"Well, that does it then. I'll have the final papers drawn up for the artworks sale, along with the certificates of authenticity and have them and the pieces you've selected messengered to you first thing in the morning." Eliana stood and shook hands with Mr. Barrington. Eliana retook her seat and gestured to the waiter to bring her a refill. Maybe she'd head back to the gallery. She smiled, feeling satisfied with the terms she had achieved for her artist.
Not for the first time, or the second or third, had a client tried to turn a business meeting into something more. Why do they always want to take dinner meetings? I guess they figure that a good meal would lead to a drink or two or three…and then me as dessert. She laughed softly to herself.

Then her smile faded as, unbidden, the argument she'd had with her brother last night flashed back into her head. He never had shown up at Jake's. And he was the one who called her.

As usual, he only showed up when there was something in it for him. And typical of him, it was at his convenience. Eliana had returned home from Jake's, showered and was on her way to bed when the doorbell rang.

"You didn't meet me at Jake's." she said when she opened the door.

Eduardo shrugged. "Business."

"Uh-huh. How did you know I would be in Port Charles this week?" she demanded.

"Doesn't matter, does it, big sister? Being an art dealer and gallery owner must be nice, huh? Having an apartment here and an apartment in New York. What's next, a condo in LA? Meanwhile, don't tell me you are so high and mighty now that you can't offer your little brother a meal and shelter from the storm?"

He always knew how to push her guilt buttons. Eliana stood aside and let him in.

"I keep my ears to the ground. I always know what my sister is up to. After all, what's family for?" He walked in and saw the boxes stacked by the door. He read the address label. "Nana Zubia's stuff, hm? I heard about her passing away a couple of weeks ago."

"Our grandmother's sister? Yes, two weeks ago to be exact -- besides you and me, she was the last of our family. Funny, I didn't see you at the funeral." Eliana said.

He shrugged again. "I had stuff to do, a big deal I couldn't get away from. But I'm here now. What's up with the boxes?" Eduardo peered inside the one on top, idly running his hands through the papers and packets. "Did the old lady leave anything worth anything?"

Eliana could only stare at him in disbelief. Is that all he cared about? Sonny Corinthos' words came back into her head. "Sometimes, you have to cut family ties. There comes a time, when they got to sink or swim on their own. Otherwise, they just drag you down with them. And then you drown." He'd told her that a long time ago. She hadn't agreed at the time, but now it seemed there was no other way and she told her brother so. She went in her bedroom and came back in a few minutes.

"Here's a thousand dollars." she'd said; it was all the cash she had in the house. She handed it to him. "And there's the couch. And in the morning, I want you gone Eduardo. You're a hustler, plain and simple. And not a very good one. I've tried to help you, but you don't want a hand up, you want a hand out. And this is the last one. When you are willing to help yourself, I'll be there for you. But no more, while you are as you are. Do we understand each other?"

"Who are you to threaten me?" he said standing over her. "I can make your life miserable, you know."

"If you've been keeping tabs on me like you said, then you must know that I have more than a few friends that I can call on. So I can make your life worse than miserable. Don't make me do that, Eduardo." She turned her back on him and went into her room. He didn't follow but glowered at her impotently.

He'd been gone when she woke up the next morning.

Never fail, just as she as getting her life back together, or at least a semblance of it, her brother would find a way to wreck it. He always did, even when they'd been kids. Their family had thought the sun and moon rose on him. Everything, *everything* went to his benefit. And she was lucky if any crumbs fell her way.

Eliana looked around the luxuriously appointed dining room of the Grille. This was another world for her, a long way from the docks and waterfront streets of Brooklyn where she'd grown up. She fingered the fine bone china of her coffee cup. Yes, she'd surely come a long way.

But she didn't want to go home to her empty apartment. Maybe she'd go home, change into a pair of jeans and head out, let the wind blow her any which way. Luke's, The Outback, maybe even Jake's again.

Chill out, enjoy the music, and the company; the owner was a cool woman, and they spent a lot of time chit-chatting.

Tell the truth, a little voice inside her said, you're hoping to run into Jason Morgan again.

Why not? She countered in her head. They knew each other. Well, maybe just a little. Jason Morgan wasn't someone that anyone could claim to know well, least of all her. He didn't volunteer much information about himself and she knew better than to ask. The fact that Sonny trusted him was good enough.

She wasn't interested in being interested with anybody at the moment - well, not really-- but she still enjoyed male company. And Jason was all right to be around. He wasn't much of a talker, but then neither was he the type to try and sweet talk you into bed. He enjoyed her company as much as she enjoyed his. As a friend. She felt free to be herself. So they'd had dinner a few times, a few beers and some pool games the same. It was good to be able to hang out with someone with no expectations on either side. Their friendship was such that despite their infrequent meetings, they could pick up wherever they had left off, be it a week, a month or more.

"Ms. Salazar?" Eliana looked up Alexis Davis standing over her. She was Sonny Corinthos' legal attorney; the two of them had also worked together on some community activities. She had been Sonny's legal counsel for some scholarships Eliana had talked him into setting up a year ago, so the two women did know each other and had already formed a tentative friendship. Eliana admired and liked her. "Would you mind if I joined you for a moment?"

"Not at all," Eliana gestured to the chair opposite her. After the waiter had delivered a fresh cup of coffee, the two sipped at the steaming brew in silence.

Seeing Eliana watching her inquisitively, Alexis took a deep breath and began. "I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I wanted to ask you about your ..association with Sonny Corinthos."

"Oh?" Eliana regarded her guardedly. "Is this business related? Me, I don't work for him. You do. So if you have a problem with him, you should be talking to him. Sonny is one of my many art clients; he's set up some art scholarships, but since you drew up the paperwork, you already know that."

"I see. I just wanted to ask you…well, knowing of his reputation and all..."

"Ms. Davis, aren't these issues you should be discussing with your client?" Eliana asked.

"It's not that." Alexis found herself stammering slightly as she sought the words to explain herself. "In the areas that I represent Sonny in, his dealings are strictly above board, and I intend for it to stay that way."

"My dealings with Sonny are also very much above board. Legitimate is the word you're not using, I believe." Eliana replied coolly. "I'm not sure if I can help you, but just what is it you needed to know?"

"Look, I get the feeling that I'm saying this all wrong." Alexis plunged in with her usual straightforwardness. She didn't know any other way. She liked Sonny Corinthos, beyond all that her mind told her she shouldn't. And when her heart and her head got conflicted, Alexis got frustrated and frazzled. She didn't like being frustrated and frazzled.

"I know that nobody talks about what Sonny does, but everybody knows what Sonny does, even though we all don't talk about it. But what I like is, and what is confusing the hell out of me is, that what I've seen of Sonny, up close and personal, as it was, he seems a decent enough kind of man. Even though he does what he does, and I know, we're all not supposed to talk about it."

She threw her hands up in the air and looked at Eliana with such an expression of aggravation mixed with exasperation that Eliana had to laugh.

"You're asking me if he's Robin Hood." She said, and chuckled briefly. "Not exactly."
Eliana realized that Alexis is honestly trying to find confirmation that Sonny is a man of honor, for all of his myriad 'business' concerns. Eliana sees her unwilling admiration of Sonny, and this thaws her own icy demeanor. After all, she'd felt the same ambivalence once upon a time. Now when she sees the truth of the matter, they actually begin to talk and this was a deepening of their own friendship.

They began to speak of their past and how their paths had brought them to this point in their lives. The choices that they had made that brought them to where they were.

"Loyalty is something neither one of us takes lightly, is it?" Eliana asked. "Didn't you put your skills to use for the good of your family? And weren't you rewarded for that?"

"And punished." Alexis said.

"Misunderstood choices, right? That happens too. It's the other side of the coin." Eliana said.

Alexis' cell phone rang; it was a call she had to take. She excused herself from the table for a moment.

Their conversation brought back memories that Eliana hadn't thought about in a long time. First running into Sonny the other night, then her brother and now this little tête-à-tête with Alexis, was bringing her past back to mind. Things she hadn't thought about in a long time.
She had more of a connection with Sonny Corinthos than Alexis Davis was aware of.

When Alexis came back to the table, they resumed their conversation.
"Even as a bastard Cassadine, you had privileges without having to be aware of it." Eliana tried now, to explain it to Alexis. "But for me, all this," and she gestured around the room, "was as foreign to me as a hotel on the moon. I would have never been able to have the life that I have. Sonny offered me a way out of the life I had. I took it. He was willing to back me. That's all I cared about."

Eliana didn't know if she could begin to explain it. Money and family concerns are what got her into this line of work to begin with. She'd just been trying to take care of her grandmother, the woman who had taken her and her brother in after the death of their parents. Eduardo had grow up to be nothing more than an embarrassment, always looking for the next big score, the next big hustle that never panned out, eventually getting himself into deep monetary problems with the underground. That was how she had met Sonny Corinthos. She hadn't had the money to repay his debt, but she had bargained, boldly, offering him her knowledge. That had worked out better than either of them had expected…and then when he could, when Sonny had the power to do so, he had created the position that she had just recently resigned from within the organization.

"Why?" she had asked when he made her the offer. He shrugged, giving nothing away with his expression, as she had come to know so well.

"We kids from the old neighborhood have to stick together." It was the only explanation he would give. Her abuela had passed away soon after, thankfully never learning how Eliana had mortgaged her soul, and her brother, once he learned that his debt had been discharged, had disappeared back into the street life, without a single word of thanks.

"Let him go." Sonny had told her when he had learned she had tried to track him down. "Don't let family ties drag you down. Sometimes it's better to cut your losses and run."

There was a part of her that didn't want to believe him, but she had seen the wisdom in his words, in the long run. And then, the new life he had offered her had taken her away, given her the opportunity to experience life on a level that she would never had been able to achieve on her own…Wealth, power, respect, all these were hers. In return, Eliana never forgot where she came from. As Sonny Corinthos had given her a hand up with his power, so had she. She financed several scholarships, and invested in young and emerging artists.

"How do you know you couldn't have done it on your own?" Alexis said. "You're smart, beautiful, a quick study. Who says that that was the only way out?"

Eliana thought for a moment. "I have the luxury now of looking back and even saying you might be right. But ten years ago, at that time, and in that place, no, there was no time to ponder and choose. It wasn't just my life in the balance. This all began before I was eighteen. I made the best choice I could at the time."

"I can't say that I understand, because you're right, even as a bastard Cassidine, my life was one of privilege and luxury, compared to others, even though I was never allowed to forget that I was nothing but a poor relation. But since the Cassidines' tend to eat their young. I was glad to escape the notice of the majority."

Eliana laughed ruefully. "You think that only goes on up there in the rarefied levels of nobility? It goes on in every level of society. And the infighting can be just as ruthless. I learned that the hard way. I was naive. I thought that family stuck together no matter what."

"So did I." said Alexis. She sighed, "So did I."

"Until the world taught you better, yes?" Eliana lifted her glass in an ironic salute, and Alexis, raised her own glass to touch it to hers. "See, we're not too different after all."

They toasted one another's similarities and drained their coffee cups.
On impulse, Alexis ordered a carafe of white wine and the two women relaxed into conversation. They had had respect for one another from their first meeting, and had felt the beginnings of a friendship blossom as they had begun working closer together. Now they strengthened the bond of that friendship, as they shared stories of their younger years, finding commonalties despite the differences of their upbringing.

At last, they looked at their watches. "I've got to get home." Alexis said, groaning. "Actually, I should have been home an hour ago."

Eliana laughed. "Paperwork? Yes, I know - it never ends. But it was good playing hooky for a while."

Alexis chuckled. "We should do it again - soon."

"I'd like that." Eliana said.

They were still talking and laughing together as they stood and slipped on their coats.
The night was cool and both women paused outside the hotel's double doors to button up their coats against the chill air. A group of men came out behind them, and Eliana stopped adjusting her scarf to move out of their way. When they didn't step around her as she expected, Eliana began to turn around, only to freeze as something hard dug into her side.

"No loud noises please, ladies." A rough voice said. Eliana's eyes shot over to Alexis. The second man stood by her, and it was clear from the startled look on her face that he too was holding something to her. They searched them very quickly and impersonally. Alexis' eyes widened slightly as one of the men removed a small .22 automatic from a shoulder holster inside Eliana's jacket.

The third stepped to the curb and raised his hand. At his signal, a dark car pulled out of its parked space and came towards them, headlights still out. He looked down at Eliana. "Very good. Continue to cooperate and this will go smooth as silk." With his free hand, he gestured towards the car.