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He kept a steady eye on the closed door to her room as he quietly followed in Ned's departing path - but from a safe distance behind.

The turn his subject took at the end of the hallway would lead to one of two places - the cafeteria, or the nursery. One destination would give him more time than the other, though he didn't know how much time he would need. He didn't even know if he'd have the strength to do it at all, once he'd turned back around and found himself standing in front of that closed door. The last time he's seen her in a hospital bed, he'd lost all control. And the look on her face as his venomous words took hold made him want to die. But he couldn't stop them from coming. The lies, the rage, the hope, the grief...they buried him. He lost his honor. He lost himself. But there he was again, making his way toward Alexis as she lay in a hospital bed. He had to see for himself that she was okay.

What Brenda told him sent him reeling, and he couldn't stay away. He had to see for himself that she was all right, even though she hated him. It still seemed so surreal - Alexis hating him. Of all the people in the world, how had it come to be her? And in the back of his mind was the nagging thought that seeing him again, after what she'd just been through, might do her harm. He had to see her for himself, but that didn't mean she had to see him. He would be quiet - careful. He would keep his face in the dark and steal a glimpse of hers as he remembered it to be. Not from the day he made her hate him, but from the night she let him love her.

The blinds on the window were pulled shut. An ear to the door found no sound within. He hoped she was sleeping as he set a palm against the wood and gently turned the handle, opening the door just an inch or two. And there she was, lying all tucked beneath layers of blue blankets and white sheets, eyes closed within a peaceful face turned his way. He smiled, a newfound peace of his own settling within him at seeing her alive and well. Instinct told him that he should step back and close the door. Leave, right then. He'd gotten what he came for, and no one even had to know he'd been there. But he couldn't seem to force his eyes away from her small, still form.

Before he could stop himself, he was inside Alexis's room and softly moving toward her. It bothered him to see her looking so pale. And though he knew it was just an illusion, she looked strangely small from where he stood. It was unnerving to see her that still...and pale. She was always so full of energy and life, her mouth nervously chattering with graceful hands fluttering about, while wide eyes reflected a million different thoughts all at once. And there was that way she had of smiling at him that dared him to even TRY not smiling back. It made him ache to know he'd never see her smile at him that way again. He had no choice. It had to be. And he needed to turn and walk away.

He took a step back. The slight squeal of his heel against linoleum made him cringe. Alexis took in a deep sudden breath. He froze as she turned her head against the pillow and shifted her body under the thin covers. The small, unexpected cry of distress that followed brought him reflexively to her side. Her face was tight, hand pulling at the cotton blanket near her belly. It wasn't a bad dream - she was hurting. Or maybe it was something worse.

"Alexis?" He whispered, leaning in close to her ear. "What's wrong?"

She turned her face toward the sound of his voice.

"Are you in pain? Do you need a nurse?"

Her lashed fluttered, and he could see her eyes rapidly moving beneath closed lids. Her lips parted slightly, as if about to answer him. But she was silent. A moment later, her chin began to quiver. Alexis recognized his voice, and she was afraid. His insides began to knot. He ran his tongue across his lips and watched as her eyes slowly blinked open and looked up into his face. She swallowed, fingers twisting at the blanket. He had an overwhelming urge to cover her hand with his and stop the anxious gesture. He didn't want her to fear him. But touching her now would only add fuel to the flame.

"Sh-should I go get a nurse?" He rasped.

Alexis blinked again. Her eyes left his and darted furtively around the room. He wasn't sure if she was confused about where she was, or desperate to see another face in the room as proof that she hadn't found herself alone with him.

"Ned?" She whispered, gaze finally settling on the door.

His question was answered.

"He just left a little while ago."

Alexis swallowed again, and her eyes haltingly found his face.

"It looked like he was headed for the nursery. If I was him, and I wasn't here with you, the nursery's where I'd be."

Her jaw tightened, as did the fingers tangled amidst blue cotton.

"W-why are you here?" She stammered.

"I heard you had the baby. Brenda told me. Ned called her, early this morning."

Alexis continued to stare, her face showing no emotion - except for the vague tremble in her chin that she valiantly tried to fight. He couldn't look at it anymore. He slipped his hands into his pockets and tilted his head, letting his eyes drift down to her now flat stomach. Alexis took a deep breath and nervously cleared her throat as she exhaled. Sonny's eyes shifted to the thin, plastic IV tube winding its way up from her right arm to a bag of clear liquid that hung from a metal stand just behind the head of the bed. He wondered what it was - if anything was still wrong with her that Brenda hadn't been told.

"W-what do you want?"

Her monotone voice drew his focus back to her face, which now wore a very distinct expression of suspicion.

"Ned told her that you had a bad time of it. That you nearly...you almost..."

"Died. The word is died. And you're the last person I'd expect to be squeamish about saying it, considering how many people around you have done it."

He should never have come in that room. Alexis felt threatened and she had begun to swing. It couldn't be good for her after what she'd been through. He took a small step back.

"I just wanted to see for myself that you were okay. Which you are, so..."

"Disappointed?"

His head snapped up, eyes fixed on hers in utter shock. He felt like he'd been kicked. And all he could manage to speak was one little word.

"What?"

"Is that why you're really here? Did you come to size up how easy it would be to break me in my postpartum state of weakness?"

Sonny flinched. But Alexis was far from finished.

"Go ahead - try it. Grab a pillow, hold it over my face, and see how much strength I have to fight you. Too bad you missed the opportunity to slip something bad into my IV before I woke up."

"Good God, Alexis." He muttered, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.

"Spare me the righteous indignation. You and I both know what you're capable of when it comes to dealing with your enemies, of which I am now one. You made yourself perfectly clear. Without a moment's hesitation - isn't that how you qualified it?"

"I regret my choice of words to you that day, but I WAS righteous in my indignation. I was justified in my anger...and my pain. You knew your baby could have been mine, but you told me for sure it was Ned's. You - the paragon and purveyor of truth, would have lied for the rest of your life rather than let me be father to your child. It hurt, Alexis, because you knew me. And you knew what a child of my own would have meant to me."

"I didn't know you at all, as it turns out. I do now though. But what about your wife? Didn't she know you? Didn't she know what a child of your own would mean to you? I think that she did. So where is your indignation over her keeping it a secret from you when she THOUGHT my baby was yours? Over her embezzling money from the club to buy my way out of town before I started to show so you'd never even know I was pregnant? Over making you, me and poor, deluded Zander feel responsible for a death that never happened?"

Sonny's jaw shifted. Alexis shook her head and turned her eyes away from him with a wry smile.

"I'll bet you actually do think you're the only one with the motivation and the resources to thoroughly investigate something that smells to the high heavens as bad as Carly's return from the dead. You would be wrong, of course. But don't worry - I won't tell." She snapped her dark eyes back to his and stared hard. "I wouldn't do that to Bobbie. I can only imagine how devastating it would be for her to know that Carly let her AND little Michael think she had died solely to punish you...for having been with me. So much pain suffered by so many people for such a puerile thing as a snit fit of sexual jealousy. It would be pathetic, if it weren't so appalling. Carly did know that her mother already buried one daughter, right? I thought so. So don't you dare talk to me about indignation as long as you continue to look Bobbie in the eye."

Sonny felt like he'd been hurled backward through a wind tunnel. Alexis knew the truth about Carly and she'd never said a word. And she knew that Sonny knew the truth too. His face tingled, growing hot and prickly. He swallowed against his desert-like mouth, knowing he had no plausible excuse to give her for the choices he'd made. He had his reasons, but they were not hers to know. She wouldn't understand anyway. He barely made sense of them himself.

"A lie from Carly is like breathing. She does it out of instinct. Habit. A lie from you is...rare. It's a big deal. And I know that the truth must scare you to death if you feel the need to tell a lie."

Alexis pulled her gaze away from him as she tugged at neck of her hospital gown and squirmed. Her forehead suddenly creased and he heard the breath catch in her throat. She ran her tongue across her lower lip and swallowed as she laid a careful palm flat upon her abdomen, just under the new fullness of her breasts. His hand balled into a fist at the clear signs of her pain, but he left it alone. She needed to be tough before his eyes, and he would let her be.

"It hurt me more to think you lied to me than to know that Carly did. So I said ugly things to you that I didn't really mean. Like you did, to me, when you lost Kristina."

"I didn't 'lose' Kristina. She died. You really are having issues with that particular word all of a sudden. Odd. And who says I didn't mean what I said to you? I'm the one who trusts words, remember? But not quite as much as I trust actions. Although when it comes to your words and actions I don't trust either, because I don't trust YOU. Unless it's a threat, of course. A threat from you is always to be trusted, unlike a display of kindness, tenderness, empathy or concern. Those are all just tools you use to get what you want from people who are stupid enough or trusting enough to believe that you're sincere. Or who just need to believe it, for God only knows what reason. Like me. I suppose it's proof positive that you should always follow your first instincts, because I saw you for who you were right from the start. And I wanted nothing to do with you."

"You told me to go to h-hell." His voice cracked. "In Latin, no less."

"But you wouldn't go away. You wouldn't leave me alone. And then, I started seeing the man that I wanted to see - the man I thought you wanted to be. You never really did want to take the high road. I just managed to convince myself that you did. My mistake. It won't happen again, ever, with anyone. At least you got everything you wanted from me before I saw the light. Good for you. But I'm tapped out, Sonny. So you really can go away now. Leave me and my family alone, and I'll extend the same courtesy to you."

His head was swimming as he stared down into her brown eyes, so empty and cold where there was always such vibrant warmth. He'd done that to her. He'd emptied her heart of him and stolen an innocent faith that wasn't his to take. He wanted to give that innocence back and reclaim his place in her heart. Instead, he nodded slowly and turned away from her to do as she asked. But once he'd shut that door behind him, he stood, unmoving - rooted to the floor by legs refusing to walk away from her life with one soul-searing thing left unsaid. He spun back around and gave the door a push. It creaked loudly. Instead of reflexively turning toward the sound, Alexis froze. One hand now covered half her face, and as Sonny stood quietly in the open doorway, he saw a decided tremor run through her body.

"Ned?" Her voice was small and slightly strangled. She kept her hand where it was.

"No."

Her body trembled again, and Alexis quickly turned her head away from him as Sonny's feet carried him back to the bed.

"God, Sonny. What do you want from me?" She pushed her fingers against her eyes and tried to shift to turn further away from him. "Owe..."

Her hand flew down to her lower abdomen as she grimaced. Her cheek was damp, as was her hand. She'd been crying - before feeling physical pain. He couldn't stop himself from reaching out and touching a fingertip to her glistening cheek. She roughly pushed his hand away.

"Don't!"

"You're crying."

"It hurts! They cut me open to get the baby and it hurts, okay?"

"Then I'll go tell a nurse you need something for the pain."

"No."

"If it hurts, they should give you..."

"I can't! I can't be taking any drugs when I'm nursing. Anything in my system will get to the baby and..." She sniffed and began to laugh as she wiped at her eyes. "Why am I even telling you this? Why are you still here?"

"Because there's still some unfinished business between us."

"I don't think so. I think we're quite done, so please leave. Now."

"No. I don't think I've made myself clear about something, and I'm not leaving until I have."

A look of fear began creeping back into her pink-tinged eyes. Alexis made a quick grab for the call button, but Sonny was quicker. He caught her wrist, and she froze.

"Let go of me."

"Will you listen to me?"

She tried to pull away, but he firmed his grip as his voice and face implored.

"Please?"

She tried again, and her face promptly tightened as a pain hit her belly.

"Stop it, Alexis. I'm not going to hurt you. You're just going to hurt yourself."

She stared at him through narrowed, angry, mistrusting eyes that bore a fresh, light mist. Within moments, he felt her arm relax within his hold.

"Thank you."

Her gaze darted to the door. "Ned will be back any minute. There'll just be more ugliness if you're still here."

"Then I'll make it quick."

He looked down at her hand. Traces of dampness still clung to her soft, delicate fingertips, and he resisted the urge to kiss it all away. He leaned down over her and pulled her palm toward him, pressing it to his chest and holding it there. Alexis kept her large eyes fixed on the back of Sonny's hand covering her own, which covered his heart. And he smiled inside to know that her mind had gone exactly where he wanted it to be.

"What I need to be clear about is that nothing I did or said that night, with you, was a lie. Nothing."

"What difference does it make?" She whispered hoarsely.

"It makes a difference to me. And I know it does to you too. You said yourself that neither one of takes such things lightly."

"I mean, what difference does it make if one night's truth becomes the next day's lie. And the next week's...and the next month's. I think it's even worse than if it was really a lie all along."

Sonny shook his head. "Not for me."

He saw Alexis visibly flinch as his words hit her ears. They were the last words he'd spoken to her that night, before their mutual trust was complete and that last closed door between them was opened. She remembered. He knew that she would. But she didn't react to it the way he expected - or hoped.

"I'd have a lot more respect for you if you'd just haul off and slap my face instead of reducing yourself to petty mockery. You do owe me one anyway, remember?"

She tried again to pull her hand away from him. This time, he let her. He was too stunned to try to hold onto her. She thought he was mocking her - mocking what happened between them. But why wouldn't she, when everyone who knew of their encounter had ridiculed it? Ridiculed HER. Alexis wasn't a woman to casually fall into a man's bed. She wasn't the kind of woman to casually fall...at all. Yet she was mocked and shamed for feeling - and falling. A beautiful thing became a source of pain, and now Alexis thought that even he was pouring salt into the wound. He wanted to scream.

"God, I HATE this!" He stood up straight and spun around, smacking the edge of the nightstand as he moved away from her. "I hate you hating me! But I know you have a right, and I can live with it. But damn it, Alexis, I can't live with you..."

His voice trailed off as he stood silent, his back still turned to her as he wondered how the hell he was going to do this for the rest of his life if he couldn't do it for fifteen minutes. He bowed his head and slowly turned around, forcing himself to look at her face. But the way she was looking back only fed his weakness, and he knew it could easily break him. She would enjoy the irony of it, if she only knew.

"I'm..." Again, his voice cracked. He silently cursed himself as he cleared his throat. "I'm sorry I disturbed you when you were trying to rest."

He purposefully strode toward the door.

"You can't live with me...what?"

"God, give me strength." He silently prayed. The softness of her voice made his eyes burn. She wanted to hear what was on his mind. That meant she trusted his words, right then. She trusted him.

"Fearing me. Thinking that I would ever cause you deliberate harm."

His back was still to Alexis, and he had no intention of turning around. She would see more truth in his face than she'd hear in voice. Alexis did know him.

"I know you said that you don't trust anything I say, but I believe that deep down, underneath all the hurt, anger and lies that have come between us, you know it's the truth when I tell you I want you to be happy, healthy, and safe. You AND that precious little life that God entrusted to you."

"K-Krista. Her name is Krista Chloe Ashton."

His gut tightened. Ashton - not Corinthos. His little girl would have another man's name, as would the woman he loved. It had to be. Neither Alexis nor their child would be safe from the danger of a life he'd chosen long ago if his enemies learned the truth. But they would be safe with Ned...so long as the lie was kept safe by Sonny.

"It's a beautiful name, Alexis. And I wish her a beautiful life."

And without a backward glance, Sonny was gone.

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