It’s hard to admit that
Everything just takes me back
To when you were there
To when you were there
And a part of me keeps holding on
Just in case it hasn’t gone
I guess I still care
Do you still care?
– When We Were Young
Monday, March 6, 2006
General Hospital: Nurse’s Station, Pediatrics Floor
It had been just over a week since the World Health Organization lifted the quarantine placed on General Hospital.
Port Charles had turned the page on the deadly encephalitis epidemic that had raged within its town limits for nearly three weeks. It had taken the lives of more than sixty residents, including several doctors, nurses, and orderlies that had risked their lives to care for the sick and dying. Nearly everyone in Port Charles had lost someone or knew someone that had suffered a loss.
Elizabeth Spencer walked beneath a memorial wreath hanging on the wall by elevators, commemorating the student nurse assigned to Pediatrics that had died in the epidemic. She flashed a smile at one of her colleagues, Nadine Crowell, another student nurse who was looking at the wreath and the photograph hanging beneath it. “How are you holding up?”
“Well enough,” Nadine said with a sigh as she reached for a chart. “Regina’s parents left yesterday. They’re taking her home to Buffalo for a funeral. I’m going to try to get a few days, but…” She offered Elizabeth a hesitant smile. “A lot of people are asking for time off for a funeral right now.”
“Yeah.” Elizabeth tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “I went to the last memorial service yesterday,” she said. “For Courtney. Matthews,” she added when Nadine looked at her, slightly mystified. “She’s the one that had the baby before she died?”
“Oh, right. Your brother-in-law’s….” Nadine pursed her lips and squinted her eyes. Still, there was no word really to describe the relationship between Nikolas Cassadine and Courtney, as it had begun while Nikolas was still married to Elizabeth’s best friend. “How is he?”
“He left for Greece this morning. He needed to get away,” Elizabeth said. “He went with Lucky’s sister, Lulu.” She tapped her pen against a chart. “I should call Bobbie, see how she and Lucas are doing.”
“Yeah,” Nadine began as an intern stalked into the hub to reach for a chart. He wasn’t paying attention as he grabbed it, knocking an entire stack to the floor. “Hey, watch it—”
“You watch it!” the intern snapped. “I’m covering twice as many patients—” He looked at Elizabeth, his cheeks flushed. “You know, your best friend called out. Again.”
“Emily?” Elizabeth said. “What—”
“Must be nice to be the daughter of the chief of staff,” the intern snarled before taking the chart he’d come for and storming away. Nadine sighed and knelt down to clean up the rest of the charts.
Elizabeth shook her head and reached into her pocket for her cell phone. “I’m going to text her. Something must be wrong for her to have called out like this—I just saw her yesterday at the memorial—” She looked at Nadine, then frowned. “What? You’re making a face.”
“I will say it’s the third shift that she’s missed since the quarantine lifted,” Nadine admitted. “I thought maybe she was just sick or tired. I mean, we all are—”
“Yeah, but—” Elizabeth sighed, closed her phone. “Well, I’ll check in with her. See what’s up.”
The elevator doors slid open, and Jason Morgan stepped out. Elizabeth lifted her brows at seeing Emily’s brother on her floor. He wasn’t a regular visitor to General Hospital, and even less so to the pediatrics floor. “Hey,” she said as he walked up to the counter. “Are you looking for Emily? She’s not here.”
Jason furrowed his brow, shook his head. “She’s supposed to meet me here—” His phone buzzed at that point, and he pulled it out of the pocket of his leather coat. He grimaced as he read a text message. “And—you’re right. Emily just told me she’s not here.”
“Yeah, I guess it was last minute,” Elizabeth said with a shrug. She picked up a chart, then stopped and sighed. “How’s Sam?” she asked, having remembered that his fiancée, Sam McCall, had been ill with the virus and lost a brother to the illness. “I didn’t want to ask if she was having a memorial for her brother, but—”
“Oh.” Jason cleared his throat. “Uh, she’s okay,” he said. “We didn’t—Danny’s not from Port Charles. So we went to Hawaii to spread his ashes.” He looked away. “But, uh, I know she said she wanted to thank you. I guess…you were Danny’s nurse?”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth said with a wistful smile. “He was really sweet, and I—” She took a deep breath. “We worked really hard, but we just couldn’t—” Her throat felt tight. “I’m just glad we didn’t lose more. Thank God you and Carly got the vaccine here.”
“Yeah. Well, I wish I’d been faster. I wish we’d saved Danny.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to say something else, but then she heard it. A slight creak—the sound of a wheel that needed a spray of WD-40—then the footsteps. She looked past Jason to see the short bald man rolling his janitorial cart down the hallway towards them. He was a slight man, his olive skin heavily tattooed, his dark eyes already scanning the halls and area around him.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and forced a smile on her face. “Um, if you—” Her fingers shook as she reached for a pen as the custodian drew closer. “If you talk to Emily—”
“Are you okay—” Jason stopped as he noticed the custodian drawing towards them. His face tightened as Manny Ruiz flashed them both a smile and offered Jason a two-fingered salute. Then he slowly wheeled the cart past them, disappearing down another hallway.
“I hate him,” Nadine said as she came up behind Elizabeth, offered her fellow nurse a squeeze on the arm in support. “Doesn’t it always feel like he’s watching you?”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth said faintly as she looked to where Manny had disappeared. “Yeah, it does.”
Manny Ruiz had wreaked havoc on Port Charles for months before his capture at Christmas. He was one of Jason and Sonny’s rivals from Miami who had arrived after the slaughter of his father and brother at the hands of Lorenzo Alcazar. He’d engineered a train accident that had killed dozens of Port Charles residents, injuring more than a hundred—including Elizabeth’s husband. Then, he had held the OR at gunpoint to stop them from saving Jason’s life that December.
And of course, Elizabeth had her own experience with the lunatic.
Last October, he’d grabbed Elizabeth from the hospital, taken her hostage, and forced her to tend to wounds he’d received. She’d managed to escape and put it behind her—but Manny Ruiz had stalked her nightmares for months.
Now, he worked at General Hospital as a custodian, thanks to Alexis Davis and Ric Lansing. They had argued Manny wasn’t responsible for his actions due to a brain tumor on his frontal lobe. As if Manny’s particular brand of violence and sadistic torment could be excused so easily.
“That’s why I was meeting with Emily,” Jason said. “We were—I know he started here in January, but that was right before everyone got sick, and he wasn’t here during the quarantine. I didn’t have a chance to do anything—” He squinted at her. “Elizabeth, are you okay?” he repeated.
She blinked at him, realized that she was still looking down the hall—as if making sure Manny was really gone.
“I’m fine,” Elizabeth said finally. “Um, yeah, I think Emily said you were going to talk to Alan, try to convince him to fire Manny—” She wiggled her shoulders. “I’m sorry, I just—I hate him.”
“Yeah, I get that.” Jason tipped his head. “You see him a lot?”
“All the time,” Nadine muttered. She flushed when they looked at her. “Sorry. None of my business. But he’s always pushing that stupid cart past the nurse’s station. I get it, we’re in the middle of everything, but—” She picked up her charts. “I hate him,” she said, then left the nurse’s station to check on a patient.
“Does he hang around Emily a lot?” Jason asked, looking back at Elizabeth.
“I—” Elizabeth shook her head. “No. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe he does. She and I haven’t worked the same shift in a while—” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just—I feel like he’s always there.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “I guess you weren’t able to get Alan to fire him?”
“It’s not up to him, he said. Ruiz is here on some sort of community outreach, and the board is being stubborn. He’s going to keep working, but—” Jason scratched the edge of his eyebrow with his thumb. “Can you—is there somewhere we can talk?”
“Um, sure.” Elizabeth stepped out of the station. It was one thing to talk in public about a common threat, or even just to work together during a crisis like they had during the epidemic. She’d helped him, and Carly get the vaccine into the hospital when the authorities had refused to let him in, but somehow that felt different.
There was something uncomfortable about leading Jason into an empty conference room and closing the door behind her—the first time they’d been alone together since—
She furrowed her brow, staring at the cheap wood of the door. She couldn’t quite remember—maybe it had been here at the chapel, the night Emily had nearly died more than two years ago. Elizabeth shook her head and squared her shoulders. It didn’t matter if she and Jason were alone together, and it was silly to even think it did.
She turned to face him. “What’s up?”
“Alan is hiring two of my guys as orderlies,” Jason told her. “One to follow Manny around, and the other here on the Pediatrics floor because of Emily. But—you said you think Manny is watching you. And that other nurse—she said it’s like he’s always at the nurse’s station. Is she right? Do you think Manny’s watching you?”
“No,” Elizabeth said immediately. “Of course not. There’s no reason—” She folded her arms, looked at the floor. “I would never—I don’t matter—”
His quiet, reassuring tone gave her the courage to look up, to meet his eyes. He didn’t look irritated or annoyed. Just concerned. “I don’t think he’s watching me,” Elizabeth repeated. “Which is different than saying it feels like he is. I think I’m just being sensitive about it. I mean, since last October, when he grabbed me from the hospital—”
Jason held up a hand, and she stopped talking. “I’d forgotten,” he said quietly. “Some of the memories from before the surgery—” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. When Lucky came to tell me and Sam, to look for Manny, I didn’t know—” He swallowed. “I didn’t realize I knew you.”
I didn’t realize I knew you.
She let his words roll around in her head because, man, it was such a simple thing to say. And it was true. But it didn’t feel like enough.
She shook her head. She wasn’t doing this. “Oh. Well, yeah, I knew that. And it’s okay. I mean, he just wanted me to take care of his wound. And obviously, it all worked out. Anyway, like I said, it’s just—it brings back a lot. To see Manny—I had—” She sighed, stared at her fingers. At her wedding ring. “I had some nightmares. It all felt like it got mixed up with…other things.”
Elizabeth met his eyes, realized he had made the connection to what she hadn’t wanted to say. That the way Manny had grabbed her, threatened her—that it had made her think about her rape. “I’m glad you’re going to have someone watching him at the hospital,” Elizabeth said finally. “Lucky said the PCPD couldn’t do anything about it. Officially, the charges against Manny have been dropped. Even mine. So…” She flashed him a bright smile that she hoped looked more confident than she felt. “You’re watching him.”
“Yeah, but you tell me if you think he’s paying too much attention to you, okay? Or anyone—” Jason grimaced and shook his head. “Never mind. I don’t want you worried about him any more than you need to be.”
“No—no, if I see Manny watching someone—I mean, the way he went after Sam and—I want to help. It’ll make me feel better—”
“You are not going to help,” Jason cut in sharply. “Don’t get involved. Stay safe.”
Safe. She scowled. “Oh, you mean, safe at the hospital? Where Manny grabbed me in the first place? Listen, if I see Manny hurting someone, what do you expect me to do? If he starts following someone around, do you think I’m just going to ignore it?”
“No, that would be too easy,” he muttered. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Fine. Fine,” he repeated. “If you see something, then you can tell me. Or Lucky, I guess. I don’t want to make problems for you. But do not get involved.”
“I mean it, Elizabeth. Stay away from him.”
Elizabeth arched her brow, folded her arms, and glared at him. “How dumb do you think I am?”
“I think that you’re incredibly brave and willing to put your life on the line to save someone else,” Jason said, with an irritated tone that made it sound less like a compliment. “So don’t.”
“If I see something, I’ll tell you.” When he just stared at her because apparently, he knew her better than she remembered, she sighed. “But you can’t be everywhere, Jason. You’re not Superman.”
“If I see him following someone or just doing something suspicious, I will call you.” She hesitated. “I, uh, don’t have your number. You—” Her cheeks flushed. “You changed it.”
“I had—” Jason took out his phone, went through his contacts, then paused. “I didn’t realize,” he said after a long moment. “I guess—”
“You haven’t needed to get in touch with me,” Elizabeth said with a nod. No point in getting depressed over it. “Yeah. I didn’t know either. Until we were in the middle of the virus, and I wanted to—” She shook her head. “Anyway. I’ll just tell Emily or something—”
“No—” He held out his phone. “Put your number in. I’ll save it now. And then I’ll call you, and you save mine.”
Their fingers brushed as she took the phone, and she nearly fumbled. But she pulled herself together, typed in her number, then pressed send. Her phone rang in her pocket. She handed his phone back to him. Quietly, they both saved each other’s contact information.
“Thank you for letting me know that you’ll have guys here. And when I find Emily, I’m sure she’ll feel safer, too. I should get back to work—”
“Actually—” Jason grimaced. “I was going to ask Emily if she could do me a favor, but—she’s not here. And I’d rather get it done as soon as possible. Would you mind—”
“Sure.” Elizabeth folded her arms and offered him a smile. “What’s up? What do you need?”
“I need a DNA test run,” Jason said after a long moment. “Without any names attached. Or anyone knowing. Is…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Is that something you’d be willing to do? If you can’t—I mean, I know you’re married. To a cop,” he added as if it hadn’t been implied in the first half of the statement. “Or it might be against hospital rules—”
“It probably is,” Elizabeth admitted. “Patrick owes me a favor, and he won’t ask questions. I promise. You can—” She met Jason’s eyes, swallowed hard. “You can trust me.”
“I always could,” Jason said. He cleared his throat. “I’ll get you the samples then.” He started for the door, then turned back. “Thanks.”