Benny was used to Sonny's short temperedness by now. He ought to be. But he got the feeling that things were brewing just below the surface.
"Keep as many men as you can working on keeping things cool, Benny. You can handle that, can't you?" His voice was deceptively calm.
"Of course, Sonny. What are we going to do about Sorel? He's been real persistent lately. He won't take you turning down his latest offer well. Are you sure it's for the best?" Benny swallowed as he encountered Sonny's hard, examining gaze. Sonny was a fair man to work for, but hard…and when necessary, colder than the ice at the south pole. He didn't allow for mistakes and Benny knew he shouldn't have asked the question as soon as it left his lips.
"You worry too much, Benny. I can see Sorel coming from a mile away and *sniff* I got plans in motion to take care of him."
Benny didn't like the look in Sonny's eyes when he said that, but wisely kept that to himself. This isn't just about business, he knew it. Sonny had always been adamant about running drugs in his territories. He wasn't having it; not one drop, not one shipment, and everyone in his organization knew it. Sorel knew it too, but he also knew that Sonny ran one of the most lucrative and well oiled operations on the East Coast. He owned the northeast corridor. And Sorel wanted a piece of that.
Something else was going on. Sorel had tried to muscle Sonny again. There were rumors about just what Sorel had done, but Benny wasn't about to ask Sonny to verify them. But whatever he'd done this time, he'd made it personal. He'd known Sonny long enough so that he could see it in Sonny's eyes.
"Anything I need to know about?" he tried to say it lightly.
"You just keep the rest of the business running smoothly. I got Jason on the problems at hand." Now Benny knew things were about to heat up. Inwardly, he groaned. As if on cue, there was a knock on the door and Jason walked into the office.
"The word is that Sorel's men are mobilizing. Nothing on the surface yet, but something is definitely stirring the waters." Jason said as he propped himself on one corner of Sonny's desk.
"You think he's preparing to make a move on us?" Sonny asked.
Jason shrugged. "Could be. I'll know more in a little bit."
"What about the moratorium that you agreed to?" Benny asked them both. "There's at least six months left to the term you both agreed on. And I'm sure the council hoped that the two of you manage to work your differences out. Not use the time to prepare for war."
"Sorel has already broken our agreement. What do they expect me to do? But you let me worry about that, Benny." He dismissed the older man. After he was gone, he turned back to Jason.
"What about the council? They could mean trouble." Jason stood and walked across the office to stare out of the window.
Sonny shrugged. "We'll worry about them when the time comes. Right now, the main concern is Sorel and what he's gonna do next."
"I just stopped by before I go a meeting with my lieutenants later." Jason said. "I'll let you know what I find out."
Jason was passing through the park on the way back from his meeting. Preferring not to draw attention to himself by taking his motorcycle, he'd slipped out of the warehouse by one of the less obvious exits and decided to walk to and from his rendezvous. He maintained a group of men whose job it was to keep their eyes and ears on the street and keep Jason apprised of everything going down on the docks. He and Sonny were in the process of developing an information network that would stretch from Port Charles and beyond. His lieutenants were a small a secretive group that reported directly to Jason and Jason alone.
As always, his eyes and ears never stopped investigating his surroundings. Rounding a curve in the path he was surprised to find Elizabeth Webber sitting on a bench, art pad in hand. She didn't see him, but sat with her eyes looking off into the distance. He watched the way tendrils of her dark brown hair curled against her cheek.
"Elizabeth?" as always, in spite of himself, he felt a little lift in his spirit when he saw her. Even saying her name gave him pleasure.
"Hi Jason." She turned her head and smiled up at him. It seemed a little frayed around the edges though. "I'm just on a break from taking more test shots for Deception." She tried to sound enthusiastic about the chance to be a spokesmodel for Laura and Carly's cosmetics business, but he can see her happy talk doesn't match the look in her eyes.
He couldn't just walk on, even though the smart part of him was telling him to do exactly that. He paused by the bench. Just for a minute, he told himself. "Are you okay?"
"Of course I am. I've got a chance at a glamorous job, one where Lucky and I will be working together. It makes him so happy that we can be together like this…"
"Why are you doing this, Elizabeth?" Jason asked suddenly.
"This is a job that every woman in the world would want a shot at."
"Not every woman." Jason said. "Can you tell me that you're really happy doing this?"
"Lucky and I are so - well - lucky. It's a dream job for us."
Jason looked at her long and hard. "For Lucky, maybe."
"Lucky has been though a lot this past year, Jason." She tried to explain. "It's so good to see him interested in something finally. He's really taken to photography."
Her eyes darkened as she thought about what they'd both been through in the last year. For a year she'd thought he was dead. And if not for Jason, she probably wouldn't have survived it. Then miracles of miracles, Lucky had returned. A year away from everyone and everything he loved was bound to change him. He needed time to heal. And she would give him all the time he needed.
Jason was looking at her again. Yeah, sure, Lucky had changed, but not for the better. He treated Elizabeth more like a possession than a person. And she let him. How many times has she told him how she didn't like the falseness of modeling, the bright lights and all the stuff that went with it. It wasn't right, to let someone else make choices for you. Lucky didn't even want Elizabeth to be able to say hello to him. But there were times when Elizabeth looked at him…
"When you're with Lucky, then you concentrate on your dreams; yours and his. When you are by yourself, do you feel the same?" Jason asked.
He watched Elizabeth's eyes soften as they look up at him. They both know he is no longer just talking about Deception and the modeling job. He is asking her about the two of them. The friendship that had grown between them and had a chance of being something more. If she would only face the truth about it. He wouldn't ever push her on it. It was a choice she had to make for herself.
"I-I just wish things were different." She said softly. Elizabeth stood up, but turned away from him
"How?" Jason persisted. He wanted to hear her say it…. just once.
She turned to face him, but just looked at him helplessly. "Your friendship means so much to me."
Jason stepped closer to her. "Friendship?"
Without thinking, he reached up with one hand and caressed her cheek. "I thought I mattered to you."
"You do." She insisted. Without thinking about it, her hand came up to cover his. Her fingers traced lightly over his hand and he felt a sudden warmth pour through him from the simple touch. "It's just that...things are complicated."
He took a step towards her until their bodies were almost touching. She didn't move.
"They don't have to be." Jason said. His gaze focused on her lips. He knew that she knew it, but couldn't help himself. And she didn't move away, even though he gave her all the time in the world to do so.
Her lips parted, but she didn't speak. She didn't have to. Her eyes spoke for her. Elizabeth's eyes softened as they gazed up at him, inviting him to just bend down and close that tiny space between his mouth and hers….
At the sound of Lucky's voice, Elizabeth instinctively took a step back from Jason. He let his hand fall.
Lucky stalked up to stand possessively between Liz and Jason. "What is it with you, always sniffing behind Elizabeth? She's already told you that she doesn't want to see you anymore."
"No, Lucky." Jason said. He was back in control and his blue eyes stared icily at the younger man. "You've told her that she doesn't want to see me anymore. There's a difference."
"Tell him, Elizabeth." Lucky's eyes met Jason's in a challenge.
She looked at Lucky, then back to Jason. "I told you, Jason. Lucky and I are happy now. He's who I want to be with."
"And…" Lucky prodded.
Jason watched as she took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eye. "And I don't want to see you anymore." Her words hit him like an unexpected punch in the gut.
"Is that what you want?" he asks her. Her eyes dropped. She won't even look at him now. Not with Lucky standing there watching her every move.
"I don't want what happened here to happen again." Elizabeth whispered. "I belong with Lucky."
"So stop stalking her, okay?" Lucky said.
"Look, it was just a coincidence, us meeting in the park." Jason said. "And it's going to happen again. You want me to stay away from you. Fine I will. But I'm not going to avoid places where I might see you. I'm not going to go out of my way to please either of you."
"Just leave her alone." Lucky said, not bothering to conceal the satisfaction in his voice. "Leave us alone."
He took Elizabeth by the arm and led her away.
Jason just stood there for a long moment, until the two of them were out of sight.
That was that, then. She'd made her choice.
It shouldn't matter.
Then why did it hurt so damn much?
Jason deliberately put Elizabeth from his thoughts as the next few weeks went by. Keeping her out was a little harder for a while but not impossible. Business kept him going during the day. He could concentrate on that. And then at night, there was Eliana. She worried that she was keeping him from business, kept telling him that he didn't have to keep coming home so early or so often to look out for her, but he didn't listen. He was glad to have her there, glad to have someone to take care of. The first nights were hard. At night, the memories came back. More than once, Jason had had to come running into her room when the nightmares woke her up in tears.
Days were easier. Eliana and Jason quickly fell into a routine. He was usually an early riser, but more often than not, he would awaken to find Eliana already up, a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Neither one of them was much for morning conversations, but they would sit at the kitchen table in a companionable enough silence before the day began. It quickly became a routine that the two of them enjoyed.
Sometimes business kept him out late. He came back one night and found her sleeping downstairs. He let himself in as quietly as possible, just as Eliana started tossing and turning on the couch. He came to sit besides her, trying to wake her up as gently as possible. When she opened her eyes, she saw his concern and groaned. "I just can't keep these dreams away."
"Why are you here on the couch?" he asked.
"I don't know." She said, still sniffling, "I just wanted to get some rest. I kept hearing noises, so I threw on some clothes and came downstairs. This is silly, I know."
He looked down at her. Without her makeup, without her high-powered suits, her face scrubbed clean and hair pulled back into a loosely braided ponytail, she looked as pretty as ever, but more vulnerable than Jason had ever remembered seeing her look before. "No, it's not silly. You've been through a lot and it's not going to go away overnight. If you feel you need to sleep down here, you sleep down here. Whatever makes you feel safe."
"Thank you, Jason." She said quietly. Her eyes were downcast, as though she were still embarrassed at him seeing her weak. He reached out with one hand and lifted her head up.
"You're my friend, Eliana. I'll do whatever I can to keep you safe. Sorel will never hurt you again." He wiped away a trace of a tear from her cheek. She smiled at him. Their eyes locked and held for a long, long moment, comforting and being comforted, then the moment passed.
Jason settled her back down on the couch, drawing the blanket over her shoulders. "Get some rest. If you need me, call out for me. Doesn't matter what time it is, either."
Eliana closed her eyes and sighed. Jason resisted the unfamiliar urge to … he didn't know what it was he wanted to do…but instead settled for patting her on the hand before turning around and walking into the kitchen.
She looked so lost just then, like a little girl. He just wanted to comfort her, to tell her that all the bogeymen had gone away and there were no monsters under the bed. Even if it wasn't true.