Notes: This is the true beginning of Hand Me Down: the choices made in the moments, days and weeks after Michael was shot on April 4, 2008. The show stops for me at that moment. I always thought it was a shame that for such a devastating event, there were no true consequences. Michael woke up (and I’m still surprised that six years later, Chad Duell’s version of Michael is my favorite part of the show), Sonny and Carly received no real punishment for their actions that led to Claudia’s hit on Sonny, as if she was the only guilty party. In fact, the only true change as a result was Jason leaving Elizabeth. Well…I thought that something like this ought to have devastating consequences.
So, this obviously begins after April 4, 2008. I can’t quite remember if Sonny had given Jason the organization yet, or if they were in the process of doing so so Sonny could be the better father, so for the sake of argument and to explain why Sonny had no godforsaken guards at the warehouse, he’s already put Jason in charge and pulled back.
She saw it in his face when he stepped through the door. The grief, the regret, and beneath those, the anger that this could happen to a boy he loved as a son.
Elizabeth Webber stood in front of the mantel, her hands clasped loosely in front of her. In the two days since that terrible phone call, since their engagement, she had been preparing for this fight.
This would be the last time she’d fight for them to be together. If she did not convince him today to let her stand by him, to take on the risks because the rewards were worth it, she had sworn to herself she would never ask again.
She only hoped she was strong enough to keep that promise.
Jason stood in front of her, his eyes tired, his clothes wrinkled. She wondered if he’d been eating or sleeping, if there was anyone looking out for him, as he looked out for Carly and the boys, for Sonny, and even, she suspected, for Jax.
Was there never anyone who would take care of him?
“Elizabeth,” he began in a low voice, as if the sound pained him. It ought to, since he was going to break their engagement.
“No.” Elizabeth lifted her chin. “I know why you’re here, and my answer is no.”
Jason hesitated, unsure what to say. “No…what?” He rubbed his eyes. “I can’t—”
“We don’t have the luxury of time right now, Jason. You have so much you need to be doing,” Elizabeth cut in. “And I won’t be one more person you need to take care of. You’re here because you think we should break our engagement, and my answer is no. I know what you’re going to say, but I don’t care—”
“I care.” His voice cracked and he turned away.
She sighed and stepped towards him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her forehead against his back. “Jason, you need me, and I need you. I know what you’re going through—”
“I have watched Carly sob for hours,” Jason said, his body tense. “I can’t…I won’t do that with you, watch you cry over our boys—”
“Like I did when Jake was kidnapped?” Elizabeth murmured. “Or the fire that nearly killed all three of us?”
He turned and looked at her, the indecision in his eyes. She was making progress. “Elizabeth—”
“Jason, there are a thousand reasons a mother cries for her son, and not all of them are when they get hurt.” She raised her hand to her cheek, and he closed his eyes. “But they are going to get hurt. They’re going to get sick. And if I know you at all, I know that you already know why what happened to Michael happened, and you’re never going to let it happen again.”
“I can’t control everything—”
“No,” she murmured. “But you can make us safe as possible.” She slid her hands up his chest. “Jason, the little boy you love as a son is in the hospital, with little chance of waking up. Your best friend and her husband are wrecked. Your other best friend is probably going off the deep end. You need me, if only to make sure you’re not driving yourself into exhaustion.”
“I’m not asking you to get married tomorrow, next week or even a month from now. I know that we have to table the future for a while. I’m not asking you to take an ad out in the newspaper.”
She felt some of the tension bleed from his body, and she thought…the tide might be turning. “I’m asking you to let me help. To see you through this. You need to concentrate on Sonny, because I know how he gets. So let me help Carly. I can take Cam and Jake to the penthouse, and I’m sure Morgan is with Bobbie. Let me take Morgan with me, so Bobbie can be with her daughter.”
He looked at her, and the anger and regret had faded. All that was left was the devastating grief. He’d lost Michael once, and it had nearly destroyed him, but this was different. This might be final.
Her fingers fisted in his shirt. “Jason, I love you. I just want to be here for you. Don’t push me away when you need me the most.”
“I should argue,” he said softly. “Something in me still says I should fight you, but I…” He closed his eyes, and still…a tear slid down his cheek. Her heart was aching for this man who so rarely showed any emotion. “It would be selfish.”
“It would be selfish to deny ourselves the chance to be happy when so many people never get the opportunity.” She paused. “Let’s take the boys to the penthouse, okay? Because I know you feel better if we’re behind bulletproof windows and guards. We’ll go to the hospital first, and check on Carly and Sonny. And if Carly says it’s okay, we’ll pick up Morgan from Bobbie and the boys from my grandmother. We’ll go be safe, so you can do what you need to do.”
Finally, Jason nodded. “All right. I can’t…” He shook his head. “I don’t know how to argue with you.” His hand cupped her cheek. “I don’t want to argue with you,” he continued. “I came here, knowing what I had to do, and hating it because the happiest I can remember being is the moment you said yes, and I didn’t want to let that go.”
She covered her hand with his. “Then we won’t. We’ll hold on to it, and maybe it will get us through this.”
She thought she might never sleep again.
She wanted so badly to believe in a miracle, but she trusted Patrick. And she knew she could bring in all the surgeons in the world, but they were unlikely to disagree with his initial prognosis. She knew that some point soon, she may be signing an order to switch off the machines breathing for her son.
He looked so small, so innocent, lying there, with gauze covering the red hair he’d inherited from his grandmother. She’d wanted so many things for her little boy, had seen so many bright things in his future. He’d been her salvation, her reason for growing up—at least a little. And how had she repaid him? She’d been selfish. She’d dragged him from father to father, always hoping this one would be what they needed.
She’d given him to Sonny instead of Jason, and now here they were. Sitting in a hospital because the man she’d sacrificed so much for had taken their sweet little boy to a warehouse without guards, out in the open. Someone had tried to kill Sonny, and their son was collateral damage.
She should have stayed with Tony. Even AJ. Found Jax before. She should have taken Michael and run when Robin told the truth. She should have trusted Jason to find a way for them to stay a family.
With the beauty of hindsight, Carly could now see a thousand different things that would have been better than ever letting her son near Sonny Corinthos.
She heard the door open behind her, and light footsteps. She turned and blinked in confusion as Elizabeth Webber came towards her, dressed in a pair of jeans and a casual top. “Elizabeth?” Her voice cracked, rusty from her sobs.
“Hey. I…” Elizabeth hesitated. “I wanted to say I’m sorry, but I know it doesn’t…it doesn’t help or change anything.” She looked at Michael, her eyes heavy with sorrow. “I remember him as a baby in the garage Jason owned once. And seeing him at Bobbie’s brownstone.” She cleared her throat. “I know Morgan is with Bobbie, but I thought you might rather have her here.”
“I…would,” Carly admitted. “But Morgan—”
“I’m going to the penthouse with Cam and Jake,” Elizabeth said, setting her hand on Carly’s shoulder. “Because I know Jason feels better when we’re not out in the open, even if no one knows anything. I thought I might pick Morgan up, and take him with us. He’ll be safe with me, I promise. And then Bobbie can be with you.”
Carly licked her lips. There was something here, something she wasn’t wrapping her mind around but all she could see was Elizabeth, offering her a way to be with her mother. For her other son to be safe. “Cam’s…just a little younger than Morgan, isn’t he?”
“Six months or so. I think they’ll get along, and it’ll keep Cam occupied because Jake isn’t really old enough for him to play with yet.” Elizabeth cast her eyes back at Michael, and Carly followed her gaze. “Carly, if there’s anything I can do for you—”
“You love him,” Carly murmured. “Jason, I mean.” She looked at the brunette and none of the annoyance or irritation that had plagued their relationship for so long was present. “I never wanted to see that. I can’t remember why. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“But you love him, and he loves you.” Carly took a deep breath. “I’m useless to him right now, and God knows, Sonny is, too. But Jason needs someone to love him, to take care of him, because…” Her throat was tight, and those damn tears she’d thought she’d exhausted were choking her now. “Because he loved Michael so much, and I don’t know how he’s walking. I feel like if I stood up, I might fall and never get up again. I don’t know how he’s moving.”
“I love him,” Elizabeth admitted. “And I love him enough to take care of him, whether he wants it or not.”
“Good.” Carly closed her eyes. “I’ll call Mama and let her know you’re on your way. You’re right. I want her here more than anything in the world, and I know Morgan will be safe with you. He doesn’t…understand right now. Cam and Jake will be good distractions.”
“I’ll go let Jason know. He’ll probably stop in before we go. Carly…”
“I know.” Carly attempted a smile, but couldn’t make it. She watched Elizabeth walk to the door, and then looked back at her son.
She wanted a miracle, but she knew…
She knew better.
But as selfish as it felt to keep Elizabeth him, it kept him upright. He could get through today, because tonight, he would go home to his family. To his fiancée, to his sons, and his nephew. And he could find the strength to repeat the routine tomorrow.
“Where the hell have you been?” Sonny growled, rounding a corner and finding Jason leaning against the wall of Michael’s hospital room.
Jason straightened. “Taking care of a few things,” he said. “Sonny—”
“I hope Johnny Zacchara is one of them.” Sonny jabbed a finger at him. “He and his whole goddamn family are the reason my boy is in there.”
That might be true, but the real reason Michael lay near death was the lack of guards at the warehouse and Sonny’s neglect in sweeping the perimeter before allowing Michael and Kate near. For Sonny shielding Kate before thinking of Michael.
Elizabeth was right. He’d had nothing but time since the phone call to learn the details, and there wasn’t a man in the organization who didn’t know Sonny had screwed up.
“If they are, I’ll take care of it,” Jason said, trying to sound firm but he was just…exhausted to the bone. “But I’m not starting a war without proof. If we start with the Zaccharas and it’s not them, then we’re fighting on two fronts.”
“You need to—”
“You wanted out of the organization so you could be with Kate, so you could be a better father,” Jason interrupted, a swirl of anger spreading in his chest. “You don’t get to tell me what I need to do anymore.”
Sonny’s eyes bulged. “I made you what you are, Jason—”
“Yeah.” That much was true. Sonny had seen a young man who didn’t think about the future and had taken it away from him, without bothering to tell him. “You did. Now you have to live with it.”
The door opened, and Sonny cut off any argument he might have made next. He frowned when he saw Elizabeth step out. “What are you doing here?”
Elizabeth hesitated, but decided not to address Sonny’s question. She looked at Jason. “Carly’s calling Bobbie, we can pick up Morgan and my grandmother is expecting us.”
“What…” Looking at Jason, Sonny jabbed a finger in her direction. “This is what you were taking care of? Instead of my son?”
“I was taking care of your son,” Jason retorted. “But I have my own to worry about, Sonny. I have a family, too. And before anything else happens, I have to keep them safe.” He looked back at Elizabeth. “Is she expecting me?”
“I told her you might stop in.” Elizabeth folded her arms and stepped away from the door. “Go on and check with her. We should get the boys to the penthouse as soon as possible.”
Jason cast a warning glare at Sonny before disappearing into the room.
Elizabeth bit her lip. “Sonny…I am so sorry about Michael—”
“Why?” Sonny demanded. “You’re getting what you want. Jason’s taking care of you instead of looking after Michael—”
She closed her eyes, and tried to remember the grief, the anger Sonny must be feeling, even the guilt, but she just couldn’t do it. “He is taking care of Michael. And Morgan. We’re bringing Morgan to the penthouse so Bobbie can be here with Carly. So that Jason can concentrate on what needs to be done. Isn’t that what you want, Sonny? For Jason to focus?”
“I—” Sonny shook his head. “You’re just using this situation—”
“I don’t need to use anything,” Elizabeth cut in. “I love him, Sonny. And I know, apparently better than you, what this is doing to him. You think that Jason looks at the hospital bed and sees someone else’s child.” She pointed at the room. “It doesn’t matter what the legal papers say, what Michael calls him. To Jason, that will always be his son. So if it’s okay, I’m going to support him. He has one son lying in a hospital, so I’m going to take our boys to where he knows they’ll be safe. Because when they are safe, Jason will be able to breathe and find out what happened to Michael, without constantly worrying.”
“Michael is my son,” Sonny pressed a hand to his chest. “He’s not—”
“You used to be a better friend than that,” Elizabeth murmured. Her eyes burned for all that Jason had apparently lost. “I am so unbelievably sorry for what’s happened to Michael, because he’s a good little boy who deserves better, but I’m not going to do with this you.”
The door opened and Jason stepped out, tense and upset. He glanced at both of them before looking at Sonny. “I’m picking up Morgan and the boys, taking Elizabeth to the penthouse to get her settled in. And I’m meeting Spinelli and some of the other men at the warehouse so we can dig into this. You can come to that meeting, but it might be better if you stayed here with Carly and Jax.”
He held his hand out to Elizabeth, and she took it, feeling for the first time that they were in this together.
“We were waiting on Francis to come up from the island,” Milo said. “Once word spread that we were protecting Miss Webber and the boys, Francis wanted to be on her detail.” The corner of his mouth curved slightly. “He’s always liked her.”
“Oh.” His eyes felt gritty, but he was relieved Elizabeth had experience with guards, even it had been almost six years since she’d stayed with him. That they remembered her, particularly Francis, who had always guarded her, meant she would be safe.
As safe as anyone else in his world. “Anyone been by?”
“Not since you left, Boss. It’s been quiet since about eight.”
“Okay.” Jason pushed open the door and couldn’t help it…he smiled at the changes in the room since he’d left that morning, intent on pushing Elizabeth away. Instead, there were toys littering the floor. Not messy, but the evidence that three small boys had spent the afternoon here made him feel, for the first time, they could do this.
He started up the stairs, and peered into the first guest room to find Cameron and Morgan sharing a bed. Action figures were clutched in their hands, telling Jason that putting them to bed had been a serious negotiation. In the next guest room, he found Jake curled up in a portable crib, separate from the boys so that their rambunctious play wouldn’t wake the younger boy.
There were only two rooms left—the old room Spinelli had used and his own. His chest loosened, because he knew he’d find Elizabeth waiting for him in his bed, where he’d always wanted her to be, even all those years ago when she’d slept down the hall.
He pushed the door open, and frowned when he saw her sitting up in bed, the light at the side of the table switched on. She glanced up from her sketchpad and smiled, relief etched in her face. “Hey, you’re home.”
Home. He let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “You didn’t have to wait up.”
She smiled and set her sketchpad on the night table. “I was only going to wait another twenty minutes.”
After tugging off his shirt, jeans and boots, he crawled in next to her and drew her close. “I’m still not sure we made the right decision,” he admitted.
“I know.” She covered his heart with her hand. “But you also know there’s no turning back.”
“I do.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “I know that I love you, so if there’s a way we can make this work, then I want to find it.”
“Good.” She tilted her head up and pressed a kiss to his mouth. “I called Epiphany and I can take off work for the rest of this week. We can talk about next week if it comes to it, but I’ll be here.”
He closed his eyes, breathed in her familiar vanilla scent and slept for the first time since learning Michael was shot.
But now, sitting by this bed, Jax’s strong hand in hers, Carly felt hollow. Empty. As if she’d exhausted all her love, anguish and hatred, and now she was drifting in a sea of nothing.
“Should we…” Jax stopped and hesitated. “Should we talk about what the doctors are saying?”
She knew what he was asking. A week after Michael’s shooting, his situation hadn’t changed. It hadn’t worsened, but it hadn’t improved and Patrick Drake’s eyes were full of sympathy. He was expecting a child in the fall, so she knew he was thinking how he would feel in this situation.
She hoped like hell he would never know.
“I know we should,” Carly replied. “But I…” She looked at him, and she saw the raw grief in his eyes. And then she didn’t feel nothing anymore.
She felt too much. “I’m just not ready yet.”
“All right.” His fingers traced the back of her hand. “Elizabeth brought the boys by this morning. That’s why I went home, to let her in. She wanted Morgan to have some more clothes, some of his own toys.”
Morgan. Her sweet little boy. The only one she would have left. Carly exhaled. “How is he? Does he look all right?”
“He looks good. He showed Cam all his toys, and they were picking out which ones to take back to the penthouse.”
“I should see him,” Carly murmured. “But I’m afraid if I go near him right now, he’ll see everything I’m feeling. And he’s so little. He wouldn’t understand. He’s… not even five years old, Jax. How…how do I explain this to him?” She rubbed her eyes. “Where does he think I am? Or Michael?”
“Elizabeth told Morgan that Michael is sick and you’re taking care of him. She said anything else ought to come from us.”
“Okay.” Carly looked back at her son. “I haven’t seen Jason in a few days. Has he been by?”
“He checks in a few times a day,” Jax told her. “I think it’s difficult for him to see Michael like this and he’s doing what he can to keep Sonny on a leash.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and drew her closer. “He knows you’re not leaving Michael alone.”
“I think he asked Elizabeth to marry him,” Carly murmured. “Before this happened. Something changed. She’s taking care of my son like he was her own, living with her boys at the penthouse with guards. I’m glad. They made a lot of mistakes, most of them hers.” She felt Jax’s smile against her hair. “But I always knew she loved Jason first and best. I loved myself best, and so did Sonny. Jason should be first.”
“I know what the doctors want me to do,” Carly said softly. “And I know I’ll have to decide soon, but for just a few days more, I want to have two sons in this world.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I never thought I’d have to say goodbye to one of them like this.”
It burned in Jason, because he wanted all that, too. He would step into that hallway, and look through the window of the room to see Michael lying there, to see Carly exhausted beyond measure. To go home, and see Elizabeth with their boys, with Morgan, and to picture one of them in that bed. Someone had to pay for Michael.
But justice could not be the only thing in front of him. He had to keep perspective. It could not be enough to make someone pay for Michael—he had to keep his family safe. All of them, even Sonny. He had to do this right the first time, because he would only get one try.
But Sonny wasn’t focused, hadn’t been in years. The man that had fought his way up the ranks through Frank Smith’s organization had lost the edge, the cunning that had led him to that place. Now, all that remained was the burning anger and desire for power.
“I don’t give a damn about proof,” Sonny growled. “We know what happened. The Zaccharas are a plague, and I want them dead—”
“I cannot afford to start a war we can’t win!” Jason cut in, feeling the desperate need to punch the wall in Sonny’s entry way. “There’s too much at stake. You have other children, Sonny, that we need to protect. Kristina and Morgan are important. I have children—”
Sonny dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand, and Jason’s eyes hazed with anger for a moment, as he realized that Sonny didn’t take him seriously about Cam and Jake, about his own family. As if not having been in their lives all along negated his love for them, his desire to keep them safe. “Sonny, I don’t want one of them to be next one in the hospital—”
“They will be if you don’t take care of Johnny Zacchara!” Sonny jabbed a finger at him . “I’ve begged for you over a year to take care of that punk—”
“He’s never been guilty of a single thing you’ve accused him of.” Jason fisted his hands. “You were sure he’d kidnapped Michael, arranged for Kate to be shot earlier this year. And if this is the Zaccharas, if it is Johnny, it’s fucking retribution for your mistakes!”
Sonny’s coal black eyes blazed. “You blaming me?” he hissed. “I was in the warehouse, Jason. My son’s blood was on my…” He trailed off as if realizing what he was saying.
“I don’t want to blame you.” Jason shook his head. “I don’t, but I can’t avoid it. You’re right. Michael’s blood is on your hands. You kidnapped Johnny Zacchara and held him in an abandoned insane asylum instead of looking for Michael. You left a gun where Michael could get it. You took him to the warehouse without guards. You shielded Kate before you even thought about Michael!”
“You blame me for what I did in a moment of terror and confusion?” Sonny demanded. “You’re standing there and telling me you wouldn’t do the same for Elizabeth—”
“I wouldn’t have to,” Jason bit out. “Because she’s already be shielding our sons. But I wouldn’t have her in the warehouse, without security. Without precautions.” Without even realizing the thought was lurking in his head, he stepped forward. “So, tell me Sonny, if you want justice so damn much, then why don’t you look at yourself?”
“Get out,” Sonny said flatly. “You’re either with me or against me.”
“We were, Mommy,” Cameron said, pouting at her. “This came on instead.”
Elizabeth set the basket on the coffee table and her breath caught when she saw the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Anthony Zacchara. She reached for the remote and raised the volume.
“…the PCPD is not willing to comment at this time, but the SUV at the center of this scandal was registered to John Zacchara, son of Anthony Zacchara. One source at the station states that they fear this is the beginning of a bloody mob war, in retaliation for the attempted murder of Michael Corinthos, III, son of Sonny Corinthos and nephew of Jason Morgan. We also have no official word on the body recovered at the scene, but it is reputed to be a member of the Zacchara family.”
“’Lizabeth?” Morgan blinked and Elizabeth realized a moment too late that the two boys had heard everything. Thank God they were only four and three. “They said my daddy’s name.”
“Yes.” Elizabeth flicked the screen off and swallowed hard. “I…can you guys play upstairs for a little while? I have to make some calls.”
Cameron opened his mouth to argue, but, with a sinking heart, she knew that Morgan had understood more than his new friend. He had grown up around Sonny and Jason, and knew what fire and his father’s name on the news meant. Morgan silently started up the stairs, and confused, Cameron followed.
This was the life she was signing her boys up to, for any future children she and Jason brought into the world. A world where little boys knew the tone of a grown-up’s voice meant something dangerous or bad was happening. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. No. This was the world that Sonny had raised his children in.
Jason and Elizabeth could, and would, do better.
She lifted the phone and left a message for Jason. “I saw the report on the news. We’re okay here. I just wanted to check in, make sure you’re okay. Call me if you’re hurt or going to be late, or send someone who can tell me. I love you. Be safe.”
Her second call was to Jax, where she left another message. “This isn’t urgent, and I promise Morgan is okay. But he saw the report on the news. I don’t think he understood the words, but he knows something is wrong. Please let me know what I should say or not say. Take care of yourself, and Carly.”
“You son of a bitch,” Claudia hissed. “That was my brother’s car!”
“Kind of the point,” Sonny growled. “Just give me a reason, you fucking whore. Give me a reason.”
“Put down the damn guns!” Jason said through clenched teeth. “This is the last thing we need—”
“Your wacko boss tried to kill my brother. He’s lucky he only got my father.” Claudia’s finger tightened on her gun, but Jason knew the mob princess had incredible control and would only shoot if she meant it. “He blew up my father!”
“You killed my son!”
“He’s not dead yet!” Jason shot back. He crossed to Sonny’s side. “Sonny, put down the damn gun or I will shoot you myself, and I’m the only one bright enough to have silencer.”
“You siding with this trash?” Sonny demanded. “She’s responsible for everything.”
“She very well may be,” Jason snarled. “But this isn’t the time or place to deal with this, and you would have known that once.” He looked to Claudia. “Back away, Claudia. Back away, and leave.”
“You get this son of a bitch under control.” Claudia took a careful step back, never taking her eyes off Sonny. “If he goes for my brother, if he succeeds in harming a single hair on John’s head, there will be no saving him from my wrath. I will ruin you and yours.” She flicked her eyes to Jason, briefly. “And if you don’t control him, I won’t stop at ruining everything he loves. I’ll go for you and yours, as well.”
And Jason believed her. He nodded. “Understood. But likewise. You come after my family, including Carly and her kids, I will take great pleasure in removing the Zaccharas from this world. Slowly. Leave.”
She smirked. “I actually believe you, Morgan.” And with that, Claudia disappeared down the hall.
Sonny started to follow her, but Jason, pushed past the point of no return, grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the gun, and twisted it. Sonny went to his knees, and the gun clattered to the floor.
“You get me now?” Jason growled, wishing he could tear Sonny’s arm from the socket. “You get it? You pissed off one of the most dangerous and lethal women we’ve come up against since Faith Roscoe. Claudia’s fucking crazy and you went after her brother without disabling her first. You dumb son of a bitch!”
He released Sonny, and Sonny collapsed on the floor. He raised his head, and his eyes were dark with anger. “You’re a fucking traitor, Jason—”
“You’re going to get us all killed. It’s not enough that Michael is going to die?” Jason demanded, his low but fierce. “You have to take the rest of us? If that had been Johnny in that car, Sonny, she would have gone after the people we love most. She would have gone for Kate, Carly. The kids. Elizabeth. You think because she’s a woman, she’s not dangerous?”
“I can take care of her—”
“You’ve just proven you’re not capable of rational thought.” Jason stepped away. “I’m putting guards on you, and from now on, you won’t be allowed to step past your home or the hospital. You’re finished in this business, Sonny. I’m not going to let you put anyone else I love at risk. Not ever again.”
He’d once thought he’d feel nothing but freedom if Anthony Zacchara had been removed from this world, but instead, he just felt a choking sense of reality. Anthony was gone. Claudia was out of control, because they both knew the bomb had been meant for him. Sonny Corinthos had gone after him, and Claudia would raze the city to the ground before she’d allow Johnny to pay for her crimes.
The terrace door swung open and Johnny looked up to see Jason Morgan standing there. Fucking guards. Not worth a damn.
“You here to kill me?”
“No.” Jason stepped forward, and Johnny saw the exhaustion behind the hard lines of his face. He’d always felt bad for Sonny’s enforcer—the aging mobster was a fucking lunatic, and it was usually Jason’s job to talk him down.
But everyone knew there would be no talking Sonny Corinthos down this time.
“And why do I deserve to live?” Johnny asked, leaning back in his chair.
“I’m not sure you do.” Jason’s face remained impassive. “I want someone to pay for what happened to Michael, and I’m almost sure that someone from your family was behind the hit on Sonny.”
“Not like he’s made many friends elsewhere, you know,” Johnny pointed out. “If it wasn’t us, it could have been the Ruizes. Someone looking for payback for Alcazar. Or Roscoe. Or Sorel. Or Moreno, or any of the dozen people you and Corinthos have taken out since you took over the territory. I’m a convenient target.”
“Which is why you’re not dead.” The unspoken yet hung between them. “But your sister doesn’t fight fair, and if I come for you, I have to take her into account. There’s too much at stake.”
Johnny nodded, because he was aware that Jason Morgan was living with a single mother, with two children, one of whom was rumored to the biological son of the man standing in front him. Sonny had two other children at risk. “And you can understand that I don’t particularly wish to die. So, you’re in charge now, like I suppose I am. What makes you think I can control Claudia any more than you can control Sonny?”
“The fact that Claudia defends you with deadly force is why I know if the hit came from the Zaccharas, it came from her. And she did it to avenge you. For all the bullshit Sonny put you through when he locked you in a padded room.”
Johnny kept his breathing even, trying not to remember those days. “Well, he might have been asking for it, but Michael sure wasn’t, and as crazy as my sister is, she doesn’t go for collateral damage first.”
“I’m going to lose a member of my family,” Jason said. “Whether he dies tomorrow, or next week, or next year, Michael’s not coming out this. You’ve lost a father. This is a one-time deal, Johnny. You get your sister out of the country and if she steps foot back in the United States, there won’t be a rock she can hide beneath.”
“And you and I call a truce?” Johnny arched a brow. “Don’t get me wrong, Morgan. You, I take at your word. Your former boss?”
“It won’t be easy,” Jason admitted. “I can control Sonny to a point, but he’s going to come after you. And the next time, he’s not going to use a car bomb. He’s going to come personally. I’d be ready.”
And in that moment, Johnny understood the terms of the deal. He had this one opportunity to save his sister from herself, and in return, all he had to do was kill Sonny Corinthos so that Jason Morgan, his organization, and his family would be safe. Luckily for him, it was likely to be in self-defense. He exhaled slowly, and understood he was crossing that point of no return. Once he agreed, he could never again pretend he wasn’t his father’s son.
“We’ve got a deal.”
No miracle had arrived.
Carly sat in Patrick Drake’s office, alone. She had thought of calling Jax, but she knew his feelings on the subject. He had been patient with her, but they’d known for days this was coming. She had considered Sonny, but since Anthony Zacchara’s fiery death the week before, he’d been in a dark place, rarely leaving Greystone Manor. She had also rejected the idea of Jason sitting beside her, because she had leaned on him enough.
Michael was her son, and it was her decisions that led to this moment, so it had to be her decision to stop it.
“I wish I had better news, Carly,” Patrick said. “It’s not even that he’s in an irreversible coma, where there’s brain function. Michael has experienced what neurologists call…” He cleared his throat and dipped his head.
“Brain death,” Carly murmured “I…know. It’s what you said that first day. And the second. And the fifth. And on Monday. And yesterday.” Her eyes felt swollen, her body was numb, and she almost felt as though she was floating above this all.
“I just…I hoped for a miracle,” she murmured. “Not that I deserve one, I guess. But Michael does. He deserves all the love and happiness I can give him, but I gave him none of that. I gave him bitterness, anger, pain, confusion. I delivered him into a world that killed him.” She focused on him. “You’re having a child.”
Patrick hesitated and nodded. “Yes.”
“Boy or girl?” Carly asked.
“Ah…we haven’t…Robin wants it to be a surprise.” He shifted in his seat. “Carly—”
“Becoming a parent is almost deceptively easy, you know.” She blinked and felt a stray tear slide down her cheek. “A few extra drinks one night, the wrong guy, a room above Jake’s, and a baby is made. But…being a parent…it’s so much harder. Everything you do has a consequence. If I had stayed home that night and slept with the man I was actually living with, Michael would have been Anthony Jones, Jr. Tony would have had the second child he wanted so much. I never would have fallen in love with Sonny. And that little boy, Anthony…he’d be alive today.” Her eyes burned. “If I ran when Tony found out he wasn’t the father, and never gone to Jason, I could have spared Jason the pain of loving and losing Michael. If I hadn’t slept with Sonny, maybe I could have made my marriage to AJ work. All these ways I could have saved my son, Patrick, and I chose none of them.”
“Carly, do you want me to call someone?” He leaned forward and she smiled at him now, because he was a good person who would be a good father, but he didn’t know what to say to her.
“I used to think AJ Quartermaine was the worst choice to be a father to my child, but he was merely an alcoholic, and most of the time he was a recovering one. Maybe if I meant my marriage vows, not chased after Jason…we would have had a life. He never would have kidnapped Michael and faked his death. He did that, you know, because I stole Michael first. I stole his chance to be a father, so he just stole it back.”
Patrick exhaled slowly, and tapped his pen against his notepad. Not impatiently, but uncomfortably, but the words were spilling from her lips now and she wasn’t sure she could stop them.
“So, it’s almost fair, isn’t it? That I don’t get to be Michael’s mother anymore.” Carly tilted her head back and closed her eyes, and felt despair begin to slide through the numbness in her body. The burning in her eyes became hot tears. “I mean, maybe Michael…he’ll see AJ. And Alan, Emily, and Lila. All these people who loved him, but I never let him know. And they’ll take care of him better than I did.” She closed her eyes. “Do you think that’s possible? That I’ll let my little boy go in peace, and his family will take care of him in Heaven? Because…he’s just…a baby, really. I d-don’t want him to be alone in death.”
“I…” And she saw Patrick swallow hard, his own eyes glossy. “Carly, if there’s any justice in this world, no child…no person is ever alone in death. I think the people who went first will be there take care of him. I’m sure Emily will be waiting to take him under her wing. She won’t let him be scared.”
Carly nodded, and took a deep bracing breath. “Thank you. Thank you, Patrick. That’s…what’s exactly what I needed to hear right now. Give me the paperwork.”
Patrick cleared his throat. “I’ve discussed the options with Carly almost daily since Michael was brought in last week.” He met her eyes and she nodded for him to continue. “At her request, we continued to keep Michael on life support, hoping that one of the tests we’ve run daily for two weeks would show a change.”
“And they haven’t.” Jax’s hoarse voice filled the room, the sound almost echoing off the walls.
“But they still could.” Sonny leaned forward. “They said Jason would never wake up, never have any functioning life—” At his side, Carly saw Jason close his eyes, because Sonny was not going to accept this easily.
“I know the case you’re referring to,” Patrick said. “And it’s…different. Jason Quartermaine was considered in an irreversible coma, that is true. But he had brain function. The doubt in his case lay with the area that showed the damage. It is extremely rare for any patient to wake up from those types of injuries without serious drawbacks.” He looked at Jason, who looked resigned. “Which is why Jason Quartermaine isn’t with us today. You know, better than anyone, Jason, what I mean when I say that an irreversible coma is not the same thing as what Michael is going through.”
“Why is he even here?” Sonny shot back from the table and glared at Jason. Carly rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand, because she’d expected this. She’d known, almost from the moment this had happened that the relationship between the two men had been fractured, and it appeared…it had been shattered entirely.
“You’re nothing to Michael,” her ex-husband continued. “You’re not his father, or even his stepfather—”
“I asked Jason to be here because he loves Michael,” Carly cut in, unsurprised that it was always someone else’s job to reign in Sonny and not his own. “He had nothing to do with my decision. Just as neither you nor Jax were privy to it. I am Michael’s mother. Jason was his uncle. Biologically and in every other way that matters. In fact, Sonny, I didn’t really want you here, but Jax thought you ought to be.”
Sonny glared at her. “So you blame me like everyone else?”
“Is this really the time, Corinthos?” Jax asked, resigned. No heat in his words, just the same sheer exhaustion Carly felt, that she could see written all over Jason’s face. “Can we just finish this?”
“As I was saying,” Patrick said, and she felt sorry for this man, who was almost a friend sometimes, being subjected to the insanity of her family. “Michael is not in an irreversible coma. He is brain dead—”
Sonny dismissed his words with a wave of his hand. “We’ll get another doctor—”
“Patrick is the best in his field.” Carly shot to her feet. “But he gave me the names of other doctors, and we sent over his case. They all agree. Michael is brain dead. Brain death is…not something people come back from. There’s nothing left of my little boy, except a machine that keeps his chest rising and falling. What made him who he was…it’s already gone, Sonny. I want to let him rest in peace. I don’t want him on machines when there is no hope. I’ve waited for a miracle, Sonny, and you know what? We’re not going to get one. This is the price I have to pay for letting you anywhere near my baby.”
She flicked her eyes to Jason, who was ashen and staring at the table. “Jason, I don’t blame you. And I’m not saying that bringing Michael into this world was the reason this happened. He lived with you, in this world, for an entire year and he was safe, happy and calm. I’m blaming this entirely on Sonny and the way he lives his life. No regard for collateral damage. Act now, act later, never think. Never ask questions.”
Jason just closed his eyes. “Carly—”
“I do not blame you,” she repeated. She took a deep bracing breath and looked into the eyes of her ex-husband, the father of her children. “I blame you, Sonny. I blame myself. I trusted you to keep him safe, and you took him to a place of violence without taking any of the security precautions we’d had in place his entire life. And he’s paying the price. It should have been you. I wish to God it was you.”
Sonny narrowed his eyes and then left the room, without another word.
“As Patrick has been kindly trying to explain for the benefit of people who just don’t care to listen to reality,” Carly continued, “’I signed paperwork to stop the machines. In an hour, we’re going to turn off the machines, his organs are going to be donated, and I’m going to let my little boy go in peace.” Her shoulders started to shake, and she slowly slid back into her chair. “For the first time in Michael’s life, I’m going to think of him rather than myself, and I’m going to let him go.”
After a moment of silence, Jax cleared his throat. “Patrick, thank you for everything you’ve done. I know…that you did all that you could.”
Patrick closed his file. “I’ll…be there in the operating room when the machines…” He cleared his throat. “I’m just…sorry.” He rose and left the room.
Carly dragged her fingers through her hair and looked at Jason. “I called Elizabeth. She’s having her grandmother stay with the boys at the penthouse. I want…you to have her here. Jax and I have each other, but you need…someone, too.” She hesitated. “Jason, I want you to promise me something.”
Jason finally lifted his eyes to hers and if she’d any tears left, they would have begun again for the devastation in them. “What?” his voice was almost inaudible.
“You hold your boys close to you every day for the rest of your life,” she said softly. “Never take a single moment with them for granted. You hold Elizabeth and your family close. I do not, and will never, blame you for what happened to Michael, because it would not have happened if you were his father. Cam and Jake are going to be safe with you, because you were always better at this life than Sonny. So promise me, that you’ll love your sons with every breath you have and keep them with you. Don’t push them away.”
Jason nodded and placed his hands on the table, slowly rose to his feet and left the room.
Jax also rose, but rounded the table to lean against the edge next to her. “Carly, I know this was a difficult decision…”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” she murmured. She raised her eyes to him. “When I really sat down and thought about it, I was keeping him alive for me. And once I knew that, letting him go was almost easy. Because I love him too much to see him like that. He’s already gone, Jax. And I have to learn to live with that.”
“Hey.” Leyla entered the room, standing away from the bed, near the bathroom. “Is it true? I heard at the nurse’s station…”
“His mother signed the paperwork.” Nadine wrote down the last number down from the machine, and then squeezed Michael’s hand. “Go be in peace, Michael. And I hope Heaven is filled with video games, candy and…everyone else who loves you.” She stepped back from the bed and joined Leyla at the door. “I hate when it’s kids.”
“Well, then you ought not to work in pediatrics,” Leyla murmured with a sympathetic smile. “Let’s go. I’m sure his family—”
The door slammed open, and Sonny Corinthos stormed in. Leyla and Nadine both jumped and started to edge toward the door, but Sonny was blocking the way. He stood there for a moment, his face twisted with anger and violence simmering beneath the surface. He jabbed a finger at the bed. “Johnny Zacchara is going to pay for this, Michael. I promise you that.”
And then he turned and left as abruptly as he’d entered.
“Nadine…do you think…”
Nadine sighed. “Should I…call the police? Because Johnny Zacchara is gonna need them.”
“Better to just send the ambulance now,” Leyla said, nodding in agreement. They left the room, and Nadine hesitated just a shade longer than she should have to call the PCPD, who promised to forward her concern to the Crimson Pointe department.
No one willingly got involved in a mob war without thinking it through a dozen times.
“No.” Though she was slight and he could probably pick her up with one arm around her waist, her strength in his moment was all that was keeping him upright. “I can’t…” He closed his eyes. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“He always knew you loved him,” Elizabeth murmured. “Always. From the moment you held him. You know that.”
“I wanted him to be safe. I wanted him to be free to make his own choices, to belong to himself.” The vise around his chest squeezed. “But I failed him.”
“I remember the first time I came to the garage you owned all those years ago, after Lucky had moved in,” Elizabeth said. “You were sitting on a bike, maybe you’d just fixed it, and Michael was in your arms, holding a wrench with the biggest smile on his face. And I wanted to paint that.” She pressed her forehead against his arm. “I don’t know the words to get you through this, Jason.”
“I don’t think there are any.” He stepped back and cleared his throat. “I’ll get Carly.”
He’d been a kind little boy, an amazing older brother, so she knew he’d approve of helping others. Some child would receive his heart, another his liver, still more his kidneys and lungs, and even his eyes. Her son would live on in others, and that was best she could make out of this tragedy. Sonny had never come back, and she no longer cared. After this was over, she would do whatever it took to make Michael’s siblings safe from their father. She would get Morgan away for good, and she’d help Alexis and Kristina be free as well. No child would ever pay for Sonny’s choices again.
The door slid open, and Carly felt Jax and Bobbie tense on either side of her. She saw Jason sit up across the room, his hand in Elizabeth’s tightening.
Patrick stepped in, dressed in his surgical scrubs and cleared his throat. “Michael…passed away at 4:05. And his organs are en route to the people who need them. I’m…” He looked at Carly, and just shook his head. “I’m so sorry.”
She now existed in a world where Michael did not. Her son was no longer breathing.
She would never see his mischievous smile again. He would never be older than ten years old. He should have turned eleven after Christmas, but instead, he would never be a teenager. He’d never drive a car. Kiss a girl.
She would never know what he would have done for a career, if he would fall in love or have children.
Michael, the reason she had grown up and tried to be a better person…he was gone. A decision that, five hours ago, had seemed simple and right, now seemed like the worst.
She was as responsible for his death as his father was.
And ten minutes ago, they’d confirmed the little boy’s death.
He’d had Claudia tied up, gagged, and put on the flight to Rome shortly after Jason’s nocturnal visit. She’d been furious, but in the end, Claudia understood that as long as she remained out of the country, Johnny was safe from Jason Morgan.
As long as he held up his end of the deal.
The scuffle in the entry way was Johnny’s only warning. He rose to his feet, and extended his hand, the gun pointing at the doors.
When Sonny Corinthos strode in, his gun out but not pointing at him, Johnny did not wait for him to fire first. If Sonny shot first, Johnny might end up dead. That wasn’t the deal, and Johnny didn’t really feel like dying for something that hadn’t been his fault.
So he fired first. He fired twice, both to the chest. Sonny managed one wild shot, but he went down.
And Johnny stood over Sonny Corinthos after kicking the man’s gun away, and watched the older man as he slowly bled out. “I could shoot you in the head,” the Zacchara heir mused. “But you know, that would be too quick. And you don’t deserve it.”
He crouched next to him. “But you should know…before you die…that you were almost right.”
Sonny’s eyes bulged, and he opened his mouth. Blood trickled from the corner. “You…killed my son.”
“No.” Johnny tilted his head. “No. I didn’t. I didn’t even try to kill you. But my sister…she did.”
Sonny coughed. “Jason..will…”
“Don’t be so sure. He and I have an understanding.” He leaned closer and hissed in the dying man’s ear. “You brought this on yourself, you bastard. You made my life a living hell when I did nothing to you. You have made everyone around you live in fear of the next time you lose control. The world is going to be a better place without you, Sonny Corinthos, and it is my pleasure to make it so.”
For the first time in John Anthony Zacchara’s life, he embraced being his father’s son.
And then Sonny’s chest stopped rising. He died, just after four in the afternoon, and later Johnny would note, with some irony, that Sonny and Michael had left the world almost at the same time.
When he was satisfied that Sonny was dead, Johnny took Sonny’s gun, and emptied the clip into the wall, into the furniture, carefully wiped the prints, and then arranged it so it was if Sonny had dropped it as he fell to the ground.
He had killed Sonny Corinthos in self-defense, but he didn’t want the cops to know he’d merely been waiting to do so. He could hear the sirens in the distance. Too little, too late.
She’d asked him if they should track down Sonny, but he only shook his head. She asked if they should bring the boys home from Audrey’s, but he’d said it was better for them to be there a little longer. If Audrey didn’t mind, they’d pick them up in the morning.
So she sent Spinelli to bunk up in his old room, because she knew he was worried for his mentor. And she curled up with Jason on the couch. She left the television on, wanting him to feel as though he could lose himself in his own mind and she’d be occupied.
But the news broke into the documentary she’d been ignoring, and they both sat up.
“The Crimson Pointe Police Department are confirming that Sonny Corinthos was killed tonight. While they aren’t releasing specific details, we can also confirm that Corinthos received the news that his son was being removed from life support today, and that someone witnessed him issuing a threat to John Zacchara, an alleged rival of the alleged mafia don. The police were unable to arrive in time, as John Zacchara shot and killed Sonny Corinthos, in what sources claim appears to be a clean-cut case of self-defense.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes and pressed her face into Jason’s chest, wondering how many more hits he could take, that Carly could take. To lose Sonny and Michael on the same day. And then she frowned. She drew back. “You knew he’d go for Johnny.”
Jason didn’t met her eyes, but only stared straight ahead.
“Jason…” She didn’t want to ask the question, but she thought she really ought to. That he should know she understood what his business entailed, that her head wasn’t stuck in the sand.
He drew in a shaky breath. “I knew he would go for Johnny. Which is why I warned Johnny to be ready.” He dipped his head and closed his eyes. “Because we were never going to be safe otherwise.”
And she knew it was the only answer she would receive. She even understood it—she’d watched Sonny spiral out of control these past few weeks, and she knew, somewhere inside, she’d thought it would end this way.
But for all the pain and devastation Sonny had brought to his family, she knew that Jason also remembered the man who’d taught him about loyalty and honor. He’d once told her that he learned half of everything he knew from Robin Scorpio, and the other half from Sonny Corinthos. She’d laughed, and said that was why he wasn’t like anyone else.
And he had, in a way, arranged for that man to die so that Sonny’s children, so that their family would be safe.
She tightened her grip around his waist, and rested her cheek against his shoulder. She had promised him once, years ago, that her face would not change.
And she was relieved to know she’d been telling the truth.
She knew the worst of him, and her love shined even more brightly for the sacrifice he’d made.
Carly heard the news report from her position, lying prone on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She was in her own home for the first time since Michael’s shooting, and less than hour after she’d arrived home, she heard the report on the television Jax had switched on to fill the silence.
She raised herself up on her elbows and found Jax seated at the edge of the bed, watching it as well. He twisted and looked at her, his face as ravaged as her own.
She lay back down and stared at the ceiling again. Maybe…one day she’d feel grief for Sonny, for the man he’d been once, for the man she loved enough to give her son to, to give him a second son. But today, she could only find the room to grieve for the son she’d lost because of him.
They were free now.
Or maybe no one had ever really believed them.
They had buried Michael that morning, and now this, afternoon, they were the only mourners at Sonny Corinthos’ burial.
Almost three weeks earlier, they had stood in his penthouse with smiles on their face, ready to embark on the next phase of their life—finally together, finally free, finally a family. She’d fought for that dream, to preserve it in the wake of Michael’s death, of Sonny’s murder. She knew there would be always be people who wondered how she could justify her decision to bring her sons into that world just as it claimed another child.
But as always, those people did not know Jason Morgan. They had never cared to look past the surface to find the generous heart underneath. She loved him not despite his job, but maybe even because of it. He’d begun working for Sonny when he didn’t know much about himself, before he could appreciate which his choices would cost him. And he’d remained loyal to Sonny, to that man he’d been once. The man who had looked at her with sad eyes when she apologized for what everyone said about Lucky’s death, because it was her fault. She’d told him to light the candles. The man who had hired a guard to watch out for her when Jason was gone.
That man had disappeared somewhere along the line and she grieved for his loss, wondering how they had missed it. And she didn’t think it was a betrayal of that man for Jason to have taken the actions he had, and it was that man to whom he owed that unswerving loyalty. Not the man who died in a hail of gunfire.
Elizabeth would stand next to Jason for the rest of their lives, raise their children together. She would even bring more children into the world with him, if that was in the cards. Because she knew who he was, inside and out, and she loved every inch of him.
She smiled when she saw Cam and Jake in the large space between the desk and the sofa, surrounded by action figures, trains, cars and a motorcycle. Life went on, despite the worst of tragedies. Today was marked the one month anniversary of Sonny and Michael’s deaths, and slowly, everyone else was putting the pieces back together.
Carly and Jax were still drifting, she knew there were days Michael’s mother could not summon the strength to leave her bed, but she hoped that would change eventually. That Carly would find her inner resilience. Jax had thrown himself into being Morgan’s father, as the little boy began to understand that something dreadful had happened. She thought they might pull it together.
Johnny had been charged in Sonny’s murder, despite the evidence of self-defense. Scott Baldwin had insisted on it. He’d missed his chance to nail Sonny Corinthos, but he wasn’t going to miss another mobster. He’d somehow managed to get jurisdiction, despite Sonny having died outside the city limits. Elizabeth was sure Ric would set Johnny free—he didn’t deserve to go to jail for doing what everyone knew had to be done.
Jason was struggling. He was in charge now, without a doubt. He was no longer the back-up or the stand-in, but the boss of an organization he’d never wanted. But he knew, from his last attempt to leave the business, that it was better for him to be in charge than someone else who didn’t operate with any honor. He was still quiet, even withdrawn at times, but Jake and Cam kept him from being too sad. Cam had turned four the first week of May, Jake had turned one a week later, and she was so relieved they could share those moments together.
Jason emerged from the kitchen, a bottle of water in his hand. “Hey. You look tired.”
“Ugh. I had fill in for a nurse in peds today. I think all the children in the world today vomited on me.” She wrinkled her nose and accepted the water. “But luckily, I’m used to it, because the boys enjoy doing it to me, too, when they’re sick.”
Jason grinned then, and she lightly whacked him. “It’s not nice to laugh at my pain.”
He just shook his head and sat on the arm of the sofa. “Lucky came by today.”
Elizabeth paused in the act of twisting the top from her water. “Oh?” Lucky had been angry initially at her decision, and they hadn’t spoken since the day he learned she was moving in with Jason, and that he would no longer be Jake’s father. “Is…did you need Diane?”
“No.” Jason hesitated. “He came to tell me that he was going to sign over rights to Jake. That we didn’t need to fight over it. He saw us at the birthday party in the park. And…” He looked away. “He said that he could see we were a family, and as much as he hated it, he knew that I would take care of the boys. Because he remembered me with Michael before the fire. He told me that Sonny was the cause of most of the problems, and while he didn’t relish the thought of Cam and Jake growing up in this life, he thought…they’d be safer with me.”
Elizabeth frowned. “That…almost sounds like the Lucky I knew a long time ago. I wonder what’s changed in just a month.”
“He said he and Sam are still dating, and he thought it was for the best if we didn’t try shared custody. That if we just all went our separate ways, we could…move on.”
Elizabeth nodded, her heart sad for her ex-husband and old friend. “He loves her, but he doesn’t think she’ll ever love him the way she loved you, so he’s making sure you don’t have to be in each other’s life. He’s not going to fight us changing Jake’s birth certificate.”
“And he never adopted Cameron,” Jason continued, “so he told me not to make the same mistake. So…if that’s what you want.”
“What do you want?” Elizabeth leaned into him, standing between his legs. “I know you’ll love Cam regardless of paperwork. I said that to Lucky, too. Paper doesn’t make a family.”
“No,” Jason nodded. “But the law wouldn’t recognize him as my son if we don’t do it this way. And I don’t want him to grow up and ever feel like I didn’t love him enough. So…I’ll ask Diane to start setting it up.”
She smiled and kissed him, believing that this time they were going to get it right.
“Be careful!” Elizabeth called from the doorway, a glass of iced tea in her hand. She smiled at Jason, who had Jake in his arms. She knew the fireworks didn’t take the same shapes for him due to his accident, but he could still see the colors, and Jake’s eyes were glued on them, in studied concentration. Just like his father.
After another moment, Jason set Jake on his feet, and fourteen month old rushed toward his brother and his new cousin. Elizabeth frowned, but she logically knew that the iron was solid and too tall for them to climb over.
“Relax. I had someone reinforce it after you moved in.” Jason wrapped his arms around her waist, and she leaned against him, remembering the last time they’d stood here like this, the morning after they’d conceived their beautiful little boy.
“Did you ever think, that morning we were out here,” Elizabeth said softly, tilting her head up so she could look at him, “that we would be here like this?”
“No,” Jason admitted, “but I think that’s because I never thought I’d be able to be with you like that again. I thought we’d just have that one moment. That’d you walk out of here, and we’d go back to our lives.”
“I tried,” Elizabeth sighed. “But you ruined me for an ordinary life.” His mouth curved into a slight grin, and she laughed. Leaning up with her free hand to brush her fingers against his jaw. “Or maybe you did that all those years ago in my studio. When you looked at me and told me there was no word for what you felt for me.”
He took his hands from her waist and slid his hand into his pocket. When he withdrew it, he reached for that hand and she felt cool metal slip over her finger. She glanced down and saw a flawless diamond on her finger. “Jason…”
“I am so…” He exhaled slowly. “There aren’t words, Elizabeth. I tried to push you away, but you knew better. You knew that we needed each other. That I needed you and the boys. I asked you to marry me all those months ago, and tried to take it back. You wouldn’t let me.”
“You asked me to share your life,” Elizabeth murmured. “I figured that meant the good and the bad. What kind of coward would I be if I’d let you walk away when it got tough?”
“So, I’m going to ask you to keep the promise you made that day. To marry me, to share my life, to raise our family. There still aren’t words for how I feel, Elizabeth, so I guess I’ll settle for saying I love you.”
She closed her eyes, and let the beauty of the moment slide over her. For so long, she’d had to bury her dreams of them, bury her love, and her fantasies, but he was standing here, making them come true.
“And like I told you that day…” She opened her eyes, her lips curved into a smile. “There is nothing I want more than to share forever with you. To raise our sons, maybe have more children. You know how I love to talk, but like you, I’ve never found the words to describe what I feel. I look at you, Jason, and I see the rest of my life, and so much reflected back. So, I guess I’ll have to settle for saying I love you, too.”
He leaned down and kissed her. Above their heads, the sky exploded into shimmering clouds of white, red, gold, purple, green and all the other colors of the spectrum, as the Port Charles Fourth of July fireworks finale seemed to celebrate the beginning of the rest of their lives.