There’s a light at each end of this tunnel,
You shout ’cause you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out
And these mistakes you’ve made, you’ll just make them again
If you’d only try turning around
– Breathe (2AM), Anna Nalick
Monday, August 25, 2003
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Francis pushed open the door, with a smirk on his face. “Mrs. C is here, Miss Webber.”
Elizabeth, at the base of the stairs, rolled her eyes. “Francis, he’s upstairs and I doubt he cares what you call me—”
“No time for this, Muffin.” Carly stepped through the door, a cardboard box in her arms. “There’s ice cream in here and it’s going to melt.” She narrowed her eyes at a thud from upstairs. “What’s going on?”
“They’re taking apart some of the furniture in one of the guest rooms.” She stepped forward. “What’s with the food?”
“My brain must be oozing out of my ears,” Carly said, following her to the kitchen where she set the box on the table. “Sonny’s going to be here in a few hours, and I forgot I got lax about junk food. It’s bad enough he knows where I hide the Oreos and the candy bars. If he finds out the ice cream was in there…”
Elizabeth laughed and started to unpack the box. “Well, at least since Sonny’s back that means he’ll be kicking you out again, so you can just come over here and stuff your face.” She put the pistachio ice cream in their freezer.
“There is that benefit.” Carly glanced out the doorway where she saw several men carrying down a headboard. “Why are you cleaning out one of the guest rooms?”
Elizabeth hesitated and then ducked her head, still not sure that it was all happening. “A few weeks ago, Jason suggested I pick which room I wanted for the nursery. I kept changing my mind, but I decided yesterday.”
“Jason suggested?” Carly pursed her lips. “Well, huh, maybe he was listening.” She unwrapped a candy bar and split it in half, offering one side to Elizabeth. “So…that does that mean things are better?”
“They’re…different,” Elizabeth allowed. They still weren’t talking about what the baby would mean for their relationship, if Jason intended on being her father in truth, and not just in gossip, but she didn’t feel the crushing weight of not being able to talk about how tired she was sometimes, or how her feet hurt.
“Hmmm….” Sounding unconvinced, Carly chewed her chocolate. “I’m having lunch with Mama later, but afterwards, I could always bring some of my books over so we can work on color schemes. I have to settle on Morgan’s nursery colors since he’s due in five minutes.”
“That wouldn’t suck,” Elizabeth said. “Jason and Sonny will probably spend half the afternoon getting caught up anyway.” She smiled and shook her head. “Since it’s not like they can discuss their business over the phone.”
“True story.” Carly popped the last piece in her mouth. “All right, I’ve delivered my known contraband, so I’m going to do another sweep, make sure I didn’t miss anything.”
“I know you bitch about Sonny’s nutrition issues, but I think you enjoy the crap out of figuring out how to get your junk food anyway,” Elizabeth remarked as she walked the blonde to the door, already opened.
“I do,” Carly admitted, “because he knows that I’m doing it, but he can’t figure out how. I just hope he doesn’t realize you’re my dealer until this kid is out of me.” With a wave, she left. “Later, Muffin.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and turned around to see Jason heading down the stairs. Behind her, Francis closed the door. “Hey, did they finish?”
“Yeah,” Jason replied. He slid his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “But they left the carpet where it is. I didn’t know if you wanted to change it.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I can make it work, I’m sure.” She hesitated, feeling a bit apprehensive. Things were better, but they weren’t where they needed to be, and more than once since Jason had suggested setting up a nursery, she’d been urged by Nadine to just talk to the man.
She knew she should. She knew they had to, but she just…wanted more time.
“Carly was by dropping off her junk food,” she said finally. She twisted her fingers in the skirt of her strapless maxi dress. “She said Sonny’s on his way back.”
“Yeah.” He stepped forward took her hands in his, stilling her restless fingers. “But it won’t be like it was last month. Things are calmer.” But the unspoken for now hung between them, and she was determined to put on a brave face for him.
“I’m not worried about that.” She bit her lip, because she hated bringing it up, but knowing she didn’t have a choice. “I know we don’t talk about it much, but I haven’t asked in a while about…” She paused. “Well…your search for Ric.”
Instead of tensing up as she had expected, he just sighed and led her over to the couch. He sat and she curled up next to him. “I told you we had to scale it back when things started to get…complicated here.”
“I know, and I understood.” She really did. For all they knew, Ric had given up after the kidnapping attempt fell through, and there was no point in Jason and Sonny leaving them unprotected on one side to search for a possibly non-existent threat. “I just think we’d all be better off if he wasn’t hanging over our shoulders.”
“I know. I’m hoping we can ramp it back up now that things are under control,” Jason said. “I’d like this resolved before you have the baby.”
Elizabeth frowned, because she wasn’t really sure what that meant. Feeling a little brave, she cleared her throat. “Because you’d like me out of here by then?” she asked softly.
He drew his brows together, and he met her eyes, his own filled with bewilderment. “No. I just…I know your blood pressure is back where it needs to be, and you’ve been healthy. I just…don’t want you worried about it.” He laced their fingers together and stared at their hands. “I told you…I wanted you here. I—I know I haven’t…always made it easy.”
“No,” Elizabeth confessed, “but neither have I.” She rested her head on his shoulder, her forehead against his cheek. “We’re still just living in the moment, Jason.”
“I know.” His was voice was low, almost hoarse. “I know that.”
“This summer has meant so much to me…to finally be with you, to look at you and not have to hide how I feel…but I can’t live in the moment forever.”
His chest rumbled as he exhaled. “I know. We need to…figure out what’s next.”
She nodded, closing her eyes. She didn’t want to read into his words, but she knew a part of her wondered if the reason Jason had such difficulty bringing up the future with her was because he didn’t think they had one.
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
Jason nodded to Max, who opened Sonny’s door. He’d rather be across the hall, watching Elizabeth sketch or read, or do anything. Every moment he spent with Elizabeth felt bittersweet now, because he thought they had almost agreed that what they had was all about the moment, and he knew what she meant about it not lasting forever.
He’d known that all along, but it was the first time either of them had really broached what that might mean. He’d agreed to set up a room for the baby, and hesitantly brought the topic up several times so she’d know she didn’t have to hide it anymore. He hated that she’d felt that way, but he couldn’t go back and change the past. He could only make it better.
“Hey, Jase.” Sonny poured a glass of water. “Carly’s out to lunch with her mother. Liz across the hall?”
“Yeah.” He rubbed his chest, absently. “She still doesn’t leave the penthouse much, which I know drives her crazy. Mostly for the hospital or lunch with her grandmother. Sometimes Carly takes her shopping.”
“Yeah.” Sonny grinned. “Carly mentioned she’d been spending more time than she felt comfortable about with the Muffin.” He shook his head as he sipped the water. “I’d tell her to stop with the nickname, but I think it’s a term of endearment at this point, which pisses Carly off. So really, it’s kind of funny.”
The odd truce that had sprung up between the two women was actually entertaining, Jason had to admit. He was still wary of them spending time together, sure that at any moment, Carly would revert to form, but she was proving him wrong. Carly had always said in the end she was loyal to him first, which explained why she’d stopped hanging out with Courtney, but this was the first time he actually believed that might be true.
“Anyway.” Sonny sighed and set the glass down. “Let’s get down to it.” He crossed to the desk and flipped through some folders. “I got a guy on computers. He’s annoying as hell, because I’m not entirely sure he speaks English and drinks too much orange soda. He’s at PCU, which means he’s younger than I’d like, but Stan told me he’s a crafty motherfucker.” He handed a file to Jason. “Damien Spinelli. He managed to track the money that’s been skimmed off from the casinos to a series of shell corporations. He said he’s still tracing it to the original account holder, but it might take time.”
“So we still don’t know who’s behind this?” Jason glanced at the file on the new hacker and then closed it. He’d go over it more detail later. “Or why they came at us so hard last month, and then just drew back without warning? I don’t like it, Sonny.”
“Me either.” Sonny rubbed the corner of his mouth with his index finger. “It makes me surer we’re dealing with Ric and Faith. I don’t know where they’d get the resources, but that kind of haphazard attack tells me they’re running low. Maybe they thought all the problems would distract us from Elizabeth’s security.” He shrugged. “Not a chance, but I guess they don’t know that.”
“I just…” Jason looked at the ceiling, annoyed at the world. “I just wish we knew if it is Ric, if he’s after you, or still after Elizabeth. If he believed us when we told him it was my child. I don’t know, and I hate not knowing.”
“I underestimated the son of a bitch,” Sonny growled. “He was impatient. Didn’t get the reaction he wanted from you about Liz, so he went after my wife. But he didn’t even bother trying to seduce her or being her friend. He went right for blackmail. It didn’t feel like he had an exit plan.”
“I should have taken him apart the second I saw him going after Elizabeth,” Jason muttered. “I wanted to.”
“Yeah…well…” Sonny rolled his shoulders. “I figured he was so sloppy before, he’d be that way again. But I don’t know, man…if he’s still focused on Elizabeth…”
Jason saw hesitation settle over his friend’s features, and tensed. “What?”
“I think…” Sonny said slowly, “that he was impatient when he was dealing with me, but I’m beginning to wonder if he ever believed Elizabeth was pregnant with your child.” He held up a hand when Jason opened his mouth to protest. “Hear me out. It was a good plan, and I went along with it. It may have made her life difficult for a while, but it offered her a level of protection that she just wouldn’t have had otherwise. But it’s like…Ric is holding on to that, and I keep remember how you said he threatened her.”
“He said he wouldn’t be separated from his child.” Jason scrubbed his hands over his face. “So he’s been screwing with us this whole time. He made us think he believed me when he went straight for Carly and Courtney. He wanted to exact the maximum damage. He knew it was a ploy, and that’s why he announced it to an entire goddamn diner.”
“We were distracted then. By setting up this story, by getting Elizabeth’s security detail settled.” Sonny nodded. “And while we were dealing with the Families and Elizabeth’s safety, he came after the business.”
“Because he thought we might shift our focus again.” It was so goddamn clear now. How the hell had they missed this? “What are they going to do now? They still can’t get to her. I barely let her out of my sight. She has two guards on her when she leaves, and two more she doesn’t even see. We sweep the cars she uses before they get close.” He was going to crawl out of his skin, because all of this meant Ric was still focused on Elizabeth and the baby. He hadn’t fixed a goddamn thing yet.
“Ric has to figure she’s getting close to her due date. I can’t…” Sonny paused. “I can’t decide if he thinks it’d be better to grab her now, and wait for the baby to be born or wait until the kid is here. But it’s insane at this point. He has to know that after all the trouble we’ve gone to protect her, that we’re still sticking with the story…he has to know we’d protect the kid as much as Elizabeth.”
“Which means he’ll be desperate and looking for any opportunity.”
Carly entered the courtyard, Rocco just steps behind her. She hoped like hell Courtney wasn’t working today. She hadn’t seen her in the two weeks since their last run-in and good riddance to her. Why the hell she’d thought that simpering twit was good enough for her best friend, she’d never know.
She wasn’t even sure the Muffin was good enough for him, but they were stupid for each other, which meant Carly hoped they got their shit together and stopped causing her stress.
The sound of her name had her pausing in front of the door. She turned to find Elizabeth’s grandmother and the nurse from the hospital at one of the tables. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Hardy.”
Audrey smiled at her and got to her feet. “Hello, how are you feeling?”
“Fat,” Carly said, always suspicious when upstanding people were nice to her, but she knew Audrey had been an unexpected source of support for her…not her friend, damn it. The Muffin. Audrey supported the Muffin. Damn her life. “Ready to have this baby.”
“Would you join us for a moment?” Audrey asked. She must have seen the confusion in Carly’s eyes, because she smiled. “Just a moment. We won’t keep you.”
“All right.” Carly gingerly lowered herself into the third chair and looked at the perky blonde nurse. Nadia. Nancy. Naomi. Frick. She needed to pay more attention. “Um…I’m not sure we’ve ever really…you know, met.”
“Nadine Crowell.” The other woman smiled. Nadine, that’s right. At least she was on the right track. “I’m sure you’re wondering why Mrs. Hardy and I cornered you.”
“Um…” Carly darted a glance at the elderly woman who had taken her seat again. “The thought had occurred to me.”
“It’s about Elizabeth,” Audrey said. “Nadine and I would like to have a baby shower for her, but we…” She cleared her throat. “I understand from my granddaughter that…for security reasons…” And though phrase clearly pained her, but Carly admired how the woman just forged on. “We may want to have it at the penthouse.”
“It’d be totally easier for gifts, too,” Nadine remarked and Carly wondered idly how anyone could be that goddamn chipper all the damn time. She kind of wanted to smack her to see if she’d stop smiling long enough to cry.
“It’s true that the penthouse would be easiest,” Carly agreed. And then she realized she’d somehow been roped into planning a baby shower for Elizabeth Muffin Webber.
God damn her life. Whatever happened to the bitch on wheels? Pregnancy. That’s what. She was going soft.
Morgan Penthouse: Nursery
Jason hesitantly pushed open the door to the newly designated nursery and found Elizabeth standing in the middle of the room, a sketchbook in her hand and tapping a pencil against her lips. She didn’t notice him right away, so he leaned against the door jamb. She was wearing another one of those stretchy, clingy dresses that told the world that she was pregnant. It should have bothered him—this constant reminder of their expiration date. That once she had her daughter, things between them would change, even end. And yet…it was impossible to ignore that Elizabeth Webber was one of those women who glowed when she was carrying a child.
Elizabeth glanced over and smiled. “Hey. I thought Carly said you were going to be late.”
“I have to go back out tonight,” he told her, “but I’m free for the next few hours.” He looked at her sketchbook. “Do you know what you want to do in here yet?”
Her eyes widened, and he knew she was surprised he was, once again, broaching the subject of her daughter.
She smiled and looked back at the walls. “Yeah. Carly came by while you were meeting with Sonny, and she lugged over almost ever decorating book or magazine she could find.” She chuckled, shaking her head. “Rocco was not happy, but I guess he figures better to keep her happy.” She tapped her pencil idly against the paper. “She’s still trying to visualize Morgan’s nursery, so she actually asked me for my opinion on that.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “Carly and I haven’t argued in like four months, Jason. I don’t know what to do about that.”
This time his smile felt more natural. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Carly never ceases to surprise me. I thought she’d be the most difficult part of all this.”
“I know, right?” Elizabeth crossed to the windowsill to put down the pad and pick up a measuring tape. He hurried forward to take it from her. “Jason, I am capable of—”
“I’m taller than you,” he pointed out. “What do you need?”
She indicated she wanted the length of the walls, from corner to corner, to window, to door so she could make accurate furniture plans. As he did so, Elizabeth continued with their previous conversation. “Carly and I have been at odds for so long, I’m pretty sure that neither of us really remember why.” She hesitated. “Well, that’s not true. She hated me because of that December in my studio.”
“Yeah, she wasn’t a fan of you restricting my visitors.” Jason smiled now, remembering how fierce Elizabeth had been then. He’d seen the sparks in her all that fall, but he’d wondered if she’d be able to stand up to Sonny and Carly when he didn’t want to see them. The two were forces of nature, used to getting their own way, but they hadn’t been prepared for her.
“Hmmph.” Elizabeth folded her arms and lifted her chin. “Well, you didn’t want to see anyone. It was all I could do to make you see Bobbie.” She tilted her head to the side. “That time in my studio, that’s when I knew I was going to be okay. That I would be okay without Lucky. Before then, I was still kind of floundering, not sure how to get on with my life. But…I woke up one day when it was all over, and I realized…” He looked at her, and her cheeks were flushed.
“You realized what?”
“That you weren’t just my friend with the motorcycle,” Elizabeth admitted. “You weren’t just Emily’s brother.” She met his eyes. “You were Jason, and I…I really missed you.”
“I know what you mean,” Jason after a long moment. He wrote down the last measurement and set the tape back on the window sill. “I always knew who you were. I always kept an eye on who Emily was friends with, and I remember seeing you that night at Luke’s, when Nikolas was shot.” He leaned against the window. “And I remember you, with Lucky. That…night at the garage.”
“I only remembered you and Sonny later,” Elizabeth said. She crossed the room and leaned against the wall, facing him. “I remember falling, but not hitting the ground. Bobbie told me Sonny caught me.” Her eyes looked pained. “And I remember going to tell Sonny that I was so sorry Luke was blaming him because the fire had been my fault, caused by the candles I asked him to light.”
“But it wasn’t your fault,” Jason reminded her, hating the anguish talking about those days brought up. “And you know, Lucky’s alive.”
“I know.” Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “But not…not in the same way. He’s mostly okay now, but he’s not that boy anymore. That boy…the one you hired, that idolized Luke and Sonny…that Lucky never came back, and it took me a long time to accept that.” She forced a smile on her face. “But we were talking about how you thought of me before the studio.”
“Right.” Jason didn’t want to talk about Lucky anyway, though he found he was less bothered by her memories of Lucky before the fire then he was by the ones with the living breathing pain in the ass he always had to deal with. “There was the time you and Emily lied to Jake about me saying it was all right for you guys to go see some stupid band.”
Elizabeth laughed, and he was relieved that it was genuine. “Yeah. Oh, wow. I still don’t know why 98 Degrees was playing in some dive bar, but hey…if you hadn’t given us permission that night…I never would have gone that night you and I first…” She hesitated. “It’s weird, because I think of it as the night we met, but it’s not.” She bit her lip. “Or may be it is, because it’s the first time I looked at you and saw someone other than Lucky’s friend or Emily’s brother.”
“You liked the bike, I think,” Jason mused, and she pouted, punching him lightly in the shoulder. “But yeah. I know what you mean. After that, we were friends, but not the way…” He paused, because he didn’t know exactly how to explain this to her. “You took apart your entire life to take care of me. You let people think the worst about you, and you never…once backed down.”
“You needed me,” Elizabeth said. She rested her chin on his shoulder and smiled. “And it was fun, sometimes. It sounds awful, but I used to get a kick out of how everyone looked at me differently. Before I was just little Lizzie Webber, Audrey’s granddaughter, Lucky’s friend. Afterwards…” She laughed. “I was the ex-mistress of an alleged mob enforcer.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “It helped break me out of my shell.”
He laughed, glad she could look back on those accusations with a smile on her face. He’d hated the way Nikolas talked about her, the way he’d used Lucky to make her feel guilty for not wanting him. Jason should have punched him harder. “I’d never had anyone fight on my side the way you did,” he admitted. “If Robin had found me in the boxcar, she would have forced me to go to the hospital. She wouldn’t have listened to me about not wanting Sonny’s help. She would have insisted.”
“Well, about halfway up the stairs to my studio, there were times I wished I’d at least enlisted one of Sonny’s men,” Elizabeth teased, but she shrugged a shoulder. “I knew I could get your medications from Sonny. I knew Bobbie would help take care of you. You weren’t in any danger. Anyway, you just would have left the hospital.”
He chuckled, because of course she was right. In the hospital, he would have been subjected to Carly, to the Quartermaines, to anyone who wanted to walk in his door. And though her studio hadn’t been peaceful, what with Carly, Nikolas and her grandmother barging in all the time, she’d always showed up to kick them out. “How’d we start talking about this, anyway?”
“Carly.” Elizabeth reached around him for her sketchpad and the measuring tape. “Why she didn’t like me. Honestly, I figured I’d be hearing her screaming about this situation every other day based on how often I had to deal with her back then, but she’s been downright pleasant.” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “She’s not up to something, is she?”
“Oh, God, I hope not,” Jason said fervently. Carly with a plan was a dangerous thing. “I’m hoping she’s content with figuring out how to sneak her junk food past Sonny. I do not have the energy to worry about what schemes Carly might be into.” He rubbed his face, exhausted at the mere possibility. “Do you want order something for dinner? Or we could make something.”
“Hmm…” Elizabeth tapped her lip. “How long are you going to be gone tonight?” she asked. “Most of the night?”
“Probably,” Jason frowned. “I have to leave around nine.”
She reached for his wrist to look at his watch. “And it’s five, now.” She released his arm and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I think we should order out. So…that…” She pressed a kiss on the underside of his jaw. “We can do other things.”
“Yeah?” He grinned, resting his hands on either of her hips. “What other things?”
“Have I ever told you about the way a woman’s libido changes during pregnancy?” Elizabeth leaned back and arched an eyebrow. “Some women…don’t feel a difference. Some…can’t get in the mood. And others…” She danced the fingers of one hand down his chest until it rested at the waist of his jeans. “Can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Well, I guess, in that case…takeout is for best.” He slid his hand in her hair and drew her in for a fierce kiss, wishing it could always be as easy it was in this moment.