Author notes: Written for the bingo square Injury. Thanks to Tanaqui for betaing.
Hard Shoes To Fill
Something was wrong with Juice.
Tig, slouched on a nearby chair, snuck him a furtive glance, though he needn't have bothered hiding his curiosity. Juice was oblivious to his surroundings, hunched over on his stool at the counter and staring into his mug as if the solution to all his problems lay in the coffee dregs coating the bottom.
Tig was pretty sure Juice wouldn't find any answers there, no matter how long or hard he looked. Not in the coffee dregs, and not anywhere else in this godforsaken sweet shop, either. Christ, he couldn't believe they were runnin' the club from a candy store. How much lower could they sink?
The store was quiet, not surprising after the day they'd had. The streetlighting spilling in through the picture windows to compete with the overheads showed mostly empty tables. Bobby was still there, going through the papers left by the girls he'd interviewed for Cara Cara. Jax had gone home, to see to his wife and kids. The rest, Tig wasn't sure about. Home, or upstairs. He heard boots on the floor above them, approaching the stairs, and watched as Quinn came stomping down.
"Goin' home?" Tig asked, noticing that Juice didn't acknowledge Quinn at all, not even raising his gaze from his mug. Quinn grunted an affirmation and went out the door. A minute passed, and Tig listened to the bike rumble away.
At least they had bodies at the table again, thanks to Bobby's recruitment. Other than that? The last few years had sucked balls. Ever since―well, Tig couldn't exactly recall when things had first started to go off the rails, but it'd been goin' on for a good long while.
And they were all feeling the strain. Short-tempered, curt to the point of being brutish with the croweaters. The booze bill had to have gone through the roof, the way they were all hittin' the bottle. But only Juice looked to really be cracking under the pressure.
That stunt he'd pulled with the dirty cops in Eden, for one thing. And today, standing his ground, never twitching a muscle as thirty-six hundred pounds of steel came barreling down on him. If it hadn't been such a fuckin' crazy thing to do, Tig would've commended Juice for it. That had to have taken some real brass balls. Except he didn't think it was fearlessness so much as... as madness.
And if Tig knew one thing, it was madness.
As if knowing the track Tig's thoughts were taking, Bobby dipped his head toward the lone guy at the counter. "Wassup with him? Somethin' happen while I was gone?"
Tig threw his feet up on another chair, slapping his palm flat on the table top. "Got no fuckin' clue."
But he had, hadn't he? Used to be, everyone had one or two other guys they felt closer to than the rest of their brothers. Often, but not always, the guy who'd served as their sponsor. For Tig, it had been Clay. For Jax, Opie. For Juice, it had always been Chibs.
But no more; it was a public secret that Chibs had used Juice for a punching bag the other day. Nobody knew why.
"Hey, Juice." Tig sat up and thumped his boots back on the tiled floor. Juice started violently at the noise, knocking over his mug. Jesus, when had the kid gotten so jumpy? Come to think of it, lately Juice looked like he expected the other shoe to drop on his head pretty much every damn time someone called his name. That sort of thing was a good quality in a prospect―kept them on their toes. It was far less desirable in a brother.
Making up his mind, Tig pushed to his feet and jerked his head. "Let's ride." If he was gonna talk some sense into the kid, it wouldn't be among the lollipops and candy bars.
Juice followed him out to their bikes without a word. That was another thing that was different. Used to be, he'd drive Tig crazy with questions, wanting to know who, why, what, where. But this―this shell of a man? That was just wrong.
They didn't speak until they were several miles out of Charming and Tig had directed Juice to take the turn-off to the viewpoint over Diller Canyon. The parking lot was deserted, as Tig had expected at this time of night, which suited him just fine. He wanted privacy for this.
Kicking the stand, he undid the strap of his helmet and took it off. After a moment's hesitation, Juice followed suit, joining Tig at the wooden rail that prevented people from taken an accidental dive down the steep slope to the river below.
"Smoke?" Tig offered Juice his pack. Juice shook his head.
Lighting up, Tig gave Juice another hard look through the stream of smoke he blew out. Christ, if he didn't know any better, he'd say Juice was waiting for Tig to pull his piece and blow a hole in him.
Then again, with all the secrets running in and outside the club, all the betrayals, the backstabbing, probably wasn't that far-fetched a notion. After all, Jax hadn't expected him to make it back from August Marks. "What's up with you, dude?"
Juice tilted his head to look up at Tig. "What'd'you mean?"
"What do I mean?" Tig snorted. "Really need me to run you up a list?"
"No." Juice looked away, out over the dark canyon, the water below glistening silver in the moonlight. "Don't wanna talk about it." His shoulders were pulled to his ears.
"No? Too bad." Tig dragged on his cigarette again. "I do."
Juice scuffed a toe into the dirt, a small shrug his only answer.
"This got anything to do with Darvany Jennings?" Thinking back, that was when Juice had really started going off the reservation, though he'd begun acting strange long before that.
Juice's head swiveled around toward Tig, his eyes large in his face, the bruises Chibs had laid on him still faintly visible.
Tig smirked, satisfied he'd hit a nerve. He let out a smoke-filled breath, his gaze pinning Juice to the spot. "Wasn't your fault, bro."
"Yeah. Sure." Juice's voice cracked.
Tig sighed. "She didn't OD, did she?"
The panic in Juice's face told it all.
Tig smoked in silence for a minute. Goddamn Jax. Another innocent woman on the club's conscience. Although he could see why Jax had done it. She'd proved herself a bigger problem than they'd reckoned with and takin' it to the table might not have changed the outcome.
"Why'd he pick you?" That was what Tig didn't understand here. Of everyone who'd been at the cabin, Jax couldn't have chosen a more wrong guy for the deed if he'd tried. Tig himself, Hap, even Chibs could've handled the guilt better. Juice? Juice was too soft-hearted to deal with it.
Sure, he wasn't a pussy―wouldn't've made the patch if he was―and he'd proved he could make the tough calls when he'd killed Miles. But the Jennings girl? That was the kind of shit Clay had always laid on Tig: cold-blooded, pre-meditated action.
"Dunno." Juice's eventual answer came in a mutter and he looked down. Tig knew he was lying, but decided not to press the matter.
"Was wrong of him to ask you, dude."
Juice raised his head again. He blinked at Tig, his eyes watery.
Jesus Christ... This was the reason Tig usually left this stuff to Chibs or Bobby.
"Lemme tell ya something." Slinging his free arm around Juice's neck, Tig pulled him close so he wouldn't have to see the kid's tears. "Remember the Persians shooting up Barosky's shop? Cause of the asshole brother gone missing?"
Juice nodded against Tig's chest.
"I killed that prick. Drowned him in piss. Dropped his body in the water."
Juice pulled away, gulping. Thank Christ, he'd at least stopped crying. "Why?"
Tig shrugged. "Fucker pissed me off." It had been more than that, of course. More like he'd been throwing salt on fresh road rash. Tig had seen red and by the time his rage had lifted, the guy was dead, stinking up the place like the clubhouse shitter on a Saturday morning. The old clubhouse, that was.
Juice stared at Tig. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Tig, watching a car drive by on the road, gave Juice another shrug. Good question. When Jax had asked, he'd flat-out lied to his face about it. But that was why he hadn't held it against Jax when Jax had given him up to Marks in turn. "Tellin' you now, ain't I?"
"Just sayin', don't bottle that shit up, man. Talk it out, drink it out, fuck it out. I don't care what you do to deal with it. Just don't keep it inside." Tig dropped his cigarette butt and ground it out in the dirt under his heel. "Or you're gonna end up being me. And trust me, that ain't what you want."
Jerking away, he strode toward his bike, not looking back at Juice. He'd said all he had to say; the rest was up to the kid.
He just hoped he'd gotten through to him. Would be a damned shame if Juice was the next brother to end up in a box.
Disclaimer: this story is a transformative work based on the Fox 21/FX Productions/Linson Entertainment/Sutter Ink television series Sons of Anarchy. It was written for entertainment only; the author does not profit from it. Please do not redistribute elsewhere without author attribution.