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Scene 76

Sonny watched the growing cloud of steam spread upward, enveloping his body in a white, airy veil as he gazed into the mirror before him.

He smiled a small, wicked smile at the thought of Alexis in her room, on the other side of the wall, readying herself for bed. He wondered if she was possibly in the same state of nature as he, or if her body was already enveloped in silk. He knew it was shameful for him to think of her that way, but he couldn’t keep his mind from straying into carnal territory and lingering there a little too long. To be but a thin wall apart, bathed in wet heat and naked from head to toe…he just wanted her there with him. No wall, just her - bathed in wet heat and naked in his arms. The image was intoxicating, and he felt a familiar tensing in his groin just as powerfully as he imagined her body pressed against his.

And Sonny didn’t understand how Alexis could make him feel things that were so pure and yet so impure, all at once and in equal measure.

He wanted to protect her and keep her safe, to nurture her and watch her soar above all the things that had tried to pull her down. Yet the erotic effect she had on him was strong and unyielding. Sonny’s physical desire for her was conflicting for him, and he did everything he could to hold it back. Every time Alexis looked at him, it was with nothing but trust with those deep, dark eyes and that sweet, dimpled smile, and it made his heart simply swell. And every time she looked at him, a heated yearning stirred within and his guilt was stirred in kind.

But Sonny loved her and he wanted her, in every possible way. And the questions gnawed at him at times like this, when he was alone and his body followed no commands but its own. Would Alexis be disgusted? Angry? Would she feel betrayed if she knew how he really felt - that Sonny could spend a blissful eternity learning not only every corner of her mind and every shadow of her soul, but also every inch of her body?

And there was also a different kind of question beginning to float through Sonny’s mind - what did Alexis really feel herself? He sensed that something had vaguely shifted in her that day, something that sent a blush into her cheeks with far more frequency than usual. He saw a new edge of shyness when he looked at her and touched her, though she continued to allow it. And when Alexis touched him, he saw a hesitance, though she continued to touch him.

The only thing that Sonny was sure of was that this shift followed Ashton’s visit - a subject Alexis had yet to mention again. Sonny wondered if maybe Ashton was less understanding than Alexis implied. She was so vulnerable and raw that even a hint of an accusation from that man could make her insecurities flare. But it was possible that Alexis had conjured some new self-conscious notions all on her own. Whatever it was, Sonny knew he had to take extra care in keeping himself – and his willful body in check.

Sonny’s head suddenly jerked upward, toward the sound of light knocking at the door.

“Sonny?”

“Alexis?” He moved closer to the sound of her voice.

“If you need any extra towels, they’re in the bottom cabinet, to the left of the sink.”

“Thank you. I think I’m good with the towels.”

“Are you good with the hot water too? I hope it’s making an acceptable amount of steam for you.”

Sonny stared at the door. “Uh…I’m good with the steam too.” He heard Alexis laugh. “How do you know how much steam is in this bathroom? You got some sort of surveillance camera in here?”

“If I did, I highly doubt that I’d be laughing.”

Sonny’s eyes widened. He was stunned at the quip that slipped from her tongue. And he grinned unabashedly in the heavy silence that fell, knowing Alexis was outside that door and probably turning the color of her hated beets.

“I mean…”

She stammered, her mind desperately back-pedaling to extricate herself before Sonny came back at her with something wicked in response. But Sonny wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Alexis had just let him know that she’d looked at him as a man…and he now understood the source of the shift he’d felt in her. He was too elated to retort.

“I’m sorry, Alexis. The water is too loud and I can’t hear you. What did you say?”

“I said, are you ever going to actually get IN that shower, or are you just going to turn the whole apartment into a steam bath? The steam is slipping out from under the door, by the way, which is how I know about it.”

“Actually, I’m still debating on that shower issue, since you did give me a pretty decent one already.” So his retort was delayed…and in reference to another issue altogether.

“Will you give that a rest? It was an accident – an ACCIDENT, Sonny!”

“Mm-hmm. So you keep claiming.”

“Claiming?” Her tone was indignant.

“Besides, how can I take a shower with you keeping me engaged in conversation at the door?”

Sonny heard a loud sigh and her voice began to fade as she trotted back toward her room. “Maybe next time, it WON’T be an accident.”

“I heard that!” He shouted with a chuckle.

Sonny turned away from the door and walked through the dense fog on his way toward the shower door. It was true that humor could be sexy. Alexis made him laugh, and his body responded all over again. And as he stepped behind the glass and let the wet heat engulf him, he made peace with it. His lust came from love, and both feelings were true. He was proud to love Alexis, and Sonny made the conscious choice to let go of his carnal shame. But as he lowered his gaze, he shook his head at the stubborn manifestation of his hormones. He didn’t want a simple release - he wanted her. But even a conscious choice sometimes needed a little help. Sonny sighed and reached for the chrome faucet with a bold “C” carved dead in the center.

“Down, boy!”

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Alexis arched an eyebrow at the sharp, truncated cry coming from the other side of the wall.

It sounded like Sonny had turned the wrong faucet handle in an unfamiliar shower, and got an unpleasant temperature surprise. Hopefully, he didn’t burn himself. She stared at the wall, and all was now quiet but for the light hum of the water running through the pipes. She considered going to make sure he was okay, but thought better of it. Poor Sonny had been on the receiving end of all kinds of errant water that night, and he’d very likely pass on any further assistance from her.

She smiled as she carefully ran the brush through her hair, remembering the stunned look on Sonny’s face when her unsteady grip on the hand-held kitchen sprayer sent a burst of cold water straight at his right dimple. Alexis had been just as startled as he. She reflexively dropped the nozzle into the sink, sending burst of water number two arching into the air and landing on his right shoulder. Sonny just stood there, eyes closed and water dripping from his face, running down his arm, and soaking into the fresh black shirt he’d changed into after his restless nap. He looked as if he was waiting for the inevitable third wave to hit.

Amidst a string of mea culpas, Alexis tried and failed to stifle a fit of laughter at the way this neat, orderly, and always sharply dressed man looked right then. She turned off the water and tried to blot him dry with a roll of paper towels, half expecting him to make a grab for the nozzle himself and let her have it as good as he’d gotten. But he patiently and silently stood, allowing her to giggle, apologize, and gently pat his face dry with a scratchy paper towel. She watched his one eye slowly open as she attempted to dry his shirt. But she looked back down to find she’d only succeeded in decorating the black cotton with a speckled trail of white lint. Alexis groaned and threw the rest of the roll into the sink, dejected.

“The oxymoron is still valid. I am of no help in the kitchen. I can’t even rinse a dish without rinsing you and half the room along with it.”

Sonny opened the other eye and slowly drawled. “You know, Alexis…if you’d wanted to see how I look in a wet t-shirt…all you had to do was ask.”

“Sonny!” She crossed her arms and pouted as Sonny began picking bits of paper from his chest.

“Or if you just didn’t like this shirt and wanted me to change it…”

“I’ll buy you a new shirt because that one has to be ruined. You knew what paper towels were going to do, didn’t you? Why didn’t you stop me?”

He continued picking at the lint. “I guess I’m just a sucker for seeing you all flustered. It’s cute.”

“It’s not cute, Sonny. It’s pathetic. My arm may not be strong enough yet to let my hand control that stupid sprayer, but I should at least have the common sense to know a paper towel would make a mess of your shirt. I’m really sorry.”

Sonny flinched at the sound of her apology, and he ran a hand through his dampened hair. Her gaze was fixed on the floor, and he reached out to tilt her chin up with his finger. A left dimple made an appearance as her reluctant eyes finally met his.

“So…does this mean that you really DIDN’T want to see me in a wet t-shirt?” His palm clamped to his chest as he cocked his head. “I’m crushed.”

Sonny gave her a sly wink, and Alexis bit her lip.

“You are so full of…lint.”

She reached out to remove a large, white speck from his collar, giving him a wink in return. And Sonny let her help him finish up with the dishes – he rinsed, she loaded the washer – before bothering to change into a clean, dry shirt and settling beside her on the couch to watch her Woody Allen movie of choice with a bowl of fruit nestled between them. “Bullets Over Broadway”, she had to admit, was very funny indeed.

Alexis suddenly noticed that the hum of the water had stopped. She set her brush down on the dresser and listened to the sound of a drawer opening and closing, and the sound of a soft, throaty cough. It was nice to hear sounds of life around her and know that another person was nearby. But it would be short-lived. Sonny announced over dinner that he intended to keep Zander at his place for a while, not wanting Alexis to shoulder the responsibility for his keeping. She didn’t want to admit that she’d rather not be alone, but Sonny was right to keep Zander across the hall. He shouldn’t be responsible for her keeping either. She was a grown up, and grown ups are responsible for themselves. Alexis would be fine on her own – she had been for years, after all.

She tugged at her loose pajama bottoms. The elastic waistband was now clinging precariously to her hipbones, and Alexis contemplated the merits of changing into a nightgown instead. She was sure that her nightmares would leave her alone from now on, but there was still a residual fear. If they did strike again, she’d prefer to wake up with her sleepwear in its proper place upon her body, rather than slipped to the floor. She’d had enough of that particular kind of embarrassment to last her a lifetime.

A safety pin - that would do the trick! And maybe, so would something else. She turned to the nightstand and reached past the wilting purple iris to pick up the clock. It was almost ten thirty. She set the alarm for one o’clock and tucked the brass square under her pillow to muffle the alarm’s trill against any ears but her own. If she could keep herself from sleeping for too long a stretch of time, maybe she could keep herself from dreaming too.

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Sonny gave the ragged scar on his chest a long study, and lightly grazed the raised skin with his fingertips.

He’d grown used to seeing it now, and almost forgot it was there when it was covered in clothing. But now, standing bare, he stared and pondered the full meaning of what lay across his chest. He wouldn’t trade that scar for anything in the world. It may be a daily reminder that he almost died, but it was also the reason Alexis didn’t. And it dawned on him that he’d told her a bit of a lie before, though he hadn’t meant to. Hearing the word ‘bullet’ DID make him feel something, it just didn’t make him feel anything bad. He’d take a bullet for her again, without hesitation, just as he had a few months before.

Sonny turned away and reached for the gray sweatpants hanging on a hook. He leaned back against the edge of the cabinet for support as he slid one leg in, then the other, and stood back to his full height. He released his fingers from the waistband, allowing the elastic to snap back firmly around his waist. His palm moved to rest flat against his abdomen, and he remembered the feel of Alexis’s hand setting down on the same solid plane. It had been a while since he’d accompanied Johnny to the gym, but his masculine pride reared its head when she unexpectedly touched him, and he was glad it hadn’t been too terribly long. He smiled at his foolish vanity, and closed his eyes as the navy blue cotton slipped over his head and clung to his still-damp skin. The steam was slow to thin, and he opened the door to let it drift out into the hallway.

Alexis raised her head at the squeal of the hinges. She looked back down at her waistband, double-checking the catch on the stainless steel that took up an inch or so of slack in the soft silk. Safety pins were a very good invention. She smiled and nodded to herself, pleased that she hadn’t had to ask Sonny for help in pushing the pin through the firm elastic. One battle may have been lost with the hand-held sprayer, but another was won with the pin. They were little things, but the little things could feel so incredibly big to her. Little things like a penguin – a symbol of the biggest battle that she’d won so far. She loved sharing that symbol with Sonny, who’d earned it right beside her, but tonight the penguin was to be hers.

She heard Sonny’s footsteps as he padded down the hall. She poked her head out the door and caught sight of his back disappearing into Zander’s room. He’d left the bathroom light on, and her legs carried her into the path of the warm, damp air infused with the scent of him. She hovered at the bathroom door, inexplicably drawn into the sultry, spicy cloud. Alexis closed her eyes and breathed it in once more, smiling at the feeling of comfort that washed over her. Her hand slid up along the doorframe and moved inside to the wall. She found the light switch and flipped it off in one quick motion, then moved down to the nightlight and turned it on. Her eyes opened and she stood, lingering and breathing full and soft the scent of cloves.

A sudden cough turned her head, startling her, and she quickly stepped away from the bathroom door. She shook her head and wrinkled her nose, feeling a bit silly and somewhat confused. The sound of Sonny’s unbridled yawn made her laugh out loud. It took her mind away from the strange distraction of the dark fog behind her. And inside Zander’s room, a crooked smile crossed Sonny’s face. To his ears, Alexis laughing was the sweetest sound on earth. And he wondered how he could hear it again, just one more time, before the end of his last night under the same roof with her.

“Sonny?” Her disembodied voice crept around the corner.

“Alexis?”

“Are you okay? I heard you coughing.”

“I’m fine. I just breathed in too much steam.”

“Oh.”

There was a pregnant pause. “It’s not contagious, Alexis. You want to come in?”

As he moved toward the door, Alexis peered inside and the rest of her body quickly followed her head. Sonny’s eyes washed over her, drinking in the striking sight of her. The silk that bathed her that night was a deep, rich and sensual shade of red – the color of currents or a lush Cabernet. The color of passion. She looked beautiful, and he wondered how many hues of silk he’d find in her closet if he dared to sneak a peek. It was tempting. Alexis cleared her throat, commanding his attention as she pushed her hair behind her ears and properly clasped her hands together in front of her in a formal display. She looked to be up to something, and the slight glint in her eye made him grin.

“Councellor.” He deepened his voice to match her demeanor.

Her serious eyes met his head on, and she released a short, loud breath. “I’ve come to assume custody of the penguin, in accordance with our verbal agreement of approximately five twenty-seven today.”

“Who could refuse a barefoot attorney in red pajamas?” He saw her begin to smile as he turned to grab the penguin off the nightstand. “That’s a perfect color for you, by the way.”

Alexis felt herself blushing and rubbed at her nose. “Thanks.”

“It almost matches your cheeks. Maybe we should get Johnny a pair.”

“You know, there are so many places I could run with that…but I won’t.”

Sonny laughed. “Such the gentlewoman.”

“Yeah, well.” She tilted her head and bit her lip as she tried not to smile.

Sonny held the penguin out to her. “Here you go. One cuddly little creature to watch over you through the night.”

She took it from him and tucked it under her chin, holding its softness against her throat with both hands as she murmured. “Talk about ruining my reputation.”

“What?”

“Sleeping with a stuffed animal.”

“I’ll never tell.”

“I know. Because you’ve slept with it too, and your reputation would be much more irreparably damaged than mine if word was to leak out.”

“When you’re right, you’re right.”

Alexis grinned, her eyes darting away from his face and down to the floor. “Well, I guess I’ll see you in the morning. Hopefully I’ll let you make it through the night in peace for a change.”

“Alexis…”

She quickly stopped him form where he was going to go. “Thank you for making me a wonderful dinner and renting me funny movies.”

“You’re more than welcome. I really enjoyed tonight.” He smiled, taking a small step closer.

“Me too. It felt…normal. I felt normal, and I needed that.”

“I know. Me too.”

Sonny reached out, wanting to touch her face, to slip his arms around her and wish her sweet dreams before letting her walk through that door. But his hand veered in another direction, his fingertip tapping on the penguin’s beak instead.

“You watch over her well, or else. There are plenty of other cuddly creatures available for duty. You can and will be replaced.”

Alexis squinted at him with a shake of her head. “I may sleep with him, but I certainly don’t TALK to him.”

Sonny’s eyes widened. “Now there’s a hell of a quote.”

“Shut up!”

Alexis swatted him with the penguin, which made his dimples blaze. She rolled her eyes as she turned on her heels. But she couldn’t help but smile at his mischievous ways, and Sonny’s ears were soon filled with the sweet sound of her laughter as she and the cuddly creature disappeared down the hall.

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The green fluorescent numbers flipped from one thirty-five to one thirty-six just as he opened his eyes.

He blinked hard, looking again to make sure. It was true. Sonny had had almost three hours of uninterrupted, unadulterated sleep. He smiled and rolled onto his back as his eyes closed once more. The night was still, and Alexis was sleeping peacefully down the hall. No nightmares, just peace, as Sonny had felt in his heart it would be for her that night. He slid his arm around the pillow and hugged it against his head, lulled by the image of her serene, sleeping face. It gave him a depth of contentment he believed was lost to him for good.

Sonny felt happy…purely happy. And he felt like a normal, ordinary man instead of the myth he’d created in the personal of Sonny Corinthos. The world saw what he wanted it to see, what he knew would help him survive, succeed, and stay strong - a cold, hard, unyielding force. And then there was Alexis. She also saw what he wanted her to see, the things that made him human - his fears and frailties, his tenderness and tears. Sonny gave her his real and vulnerable self, and Alexis accepted it willingly. To lay his soft underbelly open for the world to see would destroy him, but to do so for her made him feel free.

He looked at the clock again and waited until the numbers changed to one forty-one, knowing he couldn’t drift back to sleep until giving in to the urge. He wanted to look at her just one more time as she slept, safe and sound. And before Sonny knew it, he was standing in her doorway, but looking only at an empty bed. His stomach leapt into his throat as his eyes sharply turned toward the window. The window was surrounded with nothing but lace. Another turn of his head showed him darkness beyond the open bathroom door. He rubbed at his clean-shaven face and made his way to the stairs to find her.

The faint sound of voices soon greeted his ears and he paused at the first landing. Alexis sat in the middle of the sofa, water bottle in hand, chenille blanket embracing her shoulders, and bathed in the glow of the television screen. He took another step and the wood beneath his feet squealed. Alexis turned her head, and Sonny smiled as he rubbed at his bleary eyes.

“Hey.”

“I’m sorry – was this too loud?”

He continued down the stairs. “No. I just woke up on my own. Did you have a bad dream?”

“No I…I just woke up too.” She felt guilty for her little lie and turned her eyes back to the screen.

Sonny squinted at the TV. “What are you doing?”

“I’m learning how to become financially independent through investing in real estate with no money down.”

“Ah - infomercials.” Sonny laughed. “The insomniac’s best friend. Do you mind if I turn on a light?”

“No. Go ahead.”

He flipped on the light and moved to the sofa. Alexis scooted to one end and patted the seat beside her, inviting him to join her. Sonny did, settling himself into the corner.

“You really have a serious problem with that, don’t you?” She gave him a look of concern that made him smile and lightly shrug. Alexis picked up the remote from the coffee table and turned on the TV. “That’s really not a good thing. You should see a doctor about it.” Her eyes suddenly grew wide and she set a hand down on his knee. “Hey! It just so happens that you’ll be seeing a doctor tomorrow. How convenient.”

“You mean YOU’LL be seeing a doctor tomorrow.” He corrected, covering her warm hand with his and cocking his head.

“Sonny…”

“Alexis…”

“It’s not funny.” She frowned at him to emphasize her point. “It couldn’t hurt to at least ask to Tony about it. I worry about you too, you know, and fair’s fair, buddy. If I can bite the bullet and go back to see him like I’m supposed to…”

Sonny groaned and Alexis gave him a goofy smile. “Oh man, that was bad!”

She laughed and turned her palm up to squeeze his hand. “If I can bite the bullet – ha, ha – then so can you.” She waited for him to meet her plaintive eyes before going in for the clincher with a single whispered word.

“Please?”

Sonny sighed heavily. Alexis bit her lip, and he was done for. “I’ll ask Tony.” He whispered back, unable to deny her anything. “I can’t have you worrying about me. It’s against the rules.”

Alexis gave him full dimples, feeling totally pleased with herself - and feeling suddenly quite warm. She let the blanket slip from her shoulders and pushed it back against the throw pillow as she shifted her weight to turn more fully toward him.

“Hasn’t Carly been after you about it?”

“What?”

“Seeing a doctor. One thing I know for sure about your wife is that she’s fiercely protective toward the people she loves. And heaven knows she’s hard to ignore when she’s concerned about something.”

“True.”

“I can’t imagine that this insomnia of yours wouldn’t be of concern to her too.”

Sonny ran his tongue across his bottom lip and smiled nervously. He knew this was it – it was time. Alexis had opened another door to the subject of Carly, and this time, Sonny had to walk through it. The blood in his temples began to pound and he shifted his gaze to the coffee table as he pushed a firm thumb against the throbbing pulse.

“One thing you don’t know about Carly is that she sleeps like a log, so my getting up in the middle of the night never really disturbed her. She knew I had a problem, but she never knew the extent of it. And it’s never been as bad as these last six, eight weeks, since first Sorel skipped town and everything got so intense…spinning out of control.”

Alexis leaned in toward him and lightly touched his face as she murmured softly. “Hey.”

Sonny’s eyelids lowered and he turned his head toward the feel of her.

“It’s almost over. Sorel’s going to get the death penalty and you’ll be free of him for good. Carly and Michael can come back home and be safe. And I predict that once they are back home, you’ll be able to let yourself sleep without that awful fear hanging over your head.”

“Alexis…” Sonny took both her hands into his and clasped them together, holding them within his as if he was about to pray. He took a deep breath and swallowed as his eyes drifted shut. He didn’t see the anxious effect his bearing had on her.

“Oh God, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“You can’t see your face, Sonny. Something’s wrong. And don’t lie to me because I’ll know it if you are.”

Sonny smiled weakly as he looked into her dark, intense eyes. “That’s MY line.”

She stared. “Don’t try to distract a distracter.” Her voice softened to a whisper. “Sonny, you’re scaring me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, just tell me.”

He nodded and, as Alexis had said, bit the bullet. “Carly and Michael ARE home, Alexis.”

Her forehead creased and her eyes shot to the door. “When did they get back? And what the hell are you doing here with me when you should be home with them? Or more to the point, why isn’t Carly breaking down my door demanding that you be home with them?”

Sonny shook his head. “No, Alexis, you don’t understand. They are home…but their home is now with Jason. For good.”

Her jaw dropped and her hands went rigid within his hold. “You’re right. I don’t understand. What’s going on? Is Carly too afraid to come out of hiding, even though Sorel will be gone? Are YOU still too afraid to let them come back?”

“No, Alexis, we’re not afraid.”

“Is there someone else who’s threatening you…”

“No. No one’s taken Sorel’s place. His operation no longer exists. I’ve seen to that myself.”

Sonny watched helplessly as her face reflected all the confusion flying through her mind.

“Then what’s going on between you and Carly?”

“We’re just not together any more.”

“Why?”

“It’s…complicated.”

Alexis ran her tongue across her lips and shifted her gaze away from his face. Sonny could see the next question forming in her mind, and he knew how his answer would make her feel.

“When did this happen.”

He inhaled slowly, and waited for her to look at him again before he spoke. “It was decided a couple of weeks after they left.”

The confusion in her eyes began to morph into hurt. “Over a month ago? It’s been that long and you never said a word? You lied to me.”

“I never lied...”

“You certainly didn’t tell me the truth! All this time I’ve been talking about them coming home, you knew that wasn’t going to happen, and you just let me keep talking as if it was real. Why? I thought we…I thought you trusted me as more than just your lawyer.”

“You know that I do.”

“I suppose I don’t. I suppose I shouldn’t.”

The pain in her eyes killed him. He reached for her face and she turned it downward, telling him not to touch. His hand hovered, then slowly fell away.

“You worry about me, Alexis. That’s why I didn’t tell you the truth.”

She shook her head once, sharply. “What?”

“You worry about me. You just said it yourself. You worry about my lack of sleep, you worry about a movie bringing up bad memories for me, you worry that taking care of you is wearing me down…”

Her eyes snapped to his, narrowing in suspicion. “Did Johnny tell you that?”

Sonny pushed his fingers into the unrelenting pain in his temple. “Johnny broke no confidence with you, and he never would. Besides, he doesn’t have to tell me anything, Alexis, and neither do you because I can see what’s going on in your head for myself. I catch you sneaking little sideways looks at me all the time, like while we were watching that movie tonight, and I know that you’re needing to make sure I’m okay.”

He smiled and made another gesture to make contact. Alexis watched his hand moving toward her face, and she allowed his fingertips to gently brush against her cheek. Sonny released a heavily held breath.

“Please don’t misunderstand me. I know that you worry because you care about me, and I love that you do. But now is not the time for you to be burdened with anything that’s mine or anyone else’s. If I had told you about my marriage being over, it would have weighed on you. Am I wrong?”

She swallowed, still frowning. “Of course you aren’t wrong. But if I have to accept that I can’t control whether you feel responsible for what happened to me, then you need to accept that you can’t control whether I worry about you. If you don’t want to tell me something because it’s too personal and private, just say so and I’ll be fine with that. But it’s just not fair for you to manipulate my feelings by censoring things.”

Sonny took a moment to let her words sink in, and he nodded. “Okay. You’re right. I didn’t think about it that way, but I understand your point. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” She answered softly, her eyes following Sonny’s hand as it moved back to rub at his head.

“I seem to have developed this tunnel vision with you, and my instinct is to deflect anything that might hurt or upset you. I don’t mean to patronize you or manipulate you, Alexis. I just want to…slay those dragons for you. Or at least, keep them far away from your door. I hope you know that.”

“I do.” Alexis felt a wave of guilt over berating him. She knew his intentions toward her were purely protective, but sometimes those kid gloves were a little too hard to bear. She wasn’t accustomed to them, and they sometimes scared her. She didn’t quite know why.

“And I hope you know that it’s because I want to. Everything is coming straight from here.” He pressed a palm to his heart. “Okay?”

She nodded, unable to speak.

“Okay.” Sonny smiled, but his eyes betrayed the nagging pain he fought.

“Can I get you some aspirin?”

He laughed and nodded in gracious acceptance of her care-taking. “Yes, please.”

Alexis rose without a word and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with aspirin in one hand and a muffin in the other. Sonny took the pills from her hand and popped them into his mouth while giving a curious glance at the muffin she set down on the coffee table. Alexis handed him her own bottle of water and watched him do away with half of it.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He eyed the muffin. “Are you hungry?”

“It’s not for me. You shouldn’t take aspirin on an empty stomach.”

Sony smiled, his eyes sparkling up at her with pride. “You HAVE picked up a tidbit or two!”

Alexis smiled back. “I am a Harvard girl, ya know.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Sonny? Is it too personal…what happened with Carly?”

He shook his head. “There’s nothing too personal for me to tell you, Alexis.” He reached for the muffin and began to pick at the crown. “Carly, Michael and Jason were a family since before Michael was born, and it was the only family that little boy should ever have known. His innocent life has been nothing but chaos because of the endless mistakes made by every adult who claimed to love him, including me, and it needed to stop.”

“You do love him.”

“Yes I do. But what happened to bring Carly and me together in the first place never should have happened. We used our bodies as weapons against each other, and in the process, we stuck a knife into the back of the one person who loved each of us without condition.”

“Are you saying that you turned your family over to Jason out of guilt?”

“I turned them over…I returned them to Jason because that’s how it should be. It’s how it always should have been.”

He looked up and saw the pure ache in her eyes – an ache that was for him. It made him adore her all the more to see it, but he wanted to make it go away. Sonny reached for her hands and held them tight. They felt cool against his heated skin, and he rubbed them lightly.

“Your hands feel cold.”

“They’re fine.” She whispered. “Go on.”

He nodded. “Carly and I…we took something meant to be an expression of love and we used it as an expression of anger. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t me, and I will never again betray what I know should be a sacred thing between a man and a woman.”

Alexis was stunned by his beautiful and unexpected expression, and saddened by the shame in his voice. “My God, Sonny. You’re human. You have to allow yourself that.”

He kept his eyes downcast as his hand moved up to cup her face. “Easier said than done.”

She covered his hand with her own and smiled. “Tell me about it.”

Sonny’s eyes lifted up and Alexis saw the light mist veiling them. “We created a child, and we came together to do right by him. But then we lost that child, and another situation was created that forced us to stay together, legally. Mistake after mistake was made, and Michael has suffered the most. As far as that boy is concerned, Jason is his father. He loves him.”

“And you love Carly.”

Sonny was silent.

“I know that you do. You asked me to tell her so with what you thought was your dying breath, remember? It can’t be easy for you to let go of her, even for Michael’s sake.”

He closed his eyes, struggling to find a response. “Carly will always be the mother of my child, even though he never lived outside of her body.”

“Oh, Sonny.”

Alexis bowed her head and pressed her lips to the back of his hand, but not before he saw a drop of wetness slip from the corner of her eye. Sonny’s mouth went dry and he all but lost himself in the crossfire of renewed grief for his lost son and the tender affections of the grace by his side.

“I loved our son, and I love his mother for proving to me that my heart wasn’t empty – that it hadn’t irreparably turned to stone. But I know what it is to be in love with a woman, and that’s not what I feel for Carly. I never did, and she knows it. The same is true for her as well.”

“But I…I thought…”

“Yeah. So did we.” He laughed lightly. “I guess you can make yourself believe anything if you try hard enough, even though your heart knows it’s a lie. Just the same as you can make yourself deny something when your heart knows it's the truth.”

Alexis stared at him, wide-eyed, and he saw her focus shifting. Soon, she was staring through him, not at him, and he watched her forehead crease in contemplation. He couldn’t tell what was going through her mind, but the wandering of her hand to her throat took his attention. Her fingers slipped through the thin gold chain and pulled the diamond out from hiding beneath the crimson silk collar - Ashton’s diamond. The sight of it returned the throb to his temples.

“Alexis?”

His voice intoning her name called her back.

“This is what’s best for all of us. I know it is.”

Alexis frowned with doubt.

“My heart is full, Alexis.” He smiled into the eyes of the woman who filled it. “And I’m really okay.”

“You say that with such conviction, I almost believe you.”

“Hand to God.” He raised his palm upward. “So show me some dimples, would you please?”

She gave him one.

His hand moved down to rub at his head. “I’ll take what I can get.”

Alexis sighed heavily. “Do you mind if I try something?”

“Uh…”

“To help your headache.”

“Oh. Like what?”

“I learned an acupressure trick at this spa that Jax and I went to with Ned and Chloe. May I?”

Sonny squirmed.

“I won’t hurt you – so long as you keep your eyes closed. If you open them, you might get a fingernail in your cornea.”

“Ouch.”

“Close ‘em!” She ordered, and Sonny obeyed.

He felt the seat cushions move with the shifting of her weight as Alexis edged closer to him, and he held his breath in anticipation of where her hands would land. And then, he felt the soft warmth of her thumbs pressing into the sensitive spot above the inner corners of his eyes, right on the edge of his brow. Alexis was right – to open his eyes would be to court ocular disaster. Her touch was surprisingly firm and he felt the pulsing beneath his fingers quicken in response. It did hurt, just a little, though he didn’t say a word. Sonny felt her shift again, and he grew more conscious of how close her body was to his…even with his eyes closed. And the room was quiet, but for the soft sound of her breathing.

“I still can’t believe you and Jax were married.” He murmured.

“Why not?”

“He’s such an…”

“Sonny!”

He felt her touch release slightly. “Sorry.”

She slid her fingers along his brow, renewing the pressure in another sensitive spot. “It was only on paper, you know.”

“I know. But still...” Sonny’s voice trailed off as he noticed a sudden relief in his pain.

“You know what? For all the show you and Jax make of loathing each other, I find it interesting that something inside of both of you responded to the same woman.”

Sonny swallowed. His head felt light and his reflexes felt slow, as if he was about to float.

“Ned too, come to think of it. Even though he and Jax finally reached a friendly understanding. I wish I’d gotten to know Brenda a little better. She must have been a very special person to inspire such adoration from three very special guys.”

He smiled softly, his voice barely carrying. “You too.”

Alexis didn’t understand that his thought was fully expressed in just those two little words. “We two what? Sonny?”

But Sonny had drifted to sleep under her soothing touch, as she had done so many times under his. She smiled and let her fingers slip down the smooth sides of his face as she whispered.

“Very special.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The tingle in his left arm demanded his full and immediate consciousness.

He tried to move it, but it wouldn’t co-operate. His heavy lids reluctantly opened and his eyes were greeted by the fully lit room – the living room, where Sonny lay at an awkward forty-five degree angle on the end of the couch. He closed his eyes and rolled his head against the pillow behind him, and the light scent of gardenias drifted into his nose. Alexis. He opened his eyes to the top of her head resting against his elbow. She slept quietly, legs curled up, one arm hanging over the side of the couch, and her shoulder sandwiching Sonny’s left arm into the cushion. The tingle intensified as his captured limb fell further asleep.

Sonny shifted, bringing his arm across to carefully lift her head and pull himself free from beneath her body. She groaned and turned over on her side as Sonny slid off the couch, rubbing briskly at his awakening arm. He smiled at the way she looked – like a gangly little girl with limbs sprawled halfway off the couch and her face buried into the crevice of the cushions. She didn’t look at all comfortable, and Sonny knew he couldn’t let her stay that way all night. He knelt beside the sofa and leaned down, laying a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, Alexis. Come on, honey. Time to go back to bed.” She didn’t respond and he ran his hand over her hair. “Alexis? You need to go back upstairs now.”

“Hmm?”

“You can’t sleep on the couch or you’ll hate yourself in the morning.”

She rolled onto her back and pushed the back of her hand against her face.

“Are you going to let me help you upstairs?” Her fingers began to tangle in her hair and Sonny laughed. She was not wanting to wake up. “Alrighty.” He took one of her wrists in each hand and pulled her arms up over her shoulders. “Time for you to make like a sack of flour. Just hold onto me, okay?” He slipped his arms beneath her limp body and Alexis wriggled.

“No.” She protested.

“What, you want to wake up in the morning with a raging backache?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I don’t think so. Hold on.” He began to lift her up, and her arms instinctively tightened around his neck. Still, she grumbled within her grogginess.

“I’m not flour.”

He laughed again and held her close in his arms as he deftly climbed the stairs.

“Sonny, put me down.” Her eyes never opened.

“I will.” He whispered into her hair as he approached the bed. “Here you go.”

He laid her down and Alexis released her arms from her neck, sliding them back to hug the pillow to her head. Something glinted at him from beneath the white cotton, and Sonny tilted his head for a better look. He reached down and pulled the brass clock from beneath the corner of her pillow, and gave it a perplexed stare. And then, he saw the third hand set upon the number one. He frowned and glanced down at her face. The bruise on her cheek stared back at him, and he suddenly understood what she’d done, and why. She'd wanted to make sure she let him sleep through the night in peace.

“Oh, honey.”

He slid his fingers through her hair and the corners of her mouth turned up, just a hint. Sonny smiled as he set the clock back on the nightstand, right beside the penguin. He pulled the covers up to her waist and leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“Sweet dreams, Alexis. Only sweet dreams.”

His fingers sought the softness of her hair once more as he laid a kiss to her forehead. And as he did, Alexis suddenly clasped her palm to the back of his hand and pulled it from her head. She gave a small sigh as she turned onto her side, taking his hand with her and curling his arm close around her body. He froze, caught off guard and hesitant to make a sudden move. He stared, mesmerized by the sight of her arm pressed against his and holding it close to her heart. Slowly, he released the tension in his muscles and tried to slip away from her grasp, but Alexis clutched his arm to her chest all the more tightly. And he was sure she knew that it was Sonny. She’d called him by name.

“No…”

Her breathy moan sent a quiver right through him. Alexis wanted to be held - she wanted to be held by him. His mouth went dry as he carefully crawled up onto the bed, whispering into the hushed darkness.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here, to watch over you through the night.”

He lay on his side behind her and gently brushed the wisps of hair from the pillow before laying down his head. He felt Alexis finally relax her hold on him, secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t go away. And without shame, Sonny allowed himself to revel in the feel of her body’s warmth through the cool of silk…and the soft curve of her breast against the firm plane of his arm. His face bowed down, seeking the curve of her neck and inhaling the sweet scent of her. Sonny sighed, in utter bliss.

He had the world in his arms.