Written in 60 minutes.
Thursday, February 3, 2000
Harborview Towers: Parking Garage
Jason switched off the engine of his bike and sat for a long moment. He needed to check in with Sonny, and then hopefully Elizabeth had already gone to bed so he wouldn’t have look t her. She knew what he’d gone to do, of course, but if he could just go to bed, hold her, and then tomorrow, wake up and never talk about Joseph Sorel again—
He dragged himself into the elevator, relieved that security had dialed back to the skeleton crew and that there was no one on duty in front of the penthouses. The fewer people he had to see, the easier it would be for all of them if the body ever surfaced.
It wouldn’t, but it was always good to plan for worst case scenarios.
Sonny had waited up, nursing a tumbler of bourbon. He glanced over and Jason stopped, taking in the strange sense of having lived this moment before.
His partner was sitting in the chair by the fireplace, the liquor in his hand, his hair slightly disheveled, and Jason returning from taking care of business. Just like that night in December.
Except he didn’t have to look at the stairs, didn’t have to worry about what he’d see. Elizabeth was safe across the hall in his bed, and Jason intended to keep it that way.
“Is it done?” Sonny asked, skimming his eyes over Jason’s form. “You’re good?”
“Yes,” Jason said shortly. “It’s done.”
“Good.” Sonny got to his feet, tossed back the last of the bourbon. “Go home. We can talk about everything else tomorrow.”
Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom
The room was dark. He could barely see the outline of Elizabeth in bed, resting on her side, one hand draped over the edge. He went into the bathroom, dumped everything he was wearing into the trash, and turned on the shower. There was nothing on him — it hadn’t been that kind of kill, but it still felt like it lingered on his skin and he wouldn’t bring that to her. And he didn’t want her touching anything he’d been wearing.
He’d done what was necessary to protect his family, and he would never regret it. That didn’t mean he wanted to dwell on what he’d had to do.
Jason stepped beneath the spray, only dimly registering it might be a bit too hot. He didn’t always feel temperature well, but he felt the sting against his skin.
He didn’t hear the shower door open, but he heard the hiss. “Are you trying to boil yourself?”
Jason winced, then turned, thinking Elizabeth would just be standing outside the door, holding it open to check on him. His eyes widened when he realized she’d shed herclothes and closed herself into the shower with him, the spray already dampening her hair, slicking it back her head. He muttered, twisting the knob to turn down the hot water. “What—”
“I heard you come home.” She smiled as the water turned cooler. “Thanks—”
The smile turned a bit nervous as she stood there, and he stayed at the other end of the shower, still not quite sure what she was doing or why. Didn’t she realize where he’d been? What he’d done? Why hadn’t she waited in bed—
Elizabeth bit her lip, then a light came into her eyes that he knew all too well. Determination. She’d folded her arms over her torso, shielding her upper body from him as the discomfort had set in. She let them fall to the side as she closed the short distance between them, the steam and water swirling around them. “I heard you come in,” she repeated, her eyes on him. “I tried to wait up.”
“You shouldn’t have,” he murmured, barely audible over the water, but he couldn’t help him. He trailed his fingers down her shoulders, sliding easily with the slickness of the water.
“I was worried,” she admitted. “And I also knew—” She glanced at the side of the shower, the steam clouding the clear glass. “I saw your clothes in the trash. I thought you might be hurt.”
“I’m not.” He kissed her forehead, then trailed his mouth down her skin to her mouth. “Go back to bed. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“You don’t need to do this.” Elizabeth framed his face with hers. “I know who you are.”
“And I know where you were.” Her eyes searched his. “It’s over, isn’t it? We’re safe.”
“You’re safe.” For now. Until his choices a thousand years ago put her in danger again.
“Good.” She slid her arms around his neck, pressing her slick body against his and he groaned, letting his forehead drop to rest against hers. “I know who you are,” she said again. “And I won’t run from it. My face won’t change.”
Jason raised his head, saw the sincerity, the plea to believe her and man, he wanted to. He wanted to believe that this time it was different. That she wasn’t Robin, who had tolerated the other part of him, or Carly who had just wanted the money and power. That here was someone who really did see and understand him. Who wanted him anyway.
He kissed her, slowly and reverently, hoping that it was true, that she really meant it. “Let’s go to bed—”
“Actually—” Elizabeth drew back, her eyes gleaming and her smile turning slightly wicked. “Why don’t we stay right where we are?”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
They slept late the next morning — if there had been a lot of sleep to be had. Jason knew Sonny would call for him eventually, but right now, the morning was theirs. Elizabeth had an evening class and was planning to head to the studio that afternoon, but for now—
He handed her a cup of hot chocolate just the way she liked it, including sprinkles and she beamed at him, curled up in the corner of the sofa. “You really do pay attention.”
Jason sat, his simpler cup of black coffee in hand, and drew her legs over his lap, wanting to be closer to her, needing the contact. “It helps that Emily takes it the same,” he admitted.
“Yeah, I started it. It works great when we’re together. Three packs split two ways.” Elizabeth sipped it, closing her eyes. “Perfect.”
They sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes. He nearly stayed silent, not wanting to rock the boat. Things were good just the way they were, and he didn’t want to think about anyone else outside this room. But he couldn’t pretend.
“Yesterday,” Jason said, slowly, and looked at her. She raised her brows, one hand wrapped around the handle of the mug, and the other cupping the mug from the other side. “You said I wasn’t ready to talk about why I don’t want to tell Sonny or AJ about the baby.”
She exhaled slowly, and some of the light left her eyes. He regretted it, but as long as they didn’t have this conversation, it would sit between them. And she might honestly not want it to mess things up — but it would. He’d learned the hard way from Robin that words left unsaid were worse than the ones that you screamed at each other. Those unspoken words burned like acid at the foundation of everything you wanted, and you wouldn’t even realize it until everything collapsed.
He wouldn’t do it again. He’d never forgive himself if keeping this secret somehow cost him this time with Elizabeth, for however long she’d stay with him. He wasn’t willing to lose a minute of it if he could stop it.
“I did,” Elizabeth said finally. She drew her legs out of his lap, folded them underneath her body, then reached to set the hot chocolate on the table.
“It sounded like you think you know why I’m doing it,” Jason continued, twisting slightly until they were facing each other. “And that it’s not what I’m saying outloud. You think I’m lying to you.”
“No,” Elizabeth said with a forceful shake of her head. “I don’t think you’re lying. You’d never lie to me.”
“Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’m worried—” She drew her bottom lip between her teeth, biting down as if what she was going to say was so painful she needed to hurt herself first to take the sting out of it. “I’m worried that you’re really protecting Carly. I know it’s about protecting Michael, and I understand that, but he’s barely two. He won’t be called into court to be asked which parent he wants to live with. He won’t even know most of it is happening—”
“Kids know more than we think—”
“I know. I know they do,” Elizabeth assured. “And I know it’ll be upsetting if he loses one of his parents full-time. But I honestly think — whatever else Carly has done in her life, I know she loves Michael. And as much as it hurts you, you know AJ does, too. He’ll know people are angry, but he’ll still feel the love. And I don’t know if it’s a good idea to make this kind of decision because a little boy will be confused for a while.”
Jason exhaled slowly, then looked away, staring at the opposite wall as he took in her words. Was it really just Michael he was protecting? Or was there some small piece of him that instinctively want to shield Carly after all she’d done to him?
And if that was true—if it really was just Carly he was protecting—what did that say about him? That he was willing to to hurt others to keep Carly happy? To do her bidding and keep her secrets? He’d done it to Robin, hadn’t he? But that was different, he reminded himself. He’d done that to keep Michael. He’d have done anything to keep that precious boy all to himself.
“I’m not telling you what you’re feeling or thinking. I’m sorry if that’s how it sounded. I know you hate that,” Elizabeth added, and he swung his head back. “I think saying that I think there’s more to this for you — maybe that’s my own fears creeping out, you know?”
“Your fears?” he repeated, with a frown. “What—”
“I’m scared you’re really just protecting Carly,” she admitted in a small voice. “That you’ve been doing it so long you don’t know how to stop. Or maybe it’s…you told me weeks ago you didn’t think you were still in love with her, but maybe it’s just how you want to feel—”
He scowled. “Don’t—”
“I’m sorry, that’s me—” Elizabeth closed her eyes, her expression twisted, and he wished he hadn’t started this. “That’s me again. I’m afraid that’s how you feel.”
He didn’t really see how it was any different. “If it’s what you think, then you think I lied—”
“God, I wish it were that black and white,” Elizabeth muttered. She dragged a hand through hair, then covered her mouth. “It’s—it’s—look, the day we got married, I told you that it was all okay—what happened at the church and what Carly said. I told you I was fine because you hadn’t broken any promises to me. I meant that, Jason. But you saw that as much as I meant it, there was a piece of me that didn’t. Because—” Her voice faltered and she stared down at her hand. At the ring he’d slipped on her finger. “Because until she came in, I forgot for a while why we were there. Which seems insane, I guess, but Father Coates was asking us to repeat the vows, and it didn’t feel like a lie.”
“It didn’t for me either,” Jason told her, and she smiled faintly.
“But then Carly came in and it was like someone popped a bubble and I fell to the ground. Two weeks before we got married, you sat in my studio and told another woman you loved her.”
He exhaled slowly. “I thought I did. That seeing her with Sonny had hurt so much because I loved her. It made sense. But I couldn’t have loved her. It wasn’t real—”
“It wasn’t,” Jason insisted. “Because all she ever did was hurt me, and all I ever did was clean up after her and wait for the next round. I loved Michael,” he continued. “And I destroyed everything else in my life to keep him. I wanted him back. And the only way to get him back was to keep Carly in my life. You know how easy it is to lie to yourself, Elizabeth. Is it so hard to believe I was doing it, too?”
“No, I guess not,” she admitted.
“I was hurt because of Sonny,” Jason continued, “and I felt like an idiot because everyone had told me who Carly was. I thought I knew who she was. And I was still blindsided by what she could do. Because to give up on Carly—” He closed his eyes and forced out the next words. “It’s giving up on Michael. I know he’ll never be mine again, but I can’t stop wanting it. I can’t stop loving him. I don’t know.”
She didn’t say anything to that, and Jason just sat, absorbing it, realizing the truth in his own words. If he kept Carly happy, he was still holding out some kernel of hope that it would be different. That Michael could be his again. Why did he have to keep learning over and over again that it was over? That Michael wasn’t his to keep and never had been?
“Okay,” Elizabeth said softly. “That’s enough for me.”
Jason frowned, looked at her with confusion. “What?”
“I know how much it hurt to lose him. How much it still hurts. I lost Lucky,” she reminded him, “and I know it’s not the same because maybe it’s worse to lose someone and watch them go off and live a life without you. Michael won’t remember the year he spent with you. For him, it won’t have happened. You get to grieve that for as long you need to, Jason. You let me grieve without limits.”
He scrubbed his hands over his face. “It’s not the same,” he echoed. “And your grieving didn’t hurt anyone.”
“Except myself,” Elizabeth said with a half smile. “But you gave me the space I needed to realize that, and I’m on the other side. I see a future now, and that wasn’t true six months ago.”
Jason got to his feet, put down his coffee cup. He held out his hand, and confused, Elizabeth took it. He pulled her to his feet. “Thank you,” Jason told her, kissing the inside of her palm. “For trying to understand. But you’re right. It doesn’t matter why I’m doing it, I’m still protecting Carly. And she doesn’t deserve it. She never has.”
“Come with me.”
Jason pulled her across the hall and then he knocked on Sonny’s door. A moment later, it was pulled open by the man himself, who frowned at the two of them. “What—”
“There’s something I need to tell you.”