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Scene 73

The sharp slam sent him bolt upright.

It seemed he’d barely closed his eyes, yet his mind had given way to a quick slip in consciousness that his body now overrode in response to the abrupt noise rattling through his head. He was on his feet and opening the door before he knew it. Francis was nowhere to be seen, but Ashton stood halfway between Alexis’s door and the elevator. Sonny rubbed at his stiff, sore neck as Ned stared at him with a dark expression.

“What’s going on?”

Ned continued to glare. “I could ask you the same thing. But I won’t, since it would be a waste of my breath. I already know the answer and I’ve heard enough in the way of denials from Alexis. Coming from her, they’re simply naïve – coming from you, they’d be an insult.”

“Denials about what, Ashton? You got something on your mind, by all means spit it out.” His eyes roamed from Ned’s stony face to the closed door of Penthouse #2, making note of the eerie silence that lay beyond it. “And what did you do to Alexis now?”

Ned huffed, a sound ripe with sarcastic preface to the words that would follow. “What did I do to her? That’s a good one, coming from you. Well, I didn’t get her shot at – and I sure as hell didn’t get her shot UP. That’s YOUR territory, isn’t it? As her client turned friend, turned confident, then savior, moving on to bodyguard and now, sole CARETAKER!”

Sonny didn’t say a word in response to Ned’s anger. But his eyes narrowed in an anger of his own at the certainty that Alexis was behind the barrier of that closed door, hurting and needing his comfort. Ashton would no longer be a barrier between Sonny and the woman he loved with all his heart, and neither would that damned door. He turned his gaze away from Ashton’s reddened face and began his short journey to her. A quick, solid arm rose up before his chest to halt him. Sonny’s upper back arched and his chest went concave, rejecting and breaking the unwanted contact Ned had made with his body.

“Don’t touch me, Ashton.”

Ned’s arm stayed aloft for just a moment, as if to make a point, and then it dropped abruptly. “You asked me a question, Corinthos – what did I do to Alexis. Don’t you want to hear the answer?”

Sonny took a step back and turned his rigid body to fully face his rival. He stared, playing Ned’s game to better know what he faced when he went through that door.

“I listened to her…again. I listened to her tell me that there were things I didn’t understand about her, I listened to her tell me she needed control over her life, and I listened to her tell me that you seem to be the only one with whom she feels comfortable and secure. In other words, nothing Alexis said to me today was any different from what she’s BEEN saying to me, without words, since the day she left me at the alter. Only today, she found the words. Today, she finally made me HEAR her.”

Sonny sighed and cocked his head. “I told you Ashton. You never did know how to read her without her having to SAY words. All you have to do is look in her eyes and you should know, clear as day, what’s going on behind them. I do. Why don’t you?”

Ned shrugged. “What difference does it make now. She’s all yours, Corinthos. That’s what you’ve wanted all along, right? Congratulations on a dirty game well played.”

Sonny was stunned. He frowned and opened his mouth to protest, but Ned was quick.

“What, you think I didn’t notice it? Do you think Tony didn’t notice it, or Taggert, or anyone else who saw you with her at the hospital? Everyone noticed, Sonny - except for Alexis, of course, because she’d been too damned traumatized to be able to see your real motives. But it’s no secret to the rest of the world that you want Alexis not only on your payroll, but also in your bed.”

Sonny’s temples pounded, with a sickening amalgam of guilt, rage and relief. “Is that the kind of trash you threw at her just now, when she opened herself up and trusted you with her pain? You dump this older-than-God jealousy crap of yours on her now, after all she’s been through?”

“Someone had to take the blinders off her face and try to show her the truth. But she’s in too much denial right now to let it even begin to gel, and she sure as hell didn’t want to hear any of it from me. Not the cold, hard truth about her so-called ‘dragon slayer’.”

Sonny bristled at the sound of Ned’s voice uttering the private name that Alexis called him – private, and very precious to his heart. It’s what he wanted to be for her, and Ashton was mocking it. He slid his hands into his pockets and a deadly, dimpled smile slowly grew across his face.

“The cold, hard truth, according to her objective lover?”

“Ex-lover, ex-fiancé, ex-everything. Alexis may stay in denial as long as she’s still too fragile to allow herself to really think about what I said. But eventually, she will think about it. She’ll hold onto her misguided view of you as her savior for a little while longer. But in the end she will, as always, embrace logic. Logic will tell her that if Carly were still here, you never would have made a pet project out of taking such devoted care of your attorney. But Carly isn’t here, because you saw to it that SHE was protected. Not so, Alexis. So logic will also tell her that you feel guilty for allowing such awful things to happen to her at the hands of YOUR enemy.”

Sonny bit down on his lip, and was struck my how deeply he’d internalized a gesture of discomfort so fully owned in his mind by Alexis. He was mirroring her, even when not in her presence, and wondered if she was inside her home doing the exact same thing. His eyes locked onto the brass plates and he swallowed before speaking his carefully measured words in an equally even tone.

“I know that I failed to protect her, and that what happened to her was my fault. She’s accepted my apologies and is allowing me to make it up to her however she needs me to, however I can. But that’s between her and me alone. No one else.”

“So now you’re trying to assuage your guilt AND fill your own needs while you’re at it? If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with? Newsflash Sonny -Alexis is NOT Carly! She doesn’t let herself be used like that - not emotionally, and not sexually.”

“You’re going too far, Ashton. This is insulting not only to me, but even more so to the woman you claim to love.”

“I do love her – enough to want to protect her from what you have in mind. Once Alexis starts letting herself think about it and she realizes how you’re using her, you’ll need to find somewhere else to look to fill your pitiful, empty, violent little life because she will rip all trust away from you and shut the door on you for good.” He turned to the door with a wry look. “And I should know.”

He whacked the elevator’s call button with the heel of his hand.

“You know what your problem is, Ashton? You think you know a lot more than you really do, and you DON’T know things that you should.”

Ned shook his head with a sarcastic chuckle. “Said the man whose women fall all around him like a house of cards.”

Sonny took that hit right in the center of his being.

“As much as I’d love to see the day that Alexis DOES turn her back on you, I know it would devastate her and I don’t want to see her hurt like that. She’s had enough ugliness to deal with, and it would be very ugly for her to have to actually deal with what she’d surely see as your betrayal of her trust. At this moment in time, she sees your motives toward her as selfless. Why don’t you do the decent thing and back off now, before she sees just how self-serving they actually are?”

The elevator doors opened and Ned turned toward them with a bowed head. Sonny took a step forward, blocking his path.

“I would NEVER betray her trust. And I would never hurt her. That’s your dynamic with Alexis, not mine.”

“You’ve encouraged her total dependence on you and you alone since the day she was found! Do you think that didn’t hurt her while she was suffering? Do you think it doesn’t hurt her still or that it won’t do so in the long run?”

“I made sure she got everything and everyone she needed and wanted! And I never pushed her or made demands - unlike you. And I never expected anything from her that she wasn’t willing or able to give me.”

“Yeah, right.”

Ned roughly pushed his way past Sonny and into the waiting elevator car. Sonny stepped back to give him room, wanting Ashton to disappear and never set foot near Alexis again.

“You just keep on telling yourself that, Corinthos. I did. Now watch as the doors are shut on ME…for good. ”

And Sonny did watch, as Ned folded his arms across his chest in sync with the sliding movement of the doors as they locked shut between them.

“I would never betray her trust…and I would never hurt her.”

Sonny’s whisper never met the ears of her departed lover, but he didn’t care. Ashton didn’t matter. Alexis was all that did. His focus was quickly pulled by the glinting of light thrown from the brass set against dark wooded door. He had to go to her. Not standing on ceremony, Sonny didn’t bother to knock before turning the knob. The living room was empty, and a quick check of the kitchen showed the same.

“Alexis?” He was somehow afraid to give strength to his voice as he gently called out to her from the bottom of the stairs. “Honey?”

He knew she was upstairs, though she didn’t answer. She was somewhere close, hearing his voice and choosing to not to answer. He ran his tongue across his teeth as he approached the threshold of her bedroom, awash in the light glow of sunlight filtering in through the curtains. Sonny’s eyes found her at once, as if knowing instinctively where she would be. He was sorry to be right. His hand grazed the doorframe as he moved inside, then swept across the smooth edge of her dresser as he walked past the bed on the way to the her.

The lace panels framed her small body as she sat on the floor beneath the window, her back pressed flush against the wall and her knees pulled up to her chest with arms locked around them. She stared into space with a face void of expression and a dull emptiness in her dark eyes. It was like a blade to his heart. Sonny took another careful step toward her and crouched down by her side, wanting with all his heart to wrap her up in his safe, strong arms. But Alexis was rigid and it frightened him.

“He doesn’t deserve you.” His murmur was soft, but sounded so loud to his ears in the deafening stillness surrounding them. Alexis didn’t respond, continuing to stare as if he wasn’t even there. “Alexis?”

“Go away.” He lips barely moved as an arid voice escaped from her throat.

“No.” He whispered back, wanting a reaction from more than just her mouth. To see the life gone from her eyes was more than he could bear, and he needed to get it back. “You’re hurting, Alexis, and I’m not leaving you like this.”

She wouldn’t look at him, but as she registered his words, her brow slowly crinkled and it was all the physical expression that she allowed. “What do you want from me?”

“I…” Ned’s accusations of motive rang in his head. “I want to be here for you.”

“I’m not a charitable cause, Sonny.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I don’t want your guilt. I told you that before, and I meant it. And I don’t want to be a distraction from your empty home or the absence of your wife and her child.” Her eyelids lowered halfway as she rolled her head against the wall to turn her face away from him. The purple bruises on her face seemed magnified – darker and larger against the paleness of her face under the veil of sunlight. He thought they’d been fading…he was sure of it. The sight made him stammer in confusion.

“Alexis, Ned put a…a lot of nonsense in…in your head. He’s jealous, as he’s always been…of you and me. But he doesn’t understand you, and he doesn’t know me.”

“Just leave me alone.” Her voice was still flat, but the tone was stronger and more assured. “You have a life beyond telling me to breathe, coaxing me to eat and watching me sleep. Go back to it. Go back to your family. You belong with them - to them – not to me.”

“I belong to myself. And I want to be with you.”

“Go away, Sonny.”

Those three awful words threw him back to the day that Alexis threw him out of her hospital room - and he feared, out of her life. The day they told her about the heroin…the day she’d woken up to learn he’s let Tony tie her down…a thing that not even Sorel had done to her. ‘Go away, Sonny…’ Those three words made him panic. He wouldn’t let her shut the door to him forever.

“Alexis, please. Don’t do this. Don’t listen to him.”

Finally, a quick burst of emotion came forth from her.

“Leave me alone!”

She pulled her arms up, locking her elbows against her head while she pressed her forehead to her knees, hiding her face form him. No, he wouldn’t leave. He couldn’t let her think that she was anything less than the very center of his world. Sonny’s hand reached out, hovering in the air halfway to her body while his fingers ached to slip through the silkiness of her hair. He would tell her the truth – about Carly, and about himself.

“Honey, listen to me. Carly and I are done. It’s over. I don’t love her, Alexis.” His hand continued on its path, his skin tentatively meeting her beckoning tresses. “I love…”

Alexis recoiled sharply as her body registered his touch. “NO!”

His own body took an unexpected jolt in response. It sent a cutting pain up the side of his neck and into his head. As her cry rang like a phantom in his ears, Sonny’s eyes shot open to the dark, textured expanse of cloth just inches away from his face. He took a harsh breath into his lungs and his mouth felt like chalk. He fought to swallow against it as his eyes blinked and began to travel up the back of the couch, settling upon the lights glaring down from overhead. He swallowed again and tried to move his head. The pain in his neck muscles revisited him and he kept it still, opting to try to move his arm instead…or something, anything that would cooperate with his disoriented brain and not hurt. A chill crept up his side and he realized he’d broken into a cold, fearful sweat in the throes of his vivid dream. The shock of his disorientation was numbing, and it brought a wrenching thought into his head.

“My God. Is this what every nightmare has felt like to her?”

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“Hey.”

Johnny’s regarded Francis’s surprised face with amusement.

“Hey.” Francis parroted. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here.” He stepped off the elevator and cleared his throat as he glanced at Alexis’s door.

Francis turned toward Penthouse #4, pointing. “He call you back in to take over my watch?”

Johnny shook his head. “I came back on my own. How’s Miss Davis?”

“She seems okay. I didn’t really see or talk to her much though.”

“Is Sonny in there?”

Francis pointed at Sonny’s door once again. “He’s in there.”

Johnny frowned. “He left her alone?”

“She had company, so Mr. Corinthos went home for a few hours. The kid came back and went soon after. He said the boss was flaked out on the couch and I should let him be, unless Miss Davis needed him.”

“Good. Zander’s right - he could use the rest.”

Johnny was glad for whatever sleep Sonny could steal from the draining state of his life. The problems involving Sorel, Zander, Carly, and now, Alexis, all preyed on his mind for months and insomnia had him in its firm grip. The only good thing to come of his compromised defenses was that Sonny’s true feelings for Alexis were undeniably brought to the surface. But now, he was consumed with caring for her and the strong emotions involved had taken an additional physical toll. But the fact that he could now allow himself to surrender to sleep must be a good sign. It meant that Alexis was truly doing well, and Sonny knew it.

“I didn’t expect you back until tomorrow morning. How come you don’t want to take advantage of the time off he gave you - WITH pay?”

Johnny’s mouth opened, then closed up again as he felt a flush creep up his face. “What are you complaining about? My coming back early means you get to leave early – with pay.”

He didn’t want to try explaining it to Francis, and he wasn’t even sure if he could. Johnny felt too personally involved – and affected – to stay away for too long. Both Sonny and Alexis had needed him, and not in the ordinary way that Francis or Rick or Adam were needed. Johnny knew that he’d made at least a small, meaningful difference to these people he cared for and would lay down his life to protect. He had long since earned Sonny’s faith and trust, and he was proud to have now earned them from Alexis too. But he wanted to do more, if he could, and he wanted to be close at hand. Johnny would do whatever he could to help them get through this…and maybe even help them toward each other.

“Hello? Earth to Johnny!”

The deep voice turned Johnny’s eyes away from Alexis’ door. He didn’t realize he’d been staring at it, and he quickly refocused on Francis’ questioning face. “Sorry – what?”

“Are you okay?” Francis frowned. “You looked a little goofy there.”

“I’m okay. Just should have left Luke’s BEFORE closing time. So, what were you saying?”

“I said, are you sure it’s okay for me to leave before the boss says so? I don’t want to wake him up just to ask him, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah. But don’t worry about. I’m here, so it’s fine. If there’s any question about it with Sonny, it’s on me.”

Francis furrowed his brow as he threw another glance at Sonny’s closed door. “If you say so. Just call me if he wants me back here or…wherever. Okay?”

“You got it.”

Johnny clamped a light, quick palm against Francis’s back. He pushed the call button, as Francis pulled a cell phone from his breast pocket and turned it on.

“Oh, Francis – who was Miss Davis’s company?”

“That Eddie Maine guy…I mean, Ned Ashton.”

Johnny’s face couldn’t help but fall to hear this. Francis misread it, thinking himself to be in trouble. He closed his eyes with a groan and rolled his head to the side as he made his confession.

“Yes, I’ve got the poster! I’m a normal, healthy guy - what do you want from me? Just don’t tell Mr. Corinthos about it or he’d be pissed.”

Johnny sighed heavily and crossed his arms over his chest. “Jeez, Francis!” His eyes went back to her door. “Is Ashton still here?”

“Nope. Left about an hour ago.”

The elevator doors opened. As Francis stepped forward, Johnny stopped him.

“How was he?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did he seem happy? Upset? Sad?”

Francis snorted. “I don’t know! He didn’t seem any special way at all. Why?”

“I just…wanted to make sure that Miss Davis was okay when he left. If he was upset, maybe she was too, you know?”

“I told you, she seemed fine to me. So…can I take off now?”

Johnny smiled and took a step back. “I’ll see ya Francis.”

“See ya.”

Francis pushed the lobby button and Johnny turned toward Alexis’s door before the elevator had even closed. He rapped lightly, calling her name with a low, husky voice. There was no answer, and Johnny didn’t hesitate to open the door. He needed to check on her for himself. The door softly opened and he poked his head inside to glance around. The room was empty, and his face was met with a light cool wave of air. He slipped inside and gently closed the door behind him, eyes roaming toward the kitchen. Johnny silently laughed to himself, knowing full well she wouldn’t be in there – upstairs was much more likely.

As he moved toward the stairway, debating whether to call for her again before venturing toward her private domain, his eyes caught sight of a flash of purple setting a stark contrast to the pale carpet beside the corner of the couch. His head turned fully toward it and he took two small steps, his eyes traveling upward from the chenille puddle on the floor to Alexis, fully stretched out and sleeping soundly. Johnny came closer with a smile, knowing that Sonny lay across the hall, joining her in a synchronized escape from the rest of the world. He reached down and lifted the kicked-off blanket from the floor, intending to place it back over her and keep the chill in the air at bay.

But something made him pause for just a moment – it was the subtle change that he noticed in her face. It wasn’t the slight fading of her bruises, or the healthy pink glow in her cheeks. It was something inside of her that radiated. Even though she’s looked peaceful in her sleep while lying in a hospital bed, there was a kind of victorious serenity about her now, and Johnny couldn’t have been happier to see it. Home DID agree with her. His smile broadened as he bent down to lay the blanket over her bare feet, carefully lowering it further up along her body until the soft edge of fringe rested against her lavender cashmere-clad shoulders. Alexis was a quiet study in purple.

And she looked to be undisturbed by Johnny’s light touch and doting stare. But as he pulled away from her and stood up straight, the sudden ring of the telephone caused Alexis to lightly flinch. Johnny flinched himself, his head snapping toward the desk. He didn’t know what to do. Another ring would probably wake her up, but it felt out of bounds for him to answer her phone. A second ring made Alexis groan and squirm. Johnny squirmed as well. His eyes went back to the phone and he took a few quick steps toward it…but before he could pick it up, the machine clicked on and beat him to the punch. He waited, gazing over at Alexis as she stirred throughout the sound of her own voice on the outgoing message. And then, there came a masculine voice.

“Hi, Alexis. It’s Tony Jones – remember me?” He laughed lightly. “I’m sure you wish you didn’t, huh? I just wanted to see how you were doing. And I also wanted to see YOU – as in tomorrow, if you can, for a follow-up appointment.”

Alexis’ hand slipped out from under the blanket to rub at her face as she mumbled and rolled onto her back.

“And tell Sonny that I have a scale in my office, so I’ll know whether he’s making good on his promise to fatten you up…like a turkey, I think, is how you put it. So please give me a call and we’ll set up a time for you to come in. If not tomorrow, the next day for sure.” There was another pause and Johnny took a seat on the sofa across from her. He heard Tony chuckle, and then his voice softened. “And please make sure you take those vitamins, okay? I’ll talk to you soon. Take care.”

As Tony’s message ended, the machine gave a loud beep. Alexis’s eyes flew open with a start and her body jerked.

“No…”

Johnny leaned forward and watched as Alexis grabbed the blanket in her fist and her eyes blinked rapidly against the light. He didn’t speak, but sat quietly, waiting for her to fully awaken and notice him. It didn’t take long. Alexis squinted as she looked at him across the coffee table while trying to regulate her quickened breathing. She pushed her hair from her face and struggled to sit her self up.

“Johnny?”

“Hey.” He smiled and moved to sit on the coffee table, reaching out his arms to her. “You need some help?”

She shook her head. “No, thanks.” Her eyes darted around the room - she was still a bit disoriented. “W-was someone else here? I thought I heard a voice, but it wasn’t you…and I don’t think it was Sonny.”

Her head turned away and her eyes settled on the front door. Johnny shook his head.

“It was Dr. Jones, leaving you a message on the answering machine. I knew it was going to wake you up and I should have just picked up the phone. I’m sorry about that.”

“No, don’t worry about it.” She unconsciously laid her hand on his knee, and his eyes followed it. “What are you doing back here already? Did Sonny call you? Is something wrong?”

Johnny felt a slight tremble in her hand as it rested on his leg, and his eyes drifted back up to her face. She looked to be somewhat shaken from her abrupt awakening…or maybe she was cold. He covered her hand with his.

“Everything is fine. I just came back early is all. Are you cold, or were you having a bad dream? Maybe the phone just scared you?”

“Why?”

“You feel like you’re shaking a little bit.”

Alexis looked down at his hand upon hers, he brow furrowing. “The phone scared me, I think. I hope. I’m not sure, to tell you the truth.” She looked up and the expression on Johnny’s face made her smile. “Don’t look so worried. I’m alright.”

“You do look good. You look…well.”

She blinked slowly. “Thanks. I’ve heard that so much I’m starting to believe it.”

Johnny felt her fingers begin to wriggle within his hold and he slipped his palm from the back of her hand. But Alexis kept her hand where it was as she glanced back at the door. “Is…is Sonny at home or did he have to go out?”

“He’s home. He’s taking a nap too, actually.”

“He is?”

Johnny nodded. “Yep.”

Alexis’s smile softened, but the shine in her eyes seemed to deepen. “Good. I’m glad he’s finally taking care for himself for a change. He’d never say a word to me – maybe he would to you – but I know how much I’ve exhausted him.”

Johnny shifted in his seat, searching for a subtle yet specific response. “Not all kinds of exhaustion are bad. I mean, does Sonny seem unhappy being here with you…looking after you?”

Alexis considered the question carefully. “N-no. Not really. But…”

“Okay then.”

Johnny cut her off, giving a single nod of his head. He’d hit his intended mark and started her thinking. He knew Sonny would probably kill him if he’d been there to hear, but Alexis had to know that she made him happy. She was anything but the detriment to Sonny that she still suspected she was. Alexis studied his odd, self-satisfied expression with curiosity, tilting her head with a sigh.

“Have you eaten lunch yet?”

“No. I was out late, had a late breakfast. Why?”

“Come with me.” She took hold of his hand for leverage as she rose to her feet. Johnny obediently followed her into the kitchen, where Alexis pulled a foil-wrapped dish from the refrigerator. “Sonny said you like this grilled chicken that he makes – and he made a LOT of it.”

“The kind with the vegetables?”

Alexis nodded.

“Sounds great. Are you hungry yet?”

“Ned came by and I ate with him. But I’ll sit and watch you, if you don’t mind a turning of the tables.” She grinned at him as she hunted down a plate and silverware in her newly rearranged kitchen.

“Let me do that.” Johnny took everything from her hands to the sound of her non-verbal protests. “At least have some juice or something with me.”

As he took his armload to the dining table, Alexis eyed the cluster of bottles on the counter. “Still bugging me about drinking juice, are you? Okay, I’ll capitulate – for now.”

“Orange, apple, or something else Sonny got for you that I don’t know is in here?” He opened the refrigerator door and peered inside.

“Anything is fine. As long as it helps these go down fast.” Alexis reached for a couple of bottles as Johnny moved up beside her, a pitcher of orange juice in his hand. “You want some too?”

“Sure.”

She opened the cabinet door and found a pair of glasses that she set upon the counter. Johnny began to pour as she opened the vitamin bottles and tapped one capsule from each into her palm.

“Thanks.”

She took the glass as he handed it to her, and downed the capsules quickly. Johnny watched out of the corner of his eye as she placed the bottles back in their resting spot in the corner. He couldn’t help but focus on the one bottle that looked different – the smallest one among them, the one the color of burnt pumpkin…the one holding the detox drug. In the small span of silence that fell between them, he unexpectedly reached out and picked up the bottle in his hand. Alexis looked at him in an unexpected flush of embarrassment. She imagined what he must be thinking about, and she wished he wouldn’t. He’d seen her at her worst, and she knew it had been an awful thing for him. Alexis didn’t even want to know if what he’d seen had been worse still than what Taggert and Sonny’s story led her to believe. She suddenly wanted to distract Johnny and take his eyes away from that bottle.

“Um…don’t you want to heat up the chicken?”

He vaguely shook his head. “I like it better cold.”

“Oh. Dare to be different.” She laughed lightly, as Johnny’s eyes continue to stare at her name typed across the white label. Alexis began to feel sure that he was about to cajole her into taking it, being that he WAS Sonny’s proxy. She opened her mouth to pre-empt it.

“What a miracle.” His quiet murmur pre-empted Alexis instead. “I watched someone close to me go through withdrawal once – the bad way. The way you started to do it. Detoxing the good way wasn’t an option available to him.”

Johnny slowly turned his head toward her, but allowed his eyes to rise no further than the level of her mouth. If he made eye contact right then, he didn’t think he could keep himself in check. His fingers tightened around the round plastic as he held the bottle higher within the small space between them.

“I think it would have put me in my grave to have to watch someone else I care about go through that again, and I thank God for the miracle of this. I thank God that it WAS available to you.”

Alexis felt her chin trembling and her eyes misting over. She was overwhelmed with Johnny’s soft, quiet intensity, and the unusual expression of pain from this modestly expressive man. And his clear inability to look at her within the remembrance of his pain and his gratitude on her behalf made her want to cry.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She whispered, touching a light hand to his arm.

He shrugged as he turned away and put the bottle back on the counter. “I don’t know. I guess it just never seemed right…until now. It’s a hard thing to talk about.”

“Yeah. I know.”

He finally lifted his face and met her direct gaze. He eyes were sparkling and wet under the overhead lights, and it made him frown.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t. Please, Johnny, don’t tiptoe around me like I’ll break. I won’t.”

He nervously wrapped his fingers around the edge of the counter. “I don’t suppose Sonny told you that I was on him like a cheap suit, telling him he had to convince you to do it?”

She shook her head. "No."

“Well, I was. I didn’t know if you’d listen to me, or if it was even appropriate for me to TRY talking to you. But I kept hammering away at Sonny, because I was sure that you’d listen to him. And I was right.”

Alexis humbly bowed her head before him. “I’d trust you with my life, Johnny. I’d trust you with…anything. You’ve helped me more than you could possibly know, and I’d appreciate it if you would always speak your mind to me, no matter what, because I also respect you.” Her head slowly rose and she bit her lip as she tentatively glanced up into his wide-eyed face. “And it doesn’t hurt that your judgment has proven to be quite impeccable.”

Johnny tensed his jaw as he felt his trademark blush taking over his face. “Whatever you say.”

Alexis arched her eyebrows with a grin. “You may live to regret saying those specific words to me. I’m a fairly literal person, you know.”

“I doubt I'll regret it. And I do know.”

She shifted her weight and her eyes darted to the bottles. “That person who was close to you…how are they now?”

He told a partial truth with a smile. “He’s clean. Thanks for asking.”

“Good. Thanks for telling.” She reached for the prescription bottle and popped off the lid. Johnny lowered his eyes as she shook a white tablet into her hand and lifted the now half-empty glass of orange juice.

“Here’s to miracles.”

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The cool water dripped from his chin as he stared into the darkness of his own eyes. His palms rubbed at his clean-shaven cheeks and enjoyed the stubble-free feel of his skin. Would Alexis notice? He grabbed a towel from the rack and dried his face, finishing the chore with a quick pat of aftershave. He smiled, remembering how Alexis knew his scent. Like cloves, she’d said. It wasn’t a distinction he’d made himself, but she was right, and he was pleased. She knew his scent and his touch, and she knew most of what his eyes told her - but not all. And it was the same for him with her. He would give anything to know all of what lay behind those eyes, but was sure that he did know most.

He turned away from the mirror and wondered if Ashton had left for real, or only in his dream. He wanted him gone from Alexis’s life, and his mind had selfishly made it so. But his mind had also made Sonny pay for his greed, and what better choice for his subconscious to use than Ashton – the perfect devil’s advocate to throw Sonny’s own worst fears into the light and render him temporarily blind. But it forced him to look at things in a different way, and he knew that it was good. Alexis needed to know certain things and Sonny would need to tell her. Before he tore himself away and left her to reclaim her own care, she would know the truth - the core of the truth - about Carly and Michael. And she would know that above all, her health and happiness were what mattered to Sonny. Not his own guilt, not his own need. It was about her, always her… no matter what.

Sonny felt a lifting inside, a small weight un-pressed from his heart. It was not all or nothing, as he’d thought it to be. She could know some things that were true for him, but not have to know them in infinite measure. His dream about Ashton had been a revelation, and he smiled to know how pleased the man would NOT be to know of his unintended help. He flipped off the bathroom light and ran his fingers through his hair as he bounded down the stairs. He glanced at his watch as one hand turned the knob. It was definitely past time for Alexis to have lunch – Ashton or no, Sonny was going in…to cook.

Francis was gone.

Sonny’s smile disappeared. He frowned, swiftly moving to her door and knocking sharply in concern. “Alexis? It’s me.”

“Come on in.” Her voice was muffled behind the thick wood, but her words were clear.

He pushed the door open and his eyes went straight to Alexis, sitting cross-legged on the chair at the end of the dining table. She turned her face to him and gave him a warm, dimpled, dazzling smile. Sonny melted on the spot. He forgot all about Francis and the possibility that Ashton was still there.

“Hello.”

“Hello yourself.” He shut the door and took a step closer. “Did you miss me?”

She tilted her head. “If I answer that, are you going to get a big head?”

“Try me.” He flashed his own dimples, and Alexis bit her lip.

“Uh-uh.” She turned her head away with a teasing flourish.

“Chicken.”

She smiled. “Yes, we do have plenty of that around here.” Her eyes drifted back to him and the puzzlement on his face made her laugh. “How was your nap?”

Sonny’s mouth opened, but it took him a moment to actually speak. “How did you know I took a nap? Did you sneak across the hall to watch ME sleep?”

“No. But would you mind if I had?”

Johnny’s voice broke the silence of their mutual stare before his body entered the room. “I told her.”

Sonny’s head turned. “John…what are you doing here? And where’s Francis?”

“I just wanted to come back. I sent Francis home – I hope it was okay, since I was here.”

"Sure." Sonny stepped up to the table, noticing the few remaining remnants of his lunch that Johnny had yet to clear away. He stopped beside Alexis and nodded. “Oh…that’s what the ‘chicken’ comment was about.”

Alexis looked at Johnny. “Does NOTHING get past this guy?”

Sonny smiled down at her profile and nudged her gently in the shoulder. “Shut up.”

Alexis laughed and looked up at him with a sly face.

“So Ned's gone?”

She nodded, and Sonny’s eyes washed over her face, searching for a sign that things might not have gone well. He saw none, and was glad for it.

“Was everything okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll tell you about it later? I’m little burnt-out on talking right now. At least, talking about anything serious.”

“Sure. Whenever you want.” He shrugged. “But you don’t have to tell me anything – you know that.”

“I know. I want to.”

Sonny felt like he’d just been hugged. He reached down and brushed his fingers against the long bangs that teased her eyelashes. And then, he noticed something. “What did you do to your hair?”

Alexis laughed. “It got brushed – finally. Boy, you’ve gotten way too used to seeing me...casual.”

“I like you casual.” He murmured. “But brushed is nice too.”

She scrunched one shoulder and cleared her throat as her eyes slowly wandered away from his smile. She suddenly felt self-conscious under his gaze, but not in a bad way.

“Um…are you hungry too? Even after feeding Johnny, there’s still more left.”

“Sure.” Sonny pulled up a chair.

"I didn't eat THAT much." Johnny protested.

“Did she eat too?” Sonny turned away from Alexis to look directly at Johnny.

“Excuse me, I’m right here!” Sonny kept his back to her and didn't respond. "Hello?" Alexis looked at Johnny. “Why does he do that to me? Does he do that to you? He knows it bugs me, and yet he keeps on doing it.” Her head turned back to Sonny and she gave his arm a playful slap. “Why do you do that to me?”

Sonny slowly turned his head and grinned at her over his shoulder. “Because I love the reaction it gets.”

He gave her a wink, and Alexis sighed heavily, crossing her arms in the beginning stage of a healthy pout. Johnny stifled a chortle, and the strangled sound of it turned Sonny’s grin into a full-throated laugh. Alexis was out-numbered and she couldn’t help but give in to a small, reluctant smile as she shook her head.

“Why do I let you get to me like that?”

Johnny watched her eyes dance and her smile grow as Sonny ran his tongue across his lower lip and a light finger down the edge of her face.

Why indeed.