Picks up six months after the Second Epilogue in Bittersweet.
Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I’ll be right beside you dear
And we’ll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can’t raise your voice to say
Run, Snow Patrol
Monday, May 5, 2003
Palazzo Barzizza: Foyer
Jason Morgan opened the front door and set the bag of groceries on the table just inside, wincing when the old, heavy door creaked. He went through the living room, out to the terrace, hoping that it hadn’t woken her. Since she’d been released from the hospital almost two weeks earlier, Elizabeth hadn’t been able to manage more than a few hours at a time. When she’d finally drifted asleep earlier that morning, he’d gone out to run errands.
He rested a hand on the arch that separated the terrace from the living room, his chest easing when he saw her curled up on the chaise, still peacefully sleeping. He should probably wake her up — the sun would soon wash over the the area as the world rotated towards night, and she burned so easily—
But he didn’t have the heart. Or the courage. Everything he said since the accident seemed like the wrong thing—since she’d woken and he’d had to tell her because he didn’t want some strange doctor or nurse she didn’t know to be the one.
There were dark, deep half moons beneath her eyes, her pale skin nearly translucent. The bruises had faded in the month since the accident, but the evidence of her injuries remained in the cast that encompassed her entire right hand and stretched just below her elbow. She couldn’t write. Couldn’t draw. Couldn’t sketch. The accident had stolen everything she loved about herself, everything that had given her beautiful eyes that spark—
And it was his fault. He was the reason she was like this, existing instead of living. He’d been driving and had walked away with nothing more than bruises and scratches, long since healed.
He stepped back inside the house, resolving to wake her in another twenty minutes if she didn’t on her own. He retrieved the groceries, then unpacked them in the kitchen—passing the studio just off the living room, taking advantage of the view of the water. The door was closed now, as it had been since they’d left for Rome. She hadn’t stepped foot inside since she’d come home. What was the point? She’d asked in that dull flat tone he hated so much that he’d stopped asking questions.
Before the accident, before Rome, it had been so different.
Their home overlooked the Grand Canal, and for the first few weeks after their arrival, Elizabeth had filled page after page in her sketch pad, soaking in off all the sights. She’d dragged him all over the city, to the Piazza San Marco, the glass market on on the island of Murano, then toured all the other small islands in the area.
Then, after the New Year, they’d gone to Sicily because he’d never been, and she painted so much on the island, he’d had to arrange for the canvases to be shipped back to Venice because they couldn’t carry them all.
She’d worried more than once that she was ruining his travels, his escape from Port Charles, but Jason had reassured her that he was having fun—that his joy came from being with her.
He went back the living room, to the terrace, just to be sure she wasn’t starting to burn—but she’d already woken, though her position hadn’t changed. She was still curled up, her casted arm held against her chest.
“I went to the store,” he found himself saying. Elizabeth looked at him, her expression blank. “If you’re hungry.”
“I’m all right.” Her voice was rusty, and she cleared her throat, sat up. “Um. How long did I sleep?”
“Maybe forty minutes.” A month ago, he’d have sat on the edge of the chaise, lifted her legs to rest in his lap. She’d have smiled at him—
Today, he stood under the arch, the sounds of Venice swirling around them.
Elizabeth got to her feet, swayed slightly, and instinctively he reached out to steady her, his hands brushing her hips. Startled, her eyes flicked up to his. “I’m okay—”
“I—” He stepped back, his hands falling back to his side, though he itched to hold her, to sweep her hair off her face to promise it would be okay.
But he didn’t want to make promises he couldn’t keep.
She opened her mouth, but then a sound drew their attention. Below them, on the sidewalk, a postal worker was getting back into the delivery barge, moving onto the next residence. He could see a manila envelope sticking out of the gilded box on the front of the house. They rarely received mail—
“I’ll get it,” Jason said, heading to the entry way. He opened the door and reached for it — it was just the one envelope with a return address in Rome.
The world—the sights, sounds, and smells—fell away as he registered the street number. The name on the address label.
“What is it?” Elizabeth wanted to know. She’d wandered in from the terrace, still holding her arm against her chest. “Jason?”
“It’s—” He couldn’t form the words. How could he tell her? His fingers tightened around the edges. “It’s from Rome.” He looked up, met her eyes, still puzzled. “Doctor Marini.”
She was so perfectly still, she might as well have been made from stone. Her eyes filled, tears clinging to her lashes. She dropped her gaze to the envelope. “Burn it. I don’t want to see it.”
“Okay.” But he still stood there, as frozen as she was.
She sucked in a harsh breath, the sound stark in the otherwise empty room. “No. Don’t.” She closed her eyes, and somehow, seemed to shrink into herself. “Don’t,” she said again. “I just—I don’t know what to do.”
“We don’t have to do anything.”
“Would it—” Elizabeth opened her eyes and met his gaze. “Would it be better to ignore it? Is that what I’m supposed to do? Throw it away like it never happened? Would that make it easier?”
“I don’t know.” He wish he could answer even one of those questions—he’d give anything to be able to make this easier for her. For himself. But he couldn’t.
“I want—” She stepped forward, stretched out her hand, her fingers resting on the manila. “Should we keep it? Maybe one day, it won’t hurt so much.” The tears slid down her cheeks down—one splashed on his hand. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll put it away,” Jason told her fervently. “And you can decide later. When you’re ready.”
“Will I ever be ready? It just—” She swiped at her cheeks, impatiently. “It feels like I’m standing in the middle of an empty room, screaming, and there’s no one to listen. Nothing can fix this. Not burning it, not forgetting. Not sleeping. It’s just there, like this—” Her voice broke, her shoulders started to shake.
Jason set the envelope on the table, intending to reach for her, hoping that somehow this would be the moment where he could finally do something more than just hurt her—
But if it had ever existed, it was over. Elizabeth stepped away, folding her good arm around her waist, closing her eyes. “Put it away,” she murmured. “Or watch it. I don’t care.”
She brushed past him and hurried up the stairs to the second floor. A moment he heard a door slam.
Jason exhaled slowly, picked up the envelope. He ripped the side open and drew out the letter, the photograph, and the DVD. The letter was handwritten — an apology from the office for not sending it sooner and hoping that everyone was happy and healthy.
The DVD was encased in a plastic case with nothing more than Elizabeth’s name scrawled across it, and the date of her appointment.
The photograph was actually a print, a black and white scan. He stared down at it, remembering that day in the office, the bubbly excitement and light in Elizabeth’s eyes as she’d held his hand, listening to the doctor explain what they were seeing.
And he’d watched the heartbeat of their unborn child, listening to its pulse, the sound more beautiful than any he’d ever heard.
The heartbeat that was gone now. Killed when their car had flipped into a ditch, nearly crushing Elizabeth to death because it had landed on the passenger side. A single car accident, the investigator’s side. Jason couldn’t remember the crash, couldn’t remember anything other than a drive full of excitement and dream spinning—
And then pain. Blood. Crying—his own—as he’d fought to get Elizabeth out of the car before the flames engulfed him—pleading with her to wake up, to just open her eyes—
Jason swallowed hard, put the contents back into the envelope. He opened a drawer, slid it inside.
Palazzo Barzizza: Master Bedroom
She pressed her forehead against the heavy wooden door, squeezing her eyes shut, wishing away the world.
But it wouldn’t go. Not for long. There were stretches of time when she could almost pretend it wasn’t real. Every morning, she woke in this beautiful room, slept in a bed that was nearly a century old. Looked out her front door the historic canals of Venice, and her bedroom the back garden. She had Italy at her fingertips — the entire world, she corrected gently — they’d already been talking about going to France for a few months —
And she had an amazing person in her life, a gorgeous, kind, thoughtful, and generous man who loved her. Whose eyes had been shattered since she woke up in that sterile white room—she’d known even before he said the words—it was in those eyes and the way he’d breathed—
He looked at her everyday as if she were delicate. Fragile. And she couldn’t even blame him—
Elizabeth traced her fingers over the cast that hid her healing forearm. The cast that had kept her from processing this grief the way she always had—in her art. She couldn’t draw or paint. She could barely move her fingers back and forth. The pain was unbearable, it kept bubbling up when she least expected it—
She’d almost felt all right today. Almost. Her arm felt heavy and useless, and her chest still a bit tight from the surgery, the scar still healing. But there had been that moment out by th chaise, when Jason had forgotten for a minute, and he’d touched her. And she’d wanted to reach out to him, just hold him—
And then the mail. That envelope with its fresh reminder. If they opened it, she knew what was inside. The DVD she’d asked the doctor’s office to send to Venice when it was ready — they were cutting their to Rome short so they could go home and make plans.
She’d known about the baby for just a week. Not long at all in the scheme of things. She’d had manicures that lasted longer, but the baby had been a reality longer than that—she simply hadn’t known. Two months along, the doctor had predicted. Due in late October. Jason had teased her suggesting maybe she’d share a birthday with the baby.
She covered her abdomen with the uncasted hand. Two months, and she hadn’t known. A week, and then it was all over.
Nothing was getting better here. There would be reminders every time she walked down the hall — on that fateful road trip between Rome and Venice, she’d started talking about what room they’d choose for the nursery in the beautiful palazzo he’d rented. Across the hall, she’d decided, even though she was sure she’d change her mind a thousand times—
Elizabeth opened the bedroom door, stared across the hallway at that room. Almost in a trance, she pushed the door open, twisting the knob. It was empty, so empty she could almost hear her breathing echo.
She felt like this room, hollowed from the inside out, and she didn’t know how to stop it.
She didn’t hear the footsteps on the stairs or in the hallway, but knew he was behind her. The air changed, and her breathing wasn’t the only echo.
“I need to make a change,” Elizabeth said finally. She turned to face him, forcing herself to meet his eyes, to confront the pain in them. “I—I know you might not want to go back yet, and we talked about maybe the fall, but I need to go home. You don’t have to go if you don’t want.” She held her arm against her, dropping her eyes because she’d seen him flinch, the flex of his hands into fists at his side.
“It’s just—” She bit her lip. “Being here is making it worse, and I don’t—I can’t be in this house anymore. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know you spent all the money for the year, but—”
“I don’t care about that,” Jason said roughly. He swallowed hard. “I don’t,” he repeated. “We’ll go home. You should have Bobbie. Gia, Emily, Courtney—whoever you need. Whatever you need.”
But what did he need? The question was on the tip of her tongue, but she didn’t know how to ask it. She’d done it once, and he’d just turned it around. He needed her to be okay, but that couldn’t be the answer. It wasn’t fair to put that on her. Just like this entire trip, he’d centered it on her, and it was suffocating—because if she wasn’t okay, he couldn’t be okay, and that was too much pressure to be responsible for both them—
So she didn’t ask it. She nodded. “Um, I guess I’ll start packing what I want for the plane, and—”
“I can get someone to take care of the rest. Ship it to Port Charles. If you’re sure we’re done in Venice.”
Elizabeth looked out the window, over the gardens. She’d wanted their child to begin life here in Italy, in this house where so many of her dreams had come true. Where she’d been happiest. A baby conceived in love and warmth and sunshine deserved nothing less than the best, and it felt like that was here—
“With this house,” Elizabeth said finally. She finally flicked her gaze back to him. “It’s—it’s too much. I can’t come back here. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll make the arrangements,” he promised. “As soon as possible. We’ll go home.”
Port Charles, New York
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
“We should go to the beach.”
Sonny Corinthos barely heard the request as he refilled his tumbler with bourbon, watching the dark liquid fill the clear space. She’d been asking to leave town for a few days now, so eventually he’d have to pay attention, but he had to stick close to Port Charles right now. He winced as he took a long sip, the liquor burning his throat. A mistake one February night, and he’d locked himself all up again.
He really was an idiot.
Slender arms wrapped around his waist, dark hair brushing the sleeve of his suit jacket, and he had just one moment of wishing it was another woman behind him. Which wasn’t fair to either woman, he thought.
Not that Brenda would know. She’d been dead nearly five years—
“Did you hear me?” Now she’d begin to pout, and Sonny would have to apologize. He set the tumbler on the minibar and turned, flashing her a smile, knowing the dimples were winking in his cheeks.
“I heard you.”
Samantha McCall arched one dark slim eyebrow. “Well? The beach? We could be on the island before dinner—”
“A few weeks,” he said, softening the refusal with a long, lingering kiss. She grasped the lapels of his jacket, sliding it off his shoulders.
“Next week,” Sam murmured, her busy hands moving to the buckle on his belt.
He nearly gave in to both the demand and the destination of those talented fingers—but Sonny stopped. He kissed the inside of her palm. “I have a meeting,” he reminded her. He stooped down, grabbed the jacket. “Remember?”
“You know, this wasn’t exactly the life I was promised when you asked me to move in,” Sam reminded him as Sonny straightened the cuffs of the jacket.
He’d only asked her to live with him because it was more convenient that way, Sonny thought. Rather than having to wait for her to show up or heading across town to her hotel—but he knew she’d thought differently. Had maybe expected a diamond ring.
Sonny was done with impulsive proposals. Done with marriage. As soon as he realized he was being scammed—
Which reminded him of the meeting—Sonny checked his watch. Late again. That was starting to get annoying.
He strode to the door, yanked it open, then scowled when his lawyer was on the other side, his hand raised to knock. “Finally.”
“Apologies. There was some traffic downtown,” Ric Lansing said, smoothly. He strode past Sonny, set his briefcase on the desk. “I brought those documents you wanted.” He flicked his eyes past Sonny. “Ms. McCall.”
“Ric,” Sam said, almost with a sneer. She had no love lost for his lawyer—not since she’d walked in on Ric attempting to convince Sonny that the woman was little more than a con artist trying to fleece him. Not really a great first impression. She flicked her eyes to Sonny. “I’ll be upstairs.”
Sonny dismissed her as soon as she was out of sight, turned to his lawyer. “Ironclad, right? No room to wiggle around and make other demands?”
“No. It’s very clear.” Ric handed it to him. “But you can review it first. Is she getting her own attorney?”
“I didn’t ask.” Sonny scanned the contract, then handed it back. “Looks good,” he replied, as the phone rang. He reached over to grab the receiver. “Hello?”
Sonny closed his eyes, turning away from Ric so that the lawyer didn’t see him. The voice sounded like it was a million miles away, but it was familiar. One he hadn’t heard in nearly six months. “Jason.”
“I need—” There was a pause. “I need a favor.”
“Anything,” Sonny said immediately, not caring if it was as simple as shipping something to Italy or arranging for the overthrow of a dictator—if Jason needed something, Sonny would get it for him.
Finally an opening—a road back to where he’d been last year. To get his best friend back. “What is it?”
“I—Elizabeth and I are coming back, but the only flights I can get for a few weeks have layovers. I—I don’t want her to deal with that.”
Sonny’s hand tightened around the receiver, but he swallowed the question. Don’t push too hard. Don’t scare him off. “Just tell me what airport, and I’ll have the jet there tomorow.”
Alcazar Compound: Terrace
It was late that same night, and Zander Smith found himself invited up to the big house for dinner. It had been six months since his arrival in Venezuela, and he wasn’t any closer to completing his objective than he’d been in December.
He sipped the glass of rum that had been handed to him when he’d arrived, grimacing at the taste. He’d never been a big fan of hard liquor, but Luis Alcazar was inordinately proud of this label—he made it himself in the distillery somewhere on the estate.
“My apologies,” the man in question spoke from behind him. Zander turned to find Luis in one of the arched doorways, a cigar in his hand, his own portion of rum in the other. “I see Estrellita has taken care of you.”
“Yes.” Zander raised the glass, sipping it. “Thank you for the invitation. What’s the occasion?”
“A bit of movement finally in the next stage of our plan.” Lorenzo joined him at the railing, listening to the waves crashing beneath them, the compound perched high above it. “I’ve had a call from some friends in Italy.”
“Italy?” Zander repeated. “What’s in Italy?”
“No one anymore,” Luis murmured. “You were right last summer. The way to Sonny Corinthos is through Jason Morgan. He’s proving very hard to kill.”
“You’re not kidding,” Zander muttered.
“Alas, I nearly had him a month ago.” Luis puffed the cigar, exhaled a stream of smoke. “But he has nine lives. Escaped with nothing more than a concussion. The girlfriend, however, nearly died.”
Zander’s chest tightened at the mention of Elizabeth. He usually dismissed thoughts of her, but sometimes he remembered nights at Kelly’s, watching as she and her best friend sipped hot chocolate and laughed. Her best friend, Emily. If Zander had ever loved anyone more than himself, it had been Emily.
And it was Emily he thought of Alcazar spoke of dismissively of Jason’s girlfriend’s near-death experience. Had she worried? Had she cried? Someone had been there to comfort her, he hoped—
“They’re returning to Port Charles.”
Zander frowned. “How is that a good thing?” he wanted to know. “Wasn’t it better to have him on another continent?”
“You’d think,” Alcazar murmured. “But if I can’t kill him somewhere else, I’ll need to change strategy. I’ve been a bit blocked on that front. Writer’s block, if you will. Unsure the best way to take Sonny Corinthos apart, bit by bit.” He tapped the ashes. “We’ll talk and maybe you’ll help me think.”
He gestured for Zander to follow him inside the house, into a large, sumptuous dining room. They weren’t alone.
Already seated next to the head of the table was a slender woman with dark hair and dark eyes. She looked at him, her eyes a bit empty. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in real life—
He cleared his throat, looked at Alcazar who was smiling.
“My darling,” he said to the woman. “I’ve brought you a treat. Zander Smith. He used to live in Port Charles. I thought you might enjoy trading stories. Zander,” Alcazar said, drawing Zander’s attention. “I’m sure you recognize my better half.” His smile was silky as he continued, “Don’t you?”
It was a test. Would he deny it when Alcazar already knew the answer? And what would he do with this information?
Zander nodded slowly. “Of course,” he said, a bit stilted. “Emily talks about you often,” he told the woman. “I, uh, knew her. You were close with the family, weren’t you?”
The woman smiled, and now there was warmth in her eyes. “I loved them like my own. You have to tell me everything. How is Emily? I haven’t seen her in ages.”
No, of course not, Zander thought. Brenda Barrett had been dead for years. And yet, there she sat, alive and well. Zander took a seat across from Sonny Corinthos’s former fiancée.
He’d been dispatched to the compound as a mole for Hector Ruiz, eager to learn why Alcazar had played a cat and mouse game with Sonny the previous summer.
Well, mission accomplished. Now what?