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Scene 75

“Oh, Sonny…”

Her eyes slowly rose up from the contents of the large bag that rested in her lap. She cocked her head at him, and the oddly suspicious expression on her face made him laugh.

“I can’t believe you told him to get this.”

“I got the idea from him, actually.”

Alexis squinted at him, her face morphing from suspicion to outright disbelief. “What?”

“What do you mean ‘what’?” Sonny was confused.

She searched for the proper way to put it. “Well...don’t you think it’s a little…perverse?”

“Excuse me?”

His back straightened and Sonny clamped a palm against his chest as his eyebrows rose sharply. Alexis’ face gave out the message that she would have none of his indignant facade, but Sonny wasn’t giving an inch. His expression remained perplexed.

“Are you really going to make me have to explain the perverseness of it when you know very well…” She sighed loudly. “Oh, I get it. I know what you’re doing. Well you know what? It won’t work. I will no longer be so easily had by you, buddy.”

“Alexis, I never have and never will think of you as a woman who is easily…had. By anyone.” The deep truth of his words was hidden behind a sly wink.

“Shut up.” Her admonishing tone did battle with the sound of her laughter being barely squelched. “I know you’re just trying to get a rise out of me.”

“I’m trying to get a LAUGH out of you, buddy. You like Woody Allen, and I like seeing you laugh, so I asked Johnny BRING us Woody Allen movies.”

She stared at him for a long, silent moment. “Bullets Over Broadway?”

Sonny made a quick and flashy show of his dimples. Alexis whacked him in the arm with her throw pillow, and he deftly snatched it away from her.

“Hey! Play nice, now.”

He held it up high, over his head. Alexis wrinkled her nose and turned her eyes away, feigning disinterest as she set the bag of tapes onto the coffee table. And Sonny laughed as she suddenly turned back around and made a futile lunge for the pillow, awkwardly falling across his chest in the process. He leaned back under the weight of her pressing into him, grinning wide as he swung his arm further away and well out of her reach.

“That is NOT playing nice.”

His tone was teasing as his free arm reflexively wrapped around her, palm gently curving around the downward slope of her ribcage. And as Alexis stretched over him, still trying to reach the unreachable pillow, Sonny’s fingers took note of the indentations between her ribs. She’d always been a slender woman, but now she felt so…lean. And it suddenly struck him that he didn’t know if the way she felt was normal for her or not. Alexis was not one for clingy attire, and she always dressed to err on the side of feminine, classic good taste.

But the gentle curves she owned had been no secret to Sonny’s learned, studious eyes, though he’d never seen her in anything that completely accentuated her shape. And he’d never had occasion to lay his hands upon this particular line of her body – not before Sorel’s own hands had been laid on her and left her for dead. But before his mind could turn too much to Sorel, the sound of Alexis’s light giggle stole his attention away, and he felt her squirming under his hold.

“It’s not playing nice to tickle either, so cut it out.”

“Sorry.”

Sonny slid his hand further down to her waist, increasing the pressure against it so as not to let his fingers flutter and tickle. And as Alexis pressed a palm against his body for leverage, Sonny’s abdominal muscles automatically tightened, giving her a firm plane to hold on to. Her eyes lowered at the unexpected feel of it, and her hands broke contact. But it was just for a moment, and Alexis let her palm set back down against the solid surface of his stomach. She looked up into his face, just inches away from hers, and bit her lip.

“I guess…um…my coordination is going to take a little longer to return that I thought.”

Sonny stared at her mouth, watching in rapture as her bottom lip slowly slipped out from between her teeth. He wanted to kiss her like fury. “You…you don’t think that having a little bitty thing like you lean on me is going to hurt, do you?”

“Point taken.” She whispered. “But my clumsiness does not – I repeat, does NOT give you permission to tickle.”

She turned her shy face away from his, and a strand of her hair lightly brushed against his neck as she moved. The silky whisper of it sent a shiver through the center of his body. The tension in his right hand released - the pillow dropped to the floor. He set his hand down and pushed himself upright, easing Alexis in doing the same. She was flushed, seemingly embarrassed over losing her balance to the quicksand pull of the seat cushions. But what Alexis really felt was a new kind of awareness…of her body touching his, not the other way around. Sonny grinned and pushed her bangs away from her lashes. Alexis’s eyes darted to the sharp crackling sounds that shot from the wood as it steadily burned in the fireplace behind her. She swallowed and rubbed at her neck.

“I think even the fire is telling you it’s not nice to tickle.”

“Tell the fire to mind it’s own business.”

“It’s your fire. You tell it.”

Sonny leaned forward and picked up the bag from he coffee table. “I’ll tell YOU something, councellor. There are at least six Woody Allen movies in here for you to chose from, and I instructed Johnny to bring only the best – only the ones he thought would make you laugh. But I’ve got to say that if simply reading the title “Bullets Over Broadway” is enough to distract you like this and make you so…scrappy…”

“Scrappy?”

“Then I say, ‘Well done, Johnny’.”

“Don’t call me scrappy. It makes me sound like Snow White’s 8th dwarf.” Alexis crossed her arms and settled her back against the cushion. Her eyes shifted up to Sonny’s satisfied face.

“Noted.” He turned and leaned over the arm of the couch, retrieving the pillow from the floor. He turned back to her and laid it into her lap. Alexis hugged it to her stomach with a smile.

“We can watch any movie you want to watch, Alexis. You don’t have to pick the one that just happened to be on top and caught your eye first. But consider this - sometimes you need to fly in the face of things that make other people cringe.”

Her focus automatically lowered from his face to his chest – above his heart. “Are you saying that the word “bullet” doesn’t make you cringe?”

He shook his head. “No. Not anymore. It does make me remember, sometimes, but I don’t feel anything about it. It’ll be the same for you one day. I promise it will.” Sonny carefully watched her face and knew that her mind was beginning to travel. Her voice was soft as she assured him.

“I’m okay about the shooting – now.”

But she hadn’t been. Not for days afterward. Her hands never stopped feeling cold, as if still covered in snow…and blood. Sonny’s blood. The terror running through her as he lay dying under her hands revisited her every time she closed her eyes to sleep. She could hear the echo of her own voice in her head, begging him to hold on. And she heard his halting, choking words, begging her to tell Carly that he loved her. Sonny thought he was going to die, and so did Alexis. It all kept playing like a movie in her head – the snowfall, the laugher, she and Sonny smiling as Zander and Emily played and laughed with joy…and the sudden thrusting of her body to the ground in a thunder of loud pops and screams. She couldn’t close her eyes after that very first night without it coming back, but with a very different end.

Sleep was impossible and she buried herself in work to chase away her weariness. But the weariness soon grew to semi-incoherence, and Ned was scared. He said ‘enough’, and she was too weak to fight him, allowing herself to be dragged to Monica. She first suggested what Alexis knew she would – Alexis respectfully declined. So Monica gave her a week’s supply of mild sleeping pills with the strict order that she had to get sleep. And she confided that Emily had a similar problem with nightmares, but it was getting better every day. The shooting was traumatic for everyone, but the outcome was as good as they could have hoped it to be. It was possible, Monica said, that what Alexis really needed was a little more time for the fears to work their way out of her mind. And Ned took her home with a look of relief on his face. He thought things would suddenly be back to normal.

And Ned thought Alexis was following Monica’s instructions, taking the sedative before brushing her hair and climbing into bed every night. But she wasn’t. She’d always hated taking pills of any kind, and the bottle remained untouched in the back of her medicine cabinet. So she lay beside Ned, as still as could be, thinking of riding on the beach with her eyes wide open…until he fell asleep and she could slip downstairs and toss on the couch alone. And in a few more days, when Sonny came home, Alexis’s mind did tire of taunting her with what might have been, and embraced what actually was. Sonny had saved her life, and he didn’t lose his own in the process. And when Alexis finally slept, for eighteen hours straight, poor Ned was worried all over again.

“Alexis?”

Alexis finally blinked out of her private thoughts, raising her eyes and seeing Sonny’s warm smile. It was always such a reassuring thing. She smiled. “Hmm?”

“I wasn’t talking about the shooting.” He whispered.

“Oh? I’m sorry, what were you…oh, right. That.”

Alexis understood. He was talking about heroin. Sonny thought she would one day hear the word and it would make her remember, but she wouldn’t cringe. Alexis believed him. Her hand reached out, fingertips lightly touching down on the softness of his sweater, just above his heart. But before Sonny could respond, she pulled it back. The look on her face was one of surprise, as if she was unaware of her action until seeing it with her own eyes.

“Sorry.” She whispered.

“It’s okay.” The corners of his mouth turned up, and Sonny thumped his palm against his chest. “It doesn’t hurt, remember?”

Alexis shrugged one shoulder she smiled and turned her embarrassed face away from him. She quickly leaned forward and reached into the bag, pulling out a tape.

“So Johnny thought this was a good one, huh?”

“Apparently so.” He allowed her the diversion.

“Well…it IS one I haven’t seen - for fairly obvious reasons.”

“Me either – and likewise.”

“But as long as it’s also funny…”

“Only one way to find out.”

“Then “Bullets Over Broadway” it is.” Alexis smiled wide, and as she looked down at the video cover, her smile grew to light laughter.

“Well this must be a good sign. You’re laughing already.”

“I was just thinking that Taggert would sure have a few choice remarks to make if he could see the two of us sitting here, watching this particular movie.”

“He said something along those lines about you, when he and I were across the hall, working together to find you.”

Alexis squinted at him. “You know, I’m still not done wrapping my mind around that one.”

Sonny closed his eyes and shook his head with a grin. “Yeah, well. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’d have thrown in with anyone if I thought they could have helped me get you back - even the one man who’d do whatever he could to take me down.” He opened his eyes and leaned back against the cushion as he gazed at her, his gaze shifting to one of serious intent. “When you do finish wrapping your mind around it, I hope it proves without question that I was telling the truth when I said I’d do anything for you.”

“What makes you think I ever doubted it?” Alexis mirrored his serious expression, her bottomless eyes searching his. She WAS serious. It was unacceptable for Sonny to think that all he had done for her and all he’d been for her were taken lightly - or taken for granted. “I know you were telling me the truth every time you look at me. The truth is in right there in your eyes, and you don’t need to prove anything. I know.”

Sonny’s face tingled with heat. She knew. Every time he looked at her, Alexis knew.

“Did you doubt me when I said I’d do anything for you too?”

He could barely find his voice. “No.”

“Good.” She took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze.

He cleared his throat and ran his tongue across his dry lips and stared down at her fingers curved around his. “You know who else did something for you? Dara Jensen.”

Alexis shifted her weight to turn further toward him. “Dara? What did she do? Is it regarding Thomas Malloy?”

Sonny’s eyes shot up to hers. He couldn’t keep a tinge of anger from infusing his tone. “Malloy? Why would something Dara did for you have to do with Malloy?”

She felt his grip tighten on her hand and saw a similar tensing in Sonny’s jaw. She’d already sensed, the day before, that the mention of Thomas’s name was verboten to Sonny, but now it was confirmed as true. The man may have ultimately betrayed Sorel for her sake, but Sonny didn’t forgive…and Sonny didn’t let go. Alexis hated seeing the cold veneer creeping over Sonny’s warm eyes, and she tried to steer her way off the Thomas track.

“Um…I just thought maybe…I don’t know. He did help me, in the end, so I thought maybe Dara decided to drop some of the charges or seek a lesser sentence…” Her voice trailed off as Sonny stared at her, a vague distance living in his dark eyes and the stiffness in his jaw visibly growing. “I’m sorry I interrupted. Please, finish what you were going to say.”

Her fingers wriggled within his firm grasp, and Sonny became aware of his tightened hand. He loosened it and allowed Alexis to slip free of him. His voice was flat as he continued.

“Dara got a judge to seal your name until the case against Sorel goes to trial. You won’t be in the papers or on the news. Nobody will know what happened to you unless you decide to tell them.”

“Wow.” Alexis was stunned. “It didn’t even occur to me to…you know, if this had happened to a client of mine, I would have had their name sealed the day of the arrest. I guess it’s true what they say about a lawyer who represents themselves having a fool for a client.”

“Special circumstances, councellor. You did have a few other things on your mind at the time.”

“I know. But it was incredibly decent of Dara to think of taking that action on my behalf, especially considering some of the dirty legal tricks I’ve pulled on her in court.”

“Dirty tricks? Who, you?” Sonny teased. “I’m shocked.”

“You are not! Hey – you don’t think she’s going to expect me to not pull them anymore, do you?” She made a funny little face and Sonny laughed.

“Uh, no. And I don’t think Taggert is going to expect me to start making contributions to the Policeman’s Ball, so let’s neither of us disappoint them, okay?”

Alexis grinned. “Are you saying they would miss us being a daily thorn in their respective sides?”

“We do make their jobs more interesting…don’t we?” Sonny nudged her arm and slid his head down close to her shoulder.

She nudged him back. “You sure make MINE more interesting.”

“That’s a very nice way to put it.”

Alexis laughed and it made him smile. “Speaking of which…” She looked up at him with an innocent, little girl face and held the video up in the air. “You’re not going to make me watch a movie with your popcorn ban still in place, are you? Because that’s just un-American and mean.”

“I think fruit would be a much better idea.”

“You’re no fun.” Alexis pouted teasingly.

“Oh, I’m all kinds of fun.” His dimples teased her back as Sonny gently pushed his the whole side of his body into hers. She pushed back, trying not to laugh. “Two days without popcorn – that’s all I’m asking. You might surprise yourself and begin to hate the stuff, after eating all the REAL food that I’ve forced upon you.”

Her eyes grew to saucers. “Hate popcorn? Blasphemer!”

“It’s not just me thinking you need a dietary adjustment. Did you know that Zander asked me to teach you how to cook something proper.”

“He’s probably tired of being sent to Kelly’s for every meal.”

“He’s worried about you not eating right. Although at this particular moment, he’s worried about you in a more general sense. I talked to him earlier, and he’d like to see you again when you’re up to it.”

“Oh. Okay, sure. But not tonight.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”

“Tomorrow. I should look a little better then.”

Sonny’s mind flashed on Zander’s expression as his eyes took in the first unexpected sight of Alexis’s bruised face and throat. “That was my fault, his reaction to seeing you without being prepared. He’s okay now though. We talked, and he understands things better.”

“Sonny, are you sure he’s all right?” Alexis furrowed her brow in concern. “I really, really don’t want him feeling responsible for anything Sorel did – especially not what he did to me.”

“I know. Neither do I.”

“I think he’d listen to you about that much better than he’d listen to me.”

“Alexis, you can’t control how someone else feels.” He allowed his eyes to drift from hers, shifting his gaze to the dancing flames that mirrored the flickers of heat that her eyes kept sending through him. He stared, transfixed, as his voice murmured. “People feel how they feel, even if they shouldn’t.”

There was a moment of silence, as Alexis watched the sparks of firelight reflected in the dark pools of his eyes. And then, her soft voice drew his focus back to her face. “I don’t want you feeling responsible either. And I know that I can’t control what you and Zander feel, but you can’t control what I say either, and I’m going to KEEP saying it until you hear me – you’re not responsible.”

Sonny smiled and tapped the end of her nose with his finger. “I hear you. I always do.”

“Yes, you do.”

She grinned back, and the crackle of the burning wood suddenly sang through the room. Sonny’s smile softened as his eyes washed over her flushed cheeks, which had assumed a beautiful, healthy shade of pink. The blazing fire was spreading a rush of heat over her body, and Alexis was suddenly aware of the rapid pounding of her heart in her chest. She shifted her weight as she leaned into the back cushion, and her fingers moved to her arm. They ran over her exposed skin just once before her consciousness kicked in and she froze. Alexis gave Sonny a sheepish sideways glance, but he hadn’t noticed where her fingernails had gone. He was too preoccupied with studying the deepening hue of her face…and with keeping his own hand from moving to touch the lock of hair that had fallen across her cheekbone.

“I’m trying to stop. It’s a bad habit that I’ve fallen into.”

His ears finally registered her words, and Sonny met her eyes. “I’m sorry. What’s a bad habit?”

“Scratching.” She tugged on her cuffs to pull the lavender sleeves over the temptation that her bare arms provided. “They’ll never heal, Vitamin E not withstanding, if I don’t leave them alone.”

“They will get better because you will leave them alone. You’re conscious of it now.” He slid his hand over to gently pull at a cashmere sleeve. “And I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to keep them covered up all the time. At least not when you’re at home. They need to be exposed to the air in order to heal properly.”

Alexis laughed. “Exactly how many medical tidbits DID you pick up while I was stuck in the hospital?”

“A few.” He grinned slyly. “I ask a lot of questions, and people are usually very happy to show off their knowledge. But you can always ask Tony, if you don’t believe me.” Sonny’s expression suddenly changed and he groaned, rubbing at his eyes.

“What?”

“Johnny told me that Tony called earlier, while you were asleep. I almost forgot to tell you.”

“Oh – right. He left a message, Johnny said.”

“Yeah. He wants to see you.”

A veil of anxiety took over her face. “Why?”

“I don’t know. I assume he just wants to check you out, make sure you’re doing okay.”

“I am.”

“I know.”

“I’m fine.”

“I know that too.”

“I don’t need to get checked out.”

“And I’m sure that Tony would be very pleased to see for himself just how well you’re doing.”

Alexis stared at him in silence, her jaw shifting as her teeth caught half of her bottom lip in its grip. She was trying so hard to look stoic for Sonny’s benefit, and it hurt him to see the fear that shone through to his knowing eyes. He knew how threatening the thought of setting foot back in that hospital must be, but he trusted her to make the right choice. She’d been making them all along.

“Why don’t you listen to his message and see for yourself what he had to say. Maybe Johnny misunderstood.”

Alexis smiled weakly as she took hold of the sofa’s arm with one hand, and Sonny’s knee with the other. “Now there’s a logical thought.”

As she pushed herself up and moved to the answering machine, the word ‘logic’ reverberated in Sonny’s head as the dream of his confrontation with Ashton reared its ugly head once more.

“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…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 knew had to tell Alexis the truth about Carly, and he had to tell her before he relinquished his care of her. He would not chance her thinking that she was merely a distraction from his loneliness, or worse, the object of his pity. But she had to be told the right way. The sound of a masculine tone hit his ears, and Sonny listened in silence as Tony’s warm voice of concern flooded the room.

Alexis smiled, remembering how patient and attentive Tony had been with her, even when she was at her most ornery and sharp-tongued worst. She knew she owed him a tremendous debt for going above and beyond – for being not just a doctor, but a friend. Yet she couldn’t stop the sinking fear that knotted her stomach as Tony asked her to return to the place from which she’d just been freed. It was a childish and absurd way to feel. Alexis had walked the halls of GH hundreds of times before being a patient there herself, but now it would always be different for her. Now, her memories of it were deeply carved and her perspective would never change.

The machine clicked off and Sonny’s eyes were fixed on her face as she stood looking down at the phone. Alexis could feel his eyes upon her, all dark and expectant. And she knew that if she turned away instead of reaching down, Sonny would simply smile to tell her it was okay.

“I AM fine.” She hesitated a moment. “But I guess it is in keeping with his medical ethics to make sure for himself.”

“Him, doctor – you, lawyer.”

She smiled. “Ah, yes. I remember it well.”

“Do you like Maurice Chevalier movies too?”

“Do YOU?” Alexis was incredulous.

“Why do you sound so surprised?”

She slowly took in a deep breath as a playful grin spread across her face.

“What?” Sonny felt his face heating up.

Her breath slowly released. “Why Sonny Corinthos. I do believe there’s a bit of a sappy romantic inside of you.”

He looked her straight in the eye with a gentle smile. “Guilty, as charged.”

Alexis held his gaze and gave tilted her head as she murmured back. “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.”

Sonny unconsciously bit his lip. As of that day, he knew that some of his secrets were far from safe…or secret.

“And I trust it will be safe with Johnny too, since he’ll probably be the one to go on the next video run. Do you think it would make him blush to ask the clerk for “Gigi”?”

“You live to watch that poor man turn pink in the face, don’t you?’

She laughed lightheartedly. “Johnny’s adorable. More so when he blushes.”

Sonny smiled and shook his head. “Look who’s talking.”

Alexis pushed at her bangs. “You say that to all your attorneys."

"You ARE all my attorneys."

"True. Well…I suppose that was a reasonable amount of stalling time.”

She reached down to pick up the phone, and Sonny leaned his elbow against the back of the couch, propping his chin within his palm to watch her dial.

“Hi, is Dr. Tony Jones available please? It’s Alexis Davis, returning his call. Oh. No, no you don’t have to page him, he can call me back when he’s…free.” Alexis turned to Sonny. “She didn’t let me finish my sentence.”

Sonny snapped his fingers. “Rats! You almost bought yourself some extra stalling time.”

“Shut up.” Her eyes suddenly grew big. “Oh – hi Tony.” She laughed, embarrassed. “That wasn’t meant for you - sorry. I'm better. I’m fine…REALLY.”

Sonny smiled at her strongly placed emphasis on the last word, and her eyes darted to his face.

“But how are YOU? Are the dark circles that I put under your eyes finally fading?” Her eyes lowered, as did her tone of voice. “I know. But I can’t squelch the impulse to keep apologizing for being so difficult when you were being so nice.” She laughed lightly. “all right, I’ll stop – I promise. Uh…yeah, so you said. Look, Tony, I appreciate how much you’re taking the Hippocratic oath to heart, but I swear to you that I’m fine. I’m eating, I’m sleeping – sleeping way too much, actually – and I’m even taking all those blasted pills you sent home with me. Sonny will back me up, if necessary.”

Alexis turned and sat on the edge of the desk as she silently listened silently to Tony plead his case on the other end of the line. Her face was held predominantly out of Sonny’s view, and he wasn’t sure if it was intentional. He suddenly felt as if he was intruding on her privacy, and considered making himself scarce. But before he knew what to do, Alexis cleared her throat and finally gave Tony a quiet, single word in answer to his request.

“Okay.”

Sonny was relieved.

“Tomorrow? No, tomorrow is fine. I just haven’t ventured outside since I got home, so…no, really. It’s fine. If I must let you see for yourself that I’m really on the mend, I’d rather just get it over with.” She grimaced. “And I didn’t mean that the way that it sounded. You knew that, right? Good.” Alexis laughed softly as her fingers played with the edge of her sweater. “Eleven is fine. I’ll see you tomorrow then.” She suddenly turned to Sonny. “Yeah, he’s here.”

Sonny sat up straight.

“Why? You want to talk about me while I’m right in the room again? Oh. Well, that was honest.” She held out the receiver. “Sonny, it’s for you.”

Sonny rose and moved toward the desk. As he reached out to take the phone from her hand, Alexis grinned and pulled it away. She pushed a large button on the telephone base and dropped the receiver back into the cradle, crossing her arms against her chest. “There ya go, guys. Knock yourselves out.”

Tony’s voice rose up in complaint. “I hate speakerphones!”

Sonny flashed on the last time he heard the sound of amplified voices filling the room by way of a small chunk of plastic machinery. He wondered if Alexis would recall any memory of it, or if she was even aware of what Sorel was doing at the time. She was so delusional, but there were moments when the time and place seemed crystal clear to her mind.

“Yeah, I hate them too.” Sonny glanced at Alexis, who looked more than pleased with herself for having deftly taken control.

“So what do you say, Sonny? Is she really being good?”

Alexis arched an eyebrow at him.

“She’s being a pain in the butt.”

She swatted him, as he expected, and Sonny laughed.

“Good for her.” Tony deadpanned.

“But I can vouch for her doing everything she said she’s doing. She's being good.”

“Alrighty then. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Alexis.”

“See you, Tony.”

“We’ll be there.” Sonny clicked off the speaker, and turned to Alexis. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? And tomorrow won’t be as hard as you think it will be either.”

Alexis shifted her weight and ran an absent hand through her hair. “Sonny…you don’t have to take me. I can go see Tony by myself.”

Sonny stared blankly. He hadn’t expected that.

“In fact, it’s probably best if I DO go alone.”

“Why? Why is it best for you to…unless you wouldn’t feel comfortable with me there.”

“Why wouldn’t I feel comfortable with you? That’s absurd.”

“Is it because you want to discuss something with Tony in private? You can do that, because it’s not as if I was expecting you to let me go into the room with you.” He winked at her and Alexis sighed.

“Sonny! All I meant is that I need to deal with things on my own. I can’t let you hold my hand and walk me through everything that’s going to be difficult for me to face.”

“Not forever, no. But this will be your first time back out there, Alexis. And there’s no reason for you to go out there all alone this soon. I know you want and need to be self-sufficient, and that’s great - but please don’t push yourself too quickly. If you really don’t want me taking you to see Tony, I respect that. But would you at least let Johnny drive you…please?”

His dark eyes sparkled as he added one of her favorite words at the end of his sentence. It was not lost on Alexis, who was once again amazed at how Sonny made it feel so natural for her to accept what he offered. It seemed logical and right that she give herself permission to need, but she know that she was surrendering nothing in return. And it occurred to her that accepting Sonny’s strength only fed her own – it didn’t weaken her at all.

“My appointment’s at eleven. Is that okay for you?’

”Sure.”

Alexis lowered her head and ran her palms along the edge of the desk. “You’d still better not expect me to let you go into the room with me.”

Sonny watched her dimples begin to form as he gazed at her down-turned face. He couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and gently touching his fingertip to the sweet little indentation in her right cheek. “NOW who’s no fun?”

Her dimples deepened as Alexis slowly lifted her eyes to his. The firewood suddenly gave out a loud snap, turning both their heads.

“The fire is reminding you that you’re supposed to be a gentleman.” She murmured, her gaze following the rhythmic dance of the flames.

“The fire still needs to mind its own business.” Sonny’s voice was soft in reply. “And I am a gentleman.”

He watched her watch the fire, allowing himself just another moment to drink in the beauty of her lightly hypnotized face. To stare at her so unabashedly, with Alexis so distracted, was a luxury. But the sun had set and he would soon need to attend to dinner. Tomorrow would see Alexis returning to some semblance of structure in her life, and Sonny hoped to get her to sleep more early than late that night. As much as he’d like to, he couldn’t let her sleep indefinitely the next morning. An alarm clock would finally need to be set.

“Hey?”

“Hmm.” She didn’t turn her face from the fire.

“I think it’s time for this gentleman to get busy making an amazing dinner for a certain lady.”

Her head slowly turned to him. “You changed your mind on the movie?”

“Dinner first, then the movie, then you and the penguin settle down for a long winter’s nap. Well, a medium length winter’s nap.”

“I get the penguin tonight?”

“I got him last night, you get him tonight. See how civilized joint-custody can be?” Alexis scrunched her shoulders with a smile, and Sonny tugged at the bottom of her sweater. “Are you hungry?”

“Sonny, you really don’t need to cook again tonight. I’ve got take-out menus from nearly every place in town.”

He squinted at her and cocked his head. “I’m sorry…what did you say?”

She stared at him. He was two feet away. How could he not have heard her? She began to repeat herself. “I said I’ve got take-out menus from everywhere. Why don’t we just call The Grille or…”

Her voice trailed off as Sonny cupped his hand around his ear and leaned in close. “I can see your lips moving, but I still have no idea what you’re saying to me.”

Alexis bit her lip and tried not to laugh at the odd little expression on Sonny’s face. She realized she’d uttered a dirty word to his ears – take-out. “I didn’t say anything.” She answered in innocence and quickly moved past him to sit back down on the sofa.

Sonny chuckled to himself as he watched her. “That’s what I thought. Do you like salmon?”

“Very much.”

“Good. Did you know that salmon is one of the best things you can eat to fuel your brain.”

Alexis crossed her arms and tilted her head back against the cushion to peer at him. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

He laughed and took a few steps toward her. “So what, are you going to just sit on the couch like a lazy spud, or are you going to come help me?”

“Me? Help?” She pointed toward the kitchen. “In there?”

“When did you become so monosyllabic?”

“When did you stop thinking that my helping you in the kitchen was an oxymoron?”

Sonny held out his hand. “You might actually learn something, if you pay attention. Pick up a tidbit or two of your own.”

“What, and ruin my reputation?”

He wiggled his fingers and smiled slyly, entreating her. “Your secret would be safe with me.”

Alexis swallowed and sighed heavily. “Well…”

“Come on! You know you want to.”

She slowly placed her hand in his and allowed him to help her to her feet. Sonny smiled and turned, leading Alexis away from the crackling fire with his warm fingers gently wrapped around hers.

“At least if I’m in there watching you cook, I’ll know for sure that you’re not really having take-out smuggled in through the back door and passing it off as your own.”

Sonny stopped and spun around in place. “Excuse me?”

Alexis smiled and kept on walking, her fingers firmly wrapped around Sonny’s. She tugged at him, leading him through the kitchen doorway as she turned her head with a wink.

“Gotcha!”