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Scene 67

Sonny stood in the threshold of the guest bathroom, his eyes cast down to the light that spilled out of her room and across the hallway floor like a beacon.

He ran a hand across the top of his head, still damp from his long stay in the shower. It had felt good to luxuriate in the steam and let the hot water pound into his tight, weary muscles. It felt good to relax in the knowledge that Alexis was safe, just one wall away, preparing for bed – her own bed. He tugged down on the hem of his fresh, water-spotted t-shirt and tightened the knot on his drawstring sweats. He listened…it was quiet. Sonny padded across the carpet toward her open door, stopping just shy of the separation of light and dark before his feet. He called softly, wondering if she’d purposely kept the light on to sleep, or hadn’t yet climbed into bed.

“Alexis?”

There was still quiet. A few moments passed, and Alexis’s head poked outside the door.

“Hi.”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d…if you were decent.”

Alexis grinned. “If I wasn’t, I’d have shut the door.”

“Right.”

Her face disappeared as she slipped back into the room. Her voice called back to him. “You ARE allowed in, Sonny.”

Sonny followed her path and stopped near the foot of the bed. His eyes sparkled at the full sight of her - Alexis looked like she was wrapped in champagne. The silk pajamas she wore were the palest shade of spun gold, and they shimmered like bubbles under the lights. His unseen gaze cast itself unashamedly down her body, watching as she turned back the covers. She turned to him and a dusting of highlights glinted throughout her hair. He’d never noticed them look that bright.

“Do you need anything? An extra blanket or pillow?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“I’m fine.”

“Me too.”

Alexis raked her fingers through her hair, coaxing it back from her face. The ritual brushing would be foregone that night. The tangles could have their temporary way with her and she’d deal with them tomorrow – with the help of extra conditioner. Sonny took a step closer, perusing her face while her eyelids briefly closed. He frowned and turned his head, eyes searching her room. Alexis caught him.

He moved toward the bathroom, following the faint, lingering scent that drifted out to beckon him. “Where did you put the…never mind.”

He found what he wanted. The bottle of Vitamin E sat upon a glass shelf beside the medicine cabinet – the open medicine cabinet, with the mirror pushed flush to the wall.

“Sonny, what are you doing?”

Her voice floated to him from across the room, and Sonny turned with the bottle held up in his hand.

“Oh.” Alexis made a small face. “I forgot, didn’t I?”

“I could see that.” Sonny tapped his own forehead as he approached the bed.

Alexis reached behind her and took hold of the edge of the bed with both hands, easing herself down to sit. Her legs dangled as she scooted back, and she looked up at him with curiosity. He stood before her, gazing down without a word. She tilted her head and held out her hand, but Sonny kept hold of the bottle.

“You’re not ready to look in a mirror.” He murmured softly.

“I…” Her outstretched hand slowly lowered back down to the bed. “I’ve already looked, Sonny.”

“That was by accident. You turned, the mirror was there. That doesn’t mean you were ready.”

“I am.” Her voice was certain, but Sonny’s eyes shifted toward the bathroom and her own eyes followed them to the sight of the open cabinet. Alexis felt like an idiot – a childish fool.

“Sonny, give me the bottle.”

“Alexis…”

“Sonny…”

“It’s okay if you’re not ready.”

“It’s NOT okay.” She hadn’t quite meant to say that. “And I AM ready.”

Alexis lightly scratched at her arm, a thing that was becoming an unconscious habit. The healing trail of wounds on her skin tingled within the flush of anxiety - reminding her they existed, in case she forgot. Sonny firmed his grip on the bottle and deliberately kept his eyes off her wandering fingers as they ran up and down the gold silk. He suddenly reached for the border of the crisp, white, cut-lace sheets that lay already pulled back, awaiting her. He lifted them up and nodded toward the pocket he had formed.

“Come on. Hop in.”

“Hop? What am I, a rabbit?”

“In!” He firmed his tone and Alexis sighed noisily.

“Does this conclude the bossiness portion of our evening?”

“Maybe.”

She grinned and did as she was told, pulling her legs up and onto the bed with a slight grimace.

“It should be a little better tomorrow.” Sonny assured her.

“I know.”

She slipped her feet between the cool sheets and stretched out her legs while Sonny lowered the covers down over them. She pushed herself back against the pillows and watched Sonny unfold the white comforter that lay across the foot of the bed. Alexis swallowed and her hands fidgeted with the edge of lace. Something strange came over her as he drew the comforter up over her body and smoothed it out with care. She imagined it was the feeling that most people had when remembering their youngest years – the feeling of being safely tucked in for the night by gentle, loving hands, with a warm, smiling face gazing down. It seemed that every now and then, she got a bittersweet glimpse of the things she had missed.

Sonny sat down beside her, on the edge of the bed, and began to unscrew the bottle cap. “I think tomorrow is soon enough. Okay?”

He broke a capsule and turned to her, seeking approval. He found it as she nodded, and the corners of Sonny’s mouth turned up as he lowered his head to squeeze the capsule against the center of his thumb. Alexis moved her eyes from his hands to the few tiny drops of water that had slipped from the ends of his hair to speckle the shoulders of his dark gray t-shirt. His face was still glowing pink from the long, hot time shower, and his damp hair looked that much darker in contrast. He suddenly looked like a little boy to her eyes – one who also needed to be tucked into bed by gentle, loving hands.

Alexis found her focus soon stolen by the movement of his hand toward her face and the feel of his fingers touching down upon her forehead, tending to her damaged skin one last time. It felt nice. She remembered opening her eyes, the morning before, to the feel of his soft hands on her arms. She remembered the look of concentration on his face as he watched the slow, careful movement of his own fingers upon her skin. And she remembered that she felt safe.

And now, again, his eyes watched the soft, healing travel of his thumb against her scrape. Her body relaxed under his touch and she settled into the pillows with a slow, contented exhale. Sonny’s lips curved into a deeper smile, and his eyes shifted down to see all tension had melted from her face. Her eyes had closed and her breathing was full and steady. For a moment he thought she’d drifted off, and he kept his fingertips still against her as he enjoyed the precious, quiet moment. But soon, Alexis took a deep breath and her dimples came out of hiding. She ran her tongue across her lips as her sleepy brown eyes blinked open.

“Are you stuck? That Vitamin E oil is kind of sticky.”

“I thought you’d fallen asleep.”

“Almost.”

Sonny slipped his hand from her face.

“You know, you still have that finesse you bragged about. It never hurts when you do it.”

“Good. Because I wouldn’t want my touch to ever hurt you.”

“What makes you think that it ever would?”

He shrugged with a vague smile. The thought of Sorel’s hands on her had haunted him with each touch of his own. But Alexis knew Sonny’s touch – he knew for certain that she did, and he knew that Sorel’s hands would never lay themselves upon her again. What Sonny didn’t know was that his own touch had become a part of her body’s vernacular. It was now second nature for Alexis to feel his hands, just as it was for her to turn around and see his face. She had grown more used to both than she ever could have guessed, and it had happened with such ease. He had that way about him – ease - the thing that made her seek out his calm council during the throes of her life’s tumult.

Sonny put the cap back onto the bottle and rubbed the sweet, shiny oil from his fingers into his palm. “You’re right, it is sticky.”

Alexis wrinkled her nose. “It gets in my hair.”

He tilted his head in her direction. “Kind of like me.” He grinned wide and an unexpected yawn crept up on him.

“Sonny?”

“Alexis?”

“Go to bed.”

She pointed at the door and Sonny sighed. He slid off the bed, his feet hitting the floor with a dull thud. As he turned, intending to replace the Vitamin E upon its bathroom shelf, his eyes were drawn to the overstuffed chair by the window.

“Don’t even think about it!” Alexis admonished, clearly reading his mind. His wide, innocent eyes didn’t fool her.

“What?”

“You’re sleeping in your own bed tonight, Sonny, not hunched over the side of mine, and not twisted up like a pretzel in that chair.”

He dropped his head to one side and stared with crossed arms, just to tease. Alexis crossed her own arms in response.

“Are you going to make me get out from under my nice, warm, cozy covers just to drag you off to Zander’s room and tuck you in myself?”

“You’re not going anywhere!” Sonny protested. “I just tucked YOU in.”

“Okay, fine.” She smiled sweetly. “Then I guess you’re just going to have to go tuck yourself.”

It took moment for him to read the devilish twinkle in her, and know she did that on purpose. Sonny roared.

“Good one!”

Alexis scrunched her shoulders happily as she slid further down into the pillows cushioning her back. It was nice to hear Sonny laugh. “And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, concludes the amusement portion of our evening.”

“Brava.” Sonny whispered.

Alexis bit her lip and Sonny threw imaginary roses at her feet.

“Good night Sonny. Sleep well.”

“Back at ya. If you need anything…”

“I’m sure you’ll somehow know.”

Sonny’s heart skipped a beat. Her words of faith rendered him mute. He stared at her softly smiling face, eyes all drowsy and content and cheeks framed with chestnut layers of hair as her head nestled into the fluffy white pillows. The dim lamplight reflected the pale hue of the silk, sending a golden glow across her skin. She looked radiant, all evidence of Sorel not withstanding. His hand set down upon the comforter, where the rising curve of her leg could be seen.

“Welcome home, Alexis.”

She closed her eyes as her smile widened. “Thank you.”

Her voice barely carried to him - she had grown so weary so fast within the familiar softness of her own bed. Sonny slid his hand down, and quietly moved to her bathroom, setting the vitamin bottle down on the sink. The lingering note of gardenias in the air made his hands feel impossibly empty. He turned and glanced at the forbidden chair once more, wondering the likelihood of Alexis catching him. He wouldn’t put it past her to be playing possum right then, lying in wait just to bust him. She was, as Tony said, a wiseacre. Sonny chuckled to himself as he contemplated that chair and the quality of sleep it would afford. He was sure he could have slept fine on the sofa downstairs, just as long as Alexis was there too, snuggled up beside him.

He heard a sound – a sigh coming from the bed as Alexis shifted and turned onto her side. She had fallen asleep easily, as she had during all of these days so filled with exhaustion. Sonny was exhausted too, possibly too exhausted to sleep. But Alexis worried about him and wanted him in a proper bed. Whatever she wanted, he would give. Sonny turned and finally forced his legs to carry him through her door and down the short hallway, leaving Alexis behind…alone. But it was not lost on him that she was faring far better than he in this first night of solitude. He cast a cursory glance back to her open door as he reached the threshold of his own. Without the sound of her breathing beside him, the night would be long. But at least Sonny had the scent of her still swirling in his head.

His hand slipped away from the doorframe as he moved into the room. Suddenly, the fragrance in his head was strengthened and his eyes drifted around the room. Alexis had been there, he was sure of it. As Sonny came close to the bed, a curious sight stopped him. Something small, black, and white lay nestled into the pillows, waiting to keep him company in her place throughout his long night’s journey into day. Something small, black, and white that sent a smile into his heart.

A penguin.

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The sun was full and proud in the late morning of a hot August day.

A light breeze swept over them as he led her down the tiled corridor and past the open balcony that held a wide, gracious view of the sea. Her hand grew tingly against the moist heat of his larger, stronger hand that wrapped around it. The clicking of two sets of heels, one solid, one light, sent a dim echo sounding through the air and into no one’s listening ears. She followed him in silent obedience, her curiosity tangling with both duty and unspecific fear. And all the words he'd said to her were revisiting her mind, bit by bit.

So, the little bit of ugliness is grown into a beauty, and she’s traded her fear of the dark for…what? Fear of affection from the cousin she’s known all her life?

Her free hand drifted up, fingers toying with the few loose inches of ruffle that his anger had torn from the neckline of her dress. She glanced down to see how bad it was, if the tear had traveled into the fabric of the bodice, or pulled the ruffle clean away. Either way, Helena would be angry if she knew. But she was relieved that the tearing away had been clean. It could easily be mended and no one would have to know. But it would have to be mended soon, before the family returned and Helena’s cold, hard eyes set down upon her dress…and another sharp palm set down upon her face.

Tell me, butterfly, don’t you think yourself deserving of the attention of the heir? Or do you believe yourself to be the wretched, cowardly little peasant my mother always said you were? Who was right about you Alexis, Stefan or Helena?

As much as Helena hated her, so did Stefan love her…and believe in her. To lose his love would be devastating - to lose his faith, unthinkable. Everything she learned, every skill she mastered, every challenge she took up and won was for him. Everything she did was to make him proud and strengthen his love for the wretched little thing who’d been dropped at the Cassadine’s unwelcoming door. Her lifelong hunger to be loved had been fed by no one but Stefan - certainly never this cousin, who now held her hand and challenged her to prove herself worthy. She wanted to be worthy. She wanted to make Stefan proud.

Can you show me, Alexis? Let me see what Stefan sees – that which convinces him you have the makings of a true Cassadine woman.

They rounded a corner and were greeted by the open French doors that led to his suite of rooms at the end of the corridor. Her eyes held fast to his face as he walked toward the doors with purpose, his head erect and his eyes forward. He kept a steady, even pace, as if he had all the time in the world at his disposal. His bearing was truly that of one born entitled – that of the Prince – as were the chiseled lines of his face, grown sharp and regal in his change from adolescent boy to a man of twenty one. He had never looked like his brother, nor had he owned his brother’s nature, but it was possible that the latter could have simply taken longer to surface.

Lesson number one: an order from the Prince is to be obeyed. Lesson number two: as a woman behaves, so shall she be treated.

He felt her big, dark eyes on his face, studying him as her hand twitched within his grasp.

“Do you find it pleasant?”

Her legs faltered. She was jolted by the sudden sound of his utterance and wasn’t sure she’d hear his words well. “I’m sorry?”

He stopped dead in his tracks and smiled, his head and eyes still fixed straight ahead. “Do…you…find…it…pleasant?”

Though he couldn’t see her, he could feel the distress of her confusion welling up as she stood silent beside him. She looked down at their clasped, sweaty hands, then lifted her eyes to follow the direction of his gaze. She stammered, feeling foolish once again.

“Y-yes.”

He turned sharply on his heels and his dark eyes, framed with even darker lashes, drove into hers. “Do you understand to what thing I was referring?”

She cleared her throat and her eyes widened as she formed her answer with care. “I don’t. But I didn’t want to make you angry by using the word “no” to you again.”

No…WHAT? Are you saying ''no'' to me, Alexis?

He cocked his head at her clever reasoning and the quick skill with which she extricated herself from an uncertain position. It amused him to watch her nimble little mind twist and bend under the pressure that his very gaze could bear down on this proud and lovely young creature. It was the primal thrill of the hunt. It took him back to the early thrill of power he felt all those years ago, when seeing the terror in her saucer eyes as he chased her down and deftly caught her up in his arms. She would wriggle and kick, never beg or cry. But Alexis would scream, when thrust into total darkness. He laughed in the face of those screams. She knew what he wanted, what would set her free. He wanted her to obey him - he wanted her to beg. She never did.

I told you that there was nothing to be frightened of. That I didn’t want to hurt you...

Looking down at her now, he could scarcely believe she was the same scrawny, somber little urchin now so utterly transformed through the magic wand of a clearly graceful adolescence. He let his eyes wander across her face, down from her eyes to the faint mark of his hand on her cheek. She hadn’t flinched, and he supposed his mother still made such a gesture commonplace. Her gaze lowered to the floor as she was studied in silence, unsure how her response to his question had been received. It was unfamiliar and unsettling to be the focus of such attention from him – as a grown up. But she was confident that her days in a small, dark space were over.

“I find it pleasant.” He finally broke the silence, and she met his eyes once more. “Examining your face – your very lovely face – as you were examining mine just a few minutes ago.”

Her mouth dropped open in surprise. “Oh…” She understood, and bit her lip in sheepish embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I hadn’t meant to stare. It’s been some years since we were in such close company and it’s strange to see you…older.” She quickly added an impromptu observance. “And with facial hair, too.”

He laughed and stroked the short growth of beard he was trying to coax into something more. “Am I to assume, then, that you DO find my face pleasant?” He leaned down to whisper. “I’m told that most young ladies do.” He winked and she blushed.

“Yes, of course I do.”

“More so than Stefan?”

His power surged once more as a wave of unease came over her face. He anticipated a struggle, but she didn’t miss a beat.

“Different. There is no comparison.”

“We are brothers.”

“Yes, but there can be different wines made from the same orchard of grapes. Each has its own…pleasant qualities, without sharing characteristics inherent in the grapes themselves. You and Stefan don’t favor each other in any way but for the color of your eyes - and even in that, there is a difference. Yours are much darker.”

He was intrigued. Her use of this particular simile entreated him to pay more attention to this little cousin of his, and he began to understand a bit of his mother’s wrath toward her as well. She was keen and quick, and a surprising beauty. That island wouldn’t be big enough for Helena and ANY smart, pretty, young thing. He frankly wondered why the girl hadn’t been gotten rid of a long time before. There were plenty of boarding schools in Europe, and she was certainly of an age, if not past. He imagined her continued presence on the island was Stefan’s doing – his reluctance to lose his doting pet. His poor, ridiculous little brother.

“Hmm. Comparing me to a grape, are you?”

Her breath froze in her lungs.

“I suppose my appreciation of fine wine has already been made known to you, hasn’t it, you clever little thing?”

She exhaled as softly as possible as he smiled broadly.

“And you’re right. My brother and I don’t favor each other at all.” He reached for her face and tilted it upward with the tips of his fingers. “But do you know something, clever butterfly? I believe you and I favor each other instead. Your eyes are as deeply brown as mine, your cheekbones as high, and the structure of your face…almost as regal. By all rights, you should have been MY pet while growing up, not my brother’s.”

My brother has done his part, in teaching you and guiding you. Now I want to do my duty toward you as well.

He lowered his hand from her face and swept it around behind her body, laying his arm across her shoulders. “But I was horrid and mean, and you hated me.”

“I…” Her protest was halted by his kiss upon her nose. “I thought you hated ME.” She whispered inside a shy smile.

“Well. Isn’t it fortunate that we’re both grown up now and can put away all of our childish mistakes and misunderstandings?”

“I would like that.” She wanted things to be different now, for both Stefan and herself. Brothers should regard each other with love, and she never wanted to be a source of conflict between them.

“Good.”

He turned and continued to lead her toward the French doors. His palm slid down from her bare shoulder to travel the warm length of her smooth, young skin. She looked up at him with a hesitant smile, his tender affections tempting her innocent heart like candy held up before a child.

“Yes, I do expect that the poor little Davidovich orphan, all grown up, IS worthy of my efforts to help make her a fine and proper Cassadine woman.”

Orphan. The word always made her feel shame, and her eyes lowered at the sound of it. She tried to stay proud - but sometimes, she could not.

“That IS what you want?”

She nodded, eyes still downcast.

“Alexis!”

His sharp tone jerked her head upright. He squinted at her and cocked his head, touching a finger to his ear.

“Did you say something?”

She swallowed, embarrassed to have so quickly forgotten his instructions to speak up.

“Yes.”

"Good. That’s all I wanted to hear.” He smiled as he reached for the doors, pulling them more widely open. In his mind, she had finally begged.

Certain things are, after all, the rightful place of the future head of the family. Stefan understands that…do you?

He stepped back to allow her first entrance, as was the gentlemanly thing to do. The full strength of the sun greeted her from the open balcony in the corner of the room, and her eyes closed against the bright glow. She heard the door shut behind her, and soon felt his hand against the small of her back, gently pushing her forward and further into the heat. Her eyes blinked, trying to stay open in the face of the glare, but it was too much. Bright squiggles and spots began to dance behind her closed lids, and she relied on him to guide her. She felt her skin begin to tingle beneath the heat of his hand as it pressed against the thin cotton of her dress. That unspecific fear began to revisit her. Anticipating the unknown, she wondered what would be expected of her. She was eager to prove herself worthy and make Stefan proud.

But she was yet to understand what things she was now old enough to learn that Stefan could not, or would not, teach her himself.

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Nine fifteen – too early for his internal clock to allow him to sleep, regardless of his desire to let go.

The longer he lay in the quiet darkness, the more restless Sonny became. He needed to get up and move, and he needed water to quell the dryness in his throat. He sat himself upright and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The penguin perched on the nightstand stared at him, and he smiled down at it with a shake of his head. It was sweet how she worried more about his separation anxiety than her own, but it was often said that women were supposed to be the truly stronger sex. He wouldn’t argue it at all.

He didn’t bother to grab his robe as he slipped through the door and made his way down the hall. All was still in her room - only the gentle sound of her breathing graced the air. The soft lamplight bathed her in its glow, though not strong enough to disturb her rest. Alexis lay sprawled on her stomach, face turned toward the open door and hair tousled across her cheek. The covers had been kicked down to her hips in a white tangle that bunched around her legs. One arm was lost somewhere beneath the pillow, while the other was pulled tight into her chest with fingers curled up against her neck. She didn’t look at all comfortable, and he worried she’d get cold. Sonny wrestled with whether to at least pull the covers up, or just let her be. He finally chose the latter, and stepped away from the door with a last, loving look cast her way. He hoped she wouldn’t have a nasty kink in her neck when she woke up the next day.

The living room was filled with moonlight that reached in through the tall windows facing north. As he returned from the kitchen, water bottle in hand, Sonny stopped to gaze at the city lights that stretched as far as he could see. It was a clear and vibrant night, with an expanse of stars up in the sky and a sea of life on the streets down below. He wished Alexis could see it. He wished she were standing there beside him, wrapped in his arms and smiling at the stunning beauty the night had to offer. He smiled himself at the thought of it, knowing that there were still many beautiful things in the world that no evil could possibly touch.

A sudden rapping at the door jolted his senses. Sonny checked his watch again. Nine thirty. Not at all too late to knock under normal circumstances, but anyone who knew her would no better to intrude on that particular night. He quickly moved to the door and peered through the peephole, before opening the door to Stefan Cassadine. The man was clearly stunned to see Sonny Corinthos standing before him, barefoot and so casually attired. Sonny stood rooted to the floor as he watched Cassadine’s narrowed eyes regard his appearance with suspicion. He took a swig of water and wiped his wet mouth with the back of his hand.

“Alexis is asleep. And it would be best if you call before you drop by. She’ll be resting a lot over the next few days, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to disturb her.”

Stefan’s eyes drifted past Sonny’s shoulder to wander around the room, as if looking for something awry. “I DID call, Mr. Corinthos. Alexis didn’t answer the phone, nor did her machine pick up. And apparently her cell phone is out of service. Needless to say, I was concerned.”

As Sonny turned his eyes toward the answering machine on the desk, Stefan pushed his way past him and into the room.

“Come on in.” Sonny deadpanned.

Stefan stopped at the foot of the stairs and glanced upward. “What is going on here?”

Sonny ignored him. He gently shut the door and turned on the desk light to examine the machine. “Oops. Sorry about that. Alexis must have accidentally turned the machine off after listening to a message. And I guess I forgot to turn the ringer back on after she woke up from her nap.”

Stefan’s jaw tensed. Corinthos' ease with Alexis had grown far too familial for his taste while she was ill, and it struck an even harsher chord now.

“And her cell phone is at my place. She’d dropped it when she was…it was found under her car. I’ll charge it up for her, now that she’s home.”

“I asked you a question, and I expect an answer. What is going on?”

“Well, what’s going on is that Alexis went to bed early because she just got home from the hospital today and she’s pretty wiped out. I’m pretty wiped out myself, but I can’t seem to get to sleep because I know that it’s only nine thirty. It's a psychological thing.”

“Why are you here? Is there something else wrong that Alexis didn’t want me to know?”

“No, nothing else is wrong. Don’t worry - Alexis is good. I’m just here to look after her for a couple of days, that’s all.”

Stefan’s arms crossed. “Look after her? You?”

“Yeah, me.”

“If my sister needs care, it will be from a qualified professional, not a…coffee vendor – is that the official title you're using these days?” His superiority was rearing its ugly little head, but Sonny would not buy in.

“Keep your voice down, Cassadine.” He muttered, taking a small step forward. “Alexis needs her sleep. But she doesn’t need professional care, just someone to be with her. Someone to make sure she’s properly fed and rested and taking her vitamins…and to keep any unpleasant distractions on the other side of that door.”

Stefan met Sonny’s small advance. “That someone should be me.”

Sonny’s eyes drifted up the stairway. “No offense, but she didn’t ask you.”

“But she did ask you?”

Sonny shrugged with a smile. Stefan took a deep breath as his spine stiffened, and Sonny saw the disappointment and hurt register in his eyes. He didn’t deserve any sympathy, after what he put Alexis through…but Sonny tried to be the good man she said she knew him to be.

“Maybe it’s because of my cooking. She likes it.”

Stefan released his breath and swallowed. “I asked her to let me take her home to Wyndemere. I wanted her to recover with everything she could need at her disposal, including me.”

“She needed to be home. I don’t think you could understand how intense that need was.”

“She told me, and I do understand.” His arms slowly uncrossed and slipped back down to his sides as he spoke. “What I don’t think YOU could understand is that I was always the one looking out for her, and she knew I wanted to do that for her now. But to choose you instead…she must, on some level, still be angry with me. She may not even realize it, but she must be or she would have come to me.”

Sonny sighed loudly and sat on the edge of the desk. “Did she or did she not call you on the carpet for what you did? Did she or did she not tell you how it made her feel?”

“She did.”

“And did you apologize, did she say she forgave you?”

Stefan rubbed at his eyes and didn’t say a word. Sonny knew the answer already.

“Then it’s over, Cassadine. Done. Alexis doesn’t do grudges and she doesn’t do ulterior motives or payback. Haven’t we gone over this already? And why do you need me to give you lessons in Alexis, 101 - you, of all people?”

The sound of Alexis’ own words to him coming out of his own mouth to her brother took Sonny aback. And in the blink of an eye, his question to Stefan was suddenly answered. This man still did, and probably always would, see Alexis as the lost, helpless child she was before – and he'd do it through the eyes of a protective boy. Sonny saw her as the strong, determined woman that she was now – and he did it through the eyes of a man. And as great as Sonny’s need was to protect her and care for her, Cassadine’s need was older, deeper and much more profound. It would always be so, and Sonny found himself awash in compassion and understanding. It seemed that Alexis’ influence was rubbing off on him at last.

“Look, Alexis didn’t want ANYONE hovering over her any more, and she fought Tony Jones about it until the ink was dry on her release papers. But Tony was adamant, I happen to live right across the hall, she’s already used to MY being in her face after all her time in the hospital...it was just a matter of convenience to let it be me. So don’t get all bent out of shape about it. It wasn’t personal.”

As Stefan stared at him in deep contemplation, Sonny casually took another swallow of water. Corinthos surely thought him a simpleton. If he thought he’d achieved success in hiding his true motives, he was mistaken. Stefan suspected them the first time Corinthos set foot in Stefan’s office, rooting around Alexis's history for private information and making demands. But the second such visit left no room for doubt. There was nothing ‘convenient’ in his appointment as Alexis’ caretaker – that role was sought out and won. Corinthos may seek to have Alexis, but he was insane if he thought he would win her.

“You know that I don’t at all approve of my sister’s professional association with you.”

“As Alexis would say - noted.”

“And this newfound personal association is something I find even more disturbing.”

“It’s not so new. Alexis and I crossed the line from just attorney and client to good friends quite a while ago. But since you were gone for so long, and Alexis was ticked at you when you came back, you wouldn’t know that. Except, of course, for what I’ve already told you in our private and rather unproductive conversations.”

Stefan sniffed and rocked back on his heels as his arms folded across his chest once more. “As I said before, Mr. Corinthos, you are a dangerous person for Alexis to have in her life, regardless of the capacity. It’s almost killed her – twice.”

“And being the illegitimate offspring of your father almost killed her - twice. Or should I say, twice that I know of. I’m guessing that the number is actually higher than that, because I’ve only known Alexis for like, five years, so there was a whole lifetime of opportunities for your mother to take aim.”

Stefan’s face grew hot as the blood pulsed through his temples. He had to remind himself to keep his voice low. “We both know that the situation with Helena is completely different from the situation with you. Alexis was born Helena’s target – you have wantonly made her one, and for anyone who calls you their enemy.”

Sonny’s stomach tightened. The words he heard were a truth he already knew, and one he’d already been told by Ashton. Not that he needed anyone to point it out.

“I do believe you care for her, Mr. Corinthos.”

“I do.” Sonny’s voice was raspy in reply.

“Then let her be safe. Alexis deserves that.”

“I agree. But does that mean you plan on doing away with your mother sometime soon? Because until SOMEONE does, and I mean once and for all, Alexis will be a target no matter what she is to me. You keep her safe from the Cassadine monsters, and I’ll keep her safe from the rest.”

The two men regarded each other in heavy silence…a silence abruptly ended by the chilling sound of a piercing cry.