Chapter Twenty-Seven

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

If terror falls upon your bed
And sleep no longer comes
Remember all the words I said
Be still, be still, and know

Be Still, The Fray


Friday, September 2, 2005

Hardy Home: Living Room

 “Do you need another pillow, Gram?” Elizabeth asked as she set a cup of tea on the table next to her grandmother.

“I’m fine, darling.” Audrey pressed a hand on her granddaughter’s arm. “Sit with me for a moment.” Elizabeth bit her lip, but settled herself gingerly on the sofa next to her.

She was so tired these days and nearly ready for the end—but every morning she woke, it was a blessing. Audrey was prepared to go, but her heart broke knowing the turmoil she would leave her beloved grandchildren with.

“I always wanted a daughter,” Audrey said softly. Her hands felt thin, even cold, as she took Elizabeth’s much warmer ones within her own. “Did I tell you that?”

“No.” Elizabeth smiled at her. “Though I guess I thought you and Gramps might have wanted more children.”

“Ah, well, we were blessed in you, in Sarah, Steven…” She bit her lip. “And for a while, TJ, though once Tom and Simone divorced, we never did see as much as him as we’d liked. Maybe I ought to have fussed more, but it wasn’t—” Audrey blinked now, the tears stinging for the lost years with her only son, with the only continuation of her own blood line.

But here, in her beloved Elizabeth and Steven, here was the real Hardy lineage. Oh, how proud Steve would have been of these two. “When you and Sarah came to live here, I know it was rocky. And I know we did not always see eye to eye.”

“I didn’t make it easy,” Elizabeth said with a quick smile. “I was a terror, Gram—”

And how like her granddaughter to take the blame, as if Audrey hadn’t had a hand in any of it. She should have insisted Jeff and Andrea send her both girls, instead of only the one. Elizabeth had felt unwanted, unloved left in Colorado. And she’d always been compared to Sarah, always found wanting.

“You were a teenager, my love.” Audrey smiled at her. “I like to think we muddled through it the best we could. I made so many mistakes, I said so many things—I would do anything to take them back—”

“Gram, no…” Elizabeth squeezed her grandmother’s hands. “No, no. Listen, I am who I am today because of the choices I made, because of the people I had in my life. I like who I am now. I have my little boy, I have Evie, and Jason. I love my family, I wouldn’t be here without my choices. And you…” A tear slid down her cheek. “You challenged me to always be better—”

What a kind way to say Audrey had always stood in judgment, in moral superiority—as if Audrey herself had never made a single mistake. “I love Steven and Sarah, but you…” she managed to reach a hand out and cup Elizabeth’s chin. “You are more than just my granddaughter. I am humbled by the courage you’ve shown in your life. So many times, my dear, you have been knocked down, you’ve stumbled—but you’ve never let it get the best of you.”

“Gram—”

“Your grandfather adored you, you know that?” Audrey said. “He always said you would prove all the naysayers wrong. Audrey, he would tell me, the boy is wrong for being upset at our Lizzie’s science grades. She’s a dreamer, not a doctor. We need more dreamers.”

“I never—” Elizabeth’s voice shook. “I never knew that.”

“Oh, yes. He knew Steven and Sarah would go on to be doctors—and he loved them for it, but he said the world needed more dreamers. Doctors—they heal wounds, but dreamers—they heal the mind. He loved your scribbles, your doodles.” She paused, taking as deep a breath as she could manage. “When I saw your beautiful work in New York, I knew your grandfather was with me. Do you know what he would have said if he were there?”

“What?” Elizabeth asked.

“Audrey, see? I was right. Our little Lizzie’s a dreamer with a beautiful view of the world. I have to see people as they are so I can fix them, but my Lizzie, oh, she sees them as they could be. The potential in them. She’ll make the world a better place.”

“I wish he’d been there.” Another tear slid down her granddaughter’s cheeks. Then another. “When he died, I wanted to die with him, Gram. I used to think I was a changeling, you know? Switched at birth, but Gramps always made me feel like I belonged. Like it was okay to be me.”

“I know.” Audrey let her hand fall back to her lap, exhausted by the effort. “I failed in that—” When Elizabeth shook her head, “I did, Elizabeth. Don’t let me off the hook. I judged you. I tried to force you into a mold. I—I tried to make you feel ashamed of who you were, of who you loved.”

“You were trying to protect me—”

“I know things are difficult for you right now. For Jason. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I see the guards. I see the tension, you can feel it when Jason comes home. And you’re not living here just to be with me.”

“Gram—”

“When everything feels as though it’s falling apart,” Audrey told her, “that’s when it’s most important to hold on to each other. I want to be here for you, for Steven. I want to see Cam and Evie grow up, I want to see my Steven humbled by love. I want to be there when you get married—” Her chest tightened. “But I won’t. Not in body. I know I don’t have much time left, my love—”

“Gram—”

“But I will always be with you,” she continued over Elizabeth’s protests. “Just as your grandfather is always with you. You have his eyes, his kindness. His strength. And I like to think you have my stubborn nature, my determination to show the world it couldn’t break me. It never did, and it will not break you.” She pressed a hand to Elizabeth’s cheek. “I believe in you, my dreamer, my Elizabeth. And if you hold on to your children, to Jason, to your family, you will make it through anything.”

“I love you so much, Gram.” Elizabeth swallowed hard. “And I am so grateful I broke the rules and came here. I could not imagine my life anywhere else, with anyone else. And I want to be you when I grow up.”

“Darling…” Audrey smiled, but did not continue. Elizabeth was already better than Audrey had ever hoped to be. She patted Elizabeth’s cheek once more. “Shall we turn on the soaps? I’m curious to see what Erica Kane is up to today.”

Warehouse: Jason’s Office

 Jason put his head in his hands and drew in a deep breath. “Hector Ruiz.”

“I’m sorry, Jason.” Bernie shifted in his chair and glanced at Max. “But he put his top lieutenant on a flight to Port Charles two weeks ago. Stan found the flight records. I put Johnny on tracking him, but for now, we know Diego Lopez is here, under the radar and has been since Sonny dismissed Tommy’s crew.”

He hadn’t quite proved that Sonny was working with the Ruiz organization, but the evidence was certainly damning. And the only thing that would make this situation worse would be discovering Johnny Zacchara’s body.

A fight on two fronts with Ruiz and Zacchara. The nightmare scenario he’d been trying to avoid.

“Max—”

“Carly sent the boys to stay with Bobbie yesterday,” the former guard interrupted. “I don’t know why—Rocco and Vinnie are at the Brownstone, I talked to them, but all they know is there was some sort of argument, some sort of blow up, and Carly packed the boys off.”

Jason raised his head and frowned. “What about Carly? Did she leave, too?” Could she finally be coming around?

“No, she stayed. I don’t know that Bobbie even got an explanation,” Max continued. “I talked to her, though, and strengthened security. We’re upgrading her alarm system, checked over the exits, but the place is a nightmare. She still rents out the top floors, and there’s those tenants.”

“Do what you can for now.” Jason rubbed his eyes. At least Michael and Morgan were temporarily out of the line of fire. Maybe Courtney had made some progress since her visit two weeks ago.

Nothing else good had happened since Jason had assumed full control a week ago. Max and his crew were tearing apart the city looking for Johnny Zacchara, Tommy was trying to stall Stefano as Junior’s absence was starting to become more concerning for his father, Johnny was attempting to run business as usual and rebuild the warehouse—

And Sonny had gone radio silent. Jason no longer tried to contact his former partner, and Sonny had not sought him out.

“The girlfriend?” Max said. “She’s acting off. We don’t know much about her, but Stan pulled her personnel file from the hospital. She used to have relatively good reports—well-liked, efficient, but Nadine Crowell now has several reprimands. Being late, being distracted—she’s on thin ice. And all the bad reports start around Junior’s disappearance. She hasn’t gone to the police or Anthony, though.”

“Junior must have warned her about going to him for help,” Bernie said. “Jason—”

“He’s been missing now for nearly three weeks,” Jason interrupted. “We have to start figuring out what we do next. I can’t—” He exhaled. “I can’t keep putting my head in the sand and pretending we’ll magically find the kid alive. At this point, if Junior survives, he has a legitimate grudge against the organization. He’d have every right to go to his father and demand retribution.”

“If we could nab him first—” Max started.

“It doesn’t matter. We have to cut Sonny off at the knees. He’s using Hector Ruiz to go after the Zaccharas. Maybe there’s something there.” Jason hesitated. “If we were the ones to go to Zacchara—”

“That is fucking suicide,” Max cut in, sharply. He rose to his feet. “No way in hell, Jason. We can’t tell Anthony Zacchara that Sonny snatched his kid three weeks ago—he’ll take it out on us just to be contrary—”

“Maybe not,” Bernie interjected. “Trevor Lansing has a lot of influence with Anthony, and we all know he hates Sonny. We could turn that to our advantage, don’t you think?”

“Maybe we leave Anthony out of it,” Jason said. “I could take a meeting with Hector and make it clear that I’m willing to go to Anthony. If Hector thinks Anthony will come for him—and he will—he might give up Diego Lopez’s location to save his skin. We’re in contact with the Zaccharas. We know Hector’s involved.”

“He could call your bluff, go to Anthony himself, and blame it on you,” Bernie told him. “There’s a lot of ways this could go wrong, Jason—”

“Can we keep sitting around? We’ve tried everything else. I’ve tried to reason with Sonny, we’ve tried tailing him, we’ve torn the city apart to look for the kid—” Jason shook his head. “I don’t see any other options. I have to go to Anthony or Hector.  If I go to Hector, I have a prayer to get Junior home alive.”

“And it’s his sons that are the animals,” Max reminded the business manager. “We should thank our lucky fucking stars Javier and Manny aren’t on the ground up here. Hector can still be reasoned with to a certain extent. It’s worth a try, Jason.”

“I’ll call Ramon and request a meeting.” Bernie stood. “Ah, should I ask Hector to come to Port Charles or will you make the trip to Miami?”

Jason hesitated. He couldn’t go to Miami. Not now. Audrey could go any moment and he would never forgive himself if he were away—

But asking Hector Ruiz to come to him was a sign of disrespect. If Jason was requesting the meeting, it was customary for him to go to the other party. It was just how things were done.

“Two more days,” Max said, almost kindly. “Give me two more days to find Junior. You should talk this over with Elizabeth. You know if you take this meeting, you have to go to him. And you know she’ll understand.”

“She shouldn’t have to,” Jason muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. But Max was right. Elizabeth would see the bigger picture—he’d be gone half a day at most. “Monday morning, if nothing has changed, we’ll call Ramon and set up the meeting.” He rose to his feet. “But I’m done sitting around. If Hector sent Diego, he might send one of the boys next. And if you think a turf war with Anthony Zacchara is a nightmare, toss in the Ruiz boys—”

Bernie visibly shuddered. “I’ll throw myself into the lake,” he muttered. “Save them the trouble.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

“Carly, I want you to come to the Brownstone with me.”

Her mother sat across from her, concern practically oozing from every pore, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.

“I can’t.” Carly stirred her ice tea idly. “But thank you for taking the boys, I hope it’s just temporary—”

“Carly…” Bobbie leaned forward, pushing her untouched bowl of chili to the side. “Courtney and I are very worried. I haven’t seen Sonny, but Courtney has and she was almost…I’d say she was terrified. For you, the boys, for Jason and Elizabeth—”

“She’s overreacting.”

She wasn’t, but Carly wasn’t going to admit that. How could she admit she’d gotten it all so very wrong? She’d thought by showing Sonny she could be trusted—that she didn’t believe he was crazy, he would come back to her.

She’d shown him the pamphlets Elizabeth had given her, proclaiming her belief that whatever Sonny’s doctor had told him must be correct. After all, he was the one with the degree—the one Sonny had actually spoken with. Elizabeth Webber was nothing more a waif with an overactive imagination. What the hell did she know about someone’s mind?

But his reaction had chilled her to the bone. He’d grabbed her, shook her, demanding to know where she’d gotten these pamphlets.

“Did Jason give them to you? Did he? That son of a bitch—I made him!”

 Carly shook her head, frantically, trying to get away from him. “No, no, Jason wouldn’t—Sonny, you’re hurting me—”

 “He thinks he’s got the power? He thinks he can beat me? I’ll destroy him—”

And then he’d tossed Carly aside, like a rag doll. She’d hit the mini bar on her way to the floor as Sonny stormed out of the room. Glass had shattered, and she had several cuts.

She should have called Jason then. She knew that. She should have believed Elizabeth.  But instead, Carly had stood up, grateful the boys were out with Courtney for the day. She had cleaned her cuts, swept up the glass, and calmly packed a bag for all of them.

It had been her intention to go, to leave, but Sonny had seen her leaving. And he’d told her what he would do to her if she walked away from him.

“No one takes my boys.” He twisted her arm, the already sore muscles protesting. “You think you can take what’s mine? You’re mine, they’re mine. No one leaves.”

So she’d stayed. She’d given the bags to Vinnie, told Courtney to take the boys to the Brownstone, and she’d stayed.

For now, Sonny believed they were visiting for a few days—it was closer to Michael’s summer camp, Carly had told him when he’d finally realized two days later the boys were gone. And Lucas was away at soccer camp in Vermont—her mother was so lonely.

And Sonny had agreed with a smile. He’d asked what’d happened to the minibar—because he didn’t remember their argument. Didn’t remember the bruises, the way he’d hurt her.

He’d apologized for how difficult things had been lately. His problems with Jason had spilled over, but he wanted to do better. He’d told her about his depression then, as if they’d never spoken of it before.

Now Carly honestly didn’t know what to do. How could she leave him when he was so desperately ill? How could she keep clinging to the belief that if only Jason hadn’t kept Evie, none of this would be happening?

Sonny needed her. He deserved someone who loved him to stick by him, not like Jason and Courtney who just wanted to put him away, to medicate him. To take away everything he loved.

“Carly?” Bobbie said. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yes.” Carly set her spoon down. “I am. I know Sonny is ill. And I know Courtney is concerned. I’m dealing with it.” She rubbed her arm, where a large dark purple bruise lay beneath the long sleeves. “He needs to adjust his treatment, but it’s hard to bring that up when he’s having problems with Jason. I’m not stupid, Mama. The boys are better off with you for now, and Evie is better off with Jason at the moment. Sonny is…”

Out of control. Beyond her ability to help. Oh, God, how did she get herself into this? How could she make it go away? Would he hurt her again?

How could she leave him? He’d be alone. He hated being alone.

“Sonny isn’t himself,” Carly said finally. “If I could make his problems with Jason better, I think it would help.”

“Carly, I’m not sure you can help Sonny right now. Please—”

“The boys don’t need to see his mood swings,” Carly interrupted. “They’ll just be upset, and I don’t want that for them. I can deal with it.”

Tell me I’m wrong, Mama. Make me stop. Force me to come with you. Oh, God. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t know what to do.

“My home is always open to you, Carly,” Bobbie told her. “But maybe you’re right. And Jason and Sonny will come around—they always do.”

Yes. Yes. She could cling to that. Jason and Sonny had always muddled through their problems, had always fixed what was wrong. She just had to hold strong, keep Sonny from falling completely over the edge until Jason fixed things. He always fixed things.

She could depend on Jason. He had never let her down.

General Hospital: Nurse’s Station

 Nadine hesitated in front of the nurse’s station, studying the brunette intern scowling at the back of Dr. Patrick Drake’s head as the resident waited for the elevator.

It had been three weeks since Johnny had left her apartment, since he had called. Since his phone had gone dead. She hadn’t contacted the police, hadn’t called his family.

She didn’t know what was going on, but the last thing she wanted to do was make the situation worse. And if something had happened to Johnny, calling his father would make everything worse. She knew that.

And yet, it had been three weeks. Someone had to do something.

Nadine stepped up to the counter. “Emily, can I ask you a question?”

Emily glanced up. “Hey, Nadine. What’s up?”

“Um…” She shifted. “Your brother is Jason Morgan, isn’t he?”

“Yeah.” Emily set her pen down, her dark eyes concerned. “Nadine, is something wrong?  You’ve been so distracted lately—”

“I know.” Nadine looked away and saw Epiphany Johnson, the charge nurse, eying her with the usual stink eye. “Listen, if I—if I needed to talk to your brother about something, I could—I could trust him, couldn’t I?”

And it was to Emily’s credit that she didn’t ask why someone who had never spoken to her brother and wasn’t particularly close to Emily, was asking this question. She nodded. “Jason is the best person I know, and he’ll be there to help you. If you needed to talk to him.” She reached across the counter to place her hand over Nadine’s. “Call me, Nadine. And I’ll make sure you get in to see him, okay?”

“Thanks. I need to go before Epiphany throws me out the window.”

Hardy Home: Elizabeth’s Bedroom

 Elizabeth set aside her sketchbook when Jason opened the door. “You’re later than you thought you’d be,” she murmured as she sat up in bed. He sighed and sat on the chair to pull off his shoes.

“I…” He hesitated. “I have to talk to you about something.”

“That sounds ominous.” She pushed aside the thin blanket and rose from the bed. “What’s up? Did something happen?”

“It’s more what didn’t happen.” He pulled a pair of sweat pants from a dresser drawer and set them on top of the dresser. “I know we haven’t talked much about what’s been going on—not since we moved in. It’s not because I’m keeping things from you—” Jason turned. “It’s just—there’s no change.”

“I don’t need an itinerary of your day, Jason.” Elizabeth folded her arms across her chest. “I just need the big picture details. Don’t apologize, just tell me what’s going on.”

“Sonny—” He exhaled. Jason briefly explained Sonny’s involvement with the Ruiz organization and their plan to cut off a turf war. Elizabeth listened closely, but didn’t really see what it had to do with her.

“It sounds like your best bet, I don’t know what—” She hesitated. “Ruiz. That’s the one in Miami.” Elizabeth swallowed. “You’d have to meet him down there. That’s the way these things work.”

I’m the one asking for the meeting. If it were Tagliatti or Vega, I might be able to make them understand I don’t want to be away right now. Not even half a day.” Jason waited a moment. “But Ruiz is different. I have to be careful with him—”

“When do you leave?” Elizabeth murmured. “How soon?”

“I don’t want to go,” Jason told her. “Max is taking the weekend—one last effort to find Junior. If I could be assured I don’t have to deal with Zacchara—” He dipped his head. “But Bernie’s going to contact our guy in Miami on Monday morning, so maybe that afternoon. Tuesday, I don’t know yet.” He looked at her. “Elizabeth, if there was another way—”

“But there’s not.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. Resentment was wasted here. She’d walked into this with her eyes wide open and Jason had been brutally honest with her. He was in charge now, he couldn’t delegate this. She understood.

“Elizabeth—”

“What matters to me most of all,” Elizabeth cut in, “is that everyone stays safe. And if you have to go to Miami to make that happen, Jason, then you’ll have to do it.” She nodded. “It’s okay. Thank you for—thank you for waiting. I know you could have done it this weekend and called me from the plane—”

“I wouldn’t have—”

“But you didn’t.” He’d made her part of it, taken the time and effort to keep her in the loop. This wasn’t like last time. It was crappy timing, but it had to be done. “Jason, I understand, and I’m okay with it. It doesn’t make me the happiest woman in the world, but I love you, and this is just something that has to happen.” She took a deep breath. “I have Emily, Steven, and Nikolas. And Monica and Bobbie, if I need it.” She offered a hesitant smile. “Maybe—maybe I won’t need it.”

“Maybe.” He touched her shoulder, sliding his hand down to her elbow. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” But when he reached for her, she drew back slightly. “I just want to check on my grandmother before we go to bed, okay?”

She didn’t wait for his response, but instead, left the room and went down the hall to the room where her grandmother slept. She was okay. She could handle this. She didn’t have to like it, but she could handle it.

Elizabeth pushed her grandmother’s door open and stepped over the threshold. “Gram? What’s wrong?”

Audrey was sitting up in bed, her hand pressed to her chest. “I—I can’t—catch—” Her face was red, her shoulders rising rapidly. “Eliz—”

“Don’t talk, Gram.” She raised her voice. “Jason! Help!”

She was at her grandmother’s side, reaching for the phone when Jason arrived. He took Audrey’s pulse. “Mrs. Hardy,” he told her, “we could wait for the ambulance, or I could carry you down to the car and we can be at the hospital in ten minutes.” He looked at her. “Do you want to wait?”

She shook her head. “N-No—”

Elizabeth watched as Jason carefully lifted her frail grandmother into his arms and started for the door. “I’ll get my purse. I need to call Steven—”

Less than two minutes later, their SUV was speeding through the darkened streets.

Warehouse

 Johnny Zacchara had reached the point where death would be a blessing. Everything hurt. He couldn’t distinguish his own smell from his surroundings, which annoyed him more than anything else. He’d been bound and gagged for days. Weeks. He had water poured down his throat once a day and some bread. Water and fucking bread.

He wanted a glass of merlot and some fucking caviar if he survived this.

But even the water and bread had started to taste like a five course meal. He wanted to go home. He wanted to see his piano, Nadine’s smile, hell, he’d like to see his father one more time, his sister.

He’d settle for goddamn Trevor at this point.

A door creaked open and footsteps came closer. “Still holding out, I see.”

Exhausted, Johnny lifted his head and listened intently. One set of footsteps. The door had closed behind him. And the voice belonged to Sonny Corinthos. He was alone. For the first time, the fucking lunatic was by himself. His gag was removed, but his blindfold remained.

Could he do something with that?

“I didn’t burn down your warehouse,” Johnny bit out. “And if you kill me, my father—”

“Maybe you don’t give a damn about your own life.” A hand yanked Johnny’s head back by grabbing his hair. “Maybe I’m using the wrong leverage.”

Sonny’s voice was close now, his breath warm on Johnny’s face. “Maybe if you had some company—you have a sweet girlfriend, don’t you?”

No. No, no, no. If Sonny knew about Nadine, he could do this to her. And Johnny would admit to anything to keep them from touching her. He’d die, but they’d probably kill her, too. He had no illusions left.

He had to protect her.

And with a strength Johnny didn’t know was left, he twisted his head out of Sonny’s grip and rocked the chair backwards. He and Sonny both went crashing to the floor—

And chair shattered, allowing Johnny to get to his feet. They’d been bound to the chair, but not together. He still didn’t have his sight or use of his hands, but damn it, he could run.

He kicked out at where he thought Sonny might be and was relieved to hear the older man crash back to the floor. Johnny rushed forward, wincing when he crashed into the wall. Frantically, he rubbed his face against the cement, trying to loosen his blindfold.

And finally, it slipped around his neck. Johnny could see! And the ropes at his wrist—they were loose.

Within a few seconds, by the time Sonny had managed to get back to his feet, Johnny Zacchara was a free man. He rushed at the older man, his eyes on the gun at his waistband.

Johnny tackled Sonny to the floor again and grappled for the gun. He managed to get a grip on it, but then a searing pain shot through his shoulder.

Sonny also had a grip on his the gun and had managed to pull the trigger.

Fucking hell. With his last ounce of strength, Johnny head butted Sonny and got control of the weapon. He stood and shot blindly in Sonny’s direction, but he could hear voices rushing towards the room, footsteps clattering.

He ran for the back door, not caring if Sonny was dead or alive. He had to escape. He had to get home, to get help.

He disappeared into the inky dark Port Charles night.

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Comments

  • Oh my G—!!! I can’t believe now perfect that was! I can only hope I don’t lose my mind waiting for the next update! Here’s hoping Max finds JZ and Jason doesn’t have to go to the Ruiz’s.

    According to Carla on August 20, 2015
  • Wow, great chapter

    According to Pwrmom2 on August 20, 2015
  • Please tell me that someone is still tailing Sonny! Hope Johnny got a good shot in, and that Sonny is no longer with us. Really need to know how Audrey is, so will be waiting (not patiently) for next week.

    According to Jo-Ann on August 20, 2015
  • What someone will do for love. Johnny will do anything to protect Nadine. An Carly is staying, she is nuts.

    According to leasmom on August 21, 2015
  • It’s good that Grams and Elizabeth had that talk. It might not help Elizabeth right now, but she will find comfort later.

    Carly is an idiot. Nothing new there. It would make sense if she had a better reason than greed.

    Hopefully Nadine can help Johnny and they can get to Jason through Emily. Anything is better than getting Anthony involved.

    I can’t see any possible good outcome for Sonny — or Carly.

    According to Jane on August 22, 2015