Bittersweet Rewritten: Before Jason Returns

This next section represents the period where Liz finds out the truth and has to lie. Roughly Chapter Twenty-Four through Twenty-Seven. Some of this stuff, particularly this first scene where Liz finds out the truth, was sooo hard to cut. Because I really did kind of want this confrontational moment with Jason and Liz. But I just kind of accepted that I didn’t think Jason would plan to fake his own death the way Sonny did. Still, I’m glad people will be able to read it now 😛


Stone Cottage: Living Room

A part of Jason had already accepted that Sonny had been lying to him in some sort of way. He must have known it.

Because when Sonny pushed open the door, and Elizabeth walked inside—

It was written on her face.

And he wasn’t surprised.

“What—” Her lips formed the word, but the sound was so faint. Her face, already so fair, paled. She stepped forward, just a moment. Swayed.

“J-Jason?”

“Elizabeth.” He stepped around an arm chair, started across the room towards her—and then she was in his arms, sobbing, clinging to him.

“Oh, my God. You’re alive—” Her fingers, cold and trembling, framed his cheeks, her fingernails scraping against his skin as she touched him. “Are you real? Is this happening? What’s going on? I—I don’t understand—”

Jason took her hands in his, bringing them to his lips, kissing them. Fighting the anger that boiled within. Behind Elizabeth, Sonny stood as if made from stone in the open doorway.

“I’m real,” he murmured. He kissed her mouth, her lips trembling as she pressed herself against him, returning his caresses greedily.

For a moment, he forgot the man behind them and just—lost himself in this woman he loved, this woman who had believed him to be dead.

Because in a few minutes—Elizabeth would start to think.

And this might be the last time he would be able to touch her.

“I don’t understand. Why didn’t you tell anyone? Where have you been? What happened—” Her words tumbled over one another as if her brain couldn’t keep up and then cut off as if someone had switched off a radio.

Elizabeth stepped back—and then she looked back at Sonny. Then to Jason, who just stood there. What could he say? How could he make this better?

There was no going back. No way to make this not happen.

“It’s my fault,” Sonny said quietly. “I’m sorry.”

“S-sorry—” Elizabeth pressed her hands to her mouth as the truth begin to sink in. She stepped back. Stepped away from them both. “Oh, God.” Her voice was harsh now, almost a whisper torn from her soul. “Oh, God. It was a lie.”

“Elizabeth—” Jason began, but stopped. What the hell could he possibly say? He cast a hot glare at his supposed best friend. “You son of a bitch.”

“I did it,” Sonny said, looking at her. Not making eye contact with him. “I lied to you, Elizabeth. Not Jason.”

“I-I d-don’t understand—” She shook her head. Then took a deep breath. She held her hand up, her palm slowly closing in a tight fist. “You told me he was dead. A week ago. You came to Kelly’s. You—You told me—”

“You were supposed to tell her the truth,” Jason said, his hands in fists at his side. “What the hell—”

“I got to Kelly’s,” Sonny said slowly. “And Roscoe’s men were in there. They were in there all day, weren’t they, Elizabeth?”

With angry eyes, she nodded firmly. “If you mean the rush of dock workers we had from about 4 until-until—yes. They were—is that why you did it?”

“They were there to watch you,” Sonny continued. “If I pulled you aside, it wouldn’t—they wouldn’t believe it. I thought they’d act—I didn’t think we’d go this far, Elizabeth.” He looked to Jason, anguished. “I thought they’d make a move within days. But they didn’t believe it at first—”

“I don’t give a damn about them!” Jason cut in. “You told me you would tell her—”

“Why didn’t you?” Elizabeth said quietly. “Sonny doesn’t owe me anything.” She looked at him as Sonny flinched.  “Not friendship. Not loyalty. Those are just words. He never promised me anything—”

“Elizabeth—”

“But you—” Those gorgeous eyes he loved so much turned to him, and he could see in her eyes that he’d been right.

She would never forgive this lie.

“You did. So why didn’t you tell me?”

“He couldn’t. Everything happened—”

“Get out, Sonny,” Jason said in a low voice. “Get out. You’ve said your piece.”

“But—”

“Get out,” he repeated for the third time, and this time, Sonny did with a slow exhale. When the door closed behind him, Jason looked back at Elizabeth. “Please. Please sit down. Let me try—You have a right to be angry, but please, before you walk out—before you—”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “An hour ago, I was at your funeral,” she said softly. “And all I could think was…you didn’t belong in the ground.”

His chest ached as pressure built in his head. She’d thought he was dead. If he’d been a man who could dream, this would have been the stuff of nightmares. “Elizabeth—”

“I—I told Sonny we had done it wrong. That you needed to be free, and he brought me here. Because I wanted to talk about cremating you so we could let you be free. I was so scared you wouldn’t be able to rest in peace, stuck in the goddamn ground, and I guess that was too far for him—”

“I’ve been asking to talk to you since the minute it happened,” Jason cut in. “I told him if he didn’t bring you today, I would contact you myself. Elizabeth—”

“In the middle of Kelly’s, where I work, in front of my best friends and strangers, Sonny told me you had been shot.” Elizabeth’s eyes burned into his. “And that I couldn’t see you because you’d been shot in the head.”

God damn it. Jason closed his eyes, bowed his head. “Let me—”

“And whatever crime scene you faked, whoever you paid to doctor the photos,” Elizabeth said with a snarl, “must be worth every penny because Taggert of all people told me the same. He hates you, Jason, and he was almost in tears when he was telling me not to insist on seeing the body. That you wouldn’t want that to be my last memory—” She turned away, pressing her fist against her mouth.

“I’ve sat with your grandmother, with Emily. With AJ. With Michael. God, Bobbie. All these people who love you. Who are grieving tonight as I stand here, racked with guilt. Michael—Michael—” She laughed harshly as he began to understand that there was no form of this lie Elizabeth would have been able to look past.

“Michael is the only one of us who knows how screwed up everyone in this world is because he says you’ll come back just like—” Elizabeth closed her mouth. “Carly. Just like Carly.”

“Elizabeth, I can—”

“There’s no explanation you can give me that will change the last week.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I haven’t been able to focus. Haven’t been able to think, but now—she came to see me last week and I told her to go to you. She did, didn’t she?”

“Yeah.” There was no point in trying to avoid it. Jason could see now that it was always going to come back to this. To Carly.

“And because of what she said, you faked your death—what, was she supposed to set you up? Was that the deal?” Elizabeth demanded. “And you went along with it?”

“It all happened fast. Please just give me a second—”

“Carly came to you because she was supposed to set you up in an ambush. And you went.” Elizabeth stared at him for a long time.

There was maybe a handful of feet between them, but it might as well have been thousands for as far away as she felt right now.

“Someone kidnapped her,” Jason began, even as he told himself not to. That trying to explain Carly’s actions would not help. But he had to be honest. Had to hope he could change her mind. Keep her from leaving. “If I hadn’t gone to the meeting—”

“Then they would know she had told you the truth.” Elizabeth snorted. “Of course. So you leapt at the first dumb ass plan you and Sonny could concoct to keep Carly safe.” She shook her head. “So what’s the plan, Jason?”

“What?” Jarred by the abrupt change in topic.

“Sonny said this was supposed to be over by now,” she said, her tone so scathing he almost didn’t recognize her voice. “What’s the endgame? How long am I going to have to pretend to be the grieving girlfriend?”

“I—” He faltered. “I don’t know. I wanted to tell you the truth—”

“So I could lie to everyone and grieve for you while you destroyed your life to save Carly.” Elizabeth nodded. “Great. You get a gold star—” She stopped. “That’s not fair. I’m—I get it, Jason. It happened fast. You did the best you could under the circumstances.”

The words should have been reassuring.

They weren’t.

“Elizabeth—”

“So we’re just…waiting for something to happen that will tell you who kidnapped Carly or who’s the big bad or something?” Elizabeth asked with an arch of her brow. “That sounds like a great plan.”

“It’s—” An idiotic plan, Jason could see that now. And he couldn’t quite understand how it happened. How they had managed to talk themselves into it.

“I’ll do what I’m supposed to do.” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “This last week has been—I’ve been drowning. Reminding myself to take my next breath. Berating myself for missing time with you. For not having a future with you. And now it’s a lie. So I need to go, Jason. Because I am so angry—so destroyed by all of it that—” Her voice trembled.

Jason stepped forward. “Elizabeth—”

“I need time. I need to space. Because I—” She took a deep breath. “Because it does matter you didn’t intend to put me through that. And I can’t seem to—I can’t seem to separate my anger from knowing that. And I stay here, I’m going to keep talking. And I’m going to say things I can’t ever take back, and they might not even be true.”

She came to him then, placing a cold hand on his cheek and kissing him again.  He clung to her, because now he really thought this was the last time. That she was, in her own way, saying good bye.

And he didn’t have the words to make it stop.

“I love you,” she told him, but the words weren’t in her eyes. Not like they had been before. Those beautiful eyes were closed to him in a way he didn’t understand. Had never seen. “And thank God you’re still alive. Because I need you here to be angry with. I love you, Jason. But I have to go.”

“I love you, too.”

She stepped back. “I’ll send Sonny back in so you can yell at him.” Elizabeth paused with a bitter sigh. “I think he genuinely thought if you didn’t lie, it wouldn’t be so bad. God, he really doesn’t get it.”

She opened the door and beckoned for Sonny to come back in. “Here’s how this is going to go. I’m going to go wait in the car for you,” she told Sonny in a clipped tone that suggested very strong that she wasn’t going to take any arguments.

“You’ll talk about whatever the hell you have to talk about. And then we’ll drive back together. You’ll take me to the Brownstone,” Elizabeth continued. “Don’t say a word, Sonny. Because for now, I’m cooperating. But I’ve decided I do blame you for Jason’s death which is why I’m going to be angry as hell when I see you in public. I think people will understand that.”

“I didn’t—”

“And when this is over…we’ll…” Elizabeth faltered as if she didn’t quite have all the energy she needed to push her bravado to the finish. “We’ll see what’s left.”

And then she was gone.

Sonny turned to Jason. “I never—I never wanted that. I wanted it to be my fault—”

“I told you,” Jason said, his voice raw. “If Elizabeth thought I was dead, she’d never forgive me. You heard what you wanted to hear, Sonny. And if she doesn’t—” He shook his head. He couldn’t think about it. Couldn’t even say it out loud. “Let’s talk about what the hell we need to do to end this.”

Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room

She made it as far as her apartment before she couldn’t stand it anymore. She had made some small talk with Lucas downstairs—mercifully, Bobbie was still at the Quartermaine mansion, but there was no way Elizabeth would make an appearance there now.

Jason was alive.

He was alive.

It had all been a lie.

And she would have to keep lying to the people she loved. To the people to whom she had promised better. She’d told Jason she would cooperate, and she meant it. She would never be vindictive and petty enough to blow up their plan, as idiotic as it sounded.

She made her way into the living room and blinked at her roommate at the dining table, cursing at some books. “G-Gia—you were supposed to be—”

“I have a quiz tomorrow.” Gia rose to her feet. “I didn’t expect you back so soon. Did dinner go okay? You look like hell—”

“He’s alive.”

The words rushed out of her mouth almost before Elizabeth knew she was going to say them, but once they were in the air—

She didn’t want to take them back.

She just wanted this one person she could be honest with. This one person she knew she could trust.

Gia just stared at her for a long moment before sitting back down. “Jason. Jason is alive.”

Elizabeth nodded. And she swayed, falling to her knees. Sucking in deep breaths. Struggling too keep herself from blacking out.

Had it just been hitting her? Had it just been sinking in? Jason was alive.

It was a lie.

Gia came to her side, helped her to sit on the sofa. “Hey, hey—”

“I didn’t know. I didn’t know, I swear to God, I didn’t know—”

“Of course you didn’t.” Gia took her coat and tossed it over the side of the armchair before rising and stalking into the kitchen. “We’re opening the good wine.”

“I can’t—I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t even—I don’t understand how they could do this—” Elizabeth closed her eyes, but accepted the wine glass Gia handed her.

“Okay. Deep breath. Let’s take this step by step. What happened after you left the church?”

“I—I was just struck by how wrong it was,” Elizabeth murmured. “I thought—Jason shouldn’t be buried, right? You know, so I wanted Sonny to help me fix it. I didn’t even know who would be responsible for any of that—”

“You are, sort of.” Gia sipped her wine. “You know I’m working with Alexis part-time for my internship program. We were preparing the will reading for next week, and Alexis mentioned some things. Jason changed his will like…three months ago, right after I guess you guys got serious. You and Sonny are co-executors. He left Emily some money, something for Michael. Sonny gets the business. You get everything else.”

Elizabeth just stared at her. “What? Are you even allowed to—”

“Fuck them. I could care less about that, but just in case it comes up again—you’re co-executor. And fuck Jason for not telling you any of this. Anyway.” Gia coughed. “Carry on.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth sipped her wine, trying to gather herself. She took Gia through the strange car ride with Sonny, the shock and joy at seeing again, the horror as the lie set in. And…the despair of learning that he’d done it to save Carly.

“You know, I wondered if she was involved in some way,” Gia said after a long moment. “Bobbie said Jason had sent Carly to talk to her that night—that’s why they were at Kelly’s together. But I figured…what good would it do you to think that way? But Jesus…he faked his death and you’re telling me they don’t have an endgame? Some goddamn mobsters they’re turning out to be.”

“Sonny seemed to think—” Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know. That it was supposed to be fast. That it…would be just days. But apparently, they’re not taking it for  granted that Jason is dead. I mean, faked crime scene photos—anyone can do that. But following a grieving girlfriend around? Sure.”

And then she thought about the night before, when Zander had showed up out of nowhere. God. Had that been—

She sighed. She should probably tell Sonny, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with him right now. Maybe she could get a message to him or something.

Gia hesitated. “You said that Jason was pissed that Sonny lied. Doesn’t that—doesn’t that mean he was going to tell you? He didn’t want you to go through this—”

“He just wanted me to pretend he was dead and lie to my friends and family. Put them through hell worrying about me.” Elizabeth took a long swallow of the wine, trying to burn the look in Jason’s eyes out of her brain.

He’d looked so…devastated that she’d believed the lie, so honestly upset with Sonny, that she had nearly set aside her own anger.

But she couldn’t. She couldn’t ignore it.

“He blew up his life to save Carly from herself,” Elizabeth said slowly. “How do I ignore that?”

“I—” Gia closed her mouth. “I don’t know.”

“His first instinct when Carly came to him with whatever insane story she cooked up was to create a plan that kept her safe. That was his first concern. Not that she’d set him up, but how to make sure she stayed out of trouble.”

“Elizabeth—”

“And Sonny agreed with him.”

“I know, but—”

“How do I know this is the last time?” she demanded. “A year from now, is Jason gonna go to her rescue? Is he gonna leave me to take care of her? What about two years? What if we had—” She closed her eyes. “The first time I fell asleep after Sonny told me, I had this really vivid dream, you know? It…was later. I don’t know when. But Jason was alive. And we were together. And there was this little boy. With his hair, his eyes, his smile. Our son.” Elizabeth closed her eyes again. She felt so weary, so exhausted by the world.

“And in my dream, his name was Jake. Because that’s where we fell in love, and I could remember in the dream thinking he’d like that when he grew up and we told him that story. That maybe his parents had been cool enough once to live over a bar. To get into bar fights and kick—” She set the glass on the coffee table and dragged her hands through her hair.

“There’s nothing stopping you guys from having that dream, Liz,” Gia murmured. “But I guess you’re wondering—”

“If he’ll ever be able to put me first.” Elizabeth’s lip trembled. “I know he loves me, Gia. And I know he wanted me to know the truth. But I’m not his first instinct. I’m not his priority—”

“That’s not fair…” Gia shook her head. “Look, I’m no fan of any of this, but—”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t make myself think about any of this without just…” She sighed. “I’ve got time to sort this out. I don’t know,” she repeated. “How much of what I’m dealing with is just…shock and…anger. I had to leave because I think I came close to saying that  to him. To accusing him not giving a damn about me—because I know that’s not true. I just…I don’t know if he even understood that what he’s doing to me—what he wants me to do—is exactly what I promised myself I would stop doing.”

“Lying?” Gia asked. After a moment, she sighed. “We can’t tell Courtney.”

“God, no.” Elizabeth shook her head. “She would keep the secret, but I don’t want to put her in that position. Not with AJ involved. I wouldn’t do that to her. She matters too much. And of course, I need you to lie to Taggert—”

Gia waved that away. “Not a problem. I do that anyway.”

“I just—I think I need to take this all in. I can’t make any decisions, because I’m not even sure it’s hit me yet—” Elizabeth finished her wine. “It hit me today at the funeral that he was dead. And I was…destroyed by the idea of him being closed up in that coffin, buried in the ground when he was supposed to be free—I had just come to this conclusion, just kind of finally let it sink in.

“Except it was a lie,” she continued. “And they both did this to me. They made me a liar again.” Her voice broke. “I don’t want to be a liar anymore.”

Friday, September 13, 2002

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

It should have been good news.

When Benny had arrived with the news that the Paradise strip club—the first club Sonny had ever owned—had burnt to the ground the night before, Sonny should have been relieved. No one had been hurt—but finally, someone was striking at them.

But all Sonny could think about was Elizabeth’s anguished face.

He made me Robin. Even if I had been told the truth, he did the one thing I begged him not to do…you shattered me, Sonny.

 

Even though Sonny had been the one to lie, even though he’d been careful about—he knew that neither he nor Jason had seen that coming—that Elizabeth would take her part in this plan as evidence that Carly came first.

That she would always come first.

And now he couldn’t get that accusation out of his head. Was it true? Had they defaulted to protecting her? He couldn’t quite remember if that had been the reason—only that it seemed to be without question that somehow Jason had to go to the meeting.

They had never entertained the proposition he would sit it out. They hadn’t talked about Carly. But maybe it had just been understood. Carly had to be protected.

“Sonny?” Benny asked, placing the phone back on the receiver. “Taggert is one his way up. I already called Alexis from across the hall.”

“What does Nico say about this?” Sonny asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Have we talked to him yet?”

“Can’t get him on the phone.” Benny rubbed his forehead. “We got eyes on him and his crew, especially Lenny. Lenny’s boys torched the place.”

“Yeah?” Sonny pursed his lips “Interesting. You’d think Nico would protect the income. He can’t funnel the drug traffic through the clubs a well if he torches one of them. How does this play into it? And do we—”

“And one of Francis’s boys finally checked in overnight—the one we put on Roscoe. He met with Nico at the Oasis yesterday during the funeral.”

“At the Oasis?” Sonny snorted. “Fucker is getting cocky. Thought we wouldn’t notice—”

“This is what we wanted, isn’t it?” Benny asked. “The proof that they’re working together—”

They didn’t fake Carly’s death—”

“But we know Roscoe is working with whoever did. We grab him now—”

“Not yet.” Sonny looked away. “We—we need more. Anything less than the guy behind it all and it’ll be for nothing.” And if they walked away without new information they hadn’t had before the set-up at the pier—he would have destroyed Elizabeth for nothing.

He couldn’t live with that on his conscious.

Max knocked briefly, then opened the door. Taggert charged in just ahead of his lawyer. Alexis carefully avoided Sonny’s eyes as she whirled around to plant herself between the cop and Sonny.

Nothing new there. She hadn’t allowed a moment alone between them since the night they’d slept together.

“We’ve been informed that my client’s property burned down,” Alexis said, her tone clipped. “I suggest you make this quick and go find out—”

“A lot of loss lately, Corinthos,” Taggert interrupted with a scathing tone. “The warehouse and all those men. Your partner. What’s one more strip club after all that? Those girls not turning a profit?”

Sonny just blinked at him. Silence drove the asshole crazy.

“Are you here to report something to my client or do you intend to harass him—”

“You know what? I’m sick of you mouth pieces,” Taggert hissed. “Your partner’s girlfriend barely leaves her apartment. She’s sick over him, and you did that to her. You and Anger Boy. You brought her into your world and let her think you were good men. You’re nothing. And one day, Corinthos, I’m going to prove it to the world.”

He stalked out, slamming the door behind him.

Benny cleared his throat. “I should—”

“I’m leaving.” Alexis looked at Sonny. “I’ve represented you since Jason left town, but I need a break. I can’t—” She swallowed. “I can’t do it anymore. I have other things to worry about. Other priorities. And I just—I can’t do it.”

“Alexis—” Sonny took a step towards her but she shook her head.

“I’ve taken on a partner at the practice, and he’s been vetted. He’ll be taking over—you’re welcome to use him or not. I really don’t care.”

And then she was gone.

Benny sighed. “I have to go deal with the insurance company on the club. Sonny—” He looked at his boss. “Don’t let this plan go on too long. Last night, we only lost some property. The next time we might not be so lucky.”

Quartermaine Mansion: Terrace

Elizabeth embraced Emily lightly once more before stepping back with a tight smile. “I wish…God I wish you were home under better circumstances.”

She looked down at her feet—felt like the lie was written all over her face. How could anyone not see it?

Or had she just slipped back into her old habits? Like a second skin, apparently, lying—even lying by omission—was part of her DNA.

“I’ll be home at Christmas,” Emily said, with a tearful smile. “And then I’ll be here for medical school. I just— She looked at her sister-in-law. “I hate this is how we had to meet, because I’ve heard such good things, and AJ—he looks so good, except when he doesn’t.”

She sat down with a huff on the bench. “I just can’t bring myself to believe it. I keep thinking I’ll wake up and it’ll be a nightmare. Except I look at you, Elizabeth, and I don’t know how you’re breathing.”

Courtney frowned at Elizabeth slightly. “Were you able to sleep last night? I was worried about you after the viewing—and then you were so quiet at the cemetery.”

“I just hate the thought of him in the ground,” Elizabeth murmured. It wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t a lie.

It hadn’t been a lie.

“God, I know.” Emily shuddered. “I’m just going to have to…I’m going to remember him the way he was, you know? When he drove into the house on that bike. God, he drove everyone nuts, and I just—I have to think about him that way.”

Courtney sighed, touched Emily’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Emily. That sounds useless, but I am sorry. I wish I had known him better. He…seemed like a really great guy.”

“He was the best.”

Monica stepped out onto the terrace, having changed from the dark suit she’d worn to the cemetery. “Hey, girls.” She touched Elizabeth’s shoulder. “How are you doing, Liz?”

“Managing,” Elizabeth murmured. “You?”

“The same,” Jason’s mother said with a sad sigh. “Wishing that things…had been different. That I had been able to accept him sooner.”

“Oh, Mom,” Emily said with a shuddering sigh. “He loved you. He even loved Grandfather, though he wanted to kill him most of the time. He was—” She closed her eyes. “God. I can’t think.”

“We have to leave for the airport,” Monica said, her voice trembling for a moment. “I’m sorry—”

“No, no,” Emily shook her head. “It’s okay. I have to—Jason wouldn’t want me to put my life on hold for him. You, either, Liz. Promise me you’re going to finish like you wanted to.” She embraced Elizabeth again. “If you still want to—”

“No, you’re right. Jason wouldn’t want us—us to stop being us.” Elizabeth hugged her back fiercely. “We just have to figure out how to do it.” She pulled back. “Now go finish UCLA so you can come home and we can all have wine night together.”

“I will.” Emily kissed her cheek and then followed her mother inside the terrace after hugging Courtney.

Elizabeth took her seat again and picked up the cup of tea, and then stopped as she realized Courtney was looking at her oddly. “What?”

“Nothing. You just…” Courtney shrugged. “Nothing. You just seem a bit better today.” She bit her lip. “I know you might want to pretend for Emily because of how close you are to her and how close she was to Jason, but—”

“I’m not…pretending.” Elizabeth hesitated, trying to pick her words carefully. “I’m just…trying to deal. Today…I’m okay. Tomorrow, I probably won’t be.” She bit her lip. “I promise, Courtney, I’m trying not to lie to myself.”

“Okay, I’m just…I’m worried for you. And for AJ. We’ve been staying here with Michael because it’s good for him to be around his family, but…we can’t stay forever. And eventually Michael is going to realize Jason’s really gone…” Courtney shook her head. “This all just sucks, Elizabeth. And I hate it.”

“Yeah…” Elizabeth’s eyes burned as she sipped her tea. “Yeah, it really sucks.”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Johnny had managed the warehouse and shipments, and he had worked for them almost as long as Sonny could remember, but he had not been privileged to know the truth about Jason’s shooting.

That information had been kept to himself and Benny at first — as well as the paramedics and the pathologist Sonny had bribed to fill out certain forms and then quietly relocate after some time. The pathologist had left on vacation a week ago. Yesterday, Benny told him, the first of the paramedics had submitted the resignation. And a week from now, the third would leave Port Charles well.

Elizabeth, of course knew now, and Sonny suspected her roommate knew as well judging by the scathing looks Gia Campbell had aimed at him when he’d attempted to check on Elizabeth.

But Johnny did not know, and the grief was in his dark eyes as he told Sonny about some phone calls that had been sent his way.

“Tagliatti and Vega are not happy,” Johnny told him. “And they’ve been talking to Zacchara and Ruiz.”

“This, I did not need,” Sonny muttered. He looked at Benny. “What do we know about this crap? What’s their issue?”

“The warehouse explosion. Jason being ambushed and—” Johnny shook his head. “The drug trafficking—they don’t care that more drugs on the streets—”

“They care because it looks like I’m weak,” Sonny muttered.

“Nico and Lenny aren’t even trying to hide their profits anymore. They’re still cataloging it as alcohol sales for the IRS, but they’ve doubled their July take—and that was already quadrupling what they had been taking in before we started looking.” Benny rubbed the back of his neck. “But no one has made a move—”

“Well, it’s only been two weeks,” Sonny murmured. “Maybe whatever they’re trying to do takes time to set up. Taking out Jason—” And at this, he forced himself to pause, to let his voice break just a bit for Johnny’s benefit.

And if there was a tickle in the back of his throat that suggested that just maybe Sonny’s lies had taken out Jason anyway, he ignored it.

He was getting good at that.

Johnny scowled. “Why don’t we have any damn leads on what happened to him, Sonny? Why did he go to the warehouse? What the hell is going on—”

Sonny exchanged looks with Benny and reluctantly decided to bring Johnny into the circle. If the news got out at this point, he’d know where to look.

“The day of the meeting—” Sonny hesitated. “We learned that Roscoe was partially behind Carly’s disappearance. He took her, kept her drugged until mid-August, and then sent her home, her head filled with lies about how we were all happier without her—whatever. She could come home, but she couldn’t tell Jason what happened. He had to give her custody back.”

Johnny exhaled slowly. “I had a feeling she was involved,” he muttered. “She was at the warehouse that day—what, was she setting him up revenge?”

“It was supposed to be, but I guess Carly got cold feet when she realized that revenge wasn’t gonna be simple like turning on him.” Like she had for Sonny. Turning him in the federal government—that had stung more than the wire. It had taken months for Sonny to dig out from under the pile of shit Carly had handed him. “She told him everything. We knew it was an ambush—”

“And he still went? With no goddamn backup?”

“We decided,” Sonny said slowly, “that it would be a good idea if Roscoe and whoever is bankrolling him thought it had worked. I wanted to know what they would do if Jason were gone.”

Realization slowly filtered into Johnny’s expression as his scowl only deepened. “And you didn’t tell me? Damn it, Sonny. Jason and I have been working together since the beginning—if anyone should have been brought into this—”

“It was only me and Benny. And the necessary people to bribe,” Sonny said. “I didn’t even tell Jason’s girlfriend.”

Johnny’s head snapped back. “You didn’t tell Elizabeth? Holy shit, Sonny.”

“That’s not important right now,” Sonny said with a wave of his hand, irritated that even the men in his organization had expected him to bring in Elizabeth. What happened to the code? Tell no one anything ever.

Especially women.

“It wasn’t the best plan,” Benny said, with an irritated sigh. “But it was already too late to change it by the time I got involved. We thought they’d make a move within forty-eight hours. They didn’t.”

“Huh.” Johnny narrowed his eyes. “You know, I saw Elizabeth at Kelly’s yesterday—”

“Christ, can we get away from that—”

“She told me that Zander Smith had come up to her on the docks before the memorial service. She was upset when she saw him. And that it…just didn’t occur to her it might be related, but you know, it’s been a few weeks. She said her mind was starting to focus.”

More likely, Elizabeth had realized the possible connection and had waited for an opportunity to tell Sonny through an indirect source.

With sorrow for the friendship he had willingly sacrificed, Sonny nodded. “Did you check it out?”

“Yeah. Smith was in town, staying at some motel. He came in the day Elizabeth saw him. He told her some story about maybe wanting to see Emily, but she didn’t buy it. I don’t either. Because he checked out two days later. And I don’t think he talked to Emily at all. Stan found him on a flight back to Miami that day. I called a guy down there—and he said Zander was back at the dock, running his crew after a few days away.”

Benny tipped his head. “He was testing her.”

Sonny looked at his business manager. “How do you figure?”

“When we fired Smith, it was before the warehouse explosion. Nico said he’d relocated him, and it checked out with Ruiz. I didn’t think there was a reason Ruiz would cover for Nico, but maybe he wasn’t.”

Sonny sat down on the sofa, scrubbed his hands over his face. “Are we really worried about Zander Smith being involved? He’s a punk—”

“Who dated Jason’s sister and certainly spent enough time in the organization and around Emily’s circle to know the players.” Johnny pressed his lips together. “There was some doubt initially on the streets, but the media coverage of Elizabeth mostly solved that. He’d figure that Jason wouldn’t lie to Elizabeth about his own death.”

“But that was still weeks ago—”

“The Paradise burned that very night,” Benny reminded Sonny. “The time line fits. Arranging for Carly as an ambush, Sonny? That took someone who knows that Carly was capable of being turned. Even if was briefly. They went after Jason, not you.”

“And not Elizabeth,” Johnny pointed out. “Anyone else who wanted to get at Jason would go for the girlfriend. For his family. But someone who knows better—someone who kidnapped Jason’s sister and then was ruthlessly tracked down—Zander Smith knows that would get him nowhere. Go after someone Jason loves, he’ll take you apart. That’s his grieving process. He doesn’t fall apart as long as the threat is out there.”

“Take out Jason…” Sonny nodded. “You cripple the organization—”

“No,” Benny said with a shake of his head. “No, Jason’s not essential to the organization. He’s essential to you. If you take out Jason, and then go after you, Sonny—that cripples the organization. That’s a power play. The whole territory is up for grabs, with men like Nico and Roscoe ready to scoop it up.”

“They’re putting together a hit on me,” Sonny said after a moment. He exhaled slowly. “Well, fuck me. It’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“And if Jason were actually gone?” Johnny shrugged. “They had a chance of it working. So we need to wait until an opportunity presents itself.” He hesitated. “Do we know who is bankrolling Roscoe? Because it’s not Zander or Nico.”

“Ruiz has to be involved,” Benny reminded Sonny. “So either it’s him or someone in his network. I’ll get in contact with some sources. See what they think.”

“I want to end this soon,” Sonny murmured. “The longer Jason is dead, the harder it will be for him to come back to his life.” He looked at Johnny. “For what it’s worth, I told Elizabeth after the memorial. So she knows.”

“Hey, not my monkeys, not my circus,” Johnny said, holding up his hands. “That’s Jason’s problem, not mine. She’s not the love of my life.”

“Johnny, you’re not helping,” Benny muttered.

Stone Cottage: Living Room

 

“The Families have asked for a meeting next week at the No Name?” Jason asked with some skepticism as Benny hung his coat on the hook by the door.

“Sonny isn’t convinced they’ll use the meeting,” Benny told him with a sigh. “It would be a massive sign of disrespect to the other families to use it as assassination—”

“Nico and Roscoe don’t care about disrespect. About codes.” Jason shook his his head. “If they want to take Sonny out, and I agree that’s probably the plan, then they know how Sonny and the others feel about tradition. About these meetings be off limits for violence. They’ll use that.”

“I agree.” Benny hesitated. “And I think it’s time we bring this farce to a close.”

Jason agreed, but their business manager didn’t usually voice his opinions so freely and forcefully. He squinted at Benny.  “I know you weren’t happy with the plan—”.”

“From the moment you told me about it, I knew it was a mistake, but by the time you called me, I didn’t have time for an alternative.” Benny hesitated. “I was there the night Sonny told Elizabeth. I didn’t know he was going to lie—I never would have participated or stood there if I’d known, but once it was done—”

“Benny, you don’t have to explain—”

“It isn’t just that he hurt that girl. I don’t know her very well, but I know you. And Sonny unnecessarily created problems with you.”

“Benny—” Jason hesitated. How could he confide in Benny that he was right? That Jason wasn’t sure if he could ever trust Sonny again? Sleeping with Carly—that had been devastating, but Jason had understood it. Eventually accepted it, and now thought he was almost relieved. How much more time would he have spent letting Carly manipulate him?

He was still letting her do it. She was still costing him the things that mattered to him.

If Sonny’s lie had cost him Elizabeth—but it wasn’t just that lie, Jason remembered. Because Elizabeth hadn’t shut down until she’d talked about Carly.

“We’re setting up surveilance, and a team across the street. If Sonny doesn’t like it, well—” Jason just shrugged. “I don’t really care. He’s assuming that Nico and Roscoe probably aren’t going to want to piss of Zacchara and Ruiz, but—” He shook his head. “We’ll set up guys in cars around the neighborhood. Cut off any cars that try a drive by. We’ll do our usual sweeps. They’re going to use this meeting, Benny. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Sonny would wear a vest as he always did to these meetings, and they would have the area cleared—no snipers would get through that Jason didn’t know about. This was their best chance to end this.

There were a thousand ways this could go wrong, but Jason wanted to take his life back, and he wasn’t going to sit around until Sonny said it was okay.

The longer that Elizabeth was put in the position of having to lie to everyone, the worse it was going to be when he went home.

And he was done hurting her.

“We’re ending this next week, or I’m coming home regardless. We’re not getting anywhere like this. They’ll either use this opportunity or taking out Sonny isn’t the plan.” Jason nodded to the phone. “Let’s set it up.”

“You got it.” Benny hesitated as he reached for the receiver. “Listen, I wanted you to know that I had Francis put one of his guys on Elizabeth. She doesn’t know, but I just thought—she’s doing all right. As best as she can, anyway.”

“Thanks,” Jason said, swallowing hard. “I appreciate that, Benny.”

He knew Elizabeth could take care of herself—that she would be able to send the right image out the world. He’d known that it would a problem for them—that asking her to lie was a lot.

But to ask her to lie after she thought he was dead?

He’d told Sonny if she was lied to about his death, Elizabeth wouldn’t be able to look past that. It didn’t matter who told the lie.

She hadn’t wanted to be broken, and that’s exactly what he’d done. He had no defense for it, no way to explain it. He should have found a way to tell her himself. Should have fought Sonny harder.

Whatever happened next was entirely on him.

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