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He had envisioned that day so many times since he'd first fallen in love with her, though he'd never spoken of it out loud.

Right from the beginning, Ned knew that Alexis was both a full time attorney and a full time gatekeeper. She'd made no secret of the kind of life she wanted to lead or the kind of life experiences that were foreign and frightening to her. The concept of marriage and motherhood were completely outside her realm - or so she thought. So he thought too. But neither of them thought about the fact that things change. People change. And fate had a way of bringing you back to your proper course in spite of how hard you tried to veer the other way. Fate had a way of knowing you better than you know yourself. Fate had a way of bringing Alexis back to him, over and over again. This time, Ned was going to hold onto her tight and never let her go.

But this time, Alexis wanted to be held onto. She wanted him. Committing to love didn't scare her anymore, nor did being loved back. She trusted the love, and it grounded her in return. It made her feel safe and complete. It was the same for him too. And now, against all odds, the day Ned envisioned but never spoke of had arrived - the day Alexis brought their first child into the world. But the circumstances weren't quite as he'd expected then to be. Their beautiful newborn girl had all of his love and devotion, though none of his blood. And giving birth to her had almost cost Alexis her life.

It could have ended so badly.

The silent prayers of thanks to God ran like an endless loop inside his mind and heart. The worst was over, and mother and child were well. And Ned planned to keep them that way. There had been too much pain and loss in the last year of their lives, and they needed to put it all behind them and move on. There was a new life that needed them - a new life awaiting them, and Ned couldn't be happier or more filled with love for his wife and their child. And he couldn't be more grateful for second chances...and sometimes third. The third time's supposed to be the charm. It was fate. And it was right.

The light rustle of sheets drifted into his ears. He opened one eye, but didn't move. She stirred again, the ends of her bangs tickling the bridge of his nose as her head moved beneath his cheek. Ned stayed still, watching her out of the corner of his eye. Alexis's fingers stretched out along the smooth blanket covering her body, and then they began to curl inward as a deep breath was taken in and slowly released. She was finally waking up. Ned set his left palm down on the edge of the bed and carefully lifted his head up from the softness of the pillow, the tickle of her hair, and the warmth of her skin. Alexis turned her head toward the now empty space beside her, a small groan halting deep in her throat.

"Hey." He whispered, brushing the bangs back from her face.

"Hmm?"

Her hand slowly drifted upward, toward the sound of his voce. Ned smiled as her fingertips touched his face, and he took hold of her hand.

"Alexis? Are you awake?"

The corners of her mouth turned up as Ned's kiss found the palm of her hand. "Mm hmm."

He laughed and kissed her again. Alexis moved her fingers against his stubbly cheek and shifted her legs under the covers.

"Owe..."

Her hand tensed within his, and Ned set a palm down on her leg to steady her. "Careful, sweetheart. You have stitches, so you're going to be a little sore for a few days."

Her lids slowly blinked open, and she gazed down at her newly flat stomach through squinty eyes. "W-what?"

"Honey, you had a c-section. Remember?"

Alexis gingerly touched her abdomen and turned her head to look up at him through a groggy haze.

"I...had the baby."

"Yeah, you had the baby." Ned's dimples blazed, and he leaned down to press his mouth to her forehead. "And she's just as beautiful as her mother."

She swallowed and solemnly searched his joyfully beaming face, as if she thought she was dreaming. But soon, Ned could see in her eyes that the memory of the frantic morning hours was coming back to her.

"She was in trouble."

"She's fine."

"No, I remember. Something was wrong."

The panic in her eyes was growing. Ned shook his head and pressed the back of her hand to his cheek.

"It's all over. There were a couple of complications, but..."

"What? What happened to her?"

"Nothing happened to her."

"There were machines beeping, and people were yelling over me. They were scared...and then their voices started to disappear."

"Alexis, please calm down."

"Where is she? I want to see her."

"You'll see her soon. But right now she's in the nursery, sleeping, like babies are supposed to do. Like her mother was just doing too."

"Will you go get her for me? You don't have to wake her up. Please, Ned. I need to see her for myself."

He took her face in his hands and leaned in close, forcing her to look in his eyes. "Honey, listen to me. There were some complications, but I swear on Brooke Lynn's life that the baby is fine. It was you that we were worried about."

"W-why?"

Ned gently stoked her face, smiling at the feel of her soft skin, so warm with life that could have too easily drained away for good. "The labor was getting really hard on both of you, and your blood pressure was getting too erratic. Do you remember that?"

She nodded. "All those hours of contractions, and she still wasn't coming. God, it hurt. I thought I was going to die before I could get her born."

Ned swallowed hard. "They needed to deliver her as quickly as possible, because the stress level for both of you was too high. So they did an emergency c-section. Right after they put her on your chest, your pressure took a sudden drop. You lost consciousness, and..."

Ned stopped, not wanting to scare her. He'd been scared enough for both of them.

"What?" She took in a quick, sudden breath and her eyes widened. "I did almost die, didn't I?" He didn't answer.

"Ned? Do you think I won't find out?"

"Your heart stopped. Just for few seconds. And so did mine."

He lied. It was more than a few seconds - and it felt like forever. And Ned's eyes began to burn from the flat, monotone sound of the heart monitor still living in his head. It was Kristina all over again, only worse. And the guilt over his part in all that happened gnawed away at him.

"I couldn't have stood losing you. Not again. Not for real. I've never been so scared in all my life as in those few seconds."

"Oh God. I'm so sorry I put you through that. I'm sorry I put you through a lot of things that you didn't deserve."

"All that matters is right now. You and the baby are healthy, and we have the rest of our lives ahead of us."

"Sometimes I wonder why you're even still speaking to me, let alone..."

"What - loving you?"

"Yeah."

"I could say the same thing to you."

Alexis looked at him with an incredulous expression. "What on earth are you talking about? I'm the one who left you at the altar, remember? I'm the one who was afraid to commit. I'm the one who had a child with the most inappropriate person in town, who you happen to have always hated, and let it wreck havoc with YOUR life."

"I pushed you to get married in an overblown ceremony that was as diametrically opposed to your personality as white water rafting at 5AM with Lady Jane. I criticized your dedication to your work, when I knew from day one that it was a huge part of who you were. And I was so angry over all the attention you gave to Sonny's legal problems, and so jealous over the confidences you shared with him instead of me, that I...I tried to get some of that attention back in a way that makes me far from proud."

Alexis lowed her lids and cleared her throat. "Could I have some water, please?"

Ned watched her nibble on the edge of lip.

"Sure. Let's get you up a bit first."

He pushed a button on the bed to raise her head, and all the while Alexis kept her eyes downcast. Ned turned and poured a glass of water from the plastic pitcher by the bed.

"Thanks." She whispered, sipping slowly.

Alexis had actively avoided the subject of Ned's involvement with her sister, though he knew it had to be addressed and resolved. The issue made her uncomfortable, and it always had - in spite of her protestations to the contrary. Ned knew it. He knew her. And he was ashamed to admit that he took pleasure in it. Every time he walked into her home to see not her, but her sister, he was glad for the discomfort that her eyes and her body betrayed - until she quickly found an excuse to leave. That excuse usually ended up being Sonny. Ned had gotten her attention all right, but not the result he subconsciously wanted. In fact, it got got quite the opposite. And as Alexis turned more and more to the man across the hall, Ned turned more to Kristina.

Jax had called him on his intentions right from the start. Even Edward's eyebrows were raised. Even Kristina had questioned. And just like Alexis, Ned protested too much. But his own denial came to a screeching halt at the hospital when an errant bottle of vitamins was put in his hands - prenatal, belonging to Alexis. The woman he'd desperately tried to get out from under his skin was still there, and she was having another man's child. Not his, Sonny's. And as the kick to his gut took him down to his knees, he couldn't help but wonder if she'd been in Sonny's bed before or after Kristina had been in Ned's. Now he knew the answer, and shame and guilt kept company with the love and joy in his heart. It was time to let shame and guilt go - for both of them. And for the innocent little one that brought them back together.

Alexis held the half empty cup between her hands, fingers fidgeting with the rim. Ned reached for it, and she allowed him to take it away. He set an elbow on the edge of the bed and rested his chin in the cupped palm of his hand to look up at her wary and weary face. She looked tired, and she had good reason. But his instincts told him that the time was right to put the past to rest. In the last few months, Alexis had allowed herself to be more open, honest and vulnerable with him than ever before. She deserved the same from him, even if she didn't want it. She needed it. And he would never let pride or fear stand between them ever again.

"Sweetheart, you've always wanted the truth. I want that too - between us. Even if it's awkward, or hurts, or makes us look like a jerk. And I'm about to do all of the above."

"Ned..."

"I need to explain something to you about Kristina."

Alexis squirmed and tugged at the edge of her sheet. "You don't owe me any explanations. You were a free man, and you deserved to be with someone who could make you happy. I wanted that for you, and Kristina was able to..."

"I love you, Alexis. I never stopped loving you. I never stopped being IN love with you, even though I did everything in my power to prove otherwise - to you, myself and everyone else. Including Kristina. But she was a sensitive woman, and I think that she always knew the truth even if I didn't. That's why it was so easy for her to believe our lie."

Alexis reflexively moved her hand down to her tummy.

"And why she so easily forgave us when we told her it was a lie. I never consciously intended to use her or hurt her, but I know that's what I did. Of all the woman in Port Charles I could have pursued, choosing your sister, who lived with you, hardly qualifies as mere coincidence. I'm not saying that I didn't feel love for her, because I did. But it wasn't...it wasn't the same as what I felt - feel, for you. Jax was right. Choosing her let me be close to you, know what you were doing and with whom, and it was also a way to get back at you for rejecting me. So that's the awful truth, after much soul searching, about why I did what I did. But what I don't understand is why Kristina would want to get mixed up with her sister's ex lover when she knew there were strong, complicated ties between us."

"I don't know. She said to me once, before you two got together, that the idea me being with one of her ex lovers was...well, she told me rather emphatically to squelch my feelings if such an occasion ever did present itself. So I was surprised, at first, when she began getting involved with you. But you are an extraordinary man. Why wouldn't she have wanted to be with you?"

Ned smiled, remembering her words of so long ago.

"You're an extraordinary man with an extraordinary heart. And I'm extraordinarily crazy about you."

His smile softened, and he reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "She wanted us both to be happy, you know. And to be loved. Which you are."

"I love you too. And I never stopped. That's the truth, Ned. But it's also true that what I felt for Sonny was real. Otherwise, I never would have..."

Ned stopped her mouth with a kiss.

"I know." He whispered, kissing her again as her hand found the back of his head and pulled him closer.

"And as hard as I've tried, I can't make myself regret what happened between us that night. I just regret the hell out of everything ugly that came afterward. I don't mean to hurt you by saying that."

"You aren't. And I wouldn't expect you to regret something that brought you such a beautiful little miracle."

"I wish she was yours."

He took her face in both hands and looked deep into her big brown eyes. "She IS mine. Ours. And I love her with all my heart." He flashed her a large set of dimples, and Alexis flashed hers in return.

"I want to see our daughter."

"Your wish is my command, little mama."

She laughed and settled back into her pillow. As Ned rose from his chair, Alexis yawned with a slightly pained expression. Ned frowned.

"Is it bad?"

She shook her head. "Nothing that holding my girl won't make better. Hint, hint."

"Okay, I'm going. But I don't know the rules, so I'm not sure if they'll let me take her right now or if they'll make me come back here and a nurse will bring her."

"Just as long as she gets here, and soon. I don't care it it's by carrier pigeon."

"I'll be back."

He turned and was halfway out the door when her voice stopped him.

"Ned?"

He turned back around.

"I was thinking about her name. I do want to honor my sister's memory, but I'd also like to honor my mother, and your grandmother. And my best friend. What do you think about Krista?"

Ned's face lit up.

"Krista Chloe Ashton."

"You mean, Davis-Ashton."

She shrugged. "It's a bit of a mouthful, don't you think? Davis isn't even really mine. I made it up, from another name that also wasn't mine. By birth - by right - my name is Cassadine. By marriage - by choice - it's Ashton. Or at least, it should be. I want to legally be Ashton now. Me AND the baby, I mean. Because we're a family. YOUR family, Mr. Ashton. Is that okay?"

"Aren't you afraid of getting your N.O.W. card revoked?"

"Ned!"

"It's more than okay. But only if you're sure."

She tilted her head and gave him a shy, crooked smile. "I'm sure. Now get thee to the nursery and fetch our child, oh husband of mine, before I climb out of this bed and go fetch her myself." She began to push away the covers.

Ned pointed a finger and cast a stern expression her way. "Don't even think about it, oh wife of mine."

Alexis pulled a fistful of sheets back up over herself.

"Good girl."

"What am I, a golden retriever?"

Ned sighed. "Well, you did use the word 'fetch'."

Alexis crossed her arms and tried to look annoyed, but the twinkle in her eyes and the etching of dimples in her cheeks made that impossible. What she looked was adorable, and Ned felt blessed she was his once again - now, and for the rest of their lives. It was fate, and it was right. All he had to do was keep Sonny from ever learning the truth. But as Ned closed the door behind him and headed toward the nursery for a sweet little dark-eyed girl, he didn't notice the dark-eyed man at the end of the hall who watched.

And waited...

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