This story is an extended version of my Flash Fic story Homeless. That short is basically the prologue to this story, picking up the day after that one ends. There is only one change to the flash fic, instead of Elizabeth arriving at Jake's the night before Jason arrives, she arrived there several days earlier. Other than that, it stays the same.

Chapter 1

When Elizabeth slowly drifted from that beautiful state of sleep to wakefulness, she stretched languidly, content to just lay there with her eyes closed. The lazy feeling suddenly disappeared when she sensed that there was someone else in the room; there was a different breathing pattern than hers. She tensed; afraid that maybe the past week had been just a dream. Cautiously she reached her hand out, praying she didn't encounter Lucky lying next to her.

She felt an immeasurable amount of relief when she realized the bed was empty. Maybe her mind was simply playing tricks on her. The last week had happened. She and Lucky had broken up after she found him in bed with her sister, and the Spencer family had embraced Sarah while giving Elizabeth the cold shoulder. It clearly had to be her fault Lucky had cheated on her, so she was out and Sarah was in.

Those memories had just been brought to the surface because she'd run into a guy who knew her an extension of Lucky. Sure, the guy had apologized for giving her grief and for trying to get her to give up her room. That was the only reason she was thinking about Lucky and why she thought she wasn't alone.

Her eyes flew open when she heard a snort. There, sleeping in the recliner that came with the room was Jason Morgan. Lying perfectly still, she tried to recall how that had happened, wondering if she'd had a few beers last night that were clouding her memories.

"I'm sorry," she sniffled, pulling back and wiping at her eyes. "I kinda got your shirt all wet."

"Don't worry about it," he assured her softly, as if having a stranger cry on his shoulder for ten minutes was no big deal. "I'm just sorry you're hurting."

She said nothing, just pinched her face into tight lines. She didn't want to talk about Lucky or Sarah anymore tonight. "I'm sorry for yelling at you earlier."

"Ah, no worries. I wasn't exactly very polite either. I think this is the first time I can remember Jake not ever having a room for me."

"I'm sorry," she said once again. "Do you know where you'll go?"

He gave a careless shrug. "No need to worry about me, Elizabeth. I can take care of myself. I'll just find a hotel room or something and wait for a room to open up here."

"You won't find anything decent at this time of the night," she protested, and then sighed, weighing her next words. "Look, I know it's not the best, but you can have the chair, 'cause I doubt you'd take the bed."

"You don't have to do that," he shook his head. "I've slept in places worse than the dives on Courtland Street."

"Please don't. I'd worry about you trying to get a room there."

They'd gone back and forth for a while, but in the end he agreed. Probably just so he could get some sleep. Now she was wondering why she'd argued so adamantly with him. What was she thinking last night, inviting him to stay? Her brain must have been befuddled by tears.

Jason Morgan was a soldier of fortune. Most likely a killer who did so for the highest price. She had to be out of her mind inviting him to stay in her room. Not that he probably killed just for fun - or maybe he did - but she was really dumb for being alone with him while she was asleep. No wonder she'd been so blind to Lucky's involvement with Sarah. She really had poor judgment when it came to men

Slipping quietly out of bed and gathering her clothes for the day, she hoped that she could slip into the bathroom before he woke up. It would appear she had no such luck. She heard him moving around on the chair before she heard his voice. "Good morning."

Straightening from the dresser and turning around she timidly smiled. "Morning. Sorry if I woke you up. I...I just need to get showered and dressed."

Bolting into the bathroom she locked the door with trembling fingers. He probably thought she was a silly little girl, but things had always looked different in the light of morning. And having Jason Morgan in her room - and in her life - probably wasn't the wisest thing.

After she was showered and dressed, she cautiously cracked open the door and was relieved to see Jason wasn't there. She pulled on her boots and brushed on some make-up quickly, then grabbed her purse and keys ready to head out. Halfway down the stairs she saw Jason appear at the bottom holding several bags from The Waffle House

"Hey," she squeaked out in surprise.

"Were you leaving?" he asked with a frown. "I didn't know what you might like, but I got some food to say thank you for letting me stay last night."

"Oh, you shouldn't have," she protested. "I mean...really it was no big deal. Besides, I gotta get going."

He backed up as she came down the stairs, skirting the wall. "Did I do something wrong? I make you nervous, Elizabeth?"

She blushed furiously as he seemed to know instinctively why she was wigging out. It seemed so silly when it put it like that. How was she supposed to say she felt stupid for letting a killer stay in her room? "No," she said without much conviction. "I just...I have to go or I'll be late."

"Wait, don't you want any breakfast?" he asked.

"Do you have any waffles?" she asked, warring with herself to just run out the door.

He handed over a bag with a grin. "I got the house special."

"Thanks," she said, taking the bag and practically dashing for the door. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

Jason watched as Elizabeth bolted from the room and sighed with a shake of his head. He should have known. While she had been kind enough last night once she wasn't trying to shove a baseball bat up his nose, even offering him the chair in her room because she must have seen how tired he felt, he should have known it wouldn't last. Anyone who lived in this town long enough heard about him and his job. And they usually ran the other way.

Sure, maybe it wasn't the best line of work he could be in. He protected businessmen traveling abroad, he protected document, he was sometimes sent to retrieve items and people taken by unscrupulous people, and sometimes the unscrupulous people were the ones signing his paycheck. He'd even had to kill on occasion, he didn't deny it. It was always a last resort measure, though.

People didn't always understand the distinctions of the job sometimes, and he couldn't say he blamed them. It's not like they hand out pamphlets on career day for his line of work. He certainly hadn't planned on ending up in profession, it just...happened.

Elizabeth Webber seemed like a decent person, too decent to get messed up with the likes of him. Just because she dated the Spencer whelp didn't mean anything. It's not like she was thick as thieves with the old man.

Jason dropped the bag of food onto the table, reached in and pulled out a link of sausage, then picked up the coffee. Somehow the thought of breakfast wasn't as appealing as it had been when he thought about doing something nice for Elizabeth. He had things he needed to do today, things more important than worry about Elizabeth Webber's brush off of him. He needed to find a place to stay, and he needed to hit the stores to replace some of his belongings. By the end of the day, the only time he'd think of Elizabeth was if she was the waitress on duty bringing him beers tonight.

Several hours later Jason found himself near the docks as he was starting to get hungry. A bowl of Ruby's chili sounded like just the right thing, so he headed towards the aged brick building. When he stepped inside, he saw that the small diner was mostly empty and he smiled. He hated eating during meal rushes. Waitresses were always harried and meals were never fully cooked.

He sat down at a table and turned over his coffee mug, smiling at the waitress when she called out she'd be with him in just a second. After placing his order, he sat sipping his coffee and looking around the diner. It hadn't changed very much in all the years he'd been coming there. His shopping bags were in his car; good thing his ex-girlfriend had never been added to the lease of his parking spaces, and he paid a year at a time, or the backstabbing shrew would have probably tried to get rid of his car and his motorcycle. Now that he had his belongings replenished, he needed to find a place to live.

Noisy voices carried down the stairs as the waitress brought out his chili, and he paused before picking up his spoon. Lucky Spencer and a blonde clattered raucously into the diner and dropped into chairs. He wondered if he should tell them that his shirt was on inside out and hers was buttoned wrong. Then he figured, why? They looked like they could do with a little public humiliation, and since he couldn't get his ex back, he could get a little revenge on Elizabeth's.

After enduring ten minutes of their noisy, and nauseating, PDAs he was thinking clothing embarrassment wasn't good enough for them. Maybe rotten teeth would be good, because his sure hurt. It was when the woman he assumed Sarah Webber left, that Jason suddenly felt the need to sit on his hands. Lucky leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head, elbows jutted out cockily.

"Hey," he smirked.

"Hey," Jason returned blankly.

"Jason Morgan, right?"

"Right." He fished out his wallet and pulled out a twenty. He did not want to talk with Lucky Spencer, and do whatever bonding moment the younger man was attempting to do.

"Haven't seen you around here in a while," Lucky said, wiping his mouth.

"Been working."

"Don't you usually hang out at Jakes?" he asked, just as Jason reached the door.

Annoyed with the punk for continuing to talk when it was clear he just wanted to leave, and annoyed with himself for not just walking out the door, Jason turned around. "Yeah. What's it to you?"

"Whoa," the blond laugh, holding up his hands. "I'm just making conversation."

"Look. You want something, just ask."

"Were you there last night? I'm just wondering if you saw my girlfriend."

Jason hooked his thumb over his shoulder. "The blonde? Nope."

"Nah," Lucky laughed, "she's not my girlfriend. That's just Sarah. Elizabeth's just going through a phase right now, so she's working there."

"A phase?" Jason arched a brow.

"Yeah. She's thinking she needs freedom, that she can do better. But I know her, and Elizabeth's a meek, little thing." Jason just pursed his lips like he was listening, but all he could think was Elizabeth certainly wasn't meek when she threatened to clean his clock last night. "A few more days, a week at the most, and she'll be back."

"And the blonde?" he found himself asking.

"Sarah knows the score."

"I see." He didn't, but he found himself wanting to know more about Lucky Spencer. The best way to do reconnaissance was to keep close to your mark. "Hey," he said, taking his hand off the door. "Your family owns this place, right?"

"My dad and my aunt," Lucky nodded.

"Do you know if there are any rooms available? I need a place to stay."

Chapter 2

Early the next morning Jason stumbled down the stairs and planted himself at the counter. Kelly's opened early to provide breakfast for the dockworkers. He didn't care much for breakfast, but he definitely wanted coffee. The only available room in the place was next to Lucky's and he and Sarah had been quite vocal in their amorous endeavors last night. Apparently the no overnight guests rule didn't apply to the son of the owner.

"What can I get for you this morning?"

Jason looked up at the waitress wearing a bright smile despite the early hour. "Just coffee. Black."

She smiled and filled his cup with steaming liquid. "You rented a room here, didn't you?"

He nodded, taking a sip of his coffee.

"Well," she said, casting a glace at the stairs, "good luck with your neighbors."

She headed out to the main dining area to refill coffee cups and take orders. When there was a lull in the crowd and she came back to refill his coffee cup, he flashed her a disarming smile. "So what's the deal with the guy named after a dog?"

She looked over her shoulder, then leaned forward. "He's the son and nephew of the owners, and a pain the butt. He was dating one of the waitresses here, but when she caught him cheating she left him. He thinks she'll come back, but she won't. I know Elizabeth and she's got her backbone back - which seemed to have slowly disappeared while she was dating him."

Jason laid a ten on the counter and thanked her for the coffee before heading out the door. It appeared it was only Spencer who was delusional. Now that he felt better Elizabeth wouldn't go back and attach herself to the human slime he could let go of his worry. Why he'd even been worrying in the first place he didn't know. But now it could stop. He had plenty of other things to do.

He planned on taking full advantage of his time between jobs. However long that may be. He was going to pull his bike out from storage, and hit the roads along the cliff. He'd hang out at Jake's and play some pool, maybe even scrounge up a poker game or two. There was no time, or room, in his life to care about anyone else. Let alone a female. He'd tried that with Caroline, and he wasn't going back to it again.

If he saw Elizabeth at Jake's, probably would be rather hard not to since she lived and worked there, he'd just treat her like any other person. He'd be polite, but indifferent. She probably wouldn't be interested in being too talkative anyways, so it wouldn't be a problem.

Breathing in the cool, moist morning air, he slipped his hands into his leather jacket and headed off. He needed to get his bike, do any maintenance needed, and then he planned to spend the day out riding.

Most of the time, Jake wasn't a worrier. She also didn't mother or coddle people. She didn't tolerate fights in her bars or being late with the rent. She hired people who could handle themselves, expected her waitresses to deliver the drinks and the food - though she never put up with anyone getting grabby with the girls or harassing them. She ran her bar and boarding house efficiently and she minded her own business.

But every once in a while, someone got through her defenses. Jason Morgan was one of those people. Oh, she knew he didn't need her to take care of him, but she couldn't help but look out for him. Which was why she felt bad for not having a room for him when his heartless ex married someone else and kicked him out of his own house.

A supply problem had kept her from getting a chance to talk to him last night, so she was glad he was back tonight when she had a moment to talk. She smiled, grabbed two beers and walked over to him. "How are you tonight, Jason?"

"Pretty good, Jake," he smiled. "Took the bike out today."

"It's a good thing that little viper wasn't able to get her hands on it, or she would have sold it just to spite you."

"Don't be too harsh on her, Jake. I was gone for a long time with no contact. That's a hard thing to take."

She pointed at him sternly wither beer bottle. "Don't you be too nice on her. She kicked you out of your own home, destroyed your belongings, she deserves to pay for what she's done."

He shrugged and finished his beer. "I just don't have it in me to be harsh."

"You're too kind," she shook her head, pinning him with her gaze until he shifted and looked away. Jason Morgan, for being a soldier of fortune, was sometimes too much of a kind-hearted sap and she couldn't understand it. But it wasn't her place to question it, so she simply smiled and asked, "Can I get you another?"

"Sure," he agreed, and popped a handful of peanuts into his mouth.

She placed a fresh beer in front of him and then headed off to fill the drinks for other customers. Looking around the bar she wondered where Elizabeth had disappeared to. The young woman was another one of those few who had slipped through her defenses, showing up with two worn suitcases and a desperate plea for a place to stay. Jake knew what happened outside her bar, contrary to what people may think, and she knew that Elizabeth had been seeing Lucky Spencer and so she wondered what would prompt her to move from Kelly's and seek a room at her bar.

As Elizabeth slowly divulged her story over the course of several days, Jake warmed to the woman even more. So it made her blood boil when she spotted her waitress across the bar, cornered by her ex-boyfriend. Slamming a mug of beer down in front of a customer she stalked the length of the bar, ready to go out there when Jason's voice stopped her.

"Jake's what's wrong?"

Jason often volunteered his services as bouncer and security and he was standing, scanning the bar, probably ready to go out and deal with whatever trouble he figured she spotted. "It's nothing for you to worry about. The day I can't handle someone like Lucky Spencer is the day I sell this bar."

Jason looked around and scowled when he saw Lucky and Elizabeth standing together. He sat back down and continued to glare as he took a drink of beer. She smiled at him, "See, nothing for you to rush off to take care of."

"You could take your own advice," he said, looking at Jake. "I had a little encounter with her the other night, and believe me, Elizabeth can take care of herself."

"Oh," she raised a brow, wondering what the story was there, but also challenging Jason. "So we just sit here and watch him grab her?"

Jason's head snapped around and he stood. She chuckled as he strode across the room without saying a word to her. Jason Morgan never could stand to see a woman manhandled.

Elizabeth just wanted this day to be over. She didn't really care how it ended - earthquake, fire, hurricane, plague of locusts, she'd even welcome being abducted by aliens - so long as it ended. If something didn't change soon and get her away from this conversation with Lucky, she was going to break a glass and slit her wrists.

It did seem like a fitting inclusion in a day where the kids at the community center seemed to be out of control and got into a fight. Her classroom was a disastrous mess she was going to have to go in early tomorrow and finish cleaning. She hadn't been able to finish it tonight, because she had to get back to her room with enough time to wash the paint off before she started her shift in the bar. Not only that, but she'd had to endure her sister stopping by just to talk.

Now, Lucky decided to show up and just make her day complete. Jake was going to get upset if she didn't get back to work soon. It was starting to get busy and yet every time Elizabeth tried to move past Lucky he would move and block her in.

"Lucky," she snapped, beyond irritated, "will you stop? I have a job I need to do, not stand around while you flap your gums."

"Come on, Elizabeth," he pleaded, "why are you acting like this?"

"And how's that? Standing up for myself and refusing to come back to you?" she asked. "Maybe because I have finally realized that it's okay to let go of the past. We are no longer those two teenagers who fell in love during high school. And that's okay. So I'm not going to stay with you for the rest of my life just because you think I should."

"Elizabeth," he smiled, looking all charming and understanding. She wanted to poke her eyeballs out, or maybe his. "I know we've changed. I realized the idea of playing music in little cafes was fun then, but it doesn't pay the bills. You were so great to support me when I started photography."

Yeah, she was the perfect understanding girlfriend, or maybe just a chump. She supported him, yet had to fight him every step of the way when she decided she wanted to teach. So much for reciprocity. "Lucky, shut up."

He blinked at her as if he couldn't believe what she said. Once, she would have cared. She'd been over that feeling for a while. "Lucky, we've changed. We grew up, we became adults, and it's time we stopped acting like we were sixteen. This isn't about you wanting to do photography or me wanting to be a's about how I don't like you and you don't respect me. Now, I have to get back to work."

"You don't like me?" he asked, still stunned, and still blocking her way.

"No. You've got a quick temper, you don't care about what anyone else thinks, and it's been a long since I've looked at you and haven't wondered where the boy I felt in with went."

" aren't in love with me anymore?"

She paused, thinking about his question and wondered why she didn't feel more loss when she answered, "I don't think so."

"Look, Elizabeth," he pleaded, "we can make this better. Just give me another chance."

"I don't want to," she shook her head. "And even if I did, what about Sarah?"

"What about Sarah?" he quickly shot back.

"What? and...oh my..." she sputtered at him, stunned at how callous and clueless he could be. "You're sleeping her. She's my sister. You're sleeping with my sister!"

Several patrons looked over at her, but she ignored them and Lucky's attempts to quiet her down. "Have you forgotten you're sleeping with her?"

"Look," he ran a hand through his hair, "Sarah knows the score."

"She knows the score," Elizabeth said slowly, rolling the words around in her mouth. "What score is that exactly? The one where she got an STD from screwing the baseball team? Or maybe that you're just using her for cheap sex? Because when she came by my work today to apologize for hurting me, she also said she hoped I could forgive her and be happy for the two of you. She seems to think you're in love with her."

"Why would she think that?"

"I don't know," she cried, "maybe because you're sleeping with her?!"

"That doesn't mean I love her," he protested, his eyebrows rising to his hair like hers had.

"Well you better tell her that. She thinks that because you slept with her, my sister and not some nameless other woman, that you couldn't help yourself because of your feelings." Elizabeth could see where Sarah would think that. And that was why it hurt so much when she first found her sister and her boyfriend in bed. Now, she just realized that it didn't matter who Lucky had cheated on her with, what mattered was that he had cheated.

"I don't want to be with Sarah," he told her. "I want to be with you."

"Well, I don't want to be with you, so screw off."

The hurt was fading from Lucky, and she could see the anger bubbling up in his eyes. "Maybe I'd have better luck with Sarah. Since you sure don't give it up."

She stepped back, bumping into the wall. "What? I...are you trying to blame me for you cheating?"

"Well, maybe if you weren't quite so locked in the knees."

She slapped him. His cheek turned red, her palm stung and it felt so good she wanted to do it again. The people around them stared and her cheeks flamed with anger and embarrassment over airing her dirty laundry in public. She was going to take advantage of Lucky's silence and get out of here while she could. She was two steps away when he grabbed her arm and spun her around.


"Let go of me," she growled in reply.

"Not until we talk."

"I'm all talked out."

"Elizabeth?" She looked up and saw Jason standing there with his hands in his pockets. "Is everything okay?"

Chapter 3

Jason stood there, feet brace, jeans stretched taught before pulling one hand out of his pocket and letting Spencer see it curl into a fist. He knew Elizabeth could handle herself, he had no doubt she would have cleaned his clock with her baseball bat, but he wasn't going to stand by and let any man grab a woman. He'd ended up with a knife in his side once when he tried to stop a husband smacking his wife across the face. But he wasn't going to rush in and undermine Elizabeth by acting like she was completely helpless. So he stayed back a few feet and asked again, "Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," she said, her jaw tight. "Lucky wanted to talk, but he was just leaving and I need to get back to work."

"Yeah, I think Jake's looking for you," he said with a tip of his head as he hooked his thumb in his belt loop.

"Okay, thanks." Elizabeth cast a glance at Lucky then back to him. "I'll...I better get back to work."

She sent a withering stare in Lucky's direction, and the one she sent Jason wasn't much kinder. Then she walked off without a backwards glance and headed towards the bar. Jason watched her for a moment, startled when he realized he was watching her curves and the way they swayed when she walked. Shaking his head and telling himself to snap out of it, he hardened his visage and turned back to Lucky.

The young cad practically had his tongue hanging down to his chin watching Elizabeth. Jason stepped to the side, blocking Spencer's view and when the kid looked up with a smirk on his face Jason growled, "You and I are gonna have a little talk. Outside. Now."

Spencer scoffed, but had no choice but to walk when Jason grabbed his arm and pushed him along in front of him. He took sardonic pleasure in pushing Lucky once they cleared the building, watching as he stumbled and nearly fell.

"What is your problem?" the young blond yelled as he turned and rounded on Jason.

"You better watch yourself, Spencer," Jason warned, pushing Lucky back harmlessly. "I'm already not thrilled with you for grabbing Elizabeth back in there."

"You better watch yourself, Morgan. One word from me and you'll lose your room at Kelly's."

Jason stared at him for a minute in the pale light of the parking lot and then laughed. "You think I'm afraid of you or losing my room? Little boy, you better watch out before you get in over your head. And you better take a lesson in respecting women."

"What, are you the White Knight defender of women?" he scoffed, then tipped his head to the side. "Or are you just defending Elizabeth?"

"I'd stop you from harassing any woman."

"I don't know," Lucky said with a hollow laugh. "I wonder if it's all a coincidence you rented a room at Kelly's and you've asked me questions about Elizabeth. Are you trying to move in on her while we're apart right now?"

This boy's ego was unbelievable. "You've been the one filling me in on the sordid details of your life; I certainly haven't asked you to share. And I'm not moving in on anybody, I'm just telling you to leave her alone. Jake has me help with security and she doesn't put up with anyone harassing her waitresses, so I'm telling you you're not welcome here for at least a week. Jake's words."

"Jake's orders," he laughed. "Right. You just want me to stay away so you can move in on my gal."

"I thought the blonde at the diner was your gal and Elizabeth told you to get lost," Jason said neutrally. He wasn't going to even try to refute Spencer's claims that he was after Elizabeth, because the kid wouldn't believe anything he said. Sure Elizabeth was cute, beautiful even, but she was hurt and angry over everything with Lucky and he - despite all his outward appearances and claims to Jake - was bitter and hurt over Caroline and he wasn't looking for anything new in his life. "I suggest you listen to her, and Jake, and stay away."

"No can do," Lucky shook his head with a smirk. "Lizzie'll come back. She loves me and she knows I love her."

"Right. You're just sticking your tongue in someone else's ear 'cause you're...what, lost in your loneliness?"

Spencer swung back to anger from the cockiness he'd adopted earlier. "Look, you got no right judging me. You got no clue what it's like living with Lizzie."

"I'm not judging you and I don't care. I'm telling you to stay away from Jake's." He stepped forward, learning towards the younger man until he nearly touched Spencer. "And I'm telling you to stay away from Elizabeth. If you see her on the street, or anywhere else, just walk away. Are we clear?"

"Man, are you a chump," Spencer sneered. "Noble Jason Morgan. But here's a cold, hard truth that'll burst your little bubble. If you expect Lizzie to be grateful because you're defending her, you're going to be waiting forever. She's locked up tighter than Fort Knox."

Jason stood there stunned. Spencer claimed to love Elizabeth, yet he was cheating on her, and now he was disparaging her to another guy in the cheapest locker room manner. Lucky apparently mistook his silence for something other than what it was, so he continued on. "Oh yeah. Her knees might as well be super glued together and a sign put out with No Trespassing."

Jason swung before he was even aware of it. A strong uppercut connected with Spencer's jaw and sent him sprawling across the gravel. He grabbed the other man's shirt and pulled him up, hitting him again. "You're disgusting. You don't love Elizabeth; you just want her because you can't stomach the thought of her standing up to you. Well get used to it, she isn't coming back. And you're going to leave her alone."

"Make me," he smirked.

Jason pulled back and punched him again, causing the blond's head to snap back, impacting the pavement. Spencer's eyes rolled back and his body went lax as he slipped into unconsciousness. Releasing the smart-mouth's shirt, Jason stood and retrieved his cell phone from his pocket, dialing an old number.

"Hey, it's me. I need you to make a pick-up at Jake's."

Elizabeth didn't even spare Jason a glance when he walked back inside and sat down at the bar. It chaffed her that he came barging into her conversation with Lucky, acting all kind and caring. Like she was some helpless waif who had to be rescued by the big, strong man.

There was a part of her that recognized that he didn't just come in and grab Lucky immediately. He did ask if she was alright, standing back and waiting for her answer. He let her do the talking, didn't immediately start in on Lucky; maybe he didn't' think she was completely helpless, but it still upset her.

Mostly, she realized as she filled a pitcher full of beer and poured shots of whiskey, she was mad that in reality she did need his help. Lucky had her cornered and wouldn't listen to her when she was to leave her alone. She didn't want to create a huge scene because she needed this job and this room, and so she had been a little relieved when someone bigger had stepped in.

Maybe it would have been different if it had been someone other than Jason. If it had been another bouncer, someone she didn't know, that stepped in to get Lucky away from her it might not have been so bad. It was worse somehow because it was Jason. The guy knew that Lucky had cheated on her with Sarah, she'd cried on his shoulder, and then absolutely freaked out and ran from him like he was a leper.

He probably just stepped in because Jake asked him to. Elizabeth knew he was friendly with the owner and she'd probably enlisted his aid. Jake didn't really have formal bouncers; she just relied on friends, patrons she trusted. It probably wasn't because of Elizabeth that Jason stepped in, but because of his affinity for Jake. It didn't mean she could ignore his help or not say thank you to him, though.

Carrying a fresh beer, she took advantage of a lull in pouring the drinks and headed towards him down at the end of the bar. She set it in front of him, and didn't release it until he looked up at her. "I...I wanted to say thank you."

"It's okay," he said with a shake of his head. He reached for the beer again and she frowned.

Turning she grabbed a bar towel and scooped some ice into it. Pivoting around she cautiously reached for his right hand and settled the makeshift ice bag on top of it. "Your knuckles look bruised. He's got a hard head, doesn't he?"

He just looked at her, remaining silent and she felt the need to fill the quiet. "Is that your blood...or his?"

"I don't know," he said with a stiff shrug. "Most likely his. I'm sorry."

"Why?" she asked, furrowing her brow.

Now it was his brow that creased in confusion. "For punching Lucky. For stepping on your toes."

She crossed her arm on the bar and peered at him. "Did you not mean to punch him? Did he somehow just run into your fist?"

"No," he said slowly, looking at her curiously. "I meant to hit him."

She shrugged. "So why are you sorry? You think that I care you hit him?"

"Well, you were dating," he pointed out.

"Then you must have missed how I slapped him right before you came swooping in from on high." She shook her head, "I don't care that you punched him."

He pursed his lips as he weighed her words. "Okay," he accepted, "but you are upset I came over."

"I was," she admitted. "Figured you thought I was this poor, little weakling who couldn't take care of her own life so you had to butt in and beat your chest."

He chuckled and shook his head before taking a sip. "I don't think you're weak or helpless. I remember quite vividly you shoving a baseball bat up my nose. I wasn't trying to butt into your business, I just...I don't like any guy grabbing a woman."

"So that's why you punched him? To teach him a lesson?" She knew it was a dumb question, and maybe she didn't really want to know the answer to it. It was slow, though, and for some reason she seemed to be looking for a reason to keep talking to him.

"You probably won't believe me, but I actually didn't go out there with the intention of hitting him, I was just going to talk to him. Tell him to stay away from Jake's, and from you," he admitted. She felt guilty and shifted uncomfortably on her feet because there was a part of her that automatically assumed Jason had dragged her ex outside to hit him. Maybe he really didn't solve everything with his fists.

Jason glanced at her, and then actually fidgeted on his barstool. "However, once we were outside and he started shooting off his mouth... I just hit him."

Regarding him out of curiously narrowed eyes Elizabeth noticed the way he shifted ever so slightly and couldn't quite meet her eyes. "Ah...I see. I'm locked in the knees."

Jason's jaw clenched and his hand tightened around his beer while he refused to meet her eyes. Bingo. "I'm sorry he said those things to you. Lucky...once he would have hit someone for saying that." She gave a forced laugh. "I guess things have changed."

"You don't have to apologize to me," he shook his head. "He should be apologizing."

"Fat chance," she snorted. Someone at the other end of the bar signaled and she waved her hand at him to let him know she'd be right there. Looking at Jason she tipped her head toward her waiting customer. "I gotta get back to work."

While the night wasn't frenzied, she did keep busy and didn't really have more opportunities to talk to Jason. Not that she really tried. She was beginning to think that maybe she had been hasty in her rejection and avoidance of him. He seemed decent and nice enough, someone that if he'd had another job she would have been pleased to know. Was his job really that important, or change who he truly was? While Jason had been outside with Lucky, Jake had said a few things in praise of him and Elizabeth knew enough that Jake didn't give praise lightly. Jason had apologized to her; Lucky never would have done so or even tried to explain himself. And she didn't know who was more embarrassed by Lucky's comments, Jason or her.

She looked down the bar to where Jason was sitting, slowly nursing his beer. She hated being wrong, but maybe she was about Jason. She owed him a thank you for his help earlier in the night, and an apology, if not an explanation, for her behavior a couple of days ago.

Walking down to stand in front of him she smiled a bit hesitantly when he looked up in question. As she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear she cleared her throat a little nervously. "Listen, shift's over in a few minutes. I was wondering if I could buy you a beer, and maybe we could talk?"

He regarded her for a minute, then shrugged. "Sure. I guess that'd fine."

Chapter 4

A few minutes later, Elizabeth grabbed two beer bottles and headed across the room to the back table where Jason was now sitting. It seemed like one of the longest walks of her life, crossing the small bar to talk a man she'd treated badly. It was hard apologizing for stupidity and prejudiced behavior, but she needed to suck it up and do it.

Jason looked up when she reached the table and she blushed slightly as he stood and waited for her to sit before reclaiming his seat. She passed the bottle of beer across to him and he took it saying, "Thank you. You know, I was surprised when you asked if we could talk."

She blushed again, looking down at the label she was nervously picking the corner of. Trying to cover her discomfort she took a sip of her beer and bit back the grimace that always met her first swallow. "That's why I asked. I owe you an apology."

"No, you don't," he shook his head.

"Yes, I do," she nodded insistently. "I was pretty nasty to you tonight. You came over and gave me the chance to ask for help instead of just rushing in and acting like I was this poor defenseless female who needed someone to ride to my rescue."

He took another sip and shrugged. "He had you trapped and I just...I thought he'd probably back off with someone else watching him and you could get away. I wasn't trying to treat you like a helpless female."

"I know," she nodded. "You could have punched him in the middle of the bar, but you didn't, and I thank you for that. I really just wanted him to go away without a huge scene being made."

"I'm glad I could help," was all he said.

She took another sip of her beer, just for something to do, and then cleared her throat. "I also wanted to apologize for that morning. I'm ashamed to admit I let your reputation cloud my judgment. You were a nice man, once you stopped trying to steal my room from me."

She chuckled and then sobered, leaning her elbows on the table. "Then in the morning I did a complete 180 on you when you were just doing something nice by buying breakfast. You didn't deserve to have me look at you like you were a mass murderer and trip over my own feet trying to get away from you. What you do shouldn't affect how people treat you. Whether you're a garbage man, a crime scene cleaner or a...person for hire; everyone deserves respect. And I'm sorry for treating you like a bad smell I needed to escape."

"It's okay," he shook his head. "You didn't hurt my feelings. You weren't the first person to refuse to shake my hand. But thank you for apologizing...not many do that."

"More people should," she declared.

He merely shrugged again. "It's alright. You apologized and I'm okay. I suppose I should be going."

"Wait, please," she said, when it looked like he was about to stand and go.

He settled back, but still perched on the edge of his chair. "Was there something else?"

"Yes," she nodded. "I'd like to say just one more thing. I'd like to start over. You and me. I'm making a fresh start in my life, and I'd..."

He settled back on his chair as she trailed off and she relaxed somewhat, knowing he wasn't going to dash off. She took another sip, no longer wanting to shudder at the taste and let out a breath. Taking his silence, and questioning look, as an invitation to continue, she did. "I'm starting over. I've realized, and acknowledged, that my relationship with Lucky has changed and it's over. It's time for me to live my life the way I want to. Make new friends, meet new people. I like the job I have and it'll be a relief to not have someone constantly knocking it, so I should extend the same to others. You were nice, decent to me as I cried on your shoulder, and I'd like to be on good enough terms with you that we're not uncomfortable and odd when we see each other. Since I live and work here, and you come here often, I figure we'll be running into each other regularly."

Jason regarded her for a moment and she wondered what he was thinking of. He didn't show his emotions or his thoughts very clearly so she was surprised that when he finally did speak he said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but aren't you a little young to decide you want to work at a bar for the rest of your life? It seems like an odd decision, especially for someone like you, not that I guess I can really talk about odd decisions."

Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. "No, I...I'm an art teacher. I teach over at the community center. I just tend bar for extra money."

"Oh, do you like it?" he asked, taking a sip.

"What? The bar or the art?" she smiled.

"The art."

"I always liked painting and drawing when I was younger. It just stayed with me and I-I had to do some volunteer work one time and I ended up helping at the community center. That's when I discovered I liked teaching."

"But Lucky didn't like it?"

Shaking her head her mouth filled with bitter resentment. "Thought I was wasting my time. He thought I should do something serious. But I like what I do and I couldn't imagine being a photographer's assistant, or even worse, a model. I've got my students, my classroom, it's great."

She made a face, laughing as she remembered the condition of her classroom. "Of course, I've got to get my room cleaned up. The kids had a bit of a paint fight today and my sister stopped by asking for my blessing and I left before getting it all cleaned up because I didn't feel like putting up with her anymore."

Jason looked at her in question, but she merely shook her head. "I'm done talking about me. Aren't you tired of hearing all about my problems?"

"I don't mind."

"Well, I'm tired of moping around and dumping it all on your. Besides," she pointed out, tipping her beer at him, "you've got problems of your own. I mean, you said you were kicked out of your apartment. Maybe I could return the favor and listen."

She smiled and gestured around her, "After all, I'm a bartender. It's part of the job description to listen. And I'd rather listen to whatever you have to say than some guy who's making up a problem only hoping that I'll be sympathetic and go home with him."

Chuckling, he shook his head. "I'm okay."

"No, really, I am a good listener. Your girlfriend got married while you were gone and she took over your home. Don't be one of those people who keeps it all inside and winds up with ulcers before you're forty."

"No, really," he said, his voice taking on an odd tense note, "I'm fine."

She nodded and pushed her chair back. "Okay. I...I'm sorry I pushed. You wanna keep your private life private. I'm sorry I dumped mine on your, but thanks for indulging me. I guess I'll just see you around."

She got up and started for the stairs to head to her room. She heard his chair scrape over the floor, but she didn't look back. She could feel embarrassment coloring her cheeks and she just wanted to get up to her room...and maybe hit something. "Elizabeth," he called after her. "Wait. Please."

Jason stood, looking at Elizabeth's back and wondering what to say, and why exactly he'd stopped her. Maybe because she'd surprised him by apologizing to him, and he didn't want to offend her. He walked towards her when she didn't seem in any hurry to turn around. When he was facing her, he was a little surprised at the look on her face. She wasn't angry, and she didn't look hurt, her face was blank, her eyes completely neutral and disinterested.


She merely cocked on eyebrow. "Did you need something?"

"I'm sorry if I upset you."

"You didn't, don't worry about it. I'm sorry for intruding in your life. Everything's cool. Can I go now?"

"I'm just not used to people asking questions or being concerned. I'm pretty much a loner. So, it's strange to have someone ask if I'm okay. I am, really, I ride my bike if I'm stressed," he said, feeling the need to truly show her that he wasn't bottling it all in.

"A motorcycle?" she asked, her eyes taking a nostalgic look. "You have a motorcycle?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"My uncle had a motorcycle," she told him. "We would go visit him and he would give us rides. My brother would sulk because he wasn't quite old enough to drive yet, and he thought it wasn't cool to ride with his uncle. My sister refused to ride on it because it was too fast, too scary."

"You loved it, though, didn't you?" It wasn't really a question because he could see the excitement emanating deep inside her.

"I did," she smiled. "I used to beg him all the time to go out on it. I...we stopped going there when I was fourteen because my parents left before the next summer and went to Bosnia and Sarah and I came here. I loved it when we would go there."

"Somehow it fits," he said. It really seemed to. If the way her eyes were lit up now, years after the fact was any indication, she must have loved it more than she had verbalized. "Your shift's over, right?"

"Yeah," she nodded.

He wasn't really sure where it came from, but he asked, "Want to go for a ride?"

Her eyes widened in surprise. "Are you serious?"

Even though there was a part of him wondering why he'd made the offer, he going to withdraw it. He wasn't false that way. His bike was his thing, he liked the solitude of the ride; it wasn't really something he shared with people. He could see in the way she was standing there, trying to keep from bouncing on her feet and trying to suppress the grin on her face, that she seemed to be expecting him to change his mind and say no. "Sure," he assured her.

"Well, then, yeah," she smiled slowly, still cautious. "That would be fun to do...sometime."

"Why sometime? Let's go now?"


He nodded and gestured towards the door. "Let's go."

She grinned and followed eagerly after him. "Okay."

When they reached his bike she was practically lit from inside. She accepted the helmet he held out for her, and then climbed on behind him. She held onto him, but not too tight that he wouldn't be able to properly steer and control the bike. Revving the engine he smiled when he released the brake and she squeezed his sides tightly.

Elizabeth hadn't been kidding; she must have really loved to ride as a kid. As they headed out of town and up his favorite road along the cliffs he could sense her excitement flowing through her into him. She giggled, then she squealed and soon she was screaming with delight into the night. Every time he sped up she would yell her appreciation, and she instinctively understood how to lean with him into the turns so they could go even faster.

They rode for nearly an hour before he slowed and turned down the abandoned road that led to the old bridge. He rolled the bike to a stop within sight of the stone structure and cut the engine. Elizabeth climbed off the back of the motorcycle, laughing with excitement as her fingers fumbled with the strap of the helmet. Finally she got it and turned around to hand it to him, her face glowing with pure enthusiasm.

"Wow," she said gleefully, "no wonder you're stress free. I wouldn't need to talk either after that. It's like everything just gets left behind."

"Yeah," he said, throwing one leg over the gas tank and resting it there for a second. It seemed like she had outrun her problems, but his had dutifully tracked him down and come to ruin the party.

"So what is this place?" she asked, turning. When she faced him she paused, tipping her head slightly to the side. Whatever else she was about to ask died as she took a hesitant step forward. "Are you okay?"

He stood and shoved his hands into his pockets as he walked away from the bike. "Yeah, I'm fine."

She watched him, her movements now quiet and subdued. "Jason? Are... We can go if you want."

"No," he shook his head. "You know...I guess maybe I'm not as okay as I thought."

"I'm sorry," she said, her shoulders falling. "This is my fault. I kept pushing you to talk, no wonder you're suddenly bothered by it."

She turned around and shook her head angrily. "I should have just kept my mouth shut."

He took a step towards her, but she started walking away from him. "It's okay, Elizabeth. Really."

Walking out onto the middle of the bridge, she stopped and leaned her hip against it, looking up at him hesitantly. "You know, the offer to listen still stands. Or we can just stand here and be quiet. Or we can go."

He walked up beside her, leaning down to rest his arms against the bridge as he stared out into the dark. She turned, mimicking his stance, but remained quiet. She didn't say anything, didn't shift, or do any of the things people normally do when they're trying to be unobtrusive but never allowing a person to forget they're there.

"My lifestyle isn't really easy on relationships. I leave on a moment's notice, can be gone anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months," he said, softly and not looking at her. "I thought Caroline understood. She's a free-lance writer and photojournalist. I'd been gone for months at a time before, but I guess nine months was too long this time. Or maybe she'd been lying to me the whole time. I came home and found out she'd changed the locks, gotten married and destroyed most of my stuff."

She was quiet for a little while, maybe wondering if he'd say anything more, or maybe just wondering what she could say. She sighed into the night as she clasped her hands together. "It's so inadequate to say, but I'm sorry, Jason."

"Yeah," he said slowly, "me too."

Chapter 5

Jason walked down the stairs with his duffle bag over his shoulder and a grin deep inside, if not on his face. Jake had told him last night someone had moved out and he could have the room. He slept there last night, and came over first thing this morning to get his belongings. He was glad to be gone from Kelly's.

He'd had his fill of the Spencer family, not only for turning on Elizabeth, but also for the past three days of whining about poor Lucky. Lucky had landed in the hospital the night he left Jake's; he'd been mugged. Poor guy. Jason was glad to see the little punk was sticking to the story at least. Max must have been very convincing when he told the boy he'd come back and turn him into live crab bait if Lucky said what really happened.

Sarah had, during the time she wasn't at the hospital, sat at the counter and cried to Lucky's aunt about the horrible unknown person who had done this to him. Bobbie would stand there and tsk and tell the young woman she was so supportive and great to be there for Lucky during this whole ordeal. Bobbie couldn't believe that Elizabeth hadn't at least stopped by once to see him. Sarah had masked the hurt look on her face and merely shrugged, saying Elizabeth hadn't seemed to care very much when she went to tell her sister what happened.

In reality, Sarah had gone to Jake's and yelled at Elizabeth, certain she was either behind Lucky's attack or she would use the situation to get back together with him. Sarah warned Elizabeth to not even think about going to visit Lucky. Elizabeth had merely said she hoped Lucky got better, but she wouldn't be visiting him. Not because of what Sarah had said, but because she wouldn't give Lucky false hope they'd reconcile. And then Jason watched as Elizabeth took a bit of pleasure in telling her sister that Lucky had at Jake's that night asking her to get back together with him. Apparently Elizabeth had had her fill of being stepped all over by Sarah and Lucky and thought she'd fill her sister in on her boyfriend's actions.

"Can I help you?" Bobbie asked when Jason stopped at the counter.

"Just turning in my key," he said, sliding it across the formica surface. "Do I owe you anything else?"

The woman pulled out a ledger and scanned it before shaking her head. "Nope, you're all set."

"Thanks," he said, and then picked up his bag and headed out of the diner. He was glad to be leaving that place behind.

A short time later he was unpacking in his room when a soft tap echoed through the sparsely furnished area. Opening the door he saw Elizabeth standing there smiling. "Hey."

"Hey," she replied, her grin widening. "Jake said you were moving in. Bet you're glad to be out of Kelly's."

He laughed at the teasing glint in her eyes. "You could say that. It's nice to be back. What are you doing here? I thought you had classes to teach."

"Today's my short day," she said. "I get some time to work on my own art since my classes end early."

"That's good," he nodded, slipping his hands into his pockets. "Are you...are you working tonight?"

"A couple of hours maybe," she shrugged. "I told Jake I'd help out during the rush if she needed it. Well," she said backing up, "I should go. I want to get some sketching done while there's still some good light."

She backed across the hall to her room, smiling as she bumped into the door. "I'll see you later, Jason."

"Okay, Elizabeth. See ya." She disappeared into her room and he stood there for a minute watching her door. He knew he'd hang around the bar if she had to work, and when she was done they'd go for a ride. Just like they had every night since their first.

Shaking his head when he realized he was standing in his doorway looking like a fool, he turned around and stalked back into his room. He finished putting his stuff away, threw the duffle bag in the closet and then headed out. He needed a drink, or a ride, or maybe a slap in the face to clear his head of these thoughts of Elizabeth.

"Hello, Jason."

He stopped in his course across the mostly empty bar and looked up. All thoughts of Elizabeth Webber disappeared when he saw Caroline standing there in her silk suit. She always liked to dress nice when she wasn't on assignment and could strut around the city showing off. "Hello, Caroline. What are you doing here?"

She walked towards him, her blood red four-inch heels tapping on the wooden floor. "Why I came to see you of course."

"See me," he shook his head. "Right. Well, here I am, you can go now."

"Not so fast," she said, the sickly sweet look on her face twisting away. "I want to know where you get off picking the lock on my apartment and harassing my husband."

"Probably the same as you taking over my apartment and changing the locks while I was gone. Get over yourself Caroline," he said as she flipped her brown hair over her shoulder and narrowed her caramel colored eyes at him. "You aren't sweet and innocent, my dear. You sold my stuff, probably threw most of it away actually, and you destroyed my clothes. I could sue you for that."

"And every woman in the world would side with me," she scoffed. "You were never home. You were always gone."

"What about those times when I was home and you were off on assignment? You weren't some poor housewife all alone with three kids under five so don't act all poor woe is me here."

"You were gone for nine months!" she screeched. "I could have had a baby in that time. And I got sick of waiting."

He stared back at her in confusion. "Waiting for what?"

"For you to propose."

"To propose?" he asked. "What made you think I was thinking of proposing?"

"Oh silly me," she rolled her eyes. "I thought that's what people did when they lived together."

"You said you didn't want to get married or have kids," he pointed out, not believing she was yelling at him for failing to propose to her. "And you knew I felt the same way. Kids don't fit in my life."

"Well, I changed my mind," she shot back.

"So that's what this is all about," he said in realization. "You're mad I didn't read your mind and change mine. Well save your breath, and your tears, Caroline. You planning on leaving your husband if I say the words you want to hear?"

She sniffed, "As if."

"Okay," he laughed, not believing her for a second. She'd be all over him and filing for divorce if he said he wanted her. "Whatever you say. Run along, Caroline, before you stain your clothes or break a nail and make it all my fault somehow."


He looked up as Elizabeth bounded down the stairs towards him. "Did you get everything moved in? Or do you need any help?"

"No, I'm fine," he said tightly, recognizing this situation was rapidly going to explode like throwing gasoline on fire.

Caroline narrowed her eyes and looked at Elizabeth before flicking her gaze to Jason and crossing her arms over her chest. "Who is this?"

Elizabeth looked over at the woman she knew was Jason's ex. The brunette was looking down her nose at Elizabeth with cool disdain and Elizabeth forced herself not to shiver or look away. She could hear Jason and Caroline talking as she came out of her room and she cringed at the venom involved on both parts. She'd thought about just slipping out the back door, but found she couldn't.

Jason had stepped in and helped her with Lucky, and she felt the need to do the same. Maybe if the screeching shrew realized that someone could actually hear her, she might back off. Instead, Caroline seemed to turn her spite and disgust on Elizabeth and she found herself cursing her bright idea and wondering what exactly she'd gotten herself into. It was always bad to step in between ex-lovers and this seemed no different.

"What?" Caroline snipped. "Nothing to say? Then go away little girl."

Elizabeth looked over at Jason with regret in her eyes and was ready to leave when his ex scoffed and started to laugh. "Oh, don't tell me. Jason, please don't tell me you and this little dishrag are friends, let alone...more."

Yep, stupid idea to come over here. Thought maybe she could help Jason out, return a favor. All she appeared to do was make things worse. Ignoring the woman who was insulting her trying to get a rise out of her, she looked at Jason. "I didn't mean to interrupt. I'll just see you around. Sorry."

She tightened her grip around her art supplies and turned for the door. Caroline made a sound of amusement mixed with derision. "Good. Go away, little girl, and play with your dollies or blocks. Geez, Jason, please tell me that's not your type now. You have to be with a little girl because you can't handle a real woman anymore? Or is that why you stayed gone so long, you just couldn't handle me anymore?"

Elizabeth had only made it a step or two away before her feet seemed to freeze and she just couldn't go. Just like Jason didn't like woman being harmed or manhandled, she hated when women were shrewish and caustic towards men. Her mother would constantly yell at her father and berate him, calling him worthless and a loser. She hated it then, and she couldn't stand hearing Carly do it to Jason now.

She turned around and looked at Carly. "So, do you have your collection in jars on a shelf?"

Caroline turned and cast a withering glance at Elizabeth. "Are you still here?"

"Well, yeah," she shrugged. "Because I'm curious."

"What are you babbling on about you little waif?"

"I'm curious," she repeated. "Do you have your husband's balls in a jar along with all your exes, or did you just throw them away because you figured he won't need them anymore? Or do you keep them out where you can see them and admire your trophies?"

"Listen you little-"

"Caroline," Jason said, stepping forward to grab his ex's arm as she started towards Elizabeth.

"Let me go, Jason. I'm going to teach this little nothing a thing or two. She'll learn she can't say things like that about me."

"What, does the truth hurt?" Elizabeth jabbed.

"Go home, Caroline," Jason said, ignoring Elizabeth for the moment. "You're just looking like a fool."

"No, that would be little Miss Fashion Victim over there."

"Well," Elizabeth couldn't help but say, now growing tired of Caroline's constant digs on her and wanting to zing in a few more herself. "I know you don't have Jason's balls in a jar because he's standing up to you and refusing to heel like a good boy. But of courseā€¦I already knew that."

Caroline looked over at her, her brown eyes sparking with anger. "Look you little piece of trash, you don't know anything about me or Jason."

"That's true," she conceded. "I don't know anything about you and for that I am glad. I do know Jason, though, and for that I am extremely glad."

She looked over at Jason and smiled at him, making sure his viper of an ex could see her tempting grin. "Look, I really didn't mean to interrupt. I know you've got things you need to talk about and I'll let you do that. Though maybe you should take it outside 'cause you know how Jake feels about personal disputes in the bar."

He gave her a hint of a grin and nodded, though she could see disbelief and confusion underlying in his eyes.

"Okay then, I'll let you two hash this out. Will you be around later tonight? I think we could both use a ride after today."

"Oh please," Caroline snorted, inserting herself into the moment. "Stop trying to act like you and Jason are close or friends or anything. I'd bet my shoes you're just some loser he felt sorry for and now you're hanging on him like a leech. You haven't been on his bike."

Elizabeth looked down at Caroline's shoes and then back up at the woman. "You know, I'm going to enjoy selling those for cash. I have been on Jason's bike, but that wasn't what I referring to."

"Like Jason would touch you," Caroline laughed, though it sounded hollow. "Stop trying to act like you're sleeping with him."

She looked over at Jason, but quickly looked away realizing she couldn't do this while looking at him. Focusing her gaze back on the seething shrew she smirked. "Why is that so hard to believe? He's a man; I'm a woman."

"That's debatable."

"We both just broke up with people," Elizabeth said, ignoring the interruption. "You know the classic scenario. Two people who've just ended long-term relationships, they meet at a know what happens next. They find comfort in the arms of a willing person."

"Nice try, little girl," Caroline shook her head.

"Yeah, I probably wouldn't believe it either, but hey, life's all about taking a leap." Then in a moment of what she looked back on later as pure insanity, she walked over to Jason and pulled his head down for a kiss. It was her turn to be surprised a moment later when his arm came up around her waist and he returned the kiss.

When she pulled back, she blushed as she looked up at him. She had no idea how she got her voice to work enough for her to say, "I'll see you later tonight. Good luck."

"Yeah," he said, his own voice hoarse. "Okay."

She looked over at Caroline and winked, then turned and walked out the front door. She had no idea how she managed to walk after that kiss, but she managed not to embarrass herself by falling on her rubbery legs. Once she was outside and breathing fresh air, she leaned against the wall and covered her face. Groaning, she couldn't believe what she had done. She ran off at the mouth, told Caroline she and Jason were sleeping together and then kissed him. Her face flamed in shame and the heat spread down her legs, before ricocheting up to land treacherously low in her belly. Maybe she should just stay away from Jake's tonight; because she wasn't sure she wanted to see how Jason would react to her after this. She could only imagine how he would, and she didn't think it would be good.

Chapter 6

Elizabeth sat on a bench, her back leaning against the rough rock wall behind her and stared sightlessly out over the scenery. Her sketchpad hung loose in her hands, resting on her lap; her pencils lay abandoned beside her on the bench. It had been quite some time since she'd concentrated on trying to sketch anything. Mostly, she was just hiding and thinking.

Remembering the kiss with Jason mere hours before caused her stomach to once again start spinning and flipping like she'd swallowed live snakes. Her palms became clammy and she couldn't keep her fingers from drifting up to touch her lips where she could still feel the impression of his. It had been brief, he'd only kissed her back for a small amount of time, but the man knew how to kiss. It was a shame that would be the only time she'd get to experience that sensation.

She hoped Jake's wasn't too busy tonight, and that Jake wouldn't be upset, but Elizabeth had no plans to go back to the bar any time soon. She planned on hiding for as long as she could, and heading back only when she could slip in the back door and up the stairs to her room. With a little luck, and a lot of ingenuity on her part she could avoid Jason for a while. At least until she could get her embarrassment under control and face him without blushing.

Or, hopefully without acting like a hormonal teenager drooling all over him and calculating ways to jump him. The kiss had gotten her thinking about things she probably should not be thinking about. He was unique; this kindness encapsulated in a rough looking exterior. It could be too soon, it probably was too soon after Lucky, but she was intrigued by Jason Morgan. She wished that this were a situation that could be explored further.

But the realistic part of her knew it couldn't be explored, and she knew Jason would agree. It didn't mean it wasn't going to sting. But it was better to be prepared for it. Because there was no sense thinking of what couldn't be, it was time to face reality.

However, before she was ready to face reality she heard the distinct sound of Jason's motorcycle approaching. For a brief moment she thought of gathering up all her stuff, hopping over the railing and hiding in the brush surrounding Vista Point, but she told herself no. She had kissed him, she had made that decision and she couldn't run away now. He had come looking for her, he had found her, and it was time to face the music for her actions.

Well, at least she shouldn't look like she was waiting for him, so she picked up a pencil and put it to paper. She made random sketches, no real plan or idea. Because she wasn't really looking at her paper or the scenery she was supposed to be drawing, because all she could think about was when he would approach her and what he would say.

Her heart was in her throat and there was a buzzing in her ears by the time she finally heard his boots on the landing above her and then walking down the stairs. He stopped, and she clutched her pencil in her hand as she looked up. "Ja-Jason. Hey."

"Hey. I, uh..." he scratched his cheek as he looked down momentarily. "I was hoping I would find you here."

She swallowed and for a moment cursed herself for ever telling Jason she liked coming to Vista Point to draw. Another classic moment brought on by her and her big mouth. Kinda like when she insinuated to Jason's ex they were sleeping together.

Putting her pencil down, she stood slowly, intending to grab the bull by the horns and get it all over with. "Look, I want to apologize for back at the bar. I shouldn't have stuck my nose in; I probably just made things worse for you. That wasn't what I was trying to do; I was just trying to help like you'd helped with Lucky. Let her know there was someone around and maybe get her to back off and stop screeching at you. I really am so sorry for getting involved."

Jason shook his head slowly, his face soft and definitely not angry. "It's okay, Elizabeth. I know what you were trying to do. I'm not mad."

"Not mad?" She was on a tear and couldn't seem to stop her mouth, despite what he'd said. "Jason, I told her we were using each other for sex and then I...I kissed you."

Her face flamed and she said unnecessarily. "I am so embarrassed, and I am so sorry."

He shifted slightly on his feet, scratching at the back of his neck. "Don't worry about it."

"What?" she couldn't help but ask.

"Yeah, it's no big deal. It actually helped me get rid of her, so I guess I should say thanks." He paused and gave a shake of his head. "That's not why I was looking for you."

Her brows dipped in confusion. "Oh? Then what... Why were you looking for me?"

"Well, I'm...I'm leaving."

She wasn't sure how to process that and it must have shown on her face. "I got a new job," he said. "I'm leaving tonight. Now, in fact."

"A job? Oh, okay."

"Yeah, I don't know how long I'll be gone, always hard to say with these things. But I paid Jake and she's going to hold my room." He gave a little laugh. "You'll probably be gone when I get back, so I just wanted to say goodbye. It was really nice to meet you, Elizabeth."

"Yeah," she nodded, feeling numb inside a tornado of emotions. "It was nice to meet you too, Jason."

He took a step towards her and then stopped. His hand clenched at his side and then he shook his head before turning around and stalking away. She could only stand there in stunned silence as he thundered up the stairs and out of view. In the space of three hours she had kissed Jason Morgan and then he walked out of her life.

Slowly reality filtered back in around her and she made her way over to the bench, sitting down beside her discarded art supplies. So, that was Jason's life. Here one minute and then gone the next for weeks at a time. It was probably better this way. Better she see just what his life was, and better that he leave now before she spent days or weeks splitting herself apart before his eventual rejection of her. Jason wasn't mad at her for her interference or for kissing him, but he clearly wasn't affected by it either.

No big deal.

She shook her head. No big deal. Yes, time to stop being a silly little girl and get on with her life. Maybe she should stop using Jake's as a safety net and find a place to live. A decent place, a place where she wouldn't have to see Jason. And if she moved quickly she could be gone before her returned. Just like he expected...and probably wished for.

Jason started his motorcycle and pulled out of Vista Point with an angry huff and a spray of gravel behind him. If Jake could see him now she would shake her head like she did when she told him he was too nice and avoiding the situation with Caroline. He had avoided the situation with his ex, only releasing his anger towards her when she came to confront him. Well, he was doing the same now with Elizabeth. He was leaving on a job he didn't want or need just so he didn't have to face Elizabeth, or what feelings had been stirred up by their kiss.

He couldn't get the image of her blushing, or the way she pulled her bottom lip between her straight teeth and chewed on it, out of his mind. He knew how her lips felt and how they tasted and each time she chewed on them he wanted to kiss her again and make them red and swollen because of him. He wanted to be the person to make her blush, and he couldn't help but wonder what else would cause her to blush and just how far it would spread.

And that was why it was a good thing he was leaving. Jason knew that Elizabeth had kissed him because Caroline was taunting her. Elizabeth had apologized for interfering, but he wasn't at all bothered by it. It kept him from yelling at Caroline and causing her to cry which would make him feel the need to apologize to her. By Elizabeth getting into the fray, however unwittingly, it kept Caroline in a mode where he could keep his own anger towards her. He wasn't mad Elizabeth had kissed him; he would have been surprised if she'd walked away from Caroline's barbs. The best part of the whole thing was Caroline had left, extremely deflated at the thought he wasn't torn up over her marriage and wasn't spending his days pining away for her.

It would almost be worth sticking around and having Caroline see him with Elizabeth, but it wouldn't be fair to Elizabeth. That was why he'd accepted this job. Normally he would have turned it down, since the money wasn't that great. He had planned on taking a month off; nine months had been a long time to be gone. But this gave him an excuse to leave, and so he'd eagerly taken the job.

Because as intrigued as he was by the kiss and the desire for more, he knew it was a lost cause. Elizabeth was a teacher. He was a mercenary. She would have children of her own one day, teach them to paint and have pictures covering her refrigerator. And because the thought of that scene and wanting to be the one to share it with her stirred something in him, he had to leave. Because that was a life he could never have, let alone with someone like Elizabeth.

He was not a guy who did the picket fence and family routine. He didn't own a pet or even a plant because he always took off on a moment's notice for undetermined amounts of time. That wasn't conducive to having a family, and it certainly wouldn't be fair to a wife or children if Daddy was gone for months at a time with the possibility of never coming home. He was a man best suited for living above a bar, and that was not Elizabeth at all.

She was best suited for a cozy little apartment or condo before she one day bought a house and raised a family. Hopefully by the time he got back from this job she would have an apartment of her own and be gone from Jake's. Then he could get his life back to normal. He'd do his job, he'd live at Jake's, and Elizabeth and Caroline would be out of his life. The way it should be.

Jake walked out of the back room, a case of vodka in her hands, and paused as she watched Elizabeth as she moved around the bar. The young woman had returned to the bar about an hour ago, tied on her apron and got right to work. All without any of her usual bubbly chatter. Jake knew without even asking that Jason had found her and told her he was leaving. Elizabeth worked with quiet efficiency, not messing up a single order on the busy night, but she was robotic and lifeless.

The bar owner had seen the kiss between Jason and Elizabeth that afternoon. Even though it had happened to make Caroline mad, it was the inevitable conclusion to the talks, rides and looks that had passed between the two. And it ended pretty much the way she figured it would. Badly. Jason had run, per his usual behavior that he denied existed, and Elizabeth was now disappointed and withdrawn.

Jake wondered how long Jason would unnecessarily be gone, and she wondered how long until Elizabeth moved out of the bar. Which meant Elizabeth would probably also quit so that she wouldn't have to run into Jason. When her erstwhile boarder got back, he'd pretend he'd never heard of Elizabeth Webber and that he hadn't kissed her. He would certainly never admit he missed Elizabeth, and Jake suspected Elizabeth would adopt the same denial.

The door opened and Jake looked up, an immediate scowl on her face as she walked over to the counter and set the case down. Sonny Corinthos, King of the Eastern Seaboard, had walked into the bar. His slicked back hair, polished suits and expensive calfskin shoes reeked power and smugness and she crossed her arms and glared at him. He dared to come into her bar and smile like he was there for high tea.

He sat down on a wooden stool and she walked up to him and crossed her arms. "Get out of my bar, Corinthos."

His smile could charm the panties off a blind nun and she wanted to wipe it off his face when he spoke. "Now, Jake, is that any way to greet an old friend? I just wanted to come over and talk about our arrangement."

"We don't have an arrangement," she said, her hand drifting under the bar to caress the butt of the revolver stashed there. "And we never will. I don't need your protection and I'm not giving you a cut of my profits that will only get bigger and bigger. So get out of my bar."

His face hardened slightly. "Careful, Jake. I've been tolerant of your obstinance because of your relationship with Lorenzo. But here's a friendly piece of advice; he won't always be around to look out for you. And when Alcazar's gone I will be back, and my cut will be bigger."

Then he got up and walked out of the bar, his flunky following faithfully behind him. Jake released the gun and turned for her office. She needed to call Lorenzo.

Chapter 7

He was definitely taking a month off after this. As Jason reached the outskirts of Port Charles he vowed he was swearing off all jobs no matter how much money they paid. He was tired, he wanted rest, and he was determined to get it.

His two-week job had turned into two months. It seemed to be the story of his life. Coming off a nine month job straight into a two month one was...he felt old. He felt older than he should and if he didn't get some rest and a break soon he'd start contemplating getting into a new line of work.

Of course, if Elizabeth was still living at Jake's or even working there he would probably take the first job that came along. Because all he'd been able to think about while he was gone was her, and their rides together and especially their brief kiss. He was able to do his job, his client was never in any danger, and when it was needed he was completely focused on the task before him. But when he had down time, moments to himself, his mind would immediately drift to Elizabeth. It was frustrating that after eight weeks away he couldn't shake the hold she had on him.

All he could hope was that by confronting the place where he first met her, without her being there, that he would finally be free. He'd put Caroline behind him, and he was certain he'd do the same with Elizabeth. It was just because he'd labeled her out of his reach that he kept thinking of her. It was time to focus on something else besides the epitome of what didn't fit in his life.

As he neared Jake's he slowed, staring at the building as it came into view. The parking lot was empty, something that shouldn't be the case at 5:30 on a summer Friday night. Construction fencing was up, and the outside of the building was the same, yet different. It was newer, fresher, sturdier looking, less weathered by the salt air coming from the docks not too far away. He parked his bike and got off, slowly looking around. Had there been a fire at the place?

He approached the building cautiously, wondering what he'd find. He hoped he'd find answers at least, and not just more questions. The door was unlocked and he stepped inside, where he encountered more building materials and bare walls.

"Jake?" He looked around the empty, and obviously reconstructed, bar. "Is anybody here?"

"Stop right there and turn around."

He did as instructed and found himself looking down the double barrel of a shotgun. Held by- "Elizabeth?"

"Jason?" She lowered the gun, the barrel pointing towards the ground, and stared at him. "What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing with a shotgun?" His eyes were wide in disbelief. "Are you crazy?"

She uncocked the gun and shook her head. "We've had some problems. We have to be a little cautious around here."

"Cautious? Is that thing even loaded?"

"Well it would be rather stupid to threaten to shoot a mobster with an empty shotgun now wouldn't it?" she spat at him.

Turning, she walked away, the gun cradled in the crook of her arm. He stood there, stunned, and then followed after her grabbing her arm and spinning her around. "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute? What are you talking about? What exactly happened here?"

"Sonny Corinthos and a bomb," she responded curtly. "Welcome home to a blown up bar."

"Sonny Corinthos? He's been in here bothering Jake again?" Jason turned and kicked a board across the room as he swore darkly. Sonny Corinthos was a thug in a thousand dollar suit who'd been trying to squeeze his way into Jake's business for years. She'd always resisted him, due in large part to her second cousin Lorenzo Alcazar, Sonny's rival in Port Charles. Jason had helped any time Sonny stopped in, and the mobster knew enough that Jason was not to be trifled with and would slink back only to regroup and come again later.

He was mad that after all these years of being able to hold him off Jake hadn't been able to do it this time. And he was mad that he'd been off on a worthless job because he'd wanted to avoid Elizabeth. If he hadn't been such a coward and ran with his tail between his legs he would have been here to help out.

Turning back to Elizabeth he clenched his jaw. "Tell me what happened. And I mean everything."

She walked behind the new bar - it was too smooth, too bright, too polished, it needed to be scuffed and marred - and sighed as she shoved papers and paint covered tarps to the side. She grabbed two shot glasses and a bottle of tequila. "You'll need this."

Pushing his glass at him, she tossed back her own drink, then twisted her hair into a messy bun. "The night you left Sonny Corinthos came in and threatened Jake and Lorenzo. He said Alcazar might not be around much longer to protect her."

"The night I left," he muttered, picking up his drink and swallowing the liquid fire.

She refilled their glasses and nodded just once. "A blood bath erupted in this city. Every day on the news there were multiple murders reported. A month after you left Lorenzo was gunned down outside his apartment. Sonny stepped up his efforts that very night, even when Lorenzo's wife took over. A week after Lorenzo was killed, Sonny blew up the bar."

Jason looked up sadly when she paused to take a drink. "What happened? People were hurt, weren't they?"

"It was Friday night," she nodded slowly. "The place was packed. Apparently someone in Corinthos' camp got a conscience because we got an anonymous call telling us there was a bomb. I was over by the pool tables delivering drinks when all of the sudden Jake whistled and told everyone to get out. She yelled at me to clear the rooms upstairs."

She stopped and dropped her elbow to the bar and rested her forehead on her palm. "Elizabeth?" he asked softly.

"I got the rooms cleared; I came back down to help her out when it blew."

His eyes shot up and around the bar. "You were inside?"

"I hadn't made it across the bar and the blast blew me back around the corner along with a pool table. That table saved my life because it got burned instead of me. Along with the fact that Sonny used a smaller charge because he didn't really want to kill us, you see, he just wanted to scare Jake into cooperating."

He swallowed hard, his gut twisting over the fact that she could have been burned or killed. "What happened to Jake?"

"She was nearly killed," Elizabeth said softly, her throat raw and rough. "She wasn't far enough from the bomb when it blew. She's still in the hospital and they don't know when she'll be released."

It was nice to know the score. As Elizabeth swept up Jake's office before going over the things the construction crew did that day, she realized that Jason Morgan probably never gave their kiss a second thought. Must have been nice.

Before the bomb, any time she had a slow moment that's where her mind would drift to. She would remember the tingle of her lips as his brushed across them, heat would pool low in her stomach and her heart would beat wildly. She used to curse him for the callous way he walked away, even when she tried to tell herself it was for the best.

After the bomb she hoped she'd be too busy to think about Jason. No such luck. Even though she was exhausted every night when she collapsed into bed, the memory would come back to plague her. After going to work, coming back to the bar and meeting with the contractor, going over notes, and then doing some of her own work around the place, she would sometimes be too tired to fall asleep right away. Her mind still racing so fast it refused to catch up with her weary body. That's when the fact that Jason's room was right across from hers would haunt her mind. Because she'd had to go in there to survey for damage, and what little things he'd left there teased and tormented her.

She tucked a curl that had come loose from her bun behind her ear as she made sure she had the last of the contractor's notes and the forms Jake needed to sign. She had planned on going over there this evening before visiting hours ended, but after Jason rushed out of the bar to go over there after she mentioned Jake was in the hospital, she decided against it. Elizabeth would just go in the morning on her way to the community center and then run to work. Hopefully with it being a Saturday she'd have enough time.

Jason had literally run out of the bar with hardly an explanation, except that he was going to see Jake. That piece of information he'd called back over his shoulder on his way out the door. He didn't ask about her, didn't stop to see if she'd been hurt in the blast; just headed off to see his good buddy Jake. She shook her head and snorted. "Typical guy."

Turning off the light in the back room, she carried the papers out and placed them down on the bar along with her other things, all for easy grabbing on her way out the door in the morning. She was just about to double-check all the doors which she locked after Jason left, when she heard someone test the lock and then knock on the front door. "Unbelievable."

She grabbed the shotgun and walked to the door. The gun was cocked, but her finger was off the trigger as she used the barrel to flip the lock and then pushed the door open. For the second time that evening she ended up with the gun trained on Jason. "Crap!"

"Elizabeth, geez," he said, stepping back and holding up his arms. "Watch where you're aiming that thing."

She put the safety on and aimed it at the ground. "What are you doing here?"

"Do you always answer the door that way or are you just jumpy tonight?'

She turned and headed back towards the bar shaking her head. She heard him come inside after her and called out, "Lock the door behind you."

"You never answered my question."

"I'm not taking chances," she informed him. "Especially after Sonny stopped by several nights ago to see how I was doing."

Anger tinged his voice when he said, "Jake didn't tell me that."

"Jake doesn't know, and it will stay that way until she's better," Elizabeth said sternly, pointing a finger at him.

"What are you doing here, Elizabeth?" he sighed as he grabbed a chair and sat down, watching her move around the room.

"I'm overseeing reconstruction since Jake is in the hospital."

He shook his head at her matter of fact answer. "What I mean is why were you even here when the bomb blew? That was five weeks after I left."

"And your point is?" she challenged. "Why exactly do you care where I live? You know...that day up at Vista Point you said I'd probably be gone when you got back. You think I'd pack up all my frilly, weakling, girly things and find an apartment? A place more suitable for me?"

He cleared his throat and looked away as he guiltily tugged on his ear. "Oh, screw you, Morgan. Did it ever occur to your reptilian brain that maybe I like living here? Maybe there was a reason, besides Lucky, that I lived at Kelly's. The rent was cheap. So's the rent here. Besides, Jake was good to me; there was no way I was going to turn my back on her when she was in trouble. Maybe I'm not trained like you are, but I was going to help her any way I could."

"So you come here and work late hours trying to get the place back up and running and then go home? I didn't see a car. Tell me that you're not walking."

"Why would I walk?" she questioned. "I live here."

"While it's under construction?"

"Rooms weren't really damaged that much. Carpenters fixed whatever needed to be done. I wasted enough money the week I lived in a motel, Morgan," she sighed as she shook her head. "How much money do you think I make as an art teacher at the community center?"

"Probably not very much."

"That'd be a good guess," she smiled tightly. "So as soon as it was clear I moved back in. As much to save money as to watch over the place."

"Just you and your shotgun?" he asked with an annoying quirk of his brow.

She just smirked back at him and traced her finger down the length of the barrel. "Sure. It's so nice to cuddle up with when I'm in bed. Besides, a girl's gotta have something to keep her warm at night."

He looked at her for a minute and she narrowed her eyes slightly, unable to read what he might be thinking. Was he going to chide her again? Instead he shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face. "At least Jake got one thing right. You're not sleeping, are you?"

Immediately she felt defensive, and annoyed that Jake was talking to Jason about her. How dare he come in here after being gone for eight weeks and not having lived through any of this and make her feel like she wasn't doing things right. And how dare Jake talk to him when she knew what had happened between the two of them before he left and had listened to Elizabeth curse Jason more than once. She was going to have a few words to say to her boss and friend. "I'll sleep better when construction is done, Jake is back and Sonny Corinthos is behind bars."

"You're afraid," he said simply, but without derision in his voice.

"I was in a bar when it blew up. I've had a mobster try to corner me in a deserted room. I think I'm entitled to be a little afraid."

He stood and crossed the room to where she was leaning against the bar. "Yes, you are. Nobody's going to fault you for that, Elizabeth. Least of all Jake. Or me. She told me everything you're doing and how much she appreciates it. But she's also worried about you being here by yourself, especially at night, and trying to deal with everything. Which is why she hired me to provide security."

"Security?" Oh, crap. Just her luck. She was going to be stuck side by side with him. If Jake did this thinking she was matchmaking, Elizabeth was going to have a few other choice words to say.

"That's right," he nodded. "Looks like we're working together."

Oh joy. "You know what, Morgan? We don't work together, you'll work for me. So piss off."

Chapter 8

He knew the minute Jake asked him for help that he should have said no and left town, but he couldn't. He felt guilty for not being around when Jake was in trouble before; there was no way he could walk away now. With Alcazar dead, Jake was going to need someone to step up and help against Sonny Corinthos. He was just going to have to suck it up about Elizabeth. It would be torture being near her and remembering their kiss, and not being able to kiss her again.

He needn't have worried about her wanting to talk about the kiss and then having to lie and say he hadn't given it a second thought. Elizabeth didn't talk to him unless it was to tell him something to do. She was cold and indifferent to him, which only made him think about their kiss all the more. He wished she'd go back to the warm effusive person she'd been before he left, and he especially wished he could see her blush over some statement that caught her off guard and then tortuously pull her lip between her teeth and nibble on it.

Instead, she worked herself to the bone and studiously ignored and avoided him. For the first week he ignored her too. He pretended he didn't hear her when she was something to him until she was right beside him and putting a hand roughly on his arm. But when she gave up on that game and started writing him notes and handing them to him in lieu of talking to him, he decided to change tactics. If he couldn't get her angry enough to talk to him, he'd kill her with kindness. He started asking her questions, trying to draw her into conversations, but she still ignored him. He would bring dinner for them, but she'd just grab the food off and walk off after barely acknowledging him. It was driving him crazy, and so was his job.

In the two weeks since Jake hired him, he hadn't seen a sign of Sonny Corinthos. Jason's friend Max was looking into things as well, but so far hadn't been able to locate the bomber. Jason was determined to get the evidence to put Sonny away, for good this time. He was tired of the man terrorizing the town and the people he knew and cared about.

"Elizabeth," he called out as he walked into the bar carrying a bag of take-out. There was no answer, but that wasn't unusual. She rarely spoke to him. "Elizabeth, I've got dinner."

He stepped further into the bar and stopped short. Elizabeth sat slumped over a table not moving. The bag slipped from his fingers and crashed to the floor as he sprinted across the room and dropped to his knee beside her. "Elizabeth!"

He shook her, simultaneously moving her curtain of hair to the side as he felt for a pulse. A strong, steady one greeted him and he sighed, even as he continued to shake her. "Elizabeth."

She stirred, a low sound escaping her lips and he ceased his frantic movements. He sat back on his heels and watched as she slowly woke up. She'd been asleep. Relief mixed with anger coursed through him and he didn't even know whom he was angry with; her for unknowingly worrying him or himself for so easily giving away the true nature of his feelings for her.

Her head slowly came up as she looked around and when she saw him right beside her she gave a yelp as she jumped back. She jerked so violently that she tipped her chair over and fell onto the floor before he could grab her.

"Are you okay?" he immediately asked.

"I'm fine," she shook her head. "You scared me. Why were you practically in my face?"

"I thought-" He stopped himself from saying he thought she was hurt or worse. He didn't think it would be the best admission that she had scared him silly, that the thought of her hurt or even dead had rendered him frozen for a moment.

"You thought what?" she asked tipping her head to the side.

"I...I thought you were hurt," he said softly, his voice threatening to break. "You didn't answer when I came in and you were slumped over the table."

"I fell asleep going over the receipts, trying to get ready for the opening," she said when he trailed off. She swiped at her eyes and offered up a deprecating grin, "Now you know why I studied art. Math is not my strong suit. Puts me right to sleep or frustrates me."

He stood and helped her to her feet, then stooped to right the chair. "Maybe I could help."

She shook her head stubbornly, previous animosity flooding back. "That's okay. I can do it."

He shrugged. "Okay. Then I'll go see if anything's salvageable from dinner."

Bringing the bag back to the table, he pulled out the containers and peered inside them. "Well, it may not be terribly pretty, but the containers saved dinner from being splattered all over the floor."

"Hey," she protested as he started laying out the meal. "I don't want to get food on the papers."

He walked over to her and gathered up all the receipts, books and pencils and put them on an empty chair. "There," he smiled. "Now you can eat without worry. And when we're done I'll go over them for you."

Jutting out her chin she growled. "I said I can do it."

"Right," he nodded. "I'm sure those three mistakes I saw at a glance were just you...what? Practicing? Warming up?"

She closed her eyes and dropped her head onto her arms crossed on the table, and he felt a little bad for pushing her, but clearly she was exhausted and he wanted to help her. "Alright," she mumbled into her arms, "you can do the books. I suck at math."

"It's okay," he grinned, even though she couldn't see him. "You were able to sweet talk those construction workers better than I could have the other day."

Her shoulders shook on a laugh and she peered up at him through her bangs. "Thanks."

"No problem," he shook his head. "Now let's eat."

She pulled her hair back from her face quickly and twisted it up so it would be out of the way, before reaching for the containers he offered her. He smirked when he saw the smudges on her cheek and couldn't resist pointing it out to her. "Just how long were you asleep?"

"What?" She peered at him more in question than annoyance.

"How long were you asleep? You've got ink on your cheek," he gestured in the air towards her left cheek to show her.

"Oh, geez," she grumbled in slight embarrassment, rubbing at her cheek and not making a difference at all.

"Here," he grabbed a napkin, dampened it in her water glass sitting on the table and then leaned towards her. He didn't release the napkin into her hand as she expected him to, but instead gently took her chin in his hand and turned her head so he could wipe at her cheek. She shivered as he touched her, the pressure hard enough to clean, but soft enough to be enticing. He knew her shiver had nothing to do with being cold, not with it being August and the air conditioning not set as high as it would be if the bar was full.

He let his touch linger, wiping away the moisture from her cheek with the pad of his thumb. She shivered again, this time a small gasp escaping her lips. Dropping the napkin and all pretense of wiping away the smudge, he slid the hand from her chin over to cradle her jaw as his thumb brushed over her cheek.

Her eyes took on the same stormy quality they had when she pulled away from kissing him all those weeks ago. The memory of that moment and the haunting taste of mangoes made him desperate to repeat the action. He had to kiss her, needed to. He had to kiss her without it being about making Caroline mad, needed to know if she'd respond the same. Taste the same.

So he did what he'd wanted to do since he found her at Vista Point and held himself back instead of doing what he really wanted. He kissed her.

He was kissing her. Two and a half months after she had kissed him in the bar in a fit of anger and comeuppance to Jason's ex, he was kissing her. While she knew he hadn't seemed mad about the kiss, she didn't think he had thought about it like she had. But as his lips moved over hers softly, yet eagerly, she was beginning to think maybe she'd been mistaken.

Jason pulled back slowly and she opened her eyes cautiously, wondering what reaction she would find. The stormy emotion-filled look on his face blazed with intensity and any words she was about to say died in her throat. He stood from his chair, pulled her from hers and only gave her a moment to think before he was claiming her lips again.

His hand fisted in her hair, pulling her head back so he could deepen the kiss and she rose on her toes to meet it. Elizabeth couldn't think under the onslaught of emotions, she could only react to the wonderful sensations Jason was creating inside her. How his ex could have tossed someone like this aside was simply beyond her comprehension. Right now she was thinking she'd do just about anything to keep this kiss going.

That was until she felt Jason's hand on her stomach. Under her shirt. And moving upwards.

She broke the kiss, pulling back as she pushed him away. "Stop!"

He stood rooted in his spot and she stepped back, pulling her shirt into place. His face was flushed and he was breathing hard, struggling to swallow as he spoke. "Elizabeth, I am so sorry. I...I got carried away."

"A couple of motorcycle rides and a week's worth of take-out dinners don't entitle you to cop a feel," she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

He shook his head immediately. "You're right. I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I...there's no excuse for what I did. I just...I was finally kissing you again and I...I'm sorry."

She took a deep breath and pulled her hair back that he'd loosened from its hold. He was sorry. She believed that, the look on his face conveyed it clearly. And as her brain slowed and was able to process what he said she gasped. Finally kissing you again. "Jason?"

His hands were shoved in his pockets and his head was down, his chin practically to his chest. He refused to look at her. "Jason, please look at me," she coaxed. "I'm not going attack you, I promise. said you were finally kissing me again."

Slowly Jason raised his gaze to meet hers. His eyes still held regret, but their stormy quality had returned. "I have wanted to kiss you since that day. A lot."

"Then...then why didn't you? Why did you blow me off?"

"Because I told myself it was better that way. You weren't like anyone I've met, especially women. I'd just found out I'd been dumped while I was gone...I didn't need the complication."

"I can understand that," she said softly, not really feeling stung at his words. "I said the same things about you because of Lucky."

"The thing was," he continued, raking a hand through his hair. "The thing was I couldn't stop thinking about you. When I was working I could force the thoughts of you out...but I couldn't when I had down time. All I could think about then was if you always tasted like mangoes."

She made a mental note to buy more Mango Passion Lip Gloss. "I thought I was the only one who was affected. I really expected you to be mad at me."

He gave a little chuckle and shook his head. "All I could think about was how I wished we weren't in the middle of the bar." He cleared his throat in ragged embarrassment. "That's why I...ah..."

"Tried to get to second base?" she quipped with a smile. He blushed furiously and she felt heat bloom on he own cheeks.

"Uh, yeah."

She decided to take pity on him, especially since now that she'd calmed down she was starting to regret having stopped him. "Relax, Jason. I'm not going to go find my baseball bat or the shotgun. I spooked 'cause it was a little fast and sudden considering the cold shoulder you gave me when you returned."

He raised his eyebrows in mirth. "You weren't exactly warm and cuddly yourself, there."

She laughed along with him. "Yeah, I guess I wasn't."

"I think an iceberg would have been warmer."

She smiled at his teasing grin, even as she said, "Watch it. I have a bat and know how to use it."

"Duly noted," he chuckled. "You ah...want to eat? Food's getting cold."

She nodded since it was probably better than standing around talking this to death. "Sure. You know, I really appreciate you bringing dinner all this week. I've been living off peanut butter or whatever I could grab when I was out."

"You're welcome," he smiled and her stomach fluttered in response.

As they ate Elizabeth watched him, wondering what this all meant. Would he constantly head off for jobs and she'd have to content herself with kisses when he came home? Would he try pushing her away again?

"You're thinking too loud," he said, breaking her from her thoughts and making her realize she'd been holding a piece of baked potato on her fork for the past several minutes.

"What?" She shook her head. "Oh, I was just..."

"Thinking," he finished for her. "I know. I've been thinking too. I'm sticking around for a while, so what do you say we just see where this goes?"

She nodded and he smiled. "So I guess the thing to do is ask you out on a date. What are you doing tomorrow night after the re-opening?"

Putting on her Mango Passion gloss.

Chapter 9

"That was great!" Elizabeth smiled up at Jason as they stood outside her room in the hallway. After weeks of rides on his motorcycle after her shift was over, she had finally persuaded him to let her drive. Sure, he did most of the steering, and balancing, and had to start it, but she got to sit in front and feel like she was flying.

The added bonus to tonight's excursion was having Jason's arms wrapped around her. He was molded close to her, and she could feel every muscle wrapped around her. She had come to appreciate those muscles a lot over the past weeks. She had explored them, along with his lips, very thoroughly. The only problem was she got to explore them through his shirt, outside her room.

Jason was a wonderful guy. True to his word, he'd taken her on a date, followed by one nearly every night after that. They went on rides, they went to dinner, and they had a lot of fun together. He wasn't all hearts and flowers sending her roses at work, but when she came out of school and saw him standing there waiting to give her a ride she would light up like Christmas. The only downside to the whole deal, Jason never went beyond holding her hand and kissing her. He certainly didn't show any of the intense passion that he had the night before the opening.

"I'm glad you liked it," he smiled.

"Liked it? I loved it!"

"Then we'll have to do it again."

Her eyes twinkled in delight. "I'd like that. But I also really like it when you drive so we can go fast."

He laughed as he shook his head at her. "I think I've created a monster."

He paused and tucked his hands in his pockets. "Well, I guess we should call it a night."

Her heart plummeted. He was always the first one to say goodnight and head for his room. But she wasn't going to let him go easy. She leaned against her door and looked up at him. "Do you want to come in for a little while?"

He looked over her shoulder at the wooden structure behind her and brought a hand up to his neck. He swallowed and looked down as he said, "It's late...I probably shouldn't. Besides, you've got school tomorrow."

"Nope," she grinned at dispelling one of his excuses. "Tomorrow's Sunday. I don't have any classes."

"Oh, well..." he took a step towards her and she shivered under the intensity that flared in his eyes. He brushed stray wisps of hair that had escaped her ponytail back behind her ear. His palm cradled her jaw tenderly as he bent towards her and she rose on her toes to meet him. The kiss was intense and she thought she'd gotten him to change his mind when she was able to slip her hand underneath his jacket and nearly got his shirt out of the waist of his jean.

But as always he pulled back, stopped before he lost control or showed her too much passion. Her eyes slowly drifted open to meet his turbulent blue ones. His hand was slow to draw away from her face and he licked his lips. "Goodnight, Elizabeth."

"Goodnight, Jason," she whispered and reached for the doorknob. She hoped she could get the door open before she either started to cry or screamed at him.

The handle twisted and she pushed it open, slipping wordlessly into her room. She locked the door and then sank to the floor; she didn't get it. With Lucky she constantly had to fight off his advances, and now with Jason she couldn't get him to show any interest.

She gave up. She didn't understand men, she just didn't. Maybe she should just stop. Clearly Jason was no longer interested, or just wasn't affected. Or maybe he was just turned off. Maybe the only reason he'd ever kissed her was because he remembered Lucky calling her locked in the knees and he wanted to melt the lock. Now that he knew she was ready for him, he didn't want her. Whatever the reason, she'd had enough of it.

There was no way she was going to be able to get to sleep after this, even if she took a cold shower. So she grabbed her cell phone and tightened her coat around her.

Jason stepped out of the shower and paused as he reached for his sweats. He heard a door close and footsteps echo in the hall and held his breath. He knew they were Elizabeth's, he'd listened to them enough to be able to pick her out of any of the people who lived at the bar, as well as what shoes she was wearing.

He hoped she wasn't coming to his room to talk to him. He'd just finished taking one cold shower; he didn't want to have to take another one. He didn't know how much longer he could hold himself back. After nearly mauling her downstairs a couple of weeks ago he wanted to show her he wasn't in this just for a physical fix, but it was getting very hard to remember that.

His sigh of relief grew when Elizabeth didn't stop at his door, but went downstairs. Maybe she'd decided to play some pool before going to bed. They would play together sometimes, but tonight he was going to stay safely in his room. If he went down to play a couple of games, he was liable to forget why he'd decided to respect her enough to take it slow.

He was about to sit down and read one of his travel books when he frowned. He didn't hear any sounds from the pool table, and he wondered what she was doing. Then he heard a horn beep and the heavy front door close. Crossing the room he peered down through the blinds in time to see Elizabeth get into a cab and leave.

Scowling, he tossed the book on the desk and reached for his clothes. What was she doing? It was too late for her to be out. Quickly dressing, he grabbed his keys and headed down to his bike. The taxi hadn't turned towards Vista Point, but had turned towards downtown. With luck she'd gone to the community center; if she didn't he would have no clue where else to look for her.

The lights were on in her back classroom when he pulled into the parking lot a short time later, but the doors were locked when he tried them, so he pulled out his phone and hoped she had hers with her.


"Elizabeth, I'm outside. Can you please open the door for me?"

She paused and he could sense her irritation through the silence. "Why are you here?" she finally asked.

"I'd like to talk to you. Please."

All that greeted him was a dial tone, and time stretched on making him think she had no intention of coming to let him in. He'd wait; even if it was until she decided to leave. To his surprise, however, he saw her petite form walking towards the door. Silently she unlocked the door, motioned him inside, and walked back to her classroom where he could see she'd just started a painting.

It was only when they were in her room that she finally spoke to him. Turning to face him she crossed her arms over her chest and glared. "What are you doing here, Jason?"

"I heard you leave and I wondered where you'd be going this late."

She looked like she'd bean him with her baseball bat if only she had it. Instead, she settled for sending him a look that was as potent as any cold shower. "Well, you found me. So now you can go."

Oooh, dismissed. Much like that morning after he woke up in her room and when he returned after being gone for two months. She had a look that made him just want to go find a nice igloo to camp out in. "Alright, look, clearly I've upset you in some way. So why don't you tell me what your snit is about so we can talk about it and get on with out lives."

Maybe not the kindest thing he say, or the most appropriate he realized when her eyes narrowed and he could read her mind that she wished for laser beams to shoot out of them. He was pretty sure he knew why she was mad, and he couldn't really say that he blamed her. He was frustrated, he could only imagine how she felt to rev the engine up like he had to her, and then have it turned off suddenly. He had no idea why he said such a thing, and he knew he should apologize, but his mouth was shut tight.

"For your information, Morgan," she said, her tone cold as Arctic frost, "not everything in my life is about you. My snit as you called it is none of your business. So screw off."

"Look, I'm sorry, Elizabeth," he said. "I didn't mean to say it like that. That you were having a snit."

"Should we call it a tantrum?" she challenged, still trying to provoke him. "Am I being childish? Acting like a baby? Maybe I should go hang out with my sister so she can get some practice."

"What does your sister have to do with this?" he shook his head in confusion at the line of thought she was on.

"Sarah's pregnant," she announced flatly. "I'm going to be an aunt. Or a stepmother if only I'd reconsider Lucky's offer."

He narrowed his eyes. "Lucky's bothering you again?"

"Not really," she brushed him off. "He and Sarah came by to share the good news and when she went to the bathroom he told me it was my last chance to change my mind."

"Unbelievable," Jason breathed out.

She merely shrugged. "I told him to enjoy his nice new life, but if he tried to spark with me again I was going to make sure this was the only child he'd ever have. Amazing how the threat of Lorena Bobbitt can make men cower."

Jason tucked his hands in his pockets and swallowed, telling himself not to shift or cross hi legs at that disconcerting thought. "So is that what you're upset about?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you're mad at me and wish you had your bat or maybe your shotgun."

"Which is why you should really go," Elizabeth informed him. "After all, don't you have a job Jake hired you to do? Didn't you swear you'd find the dirt on Sonny Corinthos and get him out of Jake's hair? How's that coming? Maybe you should focus on that for a while. I'd hate for Jake to be hurt because you were distracted."

He started towards her and she backed up, her eyes widening at his deliberateness. "You think you're a distraction? Or maybe that I'm just passing my time with you and I'll get bored and leave? Why? Because I won't sleep with you? Don't you think if I was looking for a little action I'd have taken you up on one of your many offers?"

"Get out," she seethed, trying to push him away.

"No," he shook his head and stepped closer, trapping her between his body and the counter. "I respect you, Elizabeth, and I wasn't looking for a quick roll in the hay with you."

"You are such a pig, and you can just take your smug superiority out of here. Just because you're a great kisser doesn't mean I have to put up with you making decision for me and-"

Whatever else she was going to say was lost, cut off and muffled as his lips descended on hers. He didn't know why they were arguing; maybe it was the heat or the tension Corinthos had infused around their lives. All he knew was he was tired of it, tired of the fights and the distance between them when they both clearly wanted the same thing. He would rather kiss Elizabeth and hold her, than be noble and walk away from her.

Jake liked Sunday mornings. The bar was quiet, the boarders were as well, and even the docks were silent for a few hours. She could take care of the books, count inventory, and once that was done she could read her novels and just relax for a little while.

It was her favorite way to spend the morning. As she was heading down the hallway to double-check the inventory and look over the books, Jason's door opened and Elizabeth's head peeked out. The young woman paused when she saw the bar owner watching her and her cheeks reddened in a blush.

"Good morning, Elizabeth."

"Oh, hey...Jake," Elizabeth stammered out. "How are you?"

"Good," she smiled.

"That's good. Well, I..."

"Yeah," Jake grinned. "I'm going to check the books and stock and then read. I'll talk to you later."

She started towards the stairs and then stopped and turned back to Elizabeth. "Tell Jason good morning...though maybe you've already done that."

Elizabeth blushed even brighter and shrank back into Jason's room and Jake laughed as she walked down the stairs. Those two had finally stopped dancing around each other and she was glad she no longer had to endure the longing looks, double-meaning phrases and tension so thick she felt like she was wrapped in a wool blanket. Now she just hoped she didn't have to put up with noisy displays in the bar that let the whole world know they were lovers.

Chapter 10

"Mail for you, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth paused on her way towards the stairs and turned for the bar. She put her squelching bag down on the floor so it wouldn't leak water over the bar and sat down on a stool, pulling off her jacket. Jake placed the letter and a cup of hot chocolate in front of her. "Thanks, Jake," she smiled.

"Looked like you needed it," the bartender smiled warmly.

"After three solid days of rain I'm not sure I'm ever going to be dry," she chuckled ruefully. "I just want to see sun again."

"Don't worry, sweetie," the blonde said, patting her shoulder as she came around the end of the bar. "It won't stay hidden forever...and you'll see Jason again. Now, read your letter and drink your hot chocolate. I picked up a new flavor today."

Elizabeth chuckled as Jake headed out into the bar and then picked up her drink. She took a sip of the steaming liquid, then paused before taking another one. She loved flavored hot chocolate like some people did flavored coffee. Jake had made it a personal passion to track down or create new flavors for Elizabeth to enjoy. Today's new delight seemed to have caramel in it, but there was also something else that she couldn't immediately place.

However, while the flavor was quite tasty, she wasn't going to spend too much time pondering it. Especially not when she had a letter from Jason waiting to be read. She picked up and turned it over; his neat block style handwriting brought a smile to her face every time she saw it. She looked at the postmark, but it was so faint she couldn't make it out.

When he'd left this time he was escorting a businessman from Venezuela to Spain, but who knew where the job had taken him. She always worried about him, but she tried not to let it show too much. She knew he couldn't be in Port Charles all the time like he had at first when they began dating. Sonny Corinthos had been convicted of extortion and racketeering based on an anonymous tip that led the police to all the evidence they needed and the man had been sent away for a long time. Jason never said if he was the anonymous caller, all he would say is he would happy Sonny wouldn't bother Jake again.

It was after that that Jason began taking jobs again. They were shorter in duration and she could tell by the things he said that they weren't as dangerous as some of his old ones had been. The jobs had started out as short trips, and he'd sometimes beat the postcard home that he sent her. But slowly the jobs got longer, and sometimes he brought the postcard home with him.

So far, while she had missed him, she hadn't given up on him. She hadn't turned into a shrew either, complaining about the time he was gone. She didn't like it, but she instead focused on the time they had when he was home and was happy to make up for the time he was away when he did return.

Opening the envelope she pulled out the letter and picked up her hot chocolate. By the time Jake came back the drink was gone and she'd read the brief letter three times already. She looked up as she heard the older woman behind the bar and smiled. "Hey, Jake. So what's the flavor?"

The blonde just shook her head. "You gotta figure it out. You're certainly looking happier. Good letter?"

A slight blush covered Elizabeth's cheeks. "Any letter from Jason is a good letter."

Jake shook her head and Elizabeth was pretty sure she heard the word 'sap' as her friend turned for the hot chocolate container. "Well, I'm glad you're happy, sweetie."

"I am. And I'll be even happier in a couple of days when he gets home," she wiggled her eyebrows. He'd mailed the letter a couple of days ago, said the job was almost done and he'd see her soon. "He said he's got a surprise for me. But he said it may mean we have to move, though."

Jake paused as she was refilling Elizabeth's mug. "Move? Why would he want to move from here?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "He likes living here and so do I."

"There's no sense fretting what he's going on about," her friend suggested. "You know you never figure it out. But then again, neither do I. Of course it all seems so clear once he gets back and tells us what he meant."

Elizabeth stood and gathered her coat and bag, making sure Jason's letter was inside. "Thanks for the hot chocolate, Jake. I'm going to go upstairs and take a bath, see if I can't finish thawing out my toes. Catch you later."

"See you later, Elizabeth," Jake waved, then headed out into the bar to clear a table.

Be it ever so humble, there was no place like home. And with a little luck Jason wouldn't be leaving Port Charles again any time soon.

He parked his bike behind Jake's and walked into the bar through the back door. He did a quick scan of the bar for Elizabeth, but didn't see his girlfriend working or anywhere else in the bar. He hoped she was upstairs because he didn't want to have to go back out in the rain to see her at her classroom. Opening the door to his room to drop off his stuff, he was a bit disappointed when he saw Elizabeth wasn't inside. Sometimes she would stay in his room while he was gone to feel closer to him. Stepping back out into the hallway he walked over to her room and knocked.

The door swung open a few seconds later and he barely braced himself for the blur that launched at him. "You're home! I wasn't expecting you so soon; I just got your letter yesterday."

She kissed him deeply, her legs locking around his waist as she pulled him closer. He staggered slightly under the exuberant onslaught and barely got a hand out to keep her from being crushed as her back hit the wall. As much as he loved these welcome homes, he was glad of his decision to not be gone as much.

He pulled his lips away from hers and sucked in a breath when she immediately latched onto the skin just under his jaw. "Elizabeth...maybe we should...go inside."

She grinned up at him. "Good idea."

It was a controlled crash as he pushed them off the wall, maneuvering them through the doorway, closing it behind them as he walked to the bed. He turned them slightly so she wouldn't take the brunt of the fall. But Elizabeth never paused. The only time she stopped kissing him was to pull their shirts off.

Later as they lay wrapped together in the sheets, Jason trailed his fingers over her back and sighed, "I missed you."

"I could tell," she chuckled against his chest, her fingers splayed out over his heart.

"I hate leaving you," he confessed, stilling his hand on her waist.

She sighed and braced her arms on his chest as she lifted herself up to look at him. "I know, but I try not to think about that. I try to just enjoy the time we have and not worry about when you'll be leaving again."

"Well, with this new job I won't be leaving as often. Maybe only a couple of times a year."

Her brows drew together as she stared at him. "New job? What new job?"

The one Max offered me," he said slowly, watching for her reaction.

"Max? I thought he worked for the Quartermaines as head of their security division. You're going to work for the Quartermaines?"

His face wrinkled up with hers at the bitter thought. "No. Max has opened his own business. He's looking for a partner. There's no way I'd go to work for Tracy Quartermaine. Max left because of her when she took over the company."

"Okay," she said, settling her chin on her hands that were laced together on his chest. "So what does Max do now?"

"He runs a consulting firm. Instead of me going out on these jobs, I'd be training others to do them. Max has a name and a reputation after working for Edward Quartermaine for so many years. I've got the street name and reputation. It's a good merger."

"So, you'll what," she said, her forehead wrinkling in question, "wear a suit and tie and hire new recruits?"

"Thankfully, no," he shook his head. "I'll be training the people, observing them on exercises. It'll be like my old job in ways, without all the travel or the danger or the fatigue."

"That's what you really want to do?"

"Not sit around waiting for some guy to jump me or my client? Not constantly have to travel or live out of a suitcase?" he asked. One side of his mouth hooked up, "Yeah, that sounds really good. Best of all, I don't have to leave you all the time."

"I didn't like it, but it wasn't horrible," she shook her head; fearful he was making a decision he wasn't truly happy with.

"But it wasn't fun, Elizabeth. I'm doing this for us, but it's also for me," he tried to assure her. "Even if I'd never met you, I'd still be interested in this offer. I'm at a place where I want a change."

"Okay," she said, her face softening into a calmer, more content look. "So that's what your surprise was?"

He sat up and reached for his jacket lying on the floor where it fell earlier. She sat up as well, pushing her hair back before she looped her arms around her knees. She eyed him curiously as he held the jacket in his lap, but didn't bombard him with questions, instead waiting for whatever he had to say.

"I also want more in my life, but not just in my career," he said, tightening his fists in the leather. "I want more for me. I don't want to live above a bar for the rest of my life.

Now, she finally spoke. "But you like Jake's."

"True. But you can't raise a family above a bar. We can't even share the same room because they're so small."

She stared at him, her eyes wide with shock. "Wh-what?"

He pulled the box from his jacket and cradled it in his palm. "I always thought I'd never settle down, that I liked traveling anywhere on a whim. Women were nice, but they were just short-term companions. I didn't think I'd have anything more permanent, especially after my failed relationship with Caroline. I figured I was a guy who just couldn't be tamed."

"And I tamed you?" she tipped her head to the side in question. "I fell in love with you for you; not what I thought I could make you into."

He smiled at the pure love and acceptance in her words. While she hadn't liked that he had to leave she accepted it better than he did sometimes. He tried to give her all he had to share, but it was a hard task when he was always leaving at a moment's notice. And he knew that she sometimes held parts of herself back, didn't let things get too deep between them or too attached. He was tired of living like that because it wasn't fair to either of them.

"I know," he finally said, reaching out to take her hand. "But I want to. I hate walking away from you. I hate that we hold back because we don't want to get hurt. That's no way to live or love. I want to have it all with you, Elizabeth."

"Have it all?"

"A house, a family, kids...we could even get a dog. All, Elizabeth." He opened the box, turning it around so she could see the ring nestled inside. Her eyes filled with tears and her hand trembled as she raised it to cover her mouth. "So what about you, Elizabeth? What do you want?"

"I want you, Jason," she whispered.

"Then marry me." He slipped the ring out of the box and took her hand, the ring poised at the tip of her finger. "What do you say?"

Her smile was watery and wobbly as she nodded, and it was all he needed to slide the ring into place. "Yes. Yes, yes, yes, I'll marry you, Jason."

He grinned in pure happiness as he leaned forward to capture her lips. He had truly found a home.

The End

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