Part One

1
Heaven bend to take my hand
And lead me through the fire

Friday, March 12, 2004

Ric and Elizabeth Lansing’s Home: Living Room

Elizabeth Lansing laid on her back on her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was a Friday morning. Or at least she thought it was. It may have been Tuesday. Her days were all the same. She barely slept now, as she was in the third trimester. She spent the rest of the day shuffling through the rooms of her home, watching television or staring out the window. She had quit her job at Kelly’s and returned to the home she and Ric had rented at the beginning of their marriage, when they had been planning a wonderful life together.

Before the panic room.

Before getting pregnant.

Before the fire at the hotel.

Before…

She closed her eyes. She wanted to stop thinking about the night. About that moment. About the room.

Her son kicked her in the ribs, jarring Elizabeth out of her stupor. She was dully aware of hunger pangs. She should eat—she was eating for two now.

She should get out of bed. Shower. Put on some clothing. Eat. Leave the room.

Maybe even leave the house.

One her night stand, the cell phone vibrated, sliding a few centimeters towards the edge. She turned her head towards it, opening her eyes. The caller ID read Emily.

She ignored it. She didn’t want to talk to Emily. Not while Nikolas was still under suspicion for what had happened to Zander.

Ric talked about his cases at night, after he’d bring her home dinner from Kelly’s or another restaurant. He was working longer hours now that Scott Baldwin had abruptly resigned from the District Attorney’s office, and there were days Elizabeth would have to physically stop herself from remembering the reasons he was unqualified for the position.

The events of last summer was something else she had to stop remembering if she was ever going to regain her sanity, and she was no longer sure of the moral ground. What Ric had done was beyond thinking, beyond forgiveness.

But she was not innocent of any crime herself. How could she hold herself on some sort of pedestal?

2
Be the long awaited answer
To a long and painful fight

Monday, March 15, 2004

Kelly’s Diner

Listlessly, Elizabeth swirled her spoon in her tea, her eyes focused on the sandwich on which she had only managed to nibble a few bites. She could not summon strength to feel hunger, to feel anything. If not for the doctor’s appointment with Dr. Meadows that Ric had scheduled on her behalf, she would still be lying in bed, pretending to watch daytime programming.

“It’s good you’re getting out of the house,” Ric said. His voice was too cheerful, because even he understood that something was not right, though Elizabeth knew he would never suspect.

It seemed fair. She had had no capacity to understand that he was capable of drugging her with birth controls and holding a pregnant woman hostage. She had believed that he may be damaged, but with her love, he could move on to a better life.

He had no capacity to understand that she would kill another human being. To him, she was still on a pedestal, innocent and naïve. Incapable of true cruelty.

Her marriage was not a real marriage. It had never been a real one, not the first time and not this time. She had married him in December to hold off the burgeoning fear that she was alone in the world, and had fooled herself that anyone was better no one.

And now, she just wanted to be left alone. To sit in her room and not look at anyone.

“I can go to my appointment alone,” she murmured. She raised her eyes to his. “I want to go alone.”

“Elizabeth, it’s no trouble, I can rearrange my schedule—“

“I want to go alone,” Elizabeth repeated. “I have the car.”

He hesitated, and she knew he was weighing her ability to drive when he was aware her sleeping habits were not normal and he had not seen her eat much. He was calculating the risk of allowing her to go alone versus the possible public argument that may tarnish his already bad image.

It was comforting. The sun would rise and set in the same direction every day, and Ric Lansing would always be calculating his next step.

“All right.” He reached into his jacket pocket and withdraw his wallet. “Elizabeth, I know you’re unhappy,” he said, his voice just above a whisper. “I would fix it if I could, but I want you to trust me.”

She looked at him, and wished that she could. She wanted to trust him more than anything in the world, because she thought she should able to do so. He was her husband. They had taken vows. If she could not trust him, who could she trust?

She certainly could not trust herself any longer.

“If I thought you could fix what was wrong,” Elizabeth said deliberately, “I would.” She set her spoon down with a resounding clink. “But maybe the problem is that I don’t trust you.” She stood and pulled on her coat, buttoning it over her belly. “I may never really trust you again.”

She tugged her hair from underneath the collar and picked up her purse. “Or maybe what’s wrong just cannot be fixed. I’m not even sure I know the answer anymore.”

She walked away from him, but did not go to the parking lot of her car. She did not want to go to the hospital, where her grandmother might be, with her worried looks and comforting hands. If she saw Audrey, she might say more than was safe.

She had a responsibility. She had a baby growing inside her, and somehow she had to find the strength to care for the baby, to bring it into the world, healthy and safe.

Maybe then, if she could bring a new piece of Zander Smith into the world, have him live on…

It might not matter so much that she caused him to leave it.

She stepped out onto the docks, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. She had been planning to sit on the bench for a few minutes, to look out over the water, and try to find a bit of peace.

Jason Morgan was at the far end of the docks, speaking with another man.

The last person she wanted to see was Jason.

She turned to start back up the stairs, but she heard his voice.

“Elizabeth?”

She turned back to him and forced a smile. “Jason. H-How are you?” But the words were stilted, she could hear it, and she saw his eyes narrow, concern stretching across his face. “I was going to sit for a few minutes,” she continued, wanting to fill the space, the silence, to keep him from speaking. She twisted the purse strap over her shoulder, her eyes darting from the water, to the planks of the docks behind him, but never meeting his eyes. “But I have a doctor’s appointment and I should go. I don’t want to be late.”

Elizabeth turned back and as quickly as she could when eight months pregnant, fled back up the stairs, hoping he had turned away and forgotten the encounter as quickly as it had happened.

3
Truth be told I’ve tried my best
But somewhere along the way
I got caught up in all there was to offer
And the cost was so much more than I could bear

Lansing Home: Living Room

Elizabeth sat on the couch, staring down at the pamphlets Dr. Meadows had given her. Coping with stress, healthy eating. Positions to try for sleeping comfortable in the third trimester.

Pamphlets were one or two pages long and handed out as if the combination of them could solve the problems. Could solve the fact that her lack of eating, her lack of movement, her lack of sleeping had worried the doctor so much she had considered admitting Elizabeth for observation.

She had to start eating. She had to start sleeping again.

But she had no appetite. And every time she closed her eyes, she saw herself picking up the pipe and swinging it…

The guilt was crushing her. She was drowning in it and until today, she had been content to allow it to continue, maybe to let herself sink into the abyss. She only had six more weeks until the baby was here. She could deliver the baby, appoint a guardian—Emily or Lucky.

And then she could allow herself to…drift away.

But her blood pressure, the sluggishness of the baby in her ultrasound—she could not ignore what she was doing to her baby.

She no longer cared for herself, but her baby…

Her son kicked hard, nailing her in the ribs, and Elizabeth smiled, rubbing her belly. He didn’t kick so hard very often, which was probably another sign she had not been doing her job as a mother.

She was a mother now.

And things could not continue the way they had been.

When Ric came in that night, with takeout bags from Kelly’s, Elizabeth stood, lacing her fingers protectively over her son.

“Ric, I have to tell you something about the night of the fire.”

4
Though I’ve tried, I’ve fallen
I have sunk so low

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Jason’s Penthouse

Jason leaned against his pool table and watched Michael Corinthos pace back and forth between the desk and the fireplace. He had arrived almost an hour ago from across the hall, having witnessed another argument between his parents. At just over thirteen years old, he had seen one too many of those arguments to be told that it would all be okay.

For Michael, it would never be okay again. Sonny and Carly, as a committed married couple, had finished, and all that was left were the children over whom the two would fight like dogs over a bone. Best interests of the children was not a phrase in either of their vocabularies.

“I’m just tired of it,” Michael said. He stopped abruptly and looked at his uncle, his jaw clenched “I don’t want to be around it anymore, I don’t want Morgan around it. It never changes—they say the same things over and over again. Why can’t they just agree on joint custody?”

Because neither wanted to cede the battle, to end the last connection between them. Because neither wanted to lose. Jason rubbed a hand over his face, as exhausted as his nephew. “I’m sorry, Michael.”

“It shouldn’t be like this.” Michael crossed his arms. “And I’m not going home tonight.”

“To your mother’s or the penthouse?”

“Either. Both.” Michael pressed his lips together. “And you can’t make me, Jason. I’ll go to Grandma Bobbie’s. Or…anywhere else. Because at Mom’s, she just talks about how awful Dad is, and Dad just says these things…” He shook his head. “Morgan asked me the other day what slut mean, Jason. I mean, Jesus.” He stared down at the floor, sullenly. “I hate every minute of it, and you know…I wonder…” He trailed off. “I wonder if it could have been different.”

“Well, Michael…” Jason hesitated, trying to find the right words. “Your parents…they…” He stopped. All he could offer were platitudes, and even worse, outright lies.

“No, I’m not talking about them—” Michael raised his eyes. “I know my dad isn’t…I mean, he’s not my real father. Not…by blood. I know I’m adopted.”

Jason shifted uncomfortably. “Michael, I’m shouldn’t say anything—”

“No, you’re the only person I can talk to about this.” Michael swallowed. “I saw AJ around town a few times before he moved away, and I guess he’s an alcoholic, or he was when I was born. I guess I just…I don’t see what’s so bad about him sometimes. Was he a lot worse when Mom was pregnant?”

Jason hesitated. The decision to keep AJ out of Michael’s life seemed a lifetime ago. “I…” No, Jason remembered. No, AJ had been sober after the one night stand that led to Michael’s conception. Had been living on his own, away from the Quartermaines, had been working at the hospital. Had turned his life around. “Your mother thought he might want custody…that the Quartermaines might take you from her.”

Michael frowned, his blue eyes bewildered. “So? I don’t get it. What was wrong with him?”

“I…” Jason began again, but somehow, after watching the sheer hell Michael had been going through in his life—from the many times Carly and Sonny had split up, watching them both move on with other people, only to come back to one another, then fight and split again….

“We were different people then,” he said finally. “The decisions we made back then…I wouldn’t…” He paused. “I wouldn’t trade the year I spent taking care of you for anything, but I don’t think, knowing what I know now, I would have supported your mother in keeping you from AJ. At least, not the way I did.”

Michael nodded. “What does it say about me?” he asked, “when I think I’d rather stay with the father I’ve barely even met then live with the parents who are supposed to love me?”

And what did it say about him, Jason wondered, that he wished like hell he could go back in time and change Michael’s life so that he could be spared this custody battle.

5
I messed up
Better I should know
So don’t come round here
And tell me I told you so

Thursday, March 25, 2003

Port Charles Police Department: Commissioner’s Office

“The closure rate in Port Charles is in the toilet,” Mayor Steven Floyd snarled. “Every day the paper prints another article about the ineptitude of the PCPD.” He fisted his hands at side. “When are you going to stop making me look like a joke?”

“When the city council starts giving me the money I need to hire new officers, upgrade the labs…” Mac Scorpio shoved the paper back at him. “I don’t know—when everyone stops pretending Port Charles is just going through a rough patch. We have mob wars every five seconds, and that’s just the expected crime. I don’t have the resources—”

“Why should we give you more money?” Floyd demanded. “You can’t even close simple murders. The one they’re talking about there…Zander Smith from the hotel fire. How hard can that be?”

Mac raised his eyebrows. “You mean the body that was so burned that we had to wait for DNA to come back? Yeah, we know he was hit with something before the fire, but it’s not like we have much of a crime scene—”

“So? Investigate anyway. Question some people. What the hell did people do before crime labs and fingerprints?”

“Didn’t solve much, I imagine.” Mac leaned back in his chair. “So what, you want me to make a show at it so you can tout progress in the papers? I can’t imagine anything more useless—”

“Since when did you think this job would be easy?” the mayor interrupted. “Maybe you get a confession. Maybe you get evidence. How the hell should I know? But not investigating—”

“Who said we’re not investigating?” Mac demanded. “I questioned his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. Nikolas Cassadine is a viable suspect, but the fire was such a clusterfuck, there’s no way to tell when Smith was hit, and whether Cassadine has an alibi, and let’s face it, Zander Smith had a lot of enemies. Sonny Corinthos and Jason Morgan aren’t too sorry to see the last of him. Our own district attorney probably doesn’t mind him out of the picture, since his wife got knocked up by him—”

“Then it sounds like you’ve got a good list of people to examine.” Floyd pulled on his coat. “I expect to see some progress in the next few weeks, Commissioner. On this and other cases.” He opened the door, so that officers outside might be able to hear him. “Or I’ll find someone else who can do this job.”

He slammed the door behind him. Mac scrubbed a hand over his face. “There are days I wish I were still running a restaurant,” he muttered.

6
We all begin with good intent
Love was raw and young

Friday, March 26, 2003

Port Charles Docks

Ric had been sitting on this bench for more than twenty minutes, conscious of the fact that his lunch break from the office was nearly over and he could not see himself returning to the office, not for another round of questioning from the police commissioner on Zander Smith. Two weeks ago, the renewed inquiry would not have bothered him—he would have assumed Nikolas Cassadine had done it to get the bastard out of his life.

Now…he knew better.

He had known Elizabeth had been withdrawn, had been falling into some sort of depression since the fire, but Ric had attributed to other factors. She was pregnant after all, and he thought some women had issues like this, but he was lying to himself if he said he hadn’t worried. He had begun to believe she was regretting her decision to let him back in her life, to trust him again. He had thought if he just said nothing, just attempted to establish a sense of normalcy that had been lacking the year before…she would come around.

She would remember that she loved him.

Instead she had been punishing herself for having killed the father of her child. He knew Zander had had to have done something—said something—to drive the relatively peaceful Elizabeth into doing something like that, but he was cognizant of how it would look. Elizabeth was newly married to another man, eager to have Zander out of her baby’s life permanently, and had not once come forward. Self-defense would be difficult to prove, and Ric was not at all sanguine as to whether he could prevent charges from being filed.

They had to keep the truth covered up—he had to protect Elizabeth from the new investigations. Mac had started the inquiry due to orders from the mayor, but the parentage of Elizabeth’s child was common knowledge, and he was sure Mac would show up on their doorstep any day, and Elizabeth was feeling so desperate and guilty, she might confess.

As Ric turned towards the stairs, he saw a figure on the far side of the docks emerge from the Corinthos & Morgan Coffeehouse. Jason.

There were few men Ric loathed more than his brother—but Jason Morgan might be next in line, if for no other reason than the relationship his wife had once shared with Jason. But maybe it was that relationship Ric could use to protect Elizabeth.

Ric could not spirit Elizabeth out of town. If he set her up in an apartment or a house anywhere but Port Charles, it would look like he was hiding something. But if Elizabeth left town on her own accord, facilitated by someone Mac might not think to look at…

He would rather people think Elizabeth had left him than watch her be charged for a murder of man who was better off dead.

7
We believed that we could change ourselves
The past could be undone

Jason’s Penthouse

Carly leaned against Jason’s desk and closed her eyes. “The look on his face in the court room, Jase…” She tilted her head back, her blonde hair falling down her back. “The judge asked him who he wanted to live with and he was so angry at having to choose…”

Jason set his pen down and pushed away the ledgers for the warehouse. “I’m not sure what you want me to say, Carly. You know this isn’t fair to Michael.”

“I know.” She swiped at her eyes. “I want to make it stop. After the last two court hearings, I’ve begged Sonny to settle it between us, to do something with joint custody. I don’t want to have to bring in his job because there’s all the things I’ve done…” Carly hesitated. “And if I bring Sonny’s work into it, it opens you up—”

“I know.” Jason stood and walked across the room to his balcony, overlooking the harbor. “Michael asked me about AJ.”

Carly straightened. “What?”

“He wanted to know what was so wrong with AJ that he was better off with you and Sonny.” Jason turned back to her. “And I couldn’t answer him.”

Carly bit her lip and looked away. “All the things AJ has done—”

“What has he done really?” Jason pressed. “Nothing that you and Sonny aren’t doing to Michael now. But back when you got pregnant, Carly, you know he was sober.”

“I do.” Carly looked away, remembering that she and AJ had been friends once. “And you know, at first, I just didn’t want Tony to know. And then I did all those awful things to him…there was no going back after that.”

“I know.” Jason folded his arms across his chest. “But AJ is a third option to the problems you’re having with Sonny. He’s the biological father who signed his rights away under duress.”

Carly frowned. “You mean the meat locker? Yeah…” She pursed her lips. “But Zander was there, and he’s dead now. There aren’t any witnesses.”

Jason was silent for a long moment. “If you could get AJ to testify in front of the judge that he was afraid Sonny might kill him if he didn’t sign, you know a judge would listen.”

“But if I go to AJ and ask for this, he’ll take Michael from me for good.” Carly planted her hands on her hips. “And how would that be better?”

“Carly.” Jason shook his head. “If you keep putting Michael and Morgan through this, keep making them choose…you’re going to lose Michael anyway. Sonny is in a bad place right now and he’s angry. If you get custody of Michael, you’ll get Morgan as well. And then Sonny will have to negotiate. He’ll agree to joint custody if you end up with full.”

“I have to think about this,” Carly said after a moment. “I don’t know if going to AJ is the best decision and I just…I have to think about this.”

8
But we carry on our backs the burden
Time always reveals
In the lonely light of morning
In the wound that would not heal
It’s the bitter taste of losing everything
That I’ve held so dear

Monday, March 29, 2004

The Docks

When Jason came down the steps towards the warehouse, Ric sprang up from the bench where he had been waiting. “Morgan.”

Jason stopped and turned. “You know the deal, Ric. Lawyer before questioning—”

“It’s not about the fire or what happened to Capelli—”

“We have nothing else to talk about.” Jason turned away and Ric bit back a swear. He hated this, hated having to feel like he was begging this man he hated more than anything in this world.

But he wasn’t the man he’d been the year before. He was trying to be better and Jason would help Elizabeth.

“It’s about Elizabeth.” And just like that, Jason stopped walking. He turned and looked at him, his face impassive.

“What about her?”

Ric dragged his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know if you’ve seen her around town lately,” he began, “but she’s not well. She’s depressed, withdrawn, and her health is suffering.”

Jason hesitated, as if he wanted to say something sarcastic but couldn’t. After all, it was Elizabeth they were discussing. “I’ve seen her.”

“She feels guilty about…” Ric paused and stepped closer, lowering his voice. “She did something the night of the fire. To protect her child. In self defense. I can’t be any more specific in public.”

“The night of the fire,” Jason repeated, looking away. “Zander was the father of her baby, wasn’t he?” he asked quietly.

“He was.” Satisfied that Jason was not as thick as Ric had always believed him to be, he pressed on. “The mayor is pressing Mac to look into particular murder cases and get them resolved. I don’t want Elizabeth here. Before Mac can get the investigation moving, I want her to leave town.”

“So send her out of town,” Jason replied. “You have money and resources—”

“And as the DA, if I do that, we both look guilty.” Ric hesitated. “It would be better if looked like I had nothing to do with it, as if maybe Elizabeth left me.”

Jason’s face didn’t change, but Ric could see the muscles twitch around his eyes. He was surprised. “You want people to think your wife came to me for help to get away from you.”

Ric took a deep breath. “It’s not the ideal solution, and I know you don’t believe me. Hell, Elizabeth barely believes me, but I love her. I didn’t put her first last year and I did things that…” he swallowed when Jason’s eyes narrowed. “I did things that make me sick to my stomach. No one will be surprised if she leaves me, if she decides she can’t trust me.” He hesitated. “And you can understand loving someone more than you love being with them, that for their own sanity and safety, they need to be as far as away from certain situations. From you.”

Jason looked away. “And what does Elizabeth want?”

“Talk to her.” Ric took another step towards him. “She’s…not doing well. She only told me what happened because the doctor told her that the depression was compromising the baby, but I’m…” He swallowed hard. “I’m afraid I’m not enough to pull her out of this, and whether I like it or not, she trusts you. More than she trusts me.” He closed his eyes. “Please, Jason. I know you would crawl through fire before doing me a favor, but Elizabeth…she’s better than both of us and we both know she doesn’t deserve to live with this guilt.”

Jason cleared his throat and looked away. “I’m not making any promises until I talk to her. If she wants my help, I’ll give it. Because you’re right…” He looked back at Ric. “I would rather see you dead for what you did to Carly. To Elizabeth. But…” He expressed a slow breath. “So I’ll do this for her.”

9
I’ve fallen
I have sunk so low
I messed up
Better I should know
So don’t come round here
And tell me I told you so

Lansing Home: Living Room

Elizabeth paged through her pregnancy journals, doing some of the exercises the doctor had recommended to get excited about the baby. Dr. Meadows thought Elizabeth was depressed because she wasn’t ready to become a mother.

Joke was on her—the baby was the only reason Elizabeth was getting out of bed in the morning and forcing herself. In the two weeks since she had told Ric the truth, she had started to feel better physically. The more she ate, the more her appetite returned and her skin didn’t look as pale.

The doorbell rang, interrupting her as she made a list of baby names to consider. She stood and went to answer it. “Jason?” She tilted her head to the side, confused. “Why are you here?”

“Can I come in?” he asked. She nodded and stepped back, watching him curiously as he entered and tried to look away from the wall that had held the panic room. “How can you live here?” he asked in a low voice. “Knowing…”

“I try not to think about it,” Elizabeth murmured. “The panic room is gone now, and I think we’re supposed to pretend it didn’t happen.” She closed the door and pressed her forehead against it. Another reason to feel like the lowest human being—to be living in the home where his pregnant best friend had been held against her will for months.

“Is that why you came?” she asked dully. “To remind me what a horrible person I am for coming back here? For marrying Ric again? It won’t be news to me.”

Jason didn’t answer her, so she finally turned and looked at him, and saw his forehead wrinkled in concern. “Jason, why—”

“Do you think you’re horrible person for doing those things?” he interrupted. “For giving Ric another chance to prove himself?” He hesitated. “Or do you think that it’s what you deserve because you killed Zander.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, and then closed it again. She looked away. “I suppose Ric told you, though I can’t understand why. He hasn’t wanted to talk about it since I told him, and I thought that if I told him, we could do something about it, so that I could…” She shook her head, her features pained, tears sliding down her cheeks. “So that maybe I could wake up in the morning and not wish I hadn’t.” She hesitated. “That’s not why I married him again, Jason, but maybe that’s why I’m still with him.”

“Then why did you marry him again?” Jason pressed. “You know, more than anyone else save Carly, what he did.” He exhaled slowly. “I’m not here to argue, I want to help you, but I don’t know how because you don’t seem to want to it.”

“I married him again because I was pregnant.” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her belly, and looked down. “Because I wanted to believe that someone loved me, and I thought that if Sonny could…let Ric walk around free, then there had to be a reason…I don’t know what you want me to say, Jason. There aren’t any good reasons. Because I was afraid to be alone, maybe.” She hesitated. “Ric went to you so you could help me?”

“He wants you to leave town because the PCPD is apparently ramping up its investigation into Zander’s death, and he wants you gone before it becomes suspicious. He thinks if he helps you go, it’ll make people wonder, but if I help you…”

“It will be like I left him.” Elizabeth tucked her hair behind her ears. “Jason, I…killed him. Why shouldn’t I be arrested for it?”

“Then why didn’t you turn yourself in?” Jason asked. He put his hands in the pockets of his open leather jacket, his gaze sweeping over her hollowed eyes with the black circles. “You’re making yourself sick with the guilt, Elizabeth. I can take you to the police station if that’s what you want.”

“I…” Elizabeth pressed her lips together. “I should say yes.”

“But you’re not saying it.” Jason nodded. “Elizabeth, whatever you think about what you did, you know it had to be self-defense. I don’t believe you’d be capable of anything else.”

Elizbeth twisted her fingers together and stared at the floor. “He’d stolen the custody papers from Ric’s office,” she murmured. “The ones terminating his paternity rights, and he’d only give them to me if I convinced Emily to come to him. He was so angry…” Her voice broke. “I told him I couldn’t…that I would rather fight him in court because I would win, and he laughed at me because maybe he wouldn’t get custody, but any judge in the world would take my baby from me, too.”

Jason stepped closer to her. “Elizabeth—”

“He was right. I can let myself ignore the truth all I want, but a judge would just have to hear that I married a man who tried to kill Sonny twice, who kidnapped Carly and hid her in a panic room so we could raise her child…” The tears were sliding down her face. “A man who drugged me with birth control pills so we wouldn’t have our own baby, and nearly killed me…” She turned away from him. “What kind of mother would I be…staying with a man like that?”

Jason didn’t say anything, and for a horrible moment, she thought he agreed with her. Instead, he stepped forward and pulled her into a tight hug, and Elizabeth buried her face in his chest, letting the tears fall. “Elizabeth, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do. Whatever you need from me.” He paused. “Tell me what happened next with Zander.”

“I wanted to leave,” she whispered against his shirt. “I turned to leave, but he grabbed my arm and he pulled me back to him. He told me it was Emily or my baby, I had to choose. I kept trying to pull away from him, and he was saying all the these things…about what a…”

“What did he say?”

Elizabeth pulled away from him and turned to look out the front window. “He said I was a slut, that I only slept with him when I couldn’t have who I really wanted, that Ric was just you in a suit…” Her voice broke. “And he told me I deserved Ric, because we were both selfish, disgusting people that only thought about ourselves.” She scrubbed her hands over her eyes. “I guess I panicked. I didn’t know if he was going to let me go, and maybe I just wanted him to stop talking, to stop being this man I didn’t know anymore…somehow the pipe was in my hand and I hit him with it.”

She turned back to look at him. “So if I left out the things Zander said to me that were personal, I could claim self-defense, I know that, but there are moments when I think I hit him to make him stop talking, so I could stop remembering that I had slept with him, that he was the father of my child.” Her lips twisted into grimaced smile. “So do you still want to help me?”

She watched Jason take a deep breath and knew if he walked out the door, after she told him things about that night that she hadn’t even said to Ric, she knew she would never come out on the other side of this with her sanity intact.

Instead, he said, “Yes. Elizabeth…he knew where to hit you the hardest…what to say to you.” Jason cupped her cheek. “So he said what he thought would make you want him to go away, to go get Emily and leave him in peace. He knew how you felt deep down about yourself, because you think those things are true.”

“Aren’t they?” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I did sleep with Zander the first time when I wanted to be with you, and I threw him in your face because you wouldn’t give me what I wanted. I did date Ric because he reminded me of you, and I did demand Zander give up his child without even giving him a chance to turn his life around. Aren’t I a selfish tr—”

“Stop it.” Jason shook his head. “Stop it, Elizabeth. You know that it’s more complicated than that. People, they do things they’re not proud of, and they would take them back if they could.” He stepped back. “I want to take you out of town, to a place where you could move on with a new life if you wanted to, and I want you to find a therapist or someone to talk to…who isn’t…” He hesitated. “Elizabeth, you obviously believe the things Zander said to you, and I don’t know if there’s anything I can say to you to change your mind, to see you the way I see you.”

“You want me to start my life over somewhere else?” Elizabeth frowned. “But…I’m married…” she looked down at her feet. “You think I should leave Ric.”

“I want you as far away from that son of a bitch as I can get you,” Jason answered starkly. “I think you’re staying with him now to punish yourself, and you deserve better than that, but until you believe that, there’s not much I can do. But yes, you need to appear to be starting a new life if Ric’s plan is going to work.”

Elizabeth walked past him and sank onto the sofa, silent for a long time. “You’re right,” she murmured. “I do believe what he said, but if you don’t…” She looked up at him. “And you would have the right to believe the worst in me…I pulled a gun on you when you tried to search my home for Carly, I fought you every inch of the way last summer. I should have let you rip the walls out.” She looked over at the wall that had once held the panic room. “I hate myself for not believing you. I should have. I don’t know how Carly can look at me without wanting me on the other side of the planet—”

“Elizabeth—”

“So, yes, I hate myself,” Elizabeth continued, “but if you don’t think I should…then I can accept…” She smoothed her hand over the cover of her pregnancy journal with the list of baby names. “I can accept the possibility that I deserve better. That I have a right to be a mother, and keep my freedom.” She looked up at him. “Where would I go?”

10
Heaven bend to take my hand
Nowhere left to turn
I’m lost to those I thought were friends
To everyone I know

Monday, March 25, 2004

Jason’s Penthouse

Carly pushed open Jason’s door. “I came as soon as you called—” She stopped, seeing Jason at his desk, flipping through travel brochures. “What are those?” She closed the door and set her purse on the desk next to him. “You going out of town?”

“Yeah.” Jason set the papers down. “I’m doing a favor for a friend. I need to get someone out of town and do it without suspicion.” He hesitated. “And I was thinking I could take…them to New Orleans.”

Carly frowned and folded her arms across her chest. “New Orleans.” She tilted her head to the side. “AJ’s there, isn’t he? Ned got him a job down there.”

“He is.” Jason leaned against the desk. “I could use this opportunity to see him, if he’s sober. If he’d be open to a custody arrangement with you.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “You and the boys can’t keep going on like this. If nothing else, you could get Sonny to back down—”

“Jase…” Carly shook her head. “I haven’t even really thought about this—you’re asking me to let AJ in Michael’s life….as if we’re not going through enough.” She looked at the ceiling. “You think Sonny would back down if I told him I was going to AJ? Because maybe the threat could be enough, and I wouldn’t even have to get AJ involved.”

“I think…” Jason hesitated and considered his best friend’s behavior regarding Carly and the boys since they had been separated. “It’s a possibility threatening it…letting Sonny know what you’re doing, would be enough to convince him to keep fighting for full custody. He’s not rational about AJ.”

“Jase, what are you doing? You’re suggesting I ask AJ, the man who stalked Courtney, to be involved in my son’s life?” Carly pressed. “This is…it’s insanity—”

“I hate him for that,” Jason interrupted. “I hate him for the fear he brought into her life, for terrorizing her and making her afraid to be in her own skin….but…” He looked at her. “You drugged him and made him think he was drinking again. I slept with his wife before she could change the locks after he moved out. Sonny hung him from a meat hook and threatened to kill him to get him to give up his rights. Are any of us innocent?”

Carly looked away. “This is the problem with being friends with you. You make the impossible sound rational and down right logical.” She exhaled slowly. “If I said no, I’d only be delaying the inevitable, because Michael’s asking questions about him and he’s made it as clear to me as he did to you that he finds AJ the far better option right now, and I suppose I don’t blame him.” She picked up her purse. “All right. Go talk to him. See what you can do.”

11
Oh they turn their heads embarrassed
Pretend that they don’t see
But it’s one missed step
One slip before you know it
And there doesn’t seem a way to be redeemed

Thursday, April 1, 2004

New Orleans, Lousiana, Garden District: Chestnut Street House

Elizabeth walked up the walk of a beautiful Victorian home that much too large for just one person. She paused at the steps up to the porch and turned back to Jason. “This isn’t where I’m staying the entire time, is it? It’s a hotel or something.”

“I had a reason to come to New Orleans, so we were able to get out without causing suspicion,” Jason said patiently, “and I wanted to find you something in a quiet neighborhood where people mind their own business. You get tourists walking past to look at it, but it’s not like Port Charles where everyone knows everything.”

She sighed and thought about arguing further, but he had that implacable look on his face so she just went to the porch and waited for him to open the door. He signaled to the two guards carrying her bags to follow them. “Are they going to be around all the time?” she asked. She tucked her hair behind her ears. “I—”

“One is for the day shift, and the other for evening,” Jason said. “They’ll just be on the door. It’s just a precaution.” He turned to them. “Cody, Oliver, put Mrs. Lansing’s bags in the master bedroom, it should already be ready—it’ll be the only one with furniture. You know your assignments.”

“But—” Elizabeth protested, but obeyed as Jason steered her into the sitting room. “This is too much for one person, Jason. I thought I was going to get an apartment in New York or something.” She hesitated. “Not that I’m not grateful—”

“I needed to come to New Orleans and if things work out the way I think they might, I’ll be coming back a few times, so I can check on you without anyone back home raising an eyebrow.” Jason eyed the room, which was decorated a bit more ornately than the realtor had indicated.

“I guess you’re right.” She sank onto the couch and looked out the large bay windows to the garden in the front yard. “I feel lighter here,” she admitted. “Without seeing the docks or the hospital, or just…memories of everything that went wrong.” She looked up at him. “Are you leaving right away?”

“No.” Jason sat across from her.. “No, I’m going to stay for a few days to make sure you have everything you need. And…” he grimaced. “I have to talk to AJ about Michael.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “AJ?”

“To end this standoff between Carly and Sonny,” Jason continued. He leaned back, looking exhausted. “They’re suing each for full custody, making Michael testify in court, asking him to choose which parent he wants to live with, arguing in front of them…it’s just a mess.”

Elizabeth rested her hand on her belly. “And you think adding AJ to the mix will make it better?” she asked skeptically.

“I think…” Jason hesitated. “Michael is already asking questions about him, and if we try to put him off for much longer, he might just go to Edward for AJ’s contact information himself. He knows AJ is his biological father.”

“Natural that he’s curious.” She bit her lip. “I hope it works out for Michael. It seems a shame that everything you went through to give him a good life seems to have been for nothing.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “Yeah…” He stood. “I’m going to do a walk around the house to make sure everything is the way the realtor said it would be.”

He left the room, and Elizabeth sighed. She was out of practice at being a good friend and good listener, that much was clear. After what Jason had done for her so far this week, she just wished she could offer him some encouragement in return.

She still felt the oppressive guilt of having killed the father of her child, but Jason’s calm and steady belief that it was self-defense had gone a long way towards helping her sleep at night. Jason didn’t appear to hold Carly’s imprisonment against her—had only been bewildered and concerned that Elizabeth would give Ric a second chance.

She could hold on to his faith in her, and let that be the first step in building a new life for herself and her child.

12
Though I’ve tried, I’ve fallen
I have sunk so low
I messed up
Better I should know

Friday, April 2, 2004

New Orleans, Uptown District: AJ Quartermaine’s Apartment

AJ Quartermaine frowned and pulled the door open wider. “Jason…?” He stepped back to allow the other man entry. “Why are…” He hesitated. “Did something happen to Mom or Emily?”

Jason stepped into the room, casting his eyes quickly around, taking in the well-decorated and tidy living space. He turned to face AJ. “No. I’m here about Michael.”

AJ’s mouth tightened, color faded from his cheeks. “Is he…did something…” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Is he all right?”

“Yeah.” Jason shifted, shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away. “Sonny and Carly are getting a divorce, but it’s pretty bitter. They’ve dragged the boys into a custody battle, and Michael’s been asked to choose which parent…” He shook his head. “He’s not doing so well.”

AJ exhaled roughly. “Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m not sure what it has to do with me.” He crossed the room to stand by the window, looking out over the Mississippi River.

“Michael’s been asking about you,” Jason said after a long moment. “And he asked me what was so bad about you that living with Sonny and Carly was the better option.”

“Hmm…” AJ offered a slight smile. “To be thirteen again and sure the people who raised you were your worst enemy.” He hesitated. “But I guess you don’t know what I mean by that.” When Jason said nothing, AJ just shrugged. “So you give him the list of my sins? That I destroyed your life and tried to let Ned take the rap? That I’m a worthless drunk who pushed Carly down the stairs and stalked his own wife?”

“I didn’t have an answer,” Jason said after another moment. “Because at the time I claimed paternity, the only thing that was true was that you were a worthless drunk who crashed a car, and it didn’t seem fair to unload the rest of it on him.”

AJ considered him, remaining silent until finally, “Jason, I don’t understand why you’re here. Are you apologizing for claiming paternity of my son? What’s going on?”

“I think…” Jason said, slowly, “that if you were to testify that you signed your rights away because you were afraid for your life, the judge would award Carly full custody of the boys, which means Sonny would be forced to accept joint. Right now, he wants her out of their lives entirely. He’s being unreasonable, and I didn’t…” He looked up and cleared his throat. “I didn’t give Michael up so he could be put through this.”

“And if I testify…” AJ folded his arms across his chest. “If I testified to help Carly get custody, where would that leave me? What’s the point of helping her retain custody of the boys when all she’s ever done is keep me from my own son?”

“I don’t have all the answers,” Jason said after a long pause. “I just know Michael is asking questions about you, and even if he learns all the things you’ve done, he’s not going to understand why that’s bad enough to keep you two apart, especially since Sonny is…who he is.” He looked at the floor. “I told Carly that if she keeps refusing to answer Michael’s question, one day, he’s just going to come to you, and if the only side Michael gets is yours, it’s just going to make everything worse. He needs the truth. Whatever that is. She’ll lose Michael, otherwise.”

AJ blinked. “You’re…standing there…telling me that Carly has agreed I should…I should be in Michael’s life. And you engineered it.” He laughed harshly. “I’d say this is a joke, but it’s not like you’re one for humor.”

“I told Carly that I would come down here, and see how you were. If you were…in a better place than you were in Port Charles.” Jason shifted the weight from one foot to another. “I guess you are. You look sober.”

“I am.” AJ hesitated. “What I did to Courtney, even sober, made me realize that living in Port Charles was the reason I couldn’t get anywhere in life. I was always going to feel second, or even worthless there.” He paused. “I know you don’t believe me, but I loved my wife. It just…drove me insane that she always turned to you.” He looked away. “I’ve been sober for fourteen months. I go to AA meetings once a week, and when it gets bad, which it does around the anniversary of the accident or in the summer, when my drinking caused Courtney to…” He shook his head. “I go every day. I have a sponsor, if you want to meet him for confirmation. I work for subsidiary of ELQ, and I do relatively well for myself. But I won’t promise you I won’t ever take another a drink. I don’t make promises I can’t guarantee.”

“Okay.” Jason nodded. “I’ll let Carly know.” He turned towards the door, but stepped back. “AJ, I’m sorry…about Courtney. I shouldn’t have…”

AJ shrugged. “We married for the wrong reasons and neither of us loved the other enough to go the distance. I know that now. I hope she’s happier with you.”

Jason left, not bothering to tell him that his own marriage to the same woman had lasted roughly the same amount of time. He had other things on his mind.

I messed up
Better I should know
So don’t come round here
And tell me I told you so

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Comments

  • Love it, can’t wait for the next chapter 🙂

    According to nav on February 24, 2014
  • This is so good Liz killed Zander and AJ is sober and might get a chance at seeing Michael. Liz and AJ could get together to support each other until Jason gets jealous.

    According to leasmom on February 24, 2014
  • I’m loving this. I like that this Ric is trying to help Elizabeth. She’s a mess but doing better for her child. I love how AJ is being written. Jason will do anything for Elizabeth.

    According to arcoiris0502 on August 26, 2021
  • I’m glad Elizabeth trusted Jason enough to let him help her. So glad Michael may get a chance to meet and stay with AJ.

    According to Carla P on August 26, 2021