Counting Stars begins in January 2000. Elizabeth had a bomb in her studio on New Year’s Eve which led to Jason going to Kelly’s and telling her they couldn’t see each other. This picks up just after those scenes. Laura and Stefan’s brief relationship ended earlier than it did on the show, and Luke never got together with Felicia. Instead, he left Port Charles after Lucky’s death and hasn’t been around much. Emily and Juan broke up in the fall. That’s the short back story.
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 particularly skilled in navigating awkward situations. In the four years since he’d woken from the coma that 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 who was 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 on his face 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 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—
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 the 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 her—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.”
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 before, 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?
“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 have 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?”
“I need 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 at him, 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 her 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 away 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. 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 of 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.”
“I know it.” 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—
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?
“It’s so lovely 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 put him on his knees, his fingers squeezing so that 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?”