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Scene 88

Sonny ran a hand over her tousled hair. Alexis smiled.

"I take it back. I don't want you to stop it. I like seeing you laugh, and if making fun of me does the trick, so be it."

"I'm not making fun of you - I'm teasing you. And I do it because I like seeing YOU laugh. And you're just so easy to tease!"

"You know, it's not fair the way you get to me so easily!" Alexis protested with a perplexed expression on her face. "You've always been able to push my buttons more than anyone else, even when you barely knew me. How is that?"

Sonny gave her sly grin. "Maybe I just…paid closer attention to you than anyone else. How is it that you get to ME so easily? And push my buttons too - more than anyone."

"I'm your attorney. Pushing your buttons is a part of my job."

"You push them more as Alexis than you do as my attorney. My attorney's main objective is keeping me out of jail."

"Someone has to extricate you from the trouble you seem to enjoy getting yourself into. And as cute as you may be, I don't think even YOU could pull off an orange prison jumpsuit."

She called him cute! Sonny's dimples grew.

"I see you're getting the same visual I am." Alexis cocked her head and sighed. "Call me shallow, but an orange-clad Sonny would NOT be pretty."

"I appreciate your concern for my fashion sense. And I appreciate the fact that as Alexis, you can separate the man I am inside from the business decisions that I make. Most people can't. The way you see me makes me think more about certain choices that I have to make. I'm not sure if you realize it, but even if I don't always do what would be the right and moral thing as you would see it, you do make me think…and want to live up to your belief in the man I am inside."

"I do realize it. I know when you're conflicted. And I know your instinct is to do right, but you should follow it for yourself, not to live up to someone else's expectations."

"What's wrong with both?"

Alexis stared at his dark, serious eyes and the two-way street that lay between them was open wide. Sonny did need her, and he wanted her to know. And he needed her in a way that Harvard Law never prepared her for. Nothing ever prepared her to be truly good for someone - not as just Alexis. She WAS good for him, and she understood how. She used to be good for Ned…or so she thought. So he told her. But she never quite knew how…and somewhere along the road, it simply stopped. Alexis didn't want it stop ever again.

"Nothing." She murmured. "Both is good." She smiled and scrunched one shoulder. "You're a lot of hard work, you know that? But you sure do keep things interesting."

"There's seldom a dull moment around you either."

"Are you trying to call me 'colorful', but you're afraid of making a bad pun?"

"I leave all the bad puns to you - the master."

He gave a shallow bow in her direction.

"Yeah, yeah." Alexis ran her fingers through her hair and slid them down a thin strand, twisting the ends between them as she studied Sonny's eyes thoughtfully. "So I really DO look better today?"

Sonny held up his palm. "Scout's honor."

Her gaze shifted toward the mirror beside the door. Sonny turned his head to follow her focus.

"Go see for yourself. I double-dog dare you."

Alexis arched an eyebrow. "I hardly think that looking in the mirror warrants a double-dog. Unless the bottomless pit of blarney found it's floor and you're going to start insulting me for a change of pace."

Sonny leaned in and gave her face an obvious once-over. She squinted at him in response.

"Well…I wouldn't consider this insulting, but you ARE a bit on the pale side." He finally offered.

Alexis glanced toward the mirror again, and then began to push herself off the couch. Sonny smiled lightly as he watched her with care, offering no assistance but poised to give it if needed. She grimaced slightly, but maneuvered herself to her feet just fine. She stretched her back as she made her way to the mirror, twisting at the waist from one side to the other. Sonny turned and leaned an elbow on the arm of the sofa, continuing to watch her as she came to a stop a few feet from her own gilt-framed reflection. Alexis stood quietly, staring. Finally, she spoke.

"You're right. It does look better. I won't need so much cover stick today."

Sonny's back straightened. "You going out?"

She gave him a brief glance over her shoulder. "I don't know yet."

"You promised me you wouldn't go anywhere alone, remember?"

"I remember."

He cleared his throat and picked at the upholstery with his fingernails, wondering if she was thinking of seeing Ashton again that day. She'd spent quite a while on the phone with him while alone in her room the day before. It set Sonny on edge.

"I know Zander would like to see you, if he can ever tear himself away from Emily long enough to stick around here for five minutes."

Alexis smiled softly, and her voice was just as tender as her expression. "He's in love. Why should he have to tear himself away at all?"

Sonny's heart warmed as he stared at her wistful face. He was in love too. Why did he have to tear himself away from Alexis last night - or ever?

"Life is too short and love is too precious. Neither should be wasted."

Her hand moved up to her bare throat, and her fingers absently stoked back and forth across her collarbone. It suddenly struck him - she wasn't wearing Ashton's necklace. And she hadn't worn it the day before. But now, she seemed to be searching for it at the base of her throat.

"Are you thinking of seeing Ned today?"

The sound of his own words filling his ears stunned him, as did the plaintive tone that carried them. It made him cringe inside. Did Alexis hear it too? And Sonny suddenly realized that Alexis was staring at him with wide, uncertain eyes - eyes that held something vaguely akin to guilt. He quickly tried to dismiss it.

"Or Nikolas. You mentioned wanting to see him now. I'm just asking because I need to go down to the warehouse for a little while later on, so I could drop you off at L&B if you'd like. Unless you'd rather not go out yet and prefer to have people come here to see you instead."

"Well, I told Stefan that I'd try to see Nikolas tomorrow. But I was going to call over to L&B today to arrange it with him - and to speak to Ned too. I think it would be a good idea for me to get out and go over there myself. It's familiar territory…if not also slightly littered with eggshells."

"Eggshells?"

She smiled quickly, and then it was gone. "Never mind."

"I'll take you to L&B tomorrow then. Name the time."

Alexis gave him a sharp, decided nod. "Okay."

She turned her eyes back to the mirror and released a sigh. Her hands pushed at the fringe of bangs to reveal her naked forehead. Alexis regarded herself for a long moment, and then her arm dropped to her side. Sonny rose from the sofa and began to walk toward her.

"Apparently bruising heals more quickly than scrapes." She looked at herself once more and frowned. "And I AM pale. I look like I haven't seen the sun in a dog's age."

Sonny's face suddenly appeared in the mirror as he moved up behind her. "You haven't."

"Oh - right. Good point."

She gave a small laugh and widened her eyes. Sonny smiled and lowered his eyes as he leaned in toward her hair. His lids fluttered as he tilted his head and inhaled the fresh, sweet scent that teased his nose. It was an unconscious act, and his movement was subtle. But Alexis saw. The expression on his face was so soft and innocent, and she stared at his reflection beside her own. She felt her brain begin to buzz as his warm, gentle breath enveloped her neck. And when Sonny lifted his eyes back up to the mirror, dimples deepening within their smooth-shaven cheeks, Alexis was flooded with feeling for this unlikely angel on her shoulder. It stole her breath away in a quick and unexpected way that was unlike all the other times. This time, she knew it was happening. And she was beginning to understand why. Her heart was pounding out a two beat rhythm that all but intoned his name. Sonny…Sonny…Sonny...

"Sonny…"

He straightened his head at the sound of her airy whisper, taking the warm breath away from her throat and leaving her skin exposed to the cool air. Her mouth went dry and she shuddered. Sonny gave her a quizzical look and Alexis bit her lip as a palm quickly slid up to rub at her throat.

"Alexis?"

She swallowed as her eyes held fast to his. Her fingers twitched against her throat. She wanted to move her hand away from her own body and toward his - to press her palm to his cheek and feel the strong lines of his face tempered by soft, warm flesh that smelled of spice and would leave it lingering upon her skin. Instead, Alexis firmed her hand against the curve of her neck and smiled softly at the beautiful man in the mirror…her unlikely angel.

"You've got no room to talk about being pale. In spite of the natural tan that comes courtesy of your Cuban genes, you do look like you could use a little sun yourself buddy. You've been cooped-up inside with me, you know."

"Have you heard any complaints?"

"You called me pale and I'm inferring complain from that comment, albeit a minor complaint, because being pale is usually equated with not being healthy and I know you want me to be healthy, so it stands to reason you DON'T want me to be pale. And back at ya."

He gave his head a quick shake at her convoluted path. "O-kay. Then I guess we'll both have to do something about it, won't we? I vote we take that walk I suggested yesterday. Just a short, easy one. Maybe late in the afternoon, before dinner? Maybe we'll catch the sun as it's setting."

"That sounds nice." She murmured.

He smiled. "Then it's a date."

A date. Alexis felt her face flushing in a strange rush of shyness. Why did she feel so young when she was with him? Like so many things were new, when they were far from it? It was somewhat similar to how she'd felt right after the shooting. Everything was heightened, and her gratitude at being alive infused her with a feeling of rebirth and excitement. But then, the feelings of dread began and Alexis was overtaken by the unyielding sense that something else bad was going to happen. And there came the recurring nightmare that Sonny had died before her eyes, still lying in the wet, bloody snow with bullets in his body. The nightmares were different this time. Nobody died in her dark nights now, there was just an amalgam of voices and her body registering fear.

But in her waking hours, there was no dread - no foreboding of something bad yet to come. Alexis still felt a sense of rebirth and newness, especially with Sonny. They'd both been changed in deep ways that other people might not see. But she saw it in Sonny, and she knew he saw it in her. The way he looked at her, talked to her, treated her told her so. She hoped it was the same for him. And she wondered how Sonny would react if he knew how she longed to see and feel the mark on his chest, just as he'd seen and felt the marks on her body. Would he want to keep it hidden from her eyes? Did he consider his scar to be a little bit ugliness too? But she suddenly smiled at the remembrance of his words to her on the day she returned home. War wounds should be worn with pride. Sonny was nothing if not a man of pride. One day, she would ask to see and feel his scar. She wanted him to let her…to want her to.

A flutter of fingertips at her hips brought her gaze back up to the mirror - to his eyes.

"How is your back feeling this morning? Better?"

"Yeah, it's okay. I'm not ready to climb any mountains, of course. Good thing Lady Jane isn't here, or I'd be climbing one anyway."

"Jax's mother climbs mountains?"

"The kiwi fell very close to the tree."

Sonny smiled. "And married a potato."

"Uh-uh. No potatoes allowed in the Jacks family. The minute Lady Jane met her new daughter-in-law, she sought to make me outdoorsy. I discovered certain muscles in my body that that had never even been put to use before I married Jax."

He gave her a blank stare. "Would you care to re-phrase that?"

"Sonny!"

He flashed a wicked grin and pointed at her mortified face. "You're gonna laugh now, I know you are!"

She bit the inside of her cheek to defy him. It was impossible with the way he was looking at her. Alexis finally broke a tight smile. Darn those buttons!

"Ha! You're such an easy tease."

"Who you calling easy?"

"What did you expect me to do, Alexis? You you put that one right in my lap."

Her eyebrow arched. "Am I supposed to volley THAT one now?"

"Truce?"

She grinned. "I win again."

"Do not."

"Do to. You just surrendered. Now what was I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by Mr. Smarty Pants?"

"You're losing your train of thought a lot this morning."

"Well…you're a distracting person."

"You talk about discovering new muscles and I'M distracting?"

Alexis crossed her arms. "As I was saying…Jax's mother put me through my paces. Usually before sunrise, usually uphill, and usually for hours at a time."

"Ouch."

"I'll say. But I loved that family - LOVE that family. I loved being a part of it, and climbing mountains before the break of dawn was a small price to pay to belong to…people who want you. I never thought I'd get to find out firsthand what it was like to have parents, let alone a normal, loving family. It was a nice illusion while it lasted."

The break in her voice made Sonny feel as if he would break himself. And the veil of sadness clouding her face touched a deep place inside of him - the place that also yearned for normalcy, and to belong. The day Mike left home, the concept of family was gone from Sonny's childhood. The day he began to work for Joe Scully, the possibility of family was gone from his life period. But his wife and unborn child had to die for him to know it. Carly and Michael were an illusion of family for him, as Jax and his parents had been for Alexis. But there was no reason for Alexis to not have what she yearned for. She should belong to people who loved her and wanted her. She should have a family of her own, and Sonny wished there was a way he could give her that himself while still keeping her safe. Maybe he could…if she wanted him to.

"But I managed to keep up with the Jacks family pretty well, if I do say so myself."

Sonny firmed his fingers against the silk hugging her hips. "Such a trouper."

"And I'm getting around alright now too."

"So I've seen." Sonny glanced around the living room. "I wasn't going to mention it, but I did make the Sonny-esque observation that you did a little exercising this morning. I distinctly remember telling you to leave the mess I made last night alone and let me put it all back."

"Yes, you did. And I decided to ignore you." She grinned and turned around to face him. "Tony said that normal physical activity is good for me. Besides, I wanted to sit on the couch to drink my coffee and read my paper like a normal person, and it would have been very uncomfortable to do that if the cushions were still strewn about the floor."

"Tony said, huh?"

"He did. I'm no worse for wear, Sonny. My back is okay. I just have a little residual stiffness and the subsequent need to stretch a lot."

"It's not so sore anymore?"

She shook her head. "Not so much."

"Good. So the bruises are fading there too."

"Tony said they are, so I'm taking his word for it."

"Tony said? You don't know?"

"Well I haven't seen them myself."

"You haven't?"

"How would I?" She pointed backward, over her shoulder. "They're all the way back there. We Cassadines may be a gothic lot, but we don't have eyes in the back of our head."

The absence of even a slight smile on Sonny's face made Alexis pull her eyes away and lower them to the ground. She turned, and as she began to move away from him, Sonny quickly grabbed the edge of her pajama top. The fluid white silk lifted away from her body like the crest of a rising wave. She felt the cool air meeting the warm skin of her lower back before the resistance of Sonny's hold stopped her. Her head vaguely tilted in his direction, but her eyes stayed lowered.

"You wouldn't let me see them either." Sonny murmured. His hand released its hold on the soft silk and he watched as it floated back down around her hips.

"No. I didn't want you to." She answered simply.

Sonny was still. He was feeling the guilt of having stolen what Alexis didn't want to give him freely. He wished he could give it back. His silence made her slid her arms around herself as she slowly turned back to face him, eyes rising to his face.

"Why would YOU want you to? It would only hurt you, and you've been hurt enough by all this."

His head reflexively pulled back. He smiled, and she returned it with a vague frown.

"Don't laugh at me."

"I'm not! I…I think it's sweet that you want to look out for me. But you don't have to protect me, Alexis."

She cocked her head and pushed her hair behind her ears. "I'm not so sure about that."

Sonny looked down at her authoritative little expression and fought the urge to grin again. This time, he didn't want Alexis to feel teased - or made fun of. His tongue made a quick travel across his teeth before he spoke.

"So you're saying that it's only fair for those lambskin gloves to be a mutual proposition?"

"Baaa..."

He burst out laughing. The teasing tables had been turned.

"Alright. You win."

Alexis clapped her hands together, face beaming. "I just LOVE how you keep saying that."

"Yes, I know." Sonny reached out to her, lightly touching a fingertip to her temple. "It does hurt me to see things like this. It hurt me when I was a little boy and I couldn't stop it from happening to my mother, and it hurts no less now. What those two bastards did to you…it pushes some very old buttons that I thought I'd never be reminded of again."

"Sonny, this is very different from what Deke did to your mother."

"It feels the same." He pushed a closed fist into his gut. "In here."

"But that was repetitive and deliberate."

"THIS was deliberate."

Her voice softened and she took a small step closer to him. "Not all of it."

"I don't care."

Sonny's face hardened, as Alexis knew it would. He knew where she was going, and while he wouldn't stop her, he would silently rail against it. She took a deep breath and released it slowly.

"I care. I know the subject upsets you, but you need to know that even though Sorel's actions were intentional, Thomas Malloy didn't mean to hurt me like he did. If you can believe that much, I think you wouldn't have so much anger simmering inside of you and making you feel so…so much like you did when you were young."

Sonny's head began to spin. He thought he felt something - his hand being lifted. Alexis continued to speak.

"Thomas even told me himself that it was an accident."

"When? When did he tell you?"

His voice was monotone as his eyes searched hers. She wrapped her fingers around the edge of his palm, and felt his fingers curve in turn around hers.

"After I hit my head on the wall."

Sonny's eyes blinked slowly. "You didn't hit your head on the wall, Alexis. You were thrown AGAINST the wall."

"He said didn't mean to. I admit it confused me when he said it, because I had been afraid of him. He was so big and silent, his face never emoting anything when Sorel was in the room. But when Sorel left him alone with me, he changed. Not drastically. Not yet. But enough for me to believe that the cold, hard shell he wore with Sorel was an act."

Sonny squeezed his eyes shut. He knew that what Alexis was saying about Malloy was true, but still, he railed inside. He wanted her to stop. But she continued.

"He couldn't even look me in the eye. I tried to get him to, but he couldn't."

Sonny slowly blinked, not knowing if her words were in part a plea for HIM to look at her - to give her his attention and hear her. He lifted his chin and forced himself to meet the smoky, soulful eyes gazing at him with such warmth and tenderness that he couldn't have torn his gaze away from them if he tried. Alexis smiled lightly, as if to thank him, and she took another small step toward him.

"I was looking up at his face while he was putting a cold cloth on my forehead. He was looking at me strangely, like it hurt him to see it - like what you just said. And then he apologized. I didn't remember that right away, but it started coming back in a fog. I thought maybe it was just from the heroin, or the detox, or…something else playing tricks on my brain because Sorel's men would never apologize for hurting someone, right? I mean violence is intrinsic to their job. But when Taggert told me what Thomas said to him about being sorry, it was suddenly clear and I knew it really happened. I remembered. The wall was an accident, Sonny. And come to think of it, Thomas wouldn't even know that he bruised my back. He never would have seen…"

"Stop, Alexis! Please, just stop."

Alexis froze, staring at the twisted expression on his face. She took a small step back.

"Malloy did help us find you. I'll give him the credit he deserves for that much - even though he did wait until it was almost too late to make sure you'd still be walking on this earth instead of lying six feet under it. But it doesn't make up for what he helped Sorel do to you. That much is indefensible, so please don't defend him to me!"

"You sound like Ned."

Sonny's jaw shifted. "Then for once, Ashton and I agree."

"I meant that you sound like Ned when talks about Zander and what he did to Emily."

Alexis saw the small tensing of Sonny's brow as his gaze at her intensified. She was shifting into attorney mode as she sought to pursue a line of defense, as if arguing before a judge and jury. Sonny was playing the part of both, and she knew that leniency would be hard won. Her tone of voice softened even more as she pressed on.

"Emily ultimately believed in the decency of a person who scared her and hurt her. Zander was a drug dealer, a kidnapper, and a suspected cop-killer, and I defended him with not only your approval, but also your backing. Why does Thomas Malloy deserve any less consideration when he also accepted responsibility for this actions, expressed his regret, and his crime was all but equal to Zander's? He's even helping to get Sorel out of your life and on death row, where he belongs. Just like Zander."

"He is NOT just like Zander!"

Sonny's sharp outburst quickened her heart and made her body jerk. He didn't see it. His eyelids had tightened again, as had the rest of his face. Alexis swallowed and stayed silent, worried she had gone too far. It was too soon for Sonny to hear certain things. She should have known - she should have honored it, as he had honored her. She wished she could take it back and return the smile to his face, but it was too late. Sonny railed on.

"Zander sold drugs, but to people who WANTED them! People who took them of their own free will! He didn't force drugs on an innocent person. He didn't help someone else force drugs on an innocent person. He didn't hold someone down and watch as they were assaulted again, and again, and again, being deliberately and systematically turned into an addict!"

The force and content of his own words seemed to shock him. His arms, raised in angry, frustrated gesture, suddenly dropped to his sides. They hung limp, trembling, and Alexis clamped a palm against her chest at the sight of it. She wanted to move to him - to wrap her arms around him, tell him she was sorry, and hold him tight until the trembling had stopped. If she did, would it compromise his pride and make him pull back? Her palm pushed harder into her chest, trying to quell the quick staccato of her heart that threatened to burst forth as she tried to decide what to do. And then, as Alexis took a small step his way, Sonny lifted his arms back up to rub his hands rhythmically up and down his face. His fingers finally slid back through his shiny black hair and he looked at her with weary regret. He opened his mouth, and a dry, weak whisper drifted out.

"I'm not angry at you, Alexis."

She took a deep breath and swallowed hard once more. Her hand slid to her shoulder and began traveling down her arm.

"I know. But it doesn't matter if you're angry at me - or Thomas, or Sorel, or Deke…or even yourself. Your anger is deep and real, and it's making you shake. Do you even realize it?"

His eyes followed the path of her fingernails, up and down her arm. He'd thought that nervous gesture had stopped. It hadn't...because HE had made her nervous. His lack of self-control had frightened her, and that knowledge struck him like two-by-four. Sonny pulled his gaze from her unconsciously wandering hand and looked up at her ashen face. Alexis was staring at the parcel of ground before his feet. Her lip was locked between her teeth, and it made Sonny's eyes began to burn. She seemed to feel his stare, and she cocked her head to the side as her eyes slowly rose up the length of his body to meet with his. She smiled sadly, and that adorable, slightly swollen lower lip reappeared.

"I didn't mean to push you to that place. And I don't want to do it again, so I'll just keep by big mouth shut about Thomas Malloy. I shouldn't have brought him up in the first place, knowing how you felt about him. I just…I thought…"

The reflection of light sparkling in his watery eyes halted her voice. It didn't matter what she thought. It mattered what Sonny thought - what he felt. Her hand fell away from her arm and she stood tall, confident, eyes fixing themselves intently on his.

"You have something else you want to say, don't you? I want to hear it."

Sonny blinked rapidly, realizing what Alexis could see in his eyes. He inhaled a long, slow breath and sighed with a slight shake of his head.

"My head tells me that you're the one Malloy hurt, so you're the one with the right to forgive him…or not. But I still want to lay claim to some of that right myself. The imagination is a powerful thing, Alexis. Not knowing the reality of a situation can be a horrifying thing. And if that situation involves the possible harm of someone for whom you would lay down your life, the horror is beyond what words can express. Three days of it seemed like three decades. Malloy offered me an unexpected and uncertain source of relief when he made contact, wanting to give you back. I had no choice but to trust him. I'll never forget the feeling that slammed into me when I walked into that cold, dank basement and saw you lying there, so…unnaturally still, your body limp and twisted over the edge of the cot like some kind of rag doll. I thought you were gone. I thought I'd found you too late, and that that was Sorel's plan all along. In trusting Malloy, I thought I had let you die. And I wanted to die too."

"Oh, Sonny." She murmured. "I'm sorry I was such an insensitive jerk. I should have been more mindful of what you went through. I can't imagine what it was like for you, not knowing if Sorel was making idle threats with that syringe he sent, or if he was laying a trap for you by way of Thomas. You were hurt too, and you have just as much right as I do to forgive or not. You also have every right to your anger. Lord knows I've got mine. I just…hate seeing what all that pent-up stuff does to you, and I thought if I could make you understand about Thomas, it might make you feel better. I thought I was helping." She shrugged one shoulder and gave him a sheepish smile. "Can I still get away with blaming my impaired judgment on the heroin, or has that cow been milked dry?"

"You're expecting me to moo right now, aren't you?"

"The thought did cross my mind."

"Sorry - for once this morning, you lose." Sonny gave her a soft smile. "And since this is the last day that you have to take the detox pills, I'd say this is the last day you're allowed to milk the cow."

"You remembered."

"You're surprised?"

She shook her head. "No. Not at all. And I've decided I made another bad judgment call. I've decided I don't want that powerful imagination of yours to go anywhere worse than it has to. Besides, I have nothing to hide to hide from you."

Alexis began to turn around, and Sonny knew what she was going to do before her hands had even taken hold of the edge of white silk at each hip. As she began to pull the shiny fabric upward, Sonny stepped up close to her back and closed his hands over hers.

"No. Don't."

"It's no big deal, Sonny."

"Yes it is." He took a deep breath. "I have to tell you something. One day, in the hospital, you turned on your side while you were sleeping and I could see a part of your spine between the ties of your gown. I knew you didn't want me to look, but…I couldn't stop myself."

"It's not your fault I turned over."

"No, I deliberately looked at something you didn't want me to see. You set that one boundary for me, and it scared me to death. I don't know why, but it did. So I crossed the line and I'm sorry. You'd already been invaded enough. You didn't deserve to be invaded by me too."

"I don't feel invaded by you, Sonny."

Alexis felt his arms slipping around her, holding her gently. In a heartbeat, she was leaning back into his chest and covering his arms with her own.

"All I've wanted was to make you feel safe and protected."

She released a light sigh and murmured softy. "Mission accomplished."

She did feel safe and protected with him and within his warm embrace - more that she remembered feeling in a long time. Sonny's chin came to rest upon her shoulder, and she turned her head toward his face. His eyes were closed and the corners of his mouth were slightly upturned. The spicy scent of him beckoned her. She tilted her head further, moving closer until her forehead met his temple. And all Alexis could see was the arc of his thick, dark lashes as his lids fluttered open. His cheeks plumped with a wide smile, and once more, she was overcome with feeling.

Sonny felt her suddenly moving, turning within the circle of his arms. He loosened his hold to let her go, but Alexis was only turning to face him, not move away. Before he knew it, her arms encircled him, and the yielding curves of her body were melting into the firm plane of his chest. Alexis set her cheek upon his shoulder, and his hands settled against the cool silk covering her waist.

"No more arguing, okay?" She whispered. "Not with you."

"No. Not with me."

She smiled and released a deep exhale. Her warm breath tickled Sonny's ear, and he turned his face into her neck.

"I like this better." He mumbled.

"Me too."

Her hands slowly moved up the slope of his back - not as a prelude to pulling away, but in innocent exploration of the physical strength of him. She liked the way it felt. Sonny's muscles reflexively tightened in response to the travels of her palms. In turn, he moved his fingers along the downward slope of her waist, enjoying the soft, strong womanliness of her. Each body was taking in the beautiful contrast of the other for a brief and telling eternity, each heart beating its rhythmic secret out to the other. Something was happening. Sonny knew it - he felt it. Alexis was, at that moment, a woman losing herself in a man's arms.

The heat of his firm hands was spreading through her center, intensifying. It felt as if the silk had suddenly disappeared and his touch had found her naked her skin. She was losing herself in it - in him. Sonny's face suddenly moved against her neck, and she heard him softly inhale. Her heart skipped a beat. He was taking in the scent of her hair once again, as she'd caught him doing before…as she'd done with him countless times. It always stirred something inside of her, the scent of Sonny. And now, with his arms around her body, his hands curving flush against her waist, and his face buried in her hair, Alexis knew that something was happening. She felt it. Something was stirring inside of him too.

A rush of shyness welled up in her, and Alexis began to pull away. Her cheek brushed against his as her face lifted up. It was as smooth as the silk of her p.j's.

"I see you shaved your face within an inch of its life this morning."

Sonny grinned. "I did. Your lips will feel suffer no more stubble owies on my account." His eyes snapped shut with embarrassment. "I mean…not that…" The feel of her mouth against her cheek rendered him mute.

"You're right. No stubble owie."

He opened his eyes to see a sweet, flushed smile on her face. Maybe shaving was a bad idea. He'd lost his excuse. But did he still need one?

"However, my stomach is now suffering a hunger owie." Alexis loosened her arms from around his back. "So what's for breakfast, houseboy o' mine?"

He laughed and loosened his arms from around her too. "You're hungry?"

"Starving."

"Good to hear! Me too."

"You waited for me?"

Sonny shrugged.

"You didn't have to do that, Sonny. You should have eaten something."

"Well, I did…eat a little something." He smiled and ran his tongue across his lips. "I had a peach."

His smile gave way to a small, stifled chuckle. Alexis tilted her head.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing."

"Why are you laughing?"

"I'm not laughing."

"Yes you are."

"No I'm not."

"Are too."

"Am not! I'm smiling."

"You're smiling with sound effects - otherwise known as laughing."

Sonny shook his head and took a large step back, grabbing her hands in his. He began to pull her with him as he walked backward toward the kitchen.

"If I keep saying 'peach', will you keep laughing?"

"Alexis…"

"Peach, peach, peach, peach…"

Sonny couldn't contain himself. The laughter spilled forth as his face grew tingly and warm - and no doubt, red. Alexis gave him a satisfied little grin.

"I thought you were starving? If you stop yammering, your faithful houseboy will feed you. If not, you'll be left to your own devise and no doubt starve. How do you feel about Belgian waffles?"

"With peaches on them?"

Sonny's head dropped forward from his shoulders.

"What's so funny about a peach?" Alexis demanded.

"It's…a private joke. Okay?"

She came to a halt and planted her bare feet solidly on the floor, refusing to be led any further. Sonny cocked his head and gave her a reproaching look. Alexis pouted in reply. He sighed and took a step toward her. Her eyes widened expectantly, and her left hand was suddenly released. Sonny reached up and gently touched his thumb to the center of her fetchingly protruding lower lip. He looked her in the eye and smiled in a way that made her legs feel like clay all over again.

"Actually, it's not a joke at all. It's quite precious, and I promise I'll share it with you one day. One day soon."

Her mouth had gone dry. She swallowed. "You'd better."

Sonny firmed his hold on her right hand as he turned around and pulled her along behind him through the kitchen threshold. He couldn't help tossing a last word over his shoulder.

"Bossy!"

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He squinted against the bright morning sun and gave the visor an irritated shove to the side. How long had he been sitting there? He twisted his arm that lay resting against the steering wheel, and his eyes studied the black face of the stainless steel around his wrist. The glare bouncing off all the windows of the building had left a chorus line of bright, shooting sparks dancing behind his corneas and he couldn't read the time for squat.

Damn! Where the hell did he leave his shades THIS time?

He turned his head back toward the Harborview Towers and briefly cast his eyes up to the top - the penthouse floor, where the rich and successful with made-up names make their home. He snorted and brought the remnants of his now-cold cup of bad coffee to his lips. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Names can be changed, but the innocent still won't be protected. The empty cup was crumpled and tossed onto the floor of the passenger seat, landing between Lulu's forgotten Elmo doll and his favorite John Lee Hooker tape. He leaned back in his seat and sighed loudly as he fixed his gaze upon the garage entrance.

"Come on, Sonny boy. You're gonna have to leave the princess alone in the tower one of these days. Don't want her getting sick of you, now do we? Familiarity breeds a buzz-kill - or something like that."

His eyes quickly darted back up to the sky.

"Natasha, Natasha! Let down your long hair…'cause you did a crummy job of using it to hide that nasty gash on your face anyway."

Nowhere to run…nowhere to hide.