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Scene 74

“She’s smiling a lot. It’s nice.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“So…everything was okay when you two were alone? After Ashton left, I mean. She’s not putting on a front for me?”

Sonny flipped the switch on the dishwasher, and a low-level hum began to resonate. He turned to lean against the counter and fix Johnny with a look that said he wanted the truth. Johnny shook his head.

“No, it’s not a front. Besides, I think she knows she couldn’t fool you like that.”

Sonny nodded slowly. “Did you see him?”

“Francis did. He said she was okay after Ashton took off, but I wanted to make sure.” He hesitated before continuing, glancing at the kitchen door. “I just don’t trust that guy to have much in the way of sensitivity with her, you know?”

“Yeah. I do.”

Sonny’s eyes followed Johnny’s, as both men took care that Alexis not overhear them. She’d excused herself without further explanation, and could reappear at any time. And Alexis could also tread very softly.

“So, I stuck my head in the door to check on her and she was asleep on the couch. It felt a little cold and she’d kicked the blanket to the floor, so I came in to cover her up when the phone rang. It was Dr. Jones, leaving a message on the machine. She didn’t hear it, by the way, but she woke up toward the end. He wants her back at the hospital for a check up. He’s expecting her to call him back.”

“Okay. I’ll tell her.” Sonny’s gaze drifted to the cluster of bottles on the counter, behind where Johnny stood.

“She asked where you were, and I told her you were resting too. She was glad to hear it. You worry about her and she worries about you.”

Sonny chuckled. “I know. I wish she wouldn’t.”

“Uh huh.” Johnny deadpanned. “Anyway, we just talked until you got here. She wanted to talk about anything but herself. She wanted to talk about ME, actually, which was kind of weird. She wanted to know where I grew up, what movies I like, what music…if I have a girlfriend. That last thing is a little embarrassing to answer. But there’s nothing wrong with a guy being particular, right?”

“A guy SHOULD be particular.”

“That’s what Alexis said. I thought maybe she was being nice - not wanting me to feel like a looser or something. Hey, did you know she likes Woody Allen movies? Who'd have thought. And she likes blues music too.”

Sonny grinned. “I did not know that.”

Johnny paused a moment. “Do you know why Luke calls her Natasha?”

Sonny’s back stiffened. “It’s her real name. The name she was born with. It got changed, having something to do with keeping her paternity a secret when she was a child and…it’s complicated Cassadine stuff.”

“Oh. I thought maybe it was a thing between her and Luke – like maybe she called him Boris. That sounds like something he'd come up with, at least.”

“How did Alexis come up in conversation between you and Luke? Did he find out what happened to her?”

“No, he didn’t say anything about it. He just made mention of the fact he hadn’t seen the “cuddly Cassadine” in a long time. I said she was really busy with work, and he told me to give his best to Natasha. I didn’t want to ask him about it. The look in his eye when he said that name kind of bugged me.”

“Luke’s harmless. He didn’t mean anything by it. They get along okay.” And Sonny suddenly remembered that he hadn’t told Alexis about what Dara had done for her - that her privacy would be kept for quite a while longer, and no one would know about her ordeal unless she chose to tell them.

“Where was I? Oh yeah. So we talked and she fed me lunch. She was really happy to feed me lunch! I think she misses having Zander to look after, now that everyone’s wanting to look after her.”

Sonny nodded his head with a knowing chuckle. “She does like looking after him. She likes having someone to care for. And this from a woman who thinks she has no maternal instincts. I think losing her own mother so young made her afraid, like not being mothered meant she couldn't do it herself. As if nurturing was something you’re taught, rather than something already inside your heart.”

“Women can get funny ideas sometimes.”

“At least Alexis is letting me look after her. She hasn’t really fought me on anything.”

“Have you pushed her on anything?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what’s to fight? She appreciates that you’re here for her, and she knows you give her room to breathe.”

Sonny smiled.

“What? What did I say?”

He shook his head lightly. “Nothing.”

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Alexis raked her fingers through her bangs, pushing them back and leaving the right side of her forehead naked to the reflection of the mirror.

“It’s not such a big deal, Alexis.”

She thought of Stefan's face as she whispered his old words to herself, and it made her feel strong. She’d come through worse, and knowing it empowered her to fix her eyes above her brow, studying it for just a moment before squeezing the Vitamin E capsule and pressing a sticky drop to the scrape. As she moved her fingertips from one end of the rough skin to the other, her eyelids slowly closed and Alexis concentrated on the way it felt. Most of the soreness had gone – in fact, it was starting to itch. She knew that meant the healing was underway, and the Vitamin E had helped.

But she remembered how Sonny’s touch felt different - much different from her own. His hand upon her face was soft and sure, and an unexpected comfort. And Alexis remembered the warmth of his breath on her cheek as he leaned in close to her, his dark eyes focused on his gentle movements as he tried not to hurt…and the air carried the light scent of him into her head. Her hand hovered, frozen just a fraction of an inch away from her skin as her attention was fully fixed on another moment in time. But her head suddenly turned to the open door and her eyes snapped open. Alexis could have sworn she smelled cloves…but she was alone.

She swallowed with a frown and slowly returned her gaze to the mirror. She felt a strange flutter inside as it dawned on her that soon, she really WOULD be alone - when Sonny went back across the hall for good. As much as she’s initially resisted the notion of being babysat, she had to admit it was rather nice to feel as protected as Sonny made her feel. Johnny too. And Alexis smiled to herself at remembering what Johnny had said before. Sonny did seem tired at times, but not unhappy. With Carly and Michael gone, his alternative to caring for her was the quiet, lonely apartment to which he would return the next day. And while Zander technically lived with her, he was gone most of the time, so quiet and lonely where things she knew well. Alexis expected it would be strange for both of them to be alone again, separated only by the short distance between their respective front doors.

And she wondered how great the short distance would feel when she next turned her head at the illusion of cloves.

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“It’s good that you and Alexis have gotten to know each other better. It’s good that she feels comfortable talking to you.”

“I’m glad she does. I like talking to her too.”

“She told me what you said to her, in the hospital – about how she was lucky to have so many people caring about her.”

“I…I didn’t think she believed it, but it was important that she did.”

“She did believe you. Thank you for that.”

“It felt weird though – someone like me telling someone like her how much she mattered. She should have known. It isn’t right.”

Johnny’s solemn expression gave Sonny pause. No, it wasn’t right that Alexis should feel insignificant to the people who were supposed to love her, but it was so many kinds of right that Johnny cared enough to let her know himself. There seemed to be a special way in which Johnny understood Alexis - a special way in which regarded her that made her respond to him without pretense. His sweet and chaste little crush from afar had assumed deeper roots as Johnny watched her struggle to survive. Sonny remembered all too well the desperation in Johnny’s eyes as they stood in the hospital corridor while Alexis lay alone inside her room, submitting her body to the pain of withdrawal. He’d never seen Johnny look so intense or speak so forcefully, especially not to Sonny himself.

But Johnny knew firsthand what was in store for Alexis, and he was overcome with the need to stop it. But he couldn’t do it himself. He needed Sonny to stop it for him…and Sonny soothed the most fearful part of her soul and won her total trust. And ever since that day, the strong arm of Johnny had been outstretched to her. That much he COULD do, and that much she accepted - his hand open and ready for her to reach out and grab on, any time she needed. And Sonny knew it was a blessing to Alexis that the feelings Johnny had for her were still sweet and chaste, but no longer felt from afar.

Sonny sighed and smiled up at Johnny as he turned to reach for the refrigerator door. “You want some water?”

“No, thanks.”

As he moved, something on the counter caught Sonny’s eye. He suddenly noticed that the small, dark orange prescription bottle had moved, newly placed in front of their large white companions. Johnny stepped aside, his eyes following Sonny’s hand as it reached past him to pick it up the bottle and hold it up to the light.

“Something wrong, boss?”

A slow, satisfied grin spread across Sonny’s face. The clear plastic showed him that one of the four tablets Tony sent home with her was gone. “She took it.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Sonny’s eyes darted from the bottle to Johnny’s face. He lowered his arm and set the prescription back down on the counter, where it belonged.

“You saw her?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“The way Alexis looked yesterday, when Tony made her take it before she left the hospital…she didn’t want to. She hated putting more drugs into her body, even though it was for a good reason. I thought for sure she’d resist taking it, once she got home. And I didn’t know how I would handle it if she did. Or IF I would handle it…” He ran his tongue across his lips and peered up at Johnny. “Alexis sure can surprise me sometimes. I shouldn’t take anything for granted with that woman.”

Johnny gnawed on the inside of his cheek as Sonny pulled a bottle of water from the fridge. He didn’t honestly remember how Alexis looked with Dr. Jones at the hospital, but he remembered how she looked just a couple of hours before, when he held her medication in his hand and told her why it was a wonderful thing to him. Her face was a tapestry of feelings, not the least of which was fear, and Alexis looked like she might cry. To see the dampening of her eyes gave Johnny’s gut a cramp of guilt for putting that expression on her face. He hadn’t understood her conflict over the drugs, nor had he meant to bring up a troubling thing. But now, he was glad for it. Telling her what he’d experienced with Jessie, even though in the most simple of terms, had shifted her perspective from fear to gratitude. She saw the medication through his eyes and decisively dropped a small white tablet into her palm, smiling up at him through the drying mist that danced against her lashes. And then, Alexis raised her glass in gratitude.

“Here’s to miracles.”

Alexis had been blessed with many miracles, and she deserved every last one.

“What are you grinning about?” Sonny eyed him with a tilted head and a teasing tone in his voice.

Johnny quickly relaxed his jaw and his lopsided smile vanished. “N-nothing much.”

He glanced at the doorway and suddenly disappeared through it. Sonny’s brow wrinkled as he followed. Johnny made his way around the dining room table, straightening the chairs that had been left pulled out at odd and various angles. Sonny stood against the stairway wall, watching.

“Johnny? Is there something you want to tell me?”

His answer was a silent shake of Johnny’s head.

“Let me re-phrase that - is there something I should know?”

“No, there’s nothing you should know.” Johnny pushed in the last errant chair and turned to him with concern. He leaned against the table and his eyes darted to the empty stairway above Sonny’s head. “Except that…well, you said that Alexis could surprise you, and I think that maybe you’ve surprised her.”

“I’ve surprised her? How?”

Johnny’s jaw shifted and he turned his eyes to the floor.

“What do you mean?” Sonny took a step closer and lowered his voice. “Did Alexis say something about me?”

Johnny smiled as he lifted his eyes to an expression of eager curiosity in Sonny’s wide-eyed face. There was a shy and boyish vulnerability there where the subject of Alexis was concerned, and it was disarming to see such a thing in a man whose name commanded such fearful respect on the streets. And he wondered if Sonny had even dared to utter the word “love” when thinking of this woman – alone, in private, when not another soul could hear. Johnny had seen Sonny feel love for women before, but not like this. This love didn’t bring him pain…just an ache. The kind of ache that means it’s right.

“What I mean is that you’re different with Alexis now. And she’s different with you too. And it is in a good way.”

Sonny felt his face flush as he fought to keep his burgeoning full-throttle smile under control. He only partially succeeded, as his right dimple made its way into view.

“To tell you the God’s honest truth, boss, you’re kind of different with everyone - Lieutenant Taggert, Dr. Jones…even me.”

Sonny sharply inhaled a breath, as pieces of his dream about Ashton came back to haunt him.

“What, you think I didn’t notice it? Do you think Tony didn’t notice it, or Taggert, or anyone else who say you with her at the hospital? Everyone noticed, Sonny – except for Alexis…”

Taggert noticed – Taggert knew. So did Charlie. But Tony, Ashton…Sonny wasn’t sure, but now he needed to be. His smile waned as he turned to check the stairway, making sure they were alone before looking Johnny in the eye with a decided purpose. And with his voice dimmed to the most private kind of whisper, he sought his certainty.

“Johnny, tell me the truth. How open a book am I.”

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She took a steadying breath and carefully tugged at one cashmere sleeve, then the other, pushing the cuffs up above her elbows.

Her teeth took firm hold of her lower lip as she held both arms up under the light. There were fewer puncture wounds on her right arm than the left, and they seemed to already be fading. The two tiny tears in her skin, however, would take a bit more time - the evidence branding her left arm would take even longer. It was the source of the infection and fever – the place her nervous fingernails had laced scratches through the needle marks. At least it was winter and long sleeves would be the norm for everyone, not just her.

Alexis carefully sat herself down upon the edge of the bathtub and went to work on her arms with the Vitamin E. Using her right hand was awkward, and it made her left arm hurt just a bit as she tried to maneuver with grace. But she heard Sonny’s voice in her head reminding her to press the oil into her skin, not rub against it. She did as the voice said, and the hurting stopped. Alexis made a mental note to keep her fingernails away from her arm and allow it to heal in peace. She would try to direct her restless hands to her hair instead, where no greater harm than tangling could be done. And without even thinking, her hair is where her hand promptly moved – her smooth, tangle-free hair.

She smiled, remembering the way it felt when Ned ran the brush through her locks, over and over in a sweetly lulling rhythm. He was so slow and gentle, as if she were a child, and it made her feel safe in unburdening her troubled mind to him. And all that she unburdened was so much more than she intended to reveal. But something in Ned’s eyes told her that it had to be all or nothing…and it had to be that day, or never. Alexis knew he was unprepared for all that he heard, but Ned did listen and he tried hard to understand. And she was grateful that she’d found the courage to tell him. All had been told, and all were still standing, and Alexis wondered just what she had been so afraid of in the first place. There were no more secrets to be kept from Ned…only the ones she unknowingly kept from herself.

And so, against the flaring of his protective and possessive instincts, Ned’s need to prove his love for her won out and he accepted her decisions, for better or worse. He smiled and opened his inviting arms to her as he stood before the door to say goodbye. He wanted her to believe that the truth about her past took away all his hurt – the hurt of Sonny being chosen over him. But Alexis knew better. And as she slid her arms around him, she swore she felt a slight tremble run through his body that pressed against hers. His hands were tentative, hovering close to her back, until she finally told him they had clearance to land. He laughed and turned his face into her hair as one palm cupped her head to his shoulder, and the other found its favorite place against the curve of her hip.

“You were right - what you had to tell me wasn’t easy to hear, but I’m sure that by the next time I see you I’ll have finished processing it all.

“Ned…”

“But I’m glad that you told me, and I…I hope I didn’t let you down.”

She pulled her head back to look at him. “I’m glad that I told you too. Does that answer your question?” Her eyes widened and Ned brushed her bangs back to press a soft kiss to the middle of her forehead. He whispered softly, his warm breath floating against her skin.

“Tell Corinthos it’s his butt if he doesn’t take perfect care of you. And he knows I mean business.”

Alexis had smiled at his attempt to lighten the mood as he walked away and surrendered her to the care of another man. She allowed her arms to slip away from the oft-traveled plane of his back, and he gave her a small, sad smile as he closed the door, leaving her to an overwhelming sense of relief and a strange urge to cry. Relief was suddenly a confusing emotion for Alexis.

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“With regard to…what?”

“You know what.”

“I don’t think I’m so good a judge of that, boss.” Johnny turned his head from Sonny’s direct gaze. He was clearly uncomfortable being so abruptly put on the spot. “I am pretty close to you, and…maybe I see things that other people wouldn’t pick up on.”

“I’m asking you, Johnny. Not as your boss, but as Sonny. How open a book?”

Johnny sighed as he turned his eyes back to Sonny. He took a deep breath and told him the truth. “Pretty open. But don’t misunderstand that you’ve been inappropriate or anything, because that’s not the case.”

It was Sonny’s turn to sigh, and he furrowed his brow while his head slowly nodded in acceptance of what he already should have known.

“Why do you look so sad? I thought it made you happy, what you’re feeling.”

“I…”

“I think it’s a good thing. She needs the kind of love that you give to her. I mean look at what she’s doing with it - she’s thriving.”

Sonny’s jaw hit the floor as Johnny went deeper into bold territory, but with a deliberately softer voice.

“Sonny, if you’re afraid that what you feel for her is a bad thing, you’re wrong. Being able to love someone is a wonderful thing, and so is being loved.” His eyes quickly darted to the stairway above Sonny’s head. “From where I stand, you both win. And if you’re worried about other people seeing it, so what if they do?”

Sonny stared at Johnny’s face, turned pink in his impassioned expression. His mouth had gone dry and he took a large gulp of the almost forgotten water held tightly in his hand. “Taggert.” He murmured the name in a cryptic response.

“Taggert? What about him?”

“He sees it. He came right out and said it, same as you.”

Johnny was taken aback. “Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“Have YOU said it?”

“What?”

“It. Out loud.”

Johnny could barely hear the rough whisper as it floated over his vocal chords. “No.”

“Don’t you want to?”

Sonny’s embarrassment took over and he laughed nervously, rubbing his jaw with fingers cold and wet with condensation. It sent a chill down his neck and he turned his head to the stairway. The laughter slowly faded as he conjured the image of Alexis in his mind – her velvety eyes smiling at him as he sought to drown himself inside of them...in her. He wanted to shout it from the rooftops, like the fool that he was. Sonny turned his lowered head back around, lifting just his eyes upward to meet his friend’s.

“I…love her. I love her, Johnny, and I am IN love with her.” His eyes began to sting and he blinked hard as the corners of his mouth turned up in a soft smile. “I love Alexis Davis.” His smile grew to a light-hearted laugh, and he felt all of eighteen again – innocent, and as if anything he wanted was possible. He believed it was the closest thing to giddiness that he could imagine himself feeling.

“Congratulations.” Johnny murmured proudly. "That wasn’t so hard after all."

Sonny’s sudden joy was tempered with his mind’s equally sudden flood of reality. “But I can’t tell her. It wouldn’t be right to put that on her. Not when she and Ashton…not when her heart is all tied up with him. He may not deserve her, but if she wants him…”

“Boss, you don’t know what she wants. SHE doesn’t know what she wants. But you’re here with her right now, and Ashton isn’t. That was her choice. I think that’s gotta count for something…don’t you?”

He cleared his throat and shoved a hand into his pocket. “I think…I’d like to see Alexis smile some more tonight. You want to do something for me?”

“You have to ask?”

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The faint sound of Sonny’s laughter drifting up the stairs stopped her in the threshold of her bedroom.

It was a lovely thing to hear, and Alexis couldn’t help but imagine the way his face must look right then – dark eyes sparkling and dimples at full wattage within his cheeks. She bit her lip and smiled herself at the thought…her eyes sparkling and dimples at full wattage. She leaned against the doorframe, waiting, reluctant to disturb the private time inspiring laughter between the two men downstairs. It would seem that Johnny was having a positive effect on both of them that day, and it was good to have him back.

But in the dark corner of her mind, Alexis now harbored a nagging thought that Johnny had put there. Someone close to him had been addicted to heroin and she wanted to know more…yet she would not ask. The look on his face when he spoke of it kept her questions to herself. The subject was difficult for him too, and she was thankful for what he little he generously shared with her. Even so, there was a yearning inside of her to hear more from someone who understood some things that she was trying to understand herself. Things she had thought and felt, but hadn’t spoken of to anyone - things that brought her confusion…things that made her ashamed.

Her eyes drifted to the dresser, to the hairbrush that lay upon it, to the billowy white comforter draped upon the wooden bed. White, like the freshly laundered shirts that Thomas wore – the shirts that separated her face from the calming sound of his heartbeat beneath the cotton. She remembered the warmth and strength of him as he held her against his body while the heroin took over her and rendered her limp in his arms. Her fear of the unknown had been paralyzing as the sting of Sorel’s first needles hit her skin. But the drug flooding through her veins made her body respond in a way that her fear couldn’t stop. It was out of her control, and the way it felt was not the horrible thing she wished she could say it was.

In truth, the sensations the heroin gave her body were close to exquisite. It had made her think of Ned, and the intoxicating sensory explosions they bestowed upon each other in the naked darkness of the bed now fixed under her gaze. Admitting such things, even to herself, made her face grow hot with shame. It couldn’t be normal, and it couldn’t be right. Or maybe it could? Alexis needed someone to tell her – someone who knew. She just couldn't ask it of Johnny. Charlie...she could call Charlie. But if she did, Sonny couldn’t know. She could never bring herself to tell him how Sorel’s drugs made her feel. How would he look at her if he knew the truth? Alexis didn’t want the way Sonny looked at her to change. Not that way.

Her eyes snapped shut and she sharply turned her head, tearing her eyes from the bed. A sudden wave of dizziness sent her hand clutching at the doorframe. Alexis realized she’d been holding her breath. She slowly released the air from her lungs and opened her eyes as she breathed in once again. Shaking her head lightly, Alexis admonished herself for allowing too many disturbing thoughts to besiege her. And a small smile graced her face as she softly answered back to the familiar voice that was ever present in her head.

“I hear you. And I AM.”

Her legs slowly carried her downstairs to rejoin the real world. For Alexis, for now, that meant Sonny and Johnny hovering and bossing her around. Not at all a bad thing. Counting her luck once again, Alexis’s smile had fully grown by the time she met the last step. Johnny was nowhere to be seen. But she stood silent for a brief while, watching as Sonny went about the manly business of building a fire. He was an interesting person to watch perform a task. Every move was thoughtful and precise, and his movements gave her fleeting glances of a face bathed in calm concentration upon his work. She knew that look well. Alexis cocked her head and bit just the corner of her lip, enjoying her stolen observance as Sonny Corinthos, infamous alleged mobster and racketeer, contentedly performed a simple chore of every day life. She finally descended the last step, and Sonny’s head turned at the tiny creak registered by the floor.

“Busted!" Alexis crinkled her nose. "Yes, I was watching you.”

Sonny smiled wide and rose up from his crouched position before the growing fire. “I don’t mind.”

She took a few steps into the room, her hands fidgeting with the bottom edge of her sweater. Her eyes never left Sonny’s face. “Miss me?”

He tilted head and tapped his fingertips against his bottom lip. “You think I’m going to answer that and give you a big head?”

Alexis laughed as she moved closer to the desk, her palms brushing across the shoulders of Sonny’s jacket that hung neatly on the back of her chair.

“You were upstairs a long time. Everything okay?” He watched her fingertips flutter along the soft wool as she nodded.

“Yeah. I was just thinking about some stuff. But I know I’m not supposed to think too much, so when I caught myself I came back down here.”

Her eyes shifted away from Sonny’s face and toward the fire. Alexis had wanted privacy to think, and of course Sonny’s mind went to Ashton's visit and what it had given her to think about.

“Oh – and I was also following Dr. Sonny’s orders.”

She let her hands slip away from his jacket and slowly turned her forearms upward, to let him see. Sonny stared at the light sheen of the oil on her skin and he moved to her, reaching out to take her hands in his.

“You remembered.” He murmured through a smile, his thumbs stroking the soft underside of her wrists.

“I remembered.”

Alexis’ eyes followed the gentle grazing of his skin against hers. It washed away the last remnants of anything she didn’t want to think about anymore. His rhythmic touch grounded her in the here and now, as it always did. It was nice - but it also felt somehow…new. She ran her tongue across her lips and swallowed, trying to ignore the slight buzzing in her brain.

“Did you also remember…you did.”

She pulled her eyes from the motion of his thumb along her wrist, and saw his focus had risen from her arms to her forehead. He was smiling, and he gave each of her hands a slight squeeze.

“I think they’re looking better already. Do they still hurt much?”

“Well…I don’t quite have your finesse, but no – they don’t really hurt anymore.”

“Those words are music to my ears.” He sighed and his eyes drifted back down to her arms.

Alexis tried to pull away, but Sonny held onto her. “Um…I’m sorry to make you have to look at them any more, but I don’t want to ruin my sweater. I’ll pull the sleeves back down as soon as the Vitamin E dries a bit.”

Sonny’s fingers released her hand and moved up to gingerly cup the back of her neck. As his ever-restless thumb stroked the soft, tender skin behind her ear, he tilted his head in close and captured her eyes with his.

“You’re doing what you need to do to heal yourself, and I love to see that. I don’t want you to feel you have to hide anything from me. Not your arms, not anything. I told you that nothing Sorel or anyone else could do would ever change how beautiful you are, and I meant it.”

His eyes pulled at hers like magnets, and the warmth of his hand against her neck kept her still, afraid to move. She felt like she was out of her body, somehow, but she didn’t really care. Sonny slowly smiled as his fingertips settled into the hollow at the base of her skull. Her head reflexively lowered as did her heavy eyelids. Alexis languidly lifted her hand up, and Sonny watched her lower lip disappear between her teeth as her palm touched down upon the back of his hand. He opened his mouth to speak, but as her fingers slipped in between his he was rendered mute. Her touch still affected him in a way that he sometimes thought he couldn’t bear.

“I…love her. I love her, Johnny, and I am IN love with her. I love Alexis Davis.”

Sonny’s voice finally came, haltingly. “Um…Johnny said it was a…a little chilly in here. I thought…um, I thought a f-fire would be nice. Do you like it?”

She nodded, slowly pulling their laced fingers away from her head, but keeping her hold on him. Her eyes opened and she gave him a left-dimpled smile. “Where is John-Boy anyway - chopping more firewood out in the shed?”

“Very funny. He’s on a mission. And it’s a surprise, so don’t even ask because I ain’t talkin’.”

“Now THAT’S the kind of thing a lawyer likes to hear from her client.”

“You’re on a roll, aren’t you?” Sonny winked at her and turned around, giving her hand a slight tug as he led her toward the sofa.

“Speaking of which, you really know how to build a fire.”

Sonny helped her lower herself to the couch, and she promptly curled up in the corner with a pillow in her lap. “I know how to stoke one too. I mean, I need to stoke it…right now. Don’t want the flames to die down already.”

"I'm sure you won't let that happen."

He turned away from her and crouched back down before the flames. His face already felt warm before picking up the poker and prodding the burning chunks of wood.

“You’ll have to teach me how do to that properly. I always seem to have trouble getting a decent fire going. It must be another finesse issue, huh?”

Sonny grinned to himself as the sparks flew. “Oh, you’ve got plenty of finesse, Alexis. Trust me.”

“I do.”

Her whisper sent a tingle up his spine even as the dancing flames toasted his cheeks. “Good.”

There was a long but not uncomfortable silence between them as Sonny finished his labor of love, and set the poker into its holder beside the fireplace.

“Sonny?”

He turned with a grin. “Alexis?”

“Yes.”

She scrunched her shoulders and lightly sighed as she tilted her head, looking up at him as if he should understand the single definitive, yet cryptic word. But Sonny’s face questioned. And as the glow of the fire sent a twinkling of light into her smoky eyes, Alexis answered.

“I did miss you.”