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The First Stroke of the Brush

Chapter Text

Because I’m willing to listen to you. That’s why. And because I know what it feels like to be the town pariah.

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Was it so long ago, those words spoken as a reprieve from hating her choices and hating herself?

She can still remember that feeling of both unease and disbelief as the man standing in front of her, the man who had kidnapped the youngest of her three beloved boys, a man who had terrorized her friends, herself, and Port Charles, was unexpectedly extending a kind of... understanding and kinship, some empathy of sorts, towards her.

It had jarred her, to say the least. Her nerves were shot, and anger simmered; it was now a constant state of being as she grew used to hushed voices and turned heads as she walked by. But it was Carly and her constant hypocritical litany of betrayal and lies, that drove her finally to let her anger speak for itself. Amid a clattering of art supplies and thrown stress balls, the man from her worst nightmares had popped up unexpectedly, and quite literally, and she expected him to yell at her too. To remind her of how low, how depleted of defenses, her self-esteem really was. Yet, rather than blame or belittle, he explained that he simply wanted... to listen.

And when she had walked out of Franco’s art therapy room at GH that day, confused and emotionally off kilter, she glance down at her engagement ring, still glinting on her finger; a reminder now, of broken promises and bitter lies and a love, once again, lost to her.

She could not have imagined that her life would take such a turn.

And yet.

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Elizabeth shivered against the briskness of the late afternoon cold, shaking her head at the regret that crept up from past memories. She tucked her hands in the pockets of her coat and started walking toward the back of an older, abandoned storage facility just across the street from PC’s fishing docks.

Earlier that day, she and Scotty had met up with Kiki and Dillon to finally sit down and compare notes, both groups spending the last two days following clues and second-guessing hunches. Here was their last and best chance to find Franco alive, they agreed. The drive down to the docks for Elizabeth had seemed to take forever and as she got out of her car, she noticed her hands were aching a bit from clutching too tightly to the steering wheel.

Now, ten minutes later, under the cover of an increasingly dark sky and a tall, spiky hedge that lined a walkway leading to an “Employees Only” door, she saw Scotty’s car pull into the empty lot in front of her, its headlights turned off.

“D.A. Ashton is going to send us to Sing Sing faster than you can say ‘Breaking and Entering’ when she finds out what we’re doing here,” Scotty grumbled as he walked up to her, his eyes darting nervously, right and left.

“Like father, like son I guess,” Elizabeth replied, a small smile forming and disappearing quickly, as Scotty pulled a long, heavy-looking bolt cutter out from under his trench coat. He ‘huffed’ in response.

“I’m sorry, it’s just... I haven’t done this before.” Elizabeth peered over her shoulder, double-checking that they were alone. She faintly heard the echo of murky waters lapping against the docks just a little ways away.

“Yeah, no I get it. You still sure about this, Elizabeth?” Scotty asked, the expression on his face hesitant. He hefted the bolt cutter up to the padlock hanging from the door in front of them, and waited for her answer.

“...Did you get the search warrant?” Elizabeth turned back, her eyes holding Scotty’s, a look of uncertainty in them.

“I did. It ain’t easy bribing a judge for a search warrant on a property once owned by Julian Jerome -- especially on the fly. I’m two-hundred bucks in the hole now, thanks to Judge Reid’s ever increasing need to milk me for all I’m worth,” he continued, “but he’ll buy us some time before he let’s Jordan know that I went over her head to get it.”

“Franco and I, we’ll pay you back, I promise. Let’s just do this before I lose my nerve. Okay?” Elizabeth pleaded, rubbing her hands together to stop them from shaking. She realized then that she didn’t have high hopes of actually finding Franco but it was their last shot. She knew that wherever he was, time was running out.

“Alright, then. I’m gettin’ to it, I’m gettin’ to it.” The sharp click of pierced steel jostled Elizabeth out of her worried thoughts as she saw Scotty disappear through a now unlocked, open door.

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After almost an hour of fruitlessly searching down endless hallways, calling out Franco’s name and pounding on the walls every few feet with her flashlight, Elizabeth began to grow desperate. She and Scotty had split up as planned; she taking the north wing, Scotty taking the south. Now, door after door surrounded her, but she still had no clue if Franco was inside any of the building’s storage units.

Leaning against a wall, Elizabeth paused and assessed her situation. Should she double back and sweep the building once more? She wasn’t sure if it was worth the time to do so. She reached in her coat pocket and took out her cell phone and dialed Scotty.

“Anything?” she asked as soon as he picked up.

“Not a goddamn thing.” Scotty’s voice rasped in exasperation. “If I remember correctly from the blueprints to this place, I have two more sections to cover before I run out of doors.”

It took Elizabeth a second before she could reply without her voice breaking. “It’s okay. I... I think I see an exit sign a couple hundred of feet or so ahead of me. Looks like I’m close to the end of the hallway I’m searching. I’ll finish up and meet you back at your car. We can call Kiki and see if she has any new information and go from there.”

“Look, you just hang in there, kiddo, alright? My son’s a bullheaded son-of-a-bitch and he’ll fight with everything he has to stay alive to get back to you. Even if it means pissing off Hades himself.”

“I know. Thanks, Scotty. I’ll see you in few.”

Elizabeth slipped the phone back in her pocket and laid her head against the wall behind her.
After months of denying her feelings for Franco and being so stupidly slow in trusting him, she had realized her mistake in not fully taking the leap and accepting the man she knew loved her. The most annoying man to ever bulldoze his way into her life was now slipping out of her grasp and she was about to lose it.

She wasn’t sure how much longer she could contain her frustration but it was looking hopeless now.

Her hands were shaking again.

“Dammit!” she exclaimed, slamming her flashlight against the wall next to her.

Where are you, Franco?

She squeezed her eyes shut, and let the tears forming at their edges slide slowly down her cheeks.

And then she heard it.

“Elizabeth.”

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“Franco!?!”

Elizabeth turned to the solid grey door to her right and dropped to her knees. She crouched down, trying to decipher any shadow or movement through the small crack under the door, but she could barely see anything.

“Elizabeth.” Her name came out as a pain-filled whisper this time, even more faint than the last.

“Franco! Oh my god, Franco! Are you hurt? Can you hear me?” Elizabeth extended her fingers, skin scraping off as she tried to slide them under the door, reaching for him. She bit down a small cry as they couldn’t fit through.

“I’m good… I think?” Franco replied in a weak series of coughs and wheezes. “Is that really you, Elizabeth?”

Tears streamed down Elizabeth’s cheeks again as she remembered her phone, her hurt fingers fumbling as she dialed Scotty once again.

“It’s me, Franco, I’m here! Hang in there, okay? Help is on the way.” She quickly told Scotty what was going on and hung up so that he could call 911.

“Scotty is here, too, and we’re both going to get you out of here.”

After a few agonizingly slow seconds with no response, she heard his soft reply, “Pops is here? You brought Pops with you? That’s nice.” She heard Franco groan and noticed his blurred form shift a little, as she struggled to peer under the door.

“Franco, I need you to lie still and focus on my voice for a minute. Don’t move, okay? Just don’t move. I promise everything will be fine,” Elizabeth knew she was rambling, they both were rambling, but she needed to keep him awake and talking.

“Elizabeth, I think… I’m hungry. Really cold, too. But mostly hungry. Yeah, definitely hungry. … God, I miss you.” She almost didn’t catch the last part of what he said, it was delivered so weakly, yet it was the thing that pierced her heart the strongest.

She lay her hand flat along the cold surface of the door and let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“I miss you too, Franco,” Elizabeth said, voice quavering. “I’m here now and everything will be okay. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

She heard sirens in the distance.

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Chapter Text

“Elizabeth? Hey, sit down. You look like you’re about to keel over,” she felt Felix gently tug on her elbow, and looked up to see the worry written all over his face.

Leaning against the door frame of Franco’s hospital room, a fresh cup of hot tea steaming in her hands, Elizabeth had been transfixed by Franco’s sleeping form. She must have swayed on her feet a bit before Felix had appeared out of nowhere.

“Felix. Hi,” she replied, as Felix led her over to the chair by Franco’s bedside, carefully guiding her into it. “Thanks. I didn’t want to disturb his sleep, you know?”

“Yeah, no, I understand,” Felix looked over at Franco snoring softly, and turned back to Elizabeth. “Have you eaten anything?”

“Yeah, I had a quick bite downstairs in the cafeteria before heading back up here. I feel better, honestly. Just a bit sleepy, that’s all.”

Felix squatted in front of her chair, “Well, you definitely look… tired,” he fretted.

“You mean awful, right?” Elizabeth chided him.

“You said it, not me.” Felix stood up again, a smirk on his face, and placed his hand on her shoulder. “I actually stopped by to let you know that I may have peeked over Dr. Munro’s shoulder -- he smells so good, have you noticed?”

“Uh, no.”

“Oh. Okay, well I saw him signing off on Franco’s medical charts. I think they’ll be discharging Franco tomorrow morning.”

“I know. Dr. Munro already came by earlier to tell me. But thanks for snooping around on my, and Franco’s, behalf,” she teased.

“Uhh, you’re welcome?” Felix replied. Calling over his shoulder as he headed out of Franco’s room, he added, “My shift’s almost over but I’ll be back to drop off an extra pillow for you. You’re gonna need it.”

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Twilight filtered through the blinds of Franco’s hospital room, casting strips of dark blue shadows over Elizabeth’s bruised fingers as they held Franco’s right hand. His left hand rested lightly on his stomach, the long fingers stained with fading paint splotches and lightly calloused by the handling of creative tools. Like hers, they were an artist’s hands.

Those hands... It was his touches, the hugs and kisses they’d shared, they were all balms to her soul-- a soul whose long scattered pieces had slowly mended together until she felt solid in her bones. She had felt like this for a while now. Her heart had known. It was her head that had taken it’s time to catch up to the rest of her.

Elizabeth had come to a decision.

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The first thing Franco became aware of as he opened his eyes was that his splitting headache from earlier was blissfully gone. He squinted and blinked through haziness, struggling a bit to focus and orient himself.

He was at GH. He knew that already. He remembered eating Jell-O through a straw, Elizabeth’s cute forehead slightly scrunched in concern as she had held the cup up to him. The room was mostly in shadow now, a soft light just above and behind him creating a little halo of illumination down his blanketed body. He noticed it was full dark outside, the lit windows of the building across the street twinkling like stars through the half open blinds of his own hospital window.

He turned his head and… Elizabeth.

“Hi.” he croaked.

“Hi.” she echoed back.

They stared at each other stupidly for a moment, neither one wanting to break the gaze.

“Here, let me get you some water. What was I thinking---,” Elizabeth stood up.

“No, don’t. Don’t. Just.. stay here for a second. I’m fine, really. Elizabeth,” Franco grabbed her hand, pulling her back down to sit next to him. She noticed he didn’t let go of her hand.

“Are you sure you don’t need anything? Ice cubes, maybe? You must be thirsty.”

“No, I’m good. I promise. … God, you’re beautiful.”

“Okay, now I know you suffered brain damage from that hit you took to the back of your head,” Elizabeth rolled her eyes, unable to hide the blush that bloomed on her cheeks.

“What?! You’re always beautiful in my eyes, you know that,” he exclaimed, his eyes crinkled with humor and sincerity.

“Yeah, well, you should have seen me a couple nights ago. I wasn’t looking or feeling too beautiful then.”

Franco gave her hand a small squeeze. “So tell me. What were you feeling?”

“You mean other than relieved I found you?” she paused. “Angry. When the firefighters and paramedics broke down that door, I wanted nothing more than to run in there and shake you senseless.”

“I’ve done a lot of things lately to make you angry, haven’t I?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth looked down at their still entwined hands, Franco’s thumb making small circles over her tiny knuckles. “Yes, you have.”

Franco’s chest felt tight. He had played an apology out a thousand times in his head, trying to find the right combination of sound and syllables to make everything okay, but it wasn’t okay.

He and Elizabeth were in some warped dance of push-and-pull, with constant misunderstandings to examine and readjustments to make. But they’d always told each other the truth, right? Calling each other out had kept them honest, kept their growing friendship and now tentative relationship, honest.

But in the end, he had metaphorically pushed too hard. His feelings of guilt and false inadequacy had pushed him over the edge and he had made a bad choice, a really bad choice. Instead of listening to Elizabeth, he had lied to her.

“Look, Elizabeth, I need to apolo--”

“Wait.”

Cool fingers reached out to touch his lips, stopping Franco from saying more. Her fingers lingered, briefly ghosting over his lips, and then were gone.

“Can you… can you scoot over, please.”

It took Franco a couple of seconds to realize his mouth was hanging open in surprise.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, come here.” Franco pulled back his blanket, discreetly making sure his hospital gown was still covering all the parts it needed to cover, and shifted to lie more on his right shoulder, his massive body turned toward Elizabeth as she stood up from taking her boots off.

Elizabeth slipped in beside him, and turned to face him, their knees and feet gently touching. She adjusted her position to lay her head on his right upper arm, her hands tucked to her chest. She tilted her head to look up at him, and Franco slowly drew his blanket over her slight frame, letting his left arm come to rest around her waist.

They breathed together in silence for a minute, Elizabeth’s face half in light and half in shadow, her dark blue eyes wide and searching his.

Franco tightened his arm around her and carefully pulled her tiny body toward his own. Elizabeth settled her head under his chin, her hands coming to rest lightly on his chest, their lower legs automatically intertwining… a perfect fit.

Franco took a deep breath, willing his heartbeat to slow down. He was sure Elizabeth could feel it thumping hard under his chest.

“So... all it took was a brick to the back of my head, being held captive in a storage facility, and almost succumbing to hypothermia to get you in bed with me?” He whispered into the halo of her soft hair, breaking the silence, a small smile on his lips. “If I had known, I would have done it sooner.” The bed shook a fraction as both chuckled.

Neither one said anything for awhile after that.

Franco suspected Elizabeth was taking a moment to collect her thoughts. He could feel her adjusting and manipulating the collar of his hospital gown, her fingertips brushing lightly over his collarbone. He shivered and held her tighter.

“Are you cold?” Elizabeth looked up at him again, that little crease on her forehead making it’s appearance once more.

“No, I’m good. You’re even better than my slanket.” Smiles peeked through again.

“I have some good news to tell you,” Elizabeth began, her hand now resting gently on the side of Franco’s neck. “Dr. Munro stopped in while you were sleeping earlier today and said he was going to discharge you tomorrow, first thing in the morning.”

“He said that? Well, that is good news,” Franco beamed.

“So you’re ready to come home?”

Franco paused. Did he hear right?

“You mean ready to go home, right?” he corrected, his breath coming out thicker and rougher.

“No, Franco. I mean come home,” Elizabeth’s hand, which was resting on his neck a second ago, slowly caressed its way up to cup his face. “I need you home. Need you with my boys. With me.”

He looked into her eyes and saw conviction and a fierce determination expressed in them. And also something else…

Franco lowered his forehead to touch hers. Their noses grazed a bit as he moved his hand from around Elizabeth’s waist to carefully tug some strands of her beautiful brown hair away from her face and tuck them behind her ear.

Breaths intermingling, Franco pulled her head gently forward, eyes falling shut, and closed the space between them.

Soft, warm lips pressed together lightly. Franco inhaled the faint taste of honey, tea, and mint. Slowly, naturally, carefully, Franco eased Elizabeth’s mouth open with a gentle tongue, the hand on Franco’s cheek pulling him closer, urging him to deepen their kiss; he was off balance and everything spun.

Before he lost himself completely, Franco reluctantly broke the kiss.

“Why did you--?”

“It’s okay.” He smiled and lifted their blanket off her body a bit. Elizabeth’s questioning look softened and she turned around, repositioning her body until her back was pressed firmly to his front, Franco spooning her. He settled the blanket over them once again, reached over his head to shut the light off, and wrapped his body around hers. They were asleep in minutes.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth came downstairs to the smell of cooked eggs, the sound of clanging dishes, and Franco’s voice being drowned out by the morning ruckus of her three boys ready to start their day.

“What do you mean you put ketchup on your eggs?” Franco’s shocked question boomed out as Elizabeth walked into the kitchen.

“Good morning, boys,” she greeted all of them, going over to kiss Aiden on the top of his head as he sat in his usual chair by the refrigerator, munching on some toast, scrambled eggs, and cut up strawberries. Elizabeth opened her arms to hug Cam, sitting next to Aiden, his mouth too full of food to say anything other than “Mrnng, Mom” and continued chewing. As she passed Franco to get to Jake at the other end of the kitchen table, she stopped and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek, Franco bending down a bit to meet her halfway, a look of guilt on his face as Elizabeth noticed he was hiding a stack of burnt toast sitting on the counter behind him.

“We still friends?” Franco asked, one eyebrow up in inquiry and a smirk forming on his face.

“Well, I did promise…” she replied, half-heartedly rolling her eyes at him as she walked past him to get to Jake and kiss him on the forehead in greeting. A feeling of contentment bubbled up inside her as she looked around her kitchen.

“Mom, you have to back me up,” Jake demanded jokingly, “Franco says that ketchup on eggs is gross. It isn’t though, right?” His expression begged her to agree with him.

“...No?” Elizabeth tried to sound convincing but failed. “But if you like ketchup on your eggs, Jake, I think that’s great.” She quickly turned to face Franco, the fingers of her hand drumming on the kitchen table, a fake-stern look on her face.

“I didn’t mean he couldn’t eat them that way, it’s just that I’ve never met anyone who liked ketchup on their eggs before, and well...” Franco shrugged. He went over to the fridge, opened the door, grabbed a bottle of ketchup, and quickly handed it to Jake. “Here ya go, kid.” Cam gave Franco a thumbs up while shoveling another bite of breakfast in his mouth, Aiden giggled, and Jake beamed in triumph.

Elizabeth grabbed Franco by the hand and led them to her living room. “You boys finish eating and get cleaned up. Maggie will be here in ten minutes to pick you up for school.” she called over her shoulder.

Stopping next to the fireplace, Elizabeth turned and stepped into Franco’s arms. “Thank you.” she whispered into his chest.

Surprised, Franco wrapped his arms around Elizabeth, gently hugging her back.

“You’re welcome?” he replied, not understanding what was going on but glad to be holding the woman he loved in his arms for a moment.

Elizabeth pulled back from Franco’s arms to look up at him, “Less than twenty-four hours out of the hospital and you’re up with the boys cooking breakfast on a school day? I think that deserves a ‘thank you’, don’t you?”

“I don’t know... I think I’d rather have some ‘donuts’.” Franco’s reply confused her for a second before she remembered. “What? It’s legitimate breakfast food. I thought I’d ask.” he continued, trying, and failing, to hide a knowing smile.

Elizabeth chuckled and reached for Franco’s handsome face. Sweeping her fingers along his neck, around his ear, and through his hair, Elizabeth pulled Franco into a kiss. The tender touch of his lips and whisper of his fingertips brushing her sides sent a shiver down her spine and her hands ran down his shoulders to his arms, clutching at strong, lean muscle, hoping her legs wouldn’t give out on her as they continued kissing. Franco moved his mouth slowly, back and forth over her lips, discreetly reaching under her pajama top to place his hands on the smooth, warm skin of her lower back. A soft moan escaped Elizabeth’s lips.

“Mom, Franco, we’re leeeaving for school now!” Cameron’s happy voice burst out suddenly, startling both of them out of their embrace.

Franco chuckled quietly, hand over his mouth, as Elizabeth gently swatted him in the stomach.

“Maggie’s here? I didn’t hear her honk her car….” She walked over to the window by her front door, a bit wobbly on her legs, and saw Maggie waving from her driveway.

“That’s because you and Franco were um… busy?” Jake eyebrows waggled knowingly as he hitched his backpack onto his shoulders, pulling little Aiden behind him as all three boys walked out the front door to Maggie’s car.

“Okay, well have a great day at school! Remember, Gram is picking you up today!” Each of them waved from inside the car as it pulled away, heading to school.

Elizabeth quickly closed the front door, and leaned back against it in embarrassment; one hand on her head, the other still clutching the door knob.

“Oh my god, what did we just do?”

“You know, I don’t think they were too traumatized by it,” Walking over to her and giving her shoulders a reassuring squeeze, Franco replied with a knowing smile, “If I remember right, Jake shook me awake this morning and asked why I wasn’t sleeping in his mom’s room.” He winked.

Elizabeth sighed. “I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I?”

“Nah.” he replied casually. Her facial expression looked dubious.

“Elizabeth, I swear, you’re not. It’s okay. Look, I’ll put some water on the stove to boil and we’ll get you fed...,” She felt a kiss land on her forehead and a hand grab hers and she was being pulled back into the kitchen again. Franco stopped them in front of the plate of burnt toast, staring at it for a few moments, and then turned to look at her. “How about some eggs?”

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I need you home. With me.

He hadn’t dreamt that moment. He thought he had, until he woke up the next morning in the hospital, Elizabeth still asleep in his arms. She had woken a short time later to him gently nuzzling the back of her neck, and after turning to face him, asked if he was ready… and everything just felt right.

And now he was in Elizabeth’s home. With Jake. And Cam and Aiden. Together, the five of them were adjusting quickly to what could be, to what Franco hoped it would be.

He and Elizabeth still had a mountain of feelings and apologies and explanations to work through but, for now, they’d both found contentment in being near each other again. They both needed to find their equilibrium as a couple and this, him being here, felt like a start to that.

And Franco had insisted on sleeping on the couch last night, wanting to give Elizabeth and the boys time to acclimate to him being in their space. But after what seemed like a half dozen competitive games of Uno played (with Aiden gleefully winning each round -- who knew?), they all called it an early night and the boys each gave Franco a high-five before heading to bed, no questions or strange looks among them.

He was surprised by that. Elizabeth was protective of her boys, and they of her, yet Elizabeth beamed when goodnights were spoken casually and happily as Jake, Cam, and little Aiden walked up the stairs in front of her, ready to be tucked into bed for the night.

Elizabeth had come downstairs a short time later, carrying a couple of blankets and a pillow in her arms. Kiki and Dillon had dropped off some of his clothes and toiletries earlier that day, along with some art supplies (which he suspected Elizabeth had specifically asked them to bring), and he had changed into night clothes, ready to turn in. They both knew he was exhausted and still needed time to recover from his injuries, yet as Elizabeth handed over the blankets, his hand folded over hers and he tugged her down to sit with him on the couch, silently asking to hold her for a while before she went back up to her room for the night.

And now, just a couple hours past noon, boys in school, Franco was sitting on the same couch sketching and waiting. Well, definitely more waiting than sketching, if he were honest with himself. Elizabeth had left a half hour earlier to pick up more groceries, only after they had a brief disagreement as to who would pay for said groceries, with Elizabeth winning the discussion, hands-on-hips, a look of ‘try me’ written all over her face.

It had completely turned him on.

“You’re hot when you get your way.” he said.

Her ‘try me’ look had cracked for a second before she picked up her purse and keys, and heading toward the front door, Elizabeth had looked over her shoulder and said, “Hold that thought for when I get home.” He had caught her biting her lip and grinning, right before she shut the door and left.

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Elizabeth haphazardly unlocked the front door of her house, a couple of grocery bags in one hand and a gallon of milk in the other, and walked in calling out Franco’s name. There was no answer. Perplexed, she headed over to the kitchen and dropped the bags of groceries and her car keys on the kitchen table and opened the fridge to put the milk in. She headed to the sink to wash her hands, and wondered where Franco had gone to.

As she picked up a dish towel next to the sink to dry her hands off with, she heard Franco walk into the kitchen and, sensing a change in the air, turned around to face him.

“Hey.” he whispered, hands in the pocket of his jeans, his broad shoulders hunched up under the collar of his button down shirt, his eyes giving her a look that was a bit shy… yet laced with want, too, underneath.

“Hi.” she replied softly, her stomach doing flip-flops and her skin heating under Franco’s focused, still gaze.

Looking back at their few intimate moments she and Franco had shared, Elizabeth always felt an undercurrent of need that went beyond sexual tension or desire. It was carnal in many ways, a deliciously dangerous need that Franco had not so eloquently identified as ‘grrrr’. She smiled to herself, remembering the stunned look on his painted face at the Halloween party, when she promised they would soon get to really know each other, in that way.

He’d been patient, oh so patient with her, never feeling pressured or over-powered by his need for her; Franco was always careful, always gentle, always there, waiting. And wanting.

And then the parole board had called.

She blinked and shook her head a tiny fraction, letting the recent past stay away, far away from her thoughts now, so she could finally embrace what she’s always wanted.

“Franco.” She breathed... and he finally moved.

Franco stepped around the kitchen table and pinned Elizabeth to the sink behind her, jutting his hips against her lower belly as he stares down at her, letting Elizabeth feel just how much he wants her. Warmth and want engulfed Elizabeth as Franco lifted her onto the edge of the sink, keeping one arm around her waist, the other braced against the kitchen counter. He leans in, his face just inches away from hers, both of them breathing hard and shallow.

She stares into Franco’s eyes, his pupils blown, and she lowers her right hand from Franco’s shoulder to his waist, bunching her fingers into the fabric of his shirt before moving to cup his erection. Franco sucks in a breath, and closes the distance between their lips. They kiss deep and wet and slow and Elizabeth was glad for his arm around her waist as her body trembled.

Elizabeth feels Franco’s free hand move from the kitchen counter to squeeze her thigh and then move again to the front button of her skinny jeans, their hands now grazing as she slides her fingers once again over the tent of his jeans-clad erection. They break from their kiss briefly as Elizabeth wriggles her torso back, moving her hand from his hardness to her jeans and giving them both access to unbutton her pants. They fumble for a bit, heads close together as they look down to see what they are doing, both huffing out small laughs as they finally get that stubborn button undone and her zipper down.

The back of Franco’s fingers delve in under her silk panties, wet and sticking slightly to her pubic mound. “God, Elizabeth,” Franco groans and Elizabeth folds her arms loosely around his neck as Franco’s hand brushes against her clit and light dances behind her eyes. Elizabeth moans and lets her head fall back, her legs wrapping around the top of Franco’s buttocks, smashing their bodies close together again, wanting to be touched deeper, rougher.

Franco buries his face in her neck, sucking and biting, his one arm still holding Elizabeth’s beautifully arched body, while his other hand is buried in her wet heat.

Suddenly Elizabeth needs to feel his skin; she’s been waiting so long for this, for Franco and his flesh under her hands. She tugs at his shirt again, one hand blindly feeling for the top button, as her other hand stays buried now in Franco’s hair, pulling it a bit every time Franco licks her ear, his hot breath making it hard for her to concentrate on her task.

She finally finds what she’s looking for and grips the inside of his shirt just above that top button and pulls with all her might. His shirt rips half way, three of his buttons flying off and clattering into the sink and onto the kitchen floor. Franco unlatches his mouth from her neck and ear and looks up at her, his hand in her pants stills for the moment.

“Need some help?” He asks, half panting, half laughing and she nods in affirmation, her throat too dry and brain too addled to say anything just then. Franco obliges and, taking his hand from her soft folds, he unbuttons the last three buttons and shakes his arm out of it on one side, then switches his hold on Elizabeth to let fall the sleeve and entire shirt from his other side.

“That was a favorite shirt, you know.”

“I’ll buy you a new one.”

Elizabeth looks over an expanse of golden skin, lean and sculpted, muscles warm and firm. She bites her lip and reaches out to place her hands on the sides of his neck, then guides them down to his shoulders, pressing her fingers against hard muscle and bone. She continues down the front of his body, feeling the planes of his chest under her hands, and brushing the tips of her fingers over a dusting of hair and a hardened, light-brown nipple. Franco sucks in a breath and his peck jumps under her touch, his nipple hardening even more. Franco's hands on her waist flex in anticipation of her next move. Elizabeth obliges, and her hands once again run slowly and carefully under his pecks to his ribs then lower, to his abs, her nails scraping against smooth, hard flesh, raising goosebumps and heat.

She thinks to herself... his body… a masterpiece. And smiles.

Chapter Text

A few moments pass, anticipation clinging between them, their breaths coming in short, soft bursts. Hearts are beating fast and fluttering.

Franco looks down at Elizabeth’s hands hovering just above the waistband of his pants, and rather than having Elizabeth lead them where they both want to go, Franco clasps her wrists instead. He lifts Elizabeth’s hands from his abdomen and holds them gently against his bare chest. Elizabeth, her face flushed pink with pleasure, tilts her head slightly, curious.

“Don’t stop,” she whispers. “I want this. I’ve wanted this with you for so long.”

Their gazes hold for another moment and, turning her hands over, Franco kisses her right palm, lightly dancing his tongue along the middle. Elizabeth’s eyes briefly close as her body shivers in response.

“I’m not stopping, Elizabeth. Not ever. I’ll fight to be here, to be worthy of being here, with you,” he said in hushed need, his eyes traveling over her face, memorizing every perfect detail. “I just want you to know that. I need you to understand that, before…”

“I know,” Elizabeth fingers flex and grip his tightly. “Franco, I know. There’s nothing more you need to do or say to convince me that we belong. Together. You... you’ve always been my rock, right from the beginning. In your art therapy room that day, do you remember?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “You were so fiery. And beautiful and...”

“And lost. I was, Franco. I was stumbling through my wrecked life, feeling useless and voiceless, and completely lost.” Elizabeth said, taking their clasped hands and settling them over Franco’s heart.

“Do you remember what you said to me?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Me too,” Elizabeth exhaled. “‘I’m willing to listen’. That’s what you said,”

“And from then on, in your ridiculously stubborn way, you helped me find my way back to a happy life,” she continued, her eyes soft and glistening.

“I don’t think you understand how much I love you, Franco Baldwin.”

Franco’s hands shake slightly and tries to find his voice as he chokes back the knot in his throat.

Pulling her hands gently from his, Elizabeth reaches up and threads her fingers through his hair before encircling her arms around his shoulders and drawing Franco towards her. Her lips graze his, draw back and then seek his again. Needy, tasting and nibbling, she takes his lower lip between her teeth and sucks on it.

Inhaling a sharp breath, Franco lifts Elizabeth off her kitchen counter and heads towards the stairs, Elizabeth’s legs tightening around his waist. As he half-stumbles in delirium up the stairs to Elizabeth’s bedroom, he can feel her face buried in his neck, nuzzling, biting, breathing him in, her long, silky hair mingling with his and tickling his face.

----------

They reach Elizabeth’s room, Franco opening the door and stepping quietly through, Elizabeth in his arms watching him as he looks around her private space. It was simple and cozy. Soft yellows and blues accented crisp, white bedding and dark mahogany furniture. Her room smells faintly of lavender, and mint, and Elizabeth.

“Take me to bed, Franco.”

He looks back down at her, then takes a few steps and reaches her bed. Never breaking from her gaze, Franco places Elizabeth down slowly onto the edge of her bed, her body sliding deliciously down his as the friction between them make his erection push tighter against his jeans.

Sitting down, Elizabeth leans back and pushes herself fully onto the bed, kicking her high-heeled boots onto the floor and, with a beckoning look, lifts her arms to take her shirt off. She reaches behind her back with one hand and deftly takes her bra off, laying bare her small, round breasts, the nipples budding under Franco’s heavy-lidded gaze. Elizabeth’s skin is flushed and hot with desire under his stare, her mouth going dry at the sight of his beautifully sculpted body and manhood finally laid bare in front of her.

Franco answers her look and carefully leans over her, his hand coming to rest next to her head on the bed. With his other hand, Franco grabs the top of her unbuttoned jeans, letting his fingers drag and flutter against the silken flesh beneath the fabric. Elizabeth undulates her hips, seeking more of his hand near her aching core as Franco watches in wonder. He finally pulled her pants and underwear off, stripping her lean legs bare. He has a moment to stare at her in awe again before one of Elizabeth’s knees comes up off the bed and, lifting herself onto an elbow, she reaches up, pulling Franco down onto her, their mouths crashing, as his bare chest presses down against her breasts.

Kissing deep and sloppy and wet, Franco wraps one muscled arm around Elizabeth’s tiny waist and, lifting his lower body slightly off hers, he lowers his other hand to blindly unbutton his jeans. He suddenly feels Elizabeth’s small hand and fingers fumble along with his, unzipping and freeing him, her hand wrapping around his wide girth, stroking once. Twice.

He moans as he breaks their kiss, both of them panting and dizzy with want.

Franco’s hand, still between them, drops a fraction to cup her sex, his thumb sliding down through her wet folds to graze over her nub, rubbing and circling it, sending sparks up Elizabeth’s spine, her whole body tingling with pleasure. She squeezes his length in response and Franco’s body clenches and trembles, every sense filled with need for more of this exquisite woman beneath him.

He reluctantly draws his hand away from Elizabeth’s core and pulls and kicks his pants off, and lays carefully over her once more, warm skin on warm skin. He wants to prolong this perfect act as long as possible and, laying his free hand on her knee, he watches her as she watches his hand travel delicately over her inner thigh and across her supple hip and narrow waist, teasing her flesh as goosebumps are raised. Franco’s hand hesitates for a moment just below her breast, his fingers mapping the ribs under her supple skin.

Elizabeth keens and allows her head to fall back as Franco finally cups her, kneading her breast into peaks, pinching her hardened nipple over and over. He needs to taste her and Franco does so, moving his hand to put his mouth there; to lick, and suck, and circle with his tongue. Franco groans, the taste of Elizabeth’s skin going straight to his gut and his cock.

Elizabeth clutches at the back of Franco’s head, holding him in place, shivering as he runs the nails of his hand, hard along her spine. His erection digs against her center, its inner essence pulsing and wet. Franco feels Elizabeth’s other hand run across the expanse of his back, fingers digging into the miles of skin as it dampens from the heat their bodies make together.

The hand holding his head loosens momentarily and he lifts his upper body slightly off of hers and resting on his elbows, he smiles down at Elizabeth, her hair a halo around her head.

“Your hair, your face, your skin.” Franco touched every part of her that he named. “Your heart, your mind. I love you. And I want all of you,” he whispered low and thick.

Franco leans his forehead against hers, his hair falling forward, sliding against and tickling Elizabeth’s cheek. “I need to feel you. I have to feel you all around me.” he rasped.

Elizabeth digs her fingers into his shoulders and arms in response and presses her mouth, her chest, her whole body up into him, a soft, sweet sound of ache and desire escaping her lips. Her legs spread under him and then slid up the side of his legs to encircle his hips and ass; it presses him flush against her perfectly made body, lining them up for what was to come next.

He can’t speak, and it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even close enough. One move, one push, and they would be one body. And he can’t breathe, but he keeps his eyes open, staring into the blue depths of Elizabeth’s eyes.

They stay that way for an endless moment.

“Franco…” That was all he needed. He wraps an arm around her waist and taking a breath, presses himself carefully inside her. The simple act of pushing himself into Elizabeth’s slick heat was enough to make his muscles start to clench.

Elizabeth whispers his name again, looking tenderly into his eyes, and it’s a benediction.

Wrapping his arms completely around Elizabeth, hot and shaking, Franco can no longer endure the perfection of the moment, and drops his face into her shoulder, near tears.

Trembling and fighting her own building emotions, Elizabeth puts her lips to Franco’s ear. “Please,” she sighed, her hips rocking gently with the pounding of her heart.

Franco slides his hips slowly back, dragging himself out of the tight heat of Elizabeth’s body. He begins to move in long, slow thrusts, Elizabeth’s whimpering breaths telling Franco that he’s angled just right.

Elizabeth moves and moans, lifting her hips to meet his. The friction created between them as he plunges into her over and over, is too delicious, too sensual. It’s too much Franco, and she comes unglued.

Warmth climbs up her toes to her spine, spreading and flowing through every part of her. Elizabeth’s breathing starts to change and grows shallow, her movements losing rhythm. She is close, and so is he.

“Come first, Elizabeth. Come for me. Let me watch you. Please…”

Elizabeth cries out as her orgasm tears through her, her body clenching and pulsing around him. Her chest heaves as she gulps down breathes, her face ethereal in her lingering passion and it’s then that Franco lets go, too. His body stills over hers as he comes inside her, never-ending shockwaves going through him as Elizabeth pulls his hair and bites down on his shoulder. He then collapses on top of her, momentarily forgetting his size and weight in comparison to hers.

Franco shifts and rolls to lay next to Elizabeth, pulling her against his body, both of them trembling through aftershocks, their breaths slowing. Legs automatically intertwined, Elizabeth curls up to his side, her head on his chest, her arm around his waist, both of his arms around her and holding her tight.

----------

Franco slowly realizes that he’s awake, head resting on a soft pillow, eyes still closed, his body languidly stretching as he extends his arm and reaches over, searching for Elizabeth, who’s not there next to him. He snaps opens his eyes, confused, and before he can turn and lift his head to look for her, he hears Elizabeth say quietly…

“Don’t move.” Still confused, Franco obliges for the moment, and moves his eyes to peek over his arm, keeping his head and body still.

Elizabeth is sitting facing him, her bare legs tucked under her, at the foot of her bed, a long, black pencil in her hand moving carefully over a pad of rough watercolor paper. He can barely hear the lead scratching over the paper as she bends over it, that cute little crease on her forehead making its appearance once again as she looks up at him, then down again, pencil bobbing behind the paper. He notices a tray lying next to her, its contents of watercolor brushes and paints, all placed neatly beside a small jar of clear water. He smiles and pushes himself off his pillow slightly, wanting to see what she’s sketching.

“What are you doing?” Elizabeth asks, as she stops sketching and presses the pad of paper to her chest, hiding her composition.

“Let me see.” Franco reaches his hand out, waggling his fingers in indication of his wanting her to hand over her pad of paper to him. She leans back slightly from his hand, eyes narrowing, one side of her mouth slowly turning upward as she realizes he’s likely going to get his way. And she’s fine with that.

“You’re sneaky,” he paused, contemplating. “I kind of like that, to be honest. But now you need to show me what you’re up to.” His sleepy eyes crinkle with humor.

She rolls her eyes at him and not so reluctantly, turns her pad of paper to face him, blushing a bit under his superior scrutiny of her artwork. Franco sits up fully and moves toward her, his eyes on her sketch, expression serious and careful. Elizabeth notices his naked form in a different light now, and her body responds to his nearness, goosebumps forming on her arms under the silk sleeves of her pajama shirt.

“I didn’t realize I looked so good,” Franco chuckles and looks up at her, his face, his eyes, his lips, just inches from her own. Her expression softens at his joke as he leans in and kisses her nose.

“Hi.” he says shyly.

“Hi.” she answers back, her heart thudding in her chest.

He moves again, on his hands and knees, and goes around to sit behind her, placing his chin on her shoulder, turning her watercolor pad and composition towards them. Franco places his hand on the side of her waist, squeezing her slightly in reassurance, and with his other hand he reaches over and grabs her painting hand and guides it to the watercolor brushes on the tray beside them.

They pick up a brush together, her hand in his, and dip its soft bristles in the water for a moment before gently sliding it against the glass to expunge the excess water. They move the brush again and dip the bristles this time in a watercolor pan, swirling the brush back and forth lazily, coating it with color, their fingers holding the brush delicately.

As Franco guides her hand back, the brush hovering over her sketch, he turns his face slightly towards hers, breathing in her scent, lips brushing lightly under her jaw, and watches her intense expression as she waits to see where they’ll place the first stroke of the brush.