Elizabeth Webber sometimes felt quite ordinary next to her best friend Emily Quartermaine-Corinthos. That was never as true as it was tonight, she thought, as they walked into the Corinthos Art Gallery.
Emily was dressed elegantly in a blue strapless gown that draped her willowy figure easily. She had confided earlier that it was a recent purchase of her husband of five years, Sonny Corinthos, coffee importer/alleged mob boss.
Her hair was pinned into an elegant chignon, diamonds glinted on her ears and wrist and her makeup sedate. She looked every inch the wife of a dangerous man. It was just rather sad that she wasn't the doctor that she had always planned to be. After marrying Sonny, medical school had taken a back seat to Sonny's life and kids.
Liz on the other hand had dressed in a slim black slip dress, all she could afford on her nurses salary. Since the divorce, it took every cent to provide for Cameron and make a stable life for them both. If she wished for something more, she only had to look at the woman that her former husband had married a mere six weeks after the ink on their divorce papers were dry and know that she was lucky. If you could pardon the pun.
There was an old saying that life never handed you any thing that you couldn't handle and she had held strong to that one reassurance when her world fell apart.
"I'm going to go to Sonny, you have a look around," Emily said before turning to leave her standing in the crowded gallery alone.
The only reason that she had come tonight was to support Emily and this ridiculous need she had found to clean up Sonny's image. Using the Quartermaine name and prestige, she hoped to make everyone see that her husband wasn't as bad a man as everyone perceived him to be. As if an art gallery bearing his name would change who Sonny Corinthos was. Yeah, well, Emily had a long way to go before anyone swallowed that line of garbage.
Liz watched Emily fold intimately, much too intimately for the setting she personally thought, into Sonny's arms, then press a kiss to his mouth. Sonny caught her eye and waved briefly, so she returned it, figuring it was better just to go along.
That's when she saw them. Her ex and a woman she had considered a friend. They stood next to a sculpture, both looking uncomfortable despite how hard they tried to fit in. She in a dark green dress and diamonds, he in an elegantly tailored suit.
Nikolas was with Maxie andpassed her a glass of champagne after wrappingan arm around her waist. He said something to Lucky that had the four of them glancing in her direction. Unsettled, she turned and quickly walked away. The last thing she wanted was the pitying glances of Samantha and Lucky Spencer.
She was long past anger. It was ridiculous to hold on to it considering she was the one who ended things. Tired of trying to make Lucky feel like a man, tired of bending backwards to support him only to have her love shoved back in her face.
How many times could she be accused of emasculating him, before it turned into bitter resentment? Better to let him go than hold on to what could have been. Besides, he was actually happy with Sam and that was all she ever wanted for him.
In her rush to escape, she bumped into Alexis and another former husband, Ric. Could this night get any worse?
"Elizabeth?" Ric took a cautious step forward, placing an attentive hand on his wife's waist to steady her. "I didn't know you were coming tonight?" As if she was too unimportant to come to this gallery opening. Not too long ago, before her life changed so dramatically, she would have had art hanging on these walls.
"Emily wanted me to come," she answered and tried not to fidget. When did she become so uncomfortable around these people? No matter, she pasted a smile on her face, one that she used to talk with surly patients and arrogant doctors.
"Ric, I see Sam and Lucky we should go say hello," Alexis pointed out, gesturing to her daughter. "I want to speak to her about Danielle and enrolling her in the same school as Molly."
Of course, Alexis wanted to talk to Sam about her granddaughter; it seemed that Alexis controlled not only her own marriage but her daughter's as well. "It was nice seeing you again Liz," she murmured.
Liz could see the discomfort in her eyes, not only because she was married to her ex husband, but because her daughter was married to her ex husband as well. It was like musical chairs, and when the song went off, you had to look carefully to see who was married to whom.
"Of course," she stepped aside, wanting away from that mixed up family, just as badly as Alexis wanted away.
The wealthy patrons of Port Charles crowed around various works sipping champagne discussing whatever looking evermore like the "beautiful people," and making her feel just a little left out.
It was a feeling she didn't necessarily enjoy. Not since leaving her parents and coming to live with her grandmother had she felt inadequate, though in her head she knew she had no cause to feel that way.
She was a good nurse, even if it wasn't quite the career she had in mind for herself. Her family had a long tradition at General Hospital and she was proud to play her part in that legacy. If she wished to hold a paintbrush instead of a blood pressure cuff, she only had to remember her reason for setting that dream aside.
"Why did I come here tonight?" she murmured, trying to remember exactly why she allowed Emily to convince her that she would have fun tonight. She could remember a time when everyone in this building had been an important part of her life.
How quickly all that changed. Emily's life revolved around Sonny. Lucky was married to another woman. She still saw Nikolas occasionally, but he was married to Maxie now and raising his son John. Ric was a past that didn't bear dwelling on and no one else, really mattered much anymore. Not when she was paying rent, driving Cam to school and just living her life as best as she could.
The heels of her sling backs clicked lightly on the hardwood floor as she walked into an empty secluded area. Was captured by the piece off the center of the room.
There on the opposite wall. It couldn't be.
Slowly she crossed the room, her eyes trapped by the vision before her. The colors, wild shades of blue swirled passionately across the canvas, leaving her slightly breathless. She glanced around the empty room, then lifted a tentative hand and began to trace one of the lashes of paint with a fingertip. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel the energy wash against her face. The rush of adrenaline. The rumble of the engine.
The breath she released was shaky as her lower lip trembled. As she remembered.
The little place card beneath the abstract painting read only:
It wasn't possible. How did this painting end up on this wall? She read on further, seeing only that it was an anonymous donation. Lifting fingers to her face and no longer feeling alone, she turned to find the true owner leaning against the wall. She should know. She was the one who gave it to him.
Tall, gorgeous, in a suit with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, instead of the jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket that her mind automatically placed him in. It made him not quite a stranger, but not the man that she remembered either.
The same feeling, something powerful zinging through her bloodstream, more than awareness not yet longing, hit with enough force to make her heart rate skyrocket.
She remembered it from day when he walked from the burning Corinthos-Morgan coffee house covered with soot and their eyes had locked. She remembered it from the day he walked into Kelly's, she had been sitting at the table with Sarah, and her eyes had caught that intense cerulean gaze and been mesmerized. Now after all these years, that feeling was still the same. Just the same.
Jason Morganstood in a corner watching her stare at the painting. It was worth every risk he took returning here tonight, just to see the look on her face. If anyone other than Elizabeth saw him tonight, he was a dead man.
It was a consequence he accepted after everything he did five years ago. You couldn't betray your best friend and expect to go on as if nothing had ever happened. He hadn't known how much he would lose when he made the choice.
Thought he knew, but truly didn't.
In the end, it hadn't mattered anyway. His sister stayed with Sonny, he could never see his nephew or his godson ever again, and the woman he loved chose to stay behind in Port Charles to get to know her mother.
He blamed none of them.
Five years of hindsight could be very illuminating.
He had been out of control, just as everyone around him had said. Instead of backing down, he had focused solely on protecting his sister who didn't want his protection. Tunnel vision, at least that's what Sam called it. So he rolled the dice and lost.
That afternoon he asked her to come with him, that moment when her eyes filled with tears, that second when she tilted her head to the side and looked at him with grief and sorrow, he knew that he had lost her.
For the first couple of years, his life had been fraught with danger. He had constantly looked over his shoulder to make sure that Sonny wasn't coming after him. Finally tired of running, he tapped an account flew into Italy and figured if he was going to die, he would make his last standbeneath the soft light of Venice.
Days past with no attack, then weeks and months and finally he realized none would come and he had to make a life for himself. It had been difficult. During the danger, he didn't have to remember the woman he loved and lost. During the quiet, he was haunted with her smile, the soft way she curved into him at night in bed. Eventually, he put that life behind him, made a new one, a new business, and new friends and became a new man.
One that he could honestly say he enjoyed being.
"Hello Elizabeth." He murmured and tried for a smile. Perhaps she wouldn't shriek in alarm and bring anyone rushing back here. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him. He was a little older, a little wiser, at least he hoped he was wiser. He still didn't like suits, but realized the need to blend in and had put on all rich navy blue. The lack of tie, still hadn't changed, however.
He had been passing through New York on business when he saw the article in the Times about this little Gallery opening his sister had arranged. Ordinarily, news from Port Charles went in and out without too much of a thought on his part.
Then he for some strange reason he remembered the painting he had hanging over his bed in Venice and thought of her. A dream an old friend had that should have been realized. It was one of very few things he had taken with him when he left Port Charles.
He had gradually grown accustomed to lugging the canvas around when he split. It had become apart of his travel gear as much as the old dark green duffle bag he stuffed his clothes in and the gun he wore strapped to his back that he no longer used but wore for safety measures.
Her eyes widened briefly, before she quickly crossed the room and grabbed his hands, "What are you doing here?" She whispered, her voice filled with a mixture of surprise, panic and what he hoped was maybe pleasure at seeing him.
"In the neighborhood?"
Disbelief flickered across her face, then a wry smile, "Jason Morgan makes jokes?"
"Roman Jonas. Jason Morgan no longer exists."
It was better that way. It kept him alive and it helped everyone move on. As far as the residents of Port Charles were concerned, when Jason Morgan left he disappeared and would never return.
"Roman," she murmured, and then smiled, lifting a hand to his cheek. "It's good to see you."
Jason reacted to her touch on a purely physical level, stunning the hell out of him. It shot through his body like warm brandy. Potent. Stirring.
Elizabeth was still quite beautiful no matter how many years had past. Slender, almost willowy, she stood out like a soft calla lily among too many roses. What did she need with sparkle, when her eyes were sapphires? Her simple black dress stood out in its elegance because her natural beauty was all she needed to shine. Long hair, the color of the richest espresso lay in flowing waves on her shoulders.
"As much as I would like to stay," he glanced around the room briefly, knowing their solitude couldn't remain uninterrupted much longer, "I can't."
"Why did you send the painting?"
"Because," he raised a hand and brushed the hair off her shoulder, needing to touch her just once to reassure himself that she was real. "You deserved to have it there and not hidden away on a ghost's wall."
It was the least he could do. When all was said and done, she was the only one who realized his fear for what it was. Even before he had himself. She had understood his worry, even if she didn't agree with his methods of dealing with it. Then again, Elizabeth had always understood him even when they were angry at each other. Even when they had found lives separate from each other. She had always been his friend.
He turned to leave from the back entrance he had come in, he would climb inside the black BMW and drive back to the private airstrip just outside of town and go back to his life in Italy as Roman Jonas, wealthy recluse shipping mogul who no longer followed orders, no longer had to kill, and no longer lived in shadows.