February 27, 2015

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

Part Three: Mercy

“If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living?”
― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness


 

Chapter Twenty

There’s a darkness living deep in my soul
I still got a purpose to serve
So let your light shine, deep into my home
God, don’t let me lose my nerve
Don’t let me lose my nerve

Put Your Lights On, Santana featuring Everlast


Thursday, August 4, 2005

Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

Everything was going to pieces around him. Two bookies had been arrested, a third had disappeared outright, their warehouse had been raided by the PCPD, and there was a labor strike among the waterfront workers.

It should have been a disaster—he should be ready to burn the place down.

Sonny had complete control over it all.

He looked to Francis Corelli. “You look like shit, man. You slept?”

Francis scrubbed a hand over his face, his skin shadowed with stubble, his eyes rimmed with red. “No. I came here straight from the airport. Alcazar is still in Venezuela. I talked to Ramon down there, he said there’s been no peep of him outside his usual territory.”

Sonny scowled and pointed at Johnny O’Brien. “What about the Ruizes?”

“Nothing. Which doesn’t mean anything,” Johnny said. He shifted on his feet. “They usually play things pretty close to the chest until it’s too late. I’m working on getting a mole inside the organization, but Hector is old school and usually doesn’t trust anyone who isn’t family.”

Sonny looked at Tommy Esposito who didn’t look remotely cheerful. “And nothing from the Zaccharas.”

“No, sir.” Tommy’s scowl matched his three co-lieutenants. “I got a guy inside. He’s one of Trevor’s lackeys, but he says there hasn’t been any notion of Anthony moving on anything up here.”

From his position at Sonny’s side, Jason spoke for the first time. “What about his son? He still out of the game?”

“Yeah.” Tommy’s eyes flicked at Sonny, but Sonny said nothing. Sonny’s earlier suspicions of the Zacchara were well-known, but that was then. “As far as Trevor and Anthony are concerned, Johnny’s a dilettante. Does nothing all day but hang around a girlfriend he thinks Anthony doesn’t know about or go to art shows and music clubs. Mostly, people think he’s useless.”

Sonny sat in his chair and sighed. “So we’re no closer to the bastard who’s gas lighting us.” He did have the urge to swipe all his papers from the desk, but he didn’t feel it the way he might have just a month earlier.

He was just…frustrated. Someone was coming at him and they were investigating all the usual suspects in the usual ways, and they were getting nowhere. “Who haven’t we thought of?” Sonny asked Jason. “You call in Stan? He still got Faith Roscoe on his radar?”

“She’s sunning herself in Ibiza,” Jason said. “We have a guy at the airport. As soon as she makes moves to leave, we’ll know, but we made our position real clear when we forced her and Alcazar out of town last year. Either of them steps foot in our territory, we’re not going to ask questions first.”

“She’ll come back eventually,” Sonny murmured. “But this doesn’t feel like Faith.” He looked back at the three men standing in front of him. “Until one of these assholes does something to warrant my lieutenants on them 24/7, I’m pulling you. Pick the best guy from each of your crews. Keep them on Alcazar, Hector, and Anthony.” He looked at Jason. “Send someone to keep a closer eye on Faith. I don’t want any surprises. Maybe they’re not behind what’s going on, but I don’t want any of them reading weakness. Keep working on getting guys into higher levels. Moles are always good.”

He rose to his feet again. “I need you three at home for now. Tommy, the bookies are running scared after Frankie and Ollie were arrested. Get them under control. Get collections moving again. Johnny, I want you on security with Jason.” He looked at Jason again. “I know you’re solid on that, Jase, but an extra pair of eyes never hurts. We got too much at stake to put anyone at risk. Make sure the Towers are safe, Carly’s clubs, Michael’s school, ah…” Sonny hesitated and squinted. “Elizabeth’s got her old studio opened up right? At the docks?”

“I bought the building last month,” Jason told him. “We’re upgrading the security now. I also have the hospital secure and Elizabeth’s grandmother.”

“Kelly’s,” Francis said. They looked at him. “You’re not directly linked to it, but Carly’s connection is well-known. And your father still manages it. And you know, Elizabeth used to work there.”

“Yeah.” Sonny nodded. “And make sure Bobbie and Lucas have good security at the Brownstone.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m missing something.”

“The warehouse is already pretty secure,” Jason said. “I can’t think of anything else, Sonny.”

Sonny nodded. “Francis, then, I want you to get together with Jordan. Meet with the head of the waterfront union. I’m supposed to control these damn workers, make them remember that. I own half the water front. They don’t want to work for me, they can go somewhere else. Get this strike over with. It puts too many eyes on our activities. I got Vega in my ear about suspending his shipments into Canada, and it goes without saying I don’t want to hear Zacchara bitching at me about not moving his product.”

“Sonny…” Johnny traded a look with Francis. “Have you thought about the other possibility for what’s going on?”

Sonny slid a hand over his face. “You mean that it’s not an external threat?” He exhaled slowly. “Yeah. Yeah. I know it might be an inside job. It has the hallmarks.”

He watched as Jason tensed slightly at his side and knew his partner expected some sort of explosion. But Sonny felt calm. Pissed as fucking hell, but calm. He could do this. He’d dealt with traitors before.

“Yeah. I got Stan and Bernie coming in after you guys. We’re going to start in depth background checks, identify some possibilities.” Sonny hesitated. “I know things have been…rocky this last year. I let my personal life get a bit out of control, but that’s over now.”

He knew his lieutenants weren’t completely convinced but Sonny knew as long as Jason was loyal to him, these men would be too. And while that did claw at him a bit, he knew it wasn’t undeserved.

“You guys got your assignments. You can report to Jason unless I need to see you again.”

Once the three men had filed out, Jason took a seat in front of Sonny’s desk. “I didn’t know you had considered a possible traitor,” he said, his tone carefully flat.

“Didn’t want to voice it for sure until I heard from the guys.” Sonny twisted off the cap from a bottle of water and sipped. “I fucking hate traitors, but I guess with the bullshit of the last few years, I shouldn’t be surprised.” He met Jason’s eyes. “I know you’re waiting for me to lose it over this.”

“I…” Jason shook his head. “No, you’ve been better, Sonny. I hope it’s okay that I say—” He shifted. “I know we don’t have a good track record of talking about this.”

“No, we don’t, but that’s about me, not you.” Sonny laid his hands flat on the desk. “I’m on medication. It’s early days yet, I won’t know if it’s the right answer for another month or so, but for now, it keeps me balanced.” He met Jason’s eyes. “Thank you, for standing by me. I’m not—I’m not saying we’re right yet. That I’m good. But I’m closer today than I was yesterday, and I have every hope that tomorrow will be better.”

“So you did go to New York to see a doctor,” Jason said, some of tension bleeding from his shoulders. “I—I wondered.”

Sonny nodded. “I met with a doctor. He comes up once a week for a therapy session.” He hesitated. “Did—did Elizabeth mention she had come to see me?”

Jason nodded. “Yeah. She—she wanted to help.”

“That’s usually how she gets herself in trouble,” Sonny murmured, but he smiled. “She’s like you, Jason. Too generous with herself. Gives and gives until there’s not much left to her. She told me a bit about California. I got the idea maybe she’s not all the way past the crap my brother put her through, so I hope she’s okay.”

“She is.” Jason leaned forward, hesitated a moment. “She still has a lot of guilt inside. About that summer and the panic room. She’s…been talking to a friend at the hospital about it.”

“Good.” Sonny sipped his water again. “Good. I like her. I always did. I hope she’ll let me take her for a spin on the dance floor at your party next week.”

Jason winced. “Yeah. I’m sure she will.”

Sonny laughed, and God, didn’t it feel damn good to be doing this? To be talking to Jason like they were friends again and not undeclared enemies? Fuck what a wasteland this last year had been. He could do this. He could pull himself back from the edge.

“It’ll be a good time,” he told his friend. “You’ll wear a suit, pose for some pictures. She’ll look gorgeous as always, and you’ll make her happy.”

Max knocked on Sonny’s slightly ajar door and pushed it open. “Yo, boss, Bernie and Stan are here.”

The light hearted banter of the past few moments were forgotten as Jason and Sonny got down to business.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Carly sipped her iced tea and tried not let her eyes cross as Bobbie talked about the work Lucas was doing at PCU in his pre-med program. Carly thought she should get credit for even remembering what the little pissant was studying. He always looked at her as if she was still the home wrecker that broke his parents apart.

She was, but she didn’t like it when people who didn’t know better judged her. Fucking Lucas. He’d been adopted, but Bobbie had fought for him. Wanted to keep him. Not like the bastard daughter she’d tracked down just for shits and giggles long after she’d thrown Carly away.

Carly swallowed those thoughts, because that wasn’t her life anymore. She and Bobbie were even now, after all. Bobbie’s perfect life had been smashed to smithereens, and that’s all Carly had ever wanted.

It was enough. Carly had other things on her mind—more important than reminding Bobbie what a shitty mother she had been.

“…and I’m so glad you and Jason are doing better…”

Jason’s name in the middle of Bobbie’s babble caught Carly’s attention so she tuned back into her mother. “What? Why do you say that?”

Bobbie set her water on the table with a frown. “Well, you’re hosting his engagement party next week, Carly. Why else would Jason allow that if things weren’t better?”

Because that old harridan had been cornered into it. Carly smirked. She had seen the annoyance in Audrey Hardy’s eyes when Jax called Carly to the table. She had seen the way Audrey’s eyes darted back and forth, but there had been no graceful way to bow out, not without possibly complicating matters between Jason and Sonny.

“That’s got nothing to do with me and Jason,” Carly said. She pushed her fork around her in her salad. “It’s about Jason and Sonny. Preserving the peace at any cost.”

“I will admit, things seem to be better in that quarter,” Bobbie said. “I was doing the books last week, and they came in and had coffee at the counter. Sonny seems to be doing so much better, Carly. It’s wonderful to see the light back in his eyes.”

Fucker was probably having an affair again. She didn’t care what Courtney said—Sonny had been different after that trip to New York. He’d found someone who didn’t remind him of the daughter he’d given away. He disappeared for hours every week. She knew there was something going on, and oh, wouldn’t Sonny be sorry when she got to the bottom of it?

If Port Charles thought Carly had been a vindictive slut when it came to her mother, oh the world had better put on their fucking seatbelts if she discovered Sonny cheating on her again. She would burn it to the ground. Total war. Scorched earth. Nowhere Sonny could hide. She would rip his balls out—

“Carly? Isn’t it better at home?”

Carly blinked and looked at her mother, realizing for the first time Bobbie had expected a response. “Oh. Yeah. Things are fan-fucking-tastic. The perfect marriage, Bobbie.”

Bobbie frowned. “Carly—”

“Is Lucas dating anyone?” Carly asked, because she was tired of talking about Sonny.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth winced as she saw Carly and Bobbie were still in the courtyard eating lunch. She was going to have to wait them out—she was doing such a great job of avoiding Carly these days.

“I hope that’s not for me,” Nikolas said, arching a brow as he pulled out a sheaf of papers from his briefcase. “I like to think I’m not that much work.”

Elizabeth laughed. “No, no, of course not.” She gestured toward the door. “Carly and Bobbie were in the courtyard when I got here, so I came in through the back—Mike loves me, after all. But they’re still out there.”

“Ah.” Nikolas nodded. “Still keeping the peace by not talking to her. I suppose that means Audrey is dealing with the details for the party?”

“Well, it was her idea to have it at Carly’s club.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Carly’s assistant is doing most of the stuff. Gram says she only signed the contract with Carly.”

“Hmm…” Nikolas handed her the papers. “I had Andrew go over this. He made a few notations and offered to handle the negotiations if you’re inclined to go forward.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose as she took in the post-it note attached to the proposed partnership agreement. “What does he think?”

“Well, I knew the name Jerome sounded vaguely familiar,” Nikolas told her. “So I asked Emily, who thought Luke might know. I had Lucky run interference. Luke asked Bobbie because he couldn’t remember where he heard the name—”

“Is this going somewhere?”

“And Bobbie remembered Victor and Julian Jerome. Some crime family from New York that set up shop for a few years in Port Charles about fifteen, sixteen years ago.” Nikolas sighed. “Always comes back to that. Anyway, she didn’t remember any Ava Jerome attached to that. There was a sister, but she had a different last name. Lucas’s natural father is Julian Jerome—”

“Oh, yeah, I remember now.” Elizabeth frowned. “Hmm. Jason didn’t say anything but I guess if they were that long ago, it was before Sonny’s time. I guess I’ll get him to run a background check on Ava before we go any further.”

“It’s probably a coincidence,” Nikolas said. “But better safe than sorry. Anyway, as for the contract itself, Andrew said it was a bit unfair. Considering your reputation in the art world—”

“The fact that I have one still astounds me,” Elizabeth murmured.

“And the fact that your work was shown at the Harris Gallery, which is more prestigious and has a longer history in New York—the Jerome gallery is a bit more niche. It tends to launch careers but that’s pretty much it.” Nikolas sipped his coffee. “So he thinks the fifty-fifty profit offering isn’t very fair. You’ll be doing most of the work here in Port Charles. Once the galley is open, that agreement provides you’ll head up the gallery and the foundation, which means you’ll be doing the lion’s share of the work.”

Elizabeth scowled. “I told Luther I didn’t want something so time consuming. I have two small children and a career of my own, not to mention I’m getting married.”

“It wouldn’t be that difficult, Liz.” Nikolas leaned forward. “I could put you in touch with some good managers. They’d steer you through a lot of the grunt work. You’d show up, be the gorgeous face at the benefits, but you could leave them most of the work. Still, Andrew says you should counter with an eighty-twenty split and refuse to go lower than seventy-thirty. You don’t need Ava Jerome. You have your own reputation.”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth chewed her lip. “But I want someone to share the risk. I made a lot from my first show, and Luther has looked at the work I’ll be exhibiting in December—he expects it to be even bigger. But still, I don’t want to tie up my capital in this.” She glanced at him. “And it goes without saying that while Jason would invest if I needed him, he doesn’t want to.”

“He wants it to be separate in case…” Nikolas waved his hand in the air. “Something happens. I suppose he wants to keep your art money separate as well.”

“Yeah. I mean, I’ll have access to his accounts, but you know, it’s just easier this way. I have my own money manager, too. Literally the only thing Jason and I are sharing are the kids.” She smiled. “It’s fine. It’s nice to have enough money to worry about it.”

“Any idea if you’ll be adopting Evie?” Nikolas asked.

“No.” Elizabeth tucked the partnership agreement in her bag. “No, but I don’t think either of us will. Sonny’s been doing so much better lately. And while Carly is a concern, Jason seems to think we’ll be able to work something out with custody at some point. We did, however, start the process for Cameron.”

Nikolas hesitated, and she sighed. “Go ahead, Nikolas. I know you want to say it.”

“You know that I’ve tried very hard to be supportive this time,” he told her. “And I haven’t even been lying. I can see you’re happier with Jason, and since my family has tried to kill you on more than one occasion, it’s not like I have a lot of room to talk. So when I say this next part, I want you remember how good I’ve been.”

“You’ve been the very definition of a best friend,” Elizabeth told him with mock somberness. “So carry on.”

“You and I both know the next danger is not going to come from what Jason does for a living,” Nikolas said. “It’s going to come from Sonny and Carly. Now, I know Sonny is doing better. He and I were part of the meeting with the union leaders last week since this godforsaken strike is screwing up both our businesses. There was a calmness about him I have not seen in years. So whatever he’s doing, I’m glad.”

“But?” she prompted.

“But if Sonny’s being treated with medication, as Emily thinks, she worries that he might stop taking it. Or that it’s something that working for now, but it might not work full-time. She’s been studying bipolar disorder like crazy and she says it’s a difficult illness to treat. If Sonny’s doctor caught him in the middle of a low cycle, he might prescribe anti-depressants, thinking it was depression.”

Elizabeth hesitated. “Jason—he said Sonny hasn’t said much about the medication he’s on. Barely acknowledges it. I don’t know what he’s taking. But—” She bit her lip. “An anti-depressant would help him in the low points, but if he starts to cycle up—”

“Yeah, exactly. Emily gave me this list…” He pulled it out from his pocket. “Some symptoms to look for if he starts to cycle. She’s been so busy at the hospital—”

Elizabeth took it. “An anti-depressant would probably aggravate the situation during a manic episode, wouldn’t it?” she said softly. “Heighten it.”

“I’ve never seen Sonny during a truly manic episode, but I can’t imagine it’s pretty. Jason would know better.”

She pursed her lips as she scanned symptoms. “Jason…” She closed her eyes, feeling guilty about talking about this behind Jason’s back, but this was her life she was protecting. “He said that Sonny’s been trying to control it for months. That he hasn’t crashed.”

“If he crashes on anti-depressants, it could make it worse.” Nikolas leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know much about this, Liz. And maybe I don’t care for Sonny much, but I’ve seen what mental illness does to people. God knows my family is delusional. I just…maybe we’re overreacting. We don’t even know if it’s bipolar disorder.”

“No, I guess we don’t.” Elizabeth sighed and put the list away. “But I can’t think what else it might be.” She looked at him. “Thank you for being such an amazing friend, Nikolas. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

“The feeling is more than mutual.”

Morgan Penthouse: Bedroom

Jason pulled back the bed sheet and frowned slightly at her. “Jerome? No, there’s no one on the radar with that name.”

Elizabeth unclasped her necklace and set it inside her jewelry case. “Nikolas thought it was probably a coincidence, but he wanted me to be aware.”

He sat on the edge of the bed and watched as she removed her watch and earrings before opening a dresser drawer for one of his t-shirts to sleep it. “I’ll have Bernie run a check on her. It’s probably nothing, but Nikolas is right. Better to be safe than sorry.”

She smiled at him as she drew the cotton over her head, the hem hanging halfway to her knees. She crawled over the bed until she was on her knees in front of him. “I’m going to hire a lawyer Nikolas recommended to go over the contract anyway.”

“But you think you’re going to go through with it.”

“Yeah, but I’m definitely going to be bugging Nikolas for all kinds of advice.” She bit her lip. “I know we talked about you not investing in it, and you know, I get it, but if Nikolas offers, you won’t be mad?”

“No.” Jason twisted until he was seated fully on the bed and rested his hands at her hips. “I don’t want the gallery combined with my money in anyway. If the IRS ever came after us, if any assets were ever seized, I don’t want you to be left without any resources. You should get your own investors, your own lawyers, and business managers.”

“That’s what I figured, but I thought I should be sure.” She brushed her lips against his before sliding under the sheets and adjusting the monitor for Evie and Cam’s room. Nora had one as well and normally reached the nursery before Elizabeth or Jason, but Elizabeth still kept it on her side of the bed.

“But I would feel better if you’d let Bernie run background checks on any investors or people you hire to work there,” Jason said. “Just to be safe.”

“I figured. And you’ll be in charge of the security, too.” She turned on her side. “After everything my grandmother is putting you through with this party, it’s the least I can do, right?”

Jason smirked as he switched off his lamp, plunging the room in shadows. He drew her to her side. “Sonny asked if you’d save him a dance.”

“Yeah?” She peered up at him. “So things really are better?”

“They are.” Jason hesitated. “Sonny is seeing a doctor. Once a week. And he’s on medication. He says they won’t know for a few more weeks if it’s the right dosage, but he’s…it’s as close to his old self as I’ve ever seen him. He’s been calm, in control. Even joked with me today.” He stroked her back, his fingers dancing down her spine. “He told me you came to see him.”

“Yeah?”

“And he said he hoped you were doing okay. It was like…”

“Like it used to be?” she murmured.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I don’t know if it’s going to last, but whatever you said to him—it got through. Maybe it’ll still be rough while he gets his treatment adjusted, but maybe it’ll be all right.”

“I’m so glad.” She leaned up to kiss him more fully. “I told you we’d get through this.”

“Yeah, you did.” And he rolled her to her back, kissing her neck as she giggled.

He was not a good man, but whatever he’d done to deserve her walking back into his life last December—he would spent the rest of his life making sure she never regretted it.

March 4, 2015

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

I wanna love you, forever I do
I wanna spend all of my days with you
I’ll carry your burdens and be the wind at your back
I wanna spend my forever – forever like that

Forever Like That, Ben Rector


Friday, August 12, 2005

Club 101

“This,” Bobbie said to Audrey as the first guests trickled into her daughter’s club, “is going to be a good night.”

Audrey raised a brow at her old friend. “What gives you that impression?” she asked dryly. She kept one eye on Carly behind the bar—she didn’t trust that harpy as far as she could throw her. She had been relatively absent during the party planning, but there was no way Audrey was going to let her ruin Elizabeth’s night.

Her granddaughter stood across the room with her fiancé, their children, Steven, Emily, and Nikolas. She watched as Elizabeth wiggled her fingers in Emily’s direction, showing off the gorgeous diamond ring Jason had given her shortly after proposing.

No matter that all the people in that group had seen the ring a dozen times, Elizabeth’s smile was still as radiant as that night they had gathered in Audrey’s home to announce the news.

To see Elizabeth happy like that? It was worth any sacrifice.

“Audrey?” Bobbie put a hand on her arm. “You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine, Bobbie.” Audrey patted Bobbie’s hand. “I just…need to eat. It was a busy day finalizing everything—oh, the Quartermaines have arrived. I should run interference before they reach the children.”


Elizabeth felt Jason tense at her side, and immediately her eyes went to the entrance. Sure enough, the Quartermaine party had arrived. While Monica was smiling brightly, Edward and Alan looked uncomfortable, Ned headed straight for the bar, and Dillon shuffled in with his usual crowd—the Jones’ girls and Lucas.

“It’ll be fine.” She squeezed his arm, before handing Cameron to Emily. “Let’s go over, say hello. Get it over with.”

“I’m not going to get in an argument,” Jason told her as she steered him towards his family.

“No, I know, but you’ll feel better if they’re not circling you all night, planning their attack.”

Elizabeth stopped in front of Monica, Alan, and Edward. “I’m so glad you guys could make it!”

“Thank you for inviting us.” Monica embraced Elizabeth lightly. She lifted her arms halfway to Jason, but was already dropping them when he leaned forward to gently hug her.

“It’s not a party without the Quartermaines,” Elizabeth said. She accepted Alan, then Edward’s kiss on the cheek. “Have you seen the ring Jason gave me?”

She wiggled her hand in front of the Quartermaine men, as they obediently oohed and aahed over it.

“Ah, Jason.” Edward coughed, then cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you were made aware of it at the time—you didn’t…you weren’t at the reading of Lila’s will.”

Jason shook his head. “No, I—I couldn’t.”

“Well…” Edward paused. “She left you her wedding ring.” He reached into his pocket and drew out a velvet box. “I think she would…she would be happy to see it on Elizabeth’s finger.”

Elizabeth’s throat tickled as Jason accepted the box and flipped it open. The ring wasn’t overly extravagant—a simple gold ring with a beautiful inset of diamonds and sapphires.

“Ah, it was a family ring.” Edward coughed again. “My, ah, grandmother left it to me in her will for my wife.”

“It’s lovely,” Elizabeth said. “I remember admiring it on Lila often.” She looked at Jason. “It would be like having her with us, Jason.”

“Yeah.” Jason cleared his throat and glanced at his grandfather. “Thank you. I’ll…of course we’ll use it.”

“Good.” Edward nodded. “Good. I, ah, Alan, perhaps we should inspect the bar. Give Jason a moment with his—with, ah, Monica.”

“Of course.” Alan embraced Elizabeth once more with another kiss to her cheek. “Welcome to the family, Elizabeth.”

“That didn’t go so badly,” Monica remarked as the two men ambled towards the bar, joining a few doctors Emily had invited from the hospital. “I would have mentioned Lila’s will, Jason, but your—Edward wanted to do it. He said it was something Lila would have wanted.”

“It’s fine.” Jason closed the box and slid into his suit jacket. “It’s, ah, a trial run, right? For the wedding? To make sure we can all be in the same room.”

Monica smiled. “Now, where are my grandchildren?”


“I have a few candidates in mind for Steven.” Emily took a seat with Nikolas, Leyla, and Lucky. “But I think I may have reached too high with this one.”

Lucky snorted. “Trust you to find Steven Webber more challenging than Jason Morgan.”

Leyla rolled her eyes. “Of course he is. Steven’s not interested in anyone. Anyone with eyes saw this coming at the Christmas party.” She flicked his sleeve. “Men. Blind as bats.”

“Who are your maybes?” Nikolas asked, ignoring his brother and his girlfriend. The quicker he got Emily through this matchmaking stage, the more peace he’d have.

“Well, I figured it should be someone who shares his dedication to his career, who’d understand the hours, but not necessarily someone who works with him,” Emily said. “So that eliminated the nursing staff. That really threw me for a while.”

“As it would,” Lucky said with mock somberness. She lobbed an olive pit at him.

“But I am nothing if not adaptable,” Emily declared. “Did you guys know Gia Campbell moved back over the summer? She works with Lansing in the DA’s office.”

“Oh, she finished her law degree?” Nikolas asked.

“You don’t like her,” Lucky said.

“Who’s Gia?”

“I hate you all.” Emily sipped her ice water. “I don’t know if she’s changed. But we’re not the same kids we were that summer, are we?” She blinked. “I mean, I feel like a completely different person.”

“What summer?” Leyla pushed.

“Fair enough,” Lucky replied. “Is she your best candidate?”

“Well, no.” Emily furrowed her brow. “I was talking to Maxie at Kelly’s, and Robin Scorpio is thinking of moving home. But I think she’d be good with my resident—”

“Dr. Drake?” Leyla wrinkled her nose. “If you think Steven would be difficult, I can assure you Patrick Drake would be nigh on impossible.”

“Oh, hell.” Nikolas put a hand to his forehead. “No. Don’t—don’t do that. Don’t challenge her. She thinks this is her calling in life.”

Emily flicked his shoulder. “I make people happy, damn it.”


This was a good night. Sonny posed for a picture with the engaged couple, even smiled as he watched them pose for photos with Cam and Evie. Evie looked gorgeous in her bright yellow dress. Her hair was starting to come in, thick and dark.

She looked so much like her mother.

This year had been difficult, and not being with his daughter had twisted him up inside, but he knew she was safe with Jason and Elizabeth. He wasn’t ready to have custody yet—a few more months of stability on his meds would put him in a better position.

And of course, deciding what to do with Carly.

He sipped his martini and eyed his wife as she spoke with her mother by the bar. The last month of clearly thinking—of talking about some of his issues with the therapist on Saturdays—He knew he had to get Carly out of his life.

Carly was his trigger. When she was around, he remembered the worst of the things he’d done. Betraying Jason. Walking away from Sam, away from his daughter.

Carly was his poison, but he wasn’t ready to deal with it yet.

He had to be on his game, ready to deal with whatever she’d throw at him in divorce court. Ready to figure out a way for their boys to come out of this unscathed.

“Sonny!” Elizabeth approached him with a bright smile. The tug of envy, the wish that Jason’s good fortune was his own—he still felt that, but it no longer ate at him.

It gave him something to look for when he was ready to try again.

“Elizabeth.” He kissed her cheek. “You look fantastic as always. The belle of the ball.” He eyed Jason who stood with his sister and…Alan? “Is that Jason conversing with Quartermaine sans bloodshed?”

“I know, it is pretty weird, but he’s trying for me.” Elizabeth joined him at his table. “We haven’t really had a chance to talk the last few weeks, with everything being so busy.” She chewed her bottom lip. “You look—you look good.”

“I feel good,” he told honestly. “Not quite my old self, but for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t feel like that’s such a far off goal.” He tilted his head. “Jason said you were wrapped up in a partnership agreement with a gallery in New York.”

“Oh, yeah.” She wrinkled her nose. “I had to hire a business manager and a lawyer. God. They’re off negotiating with the Jeromes on my behalf.” Elizabeth sipped her cocktail. “Jason said Ava’s background check came back clean, so at least that’s one less thing to worry about, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, the name Jerome is an old one but still packs a bit of power.” Sonny squinted. “Long gone by the time I moved up from Bensonhurst, but certainly not forgotten. I’ll look forward to your opening since I wasn’t able to go to the first one—”

“I’m having a show at the Harris in New York in December,” she told him. She rolled her eyes. “My agent, Luther? Keeps talking about my new stuff showing my emergence from darkness and isolation.” She waved her hand. “Whatever. His hype will sell it, and I’ll have more capital to invest in the new place up here.”

“Well, isn’t this cozy?”

Carly’s voice dripped with venom as she sidled up to their table, one hand on the back of Sonny’s chair. “Shouldn’t you be drooling over Jason?”

“No,” Elizabeth said calmly. “He’s with his father and sister. Sonny and I are catching up.” She pursed her lips. “The club is wonderful, Carly. You’ve done a great job with it.”

“Like I give a crap what you think.”

“Carly,” Sonny said, his amusement and good humor vanished. “I don’t know what you’re doing right now, but I don’t appreciate it. You can either sit down and chat with us or you can go away.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” his wife snapped. “Is she the reason you’re so distant? You and Jason trading women again?”

Sonny blinked at her, but Elizabeth smirked. “Why? You want another turn with Jason?”

“I’m not going to let you ruin my marriage, you little—”

Sonny rose to his feet and took Carly’s arm in his. “Stop this. Now. I don’t know what the hell you think you’re pulling, but I’m not having it. If you didn’t want to host their engagement party, then you should have told Audrey no. If you can’t behave yourself, then go home. You’re not ruining this.”

“She couldn’t even if she wanted to.” Elizabeth gracefully stood, her drink in her hand. “That’s why she’s angry, Sonny. She’s used to being able to chase away the women in Jason’s life, but you’ve never been able to get rid of me.”

“I did before, and I’ll do it again.” Carly spat. “It’s all your fault, you bitch. If it weren’t for you, Jason would remember what he owes Sonny—”

Sonny saw that Jason was looking at them now, starting to cross the room. Fuck. “Carly, Jason owes me nothing. Let’s go now—”

“Is everything okay?” Jason slid a hand around Elizabeth’s waist. “Carly?”

“I’d watch your little princess, Jase. She’s already batting her eyelashes at my husband.” Carly wrenched her arm from Sonny’s grasp. “Maybe she’ll get tired of you and want to move up the food chain—”

“I think you’re confusing me with you, Carly.” Elizabeth tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I’m not eighteen anymore. I’m not confused, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I have what I want. I have the life I want. I just wish you knew what it was like to be satisfied.” She looked up at Jason. “We’re fine, Jason. It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“You think you’ve won something?” Carly stepped towards Elizabeth. “You think you’ve beaten me? Little girl, you don’t even know what I’m capable of.”

“That’s enough—” Sonny felt the heat on the back of his neck as more and more of the party guests were looking at him. “Lower your voice, Carly.”

“I know you’re having an affair,” Carly snarled. “This is the way you always act when you’re involved with another woman. With Alexis. Sam. You think I don’t know it? You’re screwing someone else and I swear to God, if I find out it’s her—”

“Are you insane?” Sonny hissed. He took her arm and roughly steered her towards the back. “That’s it.”


Jason watched as Sonny muscled his wife away, through a door behind the bar, then looked back at Elizabeth who seemed oddly unruffled. “Elizabeth—”

“She can’t even see he’s got one foot out the door and she’s shoving him the rest of the way.” Elizabeth sighed. “God. Jason, if Sonny continues to get better, we’ve got to get him away from her. It’s the only way.”

They started back across the room, towards his sister and Alan, now joined by another doctor from the hospital. “I know. You and Sonny looked okay before.”

“Yeah, we were talking about the gallery, and how Ava’s background check cleared her.” Elizabeth briefly leaned her head against his shoulder. “It was really nice, Jason. Whatever meds he’s on? They’re really working.”

“He said they’ll still need a few months to make sure the dosage is right, but it’s good so far.” He kissed the top of her head. “You were the turning point, Elizabeth. You gave him something to hope for.”

“Yeah, now I just need to push Carly over a cliff and we’ll all be good.”


“Okay. Gram.” Steven took a seat across from his grandmother once Monica and Bobbie moved away to talk to Emily and Nikolas. “It’s her engagement party. Her life is solid. How much longer are we going to pretend you’re not sick?”

Audrey pursed her lips, then sipped her water. “Steven, I’m not a child—”

“No, but you’re my grandmother and one of the most important people in the world to Elizabeth and me. So when I tell you that I’m not comfortable keeping this from her for much longer, I mean it.” Steven leaned forward. “Gram. She loves you. Don’t make this harder on her in the long run—”

“Monica and I were discussing it—” Audrey was quiet for a moment. “The medication—it’s kept me stable for months, and there’s no reason to think my condition won’t remain so for longer. But I had a test last week that led us to believe that perhaps…”

“Gram.” Fear licked at Steven’s throat. “Gram, what’s going on?”

“Eventually, with this type of problem, medication really only staves off the inevitable. There’s either an operation to replace the valve or…” Audrey lifted a shoulder. “And I do not want Elizabeth blindsided if that proves to be the case.”

“And this test,” Steven prompted. “What did it lead you to believe?”

“That my medication is beginning to fail.” Audrey waited a moment. “Steven, I’m not going to have the surgery. I’m—I’m in my eighties. The recovery time, if I should even survive the surgery—”

Steven nearly swore but caught the word as it slid over his tongue. “Gram. Jesus. I know the risks, but isn’t it worth it? A new valve could give you another decade—Elizabeth is getting married. You should be there—”

“I’ve considered all of that and the thought of not—” Audrey closed her eyes. “The thought of not being there, Steven, for you. For Elizabeth. Even for Sarah. And my Tommy. It breaks my heart, and I know all the reasons I should do it, but I keep thinking of Steve—” She closed her eyes. “Collapsing in his office—”

“Hey, Gram—”

“This looks serious.” Elizabeth smiled as she took a seat at their table. “This is supposed to be a party—”

“We were just discussing a patient,” Audrey said with a smile, but Steven shook his head.

“That’s it, Gram. I’m not doing this. Bits, Gram is sick.”

“Steven—” Audrey shook her head sharply. “No, not tonight—”

“Steven, what’s going on?” Elizabeth demanded. “Gram?”

His little sister was strong, Steven knew. And the time for protecting her was over.


Sonny was subdued when he returned from the back, a glass of water in his hand. He joined Jason, standing alone at the bar. “I had Max take her home. I’m sorry about that.”

“Elizabeth was more worried for you.” Jason glanced at him. “Carly—she’s Carly. We’ll deal with it. When you’re ready, when you feel in control, we’ll take care of Carly.”

“I’m going to divorce her,” Sonny said, and the words—they felt freeing. God. It felt good. “I don’t know if I ever loved her, Jase. I think—I think maybe I convinced myself if I was going to betray you, it should count. It should matter—”

“That stopped mattering to me a long time ago, Sonny.” Jason frowned a bit, and Sonny followed his gaze, watching Elizabeth at a table with her brother and grandmother. “It hurt, but it—it changed things for me. I loved Michael so much, I think I talked myself into loving Carly. But it wasn’t real.”

And it went without saying, though Jason would probably never admit it, that he’d already been half in love with Elizabeth at that point. “Anyway. I just—I have to make sure I can deal with the pressure a divorce from Carly would take. I don’t know why she’d think there was anything between Elizabeth and I—”

“You didn’t tell her you were seeing a doctor. And you seem happier. Carly’s basic. She thinks if she’s not the reason for the change, another woman must be.” Jason sipped his beer. “And when Carly thinks she’s being replaced, that’s probably the most dangerous time to be around her. She thought Bobbie replaced her with Lucas, thought Robin replaced her as Michael’s mother, thought I was replacing her with Elizabeth—” He shook his head. “It is what it is, Sonny. She sees you smiling with Elizabeth like she saw me dancing with her. It’s enough for her. She doesn’t need any actual evidence.”

And wasn’t that Carly wrapped up in a fucking bow? “Well.” Sonny sipped his water. “What we talked about before, Jase, about Evie—”

“Sonny—”

“Just…” Sonny lifted a hand. “I want to get to know her, but it’s not enough that I’m doing better. If you were to relinquish guardianship, I’d want it to be permanent. So it’s tabled until my meds are certain, until Carly’s not a factor. I’m doing right by Evie this way. Sam didn’t want her daughter around Carly, didn’t want Evie to feel less than Michael or Morgan. I can honor that. So as far as I’m concerned, the situation stands for now.”

Sonny started to say something else, but he saw Elizabeth’s face crumple at the same time Jason did. And they both started across the room.


“I really didn’t want to do this tonight,” Audrey said, distressed. “Elizabeth, my darling—”

“Why won’t you have the surgery?” Elizabeth demanded. She looked to her brother. “Steven. Tell her. She has to be here. I’m getting married—”

“There’s no reason to assume that I won’t be there,” Audrey said. “I’m going in this week for more tests—”

“But you just said—” Elizabeth pressed her lips together as she saw Jason and Sonny approaching, concerned etched into their features. “We’ll—we’ll talk about this tomorrow, okay? I can’t…I can’t right now.”

She rose to her feet and closed the distance between them, going right into Jason’s arms. “My grandmother’s sick,” she said into his shirt.

Jason’s arms closed around her. “Elizabeth—”

“I’ll leave you two,” Sonny said. But he touched her shoulder. “Let me know if I can do anything.”

“Let’s sit down,” Jason told her, maneuvering towards the side of the room. “What happened?”

“My grandmother—she has mitral stenosis, which I don’t know anything about except she needs heart valve replacement surgery—” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her eyes. “And she just told me she’s not going to have it.”

Which meant she would let herself fade away. Just when Elizabeth’s life was coming together, when she was in reach of everything she wanted—how was she supposed to face losing the only member of her family that had stood behind her? For better or worse, Audrey had always been there.

And now maybe she wouldn’t?

“Well,” Jason said after a moment. “It’s…it’s an invasive and difficult surgery. The recovery time, even for someone young and healthy—”

“Don’t—” Elizabeth stopped and took a deep breath. God, Jason’s strange little medical memories really picked inopportune times to show up. “I know all the reasons why it’s a risk but she could beat the odds and live another ten years—”

“Or she could die on the table.” Jason slid his hand through her hair. “And I bet that’s what she’s thinking about.”

“It’s just…” she shook her head. “It’s not fair, Jason. She has to go in for tests with Monica this week, to determine if the medication is starting to fail. And if the meds aren’t working—it’s just a matter of…” Her throat closed. “God. Oh, God. I can’t think about it.”

“Do you want to go home? We can leave,” Jason offered. “We’ll go get my bike and we’ll take a ride. So you won’t have to think.”

“God.” Tears slid down her cheeks. “God. I shouldn’t have asked what was wrong. This night—it was so perfect. We were so happy and you were getting along with your family—and Sonny was good. And I had everything. I should have known it wouldn’t stay perfect for long.”

Jason pulled her to her feet. “Come on, we’ll go out the back way.”

“I should say goodbye—” Elizabeth’s half-hearted protest was lost as her fiancé led her through the back offices into the alley. “Jason—”

“The Towers are a block away, we can be in the garage in ten minutes.” Jason eyed her dress, which stopped several inches above her knees. “Your dress is short enough, we don’t even have to change.”

And because she wanted to feel the wind rushing past her so fast, the world screaming past her in a mirage of colors—because she wanted to go so fast her brain would shut down, she closed her mouth and followed him.

July 15, 2015

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

Everyone’s got an agenda, don’t stop
Keep that chin up, you’ll be all right
Can you believe what a year it’s been
Are you still the same?
Has your opinion changed?
‘Cause I don’t know you anymore
I don’t recognize this place

I Don’t Know You Anymore, Savage Garden


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

It had been years since Sonny had felt this good about his life. Despite his failing marriage and the difficult custody issues regarding his children he knew to be in his future, despite the minor business problems that had been plaguing his organization for months…

Sonny was in control. He rose every morning knowing that he was in full possession of his own destiny—of his words and his emotions.

He had conquered the demon inside him and now that his illness was under control, he knew he could take anything else coming his way.

“The minor issues seem to be resolving themselves.” Sonny leaned back in his chair and studied his business partner. “Jordan got Frankie and Ollie released—they’re laying low. No shipment disruptions. Maybe nothing to worry about after all.”

“Maybe.” Jason allowed. “But no point in laying down our guard just yet.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Can’t risk someone just playing with us.”

“Sure, sure.” But Sonny thought Jason was just being cautious—no problems there, it was what he was paid to do. Sonny knew the worst was over.

They could turn their attentions to other matters. Time for Sonny to prove to Jason things had really changed. It wasn’t all about him, after all.

“I, ah, wanted to ask about Elizabeth.” Sonny shifted. “How’s her grandmother?”

Jason blinked at the change in topic but followed it. “Okay. She’s checking into the hospital to run some tests today, check the stress on her heart.” He shifted in his seat. “Elizabeth is there now.”

It was a shame if Audrey Hardy’s health was failing as her granddaughter’s world was coming together, but life did that sometimes. “If she needs anything—” Sonny gestured. “It goes without saying.”

“Of course—”

Jason looked as though he have something more to say on the subject, but Sonny continued. “I talked to Jordan about Carly. About custody and the best time to file for divorce.”

Jason blinked. “Ah, Sonny…” He shifted again. “It’s…you’ve only been doing better a month—I thought you wanted to wait a bit more—”

“Why wait?” Sonny asked. “I used to think I didn’t lose it around Carly because I could see her clearly. You know, I’d only explode on you. Or unfortunately, Elizabeth. But not with Carly. Not since we reconciled. But I can see it now. She’s the trigger. I just never seem to be aimed at her.”

Jason’s brow furrowed. “Still—”

“Jordan thinks Carly has a good case to keep me away from the boys,” Sonny continued. “With the depression.”

“Depression?” Jason repeated. “Is—” He hesitated. “Is that what you’re being treated for?”

Sonny narrowed his eyes, not caring for the tone in his friend’s voice. “Yeah. And it makes sense. I’ve been better since I’m on the meds, since I started therapy.” He paused. “Why? You think you know better?”

And they both blinked at that—at the snappish tone, at the clipped question. Sonny swallowed. Where had that come from?

He was better. He was good.

He was in control.

Sonny reached for a glass of water. “Sorry.” He sipped it slowly. Deep breaths. “I just—it was hard for me to accept, too. I wasn’t expecting it, but he looked at all the evidence, all the things I told him. And that’s what he came up with.”

“Fair enough.” But Jason’s face had changed, just slightly. He was back on his guard.

Sonny told himself that was okay, that he could understand Jason’s defensiveness. He had put his best friend and his family through hell for the last year, probably even more. Jason had Sonny’s best interests in heart, had Evie in his head.

Sonny had to regain Jason’s trust, it couldn’t happen overnight.

“Listen.” Sonny rose to his feet. “I’m taking it seriously, Jason. I am. I wasn’t ready to deal with Carly, with the end of my marriage before. Because I thought—I thought maybe I didn’t deserve better.” He cleared his throat and forced the words out. “But I know the depression, the darkness, it’s not her fault, but she’s…she’s not good for me. Because being with her, and then seeing you with Elizabeth, it makes me envious. Angry.”

“Okay.” Jason also rose to his feet. “And I guess that makes sense. I want you to be okay, Sonny. And if you think leaving Carly is the right way to do it, I can’t blame you. But be careful. Carly’s—” He hesitated. “She won’t take it well.”

“I have to tell her about my condition,” Sonny replied. “I haven’t yet. And my not talking is only making matters worse. I have to be honest with her. To a point. I don’t think telling her our marriage is toxic to my mental health would be good for any of us.”

“No,” Jason agreed. “Just—” He exhaled slowly. “Don’t ever forget when Carly’s hurt, when she’s angry, she’ll try to punish someone. You and I both know what she’s capable of when she’s just trying to help. When she actively seeks to destroy you?” He shook his head and looked past Sonny. “I’ve never been the target of it, Sonny, but I’ve seen her. Hurricanes do less damage.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” Sonny told him. “And I promise you, somehow, we’re going to get out of this. I’m okay, Jason, but I want to be better.”

General Hospital: Cardiology Waiting Room

“Stop tapping your feet, Bits.”

Elizabeth scowled at her brother. “Why are you so calm? I hate you.” Never failed. The man never broke a sweat.

Steven just leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap. “Is there a benefit to being anxious?”

“No, but…” She huffed and folded her arms. “Did you talk to Sarah last night?”

“I did,” Steven confirmed. “She’s planning to fly out in about a week to check on her, even though Gram doesn’t want her to.” At Elizabeth’s eye roll, “She doesn’t choose her own hours, little sister. She’s a resident. She can only stay a day.”

“It was her choice to change programs,” Elizabeth muttered, but rolled her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m being bitchy because I just…”

“There’s nothing we can do now,” Steven said, his eternal patience never wavering. “The cardiology staff here are some of the best in the country, and you know Monica will take care of her like she was family.” He paused. “She is family.”

“I know, I just…” Elizabeth rose to her feet and crossed to the window overlooking the parking lot. “I know Gram has done the best she can, and I even understand why she waited to tell me, even if I wish she hadn’t.”

“Hey, she told me about five minutes before she told you, but yeah.” Steven pressed his lips together. “But whatever happens going forward, we’re in this together.”

The door opened then, and Monica stepped in. “Elizabeth, Steven.”

Steven rose, falling in line next to Elizabeth as they crossed the room. “Where’s Gram?” Elizabeth asked.

“Resting.” Monica crossed her arms over the chart in her arms. “How much do you know about your grandmother’s treatment so far? I get the sense Audrey left the two of you out of it until now.”

“She didn’t want us to know she’d been ill.” Steven rose. “I know that she was suffering from a mitral stenosis, but I didn’t know for how long, what the treatment plan was—”

Monica gestured to the seats. “Audrey came to me late last year. Before you moved home, Elizabeth.” She flicked open her chart. “She’d been feeling tired, a bit run down for some time, but when she started to have fainting spells accompanied by chest pain, she wanted to have some tests.”

“How did she hide that from us?” she asked Steven. “I lived with her—”

“She had the tests before you came home,” Monica clarified. “She already knew when you brought the baby home. We ran the usual tests—an ECG, some X-rays, and confirmed the diagnosis. Initially, it seemed to be a mild case. We decided to control it with a combination of drugs.”

“But that’s not working anymore,” Steven said, reaching for Elizabeth’s hand.

“It doesn’t always,” Monica admitted. “Audrey has calcium deposits in her heart—they’re keeping it from pumping correctly. The meds were to control the symptoms with the hope they didn’t worsen. Unfortunately, due to the test results…”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “She needs surgery.”

“Aren’t there a few types of procedures?” Steven asked. “It’s not my specialty, but—”

“There are,” Monica replied. “But she’s not a candidate for the less invasive one, the balloon valvuloplasty. At this point, her best option is to either replace the valve or perform surgery to remove the calcium deposits. Both of these procedures are incredibly risky, particularly for a woman of Audrey’s age.”

“Does Gram know this?” Elizabeth asked. “She seemed to—” She hesitated. “She seemed to have ruled it out before—”

“She’s not particularly interested in surgical options, no.” Monica shifted the chart on her lap. “I had hoped the less invasive one would be an option, but that won’t be the case.”

“How did this even happen?” Steven demanded. “People in this country don’t get mitral stenosis.” At Elizabeth’s blank look, he clarified. “It’s mostly caused by untreated strep throat or rheumatic fever—”

“Well, Audrey has some calcium deposits due to her age, but she worked in Vietnam for several years while she was young.” Monica hesitated. “She suffered from rheumatic fever at that point, but recovered. The damage to her heart was probably minimal while she was younger since your grandmother has been in relatively good health, but as she grew older, it became more noticeable.”

“Okay, so what now?” Elizabeth said, not giving a damn about how her grandmother had developed this disease. “She needs to have the surgery. You told her that, didn’t you?”

“I explained this to her, yes.” Monica hesitated. “But she was a surgical nurse herself once, Elizabeth. She knows the odds with open-heart surgery at her age. The recovery time is several months, with no guarantees her condition wouldn’t redevelop.”

“Without the surgery, what are her odds?” Steven asked. “I mean…” He swallowed. “How long could we expect?”

“Well, I’m going to hope Audrey changes her mind, but we’re going to change the combination of meds and try to control it for as long as we can.” Monica leaned forward. “I want to concentrate on making her comfortable as well. I don’t want her in any pain.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “You didn’t answer the question.”

“If the new combination of medication doesn’t ease the symptoms, if we can’t improve the pumping in her heart…” Monica sighed. “We’re looking at weeks. Maybe eight. Maybe more, maybe less. It’s hard to predict until we start the new treatment.” She hesitated. “I’m sorry, Steven, Elizabeth. This is the last thing I wanted to learn this morning.”

“Thank you, Monica.” Steven looked to his sister. “It’ll be okay, Bits. We’re in this together.”

He squeezed her hand, and Elizabeth returned his half-hearted smile. She only wished she shared his optimism.

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

“Michael’s just gathering his things together,” Carly said as she took a seat on the sofa.

Courtney nodded, tightening her grip on the strap of her purse. “I think he’ll like the amusement park,” she said.

“He usually loves Aunt Courtney day.” Her sister-in-law leaned back, but her casual pose did nothing to disguise the tension in her shoulders. “I’m glad you’ve decided to keep doing it despite our differences.”

Differences.  What a way to describe it. They hadn’t spoken since Sonny’s trip to New York, and Courtney knew Carly believed she was covering for her brother. Covering up what exactly, Carly didn’t care clearly.

“I love Michael and Morgan,” Courtney said. She shifted. “And I love you and my brother. It’s why I hate seeing you all so unhappy. Carly—”

“He’s going to divorce me,” Carly said flatly. “Nothing I’ve done has changed that. It’s just a matter of when.”

“Has—” Courtney hesitated. “Has he said something?”

“No, but he’s better. In control of himself. I don’t know if he’s having an affair or what, but whatever’s going on, he’s not talking to me.” Carly twisted her mouth. “I overplayed my hand.”

It disturbed Courtney to see Carly looking so defeated. She didn’t have a great deal of firsthand experience of watching Carly in action when she felt betrayed or threatened, but she knew enough to suspect Carly was just laying low.

Licking her wounds.

“Maybe it’s for the best,” Courtney offered. “It’s not as though you two have been happy the last few years. You’ve both tried—” When Carly scoffed, Courtney corrected herself. “I know you’ve tried, Carly. No one can say differently.  He shot you in the head and you forgave him. He had an affair, and you forgave him. You were willing to bring an illegitimate daughter into the family, he stopped you. Carly, maybe I don’t agree with all your methods or decisions—”

“Few rarely do,” Carly remarked dryly, but her interest was engaged now.

“But I know your marriage means a lot to you. I don’t think my brother gave you a chance.” Courtney hesitated. “I don’t think either he or Jason ever gave you the chance to deal with Evie and Sam fairly. They lied to you from the start, and now they’ve got themselves wrapped up in this hideous custody tangle. It’s not fair to anyone.”

“I just—I did try.” Carly’s voice broke. “You know me. I try for the easy solutions. Do you think I want Sonny to take Evie away from Jason? I never asked them to do this to themselves. After Michael, I never would have suggested Jason take custody of Evie.” She pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. “But once it was done, I thought it might be okay. Jason is an amazing father and he’d love her so much. And then he fell in love with Elizabeth.”

And those words didn’t do more than pang Courtney’s heart—for what might have been and for what never should have been. “I know. I saw him last spring. There’s a tension in him, but it’s lightened. She was always good for him, Carly.”

“But Sonny is falling apart and it’s not my fault.” Carly shook her head. “It’s not. There’s a darkness in him that I can’t touch, I never could. He always refused help, and Jason used to be able to solve it—” She pressed her lips together. “I knew the guilt of leaving his daughter was eating him alive. I tried to come clean with him, to bring it into the open but now Jason doesn’t think Sonny is stable enough to have custody—” She laughed, a harsh and twisted sound that nearly made Courtney wince.

“And they’re blaming me again for it. They don’t think I’ll love Evie enough.” She rose, to pace in front of the fireplace. “Maybe they’re right. Maybe I am a horrible mother who only loves my sons because they’re mine. And I used to think that I could never look at Evie and not see that whore.”

“Carly—” Courtney cast her eyes to the stairs, hoping Michael was taking his time.

“But I saw her at their engagement party, and—” Carly looked at her. “She’s starting to grow up, like the way babies do. She has her own features. God, Courtney, she has these beautiful dark eyes—she has Sonny’s eyes. Like Morgan. She’s Morgan’s sister.” She pressed a hand to her chest. “I could love Morgan’s sister. I could love that little girl for her sweet laugh.”

“Have you told Sonny any of this?” Courtney asked, rising to her feet. “What does he think?”

“Do you honestly think he’d believe me?” Carly murmured, wrapping her arms around herself. “He and Jason think they know me inside and out. And maybe they do know me better than I know myself. They think I’m a selfish, twisted, narcissist who only loves things I think belong to me.”

“They don’t—” Courtney stopped, because she didn’t know about Jason, but she could believe that of her brother.

“I’ve been fighting for so long to save my marriage, to save my place and position as Sonny Corinthos’ wife, and you know what Courtney?” She turned to her, Carly’s dark eyes hollow.  “I can’t remember why I ever loved him.”

“Then why not stop?” Courtney said gently. “Carly—”

“Because if I’m not Sonny’s wife and the mother of his children, then who am I?” Carly spread her arms at her sound, gesturing the penthouse. “This is all I know. All I’ve wanted for years. And now I just want to burn it to the ground.”

Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom

Jason frowned when he came into the bedroom that night, after checking on both sleeping children. Elizabeth was seated at her vanity table, which served as both a storage for her jewelry and makeup as well as a makeshift desk. He had offered her space downstairs, but she had put him off.

The disorganization of her business files ruffled his own orderly tendencies, but maybe when they moved, he could convince her to set up a proper office.

“Is that a new contract?” he asked, as he sat on the bed to remove his boots.

“Mmm….” Elizabeth nodded. “I talked to the business manager Nikolas suggested, but I wasn’t thrilled with him. If my name is going to be on this building, then I want to feel like I can be involved. He seemed to think I was going to sit back and let him do it all. So I called your custody lawyer…” She looked at him. “Diane? She has a general law practice, so she’s been doing the contracts with me.”

“I didn’t realize you’d called Diane—” Jason hesitated, but Diane only represented him when it came to Evie. Jordan Baines handled the rest of their business, so Elizabeth was still unconnected. “She’s a good lawyer. She’ll take care of you.”

“Yeah, she’s already managed to break down the Jerome Gallery. It’ll be a sixty-forty split, and I get the sixty.” Elizabeth set the contract aside and turned to him. “I thought looking over her notes would take my mind off things, but it’s not.”

“Yeah.” Jason exhaled. “I can guess your grandmother’s tests didn’t go well.”

“God.” She closed her eyes. “No. They went about as badly as they could have. She needs major open heart surgery. Your mother—” Elizabeth hesitated. “Monica said if she doesn’t have it, it’s a matter of months, maybe less.”

He wasn’t surprised. At Audrey’s age, heart problems could precipitate a fast decline. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth.”

“Steven’s going to stay with her for a while.” Elizabeth rose to her feet, crossed the room to open a drawer in her dresser, and removed a t-shirt. “To make sure she’s not alone.”

“Elizabeth—”

“I brought an infant into her home.” She turned to face him, her face pale, eyes wide and dark with pain. “And I still have boxes and crap all over the house because we didn’t move everything—I complicated her life. How much stress did I cause her? How much have I done over the years?”

“Hey.” Jason stood, and drew her towards him, his hands on her elbows. “You know better than that. Your grandmother loves Cameron. And I’ve read about this—they actually recommend light exercise and normal routines. You did not make her condition worse—”

“I just—” Elizabeth dipped her head down, rested it against his chest. “I feel like she and I have really connected this last year. And she’s so essential to me. I had plans. She was going—” He felt tears dampen his shirt. “She was going to walk me down the aisle when we got married. A-and she was going to be so amazing with Cameron, with Evie. I need her to be here.”

“I know.” He slid his arms around her waist, resting his chin on the top of her head. “I wish there was something we could do. If it was a matter of money—”

“But it’s just her own stubbornness.” Elizabeth drew back. “She’s afraid of the recovery, afraid of the surgery, even though Monica is one of the cardiologists in the state. She wants to go out on her own terms, she told us. I’d rather she stand and fight—”

“You might convince her,” Jason told her. “I doubt you’ll give up and let her go without a fight.” He tucked her hair behind her ear. “I know for a fact that you’re pretty bossy when you’re taking care of someone.”

The reminder of their time in the studio drew the faint smile he’d hoped for. “Steven and I are putting together some research. I just—” She drew her bottom lip between her teeth and bit down. “I just thought we were due for a break, Jason. I mean, this last year, for the both of us, has been stressful. My new career, the problems with Sonny—I thought we were finally in a place to be happy for five minutes. I mean…” She looked at him, met his eyes. “We fell in love, we’re planning a life together. Sonny’s turned a corner, why can’t the world leave us alone?”

Jason hesitated, because he wanted to talk to her about Sonny’s revelations earlier that day—that he was being treated only for depression. But he closed his mouth. There was time for that. Another time, another day.

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “Jason? I know that look.”

“It’s not important.” He turned away from her and reached for his sweat pants. He would not burden her with his suspicions, with his worries.

“Jason—” She sighed. “Don’t—don’t protect me. I can deal with it—”

“You shouldn’t have to.” He faced her again, annoyed with himself. “That’s all you’ve done for the better part of a year. You convinced Sonny to see a doctor when no one else could. I’m not going to—” Jason stopped and shook his head.

“Hey…” Elizabeth stepped towards him. “That’s the deal, remember? I mean, I love you. For better or worse, remember? I know we’re not married yet, but do we really need to say the words to know they’re supposed to be true all the time and not just after some ceremony?” She tilted her head. “Jason. If Sonny’s having issues again—”

“I don’t know that he is.” He stripped off his shirt and his jeans and drew on the gray sweatpants. “I just—I’ve talked to you and to Emily. I read about bipolar disorder, and I thought it made sense. But Sonny told me he wasn’t diagnosed with that.”

“He wasn’t?”

“No.” Jason sat on the bed and drew her down next to him. “He’s being treated for depression.”

Her eyes bulged. “Oh, God. He’s on anti-depressants. Nikolas—we talked about this. This very thing. God.” Elizabeth squeezed his hand. “Depression doesn’t explain the rages. The mood changes.”

“No,” Jason agreed, his chest tight. “But I think he talked to the doctor during one of the low points, and you know Sonny. He was probably trying to protect himself. Trying to protect the business.” He looked down at their joined hands. “If he’s actually bipolar—”

“Anti-depressants are only going to make it worse when he cycles back up again,” she murmured.

“I mean, maybe we’re wrong,” Jason said after a moment of tense silence. “We’re not psychiatrists—”

“But we know Sonny,” Elizabeth challenged. “And this doctor only has Sonny’s side of things. I just—yeah, Sonny was depressed when I saw him—”

“I need to do more reading,” he told her. “Elizabeth, I’m going to be on top of this. I promise—”

“Jason—”

“I’m not going to sit back like I did last year,” he interrupted. “It’s not just about custody of Evie. When Sonny has these moments, when he loses it, it affects everyone. Carly and the boys. You and the kids. The guys at work don’t trust him the way they used to. They’re still looking at me to confirm his orders, which Sonny is tolerating now, but it won’t last. He—” Jason cut off his irritated tirade. So much for not burdening Elizabeth.

“Jason, Carly needs to be brought into this.”

He frowned at her, started to shake his head, but she pressed her lips in a mutinous line. “Listen to me. Carly lives with him, she has children with him. I’m not thrilled with the ways she’s dealt with this situation, but you know you haven’t been fair to her. You lied to her, Sonny treats her with such disdain—”

“Elizabeth—”

“You know I’m right. Carly deserves the chance to deal with this the way we are.” Elizabeth touched his cheek. “You are not alone, Jason. You are not the only person who can look out for Sonny. I’m here. Carly should be, too. We need to start working together. I’m scared of what might happen if we keep holding her out of this.”

Jason sighed. “She and I—we’re so far apart—”

“I’ll talk to her,” Elizabeth said. He winced, but she forged on. “I know we have our issues, but we both have children in this world. Jason, let me do this for you. If nothing else…” She sighed. “It’ll distract me from my grandmother.”

He would never understand this woman, never comprehend the generosity of her heart, the fact that she loved him and was willing to raise her son in his life—

“I love you,” he told her. Elizabeth blinked at that. “I don’t say it enough—”

“You don’t have to…” She leaned forward, brushed her lips against his. “I can see it in your eyes, I can feel it when you touch me. Maybe I needed the words once, but I don’t—”

“You deserve them.” He returned her kisses, deeper now. “For all the times I didn’t say it.”

“Well…” She slid her arms around his neck, her fingers lightly dancing across the nape of his neck. “Then why don’t you show me?”

July 22, 2015

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

I’ve come too far
To see the end now
Even if my way is wrong
I keep pushing on and on and on and on
There’s nothing left to say now
There’s nothing left to say now

Nothing Left To Say Now, Imagine Dragons


Monday, August 15, 2005

 Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom

 Everything happened at once. Jason’s cell phone began to chirp just before the land line’s shrill ring joined in, and somewhere in the distance, a loud banging could be heard.

Elizabeth sat straight up, instantly alert, as Jason reached for his phone, already climbing out of the bed. She heard him say something, but she was already standing and reaching for her robe.

She pulled open the door and winced as she heard Evie’s soft cries joining Cameron’s surprised wail. Nora stepped out of her room, blearily rubbing her eyes. “Is there a fire?” she mumbled.

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said, moving down the hall and heading for the stairs. The door downstairs opened and she heard Milo, Max, and Sonny’s voices. “Hell. Can you calm the kids down?”

“Sure.” Nora disappeared into the nursery.

“Damn it,” Jason muttered, exiting behind her and tugging on a t-shirt. “There’s a fire at the warehouse,” he told her.

Elizabeth frowned. “And that’s reason for them to burst in—” She huffed. “Excuse me while I go downstairs and knock some sense into them—”

“I’ll take care of it,” Jason interrupted. He winced again as he heard the cries from the nursery. “I’d rather if you—”

“Stay out of the way.” She nodded and sighed, tying her robe more tightly. “I get it, Jason, but this is insane—”

“I know.” His face was tight, his annoyance clear. “The cell phone was enough.”

“Jason?” Sonny bellowed. “Where the hell are you?”

“He’s coming!” Elizabeth snarled. “It’s three in the morning, Sonny! Thanks for the waking the kids—” She bit off the profanity she was about to let loose. It wouldn’t help. “Just get him out of here,” she hissed to Jason.

He nodded and headed down the steps as Elizabeth went to assist Nora with the kids. It would be a miracle if she could get them to settle back down, and it was more likely that they would both join her in bed.

Corinthos-Morgan Warehouse: Exterior

 If Jason had any doubts Sonny’s illness had been misdiagnosed, they were gone within the hour.

The warehouse was engulfed in flames by the time Jason and Sonny arrived at the warehouse, Milo and Max both having been left behind in order to keep the penthouse level secure.

“I fucking knew it!” Sonny growled as they exited the car and came to the police line. “I told you he was up to no good!”

Seeing as how just hours earlier, Sonny had been convinced the troubles were gone, Jason said nothing.  He searched through the various emergency vehicles and officials, hoping to find one of the men who staffed the warehouse at night.

“Jason, Sonny.” Mac Scorpio approached them, his face marked with soot, his skin sweaty from the steaming heat. He rose his voice to be heard over the din. “We’re not sure how many people were inside—”

Sonny caught sight of Johnny O’Brien and abruptly left without a word. Jason kept an eye on him while trying to concentrate on the police commissioner. “Ah,” he coughed. “I think maybe five, seven at the most. Johnny—” He jerked this thumb at the duo standing about ten feet away. “He’s the warehouse manager, he’d know the schedule better.”

They both watched for a moment as the man in question stood like a statue while Sonny ranted and raved. The words “Zacchara, your fault, and bomb” filtered back to them.

“Any indication this is retribution for something?” Mac said blandly.

“No.” Jason shook his head. It would have been his standard answer regardless, but it was true. The problems they had been having were penny-ante. Blowing up their warehouse would have been an insane next step—it stopped all movement through the territory cold for weeks, even months. “I mean that, Mac. If you find evidence of arson, I’m going to be pissed as hell.” He planted his hands at his waist and shook his head. “Are they going to be able to put it out?”

“They’re trying to keep it from spreading at the moment,” Mac answered. He looked again at Sonny. “He seems convinced of this Zacchara guy. I’d rather keep the devil I know, if you know what I mean.” He rolled his shoulders. “Jason—”

“Mac, I’m not bullshitting you,” Jason said. He looked back the fire. “Did anyone make it out?”

“We’ve got five men. Two are en route to the hospital,” Mac answered. “Some burns. Some smoke inhalation. One looks serious.” He hesitated. “They said the fire looked like it started in one of the large work rooms, where the coffee is stored.  That’s where the flames came from.”

“It looked fine when I left.” Jason folded his arms. “I’ll have Johnny talk to you, give you a full statement.” When Mac looked skeptical, he continued. “Full cooperation on this, Mac, you have my word. I have no reason to suspect arson, and no way to find out on my own if it was.”

“Fair enough.” Mac saw a firefighter trying to get his attention. “I have O’Brien’s information. Tell him we’ll be in touch. Right now, our focus is on getting this bastard out.”

“Yeah.” When the commissioner had left, Jason went over to Sonny and Johnny. The younger man looked pissed as hell, and Sonny—

Sonny looked like he had several months ago, when the slightest upset could send him over the edge.

“Mac said they got five men out so far, two are at the hospital. How many men were working tonight?” Jason asked, ignoring Sonny.

“Just them,” Johnny said. “It was a light night, they were mostly for security—”

“Some fucking security—”

Jason shot Sonny a glare. “Remember where we are,” he said, his teeth clenched. He looked back to Johnny, “We’ll be working out of my office at the penthouse for the next few days. You’re to give Mac your full cooperation—”

“God damn it, Jason—”

“I don’t believe this is arson,” Jason told Johnny. “The whole point of making commercial deals with the other Families was to ensure peace was in their financial interests. It would be the height of insanity, and I can’t think of how a bomb would get past the new security measures.”

“Me either—”

Obviously they did,” Sonny cut in, his face flushed, his eyes bulging. He slashed his hand through the air. “I’ve had it up to here, Jason. I want Zacchara gone.”

The order, given so publicly and so precipitously, was also the height of insanity, and Jason saw Johnny’s eyes shift away. He sighed. “Johnny, have our guy double check Zacchara’s whereabouts.” When Johnny just lifted his brows, Jason clarified. “To put doubts to rest.”

“You’re fucking countering my orders?” Sonny demanded. His eyes narrowed. “I’ll take care of it myself.”

He stalked away, towards the car that brought them there.

“Jason—” Johnny began.

“Put someone on Johnny Zacchara immediately,” Jason interrupted, his eyes trained on Sonny. “And—and someone on Sonny. I don’t want him going off like this. I don’t want Anthony Zacchara going after us for doing something to his kid when the facts aren’t in.”

“I’m on it, but Jase?” Johnny shook his head. “We need to make some changes, and we need to make them fast. Or this whole thing is going to fall apart. We’re not going to survive another year like the last.”

“I know.” Jason exhaled slowly. “I know,” he repeated. “We’ll—we’ll talk about it. But I want eyes and ears on Zacchara and Sonny for now. I want to know what we’re dealing with first.”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Carly sighed and nodded when Max opened the door to reveal Elizabeth standing there. “Sure, why not? This day has been shot to hell anyway.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, but came in. “Hey. Were you able to get back to sleep?”

Carly hesitated, looked away. She and Sonny no longer shared a room, so he’d received his phone call, dressed, and left for Jason’s without even telling her. “Yeah. You?”

“Not really.” The other woman waited a moment. “But that’s because Cam and Evie are so young, I guess. It’s not easy to settle them back down after someone pounds on the door at three in the morning, then bursts in shouting at the top of their lungs. I had to put them in bed with me just to get another hour.”

Carly frowned and gestured towards the breakfast nook. “Have a seat. I don’t know why Sonny would do that. Jason’s always been a light sleeper.”

Elizabeth lifted a brow at the reminder that Carly knew Jason’s sleeping habits, but let it pass. She and Carly sat down. “I guess Sonny wasn’t thinking. I haven’t heard from Jason, but that’s probably a good sign. He’d be in touch if something was wrong.”

Carly nodded, still mystified at this visit. Their last interaction had been at the party a few days earlier, but Elizabeth looked to be ignoring it for some reason.

“I’m here, Carly, not because of the fire, but because I wanted to talk to you.” Elizabeth waited a moment, as if searching for the right words. “We’re both raising children in this world, and I’m tired of walking on eggshells. I know you must be, as well.”

Carly nodded, warily. “Sure.”

“Sonny and I are not having an affair,” Elizabeth said. Carly narrowed her eyes, but the other woman continued. “I don’t think it’s my place to tell you what’s been going on but I highly doubt Sonny has told you and after this morning, I can’t take the chance he might later.”

“If someone doesn’t tell me what’s going on, I’m going to scream,” Carly snapped. The twit got to be in the inner circle, but not her? What the goddamn hell?

“I think it’s for the best if we lay our cards on the table.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “You know Sonny’s been struggling all year, and it’s not just about Evie and Sam.”

Her muscles tightened at the name of that soul-sucking whore, but Carly fought back the urge to snarl something. She needed information. Elizabeth had it. “I’ve noticed,” she said, her tone clipped. Get on with it.

“He went to a doctor in New York last month,” the brunette revealed. “That’s where he was with Courtney. And the doctor diagnosed him with depression. He’s been taking medication.”

Carly blinked at that and sat back. She had not expected that. “Depression,” she repeated. “That…” She squinted. “So that’s why he’s been better?”

“I think he’s actually bipolar,” Elizabeth replied. She reached into her bag and removed a few pamphlets. “They used to call it manic-depressive disorder. It’s marked by extreme highs, extreme lows—”

Against her better nature, Carly reached for the pamphlets. “What makes you think you know Sonny better than an actual doctor?” She winced when she heard the annoyance in her voice.

“I don’t know if I am right,” Elizabeth admitted, unfazed. “I just…I’m worried that if it is bipolar disorder, anti-depressants can exacerbate the symptoms, particularly if Sonny starts to head for an extreme high.”

Carly hesitated. “Because if he’s already feeling the highs from the disorder, the medicine makes it worse.”

“It’s been known to trigger psychotic breaks,” Elizabeth replied with a nod. “Carly, I’m not saying I’m right. I’m just saying I’m not satisfied anymore with Sonny’s progress. He was doing well for a few weeks, but I know he’s not being honest with you. I’m sure he’ll be angry that I’m telling you this, but you have a right to know. You have children in this home.”

How she despised being in the position to be grateful to this woman, but Carly couldn’t ignore the gesture. “You know Sonny won’t listen to me. He’s waiting to divorce me.”

Elizabeth faltered, looked away for a moment. “I think it’d be a mistake right now for him to start a process like that. He’s not stable, Carly. The man who burst into my home this morning—Sonny wouldn’t do that. The way he’s treated Jason for the last year—that’s not the Sonny you and I know.”

“No, I suppose not, though Jason’s not helping things.” Carly set the pamphlets down. “How much easier do you think this would be if Jason hadn’t started this mess?”

Elizabeth leaned back and shook her head. “Carly—”

“He’s not a saint, Elizabeth. He lied to Sonny. He lied to me. He took Evie from Sonny. And he knew what that was doing to him—”

“I can’t answer for those things,” Elizabeth interrupted. “I wasn’t here. I wasn’t involved. What is the point of looking back—”

“Because this is Jason’s fault.” Carly rose to her feet. “He lied to us both. He and that manipulative whore trapped Sonny into giving away his daughter. Now Jason won’t give her back—”

“He’s not stable,” Elizabeth repeated, getting to her feet and narrowing her eyes. “I don’t think he should be around any child, much less a defenseless infant. Sonny isn’t blameless, Carly—”

“No, but maybe that’s why he’s going over the edge again,” Carly challenged. “Because he was better, and Jason still refused. Maybe this is the payback Jason has been waiting for—for sleeping with me, for Michael.”

And that had to be it. Because if Sonny was raising Evie, it would all be better. She knew that. It would be the way she planned it. Maybe Sonny was ill—maybe this explained everything. If Carly could get him Evie, could get him the right treatment, he’d stay with her.

And it would be good again.

“You tell Jason he knows how to make this end. He always has. He just refuses to do it.” Carly lifted her chin. “I’m sorry for what I put him through with Michael, but that doesn’t give him the right to keep Evie.”

“I’m not having this conversation with you.” Elizabeth picked up her purse. “I came here to tell you what Sonny’s dealing with. How you deal with it is up to you, Carly.”

Before Carly could think of a retort, the other woman turned and stalked out, slamming the door behind her.

As if she were the wronged party!

Carly was the one who had been lied to, was the one whose way of life and marriage was at risk.

But maybe Elizabeth Webber had given the tools to make it better. She could still fix this. She could still make this right.

If Jason didn’t want to see reason, well then, Carly would have to make him.

Morgan Penthouse: Jason’s Office

Jason had never intended to put this small room to active use. It housed his desk only because the space in the living room was better suited to a playpen and other pieces of furniture necessary for a nine-month-old and fifteen month old.

The idea of discussing business while Nora had Cam and Evie in the playroom upstairs tied his stomach in knots, but it could not be helped. The warehouse was off the table and until something more permanent could be arranged, this was for the best.

“They got the fire out after about two hours,” their business manager Bernie said. “They called out the arson investigators but I don’t think they found anything suspicious. We won’t have the report for a few more days, though.”

Jason sighed and put his head in his hands. “Johnny, eyes and ears on Zacchara and Sonny?”

“Max is with Sonny, but he only caught up to him about an hour ago.” Johnny hesitated. “We haven’t located Zacchara yet.”

Jason exhaled slowly. Shit. “Okay. How did Max…how did he take that assignment? I know we pulled him off the door—”

“He’s fine with tailing Sonny since he’s refusing his normal guards.” Johnny shifted. “Rocco is on the door, now. He’s good. Listen, Jason—”

“Johnny, I don’t have the time right now to deal with that,” Jason cut him off. “I know what you’re going to say. I can’t—” He shook his head. “I can’t do anything out right. We need to do damage control.” He looked to Bernie. “You’ve been in touch with Families?”

“They’ve expressed their concerns,” Bernie responded. “We’re putting an offer in a second warehouse—we had discussed buying a second one some time ago but it didn’t seem necessary. For the future though—”

“It probably doesn’t hurt to have a backup the next time.” Jason glanced around the all but bare room. It had a desk, a filing cabinet and a chair.  “We’ll meet here for a while. The cops will probably back off by the end of the week. We can probably get back to a reasonable schedule in about two weeks.”

Bernie exchanged a look with Johnny before pursing his lips. “Jason, you know I have nothing but respect for Sonny—”

Jason doubted that. “Bernie—”

“Jason,” the older man interrupted, “the men are restless. Sonny’s actions this morning did not go unnoticed. He was…not himself. And I don’t have to tell you that the reason we haven’t seen more of an erosion of trust is more about you than it is loyalty for Sonny.”

“Sonny’s a loose cannon,” Johnny said bluntly. “None of us want to work for him anymore and we don’t know why the hell you put up with him.”

Jason stared at his friend, at someone who had been with Sonny almost as long as he had. This was what Jason had been trying to avoid for more than a year. Johnny had addressed the elephant in the room.

“Johnny—”

“You got a family now,” Johnny continued. “You can’t tell me you’re not afraid of what’ll happen if we can’t get Sonny on a leash. Do you think Max can really control him? He’s just a babysitter and knows it.” He lifted his chin. “I love you like a brother, Jase, and I’d walk through fire for you. But not for him. Not ever again.”

“Johnny, maybe not so bluntly,” Bernie murmured.

Jason honestly didn’t have an answer—and certainly not the one Johnny was looking for. It terrified him that Sonny could go off half-cocked and do something to the son of Anthony Zacchara. Zacchara was an old-school mobster with a penchant for cruelty and a touch of insanity himself. He was ruthless. If something happened to his pride and joy while on Sonny’s turf…he’d raze the city to the ground.

And there were too many people in the line of fire. Elizabeth and their kids. Carly and her boys. If something happened to one of them because of Sonny’s instability—

But to take control was to say something definitive about the future, about Sonny himself, and maybe Jason just wasn’t ready to let go.

Sonny knew he had problems. If they could get him under control, get him real treatment, not all was lost. They just needed to contain him until this had passed.

“You’re not wrong,” Jason said finally. “Sonny’s not stable. And all decisions are going through me right now. I need you to put all your energy into locating Zacchara—”

“Calling him Zacchara makes me think of his father. Can’t we just call him Junior?” Johnny interrupted. “Little bastard has my name—”

“Whatever. Find him. Bring him to me. I have to get him out of Port Charles until I can—” Fix Sonny. Fix the world. Maybe even in that order. “I can’t have Anthony Zacchara bringing his brand of crazy up here. Not now.”

“And when we have Junior contained?” Bernie prompted. “This isn’t going away, Jason. If you don’t step up, someone else will. And what should be a relatively peaceful exchange of power might turn bloody. It might not be one of our own who challenges us—”

“All we need is Hector Ruiz smelling blood in the water and he’ll sic Lorenzo Alcazar on us all over again,” Johnny interrupted. “Or he’ll send one of his insane sons. Jason—”

“I get it!” Jason shot back. “I’m putting out fires right now, Johnny. Don’t ask me to do this. Not now. I have to talk to Sonny. I have to get him under control—”

“I get that he’s your friend, that he’s family to you,” Johnny countered. “But you have a responsibility to the men who lay their life on the line for you. To your new fiancée and to those kids upstairs—”

“Don’t fucking tell me my responsibilities, O’Brien,” Jason snarled. “I get it. Go find Junior.”

“This isn’t over,” Johnny tossed over his shoulder as he stalked out.

Bernie sighed. “It grieves me that it’s come to this,” he said quietly. “I remember when men followed Sonny without question, but that changed somewhere along the line. They follow you now. And you know that. Moreover, Sonny knows that. I’m not blind—Sonny has troubles.”

“Bernie—”

“You’ve had your head in the sand for more than a year,” the older man said, almost gently. “Sonny hasn’t been himself since Lorenzo Alcazar gas lighted him with that Lily look alike. He shot Carly in the head, he had an affair—and he treated that young woman with such disrespect…” He sighed. “And then the business with your daughter. You and Sonny have been traveling down different roads for a long time. You’re just the only one who doesn’t see it.”

“I see it,” Jason said after a moment. He looked at Bernie. “I didn’t want to, but I do. I promise you, Bernie, that I don’t just worry about my family. I worry about all the men who work with us. I won’t let it turn bloody.”

“Good.” Bernie nodded. “I’ll get started on the new warehouse.” He hesitated. “I really am sorry about this, Jason, but if something happens to Johnny Zacchara—”

“I know,” Jason said. “Let’s…let’s just hope that’s not the case.”

Or he wouldn’t be able to stop the blood from running in the streets.

Hardy Home: Living Room

“Your mind is somewhere else, darling.”

Audrey’s tired voice drew Elizabeth’s attention and she focused on her grandmother. “I’m sorry, Gram. I didn’t get much sleep.”

“I saw the fire in the newspaper.” Audrey shifted her position on the sofa and sipped her tea. “Is everyone all right?”

“Everyone got out,” Elizabeth responded, leaning back and closing her eyes for a moment. “Jason called me a little while ago to let me know he was okay. He had to go down there around three. The commotion woke Cam and Evie, I barely got another hour…”

“You should have stayed home and rested while your nanny took the kids—”

“No, I wanted to see you, Gram. I’ll sleep tonight, I’m sure.” Elizabeth offered him a smile she hoped was more genuine than it felt.

Jason had told her that with the offices at the warehouse of commission, he’d be using the office at home. Not Sonny’s penthouse. Jason’s. And Sonny’s ranting and early morning visit to the penthouse made her worry that he’d begun to lose his control again.

She was beginning to believe Sonny’s days of running Port Charles were numbered, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

“Gram,” Elizabeth said, taking a deep breath. “I wanted to talk to you about what Monica said yesterday.”

Audrey pressed her lips together. “Elizabeth, I don’t want to argue—”

“I don’t either.” She leaned forward. “But, Gram—”

“I’ve done nothing but consider my options for months. I’ve made my decision, Elizabeth. Please tell me you respect it.”

“How can I?” Elizabeth demanded. “You’re giving up. I need you. Steven and Sarah need you. Uncle Tom needs you—”

“You’d never know from the copious amount of phone calls,” her grandmother said tartly. “Elizabeth, I promise you, I am not giving up. We’re trying a new treatment—I don’t want to argue about it.”

“Gram—”

“I don’t want to argue,” Audrey repeated.

Because she recognized the glint in her grandmother’s eyes, Elizabeth subsided. She’d try again later, but she wasn’t going to contribute to her grandmother’s stress. “I just…I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Audrey squeezed her hand. “Please trust me.”

“I do,” she replied, though her heart wasn’t in her answer.

In the span of only a matter of days, everything she’d built over the last year suddenly seemed to be slipping away and she wasn’t sure how to stop it.

Nadine Crowell’s Apartment: Living Room

Nadine Crowell had told herself that dating Johnny Zacchara was going to be a disaster, but more than a year later, she’d mostly dismissed their major obstacles.

He didn’t seem to mind that she hadn’t traveled as much as he had, that she wasn’t a huge fan of classical music (though she could listen to him play all day long), and that she didn’t have a lot of money.

But he was always going to be Johnny Zacchara, son of Anthony Zacchara. He didn’t want to introduce her to anyone in his family, though she occasionally ran into his sister in New York. He wanted to keep her separate from all of that.

Which might have worked if she didn’t live in a town controlled by Sonny Corinthos.

With one eye on the tabloid news program speculating on the various rivals that could have blown up the Corinthos-Morgan warehouse, Nadine kept an eye on her phone, waiting for Johnny to call.

Because he was late. And he was never late. He considered being on time as being late, so he was always obnoxiously early for everything.

Except tonight.

On a night when his father was rumored to have blown up a warehouse owned by the local gangster.

He never came that night. He never called or returned any of her texts. His phone rang and rang until somewhere around one in the morning. It went straight to voicemail, meaning it had either been shut off or the phone had died.

Something horrible had happened to her boyfriend and there wasn’t a soul in the world Nadine could tell.

July 29, 2015

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

As the smoke and mirrors start to fade away
And we’re all we’ve got so let’s hold on tight
To the dreams that came before the fight
We were living smoke and mirrors anyway

Smoke and Mirrors, Lifehouse


Friday, August 19, 2005

Morgan Penthouse: Jason’s Office

 “An accident,” Jason repeated as he glanced through the initial report Johnny handed him. “They didn’t find any signs of arson?”

“No.” The other man leaned back in the chair they’d pulled in from the kitchen, one leg over his knee. “And believe me, between Scorpio and Lansing, they were looking. There’s no sign of accelerants. They’re leaning towards an electrical short as a source. Some sparks ignited on the main floor. The men didn’t see the flames until that room was engulfed.”

An accident. He could deal with that. He could work with that. He would show this report to Sonny and things could ease back. He hadn’t been able to pin Sonny down all week, and the truth be told, with Max tailing him, Jason had avoided his partner, not wanting to have the conversation they both knew they had to have.

“All right. As long as the police don’t change their opinions, I think we can relax there.” Jason set the report aside. He looked to Johnny. “I want you and the warehouse crew working with Bernie to get the new warehouse situated. I want everything up to code, I want the best security. I’m getting tired of replacing warehouses.”

It was their third warehouse in five years to go up in flames. This was getting ridiculous.

“You got it, Jase.”

They both turned their attention to Max who had remained uncharacteristically silent so far this morning. “Max?”

“Sonny’s…” The tall, brawny man scrubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t know how to describe it, Jase. He either knows I’m following him or I’m getting bad at this job, because I’ve lost him maybe once nearly every day. Not for long, but damn if I can’t figure out how it’s happening.”

Sonny disappearing for stretches of time during the same period Jason couldn’t put his hands on Johnny Zacchara did not bode well.

“If he knows you’re on him, then it’s time to add someone else to cover the bases. Pull whatever guy Francis thinks is best and add him to the detail. I need eyes and ears on Sonny at all times, Max.”

“I know, I know. I got Rocco on the door now while Sonny’s home and with him when he leaves, but even Rocco can’t ignore an order to leave him alone. It’s not the way this works.”

“I know.” Jason leaned back. “We’ll figure something else out, but for now, Max, I need you to make this happen.”

And with that, Sonny’s guard was dismissed.

“O’Brien,” Jason said, “don’t start with me right now.”

“I’m not,” Johnny said. “You and me, we started in this business around the same time. You know that, right? So some of the guys have approached me.” When Jason glared at him, Johnny shook his head. “I’m not giving you names. But they want a change and they looked to me. You can’t lose the trust of the men who work in this organization, Jason, by pussy footing around. I put them off. I told them that until we got Junior under wraps and packed off to Daddy, drawing any more attention to our troubles with a power play would be suicide.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “I appreciate that, Johnny.” A mutiny was the last thing he needed right now.

“Are Elizabeth and the kids okay with us coming in and out of here so much this week?” Johnny asked. “I don’t see them around much.”

Jason’s shoulders tightened. He did not want to talk about the tension and stress that permeated his home these days. “They’re fine. Nora keeps the kids in the playroom upstairs and takes them to the park. Elizabeth works out of her studio most of the time. They know it’s temporary.” He frowned when Johnny appeared to hesitate. “What?”

“It’s not temporary, Jase.” Johnny rose to his feet. “I mean, you know that, right? We’ll find another place to meet often, but this…the level of responsibility you’re taking on? It’s just the beginning. Does she know that? Is that what she even signed on for?”

“You can go now,” Jason responded blandly.

For once, Johnny shut his mouth and left without another harsh reminder of how quickly things had unraveled. If Jason had thought this last year was difficult—trying to juggle his deteriorating partnership with Sonny, building a life with Elizabeth—it was nothing compared to this last week. He was no longer able to support the illusion that Sonny was in control.

He didn’t want the power, he never had, but he might have to take it in order to protect everyone else.

Wyndemere: Sitting Room

 Emily was smiling when she saw Elizabeth come through the door to her sitting room. “I’m so glad you’re finally here!”

Elizabeth managed a weak laugh as her friend hugged her tightly. “I came as soon as you called. You said it was urgent.” She’d dropped her brush, her paints, everything in order to race to the boat launch.

“Oh.” Emily colored a bit as they both sat on the sofa. “I’m sorry, Liz. I should have thought—I mean, I think it’s urgent, but it’s not in the sense of what Jason might mean.” She took Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “I just…I wanted to tell you. And I wanted to tell you now, and immediately, because I want some brightness in our life.”

And didn’t Elizabeth need that quite desperately? “Emily, what’s going on?”

“I’m pregnant!”

The words seemed to explode out of Emily’s mouth like a comet shooting across the sky. She laughed as she said them, drawing her hands back to touch her flat abdomen. “I’m only six weeks along, but I’m having a baby!”

“Oh…” Elizabeth pressed her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God. Emily. Em.” She leaned forward and hugged her best friend with all the strength she could muster. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe it. I didn’t even know you were trying!”

“Since the wedding. Nikolas was a bit apprehensive—you know how badly Cassadines are with raising kids, but I told him I didn’t want to wait a single moment longer.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “I wanted to catch up to you. I didn’t want so much space between our kids. Two years is an eternity!”

“Oh, Emily…” Tears stung her eyes, and she hugged her again. “I love you so much. I’m so thrilled for you, what incredible news!”

“I’m due in late March, early April or so, according to Dr. Lee at the hospital.” Emily beamed. “I told my mother when I found out, because you know, Mom, and she’s just like—if sunbeams and rainbows could emerge from this woman, I think they would. She’s over the moon about having three grandchildren.”

Elizabeth’s smile faltered at the first time, though she appreciated the way Monica had embraced her son. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Evie, Em.”

Emily pursed her lips. “I know things have been a bit tough this week with that awful fire, but Nikolas said the fire report said it was an accident.” She hesitated. “That helps, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know.” Elizabeth rose and walked towards the large windows overlooking the stables. “I’m sorry I said anything, Em, really. This is your day—”

“Hey, we had my moment. Now I want to talk to you.” Emily stood. “Things are okay, aren’t they? I mean, I know about Audrey—”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “A week ago, I was floating on air,” she murmured. “Everything was coming together for me. You know? I had this incredible career with the prospect of even more success. I have this wonderful little boy who makes everything worth it. I have wonderful friends, amazing family.” She turned, opening her eyes. “And I had Jason, this unbelievable man who loved me, who wants my son. And Sonny—Sonny was like his old self. It was perfect.”

“Most of that is still true,” Emily said, but her tone was hesitant. “Isn’t it? Is Sonny…is he sliding again?”

“I think so, but Jason hasn’t said anything.” Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “He was fine on Friday night, but by Sunday, I could see Jason was having doubts about it lasting. He said Sonny is only being treated for depression.”

“Hell.” Emily’s mouth twisted. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”

“And then, Monday morning—” Elizabeth twisted her fingers together. “Sonny called Jason at three about the fire. But he had Max calling him on the landline, and Jason had only missed one ring—he answered it on the second, but it wasn’t fast enough. By the time Jason answered it, Sonny was already pounding at our door. I could hear Max and Milo trying to hold him back, but he burst through the door, shouting Jason’s name. He was out of control, Em. The kids were crying, I couldn’t get them settled down—”

“Well, the fire was upsetting…” Emily trailed off. “But I get it, it must have been scary.”

“And Jason’s working all the time. I’m not complaining about that,” she added in a rush of breath. “I’m just—I’m confused. I know Jason has always done a lot of the delegating, a lot of the go between stuff, but it’s different, Emily. He’s working out of the penthouse because the warehouse is gone, and that’s fine. Nora keeps the kids out of the way, and I’m at the studio or my grandmother’s, but I—I don’t think it’s temporary.”

Emily sat on the sofa, her dark eyes wide. “He’s going to take over.”

“I don’t know.” Elizabeth brought her hand to her mouth, bit on her fingernail, her other hand at her waist. “He’s not talking to me. He’s working all hours of the night, and I’m dividing my time between my studio, the kids, and my grandmother—” She closed her eyes. “It’s slipping away from me, Emily. Just like before.”

“Hey.” Emily took her hand and tugged her down. “Hey. Listen. Tell me what you’re thinking. What’s like before?”

Elizabeth could hardly breathe now that she had said the horrible words she had been holding in for days. “Before. When we tried.  There was stuff going on with the business then, and Sonny was going through this. That’s when he faked his death. Jason lied to me about Sonny being dead, and I was so angry. He wasn’t talking to me, he wasn’t coming home. It was like I didn’t matter, that I wasn’t important enough. And when I found out, I just—I exploded.”

She bit her lip. “Carly, who had turned Sonny into the Feds a year earlier, she got to know the plan, but not me. I hid Jason while he was shot, you know? I sacrificed friendships and my reputation to keep him safe, but none of that mattered. I felt worthless. Unimportant. Unloved. So I walked.”

“Elizabeth…” Emily murmured. “I didn’t—”

“Jason told me earlier this year that Sonny was on the verge of a breakdown during that period—that he’d been questioning his loyalty and his decisions. That Sonny had wanted to keep me in the dark, so Jason agreed to preserve the peace. And I let it go when he told me, because I could see Jason hadn’t seen it as choosing Sonny over me. But I did.”

“And still do, obviously.” Emily tilted her head. “Do you think he’s going to choose Sonny again?”

“I don’t know, because I don’t know what’s going on,” Elizabeth replied. “And I can’t push him. He’ll just tell me there are things I can’t know, like he did before. Emily, I don’t care if Jason ends up in charge. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t think that was a possibility, but…”

“You don’t want to be the last one to know again.” Emily sighed. “I’m so sorry—”

“No, I’m sorry.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m—I’m just tired, you know? It’s been a rough week, and I’m sure with the fire being an accident, things will be okay. It’s fine, Em.”

“It’s not.” Emily tightened her grip on Elizabeth’s hands, preventing her from standing. “And you get to feel the way you feel. I get it.  I wasn’t here that last time, but I can see the parallels. A dangerous business situation, Sonny’s going off the rails, and you and Jason are trying to juggle a life together. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t feel some of the same doubts.”

She leaned forward. “You need to vent, you need to talk about this to me. Because I’ll talk you through it. Elizabeth, maybe there are similarities, but you know there are very important differences.”

When Elizabeth hesitated, Emily pressed her point. “You know there are,” she repeated. “And I want you to list them, so you can reassure yourself that is not the crisis you’re building it up to be.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “We’re engaged,” she said softly. “And we were just…barely starting something then. We’ve made promises, said things we’ve never said before.”

“Good. What else?”

“He’s already started the paperwork to adopt Cameron, and I know that’s not a decision he’d take lightly. I know he loves my son.”

Some of the tightness in her chest was starting to dissipate. “And until this week, he’s been brutally honest about Sonny’s condition, even about some of the problems he’s been facing at work. I didn’t know what Jason was facing the last time. I never would have walked out if I’d known Sonny’s issues back then.”

“Exactly, Liz.” Emily squeezed her hands once more before releasing them. “You and Jason are stronger now. You weren’t then. Jason’s going through a lot right now, and so are you. The last thing either one of you needs is doubts about what the other is thinking. Do you think if you’ve seen the parallels, Jason hasn’t?”

“He can’t think—” Elizabeth looked at her friend. “I would never leave him. I’m just—scared of what this is all going to mean. Of what’s going to change. But I would never walk out because of his job. It was never about what he does.”

She closed her eyes. “I need to talk to him. I need to assure him that I’m here. I told him that before. I said that I was in it, that I mattered. But then I walked away from him. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Good. We have that established.” Emily hesitated. “About Sonny. I don’t—if he’s triggered a manic part of the disorder, then we’re in for a bumpy ride. Do you think that’s happening? Or is this just a setback?”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth replied. “I just—” She closed her eyes. “I told Carly everything a few days ago, but it didn’t change anything. She just has something else to blame Jason for. She seems to think if we handed Evie back to Sonny, this would all stop.”

“It’s not Evie’s job to fix Sonny,” Emily said, bristling. “Maybe Jason made mistakes, but his mistakes have kept that little girl in a safe and calm environment for the last year. Can we say that about Michael and Morgan?”

“I’m just—I’m scared, Emily. Everything is falling apart. I’m not—I know that if Jason and I are honest with one another, we can get through it, but that doesn’t mean what’s in front of us isn’t terrifying.”

“It’ll be okay, Liz.” But Emily didn’t look convinced.

Harborview Towers: Hallway

Jason stepped out of the elevator at the same time Carly and her guard were stepping on. He put his hand on the door to keep it from closing. “Carly. I’ve been trying to catch you for a few days.”

“Oh?” The blonde arched a brow. “That’s a change from the last year or so, isn’t it, Jase?”

Jason hesitated. “Carly—”

“I know all about Sonny’s supposed mental illness.” Carly lifted her chin. “Did you tell him he was crazy so you could keep Evie? He thinks he’s depressed, but I know better. I read those stupid pamphlets your girlfriend gave me. Sonny’s always been obsessed with power, with control. That doesn’t make him crazy.”

“No,” Jason said slowly, realizing Elizabeth had gone ahead and spoke to Carly as they had planned. “No, that’s not what we’re saying. Carly, you know how Sonny gets—” He flicked his eyes to her guard, but as it was Eddie, one of their long-time regulars, he felt comfortable continuing. “I think he’s getting worse—”

“You know how to make this stop, Jason,” Carly said. She pushed his hand clear of the doors. “You don’t want to do it. You’re being selfish, Jason, and you’re destroying all of us in the process.”

The doors slid closed, leaving him standing in the hallway.

Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom

By the time Jason left his office that night, it was close to midnight. The kids had been in bed for hours, and Elizabeth should also have been sleep by then.

But she was sitting up in bed, the bedside lamp still burning, and a sketchpad in her lap. “Hey.” She set her pad and pencil on the night stand. “I was hoping you would come to bed soon.”

“You’re still up.” Jason sat on the edge of the bed next to her, drinking her in. The last moment of peace, of tranquility had been in this room, five days earlier, just before the fire.

The fatigue had seeped into his bones, but he somehow knew she hadn’t just waited up to say good night. “Elizabeth…”

“I love you,” she told him. “And I love you whether you’re doing whatever you normally do or if you end up doing whatever Sonny is supposed to do.” She sat up, tucking her knees underneath her. “But you can’t keep me in the dark.”

“I wasn’t—” He sighed and tilted his head to the ceiling. “I didn’t mean to. I’m always going to want to protect you from this life, from the filth, from the violence. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is.”

“And I get that.” She touched his shoulder. “But Jason, you can’t tell me that under normal circumstances, in situations like this, you would be handling everything from your own home, and not Sonny’s. I haven’t seen him once, which likely means he hasn’t been here at all. You’re telling me that would be normal procedure? For him not to be involved?”

He wanted to lay in bed, look at the ceiling and just listen to her breathe as she slept. Was that too much to ask?

But she was right. Even if the situation of working out of the penthouse was temporary, it wasn’t the way things would run if Sonny were still able to do it himself.

And she deserved to know the changes on the horizon. And for her own safety, she deserved to know the risks they faced if things couldn’t be controlled.

“No, it’s not,” he answered finally. He kicked off his boots, so that he could sit on the bed and face her. “You remember Johnny Zacchara? You met him at your showing in the winter.”

“I do. You said he wasn’t really friend or foe, but his father’s lawyer was Ric’s father.” Elizabeth tilted her head. “Has that changed?”

“No, but he’s—” Jason exhaled. “I told you a few months ago about a guy Sonny suspected of being behind some minor issues. That’s Zacchara. He’s been hanging around town for the better part of a year, probably longer before he came on our radar. He’s known for hanging out in music clubs and galleries. We think he met his girlfriend here at Luke’s. He’s around more now because of her.”

“And his being around makes Sonny more suspicious though he’s not done anything to warrant it.” Elizabeth nodded. “Okay.”

“He’s not really the problem,” Jason continued. “It’s his father. Anthony Zacchara.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “He’s…dangerous in a way that I can’t really explain. He’s insane. And I don’t mean that lightly. He has no principles, no boundaries. He’s completely ruthless and operates on pure fear. He is not someone we want against us.”

Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “Okay. I get that. So his son is hanging around, but you can’t do anything about it because the father will declare war. Do you think he or his father had something to do with the fire?”

“No.” Jason shook his head. “No, we’ve never had an inkling that Zacchara looks at us any more than an annoyance. He doesn’t care for Sonny, though that’s probably due more to Trevor Lansing’s influence. Zacchara’s ruthless, but he’s not stupid. He doesn’t start wars for the hell of it. When he comes after you, it’s because you deserve it.”

Elizabeth frowned. “I don’t understand. If Anthony Zacchara doesn’t have an issue with you, and Johnny Zacchara didn’t do anything, then—”

“Sonny has had Johnny in his sights for months. I’ve been able to stave him off by keeping a guy on him, but Sonny can’t let it go. And the morning of the fire, he—” Jason looked away. “I sent men to pull Johnny in so I could ship him to his father, or just get him the hell out of town, but—”

Her face changed and he knew she understood. “Oh, God, did something happen to him? He seemed so nice.”

“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. “We’re looking for him. And we hope not. Maybe he saw the fire, maybe he’s not so stupid. Maybe he’s decided to lay low. I don’t know. The thing is…”

“It’s possible Sonny put everyone in danger if he did something to Johnny Zacchara,” Elizabeth said softly. “And someone who is capable of that kind of thing isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of trust and loyalty.”

“It’s not just my family in danger if Anthony Zacchara comes after us for this,” Jason said, hating that he was exposing her to this world, but she had to know the stakes. Had to make informed decisions. “It’s the lives of every man who works for us and their families. If something happens to his son in Port Charles, Anthony Zacchara isn’t going to wait for me to deal with it myself. He’ll burn the city to the ground. He won’t care about collateral damage.”

“Jason…” Elizabeth drew her knees up in front of her and waited a moment. “I want Sonny to be okay, you know that. I tried to make that happen. And I’ve tried not to push you when it comes to him.”

“You haven’t. Elizabeth—”

“But at some point, we’re going to have to decide where we draw the line. Sonny is ill. If this happened, if he put us all in danger without proof, without a reason, then I don’t—” She bit her lip. “I can’t live in a world where he has access to this kind of power and can do this kind of damage. That’s…I’m not saying I would leave you, I’m just—”

He put a hand on her knee, and she stopped talking. “And I can’t live in a world where Sonny’s mistakes cost lives,” Jason said quietly. “Maybe I can put out the fires this time, and maybe we can fix this. But I don’t know if it should go back to the way it was. If at any point, Sonny’s illness, whatever is, puts the people that matter to me at risk—or anyone else. I’ve been accused of putting my head in the sand, of ignoring what’s right in front of me.”

She sighed. “Jason—”

“But that’s not an option anymore, and I know that. I chose protecting Sonny over what was right for us once.” She looked away at that reminder, and he knew he hadn’t been wrong to suspect the parallels had been on her mind as well.  “I’m not going to do it again. Because I can’t protect Sonny anymore.”

“Jason, I’m so sorry…” A tear slid down her cheek. “I hate this. I hate it all. I hate even suggesting you have to choose, because I love him, too, and I want him to be okay. I don’t want him to struggle, and maybe if he were anyone else dealing with this disorder, we could muddle through, but he’s not. He’s Sonny Corinthos—”

“It’s not a choice between you and Sonny,” Jason interrupted. “Pretending it is just makes it sound like if we kept protecting him, things would be okay. We tried that once, Elizabeth. I chose protecting him and the status quo, and you decided you couldn’t live with it.”

“If you had told me what he was facing…” Elizabeth sighed. “I like to think I would been able to deal with, but I don’t know.”

“It didn’t change anything. We’re right back where we started, and no one would blame you if you took your son and ran. Because I just—” His chest was tight. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

“If I were to leave you,” Elizabeth said slowly, “it wouldn’t change the situation. You would still be here. Evie would still be here. And so would Michael and Morgan.”

She met his eyes. “It’s not on the table, Jason. I don’t know if you were talking hypothetically or giving me an out. I don’t want it. The situation doesn’t change for anyone I love just because I walk away from it. I didn’t see that that before, but I’m not that scared little girl. I’m here, I’m in it.” Another tear slid down her cheek. “And so are you. And we count. Whatever you have to choose going forward, nothing between us changes. Because I love you. And I know that you love me. Whatever you face, take that with you.”

He leaned down, resting his forehead against her knees. Because he didn’t know he’d needed this. That he’d needed to hear her promise, her oath.

Jason thought he could face anything if he had Elizabeth standing behind him, and now he was convinced she would be.

“I love you,” he managed to say. He leaned forward, her legs falling to the side as he covered her, drawing her into a fierce and possessive kiss. “And I am never going to let you regret staying.”

“I couldn’t,” she murmured against his lips. “We were always going to end back here, Jason. And there’s nowhere else I would rather be.”

August 5, 2015

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

Hey we’re just bleeding for nothing
It’s hard to breathe when you’re standing on your own
We’ll kill ourselves to find freedom
You’ll kill yourself to find anything at all

Hey Now, Augustana


Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Warehouse

Less than a week ago, Johnny Zacchara had left his girlfriend’s apartment intending to grab a quick lunch at a cafe on the waterfront and then hole up in the apartment he rented nearby and play some music, though he rarely stayed there overnight anymore.

He had pulled into his parking garage, stepped out of his Porsche, and then…

That was it. That was all he remembered.

He’d woken in a small dark room, tied to a chair, duct tape stretched across his mouth.

Fucking hell.

He hadn’t really given much thought to the fact Nadine lived in Corinthos-controlled Port Charles. Johnny had removed himself from his father’s world, living in England for a handful of years and attending Oxford University before moving to New York City. He spent most of his time in music clubs and art galleries.

Until, on a whim, he’d traveled to a blues club here—Luke’s had a great reputation. He’d seen a pretty blonde dancing on the floor with some of her friends, and that had been it.

But he’d barely thought about Sonny Corinthos. They hardly run in the same circles, and Johnny thought he had defused any issues by approaching Jason Morgan and his girlfriend at the art showing last February.

Apparently not. Sonny Corinthos had had him knocked out and tied up in this warehouse for…he thought it must be nearly a week but Johnny tended to black out between beatings. The mobster would show up to enjoy one of his men pounding on him, demand to know why Johnny was coming after him, and then leave, disgusted by Johnny’s claims of innocence. They’d moved him a few days ago, and now the voices were new with a Hispanic accent, but they still beat the shit out of him when Sonny ordered it.

He didn’t know why he wasn’t dead yet. Maybe Sonny wanted to hear him admit whatever crime he thought Johnny had committed.

That would be his death warrant, so there was no hope of admitting guilt in order to escape.

He had to hold out hope that Nadine, worried by his absence, would do something. Would call the police, maybe. And after the third beating, maybe he wouldn’t mind if Anthony Zacchara came to rescue him. He didn’t care for his father, but he also didn’t care for dying for no good fucking reason.

He had never introduced Nadine and his father, though both were aware of the other. He could see her now, pacing her apartment. Waiting for him to call. Worrying.

The door swung open and footsteps came closer though Johnny couldn’t really hear them.

“You ready to admit it, you fucker?”

Fan-fucking-tastic. Another beating. Maybe they’d kill him this time and put him out of his misery.

Hardy Home: Living Room

 Elizabeth loved her brother, she really did. But there moments when she wanted to set him on fire. And today…today was one of those moments.

“Steven,” she said again, watching him fold a blanket and set it on the back of the sofa. “I don’t know why you won’t help me convince Gram to have this surgery—”

Steven turned to face her, his eyes exhausted from spending all day working and then nights taking care of Audrey. Elizabeth did her best to be here as often as she could, but she had set things in motion with her agent for a show in October, Diane Miller was nailing down the final contract to open her own gallery in the spring, Nora was taking a summer class which necessitated Elizabeth having the kids two more days a week than normal—

And it went without saying that the situation at home had not been better. Jason was no longer meeting with men at the penthouse as often, but they were still there. Sonny had done a disappearing act—she hadn’t seen him since the engagement party.

And Johnny Zacchara remained missing.

But she had to focus on the things she could control, and damn it, she could find a way to control this. “Steven—”

“Bits, what do you want me to say?” he demanded. “Gram’s a nurse. I can’t lie to her and tell her a woman in her eighties will be perfectly fine having major open-heart surgery. She’s not an idiot—”

“She’s throwing away a chance to have another decade,” Elizabeth shot back.

“Damn it, Elizabeth—” Steven bit off his next words. “This is only the third time you’ve been here. You don’t see the way Gram—” He looked away. “I’m not sure surgery is going to be an option.”

Stung, she recoiled. “What does that mean? Of course it is—”

“It’s the middle of the day, and Gram is upstairs taking a nap.” Steven scowled. “When was the last time our indomitable grandmother took a nap in the middle of the damn day? She’s weaker than she was a week ago. This new medication isn’t working either.”

“No.” Elizabeth folded her arms and shook her head. “We’ll just—we’ll talk to Monica. We’ll find another medication. Don’t you shake your head at me, Steven Lars Webber! Maybe there’s another doctor—”

“You going to throw money at the problem, then?” Steven demanded. “That’s your way of dealing with it? She’s at home all day while I’m work, Elizabeth. Where the hell are you?”

“I—” Her throat closed. “I’m trying the best I can,” she choked out. “I have Cam and Evie—”

“And a goddamn nanny. You have money, remember?” he returned with a glare. “But you can’t be bothered—you judge Uncle Tommy and Sarah for not being here—at least they’re doing something useful. What the hell is your excuse? You live in town. You don’t work—”

“You have no right to accuse me of not being here!” she shot back. “I’m the one that never left. You’ve been here five minutes, Steven. I’ve been here eight years. And I work—”

“Or maybe you’re too wrapped up in your new fiancé,” Steven cut in, his tone so scathing she had to blink. “Taking care of his kid—”

“I don’t have to listen to this!” Elizabeth snapped, not really sure how this had become a conversation about her shortcomings. She thought she and Steven had turned a corner. They had never been close growing up—he had always been like her parents, like Sarah, trying to figure out what they would do with Lizzie.

And maybe that’s all she’d ever been to him. His little sister who was okay unless she was given responsibility. Can’t trust Lizzie. She’ll break it. She’ll forget it.

She won’t take care of it.

She’s not good enough.

She’s not like us.

She took a deep breath. Fighting wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Wasn’t going to make her grandmother change her mind. “I love her, Steven. I just want to do right by her. I don’t know why you have make it personal. I’m sorry if I don’t live up to your standards—”

“Bits, I’m sorry—” Steven rubbed a hand over his face. “I know you’ve got your own life. And Gram would hate if you let something go in order to look after her. She hates that I’m here. I’m just…I’m just—I’m at a loss. She won’t have the surgery, but the new meds—” He dipped his head. “I’m watching her fade away, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Elizabeth sighed, stepped forward, and embraced her brother. “I’m sorry, Steven. I know you hate this as much as I do. I’ll do better. I’ll stop by more—”

“No, I know things are insane for you.” Steven put his hands on her forearms. “And of course you work, I just—I meant you didn’t have a schedule. You know how proud I am of you, how much I love you. I’m just—I’m sorry.”

“I know,” Elizabeth murmured, swallowing her cutting remark. It was easy to dump on her, it always had been. But Steven looked exhausted and he had been bearing the brunt of Audrey’s care for the last week.

And if she were fading as fast as Steven suggested…the nights would not be particularly restful. “We’ll be okay, Steven. You and me. We just have stick together, okay?”

He kissed her forehead. “We will, Bits. And maybe you’re right. We’ll talk to Monica. Maybe there’s another option.”

But they both knew they were likely clinging to hope at this point.

Morgan Penthouse: Jason’s Office

 Jason scrawled his name at the bottom of the paperwork Bernie handed him and checked to make sure all the necessary pages were initialed. “How fast can we push the sale through?” he asked, handing the contract back.

“I can have it finalized by the end of the week,” Bernie promised. “And Johnny can start security the very next day. We’ll make sure the place is secure.” He glanced around the small room. “You’re making the right decision, Jason.”

He hoped so. The penthouse was no longer a tenable solution. Sonny was ducking his calls, and by the look on Max’s face, the report on his comings and goings was likely to be a disappointing one.

Johnny Zacchara was missing. Sonny was behind it, even if he would never admit it, and Jason had taken over the day to day operations. They were no longer even pretending to run things by Sonny.

Jason, even if they hadn’t said anything out loud, had taken control. And continuing to stay across the hall from his former business partner would be suicide.

So he bought a house on the outskirts of Port Charles with enough land to put up an electric fence and a gatehouse to control comings and goings—the best money security could buy—he hated the thought of it, but he wanted it in his back pocket in case it was necessary. The deed had been bought in Cam’s name, in order to keep it off Sonny’s radar, and Jason hated that as well.

There was nothing about this situation that was going well for him.

“Get it done,” Jason said finally. He looked to Max. “What’s the bad news?”

“It’s worse than you thought.” Max sighed, and nodded to Tommy, who tended to handle the gambling rings and the bookies who kept them in the green. “Not only can I still not keep my eyes on Sonny without losing him, but Tommy thinks he knows what’s been going on.”

Jason directed his eyes to the swarthy Italian transplant. “Tommy?”

“Sonny came into one of the casinos on Van Ness last Monday,” Tommy said. “And he pulled some of my guys to work on a project. I didn’t know because I’ve been out on the streets with Francis and Johnny, trying to find Junior, and we didn’t exactly broadcast our concern.”

Which solved the mystery as to how Sonny would have gotten the jump on a younger, stronger man. “And?” Jason pressed.

“And Sonny relieved them of their duties two days ago. When they popped back up, they were bragging about doing some work for him personally—not something that usually happens to the guys down there.” Tommy scowled. “And it got back to me. I called them in. They’re low on the food chain, Jase. They don’t know the score the way we do up here.”

Jason leaned back. “I’m not going to knock out a couple of schmucks who thought they were doing their job. What’d they say, Tommy?”

“They grabbed Junior out of his parking garage last Monday,” Tommy confirmed. “They took him to a warehouse near Courtland Street, where they kept him tied up. Sonny would stop by once a day, ask Junior about the fire, he’d deny it. And then the guys would beat him. “

Jason got to his feet. “They know where this place is?” he demanded. God, this could be over now. If he could get the little bastard to safety, he could concentrate on Sonny—

“I already went there,” Tommy said, his tone apologetic now. “It’s empty. He’s been moved. But my guys didn’t do it. And I did a quick round up of my crew before I came here. No one will admit to taking their place. Francis is checking with his guys, but—”

Max took over. “Johnny and I cleared our guys. Whoever Sonny’s working with now, they’re not on our grid. Francis’s people know better.”

Jason sank back into his seat. The implications of this story were…they were devastating.

Johnny Zacchara was being beaten somewhere at regular intervals, and if he admitted guilt to make it stop, Sonny would likely kill him. Either way, his life was in danger. And since he hadn’t split, it was likely his girlfriend was freaking out. If she hadn’t called Anthony Zacchara yet, it was only a matter of time.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. If Sonny had stopped using their own guys, he had gone outside the organization. Either he’d picked up guys from off the street, or he’d gone to another family.

And if he’d done that…

“Jason,” Max said, “We know now that Sonny’s done something to Junior. It’s time we stop pretending to tail him. You need to confront him, you need to get him to hand the kid over.”

“Yeah.” Jason cleared his throat. “Ah. We—” He couldn’t do that, though. He couldn’t make a move on Sonny. Sonny might not have gone over the edge into the psychotic break his sister had warned them about, but he wasn’t too far off.

And his family lived across the hall from him.

He had to get them to safety first. He took a deep breath and looked to Max. “Can you get me Cody?” he asked, referring to the guard who was on the door to the penthouse and was generally in charge of the security of Jason’s family.

Max nodded, and a few moments later, had brought the man in question to him. “Cody, ah, do you know where Nora and Elizabeth are?” Jason asked. He hadn’t had a chance to talk to either of them that morning.

“Milo took Miss Webber to see her grandmother and then she had appointment with Diane Miller downtown. Nora is with Denny and Lyle at the park with the kids.” Cody hesitated. “Did you want me to call them? Bring them back?”

“No, no…” Jason rose. “I just want to make—” He wanted to make sure the people he loved most in the world were okay. That someone was with them, protecting them. “Thanks, Cody.” He hesitated. He felt their eyes on them, these men who could be ruthless and even violent, and they knew they were pitying him.

He swallowed hard. “You can go back to the door.”

“Jason,” Johnny said. “Maybe some of Tommy’s guys don’t know the score, but that’s because they’re usually pretty far removed from this stuff. They’re too busy making money—”

“But they know it now,” Tommy interrupted, annoyed. “None of the guys are taking assignments from anyone who isn’t me.  If they get another offer from Sonny, they know to agree and then call me so we can figure out what’s going on. They know who’s in charge, Jase.”

“Right,” Johnny said, rolling his eyes at his prickly colleague. “Anyway, what I’m saying is we’ve got the best people on Elizabeth and the kids. Sonny’s not going after them.”

Maybe, maybe not.

“Just get the house settled,” Jason told Bernie and Johnny. To Max and Tommy, he said, “Max, I want your energy and any man you can spare looking for Junior. But let’s continue to keep it quiet. I don’t want it filtering back to Anthony. It hasn’t yet, but I don’t know how often the kid is supposed to check in with his father. Get some eyes on the girlfriend. Don’t—don’t go near her, but I want to know if she reaches out to Anthony. I want warning. Tommy, I need you to keep things running smoothly in your area. I don’t want the cops raiding any of the casinos or grabbing any of the bookies. We need to look like we got our shit together.”

“Ah, Jase?” Cody knocked on the open door. “Courtney Matthews is at the front desk.”

Jason exhaled slowly. The last thing he wanted was a run-in with his ex-wife, but she was probably concerned about Sonny. And maybe she’d been in contact with him. “You can bring her up. We’re done in here.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Courtney still wasn’t sure she was doing the right thing, but she couldn’t stand it anymore.

A guard let her inside the penthouse, and Courtney stepped over the threshold into her former home, blinking at the changes. The pool table remained, but a playpen, a changing table, and a scattering of toys sat in the front of the room where Jason’s desk had once set.

And Jason was standing by the sofa, an air of impatience emanating from him. “I’m sorry for just showing up like this,” she said, “but I can’t—I can’t pretend I’m not worried anymore. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

Jason slid his hands into his jeans. “What’s going on, Courtney?” he asked. “Is this about Sonny or Carly?”

“It’s about them both,” Courtney answered. She set her bag on the back of the armchair. “Sonny came to stay with me last month, and I know he was going to see a doctor. He was doing a bit better the last few times I talked to him, but I called him last week, and—” She closed her eyes. “He was worse than I’ve seen him. He accused me of sniffing around him for money, of using him, of going behind his back to talk to you—which I hadn’t done. And I talked to Carly, who told me I should tell you and Elizabeth to give them custody of Evie if I wanted to help so much.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “Hell.” He pressed the heel of his hand to his eye and was quiet for a moment. “He’s sick, Courtney—”

“I know that,” she interrupted. “And I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about—” She bit off the words, swallowing the fear. “Jason, I’m scared for Michael and Morgan. And even for you, for Elizabeth. You didn’t hear the way Sonny talked about you. He thinks you’re out to get him. He thinks I’m helping you. I don’t know what I’d be helping you do, but he’s remembering the way we lied to him, and thinks I’ve been disloyal to him.”

“I didn’t—” He looked away. “I’m sorry, Courtney. Things—things have been difficult—and not just because of the last year or because of Evie.” Jason paused. “And I guess you know she’s Sonny’s daughter.”

“I always knew that.” Courtney dismissed that, because it wasn’t important now. The situation was so much worse than she’d ever thought it could be. She’d believed Carly was the person to worry about, but her brother’s searing anger on their phone call had terrified her. He’d never spoken to her like that, and even at the height of his anger with Jason… “That’s not important. No, it’s not about Evie anymore. I’m not sure it ever really was. Jason, we need to get the boys away from him. And from Carly, if she won’t leave him. I talked to a lawyer, but he doesn’t think there’s anything I can do since there’s nothing on record and he doesn’t appear to be a danger to them.”

“Courtney—”

“I know about the fire last week, but Jason—” She hesitated. “He told me things last month—he said he was so angry with you sometimes he fantasized about—” She closed her eyes. “He talked about hurting you. Wrapping his hands around neck—and he’s so angry at you, Jason—”

Jason swallowed, but it was the only outward reaction he showed. “Okay. That—that doesn’t surprise me—”

“He thinks you’re taking control of his life, that you’re stripping him of the things he considers his. First you took Sam, then you took Evie. And we all know the men have always trusted you more.” Courtney stepped towards him. “Jason, he sounded—he sounded like he’s gone over that proverbial edge we’ve all worried about—”

“He’s close to it,” Jason said after a moment.  “But he hasn’t gone over yet.” He didn’t elaborate on how he could come to that conclusion.

The door opened behind them, and Elizabeth stepped in, blinking at Courtney in the room. “Courtney.”

They hadn’t been face to face in nearly two years. “I just came—I wanted to talk to Jason about the boys.” She looked to Jason. “Just be on your guard okay? I’m going to talk to Bobbie about trying to convince Carly to do something.”

She pushed past Elizabeth and left. She’d done what she could to warn Jason, but her attention had to be on the things she could do to help Michael and Morgan.

They deserved so much better.

Back inside, Elizabeth bit her lip and faced Jason. “Jason, is she okay? She looked so upset.”

And because the look in Elizabeth’s eyes wasn’t annoyance or suspicion at finding him alone with his ex-wife, Jason sighed and sat on the sofa, exhausted.

Sonny had kidnapped Johnny Zacchara, had probably gone to another organization for help. Courtney thought Sonny was going to come after Jason. Elizabeth’s grandmother was probably dying.

Everything was changing, and it was happening so fast, he couldn’t get a grip on it.

“Jason.” Elizabeth set her bag on the chair and perched on the coffee table in front of him. “They’re all looking to you to make it right. To fix it. To make everyone safe, aren’t they?”

He said nothing, but looked up. “I can’t,” he admitted. “I can’t make it stop.”

Elizabeth just nodded, reaching out to rub his knee. “No, I guess you can’t,” she said finally. “So let’s concentrate on what we can do. What happened while I was gone? Can you tell me?”

And he told her, because she deserved to know. He told her that Sonny had done exactly what they all feared, but maybe it was even worse than they thought, because if another family was involved, they’d see the inherent weakness in the organization. They’d smell blood in the water.

And if they couldn’t return Johnny Zacchara to his father in relatively good shape, he’d have a war on two fronts.

And in the middle of everything—there were four children who had never asked for any of this.

He told her everything because what was the point of pretending there were things she couldn’t know, as if she were safer kept in the dark?

Her face was pale when he finally stopped talking, but she nodded. “Okay. Okay. Well, that’s—” Her laugh was thin, shaky. “Well, that’s more than I—Okay.”

Elizabeth stood and walked towards the large bay windows overlooking the bay, then turned back. “I know something that might help.”

Jason frowned at her, skeptical. “What?”

“Steven is looking after Gram at night, but she’s alone during the day. I was trying to see how I could spend more time there, and make sure someone is always there. So that’s what we’ll do. We can’t stay across the hall from Sonny. Not if he’s talking about you the way Courtney said.” She nodded, her voice stronger. “So we’ll move to my grandmother’s house temporarily. That works, doesn’t it?”

He stood. “Elizabeth—”

“You can still come here for meetings, if you need to. But I know the fact that the kids and I are here, so close to it all—it drives you insane. It can be one less thing for you to worry about, and I’ll feel better being closer to my grandmother. It might be a tight fit, but it’ll be temporary.”

He hesitated. But it just might work. At least for a bit. He could put more security at the Hardy house, had already had some upgrades put in just for Audrey’s sake. “We can do that.”

“I don’t know what I can do about the rest of it,” Elizabeth said. “It’s not my area.” She stood in front of him, and put her hands on his chest. “It seems to me you need to get Johnny Zacchara back, right? You need to find him and get him home. Worrying about Sonny and another organization isn’t going—it can’t be your priority.”

And some of the tension slid from Jason’s chest. Because she was right. He couldn’t fight a war on two fronts, so he had to make sure he didn’t have to.

It was more important to mollify Anthony Zacchara.

“Elizabeth…” He lowered his forehead and just touched it to hers. “When this is over—”

“We’re not worrying about that right now.” Her fingers twisted in his shirt. “We’re going to make sure the people we love are safe. I’ll talk to Bobbie. Like Courtney said, she’s the best conduit to Carly. Michael and Morgan are in the middle of this, too. And we have to find a way to help them. We’ll make sure the kids are safe, across town and away from Sonny. You’ll find Johnny Zacchara, and ship him home. And then you’ll put Sonny under lock and key until he agrees to see another doctor. We can do this. One step at a time.”

He sighed. “I know, but—”

“And then you can go back to not telling me a blessed thing about what happens when you walk out that door, and I can go back to worrying about whether or not I can actually run an art gallery.”

And she made it sound so simple, Jason thought they might be able to do it.

He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

August 12, 2015

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series The Best Thing: Mercy

If we’re only ever looking back
We will drive ourselves insane
As the friendship goes resentment grows
We will walk our different ways
But those are the days that bind us together, forever
And those little things define us forever, forever

Bad Blood, Bastille


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

 By the time Jason had finally managed to corner his partner, it was a week and a half after the warehouse fire. After Johnny Zacchara had disappeared without a trace only to end up in Sonny’s custody.

Their contacts in the Zacchara organization didn’t seem to think Anthony was aware of it, but if Johnny was MIA for much longer, the girlfriend was likely to contact him. She hadn’t yet, which meant she was all too aware of the reaction she’d trigger.

Jason stood just behind Sonny, who was calmly sipping bourbon as he stared out over his view of the waterfront docks. “Where is he, Sonny?”

Sonny turned and arched a brow. “I wasn’t aware you were in a position to give me orders,” the other man practically purred, the arrogance and self-certainty oozing from every word. “Remember? You told me you didn’t want the power.”

Once, Jason would have stepped around the question. He would have ducked the confrontation, but the reasons for doing so were gone.  Jason didn’t have to protect his guardianship of Evie or Carly’s ignorance.

Carly had never believed the lie—that was certain now, and Jason would rather be roasted over a pit of burning coals before surrendering custody of Sam’s daughter to this man.

Jason had hoped his illness could be controlled, that they could resurrect a semblance of their old life, their old friendship, but Sonny’s mental health would always be precarious, and Jason was no longer prepared to sacrifice his family or their men to the capricious nature of chemical imbalances.

“I don’t,” Jason said bluntly. “But you can’t handle it. You kidnapped Johnny Zacchara, Sonny. Tommy’s guys told us—you kept him in a warehouse and beat him, trying to force him to admit guilt. There’s nothing to admit.” Jason flung a copy of the final fire report at him. “It was an electrical fire. You’re starting a war over an accident. You didn’t wait for evidence, you didn’t wait for a reason to go after him.”

“I don’t need to wait.” Sonny ignored the papers as they settled at his feet. “You,” he scoffed. “They all worship you for your patience. For your steadiness. You’re not a fucking accountant, Jason. We don’t have the luxury of time here—”

“When you brought me into this business, you told me that there are two men I never want to piss off,” Jason interrupted. “Hector Ruiz, whose sons were ruthless animals even then, and Anthony Zacchara, a man rumored to have murdered his own wife while taking a shot at his kid. He’s insane, Sonny. And you know it. You fuck with his kid, Anthony Zacchara is going to unleash his people on you. On your family. On me and mine. We knew by the end of the day the fire was electrical, but you couldn’t wait a lousy six hours.” He fisted his hands. “Where is he?”

“I always wondered what it would take for you to turn on me,” Sonny mused. His lips curved into a bitter half-smile. “I screwed your woman, you didn’t blink. I left you in charge when you clearly weren’t ready, it didn’t seem to faze you. I cost you Elizabeth, and you just went about your business. I’ve all but destroyed Michael and Morgan’s childhood, but that’s not why you’re turning on me, is it?”

“I’m not—” Jason took a deep breath. “I’m not turning on you, Sonny. You’re—you know you’re not well. That whatever medication you were taking isn’t working. You need to go back to the doctor—”

“I’m in control, Jason.” Sonny sipped his bourbon. “My voice isn’t the one raised. Johnny Zacchara has done nothing but cause us trouble for months—”

“There was never any proof—”

“You didn’t want to see it because it meant you’d have to look away from your precious family,” Sonny sneered. “Because if you took your eyes off Elizabeth for a single minute, she’d run away like she always does. What? You think she won’t run now because you’re engaged? You’re still the naive little boy I took in all those years ago.”

“I want Johnny Zacchara,” Jason said evenly, ignoring the attacks. “We can sort out whatever the hell is wrong with you this time later. But I need him back. I need to pack him off to his father so I’m not facing a war from Anthony Zacchara—”

“You’re scared of a little territory scuffle?” Sonny chuckled. “That tells me you’re not cut out for this. I trusted you too much, that’s clear—”

“Anthony Zacchara doesn’t engage in scuffles,” Jason shot back. “When Moreno went after his trucking route, he blew up Moreno’s home and held his wife hostage for a month. For a fucking trucking route. What do you think he’ll do if he thinks you’ve got his son? Do you think he’ll care that I didn’t have a damn thing to do with it?”

No, Jason knew Anthony would blame him for letting Sonny lose control. Sonny would be destroyed, but Anthony would take personal pleasure in razing Jason and his family to the ground as a warning to others who let personal feelings rise above business.

“If his son wants to play with the big boys,” Sonny said, his voice still eerily calm, “Anthony should have known better than to send him.”

Jason bit off his protest. “Who are you working with?”

His partner blinked at him. “What do you mean?”

“You’re not using any of our guys to hold him,” Jason said. “And Tommy’s guys swear they left the kid alive. Which means you’ve got men holding him somewhere. If he’d confessed, you’d be throwing that in my face, and he’d be dead. He hasn’t confessed yet. Did you grab men off the street?”

“That,” Sonny said quietly, “is none of your business.” He raised his tumbler to his mouth. “You wanted the power, Jason? Fine. But don’t get too comfortable. I’ll be coming for what’s mine.” His dark eyes glinted. “All of it.”

There was nothing to accomplish here. He couldn’t beat the truth out of Sonny—he hadn’t had the psychotic break they’d feared, but Jason was more convinced than ever that Emily and Elizabeth had been correct. Sonny was bipolar and his antidepressants convinced him he was in complete control.

Even as everything disintegrated around him.

Jason closed Sonny’s penthouse door behind him and looked at Max. “You’re officially relieved of duty,” he told him. “Make sure Carly and the boys still have their guards, but you’re needed elsewhere.”

Max nodded and followed him to the elevator. There was nothing left Jason could do for his friend. His family had to come first. The organization had to come first.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Elizabeth slid into the seat across from Nikolas. “I am so sorry for being late—it’s Nora’s day for a summer class, so I have the kids—” She paused to lift Cameron out of the stroller and set him in a chair adjacent to hers before tugging Evie into her lap. “Maybe we could get some booster—”

Nikolas raised a hand. “Give me a second.” He went to the doorway at Kelly’s, reached inside and brought out two highchairs. With his usual brand of efficiency, both children were quickly settled with their sippy cups and snacks into their own chairs.

“You,” she said, “are going to be an amazing father.”

He laughed, the sound tinged with a bit of anxiety. “Well, it’s easy with other people’s children, but…” Nikolas lifted a shoulder. “I suppose I can’t be much worse than other members of my family.”

Elizabeth arched a brow. “That’s putting it mildly.” She glanced over where a cadre of guards had taken the other outside table. Milo, Denny, and Lyle looked a bit uncomfortable in their usual suits, but she and the children went nowhere without them.

Nikolas followed her gaze. “Security has been ramped up, I see,” he said quietly. “Emily mentioned things have been tense since the fire.”

“They’re…” Elizabeth set her menu down and twisted her napkin in her hands. “God, Nikolas, I don’t even know. We’re still getting settled in with my grandmother—we’re staying with her until Jason can find something more permanent, but he didn’t want us across from Sonny and Carly anymore. And Sonny—” She looked away. “Let’s just say it’s possible we were on the mark about his medication.”

“Ah.” Nikolas exhaled slowly. “Elizabeth, I’m not being—I don’t want to be like I was before, warning you away, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least…voice my concern.”

Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile. “I’m sure you’d be much happier if you could hogtie me and put me and the kids on a plane to the far corners of the Earth. But I appreciate you not saying it.”

“It’s human nature to want your family safe,” Nikolas said, conceding her argument. “But I know that Jason is taking security seriously. He’s sent some men to check over things at the mansion and at Wyndemere. I allowed him access to the background checks we run on servants. I just…I worry that all his precautions won’t be enough.” He touched his throat where a faint scar still lingered. He’d once nearly died for standing too close to Jason.

“I know.” Elizabeth picked up a butter knife and looked at it. “And there are no easy answers. I love him. Nikolas. And he’s not just dealing with—business concerns. Sonny is out of control. He was always a father figure to Jason, you know. His best friend, his brother. And now…he basically has to decide between keeping us safe and Sonny.” She pursed her lips. “Maybe we’d be making different choices if not for Cam and Evie, but—”

“Emily mentioned you were feeling a bit…apprehensive,” Nikolas said. “Do you really think it’s just the kids precipitating Jason’s choices at the moment? Do you think if it were just the two of you, he’d sacrifice you for Sonny?”

“No.” Elizabeth shook her head. “No. I mean, of course not. I know he loves me. I know he takes our engagement seriously. He offered an out, but—” She looked away. “To be honest, Nikolas, I’m not…” She closed her eyes, pitching her voice low so that her guards could not possibly overhear her. “I’m not always convinced. I mean, most of the time, yeah. But sometimes, I wonder…”

“And that’s human nature, too,” Nikolas told her softly. “Because you know what it’s like to have someone constantly put someone else in front of you. With Lucky’s brainwashing, that always seemed to take precedence.”

“I guess. I mean, I just—” Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t know. I know Jason and I aren’t together because of Evie and Cam. It’s been different this time, because Jason and I are different people, and we’ve allowed for that. I’m a stronger person. But yeah, part of me does wonder why it always has to be so hard.”

“And this is where I offer some platitude about how nothing worth having comes easy,” Nikolas said, “but I get it, Elizabeth. Life is full of difficulties, challenges, and obstacles, but when there never seems to be a break, when it always seem the day or the moment can grow bleaker, you begin to wonder if it’s worth it.”

“I just…I want to be happy. I want to have my life with Jason, with the kids. With my brother and my grandmother. With you and Emily…I want us all to be happy for five minutes. All at the same exact time. Why isn’t that something I get?”

“If I could answer that question, Elizabeth, I’d have solved one of life’s enduring mysteries.” Nikolas leaned back. “Are you having second thoughts?”

Elizabeth blinked at him. “No. Of course not—”

“And you can be honest with me.” He hesitated. “I have no vested interest in you pursuing a life with Jason beyond hoping for your happiness. Emily seems to think the two of you are soulmates. I don’t know. That’s something only you can answer. So when I say you can be honest with me, I mean that.” He waited. “Are you having second thoughts?” he repeated.

“Yes,” Elizabeth admitted. “And third. And fourth. I’m terrified to raise my son in a world where one man’s instability can bring it crashing down. If not Sonny, then one of Jason’s enemies. I hate it. And there are moments, when I wait for a car to be swept for bombs before I put my son into it, I wonder what the hell I’m doing here.”

“And yet…”

“And yet, I stay,” Elizabeth finished. “Because I know that Jason loves me. That he loves me for who I am in this moment, not his fantasy of me. He doesn’t want me to fix him, he doesn’t need me to keep him rooted in this reality, or to save him. He loves me. And he loves my son. I’ve tried being without him. I always drift back. Because I love him. When I’m thinking about this insanity with Sonny, I’m not thinking about the dangers first, I’m thinking of that dream wedding where my grandmother walks me down the aisle, and Emily is my maid of honor—and Jason has Sonny standing next to him, and I know it will never happen. My grandmother is going to die, and Sonny is never going to be that man for either of us again. And if that realization breaks my heart, can you imagine how that destroys Jason?”

A tear slid down her cheek. “So yeah, I have my doubts sometimes. I wonder occasionally if it were just me, if Jason would put me aside to focus on Sonny, and if I could honestly blame him for that with all I know now. I worry that Cameron and Evie will grow up to resent my choices.  But I can put those worries away. I love Jason, and he loves me. We love our children. Things are going to be difficult in the next few months—Sonny is going to crash and burn, my grandmother may not be with me much longer, but Nikolas?” She paused. “I can get through it. Because when I go home at the end of the day, Jason’s there. He’ll put his arms around me, and for a moment, it all goes away.”

Nikolas nodded. “Okay then.” He reached for the menu. “By the way, if Emily suggests using any form of the name Nikolas in our child’s middle name, you are to discourage it immediately. That’s not a request, it’s a command.”

And just like that, he turned the conversation to other topics.

General Hospital: Nurse’s Station

 Emily flexed her fingers and scowled down at the stack of forms she still had to get through. “Do you think insurance forms are proof there’s no God?” she asked the blonde standing to her side.

Nadine Crowell blinked at her. “What? Oh. Yeah. Sure.”

Emily frowned. While she wasn’t close to the blonde perky nurse, she knew her relatively well through working together at the hospital and Leyla Mir’s relationship with Lucky—Leyla being Nadine’s best friend.

And lately, the usually bubbly woman had been withdrawn. Even distracted.  Epiphany Johnson, the floor nurse, had been on her case for more than a week.

“You okay?” Emily asked. “You don’t seem like yourself.”

“Just…” Nadine jerked her shoulder. “Just tired. You know how these shifts can be.” She picked up a stack of files. “I’m gonna go work on these in the break room.”

She stepped away—Emily considered following her, but she really didn’t know the other woman that well. Maybe she could talk to Leyla.

Before Emily could decide whether to add Nadine Crowell to her roster of wounded hearts—as Nikolas liked to call them—Steven stepped off the elevator, looking every inch as exhausted as the woman who’d stepped away.

“Steven.” She set the pen down and rounded the counter. “Hey.”

“Hey, Em.” He pressed the heel of his hand in his eyes. “You talked to Bits today?”

“No, not yet—Nikolas is supposed to have lunch with her…” Emily took his arm and steered him toward the waiting room sofa. “Sit before you collapse. What’s up? I thought you were supposed to get more sleep with Liz and Jason moving in with Audrey.”

“Yeah, well they just spent their first night last night, so I guess I have some to catch up on.” He hesitated. “Em, Gram just had a checkup.”

“It’s only been a week since—” Emily pressed her lips together. “It didn’t go well, I suppose.”

“No, no, it did not.” Steve dipped his head. “I have to call my sister. Both of them. My parents. My uncle. I guess I should talk to TJ, though he’s never been close to Gram, thanks to his mother, but they should be on alert—”

“Steven—”

“Surgery,” Steven said evenly, though his expression was devastated. “Surgery is no longer an option. Gram has—she’s declined rapidly in the last week and a half. Monica said it happens sometimes—the medication can control things for a while, but once it stops, it just…” He dismissively waved his hand. “It just stops.”

“Oh, God—”

“Monica doesn’t think Gram would have made it through a surgery anyway, based on these results. She’s—” He closed his eyes. “It’s a matter of days now, Em. Maybe another two weeks if we’re lucky. She’s fading fast.”

“It—she was fine just two weeks ago,” Emily managed. “She was so happy at the party—”

“We all were.” He looked to Emily. “How did you do it last year?”

She blinked at him. “Do what?”

“When you lost your grandmother. She was like mine, right? Heart of the family. Center of it.” He expelled a harsh breath. “I don’t know what to do. I have to tell all these people Gram might go at any point, and I can’t—I can’t even process it myself.”

“I’m so sorry, Steven,” she murmured. She pressed her forehead to his shoulder. “My grandmother had been declining for years—we could all see it. But she had such a vibrant spirit, I suppose we thought she’d outlast us all. Then one morning, she was simply gone. She went in her sleep, how we all might hope she’d go.” Emily bit her lip. “Is Audrey in any pain?”

“Some shortness of breath, but not really—Monica has given her some meds to keep her comfortable—” He dipped his head again. “I should call Bits.” He looked to Emily. “Thanks. I appreciate you sitting with me.”

“Of course.” She squeezed his hand. “And tell me if there’s anything I can do. Nikolas and I are here for you.”

“She was happy at that party,” Steven said after a moment. “I know your brother hated it—it’s not his thing, but she told me he wanted to make Elizabeth happy. That he’d done it because he knew how much Gram meant to her. And she had a blast planning it, you know. She was so happy this last year with my sister and me in Port Charles, with her great-grandson. If she has—” He paused. “If this is it for her, then I’m glad she’s going out on a high.”

Warehouse: Jason’s Office

Max wrinkled his nose at the distant sounds of construction as crews began to repair the damaged portions of the building. “Is this place safe?”

“The structure is sound enough,” Jason said. “I’m not thrilled either, but after this morning, I can’t go back to the penthouse and Mrs. Hardy’s home is out of the question. I don’t want anyone to know about the new house yet.” He looked to Tommy. “What do you have?”

Tommy shifted. “Stefano has always been the liaison between us and the Zaccharas—you know that. He contacted me last night. He wanted a meeting with Sonny.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “And you’re just telling me this now?” He glanced pointedly at the clock on the wall which indicated it was two in the afternoon. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Figuring out what to tell Stefano so it’s clear that you’re in charge without anyone thinking it’s a power play,” the other man retorted. “Or do you want Zacchara to smell blood in the water?”

“Tommy,” Bernie murmured. “We could do without the attitude. You should have called Jason immediately, and you know it. Where do we stand?”

“Stefano knows we’re having issues,” Tommy admitted. “He wanted to give us a heads up. Word is out that things are fluid here. Sonny is still nominally in charge, but you’re doing the work. Zacchara was testing the waters by asking to see Sonny.”

“It wasn’t about Junior?” Jason asked, not sure if this was a good thing or not. He wanted Anthony in the dark about his son as long as possible, but if he was interested in the weaknesses—

“Not for the most part. Stefano asked if we’d seen Junior around lately. He’s been lax on his weekly call to his father, but Anthony figures he’s holed up in PC with the girlfriend. Johnny has maybe two more weeks to check in before Anthony gets worried. He’s annoyed, but it’s not the first time the son has deliberately stayed out of touch.”

“Thank God they’re a fucked up family,” Max said. “We got time to track Junior down—”

“The longer Sonny has him somewhere, the less likely it is we get him back alive,” Jason interrupted. “Max, tailing Sonny isn’t doing us any good. “ He looked to the men gathered in the office. “He’s no longer in charge.”

Johnny nodded. “About damn time—”

Bernie scowled at him. “O’Brien—”

“I’m just saying—”

“Sonny seems to think we’re merely risking a turf war with Zacchara if the son doesn’t come home.” At the annoyed and confused expressions reflecting back, he nodded. “I know. It’s why I can’t risk even the illusion of leaving him in charge. I don’t want any of the men thinking they report to him. Johnny, call Francis on the island. Make sure he gets the change out to his guys there. Tommy, Max, Bernie, anyone balks, do what’s necessary to get them to go along.”

“I doubt we’ll have more than a ruffle of feathers,” Tommy said. “Most of the men have never met him anyway.” He lifted his chin. “What are we going to do about the rest of it?”

“Tommy, I need to keep lines of communication with the Zaccharas open, so keep Stefano in the loop. We can honestly say we haven’t seen him around, but we’ll keep our eyes open. I also need you to concentrate on the bookies and the waterfront. Keep your territory running like usual. The cops are going to be digging into things, but I think the fire report calmed them down.” Jason looked to Johnny and Max. “I want you guys to tear this city, this county, even the state apart. I want Johnny Zacchara back, and I want him alive. And I need to talk to him before we send him home to Anthony.”

“What about whoever is holding him?” Johnny asked. “What muscle is Sonny using?”

“That’s what I want to know. If it’s guys off the street, that’s problematic, but it might be more likely Sonny has called in a favor from another organization. Tagliatti is still annoyed we didn’t skin Faith Roscoe, so he’s out. Vega has never particularly liked Sonny. He’s Italian, Sonny’s Cuban. It’s stupid, but it’s a point of honor for him.”

“Hell.” Max scowled. “That leaves Hector Ruiz. I’ll have Francis call Ramon. He might be able to give us some ideas.”

With their instructions given, the room cleared, leaving only Bernie and Jason. “Bernie—”

“The security upgrades will be done by the end of next week,” his business manager told him. “I tried to hurry it up, but I don’t want to compromise quality—”

“We’re okay at the Hardy house for a while.” Jason hesitated, thinking of how pale and wan Elizabeth’s grandmother had been that morning. “And I don’t…I know how much longer Mrs. Hardy will be with us. I don’t think Elizabeth will go to the new house until…” He hesitated. “Until things are resolved.”

The older man’s face softened. “Please extend my deepest condolences. The security at the house is decent enough. If we can keep the status quo, it should be okay.” He waited a moment. “Jason, I know these are tough times, but the men who work for you are loyal. They’ll do what they can to keep things from getting worse.”

“Even if Sonny gets his medication changed,” Jason said slowly, “I can’t imagine letting him be in charge again.” He met Bernie’s eyes. “Because he was doing well, and then everything just exploded in our faces. I can’t take the chance again. Not if I want to keep everyone safe.”

“I know.” Bernie sighed, gathering his files. “I guess we all knew we’d be looking to you someday, Jason, but I don’t suppose we thought it’d be like this.” He drew his shoulders back. “But we’ll get through it. We always do.”

And Jason knew he was right—somehow, they would come out on the other end of this. But at what cost?

Hardy Home: Elizabeth’s Bedroom

 

After seeing that Nora had settled Cam and Evie in their temporary bedroom at the Hardy house and making sure their nanny was okay with the move, Jason went next door to Elizabeth’s bedroom.

She sat at a window next to the bed, perched on the windowsill, looking out over Maple Avenue. Across the street, a dark SUV sat with a set of guards. With a guard on the front door and another on the back door, as well as a brand-new security system, he wondered if she was regretting the move to her grandmother’s home.

“Hey.” He closed the door. “You okay?”

“Fine,” she murmured. She looked at him. “Gram looked tired today, didn’t she?”

Jason sat in one of the chairs and unlaced his boots, not sure how to answer that question. He’d been present before dinner, while Audrey had been resting, when Steven had told Elizabeth the devastating news.

He wondered now if Audrey had just held herself together through sheer force of will through the engagement party. She was, as Steven had said, fading fast.

“She did,” Jason said finally. “I’m sorry about the guards—”

“It’s not—” Elizabeth turned, her back now to the window, her bare toes sinking into the carpet beneath the sill. “I’m fine with the guards. With the security system.  Gram didn’t care about any of that. And what’s the point?” She closed her eyes. “It’s not like things would be different if we’d stayed at the penthouse. She’d still be…”

He rose to his feet and crossed to her, pulling her up against him. “I don’t know what to say to you,” Jason admitted finally. “I can’t make any of this go away.”

“I know.” She pressed her forehead against his chest. “There’s nothing that can be said. Steven called my parents. They’re going to try to get away, but they’re in Botswana, and Sarah just came out over the weekend. She can’t get the time from her program again. My uncle might be able to come in for a day, and TJ—my cousin—he’s in medical school in Washington. No one seems to care.” She drew away from him, scrubbing her hands over her face.

“But you know who called me today?” She turned to him. “Your grandfather. He called while you were on the phone. He told me the Quartermaines are devastated for all of us, and if there’s anything he can do, just say the word.” A tear slid down her cheek. “And he’s not saying that because of you. I know you don’t care for him, but he—” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “He sounded so upset on the phone. He told me Monica has been beside herself because she couldn’t do more, and I just…” She pressed a hand to her mouth. “And I was so relieved because it meant Steven and I aren’t alone. We aren’t the only ones to grieve.”

He didn’t know what to say to any of this. His grandmother had been there one day, then gone the next. How did one face this gradual fading away? This long goodbye?  And what could he say about Elizabeth’s family except that they had always seemed selfish and useless to him.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said, her eyes red. “I shouldn’t have—I know you don’t consider Edward your grandfather—”

He held up a hand to ward off her apologies. “It’s not—I can’t say that anymore. Lila was my grandmother, so…” Jason looked away, remembering Emily’s birthday party, and Edward’s delight in Cameron, in talking with Elizabeth. The way the old man had looked at the party, holding out Lila’s wedding ring.

“As much as I’ve tried to deny it, he is my grandfather,” Jason said. “And Alan and Monica are my parents. I know they care about me.” And watching Elizabeth struggle with her own biological ties, how could he continue to deny his own when they tried so hard? “And they’ll be your family, too. I mean, you’ll probably regret that one day—”

She laughed then, pressing her hands to her mouth. “Oh, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve been to some of their parties.” But her humor passed swiftly, and she sank on the bed. “I’m just tired, Jason.”

He sat beside her, feeling her exhaustion. He wanted to look ahead, to picture a moment when he wouldn’t be thinking about all the ways his life could blow up, but he didn’t have the imagination for something like that.  He’d never been good at thinking about the future.

“I know.” Jason took her hand in his, rubbing his finger across her engagement ring. “I wish I could make all this go away for you,” he told her.

“I know.”  She leaned against him, her head tucked under his chin as he slid his arm around her shoulders. “I wish I could make it go away for you, too.  But we can’t. This is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we have to handle that.” Elizabeth turned her hand so that she could lace her fingers through his. “But I know I have you at the end of the day, and it makes it easier.”

He tightened his grip around her shoulders. “I feel the same way,” Jason told her, feeling a bit clumsy about it, because he would never be able to articulate what it meant for him to have a day like the one he’d had and know he could come home to Elizabeth, put his arms around her, and the world could disappear for just a few moments.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough for now.

August 20, 2015

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

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

Be Still, The Fray


Friday, September 2, 2005

Hardy Home: Living Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gram—”

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

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

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

“What?” Elizabeth asked.

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

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

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

“You were trying to protect me—”

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

“Gram—”

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

“Gram—”

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

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

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

Warehouse: Jason’s Office

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

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

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

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

“Max—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly’s: Courtyard

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

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

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

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

“She’s overreacting.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Hospital: Nurse’s Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardy Home: Elizabeth’s Bedroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Elizabeth—”

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

“I wouldn’t have—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shook her head. “N-No—”

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

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

Warehouse

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

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

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

He’d settle for goddamn Trevor at this point.

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

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

Could he do something with that?

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

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

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

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

He had to protect her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He disappeared into the inky dark Port Charles night.