Disclaimer:  I don't own anything except the plot

Summary:  Courtney and Jax left Port Charles over 16 years ago, but what happens when a tragic event forces Courtney to come home and face the mess she left behind?

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I hate the way I loved you, but my mind keeps going back. My train of thought just won't get off that same old worn out track

Tim McGraw

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Jason entered the Corinthos' Penthouse at a few minutes past seven.  He was surprised to see that he was the last one to arrive; he could usually count on Morgan making his lack punctuality look good, but apparently not tonight. As the youngest family member was seated on the chair in the corner, cell phone connected to ear as per usual.  That boy's phone bill must be outrageous. 

                "You're late," Carly greeted him from her position on the sofa. 

                "Thanks for pointing that out," Jason replied as he ventured in from the foyer.  He offered Michael, who sitting next to his mother, a grin and the young man immediately got up to greet his uncle.  The boy looked like a strong mixture of A.J. and Carly.  He had his father's dark hair, but his mother's almond shape eyes and mischievous grin.  

                "What's up?" Michael asked pulling the older man into a strong embrace. 

                "Oh --you know--the usual.  How's school going?"

                "It's going…" he replied vaguely and both men laughed as Sonny entered the room. 

                "Dinner's ready," he called before retreating back into the kitchen with everyone else falling into line behind him.  A comfortable silence settled once everybody took their seats around the table. 

                "Where did you go this morning, Carly?" Sonny addressed his wife who was sitting across the table.

                "Oh, I went and got a cup of coffee with…Courtney…" she squeaked out, obviously annoyed that she couldn't come up with a lie in enough time.

                "Aunt Courtney's back in town?" Michael's eyes lit up.  "Well, where is she?  How come you didn't invite her to dinner?"

                "Your aunt is not welcome in this house," Sonny replied solemnly.

                "You're joking, right?" His son asked with a raised eyebrow.  "It's been almost seventeen years…"

                "Michael, stop…" Carly whispered trying to quell the fight that was sure to begin between her husband and son, but her attempt was futile.

                "I won't stop, because this is ridiculous," the young man raised his voice while eyeing his father, who seemed more than a little annoyed. "Who cares if you didn't approve of whom she married?  I don't particularly care for Tiffany, but if Morgan chose to marry her; I definitely wouldn't cut him out of my life, because he's my family."

                "What's wrong with Tiffany?" Morgan who had spent most of the dinner in silence finally spoke up.

                "She is kind of a bitch, sweetheart." Carly whispered quietly and a look of indignation came across her youngest son's face.

                "I can't believe you, of all people, are letting him act this way," Michael directed towards Jason. 

                "Michael!" Carly growled, but the young man seemed determined to continue on his tirade.  He was turning into Sonny more and more everyday, especially when it came to standing up for what he thought was right.

                "She just lost her husband!  Don't you think you could cut her some slack, Dad?" Michael's voice continued to rise in anger and Sonny was having a hard time keeping his at bay.  "She is your sister; most people would at least offer her a little compassion."

                "Sit down and finish your dinner before we both say some things we'll regret," Sonny ordered tightly.

                "No.  What are you going to do?  Turn your back on me?" The boy's eyes were dancing, almost taunting his father. Sonny immediately rose from his seat and began pacing the small dining area in an effort to remain calm, but all the spectators could see that he was one comment away from losing his cool.  "You force people to live up to these impossible standards and then don't hold yourself accountable when they inevitably fail you." And there it was, the straw that broke the camel's back.

                "How many times have you failed me, Mike?" His voice was ripe with anger, but his son refused to back down.  "You don't think I have any clue as to what you've been up to, do you?  When are you going learn that I know everything?"

                "Sonny, what the hell are you talking about?" Carly asked in a shaky voice, but Sonny didn't remove his glare from their son.  Both men stood face to face in the center of the room.  Jason stood close by, worried by the two men's proximity to one another.

                "Why don't you ask "number one son"?" Sonny growled.  The woman looked desperately at her child, but his eyes remained focused on his father and mouth was clamped shut.  "Just tell her, Mike."

                "Tell me what?" Carly's voice was now rising as Morgan looked at Jason helplessly.  How had one family dinner gotten so out of control?

                "Tell her!" Sonny roared.

                "I dropped out of school," Michael obeyed, but refused to move back from his father.

                "What?  When did you do that?"

                "Two semesters ago," he replied. 

                "Then where is your tuition money going?" Carly asked her voice was rivaling Sonny's in the anger department. 

                "To his business," Sonny answered for him.  "Yeah, our son is New York's City's newest gangster."

                "No he's not…" The brunette was trying hard to convince herself, but it wasn't working.

                "Yeah, well I did learn from the best," Michael shot back in his father's face. Jason wasn't shocked, he had known that Michael had gotten into a little trouble, but never thought that he would drop out of school to work the streets.  "I never spent your money, either."

                "Bullshit.  I have to the cashed checks," Sonny replied, but his son vehemently shook his head before racing upstairs.  He returned a few moments later, blue duffel bag in hand. He threw it on the ground at his father's feet, mounds of money poked through the top.

                "Check it.  It's all there, plus interest." Michael growled.  "I'm a lot of things, but not a thief."

                "Well that's comforting," Sonny replied sarcastically.  Carly shot him a pained look that neither man seemed to notice, but Morgan did.  He stood from his seat and went to wrap a strong arm around his mother.  He always was the binding effect on the Corinthos' family; he evened out his father's temper, mother's spontaneity, and his brother's rebel streak.  How he had become the only sane one was questionable, it could because he never witnessed some of the horror that Michael did. 

                "I think you should go for awhile," Morgan looked his older brother in eye.  He really didn't want Michael to leave, but knew it would be easier for him to walk away rather than their father.  It was only way to retain order and calm down both of his parents.  When Michael didn't move, his brother gave him a soft shove.  "You're only making things worse."

                "Fine," the older of the boys finally replied.  He threw a remorseful look at his mother, who tried to offer him a weak smile, but could not hide the disappointment that clouded her dark eyes.  Jason watched him barge out of the dining room and offered Morgan a reassuring smile before following him out. 

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                Michael was almost to the elevator when his uncle caught up with him.  He noticed the other man following him, but chose to ignore it.  The last thing he wanted was to have a heart to heart with Jason, because chances are he was just as mad as his father.  The elevator came to a stop and both occupants exited into the lobby before entering the cool autumn air.

                "Leave me alone…" The younger man whispered, but his older companion ignored it.  They both knew that Jason would follow him around all night and that wasn't something either of them were looking forward.  "Look, I can handle myself.  So please, just go back and check on Morgan and my mom."

                "Since when are you so worried about them?" Jason asked with a raised eyebrow.  "Because you obviously weren't thinking of either of them when you dropped out."

                "Don't tell me what I was thinking.  You and my dad can look down your noses all you want at me, but it isn't going to change anything.  It's just going to make both of you look like hypocrites."

                "I'm not trying to be hypocritical.  I'm trying to understand why you would turn to a life that has nothing to offer," Jason replied as they continued to work through Port Charles center.

                "It's not that bad.  It's not like I'm killing people or anything…" Michael tried to explain.  "I run a few gambling rings, mostly horseracing and boxing.  It's nothing major, just some easy money."

                "It starts out that way, but before you know it—"

                "I'm not like you or my dad; I'm not going to turn into a mob boss." The younger man interrupted. 

                "Why did you quit school?"

                "It was either that or flunk out," his voice was quiet.  "I just didn't want to see the look on his face when he realized that I wasn't going to make it as some high-class business man."

                "But the look you saw on his face tonight was much better?"

                "Yeah in a way it was, because at least there was some understanding mixed in with the rage," Michael elaborated. "As angry as he is right now, I know that he can comprehend why I did it…just like you can, because you both have been there before."

                "I turned to that life, because I had nowhere else to go, Mike.  You have a family that loves you and wants for you to be something more than a two bit criminal."

                "So didn't you," his nephew retorted. 

                "You're right, I did, but I didn't have feelings for those people.  I know that you love your mom, dad, and brother, which is why I can't comprehend what you're doing.  It's only going to lead to pain."

                "You don't know that."

                "I don't?" Jason growled as hurt began to take over his facial features.  "I lost my whole family as well as Courtney because of that life!" The younger man was taken aback by the sudden show of emotion that the usually solemn man portrayed.  "You need to think about what really matters to you, because the road you're on is going to push all those things away; if it doesn't kill them all together." And that was all he said before turning on his heel and walking back in the direction they had just come from.

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                "Hey Ma! I'm just going to run down to lobby," Jay called to his mother who was deep in thought reading the Port Charles Gazette.

                "Jay, wait." She replied before he could exit their room.  "I've been thinking and if there is anything you want to know about Jason or Sonny or anyone else, for that matter.  Please feel free to ask." She had spent the better of her night pondering their current situation and decided it was best to answer any questions her son may have.  She noticed the look of thoughtfulness on the teenager's face and knew that he would not take this opportunity for granted.

                "Why did my dad go along with raising me?"

                "Jax loved you very much, even if you were not technically his.  He wanted to give you the best life possible and at the time it was away from Port Charles and Jason." She answered to the best of her ability.

                "What was the old witch talking about when she said Sonny and Jason got out of the "game"?" He asked even though he had an assumption as to what the blonde had been alluding to.  Courtney bit her lip as she thought of a way to sugar coat her response; she didn't want her son thinking of Jason as a monster, because he wasn't.

                "Uh…Jason and Sonny were… umm…"

                "Mobsters?" The young boy finished for her with a raised eyebrow.

                "Yeah, something along those lines, but you have to understand the circumstances." Courtney elaborated, but could see Jay already waving her off.

                "No wonder why dad wanted to get me away.  You were surrounded by criminals." Jay muttered in disgust.

                "It wasn't like that," Courtney tried to hide the emotion from her voice.  "Yes, they were involved in some shady business, but that didn't change the fact that they were good people who cared very much for me." Her son didn't seem swayed by the argument and she could see the conviction that littered his steely blue eyes.  "Jason may not have been an upstanding citizen, but he would do anything to protect the ones he cared about.  He was fiercely loyal and extremely loving, which is something that no one could hold a candle too, good or bad."

                "If he was so great, why didn't you come back after I was born?" Courtney felt a pang in her stomach.  It was basically the same question that Carly had asked, but there was no possible way to explain to her son the absolute fear she felt all those years ago.  She had told Carly it was because of Jax and that was partly the truth, but there was much more that couldn't be explained no matter how hard she tried.  It was her own insecurities that kept her away from Port Charles and her son away from his real father.  She feared Sam, because of the happiness that shone in her ex husband's eyes when he was with her.  In all the years that they had spent together, she had never seen the light in his eyes that Sam seemed to turn on.

                "Ma?" Jay broke into her thoughts once again.

                "At the time, I thought that Jason's fiancée was pregnant and I didn't want to bring you back into the mess," she whispered.  It was another part of the truth, but still not the entire truth.  She couldn't explain her fears to him, not now and probably not ever.  Those were her own personal thoughts that were not meant to be shared with anyone, not even her own kin.

                "So let me get this straight, he was a gangster that got two women pregnant around the same time?" He asked in disbelief.  "Sounds like he was a real winner…"

                "Well, it turns out that Sam, his fiancée, was never pregnant she just pretended to be." Courtney offered.

"Why?"

"It's all very complicated and you probably wouldn't believe it if I told you.  Look, I know I'm not doing a very good job of explaining Jason to you, but he is a good person.  I also know that it doesn't look that way right now, but he was probably the most genuine person I ever had the privilege of knowing."  She finished hoping that she somehow salvaged her ex husband's character in their son's eyes.

                "If you say so…" Jay still seemed unconvinced but no longer wanted to fight with his mother about it. 

                "Jay please…just don't judge him before you truly get to know him; he deserves the benefit of the doubt." Courtney was pleading slightly.

                "Ok…I think I'm going to go out for a while," he whispered.  There were so many things that he needed to sort out in his mind and there was no way that he could do it confined in the hotel room.  He wanted the fresh air to help ease his mind.

                "I don't think that's a good idea," his mother replied.

                "Why not?"

                "Faith is probably still looking for you." Courtney explained, but the boy was determined to get out.

                "I can handle her." He could see the protest in the woman's gaze, but there was no way he was going to listen.  "I'll call you if anything happens, I promise."

                "Jay…" The boy's hand was already on the door.  "Be careful, please."

                "Yup, I love you," He mumbled.

                "I love you, too." She whispered, but the door had already been slammed shut.

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                Courtney wasn't quite sure what had brought her to the Haunted Star that evening.  She just knew that she could no longer sit in her gloomy hotel room alone.  So after scribbling a quick note Jay, she set out onto the streets of Port Charles and this is where her legs led her.  Walking into the place was like entering the past.  It was set up much the same way and she even recognized some of the regulars at the gambling tables.  Letting out a sigh, she took a seat at the end of the bar.  There were a few other people seated alongside her, mostly older gentlemen, but there was a young man sitting two stools down. 

                "What can I get for ya, doll?" She noticed Luke's flirty drawl and it brought a smile to her face.  There had never been much interaction between the two of them, but she still considered him one of the most intriguing people that this town had to offer. 

                "I'll have a gin and tonic, please." She ordered and noticed the look of recognition on older man's face.

                "Well, what do we have here?" He grinned.  "My eyes aren't what they used to be, but I can almost guarantee that I'm in the presence of one Courtney Jacks."

                "And I can almost guarantee that you are right," she bantered back.

                "Then I am just going to have to give you your first drink on the house.   After all, you are family.  How distant, I'm not sure, but family all the same." Luke explained referring to the fact that she was Sonny's sister and Carly was Sonny's wife.

                "I guess you're right," she smiled and watched Luke go about preparing her drink.  She heard a tap on the bar and noticed the older man's eyes darken slightly.  The young man a few seats down had obviously more than enough alcohol in his system, but was signaling for more. 

                "I told you that you were cut off, kid." Luke called, but it did not stop the tapping.

                "Oh come on, Luke." He slurred.  "You're like my great uncle or something like that…" Courtney's heart stopped as she examined the dark haired youngster.  Michael? Her mind asked as she looked up at Luke, who just nodded as he placed her drink in front of her.  "Hey! I know you!" The young man bellowed pointing at his aunt. She watched as he recklessly stood up from his stool and bounded over to her. 

                "You alright?" Courtney reached out to steady the wobbly kid who stood to her left.  "Why don't you have a seat?" She motioned to the now vacant spot next to her.  Luke watched the interaction carefully, unsure of how the young man was going to act. 

                "Thanks," he whispered sliding onto the stool.  "I normally don't drink this much." He felt the overwhelming need to inform her that he wasn't the screw up that his immediate family now saw him as.

                "Rough evening?" The older woman grinned. 

                "How did you guess?" Michael hiccupped.

                "I've been there myself." She replied take a sip of her drink.  It felt odd to be sitting at a bar with her nephew that she hadn't seen in years.

                "How can you possibly be related to him?" The young man spit out in disgust.  Courtney knew immediately who he was talking about and suddenly the reason for his inebriation became clear.  She could relate, because there have been more than a few times that her brother drove her towards the bottle. "I haven't seen you ages, but yet you still have more compassion for me than my father, who may I add, sees me on a regular basis."

                "What are you drinking?" Courtney asked with a raised eyebrow.

                "Whiskey," her nephew replied.

                "I should have known," she laughed.  It was the only liquor that the Sonny and Jason ever consumed.  "Luke, get him a whiskey." Courtney ordered, although she wasn't sure why.  The bartender gave her a look.  "I'll take responsibility," she assured.  Michael looked at her in adoration when the dark amber liquid was placed in front of him.  She could sympathize with his need to escape.  "That's your last one, so you better enjoy it.

"Thanks," her nephew whispered downing the drink immediately. "You know what I don't get…"

                "What's that?"

                "How he can so blatantly cut out the people who love him.  He did it to you and it's only a matter of time before he does it to me and then who's next?  Morgan?" His aunt listened to him ramble on, but knew it was the liquor talking, because deep down Michael was that same six year old boy that idolized his father and loved him more than anything else.

                "Your dad loves you, kiddo.  It's just hard for him to show it sometimes."

                "Yeah, right."

                "He does and you will be doing yourself a major disservice if you allow him to close you out.  Sometimes you have to fight the people you love." Courtney advised.

                "Why should I have to force my own father to continue being in my life?" Michael asked.

                "I didn't say that.  It's just that Sonny is very stubborn and sometimes you have make him understand your point of view, rather than walking away." His aunt elaborated.  "I should know…" 

                "Whatever," he mumbled as his eyes began to droop down. She noticed the weariness in his eyes and knew it was only a matter of time before he passed out.  Courtney knew that she was going to have to be the one to make sure he got home.  It was the motherly instinct within her that would not allow him to leave the bar alone.  Who knows what kind of trouble he could get himself into.

                "Hey Luke!" She called trying to grab the older man's attention.  "Will you call us a cab?" He nodded and headed towards the phone in the back.

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                Carly looked expectantly at door, but came up disappointed when it didn't open.  It had been a few hours since Michael left and she was nervous. What if something happened to him?  Morgan had gone up to bed once he was sure that his father had calm down enough.

                "I'm worried…" She whispered to her husband, who just shook his head.

                "He's a grown man, Carly." He replied.  "If he can handle New York City, I'm pretty sure Port Charles will be a cake walk."

                "How long have you known what he was up to?" She asked.

                "I found out a few weeks ago.  One of Johnny's connections in the city informed me."

                "And how long were you planning to go on without telling me?" The brunette asked in annoyance.  "Were you going to wait for something to happen?  Were you going to wait until my son was in a body bag?"

                "I didn't want you to worry, dear." Sonny answered softly. 

                "I should be worried!  Who knows how deep he's into that life?" Carly wondered loudly.

                "I don't think he's in that far.  It's nothing that I can't get him out of."

                "What if he doesn't want to get out?  I can't lose him, Sonny.  I won't lose him…" Her voice was beginning to shake, but her husband shook his head emphatically.

                "You won't.  I would never allow anything to happen to him." He assured, but he tell his wife wasn't buying into it, but before she had a chance to second guess him a loud knock on the door rang through the apartment.  Carly immediately jumped out of her seat and headed towards the door, swinging it open to find her sister-in-law with Michael in the hallway.

                "Is he alright?" The brunette asked immediately as she took in her son's unconscious state.

                "Yeah, he just passed out in the taxi," she replied winded.  She had dragged her nephew all the way into the elevator and down the hall.  She watched Carly do her best to wrap his other arm around her neck and help bring her son indoors.

                "Oh, isn't this just great…" Sonny mumbled when he noticed his sister and wife trying to drag his obviously inebriated son over towards the couch.

                "Don't just stand there.  Help us out." Carly ordered her husband, who took Michael out of both women's arms and into his own.  Courtney watched as Sonny dropped his boy on the sofa before turning his attention to her.

                "He was at the Haunted Star.  I just you know—wanted to make sure he got home alright," she explained before turning to leave.  Carly looked at Sonny, when he didn't say anything she slapped him in the arm.  He looked at her annoyed, but knew that she was right.

                "Courtney?" His younger sister turned around slowly.  "Thank you." He grumbled and she nodded.

                "Don't be too hard on him…" She whispered before softly shutting the door and welcoming the cool reprieve of the hallway.  She was waiting patiently for the elevator when she heard the footsteps coming up behind her.  Please don't be Jason, her mind prayed.

                "What are you doing here?" She recognized his smooth voice and knew that her prayers had gone unanswered yet again.