This story was begun after a request from Jules. Her premise, we had all these other women getting to interact with Maximus and getting drawn into the wacky hijinks of that storyline...what if Elizabeth had entered the fray? I tried to go for fluff like the storyline was in October 2008, but it didn't work that way.

So think back to October and some of Jason and Elizabeth's studio meetings and discussions. This sorta picks up from there, and hopefully doesn't deviate too much from them or twist the timeline too much. There will be no JakeNapping Part 2...but there will be plenty of angst and death and injuries.

If I haven't scared you away and you're still reading, sit back, enjoy (hopefully) and let it all unfold.

Part 1

She knew she shouldn't be doing this. It would only hurt her, and Jason, for her to show up at his office, but she walked towards the coffee shop anyways. She wasn't sure how to face him after what he'd revealed in her studio that day. After the choices he'd made, Jason didn't think he deserved to be happy. The weight of his guilt and oppressive choices had flowed off him that day and settled onto her shoulders, because she knew she bore his shame.

She had asked him to give up his son, had told him all she wanted was for Jake to be safe, and in that moment she had implied that their little boy would not be safe around him. Michael running away after shooting Kate, Michael ending up in a coma, Kate getting shot on her wedding day and never being able to walk again, those all confirmed her cruel and cutting words. People weren't safe around Jason, especially women and children. She wished she could go back and change things, but sadly she couldn't. She had to live with the reality of her choices, the heartbreak of her words, and wonder if there was a way she could ever change Jason's mind and soothe his wounds.

Her showing up here today wouldn't help matters, but she couldn't put her wounded pride above the safety of the town and Jason's organization. She hadn't been kidding when she said that Kate's ICU was like Mob Central and she heard things; today had been no different. She'd walked into Kate's room to check the fashion editor's charts and ended up a witness of a three way shouting match. Kate, her cousin Olivia and Sonny were all arguing around in circles and it didn't end when Elizabeth asked the other two to step out into the hallway so she could give Kate some time to calm down before checking the woman's blood pressure.

Once the exam was complete and the chart properly notated, she'd exited the room to find Olivia Falconari pacing around in agitation and Sonny no where to be seen. As she turned a corner to head back to the nurse's station, she found him. On the phone, yelling at someone she could only assume worked for Jason. Sonny said that he'd brought the man into the organization, he expected loyalty to him and not Jason, and if the man didn't do whatever Sonny was demanding, then he would find out what it felt like to stand in the hospital watching someone he loved undergo surgery and wondering if she'd ever walk again. Jason was wrong; Andre Karpov was behind Kate's shooting and Sonny wanted justice. The unknown man was going to help him get it by getting more men in Jason's organization on Sonny's side.

Elizabeth had hidden behind a supply cart and prayed that Sonny didn't see her as he returned to Kate's room. Luckily, the older man did not and Elizabeth's hands were shaking by the time she made it back to the hub. Thankfully, her shift ended soon after and she was able to leave without drawing suspicion to herself. She quickly changed and headed towards the docks, grateful that her grandmother had taken the boys from daycare when the older woman left for the day. She now didn't have to worry about them as she went to warn Jason of Sonny's threat.

As she stepped into the coffee shop, her breath caught in her throat when she saw Claudia Zacharra sitting at a table drinking an espresso. Despite the importance she felt in telling Jason what she'd overheard, she also wasn't foolish enough to just walk back to his office with the daughter of his rival sitting at a table. She made her way to the counter, ordered a cup of coffee, and then took a seat at a different table. Hopefully, the other woman would finish her drink soon and be on her way. Until then, Elizabeth would wait and bide her time. Maybe Jason would come out, chase the trash away and Elizabeth could indicate she needed to talk to him.

But Claudia finished her drink and made no move to leave. The only motion she made was to constantly look at the doorway that led back to Jason's office. And that made Elizabeth uneasy. Not that she thought Jason had any interest in the other woman, but because she worried that Claudia was sitting in Jason's building as a way to create an alibi for herself while her family made a move against him. Or she was here to try to broker some deal with Jason and Elizabeth would not get the chance to talk to him.

The door opened and Elizabeth looked up, dejection filling her when she saw Carly enter the shop. The blonde at least had the luxury of having an open relationship with Jason and Elizabeth had no doubt that she'd blow on back to Jason's office and he'd deal with her, run off to fix something for her, or she'd simply keep Jason occupied because she knew Elizabeth was sitting in the coffee shop.

Carly didn't spare her a glance, though. Her laser-like intensity focused in on Claudia Zacharra and she marched across the shop and stopped at the brunette's table. "What are you doing here?"

"Having a cup of coffee."

"This is Jason's place, your family is trying to turn Sonny against Jason, so you have no business being here."

"Actually," the mafia princess laughed, "I thought this was Max's place. And since I'm supposed to be his mistress, I have plenty of business being here."

"His mistress?" Carly asked indignantly and Elizabeth couldn't help but frown into her coffee. Max and his brother had left working for Jason to go to work for Sonny. That bothered her more than the claim that Claudia Zacharra was sleeping with Max or that Carly was upset because she was supposed to be Max's girlfriend while still in the process of getting a divorce from Jax. That didn't even take into account Diane's supposed relationship with Max.

"Well, since the girlfriend is here, be a good little mistress and run along home now," Carly commanded. "Wouldn't it just be awkward for Max to have both of sitting out here if he came out?"

"He wouldn't come out...that's what he has guards for. To fetch his coffee."

"You need to go," the blonde commanded and looked over at the barista. She must have given some signal, because the man lifted a phone and then Milo came out a few minutes later, and said that she needed to go. Then he took her arm and escorted her out of the building.

While he was doing that, Carly looked over at Elizabeth and lifted a brow in question. Elizabeth straightened her spine and stared right back. She wasn't doing anything wrong by having a cup of coffee here, and Carly had walked in on Jason and Elizabeth in his bedroom. Maybe her words of contrition had been an act or just an aberration, but she had seemed accepting and apologetic then. Elizabeth was tired of feeling run off from the father of her son's life, and especially with the information she needed to give Jason, she refused to back down.

"You shouldn't be here right now," Carly said softly as she walked by Elizabeth's table.

"I need to talk to Jason," she replied. "It's important."

"It's really not a good time," the blonde shook her head.

"I'm sorry if this interferes with something you need to talk to Jason about," she said without malice, "but I overhead Sonny talking at the hospital and Jason needs to know about it sooner rather than later."

"I'll have him call you," the older woman tried again, and she sounded so sincere that Elizabeth actually believed her. But she also felt that time was of the essence, and she was half afraid that Jason wouldn't call her if it was left to Carly passing along a message. That unless she stood right in front of him and wouldn't allow him to put her off, that she would never be able to tell him what he needed to know.

"Carly," she said softly, after making sure no one was close to them, "Sonny is threatening the men in Jason's organization. He threatened to put someone's wife, or maybe it was their child, into the hospital because the man refused to help Sonny get the organization back and take out Karpov. Jason needs to know, sooner rather than later, that his men are being threatened and blackmailed."

The blonde looked stunned and then looked over at the door. "Listen, there's something going on right now and you can't just walk into Jason's office right now and tell him this."

Tired of being put off, of being told what to do and not the reasons why, beginning to feel like this was just another Carly ploy to keep her out of Jason's life, she slid off the bar stool, straightened her top and said, "Watch me."

Then she pushed past Carly and went down the short hallway that led to Jason's office. Carly was fast on her heels, grabbing at her sweater, trying to stop her, but Elizabeth wouldn't be dissuaded. She shook off Carly's hand and knocked. And didn't stop knocking until the door was opened.

For once in her life she should have listened to Carly.

The blonde wasn't trying to keep her away from Jason just because she didn't want Elizabeth sniffing around, the older woman had tried to spare her this moment. The sight of Jason standing in a suit, playing guard to Max's mob boss, all for the benefit of a sexist, lecherous old man who also happened to have sired Max and Milo. Carly hadn't wanted her to walk into this mad house presided over by Maximus Giambetti, but Elizabeth had stubbornly refused to heed her.

Based on the stony, angry look on Jason's face, he was not thrilled with her presence. She would gladly leave his sight if only she could stop fending off the older man's questions and advances and just spit out why she was here. And then she would go and lick her wounds in private that Jason had made no sign of recognition, no move to stop Maximus, no effort to speak up; but first she was trying to get through this moment without completely ruining everything for Max and Jason.

He was going to owe Jason his soul.

Not only had Jason gone along with his ruse about running the mob, not doing anything when his father had slapped Jason on the back of the head, changing and apologizing to Max, in addition to fetching drinks, he was letting Max pretend to make decisions on business. While Jason tried to help, Max knew he was potentially messing things up. The situation in Port Charles was tense, tempers were simmering and one wrong move, one misplaced shipment, one small error could set off a powder keg.

But this...Jason was going to kill him for this. He'd cut off his jewels and feed them to him. He'd break his kneecaps. He'd...he might just stand up and blow the whole charade to pieces. Because Max's father, Maximus - Seven Times Divorced - Giambetti, was flirting with Elizabeth Webber. Max covered his eyes and tried to suppress a groan; because now the old man was grabbing her butt.

"I don't know how you do it, Max," his father chuckled. "All these beautiful women coming to your office. Your lawyer...she's a little spitfire, but then again, most redheads are. If that cute and very perky little blond with the techno geek was any older, I'd make a play for her myself. I'll have to keep her mind and look her up in a few years. Then there's Miss Zacharra and of course your little woman here. But this one..."

He grabbed Elizabeth's butt again and Jason growled low in his throat, his hands clenching into fists. Max was tempted to slide to the floor and hide under the desk.

"This is one naughty nurse who could give me a sponge bath any ol' time. In fact," he looked at Max and there was no mistaking the lascivious glint in his eye, "I may be coming down with something. Maybe you should have your little mob nurse take care of me. Make sure I don't get pneumonia or somethin'."

"Pops," Max pleaded with his father. "Miss Webber can't take time off from work to tend to you. She's got..."

Jason shook his head roughly behind the older man.

"She's got to keep up appearances. If she says she heard something at the hospital, then I...I need her there."

Jason still didn't look pleased with the answer, but apparently it was better than divulging about her sons. Plus, the sooner she told Jason whatever it was she heard, then she could leave, and Max would find some way to get his father out of the office and let Jason deal with the situation. It was the least he could do for the mob boss.

"Alright then, Sweet Cheeks," the elder Giambetti said as he once again pinched Elizabeth Webber's butt, "What is it you need to tell my son?"

Jason's eye was ticking wildly and Carly must have noticed it because she stepped closer to him and placed her hand lightly on his arm. Max could read the message clear on the mob boss' face. Those three days ended tomorrow and if Maximus was not on a plane home, then the ruse was over. And if his father did not keep his hands off Elizabeth Webber, Jason was liable to snap and do something drastic. Like break the Sicilian's hands.

"I overheard Sonny on the phone when I was leaving Kate's hospital room today," Elizabeth began her explanation looking uneasily around the room. "He was threatening someone in...your organization. I didn't hear his name, but he said that unless this guy did what Sonny wanted, then he was going to know how it felt to sit in the hospital and worry about whether someone he loved would ever walk again. He...he wants this man to get others to help him and, and then help him take down Karpov."

Max immediately looked at Jason, shock and disbelief clear on his face. While he would always feel he owed Sonny his loyalty because of being the first one to give Max his start, he knew that this went beyond any code of loyalty. This was why Jason had refused to go after Karpov or give Sonny back the business. Sonny was rapidly spiraling out of control. He was threatening to put someone's wife or child into the hospital all in a selfish bid to get what he wanted.

"Did he give any indication what rank this guy was?" Jason asked, disregarding pretenses.

"Sonny said...," she paused and furrowed her brow as she recalled the conversation. "He said something about getting the other lieutenants on his side or the guy would be sorry."

"He's going after the lieutenants again," Jason growled at Max. Frustration and impatience was clear on the mob boss' face. "I need to stop him."

"You?" Max's father asked, turning to look at Jason with an all too familiar displeasure. "Why would you be dealing with my son's men? This is time for Max to step up and send a message."

"And I will, Dad," Max quickly tried to assure him. "But Jason is one of my most trusted men and this is something I need to talk to him about. Maybe..."

He looked around wildly, catching Carly's eye and pleading with her to step up and help out. Apparently she thought she was helping by keeping a hand on Jason's arm to prevent him from going after Max's father.

"I'll go," Elizabeth fairly burst out. "I just...I wanted you to know because you, M-Max...because...because you've been good to me."

Then she turned and was almost to the door when his father stood and said, "I'll walk you out, Miss Webber."

When he went to grab her butt once more, and Max felt like a heel for following the action with his eyes and suddenly realizing that Miss Webber filled out her jeans very well and like his father he could appreciate a nice, rounded backside, Jason grabbed the elder Giambetti's hand and twisted it back. Carly gasped, Milo covered his eyes and Max was glad he hadn't had anything to drink in the last several hours.

"I mean no disrespect," Jason growled low in his throat, his eyes harsh and threatening, "but that's no way to treat a lady."

"And who are you to tell me how to act?" Max's father demanded angrily, but was unable to break Jason's hold on his hand.

"Someone who knows the lady and knows that she was...she was assaulted once. So stop grabbing her butt," he commanded.

Miss Webber had been standing with her hand on the doorknob, and when Jason was done threatening Max's father and the older man stammered out an apology, she straightened her back and walked out of the office without a backwards glance. Max looked in horror at the door, wondering who could have ever hurt someone as sweet and kind as Miss Webber? Looking around the office he saw that his father looked slightly chagrinned, Milo looked like he'd like to flee in terror, Carly looked shocked and Jason was breathing so hard Max feared he'd strangle himself on his tie.

"Dad," he said softly, hoping that this wouldn't turn into another battle. "I need to talk to Jason. Why don't you and Milo walk Carly to her car?"

The three of them left the office and Max turned to look at Jason regretfully. "Jason, I...I am so sorry. I know that Miss Webber is-"

"This needs to end now!" Jason thundered, his arms jerking with anger as he struggled out of his coat. "If Sonny's threatening my men I can't afford anymore time playing games to fool your father."

"You're right," Max said, knowing it was time to confess the truth and face his father's disappointment and wrath. "Are you...are you going to talk to Miss Webber?"

"I have to stop Sonny," was all Jason answered, stripping off his tie and pushing Max out from behind the desk. The guard went willingly, and made sure to close the office door behind him.

"Mr. Morgan."

Jason looked up in irritation at Maximus Giambetti as the older mobster stepped into his office. It had been three days since he'd shoved Max out of his office, three days of calling his men, doing all he could to ensure their safety, and leveling a lethal warning against Sonny and waiting for the fallout. With each day that passed, Jason grew more on edge, more fearful of what Sonny would try next. Would he really throw his lot in with Anthony Zacharra, and what might he say to the crazy old man in retaliation?

"Do you have a moment?" Maximus asked, walking towards the desk. "I'll be brief."

"Have a seat," Jason offered. "What can I do for you?"

"Nothing," the older man shook his head. "I just wanted to say that you're a good man, Mr. Morgan. I realize that it wasn't easy for you going along with what my boy was pretending, and I didn't give you an easy time about things, but you took it because you were trying to help a friend. I've had a talk to my son about loyalty and principles; and how Sonny Corinthos has neither. I know you said you wanted Max and Milo to work for Sonny to keep an eye on him, but Max didn't show you the proper respect in that situation."

"It's okay," Jason waved away the apology.

"No," the Sicilian shook his head. "It's not. Sonny Corinthos has no honor, and my son should have known better than to follow him."

"What's done is done," he refuted. He just wanted this conversation over with; he had too much on his mind to deal with it.

"Unfortunately," Maximus sighed heavily. "It's not. I know that Sonny blames Andre Karpov for his fiancée's shooting and that you weren't sure, which was why you refused to go to war. Corinthos does not think, he lets himself be ruled by his emotions. Right now he is an angry man, and that makes him a dangerous man. Dangerous to you, and to your family."

The heavy warning chilled Jason's blood.

"When Max explained to me that he was not the head of the organization and that I had offended you by insulting Miss Webber, I did a little digging."

Jason clenched his hands into fists and his jaw clicked shut.

"I am very sorry for what happened to Miss Webber; no woman should have to endure that, especially one so young. However," he said, his head lolling to the side, "I also discovered her attachment to you. How it came out in open court that she slept with you."

Jason narrowed his eyes slightly. Maximus Giambetti or not, Jason was hanging on to the last thread of his patience, especially if this man was going to talk to him about Elizabeth.

"What I don't understand," the older man continued, "is how anyone in this town can look at her youngest son and not see that he is the mirror image of you. The fact that they believed her when she lied and claimed Jacob Martin Spencer is not your son astounds me. But the town will know soon."

"I don't care who you are," Jason growled low in his throat standing up to tower over the desk. "If you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone, your sons won't have to worry about going to visit you ever again."

"It's not me," Giambetti shook his head. "Although, I must say I am extremely disappointed you in you, Mr. Morgan. Not claiming your son, not protecting your family; a man is not a man who turns his back on his family. No matter your reasons, you are nothing more than a coward."

"It's none of your business."

"It's about to become Anthony Zacharra's business."

"What?" he demanded, panic flowing into him.

"I happened to see Miss Webber and her sons leaving the hospital today," the other man explained. "And I saw Sonny Corinthos watching her. You went after him and didn't even protect the source of your information. He may be reckless and stupid, but he was able to put together the fact that she had been checking on his fiancée's vitals when he placed his phone call. He looked at her with pure hatred and malice and then called Anthony Zacharra to say that he would marry Claudia, and that he knew where to strike you first to make it easier to go after Karpov."

Jason felt like he couldn't breathe as a flood of emotions hit him. Panic, anger, self-recrimination; they all vied for prominence.

"I've sent Max and Milo to watch Miss Webber until you contact them. I told them it was the least they could do after all you did for Max, and I told them that no matter who came after them, their first priority was to protect her. Even if it meant going against Sonny Corinthos."

"Thank you," he said, swallowing thickly.

"Protect your family, Mr. Morgan," Giambetti ordered him. "You are not Sonny Corinthos and you would not make foolish decisions like he did. There are no guarantees in life, but having your family closer protects them more than leaving them alone where anyone could come after them."

Jason wasn't in the mood for lectures, and he didn't have time to reflect on things he could have done differently. He needed to get to Elizabeth's house and get her and the boys to safety. Because he had no doubt that Sonny would reveal Jake as his son, all in an effort to get his desired revenge against Karpov.

When Elizabeth opened the door she was surprised to see Jason standing on her porch. He looked agitated and she wondered what had caused him to come to her house in the middle of the day and hoped he wasn't here to lecture her on her visit to his office. She noticed Max was standing at the base of the stairs, a silent, stiff sentry and she knew beyond a doubt that he was guarding her house.

"Jason?" she questioned, not sure of her earlier supposition for his visit. "What's going on?"

"You need to get yours and the boys' things together. You can't stay here."

She blinked at him. "What do you mean? What's wrong?"

"Sonny figured out you were the one who told me about his conversation with my lieutenant, and he's going to work with the Zacharras to bring down Karpov," he explained anxiously. "Max's father overheard him on the phone, telling Anthony Zacharra he knew about my weakness and how to distract me so they could move without me stopping them. He's going to tell the Zacharras about Jake."

She gasped, bringing her hand up to her mouth. "What? Why...why would he do that to you, Jason?"

"He's not thinking clearly," he shook his head. "So you can't stay here, Elizabeth. You and the boys aren't safe here. I need to get you someplace where I can protect you and I can't do that here."

"Okay," she immediately agreed, nodding her head shakily. "I'll get us ready to go."

"I'm going to talk to Max. Milo's in back. Please, hurry, Elizabeth."

"I will," she promised him and stepped back to close the door. Instead, her heart stopped when she saw Sonny walking towards her house. Jason was facing the wrong way and Elizabeth couldn't let him get hurt. He had to stay alive to keep things safe for the town.

"Jason, move!" she shouted and shoved him backwards.

Max drew his gun; Sonny already had his out. Shots were fired, wood splintered, and Elizabeth fell backwards down the steps into her home as fire burned a hole into her shoulder. Jake and Cameron began crying upstairs and their sounds only got louder when the shooting stopped outside the house. Footsteps pounded over the wood planks and then on the stairs leading to the family room.


Jason hovered over her, his face drawn.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

He frowned at her and then shook his head, "No."

She closed her eyes with relief, but then they flew open when he pressed on her shoulder. Concern and fear clouded his eyes. "You were shot," he said.

"Sonny?" she asked.

"He's dead," Jason answered unapologetically. "Don't worry; an ambulance is on its way."

"I'm sorry. I...I know you don't want me involved in things, but when I heard Sonny...I just...I didn't want you to get hurt because you didn't know what he was trying." Elizabeth licked her lips. "I didn't want you to get hurt because I didn't say anything."

"That's not important now," he shook his head. "I should have had someone watching you in case Sonny figured out how I knew."

"Don't blame yourself," she told him. "You were busy. You were taking care of your men. You were doing what you needed to."

He closed his eyes, "I should have been taking care of you."

"We're fine," she tried to assure him. "Lucky or my gram will get the boys, I'll be fine. I suppose it's too late for you to leave before the police get here."

"I'm not leaving you, Elizabeth," he countered forcefully.

"But you need to," she told him. "Maybe Sonny didn't actually tell the Zacharras about Jake. We can still keep that hidden and you won't have to fear for him. You'll stay away, take care of the Zacharras...people will never know. You don't have to worry."

Jason looked towards the stairs to the second floor, drawn by the sound of the boys still crying. She put her hand on his, "Go calm them down, please. Tell them it's okay. Tell them Gram or Lucky will get them and I'll be okay."

"The Zacharras might already know," he shook his head.

"We don't know that."

"Actually," Milo spoke hesitantly from behind Jason. "There were men approaching the back of the house. They worked for Anthony Zacharra."

"He knows," Jason breathed out.

Tears filled Elizabeth's eyes and she said, "I'm sorry, Jason. I know you were trying to keep Jake safe. I should have called you, or not come. I just...I wasn't sure you'd take my call and I just...I couldn't let you get hurt when I had knowledge that could prevent that. I should have thought of the boys and that Sonny might realize I heard him. I'm sorry. This is my fault; I should have just stayed away like you wanted me to."

"It's not your fault, Elizabeth," he shook his head, his voice tortured.

"Yes, it is," she insisted.

"Mr. Morgan." A heavy hand settled on Jason's shoulder and Maximus Giambetti stood in her house. "Why don't you go upstairs and calm your sons down? We'll stay with Miss Webber."

She nodded, encouraging him to go to her boys. "It's okay. Tell them it's okay."

"I'm going to pack their stuff, Max and Milo will take them to my penthouse." He brushed his hand over her head, moving her hair away from her face and said, "It's not your fault, Elizabeth."

When he left, she closed her eyes, gritting her teeth against the pain. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes but she wouldn't sob. She had to be strong to keep Jason from feeling more guilt than he already had.

"You're a strong woman, Miss Webber," Maximus said softly beside her.

"You'll find out just how strong that is if you try to grope me again," she laughed, and then stopped when her arm exploded in pain.

"You love him a great deal," the older man continued.

"I do," she acknowledged. "It just...I will always love him. And that...that will be enough."

"That's bull," he countered strongly. "You want a family with him, and you're not wrong to want that."

Elizabeth shook her head. "It will never happen. Jason doesn't want me to get hurt, and now look at me. He'll take this as proof that he's right to stay away, that he doesn't deserve to be happy, and I doubt I'll ever convince him otherwise."

Sirens sounded in the distance and Elizabeth knew the chaos that would explode in her house in mere minutes. Lucky and the rest of the PCPD would blame Jason, he would silently agree with them, everyone would tell her that Jason was too dangerous to be around her, and Jason would once again push her away.

"Don't you worry, Miss Webber," Maximus said softly, gently resting his hand on her good shoulder. "I've been in this business longer than Mr. Morgan has and I know a trick or two. He won't push you away again. In two months, tops, he'll be putting a ring on your finger and taking you and those lovely boys upstairs home to be with him. You mark my words."

Closing her eyes, she let a soft chuckle escape her. "Okay, Mr. Giambetti. Whatever you say."

She figured it was best to humor the old man, because he couldn't really mean to stick around and see it through and there was no point to continue to argue with him. Elizabeth knew, though, that it was nothing more than a fantasy. A beautiful fantasy, but still a fantasy nonetheless.

Part 2

Elizabeth did not like to be a patient. Just because she'd gone to work in the hospital did not mean she wanted to be admitted there. She felt she'd had enough time spent here; she didn't need to be trapped here, unable to leave. She'd had injuries before, and she'd even been shot before, but being grazed by a bullet was much different than being shot in the shoulder. It also meant she couldn't just walk out of the ER with some gauze around her arm.

She really didn't remember much of what happened at her house after the cops showed up. Somewhere in all the confusion, or maybe it was before, Maximus Giambetti disappeared, and his sons were left to take care of her while Jason tried to calm Cameron and Jake down. The responding officer realized the house belonged to Detective Spencer's ex-wife and called Lucky, especially when he saw a dead mobster on the front lawn and found three more inside. She dimly remembered Lucky showing up, but by then she was weak from blood loss, suffering from shock and her memories of that time were definitely hazy.

She'd had surgery, was on antibiotics and painkillers and there was no way she was going to be released any time soon. Which did not make her happy. She was ready to be done with this place, ready to be done with her co-workers stopping by to check on her, or look at her with lectures in their eyes, and ready to be done with the rest of the town who thought dropping by an injured woman's room was a socially acceptable thing to do. The one person who wasn't there was Jason, but that was because he was taking care of things. That was according to Max; according to Lucky, he was too busy endangering Jake's life by taking him and Cameron to the penthouse.

The whole town now knew that Jason was Jake's father. The Zacharras hadn't kept that little tidbit of information quiet, but Elizabeth had thankfully been spared a visit from Claudia Zacharra by Max keeping her away. Epiphany had rounded the corner about the time that Max was telling her that just because she'd gotten off on playing along with his charade did not mean he owed her. Not when her family was responsible for Elizabeth lying in a hospital bed. The older nurse had threatened to call hospital security or the police, and the other woman had scurried off. Somehow, Elizabeth knew that wasn't going to be the end of her.

It had almost been twenty-four hours since Sonny had shot her, and she just wanted to go home. She wanted to be done with police questionings, she wanted to be done with her gram lecturing her, she wanted to be done with Lucky's anger, Sam's attacks, the doctors' questions, her fellow nurses' odd looks, Nikolas' silent treatment and everyone else's interference. Max and Milo did their best to shield her, but sometimes she felt it was just better to let the person in and get the confrontation over with instead of listening to them huff and puff out in the hall. However, Max and Milo were now under instructions from her that unless it was medical personnel related directly to her case, she didn't want to see anyone.

When she opened her eyes and shifted to a more comfortable position, she realized she hadn't thought to add Jason to that list as well. Mostly because there was a part of her that doubted he'd come see her. Especially in the middle of the day. He didn't visit her except in the middle of the night when she'd cut her leg crawling in through the window to save Jake, why should this time really be any different?

"Jason?" she questioned.

He immediately leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "How are you?" he asked. "Are you in pain?"

"A little," she admitted, "but I can manage. What are you doing here?"

He frowned, "I came to see you. I was worried about you."

"I'm sure Max or Milo could have given you an update," she told him. "I know you have to be busy right now. The cops are after you; when Diane showed up earlier because they were questioning me, she mentioned you'd been down at the station. Then there are the Zacharras and the other people in the business; Sonny's death had to make things unstable. I know you need to take care of that."

"You were shot, Elizabeth," he said with a shake of his head. "Of course I'm going to check on you myself."

"I'll be fine," she assured him. "They'll keep me for another day or two. The doctor's talking about keeping me a week, but I think he's just being overly cautious."

"You'll be here as long as the doctor thinks you should be," he declared. "And then when you're released, you'll come home to the penthouse with me."

"There's no need for that," Elizabeth shook her head. "The boys and I will be fine."

Jason sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. He was silent for a long time and Elizabeth was almost drifting back to sleep when he spoke again. "I've played that moment over and over in my mind, Elizabeth. You pushed me. You pushed me out of the way when you saw Sonny was going to fire. Why would you do that?"

"You needed to be safe," she answered.

When she didn't elaborate he frowned slightly, "You were protecting me?"

"If Sonny hurt you, there would have been so many problems. He was going after the people in your organization, he had the Zacharras on his side, I don't know if you have a second to take over like you'd done before for Sonny, and I couldn't let chaos descend because something happened to you. For the good of the town, for the people in your organization who depend on you…you had to be okay and unharmed."

He stared at her, a maelstrom of emotions crossing his face. "You should have protected yourself."

"You're more important."

"What?" he blurted out in shock. ", I'm not. E-Elizabeth, I'm not."

"You are," she countered. "And not just to me; you're important to a lot of people."

"And you're important to Cameron and Jake," he said, anguish filling his voice. "Those are the two most important people."

"My gram or Lucky would have taken care of them," she shook her head. "Or you would have set something up if you felt it was necessary. They would have been taken care of."

"But they wouldn't have had you," Jason insisted. "Your boys need you."

"And the town needs you, even if they would never admit it. The people who work for you need you. Your family can't afford to lose another person, especially so close to the anniversary of Emily's death. Carly and her boys..." she coughed, her throat scratchy from the dry, hospital air. "You're too important."

"And you think you're not," he said slowly, almost as if testing the words and seeing if they were right.

"I know my place," Elizabeth told him.

"Your...your place?" he questioned in disbelief and then leaned back and scrubbed his hand over his face.

She shifted, unable to hide the grimace. She could tell it was getting close to the time for her next pain pill. Jason leaned forward anxiously, his hands reaching towards her but dropping into his lap before he made contact. He stared at her, shock and disbelief warring on his face.

"You're important, Elizabeth," he insisted to her. "Do you hear me? You are the most important person. When I saw you lying on the ground, your blood flowing on my killed me."

"It wasn't your fault," she told him. "I knew I was taking a risk coming to talk to you, but I did it anyways. I knew you needed that information."

"You said you weren't sure I'd take your phone call."

She looked away. "Yeah. I mean, you laid some heavy things at my feet that day in my studio and I thought you'd try to avoid me if I called and said we needed to meet. I just…all I could think about was Sonny threatening someone, threatening their wife or their child and I knew...I knew you had to find out as soon as I could tell you. I wasn't going to give you the chance to put me off."

"I...I wouldn't do that to you."

She licked her lips. "I wasn't going to mention the studio or us; I was just going to give you the information and go. I couldn't take another rejection, and I was done begging you. I-I am done. if Max's father says anything...I want you to just ignore him."

"What?" he asked with a shake of his head. "What would Maximus say?"

"He has this notion that he can get you to marry me in two months," she laughed and then grimaced again as pain lanced through her arm. Where was the nurse? Max had better not be keeping her away because Jason was in here. "And I don't want you to listen to him."

"You don't?" he questioned in a stunned whisper.

The door opened and Elizabeth leaned her head back against the pillow and closed her eyes with relief. "Leyla, I'm so glad you're here."

"Are you in pain?" the Iranian nurse asked, her tone completely professional and concerned. She ignored the presence of Jason and focused solely on Elizabeth. "How bad is it?"

"It hurts," she admitted.

"Do you want me to call the doctor?" her colleague asked.

"No," Elizabeth shook her head. "I want the pain pill. And then I want to sleep and I would be really grateful if you got me the grilled chicken salad with black beans from Kelly's."

"I'll see what I can do," Leyla said with a slight laugh. "Let's get your meds."

Jason stood and backed out of the room and Elizabeth forced herself not to look at him as he went. He'd realize that she was right, that he shouldn't listen to Maximus, and he'd stay away because he would blame himself for her injuries and it was just better if she didn't watch him go. He'd get updates from her guards, and maybe stop in while she was asleep, but she knew Jason. He wouldn't be back.

She woke to soft voices. One was low and definitely male and she kept her eyes closed and tried to remain still. She had no desire for another talk with Lucky. He was her ex-husband and, yes, he had been Cameron and Jake's father, but she was not up for another round of him telling her how wrong she was to let Jason have the boys. It was not a conversation she wanted to have on a good day, let alone hours after she'd woken up from surgery and was still groggy. When Max had finally escorted Lucky out of the room the first time, she knew her ex would be back. Apparently he'd pushed his way into the room.

Yet, as she became more awake and her brain began filtering the words correctly, she realized that the voice she was hearing wasn't Lucky. It wasn't a doctor. It was Jason.

She lazily blinked and saw him standing in the farthest corner of the room, speaking with the Cody, his newest hire. They were speaking intently, the ex-soldier nodding his head as Jason whispered off instructions. Letting out a breath, Jason nodded and then reached out his hand, shaking the taller man's and said, "Thank you, Cody."

"I'll get right on it, Jason," the man promised. "I'll check in with you later tonight."

Jason shook his head, "Tomorrow morning is fine."

"What about the Zacharras?" the younger man began.

"The Zacharras are handled for tonight," her son's father said with lethal finality. "We'll deal with everything else tomorrow before the meeting."

"Okay," Cody conceded. Then he turned and walked across the room, slipping quietly out the door.

"Why are you here?" she asked once they were alone.

Jason jerked his head up, staring at her, then let out a troubled sigh and crossed the room, claiming the chair by her bed. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs, "I told you, Elizabeth, you're the most important person right now."

"Not if the Zacharras are causing problems," she shook her head, and winced at the pain the movement brought. Jason leaned forward anxiously but she continued on with an impatient sigh, "Jason, we talked about this. You have more important things to deal with right now. Even Cody thinks so. Sonny's dead, the Zacharras know the truth about Jake...the whole town knows the truth by now, which means your associates and enemies know the truth. There are so many things that you need to take care of. Why are you sitting in my hospital room?"

"Why are you trying to get rid of me?" he asked, letting a little of his own frustration seep into his voice before she saw him visibly pull it back. "I told you, Elizabeth; you are the most important thing to me. I'm not leaving you."

"That's stupid," she scoffed and his eyes widened.


"I told you to do what you need to do, I told you that you are more important, and I know, even without knowing the details, that there are so many things you need to be doing right now." She sank deeper into her pillow, sighing wearily. "Jason, just go. Don't make this harder than it needs to be."

"Don't make what harder?" he asked.

"We know how this is going to end," she told him, not looking at him. "Right now, your guilt is overriding everything. You think you're responsible for me getting shot and so you're sitting by my bed, making sure I'm alright and I'm telling you that I am. I'm in a hospital; I have doctors and nurses just a press of a button away twenty-four hours a day. This isn't like when I patched you up and you didn't have proper care or blood transfusions...there is no reason for you to sit by my bed and watch me."

"Except for the fact that I love you."

She closed her eyes, trying to block the pain of those words because she knew he meant them, that he'd mean them for a long time, but despite all that, they still wouldn't be together. She almost wished that he'd stop saying them, that she hadn't pushed him so hard so many times, begging him to tell her that he loved her. She once hoped that by forcing him to say them he'd choose to be with her; now she knew better. She knew he loved her because she'd given him a child, because they'd been friends for years, and maybe, just maybe, he really thought he loved her as a man should love a woman. But she didn't want to actually hear the words anymore. Because when he inevitably pushed her away, when he walked out the door with every intention of staying away until one of them caved and gave in for a few brief moments, it would break her heart even more knowing that he was denying them the ability to be together while still proclaiming to love her.

"Well love isn't enough," she whispered, her throat raw and her eyes burning. "Once you see that I'm not going to die, that I am actually going to make a full recovery, you'll start remembering my blood on your hands, the sound of Cameron and Jake crying upstairs and you'll see it as just another reason why you have to stay away. It's just one more bit of proof as to why we can't be together, why I'm not safe around you, why nobody is safe around you and can't be in your world and you'll pull away. You'll tell me that we can't see each other."

She licked her lips, swallowed thickly and then opened her eyes to meet Jason's stormy and pained gaze. "And that's why I want you to go. Let's not drag this out. I told you, I'm done begging for us to be together. I don't like the person I allowed myself to become and I won't do that anymore. So why pretend that things are alright between us, why sit around acting like we don't know exactly what's going to happen and why just drag this out and make it hurt even worse when that day comes - because we know it will - and we say good bye once again? Let's just end this."

Holding his gaze she told him, "You make whatever changes to my house that you need to make. Install whatever safety features you feel are necessary and will keep Jake and Cam and me safe. You can assign guards, you can install surveillance; do that and then let my grandmother know when she can pick up the boys from your house and take them home. I'm sure that she'll watch them until I get out of the hospital."

"I-I told you," he whispered. "I want you to come to the penthouse."

"I can recuperate just fine at my house and the boys need to see that I'm okay and that things are going to get back to normal."

"Elizabeth," he protested.

She lashed out in frustration, kicking her foot angrily against the bed and swearing at both him and the pain that shot through her shoulder from the sudden jarring movement of her body. "Why do you pick now to be stubborn, Jason? Why? Why is that we can never be on the same page at the same time? I'm telling you good bye, Jason. There are no more see you laters or until the next times. This is it! I understand. I know how this is going to go, I don't want to go through the pain again and again and again. So please..."

She brought her hand up to cover her eyes as tears began to fall, "Please, Jason," she whispered brokenly. "Please just accept this. I get it, I agree, I finally realize that you were right all along. There is no us. There will never be an us. Just go."

The scrape of the chair and the creak of the vinyl told her he stood, but she wouldn't look at him. Despite telling him to go, despite knowing that he needed to go, she still couldn't bring herself to actually watch him leave. She couldn't have that be the last memory of their last conversation.

"If you blame me for you getting shot," he said roughly, "then just tell me. If you don't want to be with me because you're afraid of it happening again to you or to one of the boys, then just admit that."

She dropped her hand and stared up at him, "You think I'm making excuses?"

He was silent and she felt herself getting angry, "Excuses are your department, Jason. I was honest every time I told you that I knew who you were, that you were dangerous and that I accept that because I wanted you with me, I wanted to have a life with you. I don't blame you for getting shot, I blame myself."

He blinked at her words, swaying slightly backwards.

"I blame myself for getting shot," she repeated. "I was the one who chose to associate with you; I was the one who wanted to make my life with you. I walked into everything with my eyes wide open, I'm an adult, and I am responsible for what happens in my life. There is no one here to blame for what happened except for me for choosing to be around you and Sonny for choosing to come after me. You were trying to get me and the boys to safety, you were trying to take care of us; you are not to blame for what happened. I know exactly where that responsibility rests and it's not with you."

His arms hung at his side, his shoulders slumped like a defeated boxer.

"I was the one who pushed for a relationship with you, Jason, and I take responsibility for everything that happened in my life because of it. And I'm now telling you that I'm done. I realize that I was deluding myself. I was hoping for something that was never honestly going to happen and I'm not going to put myself through the emotional rollercoaster again. I can't allow myself to climb to the top again when I know that I will always plummet to the bottom. I'm at the bottom, I'm getting off the ride, I'm done. So please," she begged him one last time, "please let go and say good bye."

If it wasn't for the fact that he knew he needed to have a clear head, Jason would have gotten blazing drunk. Numbing the pain tearing through him sounded like pure bliss. The hangover he'd have tomorrow would be fitting punishment. And he desperately wanted to punish himself. So much so that he was flexing his fingers with the subconscious desire to go to Jake's and start an all-out fight.

However, he was no longer the out-of-control angry man he'd been back in his bar fight days. He was now the head of the mob. He couldn't give the cops an excuse to come after him and lock him and try to dismantle his organization. The Feds got Capone on tax evasion; Jason knew that he couldn't get so much as a parking ticket. He had to stay out of jail, not to run the city but to find some way to fix things with Elizabeth.

While he couldn't close his eyes and see her devastated and broken visage, he could remember the sound of her voice. He could remember the words she'd said. She was angry, she was hurt, and it killed him. Killed him to know that he was responsible for that.

He propped his elbows onto his desk and dropped his head into his hands. A headache was forming, stabbing at his temples and resting behind his eyes. He embraced the pain because he knew it was just a fraction of what he deserved.

A knock on the door had him sighing wearily. What now? What was going wrong? Who needed him? He lifted his head and called out, "Yeah?"

The door opened slowly and Max stepped into the room. "Hey, Boss. I...I called Milo and he's guarding Miss Webber's door."

Jason merely stared at him, wondering what the man was doing at his office.

Max visibly swallowed and fidgeted on his feet, tugging at his jacket. "Look, Jason. I don't...I don't mean to pry and get involved in your personal life, but I... I couldn't help overhearing part of your conversation with Miss Webber today. I...I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Max," he shook his head. "I know you weren't meaning to eavesdrop."

"No," he shook his head. "I...I mean I wasn't. But I meant I'm sorry about Miss Webber and what she said to you. I...I know how much you care about her."

"Yeah," Jason said looking away.

He cared about her. He cared about her so much he made her feel like she didn't matter. He made her think so poorly about herself she actually told him she knew her place. By the tone of her voice and the way she said it, it wasn't a very high place. It wasn't an important place. She honestly believed that if she died it wouldn't really matter. Lucky Spencer or Audrey Hardy would raise Cameron and Jake and the world would still keep turning. On the other hand, she felt that he was so important that she had to protect him. That she had to shove him out of the way of a bullet so that he wasn't hurt so that he could take care of the town, Carly and her boys, the men in the business and everything else. She hadn't included herself or her children in his list of priorities.

And why should she?

Despite him telling her that she was the most important thing in his life and that was why he couldn't be with her, all he'd left her with was the feeling that she didn't matter. Because he still was around Carly, he was around Maxie and Spinelli and Lulu and so many other people. He was still allowing other people into his life, but he wouldn't let her in. He kept her on the fringes, didn't ask about Jake or Cameron, met her when she called and yet always walked away from her leaving her trying to be brave and content with what little time he'd given her but he always knew she wasn't happy. He chased after Carly when she walked in on him and Elizabeth in his bedroom. Even though Elizabeth had told him to go, he knew he had wounded her pride and dignity. But he'd allowed her to walk out his door instead of shoving Carly and Spinelli out and taking the woman he loved back upstairs.

And he was always pulling the rug out from under her. She finally accepted his proposal because this time it came from a place of love instead of obligation, and he ended it the next day. He planned a trip to Italy for them, and left her sitting at the airport. She let the plane leave without her, worried out of her mind for him, only to find out that he'd just been too busy with everyone else to call her. While he couldn't have immediately called her, did he have to wait until he was already at the hospital before he dialed her number?

"Jason?" He turned his gaze back towards Max and quirked his brow. The guard shifted on his feet and finally said, "Look, feel free to tell me I'm out of line. Mr. C. never liked us interfering in his personal life. But...but are you okay?"

The other man nervously cleared his throat, "I know that things haven't been easy with you and Miss Webber, but Jake's your son, and...and that's gotta count for something, right?"

It should count for something, but after so many opportunities to claim his son, to be with Jake and Elizabeth and not grabbing those chances, he knew that it wouldn't matter as much to Elizabeth now. She'd never deny that he was Jake's father, and if he said that he wanted to be a part of his son's life now, he didn't think that she would keep him away. But being Jake's father no longer meant that he had a connection to Elizabeth. She wouldn't be with him now just because he said he wanted to step up and do what he should have done so long ago, claim his family. She would only believe that he was doing this because his hand had been forced. Sonny and the Zacharras had divulged the secret about Jake, and there was no denying it anymore.

There were so many times he could have stepped up and said he wanted to be with Elizabeth and her boys, but he never did. He could have said he didn't want to give up his child and let Lucky raise it, but he hadn't. Elizabeth had asked him so many times if he was changing his mind, if he wanted to admit that Jake was his son, and he'd seen her hope, her desire to be with him but also her wish for him to stop leaving all the decisions up to her, but each time he'd backed out. He tried to act that he was being noble, saying that she had the most to risk, but he'd been terrified of something happening to his son and knowing that he was to blame for it.

Something had almost happened to his son, Elizabeth had been shot, and while she was trying to tell him that she was responsible for it, Jason knew that wasn't the truth. He knew that he was responsible for her shooting. Because he could have placed guards on her. He could have and should have protected Elizabeth while going after Sonny. He'd left her open and vulnerable, knowing that Sonny knew the truth about Jake, but foolishly believing that his former mentor would never cross the line and endanger the little boy. Even after hearing that he'd threatened another man's wife or child, threatening to put another person through what Sonny had gone through with Michael, Jason thought that Jake would be safe because nobody knew that he was Jason's child.

Maximus was right; he should have stepped up and taken responsibility for his child and the woman he loved. Not that he viewed Elizabeth as just a responsibility. She was a treasure in his life; one he thought he'd never deserved, believing himself not worthy of her purity and love. In his quest not to taint her and crush her, he'd broken her anyways. He'd crushed her with his rejection, with constantly walking away from her when she'd been in tears begging to be with him. He always believed that he knew better than her, that she didn't truly understand, especially after becoming a mother. He'd dismissed her arguments, her own words and placed more value on his.

How could he call himself a man when he'd ignored his family? How could he demand respect and that people do the right thing when he refused to give respect to the most important people in the world and wasn't doing the right thing by them? What would the men in his organization, or those in other organizations think now about Jake? Would they wonder if Elizabeth had lied to him and blame her, or would they blame him for not stepping up to claim his child? Would his reasons even matter to them, or would they think he was a coward like Maximus?

He wanted to be with Elizabeth. He'd always wanted to be with her; to raise their family together and not leave her struggling and alone. He just never thought he had anything to offer her except danger, violence and the very real possibility of one of their children getting shot and ending up like Michael. He could never understand how someone like her could still fight for someone like him after everything that happened. He just wasn't willing to take that chance and so he'd believed that Elizabeth just didn't understand the danger, that she was creating a fairytale in her mind. It was his constant rejection of her that now had her convinced that she had.

When Maximus had told him that Sonny was going to tell the Zacharras about Jake, his blood had absolutely run cold. Elizabeth had told him that he wasn't like Sonny, that she had absolute faith and certainty that he would never send the guards away and not have a proper sweep of the place done. Sonny hadn't had guards at his wedding, once again allowing someone the ability to slip in and fire off a shot. Jason had thought the older man was stupid every time he sent the guards away, and yet he had, in essence, done the same thing. He'd never assigned guards to Elizabeth or the boys because he didn't want someone to spot them and wonder why the men were there. But it had been foolishness on his part to think that no one would figure out he was still deeply connected to Elizabeth and believe that they might not use her or her children as a means to get to him. After all, it was a matter of public record that they'd slept together, that they'd been friends for years; they were supposed to believe that someone would never think to use her against him?

When she'd pushed him out of the way of Sonny's bullet his heart had stopped. To realize that she loved him so much that she was willing to protect him. It humbled him and awed him; even before he realized that she'd done it because she thought that he was more important than her. That was when a piece of him died. She was the most important thing in his life; he loved her so much he would gladly lay down his life to protect hers, and yet she had stepped in to try to do the same. He was supposed to protect her, and yet he hadn't done that. Not physically, and certainly not emotionally. She gave him her heart, and yet he'd broken it.

She gave him a son, she gave him her love, she gave him her trust, she told him the night Jake was conceived that he was the safest man emotionally for her, and he'd destroyed it all. He thought he could never have it, that he never deserved it and he could be content with the few times he was with Elizabeth, but he never realized how unfair he was being to both of them. Elizabeth had tried to be content with the life he'd imposed on them and maybe once she had been. But he'd destroyed it by the back and forth, by professing his love and walking away, by trying to give her what he thought she deserved and make her happy and then never following through.

When he saw her hurt, when she was bleeding on her floor with a bullet meant for him, he'd realized in that moment just how foolish and stupid he'd been. He could have had her with him, he could have been loving her and their children, he could have been protecting her and if that had been the case the whole shooting might have been prevented. He'd been angry at himself for his choices and decisions and in that moment he played what if and wondered how everything could have been different if only he'd made a different choice.

He loved her so deeply, he wanted nothing more than to love her forever and make a family with her. And just when he made that realization, that he recognized all the wasted time and all the wasted opportunities and knew beyond everything else that he wanted to be with Elizabeth, not because the truth had been exposed but because he didn't want to waste one more minute that could be spent with her, she decided she was done. She declared that she was done fighting for a chance to be together, that she didn't like the person she'd become begging for his love, and she simply could not take having her emotions played with anymore. He hadn't done it deliberately, he'd tried to be strong and not hurt her, and yet it had happened. He'd weaken and give in and want to be with her and then find another reason, more proof as to why they would never work and he'd hurt her all the same.

He wasn't sure how he was going to fix this. How he could fight against such despair and depression. How he could convince her that she was important and he wasn't going to waste any more time. He knew that she would believe this was only because his hand had been forced. The truth about Jake came out and now that he didn't have to make that choice, he'd decided it was okay to be together. How could he make her trust him and believe in him again when his realization had come at the same moment when outside forces had blown their secret apart?

"Look," Max said, drawing Jason's attention back to him and making him remember that the other man was still in the room. "Miss Webber is upset and hurt right now and I'm sure she's just reacting. I...I'm not trying to get involved in your business or tell you what to do, but just..."

The guard sighed and shrugged his shoulders, "Just don't give up, Jason. You...I know that you love Miss Webber and I know that you love your son and you just want what's best for them. Don't start believing now that you're not part of that.'re happy with her, you''re more relaxed when you're with her and that helps you focus and think clearly. You're a better boss than Sonny ever was, and I'm sorry that I didn't support you in that. You've never been irrational like he was and you don't make hasty decisions… But that doesn't mean you have to be alone, that you can't have a family."

When Jason only looked mutely at the other man, Max shifted on his feet and said, "I'll get back to the hospital if you want. I just...I just wanted to say not to give up if you really want to be with Miss Webber and your son."

"Max," he stopped the man before he could leave. "Actually, if Milo's at the hospital, I've got something I need you to do. I...we need to upgrade Elizabeth's house."

"You're not going to move her into the penthouse?" the other man wondered.

"She doesn't want to be there and I won't force her right now," he answered. But that didn't mean Jason was going to give up completely. For now, though, he knew he had to take this gradually. Which meant, no matter how much he hated it, he had to let Elizabeth and her boys move back home. He would, however, do everything he could to ensure everyone's safety.

Part 3

When Elizabeth sent her grandmother home the day after she finally arrived back home after fighting with the doctor to be released from the hospital, she knew that she wasn't really capable of taking care of herself and her children. But she didn't care. Somehow, some way, they would muddle through this together. After all, Elizabeth had been a single mother since Cameron was born - she truly didn't count Lucky's help as anything that made a difference - and she would once again find a way to take care of her children on her own. She didn't need her grandmother, and most of all she didn't need her grandmother's comments regarding Jake's parentage, Jason's criminal ties and Elizabeth's latest injury.

When she'd opened the door and asked her guard to ensure that her grandmother's suitcase was place in the car she suspected word would get back to Jason. Just because he finally honored her wishes, didn't mean that he didn't know what was happening in her life. And she was sure that the guards would undoubtedly fill him in on the fact that she'd sent her grandmother packing and she was recuperating by herself while trying to take care of two children.

So the person knocking at her door was no doubt Jason. He told her that just because he'd bought her house, had made all the safety upgrades he could think of to keep her and the boys safe he wanted her to know that he would respect her privacy. Just because he was finally doing what he should have from the start, providing for his family, didn't mean that he would just barge into her life. This was her house and he would always knock first. He'd proven that when he knocked her door yesterday after she arrived home and wanted to just make sure she was getting settled in and understood and was comfortable with the changes. Her grandmother had scared him off with her looks and comments, and now that she was alone it didn't surprise her that he'd come back.

Would he offer to stay with her and help out, would he ask her to move into the penthouse during her recovery, or would he offer to hire a nurse? She was certain he would offer something. He hadn't liked her release from the hospital, even though she'd been there five days and had flat out told the doctor that unless he released her she was going to yank the IV out of her arm and walk out against his orders. The surgeon had finally relented, especially knowing that Elizabeth was a nurse and her grandmother - the nurse in charge of the training program at the hospital - would be staying with her.

Looking at the stairs and knowing that the boys would sleep for a little while longer in their naps, she took a deep breath and reached for the door. She had to steel herself to face the man she loved. She had to inure herself against his presence because she knew with every fiber in her body that it would fade. That she'd once again be relegated to the background in his life. His presence now was only because she was still too fragile to take care of herself and he felt guilty and was overcompensating by taking every opportunity he could to be near her. Once she was well and able to take care of the boys as she always had and was back to work and his business picked up once again with whatever newest threat popped up, he'd stop coming by. She merely had to wait this time out.

She made sure to keep her face neutral when she opened the door, but her studied indifference quickly morphed to shock when she saw Maximus Giambetti standing on her front porch in the exact same location Jason had been standing when she'd pushed him out of the way of Sonny's bullet. "Mi-Mister Gi-Giambetti. Wha-what are you doing here?"

He presented a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolate from behind his back with a flourish and said, "Miss Webber, it's wonderful to see you looking so much better. I was hoping I could speak to you."

She stepped aside to let him in her house, swallowing as she did so. Somehow, despite the older man's seemingly congenial disposition, she didn't think this was going to be a very pleasant visit.

He knew Elizabeth was not going to like him showing up at her house, but did she really think he would stand back and do nothing? When the guard called him and told him that Elizabeth had kicked Audrey Hardy out and that there had been quite a bit of yelling inside before then, Jason had been worried for her. Not that she needed him to fight her battles with her grandmother, but that she would now be alone with two small boys while still recovering from a gunshot, major surgery and significant blood loss. He'd always told her she was the strongest woman he knew, and she was; both physically and mentally. But even strong people needed a little help sometimes. If she didn't want to take it from him or her grandmother, then he would try to find someone, some way to help her.

Arriving at Elizabeth's house, he was pleased to see the guards' visible presence. He worried what Cameron and Jake would now think about the sudden change in their lives, but he wanted everyone to know that he took his children's safety seriously. The men assigned to watch Elizabeth and the boys had been told just how important they were to Jason and that these men should be prepared to protect them with their lives. If they didn't think they could do that, they'd be assigned elsewhere. Each man had sworn to him that they would not let him down. The unspoken implication had been that they would die trying to prevent such a failure.

As he climbed out of his SUV and approached the house, the lead guard on the door flickered his gaze over Jason's uneasily. He slowed and allowed the other man to impart whatever information it was that had the guard on edge.

"Miss Webber has a visitor," he began and Jason felt tension creeping into his neck wondering who was there harassing Elizabeth. Lucky? Nikolas? The Quartermaines? But his guesses were all wrong when the man continued, "Maximus Giambetti arrived and said he wanted to speak to her."

A scowl formed on his face and Jason quickly stepped up onto the porch and knocked on the door. What was Maximus doing back here? And why was he here with Elizabeth? There were many reasons that floated through Jason's mind, and he wasn't happy with any of them.

The door swung open and Maximus was there, a fact that made Jason's scowl deepen. Booming out a greeting and grabbing Jason by the arm to drag him into the house the Sicilian said, "Mr. Morgan. Fancy you showing up just as Miss Webber and I were talking about you."

Elizabeth looked decidedly unhappy and uncomfortable and the look only increased upon seeing him. She crossed her arms over her chest, not hiding the wince of pain, and looked away from the two men.

"Why are you here?" Jason asked Max and Milo's father. "I thought we agreed you'd leave town and your sons would visit you in Italy."

"Yes, we may have talked about that," the beefy man nodded his head. "But that was before I heard that Miss Webber over there was refusing to move in with you once she was released from the hospital."

"How did you find that out?" he demanded. If Max or Milo thought they were helping by interfering, he was going to let them know in no uncertain terms that they needed to stay out of his life.

"I called my boy Max just to see how Miss Webber was doing and he told me she was improving. That she should be going home in a day or two and when I just assumed that meant going home with you, he gently corrected me that she was returning with her boys to her house." The lumbering giant shrugged his shoulders and said, "So I decided to pay a visit to the recovering patient and ask her why she didn't want to be with you."

Jason swallowed and clenched his jaw until he thought he had a reasonable grasp on his temper and then said, "Elizabeth's reasons for moving in here are her business. Her relationship with me, whatever its status is, is our business. You may have thought you were helping out, but I'm going to tell you this right now. Leave her and her children alone. Are we clear?"

When the older man looked ready to argue Jason stepped forward and repeated, "Are we clear, Mr. Giambetti?"

"Yeah, fine, whatever," the other man shook his head. Turning to look in Elizabeth's direction he said, "Forgive my intrusion, Miss Webber. It's good to see you up and around again."

"Please go to my office, Mr. Giambetti," Jason forced himself to say with a calmness he didn't feel. "I'd like to talk to you."

Then he waited for the older man to go and signaled one of his men to drive him. Once he was sure that was taken care of, he closed the door and turned to look at Elizabeth. She hadn't moved from her original position and she still refused to look at him. Taking a deep breath, he stepped down off the landing and into her living room, scrubbing his hands over his jeans.

"I'm sorry about that," he began. "I had no idea he was back in town. I'll tell the guards that he's not to bother you."

She looked over at him briefly, then kept her gaze going until she was once again not looking at him. "You didn't know he was here? Then...then why did you show up?"

"Because I heard from Drew that your grandmother left and I just...I just wanted to see if I could help you with anything," he told her. He wouldn't tell her about the raised voices the guards overheard, he didn't want to embarrass her with that information or make her think that her every move or conversation was being reported to him. "I know you don't want my help, but I...I'm going to worry about you being alone here with the boys. You're still recovering and you need to take care of yourself. I don't want you to reinjure yourself."

"We'll be fine," she insisted stubbornly, her jaw tilting up.

"Okay," he said, holding out his hands to the side. "I know you don't want me here and you don't want my help but if you need anything, please...please ask the guards if you don't want to call me. Or call Robin, or Epiphany, just please...please take care of yourself, Elizabeth."

He swallowed roughly, "Because you do matter, Elizabeth. And your boys...they want their mother healthy."

He wanted to say so much more to her, but he could tell she was uncomfortable enough and he was trying to show that he respected her. But he couldn't just give up on her, either. He wouldn't.

"I know you don't want to, and...and you may think you can't...but you can call me at any time if you need something, Elizabeth. I promise you that; no matter what you need; no matter what time."

With that final thought for her to ponder, he turned for the door, his steps heavy and regretful. He glanced at the stairs, looking up towards the second floor and regretted that the boys were asleep, but maybe for right now it was better. They wouldn't be hurt by his leaving. Cameron was old enough to remember him and didn't understand why Jason hadn't stayed longer yesterday. He'd done enough to hurt his family; he was determined to make up for it.

For a man who wasn't supposed to be in the country, Maximus Giambetti seemed to be everywhere. Or maybe it just that Elizabeth didn't go very many places so she was quite easy to track down. Sometimes she was tempted to take up Jason's offer to not work as many hours simply so she could order her guards to never let the older man even reach her front door.

She simply wouldn't admit defeat, though. And not working and allowing Jason to pay for everything was defeat. He'd already bought her house and paid it off in full, he bought her a new car because her old one was unreliable and in constant need of repairs, and when the hospital day care objected to the guards' presence and told her that Jake and Cameron couldn't return so long as their guards were present, Jason had hired a nanny to take care of her children. He wouldn't allow her to pay him back; he said it was something he should have been doing all along and he wasn't going to shirk his responsibilities anymore.

She insisted on paying for utilities, food, clothing and her insurance and Jason was smart enough to not push it. He wanted to, she saw it in his demeanor, but he simply nodded, sighed heavily and then left when she asked him to. While her hours had been cut back at the hospital due to economic hard times, but in reality as a reaction to her situation and the guards Jason had floating through the hospital to keep her safe, she would not concede to her situation and allow him to take care of her. He was already doing more than she wanted; she was determined to maintain her independence.

Because she'd learned that in the end, at the end of the day, she could only rely on herself. She'd supported Lucky, she'd been taking care of her children, and while Jason might be offering to help, she was not going to be made to feel like a kept woman. Which was exactly how she'd feel if she didn't work. It was bad enough that she'd been unable to stop Jason from doing what he'd done already.

She knew it was just a way to ease his guilt and assuage his conscience. Everyone knew that Jake was his son now, how bad did it look for him that the mother of his child was struggling to survive above the poverty line? Even all he'd done for the boys had left her feeling cheap and dirty. When she'd told Jason that, he'd looked at her in shock and horror and said that wasn't what he was trying to do. He was doing this because he loved her and he knew he should have done it a long time ago. When she'd told him it was too little, too late and then shut the door in his face, she'd felt good for a few seconds and then she felt bad because she was simply being petty.

Elizabeth just didn't understand why Jason kept persisting in this desire to be together. For so long that was all she'd ever wanted, but she finally realized that she was just deluding herself. They simply didn't work together. Every time they got close, it always got taken away. There were too many outside forces working against them, tearing them apart and she was tired of fighting them all. Jason was the mob boss. Sonny was dead. The Zacharras were dead. He had consolidated and combined the territories and was responsible for huge shipping ventures and national and international interests. The demands on his time had increased and she knew that despite what he was saying now, she and the boys would once again be relegated behind everything else. He wouldn't mean to do it, he'd feel bad about it, he'd be consumed with guilt, but he wouldn't see any other way around it and they'd go back to a quiet, lonely while together existence while slowly dissolving into miserable and unhappy.

She didn't want to do it again. She couldn't do it again. They just needed to deal with the fact that they had a child together, and so would be bound as a family that way, but they'd never actually be together as a couple. Maybe in time it wouldn't hurt so much and they'd find a way to be in the same room without actually being in physical pain. But that time hadn't come and it wasn't likely to happen any time soon if Maximus Giambetti kept showing up at her house and telling her she needed to stop being a dramatic little woman and give in to Jason Morgan's chase like she wanted to and would eventually end up doing.

"Look, I understand, Miss Webber," he began. "You want Jason to prove to you that he's sincere this time. That he's committed and he wants to be a family with you. And it's okay for a woman to feel this way. I know that women want to feel cherished and treasured; it's why I always bought my wives the finest that money could buy. But I have to tell you, sweetie, that if you make a man run after you too much, eventually he'll forget why he's running and simply stop."

She was afraid she was going to bite a hole in her tongue. "Mr. Giambetti," she began with an insincere smile.

"Maximus," he cut in with a charming leer.

"Mr. Giambetti," she repeated tightly, "with all due respect you don't know a thing about my life and what I want and what I'm doing."

"I know you think you're making Jason want you more. Women always do this," he said condescendingly. "Lead a guy on, tease, dangle the bait, make us want you more."

"That is not what I'm doing," she bit out.

"You love him, he loves you, you have a son together," Max and Milo's father stated as if it was that simple. "What I don't understand is why you don't just stop fighting and forget this ridiculous notion that Jason Morgan doesn't want you and just actually be with him."

"Mr. Giambetti," she said softly. "My relationship with Jason is my relationship. And I may love him, but I've learned a long time ago that love isn't enough. The stars aligned for one night to give us our son, but we were foolish to think we could make anything more of it. Actually, only I was foolish about it. Jason tried to tell me time and again that we couldn't be together. There was too much danger around him, there were too many people depending on him, and I thought that if I just tried hard enough, if I hung on tight enough, if I pushed hard enough, we'd work it out and be together."

She licked her lips and said, "I was wrong. Jason has so many responsibilities right now that he doesn't have a place in his life for us. And he's always going to have those responsibilities."

Although this was hard, Elizabeth knew she had to do this just so that the man would go away and leave her alone and wouldn't start harassing Jason. "I made a lot of mistakes with Jason. In fact, in the grand scheme of our relationship, I'm the one who screwed it up the most. Maybe if I'd had the courage before to really go after what I wanted, and stopped choosing other people over Jason, then maybe we could have begun a relationship and allowed us to truly blend our lives together. But I didn't. I screwed up and I take full responsibility for that."

Letting out a breath and swallowing she said, "I also take full responsibility for thinking that it would be easy to go back to that time when we wanted to be together and make it work. But it wasn't. Because we've both changed. I'm no longer single; I have two little boys that I can't just ignore simply because I want my selfish desires. Jason has a business to run, men who are relying on him to make smart decisions and keep them safe and out of war, family and friends who need him and depend on him and it's not fair to them to make him suddenly change all of his priorities and responsibilities around."

Maximus looked at her in question and said, "You don't think that Jason Morgan would put you and your boys first in his life? Do you really have that little faith in him? Or are you one of those women who thinks they can redeem the bad boy and he'll give up the mob for you and you and your family will run away and all will be well."

"I know Jason can't leave the mob and I know he can't leave Port Charles. Even if we ran, we'd always be looking over our shoulders," she said, folding her arms over her chest. "I always thought I'd accepted Jason and could separate the man from the profession, but maybe I was just a fool. Maybe I thought deep down I'd be the one he would put first and maybe if I hadn't been stupid and asked him to give up his son and we'd started working together from the time Jake was a baby we'd have found a way. But I was an idiot and made Jason feel like he didn't have value in his son's life and that he couldn't protect anyone and so I'm the person who pushed him into becoming the mob boss he is today. And now that he is so deeply entrenched in all that, I just don't have the energy to fight for a place for me and my boys."

Elizabeth tucked her hair behind her ear and said, "I grew up feeling like the screw-up of my family. I never fit in and my parents never had time for me. I got ditched with the neighbors when I was fifteen. Maybe I'm overcompensating, but I never want my children to feel like they have to schedule time with their parents with a secretary first. I know how it feels to be in a recital or a play or at a sport's event and scan the audience for a parent and realized that once again they're not coming. It's better that my boys learn from the beginning that Jason is a busy man who won't always have the time for us instead of building false hopes and empty promises."

"So you want to make your children into the cynic you've become?" the older man charged her.

"I'm not a cynic," she shook her head. "I'm a realist."

With a quick bob of her head she said, "So now that you know that this isn't just me playing Jason and that I'm not sitting here blaming Jason for everything or trying to punish him, but I've finally opened my eyes to and accepted reality, will you please stop harassing me? I respect your sons, Mr. Giambetti, and I don't want to hurt them, but if you don't leave me alone, I'm going to give serious thought to making an anonymous tip to Immigration."

Instead of being offended, Maximus curled the corner of his lip up, "You've got spunk, Miss Webber. I can see why Mr. Morgan's attracted to you. Enough Angel and Devil to entice a man and give him something to look forward to; give him a reason to come home at night. I'll bet behind closed doors, you can really let your hair down. And that's why I'm not going to give up, Miss Webber."

Then he threw her a wink and walked out of her house, leaving her angry and frustrated.

She'd decided that she was not going to be kept a prisoner in her house. If she refused to live her life, it would just make Jason continue to worry about her. It would give credence to all his fears that she and the boys weren't meant for his life and that they were adversely affected by it. However, this was not an attempt to show him that they accepted the guards and therefore could be together, this was meant to show him, and her, that life would go on. She would accept the guards; they would find a way to accommodate the men and blend them into their lives and then go forward. Jason would see that they were fine, he would concentrate on his business and spend less time worrying about her and her sons, and in time, they'd all settle into a routine and existence.

She'd deliberately chosen to go while school was in session so there would be less children at the park. Sure, there would be other mothers with their children, but Elizabeth and her entourage would find an out-of-the-way place to play and wouldn't impinge on the other children at the park. They'd swing, they'd run around, they'd slide and then they'd pick up some lunch on the way home. It would be a nice little morning to show Jake and especially Cameron, that just because their lives had changed, didn't mean they'd changed completely. They could still be little kids and have fun.

She had Jake in a blue plastic bucket seat and her youngest boy was enjoying the soft, gentle motion she'd started for him. Cameron insisted that he was too big for the baby safety seat and so she had to push him on the black, regular swing. She was trying to tell him how to put his legs straight while he was moving forward, and then pump them as he went backwards to build momentum, but she knew it would take a while for him to figure it out. So she continued to push him 'higher and higher, Mommy' while keeping an eye on Jake and giving him a gentle push once in a while to give him the feeling of movement. Eventually, though, her little boy tired of the experience and began to fuss, so she extracted him from the seat and held him on her hip while continuing to push Cameron.

While Jason had told her that he didn't have the guards report to him about her activities unless it was something they felt he should know and respond to, she sometimes wondered. Because how else could he explain the fact that he was walking through the park on the exact same path, at the exact same time, on the very first day that she'd brought Cameron and Jake to the park? It was too suspicious to be merely a coincidence. Jason wasn't really just a casual stroll through the park kind of man.

But she knew there would be no avoiding him, especially not when as Cameron was swinging forward he spotted the man he adored and squealed out, "Jason!"

Cautiously, Jason ambled towards them; open want mingling with hesitation on his face. He stopped a few feet away and said, "Hey."

"We's at the park," Cameron stated. "I like the swings, but Jake got tired of them."

Jason looked at his son and swallowed and then looked up at Elizabeth. She felt awkward, but then said, " you want to hold him?"

There was no reason to deny it now, the entire town knew that Jason and Jake were father and son, and just because the two of them couldn't be together didn't mean that Jason could never interact with his son. He nodded slightly and she stepped towards him, shifting Jake so that Jason could take him. Jake looked uncertain for a moment, and then let out a soft sigh and nestled against his father's shoulder. Jason closed his eyes, bringing his hand up to splay over his son's back and Elizabeth blinked and looked down at her shoes. It was obvious just how much Jason loved the little boy and she once again felt the weight of her shame for having denied him the opportunity to be a father.

Maybe they needed to talk about some kind of visitation time, or custody. It wasn't right for Jason to not see Jake just because Elizabeth was determined to keep their lives separate. She could only hope that he'd want to spend some time with Cameron as well, although she would never push that with Jason. He'd be honorable and feel like he had to include her other son and she didn't want Cameron to feel like a burden. He already was adjusting to the fact that Lucky didn't want to have anything more to do with him now that the truth had come out and Elizabeth had accepted Jason's guards.

"Hi, Jake," Jason said softly, pulling back to look at the little boy who looked more and more like him with every passing day.

"Jason," Cameron called petulantly from the swings. Elizabeth looked over and felt guilt that his swing had stopped during this whole moment.

She stepped towards her son and grabbed the chains of the swing, preparing to send him into motion again when Cameron let go of them and shook his head, "I want Jason to push."

Before she could say anything, Jason shifted his hold on Jake and stepped up to her son, "You have to hold onto the chains."

Immediately Cameron's hands wrapped around the metal links and Jason's broad hand pushed firmly in the middle of the little boy's back, sending him forward. Cameron began giggling which set his little brother off and soon Jason had a smile on his face as well. The sight made Elizabeth's eyes burn with tears and she casually turned her back on the group, trying to blink them away. As she used her fingertips to wipe off the droplets of moisture, she spotted Maximus Giambetti standing in the bushes, looking at the scene behind her. He gave her a smile and a wink and she firmed her mouth and folded her arms over her chest. She knew, as sure as she was standing here, that before long, she'd have another one of his unwelcome visits at her house.

"Now, Miss Webber," he chided her when she opened the door in resignation. "That wasn't very nice of you to tell the guards to not let me near your house."

"Yeah, obviously that didn't work out so well," she said, arching her brow.

"Well, I just convinced them that you didn't really mean it," he smiled as he pushed his way into her house. "You don't really know what you want right now. Because otherwise, how do you explain that little family outing at the park?"

"Jason is Jake's father and I was wrong to try to keep them apart. Just because we're not together and never will be, doesn't mean that Jason has to miss out on any more time with his son," she said defensively.

"And his playing with your other son?"

"Jason loves children and he doesn't distinguish by blood. Cameron is Jake's brother, therefore, that makes him Jason's son as well," she stated, repeating Jason's words back to the older man. "He's not going to ignore Cameron and just spend time with Jake. We're going to talk about visitation; it's only right."

"What's only right," Maximus began, "is for you to stop this ridiculous notion of yours. You're acting like a scorned woman. You didn't catch Jason cheating on you; he wasn't off boffing some woman in your bed. He loves you, he's trying to show you that, he wants to be with you and you're just bound and determined to be an idiot and push him away. What are you going to do one day if Jason decides that he wants those boys full time, or maybe he wants to marry someone else and have kids with her because he's tired of watching his children walk out the door every third day?"

"I know you think you're helping, Mr. Giambetti," she said, her throat tight with tension and anger. "But I am getting tired of your interference. Your sexist comments, your condescending attitude like I'm some ridiculous creature who doesn't know her own mind simply because I'm a woman, and your erroneous belief that you can just show up at my house any time you want to...I've had enough of them."

She advanced on him, holding up her finger and said, "My relationship, or lack thereof, with Jason is only between him and me. It is none of your business and I'm tired of you thinking that you can scold me, or anger me, or do whatever it you're doing and I'll just change my mind and go running back to Jason's arms and we'll live happily ever after. Happily ever after is a fairy tale and I quit believing in those."

She marched past him, up the steps to her front door and yanked it open, "So I want you to get out of my house, Mr. Giambetti, and I don't ever want to see you back here again. Because I looked up that number for Immigration and right now, if you don't get out of my house, I will use it."

She glared at Drew whom she'd given specific orders to that she didn't want to deal with Maximus Giambetti and said, "If you don't get him out of my house then you can take yourself and the rest of Jason's men and get off my property or I'll call my ex-husband."

The guard's face was stoic, but he reached past her and took hold of Maximus' arm and led him out the door. Elizabeth was tempted to slam the door, but then remembered at the last minute that the boys were asleep and she didn't want to wake them. Instead, she marched over to the phone and called the nanny that Jason had hired. Someone needed to stay and watch the boys, because Elizabeth knew that the only person who was going to get Maximus out of her life was Jason. She hated running to him to have him fix her problems, but she had reached the end of her patience with the older man and she was furious with the guards for ignoring her requests.

Chapter 4

Jason was trying to concentrate on the paperwork Bernie and Diane had dropped off for him to go over, but it was impossible. His mind was still back at the park with Elizabeth and her sons. He had been surprised to see them there when he cut across the park on the way to the warehouse, and even though he knew she wasn't entirely comfortable around him, he couldn't help stopping and wanting to spend time with her and the boys. She'd let him hold Jake and he'd pushed Cameron on the swings and there was no reason to stay away from them, to not hold his son because the truth was out there now.

He'd seen Elizabeth blink and wipe at her eyes and her voice was soft and full of emotion when she stopped him before he left and said that they should talk. She realized she wasn't being fair to him by not letting him have time with his son just because the two of them would never be together again. He was thrilled at the idea of getting to spend more time with Jake, and he was sure to include Cameron in that as well because he never wanted the older boy to feel left out, but he was also disappointed that Elizabeth continued to persist in stating that they would never be a couple. He was still hoping she would change her mind, but so far she was remaining stubborn.

A knock on the steel door to his office roused him from his thoughts and he sighed because he knew that knock. It was loud, it was insistent and there was only one person who would be so brash in something as simple as a knock. Wearily, he leaned back in his chair and called out, "Yeah? Come in."

As expected, Carly breezed into the office, filling the small space with her large personality. She didn't take a seat in a chair across the desk from him, she didn't stop to get a drink from the mini bar in the corner; she walked right around his desk and sat down on the edge of it, her knees bumping into his legs. Plenty of space, and she insisted on practically sitting on top of him.

"What do you want, Carly?" he asked. He'd meant to ask politely, but it certainly hadn't come out that way. His voice was tight, tired and more than a little irritated.

She paused and looked down at him, and then amazingly enough, she stood and moved away from him. He wasn't sure why she did it, but he certainly wasn't going to complain. He felt like he could breathe, and it wasn't just because her too-strong perfume had lessened as she moved away from him. Sitting down in the black leather seat across from his desk, she brought one knee to rest on the other and looked at him.

"What's wrong, Jason?"

"Nothing," he shook his head. "Why are you here? You never drop by unless you need something, so what is it? What do you need for me to do?"

She frowned slightly at him and said, "Why do you automatically assume that I need something?"

His brows rose, "Don't you? You always come in here, saying you just want to talk, but then it always turns into you needing something. I've got some contracts I need to go over and get back to Diane and Bernie needs me to look over a spreadsheet, so tell me what you need so that I can get back to business."

She looked slightly hurt, and he was sorry he was being short with her. He wasn't trying to be, but he just wasn't in the mood for the games she often played.

"I know you've been busy," she began. "I'm not trying to be a burden to you, Jason."

"You're not," he sighed heavily. "I'm sorry."

She shook her head and then stated, "I just wanted to talk to you about the guards."

"Is there a problem?" he asked, leaning forward.

"No," Carly assured him. "I just...I just wanted to discuss with you whether you thought we needed as many as we had before. Now that Sonny's dead and the Zacharras have been eliminated. Do you think we need to keep the same number as we had before?"

Licking his lips he replied, "I think for right now, you should. It's no secret that I was involved in your life and the boys' as well. Michael's my nephew, Morgan's my godson-"

"I'm your friend," she nodded her head. "But you don't see the boys."

"No," he agreed. "I don't. But people still know my connection to them and they could decide to try to extract revenge on me, or for something Sonny did and I think for a little while, you guys should keep the same number of guards. Maybe as time goes on...then we can cut back on the guards. Especially..."

He paused and then pushed forward, "Especially if we cut back on our interaction."

She looked at him, her eyes wide. "What?"

"Carly, I've said this before, and you refused to listen to me; you thought you could somehow broker peace between me and Sonny and it didn't work. He came after my family; he went in with the Zacharras. But now...he's gone. The Zacharras are gone. Now is the time that you need to think about your family. You need to think about your sons and maybe if you stop coming around, you might be able to work things out with Jax. I know you want to."

"I do," she admitted, her voice soft, yet full of determination. "But, Jason, I will not abandon you as my friend. You need someone in your life."

"What I need is for you to be safe, Carly," he told her, his voice hardening. "I need you to think like a mother, to think about who's going to be there for your children if something happened to you because of me. Who's going to take care of them if both you and Sonny are gone? Do you have that worked out?"

"I...I would ask you to do that, Jason," she told him.

He shook his head, immediately. "No. No, Carly, stop putting it all on me. I'm not safe to be around. Elizabeth got shot because she was standing by me. That bullet was meant for me. Her children were upstairs; they were terrified by the sounds. I was afraid their mother was going to bleed to death on the floor."

His friend looked down at her lap and said, "And this is what this really comes down to. Elizabeth got scared and she won't let you see your son even though the whole town knows Jake is yours. She's probably told you it was your fault and you believed her. So now you're convinced that you're not safe to be around and that's why you don't want my children if something were to happen to me. Well maybe that's exactly why you need them. Show Elizabeth that there are people here who don't blame you for everything little thing that goes wrong; show her that she's wrong for keeping your son away."

Jason closed his eyes and scrubbed his hand over his face, then rested his head against the back of the chair and looked up at the ceiling. "Once again, Carly, you don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"Oh, really?" she challenged. "Then where's Elizabeth? Huh? Where's Jake? Here's your chance, Jason, to finally have your son with you, and where is he? Back home with his mother because Elizabeth Webber is nothing more than a coward who loves the thrill of the bad boy in the bedroom, but doesn't have the guts to be with you in the light of day."

"Just stop it," he snapped at her. "Just stop! I want to be with Elizabeth and her sons, but the reason we're not together is not because she's scared, it's because I've broken her!"

Carly frowned and tilted her head to the side, clearly confused. "What?"

"I've broken her, Carly," he stated. "I've killed her inside. She doesn't trust me...emotionally. She doesn't trust me not to hurt her again...and I can't really blame her."

Letting out a sigh he explained, "I asked her to marry me and she said yes. It was when I got home from my surgery in Seattle, and we'd been seeing each other and she was waiting for me when I got home and I knew in that moment, I wanted to come home to that every day. I wanted to have her and the boys living with me and I asked her to marry me because I loved her, not because I thought the baby she was carrying was mine, or because she just confirmed it and I felt like I needed to take care of her. I asked her because I loved her and I wanted us to be a family. She jumped in with both feet."

"Of course she would," Carly laughed dryly. He took a deep breath and ignored the comment.

"Then we got the phone call about Michael," he said and his friend's eyes dimmed. "I went to her house the next day and I told her that I couldn't marry her. That I would never take the chance of that happening to one of her children. She fought me, Carly; she begged for me to change my mind. For us to find a way to be together. I tried to stay away from her and I kept getting pulled back to her because I...I just couldn't stay away. And she kept saying that we could find a way to make things work, that she was willing to be with me and I would keep telling her she didn't know what she was talking about, that she was making up this fantasy world in her head; I couldn't keep anyone safe."

"Jason," she whispered softly.

"I planned a trip for us; we were going to leave after Sonny's wedding."

"And then Kate got shot," she said in understanding.

"And I once again told Elizabeth we couldn't be together. I told her we had to stay away and she kept...she kept coming to me, she refused to give up." He paused and swallowed roughly. "She was begging me, Carly. Begging to be a family with me, begging me to be a father to my own son; then she tried to say that she was happy with whatever minutes of my time I could spare for her. And I kept walking away from her. I'd taken over the territory, Karpov was causing trouble, Sonny was out of control, the Zacharras were plotting...and I convinced myself that I couldn't have a family. That I had to take care of everyone else, that I had to take care of everything else, and still she begged me to be with her."

He'd been twisting his chair in agitation and finally he couldn't sit any longer. He got up and paced across the room, picking up a bottle of water simply to have something in his hands. Carly turned in her chair to watch him.

"Do you know why she came to the coffee shop that day?" he asked his friend.

"What day?" she asked. "You mean when Max's father was here?"

He nodded, "Yeah. And why she refused to listen to you even though you said you'd pass along her message to me?"

When she shook her head no, he said, "Because she didn't think I'd meet her. And she was so anxious, so insistent to get the information to me, that she was just going to come in, deliver it and leave. She wasn't going to mention our relationship, she...but she didn't think that I'd call her back or meet her if it was just passed along in a message that she needed to talk to me. She figured I'd just think it was another attempt to get us together."

"Would you have?" Carly asked thoughtfully. "Would you have met with her, or would you have put it off because you thought it was another attempt?"

"I...I don't know," he confessed truthfully. "I've thought about it and I think that I would have probably met with her; I can never stay away when she calls. But I...I don't know if I would have called her back right away, and not just because I was helping Max out with his charade. And would have been a mistake. It would have been a vital mistake to the business if I'd ignored her information. So she was right to barge in here. And instead..."

"She walked into a three ring circus with Maximus as ring master," she stated in understanding. She was silent for a moment and then said, "She handled herself well that day. She didn't look at you, even though I know she was confused about what was happening. And Max's father was pinching her butt and...what happened to her that made you practically dislocate his thumb?"

"It's Elizabeth's business," he shook his head. "But I wasn't going to let him keep doing that to her."

"Of course not," Carly shook her head. "Because you love her. why aren't you with her?"

"Because when she shoved me out of the way of Sonny's bullet, she did it to protect me. She...she said I was more important. That it didn't matter if she died, as long as I was alive to protect the town."

His friend's eyebrows rose in surprise and Jason swallowed thickly. "She...she's a mother. She is the most important person in the world to those little boys and she...she said that it wouldn't have mattered if she'd died. That Lucky or Audrey would have raised them, or I would have done something if I felt I had to. But was too important. She...she said she knew her place."

There was a pause and then Carly asked, "Her place? What does that mean?"

"It means that I have to keep the business running and take care of the people who work for me, I have to keep you and your children safe, I have to stay alive for the Quartermaines and to keep the town safe even when they just want to spit on me, but never once...not once did she put herself on that list," he said, his throat raw and his voice thick. "She...she doesn't think that she matters...and I've made her feel that way, Carly. I...I've walked away from her, I've turned my back on her and her children...on my son to keep Sonny safe, to keep you safe, your children safe, to take care of the business, to do everything else, and she now just accepts it."

She shook her head no and said, "Jason, she wants you to think that way. She's just playing you. Make it seem like she's giving up so that you'll chase after her and prove to her just how much more important she is."

"No," Jason refuted. "She's not playing games. She doesn't do that, Carly. She...she means this. She says she finally accepts and realizes that I'm right. That there is no us. That just because we love each other doesn't matter; because love's not always enough. She's not doing this to play games with me, Carly. She...I saw her and the boys in the park today and she said that we should work up some sort of visitation schedule for me and Jake. That I shouldn't not see my son just because there's nothing between us."

He shook his head sadly and said, "You haven't seen her, Carly. You haven't heard her. She's not...she's not doing this as part of some scheme. She truly believes it. She's...she's given up. She's given up on me, she doesn't have faith in me anymore. I've killed her trust and I've destroyed her love for me because I chose so many other things over her. I reduced the mother of my child, the woman I love and who means so much to me...I reduced her to begging me for a few spare moments. Time that was always interrupted by the phone and me rushing off."

"That...that night in your penthouse," Carly said softly. "When I walked in on the two of you..."

He nodded his head. "She sent me after you. Said I'd regret it, she understood you were my friend...I wanted to tell her to stay, but I just let her walk out the door. You and knew exactly what we'd been about to do...but she walked out of there with her head high even though I...I knew she was embarrassed and frustrated and..."

"And wished that you would have stayed there with her," she finished softly.

"Yeah," he said dejectedly. "And that's now what she believes will always happen. She thinks I'm only coming around now because I feel guilty that she was shot, and then we'll go back to where we were before; she and the boys will come after everyone else. I've made her believe that and I don't know how to change her mind. I don't know how to tell her that this isn't just because of guilt or because everyone now knows that Jake is my son and there's no reason to lie anymore and therefore no reason to stay apart. I...I had so many opportunities to tell the truth, Elizabeth was ready to step forward and face the consequences together with me, and I always backed out on her and I don't know how to fix it."

"Do you want to fix it?" Carly asked. Not meanly, not sarcastically, but in true, honest friendship to him.

He closed his eyes and whispered hoarsely. "I do. I do more than anything. I want her...I want our sons... When I saw her on the ground, when she was bleeding and her first question was to ask me if I was hurt and then show relief...relief that I wasn't...I knew I'd never forget that moment. It was the moment I realized that I should have had her with me; I should have kept her close to my side instead of pushing her away. She wasn't safer away from me...she was in just as much danger and completely unprotected because I thought it was better that way. Just as I realized that I wanted her with me every day...she gave up. I'm afraid that I've really lost her for good this time and there's nobody to blame for it but me."

Outside Jason's door, Elizabeth stood with her back against the wall, her hand over her mouth and silent tears running down her face. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop on his conversation with Carly. She'd come over here to demand he keep Maximus away from her. That he tell the guards she didn't want to see the older man and if they let him get by them again…well, she didn't want them to get in trouble, but she was mad. She was mad at the Sicilian for constantly harassing her, for treating her like she was just playing games, and she wanted Jason to lay down the law to her guards that Max's father was not to get near her again.

Instead, she discovered Carly already inside Jason's office and so she'd listened through the partially open door. She knew it was wrong, she knew she should just walk away, but she'd found it impossible to do. She'd blatantly listened in, and now she wished she hadn't.

Not able to listen to any more, and not wanting to get caught, she wiped hastily at her eyes and walked away. By the time she made it to the main part of the coffee shop, she was in full-fledged flight mode. She ignored the barista who spoke to her, the guard who looked at her in concern and she somehow managed to make it to the outside door without sprinting past the few customers inside. But by the time she made it to the outside door, she could no longer hold back. She fled.

She didn't wait for her guard, she didn't stop to think where she was going, she simply ran because she had to get away.

"Jason," Carly said softly. "You can fix it. Elizabeth...look, I'm not her biggest fan, that's no secret, but she...she can't stay away from you either. And I...I think she really does care about you. Give her some time and...and don't let up and..."

"She won't give in," he shook his head. "Especially not with Maximus Giambetti going around trying to get her to change her mind. All he's doing is angering her and she's going to keep saying no just to...just to be stubborn."

"Then don't listen to her," his friend suggested as if it was just that simple.

He sighed and shook his head, then rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension. "Look...I know you think you're helping but just...don't try to help me on this. Elizabeth isn't going to react to other people interfering. If I fix this...I've got to fix this on my own."

"Alright," she conceded after a long moment and he found himself wondering if she was just saying that while concocting a scheme in her head, or if she really meant it. "Listen, I...I'll go. I wanted to ask you about the guards and clearly you've got a lot going on and need to work so I'll get out of your hair."

"Let me walk you out," he offered. "I need a break."

As Jason walked into the coffee shop, he immediately felt the tension in the room. Elizabeth's guard was standing inside talking to the man on shift inside the coffee shop and they stopped as soon as they saw him. He looked around, scanning the room and frowning. "Where's Elizabeth?"

"I...I don't know, Mr. Morgan," Drew admitted with a nervous swallow.

"What do you mean you don't know?" he demanded. "You're supposed to be guarding her. Why are you here?"

"Because she came here," the man admitted.

"Then where is she?"

"She...she left," the guard stated. "She ran out of here and got in her car before I could get into mine and she left."

Jason's eyes narrowed. "Why would she do that? She said she understood she needed to have a guard with her."

"She...she was upset," Vince answered. "She came out of your office, tears running down her face and as soon as she made it to the door she took off running."

He looked over at Carly and said, "My office? She wasn't in my office."

"She...she went back there about twenty minutes ago," Vince stated. "She came in with Drew and looked..."

"She was pissed," Drew supplied. "She'd told us to keep Maximus away but when he showed up at her house tonight..."

"You didn't listen to her," Jason ground out, his jaw clenching tightly. "She's the person you listen to on her visitors, do you understand me?! If she says she doesn't want to talk to someone, then you listen to her. If you can't understand that, or if you think that you're helping Mr. Giambetti out, then I'll reassign you right now, Drew. You and every single guard on her detail. You are not working for Maximus Giambetti! You are not helping him change her mind or whatever else crap he's saying. She doesn't want to see him, she doesn't want to be harassed by him and if you won't listen to her when she says something then I don't have any use for you at all in my organization!"

"Jason," Carly said softly, putting her hand lightly on his arm.

He took a deep breath and looked down. After a moment he looked up and directly at Drew. "I'm sorry. But she's important to me and if she can't depend on you, then she won't want you around and she won't want any guards around her or her boys and I...I can't have them not protected. Do you understand why it's important?"

"I do," the guard admitted. "And I'm sorry."

"She came here to see you," Carly said, "but she wasn't in the office."

Jason nodded wearily, "She must have overheard us."

"Then that's a good thing," his friend suggested.

"She took off running out of here in tears," he shook his head as he looked over at her. "I'm not sure what part of that is good."

"It means she's still affected by you," she said. "She's not indifferent to you."

"I never thought she was. But she doesn't trust me. And now she doesn't trust my guards and she's out there with no protection and she's upset." He shook his head. He couldn't hash this out now. He needed to figure out where Elizabeth went. Looking at Drew he asked, "Did you at least see what direction she went?" The guard shook his head in regret. Clenching his jaw, Jason pulled his phone from his pocket and hit the speed dial for Spinelli. When the younger man answered he tersely ordered, "Spinelli, whatever you're doing, I need you to stop it. I need you to pull up traffic footage from around the coffee shop for the past fifteen minutes or so. Find Elizabeth's car and figure out which direction she went and then track her. I need to know where she is."

"I-I understand, Stone Cold," the young man said in flustered confusion. "The Jackal will begin immediately."

His heart was in his throat when Spinelli finally called and told him he had located Elizabeth. He'd tried to send Carly home, but the stubborn woman had refused to go until she knew that Elizabeth, and therefore Jason, was alright. Once the call came, she finally left and then Jason followed Spinelli's directions to where she was. Drew followed behind him.

Elizabeth hadn't gone anywhere; she'd simply fled - as seemed to be her natural instinct whenever things got tough. Spinelli had tracked her on traffic cameras until she finally pulled over to the side of the road and simply sat there. Jason knew that it wasn't going to be an easy encounter with the mother of his child, but he also knew he couldn't back down from this. For too long he'd simply taken the easy way out and trying to avoid painful, emotional encounters with Elizabeth. He needed to step up to her and prove that he was there for her how ever and where ever she needed him.

Slowly pulling off the road and stopping behind her car, he wiped his palms on his jeans and then stepped out of his truck. He slowly approached her car and saw her shoulders shake as she rested her head against the hands which gripped the top of the steering wheel. Taking a deep breath, he stopped and then tapped lightly on the glass of the window.

As expected she jumped and twisted her body to look out the window. When recognition flickered across her eyes and they turned hard, then skittish, then angry, he knew he was going to have his hands full staving off her attacks on him. As her window whirled down, her voice floated out before it was all the way open. "What are you doing here, Jason?"

"I came to make sure you're alright," he told her. "I know you were at the coffee shop; I came out to find your guard there because you'd taken off."

"Don't you dare lecture me," she began and he immediately held up his hands.

"I'm not," he assured her. "I know why you came and I've had a talk with Drew. I've explained in no uncertain terms that he and the rest of the guards are to listen to you about who you don't and don't want to see and it's your orders that matter. And I'm going to have a talk with Maximus...he'll leave you alone from now on."

"Drew told...told you?" she questioned.

He nodded his head. "He did. And I've told him that he messed up. I...I'll understand if you don't want him to be your guard anymore."

"I-I don't know," she said softly, turning her face back to rest her forehead against the steering wheel.

"It's your choice and can let me know." He took a deep breath once again. This had been the easy part of the conversation; now came the hard part. "Drew followed me. He'll wait for you to head home or...or we'll call a guard and have him pick up your car and I can take you home, Elizabeth."

Her body stiffened and her voice was tense as she said, "Jason."

"I know you overheard me and Carly talking." It was said without recrimination. He didn't believe she'd purposefully gone to his office to eavesdrop and it certainly hadn't been anything about the business that she overheard. But he wasn't going to act like he didn't know she'd overheard all she had.

"I don't want to talk about it," she clipped out. "I'm not ready...I don't...I don't want to talk to you."

He had expected her to say that, but it still hurt. Once, he had been the person she'd come to talk about what was bothering her. Now, he was the one who was causing her pain.

"Okay," Jason told her. "I'm not going to force you, Elizabeth. I just...when I came out and realized you'd been there and run off without your guard...I was worried for you. Vince said you were upset, I worried about you driving. I had Spinelli track you down using traffic cameras because I wanted to make sure nothing happened to you."

Her knuckles, the few that he could see under her head, turned white around the steering wheel.

"I know you don't want to talk, but I just...I don't want to walk off and leave you sitting on the side of the road, Elizabeth. I-I want to make sure you get home safely."

"Stop playing like my white knight," she hissed at him.

"I'm not trying to rescue you," he said, even though he knew he was losing against her anger. "I need to know you're safe. It has nothing to do with my guilt, or being afraid some enemy's gonna hurt you, it's because I wouldn't be able to think about anything else than you sitting on the side of the road crying. I-I can't...I won't walk away and leave you like that, Elizabeth."

She sat up straight, and slapped her palms against the steering wheel, but didn't look at him. Without a word to him, she started the car, threw it into gear and the only time her gaze fell on him was when she looked over her shoulder before pulling back onto the road. He squinted against the dust her tires churned up and looked back to signal Drew. The guard pulled up and followed along behind her while Jason went back to his SUV and climbed in. He became the third party in their odd caravan because he was going to make sure she was safely at home before he went and completed his next task for the evening.

As the procession wound through the quiet neighborhood, Jason watched as Elizabeth pulled into the driveway, Drew parked on the street and Jason stopped and watched as Elizabeth marched up to her house and went inside. She didn't talk to the guards, she didn't look back at the street, she showed her fury in the way she refused to acknowledge him or his men. But she was home, and the guards would watch her, and he knew that was all he could do for tonight. At least as far as interaction with Elizabeth.

There was still plenty he needed to do. So he put his truck into gear and then called to find out where Maximus was. He and the old man needed to have a talk.

He didn't wait for the troublesome man to open the door; Jason simply used his innumerable skills and stepped inside. Maximus reacted slowly and actually looked quite relieved to see it was Jason by the time he got his weapon out. The younger mob boss already had his weapon out and trained on the older man, but he had anticipated such a reaction from the Scicilian.

"Mr. Morgan," Maximus smiled at him, lowering his weapon.

Jason didn't lower his. "I'm going to say this one last time. Leave Elizabeth alone."

The man chuckled and Jason was no longer constrained by the feelings of wanting to help a friend; he let his irritation show clearly. Maximus just waved a pudgy hand through the air and turned to get a drink, completely ignoring the gun aimed at him.

"You need to relax, Morgan," the elder Giambetti said.

"No," Jason countered quietly. "You need to leave. You need to get on a plane, head back to Sicily and you need to leave Elizabeth alone. Forever."

"She come crying to you?" the man laughed. "Then at least some part of my efforts is paying off. She's talking to you."

"My relationship with Elizabeth is none of your business," he stated bluntly. "And if I have to detain you to keep you away from Elizabeth, then I'll do it. I don't care what your sons might think; the only person I'm thinking of is my family. Elizabeth is off-limits to you. You stay away from her. You stop harassing her. You don't send her a letter or a postcard or an e-mail. You don't call her. You. Leave. Her. Alone."

Maximus looked up over the rim of his drink and finally seemed to acknowledge that Jason still hadn't lowered his weapon. "I was only trying to help you out."

"The only thing you're doing is upsetting Elizabeth," he grit out. "And it ends today. This is the last time you ever visit Elizabeth. The guards understand who they work for, and they understand their orders. It was explained to them quite clearly what will happen to them if they let you near Elizabeth. And as for you...I'd hate to lose Max and Milo working for me, but if the only way to keep you away from Elizabeth is to send them to Sicily, or to send you to jail...then I'll do it."

The older man blinked.

"You leave Elizabeth alone." He took a step closer and lowered his voice. "Is that clear enough for you?"

He didn't wait for an answer; he turned on his heel and walked out. Then he headed to his car where he called and left a message for Max.

"Get your father on an airplane and make sure he stays in Sicily," he curtly ordered. "Because if I ever hear of him bothering Elizabeth again in any way, I will send you personally to keep him away from her. Do I make myself clear, Max?"

Then he turned on the SUV and headed for his penthouse. He needed to work off some energy and maybe tomorrow he'd able to concentrate on the contracts Diane left him. He certainly wasn't going to get anything done tonight.

Chapter 5

Why did this always happen? Why was it that every time she thought Jason Morgan was out of her life, or she wanted Jason out of her life, he was all she could think about? He was everywhere she turned around, he was invading every aspect of her life and making her fall in love with him all over again and deeper than before.

Elizabeth thought she had accepted the fact that she and Jason would forever be tied together. They weren't just friends or almost lovers, they were now parents. They had a child who would forever bind them to one another and for the sake of their child, their children, they would have to interact and it would be better for all if those interactions were civil. Elizabeth wanted to be indifferent to him. She wanted to be able to be around Jason and not have her heart feel like it was being ripped out fiber by fiber, but she wasn't there.

Maybe if he was as awkward as she was, or maybe if he was resigned to their eternal connection as parents and nothing more, it would be easier. But he wasn't, and their interactions remained difficult. Because every time they met, every conversation they had, he made it clear, without being overbearing, that he was not going to settle for their relationship to merely be about Jake and Cameron. He wanted more from her and he wasn't going to let her forget it.

They had worked out an arrangement of sorts for Cameron and Jake to spend time with Jason. It was nothing formal, he said he would never sue her to be around their children, and she was leery of putting anything in writing that would only illustrate later how busy Jason was and how he wasn't spending time with her boys. But they'd worked out an agreement and for six weeks Jason had adhered to the schedule with a punctuality that surprised Elizabeth. Even when Lucky was going around claiming he wanted to be a father and that he loved those little boys more than anything, he was always calling and backing out of his scheduled visits. Jason never did that. In fact, sometimes she almost had the feeling that he was restraining himself from requesting more time with the boys.

Cameron and Jake were thrilled to spend time with him and as he continued to keep his promises of taking the boys places, or simply being at his penthouse to let them come over and play, she found herself extending the time they spent with him. Jason was doing his best to prioritize and there had only been one time when he'd called her and told her that something had come up and he was going to be late in getting the boys. When she'd told Jake and Cameron that, her oldest son had sighed dejectedly as his shoulders slumped and he trudged back upstairs and put his jacket away. When Jason knocked on her front door an hour and a half later, Cameron had come bounding down the stairs when she called to him and flung himself at Jason who laughingly caught the little boy.

"You came!" he shouted in pure delight. "You really came."

"I told your mom I would," Jason said, not looking at her, but focusing purely on Cameron. "I'm sorry that I was late; I really wanted to come get you and your brother."

"You're here now," Cameron stated, as if that made up for the previous disappointment he'd faced.

For her little boy, it really had been that simple. As he raced upstairs to get his jacket and the toy he'd been anxious to show Jason, she'd looked at him and had truly believed his apologies for the delay. It was clear by the look on his face that he regretted disappointing Cameron, and by extension her, and she felt it. She'd rarely felt that with Lucky when he'd back out of a planned outing with Cameron and Jake, or would show up hours late. And she realized that was where Cameron's dejection earlier in the day had come from. He was used to Lucky disappointing him and had expected the same from Jason. When Jason showed up, it had surprised her son, and had completely made his world.

It made Elizabeth feel that at least in regards to Cameron and Jake, she was doing the right thing by letting Jason be around them. Lucky had always claimed to care about her sons, but ever since the shooting, he'd completely dropped out of their lives. Even when she called him and told him that Cameron had been asking to see him, her ex-husband had said that he was too busy, that he was too angry to see her children. And really, what did it matter if he played Daddy to them right now? Soon enough, she'd try to replace him in his children's lives with Jason, just like she'd replaced Jason in their marriage. Given the bitterness he displayed, she agreed that perhaps it was best that he not see Cameron and Jake. She didn't bother to correct him on his assumption that it was only a matter of time that she and Jason would get together.

Her interaction with Jason was still hesitant, and sometimes she just wanted to shelter her children from being around him because she was just certain that he would disappoint them just as he'd disappointed her. But with each week that passed and each anticipated visit met, she began to believe that maybe, just maybe, he was truly sincere in his desire to be a father to Jake and Cameron. She was nearly ready to agree to his quiet request that he have the boys stay the night, even though the very thought of it shattered her already bruised heart.

For as she watched him blossom and grow into fatherhood with Jake and Cameron, it only added to the pain she felt. She felt the wrongness of her previous actions in keeping Jason away from Jake. She'd been foolish to believe that Lucky had been the safer choice or the better choice for her children to grow up with. He hadn't put them first like Jason was doing, it had always been about him and Cameron and Jake simply had to understand when he wasn't there. And she simply was supposed to accept and understand when he'd started dating Sam and wanted her around the boys, even after Lucky had found out about watching Jake get kidnapped from the park, or hiring men to scare her and the boys. He seemed to think he was justified in his behavior because she'd lied to him and he was now keeping her secret.

Jason never made her feel guilty for the time he'd lost with his son. He always thanked her for letting her see the boys, as if each moment with them was a precious gift to be cherished and treasured. His guileless manner only made her feel worse about how foolishly wrong she'd been. Yet, it also angered her because it seemed to reinforce her belief that his time with her had simply been a substitute because he wasn't with Jake. If she'd allowed him to be a father from the beginning, would he have ever had an affair with her? Would he have set up a safe house or met her at the Metro Court? She'd always tried to tell him about Jake and sometimes brought pictures; maybe their time together had just been about sex and a way to hear about his son.

Even as she let those bitter thoughts into her mind, she knew deep down that she was wrong. Jason didn't use people like that. He wasn't the kind of person who did that. He hadn't just used her for his physical gratification, and it wasn't just a means of holding onto some semblance of a connection to Jake. He had meant their time together, in as much as he could. Elizabeth wondered, though, if the reason she was never enough for him to fight for, if it was so easy to push her away, was because while he said he loved her, he just didn't love her enough. He didn't love her the way he loved Jake.

Maybe it wasn't that the boys would take a backseat in Jason's life, it was that she would never be a priority. It was a soul-crushing, heart-breaking thought. Once again, she hadn't been enough for the man that she loved.

Despite all that she'd overheard that night in the coffee shop, she simply refused to allow herself to believe it. Jason only said those things out of guilt. He had hurt her and he had never liked seeing her that way, but he'd only been forced to face what he'd done because this time around she wasn't all smiles and telling him she'd be fine. He was right though in that she couldn't trust Jason. He'd let her down too many times, just as she knew she'd let him down. Maybe it was easier for him to let it go, or maybe he only thought he had, but subconsciously that was why he kept pushing her away. She didn't know what it was, but she just wanted to break the cycle. She just wanted Jason to go back to the way he'd been, caring about her from afar but staying away.

Unfortunately, that simply didn't seem to be happening.

Once upon a time, Carly had no problem being alone and killing a few hours' time. And even up to a few months ago, if she'd found herself with nothing to do because Jax had decided to take Morgan out for a guys' weekend, she would have thought nothing of calling Jason and or just stopping by to see her friend. But ever since Sonny's death and the night she talked to him at the coffee shop, she was trying to be better and respect his wishes. She still didn't understand why she couldn't be friends with Jason and see him, but after stopping by his penthouse and seeing evidence that Elizabeth Webber's children had been there and yet he was keeping her away, she'd actually listened to his refuting of her claim that she could still be around him.

"This is your chance to do better for your children, Carly," he insisted. "Jake is my son and everyone knows that. He and Cameron will always be connected to me and I will do everything in my power to keep them safe. But this is your chance to do better for Michael and Morgan. Sonny's gone, and they will always have guards because he was their father, but they can be away from the constant danger and violence. If you stay away from me."

Carly had decided that she wouldn't keep pushing him. Maybe if she wasn't always around, and wasn't always stopping by or calling him, those times when she did see him, he wouldn't be in such a rush to send her away. Besides, she had honestly seen just how much he wanted to do better for Elizabeth and their children this time. While she didn't fully understand or even accept what Jason was saying about Elizabeth's state of mind, it seemed too much like a scam meant to punish Jason and keep him chasing after her until Elizabeth finally decided he'd groveled enough, she fully saw that Jason believed it. And it bothered him and it worried him and she knew how much he wanted to be a father to his child and she was doing her best to not interfere in that.

Jax seemed to be appreciative of her efforts to spend more time focusing on him and their family and less time focusing on Jason, the business and his family. While both of them knew that nothing would ever replace Michael, they were starting to talk about maybe trying for another child. A real, honest, focused attempt on them and what they wanted. Carly loved her husband and she wanted to be with him and she was starting to understand that she could still care about Jason but maybe it was time she focused more on her life instead of trying to run his.

So with an evening to herself and no desire to try to catch up on projects at the MetroCourt and even less desire to sit around the house and watch mindless TV after visiting Michael and having to leave because visiting hours were over, she had decided to have a little fun and head down to Jake's for a beer and maybe a game of pool. What she saw when she walked into the bar surprised her. Elizabeth was sitting at the corner of the bar, close to the wall and the attitude she gave off was a distinct don't bother me. Even without the guard assigned to her glaring at anyone whose glance lingered just a little too long on the single mother, Carly suspected that very few people would have tried to approach her. Not because she was ugly or pathetic or not desirable, it was because it was transparent that Jake's mother was not in the mood for anything except getting drunk.

Sitting down at a table out of Elizabeth's line of sight, Carly smiled at Coleman when he brought her a bottle of beer, and then closed her eyes as she took a drink. She let the sound of the balls clinking together on the pool table combine with the music from the jukebox to remind her of all the time she used to spend here. Surprisingly enough, she wasn't really thinking of the times she used to hook up with Jason, she was thinking about how she'd changed from the woman she'd been back then. She wasn't looking for some mindless sex, she wasn't looking to flirt with every man in the room and make them pant after just to prove to herself that she could; she was thinking about how she'd have a beer, shoot some pool if the table ever became available and then go home and wait for Jax to call and let Morgan tell her all about their day together and then say goodnight.

She'd almost forgotten that Elizabeth was in the bar until she heard Coleman strike up a conversation with the brunette.

"Hey there, darlin'," the bartender drawled. "Haven't seen you and your friends in here in a while. You know, there's nothing that says you have to drink your share of the tequila and theirs."

Carly looked up and saw Elizabeth motion Coleman to put the shot glasses down on the bar along with a fresh bowl of limes.

"I just want a drink," she said.

"Sure, darlin', sure," he replied with a friendly half-grin. "I'm just saying you might want to pace yourself."

"Why?" she asked, finally looking up at the man in front of her. "What's it to you? I'm not driving." Waving her arm behind her she said, "Drew will make sure I get home safely. I'm not blitzed so there's no need for you to cut me off. I want a drink."

Coleman leaned his elbow against the bar and tilted his head thoughtfully to the side, "What's wrong, Elizabeth?"

"Nothing's wrong," she answered, although her voice sounded hollow and completely unconvincing.

"People still giving you a hard time?" the bartender wondered. When Elizabeth raised her head he shrugged his shoulders, "I read the newspapers, I caught a few conversations here and there...when the truth about your son being Jason Morgan's came sounded like everyone was giving you a hard time."

Elizabeth's head slumped forward and her voice was flat as she confirmed, "Yeah. You could say that."

"You know," he chirped, "don't let 'em get you down, sweetheart. Jason Morgan's a decent man and it's clear he cares about you since you've got Guido over there keeping an eye on you."

The brunette let out a scorn-filled laugh before tossing a shot back. Once she wheezed after sucking on the lime she said, "Oh yeah, he cares alright. And Drew's there to keep me safe because don't you's dangerous to be around Jason. He's not going to leave me unprotected now that the truth about Jake has come out. How would that look? Especially after I got shot?"

Coleman raised his brows and asked, "You got shot?"

"Yeah," Elizabeth confirmed. "Of course, it wasn't just a stray bullet, I stepped into it."

"What for?" the older man asked, his brow furrowing.

"Because Jason needed to be safe and he's important." With a shake of her head, Elizabeth said, "It doesn't matter. All it did was give Jason this massive guilt-complex around me. And so now he's there every time I turn around, making me trip all over him. Why couldn't he just keep to his whole theory that it's too dangerous to be near him and just leave me alone?"

"You want him to leave you alone?" the bartender asked, surprise coloring his voice.

"Yes" she answered plaintively. "It would be so much easier if we only had to communicate about the boys, or he just had the nanny bring them to his house, but he insists on always talking to me, he insists on always coming over, he always wants to talk and sometimes I want to scream at him 'Go back to your avoidance routine'."

She laid her head down on her arms and Coleman took a moment to look over Elizabeth's slumped form at Carly, confusion and question clearly written on his face. She could only shrug in response and continue to listen.

"I've known Morgan for a while," Coleman stated, "and he doesn't seem like the kinda guy who doesn't listen to someone."

"Then you clearly don't know Jason," Elizabeth said bitterly before taking another shot. "Or at least you don't know the Jason that I was subjected to. I...I screwed it all up."

Shaking her head and driving her fingers through her hair while resting her elbows on the edge of the bar she said, "I screwed it all up at the beginning. I...can you believe I asked Jason to let my barely-recovered drug-addict ex-husband be Jake's father? I...I was such a fool. I was so scared to tell the truth, scared that Lucky would dive back into a bottle of pills and die and everyone would say it was my fault, scared of screwing up Jason's life when I thought he wanted Sam, scared of being alone, scared of him not wanting me or his child and I just...I was so stupid. All I did was make Jason feel like he was worthless, like he didn't deserve to be a father and then when I wanted to be a family with Jason, well then I was fighting an uphill battle. He'd convinced himself, because of me, that he was too dangerous to be around. That he didn't deserve to be a father, or have a family or be happy and I...I snuck around town trying to be with him."

Her head slumped, her hair shielding her face as she said things Carly wondered if the other woman was even aware she was speaking. "I thought that sex would get Jason to change his mind. I...I was like his little piece on the side...ready to come running whenever he called...and anytime I got a little too deep, anytime I tried to broach the idea of a family, of all of us being together, he'd back away, so I'd go back to just making it about us, making it about sex. Do you know how humiliating it is to realize I was just a booty call?"

Carly's eyebrows rose, along with Coleman's.

"And then he'd say he wanted to be together, that we'd be a family, and then he'd always change his mind. Proposed to me and broke up and said he could never see me again all in the space of twenty-four hours. Said he wanted to take a trip with me and left me sitting at the airport long after the plane took off. We're on; we're off. We're up; we're down. We're together; we're apart. Yes; no. Back; forth. Stay away; kiss me senseless while he throws me against the door and has his way with me."

Coleman actually coughed and poured himself a shot.

"I am such a fool," Elizabeth castigated herself. "I have no one to blame for this pain but myself. If I'd just listened to Jason instead of thinking that he actually loved me and his son and wanted to be a family with us and I just had to convince him that I could accept the danger and I could be a part of his life... I begged. You don't know how many times I begged him. I gave up my self-respect for him; I gave up my self-esteem; all because I thought that it would be worth it in the end if we could just be together and I had his love."

She grabbed the shot glass from Coleman's hand, poured herself a generous amount of tequila and tossed it back. This time she didn't bother with the lime.

"His love," she shook her head. "That's what I said I wanted and now when I finally realize that it was all just a fairytale going up in smoke, he claims to love me. Wants to be a family with me, says he's not going to give up on me."

"I thought that was what you wanted?" the bartender asked.

"I used to," she corrected. "Now I know it was all just a big joke on me. And he just won't accept that. He's the one wanting to be a family and I've told him he can see Jake whenever he wants, and he takes my boys places and does things with them and it''s not enough for him. I'm letting him be a father to his son, I didn't ask him to be a father to Cameron but he's...he's so wonderful with them and that's...that's all I want. I want him to stop trying to have us be a couple because there is no us aside from the fact that we're parents."

"But it seems like he wants to be with you," the older man stated, shrugging his shoulders.

"He says that now," she stated with a definitive shake of her head. "But it won't last. It never lasts with Jason; not with me. One of us always turns our back on the other person and I just...I can't do it anymore. I know...I know that this whole thing is just that he feels guilty. I was shot, he thinks...he thinks he's broken me and of course Jason feels like it's his job to fix me. He has to be with me in order to make me happy, in order to make me less sad so that he doesn't feel guilty and blame himself. Thanks, but I've been there and done that and I have no desire to go through that again. I nearly got married to a guy who didn't love me, didn't want to be with me, but felt that he owed me. Yeah...some great marriage that would have been."

"I don't think Morgan would do that to you," Coleman shook his head.

"He offered to marry me before he even knew if Jake was his," Elizabeth said. "We got along, we could be roomies, why not get married? Then after I told him the baby was his, he told me to marry him. Wouldn't give up his girlfriend, wouldn't love me...but let's get married for the sake of the baby. You don't think he'd pretend to be in love with me, that he'd pretend he wanted to be with me when all he really wants is to be a father to his child, you don't think he'd do that when he feels guilty about me? Jason thinks it's his fault if I get a splinter or break a nail...of course he'd pretend to have feelings for me."

Carly tilted her head to the side, listening in disbelief to Elizabeth's words. It wasn't that she was incensed on Jason's behalf, or thought that Elizabeth was just crying some sob-story trying to make people feel sorry for her; it was that she was beginning to see what Jason was saying. Elizabeth's voice wasn't filled with bitterness or scorn, not like when Sam was going around town telling anyone and everyone who would listen to her that Jason had done her wrong by breaking up with her. Most of the time it was flat, it was empty, it was...depressed and hollow. Occasionally she'd scoff and Carly could picture the other woman rolling her eyes as she told Coleman how it really was, but most of the time the nurse's voice was emotionless. It was defeated, it was fully convincing of all she was saying.

Elizabeth didn't trust Jason. Not with herself. She was letting him see his son, she was no longer fighting him on that, but she truly, honestly, fully believed that there was no romantic future for her and Jason.

"Every time I open myself up to Jason, he always pulls the rug out from under me," Elizabeth stated softly, just a hint of emotion thickening her voice. "I can't do it anymore. I won't do it anymore. I have nothing left in me to believe him anymore, because I have no more strength to fight him when he once again decides that I can't be around him. I won't beg him anymore, I won't debase myself by offering up an easy lay in the hopes that I can keep him around; I don't have much self-respect left...but I'm not doing that again."

"Morgan would never treat you like that," Coleman defended Jason.

"Not intentionally, but it's what happened. And I won't go through it again. I just...I just don't know how to be around him when he's doing things simply to try to get me to be with him."

Crossing his arms over his chest and leaning forward the bartender asked, "What kinda things?"

"He's trying so hard to show me that he's keeping his word and he means what he says by the way he interacts with the boys," she declared. "He's cleared his schedule for them, and he takes them out, and he does all these things with them, and it's him showing me that he's changed. That he'll put us first, that he'll put me first, and we're no longer low on his priorities, but it's all just for show. It's all about proving to me that we can be together and I just...I know it won't happen. It might be good for a little while, but then it'll go back to the way it was and my boys will wonder where Daddy is and how come Daddy's never around anymore and then I'll have to deal with my broken heart and theirs and I just..."

She trailed off and shook her head, "I can't do that anymore. I won't do that anymore and I wish he'd just accept that I'm letting him be a father to them and that I'm not going to take them away from him just because we're not together and just stop...stop trying so hard to make me change my mind. The more he does, the less I believe him because it just seems too forced."

Dropping her head wearily she sighed in pure misery, "I just want him to stop."

Jason was feeling slightly anxious as he waited for Carly to arrive. She had called him last night and said she needed to talk to him about Elizabeth, but when she heard he had Cameron and Jake with him for their first overnight stay, she'd immediately backed off and said she could see him the next day. She didn't want to interrupt his time with his son, but it was important that she talk to him. It was her quiet insistence, not brash and overbearing, but not backing down, that made him call her after taking his boys back home.

She didn't insist that he come over to her house, she told him that she was trying to understand his desire to keep him safe, so she told him to go to the coffee shop and she would come there. While Jason didn't think that her showing up at the warehouse was the smartest thing, she'd hung up before he could say so. Instead, he changed directions and went into work, attempting to go through some papers while waiting for his friend to arrive.

He knew her knock on the door and instantly he was out of his seat, opening it for her and ushering her into the office. "What is it?" he asked. "Why did you say you needed to talk about Elizabeth?"

"Because I do," she told him. "I saw Elizabeth last night."

Scrubbing his hand over his face, Jason sighed heavily. "Carly. Please, I've asked you not to go after her. Let me work this out on my own."

"I didn't go after her," his friend said, her visage showing her hurt and her tone clearly indignant. "I don't even think Elizabeth knew I was at Jake's. She was sitting at the bar, doing her best to get drunk and Coleman was chatting her up."

When he clenched his jaw she shook her head, "Not that way. He was just being friendly; talking to her. Wondering why she was there and clearly depressed."

Walking around to sit down in his chair he asked, "What happened?"

"You know," Carly began, as she sat down as well, "when you first told me that Elizabeth was saying she didn't want to be with you because she didn't trust you and you thought you'd broken something in her," she rolled her eyes, "I didn't really believe you. I figured you'd once again gotten caught up your whole 'Elizabeth is perfect' bit and just couldn't see that she was playing you."

With a shake of her head she said, "I don't believe that anymore. Not after listening to her last night."

Jason swallowed thickly, "What'd she say?"

"It was more how she said it," his friend dodged the question. "I...I would almost say she's depressed, Jason. I mean needs-to-see-a-doctor-and-get-some-medication depressed."

Nothing Carly was saying right now was making Jason feel good. He knew Elizabeth wasn't happy, he had begun to wonder just how far that unhappiness went, but hearing that she'd gone to Jake's last night and now even Carly was worried about her only increased his anxiety.

"Look," she continued on, now apparently planning to downplay it, "I'm not saying she's there. I think...I think she's very confused, Jason. Sometimes her statements almost seemed to contradict what she'd just said. She appears to believe that you'll do everything you can to be there for Jake and Cameron and that you'll be a good father to them. She's calling herself all kinds of stupid and beating herself up over keeping you away from Jake and thinking that Lucky would be better and I'm not even going to make any comment on how she's right. The point is, she apparently trusts you with the boys, but then she doesn't."

Narrowing his eyes at her he asked, "What?"

"She thinks you're doing all this because you feel guilty. She was shot, you weren't there, you're making a great show right now, but I think she's scared it'll end. I think she's scared that Jake and Cameron will get hurt like she did." Letting out a breath she added, "She really doesn't trust you. Especially not with what you say or do to her. She thinks that all your efforts with Jake and Cameron are just to show her that you can all be a family and she's just certain you'll pull the rug out from under her, from them all, like you've done before."

Pinching the bridge of his nose and sighing regretfully he said, "I know she doesn't trust me. I know I've hurt her by the back and forth and constantly telling her no. I...I wanted to show her that I meant it this time. That by keeping my promises to the boys meant that I would keep my word to her."

"I know," Carly nodded. "I know what you were trying to do. But Elizabeth now thinks that only proves that you just want to be a father and don't really want her."

His friend shifted slightly and wouldn't meet his eye as she said, "She thinks you were just using her for sex; that she was little more than a booty call."

Jason sat up straight, the chair reverberating at the sudden movement and his eyes were wide as he said, "What? She was just sex?!"

"Look," she held her hands up. "I think...I think you actually Elizabeth."

"I do," he said insistently.

"I know," she soothed him. "But this is what Elizabeth was saying last night. I don't know if it was just because she was drunk, or because her head is really that messed up, but she thinks you don't really want her as much as you want your boys. But you feel guilty that she feels this way and so you'll pretend you want a relationship with her just to fix her. She...she compared it to when Lucky was going to marry her but couldn't remember loving her but thought he owed her."

He groaned as he leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk, resting his face in his hands. "She...she thinks I...she thinks I would do that to her?"

"I don't know, Jason," Carly stated. "I don't know if she really believes that or if she's just saying this to try to convince herself, or justify not being with you. What I do know is that what you're doing right now, it's not working. She doesn't trust you not to go back to pushing her away; she doesn't trust that you mean it when you say you want to be with her. She thinks it's guilt or pity or a trick or whatever, but you've got to do more."

"What more can I do?" he wondered looking up at his friend. "I know she doesn't trust me, so I thought that by showing her I'd keep my word with Jake and Cameron meant I'd keep my word with her. I've delegated responsibilities, I...I'm restructuring things with Diane, I'm talking with the Families and trying to work out some arrangements so that things will be more stable and she and the boys will hopefully be safer, but I can't tell her that."

"Why not?" his friend wondered.

"I don't talk business with her," he shook his head.

"No, you shouldn't tell her about the hits you've ordered, or the shipments you're sending through and what's on them, but, Jason, she needs to know this," she told him. "She thinks she's the reason you've become so entrenched and took over; because she told you weren't good enough and you figured you had nothing to lose."

"She said that?" Jason asked.

"Yeah," Carly nodded. "Last night. She said a lot. She thinks she made you feel like you weren't good enough to be a father, so there wasn't any reason for you not to take over. She blames herself for a lot of things."

"It's not her fault," he denied.

"She feels it is," she countered. "And that's why you need to do more than just try to show her something, Jason. You need to talk to her. Have you guys talked about what she overheard you and me talking about that night?"

He shook his head, "She says she doesn't want to talk about it."

"Well, she may not want to talk about it," his friend said with a raise of her eyebrows, "but you guys need to talk about it. And be honest. Don't just tell her what you think she wants to hear, and don't just say what you think you should. Stop tip-toeing around this and face it. Otherwise you'll never get past it."

"It's not going to be easy," Jason stated.

"No," she agreed, "It's not. But it'll be worth it. Maybe instead of just arranging for you to get Cameron and Jake, you need to call her and tell her you want to see her. Arrange for the two of you to go somewhere; some place you can't be interrupted and can't just walk away from each other. Ignoring this won't fix it, Jason."

When he sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face, Carly said, "You need to do something, Jason, or I'm going to have a little talk with Elizabeth."

He dropped his hand and looked at her sternly, "Stay out of this, Carly. I don't want you harassing Elizabeth."

"Then you stop hiding out just as much as she is and talk to her," she commanded him. "Otherwise the next time I won't stay out of sight and just listen, the next time I'll go up to her and tell her a thing or two."

She stood, straightening her skirt and said, "The ball's in your court, Jason. Just don't take too long or I might step in. Or," she paused, "Maybe I'll just call Maximus."

Chapter 6

When Elizabeth was determined not to do something, she was determined. She did not want to talk to Jason about anything beyond their children and any time he tried to talk about anything else, she would dodge him with the finesse of an NFL wide receiver streaking towards the end zone. She remembered appointments she needed to keep, places she needed to go, and one time when he knew Audrey had the boys and her car was in the driveway and her guards said she was home, she ignored him knocking on her door for ten minutes. She was not going to give in.

So Jason reluctantly decided to take a page out of someone else's playbook and trick her into meeting him. He felt guilty while asking Robin to call Elizabeth and ask her out to lunch, but he did it anyways. This was something Sonny would pull, or Carly, or - Jason was certain - Maximus Giambetti; this was not something he would do. But he was desperate to get Elizabeth to talk to him and she could be mad at him and she could yell at him all she wanted to; because if she did that then she would actually be talking to him. She would be showing some emotion beyond giving him instructions on Cameron's ear infection and the antibiotics the little boy needed.

They needed to talk, and Jason was not going to be put off any longer.

He thought that by showing her he was committed to her and his family now, that by making them a priority and being there for them as much as he possibly could, it would help her. It didn't. Instead, she now believed he was only doing it for their son. That she hadn't meant anything to him since he hadn't reprioritized for her.

He needed to talk to her, but every time he broached the idea, Elizabeth shot him down. Every time Jason saw Carly, his friend would give him pointed looks and he half expected her to follow through on her threat to call Maximus. It now appeared that Carly was going to be Jason and Elizabeth's cheerleader, that she was going to ensure they got their happily ever after. He wanted to work things out with the woman he loved, but his previous pattern of behavior was now working against him.

It was time to do something Jason had never thought he'd ever do. Such things were beneath him simply due to their duplicitous nature, but Carly's words of desperate times call for desperate measures echoed in his head until it was all he could think of. And so in a move more befitting of Sonny, Jason decided to be underhanded and more than a little overbearing. If Elizabeth kept walking away from him and refused to talk, he was going to take her to a place where she couldn't walk away from him. And no matter how long it took, they were not going to leave until she did talk to him.

He only hoped that in the end, she could forgive him for what he was about to do.

Elizabeth took a deep breath when she heard Jason's truck turn into her driveway. She had to steel herself for the upcoming encounter because she knew it wasn't going to be easy. He kept wanting to talk, and she knew it was about more than Cameron and Jake. He wanted to talk about them. In another one of his quests to ease his conscience and appease his guilt that he'd broken her, he wanted to talk about what she'd overheard that night outside his office. He was just certain that he could explain himself and make it all better.

The problem was, Elizabeth did love Jason. She loved him more than she ever had anybody else in her life. It wasn't that she hadn't believed herself in love with Lucky and Ric, but nothing they had shared ever came close to what she shared with Jason. It wasn't just because they'd had a child together; it was that for a time, they had been connected in a way that she'd never experienced before.

He supported her, he cared for her, he encouraged her, he didn't demean her, he didn't demand things from her, he didn't treat her like she didn't matter. Until the day had come when he had. And that hurt had been more painful and run deeper because she'd never expected it from him. He had been her safe place. When her life fell apart and she felt like a wounded bird, when she felt like nobody understood her and she needed someone to talk things out with, she turned to Jason. But now he was the one who had wounded her and she needed someone to talk about him with. He had made her skittish to be around him, and she was still trying to adjust to it.

And yet, every time she saw him, she just wanted to hold onto him. She wanted to feel his arms around her, she wanted to believe the words she knew he wanted to say and she wanted to let herself believe the fairy tale again and just for a few seconds not have her heart hurt so much. But she'd been burned too often and too badly by him and she just couldn't allow herself to give him. She was still trying to find herself, find her way out of the pain and the confusion she'd become lost in because of all that had happened between them, and she knew that if she was weak, if she gave in, that she'd fall even deeper and have to dig herself out of an even larger pit.

So she had to close herself off whenever he was around. She had to keep their interaction solely about Cameron and Jake. She had to resist his soft voice and his tender looks and his eyes that she just wanted to drown in. She had to be strong.

It was just that being strong was so hard. Especially when she opened the door and greeted her boys and saw their excited faces and knew, before Cameron even spoke, that he would tell her about the amazing time he'd had with Jason. While she knew her sons missed her while they were gone, she also knew that they felt so much love when they were at Jason's. He didn't try to buy their affections by taking them on outings every time, and he didn't buy the latest toys and gadgets - not to say there weren't toys at his house; he spent time with them, they played together, they talked, they did things, just like they did with her. It was why Cameron had begun clamoring for them all to do something together. The four of them. As a family.

"Hi, Cam," she breathed out almost reverently as she accepted his enthusiastic and crushing hug and rested her cheek against his curls. "Did you have a good time?"

"It was the best," her little boy said. "Daddy Jason made pigsghetti and the sauce blew up and got all over the kitchen. Jake was a mess and Daddy Jason didn't even get mad. We finished dinner, he gave us our baths and read us stories and in the morning when we came down to breakfast the kitchen was all clean. He said he and some of his friends had to scrub it for hours, but he didn't mind."

Elizabeth looked up at Jason, who was still standing near the doorway holding Jake. "Daddy Jason?"

"I want to call him that and he said it was okay," Cam responded. "He's Jake's daddy and when I asked, he said he could be my daddy too if I wanted. 'Specially since Daddy doesn't come anymore."

"Thank you," she said, her throat feeling thick and choked with emotion.

Jason merely shrugged and looked away. "I did it for Cam. I only agreed because he asked."

Looking back at her he asked, "You-you're not mad, are you?"

"No," she shook her head immediately, standing up and keeping her hand on Cameron's shoulder. "No. Not at all."

Then she reached for Jake, trying not to shiver as her hands brushed against Jason. Once she had her son in her arms, she hugged him close and breathed in his scent. She wondered if Jason gave them both a bath right before he brought them home because every time they returned they smelled fresh like baby shampoo. It brought tears to her eyes to know that it was one less thing she had to do with them at night as she helped them unpack their bags and listened to their stories, to know that Jason was trying to help her out and let her relax just a little bit longer.

"Mama," Jake gurgled out and she closed her eyes as she rested her cheek against his fine hair. "Dada."

She looked up as Jake turned to look at Jason. Their son said their names several times, clearly pleased with himself for recognizing them and naming them and being able to turn back and forth to look at both of them.

"Mommy," Cameron called out, gaining her attention. "When are you going to come with us to Daddy Jason's house? Jake and me want to play with both of you."

"Oh," she blinked, stammering slightly at being caught off guard by her son's question. "I...I...this is your time with Daddy Jason," she tried to hedge. "I don't want to intrude."

"You're Mommy," Cam shook his head. "You're supposed to be there."

"Cameron," Jason said softly. "We can talk about that with your mom later. Remember what I said, I need to talk to her about something first."

Elizabeth's eyes narrowed at she looked over at him, wondering what that remark meant. He needed to talk to her about what? Was he going to make another attempt at trying to get them together? Had he used Cameron and Jake in his plans? Was he trying to get the boys onto his side and use them against her?

She heard a car pull into the driveway and she looked out the door, but she was standing too far back, unable to see who had parked on the other side of Jason's truck. When she turned to glare at Jason he swallowed and licked his lips, then firmed his shoulders. Resolve seemed to flow into him and he didn't look away from her gaze, even when she narrowed her eyes at him in anger.

"I called Maria," he said. "She's going to watch the boys for a couple of days. I know that you've got some time off from the hospital; if we're going to be gone longer than your days off, then we'll call."

"What?" she burst out, looking at him in stunned disbelief. "What are you talking about? We're not leaving."

He stepped closer, keeping his voice neutral and pleasant, but there was no mistaking the determination in his voice as he said, "Yes, we are. We're going to go somewhere and talk. Somewhere where you can't hide behind the boys or run off claiming you've got an appointment you forgot about. I've been patient and I've tried to give you space, but I mean it, Elizabeth, we're going to talk."

Her eyes widened as Maria stepped into the house, greeting them pleasantly. He wasn't serious. He was seriously telling her that they were going away together because he wanted to talk?

"Maria?" Jason asked, turning to look briefly at the woman that had been hired to help out with the children. "Would you take Cameron and Jake upstairs and help them unpack their bags?"

"Sure, Mr. Morgan," she smiled, reaching out for Jake. He smiled and leaned out of Elizabeth's arms, always happy to see the other woman. "Let's go, little guy. What do you say we get our pajamas on and then I'll warm us up some milk before bed?"

When the boys were out of the room Elizabeth whirled on Jason and demanded, "What is this? Are you...are you kidnapping me? Taking me away and not letting me return to see my boys unless I give into your demands?"

"I want to talk," he answered, his voice still gentle but firm with steel. "I've tried to talk to you several times and you keep making excuses and avoiding me. I've tried to be patient, but I'm running out of it. I'm not going to be put off forever, Elizabeth, and if this is what I need to do, then I'm going to do it. I'm fighting for my family, Elizabeth. Not just for the boys, but for you. I haven't done that, I've let you walk away, I've pushed you away, and I've taken the easy way out and gone for the path of least resistance. I'm not going to do it anymore. If you want to fight to push me away, then I'm prepared to fight and push back to show you that I want you.

"Now," he said. "You can pack a bag and get the things that you want, or we can stop and pick up some things for you. The choice is yours, but we are leaving here tonight."

"What if I call Lucky and tell him what you're trying to do and he arrests you?" she asked desperately. She wasn't going to call Lucky, she suspected Jason knew that as well...she was merely putting up her defenses and fighting against this because she did not want to be alone with Jason for several days. She thought the threat would be enough to get him to back down.

"Then I guess Lucky's going to come over here and arrest me in front of the boys," he replied back without missing a beat.

She just stared at him, unnerved by the resolve in his eyes, by the fact that he wouldn't look away from her. He was fighting back. Why? Why was he doing it now? When she would have given anything for him to truly know what he wanted before and to fight for his family, why was he doing it now and refusing to give up? She felt trapped and panicky, unable to think of a reason or a fight for why she couldn't go. Aside from the desperate fact that she was afraid. Afraid that she would no longer be able to fight against him and would actually give in to what it seemed like they both might actually want.

"So do I get to know where we're going?" Elizabeth asked, her tone short and clearly unhappy. "Or is this just another thing I don't get a say in?"

Jason flexed his fingers around the steering wheel and kept his gaze on the road. He knew she was unhappy, he didn't like doing this to her, but he was determined and he was not going to back down this time. For too long he had not gone after what he wanted because he thought it was better for others. He was now realizing that it hadn't been better for them, just as it hadn't been for himself, and he needed to do something else. He needed to fix things before it was too late.

But he couldn't look at Elizabeth, though. First there had been her tears. She'd packed a bag and brought it downstairs and they'd gone to the kitchen to say good-bye to the boys. Maria had them dressed for bed and drinking their milk and even though Cameron was fighting it, the little boy was exhausted and Jason wondered if he was truly aware of what they were saying to him. He knew Maria would be with them, Cameron knew Jason and Elizabeth were going somewhere, but Jason couldn't help wondering if his sons were going to wake up in the morning and be confused by them not being there. Elizabeth didn't let on that anything was wrong as they were leaving, she was calm and cheerful and said she and Daddy Jason would be back in a couple of days, and then when they were in the car and she was staring resolutely out her window he heard the sniffles that indicated she was crying.

He didn't like leaving the boys when he had to take them back to Elizabeth's and he saw on her face the same unhappiness when they were leaving her. Combined with the fact that she was with him, she had not liked driving away from her house. He'd wanted to comfort her, he'd wanted to tell her that extra guards would be on the house and Diane had plans in place to prevent Lucky from trying to make a grab for the boys in case the detective somehow realized that both Jason and Elizabeth were out of town; he'd wanted to tell her that this would all be okay, but he didn't. He knew she would take anything he said and twist it and yell at him and he did not want to get into a shouting match in the car as they were driving out of Port Charles.

So he stayed quiet and let her cry, letting her have her space. It was also a bit of a reprieve for him because he knew that the rest of their time together would not be easy. He could just sit with her, and while it was tense, it at least wasn't a full-blown argument. He, sadly, had a feeling those would be coming later.

"We're going to a little place near the border," he told her. "It's quiet, it's out of the way; I've had a couple of guards secure it so it will be safe."

"In other words, it's isolated, there's no one around for miles and I'm completely at your mercy," she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I'm not doing this to control you," he told her. "Or to hold you hostage until you do what I want. I'm doing this so we can talk. So you can't run away claiming you need to do something, so I won't get called to handle something and so that we won't get interrupted. I've been trying to talk to you for weeks; I finally decided to do this."

"Yeah, well maybe that should tell you something," Elizabeth said, turning slightly on her seat to face. "Maybe I didn't want to talk to you. Maybe I don't want to go through another round of us only to end up at the same spot."

"Or maybe you're afraid you'll actually move forward," he said. He didn't mean to be unkind, and his tone wasn't harsh, but he also knew that there was a big part of Elizabeth that feared that she wouldn't be able to remain stubborn and set in what she'd declared. He wasn't trying to manipulate her or get her to do something she really didn't want to do by force. But he would also be lying if he wasn't hoping to try to persuade her to change her mind. To not be so set against them; to listen to him and give him a chance to prove to her that this time he wasn't going to walk away and he was going to be with his family.

"So," she said, her voice forced and he knew before she even spoke that she was going to change the topic. He'd gotten too close to the truth and now she was going to skirt away from it. "Who's brilliant idea was this? Maximus? Carly?"

"It was mine," Jason answered. "I know it's not my style and I am sorry for making you uncomfortable, but what I was doing wasn't working and it was time to try something new. I'm not going to give up on you, Elizabeth, and if this is what I needed to do to show you that, then I figured it was time to do something you weren't expecting."

He glanced over at her and saw she snapped her mouth shut, tightened her arms over her chest and looked away from him. They didn't speak the rest of the journey and Jason wasn't sure whether to be gladdened or saddened by that fact.

One of them was always two steps behind. It was the nature of their relationship and the reason Elizabeth was convinced that they were destined to hover around each other, crossing paths on occasion and coming close, but never actually being together.

Her stubborn pride and foolishness had caused her to walk out on Jason and in her righteous - and ridiculous - indignation she'd told him she didn't know him. And each time he approached her, she was aloof and dismissive and hurt and instead of pushing back, he turned to the next available set of arms. He got involved with Courtney, put her first, met with her in secret and never pushed away because of the danger. When she was coming to realize just how petty and hurtful she'd been, she discovered she was too late to apologize. He was now in love with someone else and she had lost her chance.

While Jason had finally gotten them a secret place to meet, and had planned a trip for them, the world had conspired against them. Just when Elizabeth was now determining that she needed to take her feelings for Jason and try once again to find a compartment of her soul to put them away in and find a way to get on with life, Jason was now whisking her away. He had delegated his responsibilities, he'd made provisions for their children, and in any other circumstances this would have been so romantic and so touching.

But they were out of synch. He pushed, she pushed back. Instead of her pulling him to her and holding on tightly, she was fighting to keep him away. Instead of turning to each other, they were always either both turning away, or one would turn to just as the other finally gave up. They could never get it right; they could never get it timed. For one, beautiful, glorious night they'd come together and they'd conceived a child. Every other meeting had been trying to recreate that magic but falling short, and they'd both been blind to the fact that they were never going to capture smoky fragments. They'd tried, they'd pretended they were content, but nothing had worked.

As they turned down the road that would take them to their destination, Elizabeth was reminded of the woods that lined the road to the safe house. She remembered the fireplace and the fleeting and few times they'd truly been able to relax together as lovers. She didn't know if Jason was trying to recreate that feeling without actually going to the house they once shared, or if it was just a coincidence. It just further cemented in Elizabeth's mind that Jason still somehow believed that they had a chance instead of facing up to the reality of their lives and their situation. It just emphasized that they weren't in tune, that they weren't in synch, and it caused the ever-present ache in her chest to throb even more.

In any other circumstance, this would be beautiful and romantic and just exactly what she wished Jason would have done for her. Something spontaneous and caring, but yet also close and mindful of the fact that there were two children in Port Charles who depended on them. If something happened to the boys, they would be able to get back quickly; as opposed to the time that would be spent traveling from Italy or somewhere else. He had delegated responsibilities and it sounded like they would not be interrupted unless it was an emergency. For as much as she understood, or tried to understand, his responsibilities and the fact that he wasn't like Sonny and delegated everything away, sometimes the constant interruptions and his always walking away had bothered her. She took it as a sign that everyone else was important and she could be relegated to whenever.

For him to now decide to give her his full attention was bittersweet because it was everything she used to want, but now knew he was only doing out of guilt. Out of what he thought he needed to do to win her back. He'd never done it when it was his idea. Once again, he was reacting to her instead of being proactive. Of course, they both were guilty of that; another reason why Elizabeth knew that they could try until they were blue in the face but it would never really work.

Once the house came into view and the car stopped, Elizabeth sat there wondering what they were supposed to do. She didn't want to be here, she didn't want to be here with Jason, and she was not going to be complacent and docile and go with the flow. She didn't want to talk; she wanted to get on with her life. A life that she knew was not going to include a romantic involvement with Jason.

Jason let out a breath and got out of the SUV, walking around the front to her door. Ever gallant, he opened the door for her and she half-expected him to hold out his hand to her. Quietly, mechanically, she unbuckled her seatbelt and slid out of the truck, avoiding touching him or coming too near him. Her back plastered against the vehicle, she looked at him expectantly.

"Are you tired?" he asked her. "Do you want to get some sleep?"

"What I want," she replied, "is to go home. Since that's doubtful that it will happen, why act like this is some vacation?"

With a sigh, he scrubbed his hand over his face, and then closed her door. He indicated the door behind her and she stepped away from it, away from the vehicle and him and looked around. It was dark still, but she knew that the sun would be coming up in a few hours. She heard a door close again and then Jason appeared at her side, holding both their bags. He gestured towards the house and she followed after him. After he unlocked the door, he stepped back to let her go in first and she hesitantly entered the room. He followed her, closing and locking the door behind him and setting their luggage down by the entryway.

"Do you want anything to drink?" he offered. "Or something to eat?"

"Jason, just stop," she huffed at him. "Just...this is not some romantic weekend getaway. This is not some trip that both of us want to be on. This is you bringing me here against my will because you've decided that we're going to talk. So stop pretending to make this more than it actually is by being solicitous and offering me food and comfort like you're a host."

"I'm trying not to force you, Elizabeth," he said. "If you're tired and would rather rest...I'm just trying to make you comfortable."

"Well that's pretty much going to be impossible under the circumstances," she shot at him. "I didn't want to come here. I don't want to talk about what I heard you and Carly saying, I don't want to talk about us because there is no us. I don't want to hash out the past and have you apologize and try to make everything better...I don't want to do any of that. That's why I've tried to avoid you. That's why I've tried to give you every indication, including flat out telling you, that I don't want to do it. But once again you refuse to listen to what anyone else has to say; it's all about what you've decided."

She paced away from him and ran her hands through her hair in agitation. "Why is it that we refuse to listen to each other? Are we both so selfish, so stupid, so caught up in ourselves that we refuse to believe the other person? You kept pushing me away with all these claims about the danger and you didn't want anything to happen to us and I kept begging you to change your mind, to be a family, or at least a couple. We always do this, Jason, and I just can't keep on it. It's like the moment one of us comes to a decision, a switch is thrown in the other person and suddenly we're on opposite sides again. I finally decide that there's no future for us, that you were right all along, that despite our claims that we love each other and how wonderful it could be if we were together it's never actually going to happen. The moment I finally agreed with everything you were constantly saying, you've turned into me. Now you're the one begging for a chance, begging to be a family, wanting to change my mind and I just...I can't do this anymore."

Shaking her head, feeling almost half-crazed at the thought she continued, "I can't...I can't change my mind and decide to go for it only to discover that once again we're on opposite sides. I've been there so many times, Jason, with my heart in my hand just begging for your time and your attention and your love and it absolutely kills a piece of my soul. I just can't do it again. And I'm sorry if you're feeling that way now, if you're hurting with the unbearable ache because the person you want most is pushing you away...I really am. But I just...I can't do it again."

He took a step towards her, his eyes soft and his throat tight as he swallowed. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I know that I've hurt you, and I knew I was hurting you at the time, but I thought it was for the best. I thought we'd adjust, that we'd both come to see that it was just too dangerous to try. After what happened to Michael, I never wanted that to be you standing in the hospital wondering if Cameron or Jake would ever wake up and be well. I just...I couldn't take that chance."

Closing his eyes and giving his head a shake, "but I was wrong. I was wrong to walk away from you. I was wrong to think that just because I wasn't with you or acted like I didn't love you that it would magically protect you. There were so many people who knew the truth about Jake, and there was so much already known about us, that something could have happened. And something did. Sonny came after you because he wanted to make me pay. He told my enemies about our child and wouldn't have cared what happened to any of you. I never protected you after you gave me that information, I never protected you at all simply because you were connected to me. I was wrong, and you were shot because of that."

"I don't want your guilt," Elizabeth shook her head. "I don't. I'm so tired of actions based on guilt and pity and obligations. For so long I've lived my life that way; not just with you. And I'm just tired of it all. I don't want to live that way with you; I don't want a relationship based on that."

She looked at him and willed him to understand, wishing that she could somehow give him absolution, find a balm that would mend his soul so that he didn't carry around the burden and weight of his internal judgments. "You are not to blame for me getting shot, Jason. You're not. That's on Sonny and only him. I knew I was exposing myself when I came to you and told you what he was threatening to do, but I thought that he'd be so focused on you that he wouldn't care about me. If I really thought that I'd be in danger, or the boys, I would have done something differently. But I didn't think he would come after us. I weighed and judged the risks and accepted the possible danger. So it was not your fault."

Swallowing and looking away, she knew she was going to have to bring up what she didn't want to. She knew she was going to have to talk about things she'd rather just avoid, but maybe if they just got this out of the way and done with then they could return to Port Charles and the next time her boys went to bed she would be there to tuck them in.

"I know what you said to Carly. I know you think I'm broken and you're responsible for it." She paused and sighed, her shoulders falling, "I also know that you think you have to fix me."

Turning to look at him, she implored him with wide, moist eyes. "Please don't. Please don't act that way. I don't want a relationship with anyone like that, but most of all you. I can't have you do things you don't want to do just because you feel like you owe me. I'm not some broken doll you have to fix, or some wounded bird you have to take care of. I just want your honesty and I want you to be true to yourself. Pretending to love someone, or that you want more from them in a relationship than what you really want...that isn't you. And I don't want you acting that way with me. It makes me feel helpless and pathetic, like I'm not strong enough to face anything, except for Jason Morgan sacrificing himself to fix worthless Elizabeth Webber.

"So please, Jason," she repeated on a whisper. "Please don't do this. Be a father...I won't interfere. Our interaction will be about our children, but stop acting like we can ever be more."

When she finished, her throat raw and painful with its clenched emotion, she felt exposed and vulnerable. She was once again reduced to begging Jason Morgan, but at least this time it wasn't for him to love her. She just wanted him to accept things, for him to stop trying so hard, to stop pushing.

Instead, she watched him as he shook his head and strode towards her. Stopping right in front of her, his face awash with emotions and a touch of desperation. He lifted his hands, capturing her face gently with his palms and angled her head so that he could stare at her intently. With just the smallest shake he fiercely told her, "You are not worthless, Elizabeth. Do you hear me? This is not about fixing you, or trying to ease my guilt and I certainly don't pity you. I love you. Do you understand me...I love you."

She closed her eyes, the only way to escape his overwhelming presence and said, "Sometimes love isn't enough."

"That isn't the case with us," he countered on a low growl. "It was never a case of not loving you. Never. It was about never standing up for what we wanted, of being too afraid to reach out and grab it. Of thinking that we owed other people for obligations or debts or promises that occurred before there ever was an us. I'm not pretending to love you, Elizabeth. I do love you."

He gave her another small shake and her eyes opened in surprise. It wasn't that he was hurting her, or that she was scared of him, it was just an intensity, a determination she had never experienced with him. His face was so raw, so open, so laid bare with his desires and his feelings that it made her breath catch and when he lowered his head towards her, she could have moved away. He was moving slowly enough, his hold was loose enough, that she could have stopped it. At the same time, there she was absolutely powerless to prevent his lips from brushing over hers. There was no way to not be affected by his gaze, or his touch, or the blatant intent in his eyes. There was no way she could erect walls high enough to keep him away. She was completely defenseless and unable to move.

His touch was light at first. More than a whisper, but not a full-court press. It was all the dichotomies she loved about Jason. Strong, yet tender. Aggressive, yet gentle. Passionate and chaste. He was pouring so much of himself into the kiss that despite her brain screaming at her to pull away, to not respond, she was unable to control her body. Her hands rested on his arms and then slid up to link behind his neck. She stepped close to him. Her mouth flowered open under his campaign, and soon all thought was lost. They simply were in the moment, in the kiss, and no amount of reason could fight through the power of the force that always drew them together.

Chapter 7

Elizabeth had no idea how she stopped kissing Jason. No idea what cut through the fog surrounding her, what made her brain finally acknowledge that as pleasurable as this was, they couldn't continue on like this. She didn't know how she physically pulled away and distanced herself from him. All she knew was that the first step back was like a painful shock, the second like she was fighting through wet cement, and the third left her lightheaded and dizzy as if she'd just climbed to the summit of a mountain. But finally with some space between them, she could shake her head and clear it, realizing and acknowledging that pleasure was fleeting and it just wasn't a good idea to kiss Jason like that.

"No," she shook her head, looking down and fighting against the desire to rest her hands on her knees and pant to catch her breath. " can't just kiss me like that and think that everything's going to be fixed."

"I know," he agreed and her head whipped up to stare at him in shock. "I know that a kiss doesn't fix anything. That wasn't why I kissed you. I also wasn't trying to seduce you into bed in the belief that that would change anything. I kissed you to show you that my love is real."

He looked at her intently and asked, "Did that feel like the kiss of someone who's only pretending to love you? Who's only trying to make you feel better? Do you really believe that this is all about the boys?"

She stared at him blankly, licking her lips and trying to form words.

"You're letting me see the boys, Elizabeth," he shook his head. "If I only cared about Jake, then why would I want Cameron there as well? Why would I keep trying to show you just how much I love you? If this was only guilt, or me trying to fix you, don't you think I'd listen to you when you told me over and over again that it wasn't my fault, or that I didn't have to do this?"

His hand clenched at his side and he said forcefully, but not bitterly, "I am not Lucky, Elizabeth. I'm not pretending to love you. I love you so much that I don't know how to function without you in my life. I thought I could be content knowing that you and the boys were safe and that you were happy, but it's not enough, Elizabeth."

"Jason," she whispered raggedly.

"I know that I've hurt you. I know that you don't trust me right now," he continued. "I know that I did things and there's not going to be an easy and immediate fix, but I'm asking for the chance. I'm asking for you to let me try."

She closed her eyes, her lips thinning, and she heard Jason let out a heavy breath.

"That's part of the problem, isn't it?" he asked heavily. "That's part of the reason you don't trust me."

Opening her eyes, Elizabeth looked at him in confusion. "What? I...what are you talking about?"

"You don't trust me because I lied to you about Sonny's death. I didn't try, back when we promised we would." He looked at her regretfully and shook his head. "That's part of the reason why you believe that I'll just change my mind again."

Peering at him with her brows furrowed, she shook her head. "No. Jason, the past is the past and we've moved on from it."

"We may have become friends again," he shook his head. "And we don't really talk about it and we don't hold onto it, but we've never really gotten past it."

"Why do we have to do this?" she asked him. "Why do we have to drag this all up now? That was years ago, Jason. What good does it do to deal with it all now?"

"Because it's part of us, Elizabeth," he said earnestly. "It's part of our past and just because we don't talk about it doesn't mean it's gone away. We said we'd try, and we didn't."

"But we got past it," she insisted. "We became friends again, I could talk to you and you could let me help you and that night in your penthouse when we made was like...I wasn't thinking of all the years we'd lost."

He nodded his head slowly and licked his lips, "I know. I wasn't either. I was focused on the fact that you were there and you were my friend but there was always an attraction to you and in that night, in that all came together. And I knew that it had been right, that there wasn't anything to be ashamed of or regret when there wasn't any awkwardness or uncomfortableness between us the next day. I wouldn't have had that with any other person but you, Elizabeth."

She couldn't help the small blush that crept up on her cheeks and she twined her fingers in the hem of her shirt and looked down.

"But just because all that happened," Jason continued on, "Doesn't mean the past disappeared."

"You aren't a person to look back," she looked at him, almost pleading with him. "So why are you doing this?"

"Because I hurt you back then," he said. "I realize that. I promised to try and I just disappeared. I didn't talk to you, I didn't tell you what was happening and I know that it hurt you to hear on the news that Sonny was alive."

"I thought he was my friend," she said softly. "But I guess it was all just business and I'm not a part of it and..."

She shrugged and then looked at him as she admitted, "I hurt you also. My face changed and I said some pretty awful things to you. Neither of us was perfect that night or in anything that happened afterwards. Jason...I...I told you that it should have been you that was shot in The Cellar instead of Ric. I held a gun on you; I called you a liar when you thought that Ric had Carly in the panic room. I believed him over you and I was nasty to you. But you have never made me feel like I have to repent of that or beg for your forgiveness or jump through hoops to make up for it. I'm not asking for you to do that for me. It's the past."

"But I understand now why you didn't trust me," he told her. "I lied to you, Elizabeth. I let you believe that Sonny was dead and I was never around. You saw Brenda's lipstick and thought it was Courtney's and knew that I'd been around her but was never around you. And then...and then I married Brenda weeks after you moved out of the penthouse and I got involved with Courtney. After I told you I cared about you and would respect you and be honest with you and would try to make a relationship with you, I was married to someone else and sleeping with another woman. I understand why you wouldn't trust me after that."

"I followed you one day," she told him and he saw his eyes widen slightly. "I followed you and I saw you go to this apartment and meet Courtney there and I heard you say that you never loved me and that's when I knew that I'd misread that entire night in your penthouse. That's why you weren't bothered by anything that happened and that's why you got involved with Courtney. I had made the entire thing up in my mind like Courtney said I had. So when Ric came along...I wanted so badly to believe that he was a good man. I didn't want to think that he was lying to me or manipulating me and that's why I defended him so strongly. I realize now that Ric came to town with an agenda that's he's never strayed from. He wanted to have power, he wanted to have Sonny's approval as much as he wanted to stick it to his brother and he's always hated you because you were the one that Sonny trusted. I was just someone he could use because I was once connected to you. You were right to warn me about him; I just didn't listen to you."

"Because there wasn't any trust between us," Jason said. "I just expected you to take my word for it, but why would you? I'd told you I cared about you, and then got involved with Courtney. I told you I'd respect you and try, and then I walked away. It was hard to watch you get involved with a guy that I knew was lying and doing things and I could never understand why you weren't smarter and didn't see what he was doing..."

He held up his hand slightly to stop her when she took a deep breath, "but why wouldn't you believe him? You were hurt, and he knew that. I'm not saying that everything between you was a lie or that you were completely stupid, because that's an insult to you. You're loyal, and you give people your trust until they break it. Ric hadn't broken your trust yet; I had. It's only natural that you'd believe him and wouldn't believe me, even if I couldn't understand it. We were both caught up in our lives there and only seeing what we wanted to see then."

Running a hand through his hair he said, "I'm sorry that I hurt you, Elizabeth. I'm sorry that what you overheard me say to Courtney hurt you. It...I don't want to say that I never loved her-"

"I'm not asking you to," she shook her head. "You were married to her; I'm not asking you to say that it was all a mistake or all a lie simply because you think that's what I want to hear. Ric did some things to me that hurt me and I was foolish to believe some of the stuff he was telling me and it would be so easy to look back on our marriage and only focus on the bad and all the lies and all the things he did. But there were some good moments and I'm sure you had those with Courtney. In spite of all the things that happened between me and Lucky, there were good moments there. Just as I'm sure there were good moments between you and Sam. I don't want us to declare our past relationships completely awful or mistakes, even if they ended badly."

Elizabeth licked her lips and then said, "I don't consider us awful, even though we're over. The past happens and I know that I could never be with Ric or Lucky again, but I don't want to dwell on every bad and horrible thing that happened. That's what I'm trying to find with you. I don't want to focus on all the pain, because there were some beautiful, wonderful moments."

His eyes were shiny as he said, "There were. But there were too few of them. And they were overshadowed by the times I let you down."

"I let you down when I asked you to give up on Jake on the day of Alan's funeral," she stated. "I never expected you to be perfect, Jason, and I knew that a relationship with you wouldn't be a normal one. You don't have a normal job, you don't keep normal hours; I knew that there would be interruptions and times you'd have to leave."

"But I should have tried harder," Jason insisted. "I shouldn't have pushed you away."

"You just wanted us to be safe," she countered.

"You would have been safer if you had guards instead of just taking a chance that nobody would ever find out," he countered as well. "When Sonny went after you, it was only because Maximus overheard him that I knew what he was planning. If Maximus hadn't heard that, Sonny would have had a straight shot at you and the boys. I would have only heard about it after it happened and would have killed me, Elizabeth. It was that moment...that moment that I realized I'd been stupid. You weren't safer away from me; I'd left you in danger by not protecting you. Seeing you on the floor, knowing that you pushed me out of the way to protect me...I felt so unworthy of your love in that moment because what kind of man turns his back on his family and claims it's for the best? I could have lost you and it frightened me. It scared me, but I didn't want to push you away anymore. It was that moment that I swore I was going to pull you close and hold onto you. I was going to do everything in my power to protect you and our children and prepare for the danger that surrounds me instead of ignoring it or thinking that you would be safer if you weren't near me. I was going to do whatever it took to make sure my family was safe."

He looked at her and he said, "I still am going to do that, and that's why I brought you here, Elizabeth. To do my best to make you see that."

It was so hard to listen to him and not be affected. He looked so earnest, he sounded so earnest. But Elizabeth had heard pretty words before and discovered they were nothing but vapor. She believed that Jason truly believed what he was saying, but she wasn't sure that she could.

"I don't know how we can do that, Jason," she shook her head. "Maybe it goes back to Sonny's death, maybe it's just because of what's happened recently, but you're's very hard for me to trust you."

She swallowed and then admitted, "I...I see all that you're doing with the boys and how you're working so hard to keep your word to them. How you're rearranging things and be there for them and I...I'll admit, it makes me wonder why you had never done that for me. But I don't want to be bitter, Jason. I don't want to be cruel, or petty, or anything else. I just...I don't want to hurt. And yet I do hurt, and I've hurt for a while because I want you in my life. I want a life with you and we've gotten so close to it and had it all shatter apart. And it's not just you, I know that I've made mistakes as well and I've hurt you. I really am not trying to make this be all your fault. I'm just searching for a way to get through life but it's so hard. It's so hard when I miss you so much. Every time I see you I just want to run into your arms and believe that we can somehow make it all work but I just...I can't. I'm so scared because I'm just certain that it will all fall apart like it always has. And I just...I don't know that I have enough strength to survive it again."

"I know," he said, his voice thick and ragged. "I know that you don't trust that I won't change my mind again. I know that I've done things that make you believe it won't work."

He let out a breath and said, "Maybe we need... Nothing we've ever done has been conventional. We lived together and never dated. We made a child the first night we slept together. We were involved with other people even though we love each other. We were seeing each other in secret and I asked you to marry me and never once have I taken you out on a proper date."

Elizabeth shook her head and said, "I don't mind that we weren't conventional. We were who we are. And I knew that with your job it wasn't exactly safe to go out on a date."

"That was because we were trying to keep Jake's paternity a secret," he pointed out. "Everyone knows now. And maybe we just thought we'd jump straight to being a family. Or maybe I thought that. But you need something different."

There was a part of her that bristled because he was declaring that she needed something different. It felt like once again he was determining things for her.

"Maybe what we need to do," Jason said, "Is to focus on us, before we figure out if we're going to be a family together. We already are a family. We're parents; we spend time with the boys. I know that Cameron asked if we can do things together, but maybe we," he gestured to the two of them, "need to do things together first. We need to learn how to talk to each other again and not have it all be focused on our children. How can we expect to be married if we're practically strangers and walking on eggshells around each other? Married people still date, they're not focused on their children all the time. Maybe we need to go out on dates. Be seen in town and not have it be because of the children. Find our connection again. Before Jake was born, we had a bond. Do you think we can find it again?"

"You want to date me?" she asked her brows crinkling slightly as she tried to process all that he said.

"I want to focus on us," he told her. "I've tried to show you that I'm committed by being there for the boys, but maybe you need to see that I'll actually be there for you. That I'm not just rearranging my schedule and delegating things for the boys only. That I'll tell my men not to disturb me when I'm with you."

"I'm not asking you to be different, Jason," she shook her head. "I know that you have responsibilities and people counting on you. I'm not expecting, or asking, you to ignore them."

He smiled slightly and nodded, "I know you're not. But I have good people that I can trust and it's time I let them do things and not handle everything. I didn't like when Sonny delegated everything, and I didn't like when he was checking on every small detail. I need to do the same with my men. I need to show them that I trust them, but not ignore them. And if that allows me to spend time with you and the boys, then that's an even better reason to find a balance in my life.

"I know that's been missing, Elizabeth," he said, regret tinting his words. "I've neglected you because I thought I had to take care of the business, but it's not good for anybody if I get lost in it. Just like it's okay for you if you focus on things that you want to do. Nobody could say you're a bad mother just because you take time for yourself. Well...we need to take time for us."

Looking at her hopefully, yet guardedly, he said, "Let's start here. Let's spend time together where we're focused on us. We don't have to rehash the past endlessly, we can just go for a drive, go for a walk, go to eat and not have to worry about Cam spilling his milk or Jake eating anything but applesauce. Can we try that?"

She looked at him, feeling panicky and scared. A part of her wanted to immediately shout no and run away. She had a feeling that if she did that, Jason would probably back off, maybe even for good. Or maybe he'd merely regroup and find another tactic. Another part of her wanted to shout yes and run into his arms. But she was still nervous about agreeing and trusting. But he wasn't asking for immediate trust, he was asking to work on it, and seemed committed. Would he really be there this time?

Therein lay her dilemma. She would never know unless she took a chance. She couldn't predict the future, she would never know for certain that Jason was lying or telling the truth unless they tried this. And if she didn't take a chance and see where it went, would she spend the rest of her life wondering if she'd made the right decision? Would she forever be plagued with doubts that maybe it could have worked out? Did she want to live the rest of her life that way? Did she want to live with doubt and fear forever and constantly wonder about the road not taken? She was always giving everyone else in her life a chance; maybe it was time to give Jason a chance.

"I'm scared to death," she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper. "I don't want to live in what ifs anymore, but I... I don't want to say no, but I don't know if I can say yes, either. I...I want to think about it. We've been up all night and...and we've's been intense. Can I think about it? Lay down for a little bit, breathe, relax, think?"

"Yes," he answered immediately. It wasn't with a placating or disappointed tone; it was giving her what she asked for. "Of course you can think about it; for however long you need to."

Jason wondered if this was as awkward for Elizabeth as it was for him. As he parked the SUV at a small roadside diner with a store attached to it and stepped out of the vehicle to find her waiting near the front bumper looking tense and uneasy, he had to believe that the answer was yes. Both of them got some sleep after their long and taxing talk, and then Elizabeth had woken up and told him, with all the enthusiasm of someone announcing they were having root canal without Novocain, that they could try and figure out if they still had anything in common with each other besides their children. It was such a ringing endorsement, but Jason had quickly grasped the concession she was making.

Discovering they were both hungry, Jason suggested finding some place to get something to eat. It wasn't that Jason didn't like the look of the building. It looked clean and welcoming, even if slightly old and run-down, it was just that it was so strange to be standing next to Elizabeth and knowing that they would be going in to share a meal. This wasn't some chance encounter, this wasn't some secret rendezvous; they were walking into a restaurant in broad daylight like a normal couple and even though Jason had scanned the parking lot and knew that there was a guard a discreet distance away, there was a part of him that thought he was doing an incredibly foolish and dangerous thing. He was announcing to everyone in the world that he was friends with Elizabeth Webber.

It was an irrational feeling, he knew. The truth was already out there. He was the father of her youngest son. He was frequently around her children. He had been friends with her for years. It had come out at his murder trial that they had slept together. He'd hugged her on local television after his acquittal and the footage had been picked up by some cable shows. He had been connected to her for yeas. Looking back on it now, he realized he had been rather naïve to believe that nobody would come after her. They didn't need to know that Jake was his son; they merely had to read newspaper archives to discover Jason had known her for years. It was amazing someone hadn't come after her before Sonny made his attempt.

However, he knew that this was not the time to get bogged down in those regrets and self-flagellations. While he believed that he and Elizabeth needed to deal with their past, he knew that it wouldn't be helpful to anyone to get so caught up in finding mistakes. He needed to focus on their time together now, and being nervous and uneasy because he feared for her safety wasn't going to make her feel welcome and wanted by his side. He had to trust in his men and himself to do their best to protect her. He hoped he never got foolish and let his guard down or ignored warnings, but he also knew it wasn't good to live in constant fear and worry that something was going to happen. He had lived that way for too long and watched Elizabeth get shot in front of him and then feared she would die and he would never get the chance to make it up to her.

The staff in the diner were friendly and kind when they walked in, and a waitress who was passing by with a pot of coffee to take care of a refill told them to sit anywhere they wanted. Jason gestured for Elizabeth to go ahead of him and she chose a booth along the side wall, not one in front of the front windows. They sat down across from each other, hardly looking at one another and not saying anything. Elizabeth pulled her bottom lip in between her teeth and chewed on it furiously while fidgeting with the silverware sitting on top of the paper napkin.

"Hi there," an older, slightly plump woman said as she stood by their table. "My name's Dee."

She placed menus in front of them and then said, "Our soup of the day is barley vegetable and the special for today is the pot roast platter. Would you like something to drink while you're looking over the menu?"

"I'll have a cup of coffee, black," Jason answered and then looked over at Elizabeth.

"Uh...I'll start out with water," she replied, smiling tightly at the waitress.

"Sure thing," the waitress smiled and then headed off behind the counter. She returned in a few minutes with their drinks and then left them alone to peruse the laminated menus.

They were silent as they made their choices and the only time they spoke was to give their orders to Dee. Otherwise they were quiet. Jason finally got tired of trying not to clench his hands on top of the table and drew them under the surface to rest on his thighs. Elizabeth looked around at the décor before propping her elbow on the table and resting her head tiredly in her hand.

"We didn't have to stop here," she said. "If you don't like the place."

"No," he immediately shook his head. "That's not it. I just...there's so much I want to say; I've just never liked talking where other people could overhear."

"Occupational hazard I suppose," she murmured.

He didn't react to the comment, instead he decided to be honest and say, "It's also strange to be sitting some place so public with you. I would tell myself that I couldn't acknowledge you or react to you because I didn't want to give away the depth of my feelings and have someone come after you as a way to get to me. I keep thinking that I'm putting you at risk sitting here having lunch with you and that I shouldn't be doing this. However, I know that I can't think that way."

"It'll take a while to get used to this," Elizabeth stated. "If we ever do. I keep wondering if your phone is going to ring and you're going to toss some money down on the table and take off. I half expect someone to walk through the door and see us together and make a snide comment or for you to get all tense or..."

She trailed off and shrugged, not quite meeting his look. Jason lifted his hand and brought it rest slightly on hers as he said, "I guess it's only natural that we have to make some adjustments. I want you to know some things, okay?"

When she nodded tightly he said, "I have a guard in the parking lot. helps me to be able to worry less. I know that you haven't always liked the guards, but I appreciate you not objecting to them for you and the boys. When we get back to Port Charles and...and if you agree to go out on dates with me, we'll have guards. It will let me pay attention to you and not feel like I have to be on guard and alert for every possible threat or danger all the time. It's not that I'm neglecting your safety but it will allow me to focus on you."

Her hand slid out from underneath his as she went slightly pink. She crossed her arms in front of her, but didn't say anything. He made sure to keep his voice light as he concluded, "I just wanted you know. I've done some things that will hopefully keep things settled down and calm, but I know there isn't any guarantee. I really hope that there aren't interruptions when we're out."

"It would impossible if there weren't," she said softly. Not in spite or bitterness; he thought he detected understanding in her tone. Hopefully it wasn't resignation.

"But if something does come up, the guards will make sure you're safe," he told her. "That's also why they're there, so that I don't leave you unprotected."

Elizabeth swallowed and once again fiddled with her silverware on the table. Finally she looked up at him and said, "Thank you. For...for telling me."

"You're welcome," he answered. At that moment their waitress returned with their food and once she was gone, he looked at Elizabeth and asked, "Have you thought about what you want to do the rest of today?"

"I...I don't know," she answered.

"We'll do whatever you want," he told her, wanting her to feel comfortable, but immediately sensed it was the wrong thing. She stiffened and stabbed at her food, looking decidedly uncomfortable.

Finally she said, "Don't leave everything up to me, Jason. I think I've proved that I'm not always the best in making decisions. Plus, if we're ever going to have a chance together, you have to put in some effort. You can't keep leaving all the decisions up to me by claiming that I'm the one most affected, or I have the most to lose. It makes me feel like you don't care enough to give an opinion and then I'm left trying to figure out the best choice for me, the boys and for you and in the end screwing it up for everyone."

There was just enough in her voice that he knew she was referencing their past and the times she would ask him if he wanted to claim their family or be together and he would deflect by pushing the choice back on her. He had been afraid of having something happen to her and the boys just because he had selfishly chosen to be with them and there was also a part of him that really wanted Elizabeth to be sure that she was ready for all that being with him would entail. But he hadn't realized that he'd made it appear that he didn't care enough to want them, or make an effort. Yet, he could see how not stepping up to claim his son and her would appear, now that he was making an effort to look at things from Elizabeth's perspective.

She shook her head and said, "I don't know what I want to do, Jason. For so long I haven't let myself think about what we could do like a normal couple or even just friends. We used to go for rides, we used to sit on the docks and talk or go to the bridge and then it became too dangerous to do those things. So we'd meet at the safe house or my studio and..."

She looked around and lowered her voice while already blushing as she said, "Sometimes we'd have sex and then you'd run off. Sometimes we'd barely kiss before you were gone again. We...we're not ready for that and I...I don't know what to do now."

Jason leaned forward and kept his own voice low as he said, "It was never just sex, Elizabeth. I wasn't using you like that. I would never use you just for my satisfaction and then toss you aside."

She was blushing furiously and looking away from him, so he leaned back and picked up his fork, knowing they needed to let this conversation drop for now. So he said, "Let's eat, and then afterwards we can decide on something to do."

"You can't be serious," Elizabeth hissed out of the side of her mouth as they walked through the lot the following morning. The afternoon and evening after eating at the diner had been awkward as they tried to find things to talk about or do together and could only seem to focus on how uncomfortable they felt around each other. He hoped that today would bring a change.

Jason looked down at her and just grinned, "Why not?"

"Because you already have a motorcycle," she said. "For all I know, you could have more than one."

"I do," he answered. "I've got one down on the island, I've got the one that I keep at the Towers and I have one in storage."

"So why are you buying another one?" she asked him.

"Because I want to take you out on a ride and the motorcycles are back in Port Charles," he answered.

"So you rent one," she told him, her eyes wide. "That's what normal people do. They don't go out and buy another one."

"I'm not normal," he told her, just a hint of a smile teasing around his lips. He was pleased when he saw her fighting back her own. "I don't want to rent one. Besides, if this is what Spinelli says it is, then it'll be a good investment. I can work on it and fix it up; restore it. It'll give me something to do when I need to relax. Maybe it's something you would be interested in, or even Cameron. He likes the toy tool set at the house and I see him pretending to fix his trains and toys."

"Yeah, he does," she answered. "But why would you think I would want to help restore it?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "I just thought it might be something we could do together. Something we've never done before. You like to ride, why not help fix up an old bike? You could help pick out the paint scheme when it's done or something. It could be our bike to ride together."

Elizabeth stopped and Jason only took a step before he realized she wasn't at his side. Turning to look at her, he was at first worried that he'd upset her when he saw her pull her lips in between her teeth and her eyes shimmering with moisture. But she wasn't giving off a hurt or upset demeanor, so he stayed quiet as he stepped close to her. She looked up at him and looked slightly puzzled, but then said, "I never thought of myself as mechanically inclined or able to fix things. I...I always had to have...others do it. But...but maybe it's something I can learn, or at least try. And if I don't like it...then it'll at least be interesting to watch your progress and then I can pick out the new paint."

His smile grew, encouraged by all that Elizabeth had said. Jason wondered if she was even aware of all that she'd hinted at, all that she'd spoken of for the future. Perhaps she was, but he also knew that he needed to stop analyzing every little moment and focus on the time they had together. Who knew that asking Spinelli to look up motorcycles for sale in the area would lead to this? He was hoping just to find something so that they could go for rides around here. Sitting in a car where they didn't speak and there was more than just physical distance between them wasn't working for them. Even when Elizabeth had been torn between him and Lucky, they could always find a commonality in their love for going fast on his bike.

He'd merely been hoping to find some of that freedom, some way to not be so tense and on edge with one another. He had no idea he would find a classic motorcycle being sold off at a dirt cheap price. It was only on a whim that he thought about fixing it up and asking Elizabeth to join in. Even if she didn't like working on it and only ended up spending time with him while he worked, he would be happy with it. Even if it took years for him to find time with her to restore the bike, he wouldn't care. If this helped get them talking again and somewhat at ease, then he would gladly take it. He would pay any amount of money to be able to fix things between him and Elizabeth.

It didn't surprise him, though, that the bike was a bargain. Not that Elizabeth wasn't worth expensive things, but she had never cared about the money. She hadn't wanted his friendship or a relationship with him because of the things he could buy for her. Sometimes she actively fought against his monetary help. She accepted it when it came to her children, but he'd always sensed her reticence about it. So it somehow seemed to fit them that they would relax for the first time in weeks over talking about a run-down bike. That Elizabeth would begin talking about spending time with him because of a motorcycle that needed repairs to restore it to its full beauty and original condition. He wasn't going to go so far as claiming that the bike was a metaphor for their relationship, but he also wouldn't deny that the whole thing seemed to fit them.

"Alright then," he nodded, and reached out his hand, placing it lightly on her back. She didn't shy away from his touch and he let out a soft breath. "Let's go check out this bike."

Chapter 8

By the time Jason and Elizabeth headed back to Port Charles, she was more than ready to the leave the cabin near the Canadian border. She missed her boys and couldn't wait to be able to tuck them into bed again at night and wake up to the sound of their feet pounding down the hall to her room before her door was flung open in their exuberance to get to her. She was ready for some space between her and Jason and to not constantly be thinking of all that had happened between them in the past. To not be awkward or uncomfortable as they tried to make their way through some odd quasi-relationship limbo.

Yet, at the same time, Elizabeth was saddened at the prospect of going back to Port Charles. The night Jake was conceived, she and Jason had talked about how timing and others always seemed to come between them. When it was just the two of them, alone together in their secret little places, they were good. It was when they tried to put their relationship into the rest of the aspects of their lives and deal with the comments and demands of everyone else that they fell apart. Those words had become a self-fulfilled prophecy, ending with Jason walking away from their engagement and her asking him to give up his son, and the two of them in love but not seeing a way to be together.

At the cabin, just like they had at their safe house, they were just Jason and Elizabeth. There were no phone calls, no snide remarks or judgmental looks; they could just exist and be them. Sometimes Elizabeth could forget all that had transpired between them as they laughed at her clumsiness with a wrench or Jason teasing her that she still sang to herself when she sketched. It was moments like that which reminded Elizabeth of how much she loved him and how she had enjoyed their stolen moments together.

She didn't want to leave that time with Jason, even if she knew it wasn't real and that it probably fall apart the moment they reached the city limits. For the real world would intrude and their happy moment together would be shattered by the demands and machinations of others. Yet even knowing all that, Elizabeth still hated to leave. Because for those few days, with Jason by her side, Elizabeth had been happier than she'd been in months. The pain hadn't been as strong, and if she'd hadn't been careful, she could have deluded herself into believing that this could be her reality with Jason. That they could be a couple and fit the boys into their lives and be a family. It was hard to shatter the illusion, no matter how much she told herself she had to in order to keep her sanity and life in tact.

One of the guards was driving the motorcycle back, and Elizabeth felt wistful as she wondered whether it would ever be restored. Had it merely been a distraction while at the cabin, or would Jason actually follow through on his plans? She knew that was what she really feared. Despite all of Jason's sincere talk and her belief that he believed and meant all he'd said, it wouldn't happen. He wouldn't make time for them to be together, or he'd let himself be swayed by comments from other people or by some incident that came up and he'd decide that they were better off staying away. She was terrified of something like that happening and knowing, despite her efforts to not open her heart, that she would be shattered and have to once again pull herself together and be strong to go on for her boys.

The closer they got to town, the quieter she became and the more oppressive the air felt between them. She noticed, when she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, that Jason's knuckles became tighter around the steering wheel and his face became grimmer and set in a stony visage. She had little doubt that he was feeling the tension too.

"Listen," he began quietly, almost as if he was afraid to speak too loud. "I wanted to talk to you about this next week."

She swallowed and then said, "Okay."

"I know that you weren't happy that I did this...that I took you away from the boys the night they got back." He glanced at her quickly. "I know you've missed them. So I know you want to spend some time with them. I don't want to have them come over until you're ready for that, okay? You need some time with your sons and I know that."

Closing her eyes, she licked her lips and said, "Thank you for understanding."

"Of course," he assured her. "Plus, I know I'm going to be busy getting caught up on what's happened while we were away. So is it okay if I give you a call in a couple of days after you've gotten settled in?"

"Yeah," she answered, letting a smile accompany her words. "I know that Cam and Jake really like spending time with you so I'm not going to try to keep them away. I just...I want to spend some time with them."

"I know," Jason replied. "I know...because it's hard for me when they're not around. I-I come downstairs and I see their toys in the basket near the fireplace and I remember the route that Cam set up for his cars the last time he was there and I...I smile as I remember him driving them all around."

Elizabeth turned to look at him as he smiled at the memory, and felt her own smile grow. It was clear to her that her boys felt comfortable with Jason and being at his place. And it was clear to her as well just how much Jason reveled in being with their sons and playing with them. He looked over at her, his eyes twinkling as he said, "You heard about the sauce, right?"

She laughed and nodded, remembering Cameron's excited description of the sauce exploding and getting all over the kitchen.

"Well, before we made dinner, Cam set up this 'town' in the living room. He pulled every single car and truck and motorcycle out of the basket and out of the bag you sent along and told me and Jake where the 'roads' were. And then he wanted to have the mountains." He laughed and glanced at her again before returning his attention to the road. "Those were the coffee table and the pool table. Jake got the coffee table because that was his height, and Cam wanted the pool table since he was bigger. But he didn't just want to magically fly his cars up there, he said we needed ramps."

"Ah," she nodded. "Yes, the ramps. I found him some Hot Wheels tracks and he puts some of those together and uses them to get up to the coffee table or the couch. I bought some online from a guy who was getting rid of tons of them. I should give you some to keep at your place; I'm always tripping over them and it would be helpful to have some there."

"Well, Cam kept insisting on the ramps and Jake was trying to say ramps, too, and I found this really big coffee table book Carly gave me one year and I never read but I kept it because...well, it was Carly and if I get rid of it she'll somehow divine it and get mad at me and it's just easier to keep it and have it in the house." He shook his head and got back to the story. "So that actually worked as a ramp for Jake and the coffee table except it kept falling down and I kept having to pick it back up. But was harder to find something to get up to the pool table. Finally one of the guards found a board down in one of the storage rooms and brought it up and Cameron fell in love with it. He wants to paint it and decorate it and I'll probably have to put something on one end just to keep him from scratching up the wood on the table.

"I find myself thinking about them when they're not with me and figuring out how we can make the ramps better, or something else we'd done when they were over and the penthouse feels big and empty when I'm there at night." He looked over at Elizabeth and his eyes were soft and tender as he said, "I imagine that's how you feel when they're with me. It's how I feel when they're not there."

Her breath caught in her throat and she knew that even if she wasn't really ready to let her boys go when Jason called, she would agree to whatever day he requested. He loved them so much and she had deprived him of so much time. She knew she couldn't be selfish, even though it just made her ache to know they were gone. She should be used to this because Lucky used to take the boys; but somehow she seemed to ache more when they were with Jason. Maybe because she ached to be with them as well and felt that things weren't entirely right because she wasn't. She'd never really felt that when Lucky took Cameron and Jake.

"Give me a call in a couple of days," she told him earnestly. "I should know my schedule for the next week and we can figure out what works out best for us all." Jason nodded, and then took a breath before saying, "And maybe you can figure out what would work out best with your schedule for me to take you out."

Her breath caught in her throat as he continued on, "We could start out with something during the day if you'd be more comfortable with that. Maybe get some lunch and then I could show you the set-up at the garage where we can work on the bike...if you'd like. Or maybe you'd like to take a ride on a bike that doesn't start to shutter over forty-five like this one did."

He glanced at her and said, "Or we can go for dinner, if you'd rather. I just thought maybe you'd feel more comfortable with doing something during the day while the boys were with Maria, and then you'd be there to put them into bed at night. Or...we could go for a ride after they're down. Or check out the garage then."

"Jason," she reached across the seat and placed her hand gently on his arm. It was just enough to get his attention before she brought it back to rest in her lap. "I'll...I'll see what my schedule is like and we...we can figure out what we'd like to do."

They were silent the rest of the way until finally they pulled into Elizabeth's driveway. When Jason got out of the truck and walked around to open her door she whispered quietly to herself, "Please call this time."

"I was calling about tomorrow," Jason said, once he'd said hello to Elizabeth and they'd spoken briefly about the boys.

"Oh?" she asked, her tone immediately going from relaxed to guarded.

"I was just making sure that your schedule hadn't changed," he said, striving to keep his voice even in the face of her change. "When I dropped the boys off the other day you'd mentioned there was a flu bug going around the nurses and you'd had to pick up an extra shift while I had the boys. I just wanted to make sure Epiphany hadn't needed you to cover another shift for someone."

"Oh," she breathed out, her tone once again changing. It now held understanding, and a bit of embarrassment. "No, Epiphany says we're covered for tomorrow. I told her that I had plans and she said since I picked up a double the other day she'd call in someone else if they were short."

"Good," he smiled into the phone, his shoulders relaxing slightly. "I hope it's not necessary; that everyone's doing better, I mean. So you still want to go for a ride tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Elizabeth confirmed. "I...I'll be ready."

"Great," he said, hoping that she didn't change her mind between now and then. "Then I'll see you tomorrow."


"Are the boys in bed?" he asked, not wanting to get off the phone.

"Yeah," she answered. "They were exhausted and didn't fight it at all. I'm sorry you didn't get to talk to them."

"I got to talk to you," he said. "But you sound like you just want to relax so I'll say goodnight. I'll see you tomorrow."

"It was a long day," she confirmed. "I don't think I'm going to be up much longer. I-I'll see you tomorrow, Jason."

Once she ended the call, Jason set the phone's handset down in the cradle, and then leaned back in his chair and scrubbed his hands over his face. He felt drained by a simple phone call. Although, nothing was ever really simple when it came to Elizabeth. The years of friendship, skirting around their attraction because they were with other people or believed that the other person merely wanted to be friends; Jason had always felt like he was doing something wrong with her. It had only intensified when he discovered they were having a child together, and then when they snuck around having an affair and hoping that his enemies wouldn't find out.

Back then they couldn't have long conversations on the phone. They'd call, say when and where to meet and then talk once they were face to face. Or not. Closing his eyes, he could see how Elizabeth - in self-recrimination and an attempt to downplay what they'd had - would say that their meetings had only been about sex. That he'd only used her and then walked away...from her and their sons. It hadn't been true, it would never be true, but Jason knew that his past actions had created an impression on Elizabeth that was compounded because of her hurt.

They'd made plans to be together New Year's Eve and he'd had to leave without even calling her. They were going to go to Italy and he left her sitting at the airport. It was no wonder she'd probably assumed he was going to cancel on her tomorrow. He wasn't upset, he was just more determined than ever to show her that just as he was committed to being there for Cameron and Jake and making time for them, he would make time for her. He was not going to let himself be distracted if he could prevent it.

His men knew what his priorities were. He was not neglecting the business for his family, but they knew that he was not going to marginalize his family for the business. He was not going to leave them waiting just because something came up that one of his lieutenants could handle. He was efficient and he was decisive, he tried to think long-term about how his contracts and his negotiations would affect not only the immediate situation but also the future. Diane was much less caustic in her counsel, but truly doing her best to help Jason work out the best arrangements businesswise and make the legitimate side of the organization solvent and less of a hassle. Bernie was invaluable with his advice in regards to the different families and the interactions between them all.

His guards and his workers called him less frequently because he was demonstrating that he trusted them. He didn't question their every move and they felt more comfortable handling their assignments and the minor fluctuations that arose. They still called when something was significant enough, but they called the lieutenants first, who then called those in Jason's inner circle who either came up with a solution to the problem and then informed him, or called him to discuss the situation and give him their opinions. He felt like he was dealing with less crises and headaches than he had in a long time.

He still knew what was going on; he would never turn everything completely over to someone else. But he was able to spend less time on situations. Part of that could was probably due to the fact that things were relatively calm at the moment. After Sonny's death and the elimination of the Zacharras, Jason had told the families that he wasn't going to do business the way Sonny had before. He wasn't going to put up with infringements into his territories, and he would never look the other way if someone came after his family. He wasn't irrational and unpredictable like Sonny; if they wanted to test him, they would find out he was serious. Because he would put a bullet between their eyes.

Perhaps they were just biding their time until they could make a strike at him, but Jason didn't really believe that. They seemed to accept that he would not be erratic like Sonny and his stability would mean more peace for them. He negotiated the use of some of his shipping lanes in exchange for the ability to offload at piers and warehouses that others held, and so far the arrangement appeared to be working. Cody and Max were keeping an eye on the process, but the men were encouraged by the cooperation and less infighting they witnessed. With less contention, there were less meetings called where everyone postured and preened and viewed each other with barely concealed suspicion and contempt. That meant Jason and his men could focus on not arousing the suspicion of the cops as they met their customers' demands.

All of those efforts had the effect of allowing Jason the freedom to focus on his family. He saw his boys several days a week and had them sleep over at his house at least one night. If something happened and the guards needed to talk to him, they went across the hall to Sonny's old penthouse that had been converted into the hive of Jason's organization. He'd learned from his former friend; Jason would not discuss business in his home and send his family upstairs and make them feel slighted or unwelcome merely to accommodate him. He also never wanted his children to listen in on his dealings and attempt to emulate him as Michael had with Sonny. Cameron and Jake had endless possibilities of what they could grow up to be; he would make sure that his boys reached their full potential and didn't fall into the business he was in. He knew Elizabeth would want better for them, and he did as well.

Because of his efforts to be with his boys, the men in his organization understood his orders in regards to Elizabeth. They knew how important she was to him, they knew that she'd nearly died, and they all knew that she was making Jason work for their relationship. Whatever their personal feelings in regards to her or him, they all understood that Jason did not want to be called away when he was with her. Max, Milo and Cody all knew that Jason had left Elizabeth before, rushing off to deal with other things and other people, and that he determined to treat her differently this time. It was why they indulged him earlier today when he'd told them that unless the PCPD raided the place, the warehouse burned down or another organization suddenly declared war on them, he didn't want them to call him when he was with Elizabeth tomorrow.

She was giving him a chance and he was going to do all he could to ensure that she never regretted it. He was going to try this time and show her that he was not going to walk away willingly from her. This time he was going to put his family first.

When Jason's bike rumbled to a stop in her driveway, Elizabeth felt like a teenage girl sneaking out of her grandmother's house instead of a multi-divorced mother of two. She kept expecting someone to tell her she was doing something wrong, but the only comment she got was from Cameron wondering if Daddy Jason would come in and say hello to them before they left. He wasn't jealous that Jason was taking her out and not all of them; he just wanted to make sure that Jason acknowledged him and his brother.

As much as Elizabeth had told herself to believe in Jason because nothing would work if she didn't, she still couldn't stop the immense joy and relief that swept through her when he finally did arrive. He hadn't been delayed, he hadn't called with an excuse, he had shown up at the precise time he told her he would. She would have broken down in tears if she'd been alone, but she didn't want to have to explain them to Jason or her sons. As she stood by the door, looking out through the window to the side of it and watched Jason approach, many of the butterflies that had plagued her seemed to vanish.

She could see that he was uncertain, based on the way he kept brushing his hands over his jeans and tugging at the bottom of his jacket, and for some reason that made her less nervous. He was in uncharted territory just as much as she was. He was doing his best and somehow that made it easier for her to let go of her worries and focus on being in the moment. Just his mere presence, just the mere fact that he'd kept his word eased so much tension from her shoulders.

When Jason knocked on the door, she jumped, even though she'd seen him approach, and then she laughed at her foolishness. Straightening her shoulders, she opened the door and with her laughter still bubbling out she smiled brightly at him. "Hi."

"Hey," he replied back softly.

"You want to come in?" she asked him. "I just need to get my jacket and Cam wanted to say hi to you."

"Daddy Jason," Cameron called out, abandoning the cartoon he was watching and running up the landing towards Jason.

Jake was following behind his older brother, his chubby little legs not quite as fast, but determined to not be left behind. "Dada."

Jason knelt down and wrapped his arms around both boys, a contented smile on his face as he held them. After giving them a quick kiss, he pulled back slightly to look at them.

"You're taking Mommy for a ride?" Cameron asked, his hands playing with the edge of Jason's jacket, the tips of his fingers marking off the teeth of the zipper.

"I am," Jason confirmed with a nod. "Are you okay with us being gone again?"

Cam thought for a moment and then nodded. "You spend time with us and Mommy spends time with us, but you and Mommy don't spend time together. Grams always used to say Mommy needed some time for herself, so I guess you do, too. It's nice that you can spend it together."

Elizabeth pulled her lips in between her teeth and looked down at her feet as she felt a blush stain her cheeks. She peeked up Jason through her lashes and bangs and found he was watching her, a smile on his face. Not taking his eyes off her, he answered their little boy's comment. "Yeah, I agree. I like to spend time with your mom."

Licking her lips, she bent down and looked at Cameron and Jake. "You guys be good, okay? Listen to Maria and the TV goes off once Charlie's over."

"Okay," Cam said, letting go of Jason and flinging his arms around her neck. "Have fun, Mommy."

She closed her eyes and held him against her. Then she gave him a kiss and let him go, opening her arms to Jake who wasn't going to be outdone. He hugged her and placed a slobbery kiss on her cheek, accidentally smacking her with his head. But he shook off the sting and then followed Cameron back to the couch. Jason held out his hand and together they straightened up, looking over at the two boys who were climbing up on the couch again and were engrossed in the video. For them, it seemed to be perfectly natural that she and Jason would go out and somehow that made Elizabeth relax even more.

Jason squeezed her hand, but didn't let go of it as he asked, "Are you ready?"

"Yeah," she nodded and then turned to find Maria had materialized in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. "We'll be back in a little while, Maria. You have our numbers if you need us."

"We'll be fine, Ms. Webber," the other woman smiled. "And I won't let the boys stay inside all afternoon."

Once she knew all was taken care of with her boys, she turned back to Jason and gave him a smile. "I noticed you had your bike. Where are we going to go?"

He laughed as he opened the door and led her outside, still not releasing her hand as they descended from the porch and walked towards his bike. "I thought we'd just go for a ride. Maybe get some lunch...just do whatever we wanted."

As they reached the motorcycle and Jason handed her the helmet, she smiled at him genuinely and said, "It sounds perfect."

Jason wasn't sure what had changed this afternoon, but whatever it was, he hoped it continued on. When Elizabeth opened the door, he didn't feel like she was calculating how quickly she could get away from him or smiling at him hesitantly. She was relaxed as she stood next to him, and when he took her hand and helped her stand, she didn't flinch or pull away from him. In fact, she let him hold her hand all the way down to his bike. And when she climbed on behind him, it felt like it used to feel. Back when they used to ride for hours and she would beg him to drive. She wasn't holding onto him stiffly or awkwardly or struggling to keep space between them as she had when they went riding on the new bike.

No, on this ride, Elizabeth was once again tucked up tight against him as they drove away from her house. Her arms were comfortably settled around his waist as they made their way through the neighborhood and then out onto the main streets. She bounced her legs at every red light as if she was impatiently waiting for the signal to change, and then once it did, she would squeeze his sides as he took off. Once away from the city and out on the cliff roads, Elizabeth pressed even closer to him, wrapped her arms more securely around him and shouted just one simple command. "Go fast!"

He happily complied and they raced along the road in seamless unison. She leaned into the turns when he did, holding on securely but not so tightly he couldn't maneuver. When he accelerated down the straight-aways, she laughed in pure bliss which pushed him to go even faster. They rode from the base of the cliff to the top and then Jason turned the bike around and raced back down them, causing Elizabeth to squeal in delight. His own grin was firm on his face, reveling in the closeness they shared, the fun of the ride and the thrill of them finally feeling right again.

When they reached the bottom, Jason pulled over to the side of the road and let the motorcycle idle. He twisted around to look at her, and was struck by how beautiful she was with her cheeks red from the wind and her eyes sparkling with laughter and enjoyment. He wanted in that moment to kiss her and never let her go, but he didn't want to move too fast and spook her. Instead, he licked his lips and asked his original intended question.

"Want to drive?"

Her eyes widened slightly and she gripped his jacket. "Are...are you serious?"

He nodded and then laughed when her head bobbed up and down so fast she looked like one of those big-headed dolls with their heads on springs that Michael and Morgan had. Keeping his feet braced on the ground he said, "Climb off and I'll move back. Then you can get in front."

She was scrambling off the bike before he even finished his instructions and then bounced on her toes at his side while she waited for him to move. Ducking under his arm, she got back on the bike and looked back at him eagerly. He reminded her of the controls, even though he knew he would have his hands on the bike at all times, and then helped her maintain balance as he gradually gave it more gas and turned back around to head up the road once again. They didn't go too fast, and Jason knew that he was doing most of the steering - and was certain Elizabeth knew it as well - but the feeling was incredible.

It wasn't just that they were on the motorcycle together and enjoying themselves; for Jason it was the feel of once again having his arms around her. He was pressed up against her, his arms beside hers, his hands covering hers on the handlebar; he loved this woman in his arms and even if it was sitting behind her on his bike, he was thrilled to hold her again. He had to keep himself grounded and not let his body react to the stimulus because he did not want to overwhelm Elizabeth. He didn't want her to think he did this just to seduce her. Jason was very aware of the fact that their interludes had always ended with him leaving and that left her feeling cheapened. While he craved a physical connection with her because he loved her, he was going to make sure she trusted him emotionally before they took that step once more.

Then, he would do everything in his power to make sure that he woke up with her in his arms in the morning. Very few times had they ever had that pleasure, and he wanted it. He wanted it as much as she seemed to need it. That reassurance that this was love, not just slaking a physical desire. To spend the entire night with her, to share breakfast with her again and to act like a normal couple; Jason wanted that.

He had to stop thinking such thoughts or Elizabeth would be left with no doubt of his arousal. Pulling his mind back to the moment, he leaned forward and asked, "Do you want to go faster?"

She turned her head slightly and he saw a mixture of fear and desire on her face as she nodded. He squeezed her hands and assured her, "Don't worry, I'm here."

Then he helped her accelerate slightly and smiled when he heard her squeal as the bike surged forward. He didn't make them go too much faster. He was trying not to completely dominate Elizabeth's attempts to steer, and he didn't want to end the ride too soon. He just wanted to give her the freedom and the rush he knew she was craving. They leaned into the corners, zoomed down the straight sections and all-too-soon they arrived at the top where the road leveled and straightened out. Jason directed them towards the side and once again stopped the bike, bracing his legs on the ground.

He was startled when Elizabeth turned the key to shut off the bike, and he put down the stand before helping her climb off. He looked at her in confusion, but then got off the bike as well when she tugged on his hand. Once he was standing beside her, she launched herself into his arms, squeezing him tightly. His arms immediately wrapped around her and he lowered his head to rest against the hard plastic of her helmet. He desperately missed the silk of her hair.

"Thank you," she whispered in pure joy against his chest. "Thank you so much, Jason."

"You're welcome," he replied softly. "I know how much you like to drive."

"I do," she admitted, "but...but it was more than that."

She fell quiet and he wanted to ask her what she meant but he didn't want to push her. He didn't want her to feel like she had to explain every comment to him, especially when he knew that sometimes she was still so uncertain about everything between them. For now, he was merely content to hold her and let her say things when she was ready or not.

"I...I've missed you, Jason," she said softly, hesitantly. "And...and you know that I haven't felt...comfortable."

He did and he closed his eyes in silent regret. But before he could speak she went on quickly, "I'm not saying that to make you feel bad. I's been hard. But today...when you were sitting behind me and you had your arms around reminded me of how safe I feel in your arms and how much I've missed being there. wasn't about the ride, or you letting me was reminding me of how you make me feel."

Jason was absolutely stunned at her admission, of the honesty she'd shared with him and the trust he felt beginning again at her words. His throat was tight and he couldn't speak but he felt he had to say something to her. To acknowledge all that she'd said and put on the line with him.

Before he could even begin to find his voice, though, Elizabeth pulled back nervously and looked up at him, then quickly looked away. She was now a bundle of nervous energy and he knew before she even opened her mouth again that she was going to change the subject and step back from this level of intimacy they'd just experienced. With a self-deprecating laugh she said, "I'm starving. I was so nervous before you arrived that I couldn't eat much lunch with the boys and I..."

She peeked up at him and asked, "Could...could we get something to eat?"

"Yeah," he nodded, licking his lips. "We can do that. Do you want to drive back down?"

She shook her head as she said, "No. I...I'm not as comfortable with the drive down."

"Okay," he accepted. "Maybe with a little practice you will be. For now...let's get you some food. I know how you can get when you're hungry."

She accepted his teasing tone and pretended indignation with him as she approached the bike. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Jason shook his head. As they stopped beside his motorcycle, he took a deep breath and placed his hand on Elizabeth's arm briefly, before bringing it up to her cheek. She looked at him, her eyes wide as he said, "Thank you, Elizabeth."

After a moment, she nodded her head, understanding and accepting his reaction to her admission. Leaning forward, he placed a light kiss on her cheek, and then pulled back despite wanting so much more. They'd had a major shift today and he didn't know if they would slide backwards after this, or if they'd keep going, but he had to acknowledge all that had happened. Climbing quickly on the bike, he offered her his arm as balance while she slid on behind him.

Before he started the bike, he turned towards her, grateful he wouldn't have to shout over the engine. "Maybe after we get something to eat you'd like to see the garage I have the other bike at? It's kinda bare, but maybe we could decide what you'd like to have there so you can feel comfortable as well."

Elizabeth pulled her lip in between her teeth, chewing on it briefly before releasing it as she nodded. "Yeah," she agreed. "I'd like that."

Chapter 9

"Well, hello, you."

Elizabeth looked up at Robin and blushed at being caught daydreaming at work. Quickly she tried to focus on the charts before her, certain that Robin's name was on one of them and the doctor would no doubt be asking for an update on her patient. She especially didn't want to give Epiphany cause to scold her for not being alert at work. Not that Epiphany's scoldings were ever long-lasting, but still, Elizabeth was being paid to do a job and she was not going to shirk on her responsibilities.

"Hi," she smiled. "Did you need your chart? I'm sure it's here. I just need to make sure I've noted everything."

"Relax," Robin said kindly, waving a dismissive hand. "I wasn't coming to ask about Mr. Santori. I was coming to talk to you."

"Me?" she questioned, unease starting to creep up her spine. "About what?"

"About you and Jason," the doctor smiled. Bracing her arms on the counter she leaned forward and asked, "How are things going between the two of you?"

Elizabeth stared at the other woman dumbly, certain that at any moment the friendly façade would drop and the attack would begin. After all, it's what her grandmother had done once word had gotten around town that Elizabeth was seen out with Jason. While the older woman had never liked, or really accepted, the revelation that Jason was Jake's father instead of Lucky, it was apparently tolerated as long as Elizabeth only had contact with him in regards to the boys. As soon as Elizabeth herself started spending time with him, and more importantly people started to notice it and comment on it, then it was too much for the older nurse to accept.

Her grandmother had come over to her house, thankfully on a day when Jason had the boys so they weren't witnesses to the fight, and began to berate Elizabeth for her stupidity and foolishness in dating Jason Morgan. It was the height of irresponsibility as a parent to actually date the known father of her youngest son. Never mind the fact that it was known that Jason spent time with both boys, that they all had guards, it was apparently scandalous to the older woman that Elizabeth had gone on motorcycle rides and out to lunch with him.

"So what's going to happen, Elizabeth?" her grandmother demanded. "Are you and Jason going to get married? Are you going to be one big family? Are you going to have even more children with him?"

"I don't know what will happen, Gram," she responded, desperately trying to hold onto her temper. "But frankly, that's only for me and Jason to know right now. We'll decide what's best for us and our family and if you don't like it or can't accept it, then you just need to keep on doing what you're doing and just stay away."

"Stay away?" the older woman asked incredulously. "You want me to stay away?"

"You've only called a couple of times since the news came out about Jason being Jake's father and my shooting," Elizabeth reminded the woman who helped raise her. "That's been all on you. And frankly, if you can't accept my children for who they are and are going to judge them because of who their father is, then can just stay away. I don't need you to be another person in their lives who barely conceals their disdain for the man who's there for them and spends time with them. Lucky claimed to love them, and he's all but disappeared. He doesn't call, he doesn't ask about them, he never acknowledges the pictures Cameron draws for him. I've given you projects that they've made and said they wanted you to have and you've barely called them or stopped by. Why is that?"

When she said nothing, just looked away uncomfortably, the single mother nodded, "Yeah, that's what I figured. Now that everyone knows Jason is Jake's father and Cameron calls him Daddy Jason and they spend time with him, you've decided that my sons aren't worthy of your time. Well...then you don't deserve to know anything about my life and what's going on between me and Jason. That's reserved for people who will actually listen to me without judging me and deciding that I'm a horrible person simply based on the parentage of my sons."

"That isn't what I meant, Elizabeth," her grandmother tried to salvage, but the young mother wasn't interested in hearing any excuses or empty promises.

"I don't have time for this in my life right now, Gram," she shook her head. "If you want to love me and support me even if you don't agree with everything I do, then I would be happy to have you spend time with me and the boys. But if your love is only predicated on you expecting me to live up to your lofty goals, then I simply don't have time to jump through whatever hoops you think I should. My boys need my time and attention and my happiness more than I need your fleeting and constantly shifting approval."

Her grandmother had left her house that day and they hadn't spoken since then. When they encountered each other at work, or the occasional meeting at Kelly's, they were professional and polite. She would hug the boys, make vague excuses for why she hadn't seen them, give them empty promises for getting together in the future, and then they'd go their separate ways.

"Elizabeth?" Robin pressed gently. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," she nodded.

"Are things okay with you and Jason?" her friend continued on.

When Elizabeth tensed her hand around her pen the doctor said, "I'm not judging you, Elizabeth. I know that things haven't been easy with your grandmother...or with some other people in town...but that's not...

"I'm happy for you," the other woman smiled. "I really am.'ve been happier lately and it started around the time you and Jason began dating. Are you calling it dating? Because it seems like dating. You go out on his bike, you go to lunch. Sure that could just be friends or even just talking as parents…but I've seen him go to your house and pick you up. That's a date."

Unable to stop the smile that came to her lips, the nurse laughed slightly and said, "Yeah...we're dating. seems kinda funny to say we're dating. I mean...everyone knows that Jake is Jason's son and he's...he's been wonderful with Cam. He's Daddy Jason and they do things. But me and him...we're dating."

"I think it's wonderful," Robin told her sincerely. "I knew the two of you were seeing each other before, even though you were trying to keep it secret. Jason's been my friend for a while and I just wanted him to be happy with someone like I am with Patrick. I know that things were rough between you for a couple of months...but now..."

The doctor crossed her arms on the counter and said, "I think it's good that you're dating. You deserve to have someone show you how special you are. Jason's a good man, regardless of what anyone says about his job. And it's obvious when the two of you are together that he can't keep his eyes off you."

Elizabeth looked down and blushed. She had enjoyed spending time with Jason and not feeling so weighed down by the past and the hurt, but sometimes it was still awkward for her to have him be so open in their relationship. He held doors open for her, took her hand or placed his gently on the small of her back. He would call her and she sometimes had to fight the feeling that she should whisper so nobody overheard them and knew that they were talking. It was getting easier for them to be seen together out in public, but it was still an adjustment period for the both of them.

They were definitely more comfortable when they were alone together. They could laugh and tease each other, talk about her day at work or his concern for a coffee worker who'd suffered appendicitis while at the warehouse and felt he had to keep working so that his family would have enough money. They took rides, they sat at Vista Point and looked out over the city, and they spent time in the little garage that Jason purchased solely for the purpose of fixing up the bike he'd bought on their trip. She'd never thought she'd like working with wrenches or screwdrivers, but discovered that helping put together simple things on the bike made her feel connected to Jason. While he did the majority of the work and the really complicated repairs, she had contributed to the process. And once, her small hands had been an advantage because she could reach into a narrow space and get something that he hadn't been able to reach. She definitely felt like a team when she was with him.

Sometimes she didn't feel like working on the bike, but was more than content to sit there in the garage while he did. She'd work on a sketch pad while he made adjustments to the fuel intake valve, and they'd share an occasional comment. Sometimes he would abandon his work and sit on the couch beside her, always careful not to crowd her and impede her work, but where he could watch her process. There were moments when she lost herself completely in the vision she was transferring to the paper, and then there were times when she was so acutely aware of his presence that she couldn't concentrate for the heady rush of emotions he created.

It was one such afternoon that they'd shared their first kiss again. Robin's laughter pulled her out of thoughts about that day and she looked at her friend wide-eyed.

"Yeah," the doctor smiled broadly, "I'd say, based on the blush on your cheeks, that things are going very good with Jason."

Her cheeks flamed even more and Elizabeth shook her head, trying to dispel the notion she was sure her friend had. "No, Robin, it's not like...we haven't...we're just taking it slow."

"Slow is good," the other woman agreed. "Most of all, your happiness is good. It's clear that you're feeling better than you were in the months following your shooting. I know that you were scared and uncertain and you had things to work out. I'm just glad that it seems like you have...or that you are."

Sobering slightly and reaching out to cover the nurse's hand, the brunette doctor said, "You're my friend, Elizabeth, and you have been a big support to both me and Patrick and we just want to be the same for you. We're not judging you; we're not telling you that you're wrong. We just want you to be happy and it seems like you are."

"Yeah," she agreed with a nod. "I...I think we are. Or I'm getting there."

The ding of the elevator and the doors sliding open announced someone's arrival to the floor, and Elizabeth looked up, in case whoever appeared needed assistance. When she saw Nikolas step off the elevator and look around, her fingers tightened on her pen and she looked down. Swallowing and squaring her shoulders, she looked back at Robin and said, "I need to get back to work. I have a few patients to check on."

The doctor looked between her and Nikolas, and then nodded her acceptance of Elizabeth's departure. The hospital board member stepped forward, his gaze narrowing in on Elizabeth, but she grabbed the charts before her, looked only at Robin and said, "Excuse me. I'll go check on these patients."

Then she disappeared down the hall before Nikolas could stop her or say anything.

Jason rounded the corner, his steps long and quick after receiving the call from Elizabeth's guards. It wasn't that he felt he had to step in and rescue her, she had been holding her own against the people in this town long before they began dating again. And each time someone said something in regards to the time that Elizabeth was spending with him, she would tell that person it was none of their business and they could keep their comments to themselves. Some people gave up and moved on, or were intimidated by the guards who would step closer and present a unified front to some cashier or clerk who made some comment based only on what they'd read in the paper. Others just wouldn't back off and realize that Elizabeth had the right to live her life the way she chose.

The Quartermaines were ecstatic over the news of Jake and Edward was trying to push to have Jake's birth certificate changed to take Lucky Spencer off as the father and make sure Jake reflected his Quartermaine status. Jason told the old man that while Jake's birth certificate would be changed, he would never be a Quartermaine because he was a Morgan. Monica was allowed to meet the boys and get to know them, and they had visited the Quartermaine house and saw pictures of Lila, but Elizabeth had respected his request that Edward have limited contact with the boys for right now. All his grandfather saw were two pawns he could mold into the image he wanted and until Edward respected the fact that they were not going to become the next great business mogul or renowned surgeon simply because it was in their genes, then he was not going to allow him to get to know Jason's sons.

A huge fight between Monica and Tracy was currently underway over Alan's will and that was another reason Jason wanted distance between his family and the Quartermaines. Whatever scheme Tracy had pulled, he was not going to let his boys be used in a power struggle between everyone. Cameron and Jake didn't need whatever money Alan might have left to him; Jason had enough to take care of his children and their children many times over.

He also wasn't hurrying to where Elizabeth was because he believed she would be swayed by whatever arguments were used. She was still hesitant at times, and they were taking things slow in an effort to repair what had gone wrong between them in the past and rebuild the trust between them, but Jason knew that she loved him. Just because she hadn't yet told him the words since they had begun dating, didn't mean that he thought she didn't feel them. She just wasn't ready yet to voice them again and Jason was content to wait for her to feel comfortable with them. She would say them when the time was right, and until then, Jason felt them every time she held his hand, every time she was in his arms, and every time she looked at him with her wide, emotion-filled eyes before her lips would brush over his cheek.

No, the reason Jason was hurrying to meet up with Elizabeth and her attackers wasn't because he felt she needed him to rush into her rescue, it was because he had run out of patience with the judgmental people in this town who somehow thought it was their right to attack her and try to tell her what to do simply because they always had in the past. She was the woman he loved and even though she was strong and always claimed she wasn't bothered by their words, aside from the mere fact that they spoke them, Jason decided it was time a few people got a taste of his wrath and learned that they needed to back off and stay out of matters that didn't concern them.

Elizabeth had called him earlier to let him know that Epiphany had let her go an hour early from her shift because things were slow, and so she was going to meet him at the garage instead of Jason picking her up from the hospital. She had her guards with her so he knew she would be safe; plus, if she hung around the hospital there was always the possibility she could get called in to assist on a case and then she would be the one unable to get away. Jason had told Cody and Diane that they needed to finish up their meeting so he could meet her, but there were still things the three of them needed to go over, and despite Jason wanting to join Elizabeth and spend some extra time with her, he had to stay and attend to business.

However, when her guards called, Jason ended the meeting and took off, hoping that he would get to the garage in time to deal with the Spencer siblings who thought they could harass Elizabeth simply because they were unhappy with her. As he neared the place where he and Elizabeth spent many hours working on the bike they were restoring, or simply enjoying one another's company, he realized that his haste had been rewarded. Elizabeth was still contending with people she had one time considered her friends.

"I really don't see how it's any of your business," Elizabeth said, her arms folded over her chest and her voice sharp as she glared at the two people in front of her. "The fact of the matter is that Jason is Jake's father and everyone knows it and so we decided to get his birth certificate changed to reflect that."

"But what about Lucky?" Lulu demanded. "He was Jake's father...he's Cam's father. And now you won't let him see the boys. You're taking his name off the birth certificate after all that he did for you. Do you really think that's fair?"

"I'm not the one who's keeping Lucky away from the boys," Elizabeth answered, her jaw clenching. Her hand flew up to stop the siblings from speaking. "And before you say that Jason's at fault for that, why don't you ask Lucky what's really going on. He was the one who stopped calling to see the boys, Lulu. Just because I told him to get out of my hospital room because he thought yelling at me right after I'd come out of surgery was an acceptable thing to do, he acted like a little child and refused to have anything to do with the boys. Cameron still asks about him, still draws pictures he wants me to give to Lucky, and I send those to him. Lucky's the one who refuses to acknowledge them, Lucky's the one who thinks that it's okay for him to yell at me in front of the boys and say things like he's done taking care of my bastard sons, and Lucky's the one who decided that punishing me was more important than thinking about two little boys who wondered where he disappeared to."

"And how do they even know that he's missing?" Nikolas inquired, his tone imperial and condescending. "They're spending time with their Daddy Jason. Having sleepovers, going to the park, and you're dating him. You just swapped out one daddy for a richer one, so do they even know that Lucky's not around?"

"Yes, they do," Jason growled out as he approached the group, glaring at Nikolas and Lulu. He stopped near Elizabeth and looked at her, his face softening briefly, before he turned his anger back on the siblings who had taken a step back. "Jake isn't as bothered by Lucky's absence, or maybe he just can't vocalize it as well as Cameron can, but they do know that the man they called Daddy suddenly stopped showing up, calling them or asking about them."

"Or so you say," the other man sniffed.

"You know what else they wonder?" Jason continued, his voice cold and laced with fury. "They also wonder where their supposed aunt and uncle disappeared to."

The brother and sister looked as if they wanted to argue or make excuses but Jason wasn't in the mood for it and was not going to let them pretend that they were the victims here or justified in their actions. He was tired of people making attacks on Elizabeth and he was going to put an end to it. Especially with Nikolas and Lulu.

"I don't care about your reasons, or more specifically your excuses," he told them forcefully, not giving them time to speak. "What I want to know is what you're doing here?"

"What?" Lulu asked, her eyes slightly wide with shock. Then the look morphed to confusion. "What do you mean?"

"I mean why are you here?" he gestured around them. "Going some place, doing business down here, or just thinking that you can follow Elizabeth and continue to harass her over something that is absolutely none of your business?"

"None of our business?" she shot back at him. "Lucky's our brother and we're just looking out for him. She's taken his kids away from him."

"No," Jason shook his head. "They're not his kids. Jake is my son and Lucky never bothered to adopt Cameron. He has no legal grounds to have any contact with them and if he's going to yell at Elizabeth and blame her for his problems, then it's better he's not around. As Cameron and Jake's parents, we'll do our best to help them understand why Lucky's no longer a part of their lives."

"I'm sure you like that, don't you?" Nikolas sneered at him. "Eliminate us from their lives. We were the only family they knew because you couldn't be bothered with them."

Jason leaned closer to the other man and said, "Considering your son is living proof that you cheated on my sister, you don't have any room to talk. Emily forgave you and she was helping you raise Spencer and I'm glad that you worked through it. I didn't interfere in your life or tell her that she shouldn't be around him because Courtney was his mother and Sonny was his uncle. It wasn't my business and it's not your business what Elizabeth and I do to take care of our children."

Looking at both of them and speaking clearly so they understood he continued, "It is not Elizabeth's fault that Lucky decided to abandon Cameron and Jake. He's done that before and left it to her each time to make excuses for him. Just because you're his family doesn't give you the right to attack her for the choices he's made. They're his responsibility. I don't know if you're concerned that he'll go back on drugs, but even if he does, that's not her fault. It's not her place to fix Lucky, and it's not your place to tell her what she should or shouldn't do with her life just because you don't like it. Elizabeth has supported both of you, even when she hasn't agreed with your choices. Why don't you try showing her the same respect?"

Twining his right hand with Elizabeth's fingers, he raised his left and pointed at the siblings. "From now on, Elizabeth's guards will have orders to not let you anywhere near her. You will not be allowed near Jake and Cameron. Our family, and our personal life isn't any of your business and I don't ever want to hear from my guards again that you've gone after her for your own petty reasons."

He glared at Nikolas and said, "Keep your interactions at the hospital to business only. She's not going to take your abuse at work just because you think she won't cause a scene."

Then looking at Lulu he said, "And since you think that Elizabeth somehow wronged Lucky even though he was the one who walked away from the boys, then there's no reason for you to have anything else to do with her. Do I make myself clear?"

Nikolas narrowed his eyes and hissed at Jason, "I don't care who you are; you don't threaten my sister. Emily would be ashamed of you."

"Don't pull out the Emily card, Nikolas," Elizabeth said in disgust. "I think we both know she wouldn't approve of what you're doing or the things Lucky has said and done. I would have let him continue to have contact with the boys, but after the things he's said to me, especially in front of them, I won't let him now. And as a parent, that's my right. How often did you let Sonny see Spencer? How often does he go to visit his Grandpa Mike? Don't you dare lecture me about my children. I'm not going to put up with it from either of you anymore."

She firmed her back and said, "Jason is Jake's father, and he's a wonderful influence on Cameron. Both of my sons are fortunate to have him in their lives. Jason and I are together and we're dating, but it is our business and I'm not going to let anyone tell me that I shouldn't see him because he's dangerous or he's a bad influence or anything else. He loves my children. He treats them so gently, and they know that they can count on him and trust him to be there for anything they need. He doesn't belittle them, he doesn't dismiss them and he doesn't abandon them for his own pettiness."

He felt her squeeze his hand and she leaned closer to him, her arm resting against his. "He also treats me that way. He doesn't blame me for his problems or make me take care of him because he refuses to do it himself. He makes me feel like I am the most important person in his life when I'm with him and I...I know that I can count on him. It's not my responsibility to make Lucky's life better or give him a reason to go on. The only person who can do that for Lucky is himself...or maybe Sam will find some since he seems to spend most of his time with her."

She tugged on Jason's arm and took a step away from the pair in front of them. "Jason and I have more important things to deal with than your constant attacks. So do us all a favor and go lecture your brother if you care so much."

They turned, not letting go of each other's hands and continued on towards the garage, knowing that the guards were following them. Jason tugged his hand away, only long enough to wrap it around her and pull Elizabeth close to his side. She had said a lot to the brother and sister and he wondered if she was aware of all that she had revealed. Jason knew, though. She was beginning to trust him again; something he had sensed but until she said that she knew she could count on him, he hadn't realized how much it would mean to actually hear it. He was determined to not let her down again and crush her growing trust.

Elizabeth was jealous of her sons. It was a thought that hit her like a punch to the gut and made her pause as she was packing their overnight bag, getting them ready to go with Jason for the night. She was jealous that they would get to spend time with Jason, having dinner with him and staying at his penthouse; she dreaded being alone in her house without her boys around, knowing that she would spend their entire visit wondering where they were and what they were doing every moment.

She had never felt that way before.

While it had been tough for her to let her sons go, she knew that she had to. They needed to have time with Jason, and most of all, he needed time with them. She had denied him so much time with his son because of her foolish choices and requests and she was determined to no longer deprive him of the relationship he so desperately wanted and deserved. The fact that he included Cameron on these trips just made her heart burst because it showed him to be the man she'd always known was there underneath the role he played in the mob. He was tender and inclusive and he never made any distinction between her son and theirs.

Even though she'd missed them terribly and couldn't wait for the moment when Jason returned them to her and she could hold them again and read them stories as she tucked them into bed, she'd never felt the overwhelming desire to join them. In fact, she did everything she could to hurry them out the door once Jason finally arrived. She didn't want to talk to him for any longer than she had to in order to give him instructions, or keep him apprised of any medicines they might be taking at the time or any sudden addition or change to the boys' normal routine. Because it was hard for her to be around Jason and she didn't want to torture her heart or give him any hope that one day she would thaw and be open to a relationship between them again.

She hadn't even felt that way once she finally began going out on dates with Jason. While she enjoyed her time with him, she hadn't been ready to join in on his outings with their boys. As selfish as it made her sometimes feel, she wanted their time to be about them, and not have to be in Mommy mode. As she began to feel more comfortable with Jason, she didn't feel as awkward with the whole arrangement; she didn't feel like she was abandoning her children for her own self-centered pursuits, and she didn't feel like there was a taboo talking about the boys for fear that that was all she and Jason would be able to talk about. She began to feel normal around him again and that there was a part of them that was just them, separate from the fact that they were parents.

It felt good. It felt right. So that was probably why today it suddenly hit her that she did not want to send her boys off without her. It wasn't about not trusting Jason with them, because she did, and it wasn't about not wanting to let their father have time with them. It was about the odd sensation of feeling like she was being left behind, that she wasn't a part of something that she should be.

Elizabeth knew that she shouldn't feel that she wasn't wanted, because she was. From the day Jason brought the boys home and then took her away because he was going to make her confront the issues between them, Cameron had been asking her when she was going to join in doing things with him, Jake and Daddy Jason. She had always deflected, saying that she needed to spend some time with Jason first. While her son was smart and aware of things around him that she always felt a pang of regret over - her fights and situation with Lucky had made him a bit world-weary and distrustful - she didn't know how to explain, and especially didn't want to burden him with the reality of the situation.

Yet, as she grew more comfortable around Jason and more relaxed and cheerful with her children again, Cameron continued to ask when they were going to do things as a family together. Because that's what they were, right? While she agreed, she still wasn't ready for all the connotations that came with the four of them stepping out together. Somehow that felt like she would finally be admitting that there were no more distinctions between them, and that some day, the informal family they had joined together would become legal, real and permanent. Facing those thoughts were still frightening for her, even though she felt that they shouldn't be.

There was still a distinction between her time with the boys and family life and Jason's time with the boys and while it seemed inevitable that one day they would join and combine, she just hadn't quite expected to face it now. She hadn't expected to be hit with the feeling that things weren't right because they were apart and that they weren't together and her boys did not have both their parents all the time. The fact that Jake and Cameron were living in a broken home was on her; she knew that. Her fears in the beginning and her marginalizing of Jason's feelings while overprotecting Lucky had led to this situation. Asking Jason to give up his son and let another man raise Jake had been a moment she was now ashamed to look back on. Now that they were past that and working on gaining what they'd lost so long made her see just how foolish and wrong she'd been.

So why was she still denying things?

That was what today had brought her to. She didn't want to deny anything anymore. She didn't want to stay away from her sons and their father and not go on outings with them for fear that someone would label them a family. They were a family and she was tired of them being separate. She had invited Jason to stay for dinner the other night when they came back from their date and it had felt right. He helped put the boys to bed and then he stayed and talked with Elizabeth afterwards. It had been an extension of their date, but it had felt so natural and exactly what they should be doing to transition into family time.

"Mommy! Mommy!" Cameron's voice drifted up the stairs and broke Elizabeth out of her thoughts. "Daddy Jason's here!"

Tucking the last of Cam and Jake's clothes into their bag, although why she even bothered with these anymore since pajamas and clothes had seemed to have relocated themselves to Jason's house, she pulled the zipper closed and stood up. Making sure to grab Jake's favorite blanket from his bed, she picked up the suitcase and headed out into the hallway. As she walked down the stairs, she saw Jason inside already - and it never bothered her like it did when Lucky just let himself into her house without waiting for her to open the door - with one arm wrapped around each of their sons. The boys were so excited to see them and his face reflected back the love he felt for them.

Even though she fought them, tears threatened Elizabeth and she paused for a moment on the stairs, trying to regain control. She wasn't sure how she was going to approach this. Jason had arrived before she could decide what to do. She wasn't going to leave this all up to waiting to see if Cameron would invite her along; he wasn't doing it as often as the beginning and sometimes they left without him asking if this was going to be the day Mommy joined them. It wasn't up to her oldest son to make her part of the family; she was an adult and if this was what she wanted then she needed to get it for herself.

It was just so hard to try to formulate the words. Her brain and her mouth once again seemed to be on a short circuit and she was so afraid of the most important people in her life walking out the door without her and not being able to come up with the words in time.

"Mommy!" Cameron cried out, breaking away from Jason and rushing over to fling his arms around Elizabeth's thighs. "There you are."

She placed the objects in her hands on the floor and bent down to hug her son as she did every time before he left. Catching sight of Jake and Jason over her oldest son's shoulder, she squeezed her eyes shut, hoping to prevent tears from falling. She gave Cam an extra squeeze and went to pull back, but her son's hands on her face stopped her.

"Mommy?" he questioned. "Are you okay?"

"I am," she tried to assure him.

Cam tilted his head to the side and asked, "Happy tears?"

She nodded, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. "Yeah. It always makes me so happy to see you and Daddy Jason together. You three are the most important people to me and I sometimes get a little emotional when I know that you're going to spend time together."

Elizabeth heard Jason walking closer, but she focused on Cameron, because his eyes were so wide and serious at the moment. She didn't want to upset or confuse her son anymore than she was sure he already was. He let out a breath and then asked, "Will you come with us today, Mommy? Or is this still just me and Jake's time with Daddy Jason? When's it gonna be family time?"

Taking a deep breath, she brushed her hand over Cam's hair and looked at him before glancing up at Jason. She saw his hope, and his agreement in his eyes, but she knew that this was all up to her. It was for her to decide when, but if today was the day then he was fully behind her. Giving him just the slightest nod, she looked back at Cameron and smiled at her son.

"Today," she answered. "Today's gonna be family long as that's alright with you guys. Maybe you just want it to be guy time."

"No," Cam quickly said. "We've had lots of guy time. It's family time now."

Tears blurred her vision and she nodded, knowing it was past time for them to all to be together as a family. It should have been them as a family a long time ago. However, it wouldn't do any of them any good to start blaming or harboring resentment for it. What mattered now was going forward. Now that the words had been spoken and they were all together in their wants and wishes, it was time to move forward and focus on their family. Because that's what they were, and that's what they always would be. They weren't just Mommy and Cameron and Jake and Daddy Jason, separate but intertwined...they were a family and things were going to be different, and hopefully better, from now on.

Chapter 10

"I told you this would happen."

Jason looked over at Carly and arched his brow. When he remained silent, she apparently decided to continue to break it by gloating to him.

"I told you this would happen," she repeated. "If you hung out with Elizabeth Webber you would end up here. So should be telling me I was right."

He knew what she was trying to do, and he appreciated her for it. But he couldn't help teasing her back just a bit. If he let her gloat like this unchecked it would not be easy for any of them to deal with her.

"You didn't know it would happen, Carly," he shook his head. "You feared it would happen and you did everything in your power to prevent it."

She waved her hand dismissively, "I knew it would happen."

"You said it would never happen," he continued. "You said that Elizabeth was too much of a little girl to ever handle my life and that she'd walk away from me. That even if she might lower herself for a little while to be involved with me, she would eventually run and leave me heartbroken."

The two friends paused for a moment, thinking on how truthful Jason's words had been. Carly had voiced sentiments like that, and there had been times when Elizabeth had run from him and left him broken. But Jason knew that he had left her alone and heartbroken as well.

"Alright," Carly stated. "So I didn't know this was going to happen and you're right...there was a time that I feared it would. But I don't anymore."

She held up his hand to forestall any comment, teasing or otherwise, that he might make. "And it's not because it's inevitable or anything else you might want to's because I've finally seen it, Jason."

Taking his hand, she led them to a bench to sit down and placed her hand gently on his shoulder. Once she would have wrapped her arms around him and practically molded him to his side, but she seemed to sense and respect now that he didn't want that. That there was only one woman he wanted wrapped around him and she didn't feel threatened by that knowledge. Or if she did, she was handling it much better. Instead, she was supportive without being overwhelming.

"You love Elizabeth Webber and you have for a long time," Carly said. There was no malice or bitterness to her voice, she wasn't masking it in an attempt to placate him and she wasn't trying to cajole him out of his feelings. "I've seen you around her and your children. Your feelings are not just because she gave you a child, and you don't feel like you have to be with her just to be able to be around your son."

A smile curved her lips and softened her eyes as she continued, "You're with her because you love her and you can't imagine her not being in your life. I used to think I had that with Sonny, but I realize now that it was about fear of being alone or powerless that drove me to him. I look at what I have with Jax where he supports me, even when I drive him crazy or pull stupid stunts, and he loves me anyways. He makes me want to be a better person not because I fear that he won't love me if I don't change, but because I want to be better for him. You and Elizabeth are like that."

"Yeah," Jason nodded his head, his voice soft with agreement.

"And I didn't want to see how much she loved you," his friend admitted. "I thought it was the money or the power, but it never was. You give her something that I don't think she's ever gotten from anyone else. And she's not weak and pathetic...she has a strength that lets her handle you and your life and whatever else is thrown at her."

She fell silent for a moment and then said, "I saw her broken and confused about you and that's when I realized everything you'd been trying to tell me. And I'm just glad that for once you listened to me and followed my advice."

Jason felt a grin of his own form at her smirk

"And I didn't have to pull some stunt to try to get you moving and working on claiming your family. I don't know what you did..." Carly trailed off, paused and then screwed up her face. "Actually I don't think I want to know what you did...especially if it was that. I...I don't want to think about your sex life."

"That's a first," he quipped dryly and earned a glare for his remark.

"Whatever you did," she said, continuing on insistently, "it worked. You showed Elizabeth that you loved her and you were there for her and that you weren't going to give up on her and walk away."

"You want to know what I did?" he asked.

She looked torn, but stayed quiet to let him continue.

"I..." he chuckled. "I actually acted like Sonny. I told her we were leaving...that we were going away and I didn't leave her any choice. I made her talk to me."

"Somehow I suspect that you were nothing like Sonny," Carly shook her head. "You just realized that you had to be forceful and fight for your family."

Placing her hand on his arm she looked at him seriously and said, "You are nothing like Sonny, Jason. You may be the boss now, but you are nothing like him. You respect your family and don't view them as a possession. You think things through and don't react solely on emotion; your men trust you to keep them safe and so they do everything they can to keep you safe. And you would never...never," she emphasized, "do things to put your family, or someone else's, in danger like he did. You wouldn't dismiss your guards and leave you and your sons vulnerable. You wouldn't go after someone else's family and betray someone you claimed was your friend and brother. You've learned from his mistakes."

She took a breath and then said, "Now that's not to say that something won't happen at some point. I hope that it never does or that it's minor and easy to fix. But we both know that something will happen and someone might be in danger or might even be hurt."

Placing both hands on his arm and turning towards him more fully she implored him, "Please, Jason...please don't revert back to pushing them away and thinking that it's for the best. It's not. It's not for them and it's especially not for you. I've seen you with Elizabeth back in your life and hard as it is for me to admit this...she makes you better, Jason. You think things through even more, you're grounded and focused and you're in control. Don't think that they're better off without you."

Jason brought his hand up and rested it over both of hers, leaning forward slightly. "I won't, Carly. I've learned my lesson there."

Then he quirked the corner of his mouth and said, "And you have my permission to remind me of this conversation and even yell at me if I look like I've forgotten."

She stared at him and then slowly nodded. "It's a deal. I'll tell you to count to twenty."

With a small laugh he nodded his head. "Okay."

They were silent for a moment and then straightened and forced a bright smile back onto her face. " you 'acted like Sonny' and forced her to go away with you. What else? Because somehow I suspect it was more than just acting like Sonny that got her talking to you."

She stopped abruptly, wrinkled her nose in disgust and shook her head. " it...if it was that...don't tell me. I don't want to know. Unless it means you two have a beautiful little girl some," she shook her head, "don't tell me."

Rolling his eyes, Jason ignored her antics and said, "Actually...I bought an old motorcycle, and then when we got back to Port Charles, we worked on fixing it up."

His friend looked at him in bafflement and then exasperation. "A motorcycle, Jason? You bought some old, broken down motorcycle and forced her to fix it with you?"

"I didn't force her," he shook his head. "She agreed with me. She likes to ride. That's what we did in the beginning...I took her for rides and she would always ask but try to act like that wasn't the only reason she was talking to me but all the while I could see it lurking. I would let her drive sometimes."

Carly raised her brows at his admission.

"So we found this classic motorcycle...or Spinelli did, but I bought it and we took it for rides. It needed work and so I bought this small garage and made some of it into space where she would paint or work on her art and she'd work with me. She helped design the paint scheme for when it completed."

As he'd talked, his friend's eyebrows lowered and a smile formed on her face. She tilted her head to the side and looked at him in such a way that Jason suddenly felt embarrassed by all that he'd said. Trailing off he looked at her and then shifted on his seat demanding, "What?"

"Nothing," Carly shook her head. "It's clear just how perfect that was for you. I never would have thought of it...but I guess it's like the hotels for me and Jax. It's something that you like, that you can do and understand together and who knew Nurse Webber was a hidden grease monkey."

Then taking a deep breath she stood and held out her hand. "Come on," she commanded him. "There are things we need to do."

"No," he shook his head. "Everything's under control."

She rolled her eyes at him, clearly indicating he didn't understand and said, "No...there's still plenty you can do. While you may think that all you have to do is stand in front and can go visit your sons and make sure that they don't get restless and bored while waiting for their mom. Just because the invitation said three doesn't mean that's when it will start. And let me give you a piece of advice, Jason."

"What?" he questioned, almost afraid to ask.

" the bride late on her own wedding day. So even if the wedding doesn't start until is your job to be standing there with a smile, and not irritation, when she finally walks down the aisle to you." She arched her brow pointedly and he nodded, just to agree and avoid a fight. Pleased with his response she smiled at him and said, "Now, go visit your sons and spare whatever guards you have watching them. Trust me...those little boys are going to run out of patience soon and seeing their father will go a long way to calming them down and helping them wait for this event to start."

She pointed him towards one door and then said, "And while you're doing that, I'll just go check on Elizabeth and Robin and see how things are going. Then I'll come back and give you an update."

Now that this moment was here, it was hard for Elizabeth to believe that it wasn't just a fantasy. Even before their short-lived engagement, the only times Elizabeth thought about a life and a future with Jason she believed it was merely a fantasy. First, she thought their lives would never be in sync; he would be with someone or she would and they would never be single at the same time, but she also never thought he would want someone in his life like her. When they did become engaged, it had been such a short period of together and celebration that she never really began to think of what married life would be like let alone the wedding.

Maybe that was why she didn't fight more when he came to her house the day after their engagement and ended things with her. Or that she only fought when she knew he would fight harder to keep them apart. It was never real to her, it was always just a fantasy or a fairy tale and she'd long since realized those weren't real. In reality, she should have fought harder. She should have fought harder for Jason long before he broke off their day-long engagement. She fought for Lucky and for Ric and even for Zander, yet she'd never put that effort into being with Jason.

Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she forced herself not to go down that road. Regrets would mire her down if she let them and she didn't want to do that. She and Jason had talked about their past, dealt with their hurts and their regrets and vowed to move forward. They knew that as long as they were looking backwards, they could never move on. And they both acknowledged they wanted to move on.

Once Elizabeth finally was ready to take that final step and move forward as a family, in public and private, it took them little time to want to formalize it. Cameron and Jake loved doing things all together, and somehow it was even easier for Elizabeth to be with Jason with their children present than it was for them to be together when it was just the two of them. Jake and Cameron were not distractions or buffers between them, instead they felt complete that they were all together. No longer separate, they were together and strong in love and support against anything that came their way.

And slings and arrows did come their way. Those who didn't like to see Jason and Elizabeth dating were even more unhappy that they were now so openly a family. They refused to let it deter them, though. What mattered was how they felt, and they were ready for this step.

When Jason proposed, it was a surprise to Elizabeth. She thought that one day they might talk about it, but it still shocked her when he pulled out a ring one afternoon as they were sitting together in the garage and asked her to marry him. There was no hesitation, no confusion about what Jason meant or intended, and Elizabeth had no hesitation in answering yes. When they went to her house and fixed dinner for the boys, Elizabeth told them that she and Jason would be getting married and they all would be living together. Cameron and Jake were excited and only had one question - how soon?

A soft tap on the door roused Elizabeth from her memories and she blinked and wiped gently at the corner of her eyes and decided that whoever was there was probably to be thanked for interrupting her. Robin would chide Elizabeth if they had to fix her make-up and instead of sitting in the dressing room crying over memories, Elizabeth would much rather walk down the aisle and shed her tears there.

"Come in," she called out, figuring it was Robin coming back after giving her a few minutes to herself, or Carly coming to check on her.

Instead, Maximus Giambetti walked in and smiled at her. "Hello, Miss Webber."

Standing, Elizabeth smoothed her sheath dress over her hips and arched her brow. "Mr. Giambetti."

"Maximus," he smiled at her kindly. "Just this once...Maximus."

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"My boys told me you and Mr. Morgan were getting married today. I felt it only right that I come and offer you my congratulations," he told her. Then his kind congratulations turned into a self-satisfied smirk, "Especially since I think we can both agree that the credit is mine for your little union."

She tilted her head to the side and said, "You told me that you'd have him married to me in two months. It's way past two I don't think you can really take credit for anything."

Letting out a bark of a laugh, the beefy man said, "That's only because I didn't count on you being quite so stubborn, Miss Webber. Mr. Morgan was willing and ready to marry you in the allotted time. I had not counted on you being the hold out."

"Yes, well," she shrugged her nearly bare shoulders. "I decided I was no longer going to do what was expected of me. Just because you wanted me to marry Jason didn't mean I was going to give in so easily."

The man across from her sobered slightly and said, "When a woman knows what she wants, there is no stopping her. You just had to be shown exactly what it was that you wanted."

Then he tilted his head, "Although I suspect that you always knew what you wanted. You just had to trust in yourself...and your man again."

Then Maximus lifted his brows, clapped his hands together before spreading them out wide. "And now that you and Mr. Morgan are both on the same page and you're here...what do you say we go get married?"

"I think that Jason would be rather mad at you trying to make off with his fiancée," Elizabeth said, letting the corner of her lips curl up into a smile.

"Then...what do you say I walk you down the aisle?" he offered.

"Our sons are going to do the honors," she told him. "I'm afraid you'll just have to go be a guest and sit in the church with everybody else."

"Still determined to be difficult I see," the older man grinned.

"Elizabeth," Carly knocked only moments before opening the door and poking her head into the room. "I just came to check... Maximus."

"Mrs. Jacks," he greeted the blonde warmly. "Here with your husband? Or is there any chance my boy might have a shot? Or what about me? I think you would love Sicily."

"I'm with my husband," she answered, shooting a look over to Elizabeth. "I just came to check on Elizabeth so I could give Jason an update. He's standing around looking bored in his suit and tie and if he has to wait much longer I'm afraid he'll undo all my hard work in getting the tie just right."

"I'm almost ready," Elizabeth told them. "Robin was giving me just a few minutes to myself and then Maximus showed up."

"Yes," he nodded. "It was quite convenient for you to get married so close to the Canadian border...makes it much easier to visit."

"Yes," she answered dryly. "That's exactly why we chose this place."

"Maximus," Carly smiled brightly at the older man. "Why don't you go say hello to Max and Milo?"

"I should pay my respects to their boss," he shook his head.

"Jason's with the boys," the other woman shook her head. "So just let Max and Milo know and they'll pass it along to him. I'll go get Robin for Elizabeth and then we can get this show on the road."

Maximus took Carly's hints better than he had ever listened to Elizabeth, and he nodded at her suggestions. Turning to Elizabeth he inclined his head and said, "I wish you all the love and happiness for your wedding and your marriage, Miss Webber. I knew as soon as I saw you and Mr. Morgan together that you were the woman for him."

"Thank you," she said as he was leaving the room. Then she let out a breath and looked over at Carly. "Well...things are always interesting when he's around."

"Are you okay?" Jason's friend asked, taking a step forward.

"I'm fine, Carly," the bride-to-be assured her. "He didn't upset me. Before...I didn't want him around because I didn't want him trying to get me together with Jason. I didn't want anyone trying to do that, but he was especially infuriating because he would not back off at all.

"No," the other woman agreed. "I don't think that's in his nature."

"But he kept pushing and while it did make me dig my heels in and try to avoid Jason, it also kept us in contact. So in some ways..." she shrugged. "Maybe he gets a little credit."

"I think I should get some as well," the blonde declared. "I told Jason he had to do more than what he was doing."

"No," Elizabeth answered. "It's all on Jason. He didn't give up even when he could have easily done so and nobody would have blamed him. He made me stop fighting myself and see that I could still trust him. He saw what I needed when I couldn't."

She half-expected Carly to make some comment about how that proved Jason was too good for her, but instead, the other woman merely smiled and said, "I'm happy that he's so happy. You and your make him happy and he deserves that."

Then letting out a breath, the older woman continued, "I'm also happy for you, Elizabeth. That night at Jake's when you were talking to Coleman...I'd never really tried to see your side of anything, but I saw a little of it that night. And I know that you...that you love Jason and I'm glad that things have finally worked out for the both of you."

"Thank you, Carly," she said, her eyebrows lifting slightly in surprise. "I must say that's quite a different sentiment than the one you displayed when I married Lucky the last time. Then you were quite happy I wouldn't be sniffing around Jason again."

Waving a hand through the air, the blonde said, "Yes, well...bygones. But now we need to get you ready. Should I send Robin back to you?"

Nodding, she smiled as she answered, "Yes, please. And you can tell Jason that we'll be starting soon. So would you help him make sure Cameron and Jake are ready?"

"Yeah," Carly agreed with a smile of her own. "I'll do that. And I'll make sure that the tie he insisted on wearing for you is straight."

"It's okay if it's not," Elizabeth told the other woman. "And it's okay if he takes it off. I told Jason I would have been happy if we'd eloped and I told him he didn't need to wear a tie, but he said that our kids needed to see a proper wedding picture."

With a laugh she said, "I told him Cameron and Jake wouldn't care if there weren't ties and they would have thought it was really cool if Niagara Falls was in the background."

"Well, maybe he wants your daughter to see her parents married properly," Carly told her.

Elizabeth felt her cheeks blush and she stuttered out. "Our...our daughter?"

Did people think she was pregnant? Is that why everyone thought they were marrying and hadn't wanted to wait? How she supposed to walk into the church now and face everyone? She wasn't pregnant...she and Jason had decided for once to go the old-fashioned route and they were planning to wait for their wedding. But how was she supposed to tell everyone that?

"Yes," the other woman nodded. "You and Jason need to have a little girl. I've already told him that and so now I'm telling you."

Turning for the door she said, "I'll go get Robin and I'll go make sure Jason and your boys are ready."

"They're Jason's sons, too, Carly," Elizabeth told her.

Pausing, she turned back to face Elizabeth and said, "I know. I wasn' are all a family now."

Then she smiled and said, "But let's get you married anyways. That will make it so much easier for you all to have the same last name."

Elizabeth smiled as she passed her guests and looked around the room for Jason. She had just seen him a moment ago, but by the time she finally broke away from her conversation and started in that direction he was no longer there. As she turned, Carly caught her eye and then the blonde tipped her head towards a corner of the room. Mouthing her thanks, Elizabeth headed in the new direction. Maximus and Max would just have to excuse Jason and stop in their ribald remarks.

As she neared the group of men she was surprised to hear Maximus as he said, "I mean it, hurt her again and you'll answer to me. Don't think my son here won't keep me informed."

"Mr. Giambetti," she smiled at him, stepping next to Jason and forcing the circle of men to step back slightly. "There's no need for any warnings, I'm sure that Jason and I will work through any issues that might arise in our marriage like any other couple. On our own and in our own time. And I'm sure Max will have plenty of other things to do than to worry about Jason and me."

She was grateful to feel Jason relax beside her, his arm coming up to rest around her waist. While the older man may mean well or think he was helping, Elizabeth really did not want to get into another round of dealing with his meddling. She wanted him to simply return to Sicily and wait for his sons to visit him.

"It was just a kindly statement, Mrs. Morgan," the older man smiled at her.

She looked at him and said pointedly even as she smiled warmly, "There's really no need for it."

Then turning to Jason and signaling a clear change of the topic she asked, "Are you ready? The boys are getting tired and Monica and Maria want to take them to the hotel. Plus, I think the rest of our guests would like to return to Port Charles but they're waiting for the bride and groom to leave."

He brought his other arm up to loop around her waist, bringing her into a circle where he gazed solely on her. "Are you going to change first?"

"I think Diane and Carly would inflict great bodily harm if I didn't," she laughed. "But I won't be long."

Leaning down he captured her lips before releasing her. Once she stepped back, Carly swept in and whisked her off to a spare room off the reception area where Diane was waiting along with Robin. Her dress was placed in a bag and by the time Elizabeth was finished, the women were gathering up the remaining items and heading out the door. In no time, Elizabeth made her way back into room where all the guests were congregating.

Jason met her and she took Jake from his arms and hugged him close as Cameron rested his head on Jason's shoulder. They kissed their children and promised to see them tomorrow before handing them off to their waiting grandmother and babysitter. The two women assured the newlyweds that they would take care of the boys and have them ready for tomorrow and then walked over towards the guests who were heading outside ahead of Jason and Elizabeth.

Reaching down to take her hand, Jason looked at her smiling as he asked, "Ready?"

"Yeah," she nodded, before lifting up on her toes to kiss him. "Let's go."

Once outside, Elizabeth was glad she'd requested bubbles instead of birdseed for their guests. There was a sea of bubbles for them to pass through, even though their guest list had not been that big. She could only imagine the amount of birdseed they would have dealt with. Once at the bike that they'd worked together to restore, Jason turned to her and asked, "Want to drive?"

Laughing she shook her head, "Not this time and you know it. Let's go."

Elizabeth waved as they pulled away and then tossed her bouquet over her shoulder. Then she wrapped her arms around Jason's waist and shouted above the wind, "Go fast!"

She squealed as he complied and then they were racing along the road away from the small town. She knew exactly where they were going and unlike the first time Jason had brought her to the cabin, this time she couldn't wait to get there. While she missed Jake and Cameron, she knew that they would be fine with Monica and Maria tonight; besides, as a mother she would miss then anytime she wasn't with them but she knew she was entitled to some nights away. Especially since tonight was her honeymoon. Tomorrow she and Jason would collect the boys and bring them back to the cabin, spending time together as a family and earning some well-deserved peace after the days leading up to the wedding.

While some guests wondered why they'd chosen a small town close to the border for their wedding, and Maximus Giambetti might have thought they'd chosen the location so he could slip into the country easier, Jason and Elizabeth had chosen the closest town to the cabin. They had both known, even before they asked the other's opinion, that was exactly where they wanted to spend their first night together as a married couple. She hadn't been surprised at all when Jason told her he purchased the cabin before he came to her house that day and said they were going to talk and she couldn't hide from him anymore. Once they began to reconnect and she opened herself up to a relationship with him again, she was glad he didn't do things the normal way of renting a place. The cabin would always be a special place for them, and it was natural and right that they spend their honeymoon there.

Tightening her arms around Jason, she leaned her head against his back and felt the love she had for him surge through her. She didn't know if he felt it as well, or merely chose that moment to act, but Jason brought his hand up to cover hers. She felt the cool press of his ring on her hand, and then smiled against his back when she felt his thumb brush over her rings. It felt as if he needed to have that reassurance himself that this had really happened and they actually did get married.

The bike slowed and turned onto the road leading to the cabin and Jason brought both hands back to steer. Not long after they arrived at the house and Jason turned off the bike and lowered the kickstand, then turned to help her off. Their clothes and food had been brought here earlier in the day, so they didn't need to take anything inside with them. A guard walked around the corner from the back of the house, acknowledged Jason briefly and then continued on with his patrol. She knew that men would be guarding them, but she also knew that Jason had ensured that they would be unobtrusive on the property and they would hardly see the men who would keep their boss and his family safe.

He turned to her and smiled and then took her hand before leading them up to the door. Turning the knob, he didn't open the door, but instead turned to her and his smile turned into a delighted smirk. She barely had time to prepare herself when he pounced and swept her up into his arms and pushed the wooden barrier open with his foot. Wrapping her arms around his neck as she laughed, she gasped when he walked inside and pushed the door closed.

"Jason," she breathed out as she turned to gaze at him.

The fire was going and candles were lit. Soft light spread through the room creating a romantic setting and in some ways reminding her of the night of the blackout when Jake was conceived. His eyes softened as he told her, "I wanted to create something special for you."

"Just being with you is special," she told him. "You're my husband, Jason, and...and I'm not sure I can fully explain to you how much that affects me and how much I love you."

He lowered his head and kissed her, his arms tightening around her as she tightened her own around his neck. Pulling back slightly he said, "I wanted to take you to Italy...I want to take our boys to Italy. I want to give you the world, Elizabeth."

She brushed her fingertips through his hair and felt delight in her power when he shivered under his touch. "I want this cabin with you tonight. This was my turning point, Jason, and I couldn't imagine spending our first night as a married couple any place else."

Taking a breath, she leaned her head closer and said, "Italy will happen for us. I know it. But tonight-"

Her words were cut off by his mouth crashing down on hers. He was still holding her and he hefted her slightly to readjust his grip, and then he began walking. She knew where they were going and she held on tight.

Elizabeth knew that one day, Jason would hold out his hand and ask her to go to Italy and she'd say yes, and she wouldn't be left waiting at the airport watching the plane take off without them. It would happen, she knew it even before Jason promised her they'd go, but she didn't need it to happen tonight.

Tonight, she just needed Jason.

The End

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