November 28, 2022

This entry is part 5 of 37 in the Counting Stars

And how’s it going to be
When you don’t know me anymore
And how’s it going to be
Want to get myself back in again
The soft dive of oblivion
I want to taste the salt of your skin
The soft dive of oblivion, oblivion

How’s It Going To Be, Third Eye Blind

Friday, January 14, 2000

Kelly’s: Parking Lot

Jason swung his leg over the bike, and started for the courtyard, his steps slowing when he saw Nikolas Cassadine scowling by the entrance to the diner.

He’d wanted to see Elizabeth, maybe to take her on a ride and tell her what he was thinking.  Everything seemed easier, clearer when she was there. He didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to walk away, but Jason couldn’t think of any other way to create peace for himself.

Maybe he could go back to drinking in the bars and looking for a fight. His fists clenched at his side as he remembered the studio and the Christmas party, the way Nikolas had spoken to and about Elizabeth—

Maybe the Cassadine prince would give him a reason to beat him senseless.

Nikolas scowled when Jason entered the courtyard. “Oh, you’re just what the day needs,” he growled. “If you’re here for Elizabeth, don’t bother.”

Jason frowned, looked past him into the diner. He saw Penny and another waitress whose name he’d never learned moving through the tables, dealing with the lunch rush. Elizabeth was supposed to work — she always worked on Fridays —

“I told you—”

Jason looked back at the angry prince, irritated and impatient, but not really in the mood. If he just said one thing— But he was still Emily’s friend—and maybe he and Elizabeth had mended things, so he wouldn’t take the kid apart. Not until he had a reason—

He brushed past Nikolas, intent on returning to the parking lot. He’d look for Elizabeth in her studio, but the younger man grabbed Jason’s arm and shoved him. “Keep your hands off me,” Jason warned. “Last warning—”

“What are you going to do, huh?” Nikolas stepped up to him. “What else can you take from me?”

“I didn’t take anything—” Jason shoved him back. “I don’t know what the hell your problem is—”

“You’re not nearly as stupid as everyone says you are—” Nikolas’s face was flushed. “I don’t care what anyone says—that fire was set by your enemies! Lucky wasn’t enough? You need to get Elizabeth killed, too?”

Jason shook his head, angry at himself now for giving in and even having the conversation. “I’m not doing this with you—” He turned again, and then went flying as Nikolas charged him from behind. Jason hit the ground, his knees slamming into the concrete. He flipped himself over, his legs kicking Nikolas across the courtyard. The other man flew against the diner’s entrance, hitting the window hard enough that Jason heard the thud of his skull.

“What the—” Bobbie stormed out of the diner, white puffs of air escaping her mouth. “What you still doing here?” she asked Nikolas. “I told you to get out—” And she looked at Jason, her expression softening a little, but still irritated. “And you should know better—”

“I didn’t—” Jason closed his mouth, cutting off the protest. It didn’t matter. He’d wanted to feel something other than the despair choking at him, so he’d let the prince goad him into a fight, and now felt the shame of it. He got to his feet. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. He sent Nikolas another hard glare, then left the courtyard.

Spencer House: Living Room

Laura opened the door and her face lit up. “What a lovely surprise!” She ushered Elizabeth inside. “Come in, come in.” She took the coat Elizabeth shed and hung it up.

“I’m sorry to just…” Elizabeth bit her lip as Laura closed the door. “To drop in like this,” she continued. “Um, if you’re busy—”

“No, no. Just going over a few things for the hospital.” Laura gestured towards the sofa and the fireplace. Elizabeth avoided looking at the mantel, at the photographs of Lucky.

You claimed to love my brother, but I know you couldn’t let him touch you—but then Jason comes along—

It wasn’t true, not the way Nikolas had said it, but wasn’t there a kernel of something in that statement? She perched on the edge of the sofa. “I’m not even really sure why I’m here,” she admitted. Did she want Laura’s blessing or approval?

Laura sat next to her, tipped her head. “You look upset,” she realized. “What happened?”

Too much. Elizabeth tucked her hair behind her ears. “Earlier this week, um, we talked about Lucky. And Jason. I let you think what I know a lot of people think—that Jason and I are—that we’re together.” Just say it. “That we’re sleeping together.”

“Let me think,” Laura repeated. “Which means you’re not? You don’t owe me any explanations, sweetheart—”

“I know. I know that. It’s just—” Elizabeth rubbed her hands against the denim of her jeans. “I guess part of me is trying to understand. Because I’m not—but I—” Her cheeks were flaming and she looked away, focusing on the fire crackling a few feet away. “I want to,” she said finally. “And if there’s a chance, I’m going to. And I guess I’m trying to understand why it’s okay with Jason, but—Lucky—I couldn’t—” A tear slid down her cheek. “I loved him. And I regret all the things we didn’t get a chance to do—”

“Lucky died eight months ago,” Laura told her. She reached for Elizabeth’s hand. “Look at me, honey. Please.” Elizabeth did, relieved to see nothing but love and warmth in her eyes. “Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago. And then others, it’s yesterday. But it was eight months ago. You didn’t die with him. You said that to me, remember?”


“You were so young, baby. That night, in the park—” Laura squeezed her hand. “You’d never been with anyone, had you?”

“No. That was my first—”

“It wasn’t. You haven’t had that yet,” Laura interrupted. “I know that you’ve heard that before. I’m sure Bobbie and Gail—they’ve both told you that.”

“They did.”

“You needed time for your heart and your body to heal. For your mind.” Laura touched her face. “You know that, don’t you? You’re not the girl you were that night two years ago. And you’re not the young woman who lost Lucky last year. You’re you.”

“I don’t really know who that is yet,” Elizabeth confessed.

“You’re never going to know yourself all the way because you’ll keep changing. You never quite finish growing up.” Laura’s hand fell away. “Tell me about Jason.”

“What do you want to know? I mean—”

“You’re here because you’re on the edge of moving on. Really moving on. And Jason is important enough that he’s the person you’ve chosen to trust. But you’re not happy. I just—What can I do? How can I help?”

“Jason…” Elizabeth considered the question. Considered how to answer. How to describe the last five months. “I wanted to make the emptiness, the nothing go away. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, not really, until he showed me. He made me feel safe again. Not just physically, but—” She pressed her hand against her heart. “I was drowning, in grief. In regrets. In this fog. I couldn’t see tomorrow because all I wanted to do was go back. And he listened to me. I didn’t have to be okay with him. And then I was. I don’t know when it changed, but it did. And now all I want to do is—” She exhaled slowly. “I want him to be safe, too,” she murmured.

“And he’s not?” Laura asked gently.

“No. He’s the one who’s drowning now. And I want to help. I want him to be okay.” Elizabeth looked at Laura. “I have to give him what he needs. It’s more important than what I want. He deserves that.”

“What does he need?”

Her conversation with Bobbie echoed in her head. “Time. And distance.” Real distance. Not just a matter of streets and miles, but states and counties. Worlds.

There was really only one thing left for her to do.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Nikolas heard the roar of the motorcycle as Jason drove away, and reluctantly turned back to face Bobbie. “I only came back to see if Elizabeth did—”

“I have never been so disappointed in you as I am right now,” Bobbie said, and he closed his mouth. “You had no right to say those things to Elizabeth this afternoon, and no right to pick a fight with Jason.” She folded her arms, shivering without a jacket. “You are angry at the world, Nikolas, and I understand that. Be angry at the world for taking Lucky from us the way it did. For unleashing Katherine on you—she lied and deceived you—and it was a tragedy—but you’re not taking it out on the world. You’ve focused all that anger on Elizabeth—”

“She’s forgetting Lucky—she has no right—”

“She has every right to move on with her life,” Bobbie cut in. “And you don’t get to decide when or with whom she gets to do that. She saw you as a friend, Nikolas. I’m sorry that wasn’t enough for you, but she did not owe you more than that.” Her expression eased for just a moment. “She’s a way for you to hold on to Lucky. As long as Elizabeth was grieving, it kept a little bit of Lucky alive.”

“That’s not—”

“But she has a right to happiness, Nikolas. And if you can’t accept that, if you truly can’t be happy for her, then you need to walk away and leave her alone. She did not die in that fire. If you come near her again, if you pick another fight the way you did today, if you ever speak to her or about her that way again, I will never forgive you. And I will make sure she doesn’t either.”

“She’s moving on with a man who got Lucky killed,” Nikolas said tightly. “How can any of you support that? I nearly died because of him, and my brother burned to death. And it’s okay that he’s going to get Elizabeth killed? Damn it, Bobbie, she was nearly blown up because of him!”

“If you can’t find a way to let go of this anger,” Bobbie pulled the door open, and looked at him. “You’re going to end up alone. And you’ll deserve it.”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Roo

The moment Jason had told Lila he was thinking of leaving, something in him had settled. Saying the words out to her had been a test. If he’d said the, and it felt wrong—if she’d looked at him and found a way to talk him out of it, he’d have listened. But it had felt so damn good just to say the words. And the run-in with Nikolas had just cemented the thought in his mind. There was no where he could go where the past didn’t choke him.

He’d been slowly choked by this town since the moment he’d woken up in the hospital without memories, and no matter what he did, that wasn’t going to change. He’d made it work this long because of people. Because of Robin, then Sonny, then Michael—but for the last year, it had felt like the darkness was pulling at him, reminding him that he didn’t really have anything that was his—

And then that night in December, when the person he’d thought understood him best—when the man who’d called him best friend and brother—

Jason nodded at Max who knocked lightly on the door and pushed it open, as if Jason hadn’t pushed past the guard the day before and burst in like a crazy man. “Hey, Jase,” he said easily. “Boss is inside.”

“Yeah.” Jason braced himself and then went in. He wasn’t planning to stay long, but he owed Sonny at least this.

Sonny rose from the chair by the fireplace, his usual glass of bourbon in his hand. “You come to shove me around again?” he said sourly. He turned to look at the fire, the crackling of the flames echoing in the quiet room.

“No, I came to tell you I’m leaving.”

Sonny froze, then slowly turned to face him again. “What?”

“Tonight. Or tomorrow,” he added. Because he needed to tell Elizabeth, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to make that happen. What if she looked at him like yesterday or— “This isn’t working.”

“No, I guess it’s not, but—”

“I can’t stand the sight of you,” Jason continued bluntly, “and I don’t trust you. That’s not something that’s going away. I thought it would but—” He cleared his throat. “It’s not.”

Sonny exhaled slowly, then nodded. “All right. I didn’t—” He set the bourbon on the table, scrubbed a hand down his face. “Will you let me say one thing? Then I’ll never talk about it again.”

Since this was the last time Jason planned to be in the same room with Sonny, he figured it wouldn’t make things worse. “Fine.”

“I never planned it. It wasn’t cold or calculating.” He hesitated. “She came over, and she was upset. She asked about Elizabeth. She’d seen you dancing, and I wanted to needle her. I wanted to hurt her, Jason. For all the ways she’d hurt you.”

“It wasn’t your business—and this doesn’t change anything—”

“No, I know that. I know.” Sonny swallowed. “I thought—let me just see what she’d do. I didn’t think past the minute. And I sure as hell didn’t want you to know—”

“Fine.” Jason shrugged a shoulder. “Anything else?”

“About yesterday—”

“There’s nothing to say about yesterday. You don’t get an apology from me. I gave it to Elizabeth, and—” She’d accepted it, hadn’t she? That made him pause. Or had she remembered about Michael and let it go? “It was just the last straw.”

“Okay—” Sonny paused. “But Sorel’s still out there,” he said. Jason scowled. “I’m not saying that to guilt you. We’ll leave a guard on Elizabeth, and with you out of the picture, he’ll probably let it go. But can I have a way to contact you in case—”

“I’ll call you,” Jason said shortly, because that was it. The only reason he’d ever want to talk to Sonny again. To be sure Elizabeth was safe. This would do it. Sorel wouldn’t need to use Elizabeth if Jason wasn’t part of it anymore. Still— “I’ll call,” Jason repeated. “Until we’re sure. You’ll—” He swallowed hard. He didn’t want to ask for anything, but— “You’ll look out for her? If she needs something?”

“Of course. Jason—”

There was a gentle knock on the door and Max leaned in. “Sorry, Mr. C.” He flicked his eyes to Jason. “Wally called up from the front desk. Miss Webber wanted to know if you were here. She, ah, said she didn’t want to come up if you weren’t. So, uh, are you here?”

Jason flinched at this reminder of what had happened the day before, but he needed to talk to her, and maybe it would be easier if he told her here. In his barren apartment where she’d never been and there were no memories of how things had been different—

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”  Max closed the door, and Jason turned back to Sonny. “So that’s it—”

“Yesterday,” Sonny said, and Jason grimaced, “I was talking to her. I was trying to find out if you were okay. And maybe I was trying to encourage her not to give up on you—”

“Damn it—”

“I just wanted you to know—”

“It wasn’t your—I’m not doing this anymore. It doesn’t matter.” Jason pulled open the door and walked out.

Harborview Towers: Hallway

Even as the elevator climbed towards the fifteenth floor, Elizabeth was nervous. What if Max had been talking to Sonny? What if Jason wasn’t here? Well, she certainly wasn’t going into the penthouse. She’d just turn around and go right back downstairs—

But then the doors opened, and Jason was there, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. She frowned, held the doors back. “I’m sorry—were you on your way out? This can—it’s not important—”

“No.” Jason tipped his head towards his side of the penthouse floor. “No, I was just across the hall. I haven’t been home yet.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth stepped off the elevator, flicking a worried glance towards Sonny’s. He’d been across the hall. Were things better? Worse? She couldn’t tell. Jason had that inscrutable look again, and she didn’t know how to get through that yet.

And maybe she never would.

“Do you have a few minutes?” Elizabeth asked. “I had something I wanted to say, but it can wait—”

“No, I was going to come looking for you.” Jason pulled out a key and slid it into the lock. Inside, the room was a large open space — similar to the size of Sonny’s, but it was empty. No carpets, bright colors on the wall, and a singular leather sofa in the middle of the room. To the right of the door, there was a wooden executive desk that looked as if it had seen better days.

There weren’t even any curtains or shades over the glass windows. Despite the darkness outside, she could still see the snowflakes gently falling outside.

This room was so empty. She hadn’t expected much since Jason was a simple guy, but there wasn’t anything here that said this was home, and there was something tragic about it.

But at the same time, it crystallized the decision for her. She waited for him to close the door. “Um, hey.”

“Hey.” He dropped his keys on the desk, then cleared his throat. “I was going to tell you—I mean the reason I was going to see you—was that I’m—I’m leaving.”

It slammed into her like a freight train, even though she’d come here to suggest the very same plan to him. It was one thing when she thought it was her idea, but to know he’d come to the same conclusion on his own—

This was going to happen. It wasn’t just an idea. It would a reality.

“I just—I can’t keep doing this. Not you, this has nothing to do with you,” Jason continued, with a wince. “It’s—”

“I know,” Elizabeth said, stepping closer to him. She took his hand, and he closed his mouth. “I was actually coming here to tell you that I think you need to go.”

His mouth opened slightly. “What?”

Not because I want you to,” she said, and her voice faltered just for a moment. She swallowed hard. “I don’t, and this is going to suck without you. I’m going to miss you every day for a long time, and I wish it was different. I really do.”


“But you were so upset yesterday, and I’ve been blind to all the ways you’ve been like this for weeks—it’s not getting better, is it? It’s only getting worse, and I can’t stand it. I can’t stand to see you so unhappy.”

Jason brushed his knuckles across her cheek. “So you came here to tell me to leave,” he murmured. “Because you think it’s what I need.”

“I don’t know.” A tear slid down her cheek and he caught it with his thumb. “Maybe it’s selfish of me to hope you’ll go and miss me too much to stay away, but I just know that as much I want you to be with me, you’re right. It’s not about me. You need someone to put you first.”

He leaned down, brushed his mouth against hers. The sweetness of it nearly broke her, but it also strengthened her resolve. He’d looked so surprised, so stunned, when she’d agreed. And maybe there’d been a flash of hurt. It was so hard to open up, to admit how much she didn’t want him to go, but he needed to understand that she didn’t want it. It was the last thing she wanted.

“You’ve always put me first,” he murmured. He stroked her cheek, the rough skin of his hand sending shivers flooding through her. “You know that, don’t you? Even before you dragged me out of the snow.” He was still so close to her, their breaths mingling, drawing in the same air. “If I could stay, it would be for you.” Their eyes met and held. “I could try. A little longer. Maybe—” Then he broke off. “I want to. Don’t think I don’t. But I hurt you. Yesterday. Last week—”

“You didn’t. You couldn’t. I hurt without you. And this is going to kill me,” she breathed. “You need to know that. But that doesn’t change anything. It needs to be like this, Jason. You need to be okay. I need that for both of us. If you stay, even for a little while, even to give us time, this will happen again. You know it. She’ll never stop.”

“No, she won’t. And it’s not just her—”

“I know. She’ll keep using that beautiful little boy that you love more than anything in this world.” The tears were falling now, but she smiled. “You need to go to protect him. Just like last year. You walked away to give him his best chance at a family. If you stay—”

“I can’t let it happen again. Yesterday—I can’t be the reason he cries again. Nothing is going to change unless I go.”

“I know.” She stepped even closer, their bodies brushing. “But I need to ask you for something first. You can say no.”


“I need just one night.” She swallowed hard when his eyes flew back to hers. “Just one. We both deserve it. We can’t have tomorrows. So give me tonight.”

This entry is part 7 of 37 in the Counting Stars

Nothing’s so loud
As hearing when we lie
The truth is not kind
And you’ve said neither am I
But the air outside so soft is saying everything

All I Want, Toad the Wet Sprocket

Monday, January 17, 2000

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Alexis Davis wrinkled her nose and scratched a note in the margin of the contract for a piece of waterfront property. “What makes you think you can sell coffee better than Kelly’s?”

“It’s just a matter of time before Starbucks gets here,” Sonny offered with that easy smile and those double dimples. “They’re already in New York, closer to the city.”

She didn’t trust anyone with dimples. It seemed irresponsible.

“When they open up, I want competition already in place—”

“Yeah, yeah, I get why someone would want to open a coffee place in Port Charles,” Alexis said with a wave of her hand. “But you import coffee and run nightclubs.” And controlled all the illegal gambling and smuggling in upstate New York, but she left that unsaid.

“I need something new,” Sonny said, after a long moment. “A challenge. Something to keep me busy and distract myself. My personal life—” He pressed his lips together, looked away. “Well, it’s a cesspool.”

Alexis nodded. “Jason called a few days ago,” she confessed. “To update his will and tell me he’d be out of town. Indefinitely. I’m sure that must be difficult.”

“It’s my fault.” Sonny rose to his feet and crossed to the small table where a carafe of coffee sat on a hot plate. He refilled his cup, then hers, before returning to his seat. “He asked me to look after Elizabeth Webber.”

He had asked her to do the same, Alexis mused as she stirred sugar into her cup. He had left a substantial amount of his estate to Elizabeth, in fact. She wondered at that, though she was familiar with the rumors that had swirled at Christmas time. Nikolas had been livid over it, and she knew that his friendship with Elizabeth had been damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

“I wondered at his decision to leave now. I would have thought he’d go last year after losing Michael.”

“I’m glad he didn’t,” Sonny said, evading the question. “He met Elizabeth. If he ever comes back, it’ll be for her.” He hesitated. “The penthouse is empty across the hall now. I know you’ve been looking for a new place since you annulled your marriage to Jax.”

“I have,” Alexis said, slowly. She tilted her head. “You expecting to need a lawyer across the hall that often?”

“It’s convenient to have my lawyer close at hand when the PCPD raids my properties in the middle of the night.” Sonny offered her another charming smile. “And Justus seemed to like it.”

“He liked it enough to flee with little notice,” Alexis pointed out with another smile of her own. “But, hey, why not. I need a—”

“Get your hands off me!”

The shrill shriek boomed through the closed door as if the woman who screamed the words was in the room. Sonny closed his eyes, and Alexis grimaced.

They both knew that voice.

“I suppose someone else just learned that Jason is gone,” Alexis said dryly as the door flew open and Carly stomped on the foot of the guard attempting to hold her back.

“Where is Jason?” she demanded, her face flushed, her blonde hair disheveled. “His phone number isn’t working —”

“He’s gone,” Sonny said. He looked at the other woman, his dark eyes swirling with malevolence. “Take a hint.”

“Screw you!” Carly hissed, jabbing a finger at him.

“Already did that.”

Alexis merely raised her brows at that statement, but it only incensed Carly further. She slapped at the hands of the guard trying to pull her from the room. “Jason always comes back to me—”

Alexis leaned back in her chair. “He turned off his phone, Carly. He moved out of his penthouse. He’s gone.”

“What—” Carly bared her teeth in her direction. “What the hell do you have to do with anything?”

“Jason didn’t leave a forwarding address or a phone number for anyone to reach him,” Sonny told her. He stood up. “It’s over, Carly. You gambled and lost. He’s not going to be here to clean up your messes. You destroyed him and chased him from town. You made it clear that you would never leave him alone, so he took himself out of the equation.”

“Bullshit. There’s no way he left without leaving someone a way to get a hold of him. What about Michael?” Carly demanded. “He would never leave his son—”

“Michael is not Jason’s son,” Alexis said, quietly. “You made your choice, Carly, when you married his brother.”

“And when you slept with me,” Sonny offered with a half smirk. “I did Jason a favor.”

“He wouldn’t—” Carly swallowed hard. She took a step back. “He wouldn’t leave me. There’s nothing I could do to make him—he’s never—”

“Is it so hard to believe after everything we’ve done to Jason that he got fed up and left?” Sonny asked her, more gently his time. “He canceled his phone contract. His own sister can’t call him. Jason’s done here. And you and I did that.”

“You really—” Her shoulders slumped. “You really don’t know where he is?”

“No. He said he might call in to check every once in a while, but that’s it. He’s gone, Carly. You’re going to have to learn to survive without him.” Sonny exhaled slowly. “We both are.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen, a lunch order in each hand, then paused when she spied Sonny sitting at the counter, leaning back slightly, a coffee cup right side up, waiting to be filled.

She exhaled slowly, then delivered her orders. She did a check on with her other tables, and when she couldn’t find another reason to avoid it, she returned to the counter.

“What can I get you?” she asked, removing her order pad from her apron.

“Just a cup of coffee. I’m not staying long,” Sonny continued. “I just came to check in and to give you a warning.”

Elizabeth squinted, her hand shaking slightly as she poured coffee into his cup. “A warning?” Was it Sorel?

“Carly,” Sonny continued, “finally realized Jason’s phone doesn’t work anymore.” He was quiet for a long moment. “I didn’t think he’d really cancel it, but I made some calls. It’s a dead number.”

She knew that. She’d broken the night before and attempted to make contact—only for a recording to tell her it was no longer in service. “And she came to yell at you?” Elizabeth met his eyes coolly.

His mouth tightened. “You know, don’t you?”

“It was pretty clear after the last time I saw you.” Elizabeth returned the carafe to the machine. “I guess she’ll eventually come around to yell at me.”

“Maybe. She might also use it to poke at you.”

Elizabeth’s smile was thin. “That would be a mistake.”

“I know.” Sonny lifted the coffee. “I’m sorry. That whatever I did that last day—he was managing until then—”

“It didn’t help that Carly’s been showing Michael pictures of Jason, so Michael still thinks—” Maybe Elizabeth shouldn’t be sharing that information, but it was out before she could think twice.

“Christ.” Sonny set the coffee down with a clatter of porcelain against the saucer. “What happened?”

“She tried to guilt him into forgiving her by shoving Michael at him. Calling him Daddy.” Elizabeth’s throat was tight. “He knew she’d never stop. And Michael will get hurt. So, yeah, Sonny, you were part of it. But you weren’t the trigger.”

Sonny scrubbed his hands over his face. “Oh, man. That must have killed him.” He let his hand fall down to the counter and met her eyes. “I’m still surprised,” he continued, “because I didn’t think he’d leave you.”

“He might not have,” Elizabeth forced out. “I told him to go. This place, all of that tension with Carly and Michael, with you—it was killing him.” She swiped at a stray tear, irritated with herself. She wanted to be done with the crying. “So he went.”

“Ah.” Sonny pressed lips together into a thin line, his brows furrowed. “You’re stronger than you look,” he said finally. “I got the feeling that things were changing for you two. To give that up—”

“When you love someone,” Elizabeth said, acknowledging the truth that she’d not spoken to Jason, “when it’s real, you don’t hurt them just to get what you need. I’d be no different from Carly if I tried to use how we felt to keep him here. He wasn’t happy, Sonny.”

“He was with you—”

“And by the time he left, that was barely true. I hope he finds what he’s looking for.” She picked up her order pad. “I have other customers.”

Brownstone: Foyer

Bobbie nearly didn’t open the door to her daughter, but she relented when she saw the tears staining Carly’s cheeks. She pulled the door open. ‘Carly—”

“I know—” Carly sucked in a sob. “I know you’re mad at me, but I just—” Her lip trembled. “I needed to talk to someone who knew. I c-can’t go home like this—” She swiped at her face, and Bobbie stepped back. Carly came in, but stood in the middle of the entry way, a bit lost. “He’s gone.”

“I know.” Bobbie closed the door, then turned to her. “It had to be this way, Carly. If he stayed in Port Charles, you were never going to let go.”

“I loved—” Carly pressed her hands to her face. “I know you don’t believe me. But I loved him. I did. I just—” She didn’t finish.

Bobbie took Carly by the arm and steered her into the living room. “I was like you once,” she told her daughter. “I thought about myself. What I wanted. What I needed. I pushed to make it happen. And I didn’t always—” Her lips twisted. “I never really cared about what anyone else wanted.”

“I guess it’s genetic,” Carly said glumly. She plopped down on the sofa, stared at the carpet. “I loved him. I still do. I just…I don’t know. I can’t stop hurting him. I didn’t think—” She chewed on her lip. “I really thought,” she continued, her voice small, “that I was doing the right thing. That Jason and I would be a family again, and Michael needed to know how much Jason loved him. That he didn’t lose that connection. I didn’t do it to hurt him. Or hurt Michael—”

“You have to let go of that dream, Carly,” Bobbie said, gently. She sat next to her, waiting for Carly’s dark eyes to focus on her. “Jason cared about you. Maybe he even loved you. But you did something to make him angry. To hurt him so deeply that he walked away. I have my thoughts about what it is—”

“Sonny. I—” Carly closed her eyes, tears clinging to her lashes. “I was so angry. Everything was taking longer than I thought it would. I thought I could get rid of AJ in a few months, but it just kept going and Jason…I could feel him slipping away…It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.”

“He had a right to move on, Carly. To not be alone. You went home every night to your husband and son.”

“I saw him with that stupid girl. That silly little nothing—” Carly’s mouth tightened, and her eyes flashed. “He’s got a weakness for girls like that. Robin. I got rid of her. I waited that out, and I won—”

Bobbie sighed heavily. “Carly—”

“But this—this was different. He was dancing with her. And I just—I went to Sonny to find out what was going on. And he told me it was real. That Jason deserved someone nice. Someone who wasn’t me—and I was so mad—” She closed her eyes. “Because I knew it was true. You know? I’m not stupid. Jason deserves better. But I don’t care. I wanted him anyway. But I was mad at Sonny for seeing it, and scared that Jason did, too, and I just wanted to—” She looked out the window. “Jason came in. Saw us. He must have been shot already. He just left, and it all fell apart. I kept trying to fix it, but I just made him angrier, and I thought if I showed him that Michael still loved him, still needed him, he’d come around—”

“He’s gone, Carly,” Bobbie told her when Carly stopped talking.

“He canceled his phone number. Almost since the day I got to Port Charles, I’ve been able to count on Jason.” Carly looked at her mother. “You knew he was already gone. Elizabeth told you, didn’t she? Or maybe Jason.”

“Elizabeth told me,” Bobbie confirmed. “Yesterday when she came to work.”

“Ironic, huh?” Carly snorted, then got to her feet, swiping away the remaining tears. “I destroyed the last piece of love Jason had for me over a girl that didn’t even matter. Because he left her, too.”

Bobbie left that statement unchallenged. Better for Carly to think Elizabeth was someone else Jason had left. Maybe then Carly might leave her alone. “You have a husband and a son, Carly. Figure out how to make it work. It’s time to grow up.”

“You said that a few days ago,” Carly said. “But you’re right. Jason’s gone. I’m going to have to take care of myself.”

Monday, February 7, 2000

Phoenix, Arizona

Jason stopped at the edge of the hiking trail, just a few yards from the cliff face where Camelback Mountain overlooked a piece of the city. The air was thinner and cooler than it had been on the ground. He didn’t feel temperature that well, but he knew how to recognize his body’s responses.

It had been strange to get to the southern part of the country and away from the winters of New York. People weren’t all bundled up and he hadn’t seen any snow since leaving—

Abruptly, the memory of sitting in the studio in December, Elizabeth checking his temperature by resting her cheek against his forehead—and the sweet, fresh smell of snow radiating from her—

Jason shook his head, shoving the memory away. Two weeks since he’d left and the flashes should be fading. He shouldn’t even be having them — he’d never really thought in visuals or pictures, not since the accident. It wasn’t fair that his brain would finally recover that ability and use it against him this way—

He had a stack of postcards — he’d only sent the one in Miami — but he’d kept buying them, thinking he’d find a way to write something simple. He hadn’t liked just scrawling his name and sending it. But he hadn’t been happy with anything else. Now he just had a growing collection of postcards, none of which he could ever show anyone.

He should stop. If he didn’t buy them anymore, then maybe it would help to stop thinking about her.

Even now, hiking a trail more than two thousand miles away from Port Charles, the studio, and Elizabeth, Jason found himself wondering how she’d paint this landscape. What colors she’d use and what she would hum while she did it—

He scowled at himself, then continued up the mountain, determined this would be the last time he’d think about Elizabeth.

Luke’s: Office

Luke’s legs dropped from the desk when Laura peeked around the edge of his door. He hastily shoved his cigar into the ashtray and got to his feet. “Hey. Is everything okay? Lu—”

“In school. Everything’s fine. I would have called, but—I know you’re usually here this time of day.” She bit her lip, then set her purse on Luke’s desk. “I didn’t ask—you’re using the rooms upstairs?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah. For now. I don’t need much. Never did. But I’d like to see about getting a place with a room for Lu. I mean—” He cleared his throat.”Did you—you came by for a reason, I guess.”

“I did.” Laura hesitated, then reached inside her bag for the manila envelope. “This last year—these last four years, really,” she corrected, “have me thinking about what I want the rest of my life to look like. And I was recently reminded that life goes on. Even when I didn’t always want it to.” She set the envelope down. “We’ve been separated for over a year, Luke. It’s time to make some decisions.”

He stared at the envelope, then exhaled slowly. “I don’t know why I’m so surprised,” he said finally. “I’m the one who left.” He reached for them. “Divorce papers.”

“I had them drawn up a while ago. When you were out of town and you missed Lulu’s birthday.”  He’d missed Lucky’s birthday as well — both their kids had been born in the summer— but she could forgive that. Bu Lulu was still with them and deserved so much more from them.

“Yeah. Yeah, I know I messed that up pretty good.”

“I didn’t file,” Laura continued. “Not then. But I did today.” He met her eyes. “I just came from the courthouse. It’s pretty straightforward. You get the club, and I get the house. I’ll take custody of Lulu and you can have visitation. As often as you’d like. Or if you want something more official, we can do that.”

Luke stared at the envelope. “Seems fair,” he said dully.

“All right. Well, you can have a lawyer look it over. File a response. Or—whatever you want.” She picked her purse up, wondering why she felt like the bad guy. He’d left her. Was she supposed to twist in the wind until he made the decisions?

That was what she’d always done. She couldn’t keep doing that. Elizabeth’s visit a few days ago had reminded Laura that she hadn’t died in that fire either, and just like Elizabeth, Laura had a right to the rest of her life.

Starting with closing this chapter.

Studio: Hallway

Elizabeth rifled through the stack of mail she’d grabbed from downstairs, grimacing at the junk mail and advertisements. She didn’t see the person standing in front of her door until she nearly ran into her.

“Oh. Gram—” Elizabeth cleared her throat, pressing her mail against her chest. “How long have you been waiting?” she asked cautiously. She hadn’t seen her grandmother since the Christmas Party, and had avoided her phone calls.

“Just a few minutes. I called Kelly’s and Tammy told me what time your shift was finishing.” Audrey Hardy checked her watch. “I only have a few minutes before I have to be at the hospital, but I was hoping we could make some plans to get together.”

Elizabeth dumped her mail into the bag over her shoulder and took out her keys. “You didn’t have to come all the way down here for that.”

Audrey sighed. “I think we both know I did. You haven’t returned my phone calls.”

“No, I haven’t,” Elizabeth admitted. “Not since the party.” Or after the message Audrey had left after her tuition money for PCU had been returned when Elizabeth had dropped out. “We haven’t really been seeing eye to eye.”

“And that’s partially my fault.”

“Partially,” Elizabeth repeated. She shook her head. “Gram—”

“I was surprised,” Audrey cut in, impatiently. “I didn’t even realize you knew Jason Morgan, and he’s in this studio, half-dressed, alone—what was I supposed to do? And before you talk about being an adult—” she held up a finger, and Elizabeth closed her mouth. “You’d turned eighteen six weeks earlier. You don’t cross some magic line simply because the law says so, and I’ve been raising you as my own child for years. Longer if we count the summers you and your siblings came to visit.” She sighed, then rubbed her forehead. “I know you and Steve always got along better, and I’ve never known quite how to handle you, but I’ve tried, Elizabeth. You must believe that.”

“I do,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “And it’s more than my parents have done.” She hesitated. “All right, when you put it that way, I can understand why you were so upset. It’s just—” She met her grandmother’s worried eyes. “Maybe I didn’t cross that magic line on November 1, Gram, but I think we both know I haven’t really been a kid in a long time either.”

“No.” Audrey closed her eyes, her voice wavering as she continued. “Not since that terrible night. I know, darling.” She opened her eyes. “And I was upset when you dropped out of PCU, but I realize that I can’t push you into living the dreams I have for you. You’re clearly capable of supporting yourself, and I can understand not wanting to waste the money when you’re not sure what you want.”

“It’s just—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I do know what I want. I just don’t know how to get there. I know PCU isn’t the right place. I want my art. And between classes and work, there wasn’t space for it.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Maybe I can’t make it work, and I’ll need another plan. But right now, it’s what I want to focus on.”

“All right, I can support that. I love you, my darling,” Audrey said, “and I want the best for you. I know that Jason has left town—” When she saw Elizabeth’s face, she added, “That’s not why I’m here. Not that way. I worried for you. Losing Lucky, then having someone else you care for leave.”

“I’m all right. Jason and I talked, and it was for the best. I miss him, but he had to do what was right for him. He asked me to go with him,” Elizabeth added, and Audrey’s eyes widened. “But I said no. It wasn’t right for me. Not now, anyway. I need to be on my own for a while. Not like I was last year. I just…” She frowned, trying to find the words. “I was in a fog for so long. Putting one foot in front of the other, stuck in the past. I was the girl who was raped, I was the girl who lost Lucky. I want time to find out who I’m going to be when it’s only me.”

Audrey stepped forward and they embraced, Elizabeth clinging tightly. “I look forward to watching you shine and become who I’ve always known you to be.” Audrey pulled back, framing Elizabeth’s face with her hands. “A wonderful young woman with a big heart, a smart mouth, and a bright future ahead of her.” She made a face. “I really do have to go.”

“I’ll call you about lunch,” Elizabeth promised, hugging her grandmother one more time. She watched Audrey disappear down the hall, then went inside the studio.

She dumped out her mail, chucking the junk—she nearly missed the small square postcard, tucked between the papers of the circular from the local grocery store.

But she recognized the handwriting  and plucked it from the pile, letting everything else fall to the floor. There was nothing more than her address written on one half, and his name scrawled on the other. Elizabeth traced the letters of his name—Jason. Then looked at the other side.

Welcome to Miami, Florida was emblazoned in bright lime green across a piece of folk art. He’d picked a postcard with a painting on it, she thought, wondering if that meant anything.  Why had he sent it at all? There was no message. Nothing else she could cling to—

Except it had been dated January 14. The Friday he’d left. But it hadn’t been postmarked until a few days ago. He’d written her the day he left, but hadn’t sent it. What did that mean? Did it mean anything?

Would there be more postcards? A letter? A phone call— Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep breath. No. She wouldn’t do this to herself. Jason hadn’t made any promises, and she wasn’t going to look for reasons to hope. If he stayed in contact, all right. But one postcard, mailed a week ago, didn’t mean anything.

It couldn’t.

This entry is part 8 of 37 in the Counting Stars

And if, and if the night runs over
And if, the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony paths

It’s just a moment
This time will pass

Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, U2

Monday, February 13, 2000


Elizabeth tossed her brushes into the sink and twisted the faucet knob, the rush of cold water swirling with colors as it circled the drain. Bobbie had forced her to take an entire day off from Kelly’s, insisting that working so much wasn’t good for her.

Working too much was all that kept her from going slowly insane. She’d dropped out of college, and though she remained convinced it was the right the decision, it left her with little else to do. Emily was in New York, settling into her first semester; and Nikolas was a dead end. After that terrible scene in Kelly’s, she wanted nothing more to do with the Cassadine prince.

She’d tried to spend the day working on various unfinished projects, but she hadn’t really accomplished much. Just a few half-finished canvases she’d been grappling with for weeks—her brain felt disconnected from her fingers. Nothing was working the way she’d planned. She’d stayed in Port Charles because it had seemed like the right decision, but every time she lifted her brush to the canvas, she thought about all the places Jason must be seeing — and everywhere he might have taken her if she’d asked.

She turned off the faucet and reached for the towel to dry her hands. Her eye caught the book she’d brought him from the library while he had recuperated — Egypt. She tossed the towel aside and lifted the book, the pyramids rising high against the sky on the cover. Was Jason still in the country? She hadn’t heard from him, not since that single postcard the week before — and he’d written that the day he left. He could be anywhere now.

The book dropped back onto the table with a thud. Had he written her that first day and forgotten it? Had she’d been shoved to the back of his mind, lost in that black duffel bag he’d carried? Maybe he’d come across it, and he’d felt bad, but not badly enough to write a new card with a more recent date. Or to pick up the phone.

She’d had to stay, Elizabeth reminded herself. Couldn’t follow Jason around the country or the world, not when she was still picking up the pieces of her shattered life. But was Port Charles really the answer? Could she find what she was looking for by staying here?

Elizabeth crossed to the board where she kept pictures pinned for inspiration. She plucked out the yellow pin holding the postcard from Miami, and took it down. In a few days, it would be a month since he’d left her standing by the doorway. It was silly, she told herself, to feel angry. To feel the harsh sting of rejection.

He’d offered to stay, hadn’t he? He’d said he would try to make it work. And he’d asked her to go. She’d gone to him to suggest he leave town. What had she expected? That she’d say it, and he’d proclaim his love, declare he wouldn’t be able to live without her?

She sat on the sofa, the postcard still in her hands. “Silly,” she murmured. “Stupid to think he would have come back by now.” And irrational to be angry because Jason had done exactly what they’d both agreed was best. He needed to go, and she couldn’t follow. She’d felt so sure that morning.

But all the days that followed had chipped away at that certainty. If he’d really cared, why hadn’t he given her a way to talk to him? Why hadn’t he called? Her throat felt tight. Why was there just this one postcard with nothing more than her address scrawled across it?

Why was it so easy to walk away from her? Her parents had left her with the neighbors, her sister had gone to Europe without a backward glance, her brother had barely called from college or medical school—

Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and got to her feet. She set the postcard inside the pages of the book on Egypt, then went to set her brushes on the drying rack. The ring of her phone startled her, and she nearly left it go to answering machine—

She snatched up the receiver, and blurted out a greeting—her breath escaping in whoosh when it wasn’t Jason. Of course it wasn’t.

“Elizabeth Webber? Is this Elizabeth?”

“Yes, hello.”

“It’s Professor Shiloh. You were in my Art History class last fall.”

“Right.” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her forehead. “Professor Shiloh. I—I remember. Um, can I help you?”

“Well, I saw that you’d dropped out of the program. I was sorry to hear it—your work was promising—”

She lifted her brows at that. She hadn’t done much art in her class beyond a final project. “Thank you. I just—I thought it was a bit—I didn’t feel like it was a good fit.”

“I understand. I was looking forward to seeing you in class this semester. I had a job opportunity that would have been perfect for you. If you’re interested in a freelance position, it still might be worth looking into. Are you?”

A freelance position related to art? “Sure. Of course. I’m definitely interested.”

Quartermaine Estate: AJ & Carly’s Bedroom

Carly sat at her vanity table, staring at her reflection in the mirror. At the diamond studs in her ear, the flash of more cold gems at her wrist and on her finger. She’d spent years plotting and manipulating to get here. To be wealthy, to be comfortable. To have everything taken care of with a snap of her fingers.

And she was miserable.

AJ stepped out of the walk-in closet on his side of the room, fastening his cuff, his head bent down. He stopped at the foot of their bed and looked at her, his mouth tightening for a moment before he smoothed it out. “What are you doing today?” he asked, and though his tone was pleasant she could hear the irritation beneath it.

“There’s a lunch at the country club,” Carly said. She closed her jewelry box. “Amanda Barrington is putting together a committee for a charity thing in a few weeks. I want to be on it.” She didn’t really want to do the work, but she wanted these rich bastards to see her as one of them. She wanted the power that came with her wealth.

“How do you expect to manage that?” her husband asked coolly. “Amanda Barrington can’t stand you.”

And neither could any of the other old biddies that met at the club every day, and Carly hadn’t done much to change their mind since she and AJ had married. She’d never planned to stay his wife forever—only to force AJ back to drinking and get custody of Michael so she could resume her life with Jason—

But that option was closed to her. Even if Jason returned. Even if he forgave her. Carly now saw the futility in the plan. AJ might be an alcoholic, but he was still a Quartermaine. The name carried power. No judge would take his son from him. Jason had been right when he’d told her the plan was ridiculous—

“No one likes anyone down there,” Carly said. She cleared her throat, twisted on the stool to look at him. “But respectability can be purchased.”

He arched a brow, and she felt the heat rising in her cheeks. “You’re interested in respectability? Since when?”

“Why do you care?” she demanded. She got to her feet and went to the walk in, sorting through her clothes. He followed her.

“I guess it’s finally sunk in that my little brother has left town for good,” AJ said, and she stopped, her fingers clutching the sleeve of a silk shirt. “Whatever you were planning to get him back failed. You realize you’re stuck with me. With this marriage.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about-”

“You still think I’m an idiot. That I don’t see you for who you really are.”

She ignored him, the hangers clicking as she furiously flipped through them. The problem with AJ was that he did see her. He’d known from the beginning she was a flight risk. He’d blackmailed her into marriage, and now he held Michael over her head. If he ever found out about that night with Sonny, she’d lose everything.

“Jason’s gone,” AJ said again. “I’m here. I’ve given you everything, Carly. What more do you want?”

“You don’t want me to answer that—”

“I told you that if we got married, we could give Michael a home with both parents. We both love him,” AJ said flatly. “You could have had Jason and Michael, but you would have to share. You didn’t want joint custody.”

“I didn’t want you,” Carly spat, whirling around, her temper frayed. “I wanted Michael to have Jason—”

“What kills you, Carly, is you know I’m right,” AJ said. “You panicked and acted without thinking. Just like you always do. Michael would have had Jason as a stepfather. A father figure. I’d have hated every minute of it, and you could have twisted the knife every time Michael called Jason Daddy.”

Her breath caught as she stared at him. “What are you—”

“You’d have to turn Michael over to me for visitation, and I’d spend my life knowing my son loved Jason more than me.” AJ smirked as her eyes widened. “Eventually, maybe I’d give up. Maybe I would have done what Jason did. Step back. Let my son go so he could be happy. We’ll never know, Carly. Because you couldn’t stand the idea of sharing. Now you have Michael all to yourself, but Jason’s in the wind. Did my brother even give you his new phone number?”

Oh, God. He was right. She could have—furious tears stung her eyes and her throat burned. And Jason had cut ties. He’d shoved her out of his life. She might have had everything if she’d taken a moment to think. If she’d had the patience to play the long game.

“I hope it was worth it,” AJ said. He stepped back, his smile cruel. “Enjoy lunch, sweetheart. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Thursday, February 16, 2000

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth dumped her bag into the empty chair and sat across from Laura with a bright smile. “Hey, sorry I’m late.”

Laura dismissed her concern with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry. I’m just glad we were able to meet.” She leaned forward, her eyes bright. “Especially since you said you had good news.”

“I do. It’s a bit bittersweet—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I just gave Bobbie my two weeks notice. I got a new job.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful.” Laura leaned back as a waitress approached to take their order. “Tell me everything,” she said when the waitress had left. “What will you be doing? Where is it?”

“That’s the great part,” Elizabeth said, nearly bouncing in her seat. “One of my art professors from last semester found out I was withdrawing from classes, and she told me she knew someone looking for a freelance artist. I’ll be working on a contract basis creating postcards and greeting cards.”

“Well, that’s perfect. You’ll be able to work at your studio?”

“Yeah, and I’ll be paid by the piece, and I’ll have a lot of creative control. They’ll just send me themes to work sometimes.” Elizabeth sipped her iced tea. “Gram is over the moon excited. I just got back from telling her. I think she had her doubts I could really make a living with my art. I still want to do my own thing and maybe a show one day, but—”

“—this is a great first step,” Laura finished, and Elizabeth nodded.

“Yeah, and it’ll keep me in my studio which is the goal. I love Kelly’s, and I’ll always be grateful to Ruby for giving me a chance. ” She looked around the small dining room where she had worked and spent so much time since moving to Port Charles. At the tables she and Lucky had pushed together that last night for dinner with Nikolas and Emily.

Barely a year ago.

“It was a great job,” Elizabeth continued, “but it’s time to move on.” She focused on Laura again. “And I think I’m finally ready.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Laura squeezed her hand. “It’s been a few weeks since Jason left,” she said after the waitress had brought their orders. “Have you heard from him?”

Elizabeth thought of the postcard she’d received. Did that even count? How could it? “No. Not in any way that matters.” She took a deep breath “And I don’t expect to. We’re both moving on.”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

“And you should initial here—” Alexis gestured with her pen. “And there—”

“I hate buying property,” Sonny muttered as he followed her directions. “How many trees had to die to make these contracts?”

Since this was the third real estate acquisition she’d handled since she’d taken over his representation, Alexis was used to Sonny’s complaints. She ignored them, sipped her coffee, and pointed where signatures and initials were required.

“Finally.” Sonny tossed the pen aside. “What about the permit for the coffee house? Is it on the agenda for the council meeting? Maybe I should have bought it through a holding company—”

“It’s on the agenda,” Alexis cut in smoothly as she reorganized the paperwork and slid it inside her briefcase. “There’s no hint that it won’t go through. That building has sat empty for almost a year. No other offers. It’s you or nothing. They’d rather have the revenue—”

The phone at Sonny’s desk rang, and Alexis stopped in the middle of her explanation, startled as Sonny launched himself out of the chair at the dining table and snatched up the receiver across the room.


His shoulders slumped and he turned away from her. “Yeah. Okay. Right. That’s what I needed. Thanks.” Sonny set the receiver down, then turned back to smile at her, though the humor had faded from his eyes. “Sorry. You were saying—”

“He hasn’t called yet,” Alexis said, and her client sighed, dipped his eyes to the ground. “It’s been a month.”

“In another day or so, yeah.” Sonny returned to the table, much more slowly than before. “A month.” He scrubbed a hand down his face. “I should be used to not hearing from him,” he said more to himself than to her. “The year I was gone, I only contacted him a few times.”

“Did he have a way to talk to you if he needed?” Alexis asked. He focused on her, furrowing his brow. “Did he?” she asked again.

“Yeah. Yeah,” Sonny repeated. “If he needed to. He knew how to get word to me so I could call in. He didn’t. Not until—” His throat felt tight. “Until Brenda,” he murmured. “He came to the island to tell me.”

“You’ve depended on Jason for a very long time. He’ll call,” Alexis said. “Eventually.”

“Maybe.” Sonny sat back. “He didn’t tell anyone how to get in touch with him. Not even Elizabeth. If anyone would have known how to reach him, it would be her.”

“He was hurting, Sonny. He’s been through a lot this last year. The end of his relationship with Robin. Michael.” Alexis paused. “Everything with Carly—”

“And then me. You don’t have to shy away from it.”

“I’m sure he just needed some time and space. It’s only been a month. He has family here, Sonny. Emily and Lila. And Elizabeth. He’s not the kind of man who could walk away forever.”

“Not from them, no. But maybe from me.” Sonny stared out the window for a moment, then focused on Alexis again. “Let’s finish these contracts.”

Saturday, February 26, 2000


Emily stared at the postcard with a scowl, then over at Elizabeth. “This is it? This is all you’ve gotten? He hasn’t even called?”

Elizabeth didn’t even look up from her sketchpad, continuing to work on ideas for her first assignment. “No.”

Emily made a face, then set the postcard back on the table. She flopped down on the sofa, causing the cushions to bounce, and Elizabeth’s pencil to slide across the page. “Em—”

“Sorry—” Emily sat up, wincing.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and leaned over to look for an eraser. “We never promised to keep in touch,” she continued. “So don’t be mad at him.” Which was good advice to give herself, and she did. Every day the mail arrived and there was nothing from Jason.

“He dumped his phone,” Emily said. “I get that he didn’t want Sonny or Carly calling but—”

“He was leaving town,” Elizabeth reminded her friend, tossing the pad aside. “How could he have kept the phone number? You know they don’t work outside a certain area.” She got to her feet. “Did you come home to complain about Jason or to visit me?”

“I can do both,” Emily muttered. She folded her arms. “I just—at least with the cell phone, I could leave him messages. I could find a way to stay in contact. This—” Her hands fell to her lap and she stared down. “This is like after the accident. When he just left and we had to hear about him through word of mouth. Sometimes he came to see Grandmother, but he just disappeared from our lives. He called me once, Elizabeth. And he did it during the day when he was sure I wouldn’t be there.” She nodded at Elizabeth’s answering machine. “I bet if he knew your schedule, he’d have called you, too, and left a message.”

Elizabeth focused on the machine, wondering. Was that true? Was that why he hadn’t called? She cleared her throat, then looked back at her best friend. “Em—”

“He was fine,” Emily interrupted. “He was doing just fine, and then he wasn’t. I don’t know what they did to make him leave, but he’s gone. And he’ll never come back. Why aren’t you more angry about it?”

“I was.” Elizabeth calmly packed her colored pencils back in their container and stored them on her shelf. “But he’s gone for over a month, Em. He needed to go.” She faced Jason’s sister. “He needed to be away. The people tying him to Port Charles—we couldn’t be enough. I know you miss him. So do I. But he had to go.” And if she kept saying that, if she kept reminding herself to remember the way he’d looked that day in her studio, miserable and at the end of his rope, it would be easier to believe it.

She did believe it. He’d needed to go. But it didn’t change how much she hated it. Or how much she resented that he’d been able to cut her off so cleanly. If he missed her, why hadn’t he tried harder to call her? Why weren’t there more postcards? Why hadn’t he written anything on that stupid card from Miami?

Emily nodded. “All right. Okay. I just wish we could have fixed it. If I had been here—”

If Emily hadn’t left for school, maybe Jason would have managed a few more months, but— “It is what it is. And eventually, Jason will get in touch. He loves you, Em. He’d never leave you forever.”  Elizabeth forced herself to smile at her friend. “Let’s talk about something else. Anything else.”

Tuesday, March 7, 2000

New Orleans, Louisiana: Bourbon Street

Jason had read about Mardi Gras and seen pictures, so he’d backtracked east, thinking it might be interesting and different.  He wanted something different, didn’t he?

He was miserable.

The streets were crowded with drunk college students and adults who were old enough to know better — he’d been flashed by more women than he’d ever seen in his life, and had turned down several drunken propositions before noon.

Still, Jason had driven nearly halfway across the country to be here, so he continued down the street, promising himself he’d be tucked into his hotel room with the shades drawn when the sun went down in a few hours and the city went really wild.

He found a quiet street, little more than an alley off Bourbon Street, and he eagerly turned, wanting a break from the smell of liquor mixed with vomit emanating from the sidewalks and the street. How could anyone stand it?

The buildings were nice. They were old, and he liked that. The street was narrow, from a time before cars — but he probably could have driven the bike —

He saw a young woman perched on a stool in front of an easel, her back to him while she faced the person whose picture she was drawing. With lightning quick hand movements, an exaggerated person with a large head and small body appeared on the canvas. Elizabeth could have told him why it was like that—

Jason grimaced, then turned away, heading back to the smells and sounds of Bourbon Street. He needed to stop thinking about her. Had to stop. This was never going to work if all he thought about was going back.

Nothing would have changed. Carly would still be there, trying to use Michael to control him, and Sonny would still be pretending he knew best, and Jason would still feel like he was being choked from two sides—

He’d had to leave, but maybe he hadn’t gone far enough.

This entry is part 6 of 37 in the Counting Stars

Take back that sad word goodbye
Bring back the joy to my life
Don’t leave me here with these tears
Come and kiss this pain away
I can’t forget the day you left
Time is so unkind
And life is so cruel without you here beside me

Unbreak My Heart, Toni Braxton

Friday, January 14, 2000

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

He couldn’t have heard that right. It was impossible. She hadn’t—

“I know what I’m asking,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes searching his, those beautiful eyes. He’d seen them that morning in December when he’d heard a voice begging him to wake up, to look at her, to open his eyes and nothing had ever really been the same. “I just—”

“It’s not—” Jason exhaled slowly, resting his forehead against hers. He couldn’t stop touching her, sliding his hands down her smooth skin, and she was asking him — if he started, how would he ever be able to stop? How would he ever be able to walk away? “I don’t want you to regret—”

“I have too many regrets already.” She kissed him again, sliding her tongue past his lips. He loved the way she tasted—had he only learned it yesterday? Like chocolate and mint and sweet—


“If life were fair—” She fisted her hand in his t-shirt, her breathing raspy. “If life were fair, we could take our time.” Her lips curved. “We could go out on the bike. You could take me on the cliff roads. Maybe let me drive—”

He laughed, helpless now as he kissed her, angling her head back so he deepen it, so he could have every inch of her mouth. “You never give up.”

“Not when it’s something I want.” Her fingers slid beneath his shirt, dancing up his bare skin, the muscles of his abdomen tightening.  “Don’t we deserve this?”

Why he was fighting this? Why hadn’t he just taken her in his arms the moment she’d asked? What had happened to the man he’d been once, who’d reached out for what he wanted and took it?

Jason slid his hands beneath the jacket she wore and shoved it off her shoulders, then helped her as she did the same to him. Then he curled his arm around her hips and dragged her against him hard. She gasped, then fisted her hands in his shirt again to force his head back down to her, for another searing kiss. He started to walk her backwards, towards the first surface he could find—the desk, the sofa—hell, the folding table in the kitchen might be good enough—

Then he felt a shiver slide through her, and he remembered—Jason hesitated, gently putting some air between them. Her face was flushed, her eyes heavy and lips swollen. “What—”

“I just—” He’d remembered that she’d never done this before. Not truly. Not in a way that mattered. And she deserved better. If she wanted it to be him, to be the first man she was with—then he was never going to let her regret it. “I know it might not look like it, but I actually have a bed upstairs.”

“A bed?” she repeated, then cleared her throat. “Oh. Oh, okay.” She bit her lip, glanced around. “Yeah, I didn’t think about that. Though—” He watched her look at the desk with curiosity. “That might be fun—”

Oh, man, she was going to kill him. He groaned, then lifted her in his arms, looping an arm beneath her knees. She laughed as he started for the stairs. “Can we try it later?” Elizabeth asked, tightening her arms around his neck.

If they were only going to have one night, he was going to make sure she never forgot it. “Anything you want.”

“You might regret that later,” she warned him as he started down the hallway. “I’ve had a lot of very interesting dreams lately, and there might be a checklist.”

He laughed again as he went inside the master bedroom, as sparsely decorated as the downstairs with a single bed, nightstand, and dresser. There was a set of white sheets and a gray comforter.

Jason set her on her feet, letting her body slide slowly down his. He didn’t dive right back in, just rested his forehead against hers. Why couldn’t they have more time? Why was he so convinced he had to leave?

“Hey—” Elizabeth nipped at his mouth, and he blinked at her. “We’re not going to think about that,” she said softly. “It’s just you and me, and we’re going to live in the moment. Let tomorrow take care of itself.”

“You always know,” he murmured, unsure when it had happened—when she’d clicked in and understood what he was thinking, almost before he did. “Just you and me.” He dipped his head down to capture her lips.

“That’s all I want.”

Slowly, reverently, he peeled the blouse over her head and slid her jeans past her hips, soaking in the shivers as his fingers brushed the soft lace underneath. She wasn’t as patient with his clothes, fumbling with the snap at his waist—

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, kissing down her jaw to nip at her neck, his hands back at her hips, gently steering her backwards towards the bed. He drew back for just a moment when the back of her knees hit the comforter, pressing his thumb against her lips, forcing her glazed eyes to focus on him. “If there’s anything you don’t want or like, you just have to tell me—I’ll—”

“I promise you—” She leaned up again to kiss him. “I will like it all.”

Morgan Penthouse: Bedroom

If only it were possible to stop time, to freeze it in a single moment so it would stay forever—Elizabeth wanted it to be this one. Curled up next to Jason, her heart still pounding, her body still pressed against his—

She wanted to curl up like a cat, all content and sated after a meal, to stay just like this forever—Jason’s fingers lightly stroking her spine. All the way up to her neck, then down again to her waist.

He was still breathing hard, his chest rising and falling just like hers—and she could smell the mixture of sweat and his own scent mingling in the air—this gorgeous, sexy man hadn’t laughed in her face when she’d brazenly asked him for one night. She’d never seriously thought he would—he was too kind for that—but she’d been so afraid she’d see it in his eyes—

She hadn’t really thought she’d be able to talk her way into his bed but if Jason was going to leave—she wasn’t going to let her fear ruin things. Not again. She’d pulled away with Lucky, she’d let the anxiety take over—and she’d never be able to change that.

No regrets. Even if Jason still left in the morning—

Her stomach rumbled slightly, and Jason’s hand stilled for a moment. Elizabeth bit her lip and raised her head with a sheepish smile. “I, uh, didn’t eat lunch earlier. And it’s…um…” She blinked, trying to focus on the clock beyond him, on the night stand.

He twisted his head, then winced. “Yeah, it’s almost eight. And I haven’t really—” Jason cleared his throat. “We could go out.”

Get dressed? Leave? Shatter the little bubble and let the rest of the world in again? She’d rather starve. “You don’t have anything downstairs?”

“I don’t…” He started to sit up, and Elizabeth scooted back, instinctively reaching for the top sheet that had ended up at the bottom of the bed, half hanging off. He squinted. “I don’t know. There might be something in the freezer.”

“Well, let’s start there before we do anything drastic like put on pants.” Elizabeth shrugged and slid her legs over the side, still clutching the sheet. It was one thing to lie next to him naked in the dark, but—

Jason reached down to the carpet and pulled on the black pair of briefs he’d worn earlier. She snatched up the t-shirt he’d worn and dragged it over her head. He grinned as she let the sheet fall, adjusting his shirt as it listed to one side. “I forget sometimes how little you are,” he offered, dropping his lips to her bared shoulder.

“Yeah, well, I make up for it in attitude, I think.” She wasn’t going to feel awkward. Wasn’t going to let nerves steal a single minute. She started past him for the door, but Jason stopped her, grabbing her hand and spinning her back to kiss her, his hands diving into her hair. “What was that for?” she murmured, drawing back.

“Because I could.” He smiled again and she just stared at him, fascinated by this shift in him. She’d really only known him for four months, she realized, and she’d never seen him like this. Full of smiles and flirting—

Had she done this? Was this because of her? She returned his smile, then lifted herself on her toes to kiss him.

Because she could.

“Let’s go see what we can find in the freezer,” Jason suggested. He laced his fingers through hers and gently tugged her out of the room.

Downstairs, she was relieved to find a few frozen pizzas, and Jason tossed one in the oven. She hadn’t felt awkward upstairs, but now, for some reason, standing in the middle of the kitchen, the only light from the dim bulb over the stove, she did. She’d seen the door and his jacket tossed over the bare desk. The same jacket he’d probably wear when he left—


Elizabeth blinked and focused on him, forcing a smile. “Hey.”

He drew her against him, framing her face with his hands. “What did you say to me earlier?” Jason asked. “To let tomorrow take care of itself?”

“I meant it. I still do, it’s just—” Her throat tightened. “It was easier then,” she murmured. “Before I knew. That sounds stupid—”

“It doesn’t.” Jason shook his head, his hands sliding down her shoulders to lace their fingers together again. “I was thinking maybe I could—I mean, I could make it work. I want to—”

“Nothing’s changed—”

“That’s not true—”

“Nothing’s changed that affects the world out there,” Elizabeth corrected gently, and he sighed at that. “You know I’m right. They’re still there. And I don’t want to talk about them. Because then I feel like that’s the rest of the night, and I just—” She met his eyes. “I never wanted to make you feel guilty about leaving. I came here to tell you to go—”

“I know. I know. I just—” He exhaled slowly. “It was easier before,” he said, echoing her words. “When we hadn’t said anything. And I don’t want you to think it doesn’t mean anything to me. You do. You matter, and maybe I should—”

She stopped him by pressing her fingers to his lips. “You were probably right yesterday. When you said you couldn’t and left. Tonight—” Elizabeth sighed. “It probably was a bad idea,” she admitted.


“But I’m not sorry,” she interrupted, dropping her hand. “And it does matter. I know how hard things have been for you—or at least, I’m trying to—and it matters to me that you’d be willing to stick it out for me.”


“But it’s not just…it’s not just her,” Elizabeth said, not wanting the name spoken. “Who probably wouldn’t be any better if she found out about me.” He winced at that, and she nodded. “If it was just her, I’m willing to take that on. She doesn’t scare me, Jason. But you told me weeks ago you weren’t sure you could do your job anymore. Have you changed your mind?”

Jason looked away, looked past her, into the open doorway and living room. “No.”

“Can you stay in Port Charles if you’re not doing that job right now?”

His mouth tightened, and he shook his head. “No,” he said again, his voice soft.

“So you have to go. If you tried to stay, to do the job and deal with everything else, just because of me—” Her voice faltered and his eyes snapped back to hers. “You might end up resenting me. Because I asked for this and it’s why you’d stay—”


“I don’t want to be someone who takes from you. I can’t stand it. So you’re going to go because it’s the right thing for you.”

“What about you?”

“Me?” Elizabeth repeated. She leaned up to brush her mouth against his mouth, lingering. “I’ll be fine. I’ll have tonight, and I’ll know that you’re somewhere, happy again. I like this version of you that smiles.” She touched his mouth. “But you only do that with me. It’s not fair. You deserve so much more.”

He sighed, and maybe he was going to argue with her more, but the timer on the oven dinged and she was saved. She wanted him to stay, and she didn’t think she’d be able to pass it up if he offered more time. She’d grab on to him and cling, just like Carly and Sonny. She didn’t want to be that person—could never forgive herself if that’s who she became just to keep Jason with her.

“When we’re done eating,” Elizabeth said, taking the slice he handed her, “I still have that checklist.”

Jason arched a brow. “Checklist?”

“Yeah.” She turned to look at the table in the kitchen. “How sturdy do you think that is?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Saturday, January 15, 2000

Morgan Penthouse: Bedroom

He considered leaving before she woke. It would be cowardly and she might be hurt, but for just a moment, Jason thought it would be the easiest. There would be no goodbyes. No tears. No last minute discussions of how to make things different.

But Elizabeth did, and would always, deserve better from him. It would be easier for him if none of those things happened, but it would hurt her. And that was the last thing he wanted.

So instead, as the weak winter sunlight peeked through and around the shades in the bedroom, Jason lay curled up behind her, one of his hands clutched in hers and held tightly to her chest as if she could hang on forever.

He could ask her to come with him. That had occurred to him not long after he’d discarded the idea of sneaking out. She could travel with him, couldn’t she? He didn’t really have a place in mind, not yet. He just knew it had to be away. He had plenty of money. He’d take her anywhere she wanted to go. Any place she wanted to paint.

He’d nearly woken her up then, filled with conviction that this was the right choice. They could still be together, but they’d be gone—

But then he remembered her fierce independence and refusal to take a single dollar from him while he’d been staying with her. They weren’t even dating. Not really. There were no promises. She might go for a while, just like he might stay for a while. But it wouldn’t last. And she’d be unhappy.

Even knowing that, he wanted to ask. Needed to.

She stirred, her breathing changing from the deep to more shallow. Her fingers tightened for just a moment around his. Jason propped himself up on his elbow as Elizabeth’s eyes opened and she moved, flattening herself to lay on her back. Her lips curved into a dreamy smile, the eyes closing again. “Hey,” she murmured.

“Hey,” he replied.

“I thought it was a dream.” Elizabeth’s voice was slurred, but then she cleared her throat, her eyes opened again. She reached up to touch his face. “I’m glad it wasn’t.”

“Me, too.” He kissed her fingers, then sat up. “You could come with me,” Jason said. He couldn’t look at her while he asked, but once the words were out, he turned back to her, wanting to see her reaction. “When I go. There has to be places you want to paint—”

“I could.” Elizabeth sat up, smiling wistfully. “I definitely have a list.”

He exhaled, looking away. “But you won’t.”

“Can’t.” She reached for his hand. “I want to. But I don’t have the money to travel. I know you do,” she added when he opened his mouth. “But it’s not the same. If I go with you now, what happens next? Do we just wander around forever?”

“Why not?” Even though he knew she was right, had known this would be her answer, he still wanted to argue. He couldn’t stay, but why couldn’t she go? “You could come for a little while—”

“It’s why you can’t stay. Even for a few more days. We’ll have more time, but it’s not going to change anything. There are things I want, Jason, that I’m not sure you do. At least not right now.”

He grimaced, looked away. “Like what?”

“A home. A place to belong. I have that here. I spent my whole life looking for it. My parents didn’t love me. I’m not sure you know what it does to a kid to constantly look for the love that’s supposed to be yours by birth. I shouldn’t have had to work so hard—”

“I—” He cleared his throat. “Does it have to be a place?” he forced out.

“I don’t know. I just—” She bit her lip. “It does for me,” Elizabeth murmured. “Right now. And maybe it’s—I wrapped my whole identity up in being with Lucky. The people I have in my life right now are there because of him. Laura, Bobbie, Emily, even you—” He shook his head but she continued. “If I leave with you now, without a way to support myself, without any other plans other than just to follow you around—how is that any different? And if we don’t work out—”

“We—” Jason sighed, irritated with himself for arguing with her. She had a right to what she wanted. But it just sounded like he wasn’t enough.

“You and I both know there’s no guarantees in life,” she said. “Didn’t you believe Robin would always be the one? Did you ever imagine a time when she wasn’t?”

No. And not being able to see that, not knowing who he was if Robin wasn’t there—it had led them both to continue clinging to the wreckage of their relationship until they’d nearly hated one another.

He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I knew you couldn’t go even before I asked,” he said. “But I had to—”

“I know. And I wish my answer was yes.” Her voice faltered and she swiped at a tear. “I wish I could throw everything away or that I was strong enough—”

“Elizabeth—” He drew her into his arms, then laid back down, tucking her into his side. Just once more. “I wish I could stay.”

“I couldn’t stand us hating each other one day. And I feel like that would happen if you stayed or I went.” She rested her chin on his chest, looking at him. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He used his thumb to brush away another tear. “We knew this was going to be hard.”

She managed a smile, then pressed her cheek against his shoulder, closing her eyes. “I just want to lay here a little longer. Can we?”

“Yeah, we can do that.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Elizabeth froze, her jacket only half buttoned as Jason stepped off the bottom step, a black duffel bag in his hand. She stared at this, this concrete evidence that he was leaving.

He’d carried the same bag out of her studio only weeks earlier.

She opened her mouth, then snapped it shut, afraid something ridiculous would escape. What if she told him she’d changed her mind? That he should stay or she should go—all of the conviction, the wisdom, the maturity—it fled and now she could barely breathe.

This couldn’t be right. This couldn’t be the way it was. The universe couldn’t possibly be cruel enough to bring Jason into her life, let him care about her, too, only for him to go away. How many chances did a girl get in a life?

“I thought I’d take you home,” Jason said, a bit dully, his eyes also looking at the bag. Avoiding. “Then head for the airport.”

She cleared her throat. “You don’t have to—”

“I want—” He looked up then, his eyes swirling with regret and sadness. “I thought maybe if the roads were clear enough, we could go out near the cliffs.”

One last ride. He wouldn’t say it, but that’s what he meant. She’d all but begged him for last night, and he was asking her for just a little more time. The bike was something they shared, and had since the beginning.

“Okay. Yeah. Let’s, um, we can do that. I don’t have to work today. So—” She stopped abruptly, nearly biting her tongue in the process because she’d nearly suggested maybe they could have another day. Another night—

But it was delaying the inevitable, and every moment they spent together would just hurt more now. They’d had the night she wanted, and then they’d have the ride he wanted.

And then it would be over.

Studio: Hallway

Jason tried to make the ride last as long as possible. The roads had been relatively clear, so they’d taken the turns Elizabeth liked best three or four times, but eventually—

Eventually, he turned back towards town and the waterfront. Quietly, he’d parked and they’d walked up the stairs to her floor. He scowled one more time at the lack of security—but when she opened the door and turned back to him, Jason forced himself to smile. “I’m surprised you didn’t ask to drive.”

Elizabeth bit her lip, leaning against the door frame. “Thought about it,” she admitted. “Would you have said yes?”

“Maybe.” He shoved his hands in his pockets to stop himself from reaching out to her. Say goodbye and go. Goodbye and go.

“I’m surprised you’re going to the airport,” Elizabeth said. She licked her lips. “I thought you’d drive somewhere. What are you going to do with the bike?”

“Have it shipped.” He’d decided on the airport while packing. If he drove, it would take a few days to get out of the state, nearly a week to get to Florida or far enough away he couldn’t just come back. And if he was close enough, he might just turn around.

He’d nearly changed his mind a thousand times since they’d woken that morning. Jason had stayed in Port Charles before when he’d had nothing. He could find a way to make things work. If he tried harder, maybe he could get through this with Sonny. Or maybe he didn’t need to do the job if he stayed—but he always came back. If Jason tried to get out now and leave Port Charles, he’d have a target on his back. Sorel would think he could be used.

And if Jason kept trying to get through this anger, kept trying to pretend things with Sonny were fine, he’d keep blowing up. He’d hurt Elizabeth already, but the lack of trust with Sonny would just spiral—

And without trust, Jason couldn’t do the job.

And that was without even weighing in Carly who would keep using Michael to drag Jason back. What was he supposed to do about that? Tell AJ? Who might divorce Carly and pull the kid into a custody battle that would never, ever end?

“You have to go,” Elizabeth said softly, and he sighed, looking past her, down the hall towards the bathroom on her floor. He’d liked living here, despite the lack of security. It had been basic and plain. And no one had known where to find him. He needed that again. She was right. He couldn’t stay.

“I know. I just—” He stopped, shook his head. “It’s just now—”

“There’s no way left to stall.” She smiled, though it was little more than a curve of her lips, her eyes sad. “Can’t take one more ride. Can’t ask for one more night. It would just hurt. At the penthouse, I nearly—” She closed her eyes, and a tear slid down her cheek. “I nearly broke.”


“Because it’s not fair—” A ragged sob escaped her lips and Jason reached out, dragging her against him and swallowing it with his mouth, kissing her like a drowning man holding on to a piece of driftwood. She curled her fists in his shirt beneath his jacket.

He drew back, kissing her eyes, then her cheeks, then one last brush of his lips against hers. One last taste. “Goodbye,” he murmured.

“No—” Elizabeth kept her hands on his shirt, stopping him from drawing back and he stopped, confused. Had she changed her mind? Would she come with him—

“I refuse to believe this is how it ends.” She met his eyes. “This isn’t goodbye. It won’t be. I’ll see you later, okay?” She kissed him again, wrapping her arms around his neck. He held her tight, then buried his face in her neck.

“Okay,” he whispered. He drew back, then kissed her one more time. “Okay,” he repeated, smoothing her hair back. “I’ll see you later.”

She didn’t let go for almost a minute, but then finally unlocked her arms and stepped back. Jason couldn’t turn away for a long minute, but then—

He went down the hall to the stairwell and left.

Miami, Florida

Miami International Airport: Terminal D

Four hours later, the wheels touched down and Jason disembarked, numbly tossing his duffel over his shoulder. He’d arranged to have the bike shipped and delivered to a local parking garage tomorrow, so for now he was on his own for transportation.

He’d chosen Miami because it was the next flight leaving, though he might have preferred it to be further away. California. Or even international. Port Charles was still only three hours away by plane—

But he wouldn’t go. He might as well have driven because he knew he couldn’t go back. Not after the studio. After Elizabeth’s tears—

She’d refused to say goodbye, but Jason didn’t know what else she expected. He’d had to leave, hadn’t she told him over and over again that she understood? And she couldn’t go. Even if he came back, it wouldn’t be the same.

She’d have moved on. Of course she would. She deserved nothing less. Someone would come along who didn’t have the dangers of his job or the insanity of Carly following them around—someone who she didn’t have to explain her art to—

He wandered down the concourse, towards the exit, but then stopped when something grabbed his eye. One of those tacky souvenir shops with a garish display of postcards. The bright colors reminded him of one the last paintings he’d seen Elizabeth working on before he’d moved out of the studio.  He picked it up and read the text on the back—it was a painting by Alicia Leal. Elizabeth would like this. Maybe she’d able to explain the swirls of orange and pink and what was being created—

“Can I help you?”

A husky voice caught his attention, and he glanced up to find a dark-haired woman standing in front of him, a name tag clipped to her shirt, announcing her name as Marisol. She curved her lips, painted the color of red wine, into a smile. “Are you looking for something in particular?”

Jason looked back at the postcards—noted that they were four for a dollar. He selected three more that reminded him of Elizabeth. “Just these.”

Marisol frowned slightly, then led him to the cash register. She rang him up and he handed over a dollar. “Are you staying in the area?”

“Thanks,” Jason said, not answering the question, taking the small dark green plastic bag from her and leaving the store. He went over to a table in the food court and sat down. Then stared at the bag.

Why had he done that? What was the point of buying postcards Elizabeth would never be able to tell him about? He removed them from the bag, then eyed a nearby trash can. He should throw them out. Forget about the temporary insanity.

But he didn’t. Instead, he fished in the duffel and found a pen. He set the postcard that had attracted his attention to the side at first, not sure what he’d write. Absently, Jason rubbed his hand against the back of his neck. Hello? How are you? I miss you? No. Nothing that would make her feel bad. He wasn’t good with words. Not the way she deserved. And definitely not in writing.

He started to write about how much she meant to him—and then he found he didn’t even know how to put that into words, so he set aside the first attempt. On the second, he ran out of room. With the third, he tried just saying hi and asking how she was—but that didn’t sound right either.

Finally, on the fourth and final attempt, he just wrote his name and her address. He put the other three in his duffel bag. He left the airport and took a taxi to downtown Miami where he checked into a hotel.

Update Link: Begin with Chapter 5

Hello! Chapters 5-8 have been posted! Please remember, if you read the alpha draft, this final draft is VASTLY different — the OG draft had around 96k and this one has 134k. I added a lot and rearranged pieces, too. There are also minor edits between the beta draft and this one.

Apologies for skipping out on Flash Fiction this weekend. I’ve been struggling with some migraines from TMJ, and my neck and back were really making it difficult to sit for long periods of time. I’m supposed to be starting the treatment (finally!) for my neck and back this week, which is also supposed to alleviate some of the TMJ issues. Basically, one of my discs in my neck is compressive nerves in the same area which is inflaming my TMJ and causing the tinnitus in my right ear. The doctor doesn’t know if we can fully resolve it, but he’s hopeful that I’ll get some relief.

Anyway, it’s just messing with my creative energy, so I tried to concentrate where I could by finishing the edits on Counting Stars. That’s been completely edited, and I’ll be able to finish scheduling all the chapters.

I’m probably going to miss my NaNoWriMo goal which is a shame because I came really close all month to getting caught up, but the medical issues held me back. No worries. I go a decent chunk of the first Act done, and I can live with that.

See you later this week!

November 21, 2022

Update Link: Chapter 1

The first four chapters of Counting Stars is online! EEK! So excited for you to finally read this absolutely insane story I’ve been struggling with since 2018. This was the first project I did deep dive for when I relaunched my Patreon last year, and I really only started playing with it for fun. I never imagined that almost a year later, I’d be publishing it! I’ll be updating every Monday — four chapters at time, so you can read at your own pace and not worry about checking the site every day.

I’ve linked you to Chapter 1 but take a quick look at the Timeline if you’re not familiar with January 2000.

This entry is part 1 of 37 in the Counting Stars

I refuse to give in to my blues
That’s not how it’s going to be
And I deny the tears in my eyes
‘Cause I don’t want to let you see no
That you have made a hole in my heart
And now I’ve got to fool myself

King of Wishful Thinking, Go West

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Jason Morgan had never been particularly skilled in navigating awkward situations. In the four years since he’d woken from the coma which had obliterated the first twenty-two years of memories, he’d never worried all that much about his impact on the rest of the world. He said what he thought and acted on what he wanted.

The longer he lived, the harder it became to live like that. He’d hurt people by being too blunt or not thinking about the consequences of his actions or words and for the last few months—

Jason didn’t understand what the hell he was thinking or feeling so how was he supposed to act on it?

He’d returned from a run to Puerto Rico, a trip he’d taken dozens of times, and now he was reporting to Sonny, his boss, partner and supposed best friend, just like always. Except this wasn’t like any other day. It was the first time Jason was officially back to work, carrying out his usual duties since that terrible December morning when he’d walked into this room—


He tuned back into the man in question as Sonny lifted his brows. “What?”

“I asked how Richie was getting along in the casinos,” Sonny said. “You were supposed to be checking on him.”

“Right.” Jason shoved his hands in his pockets. Cleared his throat. “Uh, fine. I guess. Nothing to write home about. He’s doing enough to keep the job, but you were probably right to put him on something less stressful.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured.” Sonny paused. “Taggert came by while you were gone.”

Jason bristled, thinking of the last time he’d seen Port Charles’ dogged detective, always ready to leap at any chance to drag one of them into the interrogation room. “And?”

“He wanted to follow up on New Year’s.”

New Year’s. He felt a spiral of fear slide down his spine. He’d felt it that night, too, though it’d been mixed with adrenaline as he’d raced from the pier up the rickety stairs of the rundown building, sprinting down the hallway, nearly breaking down the door, terrified he wouldn’t make it, that the world would explode and he’d—

Jason was careful not to let any of that show as he continued to stare at Sonny. Waiting to see how it was relevant to him. Did the PCPD have anything or was Sonny planning to use this as a fishing expedition?

“We didn’t have anything to give him,” Sonny said, a muscle in his cheek tightening as he realized Jason wasn’t going to say anything. “And he doesn’t know anything we don’t. Elizabeth said—”

The hair on the back of Jason’s neck lifted. “You talked to Elizabeth?”

“Alexis did. I wanted to see if they’d told her anything.” Sonny paused. “She just said they cleared her building and that was it.” He tipped his head to the side. “She asked about you.”

His last conversation with Elizabeth echoed in the back of Jason’s mind, that terrible day outside of Kelly’s a week earlier, the last time he’d come back from Puerto Rico. She’d been smiling so brightly when she’d spied him in the window.

And then she’d stopped smiling.

I didn’t want it to be this way, but I can’t see you.

Jason said nothing. What could he say? And even if he knew, he wasn’t going to tell Sonny. Sonny had already proved he couldn’t be trusted.

“I mean, she didn’t really,” Sonny corrected, and Jason’s stomach twisted. “Alexis did. Wanted to see if you’d checked in on her since that night.”

He hadn’t. He’d left her on the docks to answer questions from the police and had tried to slip out of her life, hoping she’d decide on her own that he was too dangerous to be around so he wouldn’t have to do it himself.

But she’d smiled at him last week. As if he hadn’t nearly gotten her killed. As if she hadn’t rung in the New Year’s freezing on the docks after he’d dragged her out of bed—

So he’d had to do it. He’d had to tell her, and it had killed him to shut her down—

We can still go for motorcycle rides and stuff, though. It’s dark when we go—

It’s done.

He wasn’t much for visual memories, not since the accident, but he could remember some moments better than others. And Jason didn’t think he’d ever forget the way she’d flinched at the cold way he’d cut her off or the words she’d tossed back at him.

Fine. That’s fine. You know why? Because I don’t need one more person in my life who thinks I’m some precious doll that needs to be wrapped in cotton and protected.

He’d nearly broken then. He turned to her, to stop, to try to find the words one more time to explain that it wasn’t just about the danger to her, it was about the way he’d felt that night, the terror of knowing he might have been the reason she was hurt—but she’d already started to build that wall again. That look in her eyes that was always for everyone else. Not for him.

I thought you were different, she’d said to him. I thought you understood. My mistake.

It had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done, but walking away from her now before they continued traveling down whatever road they’d been on—

It was the right decision.

Even if it sliced like a knife to the gut.

“She said she’d seen you last week,” Sonny was saying as Jason tuned back in. “But she wasn’t expecting to again.”

“So?” Jason said shortly. “Is that important? Does that matter?”

“Uh, no, I guess not,” Sonny drawled, “except that if this is about New Year’s, then I don’t know if that’s going to solve anything. Everyone knows where you were for the last few weeks, and even if they think you’ve broken up with her—”

Jason clenched his jaw. It wasn’t like that, but thanks to that damned Nikolas Cassadine and his big mouth at the hospital Christmas party—

“It’s no one’s business, including yours.” Jason turned towards the door.

“Don’t be stupid,” Sonny said, in a sharp tone that drew Jason back. He blinked at the older man. “You think Sorel is going to forget about her? You’re smarter than that, Jason. He knows who she is. And walking away from her now is only going to make it clear how much she matters.”

Jason swallowed hard. “What—”

“She was not the target that night.”

“I know that—” He’d been the target. They thought he’d be with her, and a week earlier, they would have been right. “That’s why—” He stopped. Shook his head. “I’m not talking about this with you,” Jason said, gathering himself. “It’s none of your business—”

“The hell it’s not—Sorel’s going after you because of me—”

“And how I keep Elizabeth and the people who matter to me safe is my problem, not yours.” Jason yanked open the door and headed for the elevator, but that fear was back and it wasn’t just an echo.

It was alive, pulsing through his veins as he tried to remember Elizabeth’s schedule. Was she back at school? Was she at Kelly’s? She needed someone watching her until he was sure Sorel had moved on, until it was clear she wasn’t a way to get to him—

He jabbed the button for the elevator, impatient with himself for not seeing the danger she was still in and angry that it had been Sonny who’d pointed it out. He should have seen it. He was tired of Sonny pushing himself into Jason’s life, acting like he had all the answers. He wasn’t going to let Sonny take matters into his own hands. Not like before. Not like Carly.

He’d make sure Elizabeth was safe, no matter what he had to do to make it happen.

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

Emily Bowen-Quartermaine beamed as she handed a cup of tea to her grandmother, then took a seat next to Elizabeth Webber on the sofa. “I can’t believe I’m going to be living in New York City,” she said. “It’s going be so much fun.” She flashed a quick, rueful smile at Elizabeth. “I wish you were going with me.”

She was supposed to be there already, Elizabeth thought as she forced a smile. That was why Emily had even applied to schools in the city rather than the Ivy Leagues of New England. She and Lucky were supposed to have moved to New York the previous summer while she attended art school. It was supposed to be Emily joining them.

But in her excitement over graduating in December and the big move, maybe Emily had forgotten that. It had been eight months since Elizabeth’s acceptance letter to the school had arrived and she’d trashed it in a fit of madness and grief.

What if she’d gone to New York? What if she’d taken the chance for a fresh start among strangers?

A shaky breath escaped her lips as she stared down into her cup of tea. What if she’d realized sooner that there would be life after Lucky?


Elizabeth blinked at the sound of Lila Quartermaine’s quiet voice. She looked up, surprised to find Emily and Lila both looking at her. “I’m sorry. I—I missed the question.”

“I was telling Grandmother that you weren’t going back to PCU this semester,” Emily said. “She was asking why.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth cleared her throat. “A lot of reasons, I guess. Gram wanted me to go—” Had begged Elizabeth to do anything to get out of the house, to look to the future. “It’s not really known for its art program, and I just didn’t feel like I fit in there, you know? Um, the classes were stifling.” She forced another smile. “No point in wasting the money if it’s not what I want. I can get by okay with Kelly’s until I figure something else out.”

“You have to find your own path,” Lila said with an encouraging nod which was better than Audrey Hardy’s reaction when she’d left a scathing voicemail on the machine back at the studio. Elizabeth shifted on the sofa.

Her own path. She wasn’t even thinking that far ahead. She just wanted to put one foot in front of the other for as long as she could stand it, and just hope one day, she’d look up and there’d be something new in front of her.  She was adrift again, just as she had been for months, but it felt more hopeless now. Before, she hadn’t thought about the future. The fog of grief had enveloped her, ironically insulating her from tedious worries about what she’d do for the rest of her life.

It was gone now, and she could see clearly. Sharply. Painfully. There was nothing. Her grandmother barely understood her, she and Nikolas had quarreled horribly after the Christmas party, Emily was leaving—

She ruthlessly shut down her thoughts before they drifted back to the last time she’d felt any kind of certainty. Any kind of interest in what the future held. When she’d looked up at Kelly’s and had seen Jason staring back at her from the courtyard. She’d been relieved to see him, excited to have him back—

And then he’d shut her down. He’d been the one to set her adrift this time. The last person in her life—the only person—who seemed to give a damn about who she really was—and he’d walked away.

Just like everyone else.

It was so easy to leave her. To find her wanting. To decide she wasn’t worth the effort.

“As soon as I’m settled and I’ve got my schedule organized,” Emily told Elizabeth, “you have to come down to see me. Or come for spring break! That would be awesome! Right? And it’s so close. You can come for weekends—”

“When you’re settled,” Elizabeth said, pasting on another smile. “Promise.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

She wasn’t on shift, and Tammy Hansen, the manager, had given Jason a steel-eyed look of disgust, refusing to reveal Elizabeth’s schedule.  It had surprised him at first, since Tammy had always been friendly to him, but then he remembered what most of the people in Port Charles thought thanks to Nikolas Cassadine.

And if Tammy had believed he and Elizabeth were together, she’d likely know Jason hadn’t been around in nearly two weeks. He winced as he let the diner door fall shut behind him, wondering if there had been talk or other issues in the diner because of the rumors. How much trouble had he caused for Elizabeth, outside of the danger?

“Jason! Thank God—”

His wince faded into a grimace when he heard the familiar voice from the parking lot. He ignored it and continued towards the street and the docks.


He heard the click of the heels behind him and scowled, turning abruptly. Carly Quartermaine nearly slammed into him and, on a reflex, he grabbed her elbows to steady her. She gripped his jacket to hold him close. “What do you want?” he asked shortly, wrapping his hands around her wrists and shoving her back.

Her brown eyes flashed with hurt and his stomach twisted. He hated this. He hated feeling like the bad guy and why did Carly always make him feel that way? She was in the wrong. She’d been wrong over and over again for more than a year. Why did he have to keep learning the same lesson?

Because, he realized with startling clarity, he hadn’t really learned anything after Robin had walked away, after Carly had accused him of kidnapping Michael and forcing her into lying, after Carly had married AJ despite her protestations—

And because he’d never made any changes, he’d been doomed to repeat the same patterns over and over again.

That stopped now. Today.

“I just—” Carly lifted her chin, her eyes damp. “I just haven’t seen you and I was worried. The papers said there was a bomb, and I knew it was about you. It had to be. You’re okay—”

“I’m fine.” He turned to leave again, but she snagged his jacket and he stopped. “Carly—”

“Michael misses you—”

His throat tightened. Michael probably didn’t remember him. Jason hadn’t talked or held the little boy since April. Eight months now, and it still cut as deeply as it had that day he’d walked away. “Stop it—”

“I can’t! You need to forgive me, okay? You need to—”

“I don’t need to do anything—”

“But—” Carly’s lip quivered. “You always forgive me. This is what we do. I mess up and you forgive me. You love me. You told me—”

“And you married my brother and slept with my best friend,” Jason bit out. “How did that work out for me?”


“What I need is for you to stop this, Carly. I need you to leave me alone and stop this.” He held up his hands as she took a step towards him. “Whatever I thought I felt for you, it’s over. I don’t want it. I don’t want you.”


“No. I have to go—”

“I’m never going to give up on us!” Carly cried after him, but her words were washed away in the swirl of the winter winds as Jason ducked down to the pier and away from her. He knew she wasn’t lying. She would never give up. She’d keep going after him, trying to remind him of something that hadn’t been real.

How could he have thought he loved her? He knew what love was, and it wasn’t whatever twisted emotions existed with Carly. Robin had shown him love, and she’d given him his first taste of betrayal, Jason remembered, shoving his hands in his pockets. She’d been right, in the end. Robin had known Carly would just use Michael. She’d keep hurting that little boy until she thought she had everything she deserved—

How the hell was Jason supposed to stick around and watch that? She’d never let him go, and working for Sonny—

He’d told Elizabeth he needed to figure out if he could still do any of this, and it was becoming rapidly clear that he couldn’t.

Quartermaine Estate: Driveway

Nikolas Cassadine jerked his Jaguar to an abrupt stop just before the sleek gray car hit the garage of the Quartermaine mansion. He threw it into park, and hurried out. Emily was standing by a car, her cousin Ned by the driver’s side.

“You still drive like a maniac,” Emily said as he approached her. She beamed, and threw her arms around him.

“Emily—” Ned tapped his watch.

“I’ll be just a few minutes.” Emily dragged Nikolas a few feet away. “I thought you weren’t going to make it.”

“I almost didn’t.” Nikolas held her tightly for a long moment, then stepped back, forcing himself to smile. “I got caught up with some things at the hospital. The volunteer program—”

“You don’t have to apologize.” She brushed some snow from the sleeve of his jacket. “I’m sorry we couldn’t do something, just the three of us.” Emily’s smile faded slightly. “I feel like we haven’t gotten together in months.”

“Because we haven’t.” His tone was clipped, but he made an attempt to soften it. “We all got a little distracted. You and Juan—” he laughed when she rolled her eyes at the reminder of the boyfriend she’d been obsessed with most of the summer and fall. “Me and—” He exhaled slowly. “Katherine.”

Emily nodded. “And I guess this is where you point out that Elizabeth has been distracted, too. You know it’s not like that, right? You guys have talked, haven’t you?”

“No.” Nikolas stepped back. “She’s not taking my calls.”

“Still? Well—” Emily rubbed her arm. “It was a pretty big scene. Just keep apologizing, and—”

“Why am I apologizing? She’s the one—” Nikolas stopped. “I know he’s your brother, Emily, so I’m not going to point out how insane it is for her to be hanging around Jason Morgan.”

Emily narrowed her eyes. “You just did. Nikolas, come on—the fire—it wasn’t about him. You know that—”

“I know what the cops say,” he bit out. “But that doesn’t mean anything—”

“It hurts when you accuse my brother of being the reason Lucky is dead,” Emily said softly, and he grimaced. “He’s my brother,” she repeated. “And I love him. And he’s important to Elizabeth. You’re the only one who seems to think there’s something wrong with that—”

“I don’t want to fight.”

“Then stop picking one.” She forced a smile. “Now hug me goodbye and promise me you’re going to try harder to apologize to Elizabeth.”

“I’ll try again.” Nikolas embraced her. “Take care of yourself in New York.”

“I will.” She kissed his cheek and threw him another wave before she slid into the passenger seat of her cousin’s car. He waited as it traveled down the driveway, exited the gate, and took away the first friend he’d made in Port Charles.

Emily was gone. So were Robin and Sarah. And Lucky. And for all her sins and tragedies, Katherine. All he had left was Elizabeth. So for Emily’s sake, and for his own, Nikolas would try to do better.

Even if his blood boiled every time he thought about how Jason and Sonny had gotten way with murder.

Spencer Home: Living Room

“Don’t make that face at me, Lesley Lu Spencer,” Laura snapped as her ten-year-old daughter stuck out her tongue. “Why do we have this fight every night?”

“Because I don’t want to go to bed!” Lulu stomped her foot, and Laura threw up her hands.

“Fine. Stay up all night, look like a zombie at school—”

Behind them there was a light knock, and then the door was opening. Lulu’s angry scowl disappeared instantly as she hurtled forward towards the man who’d stepped inside.

“Daddy!” Lulu threw herself into Luke Spencer’s arms, forcing him to step back a step.

“Hey, gumdrop.” He kissed the top of her head, then smiled ruefully at Laura. “I didn’t mean to get in so late.”

“We didn’t know to expect you,” Laura said sweetly, but there was no smile on her face and some of the light in Luke’s eyes faded. He nodded.

“Wasn’t sure if it would work out.” He kissed Lulu’s cheek. “Did I overhear you and Mom arguing about bed?”

“Oh, but I can’t go to bed now.” Lulu widened her eyes, looked at her mother with pleading eyes. “Daddy’s home—what if he’s not here tomorrow?”

Laura’s stomach twisted, and she nearly gave in. Lulu so rarely saw her father, and she wasn’t wrong to worry. Luke had a way of slipping and sliding out of their lives, and he hadn’t really been part of Lulu’s in years. Not permanently.

“No worries about that, darling.” Luke touched her shoulder. “I’m back for good. I’ve been roaming too long, and I’m hanging up my passport. Why don’t you head on to bed, and I’ll take you out for breakfast?” He hesitated, looked at Laura. “If it’s all right with your mother.”

“It’ll have to be early,” Laura said. “Lu’s school starts at nine.”

“We’ll grab something at Kelly’s before then,” Luke told Lulu who beamed. “Just you and me. How does that sound, sweetheart?”

“You promise, Dad? I’ll be really mad if you don’t show up.”

Luke grimaced, then nodded. “I promise, Lu. Cross my heart.”

“All right.” Still dubious, Lulu looked at her mother. “Good night, Mom. I better get to sleep if I’m going to be awake for Dad.”

Laura kissed her daughter, and then watched her climb the stairs before facing her errant and estranged husband. “God help you, Luke, if you don’t show up tomorrow morning—”

“That—That right there is why I’m here.” Luke shoved his hands in his pockets, looked past Laura to the mantel over the fireplace where she’d scattered family photos, including one of the family shortly before Laura left to care for Lesley. The last time they’d felt like a true family. “She loves me,” he murmured, “but she doesn’t trust me. And neither do you, Angel.”

“Hard to blame either of us,” Laura said. She folded her arms. “You decided I was the enemy over a year ago, Luke, and walked out. Funny how that works. I forgive you for all your sins, but you can’t even be bothered to listen to mine before you walk out.”

Luke exhaled slowly. “I know the problems started long before Cowboy—but after we lost him, I just…I felt disconnected. I don’t know if I can explain it better than that.” He turned back to her, their eyes meeting. “I don’t know if I can be the man I was before he died, Laura. But I don’t want regrets. I don’t want to miss another moment with my daughter. I missed too many with Lucky.”

“All right.” Laura nodded. “All right,” she repeated. “So you’re here to stay this time.” She’d believe it when she saw it, but at least she knew he’d be there in the morning. They’d start there.

Elm Street Pier

Elizabeth grimaced, hearing thunder in the distance out over the lake. She paused as she crossed from Bannister’s Wharf to the pier, and saw the dark, gray storm clouds tumbling over the water.

A storm on a freezing day like this meant more snow, which meant her shift at Kelly’s the next morning might be canceled. And a cold night at the studio because the radiator was still on the fritz, even though her landlord had promised it was fixed.

Maybe it would pass over Port Charles, she thought wistfully. Sometimes that happened. Storms rushed over the land from the west, but they broke up over the Great Lakes—

“Miss Webber—”

A voice broke into her musings and Elizabeth turned, irritated that she hadn’t heard footsteps. An older man with a receding hairline, dressed in a thick, warm, tan coat strode towards her, his hands encased in leather gloves.

Her breath caught. She knew this man. Why did she know him?

“How fortunate to run into you—”

“Excuse me,” she said, darting around him. She had a sick, twisted feeling that she’d seen him at Luke’s club sometime in the last few months—which likely meant—

A hand snaked out to grab her arm, and Elizabeth felt herself jerked to a stop. She turned, her heart in her throat. The hand around her bicep wasn’t tight, but it was firm. If she wanted to get free, she’d need to pull. To struggle.

And what if he didn’t let go?

“Excuse me,” she said again, ditching the thought of returning to the studio. She’d get away from him and head straight for the Corinthos-Morgan warehouse. It was closer, just across the pier, and there were plenty of guys who recognized her—

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the man said coolly, and his grip tightened just a fraction. “Joseph Sorel.”

“I don’t know you, and I don’t want to,” Elizabeth said evenly. “Let me go or I’ll scream.” No man was ever going to put their hands on her again—never again—she’d never be dragged into the dark—

“That wouldn’t be very wise.” Joseph Sorel smiled and tipped his head. “I just thought we ought to meet since we have a mutual acquaintance—”

“Let me go,” Elizabeth repeated, but even as she spoke, she heard footsteps clattering down the wooden stairs behind her like a freight train barreling down the tracks. Within seconds, her arm was free and Jason had shoved her back, grabbing Sorel by the throat and putting him on his knees, his fingers squeezing so hard the older man’s face reddened.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jason bit out in a rough, angry voice she’d never heard from him before. “How stupid are you?”

This entry is part 3 of 37 in the Counting Stars

If I fall along the way
Pick me up and dust me off
And if I get too tired to make it
Be my breath so I can walk

If I need some other love
Give me more than I can stand
And when my smile gets old and faded
Wait around I’ll smile again

Bent, Matchbox 20

Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

The storm that had threatened to blanket Port Charles in several feet of snow weakened over Lake Ontario, and by the time it reached the shore, it was nothing more than a few inches coating the streets.

Jason looked out the window of the penthouse, high above the slush and nice, waiting while Sonny fixed himself a cup of coffee, stirring in milk and sugar. He didn’t think he’d ever be truly comfortable in the room again, he realized and took a conscious step backwards to the door. As soon as he ended this conversation, he was leaving and he was really hoping he didn’t have to come back.

“Max told me this was about Sorel,” Sonny said, raising the mug to his lips. “What’s going on?”

“He approached Elizabeth on the pier last night,” Jason said tightly, the image of Sorel holding Elizabeth’s arm and the anxious expression she’d worn flashing in his mind. “I told him if he did it again, he’d end up like Moreno.”

Sonny grunted. “Considering Moreno’s body was dumped by someone else and he’s never turned up—” He shrugged a shoulder. “Told you it wouldn’t work.”

Jason bristled. “I didn’t ask for your opinion.” And he didn’t care that Sonny had been right. It was still none of his business. Damn it.


“I’m just here to tell you that I’m putting a guard on her.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m giving her Francis, and I don’t want you to screw around and reassign him.”

Sonny stared at him, bewildered. “When have I ever—”

“Until Sorel is dealt with,” Jason cut in, feeling the sharp sting of what might be embarrassment. Sonny had never interfered with security arrangements, but Jason just—he didn’t trust that anymore. Didn’t trust Sonny not to think he knew better. “That’s just how it is.”

“Of course. I’m the one who told you that walking away from her wouldn’t work—”

No, walking away and staying in Port Charles and in the business—Jason shook his head. The only way to make Elizabeth truly safe and to escape all the other disasters in his life would be to leave.

He’d been thinking about it for days, since the bomb. Since that day at Kelly’s. He’d walked away from her, but he’d known it wouldn’t be long before he’d change his mind. Knew if she challenged him just one more time, he wouldn’t be able to turn her away again.

He couldn’t do the job anymore. Not without wanting to shove Sonny off a cliff which wasn’t good. He couldn’t walk down the street without running into Carly who was always going to start something—there was no relief, no escape, and the only person who made any of that go away was in danger as long as people knew she mattered.

“I don’t want to hear about how you always know best,” Jason bit out, cutting into Sonny’s response. “I’m just telling you what it is.”

“Wait a minute—” Sonny began but Jason had already turned and yanked the door open.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen, an empty tub in her arms. She smiled tightly at the blonde seated at the counter before setting the tub down. “Laura. Hey. I don’t see you in here often.”

“No.” Laura flashed a smile, setting her purse down before flipping over the coffee cup. “It’s hard sometimes going to places where my memories are so vivid.”

Elizabeth exhaled, nodded. She poured coffee into the cup. “I know. It was hard to come back. This was the last—” She cleared her throat. “We were all here that last night.” And now, that short-lived family she’d thought she’d found—the best friend, the brother, the first love — they were all gone. Nikolas had twisted and turned into someone she didn’t recognize, Emily had left for New York—

And her sweet Lucky was six feet under.

“Luke came by last night,” Laura said. “He said something about wanting to stick around this time. Wanting to spend more time with Lulu. I hope that’s true,” she added, “but it made me think about not really checking in with you lately.”

“Oh, I’m fine—”

“You didn’t think you’d get rid of me that easily, did you?” Laura said with a gentle smile. “Lucky brought you to us, Elizabeth, but I love you. And you don’t have parents in Port Charles to look after you.” She paused. “I wondered if you were avoiding me because of the rumors I’d heard.”

“Rumors?” Elizabeth repeated, then she winced. “Oh. Right. Um, what Nikolas said at the Christmas party.”

“Exactly.” Laura tipped her head. “I hope you didn’t feel like you had to hide that from me. Lucky would want you to move on. To be happy. I want that.”


“And he thought the world of Jason.” Laura’s face tightened. “I blamed him,” she murmured. “And Sonny. For a long time. Maybe part of me still does.”

“They said it was an accident—”

“I know. And if it hadn’t been—Luke or Sonny would have done something. It was comforting to have someone to blame,” Laura admitted. “To have a place to put all that anger. Someone to scream at. And Sonny would have let me keep blaming him, I think. Jason, too.” She paused again. “How long have you been seeing each other?”

“It’s not—” Elizabeth bit her lip. It wasn’t like that, she’d wanted to say, but it didn’t feel like the right answer anymore. Something had shifted in the last few weeks, though she really couldn’t pinpoint exactly how or when. When Jason had told her that they couldn’t see each other anymore, it had felt like he’d taken a dagger to her, slicing her open so that all of her nerve endings were on display. Would it feel that way if Nikolas or Emily had said the same?

And then there had been that conversation yesterday, when she’d begged him to admit he missed her, and he’d looked at her—and it hadn’t felt like friends then, either. He’d nearly kissed her, too. Elizabeth didn’t have a lot of experience, but she knew that much. It was all a mess and insane inside her head. She didn’t know how to talk about it, how to feel.

“I’m sorry, that’s an awfully personal question to ask, and you certainly don’t owe me any answers.”

“No, I—” Elizabeth hesitated. “We’ve been friends for a few months,” she managed. “I don’t really know when it changed. Or how. Or what any of it means. It’s—I didn’t even realize that it had.” She’d asked Jason to dance that night before he’d been shot, and she’d been trying to pretend he was Lucky. But it hadn’t worked. Had she felt it even then? “I’m not sure when I stopped feeling like I’d died, too.”

“Oh, baby.” Laura squeezed her hand. “I’m so sorry. I wish I could have been there for you—”

“You lost your son, Laura. I didn’t expect you to take care of me, too.” Elizabeth busied herself refilling a sugar canister. “It’s confusing,” she continued, “because I still feel like part of me is betraying Lucky. Or not betraying. That doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s just—I don’t know. I feel like there’s still part of me that’s locked up in who I used to be. And the rest of me is figuring out what’s next, and it’s all fighting inside my head. I sound insane,” she finished with a roll of her eyes.

“Grief is complicated,” Laura told her. “And I’m happy to see you coming out the other side. Even if it’s not with Jason, it’ll be someone else. Some day. Lucky loved you, Elizabeth. And I’m so glad my little boy got to have that kind of love—” Her voice faltered. “I’m so grateful you had one another. But you didn’t die in that fire, sweetheart. You have the rest of your life to live.”

“It took a long time to figure that out,” Elizabeth admitted. “But I got there. Thank you. For making me feel like it’s okay. There’s not a lot of people who have.”

“No one else matters but you. Your heart will tell you when it’s ready.”

Thursday, January 13, 2000

Elm Street Pier

Jason shoved his hands in his pockets, crossing from Pier 52 towards Elm Street and Kelly’s. Elizabeth’s shift was supposed to start soon, and he thought he might stop in for some coffee. Or just to see her. The only part of his day that didn’t feel like a battle was when he was with her.

“There’s Daddy!”

Jason stopped short when Carly stepped from around a corner, Michael in her arms. He expected to see AJ lurking somewhere, but no. Carly was holding Michael out to him. The little boy was twisting, his beloved face screwed up in confusion. Jason instinctively took a step back, keeping his hands in his pockets.

“What are you doing?” he demanded roughly, but Carly ignored him and set Michael on his feet.

“Mommy?” the toddler sniffled, then looked at Jason. “Daddy?”

His breath caught in his throat. “What?”

“I show him your picture,” Carly said, her eyes damp. “And he remembers you, Jason. We can still be a family. You just have to let us—here—hold him—” She lifted Michael and pushed him at Jason, almost forcing him into holding the boy he loved more than anything in the world.


His stomach rolled even as his arms reflexively tightened around the familiar body. Michael was so much larger than the last time he’d seen him, since he’d held him—

Jason had to stop himself—this wasn’t his son. He wasn’t Michael’s father. And what Carly was doing was so goddamn damaging—

“Daddy?” Michael said again.

Jason exhaled slowly, kissed Michael on the forehead. “Go with your mother,” he said, his voice faltering as he returned him to Carly.


“Don’t ever do this again,” Jason said, even as her tears slid down her face. “I’m not his father, and this—” He looked at Michael and the confused blue eyes, the hands reaching for him. “This is the last time I’m going to warn you. Leave me alone.”

He turned and bounded up the nearest set of stairs, not caring where he went as long as it was as far away from Carly as possible.

But maybe there was nowhere he could go, no escape to be had. Carly and all the terrible mistakes he’d made because of her would haunt his steps. As long as he stayed in Port Charles.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth’s hands were shaking as she pushed through the door, grateful that her shift was starting in the slow period between breakfast and lunch. The dining room was nearly deserted, the only sounds from the back were the cook and bus boy cleaning dishes.

Bobbie was sitting by the counter, looking over the books. She smiled at Elizabeth. “Hey—” Then the smile faded. “Are you all right?”

“I—” She bit her lip. Bobbie was Carly’s mother, it seemed unfair to drag her into any of this, but— “I was on the docks. And—and I saw Carly.”

“Oh.” Bobbie closed her eyes. “What did my daughter say?”

“It wasn’t about—I didn’t talk to her. But I overheard—” She took a deep breath. “Carly brought Michael to the docks to run into Jason—and that would be bad enough, except that she’s been showing him pictures of Michael, and he called Jason daddy, and Jason had to walk away—”

“Oh my—” Bobbie dropped the pencil. “What did Jason say? Is he all right?”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth admitted. “I—I was just—I saw it. But they didn’t see me. I—” She’d stayed hidden, wanting to see how Jason acted with Carly. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about that night on the docks, when he’d looked at her, and then he’d looked at her mouth—Elizabeth thought he was going to kiss her—which seemed insane—except she’d been there.

Now she wished she’d said something, stepped out of the shadows, anything to stop what had happened.

“She just never learns,” Bobbie said. She put her head in her hands. “I thought she was doing better about this Jason thing. Letting go—”

Elizabeth frowned in her direction, and Bobbie stopped, sighed. “Okay, I knew she wasn’t. That stunt she pulled last month, using me to get in to see Jason at your studio—”

Elizabeth really didn’t want to think about how Carly had waltzed in and out of the studio, pulling fire alarms, driving Jason insane—not that it mattered. Jason had been putting up with Carly for years—

Bobbie took a deep breath. “But she wasn’t getting a choice anymore. Jason’s been cutting the ties. Finally. For both their sakes. I know he put up with things longer because of Michael, but I really thought he was starting to see clearly.” She met Elizabeth’s eyes. “I thought maybe you were part of it.”

“I have nothing to do with Jason and Carly,” Elizabeth said, “and I don’t want to.” She’d pushed back against Carly when Jason had needed his space but he was an adult and could handle himself. At least, she thought he could. But what kind of defense could he muster against an attack like today?

“She was so angry when Jason gave up visitation last year,” Bobbie continued, more to herself. “Hurt, too, I think, because Jason staying in Michael’s life kept the hope alive. But it was upsetting Michael and it was just—Jason realized he was never going to be Michael’s father again.” She scowled. “And now you’re telling me she’s showing Michael pictures— Keeping the memory alive. Oh, AJ is going to be livid if he finds out—”


“Carly’s my daughter, and I love her, but sometimes—” Bobbie closed her eyes, exhaled slowly, and gathered herself. “Sometimes,” she repeated, “it feels like a lot of work. Which is a terrible thing to say and no mother should ever say it about their child—”

“It’d be different if you’d raised her,” Elizabeth assured her. “It just would. It’s only been, what, two years since you even found out she was yours? You’ve been so good to her, Bobbie. She’s lucky to have you.”

“Well, that’s kind of you to say—”

“It’s just the truth. I’d—” Elizabeth shook her head. “Look, I know I just said it would be different if Carly had grown up with you, and that’s true. But sometimes you just can’t love the person you’re supposed to. My mother didn’t love me.”

“Oh, Elizabeth—”

“And it’s not because I didn’t want to be a doctor or I wasn’t a good student.” Elizabeth turned away, returned to adjusting and moving chairs, resetting table places. “She didn’t want kids. Dad already had Steven, and they compromised because he wanted another kid. So there was Sarah. I was an accident, and my mom had to give up this huge fellowship that would have been amazing for her career.”

“Sweetheart, that doesn’t mean—”

“I overheard her when I was maybe eight or nine,” Elizabeth said. “Telling Gramps that it was a shame that I couldn’t just come live with them. She said they knew how to handle me better. And she said if it wasn’t for Lizzie, who knows where I’d be in medicine? Lizzie came along and ruined everything.”

Bobbie scowled. “I hope Steve ripped her a good one—”

“In his way. He convinced her to let me stay for the summers, but then he died and Gram didn’t feel much differently than my parents.”

“Audrey loves you—”

“I know. I know she does,” Elizabeth repeated when Bobbie looked worried. “Which is more than my mother. I think my father did, too, but you know—he’s not here either. He didn’t know what to do with me. And neither does Gram most of the time. So they gave up. Anyway, this isn’t my pity party. I’m just saying blood doesn’t create a family. It’s not automatic. You and Carly are still working on it, and I know she loves you.” Her stomach twisted as she said it. Carly just couldn’t see how lucky she was. “But you’re not always going to like everything she does, Bobbie.”

“I just—I see her making so many of the same mistakes I did. I lied to keep a man who I thought was supposed to love me. I made myself miserable so many times, and I was too scared to take the chances I should have—” She shook her head. “I lied, I cheated, I schemed, I stole, and I didn’t always care who I hurt. Carly comes by it naturally, Elizabeth, which is why I’m trying to do better by her. It hurts to see her going down the same road.”

“You should tell her that the next time you see one another.” Elizabeth made a face. “I may not understand Carly most the time—” All of the time. “But I know she loves Michael, and I don’t doubt she honestly believes Jason is better for him. But she made decisions last year that made all of that harder.”

“She certainly did, and she didn’t ever truly understand that Jason’s affection for her was always tied to Michael. He was in love with the idea of that family.” Bobbie sipped her coffee, her eyes clouding over. “And how much it must have hurt for Michael to call out to him and Jason to walk away.”

She hadn’t been able to see his face, but it must have killed him, Elizabeth thought, flashing to the way he’d looked that day on the docks when he’d watched Michael with AJ, and he’d held on to the hat Michael had dropped.

“Maybe you should check on him,” Bobbie suggested.

“I—” Jason was so closed off about these kinds of things—he’d only ever opened up when she’d accidentally forced it. But she was worried about him. She knew there were issues with Sonny, that something had happened with Carly—how much worse would he be feeling right now? “Maybe, I guess. But I have to work—”

“I’ll call Penny to cover,” Bobbie said. “She was asking for more shifts anyway.”

“All right, then I will.”


It had been at least a year since Jason had come to this place. More than, he realized as he stepped to the middle and looked out over the horizon. It had been Stone and Robin’s place originally, he remembered, but he’d never forget seeing the quiet, lovely Robin standing here with her tragic eyes.

Robin might have broken him into little pieces the year before, but Jason could see now all the ways he’d done the same to her over the years. Every minute he allowed Carly into their lives—when he’d chosen Michael over Robin, and she’d felt like there was no choice. He’d been furious with her—and still was, he admitted to himself. Even if she had ultimately been right, it should have been Jason’s mistake to make.

He rested his hands on the edge of the bridge, his fingers curling into the stones, staring into the darkness. Walking away from Michael today had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. Even more than last spring. He loved that little boy, but Jason would never be his father.

And he wanted to be as far away from Carly as he could get. How was he supposed to shut her down, to make her stop? The only time she’d ever truly left him alone was when she’d been more worried about Tony Jones and keeping him on a string. She didn’t have anyone to distract her this time.

Which meant she was going to make being in Port Charles miserable for the foreseeable future. How was he supposed to handle that?

He pushed away from the bridge and headed back to his bike. He needed to get some sleep, to take a shower. To just put this away and not think about it anymore.

Harborview Towers: Hallway

It felt almost intrusive to come to Jason’s penthouse without an invitation, but just like the last time, the men at the security desk gave her access to the penthouse level without questions. The doors opened and she stepped out, unsure.

How was this any different than Jason stopping by the studio? He’d done that a few times before the bombing incident, and he’d walked her home the other night. So what if she’d never been to his place?

“I’m a moron,” she muttered, making the turn to Jason’s penthouse. She knocked, then waited.

“Miss Webber?”

She turned and found the dark-haired guard, Max something or other. “Yes?”

“Dougie was supposed to tell you to come over here when he sent you up.” Max craned his neck to the other penthouse. To Sonny’s. “Jason’s not here, but Sonny said you could wait with him.”

Elizabeth hesitated. That didn’t feel like such a good idea. There had been a strange tension with Jason and Sonny since the shooting. Jason had refused to let Sonny help him and had referred to not being sure he could go back to the way things were. Either way, she wasn’t sure it was a good idea.

She knew that something had happened with Carly, too—and she wondered if those events were related.

But maybe she didn’t know what she was talking about. Jason had returned to work for Sonny, hadn’t he? She followed the guard into Sonny’s darkly decorated living room. The man in question was sipping a bourbon at the minibar.

“Hey, Elizabeth.” He nodded at the bar. “You want something? Water, maybe?”

“Uh, no, I was just—” She glanced over her shoulder but Max was already closing the door. “I was just dropping by. I thought Jason was home—I don’t know why they let me upstairs if he wasn’t—”

“I said you could wait with me. He should be home soon.” Sonny sat, relaxed in a chair. “Have a seat.”

“I don’t know—we didn’t have plans—he’s not expecting me, I mean—” She licked her lips. “I just thought—anyway—”

“It’s all right. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

Elizabeth frowned, folded her arms. “I don’t know about that,” she said slowly. “You’re Jason’s friend. And you—” She cleared her throat. “We’re friendly,” she said finally. “I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

“Fair enough.” Sonny sipped his drink. “I’m glad Jason changed his mind. About you,” he added. “I know things were tense after the bomb on New Year’s, and he got a little scared. He’s backing down, isn’t he?”

“I—” She nearly said yes, but then didn’t finish. “I should just call him—”

“I told him he should,” Sonny continued. “You’ve been good for him. Better than Carly.” His mouth twisted and he got to his feet. “You don’t like her either, do you?”

“I don’t know a lot of people who do,” Elizabeth said, slowly, “but I really—”

“You’re exactly what he needs,” Sonny cut in. He set the tumbler on the minibar and put a hand on her shoulder, sliding it down to her elbow. “I hope you’ll be patient while he figures that out—”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, but she had no idea what she was supposed to say. How to understand why Sonny had pulled her into his home—and why it felt so wrong—like he was pumping her for information.

The door opened, and they both turned, surprised at the interruption, Sonny’s hand sliding from her elbow. Jason stood there, a terrible look flashing in his eyes before the iron wall slid down.

“What,” he said, in that cold tone she’d never heard directed at her before, “the hell is going on?”

This entry is part 4 of 37 in the Counting Stars

Today was gonna be the day, but they’ll never throw it back to you
And by now, you should’ve somehow realized what you’re not to do
I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now

And all the roads that lead you there were winding
And all the lights that light the way are blinding
There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how

Wonderwall, Oasis

Thursday, January 13, 2000

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

It was happening all over again, only somehow worse and the last time he’d been almost numb from the searing pain of being shot. There was nothing to erase the pain now.

He’d heard from the guys in the lobby that they’d sent Elizabeth upstairs to wait for him, and Jason had paced impatiently as the elevator climbed to the fifteenth floor. He’d forgotten thoughts of taking a shower or getting some sleep. He knew if he saw her, he’d feel better. They’d go for a ride and everything would make sense again.

At least for a little while.

But Elizabeth hadn’t been outside his place. Max had cheerfully told him Sonny had her waiting with him, and Jason had just—he’d blanked out. He didn’t even really understand it, but he’d closed down inside like a light switching off.

He’d shoved past the guard and pushed the door open without bothering to knock—and there they were—Elizabeth standing close to Sonny, looking up at him, and Sonny—Sonny had his goddamn hands on her.

“What the hell is going on?” Jason demanded as Sonny stepped back, his face flushing. Elizabeth blinked, and looked at Sonny with confusion, then back at Jason.

“Jason—” Sonny began. “This isn’t what it looks like—”

“No?” he retorted. “It looks like it did a month ago—”

“What are you talking about?” Elizabeth asked, looking back and forth between them. “What do you think it looks like—”

“She’s not Carly,” Sonny snapped.

“Is that the only thing stopping you?” Jason gestured at Elizabeth whose eyes were wide.

“What do you take me for?”

“Not a whole lot,” Jason growled. “Not after—”

“And apparently you don’t think very much of me either.”

Her quiet voice broke in, and Jason stopped, reality sinking in. He focused on Elizabeth, on the pallor of her skin, the flash in her eyes. If it had been just the anger, he might have had a chance, but it was the misery and embarrassment—hurt—he saw. “Elizabeth—wait—”

She shoved past him, pulling the door shut behind her, Jason nearly slamming into it as he went after her. Before he could get it open, Sonny had dragged him back.

“What the hell was that about?” he hissed, shoving Jason against the door. “Accuse me of whatever you want—but don’t you ever—”

Jason pushed Sonny away from him, his arms exploding out so fast that Sonny stumbled and fell. “What the hell am I supposed to think? She’s here, you’ve got your hands on her—”

“You want to be mad at the whole world because I slept with that whore,” Sonny thundered, “you go right ahead and do that—but you don’t get to take it out on a girl who’s done nothing but stand by you and risk everything for you—”

“Just shut up!” The horror of what he’d done was hitting him and the last thing Jason wanted to hear was Sonny grandstanding like he was some moral authority. “Shut up,” he repeated, dragging his hands through his hair. “It wasn’t about her.”

“No. No, it wasn’t.” Sonny got to his feet, his hair disheveled, his eyes burning. “But you think I’m low enough to seduce someone like Elizabeth Webber, don’t you?”

Jason closed his eyes, shook his head. He didn’t really think that, did he? “No,” he said, but his voice was quiet. “No—”

“Because I sure as hell didn’t have do much more than crook my finger at Carly,” Sonny snarled. “She was looking for a way to hurt you, Jason, and I was feeling crappy enough to let it be me—”

“Shut up—” Jason took a deep breath. “Just shut up,” he repeated. “I have to go.” He yanked open the door and slammed it behind him.

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

“Mama—” Carly smiled as Reginald showed Bobbie in, and her mother closed the door behind her. “This is a surprise—” Her smile faded when she got a good look at her mother’s expression—the banked fury in her eyes and the grim set of her mouth. “What?’

“You’ve been showing Michael pictures of Jason,” Bobbie said, and Carly broke eye contact, looked away. “Encouraging him to call him Daddy. And then you forced yourself and Michael on Jason—”

Carly folded her arms, refusing to feel guilty, even though her cheeks felt hot. “I didn’t have a choice — he wouldn’t talk to me. You know how cold he’s been—”

“I don’t know what you did for Jason to cut you out this way, but it must have been something bad. Worse than accusing him of kidnapping,” Bobbie added, acidically, and Carly bit her lip. “You had no right to do that to him. To Michael.”

“How do you even know?” Carly threw her hands up. “I sure as hell didn’t tell you, and there’s no way—”

“You did it in public,” Bobbie spat out. “Do you really imagine you weren’t seen?”

More than shame licked at Carly’s throat. Fear. “What—who saw?” She strode towards her mother. “Mama—”

“No one who is going to run to your husband. To Michael’s father,” Bobbie added. “You should be relieved that they only came to me. How dare you do this to that little boy—”

“You don’t understand, you can’t—” Carly’s throat burned. “I just needed him to understand that I’ve been protecting Michael. That I didn’t let him be forgotten—Mama—Jason loves him so much—”

“You had a chance last year,” Bobbie said, cutting in. “You could have simply let the truth out. AJ would have won some visitation. You and Jason could have been a family—but you were selfish. You wanted Michael all to yourself, didn’t you? That’s why you ran from Jason, came to this house, and told the world Jason forced you into it.”

“I was scared—”

“No. You were selfish. You panicked because your first thought was you. Just like it has been since the day I met you. You don’t care about anyone but yourself. And you proved that by taking that precious little boy to the docks and breaking Jason’s heart. He had no choice but to walk away—”

“I had a plan! Okay! I was just going to do this long enough to get rid of AJ, to make him go away—I was going to take Michael and bring him back to Jason—we just needed to find a way to make AJ give up his rights—”

“Because you couldn’t live in a world where you didn’t control everything.” Bobbie shook her head. “Well, Jason doesn’t want that future. And he’s done with you. If I ever hear that you used Michael this way again, I will go to AJ myself—”

“You’re supposed to be my mother—”

“And I am. But Michael is my grandchild who never asked for any of this,” Bobbie retorted. “Stop putting him in the middle of your messes. You made this bed, Carly. Now you have to sleep in it. Grow up and start putting your child first.”

Bobbie yanked the door open, and stormed out, leaving Carly to stare after her.


Elizabeth nearly fell into the room, slamming the door behind her and twisting the deadbolt, her hands shaking so badly that she nearly couldn’t manage it.

She squeezed her eyes shut, pressed the heels of her hands to the sockets so hard she nearly saw stars. What the absolute hell—

The whole, disastrous scene had taken no longer than a few minutes but it was like an earthquake had crashed through, blasting her foundation to jagged rocks. Jason had walked in, and looked at her like—had accused her of—

A lot of pieces were falling into place and Elizabeth didn’t think she liked the picture that was emerging.

She’s not Carly.

Sonny had thrown that out like a missile—and Jason—

Is that the only thing stopping you—

The shock was burning off, leaving raw waves of fury. She dropped her hand to her sides and turned at the knock on the door.

He’d come after her.

Slowly, deliberately, Elizabeth crossed back to the door, leaving the shade drawn. She untwisted the bolt and threw open the door.

He was there, tension and frustration radiating from his body as he seemed to tower over her. “Can I come in?”

She almost said no, but she pursed her lips and stepped back, leaving the doorway open. Keeping his eyes on hers, he entered then stood in the middle of the studio, the silence hanging like a bomb waiting to explode.

Elizabeth closed the door, took a deep breath. She could accept whatever apology he was about to give her, and part of her wanted that. Wanted to pretend nothing had ever happened. That it didn’t matter. That it wasn’t about her. It really wasn’t. Not all the way. But it wasn’t enough.


“No.” Elizabeth turned to face him, an eerie calm filling her senses. Suddenly, she knew exactly what to say. “Even if you’d walked in on exactly what you accused me of—”

“I didn’t—”

Even if it had been exactly what you thought it was,” Elizabeth said, speaking over him as if he’d said nothing. Jason closed his mouth, his lips forming an unhappy line, “you don’t own me.”

There was a bright stain of red in his cheeks now. “I didn’t—”

“I’m an adult. If I wanted to roll around naked with Sonny Corinthos on his living room floor, that’s my right.”

The flush faded from his face and now he nodded, swallowing hard. “I know—”

“I am not Carly,” she said softly and saw him flinch. “I didn’t scheme for years to make you fall in love with me and then turn around and hurt you. That wasn’t me. And you have no right to take any of what you’re dealing with out on me.” She paused for a second. “That’s what she did, isn’t it? What they both did. It’s why you’re so angry at them.”


“I thought it might be something like that, but I didn’t ask. It was none of my business. It wasn’t. But you made it my business when you treated me like a slut for being alone in a room with another man—”

“I just need you to—”

“Unless I missed a memo,” Elizabeth continued, brutally, “you don’t get to have a say in who I talk to. You don’t own me,” she repeated. “You’re not my father or my brother—” She forced out the next words, “and you haven’t indicated you want any other relationship that might give you that right.”

“You just need to let me explain—”

“Explain what?” Elizabeth demanded. “Is there something I’ve misunderstood?”

“No.” Jason cleared his throat, dipped his chin to his chest. “No,” he repeated, more softly. “You’ve got it—all of it. It happened that night, and I walked in—” He scrubbed a hand over the side of his face, and some of her anger faded at the misery she saw reflected back, remembering why she’d gone to the penthouse in the first place. “I don’t know if either of them ever planned for me to know, but—” He looked away. “Sonny told me at the boxcar that now I know who both of them are. Like it was some kind of damn lesson he was teaching me—” He paused. “It hasn’t been right since. I’m trying to keep my distance, to get through it. But it’s not working.”

Elizabeth sighed, irritated that she no longer felt that same stirring of righteous fury. “Okay. That doesn’t really explain why you thought—” She should really just drop it. Jason didn’t need to be pushed by anyone else tonight. But she couldn’t quite make it all fit together. There was just one thing— “Why did it matter?” she asked softly. And he frowned at her. “Earlier. You were so angry when you came in. But it was just me. Why would you even care?”

He stared at her for a long moment, then looked away. “I can’t answer that,” he said finally. “I’m sorry—”

“You can’t or you won’t?”


Elizabeth took a step towards him, their eyes meeting. She took another step. Then another, until there was no space between them, the heat of his body drawing her like a moth to a flame. “Was it just because it was Sonny? Would you have acted that way if he’d been with someone else?”


“Then why?”

He closed his eyes, dipping his head, resting against her forehead. Her heart was beating so fast that it echoed in her ears. “Elizabeth—”

“Tell me. Please.”

His thumb brushed her chin, then pressed against her bottom lip. Her tongue darted out to lick it and his body tightened, his hand curved around her neck and then he kissed her. Lightly. Just the touch of skin to skin. Lips to lips. She gripped the lapels of his jacket, tightening her grip as if she could hold him against her forever.

“I couldn’t stand to lose one more thing,” he murmured, and her eyes fluttered closed. “I couldn’t stand to lose you. You’re only the part of my life that makes sense. All that’s left.”

“You won’t,” she promised. She slid her hands up touch his face, to hold him the way she’d dreamed these last few weeks. “You tried to push me away and I wouldn’t go.”

“I don’t—I don’t have anything to give you.” Jason angled his face back, just a few inches so that their eyes met. “There’s nothing left.”

“You’re wrong about that.” Elizabeth leaned up on her toes to kiss him. Nothing quick or soft, but to remind him of everything she could give him. Too many people had taken from him for years. She wouldn’t be like them. She wouldn’t break him. If he could just trust her—just give her a chance—

She pressed herself closer to him, wrapping her arms around his neck, his hands tightening in her hair, tilting her head back, then his hands were at her hips, digging into the skin between the hem of her shirt and her pants. She fisted her hands in his t-shirt, trying to drag it up, a heat building and rising inside that was going to explode if she didn’t find some way to cool off, but she couldn’t find it—

And then there was too much cool air as Jason shoved her away—no, she thought with confusion—she hadn’t moved—he had, and he was by the window, his chest rapidly rising and falling, his face flushed, and the jacket she’d somehow stripped from his shoulders laying on the ground.

“I can’t—” Jason took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “I can’t.”

Elizabeth licked her lips, more from nerves than anything else, but when she saw the way his eyes dropped to her mouth, she perked up. He might not think it was a good idea, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want her.

And what an incredible feeling that was, she thought, with the strangest desire to laugh and smile. To know that someone like Jason wanted her and that she could want, too. She’d been so worried that part of her would never really come back, not all the way. And now it was here, and she wasn’t even scared or worried about what might happen next—

“It’s not you,” Jason said, pained. “It’s not—”

“I know it’s not,” she said softly.

He raked his hands through his hair, leaving it disheveled and—she needed to focus and not think about how she wanted to be the one doing that—

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Jason said. He stooped down to pick up his jacket, breaking eye contact. “You’re right. I don’t have the right to be…” He trailed off. “And even if I did,” he forced out, “I know I can trust you. I do trust you. It was just—”

“The last thing you needed to see today,” Elizabeth said, tilting her head. “I saw you today on the docks with Carly and Michael.” His eyes snapped back to hers. “I’m sorry.”

Jason exhaled slowly, then cleared his throat. “I thought it was hard walking away last year. But today—” He stopped, looked away. He didn’t need to say anything.

“That’s why I came over. To see you.” She stepped towards him, but he circled around her, towards the door, dragging on his jacket. “Jason—”

“I meant what I said. I can’t—” Their eyes met. “I don’t have anything to give you. I don’t have the—” His hand reflexively curled into a fist at his side, his voice roughened. “I can’t.”

And this time, she could believe it. “All right. If that’s what you need from me, we’ll put it away.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up, but it wasn’t a smile. She didn’t know how to describe the mixture of amusement, misery, and irritation in his face, only that it broke her heart. “I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I can do any of this anymore.”

And then he was gone.

Friday, January 14, 2000

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth thumbed through her receipts, trying to find a breakfast order where she was pretty sure she’d given the wrong amount of change. Her brain had felt fuzzy for most of the morning shift—

Since Jason had walked out the the day before, she’d trying to understand what the hell she was supposed to do with any of this. She wanted desperately to be there for him, to help him, but it sounded like not being around him would help, but how could that be the answer?

“You look like you’re deep in thought,” Bobbie said, emerging from the kitchen. “Is everything all right?”

“I think I messed up an order earlier,” Elizabeth said, but she tossed the receipts aside. She couldn’t find what she was looking for, and even if she did— “How are you?”

“I went to see Carly yesterday—I left your name out of it,” Bobbie added. “I was pretty ruthless with her, so now—” She looked at her cell phone. “I’m avoiding her calls.” She poured herself a cup of coffee. “So, you know, taking the mature route.”

“Sometimes avoiding something or someone is the best way—” Elizabeth returned the receipts to the drawer and decided to count the drawer again. Maybe she’d messed up the count, not the receipts.

“I suppose. Did you catch up with Jason yesterday? I’m worried about him, but I don’t feel like the right person—”

“No—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I mean, I did. But he didn’t really want to talk about it. He was upset, but I can’t fix it. Nothing can.”

“Nothing except time. And distance.” Bobbie leaned against the counter, studying her. “Maybe he just needs a break from all of this. I don’t know. I think sometimes we all forget it’s only been four years. He’s lived a thousand lifetimes in that amount of time.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true.”

“So have you,” Bobbie pointed out. “Since you moved to Port Charles. I think that’s why you suit each other so well—”

Elizabeth blinked, looked at her confusion. “What?”

“You and I both know Nikolas wasn’t telling the truth at the Christmas party, but I’m not blind, Elizabeth. I can tell you care about one another. I encouraged Jason to move out of the studio. Did he tell you that?”

“I—” Elizabeth dropped her eyes back to the cash drawer. “I don’t understand. If you—”

“Because it was a lovely little bubble you’d created in that room.” Bobbie stroked a comforting hand down Elizabeth’s back. “But bubbles don’t last. And I knew he was running from something. Reality had to crash in sometime, and sooner would be better than later.”

“I suppose. I just—” Elizabeth exhaled slowly. What did Bobbie know? Was it her business to tell her? “I know what’s going on. At least part of it.”

“I have my suspicions,” Bobbie said. “After all, I know my daughter. And while you and I might have saved his life, we shouldn’t have been his first choice. But you don’t have to say anything.”

Elizabeth nodded tightly. “It’s messed him up. Like deep down. It’s shaken who he thought he was and what he knew, and it’s not gonna matter how many times we go out on the bike or talk, or—” She closed the cash drawer. “I don’t want to be someone who uses him, Bobbie. Or takes him for granted.”

“You couldn’t—”

“It would be so easy. Because he’s looking for something to make it better, and I could do it for a little while,” Elizabeth murmured. “For moments. Here and there. I can make it go away when we’re together. And I think I can convince him to let me try. I almost did last night.”


“And it might be what I need, you know? It would make me happy to give him that peace. Or those moments. And I want to—” Elizabeth shook her head. “I want to be with him. I want to be selfish and push for it, but it’s not what he needs.”

“What does he need?”

“You already said it. Distance,” Elizabeth murmured. “Every time he sees Sonny, every time he sees Carly, they slice at him. They make him feel like he’s the unreasonable one, like he’s the crazy one. And it’s killing him.” Her voice faltered. “And it’s going to break him eventually. Turn him into someone he’s not. Someone that isn’t Jason anymore. I don’t want that for him, Bobbie. But I don’t see any other way.”

Bobbie opened her mouth, but the bell over the door jangled and both women turned to see Nikolas Cassadine striding in. Bobbie grimaced, and Elizabeth just sighed.

“Hello,” Nikolas said warily. He sat at the counter, flipped over the coffee mug. “I was hoping you were working.” He flicked his eyes to Bobbie before focusing on Elizabeth. “We haven’t really talked since Christmas.”

“You mean since you tried to slut shame me in front of the entire town? You’d think you’d take the hint when I didn’t return your calls.” Elizabeth stepped back. “Bobbie, you mind if I take off early—”

“No, wait—” Nikolas held out a hand. “Please—”

“You know—” Elizabeth glared at him. “When I first moved to town, we didn’t like each other. You thought I was Sarah’s bitchy little sister, and I thought you were an an arrogant dismissive prick who deserved to be punched repeatedly. I think we had the right idea. Lucky and Emily aren’t here anymore to give us common ground. Let’s just stop pretending.”

“I wasn’t pretending—”

“No, you just liked me better when I was a fragile little damsel that your brother had to take care of, and you thought you could step in.” Elizabeth sneered as he flinched. “You got screwed over by Katherine, and I’m sorry for it, Nikolas, but what about any of that made you think I was going to be waiting in the wings? The second I rejected you on my birthday, you’ve treated me like dirt. And when you found out that I’d chosen someone else to move on with, you decided I was a whore. You broke into my studio, assaulted Jason, and insulted me. And then you humiliated me in front of everyone we know. Why the hell would I ever accept an apology from you?”

Nikolas exhaled slowly. “I didn’t handle things well—”

“Handle what?” Elizabeth demanded. “I don’t want you. I have no obligation to you. You don’t own me.” She flattened her hand against her chest. “I own me. I get to make my own choices. What is there to handle, huh? You tried to kiss me, and I said no. Get over it. I did.”

“Yeah, it’s easy for you to get over things, huh?” Nikolas tossed back, jerking to his feet. “You got over Lucky real fast—”

“How dare you—” Bobbie snarled.

“And I guess Jason was man enough to handle you, huh? We know Lucky wasn’t—” Nikolas broke off abruptly.

“What the hell does that mean?” Elizabeth bit out. “What are you even saying to me—”

“You claimed to love my brother,” Nikolas retorted, “but I know you couldn’t let him touch you—then Jason comes along—”

Elizabeth was too stunned to react, but Bobbie wasn’t. The nurse was already coming around the corner as Nikolas spoke, and grabbed his arm, propelling him towards the door.

“Get out,” Bobbie said, putting herself between Nikolas and the counter. “Get out right now and don’t come back.”

“No problem.” The door slammed shut behind him. Bobbie turned back to Elizabeth.


“It’s not—” She closed her eyes. “It’s not true. What he said. It’s not.”


“I loved Lucky. I did—”

“I know you did.”

“And we would have—it would have happened. I just wasn’t there yet—”

“Elizabeth—” Bobbie came back around the counter. “Of course not. Nikolas—he’s just—I don’t know. But you have nothing to explain to me, to him, or anyone else. Lucky would never, ever be upset that you’d moved on. Anyone thinking he would didn’t know my nephew. He loved you.”

“I need—can I—”

“Go. Go. I’ll cover until Penny gets here for the lunch shift.” Bobbie embraced Elizabeth swiftly. “Go.”

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

Jason had timed the visit to the minute, waiting for the signal from Reginald on the terrace that the coast was clear.

“Everyone is out of the house,” Lila’s devoted butler and servant told Jason as he opened the doors to the room. “But Carly will probably be back in an hour. I’ll let you know if she comes sooner and keep her out.”

“Thanks. I won’t be long.” Jason managed a smile for his grandmother and waited for Reginald to leave, closing the door behind him. “How are you?”

“I’m well, my darling.” Lila squeezed his hands and offered him a warm smile. “Reggie said you sounded quite urgent on the phone. I would have come to you—”

“No, this is fine.” Jason perched on the edge of the sofa, his shoulders tightening just at the thought of this room. Of the terrible memories of trying to exist in this house for as long as he’d managed it after the accident.

Was there any corner of Port Charles didn’t feel like it was choking him?

“How are you?” Lila asked. “I had hoped to see you after Christmas.” She arched her brows. “I’ve heard some lovely rumors.”

Jason exhaled. “That’s—” He drew back. “That’s not why I’m here.” But her face fell and he found himself irritated. Why couldn’t he ever say the right thing? And why couldn’t he go back to not giving a damn? “Elizabeth—she’s important. I just—it’s just—it’s hard to explain.”

“You don’t owe me anything, darling,” Lila said softly. “I just want you to be happy, and I know you haven’t been in so long. I wish I knew what I could do to help.”

“You help just by being who you are,” Jason promised. He squeezed her hand, relieved when she brightened. “The hospital party—it was annoying. Nikolas Cassadine upset Elizabeth, I know he did. And we weren’t—I mean—it wasn’t what everyone said, but—”

“I don’t care about everyone, Jason dear. I only care about you. I mentioned the party because I consider Elizabeth a lovely young woman. I’m sorry she was hurt by what happened. And now I’ve upset you and distracted you from your purpose—”

“You could never upset me,” Jason reassured her. “I know you mean well, and Elizabeth likes you, too. It’s just—” He could say this to her. She might understand. “I came because I’m thinking of leaving. Port Charles, I mean. For good.”

Lila stared at him for a long moment, her blue eyes that everyone said he’d inherited, digging into him. “Is that you need, my darling? Will it make you happy?”

“I—” Jason shook his head. “No,” he admitted. “But it will make everything else stop. I need it to stop.” And because she was Lila, she didn’t ask for explanations. Or justifications. She nodded.

“All right. You’ll stay in touch? Reggie will make sure no one knows,” Lila told him, and he nodded. “Then you’ll go traveling. That sounds marvelous, darling. I haven’t been able to since I—” She tapped the wheel chair. “Edward always offers, but I’m not quite up to it the way I was once. You’ll have to do the exploring for me and tell me everything.”

“I will.”  Jason paused. “Can I—I need you to do something for me.”

“Of course.”

“She doesn’t need it, and she’d never ask for anything. But Elizabeth—” He hesitated. “She doesn’t have a lot of family. And I just—I’d feel better if I knew—” He shook his head.

“Jason, dear—” Lila reached out and he took her hand. “I will, of course, look out for her. Emily asked me the same, you know. To invite her for tea once in a while. But if you care for her so, do you think leaving is best?”

“I—” The thought of not seeing her, not even in passing, of not being able to sit on the bench and listen to her rambles or ask about her art, to watch her smile, or listen to her laugh— “If I could stay, it would be for her,” he managed. “But I can’t.”

“All right then. I love you, Jason. And I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“I’m not looking for anything,” Jason said and got to his feet. Nothing except a little bit of peace and quiet. A minute away without worrying what Sonny or Carly would do to him next.

He just wanted to be away from it, and if he stayed—he’d be angry all the time. The way he’d been after the accident. The way he’d been at the penthouse last night, lashing out at Elizabeth. She might think she could handle it, and maybe she could—but he never, ever wanted to put that look on her face again.

This entry is part 2 of 37 in the Counting Stars

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinkin’
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

Don’t Speak, No Doubt

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Elm St. Pier

“Let me—” Sorel clawed at Jason’s hand, but the words were choked out. He couldn’t breathe. Elizabeth looked around frantically. Oh, God, what if someone saw Jason—he’d just been trying to help—would they believe Sorel had threatened her? Had he really? Technically?

“What happened to Moreno,” Jason said, his voice low but firm and very nearly terrifying, “will happen to you. If you speak to her again, if you even look in her direction—there will be no negotiations. I will find you, and I will end you—”

Sorel nodded rapidly, and Jason released him. Sorel clambered to his feet, and rushed up the steps and around the corner, Jason waiting until he was gone before he whirled around, his eyes still angry, his chest heaving.

“Are you okay?” he demanded.

“I—” Elizabeth swallowed hard. The entire exchange had taken maybe a minute, and she couldn’t quite catch her breath. “I—yes—”

“Why the hell were you talking to him?”

Her mouth dropped open and she took a step back. “Excuse me?” Her shock was fading, and fury was rapidly seeping in. “What did you just say to me?”

“He was responsible for the bomb, Elizabeth! You should have walked away! This isn’t a game—”

“Did it look like I could walk away?” she snapped and he closed his mouth. “He grabbed me, Jason, okay? I’m sorry we can’t all be that quick on our feet. I didn’t know if I could get away or if there was someone waiting—” Her voice faltered. A game. He’d accused her — Tears stung her eyes and she couldn’t force another word out. How many ways did he have to show her how little he thought of her?

He exhaled slowly. “I’m sorry, I—”

“I’m not an idiot, and I know this isn’t a game. I’m the one that found you in the snow and tore apart my entire life to keep your secret—”

“I know—” Jason dragged his hands through his hair, then scrubbed them across his face. “I know,” he repeated and now he sounded like himself again. “I’m sorry,” he said again, meeting her gaze. “I was—when I saw you—and his hands on you—I just—I reacted. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Any of it.”

She folded her arms tightly, dropped her eyes to the gray, weathered planks of the pier. “He approached me,” Elizabeth said. “I was just standing here, minding my own business. I didn’t talk to him—”


“What’s the point of all of this? I thought you said if we didn’t see each other—” A scalding tear slid down her cheek, and she closed her eyes. God, she didn’t have the energy for this today. Or any day. “I care about you. I don’t know why I have to pretend like I don’t.”

“I’m not asking you to—”

Her eyes flew open and she scowled at him, angrily swiping at her tears. “Of course you are! Or maybe it’s different for you. Maybe you can decide not to be friends with someone and you can just stop caring about them—” Maybe he never had—maybe it had always been in her mind—

“You know I’m staying away because I do care,” Jason cut in sharply, taking a step towards her. He reached out, lifted her chin so their eyes met. “It would be easier if I didn’t.”

“It’s not working,” Elizabeth said. “He still knows who I am. And after this, I don’t think he’s going to believe that I don’t matter.” Her eyes searched his. “So the only thing that’s changed is I don’t get to see you.” She licked her lips. “Do you miss me?”

His hand dropped to his side. “Elizabeth—”

“Do you?” she demanded, desperate for something. For some indication that she mattered to someone

“Yes.” The word was barely audible, barely more than the escape of breath from his lips but she could hear it and it was like a rush of cool water. “Yes,” he repeated, a bit more strongly. “But it’ll never stop. There will always be another Sorel—”

“I miss you, too,” Elizabeth told him and he closed his mouth. “And I think it should be my risk to take.”

He swallowed hard, looked away, then nodded. “You’re right,” he murmured. He took a deep breath. “It’s your choice. I just—” His hand hovered over her shoulder, the tips of his fingers just barely brushing her hair. “I just don’t want to see you hurt.”

“There’s a lot of ways a person can be hurt, Jason,” she replied. “I don’t want to pretend anymore. Or live a lie. Please don’t ask me to.”

“All right.” He nodded. There was another roll of thunder, and Jason looked out over the water, taking in the same storm clouds she’d seen earlier. “That’ll be here in a few hours,” he said. “And if the forecast is right, it’ll be a few days before the weather clears again.” He tipped his head towards the stairs. “Why don’t we take a ride while we can?”

Elizabeth beamed, all of the misery and despair dissipated like the sun had broken through the clouds. “Can I drive?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Oh come on—” She pouted as she followed him up the stairs. “Just for a few blocks.”



Quartermaine Estate: Nursery

Carly closed the door, then lifted Michael from his toddler bed to cuddle with him in the rocking chair by the window. “Hey there, Mr. Man.”

“Mommy…” He snugged closer. “Is it time for my bed time story?”

“Just like every night,” she told him. She reached into her pocket for the small photograph she kept on her body at all times—she couldn’t have anyone else finding it. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Carly who was in a lot of trouble. She was saved by a handsome prince who rode to her rescue and fell in love with her.” She handed Michael the photo. “The princess wanted to live forever with her prince, but the world was mean and she had to leave with her son. But she promised the prince she’d come home one day.”

Carly tapped the photo. “The prince waits for his princess and his son to come home.” She kissed the top of his head. One day, the story would have a happy ending, she was determined. Jason would forgive her—he always did. And she’d find a way to make their family whole again.

Until then, she’d tell Michael his story, and make sure he never forgot who really loved him.”Who’s that in the picture, Michael?”

“My other daddy,” Michael said, a bit drowsy, his words slurred. His eyes fluttered. “Me and Daddy.”

“That’s right. You and Daddy. He misses you all the time,” Carly said. “And just like the prince, Daddy hopes one day I can bring you home.”

Spencer House: Living Room

Laura was restless after Luke had gone, unsure what to think about the new leaf he’d promised he was turning over. Since the moment he’d learned of her affair with Stefan on the island all those years ago, he’d treated her like a stranger.

Even during those terrible days after Lucky’s death, when he’d held her and they’d grieved together, there had still been a distance between them. A coldness that she couldn’t bring herself to understand. How could the man who’d been wracked with guilt over their past just that summer turn away from her so easily?

Laura went to the desk by the front door and started to sort through the mail, tuck away bills and throw out the junk mail, happy to have found a chore for her idle hands and pained heart. Underneath the pile, at the very bottom, she found a copy of a legal document.

The divorce papers she’d had drawn up when Luke had missed Lulu’s birthday that summer, and their little girl had cried at her party, asking why everyone left her. She’d waited nearly a year to file—

But Luke hadn’t been around to serve with the papers. Was it time now? Maybe. She took the papers with her to the sofa, to review the contents. She’d asked for the house and nothing else —

As she sat down, her eye caught the framed photograph Luke had picked up earlier. It was tilted away. Laura abandoned the divorce papers and went to straighten the frame, sliding her fingers over Lucky’s beloved face. How happy he looked in this photograph—Laura hadn’t been at the Christmas party that year, but Bobbie had taken this photo, sure that Laura would love it—Lucky holding Elizabeth in his arms, the two of them listening to Alan Quartermaine read to the children.

They looked so happy, Laura thought. How could it be that her little boy had only been allowed barely eighteen years in this world? And poor Elizabeth, to find such happiness so young, and to have it so cruelly stolen? How much more would the universe throw at her?

Laura hadn’t seen Elizabeth in a few weeks. Maybe even months, she thought. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. She had loved Elizabeth, had looked forward to welcoming her into the family—

Laura set the photo back on the mantel, straightening it so that Lucky faced the room. It was time to start living again, she thought. To move on and start the next chapter. And she’d begin by looking in on Elizabeth and filing her divorce papers.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Nikolas hissed with some irritation as he left the diner. Elizabeth wasn’t scheduled until the next day, Tammy had told him, and if the snow storm didn’t weaken overnight, her morning shift might be canceled.

He wanted to honor his promise to Emily to resolve matters with Elizabeth, though he wasn’t entirely sure how he would manage that if she insisted on keeping Jason Morgan in her life—

Nikolas strode away from Kelly’s and crossed the street, heading towards the waterfront and Elizabeth’s studio. He couldn’t understand, after the year she’d just had, why Elizabeth would want to be around someone responsible for Lucky’s death — it had been Jason’s enemies who burnt down the garage—Sonny must have paid off all the authorities to make sure it was buried, but Nikolas knew the truth—

And despite that, despite everything she knew, Elizabeth had let Jason touch her. His blood began to boil at the memory of Elizabeth and Jason in the studio, her leaning over his bare chest—

She’d forgotten Lucky so quickly, used him as an excuse to push Nikolas away, but Jason—the reason Lucky was dead—he was good enough?

He turned the corner of the stairs to lead down to the pier, then stopped when he heard voices. Familiar voices.

Elm Street Pier

He didn’t even know how it had happened—he hadn’t started the day intending to end it with Elizabeth on the docks, sipping coffee while she drank hot chocolate. The night was bitterly cold, and he knew that he should walk her home.

He just didn’t want to.

The last few hours, on the bike, with Elizabeth screaming in delight behind him, holding on tight—it was the best he’d felt in weeks. And every time he wasn’t with her—

“Are you all right?”

Jason looked over to find her staring at him. She was biting her lip with her eyes narrowed. “What?”

“You just seem…quiet isn’t the right word,” she said, “because you’re always quiet. Which is okay, I guess, I talk enough for five people. Um, I don’t know. It just feels like you’re distracted. Do you have to be somewhere?”

“No,” he said quickly, almost tripping over her words. “No, I don’t. I was just—I’ve missed this,” he admitted and she smiled again. “Even though it’s really too cold to sit out here.” He tossed his empty cup in the nearby trash. “We should get you back to the studio. That storm is going to be hitting in a few hours.” He got to his feet.

Elizabeth sighed. “Yeah, I guess. I’m supposed to open tomorrow—unless the storm closes everything.” She pulled herself to her feet and tossed her cup away. “Are you going to come in tomorrow for coffee like you used to?” She started to climb the steps.

“I—” He grimaced. “Probably not,” he admitted as he followed her. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

She stopped and whirled so suddenly that it took him an extra step or two to realize it. He crashed into her, then snagged her by the waist to keep her from falling down the steps, instinctively pulling her against him.

Startled, Elizabeth rested her arms on his biceps and blinked at him, her lips slightly parted, just inches from his own since she was a few steps above him. He could feel her breath, warm against his skin. Their eyes met, held for a long moment, before he dropped his gaze to her mouth. She licked her lips, and he nearly—

Jason cleared his throat and set her firmly on her feet, his hands falling away from her waist. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice sounding rough and strange to his own ears. Her eyes were wide. “I didn’t mean—”

“Why isn’t it a good idea?” she asked, and he had the oddest feeling that she was asking about more than just coffee at Kelly’s.

“It’s not you,” Jason told her. “I need to lay low for a few days.” Away from Sonny and Carly. Not her. Nothing about how messed up and confusing his life was had anything to do with Elizabeth.

At least it hadn’t until thirty seconds earlier. He’d nearly kissed her. What a colossally stupid move that would be, and she wouldn’t want that—

I care about you. I don’t know why I have to pretend like I don’t.

“Okay,” Elizabeth drawled, clearly unsure. She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket. The leather one he’d bought her for Christmas. She’d worn it even though she’d been angry at him— “Um, should I just—I can get back to the studio on my own—”

“No, I can walk you.” He wanted to. And maybe he needed to. To cling to this one piece of his world that didn’t hurt. “It’s okay.”

“If you’re sure.” Clearly bewildered, Elizabeth turned around and started back up the stairs. Jason closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then followed her.

When they had disappeared, Nikolas stepped out from the shadows and glared after them, all thoughts of resolving matters vanished.