AJ took a deep breath. Courtney’s reassurances had worked two floors down, but now that he was standing in front of Jason’s door he wasn’t so sure. It was true – after over five years, it was unlikely Jason would hold the accident against him. But after what Emily had told him about Elizabeth, AJ wasn’t ready to believe the accident was truly behind them both.
He raised his hand to knock on the door when it was pulled open and AJ came face to face with Carly Corinthos. He didn’t know her well – but Emily and Elizabeth, as well as Jason, spoke highly of her and their opinion was enough for AJ.
“Hey, AJ!” Carly said, surprised. “I didn’t know you’d be in town so soon!” She turned around. “Hey, Jason, get your butt down here. AJ’s here!”
“Hey, Carly. How are you?” AJ said.
“I’m good.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Did Emily tell you about our plan?”
AJ nodded and grinned. “And I’m more than happy to help.”
“Good.” Carly turned again to see Jason heading towards the door. “Well, it was good to see you. How are the wife and kids?”
AJ’s favorite subject, “Oh, they’re great. Kyle’s took his first steps and Mel’s talking. Oh, and Courtney just opened her own restaurant.”
“That’s good to hear.” Carly patted him on the arm. “Well, I’ll leave you two alone.” She gave Jason a quick hug and left. Jason gestured for AJ to enter.
“Hey, I didn’t know you were coming,” Jason said.
AJ shrugged. “Courtney’s been begging me to take a vacation. So, I figured that since you were living here again, we could all get together, like old times. Especially since Em tells me you and Liz are finally getting along again.”
“Yeah. But the truce has only lasted a few days,” Jason said. They sat on the couch. “Every time I open my mouth, I think she’s going to snap my head off, so I’m treading carefully.”
AJ shrugged. “You’ll get the hang of it and before you know it, the two of you will be right where you were before the accident.”
Jason frowned. “Trouble is, I have no idea where that was. I thought we didn’t get along. Then, it was we just teased each other. And now I find out that we were really close – but only when no one else was around. I’m worried that I’ll find out we were dating or something.”
AJ laughed. “I don’t see that happening. Take it from me; the two of you were nowhere near that.” He frowned. “Well…then again…I was sort of drunk most of the time.”
Jason shrugged. “Anyway, has Em told you anything else?”
AJ nodded. “That Liz is going through a rough time and you’re trying help and she won’t let you.”
“Oh.” Jason sat back. “How long did you know Courtney before you figured out you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her?”
AJ mentally noted that Jason was obviously falling for Elizabeth since this was the first time Jason had ever asked a question like this. “A few months, I guess. We met in rehab, and it was that long before we had the chance to really get to know one another. I mean, we saw each other in support group and passed in the halls, but when we got out, I didn’t see her for almost a month. Then I ran into her outside this bar. She hadn’t gone in – but she really wanted to. I was, of course, still craving alcohol at that point and I knew that it would be extremely easy for the both of us to relapse. So I took the initiative and asked her to dinner. We left the bar and went out. After about a month, I realized I was in love with her. Two weeks later, I decided that she was it.” He eyed Jason. “Why?”
“I never knew Courtney was in rehab too,” Jason said, avoiding the question.
AJ shrugged. “Well, it’s not something we volunteer. Most of our friends don’t know it either. ”
Jason frowned, “I never asked about how you met her before, either. Don’t you think that’s strange?”
AJ raised an eyebrow. “You feeling okay, Jase?”
“I’m fine. It’s been a rough week,” Jason replied.
AJ shrugged again. “The reason I don’t talk about meeting Courtney is because we met in rehab. Thinking about rehab makes me remember the accident. And I prefer not to do that.” He looked away. “So you like Liz.”
Jason sat up. “I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to. We’re brothers. I know what’s going on in your head.”
Jason exhaled slowly. “Tell me it’s not that obvious.”
AJ shook his head. “Don’t worry. Liz will never see it. So you gonna make a move?”
Jason stared at him. “Are you insane?”
“What? You like Liz. Ask her out. It’s not that difficult,” AJ said.
Jason shook his head. “She doesn’t want a relationship. I’m lucky we’re friends at this point.”
AJ tried a different tactic. “Look, you’re good at reading people. Do you really think that’s the way Liz feels?”
Jason hesitated. He pictured in his mind the way that Elizabeth had looked when they’d had the conversation earlier that day about Carly’s scheme. She definitely didn’t look like she believed what she was saying when she said it wouldn’t work. He hadn’t thought so then, either. “No. But I think she’d rather feel that way.”
“Well, tough for her. Now you gotta decide – is what could be with Liz worth risking the friendship for?” AJ asked. “If it works and you end up together, great. If it doesn’t, you could lose what progress you’ve made. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?”
Jason didn’t hesitate this time. “No. Not right now. Right now, I just want to help her.”
AJ nodded. “Good choice. Now, we just gotta figure out how to convince Liz to let you help.”
Jason thought about it for a few minutes. “I think she wants to let me. But she keeps resisting at the last minute. But when I offered to take her riding on the cliff roads the next time she couldn’t sleep, she seemed to be okay with accepting that.”
AJ grinned. “You know what Jase? I think you and Liz will be fine. She’s letting you in whether she wants to or not. You don’t even need Carly’s help. You just have to give Liz some time. Prove to her that you’ll be around – that she can trust you. Don’t push it.”
Jason nodded. “When did you become so smart?” he asked, a teasing glint entering his eyes.
AJ shrugged. “It’s Courtney’s influence.” He stood. “It’s late. I’d better get back to the apartment before Emily converts my wife.”
Jason stood as well, raising his eyebrows. “Converts?”
AJ hesitated, “Um-”
“The hell with it. You know Carly’s plan? Well, she’s not exactly alone.”
Jason narrowed his eyes. “How ‘not alone’ is she?”
AJ thought for a moment. “Well, ten to one, it was her idea. But I know she’s recruited Emily which means Nikolas is in on it. Em got to me and she’s probably working on Court as we speak, I’m willing to bet Sonny at least approves and I’ll bet you five bucks Emily’s gone to Grandmother.”
Jason stared at him. “You’re all insane.”
AJ shrugged. “We want you two to be happy. We figure who else will put up with the two of you except each other? Hell, Jase, will you be disappointed if we succeed?”
Jason felt the corners of his mouth twitching. “AJ-”
“Look, I promise I’ll try to keep them in line. No crazy schemes.”
“Carly’s involved. Not possible to avoid a crazy scheme.”
“Well, crazy schemes also have a tendency to work,” AJ pointed out. “Anyway, listen, what are you doing tomorrow night?”
“Good, Em and Liz’s apartment at seven. Don’t be late. We’re having dinner and it’s just going to be the four of us.”
“Courtney’s okay with that?” Jason asked.
“She’s fine with that. Man, I got lucky the day she agreed to marry me. She seems to understand the crazy relationship we all have.” AJ’s face grew serious. “Look, you know I just want you to be as happy as me and Court. If you really have a problem with this whole idea…tell me and I’ll make sure everyone backs off.”
Jason ran a hand through his short hair. “It’s too late. I already told Carly that I care about Elizabeth. In her mind, she’s already planning her dress for the wedding. I’d like you to even try to call her off.”
AJ shook his head. “Not what I asked, little brother.”
Jason looked away. “Yeah, I know.” After a few minutes he met his brother’s eyes. “To tell you the truth, as long as the schemes don’t get too crazy…no, I don’t have a problem with it.”
AJ grinned. “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Emily rubbed her eyes as she entered the apartment. Courtney was lying on the couch, her legs propped on AJ’s lap. Her breathing was even and deep. “Hey, Beth back?” she said softly trying not to awaken Courtney.
AJ looked at his younger sister, “Nope. She called. She’s at the warehouse.”
Emily frowned. “She spends a lot of time at a place she doesn’t work at.” She checked her watch. “It’s almost midnight.”
“Maybe she works for Sonny,” AJ joked. The second the words left his mouth, he clenched his jaw. “You don’t think-”
Emily exhaled slowly. She put her purse and keys down and turned to bolt the door shut. Turning back to her brother, she said, “To tell you the truth, I’ve had my suspicions. Beth is good with computers. She probably does work for Sonny.”
AJ sighed. “It’s not that I don’t like Sonny and that I’m blind to the fact that Jason is now partners with him – but Liz being involved…it just feels different…”
Emily nodded. “I know what you mean. But, in the end, it’s her choice.” She sighed, “The kids still in my room?”
AJ nodded apologetically, “Yeah. I’m sorry, Em.”
Emily waved it away. “I was going to stop by and see Sonny about getting you guys a room or two at the hotel but it was too late tonight. I’ll just crash at Jason’s place.” Her eyes gleamed. “Maybe I can convince him to bring Beth home.”
“Speaking of which…” AJ grinned. “We got his approval.”
Emily arched an eyebrow. “His approval?” she repeated.
“Yeah, he knew exactly what Carly was up to, but once he found out that so many people were involved…he thinks we’re insane, but he does care about her. He told Carly so tonight. She called. She wants you to stop by her office if you have time tomorrow.”
“But he said it was okay if we try to get them together?” Emily asked, skeptically.
AJ shrugged. “He said as long as the schemes didn’t get too crazy.”
Emily nodded. “Well, I’m going up to see if I can crash. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Thirty minutes later, Jason entered the empty warehouse. He’d barely hesitated when Emily told him Elizabeth was still at the warehouse – alone. He’d missed the grin of satisfaction on his sister’s lips as he’d shrugged into his jacket and grabbed his keys before heading out of the penthouse.
He headed towards the office and opened the door quietly. He peeked in and saw Elizabeth at her desk. The computer screen was brightly lit – some information scrawled across it. His eyes softened as he saw Elizabeth’s head on the desk. Her curly hair was in its usual disarray, shielding her face from view.
He stepped in and closed the door softly behind him. He crouched in front of her and gently tapped her shoulder. She murmured something and shifted slightly – but didn’t wake up. He frowned, wondering if this was the first time she’d slept since the hospital. If so, he didn’t want to wake her up. He straightened and pulled a chair over. Jason turned it around backwards and straddled it, resting his hands along the back and his chin on his hands.
“What did you think were doing? Not coming home for a week?” Jeff raged. He dragged her up the stairs of the Webber home. Elizabeth caught a glimpse of her mother in the livingroom silently crying.
“I was with Jason and AJ-” Elizabeth’s frantic explanation was cut off as Jeff threw against the wall. She cried out as pain exploded along her lower back.
Her brother, Steven, came out of his room. “Dad, what’s going on-”
“Nothing!” Jeff shouted. “Get back in your room?”
Steven frowned, noticing his little sister on the floor. “Dad, Lizzie’s hurt. Shouldn’t-”
“Now, Steven.” Jeff jerked Elizabeth to her feet. “I’ll take Lizzie to her room.”
Elizabeth’s eyes silently pleaded with her brother to help her, but Steven sighed and returned to his room. She whimpered.
“You stupid little whore,” Jeff swore. He gripped her arm tightly and threw the door to her room open. “Skipping school, do you really expect me to believe you were at the hospital the whole time?”
“I was,” Elizabeth said. “I-”
Jeff slammed the door shut and let go of her arm with such force that Elizabeth went spinning across the room. She crashed into her bureau and slumped to the floor. The pain in her back was now overshadowed by the feeling in her skull. It felt like her skin was two sizes too small and her skull just wanted to explode out of her head. She winced and brought her fingers up to her head. When she removed them, they were wet and sticky with blood.
“You just never learn, do you?” Jeff demanded, approaching her. Elizabeth cowered and tried to crawl away towards the window, the bed, the door – anywhere but there. She got halfway to the window before Jeff grabbed her hair and yanked her to her feet. “You think that because you’re little rich boyfriend protected you once that you were never going to pay? Well, now he’s in the hospital and he can’t save you!” He pushed her violently and Elizabeth slammed against the wall. Her vision was starting to get black around the edges – but she pushed the darkness away. She had to survive this. Jason was awake – if she could just get back to hospital – he could help her, she knew he could.
Jeff’s face was crimson with fury. Elizabeth had never seen him so out of control – she had a bad feeling that this was going to be worse than ever. That she was going to pay not only for not coming home – but for Jason’s actions a month ago. This might be the time Jason had spoke of that morning – the time when Jason couldn’t protect her and Jeff’s anger might go too far.
“Daddy, please,” Elizabeth whimpered as Jeff came after her again. “Please! Don’t hurt me! I’m sorry-”
Elizabeth’s head jerked off the desk with such force, she propelled back on the chair and it hit the wall. Her head bounced off the concrete with a snap and she swore.
“Are you okay?” Jason had barely had enough time to get out of the chair before she’d been thrown back to the wall. He crouched in front of her. “Elizabeth-”
Elizabeth’s vision cleared and sharpened. “Jason?” she whispered, not wanting to believe her eyes. Was he really here this time? Was he really sitting in front of her, his blue eyes warm, caring and concerned? Tears pricked her eyes. Or was she just dreaming it again?
“Hey,” Jason said, softly. “How’s your head?”
She bit her lip and rubbed it. “Sore. What are you doing here?”
“Em said you were still here. I didn’t want you walking alone. You okay?”
She nodded. “A little embarrassed,” she laughed weakly, “And not exactly sure if you’re really here at all.” Her laughter turned to tears. “I have this tendency to wake up from the nightmares and pretend you’re here. It’s the only way I can sleep again.”
Jason took her hands in his. “I’m definitely here. You want to talk about it?”
She sniffled and pulled one of her hands free to wipe her eyes. “Yes.” She looked down. Her other hand was sandwiched between his much larger ones. “But I can’t,” she whispered.
“You sure?” Jason asked quietly. “I want to help, believe me, Elizabeth. But I can’t if you won’t let me.”
She took a deep breath. “God, Jason. You don’t know much I want to tell you,” she whispered. Her voice was broken as if tonight’s dream had been particularly bad.
He shifted. “I know you want to be strong,” he said. “And I don’t blame you. I can’t imagine what it must have been like after the accident and you didn’t have me anymore. But you can’t do this alone. It’s not working, Elizabeth…and I know you can see that. You’re falling apart and it’s hurting me to see you like this.”
She raised her watery eyes to meet his. “I-” she took a shaky breath. “I don’t know if I can,” she whispered.
Jason sighed. “You don’t have to. I won’t push you. Listen; let me take you for that ride I promised.”
“The cliff roads?” Elizabeth asked, unable to keep the eagerness from creeping into her voice.
Jason nodded. “And once we get to where we’re going, I’m going to ask you again. And if you won’t tell me…” he gripped her hands tightly. “I’ll never ask again unless you want me too. Sound good?”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “Yeah,” she breathed, “Sounds good to me.”
Jason stood. “Okay then.” He moved out of the way so she could push her chair forward. He waited as Elizabeth shut the computer down and grabbed her purse.
Jason coasted the bike to a stop and turned off the engine. Instead of getting off the bike, Elizabeth just tightened her arms around him and rested her head against his back. She hadn’t wanted the helmet tonight – and he didn’t argue.
He put his hands on her clasped ones. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she whispered, her breath warm against his back. “That was amazing – but I wish you could have gone faster.”
He chuckled, “Maybe on the way back.”
Elizabeth lifted her head and looked around. They were in a clearing in the forest – and just a head was a bridge that spanned a small creek. “Where are we?”
Jason shrugged. “Not sure if it has a name. I used to come here after the accident – to get away from the fighting at the mansion. It always helped me to calm down – put things into perspective. I thought it might help you.”
She got off the bike and ran her fingers through her wild curls. Jason got off as well and he took her hand. He pulled her onto the bridge and into the middle. Elizabeth looked down at the creek. It was small, but the creek was fast-moving. She stared at for a while. Jason leaned against the far side of the bridge and crossed his arms.
Finally, Elizabeth turned to face him. “Are you going to ask me?”
Jason looked away. “I don’t know. I don’t want to push the issue.” He looked back. “I want you to trust me, Elizabeth.”
She sighed and hugged herself. “I do trust you, Jason. And I have told you some things – things I didn’t even tell Emily the other day. Like when I wake up, I pretend you’re there so I can sleep. Do you know how easy it would be for me to tell you – to let you help?” She bit her lip. “I just don’t know if I could handle trusting you with that and having to watch you walk away all over again.”
He straightened and closed the distance between them. “I’m sure I promised that I would never leave you once and I’m sorry that I had to break that promise.” He reached his hand up to cup her cheek. “And I can’t promise that I won’t leave you again.”
She raised her eyes to meet his. “So you understand why I can’t tell you?”
Jason continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I can’t promise you that because of the life I lead—the life we both lead. You know as well as I do that there are no guarantees in life – that tomorrow, I could get shot or you could. But that’s the life we’ve chosen to live.” He brought his other hand up so that both his hands were framing her face. “But, Elizabeth, I can promise that I will never willingly walk away again. Not from you.”
She wrapped her hands around his arms and closed her eyes. God how she wanted to believe him – and it would be so easy to do that. He was saying the right things and acknowledging he could never keep that type of a promise – and the way he was looking at her…for the first time, she stopped wishing he was Jason Quartermaine. Jason Quartermaine would have kept pushing that first night in the hospital until Elizabeth had broken down and told him the truth. But Jason Morgan was willing to give her space – to develop a trust between them. To let it be her decision. A fact that made her want to tell him all the more.
She closed her eyes, feeling a few tears sneak past the closed lids and streak down her cheeks. When she opened them a few moments later, she found him staring into her eyes intently. His eyes weren’t demanding – or curious. They were just concerned and caring. He really wanted to help her. She could finally see it.
“Tonight,” she began in a law voice—so low Jason could barely hear her, despite being only inches away. “Tonight, the nightmare was about the day you woke in the hospital. I told you I left to find a nurse. That I wanted to come back, but my father showed up and took me home before I could. That I was grounded for a while—and I couldn’t come to see you. Well, that’s not entirely true.” She took a deep, shaky breath before continuing. “My father dragged me out of the hospital. His grip on my arm was so tight that I had a bruise for nearly two weeks. When we got back to the house, he dragged me up the stairs. I saw my mother crying in the living room, but she didn’t make a move to help me.”
Jason closed his eyes and blinked back tears of his own. Oh, god. He knew where this was going. He needed to be strong for her – because he’d promised himself that much.
“He threw me against the wall in the hallway,” Elizabeth whispered, her voice thick with tears. “Steven came out of his room – and for a moment, I thought he was going to help. But my father just yelled at him and he went back inside.” She sucked in a breath. “He threw me into my room and I hit a bureau. And then he threw me into a wall. I had almost passed out at that point, but I wasn’t too far gone to realize that the day you’d been warning me about for years seemed to be there. The day he was too angry to stop and would go too far.” She stopped for a second and looked up at Jason. His eyes were closed, but he hadn’t removed his hands. The muscles in his jaw were so tight; she thought they’d feel like rock if she touched him. “He grabbed me by my hair and started smacking my head against the wall. I was so scared, Jason. I was right next to the window and I was scared he was going to throw me out the window and kill me – like he’d been threatening to do for years.”
Jason did remove his hands at that point – but only to pull her into a tight embrace. She rested her head against his chest and he put his chin on the top of her head. He wanted to tell her to stop. That she didn’t need to tell him anymore. But he sensed if he stopped her now, she might never talk about it again. He moved his hands in gentle circles on her back, trying to soothe her.
Elizabeth curled her hands in his shirt and sighed. “Eventually, I passed out. When I came to, I was in my room and it was two days later. Sarah was sitting by my bed, cleaning the blood off my face. It was the first and only time she’d ever acted like she cared. I couldn’t move for another four days, but the second I could stand, I headed straight to the hospital. I wanted to tell you that you’d been right. I’d had enough – I was going to the police.” She closed her eyes. “But you didn’t remember me and I had to return to my house by myself for three years.”
He flinched. “I am so sorry, Elizabeth.” He swore under his breath. “I wish I could have done something-”
She shook her head gently. “You didn’t know and we didn’t take to each other very well at first, remember?” she said softly. “Anyway, once I turned eighteen, I was gone. He’d told me by then I wasn’t his natural daughter and I was actually relieved. I wasn’t related to a cold son of bitch who beat his daughter. And suddenly his anger made sense.” She took a deep breath. “There’s a lot more, Jason. But if you don’t want to hear it, I’ll understand.”
Jason pulled away slightly to meet her eyes. “If you want to tell me, I’ll listen,” he assured her. “But I won’t push you.”
She bit her lip and nodded. “All right.” Elizabeth looked around. “Do we have to do it here?”
He shook his head. “No. We’ll go back to the penthouse. Or anywhere else you want to go.” He moved away and offered her his hand.
Elizabeth took it without hesitation. “Thank you, Jason,” she said quietly. “For giving me the space I needed.”
“No,” he said, taking her hand and putting it over his heart. He met her eyes and held her gaze intently. “Thank you for trusting me.”