December 24, 2018

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

Notes: Happy holidays! I’ve been toying with returning to the world I built in The Best Thing for ages – there’s a small piece of the story that I actually wrote a year ago. I don’t know if I would ever do a full-fledged sequel, but it was lovely to visit the world again. Last year I wrote another epilogue for All I Want For Christmas, so I figured it would be fun to visit another story.

The Best Thing didn’t have an epilogue initially because I didn’t really know what I wanted for their future. This was written two years after I finished the story (almost three actually.)

It’s set four years after the close of Chapter Thirty-Four. I hope you guys like this!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Morgan Home: Living Room

The room looked as if a several bags of glitter and tinsel had exploded in the alcove where the Morgan family kept their tree. The two eldest Morgan children had dived into their mother’s box of Christmas decorations and discovered a container of tinsel that she had forgotten to remove before they arrived home from preschool that day.

Elizabeth Morgan had merely turned her back to set her youngest son, Jake, in a playpen and give him his stuffed elephant—clearly forgetting the first rule of Christmas decorating with small children.  She could already hear maniacal giggles from the alcove, and when she turned back to assess the situation—

Four-year-old Evangeline already had strands of tinsel streaking through her coal-black curls while four-year-old Cameron was throwing the tinsel at their pine tree—the tree that had no other decorations yet. It had been waiting for their father’s return from an unexpected business trip.

“Evangeline Samantha Morgan.”

Evie blinked at her, her caramel colored eyes round with wide-eyed innocence. “Mommy, it’s not my fault.” She jabbed a chubby finger at her brother. “He went into the box.”

You opened the tinsy!” Cam shot back with a dark scowl.

“Cameron Hardy Morgan.”

Cam heaved a heavy sigh, then turned his own angelic expression in her direction. “I miss Daddy,” he declared, then his lower lip trembled just a little.

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I invented that look.”

The sadness vanished from Cam’s eyes and the scowl returned. “Evie made me do it.”

“Cam—”

She sighed when eighteen-month-old Jake began to wail behind her. He hated being in the playpen, and she could already hear him throwing toys. One—a plastic car—sailed from behind her and hit Evie in the cheek. She shrieked and went for her brother.

Elizabeth stopped her advance, sweeping the little girl up in her arms, ignoring the outrage shrieks and kicks as she dropped her daughter on the sofa.

“It’s not fair!” Evie screamed.

“Mommy!” Cam dived for cover as another one of Jake’s toys careened past him, hitting the tree.

“Daddy!” Jake wailed.

“Oh, man.” Elizabeth sat in her grandfather’s old arm chair and put her head in her hands. Why—why—had she offered Nora the month of December off?

The playpen shook with an ominous rattle as Jake’s chubby fists wrapped around the top edge and he frantically tried to climb out. He managed to lift himself part of the way over the metal rail, but he couldn’t quite get the leverage to haul himself completely over the top—

So, he slid back down, threw back his head, and wailed at the top of his lungs. Evie started crying, pressing her hands over her ears, and Cameron—because he clearly didn’t think his mother was paying attention to him anymore—started tossing some more tinsel at their bare tree.

She only put Jake in there to have five minutes when the kids got home from school—so she could distract them—and then Jake could run free—but of course, he was only a toddler who didn’t understand that mothers needed to breathe.

Elizabeth took a deep breath, then started to reach for her youngest child. One kid at a time—and the tinsel was the least of her worries.

The door was pushed open then, sweeping in the brittle December wind and a bit of the snowflakes that had been gently falling for several hours. Jason stepped over the threshold and was immediately tackled by her eldest children who could run—

Jake rolled, kicked, and wiggled until Elizabeth released him. Jason grabbed Jake and in his own way—managed to hug all three of them at the same time without giving one any extra attention. There were days when he made parenting look so easy, she wanted to murder him.

“Hey,” he said, as he crossed the room, dragging Evie and Cam who were both attached to a leg. He leaned over the top of Jake’s head and kissed her, his lips cold and his breath holding the scent of coffee. She’d missed him—

They hadn’t been separated for two weeks since—since never, Elizabeth realized. Since they had started dating at Nikolas and Emily’s wedding four years earlier—their longest time apart had been that terrible week after her grandmother’s death and Sonny’s psychotic break.

“I missed you,” she murmured against his lips. “How was the island?”

Jason hesitated, then sighed. “We’ll talk about it later,” he said. He kissed her again. “Why was everyone crying when I—” He blinked at the tree, the bottom half of which was only decorated with tinsel before looking down at his two children—Evie with tinsel in her hair and Cam with tinsel sticking out of the collar of his green sweater. “We got into Mommy’s Christmas box, huh?”

As Cam and Evie launched into elaborate defenses of themselves, Jason looked at his wife with a light in his eye that told her he was struggling not to laugh. For the moment, her own irritation and exhaustion lifted, and she started to laugh.

Later that evening, after they had cleaned up the tinsel, fed the children dinner, and decorated the tree properly, Jason took the boys to their room to sleep while Elizabeth tucked in Evie.

“Tell me my special story, Mommy.”

Elizabeth stroked her daughter’s dark, almost coal-black curls with a sad smile Evie couldn’t see. “Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Samantha who was about to become a mommy. She loved her little girl so much and would have done anything to keep her safe. But then she got really sick.”

“And she could only hold me for a minute,” Evie said, the words as familiar her own name. “So, she held me tight.”

“And she made so many wishes for you. To be safe, to be happy, to be smart. To have a good life.” Elizabeth’s throat tightened slightly. “She gave you to the best man she knew—”

“Daddy.”

“That’s right.” Elizabeth smiled, stroking Evie’s cheek. “He promised your birth parents that he would love you so much and keep all their promises for them.”

“And then Daddy fell in love with you,” Evie said, rolling on her back. “And you became my Mommy, and you gave me a brother.”

“An older brother,” Elizabeth corrected softly. “Because they’re annoying and irritating, but no one loves and protects like an older brother.”

“And now we gots Jake.”

“And now we have Jake,” she repeated. “And I know you and Cam will take care of him the way you take care of each other.”

Evie rolled over again and smiled at the two frames on her night table. One, a photo of her biological mother, Sam McCall, and the other, a picture of her adopted parents on their wedding day. “Night, Birth Mommy. And we live happy ever after.”

“Like all good fairy tales.” Elizabeth leaned over and kissed her cheek.

She met Jason in the hallway and raised an eyebrow. “Are they both asleep already?”

“Jake is, but I let Cameron watch Ghostbusters again. I’ll check on him in an hour.” He followed her downstairs and they settled themselves on the sofa in front of the fireplace and their twinkling Christmas tree.

“Evie asked for her story again tonight,” Elizabeth said. She leaned into Jason’s embrace, luxuriating in the warmth and comfort she found in him, even after all these years. She needed these quiet moments at the end of the evening when she and Jason regrouped, compared notes, and prepared for the next day.

It hadn’t been easy finding the rhythm of having three small children with two active careers of their own, and the surprise of Jake had complicated things for a time, but their world had eventually balanced out. Cam and Evie had started school this year and it was a bit easier—

Until the call had come a few weeks earlier and Jason had had to leave in the middle of the night for the island.

“She’s been asking for it a lot the last few months,” Jason murmured.  He sighed. “Is she not getting along with Cam? She doesn’t feel like she’s part of—”

“No, I think she likes it. It makes her special, and she knows she’s adopted.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Cam’s teacher asked about that—about why they’re so close in age. I told her what we tell everyone—we each brought a child to our marriage, but I worry sometimes—”

“Evie’s ours,” Jason told her. The adoption had begun in earnest six months after Sonny had been sent to the island and completed almost two years earlier. “We don’t—”

“Evie’s always known she’s adopted. We made it special for her. And she has pictures of Sam on her nightstand.” Elizabeth sat up and twisted to look at him. “But Cameron—I don’t think he realizes it. And the reason the teacher asked about their ages—” She sighed. “He looks like you. He got my sister’s blond hair—and my blue eyes. He has no memory of anyone but you.”

“And making Evie’s adoption special—you think it’ll bother Cam when he gets older that he doesn’t have that story about Zander.” Jason wrinkled his nose. “Do—should we talk to him—”

“I don’t know if I can give Zander’s story a fairy tale twist. Sam died giving Evie life—with her last dying breath, she was thinking of her little girl. But Zander—” Elizabeth twisted her wedding ring on her finger. “I don’t want to erase Zander from his life. It’s not fair. I just—I never want Cam to feel like he didn’t deserve the kind of story Evie has.”

“If we wait until he’s old enough,” Jason said, after a moment, “we can tell Cam and Evie about Zander and Sonny at the same time. They both have biological fathers who were troubled—who won’t play—” He grimaced.

Elizabeth pressed her hand against his chest. “It didn’t go well did it?” she murmured. “Was it like last time?”

Since going to the island, Sonny’s recovery had been uneven. He went through doctors and medication like candy, and at least twice a year, Jason had gone to do damage control. Unlike a lot of people living with bipolar disorder, Sonny didn’t seem to be able to stay lucid and in control for very long.

It was a vicious cycle—he would be clear and sane for months before thinking he was cured. He’d stop taking his medications—then crash. He had had another psychotic break the year before, and he’d made it as far as the private airport to fly back to Port Charles.

The dream they’d once pictured of Sonny recovering enough to be part of their lives—to know his daughter, to rebuild a relationship with his sons—every year that passed, it seemed further away.

“This time the doctor argued with me about keeping him out of Port Charles,” Jason said. He leaned his head against the back of the sofa, his eyes looking toward the ceiling. “He seems to think the reason Sonny hasn’t been able to get a balance is that we’ve take him out of his natural environment.”

“Didn’t you tell him the last time Sonny had a break in Port Charles, he nearly killed you? That he sent men with guns after two babies?” Elizabeth demanded. “We’ve talked about this, Jason. Sonny can’t come back.”

“I know.” Jason closed his eyes, swallowed hard, before straightening and looking at her. In the dim firelight, she could see the anguish in his expression. “I’m doing the right thing for you and me. For the kids. For everyone who lives in Port Charles.”

“But not for Sonny.” And he wouldn’t be the man she loved if the decision didn’t weigh on him. In so many ways, their lives would have been easier if Sonny had died all those years ago—if Jason had let Sonny kill himself.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how make it better. If he came back—” Jason shook his head. “Would he always understand that he can’t be in control? Would he be satisfied with part of the life he had before? Is that even a risk I want to take?”

Elizabeth reached for his hand, tracing her fingers over the lines in his palm, over the gold ring on his fourth finger.  In sick and in health, for better or for worse—

She’d made those promises to him. Had promised to love and cherish him. And in her own mind, she had made different vows—silent ones.

She had promised that her face would never change, and that she would always do what was needed to be Jason Morgan’s wife.

“How did you leave it?” she asked. “What was Sonny like?”

“He didn’t have another break, and he’s back on his medicine.” Jason looked at her wary eyes. “Why?”

“If it weren’t for me and the kids, you would have brought him home years ago,” Elizabeth said. “I know that. It’s me that’s holding you back.”

“No—” Jason shook his head. “No. It’s not just that. That last break here—it wasn’t just what he did here in this house—” Sending armed guards to steal Evie by force, not even caring that Elizabeth had only just lost her grandmother—that her son was in this room—

“It’s what he did to Carly. She won’t let him have a relationship with the boys. Still. And I don’t blame her for that.” Jason swallowed hard. “We decided together that Sonny had to stay—”

“It’s me that’s holding you back.” Elizabeth repeated. “And there are times when I look at Evie, and I see Sonny. I see him the way I remember him. The way I loved him once. That last night—at my engagement party—that man—I want that man back. And maybe the doctor’s right.” She bit her lip. “Maybe he doesn’t feel like he needs to stay on the medicine because he’s alone down there.”

“Elizabeth—”

“I’m not saying he should come home full-time,” Elizabeth interrupted. “But—maybe it’s time we took the kids down to the island. Maybe it’s time Sonny met Evie and we reminded him that he’s not alone.”

Jason’s shoulders slumped, and he just stared at her for a long moment before shaking his head. “I can’t ask you to do that—”

“You’re not asking me. I’m offering. You weren’t the only one who lost Sonny. Evie lost her father. Courtney lost her brother. I lost a friend. I refuse—” She shook her head, resolute now. “I refuse to believe that the man we loved is lost forever. What happened—it was traumatizing, and we’ve had to dig out of it. But I can’t sit here, celebrating Christmas with the people I love most in the world and not feel guilty that the only reason Sonny is alone right now is because of an illness that he can’t control.”

Tears welled behind her eyes and she sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. “We’ve been punishing him, scared of what might happen if he came home. You saved his life four years ago, Jason, but we sentenced him to live in prison anyway. I can’t live with it anymore. I can’t ask you to keep doing it—to keep being the bad guy who has to go down there and tell Sonny he can’t come home.”

“He told me this last time that I should have let him put the bullet in his head,” Jason said after a long moment of silence, the crackling fire the only sound in the room. “That he’s just a ghost I wouldn’t let go.”

“We promised each other at the start,” Elizabeth said as he pulled her across his lap, “that Sonny was something we would deal with together. You—the kids—this is everything I ever wanted in my life. There are days that I am so happy that I actually cry because I never thought I would deserve this.” She framed his beloved face with her hands. “We have a good life, Jason, but I don’t think I can live with myself knowing it came at Sonny’s expense. We sacrificed him to have it. And I don’t want to do it anymore.”

Jason leaned forward, brushing his lips against hers. “The way you love—the courage—” He shook his head. “I don’t have the words.”

“Every time Evie asks me her special story, I tell her about her mother that gave her away to best man she knew. I want Evie to know that her father loved just as much. We need to do this. For each other. For her. And for Sonny.”

“I’ll call tomorrow and make the arrangements.” He tucked her hair behind her eyes, his eyes on hers. “I remember the day I saw you again—when you came home. I was sitting on the docks, feeling more tired than I could ever remember.”

She tilted her head and smiled. “And I nagged you into telling me the truth—”

“That’s not how I remember it.” He shook his head, his own smile spreading. “You came down the steps, and you smiled at me. And by the time you left, I couldn’t remember why I was so tired. I just wanted to keep looking at you.”

“When we sat together, and I poked at you about Evie—I did it partly because I was hoping—” She bit her lip, sliding her fingers through his soft blond hair. “I was hoping you wouldn’t lie to me. And when you didn’t—I felt all those old butterflies. I just wanted to sit on that bench and talk to you for the rest of my life.”

“Thank you for coming home,” Jason murmured. “For not staying in San Francisco. For giving us another chance.”

“I couldn’t stay away,” Elizabeth replied. “I’d miss the smell of snow too much.”

He laughed. “Snow doesn’t smell,” he teased.

“Yes, it does,” she murmured, leaning down to kiss him again.

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 23, 2018

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 16, 2018

This entry is part 29 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Rate yourself and rake yourself,
Take all the courage you have left
Wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head
But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn’t I, my dear?
Little Lion Man, Mumford & Sons


Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Safe House: Living Room

 Jason tossed the cell phone aside and took a deep breath. “There was a shooting at the No Name tonight,” he told Johnny who swore and immediately turned on the television. He tuned it to WKPC, and for a moment, watched the coverage.

The reporter gave no names—no one was in custody. Three men were shot and sent to General Hospital. Johnny scowled, wishing for once the vultures in the media would have been more helpful in giving them some goddamn answers.

“That was Benny on the phone,” Jason said. “He was treated and released. Sonny and Max are still—he doesn’t know their condition. They’re not releasing it.”

This wasn’t the goddamn plan, was it?” Johnny demanded. He gestured at the television. “Sonny laid up in the hospital, the top security guard out of commission, we’re stuck—” He frowned when he saw Jason had picked up the phone. Not his usual phone, but the burner Johnny had arranged for him.

“Hey.” His voice was a little bit quieter when he spoke. There was a moment of silence. “I—I know. I saw the reports. I don’t know anything. I just—I wanted to warn you. I need to—I’m coming back tonight. I don’t know how it’s going to work out—I’m calling Alexis to pave my way. I just can’t let things—okay.” Jason closed his eyes. “Yeah. You should go to the hospital. I’ll try to meet you there if I’m not arrested—”

He closed the phone, squeezed it in his fist for a minute. “This is ending tonight. Elizabeth is going to the hospital. Bobbie’s there, and it just makes sense. That’s where anyone would expect her to go.”

“Okay. How are we—”

Jason opened the phone again. “I’m calling Alexis. The official story is that I had to go out of town, and I got into a car accident. Get our people on the records. Call Stan, make it look good. I was out of commission. Couldn’t call anyone. I don’t know anything about a damn dead body.”

“No one is going to believe it—”

“It just has to work long enough to keep me out of jail,” Jason told him. “They’ll take me in, but I need something for the official records. I don’t know what Sonny had planned. Talk to Benny, see if anything was already set up.  I’ll go to the hospital first, that’s where Taggert will probably be.”

He dialed his lawyer’s phone number. “Alexis—it’s Jason.”

Gate House: Living Room

Alexis tapped the phone against her mouth and closed her eyes, praying for the patience she was going to need to get through the next few days. She’d made a deliberate choice last month to confide in Ned that she’d been hiding a pregnancy—that she’d become pregnant in April from a disastrous one-night stand with Sonny and had said nothing to the father of her child.

In a few weeks, she would be starting her third trimester, and thanks to the glory of large purses, bulky clothing, and infrequent meetings all summer, she’d been able to hide it.

Ned had stepped up and had immediately volunteered. He liked Jason just fine—but Sonny? Sonny was no kind of father. It wasn’t about the danger—Alexis wasn’t a hypocrite. She’d been born to an evil man, had venom in her blood. Danger followed Cassadines like the tides followed the moon.

She was no innocent. But she wasn’t selfish. She wasn’t cold. She wasn’t deliberately cruel.

And it was nights like this that reminded her that for all of Sonny’s good traits, he was, at heart, not the man with whom she wanted to bring a child into the world.

“Alexis?” Ned got to his feet, his brows furrowed in concern. “You sounded upset—”

“That was Jason.”

“J-Jason who?” When Alexis didn’t answer, his face leeched of color. Ned swore and strode towards her. “Alexis—”

“Morgan. Apparently, he went on a job for Sonny last month, got into a car accident, and was in a coma until earlier today.” Alexis looked at him, her lips pressed together in a grim smile. “Imagine his surprise when he woke up to find himself dead and buried and Sonny in the hospital with gun shot wounds.”

“Are you—” Ned held out a hand, braced the other against the wall of his living room. Closed his eyes. “He’s alive.”

“Yes.”

“Jesus Christ. The family—they mourned him. They buried him—”

“Yes.”

Ned looked at her, his eyes dark with worry, concern, and anger. Not at her. God bless him, he seemed to understand right away that she hadn’t been involved. That she never would have sanctioned this. “And he put my grandparents—he put Alan and Monica—Emily—and—”

“Elizabeth. Michael. AJ. All of them.” Alexis sank into the desk chair, her hands absently rubbing the child she protected within. “Do you think any of them knew?”

Ned hesitated. “I should hope he would have told Elizabeth, but I don’t know. I saw her when he was missing. And she came by after they pulled that body—if she knew, she’s a goddamn good actress.”

“I don’t think Jason did this,” Alexis murmured. “I wondered—I wondered why Sonny never moved to have the estate disposed of in probate. He has the business partnership—it would have been sensible. Jason left money to Elizabeth—guardianship of Michael. So many loose threads in his life—and Sonny waited. I called, and he said he wasn’t up to it.”

Alexis met Ned’s eyes. “I think Jason was shot that night. That he went into hiding, and something went wrong. Something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to. But Sonny did this.”

“It would make sense,” Ned allowed. He perched on the arm of the sofa. “Do you think Jason would tell you?”

“I think,” Alexis said slowly, “that as much as I genuinely like Jason and hope for good things with him—that this is a good time to start transferring work over to my new partner. I’ve been able to keep the baby from Sonny up until now, and I want to keep…avoiding the question. But I think I need to be done with Sonny. And that means walking away from Jason.” She sighed. Looked away. “I’ll give Ric a call. He’ll have to get used to the late nights.”

General Hospital: Emergency Room Entrance

Elizabeth stopped just short of the general entrance to the emergency room and took a deep breath. She looked to Gia, whose worried dark eyes mirrored her own anxiety. “This is your last chance,” she told her roommate. “Because Jason is probably almost here. And no one is going to believe I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t,” Gia insisted. “You worried when he was missing, you grieved when they found that damn body. You didn’t know when it counted. And anyone who thinks knowing for five minutes makes you the bad guy in this is going to get their ass firmly kicked.” She took Elizabeth’s arm and steered her through the doors. “Stop giving me outs. We’re in this together. I knew, too, and I didn’t tell my brother.”

“Okay.”

In the bustle of the room, Elizabeth quickly found the administrative desk and asked after Sonny. When she was informed in a rather clipped voice that there was no information released to anyone but family, Elizabeth scowled. Even as angry as she was with Sonny right now, she was the closest thing the man had to family.

“Elizabeth?”

She turned to find Bobbie embracing her with a hug. “Hey. I saw it on the news, and I just—I had to come and find out.”

Bobbie nodded, drew her away from the desk. “He’s in surgery. It’s…critical. He was wearing a vest, but a bullet went through his femoral artery and they’re trying to repair the damage. Trying to keep up with the blood loss and get ahead of it.”

Elizabeth pressed her fist to her mouth, with a stifled cry. Why…why had Sonny done this? He’d worn a vest to this meeting. He knew that danger was coming. Why—

“It’s so much, so close to losing Jason,” Bobbie murmured. “Monica is in there right now trying to save his life. To stabilize him for surgery.” She rubbed her hand down Elizabeth’s arm, then up to her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, baby.”

Elizabeth’s chest was so tight she could barely force a breath out. “Is he—what about the other injuries? The news said there were other people hurt—”

“Benny, their business manager, was treated and released,” Bobbie said. “One of their guards—Max, I think—he got a bullet to the shoulder.” The redhead shook her head. “I expect Taggert and the rest of the PCPD to descend on us any minute—maybe I should—”

Monica stepped out of the curtain, her green scrubs stained with blood—the fresh red and dried scarlet. Elizabeth stared at the splotches, her vision dimming. “Elizabeth. Have you talked to Courtney—?”

“She’s waiting for our call,” Gia said quietly. “But she’s not close with Sonny. Not like Elizabeth—” Gia tensed when Emily burst through the doors.

“Elizabeth.” Emily joined them with a brisk hug. “Hey. I saw it on the news, and I called the Brownstone—Lucas said you and Gia—”

“How is he, Monica?” Elizabeth cut her friend off. God, this was like a goddamn car crash in slow motion. All of these people who mattered to her—she respected Monica so much, Bobbie was like her mother, and Gia and Emily were her closest friends.

And in minutes, Jason would arrive. And all of this worry would turn into bitterness. Anger. Loathing. She didn’t know how to prepare for that, didn’t know what to do. Why did Monica and Emily have to be here? How could she get away from them?

Wouldn’t they know the minute—

Before Monica answered her question, Taggert swaggered into the room, followed by Andy Capelli. “Monica, tell me we’re going to get lucky and get rid of this bastard once and for all.”

“Marcus, you fucking tool,” Gia hissed as Elizabeth’s face whitened, and Monica’s expression turned into a scowl. No one loathed Sonny more than Monica, but damn it, she was a doctor who took her oath seriously.

“We’ve stabilized Sonny for surgery—”

“You should have let him die,” Capelli said with a smirk. “He’s going to wish he did when we’re through with him. We got a call from the station before we left the scene, Dr. Q. Looks like your kid ain’t dead after all. That bastard in there faked his death.”

Monica stared at him as if the words didn’t quite sink in. “What?”

Elizabeth sucked in a breath. Was this how it would be then? The news reaching them first—before the shock of seeing Jason—

Was any of this the plan?

Bobbie braced Monica with one hand as Emily’s hands fluttered in front of her face. “What did you just say?”

“Morgan’s lawyer called. Apparently, he went out of town on business, got in an accident, and only just woke from a coma.” Taggert scowled. “And this hospital confirmed that body to be his. He sure as shit was shocked to find out he was supposed to be dead.” He turned his burning eyes on Elizabeth. “You got some nerve, Webber.”

“W-what?” Elizabeth asked, her voice trembling. His anger—that deep down incinerating anger at Sonny and Jason—was focused on her now. It hit her like a physical wave. “What—I don’t know—what’s going on right now? Are you—” She shook her head. Looked at Monica. At Emily. Bobbie.

All three of them were staring at her. All with mixtures of worry, disbelief, and anger in their eyes.

No one….no one believed she hadn’t known.

“You better be goddamn sure of what you’re saying, brother of mine,” Gia said with a low growl. “You accusing her of something? In one breath you tell her Jason’s alive, and now…what? You’re saying she was in on it—”

“The only thing I know about Jason Morgan is that he would not to do that to her,” Taggert hissed at his sister. “Sonny? Yeah, that I’d expect. But not Morgan. He doesn’t have that streak of cruelty in him. Of course, she knew.”

And that would damn her, of course. Because Taggert was right. Jason never would have done that to her. He hadn’t done this.

“Tell them you didn’t know, Elizabeth,” Emily said with a pleading in her voice. “You grieved with us. You buried him. Of course, you didn’t know. I don’t understand. How is this happening?”

“I didn’t,” Elizabeth said, but her voice faded. She couldn’t make the words come out, couldn’t figure out how to defend herself. Couldn’t tell any of them the truth with Taggert and Capelli staring at her like that, ready to string her up just for existing.

“You never—you knew,” Monica breathed. “You knew at some point what was going on.” She squared her shoulders. “He was never out of town on business,” she snapped. “You were as worried as the rest of us—”

“Monica,” Bobbie murmured, touching her friend’s arm. “Don’t do this—”

“He’s alive,” Monica snarled, “and he played us all for fools. Just like you. I thought you were better than that.” Her voice broke. “I thought he loved us more than that.”

“No.” Elizabeth shook her head.  “Monica, I swear to God, I didn’t know.” And Gia was right—she hadn’t known when it would have made a difference. She’d believed like all of them that he’d been murdered and dumped in the harbor. And the waves of grief crashed over her again as she tried to convince them. “Monica—Emily—”

“I was so angry at the reception,” Emily murmured. “So angry that Nikolas said those things—”

“I ought to arrest you for obstruction of justice,” Taggert said, jabbing a finger in her face. “You lied to us. You lied to me.”

“Stop it, Marcus—you came and told her he was dead, don’t you remember?” Gia said, shoving her brother back a step. “You told her his body was too decomposed to see. She believed he was dead.” She whirled on Monica and Emily. “And you damn well know her better than that. She killed herself with worry when he was missing. She cried herself—”

“Stop it, Gia,” Elizabeth said, voice almost a murmur. She didn’t need Gia to plead her case. To give them the truth. “Just—it’s not—” Her eyes burned.

She’d known it would be like this. That the people she loved most in the world would look at her like this. Even Bobbie with that mixture of disappointment and anger that Elizabeth’s mother had so carefully perfected over the years.

Looking at her, finding her wanting.

“You can’t even defend yourself,” Capelli said with a smirk. He removed a pair of handcuffs from his belt. “I think we should bring her down, Taggert—”

“If you lay a hand on her, I will have you brought up on charges of harassment so fast your head will spin.”

A smooth, urbane voice broke into the din and Elizabeth turned to find—

Jason.

He was standing next to the man who spoke. His facial expression was its usual mask of emptiness, but his eyes were apologetic. Worried.

And anyone who knew him—knew he was looking at her with an expression of guilt for having put her through this. No one would believe her now.

They would always think she was a liar.

With a cry, Elizabeth turned and fled down the hallway, away from Jason and away from everything.

Capelli hissed and moved after her, but the lawyer stopped him. Gia cast them all a dirty look and followed Elizabeth.

“Don’t even try it, Morgan,” Taggert said as Jason started to follow the cop’s sister. “You’re in enough trouble—”

“You don’t have a leg to stand on,” the lawyer snapped. “You can’t prove anything against my client, and if you try to use Elizabeth Webber to go after him, I will not only file harassment charges but bring you up on civil rights violations and bury your ass in paperwork until your grandchildren can’t dig you out—”

Taggert scowled and turned back to Monica. “Is Corinthos stable enough for questioning?”

“He’s still alive,” Monica said dryly, stepping aside. “Do what you want.”

The detectives disappeared behind the curtain, leaving Jason alone with his mother, sister, and…Bobbie.

“How could you do this?” Emily whispered. “How could you—what made you hate us all so much—how did you manage to convince Elizabeth—”

“She didn’t know the whole time,” Bobbie murmured. “Did she?” She tilted her head. “Did you?”

Jason hesitated. Looked at his lawyer. “I can’t tell you much right now. But no, I didn’t. And Elizabeth didn’t know.” He looked at Monica. “None of this was my idea, Monica. And it wasn’t hers—”

Monica exhaled slowly, closed her eyes. “I can’t do this right now. I have to go find the strength to save Sonny’s life and remember that I took a goddamn oath.”

“I have to go warn the family,” Emily said. She looked at her brother. “I want to be glad it was all a lie, but I can’t think that far ahead right now. You broke me, Jason. And if Elizabeth didn’t know—then shame on you and Sonny for letting this happen. For letting Sonny think he could do this to you.”

She stalked away, and Jason looked at Bobbie. “Bobbie, it would kill Elizabeth if—”

“Of course, she didn’t know right away,” Bobbie murmured. “Sonny never would have trusted her. And he kept you in isolation, away from the truth. She suspected you were shot, that you were laying low. Trusting Sonny to keep her in the loop. She didn’t know. But at some point, she did know.”

“Bobbie—”

“And if you think any of the anger I feel right now is directed towards her, then you don’t know me very well. You let this happen, Jason.” She shook her head. “At some point she knew. And you knew what Sonny had done to all of us. And you didn’t end it. You let her walk around lying to people she loves. You did that to her. We can blame Sonny, but I don’t expect much from him.”

And when she turned those dark, angry eyes on him, he wished like hell he was anywhere else. He hadn’t realized how much he valued Bobbie’s respect for him, her place in his life. “Bobbie—”

“’I expected better from you. I warned you she was delicate. That if you were going to be with her, then you’d have to take care of that fragile part of her that is still trying to figure out how not to be someone who wears a mask. You knew she spent years lying to herself and the world, Jason. And then you made her do it again.”

“Bobbie…” He turned to his lawyer, who had mercifully moved away towards Sonny’s curtain but had clearly overhead most of the conversation. “I never wanted any of this—I’ve talked to her about my reasons—”

“Do you think she could remember any of them tonight? With Frick and Frack threatening to arrest her? Monica and Emily going at her?” Bobbie smirked, a sadness twisted in the expression. “Go after her, Jason, before she has time to convince herself that she was right at the beginning not to take a chance on you. Before Taggert and Capelli figure out how to arrest you.”

General Hospital: Parking Lot

Elizabeth burst out of the hospital doors and into the chilly fall night air. Her knees buckled, and she dropped to them, clutching her arms at her middle.

Oh, God. It had been so much worse than she’d expected, so much more devastating—

To have her mask torn from her, to see the people in her life turn on her. To suspect her. To be so sure she was a liar.

Of course, she was. She’d always been a liar. They knew better than to trust her, to expect better from her.

“Elizabeth…” Gia murmured as she heard her friend behind her. “Hey. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

“I thought I was ready for it,” she gasped, her chest rising and falling so fast that it burned to breathe. “I th-thought I knew how it would feel to have—but I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”

“Elizabeth…”

“Even if they believe me that I didn’t know at first—they’ll always know I was lying. Emily, Bobbie—they’ll never trust me again, and your brother will hate me for—”

“You don’t worry about Marcus. He’s an asshole who knows better, and he and I are gonna have words about this bullshit tonight.” Gia took Elizabeth’s arm and gently pulled her to her feet, directing her towards a stone column and helping her lean against it. “They’ll come around. They’re just so angry, and shocked, and surprised—it’s a fucking mess. And we would have been better off staying at home.”

“There’s a lot of things I would have been better off doing,” Elizabeth murmured. She closed her eyes, let the coolness of the stone seep into her bones. “Last year, after the wedding, we talked about leaving Port Charles. Why didn’t we do that?”

“You thought you had something to prove.” Gia tilted her head. “Is that what you want to do now? Toss in the towel?”

“Would you think less of me if I just said I wanted to disappear?” Elizabeth replied softly. “I can’t think right now. Every time I try to remember this wasn’t Jason’s idea, I can’t seem to make it matter. I want to be angry for him—to be so angry that Sonny played God with all of us but right now—”

“Because you’re a good person who sees through the bullshit. But, girl, you are allowed to take care of yourself first. Jason’s had it easy up until now. You’ve been bearing the brunt of it. You take care of you first. That’s where you go wrong, Elizabeth.” Gia scowled. “You think everyone else’s damage has to come before your own. Fuck them. And fuck Jason, too. I don’t care why he let this keep going. The point is that he did. And you get to be pissed about it. Stop trying to rationalize and reason it away.”

The doors swung open and Jason emerged. “Elizabeth—”

She looked at him, this man she loved more than anything in the world. Whom she wanted a life with.

And she couldn’t make herself care anymore. Couldn’t make herself want anything except to escape.

“Gia, can you go get the car?” Elizabeth said.

Gia scowled, turned to Jason. “You’re an asshole who deserves to burn in hell.”

Once she was gone, Jason stepped toward Elizabeth, stopped when she held a hand up. “I can’t do this right now. Please don’t—”

“I told them you didn’t know,” Jason said, his words tumbling around in an uncharacteristic rush. “And I’ll tell them it was Sonny’s idea—that I never did this on purpose—”

“But you did.” Tears slid down her cheeks, but she was past the point of noticing. “I know you had your reasons. I know you. I love you. But right now, I don’t care why. I can’t find the energy.”

“Elizabeth, can we just go somewhere—”

“Anger Boy,” Taggert declared as he and Capelli came through the exit doors, followed by Jason’s irritated lawyer. “We’re taking you in for questioning. Falsifying an insurance report.”

Jason scowled and did something he almost never did around the police. He spoke directly to them. “I didn’t do any goddamn thing—”

“Jason,” the lawyer said with an exhausted sigh. “I know you don’t have a reason to trust me, but there’s enough probable cause to bring you in for questioning. Let’s just—get it over with.” His dark eyes flicked past Jason toward Elizabeth. “Give everyone some space.”

Gia’s car pulled up, and she got out of the car long enough to give her brother the finger. “You’re an asshole, Marcus,” she called. “I hope you rot in hell.”

“You fake your death,” Taggert grumbled at Jason almost in commiseration, “and somehow, my sister thinks I’m the bad guy.”

“Elizabeth,” Jason said, looking back at her, but she was already moving toward the car. “Wait—”

Elizabeth stopped just before climbing into the passenger seat. “I’m going to go to AJ and Courtney’s,” she told him. “I want to check in with her.”

“Yeah, hopefully she’s still talking to you,” Gia said with another dirty look toward Jason.

Elizabeth tossed her an exasperated look as if to say, enough is enough. She turned back to Jason.  “I think you’re going to have your hands too full to worry about me anyway. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

She got into the car, and Gia drove away.

“So that last dig—” she said after a long moment. “Was that for my brother’s benefit?”

“Not entirely.” Elizabeth let her forehead rest against the window. “Let’s go to Courtney’s. If she’s gonna yell at me too, I’d rather get it over with tonight.”

“She won’t. I only said that to get at Jason.” Gia paused. “If my brother hadn’t showed up—”

“He wanted to go somewhere and talk.”

“Would you have gone?”

“No.” Elizabeth sighed. “No. I can’t—I don’t know what I would say to him. I’m so angry, Gia. So hurt. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be feeling. How I’m supposed—”

“Stop worrying about what you’re supposed to do, Liz. And just do what feels right. You want him to give you space while things settle? Then do that. You want him to get away from you because you won’t be able to look at him again? Then do that. But stop worrying about what you’re supposed to do.”

This entry is part 28 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Don’t think that I can take another empty moment
Don’t think that I can fake another hollow smile
It’s not enough just to be lonely
Don’t think that I could take another talk about it
Bed of Lies, Matchbox Twenty


 Thursday, October 3, 2002

 Kelly’s: Courtyard

 Bobbie had told her this morning it was too early to come back to work, and even Gia who knew the truth thought she should take a few more days.

She’d already taken a week. Waited for the lie to end. Waited for Jason to come back from the dead. To release her from the hell she was living in.

Sonny had finally come to see her a few days earlier to admit that Jason now knew the truth, that he was livid, and that Sonny had only a few more days for this plan to work. He’d apologized. She’d let him. And then she had sent him away.

It didn’t change anything now that Jason knew the truth. She could see now that she had expected something to change once he knew. That…God, maybe he would have been so appalled, so heartbroken by the betrayal, he would have called her. That he would have ended it.

But the plan came first. The business came first. Jason was letting the lie stand for just a little longer, Sonny told her, his dark eyes full of worry.

Not regret. She knew even now that Sonny might be sorry that everyone was so upset, that it had gone so far—but he still believed he’d been right.

And part of Jason…God, Jason must agree with Sonny, right? Because why else was it still happening? And how the hell was she supposed to deal with that?

And since these were the thoughts swirling in her head sitting alone in her apartment pretending to study, sitting like a zombie through her classes, Elizabeth had thought taking just the lunch shift would give her something else to think about.

And it had. She’d lost herself in the mundanity of taking orders, grabbing food, filling drinks, busing tables—back to the real world and life she’d built before Jason had come back.

Until the rush had cleared, and she had stepped out into the courtyard to find Carly sitting at the table, perusing a menu.

Like nothing had ever happened.

She knew that AJ had worked out some sort of deal with Carly—Courtney had sheepishly admitted it to her, trying to warn her. Elizabeth had merely nodded—it made sense. AJ was trying to move forward, trying to do right by his son.

She hadn’t really let herself think about what it meant.

Carly now had her life back. She’d heard rumors that Jax had released her share of the club, and she was returning to management. She would now at least have visitation with Michael.

And she had probably already put another deposit down on a fast car with a bright, shiny paint job.

Back to normal.

Waiting for the next disaster. Waiting for Carly to be Carly and destroy them all again.

Elizabeth wasn’t sure how long she stood there before Carly lifted her eyes, saw her. The blonde cleared her throat, put the menu aside. “Elizabeth. I, ah, I didn’t know you were back at work.”

“It’s my first day since…” Elizabeth closed her eyes. The words froze in her throat. “What can I get you—”

“Oh. I’m not ready to order yet.” She waited. “I’m waiting for AJ to bring Michael. We’re having lunch.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together, fought back the bitter bile and venom that suddenly crawled up the back of her throat. “Must be nice.” And before she could stop the words— “It’s a shame Jason can’t be here to see it.”

Carly flinched but shook her head. “Don’t. Let’s not do this, okay? Listen, I know you’re dealing with a lot. We all miss Jason—”

And all of the ugliness she’d kept inside for weeks exploded out of her.

“Shut up.” Elizabeth slapped the notepad down on the table. “Don’t speak his name. You don’t get to pretend this isn’t your fault.”

Carly shot to her feet. “How dare you—”

“Do you really think I don’t know exactly why Jason was at that warehouse?” Elizabeth shot back. At that, Carly’s face lost some of her pallor and she stumbled back a step. “Yeah, I’m not an idiot, Carly. Even if I hadn’t figured it out for myself, Sonny told me.”

“He—he wouldn’t—” Carly said faintly. “It’s business—”

“It’s Jason. And he’s gone because of you!”

Why wasn’t Carly ever made to suffer? Jason was putting everyone he loved through hell—there was no way Emily and Lila wouldn’t be heartbroken by this deceit, that Bobbie wouldn’t be devastated. Even if Jason hadn’t started it—he was allowing it to continue.

And Carly got to go back to her fucking life like she hadn’t destroyed everything?

Not this time.

This time, Elizabeth wanted Carly to be the one bleeding and broken in the snow.

“That’s not—” Carly swallowed. “It’s complicated—”

“You’ve been destroying Jason’s life over and over again for years,” Elizabeth hissed. “And you always come out stronger. You got a rich husband twice after you destroyed him. Who’s on deck this time, Carly? AJ looking good again with his trust fund? Or is someone else the target?”

“You have no right to talk to me like this—”

“I have every right! Jason was supposed to be the man I spent the rest of my life with!” Her voice broke even as the anger poured out. “He was supposed to be here. Building a life with me. But you destroyed that. You destroyed him—”

“If Sonny told you what happened that night, then you know what I went through!” Carly snapped back. “You don’t think that was bad? That I didn’t suffer—”

“I would have had a hell of a lot more sympathy for you if you hadn’t rolled back into town like you were the only one wronged. Maybe you got to be pissed initially, but you should have known Jason better than that. You wanted to prove to the world that Jason would always pick you.” The tears were hot as they slid down her cheeks. “Well, congratulations. He picked you. And now look where we are.”

“I know that!” Carly growled. “Why do you think I tried to make peace with AJ? It’s what Jason would have wanted—”

“What Jason wanted was for you to put Michael first. He shouldn’t have had to get shot to make that happen. You are a selfish, hypocritical—”

“Elizabeth.”

AJ’s quiet voice had Elizabeth spinning on her heel to find Michael standing with his father. The little boy’s face was scrunched up as he took in his mother and one of his favorite people.

“Why you crying, Mommy? ‘Lizabeth?” Michael asked with worry. “What’s wrong?”

Elizabeth just shook her head. “I’m fine, Michael. I’m just—I’m sad. It’s fine.” She cleared her throat. “I’ll get someone to take care of you—”

She went into the diner and passed her section to Penny, who saw the tears and said nothing. Elizabeth went out to the alley and slid down until she was sitting on the cold concrete.

How was she supposed to do this?

The door opened next to her, and AJ stepped out. She didn’t look at him, even as he sat in front of her, crossing his legs.

“You have every right to feel like Courtney and I have betrayed you. Betrayed Jason,” he said with a sigh. “Because I feel it, too. She told me it was her fault somehow, and I didn’t want the details. I was afraid what I would do with that knowledge. I had to put Michael first—”

“It’s not that.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Michael missed his mother. Of course, you had to figure out something with Carly. It’s just…” She let her head fall back against the brick. “I loved him.”

“I know—”

“No, I mean—” She closed her eyes. “When Lucky was in that fire, I couldn’t see my future without him. I just thought it was going to be this long, empty life. That I had died with him. I was young, and I just couldn’t imagine loving someone else.”

“And you can now?” AJ said with confusion. “Elizabeth—”

“Because that’s how it works. You grieve. And you grieve. And then one day, you wake up, and you’ve grieved a little less. And your heart starts to wake up. To want that love again. And you fall in love again. I know that it’s probably in my future. I want a family. I want children. I just—” She shook her head. “I want that with Jason—wanted that.”

“Jason would want that for you,” AJ told her. “He loved you so much, Elizabeth. I could see it in him—half the reason he settled Michael’s custody with me was because he didn’t want you to be unhappy. And I didn’t want Courtney to be unhappy. So, we found something that worked, and I’m glad my brother had that in his life. But he would want you to love again.”

“I know that.” Elizabeth weighed her next words carefully. “I know that Jason loved me. I know that like I know my own name. But he’s gone because of Carly.”

AJ hesitated, then grimaced. “I guess this is related to something Sonny told you about what happened. I don’t know—”

“You shouldn’t feel guilty about putting Michael first.  I just—I think I have to figure out how to deal with Carly. Because I see her, and I see all the things I don’t have. All the things Jason doesn’t have. And I can’t stop.”

AJ rose to his feet and held out a hand to Elizabeth. She let him pull her up. “We’ll go somewhere else for lunch, and I won’t use Kelly’s as a meeting place. I get it, Liz. And I’ll do what I can to make this easier for you.”

“Don’t—” Elizabeth took a deep breath.  “Don’t do that. Avoiding it isn’t going to change anything. I just have to figure out how to breathe. I’m still working on that.”

Brownstone: Front Steps

Somehow, she went back to her shift and finished it in Penny’s section. She got through the day, worked on the books for Kelly’s—

And when it came time to close, Penny had told her to go ahead. That she and Don would close up—that Elizabeth had worked hard but needed a break.

She’d agreed because the sympathy in her eyes wasn’t different from everyone else’s. Poor Elizabeth. Mourning another dead boyfriend. Broken hearted again.

Always left.

Always alone.

Gia wasn’t home—she’d stopped by the diner during the dinner rush to let her know her mother had asked Gia to come down to Buffalo for a few days, so Elizabeth had the place to herself for the first time since…

Since everything.

When she got home, there was a package waiting on the front step, her name scrawled across the front in messy black marker. A thick manila envelope with no address, no return, no postage—just her name.

She picked it up—it was relatively lightweight. She fought the urge to open it out front—anyone could be watching her, she knew that. Knew that somewhere, Sonny’s men lurked. She’d turned down a personal escort but had agreed to someone following her.

She tucked it under her arm and reached for the front door.

Upstairs, she dropped everything else on the ground and ripped the package open. A small, black flip phone dropped in her hand. Attached to it was a fluorescent yellow Post-it note.

Midnight.

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, looked at her watch, and sighed. Forty-five minutes to kill.

She busied herself with things she’d been putting off—putting away laundry Gia had brought home from the laundromat and left folded neatly in her room. She cleaned off the dining table where she and Gia always dumped their textbooks.

She had only a handful of classes this semester and was barely managing to get through them, but it filled her days and thoughts.

And still, even when all the little things were done—there was still ten minutes to wait. Elizabeth made sure her front door was locked, and then went into her room.

The bedroom was next to the living room and overlooked Elm Street. From her window, she could see the harbor and the warehouse district—where the Corinthos Morgan warehouse was still undergoing repairs from the explosion earlier that year.

It felt like a memory from another life when she and Jason had sat in this apartment talking about the secrets and danger that came with his profession. She’d scoffed then at worrying about Jason keeping secrets. She’d never thought it would come to this—

After all, hadn’t Jason and Sonny had front row seats to the last time Elizabeth had grieved for a man not actually dead?

The phone in her hand finally rang, and Elizabeth hesitantly flipped it open and brought it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Elizabeth.”

Oh, God. She pressed a fist to her mouth, tears sliding down her cheeks. She hadn’t realized until this moment that a piece of her—

That somehow, she’d worried she’d hallucinated. That Jason was really dead, and this was all some kind of insane break from reality.

But there it was, his voice. Saying her name the way only Jason did.

“Elizabeth?” he repeated, his voice a bit sharper.

“I’m here,” she said quickly. “I’m sorry—I just—” She sucked in a deep breath. “Is this safe? Sonny said you couldn’t—”

“Sonny doesn’t know,” Jason said, interrupting her. “I just—” There was a long pause. “I am so sorry—”

You’re sorry—” Elizabeth choked. “I—I should have told you. I wanted to—”

“Elizabeth—”

“I just…” She leaned back against her headboard, drew her knees under her chin. “There was so much going on in my head, and Sonny was worried—”

“He was worried I’d blow the plan up if I knew what he’d done.” The words held heat, irritation. Annoyance. “I wanted to. I still do. I just—”

“I know you can’t tell me,” Elizabeth said dully. “It’s business—”

“It’s not that. I just—I hate this. I hate that you’re doing this. Going through it. Dealing with the lie. I hate that Sonny did this.” He was quiet for a moment. “I wanted to stop it,” he repeated. “But there are people involved that—they’re dangerous, Elizabeth. I’m afraid of what might happen if we don’t see it through. If we don’t give Sonny a chance to figure it out.”

Okay. She could understand that. They’d come this far. It would be an insane waste if nothing came of it. “How long?” she murmured. “How long do I have to keep pretending?”

“Tuesday,” Jason said. “Which is still too long, I know. Things are happening on Monday—they should be done by Tuesday. I—” He waited. “I need you to stay in on Tuesday. Can you do that? People are going to be in town. I don’t want them near you.”

She exhaled slowly. “If it will make it easier for you, then yeah. I’ll stay out of sight those few days. Will you be able to tell me more when this is over?”

“When this is over, I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” he promised. Another moment passed. “I love you, Elizabeth.”

She closed her eyes. “I love you, too.”

Monday, October 7, 2002

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Sonny scrubbed his hands over his face and waited as Benny finished his phone call. It was nearly midnight. It was almost Tuesday.

And Sonny just…he needed to know that his sources had come through.

He needed to know that one goddamn thing would go right. That the people who were coming to the city today had arrived—that Nico’s men had moved positions.

That anything was going the way it supposed to.

Sonny just needed a sign that he hadn’t destroyed his partner, his best friend, his brother’s life for nothing.

Benny nodded, then placed the receiver back on the hook. He turned to Sonny, his expression grave. “Roscoe met with Nico at the pier tonight. And then Lenny picked the Miami arrivals up at the airport. We’re following them now, Boss. Something is going to break. The minute they make a move—”

“We need to give them a target.” Sonny picked up his half-empty tumbler and tossed the rest of the contents down his throat, the liquid scalding. “I need to give them a reason.”

“Sonny—”

“We got vests. We got things to protect me.” Sonny grimaced. “Call a meeting of the Families. We’ll hold it at the restaurant—”

“With less than twenty-four hours’ notice, Sonny?” Benny shook his head. “They’ll never go for it—”

“If Ruiz is in on it, he’ll jump at the chance to have me in the open. And once Ruiz agrees, everyone else will be too scared to turn him down.” He shrugged. “We’ll call Nico about the meeting. Invite him to talk about Las Vegas.”

Benny waited a moment. “Don’t put yourself in danger to prove something to anyone, Sonny. No one’s looking for any martyrs.”

“I promised Jason this would be over tomorrow. I promised Elizabeth.” Sonny looked at his adviser, his smile grim. “Don’t you think I’ve lied enough?”

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room

The days passed slowly between the phone call on Thursday night and Tuesday. Jason didn’t call again, though Elizabeth kept the phone with her at all times. Today, it sat under the lamp next to her on the couch as she stood by the door with Bobbie, trying like hell to get rid of the kind-hearted nurse whose compassion was just too much.

She took the dish of lasagna from Bobbie with a tired smile. “You didn’t have to—”

“I wanted to make sure you were eating.” Bobbie touched her cheek. “You look tired. Thinner.” She sighed. “I’m glad you didn’t…let this hold you back from your studies, but don’t let them drown you either.”

“I’m just…using them as a distraction.” Elizabeth handed the dish to Gia who took it into the kitchen to preheat the oven. “Gia and I have really been killing ourselves with this semester. I want to graduate and get on with my life.” She hesitated. “Bobbie, about Kelly’s—”

Her landlord smiled and nodded. “It’s not your place. I never thought it would be.”

“I just—I needed it. You gave me a lifeline this year, Bobbie. And I don’t think I’ve told you what that meant to me. What it still means to me.”

“Oh, Elizabeth—”

“Same goes for me, Bobbie.” Gia stepped up to Elizabeth. “You didn’t much like me, but you gave us both a fresh start. I know we’re not paying market rate for the rent, but you gave us a place to start over.”

“The minute you stood up for Elizabeth, I changed my mind about you,” Bobbie said. “And I’ve never regretted it.” She sighed. “I just wish the world would leave you alone.”  She looked at her watch. “I have to go in for the overnight shift. You girls staying in?”

“Taking the night off before midterms start next week,” Gia told her. “We’re gonna drink wine, eat lots of lasagna, and watch bad television. Distraction is the word of the day.”

“Trying anyway.” Elizabeth hugged Bobbie once more before she left.

When the door closed behind her, Elizabeth collapsed on the sofa and put her head in her hands. “I’m so scared, Gia.”

“Yeah. I get that.” Gia put the lasagna in the oven and came out to the living room, a bottle of wine and two glasses in her hands. “But this is Operation Distraction. So, let’s think about something else. What’s on the schedule tonight?”

“Oh.” Elizabeth reached for the TV Guide. “Well, we can watch the bad sitcoms on ABC. Or the bad sitcoms on FOX.”

“Choices, choices.”

“Oh, wait—Buffy’s on tonight. I haven’t been able to watch it this year, and it’s supposed to be the last season—” Elizabeth sighed, because just for a moment—she’d forgotten everything else. “You want to?”

“Sure. I figure it’ll cheer us up.” Gia sat down and poured the wine. “After all, your boyfriend isn’t trapped in a hell dimension.”

“No. But he might as well be for all the good it does me.” She pressed the button on the remote to change the channel and tried to put it away. “Gia—”

“You’re thinking about breaking it off with him when he comes back from the dead, aren’t you?” her friend said with a sigh. “I’m not an idiot. I can read between the lines.”

“I’m just…this isn’t the life I wanted.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “And this won’t be the last time I have to lie. You know that—” She paused. “I don’t know. I’m tired. And I’m doing something I hate because it’s what Jason needs. Is that love? He and Sonny…they made me go back.”

“I know, but it wasn’t Jason’s idea—”

“No. But he’s letting it happen. I know he said he had his reasons, and I believe that. But—” she sighed. “How is this different than Lucky? Because I’m in love with Jason? What about me? Don’t I matter?”

“You do—”

“I’ve lied for Jason before. This shouldn’t be different. But—” She sighed. “It just is. I can’t make it come out right in my head. I love him so much. Thinking he was actually dead…you’d think I’d be happier it was a lie—”

“Why?” Gia asked with an arched brow. “Death, at least you can understand that. You know the life Jason leads. The odds that he’ll die in his sleep from natural causes are minimal at best. You know this. Losing him sucked. And you were gonna grieve. But you would have got past it. One day.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Gia—”

“But he’s not dead. And not only is he not dead, he got shot because of Carly. A woman you literally think is the worst human on the planet. A woman who, apparently, has made it her mission in life to destroy anything Jason gives a damn about. And then his best friend, who damn well should have known better, lied to you. And put you through hell.”

“I don’t need a history lesson—”

“The problem with you, Liz, is that you always think you’re supposed to have the answers. Sometimes there just aren’t any.” Gia flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned her attention to the episode.

Elizabeth sighed and watched as Willow walked out of the gate of an airport and couldn’t find her friends. “Wasn’t she evil at the end of last season?”

“You missed the finale. Xander saved the world,” Gia said as she lifted her wine to her lips. “He reminded her that he’s had her back since kindergarten, and that he’d love her even if she destroyed everything.”

Elizabeth eyed Gia skeptically. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

Gia hesitated. “You’re mad because he destroyed your world. Yeah, Sonny started it and did the actual lying, but Jason is the one who is letting it continue, and he did it because Sonny convinced him. And you’re thinking you should cut ties now before something like this happens again. You’re just…he’s not done destroying the world yet, Liz. Let them do what they’re going to do tonight, let him come home. Let the chips fall. Give him a chance to make it right.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. I just…I wish I knew what they were doing. Maybe it would be easier. But I guess that’s just something else I don’t get to know.”

No Name Restaurant: Front Entrance

It was just after eight when the limo pulled up in front of the entrance to the No Name which had served as the neutral meeting place for those in the East Coast syndicate for the last fifteen years. It was in Sonny’s territory mostly because the syndicate worked out of New England, the Canadian border in Port Charles was the most lucrative, and Miami hadn’t really complained.

This would be one of the first times that the Families would meet after some power plays over the last five years, with Sammy Tagliatti taking power in Philadelphia, Daniel Vega consolidating the greater part of Boston, and Anthony Zacchara expanding into Manhattan after the fall of the Gambinos.

And Hector Ruiz would be making one of his rare visits north with one of his sons. Sonny hadn’t learned which one, but somehow, he doubted it was the priest.

He stepped out of the limo and buttoned his overcoat. Behind him, Benny and Max also climbed out. Max closed the door and tapped the top of it to let the chauffeur know he could take the car to the parking lot.

Sonny gestured for Benny and Max to go ahead of him a few steps, to secure the entrance and check on the party inside. He turned back to scan the road before going into the restaurant—

He saw the car driving slowly—the window beginning to slide down. He ducked away, moving fast towards the valet booth that had been left empty for the evening, but before he could make it to safety, the night exploded with gunfire.

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Sonny gritted as lead dug into his shoulder, the metal burning its way through skin. Another in his leg.

But the gunfire didn’t stop—bullets kept slamming into the brick façade of the No Name—

And then everything went black.

September 9, 2018

This entry is part 27 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Our memories
Well, they can be inviting
But some are altogether
Mighty frightening
As we die, both you and I
With my head in my hands
I sit and cry
Don’t Speak, No Doubt


Monday, September 30, 2002

General Hospital: Nurse’s Station

Bobbie’s stomach clenched as she watched her daughter step off the elevator. Carly met her eyes and then walked toward her.

She could count on one hand how many times she had been in the same room with her daughter since the horrible night in August when Carly had shown up on the steps of the Brownstone with blood in her eye and anger in her heart.

All of that energy, as destructive as it seemed, had drained from Carly in the weeks since Jason had gone missing, since his body had been found. Carly had avoided everyone as far as Bobbie could see, and Bobbie was ashamed to admit she was relieved.

There was some truth to Carly’s accusations—that Bobbie had considered Jason family, that Elizabeth held a special place in her heart as an honorary daughter. Carly could never understand that loving others didn’t take away from Bobbie’s love for her daughter.

Bobbie could understand that—hadn’t she lived that truth? Hadn’t she always tried to be competitive? Schemed, lied, cheated to get what she thought was hers?

It grieved her to see her daughter making the same mistakes Bobbie had made, that she was unable to stop her.

“Mama.” Carly wrapped her hand tightly around the strap of her purse. “I was hoping maybe we could talk. Just for a second. I know—I know how busy you are.” She flicked her eyes at one of Bobbie’s floor nurses. “Maybe someone could cover for you?”

Against her better judgment, Bobbie turned to the woman next to her trying really hard not to eavesdrop. “Epiphany—”

“Not a problem, Bobbie. You go and take care of your business.”

Bobbie gestured for Carly to move over to the waiting area. “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks, other than at the memorial.”

“Well, I’ve been trying to get myself together. I had to hire a lawyer to fix my estate. I’ve been trying to talk Jax into giving me control of the club again—” Carly rubbed her temple. “When I go to court for Michael, I need to convince the judge I’ve got my act together—”

“Mmm-hmm…” Bobbie tilted her head. “The judge is going to ask where you’ve been. Do you plan to tell him what you told me?”

“That an enemy of my ex-husband kidnapped me?” Carly said dryly. “That wouldn’t convince anyone Michael was safe with me.” She sighed, set her purse in her lap. “The truth is, Mama, I’m not sure a judge is going to give me custody. I found out that…shortly before he—” Her lip trembled. “I guess Elizabeth or Sonny finally signed the papers or did something because Alexis told me Jason signed a new will just before—” She was quiet for a moment. “He left some money to Michael, but most of it went to her. And guardianship—he gave my son to AJ. Which is all AJ needed. He has his parental rights, he’ll have guardianship—”

“Jason did that this summer before you came back,” Bobbie said. “It was not a punishment to you. He knew if anything happened to him, the Quartermaines might go after Michael. He signed a will in May that gave guardianship to Elizabeth, and then changed it to AJ after the custody agreement was signed.” She braced herself, but Carly didn’t explode.

“Elizabeth told me what happened—how AJ—” Carly closed her eyes. “I thought signing away his rights was the end of it. I always figured if something happened to me, then Michael should go to Jason. That it would be my way of making it right.”

“Jason was never going to win in court, and it weighed on him for some time. Did Elizabeth tell you that? That it was weeks before Jason could admit that to himself. If he hadn’t negotiated with AJ—”

“Then Jason wouldn’t be able to do anything if AJ started to drink again.” Carly nodded. “Yeah, Elizabeth told me that much. And I’ve been thinking about it. AJ didn’t have to sign an agreement either. I—I asked my lawyer to get me a copy of it. Jason…still had total control over visitation.”

“AJ knew Jason was scared, and he wanted Jason to be at peace with it. Dragging Michael in court—he would have won, but everyone would have lost. No, AJ didn’t have to agree. But he did. They both put Michael first, Carly.”

“Jason was always better at doing that than I was,” Carly murmured. “Do you think AJ has it in him to be the same? I need my son, Mama. And I think…. I think the only way I’m gonna get him is if AJ lets me.”

“That’s probably true. You’re going to have to ask him and find out.”

Carly exhaled slowly. “And hope he’s a better person than I am. Because I was never going to give him a chance to be Michael’s father. He knows that. If it were me—”

“But it’s not.”

“You know…” Carly said, a tear sliding down her cheek. “You know, it’s not like I wake up in the morning planning to be a horrible a person. I just…I get scared sometimes. And I just—I react before I can think. Jason knew that about me.  He loved me anyway.”

Still making excuses, Bobbie thought as Carly got to her feet, but at least her daughter was finally being realistic about her future.

She just wished that Jason hadn’t had to die to make it happen.

Safe House: Living Room

Jason scowled over some paperwork, his face pinched in pain. Unsurprisingly, the enforcer had refused any pain medication, and Johnny didn’t blame him.

First, Jason had been drugged out of his mind for a week, then he’d woken up to find his world ripped into pieces, and as if Sonny wasn’t satisfied with that, the remnants of that world had been stomped into the ground, crushed into ashes.

Sure, Jason was alive. And sure, his girlfriend knew it. But no one else did. Johnny didn’t know Elizabeth Webber all that well, but he knew enough about women to figure that no woman relished being tortured for weeks with a missing boyfriend, only to bury a false body—

Yeah, knowing the truth wouldn’t have solved that problem. Only created new ones.

“You want some Tylenol?” Johnny said after another wince had Johnny clutching his own healing shoulder. They were both chafing at being restricted to the property and the week Sonny had asked them to commit to had just turned into two weeks that morning with a phone call.

People were moving around, Sonny had told them. Flights had been purchased for Monday. Could he just have until Tuesday? Tuesday it would all be over.

Jason had agreed but had remained silent since. He hadn’t asked to speak to Elizabeth, hadn’t asked for any of the details. Tuesday would be the final deadline.

And even if Jason didn’t agree, well, Johnny was just going to go back and take out a full-page announcement. This plan had been doomed from the start, but then again, anything involving the boss’s ex-wife was usually a disaster. Came with the territory.

“No, I’m good.”

They returned to their silence, but Johnny grew bored with the Yankees game and finally switched off the television. He tapped his fingers on the armchair.

“You got somethin’ to say, Johnny?” Jason asked after a few minutes.

“No.” Johnny scowled. “Yes.” He shoved himself to his feet, gritting his teeth as his shoulder sang out in pain. “Why did you agree to Tuesday? Why are we going to be stuck in this damn house for another week while the rest of Port Charles thinks you’re dead?”

Jason stared down at the paperwork in front him. Said nothing. His face was set in that empty expression Johnny had always hated and envied at the same time. How the hell did a man just shut down like that? Wipe everything from the surface?

“You don’t have to explain anything to me, all right? You don’t care that Sonny is destroying your life, that’s on you. But you didn’t even bother to check with me to make sure I didn’t mind being stuck here. I work for you, Morgan. You and Sonny don’t own my ass.”

Jason hesitated, sat back in his chair, then looked at Johnny. After a long exhale, Jason nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t ask. I should have. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well…” Johnny shrugged, uncomfortable now. “Tuesday’s it. This plan—if it even counts as a plan—it isn’t working, and I’m not doing jackshit here locked up with you. Someone’s coming at us, Jase, and we’re out of the loop. Why doesn’t that piss you off?”

“You think it doesn’t?” Jason demanded, but his voice remained empty. Cold. “You think because I didn’t pull the plug that I’m okay with this—”

“You think your girl doesn’t think that?” Johnny retorted. “Have you even talked to Elizabeth since she left? She walked in this house, and she didn’t know you were alive. That’s what Sonny did to her. She came from your fucking funeral, and he used her guilt, her worry about you to keep you in the dark. Every day you’re here. Every day you don’t talk to her about this—”

“Don’t talk to me about Elizabeth.” Jason rose to his feet, the blue in his eyes hard as flint. “You don’t know what you’re talking about—”

“I was in this room when he told her the truth. When she went to see you, I saw her. I talked to her. Don’t tell me I don’t know. Sonny did that to her. And you’re letting him get away with it—”

Jason exhaled. Closed his eyes. “I’m not. And if anyone but the goddamn Ruiz family was involved, this would already be over, but—” He looked away. “Sonny said some guys were waiting to grab Elizabeth at her studio. To bring me out of hiding, they went after her—”

“And Sonny got them—”

“If they had been connected to Javier or Manny…if they took her…” Jason swallowed. “We’ve heard the stories, Johnny. We know what they to do to women. The next time, it might be Manny.”

“Okay, but—”

“The flights from Miami Sonny told me about? It’s Hector’s men coming up on Monday. The Ruizes aren’t predictable. They don’t follow the rules. They make Zacchara look right in the head.”

“I know—”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Elizabeth when this is over.” Jason swallowed hard, his eyes cast aside. An uncharacteristic show of weakness. “I can’t think about that. She can be pissed at me. She can walk away from me. But I need her alive to do that.”

“Okay,” Johnny repeated. He waited a moment. “You don’t have to justify it to me, Jase. That’s not what I’m trying to say—”

“Sonny crossed a line with this. With all of this.” Jason hesitated. “But I’m not thinking about that yet. I can’t.”

Johnny nodded. “Look, it’s not like you’d ever ask me for advice, but…. you need to talk to Elizabeth.”

“Johnny—”

“I can get some burner cells, and if you give me a few days, I can make it untraceable. But you haven’t spoken to her since you found out, and while I want to believe Sonny is keeping her in the loop—”

“Yeah.” Jason met his eyes. “Yeah. Get me a phone.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Kelly’s: Courtyard

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Courtney folded her arms and had pitched her voice a bit lower so that Michael would remain at the counter, carefully finishing his math homework. “Michael,” she said, a bit louder, “make sure you count the apples before you write the number.”

“No, I’m not sure,” AJ said, rubbing the back of his neck. “But with Jason gone, everything is different.” He paused.  “I knew he’d updated his will, I just…I don’t want to push Elizabeth into going to probate court about his estate. I know Alexis has told Carly about the guardianship. I can’t sit back and wait.”

“I just…” Courtney dipped her head. “I can’t stop myself from blaming her. Everything was fine until she came back. We were all happy. You and Jason were going to be brothers. I could see it happening, even if it was just so Liz and I could hang out, you know? And she came in like a one woman wrecking crew, and…now Jason’s dead. My best friend is miserable. And Carly gets her kid back? I mean, come on—”

“If I don’t do something to make the court see I’m trying to do right by Michael, then I look like the petty asshole. She’s going to go after me legally. I didn’t want to drag Michael into court last spring, Courtney. I really don’t want to do it now—”

“I get it,” she said flatly. “I just don’t have to like it.” She nodded to the doorway, where a hesitant Carly was hovering outside the door. “She’s here. Go see what deal you can make.”

AJ ruffled Michael’s hair and then reached out to squeeze Courtney’s hand. “I love you, you know. I wish like hell I could make this different.”

“You can’t, so I guess we just have to figure out how to live with what we’ve got.”

He sighed, and then joined his ex-wife in the courtyard, making sure that Courtney had distracted Michael at the counter.

“AJ.” Carly looked tired—and somehow worse than the last time he’d seen her at Jason’s memorial service. Her eyes were still swollen, her face pale. She wore no makeup and dressed in a simple sweater and jeans with a pair of black boots.

“Thanks for meeting me.” AJ gestured for her to sit, and when she did, he sat across from her. “By now…Alexis has told you about Jason’s will.”

“She has.” Carly pressed her lips together. “But it’s not in effect yet, she said. Sonny and Elizabeth haven’t gone to probate court yet.” She looked away, folding her arms. “I don’t know what they’re waiting for. It’s not like it’ll bring him back—” Her voice broke. “Are you going to tell me I’ll never get my son back? Do to me what I did to you?”

AJ waited a moment. “I thought about it. We both know I could probably win permanent custody if it came to that. Or that we could spend the rest of our lives dragging each other and Michael into court. I don’t want that, Carly. Jason wouldn’t want that.”

“Oh, you speak for Jason now?” Her brown eyes lit now with fury. “You know him so goddamn well? He was my best friend and I—”

“Jason and I talked a lot about Michael when you were gone,” AJ said gently. “About our dreams for him. How much he meant to both of us. I used to resent the way Jason loved him. I thought that I was the only one supposed to love him like a father. I was consumed by jealousy, Carly. You know that.”

“Yeah.” Carly exhaled slowly, closing her eyes. “Yeah, I know. And that’s my fault. I’ve been…” She looked at him. “I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that—about what you said the day you came to see me at the hotel. I did go out of my way to cut you out of Michael’s life. And in the beginning, it was…” Carly sighed. “I don’t know. I was scared all the damn time back then. I wanted to love Tony. Life would have been easier if I did. But I just didn’t. But I didn’t want to be alone with the baby. And I wanted Jason. That night, I just figured you looked enough like him, if I got drunk enough—” She shrugged.

“I wasn’t a good candidate to be his father back then. Even sober,” AJ admitted. “I wasn’t ready to be sober for myself. I didn’t drink when we were married—until you left. But I didn’t drink because of Michael. It’s not a bad reason, but it’s just—it’s not enough. I have to be sober for me.”

“You showed me a chip.” Carly bit her lip. “A year.”

“Yeah. I got it in July.” He drew it out. Set it on the table. “They work on an honor system, Carly, so I get that you don’t trust it. I didn’t push you, Carly, but that doesn’t change my part in what happened.”

She shook her head. “Can’t—I can’t talk about that. I won’t—”

“We have to deal with it, Carly.” AJ leaned forward. “Because I know we both love Michael. I don’t know where you were for five months, Carly. But I know you love him. I love him. I want to give him a good life. And he’s been asking about you. I need you to see him. I need for him to see you.”

Her dark eyes were wet, and she licked her lips. “Is he—did you bring him?” She shot up from her chair, but before she could get to the doorway, AJ stopped her.

“I brought him. Because I think we can work this out. But we have to find a way to deal with each other. You don’t ever have to forgive me for that night, Carly. I don’t even know if I’ve forgiven myself. I had to put it away, so I could look—”

“You didn’t push me,” Carly said softly. She stepped back. Met his eyes. “I—I know that. I couldn’t—I had to blame you, AJ.”

AJ just stared at her. “Carly—”

“I was…” Carly shook her head, turned away. She wrapped her arms around herself. “A few weeks ago, I went to see Elizabeth. I wanted to understand why Jason…why you had Michael. And she said something…” She hesitated. “She said I needed it to be you. And I hated her for it. But she was right. Because if it wasn’t you, then it was me. But that’s not…”

She turned back around. “We were being hateful. The way we always were. And I was digging at you, trying to make you angry.  I don’t know why it seemed so important. And you were going right back at me.”

Carly spread her hands out. Looked at her fingers. “And I shoved my hand in your face. I shoved Sonny in your face. Told you he was a better man. A better father. And you—you grabbed my hand.”

“You pulled away.” AJ’s throat was raw. “I should have walked away, Carly. I just—I wanted to hurt you.”

“Because I had hurt you first. You didn’t—” She swallowed hard. “You didn’t deserve what I did to you. I married you, but it was a lie. I never even tried to make a life with you. I think about it sometimes. If I had just…trusted you. If I had just trusted Jason, would he still be alive?”

“Carly—”

“I was kidnapped,” she said flatly. “By someone who wanted to do something to Sonny and Jason. I don’t know why. They faked a car accident, and they drugged me until sometime in August. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be dead. And then they showed me pictures. Everyone was so happy. Like I was the only one holding everyone back and with me gone—” Carly closed her eyes. “And you know me. Destroy first. Ask questions when the dust settles.”

AJ exhaled slowly. “You were kidnapped by one of their enemies.”

“Yeah, well, whatever.” She shrugged. “I came home. I made it all worse. And Jason’s dead because of me. We’re all caught up.”

“Carly—”

“I want to see Michael,” she said with a wave of her hand. “We can do everything else later. I just…I need to see him. Please.”

“Yeah.” AJ shook his head, trying to clear it. “Yeah, okay.”

He opened the door to Kelly’s. “Michael, your mom’s out here—”

But the words weren’t out of AJ’s mouth before his son was already halfway across the diner. Like a bolt of lightning, the little boy hurtled past him at his mother.

Carly wrapped her arms around him and lifted Michael into a fierce hug. “Hey, Mr. Man. I missed you, baby.”

“I missed you, too, Mommy.” Michael pulled back. “Daddy said they was wrong about you bein’ in heaven, but that you was real sick. Now you’re better, right?” He turned back to AJ. “Right, Daddy? I can go stay with Mommy at Grammy’s Brownstone.”

AJ’s heart ached. “Sure, buddy. I’m sure your mother and grandmother would love that.”

“But I gotta spend time with Daddy, too, Mommy.” Michael looked at his mother. “I got a room there. It’s really nice. And a backyard. Daddy and Courtney got me a swing set. It’s really cool. You should come see it.”

“I’d like that.” Carly met AJ’s eyes, and then Courtney’s who had followed Michael to the door. “I’d like to see your room and swing set. If that’s okay.”

“Yeah.” AJ nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think we can make that happen.”

Brownstone: Front Steps

Elizabeth sighed when she found Nikolas standing on the front step. “I was just on my way out—and I’m really not—”

“I need to apologize to you,” Nikolas said as she started past him. He reached out as if to grab her elbow, but let his hand fall back to his side when she stopped at the bottom of the steps. “Elizabeth—”

“You should apologize to Emily. She still gives a damn,” she bit out, but then closed her eyes. This wasn’t who she was. Wasn’t who she wanted to be.

She just didn’t want Nikolas to have some sort of epiphany about their friendship when she was lying to everyone. Any ground they might regain right now—it would only be lost when the truth came out.

But that wasn’t Nikolas’s fault.

“I tried,” Nikolas said when Elizabeth said nothing else. “But she was still too angry at me. Lucky’s not thrilled with me either.” He exhaled slowly. “After you left, Emily looked at me and—” He looked away, in the direction of the waterfront and piers. “I always knew Emily had a crush on me, you know? I never felt that way about her, so I tried so hard to be careful around her. I never wanted to hurt her.”

“Nikolas—”

“But when she looked at me, I could actually see that love and affection—the respect she’d had for me? It was gone. I didn’t lose it when I slept with Katherine Bell—” Nikolas grimaced at that memory. “And I didn’t lose it when I started to date Gia, even though Gia had done so much to hurt her.”

Elizabeth sighed, looked down at the sidewalk. “I know. It’s been hard to explain to Emily why Gia and I are friends now, so—”

“But going after you, going after her brother on the day we buried him—” Nikolas shook his head. “That was the last straw for her. And I didn’t know…I didn’t understand how important it was to me that Emily respected me. Until it was gone.”

“She’s too nice to hold it against you for long,” Elizabeth said after a moment. “So, if that’s what—”

“I never—I never looked too hard at myself after everything happened. It was…that entire year—” He waited a moment. “It feels like I was somewhere else. An affair with Katherine? Losing my brother. Losing my uncle.” His voice roughened. “Katherine’s death, the lie about the baby—I kept doing and saying things, and I just couldn’t understand them.”

Against her better judgment, Elizabeth nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I know what that’s like—”

“I clung to you after Katherine—that night at your party—I thought I felt something for you.” He swallowed hard, his eyes dark. “I thought it was love. But it was loneliness. It was grief. It was trying to make something make sense. And you didn’t need me. I didn’t see it that way. I saw Jason taking you away from me.”

“Nikolas—”

“You weren’t my property, but that’s how I treated you.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “And I kept getting angry because nothing was turning out the way I thought it would. My uncle was this stranger, and then Lucky came home—and God, all that pain was my fault. Helena brainwashed him to use him yes, but she tortured him about you because of me. She stole his love for you, forced him to say things I know must have hurt him—”

“Nikolas.” Elizabeth held out her hand. “Hey. None of that is your fault. What Helena did to Lucky? That’s on her. Don’t take that on.”

He nodded, exhaled with an angry short breath. “Yeah. Well, the crap I did when Jason was back in town—not correcting Lucky. He never believed you about Jason because of me—”

“That’s probably a little true,” Elizabeth said slowly. “Your suspicion didn’t help, but Lucky could see it in my eyes. He and I both lied to each other for years, Nikolas. Lucky knew how I felt about Jason long before I was strong enough to admit it to myself.”

“I’m sorry for what part I played in all of that. And—and I’m sorry for lying last year. I thought it was for the best. I thought Lucky would remember, that you’d both be happy—but—” Nikolas shook his head. “I saw you this summer with Jason. I know you were happy with him. I hate that you’re doing this again.”

Pressure built behind her eyes, and she had to close them. Oh, God, and she had suffered for nothing. Again. Grieving a loved one who hadn’t died—being tricked and lied to—How was she supposed to keep going like this?

“Elizabeth—”

Tears slid down her cheeks as she finally opened her eyes again and looked at him. “It sucks,” she said flatly. “I’m tired of it.”

“I just—I’m sorry if I added to it last week. I’m sorry that it’s happening. And I’m sorry I couldn’t look past my own pride to be the friend you needed. That I couldn’t put Lucky aside to be a friend to you last year.” He hesitated. “I know it will never be the same again, but I just—I don’t want to feel like I have to avoid you. I will if you—”

“I don’t know where we go from here,” Elizabeth said slowly. “If we can ever be friends like we were, but you will always be important to Emily. We can start there.” She managed a smile. “I really do have to go to work now.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. Thanks for hearing me out.” He stepped aside as she went to her car. She got inside and just took a minute to lay her forehead against the steering wheel. She wasn’t going to work but it was the only way to make Nikolas go away. To leave her alone. To get away from the sympathy, the kind eyes. The hints that the Nikolas she’d once considered closer than her actual family still lurked inside.

Another lie. She was beginning to choke on them.

She was tired of lying. Of being a liar, of being lied to—

She just wanted it to stop.

This entry is part 26 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

I would swallow my pride
I would choke on the rhymes
But the lack thereof would leave me empty inside
I would swallow my doubt, turn it inside out
Find nothing but faith in nothing
Want to put my tender
Heart in a blender
Watch it spin round to a beautiful oblivion
Rendezvous, then I’m through with you
Inside Out, Eve


Friday, September 27, 2002

Safe House: Living Room

Jason carefully edged his way down the hall, wincing at the pain in his side. Ripping his stitches the other day had probably set him back in his recovery—not to mention the week or so Sonny and the doctor had kept him drugged into oblivion.

He had been unable to sleep after Elizabeth had left that morning, and he couldn’t quite kick the idea that something was bothering her—something more drastic than Sonny lying to her and her worry over his condition. She had assumed he was hurt somewhere and Sonny was just not giving her the details, but her eyes had shifted away when she spoke.

He was missing something.

The front door opened, and Johnny strode in with a paper bag and a tray of coffees. It had been deemed relatively safe enough for Johnny to venture into the outskirts of Port Charles to replenish their supplies.

The single bag did not look as though it was enough to feed them for a day much less the weekend Jason had promised Sonny he would wait.

Johnny handed Jason a coffee and then set the bag down before fishing out a newspaper. “I take orders from Sonny,” the warehouse manager said. “I’ve worked for him longer than you have, you know.”

“I know,” Jason said, squinting. “Johnny—”

“And I was only a little irritated when you were promoted over guys who’d been here longer,” the other man continued. “You were younger. Less experienced. And there was a lot of grumbling. You know that.”

“I do—”

“Five minutes of working for you changed that. Even when you turned things over to Moreno, most of us knew why. And knew you’d be back. You were the right guy for the job at the wrong time.”

“Okay, but—

“When Sonny came back, and we went after the territory to get it back, that was fine by me. I respected you both—”

“Johnny, I get it. You followed orders.” Jason shook his head. “My problem isn’t with you—”

Johnny dropped the newspaper on the table in front of Jason as he spoke, and Jason abruptly closed his mouth, silenced by the headline. By the large color photographs. He had never been all that great at photographs, but these were easy to understand.

“’Morgan Memorial, No Suspects in Killing.’” Everything inside Jason seized as he unfolded the paper to read the caption beneath the grainy color photograph of Elizabeth, dressed in black, stepping out of a car with a similarly clad Bobbie at her side.  “’Jason Morgan’s grieving girlfriend’—” He stopped. “What the hell is going on?”

“I didn’t know until Elizabeth came here yesterday.” Johnny’s mouth twisted. “And Sonny…he gave her a royal guilt trip, so she’d lie to you about it. Didn’t want to set back your recovery or put you in danger—”

Jason skimmed the article that recapped some of the events. He’d been missing for two weeks, presumed to be in hiding—until a decomposed body was pulled from the harbor the week before. Testing had later positively identified—next of kin—

“She thought I was dead,” Jason said flatly. “And Sonny waited until yesterday to tell her.” Because Jason had left him no choice. How the hell—Sonny knew what she’d been through in the last few years—knew better than anyone how much she had struggled after Lucky—

“Give me a phone. Now.”

Queen of Angels: Cemetery

It was a cold, dreary, gray afternoon the day they put his little brother in the ground. AJ stood with his wife’s hand firmly in his, next to his mother and father. Emily leaning hard on Ned, with Alexis next to her, an arm around her shoulder.  Just a few paces away, on the other side of Courtney, stood Elizabeth, Gia and Bobbie.

Elizabeth’s face was pale. Blank. And he worried about her. He wanted to look after her because maybe it was the thing you were supposed to do when your brother was murdered. You should look after his family. And Elizabeth was his family.

But it was all AJ could do to get through the day.

He had been one of his brother’s pallbearers. Elizabeth had quietly asked him earlier that week, had asked Sonny if it would be okay. Sonny and some of the men who worked with Jason had also agreed, but Elizabeth wanted AJ to be there too.

To honor the relationship AJ and Jason had managed to create over the last few months.

He had carried his brother’s coffin from the church the day before and loaded it into the hearse. Had taken it from the hearse and carried it to the graveside.

And now he watched as the coffin was slowly lowered.

Soon his little brother would be alone. Beneath cold, dark dirt with nothing but a tombstone marking his place and time on this earth.

His grandparents left first, then his parents. Courtney drove back with Elizabeth and Emily. Slowly, one by one, the mourners at the grave left.

But AJ couldn’t bring himself to walk away.

“Junior?”

AJ turned to his cousin. “Oh. Hey. You’re still here—”

“I keep thinking about that last Christmas,” Ned murmured. “When he was Jason Quartermaine. I can’t even remember the last time I saw Jason Morgan. Now they’re both gone.” He put an arm around AJ’s shoulders. “I hate it. I knew he’d never get his memories back but if he was here—we could still hope.”

AJ closed his eyes, but the overwhelming guilt he normally felt—the knowledge that he had stolen that young man from his life and family—it wasn’t as sharp. It wasn’t his fault Jason was dead.

“I called Alexis yesterday because…I wasn’t sure what would happen with Jason gone,” AJ murmured. “I didn’t know what to do about the guardianship. Carly hasn’t said anything—”

“She can’t take him from you, can she?” Ned asked. His dark eyes glittered with anger. “After everything—”

“I asked Alexis, and—he left everything not related to the business to Elizabeth. Except guardianship. He left that to me. She just—she doesn’t know it yet.” He sighed. “So, I think I’m probably okay. Carly still would have to go to court to establish legal custody, and…”

AJ was quiet for a minute. Let the world settle around him. “All my life I tried to live up to him, to be a better man. And when I failed, I used it as an excuse to destroy my life. I’m looking at his grave, and I can’t—I wasted so much time trying to outdo him. I just…I want him back.” AJ’s eyes burned.

“But I don’t want a drink. So that’s good, right? I don’t want to drown myself in alcohol to lose the grief. I want to hold on to it. Because I finally got to know my brother this summer, and I don’t want to lose that.”

Ned’s arm around AJ’s shoulders tightened into a one-armed hug. “Hey, you want some good news? I’m going to tell the family tonight.”

“Yeah?”

“Alexis is pregnant.” Ned managed a half-smile. “We’re having a baby.”

AJ grinned—and for the first time in a week, felt lightness in his heart. “That’s incredible! Congratulations!” He hugged his cousin more tightly. “Michael’s gonna love having a younger cousin.”

“Let’s go back to the house so Alexis and I can tell the family.” Ned’s smile was a bit more genuine. “We could all use the boost.”

Quartermaine Mansion: Terrace

Emily rubbed her arms as she stepped out of the family room and smiled when she found Lucky standing there, with Nikolas at his side. “My guys.”

“Hey, Em.” Lucky kissed her cheek. “We were just coming back in—”

“It’s fine.” Emily shook her head. “It’s…this reception isn’t really for Jason—it’s for my family, and I know the Quartermaines are a lot to take in.” She turned and through the window, she could see Elizabeth sitting on the sofa, looking down at her lap. Next to her, AJ’s wife, Courtney, touched her shoulder.

She had returned to find that her best friend had…become someone else. Not that Elizabeth still wasn’t her best friend—but she could see the intimacy between Elizabeth and Courtney—the trust. And…with Gia.

“What happened last year?” Emily asked quietly. “Why is Elizabeth so distant—” She looked back at them and was surprised to catch guilty looks being exchanged. “All I knew was that everyone had broken up and that Liz was living with Gia—but I didn’t understand.”

“It’s complicated,” Nikolas began, but Lucky shook his head.

“The why is complicated, but the what isn’t. Nikolas and I lied to them. We lied to Gia for months. And then I lied to Elizabeth. And…” Lucky offered a light shrug. “We weren’t in love anymore. She just…had the courage to walk away first.” He nodded at Nikolas. “And he and Gia realized they brought out the worst in each other.”

“She also saw it first,” his brother said with a dry tone.

Emily bit her lip. “I guess it was naive of me to hope the four of us would be family forever,” she murmured.

“You don’t always have to like your family,” Lucky said, tipping her chin up and offering her a smile. “Sometimes you hate them. You fight. You walk away. And you come back better. We’re still family, Em. We’re just…estranged.” He nodded towards the window. “Elizabeth is still your best friend. When you come home next spring, when you graduate—she’ll be here. So will me and Nikolas.”

“You’re in New York—”

“At the moment,” Lucky said with a nod.  “I went there for space. To do an internship with a photographer my mother knew. I needed to figure out who I wanted to be. Because the guy I was going to be here? He was a selfish asshole who hurt people.”

“Lucky—”

“It’s better now,” Lucky said simply. “I know what I want from life, and I’ve finally…I’ve finally stopped hating myself for not being the guy everyone wanted me to be—” He held up a hand at Emily’s anguished expression. “The guy I thought everyone wanted me to be. And Nikolas and Gia stopped trying to outdo each other to be the most selfish. Elizabeth—”

The trio looked again at the window, at the brunette who had finished the foursome as she flashed a sad smile at Emily’s grandmother.

“And Elizabeth will get through this,” Lucky finished.

Emily turned back to him with a sigh. Had she spent the last few years completely blind to the people around her? Lucky seemed so different from the boy she’d left behind a year ago—but he seemed so at peace, so much…lighter. Nikolas looked unhappy, with lines at the corners of his mouth no one in their mid-twenties should have.

She didn’t know them anymore, didn’t know the ins and outs of their lives or why they had changed. She didn’t know how her brother and Elizabeth had fallen in love—only knew that Jason had seemed happy when they’d last spoken—that Elizabeth’s phone calls had been more frequent and joyful over the last summer—

It was so unfair that all that promise was gone—that Emily would never be able to see what her brother and best friend were like together—that they wouldn’t get to have that life together.

“C’mon, let’s go in and give Elizabeth a break from having to be strong for everyone else,” Emily suggested, linking arms with her friends.

Quartermaine Mansion: Foyer

Bobbie slid her pager back into her bag and touched Monica’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry—I got called in and—”

“Oh.” Monica shook her head. “Thank you for coming—does—does Elizabeth have a way home? I thought she came with you to the cemetery—” Her voice faltered as she said the final words.

“She drove with me, but Gia’s here, so—can you let her know I had to leave?” Bobbie paused as the door to the family room opened, and Edward found them.

She had not seen the Quartermaine patriarch since their tense and bitter dispute at Carly’s will reading in May, and they had not spoken after Bobbie found out Edward had visited Michael’s school.

“Bobbie. I was hoping to find you—”

“I was just on my way out—”

“This won’t take long.” Edward stepped towards her, and then touched Monica’s arm. “Is everything all right?”

“I was just…going to tell Elizabeth that Bobbie had to go—” Monica flashed a smile at Bobbie. “I’ll make sure she gets back to the Brownstone.” She disappeared into the family room.

Edward sighed, looking after her. “It seems so final,” he murmured. “I didn’t realize I had held out hope he could still…come back to us until…” He trailed off, then focused on Bobbie. “I wanted to—I realize I was—I was not—after Carly—”

“Be good to AJ,” Bobbie said. “He’s worked hard, and he deserves your trust. I—” She hesitated. “I always understood your anger, Edward. And I know what happened with Michael wasn’t about me.”

“Still. I thought I knew best, and I could have ruined AJ’s chances. I just—I should trust him more. He’s earned it this summer.” His voice became even more gruff. “You look out for Elizabeth. Take care of her. She’s been good to this family, and we all worry about her.”

“She won’t be alone,” Bobbie said. “I really do have to get to the hospital. Take care of yourself, Edward, and Lila. My prayers are with you.”

“And ours with you.”

Quartermaine: Living Room

Most of the mourners had gravitated towards the family room where the terrace opened out into the garden, so when Emily drew Elizabeth away from the others, she took her to the front foyer. She had also invited Gia and Courtney, and AJ had followed them. She wanted Elizabeth to feel comfortable, to have her support system around her.

But Emily also wanted to find a way to still be part of Elizabeth’s life—not just because she had been so close to her once, but Elizabeth…was the last link to her brother.

“How long are you staying?” Lucky asked as a slightly awkward silence fell on the group. “Do you have to go back right away?”

Emily sighed. “I could only get a few days this week, but I have a break coming up in a few weeks—I’m coming back for about a week in early October. I moved some things around, talked to some professors—I wanted to stay longer—” She shook her head. “I wish like hell I hadn’t gone to UCLA after my rehab finished. I just want to be home.”

“But you’re doing okay out there, right?” Gia asked with a forced casual smile. “You like it?”

“Oh. Yeah. It’s a great program. And I’ll be able to finish my degree in half the amount of time, so—yeah.” She exhaled slowly.

Another silence fell on the group, but Lucky broke it after a moment. “Do you remember when I introduced you to Jason?” he said to Elizabeth. “I think you’d met him before, but it was that day in the boxcar—”

“Oh.” Elizabeth grimaced. “When he came to tell you he was…changing jobs and I embarrassed myself.” She rolled her eyes. “God, I was such a kid—”

“I thought it was funny.” Lucky looked at the others. “She asked if, like, his enemies were gonna come after me—”

“Oh, come on, I did not say it that way—” Elizabeth bit her lip and winced. “Oh, God. But that’s what I meant, and he knew it. He was laughing at me. You know how he does that—he doesn’t actually laugh—” She stopped, as if realizing she was still talking about him as if he were alive. A shadow started to creep back into her expression.

“But you could see it in the way he responded that he was enjoying himself at your expense on the inside,” AJ said quickly with a wry grin. “Yeah. I remember. Obviously, he didn’t think you were too ridiculous.”

“He was a good guy,” Lucky said. “I didn’t always remember that, but it’s easier now. He gave me a job, gave me a way to support myself when I left home. Gave me a home. I should have—” He shook his head. “I should have remembered that before.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Nikolas said with a stubborn glare at Elizabeth who returned his scowl.

“It wasn’t his,” Lucky said easily, and Emily squinted at him. He’d only left Port Charles in May. Could three months away really have given him this kind of peace of mind?

“It was both of ours,” Elizabeth murmured. “But we stopped it.”

“Hey, the first time I met Jason, I totally tried to get him into bed,” Gia said, with a brash grin. Nikolas turned his irritation on her and she just shrugged. “What? I hated Elizabeth, and she clearly wanted him, so it seemed like a good idea.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes—it obviously wasn’t the first time she’d heard that story, so Emily tried to smile at it.

“The first time I met Jason, I got shot,” Nikolas muttered.

“And he saved your life,” Elizabeth shot back. She got to her feet. “I’m going to go—”

“No.” Emily rose. “Nikolas, c’mon—”

“What? We’re sitting around eulogizing the guy like he didn’t get himself killed. People around him die—”

“What about you?” Elizabeth demanded. “You’re a Cassadine. How many people have died around you?”

“Hey, I don’t invite the danger,” Nikolas retorted.

“Really?” Elizabeth snorted. “Pretty sure last year was entirely your idiotic idea—”

“Guys—”

“And it worked,” Nikolas said flatly. “Stavros is dead. Lucky is free. And Helena is locked away. The danger is over for me, but you don’t even see that this is the best thing that could have happened to you—”

“Nikolas!” Emily growled. “That’s my brother you’re talking about—”

“Whatever. You stay, Liz. Clearly, I’m the only person here who lives in reality—”

Elizabeth stopped him as he started to stand. “Don’t talk to me about reality, Nikolas. All I have ever done is support you. You wanted to marry Katherine Bell? I stood by you even though everyone of us knew you were insane—”

“Katherine Bell?” Lucky said with a frown.

“That’s not fair—”

“You wanted to date the woman who blackmailed Emily—”

“Hey—” Gia said with a scowl.

“And I stood by you even though she was literally the worst—”

“I mean, that’s some strong language,” Gia muttered. “I’m not that bad—”

“And every time you told me that I just had to stick it out, that if I walked away from Lucky, he’d be lost forever, I let you punish me. I let you guilt me into staying. Don’t—” She broke off, shook her head. “You don’t have some high moral ground here, Nikolas. You have been punishing me for years—”

“Punishing you for what?” Nikolas demanded.

“Don’t make me—” Elizabeth huffed. “Don’t make me say this in front of them.”

“No, say it—”

“You don’t like Jason because I fell in love with him, and not with you when we thought Lucky was dead,” Elizabeth snarled. “That’s where this started, and you damn well know it. You tried to kiss me the night of my birthday party, and I pushed you away. And you have never forgiven me for turning to someone else.”

Nikolas’s face stilled as he swallowed. “That is not true—”

“And when you thought I had moved on, you threw Lucky in my face. You used him against me, tried to make me feel guilty like I was supposed to be alone forever—”

Lucky squinted. “Is that why Helena made me say you belonged with Nikolas all the goddamn time? Because you wanted Elizabeth—”

“This is fascinating,” Gia murmured to Courtney who smacked her in the arm. “Ow, what? I’m not supposed to be entertained?”

“You can throw Jason’s life in my face all you want, but we both know the truth.” She looked to Gia. “I want to leave. Can you—Bobbie was my ride—”

“Yeah, yeah. Even though I’m literally the worst.” Gia got to her feet and shook her head at her former fiancé. “Man, you should have just let it go. You really are a dink.”

Elizabeth looked at Emily’s stricken face. “I’ll call you later. We’ll—we’ll talk.”

And then she left the room, Gia hurrying after her.

“Is that true?” Emily asked softly. “Did you—kiss her—and then throw Lucky—”

“She makes it sound simple,” Nikolas muttered as he scrubbed his hands over his face. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Except it was.” Lucky tilted his head. “Carly told me that they were sleeping together, and I went to you. And you…you had to know the truth by then. Except—you didn’t tell me. You told me that Jason was a bad influence on her, that he’d nearly gotten her killed. You never told me they weren’t together.” He rose to his feet. “And you know, I didn’t…I didn’t believe her when she said nothing happened. Because you were my brother, and I thought she was trying to spare my feelings.”

“Lucky—” Nikolas paused. “I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Well, this has been fun,” Emily said with some irritation. “Now I remember why I went to school in California. I just wanted to sit here with people I loved and mourn my brother. I wanted Elizabeth to feel safe here. And you had to make it about you,” she said with derision towards the man she had loved once so fiercely. Nikolas grimaced.

“Em—”

“You can show yourself out,” she said with a snarl and stalked from the room.

Gia’s Car

“I didn’t mean it.”

Gia shrugged as she maneuvered down the Quartermaine’s long driveway towards Harborview Road. “I literally was the worst, so it’s okay.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Hey, let me tell you how much fun it was to see you finally let loose on my idiot ex-fiancé.” Gia made a left and turned towards the waterfront. “He’s the only one who didn’t get to hear your wrath when it all went down, so I was wondering if you’d get around to him.”

“I just— I can’t believe he did that. That he made it all about him. Emily just wanted to talk about her brother. To be with her friends. And Lucky was trying so hard—”

“It was nice, hearing him talk about Jason without violence in his eyes.” Gia glanced at her. “Look, you’re already dealing with the guilt of having to bury a casket with a fake body, and then mourn with his family. Don’t take on Nikolas’s idiocy with that.”

“He’s just—” Elizabeth closed her mouth. “He hasn’t been right since Stefan faked his death that summer after we lost Lucky. And then Katherine Bell lied about being pregnant—he wasn’t in love with me, Gia. I was just…safe. A link to Lucky. And I don’t know, maybe if I hadn’t…found Jason. Hadn’t already started to work through my grief—maybe I would have been—” She stopped. “But I can’t make excuses for him. He had no right to do that to Emily. And for all he knows, I’m actually grieving Jason.”

She looked at the window as they left behind the ritzy neighborhood of the Quartermaines. “And I’m already irritated with myself for lying to Jason. It didn’t take a lot to set me off today.”

“Jason will understand.”

“I just…” Elizabeth was quiet for a moment. “When this is over, everything will change. You weren’t here when Jason found out about Sonny and Carly, but it was—he wouldn’t tell me exactly what happened. He’s always held things close to the chest, but I knew they’d done something. He cut them both out, but he just seemed so uncertain, and God, that’s the one thing Jason just never—he was never uncertain. He always knew what he was doing. Where he was going. What he was thinking. They stole that from him.”

Gia pulled up to a red light and flicked on her blinker to turn onto Elm Street. “And now, Sonny has forced the people who love Jason to mourn him. To memorialize and bury him. He’s stolen Jason’s entire life this time.”

“He couldn’t figure out how to do his job after what happened with Carly. He tried for a little, but it was part of the reason he left. Sonny isn’t just his partner, Gia. Not just his friend. He’s—he’s a brother—”

“He’s a father figure,” Gia corrected. “Brothers get to mess up. Father figures get put on pedestals. When they mess up, it screws with the whole order of things.” She was quiet for a moment. “I know what it’s like for the man you think of as your father to destroy your entire world.”

Elizabeth frowned at her. Gia didn’t often speak of the time before she’d arrived in Port Charles, of her life after her brother had left home and Elizabeth had never pushed her. “Gia—”

“Anyway. It’s a mess no matter how you look at it. You’re pissed at Sonny, pissed at yourself for being in the position of having to grieve at all—just because Jason wasn’t actually dead, as far as you were concerned, he was. And you gotta deal with that. Plus, Sonny lied to Jason. And Jason’s gonna find out. How are you supposed to protect yourself when all you wanna do right now is protect him?”

“Can I even do both?” she asked softly. “Should I even try? I’m…I’m just tired of pretending to be something I’m not. Someone I’m not. I really thought this part of my life was over.”

Safe House: Living Room

Sonny had thought he might have more time before Jason discovered the truth. A few more days—there were hints that a hit was being planned, some rumors that someone was shopping out for a hired gun. Nothing tangible, nothing Sonny could use to find out who was involved—

But he thought he might be close.

And then Jason’s phone call had come that morning.

He’d always known Jason would never have agreed to this plan if he’d known—if Sonny had given him the choice. He’d known that Jason would be angry. That it would strain the bonds of friendship—

But Jason didn’t want to hear Sonny’s reasons, didn’t care that Sonny had seen it as a choice between hurting Elizabeth and his family for a little while to protect them from something worse happening. Something more permanent.

“They all think I’m dead, Sonny.” Jason threw the newspaper at him, his face set in that empty expression Sonny knew so well. Jason only retreated like this when he was too angry or too hurt to deal with the emotions.

“I know.” Sonny picked the paper up from the floor and smoothed his hand over the photo of Elizabeth and Bobbie at the funeral. “I told you. They were going to try something to drag you out of hiding—we were lucky to intercept those guys before they grabbed Elizabeth at her studio. She was almost kidnapped—”

“Then you tell me. And we deal with it. You don’t fake my death, Sonny!” Jason shot back. “And you let Elizabeth think I was dead—and then you convinced her to lie about it. What the hell did you think you were going to prove?”

“I—” Sonny hesitated. Sat down. “I knew that the second they confirmed the identity, Taggert would go straight for her. To tell her. To test her reaction. If the cops didn’t believe it, if Elizabeth didn’t believe it—”

“Bullshit,” Jason said quietly. “You deliberately lied to Elizabeth. You know she could have done this. She’s lied before. She lied to me, and I almost bought it. She could have done this. But you cut her out.” He looked away. “Everyone who matters the most to me in the world, Sonny—they think I’m dead. My grandmother. My sister.” He swallowed. “Michael. My parents. Bobbie.”

“I—” Sonny exhaled slowly. “I keep underestimating the people doing this. I keep thinking that if we do this one thing, then we’ll find them. If you go to the warehouse, we’ll get answers. If I keep you out of sight, if I fake your death—I can’t get ahead of them, Jason. Maybe I lied to Elizabeth for other reasons, but I’m not lying about the danger she was in—”

“How long do you expect me to wait?” Jason demanded roughly. “To put my family through this?”

At his side, Benny cleared his throat. “We’ve had some rumors about some men moving around. We know Roscoe’s behind Carly’s disappearance. Nico’s involved—he’s been seen meeting with Roscoe, but we got some evidence that Zander Smith might still be a factor.”

Zander—”

“Which means Hector Ruiz might be the mastermind,” Sonny cut off Jason’s surprised reply. “We confirmed Zander’s running a crew down there. But he was in Port Charles a few days ago—and he made it a point to seek out Elizabeth. He was testing her reaction. She got angry at him, went after him—and he got on a plane shortly afterwards. He never tried to see Emily or anyone else.”

Jason waited a moment. “Hector Ruiz. Those men moving around—”

“Are his men. And wherever Hector goes—”

“Javier and Manny do, too.” Jason looked away. Swallowed hard. And Sonny knew he had him.  “Okay. What’s the plan?”

“They wanted you out of the way, Jason, to get at Sonny,” Benny said. “That’s another reason we think Zander is involved. There aren’t many people who would know that taking out Sonny can’t be the endgame if you’re still in play. He came to see Elizabeth—because Zander probably knows you wouldn’t lie to her. And nothing would draw you out of hiding like going after Elizabeth. He’s the inside track.”

Jason scrubbed his hands over his face. “I’m not hearing a goddamn plan, Benny.”

“We’re still working that out,” Sonny admitted. “A week, Jase. No longer. I promise.”

Jason looked at him with that same empty expression. “That’s all you get. But the lying to Elizabeth stops now. Do you get that? I trusted—” He stopped. Shook his head. “It just stops now.”

“Yeah.” Sonny stepped back, set the newspaper he still held on the back of the sofa. “Yeah, okay. A week, and this will all be over.”

But the words felt empty even as he said them. He’d made his choices. He would defend them to his last breath.

And ultimately, Sonny would have to live with them.