May 13, 2014

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

Part One: Sanctuary

“When you are mad, mad like this, you don’t know it. Reality is what you see. When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you.”
― Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life


Chapter One

You can count on me
When you cannot see
Let me spell it out
Plain and simple now
When your numbers called
Backs against the wall
Pick you up when you fall
Be there when you call
– Count on Me, Mat Kearney


Monday, December 6, 2004

Elm Street Pier

He wished he could feel the cold. He wished that the bitter winds of an upstate New York winter would seep through his leather jacket and into his bones, leaving him numb.

If his body were numb, it might lessen the fatigue in his muscles, in his eyes. He could not remember this level of exhaustion—even though during the various problems created by his life, when people he loved had been kidnapped or hurt, he had not slept.

But Jason Morgan realized maybe the adrenaline in those situations had staved off the worst of the effects, just long enough to resolve the situation, and then he would sleep for a day.

There was no adrenaline now. No sense that anything would be resolved.

For a month, he had been a single father to a little girl that was not his, while her biological father lived across the hall, swimming in his own guilt.

Jason knew every time Sonny called in the middle of the night to talk to someone, to run a shipment, to check on something at the warehouse, forcing him to wake the baby and take her to the other penthouse, he was being punished for taking Sam’s side in this whole mess.

As if it had been as simple as taking sides.

He was not a man who thought in pictures or dreamed, but he had a memory for faces and voices. And the sound of Sam’s cries, her pleas for him to raise her daughter, to keep Sam alive as a memory for her, to keep her away from Sonny…Jason had been unable to ignore her. He could hear those words, remember her grief as a doctor told them they couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Sam had only lived a half hour after giving birth to her daughter, the result of a complication in childbirth. She’d held her daughter, made Jason promise to love her the way she would have, to remember her, and then she died.

And Jason had kept his promise.

He didn’t hear her footsteps until she called his name.

“Jason?”

He looked up, through the snowflakes sliding gently to the ground and saw Elizabeth Webber standing at the bottom of the stairs, her hands wrapped around a cup from Kelly’s. Filled with hot chocolate, he was sure.

He cleared his throat. “Elizabeth.” Jason got to his feet. He hadn’t seen her in months, save for a brief moment at his grandmother’s funeral earlier that summer. Emily had told him she’d flown in for a few days then, and he almost remembered seeing another baby at Wyndemere when he’d been there an hour ago to drop off his daughter.

“Hey.” A hesitant smile spread across her face, and she stepped forward. “I was on my way to the island to pick up Cam.” She glanced out over the harbor, where Spoon Island was hidden through the snowflakes and mists.

He nodded, and sat back on the bench, gesturing to one side. She smiled again, less hesitant and sat next to him. “Emily said you were coming home for Christmas.”

“Mmmhmm…” She nodded and sipped her drink. “After growing up in Boulder and then spending all those years in Port Charles…” Elizabeth tilted her head back, and a few flakes were caught in her eyelashes and her long dark brown hair. “It didn’t feel right not to have snow.”

“You…uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck and searched his memory for what Emily had told him about Elizabeth the last few months. His mouth felt sour, realizing far apart they were now. Once, he would have been aware of her movements, of her life. Even when he’d been gone, out of town, he’d kept in touch with Sonny and Emily about her. “Emily said you’d moved to California. Do-do you like it?”

“I do.” Elizabeth nodded again. “I’m living in San Francisco. I had family on my mother’s side there, so it seemed like a good idea.” She glanced at him. “Have you been to San Francisco?”

“Yeah.” He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his thighs, clasping his hands between his knees. “Once. When I…left town that first time. I wanted to see Alcatraz.”

A full-fledged grin appeared now, and he smiled in response. She seemed so happy, so settled, so different than she’d been eight months earlier when she’d left her husband, left town. “You, on what most people would call a vacation, went to a prison?” A small chuckle emerged from her lips, and he saw the humor in it. He smile spread even further, and he knew he’d forgotten this about her. About sitting here, talking about nothing and feeling…light. Feeling unburdened.

He’d missed her.

“I saw you when I came home in July,” she said after a moment. Her fingers tapped restlessly against the side of her cardboard cup. “I…wanted to go to you, to tell you how sorry I was, but…” Her bottom lip was pulled between her teeth and she shrugged a shoulder. “I didn’t know if I should.”

“I…” He cleared his throat and leaned back against the bench. “I saw you, too. With Ric.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah. I—we were finalizing our divorce. He married Alexis in October, so I guess that explains why he was so amicable.” He glanced at her, but saw no unhappiness in her eyes at her ex-husband’s hasty remarriage. Instead, she was worrying her lip again. “Jason…I am sorry about Sam.”

His shoulders tensed, as they often did when someone offered their condolences for Sam. They thought he’d been in love with her, and he could understand that. She’d lived with him for her pregnancy—he’d claimed her child. He’d genuinely liked her, thought of her as a friend, and did grieve for her, but he didn’t want to accept comfort from Elizabeth over a loss he didn’t feel the way people thought he did.

Hadn’t that been the start of everything that had gone wrong in their friendship?

“Thanks,” Jason said finally.

She was quiet again, but almost contemplative. “Anyway, I was picking up Cameron. Emily wanted to baby-sit him, and I never turn down an opportunity to have some alone time. It’s a precious commodity for single parents.”

He knew that to be true. “She’s watching Evie now,” he told her. “She said almost the same thing to me.”

Elizabeth smiled. “When Emily told me last month you were naming her Evangeline, and calling her Evie, I thought it was such a pretty name.” She flicked her gaze out over the water. “That’s when I knew how much had really changed between us. It seems silly, because I should have known it long before then. I mean, when I found out both times I was having a child, you were not the first person I called, but I guess…” She hesitated. “To hear about your daughter from Emily, and to know that the only things you know about my son come from your sister as well, it makes me…” She sighed. “Sad.”

He knew what she meant. He could remember sitting here, on a park bench, on a sofa in her studio,  or at a table at Jake’s, and telling her things about Michael, Robin, and Sonny that he’d never told anyone else.

“I know,” Jason said, because he wanted to acknowledge what she was saying, but he didn’t know what to say. How did they turn the clock back two years to stop their friendship from being sacrificed? Forget a relationship, their friendship had always been important, too.

“It’s mostly my fault,” she told, meeting his eyes again. “I was so angry. And I kept being angry, long past when it was of any use. By the time I stopped being angry…it was just….too late. Too much had changed. I thought…we had damaged too much to go back.” Elizabeth squared her shoulders. “But I’m working through all of that, you know?”

After a brief moment while she sipped her hot chocolate, she said, “I’m moving back. I stepped off the plane at the airport, came through the gate and I saw my grandmother. She looks…old.” She glanced down. “I want my son to know her. And I had been thinking about coming home for months, because it’d be easier…” Her lips curved into a half smile. “I sold some art in California, and I’m having a show at a gallery in New York in February.”

He grinned because he knew what this meant to her. For as long as he’d known her, she’d been an artist, but was always forced to put her passion on the back burner. “That’s…really great, Elizabeth. You must be excited.”

“I am. I’m terrified, too,” she admitted. “But it came at the right time, because Gram had almost talked me into enrolling into the nurse’s program so I could have a stable job and stop using alimony from Ric.” She grimaced. “I only agreed to accept it for a year, so the show in February will hopefully give me some breathing room.”

Her cup was empty so she set it on the bench between them. “Jason…you look so tired. I mean, I remember how I felt when Cam was…Evie’s age, but…is everything all right?”

Because he suddenly wanted to tell her everything for some reason and he knew what a mistake that would be, Jason cleared his throat. “Fine. Just adjusting to everything.” He tugged on his ear and looked away. “So you named your son Cameron.”

He saw Elizabeth draw back and felt guilty that he’d brushed her off that way, she deserved better from him. But then she pressed her lips together and nodded, as if accepting the limits he was putting on the conversation. “I thought about naming him Alexander,” she said. “But I don’t know that Zander would have wanted him to be saddled with that, so I named him for Zander’s father.” She smiled. “So I can tell him his grandfather was a kind and gentle man who gave his life during the fire to help others.”

He thought she might say her goodbyes then and head away, but instead, she leaned back against the arm of the bench and smiled, looking up at the gray skies with the snow still falling. “I wanted to thank you.”

His brows drew together, and he tilted his head. “For what?”

“For last winter.” Her purse was in her lap, and she was toying with the string. “Being a mother is everything I never knew I wanted, you know? I always thought maybe I’d have kids one day, but it was this abstract concept. Even though I only knew about the first baby for maybe a week, it made me think…this is something I really want.” Her smile was sad. “But having Cameron, being his mother, it’s made everything better. Brighter. Worth it. And you helped make it possible when you went to the PCPD last year with that statement.”

He shrugged and looked away. “You ended up not needing it—”

“But it meant a lot to me. It made me realize, that…” She leaned forward and placed a hand on his forearm, so he’d meet her eyes. “Despite everything, you’ve always been there when I needed you. I know a lot of time has passed since we were really friends, but maybe…” She hesitated and licked her lips. “Maybe that doesn’t need to matter. We’ve gone a year without speaking before, even had fights. But we were still friends. I’d like it if we could be friends again.”

“We are…” He stopped, because it was almost a platitude to tell her that they were always friends, because he knew what she meant. And now he really wanted to tell her everything, because maybe Elizabeth could help him decide if he was making the right decisions, if keeping this promise was worth the destruction it was going to cause.

But she was happier now and she was away from the chaos of his life, of her life before Cameron. He didn’t want to burden her with his secrets.

“I missed you,” he said after a moment. “Just…this last…half hour…has been better than most of the last month. I don’t feel as tired, or…” He hesitated, but wanted to offer her this at least. “It’s been tough, but I don’t feel that way right now.”

“Good.” She leaned back, and removed her hand. “It was always the reverse when we were…friends before. Especially the first time around.” Her laugh was rueful, and her teeth bit into her lip again. “I used to drive you crazy, I’m sure, with talks about Lucky and my paintings, and my ridiculous life—”

“No.” He shook his head, and this time and he reached for her hand. “You…you were the only person I could talk to about Michael.”

He watched her eyes change, as sadness crept into them. She took a deep breath and seemed to come to some sort of inner decision. “Are you afraid it’s going to happen again?”

His hand tightened reflexively around hers, as if he knew what she was asking. He cleared his throat. “What?”

“That you’re going to fall in love with this child whose biological father will come for her later?” Elizabeth pressed, and tightened her own grip when he would have pulled away. “Jason, I’m not going to push you, but I can’t…” She pursed her lips. “I can’t sit by and watch you struggle like this. Emily has always suspected, and I did as well even before she told me her own thoughts. Who else would Emily talk to about you?”

He exhaled slowly, and realized he only felt…relief. His sister knew. Elizabeth already knew. He didn’t have to lie to them anymore. “I’m surprised Emily didn’t say anything.”

“She loves you so much, Jason, and she just wants to support you.” She released his hand. “You should let her. She offered to help you hire someone to help out. Let her. You cannot do this alone. I don’t…” She closed her eyes. “I don’t care if you don’t talk to me about it, but you should talk to Emily.”

“I’ll…think about it.” Jason hesitated. “Thank you, it’s…a relief to know I don’t have to…”

“Lie?” she offered with a wistful smile. “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but you know me, I’m pushy.” She stood. “I really have to pick up Cam now.” She stepped away from the bench. “Don’t be a stranger.”

“I won’t.”

She was almost at the launch when she turned back, a mischievous smile spread across her delicate features. “You know the best thing about being home for Christmas?”

“What?”

“The smell of snow.”

He laughed, remembering that conversation in her studio all those Decembers ago. “Snow doesn’t smell,” he teased.

She arched an eyebrow and stepped onto the waiting launch. “Yes, it does.”

He got to his feet, feeling lighter than he had in weeks as he watched the launch disappear into the mists towards Spoon Island. “Welcome home,” he murmured.

Wyndemere: Family Room

He thought about Elizabeth’s words for the rest of the day, as he struggled to get through the paperwork that seemed to be part of his job description now. He’d always balanced the books for their legitimate businesses, had always enjoyed the solid certainty of numbers.

Lately, however, he was somehow in charge of shipments of actual coffee and dealing with vendors as well. Sonny had let go of an assistant who had handled it in the past, and asked Jason to deal with it, since he liked numbers.

Not wanting to rock the boat, Jason had agreed but it was just one more sign that Sonny was dissatisfied with the agreement they’d made the month before. If Sonny wasn’t still protecting his marriage, wasn’t still keeping Carly in the dark about Evie’s paternity, he knew things would be different.

Jason had assumed things would be different in those first hours after Sam’s death. Until Diane Miller showed up at the hospital with Sam’s will and a sheaf of paperwork the redhead had filed on the mother’s behalf.

And part of Jason had admired the lengths Sam had gone to protect her daughter from Sonny—from his inability to walk away from Carly, from being just another possession.

Sam McCall had pulled one final con on the biological father of her child and tricked him into terminating his parental rights.

She’d left Jason a letter explaining that Sonny had thought he was setting up a trust for the baby, but Sam had substituted the other papers at the last moment, leaving Sonny without any leg to stand on in regards to the baby.

And Diane informed him that Sam had left him guardianship. Legally, Evie was his.

Morally…that was something Jason still struggled with. But Sonny hadn’t wanted to rock the boat, to contest the guardianship and termination in court. He knew Carly would walk out with the boys.

So the lie had stood.

He had not told Emily this. He had kept his sister in the dark for months, since the beginning of this disaster. He had lied to his ex-wife, and regretfully allowed Courtney to believe that he had broken their marriage vows before they’d ended it for good. Courtney had taken the news in silence, and then packed her foundation up to head for New York.

He had not told his grandmother, who’d been happy for him at the end of her life. He had not told Monica.

But he wondered if anyone of them had bought the con he and Sam tried to pull. If Emily had always suspected, if she and Elizabeth had discussed it, he wondered why she hadn’t asked him.

Emily smiled at him as he entered the family room of the mansion, a room she decorated herself with bright colors and soft furniture. It looked different from the rest of the mausoleum, and he could see his sister being happy here.

“Hey, you!” She embraced him. “Elizabeth said she ran into you on the docks when she picked up Cam earlier this afternoon.” She stepped back to gesture at the portable crib in the corner, near the window that overlooked a bare winter garden. “Evie’s still napping.”

Jason glanced at the little girl that he had tried very hard not to love, not to consider his own, but he had watched her be born, watched as her mother struggled to hold her just once…had seen her eyes open and latch onto his.

Sam had asked him to love and raise her as his own, to tell Evie about her, and he had agreed. For better or for worse, Evie was his daughter, which only made the situation that much more precarious.

Elizabeth was right. He couldn’t do this alone.

“Did Elizabeth tell you what we talked about?”

“Mmm…” Emily picked up a stuffed animal and tossed it into the playpen Cameron must have used. “She said you guys caught up a little. Talked about San Francisco. Isn’t it awesome she’s moving home? I went to see her in August, but it’s just not the same not having her here—”

“So she didn’t tell you that she asked me about Evie and Sonny?” Jason interrupted, because he knew his sister’s chatter was nervous.

“She…um…” Emily smiled weakly. “Mentioned it. But I told her I wouldn’t say a word unless you asked me, or said anything. Um….” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Are you mad at me?”

“Why?” Jason lowered himself onto the sofa and stripped his leather jacket off to place across his lap. Evie slept so fitfully at home, he wasn’t going to wake her now.

“Because I didn’t ask you.” Emily sat down, curling one leg underneath her as she faced him on the sofa. “Because I talked to Elizabeth. I didn’t tell her anything she wasn’t already thinking. You know she’s always known you pretty well. She thought you were trying to do something for Michael or Morgan.”

“She said I should talk to you.” Jason stared down at the floor. “That I should stop trying to do this on my own.” He met his sister’s concerned eyes. “She was right. No, Em, I’m not mad. You and Elizabeth are best friends, and you both…you’re both in my life. I’m not surprised you talked to each other about this.”

“It’s true, isn’t it?” Emily murmured. “Jason, if Evie is Sonny’s daughter, then…why?” She glanced at the crib. “I love her anyway, you know it doesn’t matter to me. But why do you still have her? Why did Sonny let her go?”

“Carly thinks she’s my daughter,” Jason admitted. “She told Sonny if the baby was his, she would take the boys and walk. He believed her. When I changed the results, I just…I couldn’t let Jax raise her, because if he found out the truth…” He shook his head. “It just…I wasn’t thinking it through.”

“Clearly.” Emily arched a brow. “Did Sonny know about this beforehand?”

“No.” Jason shook his head. “He was angry. Really angry. But I told him that I was protecting Michael and Morgan. And he agreed to let it stand. Sam was angry, too, but she thought Sonny would change his mind. Would leave Carly for her.”

“She really loved him,” she murmured. “I could see it sometimes, but she tried to hide it, you know. Tried to sell you guys. I still don’t understand—”

“They had another affair last summer,” Jason cut in. “For almost two months. I didn’t…know about it right away, but I guess I suspected. I didn’t know what to do about it. If Sonny wanted to be with Sam, I would’ve tried to help him figure out the fall out with the kids—”

“Why does that need to be your job?” Emily muttered.

“But Sonny never intended to leave Carly. He offered to send Sam to the island, to anywhere and set her up…like a mistress. They could be a family.”

“A secret family.” Emily pressed her lips together and nodded. “That sounds like the man Sonny has become. I can’t imagine Sam took that well.”

“She told him okay,” Jason said. “And then she went to a lawyer, pretended to draw up trust paperwork, only she tricked Sonny into terminating his parental rights. She was going to raise Evie herself, but I guess the lawyer suggested she make out a will to keep Sonny away in the event anything happened.”

“And she left you guardianship.” Emily sighed. “Well, I can’t say I don’t understand Sam’s thinking, but did you know all of this then?”

“No. I-I didn’t know anything until Sam…was dying.” He swallowed. “She begged me to keep her daughter away from Sonny and Carly. They would never tell Evie about her, Em. You know that. You’ve seen what they did to Michael with AJ. They tell him AJ is a bad person who’ll hurt him.”

“I know.” Emily sighed. “AJ’s not perfect, but he wasn’t so bad at fatherhood. No one ever gave him a chance.” She met his eyes. “Including you. It’s ironic that Sonny was tricked into giving up his daughter, since he did the same to AJ when he hung him on a meat hook and threatened to leave him to die in a freezer.”

“I’m not proud of the things I did back then,” Jason said quietly. “Watching Sam’s fear that she’d be forgotten, or worse, talked about like she was trash to her own daughter, I could understand, for the first time, how AJ must have felt when Michael looked at him like a stranger.”

“So you promised Sam you’d raise her daughter, and she gave you the tools to do so.” Emily nodded. “Okay. Okay, Jase. I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t trust me—”

“It wasn’t that,” Jason interrupted. “Never that. I know I can trust you. You and Elizabeth, I just didn’t want to lay my problems on you guys. I thought about telling her while we were talking, because I hate lying to her, but I just…you guys don’t need the chaos of my life.”

“She pushed you, she said, because you needed someone in your corner.” Emily leaned forward. “Well, that can be me, Jase. Or it can be Elizabeth. As long as it’s someone.” She hesitated. “Jason, I’m not saying you should…turn your back on Sam’s promise, but this is Michael’s paternity all over again, except this time it’s with Sonny’s permission. This is still going to blow up. Sonny might change his mind, or he might keep punishing you with all this extra work. Are you sure that you want to do this?”

He asked himself that every day when he woke up after an hour or so of restless sleep. Every morning, when he went into Evie’s nursery, so carefully decorated by her mother, and saw her crying for food, or sometimes just looking up at him with those dark eyes like her mother’s he’d question himself.

He knew that he and Sonny would never be close again, and he would always have to hold Carly at arm’s length to preserve this secret. He knew the moment he changed the results he had changed the way things would work. When he’d looked Sonny in the eye after Sam’s death and told him that he had custody of the baby, that Sam had not wanted Sonny anywhere near their daughter…Jason knew he was making a choice.

He couldn’t take that moment back. Even if he relinquished custody of Evie to Sonny today, a month from now, a year, there would always be that moment in which he’d had the chance to prove to the world he was loyal to Sonny more than himself and instead, Jason chose himself. He’d chosen a promise to a woman who’d become a friend to him, who trusted him.

“I can’t go back now,” Jason said, finally. “I promised Sam, Emily. As she laid dying, begging me to keep her daughter from a man who refused to claim her in life because it complicated his life. I promised her, and I promised myself I wouldn’t put another child through what Michael and Morgan go through every day. So, I guess I’m going to have to figure out what to do next.”

“Well, I don’t know about what to do next in the whole big picture, but we are hiring you a nanny so Evie can sleep and you are going to figure out a way to get Sonny to relax his demands.” Emily lifted his chin. “Use what Sonny Corinthos seems to understand best. Guilt. About what he did to Sam, what he’s doing to his family every day he lies to Carly about being in their marriage one hundred percent. Carly doesn’t know about the paternity switch, and she sure as hell doesn’t know about the second affair because the world would have known.”

She paused and held his chin between her fingers so he was forced to look her in the eye. “So use that guilt, Jase. For once in your life, use the things Sonny and Carly use against you every day of the week and carve out time for yourself. Because all the nannies, friends and sisters in the world aren’t going to be able to help you if you can’t figure out how to do your job and be Evie’s father at the same time.”

Wyndemere: Study

Emily perched on the edge of her fiancé’s desk and smiled down at him as he sorted through a stack of papers. “Guess what?”

“What?” He didn’t glance up from his work, and she would have pouted except she knew how much damage had been done during those long months Nikolas had not known who he was. He had only regained his memories at the end of July, and he was still undoing the neglect.

So she crossed her legs and dangled her bare foot in the air, examining her purple toe polish. “Jason told me the truth today.”

She heard the rustle of papers behind him, indicating Nikolas had set aside what he was doing. “About time,” he grumbled. He stood and rounded the desk to stand in front of her. “Did you finally ask?”

“Nope.” Emily smiled. “Elizabeth did.”

“Elizabeth—” Nikolas frowned. “She’s been back two days. How did she manage to do what you couldn’t in six months?”

“Well, she actually asked him, which I decided I wouldn’t do because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the truth.” Emily leaned back on her hands. “It’s better this way. Elizabeth told me she hadn’t intended to ask, but he looked so tired. You know what I mean. Sonny’s been dragging him out at all hours of the night, forcing Jason to leave Evie with them, and I knew he wasn’t telling Sonny no because of the situation.”

“If Jason pushes back too much, then Sonny will take custody.” He nodded and leaned against the armchair. “Em, wouldn’t that be for the best?”

“You think putting a defenseless child with Sonny and Carly over my brother would be best?” Emily asked, raising her eyebrows. “Seriously, Nikolas? Your aunt won’t tell him the truth and you’re not suggesting she do it.”

He scowled. “Alexis almost had to when they thought Kristina was sick in October. It was the only reason she told me. She didn’t want her daughter to be treated the way Michael and Morgan have been. Ric promised her he could protect Kristina.”

“Hmm…well, if it’s reason enough for Alexis not to want her daughter around him, then it’s good enough for Sam. Jason’s loyal to Sonny, but it only goes so far. He loves Michael so much, Nikolas. It kills him to see Sonny and Carly destroying his childhood. He can’t fix that, but he can save Evie.”

“I’m not saying I think Sonny is the better father, but he is the biological father—”

“You know better than most that blood doesn’t matter.” She leaned towards him. “Why does his DNA make him better suited for Evie? My brother is a wonderful father. I wish he could have children of his own, but it hasn’t been in the cards. Sam recognized what we all saw—the better man. Sonny isn’t a good man. Not anymore.”

“Not ever,” he muttered. He sighed. “I don’t…I get it, Emily. I do, I just…you know this isn’t going to end well.”

“I do,” Emily admitted. “I know that Sonny and Jason are going to be at odds over this forever, but he made his choice.” Briefly she explained Sam’s termination trick and the fact Sonny had allowed it to stand. “He could have fought it, but it would have meant Carly learning the truth.”

“It doesn’t speak well of him.” Nikolas sighed. “Well, I’m glad he told you, Em. He looked like death warmed over when he dropped Evie off earlier today.”

“I’m going to make this better for him,” Emily told him. “I’m going help him find a live-in nanny, so Evie doesn’t have to go to the penthouse when he’s called away at night. And even better…” She grinned. “I’m going to find him a nice woman who will love him.”

“Oh…my head hurts already.” Nikolas was in the process of dragging his hand over his face, when he paused and let it slide away. “Emily, don’t—”

“Don’t you think it’s wonderful that five minutes after Elizabeth saw him again for the first time, she convinced him to tell me the truth and basically poured his heart out to her?”

“I doubt that’s how it happened—”

“And she’s a single mother, so you know she’d understand his struggles.” Her smile broadened as she pictured it. “She’s no fan of Sonny, not after the last few years. She’s just the woman for him.”

“So, what? You’re going to play matchmaker?” He closed his eyes. “Emily—”

“I’m not going to play matchmaker.” Emily wrinkled her nose. “I don’t need to, my friend, the match has been made. I’m going to be an opportunity creator.”

He frowned. “I fail to see the distinction.”

“A matchmaker picks two strangers or two acquaintances to be together,” Emily said. “I already know this is going to work. Jason needs someone strong on his side right now. Someone who gets him. She always has. And you know he’s always had a soft spot for her. He was in love with her once, he can be again—”

“Emily—”

“So I’ll just make sure they’re in the same room as often as possible. Believe me, Nikolas, if she can get him to open up to her, to get him to tell me what’s really going on, I won’t need to do any work. They just…need to be in each other’s spheres.” Emily hopped off the desk. “And I know he’d be good for her.”

“How so?” he asked, almost sourly.

“He’s always believed in her.” Emily pursed her lips. “We haven’t always been good friends to Elizabeth, Nikolas. And you know we discussed being better at it. Being there for her with Cameron, because we love her, and we know what we did to Zander. I want Cameron to know the good things about the man who created him. I want to make what we did right.”

“Em—”

“I can’t ever go back,” she said. She pressed her fist to her chest. “I can’t ever go back and not lead him on, not marry him and then have an affair with you. I love you, I’m so happy we’re together and getting married, but I wish I didn’t destroy him to do it—”

“I know.” He sighed heavily and leaned his head back. “But Emily, pushing Elizabeth towards your brother doesn’t erase it—”

“I’m not pushing. That connection has always been there. Nikolas, he lied to the cops last winter to make sure she didn’t get in trouble for hitting Zander with that pipe. He hates the cops—”

“Which is why it’s not a surprise that he lied to them.”

“He did it for her.” Emily closed the short distance between them. “I think they’ve danced around each other for years, coming right to the edge of something incredible, but they keep getting in their own way. I don’t know if I can get them to take that final step, but you have to admit—there’s always been something there.”

“I cannot deny that as much as I would like to.” He scratched his chin. “You wouldn’t…push them hard, would you? They’re not the same people they were when he came home.”

“I just…want to make sure they have contact. Jason needs someone who loves him unconditionally. I mean, I can do what I can as a sister, but it’s not the same.” She placed her hands on his thighs and leaned in to him. “You have Lucky, but you know the relationship you and I have is different. Is it so awful that I want that for them? I think they can find it together.”

“What do you want from me?” he asked, resigned and she beamed.

“Well, as my co-opportunity creator, you just have to support me. I’ll do the hard work.” She pointed a finger at him. “No harassing Elizabeth about it. I know you didn’t support her with Jason before—”

“That was different,” he said swiftly. “She was mourning Lucky, and he took advantage—” Nikolas closed his mouth at her mutinous glare. “Okay. Well, I might have had a thing for her then that colored my perception. I do know that she was struggling with Lucky’s…death…in a way that we couldn’t help her with.”

“She told me he was her safe place,” Emily said softly. “And I think they can be that for each other again. So, you’ll be supportive if it develops into something?”

“If that’s all that’s required of me.” Nikolas nodded. “I like your brother most of the time, Em. I may…distrust his line of work, but hell, I’m a Cassadine. It’s not like that hasn’t almost killed Elizabeth a dozen or so times, so what right do I have to complain?”

“That’s the best thing about you,” she said, offering a quick peck to his lips. “You’re always ready to admit when you’re wrong.”

“I never said that.”

May 15, 2014

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

Still waiting for the snow to fall
It doesn’t really feel like Christmas at all
Those Christmas lights light up the street
Down where the sea and city meet
May all your troubles soon be gone
Oh Christmas lights, keep shining on
– Christmas Lights, Coldplay


Friday, December 24, 2004

General Hospital: Fifth Floor

The elevator doors slid open to reveal the brightly decorated floor of the hospital, where the children would soon gather around Alan Quartermaine to listen to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and receive presents from Santa Claus.

Elizabeth could remember visiting her grandparents at Christmas and watching her grandfather read to the children stuck in the hospital over the holidays. Alan was a wonderful successor, but she would always miss Steve Hardy most this time of year.

Audrey placed a hand on her shoulder. “I miss him, too,” she murmured.

Elizabeth adjusted Cameron in her arms and turned to smile at her grandmother. “He’ll always be with us. And I’ll tell Cameron all about the men he’s named for.” She looked down at her six month old son, with his dark hair and dark eyes like his father. “Cameron Steven Webber, grandson of doctors, and great-grandson of the best doctor and nurse team General Hospital ever saw.”

“And nephew of the new pediatric oncologist,” her brother teased from her side. “This kid is going to be quite helpful with ladies, Bits. They cannot resist a baby.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes with a smile and passed the baby to him. “Go. Flirt with the nurses. Be merry.”

She watched as Steven, Cameron in tow, walked towards a trio of nurses—a blonde, a redhead and a pretty dark-haired girl she recognized seeing Lucky with at Kelly’s. “I don’t think you’re getting great-grandkids from that one anytime soon, Gram.”

“Not likely,” Audrey agreed with a sigh. “Why don’t you go talk to Emily? She’s gesturing at you, and I’ll go talk to Monica and Alan.” She kissed Elizabeth’s cheek before heading away.

Emily stepped up to her and grabbed her hand. “I want you to meet someone!”

“Whoa!” Elizabeth said as Emily all but towed her across the reception room, around the nurse’s hub and towards the Christmas tree, where she saw Jason, holding an infant in a red velvet Christmas dress and a matching headband with a floppy bow.

She hadn’t seen him in the last two weeks, but she knew from Emily that they had talked, and Evie now had a nanny that she appeared to love. The fatigue was gone from Jason’s eyes, and he appeared less tense.

She was happy that she could help, even if it had just given him a small nudge to look to Emily for real support. She hadn’t had any illusions that their moment of closeness on the docks would be repeated with further confidences.

“Jason, I thought Elizabeth might want to meet Evie.” Emily almost skidded to a stop in front of her brother.

Jason arched a brow at his sister. “I figured that with the way you dragged her across the room, Em.”

“Geez,” Elizabeth said, rubbing her wrist. “You missed your calling as a linebacker. Seriously.” She rolled her eyes and looked at Jason. “She’s beautiful, Jason.”

“Do-do you want to hold her?” He lifted the infant from his chest and she nodded, holding out her arms.

“Oh, I just love little girls,” she murmured, smoothing her hand down Evie’s velvet dress. She glanced up to ask Emily a question and frowned when she saw her friend had disappeared and was already across the room with Nikolas, Lucky and the dark-haired nurse. “How did she…”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into her,” Jason murmured, squinting across the room as Emily studiously avoided looking at them.

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “I do,” she said under her breath, but looked down at Evie, whose dark brown eyes were open and looking up at her. “She looks like Sam.” She vaguely remembered the woman she’d seen at Lila’s funeral and around town once or twice before she moved.

“That’s…what Emily tells me,” Jason said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I guess. She has the dark hair and dark eyes.”

“And you’re so quiet and peaceful,” Elizabeth said to Evie. “Cam’s a fusser. Never thrilled with being right where he is. Always wants to be on to the next thing.” She glanced up at Jason. “Please, make my day, and tell me you bought this dress.”

“Ah…” Jason blinked. “Emily brought it over this morning. Why?”

Elizabeth sighed. “Oh, well. I suppose I just enjoyed the image of big, bad Jason Morgan picking out delicate lacy baby girl clothes.” She smirked. “It’s different than raising a little boy, isn’t it?”

“You’re not kidding.” But he smiled at her words, so she was glad she hadn’t offended him. “It gets easier, doesn’t it?”

“Um…speaking as a former teen-aged girl…” Elizabeth winced. “Sorry. If she’s anything like I was…” She laughed when Evie wrapped her fist around Elizabeth’s pinky finger. “I stole my grandmother’s car, snuck into Sonny and Brenda’s wedding, framed my sister for cheating…”

Jason hesitated and his eyes were wide for a moment, because she supposed it was one thing to tell him those things when they were part of her past, but now she could see him looking at Evie and picturing her growing up and doing those same things.

“Oh, that’s not even the worst of it,” she teased. “One time, I went to a bar when I was only eighteen, and I picked up this guy.”

He scowled, but she continued. “Oh, yeah. He took me out on his bike all the time, and then I drove my grandmother crazy because I refused to stop seeing him.”

Jason laughed then and looked down. When he raised his head up, he was grinning. “You know, I’m starting to understand your grandmother a little more.”

“I know, right? It’s amazing how you figure your parents are overreacting until you think your kids will grow up to be just like you.” She bounced Evie lightly, and the baby smiled at her, and then gurgled. “I’d introduce you to Cam, but I think Steven’s using him right now.”

Using him?” Jason echoed. He looked around until he found her brother at the nurse’s station, holding the infant and talking to a blonde. “Ah.”

“Men and babies, it’s supposed to be irresistible.” She rolled her eyes, and then bit her lip because hadn’t she felt that flutter in her stomach seeing Jason in his leather jacket, holding an infant girl with her pretty Christmas dress.

That was not a pleasant development, no matter what Emily was clearly trying to do.

She cleared her throat. “So, Emily said you hired someone to help.”

“Uh, yeah. Her name is Nora.” He slid his hands in the pockets of his jacket, as if restless. “Thanks…for pushing me to talk to Emily. I wish she felt like she could have asked on her own, but I know Evie’s better off with someone full-time, so when I can’t be there…”

“Well, Emily’s not nearly as pushy as I am.” Elizabeth frowned, and glanced at her friend who quickly looked away. She was going to have to talk to her about this. “You look better, though, so I guess you’re getting more sleep.”

“Yeah, ah, things have slowed down at work…” Jason trailed off and she turned to see what he was looking at. Until now, she hadn’t noticed the Corinthos family across the room by the elevators, and it hadn’t dawned on her that Jason was not standing with his best friends.

She wasn’t surprised—knowing that the custody situation must have made things difficult, but she was sad to see Jason’s shoulders tense at the sight of Sonny Corinthos crossing the room towards them. The teasing light in his eye had disappeared completely.

“Do…you want me to go?” Elizabeth asked softly. “I can—”

“No, I…” He exhaled in a rush a breath. “No, he won’t say anything in front of you or Evie.” But she could see he wasn’t as convinced of that as he’d liked to be.

“Elizabeth.” Sonny smiled at her, and she reflexively smiled back, but she saw that his expression didn’t reach his eyes. Those dark eyes were trained on the baby in her arms and she disliked the possessive way he was regarding Evie.

“Hey, Sonny. Merry Christmas,” she said, trying to keep the moment light but the tension was thick between these two and she felt like she was in the twilight zone. It was not so long ago that she had told Jason he would be loyal to Sonny above all else.

This wasn’t the way she wanted to be proved wrong.

“I saw you come in with your son,” Sonny said, but he still wasn’t looking at her. Now, he was looking at Jason, who was staring at his boss with an almost bland expression. “He’s beautiful.”

She cleared her throat and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, instinctively rocking Evie. She glanced down and saw that, despite the tension, the little girl was dozing in her arms. “Thank you, Sonny. Michael and Morgan…they’re getting so big.”

Elizabeth looked across the room where Carly and Courtney were talking to the young boys, who were laughing and pointing at something else. “Morgan just…turned one didn’t he?”

“Hmm….” Sonny nodded. “I can see your son is going to take after his father with his looks. What did you name him?”

Now he looked at her, and the hair on her arms stood up. This was not idle conversation. She tightened her arms around Evie, as if she thought Sonny might snatch her and run. “Cameron,” Elizabeth said. “I named him Cameron Steven, for my grandfather and for Zander’s father.”

“That’s nice. Cameron Lewis was a good man. Better to name your son for him than the bastard whose DNA he has in his veins.”

Elizabeth inhaled sharply and glanced at Jason, whose eyes were hard. “Sonny—” the enforcer began.

“But I suppose he’s better than the last piece of scum you picked as a father to your child.” Sonny tilted his head. “As sad as it was, Elizabeth, it was for the best you lost that child.”

The edges of her vision grayed, so she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I…I’m sure you didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” she began.

“Sonny—” Jason began again, his voice tight, the muscles in his neck bunching. “This isn’t—”

“You would have been tied to Ric forever, and it’s better that you’re not.” Sonny leaned forward, and Elizabeth forced herself to remain still, to not take a large step back. “You really do have terrible taste in men.”

Part of her wanted to walk away from this, to hand Evie to Jason and just disappear. But she knew this wasn’t about her. This was about Jason.

“Knock it off,” Jason growled, stepping between them slightly. “You have a problem with me, that’s clear. You don’t bring Elizabeth into it. You don’t say anything to her. Just walk away, Sonny.”


 

Across the room, Courtney Matthews watched her brother saunter over to her ex-husband and Elizabeth. As the trio exchanged tense words, she saw the way Jason’s hands fisted at his sides, and then watched him step between Sonny and Elizabeth.

She looked to Carly. “I thought you said things were better between Jason and Sonny. Why didn’t you tell me it was that bad?”

Carly followed her gaze, and her mouth tightened at the scene. “Well, you made your choice when you fled to New York instead of staying here and fighting for Jason. I figured you didn’t want to hear about him anymore.”

Courtney hesitated, because it was true that she had hastily decided to pack up and leave for the city in the wake of Jason and Sam’s shocking announcement they were expecting a child together, but she didn’t expect Carly to phrase it that way.

“Sonny is still my brother,” Courtney said. She handed Morgan a cookie and then watched as the toddler joined his brother in another group of children.

“Well, maybe they’re still not past the fact they were screwing the same woman,” Carly muttered. “Bound to put a damper on any friendship.”

Courtney arched a brow. “Didn’t seem to slow them down when you were the woman in question.”

Her sister-in-law scowled. “That’s not…it’s not the same thing.”

Of course it was, but Courtney didn’t push it. After all, Carly was probably the only one left in Port Charles who didn’t see the truth.

Courtney had not left because she believed Jason cheated on her before they’d filed for divorce, but because she didn’t want to watch him sacrifice his life and future on the altar of Sonny and Carly Corinthos. She loved them, but time and space from their nonstop drama had allowed her to see them clearly.

“So, Jason and Elizabeth are close again?” Courtney asked, as her brother sauntered away from the two of them and, instead of returning to his family, wandered down a hallway. “I thought she was living in California.”

“Why would you think I’d know?” Carly snipped. “I’m not a member of the Muffin Fan Club.”

Courtney sighed and wished she carried aspirin in her purse. More and more, her phone calls and visits with Carly were turning into obligations. Carly’s life had been on a roller coaster for more than a year, since the day of Courtney and Jason’s first failed wedding when Ric Lansing had kidnapped her.

At the thought of the smarmy attorney, she cast a dark glance at another spot in the room where Alexis and Ric stood with Kristina, talking to Ned Ashton and his daughter Brooke Lynn. How he still walked the Earth…

After escaping Ric and then Lorenzo Alcazar, Carly had been shoved out of her home when Sonny left her, and then shot in the head. After her coma, when she’d woken up, conflicted and lacking emotions to go with her memories, she and Sonny had continued to deteriorate until Carly turned to Alcazar and Sonny to Sam.

Their reconciliation the previous spring had not been for each other, but for their children. Not that Michael and Morgan seemed to be doing well. Michael threw tantrums and Morgan was sullen and withdrawn. She watched Michael take a toy from a smaller boy and sneer at him.

The way Sonny often sneered.

She had hoped things would improve with Carly believing Jason was the father of Sam’s child, but there was an edge to her sister-in-law now. She wasn’t just hard from a tough life, she was brittle, as if one more revelation would cause her to shatter.

And God knew, Carly Corinthos wasn’t the type to shatter into a million pieces of cotton and collapse into sobs or fits of depression.

When Carly broke apart, it would be into a million little jagged shards of glass that would rain down on those she loved and destroy them.

So Courtney played along with the lie, swallowed the perceived humiliation of her husband’s supposed affair because Evie was better off where she was. Jason was a good man who would love that little girl.

While Sonny and Carly were selfish creatures who were only mediocre parents at best—when they remembered they had children to begin with.

Courtney cleared her throat. “It would be nice if they were friends again,” she said. “I remember when they were.”

“If they’re friends again, she’s just going to sink her claws into him,” Carly retorted, her hand braced against the small of her back. “He’s barely recovering from Sam McCall, like I want him anywhere near Elizabeth Webber. He needs support from us, from his best friends, but Sonny’s punishing him.”

“It’s been months,” Courtney murmured, but maybe she shouldn’t be surprised. As far as her brother was concerned, Jason had stolen something from him. It didn’t matter that Sonny hadn’t raised a hand to get his daughter under his roof—that wouldn’t be the point.

“Sonny holds a grudge.” Carly huffed. “We’re trying to get pregnant, you know.”

Courtney snapped back to her, startled. “What? Why?”

“I saw Sonny when Sam was pregnant,” the other woman almost growled. “He wanted that baby. So if he wants a baby, I’ll give it to him. And he’ll remember how much he loves me, our boys. It’ll be okay again.”

Courtney pursed her lips. Morgan was barely a year old. If he and Michael weren’t enough for Sonny and Carly to get it together, then why would anyone think another baby would do it? But talking Carly out of something would be like trying to prevent the sun from rising.

“It was good that Sonny wasn’t Evie’s father,” Courtney said hesitantly, almost testing her. “It would…have been a complication no one needed. I mean, it would have been better if it had been Jax’s child, but—”

“If Evie had been Sonny’s,” Carly said slowly, and now there was something in Carly’s expression Courtney just didn’t trust, “it would have been even worse now. With Sam gone. Evie would be there. A constant reminder of his affair.”

“Sonny…it was a difficult time, Carly. With Lorenzo Alcazar—”

“I think Sonny was punishing me for waking up and not loving him,” Carly retorted. “And rather than give me time to sort things out, he kept pushing me to love him. As if the reason I was in that coma wasn’t his fault. He pushed me out the door and then he brought Sam right in. So you’re damn right it’s good Evie’s not his kid. Jason will raise her, and it’ll be fine.”

“Besides,” Courtney said softly, “I’m sure Jason loves Evie, even before she was born. It would…be horrible if he lost custody of her.”

“Why would he?” Carly demanded, her dark brown eyes boring into Courtney’s. “Sam’s dead. Jason’s her father. Sonny is nothing to her.”

“Exactly.” Courtney nodded and reached inside her purse for a stick of gum. “So you and Sonny…you’ll work it out eventually. You always do.”

“That’s right. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to save my marriage, Courtney.”

And the trouble about that the statement, Courtney thought, was that she believed Carly meant it.


 

When Sonny had finally disappeared down the hall, Jason gently steered Elizabeth away from everyone else and down a quiet corridor.

“I’m…sorry about that,” he told her. “I thought things were getting better with him.”

“It’s all right,” she murmured. She glanced down at Evie. “She slept through it so—”

“He had no right to say those things to you, especially about Cam or…” He hesitated. “Your first child.”

Because the thought of that tiny life that had been snuffed out after a few weeks still caused her stomach to turn, Elizabeth looked down. “It wasn’t about me, Jason. He just wanted to annoy you. And he knew which buttons to push.” She grimaced. “Though, I’m sure he actually thinks those things are true…about Ric and Zander. But I know they’re not.”

“Still.” He shook his head. “I can’t…he wasn’t like this before.”

“I know.” Elizabeth sighed. “I know, Jason. I used to think of Sonny as a friend, but that changed a long time ago. He’s not the man who was there the night Lucky died, who looked out for me when you were gone. It’s been a long time since I saw that man, but I know for you to be at odds with him, it’s difficult.”

“I don’t know when it started,” he said after a moment. “I just know I didn’t see it until this last year, until he and Carly made Michael’s life miserable. They kept dragging him into court, asking him who he should live with. He told the judge he wanted to live with me, so I’m sure Sam picking me over him for Evie must have reminded him of that.”

“I’m just…” She sighed. “I’m so sorry this is happening, and I can tell you don’t expect it to get better. Maybe less stressful, but you don’t see an exit for this.”

“Not one that doesn’t include Sonny taking custody of her,” Jason said quietly. “I-I know if he asked for her, I would have to give her up, but—”

“Why?” Elizabeth said, and then regretted it. She didn’t want to get between Jason and Sonny. If she encouraged Jason to go against Sonny now, any hopes for a friendship between them would be over when Jason did figure out how to fix this. “Never mind, it’s not my business—”

“He’s…her biological father,” Jason said slowly. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Blood.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together. “As if blood makes you a good parent. I haven’t seen my parents in seven years, Jason. You know that my grandmother isn’t my blood relative? That my father was Steve Hardy’s son by a woman he knew before he married Gram. But she has never let me feel like I’m not her granddaughter. My father says that she has always treated him as her own son. Blood doesn’t make a family. Why does it matter whose blood is in her veins? Does that make him the better man? When does Evie’s best interests come into it?”

When he just stared at her, she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I just…I remember you that day on the docks, watching AJ and Michael together. I don’t want you to have that look on your face again.” She stepped closer to him, only separated by the baby in her arms. “Jason, I don’t want you to live in nothing again. Because I remember what it’s like, and you deserve so much better.”

He dipped his head down and exhaled slowly. “I think about it every day,” he confessed. “About what it would be like for him to come and take her away. I can’t believe I’m in this situation again. I don’t even know how I got here.”

“Because you’re a good person who tries so hard to protect the people important to him. You wanted to protect Michael and Morgan, and maybe even Carly. And now you want to keep your promise to Sam, who saw what most of us always knew.” She lifted Evie and carefully handed the little girl back to her father. “That you were always the better man.”

Their eyes met and held for a long moment before she looked away, her stomach rolled again. “I should…get back to my grandmother. And maybe find my son before Steven promises him to some willing nurse.”

They started down the hallway, towards the reception area. “I’m going back to California for a few days after the holidays,” she told him. “To pack up our apartment, tie up some loose ends. Maybe…”

She trailed off when they stepped back into the crowded room. Emily was standing there, blocking their further progress. “Hey, I was wondering where you two went!”

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you,” Elizabeth replied, her brow arched. Emily raised hers in return.

“And look at your amazing placement.” Emily jabbed a finger in the air, and Elizabeth glanced up, realizing why Emily had stopped them in this precise place.

The mistletoe hanging in the doorway between the reception and hallway.

She glared at her friend, sending her a mental message she knew the brunette understood. You’re about as subtle as a train wreck.

Emily just quirked her lips, and Elizabeth could picture the words. Suck it, Webber.

She looked at Jason, who had also been giving his sister an annoyed look. “Just ignore her, I think she’s had one too many batches of eggnog.”

“It’s fine.” Jason leaned down and brushed his lips across her cheek, and then stepped back. “I’m glad you’re home.”

Hell. She really thought she had outgrown this.

Elizabeth smiled. “Thanks.” She stabbed a finger at her friend. “We’ll discuss this later, Quartermaine.” She started across the room, but then turned back, feeling playful.

“You know, all in all, it’s turning out to be better than the last Christmas party we were at together.” He grinned at the reminder and she continued on her way.

When Elizabeth was across the room and taking her son from her brother, Jason just looked at his sister. “Emily.”

“Opportunity creator,” she said, as if this was something that ought to mean something to him. “I’m so ecstatic she’s home, Jase. And just in time for Christmas and her art showing. She’s finally showing the world how awesome she is.” She wrapped her arm around his bicep and beamed up at him. “But we always knew, right?”

“Emily.”

“Let’s go take Evie to see Mom so she can stop sending you sad looks.”

Jason just sighed and followed his sister as she towed him closer to the Quartermaines. What did it say about his frame of mind when he preferred the blustering of his grandfather and the snide remarks of his aunt to the accusations of his best friend?

He glanced over his shoulder once more to find Elizabeth standing with Nikolas and Lucky, as the former was holding Cameron. Elizabeth laughed and punched Lucky in the shoulder.

It really was nice to have her home, to talk to her again.

But that didn’t mean his sister’s plans were going to work.

May 19, 2014

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we’re all okay
And not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won’t be made useless
I won’t be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
– Hands, Jewel


Monday, December 27, 2004

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Jason pulled open the door and frowned when he saw his sister with a stroller. “You find that on the street?” he asked.

Emily rolled her eyes and pushed the blue stroller into the room. “Steven and I are splitting Cameron this week to give Audrey a break. Not that she wanted one, but Liz insisted. So I get him until New Year’s, and then Steven gets him after that.”

“Elizabeth went back to California?” Jason closed the door and glanced inside the stroller to see the infant was asleep. “When did she leave?”

“Last night. She didn’t want to have to wait much longer. She wanted to be settled by the art show in February.” Emily looked around. “You’ve changed the place since I was here.”

“Nora suggested a few things to make it more…” Jason shrugged. “I don’t know, easier. So we moved my desk into the maid’s room and put the playpen and swing here.” He indicated to where the objects in question were. “There was some talk of getting rid of the pool table.”

“Hmm…” Emily looked towards middle of the downstairs where the pool table remained. “I see that talk went almost nowhere.”

“We’re fine in the kitchen,” Jason said. “There’s a table. She has a booster seat and a high chair for when she gets bigger. What am I going to do with another table?”

Emily frowned. “I should find an argument for that, but I just can’t.” She smiled at Evie in her swing. “She’s napping. That’s a nice change.”

“Yeah, Sundays and Mondays are Nora’s days off, so I’m on my own today.” He crouched in front of his daughter and adjusted her blanket. “What brings you by?”

“Well, I was taking Cam to Kelly’s for lunch with Lucky and his new girlfriend, Leyla, but he called when I got off the launch. He was called into the PCPD for work, so since I had already lugged this guy on the launch, I figure I’d bring him over to meet you.” She frowned down at the little boy. “And then he fell asleep. So.”

“You had nowhere else to go but here,” Jason said, almost resigned. “Emily—”

“What?” She planted her hands on her hips. “You don’t want to meet Liz’s kid? That’s real nice, Jason. After she put up with Sonny Corinthos because she’s your friend.”

He sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. “She told you about that.”

“No, but I got eyes, don’t I?” Emily pursed her lips. “Should I take off his coat? He’ll roast. But what if he wakes up. Jase, I don’t know anything about babies. What if he gets sick?”

Jason resisted the urge to roll his eyes and knelt in front of the stroller. “I’m going to lean him up. You hold his shoulders, I’ll take off the coat. If he wakes up, he wakes up. You’re right. You can’t leave him in the coat. He’ll get used to it, and then it won’t protect him when he goes back outside.”

Emily held his shoulders and Jason gingerly stripped the bright blue parka from the little boy. Cameron opened his eyes once, fastened his dark eyes on Jason’s and then closed them again with a yawn. He couldn’t help a grin. “Not a fan of being woken from a nap. Just like his mother.”

His sister took the coat Jason handed her and put it in the diaper bag. “When have you seen Elizabeth wake up from a nap?” she demanded. “Is there information about the two of you Elizabeth has neglected to tell me? She will hear about this.”

“Emily—”

“What did Sonny say to Elizabeth anyway?” Emily flopped on the sofa. “She refused to tell me, saying it wasn’t about her. But I saw her. He said something that made her go all pale. You got pissed, stepped between them and then took Elizabeth into the hallway. Either to apologize or give her time to calm down.”

“He just…” Jason sat next to her, angling so he could keep Evie and Cam in his view. “He was pushing me by attacking her. She’s right. It wasn’t about her, but it was…” He hesitated. “I don’t know what made him think he could talk to her like that. After everything she’s been through because of knowing me, of knowing Sonny…”

“Amen. Not least of all knowing the two of you sent Ric in her direction.” Emily pursed her lips. “Of course, she was charmed by him like Alexis was, but you know, I bet she regrets the hell out of that.”

He scowled, because he knew Ric had started dating Elizabeth to annoy him. It had worked, but he hadn’t been able to convince Elizabeth to abandon him. “You know Elizabeth doesn’t listen to anyone when they try to tell her what to do.”

“Don’t I know it.” Emily leaned back. “Did Sonny say something to her about marrying Ric again? After what he did to Carly? I know Carly still holds a grudge, but she probably remembers the name of the kid from sixth grade who tripped her on the playground—”

“No, it wasn’t…” Jason paused. “He told her that Zander was a bastard and that it was a blessing she’d miscarried her child with Ric.”

Emily narrowed her eyes and shot to her feet. “Is he home?”

Jason grabbed her arm as she started past him. “Emily—”

“I’m not one for violence, Jase, but I think I can make an exception—”

He tugged her back down. “I took care of it at the party, and I’m going to make it clear I’m not going to put up with him using her to get at me.”

“Still.” Emily huffed. “Did he explain himself? Did he have a good reason why he attacked my best friend who has never done a damn thing to him? He likes to forget the people who are nice to him. Liz used to defend him, you know? All the time. Said he was her friend. Sonny Corinthos has no friends. He has people he uses.”

“Emily—” Jason dipped his head. Because he wanted to say that wasn’t true. That wasn’t the man he knew, but he couldn’t make the words form.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt like Sonny was his friend. Once, he took his problems to him, looked for advice. To find the way forward.

He had not done that since….the night he’d been shot and found Sonny with Carly.

“Seriously, Jase. When was the last time you had anything in your life completely separate from him?” Emily demanded. She jabbed a finger at him. “And you’re not allowed to say Courtney. You forget, Courtney and I are friends. She told me that Sonny made you guard her, that Carly was always pushing the two of you together. Carly told her that she could get you to propose and then you did. So Courtney does not count.”

He scowled at the idea that Carly had somehow forced him into proposing to Courtney, though he knew he hadn’t considered it until Carly brought it up. “Emily—”

“You can’t even answer the question. Before Sam, before Evie, when was the last time you went against Sonny in your personal life? Never, right? Not since you came home—”

And then Jason knew the answer to the question. Because he had gone against Sonny, at least initially, when Elizabeth had been kidnapped. Sonny had questioned the methods Jason was using to find her—going to Taggart, to Edward. Had that really been more than two years ago?

“You deserve so much, Jason. You deserve better friends than Sonny or Carly. You deserve what I have with Nikolas.”

At those words, Jason focused on his sister and narrowed his eyes. “What did you just say about Carly pushing me and Courtney together? How is that different than what you’re doing right now?”

“What?” Emily demanded. “Am I demanding you tell me how you feel about Elizabeth? Did I even insinuate anything about her specifically? I didn’t tell you to ask her out—”

“You dragged her across the room to meet Evie.” Jason pressed the heel of his hand to his eye. “Emily, Elizabeth doesn’t need the crap in my life—”

“Yes, I dragged her across the room to meet your daughter,” Emily said. “But I did not make her appear on the docks the day you two talked and she made you tell me the truth. If you remember, I stayed with you two for five seconds at the party, and the two of you were the ones standing there and talking for a half hour. I have done literally nothing except introduce your daughter to someone you tell me is your friend. What is my crime, Jase?”

He hesitated, because she had a point. The fact that he was thinking about Elizabeth again, remembering the way she had laughed at him buying baby clothes or her smile as she stood on the docks, snow catching in her eyelashes, resting on her cheeks…had little to do with the fact Emily had introduced Elizabeth and Evie.

“Exactly.” Emily nodded. “I did nothing. I don’t plan to do anything.” She leaned forward. “Jase, I love you guys. If you guys are going to be anything other than friends, it is not going to because I play matchmaker. You guys became friends without me. In fact, I didn’t even know you knew each other until that Christmas party.” She frowned. “Which you know, now that I think about it, seems like a massive omission on her part for which I have never held her accountable.”

“Emily—”

“Just don’t…” She pursed her lips. “Just don’t turn it away, Jason. That’s the only meddling I’m going to do. I feel guilty that Cameron doesn’t have a father in his life. I didn’t make Zander do the things he did, but I didn’t help, either. I could have done that so much better, you know? So I want Elizabeth to be happy. And I want you to be happy. So if you have the opportunity to be happy together, well…would that suck so much?”

He just sighed. “Emily—”

“And don’t give me crap about what Elizabeth does or does not need in her life. You don’t get to make that decision for her.” She pointed at him. “You used to let people decide what they wanted from their own life. Be that guy again, Jason. He went after what he wanted.”

He barely remembered that anymore, but he nodded. “Fine. I won’t decide what Elizabeth needs. I don’t think there’s anything to get…we’re friends, Emily. We weren’t even that for years. So, I’m not pushing anything. I’m not in a place in my life where I can think about that.”

“That’s what I thought when I got cancer.” Emily shrugged and looked over at the babies sleeping near one another. “Just because you’re not looking for it, doesn’t mean it won’t bite you in the butt.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

General Hospital: Dr. Meadow’s Office

Carly Corinthos believed in having a plan. Always have a plan. Commit to a plan, see it through. Whatever the consequences.

She would have another child, preferably a girl to keep Sonny from thinking of the child he might have had with Sam. After the Christmas party, when Sonny had put himself on display for the entire damn town, she knew it was time to get down to business.

Sonny Corinthos thought he was fooling her. Thought he had pulled the wool over her eyes.

No one deceived Caroline Benson. She was a master of deception. And Carly Corinthos remembered she’d been that woman once. She would channel her and devote herself to her family.

She believed Sonny had picked their marriage over his bastard daughter. He had allowed the arrangement with Jason to stand—an arrangement Carly had never believed in.

Jason would never have broken his promises to Courtney. Not after the way he thought he had hurt prissy Robin Scorpio all those years ago by crawling into bed with Carly. Even if he had been attracted to Sam McCall, he would have resisted or ended things with Courtney.

Jason was protecting Carly and her boys, so she would see that his devotion to her was rewarded. She would make sure Sonny never went for the whore’s daughter. Jason could keep Evangeline. Carly would give Sonny another daughter. He would forget the baby across the hall and remember Michael and Morgan.

But watching Sonny badger Jason, overworking him to the point of exhaustion and using any excuse so that Carly was stuck watching the little bastard, she knew the guilt was choking him. She knew that if she didn’t take drastic measures, the constant reminder of Sam McCall would live with them one day.

A baby would fix everything. A daughter would replace the ones Sonny wasn’t raising—Evangeline and Kristina were not going to be part of Carly’s family.

She had nearly sacrificed everything for Lorenzo Alcazar, but he had shown his true colors. When she hadn’t snapped to, hadn’t abandoned her dreams, her marriage, everything she had fought for all these years, he had gone after Sonny once again.

Jason had done something to him over the summer, Carly didn’t particularly care. Either he was dead or elsewhere licking his wounds. He wasn’t here to gaslight Sonny anymore or make Sonny think twice about her loyalty. He had been an aberration. A detour.

Everything in her life had been leading her to Sonny, even her relationship with Jason. And she would not let go without a fight.

Whatever it took, she had told Courtney. Whatever Carly had to do, whoever she had to break. She would save her marriage.

Carly Corinthos believed in having a plan.

She sat across from her obstetrician, and pursed her lips. “I don’t understand. I was told I was healthy after the shooting.”

Lynn Meadows hesitated and then sighed. “You were. You are. But your body has been through a great deal of stress. With Morgan’s pregnancy, you fell in an icy lake, you were electrocuted, you were kidnapped and kept in close confinement, and then you were shot. Your blood pressure was all over the place.”

“That was a year ago,” Carly snapped. “What the hell does it have to do with today?”

“And sometimes, Carly, your body just doesn’t get pregnant,” Dr. Meadows replied, her voice remaining calm and steady. “Now, you’ve been actively trying for five months. Have you been monitoring your ovulation—”

“I know how to get pregnant.” Carly cracked her knuckles. How dare her body fail her in this? Hadn’t she always been fertile in the past? Hadn’t she been knocked up on both one-night stands? “I’ve been doing everything the books say.”

“Okay, well then, maybe it’s time we look at alternatives.” Dr. Meadows flipped a page in her file. “Let’s schedule you for an ultrasound. Let’s have a look at your uterus, the tubes. We’ll see if everything is in proper working order. I’d advise you to relax, but I highly doubt that’s going to be possible.”

Carly exhaled slowly. “All right. I’m sorry. I’m just…upset. I’ve never really had trouble getting pregnant before.”

“It happens to us all eventually,” the older woman murmured. “But you’re young still. Just barely in your thirties. If you can’t get pregnant naturally, there’s in vitro insemination. You’re a wealthy woman, perhaps a surrogate or adoption—”

“No.” Carly shook her head. “I want a natural child. One that’s biologically mine and Sonny’s.”

Dr. Meadows paused and looked at her. Carly tensed, because she didn’t like the judgmental bitch. So what if Carly didn’t want someone else’s bastard in her life? To remind Sonny that she couldn’t have children, that his biological child was across the hall? No.

Sonny loved Michael, but Carly didn’t know if she had the same capacity for generosity to love a child she hadn’t carried, hadn’t given birth to. She had barely latched onto Michael once he was born, and Morgan still seemed like a stranger sometimes. She loved them, but she didn’t think she would love a child who wasn’t hers.

She knew Kristina and Evangeline were Sonny’s biological daughters, but hell if she looked at them with any sign of softness. All she saw was Sonny’s betrayals.

“Money is no object,” Carly said. “If I need surgery or—”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we came to it.” Dr. Meadows reached for her appointment book. “Let’s schedule the ultrasound.”

Carly Corinthos had a plan. She would revise accordingly along the way, because really—a plan was about the goal. Whatever it took to achieve the goal was acceptable.

She would save her marriage.

Because if she wasn’t Carly Corinthos, who the hell was she?

Monday, January 3, 2005

Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

Sonny Corinthos leaned back in his chair as he watched Jason stride in his office and stand in front of the desk, his hands in the pockets of his ubiquitous leather jacket. It was the first time he and Jason had been in the same room since the Christmas Party.

He looked at this man whom he had always looked upon as a brother, and tried to remember why he had gone to talk to him at the party when Carly had suggested he avoid him. Why he had spoken to Elizabeth, a woman whom he was genuinely fond of, in such a demeaning way.

That he could not remember why he had done those things—only that he had—was troubling.

Sonny cleared his throat. “I’m sorry if I…dragged you away from anything.”

“It’s fine,” Jason said shortly. “You said it was important.”

“Yeah, uh…” Sonny rubbed his forehead. He felt hot, like his skin was boiling and he had a sudden urge to sweep the various files and folders from his desk.

This violent urge had come once or twice a day for the past several weeks, but Sonny merely took a deep breath. He would not give into the blackness.

He would stay away from the abyss. This time would be different.

“I know we’re…having difficulties,” Sonny said slowly, “but at the end of the day, the safety of our…” the word was sour in his mouth, but he forced himself to continue, “our families comes first, I hope you agree.”

“I do.” And now Jason lowered himself into the chair, and Sonny’s chest felt less tight. He could do this. He had made the right decision in November, for his family, and for his daughter.

He knew this.

He just had to live with it.

“I also…” Reflexively, he fisted his hands in his lap and took another deep breath. This was important. He had to make this one thing right. “I wanted to apologize. About the party. I-I like Elizabeth. I shouldn’t have—” He paused. “I’d like to apologize to her personally, but—”

“I’d prefer it if you’d stayed away from Elizabeth,” Jason interjected, his voice firm. “I don’t care if you regret it or not, Sonny. What you said…you had no right to attack Elizabeth to get to me.” His mouth was pressed into a thin, angry line. “You went after her because you knew it would piss me off. How is that different than what Sorel or Roscoe did to her?”

Sonny exhaled slowly and nodded. “I-I know, Jason. I shouldn’t have…Elizabeth didn’t deserve what I said. Like I said, I would apologize to her, but I don’t know that she’d want to hear it from me. If at any point, you think it’s appropriate to pass it on, I would appreciate it.”

Jason offered a short nod. “You said there was business to deal with.”

“Yeah. Uh.” Sonny reached for a piece of paper on which he had jotted down some notes. He had resolved to write down what he wanted to say to Jason. If he planned it, if he stuck to what was written, he would be less likely to say something else.

To make this worse.

“Max reported in this morning. Cody contacted him to tell him he’d seen Johnny Zacchara at Luke’s.”

He let that news drop like the bombshell he believed it to be. For more than two months, they had had some minor troubles, nothing that couldn’t be resolved, but distractions and nuisances. A few shipments had been late, a bookie or two had refused to pay his percentage. There had been a whisper of a drug dealer that no one could find.

And now Sonny believed he knew what was behind it.

“Did you hear me?” Sonny asked, when Jason remained silent.

“Yeah. You told me that a guy who’s twenty-six years old was seen in a blues club.” Jason jerked a shoulder. “Luke’s is pretty popular for music. It’s always packed. Johnny lives an hour away. Not unlikely he would know about it. I mean, yeah, we should keep an eye on him, Sonny, but I don’t get the connection.”

Furious words rose in his throat, nearly spilled out of his mouth, but Sonny just closed his eyes. He hadn’t prepared for this. He had no words for this. He had assumed Jason would see his point, that he would not have to elaborate.

He was Sonny Corinthos. He could do this.

“The problems we’ve been having,” Sonny began.

“You’re worrying too much about them,” Jason interrupted, but his voice was only confident, not dismissive. “Shipments are late. Usually because the boats are avoiding the border authorities. They take other shipping lanes, slow down to avoid a patrol. Bookies are a pain in the ass, it’s why we prefer the casinos in Puerto Rico. And no one’s found anything other than rumor about this dealer. I don’t think Johnny Zacchara is a threat.”

He just didn’t get it. He didn’t see it. How could Jason just ignore the obvious? “His father is megalomaniac—”

“Who’s more content to annoy New York and Boston than he is to worry about us. Yeah, it’s been more tense since we learned about Ric’s connection to Trevor, but nothing more than some extra money in negotiations.” Jason shook his head. “I’m not saying we ignore his presence, but it’s probably nothing.”

There was sense in Jason’s words, and Sonny tried to focus on that. “I see what you’re saying,” he said slowly, “but I don’t think we should forget the problems we’ve been having.”

“No, it might be something,” Jason agreed, almost too easily and Sonny wondered if he was being patronized. Placated. The boiling in his gut sharpened and he forced it down. Jason didn’t placate or patronize. Not in business. His focus was why Sonny had made him partner. He trusted Jason to see what he couldn’t.

It had kept him alive until now, so just because there were…issues between them that had nothing to do with business…did not mean Sonny should ignore his words.

“So if it’s not Zacchara—”

“Maybe the Ruiz family out of Miami,” his partner offered. “They were aligned with Alcazar, and he’s been licking his wounds in South America. It might be his way of coming back after you.” Jason paused. “Maybe he didn’t like the parting bullet I put in his shoulder.”

“Should have been between the eyes,” Sonny growled.

“But you didn’t want that.”

He didn’t need a goddamn reminder. What did Jason think he was? A fucking child?”

No. Sonny took a deep breath. No. “It would have created problems we didn’t need. Carly had just stopped threatening to leave, I needed Alcazar neutralized but his death would have created more issues with the police, and God knows, Carly would have used it.” He cleared his throat. “She told me she didn’t want to be with him, that she was committed to our marriage, but I needed him gone.”

“I get it, Sonny.” Jason nodded. “I agreed with you then. And he’s been gone for months. I’m just saying—let’s not discount him aiming another family at us. We deal with Hector for Puerto Rico sometimes. Might be a good time to feel out the relationship between us—be sure it’s still amicable.”

“Might be.”

When Jason got to his feet, he paused for a moment. “How long is it gonna be like this?” the younger man asked quietly. “Are you going to keep punishing me?”

He had not expected that question.

He had no notes for that question.

Sonny was quiet for a long moment. “I don’t know,” he said, honestly. “I don’t…have a reason to. I…agreed to this situation. I am protecting my family. All of them. If I had contested Sam’s fraud, there’s no guarantee Carly wouldn’t have started to drag the boys into court.”

The sour taste was back in his mouth as he reflected on the difficult spring. “And you know that’s the type of divorce Carly and I would have. We would drag our kids in and out of a custody hearing once a year. She’d demand higher child support and alimony, and I would deny it just to needle her. We’d keep it going until we would not only destroy each other, but the boys as well.”

Jason exhaled slowly and nodded. “That’s probably true.”

“And even if Carly agreed to allow Evie into the family, how would she treat her?” Sonny rubbed his eyes, because he knew these reasons were right. He knew he had done the right thing. “She would always be Sam’s daughter. Always. She doesn’t know about the summer. If she did…”

“These were the reasons you listed in November when we agreed to let it stand,” Jason said. “But you don’t seem to accept them.”

“It’s…I saw Elizabeth standing there, holding my daughter…” Sonny swallowed the bile in his throat, because now he could remember why he’d gone after her. “And I knew she would love Evie the way you do. Regardless of blood. If you and her—”

“We were just talking, Sonny,” Jason said quietly. “But—”

“I know that,” Sonny snapped. “I got eyes. She’s been home five minutes. But it made me see red. Because you have that. You’ve always had Elizabeth and her unconditional support, even when you didn’t know it. And I have Carly.” He bit out those last words. “I got stuck with Carly because of a choice I made a thousand years ago, in another lifetime.”

What could Jason say to that? To this revelation that Sonny wanted out, that he barely loved his wife, that he couldn’t remember why he had loved her in the first place?

It was too late for regrets. He had children with her. The children must come first.

Evie came first in her own way. He removed her from the poison of his life and given her to a man who would love her as his own.

He knew he had made the right decision.

“I’m trying to do better,” Sonny said after a moment of silence. “I don’t know if it’s going to be like this. I…I try not to be bitter. To be angry. To look at you and not want to rip out your throat, because none of this is your fault. Not really. You only tried to help. You knew Carly and I were destroying each other, that it would be worse with Evie in the mix. Evie doesn’t deserve that. I can barely put Michael and Morgan first most of the time, but after what I did to Sam, I can do better by Evie.”

Jason took that in and nodded. “All right. We’ll get through this, I guess.” He hesitated. “But Sonny, if seeing me and Elizabeth talking is going to be a problem—”

Sonny lifted his brow, waiting for him to say he’d refrain from a friendship with Elizabeth to give Sonny some peace of mind.

“—you’re going to have to get over it. She and I are friends. I’m…I’m not going to walk away from that because it bothers you.”

But he hadn’t really expected any different, and for some reason this broke through the self-control he had managed to maintain for the majority of the meeting.

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” he all but growled. “I don’t know why you bothered with Courtney. Barely divorced a year from my sister, Sam’s not even cold in the ground, and you’re already sniffing around Elizabeth.”

Jason just stared at him, but there was no change in his bland expression, which told Sonny he’d crossed a line that he’d been trying to avoid this entire time. “Don’t go near her, Sonny. You obviously think I’ve betrayed you in some way and you’re not going to take it out on her. She’s had enough to deal with this last year or so between Ric and Zander. She doesn’t need you.”

He turned and started for the door. Sonny rose from his seat. “When you gonna stop protecting her from her own mistakes? What did I say to her that was so goddamn wrong? That wasn’t true?”

Jason was already gone by the time Sonny had finished yelling after him.

He collapsed back into his seat and stared down at the useless notes he had made.

He knew he had made the right decision.

He just wasn’t sure he could live with it.

May 25, 2014

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not, and who I am
– I Won’t Give Up, Jason Mraz


Sunday, January 15, 2005

Hardy House: Living Room

“Gram, did you see Cameron’s other shoe?” Elizabeth called into the kitchen. She huffed and knelt down to peer under the couch. “For a kid who can barely crawl and certainly cannot walk, he knows how to throw far.”

Audrey emerged into the living room, a brightly wrapped box in her hands. “I thought I saw it under the planter. I had intended to grab it, but then Gatsby ran out the front door when the flower delivery arrived—”

Elizabeth did indeed spy the blue sneaker under the planter across the room and rose to her feet. “I know our things are everywhere, Gram.” She cast her eyes around the cluttered living room, as some of their boxes had not fit into either her bedroom, Cam’s nursery or the makeshift studio in the last guest room. The moving truck she had sent from California had arrived on Friday, and it seemed like they were never going to be settled.

“Darling, it’s the most excitement I’ve had since you and Sarah moved here in the first place.” Audrey pressed a kiss to her cheek as she passed by her to lift Cameron from the playpen. “Having a child in the house again is so wonderful. Other than short visits from you, Steven and Sarah over the years, Cameron is the first baby since Tommy.”

“Well, you’ll be sorry when he’s walking.” She grimaced, and planted her hands on her hips. “Now where are my shoes?”

“It was nice of Nikolas to invite me to Emily’s party today.” Audrey said as she set Cameron the sofa and put his shoes on. “I would not have thought they would want an old lady at a young woman’s birthday party.”

“It’s not that type of party,” Elizabeth murmured. “I know I had those sandals somewhere…” She looked at her grandmother. “Emily wants to…she’s got this idea about keeping her family united. It’s been rocky since Lila passed this summer, you know? She’s worried her grandfather and her parents aren’t arguing enough.”

“I would think that was odd, but I know the Quartermaines. It is truly troubling when they lay down arms.” Audrey lifted a sketch pad from the table under the bay window. “Are they blue sandals, Elizabeth?”

“No, coral.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “How did those get over there?”

“Possibly Cameron. I do believe we have an outfielder on our hands here.” Audrey nuzzled Cameron’s cheek. “His great-grandfather played a mean third base, so he’s carrying on the tradition.”

“Anyway, so Emily invited you, she invited her parents and her grandfather, but when Edward sent his regrets, she convinced Jason to bring Evie, so she told me to bring Cameron, because Alexis is bringing Kristina. Why she thinks a two month old, a seven month old and a two year old constitutes a children’s section, I don’t know, but Emily has her—” she trailed off when she saw Audrey’s look. “What?”

“Don’t think I did not see Emily dragging you across the room at the Christmas party or that you stayed with Jason and his daughter for nearly a half hour.”

“Oh, is living at home again going to be like really living at home again?” Elizabeth grimaced. “Gram—”

“I don’t know why you think I’m about to say something unkind,” Audrey murmured, lifting her chin. “I was merely inquiring if you and Jason are friends again.”

“We are, sort of, I suppose.” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I know I brought those shoes down here.”

“Well, I want you to know that while I don’t particularly understand it, I will respect any decision you choose to make regarding Jason.”

Elizabeth turned away from the pile of newspapers and blinked. “Gram, that…are you sick?”

“No,” Audrey said with a sniff. “I just…there are battles that are not worth fighting, and you know…I have eyes, Elizabeth. I saw Jason with that beautiful little girl. I’m sure it’s very tempting image—the same reason your brother abducts Cameron every five minutes to impress a nurse. A man with a baby, particularly someone like Jason Morgan, is somewhat…attractive.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Gram, are you telling me you think Jason is hot? Because I want this on tape.”

Now her grandmother scowled. “You are deliberating baiting me now, Elizabeth. I am only saying that I understand it. I also…” She sighed and pulled out a chair to look behind it for Elizabeth’s elusive sandals. “I find him almost admirable in some respects.”

“Hold on. Hold on.” Elizabeth held out one hand, pressing the other to her forehead. “I know I’m hearing things now.”

“I do wish he had picked better friends to care about,” Audrey mused. “But I suppose one cannot quibble at his loyalty. He loves those boys, and I do remember seeing him around town when we thought Michael was his son. So Lila was concerned about him—”

“I…” Elizabeth hesitated, knowing that Audrey and Lila had been frequent tea partners. “He’s doing better, now, you know. He…didn’t expect to be a single parent—”

“He shouldn’t have had to clean up Sonny’s mess at all. Why he still has that delightful little girl, I do not understand. Lila always worried about him, you know. She said that for all his fuss about not being Jason Quartermaine anymore, he had retained the worst of that boy’s qualities.”

Elizabeth sank onto the sofa and handed Cameron his stuffed dog which had fallen to the floor. Her grandmother wasn’t making any sense. “Gram—”

“Jason Quartermaine was in that accident because he loved his brother and never knew to let well enough alone,” Audrey huffed. She unearthed the coral sandals from underneath the playpen. “And Lila always knew that Sam McCall was not having Jason’s child.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together and took the shoes from her grandmother. “I have no idea what you’re talking about—”

“She told me that she felt Jason had replaced AJ with Sonny. That boy will always take care of Sonny Corinthos, and by extension, his family, to his own detriment. Last time, it cost him his memories. What will such blind devotion cost him this time?” Audrey scowled. “He’s a good father. He should have children of his own.”

“Does anyone in Port Charles believe Jason is Evie’s father?” Elizabeth asked, strapping her shoes on. “Emily and I both suspected, but he just confirmed it to us last month.”

“If they do, it’s willful ignorance.” Audrey straightened a stack of newspapers. “You were there when Sonny Corinthos sauntered over to him and picked a fight. The man is supposed to be with his wife, but he’s still harping on Jason Morgan. Now, one could suppose it’s related to the affair Jason supposedly had with his mistress, but Lila never bought that. Her boy is too honorable for that.”

Her throat was closed. Emily had told her she felt so guilty that Lila had died believing Jason was going to be a father again, and now her grandmother was telling her that wasn’t true. “He’s made his choice, Gram. And Evie’s better off for it.”

“Well, that’s difficult to argue with.” Audrey peered at her. “Are you thinking of getting involved with him, darling?”

Elizabeth hesitated a shade longer than she should have. “No, of course not. Gram, when would I find time for that? When would he? We have small children. We both have time-consuming…jobs. I run into him sometimes, and we talk. That’s it.”

“All right. I just…I wanted you to know that I know the situation he’s in and I do not begrudge him your support. Or your friendship. Or anything else.” Audrey sat next to her on the sofa. “I encouraged you to keep trying with Lucky. I encouraged you to go back to Ric. And what do you have to show for listening to me, my dear?”

“Well…” Elizabeth glanced at her son. “Cameron, for one.”

“What I’m trying to say is that I am aware that I do not always know best, and in fact, I rarely do.” Audrey touched her cheek. “I want you to do what makes you happy. At the end of the day, that’s all I have ever wanted. I am finished believing that anyone but you knows what that is.”

“I love you so much, Gram.” Elizabeth leaned forward and hugged her.

Wyndemere: Entryway

Emily hurried out of the large ballroom to greet Elizabeth, Steven and Audrey. “I’m so glad you guys could make it!”

“Sorry we’re late,” Steven said, leaning past his sister to kiss her cheek. “Bits and Gram waited for me to finish my shift.”

“No problem.” Emily turned to her best friend and hugged her. “I’m just so glad you’re here.”

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and shifted Cameron from one hip to the other. “What are you up to, Quartermaine?”

“Um…” Emily glanced at Audrey and Steven who were following Nikolas into the ballroom. “So I did a very bad thing.”

With Emily, a very bad thing could range from chipping a nail to waking up next to a dead man, so Elizabeth merely sighed. “Are we going to need the freezers again?”

“What? Oh, no.” Emily flushed. “No, I guess it’s not a ten on the scale, since Ted would be the ten. It’s more like a…” She pursed her lips. “More like a six. Remember I told you that I only convinced Jason to come and bring Evie because my grandfather couldn’t come?”

“Oh, you didn’t…” Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. “You deliberately manipulated the two of them into a room and didn’t tell Jason? He’s going to roast you alive.”

“This is entirely true,” Emily nodded. “I am in such bad trouble, but you know Jason, he’s not giving Grandfather the satisfaction, so he’s just standing there with Evie and—”

“The day is going to come, Emily, when I abandon you to fix your own problems.” Elizabeth handed Cameron to Emily long enough to shed her pea coat and scarf. She tossed these at Emily and took back her son.

“Luckily for me, this is not that day.” Emily smiled brightly. “So what do you suggest? Smoke alarm? I could pretend Ned is singing somewhere, I think he might help. Grandfather is always distracted when he think Eddie Maine is making a resurgence. But I don’t want Jason to leave, not until the cake—”

“I’ll take care of this, you’ll just make it worse. Has Edward cornered him yet?” Elizabeth started for the ballroom, Emily on her heels.

The room was filled with Emily’s friends and family, including half the hospital. Jason stood near the doorway to the conservatory, Evie in his arms and a blank expression on his face. “Oh, Em, he is pissed.”

“What? How can you tell?” Emily craned around her. “He looks fine.”

Elizabeth snorted. “Nope, I’ve seen him give that look to Taggart. Has he gotten you alone yet?”

“Um. I’ve been hiding or sticking close to Dad.”

Elizabeth eyed her. “What exactly did you think was going to happen when Jason realized you’d tricked him?”

“I may not have thought that far ahead.” Emily pressed her lips together. “I’m just…tired of my family not getting along. If Jason would just give Grandfather a chance—”

“Em—”

“And if Jason would just try to understand that Grandfather comes from a place of love, and he’s been wrecked since he lost Grandmother—” She sighed. “Okay. Okay. I was wrong. I know it, and I’ll let Jason yell at me all he wants. How are we going to fix this?”

We’re not going to do anything.” Elizabeth looked at her friend. “If I find out you did this deliberately as part of your asinine matchmaking plot, Jason won’t be the only one you have to worry about.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Pfft. Like I don’t have better things to do than worry about your sad love life. Oh crap, Grandfather is heading for Jason—”

“I’ll take care of this.”

Wyndemere: Ballroom

Jason was going to murder his sister. Slowly. And he was going to enjoy it. She knew he hated parties, but she said that their grandfather would not be there and he wanted to show her that he was sorry he had kept her in the dark all along.

He should have known.

He hadn’t turned around and left immediately because Evie had been sick on the launch ride and he wanted to give her some time, even a nap before he put her through it again.

When Edward separated himself from Audrey and Monica, Jason wanted to hit something because the old man was heading straight for them.

His sister was going to pay for this.

“Jason.” Edward slid his hands into the pockets of his trousers, his chin lifted in the air. “I wanted to say hello to you.” He paused and his eyes locked on the infant in Jason’s arms. “And…maybe say hello to my…” He coughed. “To Evangeline.”

They both knew he had been about to call her his great-granddaughter, a term that would have annoyed Jason. That he had stopped made Jason frown.

“Hello,” Jason said, because it was simpler than walking away.

“I—” Edward paused, as if he had been expecting something else. “It was good of you to come to the Christmas party. We…weren’t expecting you.”

“Emily asked me.” He cast his eyes around the room, looking for his sister who had managed never to be alone since the moment he had set eyes on Edward.

“Well, Evangeline looked as though she was having a good time.” Edward was quiet for a moment, as this was the most they had spoken to one another in some time. “She’ll enjoy it more next year, I’m sure.” His eyes softened. “Lila would have enjoyed her.”

The only thing he had in common with this man who was technically his grandfather was their adoration for Lila Quartermaine, so in her memory, he would attempt to keep this conversation civil.

“I-I know she would have.”

Edward dipped his head, as if searching for something else to say. “I noticed you were speaking to Elizabeth Webber at the party. And that Sonny Corinthos upset her.”

Well, that was almost two minutes longer than Jason would have expected. “And?”

“Mr. Quartermaine!”

The woman in question stepped up to them with a bright smile and her son in her arms. “I was hoping to see you here today!”

Edward turned to Elizabeth, his mouth breaking into a grin. “Elizabeth! Let me get a look at this boy. Emily kept saying she’d bring him by the house while you were in California, but it never seemed to work out with her schedule.”

“Yes, Emily and Steven were my lifesavers while I packed everything up.” Elizabeth smiled at Jason. “Hey, Jason. Emily told me she brought Cam by while I was gone, so I know you’ve met him.” She turned her attention back to Edward. “Did Gram tell you what I named him?”

“Lila did.” Edward’s eyes dimmed for a moment, but his smile remained. “Cameron Steven. Your grandfather would have approved. We still miss him very much, Elizabeth. Board meetings are not the same without him.”

“I know he enjoyed butting heads with you.” Elizabeth’s smile deepened. “And Gram tells me you two used to play baseball against one another back in the sixties.”

Edward chuckled and glanced at Jason. “ELQ used to sponsor a Fourth of July game against the hospital staff. We stopped that…oh…maybe a decade or so ago, but Steve Hardy and I were fierce competitors.” He hesitated. “AJ and…well, it was a family event.”

“I’m so glad you and my grandmother will be here to tell Cam all about his great-grandfather,” Elizabeth said. “Would you like to hold him?”

“Of course, my dear.” Elizabeth handed the little boy over, and Edward happily bounced the infant in his arms. “Lila showed me all the pictures Audrey gave her.”

“Really?” Elizabeth lifted her brow. “I didn’t know Lila took such an interest.”

“Oh, yes, she loved babies.” Edward looked at Jason. “I was telling Jason how much she would have enjoyed Evangeline.”

“Oh, she would have spoiled her just the way you guys spoil Emily. Why, look at the two of you, having a civil conversation and everything!” Elizabeth put a hand on Edward’s shoulder but looked at Jason. “Would you mind if I stole your grandfather for a while? Gram was telling me about the time the Quartermaines threatened to shut down the hospital if my grandfather didn’t authorize an operation—”

Edward scowled. “Steve always embellished that story. You come sit with me, Elizabeth, and I will tell you how it really happened.”

Jason watched as Elizabeth led Edward towards a cluster of chairs and sofas. She glanced over her shoulder and widened her eyes at him, as if to say you owe me.

He grinned at her, and mouthed thanks. They’d been getting along when she came their way, but it had been a close thing.

Now to find his sister.

Wyndemere: Across the Ballroom

“I am the master of opportunity creating.” Emily sipped her tea and smiled at her fiancé. “Admit it. No one is better than me.”

Nikolas eyed her with skepticism. “What do you think your brother is going to do to you when he gets you alone?”

“Well, now that Elizabeth saved him from Grandfather, I’m hoping he’ll be less annoyed. They were having a civil conversation, Nikolas.” Emily touched his forearm. “Grandmother would have loved every inch of it. She hated how at odds they were.”

“Hmm….” Nikolas sipped his wine and shook his head. “It’s not going to change the fact that you lied to your brother. You know he hates that. I thought you were not going to do any actual meddling. Setting Elizabeth up to save your brother from your family seems like physical meddling.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Emily jabbed a finger at him. “Setting Jason up to be in the same room as my grandfather was completely separate from my opportunity creating. That was my meddling in my family life. But then you know…they were actually in the same room—”

“And you realized you were in trouble.”

“So I was asking Elizabeth for suggestions on how to distract Grandfather long enough to get Jason out of here, but she suggested rescuing him all on her own.” Emily sniffed. “Perfect for each other, what did I say? And you saw him smile at her once Elizabeth got Grandfather to go away. Besotted, and they don’t even know it.”

She peered at the room over the rim of her glass. “I am a master opportunity creator,” she repeated. “I got Lucky and Leyla together, didn’t I?”

“How do you figure?” Nikolas asked. “Lucky met her in the emergency room when he got sliced in the leg. He asked her out. You were barely involved.”

“I knew he was interested,” Emily said. “I brought Leyla to Kelly’s when I knew Lucky would be there. Opportunity created.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t take credit for that.” Nikolas paused. “You’re going to retire your creating after your brother right?”

“No!” Emily widened her eyes. “I’m barely at the top of my game, Nikolas. I’m onto tougher targets after him.”

“There’s someone tougher than Jason Morgan in the romance department? I have to hear this.”

“Elizabeth’s brother, Steven. He’s a bit of a player,” Emily said, considering the man in question who was laughing with one of the residents from the neurology department. “So it will have to be the right woman. I can’t just match make with him or create opportunities. I need to do research.”

Nikolas sighed, but a reluctantly smile spread across his face. “You know the best thing about you, Em? You’re not content to be happy alone. You have to annoy others into being happy, too.”

She sniffed. “I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.”

“Emily.”

They turned to find Alexis standing there with a smile on her face. “Alexis!” Emily stepped forward to embrace her future aunt-in-law. “I’m glad you and Kristina could make it.”

Nikolas looked around her. “And that Ric couldn’t.” Emily elbowed him sharply. “Ugh.”

“Ric understood why he was left out of the invitation.” Alexis hesitated. “I knew Elizabeth would be here, and they haven’t spoken since they finalized the divorce and she moved back home. He…was hoping she wasn’t hurt by our marriage.”

Emily gestured towards the sofa where Elizabeth and Edward had been joined by Audrey. “She’s looking good to me, so I wouldn’t worry.” She hesitated. “Alexis, if you’re serious about Ric, we’ll make it work. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t…share your family with ours.”

“Does it have to be Ric?” Nikolas asked with a grimace.

“I know Ric…is not a perfect man,” Alexis said slowly. “That he’s done some things that seem unspeakable, but I’m a Cassadine, Nikolas, with my own dark deeds. What right do I have to hold his past against him when no one does the same to me?”

“I don’t think it’s on the same scale,” Nikolas began. He paused and cleared his throat. “Hey, Jason.”

Emily whirled around to find her brother at her shoulder. “Um. Jason. Hey. Hi. Are-are you having a good time?”

Jason glanced briefly at his sister before at his former lawyer. “Alexis.”

“Jason, good to see you.” She hesitated and looked at the little girl in his arms. “The baby looks beautiful.”

“I need to put her down for a nap.” Jason frowned at his sister. “And talk to you.”

“Well, you knew it was coming,” Nikolas murmured to Emily as she started to lead her brother out of the room.

“Traitor,” she hissed.

Wyndemere: Hallway

Emily was just descending the stairs when Elizabeth emerged from the ballroom. “Em, great. I need to put Cam down for his nap. He nearly passed out on your grandfather.”

“Great, I’ll put him in the nursery with Evie. I just put her down.” Emily took the baby. “Thanks for helping with Grandfather. I think it made Jason less annoyed.”

“I saw that he finally got you alone.” Elizabeth frowned. “Emily, why do you have a nursery?”

“Uh, because I want babies. You have a baby. Jason has a baby. Alexis has a kid.” Emily shrugged. “It’s a large house with lots of rooms. Made sense. I’ll bring you one of the monitors.”

“Thanks.” Elizabeth hesitated. “Is he still mad at you?”

“I don’t think so. He told me in that tone he has—you know the one—not to do it again, but we both know that promise will last five seconds.” Emily shrugged. “Again, you saved my butt, Webber.”

“What else is new?” Elizabeth hesitated as Emily started back up the stairs. “Hey, Em…did you see where Jason went?”

“To the conservatory, I think. It’s pretty empty right now, with all the glass. It makes it kind of chilly.” Emily watched as Elizabeth wandered away from the ballroom and towards the entrance to the conservatory. “Besotted, and they don’t even know it,” she sighed.

Wyndemere: Conservatory

Jason glanced up when Elizabeth rounded one of paths. “Hey.” He got to his feet. “Thanks…for earlier.”

She smiled and sat on the bench he had just vacated. “No problem. Emily sent up the smoke signal the second I walked through the door. She’ll never learn.”

He lowered himself down next to her. “I would have come if she’d told me about Edward.” She looked at him skeptically and he relented. “I might have come.”

“She just…wants you guys to get along. You know, she and Nikolas are planning this wedding and she wants all her loved ones there.” Elizabeth shifted slightly, crossing one leg over the other. “After Lila…”

“Yeah, I’m trying to make more of an effort since Grandmother passed away,” Jason admitted, and felt the tightness in his chest at the thought of her. “But you know, they don’t make it easy.”

She laughed. “No, but luckily, with Edward, it’s easier than you think to distract him.” She hesitated. “I don’t know if I should say anything, but I don’t know…maybe you might feel better about it.” She bit her lip. “My grandmother and I were talking about the Christmas party, and she told me that your grandmother…” She leaned forward a little, lowering her voice. “She knew the truth.”

Jason blinked. “The truth,” he repeated. “About-about Evie?” When she nodded, he exhaled slowly. “How?”

“Gram said Lila thought you were too honorable—to sleep with Sonny’s girlfriend or cheat on Courtney, I guess.” Elizabeth’s eyes met his. “Is…it good that she knew?”

“If I had thought for one minute that I would never be able to tell her the truth, I wouldn’t have lied.” Still, all these months later, the shock of her loss numbed him. “I know she was…getting older, but I thought she would always be there.”

“Like she was immortal.” Elizabeth nodded. “I felt that way about my grandmother until I stepped off the plane. After watching Emily struggle with losing Lila, I realized my gram could go any time. I didn’t want to waste any more time.” She reached out for his hand. “It sounds like Lila understood.”

“She always did,” he replied softly, his eyes on their intertwined hands. “Your…art show is coming up soon, isn’t it?”

“Mmm…in another month.” Elizabeth disengaged her hand from his and tucked her hair behind her ears. “I stayed in California an extra week to pick out the last pieces so they could be sent across the country.” She hesitated. “I’m nervous, because some of the pieces are really personal, so maybe they won’t sell. The agent seemed to love them though.”

She was quiet for a moment after that. He waited a moment before reluctantly saying, “Sonny…told me that he was sorry about the Christmas party. He wanted to apologize in person, but…”

“I’d rather he didn’t,” she admitted. She worried her lip again. “But…if you think it would help with any tension between you two, I would deal with it. I don’t want to make it more difficult for you.”

He appreciated the fact she would put herself in an uncomfortable position in order to help him, but he didn’t think it would. “I doubt it would help.” He waited a moment, because he wanted to talk to her about the strange meeting with Sonny, his concerns that Sonny was starting to slide towards the edge, but only Carly knew about Sonny’s issues.

And Carly was the last person he could talk to about this.

“Jason?” Elizabeth murmured. “Is everything all right?”

“Sonny…gets in these moods,” he admitted. “He starts…getting erratic. Depressed. Irrational. He’ll…bounce back and forth between them sometimes, and it’ll happen in a blink of an eye. He was like that the last time we met in person. He started…by apologizing about the party, and then finished by accusing me of never loving Courtney because…” He dipped his chest towards his chest. “Because we were talking at the party.”

“And I suppose he’s done this before,” Elizabeth murmured.

“I can usually stave off the worst of it,” Jason told her. “I can be calm and patient with him, wait for him to work out whatever started it.” He was quiet for a moment, but decided to go ahead and tell her what he should have told her years ago. “When…we faked Sonny’s death and I couldn’t tell you…”

“Jason—” Elizabeth started with a shake of her head.

“He was heading towards that edge,” Jason finished. “He’d been…questioning me for weeks, second-guessing me. When Alexis lost her sister in that warehouse explosion, you know? It didn’t help. And it was getting worse, because we couldn’t get ahead of Alcazar. I…asked him to let you in on the plan, but he refused. And I played along because I…couldn’t chance a breakdown.”

Her eyes were sad now and she broke eye contact to look away, sighing. “Well, I suppose I’m not surprised. I was angry for a long time, but I’ve…moved past it.” She looked back at him. “I’m not surprised you picked Sonny over me. Like you said…it was a tense time, and you needed Sonny focused.”

“I didn’t…” He exhaled a short breath. “I didn’t see it that way then. As choosing Sonny over you. I wouldn’t…But I can see why it looks that way.”

“Well, whatever happened, it seemed to work because Sonny came out of it.” She cleared her throat. “Maybe he can again.”

He remembered the brief flashes of anger in Sonny’s eyes that he would quickly tamp down or even mask. “I don’t know. He’s trying to control it, which sometimes works. He’s not always aware it’s happening, but…” He scratched his brow. “I brought up…the situation. Asked if it was always going to be like this. Even if he had sat there and told me he wanted custody, at least we could have…done something.”

“But he’s still sticking by the original decision?” Elizabeth asked.

“For now. But the guilt is choking him.” Jason sighed and tilted his head back. “I don’t see Michael or Morgan much now, which seems….they were the reason I started this, but I avoid them and Carly, because I don’t want her to see the truth. I’m trying to create distance between Sonny and Evie, to make it easier. I’m thinking of moving out of the penthouse.”

“Well,” Elizabeth said after a long moment. “You’ve chosen a difficult path, Jason. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. But I guess…” She paused. “I guess you just have to take it one day at a time.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. Easier said than done.

June 2, 2014

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

I still feel the same
Though everything has changed
The pain it cost now
I feel lost inside of my own name
But I keep running
I am running
I keep living for the day that I’m with you
– Out of Breath, Lifehouse


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Kelly’s: Diner

Emily dumped her books on the table and collapsed. “I am so ready to be done with lab reports. My last semester as a med student is going to be a bitch.”

“Hmm…” Elizabeth barely glanced up from her list and Emily rolled her eyes, turning her attention to the little boy in the booster seat beside her.

“Hey, Cam. Is Mama ignoring you? How dare she?”

Elizabeth set down her pen. “What do you want, Quartermaine? I’m busy.”

Emily stuck her tongue out. “What are you working on?”

“The guest list for my opening.” Elizabeth tapped her pen against the sheet of paper and leaned back as Georgie Jones approached them to take Emily’s order. When the teen had stepped back, she sighed. “I have to get it back to my agent by the end of the day.”

“Well, it can’t be that hard.” Emily shrugged off her jacket. “Your grandmother, your brother, me, Nikolas, Lucky, Jason, maybe my family, if you want. They’ll definitely buy something—”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I can’t invite Jason.”

“Why not?” Emily demanded. She flipped open a folder and removed the cursed lab report due in the morning. “What’s wrong with him? You looked pretty cozy with him at my party.”

“He’s not going to want to go to New York City to an art show.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “Don’t start, Em. I told you not to match make.”

“I am not matchmaking,” Emily huffed. She was merely going to create an opportunity, but left that unsaid. “This has nothing to do with any of that. Jason is your friend. Even if he decides not to go, you should invite him. Or are you going to let him think you’ve just been pitying him this last month?”

“Em, he wouldn’t think that.” Elizabeth sipped her tea. “Jason knows better. Anyway, it’s not his scene, and I don’t want him to feel obligated to go—”

“Obligated.” Emily snorted. “Five years ago, no one would have used that word in conjunction with my brother. He used to go to the Nurse’s Ball for Robin, you know. Every year. He went when they weren’t dating, and if he’d been in town the last two times they had it, he would have gone. Because it was important to her.”

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I know you’re not comparing the things Jason used to do for his girlfriend with coming to my art show. Because I don’t need to explain that it’s different.”

“Not the concept. Jason does things for people he cares about. He came to my birthday party. He used to go to Carly’s stupid parties at The Cellar.”

“Exactly my point. Jason has a lot of people who expect things from him, and I used to be one of them. I’m not going to do that again.” Elizabeth picked up her pen.

“So you’d rather hurt his feeling by leaving him out of a major milestone in your life?”

Elizabeth eyed her. “Are you trying to guilt me into inviting him? Because…it’s not gonna work.”

Oh, it was totally working. Emily wanted to burst into song. These bastards made her life so easy sometimes. “I mean, you guys have already left each other out of your kid’s lives. You didn’t even know about Evie until I told you, and I’m sure he didn’t know about Cameron until someone else told him. I guess if you wanted to prove you weren’t friends, not inviting him—”

“Oh, my God, just shut up already. Fine.” Elizabeth scrawled his name at the bottom of the list. “Right now, Emily, promise me something.”

“Um. Do I get to hear the terms first?”

“Do not twist Jason’s arm into going,” her friend ordered and Emily grimaced. Shoot. “I’m serious. If he decides not to go, then it’s fine. I don’t expect him to go. But so help me God, if you force him—”

“Do you think after the stunt I pulled with Grandfather he’s likely to listen to me at all?” Emily demanded.

“You’re not distracting me out of this. Promise me.”

Diabolical woman. Emily sighed. “Fine, I will in no way make Jason go to your art show. What do I say if he asks if he should go?”

“You refrain from speaking. You run screaming from the room, I don’t care.” Elizabeth sighed and leaned back in her chair, casting her eyes at her son who was studiously banging a spoon against the table. “Emily, setting me up with your brother isn’t going to change the fact I’m a single mother. And you have to stop feeling guilty about it. I didn’t make things easy on Zander, either.”

“It’s not entirely…” Emily sighed. “Okay, it’s a little about the guilt. I do want you to be happy. After everything that’s happened in the last few years, I just want to see you light up, you know. Like you used to. And you do, around Cameron. I love Nikolas so much, I just want the same thing for you. I want you to find love. Real, lasting love.”

“I know, and I appreciate it. But I cannot worry every time I turn around that you’re annoying Jason about me. He and I are just settling back into being friends. I really want that back, okay?”

“Okay.” Emily bit her lip. “But…would you turn down a chance to be with him?”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Em—”

“This is just between us. I won’t even tell Nikolas. I just…I see you guys sometimes, and I wonder if you guys know what you look like when you’re talking. It’s like you shut out the rest of the world, and you only see each other.”

Elizabeth dipped her head and exhaled slowly. “Which is why we don’t work in the real world,” she said softly. “We were always good at shutting out the world. People didn’t even know we were friends until the Christmas Party, you know? Because we kept each other so separate from our own lives. We don’t fit otherwise. I don’t—”

“I get what you’re saying, but honey, it’s such a cop out.” Emily leaned forward. “Look, I won’t…I won’t pressure, and I’m sorry if I was. I don’t want to do anything to make you or Jason unhappy. I just…I see a spark. Maybe you weren’t ready for it all those years ago. Or even two years ago. But you guys aren’t those people anymore.”

“No, we’re not. Which is why what is between us is just…” Elizabeth hesitated, her eyes darting back and forth as if she were looking for the right word. “It’s residual. Because we never…had much of a romance. We just…stopped being friends. No closure. So, yeah, sometimes, there’s still…but it’s just leftover. It’s not part of our future.”

Residual her ass, but Emily nodded. “Fair enough. But you know his life has changed. Sonny and Carly? Not his priority anymore—”

“Right now. But Jason and Sonny are never at odds for long,” Elizabeth said. “Carly doesn’t…know. And Sonny will get past this…part of his life. Whether Jason ends up raising Evie or not, he and Sonny are going to reconcile. They did after Carly, after Courtney. And that would put us right back where we were—”

“Elizabeth—”

“Emily, just…look, I’m inviting him. If he asks you whether he should go, give your honest opinion. Just don’t change his mind. Other than that, I really don’t want to discuss it.”

“A girl knows when she’s beat.” Georgie set down Emily’s burger and fries. “I’ll just sit here, eat my food and do my lab report.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

Jason gingerly settled in the chair in front of Sonny’s desk. “I haven’t been able to get in contact with the driver,” he admitted. “I’ve got Cody and Max on it, but it’s looking like it might have been hijacked.” He had waited an extra day, hoping for some good news. Sonny was going to see this as a sign that the Zaccharas were moving in on their territory.

But he had a job to do, and a missing truck with a shipment of cigarettes they were intending to get across the border to Canada was not something he could keep from Sonny.

His partner slapped his hand on the desk. “I knew it,” he growled. “You wanted to think the Zacchara bastard wasn’t up to something, but—”

Jason wanted to close his eyes and sigh, but that would be a sign of exasperation. “We don’t know who it was. We put Milo on Johnny, and he hasn’t done more than hang out at Luke’s or take dinner at the Outback. I think he’s seeing someone who lives here, but we’re not positive on that. Sonny, maybe it’s—”

“Don’t tell me it’s the fucking Ruiz family.” Sonny leaned forward, his eyes dark with anger. “They’re not ones to sit back and cause minor troubles—”

“Yeah, that’s true, but neither are the Zaccharas. Anthony shot his own wife, remember? Shipped his daughter to Italy ten years ago, never has any contact with her. He’s not sending his only son to screw with your head.”

“What makes you so sure?” Sonny rose his feet. “How the hell can you sit there and act like you got all the answers?” He pounded a fist against his chest. “I’ve been in this business for a hell of a lot longer than you, Jason. Why do you always think you’re right?”

Because he was ninety-nine percent of the time, but today was not a good day to bring that up. Rather than being conciliatory as he had been most of the month, today Sonny was combative. This going to be a problem.

Jason took a deep breath. “Look, right now it’s just one shipment. If we go to Anthony, demand answers or take action against them, and it’s not them? They’re gonna look at us and think we’re weak. Think that we don’t know what the hell’s going on. Give me a few days. I’ll find out what happened to the shipment. Stan is tracing the GPS—”

“Why the hell don’t I already have these answers?” Sonny cut in. He headed for the mini bar and poured himself a tumbler of bourbon. He tossed it back like it was a shot, and Jason took another deep breath. Alcohol in these moods was dangerous, and Jason would have to tread lightly.

“We didn’t know it was missing until yesterday afternoon. We don’t have specific schedules for the trucks—they gotta be careful with the patrols, with the weighing stations.” As if Sonny didn’t damn well sign off for this change in business shortly before Jason left town in 2000. “We put together a sketchy timeline, and we know it disappeared somewhere between Rochester and here. Stan’s working on highway cameras, Cody and Max are taking care of searching the route. I don’t want to leave a stone unturned.” He, too, stood but did not approach his partner.

“Sonny, I’m not saying it’s not the Zaccharas, or that Anthony is finally done screwing with you and ready to move on you for real. I’m just…we don’t know. And we both…” He hesitated. “We have people who depend on us to keep them safe. A war when we don’t have the answers doesn’t do that.”

He saw Sonny’s shoulders slump. Maybe. Maybe this would work. Maybe he could still talk Sonny down in these moods.

“You’re right,” the older man murmured after a long moment. He poured himself another bourbon. “I don’t know why I need you to explain this to me, Jase. I know all of that. I just…” He rolled his shoulders, keeping his back to Jason. “I get tired of constantly having to fight for what’s mine. Why can’t these bastards just sit back and make a profit? No one’s ever taken me down.”

He turned to Jason. “You’ve been with me almost as long as I’ve controlled Port Charles, you know. I took over for Frank Smith, in what? ‘94, ‘95?”

“A year before I came to work for you,” Jason answered, almost unnerved at the stillness in Sonny’s demeanor. He’d talked Sonny down before, but the sudden switch did not bode well for the future of his erratic moods. “But—”

“Don’t think I’m not aware that I’ve kept this going because you…balance me.” Sonny turned to him. “I’m a hothead, and you’re stone cold. You talk me down when you need to.” He tossed back this drink, too, as if it were a shot. “Do you ever get tired of it?”

Jason’s breath caught, and tried not to hesitate. “It’s my job. It’s what I do.”

Sonny chuckled, a low bitter and dark sound that might have sent a chill down anyone else’s spine. “That’s how you learned to lie, you know. You learned that talking around a question meant you didn’t have to answer it…” He nodded, his fingers wrapped tightly around the empty tumbler. “And from there, you leapt straight into full-on lies. Did I teach you that?”

“No, I—” But there it was. Another lie. Jason paused. “Maybe. You taught me a lot, Sonny. You and Robin.”

“True enough.” Sonny ambled towards him, towards the desk and resumed his seat behind it. “But we didn’t do it alone. I figure Carly taught you a few things about lying. Maybe even Courtney did, too. When you were lying to me about your relationship.”

Bringing up that difficult time was not a good thing. “I didn’t lie—”

“You omitted,” Sonny cut in. “Not much difference, Jason. You know that.” He tapped his chin and leaned back. “I told you once there was no damn difference between the two, do you remember?”

“Yeah.” His throat was dry. “When you faked your death, and told me I had to lie to Elizabeth about it. I told you I just wouldn’t say anything to her.”

“And I told you she wouldn’t be able to handle the lies, omissions or the ones to her face.” He shrugged. “I was right. Courtney couldn’t either. Women rarely can handle this life, Jase.” His face changed, became contemplative as he looked at something over Jason’s shoulder. “Carly’s…different.”

“And I told you we could have trusted Elizabeth,” Jason said, ignoring his remark about Courtney, because that was true—she’d stopped his execution of Lorenzo Alcazar the year before as if the man wouldn’t have deserved it. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I just thought…we should discuss your sudden predilection for lying, and that was the only other time we’d brought it up.” Sonny pressed his hands together and steepled his fingers.

These circular conversations were always dangerous because he had to be very careful about what he was saying and the tone of his voice, lest Sonny use something against him later. “That was a long time ago, Sonny. And I prefer not to lie, but sometimes there’s no other choice.”

“That’s very true.” Sonny nodded. There was nothing in his eyes now—they were completely unreadable. “Do you ever get tired of lying?”

Every day. All the time. But Jason was so far into this now, he wasn’t sure how to dig himself out. “Don’t you?” he replied. “Are you ready to be done lying?”

Sonny closed his eyes, and again his shoulders slumped. “No. Nothing’s changed, Jason. Carly is still…not going to accept this turn of events, even with Sam gone. We have to…keep this up.”

“All right.” Jason took a deep breath. “I’ll keep the guys on the shipment and let you know if we hear anything, and Milo will stay on Johnny. He’ll know if he does anything out of the ordinary while he’s in Port Charles—if he meets with anyone.”

“Good.” Sonny nodded. “Good. Keep me posted.” He paused. “Do you wonder, sometimes, who’s really in charge here?”

“No,” Jason said immediately. “It’s you. I never wanted it.”

And on that note, he turned and left the room, eager to be away from Sonny’s erratic mood swings. He’d talked him down for now, but there was no telling how long this would last.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Cellar: Office

Carly tapped her fingers restlessly against the blotter on her desk, ignoring the pile of messages from vendors and people interested in holding parties at the club.

She had more important business to deal with right now.

Another unsuccessful visit with Dr. Meadows. Carly had tests done earlier in the month, and they had come back normal today, which meant the useless woman had no way to explain why, after five months, Carly still had not conceived a child.

She had tried not to laugh hysterically when Dr. Meadows suggested Sonny come in for tests—Sonny was nothing if not fertile.

The child living across the hall from them was living goddamn proof of that. The little girl following Alexis around was more ridiculous proof. God only knew how many bastards he had sired.

She reached for her purse and the cell phone contained within. After a few rings, her sister-in-law picked up. “Hey, Carly.”

Did she sound annoyed? Carly couldn’t be bothered wondering further. “Courtney. Hey. I was hoping you could come up this weekend. I really miss you.”

“Oh.” There was a pause. “I have an event this Friday night, but maybe I could take a flight up on Saturday, and stay over. I have to double check my schedule.” Courtney paused again. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes.” Carly huffed. “No. I went to the doctor to find out why I’m not pregnant yet, and I may need to find someone else because she can’t figure out why. All my tests came back normal.”

“Maybe it’s…it’s a sign that this isn’t a good time,” her friend remarked in a soft voice. “You know things have been difficult between you and Sonny since you came home from South America, before Morgan was born. It’s been a rollercoaster since—”

“I need to fix things between us,” Carly interrupted, annoyed. Hadn’t she explained this in great detail at the Christmas party? “A baby will make Sonny focus on his family—”

“Morgan is barely one years old, Carly. Why isn’t he enough? What about Michael? You told me he’s been having behavioral issues. Maybe if you talk to Sonny about the boys—”

“He needs a daughter,” Carly said, her teeth clenched. “I need to give him one.”

There was a long pause. “Carly, I love you both. I really do, but I’m just…I’m worried that you’re not seeing this for what it is. You and Sonny were divorcing last year because you were having really bad problems. You had both slept with other people. You got back together because Sonny made a promise to God if He saved Michael—”

“We love each other,” Carly all but growled. “Do you think we don’t?”

“I loved Jason, but that didn’t mean I could accept him for what he really was,” Courtney said. “We didn’t work because of who we are. Maybe you and Sonny—”

“You don’t understand, Courtney. Why can’t you get this? You used to support me.”

“I do. I support you being happy. I support the boys being in a happy home. I love my brother, I want him to be happy, too. I don’t think bringing another child—”

Her throat was closing, because this was supposed to be her best friend and if she didn’t understand the plan, how could Carly get her to help? “I know a baby will fix things. It’s how we fell in love in the first place.”

There was quiet on the other line. “Carly, I do…I do see why you think having another child would recreate that…time, but…I just…”

“What?” Carly demanded. “Are you doubting me again? My plans work, Courtney. I planned to get revenge on my mother and it worked. I planned to keep Michael at any cost and it worked. I planned for you to marry Jason and you did. I am planning to keep my family intact—”

“Your plans come at a price, Carly,” Courtney said, her voice becoming more firm. “You destroyed your mother. You destroyed Jason and AJ to keep Michael. I married Jason, a man I did love but never really understood or saw the truth about. He has a child with another woman, conceived while we were supposed to be working on things—”

“You’re just concentrating on the minor problems. It’s not my fault if you and Jason didn’t work out. You were both supposed to do the hard work, and I wanted to destroy my mother. That was the goddamn point. Jason and AJ are fine. Well, Jason is. He will be. He has a daughter now, doesn’t he? Who cares about AJ, anyway?”

“That’s the problem with your plans, Carly. You don’t get it. They’re not minor problems. It’s called collateral damage and you don’t care about it.”

Her stomach rolled and her eyes burned. “If I have a baby, Courtney, everyone wins—”

“And if it doesn’t work the way you want it to? If you have a child and you and Sonny implode anyway? That’s three children in the middle instead of just two. And you’ll put Michael through it all over again with the hearings. Carly, I love you too much not to tell you the truth. Please—”

“You’re supposed to love me, Courtney. You’re my friend, my sister. Why don’t you understand? Why are you betraying me?”

“I’m not—”

Carly yanked the phone from her ear and hit the end button. It wasn’t as satisfying as slamming a landline down, but it would do.

Courtney didn’t see how it would work, but she would.

Everyone would see when Carly gave Sonny a daughter. It would all be right again.

It had to be.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Jason set Evie’s car seat on the chair between himself and his sister, removed his jacket and then sat across from her. From his jacket pocket, he removed an envelope and set it between them. “Emily, this has to stop.”

Emily paused as she sipped her soda and peered at the envelope in question. “Oh, cool, you got yours today. I got mine yesterday, even though Nikolas and I have been ready to go since Liz told us about it.” She set the glass on the table and reached for a fry. Her hand stilled and her dark eyes flashed to him. “What has to stop?”

“You told Elizabeth to invite me.”

Emily pursed her lips and set the fry down. “You don’t think she can put two and two together by herself? It’s a major milestone in her life. You’re supposed to be her friend.” She shrugged and popped the fry in her mouth. “How’s Evie today? I can’t believe she’s almost three months old. I think she recognizes my voice, Jase. She’s looking at me.”

Jason narrowed his eyes. He was not going to let Emily get away with this so easily, but he cast his eyes at his daughter. “Yeah. She’s been doing that more this week—looking at people whose voices she’s heard before. Emily—”

“I did not tell her to do anything,” Emily said, annoyed. “No one tells Elizabeth to do something. Geesh, and you say you’re her friend? Yes, she was on the fence about inviting you because it’s not your scene, and she did not want you to feel obligated. I told her that you should get decide whether you want to go or not. So clearly, you don’t want to go—”

“It’s not—” Jason huffed, wondering how she had turned this around on him. Quartermaine tricks probably. His sister had Lila’s pure heart, but Edward’s deviousness, despite being adopted. “I didn’t say that.”

“So you’ll go.” Emily wiped her hands on a napkin, then bounced in happiness as she touched Evie’s nose and the infant made a babbling noise. “She’s the light of my life, you know that, Jase? I mean, I cannot wait to get married and give her a cousin.”

“I didn’t say I’d go either.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “God, Jase. It’s a weekend in New York in support of our mutual friend who has dreamed her entire life of being an artist with a real opening—” She closed her mouth. “Nope, Elizabeth made me swear not to talk you into going. She wanted it to be your decision.”

There was truth in these words, but he still detected Emily manipulating the situation. Somehow. “I’m glad Elizabeth and I are…reconnecting, but she’s right. It’s not my scene.”

“That’s exactly what she said. She told me that people always expect things from you, and she didn’t want to be like that anymore. I think it’s kind of admirable,” Emily said with a firm nod.

But Jason frowned, because he would never put Elizabeth in the same category as Sonny and Carly, who always wanted something from him, always needed him to fix something. “She was never like that.”

Emily just shrugged. “It’s not like people won’t be there with her. Her grandmother and Steven will be there. I’m going, Nikolas is with me. Lucky is dragging his new girlfriend. She won’t lack for support.”

Jason leaned back. “So I won’t go.”

“Yeah, I figured. Besides, you’ve always had trouble with images since the accident, haven’t you?” Emily said. She reached for her soda and sipped it. “So it’s not like you’d even understand the art.”

“I—” He closed his mouth, because that was true but he could still remember Elizabeth not taking offense to his not understanding her painting of the wind, merely explaining it to him until the image came together for him. She could do that again, couldn’t she?

And why shouldn’t he go? Elizabeth was his friend, and he wanted her to know how much he appreciated her support the few times they had spoken. He always felt better afterward, and going to her opening would go a long way towards doing that. So it wasn’t his scene. He had gone to the Nurse’s Ball every year for Robin and he would go to Carly’s ridiculous parties at her club when she whined enough.

He eyed his sister. She had technically kept her promise and not said one word about convincing him to go, and yet…

“I don’t know if I want to leave Evie here, even with Nora,” Jason said. Emily arched her brow. “I just…it’s better if I don’t go out of town overnight and leave her here.” Across the hall from Sonny.

“Oh, that would make everything so much easier.” Emily leaned forward. “Maybe you could ask Nora to look after Cam? Because Audrey and Steven are doing it, but that means they can’t go to the opening together—they’re splitting the night.”

“She’s not leaving him here?” Jason said, surprised.

“With who?” Emily said. “Everyone is going to New York. I mean, if you’re not going to go, maybe you could look after Cam for her. She should have her family around her the entire night, and Audrey and Steven should get to see the whole thing—really get to watch Liz shine.” She pursed her lips. “I could hire a nanny or something for the night. I didn’t think of that before. Thanks for the idea.”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m going, Emily. You talked me into it.”

“I did not. That is a filthy lie, Jason Morgan.” She stabbed a finger in his direction. “And don’t you dare tell Elizabeth any differently. I never once told you to go. In fact, I gave you eight reasons not to go—”

“You think after being friends with Carly all these years, I don’t recognize reverse psychology?” Jason asked, almost amused. “I won’t tell Elizabeth that you did not violate the letter of your promise, merely the spirit.”

She scowled. “Well, frick, Jason. Excuse me for breathing. It’s a major thing for her. I mean, the Harris Gallery is so well-respected, and it’s a coup for a brand-new artist to secure an exclusive showing. I mean, it’s like unheard of. Which means Elizabeth will finally start believing how brilliant she is.” She folded her arms against her chest. “Don’t you think Elizabeth deserves that? And I want everyone who loves her to be there and watch her shine.”

“I—I know how important her art is to her,” Jason said. He cleared his throat, because he was glad to see Emily so fiercely dedicated to Elizabeth.

“These last few years have sucked, you know that. First, Lucky pretended to love her and marry her out of obligation, then she was kidnapped and you dumped her for Courtney, and between Ric and Zander last year, she was feeling pretty down on herself—”

“I didn’t—” Jason opened his mouth to defend himself, but Emily was on a roll.

“She’s an amazing woman, Jason, who keeps picking herself up and rebuilding when her life falls apart. This time, she is finally getting rewarded for constantly standing by men who don’t deserve to be in the same atmosphere as her—”

He frowned, because did that mean Emily was lumping him in with Lucky, Ric and Zander? “Em—”

“And damn it, if I thought I could invite the entire world to this opening to watch everyone fawn over her talent and her awesomeness, I would.” She huffed. “So I am so sorry I had to convince you to do what friends should do naturally. You were so quick to think I was trying to set you up, but maybe I don’t just get how you can say you guys are friends, and yet she’s convinced you won’t go to the most important event of her life and career because it’s not your thing.” These last words were laced with heavy sarcasm.

He hesitated. “Are…you mad at me?”

“No.” Emily scowled. “Well, maybe I am. You’re right. I tricked you. And I tricked her into inviting you, because I knew she wanted to. And she wasn’t going to because it would have hurt her to put herself out there and have you reject her. But I knew it was gonna hurt her not to invite you either. So you should ask yourself what kind of friend that makes you that I had to convince you—”

He held up a hand, feeling a rare spiral of shame wind through his chest. “You’re right, Emily. I’m sorry. Elizabeth and I are friends, and I know how important her art is to her. I remember when she started at PCU and struggled with her classes. She should have felt comfortable inviting me, and I should have just decided to go without you being involved.”

She closed her mouth and stared at him. “There’s a trick here I’m not seeing.”

“And she should have her brother and grandmother with her to enjoy the whole night, so if Elizabeth is okay with it, I’ll ask Nora to look after Cam.”

“I think I feel dizzy.” She looked at Evie, who had been looking at her father with her dark eyes. “So…you’ll go.”

“I’ll go.”

“And maybe you don’t mention this to Elizabeth, because I totally violated the spirit of my promise.”

“Because you love her,” Jason said simply. “And I’m going to tell her because she should know how much you’re in her corner, and to apologize to her if I’ve ever given her any sense that I wouldn’t go to this. We are friends, and I should show her that. You will not get in trouble with Elizabeth.”

“Okay.” Emily hesitated. “So you know Nikolas rented the entire floor at the Waldorf for this, so that he and I have a suite. Elizabeth is sharing one with her grandmother and Cam. Lucky and Leyla have a room, Steven has one, too. I can ask him if he’s got another suite available on the floor.” Before Jason could refuse, she continued, “If Nora is going to watch Cam, it would make sense for her to be on the same floor.”

Again, his sister had a point. “All right. Let me know what he says.” He hesitated. “Thank you, Emily.”

“This was not how I thought this conversation would go.” She grinned. “You’re back to being logical and unpredictable. I like it.”

July 2, 2014

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series The Best Thing: Sanctuary

All this time we were waiting for each other
All this time I was waiting for you
We got all these words, can’t waste them on another
So I’m straight in a straight line running back to you
– All This Time, OneRepublic


Friday, February 12, 2005

New York City

Waldorf Astoria Hotel: Jason’s Suite

When Elizabeth had seen Jason’s name on the RVSP list the gallery had sent her earlier that week, her first thought had been to murder her best friend.

Emily staunchly told her that she had honestly not convinced Jason to go. He had decided on his own. Elizabeth wanted to believe that, but she knew her best friend better.

She raised her hand to knock on the suite door and hesitated when a bright, bouncy young blonde woman pulled open the door. “Hi!”

“Uh.” She blinked. Why was it always blondes? “Hello. I…” She couldn’t have the wrong room. Nikolas had rented the entire floor. “I’m looking for Jason.”

“Oh. He’s just giving Evie her breakfast.” The woman stuck out her hand. “I’m Nora Rogers.”

Nora. The nanny. Right. “Elizabeth Webber,” she replied, gingerly shaking it.

Nora’s green eyes widened, and her smile deepened. “The artist Mr. Morgan is here to see! Oh, it’s so awesome! I’m from New York, you know, but I have never stayed at a hotel so amazing!” She stepped away from the door and waved Elizabeth in. “Come in, I’ll go get Mr. Morgan.”

Nora had disappeared into another room before Elizabeth could protest. How did Jason put up with such cheerfulness? She could practically see the exclamation points over the woman’s head.

A few seconds later, Jason emerged from the room. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Elizabeth hesitated, because now she couldn’t quite remember why she had stopped by. She should have talked to him in Port Charles, thanked him there instead of coming to his room, but everything had been so hectic these last two weeks. “I…stopped by to thank you for coming. I…didn’t think you would.”

“Yeah.” Jason looked slightly uncomfortably. He glanced over her shoulder at the still open door, where they could hear Nora’s voice wafting through. He took her by the elbow across the room and through another doorway into what looked like his bedroom. He closed the door. “I talked to Emily.”

Elizabeth huffed. “I knew it. She swore she had nothing to do with it, but she’s a Quartermaine. They somehow lie and tell the truth at the same time—”

He held up a hand. “No. I mean, yeah, she did kind of…she made me realize that…” He dipped his head and looked at the floor for a moment before raising it back and meeting her eyes. “We say we’re friends again. We talk. But you didn’t think you could even invite me tonight because I might feel obligated to show up.”

“I…” Elizabeth bit her lip. “It’s just…it’s not your thing, you know? And I know you…might come just to…” She shrugged and looked away, over his shoulder. “I don’t know. I guess…I’m out of practice being part of your life.”

“And my first instinct was to not come,” Jason admitted. “But I really am happy for you. About tonight. And not that long ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to accept. This is important to you, and you…” He paused, and his voice changed a little. “You are important to me.”

Oh, hell. She was really going to murder Emily now. Making her admit that there was still…something here—even though Elizabeth was convinced it was residual and would go away if she just ignored it—made her more aware of it when it happened.

But that stupid, ridiculous flutter had been ignored for years and yet, there it was. It had survived despite her repeated attempts to drown it.

Nervous, she licked her lips. “I wanted you to come,” she admitted. “Because I…you were one of the first people to believe in me. Apart from Lucky. Even when you didn’t understand the paintings. So…I’m glad you came.”

She broke eye contact, because her stomach was rolling and almost doing somersaults. “Anyway…that’s why I’m here.”

“Okay.” He looked slightly relieved that she had changed the topic, which confused her because hadn’t he drowned out those feelings, too?

Bad road. Stay off that road. She cleared her throat. “So…I’ll just go—”

“Did Emily talk to you about Nora?” Jason stepped in front her as she headed toward the door. “She told me your grandmother and brother were going to split baby-sitting Cameron, and she thought if…you were okay with it, Nora could look after him.”

“Oh.” Surprised, Elizabeth rocked back on her heels. “I, ah, that would be…if she doesn’t mind. And if Cam likes her, though he likes almost everyone. He even liked Tracy—” Stop rambling. “I have to be at the gallery at six, but the opening doesn’t start until seven, so maybe Em or Steve could drop him off before they leave…” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “If she’s really okay with it.”

“She said it was fine. She was going to be here anyway with Evie because I didn’t want to leave her overnight.”

They just stared at one another for a minute before she offered a nervous smile. “So. Okay. I’ll go now—I have some things to do—”

He nodded and pulled open the door, stepping back to allow her to leave the bedroom. “I-I’ll see you tonight.”

She nodded and escaped the suite before this became even worse. Stupid flutters. Stupid change in his voice. His stupid eyes and the way he always looked at her.

Stupid girl for letting Emily open this door and then walking right on through it. This was only going to end in disaster, as it had the other eight thousand times they had walked down this road.

Why should this time be any different?

Harris Gallery: Front Room

She had once been a brilliant actress, able to paste a genuine smile on her face at the drop of hat. It had come in handy during her brief modeling career, though the camera had pretty much loathed her.

As another person came up to her to admire her brilliant work and then ask for more details behind the painting with the red shoe, or how about the one with the flames, she thought the smile might crack.

The door opened and she almost groaned in relief as she saw her grandmother’s silver hair and her brother’s curls stepping into the lobby. “Excuse me,” she murmured to someone waxing poetic about the hidden subtexts in one of her San Francisco landscapes.

“Gram!” She embraced Audrey fiercely. “Thank God you’re finally here.”

“What’s wrong, Bits?” Steven asked as Elizabeth turned to hug him. “Not enjoying your fame?”

She wrinkled her nose. “I’d rather no one knew who I was, but so far everyone has been nice.” She grinned when she saw Lucky and his girlfriend, Leyla Mir. “Hey, good lookin’.”

“Hey, you.” Lucky wrapped his arms around her tightly, and into her ear, he whispered, “This is everything I ever dreamed for you, you know? I am so goddamn proud of you, Elizabeth.” He drew back, and for just a moment, Elizabeth let herself be that girl again.

“It’s so exciting,” Leyla murmured in her delicate British accent. She wrapped her arm through Lucky’s. “Shall we look around?”

“Yes, yes.” Elizabeth waved her hand. “Mingle. Don’t crowd me or people will think I’m someone worth talking to.”

Emily and Nikolas entered next, with Jason just behind them. Emily’s eyes took in the high ceilings of the room and the canvases on the wall. “Holy crap, Elizabeth. You’re a real artist now.”

Elizabeth laughed and hugged her tightly. “I know. People are calling me brilliant and saying I’m the next fill in a name of an artist I can never possibly hope to emulate.” She turned to Nikolas. “Thank you so much for coming, and for the hotel, Nikolas—”

“Only the best for the next most famous artist.” He kissed her cheek. “I’m going to take Emily and we’re going to buy something for my office so everyone will envy my Webber original.”

“Oh, no…you don’t have to—” Elizabeth sighed as the two just smiled and started down towards one of the displays. “Bastards,” she muttered under her breath.

She turned to her last visitor and that freaking flutter started again. Jason Morgan in a leather jacket and t-shirt was hot enough, but in a suit? There was no equal.

She took in his hesitant stance and stepped forward. “You clean up nice.” She leaned up on her toes to press a kiss to his cheek. “Thanks for dressing up. I know you hate it.”

“It’s…only for a few hours.” He smiled. “You look…” He glanced at her strapless black dress that fell to her knees and her silver sandal heels. “You look beautiful, Elizabeth.”

Hell. The way he always said her name. She was fighting a losing battle and she knew it. “Thank you.” She reached, out of habit, to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear but none had escaped the knot of curls at the base of her neck. “Um. So I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Anything.”

She looped her arm through his and steered him deeper in the room. “So people are coming up to me, you know, because they know I’m the artist, but they’re asking all these deep, personal questions about why I painted some of the things I did…a-and I don’t want to answer them.”

“I can tell them to go away if you want,” Jason said in a tone so serious that she knew he was telling the truth.

She laughed. “No, I think…if I just stick with you, people won’t even bother coming near me.” She arched her brow at him. “You’re pretty intimidating, you know.”

“I’ve heard that before,” he said with a nod. “So you just want to use me?”

“Would you mind?” She asked with a bright smile. “I’m glad people like the paintings, but like I told my brother, I’d rather people didn’t know who I was. It’s not about me. It’s about the work.”

“I don’t mind.” He hesitated. “But you have to do something for me.”

Just this once, she wanted him to be the kind of guy who might ask for something completely indecent in return, because with the way he was looking her, she would definitely agree.

“You know…I have trouble with the paintings, so if you could…” He gestured towards the walls. “Tell me some of them. So I could understand them. Like you did with the Wind, remember?”

And just like that, Elizabeth stopped fighting the battle.

Maybe she wasn’t still in love with Jason Morgan, but she could see it happening again. And for some reason, in this moment, it didn’t seem so terrifying.

“Absolutely.” She nodded. “Where do you want to start?”

“How about with one of your favorites?” he asked.

“Sure.” She steered him into the next room and stopped in front of a canvas that still made her chest tighten when she saw it. “So this one…It’s called Anticipation. Do you see the peach and grays? They come out of the lower left corner and reach into the middle of the painting.”

He nodded, and squinted “Yeah.” He hesitated and looked at her. “Are…they hands?”

She beamed. “Yes! There’s a shadow in the upper right, coming towards them. It’s my hands reaching out for Cameron right after he was born, but just before I held him.”

She closed her eyes remembering that moment. “Everything just…bubbled up inside of me. I was so ready, so incredibly focused on being a mother. I was ecstatic and I was terrified because this little boy was going to depend on me for so much. I was sad because I was alone, but then I realized I would never be alone again.”

She opened her eyes and looked up at him to find him staring at her intently. “It’s the moment I think I really grew up and realized that absolutely everything in my life that led me to this point was so worth it. The pain, the trauma, the good times, the bad. If it brought me to my beautiful little boy, there isn’t a single thing I would take back. I had no more regrets, because if I regretted something, it meant I regretted him.” She cleared her throat, feeling her eyes almost burning with the memory. “I have never loved anyone in my entire life the way I love my son, Jason. I know you know what I mean.”

“I-I do.” He hesitated and glanced back at the canvas, as if seeing it for the first time. “I didn’t…consider Michael my son the first time I held him, but I knew he was dependent on me and I…didn’t know what came next. But it…” He paused. “It also reminds me of Sam.”

“Yeah?” She reached down and twined their fingers together. “When Evie was born?”

“Yeah.” He took a deep breath, and his voice faltered a bit before he could begin again. “She held her just once, you know? I had-I had to help because she was so weak, but she wanted to hold her. So one day, I can tell Evie that her mother loved her so much that she used what was left of her strength to touch her, to kiss her and promise her she would always be with her.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes, grateful for tear-proof mascara. “I can’t imagine the pain Sam must have been feeling, knowing…she would never have more than that one moment.”

“People…I know they think Sam and I…that we were…we weren’t, but we were friends. And that moment…it’s why I promised her. Sonny and Carly…would not raise Evie up to remember Sam. Not…the way she should know her. They tell Michael AJ is someone to be scared of, to run from.”

He hesitated. “AJ’s…he’s not…he would never hurt Michael. He might not…be a good person most of the time, but I know he’s not cruel or malicious, but that’s how Michael thinks of him. As a monster.” He shook his head. “I can’t let Evie think that after everything Sam did to protect her.”

“Even though it created more problems with Sonny?” Elizabeth asked softly. “Even if it means you might…lose her one day?”

“I’m not…blind. I know Sonny might…come for her. That it’s more likely than not,” Jason admitted. “But what am I supposed to do, Elizabeth? Not love her? Not honor my promise to Sam? I promised Carly to take care of Michael, and I kept it until they wouldn’t let me.” He dipped his head down. “Sonny…he’s important to me, but I can’t…I can’t ignore why Sam did what she did.”

“He must have hurt her so much,” Elizabeth murmured. “Made her feel like she could never measure up.”

“Yeah.” His voice nearly hoarse. “He’s not…he’s not a good father, Elizabeth. Not…lately. And not for a long time. He sees Michael and Morgan as possessions, not as people. I wanted better for Michael once, because that’s how the Quartermaines would have seen him, but now…”

“You can protect Evie from that for as long as you’re able.” She pressed her forehead to the sleeve of his dark jacket. “She’s in the best place possible, and it’s going to make all the difference, Jason.”

She cleared her throat and stepped back a little. “Let’s….go look at some of the landscapes from San Francisco. They’re…boring. Which means they’re less depressing.”

“It’s…” Jason stopped her as she would have pulled him away. “I didn’t mean to make you think…this is your favorite and—”

“It still is. It just…it means something happy for me, but it means something sad for you. That’s art.” She tightened her grip on his hand as if to reassure him. “The same painting can have different meanings depending on who looks at it. So…let me show you a painting I did of Alcatraz and you can tell me what it was like to visit it.”

Harris Gallery: Front Room

Emily tried to crane her head around the corner to see Jason and Elizabeth talking, but she just couldn’t manage it. They had disappeared into the back room of the gallery nearly twenty minutes ago and she was peeved she couldn’t watch their progress.

But maybe it was for the best. She had gone to great lengths to create this opportunity, risked both their wraths and it seemed to have paid off. If they didn’t see the scorching hot sparks they set off when they saw each other tonight, well…God, Emily didn’t even want to know them. Idiots.

“You know,” Nikolas said, with a deep sigh, “I think I always knew Elizabeth must be amazing, but I never…really saw anything she did, beyond sketches for the Nurse’s Ball or for fun. These are…”

“Breathtaking.” Emily turned her attention to the canvases in front of her. “I would have pretended to like them even if I didn’t because I love her, but I don’t have to. These are incredible.”

“I don’t know which one to pick.” He gestured toward the one in front of them. It was a woman in a bed, the shadows keeping her features vague and her setting undefined, but the woman, with her head in her hands, emitted a stark sense of isolation and loss. “When…do we know which moment this is?”

“I was in San Francisco when she was finishing it. She was in therapy for a while this summer,” Emily admitted. “After a session, she came home and did this one—she’s waking up from her pulmonary embolism and she’s telling Capelli about Carly and the panic room.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Right. Well, I don’t want that one on my wall.” He turned, his arm around Emily’s waist and on the wall directly behind him…

Nikolas stopped, and she watched the muscles in his throat shift as he swallowed hard. “What?” she began, as she focused on the winter scene. It was the stone fountain and benches of the park.

And a lone red shoe, with its heel snapped off and lying next to it, carelessly strewn between the fountain and the dark vastness of the greenery behind the bench.

And somehow, Emily felt like she was the painting. She knew this moment. Had been present for parts of Elizabeth’s recovery. “Nikolas—”

“I told…Lucky the truth about Luke and Laura right there,” he murmured. “I didn’t—I didn’t know about Elizabeth then, you know. I wouldn’t have told him at all if I had known why he was so angry. Or maybe I would. It’s hard…to remember those days before we were really brothers. Before we were friends. But I told him right near the spot he had found her crawling out of the bushes…that his father had done that to Laura once. Just to get back at him for throwing my father’s abuse in my face.”

“Nikolas…” She sighed. “He doesn’t…it’s past us now. Luke and Lucky are close, sort of.”

“I can’t…How can she stand to paint these moments? Of the worst moments in her life? How can she stand in this room, looking excited and smile while evidence of her tragedies surround her?” He looked at her, his eyes dark with pain. “How can she be so goddamn strong, Emily, when just one of these memories would break anyone else?”

“Because she’s amazing,” Emily answered softly. “And this is her way of letting those moments go. Of putting them in her past and moving forward.” She saw out of the corner of her eye her brother and Elizabeth walk out of the back room, toward the row of landscapes. Her arm was looped through his, and they were talking, even smiling.

“Look at her, Nikolas. She’s picked herself up again after last year, and she’s going to be happy again. Look at them and tell me I’m insane for thinking they work.”

Nikolas reluctantly followed her gaze, and sighed. His eyes softened. “I know you’re not. And…being surrounded by all the horrors she’s emerged from…I want her to be happy again. If it’s with your brother, then…that’s the way it’ll be. I just…don’t want her to have another reason to cry.”

“I love you.” She leaned up and pressed her lips to his cheek. “So…you want to check out some of the views she did from Vista Point? There’s one or two of Spoon Island somewhere, I think—”

“No…” Nikolas pulled her toward another canvas, on the far side of the wall. “I think I know this one a bit.” This scene depicted burning candles in the foreground on an altar, and church pews in the shadowy background, with two people comforting one another in the front row. “It’s the hospital chapel.”

“It’s the night I almost died,” Emily told him. Elizabeth had had the preliminary sketches in her studio in San Francisco, but this was the first time she’d seen the finished product. “It’s Jason and Elizabeth in the chapel. She told me it was the first time they’d been…friends again after everything that had happened since they broke up.”

“I thought it was from your cancer…” He hesitated, unsure how to finish it. “And…even knowing it’s them, I think I want it anyway. Because I see us in it. I see me lying on a hospital bed in the next room, praying for the chance to see you again. Even if you wouldn’t be with me…just to have you in the world would be enough.”

She just pressed her forehead to his shoulder and was quiet for a moment. “God, it seems so far away right now, after everything that’s happened this last year.”

Clearing her throat, Emily glanced over her shoulder and saw Elizabeth laugh, lightly punching Jason in the shoulder. He grinned back at her. “I…didn’t meddle too much with them, did I?”

Nikolas frowned. “No. I don’t…I mean what did you really even do? You introduced Liz to Evie. You brought Cam to Jason’s. You were always going to invite them both to the birthday party. You talked her into inviting him tonight, and him into coming. You just…” He chuckled. “You created opportunities.”

“I just…they were so far apart. I wasn’t sure if they would seek one another out.” She rolled her shoulders. “I think…maybe I’ve done what I needed to do for now.”

“Good. If you try too hard, it might…feel like too much pressure.” Nikolas patted her hip. “I’d like to see Elizabeth have less of these kinds of moments to paints, so if Jason can help with that…I’m not opposed.”

Harris Gallery: Across the Room

“I do miss living in a city on the ocean,” Elizabeth admitted as she finished described a painting of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. “I know…we have the lake and the river that flows to the ocean, but it’s not even remotely the same thing.”

“The beach on the island is nice,” Jason admitted. “But you said you came back for the snow. You don’t get that living on the ocean.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “I would if I lived in Maine, but yeah.” She sighed. “Well, maybe I’ll go back to San Francisco for a few weeks this summer, though…” She hesitated. “If I make enough money from this showing, maybe I’ll…take Cameron to Italy. He won’t be old enough to appreciate it, but…”

“You should take him. He won’t remember it, but he’ll know you’re happy.” Jason’s shoulder brushed her bare skin as he turned his attention from the painting to her. “That makes a difference.”

“You told me once that babies can sense everything around them.” She tapped his chest lightly. “I’m glad I paid so much attention to you in those days, because I feel like I learned a lot about being a parent.”

He grabbed her finger in his hand before she could tap him again. “You didn’t need my help. I knew you were going to be an amazing mother.”

Her cheeks burning, Elizabeth smiled and looked away. She hesitated when she saw a dark-haired man walking towards them, his arm around the waist of a blonde woman she recognized from the hospital. A nurse who looked apprehensive. They were the first people to approach her in nearly an hour.

She sighed. “I guess you’re not as intimidating as I hoped.”

Jason frowned. “What—” He stopped suddenly as he saw the couple. His body tensed. “I know him.”

“And I know her. She works at the hospital.”

The couple stepped up to them, and the man angled himself slightly in front of the woman. “Jason, I…thought it would be for the best if I didn’t pretend I didn’t see you.” He cleared his throat. “I mean…since you know the artist…” He glanced at Elizabeth and hesitantly held out his hand. “Johnny Zacchara. I…sometimes work with Jason. Or at least, my father does.”

Ah. Elizabeth bit her lip but accepted the hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for coming.” She looked at the blonde. “I know you from General Hospital. I think I saw you at the Christmas Party.”

“This is Nadine Crowell. Nadine, Jason Morgan,” Johnny said.

“Hi,” Nadine said, and for a moment it looked like she wanted to say something else, but closed her mouth.

“I didn’t…” Johnny used his hand to rub the back of his neck, looking nervous. Jason still hadn’t said a word. “Things are…look, it doesn’t need to be a thing. I like art. I go to a lot of showings—this was a coincidence—”

“It’s fine,” Jason said, his voice firm. “It…happens. Thank you for…letting me know you were here.”

“Right.” Johnny hesitated and looked back at Elizabeth. “Your work is really great. We’re having a good time.”

“I like the landscapes,” Nadine said, her voice overly bright because she was clearly nervous. “The…one of the Golden Gate Bridge is really pretty.” She winced. “I mean, impressive. Or some other art word I don’t…” She looked to Johnny, looking out of her depth. “What do I mean?”

“You mean it’s pretty,” Elizabeth said with assuring smile. “I’m not particularly attached to those, but landscapes tend to sell well. It’s a nice area to see.” Unsure if she was supposed to continue to make small talk, she cleared her throat. “Have-have you been?”

“Nope. Born and raised in Ohio until I moved to New York for nursing school. I just moved to Port Charles because I wanted to live—” Nadine closed her mouth and flushed. “I’m sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t…” She sighed and looked at her companion. “Johnny, you never told me what I’m supposed to say.”

Elizabeth nudged Jason as if to somehow make this go away. The poor girl was clearly unused to meeting Johnny’s associates and was trying to do what was right by him.

Jason looked as if he wanted to roll his eyes, but refrained. He merely let out a small breath of exasperation. “Johnny, it’s really fine. You’re known for hanging out in New York.” He looked at Nadine. “You’re doing fine. Just next time, don’t volunteer personal information to people he hasn’t briefed you on.” Then he looked at Johnny. “And don’t let her walk into a situation cold like this again. You came up to me.”

Johnny blinked, but nodded. “Fair enough.” He looked at to Nadine. “Sorry.”

“I told you,” she was telling him as he led her away.

“That was very nice of you to give them relationship advice,” Elizabeth said with a wicked smile. “Jason Morgan, couples counselor.”

He huffed. “He had no business bringing her over here without…” He rubbed his forehead. “I mean, he was right to come over. If I…knew he was here and hadn’t say anything, it’s… just the stupid kind of thing people would point to later as…” He shook his head.

“I know you can’t really tell me much, but maybe…is he friend or foe?” Elizabeth asked, steering him towards a corner where their words wouldn’t be overheard.

“Somewhere…in the middle. His father’s lawyer is Trevor Lansing.”

Elizabeth blinked. “As in…Ric Lansing?” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s probably not good.”

“It doesn’t help,” he admitted. “I guess…I know why Johnny’s been hanging around Port Charles lately. We…thought it might be a girlfriend.” He looked pained. “I’m sorry…he came over to me while you were there—”

She shrugged. “He seemed harmless, and Nadine was nice. No harm, no foul.”

“I just…” He rolled his shoulders and looked away, and she followed his gaze, toward the other side of the room where Johnny Zacchara and his date were standing, looking at another painting. They were whispering furiously to one another, and she could see the blonde looked annoyed. “I hate when this…kind of thing touches you.”

Story of her life. Five seconds after she admitted to herself the feelings she had for him were something a bit more than residual, he had to start this nonsense.

“You’ve been singing that tune almost since the day we met.” She folded her arms underneath her breast and scowled up at him. “We’re not really going to do this again, are we?”

“I—”

“Because if we’re going to be in each other’s lives again, I do not want to be constantly waiting for the second shoe to drop, to find out you think it’s too dangerous—”

He held up a hand. “I wasn’t…” Jason hesitated. “I know…why you think I’d say that, but I…I don’t…I’m raising an infant on my own, Elizabeth. Do you think I’d have a leg to stand on?”

“Exactly.” She arched her brow. “I didn’t let you get away with it when I was eighteen, so don’t think it’ll work any better now. I’m even more annoying.” She jabbed a finger at him. “So just remember that.”

A reluctant smile spread across his lips, and he offered a light chuckle. “Yeah, I don’t think I’m likely to forget it.”

“Good.” She looked over to see her grandmother beckoning her close, a few strangers at her side. “I’m going to need your intimidation skills again. Looks like Gram wants to introduce me to people.” She sighed. “I hate people.”

“No, you don’t,” Jason said, even as they started across the room. “You just don’t like answering their questions.”

“Not much of a difference tonight,” she grumbled, but kept her arm firmly wrapped around his bicep. “I just have to remember…they’re here to fund my future. If they like enough of my work, I can start a house fund for me and Cameron.”

When they arrived in front of her grandmother, Audrey barely batted an eye at her escort, though the couple looked a bit flustered. “And this is my brilliant granddaughter…”

Elizabeth pasted a smile on her face as Audrey continued. This was everything she ever wanted, but she would have preferred to stay anonymous.

She glanced up at Jason, who was doing an excellent job of looking menacing without being dangerous. She was so glad to have him back in her life.

Anyway she could have him.

August 2, 2014

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

But I swear there’s still some good in me
And I think if you stuck around you’d see
All the honest attempts at integrity, I was had
Maybe if you helped me, I’d get it right
– Missy, The Airborne Toxic Event


Monday, February 14, 2005

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Jason dropped his duffel bag on the floor next to the playpen, set a wrapped canvas carefully against the wall, and glanced over his shoulder at Nora. “Why don’t you go put her in the nursery and let her finish her nap? You can take the rest of the day off. And tomorrow, too. To make up for Sunday.”

“Sure,” the blonde responded, keeping her voice level for once. With the carrier in one hand, she swung her own bag over her shoulder. “And if you think spending the weekend in one of the most amazing hotels in New York with practically the entire day to myself was work…” Nora snorted as she started up the stairs. “I am one lucky girl.”

Jason just shook his head when his nanny disappeared past the first landing. She accepted the strange hours of his job without a fuss and Evie’s last two months had been much better than the first, but…

Sometimes her voice hurt.

And he missed his desk.

He dropped his keys on the coffee table, looking back at the canvas leaning against the wall by the playpen. He’d have Emily help him hang it in Evie’s nursery. He hadn’t mentioned to Elizabeth he had bought one of her paintings, but he supposed it would come up at some point. She’d already read Nikolas the riot act for paying full price without telling her, and then found out Steven had bought one of her landscapes as well.

He wasn’t sure how Elizabeth expected to buy a house and take Cameron on trips without people actually paying money for her work, but he was in no hurry to be on the other end of her annoyance.

He felt the corner of his mouth quirk up as he pictured it. Even if she did look pretty when she was fired up.

Nora stepped off the bottom stair. “I’m heading out now, Mr. Morgan. If you were serious about having tomorrow off—”

“Yeah, yeah.” He straightened. “You were a big help in New York this weekend. Elizabeth…told me you wouldn’t let her pay for taking care of Cameron.”

Nora smiled and shrugged. “He was sleeping when his uncle dropped him off, and sleeping when she picked him later that night.” She lifted a blonde eyebrow. “You already pay me twice as much as I asked for. At some point, it’s just overkill.” She offered him a wave and then closed the door behind her.

Nora was great, but he was looking forward to having the next two days to himself in the penthouse. Without her music playing and her bright laughter occasionally broken up by snorts.

There was a light knock on the door and Jason rubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah?”

The door opened and Sonny stepped in. Jason immediately tensed and rose to his feet. His partner looked calm at the moment, but Jason hadn’t told him much about this weekend beyond his leaving town. “Sonny.”

“You’re back.” Sonny stepped forward and closed the door behind him, sliding his hands into his pockets. He nodded. “Where did you go?”

Though he chaffed at having to report in like this, it wasn’t a state secret either. “I-I took Evie to New York City. Elizabeth had a gallery opening on Friday night. Her family went, Emily and Nikolas—”

“Ah. Elizabeth again.” Sonny glanced around, not having been in the room since Jason had made some changes. He looked at the pink and purple playpen. “You spending a lot of time with her?”

“Not…a lot,” Jason said, keeping his voice light, as if the last time they had discussed Elizabeth Sonny hadn’t accused him of settling for Courtney because of her. “She was at Emily’s birthday party last month. You…know how hard she always worked on her art.”

“Yeah,” Sonny replied. The stillness in his posture radiated danger to Jason, but he just…didn’t know what was going to happen here. He couldn’t read him, couldn’t see the point of this conversation. “Yeah. Her studio was always littered with…” He waved his hand, almost dismissively. “Canvases and paints. Never thought she’d do anything with it.”

“I guess…” Jason hesitated. “She didn’t have a chance before now.” He cleared his throat. “Is…there something you need? I…took Nora with me to New York, so she’s off. But I can….do…something from here. Or I could call Emily, maybe.”

“Nah.” Sonny wrinkled his nose, as if the thought was ludicrous, as if they were still friends and Sonny was merely welcoming him home after a weekend away. “Just…wanted to see where you took Evie.”

Jason squinted at that, because there was something in the wording of that. Something in the question itself. “Okay. Well.”

“Because you know, you didn’t tell me you were taking her,” Sonny continued. He took another step into the room and then raised his chin, looking around. “Where is she, anyway?”

“Upstairs, taking a nap.” Jason took a deep breath. He was used to this, used to Sonny demanding information about Evie as if…he had a right. Didn’t he? Evie was his daughter.

Why does it matter whose blood is in her veins? Does that make him the better man?

He shook his head, clearing Elizabeth’s words from his thoughts. Sonny was going through a bad time right now. He would come around. They would work this out.

Even though Jason knew this would end the way his relationship with Michael had once. A year maybe, at best, to be her father, and then watching another man raise her while Jason played the role of uncle.

How else could it end? Sonny was going to give in to his guilt eventually, and he’d ask for Evie. He’d cajole Carly into coming around, and then Jason would have to give Evie to him.

Wouldn’t he?

When does Evie’s best interests come into it?

“I guess I’m just concerned about you and Elizabeth.” Sonny stepped back from the steps, where he had been looking up, as if toying with the idea of going up them. “Has she seen Evie since the Christmas party?”

“Ah.” Jason frowned now. “Yeah. I guess. At Emily’s party. And we…had lunch with her, Cam and Emily at the hotel yesterday.”

“What does Elizabeth know about this situation?” Sonny pressed.

He rolled his shoulders, getting annoyed now. He hated answering questions like this—he’d felt more comfortable in an interrogation room with Taggart or Capelli than he did right now. “Sonny, is there a point?”

“Because I saw her last week at Kelly’s,” Sonny said, and Jason tensed. His partner held up a hand as if to ward off any complaints. “I said nothing to her. You told me not to, so I didn’t. But she looked at me, and I wondered what she knew.”

“She’s not going to tell Carly anything,” Jason said after a moment. “She doesn’t like Carly.”

“What does she think about it?” The older man narrowed his eyes. “I bet she hates it.”

Jason turned his head slightly, still trying to gauge where this was going. “Sonny—”

“She always hated your loyalty to me and Carly. If you’re thinking of getting involved her again, I’d be careful,” Sonny cautioned. “I’d hate to see her getting attached to Evie, and then…” He shrugged as he trailed off.

Attached,” Jason said, the word like dust in his mouth. “Like me, you mean. Sonny, I don’t…know what you want from me. You didn’t want to tell Carly the truth, didn’t want to contest the guardianship or termination. Evie didn’t ask for this. Sam wanted me to raise her—”

“You do not have to remind me that the whore picked you,” Sonny snarled, and Jason closed his eyes. Because it was that attitude that reminded him why he was doing this.

Sam did what was necessary to protect her daughter from this man—she had never planned on dying and leaving Jason alone in this mess. He knew that. If she were here right now, the situation would be exactly like this. Sonny on the outside, looking in. Except Jason wouldn’t be the one making the decisions anymore.

He took a deep breath. “Sonny, yes, Elizabeth knows the truth. No, I guess she’s not thrilled about it. But it has nothing to do with you or Carly. She just…” Hated to see him in this situation again, he supposed. Because she had been there through the aftermath with Michael. “She just worries. It’s fine. Like I said, she’s not talking to Carly.”

“No, I guess she wouldn’t do that to you.” Sonny dipped his head. “You know, take a kid away like Robin and Carly did. She’ll just…go find a man to sleep with or something.”

His hands fisted at his sides and Jason found himself taking a step forward before he caught himself. “Do not talk about her like that. You can be pissed at me, you can do what you want to me. But I swear, Sonny, if you keep going after Elizabeth…”

“What?” Sonny lifted his chin in the air, his dark eyes boring into Jason. “What’re you gonna do, Jase? You know I’m right. You always circle around her, she gets spooked and runs to the nearest waste of space she can find. First, it was Lucky, then it was Zander, and then it was Ric. I wonder who it’ll be this—”

“Shut up.” Not because it was true, because it wasn’t. Sonny was boiling it down, making something sound simple when it just wasn’t. It had always been more complicated than that.

And besides, this time it was different.

He took a deep breath. There wasn’t a this time. Not…yet. And maybe there wouldn’t be.

But he was not going to stand by and let this man tear her apart like that.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Sonny,” Jason said when Sonny said nothing to him, only looked at him. “You had a chance to make this different months ago. When I changed those results, you could have spoken up. When Sam died, you could have said something. You chose to keep it this way. I’m just doing what Sam wanted me to do. I get that it’s going to make things difficult between us, but you made it this way, Sonny.”

He stepped forward. “I take your abuse, I take your calls in the middle of the night for things that can wait a few more hours, I do that because it’s price I’m willing to pay to keep my promises.”

“But…” Jason stepped even closer to him, and first the time in their friendship, he intended to remind the older man why Jason was his enforcer. “You go after Elizabeth—either to my face or to hers—maybe I’ll go across the hall to Carly and tell her about the affair last summer.”

Sonny pressed his lips together. “You’d betray me for her? You’d destroy my marriage for her?” His voice was a low hiss.

“At the end of the day, Sonny, I didn’t steal your daughter,” Jason said, ignoring his pointed remarks. “I have legal custody of her. You terminated your rights, and Sam left her guardianship to me. Keep pushing me. Keeping demanding things I’m not willing to give. I gave Elizabeth up for you once. I’m not doing it again.”

“So it’s like that, is it?” Sonny pursed her lips. “That’s where you’re drawing the line? Over some bitch—”

Jason had to physically stop himself from striding forward, grabbing his former friend by the collar and shoving him against a wall. Sonny was in one of those moods, and a week or a month from now, he’d be sorry he said these things. Sorry he pushed the boundaries of this situation.

“Get out, Sonny. Before I throw you out. We’re done here.”

“Just remember when you’re picking out a new mother for my daughter,” Sonny snarled, “that you’re picking a little girl who can’t handle your world. But that seems to be your type. First Robin, then Courtney, and now Elizabeth for the thousandth time. When are you gonna learn?”

He stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Evie’s startled cries came over the monitor, and Jason just lowered his head, resting his hands at his waist.

…you were always the better man.

He’d felt good walking through that door this morning. His weekend had been peaceful, even enjoyable. He liked spending time with his sister, seeing her happy and glowing in her relationship with the man she planned to marry. He didn’t even mind that he’d been stuck with Lucky Spencer, as the other man was less annoying than he’d been once.

And it went without saying that he’d liked spending time with Elizabeth.

But after a ten minute battle with Sonny, he just felt hollow inside. He knew he was reaching a point where he’d have to make a decision. Most of the time, he accepted that he wouldn’t raise Evie forever, but days like these, watching Sonny’s rage boiling over at a woman who had never done anything to him…

How could he send Evie back to that? Forget his promises to Sam, how could he watch that happen to a little girl who trusted him?

But if he kept her, if he fought a custody battle over her, and won…what would that do to Sonny?

Could he live with himself if he chose to keep her?

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Sonny slammed the door behind him and stalked across the room, reaching for a tumbler of bourbon. What the fuck did he care if it was barely eleven in the morning?

He needed the burning of liquor sliding down his throat.

He downed two tumblers in less than a minute and then pressed the glass to his forehead.

The rage was climbing up from his gut, up through his throat and it would spill over again if he had to talk to one person. It had already spilled over once this morning, and Sonny just knew…

He just knew the next person he went after wouldn’t walk away.

His stomach rolled, and now he felt shaky. He set the glass down and lowered himself gingerly into the armchair, leaning forward with his elbows propped on his knees.

God. Had he just…had he really done that? Stormed across the hall? Demanded to know where Jason was with Evie all weekend?

Had he attacked Elizabeth again?

Had he, though? Because now it felt fuzzy. Like it had happened to someone else. He wouldn’t have said those things about her. He liked her. She’d been good to him once. Had always been good to Jason, and Sonny knew she’d saved his life more than once.

He liked Elizabeth, didn’t he?

No. Sonny shook his head. He didn’t say those things. He must…he must have imagined it. He just…the idea of Jason hooking up with her again. She was a good woman, and she’d make him happy if they would let each other be together. But she would bring her son to Jason and Jason would bring Sonny’s daughter to her.

And the more Jason built a life for Evie that had nothing to do with Sonny, the more Sonny realized how much he was losing.

He wanted his daughter. He was coming out of his skin knowing she was across the hall and didn’t see him as her father. That she looked to Jason with her smiles and her laughter.

It should be him.

It would have been him, but Sam stole that chance from him. Because he wouldn’t be with her, wouldn’t give in to her ultimatums. The little god damn con artist had probably been playing him all along, but maybe she’d seen Jason across the hall and went for a bigger mark. He was lonely. Liked kids. Dealing with a divorce.

It was Sam’s fault. She’d played them both, and then she had destroyed their friendship by making Jason feel guilty, making him take Sonny’s daughter.

None of this was Jason’s fault. He had to remember that. Sonny had walked away from his family, started up with Sam, and shoved her back out in favor of Carly. Jason had been trying to protect the boys. He was trying to protect Evie.

Because that’s what Jason did. He protected Sonny’s family, even from Sonny himself.

He had to remember that. Had to remember Jason wasn’t the enemy. That he had a right to be with someone else. Even if it meant Evie had another parental figure in her life.

Sonny closed his eyes and took a deep breath. That…fight earlier had been…it had just been a gigantic mistake. He’d only gone to say hello, to put them on a normal path. But he’d heard Elizabeth’s name and a red haze had come over him.

Why did it bother him so much?

“Sonny?”

He glanced over to find Carly stepping off the bottom stair, her dark eyes questioning. “Morgan’s napping—you woke him up with the door slamming.”

“Sorry.” His voice sounded rusty, as if he hadn’t just been arguing with Jason. “I…was with Jason.”

“Oh, then he’s back.” Carly stepped forward, and he looked at this woman for whom he had given up his daughter.

God, he couldn’t remember why anymore. He had trashed his friendship with Jason over this woman years ago. He’d fallen in love with her, hadn’t he?

He was almost sure of it.

“Where was he?” Carly lowered herself onto the sofa adjacent to him. “He’s not one for going out of town.”

He had been once. When he’d had his own life. He’d gone out of town with Robin more than once. Sonny shook his head. “I, ah, he went to New York City. Elizabeth Webber’s…I think he said she had a show at a gallery.”

“Oh, he’s not getting wrapped up in her again is he?” Carly demanded, her voice like daggers in his brain. “He can do so much better. Now that the whore is dead, I think Courtney should move back home. She’ll love Evie, and they can fall in love again over her—”

“No.” Sonny snapped his head around to glare at her. “No. Courtney and Jason are done. He doesn’t love her.”

“Well he doesn’t love the twit either,” Carly retorted. “I’m going to have to keep him—” She closed her eyes. “No. No, It’s not my business.”

Sonny frowned. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t like Carly to admit something like that. “When has that stopped you before?”

“Jason has done enough for me.” Carly blew out a huff. “He’s devoted himself to me and my boys.” Her mouth twisted into something he might have called a sneer. “To you. He has a daughter now, Sonny. He should…be happy. Even if it’s with some little girl who doesn’t deserve him. He has his own family, Sonny. We should worry about our family. The boys.”

“Right.” God, she was right. Hadn’t Jason sacrificed enough for him? Hadn’t he given up his son, allowed him to be raised by Sonny when he could have just taken custody back after they’d blackmailed AJ?

There was a sweet justice in this. They had traded children. It was fair.

Carly leaned forward, and he should have been suspicious of the light in her eyes. He was too tired to care. “Sonny, I saw Dr. Meadows a few weeks ago-”

He exhaled slowly. “Carly, I know…you think another baby…and I agreed if it happened naturally, we’d…do it, but I’m thinking it’s not a good time.” He hesitated. “Unless you’re already pregnant.”

“No.” Her back snapped straight. “No,” she all but snarled. “Dr. Meadows says she doesn’t know what’s wrong with me. If I want a baby, I might…have to do in vitro. Or something.”

“No.” Sonny shook his head. “No. There’s…no rush, Carly. We…have enough going on as it is.” He didn’t want another child with this woman. He’d only agreed to keep her here to keep the boys with him. It was about the boys. They were his boys.

She had betrayed him too often, and he could never be sure if she would betray him again. And every time they split up, he had an affair with another woman that just seemed to make it worse. He couldn’t do that again. Something in him called to Carly, called to this selfish, destructive woman.

Because she was just like him. He’d seen that in her once, and it had repelled him. Had excited him.

And now it just exhausted him.

“We’ll…just let nature take its course.” Sonny rubbed his mouth.

He did not want any more children. He was destroying the ones he had as it was.

He knew that leaving Evie with Jason was the best thing he could do for her, the least selfish thing he had ever done in his life.

But he was beginning to accept that the decision was going to destroy their friendship, and maybe even him in the end.

Thursday, February 25, 2005

Elm Street Pier

At the end of a long day at the warehouse, Jason paused before going up the stairs and walking the short distance to Harborview Towers and everything that waited for him there.

Sonny and his tense silences. Since the blow up the week before, his partner had gone out of his way to avoid him but Jason knew it was just another lull in the storm.

Carly and her suspicious looks. He wasn’t spending time with her or the boys, and that alone should make her wonder, but he couldn’t bring himself to look Carly in the eye without being swamped by his lies.

Evie and her smiles. Because she wasn’t his to keep, and he knew that. It was Michael all over again, except maybe this was worse because he had gone into this with his eyes open, knowing he loved her, knowing he wanted to raise her, and knowing that it could only end in devastation.

So instead, he stood here at the end of the pier, avoiding everything waiting for him at home. He was tired. Down to the bone exhausted, as if the fatigue had seeped inside and taken up permanent residence. He was sleeping, but every morning he woke up and it was always the same.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned, relieved to see that it was Elizabeth who had just stepped off the stairs with a smile on her face.

Not just relieved. Something a bit more that he wasn’t comfortable examining at the moment.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Her smile was easy as she approached him. “I just got back from New York and I was hoping to run into you here.” He remembered now that she and Cam had intended to remain in the city for paperwork, some press maybe. “How…are things?”

“They’re…” He hesitated, almost ready to tell her that they were fine. But they weren’t. And he knew she would see that in his eyes, hear it in his voice. “They’re mostly the same.”

“Hmm…” She nodded. “Well, I suppose there’s some good in that—they’re not worse, at least.” She tipped her head to the side, as if considering him. “But you look like something happened.”

“Just…another argument with Sonny.” Jason stepped towards her and gestured towards the bench. “Do…you have to be somewhere? Is it too cold to sit for a minute?”

“Nope. I’m immune to these winters.” She waited until he was seated beside her on the bench. “I won’t bug you about Sonny. I just wanted…to thank you for coming to New York again. To have all the people who matter so much to me in the same place, supporting me…it meant so much.”

“I had a good time,” he told her, and he wasn’t exaggerating that. Emily had been right—getting out of Port Charles even for a few days had been a good idea. “Did…the show go well?”

“It went…” Her smile bloomed again. “It went really well. I had about thirty paintings hung and the gallery sold fifteen of them before the end of the night, and then another five since. It’s…my agent told me I’m a smashing success.” She bit her lip. “I made a lot of money, Jason. I don’t…know what I’m going to do with it all.”

But behind that broad smile, there was something in her eyes. He leaned towards her. “Is…is it the money? Is that what’s bothering you?”

Elizabeth huffed, a small chuckle escaping her lips as she leaned back against the bench and stared ahead, out over the gray waters. “God, you always know. How…?” She shook her head. “No…it’s not the money. The paintings that were sold…”

“Is it hard to part with them?” he asked. “I…based on the ones you showed me, I know they were personal.”

“It’s…part of it.” She drew her bottom lip into her mouth and hesitated. “There was a painting of the fountain in the park. And the bench. And a broken red shoe.” She glanced at him. “From…the night I was attacked.”

“I…” He nodded, because he hated talking about that. He had known for years that she’d been raped in the park when she was a teenager, had felt sorrow when Emily had told him about it, but once he begun to spend time with Elizabeth himself, it was more difficult to know it. To know she’d been violated and hurt like that. “Okay.”

“It felt great to paint that night, it really did. I’d always been scared before, but…” She hesitated. “When I was in California, at first, I stayed with my mother’s sister. My aunt Wendy. We were…kind of close before she and her husband moved to San Francisco when I was eleven. So one night, not long after I got there, she found me…” Elizabeth shifted on the bench. “She found me crying in my room.”

He said nothing, because there was nothing to say. Just waited for her to continue. “And she put her arms around me, and just…let me finish crying. She asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t tell her.” Elizabeth tilted her head up, the white skin of her neck stretching taut. “Because there was so much wrong. I had…made so many mistakes, walked down so many paths that I just…I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was going to be a mother soon, and I felt like such a failure.”

“Elizabeth—”

“I know I wasn’t.” She said this quickly, as it stave off his words. “I know…I was doing the best I could, but I still…” She hesitated. “Anyway, Aunt Wendy suggested I talk to someone. I started with someone at a local shelter, but then Ric’s alimony came through and I decided the least he owed me was a good therapist.”

And this did make him smile just a little, because as always she was finding the silver lining in situations that had none. “The very least.”

“I saw her a few times before Cameron was born and then…God, all the time during the summer.” She shifted on the bench, turning slightly to face him, looking at him. “And she’s the one that encouraged me to stop holding back. I had never painted that night. I had stopped myself from painting the worse moments, from letting those go on paper. She told me that I was an artist. And artists used their emotions in the work. Writers, singers, poets—they all drew on their experiences. Why shouldn’t I? So I did. And I went home, and I sketched that night in the park, because it’s where it started.”

“What started?” Jason leaned in.

She hesitated, and he shook his head. “Never mind. You don’t have to tell me anything—”

“Feeling broken,” she murmured. “Feeling damaged. I used to think Lucky put me back together, only to die and shatter the pieces again. And then I started to think maybe I had never been put back together. Or like I had glued them together wrong. Or…messed up the puzzle. I kept trying to go back to Lucky when he came home, like I was jamming in a piece that just didn’t fit in anymore.”

She sighed and looked away. “That’s what I realized last year…that I had put it all away. Locked it up in a box inside my head, but I had never done anything with it. I stopped trying to heal when Lucky died, and when he came home, I was too busy trying to fix him to fix myself.”

“You didn’t need fixing,” Jason said, stubbornly, not liking the way she was talking about herself. “You were not broken—”

“Maybe not,” Elizabeth allowed. “But I felt that way. I felt broken and damaged and dirty. And it never went away. It’s why I kept going back to Lucky, because I wanted him to finish the job we’d started when we were teenagers. Because being with him, before the fire, was the most normal I had felt.” She hesitated. “It’s why I couldn’t…let go of you because being friends with you had also made me feel normal. But I didn’t know how to balance it out. How…” She shook her head. “But I kept sabotaging both relationships. I never really committed to Lucky or the thought of being with you because I knew I didn’t deserve either of you—”

“Deserve—” Jason straightened his shoulders, taken aback. “Elizabeth—”

“And I thought I deserved Ric.”

Her voice was low, so low he almost didn’t hear the words. “You did not deserve Ric Lansing,” he said fervently. “Not even a little bit—”

“He was damaged, too, you know. And I thought…I had done nothing but bring pain to the people I cared about. I should be with him. He needs me. I can save him, and if I can save him, I can save myself. I can be whole again, if I can put him back together.” She eyed him. “I know it sounds ridiculous. I know that, now. And I’m glad I walked away before Cam became part of that. I know I—” She hesitated. “I know I’m not broken. Not even a little bit. But I had to work that out for myself.”

“And you did.” He nodded, because he could see that in her eyes. The sense of resilience that had been missing for so long, since the first time they’d been friends. “Good.”

“So that painting was special to me in a way I didn’t realize,” Elizabeth continued. “I was working on a sketch of it, sitting at Fisherman’s Wharf when my agent found me. He was on vacation, and just wandering past my bench, when he saw it. And he offered me ten thousand dollars for the finished painting.”

The embarrassment in her voice confused him. “You didn’t think it was worth it?”

“I don’t know.” She sighed. “But I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell that. He told me that I should be on the walls of galleries. I was nervous, because he was a stranger so he gave me his card and told me to call the number on it to verify him. It was a gallery in New York I’d heard of—the one I had my showing at. He was the real deal, Jason, and he told me I was good.”

She bit her lip again. “So I signed a contract and he advanced me some money to rent a real studio, to buy real supplies. And I just….I let myself go. I painted all the moments that I thought broke me. And every time I finished another one, I realized I wasn’t damaged after all. I wasn’t dirty. I was…someone who deserved a good life. A happy one. With my son.” She stretched her gloved hands in front of her, as if considering them. “I used to think Lucky put me back together after I was raped. But he didn’t. I did it. I did it one day at a time, one painting at a time…” She hesitated. “And now other people own those memories.”

She looked at him. “Jason, the painting in the park? It sold for three hundred thousand dollars. There was a bidding war on it. I…profited off that night—”

“No.” He shook his head. “You just painted it. You didn’t decide its worth. Other people did that.”

Elizabeth blinked at him, and her broad smile came back. “Of course. It’s so simple, isn’t it?” She sighed. “You always put it into words I just can’t and it makes so much sense when you do.” She pursed her lips. “But still, someone chose that painting. What does say about them?”

“You told me art means different things to different people,” Jason said. He reached for her gloved hand and intertwined their fingers. “So maybe it something to them that was different. I…bought one of your paintings.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “Jason, you didn’t have to buy—”

“I bought the one you painted with the hands. The one that reminded me of Sam and Evie.” He cleared his throat, feeling almost embarrassed about it now. “I want to tell Evie one day how much her mother loved her, because she should know that. But I didn’t…have the words. But when you talked about your painting, I could picture that moment in my head, and I thought…maybe if Evie looks at that painting, she’ll be able…” He hesitated. “I can tell her what you were thinking, and she’ll…I don’t know. Be able to feel it.”

Her cheeks were read, her eyes were shining. “Jason, that’s…God. I don’t…even….You, Nikolas and Steven, I would have given them to you. I was sad when I found out that one had sold, but knowing it’s with you, and it’s for Evie, that makes such a difference. I would have given it to you, you know that—”

“You deserve to make a life from your art,” Jason told her. “Nikolas and Steven felt the same way.”

“Nikolas bought a painting I did the night Emily almost died. I painted…” Elizabeth hesitated and he watched her eyes drop to their hands. “I painted that night in the chapel. It’s just…some candles in the foreground, they’re the focus, and there’s…two shadows in the back. It’s…you and me. I wanted to keep that one, too. Nikolas bought it because it reminds him he and Emily are strong together, but I…liked the memory of that. That despite everything we’d been through, we could still be there for each other.”

“I like that memory, too,” he confessed, feeling the slight weight of her against him. She had continued to shift towards him during the conversation until the empty space had disappeared and one of her knees was pressed against his own.

“And you’re right,” Elizabeth said, with a firm nod. “Maybe the red shoe painting holds a special meaning for the owner. I’m…not that broken girl in the snow anymore, and I don’t need the painting to remind myself of that.”

He got to his feet. “Do you need a ride home?”

Elizabeth arched a brow as she, too, stood, their hands still clasped together. “Do you have your bike?”

He laughed now, realizing that the fatigue and sadness he’d been feeling before she had shown up had disappeared. “It’s at the Towers. We can go get it.” He shook his head. “Some things never change.”

Her smile was even brighter now, probably by the thought of a ride for the first time in nearly four years. “The best things never do.”

Continued in Part Two: Redemption