January 30, 2016

Hey! So by now, you’ve noticed that I didn’t update The Best Thing yesterday. I finished the last two chapters, but I’m waiting for Cora to get back to me — I asked her to rip it apart and suggest any changes. She’s worked almost as hard as I have on this story, and I want the ending of the story to be as good as the first thirty-two chapters.

I started graduate school about two weeks ago and I’m taking a full load of classes. Two graduate level History reading seminars with about two hundred pages each a week reading, an undergrad Macroeconomics course I need for my Social Studies certification, and two online teacher education classes. I’m also auditing an American history class to help me write my research paper next semester. I’m getting tired just thinking about it, haha. Oh, yeah, and I’m working three days a week 😛

This is exactly the adjustment period I had anticipated last fall had I started on time. I should be on a normal schedule and routine after this week. My Macro class is being graded completely on online tests and homework, and the teacher is useless so far, but I have to attend those classes. That looks like my best bet to get some writing done during the week.

The good news is that Bittersweet already has nine chapters completed. I still have some editing to do on them, some scenes to revise before I give them back to Cora, but at some point, I will have enough buffer and beta’d chapters to deliver the fresh content I promised.

I’m not thrilled with the header image, haha, and the pink hurts my head. But I’ve been playing around some of the other editing. I’ve made the story lists on pages like In Progress and the completed Alternate History and Universe pages. I plan to leave this layout up just through Valentine’s Day. Changing won’t be much of a problem. This layout is much easier to change.

January 24, 2016

Hey! So briefly, as you can see, CG has a new layout. We’ve switched to two columns. I removed some of the sections, but you can find everything up in the primary navigation bar below the header. If there’s anything you want me to bring back, let me know, but I think this looks a lot less cluttered.

I’ve made a lot of improvements–there’s still a few more I want to work on but this is as close to the best version of a CG layout as we’ve had since the site relaunched two years ago.

The only thing I didn’t do was the header image, haha, which is why it looks like that. That’s my temporary one until I finish it. I should have that up by tonight or tomorrow, but I didn’t want to leave the site down.

Let me know if you find anything wonky!

ETA: Header image is updated, though I’m still eyeing a change.

January 22, 2016

I updated The Best Thing, Chapter 32 today, and barring any crazy rewrites that might be needed on the final two chapters (I’m expecting to have to redo a few scenes, maybe add some more) we’ll be wrapping this up on February 5, 2016 or maybe a week or so later.

At the moment, Bittersweet has eight chapters that are with Cora, but obviously our priority has been to finish up The Best Thing. I myself have made some changes to the first eight chapters, I’m waiting to hear her take on my first eight. I’ve started writing the next part of the story. I hope to have Bittersweet midway through February, but I’d rather push it to March and make sure that you guys get the best version of this story possible.

Damaged is still scheduled to come back in March, but it depends on how the next few weeks ago. I’ve started graduate school this week and it’s going to be another week or so before I’m able to really get an idea of how much time that’s going to take between attending classes and doing the work. My plan is for you guys to have new content every week, but I may miss one or two here and there. When I constructed that schedule, I really didn’t think I’d have bronchitis for the better part of December and January. Even now, it’s lingering and sucking my energy up.

I hope you guys enjoy this turn in The Best Thing. Super excited for you guys to finally see the end of the story. I hope to have the ebook giveaway up before the end of the story, but I will definitely be posting the various outlines so you can see just how different this story turned out.

See you guys next week!

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Salvation

To escape a world so great
Close your eyes now
We float away
Close to the brink
Oh it’s so colorful
Don’t be scared
Just take my hand

Tomorrowland (All Fall Down), Leon Else


Tuesday, September 6, 2005

General Hospital: Sonny’s Room

Carly perched on the edge of her chair, her hands gripping the arms so tightly her knuckles were bone-white and aching from the exertion. She wanted to get up, she wanted to leave.

She wanted to find her boys, get out of Port Charles, and maybe, at this point, never come back.

But the way to the door was blocked. One burly man she’d never seen before stood in front of the door while another stranger was helping Sonny stand and get into some clothing. It was on the tip of her tongue to protest—it had only been days since Sonny was shot—he shouldn’t be out of bed.

A darker thought slid through her mind, poisoning her ability to react. If Sonny died, this would stop. It would go away. And maybe it would be for the best.

“I’m checking out of the hospital, and we’re going back to the penthouse,” Sonny said, finally addressing his wife. His dark eyes met hers and there was nothing there. No sign of man she’d battled, loved, despised. He was empty. “Where are the boys?”

Carly rose to her feet. “They’re with your sister,” she said, forcing the words through a closed throat. “Sonny—”

“Good, good. You should tell her to take them to New York for a few days,” he continued. He slid into a suit jacket, grimacing as he did so.

“I can do that.” She hesitated. “I should go with them—”

“You’re coming back to the penthouse.” Sonny looked at her. “Where I can see you.”

This was the man she’d married, that she had sacrificed her self-respect for, destroyed her friendship with Jason for. She had never been scared of him before, never worried he might hurt her.

“Let’s go.” Sonny nodded at the man who’d helped him dress. “Make sure she gets there. Don’t make a scene.”

“Sonny—” Carly began, but the man advancing on her strangled any protest she might have made. There was no choice here, no chance for escape.

She had made her choice long ago, and there was no turning back.

An SUV

It was a twenty-minute ride from the Corinthos-Morgan warehouse to the estate Jason had bought on the outskirts of town, and for every one of those twenty minutes, Elizabeth bit her tongue and sat on her hands.

There was no word from the guards at the house, no word from Jason. And asking wouldn’t change that. Jason had segmented security for this very reason. Elizabeth’s guards would always keep her as a number one priority, while Cam and Evie were someone else’s top concern. She wanted it that way. She wanted Denny and Lyle to only be thinking about the babies.

“Elizabeth,” Nadine tried again. “Why—”

“Because they need to concentrate on the road, on making sure no one is following us,” Elizabeth said as they passed the last of the buildings in downtown Port Charles before the streets opened to the suburban sprawl on the outskirts of the city. “Once they call a lock down, there are no further attempts at communication until we reach our meeting place.”

And she understood that, she did. When Jason had described this to her only weeks ago, she’d thought it made sense.

Though at the moment, it was hard to remember why.

Nadine hands were trembling as they lay in her lap. “You sound like you’ve done this before. Is there some handbook I didn’t get?”

“Security is number one,” Elizabeth managed to force out, her eyes trained on the scenery outside her window. As soon as she could get into the house, she could find out what happened. She could make sure her babies were okay. She just had to wait. “We have two young children and a volatile situation on our hands. Jason and I have talked about security at length.”

All the talking in the world, all the experience in the world—it hadn’t prepared her for the sickening twisting in her belly, the conviction that no news was the worst news, that news of shots fired where her children were would only lead to heart break.

As they approached the wrought iron fence and the guard house at the edge of property, Elizabeth found herself—for the first time and only briefly—regretting the day she had ever met Jason Morgan.

Another SUV

“The kids are okay,” Johnny O’Brien was reassuring Jason from the front seat of the car as they sped down the road leading to the estate. “They’re in the car right behind us.”

Jason was trying not to think about Cam and Evie in the back seat, with their shell-shocked nanny, Denny, and Johnny Zacchara with Max Giambetti at the wheel. He was focused on the bleeding of Evie’s guard, Lyle.

He’d taken a bullet to the shoulder trying to keep Evie safe. Saving Jason’s family.  Jason had a towel pressed to the wound, relieved nothing dangerous appeared to be hit. This time.

He couldn’t stand how close they’d come this time—how much they’d nearly lost.

The car stopped by the guard house, and a newer guard stepped out. He looked in the car, and got the code word from Johnny. The gates opened, and the car sped up the drive to the portico entrance. The tires squealed as Johnny braked. Doors were thrown open, Jason and Johnny got Lyle out of the car just as the dark sedan with everyone else screeched to a halt, Max nearly clipping the first car.

There was a mad rush as everyone hurried inside, eager to be away from any eyes. They’d taken a circuitous route from downtown Port Charles to be sure no one could follow them, and at some point the car with the kids had been separated from them briefly. The two minutes before the cars met up again as the approached the house were the longest of Jason’s life.

He handed Lyle to Max, and watched as Tommy and Bernie rushed out of the house. Denny and Tommy took charge of the kids and Nora, but Jason didn’t go inside until he knew everyone was out of the cars and safe.

When he went through the entrance, he saw one of the medically trained guards stationed at the house examining Lyle’s gunshot wound, Bernie looking at Nora’s bruised cheek and calling for an ice pack.

And Elizabeth on the floor, embracing both of the children. When she saw him, she leapt up and ran to him. He swallowed her in his arms for just a moment—he couldn’t afford more than that. Until he’d seen Tommy and Bernie, he hadn’t been sure they’d arrived from the warehouse safely. He’d known there were shots fired—but he couldn’t be sure, couldn’t let himself believe Elizabeth had survived it unscathed.

Then he stepped back and leaned down to touch Cam’s face, to brush away the tears the toddler was sniffling. “You guys okay?” he asked Elizabeth, then looking again at Cam and Evie. There were no marks, no signs of injury anywhere.

“Looks like it,” Elizabeth managed. She picked Evie up, pressing her cheek to the top of the little girl’s dark hair, Cameron clinging to her black dress. She looked at Nora, then back at Jason. “What happened?”

He hesitated, looking back at the cluster of men, at Johnny Zacchara who was talking in low tones to Nadine across the room. He had to take a few moments to calm the children, to speak to Elizabeth. He also had to start making some sense of this disaster—he had to take action to fix it.

“Tommy, I need you and Bernie to get a hold of the other guys. Make sure things are okay on their front. Lift the lockdown, everyone’s safe and they need to get back to business to keep everyone calm.” He rubbed his head, then looked at Max and Johnny. “Not that I don’t trust Frankie, but can you get our doctor out here to look at Lyle?” To Nora, he asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she managed, pressing ice to her cheek, but her face was still pale, her pupils dilated.

“Denny, I need you to take Nora to her room and make sure she has anything she needs.” He picked Cameron up. “We’re taking the kids upstairs.”

Elizabeth silently followed him out of the living room into the foyer, then up the stairs.

Estate: Nursery

Elizabeth was relieved to see that Jason had reproduced the children’s nursery from the penthouse, down to the furniture and the types of toys they’d used. Familiar surroundings would help them feel safe, and already Evie was squirming to get down, to investigate the pack of stuffed animals in the corner.

Cam and Evie were released, and they both took off—Evie crawling frantically after the toddling Cameron. “Nora’s hurt,” Elizabeth said softly. “But the kids don’t have a scratch on them.”

She turned back to Jason, who looked as pale as Nora had downstairs. “They said there were shots fired at the house—”

“Nora was already packing for the kids,” Jason said, rubbing his neck. “She was upstairs with them, with Lyle, and Denny was downstairs, Cody was outside.”

Which made sense, Elizabeth thought. A guard for each floor, one outside. It was part of the security design.

“Six men burst through the door,” he said.

Six. “Two for each guard,” she murmured, her blood chilling. Because Sonny knew their security. Jason had created similar protocols for Michael and Morgan.

“And a seventh came in after the guards took on Denny and Lyle,” Jason continued, his eyes stark because he’d made that connection, too. “Max and Johnny came then—because I’d sent them to get the kids out sooner. They were trying to deal with the mess downstairs.”

“You came together,” Elizabeth said. “Did you—”

“I’d had a voicemail from Courtney. She’d seen men meeting with Sonny, going into his room. She was worried. She picked the boys up from the nanny and she took them to New York.” He sank onto the small sofa in the room, because he knew he’d have to tell her how close it had come, how precarious the safety of the children really was. “But Monica called after I’d picked up Johnny Zacchara. Sonny had checked himself out of the hospital, and she was concerned—men were with him she’d never seen before and she didn’t like the way they were…escorting Carly into the elevator.”

He clasped his hands between his knees and looked down at the carpet. “So we went to the house, and by that time—Lyle had taken a bullet to the shoulder, and Nora was unconscious on the floor. She’d tried to keep that seventh man from taking Evie, but he’d hit her. He was halfway down the stairs when I got there.”

“Oh, God—” Elizabeth closed her eyes. If Courtney hadn’t put Jason on his guard, if Monica hadn’t tipped them off—Evie might be gone to them, taken by men with guns. What assurance did they have that these men who worked for another family would even deliver her safely to Sonny?

And Sonny had sent men to their home, to the place where their children lived—men with guns, ready to kill to carry out their task.

“I got her away,” Jason said simply, and she knew he’d never tell her the rest. What he’d had to do to guarantee Evie’s safety. “Max, Johnny, and Denny overpowered the men that were left. We tied them up, put Nora and the kids in the car and left. We left Cody to deal with the cleanup.”

“Oh, God,” she repeated. She looked at the kids, to reassure herself that they were okay—Evie was climbing over a humongous pink and orange striped unicorn while Cameron had discovered the stack of blocks. “Oh, God.”

“I can’t—” He stopped, and her head snapped back at him when she heard his voice falter, even break. “I can’t protect them. I can’t protect you. I thought I could, but—”

“Jason—”

“I would send you away if I could figure out a place Sonny wouldn’t think to look,” he continued. “I’ll get Bernie working on that. We need a place out of the country or far away from Port Charles where I know you’ll be safe. This house—it’s not in my name—but Sonny has to know we have a safe house.”

And wasn’t that the real terror? There was little Jason could do that Sonny wouldn’t figure out. They’d worked together so closely—Sonny knew all of Jason’s tricks and secrets to keep people. He’d taught Jason some, had put them to work for himself.

“Whose name is it in?” Elizabeth asked. “How long before he thinks to look for it?”

“It’s in Jason Quartermaine’s name,” Jason finally said. “I’ve legally changed my name, but I can still go by my birth name on documents dealing in property. I’ve never used it before, Sonny might not think of it.” He rubbed his face. “But it’s not far away enough. Maybe somewhere in Europe, where Sonny doesn’t know the language. Germany. Poland. I can sign guardianship to you—”

“Jason—” She sank onto the sofa beside him, reaching for his hand. “You’re not talking about sending me away temporarily.”

“You didn’t sign up for this. They—” Jason looked up, watched the children giggling and laughing for a moment before continuing, “—deserve a better choice.”

She hesitated, knowing how important it was to be brutally honest with him in this moment. “I can see now that part of me honestly believed whatever Sonny might try to hurt you or me, he wouldn’t go after the children,” she said quietly. “I still believed in his honor, in his innate kindness. But this illness—this disease that’s inside him—it’s taken every flaw Sonny ever possessed and amplified it. He doesn’t see Evie as her own person, as a sweet little baby with shy smiles and a curious nature. He doesn’t know her. She’s property to him.”

“Elizabeth—”

“You should know there is a part of me that is tempted to tell you yes,” Elizabeth cut in. He looked at her then, his expression guarded, his mouth set in a tense line as if he were bracing himself for what was coming next. “Because it’s one thing to sign up for this on my own behalf. I love you, and I want the life we planned together. I’m willing to take that chance for myself. But it is another to sign the kids up for this, to sign Cam up for this.”

His shoulders slumped and he nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I know—”

“But if I walk away now,” she interrupted. “If I give you back this ring…” She looked at her fingers where the gem rested. “What does that say about the promises I made? There’s nothing happening that we haven’t talked about. I’ve always known the danger involved here. I was there when Nikolas was shot for standing near you. I know what happened to Sonny’s first wife and child. We’ve known for weeks that Sonny was going to do something against Evie. We’ve done what we can to take protect them, and they’re safe. Look at them, Jason—”

“They almost weren’t,” he argued. “He had Evie, he was almost out of the house—”

“And that’s terrifying,” Elizabeth admitted. “Because I don’t know if I trust the men Sonny hired to take care of her. And I know it easily could have been Cam he’d taken in order to force you to surrender Evie. But I have to concentrate on what went right. Sonny doesn’t have our advantages—”

“Advantages—” Jason scoffed.

“If Courtney hadn’t taken the time to call you, if Monica hadn’t alerted you, Evie would be gone now,” Elizabeth told him. “We have friends and family on our side. There’s no one Sonny has left. He had to hire men to help him, and God knows what he’s promised them or the man they really work for. He doesn’t have the loyalty you do. Lyle took a bullet for Nora and the kids.”

“Elizabeth—”

“Next time, we don’t hesitate. We move the kids at the first sign of a threat.” She took both of his hands in hers. “I could take the kids and go to Germany. We could build a life there. And then I could be hit by a bus. One of us could get sick. There could be a car accident—” She swallowed. “It breaks my heart that Sonny has used everything he knows about you to go after the kids. That he’s exploiting the same security that protected his children. I know that’s not easy for you.”

“It’s not—” Jason hesitated. “That was our rule. The code we lived by. Other men had no honor—they went after women and children, but not us. He’s taken everything he taught me and destroyed it.”

“Well, that’s him. We’re choosing a different path.” Feeling a bit sturdier now, a bit more resolute, she rose to her feet. “We’re safe here for now. I’ll stay with the kids—you go downstairs and figure out what’s next.”

Estate: Office

“Cops are crawling over the warehouse,” Tommy reported when Jason entered the room, moving toward the desk. “The drive by was called in. Luckily, Francis got the message we left him and was on the scene. He’s at the PCPD, but we weren’t sure who to call for him.”

Francis had gone to the warehouse because Elizabeth and Nadine’s presence had necessitated Tommy and Bernie evacuating with them. They never could have gone to the safe house with only Milo for protection. While at times their security protocols could feel byzantine and the men Francis trained in them often groaned—Jason was relieved. They had built contingencies into contingencies, and today—they’d lost no lives. A bullet wound and a minor head injury—he could live with those.

They would take apart, at another time, what had gone wrong, but for now, they had to move forward.

“Call Diane,” he said, referring to the attorney who handled his custody issues. He’d noticed she had a penchant for designer clothes and shoes. “Tell her to draw up a retainer agreement and get Francis out of there. What about Cody?”

“Cody says things are clear at the house. What men we left alive have been picked up and moved elsewhere for questioning. So far, all we’ve gotten from them is information we’d already knew. They’re from Miami. They were to take Evie to Sonny, but we did find out—” Tommy hesitated and looked at Johnny O’Brien.

“They were going to put her on a plane to Miami, to Hector Ruiz,” Johnny admitted. ““They thought it would be easier to keep Sonny under their thumb.”

He couldn’t let that information terrify him, but he had to take a moment and swallow. “Okay. What about everyone else?”

“Running smoothly.  They hit the warehouse to slow you down,” Max said. “They had trailed you there, but apparently left before you did. They shot into your office and hit your house at the same time, I guess, figuring it wouldn’t be as heavily guarded. You had three men there, which slowed them down.”

Because though Sonny had sent two men for every guard they had, he hadn’t known the change in the security protocol. One man upstairs who had time to be on guard. To lock Nora and the kids in the room, which slowed them down even more. A man outside, which meant only a few men entered—

“We talked to your guys at the Harborview,” Bernie said, picking up the thread. “Sonny and Carly arrived—Carly hasn’t left the building. We contacted Courtney. They’ve just arrived at her place and we’re sending her two guards. The boys are safe. Bobbie has been informed, but we don’t see any danger to her with the boys gone. Sonny is still at the penthouse, for now.”

“Junior,” Johnny said, with his usual grimace, “has offered to broker a deal with Zacchara. Anthony hates the Ruiz family. He thinks Anthony will leap at the chance to take on Ruiz and Sonny, and Junior plans to make sure his daddy knows you saved his ass.”

He hadn’t though—Johnny Zacchara had rescued himself. They were just giving him safe passage out of town, but he supposed not telling Sonny much information about Nadine Crowell had allowed Johnny some security. If he wanted to play up Jason’s actions to his father as something a bit more heroic, it could only help them.

“I’ll go to Crimson Pointe and meet with Anthony and Trevor,” Jason said. “Tommy, Bernie, I want you to work out of this office. The warehouse is going to be off limits, and I don’t want too many people coming and going from here. Lyle and Milo are staying here with Elizabeth and the kids. Nadine can come with us if Junior wants, but I’ll suggest she stays here. Get Francis to send us one or two more guys.”

He looked at Max and Johnny. “I need you guy to get Diane on board and get Francis back to his guys. Get the warehouse secured, relieve Cody. I want him here with Elizabeth and the kids. I don’t want the kids have too many new faces.” He looked down for a moment, the events of the last few hours began to sink in.

“Jason, the men were loyal to you before,” Bernie said gently, “but after this? After Sonny went after the kids? There’s not a man in this organization who wouldn’t lay their lives down to protect your family.”

“I don’t want them to have to, but I appreciate it.” He rubbed his eyebrow lightly. “I need to tell Elizabeth I’m leaving. I—I won’t be back here until it’s resolved. I don’t think anyone trailed us here, but if I come and go—”

“It’s less safe. We can take care of things from here,” Bernie said.

Estate: Bedroom

Elizabeth stepped into the sparsely furnished master bedroom, intending to change from the dress she’d worn to her grandmother’s funeral that morning—then realized…

She likely had no clothes. There’d been no time to pack. She was stuck in this black dress until other arrangements could be made.

She sank onto the bed, the black stark against the beige comforter. Had she only buried her grandmother that morning? Had things changed so much just in a day?

The door opened, and Jason stepped over the threshold. “I stopped in the nursery and saw the kids are napping.”

“I fed them and we cuddled a bit on the sofa,” Elizabeth said. “They were both overdue for naps and conked out.” She raised the monitor in her hand. “I just wanted to change, but—”

Jason nodded and moved to the bureau. “I asked Max’s wife to do some shopping for you and the kids. I thought we might have to come here in a hurry, but—” He hesitated, then looked at her. “I should have told you it was a possibility, let you put some things here—”

Relieved, she crossed to him and tugged out a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. “Remind me to send her a very large Christmas present this year.” Elizabeth hesitated then. “You have to go, don’t you?”

“I do,” he confirmed, taking the change of clothes from her and tossing them on the bed. “I’m sorry, but—”

“There’s a lot of things to be done,” she cut in. She returned to the bed. “Can you talk to Steven and Emily? I don’t want them to worry.”

“I will.” He paused. “I’m going to Anthony Zacchara to get his help. And then I’ll be going back to Port Charles. But not here. I don’t want anyone to know you guys are here. The guards aren’t going to come and go, except Cody will be coming soon. The place is stocked with food. I tried to put some sort of studio in for you, but—”

“It’s safer if you don’t come back, I know.” But God, what if he didn’t come home? He was going to take on Sonny, and Sonny no longer cared enough to hold back. “Jason, I—”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He leaned against the bureau. “I’ve made arrangements with Max and Johnny. I’ve talked to Diane. If anything happens to me—”

She wanted to stop him—she didn’t want to know, to prepare herself for the worst, but she knew he needed to get this out, to know she was safe. That the kids were.

So Elizabeth said nothing as Jason continued after a momentary pause, “I’ve left a will. Any property I have is to be dissolved unless you want to keep it. I divided everything in three. Cam and Evie have a trust, you’ll oversee it. I left guardianship for you. If something happens, Max and Johnny will come here, and they’ll take you somewhere. I don’t know where yet. Bernie’s working on getting property somewhere, but they’ll get you out of Port Charles. Cody, Milo, Denny, and Lyle are at the house now. They’ll stay with you guys until Tommy says it’s safe.”

She nodded, but she’d never doubted that he’d see to their safety, that he’d see the kids were taken care of. “Okay. I—I know how hard what you’re going to do is. That going against Sonny…” She stood. “And the last thing I want is for anything to happen to either of you. I don’t want this to be Sonny’s legacy. I know that with treatment, with medication, we can get some semblance of the man we both care about—we could get some of it back. But Jason?”

She stepped over to him and rested her hand against his chest, over his heart. “If it comes down to you or him, you come home to me. Do you understand?”

“Elizabeth—”

“The man you talk about, who took you in and gave you a purpose in life?” she continued. “He’d want you to come home to your family. To be with your children. And you know that Sonny would understand. As much as I want him to be well, to be a part of our lives, we can’t wait for it to happen that way. Whatever you have to do, you come home.”

He covered her hand with his, dipped his head, and took a deep breath. “I promise you,” he said, his voice low but steady, “that I will do whatever I have to do to keep you and the kids safe.”

Which wasn’t exactly the promise she’d wanted, but she knew it was the promise he felt comfortable making, so she nodded, lifted up on her toes and pressed her lips to his. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

January 17, 2016

Hey! Just a small update to mention that I added Chapter 31 of The Best Thing on Friday. Remember to subscribe to the site using the link to the right under “Subscribe to this Blog” You’ll get brand-new chapters delivered to your emails seconds after they’re posted so you’re not always dependent on me remembering to add a post to the main page.

I also got around to updating the page that lists updates without chatter. I always forget to do that, sorry!

And in more important news — I finished writing The Best Thing. After roughly twenty-one months, I finished the last chapter (Chapter 34 to be exact) on Saturday. It felt weird to finally be writing the scenes I had been planning for ages. I’ve sent them to Cora, so I may not be quite done with the story, but the first draft is officially done, so that’s a major part of the battle. We might actually stay on an actual schedule after all. Now I can concentrate on Bittersweet 🙂

January 15, 2016

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Salvation

And you feel like you’re still here bleeding
You bleed until there’s nothing left
It doesn’t seem to ever be enough for you
But leaves you empty in the end
And then you throw it all away

Throw It All Away, Staind


 Tuesday, September 6, 2005

 Queen of Angels: Outside the Church

Thunder rumbled in the distance as the first few rain drops began to fall. Elizabeth leaned into Jason’s embrace as she and Steven said goodbye to the last of mourners as they rushed to the car to avoid the drizzle threatening to turn into an early autumn thunderstorm.

They had declined a reception or a wake, neither of them feeling up to mingling with the members of their own family. Sarah and their parents were already heading to the airport, eager to be on their way back to their lives.

“I can’t believe Mom and Dad didn’t even want to spend another day,” Steven murmured as he watched their car disappear around a corner. “They’ve barely met Cameron—”

“They’re not interested in the life I’ve made here,” Elizabeth murmured. She looked at her brother. “Are you stopping by the Brownstone? Bobbie and Felicia wanted to have a few friends over—”

But Steven shook his head, casting his eyes toward the cemetery where their grandmother had been laid to rest next to her beloved husband. “No. I—I scheduled myself into work tonight. Just get my mind off of things.” He reached over to touch her shoulder. “You should, though. Or take the kids to be with Emily and Nikolas—”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I just want to spend the day at home with Cam and Evie.” She glanced up at Jason, who had remained silent on the matter. “I know you have to go to the warehouse—”

“I don’t,” Jason cut in. But he was frowning down at his phone even as he said it. She could see the icon indicating he’d had several missed calls.

“I’ll see you guys later.” Steven kissed his sister on the forehead and waved at Jason as he headed towards the parking lot. “Call me, Bits. Later tonight, okay? I want to check in.”

“Okay.” When he was out of earshot, Elizabeth turned to face her fiancé. “Jason. I know you have to—”

“Johnny and Max—”

“Are not you,” she said. “If we’re going to move to the new house tomorrow, there are probably a thousand details you need to deal with. I’d rather you go now and sort out anything you need to so you can come home for dinner and be with us tonight.” She forced a smile on her face. “I’m just going to pick up lunch from Kelly’s and maybe we’ll give Nora the night off so it can be just the four of us. She and I will pack what the kids need for a few days.”

His shoulders slumped. “I don’t want to go—”

“And I know that.” She leaned up on her toes to brush a kiss against his mouth. “I love you. Go to work, and I’ll see you tonight.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

The rain had dissipated almost as soon as it had soaked the city. Nadine had waited for the sheets of pounding rain to sweep through before leaving Kelly’s. The staff hadn’t been able to pull the tables and chairs in time; the remnants of drinks and food still soaking as she walked past them, sipping her hot chocolate.

She was nervous about today—she was going to track Emily or Steven Webber down at work and ask for Elizabeth’s number. Johnny was strong enough now to take the next step.

And while she was relieved that they were going to finally move forward, part of her preferred the world where Johnny was safe in her bedroom. Where no one with guns or knives could come at him.

As she started for her car in the parking lot, she stopped with a gasp as a car pulled into a free space. A tall, dark-haired man stepped out from the driver’s seat and opened the back door. Elizabeth stepped down, a light gray coat pulled over a black dress.

No time like the present, Nadine told herself, even as her feet felt glued to the cement. As Elizabeth and her guard passed her, she blurted out, “Elizabeth, I have to talk to you—”

The guard immediately stepped in front of his charge, but Elizabeth frowned at her for a moment. “I know you, don’t I? You work at the hospital—” Her eyes widened. “Milo, give me a minute—”

“Miss Webber—”

“Go stand over there for a minute.” She raised her brows at the younger man, who finally acquiesced to standing no more than five feet from her. “You’re Nadine,” Elizabeth said to her. “We met at my opening last winter.”

Nadine nodded, grateful now Johnny had forced that introduction. “With Johnny Zacchara. I need—” She swallowed hard. What if Jason didn’t tell her anything? What if Elizabeth didn’t know what was going on? This plan had seemed more reasonable in her room that morning.

“Johnny’s with you, isn’t he?” the other woman’s face softened as Elizabeth reached out a hand to rest on Nadine’s forearm. “I know what’s going on. I know that he was missing for several weeks, and that you’ve been taking care of him after Friday night. He’s okay, isn’t he?”

Oh, God. Nadine sucked in a deep breath. “He’s okay. He just—he wants to talk to Jason. He needs his help, and-and for obvious reasons he doesn’t feel comfortable being out in the open—”

“It’s fine.” Elizabeth gestured to the guard. “Milo, I need you to call Jason and tell him that I’m coming to the warehouse—”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Miss Webber. The warehouse is under construction—”

“Milo,” she said in that even tone that had worked earlier. “This is Nadine Crowell. She’s Johnny Zacchara’s girlfriend. She’d like to talk to Jason about him. I think you and I both agree that this should happen.”

“But—”

“And I’m going to be there. I just have to call my nanny to tell her I won’t be picking up lunch after all.” Elizabeth drew out her cell phone. “I want this over. I want my life back.”

“It’s never over, though, is it?” Nadine asked hesitantly. When Elizabeth looked at her, confused, Nadine clarified, her cheeks flushing. “I just mean—there’s always going to be something else.”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth sighed. “But if you’re lucky, you can convince yourself it’s worth it.” She looked to Milo as she raised her own phone to ear. “You’re not dialing anything, Milo. Either you call Jason and arrange the meeting, or I’ll go with Nadine in her car.”

Milo sighed and reached for his phone.

Warehouse: Jason’s Office

Jason played Courtney’s brief voicemail once more, frustrated with the lack of information. “What do we know? What’s happening at the hospital?”

“Hard to tell,” Max admitted. “There’s no one on Sonny’s door, but no one has come or gone in the last hour. And we talked to Courtney—she says two men showed up when Carly was inside and no one came back out before she had to go. She’s responsible for the boys while Bobbie’s having the wake.”

“What about Ruiz? Any movement there?” Jason looked to Tommy. “What do we know?”

“Nothing new. If anyone flew up in the last day or so, then he did it on a private flight.” The other man hesitated. “Or they were already here and laying low.”

“Jase, the kids are secure at the Hardy house,” Johnny told him. “Junior’s locked up tight at his girlfriend’s place. Elizabeth is on her way home, and tomorrow we’re moving all of you to the new house which has more security than Fort Knox.”

Jason sat down at the end of the long conference table. He didn’t know what to do next. He couldn’t predict the next step. Would Sonny go for him personally? Would he go after the business? How was he going to come at him? Would he wait until he was released from the hospital or would he strike through others?

All these years learning from Sonny—and he had no idea how protect the people that mattered. How to keep control.

“No one is coming and going from that hospital unless we know it,” Bernie said, his voice quiet and almost kind. “Maybe we should call Elizabeth and see if we can move the kids at least tonight. You’ll feel better if she and the kids are under lock and key.”

And it was a good idea, but Elizabeth had buried her grandmother today and, damn it, she deserved the opportunity to be in her grandmother’s home today. To have this day, at least, to mourn. That Jason’s life, which had intruded on hers so often in the last year, would take even this from her—

“Call Courtney,” Jason said finally. “If she has the boys, I want her to take them to New York with her. I’ll clear it with Bobbie, and if it comes to it, Carly. But I can’t—” Remembering the shattered woman he’d last seen at the hospital, he continued, “I don’t think she’ll argue if we keep the boys out of the line of fire.”

But Evie was still here. And Bernie was right. Moving the kids tonight would be for the best.

His cell phone rang, the shrill tone stabbing into his ears. Jason glanced at the call screen as he picked it up, his muscles seizing as he saw Milo’s name flashing across the screen.

Milo was with Elizabeth. Why would he call and not Elizabeth?

“Is she okay?” Jason demanded as he opened the phone. “Milo—”

The voices in the room went silent at Jason’s question and all eyes were trained on him.

“We’re all good, Jason,” Milo said quickly. “I’m at Kelly’s with Miss Webber, and she’s on the phone with your nanny. Nadine Crowell stopped us as we came to Kelly’s. She wants to talk about Johnny.”

“Johnny’s girlfriend tracked Elizabeth down?’ Jason asked, a little unnerved by that. “Are you bringing her here?”

“And Miss Webber,” Milo continued. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer. We’ll be there shortly.”

Jason hung up and looked back at the room. “Nadine Crowell cornered Elizabeth at Kelly’s. They’re both coming to the warehouse to talk about Johnny.”

“Junior’s smarter than I would have given him credit for,” Johnny admitted, scowling as if he hated to give the enemy any sort of compliment. “Did Sonny know about the girlfriend?”

“He knew she existed,” Jason said. “I never gave him any more information about her.” And now he was relieved that he’d kept that close to the chest. He’d not revealed Nadine’s identity to protect her from Sonny sending people to harass her, but now that Sonny was actively trying to kill Junior, it had allowed the younger man to find a place Sonny wouldn’t think about.

“He probably wants to broker a deal so he can get the hell out of the city,” Max said. “Is it smart to involve Miss Webber in this? Shouldn’t you send her home?”

“Elizabeth will keep Nadine comfortable,” Jason said. “As for the rest of it—to be honest…there’s not much Elizabeth doesn’t know about this situation,” he admitted. “I had—”

“You had to tell her,” Bernie finished. “It involves Sonny, and it’s not like she’s not personally involved. It’s her life being uprooted, her kids at risk.” He nodded and looked to the rest of the men, as if warning them. “It’s just smart. I never liked the way Sonny kept Carly out of the loop.”

“Miss Webber’s good people,” Johnny put in, loyal to the bitter end. “It’s not like this is business as usual.”

And with Johnny and Bernie solidly behind Jason, Max and Tommy just kind of shrugged in acceptance.  Involving women, even on a peripheral basis, wasn’t the norm but nothing about this situation could be considered ordinary.

“What’s the plan? What kind of deal are you gonna offer Junior?” Tommy asked.

“I’ll get him home to Crimson Pointe,” Jason said, “but I want—” he hesitated, because once he said it out loud—once he made this arrangement—there was no going back. “Sonny’s working with Ruiz. That’s pretty clear. I can’t…I can’t take on Ruiz on my own. He’ll pay me lip service, but he’s never cared for me.”

“Not after the Moreno situation,” Max said with a bit of regret. “He never liked you turning the business over to him.”

“Yeah, well…” Jason rolled his shoulders. “I was…” Stupid to think he could get out of this. Naive to think Moreno would stop seeing him as a threat. In this business, you either killed your opponent or you were killed. You didn’t get to walk away.

“Younger.”

“But everyone is terrified of Anthony Zacchara,” Bernie said. “You want Johnny’s help in getting Zacchara on our side—”

“And once Zacchara gets Ruiz to back down,” Tommy cut in, “we’ll just have to deal with Sonny, which is a lot easier when I’m not fucking worried Hector will send Javier and Manny up here. They’re fucking insane.”

“It’s not a bad plan,” Johnny admitted. “It mostly hinges on whether Junior can pull it off.”

There was a knock on the door and a moment later, Milo came in, Elizabeth and Nadine on his heels. The blonde looked as nervous as she had the last time he’d seen her in New York.

Her blue eyes widened in alarm when she stumbled to a stop at the foot of a table filled with hulking, annoyed looking men. She looked to Elizabeth, who put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I don’t—”

“They’re basically teddy bears,” Elizabeth assured her. “Nadine, this is Max and Johnny, two of the best men you’ll ever know.” She gestured to Bernie and Tommy. “That’s Bernie, the smartest man I know, and…” She tilted her head. “I think we only met once—”

“Tommy,” the older man said with a nod. “It’s nice to see you again, Miss Webber.”

“Nadine is a friend of Emily and my brother’s from the hospital,” Elizabeth said, and Jason had to shake his head as he realized her mission. Treat this moment as nothing more than an ordinary meet and greet. They needed Nadine more than she needed them, and if she bolted, Junior might just contact Anthony Zacchara without going through Jason.

Which was the very last thing they needed right now.

“Nadine, you remember Jason from my art show in February,” Elizabeth continued. “It feels like that was years ago, doesn’t it?”

“It does.” Nadine’s shoulders slumped a bit as the tension left. Her eyes met Jason’s. “You were so nice that night. Johnny really respects you. Um…” She twisted her fingers in front of her. “He said he knew you weren’t involved in what happened to him because he never saw you there. And-and you have a reputation of not making people do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Or something.”

“We’ve spent weeks looking for Johnny,” Jason said. “We were worried we might not find him…” In time, he almost added, but stopped himself. “How is he?”

“You know that he’s with me?” She bit her lip. “No, I mean, of course you know that. I told Elizabeth, and the guard probably told you, and you’re not stupid—I mean, shoot—”

“Nadine…” Elizabeth touched her arm again. “Just tell them what you told me, okay?”

“He’s okay,” Nadine said. “He was grazed by a bullet—a-and he was pretty banged up, but he’s okay. He didn’t want to just—he didn’t want to just call his dad. He thought maybe his dad wouldn’t…I don’t know…be understanding about how it happened unless Johnny was in front of him. So he thought maybe you could help him get home to talk to his dad. You know, make this all go away.”

“We can do that.” But not right away. He had to contain Sonny and make sure his family was safe before he could take Johnny Zacchara out of town, before he could meet with Anthony Zacchara. “First, I’d like the two of you to go to a safe house.”

“What?” Nadine frowned. “I thought you’d just go send someone to take him home—”

“It’s not…” Jason hesitated. “It’s not that simple. There’s—we have a security issue, and I can’t leave. And I have to be the one to take Johnny to Anthony. Anthony will accept it better if I deliver him personally.”

“Oh.” Jason could tell Nadine didn’t quite understand, but she was smart enough not to argue. “I mean, okay. We could do that.”

“I’ll go home,” Elizabeth began. “And get out of your way—”

Jason held up a hand. “Wait a second.” He looked to Max and Johnny. “I need you two to go to the house—and do what we discussed, okay? Be ready to be in an hour.” Max and Johnny hurried out.

“Jason—”

“Elizabeth, I hate—” He stopped. “We have to move to the safe house tonight. I’m going to ask you to stay here with Bernie and Tommy. With Milo. I’m going to pick up Johnny Zacchara and move him to the safe house, too. And Johnny and Max are going to meet Cody at the house. They’re going to get Nora and the kids.”

“Why can’t I go with them?” Elizabeth asked, color rising in her cheeks. “I can go with them and get the kids ready—”

He crossed the distance between them and drew her over to a corner of the room, lowering his voice so that no one else could hear them. “I don’t want us all to go to the safe house at once, okay? We’re going to stagger it in case one of us is being tailed.”

She swallowed hard. “What happened since the funeral?” Elizabeth asked. Her fingers tightened around his hands. “Is it bad? Are we in danger or are you being overly cautious?”

“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. “There’s—I don’t know exactly, but things are happening. And I need to know you and the kids are safe. And the kids…Cam and Evie…” He hesitated, searching her eyes. “They come first, right? As soon as I know they’re safe at the house, I’ll have you and Nadine moved there. Johnny and I will follow a bit later.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You’re right. Will—can Cody or Johnny call me when they get to the house? Is there some way for me to know they’re okay?”

“I’ll make sure of it.” He drew her in for a quick embrace, brushing his lips against her hair. “I’m sorry. I wanted to wait until tomorrow—”

“No. We need to do what’s safe.” Elizabeth drew back, and some of the hesitation was absent. “If you think staggering our arrivals, if going tonight is safe—I’m okay with it.” She framed his face her hands, the metal of her engagement ring cool against his cheek. “I love you. Be careful.”

After Jason had left, Bernie and Tommy left to check on some business details they weren’t clear on. Milo moved to hang outside the door, and the two women were left in relative silence.

“Are you scared?” Nadine asked softly.

Elizabeth looked at her and sighed. It was useless to pretend she wasn’t. “Yes. I wish—I know why I’m not, but I wish I were with my kids.” She reached into her purse and drew out her wallet as a distraction. “Cameron is…he’s sixteen months now and he…” She laughed. “He gets into everything.  He knocks things over and then he just smiles at you like you’re supposed to be proud of him.”

Nadine smiled at the photo. “He looks like you,” she said. “Jason has a daughter, too, doesn’t he?”

“He does.” Elizabeth handed her a photo of Evie, with her sweet and quiet smile. “She’s ten months old this week. She crawls everywhere. Lightning fast. And—” her chest squeezed, thinking of them both. “Evie’s so curious about everything. She just…she’ll sit and look around forever, just taking everything in. And then she touches everything. She likes to know how things feel, how they taste, how they smell…” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I’m adopting her, you know, but I already feel like she’s mine. I tried not to fall in love with her—”

“It’s impossible not to,” Nadine murmured. “I’m a pediatric nurse and I’ve been working with your brother in pediatric oncology. It’s…” She shook her head. “I try not to love them, especially the ones that I know aren’t going to make it, but they need someone to love them. They’re so scared—” She looked at the photos that Elizabeth passed her. “Is it normal to love someone like Johnny so much and absolutely hate everything about their life?”

“At first?” Elizabeth said. “You’d be insane if you didn’t.” She waited a beat. “When I first met Jason, I always separated him from his job. He’s a person with this job, but it’s not the same thing. They’re barely related. But eventually, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to either of us when I pretended you could separate them. Jason has this life. It’s dangerous. It’s often violent. And in order for him to be good at it—which he is—he has to be those things.”

“How do you deal with that?” Nadine asked. “Johnny always tells me he’s not in the business, but he’s always going to be Anthony Zacchara’s son. You don’t leave that behind.”

“I began to understand that the reasons I loved Jason…” Elizabeth tilted her head to the side. “The things I love best about him? They come from this life. Jason makes me feel safe. He makes me feel loved. Like I’m the most important person in the world to him. And that’s because Jason focuses. He has to have laser focus when you do the work he does, or he can get in trouble or hurt.” She sighed. “I mean, I guess it’s not being a super empowered female when I say that I like knowing I’m safe when I’m with him, that he can take care of me, but I do.”

“It’s not wrong to want to feel safe,” Nadine said softly. “My dad walked out when I was a kid, my mom died, and my sister—she was a nurse in Ohio who was convicted of killing her patients. An angel of mercy—” She hesitated. “I don’t have a lot of family or friends. I left it all behind to get away from Jolene’s legacy. I knew I could never be a nurse there. I was alone when I met Johnny. He introduced me to his friends in New York. He helped me feel safe again, like I could trust myself, my own future. And now I have this job that I like, and I have friends here. I know I did that stuff for myself, but I guess, I mean, I get it.” She looked out the window where day was slowly giving way to night. “How much longer?”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth began, but her next words were cut off as the window shattered and she heard that familiar sound of gunfire.

She threw herself across Nadine, dragging them both to floor as the room was riddled with gunfire. Glass shattered around them, and she wasn’t sure if it was just Nadine screaming or if was her as well.

When the gunshots faded, the door slammed open. “Elizabeth!” Bernie’s voice boomed. “Nadine!”

“Bernie…” Elizabeth gingerly got to her feet, but before she could get stable—Tommy was around the table, all but scooping her into his arms. “Tommy—”

She saw Milo grabbing Nadine as Tommy carried her towards the door. “What’s going on? What happened—”

“Shots were fired here and…” Bernie hesitated as they started for the SUV kept inside the warehouse garage. “And at your house.”

“My house—” Elizabeth’s heart seized as Tommy loaded her into the backseat of the car. “The kids—are they okay?”

Bernie’s face was pale. “We don’t know. We just took the call when we had shots here and now—” He exchanged a look of trepidation with Tommy as he climbed into the front seat  after Milo and Nadine were in the back.

“Now what?” Elizabeth demanded, her voice sounded shrill to her own ears. “What’s going on?”

“We can’t get hold of Max or Johnny,” Tommy admitted. “They’re not picking up.”

January 8, 2016

So yes, The Best Thing has finally been updated after nearly four months. Unless there’s there’s some sort car accident in which I am immobilized, we are going to finish this story sometime in February. I have three chapters beta’d and ready to go and my plan is finish things this weekend. I know, I know, I’ve said it before but this time I’ve figured out why I’ve been stuck.

It’s my own fault, too. This story has been difficult to write all along because I’ve constantly challenged myself to write from Jason’s POV at least as often as I write Elizabeth–if not more–and to really explore Sonny’s illness. And that’s hard because it forces to get inside the head of a paranoid egomaniac suffering from bipolar disorder. It’s hard and it takes longer, but every time I stop challenging myself to write this story the way it should be, it suffers. I’ve stopped fighting it. I’m over my bronchitis, and other than grocery shopping tomorrow and seeing Star Wars, I have completely cleared my schedule for two and a half days.

As always, thanks to Cora, who with her invaluable feedback, helped me to stop pretending the end of this story could be written any other way.

I’m updating The Best Thing tonight. If I finish the last three chapters and get them to Cora on schedule, I’ll do another update on Wednesday, and then next Wednesday as usual. Thanks for your patience, guys, it’s about to pay off.

I’ll be posting The Best Thing in January, Bittersweet in February, and then Damaged, Season 3 in March. See you guys next week 😀

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Salvation

Remember losing hope,
Remember feeling low,
Remember all the feelings and the day they stopped
We are all innocent, we are all innocent
Innocent, Our Lady Peace


Tuesday, September 6, 2005

 General Hospital: Sonny’s Room

 It was simple. Things had to change.

Sonny had to take a stand, show Jason he knew there were problems, but that he knew how to fix them. He’d offer Jason a simple deal, Jason would take it, and things could finally start to get better.

Jason stepped through Sonny’s hospital door that morning, dressed in a dark suit. Sonny furrowed his brow. “What the hell is the suit about?” he demanded. “I’m not dead yet.”

Nothing changed in Jason’s stoic expression. “Elizabeth’s grandmother died Saturday morning,” he said blandly. “I’m meeting Elizabeth at the church after this.”

Well. All the more reason to wrap this up. Jason needed to be with Elizabeth during this trying time—he didn’t need to be saddled with the burdens of this problem any longer. He’d probably thank Sonny for finally having the courage to do what he should have done a year ago.

“We can’t go on like this.” Sonny lifted his chin. It was hard to look authoritative in a hospital gown, reclining in this uncomfortable bed, but he made his best effort.

Jason’s stance remained unchanged, his shoulders tight, his hands resting loosely at his side, but a muscle ticked in his cheek as he slowly nodded. “I agree. Things have to change.”

“Good. Good. We’re on the same page.” His hands were clenched tightly in his lap, but Sonny’s voice was even as he continued. “It’s ridiculous to think we can change Evie’s custody now. She’s nearly a year old. She doesn’t know me. You’re her father.” He swallowed hard. “And I think it’s best if that doesn’t change.”

Jason’s hesitation told Sonny that Jason had already accepted that fact—had never intended to utilize it as a negotiation technique. Well, that was hardly unsurprising, so he forged on.

“But it doesn’t work when you’re in town,” Sonny continued. “Having her so close only reminds me of how I failed her and Sam. We should have seen this a year ago. You should take Evie and go.”

And this announcement stunned Jason because he took half a step back, his mouth opening slightly. “Sonny—”

“It’s for the best,” Sonny interrupted. “With Elizabeth’s grandmother gone, there’s nothing keeping you here. You and Elizabeth should take the kids and go. Set up a new life.”

“That’s not—” Jason cleared his throat. “That’s not an option, Sonny.”

“It’s simple, Jason.” Sonny paused. “I’m offering you a deal. Take Evie, get out of town and leave the business to me.”

When Jason said nothing for a long moment, Sonny scowled. What the hell was his problem? Didn’t he see this was the best solution for everyone? Jason would be out of danger; his daughter would be with him. He’d get the family he wanted. And Sonny would keep the power.

It solved all their problems.

And if Jason didn’t see that, if Jason wanted to keep the business and Evie, well, didn’t that say something?

“That’s not going to work,” he said finally. “I don’t—I don’t think you’re capable of handling the pressure.”

Sonny tasted blood as he bit down on his lip. What the hell did Jason know? He’d trusted Jason with the business once before and the son of a bitch had handed over to Moreno in less than a year. He couldn’t handle the fucking pressure?

He was Sonny goddamn Corinthos.

“And you can?” Sonny challenged. “Is that what you’re telling me? You want the power?”

Was that it? Had Jason had the taste of being in charge? Were his protests bullshit?  Why else wasn’t Jason leaping at the chance to get out of this business, to get his family away from it?

“You’re not stable,” Jason said. “Look at what happened with Johnny Zacchara. What you risked—”

Sonny growled. Little bastard had escaped before Sonny could force him to admit what he’d done. One more day, one more beating—he could have paraded Johnny’s confession in front of anyone who doubted him.

He could take on Anthony Zacchara. He wasn’t scared. He could beat him.

“So you’re refusing to give me what’s mine,” Sonny stated. “You could get out of this. You hate it so damn much, but you’re willing to stay? You want to tell me again how you don’t want to be in charge?”

Fucking bastard had been planning this for months. Pretending to support him but undermining him all the time. Sonny’s men looked to Jason, not Sonny. He’d turned them all against their leader, their boss.

Jason was a fucking traitor.

“I’m doing what’s best for everyone,” Jason said after a long moment. “You’re not stable enough to run this organization. Having this conversation in the open, kidnapping Johnny Zacchara over an electrical fire—” He shook his head. “I wasn’t going to give you custody of Evie, and I already have the business. There’s no deal to be made, Sonny.”

“And that’s your line in the sand, then? Your final word?”

“I’m sorry, Sonny.” Jason stepped back to open the door. “But this is the way it has to be for everyone.”

“Then I guess we know where we stand.”

When Jason was gone, Sonny closed his eyes. He didn’t want to believe his oldest friend, the man whom he trusted more than anything had finally turned on him.

Sonny had forgotten the first rule of this life. Trust no one.  Everyone had a price. Everyone was capable of betrayal.

Jason had made his choice.

They would all have to live with it.

Queen of Angels: Anteroom

Would there ever be an occasion in her life with Jason where Sonny Corinthos wasn’t at the center? Her engagement had been plagued by his illness. Her grandmother’s death had coincided with his latest stay at General Hospital. And he’d commanded Jason’s attention the morning of her grandmother’s funeral. Why not? She hadn’t even been surprised when Jason had set the phone down that morning, turning apologetic eyes on her.

Jason had told her he’d ignore Sonny’s command. That he’d wait until tomorrow, but what would that change?

Her grandmother would still be dead and everything about Sonny would be a disaster. Might as well as keep going as they had been. They were only treading water. She saw that now.

“Bits?” Steven murmured. Elizabeth looked at him blankly. “Father Coates said everything is ready. We can open the doors.” He hesitated, looking around. “Jason?”

“Right here,” Jason said, stepping over the threshold, his face somber in the shadowed room. “Sorry—”

“It’s okay.” She looked at Steven who offered Jason a brief greeting before going inside the chapel. “Hey. What happened?”

He reached for her hand and drew her into a side room not in use. “He offered me an out,” Jason said, closing the door. He turned to her, his eyes unreadable. “I could keep Evie if I gave the business to him and left town.”

She drew in a sharp breath, unprepared for how much she was tempted to tell him to take the deal and run.

They could start over somewhere, just the two of them. He could be out of the business. Away from the violence.

But she swallowed that reaction. It was never going to happen. He would always be worried for what was happening here. For the men that trusted him. For Michael and Morgan, and even for Carly.

And Elizabeth could never leave with Emily, Nikolas, and Steven here. With Emily’s new child.  These people who would be plagued in a city controlled by Sonny Corinthos.

“You told him no,” Elizabeth said finally. She clasped her hands behind her back. “I don’t suppose that went over well.”

“No.” He hesitated. “Should I have—I—maybe we should have discussed it first.”

“Of course not. Jason—” She closed her eyes. “Yes. My first reaction was to take it. To agree and start over. But we’d never be free. We have roots in Port Charles. Family. Even if we could walk away from them, you’d be—you’d be in agony knowing how unstable Sonny is. You’d be worried for the men you work with. Who trust you to keep them safe.” Elizabeth looked at him. “I can see why he offered it. But I know why we have to say no.”

His shoulders slumped. “I thought about it for a minute,” Jason admitted. “We could make a good life somewhere else. With just us and the kids.”

“But it’s not just us.” Elizabeth sank onto a nearby chair “How did he take it? What do you think is going to happen?”

“I don’t know.” He hesitated. “He accused me of wanting the power. I don’t. If I thought another man could do the job, Elizabeth—”

“But they look up to you,” she murmured. He’d never admit it, but he was a natural leader. He’d never send anyone to do a job he wouldn’t do himself. The men who worked for him would walk through fire for him. Would take a bullet for him. Some probably already had, but she wouldn’t think about that right now.

“He’ll see it as a betrayal,” she said softly. “Won’t he? You’re keeping his business, his daughter. You’ve turned on him.”

“It’s a possibility.” Jason knelt in front of her. “I’m hoping to figure out what he’s up to before he leaves the hospital in a few days, but even with him inside, I don’t know the contacts he has outside. We’re doubling security, and we’re probably going to have to move to the new house earlier than we thought. For a while.”

Elizabeth nodded, closing her eyes. “I want to stay at my grandmother’s,” she admitted. “But if we’re safer—”

“Until Sonny is out of the hospital, we can stay at the Hardy house,” Jason promised. “He’s not going to make a move unless he’s home. He could, but he’d want to be involved. At this point.” He scrubbed hands over his eyes. “I hate that we’re talking about this today. I hate that any of this is happening right now.”

“I hate that it’s happening at all.” She rose to her feet, and he straightened with her. “How sure are you that we’re safe at my grandmother’s house? Would Sonny come after you there?”

“I just—” Jason closed his eyes. “I just don’t know. I can’t imagine that he would, not with Evie and Cam there. But—”

“We should move to the new house,” Elizabeth said after a moment. “Now. You said Sonny doesn’t know where it is, and this is the best chance we have at keeping him from finding out.”

“Elizabeth—”

“We can have the kids packed up in a day or two so we’re settled by the time Sonny gets out.” Elizabeth nodded, at peace with the decision. “My grandmother’s house will be there when this is over, Jason. It’s more important that we keep our family safe.”

“I’m sorry—” Jason began.

She shook her head, cutting him off. “None of this is your fault. Even if you hadn’t lied about Evie last year, this day was coming. If it wasn’t Evie triggering this episode, it would have been something else.” She squared her shoulders. “All we can do, Jason, is take this one step at a time, one decision at a time.”

But even as they left the room for Audrey’s service, she couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere, they’d already made a mistake, taken a wrong step—and that this would all get so much worse before it got better.

General Hospital: Sonny’s Room

Carly stepped into the room, unsure at the reception she’d receive. Sonny had been running hot and cold since the moment he’d awoken to find bruises on her arm.

He’d been angry the first time he’d noticed them—sure that someone else had hurt her. And furious at her accusation that he’d been the one. Then he’d been devastated, turning all that anger on himself the next time. He’d remembered the fight where he’d grabbed her, when she had fallen.

He’d been contrite then, nearly in tears, comparing himself to his stepfather and Carly to his long-dead mother.

But the very next time they’d spoken, he’d blamed her. If she were a better wife, if she hadn’t flirted with Alcazar, Sonny never would have shot her in the head.

She’d begged Dr. Ford for another psych consult, but Sonny had already had one. His diagnosis had been confirmed, his medication continued. The chief of staff had pulled enough strings to get her the first one—they weren’t going to do it again.

Carly knew Jason had called in his family, had done what he could, but Sonny had convinced another doctor to continue giving him anti-depressants. At the best of times, they did nothing. And at other times, it made everything worse.

Just as Elizabeth said it might.

It wasn’t getting better, and in a week, Sonny would be released. Without any true change. She could only hope the manic episode would disappear as quickly as it had arrived, but that felt like asking for a miracle.

And none of them deserved that.

“Carly,” Sonny said, his tone flat, his eyes unreadable. This was her least favorite mood—it was as close to lucid as he’d been in months, but he still wasn’t her Sonny. She was terrified she would never see that Sonny again.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, settling for the safe question. “Dr. Ford said they were starting to draw back the pain meds. That’s a good sign—”

“Worried I’ll become addicted?” he cut in, his tone dipping with acid. “Another problem for you to fix?”

She took a deep breath. “No, of course not. I was asking—”

“I told Jason he could keep Evie if he turned control back to me and left town,” Sonny interrupted. His hands fisted at his sides, his skin dark against the cool white of the hospital linens.

Carly’s breath hitched, but she knew Jason would never take that deal. There was no reason for him to do so. Jason had legal custody—had held it for nearly a year. Sonny had terminated his rights. Any custody hearing would be an uphill battle with nothing but disaster at the end.

And Jason would never leave the business with Sonny. Not now that he had taken the drastic step of taking control. It had been a decision made as a last resort—to protect the men, to protect them all from Sonny’s instability. He couldn’t go back on that now.

“And what did Jason say?” Carly said, but she knew. “I’d miss him if he were gone—”

“He declined,” Sonny snarled. “He’s got everything he wants. My business, my men, my power—my daughter. He thinks he can take me on—”

“Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,” Carly murmured. “You could focus on your recovery. On—” She swallowed hard, taking an involuntary step back even as she continued. “On your illness.”

“Then you’re on his side.” He lifted his chin. “You’ve never been on mine. It’s always about Jason with you. Did you plan this together?”

“What? No—”

“Are you screwing him?”

“I can’t—” Carly’s throat closed, as she tried to force the words out. “No. Of course not. He loves Elizabeth—”

“He loved Robin. Didn’t stop him then.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could do this. What did Jason always say? How did he handle it? What had the goddamn pamphlets advised? Stay calm. Stay patient.

“He was different then. I was different. Neither one of us knew what it meant to be in love.  I love you, Sonny. And he loves Elizabeth. It hasn’t been like that for a long time.” Carly paused a moment. “I betrayed him with you. I wanted you—”

“You betrayed him, AJ, Tony. Why not me?” His dark eyes burned into hers. “How can I trust you?”

“Because I’m still here,” she said bluntly. She gestured around the room. “Jason’s not. Courtney’s not. Mike’s not. No one else is standing beside you at the moment. If you don’t trust me, who’s left?”

Sonny’s expression didn’t change but his shoulders slumped a little. “If you’re on my side,” he said, “then you know what we have to do.”

Carly nodded, twisting her fingers behind her back. “I know.”

“I can’t trust Jason anymore.” He waited a long moment. “He’s the enemy. He has to go. I want my daughter back. I want my business.”

“I know you do,” she began. Oh, God. Oh, God. She’d planned to turn Sonny against Jason, but not like this. Never like this.

“And I don’t care what I have to do to get it.” He nodded to the door. “I want to rest now. You can go.”

On shaky legs, her hands trembling as she fumbled with the latch on the door, Carly pushed her way into the hallway and straight to the elevators. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t get air in her throat.

It wasn’t until she reached the roof, until she collapsed by the ledge that she could finally let the tears flow.

What the hell was she supposed to do now?

Queen of Angels: Chapel

Elizabeth pressed a kiss to her fingers before placing her fingers against her grandmother’s cool cheek. “Do you believe in heaven?” she asked her brother.

“I have to,” he murmured. “I can’t do my job if I can’t picture the children I lose in a better place.” Steven wrapped an arm around his sister’s shoulder. “She’s with Gramps, now.”

“I know. And Aunt Lucille.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling, the tears sliding down her cheeks. “I love you, Gram—”

Her knees buckled then, and her brother braced her until Jason came, and led her back to her seat.

It hadn’t hit her until that moment.

Her grandmother was gone. And she was never coming back.

General Hospital: Nurse’s Station

 Carly pressed hands to her face, the tears burning her skin. “Oh, God. What do I do? What do I do?”

Courtney tried to keep her hands from shaking as she twisted her fingers in her lap. “Carly—”

“He’s going after Jason. He wants Evie. He wants to kill Jason. He’s not going to care about Elizabeth, about Cam—” Carly’s voice broke. “I can’t let him do this.”

“We should tell Jason—”

“I have to stop Sonny. I can’t protect him anymore.” With that, Carly left her at the nurse’s station and started down the hall towards his room.

General Hospital: Sonny’s Room

Sonny jabbed at the buttons on his hospital phone, his fingers slipping with anger. The third time, he managed to get the right numbers.

“Get me Ruiz!” he barked when someone answered the phone. “It’s time to move.”

Carly pushed open the hospital door, and stopped as she saw Sonny on the phone. He glared at her as he continued to speak. “I’m not waiting anymore. I don’t care who gets hurt. You get my daughter and you take him out.”

He hung up the phone, his hands at his sides. And behind her, two men stepped up.

Carly turned, her blood draining from her face. These were not men she knew. This wasn’t her normal guard. “Sonny—”

“Ricky and Sam will be with you from now on,” he told her. “Until things are settled.” He tilted his head. “For your own safety, of course.”

She’d waited too long to take sides. To make the right choices.

And now it was too late.

Queen of Angels: Cemetery

Elizabeth, clinging to Jason’s side, stepped up to the open grave and looked down at the cream-colored coffin resting at the bottom.

“Bits,” Steven murmured. She looked at him, at the devastation in his eyes. He was so worried about her, so concerned and yet—he’d lost Audrey, too.

She had to do this for him. She could be strong for her brother. For the ones that mattered. She closed her eyes, then knelt and took in a fistful of cold dirt.

Elizabeth rose to her feet and released the soil into the hole. Her brother did the same, followed by her uncle and her father.

And a chill danced up her spine.

 General Hospital: Nurse’s Station

Courtney saw the men step into her brother’s room, forcing Carly to step inside. Whatever was going on was bad. She reached for her cell.

She knew Jason would be at Audrey’s service, but she was truly terrified what might happen to Carly, what Sonny might be capable of.

“Jason? I think Sonny’s planning something.”

Queen of Angels: Cemetery

 Jason, Elizabeth, and Steven returned to their spots, and waited for Father Coates to finish the service. Thunder rumbled in the distance as clouds moved over the sun, casting shadows across the cemetery.

“It’s going to storm,” Jason said quietly. “We should try to get to the car before the rain starts.”

“I don’t think we’ll make it.”