Chapter 3

A private jet said many things about the man who owned it. Money, power, convenience, luxury, control. All of these characteristics factored into a personality who would drop $21.8 million on a single mode of transportation, and not even blink doing it. A lesser man might have settled for a Learjet -- smaller, less roomy, certainly without the spacious, fully stocked bar and galley – but Gregori had never believed in doing things by halves. He purchased the most comfortable, luxurious, and elite private jet he could lay hands to, and had owned the Bombardier Challenger 604 for a little less than a year. But then, he hadn't really needed it until then. He hadn't been ready to move forward with his plans yet.

Now, he was.

He sat casually in one of the cushy leather chairs of the cabin, sipping on a glass of forty year old scotch as he reviewed files he'd already memorized. Michael Corinthos Jr., a.k.a. Sonny Corinthos. Gregori stared contemplatively at the name, a slight frown touching his lips. A businessman with his fingers in every pie along the eastern seaboard, and a few overseas. Son of Cecilia D'Antoni and Michael Corbin. He almost chuckled at that. Grandson of Alicia and Marcelo Corinthos.

"Changed your name, did you old boy? Didn't like the family biz, perhaps?" He shook his head, well and truly amused. "But the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it? Come il figlio simile a padre. Your son is more like you, my old friend, than you ever expected him to be." And that, thought Gregori Lanzo, was poetic justice if ever there was.

He flipped through pages in the thick file, allowing names he'd become very familiar with over the past months to jump out at him. Carly Corinthos. Michael Corinthos Jr. II. Courtney Quartermaine. Jason Morgan. Elizabeth Webber. Added to that list was a recent addition phoned into him less than an hour before, and penned in his own sleek hand at the bottom of the page detailing the Corinthos family. Philip Morgan Corinthos. He took another sip of scotch, enjoying the feel of the smooth malt sliding down his throat. Yes, all of the players were positioned on the board. It only awaited his opening move.

He was looking forward to making it.

* * *

Jason eased into the penthouse quietly, hoping not to wake Elizabeth. It was late, or early, depending on your perspective, and he'd meant to be home hours earlier. Business had other ideas. He'd called to let her know, but Elizabeth hadn't been home, or if she had, hadn't answered. She did that sometimes when she was lost in the muse of her art. He just hoped she'd taken his advice, and not waited up for him too long. She needed some good, solid sleep.

She'd been trying to hide it from him, but he knew she hadn't felt well lately. Her appetite was off, she was tired and listless a lot of the time, and she wasn't sleeping well. He thought she'd even been sick a time or two, but she'd turned evasive when he questioned her about it. He was letting it slide for the moment, but a couple of more days and he'd insist she see a doctor. He wasn't really worried – yet – but much longer and he would be.

He made sure the door shut soundlessly behind him, and then shrugged out of his leather jacket. The house was dark and silent, with one of the windows cracked to let in a crisp fall breeze. He slipped off his shoes, moving quietly through the living room to the bedroom, and stopped suddenly in the doorway, struck still. It was in moments such as this that he wished, fervently, for even a small portion of Elizabeth's talent as an artist, so that he might capture the picture before him forever. Instead, he tried to commit it to memory.

Moonlight from the window slanted across the bed, illuminating Elizabeth's face, her soft, creamy skin surrounded by the chocolate and cinnamon cloud of her hair. She almost seemed to glow, her skin translucent, like the old ivory china his grandmother still kept. She looked relaxed and at peace, and…healthy. The thought relieved him a bit. Maybe she was finally feeling better. She lay with her legs tangled in the green and gold sheets of their bed, a strap of the thin, white cotton nightshirt she preferred slipping from her shoulder. He moved forward without being consciously aware of it, his finger lightly tracing her skin as he gently pulled the strap back into place. She smiled slightly in her sleep. Aware of him, on some subconscious level.

On another night, Jason might have been tempted to wake her with a kiss. But tonight he enjoyed just watching her sleep in his bed. His bed. His woman. It filled him with a warm feeling to think of her so; protective, proud, and humbled, all at the same time, that she would choose to be with him. Despite his lifestyle; despite everything.

He knelt down, so that he could look into her face at eye level, and lightly fingered a strand of her hair. "I love you, Elizabeth," he said softly. She didn't stir, didn't wake, and he smiled.

She probably didn't expect him to remember, but their first anniversary together was fast approaching. He wanted her completely well by then, the better to enjoy the special night he had planned to celebrate it. He'd already promised himself that business wouldn't interfere. Not this time, damn it. He sighed, hoping this Lanzo thing was less serious than Donetaro was making it out to be. The last thing any of them needed right now was some old feud surfacing against Sonny.

Determinedly, he pushed all such thoughts from his mind, trying to recapture the purity of that first moment he'd stood watching Elizabeth in the doorway. But a cloud moved over the moon, obscuring his view of her as the shadows of the room fell back across the bed. Unfortunately, unable to banish business entirely from his consciousness, Jason quickly changed for bed and slipped under the covers beside Elizabeth. He pulled her toward him, stroking a hand down her arm. She snuggled against him in her sleep, sighing slightly as her body made contact with his.

"Jason?" she mumbled, still half asleep, but awake enough to realize he'd just come home.

"Shh, go back to sleep, Elizabeth." His lips pressed against her brow briefly. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"Everything ok?" she asked. It was almost a ritual by now. He came home from any one of the myriad things he did for Sonny, and she asked him if everything was ok. He never lied to her. He might, at times, not tell her what was going on, or why things weren't ok, but he never lied about business to Elizabeth. To his way of thinking, false reassurances could get her killed. There were reasons, good reasons, he'd taught her to use a gun and insisted she carry one with her at all times.

"Yeah," he said softly. "Everything's ok."

"S'good." She was already drifting back into deeper sleep.

For a long while, Jason lay awake in the darkness holding her, and praying that things would stay that way.

* * *

Mike Corbin got home late most nights. That was the type of schedule you suffered when you operated a bar – definitely not bankers' hours. He popped open the fridge and pulled out a carton of leftover chinese food for dinner, a beer to wash it down. His mind was on his children, his newest grandson. He'd meant to go by Sonny's today to see little Philip, but hadn't been able to manage it.

I'll stop by tomorrow, he thought, bring a little gift for Carly and the baby. One for Michael. Didn't want the oldest grandson to get jealous of all the attention showered on the newest. Besides, Mike loved bringing his grandchildren gifts. He loved being a grandfather, period. He hoped he was better at it than he had been a father.

He didn't notice the blinking light on his answering machine until he was done eating and almost ready for bed. Stifling a yawn, he pushed the play button, wondering if it was Carly berating him for not coming by. To his surprise, his son's voice was the one recorded on the machine. Sonny didn't often call his father.

"Mike, I need to talk to you as soon as you get this message. I've got a problem that's come up, and the name of the problem might be one you're familiar with. Come see me." There was a muffled sound on the background, the soft buzz of voices too low and far away for the answering machine to pick up. Then Sonny's voice was back, this time less clipped, less business like, but more beleaguered. "And stop by for Carly and the new baby. We'd love to see you."

Mike smiled. Carly had insisted on that last part, that was obvious. Well, Mike was trying to make up for his missing years as Sonny's father. He could only hope that in some small way, he was succeeding. He'd set the alarm for morning hours rather than early afternoon, and go see what help he could be to his son.