Pardon me while I burst into flames
I’ve had enough of the world and its people’s mindless games
So pardon me while I burn and rise above the flame
Pardon me, pardon me, I’ll never be the same
Never be the same, yeah
– Pardon Me, Incubus
Friday, January 14, 2000
The car had barely come to a full stop before Jason had twisted, shoved the door open, and launched himself out of the car, reaching back in only for a second to wrap his arms around Elizabeth’s upper torso, already halfway out, and drag her the rest of the way.
And then they were flying. Legs pumping, hearts racing, the air rushing past them, with Jason’s hand tightly in hers, as he steered them down an alleyway, behind a row of buildings, then another alley—it felt like a twisted labyrinth and if he knew where they were, he didn’t stop to tell her.
She didn’t feel the ground beneath her stockinged feet at first, but then something sliced through, and pain radiated straight up her leg. she stumbled, her hand breaking from Jason’s. Elizabeth fell to her knees, swallowing the cry that threatened to erupt.
Jason hissed, crouched down. “What is it?”
There was a shout, and he snapped his head up, focusing behind her.
“We need to go—” Elizabeth got to her feet, snatched his hand and they started to run again. She ignored the throbbing in her foot. Ignored the way the gravel and rocks bit into the tears in her stockings as they shredded into nothing more than irritants.
Jason took the lead again, turning down another alley, but this one butted up to Port Charles Park and she nearly wept from relief. Much of the park towards this side of town was covered in trees. They could get lost in the woods—
They started down a path, one that she vaguely recognized as twisting and turning through the west side of the park, leading out towards the business district. It would be crowded this time of night and maybe—
But then she didn’t think or speculate. Her feet were burning, the pain almost unbearable, but she pushed past it. Jason would get her to safety. He would—
This time it was Jason who stumbled, his foot caught on a tree root that had crept under the path. He went flying, his hand jerking out of her grasp, landing a few feet away, on his side.
No Name: Restaurant
Sonny fought down the swirl of nerves and fury, taking another drink from the bartender. So far everything had gone according to plan — Elizabeth had charmed the people she needed to charm though he was a little put out that she’d barely had to speak and Carlotta Vega had decided to approve of her.
Sonny had been trying for five years.
But she’d survived that gauntlet, made it through dinner, and the dancing — and Jason hadn’t murdered Sorel on the dance floor.
Now Sonny just had to wait for the limo to return.
“I like your partner’s wife,” Daniel told Sonny as he signaled for a drink of his own. “She does you both credit.”
Sonny exhaled slowly, forcing himself to sip the bourbon. “She’s a quick learner.”
“Carlotta was concerned when we found out she’s eighteen.” Daniel lifted a brow. “A bit young for marriage, wouldn’t you say?”
“Elizabeth didn’t agree.” Sonny bristled. “Do you have a point?”
“Jason did not look happy to be here tonight. I thought at first it was because we both know he’d rather gnaw off his arm than put on a suit for something like this.” Daniel tipped his head. “Did you, perhaps, leave him no choice but to bring his wife tonight?”
Sonny tossed the rest of the liquor back, ignoring the burn in his throat. “He showed up and did his part. He did everything we asked—”
“My quarrel is not with him. Or his wife.” Daniel’s mouth was grim. “She’s too young to be used like a pawn—”
“I’ll remind you that this was your idea,” Sonny shot back. “You wanted this reception. You know that Jason doesn’t like these things. You knew Elizabeth wasn’t experienced with things like this. If you’re feeling guilty for using her, Vega, look in the mirror.”
He left the irritated mobster and headed for the lobby. He wasn’t going to wait an entire hour. He’d call for a car. Let them handle their own damned problems from now on. He wasn’t going to stand around and be insulted.
Port Charles Park
Elizabeth nearly collapsed from the pain and the fear as she saw Jason lying unconscious a few feet away, but she couldn’t give in. Couldn’t give up. She started towards him, then nearly fell herself from the new waves of throbbing, burning pain in the lower half of her body.
She swallowed the cry that bubbled in her throat, terrified that someone might hear her. She limped towards him, wincing at the blood on the side of his face. He’d hit his head—oh, God—there was crashing in the trees behind them in the distance. She had to—She had to get them off the path.
Grunting, Elizabeth pushed, rolling Jason’s unconscious form until there was a dip in the earth and it rolled on its own. She winced and rushed after it, relieved when he came to a rest a few feet below—just out of sight. Harsh, gasping sobs slipped out of her mouth as she frantically found some branches and leaves in the drifts of snow, hoping it would give them just enough cover. The crashing in the trees was closer now and she could hear voices and shouts, footsteps—
Elizabeth dropped down, flattening herself over Jason, burying her face in his chest and squeezing her eyes shut.
Please. Please. Please. Keep running. Don’t stop. Don’t see us. Please please please—
The voices and footsteps ran past them, fading into the distance. But Elizabeth didn’t trust it. Didn’t believe they wouldn’t circle back.
She didn’t know how long she laid there, only that the pain in her feet had started to fade into numbness, the cold seeping into her body. She hadn’t worn a jacket, expecting to travel directly from the building to the limo and back again. The snow had started to fall again, the thick flakes all around them. The wind was picking up.
But the voices and footsteps hadn’t come back. Elizabeth raised herself up. They were alone. The woods around them were silent. She shivered, rubbing her hands to get feeling back into them.
She looked at Jason, laying so still beneath her, but still breathing. “Jason.” She rolled off him, wincing at her feet. They could come later. Head wounds first— She knelt at his side, feeling the back of his head. The bleeding had stopped, so that was good—
“Jason—” She pressed her hands to his cheeks. “Please, please, open your eyes—” She pressed her lips against his, freezing, hoping for something—for a miracle. She couldn’t do anything from here. Couldn’t carry him. Couldn’t save him—
He groaned first, but then his eyes opened, just a sliver. “Elizabeth—”
“Thank God. Thank God.” She lowered her brow to his. “You’re awake.”
He grunted, then shoved himself up, bringing her with him, looking around with confusion. “What—What happened—”
“You hit your—” The adrenaline was starting to fade, and the fear and shock were setting in, her hands shaking as she tried to form words. “You hit your head. I—”
Jason exhaled slowly, then looked around again, more alert this time, taking in the pathway nearly twenty feet away, slightly uphill. “We were being followed—”
“They went past. A while ago. I was—” She couldn’t say anything else. Couldn’t form the words. “They didn’t come back.”
Jason nodded, then took a deep breath. He dragged himself to his feet, lifting her up. She cried out as she put weight on her feet. She’d sat for too long— “Damn it,” he muttered. “We won’t get reception here on the cell,” he told her. “We have to move.”
He wrapped an arm around her waist and helped her limp back up to the path. “Your head,” Elizabeth said. “We need to get it looked at—”
“I’m fine. I just—” Jason twisted, looking at the path for the first time. He took out the phone in the inside pocket of his jacket. “One bar. Might be enough. We can go back the way we came, I think.” He crouched down, lifting one of her feet, trying to examine it in the inky darkness, nothing but the dim light of the cell phone to work with. “Damn it. How are you walking on this?”
“Think about it later,” Elizabeth suggested shakily, but clung to him tightly. He started to lift her into his arms, but she stopped him. “No, you can’t. You might have a concussion. I made it this far, okay? Let’s call Sonny and find somewhere to meet him.”
He wanted to argue further, but instead he whipped off his suit jacket, wrapped it around her shoulders. Her shawl had disappeared somewhere or had been left behind in the limo. He needed to get her out of the cold, out of the open.
He was able to connect to Sonny long enough to give him a meeting place, then they limped back the way they came, dipping off the path at any strange sounds. No one came back, but that didn’t make either of them feel any safer.
Not until they left the path for a well-light street and the café Jason had given Sonny. There was a car parked in front, but he kept Elizabeth behind him until Sonny emerged from the passenger side, his face creased in worry.
“Jason hit his head, “Elizabeth blurted out as Sonny approached them. “We need a doctor—”
“I’m fine,” Jason repeated, turning to her. “You need—”
“You both look like hell. Richie will be waiting at the penthouse,” Sonny clipped out. He gestured to one of the guards to open the back door. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Elizabeth never made a sound as their doctor gently worked on her feet, but Jason held her hand tightly. The doctor had to cut the stockings away from her ankles, then gently peel the shreds out of the various cuts and gashes in her feet before he could even disinfect and treat them.
“If I had left my shoes on, I’d have broken my ankle before we got out of the first alley,” Elizabeth reminded him with gritted teeth. “It was the only way.”
The only way.
She was right about that, of course. Once they’d been trapped in a limo, ditching the shoes and running was the only option available.
But it shouldn’t have been.
He didn’t know how she’d done it — how she’d run so far on those feet when he knew she’d had the first cut within seconds of leaping from the limo. Her dress was torn, a strap dangling down the side of her dress. Her hair had come undone, the curls falling around her face, and her cheeks were streaked with her makeup, smudged by tears.
Somehow she’d managed to keep them both safe on the path when he’d fallen, and she’d barely had a word of complaint other than winces and hisses of pain.
She deserved so much better than this.
“You’ll want to stay off the feet for a few days,” Richie advised as he wrapped Elizabeth’s foot in gauze, then a wrap to protect the bandages. “Maybe longer. I don’t think any of the cuts need stitches, but we need to keep our eye out.” He glanced at Jason. “How’s the head?”
“Feels like hell,” Jason bit out. “But I’m fine—”
“You could have a concussion,” Elizabeth argued, shifting away now that her injuries had been seen to. “You were out for a while—”
“I know the symptoms,” he told her gently, squeezing her hand. “We’ll keep an eye on it, but I’m okay for now.” He looked at Richie. “Right?”
“Yeah, you know the drill. Not your first knock out. Won’t be the last.” The doctor got to his feet. “I’m going to leave you what you need to take care of the feet,” he told Elizabeth. “Call me if any of it gets worse.”
“Thanks,” Sonny said as the doctor passed him. “Appreciate the quick service.”
“Appreciate the paycheck.” The doctor left, and Sonny turned back to them. “You should get some rest—”
“You want to tell me what the hell happened?” Jason demanded. He’d not said anything in the car, not wanting any of the guards involved. He knew if he started talking, he might explode.
This was Sonny’s fault. Every cut, every gash, every bruise, every piece of Elizabeth damaged from tonight was his fault—
“We didn’t realize anything was wrong,” Sonny said, chagrined. “I left early and was already on my way home when you called. Sorel was still at the No Name when I left. I contacted Vega—Sorel left just after I did. He must have found out somehow—maybe there’s a rat—”
“Maybe it was fucking obvious you were setting him up,” Jason retorted. “I told you, didn’t I? But you all had your own games you wanted to play. He wanted hostages of his own. You wouldn’t have known anything was wrong until the car didn’t come back for you, and by then it would have been too late. Sorel would have had us to bargain with.”
Sonny shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers, dipping his head down. “I know—”
“What happened to Max?”
Elizabeth’s soft voice drew both of their attention and Jason’s breath caught at the reminder of the guard who was supposed to be in the car.
The man Jason hadn’t bothered to check for when they’d gotten into the limo. He’d been so eager to leave, to get Elizabeth away from the restaurant that he hadn’t bothered to verify the driver. Rookie mistake.
“They found him behind the No Name. He was shot. Not dead,” Sonny added in a rush when Elizabeth’s face paled. “He’s being seen to. I’m sorry—”
“Wait here,” Jason cut in again. He turned to Elizabeth. “You need to rest,” he told her softly, lifting her in his arms. “I’m going to take you upstairs.”
“Mmm…I want to take a hot bath.” Elizabeth wrapped her arms around his neck. “I promise, I won’t get my feet wet. I just—”
“I’ll take care of it.”
Once Elizabeth was settled, soaking in the bath she’d asked for, her feet carefully propped up to stay dry, Jason returned downstairs where Sonny was still standing.
“I never wanted her to get hurt,” Sonny said. “You know that, don’t you? Whatever’s wrong between us, you have to know—”
“There was always a possibility tonight would go wrong,” Jason interrupted. “You knew that, and you decided the risk was worth it. Sorel already made it clear he doesn’t care what happens to her. The only reason she didn’t die on New Year’s was a faulty wire.”
“We don’t know that he wanted her dead, Jason—”
“I’m not in the mood to be charitable. He put a live bomb in Elizabeth’s studio and then called her to make sure she knew she was going to die. And tonight, he tried to kidnap her. There’s no more games. No more rituals or traditions. You’re done using me.”
“I didn’t—” His face gray, Sonny swallowed hard. “That’s not what I wanted to do—”
“It’s all you’ve ever done. You call yourself my brother, my friend?” Jason demanded. “I’ve lied, cheated, and stolen for you. I’ve killed for you. And all I ever asked you to do was to respect me. To respect my choices.”
“And you don’t. You used me to get back in good with Vega and everyone else because they’re still pissed you took off and left me in charge.”
“This is my fault, I know it—”
“I don’t give a damn about your martyr act,” Jason snapped. “This is your life, not mine. And I don’t want it anymore. I’m done.”
With those words echoing in the air, Jason stalked upstairs and left Sonny alone in the living room. He didn’t want to think about the man anymore tonight. Not when he had his own guilt twisting in his stomach.
For all that he blamed Sonny, Jason knew he was the real culprit. Sonny had put them in a dangerous situation, but it was Jason’s mistakes that had led to Elizabeth nearly being kidnapped and dragged through the park until her feet had been sliced into ribbons, forced to protect them when he couldn’t.
Tonight was his fault.