“That was well done Corinthos, the way you all snuck off without a word. It was very smooth, very…you.”
Ned’s voice was surprisingly calm, yet dripped with unbridled sarcasm. Sonny shrugged.
“I didn’t trust you not to follow me. Are you saying I was wrong?”
Ned squinted at him, shaking his head. “Oh, you are so wrong and on so many levels. And I’m sure that now, even Alexis, your most LOYAL subject, will agree with me on that.”
His gaze shifted from Sonny to the small window behind him. All he could see was the top of her head, the soft hair spread out against the white of the pillow. The longing that rose up in him made his body tingle, anticipating. He ached to see that beautiful face, to touch her, to kiss her. Ned finally released his breath with an expression of unabashed joy as he turned his eyes back to Sonny’s solemn visage.
“But you know what? I am so relieved, and so damned happy right now that I am willing to be gracious, even to you. So thank you, Sonny. Thank you for bringing Alexis safely home to me, as you swore you would do.”
Sonny’s jaw shifted to the side as he looked to Johnny, who stood at full attention. The two men expected trouble, and trouble there would be. Ned’s eyes followed Sonny’s, and he gave Johnny a vaguely dirty look before returning his attention to Corinthos.
“That said…from now on you stay the hell AWAY from her! BOTH of you!”
His command was feral. His dark eyes locked with Sonny’s, leaving no room for a shred of misunderstanding between them. Then, without another word, Ned stepped toward the ER door. Sonny’s firm hand on his chest stopped him cold. He lifted his body up, away from the contact, but kept his eyes forward.
“Get your hand off of me before I break it.”
Sonny waited for Ned to look at him. Ned would not.
“Alexis doesn’t want to see you.”
Ned closed his eyes and smiled. “Please, Sonny. Surely you can do better than that.” He pressed on toward the door, but this time Johnny placed his body in front of him.
“Sorry Ashton - it’s the truth. Alexis doesn’t want you here.”
Ned’s mouth opened slightly, as if he was going to speak. Instead, he snapped it shut and turned, looking Sonny in the eye with a death stare.
“If you don’t believe me,” Sonny turned to the window. “Ask Dr. Jones.”
Ned turned back to the window, to the golden glint in the layers of her hair that were too far from his reach. A flutter of unease began to grow in his stomach as he watched the flurry of movement around Alexis, none of which he could clearly distinguish. She was lying so still. The sudden thought of her hairbrush flashed into his head - that innocent extension of her, sitting on her dresser and screaming to his instincts that all was not right. Ned looked at Sonny’s face…all was still not right.
“Francis told me that she was okay. But Francis is just one of your yes-men.” He swallowed hard, his head whipping back to small glimpse the window allowed him.
“She’s not okay. Francis lied to me…you TOLD him to lie to me.” His voice was barely a whisper.
“What in God’s name did he do to her?”
Sonny chose his words very carefully. “Alexis has a fever. And she’s dehydrated. It’s making her a little…disoriented.”
Ned smacked the door with his hand. “I KNEW it! I knew you were lying! Alexis would NEVER refuse to see me if she were in her right mind.”
“Really?” Sonny raised his eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. “Why not?”
Ned shook his head. “Oh no. I am NOT getting into this with you again.”
“Come on Ashton, I’m curious! Why wouldn’t Alexis refuse to see you? Because of the wonderful way things were between you two as of – wait, when WAS the last time you saw each other, a week ago? Two weeks?”
“For the last time, my relationship with Alexis is none of your business.” Ned glared at Johnny and gave shoved him out of his way. Johnny pushed back, HARD.
“You’re crazy if you think you’re going to keep me away from her.”
“Think Ashton! Think back to the last time you saw Alexis…to the last thing you said to her.”
Ned’s rage was blinding in the face of Sonny’s thinly veiled accusation. The knowing look in his eye, the surely of his tone, his words…one more smug implication that he knew something of Alexis that Ned did not.
“I told you this once before.” Sonny leaned in toward Ned. “Alexis talks to me.”
Ned took a deep breath before his voice released from deep within the back of his throat.
“Whatever it is you THINK you know…you DON’T. Whatever offhand remark Alexis might have made, it’s just a very small part of a very complicated story. And it is still none of your damn business. Got it?”
Sonny matched the intensity of Ned’s stare for a long moment, then took a small step back. With a cock of his head, the dimples flashed as he aimed, and fired.
“Have a nice life!”
Ned frowned at him in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“The last thing you said to Alexis. ‘Have – a – nice – life’.”
As Sonny punched each syllable, Ned’s face flushed with bitter remembrance. The frown deepened as he replayed the image of Alexis rising from the table, walking away from him. Their encounter at Kelly’s had been strained, unyielding, and the words had left his mouth on a bitter current of hurt and anger. As they hit their mark, her footsteps halted abruptly behind him - just stopped cold, as if she had suddenly disappeared.
Sonny saw the recognition in Ned’s face, but he just couldn’t leave it alone.
“Four little words. And I see don't see anything very ‘complicated’ about them at all. See, you may have been too much of a gentleman to use their vulgar yet forthright two-word counterpart, but a person would have to be an idiot to misinterpret the subtext of your chosen sentiment. And Alexis is no idiot. So tell me Ashton, is it really all that hard to believe that she wouldn't want to see you?”
Ned’s shoulders dropped slightly. He swallowed, his defensive nature forcing him to respond to this man he despised, this man standing so superior - with a gun at his hip.
“People who love each other say things and do things that hurt each other all the time. They don’t mean it, but they do it. Alexis knows that.”
Sonny shrugged. “Sure she does. But how is she supposed to know when you DO mean it?” How is she to know when you mean ‘Go away for good’, as opposed to when you mean ‘Go away, but just until I decide that I want you back again’. See, THAT’S the part that I myself find terribly confusing, so I can only imagine how Alexis…”
“Boy, you just hit the nail on the head with THAT one Corinthos! Because all you can do IS imagine! You can’t keep a decent, or even not-so-decent woman next to you for five minutes without…”
“That’s right Ashton, change to subject to me, because the truth HURTS! And the simple truth here is that Alexis does not WANT you!” Sonny’s voice had risen sharply.
“The TRUTH is that you’re a damned LIAR!” Ned growled.
He suddenly grabbed Sonny by the collar and shoved him away from the door with such force that Sonny stumbled backward. He’d been unprepared for Ashton’s quick attack. Johnny was on Ned’s back in a flash, head-locking him as Ned struggled to elbow him in the ribs. Tony flew out into the hall, knowing from the sound of it that this altercation would not be ending on it own very soon.
“HEY! What the hell is wrong with you people? Have a little decency!”
Tony was ignored.
“Get the hell OFF me!” The pressure of Johnny’s arm constricted Ned’s voice. Sonny straightened his jacket, his jaw quivering from a lack of sleep and an abundance of unspent rage. He railed not just at Ashton, but at Sorel and at himself. Ashton was just there to receive it for one and all.
“How many times is Alexis supposed to subject herself to this emotional yo-yo thing you keep doing to her? You...God, you lift her up, only to drop her to the ground the minute she crosses some line you’ve drawn, when she didn’t even know was there!”
He moved closer to Ned, who still struggled, red-faced, to wrest free of Johnny’s surprisingly strong hold. Sonny continued.
“Then something bad happens, and there you are once again, with open arms lifting her back up…two weeks later, BAM! There’s Alexis, on the ground, looking around for that elusive line of yours.”
“Sonny, that’s enough!” Tony tried again to keep some peace: again, it was for naught.
With all his will, Ned finally broke free of Johnny. He slammed the man against the wall, knocking a bit of the wind out of him. Ned gave Johnny a look that kept him from moving, then he turned, stepping back up into Sonny’s face with ammunition of his own.
“Appropriate choice of words: ‘Something bad happens’. Yeah, something bad DOES keep happening to Alexis – YOU! YOU are the something bad, Corinthos, and the whole town knows it! Yes, I’ve hurt Alexis, and she’s hurt me. But we love each other. If you love, it HAPPENS.”
He took a step back and looked Sonny up and down with pure disgust.
“What’s YOUR excuse? You knowingly, willingly and wantonly put her at risk every blessed day, and for WHAT? Your precious right to due process? Alexis is one hell of a pushover when to comes to due process. It’s her Achilles heel, and you KNEW that! You zeroed in on it and you milked it for all it was worth.”
Ned looked, finally, at Tony. But he had no intention of stopping, as his voice raised in pitch.
“SO WHAT if she gets gunned down on the streets, SO WHAT if she winds up in the hands of a psychopath, and SO WHAT if she's lying on a stretcher in the emergency room so long as she gets your court papers filed on time and keeps your sorry ass out of the jail!”
He took another step back, his throat like sandpaper as he forced out a hoarse whisper.
The hallway was now still and silent, teeming with the cloud of passions raised. Ned stared at Sonny, daring him to come back with something. But there was nothing left for Sonny to say. He stared at the wall, his jaw locked in tension. Tony knew it was over.
“Are you finished? My God, this is a hospital, not Jerry Springer. And neither one of you is doing Alexis one damn bit of good by tearing each other apart. I just hope she couldn’t hear you. So this ends, NOW, and if it starts up again you’re all three out of here.”
Tony’s voice was low and stern, as a parent to a child. He looked first to Ned.
“And I don’t care who you’re related to.”
He looked to Sonny. “Or who you could send over here to break my kneecaps.”
Sonny’s head stayed still as his eyes shifted to Tony. “Ashton here doesn’t believe me when I say that Alexis doesn’t want to see him.”
Tony sighed and cast his eyes to the floor, reluctant to confirm anything Corinthos said…more so to have to confirm what he knew would be a hurtful thing.
“Ned…I’m sorry. But she’s been through a hell of a trauma…”
Sonny made a small noise and shifted his weight – a clumsy distraction not lost on anyone. Tony continued, walking on the eggshells of patient confidentiality in the face of Ned’s glaring pain.
“She’s not really herself right now. She has a very high fever, but once we get that under control her responses should be more…normal.”
“But if she’s that sick, if she doesn’t know what she’s thinking or saying…she needs me Tony.” Ned was grasping at straws to get inside that room.
“She needs to rest, and she needs to stay calm. I mean it, Ned. She’s fragile.” Tony shot Sonny a look that smacked of accusation. Ned was too consumed to notice.
“Whatever she says, goes. I know you wouldn’t want to do anything that would upset her or compromise her health in any way.”
Once again, Ned’s grief began to swell, and he was too raw to care who saw it. As the sorrow took hold of him, it stuck in his throat as he responded to Tony’s warning.
Tony put his hand on Ned’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go take a walk, get some coffee…pull yourself together. You’re free to wait around as long as you want, just understand that it could be a long while before she’s – well, before she’s ready to see you.”
Ned looked up at him, pleading for a shred of something tangible to hold onto.
“Tony, what’s really wrong with her? What did he do…”
He couldn’t finish his sentence. His heart skipped a beat as Tony’s eyes quickly darted to Sonny, then back again. Ned crossed his arms around his chest, as he did when they felt particularly empty…empty and in need of her body within them.
“Don’t look at HIM! He’s the reason she’s hurt! Please, Tony…I’m dying here. Why won’t you at least tell me what…”
Without warning, the door flew open and the sounds of Alexis’s distress filtered out around them. The nurse’s face appeared, looking first to Tony, who slipped past her and back into the ER. Her eyes looked to Sonny.
“I think she needs you too.”
As she ducked back into the room, Sonny silently followed, leaving Ned stunned, scared and helpless in their wake. Johnny kept a watchful eye as Ned moved closer to the small window, his hands pressing against the door.
His stomach lurched, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end at the sight of Sonny Corinthos placing his hands on Alexis’s face – the face Ned wasn’t allowed to see. There were so many people, so many machines around her…and Sonny was touching her face. Sonny was holding her hand…smiling at her…comforting her.
It should be him, not Sonny. His touch…his smile…his comfort.
But Alexis was fragile...and she didn’t want him.
So Ned Ashton stood, watching from the window…on the outside looking in.