As the smoke and mirrors start to fade away
And we’re all we’ve got so let’s hold on tight
To the dreams that came before the fight
We were living smoke and mirrors anyway
– Smoke and Mirrors, Lifehouse
Friday, August 19, 2005
Morgan Penthouse: Jason’s Office
“An accident,” Jason repeated as he glanced through the initial report Johnny handed him. “They didn’t find any signs of arson?”
“No.” The other man leaned back in the chair they’d pulled in from the kitchen, one leg over his knee. “And believe me, between Scorpio and Lansing, they were looking. There’s no sign of accelerants. They’re leaning towards an electrical short as a source. Some sparks ignited on the main floor. The men didn’t see the flames until that room was engulfed.”
An accident. He could deal with that. He could work with that. He would show this report to Sonny and things could ease back. He hadn’t been able to pin Sonny down all week, and the truth be told, with Max tailing him, Jason had avoided his partner, not wanting to have the conversation they both knew they had to have.
“All right. As long as the police don’t change their opinions, I think we can relax there.” Jason set the report aside. He looked to Johnny. “I want you and the warehouse crew working with Bernie to get the new warehouse situated. I want everything up to code, I want the best security. I’m getting tired of replacing warehouses.”
It was their third warehouse in five years to go up in flames. This was getting ridiculous.
“You got it, Jase.”
They both turned their attention to Max who had remained uncharacteristically silent so far this morning. “Max?”
“Sonny’s…” The tall, brawny man scrubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t know how to describe it, Jase. He either knows I’m following him or I’m getting bad at this job, because I’ve lost him maybe once nearly every day. Not for long, but damn if I can’t figure out how it’s happening.”
Sonny disappearing for stretches of time during the same period Jason couldn’t put his hands on Johnny Zacchara did not bode well.
“If he knows you’re on him, then it’s time to add someone else to cover the bases. Pull whatever guy Francis thinks is best and add him to the detail. I need eyes and ears on Sonny at all times, Max.”
“I know, I know. I got Rocco on the door now while Sonny’s home and with him when he leaves, but even Rocco can’t ignore an order to leave him alone. It’s not the way this works.”
“I know.” Jason leaned back. “We’ll figure something else out, but for now, Max, I need you to make this happen.”
And with that, Sonny’s guard was dismissed.
“O’Brien,” Jason said, “don’t start with me right now.”
“I’m not,” Johnny said. “You and me, we started in this business around the same time. You know that, right? So some of the guys have approached me.” When Jason glared at him, Johnny shook his head. “I’m not giving you names. But they want a change and they looked to me. You can’t lose the trust of the men who work in this organization, Jason, by pussy footing around. I put them off. I told them that until we got Junior under wraps and packed off to Daddy, drawing any more attention to our troubles with a power play would be suicide.”
Jason exhaled slowly. “I appreciate that, Johnny.” A mutiny was the last thing he needed right now.
“Are Elizabeth and the kids okay with us coming in and out of here so much this week?” Johnny asked. “I don’t see them around much.”
Jason’s shoulders tightened. He did not want to talk about the tension and stress that permeated his home these days. “They’re fine. Nora keeps the kids in the playroom upstairs and takes them to the park. Elizabeth works out of her studio most of the time. They know it’s temporary.” He frowned when Johnny appeared to hesitate. “What?”
“It’s not temporary, Jase.” Johnny rose to his feet. “I mean, you know that, right? We’ll find another place to meet often, but this…the level of responsibility you’re taking on? It’s just the beginning. Does she know that? Is that what she even signed on for?”
“You can go now,” Jason responded blandly.
For once, Johnny shut his mouth and left without another harsh reminder of how quickly things had unraveled. If Jason had thought this last year was difficult—trying to juggle his deteriorating partnership with Sonny, building a life with Elizabeth—it was nothing compared to this last week. He was no longer able to support the illusion that Sonny was in control.
He didn’t want the power, he never had, but he might have to take it in order to protect everyone else.
Wyndemere: Sitting Room
Emily was smiling when she saw Elizabeth come through the door to her sitting room. “I’m so glad you’re finally here!”
Elizabeth managed a weak laugh as her friend hugged her tightly. “I came as soon as you called. You said it was urgent.” She’d dropped her brush, her paints, everything in order to race to the boat launch.
“Oh.” Emily colored a bit as they both sat on the sofa. “I’m sorry, Liz. I should have thought—I mean, I think it’s urgent, but it’s not in the sense of what Jason might mean.” She took Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “I just…I wanted to tell you. And I wanted to tell you now, and immediately, because I want some brightness in our life.”
And didn’t Elizabeth need that quite desperately? “Emily, what’s going on?”
The words seemed to explode out of Emily’s mouth like a comet shooting across the sky. She laughed as she said them, drawing her hands back to touch her flat abdomen. “I’m only six weeks along, but I’m having a baby!”
“Oh…” Elizabeth pressed her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God. Emily. Em.” She leaned forward and hugged her best friend with all the strength she could muster. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe it. I didn’t even know you were trying!”
“Since the wedding. Nikolas was a bit apprehensive—you know how badly Cassadines are with raising kids, but I told him I didn’t want to wait a single moment longer.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I wanted to catch up to you. I didn’t want so much space between our kids. Two years is an eternity!”
“Oh, Emily…” Tears stung her eyes, and she hugged her again. “I love you so much. I’m so thrilled for you, what incredible news!”
“I’m due in late March, early April or so, according to Dr. Lee at the hospital.” Emily beamed. “I told my mother when I found out, because you know, Mom, and she’s just like—if sunbeams and rainbows could emerge from this woman, I think they would. She’s over the moon about having three grandchildren.”
Elizabeth’s smile faltered at the first time, though she appreciated the way Monica had embraced her son. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Evie, Em.”
Emily pursed her lips. “I know things have been a bit tough this week with that awful fire, but Nikolas said the fire report said it was an accident.” She hesitated. “That helps, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know.” Elizabeth rose and walked towards the large windows overlooking the stables. “I’m sorry I said anything, Em, really. This is your day—”
“Hey, we had my moment. Now I want to talk to you.” Emily stood. “Things are okay, aren’t they? I mean, I know about Audrey—”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. “A week ago, I was floating on air,” she murmured. “Everything was coming together for me. You know? I had this incredible career with the prospect of even more success. I have this wonderful little boy who makes everything worth it. I have wonderful friends, amazing family.” She turned, opening her eyes. “And I had Jason, this unbelievable man who loved me, who wants my son. And Sonny—Sonny was like his old self. It was perfect.”
“Most of that is still true,” Emily said, but her tone was hesitant. “Isn’t it? Is Sonny…is he sliding again?”
“I think so, but Jason hasn’t said anything.” Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “He was fine on Friday night, but by Sunday, I could see Jason was having doubts about it lasting. He said Sonny is only being treated for depression.”
“Hell.” Emily’s mouth twisted. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”
“And then, Monday morning—” Elizabeth twisted her fingers together. “Sonny called Jason at three about the fire. But he had Max calling him on the landline, and Jason had only missed one ring—he answered it on the second, but it wasn’t fast enough. By the time Jason answered it, Sonny was already pounding at our door. I could hear Max and Milo trying to hold him back, but he burst through the door, shouting Jason’s name. He was out of control, Em. The kids were crying, I couldn’t get them settled down—”
“Well, the fire was upsetting…” Emily trailed off. “But I get it, it must have been scary.”
“And Jason’s working all the time. I’m not complaining about that,” she added in a rush of breath. “I’m just—I’m confused. I know Jason has always done a lot of the delegating, a lot of the go between stuff, but it’s different, Emily. He’s working out of the penthouse because the warehouse is gone, and that’s fine. Nora keeps the kids out of the way, and I’m at the studio or my grandmother’s, but I—I don’t think it’s temporary.”
Emily sat on the sofa, her dark eyes wide. “He’s going to take over.”
“I don’t know.” Elizabeth brought her hand to her mouth, bit on her fingernail, her other hand at her waist. “He’s not talking to me. He’s working all hours of the night, and I’m dividing my time between my studio, the kids, and my grandmother—” She closed her eyes. “It’s slipping away from me, Emily. Just like before.”
“Hey.” Emily took her hand and tugged her down. “Hey. Listen. Tell me what you’re thinking. What’s like before?”
Elizabeth could hardly breathe now that she had said the horrible words she had been holding in for days. “Before. When we tried. There was stuff going on with the business then, and Sonny was going through this. That’s when he faked his death. Jason lied to me about Sonny being dead, and I was so angry. He wasn’t talking to me, he wasn’t coming home. It was like I didn’t matter, that I wasn’t important enough. And when I found out, I just—I exploded.”
She bit her lip. “Carly, who had turned Sonny into the Feds a year earlier, she got to know the plan, but not me. I hid Jason while he was shot, you know? I sacrificed friendships and my reputation to keep him safe, but none of that mattered. I felt worthless. Unimportant. Unloved. So I walked.”
“Elizabeth…” Emily murmured. “I didn’t—”
“Jason told me earlier this year that Sonny was on the verge of a breakdown during that period—that he’d been questioning his loyalty and his decisions. That Sonny had wanted to keep me in the dark, so Jason agreed to preserve the peace. And I let it go when he told me, because I could see Jason hadn’t seen it as choosing Sonny over me. But I did.”
“And still do, obviously.” Emily tilted her head. “Do you think he’s going to choose Sonny again?”
“I don’t know, because I don’t know what’s going on,” Elizabeth replied. “And I can’t push him. He’ll just tell me there are things I can’t know, like he did before. Emily, I don’t care if Jason ends up in charge. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t think that was a possibility, but…”
“You don’t want to be the last one to know again.” Emily sighed. “I’m so sorry—”
“No, I’m sorry.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m—I’m just tired, you know? It’s been a rough week, and I’m sure with the fire being an accident, things will be okay. It’s fine, Em.”
“It’s not.” Emily tightened her grip on Elizabeth’s hands, preventing her from standing. “And you get to feel the way you feel. I get it. I wasn’t here that last time, but I can see the parallels. A dangerous business situation, Sonny’s going off the rails, and you and Jason are trying to juggle a life together. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t feel some of the same doubts.”
She leaned forward. “You need to vent, you need to talk about this to me. Because I’ll talk you through it. Elizabeth, maybe there are similarities, but you know there are very important differences.”
When Elizabeth hesitated, Emily pressed her point. “You know there are,” she repeated. “And I want you to list them, so you can reassure yourself that is not the crisis you’re building it up to be.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “We’re engaged,” she said softly. “And we were just…barely starting something then. We’ve made promises, said things we’ve never said before.”
“Good. What else?”
“He’s already started the paperwork to adopt Cameron, and I know that’s not a decision he’d take lightly. I know he loves my son.”
Some of the tightness in her chest was starting to dissipate. “And until this week, he’s been brutally honest about Sonny’s condition, even about some of the problems he’s been facing at work. I didn’t know what Jason was facing the last time. I never would have walked out if I’d known Sonny’s issues back then.”
“Exactly, Liz.” Emily squeezed her hands once more before releasing them. “You and Jason are stronger now. You weren’t then. Jason’s going through a lot right now, and so are you. The last thing either one of you needs is doubts about what the other is thinking. Do you think if you’ve seen the parallels, Jason hasn’t?”
“He can’t think—” Elizabeth looked at her friend. “I would never leave him. I’m just—scared of what this is all going to mean. Of what’s going to change. But I would never walk out because of his job. It was never about what he does.”
She closed her eyes. “I need to talk to him. I need to assure him that I’m here. I told him that before. I said that I was in it, that I mattered. But then I walked away from him. I won’t make that mistake again.”
“Good. We have that established.” Emily hesitated. “About Sonny. I don’t—if he’s triggered a manic part of the disorder, then we’re in for a bumpy ride. Do you think that’s happening? Or is this just a setback?”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth replied. “I just—” She closed her eyes. “I told Carly everything a few days ago, but it didn’t change anything. She just has something else to blame Jason for. She seems to think if we handed Evie back to Sonny, this would all stop.”
“It’s not Evie’s job to fix Sonny,” Emily said, bristling. “Maybe Jason made mistakes, but his mistakes have kept that little girl in a safe and calm environment for the last year. Can we say that about Michael and Morgan?”
“I’m just—I’m scared, Emily. Everything is falling apart. I’m not—I know that if Jason and I are honest with one another, we can get through it, but that doesn’t mean what’s in front of us isn’t terrifying.”
“It’ll be okay, Liz.” But Emily didn’t look convinced.
Harborview Towers: Hallway
Jason stepped out of the elevator at the same time Carly and her guard were stepping on. He put his hand on the door to keep it from closing. “Carly. I’ve been trying to catch you for a few days.”
“Oh?” The blonde arched a brow. “That’s a change from the last year or so, isn’t it, Jase?”
Jason hesitated. “Carly—”
“I know all about Sonny’s supposed mental illness.” Carly lifted her chin. “Did you tell him he was crazy so you could keep Evie? He thinks he’s depressed, but I know better. I read those stupid pamphlets your girlfriend gave me. Sonny’s always been obsessed with power, with control. That doesn’t make him crazy.”
“No,” Jason said slowly, realizing Elizabeth had gone ahead and spoke to Carly as they had planned. “No, that’s not what we’re saying. Carly, you know how Sonny gets—” He flicked his eyes to her guard, but as it was Eddie, one of their long-time regulars, he felt comfortable continuing. “I think he’s getting worse—”
“You know how to make this stop, Jason,” Carly said. She pushed his hand clear of the doors. “You don’t want to do it. You’re being selfish, Jason, and you’re destroying all of us in the process.”
The doors slid closed, leaving him standing in the hallway.
Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom
By the time Jason left his office that night, it was close to midnight. The kids had been in bed for hours, and Elizabeth should also have been sleep by then.
But she was sitting up in bed, the bedside lamp still burning, and a sketchpad in her lap. “Hey.” She set her pad and pencil on the night stand. “I was hoping you would come to bed soon.”
“You’re still up.” Jason sat on the edge of the bed next to her, drinking her in. The last moment of peace, of tranquility had been in this room, five days earlier, just before the fire.
The fatigue had seeped into his bones, but he somehow knew she hadn’t just waited up to say good night. “Elizabeth…”
“I love you,” she told him. “And I love you whether you’re doing whatever you normally do or if you end up doing whatever Sonny is supposed to do.” She sat up, tucking her knees underneath her. “But you can’t keep me in the dark.”
“I wasn’t—” He sighed and tilted his head to the ceiling. “I didn’t mean to. I’m always going to want to protect you from this life, from the filth, from the violence. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is.”
“And I get that.” She touched his shoulder. “But Jason, you can’t tell me that under normal circumstances, in situations like this, you would be handling everything from your own home, and not Sonny’s. I haven’t seen him once, which likely means he hasn’t been here at all. You’re telling me that would be normal procedure? For him not to be involved?”
He wanted to lay in bed, look at the ceiling and just listen to her breathe as she slept. Was that too much to ask?
But she was right. Even if the situation of working out of the penthouse was temporary, it wasn’t the way things would run if Sonny were still able to do it himself.
And she deserved to know the changes on the horizon. And for her own safety, she deserved to know the risks they faced if things couldn’t be controlled.
“No, it’s not,” he answered finally. He kicked off his boots, so that he could sit on the bed and face her. “You remember Johnny Zacchara? You met him at your showing in the winter.”
“I do. You said he wasn’t really friend or foe, but his father’s lawyer was Ric’s father.” Elizabeth tilted her head. “Has that changed?”
“No, but he’s—” Jason exhaled. “I told you a few months ago about a guy Sonny suspected of being behind some minor issues. That’s Zacchara. He’s been hanging around town for the better part of a year, probably longer before he came on our radar. He’s known for hanging out in music clubs and galleries. We think he met his girlfriend here at Luke’s. He’s around more now because of her.”
“And his being around makes Sonny more suspicious though he’s not done anything to warrant it.” Elizabeth nodded. “Okay.”
“He’s not really the problem,” Jason continued. “It’s his father. Anthony Zacchara.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “He’s…dangerous in a way that I can’t really explain. He’s insane. And I don’t mean that lightly. He has no principles, no boundaries. He’s completely ruthless and operates on pure fear. He is not someone we want against us.”
Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “Okay. I get that. So his son is hanging around, but you can’t do anything about it because the father will declare war. Do you think he or his father had something to do with the fire?”
“No.” Jason shook his head. “No, we’ve never had an inkling that Zacchara looks at us any more than an annoyance. He doesn’t care for Sonny, though that’s probably due more to Trevor Lansing’s influence. Zacchara’s ruthless, but he’s not stupid. He doesn’t start wars for the hell of it. When he comes after you, it’s because you deserve it.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I don’t understand. If Anthony Zacchara doesn’t have an issue with you, and Johnny Zacchara didn’t do anything, then—”
“Sonny has had Johnny in his sights for months. I’ve been able to stave him off by keeping a guy on him, but Sonny can’t let it go. And the morning of the fire, he—” Jason looked away. “I sent men to pull Johnny in so I could ship him to his father, or just get him the hell out of town, but—”
Her face changed and he knew she understood. “Oh, God, did something happen to him? He seemed so nice.”
“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. “We’re looking for him. And we hope not. Maybe he saw the fire, maybe he’s not so stupid. Maybe he’s decided to lay low. I don’t know. The thing is…”
“It’s possible Sonny put everyone in danger if he did something to Johnny Zacchara,” Elizabeth said softly. “And someone who is capable of that kind of thing isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of trust and loyalty.”
“It’s not just my family in danger if Anthony Zacchara comes after us for this,” Jason said, hating that he was exposing her to this world, but she had to know the stakes. Had to make informed decisions. “It’s the lives of every man who works for us and their families. If something happens to his son in Port Charles, Anthony Zacchara isn’t going to wait for me to deal with it myself. He’ll burn the city to the ground. He won’t care about collateral damage.”
“Jason…” Elizabeth drew her knees up in front of her and waited a moment. “I want Sonny to be okay, you know that. I tried to make that happen. And I’ve tried not to push you when it comes to him.”
“You haven’t. Elizabeth—”
“But at some point, we’re going to have to decide where we draw the line. Sonny is ill. If this happened, if he put us all in danger without proof, without a reason, then I don’t—” She bit her lip. “I can’t live in a world where he has access to this kind of power and can do this kind of damage. That’s…I’m not saying I would leave you, I’m just—”
He put a hand on her knee, and she stopped talking. “And I can’t live in a world where Sonny’s mistakes cost lives,” Jason said quietly. “Maybe I can put out the fires this time, and maybe we can fix this. But I don’t know if it should go back to the way it was. If at any point, Sonny’s illness, whatever is, puts the people that matter to me at risk—or anyone else. I’ve been accused of putting my head in the sand, of ignoring what’s right in front of me.”
She sighed. “Jason—”
“But that’s not an option anymore, and I know that. I chose protecting Sonny over what was right for us once.” She looked away at that reminder, and he knew he hadn’t been wrong to suspect the parallels had been on her mind as well. “I’m not going to do it again. Because I can’t protect Sonny anymore.”
“Jason, I’m so sorry…” A tear slid down her cheek. “I hate this. I hate it all. I hate even suggesting you have to choose, because I love him, too, and I want him to be okay. I don’t want him to struggle, and maybe if he were anyone else dealing with this disorder, we could muddle through, but he’s not. He’s Sonny Corinthos—”
“It’s not a choice between you and Sonny,” Jason interrupted. “Pretending it is just makes it sound like if we kept protecting him, things would be okay. We tried that once, Elizabeth. I chose protecting him and the status quo, and you decided you couldn’t live with it.”
“If you had told me what he was facing…” Elizabeth sighed. “I like to think I would been able to deal with, but I don’t know.”
“It didn’t change anything. We’re right back where we started, and no one would blame you if you took your son and ran. Because I just—” His chest was tight. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“If I were to leave you,” Elizabeth said slowly, “it wouldn’t change the situation. You would still be here. Evie would still be here. And so would Michael and Morgan.”
She met his eyes. “It’s not on the table, Jason. I don’t know if you were talking hypothetically or giving me an out. I don’t want it. The situation doesn’t change for anyone I love just because I walk away from it. I didn’t see that that before, but I’m not that scared little girl. I’m here, I’m in it.” Another tear slid down her cheek. “And so are you. And we count. Whatever you have to choose going forward, nothing between us changes. Because I love you. And I know that you love me. Whatever you face, take that with you.”
He leaned down, resting his forehead against her knees. Because he didn’t know he’d needed this. That he’d needed to hear her promise, her oath.
Jason thought he could face anything if he had Elizabeth standing behind him, and now he was convinced she would be.
“I love you,” he managed to say. He leaned forward, her legs falling to the side as he covered her, drawing her into a fierce and possessive kiss. “And I am never going to let you regret staying.”
“I couldn’t,” she murmured against his lips. “We were always going to end back here, Jason. And there’s nowhere else I would rather be.”