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Scene 91

Alexis closed her eyes and smiled as she held her closed fist to her heart.

She could feel the cool metal and smooth stones pressing firmly into the center of her palm, making a physical impression to echo the one they had already left on her soul. It had been a long time since she'd thought of her mother's ring...or her mother. It had been a long time since she'd thought of many things. But a few choice gauntlets, well thrown down by Luke Spencer, were enough to shed renewed rays of light over the darkened corners of her past. She would always tie parts of her past to Luke, and she wished it wasn't so. It made her angry and resentful, and sometimes even mean.

In hindsight, she had some regret for her strong offensive stance against him. To bring up his past wrongs with his sister and wife was spiteful, and hardly her style at all. And he'd truly done nothing to deserve it. Alexis knew Luke well, and was rarely blindsided or shocked by anything he threw her way. Luke knew her too. At times, he'd known more about her than she'd known about herself. At other times, it seemed as though he could see right through her - see inside of her, with her thoughts utterly naked to those eyes, so often gleaming with unspoken mischief…and always the hue of a rainy sky.

The color of Luke Spencer's eyes was nothing she'd ever noted before. But that day, without warning, she'd looked up at his face and the watery blue-gray orbs staring back froze both her breath and her body. It felt as if Thomas Malloy's thick arms were trapping her in their hold all over again, though the only place she was trapped was in her head. And when Luke touched her, and it hurt, she went on the attack. She acted on the instincts of the vipers by whom she'd been raised. Alexis knew that Luke didn't mean to hurt her - not physically. She didn't even believe he intended to hurt her at all. But everything was a game to him, and he always wanted to win. Alexis understood. It was, ironically, the way of the Cassadines. It was all about the one-upmanship and the trumping of an opponent.

But the only trump card Luke ever really had with Alexis had been Kristen. The memories of her mother were not her own - they were given to her by Luke. Some of them were beautiful and romantic, while others were ugly, and dark, and very, very bloody. She was too young and too traumatized to remember a thing. And as much as she wished she could remember a fleeting hint of a face, a voice, a smile or a touch that belonged to Kristen, Alexis knew the price she could pay for such a small and blessed gift - the possible remembrance of having watched her mother die. The trade-off was too great, and all Alexis wanted to know about Kristen and the first 4 or 5 years of her own life was what she'd been told…by Luke.

And then there was Mikkos. Though it was indeed an act of self-defense, Luke had killed her father before she'd been given the chance to ever call him by that name or hear him call her his child - before she'd been given the chance to hear him say that he loved her. Alexis knew that he did. He said so in his will, and that mattered more than she ever could have imagined. She'd grown up fearful of Mikkos and the strange, haunted looks he sometimes cast her way for reasons that took a lifetime for her to learn. And now that she'd learned them, there was a hole in her heart that a confession of his love from her father's mouth would have filled. Luke made sure it would stay empty, and the sense of loss stayed with her.

But Alexis felt nothing about the death of Stavros's at Spencer's hands. It was another act of self-defense, but one that made no impact on her at all. She wished she felt something about him, but to think of Stavros at all rendered her numb, as if he wasn't even real. But he was real. He was her brother, just like Stefan...and was nothing like Stefan at all. Not in thought, action or sensibility. Not even in looks. That was the one and only thing Stavros and Alexis had between them - a physical resemblance to each other that favored their father. That, and the nasty falls they'd each taken down a flight of stairs. Stavros's fall took away his life, but her's had only taken away two months.

A small, sharp pain radiated through her head. Alexis opened her eyes as her hand reflexively moved to the back of her neck and traveled upward, trying to locate the center of the headache she assumed was coming on. Too many old things were awakening, demanding her attention. But Alexis desperately wanted to hold onto the here and now - though the here and now meant Thomas and Sorel. She wanted to make sense of it and reconcile herself to it - to them and what they'd done to her. She knew Sorel couldn't hurt her again, but her fears of him still lingered deep inside. It made Alexis angry and ashamed to let him have that power, but she knew she would ultimately wrest it all back.

There were fragments of things he'd said and done that were coming back to her every day. They teased her, entreated her, daring her to follow where they led. Alexis knew she had to take up the dare and follow, if the power was ever to be hers once more. But the fear of crumbling haunted her, though she knew she as strong. The fear of Thomas haunted her too, though she knew he'd saved her life. The path of memories she followed would ultimately lead her to Sorel, but they were leading her to Thomas first. She needed to stop feeling trapped - she needed to set herself free. And Thomas was where she needed to begin.

With one hand still clutching her ring, Alexis rose and moved to the telephone, quickly punching the numbers before she could change her mind. "Is Lieutenant Taggert in, please? Yes, I'll wait. Thank you."

Alexis ran her tongue across her lips as she turned her head. She caught her reflection in the mirror above the dresser, and smiled softly at herself. She could do this. She could do anything. The voice on the other end of the line spun her head back around.

"Taggert, it's Alexis again. I…I've changed my mind. I want to see him. But I think I'm going to need your help."

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"Johnny. What's going on?"

"Nothing much."

"Everything okay at the warehouse?"

"Yeah, the problem's been handled. I'm just trying to track down how something this stupid happened so it won't happen again. I'll be heading back there soon, after I make a quick stop or two."

"Okay."

There was a long pause. The silence on the other end of the line made Johnny nervous. He began to consider spilling the Luke Spencer beans.

"How's she doing?"

"She's fine."

"What's she doing?"

Johnny swallowed. "I don't know. But it's quiet. Maybe she's trying to work - doing whatever it is that she's always doing with briefs. What's the term she uses?"

"Filing?"

"Right. Filing. Or she could be taking a nap. She did look kind of tired when…"

Another pause.

"When what?" Sonny's voice was flat.

"When I saw her earlier."

"You said she's fine."

"She is. She just looked a little tired. Maybe she didn't really sleep as well as she wanted you to think."

Sonny sighed lightly into the receiver, remembering Alexis's cryptic comments about her first night alone. He knew what she wanted him to think, but Alexis had stopped being able to fool him a long while ago.

"Yeah. I know how she is."

Johnny glanced guiltily at the PH2 door. His loyalties were torn, though no harm was really being done in keeping Luke's name unspoken - for now. Alexis didn't want Sonny to be called. She didn't want to be rescued from Luke's intrusion. But she didn't say anything about not telling Sonny after the fact. Keeping silent felt like a lie. Johnny knew damn well that Luke was the reason Alexis looked weary and acted subdued. She was the same way after her return trip to GH the day before…and after her first unexpected encounter with Luke.

What could he possibly want from her? And what could he possibly have to use as a threat against her, because a threat was clearly being made in a strangely veiled way. And Alexis understood it well enough to open the door. But she opened it without defense. She stood, proud and unflinching, inviting Luke to boldly stare at her naked face like she was showing off a quiet victory. And a victory it was. Luke's stunned expression as he looked at her told Johnny that she'd made good use of the element of surprise. It held Johnny's anger somewhat at bay to see the normally unflappable Spencer rendered momentarily mute by the bruises on the face of the warm and fuzzy Cassadine. And to see Alexis so deftly seize control would have made Sonny proud.

"She's alright, boss. Alexis knows how to take care of herself, and I'm sure she'd let us know if there's something she needs."

"Maybe. Sometimes I think she would, and sometimes I think not." Sonny sighed heavily. "And sometimes I think I should step back and stop trying to interpret every little thing she says and the expression on her face when she says it. I'm probably driving her crazy, keeping too close."

An expectant pause hung in the air. Johnny cleared his throat.

"She's letting you keep close. That must mean she needs you to be, right? Besides, have you ever known Alexis to NOT let someone know if they were driving her crazy? Even you?"

Sonny chuckled. "That's for sure. I don't know why I'm feeling uneasy all of a sudden. She kept popping into my head and I thought that meant I should leave here and came check on her. But I knew that was insane, because if she really needed me, you'd have called me even if Alexis didn't."

Johnny's face began to tingle. He could hear the sound of Sonny firing him reverberating in his head. "Uh…didn't you say she was complaining about kid gloves?"

"Right. You're right."

Johnny ran a finger under his stiff collar.

"Oh - Johnny? You don't happen to know if she likes pizza, do you?"

Johnny couldn't help but chuckle at the oddly out-of-the-blue question. "I don't know. But doesn't everyone?"

"Good point."

"I'd maybe skip the anchovies though. She doesn't strike me as an anchovy type of person."

"Don't ever put the image of anchovies in my head, okay?"

"Sorry."

"I'll see ya soon."

"See ya boss."

Johnny slid the phone back into his breast pocket and tugged at his collar once more. Maybe Sonny wouldn't fire him. Maybe he'd demote him to coffee loader instead.

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It was done, and there would be no turning back. Onward.

Alexis set the phone down on the bed and slowly made her way to the window. Her stomach fluttered as she ran a hand down the lace curtain and lifted her eyes to the translucent clouds painted across the pale blue sky. The color seemed to be following her, blazing a path from her past to her present. As a child, the thing she'd loved most about the island was the sea - the clear, blue-green Aegean, where she often sought refuge within its cool, wet embrace. And she loved the bright, crystal-blue skies that stretched like a canopy over the hills and sea, reaching far beyond the limits of her view. It reached to a place where Alexis dreamed she'd one day find her true refuge, away from the island and everything on it but Stefan. She dreamed they'd find their refuge together, but she was sent to find hers alone at the age of thirteen.

Her accident had caused quite a stir. And after she recovered, Alexis was sent away to school. It was Mikkos who demanded it, and Stefan who told her it was best. For her future, he said. But Alexis just felt punished. And for the first time, the color blue filled her with dread as she gazed out the window of the plane and whispered goodbye to the sea she was leaving behind for an uncertain new life. Switzerland was a place she'd only read about in a book about an orphan girl, like Alexis, who was sent to live with a relative who didn't want her - like Alexis. She loved that book, because in the end, the orphan was loved. She'd helped people and made people need her. Alexis harbored no illusions that any Cassadine but Stefan would ever love her. But she knew she was smart, and believed if she studied hard, she could one day at least be of value to the family. Being needed was the next best thing to being loved.

Alexis closed her eyes to the Port Charles skyline and turned away. Another long-forgotten memory began to fade as she rubbed at her temples, but the color of the sky stayed in her mind's eye. Between age thirteen and just two weeks before, blue had become just another hue on the spectrum. But two weeks before, it had filled her with dread once again. And the thoughts of Thomas Malloy kept creeping into her head. She couldn't stave off the flashes of memory from her time under his watch - the hours that included Sorel, and the hours it was just them. And this time, she allowed the thoughts to rise up and fill her as best they could. Before she saw Thomas again, she had to be prepared. She had to remember as much of him as possible, and she had to know that the decency she believed he owned was real

Alexis had seen enough duplicity in her professional years to know a fraud when she saw one. She believed that Thomas was a fraud, but only with Sorel. And she had been remembering more and more of the first time she began to see it. It had been in the wake of the first hit of heroin that she'd separated the man from her fear of him. It was just the two of them - alone. Thomas sat quietly beside her as Alexis succumbed to the heavy drowsiness of her brain and body after the hot, internal waves died down. The terror had vanished, turning to liquid, languid contentment as she lay on the hard cot in the cold, musty room. Nothing mattered. Nothing hurt. Nothing even felt real except for the feeling she was drifting. And all she wanted to do was give in…and drift.

Yet her leaden body began to move through no will of its own, and Thomas's face was suddenly close to hers - so close she could hear him breathe. Something strong and warm was bracing her back, keeping her upright. But her weary head gave way to gravity and released down from her shoulders. She remembered water. Thomas handing her a glass and wrapping her fingers around it as he told her to drink. The timbre of his voice was calming, and strangely gentle for a man of his size. It was the first time she'd heard him speak, and she wasn't sure if she was hallucinating. Alexis remembered struggling to finally lift her head, wanting to search for the soft blue eyes that belonged to the gentle voice. But Thomas quickly, almost shyly, turned his eyes away from hers.

And Alexis remembered lifting her head to see Luke Spencer's eyes boldly, directly, looking down into hers…as he handed her a bottle of water.

She drew in a sharp breath as an unexpected sting went through her palm. Her fingers released as she moved away from the window and sat upon the edge of the bed. The gold chain rolled between her fingers with the lifting of her hand toward her face. But Kristen's ring held its place. Alexis stared at the circle of gold lightly embedded into her delicate skin. The deep blue sapphire, deeply embedded into the gold, stared back. Luke said there was legend to the stone - that it bore protective powers for those who wore it. But legends were no match for Helena. Kristen's sapphire protected no one, and it was nothing in and of itself but a beautiful token of loss - Kristen's loss, and that of her daughter.

Alexis bent her wrist and let the ring dangle freely in the air, suspended on the sturdy chain laced between her fingers. The sapphire glinted as it caught the sunlight shining in through the lace curtain. She had stopped wearing her mother's ring around her neck some time ago, and now she tried to remember why. Her eyes turned to the inlaid mahogany jewelry box that sat upon her dresser, and Alexis suddenly remembered. It was because of Ned. The diamond necklace he gave replaced the gold chain bearing sapphires. A token of love lost was put away in exchange for a token of love found. She moved from the nightstand to the dresser and lifted the wooden lid, sighing lightly as the shy sparkle of the diamond greeted her from its resting place upon a velvet lining.

She'd taken it off and tucked it away before going back to the hospital, keeping it safe at home, where she wished she could have stayed herself. Ned's safety had loomed large in her mind when she was being held, and the remembrance of Sorel uttering Ned's name sent a cold chill up her spine. Alexis had made a desperate attempt to throw him off track, but she doubted she fooled him with her cutting rocker-boy remarks. Sorel had smirked, thrown Eddie's Angel in her face, and then he left it alone. She didn't understand why, when a threat against Ned could have been so easily used to force her hand. If made to choose between Zander and Ned, there would have been no choice. Sorel had to know that, no matter how hard she tried to make him believe otherwise.

Maybe what he did to her was more fun than making a quick and easy trade. Maybe messing with Sonny's mind and making him insane with fear was more satisfying than getting Zander in his hands? Maybe he really did want her dead after all, and would have killed her regardless - even if she'd given in to his demands from the start. But it didn't matter any more. All the people she loved were as safe as the necklace lying upon a crimson velvet bed in her wooden jewelry box, and they would stay that way…along with her tokens of love. Alexis smiled and allowed the gold chain to slip from between her fingers, following in the path of the sapphire ring that settled beside the diamond. The rich wooden lid closed shut and her fingers moved to the base of her throat to play with the edge of her neckline. Her head turned, eyes casting themselves toward the phone lying on the bed. The image of a face filled her head - the image of a familiar smile.

Ned

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Johnny furtively glanced at her door.

He considered knocking to let her know Sonny would return soon. Instead, he took a step back, remembering Sonny's remark about keeping too close. He didn't want to be a pest, and he'd already knocked the minute Luke's face had disappeared behind the elevator doors. Luke could be a bull in a china shop - break things first and apologize later, as the bits and pieces grind to dust under his shoes. That was the way of Luke Spencer. And Luke had no idea how close Alexis had come to breaking and being ground into dust. She'd taken a while to answer, opening the door only after Johnny called her name. She probably thought Luke had come back, but was put at ease by the sound of Johnny's voice.

And before he would utter a word, she smiled at him with a knowing expression and assured him she was fine. He blushed. And then he smiled back. It was sweet of her to put up with his overprotection with such patience, but it was clear she wasn't all that fine. Alexis looked worse for wear - Luke's visit had taken a toll. Her cheeks were pale, her normally large eyes seeming small under lids half-closed with heaviness. Sonny would have been livid...and Johnny was glad he was on his way back to her. Whatever Luke had put wrong, Sonny would put right.

Sonny had that way with her…and she had that way with him. Johnny shook his head as he sighed and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. It was making him crazy, waiting for the dam between them to finally break. Sonny loved Alexis like nothing Johnny had ever seen. How could he stand just holding it all inside? And why was he so afraid to tell her the truth when Alexis so clearly loved him back? Maybe one day, if he were lucky, Johnny would love someone the way that Sonny loved her. Maybe then he'd understand the fear. But for now, it was making him crazy. There had to be something he could to help the dam crumble. If there was, Johnny meant to find it…if Sonny didn't fire him first.

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"I would say good morning, but I think I'm a little too late."

"Hey, beautiful!" Ned smiled into the phone. "I was just debating whether to call YOU, or if that would be a bad idea because I might wake you up."

"Wake me up?" Alexis glanced at the clock reading ten after one. "At this hour?"

"Are you feeling better?"

There was a short silence. "Yeah, I am."

Her pauses were always filled with unspoken things, and Ned yearned to have his arms around her and make all the unspoken things go away. He turned and sat down in his leather chair. Leaning back, he fixed his eyes on the ceiling.

"But…?"

Alexis laughed lightly, shaking her head as she made her slow way down the stairs. "How are you?"

"Fine. And don't change the subject."

"What was the subject?"

Ned sighed. Some things never changed. "Were you okay on your own last night? My phone didn't ring, so I took it as a good sign."

Another pause. "My night alone was uneventful."

"Spoken like a true lawyer."

"What a coincidence - I AM a lawyer." She tossed a throw pillow aside as she curled up on the sofa. "At least, I think I still remember how to be one."

Ned held the phone to his head with both hands. "Alexis, what's up?"

"What do you mean?"

"Something's bothering you and you're pretending that it isn't."

"Nothing's bothering me, Ned. I'm okay. I'm just tired, that's all. I didn't really…it was a bit of a restless night, and a bracing morning."

"Aha! I knew my phone should have been ringing last night."

"No, it shouldn't have. Nobody's should have."

"And what do you mean by 'bracing morning'? Did something happen?"

"No, Ned. Nothing happened. I've just had a lot of things running through my mind. I can't seem to stop thinking, and it wears me out." She laughed a nervous laugh and bit down on the corner of her lip.

Ned inhaled deeply, troubled by the way she sounded but afraid to push her too much. He'd heard that edgy, fluttery laugh a million times before. She WAS worn out, and it was barely past one o'clock. He lowered his voice as his head tilted downward.

"I think it sounds like you could use a little distraction. May I be of service? I could take you to a movie - something stupidly funny that won't even LET you think and will make you laugh in spite of yourself. And of course, I'd buy you popcorn."

"Oh, gosh. A crowded theatre, huh?"

"Right - bad idea. Very bad."

"It's the thought that counts."

"I could still buy you the popcorn, but find a better way to distract you. How about I let you win at a game of Monopoly?"

Alexis smiled and closed her eyes, allowing a picture of Ned's face to fill her mind. "What do you mean, 'let' me win?"

Ned laughed. "I knew THAT would distract you."

"Ned…"

"Or I could give you a neck rub. I know you still ache a bit, so I'd be very gentle. Or…I could just brush your hair again? That was nice."

Her hands moved instinctively upward, fingers running through her soft locks and nails grazing across her scalp. It had felt wonderful when Ned brushed her hair. It also conjured the image of Sonny's dark, soulful eyes washing over her face as his hands soothed away her pain and fear. The memory of it would stay with her forever, and the feel of hands in her hair would always bring her back to Sonny. But it was Ned who wanted sooth her now, and Alexis felt a growing confusion inside.

Her face began to tingle as a thread of guilt started working its way through her. Alexis had loved this man so much and for so long. She loved him still. But the pull of her heart toward another was growing - moving beyond her control. She hadn't even seen it coming until it was too strong to ignore and too late to stop. And when Sonny looked at her the way that he did, she didn't want to ignore it. She didn't want to stop it. But her head always took over, and the anchor of her heart was dropped.

"Sweetheart?"

"Sorry. I'm…I'm here." Alexis dropped her hand away from her head.

"What do you say? You name the distraction, it's yours."

Alexis bit her lip at the tender sound of his voice. He was trying so hard to help her, and that large heart of his still astounded her. She had made such a mess of things, and knew she'd hurt him irreparably. When she thought she was going to die, she believed she was un-forgiven. It tore her up inside. But she didn't die, and Ned did forgive her. Alexis was so grateful for that. She wanted to deserve it, and never hurt him again. But the confusion in her heart and the conflict in her head carried on, and she suddenly felt quite undeserving of the forgiveness, attention, and affection of either man.

"I appreciate the offer. I really, really do. It means a lot to me that you want to make me feel better."

"I'd do anything to make you feel better, Alexis."

"I know you would. But I think that what I really need right now is some time to myself."

"To…think some more?"

She smiled wryly and shook her head. "Maybe - if that's what I'm supposed to do. I don't know. I'm just…trying to clarify some things and reconcile others." Alexis rubbed at her eyes, newly wet and stinging. "If I try to ignore them, they w-won't go away. They'll just magnify, and I…n-need to be able to breathe."

Ned could hear the unmistakable tremor in her voice. He knew she was holding it all in, as was her way, and it killed him. When feeling joy, Alexis spread it everywhere. When feeling pain, Alexis was an island. And no matter how hard he swam toward her, her shore was unreachable unless she was ready for it to be reached. He clutched at the phone with both hands, holding it close to his ear as if it was Alexis's face he was holding close to his cheek.

"Alexis. You can breathe. You just have to remind yourself, and then allow yourself to do it."

Alexis laughed nervously and then spoke quickly. "I've just been over-engaged, I think. I've been worried about and fussed over, poked, prodded, stuck and stared at, ordered to eat, sleep and take pills, and everyone's bending over backwards to protect me and make sure I'm getting strong and healthy and that I'm not being upset or…"

She faltered, out of breath, and closed her eyes as she drew a slow, steady stream of air into her lungs. On the other end of the line, Ned heard her long inhale and it made him smile to imagine how Alexis looked right then. He knew her lids were closed, as they always were when she needed a moment to focus. And he imagined she was tilting her head, a little to the left, as he heard her deep breath softly release. He wondered if she was also grazing her bottom lip with her teeth. He thought that she probably was.

"You have so many people who care about you, Alexis."

"God, I know that. And I really don't want this to be at all construed as ingratitude, but it's just overwhelming and exhausting to be the focus of so much attention and good intent and try to meet everyone's expectations, including my own, that I progress - that I heal well, get stronger, and keep going forward instead of stumbling back." She sighed. "I don't think I'm wording this right at all."

"Yes you are. The hovering and expectations of your progress are all well and good. But sometimes you need it to stay at arms length, so you can breathe. And even to think, if that's what you need to do. Even if it's not easy." Ned swallowed within the quiet that fell, and wrapped his left arm around his chest. "Sweetheart, is that what you meant?"

The tears came freely, but silently, and Alexis slowly brushed them away as she whispered a reply. "Yeah. That's what I meant. But just for today. Tomorrow, I come out of hiding and start taking care of business."

"Business? As in work? Don't tell me Sonny's in trouble again."

She laughed lightly. "Sonny's been a little too preoccupied with me to get into any trouble."

"Right." Ned said dryly.

Alexis bowed her head and bit her lip. "I just meant that my life has been on hold and it's time to get on with it. It's time to rejoin the real world."

"Are you sure it's time? You're not pushing yourself? The world will be waiting for you when you're ready."

"I am ready. And I thought I'd start off by coming over to L&B to see you - and Nikolas too."

Ned smiled wide. "I'd love that. So would Nikolas. How about I pick you up around eleven, we'll stop and get some lunch, wherever you want, and then the three of us can have a nice, quiet picnic right in the office. Sans ants. Unless you need to be alone with Nikolas, to further your little reunion plot for him and Stefan."

"Plot? What plot?" Alexis smiled through a sniffle. "And a picnic for three, sans ants, sounds nice. But you won't need to pick me up. I'll get there on my own."

"Are you sure? It's no trouble."

"I'm sure. I have an appointment in the afternoon anyway, so I'll just go there straight from L&B."

"It's not another appointment with Tony, is it?"

"No. No, I don't have to see Tony again. I'm fine." Alexis suddenly remembered she'd be getting a call about her blood tests some time soon. She didn't care what they showed - she wasn't going back to GH. "I'll call you in the morning to confirm the time, just in case I'm in total spud mode."

"Spud?"

"In case I've overslept, I mean."

"Speaking of which, go rest."

"I will. A nap sounds like a plan. And would you tell Nikolas that I'll see him tomorrow?"

"I will. Sweet dreams." Ned murmured with a smile.

Alexis sighed laid back against the soft cushions as she murmured back. "That would be nice."

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Sonny stepped out of the elevator with two stacked cardboard boxes in his arms and a brown paper bag dangling from one hand.

"Do you know what kind of sacrilegious things they offer to put on your pizza these days?"

"What, you mean like pineapple?"

As Johnny moved to take the boxes from Sonny's hands, the brown paper bag fell to the floor with a heavy thud. He bent down and retrieved it, looking at the heavy bag with curiosity as the contents rattled like tiny pebbles hitting glass.

"If anybody had tried to sell a pizza with fruit on it in my old neighborhood, they'd have been run out of Brooklyn in disgrace."

"But…isn't a tomato a fruit?"

Sonny stared.

"Or not."

A slow smile crept across Sonny's face. "I stand corrected. And tomatoes may be fruit, but they're an authentic fruit to a pizza."

As Johnny moved his arm, the bag rattled. He shot it another perplexed look.

"Here. You take these for a minute, and I'll take that." Sonny shifted the boxes into Johnny's hands in exchange for the noisy contents of the mystery bag. "I'm going to go put this inside. Have you seen Alexis since I talked to you before?"

"No. And it's still quiet." Johnny's stomach growled on cue as the smell of pizza wafted into his nose.

Sonny chuckled and disappeared into PH4. Two minutes later, he returned. "You hungry? I'll bring you a plate."

"Maybe later, if there's leftovers."

Sonny looked blankly at the boxes. "There are two pizza's here, Johnny. And Alexis will only let me fatten her up just so much. There'll be leftovers."

Johnny cracked a smile. "Just so long as there's no pineapple on it."

Sonny knocked lightly on Alexis's door and called her name. There was no response. He pressed his ear to the wood, and heard nothing. He knocked again.

"The door's open, boss."

Sonny turned the knob and pushed, head ducking inside and eyes perusing the room.

"Alex…is..."

His voice trailed off as he spotted her, stretched out on the sofa and fast asleep. He smiled and stood in the doorway for a long moment, gazing at her in silence before finally turning to Johnny with a whisper.

"I think you were right Johnny. She didn't have a great night."

Johnny fell victim to a renewed surge of guilt, and his stomach growled as if to give his guilt a voice. Sonny reached past him and quietly closed the door, then gave a nod of his head in the direction of the kitchen. He began to walk away, and Johnny followed him with his mind racing a mile a minute. His words would be chosen carefully. Sonny opened the oven door and Johnny slid the boxes inside for warm keeping.

"Boss?" He turned to face Sonny. "Luke Spencer was here, not too long after you left."

Sonny gave him a hard look and said nothing.

"He was making a fuss, yelling out to her, wanting to see her. I had him ninety-nine percent gone when Alexis opened the door."

"You let him get to her?" Sonny hissed with blazing eyes.

"No, boss. He was this close to out of here. But something he said, and I don't know what or why, made Alexis want to see him. She wanted to see him…and she told me flat-out that I wasn't to call you. I'm sorry if you're ticked at me, boss, but I had to respect her wishes. Alexis trusts me, and I can't break faith with that."

Sonny's face softened, and he glanced at the huddle of vitamin bottles in the corner of the countertop. "I wouldn't want you too."

"And before she let him in, I made it clear to Luke that he'd pay big time if he messed with her."

"Why was he here?"

"He said it was legal. It was a lie, but I don't know what the truth was."

"How long did he stay?"

"About an hour and a half."

"You saw her after he left?'

"Absolutely. I made sure she was alright."

Johnny watched Sonny's jaw shift as he followed him back into the living room. They halted between the stairway and the edge of the sofa, and Sonny stared lovingly at the delicate, languid form of Alexis. Johnny was relieved to finally get Luke off his chest - and to still have a job.

"If he comes back here, I want to be called. You don't have to lie to Alexis. Tell her what you're doing. If she doesn't want to let me in once I get here, that's her choice."

"Right." Johnny kept his voice low, like Sonny's. "But I didn't get the feeling he'd be back. And I don't think he wanted to hurt her or anything. I don't know what he wants from her, but I don't think it's that."

"He doesn't have to WANT to hurt her in order to do it. I want to keep him from doing it. Him and the rest of the damn world." Sonny muttered angrily.

Alexis sighed and shifted in her sleep. Johnny cast his eyes toward her and waited until she'd settled and lay still.

"You should have seen her, boss. Luke was outside, hollering like an ass, and she just threw the door open and stared him down like nobody's business. Like she was daring him to mess with her."

Sonny turned his head and fixed his gaze on Johnny's face. "She let him see her face?"

Johnny nodded.

"Did she tell him?"

"I don't know. I wanted to ask, but it didn't seem right. It's not my place."

Sonny turned his eyes back to Alexis. "I'm going to let her sleep. But I'm going to leave her a note, so she'll know I'm back when she wakes up. Or…maybe I'll just stick around here a while instead."

"Okay. I'll go on back outside."

"Thanks, Johnny. And I'm not mad about the Luke thing. I trust you to act in her best interest, and Alexis does too. It's important that you keep HER trust the way you do."

Johnny smiled. "I wish you'd seen her. She really was something."

Sonny cocked his head. "She really IS something."

"I stand corrected."