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Scene 95

A date.

The two simple words put a flutter in her tummy. A date. She hadn't heard or uttered them in a long while. It was an innocuous enough phrase, used all the time in reference to all kinds of meetings and circumstances between people. It didn't always have the connotations that made her stomach automatically react the way that it was. It didn't always mean…well, a DATE. But Alexis had a date - with Sonny. And she had a flutter. What was she, a teenager? Good grief! Alexis sighed. The thought of Sonny as a teenager popped into her head.

Seventeen - he was seventeen the last time he'd been stood up. She still found it hard to believe that any young woman would do that to the beautiful young man he must have been. It was easy for her to picture him twenty years before - before he'd fallen too deeply into a life that had no escape, but seemed to be his only choice for survival. She imagined him with all his natural-born innocence still intact as he gazed longingly at a world where cowardly men like Deke didn't dare raise a fist, where money and power brought respect, and where street kids with nothing could possibly have it all. Sonny was smart, and he wanted it all. He got it, with the notable exceptions of a wife and child that his world took away from him. He got it at the expense of the innocence of his seventeen year-old self.

But not all of Sonny's innocence had been sacrificed. It was still there, deeply hidden and protected from most eyes that looked his way. Most eyes. He couldn't hide it from Alexis. She saw through him just as well as he saw through her. They were two frauds, presenting steely facades to the world to keep from getting hurt. But in the last days since she'd been back home and under Sonny's watchful eye, he'd been under her watchful eye too. Alexis had found herself studying him, unobtrusively, at odd and random times. She loved to watch him when he wasn't aware - on the rare occasion that he wasn't focusing all his attention on her. He let his guard down and his intrinsically tender side out. She saw it in everything he did, and it fascinated her. And every time she looked into his eyes, she could see the innocence of the young man that Sonny used to be - who twenty years later, asked her for a date to take a walk in the park. And he asked her not to stand him up.

Alexis rubbed at her eyes and pushed herself up from the squishy cushions. A light grogginess was holding onto her. Her mind had been too filled with thoughts and feelings demanding attention and refusing to let her sleep. So she lay quietly curled up on the couch, letting the thoughts and feelings settle within her. Sometimes, it felt like a lifetime ago that she'd been taken by Sorel. Sometimes it seemed like she and Sonny had been this close forever. But the circumstances of the last two weeks were extreme, to say the least. Emotions had run high for both of them - they'd been on overload from the minute Sorel had taken her. But Alexis was no longer under threat by Sorel, and she was no longer fighting the invasion of heroin through her body. She was home, she was well, and things were slowly getting back to normal. Her crisis had passed. Would Sonny pull away from her, now that it had? It scared her to think that at any time, maybe sometime soon, Sonny would look at her and the indescribable thing she always saw in his eyes would be gone.

Alexis felt her mouth suddenly go dry. There had been been so many intimate moments between them that were revisiting her more and more. The growing tide of feelings for him was lifting her up, swallowing her whole, and whispering an echo of the word love through her soul. How did this happen? How had she allowed herself to feel what she felt? To love this man was nothing short of insanity, and the realization of it was nothing she'd been prepared for. Her clarity had hit her so fully and so fast, as if she was outside of herself looking in…while Sonny washed dishes not five yards away. She hadn't even noticed the steady hiss of rushing water had quieted to nothing, and the sudden sight of Sonny's gaze upon her rendered her mute. Alexis was sure that her eyes were an open book to him and he could read the secret they held as plain as day - the secret she'd only just discovered. He had a way of knowing her better than she knew herself. And sometimes, he knew her BEFORE she knew herself.

Did he know? When he touched her, did he feel the shiver run through her and know it wasn't from cold? Did he see the flush in her cheeks and know that she was a woman responding to the strong, gentle beauty of a man? When he held her in his embrace, did he notice her welcoming the closeness and releasing her body against his? She'd felt him. She'd felt his firm, warm hands sweeping along her back and curving around her sides to pull her closer. And she'd felt his head turning, his face moving into the slope of her neck to nuzzle her gently with a hushed sigh. Which one of them had been the first to let go that morning? The night before? The morning before? She hadn't wanted to pull away, and Sonny clung to her with the same level of need. He needed comfort and solace too. He needed tenderness. He needed love. And he didn't need to look very far to find them. Alexis was afraid he wouldn't know that…and afraid that he would.

She slipped her arms around herself as she cast her eyes toward the front door. She wondered where Sonny had gone so suddenly and without explanation, although she wouldn't ask. He hadn't volunteered, and it made her a tad anxious. There had been no word on Zander's testimony against Sorel, and Alexis knew a decision would be made at any time. What she'd said to Taggert had been true - she wouldn't put it past Sonny to hide or deflect any bad news that came his way before it came to her. Dara hadn't returned her call. She was still tied up in court. But Alexis was sure Taggert wouldn't keep anything from her, if there was anything pertinent to tell. Maybe tomorrow, she could speak to Dara for herself. Maybe tomorrow, an indictment would finally come down. Tomorrow…tomorrow, for certain, she'd see Thomas Malloy once again.

Alexis's hand unconsciously moved up to her forehead, fingers touching down above her brow where Sonny's lips had left a lingering impression. She smiled wistfully as the image of his blushing cheeks, graced with a soft etching of dimples, flashed in her mind. It didn't make much sense, but it felt as if his kiss on her forehead had the power to ward off all bad things. And it baffled her that the small, uncomplicated gesture could give her such a strong sense of being nurtured and protected. But it did. And it was a nice way to feel. Her hand slipped upward, absently traveling through her bangs and pushing them back from her face. As she pulled away, her fingertips grazed the rough patch of healing skin over her right eye. The smile slowly faded from her face. The scrape may be healing well, but it was still an ugly thing. Alexis was grateful she had bangs.

She sighed and shook her head at her as she eased herself up from the couch. Her vanity was beginning to rear its head and she didn't like it. Alexis had long-since accepted that she pretty much looked like hell - at least, without make-up. But she didn't want the thought of it holding court in the forefront of her mind. It wasn't something she could afford to care about. But every now and then, Alexis cared. She cared now. And she made her way up the stairs to heed her vanity's call. As she climbed the stairs, she noticed her muscles worked with greater ease. The residual ache and stiffness were all but gone, and the way her body felt when she moved was old and familiar. Her body felt like it was finally really hers again - like it did two weeks before, on a crisp winter morning greeted with a light fall of late snow. Alexis paused and smiled as she reached her bedroom door. It was just one more profound thing to be grateful for.

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Sonny took a deep breath in through his mouth, enjoying the fresh tingle of mint that replaced the feel and taste of scotch. It felt good to rid himself of it.

He turned from the sink and moved from the bathroom to the closet, where a cream-colored cashmere sweater was retrieved and pulled down over his bare chest. He smoothed the knit flat over his abdomen and pushed the sleeves halfway up his forearms. It also felt good to rid himself of the shirt that held the vague smell of old tobacco, trading it for something clean and soft. Alexis would like the feel of his own favorite cashmere sweater, should her hands happen to touch it...or her cheek happen to lean against it…or should she find herself wrapped in his arms to counter a bracing chill in the air. A gentleman would, after all, make sure she was properly warm.

Sonny pushed his fingertips to his temples and slid them back over his ears, smoothing his hair with palms lightly scented with a dab of cologne. There had been no time to shower and shave, but he wanted to counter all sensory clues that he'd been at Luke's. He hadn't yet decided if he'd tell her where he'd been, but he didn't want her to smell it for herself. The spicy scent Alexis loved was all he wanted her to recognize when he walked through her door. Sonny gave himself a final once-over in the mirror, and was taken aback by the expression he saw on his own face. There was an excited flush in his cheeks and an eager anticipation in his eyes. He looked…happy.

He WAS happy. Sonny was about to take the woman he loved out into the world for the first time since the grace of God and the miracle of modern medicine saved her life. Taking her back to GH for a check-up didn't count. The hospital wasn't the real world - it was a part of the nightmare that she desperately wanted to leave behind. This time, Alexis would have no fears to bravely face or threats to confront. She was leaving her cocoon of her own free will, and she would call all the shorts. And this time, it would be just Alexis and Sonny. Unless she'd changed her mind.

The expression on Sonny's face shifted. He squinted in thought as he turned away from the mirror and stood in place, staring at nothing. No - she wouldn't back out, even though she'd politely reserved the right to do so. She was simply following her natural instinct to not want to make promises if there was any room for doubt that she could keep them. He understood. But he was sure that in her heart, Alexis had promised him already. The deliberate pout he gave her put a sparkle in her eye, and that always meant she'd give in. He knew her. Sonny glanced at the clock bearing a digitally displayed time of five twenty-five, and he smiled at the pudgy penguin sitting vigil beside it. The furry beast would make a good excuse for one last trip across the hall some time before bed. It was Alexis's turn to take custody that night. And far be it from Sonny to try to hog the penguin.

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The light switch was flipped in the bathroom and Alexis turned on the faucet, quickly bending down over the basin to splash cold water on her face again and again until the last hint of lazy sleepiness within her was chased away. As she reached for the bath towel hanging beside the tub, the chilly wetness ran down from her palms, trailing along the underside of her wrists and tickling her forearms. It sent a blanket of goose bumps across her skin, and Alexis smiled as she buried her face in the fluffy white terrycloth. The sweet, comforting blend of gardenias and vanilla greeted her nose. She took in a deep, slow breath, inhaling the sweet smell of home. It made her feel grounded and safe - like the fragrance of spice that was Sonny. And Alexis wondered if the scent of him was still lingering on the white terry towel in the guest bath down the hall. Her hands slid down, clutching the softness within them against her throat. Her eyes turned toward the open door, her mind contemplating…and Alexis felt that flutter in her tummy all over again.

What was WRONG with her? Every thought that came into her mind had led her back to Sonny since the minute he left on his mystery errand. Her arms suddenly released, dropping down to her sides and taking the towel with them. Alexis sighed wearily as she shifted her gaze to the mirror, searching the ponderous brown eyes staring back at her. Who was she kidding? Every thought had been leading her back to Sonny for a long while. Every time he left, he was still there. She missed him, though her mind kept him with her always. And as Alexis dabbed at the thin trickle of water slipping down the edge of her face from the wet tendrils that clung to her skin, she bit her lip and grinned. Because she knew that every time he left, Sonny missed her too. He told her so. And she could see it…she could feel it. What did Sonny feel?

Alexis swallowed and ran her tongue across her lips. She suddenly noticed how pale she was - and her brain suddenly noticed that she hadn't looked at a clock. She hurried into the bedroom and groaned at the time. Five fifteen. Great. Fifteen minutes to make herself NOT look like hell. She slipped off her sweater and tossed it onto the bed, then flung open her middle dresser drawer to stare down into a sea of sweaters. What color would make her look healthy? Red. Sonny said she looked good in red. A deep cheery red merino turtleneck was pulled over her head, sheathing her silk camisole and sending her already tousled hair into a flurry. She pushed it back behind her ears and headed back for the bathroom, where her make-up box awaited her. Grabbing her tube of concealer, she turned to the mirror.

Alexis froze, eyes locked on her own reflection. Looking at the variant shades of light purple on her face, it dawned on her that not once had Sonny ever looked at her as if he thought she was ugly. Not even on the day that he found her close to death and surely looking her most hideous. Not once did Alexis ever see anything in his expression to tell her that she was less than a beautiful sight to his eyes. He said that she WAS beautiful, even when she knew the rest of the seeing world would heartily disagree. Sonny truly WAS a bottomless pit of blarney. She wasn't particularly vain, and she may not have needed to feel beautiful, but she'd needed to not feel ugly. Even when the pain of withdrawal was wringing her out and bringing her to her knees, even if it was a lie, she'd needed the way Sonny looked at her and talked to her. He knew it. He knew her. But as Alexis looked down at the thin tube of camouflage in her hands, an unexpected sting hit her eyes. The crisis had passed, and only time would tell if the indescribable thing in Sonny's eyes would disappear.

Loving him could break her heart…or it could be what she'd waited for all of her life.

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Johnny's head turned at the sound of the PH4 door opening. As Sonny appeared, Johnny nodded lightly in silent, private approval. He hadn't wanted to mention it, but when Sonny got back he wore the telltale smell of a bar. The change of clothes was a good idea. Sonny pulled the door shut behind him and slipped his arms into a soft black leather jacket. His hands swept over his hair, and Johnny bit the inside of his cheek. He wanted to grin, but he wasn't quite sure why. Sonny gave him a vague smile as he passed by, and Johnny's urge to smile grew with the smell of Sonny's cologne wafting into his nose. He cleared his throat. Sonny paused, then turned back.

"What?"

Johnny's eyes widened. "Nothing, boss."

Sonny frowned and glanced down at his attire. "Is this alright?"

"You look good."

Johnny bit the inside of his cheek and felt his face begin to warm. Sonny's eyebrows rose as he cocked his head. Johnny's eyes darted to Alexis's door.

"You…kinda smell good too." He gave a nod toward PH2. "But don't waste it on me."

Sonny stared.

"I mean, should I go get the car and pull it around front?"

"Good idea."

"Right."

Johnny hit the call button. Sonny waited a long moment, allowing Johnny's face to redden just one more shade.

"Good idea about not wasting it on YOU."

He patted Johnny's shoulder with a sly chuckle as he strode to Alexis's door and knocked. Johnny sighed and shook his head as the elevator opened. He was outnumbered.

"I'll get the car."

"I'll get the girl."

Johnny stepped into the elevator and debated holding his tongue this time. He couldn't.

"I know."

Sonny's head turned in time to see the elevator door close. A moment later, Alexis's door opened behind him.

"Hello."

He turned his eyes back around. Alexis smiled. Sonny stared. She looked beautiful. She was wearing her favorite jeans and a sweater in a deep, rich red hue. It was one he'd never seen before. He liked it. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, a layered fringe of bangs framing her eyes and skirting the edge of her face - her radiant, unblemished face. The fading bruise had been hidden with make-up, as he expected it to be. He hadn't expected her to bother with anything else, but there was a subtle hint of healthy color on her cheeks and lips. She didn't need any at all make-up to stun him. Alexis unadorned was the loveliest thing he knew. But the sight of the light sheen on her blushing lips made him want to reach out and touch them…feel them…taste them.

"Staring is normally considered somewhat impolite, but I'll let it slide this time because I DO appreciate a date who arrives promptly."

Sonny blinked, then smiled. "And I appreciate a date who's ready when I arrive promptly."

Alexis leaned against the doorframe. "Now that the mutual appreciation society has convened, may I add that you look very nice?"

"Back at ya. Hence the somewhat impolite staring."

Alexis bit the edge of her lip through a small laugh. Her eyes shifted away from his face as she stepped back into the room.

"I'll just…get my coat."

Sonny followed her inside. He took the tan wool jacket from her hands as she pulled it from the closet, and helped her slip her arms into the sleeves.

"How cold is it outside?"

"Not too bad. But once the sun's fully set, it'll be a lot cooler. We won't stay out long. If it's too cold for you, let me know. We'll come back here and I'll build you a fire to warm you up."

Alexis turned her head as Sonny set his palms down upon her tan-clad shoulders. Her eyes met his and the twinkle she saw in them took her back to the two of them, alone, in front of the fire the night before. The rich fragrance of burning wood infused the air, the resonance of Sonny's voice infused her head, and the warm strength of his hands touch infused her body. All the bad things that had happened to her seemed to disappear. It was a wonderful night - before he went back across the hall.

She smiled and stepped away to close the closet door. "Cold doesn't scare me all that much. I may have grown up on a Greek island, but I lived on an American one for most of my adult life. Manhattan."

"Did you go to Little Italy much?"

Alexis nodded. "It's been a long time though."

"For me too. I'd like to take you there again. In the middle of spring, when Central Park is in full bloom."

"It's a date."

Sonny grinned wide. "Thanks for not standing me up."

"Don't mention it."

"Ready?"

She nodded. "Mm hmm."

Sonny reached for the doorknob.

"Oh - I forgot…"

Alexis turned and disappeared up the stairs, moving more quickly and with greater ease than Sonny remembered seeing her move before. It seemed that the last residual effects of the detox had finally left her, as had the heroin itself, and it made him grateful all over again. Sonny made a note to himself: send a generous contribution to Dr. Charles Martin's cause of choice. He'd have Johnny make a few calls. The sound of footsteps on wood turned his head, and Sonny's face lit up to see Alexis slipping a length of pale pink cashmere around her neck. She stopped at the bottom step, flipped up her ponytail to free it from under the scarf, and gave Sonny a shy smile.

"Now I'm ready."

Sonny stared. "Did I tell you that you looked beautiful?"

She pointed at her left cheek. "It's the cover stick."

"Uh-uh." He shook his head. "It's you."

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The air was chilled, as Sonny warned it would be, and it felt good against her skin.

Everything felt good, as she cleared her mind and let her nature-deprived senses take over. Alexis had missed it more that she realized. She'd missed the clean, damp air and soft breeze. She'd missed the smell of cut grass, fresh earth and sweet flowers, and the sounds of rustling leaves, birds calling overhead, and even the amalgam of human sounds echoing from the baseball diamond at the edge of the park. And the beauty her eyes took in, all around her, kept Alexis silent with renewed appreciation as she slowly strolled down the dirt path with Sonny by her side. It all seemed new, as if she'd never before seen the far away glow of a sun as it fell into a darkening indigo sky, or the fluttery dance between the wind and a thousand leaves as they swayed from their branches. It made Alexis feel like a very small link in a very large chain, and she loved it. She was still a part of the world, whether venturing outside into the hub or hibernating in her cocoon. She hadn't really missed anything but the last fall of snow. It was all still waiting for her, just as Sonny said it would be

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Alexis turned her head toward the raspy murmur.

"A quarter?"

She laughed. "I was just thinking that this is nice. I…I forgot how miraculous the world can be. Thank you for wanting to remind me."

"I just wanted to get you out of the house for a while."

"And out of my head?"

Sonny smiled and shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe that too."

Alexis pulled her scarf closer around her neck as she slowed to a halt. "Good call."

"You warm enough?"

She nodded. "You?"

"Yeah." He laughed. "I'm usually pretty warm."

"I know."

Sonny cocked his head.

"I mean, your hands - they're always warm…it seems. M-maybe it's a Cuban thing?"

A light breeze washed over them, blowing Alexis's bangs into her eyes. She laughed as she closed her eyes and tossed her head. The sound of it filled Sonny with joy. He wished he could have a picture of her exactly as she was right then, with the wind in her hair…laughing and happy. He slipped a hand out of his pocket and reached out to her. Alexis tucked a long wisp of hair behind her ear, then set her own hand down in his. Their fingers curled around one another, and Sonny gave her hand a gentle tug as he moved to lead her toward the west part of the park. But Alexis firmed her grip, halting him.

"No." She turned her head and looked around, surveying. Her eyes landed on a thick of Japanese elm trees along the southbound path. "This way."

She gave a gentle tug of her own, and Sonny followed. He would follow her anywhere. They didn't speak, but walked in a peaceful silence broken only by the intrinsic sounds of a park. They passed by the old stone drinking fountain with a jagged crack in the base, wove through a small grouping of redwood picnic tables, and both of them smiled at the empty sandbox bearing an abandoned yellow plastic pail and the indentations of tiny footprints. Alexis kept her hand in Sonny's, and every now and then, he moved his fingers against hers to make sure she hadn't somehow let go without him knowing. Holding her hand while strolling beside her was bliss. And it felt as if there was no one else in the whole wide world but them. At that moment, the world was theirs. And Alexis was his.

They came upon a solitary bench, just before a wide curve in their chosen path. Alexis slowed down and cast her eyes toward a majestic, split-trunk elm on the other side of the trail. She looked contemplative - lost in private thoughts. Sonny left her to them, allowing her to renew her acquaintance with the great outdoors at her own pace and on her on terms. He glanced up at the unique tree that had captured Alexis's attention, and his eyes followed her upward to the dark silhouette of feathery leaves against a cloudless lapis sky. The wind caressed the thin, languid branches, creating an impromptu ballet over their heads. It was mesmerizing.

"It's like looking through a kaleidoscope." Alexis whispered, afraid that too strong a voice would somehow disturb their private performance. "Only there's just one color, instead of nine or ten."

"Blue." Sonny murmured.

"Blue."

Alexis echoed, eyes drifting down to gaze at his face. It was upturned and wondrous, as if he was praying to the heavens. He looked like an innocent a seventeen year-old boy. She smiled. She could feel Sonny's place in her heart sinking even deeper.

Sonny rubbed lightly at his chin. "I stopped liking the color not too long ago. But I think maybe I'm starting to appreciate it all over again."

Her brow creased as she watched his expression shift within the utterance of his words. Alexis had forgotten the color of the scarf she wore the day Sorel took her - the scarf he'd sent to Sonny, stained with blood. So she didn't understand Sonny's cryptic words about the color blue, but she wouldn't question them. How could she, when Thomas's eyes had changed her own perspective to something profound, and her response to something beyond anything she could explain. At least, not yet. Maybe after tomorrow. Alexis turned her head and followed Sonny's upward focus once more.

"It's going to be a lovely night."

Sonny smiled and dropped his gaze to her face. "It already is."

Alexis sighed and wrapped her arms around herself, running her palms up and down the length of her wooly sleeves. And Sonny realized that their clasped hands had indeed somehow parted without him knowing. He frowned. How did that happen? His hands began to feel cold.

"Whoa…"

Alexis's legs suddenly wobbled beneath her. Her head quickly dropped back down and she closed her eyes as Sonny's hands grabbed onto her shoulders to steady her.

"Hey - what's happening?"

"Nothing. I just got a little light headed from looking up too long. It's just an equilibrium thing. It used to happen to me all the time when I first moved to Manhattan, what with the most fascinating architectural details at the TOPS of all the old buildings. I expect I'd have made a lousy ornithologist."

"And you'd better not go joining any bird-watching societies either."

Her eyes slowly shifted to his serious face. She stared for a moment, and her lower lid slipped between her teeth as Alexis smiled at him softly. Sonny flashed her a quick, toothy grin and tapped a finger to the end of her nose.

"Gotcha!"

She swatted his finger away with a cluck of her tongue. "You know…"

"That was one adorably perplexed look on your face. Such a dilemma - to correct or not to correct."

"You're mean."

"HA!"

"Shut up!"

Alexis turned away from him with a decided pout. She took a seat in the middle of the bench. Sonny followed her, still chuckling, and sat in the small space beside her.

"Get your own bench, buddy." She crossed her arms. "This one's mine."

Sonny leaned into her shoulder and cocked his head in her direction. "It was sweet of you to not correct me."

"You thought that I would, didn't you?"

"I wouldn't have minded. You didn't mind when I clarified your misconceptions about the appropriate usage of a toaster oven versus a real oven."

"Yeah, well."

"Did I ever tell you that I won a spelling be in the fourth grade? Guess what my winning word was?"

"Spud?" Alexis widened her eyes.

Sonny laughed and gave her arm a nudge. She nudged back and slid over to give him more room. Sonny slid with her, keeping just as close. Alexis smiled through a sigh as she leaned her head onto his shoulder. His right hand instinctively raised up to cup the side of her neck, fingertips lightly brushing back and forth against the delicate place behind her ear. They stayed that way for a long while, Sonny floating on air and Alexis melting under the comforting rhythm of his touch. A small leaf landed in her lap, and Alexis retrieved it, absently twirling it by its tiny stem as her eyes drifted up to the stately elm across the path.

"This is where I was." She murmured. "Sitting right here on this bench, looking at my favorite tree."

Sonny's fingers slowed their pace, and then they held themselves still against her skin. Alexis ran her tongue across her lips, unsure if she should go on. Sonny's hand began to move again, and she smiled.

"This is where he grabbed you?"

"No. That happened in the parking lot, near my car. Maybe even IN my car. I'm not sure. That part is kind of blurry. I…he put ether over my face. I recognized the smell, from the hospital in Greece." Alexis felt Sonny's hand tense. "It didn't hurt me, it just made everything go dark. My head just ached a little when I woke up."

Sonny swallowed. "You've never talked about this before."

"I…haven't been back here before."

His hand dropped away from her and he pulled back a bit to look at her. "I think I should take you home."

Sonny stood up, but Alexis firmly grabbed his hand to stop him.

"No! Sorel isn't taking the park away from me. He isn't taking ANYTHING away from me. I want to be here. And…I want to talk about it - with you. Is it okay?"

He stared down into her proud, strong, determined eyes and slowly lowered himself back beside her. Sonny smiled as he brought her hand up to his mouth and pressed his lips against the back of it.

"Tell me." He murmured, dropping their clasped hands back down to his lap.

Alexis rubbed at her nose and tugged at the ends of her scarf. "It was just starting to snow. I had just hung up the phone. I'd had to tell you that Sorel was released on bail, and you were angry. I was angry too, that a judge would be so easily bribed to grant bail to an accused cop killer. And right on cue, there he was coming up behind me, making threats and demanding I convince you to turn over Zander. I pretty much told him to go to hell."

She couldn't help but roll her eyes at her own foolish bravado in the face of a known killer. She could have handled it better, but it had been such a shock to be talking about the man one minute and feeling him breathing down her neck the next. And Alexis remembered the large shadow cast over her back and across the ground at her feet - the shadow of an unseen Thomas lurking behind her with a thick cloth and a bottle of ether in his pocket. Sorel had expected the response that she gave him. He'd been prepared, and she hadn't let him down.

"You'd think that once he DID have me, I'd have thought twice about smart-mouthing him. I really do need to work on curbing that wiseacre tendency."

"Don't you dare. Don't you change a thing about the wiseacre I know and love." Sonny's eyes lingered on her lips, still bearing the same rosy shine they had when he picked her up at her door. "Especially not your smart mouth."

Alexis felt her mouth warming under the heat of his stare. Her lips parted slightly, and it was not a wholly unconscious thing. Sonny took in a deep breath and let his eyes drift up to hers. He smiled, and her heart skipped a beat. She cleared her throat and began to stammer.

"Y-ou broke a…a glass."

Sonny frowned, confused.

"W-when we were talking on the phone. You were angry and y-you broke a glass."

"Yeah, I did." Sonny felt a flush of embarrassment. "I really need to curb that glass smashing tendency."

"If you're waiting for me to say 'Don't you dare', I'm afraid you're going to have a long wait. I really hate when you break things."

"I'm sorry if I scared you. And I will work on it. I promise."

Alexis smiled. "I teased you about cleaning it up yourself."

"I remember."

She looked at him with a strange seriousness. "Did you?"

Sonny nodded. "Yeah, I did."

She laughed joyfully. "I KNEW it. I knew you wouldn't make Johnny clean up your mess. Don't ask me why, but I love that I was right about that. About you."

"You do know me."

"Yeah." Alexis's laughter softened to a smile. "I do."

She sighed contentedly as she settled back and released her weight against the wooden slats. Alexis shifted slightly against the bench, and Sonny began to pull off his leather jacket.

"What are you doing? It's too cold for you to be sitting out here in just a sweater."

"The bench - it's too hard for your back. Let me put a little extra padding behind you."

Alexis scrunched her face. "Don't be silly."

"What's silly? It's hard and you're still sore. So come on, sit up."

"No! Now, would you please put your jacket back on before you turn into a Sonny-cicle"

She began to tug his jacket sleeves upward.

"Alexis!"

"Sonny, I'm fine!"

Sonny shifted his jaw, jacket still hanging halfway down his back. He wasn't going to cooperate with her at all. Alexis heaved a sigh.

"I was telling you the truth when I said that I felt better. My back is hardly sore anymore, and for all I know the bruises are almost gone. Want to check?"

She started to twist her torso and pull off her coat. Sonny stopped her. She turned back around with a victorious look on her face.

"Okay then."

She grabbed the neck of his jacket and pulled it back up - this time, with Sonny's help. Alexis laid her hands on the soft leather shoulders and ran them down his back, sending a chill down his back and a smile onto his face.

"I like the jacket."

"Thanks."

"It's soft."

He started to grin. "It's lamb."

"Yes, I know."

"Baaa…"

"Sonny!"

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The silent figure watched from a safe distance away, out of hearing range but for the intermittent sound of laughter. They looked so comfortable together - natural. Any stranger passing by might easily assume they were lovers. He might have assumed it himself, had he not come close enough to recognize them. They weren't lovers. They were just a hell of a lot more co-dependent than most attorneys and their clients. Theirs was a troublesome relationship that crossed the line between the professional and the personal, and now it included the emotional factor of a life twice endangered and twice saved. Sonny sought to own her, and pulling Alexis from death's door, even though HIS own hands had delivered her there, was a stellar way to make it happen.

Alexis felt obliged, and Sonny knew it. That's all that it was. The master manipulator was in full swing, and Alexis had been too vulnerable to see what was happening. Sonny nursed her back to heath at the exclusion of everyone else who loved her. It wasn't right, and it wasn't what was best for her. And now, it was clear that Alexis needed to be detoxed from Sonny just as much she'd needed detoxing from the drugs. He would talk to her tomorrow - try to reason with her and make her see what she was too close to recognize. Maybe Nikolas would back him up. Surely Stefan would be on his side at least this once. Even if it made her mad and pushed her away, temporarily, he had to do it for her own good.

A sudden move caught is eye. He stepped back into a darkened spot beneath a tree as Sonny stood up, then turned to face Alexis. Sonny reached down and lifted something pink…the ends of her scarf. Sonny smiled as he leaned back on his heels and gave the lengths of pink two quick tugs - like the reigns on a horse's. Alexis laughed as she pushed herself up from the bench. And he watched as Sonny slowly stepped backward, wrapping the scarf around his hands with one turn of his wrist after another, pulling Alexis toward him until she looked as if she was in Sonny's embrace.

He felt his face grow hot as he stared.

Their faces were too close. Alexis should be pulling away. She wasn't. Her head was tilted…Sonny's lips were moving. She was listening. Smiling. What lies was he telling her now? Was she believing them? Their faces were so close. Any stranger passing by might assume they were lovers. His temples throbbed. Sonny finally released her scarf, and Alexis smoothed it down with her palms. Sonny gave a leftward nod of his head and held out his hand. Alexis took it and followed a half step behind him. They hadn't gone ten feet down the path when Sonny stopped and wrapped an arm around the lagging Alexis. She smiled and leaned her body against his, her chestnut hair spilling over Sonny's shoulder. And as they continued on, Alexis's arm slowly made its way around Sonny's back. Any stranger might assume…but they weren't. His mouth began to go dry. What was happening?

A deep and resounding sense of déjà vu was washing over him. He was back at the hospital, the night they brought Alexis into the ER. She refused to let him see her. But Sonny was there in the ER, stroking her hair and face as Tony and the nurses swarmed around her. All he could do was watch helplessly through the small window in the door. He was on the outside looking in that night, and for several days after - until Alexis finally let him in. And when she did, it was with open arms and an honest soul. But it was with a very guarded heart. He understood, though it hurt to see her so self-protective with him. He'd hurt her more than he realized with this sharp-tongued barbs and his inability to truly forgive her for the pain she'd caused him. And Sonny had been right across the hall to provide her with a far-from-objective ear and a shoulder to cry on. Of course she'd turn to Sonny now. He understood, though it hurt to see her seeking emotional support from someone else. From Sonny. But what he didn't understand was this eerie déjà vu as he watched Sonny and Alexis round a bend in the path and disappear from view.

Ned felt on the outside looking in once again.