September 30, 2018

This entry is part 34 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Sticks and stones they may break these bones
But then I’ll be ready, are you ready?
It’s the start of us, waking up, come on
Are you ready? I’ll be ready
I don’t want control, I want to let go
Are you ready? I’ll be ready
Cause now it’s time to let them know
We are ready
What About Us, P!nk


Monday, December 16, 2002

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

“So, we’re nowhere.” Sonny sighed, fisting his hands at his waist and dipping his head.

“We’re not nowhere,” Jason said a bit impatiently. “We’ll watch Zander and the Ruizes more closely. Knowing that Zander Smith has old ties to the Jerome crime family explains why Nico went out of his way—”

“I’d forgotten that Nico made his bones under old Victor,” Benny murmured, rubbing his chin. “I always think of him running numbers with you for Frank Smith, but yeah—I guess there was some leftover connections. I should have found Zander’s birth certificate before this.”

Sonny waved that away. “What about allies?  Who does Hector depend on? Who would he go to the mat before?” He huffed, poured himself a bourbon. “Someone came after us last summer, Jason. It’s not enough to say we can’t find him.”

“The family does business with a lot of South American cartels,” Jason said, flatly. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Sonny. I watched Hector, I watched the sons. I talked to all our guys. We had Benny tracing all their financial transactions, Stan was monitoring their internet activity—there’s nothing there. Someone called in a favor. I don’t think it’s more than that.”

“So, I’m just waiting for this someone to come at me again.” Sonny hissed. “And that’s good enough for you?”

“No.” Jason shook his head. “But I’ve already given you two more weeks than I agreed to. I’m handing this off to Benny and Johnny.”

Sonny swallowed. “So, you’re really going. Just like that.”

“Elizabeth graduated on Saturday, Sonny. You knew that I was going to go when she was done. She’s handing over Kelly’s today.” He paused. “Yeah. I’m really going. There’s nothing else for me to do here.”

“There’s nothing we can’t handle,” Benny said quietly. He looked at Jason. “You’ll be in Italy at first?”

“I’ll keep in touch about where we are. I don’t want you to have to search a week or more like last spring.” Jason shrugged. “We’re starting in Italy. I don’t know if we’ll stay long, but I’ll stop in on Maximus Giambetti. Make the rounds.”

“Miss Webber will enjoy the winter in Venice, I’m sure.” Benny flashed a smile. “It’s a beautiful city for art. And she’s worked very hard.”

“Yeah.” Sonny sighed. “Yeah, I know Elizabeth has wanted to go to Italy for a long time—I’m glad—” He looked at Jason. “It’s never going to be the same, is it?”

“No.” Jason shifted. “I don’t know if we’ll come back. I mean, maybe eventually. Elizabeth will miss her family and friends—and there’s Michael.” He sighed. “And I’m worried what Carly might do. She’s been too quiet.” He met his friend’s eyes. “I need to go away, Sonny.”

“Okay.” Sonny extended a hand. “I don’t have to tell you to take care of Elizabeth. You’ll do that without trying. Show her world, Jase. You two have waited long enough.”

“Thanks.” Jason shook his hand, then extended a shake to Benny, who gave him a warm smile.

When he was gone, Sonny sat on the sofa, his head in his chin. “Well, you warned me.”

“He’ll be back, Boss.” Benny said as Max knocked and let them know that Sonny’s lawyer was there to sign paperwork for the expansion plans in Las Vegas.

“Yeah, yeah. Come on in, Ric.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Courtney made a great show of dangling the gold keys on the hot flamingo key chain over her head. “The power is mine, all mine!” she said with a cackle.  “No more morning shifts ever!”

Gia rolled her eyes as she flicked their best friend. “Stop acting so happy that we’re being abandoned.” She huffed to Elizabeth. “You know you’re breaking the lease.”

Elizabeth snorted, sliding her house keys towards Gia and nodded to Bobbie. “Bobbie doesn’t care, why should you?”

“I’m just happy that my girls are happy,” Bobbie told them. She stood up from the table and dropped a kiss on the top of Elizabeth’s head. “And that you at least trained your replacement.”

“Besides, I’ll pay my portion of the rent until May,” Elizabeth told her former roommate.

“What happens in May?”

“Emily comes home, and she said she’d be willing to take over my part of the lease.” Elizabeth batted her eyes as Gia scowled. “This way, when I get back, you and Emily will be the best of friends.”

“Listen, if we can keep ourselves from killing each other, I’ll be shocked,” Gia said dryly.

“So, you are planning to come back,” Courtney said, leaning forward. “Because you packed everything. And you’ve been all final and weeping these last few weeks. Like we’re never going to see you again.”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth admitted. “I never intended to stay in Port Charles forever. And I’m excited to travel. But I also know that Jason is going to be paying, and that makes me less than thrilled—”

“He could care less—”

“And for a while, I’m not going to care either.” Elizabeth shrugged. “To be honest, I’m going because Jason needs to be gone. When he’s ready to come back…”

“She’s breaking up the band,” Gia muttered.

Elizabeth ignored her and joined Bobbie at the doorway where the redhead was peering through into the restaurant. “Thank you,” she told her.

Bobbie smiled, put an arm around her shoulders. “I’m so happy for you both.” She looked back through the restaurant where Carly was sitting with a sullen Michael. “I wish that things could have worked out as well for everyone else, but you’ve had a tough year.” She turned to embrace Elizabeth, squeezing her tight. “You may not be the daughter of my blood, but you’re like my BJ. The daughter of my heart. And I love Jason like he was my own. It gives me great happiness to know that you’ll be taking care of each other.”

“I never could have gotten this far if you hadn’t given me and Gia that first leg up.” Elizabeth’s voice broke. “You took on your family—you took my side—and you gave me a place to sleep. I love you, Bobbie. You’ve been more of a mother to me than my own ever was.” She stepped back as she heard a motorcycle rumble in the parking lot.

A few minutes later, Jason came through the archway. Bobbie smiled wanly at him. “You might want to stay there—Carly’s inside.”

Jason grimaced, then nodded. He looked to Elizabeth. “You ready?”

“Yeah, I just need to say goodbye to Gia and Courtney.” Elizabeth looked at her best friends—the two people who knew her better than anyone else in the world.

“Nope.” Gia shook her head. “You’re not getting rid of me so easy. Goodbyes are for other people.” She poked Elizabeth lightly in the chest. “We’ll see you later.”

“Yeah, we still need to win a bar fight,” Courtney said with a grin even as her eyes filled with tears.

Bobbie joined Jason as the three women hugged each other. “I’m so excited for you both,” she murmured, as she touched his arm. “This was a great idea, even if you are taking away the best manager I ever had. She was never meant to stay here. You take her where the light is beautiful and make sure she has all the art supplies she can handle.”

“I rented a studio for her in Venice,” Jason said, his eyes on Elizabeth. “It’s already stocked with the basics. I’m going to surprise her when we get there.”

“You’ll do fine.” She kissed his cheek. “Take care of each other.”

With a few more hugs and tears, Elizabeth grabbed her carry-on bag and purse—everything else had either been put into storage or had already been shipped to Venice.

She waved to the trio of women as she and Jason went to the parking lot. He stowed her carry-on and then handed her the helmet. “You ready?” he asked.

Elizabeth grinned. “I was born ready.”

Venezuela

Zander arched his brows as he was led through the labyrinth hallways of Luis Alcazar’s estate in Caracas. It had taken weeks for Alcazar to make contact again—Hector had started to lose hope that Zander would be able to get on the inside.

And then Alcazar had asked for Zander to join him for the holidays—to talk about the next step. Zander wasn’t really sure what he planned to do once he arrived. He knew he was playing a dangerous game—that if he betrayed either Alcazar or Hector his life was forfeit.

But he knew he was on the edge of something great—if he was just careful enough to select the right side and align himself with the victors—

People were going to remember Zander Smith’s name.

“Ah, Senor Smith.” Luis stood with a smile. “You’ve arrived. The trip was not too difficult, I trust.”

“No. I was surprised to hear from you.”

“Well, we’ve allowed the chips to fall and settle.” Luis gestured for Zander to take a seat. “I’m sure the Ruiz family is none too pleased with how things worked out.”

“Sonny’s not dead, so you’re not happy either.”

“Well, I will admit a bit of disappointment.” Luis sat behind the desk, took a cigar from a box on his desk and extended it to Zander. “The Carly business—it fell into my lap, but I was happy with the tension it created. You were correct—Nico and Roscoe were not worthy allies.”

“Morgan’s leaving town,” Zander told him as he leaned forward for Luis to light the cigar. “I still know some of the crew—he waited for Elizabeth to finish school. If they’re not gone now, they will be soon.”

“Interesting,” Luis murmured. “So, we managed to divide them at least. And I know that Sonny no longer has his normal trusted attorney at his side.”

“How—” Zander squinted. “How did you know about that?”

“I know everything, my friend. It’s time we discussed exactly how to destroy Sonny Corinthos.”

Out on the veranda, just outside the windows of the study, a woman closed her eyes. A single tear slid down her cheek.

She was never going to be able to stop him. She would never be able to escape and leave this nightmare behind.

Brenda Barrett just wanted to go home.

 

THE END


Author’s Note

I’m sure a lot of you expected me to deal with Brenda when I brought up Alcazar, and in the initial drafts of the story, I had planned to do that. But as I continued to draft and plan, I just realized that in order to set all the pieces up, I was going to need to tell this longer story between Jason and Elizabeth. Bittersweet ended up being almost 10 chapters longer than I had envisioned, actually.

While drafting, I realized I could really rewrite the summer and fall of 2002, particularly the story that derailed the Liason buildup. I wanted to hit a lot of the same beats (a death is faked, Liz gets lied to, Carly is part of it) while doing something more interesting with Carly’s accident earlier in the year other than just using it as a method to push Sonny/Carly back together. In fact, Jason gets shot and returned on the exact dates that Sonny did the same thing in 2002.  I also ended up doing more with AJ/drinking and Lucky/Elizabeth closure than I had foreseen. Even Zander had a bigger role.

All of that meant that to continue dealing with Alcazar and Brenda would mean Bittersweet would probably be another 20-30 chapters, and I’m not a huge fan of telling stories that long without good reason. Stories should have a narrative that begins and concludes, and Bittersweet is Jason and Elizabeth’s story.

They’re going to go and have their trip to Italy and return to deal with all the baggage they left behind at some point. Alcazar is also going to regroup and lick his wounds, while Zander is going to have to decide exactly where he stands and where his loyalties lie. The sequel (tentatively titled With Malice) will be a choice in the April Camp NaNoWriMo poll, so keep that in mind.

I really loved returning to this early time period and digging into everyone’s stories at this point in their lives. Thank you all for giving Gia and Courtney a chance to earn your love and support. This is the Courtney I used to love and the one I miss, and it’s a pleasure to discover her again through writing. I have more planned for both of them as well.

Thank you for your patience and continued support. You guys make all of this worth it. Thank you to Cora and Angela for doing the beta reading, as well as my Patreon supporters who sent over copy edits as well. I literally have the best readers in the universe 🙂

<3 Melissa

This entry is part 33 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Is anybody out there?
Is anybody listening?
Does anybody really know?
If it’s the end of our beginning
A cry, a rush from one breath
Is all we’re waiting for
Sometimes the one we’re taking
Changes every one before
Holding On and Letting Go, Ross Copperman


Friday, October 11, 2002

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Elizabeth stepped outside and stared at the man sitting calmly at one of her tables. She knew Sonny had been released from the hospital the day before because Emily had warned her, but to see him here—for the first time since he’d dropped her off the morning after she’d learned the truth—she couldn’t quite make herself take another breath.

“Elizabeth.” Sonny struggled to his feet. “I’m sorry to just—I thought you might not answer me if I called—”

“You’d be right,” Elizabeth said slowly, clutching her order pad to her chest. She swallowed hard. “I’ll get someone else to help you—”

“Is there nothing I can do to make this right?” he asked softly.

Her eyes filled at the anguish in his voice—God, she wasn’t going to let him do this to her—wasn’t going to let him make her the bad guy. She simply wasn’t.

Elizabeth turned back to him. “I said everything I needed to say the last time we spoke, Sonny. You knew the situation, and you used me. You used my grief to sell your plan. You kept me out of the loop because you didn’t trust me. I don’t know what else—”

“I’m asking you not to take this out on Jason then.” Sonny shifted, wincing as some of the weight fell onto his injured leg and he sat back down. “I know you’re not speaking to him.”

“No, I’m not talking to Jason. But it’s none of your business—”

“I did this, not him.” Sonny pressed his hand flat against his chest. “I went out of my way to make sure that Jason was never in a position to lie to you. To make that choice. I knew I could convince him that this was a good idea, but I never put him in that position because I didn’t—”

“Because you knew he wouldn’t agree.” Elizabeth shoved her order pad and pencil into the pocket of her apron. “Don’t feed me bullshit, Sonny. I’m past it. We’re done. You knew Jason would never agree to lie to me. You also knew he would never agree to fake his death, so you drugged him—” Her voice broke. “He trusted you, Sonny. You told him you’d come to get me. And then then you kept him unconscious, so he wouldn’t fight you. He was supposed to be your family. How could you do that to him—”

“Being in my position,” Sonny said slowly, “means that sometimes I can’t let that matter. The stakes were too high—Jason nearly died, Elizabeth.” He gestured to the table. “Please. Just…I promise. If you hear me out this once…because you’re not wrong.”

Against her better judgment, Elizabeth sighed and sat down, gingerly perching at the edge of the chair so that she could make a hasty escape if necessary.

“When he was shot, I was going to contact you,” Sonny said. “But the cops were all over the place and I knew I couldn’t get to you without them noticing. And…it wasn’t clear that Jason would make it out of surgery.”

I should have been there for him,” she choked out, her fists clenched in her lap. “Not Johnny—”

“I don’t disagree with that. I put off calling you because I didn’t want—” He looked away. “I was afraid he would die, Elizabeth, and that I would have to be the one to tell you. So, I waited. And that was my mistake. By the time I knew he’d pull through, you’d already talked to the cops—”

“Don’t you blame me for that—I didn’t tell them a damn thing—”

“I know that,” Sonny said. “I was angry at first, but I realize now this partially started because of all the goddamn bad timing.” He rubbed his thumb against his lip. “And then I realized that I couldn’t bring you there right away. I knew Jason would want you to know, I knew you’d want to be there. I never intended—it was going to be a day or two.”

“But it wasn’t,” Elizabeth pressed. “It was weeks, Sonny—”

“You live in the same building as Taggert, you’re close to his sister,” Sonny said. “Those are the facts. I had to take that into account. And…then when I was going to tell you the plan—to warn you about what was next—I realized how much you knew about what was going on. More than I wanted to you to know. More than Jason should have told you—”

“So, I was right. You didn’t lie to me to protect me or the plan. You lied because you thought I already knew too much.” She closed her eyes, swallowed the tears that never seemed to be far away. “Because you don’t trust me.”

“I don’t…” Sonny looked down at the surface the table, brushing his fingers against the surface. “I don’t think I trust anyone,” he admitted. “Because I kept Jason drugged. And I kept lying to you. And I kept telling myself it was the right thing to do.”

“You think because now you know it wasn’t,” Elizabeth said slowly, “that it makes it better? That it changes how—you think I can just let it go?”

“No, I think that I made choices that have made that impossible for us to be where we were.” He met her eyes. “I just don’t want my choices to be the reason you and Jason don’t make it. I can live with you hating me. I can live with him—” Sonny stopped talking.

“Sonny—”

“If I am the reason Jason loses you, that’s it for me and him,” Sonny told her in a low pained voice. “I don’t ever get a second chance. He could forgive what happened with Carly because she didn’t matter. You do. The rest of the people I hurt—Bobbie, Emily, Monica—they’ll move on. They’ll let this go. But—”

“I don’t understand.” Elizabeth squinted, tilted her head. “What does that mean? How is it—Jason still works for you, Sonny. He went ahead with this plan—”

“He came to see me in the hospital,” Sonny told her. “And then I haven’t seen him since. You know his position with me at the moment is fluid. He’s told you that. The only thing that kept him in Port Charles these last six months was you and Michael. Michael is settled. He’s happy with his father.” Sonny’s mouth twisted at that slightly, but he continued. “If Jason leaves this time, I don’t think he’ll come back.”

Elizabeth exhaled. “I can’t make any decisions about my life so that you can keep Jason around to fix your messes,” she said tightly. “I learned the hard way how loyal Jason is to you, how he will still put himself on the line for Carly. I told you—I told you before all this happened how it was going to be because of her. I take no pleasure in being right.”

“I don’t expect you to do anything for me.” He shook his head. “I have no right. But you need to know you’re not the only one whose looking at Jason’s relationships and realizing how one-sided they are. Jason is seeing it, too. That’s why I think he might leave. Because there’s nothing left for him here without you. I’m not saying that to guilt you but, so you know that I’m not keeping him here. Carly isn’t.”

Elizabeth’s chest ached as she took a deep, shaky breath. “I’ve been terrified to tell him what I really think,” she murmured. “That yes, I’m upset about the lies. About the way it continued. But that I can get past all of that. What keeps me up at night, Sonny, is knowing that at the end of the day, you came first. Carly came first. He promised me it wouldn’t be like that.”

“It wasn’t,” Sonny insisted. “I did this. By the time Jason found out, there were things that were in motion—but his concern for you came first.” He stopped. “Thanks for hearing me out. What I did to you—how I treated you and Jason—I can’t ever take that back. I can’t ever make this right.”

“He loves you, Sonny,” Elizabeth said as he stood up, wincing in pain. “I love you. That’s why this hurts so much. I had a family that didn’t really care much about me, and I thought I had found a new one who did love me.” She looked at him, the tears sliding down her cheeks. “You were supposed to be my family.”

“I know.” He sighed. “And that’s something I can’t ever change. I’m sorry.”

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Corinthos Penthouse: Hallway

 Jason managed a smile when he saw Max standing at the entrance to the penthouse. “Good to see you back on your feet.”

Max grinned, wiggling the fingers that stuck out of the sling he wore to protect the shoulder that had taken the bullet. “You know me, can’t keep me down for long. Good to see you, too, Jase.” The man’s eyes glittered just a little as he continued. “You got nine lives.”

“Yeah, well, I’d like to stop using them,” Jason muttered, wincing as he opened the door to the penthouse. His chest still ached at times—he wasn’t fully recovered, he knew that. But some things had to get done.

Sonny and Benny looked up at his entrance. Sonny started to stand but Jason waved him away. “I wanted to let you know that we took care of Nico last night.”

Sonny sighed. “And he didn’t give us anything new?”

“He didn’t have anything to give us,” Jason said as he took a seat across from Benny. He squinted at the paperwork strewn across the dining room table. “What’s all that?”

“Expansion,” Benny said sourly. “Nico was supposed to be taking point on this crap, but now we gotta figure out what to do next.”

“If Nico didn’t know who Roscoe was working with—” Sonny shook his head. “It’s not like him not to demand details. He knows—he knew better than that.”

“He was greedy,” Benny said. “He would have done anything to get out of Port Charles and into Vegas. He cut corners. Not surprised he got into bed with Roscoe without knowing the full deal.”

“The thing is….” Jason said after a moment, “is that I think Nico was protecting Zander.” Benny and Sonny looked at him. “You told me that you thought Zander was involved,” he reminded Sonny. “That he came here to test Elizabeth.”

“Why would Nico protect Zander?” Benny said with a scowl. “Didn’t we determine he was setting Zander up to take the fall for the drugs at the club?”

“Yeah, but why did Nico pick Zander in the first place?” Jason pressed. “He had to know Zander’s background would make him an unlikely candidate to get anywhere. Even if I didn’t come back—”

“I was pushing back on Zander,” Sonny said. He rubbed his mouth. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking we don’t know nearly enough about Zander,” Jason admitted. “We never dug into his time before Port Charles. He flipped on Sorel, that was good enough for us for a while. And now he’s gone to work for the Ruiz family. I know Nico had connections, but—”

“But Zander got a sweet gig in Miami,” Benny pointed out. “He was already running his own crew at the docks. Not something I would have thought Nico could make happen.”

“Hector Ruiz isn’t going to come after us,” Jason told Sonny. “He doesn’t care enough. He doesn’t mind making trouble, but I think someone asked him to take on Zander. We always knew Roscoe was working for someone else. We knew Nico couldn’t be the mastermind. He’s not that smart.”

“So, it’s someone with connections to the Ruiz family. Someone in that area of the world.” Sonny shook his head. “Then why the hell come after me?”

“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. He hesitated but told them about Carly. “Carly was approached at the club by Faith Roscoe last year. I think Roscoe was feeling her out after the divorce to see if she could be used.”

Sonny scowled. “Why the hell—” His face blanched and he sat back. After a long moment, he nodded. “So, we were right. Carly engineered the accident to make you come home.”

“And I think that’s all Roscoe wanted to do—was to help her go missing until I came back. But that’s the point where this other guy comes in. I don’t think Carly was supposed to have a real accident—and she wasn’t supposed to be gone that long.” Jason hesitated. “I don’t know what to tell you, Sonny. I don’t know if the threat still exists or if someone was just taking advantage of the situation.”

“All of this was for nothing,” Sonny scowled. “We don’t know anything—”

Jason got to his feet. “I can look into some of this,” he said quietly. And he nodded to the paperwork in front of Benny. “And I can take point on this.”

Benny drew his brows together in frown, but Sonny didn’t look surprised. “You’re planning on leaving,” he said simply.

“Yeah.” Jason exhaled slowly. He looked out the window, at the skyline of Port Charles. “I think it’s probably for the best.”

“Maybe,” Sonny admitted. He waited until Jason looked back at him. “Maybe you should talk to Elizabeth first.”

Jason shook his head. “It’s been days. She hasn’t—” He hadn’t had the courage to seek her out after talking to Carly, after seeing once again the lengths Carly would go to. Elizabeth didn’t need that in her life, and as long as Jason was around, Carly would be planning her next attack.

The only way to make it better would be to leave.

“I know that,” Sonny said. “And I know that you and me aren’t going to be okay any time soon, if ever. I get that, Jase. You got no reason to trust me, to take advice from me.”

Jason pressed his lips together in a thin line. “Sonny—”

“But believe me when I tell you that if you leave town without letting Elizabeth know—or giving her a chance to sort through this—you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room

It was the best Elizabeth had felt in weeks as she and the people who meant the most in the world to her crowded around the coffee table in her apartment—Elizabeth and Emily on the sofa, Courtney sprawled out on her back, laying on some pillows, and Gia on the floor, her legs drawn up under her chin. They were surrounded by bottles of wine, cheese, fruit, and chocolate.

They didn’t normally have a wine night twice in a week, but it was Emily’s last night in Port Charles before she flew back to finish out the last of her program in California, and Elizabeth was determined to make sure that when Emily returned in the spring after graduation, that there would be a place for her here. Especially if Elizabeth wasn’t around.

Gia and Emily had spent the majority of the evening trying to outdo one another in stories about bad dates, and Elizabeth’s sides ached from laughing so hard.  She was a little bit tipsy, stuffed with candy and wine—she’d have a hell of a hangover when she woke up the next morning, but this…this gave her hope that everything would be okay.

“So,” Emily said as she poured herself what was probably her fourth full glass of Moscato. “I have decided to forgive you for blackmailing me,” she told Gia.

Gia raised her own wine glass in toast. “Thank you. I’ve forgiven you for being an irritating pest.” She grinned. “See, Liz, we can be friends!”

For some reason that sent Courtney into an attack of the giggles, and she laughed until she couldn’t breathe, turning over on her stomach.

Elizabeth snorted and reached for her drink. “Listen, there was a time when I hated both of you—” She raised her wine at Gia and Emily in turn. “Because you were…. a bitch,” she told Gia who nodded, and at Emily’s mystified expression, “When I could tell Lucky liked you more than me.”

“Oh, God, if we’re going back to high school.” Emily rolled her eyes. “That first day we met, I knew you only defended me because Lucky was about to step in. You just wanted kudos.”

“Uh, like, duh,” Elizabeth drawled. “How else was I supposed to make him think I was cool, too?” Her phone rang, and she looked down at the screen. Her smile faded slightly. “It’s Jason.”

“Yeah?” Emily leaned over, intrigued. “He hasn’t called you since he got home. Have you seen him?”

“Not since he came by Kelly’s on Wednesday.” She bit her lip, then answered it, waving her hand to tell the other three to keep quiet. “Jason?”

“Hey. I—I hope it’s okay I called.”

“No, it’s okay.” Elizabeth swallowed hard at the sound of his voice. “I’m just at the apartment with the girls. Em goes back to California tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I-I know. We had lunch today.” Jason waited a moment. “I should let you go then—”

“No, no, why did you call?” she said quickly. “You wanted something.”

“I just—I wanted to talk, but—”

The words came out in a rush—she didn’t think about it, she just said exactly what she wanted. “Pick me up in ten? I miss you.”

“Okay. I—I’ll be right there.”

Elizabeth tossed the phone aside. “I’m ditching y’all for a man.” She got to her feet and winced. “Is there time for coffee?”

“Are you sure about this?” Gia asked, climbing to her feet and handing her an unopened bottle of water. Elizabeth uncapped it. “You’ve been drinking—”

“That’s good. I won’t be thinking so hard how to say the right thing, and I’ll just say what I’m thinking. Plus, Sonny told me Jason is thinking of leaving.” She looked at Emily. “Isn’t he?”

“He, ah,” Emily bit her lip. “He told me he might come out to see me soon. Liz—”

“He doesn’t think there’s anything for him here,” Elizabeth told Gia. “He’s leaving Sonny. I didn’t ask him to. I didn’t say a word.”  Her heart felt a thousand times lighter. “I don’t even need him to actually go. I just needed to know he would. That he was that angry at Sonny, too.”

“There’s that epiphany we’ve been waiting for,” Gia told Courtney who just blinked her blearily. “Never mind. You’re drunker than the rest of us. Lightweight.”

“So, you’re going to forgive him?” Emily said with a squeal. She jumped to her feet. “Oh my God, yay, we can still be sisters!”

“I don’t know about that,” Elizabeth said as she drank more water. She rolled her shoulders. She needed to be sober—or at least less tipsy for this. Jason had reached out—

And she wanted nothing more than to reach back.

Brownstone: Front Steps

Elizabeth was waiting at the top of the stairs when Jason pulled the bike to a stop. He had called her without thinking about it—he’d just wanted to hear her voice. To see her. For months they’d been together nearly every day and every night. To not be with her these last few weeks…

But he had already nearly accepted that Elizabeth wouldn’t be able to let herself trust him again—that she would walk away to take care of herself. He understood that—part of him had seen it coming even before he’d put an end to the lie.

But her voice on the other end of the phone—

And the way he could see her smile in the street lights—

As if the last time they’d faced one another on these steps, they hadn’t known she was saying goodbye.

“Hey.” Elizabeth said as she came down the steps and joined him at the curb. She nodded to the bike. “Let’s go nowhere. Fast.”

Without a word, he handed her the helmet. He didn’t know what would happen next, but maybe there was still a future for them.

Vista Point

Elizabeth leaned over the railing. The night was so clear she could see straight out to Spoon Island and Wyndemere. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You remember the last time we were here?”

“Yeah.” Jason put his hand on the railing but faced her. “Just before I got shot.” He hesitated. “Elizabeth—”

“I haven’t really known what to say to you,” she admitted. “I mean, this was all so big. So…shattering. It’s not just what happened to me—the lies, the grief—it’s also been killing me what happened to you.”

He dipped his head. “I’m okay—”

“Hey.” Elizabeth put a hand against his chest, slipping it beneath the leather of his jacket. She furrowed her brow. “Oh. I forgot to give your jacket back.”

“I thought it got lost when Jake packed up my things, so I got another one.” He tilted his head. “You have it?”

“I took it. When the cops finally let me into your room to get my phone.” She fished into her pocket and took out the little flip phone. “I left it there that last morning. God, it really sucked. Taggert told me they’d pulled your phone records, so I knew you’d called me, and I just…. they wouldn’t give me the phone.” She managed a half smile as she looked at him. “Once I got that message, I got Lucas to save it on a CD for me, so I could just…play it over and over again. I didn’t want to forget your voice.”

He closed his eyes, his features twisted in a grimace. “I’m so sorry—”

“And while I was out of my mind with worry and grief,” Elizabeth said slowly, “your best friend—your family—was keeping you drugged unconscious, faking your death—I’m not the only victim here, Jason. Emily told me that you were talking about visiting her, and Sonny came by yesterday—”

“He shouldn’t be bothering you,” he cut in with a low growl. “I told him to leave you alone—”

“He thinks you’re getting ready to leave. That Michael and I were all that kept you here.” Her eyes burned. “Are you?”

“It’s—” Jason exhaled slowly. Looked away. “It’s why I called. There are—there are loose ends with what happened, and there are some things I could away from Port Charles. But it’s not—” He shook his head. “It’s not just because of what—It’s not just because of you.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth drawled out slowly. “Is it…is it like the last time? You’re leaving because of what happened?”

He took a few steps away from her and wrapped both fists around the railing. “I can’t be around Sonny,” he admitted. “I tried that earlier today. Tried to have a business meeting. Keep it simple. But, yeah, it’s like before. Only—” Jason looked back at her. “He slept with Carly that night I got shot. You knew that.”

“I figured that out eventually,” she said. “Jason—”

“I went to him and that’s when I found out. I didn’t even—” He took a breath. “It hurt because I knew why they’d done it. Carly wanted to hurt me because she saw us dancing that night at Kelly’s. And Sonny wanted to prove a point about Carly. And maybe about himself. That he shouldn’t be trusted.”  Jason squinted a little, as if trying to find the right words. “I just—I needed to be away from that. I needed to get away from anyone who could make me feel that way.”

“So, you left,” Elizabeth said. A terrible ache started to spread through her chest. Oh, God, was he leaving anyway? Even if she— “Is that what you wanted to tell me? That you need to go? That even if I can get past what happened, it doesn’t matter—”

“Elizabeth—” Jason broke off abruptly. “I don’t know. I love you. I hate what happened to you. What you went through. I would never have done that to you, and if I stay in Port Charles, around Sonny and Carly, I don’t know that I can keep it from happening again.”

“So, you need time, too.” Elizabeth gripped the edge of his jacket and drew him closer. “What am I supposed to do, Jason? Just let you go? You had your chance to walk away. We both did. I don’t want to lose you.” Her voice broke. “Because I know what it’s like without you, and I don’t want to do it again.”

“If I stay,” Jason told her, his voice pained, “I know Carly is just going to keep coming at me. I pissed her off. And Sonny’s—I don’t know. You shouldn’t have to deal with any of that—”

“I make my own decisions,” she insisted. “So, if you need to go, then I’ll go, too.”

“Elizabeth—” He stared at her for a long minute. “Your entire life is here—”

“Give me six weeks,” she told him. “Because I really do want to finish my degree. I worked hard, and I’m only six weeks away. I have to finish training Courtney to take over as manager. But I was already looking for the next thing. Even that last morning, you know that. I was ready to move on from Kelly’s and college. Give me six weeks, and I can go.”

“What about your family, your friends?”

“Gia, Emily, and Courtney are a phone call away, an email.” Elizabeth spread her hands at her sides. “Bobbie, too. You asked me to go away with you once. I regretted not saying yes every day that came after.”

Jason exhaled, bit his lip. “I’d…I’m looking into some things for Sonny. Even though I’m not going back to working for him the way I used to, what happened these last few months—there are still some things—” He nodded. “But I can do that during the next six weeks.” A smile spread across his face. He held out a hand. “I want to show you the light in Italy.”

She grinned back at him, sliding her hand in his. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather go.” He pulled into his arms and kissed her—

It had taken her more than a year to make the right choice, but she was never going to look back.

This entry is part 32 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Did you think we’d be fine?
Still got scars on my back from your knife
So, don’t think it’s in the past
These kinda wounds they last and they last
Now did you think it all through?
All these things will catch up to you
And time can heal but this won’t
So if you’re coming my way, just don’t
Bad Blood, Taylor Swift


Thursday, October 10, 2002

General Hospital: Sonny Corinthos’ Room

Courtney stopped at the threshold of her brother’s room and lightly knocked against the open door. Sonny, wincing as he pulled on his suit jacket, turned to look at her. Surprise lit in his dark brown eyes which made sense. Courtney could not remember the last time she had sought him out or vice versa.

“Hey. You’re going home already?”

“I can’t stand hospitals,” Sonny managed as he leaned against the bed. “And it’s just my leg.” He grimaced. “And some bruising where the bullet hit the vest I was wearing. I’ll be fine.” He raised a brow. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“I’m not sure I do,” she admitted. She leaned against the door frame. “Feels like I should, though. Dad said he came by earlier today.”

“Yeah, to yell at me.” Sonny winced again, and Courtney sighed.

“Maybe you should stay another day—you don’t look so good—”

“I got things to do,” Sonny said. He stood straight, keeping a hand braced on the table next to the bed. “You doing okay?”

“Better than my best friends at the moment.” Courtney lifted an eyebrow. “Gia’s brother isn’t speaking to her, and Elizabeth looks like death.” She smirked. “Though I guess that’s accurate, since you destroyed her life along with Jason’s.”

Sonny scowled. “I—I know she was hurt, but—”

“I mean, you made her lie, Sonny. She told Gia about Jason being alive, but not me. And I get why she did it. She didn’t want me to have to choose between her and my husband.” Courtney pressed her lips together, then took a deep breath. “But she had to lie to me. And lie to the Quartermaines. To Bobbie. To people who care about her and Jason. And when she came over—”

“If you think you need to tell me what an awful person I am—”

“The thing is that I don’t know what kind of person you are,” Courtney cut in. “I wanted to know once. But you made it clear that you only wanted me in your life on your terms, and that doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if you’re a really a cruel person, but the man Elizabeth talks about doesn’t seem like he would be. I mean, God, Sonny, don’t you see that it’s so much worse because she thought you cared about her? She doesn’t have a lot of people in her life, and you’re just someone else who threw her away. The Spencers, Nikolas, even Emily—they all made Lucky the priority. She thought you were different.”

Sonny looked away, took a deep breath. “I know.”

“And I don’t know Jason all that well, to be honest, but it definitely seems like you were supposed to be his best friend. I mean, maybe you had your reasons, but Sonny—” Courtney stepped towards him. “Elizabeth isn’t speaking to him. Not because she doesn’t love him, but this broke her in ways I don’t think you saw coming.”

“I never wanted him to be in a position to lie to her,” Sonny murmured, shaking his head. “I planned it so that none of this was his fault—”

“Every day he knew that he faked his death and that Elizabeth had grieved for him and didn’t stop it—that made him part of this. You made them both liars, Sonny.”

She hesitated. “I’m glad you’re not going to die because Dad cares about you, but all of this just makes me really glad you and I never got close. I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Quartermaine Mansion: Terrace

The early afternoon was slightly chilly, but nothing forced Lila Quartermaine inside for her afternoon tea until the first snow fell.

Jason found his grandmother, sister, and mother sharing that tea on the terrace and stopped just at the doorway. His grandmother’s eyes lit up when she saw him, but Monica and Emily’s expressions remained cooler. Even icy.

“Jason, my darling—” Lila held out her thin hand and Jason crossed to her, Emily sliding down the wicker sofa to make room. “It’s so good to see you.”

“I’m so sorry, Grandmother. For what happened,” Jason said immediately. “I didn’t—”

“Emily told us,” Monica said, bluntly. “She told us that you were shot, in hiding, and that Sonny lied to everyone before faking your death.” She lifted her chin. “I’ve already called Elizabeth to make my apologies.”

“I talked to her yesterday,” Emily said. She glanced at her brother, her fingers trembling slightly as she lifted the delicate white tea cup to her lips. “As usual, she’s just grateful we believe she didn’t know. Imagine that. Elizabeth didn’t even have the energy to be angry at us for not trusting her.”

Jason closed his eyes, took a deep breath. “I know. I never meant for any of this—”

“I always said that Sonny Corinthos would be the death of you,” Monica said, sharply. “How can you still see the good in a man like that? Selfish, calculating—” She stopped abruptly, looked away.

“I know that he’s all of those things,” Jason said after a long moment. It was always a struggle to open himself up to the Quartermaines, but Monica, Emily, and Lila were not the men of the family, and he knew he owed them more than that. He knew how the entire family had grieved for him.

It hadn’t been his fault—not directly—but it didn’t change how he felt about it.

“There are no words, nothing I can I do to make this better.” Jason exhaled slowly. “All I can do is say I’m sorry, and that it wasn’t my idea—”

“But at some point, you knew. You knew that not only had Sonny not told anyone where you were for weeks, but that he had left us in terror,” Monica said, her teeth clenched. “You knew that he had faked your death—that we buried a body—who the hell did we bury?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know until after the funeral when Sonny finally told Elizabeth the truth and brought her—”

“I know that Mr. Corinthos has his good qualities,” Lila said, slowly, “but I cannot countenance what he put us through. What he put Elizabeth through.”

“She was devastated,” Emily said. Her dark eyes flashed at him. “Imagine burying someone you love twice and finding out it was a lie. Jesus Christ, Jason. When are you going to stop letting Sonny control your life? When are you going to get rid of him—and Carly?”

“It’s not—it’s not that simple.” Jason clenched his fists, looked down at them.

“Yeah, well, I thought maybe losing Robin and Michael had been a wake-up call.” Emily set her tea cup in its saucer with a clatter. “But I guess you really are brain damaged if you keep letting Sonny and Carly destroy your life—”

“Emily!” Lila said sharply, as Monica grimaced, and Jason flinched.

Emily bit her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I don’t mean that.” Her eyes were full of misery when they met his. “I love you. And I’m tired of seeing you lose everything because you’re too loyal to say enough is enough. You’re going to lose Elizabeth if you don’t learn how to put yourself first.”

Jason reached for his sister’s hand. “I know that. And I’m working on it.”

Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room

“I’m glad we splurged on the good stuff,” Gia said as she surveyed the three empty bottles of wine and the demolished boxes of pizza. Her stomach lurched. “But maybe a pizza each was not the best idea.”

“I know it wasn’t.” Courtney groaned, laying on her back on the floor, an arm resting over her eyes. “Jesus. That hurts.”

Elizabeth sipped her wine and managed a weak smile from her corner of the sofa. “You actually ate three pizzas between you. I only had two slices.”

Gia gasped, stabbed a finger at her. “I knew it! You tricked us into eating your part! Don’t think this means you’re not splitting the bill—”

In the background, the television news at ten o’clock flickered on the television, ending whatever drama they’d been half-watching as they’d drunk themselves silly on Merlot and Cabernet.  As it had been for the past three days, the leading story was the miraculous revival of Jason Morgan, and tonight, the news team had assembled a panel debating his story about the car accident.

“You know, maybe the world was a better place before mass media,” Gia said as she followed Elizabeth’s gaze. B-roll footage of the funeral ran, followed by what the reporters had filmed at the hospital during Jason’s arrest from a distance. She hadn’t seen that particular shot before—of she and Jason exchanging words before Gia drove her away.

“Cameras are everywhere,” Gia said, wrinkling her nose. “I bet the dinky camera phones we have now are going to just keep getting better and we’ll even be filming our own videos. Just wait until any Tom, Dick, or Beetlejuice can film you.”

“I think that saying is Harry, not Beetlejuice,” Courtney said, propping herself up on her elbows.

“My way is more fun.” Gia pursed her lips. “At least everyone believes you didn’t know.”

“Yeah, now.” Elizabeth sighed, curling her legs up underneath her. “Is your brother talking to you yet?”

“No. I know he apologized to you for what happened at the hospital, but he’s still pretty sure we both knew something we didn’t tell him.” Gia shrugged. “Not the first secret I’m kept from Marcus. Won’t be the last.”

“Did you see Jason today?” Courtney sat up, folding her legs and pouring herself another glass of wine. “Georgie Jones said things were super awkward yesterday, but I was hoping—”

“I don’t—I can’t even look at him.” Elizabeth sighed. “Because every time I turn around, there’s another news article in my face, or a reporter sticking a microphone at me—I am constantly being reminded of how awful all of that was, and I’m just—it’s stupid to blame him all the way for it. He didn’t start it, and I know he was just finishing it the best way he knew how.”

“Just because he’s not the villain, it doesn’t make it any less shitty.” Gia tapped her fingernails against her glass. “Still. I feel like you’re edging away from time needed to complete separation.”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth repeated. “It’s unfair to hold it against him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t.” She bit her lip. “Part of me wants to run screaming for the hills. I’ll graduate in December, and I’ll just leave. Maybe go down to Memphis with my grandmother and Steven. I know Gram would take me in while I got a job.”

“That sounds like something you’ve been thinking through.” Courtney tilted her head. “Is that what you’re going to do?”

“Maybe.” Elizabeth stared down at the dark red liquid swirling in her glass. “It might be nice to start over. To run away. I probably should have run away from Port Charles ages ago.”

“So why aren’t you packing your bags?” Gia asked.

“Because I love Jason,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “And I didn’t have to wait a year for him to come back to me. He wasn’t brainwashed, he’s not telling me to be with someone else. There’s nothing about what’s happening that’s news to me. Sonny has always been a control freak, Jason has always been loyal to him and an idiot where Carly is concerned. The scale is—that’s what’s different. I never thought Sonny would destroy Jason. That he would purposefully set out to hurt me like he did—that his distrust of women was so deep that he dragged me along with it.”

She chewed on her bottom lip. “I just—I don’t know if running away is the right idea. I don’t know if staying is. I just—I don’t know. And until I do know, I feel like I owe it to Jason not give him any mixed signals. Because yesterday, after I saw him, I had to physically stop myself from calling Gram and asking her to pick me up at the airport. He deserves for me to know what I’m doing.”

“So, what, you’re just waiting for some kind of magical epiphany?” Courtney asked with some skepticism. “I don’t know if that actually happens.”

“All I know is that right now I don’t know what I want to do.  Before, I used to pick the path of least resistance. Whatever asked the least of me, you know. I stayed with Lucky instead of leaving with Jason. I nearly married Lucky because it was easier than starting over.” Elizabeth took a long swallow of her wine. “Is that I’d be doing if I stayed with Jason now? Nothing would change. We’d be happy for a while. But it would just all happen again. But if I leave, that means walking away from someone I genuinely love. It’s not like it was with Lucky. I am in love with Jason. And I want a future with him. I’m just—”

“Scared that future has way too much Sonny and Carly.” Gia nodded. She raised her glass in a mock toast. “So, here’s to that magical epiphany. Let’s hope it shows up fast.”

Elm Street Pier

When Jason saw Carly standing on the docks, he nearly turned back—nearly walked away completely. After putting in a full afternoon at the warehouse, he just wanted to go back to Jake’s and have a couple of beers, putting the entire day behind him. But Carly was at the bottom of the stairs, blocking his way forward.

He hadn’t seen her since everything had happened. Since that day at the warehouse when he’d learned the truth behind her disappearance, her involvement with Mickey Roscoe—

She brightened at the sound of his motorcycle boots and her eyes filled with tears. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for two days!” Carly rushed towards him, but Jason held up his arms to stop her.

“Jase—”

“You think anything has changed?” Jason asked, relieved at the anger he felt. Not worry. Not pity. No desire to set this right. Just…incredibly pissed that Carly had the nerve to think everything would go back to the way it had been. “Yeah, I’m not dead, Carly. So, what?”

Tears slid down her cheeks as Carly sucked in a sharp breath. “I-I told you the truth—I did—I told you what happened. That’s what you wanted—”

“You told me you helped set up an ambush—” Jason stared at her and finally asked her the question that had plagued him for weeks. “How did you know who Mickey Roscoe’s wife was?”

“What?” Carly’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

“You said he never introduced himself, Carly.” Jason swallowed hard. “You knew Faith Roscoe before any of this started. You met his wife at the club. That’s what you said.”

“Jason—”

“It never made sense to me,” he said slowly. “Why anyone would go after you when you weren’t part of Sonny’s life. We thought you might be involved, but—”

“No, Jase, I wouldn’t—”

“You wouldn’t fake a car accident if you thought it would get me back in Port Charles?” Jason said. “How’d you know who Faith Roscoe was, Carly? How did you know Mickey Roscoe from the papers?”

Carly narrowed her eyes. “You think I set you up for that ambush? Go to hell—”

“I think that I don’t know,” Jason said slowly. He shook his head. “And that fact—and everything else that’s happened since you came back—”

“You faked your death, too!” Carly shot back. And then she slapped her hands over her mouth, her dark brown eyes wide with shock. “That’s not what I meant—”

Jason closed his eyes. All the pieces had come together. “It got out of hand, didn’t it? You were just supposed to be gone for a few days.”

“Jason—” She shook her head. “You just—you weren’t coming home, and I was fine. I was good. I was strong. I was ready to be the woman you needed me to be, and I had custody of Michael. I was going to give him to you—”

His stomach twisted, and Jason looked out over the harbor. “You made a deal with Roscoe and his wife.” He dipped his head. He didn’t even know where to go with this. What to do with this information. How could he ever— “Well, the joke’s on you, Carly.”

“What does that mean?” she demanded.

“It means that I had already booked a flight home,” Jason told her. “I was in Mumbai when I found out, and I was already coming back to Port Charles within a week or two. Because I knew Elizabeth had broken up with Lucky, and I wanted to see if there was a chance.”

“No.” Carly shook her head. “No. You would have come back for me, Jase. You did come home for me—”

“We’re done, Carly.” Jason sliced a hand through the air. “It’s over. It’s been over for years. This—this is just another one of your goddamn plans that didn’t work out the way you wanted it to, too. I’d feel sorry for you, but you created this mess. You got into bed with animals.”

He pushed past her, but she grabbed the sleeve of his shirt, trying to stop him. “No, no, c’mon. Don’t do this, Jason. You know me. You know I do insane things, that I don’t think things through—damn it, I got kidnapped—”

“And you think it makes up for the fact that you put it all into motion?” Jason jerked his arm out of her grasp. “You just better hope you never go to court for custody, Carly. Because this time, I’m not going to protect you.”

He climbed up the stairs, even as she called after him, her voice panicked at first and then shrieking that she wasn’t going to let him do this to her.

September 26, 2018

Bittersweet Chapter 31

Only two chapters left! I can’t believe we’re almost ready to close this story out after two years.

Also, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook or receive update emails, you might notice some of the scheduled chapters are showing up or being emailed to you before the scheduled date.  Something super weird is happening with some of my plugins on the site that prevent you guys from being bothered with contact from the site unless I want you to have it, ha. I’m working on isolating the problem but it’s taking forever.  Deepest apologies and bear with me.

September 24, 2018

Hey! This is a few hours late — I got stuck helping my dad with his crappy car. He had to jump it so it would start, and thank God, he’s trading it in today because I am so over dealing with his hunk of junk.

Just a note: I was originally going to post two chapters of this as well as the first chapter of Mad World next week, but I’m changing my posting schedule slightly. Mad World Chapter 1 is basically the same one that I posted last year, so it seems unfair to post that on a Wednesday and make you wait longer for more new material.

So Monday, Oct 1 is Bittersweet Chapter 32, Wednesday, Oct 3 is Bittersweet, Chapter 33 & Epilogue. Then, on Monday, October 8, you’ll get Mad World Chapters 1 & 2, then Chapter 3 on October 10. So hopefully that’ll make up for a slight delay in posting.

Can’t wait for you guys to read it! I’ll be posting the NaNoWriMo poll next Monday as well.

Bittersweet, Chapter 30

This entry is part 31 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Just give me a reason just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent and we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars, it’s been written in the scars on our hearts
That we’re not broken just bent and we can learn to love again

Just Give Me a Reason, P!nk & Nate Ruess


Wednesday, October 9, 2002

 General Hospital: Hospital Room

The next time Sonny fought his way to the surface, sunlight was dimly shining between the cracks in the shades of his hospital room. He blinked, turned his head, and found Jason sitting at his side.

Waiting.

Sonny coughed. Cleared his throat. “You look like hell,” he said with a rasp. Jason’s clothes were wrinkled as if they’d been slept in, his eyes shadowed, the growth of a day-old stubble lining his cheeks, hair mussed. “You…you came back.”

“When I heard about the shooting.” Jason flicked his eyes to the doorway as if to make sure it was closed. “Max took out the shooter before he passed out, and some of his guys got the rest of the team. Lenny and Roscoe were with them.”

Sonny nodded, though the movement pained him. “Yeah. Yeah, I thought—I thought I saw him in the window of the car—”

“Lenny didn’t give up Nico, and Roscoe was shot in the crossfire.” Jason’s continued, his tone clipped. “We took Nico in, but he claims he doesn’t know who Roscoe was working for. He tried to cut a deal. He doesn’t have anything to give us.”

“Okay—”

“I’ll look into it, but we don’t have anything that convinces me the Ruiz family is interested in actively going after you right now.” Jason got to his feet. “The fires are out. The men are settled. It’ll hold until you get out.”

Sonny frowned at him. “Wait. You came back,” he repeated. “How did it—”

Jason turned back to him at the door. “How did it go?” he finished. “What do you think, Sonny? Taggert and Capelli nearly arrested Elizabeth last night. Monica and Emily attacked her, then me. Alexis quit—she sent over someone else from her practice, she’s so fed up with us. I’ve got a mountain of paperwork to get myself declared legally alive. I have to go talk to Michael and hope he understands it, and you—” He stopped the uncharacteristic rush of the words.

“Elizabeth—” Sonny winced as he shifted. Tried to sit up.

“You knew what she means to me. You knew before I did,” Jason said quietly. He looked away. “And you knew how hard this last year has been. You let her believe I was dead.”

“I—” Sonny tried to defend himself, but the words died in his throat.

He knew that expression. He’d seen it before.

“I trusted you with my life. I trusted you with hers.” Jason shook his head, his hand on the door knob. “I don’t know—I don’t know, Sonny. I don’t even know if she’s going to be—So, don’t ask me how it went. You blew up my life, and I’m not even sure you regret it.”

And with that, Jason was gone.

Brownstone: Living Room

The situation didn’t feel any clearer eight hours after Elizabeth had come in from the front step. She had hoped she might wake up with some distance and time—and have the answers.

“I don’t even know what I’m trying to figure out,” Elizabeth muttered as she pushed her toast around her plate. “What’s really changed?”

“Nothing,” Gia admitted as she sipped her coffee. She set it down, pursed her lips. “You just know more now. You always knew Sonny was selfish. Now you know how far he’s willing to go if he thinks he’s right. You always knew Jason was loyal to Sonny. Now you know what he’s willing to sacrifice. You knew you loved Jason. Now you know how it would feel to lose him.”

“Thanks,” Elizabeth said dryly, slumping in her chair. “But none of that tells me anything.”

“Well, what are you trying to figure out?” Gia huffed. “You didn’t break up with Jason last night. You just wanted time. What’s time going to do?”

“I thought you were on my side—”

“I am. I just…” Gia paused. “I just want you to define your terms. And if you don’t know, then fine. But don’t just…wander around here feeling sorry for yourself.”

“You were nicer last night.” Elizabeth shoved herself to her feet, but her voice lacked any irritation. “I don’t think time and space are going to solve anything,” she admitted as she crossed to the bay window overlooking Elm Street. “You’re right. Nothing’s changed. I am in love with Jason, and his loyalty to Sonny and Carly…is not news to me.”

Gia hesitated. “I told you last night to take your time with this, and I meant that, Elizabeth. You don’t have to do a damn thing you don’t want to do. I just…I don’t know…I keep remembering how much I pushed you last spring into being with him—”

“That’s not what you did.” She turned back to her best friend. “You pushed me to be honest with myself and not to be afraid. I made the decision to be with Jason. I’m not sorry I did. I guess I just—I know that this won’t be the last time I’m in this situation. As long as Jason works for Sonny—Sonny will have the power. And of course…”

“There’s still Carly.”

“Yeah. Whatever Carly told Jason that night, he went to the warehouse and nearly died. Instead of coming to pick me up, instead of dealing with Michael’s custody—he went there.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “And he let the lies continue after we found out. I know I’ll understand his reasons. I know that I’ll probably even agree with them.”

“But it doesn’t change what happened. What you went through.” Gia crossed the room to answer the knock at their door—and found Emily standing at the threshold.

“Hey.” Jason’s sister shifted her weight from one foot to the other and looked past Gia to find Elizabeth’s eyes. “I was hoping we could talk.”

“I guess.” Elizabeth shrugged.

“I have to get down to the office,” Gia said. “Alexis’s new partner is really bitchy about being punctual.” She grabbed her purse and let the two friends alone.

“I’m sorry,” Emily said as soon as Gia closed the door. “I am so sorry that I flipped out last night, that I blamed you at all, and I know my mother is sorry—I just had to think about it for five seconds and I knew you didn’t know—”

“I did, though,” Elizabeth said dully. She sank onto the sofa. “Not at first. But at the funeral—last week—I had just found out.”

“Yeah, but—” Emily joined her, curling her leg up underneath her body, twisting to face Elizabeth. “After it was all in motion. It’s not like you planned it with Sonny. Mom and I just—we just—we blanked.” Her eyes filled, and she shook her head impatiently. “I mean, it’s so stupid, you know? I’m so happy he’s alive, but I’m so angry at him. And God, at Sonny. It was his idea, wasn’t it? Jason said something about not knowing.”

Elizabeth hesitated, unsure how much Emily was supposed to know, and then decided it was ridiculous to pick and parse out her words.

So, she told Emily everything.

She told Emily everything she hadn’t said at the funeral. Everything she hadn’t said in letters or phone calls or emails. About Jason coming home, about being terrified to go near him. The trouble with Lucky. The catastrophic return of Carly and her suspicions Carly had been involved.

The terrifying weeks Jason had been missing—that horrifying week Elizabeth believed him to be dead—the scene at the safe house. The guilt trip.

Emily said nothing as Elizabeth poured her heart out. When Elizabeth was done, Emily took a deep breath. “I really don’t know who I’m angrier with. Sonny or my brother. You know, I knew he left town because of Carly all those years ago. When she turned up pregnant, I just knew it was related.”

“Em—”

“For Sonny to betray him with Carly that way, which sounds insane since she was married to my other brother…” Emily exhaled. “I don’t know how Jason could ever work for Sonny again. I don’t know how he’s supposed to trust him, now, you know?”

“I think that’s what weighs on me the most,” Elizabeth admitted. “I remember how…lost Jason looked. I know how much he defined himself by his job—especially during that time when he’d lost Michael, and his job was all he had. He didn’t know if he could do it. And faking his death without—” She leaned back against the sofa, closing her eyes. “I can’t stand how hard this must be for Jason.”

“It’s worse now,” Emily insisted. “Because Sonny didn’t just sleep with someone Jason was kind of—whatevering with. He destroyed Jason’s life. My family was devastated, and I don’t know that Jason is going to tell them the truth. I mean, I can if he lets me. But they were getting closer. I could hear it in my mother’s voice. Grandmother was so excited when Jason went to AJ’s chip ceremony. How does he get that trust back?” She huffed. “And then what he did to you—Christ, Liz, Sonny not only let you think Jason was injured and missing, he let you think he was dead. And now you’re telling me he drugged Jason, so he wouldn’t notice?”

“Johnny—he was at the safehouse, too—he told me that Jason asked for me.” Elizabeth’s voice thickened. “Every time he woke up. He made Sonny promise to get me. To tell me no soup—” Tears slid down her cheeks. “He needed me, Em. And I couldn’t be there because of Sonny.”

Emily slid over a cushion and wrapped her arms tightly around Elizabeth’s upper body. “That’s what you’re worried about, isn’t it?”

“What?” Elizabeth sniffled as she drew back. “What do you mean?”

“You told me you asked Jason for space to figure out what you were thinking. But you already know. You know what’s keeping you from him.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I always understood that when it came to Jason’s job, there would be times when I wasn’t his first priority. I knew that. And I understand it. But…no, what I can’t accept is Sonny and Carly. The way they treat Jason like he’s their personal toy, like he only exists for them—I can’t.” She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “How do I tell Jason that? How do I tell him I don’t think I can do this? I can’t play second fiddle to Sonny and Carly.”

“You think Jason isn’t coming to that same conclusion right now?” Emily asked with a frown. “Liz—”

“You don’t understand. I tried to do this already. I tried to tell Jason that I couldn’t stand by while Carly destroyed everything, I just—I thought Sonny understood.” Her throat was so thick, so tight, she could barely force the words out. “I told Jason I couldn’t do it. And I caved. I let him back in. And it happened. And it happened because he’s blinded by Sonny and Carly.”

Emily waited a long moment before speaking. “Do you think he’s not going to understand?”

“No, I think he will. He understood about Carly. He just…” Elizabeth sighed. “He asked me to give him time to make it right. And I just—I thought about all the times I hadn’t been there for him, and I couldn’t stand it. I knew what would happen, Em. And I ignored it because I knew it was what Jason wanted. That’s what I do. I damn well knew I was unhappy with Lucky, but I let myself keep going with him because I thought that’s what Lucky needed. Why can’t I ever learn?”

“Maybe if you felt like you had someone to back you up with Lucky,” Emily said after a moment. “That’s why you and Gia found each other. Because Nikolas and I failed you.”

“Em—”

“Never mind.” Emily was quiet for a moment. “You don’t really have any choices here, Liz. You know your line in the sand. You can’t deal with Sonny and Carly. You should tell my brother that. What he does with that information—that’s on him.”

“It’s so selfish,” Elizabeth murmured. She reached for a tissue from the box on the coffee table and blew her nose. “Asking him to give up people who’ve been in his life—”

“People who take him for granted and destroy his life on a regular basis,” Emily said acidly. “Yeah, it’s a great loss. It’s not selfish, Liz. It’s not like Jason broke a date to be with them. Sonny faked Jason’s death because Carly refused to tell anyone the goddamn the truth and the whole thing blew to hell. You have every right to remove yourself from this situation if that’s what you need. Christ, in a year or two, you could have kids with my brother. If he’s not putting you first, how can you trust he’d put your family—”

“We’re a long way away from kids,” Elizabeth muttered, crumbling the tissue in her hands.

“Then fine. Don’t do it for the future. Do it for the now. You matter, Liz. Jason matters, too. You can’t control what he’ll do. All you can do is worry about you. Take what you need. I think it’s about time you did.”

AJ & Courtney’s House: Front Porch

 Jason wasn’t prepared for the bullet that shot into his arms as the front door opened and Michael all but launched himself into the air.

Behind him, AJ stood, his hands in his pockets and a half-smile. “Hey, Jase.”

Hey, Jase. As if Jason hadn’t disappeared a month ago. As if AJ hadn’t been one of the pallbearers who put a fake body into the ground. Jason sighed and let Michael’s feet touch the ground. “Hey.”

“I told you he wasn’t dead,” Michael said with a confident smile to his father. “Just like Mommy. I knew Uncle Jason would come back.”

“Yeah, lucky you were right this time.” AJ ruffled Michael’s blonde hair. “We’re the idiots, I guess. You know it’s not always like that.”

Michael shrugged. “It is in Port Charles. Can I go play on the swings?”

“Sure.” AJ waited until Michael had gone through the back door into the kitchen before turning back to Jason. “So. You’re not dead.”

“I’m not.” Jason squinted after Michael. “I’m—I’m sorry. I didn’t—I wouldn’t have done that to Michael—”

“Elizabeth came by last night.” AJ closed the door after Jason had stepped into the living room. “She gave us the cliff’s notes.” He hesitated. “Pretty rough on her, but I guess it’s not much better for you.”

“I’m not the one who had to lie to everyone,” Jason said with a mutter, not really sure why he was here. He could have arranged to see Michael another time—could have had someone else run interference.

But after seeing Sonny, after going through the pile of paperwork with his new lawyer—Jason wanted…he wanted to talk to someone.

And almost everyone else in his life wasn’t an option.

So here he was…with AJ. The older brother Jason had never intended to claim as such. A man Jason had once held so little respect for he’d claimed paternity of the man’s son. Had orchestrated AJ’s loss of custody on more than one occasion.

“You are the one who has to explain it,” AJ said. “You have people who care about you. I’ve already talked to Emily, so I know she’s pissed. Mom was at the hospital, trying to save Sonny’s life, and you know…I saw Liz last night.”

Jason’s jaw clenched, and he looked away. “Yeah, well. I should be going—”

“When I thought you were dead,” AJ said, “I didn’t want to take a drink.”

Jason squinted at him. “What? I don’t—”

“You were missing for two weeks. My wife was upset because Liz was upset. Mom and Dad were worried. Carly was home—the custody issue was on the table again.” He shook his head. “That’s usually the time I tell myself—one sip. Just one. To take the edge off. To take a break.”

“AJ—”

“But I didn’t. I thought well if the worst happens, my family will need me. And someone has to make sure Liz is okay. That’s something I can do. I can look out for her, because Sonny sure as fuck wasn’t doing it.” AJ exhaled slowly. “And I can be strong for everyone. I never once thought I could do that.”

Jason frowned at him. “I’m glad it worked out for you—” he said, irritated. AJ had apparently done better with Jason dead.

“Elizabeth asked me to be a pallbearer,” AJ interrupted. “Almost from the start, when she and Bobbie were planning things. She didn’t know how you’d feel about it, but she thought—she thought it would be a good idea. Because that’s what she was doing while you were dead, Jase. She was trying to do right by you.”

“I know—”

“I don’t think you do.” AJ tipped his head. “That night you canceled the meeting? When you didn’t show up? She waited in the diner for you for hours. Sonny never once called her, so she talked to Taggert. She just wanted some damn answers. And Sonny punished her for that. He lied to her. He turned her away.”

“I—”

“Even the day your body was found,” AJ said, using air quotes when he said the words your body, “Liz went to him at the Towers, and he refused to see her. Gia was so angry when she told us—but Liz didn’t say anything. Sonny wouldn’t tell her anything, and when he did, he lied.”

“I know—” Jason shifted from one foot to the other. “I know Sonny lied to her.”

“But that day at the memorial, before he finally came clean, she couldn’t keep herself together anymore.” AJ’s jaw tightened, and he looked away, his voice a bit raspier when he spoke again. “She started to sob at the idea of you being in the ground. She wanted you to be free. Even at that moment, Liz was putting you first. She sat with Sonny, she went with him that day because she thought he was finally reaching out to her. That they could grieve together.”

Jason closed his eyes. “And instead he was bringing her to the safe house,” he said more to himself than AJ.

“Where he asked her to lie some more.” AJ picked up a few of Michael’s toys and tossed them in the box near the television. “My point to all of this, Jase, is that I know you don’t really think of me as your brother. That’s fine. But I’m done pretending that I don’t still claim you. You’re my little brother. I was supposed to look out for you because that’s what older brothers do.”

“AJ—” Jason shook his head. “I don’t—” He exhaled slowly. “I know you’re my brother.”

“I never took care of you,” AJ repeated. “You always looked out for me. Because that’s who you are. You find something worthwhile in a person and then you’re loyal to them. You give. And you give. But you don’t know how to stop. You got in a car with me and got your head bashed in. And you gave your trust to Sonny, and what did you get for your troubles?”

“Look—”

“So, I’m going to be your big brother for the first time in my goddamn life and start looking out for you because it’s clear you don’t know how to put yourself first,” AJ told him, roughly. “Liz fell apart because of all of this. Because of her grief. Because of the lies. But every step of the way, she was putting someone else first. I know she’s struggling with this. Because she’s never going to ask you for what she really needs. She needs to be first. She deserves that.  If you can’t do that, you need to leave her the hell alone.”

“I do want—” Jason stopped abruptly. Nothing AJ was saying was a surprise. Of course, Elizabeth needed to be first in his life. She was. None of this had been his idea—

“I’ve got to get going,” he said instead. “I—” He shook his head. “Thanks. For taking care of Elizabeth. Of everyone.” He waited a moment. “Your son knows I’m his uncle. We are brothers. You don’t have to pretend.”

When he had left, AJ released a long breath. “Well, okay then.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

 Jason hesitated when he turned the corner and saw Bobbie at one of the outside tables with Felicia Jones.  He started to step back, thinking this was probably not the best place to have this conversation and that maybe it was too soon to trying to talk to Elizabeth again.

But Felicia saw him before he could fully retreat and arched a slim brow at him. “Robin says hi,” she said dryly. “She’s glad you’re not dead.”

Jason winced. He rarely spoke to his ex-girlfriend—things had ended too badly for them to be on good terms—but he knew Robin had likely grieved the news of his death. “I—I’m sorry. I should call her.”

“Hmm…” Felicia got to her feet. “I’m going to go inside and check on Georgie. Make sure Elizabeth isn’t going to fire her on her first day.”

When the blonde had disappeared into the diner, Bobbie remained seated though she was looking at Jason carefully. She looked as if she hadn’t slept the night before, and Jason wondered just how many sleepless nights Carly’s mother had suffered over the last month.

“Take a seat, Jason. I think we need to talk.”

“I—” Jason swallowed the protest and followed her directions. “I’m sorry.”

“For a moment, last night, when it was all happening, I doubted Elizabeth,” Bobbie admitted. “I know how much you love her. I know you would never do that to her. Maybe the rest of us—maybe I could make myself believe you’d do that, but not Elizabeth.”

“I wouldn’t—”

“So, for a moment, I wondered how she had fooled me. And then I looked at her.” Bobbie rearranged the silverware next to her plate. She met Jason’s eyes. “And I knew. Even as Emily and Monica accused her. I knew her grief had been real. I’ve made my apologies to her, and I know Emily has as well. I’m sure Monica will seek her out in the next few days. But there will always be that moment where I doubted her. I can’t take that back.”

Jason’s throat was tight, and he remained silent. What could he say? He could defend himself, but it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t change anything.

“Elizabeth has already forgiven me though I don’t deserve it. She doesn’t see that she’s been wronged. She’s so worried about earning my love—deserving my love—that she didn’t even stop to think that she’d done nothing wrong.” Bobbie pursed her lips. “I can even pinpoint the moment Sonny told her. With some thought and reflection. The night after your memorial. Before we buried whatever Sonny planted in the harbor—she went with Sonny, and I can say now that something changed. She started to avoid all of us.”

“I can’t—” Jason shook his head. “I didn’t want any of this, and by the time—Elizabeth actually knew before I did what Sonny had done,” he confessed. His voice sounded rough even to his ears, and he swallowed hard, trying to clear his throat. “Sonny drugged me the first week. I told him to stop lying to Elizabeth when I found out she thought I was missing.”

“But he kept lying.” Bobbie rested her chin on her clasped hands. “And then he faked your death. How long were you drugged?”

“Just—the first week or so, I think. And then Sonny kept saying he’d tell her, but I knew—I knew he was lying to me. I knew he was keeping something from me, but—” Jason exhaled slowly. “I didn’t stop it. And that’s  on me. Sonny lied. This was his idea. All of it. But I didn’t stop it.”

“I’m sorry any of this happened to you,” Bobbie said finally. “That Sonny didn’t value the trust you placed in him. That he didn’t take care of Elizabeth. He and I have already had words on the subject, and believe me, they won’t be the last.” She waited a moment. “So what are you going to do?”

“What?” Jason shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s not up to me.”

“I fear, Jason, that’s where you’re wrong. Because it’s entirely on your shoulders. How you handle Sonny, how you deal with Elizabeth—”

“She—she asked for space,” Jason said finally. “She—she understood what happened. That it wasn’t my idea. But all of it—the grief, the lies—it’s—she doesn’t deserve to deal with any of it. It wasn’t part of the deal.”

“I want you to think very carefully about what Elizabeth has said to you these last few months,” Bobbie told him. “Because, no, none of what’s happened is your fault. Not really. But how you deal with it? That’s you. What happened with Carly? That didn’t need to be as bad as it was. You have a blind spot where my daughter and Sonny are concerned. Elizabeth has had enough of not coming first—”

“She comes first—” Jason bit off his protest because, more than AJ, Bobbie knew the truth. And Jason couldn’t pretend that she was wrong. “I love her. She knows that.”

“I don’t want to be a cliche, Jason, but sometimes—that’s not enough.” Bobbie peered past him into the diner. “She’s hurt, Jason. More than you think.”

“She needs time, I’ll give that to her. But I can’t—” Jason got to his feet. “I need to see her. I need her to know how much I love her, and that I’m not going away. That I won’t give up on her.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry, Bobbie. I never wanted you to—”

“I’m just glad you’re alive.” She stood up and embraced him. “Don’t do this again, do you hear me?”

“I won’t.”

He opened the door to the diner and ignored the way people looked at him as he approached the counter where Elizabeth was showing Georgie Jones how to work the coffee machine.

From the way her movements became stiff and forced, and the slight amusement in her eyes faded, Jason knew she was aware of him—but she never once looked at him.

He took a seat at the counter, next to Felicia who muttered something about stupid men, and waited.

Finally, Elizabeth took a deep breath and looked in his direction, letting her beautiful blue eyes meet his. His chest tightened and he drew in a sharp breath at the mixture of misery and anger he could see in her expression. He hadn’t really let him see it the night before—hadn’t really let himself process how much this had wrecked her.

He’d been in denial, Jason could now admit to himself, hoping that Elizabeth would be able to see past everything that had happened.

“Can I get you something?” she asked, her voice slightly husky. Her lower lip trembled for just a moment before she sucked it between her teeth and bit down. “A black coffee? To…go?”

“Yeah.” Jason swallowed hard. “Yeah. That’ll be good.” She handed him a temporary cup, and he left a twenty on the counter. He left quickly, not wanting to linger.

Elizabeth wanted time and space, she said, and this time he was going to listen to her.

This entry is part 30 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Wish I’d died instead of lived
A zombie hides my face
Shell forgotten with its memories
Diaries left with cryptic entries
And you don’t need to bother, I don’t need to be
I’ll keep slipping farther
But once I hold on, I won’t let go til it bleeds
Bother, Corey Taylor


Tuesday, October 8, 2002

 Port Charles Hotel: Penthouse Suite

 Hector Ruiz had arrived in Port Charles the day before, accompanied by his eldest two sons and Zander Smith, as well as several men he had agreed to loan to Nico Savarolli and Mickey Roscoe. It had been generally understood that no attempt on Sonny Corinthos could be made when Hector and the other members of the East Coast syndicate were nearby. No one wanted that kind of attention.

But Nico and Roscoe were not men of their word, and the gunshots outside the restaurant had sent everyone in the back private dining room diving for cover. Shaken, angry, Hector and his representatives had retreated to the hotel while Hector’s men had gone to investigate.

Several hours later, only one of those men had returned—they had been ambushed at the Oasis Lounge where the rendezvous with Nico had been set—which meant that either Corinthos’ men had gotten very lucky, or they’d been tipped off.

With time and space to settle down, Hector had regained his perspective and now needed to be sure his volatile, eldest son was reined in. Kept under control.  Javier had always been quick to anger, quick to act, slow to consider—and the news from the lone survivor had only tapped into his always simmering rage.

“Alcazar disrespected us, Papi. He set us up to fail!” Javier snarled. “Our best men ambushed, taken captive—”

“They’re already dead,” Manny murmured. The middle son, the eldest of a pair of twins was the heir Hector wanted, the one he deserved. If only Manny was not so…cruel and brutal, Hector could convince himself to dispose of Javier.

“We don’t know that,” Hector murmured. “Corinthos and Morgan could be questioning—”

“They would have said nothing.” Manny rose to his feet. He looked to Zander who had also remained quiet. “How soon will they dispose of them?”

Zander hesitated. “It would depend,” he admitted. “Sonny was clearly expecting something to happen—he wore a vest. They would have had an area set aside to question anyone they caught. And if Morgan were there to do it, he knows when a man won’t talk. Or how much they’ll take.”

“But Morgan was in hiding. We suspected it—” Hector tilted his head. “You convinced me we could act.”

“I was convinced Elizabeth didn’t know Jason was alive,” Zander corrected. “No way she gets left out. But Sonny could have put everything into motion once Jason was injured.”

“That’s his partner,” Javier snarled. “You telling me he destroyed his partner’s life without so much as asking him?” He turned back to his father. “You buying that?”

“I buy it.” Hector nodded. “Let’s sit back, my boys. Take stock of what we’ve learned. One, Luis Alcazar has a personal vendetta against Sonny Corinthos. No real interest in the territory. He’s playing cat and mouse games.”

“Setting us up,” Javier repeated with a growl.

“It just means he has something to lose,” Manny said in a quiet voice that caught Zander’s attention. “It’s the best kind of information. We know more about Corinthos now than we ever have. We know about his personal life. What he’d kill to protect. What he’s willing to sacrifice.”

“So we go all out.” Javier nodded. “We go after them hard—”

Zander hesitated, and Manny gestured at him. “Talk. You’ve been right all along so far. What’s the game? What’s the next step you’d take?”

“The next step would depend on what you want to get from all of this,” Zander said. “You want the territory, you need to be prepared to defend it. You want Corinthos, you get rid of Morgan. You want to go after Alcazar—” He shrugged. “I don’t know what you want.”

“I don’t particularly want the territory,” Hector admitted, and both his sons turned to him, stunned by this. “It’s lucrative and worthwhile, but I had no problems with Corinthos controlling it. I’d actually prefer Morgan. He’s colder, more rational. You can depend on a man like that.” His eyes glittered as he leaned forward. “What I want to know is what Alcazar wants. Why is he going after Sonny? He can’t want the territory either. I’d understand if Tagliatti or Vega, even Zacchara—if any of them were involved. But Alcazar came to me.”

Papi, the territory—the money—” Javier sputtered.

“We play this step by step,” Hector said, his voice sharp. “Alcazar went to a great deal of trouble and has little to show for it. What did he really get? What really happened? All the death is on his side of the column. Do we know about his men on the ground? His men in the organization?”

“I haven’t heard from Nico or Roscoe since we got word,” Zander said. “I know that Roscoe was planning to be in on the hit, and so was Lenny.  Roscoe probably went down in a hail of gunfire. He’s like that.” He thought for a moment. “I’d be surprised if Sonny and Jason hadn’t really suspected Nico on some level, especially if they got Lenny. Lenny doesn’t move without Nico. But Nico never knew Alcazar’s name.”

“And only you knew the connection.” Hector nodded, satisfied. “So Alcazar is a mystery to Sonny. Good. He might think we’re involved, but he won’t want to rock the boat. Not right now.” He pursed his lips, considering the next move. “I want to know more about Corinthos and Morgan. If Corinthos faked Morgan’s death without permission and lied to the girlfriend, the fallout might be the wedge we’re looking for.”

“We need to get someone in there,” Manny said. “Someone other than who we got already.”

Zander frowned at that, but Hector didn’t pause to consider it. “Okay. We need someone else. I’ll think about it.” He looked to Zander. “And you, my friend, I’ve got plans for you.”

PCPD: Interrogation

Jason sighed, leaned back, and tried not to snarl as his lawyer—a man he had never met before tonight—did battle with Taggert and Capelli. Ric Lansing had taken over Sonny’s account from Alexis who promised she would explain later. Whatever, Jason didn’t care.

He just wanted out of here. He had things to do. People to talk to.

He had to see Elizabeth. Had to talk to her. Find out where they stood. He’d never wanted her in the middle of anything, but walking into the emergency room—seeing her at the center of so much anger and disappointment—

And Taggert wasn’t helping.

Jason made it a policy not to listen to the things the cops said to him, especially Taggert, but he knew that a huge chunk of Taggert’s ire this time was about Elizabeth. Though the detective had initially believed Elizabeth had known, somewhere between the hospital and the station, he’d apparently reversed that opinion.

And now, Taggert’s righteous fury was on her behalf, and Jason couldn’t even get annoyed by that. Couldn’t work up the usual reticence.

Because everything Taggert said right now was true. He’d put Elizabeth through absolute hell. He hadn’t started it, but he hadn’t finished it.

“I had to be the one to tell her, Morgan, that she couldn’t identify the body,” Taggert snarled. “She wanted to see you, to make sure it was you—she didn’t believe it—”

“Is there a question?” Lansing said with a bored drawl in his tone. “Or are you going to berate my client until he prostrates asking for forgiveness—”

“You know exactly what I mean, Morgan, when I tell you that girl deserves better than what you did to her.” Taggert’s eyes glittered with fury, his voice was hoarse. “You were there the night I broke her world into pieces, when I gave her that subway token—”

Jason exhaled slowly but his stomach was rolling and something sour was rising in his gut. He wasn’t great with pictures, but man, he could remember memories and he knew the moment Taggert meant.

“You watched her grieve for Lucky Spencer. Months later, she was still trying to put herself back together. Months,” Taggert repeated. “And I’ll give you credit for helping her through it. When she went at me that day on the docks, I worried about her, but damn if part of me wasn’t rejoicing to see her looking like something better than dead.”

“Detective—”

“Two weeks, she waited in fear for you. Your boss kept turning her away. Lying to her. Refusing to see her.”

And at that, Jason focused on him. Squinting his eyes. Just enough expression to cause a smile to spread across Taggert’s face. “Yeah, that got you. You didn’t know, did you, Morgan?” And then he sat back. “Holy shit.”

“What?” Capelli raised his brows, looked back and forth between the two. “What?”

“You didn’t know,” Taggert repeated. “You got shot that night, didn’t you? Went into hiding to wait until things cooled down. But Corinthos didn’t do his part. He didn’t give anyone any excuses. And he let Elizabeth dangle in the wind, terrified you were dead.”

“I think we’re done here—”

“He faked your death.” Taggert shook his head. “And you let him. When did you find out? Before the funeral? Before your family put a casket in the ground? You let him get away that? Treating Elizabeth like garbage? You’re more damaged than I thought.”

Jason looked at Ric. “I want to be done,” he said, his voice low. Strained. “Am I under arrest?”

Ric arched a brow at Taggert and Capelli. “Well, detectives? What are the charges?”

AJ & Courtney’s Home: Front Porch

Courtney pulled open the door to find Elizabeth and Gia standing on her doorstep. “Rough day?” she asked with a hint of amusement.

Elizabeth’s face crumpled. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I lied—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Courtney stepped back and let the duo in. “AJ’s putting Michael to bed now. The news came across the station we were watching about a half hour ago. I guess WKPC is on the ball.”

“You’re not mad,” Gia said with a frown. “Why? Your brother got shot—”

“How is he by the way?” Courtney asked, absently. She’d forgotten about him, to be honest. She probably gave Sonny as much consideration and thought as Sonny gave her—little to none at all.

“Hanging on, I think.” Gia said. “I’m not sure. He was going into surgery when the shit hit the fan.” She almost had to push Elizabeth to sit on the sofa. “It was like a three-ring circus.”

“I’ll bet.” Courtney sat next to her friend while Gia perched on the arm of sofa. Elizabeth’s eyes were bloodshot and puffy, her hands were shaking, her face was pale. “You said you lied, but you look like someone who just found out.”

“A week ago,” Elizabeth murmured. “I didn’t know until after the memorial.” She closed her eyes. “That’s where Sonny took me afterwards.”

“A week ago,” Courtney said slowly. She looked up as AJ came in from the back of the house where the bedrooms were, his dark eyes concerned. “Which means you thought he was dead.”

“I did.” Elizabeth’s tears spilled over again as AJ sat on the coffee table in front of her, took her hands in his. “I’m so sorry, God, AJ, your family—”

“They’ll get over it.” AJ exhaled slowly. “You don’t owe anyone anything, Liz. If Jason wanted you to keep the secret, that’s between—” He shook his head. “Why the hell did he put you—” But then he stopped. Closed his mouth. “He didn’t.”

“He didn’t know either,” Gia said. “When she came home last week, she just blurted it out to me.” She sighed. “And we decided not to tell you, Courtney, because we really didn’t want you to feel like you had to choose.”

“It’s not because I didn’t want to,” Elizabeth said fervently. “I wanted to—”

“Thank you,” Courtney said softly. “I mean that, I really do. Thank you.” She hesitated. “So, Jason didn’t know? I don’t—”

“It makes sense, though doesn’t it?” AJ murmured. “I bet Jason got hurt, and Sonny took advantage of it. He was dicking everyone around for weeks over Jason being gone. When did Jason find out?”

“After I did,” Elizabeth murmured. “Sonny thought—he thought Jason would end it if he found out what happened—so he wanted me to lie, and Jason—Johnny said he was hurt really bad. He almost died—” Her voice broke.

“Sonny played her like a damn violin,” Gia said bitterly. “And Jason let this shit all continue. But what happened tonight—I don’t think it was the plan, because Jason probably would have warned her. We didn’t know anything until the shooting happened.”

“So, we went to the hospital, but then Jason showed up, and Monica and Emily were there—and Bobbie…” Elizabeth scrubbed her hands over her face. “I couldn’t deal with it.”

“I’m sorry if my mother and sister—if they took any of it out on you,” AJ said quietly. “I don’t blame you, Liz, but you know what? That’s probably because I think I know you better than they do.”

She managed a small smile. “You’re too nice—”

“I’m fair.  And maybe I’m in shock.” He looked to his wife. “I wanted Jason to be alive, so when I found out he was—I didn’t really care about anything else. And if Sonny did this to him, damn him for doing it to us all.”

“It must have been so horrible for you,” Courtney murmured, rubbing a hand over Elizabeth’s shoulder. “You’ve worked so hard to be up front and honest all year along, to really take care of yourself and now you’ve had to just—”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Everything is all over the place, you know? I can’t keep my head straight. I can’t understand why any of it happened. Why did Sonny have to—Why did Jason let it go?” Her voice faltered, and she swallowed hard. “Emily is my best friend, but I kind of expected her to act like that tonight. If you two hadn’t—I don’t think I could have stomached it.”

“Hey. You’ve been through complete hell this last month,” Courtney told her fiercely. “The last thing I’m gonna do is make it worse on you. Emily hasn’t been here this last year. She hasn’t seen you. And she wasn’t here last month to watch you grieve.”

“But Bobbie was,” Gia said softly. “And I don’t know where she is on any of this.”

“I’m willing to bet,” AJ said slowly, “that five seconds after you left, when everyone had a second, they realized the truth. Don’t take any of that on, Liz. You take care of you. You get through this however you need to.”

“How did Michael take it?” Elizabeth managed. “Jason’s going to want to know—”

“Better than any of us,” Courtney said with a sigh. “He decided Jason wasn’t really dead because Carly wasn’t dead. I mean, he was right but—”

“He’s going to have a warped idea about death,” Gia muttered. “You better make sure your insurance plan covers therapy.”

General Hospital: ICU Recovery

The world shimmered and swirled around him as Sonny fought his way through inky black darkness to open his eyes. “What—” but no sound emerged from his lips, only a dry puff of air.

He heard footsteps beside him—and he felt the scratchy thin material of hospital sheets, of a hospital gown. Was he—had he been shot?

“You’ll live,” Bobbie’s flat tone broke through the grayness and he fought to turn his eyes. To focus on her halo of red hair, the green color of her scrubs. “Are you with me, Sonny? Do you hear me?”

“Yea-yes,” Sonny said, his voice fading in and out. “Yeah.”

“I want you to know,” Bobbie said, her voice now fierce. Furious. “I want you to know that I will never forgive you. For as long as I live, I will spit on you and your name for what you put my family through. For the grief you gave Elizabeth. The way you played with Jason’s life like you were God. What you did to my grandson. What my daughter went through because of you.”

“Bobbie—”

“You think you have power and control, that we’re all just here for your entertainment,” she continued, the volume climbing, the words crashing into one another as Bobbie’s ire grew. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself, and I am so glad Carly got away from you, that you will never be a part of Michael’s life—”

“Bobbie—”

“You knew what Elizabeth would do if she thought Jason was dead. You knew how she would suffer and grieve, and you used her to make your point. To make sure everyone else thought Jason was dead. No one doubted your sick little plan because she shattered. You used her. She may not be my blood, but she is my family. I will never forgive you, and I will make sure that no one else ever does either.”

And with that, Bobbie’s voice stopped. He dimly heard her footsteps as he faded back into darkness.

Brownstone: Front Steps

Gia pulled her car to a stop in front of the Brownstone, behind Jason’s motorcycle parked at the curb. A dimly lit figure sat on the stone steps, his head bowed in his hands.

Elizabeth exhaled. “I didn’t think the PCPD would let him go so quickly,” she murmured. “I think…I think I thought I’d have more time.”

“Then take more time,” Gia said. “I’ll go up there and bash his head in with a log, so you can sneak past him. I want to hurt him anyway—” But she was half smiling as she said it. “I’ll keep driving, you know. We’ll go see my mom in Buffalo, or fuck it, we’ll ditch the rest of the semester and go to New York City. Anywhere but here. Just say the word.”

And for a moment, Elizabeth almost agreed. Not to any of those crazy plans but to the idea of turning the ignition back on and just driving—God, how much she wanted to do it. She just wanted to go. She wanted it to be over.

“If I talk to him tonight, I’m scared of what I’ll say,” she admitted. “Because this—this is what I was afraid of, you know? Of loving someone so much that I lost myself. I’m terrified I don’t know how to love someone without giving myself away—”

“Then let’s play Devil’s Advocate here,” Gia said slowly. “You go tell Jason, sorry it’s not you, it’s me. Though it’s a little bit you, you lying sack of crap—”

“Gia—”

“And you can tell him that you didn’t sign up for this. I mean, you did, sort of. You knew you’d have conflicts with his job—maybe not these ones, but you weren’t going to fight over Chinese or Indian for dinner. It was always going to come down to secrets. Keeping them, telling them. Not knowing enough. Knowing too much.”

“But that’s not it,” Elizabeth said with a shaky sigh. “That’s not—it wasn’t the secrets. I don’t even—” She swallowed hard. “I don’t know what it is.”

“Exactly.” Gia looked at her. “You owe it to yourself, and to Jason, to be sure you know exactly what’s in your head. You want to break up with him, I’m here for you. You want to make it work, I’m here for you. Whatever happens, I am here. But if you break up with him right now, if you walk out on him because you’re angry, because you’re pissed, because you are a goddamn mess because everyone else in your life doesn’t know you as well as they should—”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “If I walk away, I better be sure that’s what I want.” She turned to Gia. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I have to walk past the son of a bitch without stabbing him with my keys.”

They got out of the car and made their way toward the steps. Jason got to his feet, his eyes shadowed in the dim light of the Brownstone’s front entrance. Gia stared at him for a long moment, her keys in her hand. “Tonight, you live,” she decided and brushed past him to unlock the front entrance. She looked back to Elizabeth. “You okay?”

“I’ll be up in a minute,” Elizabeth said softly, and Jason looked at her with what might have been fear and resignation mixed together. When Gia closed the door, she sighed. “They let you go.”

“Nothing to hold me on,” Jason said. He stepped down a step but kept half the distance between them, instinctively understanding she needed that space. “Elizabeth—”

“There’s so much happening in my head, you know. I’ve been—this last month—I’ve been lurching from point to point, emotion to emotion—two weeks ago,” Elizabeth said, “Taggert came to me and told me you were dead. For a week, that was my reality, Jason. And maybe that’s not so bad. It wasn’t so long—”

“Elizabeth, I—”

“You let it continue,” she interrupted with a sigh. “I know you had your reasons, and I believe you—I know you so well, Jason. I know you think they were good reasons, and maybe, when I’m ready to hear them, I’ll agree. I just—” She looked away, down the street and into the distance. “There’s a large part of me that wants to get in that car and drive away. And never look back. Because I just want to run.”

“I get that, I do—just let me—”

“I made a promise to myself last year that I was never going to let fear run my life again. That I would never take the easy way out because I was afraid of what might come next. And I let myself trust my heart again. I let you in, Jason, when I swore to myself I wouldn’t.” Elizabeth met his eyes, those beautiful blue eyes—she could barely see them, couldn’t see the anguish she knew was there.

“For the last week, you and Sonny made me go back to that place. Of pretending. Of being something I’m not. Sonny—” Her voice broke. “He knew. He knew how scared I was of losing you. He knew, and he did it anyway, so that’s something I have to figure out—how can I live with that? He’s part of your life, Jason. I thought he was my family. I thought he loved me, valued me. I thought I could trust him. And I can’t.” Her eyes burned. “And now I have to understand how to go forward.”

He dipped his head, nodded. “Yeah,” he said roughly. “I have to—I have to do that, too.  I never wanted any of this—”

“And knowing that—” Elizabeth sucked in a deep breath. “Knowing that is what keeps me from running. I just—I need some time, Jason. I just need to let my head rest. I need to let everything settle…and you know…I know there are things in the business—” She closed her eyes. “The fact I know damn well there are fires you should be putting out all over the place and that you’re standing here because I’m important, that’s going to give me strength. I love you, Jason. Please don’t ever doubt that.”

He took another step toward her and she didn’t back up. Didn’t resist when his lips brushed hers. She clung to him, her fingers clutching at the soft t-shirt, the bandage still wrapped around his upper chest. She poured herself into this kiss—all the desperation, the rage, the hurt, the love, the relief—everything.

“I love you, too,” he murmured, resting his forehead against hers when he drew back, his breath shallow. “Whatever you need me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”

“I know.” She kissed him again, just the merest touch of her mouth, then pulled away. Without looking back, she went up the stairs and inside the Brownstone. She didn’t look out the window, only rested her forehead against the door listening for the growl of his motorcycle as he drove away.

September 17, 2018

Bittersweet has been updated with Chapter Twenty-Eight. My computer and I had some arguments this weekend, so I didn’t get a chance to do flash fiction or any of the housekeeping – it was all I could do to get this week’s updates scheduled. Hopefully I’ve cleaned up the problem going forward.