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Scene 69

The morning had come quickly, after a deep and dreamless sleep for three weary souls.

Alexis lay still, snuggled warmly under the soft comforter with her brother beside her and his arm curled protectively around her head. The morning’s light filtered in through the lace curtains, bathing the bed in its awakening glow. Stefan’s eyes slowly blinked open to see the top of her head, just inches below his chin as they both rested on the same large pillow. It took but a moment for him to remember where he was, with whom, and why. Alexis had needed him, and he was there for her. And as he smiled down at her sleeping face, halfway hidden by strands of hair, he felt he’d been given back a precious gift that was carelessly lost. The only thing that pressed on his heart was the fact that his sister’s childhood traumas come back to haunt her.

Corinthos had told him the truth about her nightmares from the start, and Stefan couldn’t help but wonder if his instincts to shield her had ultimately had made things worse for her. And he wondered if something else Corinthos said was true – that no child should have to learn to deny their fears, as he had taught Alexis to do. He’d meant to protect her, not do her a disservice. But he was just a boy, and it was the only way that he knew to be. A light sigh hit his ears and Stefan carefully lifted his head from the pillow to gaze down at her face. His steady fingers lifted a lock of hair from her lashes, and the healing scrape on her forehead came into his full view. It made his stomach tighten to see what other evil hands had put upon her beautiful face. He tilted his head down to press a kiss to her hair, and Stefan prayed that if there were deeper secrets locked in her mind, they would stay so locked. Not even he could protect her from things he didn’t know himself, and some suspicions were better left alone.

The strength of the light across the bed was growing, spreading further up over their resting bodies, and Stefan turned his head to glance over his shoulder. He stared with half-lidded eyes into the gold-lit window, but his focus soon drifted down to the floor below, where another golden glow had huddled within his arms on the floor. He wasn’t sure what he’d say to her when she woke up. Would she even remember anything of the previous night? He hadn’t thought to ask Corinthos if she had remembered the times it happened before. If she did, would she understand? And if she understood, would she still be afraid?

A rich, welcome fragrance was suddenly caressing his nose, and Stefan turned to see Sonny quietly approaching the bed, his eyes trained on Alexis. He wore fresh clothing – black jeans and an ivory sweater - and he carried a steaming coffee mug in each hand. He hesitated when he felt Stefan’s eyes on his face, then circled around to his side of the bed.

“I took a guess you like it unadulterated.” Sonny held one mug out to him in an outstretched hand. His voice was low and raspy, as was common with the first spoken words of the day.

Stefan swallowed and carefully shifted his weight upward and away from Alexis. “A guess well taken. Thank you.”

Sonny smiled as he watched Alexis turn her face further into the pillow and curl her fingers under her chin. She liked her coffee black as well – as did Sonny. “The rest of her night was good?” His enquiry was for show. He knew she’s been fine, but preferred Cassadine not know of his camp-out on the floor in the hall.

“Yes. She slept well, as you expected she would.”

Sonny nodded and gently blew rippling circles into the dark surface of his coffee. He took a few small steps backward and glanced back before lowering himself into the overstuffed chair. His eyes darted quickly to the floor beside him, then back to Cassadine’s intent face.

“She needs a lot of rest right now. I’m not sure how late she’ll sleep and I won’t wake her up, so if you need to…”

“I understand. And I’ll wait. I don’t need to be anywhere but here.” Stefan blew into his coffee, turning the hot mug within his cupped hands. “I have to make sure Alexis is alright after…” He stopped speaking. His eyes left Sonny as he took a sip of coffee, contemplating how to word his next thought.

“How is it?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The coffee. It’s my own personal blend.”

“It’s...good.”

“Alexis likes my coffee – especially my cappuccino. She makes lousy coffee.”

Stefan smiled in spite of himself. “Yes, I know.” He found his words. “I need to know how she’ll be when she wakes up. Does she understand what’s been happening to her in her sleep?”

“Yeah, she understands. And she remembers some. But like you said last night, about when she was little, she doesn’t talk about it. I never questioned her because I didn’t know what kind of territory I’d be stepping into. I suspected, but…I didn’t know. That’s why I came to you, at the hospital.”

Stefan lowered his head in guilt. “I did what I thought was best and right, under the circumstances. My family means the world to me, and I will always follow my instincts with regard to them. My instincts told me to not fully trust you with Alexis’ well being. But I acknowledge that you were being truthful with me about…all this. And as I said before, I can see that you care for her - a great deal.” His last few words were infused with a quality all their own, and their deeper meaning was very clear.

“Good. I can see that about you too.” He tilted his head and leaned forward, resting his elbows against the tops of his thighs while he sipped his coffee. Alexis still slept so peacefully, after ten hours…again. She was sure to admonish him for allowing her to languish in bed so long, and the thought of it made him grin. He enjoyed his bossy moments with her, and he enjoyed her bossiness with him as well.

And as if she could read his mind, Alexis began to awaken. Her legs uncurled and stretched out along the length of the bed as she lightly groaned. Sonny rose from his chair and stood in place, watching as she turned her head against the pillow, away from his view. She took a slow, deep breath, and its release was equally lazy. Sonny began making his way toward the other side of the bed as Alexis stretched one arm upward and rubbed at her eye with the back of her hand. A small smile began to creep across her face, and Sonny was sure that she knew he was there.

“Did you make coffee, or did Johnny come back?” She mumbled, eyes still closed in a drowsy heaviness.

Sonny feigned indignation as he came closer to her. “Johnny? Is Johnny the finest coffee purveyor in Port Charles?”

“No.” She hugged the pillow to her head and turned further onto her side with her back to her silent brother. “But he did promise to bring me all the coffee I wanted, after Tony sent me home. You, however, made no such offer.”

“You hurt me – DEEPLY!” Sonny’s dramatic tone made her laugh and she pushed the hair from her eyes before finally opening her groggy lids. “But it just so happens that there is some freshly ground espresso in the cappuccino machine right now, just waiting for you to wake up.”

“My house boy – I think I’ll keep him.” She pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to suppress a yawn.

Sonny chuckled, glancing at Stefan’s impatient face. “There’s something else waiting for you to wake up.”

Alexis closed her eyes and groaned as she turned away from him, pushing her face into the pillow. “Sonny, it’s much too early for you start bugging me about those stupid vitamins, if that’s what’s on your mind. And I’ll eat something AFTER you make good on your promise of cappuccino – deal?”

“That sounds reasonable to me.”

The familiar, resonant voice raining down over her head stunned her. Her eyes shot open to a long expanse of black propped against the headboard, in sharp contrast to the white sheets and comforter covering the bed. Alexis squinted as her head tilted upward to Stefan’s smile. He stared down at her, cup in hand.

“Good morning.” He took a sip from his mug and shifted his stiff body’s weight, turning himself more directly toward her.

“Um…hi.” Alexis gazed up at him as if she were seeing an apparition. She swallowed and rubbed at her eyes again, wondering if she was indeed awake. But she soon felt a warm hand upon her head, smoothing back her hair, and she knew that it was real. Alexis smiled and cleared her throat, holding her brother’s face in her focus with her bottom lip between her teeth. Stefan held out his coffee mug to her.

“Perhaps this would help?”

“She’s holding out for cappuccino.”

Alexis turned her head to Sonny as she worked to push herself upright, groaning at the effort. “Who says I can’t have both?”

Her muscles continued to remind her that she had a ways to go before she’d completely mend. Stefan reached behind her to pull up the pillows and cushion her back from the hard wood. She smiled at him with a strange, confused expression, and took the mug from his hands. The soothing warmth crept into her skin as the aroma crept into her nose, and Alexis was suddenly struck by how much she’d missed the simple ritual of morning coffee. It was just one of so many simple things she’d come to take for granted, and hoped she never would again.

“Why didn’t you wake me up instead of sitting here staring and waiting a possible eternity for me to do it on my own? If I’d known you were here I’d have had the decorum to get dressed – or at least get out of bed.'' She turned her attention to Sonny. ''And how long did you let me sleep THIS time, anyway?”

She sipped on her coffee and sighed happily at the normalcy of it – if not the normalcy of waking up to these two men sipping coffee in her room.

“Ten, ten and a half hours.” Sonny grinned wide. “What, you though I’d set an alarm? You know my rule - you wake up when you wake up, end of discussion.”

“Sonny seeks to turn me into a sloth. I don’t intend to let him.” She lightly scratched at her arm, fingers slipping beneath the silk and pushing it upward as they trailed back and forth. Stefan unconsciously glanced down at the movement of her hand and saw the pink puncture marks and scratches peeking up at him, set against the pale tone of her skin. His eyes quickly found hers and he leaned in toward her.

“I happen to agree with Mr. Corinthos on this issue. I expect you to put your natural tendencies toward impatience and stubbornness aside, and…”

“Said the pot to the kettle!” Alexis protested.

Stefan sighed and gave her a stern face. “AND…I expect you to allow yourself to rest, and heal, and regain your strength.”

He gently set his hand down to still the movement of hers. Alexis looked down and saw what Stefan had seen. She knew it wasn't new to his eyes, but her first impulse was to quickly push her sleeve back down and hide it. She didn’t – she couldn’t. Stefan was firmly holding his palm over her hand…and something about it sent her mind traveling.

“Do you understand me, Alexis?”

Stefan’s voice, saying those words, froze her body. There was something she wanted to grasp, a connection she wanted to make. She looked up at his face, his curious face waited for her answer to his question. Alexis closed her eyes and cocked her head in concentration as she allowed herself to open, to go with whatever images were trying to come through to her. She wanted the clouds to lift

“Alexis?”

His voice was more demanding now, and tinged with a bit of fear. But a small connection was made. Alexis opened her eyes and inhaled a short, sharp breath.

“You didn’t just stop by this morning, did you? You were here last night. All night.”

Stefan smiled and reached for her mug, which was held at a dangerous tilt and looked ready to spill. “May I?” He took it from her and took a swallow of the cooling coffee, then set it down on the nightstand beside him. “I called last night to let you know that I’d spoken to Nikolas, as you asked me to do, but there was no answer.”

“How was he?”

“Upset that no one told him earlier. But I think he understands…somewhat. He’s just glad you’re alright and wanting to see you.”

“Oh. Good. I want to see him too, when I look a little better.” She frowned suddenly. “What do you mean, there was no answer? We were here.”

“It seems that between the two of us, we managed to mess up the phone AND the machine.” Sonny explained. “No more handling of electronics right after waking up from a nap.”

“Check.” She turned to Stefan. “Sorry.”

Stefan shrugged. “I was worried, so I came by to make sure you were alright.”

“And?” She prodded him further.

“And you had already gone to bed. Since you so adamantly refused my request to come to Wyndemere and be properly watched over, I decided to stay the night and watch over you myself.”

“The mountain came to Mohammad?”

Stefan’s eyebrows rose up. “Well, you did give me permission to check up on you as often as I wanted, remember? I took you at your word.”

“That was sweet, Stefan, but hardly necessary - at least, not for you to stay all night. Sonny was here, and I was fine.”

Stefan smiled, but didn’t speak. And as Alexis read his eyes, a vague image began to crystallize in her head. It was another cloud breaking, another connection forming. It was Stefan’s voice in her ear, his touch upon her cheek…but a face that belonged to someone else. She frowned and turned away, trying to force the image to grow. Sonny took a step closer, sensing what was happening. He could see the wheels turning and his instinct was to slow them down and distract.

“Why don’t I go fire up the cappuccino machine?”

She looked up at him with a shy, embarrassed expression, and he knew it was too late.

“Could you hand me my robe, please? It’s on the inside of the closet door.”

“Sure.” Sonny slowly stepped back, toward the closet, his eyes still trained on her face.

“Alexis? What’s troubling you?”

Stefan’s gently asked question had a certain knowing tone. She didn’t answer, but the feel of his hand upon her shoulder turned her eyes to him. The look on his face confirmed what she already suspected – it had happened again, and this time her brother had seen it. Alexis wanted to crawl under the bed. She bit her lip and Stefan sighed, moving his hand to her cheek. Her eyes drifted away from his and set upon the morning sun filtering in through the curtains…the smooth panels of lace that grew twisted and wrinkled just two feet above the floor. Her hands unconsciously clenched in remembrance of holding the lace within them, pressing it to her face and blocking the air from her lungs.

“Here you go.” Sonny stood before her with a black silk robe draped over his arm. “Is this okay, or did you want the blue velvet that you were wearing yesterday? This one’s a little light, so if you’re cold…”

“It’s fine.”

Alexis turned back to him with lowered eyes and a vacant expression that made his jaw tighten. She pushed the covers back and carefully swung her legs over the side of the bed, easing herself onto the floor with one hand braced against the nightstand. Sonny held the robe up for her to slip her arms into the sleeves, then lifted her hair from beneath the collar. Alexis pulled the silk tight around her body and loosely tied the sash around her waist.

“Thank you.” She whispered, still not meeting his gaze as she pulled the silk tight around her body and loosely tied the sash around her waist. She cleared her throat and vaguely turned her head in Stefan’s direction. “Why don’t you two go on downstairs and finish your coffee. Um…I’ll get dressed and…”

She rubbed at her eyes and Sonny saw her hand was shaking. He reached down and took hold of the end of one end of her sash, gently, playfully tugging on it.

“Hey, talk to me. I know you’re remembering something. Please, Alexis – talk to me.”

She opened her eyes to Sonny’s dark stare, and she felt her strength dissolving. When he looked at her that way, she wanted to tell him everything…but everything was too much.

“Or talk to me.” Stefan had come around the corner of the bed and stood there, hesitant, just a few feet away. “You always used to. Have I ruined that between us?”

He slowly came closer to her and her eyes followed him with a shadow of guilt. She didn’t want her brother still thinking she was angry, or pushing him away in mistrust. Her shaking hand moved down to clutch at the collar of her robe, fidgeting nervously as she tried to calm the anxiety that grew along with her memories of the night.

“Nothing is ruined between us, Stefan. And it never could be.” She watched his tense shoulders release, and he smiled in relief. “But I need to know – did you show up last night before, during, or after?

His smile quickly morphed into a pained expression, and he took another step forward, reaching for her with a hoarse whisper. “Alexis…”

Her body jerked backward at his sudden motion. “That’s what I thought. God…”

Stefan froze, as if he’d been hit. Alexis tilted her head and looked to her brother with abject contrition, wishing she hadn’t pulled away from him. Her reflexes were often getting the better of her, and she hated it.

“I’m sorry.”

Stefan lowered his raised hand back down to his side, his eyes washing over her with nothing but warmth. “You haven't a thing to be sorry for.”

She furtively glanced back to Sonny’s worried face, and suddenly felt trapped all over again. She wanted to move, to be out from under the two pair of dark eyes intent on her and waiting for her to…she didn’t know what. Sonny regarded her nervous shifting and took a small step back

“I – we don’t mean to make you uncomfortable or pressure you.” His hand let go of the silk sash and moved up to cover the hand that clung to her collar. “I think maybe we should go downstairs and leave you in peace to get dressed. Or to take another bubble bath, if that sounds good.” Alexis smiled, and Sonny smiled back. “And I’ll have that cappuccino ready when you are - with chocolate sprinkles on top.” He winked and gently squeezed her hand as he moved to leave. Alexis turned her hand within his and squeezed back.

“Don’t go.” She murmured, her chin quivering. “I just expected it to stop. I thought that once the detox was over with and that damned IV was out of my arm and I was out of the hospital bed…I thought that once I got back home, it would stop.” Her eyes closed and she bit down hard on her lip to keep her chin steady.

“Hey.” Sonny took her face in his hands. “Look at me.” She vaguely shook her head – she couldn’t. “Okay, then just listen. Do you remember what we talked about yesterday? You said you wish you could act like nothing bad happened to you, but you know you can’t because that would be a lie.”

Alexis nodded. Her eyes opened, but stayed focused down on the ground.

“Well, your dreams don’t want you to live a lie either. I think that wise and wonderful mind of yours is just trying to let some truths out. I know how much you hate it, but maybe it’s not such a bad thing. The more you can let go of memories that hurt you, the less power they have over you – the less they CAN hurt you. And you know that I know what I’m talking about.”

His last words, almost imperceptibly whispered, moved her eyes to his.

“Do you remember Deke? What I told you about him and what he did?”

Alexis glanced at Stefan, and Sonny firmed his hold on her head. “It’s okay. There’s no attorney/client thing going on in this room.”

She swallowed and her eyes moved back to the floor. “Of course I remember. Do you think I’d forget a thing like that?”

Sonny smiled. “I really didn’t want to tell you about him.”

“I know.”

“But I had to. And I trusted you.”

“I know that too.”

Sonny took a moment, loosening his hands but keeping them in place against her face. “I was eight. You?”

“What?”

“How old were you, when it started – being shut away in dark places…being hit maybe.”

He felt a shudder run through her and it filled him with a new wave of grief.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Alexis.” Stefan’s voice drifted into her ears. “But if you are afraid, it’s alright.”

As she lifted her eyes to her brother, he tilted his head and smiled. Her weight was lifting already. Sonny ran his tongue across his dry lips and took a deep breath.

“You’ve got love all around you. Take it…trust it.”

Alexis finally met Sonny’s close stare, and felt herself falling into it as she finally, after so many years, allowed herself to acknowledge it with a halting whisper. “Five.”

He sighed and a small smile began to grace his face. “Thank you for telling me. I know you didn’t want to.”

“It’s not you…”

“I know. Believe me, I know.” A light thread of nervous laughter rose up in her and Sonny took one hand from her face. He slid one finger down her cheek and lightly tapped her dimple. “Thank you for this too.”

Before he knew what was happening, Sonny felt Alexis’ arms wrapping around his waist and her hair brushing against his cheek as her chin came to rest on his shoulder. He swallowed, trying to catch his breath and unsure what to do with his own hungry arms. He instinctively turned his face into her hair and inhaled the sweet scent of her, his eyes welling with both tenderness and bliss, and his body followed a natural course in response. Sonny encircled her with one gentle arm, his palm pressing into the cool silk that skirted her body, while the other hand cupped her head to hold it closer to his.

“I needed this even more.” He murmured, reveling in the soft warmth of her, and never wanting to let her go.

Alexis smiled. The feel of someone’s arms around her was something else she’d taken for granted – and missed. But she wanted unhesitant arms. She tightened her hold on Sonny, wanting him to do the same but knowing that he wouldn’t. They may be out of sight, but the bruises on her back would still be vivid in his mind. Sonny’s kid gloves were firmly in place with her, and she wished he’d take them off…or loosen them, just a bit. But she laughed softly as she felt Sonny’s fingers moving in her hair. It was the one place he always touched her without hesitation. Alexis blinked her eyes open and saw Stefan watching them. He looked like an island, standing detached and too far away. As her eyes fixed on his, she loosened her arms from around Sonny’s waist.

“I’m not afraid, Stefan.”

She slowly took a step back from Sonny’s embrace, and felt his hand slip out of her hair. The palm he’d settled against the curve of her waist relaxed and eased itself down to the un-bruised small of her back. He bowed his head as she moved from him, keeping his eyes to the floor. Sonny was the one truly afraid – afraid that she’d see what holding her like that had done to him. But the brief, light touch of her hand upon his cheek caught him off guard and he nervously smiled, feeling his face grow warm with the blood rushing through it. And his back was still burning from the phantom heat of her arms pressed against his body. Alexis took another small step back, and her fingers slipped away from him. It was only then that he felt safe to look up, when he saw her turn away and knew her attention had shifted to the other man in the room.

“I mean it. I’m not afraid.” She reached a hand out to her brother, who took it without hesitation. She sat on the edge of the bed and Stefan sat beside her, as Sonny stood a few feet away. “I’m just mad, because I can’t make the dreams stop. And because people I care about have seen me…like you did, and I hate that. I know how upsetting it must be - to you, especially.”

She looked up at him with those big, dark little girl eyes that he knew so well, and Stefan pulled her hand up to his mouth, pressing a long kiss against it. “It upset me when you were a child, and Stavros would lock you in the dark and laugh at your screams.”

The color began to drain from Alexis’ face. “Stefan, please…”

“It upset me that I couldn’t stop him, and that all I could do was notice when you’d vanished, and then roam the house listening for your cries. And it upset me to see how frightened you were, once I found you, and to know how hard you tried to be brave because that’s what I had asked of you.”

“Don’t do this.” Alexis had gone pale, listening to the stream of previously unspoken Cassadine truths spilling from his mouth – and in front of an outsider he did not trust. But Stefan was desperate to end this much for her, and he was desperate to shed the remains of his own guilt.

“I must.”

Alexis glanced at Sonny, who shifted uncomfortably.

“This is private. I’ll leave you alone.”

“N-no, don’t go.” She turned to Stefan. “Unless…”

He shook his head. “It's your call. But Mr. Corinthos was right, Alexis. We both have weights that need to be lifted, and we cannot allow Stavros and Helena to continue having the power to hurt us. We must let it go.”

“What weight do you need lifted – Nikolas? He will come back to you, I know it.”

“No, not Nikolas. After our brief talk about you last night, I trust that his love for me isn’t gone. It’s simply hiding beneath his anger, as you said.”

“What then? Me?”

His eye twitched and she knew that his weight was, in fact, her.

“I’m sorry, Stefan. I never should have pushed you away when I was…sick. I wasn’t thinking straight and nothing even felt real.”

“Stop, Alexis. I don’t blame you for your trepidation with me. I gave you cause – you were justified in the things you you said to me. I was obsessed with besting Helena, and I lost sight of all else. I treated you with disregard and it shames me.”

“I always knew that you loved me, just like you know Nikolas loves you. No matter what I said out of hurt, I could never really allow myself to believe that I’d lost you for good. If I did, I think I would die.”

“I thought the same - when I learned that what had been done to you all those years ago had been done to you once again, and also something worse. Only this time, I was nowhere to be found. I didn’t notice you had vanished, I didn’t roam the streets, listening for your cries, and I wasn’t the one who found you.” Stefan’s face turned to Sonny, filled with gratitude laced with resentful envy.

“If I hear one more word of mea-culpa out of you, I may be forced to toss you out on your ear and never let you back in to check up on me again. You got that?”

Stefan’s eyes widened in amusement at the stern tone in her voice and her brow all furrowed in an authoritative expression. “Loud and clear.”

“Good.” She turned to Sonny, whose spine straightened. “And that goes for you to.”

Sonny scowled with a sly wink. “She’s so bossy.”

Stefan gingerly slipped his arms around his sister, and Alexis turned back to him, melting into his embrace.

“Don’t worry about my back, okay? It doesn’t really hurt all that much. Just hold me. Please?”

A thin stream burst forth from each of Stefan’s eyes, silently and without flourish as he firmed his hold with care. He turned his mouth into her ear and whispered something soft and low in the language Sonny didn’t recognize. But then, he whispered again, two distinct English words.

“Little one.”

Alexis laughed through her own sniffles and tears. “Not any more.”

“Always.” Stefan countered.

Sonny smiled as the joy on Alexis’ face as her brother’s love washed over her. Stefan slowly let his arms fall away from her and he carefully brushed the wetness from her cheeks, avoiding the purplish marks that looked like they still hurt. And he laughed, slightly embarrassed, as Alexis’ hand moved to do the same to his own damp face. His heart felt blissfully light, but full at the same time. It was a strange and unfamiliar feeling, but Stefan liked it.

Alexis pushed the hair back from her pink face and sighed heavily. “Okay. Now I really want that bath…and my cappuccino with chocolate sprinkles.”

“You got it.” Sonny’s hand touched her errant bangs as he moved past her on his way to the door. “Don’t forget the…”

“Vitamin E, I know. I’ll take care of it from now on.”

Sonny gave a single, definitive nod of his head. “One ‘Sonny Special’, coming up.” He looked at Stefan as he paused at the threshold. “A houseboy’s work is never done.”

Alexis’ voice called after him. “Oh yes it is. You’re off the hook as of tomorrow, remember?”

Her words hit him like a wall as he began to descend the stairs. He hadn’t remembered. He hadn’t wanted to, and his legs numbly carried him in a step-by-step fog. He’d never be off her hook – he’d fallen for Alexis hook, line and sinker. The question plaguing him now was what, if anything, to do about it.

Stefan rose from his perch on the bed and helped Alexis do the same. “I should get home and change before going back to GH. Please do call Nikolas as soon as you feel up to it. It took some heavy persuasion to keep him from storming your door to see for himself that you’re alive and well.”

Alexis groaned. “Oh God. I will, I promise. I didn’t want him to see me looking like this, but he is a big boy. Maybe I should have just asked him to come over and told him myself.” A grin began to spread across her face. “I forgot – there was the ulterior motive of you having an excuse to go see him. Never mind. I made the right decision.”

“You do have a way of looking quite pleased with yourself sometimes.”

“When I have cause, yes. And I AM pleased if I could help get you two talking again.”

“Just call him, please.”

“I will. I was going to call Ned as well, so maybe I’ll catch the both of them at L & B.”

“Are you and Ashton…”

“Don’t you need to go home and change?” Alexis squinted at him.

“Are you telling me to mind my own business?”

“I’m telling you that I don’t know. He’s coming over to see me today, and...I don't know. I'm just nervous about the thought of failing so miserably - again. But I can't even think about that now. Like you and Sonny said, I need to concentrate on getting stronger and making this all be over.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that.” Stefan cupped her face in one palm and kissed her cheek. “I will be back to check up on you again.”

“Bring a change of clothes, just in case.” The look in his eyes made her sorry for her quick joke. “I mean…you’d better.” She reached up to ruffle his already rumpled hair. “I like you messy.”

“Alexis, please!” He smoothed his hair back with a slight huff.

“I love you.” She whispered.

“Me too.” He smiled and took a quick look in the mirror above the dresser, straightening his jacket before following in Sonny’s path down the stairs.

Alexis stood in the doorway and watched him as he disappeared from view. Something inside made her want to call him back – to tell him of something that still weighed on her mind. But something else told her it was nothing, just a confusion of her dreams. Alexis turned where she stood and gazed at the long lace curtains, wrinkled near the ends from the twisting of her fists. The images conjured in her dreams were old and thick, but they were real, and she did remember. She remembered the dark of the closets, the struggle for breath, the smell of Shalimar in the air and Stefan’s soothing voice and touch as he delivered her from the small, lightless confines. And she remembered Stavros - chasing her, catching her and laughing. But the oddity and confusion was the image of Stavros, as conjured in her dreams.

It wasn't the face of Stavros, the boy...it was the face of Stavros, the man.