If it was the last thing she did before she died, Elizabeth was determined to learn how to make the best damn pecan pie. Ever. It only seemed right considering she was now a pecan farmer... amongst other things. With so many of the nuts at her disposal, it felt unnatural not to be able to put them to use, and, while Jason never asked for sweet treats or dessert, he was also now in the habit of eating them whenever they were available. So much had changed since they had left Port Charles three years prior.

Obviously, the fact that she could now passably cook was one major difference. No one had pressured her into the hobby, and, though they lived in the country now, there was a town close enough that getting take out every night was feasible. But their life in Texas, though no one knew that was where they were, was slower, more relaxed. On most days, Elizabeth didn't want to leave her home in order to find sustenance, so she learned how to make do on her own.

Between her pecan trees, the horses, and 75 acres to maintain and enjoy, the land alone was enough to keep her busy, but she also had her family and all the chores and joys that came with being married and raising a small child. Although their son Jake had been adopted, she loved him no less and yet no more than her two biological children. So far, he had been with them less than a year, but, in her opinion, he was already growing up much too quickly. Plus, there were bike rides around their property, gardening – apparently all those teas with Lila had finally paid off, and she had even started painting again. It wasn't her passion like before. She didn't think it ever would be again, but the instinct to freeze a moment in her son's life on canvas had been too pressing to ignore, and, besides, the wind looked different speeding down an old, country, Texan highway than it did in New York.

However, she was baking that afternoon. She wasn't gardening, or walking the land, or painting. Sitting on her favorite swing on their wrap around porch, Elizabeth pulled her short clad, almost bare legs up and under her, curling into herself as she prepared to read the latest update letter Johnny had sent them. The notes didn't come very often – maybe one every six months, but, when they did, she dropped everything to read them, for they were always amusing and contained information about several people she loved very much. Plus, by the time the missives reached her hands, they were already several weeks old. To ensure their anonymity, Jason had the letters routed through several false addresses, every precaution taken. Apparently, you could take the boy out of danger, but you couldn't remove the suspicion from the boy. She didn't mind, though. In fact, she knew that protecting them was just one of the ways her husband showed his love, and what wife would argue with romantic demonstrations... even paranoid ones?

So, with a glass of sweet tea and several cookies on a plate beside her, Elizabeth started to read.

} ~ {

Sangria was a horrible, awful thing - perhaps even a secret killing agent of the government's. He should have known better than to listen to The Evil Blonde One; he should have known that her suggestions of celebration to mark the day they opened their first boutique in New York City would backfire worse than a chili cheese dog with a side of baked beans. If he would have just stuck with his usual alcoholic beverage of choice – wine coolers, The Jackal knew that he wouldn't be on the verge of imminent death. And the worst part? The Feisty Fashionista was apparently no worse for wear. In fact, she was humming. Loudly.

Holding his head so that it wouldn't split apart, Spinelli braved talking for the first time that morning. "Why are you not miserable," he asked his business partner... who still, after three years, insisted upon the fact that she was actually his boss.

"Because everybody make mistakes," she replied flippantly. Her voice grated on his raw nerves like a metal coat hanger scraping against a metal clothing wrack. "Besides, in my history of bad choices, last night didn't even rank in the top ten. I wasn't arrested, I didn't end up in the hospital, and there weren't any cameras involved." Her voice hardening, she demanded, "there weren't, right?"


"Because, now that I think about it, despite your previous virgin status, you could be a secret, closet pervert. Tell me that you did not film us last night for your future pleasure?"

Two sentences but oh so much information revealed!

Speaking slowly, Spinelli questioned, "previous virgin status? Us?"

"Hey, I'll be the first one to admit that you didn't rock my world last night, but at least I can remember it!"

"Evil Blonde One, I beseech you," he practically begged, even going so far to get down on his knees before her. "The Jackal is in no shape to puzzle through a riddle this morning. Did we or did we not have sex last night?"

"Yeah," she answered, laughing self-deprecatingly. "I had one too many glasses of wine, and whoops! I popped your cheery." Cringing slightly, she continued, "if you were saving it for marriage or something, sorry about that, but, if tequila makes my clothes come off, Sangria provides me with rose tinted glasses. Even your bones looked jump-able last night."

He knew he sounded like a dense fool, but he didn't care. "We. Had. Sex?"

"Uh, I already told you that." Snapping her fingers, Maxie ordered, "keep up already, Jackass. I'm not sure how many times I can tell this story before my queasy stomach from earlier flares back up again. A slice of bread, a bottle of water, and a few aspirin only go so far to curb a hangover, you know."

Going back through the various things she had said, he picked up on an previous comment. "So, I take it the sex... between you and me... wasn't the greatest?"

"Oh, it was terrible! And strange. You're oddly... flexible, Damien. But don't worry," she assured him. "I'm sure you'll meet some freak of a girl someday soon who will be perfect for you to practice your skills on. What I know for sure is that that girl won't be me."

"We're not dating then?"

"Oh, no. We're so much better as boss and employee."

Bitch translation, he worked out for himself: let's just be friends.

As Maxie walked away laughing, Spinelli realized that he actually agreed with her. A three year infatuation crushed by a single night of lack-luster passion... that he couldn't even remember. Girls were the strangest, most puzzling creatures in the world. They even surpassed lemmings on the head scratching scale. If that didn't say everything there was to know about women, The Jackal didn't know what possibly could.

} ~ {

"Miss Miller, we need to talk."

Looking up from her gourmet, egg-white only, hold the cheese omelet, her fresh squeezed orange juice, her designer coffee, and her newspaper, Diane observed the man before her. In the three years since he had come to be under her employ, he had changed so much. His hair was much more stylish, his body toned thanks to the gym membership she provided him with as a holiday bonus, and he was definitely a much snazzier dresser. Her influence had certainly been productive, but, still, she wondered why the handsome professional was still single. And he was. She had just checked his online dating status the night before.

"Yes, what is it, Mr. Giambetti?"

"How many times do I have to tell you? It's just Max. Please."

"And, as I have told you numerous times, I will not call you Max until you cease and desist on this Miss Miller business. You make me feel like your teacher or worse someone's mother." Offering the younger man what she felt was her most winning smile, the lawyer cooed, "call me Diane."

He nodded, shifted uneasily, and then cracked his knuckles – all in preparation, apparently, for what he wanted to say. "As we both know, the demand for highly trained security personnel in this town has recently decreased drastically."

"Although I disagree with your use of the adverb 'recently,' I do subscribe to your general statement. What I don't understand, though, is what this has to do with you?" Nodding towards the chair adjacent to her own, she invited the former bodyguard to sit down.

"Miss Mill... er, Diane, working for you has been great. You pay well. You're funny. You even help me with my Christmas shopping every year. I cannot tell you how much happier my mom and sisters have been since I started working for you. But I'm miserable." All through the younger man's listing of why being with her was so wonderful, she had been smiling, but that grin disappeared entirely when he admitted that he was unhappy. "You have no idea how boring it is to act as your driver, your bag carrier, your doorman after years of working for Mr. Corinthos. He might have been volatile, and the job might have been dangerous, but at least I wasn't bored. Hell, you had me overseeing the construction of your new closet last week!"

"It's a very impressive structure," she argued passionately. "Maxie Jones designed it especially for me. It's a one of a kind, luxury, all inclusive dressing room. I'm in love with it. In fact, you should consider it my husband and guard it accordingly. After all," she added derisively, "being inside of it is the closet I've come to an orgasm in months!"

Max blushed profusely, and his eyes fell to the table in obvious embarrassment. However, she was shocked when he didn't offer his excuses and flee rapidly. Instead, he mumbled, "speaking of, uh, well, you know... orgasms, maybe you'd like to go out with me sometime. We could have dinner and then go dancing. I might be big, but I move well."

"Oh, I have no doubt," she agreed, already licking her lips in anticipation. "Tell you what, Max. Let's skip dinner and jump right into the horizontal tango. Your place or mine?"

"Well, we're at your place now."

"Good point," she said, standing up quickly and already moving to leave her morning room. "You grab the chocolate sauce and ice cubes; I'll grab the cuffs. Meet me in my closet in two minutes."

To help make the morning even better, Diane remembered that she had managed to snag one of the contractor's tool belts without getting caught. Damn, her instincts were impeccable!

} ~ {

"You made the mess, so you clean it up."

"Robin, it's hardly a mess. It's a few boxes of Chinese take out, a couple dirty plates, and a spilled pack of soy sauce."

"Well, then," she turned to face him, hands on hips. "If it's no hassle at all, why don't you deal with it."

"Because I cooked," Patrick defended.

"Picking up a phone and calling in an order of food does not constitute cooking," she argued, eyes flashing. "I do that all the time, and you never credit me with cooking dinner."

"Look, I'm tired. I lost not one but two patients on the operating table today, and the last thing I want to do right now is fight. Could you just, please, pick up this one time. I just want to sit down with a beer and watch some TV if that's not too much to ask."

"Oh, that's it," Robin exclaimed, picking up a dish rag and tossing it at him. "You act like it's my job to clean up after you, like, just because I'm the woman in this relationship, it's my duty to see to my man's needs. Well, guess what? Not happening, Drake! I, too, lose patients all the time, but you don't ever see me crying boo-hoo and shoving my work off onto you."

"Fine," he relented, throwing his hands up in the air. "If that's how you want to play it, then just leave. I don't need this tonight."

"What? What don't you need?"

"You," he answered, yelling. "You and your broken record women's lib diatribe. Just go home, and I'll see you tomorrow. Hopefully, by then, you'll be a little more understanding and a little less of a shrew."

"Oh, it's such a good thing that you haven't asked me to move in with you yet, because, even if you did, I'd never consent."

"Well, then, it's a good thing I have no intentions of ever asking you and your daughter to live with me."

Robin took a step forward, narrowing her eyes in a hostile glower. "And what does Cate have to do with this?"


Ignoring him, she continued, "because I thought we'd finally managed to deal with that issue, that you had come to accept her, that you maybe, in fact, had learned to even like her a little bit."

"Cate's a great kid, Robin," Patrick assured her. "In fact, she's great period. I'd gladly live with her; it's you that drives me crazy."

With a barely suppressed huff of frustration and anger, she went to push past him, but he wouldn't allow her to pass. Instead, he grabbed her by the shoulders, playfully backed her into the countertop, and kissed her speechless. Instead of beer and sports, he had a much better idea on how he could alleviate his work aggravation. When Robin bit his lip in response, he knew their relationship was back on its usual ground: hot, complicated, and turbulent - just the way he liked it.

} ~ {

Without a word, Alexis dropped a small, black velvet jewelry box in front him as he worked. Glancing up from his papers, Jax accused, "you weren't supposed to find that yet."

"Well, then, I'd suggest you hide things in more original places."

"It was in a sauce pan that you wouldn't know how to use even if you actually wanted to cook something in the kitchen that you only enter for three reasons: to make popcorn, to pour yourself a cup or coffee, or to find Jackeline when she's playing hide and seek at night when it's bath time."

"Yes, well," the lawyer dismissed his argument without actually offering one of her own. "Take it back."

"Have you even looked at this one yet?"

"I don't need to, Jax. I'm sure it's just as gorgeous as the diamond, as the ruby, as the emerald, and as the sapphire, but, as I've already told you four times, I'm not going to marry you."

"You married me once; you'll marry me again," he countered. "I just have to find the right bargaining chip."

"I can tell you right now that it's not going to be a ring that convinces me to walk down the aisle for the third time. And, given my track record, I'm shocked you'd actually want to risk such a good thing on a sure-fire failure."

"Well, I, for one, don't believe that our marriage... when you finally consent to marry me... will fail," he contended.

Sitting down in the chair across from his desk, Alexis said, "let's review my marital history, shall we? I married you to help out Chloe, and that marriage failed. I married Sonny because he knocked me up, and that marriage was a disaster that never should have happened in the first place. And I almost married Ned whom I actually loved at the time but ran away from instead." Meeting his steady, unconvinced gaze pointedly, she asked, "is that really a list you want to add another horror story to? Trust me, Jax. It isn't."

"I think you should allow me to be the judge of that. Besides, at this point," he argued, "it'd really only be a formality anyway. I love you, and I know that you love me, too. We live together, we're raising our daughter together, and I already know that you're never going to change your name, so, if for no other reason, do it for Jackeline. She's starting playschool this fall. You don't want her to be confused when the other kids talk about their married mommies and daddies, do you?"

"I'm sure she'll be no more confused than the kids who come from broken homes or the kids who have two mommies or two daddies. Really, when you think about today's nuclear family, her situation is rather quite normal – a shocking accomplishment for a Cassadine descendant if I do say so myself."

"Fine, then do it for the tax right off."

The mother of his child laughed at him then, standing up and tossing him back the ring box she still had yet to bother opening. "Like you really need such a thing."

He didn't, but he did need her, and sooner or later, whether she wanted to or not, he'd get Alexis Davis, attorney at law, down the aisle if it was the last thing he did. For some reason, he suspected that getting her there would be half the fun.

} ~ {

Not three seconds after he rang the bell did he hear his grandfather bellowing for one of the staff to go and open the door. Smiling to himself, Michael entered the Quartermaine home, immediately tugging his little brother behind him to the dining room where he knew he'd find his family. It was amazing for him to think that, three years earlier, Grandfather and Grandmother, Grandma Monica, and Grandpa Alan, and his cousin Spencer had all practically been strangers. Now, because he, his little brother Morgan, and his mother all lived in the gatehouse, not a day went by when he didn't see the always bickering Quartermaines. He found them interesting, amusing, and far more entertaining than the so-called reality shows his mom insisted upon watching all the time.

"Oh, it's Michael and Morgan," his Grandpa Alan announced when he and his brother walked hand in hand into the dining room. "See, father, there was no reason to give us all heart attacks by yelling for Reginald and Alice." Turning back to them, the chief of staff asked, "are you boys hungry? We were just finishing breakfast, but there's plenty left. Or, if you want something besides what we had, I could ask cook to make you some chocolate chip pancakes or some banana waffles."

Michael shrugged. "Eggs are good. And Morgan's weird. He likes oatmeal, so he'll be happy with a bowl of that."

"And where's your mother this morning, young man," Grandfather demanded to know.

Already seated with a heaping plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and fresh fruit placed before him, he answered between bites of food. "She's still sleeping. She had a date last night."

"I'm sure she did," Grandma Monica muttered under her breath, but he still heard her. Louder, she offered, "come and sit by me, Morgan, and I'll help you."

Speaking for the first time, his Grandmother asked, "were you not in the mood for cereal this morning, Michael?" She knew him better than anyone else in the room, so she knew he preferred Lucky Charms or Cap'n Crunch over fancy, healthy breakfast foods.

"No. We're just out. I brought over five bucks from my piggy bank. I was hoping that maybe cook was going to the store today. I thought I'd ask her to pick some up for me."

"Cereal, huh," Grandpa Alan queried thoughtfully. "You know, it's been ages since I've had a good bowl of cereal. Save your money, Michael. We'll just have cook pick up a variety, and, from now on, you and your brother should just come here for breakfast every morning."

Michael shrugged. He wasn't opposed to such an idea, and he knew that Morgan would approve as well. While he might have been just a kid, Michael knew things. People told him all the time that he was a very intelligent child. While he wasn't sure if they were right or not, he understood that his brother wasn't actually related to the Quartermaines, but they didn't treat Morgan any differently than they did him. That was what he liked the most about his newfound family members. Even when they could have done so, they didn't play favorites... at least not when it came to himself and Morgan.

He couldn't say the same thing where his mother was concerned, because he knew for a fact that the Q's didn't like his mom. But he wasn't sure that he could blame them. While he'd always love her – after all, she was his mother, he was old enough to see her faults, and he knew that she had basically bartered him in exchange for a place to live and a stipend. But he and Morgan were happy, and they were healthy. Right or wrong, he was glad that his mom had gone to the Quartermaine's for help, and he knew for a fact that they were glad, too.

} ~ {

"We're going to have to be careful. This isn't going to be an easy thing to explain to them."

Johnny laughed. He was too happy to really fear his wife's warning. "Conversations with your children that deal with sex are never pleasant."

"I'm not talking about that part," Nadine elbowed him playfully in the ribs. It was early, both the kids were still asleep, but they were too jazzed to be resting themselves. Seated between his arms and leaning back against his bare chest, she continued, "I mean we're going to have to be careful how we talk about the baby... our first biological child."

Despite his fears, Jason and Elizabeth had been right in their reassurance. Nadine had been able to see past his role in her daughter's unconventional birth, and, just shy of a year after his confession, they had married in a small yet traditional ceremony. Soon afterwards, Diane managed to push his adoption of both Spencer and Laura through the clogged court systems. From prison, Nikolas had tried to protest the final step in having his son taken away from him, but, with a life sentence settled upon him like a yoke around his shoulders, Cassadine didn't have a leg to stand on. Now, just that morning, Nadine had taken a home pregnancy test and discovered that they were expecting their third child. Even after three years of enjoying the bliss of normalcy, his life still felt somewhat surreal.

"The kids know that we love them. We've never treated them differently despite the various ways they've entered our lives."

"Yeah, but it's not the same," she argued. "Different circumstances or not, they're both ours by adoption, and, now, this new baby is ours biologically. No matter how much we love Spencer and Laura, no matter how much we reassure them, they're going to be a little insecure. It's only natural."

"Well, then, we'll just have to make sure that, by the time little baby girl or baby boy Zacchara arrives, they're ready." Sighing, he admitted, "it probably would be easier if they were younger, because they wouldn't be so aware, and they wouldn't understand what was happening, but we can't help their ages... no matter how much you hate the fact that they're getting older," he teased his wife.

"Our son is less than a year away from reaching double digits, our daughter two. Don't tell me that doesn't freak you out, too. In a few years, they'll be dating!"

"Spencer maybe; Laura over my dead body."

She chuckled, turning around to cup his shadowed jaw and kiss him softly. "How did I know that you'd react that way?"

"Because you've met my sister. You've seen what the women in my family are like. There's no way my little girl is going to be given the opportunity to turn into the next Claudia Zacchara."

Twisting back around, Nadine snuggled under the light sheet they had pulled over them and asked, "she still living in Italy?"

"That was the last I heard."

"I hope news of the baby doesn't bring her riding back to town on her broomstick like what happened when she learned we got married."

Kissing his wife's rumpled, blonde hair, Johnny told her, "I'll speak with Diane, see what she recommends. Maybe we could get a restraining order against her or something."

Nadine sighed blissfully. "My hero."

And if that was all he'd ever be – a father and a husband, his family's hero, it'd be enough. He no longer drove fancy sports cars, and traveling no longer appealed the way it used to. Now, he looked forward to kids' soccer games and the once a year family migration to Southern Florida and Disney World. Sometimes, when Johnny looked in the mirror to shave in the morning, he didn't recognize the man who smiled back at him. And that was a good thing.

} ~ {

"You look happy," Jason observed, taking a seat beside her on the swing. He held Jake in his arms, their baby obviously wide awake and raring for yet another adventure. Like father; like son. "I take it Johnny had some good news to share in his letter?"

"The best," she replied, smiling up at him. When he lifted an arm to wrap around her shoulders, she snuggled into his proffered embrace. "I know you'll read it for yourself later, but can I give you the highlights?"

"Sure," he agreed. He always did, and she always took advantage of the fact.

"So, first of all, the girls are both doing great. He sent new pictures for us again. They're still best friends, and he thinks they're going to end up driving Spencer insane, because they refuse to be separated, spending practically every single day and night together now that it's summer break, and they prefer staying with Nadine and Johnny because they have a pool and a big yard whereas Robin's apartment building doesn't."

"You know, I wonder if anyone else will ever figure the truth out, especially if the girls remain as close when they get older."

"I don't know," Elizabeth answered, shrugging slightly. The movement, however, was significantly hampered by her husband's larger frame... not that she minded. "Johnny mentions the same thing in the letter. Look at you two," she teased. "Thousands of miles apart, and you're still in sync."

"We worked well together," was all Jason offered in reply. Sometimes, she wondered if he missed his friend. She knew that she missed Robin and Nadine. Though they were only in each others' lives for a relatively short time, their friendship had been important to her.

"Johnny also wrote about how Nadine is nervous about telling Spencer and Laura."

"About us being her biological parents," Jason questioned, obviously shocked that their friends would be considering doing such a thing.

Elizabeth giggled slightly, amused at her own antics of baiting him. "No, she's worried about telling them about the baby – the one she and Johnny will be having in... oh, seven months or so."

Jason smiled brightly at the news before asking, "what about everyone else?"

"Oh," Elizabeth remarked suddenly, startled out of her thoughts. "Sorry about that. Drifting."

"I don't mind. You're cute when you drift."

"Only when I drift," she challenged him with a mock lift of a finely shaped eyebrow.

With a grin of his own, Jason responded, "when you're not drifting, you're other things."

"Good answer." Backing up her praise with a quick kiss to his jaw, she then launched back into the news from Port Charles. "Well, Robin and Patrick are still dating and still fighting. No big surprise there. I guess Maxie and Spinelli had a little one night stand, but they've since then decided they're better off as friends."

"Maxie Jones and Diane's Grasshopper?"

"Apparently, fashion makes for odd bed mates," Elizabeth mused jokingly.

"Just another reason to stick to jeans and t-shirts," he mumbled under his breath. Considering that was pretty much what she wore as well now – she definitely didn't miss the scrubs, she had to agree. "Speaking of Diane, how's she?"

"Dating Max."

"As in Giambetti, Sonny's old guard?"

"The one and only," Elizabeth remarked. "I guess Alexis is having a field day with it, especially after how much and for how long Diane taunted her for being involved with Sonny."

"Is Alexis still refusing to marry Jax?"

She laughed. "You know it."

They fell silent then, both of them knowing there was only one group of people left to discuss. It was Jason who finally had to ask, because she wasn't going to bring them up before he was ready. "And the Q's, Carly and the boys?"

"Happy," she said simply. "While you can certainly argue with Carly's methods, she did a good thing by going to your Grandmother and asking for help."

Though he didn't respond, Elizabeth knew that he agreed with her. When Jake started to fuss, impatient with sitting and doing nothing for so long, Jason stood up, and she followed, tucking Johnny's letter into one of her back pockets. As they walked together off the porch, going down into the yard and onto their land instead of inside – the beautiful, picturesque summer day calling them into its embrace, he surprised her by asking, "do you ever... regret leaving?"

It took her a mere heartbeat to answer. "Not even once."