assumed. She unzipped the bag and stuck her hand inside as she peered into it. Her fingers poked around, searching, and she smiled up at Sonny when she found her target. She freed the penguin from its confines and smoothed its ruffled fur before holding it out to Sonny.
“Here – some naptime company for you, since you WON’T be sleeping all hunched and twisted over the side of MY bed anymore.”
“What are you trying to do to me, Alexis? First you offer me bubbles, and now you’re trying to make me sleep with a stuffed toy? You’ll single-handedly destroy my image!”
Alexis was defensive. “I slept with it!”
“You’re a girl.”
Sonny smiled wide and his dimples became virtual craters in his cheeks. Alexis began to laugh and shake her head in a menacing manner. “Ohhh, I’m a GIRL, am I?”
Sonny looked her up and down with a dramatic sweeping of he eyes. “Yeah, you’re a girl alright.”
“Oh, I see. And what’s okay for ME certainly isn’t okay for big, strong, masculine YOU, right?”
“Uh-oh. I suppose I’m a sexist pig?”
Alexis arched both eyebrows. “Big, strong, masculine AND perceptive. Yeah, you’re a sexist pig - and sexist pigs do NOT get the penguin.”
She turned and set the animal down against the pillows of her bed. As she turned her head back to Sonny, her eyes swept across the nightstand. Her smile relaxed as she fixed her gaze on the unexpected flash of purple. She lifted the stem from its vase and held it up before her face, her eyes caressing every curve and color it bore.
“I wonder how many more of these I’m going to find around the house.”
Sonny watched her face as she closed her eyes and touched the flower to her cheek. He wasn’t sure if Ashton’s gesture had upset her or pleased her. He thought it was a little of both. The temptation to pry was too great.
“I take it that irises are symbolic?”
Alexis smiled and brushed the petals across her mouth as she turned her face to Sonny. Her eyes opened up to him and she lowered the stem to tap it lightly against her throat. Sonny gazed down into that wistful face, not yet knowing if she felt yearning or loss.
“They’re symbolic of the first time…the night that we really began, Ned and I.”
“Oh.” Sonny bowed his head to hide the ache from her eyes – the ache for both himself and for her. Yearning and loss were everywhere in that room.
“I’m sorry.” Alexis whispered. “I think I’ve embarrassed you with too much information.”
He shook his head as he lifted his eyes to hers. “No, you didn’t embarrass me. What’s to be embarrassed about with a little boyfriend talk? I’m the guy who’s seen you hyperventilate and pass out on the floor, remember?”
Alexis groaned. “You know…”
Sonny laughed heartily and sat down on the bed. “Come on, Alexis - this is me. You know you can tell me anything. I won’t judge and I won’t get embarrassed. Neither should you.” He reached across the canvas satchel that separated them, and lay his hand down on hers. “I’m your friend.”
She tilted her head as she turned to him, giving his a wounded look. “Then how come you keep bringing up things that mortify me?”
“Because you’re funny when you’re mortified.” He flashed a wicked grin and Alexis turned away, fighting her reflex to laugh and encourage him further.
“Oh, thank you so much for that. I’m glad that I amuse you.”
“You do. And I know that you LIKE that you do, so don’t go trying to pretend otherwise, buddy.” Alexis shifted her narrowed eyes back to his triumphant face. “I know you to well.”
“Yeah? Well you’re not such a big mystery to me anymore either...buddy.”
“That’s what you think.” He challenged.
Alexis took it up. “Back at ya.”
She brought the flower back up to her face and grazed it back and forth across her jaw line as she matched Sonny’s gaze. She finally smiled wide and squeezed his hand before shifting her weight and lowering her eyes down to the graceful stem between her fingers. Sonny swallowed and slowly, quietly released the breath he’d unconsciously held as he watched Alexis slip the flower back into its vase. She sighed as she released it from her hand, and Sonny saw a brief flicker of pain. He took a deep breath and put all his focus on taking that look from her face.
She turned her big eyes to Sonny and he began to melt. God help Ashton if he hurt her again. “Why don’t you let me call him?”
“You know who.” Sonny murmured, his stomach tensing as he loved Alexis by telling her what he knew to be true, and what he thought she needed to hear.
“Ned may not deserve you, but I know he’d be here to take care of you in a heartbeat.”
Alexis stared at him for a short moment, taken aback by his sudden championing of a man that he fairly hated. It confused her, and she released her hold on his hand. Clearing her throat, she turned her attention to the remaining contents of the bag beside her.
“I know he would. But I can’t let him do that. My ground is too shaky and I…can’t.” She fished out her hairbrush and slid off the bed. Sonny reached out to help her, but she was one step ahead of him and already on her way toward the dresser. “Ned and I went untested for a long time. When we finally WERE tested, it was a double-whammy…and we failed. We made the mistake of thinking that all we needed was to love each other and that that would be enough. Love may be the biggest and most important thing, but love alone just isn’t enough.”
Sonny wasn’t sure what she was trying to tell him, and he was reluctant to push.
“Are you saying that you’ve…that you and Ashton…”
“I’m saying that Ned and I took what we had for granted. I won’t make that mistake with any other person I care about ever again.”
She set the brush down on the dresser and moved to the foot of the bed, her fingers fidgeting with the edge of the comforter. Her eyes followed her nervous hands’ movement and Sonny could see the wheels turning in her mind. He set his palm down and leaned his weight into his arm as he turned his body toward her.
“Everyone takes each other for granted, Alexis, not just you and Ned.”
Alexis hesitated, then finally looked up at him. “After the shooting - when the doctors told us you’d made it through the surgery, and the immediate shock began to wear off - the weight of it all came down on me pretty hard and fast. Ned and I both realized what would very likely have happened to me, if not for you, and we just clung to each other out of fear and love…and need. We re-connected in a truly visceral way that I didn’t think would ever be possible for us again.”
She closed her eyes and turned her head away from him. Sonny stayed silent, knowing there was more. Alexis opened her eyes and stared at the sunlight that filtered in through the curtains. She looked so far away, and Sonny could see the languid remembrance in the dark windows to her soul. It was then that a hot flush crept through him – not quit embarrassment, but envy…and also resentment. He couldn’t fathom how thinking of Ashton could inspire such a look on this amazing woman’s face and yet the man would wantonly throw it away. Sonny would give anything to put that kind of look on Alexis' face. But still, he listened to her speak of Ned.
“But we ignored all the things that were standing between us – the things that hadn’t changed. And then, when Zander took Emily from boarding school, everything that we ignored simply blew up in our faces. I can’t go through that kind of loss again. I need to be very careful with Ned, and I just…need to be careful.”
Alexis smiled. Sonny always seemed to understand. “I know that the whole thing brought you and Carly closer together too, only with you, the closeness stuck.” Alexis suddenly moved past him and reached back into the satchel. She pulled out a black sweatshirt and headed for her closet to put it away.
“You know, the one thing I’ve always admired about Carly is how easily she expresses how she feels. It all comes straight from her heart, unedited, and she makes no apologies for any of it. I wish I learn how to do that, I really do, but you have to know what it is that you DO feel before you can express it, right? I can hardy manage just that much. I don’t blame Ned for being frustrated with me because I’m frustrated enough with myself for the both of us.”
“Maybe Ashton just isn’t paying close enough attention. I think you express yourself just fine.”
“That’s because you’re more like me – too guarded with your feelings and too much in your head. But you and Carly still found a way to make it work. How did you do that?”
Sonny took a quick breath, feeling a pang of regret for not having told Alexis the truth. His mind raced to decide if it was right to tell her just yet that he and Carly didn’t make it work, and they never would. But Alexis was suddenly beside him once more, busying herself with unpacking the few remaining things inside the bag. She pulled out a pair of black pants and stared at it with a strange look as she held them in her hands.
“So much black. Why do I have so much black? I must look like I’m in perpetual mourning. Why hasn't anyone told me that?”
Sonny took the garment from her hands and laid it down on the bed. Alexis didn’t protest, but simply pushed her hair from her face. Sonny took hold of the edge of her sweater and gave it a playful tug. She looked down at his hand, and then turned her eyes back to him.
“This is my favorite sweater.”
“But it’s not black.” He teased, wanting to lighten her sadness. He was sorry he’d brought up Ashton in the first place.
She smiled. “No. Emily picked out the other shirt, but Ned picked this. He knows that I love how it feels like a blanket. Silly, huh?”
She wrapped her arms around herself, enjoying the soft feel of the cashmere against her palms, and Sonny wanted nothing more than to slip his own arms over hers and hold her close. Alexis looked like she wanted to be held...or maybe, as she’d said before, he was projecting.
“Alexis, does he know that I’m staying here with you?”
She shook her head, biting her lip with a somewhat guilty expression.
“Do you not want him to know?”
“No, I don’t want to lie to him. But I knew he wouldn’t like it and I just didn’t want to deal with that today. He’s coming over tomorrow - I’ll explain it to him then.” She rubbed at her neck and stretched it from one side to the other. “I don’t suppose Carly would be any more thrilled than Ned over our...temporary cohabitation."
Sonny laughed and pushed himself further back onto the bed, giving Alexis more room as she sat back down beside him. “Well, thanks to that admirable self-expression of hers, it’s no secret what a green-eyed little monster Carly can be. Let me get you some aspirin, would you please?”
Alexis squinted at him and pulled her hand from her shoulder. “She doesn’t know, does she?”
“Do you have any intention of telling her?”
Sonny cleared his throat and abruptly stood up. “No.” He moved to the half open bathroom door and pushed it inward. “I assume you HAVE aspirin in here?”
“Why not? Sonny?” She heard the squeak of the medicine cabinet as it closed, then the running of water in the faucet. She waited for the sound to stop and Sonny to come back into the room. “Why don’t you want to tell her the truth? Does she even know what happened to me, or that Sorel is back in jail?”
“She knows that Sorel’s in jail. The rest, I didn’t get into.” He handed her the aspirin and water, which Alexis promptly deposited on the nightstand. Sonny gave her a reproaching look.
“I don’t want aspirin, I told you that before. I want a hot bath.”
“Fine, then go take a bath. I’ll go run the water for you.”
“I don’t want you running my bath for me, I can do it for myself! You’re not a house boy and I’m not Helena.”
Sonny chuckled. “House boy, huh?”
Alexis sighed heavily. “Sonny…I want to know why you’re hiding this from Carly. There’s no reason to keep what Sorel did to me a secret because she’s going to find out the minute she gets back. And you know her – she’ll just be furious that you kept it from her and she’ll probably blame me…again.”
She was right. Carly’s intuition had been keen and she raged against every private, professional moment that her husband and his attorney shared. What Sonny had dismissed as an immature female jealousy had proven to be frightening on the mark. It still amazed him that she could see what he himself denied, over and over. Carly did know him, and she helped him to better know himself. He would always love her for that, but it was a different kind of love that what Alexis inspired. Before Christmas, he wouldn’t have understood the distinction - the shooting changed more things for him than anyone could know.
“Boy. You should see the look on your face right now.” Alexis laughed and reached out to take his hand. “You look positively besotted. Admit it – you can’t wait to have Carly and Michael back, in SPITE of how much grief she’ll give you for your lack of disclosure. You must miss them so much. But it shouldn’t be too long now. Once Sorel’s trial is over and it’s safe, Jason will put them on the first plane home.”
Sonny bowed his head and looked down at his hand, held warmly and gently in hers. His fingers curled and tightened around her with a smile. Yes, he missed them, but not in the way that she meant. And Carly and her son were already home, with Jason, as it always should have been. He lifted his eyes to Alexis, but didn’t say a word. She sighed, frustrated, and rubbed at her shoulder again.
“Would you please take the aspirin, Alexis? Notice how I said ‘please’?”
“Why are you so shy in talking to me about what you feel? God knows you’ve listened to me enough to last a lifetime. I already know that you love your wife, so there’s no more denying that much. Why can’t you just admit that you miss her?”
“Because…because we’re not focusing on me right now, we’re focusing on you.”
“Says who?” Alexis dropped his hand and crossed her arms in a half-hearted attempt at pouting. “I don’t want to be the focus – I’m tired of being the focus. I say it’s your turn. And stop trying to force aspirin down my throat!”
His back stiffened as he suddenly realized what he was doing. Alexis needed control, and a simple tablet of aspirin could put so many complicated things in her head. A drug by any other name…
“I’m sorry. I’m hovering too much. I’ll try to back off.”
Sonny took a step back, away from her, then picked up the water and aspirin from the nightstand. Alexis watched him return to the bathroom, heard the squeal of the medicine cabinet and the small tapping sound of the tablets being dropped back into the bottle. She felt guilty that she’d snapped at him – she hadn’t intended to and she didn’t know why it came out that way. Sonny turned on his heels in front of the sink and was startled to see Alexis standing behind him. She was holding onto the doorframe, and as he looked at her, she slowly leaned her tired body against it.
“I’m the one who should apologize. I didn’t mean to be grumpy. I just…want to turn the attention somewhere else for a while. It can be overwhelming to have too much attention on you.” Her eyes drifted up and she saw her reflection in the mirror of the cabinet. She quickly closed her lids and smiled. “I’m finding myself in a bit of a role reversal here and…I don’t really like it. I’m the one who’s supposed to take care of people in trouble, not the other way around.”
“People like me?”
Her eyes opened back up to him and she shook her head. “No, not like you.”
“But when I’m in trouble you’re always there. And you take care of me.”
“You’re talking about trouble in the legal sense. I’m talking about keeping gates…which you don’t understand.” She laughed lightly. “I’m talking about focusing on other people’s problems so you don’t have to focus on your own. And alos the kind of trouble where you’ve been there for me. The kind that mortifies me.”
“Ah.” Sonny nodded in understanding.
“You know all my insecurities and frailties that I just don’t let other people see. How you drew that particular short straw I’ll never know, but you did and…” Alexis began to struggle with where she was headed, but she pressed on. “But now, after what happened, I feel like people are going to be able to look at me and see everything. I’m not so sure I’m going to be able to hide it very well anymore.”
“Hide what, Alexis? The fact that you’re human?”
“You’re not the only one around here with a certain image to uphold.” Sonny saw her body tensing, her fingers tightening around the doorframe. He put his arm around her shoulder and tried to steer her back into the room.
“Come on, you need to sit.”
Alexis pulled back. “No, thank you. I want to stand.”
“Is this about Taggert coming to see you today? Are you afraid of losing some sort of professional edge with him or Mac because you were hurt?”
Sonny knew from her darting eyes and flushing cheeks that he’d hit the nerve. He reached out and ran his fingers through her hair, brushing it back from her face and cupping his palm against her face.
“Oh hon…Alexis, that’s all in your head. You must know that.” Despite his own personal history with the PCPD, Sonny recognized the high regard in which Alexis was held, and his time with Taggert only proved it more.
She closed her eyes and squeezed them tightly shut, as if she could force back the welling of her fears. But the warmth of Sonny’s hand on her skin was comforting and familiar, and she turned her head slightly to press her face his palm. Sonny smiled at her sweet acceptance, slowly grazing his thumb against her cheekbone in response. And then, as she began to speak, Alexis felt her breathing begin to grow rapid and her words came haltingly.
“S-sometimes I wonder if I can r-really do it. If I’m s-strong enough to just…jump back into my life and be n-normal, like nothing ever h-happened.”
“Is that what you think you’re supposed to do – act like nothing happened?”
“No.” Her misty eyes opened to him, but quickly shifted away. “But it’s w-what I WANT to do.”
“You can’t always get what you want.”
Alexis laughed lightly. “Thank you, Mick Jagger.”
Sonny smiled, dimples flashing. “But you WILL get what you need. Trust that, Alexis.”
His hand traveled upward and pushed her bangs away, revealing the scrape on her forehead. He studied it and Alexis grew self-conscious. Sonny felt her try to pull away from his newest touch and the feel of his eyes, but he wouldn’t let her, moving his hand to the back of her head.
“What are you doing?” Her eyes were wide in confusion, but Sonny just kept smiling down at her.
“You always want to be told the truth, right?”
“Okay. Something did happen to you – something terrible - and you have the war wounds to prove it. Wear them with pride, Alexis, because you are a survivor. Taggert and Mac and Dara and everyone else is going to look at you and THAT is what they’re going to see.”
Alexis pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and held his gaze. Sonny’s smile softened, as did the tone of his voice as a part of him disappeared inside of her velvety eyes.
“Besides, why would you want to act as if nothing had happened to you when that would be a lie. That’s not who you are. Not at all.”
“No.” She murmured. “It’s not.” Alexis scrunched her shoulders up and released the tension with a sigh. Her eyelids felt heavy and her legs were ready to give out.
Sonny finally withdrew his hand from her head. “You’re tired.”
“I’ll call Taggert and tell him to wait until morning.”
“No, don’t. Let him come and get this over with. I really wanted to start getting caught up on some work tomorrow and I’d rather not have Taggert…” Her words hung in the air as Sonny firmly shook his head. “What?”
“You are so NOT going to do any work tomorrow! I can’t even believe that you thought, tyrant that I am, that I would LET you do any work.”
“Aw jeez, here we go.” Alexis opened her mouth, but Sonny silenced her with a finger pressed to her lips. “Alexis…”
She reached up and took hold of his hand, removing it from her mouth. “Sonny.”
“You…go take that bubble bath you’ve been yakking about. I’ll call Taggert, and then I’ll make us some lunch. How long do you need?”
“One, two days.”
Sonny turned. “See ya.”
He spun back around. “Lunch in an hour. Is there anything you won’t eat, besides Jello?”
“Got it.” He started to head for the door, then stopped. “Do you need anything before I…”
Alexis shook her head. “I’m fine.”
“Just yell if you…”
“I don’t need any help taking a bath, Sonny.”
He blushed. “I…know that. I didn’t…I meant…never mind!” He tried not to grin as he turned away from her dimpled face and walked out the bedroom door. His voice carried back to her as he disappeared.
“Don’t be surprised if I give you beets!”