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This story begins in October, the day after Elizabeth sees Jason come out of Courtney's bedroom when he's guarding her. For the sake of this story Sarah Webber never left town, and certain things between Jason and Courtney don't happen, 'cause well my muse threatened to leave the room and never return. Lucky and Elizabeth never talked at Vista Pointe, so they're still on the outs here, but some things of the convo did end up echoed, even though I started this before that took place. Just one of those odd little coincidences.

Chapter 1

Standing in her studio, Elizabeth stared sightlessly out the window towards the docks. It's safe to do so, she now knew because there was very little chance of her seeing Jason down there. Not when he was so busy spending night and day guarding Courtney from her stalker. Wow, the fringe benefits of being Jason's sister-in-law and Sonny's sister, Courtney gets Jason to personally guard her twenty-four/seven. After she was kidnapped, she got a brand new door that reminded her of those on the crypt and Jason ran off to deal with Carly.

Maybe she should change her name. Something that starts with the letter C. Carrie? No, too Stephen King or Sex in the City...either way, not a good image. However, both the actresses who portrayed those characters are blond. Hmm...Carly and Courtney are both blondes. Maybe she should go that route. Head on down to the drug store and pick herself up a bottle of Miss Clairol.

Right. So that then her pale hair can blend right into her pale skin. With her dark blue eyes she'd look like a ghost or a skeleton costume. Hey, Halloween is right around the corner. Oh, who is she trying to kid? Even if she dyed her hair and changed her name, Jason Morgan would never give her the attention he gave to the others. It's just not in the cards.

Because, let's face it, the problem is her. From the moment she was born, she never fit in with her family. Dark hair and wild curls in a family of stick straight, blonde hair angels. And she was certainly not an angel. That had been drilled into her head enough times. And she certainly couldn't hang on to anybody in her life. Lucky and Jason, both gone. Moved on to brighter, and blonder, pastures. So, no, she suddenly decided, she didn't want anything more to do with blondes or the people who associated with them.


Her sister's shrill shriek accompanied by the loud, persistent banging on the door cut through her ruminations. Great, Sarah. Her perfect, blonde sister was there. What could she possibly want now? Stalking to the door, she deftly undid the three locks and wrenched the door open.

"What do you want, Sarah?"

"Gosh, Lizzie, that's no way to answer the door," she said as she breezed into the studio. "I was standing out there for three minutes before you answered. Didn't you hear me?"

"Sorry," Elizabeth mumbled, "I...I was...I just didn't hear you."

"That's alright, Lizzie-"

"Sarah," she cut in harshly. "If you're serious about us trying to get to know one another again and trying to move past what happened with Lucky, then you have to stop calling me Lizzie."

Sarah blinked at the cold tone in her sister's voice and took a step back. "Oh, Lizzie, you're always so dramatic."

Elizabeth said nothing as she walked over, picked up Sarah's purse from where it had been carelessly flung on her couch, and walked across the room. Opening the door, she threw the purse across the hall where the fabric slapped against the wall and slowly slid down to the floor. She turned to Sarah who stared at her wide-eyed and in a voice as cold as ice finally spoke. "Get out. This isn't going to work if you can't even give me the simple consideration I've asked for on my name. You'll never change, Sarah, and I don't have the energy to do this. So go. Now!"

Unable to take her frightened eyes off Elizabeth, Sarah slowly walked towards the door. Pausing, she put her hand on her sister's arm and softly said, "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. It's just been a habit for so long, but I'll work on it. I did mean it when I said I want to get to know you again."

Elizabeth softened slightly. "Alright. Get your purse and you can come back in. But I mean it, call me Lizzie one more time and I'll throw you out for good."

"Okay," Sarah laughed nervously, as she scurried into the hall and grabbed her purse. She walked back into the apartment and took a step toward her sister. "So, are you okay? Have you seen Jason lately?"

Elizabeth turned and closed the door, taking her time with the locks. It had surprised her when it first happened, but Sarah had been there for her after she'd moved out of Jason's. Sarah had listened as she cried, screamed, ranted and cursed at Sonny, Jason, herself, Alcazar, anybody, and Sarah never said a harsh or judgmental word.

"Yeah," she said as she turned from the door. "He's helping out Sonny's sister, who's being bothered by somebody. I dropped by to give her her schedule and paycheck and found he'd been staying the nights there."

"Oh, Elizabeth, I'm sorry," Sarah said as she sat on the couch. "You know - you aren't thinking Jason's involved with her are you?"

Elizabeth shook her head and crossed to her artist's table where she absently fiddled with the brushes and pencils there. "No. I don't think I do. She's married and I know it's not in Jason's nature to ever think about getting involved with a married woman. But it hurts. I-I mean he can be there for all these other people, but could never do that for me."

Her fingers brushed over the postcard of Italy Jason had given her and she paused, her heart constricting painfully. Did she ever really matter as much as he said she did? She hadn't realized that Sarah had moved until her sister was beside her gently laying a hand on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry. And maybe I shouldn't say this because he's your friend, but doesn't Sonny have anybody else that could guard his sister? Why does it only have to be Jason?"

"I don't know," Elizabeth replied wistfully. "Believe me, I've asked myself that same question numerous times."

"Alright," Sarah said, suddenly animated as she stepped away and rubbed her hands together. "Enough of this. Men suck. It's a fact of life we'll never change. So, we're going to get dressed up and go do something. Ignore any male that tries to talk to us and just have some sister time. So, I want you to dig in your closet for something fun to wear. No more of these long granny skirts, no more of these zipped up fleece jackets. You used to have some fun clothes, go find 'em. I've got the rest of the day off, so we're going out."

Four hours later, the Webber sisters laughingly breezed into Kelly's Diner. They dropped into their chairs, their shopping bags resting by their feet, their laughter filling the diner. Sarah had done her best to distract Elizabeth during the afternoon, and she had to say she'd done fairly well.

She'd taken her sister to a horrendously bad movie so they could laugh at the lame dialogue and recycled plots. It had also been a cop-out on her part, because she honestly wasn't sure what to say to Elizabeth. They had been working on their relationship since she returned to Port Charles, but then there had been the whole Lucky debacle. They had barely spoken since Elizabeth had left the hospital after her kidnapping. It wasn't until after Elizabeth left Jason's several days ago that she and Sarah had started talking again.

Sarah could see how it hurt Elizabeth to have another person break her trust, and it made her own betrayal of her sister hurt even more. So when Elizabeth had told her all about the days in the penthouse, her and Jason's promises to each other, Sonny's death, everything, she just sat there and listened. It had been very rough on the younger woman and Sarah had struggled not to say anything to anger or upset Elizabeth and cause her to pull away once again.

Sarah raised her eyes and looked for the waitress. Elizabeth was going on about how she couldn't believe Sarah had talked her into some of the clothes she'd bought and as such was unaware of the ice blue eyes that were intently fixed on her. Jason Morgan was sitting at the counter, turned so he could face into the dining area, and taking in everything Elizabeth did and said. He also seemed to be eyeing her new outfit with some curiosity. Just wait 'til he got a look at if from the front.

Just then Sonny's sister came out of the kitchen and walked toward their table. Sarah wished she could wave the blonde off, or grab her sister and drag her out of the diner, but it was too late. All Sarah could do was sit there and watch the train wreck unfolding before her eyes. She never should have suggested they come to Kelly's.

"What can I get for you today?" Courtney asked as she looked at Sarah. As her gaze drifted to the other occupant at the table, Sarah watched surprise cross the waitress's features as she recognized Elizabeth. "Elizabeth? I didn't recognize you. You look great."

"Hi, Courtney," Elizabeth said with false cheerfulness. Sarah wondered how she'd ever believed Elizabeth was truly happy before when she'd adopt that tone and a fake smile. More than that she wondered how anyone else could still be fooled by it. Apparently her sister hadn't fully buried Lizzie Webber; she'd just twisted her into someone unrecognizable.

"I'll have the number two and an iced tea," Elizabeth said with just enough lightness to her voice to not cause alarm and then looked at Sarah.

"Uh- I'll have the number three and a Diet Coke," Sarah said and then waited for the waitress to leave. Once she was gone, Sarah leaned forward and whispered, "I'm so sorry. We can get this to go if you'd like and eat at your studio."

"No," Elizabeth said, shaking her head. "I might as well get used to be here with him around. You did good this afternoon, Sarah, I actually forgot Courtney, and thus Jason, would be here."

She looked down and twisted a napkin around her finger. Her voice was so faint, Sarah could hardly hear it, but she knew what her sister was going to ask. " he-"

"Watching you?" Sarah finished softly. "Yeah. He hasn't taken his eyes off you. Not a very dedicated bodyguard if you ask me."

Elizabeth closed her eyes and dropped her head towards her chest. Sarah was mentally kicking herself for ever bringing them here. Even if Elizabeth hadn't thought about Jason, she should have enough sense not to come to the place where Courtney was working. What had she been thinking? "Okay, that's it. This is our time, no sadness allowed."

She pushed her chair back with a loud scrape over the tile floor. She felt Elizabeth's panicked eyes on her and saw Jason's gaze shift to her momentarily.

"Sarah," Elizabeth whispered, her voice pleading.

"Don't worry," she said softly and then raised her voice. "I'm just going to tell our waitress we've changed our minds and want our order to go."

By the time she finished her over the shoulder explanation she was at the counter, several chairs away from Jason. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Jason noticeably tensed and shifted his gaze between her and Elizabeth. Courtney walked from the kitchen towards her and Sarah opened her mouth to speak when the phone rang. That was when the whole night fell apart.

Courtney tensed, then answered the phone. She shot a panicked look at Jason and then guilt covered her face. Apparently her husband had come home early and couldn't get into the apartment because the locks had been changed. Courtney promised she'd be home right away and Jason stood to follow her out.

Sarah turned and faced the diner and watched as another train wreck occurred. Lucky, Gia and Nikolas came in and watched as Courtney stopped at Elizabeth's table.

"Hey, Elizabeth, do you mind finishing my shift for me? Jason has to get me home. Thanks," she called over her shoulder as she walked out. Sarah would have bet good money that she never even noticed Elizabeth said nothing. Just another person taking advantage of her sister's kindness.

"Look at that," Lucky scoffed to Nikolas in a voice that carried throughout the diner. "Jason sure didn't waste any time in dumping Elizabeth did he? Apparently he's moved from going after someone's girlfriend to going after someone's wife."

Then he turned to hang up his coat and missed the murderous glare Jason shot him before shaking his head and walking out. Sarah looked at Elizabeth whose head was turned away from Lucky, her skin pale, her lips pinched together in a pained expression. Sarah turned her gaze to Nikolas and gave him a pleading look. Nikolas turned to his brother and started to say something when Lucky looked up and saw her.

"Sarah," he smiled and swaggered toward her, letting out an appreciative whistle. "You look great. Too beautiful to be stuck in a dump like Kelly's. What do you say the four of us go to Club 101?"

Before she could protest, he had grabbed her hand and was dragging her towards the door. She glanced around for Elizabeth, but her sister was already making her way towards the counter. Their eyes met and Elizabeth smiled briefly and nodded her head with false cheerfulness. The last thing Sarah saw as Lucky was pulling her out into the courtyard was Elizabeth tying on her apron and walking towards the kitchen. Her sister's defeated posture and hung head made her want to kill Courtney, Jason, and most of all, Lucky.

Chapter 2

Waiting for Courtney to show up, A.J. looked down at Rosie and scratched the dog lovingly behind her ears. He had planned on surprising Courtney by arriving home early, only to get a surprise of his own when he discovered the locks were changed. The whole trip to Washington, D.C. had been a complete waste of time. Apparently the old man was bound and determined to keep him broke until he came crawling back to grovel at the Quartermaine's feet. Well, Edward could just keep on waiting.

A.J. should have realized that the whole trip would be an exercise in futility, but he'd had to try. He wouldn't be a Quartermaine if he had passed up the chance to beat Edward. It had all been for naught and he wished he had just stayed in Port Charles and helped Courtney.

He could tell that every time he called, she was trying to be brave and pretend she wasn't as frightened as she was feeling. A.J. felt like a failure for taking off and leaving her alone. Rosie was a good dog and a great companion, but she was no guard dog. If anyone broke into the apartment, Rosie would probably lie down at the person's feet and beg to be petted.

Maybe he should have taken Courtney with him. He knew even as the thought crossed his mind, that it would have never worked for several reasons. Courtney would probably have lost her job, and they needed the money from it. The added expense of her in D.C. would have been enough to make Courtney insist on staying home, and A.J. knew sadly it was best that she had stayed. He felt guilty enough for the money he'd spent, especially since he hadn't been able to get his assets unfrozen.

The old A.J. Quartermaine would have probably got smashing drunk after the verdict went against him, but instead, he'd climbed on the train and came home early. No point in sticking around when he had a wife waiting at home who missed and needed him. So while the urge to drink had been there, he'd ignored it, deciding to focus instead on helping his wife.

He heard two pairs of feet climbing up the stairs, and he ignored them, turning his attention back to Rosie who was flopped in his lap. It wasn't until he heard Courtney's voice that he stood up and looked toward the stairs. He was glad she'd gotten someone, probably from work, to walk her home. He would have gone to pick her up at Kelly's, but she hung up before he got the chance to tell her, so he'd waited for her instead.

When Courtney rounded the corner with Jason, he saw the relief mixed with the guilt that washed over her face. Standing tall beside the door, he decided to prove to his wife and his baby brother that he could be mature and prove that this was about Courtney and not him.

"A.J." she cried as she rushed into his arms. He pulled her close and closed his eyes, grateful to have her in his arms again.

"I'm so glad you're home," she said as she pulled back to give him a quick kiss. "I wasn't expecting you until later."

"I know," he said. He didn't care that his brother shifted slightly from one foot to the next, a huge sign from The Borg that he was uncomfortable. A.J. was just so happy to be home. Best to get the bad news out of the way and then turn the focus to Courtney.

"There was no reason to stay. The judge ruled against me."

"Oh, A.J.," she said sympathetically as she hugged him again.

"Doesn't matter," he told her, waving his hand through the air. "It was a long shot and ended up being a waste of time. I should have just stayed here. Are you okay? I mean, when I discovered the locks were changed I was worried. Did something happen to you?"

Jason cleared his throat and said, "Maybe we- you two should go inside."

"Right," Courtney said nervously as she unlocked the new lock. "A.J., I never even though about you not having a key. The guy was in our house, twice. So when Jason wanted to put on a new lock, I just agreed. Are- are you mad that I called Jason?"

A.J shook his head as he wrapped an arm around his wife's waist. "No. I mean, you were frightened. He helped you out before, I'm glad he could help you now."

He looked at his brother and extended his hand, "Thanks for helping out, Jase."

He almost wanted to smile when Jason looked at him like he'd grown a second head, but he resisted. He was taking a page from the Jason Morgan playbook, show little or no emotion. The only emotion he was going to show was concern for his wife.

Turning back to Courtney, he let the concern show in his eyes. "So what did the police say about what's been happening?"

Panic then guilt crossed her face as her eyes darted to Jason. "I-I didn't call the police. Jason said not to."

"Oh. Is that what you wanted to do? I mean, if we want this creep locked away for what he's doing to you, then the police need evidence. Did the guy leave anything when he was here? I mean, I'm guessing he was in here since there are new locks."

"He put cameras in, and e-mailed me pictures. And then he put some daisies on our bed...and there was this shrine to me in an apartment across the street. It was horrible, A.J."

"Shhh," he soothed her, as he tightened his hold around her. "I'm sure it was, and of course you were frightened. But, Courtney, if there's no evidence that won't help get a conviction later on."

"She didn't want to call the police, A.J." Jason said, frustration evident in his voice. "You can't make her do something she doesn't want."

"I know," he sighed and turned back to Jason. "I'm just trying to do what I can to help my wife. I don't have the power or the resources you or Sonny do. Listen, Jason, thank you for helping Courtney out. But I'd like to talk to my wife alone now, if you don't mind."

"Yes, thank you, Jason," Courtney said, a large smile on her face. "I'll call you if I need anything, but I'm sure that I'll be fine now that A.J.'s home."

"Okay. See you, then," Jason said to her and headed for the door.

When his brother was gone, A.J. turned to his wife and kissed her deeply. "I'm so glad I'm home."

Jason stepped out on the sidewalk outside A.J. and Courtney's apartment building and inhaled deeply. He shook his head, trying to make sense of what had just transpired upstairs. A.J. was calm and even appreciative of the fact that Jason had helped out Courtney. The same man who mere weeks before had practically accused him of coming to his wife when he saved her from being mugged.

Jason was pretty sure it was all an act, that deep down A.J. was seething. But it made leaving a whole lot easier. He'd tell Sonny that A.J. was home and that they'd told him he could go, and then leave it up to Sonny to decide what to do. He certainly wasn't going to ask if Sonny wanted a guard put on Courtney, because just his luck Sonny would assign him to be that guard. And right now if he had to hear Courtney whine and bemoan her situation one more time he was going to snap.

Guarding Courtney sure wasn't proving to be the distraction he wanted or needed to keep himself from thinking about Elizabeth. Especially when she and Courtney worked at the same place. Pushing himself off the building he was leaning against, he headed toward the car and let his mind drift to Elizabeth.

When the door to Kelly's had opened earlier that afternoon, he'd automatically turned his head to appraise the new customers. He recognized Elizabeth's sister, and started to look away, realizing that she and her companion weren't going to pose a threat. The sound of Elizabeth's voice drew his head back to the door, and he realized that Sarah's companion was none other than Elizabeth herself. After that, he hadn't been able to take his eyes off her the entire time she was in the diner. From the moment she walked through the door to time he left, he'd watched her every move, drank in her appearance.

She'd been wearing the leather jacket he'd given her for Christmas, a jacket he wasn't sure she'd kept. Somehow it made him feel better knowing that she had. It was what was under her jacket that had made his stomach clench, his eyes widen in surprise, and he hoped he'd masked the want that had coursed through him. A black lacey top that clung to her like a second skin and showed off an unbelievable amount of stomach between the bottom of the top and the top of her leather, hip-hugger pants. It was an outfit he'd never seen before, and was quite a change from the long skirts and long-sleeved shirts she'd been wearing lately.

It reminded him of the outfit she'd worn to Jake's that late August night. Jake's. Where she'd gone to find something to help her forget the pain of her lost love, Lucky. Pulling into the underground parking garage at Harborview Towers, he climbed out of the car and stalked straight towards his bike.

The check-in with Sonny would just have to wait, he told himself as he roared out of the garage. Elizabeth was covering Courtney's shift at Kelly's, because Sonny's sister had basically given her no other choice. And she would be walking home alone after closing in that outfit. Jason couldn't sit in Sonny's warm and cozy apartment when Elizabeth could potentially be in danger, because he was certain Spencer and Cassadine wouldn't bother making sure she got home safely. She may not want anything to do with him at the moment, but he would never stop caring or worrying about her.

Pulling into the diner's parking lot a short time later, he turned off his bike and sat there for a moment to compose himself. She was hurt, and according to Courtney, she wouldn't be pretending not to know him if she didn't care so much. He wasn't sure how much merit he was willing to put in the word of a woman who thought a flour canister was a good defensive weapon against a stalker, but he was willing to grasp onto a little hope at the moment.

Walking into the diner, he saw Elizabeth wiping down tables and stacking the chairs on top. There was still a little time before the restaurant closed, but there were no customers inside. She finished up the table she was working on and slowly made her way behind the counter to where he was sitting.

"Did you need something?" she asked in a business-like voice.

"Coffee. Black," he said. When she turned the cup over in front of him, he placed his hand over it. "A to-go cup is fine. I don't want to make you have to wash any more dishes, I know you're closing up."

She said nothing, merely turned and grabbed a thick paper cup from the counter behind her and filled it. After she placed it in front of him, she headed back out to finish cleaning the remaining tables. He turned in his seat and watched her as she moved with an efficiency he knew came from years of closing the diner. Her movements were quick and economical, and soon the tables were cleaned and the chairs stacked.

Nothing was said between them as she took a tub of dishes to the kitchen where he could hear dishes and silverware clinking together as someone washed them. She came out, quickly swept the floor and then mopped it down. She topped off his cup before taking the coffeepots in the back to clean. Sipping at the bitter liquid, he could hear her voice drift out as she talked with her co-worker and he sighed because he was getting the silent treatment. He heard her say goodnight to the person in the back and then the back door open and close. He sat patiently as he heard the locks slide into place and then saw the lights in the kitchen go out.

Sitting at the counter for another minute, he sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Elizabeth, I know you're still here. Please just come out. I'm going to walk you home."

"That really won't be necessary," she said as she walked out of the kitchen and stepped behind the counter. She reached underneath for her jacket and purse and he stood to wait for her to come out.

"Yes, it is," he told her gently. "I want to make sure you get home safely."

"I would think you'd be worried about Courtney," she said as she walked past him and flipped the sign to 'Closed.'"

"A.J.'s home," he told her, watching her turn out the lights, throwing the diner into darkness except for the light coming in through the windows. He opened the door for her as he continued, "So he's going to look out for his wife now."

"And what does Sonny have to say about that?" she asked, while she turned her back on him to put the keys in the lock.

"Honestly," Jason replied, looking at her back, "I don't know. I haven't seen or talked to him since I left Courtney and A.J.'s apartment. I dropped off the car, got my bike and came here. It was important to me to know you got home safe."

"Oh," she said softly, her shoulders dropping slightly. He mentally kicked himself as he realized she hadn't expected him to say that. He truly had been bastard to her lately. "Well, I wouldn't want you to get in trouble with your boss. It's really not necessary to walk me home."

The bite was back in her voice as she'd turned to face him, and he kept his tone even and gentle. "You already said it wasn't necessary, and I said it was. I want to walk you home. Sonny will just have to wait."

She said nothing, just turned and headed toward her studio. They walked in silence, Jason hadn't really expected any different, but he lamented that it wasn't the easy, comfortable silence they used to share. He knew it would be a long road back to that place, but he was determined to make it.

He had seen the surprise in her eyes when he told her Sonny would have to wait. Her words from the night she found out Sonny was alive flood back into his mind. But you are Sonny's...Sonny's enforcer first...last... and always. I hope it's enough. It wasn't, but how to prove that to her?

All too soon they were at her studio, standing in the hallway. She undid the locks and then glanced up at him uneasily. "Thank you. As you can see, I'm home safe and sound. So now you can head off to Sonny with a clear conscience."

She bit her lip and looked down, clearly struggling with what to do next. Finally in a voice so softly, he had to bend down to hear her she said, "Look, Jason, you don't need to pull double duty. I don't have the same shifts as Courtney, so you really don't need to make sure I'll get home safe. I'm sure you have other things to do for Sonny, and when you don' should remember to eat and sleep. Don't run yourself ragged worrying about me."

Her cheeks tinged pink and she hastily said goodnight and went into her studio. He stayed there until he heard the last of the locks click into place, then slowly he turned and headed down the stairs. Maybe she really still did care despite her protests.

His cell phone rang and he pulled it from his pocket. Really hoping it wasn't Sonny on the other end, he sighed in relief when he saw it was Benny's cell. Maybe he had news on the Five Families.


"Jason, it's Benny. I've got that information you and Sonny wanted. Should I bring it over the penthouse?"

"No," he said. "I'm on the docks. I'll be there in a few minutes, and I'll take it to Sonny."

He hung up the phone and hoped that Benny had finally found something substantial. Maybe if they had some solid information on this latest ploy by the families, he would be able to convince Sonny that he was the person who needed to handle the situation. And Sonny would be forced to assign somebody else to guard Courtney. But not Francis. Jason already had a job for Francis.

Chapter 3

An hour after leaving Elizabeth at her studio, Jason arrived at Sonny's penthouse. He stood in the hallway next to Johnny, waiting for Sonny to admit him. He knew Michael was asleep, but apparently Sonny and Carly were indisposed at the moment. And so Jason stood in the hallway, waiting for his boss and best friend to finally grant him entrance.

The door finally opened and Sonny, who was still tying the sash of his black silk robe, waved him into the penthouse. Jason didn't even look at Sonny, just kept his eyes focused on the wall above the fireplace. He waited as Sonny closed the door and crossed over to the bar to pour himself a drink. Shaking his head no, he declined Sonny's offer of a drink. Standing still beside the desk he waited for his boss to finally sit on the couch before turning his gaze on him. The look was all business, one that he was disappointed but not entirely surprised to see Sonny didn't recognize.

"So, why are you here? Why aren't you with Courtney?" Sonny asked, taking a sip of his scotch.

"I'm not guarding Courtney because her husband came home tonight. She said she would be fine now and didn't need any more help." Jason stood there, braced for the bluster and the tirade he expected to follow. He expected a lecture on how he should not have allowed Courtney to stay with her own husband. For all the reasons Jason didn't like A.J., he at least accepted the fact that she was married to A.J. and wasn't going to be ordered around. Instead, Sonny surprised him.

"Fine," Sonny groused. "We'll deal with that later. Look, man, what's going on? You're standing there like a soldier at attention."

"Benny called me this evening. Got hold of a rumor."

"News on the families?"

"Yeah," Jason said. "It appears that they're not as okay with you coming back from the dead and not allowing drugs moved through the territories as they let on the other day. Apparently Carly's antics didn't go over very well with them either."

Sonny sighed and stood up, crossing back to the bar to refill his glass. "What are they planning?"

Jason spoke to Sonny's back, and didn't much care either way at the moment. "Benny says they're looking into our shipment due Tuesday. Somebody mentioned to someone who's been helpful and correct on his information to us in the past, that they're talking about planting drugs on it, then tipping off the police."

"Well then it looks like I better call another meeting with the representatives," Sonny said as he turned around and walked towards Jason.

"Actually," Jason said softly, pulling out his trump card that would distract Sonny and allow Jason to deal with the families and not Courtney. "Actually, it appears Tagliotti...has been making some comments to people. Been saying you're weak because you involved Carly and she clearly couldn't handle things. That maybe she has too much control over you, or that you just don't know how to handle her."

Sonny's eyes darkened and Jason almost felt bad for having to do things this way. But the families needed to be dealt with, and Jason did not have the patience at this time to try and bring Sonny's focus around to the matter. Tagliotti had made personal advances on Carly, and now to say Sonny was weak would cause Sonny to rant about disrespect and needing to deal with Tagliotti personally. Then Jason would be needed to deal with the families.

"Tagliotti needs to be dealt with," Sonny hissed. "I want you there with me when I talk to you him tomorrow."

"Yeah," Jason said, acting like he would like nothing more than to go and hold Sonny's hand, "but one of us needs to meet with Castinelli. He's our biggest worry among the group at the moment. If we don't deal with him now, he'll think he can act without consequences."

"Right," Sonny nodded, rolling the amber liquid in the glass. "You talk to Castinelli. Let him know we're not going to stand back and let him pull this garbage."

"Okay, I wanna take Max and Jeff with me, and Francis. We'll probably be working on this until Tuesday, to ensure they don't mess with the shipment. I'll check in daily with you, by phone or in person."

"Right...right," Sonny said as he nodded. "I trust you to take care of this for me. The families need to realize that this much disrespect will not be tolerated. I am in charge of all my territories."

"The point will be made," Jason said, his tone calm, but lethal. Everything from his posture to his voice said he would take care of the problem.

"I'll go see A.J. and Courtney tomorrow after I talk to Sammy Tagliotti. If she wants a guard I'll assign Paul."

"Good choice," Jason agreed, in truth not caring at all. The whole point behind this entire conversation with Sonny was that it would not be him or Francis guarding Courtney. Beyond that, one guard was as good as the next, because he really didn't expect A.J. to ever agree to a guard on his wife.

"Anything else?" Sonny asked, running a hand through his already disheveled hair.

"Nothing else," Jason said, turning to leave. Hand on the doorknob he paused. "I'll call the three to give them their assignments, then call you tomorrow if I can't check in personally."

"Very good," his boss said, and then turned and headed towards the stairs.

Jason didn't say good-bye, just opened the door and gave a brief nod to Johnny as he walked out. Crossing the hallway to his apartment, he let himself inside while he pulled off his jacket. Closing the door, he dropped his keys on the desk and grabbed the phone.

"Max," he said when the bodyguard answered. "Call Jeff after this, I need you two on an assignment. We have a situation with the families, especially with Castinelli. Meet me tomorrow morning at seven on Pier Nineteen."

After a brief pause he said, "Thanks, Max. You and Jeff will be with me, I've got Francis on another aspect. I'll be checking in with Sonny daily, but you'll report to me. Bye."

Jason ended the call and then dialed Francis' number. As he waited for the bodyguard to pick up the phone, he massaged the back of his neck and eyed the pool table in interest. Maybe he'd shoot a game before he went off to try and sleep tonight.

"Francis, it's Jason," he said when Francis answered. "I've got a job for you. You report only to me on this. Sonny thinks you're helping me along with Max and Jeff on a situation with the families."

"Okay," the other man answered. "Since I know it doesn't take four of us to do that, what do you need me to do?"

"Guard Elizabeth. She can't know you're there. Unless she's in grave danger you do not let her know you are guarding her. I'll try and talk to her, but..."

"I understand, Jason. She'll be safe, but I won't let her know I'm around."

"Thanks, Francis," Jason said in relief. "If anyone asks-"

"I'm working with you."

"Thanks. Bye."

He hung up the phone, made sure the door was locked and then walked to the pool table. Was he lying to Sonny? Possibly. It gave him the same uneasy feeling he had when he didn't tell Sonny Carly had been hiding out after her accident in order to hurt him.

Did he really care? No, he decided. And this time he didn't feel uncomfortable about the decision. He couldn't take another day of running around taking care of Sonny's personal problems. He needed to keep busy so he didn't have to think about how much he hurt over Elizabeth's departure. But guarding Courtney wasn't the answer. It was hurting Elizabeth, and so it was hurting him. And he refused to do it any longer if there was anything else he could do.

Sonny stood in the hallway outside his sister's apartment and appraised his surroundings. He'd never been here before and he couldn't believe his sister had been reduced to living like this. Of course with Janine Matthews and Mike Corbin as her parents she had never known the finer things of life, that's for sure. She'd briefly been in the Quartermaine mansion and this was definitely a step down from that. Of course, no longer having to deal with Edward and Alan was probably worth it to live here.

Johnny raised his hand to cover a sneeze, and Sonny sighed. He hoped Johnny wasn't getting a cold. He'd been sneezing quite a bit during the meeting with Tagliotti. That brought a thin smile to the mob boss's lips. Sammy Tagliotti had received the message loud and clear that his behavior of late was unacceptable. Making overtures towards Carly while Sonny was dead was a huge sign of disrespect. But to now speak of Sonny as being weak was unforgivable.

After Sonny had talked to Sammy, during which time Johnny had stood there with his hand on his gun, he'd had Marco give him a personal message. As Marco escorted the rat away, Sonny called Giavanni, the man's boss, and explained the situation. Sonny said he stood by his alliance with family, and that he understood Tagliotti did not speak for Giavanni when he'd come onto Sonny's wife. And so he hoped the other man understood that the steps he had to take with Sammy did not reflect his feelings towards Giavanni personally.

Johnny stifled a sneeze once again, pulling Sonny from his thoughts. He knew he was stalling, and he shook his head. He had dealt with Sammy Tagliotti, smoothed and preserved relations with Giavanni and his organization, and so now it was time to deal with his sister. Raising his hand, he knocked and then smoothed down his tie while he waited for the door to open.

When it did open, he came face to face with an irritated A.J. "Sonny."

"Nice to see you too, Junior," he replied coolly. "I came to see my sister."

"So now she's your sister and you're concerned? Where was the concern when you were hiding out with your ex-girlfriend while faking your death? Where was your concern when she was beating herself up over you dying before she got to really know you?"

"Look, I don't explain myself to you or anyone else," Sonny snapped. "I came to see my sister. I called Kelly's and they said she wasn't on duty. Is she here or what, or do you not know where your own wife is?"

"Sonny? A.J.? What's going on?" Courtney asked, walking up behind A.J. wearing her robe and wiping her eyes. She'd obviously just woken up.

"Sonny stopped by," A.J. said, turning his back on his brother-in-law and blocking the door. "Do you want to see him or should I tell him to come back some other time?"

Sonny seethed as A.J. stood there, acting like a bodyguard, keeping him outside and away from his own sister. He bet the Quartermaine was enjoying acting like a big man, having some sort of power.

"It's okay, A.J.," Courtney sighed. "He can come in."

Sonny smirked as A.J. opened the door and let him in. Nodding to Johnny, he stepped inside his sister's small apartment and looked around. Courtney hastily rushed about, picking up things until A.J. put his hand on her arm to settle her down.

"Hey," he said softly. "Don't. You were up late and you pulled the early shift this morning. Let him deal with the fact that we work and don't have servants picking up after us."

"Nice speech, Quartermaine," Sonny said, disdain dripping on the last word.

"Why are you here?" Courtney asked tiredly, placing herself between her husband and her brother.

"Right," Sonny said as he flashed her a disarming smile. "I came by to see how you were doing. Jason said you sent him home last night."

"Yes," she said somewhat uneasy. "Well, A.J. came home last night, and so I didn't need Jason to stay with me anymore. I really do appreciate everything he did for me, but my husband's home now."

"Courtney was just taking a nap and then we were going to go to the police."

Sonny noticed that Courtney glanced away when A.J. mentioned the police and he pounced on it. "That right, Courtney?"

"We talked about it...last night," she said, shifting slightly. Turning to A.J. she hesitated and then said softly. "I don't know now."

"That's alright," he told her as he brushed a strand of hair off her face. "We don't have to go. We'll do whatever you want. Would- would you rather have a bodyguard?"

Sonny rolled his eyes and scoffed, "Nice display of concern there, A.J."

"Would you just stop it?" Courtney snapped as she turned towards him. "This isn't one your guys' fights."

"She's right, Sonny," A.J. glared at him. "This is about Courtney and what she feels comfortable with."

Sonny nodded his head and looked down while he calmed himself. When would he learn that insulting A.J. only succeeded in driving Courtney further into his corner? Well, if A.J. could play the concerned and accepting husband, then Sonny could certainly play the concerned big brother.

"You're right," he told them. "Whatever you're comfortable with. Do you want me to assign you a guard?"

Courtney looked at him puzzled. "A guard? You mean it wouldn't be Jason?"

Sonny barely caught A.J. tensing slightly at Jason's name, and he cursed the bad timing of the families causing problems. He would have assigned Jason just to get under A.J.'s skin, but he needed Jason elsewhere. If his sister wanted a guard, he'd have to assign somebody else. Maybe just until Jason was free again.

"Jason's busy at the moment. I've got him on something else for the next couple of days," he said apologetically.

"Oh, right," she said and looked down. "He's got more important things to do than to sit around all day watching me while I'm at work."

She paused and then looked at A.J. before looking back to Sonny. "No. No, I don't want a guard. I don't need one. A.J.'s here now and we'll take care of this. He'll take care of me."

"Are you sure?" Sonny pushed.

"Yes," she said firmly, and linked her fingers with A.J.'s as she took his hand. "My husband and I will take care of this. You don't have to worry."

Sonny sighed, knowing he'd pushed too hard. She wasn't going to agree to a guard at this time. Especially one that wasn't Jason, and not with A.J. playing the ideal husband. He said good-bye to A.J. and his sister and left the apartment.

Once he was inside the limo and on his way home, he swore in frustration. Jason could probably have convinced her to accept a guard, even if it wasn't him personally. But Jason was going to be hard to reach for the next couple of days. At least until Tuesday, five days away. Of all the bad luck of timing.

After Sonny left, Courtney watched as A.J. closed and locked the door before turning towards her. She gave a weak smile, before shifting her gaze. "Are you mad at me for not wanting to go to the police?"

"No," he was quick to reassure her. "If you don't want to, I won't force you."

"It's-it's just I don't want to have to tell them. You know...why this guy is stalking me. It's bad enough your grandfather knows and told your whole family."

"I'm sorry," he said and pulled her into a hug. "I'm sorry I got you into this whole situation."

"It's not your fault someone's doing this to me. You didn't make them do this. I-I just don't want to have to tell the police."

"Courtney," he said, pulling back slightly to look in her eyes. "You don't have to convince me."

"Thank you," she sighed and closed her eyes.


She opened them again when he paused and didn't seem to intend to go on. "What?"

"You know this is hard for me to say, but this isn't about me and my dislike of your brother. Do you want a guard? If you want one, just say the word and we'll call your brother and tell him. I just want you safe."

She pulled back and walked to the table, absently fingering the edge of a placemat. Did she want a bodyguard? Having Jason around made feel better. So did having A.J. home. But A.J. couldn't be with her all the time like Jason had been. But Jason wasn't available right now. Did she want someone who wasn't Jason? A stranger guarding her from another stranger?

She turned back to A.J. and said, "No. I meant it when I told Sonny no."

"Alright," he said and stepped towards her. "I just wanted to be sure. Don't turn down something that would help you because you think I'm uncomfortable with help from your brother."

"I'm not," she said emphatically. "I love you so much."

"I love you too," he said as he hugged her tight. "You can always changed your mind. About a guard or the police."

"Thank you, but I won't," she told him. Because how could she tell her husband that unless she could have his brother, she didn't want anybody at all. "You're all I need."

Chapter 4

Elizabeth approached the courtyard of Kelly's and despite the pep talk she'd given herself in her studio; she found her footsteps slowing. Tammy had called her and asked if she could come in early. Bridget, one of the other waitresses, was going to be late because she was meeting with a group for a school project. She would be there later, but Elizabeth needed to come in early to help cover the after school crowd.

So, for a few hours she was going to have to work with Courtney. Should be no big deal. She had worked with people she hadn't liked before; she could do this now. It wasn't that she hated Courtney, she just was frustrated over the whole situation. Courtney got Jason's undivided attention, and she hadn't gotten that once since his return in May.

She hadn't seen him in the three days since he'd walked her home, and she honestly wasn't sure if she was happy or sad about that. The happy part was grateful that she didn't have to see him around Courtney. It was just too painful to see him so attentive to someone else. But more than that, it was too hard to keep being mad at him if she saw him.

Since she had left the penthouse she had calmed considerably and had plenty of time to think. Not much else to do when her life consisted of work, and attempting to paint. She really needed to find some new friends, or a hobby of some sort. And even though she was calmer, part of her still stood by what she'd told him that night. He had hurt her by lying to her, but he hurt her worse by staying away and being with other people.

Her righteous indignation was losing out, however, to the side that regretted how harsh she'd been and that she'd hurt him. Her face had changed and she'd walked away. He told her once he couldn't take that if she did that to him, and she told she wouldn't. And yet she'd done it the first time the path got bumpy. She'd bailed on him.

And that was the part that was sad she hadn't seen Jason. She wanted him to give her a sign that he wasn't giving up on her, on them. And she wanted him to come by so she could tell him she regretted being so rash and especially so she could say she hated that she hurt him. More than anything, Elizabeth realized, she just wanted to see him.

Then why are you hiding out here going through your multiple personalities, when he's in there? she asked herself. Forcing her feet to move, she passed through the courtyard and up to the diner. She pulled open the door and stepped inside, her eyes sweeping the interior. The first thing she noticed was there was no Jason in sight, and her stomach dropped to her toes.

Courtney came out of the kitchen and stopped when she saw Elizabeth, her face taking on that look of guilt and concern that Elizabeth just couldn't take any more. So she ignored the blonde and headed for the counter, slipping off her leather coat and stowing it below. She liked the jacket because it was warm, but mostly because it made her feel closer to Jason. Reaching for her apron, she tied it on over her form fitting burgundy top and matching jeans. It had been one of the purchases she'd made with Sarah, and she decided she'd needed something special and that made her feel beautiful if she was going to have to see Jason. It appeared her efforts had been for naught.

She grabbed her order pad and headed out into the diner full of hungry high school kids. While dispensing sodas, hot chocolate, cheese fries and chili, she'd managed to successfully avoid Courtney and any conversations that consisted of more than "Excuse me" and "I think your order is up".

It was after the crowd thinned out and before the dinner crowd descended that Elizabeth's successful avoidance ended. Elizabeth was in the kitchen emptying the dirty dishes she'd cleared from the tables into the sink where Gavin the bus boy was up to his elbows in suds. As she was putting the last of the plates in, Courtney came up from behind and trapped her at the sink.

"Elizabeth," Courtney smiled at her, somewhat shy and unsure. "Wow, it's sure been busy here today."

"Yeah, school always makes for crowds," Elizabeth said lamely, trying to plot her escape route.

"You sure look nice today. That outfit you had on the other I thought Jason's eyes were going to bulge out."

"That's nice," Elizabeth said, pouncing on an opening and skirting past her co-worker. Once out in the diner she looked for any customers that might need refills. Sadly there were none, and she stifled a groan when Courtney kept on babbling.

"The whole ride back to my place he didn't say a thing. And then he hardly spoke when we got home and A.J. was waiting."

"Oh, A.J.'s home? You must be happy about that," Elizabeth said. She didn't really care; she just couldn't bear to hear Courtney go on about Jason. She also wasn't about to tell her that Jason had walked her home that night, so she already knew A.J. was home. Glancing at the clock she wondered just how much longer she had until Courtney's shift was over.

"Oh, I am," Courtney gushed, oblivious to Elizabeth's disinterest. "It's been great. I hardly miss Jason as my guard."

That caught Elizabeth's attention, and she struggled not to show too much excitement. After all, Sonny had probably assigned him to guard Brenda or something. Elizabeth was spared from having to choose her reply carefully when the door opened and A.J. walked in.

"You ready to go, hon?" he asked Courtney as he came up to the counter.

"Just one second," she smiled at him as she untied her apron and grabbed her tips. "Night, Elizabeth."

"Bye, Courtney," she replied, and bit back good riddance. Then she called out to A.J. "Welcome home, A.J."

"Thanks," he smiled back at her, and then let the door close behind them.

It was only then that Elizabeth allowed herself to break out into a huge smile. Jason wasn't guarding Courtney. Maybe miracles really did come true. But would guarding Brenda really be better? Was that even what he was doing? Was he working on business or was he just avoiding her?

Maybe she should just call Jason; she sighed as she thought that. If she was going to twist herself up into knots over this, maybe she should just strike while the iron was hot and get it out of her system. Make the first move, yet again, and see if there was any hope for the two of them. But did she really want to do that? Once again, hurt and fear and doubt crept back in and started to cloud her thinking.

She was prevented from once again splitting herself into multiple parts thinking about whether she really was ready to talk to Jason by the door opening. Bridget arrived for work and she'd just barely beaten the dinner crowd. The next several hours were hectic as they filled orders, cleared tables and managed to stay one step ahead of the chaos.

Later, as she cleared the empty dishes away and wiped down the tables for what felt like the hundredth time, Elizabeth stood and straightened, stretching and twisting to relieve the knots in her various muscles. She dropped her hands to her lower back to massage the stiffness and tension out, and wished once again she could go home. She hated busy fall evenings as families stopped by to pick up supper or eat in on their way from dance or football practice. Teenagers sat and chatted noisily while the jukebox in the corner blared music loudly. All she wanted to do was to go home and put her feet up.

The bell over the door chimed, causing her to shift her focus from the spot on the wall she'd been staring at. A smile formed on her lips as she realized it was her sister. Her smile grew even bigger when she realized her sister was alone. Finally, a little bright spot in her weary afternoon and evening.

"Bridget," she called out, "I'm going to take my break."

She sat down across from Sarah, stretched out her legs and tipped her head back as she closed her eyes. Pure relief to finally be off her feet.

"You know, Elizabeth," Sarah laughed. "What you need is better arch support if you're going to be on your feet all day long."

"So says the woman who wears three inch heel boots on her rounds at the hospital," Elizabeth laughed back. "I guess we're just slaves to fashion...or masochists."

"I guess so," Sarah quipped. "Maybe we're both. I think they have to go hand in hand. What we need is someone at home so they can rub our feet."

Elizabeth saw her sister tense as the last part just popped out of her mouth. Sarah really had been trying, and she appreciated the effort.

"Amen," Elizabeth answered, attempting to put her sister at ease. "But just because you're my sister doesn't mean I'm rubbing your feet."

She knew the banter had fallen short, but she didn't worry. She expected it to still be awkward with Sarah for a while. They'd only been truly working at this for less than two weeks. Elizabeth knew there were times she slipped into her catty comments about Sarah, and there were times Sarah slipped and called her Lizzie. The point was to get past those moments. Just like she would get past the pain of the fact that she wasn't with Jason and therefore had no one to go home to.

"So, are you off for the night or do you have to go back?" she asked, trying to salvage the conversation.

"I'm just on a break," Sarah sighed in exhaustion. "I wanted to stop in and see you. I've been real busy since we went shopping that day and haven't had a chance to call or talk to you."

Elizabeth sighed. That day that Jason had left with Courtney, Lucky has first insulted her and then ignored her, and she got stuck closing Kelly's. But also that day that Jason had walked her home and said Sonny would just have to wait.

"I know," Elizabeth said with a shrug and a smile. "But such is the life of a doctor. I know that."

"I've got Monday afternoon and most of Tuesday off," Sarah said excitedly. "Do you think we could get together? Let me sleep Monday and we can go do anything on Tuesday. I promise we won't eat here."

A small smile crossed Elizabeth's face. Sarah really was the only person she had these days. "Sure."

"Alright. Well, I've got to get back. I'll call you."

"Okay. Bye," she said as her sister hurried out the door. Glancing at her watch, she dropped her head. Still two hours until her shift was over.

Twenty minutes before closing, the bell above the door to Kelly's chimed signaling a new customer. As Jason entered, he saw pure exhaustion on Elizabeth's face and pure irritation on her co-worker's. He followed the girl's gaze to a table where Nikolas, Gia and Lucky were sitting. They were the only people in the otherwise empty diner, and the trio seemed oblivious to the waitresses who just wanted to close up and go home.

Sitting down at the counter he gave Elizabeth a tired, tentative smile when she walked over to him. "Any coffee left?"

"There is," she said, actually meeting his gaze briefly, "but we made it nearly an hour ago."

"That's fine," he said. "Black. In a to-go cup."

Elizabeth gave a glimmer of a smile and then quickly filled the cup and set it in front of him. The other waitress then took the coffeepots in the back to clean them while Elizabeth wearily looked at the occupied table.

She walked over to the table and spoke to the air above them, when they never bothered looking up at her. "The grill is closed and we're locking up in fifteen minutes."

"Okay," Gia finally said, when Lucky and Nikolas never stopped talking about the campaign between Scott and Alexis.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders, turned on her heel and had taken two steps away from the table when Lucky turned in his chair, hooked his arm over the back and called out, "Wait, Elizabeth."

She turned, looked at him, but said nothing.

"I'm hungry. I want to order something now."

Nikolas and Gia looked at him and Nikolas dropped his head as he shook it slowly. Jason could see Elizabeth's shoulders rise and fall on a deep breath and he knew she was trying to control herself. He felt his own anger rising at Spencer's arrogance, and in fact, nearly stood up and walked over to the table when he thought he saw a small smirk play on the blonde's face.

"Sorry," Elizabeth said in a controlled voice. "You said you weren't hungry before. We've already shut down and cleaned the fryer and the oven."

"Well, I'm hungry now."

"Lucky, knock it off," Gia hissed.

"Sorry, Lucky," Elizabeth said as she walked away. Stepping behind the counter, she picked up the phone and held it out for him. "Call Pete's Pizza if you're really that hungry. They're open 'til midnight."

Gia actually choked back a laugh and Lucky shot her a glare, completely missing the smile on his brother's face. Stalking towards the counter he attempted to glare at Elizabeth who only infuriated him more by placing the phone on the counter and turning her back. Lucky stopped and placed his hands on his hips, and Jason wanted to smile at the considerable distance the younger man had placed between the two of them.

"You know, my dad and my aunt own this place," he said. Jason looked down at the counter, hoping to hide a smile. He figured Lucky had tried to sound intimidating, but it fell short.

"Great," Elizabeth beamed. Jason looked at up at her and could see genuine happiness on her face. What the-?

"Bridget, Don," she called into the back, "we can go home. We're closed."

She reached under the counter and grabbed her purse and her jacket. Jason felt the same inexplicable happiness he felt three nights ago at seeing her leather jacket. He didn't know what was going on, but he stood and looked at Elizabeth and waited. He hadn't told her he was going to walk her home, but that was certainly the plan.

Bridget came out of the kitchen after locking the back door behind Don, and Elizabeth handed the woman her coat and purse. They walked out from behind the counter and towards the front door, Jason trailing behind them. Lucky stood at the counter, not believing or understanding what was happening.


Jason stopped and stepped to the side as Elizabeth turned around. "What?"

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Going home, Lucky, what does it look like?"

"You can't leave."

"Watch me," she snapped. "If you decide to cook, make sure to clean up after yourself. And be sure to kill the lights when you're done, unless you want to pay your aunt's light bill."

Bridget had already flipped the sign closed and turned off the neon sign in the window. She was standing there, holding open the door and waiting for Jason and Elizabeth. Once they had she locked the door and then turned around, an amused expression on her face.

"Liz, that was great! Man he was being a pain tonight."

Elizabeth beamed back at the woman and said, "I know. I don't know what his problem is, but Tammy was standing on the stairs. I saw her robe and I know she heard everything and wouldn't care if we left. It was either leave, or I was gonna clock Lucky with the phone."

"Well, all I can say it was great to watch. And thanks for coming in early for me. Did you and Courtney manage?"

Jason watched as some of the excitement and animation left Elizabeth's body. "Yeah. We were fine. Do you need me to walk you to the bus stop?"

"Nope, I'm fine. Eric is picking me up tonight. He should be waiting already in the parking lot."

"We'll walk with you," Jason said, speaking for the first time. Bridget blinked at him in surprise and Elizabeth just sighed and nodded her head.

Once Bridget has safely been delivered to her boyfriend, Elizabeth and Jason started walking in silence toward her studio. As they came down the steps onto the docks, she sighed loudly and stopped, looking out over the water. Jason stopped beside her, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his jacket.

"You know, sometimes I just don't get you," she said, finally breaking the heavy silence hanging over them.

"Get me?"

"I don't see you for three days, then suddenly there you are, cool and quiet, and then you just presume you're walking me home. I just...I mean...I don't know."

"Elizabeth," he said gently, turning slightly so he could see her profile. "I'm sorry I didn't speak much at Kelly's. You were closing, and then Lucky started up."

"I know. I guess what I'm really wondering is, why you showed up at all."

"I wanted to talk to you. I'm not guarding Courtney anymore," he told her, figuring it was best to get the unpleasant information out of the way first.

"Yeah, I heard," she said and turned towards him, but couldn't quite meet his eyes. "She told me this afternoon. But you don't have to explain yourself to me, Jason."

"I wanted to tell you," he said, his voice soft, but full of determination. "I haven't guarded her since A.J. came home."

"Okay," she said, focusing her gaze back on the water and tightening her jacket around her.

"I also wanted to tell you that I haven't been avoiding you. There's some stuff going on, problems being caused for us by some people."


"Yes," he said, grateful that she finally met his gaze, even if it was only briefly.

"Okay. I know that you have a job, and you have to do things and can't tell me. I understand that. Boy, do I understand that. But really, you don't need to do this. I'm okay."

No, you're not, he wanted to say, but didn't. "Elizabeth, please look at me."

He waited until reluctantly she complied before he continued. "This is business and I can't talk about it. But I'm being careful...and trying to remember to eat," he said with a small smile. "I just wanted you to know that I wasn't avoiding you or didn't want to see you."

She broke the gaze and took several steps away from him, wrapping her arms around herself, rubbing her arms through her jacket. He'd pushed her beyond her comfort zone, and he hated having to do it but it was the only way. He knew it was necessary to convince her that he was trying and that he wasn't just going to give up or leave.

"Come on," he said, surprised to hear his voice thickening with emotion. "We should get you out of the cold."

He stepped aside and let her pass, fighting the urge to put his hand on the small of her back as they walked. They said nothing until they reached Elizabeth's door and she undid the locks and turned towards him.

"Thank you for walking me home. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Elizabeth," he replied. He knew she was anxious to get inside and feeling uncomfortable, but he needed to say one more thing. "I'm going to be busy for the next few days. So I may not see you, but if you need anything, call me or Francis."

Mumbling 'alright' she quickly slipped through her door and softly shut it behind her. Jason stood there until she locked it and then he stepped away and closed his eyes, resting his head against the wall. He was meeting Max and Jeff in ten minutes and it was time to put on his game face.

Chapter 5

"So?" Sarah asked, before taking a bite of Caesar Salad.

Elizabeth sighed and leaned her elbow on their table at the Port Charles Grille. She and her sister had spent the day together and were now having an early dinner before Sarah had to be back at the hospital and Elizabeth had to work the closing shift at Kelly's. Sarah had spent most of the day before sleeping, but had been determined to keep her outing with Elizabeth.

"He was a complete jerk," she said harshly, sitting back up straight. "I can't believe that he's the same person I once knew, that I once loved."

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I can't believe he's the same person either. I still feel really bad for that night."

"I told you, there was no point in you sitting around. I don't blame you for that night. I had to work, anyways."

"No thanks to Courtney," Sarah interrupted with disdain.

"Well," Elizabeth shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Did you have fun?"

"No," her sister said. "I laid into Lucky for what he said and for ignoring you. I haven't taken or returned his calls since that night. That's probably why he was such a jerk to you."

"I don't think Lucky needs much of an excuse."

"True," Sarah sighed. "Apparently, neither does Jason."

"Actually he came back that night." The defense of Jason popped out of her mouth, surprising her. "A.J. came home and Courtney didn't need Jason anymore, so he came by to make sure I got home safely."

"Really?" Sarah asked. She was trying very hard to keep her face and voice neutral, but Elizabeth could see the surprise.

"Don't worry, I was just as surprised." She really couldn't even begin to describe how it felt to have Jason say Sonny would have to wait.

Part of her screamed it was too little too late, but she couldn't completely suppress the happiness she had felt. And then to have him seek her out to tell her he wasn't guarding Courtney, and that he wasn't avoiding her but was working on business. She had to admit she was conflicted over being so happy that he wasn't guarding Courtney anymore. She knew it wasn't rational to be jealous of the time he was spending with his sister-in-law, and guarding her would be more safe than whatever he was doing now, but she just couldn't handle Courtney getting more of Jason's time than she did. She just wished there could have been some other assignment to keep him busy.

The work he was doing now was clearly keeping him busy, she had noticed he looked tired. And it was obviously dangerous because he had voluntarily told her he was being careful. He clearly remembered their conversation from the night Sonny was 'shot'. He was making an effort to reach out and talk to her. The question was, was she ready to open up again?

She had put everything on the line with him, and what had he done? He hadn't even cared enough show up. She told him she had made mistakes that summer, that she regretted them, but that she finally knew what she wanted. She wanted to be with him. She wanted to try, really honestly try, at a relationship. And he had claimed he wanted the same, and then he hadn't tried. After promising her he would, and she knew how highly he used to value his word once he gave it to someone, he just hadn't tried. He'd left the penthouse long before she ever walked away. And there was still the part of her, no matter how much she missed him, that was angry with him for that.

It was hard to find the balance. She still cared deeply for him, she knew that, and it would be so easy to let herself just forget everything that had happened and fall back into him. But were these changes honest? Did he really want to try this time? She just didn't know. And so it was hard to figure out exactly what she wanted, and needed to do, because she still couldn't quite figure out the enigma that was Jason Morgan.

"Elizabeth? Elizabeth?"

Her sister's voice penetrated her thoughts and she guiltily raised her eyes. "Sorry. Got a little lost in my thoughts there."

"It's alright," Sarah told her. "I was just saying I gotta head to the hospital. Do you want me to drop you off at Kelly's?"

"Thanks," Elizabeth said as she reached for her coat and purse.

"Kelly's diner," Courtney answered, slightly ill at ease at answering the phone. She hadn't received any more calls at the diner since A.J. came home, but there had been several hang-ups at home.

"Hey, baby, it's me."

"A.J.? What's wrong?" she asked, hearing his disappointed voice.

"My boss wants me to work late tonight. Says that the other guys covered for me when I was in Washington, so it's time to return the favor. I can't come pick you up tonight. I want you to take a cab home, okay? The cost doesn't matter."

Jason looked over at Max, hidden behind some boxes on the pier. They had been working the last few days tracking down leads, talking with snitches, but still they had no solid evidence Castinelli was planning something. Just a lot of hearsay and suspicion, but nothing concrete.

The only they could do was alert the people bringing the shipment in, increase security on the whole thing and have a few extra people on hand to unload. The one good thing was thanks to Roy and Felicia they had control of Pier 52 and they could use that, making unloading and storing a whole lot easier.

Max nodded back at him, signaling that everything was clear on his side and under control. Jason curtly nodded back and then turned his focus back to scanning the surrounding area.

Sonny opened the door and instructed Marco to go ahead and bring the car around. Then he glanced at the stairs and then the clock on the mantle.

"Carly, we're going to be late," he called out.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs he turned, all irritation fading away. There stood Carly in a blood-red silk sheath that flowed with her every movement like a second skin. She'd added slight curls to her hair, and was just finishing putting on her earrings.

"You look beautiful," he smiled at her.

"Thank you," she murmured as she moved in close. "You're forgiven for yelling at me."

He watched the petite brunette walk into the diner, the male in him appreciating the tight black leather skirt that ended just above her knees and the black leather boots that started just below them. The hunter green sweater, from what he could see underneath her open leather coat, clung to all the right places. If he hadn't been waiting for someone else, he might have spent a little more time watching her. Maybe later, but not tonight.

Because she walked out and he forgot all about Daisy's co-worker.

He watched as she walked towards the bus stop. Apparently no ride home for her tonight. She was glancing around, more so than the other times he had watched her. She must be a little spooked tonight. Patiently following, he waited until she got on the bus, then headed for his car. He had plenty of time to arrive at the apartment and get into place before she arrived home.

"Tonight, Daisy."

They heard footsteps echo in the alley they were positioned in near the pier, and all three men froze. It was dark, and each man pressed himself closer to the wall, just another dark shapeless mass in a cluttered alley. Despite the cold October night, sweat trickled down Jason's forehead and into his right eye. The salt stung, but he fought the urge to rub it.

The footsteps were closer and all he had to do was wait until they were past. Even after the two men passed by, he still didn't move. He wouldn't until Jeff gave the signal. As if on cue, Jeff staggered out of a doorway and ambled towards the pair.

Jason counted to ten and then stepped forward. He and Max moved quietly, watching as the men paused, probably catching a whiff of Jeff's liquor soaked clothes. They came straight towards Castinelli's men that Jeff had stopped in the darkest section of the alley.

Carly sat across from her husband, and smiled as she brought her wineglass to her lips. Tonight was just what they needed. She'd distract Sonny from the problems that had been bothering him lately, and just take care of him. Jason was taking care of whatever problem was going on with the families, and then things could get back to normal and she and Sonny would be happier than ever.

Except for Brenda, she frowned. The viper seemed determined to stick around Port Charles, and Carly vowed not to rest until the former model was far away. Maybe Jason could get through to her and convince her to leave.

She looked back to Sonny and smiled as she thought of her plans for that night. She would give him a reason to remember why he loved her. Nobody was going to break up her family. And she knew her best friend Jason would help her out. It's what he always did.

Elizabeth paused in wiping down the counter and brushed the hair out of her eyes. The dinner crowd hadn't been too crazy, but she was glad it was slowing down. Of course, with the less frantic pace, she had more time to think about what she had talked about with Sarah on the ride to the diner. Jason.

She didn't know if she was ready to let him back into her life, but she knew she did need to apologize for the things she'd said to him the night Sonny came back from the dead. She'd hurt him and he hadn't deserved that. She had been hurting, and she'd lashed out, and said things that had been cruel. But beyond that, she just didn't know.

But those thoughts, and what she would do about them, would just have to wait. A large group of teenagers had just walked in, talking noisily and filling up most of the tables. She glanced over at Bridget and the two sighed wearily as they headed out to take the orders.

"Thanks," Courtney said to her neighbor as she took Rosie's leash. "Ready to go home, girl?"

The duo walked down the hallway and stopped at the door. Once inside, Rosie headed straight for the water bowl and drank greedily.

Courtney checked the answering machine, and sighed when there were no messages. She took off her coat and tossed it on the back of the couch and then sat down. Her clothes smelled like chili and burgers, but she didn't want to take a shower. She'd made the mistake of watching Psycho on the late, late movie one night when she couldn't sleep, and now she couldn't shower without A.J. in the apartment. Well, at least she had Rosie here. She looked over at the dog, and noticed the retriever was lying on her side, her tongue hanging out of her mouth. Courtney's eyes narrowed as she realized Rosie's breathing was very rapid and shallow. Getting up and kneeling the dog, she became very worried as she realized the animal's eyes were glazed over.

"Rosie?" she said, worried. "What's wrong with you?"

Then she froze as she heard a noise from the bedroom.

Almost simultaneously Jason and Max hit Castinelli's men on the back of the neck, and then caught the unconscious bodies before they hit the ground. Jeff hurried and taped the men's mouths shut and tied their hands together behind their backs. He opened the lid, and then helped toss each man into a dumpster.

After the few minutes it took to complete the task, the alley was silent again. Each man strained to hear anything out of the ordinary. The only thing that greeted them was the sound of their labored breathing, but nothing else.

Jason gave the signal and the men spread out again. The shipment was still not due for a little while, but they now had proof that Castinelli was planning something. Jason just hoped his preparations were enough.

Coming off the elevator, Sonny and Carly heard the ringing of the telephone. Johnny, who was just coming on duty, hurriedly unlocked the door and pushed it open. Sonny quickly entered, heading straight for the phone and picking it up, only to be met with a dial tone. He brought it away from his ear and eyed it curiously.

"Who was it?" Carly asked from the wet bar where she was pouring them both some brandy.

"Dunno, they hung up." He put down the phone, took off his coat and undid the top two buttons of his shirt as he crossed to her.

"Well, I'm sure they'll call back if it's important," she said, sitting down on the couch and pulling him down beside her.

"You're probably right," he murmured before his lips descended on hers.

Courtney hung up the phone in panic. Sonny hadn't answered. Where was he? No time to waste worrying, she brought the phone back up in front of her and shakily dialed Jason's cell phone. She heard another sound come from the bedroom and she dashed for the kitchen, stepping over Rosie.

The phone rang until finally Jason's voice mail kicked in. Hanging up without leaving a message, she dropped the phone as she reached in the flour canister for the gun Jason had given her. She heard the bedroom door open and footsteps in the living room.

Panicked and desperate, she picked up the phone again. Who to call? Who to call? The footsteps were just on the other side of the kitchen doors. Crouching down, she pressed herself into a corner and set the phone down. No time to call, she needed both hands to wrap around the handle of the gun. Then, she sat and waited, staring wide-eyed at the doors.

Elizabeth wiped down the last of the tables and looked towards the door. Would Jason come by tonight at closing time to walk her home? She had to admit that for the first time since she walked out of the penthouse she hoped the answer was yes.

She'd been doing a lot of thinking in the two days since she'd seen him. And tonight she was willing to admit that even though part of her was still hurt and angry, a bigger part missed him. Maybe this time they could work on at least building up their friendship again. She didn't think she was ready to try for more. She needed to see if he was truly going to try this time before she let him any closer. She needed to apologize for her words, and then see whether he picked up the ball and ran with it.

All she knew was that every time the door opened, she was hoping to see Jason. She knew the minutes would just drag until closing.

"Look alert," Jason hissed. The shipment was due at any time, and he couldn't help but be filled with a sense of dread. Something didn't feel right. It was the same feeling he'd had in Puerto Rico ten months ago when Manuel had been shot instead of him as they'd dealt with two of Sorrel's men. It was the same feeling he'd had stepping out of the limo that night when the meeting with Moreno had gone horribly wrong.

It was time to make an executive decision. He was a full partner after all. He pulled out his phone and absently noted there was a voice mail waiting for him. He'd deal with it later. Right now, he had to wave off the shipment.

He had barely ended the phone call ordering the shipment to turn around and hold for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours when the gunfire erupted. He dropped the phone, grabbed his gun from his waistband and rolled out of the way of the volley of shots directed at him. Hidden behind a crate, he briefly looked up, found a target, and then returned fire.

Lying next to her husband on their bed, Carly stretched, pulling the sheet tighter around her. She loved Sonny. He was the perfect father for Michael, the perfect man for her, and she never wanted to lose him. So it was time to pull out the big gun.

Slipping out of bed, she pulled her robe on as she made her way downstairs. She needed Brenda gone, and Jason needed a job. Even she could see that guarding Courtney was driving Jason crazy. So after this current assignment with the families was over, he was going to need something else to distract from little Lizzie Webber stomping on his heart as she walked out.

Picking up the phone to dial Jason's number, she mindlessly drummed her fingers on the desktop. When he voicemail kicked in, she took a deep breath before speaking. "Hey, Jase, it's me, Carly. Call me when you can. I need your help on something."

Then she hung up the phone and turned around to see Sonny standing on the landing looking at her intently.

The doors to the kitchen swung open, and Courtney saw the masked figure enter. She raised the gun, but before she could fire, the person lunged for her, knocking her backwards. The two fought for the gun, but soon it was wrenched free from Courtney's hands and sent skittering across the faded linoleum.

A sharp blow snapped her head back and the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. Struggling against the strong hands holding on to her, she managed to twist her lower body as she lay pinned to the floor and deliver a sharp kick to the intruder's shin. A man's yelp joined her frantic screams and cries for help, and the hold on her momentarily lessened. Scrambling to her knees, she crawled across the floor, desperate to get away.

Her fingers closed over the barrel of the gun as the man's hands closed around her ankle and jerked her back. Her arms flew out from under her and her chin smacked hard on the floor rattling her teeth and stunning her. She felt herself being flipped over and then came face to face with a long, sharp knife.

"You shouldn't fight me, Daisy," he growled.

"Get off me!" she screamed. Her searching fingers found the gun she'd lost as she fell and she brought it up.

A stabbing pain radiated through her side and when she tried to scream she found she didn't have enough air. A strong hand clamped over hers on the handle of the gun and a fight ensued for control. It all ended when a shot, muffled from being pressed deep into flesh, echoed through the kitchen and the person on top rolled off onto the floor.

Chapter 6


A.J. jerked his head up and looked for who had called him. He bit back a groan as he saw his foreman walking towards him, wondering what new job he was about to receive. The "couple hours" of overtime had turned into more than five. He hadn't even been able to call Courtney and tell her he was being delayed. He was worried about her, and hoped that she had gone up to the neighbor's so that she wasn't by herself.

"You can go," his boss said without preamble.

"Great," A.J. said, stripping off his gloves and jamming them into his back pocket. "I'll be outta here as soon as I make a phone call."

"Just keep it short," the older man growled.

"No problem. Just calling Courtney to let her know I'm on my way home."

His boss gave a chuckle and raised his eyebrows. "I'd say you were a whipped man and you shouldn't have to report in to your old lady, but with a beauty like her waiting for me, I'd be anxious to get home too."

A.J. paused and counted to ten in his head, then counted to twenty. He'd sat by and said nothing the day his boss had gone on about Courtney being Daisy because he didn't want the man to change his mind about allowing him to go to Washington. But now, the only thing he had to fear was getting more overtime. He knew the man wouldn't dare fire him and then face a lawsuit over it. A.J. may have lost his battle against his grandfather, but that didn't mean he'd lost his Quartermaine fight.

"Hey," he said, his voice deceptively low and steely. "She's my wife. Show her some respect and keep your comments to yourself."

Then he marched off to call her. He'd deal with the ramifications of his possibly ticked off boss tomorrow. Entering the office, he dialed home and then leaned against the desk as he listened to the phone ring.

"Hi. You've reached the Quartermaines. Please leave us a message and we'll get back to you."

His voice on their answering machine greeted him and he wondered if Courtney was screening calls, or if maybe she'd gone to visit their neighbor. When he heard the tone he quickly said. "Hey, it's me, if you're there, don't bother picking up. I'm on my way home, so I'll see you in twenty minutes."

Then he hung up and headed out to his car. The whole ride home he anxiously tapped the steering wheel and cursed the bad luck that seemed to have him catching every red light. He hated that he wasn't home with Courtney now. All he could hope was that until the stalker was caught he wouldn't be stuck having to pull many overtime shifts.

Finally reaching their apartment, he parked the car and all but ran for the building. Bounding up the steps, he stuck the keys in the lock and turned them. "Courtney?"

He walked in, turned and closed the door, making sure to lock it and then called again, "Courtney, are you here?"

The apartment was dark, except for one lamp on the desk that was on. He saw flickering, soft light coming from the bedroom door that was slightly ajar and he turned for it. Moving closer, he called again, "Courtney?"

A.J. pushed open the door and a gasp died in his throat. The room was filled with candles and daisies on every flat surface. Posters advertising Daisy for the Oasis covered nearly every inch on the wall. And right in the middle of the bed was a costume that he could only guess his wife had worn.

Backing out of the room horrified, his hand shook as he reached for the light switch. He needed to call the police, he needed to find Courtney, he needed to find his voice. He turned around to reach for the phone and his eyes fell on Rosie, her body sprawled in front of the kitchen doorway.

"Rosie?" he whispered hoarsely. Why hadn't she been up to greet him when he'd opened the door? He assumed she was with Courtney when she hadn't barked at his arrival. He stepped towards the kitchen and then dropped to his knees beside her. The dog's eyes were rolled back and flecks of white spotted her tongue. A.J. fought back the sudden urge that came to empty his stomach.

He put his hand down to steady himself and then jerked it away when he realized he'd put it in something warm and sticky. Turning his hand over, he fought the bile that rose again in his throat as he saw his palm was covered with blood. He gaze followed the red puddle that came from the direction of the kitchen and the sight that greeted him.

"Oh no." The cry was strangled and pained as he saw a limp hand. Scrambling on his knees, he crashed through the doors and slipped in the blood next to his wife. "Courtney!"

The cry echoed through the apartment as he stared in absolute horror at her pale body with blood pooled underneath her. A rasp sounded faintly, startling him and causing him to lean down. Reaching his shaking hand out, he touched the side of her neck searching for a pulse. Red fingerprints smeared against her skin, but finally, thready and weak, A.J. found a pulse.

Grabbing the phone he saw lying on the floor, he dialed and he knew his breaths were coming in short gasps, but he didn't know how to control them. He felt disjointed, outside his own body, and unable to turn away from the horror of the sight before him. All he could see was the red surrounding him.

"Nine-one-one. What's the nature of your emergency?"

There was a ringing in A.J.'s ears, and he couldn't make it stop. He couldn't get past the ringing in order to answer the buzzing he heard coming from the phone.

"What's the nature of your emergency?"

The voice was louder this time and somehow A.J. managed to answer it. "Help," he pleaded.

"My wife-my wife is hurt," he managed to gasp out before his throat became blocked by the large lump that formed.

"Sir? Sir, where are you? How is she hurt?"

"I don't know. There's-there's blood everywhere." His eyes scanned her body, and he saw the red blooming from her stomach and the flash of silver in her side. "There's a knife...and...she was shot."

His eyes fell on the gun lying beside Courtney, and he barely heard the operator telling him help was on the way and to remain on the line. The phone clattered to the floor and he bowed his head and let the tears freely fall.

Sarah Webber stepped into the doctor's lounge and nodded to another intern who was putting his things away in preparation to go home. She was catching a short break on her ER rotation, and she wanted to call her sister quickly. Waiting for the other doctor to finally leave, she picked up the phone and dialed.

"Hey, Elizabeth," she said when her sister's machine picked up. "I wanted to call you real quickly. What would you say about calling those two guys from this afternoon? I've got their numbers, and it could be fun. What do you think? Give me a call. Bye."

She hung up and leaned back into the chair, not quite ready to have to go back out. It was slow at the moment and she figured she could get away with another second or two.

Sarah could see that Elizabeth was starting to soften towards Jason. She wasn't as upset or edgy as she'd been when she'd first walked out of the penthouse. If Elizabeth decided to forgive him, then Sarah wouldn't say anything. It was time for her to try and be supportive of her sister. But she also knew that total forgiveness was a ways off, and in the meantime she could try and get her sister to have a little fun. And maybe, just maybe, Jason Morgan would see what he was missing and make the effort. Groaning and putting her head in her hand she couldn't believe that she'd just thought about trying to help Elizabeth make Jason Morgan jealous. Just months ago she was trying everything she could to get her sister away from the guy.

The shrill beep of her pager cut through the quiet room, causing her to sit upright and grab for the black device on her waist. It was from the ER, urgent page. Pushing all other thoughts aside, she raced out of the lounge and found Dr. Ian Thornhart and a nurse standing near the ambulance bay doors.

"What's going on?" she asked, as she came to a stop.

"Gunshot and stabbing victim, one minute out," Dr. Thornhart replied. Then he turned to the nurse, "Is the trauma room prepared?"

"Yes," she assured him.

"Good. Make sure we have enough blood on hand. They say she's bleeding out." The nurse ran off and he turned back to Sarah, "Here she comes."

The doors crashed open at that moment and the paramedics rushed in, pushing Courtney Quartermaine on a gurney. Her husband followed mutely behind, covered in drying blood. Sarah barely had a chance to register him before she turned her attention to the lead paramedic who was giving them Courtney's vitals. Hearing the numbers, she immediately knew things were bad.

They reached the trauma room, the doors swinging shut behind them, leaving A.J. on the outside. After transferring her to the table in the room, they frantically worked on trying to control the bleeding and get the dying woman stabilized. Sarah glanced at Dr. Thornhart and wondered if he felt the same way she did. It was only a matter of time, especially since the paramedics said they'd nearly lost her en route to the hospital and they'd barely got her back.

Monica Quartermaine rushed off the elevators looking around the emergency room waiting area. A nurse on duty had paged her saying her son was there. The question was, which son? Her eyes fell on A.J. and she gasped as she stopped dead in her tracks.

"A.J.?" she said as she approached him. His eyes rose to meet hers and she felt the pain in his gaze as strong as if someone had just punched her. Numbly sitting down beside him, she put her hand on his arm and tried not to flinch as she felt the stiffness of his shirt that she knew was from blood. "What happened?"

"Courtney," he managed to get out, tears coming down his face. "She was attacked."

"Were you hurt?" All this blood had her concerned. Why wasn't A.J. in with a doctor?

"No. I wasn't hurt. I wasn't even home. I found her."

"This is her blood?" Monica asked in shock. The doctor in her knew that this much blood loss was no good. She didn't know the extent of her daughter-in-law's injuries, but the chances of survival couldn't be good if A.J. has this much blood on him. The mother in her hurt to see the fragile thread her son hanging on to. Despite all their differences lately, she could see how this was affecting him. She didn't know what would happen to him if his wife died. Not really knowing how to help as a mother, she went instead into professional mode. "Do you want me to go in and check on her? See what I can find out?"

A.J. nodded and mouthed "thank you." Then he pointed towards the trauma room they had taken her to.

When Monica slipped into the room, she saw Dr. Thornhart, Sarah Webber and three nurses working feverishly on Courtney. The numbers on the machines attached to her, indicated it was only a matter of time. The doctors were fighting a losing battle. Despite the best efforts of everyone, Courtney's injuries were too great and she'd simply lost too much blood. They'd never be able to stabilize her enough to take her up to surgery.

An alarm sounded and the heart monitor went into a flat line. Dr. Thornhart and Sarah began compressions and reached for the fibulator. Monica stood numbly by as they placed the paddles on Courtney's chest trying to shock her heart into working again, but it wasn't working - now or ever.

"That's all we can do, Doctor Webber," Dr. Thornhart's soft voice carried in the room. "Call the time of death."

Monica slipped out of the room before she could hear the official call. Tears flowed down her face as she leaned against the wall. She'd had her differences with Courtney, and she hadn't been supportive of A.J. in his marriage, but she knew that even though she didn't understand it, A.J. loved his wife. This was going to devastate him.

The door opened beside her, and Dr. Thornhart and Sarah walked out slowly. She knew they were going to tell A.J. and she wiped her eyes and fell in beside them. They found him in the waiting room, right where Monica had left him, Lt. Taggart sitting beside him asking questions. Both men stood as they noticed the trio's approach.

A.J. locked eyes with Monica and her heart broke. He knew, even before Dr. Thornhart told him that they had done all they could but were unable to save Courtney. He collapsed onto a hard plastic seat and Monica moved to sit beside him, offering him quiet support. Sarah Webber briefly said something to him, but Monica knew her son never heard the words. Then the intern stepped back with the others to give them some space.

Monica sat beside him the entire time Taggart asked questions about what happened. She couldn't believe what she heard. Her daughter-in-law had been stalked and harassed, and now she had been killed. Monica had just wanted to cry as A.J. described finding Courtney, but she sat there trying to be strong for her son.

When Lt. Taggart left, she turned to him and hugged him. "I'm so sorry, A.J. Please come home with me tonight."

"I'm not going to drink," he snapped at her as he pulled back. "I wouldn't betray her memory like that."

"That's not what I meant," she said sincerely. "Taggart said your apartment is sealed. And I just wanted to offer you a place to stay."

"Thank you, but no," he told her. "I can't deal with Grandfather right now."

"Oh, A.J.," she sighed. "I don't think Edward would..."

She trailed off as A.J. looked at her in disbelief. Of course Edward would pounce on this opportunity to rail against A.J. and caustically berate him as a failure. Why would something like the loss of her son's wife stop the tyrant from finding another opportunity to gloat at his grandson's misery?

"Alright," she conceded. "What do you want to do?"

"I need to see Mike and let him know," he said. "After that, I don't know."

"Let me take you there," she offered. "But first, let's get you cleaned up. You can use the shower in the doctor's locker room and we'll get you some scrubs."

When he looked at her, she smiled, "Think of it as a perk of your father being Chief of Staff."

A.J. shrugged, but allowed her to pull him up and lead the way. She wrapped her arm around his shoulder, and slowly guided him down the hall.

He waited until Courtney's husband and the doctor left, and then stepped away from the alcove where he'd been standing since he first came in. He'd arrived at the hospital shortly after the ambulance that brought in Daisy. He needed to be near her, to see what happened to her. That's why he'd stayed at the apartment after the shooting. He wanted to remain near her for as long as possible.

It had pained him that her life had been ended. That had never been his intention. All he wanted was to be close to her, to prove to her how special she was and how he wanted to be with her. But people kept getting in the way. Her husband, her old boss, her brother-in-law; somebody had always been in his way. Except for tonight.

Tonight had been the perfect opportunity. He planned to show her how much he loved her, but she resisted. She didn't come into the bedroom, even though he'd set up the perfect scene for the two of them. Instead she'd run, she'd gotten a gun and she fought him. He didn't understand why she resisted him, why she tried to get away. Why wouldn't she just let him love her?

Instead, he'd killed her. He hadn't meant to, he just wanted to get the gun away from her. Without the gun, he would be able to talk to her, show her, prove to her. But it hadn't worked out that way. She had been shot.

He'd stayed with her, trying to comfort her, but she kept struggling. So he'd moved out of her sight, but kept close until he knew her husband would be home soon after hearing his phone call. He slipped out of the apartment and waited across the street, watching to see what happened. He couldn't leave her just yet. Then the ambulance came, and he watched as they brought her out of the building and left. Getting in his car, he followed discreetly behind. He knew where they were going. General Hospital was closer than Mercy.

Standing near the wall, holding a cup of hospital coffee, he'd been able to observe the grieving widower. The longer he stood there, the more he came to see that it was only fitting that if he couldn't have Daisy, then the husband shouldn't have her either. He'd also had a front row seat of the people who had interacted with the Quartermaine; the police lieutenant and the three doctors. The lieutenant and the male doctor didn't hold his interest and they were quickly dismissed, but he'd watched the two blondes with unabashed interest. Maybe it was because their blond hair reminded him of Daisy's.

He could see they both clearly knew the widower. The elder woman was probably a relative; she'd been very maternal and comforting as she sat beside him. He had to admit he hadn't spent much time researching the husband, only the bare necessities as it helped him get closer to Daisy. Somewhere, the always-calculating part of his brain filed that failure away for a future time. If he ever did this again, he needed to do more research.

But both the older woman and the younger one, who'd placed a comforting hand on A.J.'s shoulder, intrigued him. They both were beautiful women, though nothing compared to the beauty that had been Daisy. They both had to be intelligent since they were doctors. He knew it was wrong since Daisy had just barely died, but he found himself very intrigued by them.

However, he thought as he made his way slowly out to his car, it was time to go home. Things hadn't gone the way he'd hoped with Daisy, and now all he had left were his memories and his souvenirs. Moving his hand over his pocket, he felt the memento he'd taken from Daisy's apartment. He needed to have a keepsake of their last night together.

Chapter 7

The ringing of the phone pulled Elizabeth from the deep sleep she had blissfully fallen into in the early morning hours. She'd closed the diner last night and slowly made her way home to her studio. Jason hadn't stopped by, and while she knew he was busy, it had still oddly hurt that he wasn't there on the one day she was actually looking forward to seeing him. Of course, disappointment was something she was used to when it came to Jason. And in the early morning hours, she'd finally realized that it was silly to be hurt over this, because it wasn't like he had known she wanted to see him, and he had told her he was going to be busy.

She stumbled past the canvas she'd attempted to take her feelings out on last night, and reached for the phone. "Hello?"

"Elizabeth, it's Bobbie."

Elizabeth immediately woke up at the concern and grief in her employer's voice. "Bobbie, what's wrong?"

"Elizabeth, could you come down to the diner? I need to talk to you and the others, and I don't really want to say this over the phone."

"Alright, Bobbie," she answered, her eyebrows furrowed together at the cryptic nature of the call. She hung up the phone, because she realized Bobbie already had.

She turned back to her studio, scrubbing her hands over her face, then tucking the hair behind her ears. Bobbie Elizabeth wasn't sure how else to describe it. So she decided not to worry about it anymore and just get over there and find out what was happening. It was time to pull herself together and go where she was needed. Shedding the clothes she'd fallen asleep in after painting until two in the morning, she pulled on something warm and comfortable and got ready to go.

Fifteen minutes later, Elizabeth was hurrying across the docks towards Kelly's. The sun was just barely coming up, and a light mist was coming off the water. Fall was starting to take hold now that it was reaching the end of October. All she could focus on though was getting to Kelly's and finding out why Bobbie sounded so distraught. She hoped it had nothing to do with Luke and Laura. She knew that Laura's breakdown and Luke's conviction had been hard on everyone, and she hoped Luke hadn't gotten himself into more trouble.

Rushing through the courtyard, she pulled on the door, but was puzzled that it was locked. As she reached for her keys, Bobbie came over and unlocked it, ushering her in.

"Bobbie, I got here as soon as I could. What's wrong? Is it Luke or Laura?"

"No, Sweetie," Bobbie said, putting her hands on Elizabeth's shoulders and giving a small, brief smile. "It's not them."

"Then, what's wrong. Is it Lesley Lu or-"

"Elizabeth, sweetie, no, they're fine. It's Courtney, actually."

"Courtney?" Elizabeth asked, pulling back from Bobbie. Why was she called in so early in the morning about Courtney?

"She was killed last night," Bobbie continued.

"What?" Elizabeth gasped. Courtney was dead? A.J. must be devastated, and...Sonny. Elizabeth couldn't go there right now, they were still painful thoughts to think about Sonny. But A.J., and oh, Mike, they must be so crushed.

"Elizabeth?" Bobbie questioned. "Are you okay? You zoned out there for a minute."

"No, no, no. I'm fine," she said, brushing off the concern. "I was just worried about A.J. and Mike. Do you know how they are?"

"I don't," the older woman frowned. "I know A.J. left with Monica last night. Courtney was actually killed in their apartment, so maybe Monica took him to the Quartermaine's."

"Can we do anything?" Elizabeth asked, suddenly feeling the need to do something, anything to silence the voices starting in her head. She was thrown right back into that helpless feeling she had when she thought Sonny had died. And if she allowed her mind to go down that direction, she was going to go right back to the pain, anger, and humiliation, and she really didn't want to go back to that knee-jerk reaction.

"I'm going to close the diner today. I don't think any of us are going to be worth much. I guess we'll just wait to hear when the funeral is," Bobbie said. "So you can go on home, Sweetie. You look like you were up late last night."

"Oh, okay," Elizabeth said and turned to go as Marissa and Bridget came in. She barely acknowledged them as she walked outside and looked around her. Bobbie expected her to go home and go to sleep? Like that was ever going to happen. Setting off with no particular destination in mind, she wandered aimlessly until she found herself some time later at Vista Point.

She sat down on the bench where she'd sat when Jason had walked away from her and dropped her head into her hands. Her mind was a haze, and pretty soon she found herself laughing. Nervousness bordered on hysteria until tears fell down her cheeks. How selfish could she be? Her co-worker was dead. Her co-worker. It's not like Bobbie had told her Emily had been killed. She and Courtney weren't best friends; they didn't hang out or have dinner together outside of the diner. And lately she'd been incredibly irritated and frustrated with her. She knew it really wasn't Courtney's fault that Jason had given her his undivided attention, but it still got under her skin. And so she felt like the world's most selfish person because she knew she'd never have to worry about Jason guarding Courtney again.

She had to stop this. Her family was right; she always twisted everything around to be about her. Well, that stopped now. Courtney's death wasn't about her, and she needed to do something else besides sit around.

Sonny slammed the phone down as he growled in frustration. He shot a quick look at the stairs and was reminded himself he needed to keep things under control. Michael hadn't left for school yet, and he didn't want to have him start asking too many questions. Because invariably Carly would start asking questions too, and he didn't want to have to tell her that nobody could find Jason. She would go into her normal rant and freak-out mode and he didn't have time to deal with her antics today. He was still trying to figure out why she found it necessary to slip out of bed in the middle of the night to call Jason "just to talk". He knew it was a lie, the question what was she planning?

But more important than her juvenile and typically Carly behavior, was Jason's behavior last night. Benny had called him early in the morning to tell him Jason had waived off the delivery last night. They'd tied up two of Castinelli's men, but then there had been an ambush on the docks just after Jason called the boat driver and before they could take care of the bodies. One of the men that unloaded the shipments had called Benny after the firefight and Benny ordered a clean up crew over to the pier right away, but nobody had heard from Jason or the men with him.

Michael came bounding down the stairs followed Carly who couldn't help but smile at the boy's enthusiasm. Sonny put aside his thoughts of business as Michael launched himself at Sonny and hugged his legs.

"Daddy, are you going to come to my school play tomorrow?"

Sonny bent down and looked Michael in the eye. "Of course, Buddy. I'll be there. And I'll bet you're going to be the best horse's head in the whole barn yard."

Michael laughed. "I'm a donkey, Daddy. My ears are bigger."

"Oh, right," Sonny said as a knock sounded at the door.

Marco opened the door and announced, "Mike Corbin, sir."

"Okay," Sonny nodded as he stood. "Michael, you be good at school."

Michael nodded and rushed through the door followed by Carly and Leticia. Sonny was grateful that Michael had school when Mike staggered through the door after waving good-bye to little Michael. As his father stepped closer, Sonny could smell the cheap booze the older man had apparently swam in the night before. Closing his eyes, Sonny slowly shook his head in disgust as the obvious drunkenness of his father.

"Awfully early in the day isn't it, Mike?" Sonny jeered.

Mike looked at him with unfocused eyes and scowled. "I don't care what you think, Michael. I came here as a courtesy, something you sure didn't extend to us last month."

"Here it comes," Sonny laughed. "I wondered when you'd come back around and yell at me for my death."

"I'm not here for that," Mike bellowed. "You don't care about me, and I've decided to treat you with the same disregard. But I figured you at least deserved to hear about your sister from family."

"What about Courtney?" Sonny asked. "If this is about her stalker, my hands are tied. She doesn't want a bodyguard. She said she and her husband would handle things."

"Your sister is dead," Mike said quietly, and the tone broke through Sonny's tirade.

"What?" he demanded.

"Your sister was killed last night. Her stalker broke into her apartment and attacked her," Mike brokenly got out, then swiped at his cheeks.

"What happened?" Sonny barked. "Where was A.J. and his protection? What happened to her?"

Mike pulled himself up as tall as he could and put on his haughtiest face in spite of the pain. "Why don't you have your men check it out. After all, that's what you have them for right? These men who couldn't find out who was terrorizing your sister. These men who couldn't protect her. Have them find out what happened to her. I'm through coddling you."

Sonny stood there stunned, and watched as Mike turned and would have stormed out if the door hadn't opened to reveal Lt. Taggart.

"If you've come to tell him about Courtney, don't waste your breath. He just found out."

Mike started to push past the lieutenant, but paused and turned to him. "Is there anything on Courtney's killer?"

Taggart looked down and slowly shook his head. "We're still collecting evidence. She didn't tell us what was happening, so we have no idea. We're playing catch up right now."

"Seems to be a familiar theme with you," Sonny scoffed. He watched as Taggart turned his steely gaze on him and Mike walked away.

"Well, the PCPD aren't Miss Cleo. Your sister didn't report what was happening. Maybe if she had we could have some clues as to who had done this."

Sonny put his hand on his hip and glared at the bald lieutenant. "Are you saying this is her fault?"

"I'm saying we had no information because she didn't tell us. Her husband said Jason Morgan was the one who encouraged her not to go to the police. Was that on your orders?"

"Am I now under investigation for my own sister's death?" Sonny demanded angrily.

"I'm saying this," Taggart ground out. "The next time you want to claim we're incompetent, maybe you shouldn't have a hand in keeping the police from doing their job. Because we didn't know she was being stalked, but you did. And big, bad, all-powerful Sonny Corinthos still let his sister get killed."

"Get out!" A voice bellowed from behind the lieutenant and both men looked for the source. "Do you ever stop? You're now accusing my husband-"

"Carly," Sonny cut in forcefully.

"No, Sonny," she said as she stood beside him, acting like a mother bear fighting off a wolf. "He has no right to barge into our home and fling around these allegations-"

"You know, Mrs. C., as fun as this whole little show is, that's not why I stopped by," Taggart smirked.

"What do you mean?"

Turning to Sonny, Taggart asked, "Seen your protégé lately?"

"Jason?" Carly asked before Sonny could say anything.

He turned to his wife and gave her a hard look. "Didn't you say you were going to go see Bobbie this morning?"

"Oh, no. No you don't, Sonny," she nearly shrieked. "Jason is my friend."

"Carly," he said forcefully, trying to keep the rage out of his voice. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Taggart rocking back and forth on his heels, entirely too pleased with the spectacle Carly was making of herself.

"Fine," she huffed. "You better call me the moment he leaves."

Then she stormed out the door, closing it forcefully behind her. Sonny glared at Taggart, visibly irritated with the policeman. He didn't have time to waste on this. He already knew Jason was missing, but there was no way he was going to tell Taggart that. And if Taggart knew Jason wasn't around, then something had happened, all the more reason for him to get busy on finding his friend. Besides the fact, that if Taggart had any evidence or leads he'd be out following those down, or standing there with a warrant. Instead the policeman was on a fishing expedition, and as fun as it was to toy with him sometimes, Sonny simply couldn't do it today. Especially on top of the news that Mike had delivered.

"What do you want, Taggart?" Sonny asked as he turned for the drink cart.

"There was a report of gunfire on the waterfront last night. Actually at Pier Fifty-two. You and Morgan own that, don't you?"

"Roy and Felicia signed it over to us. Is there something wrong with the paperwork?" he asked as he stood there, drink in one hand, while his other removed an invisible piece of lint from his impeccable clothes.

"No, but the blood trails and the two dead bodies we found in a dumpster are certainly problems."

"'Fraid I can't help you there. I had dinner with my wife at the No Name, and then was here for the rest of the night."

"Yes, I'm sure you have an alibi. You always seem to. But Morgan is unaccounted for. His bike was found in the area, and his cell phone was found partially underneath a crate on the docks. And yet, there's no sign of Anger Boy anywhere."

Sonny looked above Taggart's left shoulder, his face neutral. The clean-up crew had obviously not been able to do a proper and thorough job. Dead bodies, Jason's bike, his cell phone; all left behind? What happened there last night, especially since Benny said they'd just knocked out Castinelli's men, not killed them.

"I don't know where Jason is. This is the first I'd heard of any of this," Sonny lied smoothly. He really needed to call Benny. Maybe he'd gotten word from Jason. "If there's nothing else..."

"Not at this time," Taggart conceded reluctantly. But he couldn't help but make one final comment. "I know the two men killed worked with Paul Castinelli. Seems like another mob war is brewing. You better hope for your sake it's not. Because with the sloppy evidence left behind, we've got a case against you."

"Good-bye, Lieutenant," Sonny pointedly said as he edged Taggart towards the door.

When the nuisance was finally gone, he stalked towards the phone. He wanted answers and he wanted them now. Starting with the top question, where was Jason? What had gone wrong last night? What had happened to Courtney? He needed answers and he wanted them yesterday.

His hand was just above the receiver when the phone rang, startling him at first. Picking it up he growled out, "Yeah?"

"Boss, it's Max. We've got a problem."

Chapter 8

Two days later, Sonny stood in his living room, watching the sun rising over the sleeping city. A tap on the door echoed through the still room and he turned as it opened. The tall figure walked slowly into the room and then sank into the sofa as he glanced around. Sonny crossed the room, poured two generous splashes of scotch into glasses and then walked to the couch.

"You look like you haven't slept at all. How are you?"

"Tired," Jason conceded as he took a large swallow of the amber liquid, wincing as it slid down his throat.

"Tell me what happened," Sonny commanded.

"Castinelli's men ambushed us. I barely got the shipment turned away. Some of our men have turned, I think. It's the only way it makes sense they got this close."

Sonny growled and slammed his glass down on the coffee table. Traitors in their midst. People who had betrayed him, sold out for promised glory, or maybe just plain greed. These vipers needed to be eliminated. He'd get Benny running background checks, then he and Jason would deal with these vermin.

"I'll get Benny on it," he said. "Then you and I-"

"I understand," Jason said tiredly as he brought his right arm protectively up to his left side.

"Where are the others?" Sonny asked as he stood to refill his glass.

"Max is at a safe house recuperating. He should be back in a couple of days." He paused before continuing, "Jeff is, Jeff is dead. I had Francis on something else that night, but I've been in contact with him. He's laying low at the moment."

"Where have you been?" Sonny asked as he sat back down.

"I was following one of Castinelli's men. Tracked him down to a dive about thirty miles outside of town. He met with someone, then left. I followed them, eliminated them and gave the information I recovered to Benny before I came here."

Jason rubbed a hand over his face before returning it to his left side. Sonny eyed him curiously, but shook it off. He'd ask later. Right now he had other things on his mind.

"You heard about Courtney, right?"

"Yeah," Jason said on a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry."

"Why'd you give her a gun?" Sonny asked pointedly. He couldn't understand why Jason had felt it a smart move to give his baby sister a gun.

"It was after the guy broke into her place," Jason told him. "She was frightened, I offered it to her. She felt safer with it."

"She never should have had it," Sonny hissed. "She didn't know what she was doing, and it was that gun that killed her."

"Are you blaming me?" Jason ground out, then tightened the hold on his side as he slowed his breathing.

Sonny sighed and looked away, his jaw clenched. He couldn't really blame Jason for not being available to guard Courtney. Sonny knew that Jason was the one needed to deal with the Castinelli situation, but he just didn't like hearing from Taggart, of all people, that the gun that killed his sister had been registered to Jason. And he told Jason this in no uncertain terms.

"I was doing what I thought was best. Is this how it's going to be from now on?" Jason asked, suddenly agitated. He stood up and stalked to the desk before he spun around. "Are you going to question every move I make from now on? Should I clear every decision through you?"

"What?" Sonny asked, caught off guard by Jason's question. Why would Jason even ask him that?

"I used to be able to make decisions and not feel like you would question my every move. Now I've got you questioning my loyalty and second-guessing my decisions."

"Well, maybe if your decisions made more sense," Sonny snapped, then lowered his voice when he remembered that Michael and Carly were asleep upstairs. "Or maybe if you didn't so blatantly disregard my orders."

"Since when do I only follow orders. I thought we were friends, I thought we were partners."

Sonny took note of the pain on Jason's face and the way his hand went to his side again. He knew he should ask, but how could he sit here and let Jason say these things to him?

"We are friends," Sonny said. "But I run things here."

"Right," Jason said as he pushed away from the desk and took a step towards Sonny who had now stood up. "I didn't realize that meant I wasn't allowed to make my own decisions or have my own opinion."

He turned to walk to the door, but Sonny reached out and grabbed his arm, spinning him around. "What does that mean?"

"It means," Jason said, schooling his face into a calm mask, "that lately all you want is for me to do your bidding and not question you. That's not how it used to be, but if that's how you want it, fine. At least now I know. I'll just be another employee, like Max, or Francis, or Johnny. Do you have any orders for me at this time?"

"Orders?" Sonny asked with raised eyebrows and disbelief. Then he shook his head and let go of Jason's arm. Obviously his friend was just tired; he wasn't really himself right now. "You look like your need some rest, man. Courtney's funeral is this afternoon. It's your decision to go or not. You don't look so good."

"What time?" Jason asked, looking at the floor.

"Three," Sonny replied, shifting his gaze over to the window. "The church on Pearson Street."

"I'll meet you there," Jason said and then he walked out the door.

The click of the lock echoed through the silent room as Sonny stared at in disbelief. Jason sounded upset, even angry with him. When had that started, and how long was this phase going to last?

Jason closed the door to his penthouse and leaned heavily against it. He brought his arm across his torso under his jacket and pressed gently against his side. His finger traced the cut of his shirt and probed lightly at his flesh. His hiss of pain boomed through the quiet room and he raised his arm to the wall to brace himself.

He pushed off the door slowly and grabbed the phone as he made his way to the couch. Collapsing into the cool leather, he let out a ragged breath and leaned his head back. Nothing had been going right since the shooting on the docks. He certainly hadn't meant to say those things to Sonny, but somewhere this morning his brain just stopped working with his mouth.

Not that he didn't feel that way, but he hadn't intended to tell Sonny that. He'd had a lot of time to think while he was tailing people and waiting for informants to arrive. The words that he kept dwelling on were Elizabeth's the night she left his penthouse. He had already begun feeling that just being Sonny's enforcer wasn't enough, but these past few days had just solidified that feeling.

Jason had realized that since his return in May he was just running around, living for everyone else. He went around cleaning up Sonny and Carly's problems, always putting them first and ignoring the things he wanted. He let his head sink further into the couch and wearily closed his eyes. He was so tired of it all.

Living his life for someone else used to be enough for him. Sonny had given him responsibility and trust after his accident, and he felt he would forever owe the older man for that. He remembered telling Elizabeth after Sonny and Carly betrayed him that it shouldn't matter that Sonny had broken Jason's trust. But he realized now it did. Sonny hurt him then, and he'd hurt him since. Jason had always accepted it because he knew that's who Sonny was, just like Carly got involved in crazy schemes as naturally as breathing.

Lately though, the complete devotion wasn't enough. He wanted more. He'd tried it with Robin, but he had once again been trying to live for her. Trying to make her happy, ease her fears, put her first whenever he could, even though he didn't agree with things sometimes. Like quitting the organization. He'd done it for her. And, he thought with a bit of pain, for Michael. He had felt such an amazing love for the young boy who had needed him so completely. Through him, he'd learned a lot about his life and his ability to love.

He thought he'd had a chance to find what he'd been looking for with Elizabeth. But once again, he let his loyalty to Sonny destroy it. Elizabeth didn't need the constant assuaging of her fears that Robin had. Elizabeth knew who he was, and refused to stay away, even when it probably would have been better for her. And she didn't need or demand things of him like Carly had. She was determined to make her own way in life. She had always trusted him, like Michael had trusted him to know what to do, even when Jason wasn't sure he knew what the correct answer was. She had really asked for so little, and he didn't give it to her because he put her behind his duties to Sonny. Well, it was going to stop now.

Raising the telephone, he dialed Francis' cell phone and waited for the guard to pick up.


Jason felt bad for waking the man, knowing he was pushing himself to watch over Elizabeth. Unfortunately Jason couldn't put another guard on her to spell the man without it arousing Sonny's suspicions. After what happened today, Jason needed to let Sonny calm down.

"Sorry to wake you, Francis," Jason said.

"No, I was awake, barely. Just hadn't had my morning coffee yet."

"I wanted to check on Elizabeth."

"Miss Webber is fine. There haven't been any problems."

"That's good," Jason said in relief. At least there was one good thing to breathe easy about. "I'm sorry you don't much sleep. I'll see if I can get somebody to watch her for a day."

"I'm fine, Jason," Francis was quick to reassure. "The diner is closed today and Miss Webber is going to Mrs. Quartermaine's funeral."

Jason nodded his head slowly. Of course Elizabeth would go. Out of respect and to offer support to the living, even if it wasn't spoken. Maybe he'd be able to spell Francis, since he was going to be there. He just needed to get some rest first.

"Thanks, Francis," Jason said sincerely. "I'll talk to you soon."

"Alright, Jason. You sound tired, go get some sleep. I won't let you or Miss Webber down."

Jason hit the talk button, ending the call and dropped the phone onto the couch. He pushed himself up slowly, gritting his teeth at the pain that shot through his side. Slowly he worked his coat off his shoulders and let it fall, not caring that it landed on the floor. Glancing down at his side, he was relieved to see that the bleeding appeared to have stopped. He needed a shower, he needed to change his bandages, and then he needed some sleep.

He figured he'd sleep 'til about noon, then he'd go over and see Elizabeth. He needed to talk to her, apologize for hurting her, but more than anything, he realized he just needed to see her. Maybe even touch her hand or her arm if he was lucky. Pausing on the stairs, Jason shook his head. Was he being selfish? A small curve of his lips briefly flickered across his face. Yes, he thought, maybe he was being selfish. And it was about time.

Elizabeth looked up from the canvas in front of her when the knock sounded on her door. It wasn't the best picture she'd done, but it felt good to be painting something again. Ever since she'd returned from Vista Point two days ago, she'd been trying to focus on something, anything.

She'd been helping cover Courtney's shifts, and she realized it was odd not to have her there. She would find herself looking at the clock, wondering when her shift would be over and Courtney would come in so she could go home. Then she'd remember and she'd feel like a heel for forgetting. She kept wondering how Mike and A.J. were doing, and yet she didn't think she could just seek them out to ask them. She'd never been particularly close to either man.

So she painted. It gave her a focus and a distraction, especially since Jason was missing. She'd seen the news, knew about the shooting on the pier and overheard Taggart on his phone outside of Kelly's yesterday asking if anyone had found Jason yet. She hated that she couldn't go to Sonny and ask him what was going on, because after what she'd done, she knew she stood a snowball's chance in July of ever getting information out of Sonny. But she realized, looking up at her painting, that Jason obviously hadn't been very far from her thoughts, and that those feelings had poured themselves into the painting.

Wiping her hands on a rag, she walked to the door and opened the locks. She blinked in surprise when she saw Jason standing on the other side. He was dressed in black, not entirely new, but the slacks and suit coat were not a common occurrence. He was probably heading to Courtney's funeral.

"Hey," he said softly, leaning against the doorframe. "Can I come in?"

"Oh, sorry," she laughed nervously as she stepped back. "I was just surprised to see you."

"Did I come at a bad time?" he asked as he slowly made his way inside.

"Oh, no, no," she assured him as she closed the door and flipped the locks out of habit. She turned around and found Jason looking at her then glancing over her shoulder, a small smile on his face. She laughed and mumbled, "Habit. Guess you're rubbing off on me."

She scurried past him and grabbed her painting supplies to clean them. Turning around, she was startled to see Jason had moved so close. She sidestepped and nodded her head towards the couch. "Go ahead and have a seat. Oh, that - I didn't mean to may not be able to stay. Did you need to tell me something?"

Jason smiled at her and she flushed, realizing she'd started babbling. Why was it that now that she was around Jason she was a tongue-tied idiot?

"I came over to see you," Jason said. "I was hoping to talk to you."

"I wanted to talk to you, too," Elizabeth cut in nervously. Now that she knew he was staying, she needed to do this. "I've been hoping I would see you...well, since that night of the shooting on the pier."

Jason flinched and sat down wearily on the couch. Elizabeth grabbed her paintbrushes and quickly dropped them in a glass filled with turpentine vowing to clean them later, and then moved back to the couch. She perched on the arm of it, facing Jason.

"I know you don't want me to say this, but I was worried about you. I saw the news and heard Taggart talking, and I was hoping you were okay."


"No, please just let me say this," she said, her eyes pleading. "You mean something to me, Jason. I know you do dangerous things, but I remember that night in the penthouse. You said you know the risks, you don't take unnecessary chances, and I held onto that. I decided to believe that every day I didn't hear or read of your death, was another day I could believe that you were right. It was another day I could breathe, because I knew that if you were hurt, nobody would come tell me."

"I'm sorry," Jason said when Elizabeth paused to breathe.

"Don't do that," she said firmly. "I guess I'm doing this wrong, but I didn't say that to upset you. I'm trying to be honest with you. You're important to me, and you always will be. I know what I said that night I walked away hurt you, and that wasn't fair. I was hurt and I said some cruel things to you that I would give anything now to take back."

"You had a right to your feelings, Elizabeth," he interjected, a pained expression on his face.

"But my face changed, and I looked at you like I didn't know you, and that was the last thing you deserved. And I apologize for that. I'm not going to say I'm sorry for being upset, because what you did hurt me, Jason. But I regret that I hurt you."

Elizabeth paused and looked down as she twisted the edge of her paint-spattered shirt around her fingers. Suddenly she stood up and pushed away from the couch, walking quickly to the window and looking down at the docks. The look on Jason's face told her he hadn't expected what she'd said, the admission and the apology.

Shaking her head, she wiped at the wetness on her cheeks she could see reflected in the window. She'd done it again. Said too much. Now Jason was going to get spooked and push her away again. She'd barely just decided she missed him and wanted to see if they could get their friendship back. And now she'd probably killed that. Poisoned it by her run-away mouth, just like she poisoned everything in her life.

She turned around and gasped as she ran smack into Jason's chest. He really needed to stop doing that to her. It completely unnerved her how he could move so quietly. Jason didn't move, and she couldn't move past him, trapped between him and the window ledge. She placed a hand on his chest to get him to step back, and felt the racing beat of his heart and the shallowness of his breathing.

Leaning back against the window, she narrowed her eyes and peered up at him intently. A fine sheen of perspiration covered his forehead, despite the fact it was freezing in her studio, he was pale under his tan, a paleness she knew had nothing to do with the end of summer, and there were tight, pinched lines around his eyes and mouth. She remembered that look, even though it had been almost three years.

"Why didn't you say something?" she asked, taking a step forward and finding relief when he took two back. "Here I've been babbling on and on and you said nothing. Come on."

She took his hand and pulled him toward the couch, pushing his suit coat off once she got him beside it. He looked down at her, a mixture of surprise, then defiance crossing his face. She arched an eyebrow and commanded, "Sit."

As he slowly eased onto the cushion his face twisted and he couldn't bite back a groan to keep it from escaping. Elizabeth tsked under her breath and sat down beside him.

"Do you want to do it, or shall I?"

"Elizabeth," he said, trying to turn away from her, like the night she bandaged his forehead.

"Okay, obviously I'm going to have to, since you're being stubborn," she said as she brought her hands toward the waist of his slacks. When Jason's hands closed over hers and firmly pushed them away, she felt an odd relief, but just a twinge of disappointment. She'd pushed him enough to get results, and so while he pulled his shirt from his pants she got up to get the first aid kit.

When she turned around and saw the blood coloring the white gauze around his torso she clamped her hand over her mouth and gasped out in concern, "Oh my...Jason, were you shot again?"

Chapter 9

Jason looked over at Elizabeth and frowned. Perhaps coming here had been a mistake. He should have stayed away until he was healed. He had just wanted to see her, he hadn't thought about what she may have heard while he was gone. He dropped his shirt and shifted, reaching for his jacket intending to leave.

"No, Jason, please. I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't ask questions. I shouldn't have insisted." Elizabeth put the first aid kit down and bit her lip nervously as she looked away. Her posture had gone rigid and Jason sighed as he realized she was probably bracing herself for him to push her away, distance himself physically and emotionally. After all, it's what he had been doing to her lately.

"Elizabeth," he said softly. "Come here. Please?"

Not meeting his gaze, she sat down as far away from him as she could and still be considered sitting on the couch. He looked at her and sighed, as she still wouldn't look at him. Ignoring the pain in his side he moved towards her until he could touch her hand lying on the back of the couch. Her head shot up in surprise when his large hand came to rest over hers.

Giving a little laugh he asked, "So when did you get a new couch?"

"What?" she blinked at him. "It's not new."

He looked down at the blue fabric of the couch and then back up to her. "It's not the same one you had before."

"No, it's not," Elizabeth conceded as she looked away. "Can we drop it, please?"

"I'm sorry," Jason said, at a loss for what to say next. Elizabeth was running hot and cold lately, but he couldn't say that he blamed her. He'd done the same to her for months, a push/pull that had only resulted in them both hurting.

"Maybe I shouldn't have come," he sighed and his gaze dropped to where her hand still lay under his. She hadn't pulled away from his touch, and he longed to lace his fingers with hers, but he resisted. "I just wanted to see you, let you know I was back and alright."

"But you're not," she said honestly. "You're bleeding."

"I'll be fine," Jason tried to reassure her.

"You always are, but sometimes even you need help."

"I can't go to a doctor," Jason told her, the words coming out a little harsher than he intended.

"I know that," she said evenly. "I wasn't going to tell you to go a hospital. But Sonny has to have a doctor or somebody that can help you. When...when you were shot he wanted to take you to somebody."

He watched as her eyes changed colors when she mentioned the day she found him in the snow. He would always remember how she refused to give up on him and wouldn't leave even after he told her to go. He reached for the bottom of his shirt and asked, "Think you remember your nursing skills? I probably just pulled it when I put my shirt on."

She nodded and rubbed her ands together while she grabbed the first aid kit from her artist's table. When she returned, she opened it and pulled out several supplies before turning to him. He flinched when her chilled fingers touched his skin above the gauze, and couldn't quite hold back a surprised sound.

"Sorry," she murmured, her face twisting in delicate concentration. "My hands are always cold once October hits. My gram always says 'Cold hands, warm heart.'"

"Or maybe you just need to get your heater fixed," Jason said as he watched her finish unwrapping the bandage.

"That's a good one," she laughed, causing him to frown. The frown turned deeper as she continued; "This is an old, drafty building. To fix the heater means replacing the pipes, which means opening the walls, which means permits, and then the wiring would probably need to be replaced along with who knows what else. If the owner did all that he'd have to raise the rent and then I wouldn't be able to live here. Not on the tips I make at Kelly's."

She paused and Jason figured she was just taking a breath, but was surprised when she looked up at him with concern. "Jason, that's a knife wound, isn't it?"

She must have thought the scowl on his face was because of her question instead of his hating the fact that she lived in such run down conditions, so she hurriedly said, "I'm not asking how you got it. I'm just concerned about infection. Are you up to date on your tetanus shot?" She gave a chuckle and shook her head. "Of course you probably are. Just the same, I'll clean it and put on some antibiotic cream."

"Thank you," he smiled. "It's really not that deep, it's just sore."

"Which is why you should be resting," she lightly scolded, apparently choosing to focus on the wound and nothing else.

"I did get some sleep," he said softly. "I just wanted to come see you."

"Why?" she asked, and then he could see her cheeks coloring slightly. She looked back down, concentrating on finishing up on his wound.

"I wanted to tell you I was sorry."

That made her head snap up, nearly connecting with his chin. "Apologize? Why?"

"Because I hurt you too, Elizabeth. I pushed you away, didn't call even though I knew you were worried. It wasn't fair for me to avoid you."

"It was your job, Jason. I shouldn't have expected so much of you. I know I just added to your worries."

He drew in a deep breath, stung by her words. A burden. Is that how he truly made her feel? He remembered her saying she'd put him on a pedestal, and while he didn't want her worship, did he want her to feel like she had to settle, lower her expectations of someone? Of him? He looked down and noticed her hands shaking slightly as she started wrapping his side with gauze. He covered them with his, forcing her to stop and look at him. He was met with a sheen of moisture in her eyes. "Elizabeth, the last thing you are is a worry or a burden. I just didn't handle the situation very well and I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Jason," she said in a tone that he knew it was anything but okay, but he didn't fight her when she pulled her hands away. "We can't change it. means a lot to me that you said you were sorry. And-and, there you're all done."

She leaned back, then stood up and gathered the supplies. "Have you taken anything for the pain? Do you feel like you have a fever?"

"I took something this morning," he told her, a smile slightly curling his lips at her fussing.

"Then you should take something now," she instructed and shook out two tablets from a bottle in the kit before she closed it. She handed them to him and then got him a bottle of water from her mini-fridge. He thanked her and swallowed the tablets before quickly finishing the bottle.

He watched as she quickly put the first aid kit away and then absently straightened her art supplies on the table. He had to smile when she sat down on her stood as some sketch apparently caught her eye. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear as she studied it, and he was transported back to the time he'd stayed with her after he was shot. She would sometimes forget he was even there and just become immersed in whatever art project she was working on. He knew though, that this time things were different. Things had changed between them, some for the better, some not.

He watched as she picked up a pencil, the faint scritch of it moving over the paper the only sound in the room. He was surprised by the way his thoughts went to the fact that this time around, he knew what it was like to kiss her, instead of just having to imagine it. And since he wasn't very good at imaging things, remembering the kiss in this very room was better than anything he had come up with that December. Elizabeth sighed and closed her sketchbook and then turned towards him, her head cocking to one side as she studied him. He hoped he wasn't blushing. "Y-yes?"

"I was just wondering," she said, and then stopped, twirling her pencil in her fingers nervously. "I - you look like you're going to Courtney's funeral."

"I am," he told her. "I owe it to Sonny, and to Mike."

"Right," she said, her face darkening slightly. But she quickly shook it off as she looked down at her clothes, "I was going to go too, but I obviously need to get cleaned up."

"Alright," he said slowly. He prepared to stand, figuring she'd want him to leave.

"So, I just wanted to say you're welcome to stay. But if you have somewhere you need to be, I understand."

He wanted to stay, that had been his intention all along. It just was nice to have her ask. "I-I'd like to stay, if you're sure."

"Yeah," she nodded as she grabbed some clothes, "I won't be long."

After she left to go to the bathroom down the hall, Jason settled back onto the couch. He stretched out and couldn't help but smile that more of him fit on this couch than did on the previous one. He ran his fingers over the blanket on the back of the couch and looked around the room. He could feel a slight chill in the studio and wondered how cold it really was. He frowned as he thought of what Elizabeth had said regarding the studio. Was the heat not working this year? Had it been cold in here for very long?

Pushing himself up, he headed over to the heater along the wall and looked at the old, and from what he could remember, very stubborn unit. He turned and flipped a few switches, but still the heater stayed silent. Straightening up, he planted one arm against the wall, placed the other against his injured side and gave it a firm kick with the inside of his foot. A satisfied smirk crossed his face when he heard it chug on. He walked back to the couch and sat down, content in knowing that by the time Elizabeth returned, it would be warm for her.

Elizabeth walked out of the bathroom, wearing a long sleeved, v-neck black dress, her make-up done and her hair mostly dry. She'd just need to spend a few minutes with the curling iron, take off her thick socks, slip on her shoes and she'd be ready. Opening the door, she paused as the warmth in the room made a marked difference from the cold, drafty hallway. How had Jason gotten her heater working?

Then she saw him and smiled. Jason was fast asleep on her couch. He still looked large laying on it, but no longer looked like he was cramped and completely uncomfortable as he had with the previous one. She'd been surprised that he'd noticed it was different, it wasn't something she thought he'd notice or care about. She'd been meaning to replace the flea market couch, and after the summer it just seemed like a good idea. This couch had a sofa bed, and she had to admit it was a nice change. Sleeping on a bed, even a sofa bed, was a lot more comfortable than a small couch.

Closing the door softly behind her, she put her stuff down and turned on her curling iron that sat atop her dresser. She searched for a pair of earrings and slipped them on, then took a silver necklace out of her jewelry box. She secured the clasp and then reached down and slipped off her socks, before she put on and fastened her shoes.

As she straightened up she glanced back to the couch and wasn't entirely surprised to find Jason awake and watching her. Whenever he'd stayed here before, he would always wake up when she came in, no matter how quiet she tried to be. She figured it was a good thing in his line of work, but it just made her feel guilty. Especially today, when he was injured and he looked like he hadn't slept much in recent days.

"Hey. Sorry to wake you," she said and turned to check on her curling iron.

"No problem," he told her, grimacing slightly as he sat up. "This one's a lot more comfortable than the last one."

"Yeah, you looked like you were less cramped," she nodded as she separated out a strand of hair.

He said nothing as she finished curling her hair and then pulled the sides back with silver combs. When she turned back around, he was looking at her paintings she had propped along the walls, but kept coming back to the one on her easel that she'd been working on before he came in.

"It's the bridge," she said as she took a step towards it. "The one on the road to nowhere."

He nodded as he studied it more. "Is that snow? Is that what all the white is?"

She nodded silently as she brought her fingers up to hover above the painting. "After my wedding that wasn't to Lucky, I went out there the next day. It was New Year's Day and I would have been on my honeymoon if Gia hadn't told me Lucky was only marrying me because he felt sorry for me. He didn't love me, he couldn't remember loving me, and he just was doing it out of pity. He thought it's what I deserved."

A pained look covered her face, and she wasn't really looking at the painting anymore. She was looking beyond it, into the past. "But when I went to the bridge that day, somehow things didn't seem as bad. I felt peaceful, surrounded by the snow, with no one around. I could remember happier times."

She shook her head and gave an errant swipe at her eyes, not caring if she smudged her make-up. Those had been happier times she'd remembered that day, and many of them involved Jason, but that wasn't something she was ready to mention. Shrugging she said, "I guess I was just trying to grab onto that feeling. So, I have a question for you."

"Sure," he said, apparently willing to let her topic shift go by without mention.

"How long has Francis been guarding me?"

Jason blinked and at least looked a little embarrassed. But she knew he answered her honestly. "Since the that first night I walked you home. Are-are you upset?"

"No," she said as she came and sat down beside him. "I was surprised, not sure at first, but he's guarded me before. I hadn't seen him around in a while, and suddenly I saw him around Kelly's several times. He was trying to be discreet. So I just wondered."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he said, putting his hand beside hers and lightly touching it with his fingertips. She looked down at their hands and then up at him when he continued. "I knew you were upset when you left, and so I didn't push things. I don't think Alcazar would try something, though he's still out there. But there are other people who might."

"Business?" she asked quietly.

"Yeah," he confirmed in a heavy voice like she might fault him for it.

"Thank you," Elizabeth said, covering his hand with hers. "For telling me, and...and for being concerned."

"I always will," he told her, dipping his head to meet her gaze. She locked eyes with him for a minute and then withdrew her hand and stood up.

She missed the warmth of his hand immediately, but she needed distance. Having him come and talk to her was great. She had missed it for so long and she was sure if she let herself she would just fall into him again and lose herself. As much as she wanted and at times ached to be with him, she was still hesitant.

Jason talked a good talk, but lately that only lasted a short time and only on his terms, whenever he deigned to allow her near. As much as she wanted to, she just wasn't sure she could trust him to stick around for the long haul. She wasn't very anxious to put her heart out there to have it rejected again. She didn't have the strength for that fight right now.

She looked at her reflection in the mirror, off-handedly thanking the makers of waterproof mascara so that she didn't look like a raccoon. He was getting a little too close and she admitted to herself that it frightened her. She could only handle friendship right now.

"Elizabeth," he said, bringing her out of her thoughts. "We should get going if you're ready."

She nodded her head and picked up her purse, walking toward the door. Jason met her there, holding his suit coat. Without really conscious thought, Elizabeth took the jacket from him and held it behind him so he could slip his arms into the sleeves easier and not aggravate his side. Then she grabbed her coat off the peg by the door and pulled it on, tugging her hair out of the collar while Jason opened the door for them.

After she locked the door and they walked down the stairs, Elizabeth's brain was thoroughly convinced that he was getting too close, too fast. She really needed to talk to Sarah. It was a good thing she was sitting down in the car when she made that decision, because the thought that she needed to talk to Sarah would have been enough to make her stop dead in her tracks. She couldn't believe she was actually going to seek out her sister to talk. How much had changed in a couple of weeks' time.

He stood across the street, next to his car, watching as the funeral home delivered the body to the church. By the time people started arriving, he was inside his car, taking pictures. He'd moved the car further down the street and attached a telephoto lens when he thought someone had looked directly at him. But since nothing had happened, he decided it was safe to stick around, he just needed to be more discreet. He just had the need to see that others were grieving as much as he was.

Watching as the people slowly made their way into the church, he snapped a few pictures, recording their behavior. There was the slender redhead who was with a blonde man in a wheelchair. Just outside of the church, a petite brunette arrived and she and the other woman engaged in an intense and animated exchange. He took a few pictures, but soon lost interest in the whole affair.

Daisy's co-workers from Kelly's arrived, minus the brunette he'd seen that night. The redhead that he knew also worked at the hospital shepherded them inside like a mother hen, and he didn't waste more than a few pictures on them. The big wigs were starting to arrive.

The Quartermaine family arrived, with much ceremony. Several cars, several looks of disdain at the surroundings and several spats with each other before they even arrived at the doors. He snapped cursory pictures of the men and the silver-haired woman in the wheelchair, instead focusing on the older doctor from that night. It might be difficult if he focused on her, but he took the pictures anyway.

A stretch limo pulled up in front of the church and the Quartermaines turned to stare at it. He scrambled to finish changing the roll of film, sensing that this arrival could be important. A dark-skinned man stepped out, reeking power and confidence. He turned and helped a woman out of the car, and the man sat stunned for a minute before he regained himself and rapidly began taking pictures. He followed the pair's progression up the steps and past the Quartermaines, paying particular attention to the move of the woman.

Swinging the camera around to scan the area, he jerked it to a stop as he spotted the young doctor from the hospital. He watched as she took a couple of steps up, and then stopped and turned around. The brunette from the diner came up and the two women embraced slightly. He pulled the zoom back; the better to see the full range of what was happening, taking pictures continually, grateful that he'd chosen 36 exposure rolls.

As he watched, he noticed that the man who had guarded Daisy while her husband was out of town was standing beside the waitress. He appeared slightly ill at ease, but there was no mistaking the warm looks he was giving the smaller woman. Oh this definitely intriguing. The doctor, the waitress and Daisy's brother-in-law all knew each other.

Pondering what this new information could mean for him, he observed as the trio disappeared into the church. A few other stragglers filtered in, but soon the doors were closed and he knew the service would be starting. Turning on his car and pulling out onto the street, he headed to the cemetery. It was time to get into position before the crowds arrived.

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