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Scene 85

The dark of her eyes seemed to deepen with each replaying of the moment in his mind - and Sonny had replayed it at least a dozen times between closing her door behind him and walking through his own.

He sat quietly on the edge of his bed, a floaty feeling taking over his being. One hand was still wrapped around the leather handle of the overnight bag sitting beside him, and his eyes stared unfocused into space as if his brain was lost in a waking dream. His body was undeniably lost in the sensations of her. He could still feel the yielding softness of her lips against his, the silken strands of her hair threading between his fingers, and the warmth of her hand as it firmed its place around his waist. Alexis didn't let go or pull away when the ache of leaving her drove Sonny's deepest instincts to overtake his self-restraint. She closed her eyes and held on. He could hardly believe that it happened, but it did.

Sonny had kissed Alexis, and Alexis had let him.

It was sweet, gentle, fleeting…and perfect. But as much as he wanted her the way a man wants a woman, the first kiss he laid upon her lips came from a different, deeper place. It came from a place that wanted her to feel nurtured and loved, even when he wasn't there with her - a place that wanted her to know that he would never abandon her. Sonny would slay her dragons and sooth her hurts for as long as Alexis allowed. All she had to do was hold on. But Sonny knew that she would. Her unhesitant acceptance of his bold but tender gesture spoke to his soul, telling him that what he saw within the deepening darkness of her eyes was a chance - the chance that she could want him too. And he opened his mouth to find out for sure.

"Is it better?" He'd murmured, asking permission after the fact.

Alexis nodded silently as she moved her eyes to his and curved her fingers around his side. Sonny loosened his hands from her hair and slid them down to rest at the back of her neck. He felt a slight tremor run through her and her eyes lowered. She smiled and took a small step back before looking up at him again.

"I don't want to stop."

Sonny's eyes grew big. "Stop...what?"

She couldn't possibly be referring to the first thing that popped into HIS mind. Could she? He hadn't wanted to stop kissing her, but he could certainly do it again - and go the distance this time. Alexis flushed and bit her lip, as if she could read his mind.

"Being your attorney."

There was a decidedly pregnant pause.

"Oh."

"I just needed you to know that."

"Oh. Okay." Sonny frowned in confusion. "Did I have a very premature senior moment and forget firing you?"

"Sonny!"

"Alexis?" He flashed big, showy dimples and cocked his head.

"No."

"Did I fire in you my sleep last night?"

Alexis rolled her eyes. "Not that I can recall."

"Good. Then what's this all about, you NOT wanting to quit?"

"Well, I know that you're…um…" Her hand moved against his waist as Alexis shifted both her feet and her eyes, moving them to the small expanse of floor between them. "I'm not afraid of something else happening to me if I keep you as a client. Sorel was just an isolated issue that's not an issue anymore."

"No, he's not." Sonny's voice was low, reflecting his concern over this sudden parting assurance that Alexis WASN'T afraid. Was she protesting too much, and for Sonny's benefit?

"And even if there was someone else to come along who'd have a…disagreement with you over coffee bean rights or…whatever else that I neither want nor need to know about, I'm not afraid because I trust you to protect me."

She finally let her wandering eyes settle back on his, but not without what Sonny swore was a brief pause of focus on his mouth. He ran his tongue across his lips in response, and Alexis cleared her throat.

"I would have said that I trusted you to get my back, but that's already been well established."

Her eyebrows quickly lifted and lowered playfully, and Sonny smiled.

"If I thought that there was anything else in my life that could touch you, I would fire you. I'd also evict you, lose your phone number, and refrain from saying

"Hello" if I passed you on the streets if I thought it would keep you safe."

Alexis cocked her head and gave him a thoughtful expression. "Well, now, that would be just plain unacceptable."

"I'd do it anyway. It would kill me, but I'd do it."

"You of all people know how ornery I can be, right?"

"Yes, I do."

"So, you must know that you'd be no match for the likes of me, buddy. I'd have you not only saying "Hello" to me on the streets in no time flat, I'd also have your bossy little behind in my kitchen, ranting about the nutritional wasteland that is microwave popcorn while cooking something healthy that incorporated all five food groups. There are five, right?"

"Four."

She frowned. "I thought there were five. Anyway, you know how I'd do it?"

Sonny laid a fingertip to the side of her mouth. "You'd show me the dimples?"

She showed him the dimples. "No. I'd double-dog dare you. I know your weakness for the double-dog dare and I am not above using it to my own advantage. See, I'm not only ornery, I'm an opportunist."

He turned to liquid inside. He had a weakness for everything she did and would probably have to pack up and move to the island to resist her or deny her anything, even if it was for her own good and protection.

"I'm glad you're not afraid, and that you want to keep me…as a client. But I mean what I said, Alexis. If I feel anything in my life could hurt you, I'll do whatever I have to do to keep you safe - dimples and double-dog dares aside."

"Sonny, please don't talk like that."

"Why did you bring it up? Is this something that's been on your mind or are other people giving you a hard time. Tell me the truth."

"I brought it up because I wanted you to know how I felt. Yes, other people are afraid for my safety if I continue as your council, but that's their fear and not mine. And I know that it's something you've thought about too. No matter what I have say about it, you'll still feel responsible for me and I want it clearly understood that everything has been my choice, freely made, and that's how it will stay. Got it?"

Sonny frowned. "Bossy."

"I'm not done yet."

"Sorry."

"Go home." She gave him a beatific smile. "Now I'm done."

Sonny was undone.

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The cool, crimson silk awoke very inch of bare skin it grazed on its way down her raised arms, past her face, and over her breasts. Her body was still warm from the heat of the fire. Her body was still warm from the heat of Sonny's touch. The air felt good as it surrounded each part of her that a newly discarded piece of clothing revealed, and Alexis had stood nearly naked before her open closet door with her t-shirt, sweatpants and camisole in a pile of colors and textures on the ground. Yet there still lingered a physical flush within her that she could almost hear in her silent solitude. She'd forgotten how quiet it could be when living alone. She used to enjoy the quiet, until the sound of her own breathing was all she could hear for hours upon hours of dark, lonely time…waiting to hear the sound of four footsteps hitting cement as they came closer.

A quick chill ran through her, and her nakedness was suddenly overwhelming. She felt too naked, and unprotected. But her body remembered the last arms to enfold her in safety, and it instinctively told her to reach for the deep red silk pajamas that she'd worn the night before. She pulled them off their padded hanger and slipped the cool, fluid fabric over her exposed body. She ran a light palm up and down the length of her arm, and it comforted her. Alexis sighed with relief. She felt like a bit of an idiot. But most important, she felt protected all over again.

She turned from the closet and pushed the door shut behind her. The tip of her tongue unconsciously ran across the full curve of her lower lip, and her fingers soon found their way up to the same place. Alexis tapped them thoughtfully as she made her way toward the bed and sat down upon the edge. She thought of how soft her mouth felt against her fingertips…how soft Sonny's mouth felt upon hers. It always felt that way, whenever it bestowed tender care and affection upon her hands, her arm, and her face. And she'd never questioned his sweet way with her. She'd needed at and welcomed it as instinctually as Sonny gave it.

But a new kind of instinct was making itself known to Alexis. The feel of his soft mouth touching down upon her same sensitive place was different than the other times - and the other places. And it wasn't the first time her body had registered a new and confusing response to him. That night in front of the fire, and that afternoon, lying right there on the bed, the way that Sonny looked at her and touched her also felt suddenly different. Everything seemed heightened, and Alexis was starting to understand that her body was reminding her of something she almost forgot - beneath the pawn, the hostage, and the patient than everyone now saw when they looked at her, there still lived a woman.

And without warning, that woman found herself looking up into the eyes of a client, a neighbor, a confident and friend…who was also a beautiful man. He was a beautiful man whose arms were holding her close, and whose brief, innocent kiss was melting her too solid flesh. The last mouth to find its way to hers had been Ned's, and now her body remember things she thought were best forgotten. But it was brief, and so innocent. Another owie had been kissed - nothing more. And the smile Sonny gave her in the moments that followed was that of a little boy, half proud and half shy in the wake of his tender expression. Her body wasn't supposed to remember things. Not with him…but it was.

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His surroundings seemed almost foreign, it had been so long.

He couldn't even conjure a tangible memory of the last night he's spent in his own bedroom - in his own bed. It didn't even feel like they were his anymore. Without Alexis, a part of him was missing. He wanted it back. Sonny sighed heavily. He knew it would be a long and sleepless night in PH4, but so be it. And Sonny shut his mind down as his body began to move like a machine programmed into logical motion. His shoes were kicked off and placed on the floor of the closet, his shirt was pulled over his head and dropped into the hamper, and as his hands moved for his belt buckle, a slight turn of his body sent a stolen glance into the mirror above his dresser.

Sonny stared at his own reflection for a long moment, fingers frozen against the meeting of leather and metal at his waist. He could see the dark whiskers sprouting across his face, and his hand rose up to rub at the sharp little hairs that had scratched her tender lips. He closed his eyes and smiled as his fingers moved to the exact spot where her kiss had blessed his cheek, pressing against it as if to keep the feel of her burned into his skin's memory. Alexis had surprised him with that kiss - but not as much as he'd surprised himself with his own. He was surprising himself quite a bit these days. Falling in love with Alexis was the granddaddy surprise of them all.

His hand finally slid down from his cheek and came to rest on the raised jagged line of flesh than ran a short distance across his chest. It was a wound Alexis's eyes had never seen, yet her hands sought to feel it through a thin cover of wool. Sonny wanted her to feel it, uncovered, and know that it didn't still hurt. He wanted her to feel the heart that beat strong beneath the scalpel's snaking trail, and know that it beat for the love of her. And he wanted her to feel the solid strength of his body and know that it would always shield her from harm. But Sonny was also afraid for her to see and feel the brand on his chest. It would always be evidence of the violence in his life that he allowed to spill onto her. Alexis thought of that scar as a symbol of how he'd saved her life - Sonny couldn't help but think of it as a symbol of how he'd put her life at risk. It brought him both pride and shame in equal measure, but what the scar meant to Alexis made the shame easier to bear.

He abruptly turned his face from the mirror and the image that conflicted him. His hands moved quickly to unfasten first his belt and then his trousers, sending them traveling down to the floor. The puddle of dark gabardine was quickly retrieved from around his feet and folded over Sonny's arm. He pulled a hanger from his closet, and as the garment was returned to its proper place within, his eyes shifted to the bathroom door. He blinked slowly, contemplating a long, hot shower to relax his tense body. But Sonny didn't want to wash away the phantom feel of her arms around him. He turned his gaze to the leather bag sitting on his long-uninhabited bed and moved toward it, wanting to put on the same clothes that he'd worn while snuggled beside her in the dark night. He would crawl into bed, close his eyes, and put the power of his memory to good use. And if he concentrated, Sonny was sure he would be able to smell gardenias.

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It brought a twinge of sadness to watch the brown, wilted stem fall from her hand into the wastebasket.

It was sad to see a once beautiful living thing fade and die, as all living things eventually did. But if Alexis knew Ned, there would surely be more purple iris when he came to see her again. She wished she'd thought to bring at least one of Sonny's pink roses home with her. There had been a multitude of the long-stemmed flowers filling her hospital room, and the sight of them was a lovely surprise when she awoke so groggy, disoriented and aching. Sonny had been a lovely surprise himself. The feel of his soft, warm hands on her skin was an unexpectedly sweet welcome back from the obliteration of the detox. And it suddenly occurred to her that she didn't wake up afraid. The feel of hands on her body had come to mean she would be hurt - it had come to mean Sorel. But that morning, her body somehow knew that the hands on her arm weren't a threat. They were Sonny's hands, and she was safe.

Alexis bit down on her lip as she pulled her legs up and slipped them under the covers. She looked down at her crimson sleeve and gently ran her hand along the silk before pulling it upward, above her elbow. Her fingertips lit upon the place that Sonny's had touched, lulling her awake with the soft pressing of oil into her skin. It had made her feel connected to her body in a good and normal way for the first time since her encounter with Sorel in the park. It had made her feel connected to Sonny. And that night, as Sonny's strong, soothing hands tended to another part of her body, Alexis knew that their connection would be unbreakable - at least, it was to her.

She also knew it was best for him to leave as planned, though deep down, she didn't want him to. It wasn't simply a matter of the frightened five year-old with bad dreams wanting him to stay. She wasn't afraid to be alone - she would just miss him. And the look in his eyes, when he knew that she wasn't going to change her mind and let him stay just one more night, told her that Sonny would miss her too. Alexis leaned back against the pillow with a light, tired sigh and allowed her lids to drift shut. It only took a moment for those big, brown, puppy-dog eyes to fill her head, and her hand moved up to run her fingers lightly along the edge of her jaw.

The warmth of Sonny's breath, whispering against her cheek began to revisit her, as did the feel of his fingers entwining in her hair and holding her face close to his for a bittersweet goodnight. He had looked so sad and hopeful, and Alexis almost did change her mind…just before she saw his mouth moving to meet hers, and the sensation of a new kind of contact took away her powers of both thought and speech. She had simply stared at the soft-dimpled smile that Sonny offered her, and firmed the hand held tight to his waist to keep from losing her balance. And for a moment, she wondered if she'd been hallucinating - again. But she knew it had been real, and the amalgam of feelings left in its wake made Alexis fall back into her usual deflective mode. Her deflection had surprised him and made him laugh, as usual. Only this time, she wasn't sure what his laughter meant...or whether she wanted to hear it.

Alexis shook her head with a wry smile and rubbed impatiently at her eyes, wanting to clear all thoughts of Sonny and his departure from her mind. He was across the hall, not Timbuktu. And a chaste kiss good bye was just that and nothing more. She was thinking too much again and it had to stop. It had been a long, stressful day and Alexis knew she was overtired and overwhelmed from her first foray out of her cocoon and into the big, loud, crowded world. She also knew that it wasn't good for her to dissect and interpret every little thought and feeling that came and went. She needed to just let them be - to surrender her analytical mind for just while longer, until the natural order of her life was back in place.

And she would start to put it back in place the next morning. There was the personal business with Nikolas that needed her attention, and for once, she also had business of a personal nature at the PCPD. Dara Jenson had shown a more than customary amount of compassion in waiting for Alexis to recover, but she had waited long enough. A complete and formal statement was necessary to prepare her case of attempted murder against Sorel, and Alexis wanted Dara to have it. The crisis had passed, and the strong, confident, take-charge Alexis Davis had been missing in action for far too long. It was time for her to step up to the plate. And it was also time for the scared, hurt, weak little Natasha to go back into hiding…except when in the safety of her cocoon.

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A tiny, furry, black and white face appeared between the parting metal teeth. Sonny blinked and let out a hearty laugh as he gave the zipper a quick, final pull, exposing the penguin that lay inside. He reached in and a gentle hand lifted the creature from its bed of neatly folded gray fleece and up to his face for a close perusal, Sonny's large round eyes staring into the small plastic ones that flanked a short black beak. He'd been given a going away present.

"Alexis, you sneaky little devil."

Sonny turned and sat upon the bed, grazing his lower lip with his teeth. He should have known she would do it, and he couldn't help but smile to imagine the self-satisfied look that must have taken over her face as she surreptitiously hid the penguin in his bag. He loved that she wanted to share her source of comfort with him - he loved the growing ritual of give and take between them. And he would bet money that Alexis was imagining, maybe at that very moment, the look on Sonny's face when he discovered her surprise. She knew that it would make him smile, and he wanted her to know that it did. Alexis always loved making him smile. He reached for the phone.

Across the hall in PH2, a handful of lacey sheets was being pulled up over sleek red pajamas, and Alexis was curling up on her side. She hugged the handful of lace against her chest and contemplated the clock on her nightstand. The choice was made to leave it alone. Sonny and Tony were right - as much as she protested being turned into a sloth, she knew she needed to sleep for as long as her body told her to. She would listen to it. And as Alexis closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the fireplace still simmering inside of her, she was sure that she'd be asleep before the fact of her new solitude could overtake her. She reached for the lamp - not to extinguish the light, only to dim it.

The sudden trill of the telephone made her heart skip a beat. She looked at the clock more closely. Who would be calling at ten thirty? Nikolas. Stefan must have gone to see him and told him that Alexis was ready for a visit. She smiled as a second ring sang out. He was as impatient as the man who raised him. She propped herself up on one elbow and picked up the receiver.

"Hello."

"Would you be, at this moment, making up fliers in search of a lost penguin?"

Alexis grinned and sank back into the pillow. "I would not."

"A runaway penguin?"

"Nope."

"Well, that's odd because there's an errant Arctic creature in my home right now, who bears a striking resemblance to one that you happen to own."

"You've just got all kinds of errant creatures in your home, don't you? And how IS Zander?"

Sonny laughed. "Still out, Johnny said. I think that boy needs a curfew."

"It's only ten thirty, Sonny. Don't cramp his style. And he'll hardly be turning into a pumpkin at this modest hour. Only spuds like me are in bed at ten thirty."

"Okay, you know that a nickname is going to stick for life when you start using it yourself."

Alexis sighed.

"You're pouting right now."

"I am not."

"Are too."

"Am not!"

Sonny brushed a fingertip across the top of the stuffed animal's head. "This is most definitely your penguin. He's sticking his lower lip out and pouting, just like you do."

"Penguins don't have lips."

"You still pout."

"Shut up." Alexis grumbled through a begrudging laugh.

Sonny laughed too. Hearing her voice and knowing she was smiling right then warmed his heart. He closed his eyes, and without thinking his hands brought the penguin up to nuzzle it against his cheek. It bore the light hint of her scent.

"Alexis?"

"Sonny?"

"He's yours. I want you to keep him."

"I'd rather share him. With you."

He released his weight back against the pillows and hugged the creature to his chest for wont of a sweet, brown-eyed girl to hold through a new night. He swallowed and smiled to himself as his tongue danced along the edge of his teeth.

"I'd love to share him with you. But I'm not the one who needs to be watched over right now."

"Says who?"

"Uh, didn't you say something about apron strings being snipped? I'm confused. Were you referring to mine or yours, buddy?"

Alexis laughed and turned over, away from the glow of the bedside lamp. "Okay, maybe I should have said untied. Snipped is a pretty harsh and definitive word."

"It's not a word most men are comfortable hearing."

"Sonny!"

He chuckled and imagined her face turning that adorable shade of blushing pink. "I didn't wake you up, did I?"

"No. I was just about to turn out the light. Figuratively speaking, that is."

"A little night light never hurt anyone." Sonny's hand loosened its hold on the penguin, and it fell against his bare neck. The softness reminded him of the soothing, silky feel of Alexis's hair as he'd buried his face into it while she slept. "I'll let you get to sleep now. I just wanted to thank you for my companion here."

Alexis hugged the pillow to her head with a large grin and a light, sleepy sigh. "You're welcome."

"Call me when you're up in the morning, okay?"

"I will."

"I want to come over and make you a decent breakfast so I'll know you're at least starting your day off properly."

Her eyes drifted shut. "But you already set the timer on the coffee maker. Sounds like a proper enough start to me."

"Are you being ornery?"

"Yes."

"I'm making you breakfast anyway."

"Okay."

Sonny paused. "Is there anything you're planning to do tomorrow? With Ned, maybe? Or your brother?"

"N-no." She stifled a yawn behind her open palm. "I'm just going to play it by ear, I think. And I should probably start seeing what kind of work I can tackle."

Alexis didn't want to specify what KIND of work. She didn't want to bring up the idea of going to see Dara. Not yet. Sonny would only worry.

"Work? No work. You need to play. Or at least relax. Maybe you'd like to take a walk and see some trees and grass and people…feel the sun on your face and breathe clean air. I'd love to take you for a walk, if you want. Or anything else that strikes your fancy."

Alexis turned her face into the pillow with a smile. The sun. She'd missed the sun and the way it made her body feel as it radiated down on her, even on a cold day. And she'd missed all the colors and the signs of life that lay beyond her reach for so long. But a hesitance lingered within her at the thought of embracing it all again. It was overwhelming. So many things that used to be taken for granted - that used to be hardly given a thought - were now of a large scope. She had to take just one thing at a time, and one day at a time.

"I don't know, Sonny. We'll see."

"Okay. I didn't mean to boss you or anything."

"You didn't - this time."

He heard her yawn this time. "Okay. Whatever you want, whatever you need. I want to make it happen for you, if you'll let me."

"Spoil me, you mean."

"You wanna make something out of it?"

She laughed gently through a small sigh.

"No matter what you do or where you go, I just don't want you to be by yourself right now, okay?"

"Okay." Alexis whispered, relaxing her grip on the receiver as her arm pulled further up against her chest.

"Even if I'm not with you, I want Johnny to be. He can drive you wherever and, you know, take care of whatever you need if I'm not there. Okay?"

Her legs shifted beneath the cool sheets. "'kay."

Sonny smiled at the sleepy, monosyllabic mumble drifting into his ear. "Alexis?"

"Hmm?"

"Go to sleep now."

"Mmm."

"But hang up the phone first." There was no response. "Alexis? Honey, hang up the phone." Sonny sang her name softly. "Aleeeeeexis."

All was quiet. He licked his dry lips and his heart began to pound in the heavy silence, and he slowly closed his eyes as he whispered into her slumbering ear.

"I love you." Still, it was quiet. "And I promise that one day soon, I'll gather up some of that courage that you have in spades, look into your eyes, and tell you again. It's the most important truth of my life, and I want to share it…with you."

Sonny blinked and was stunned to feel a burning wetness in his eyes. He rubbed it away, unnerved by his body's response to emotions that were weary of being so tightly locked in. He was tired from the effort of restraint, and his body couldn't help but react. Sleep - Sonny needed to sleep, if the fates would allow. But first, there would be just one more trip across the hall to PH2. The houseboy would need to hang up the phone.

"Boss?"

Johnny studied Sonny's bedtime ensemble of a t-shirt and drawstring sweatpants with a squint.

"Johnny."

Sonny padded past him in bare feet, and Johnny's eyes moved with him as he approached Alexis's door without another word.

The worried tone of Johnny's voice turned Sonny's head. He gave him a nod and a reassuring smile over his shoulder.

"No, Johnny. Nothing's wrong."

"Oh. Well, good." He still frowned. This was odd - very odd. Why would Sonny be going back to her when he was clearly ready to go to bed. If nothing was wrong, then…

"Is something right?"

Johnny's jaw snapped shut and his eyes widened as Sonny's hand froze on the doorknob. Uh oh. The tail end of his thought had obviously failed to STAY just a thought. Sonny's head tilted. Uh oh again. Sonny's tilted head sharply swiveled, and two dark eyes were giving two hazel eyes a very stunned look with brows arching high up in surprise. Johnny swallowed hard.

"Well, THAT was highly inappropriate."

Sonny stared.

"I'm sorry, boss. I meant no disrespect to you or Alex…Miss Davis."

The arched eyebrows fell, and Sonny squinted at him. Johnny shuffled his nervous feet on the carpet, preparing to give an electric shock to the next person he touched.

"God, you know I would never disrespect her - or you. I'm just…you know I'm on your side, right? I mean, you and her. I mean, I think it would be so…" Johnny's voice faded under Sonny's continued silent stare. He groaned. "Can we just forget that I ever opened my big mouth?"

"You're using words like "highly inappropriate", and you're babbling. What's next - I'll be handing you a paper bag?"

"Uh…"

"I think someone's been hanging around Alexis a little too much."

Johnny felt himself blush. "Yeah. Sorry."

"Don't be. There's nothing wrong with improving your vocabulary, but I have to draw the line at reminding you to breathe. It's just not a desirable quality in a bodyguard."

Johnny's back straightened. "I swear on my life, boss, I have never once passed…out." The grin creeping across Sonny's face made him heave a sigh. "Oh, boss. Not you too."

"Ha!"

Johnny folded his arms across his chest. "Fine. I'm glad it's so entertaining for both of you to watch me turn pink like a girl."

"I've been hanging around Alexis a little too much too, huh?"

He shook his head. "Nah. Just right."

Sonny shook his head. "Or not enough. And I do know whose side you're on." He turned the knob and began to push the door inward. "Hey - shouldn't Francis be here now?"

"Midnight."

"Ah. Okay. I'll be right back."

And Sonny disappeared inside PH2.

The light was still on beside her bed. Sonny could see it spilling out into the hall as he reached the top of the stairs, and he wondered for a moment if Alexis had woken up. He didn't want to startle her by suddenly materializing in her bedroom doorway if so. He softly called out her name, with no response. He trod quietly into the room, smiling at the curled-up form wrapped in a thin layer of white cotton and lace. It made him happy to know that the sound of his voice had carried her off and made her first night alone feel more secure. He moved closer still, watching the light that bathed her body and sent a show of red sparkles up into his eyes.

Sonny stood by her side, staring down at the peaceful profile that begged to be touched. His hand reached down, but resisted temptation for fear of waking her. Instead, he carefully lifted the telephone from its resting place within the crook of her elbow, where it had fallen from her sleepy grasp. Alexis stirred lightly as her thumb slipped away from the receiver. She pulled her hand up and curled her fingers against her throat as her face turned slightly upward. And then, she was still. Sonny set the phone back into the cradle and tilted the lampshade to direct the light away from her face. As he glanced back down at the light spray of freckles across her nose, the curve of her dark lashes, and the blushing lips no longer a stranger to his own, Sonny wondered how mad Alexis would be to wake up and find he'd snuck back into her home to spend another night looking after her. After all, she'd snuck the penguin into his home for the very same reason - and fair's fair.

But he doubted it was an argument she'd let him win. So he would honor her wishes and reluctantly return across the hall. The apron strings would be untied, but not cut. He turned toward the foot of the bed and reached for the folded comforter with a whisper.

"I can at least make sure you're warm enough before I go."

"Are you too warm?"

"No."

"Your skin feels hot."

"I like the sun."

"I know."

Sonny pulled the comforter up to her chest, and Alexis didn't move. "I'll miss you tonight."

"I saw you this morning."

"Where?"

"On the beach."

"Oh…"

He ran a careful fingertip along the piped edge of her silk collar, and let it slip over to a thick lock of hair resting against her neck. Sonny gently lifted it and let it drop back down upon the white pillow. "Sleep well, Alexis."

"You swim well, Alexis."

"Thank you."

"You rose early."

"I thought it was just me who was awake."

And before he left, Sonny let one more whisper of words rain down on his own sleeping beauty. "I love you more than anything."

"I loved watching you. You were enjoying it, out there in the water. You looked like a child, the way you played alone - until you emerged from the water and walked onto the shore. That was no child."

Alexis blushed under his intent stare. "I didn't mean to disturb anyone."

"Not at all."

"I woke up and there was plenty of time for a swim before church, only…"

"You don't need to defend yourself to me, Alexis. I am not my mother. And I do understand the compelling nature of…well, nature. That's something else you and I share, besides a physical resemblance. We both know that the elements are quite seductive, aren't they? The ripples of water lapping at your body, the texture of grainy sand beneath your feet, the heat of the sun sinking into your skin and leaving your muscles weak…and the cool breeze that sifts through your hair and leaves the smell and taste of clean, salty ocean on your skin."

Alexis was holding the deep stare he had fixed into her eyes, and he smiled as she bit her lip within the deliberate silence. Her eyes turned curious, and her head tilted just so as she shyly smiled back and waited for him to continue. She knew that he could continue. But first, he pulled his gaze away from her face and moved it beyond the open balcony that lay a few feet behind her back. He let his eyes shift from the ragged hills, to the bright blue sky, to the place on the horizon where the clouds greeted the deeper blue of the sea.

Alexis finally turned her head to follow where his focus had gone, and he firmed his hands on her shoulders to turn her whole body around. The sun had risen higher into the sky, and its glare was no longer cast over them where they stood just inside the room. He wanted it cast over them, and he gave Alexis a small push to move her toward the threshold to the balcony. His body stayed close to her back and his palms stayed wrapped around the smooth curves of her tan shoulders as they stepped outside.

"But you played too long in the seductive elements, and you ended up with a throbbing head. Didn't you?"

She nodded, lowering her eyes to the ground. She was embarrassed…and the sun was so bright to her eyes.

"You must learn about lines that are bad to cross, butterfly. Excess is all well and good for some things, but frolicking in the sea under a summer sun is not one of them. It makes the blood pound and pulse all too fast and hard in the delicate body of a young woman. A tolerance for some sensations must be built up…learned. And you will learn."

His hands moved up from her shoulders and Alexis felt two, then three fingertips pressing against each temple. He shifted his weight behind her, and a low, throaty murmur filled her ear.

"I trust the throb has abated?"

She tried to nod, but the pressure of his fingers made her hesitant to move against him. It felt like a command to stand still. She spoke instead. "Yes. Thank you."

"Good. I hoped that my regrettable show of temper didn't exacerbate it." His left hand slid down the side of her face to lightly touch the place on her cheek where the burning sting of his palm had landed. It still stung to the touch, and Alexis couldn't keep her body from responding to the feel of his hand traveling down toward it. The quick flinch he felt beneath his hand made him pull away completely. Alexis turned her head and smiled as she cast a small glance at him over her shoulder.

"You didn't make it worse, Stavros."

His face assumed a mask-like quality as he looked down at her. She swallowed and tried hard to read in his eyes what was best to do or say next. Truth. Stavros hated being patronized, especially by women.

"My headache was not made worse, but I won't insult you by pretending that my face doesn't still smart a bit."

He cocked his head as he regarded her with a shift in expression. It was as if he was trying to read her eyes as well, to decipher how her clever young mind worked. And she was clever, this odd looking little girl who had grown up so beautifully. But she was not clever in all things, and Stefan had failed her in one most important way - Alexis knew nothing of the effect of her womanly beauty on men. His little brother was too protective of his pet to even think of her as the woman that she was. And in her innocent ignorance, Alexis flaunted her burgeoning assets in a swimsuit of age-inappropriate black. It was clear from watching her that she had no idea what thoughts she would provoke in the minds of any peasant or fisherman who traveled the shores where she played and swam. Yes, she needed to learn…before it was too late and the unschooled beauty of a poor relation brought trouble and shame to their door. And who better to teach her? Alexis was lucky to have him.

She had let her eyes wander, though her head was still turned toward him. He gently took her head in his hands and blew another divide in the middle of her bangs to make room for another kiss on her forehead. She smiled, and he smiled back.

"I respect your honesty. And again, I apologize for hurting you."

"It's alright."

His hand moved back to her shoulders and turned her around to face the sun, sky and sea. She squinted into the bright orb and tilted her head down. His fingertips ran lightly back and forth across the curve of her neck.

"I told you that I had no desire to hurt you, and that was the truth. I'd much prefer to make you feel good…the way you feel out there." He nodded toward the shore, then let his chin come to rest upon the top of her head. "You're a smart girl, Alexis. I'm sure you already do feel good, knowing that you've earned the attention of the prince. There are so few whom I deem worthy of the effort, and I trust you won't fall short of my high expectations and disappoint me - or Stefan."

He felt her body stiffen at the mention of his brother's name.

"I…"

"Shh. I'm still speaking, Alexis."

"I'm sorry."

"You're eager. And you want to raise yourself from the lowly station to which you were born…and in which you were orphaned. And you want to make your cousins proud. Those are admirable things and they are why you're here with me right now, as a hopeful Cassadine woman, instead of back frolicking in the waves like an urchin child."

Again, he felt his well-chosen words have a physical effect on her. Alexis was pulling inward at the reminding of her charitable station, and he now needed to lift her back up.

"Stefan has done fairly well in teaching you respect for your betters. But since I'm returned from school, the balance of power between my father and myself has shifted. I'm sure that you've sensed it."

"Yes."

"Good. I am a man now, just like my father. His time as head of the family will soon come to an end and it will be my place to take. The respect and deference I deserve to be shown now cannot continue to be as lax as when we were children. Do you understand that, Alexis?"

She nodded, finally allowing her heavy lids to give up the struggle to stay open against the bright sun.

"What did you say?"

She frowned, feeling a bit disoriented from the heat. But Alexis quickly realized that she'd forgotten his lesson on speaking up. "Yes, I understand."

It was his turn to smile. "Good. I believe you do. My brother's pet is an intuitive little thing. And Stefan also did well in cultivating your appreciation of the world around you and the enjoyment of the gifts that they are."

The sudden feel of his palms running down the length of her arms made her shiver. It tickled, and she laughed lightly. He pulled his chin from the top of her head and leaned over her shoulder to gaze at her flushed face. His hands began to move back up the soft, bare skin, and Alexis didn't shiver this time. Instead, she lifted her face and smiled into the rich sun that caressed her with its golden warmth. Her skin drank it in and it sank even deeper, spread wider, laying claim to every cell in her body. Her mind was lulled away from all thoughts as she began to give herself over to the intoxicating heat. She couldn't help it. And the resonant tone of Stavros's voice swam in her head.

"You do love this. I can tell. You love surrendering yourself to the elements - to the feel of the sun, like soft, warm hands melting into your skin, and the feel of the warm waves wrapping around you like wet kisses.

"Mmm."

She hadn't the energy left to speak. She was lost, drifting under the feel of warm hands melting into her skin. He replaced his chin upon her head and held it firmly in place, enjoying the feel of her soft, scented hair against his throat. His hands were setting a rhythm up and down her arms, gently sliding up one side and down the other, first a flat palm and then just his fingertips. She was unmoving, still and transfixed. He was growing transfixed himself.

"To feel what you're feeling now is a gift from nature - from God."

Hands slowly gliding on hot, smooth skin, again and again…palms descending, fingers rising. He felt the slight weight of her body releasing back into his as the sun depleted her energy.

"It feels wonderful, doesn't it? There's nothing wrong with feeling good, Alexis."

He let his chin slip away from the top of her head and down along the side of her face to move his mouth closer to her ear. It was if a brace had been removed from her spine as her head leaned into his. He slid his hands down the sensitive underside of her arms and she shivered again within the heat that flooded her.

"Embrace it, butterfly."

Both of his palms were now grasping the backs of her hands, the fingers tightening around her wrists and pinning them to her sides. She fought to move, but her body was hot lead. She fought to open her eyes, but they were glued shut. The hands were holding her wrists too tight, locking her in place, and her voice had lost its memory. Alexis struggled in vain against the hands, the heat, the dizzying feeling that her legs were about to disappear and she would drop to the ground.

"You may be Eddie's Angel, but it's me who's making you fly…butterfly…angel…"

"Owe!"

The sharp pain in her head jolted her from head to toe, and Alexis was suddenly wide eyed and in a cold sweat beneath the downy comforter. Her heart was pounding uncontrollably, and her hands grabbed hold of her stinging head. A swirl of colors flashed before her closed lids and too many deep voices echoed in her brain. She didn't know where she was, or when she was. She didn't even know of she was awake.

"Thomas?" She whispered dryly, blinking against the soft light beside her.

"Home?"

She squinted up at the lamp and tried to move the limbs that had been paralyzed just moments before. Once they cooperated, Alexis frantically kicked at the covers and freed herself from their entanglement. She pushed herself up and sat in the middle of the torn apart bed, letting her eyes adjust as she shifted her focus around the room. She was home, in her own bed, bathed in a light sweat that fixed tangled strands of hair against her hot face.

"Sonny?"

Her small, plaintive voice found only her own ears. Sonny had gone home, as she'd asked him to do. She was fully awake, and she remembered that she was alone...but she could swear the smell of spice was hanging in the air. But she didn't remember the events of her dream, or the faces it held. And she didn't remember what the voices had said to her, only the heat, the light-headedness, and the fear. Alexis only remembered the voices at the end that awakened her to the image of a rainbow of colors and the splitting pain in her head. She caught a strong, sudden chill from the dampness of her silk and reached for the edge of the comforter. She pulled it up and wrapped it around her shivering body, as her eyes made a guilty path to the telephone. There had been a promise made that she'd call him if she needed anything…and she did. But even if she asked him to, not even Sonny could slay a dragon that Alexis couldn't name. Alexis just needed the dreams to stop.

"Please, God...make it stop."