“I’m gonna take a quick shower,” Jax said, rubbing at his eyes. It was after midnight, his stomach burned from no food, too much alcohol, and worry about Tara. Without another word, he disappeared down the hall.
They’d checked the hospital again, then reconvened at the clubhouse to come up with a plan. So far, they had a dozen or so empty bottles from various types of hard liquor, but no plan.
Clay pushed out Church, unwilling to vote on Jax leaving SAMCRO until they had some sort of resolution to Tara’s whereabouts.
“What’s going on?” Gemma asked, curious about the solemn faces on the club members when she walked hesitantly through the door. Clay wasn’t answering his phone, and she couldn’t sit at home and wait any longer to find out what the fallout was going to be with her son; by now Opie had to have told him the conversation he overheard.
Chibs, unsmiling, stood and greeted her, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “It’s not a good day, darlin’.”
“What happened? Where’s Jax?” she asked, scanning the room and not seeing her son. Had they gone ahead with the vote? Had Jax gone Nomad after all?
“Pulling it together,” Clay answered, his arms crossed over his chest as he turned to face his wife. He wished just once that she would do what she had been told; it would be better for everyone if she had stayed home.
“What does that mean?” Gemma prompted insistently, putting her hands on her hips.
“Tara’s missing,” Tig offered in partial explanation as he wiped at his lips. He peered at the now empty bottle of Jim Beam in his hand before tossing it in the trash with a sigh.
“Missing? What do you mean, missing?” Gemma asked, suppressing a small hopeful smile. Maybe the good doctor took her advice after all…
“Aye,” Chibs confirmed with a nod and lift of his brows. “Took off from the hospital this afternoon, hasn’t been seen since.”
The biker queen cocked her head. “Tara’s not missing. She left. When I talked to her earlier she said something about going back to Chicago. It was all the same shit she said eleven years ago about Charming being incestuous and small minded, and how she was getting out.”
“What are you talking about?” Bobby asked, looking up at her from over the rim of his glasses. Behind him, Clay sighed and rubbed his eyes; he hoped to God his old lady hadn’t gone ahead with her threats and done something more. Maybe letting her out of sight hadn’t been a good idea.
Bobby, Chibs, Juice, and Tig all stared at Gemma, their expressions a mix of expectant hope and dubious surprise.
“Yeah, well, I guess with what happened, and all this shit going on… she decided not to stay in Charming,” she explained. “It’s not really my place to say anything, but she seems to be getting a little too close to McQueen… I wouldn’t be surprised if they had something going on.” She trailed off, her brows lifting with insinuation.
Behind her, someone coughed.
Gemma turned around to see McQueen and Opie standing just inside the door. McQueen was carrying fast-food bags, and Ope a brown paper bag from the liquor store. Neither of them looked particularly pleased to see her.
The Nomad biker gave her an acerbic smile. “Nope, nothing going on.”
“Oh.” Gemma had the grace to look embarrassed. She shoved at her bangs, and glanced at Clay, looking for support.
“Clay, it’s Unser,” Tig interjected, pointing at the mounted TVs showing the security camera images. He twisted the cap off a bottle of Southern Comfort, poured some in a glass that he pushed across the bar to Bobby. He then tipped up the bottle and took a long drink.
“Shit, what now?” Chibs muttered, lighting a cigarette.
Placing the bag he carried on the bar, Opie sat down with a heavy sigh, taking the cup of coffee one of the prospects offered. McQueen took a bottle of Jack and a six pack of beer out of a bag, along with what looked like several burgers.
“Toss me one of those, will ya?” Tig asked, watching McQueen unwrap a burger and take a big bite.
Juice ran a hand over his head as he stood. He glanced over his shoulder at Clay, “Want me to go?”
“No, I got it,” Clay said tiredly, rising to his feet. He turned to Gemma, “Go home. I’ll call you when there’s something to say.”
He knew Hale was speaking to him, but he couldn’t seem to drag his eyes away from Tara’s purse, the contents partially spilled across the car seat and on to the floor. Her phone was clearly visible, the blinking blue light indicating unheard messages.
“We did a sweep of the area,” Hale said in a low, calming voice. “There’s no sign of her.”
When Tara’s car had been found in the alley, shortly after Zobelle’s body had been discovered, Unser went personally in search of her. Not finding her at Jax’s house or her own, his next stop had been the clubhouse. He had only just finished his sentence about finding the Cutlass before Jax was out the door, on his bike.
“We found this on the ground outside the cigar shop,” the Deputy Chief continued, holding up an evidence bag containing a SIG Pro SP2022. “Along with a couple of spent shell casings. It’s most likely the weapon used to kill Zobelle, but we’ll have ballistics from lab confirm. There’s no serial number, but we were able to get some prints off of it so hopefully we’ll find a match.”
Jax was barely aware of the arrival of McQueen, Ope, and Chibs when they arrived minutes behind him and parked along the street next to his Dyna. They all watched as the police impound tow truck arrived and backed up to the front bumper of Tara’s Cutlass.
“Until we find Tara, the vehicle will need to be considered as evidence in a possible crime,” Hale continued, answering the unasked question. He’d already lost the DNA evidence of her rape; if he could find something else that would connect Weston to what now looked like kidnapping, he was not going to lose the opportunity. “We’ll tow it in, take a look through it.”
“Yeah, all right,” Jax agreed reluctantly.
“This…” Hale paused, considering the impact of the next bits of information he had yet to share. He held out another evidence bag, containing a piece of blue paper. “This was on the seat.”
Finally looking away from the car, Jax turned his gaze to the clear bag Hale was holding in front of him. The blue paper inside was a flyer advertising a League of American Nationalists rally at the Morada Christian Center, six pm.
“I’ve sent a couple of my men over to the L.O.A.N. headquarters to find out about the flyer. Eglee said there was a report of someone putting them on cars at the hospital. We’ll check it out.”
“Right before Zobelle was shot,” Hale continued calmly, bracing himself for what was likely to provoke an explosive reaction. “Weston’s Bronco was seen in front of the cigar shop. I’ve sent a unit out to his house. I’ll head up there personally when I wrap up here.”
A rush of anger swept through Jax. He grit his teeth and his fingers curled up in his palms as his hands clenched into fists. If Weston had Tara… he knew what the man was capable of – brutalization was a means to an end. His stomach rolled at the thought of what the man might do to her, or what he might already have done… again. He’d never felt such acute bloodlust in his life. Weston was going to die.
Watching the change in body language from the SAMCRO VP, Hale added carefully, “We don’t know that Weston has Tara. Her car here… it could just be a coincidence.”
“Could be but it’s not,” Jax ground out. What had Weston said or done that lured her down here?
“Now Jax…” the Deputy Chief began in warning.
“There’s nothing more we can do here, Jackie,” Chibs intervened, patting Jax on the shoulder and attempting to guide him back and away from the Charming Police. They could all tell he was struggling to maintain the leash on his temper, and Chibs had been close enough to hear what Hale had said about Weston.
“Jackie…” Chibs prompted again when the blonde biker didn’t move.
Jax stood perfectly still, watching as Tara’s car was towed away, a Charming police car following behind. It was an ominous sign, somehow, and he again had to struggle to control the rage and fear washing over him in equal measure.
Finally, Jax nodded and walked to his bike.
When the search of Morada and the Christian Center turned up nothing useful, the guys returned to the SAMCRO clubhouse to regroup. With the cops headed to Weston’s they’d have to delay their search of his house until it was clear.
Though it wasn’t strictly necessary, Clay called everyone to the table. Once they were all in their seats, he kicked off the meeting.
“First, I want to say that I’m going to convince Jax to stay SAMCRO,” Clay stated, having made a few decisions in the last hours how to set things right with Opie and the MC even if they had yet to have the conversation with Jax. “We’ve got to work some shit out, but we’ll make it happen.”
“Now Zobelle’s murder… looks like that may be some internal beef. I’ll reach out to Otto, see what he might hear from inside, either from the League or AB.” Turning, he looked at his stepson. “Why don’t you catch everyone up on the rest?”
“The meet with Weston is tonight at eight. The League rally is at six,” Jax said, confirming what they all knew. “Maybe he’s hoping for some kind of leverage, taking Tara. I don’t know, but the rally flyer in her car… it’s a message.”
“Yeah, the kind of message that translates to setup,” Bobby suggested.
“I know, but I got no choice,” Jax replied, toying with an unlit cigarette. “I gotta go.”
“Well, it’s a recruiting rally, so we might as well all go,” Clay offered, leaning forward on his elbows.
“I’ll do some recruiting,” Tig said, placing his Beretta 92FS on the table.
“If Weston is the one who killed Zobelle… we don’t know if that was sanctioned by the League or the AB. He may be on the run, desperate,“ Jax suggested with a shake of his head. He lit his cigarette and inhaled. “Maybe it’s a setup, maybe not, but it’s the only lead I’ve got.” He paused, exhaling a grey cloud of smoke. “This is my shit. Can’t have this blow back on the club. I’ll go alone.”
“No, sorry Jackie, but you won’t. I’ll be going along,” Chibs declared firmly.
“This shit is on me,” McQueen added, still furious with himself that Tara had managed to trick him and get out of his sight. “You know I’m going.”
“Yup,” Opie held up a hand.
“I’m in,” Happy declared in what was practically a growl.
“Count me in,” Tig echoed, pointing at at the weapon on the table. “Though I’d still like to take my friend here.”
“I’m wherever you need me,” Bobby volunteered, waving a finger in the air.
“We still need to find out if it’s Weston that has Tara,” Clay said practically. “And what he wants to get her back safe.”
“And just how do we do that?” Chibs asked as he grabbed the bottle from the table and refilled his whiskey glass.
“I don’t know. But we have a few hours to come up with something,” Clay replied. “I gotta go see Unser about this whole Zobelle shit. Give an official statement. Then Jax, you, me and Ope need to sit down, finish that conversation we started.”
Jax sighed. “Yeah, all right.”
In the gradual lighting of the dawn sky, McQueen, Opie and Chibs sat outside the SAMCRO clubhouse and watched Jax pace like a wild animal in a cage a short distance away. He’d already gone through his smokes; a prospect had been dispatched to pick up some more, now. In the meantime, he was burning his way through a box given to him from Chibs.
Despite his calm and quiet demeanor at the table, he was barely holding it together, claustrophobic feelings of fear and rage crushing down on him.
“We need to find her,” Opie commented, lighting a cigarette. “Soon.”
“Yeah, we do,” McQueen agreed, his brow creased with concern as he came to his feet.
“Well then, any suggestions, boys?” Chibs prompted even they had been doing nothing else for the last few hours but trying to come up with options.
“When can we head over, check out Weston’s?” McQueen asked, tilting his head side to side, trying to relieve some of the tension in his shoulders.
“Clay’ll be able to tell us if the cops are clear when he gets back. Should be any time now,” Chibs replied, taking a puff on his smoke. “Then we’ll go.”
“Too much to ask that we’d get lucky, and the cops would have already found her?” McQueen suggested somewhat facetiously.
Ope snorted, “Yeah?”
When a phone began ringing, Jax slowed his stride. It took him a moment to realize that the sound was coming from his pocket. Stopping, he dug in his jeans to retrieve it and took a long drag on his cigarette as he stared at the unfamiliar incoming number.
“Yeah?” His tone was impatient, gruff.
His wild-eyed, incredulous gaze swung around to his brothers, and he nearly stumbled. “Tara?!”
Opie and Chibs both scrambled to their feet.
“Think you could pick me up?” She sounded almost reticent to be making the request.
“Jesus, Tara. Where are you?” Jax strode back toward the clubhouse.
“Arco gas station, just off 99 and Kettleman.”
“Are you okay? What happened?” Jax gripped the phone tightly, his fears not yet abated. Was she hurt? What was she doing there?
“Yeah baby. I’m fine. I’ll explain everything. Just please come get me.”
“Okay, I’m coming right now.”
“Could you bring me a jacket or something? I’m cold.”
“Yeah, all right. I’ll be there in 30 minutes. Less.” He was already mentally calculating the distance. He knew the roads around Charming and out toward Lodi like the back of his hand; there were a couple of short cuts he could take to save them some time.
“Yeah, babe?” he stopped short, waiting anxiously for her to speak.
“I love you.”
“I love you too,” he returned, almost lightheaded with relief. She hadn’t left him. But what the hell happened?
Tara smiled, and thanked the teenaged gentle giant with the name tag of Phil for letting her borrow the gas station’s phone. It was against policy, but he felt bad for the pretty lady when she limped tiredly into the store. He gave her a free coffee as well, when she explained that her car had been stolen, her purse with her wallet, phone, everything inside. She only wanted to call someone to pick her up, it was a local call.
She was waiting outside on a bench, cupping the paper coffee cup in both hands for warmth, when the dark-haired driver of the BMW that had pulled in moments earlier approached.
“Hey, baby. You look like you could use a lift. And some company. Or, I’m hoping, both.” He smiled, his perfectly capped teeth bright white against his tanned complexion.
“No, thank you,” Tara replied, squinting up at him in against the sunrise. “My ride is on the way.”
“Are you sure, sweet thing?” he asked, taking a seat next to her. “I can take you anywhere you like.” His gaze drifted over her suggestively. “I have been told I am a very generous man. We could have some breakfast somewhere, drive up to Tahoe, hit the slots, find a hot tub.”
Tara sighed. Really? Couldn’t she just sit here in peace? She hadn’t slept, she’d hiked what she guessed to be over ten miles through dark fields and country roads, she was freezing cold, having left the hospital without even a jacket, and that was all on top of having killed a man… no, she wasn’t in the mood for small talk. She just wanted to sit here quietly, wait for Jax, and think about how she was going to explain what happened. “No. You should go.”
“Ah, c’mon baby. Don’t be like that. I’ll keep you company until your ride shows,” he retorted skeptically, experienced with women playing hard to get and making up excuses. But she’d find he could be persistent, and very persuasive. “And maybe I can change your mind.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tara replied tiredly, taking a sip of the now tepid coffee. It was very bad idea, in fact. Jax was likely to be on edge after her disappearance last night, and would be easily provoked. He would very easily jump to the conclusions and only ask questions later. “You really should go.”
“It’s okay, I have time. I own my own business, so I can do as I puh-lease,” he countered nonchalantly, draping one arm behind her on the bench. “Oh, and I’m Brody, by the way. And you are…?
Tara smiled tightly. “You seem… nice enough. But really, you should go. My guy will be here soon.”
“Oooh, jealous boyfriend?” he concluded with a smirk, running a hand through his gel-slicked hair. He gestured toward the dirty red car parked nearby, “Let me ask you this… does he have a 2006 325i? With all leather interior?”
“Hm, no, he doesn’t.”
“One for me then, right doll? What’s his ride?”
“A 2003 Dyna Super Glide Sport usually.” Very attuned to the sound, Tara could, in fact, hear several bikes not far away, and steadily coming closer.
“Never heard of that. What is it? Some kit car?”
“Well, I think you’re about to find out,” she murmured, her lips curving up in a smile on seeing the familiar SAMCRO bikers approaching. She stood, tossing her coffee cup in the nearby garbage and waved.
Brody’s eyes widened at the intimidating sight of the MC members turning into the parking lot, as Jax followed by Ope, McQueen, Chibs, Tig, Juice and Happy pulled up in rapid succession, parking in a line. They had come in force in case there was trouble. Clay and Bobby stayed behind, anticipating a visit from the Charming P.D. once they got wind Tara had been found; they were all well aware Hale had someone following Jax since the run-in with Weston.
“Jax!” Tara breathed happily, her fatigue dropping away as she crossed the few steps from the stations mart into the parking lot.
Hurriedly pulling off his helmet, Jax got off his bike. When she reached him, Tara practically flung herself into his arms. He pulled her as close as he possibly could, burying his face in her neck.
“Thank God you’re all right,” he said in a low, emotion-filled voice. His eyes closed, he clutched her to him for a long moment.
Finally he drew back, and held her at arms length. His gaze roved over her critically, searching for injury before confirming for himself that she was whole, unharmed. He had so many questions, he didn’t know where to start.
“Jax?” Tara prompted, curious about his silence.
Instead of answering, he cupped the back of her head and pulled her to him, his lips meeting hers in a kiss of near desperate need, his fear of almost losing her riding him hard.
“Take me home,” she whispered breathlessly, when he finally lifted his head. Her voice dropped an octave, and she tugged playfully on an errant strand of his hair. She leaned into him as she murmured, “And love me… then I’ll tell you everything.”
“Yeah, okay, babe,” Jax murmured after a long moment, torn between wanting to know now every detail of what happened, but enticed by her intimate, breathy demand, the feel of her body next to his and the sheer relief of having her back, unharmed.
“Here, you’re cold.” Feeling her shivering against him, Jax shrugged out of his kutte, then his sweatshirt, handing the latter garment to her. She tugged the soft navy blue SAMCRO hoodie, still warm and smelling deliciously like Jax, over her head while he retrieved a second one he had brought along from his bike. She felt a swell of emotion in her chest at his thoughtfulness – giving her the already warm sweatshirt, knowing it would be a faster way to take away her chills.
Sweatshirt and kutte replaced, Jax turned his attention to the man watching them with obvious interest. McQueen and Opie had quietly closed ranks around the guy, prepared to detain him if necessary.
Jax jerked his chin up in question, and there was a slight challenge in his voice when he spoke. “Who are you?”
“Brody’s the name,” he offered, his own sense of self-worth exceeding his fear. Watching the biker with the woman, he concluded that they weren’t as intimidating as he originally thought.
“He have anything to do with you being here?” Jax asked Tara, his brows lifted, his temper dangerously close to the surface.
“No. He just -“
“I just offered her a ride,” Brody interrupted with an arrogant smile. “The offer still stands, doll. That is, if you want to move up the food chain.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” McQueen muttered, rolling his eyes and running one hand over his hair.
“No shit,” Opie sighed, wondering if the guy had some sort of death wish. He glanced at Brody out of the corner of his eye. “You do not want to do this, man, not today.”
Jax stepped forward on the balls of his feet, his fingers curling into fists.
“Jax… Jax…” Holding up a hand, Tig walked up between them. “I have a thought here. Why don’t you take Tara home. Hap and I will… uh, talk over the food chain with uh, what’s the name, Brody, here. He probably just, you know, got it upside down.”
His jaw clenched, Jax shook his head. The slight insult mattered less than the need he’d been suppressing for hours to hurt something. The jerk had given him a welcome outlet, and he was more than willing to take it.
“He’s right,” Opie urged, hoping Jax would take the Sergeant-at-Arms advice.
“Aye, Jackie. This asshole isn’t worth the time.” Chibs spit and glanced around the parking lot. It was early and there weren’t many people, but it was still a fairly public venue for a brawl.
“Let’s go home,” Tara tugged on Jax’s kutte to stop him as he started forward. She touched his cheek with her fingertips, urging him to turn his face to look at her. “Please, baby.”
Taking a deep breath, Jax debated for almost a full minute before he finally managed to contain his fury. He’d save it for tonight, for Weston. “Yeah, all right.”
Despite his earlier bravado, now that the immediate threat from the menacing blue-eyed biker seemed past, Brody realized he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to hold his bowels. “You know what, I’ll just uh… go.” Turning, he sprinted unsuccessfully for the gas station restroom as howls of laughter erupted behind him.
“The guy working inside, Phil? He let me use the phone, gave me coffee since I didn’t have any money. Maybe we can give him a few bucks, or something?” Tara ventured as Jax handed her a helmet.
With a nod, Jax called Juice and dispatched the junior SAMCRO member to find out what the kid inside would want as a reward for helping Tara.
While they waited, Tara walked over to McQueen. “I’m sorry… about just taking off,” she said sheepishly. She was genuinely apologetic; she liked McQueen and had appreciated not only his protection, but his quiet company.
“Uh-huh,” McQueen replied with friendly skepticism. “You scared the shit out of all of us.”
“I know,” she looked away. “I just… needed to take care of some things myself.”
“What does that mean?” the Nomad biker asked.
“Jax should hear it all first.”
McQueen grunted his agreement. “If you were my old lady, you wouldn’t sit for at least a week after pulling this shit.”
“Seriously?” Tara’s eyes’s widened and her brows lifted; a short bark of laughter escaped her lips.
“What?” Jax asked with a lift of his chin as they walked over to join him next to the bikes.
“Caveman here was just telling me here how he handles disagreements at home,” Tara explained, putting on the helmet he handed her a few moments ago.
“Yeah?” Putting on his sunglasses, Jax threw a leg over his bike. Fastening the chin strap on his helmet, he asked, “How’s that?”
“Corporal punishment ,” Tara answered, climbing on the motorcycle behind him. She wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him to her as much as preparing to hang on for the ride.
“That’s actually a good idea,” Jax replied. The bike roared to life as he started the engine. Gripping the handle bars he shifted it off the stand. “Maybe keep you from doing some shit like this again.”
He felt more than heard her small gasp, and she couldn’t see the smile on his face. Without waiting for a response, he revved the bike and pulled out, the rest of SAMCRO falling in line behind him.
“Kisses for Abel, a shower,” Tara said, glancing over her shoulder at Jax as she entered the house. “Then you, sleep, and food – in that order.”
Jax smiled slightly, following her down the hall to Abel’s room. He stopped just over the threshold of the door and watched as she said hello to Neeta and leaned over to gently touch Abel’s sleeping face. After Tara slipped back by him, he thanked Neeta for staying overnight and explained that they’d be home for the remainder of the day so she could go home herself.
Tara got out of the shower to find Jax reclining on the bed, his hands behind his head. Pausing just inside the bedroom door, she studied him for a long moment. She wasn’t naive enough to expect that all of their problems were behind them, but some pretty major ones had just been cleared. It was almost miraculous. And right now, despite her tiredness, she wanted a very real and physical reminder of their love.
“You okay?” he asked, curling up to a sitting position.
“Yes,” she replied, her eyes never leaving his as she walked toward him. She let her robe slide off her shoulders, holding it for the teasing space of a heartbeat before letting it fall completely off to the floor.
His gaze swept over her nude body with interest.
His blue eyes warmed her, heating her blood, causing her pulse to beat faster.
He held out his hand.
She put one knee on the bed then the other, straddling his lap. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she leaned into him. Her nipples rubbed against the soft material of his t-shirt, firming into taut peaks, and she sighed softly with pleasure.
“You gonna tell me what happened?” he asked, his hands gliding along her back.
“Yes, but later. After…” she whispered, her lips finding his in a heated kiss.
Jax settled his hands on her hips, lifting her against the growing length of his cock. She rocked back and forth under his gentle guidance, mimicking the blatant rhythmic thrusting of his tongue in her mouth.
“Your clothes,” she murmured between kisses, tugging at his t-shirt to help him pull it over his head. He lifted her off his lap and impatiently stripped off his jeans.
She lay back on the bed and reached for him. Jax followed, settling over her, his hips between her parted thighs, his weight braced on his elbows.
“Love me,” Tara whispered in heated demand, sliding her hands up his arms to his shoulders before looping them around his neck. She nuzzled his throat, and arched her back, delighting in the abrasive pleasure of her sensitive nipples rubbing against the firm muscles of his chest. Being with him, feeling him hard against her, was like an aphrodisiac; she wanted him with an almost insatiable craving.
“Always,” he whispered as their lips met again, melding together.
Tara sighed softly, her fingers tangling in his hair when he changed the slant of his head and his tongue slid deeper into her mouth, twining with hers.
Her breath caught as he slipped a hand between them, his fingers sweeping over her, finding her wet and ready for him. He stroked her sensitive flesh with deft expertise, and she crooned softly. When he slid one finger inside her, she arched into his hand, wanting more.
“Jax, please,” she murmured, her voice husky and low. She clutched his shoulder with one hand, the other tangling in his hair to pull his lips back to hers.
His eyes closed when he slid into her damp heat with one smooth thrust. He moved with a slow, hard rhythm, teased and enticed by the tilt of her hips on his downstroke to take him deeper, then the rotation of her pelvis as he withdrew, the subtle twist adding to the teasing friction.
Tara moaned softly when he dipped his head and closed his hot, wet mouth over one hard nipple and sucked.
They moved together, the ravenous desire building steadily, hot and insatiable. Her head dropped back, and she clung to him, writhing beneath him as the elusive peak of desire beckoned with steadily escalating urgency.
When the first shuddering convulsions of her orgasm erupted, he joined her, pouring his release into her unprotected body with reckless abandon, leaving them both breathless and panting as the mind-blowing ecstasy vibrated through their now sweat soaked bodies.
Long moments later, with Tara curled drowsily at his side and contentment humming through his senses, Jax whispered against her hair, “I’m gonna give you a beautiful life.”
“Mmmm… I love you,” she murmured sleepily, snuggling closer, her face buried in the crook of his neck, her arm across his chest and her leg over his thigh.
Closing his eyes, he pulled the blanket up and settled it over them.
In her sleep Tara smiled, content.
Jax stirred and stretched lazily. He could hear Abel fussing through the baby monitor, knowing it would only be minutes before the baby broke out in a full on cry. He smiled slightly, appreciative that his son’s timing was improving. Glancing at the clock, he noted they’d slept for almost 2 hours.
Careful not to wake Tara, Jax rolled from the bed and pulled on his jeans and t-shirt. Retrieving Abel, he changed his diaper and put him in a clean white onesie and baby blue jeans. He was in the kitchen, trying to determine which of the jars of unappetizing strained vegetables Abel might like when there was a knock at the door.
He had been expecting the Charming Police, well aware they would have heard by now of Tara’s return and would be wanting to talk to her, so he wasn’t surprised to see Hale on his doorstep.
“Jax. How’s Tara?”
“She’s fine. She’s sleepin’.” Abel flailed his arms wildly against his father’s shoulder, causing Jax to lean to the side to avoid a baby fist in the face.
“We need to talk to her,” Hale said, hooking a thumb on his belt.
“I know. Can it wait for a few hours?”
The Deputy Chief sighed, torn between duty and consideration. He knew Tara had already suffered through a rough ordeal, and out of regard for her he wasn’t eager to put her through any more trauma. “What happened?”
“I don’t know, man,” Jax replied truthfully, shaking his head. “She called me from a gas station off 99. I picked her up, brought her home.”
“Jax? Who are you talking to?” Tara said from behind him, rubbing at her eyes sleepily. She had pulled on a pair of her yoga pants and a tank top, and tamed her hair into a ponytail.
“Hey, babe,” he turned, glancing at her with concern.
“Tara… I’m glad you’re safe,” Hale said as she stepped up in the doorway next to Jax. “Can I have a few minutes?”
“Are you sure we can’t do this later?” Jax asked, shifting Abel to his other arm. “She’s exhausted, and I gotta feed my kid.”
“It’s ok. I’d just like to get it over with,” Tara said, putting one hand flat on Jax’s ribs and looked up at him with a reassuring smile. She glanced back at Hale. “I uh, went to that little shop on main, Alegio. I wanted to get some chocolates… they’re supposed to have really good dark chocolate caramels.”
“Anyway, they were closed. I guess I hadn’t really thought about the time. I was going back to my car when I heard a gun shot. My first thought was maybe I should see if I could help, if someone had been injured… so I started toward the sound. I was just in front of the cigar shop when a guy came running out, waving a gun. I think I surprised him. He seemed kind of crazy or wild… He pointed the gun at me, told me to get in the car behind me. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did what he said.”
She looked away, then returned her eyes to the Deputy Chief’s face.
Jax put a hand on the small of Tara’s back, subtly offering her his support.
“He was doing something with the side mirror, adjusting it I guess, when he dropped the gun. I thought he would stop and get it, but he just… took off.” She’d kicked the gun out after she had managed to get Weston into the passenger seat; it seemed necessary somehow to leave a trail of evidence for Zobelle’s murder.
“He drove out 99 and went north. He was sweating, clutching his chest. I thought at first he was just crazed after what he had done. He driving kind of erratic, weaving and slowing, but after a few minutes I started to think that he was having a heart attack. I told him to stop, to get help but he just kept going.”
“Did he say anything?” Hale asked.
“He yelled at me to shut up, but otherwise no,” she replied before continuing her story, “After he exited off Kettleman, he turned, heading up into the hills. It was dark, I couldn’t see much. Again, he was driving kind of crazy, I thought we were going to run off the road. When he finally stopped to make a turn into a driveway, I took my chances and jumped out.”
She took a deep breath. “I thought he was going to get out, look for me, so I got off the road into the trees and brush along the side. He just sat there in the car for a few minutes, then turned in to the driveway and I think he parked. At that point I just took off. I ran and eventually, uh, hiked down to the gas station. It took me most of the night, it was dark. There’s not a lot of houses or anything out that way and I didn’t know if any of them would be safe to stop at for help. When I got to the gas station, I called Jax. I know I should have called the police… but I just… after what happened before… I just wanted to come home, see my family.”
“Would you recognize the guy, if you saw him again?” the Deputy Chief asked, waving one of the police officers accompanying him forward.
“I… think so.”
Taking a folder from the deputy, Hale showed her several photos of similar looking men. “Recognize any one of these men?”
“Yes. That’s him,” Tara nodded somewhat cautiously, pointing to the photo of AJ Weston at the same time stepping closer to Jax. She put her arm around his back, tucking herself into his side. “Who is he?”
“AJ Weston. We found him dead in his driveway last night. It looks like he collapsed getting out of his car. The M.E. says it appears he had a heart attack. That fits your description.”
She’d found Weston’s address on a utility bill in the glove box of the Bronco, and had driven to the remote location. It had been a bit of a struggle to get him positioned so that it looked like he had fallen exiting the SUV, but through pure strength of will, she managed. She worried about footprints and other peripheral evidence such as drag marks that might have given away that Weston’s body had been staged, so she tried to cover it up, but one could only do so much quickly and under the limited beam of a flashlight. She used a packet of baby wipes, fortuitously found in her pocket, to wipe down parts of the Bronco, removing her prints from the steering wheel and gear shift. She’d just hope they’d never bother to dust Zobelle’s office…
Jax’s eyes widened in surprise. Weston was dead?
Even though Hale was watching Tara carefully, he noticed the look that crossed Jax’s face. It seemed he could rule out the SAMCRO VP’s involvement, though he suspected as much anyway. SAMCRO’s style would not have left Weston in his driveway, apparently unharmed.
“Oh,” Tara said softly, her expression betraying no emotion. The succinylcholine wouldn’t be found in a routine tox screen; the medical examiner would have to suspect foul play and order additional, specific tests for the drug. She was pretty sure the Sanwa ME wouldn’t go to the trouble.
“His prints matched those on the gun used to kill Ethan Zobelle. We don’t have much in the way of motive yet.”
“I’m not surprised, since he came from the direction of the shop with the gun,” Tara agreed with a small shrug.
“He didn’t hurt you, or anything… did he? Do you want to go to the hospital, get checked out?” Hale asked quietly. He suspected there was a hell of a lot more to the story, but he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. This wrapped up Zobelle and Weston’s reign in Charming with a lot less violence than he had been anticipating.
“No, I just want to… eat something, and spend some quality time with my family.” Leaning into Jax, she gave the Deputy Chief a small grateful smile.
“Ok. I’ll put something together for an official statement. If you can stop by the station sometime in the next couple of days and sign it, we can put all of this to rest.”
The door had only just closed behind Hale when Jax asked, “So are you going to tell me what really happened, babe?”
“Mmm… food first. For me, and Abel,” she replied, kissing the baby on the cheek. Stepping closer, she stretched up to press a kiss to Jax’s lips.
“The short version though, is not to fuck with Jax Teller’s old lady.”
Gemma glanced up from her seat at the table when her kitchen door opened. She took another hit on the joint she was smoking, and watched her son walk toward her. His expression was closed, distant. She couldn’t quite read his mood.
She waited until he took the seat next to her before she spoke. “You talked to Ope?”
She sighed softly, stubbing the joint out in the ash tray. “Everything, I do, Jackson, is for you. I-“
“Don’t,” Jax said softly, shaking his head. That his mother had been behind Donna’s death, that she had threatened to kill Tara… he hadn’t wanted to believe it, but when he finally accepted it as truth, it made him furious. Underneath the anger though, was a deep, sharp pain – she was his mother, and he loved her, in spite of it all. But how could she hurt the people that she claimed to love? How could she not see the damage she caused?
“I’m not making an excuse.”
“Good.” He studied her, seeing her with new eyes. He’d always known her to be strong and opinionated, but he’d grossly underestimated her how scheming and manipulative she could be. He was both angry and disappointed.
“So what happens now, with us, with the club?”
“You still have JT’s manuscript?” Jax asked instead. He knew she had taken the partially burned copy he had from a box in his garage.
“Yeah, you want it?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Knowing your father, there’s probably another copy in storage,” she offered with a shrug.
Jax nodded. “You have anything else of JT’s from SAMCRO?”
“There’s his ring, the one I gave you when you patched into the club,” Gemma replied. “I was saving it for Abel, you know, when he patches in to the club one day.”
Jax grunted softly, taking out his cigarettes and tapping them against the table. He studied the box for a moment before returning his gaze to her face. “You can give it to me now.”
Gemma studied him for a moment, wondering why but hesitant to ask. “Okay, baby.”
“I’m staying SAMCRO,” he said, finally answering her earlier question.
“That’s really good, Sweetheart,” Gemma said with obvious relief. Smiling, she reached over and squeezed his forearm. “It’s where you belong. One day you’ll be President. Make your father, and Clay real proud. Me too.”
“Some things are gonna change,” he warned, lighting his cigarette. He considered her for a moment. “You’re not gonna be pulling the strings behind Clay anymore. You’re not going to be privy to the club business. You’re not a member of the MC. You’re just an old lady.”
A flash of anger crossed her features and her lips pressed together tightly. The club needed her – she knew what was in the MC’s best interest and often could make the hard decisions when Clay wouldn’t.
“We’re not gonna tell the rest of SAMCRO what you and your trigger boy did to Donna,” Jax continued, ignoring her look of outrage. He blew out inhaled smoke in one long breath. “Tig’s gonna give some thought to a transfer though, maybe go Nomad. That’s on Ope.”
She brushed her hair back, admittedly relieved that not everyone in the club would know what she had done.
“You can still work in the garage, be Clay’s queen and play hostess at the events at the club, but if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on spending a lot of time there. If I even think you’re putting your nose in club business, I will cut you out. Of everything…. the club, my life, my kids.”
He took a long drag on his cigarette and watched as Gemma sat back, her expression disgruntled and angry.
“You work it out with Tara, and you can see Abel. But if you’re out of line in any way with her on that, my kid will think that Grandma is dead.” His eyes widened with emphasis on each of the last few words.
Jax stubbed out his cigarette and stood. He placed one hand on the table, and leaned in toward his mother. His blue eyes were cold, his face only a short distance from hers. “And if you try to get between me and Tara again, you do anything, say anything that makes me think you’re trying to cause trouble, or if you try to hurt her in any way… I will kill you.”
Gemma hesitated as she stared into Jax’s face. She hadn’t been expecting a lethal threat from her own son, but she had no doubt by the look on his face that he meant every word.
“Do you understand?”
She swallowed, licked her lips, and nodded. “Yes.”
“Good. Now can you get me JT’s shit so I can go?” He asked with a lift of his chin, easing back away from her.
Seven months later…
Tara turned her head one way, then the other, finishing up the stitches needed to close the bite wound on Tig’s ass. She was certain it wasn’t from a dog, despite what he claimed, but she’d patch him up and keep his secret.
She had just finished and was pulling off her gloves when a pair of strong arms circled her waist, hands coming to rest possessively on the growing mound of her belly.
“Should you be doing that now?” Jax asked, nuzzling her neck and placing several warm kisses just under her ear. He smiled when he felt his son’s kick against his hand.
“Now as in right this second, now?” Tara asked, tilting her head to the side and leaning back, resting lightly against Jax as he continued his kisses and slow caresses of her stomach.
“Yes, or Tig would have to live without a piece of his ass.” Her lips curved up into a smile, it was starting to be a theme – Jax worrying that she was doing too much. He was around her as often as possible, and recently he even started sending a prospect to wait outside her prenatal yoga class, as though she might decide to give birth any minute.
“Pretty soon you won’t be able to reach,” he teased, brushing her cheek with a kiss. A second, harder kick had him drawing his brows together in a frown, and recalculating the time until her due date.
“Funny,” she replied, pushing away and turning to face him. She stretched up and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Your son seems to be happy to see you, but I have to go wash up.”
Following her through the clubhouse, he was reminded of the call he got just before he and the guys left Oakland. “McQueen and Kat had another boy. He was right.”
“Everyone healthy?” Tara stopped, waiting for him at the door to the apartment.
“Yeah,” Jax answered, opening the door.
“What time are we supposed to be at Gemma’s for her dinner tonight?” she asked from the bathroom a few minutes later, her voice carrying over the running water. “Abel’s excited to see Grandma, though I think it’s as much about playing in your old room with that toy firetruck you had.”
“Shit,” the SAMCRO VP replied on an exhale, dropping down on the bed. He’d forgotten about the monthly dinners that his Mother had insisted on hosting, big events with most of the club in attendance.
“You forgot, didn’t you?” With a smile, Tara walked over to stand in front of him.
“Yeah, I did,” Jax admitted. Reaching for her hand, he tugged her closer to stand between his knees. He pressed a kiss to her stomach, resting his head against her.
Tara stroked his hair, thinking about how far they had come in the last months. What happened to her had been such a catalyst for change…
Several days after the Charming Police closed the cases for Zobelle and Weston, Tara and Jax accompanied McQueen back to Scottsdale for a short visit. During the trip, Jax admitted to her that he and the Nomad biker were in fact, half-brothers. McQueen’s mother had asked them to keep it to themselves, so out of respect for her they had. It was only over a few too many glasses of Johnny Walker Red one night as she, Jax, and McQueen lounged around the pool that Andie admitted the reason why – threats over the years from Gemma Teller-Morrow to her life and her son’s. She laughed it off, saying that in hindsight she probably had been worried for nothing, but after everything else Gemma had done, Jax hadn’t been able to agree.
On their return to Charming, Gemma went out of her way to be accommodating to Jax and polite to Tara. She was helpful with Abel, and clearly excited about her new grandson – but everyone could tell she was angry and bitter. She was still the queen of the club, playing hostess at the events and enjoying the adoration of the guys, but she spent a good bit of her time either stoned or drunk. She was frequenting bars in Stockton, and there were rumors that she was often in the company of another man, a dark-haired, heavily tattooed OG.
With Gemma obviously cuckolding him, Clay seemed to have aged years in just months. It wasn’t long before he announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year, the arthritis in his hands getting worse and making it difficult for him to ride. Everyone expected Jax to take over as President of SAMCRO, and had already begun to defer to him more for club decisions.
But then, they didn’t know that wasn’t the plan…
It terrified her at times, that something would happen that would change things… but Clay leaving meant that Jax could jump. And so could Opie. They hadn’t decided yet where they’d go, but the events of the last few months had brought Jax some much needed clarity. He had made it very clear to Tara that with Clay stepping down they would be leaving Charming and SAMCRO.
Jax had slowly begun purging parts of his past, burning his father’s manuscripts and old photos along with most of his own journals. He found some letters JT had written to Maureen Ashby, and he burned those as well after reading them. Finally, he left his SONS rings, including an old one he wore when he was younger, on his father’s and brother’s graves. She’d even been there at his side, at JT’s grave that day, when he explained his plans for the future to his father…
I think the struggle I understand best… even more than all the things you wanted for SAMCRO and all we eventually became… the one I feel the most is the war of the mind.
Happens when you try to get right with both family and patch.
I realized, as I think you did, a good father and a good outlaw can’t settle inside the same man.
It’s not too late for me, and it’s not too late for my boys.
I promise, they will never know this life of chaos.
Some closing notes…. there were no less than 9 versions of this fic, a few with Weston kidnapping Tara (including one where he took both Tara and Abel), Jax rescuing Tara a few different ways from a couple of different places, including one variation where he gets shot (not fatally), another with Weston meeting Jax at the Wahewa, then finding Tara, and one with Tara really leaving for Chicago (of course, she would have come back or he would have gone after her)… finally I settled on Tara needing to be the hero in her own story. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.