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Scene 78

Nobody who looked at her would have ever suspected a thing.

Alexis walked through the doors of GH and down the stark corridor just as she’d always done so many times before – with her head held high and her eyes focused on the destination ahead. Nobody who looked at her would ever suspect that the last time she’d come through the doors of GH, it had been on an EMT stretcher while fighting for her life. And it had been just a week before.

He’d seen the momentary flicker of physical response as she stood at the precipice, about to take the first step. She looked at him and smiled, setting him at ease. Sonny smiled back, and pushed the metal door inward until flush against the wall, holding it open for her as gentlemen do. Her face turned away, becoming a strong, graceful profile to his eyes. Her chin tilted up, just so, as Alexis pulled her scarf close around her neck and strode past him on her way to revisit the hospital smell, lab coats, being looked at, touched and stuck with more needles.

Sonny’s eyes shifted back outside that door and he gave a quick, reassuring nod toward the black car that sat in the loading zone just a few yards away. Johnny nodded in silent response, and Sonny slipped inside as the metal door fell shut behind him. He cocked his head and rubbed at his jaw as he followed a few paces behind her. The picture of an anxious face, staring at him from the driver’s seat, left him with a strange pang of guilt. Johnny had guarded Alexis fiercely when she was last within those walls, and he hated being left outside while Sonny went in with her - alone. His little brother protectiveness had taken deeper root with each passing day, and it spread further with each private moment he spent with her. He enjoyed being needed too, and Sonny knew that little brother felt very left out.

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Johnny scratched at his neck, for wont of anything more distracting to do.

His collar was stiff from too much starch. He’d have to remind the dry cleaners, once again, to go easy. The cleaners, the video store, the gym…Johnny began a mental tally of the places he needed to go later that day. And maybe he’d stop at a grocery store too. He could sneak it in to her, under his coat, and Sonny would never have to know. Alexis wouldn’t rat him out. And besides, what harm could it do? She’d taken her vitamins and detox pills, and she’d eaten her chicken and veggies. She’d certainly earned one little package of Orville Redenbacher’s. The only real question was, did she like it with butter flavor or without?

The sudden blare of a siren made him jump three feet. He’d almost forgotten where he was, and his head automatically turned toward the sound. And Johnny watched the ambulance tear out of the emergency parking lot with the remembrance of one just like it, its back doors closing on his view of Alexis lying inside on a stretcher with Sonny by her side. And the sudden blare of a siren that made him jump three feet.

“Just hang on, whoever you are.” He whispered to the air.

He leaned his arms against the edge of the steering wheel, and his chin against his arms. Johnny wondered what it must be like to save a life – to see someone close to death and be able to pull them back. He knew all too well what it was like to see someone suffer and not be able to stop it. His thoughts went back to Jessie and the vision of ten whitened knuckles, clutching at the sheets with every surge of pain.

Johnny had stared at those knuckles in a helpless daze, his eyes avoiding the face of someone he loved as it twisted in agony. But no matter what his eyes were spared, his ears were spared nothing. The sound of suffering was just as awful as the sight, and it was impossible to avoid it without leaving the room. Johnny wouldn’t leave – not until Jessie asked him to. And when it got too bad, Jessie always asked. The man still had his pride.

Alexis never asked him to leave. Her pride took a back seat to her need not to be left alone. She was too scared, too confused, and hurting way too much as she walked right in Jessie’s path. And Johnny was terrified. He never imagined he’d have to watch it all happen again. And as bad as it had been the first time, these particular circumstances made it all the more awful to watch it happen to Alexis.

But at least he knew how to be with her, and could do more to help than just stare at her knuckles as they clutched at the sheets in pain. Alexis let him talk to her and offer distraction. She let him give her comfort, unlike Jessie, and that gave him comfort in return. He cooled her burning face, told her she was strong, let her feel her fear…and once or twice, he even made her laugh.

Johnny sighed and lifted his chin from its resting place, a thread of regret running across his conscience. Looking back, he wished he had told her the truth from the start. If Alexis had known just how well he understood what she was going through, maybe he could have been of more help to her. Maybe he could have talked her into the detox himself – and sooner, sparing her suffering.

He shut his eyes tightly, trying to burn out that particular thought from his brain. What it, what if…it could drive a person nuts. He hadn’t even known what to say to her, when she asked him why he’d held it back until the day before. It was such a simple question, but Johnny’s answer was far from simple. There were layers yet to be unpeeled. But Alexis made the right choice – a choice that Jessie didn’t have, and Johnny knew he’d been of help.

He smiled as he glanced at the hospital doors. He wished he could be inside with her too, but at least it was almost over. Almost.

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Alexis gave a quick glance over her shoulder as Sonny’s footsteps sped up to bring him alongside her.

Sonny kept pace with her slow, steady stride while keeping his hands to himself. He wanted his arm around her or his hand within hers, but everything in her bearing told him “no”. There were eyes all around, and Alexis needed to do this alone, in every way. So he held back, slipping his hands into his pockets while staying close to her side. Close, but not touching. Sonny’s fingers brushed up and down the cool, silky lining of their refuge from temptation, but they tensed as the two rounded the corner that would take them to the elevator, and he unconsciously began to hold his breath.

It had been there since he first stepped through the door, but now it grew stronger. He glanced at her face, which belied nothing, and he wondered if she was holding her breath as well. Bleach…antiseptic…rubbing alcohol…medicine. It was quickly laying full claim to his sense of smell, and it was everywhere. How did the people who worked there live in such a noxious cloud every day? Maybe after a time, they simply stopped noticing. The cafeteria was the only place to lose it, but only in trade for something equally distasteful. He remembered that through those long days and nights, the only escaping it was through Alexis. Sonny yearned for gardenias again. For gardenias and vanilla…for the ocean…for her.

Her eyes suddenly darted to his face and found his own eyes trained on her. She smiled again and bit her lip with an odd expression. Sonny stopped in his tracks.

“Are you okay?”

“I was just going to ask you the same thing.”

Sonny laughed and shook his head. “I’m okay. It’s just that…smell. They really should find a way to do something about that.”

“Yeah.” She whispered dryly.

Alexis knew Sonny didn’t enjoy being there any more than she did and she felt a bit guilty, wondering if she shouldn’t have let him off the hook and come to see Tony on her own. She sighed and looked away, surprised to see they’d stopped right where they needed to be - in front of the elevators. She lifted a hand to press the button, but Sonny beat her to it. Alexis rubbed at her nose instead.

It was the vague odor of rubbing alcohol that got to her the most. It reminded her of the ether that permeated the air in that hospital in Greece, where she’d spent so many weeks recovering from her fall. Helena insisted that when she returned, she be completely well and in need of no special care that would upset the Cassadine household or routine. Alexis returned without so much as a limp…but she was not completely well. She still had no memory of three months of her life.

The elevator sounded a ding, and she flinched slightly at the unexpected sound. The doors opened and she turned to Sonny with a smile. “Onward.”

“And upward.” Sonny pointed to the heavens.

Alexis frowned. “Not THAT upward.”

He laughed and his hand withdrew from the confines of his pocket to find the small of her back as he stepped into the elevator close behind her. He hadn’t made the conscious choice to reach for her, and the sudden feel of soft, thick wool against his palm sent his eyes downward in surprise. But Alexis was accepting of it. She was no longer in the public corridor, where she needed to be in control, but alone, once again, with him. Sonny allowed his hand to keep its contact, certain he felt her lean back into it as her fingers played with the fringe on her scarf.

It was quiet as the car slowly climbed up floor after floor. Alexis had been quiet - both on the way and since they’d arrived. Sonny and Johnny took their cues from her. It made Johnny nervous, and he kept his eyes too much on the rearview mirror and too little on the road for Sonny’s comfort. Silence had never been a source of discomfort for Sonny. In fact, it was his natural tendency. “Brooding”, Alexis called it. He preferred “deep thought”. But silence was not a natural tendency for her, and Sonny had to fight the urge to break it. It felt strangely oppressive.

He knew the cessations of her natural nervous chatter meant Alexis was keeping a tight hold on her focus, afraid to suddenly look down and lose her balance. He wanted her to know that it was okay to look down. Sonny was there, and he wouldn’t let her lose a thing. He could fortify her strength and be her safety net as well. His hand instinctively slid up and over, following along the curve of her waist and firming its hold there.

Alexis arched an eyebrow as her head slightly turned toward his firmly set face. “Checking your progress in fattening me up?”

His eyes shifted. Before he could respond, another ding sounded and the doors began to slide open. Alexis tilted her head and flashed him a left dimple.

“Fifth floor. So far, so good.”

Sonny smiled and gave her a nod. With Alexis, it was all good. He watched the marked straightening of her spine as she took hold of the ends of her scarf, one in each hand, and stepped from the elevator. He followed her out, but then stopped as her walk continued to purposefully head toward the nurse’s station just a few yards away. It was nice to watch her springing back into action, being her determined self. And Sonny didn’t mind that she failed to notice him lagging behind as she approached the unfamiliar, dark-haired nurse at the desk and checked in for her appointment with a strong, clear voice. A few more muffled words were exchanged between them, and he saw Alexis nod.

A sudden hollow voice sprang forth from the loudspeaker, and Alexis visibly stiffened. Her hand grabbed hold of the edge of the desk as her head turned to the side to the sight of no one beside her. Her whole body took a sharp turn, and Sonny saw and unmistakable flash of panic in her eyes that made his jaw clench.

“Hey, I’m right here.”

Alexis found him in an instant, and he watched the tension in her shoulders release. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Then…I guess it’s my turn to ask this - why are you standing all the way over there?”

“I’m admiring the view.” He grinned and Alexis rolled her eyes. “Why do you do that thing with your eyes? Why shouldn’t I admire what I’m seeing? You look wonderful, Alexis. Vibrant, healthy…strong.”

She shifted her weight and lowered her gaze to the floor. “The wonders of cover stick.”

Sonny would have none of her self-deprecation. He began to move closer. “Cover stick my…”

Her eyes quickly snapped back up to his and the raised tone of her voice interrupted him. “Tony’s running late. He had an emergency this morning and it pushed him a bit off schedule. But it shouldn’t be long.”

He shrugged, glancing in the direction of the waiting area. “No problem. We both know how to make like spuds.”

She smiled. “Lead on, Mac Duff.”

Sonny turned and led, slipping his unbuttoned coat off his shoulders as he walked. Alexis followed, still unbuttoning. His folded coat was set down on the arm of the small couch, and he turned to see Alexis struggling to free one arm. He was indignant.

“Excuse me, what are you doing? There IS a gentleman in the room, you know.”

Alexis froze, her arm halfway in and halfway out of her sleeve. “Sorry.”

He moved behind her and reached over her shoulders to take one side of her lapel in each hand, lifting the coat up and back to set both arms free. And before he turned away, Sonny leaned over her shoulder and whispered.

“Cover stick, my behind.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and his dimples blazed. “You didn’t let me finish my sentence.”

He spun around and folded her coat, laying it down on top of his. Alexis tugged down on the sleeves of her sweater before reaching for the sofa’s arm and carefully settling onto the seat cushion.

“I think I’ve been running around barefoot for too long. These boots never used to bother me before. I feel out of whack.”

“No comment.”

“Shut up.”

“The coffee here really stinks, but would you like some anyway?”

“No, thank you. Like I said, you’ve totally spoiled me.”

Sonny was sure that his chest puffed up all on its own. He didn’t think it possible to totally spoil her, but he certainly adored trying. Alexis gazed up at him and patted the empty space to her left. His fingers curled in toward his palm, obeying Sonny’s command to stay away from the long strand of hair that grazed her temple, and the feminine curve of her jaw, just below her ear. Instead, his hands sought their own company, clasping together as he sat beside Alexis with a slow, whistling exhale. Alexis made a small choking sound in reply – on his keen perusal of her face identified as a stifled laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“You. Or rather, that noise you just made when you sighed. You did it the other day and Taggert said you sounded like you’d sprung a leak. He was right.” Sonny’s narrowing eyes took all attempts at stifling away, and her laughter rang clear. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

“So…taking sides with Taggert in making fun of me, huh?”

“Uh huh. And given all the times you’ve made fun of ME, I’m no where near finished paying you back, buddy.”

Sonny threw his hand up in the air. “Alright. Okay. I guess this means I’m just going to have to…stick close enough to let you gather an acceptable amount of material for you to work with.”

He winked at her, and Alexis smiled sweetly. “You just ended a sentence with a preposition.”

“See how well it’s working out already?”

His eyes widened, and the sound of her renewed laughter gave Sonny his own. His hand slipped closer toward hers that curved down around the slope of the seat cushion. “You have no idea how it makes me feel to hear you laugh like that. Especially here, in this place.”

Alexis met his gaze and held it while her smile slowly softened. She certainly knew how it made her feel to hear Sonny laugh. She wanted to tell him, but the scratchy, hollow voice piped into the air once again sent her eyelids to closing. Sonny’s palm covered her hand.

“Please don’t be afraid, Alexis. You know Tony will be gentle with you.”

She smiled and cleared her throat as she slowly opened her eyes. “I know. And I’m not afraid. Anticipation can make things seem so much worse than they’ll actually be, and now that I’m here, I’m really okay. And I’m not just saying that because it’s what you need to hear.”

She turned her palm up and gave his hand a light squeeze. Sonny ran a finger down the length of her scarf and playfully tugged on the end. “There you go, worrying about me again.”

“Well, somebody has to.” She sighed and settled back against the couch.

Sonny let his eyes drift across her face, noting the light pink flush that made its way through the carefully applied make-up, whose job it was to hide her bruises from the world. And he smiled, remembering his first sight of her as she came downstairs all ready to face it. Her bangs were brushed to the right, hiding the scrape very well. And her hair was pulled back on the sides, held in place with a single tortoise shell barrette. It made her cheekbones stand out all the more – and her left cheek was suddenly the same tone as the right. The bruises were perfectly concealed and only the learned eyes of a few would know where they were.

Sonny hadn’t seen Alexis both fully dressed AND with her face fully made-up since the day before she’d been taken. She looked wonderful - like her normal, healthy self, and it was somehow a little jarring. He was sure Johnny felt it too, and neither he nor Johnny could help but stare as they stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched her descend. Her eyes darted from one man to the other, and a shy smile graced her face in response to the bold smiles gracing theirs.

“Okay, tell me the truth. How did I do with the cover stick?”

“Perfect.” Sonny offered his hand as she hit the last step with a wobble.

“Thanks. I forgot how to walk in high heels.” Alexis looked to Johnny. “What about you, Johnny. Can you still see the bruises?”

“Bruises? What bruises?” He turned and watched as she moved to the mirror beside the door to check for herself.

“Alexis, you look beautiful, as always.” Sonny glanced down at the desk and the small, flat, silver box tied with a white ribbon.

Alexis stared at her reflection, as if she too was a bit stunned to finally see some semblance of her normal self. “I don’t care about looking beautiful, Sonny. I just care about not looking like I…”

Her voice trailed off, and Sonny knew what was going through her mind. She didn't want to look like she'd been hit...but she wasn't going to say it out loud. Not to them. Instead, Alexis smiled into the mirror and shifted her gaze to find Sonny’s reflection within it.

“But I suppose I’ll take ‘beautiful’.”

Sonny grinned at her and Alexis shook her head. She pushed the ends of her hair back from her shoulders, and her smile waned. She leaned closer to the mirror and tilted her head as her fingertips trailed along her throat.

“The ones that were here are gone though, right?” She turned and looked at Johnny first. “The little fingerprints on my neck. They look like they’re gone, at least to my eyes, but I’m not sure.”

Johnny craned his neck and gave her pale throat a serious once over. “I see nothing. Boss?”

She turned to Sonny, who squinted and crooked his finger. She bit the corner of her lip and moved toward him. Sonny didn’t take his eyes from hers for a second as she did.

“I told you, you’re perfect.”

Alexis frowned and crossed her arms. “You didn’t even look.”

“I’ve looked.” There wasn’t an uncovered part of her that his eyes didn’t know. “But you should still keep your neck covered, to protect you from the cold. So…” He lifted the silver box from the desk and held it out to her.

“What did you do?” Alexis smiled, speaking without moving her lips. Sonny’s eyebrows rose up, and she looked over her shoulder at Johnny. “What did he do?”

“I think it’s called a present.” Johnny caught the wink Sonny tossed to him from behind her back, and the smile his face fought turned Alexis’ eyes back to the box in Sonny’s hands.

She took it tentatively, her fingers grazing the delicate loops of the bow in the center. “Why?”

“Just open it. Please.”

Alexis swallowed and ran the tip of her tongue across her lips as she took hold of the ribbon’s end, giving it a gentle pull until it released its embrace of the frosty silver box. She dropped the long white curl onto the desk, and the silver lid soon followed. The crinkling sound of tissue paper being unfolded gave way to the sight and feel of a soft expanse of the palest pink – like the inside of a stark white shell.

“Oh…Sonny, it’s lovely.” Alexis lifted the stream of cashmere upward, and Sonny took the box from her hand to put it aside. Her eyes found his as she pressed the softness against her throat, as he had done so many times with the softness of something blue.

“It’s to replace the one you were wearing…the one that you lost. I know that the other one was a different color, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather see you in something different.”

“Did you pick this out yourself?”

Sonny had three different stores send every shade of pink cashmere scarf in stock, so he could pick just the right one – the hue of her cheeks in the first stage of a blush.

“Yeah, I did.”

But he suddenly realized that this was the first gift he’d ever given to Alexis. He stared down at the humble offering, and Sonny shifted his jaw. His first gift to her should have been something more special.

“I’m impressed. You have excellent taste.”

He smiled softly, still entertaining a lingering regret. “So, you like it?”

“I love it. Thank you.”

Sonny watched her scrunch her shoulders, and his dimples did a happy dance within his cheeks. She DID love it. “You’re welcome.”

He took the cashmere from her hands and lifted it up and over her head, wrapping it around the back of her neck and draping the ends over her shoulders. He pulled her hair out from beneath the wool and sneakily ran his fingers through it before pulling them away. Sonny grinned as his hands next traveled down the length of cashmere until they found the fringed ends. He gave them a gentle tug, and Alexis tilted her head with an equally gentle smile as her face grew just the right shade of pink.

A particularly screechy sound emitted by the loudspeaker jerked him away from the penthouse cocoon and back to GH. Sonny’s eyes re-focused, and they did so on her.

Alexis pulled back slightly, hands moving to fidget with her bangs. “Do I need a touch up or something? You’re staring.”

Sonny shifted against the back of the fairly uncomfortable couch as he shook his head. “No, you look fine. And don’t play with your hair or you’ll keep it from covering that scrape properly.” He watched her drop her hands back into her lap. “Before you know it, you’ll wake up one morning and you won’t need any make-up at all.”

She chuckled. “I beg to differ. I’m not seventeen year-old Emily. Bruises or no bruises, make-up will still be a necessity for me.”

“Now I beg to differ.” Sonny loved Alexis with a naked face. “Some women may need all that stuff painted on them, but others don’t. Others are the most beautiful when their face is nothing but…them.”

“The man has a point.” Tony had snuck up on them from the side, and his unexpected appearance gave them both a start. “Not that I want to make a habit of agreeing with Corinthos.”

“Why not?” Sonny deadpanned.

“Good morning, Tony.” Alexis looked up at him with a bright smile that covered the twinge of anxiety the sound of his voice sent through her. She still felt guilty over her unwanted visceral reaction to this kind, caring soul, but there were some things she just couldn’t shake.

Tony beamed with pride. She looked so much better than he honestly expected, given how weak, pale and skittish she was on the day of her release. Alexis looked like the woman he remembered her to be - before that night he’d taken on an additional shift in the E.R.

“Good morning to you too – although if I was any later, it would be afternoon. I apologize.”

“There was an emergency. No need to apologize, especially since I was once one of those emergencies myself.”

“I’d never know it to look at you. I mean it, Alexis. You look wonderful.”

Sonny nudged her arm with a broad smile. “What did I tell you?”

“And you think I’m going to just automatically believe any compliment you toss at me now?”

“No. But you should.”

“Well I won’t.”

“Why not?”

“You know why.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

“Do not!”

“Because you’re a bottomless pit of blarney, that’s why.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not!”

“GOOD GRIEF!”

Sonny’s head snapped toward the sound of Tony’s outcry, and Alexis slowly mirrored him.

“I’m having flashbacks. I’m also having a blinding idea of what the last couple of days must have been like with you two, and I’m exhausted.”

Alexis frowned and bit her lip, turning her eyes back to Sonny’s wicked, self-satisfied face.

“Shame on you, Sonny! You were supposed to take care of her and make sure she rested, not put her through her paces.”

“What am I, a racehorse? And why am I always hearing animal references when you two talk about me while I’m still in the room?”

Sonny cocked his head. “Remember that furry beast discussion? I told you the ‘beast’ part applies to you too.”

“Shut up.” Alexis turned to Tony with an earnest expression. “He DID take care of me, and I rested plenty.” She pinched two fingers together. “I’m this close to earning my merit badge in ‘couch potato’. Right?”

“Right.” Sonny parroted.

“I’m fine, Tony, just like I told you on the phone. I feel fine, I look fine – at least, according to the popular vote, which also includes Johnny, who’s downstairs in the car, by the way, and can be summoned to testify that he did in fact say I looked fine. So…now that you’ve seen for yourself that I’m fine, what do you say YOU take a well deserved lunch break and I’ll just get out of your hair – again.”

Completely out of breath, Alexis inhaled deeply and exhaled quickly with a sharp nod of her head. She reached across Sonny’s lap, toward the folded stack of wool at his side, but his hand gently grabbed hold of her wrist.

“Not so fast, buddy. The coat stays with me…and you go with him.”

She widened her eyes in innocence. “I’m kidding.” Sonny raised an eyebrow, and Alexis frowned, turning her face up to Tony. “I am! Remember me – the wiseacre?”

Tony hugged her file against his chest. He knew this was difficult for her, and he just wanted to make it as quick and easy as he could. “If I promise to have you on your way back home, will you come peacefully?”

“Will I come peacefully?” She repeated, looking at Sonny out of the corner of her eye. “Does that sound just as hokey when Taggert says it to YOU?”

Sonny opened his mouth, but thought better of speaking. They could be there all day if he got her going again. Alexis smiled at the gleam in his eye and his obviously difficult restraint against engaging her.

“You heard the man. If I’m not back in twenty minutes, send out the cavalry. Or Johnny.”

He smiled back lightly. “You want me to hold onto your scarf for you?”

“No. I’ll take it with me.”

Sonny went all liquid inside. She was taking HIM with her, only in the inanimate form of something soft, pink and warm - his first gift to her. It WAS special.

“And I’ll also need to take THIS too, if you don’t mind.” She wriggled her arm, still held aloft by his fingers wrapped around her wrist.

Actually, he did mind. But Sonny slid his fingers down from her wrist to her hand, clasping onto it to support her while he helped her to her feet. Alexis let go first, and reached for the edge of her pale gray sweater to smooth the knit down over her pinned blue jeans. She gave a resolute sigh and looked Tony directly in the eye.

“Well, I guess I’m all yours.”

She grabbed hold of the ends of her scarf, as if they were little cashmere life preservers.

Tony smiled and laid a palm on her shoulder as they began to walk away from the waiting lounge and toward the hallway filled with examining rooms. Sonny watched them leave in unceremonious silence, his arms hanging limp by his sides. He waited for her eyes to find his in a backward parting glace as she turned the corner. They didn’t.

Alexis was all Tony’s now, and Sonny felt very left out.

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As they rounded the corner, Alexis turned her head just a moment too late to see Sonny finally lower himself back down into his seat and lay his palm down on her coat to begin a very long twenty minute wait. Tony’s voice quickly turned her head back to his face.

“You really do look good, Alexis. No blarney.”

“Thank you.”

She punctuated her appreciation with a single dimple. The warmth of his tone and the purely pleased expression on his face made her feel like she’d truly accomplished something – and like he was somewhat surprised she wasn’t still that quivering wreck he’d seen in the ICU. And it didn’t even bother her that Tony’s eyes were studying her so intently, as she thought that it would. She thought that must be a good thing.

“There’s no reason to be nervous about this follow-up, Alexis. It’s just routine.”

“I know. And…I’m not nervous.” Alexis cringed at the chirping sound her voice just made. Tony arched his eyebrow and her cringe turned to a laugh. “I’m not, Tony. And I’m a big girl, you know. I don’t need my hand held.”

Tony took a deep breath and the pace of his stride began to slow. “It’s hard, the first time you have to come back into a hospital after having been a patient. I know how you feel.”

The meaning of his words quickly fell into place in her head, as Alexis remembered the circumstances of her criminal defense of him – his taking of the child that should have been his, and the damage that Jason had done to his hand. She’d all but forgotten that Tony would indeed understand.

“Wow. That seems so long ago.” Alexis murmured, as she and Tony slowed to a halt.

“Not long enough, sometimes.” He could almost feel the excruciating pain shooting through his hand and up his arm all over again. But it had been no worse than the pain of his loss. A second child had been taken from him – not by death, but by a lie.

Alexis winced at the look on Tony’s face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to open an old wound.”

“You didn’t. It’s always open, just a little bit.”

“You know something? A lesser man would have let it turn his heart to stone.” She heard herself all but repeating Sonny’s own words to her from the night before, when he talked about losing his son. Both men had grieved the loss of their children, and both men still had such open hearts. “But you have compassion to spare.”

Her dark eyes sparkled at him under the hallway lights, and the corners of Tony’s mouth turned up at the sweet expression of faith she offered him. He felt himself begin to blush, and turned his furtive eyes downward to the folder cradled in his arms.

“I didn’t have all that much in the way of compassion. Not for a long while.”

“Oh, you had it. You just lost it for a while and you just needed time to find it again.” She tilted her head and leaned forward, giving his arm a nudge with her elbow.

Tony chuckled and lifted his head, eyes washing over her pink-cheeked face. “That’s the miraculous thing about time. It’s good for almost all that ails you, both here…” He pressed a palm to his chest. “And here.” His finger tapped against his head.

“And all else that ails you is on YOUR shoulders to fix. But no pressure or anything!” Alexis laughed and wrapped her arms around herself.

“The success stories, like you, make the pressure very worth while.” Tony reached past her and Alexis turned slightly to see him take hold of a door handle behind her. “Let’s go officially document this particular success story.”

He turned the metal handle and gave the door a push. Alexis stared inside the brightly lit room and her right hand tightened is grip on her upper arm. Tony stepped back, giving her both physical room and a moment of emotional space as well. And the brief hesitation was all it took for Alexis to have her clean getaway stolen by what ventured around the corner of that particular hallway.

“Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my DARLIN’ Cassadine!”

“Oh God. No…” Alexis groaned and closed her eyes at the sound of the familiar craggy voice singing its way toward her. Singing badly.

“I’ll second that.” Tony mumbled as he turned to face the approach of unwanted company. “Hello, Luke. Go away, Luke.”

“I’ll second THAT.” Alexis offered, pulling her scarf protectively close against her throat.

Luke crossed her arms and huffed. “Well that’s a fine greeting from ex-family. And lest you forget, that means you too, Natasha.”

She shook her head, eyes vaguely wandering in the general vicinity of his chin. “I’ll pay you to never bring that up again.”

He sidled closer to her, and Alexis tried not to flinch at his abrupt movement. Luke was like an animal, adept at smelling other creatures’ fear. The last thing she needed was for him to hone in on hers.

“I don’t want your money, sweet cheeks. I just want you to be…sweet!”

Luke narrowed his eyes as he stared down at her tense face. He expected a quick retort that had yet to fly. And he suddenly realized she hadn’t even looked him in the eye. It made him want to provoke her into doing so. He moved a little closer, and Alexis almost imperceptibly pulled back from him. Almost. Luke was intrigued.

“Or, if you’re not feeling so sweet, you could always engage me in some of that mind-blowing, down and dirty, verbal slash-and-burn that always leaves me feeling spent, satisfied and hungry for a smoke.”

“See, now, here’s the thing.” Alexis slowly turned her head, finally allowing her eyes to drift up to his unshaven face. “It always leaves me feeling hungry for a bath.”

“She shoots, she scores! Who cares if it ain’t the truth? It was quick and cutting and that’s all that counts.”

Her eyebrows rose up and she smiled a tight, closed-mouth smile as her hand slid down her arm, fingernails starting to trail up and down. Alexis didn’t notice, but Tony did. For all her bravado, she was still fragile. He wanted Luke’s haranguing to stop.

“Alexis and I are in the middle of something here, and we’re on a bit of a time thing here. So would you please take a hike, Luke, since you can’t take a hint?”

“Yeah, Luke.” Alexis tilted her head and made a show of her dimples. “Don’t you have some rocks to go slither beneath, so you can subsequently crawl out from under them?”

Luke made his own show – of a dramatic shiver from head to toe. “Ooo, baby! NOW you’re being sweet.” His eyes flashed at the setting of her jaw, and he gave Tony a grin. “She’s all flirt, this woman. And don’t let the barbs fool ya! She wants me.”

“She wants you, alright. She wants you GONE, as do I. So why don’t you go pester your poor sister, since it IS her genetic duty to put up with you.”

Luke’s eyes left Tony and shifted back to Alexis. Her head had turned away the minute his eyes left her face, and all he saw was her profile bathed in the harsh light flooding out from the examining room behind her. He followed her gaze and found his eyes landing back on Tony. Or more specifically, the file he held against his chest.

“Matter of fact, I was just on the way to ask Barbara Jean to a cheap lunch.”

“No need to qualify it, Spencer. The cheap part, I mean.” Alexis cocked her head and swallowed before looking him in the eye once more. “Some things just go without saying.”

She continued to pass the challenge gauntlet, but Luke could see that Alexis was off her game. He sensed something unusually guarded about her - despite the free-flow of pithy potshots. He ran his tongue across his lower lip and his attention was again pulled past her face and into the room behind her. She wasn’t hospital council anymore, so Alexis and Tony were in the middle of what?

“Yes, some things do. And other things need to be pulled out from the dark recesses and dissected under a strong light. Don't they?''

Alexis lightly tossed her head to the side, and the wisps of hair that lay against her forehead fluttered. She continued to hold Luke’s unnerving stare and tried to assume a look of boredom. “And your point, if you have one, is…?”

“Point is, Natasha, I couldn’t very well just walk past my favorite ex doc-bro-in–law and my favorite...land shark, without stopping to say ‘hey’ and spread a little sunshine.”

“Oh, you’re spreading something alright.”

“Damn, woman! Where have you been lately? I’ve missed that sharp little tongue of yours.” He leaned toward her and to the side, giving her backside an appreciative glance. “Almost as much as I’ve missed that curvy little…”

“Luke!” Tony barked, drumming his fingers against the file.

Alexis stiffened at the brusque shout. It wasn’t lost on Luke.

“I’m going! Geez!”

Luke shook himself off like a wet hound, casting another auspicious glance through the open doors where Alexis and Tony loitered. He took a step back and gave her visage a full and unabashed once over with his curious eyes. She wouldn’t think it odd – he’d done it countless times before. As always, she pretended not to notice, but clenched a hand around the pink cashmere that draped around her neck.

His voice unintentionally softened. “Don’t be a stranger, Natasha. Come on down to the club some time. We can turn Helena’s nudie pic into a dirty dartboard, just the two of us.” He leaned in for a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ll even let you pick which part of her gets to be the bulls eye.”

She tried to clench her jaw, but it didn’t work. Alexis couldn’t help grinning at the image that Luke had just conjured in her mind.

“A-ha! I figured that’d be just the thing to put the dimples back into your cheeks. The real dimples, not the ones for show.”

Her dimples disappeared. Again her fingers moved to graze along the surface of the gray knit that covered her arms, and it drew Luke’s attention. He stared at her with a sly expression. Something was up with this woman, and his ever-present Cassadine curiosity was piqued. But before he could speak, a fed-up Tony smacked him in the arm with the file.

“Hey?” Luke pulled away.

“You were just leaving?” Tony folded his arm across his chest.

Luke clicked his heels together and gave a short bow in Tony’s direction. “Doctor.” He spun to his left and went through the same motions for her. “Councellor.”

“Bar-keep.” Alexis punched the two syllables hard, and held Luke’s burning gaze as he began to walk away. But before he got too far, she had a final word. “And do me a favor, would you?”

He took three quick backward steps and answered her question with a lecherous grin. “If I do, you’ll owe me one back.”

Alexis sighed and cleared her throat, impatiently pushing at the bangs that refused to stop falling past her eyelashes. “Pay Scott Baldwin’s legal bill and get him off my back for saddling him with a deadbeat client.”

“Darlin’ don’t ever use the word ‘saddle’ in the same sentence with the name Baldwin. It’s just too easy – there’s no sport in it.”

“Just do it!”

He pulled his head back at the force of her tone. “Mm-mm! I love a woman who’s forceful.”

Luke gave her a wink and abruptly turned on his heels to saunter down the hall. But even as he cast his eyes down the corridor, they didn’t really see it. They were still filled with something else. Alexis didn’t even know he’d seen it. His eyes never strayed from hers, but his peripheral vision was keen. And now, the image of the reddened mark across the right side of her forehead was vivid in his mind – the nasty, half-healed wound that her nervous hand uncovered. Luke wondered if Barbara Jean could take a little bit later lunch that day. Cassadine curiosity was not a healthy thing to ignore...

And something was definitely up.