Title: Do No Harm ~Charlynn~
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters presented in this story nor the show from which they originate. Unfortunately.
Summary: With a past she fears nipping at her heels, Doctor Tara Knowles runs to the small town of Charming, California where she hopes that she'll be able to hide from the things, from the people, who haunt her, not realizing that, though quaint, Charming is home to its own brand of violence and danger.
Characters: Tara Knowles, Jax Teller, Abel Teller, Gemma Teller-Morrow, Wendy Teller, Clay Morrow, David Hale, Wayne Unser, June Stahl, Tig Trager, Joshua Kohn, Opie Winston, Piney Winston
Genre: Drama, Angst, Romance
Status: In-progress (1/13)
A/N: It's amazing what can be inspired by a single moment. I had this vision of Tara washing the blood off of Jax in 1x01 rather than telling him to clean himself up, and, from that visual, this entire story was created. In it, Jax and Tara have never met before, so she's unfamiliar with Charming, the club, and everything the two entail. They becomes acquainted through Abel, because Tara is his surgeon. So, essentially, this is a S1 rewrite, re-imagining what might have been without their history influencing the story. Especially towards the beginning of this fic, Jax and Tara will be reacting to the events that take place around them, events that will be familiar from the show, but, eventually, the slight differences that their new association create will drastically change what occurred on screen. Also, keep in mind that, without their past relationship with each other, Jax and Tara are slightly different characters. I won't tell you how; I'll allow you to see for yourselves, but, hopefully, given how I've changed their backstory, these differences will make sense. On one final note, I tend to write ahead, so I'm actually already finished with chapter seven of this thirteen part story, so you don't have to worry about it going unfinished. Thanks and, as always, enjoy!
Do No Harm
As Dr. Tara Knowles made her way quickly through the halls of St. Thomas, she did her best to review her patient's file. Given the family's history of CHD, she would have preferred to have had a few days to thoroughly study their past cases. Turning the corner, her feet greedily eating up the last few floor tiles that separated her from the OR, she noted that the father and grandmother survived the condition, though the grandmother also eventually needed open heart surgery, but that an uncle and great uncle had died from complications due to the defect. This, in and of itself, would have been dangerous enough, but the child was preterm at only 30 weeks, and the EMT's had called in on their way, the mother having apparently overdosed. Tara had no idea what she was about to encounter when she stepped into that operating room, but her few minutes of reviewing the case would have to suffice.
She wasn't losing that baby.
Skidding to a stop, her utilitarian tennis shoes squeaking along the highly polished and waxed hospital floors, Tara pivoted to find a cop watching her expectantly. He was young... probably her age, and he had that clean cut, boy scout look to him. Not wasting time even considering who he was or what he wanted, she gestured vaguely down the hallway towards the surgical floor's information desk. "If you go that way, a nurse will be able to help you find whomever you're looking for."
"Actually, I'm here about an investigation."
"And I'm here to save lives," Tara returned shortly, already turning her back on the police officer. She pushed her way through the swinging doors, tensing when she heard the stranger follow.
"I need some information about Wendy Teller. She was just brought in – an apparent overdose. When will her toxicology results be back? It's extremely important that I am immediately informed when they come in, and I'm going to need constant..."
"Look, Barney Fife," Tara cracked, interrupting the officer. Reaching the door that led into the scrub room, she spun around to face him. His face was pinched with irritation. She didn't have the patience, nor was she concerned about offending him. "I really don't care what you need. I don't have time for this."
"By denying me the information I need, you could be impeding a potential criminal case. And it's Deputy Chief Hale."
She really didn't care what his name was. "And you are preventing me from tending to a definite medical emergency."
When the officer's face relaxed into a smile, Tara went on even higher alert. "You're a good doctor. I can tell."
"Surgeon," she corrected automatically.
"And I'm a good cop," he pressed on, undaunted. "Or, at least, I'm trying to be, but I need for you to cooperate with me. I don't recognize you, so I'm guessing you're new in town, but that woman is Jax Teller's wife, the second in command and heir to the throne of our local motorcycle club problem. If Wendy Teller did overdose, that means that she endangered her child, and her husband did nothing to prevent the situation. I can use that by either threatening the child's mother with charges or by trying to take custody away from the father. That kind of leverage is just what I need to take down Samcro, our very own Sons of Anarchy charter."
Without blinking, Tara stared down the deputy chief. "I don't know anything about this motorcycle club, and I have no idea what went down between you and my patient's father to make you so jealous of him that you would be willing to risk a child's life in order to one up this guy, and, frankly, I don't care. When I get into that OR, I'm calling security, and they're going to be instructed to escort you from this building." Scoffing at his badge, she ridiculed, "That piece of tin pinned on your chest means nothing to me. Leave, stay away from my patient, or I will file a complaint with your superior officer."
Before the self-righteous prick could say another word, she slipped inside of the scrub room, resenting the fact that the door was automatic, and she couldn't slam it shut behind her.
She didn't even have her scrub cap off yet when she heard a loud voice, yet again, assaulting St. Thomas' hallways. The good news? It wasn't that obtuse, obnoxious deputy back for round two. The bad news? As the demanding woman popped a hip, angling her body in Tara's direction so that she could have a better view of the brash visitor, she knew exactly who she was looking at: Gemma Teller-Morrow, the grandmother of her premie patient. The bold scar down the older woman's chest was all the introduction Tara needed.
Sighing, she pulled the protective covering from her hair and quickly made her way towards the crowd which had gathered in front of the nurses' station. Apparently, Gemma Teller-Morrow traveled with an entourage – a very loud, very leather accented entourage. Discreetly, she took in the group of men, wondering silently to herself just which one was the father of baby boy Teller. Typically, Tara would have automatically dismissed several of the men, because, underneath the drug-induced damage, Wendy Teller was an attractive woman. Reason stood that her husband would be attractive, too, yet, even a stranger to motorcycle clubs as she was, Tara instinctively knew that the relationships just didn't work that way.
She also instinctively knew that dealing with Gemma Teller-Morrow was a headache she neither wanted nor needed.
"Listen, I want you to get off your fat, lazy ass and find me some god damned information about my..."
Clearing her throat, Tara interrupted the rude diatribe. "Excuse me, but I'm looking for Mr. Teller."
The older woman scoffed, pivoting in her heels to fully face Tara – a finely sculpted eyebrow raised in challenge. "Who the hell are you."
"I'm Doctor Tara Knowles," she began, shoving her scrub cap into one of the pockets of her lab coat before holding out a hand in introduction.
The gesture was not reciprocated, however. "Sweetheart, I wasn't asking." Slowly, she allowed her hand to fall back down to her side. "I know you must be new around here, because I've never seen you before, but I'm not the welcoming wagon, so go find somebody else's hand..."
"Mom, stop it," a male voice interrupted, stepping forward. Tara eyed him closely. So, this was Jackson Teller. She should have stuck with her original assumption; he was good looking – bright blue eyes, nice lips, and perhaps the longest, pale blonde eyelashes she had ever seen. He had hair to his chin and facial hair which usually wasn't her taste, but, on him, it worked. The unkept look seemed to fit the idea of a motorcycle club's second in command. But then Tara realized that, for a good thirty seconds, she had zoned out during her private inspection, and she flushed with embarrassment, glancing away and closing her eyes briefly as she mentally chastised herself. " … not helping anything."
"Mr. Teller, I presume," Tara greeted her patient's father. This time, she didn't hold out her hand. Instead, with both arms, she clutched the chart she held against her chest. "Like I started to say earlier, I'm Doctor Tara Knowles, and I'm your son's surgeon."
"Shit," Gemma Teller-Morrow swore, scoffing in resignation. "He has it, doesn't he – the family flaw?"
The older woman tapped a long, painted nail against the scar upon her chest. "Bad tickers, doc. They run in our family."
"Yes, well...," and then she turned back to the little boy's father. "If you'll come with me, Mr. Teller..."
"It's Jax," he interjected.
" ... we'll sit down in my office, and I'll go over your son's case with you, so we can select a course of treatment."
"Just tell me now," he requested, taking a step closer to her. "Give it to me straight."
"Alright then," Tara agreed. Briefly, she looked around at the many worried gazes fixed in her direction.
"My mom's right, isn't she? It's his heart?"
"Yes, your son was born with a congenital heart defect which is going to require surgery. Under normal circumstances – even with him being ten weeks early, this wouldn't be life-threatening. However, because of the drugs, he was also born with gastroschisis." Tara could see the questions bubbling forth on Gemma Teller-Morrow's lips, so she explained further without prompting. "In layman's terms, he has a tear in his abdomen which will also require surgery. At this point, I want to give him some time to stabilize and gain some strength. The emergency c-section we had to perform in order to save his life put a strain on his system. I'm hoping that, by morning, he'll be strong enough for us to go in and fix his abdomen, and then we'll reassess afterwards to determine the best time to operate on his heart."
"I knew it," Gemma exploded, pivoting around to pace the width of the hallway. "That stupid, junkie whore..."
"Enough," Jax yelled, making his mother jump and Tara inwardly cheer him on. As her patient's father returned his attention to her, he asked, "do you know what she was on?"
"We found track marks all along her hands and feet, and, judging by her condition, it looks like crank. We're still waiting on toxicology reports, however."
"Bitch always liked her meth," Gemma murmured more to herself than to anyone in particular, but she also made sure that it was said loud enough for everyone to hear. "I take it my soon-to-be ex-daughter-in-law made it, then?"
"She did," Tara confirmed. She gestured towards the nurses' station. "I can have one of the nurses show you to her room if you'd like to go and sit with her."
"Haha, funny," Gemma snapped, glaring. "But I wouldn't tempt me, doc, because, if my grandson dies, that bitch will be next."
Taking a deep, calming breath, Tara closed her eyes and shook her head slightly to regroup. Once more centered and focused, she warned, "and I would ask for you to refrain from making threats against patients in this hospital, because, if something were to happen to, say, your daughter-in-law, then I'd be legally obligated to report you to the authorities, and I really don't want to have to deal with that jackass deputy – Hale – again."
From the crowd of bikers, she heard snickers, she heard someone remark 'I like her,' and she heard someone else call dibs. Tara rolled her eyes. Classy. "Speaking of Sparky the Sheriff, he was here earlier, asking a lot of questions about your wife and child," she told Jax. "Look, I don't know what kind of bad blood is between the two of you, but he made it very clear that he plans on using Mrs. Teller's overdose to get to you. My guess? He uses it as probable cause to get a search warrant for your house, so, if there's anything there that he shouldn't find, I'd get rid of it."
Gemma came up to stand directly beside her son. "Why are you helping us?"
"Because he also threatened to use this against my patient, against your newborn grandson; because he was pushy and rude, and his behavior interfered with my work; and because he really pissed me off."
As if thinking out loud, Jax admitted, "I have no idea what Wendy might have in the house. I haven't been there in months, haven't seen or heard from her in weeks. She probably has drugs stashed somewhere, though."
"Don't worry, man," one of the other club members stepped forward. "I'll go over and check things out."
"Look in the desk. One of the drawers has a false bottom," Jax told him. And then the other guy was gone, and the father of her patient was facing her once again. His features were tight with tension, with regret and anger – both self and outwardly directed. "This is my fault. I didn't pay enough attention. I had no idea Wendy was even using again." When he finished talking, he lifted both hands to scrub roughly against his face and then back through his hair.
"Nobody did, Mr. Teller... Jax," Tara corrected herself before he could protest. She could see the objection in his eyes. "From what her OB-GYN said, she'd missed her last three appointments, too."
"Right." Briefly biting his lip, Jax shoved his hands into the pockets of his low-slung jeans and then nodded once... as if convincing himself. "So, give it to me straight, doc. What are his chances?"
"The textbooks would tell you maybe 20%," she started only to be cut off by Jax swearing.
"Shit!" Tara watched as the guilt and fear coloring his face was overcome by anger.
"But that doesn't factor in two things: one, your son..."
"His name's Abel," he quietly announced.
" … is a fighter. Look at what he's already survived. I'm guessing it's a family trait."
"You don't know the half of it, doc," Gemma said proudly. "What's the other thing?"
"I'm really good at my job."
Gemma Teller-Morrow smirked. "You're a cocky little gash, aren't you?"
Tara narrowed her gaze warningly. "I'm going to take that as a compliment, and we'll just leave it at that." Gesturing with Abel's chart over her shoulder, she indicated for Jax to follow her. "If you'll come with me, I'll take you to meet your son, and we can get started on the paperwork for his surgeries, too."
Face full of resolve – jaw ticking, eyes blazing, Jax softly told her, "there's something I have to do first." With that, he turned around and started to leave, some of his fellow club members falling into step behind him. "Gemma said she found a pack of matches from The Hairy Dog, so that must be from where the Nords are dealing."
She didn't know what propelled her forward, but Tara chased after him. "Wait," she called out, and she was almost surprised when he actually stopped and looked over his shoulder in her direction. When she was close enough that, if she wanted to, she could have reached out and touched him, Jax moved so that he was facing her entirely. "Look," Tara started, unsure of what she wanted to say or how she was going to say it but knowing she couldn't just let him walk away without speaking up. "I don't know you, and I know nothing about your club, but I'm not an idiot. You're leaving right now to go and get revenge. And I get that. I do. You're pissed off, and you're scared, and you're feeling all these things but have nowhere to put them right now. But this – avenging your son? You only avenge someone if they're already dead, and Abel is very much alive, and I intend to keep him that way."
For several minutes, Jax just looked at her. Hell, it felt more like he was looking through her – the connection was that strong. Without conscious decision, Tara let down some of her own walls, and he allowed her to see what he was feeling, too. She didn't know what was happening between them, but it was something. And it was real. But then he blinked, and the moment evaporated. Softly, he whispered, "I'll be back later."
She stared after him... even after he was gone. Despite the fact that several of the guys left with Jax, she was still standing amongst a crowd of bikers. And Gemma Teller-Morrow. "Now, how about extending that invitation to meet Abel to his grandma?"
Slowly, Tara circled around to face the older woman. She was exhausted. Between the stress of recently moving and acclimating to a new hospital, her worry for her patient, whatever it was she had just gone through with Jax Teller, and spending more of her nights sleeping in the on-call room than in the room she was renting at the local inn, all she wanted was respite – peace and quiet. Consequently, the last thing she should have been doing was poking a sleeping bear, but that's exactly what she did anyway. "Sure," Tara drawled, smirking. "After his father sees him first, of course."
Before Gemma could respond, Tara walked away, purposefully blocking out all the noise – the rumbling HVAC, hospital pages, the hustle and bustle of medical professionals treating patients, and one irritated, ranting Gemma Teller-Morrow – swirling around her.
Technically, Tara was off the clock, and she wasn't on call either. She was perfectly free to go home, but, like many nights, she planned on staying at the hospital. Practically speaking, it would give her a chance to review for surgery the next day – go over other cases, prepare for all contingencies, map out every stitch in her mind's eye long before she ever stepped foot in the operating room. But that wasn't why Tara used her key card to let herself out of the service exit, coming to stand in the cool night air under the orange glow of the loading dock's lights. She brought no case files with her. And it wasn't why she was avoiding leaving St. Thomas either.
The door shut with a soft click behind her, she leaned against it, and sighed. Allowing her eyes to droop shut, Tara attempted to relax, but it was a futile gesture. She was on edge, and, unfortunately, it had nothing to do with either her work or the personal problems that she was doing her best to avoid having to deal with. Rather, she was tense because Jax Teller, despite what he had said, had never come back.
Besides from a purely professional standpoint, she shouldn't care. Sure, his lack of interest in his child meant that she'd have to deal with his overbearing bitch of a mother instead, and chances were eventually Charming's deputy idiot would become involved, too, and, on Abel's behalf, she regretted these things, but that wasn't what was weighing on her, making her incapable of shutting off her mind for even a few hours of much needed and deserved rest. She cared because, despite all the reasons she shouldn't, Tara liked Jax Teller, and she had believed him to be a father who loved his son... if not ill-prepared for parenthood. However, it wouldn't be the first time that her judgement was off. She should have known, too. As soon as she realized she was attracted to him, Tara should have been ready for the disappointment.
"Jesus Christ," she jumped in fright, jerking her neck at an awkward angle and banging the back of her head against the metal door she was leaning against. Glancing off into the shadows of the night – where the light of the dawn to dusk light couldn't reach, Tara ordered, "don't do that."
"Sorry," Jax Teller apologized, sounding sincere. He came forward, towards her, with both hands outstretched cautiously before his body. "I didn't mean to startle you. Just figured you would have seen and smelled the smoke." Sure enough, he held a lit cigarette loosely in his right hand.
"Wasn't paying much attention," Tara confessed, tilting her head from side to side to work out the kinks in her neck. "There's usually no one out here, especially at this time of night."
Jax nodded, observing her answer, before dropping down to sit on the loading dock, his legs dangling freely over the edge, swinging. "You spend a lot of time out here?" She joined him, keeping a good three feet of space between them. "Smoke?" And he held out a pack of cigarettes towards her. She waved him off. "Yeah. I didn't think so. It doesn't exactly fit with you being a doctor and all."
Tired of the small talk and still feeling stung that she had been so wrong about him, Tara changed the subject. "What are you doing out here, Jax? You should be inside. With your son."
He looked away. She wasn't sure if he was watching something in particular or just avoiding her gaze. She didn't press him and turned away, too. "Visiting hours are over."
"Yeah, well, I've been known to break the rules sometimes, so, if you want to go meet him, I'll take you right now."
He snorted in amusement. "Yeah. I heard. First, giving us the head's up about Hale, and then my mom. She's pissed, you know."
Tara cringed. "Sorry about that."
"Are you really?"
Not even for a moment could Tara feign contrition. "Yeah. Not at all. She pushed my buttons and had it coming."
"Gemma's known for that."
"I am sorry, however, that you had to deal with the fallout. That wasn't fair, not when you already have so much on your plate."
Jax chuckled. "Don't worry about it. You giving Gemma a hard time is good for her."
"And, in the end, no harm, no foul, right, because she got to see Abel. Eventually, a nurse took pity on her and showed her to his room."
"I have a feeling that had more to do with self-preservation than pity," he remarked astutely. "This isn't going to blow back on you; you won't get in trouble?"
"No, I'll be fine," she reassured. And she would be. Even putting aside the extraordinary circumstances of Abel's case... which she could certainly use in her defense if necessary, the hospital administration was no fan of Gemma Teller-Morrow. They resented her attitude and the way that she treated staff members. Plus, Gemma was loud and rude – perhaps the two ultimate sins when it came to hospital etiquette. Nobody would say a word.
"Good." He nodded several times. "That's good." Then, they fell silent. Tara shivered, lifting her hands to rub along her bare arms. Dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, her clothes did little to ward off the chill in the air. "Were you leaving for the night? I could give you a lift home if you need one," Jax offered.
"No, thank you, but I'm staying here tonight. And I have a car... just for future reference."
"Are you staying because of Abel?"
"No, I stay here a lot, because there's no home to go back to," Tara found herself confessing, surprising herself with how frank she was being with her patient's father. And she needed to remember that – that Jax Teller was only sitting there talking to her because she was his son's surgeon. Nothing more. "I rent a room at the bed and breakfast here in town, but it's mainly a place to keep my stuff."
"Sounds like you're hiding from something, Doc. Or running."
Taken aback – both by his forwardness and by how accurate his easy assumption was, Tara bit out, "excuse me?"
But Jax didn't show any rancor towards her surly tone. "I own a place, but, for months now, I've been staying at the club – in a room we call the bunkhouse. I'd rather hide out there in a room that smells like dirty laundry and even dirtier pussy..."
Tara nearly choked on her shocked bark of laughter. "Oh my god, you're kidding me."
"Hey, we're a motorcycle club. We're not exactly known for our domestic skills."
She lifted a hand, resting it against her mouth and nose as she hid a smile and shook her head in part exasperation and part humor. "I'm sorry. Go on."
"Anyway, there are some nights that I don't even go back to the clubhouse; I stay out on my bike until morning. And I do this because it's easier than having to go to the place that reminds me of all my failures. I'm running from a marriage to a woman I don't love and a kid I'm not ready for, one that I'm not even sure I ever wanted; and I'm hiding from my own cowardice, because I don't know how to fix any of it." Jax became quiet as he allowed time for his words to sink in. "So, I know what it looks like, Doc, and you're either hiding or running from something... maybe even both."
Perhaps he wasn't avoiding his son entirely... at least, not in the way she had first thought, and perhaps there was something happening between them – some kind of connection, but that didn't mean that Tara felt comfortable baring her soul to the man sitting next to her. At the same time, however, she wouldn't insult his honesty with lies. So, finally, shrugging, she responded, "everybody has a past."
"So, tell me something about yours." When she remained silent, he suggested, "why did you want to be a doctor?"
"At first it was because people told me I couldn't be one," Tara answered. This, unlike what she was running and hiding from, she could tell him. "I don't know if you've noticed this about me yet, but I can be slightly obstinate. Willful."
Straight faced, Jax replied, "you don't say."
And she rolled her eyes at his teasing. "My mom was sick, and she died when I was young, and my dad drank himself to death shortly afterwards. I had a second cousin who took me in rather than having to go into the foster care system, but, as soon as I was eighteen, I was on my own. I wasn't supposed to amount to anything, and that just made me more determined to prove everybody wrong. Becoming a surgeon seemed to be the best way to do just that. So, I worked hard, got a full ride, studied my ass off, and eventually became the rock star of my residency class in Chicago."
"So, you became a doctor out of spite?"
"Initially," Tara allowed, "but it became more than that the first time I actually worked with a patient. Then, it became about making sure that even the children born under the worst of circumstances are given a chance to live, to be loved, to be told that they can be anything they want to be."
"Kids like Abel," he mused out loud. It wasn't something either of them needed her to respond to. "Chicago, huh? What the hell are you doing in Charming, Doc?"
Running and hiding, Tara answered his question silently to herself. Despite this, she was fairly confident that everything would still work out with her career. Luckily, she had been well into her residency by the time she left Chicago, and she'd already studied under a neonatal attending for more than two years. She could take that training and combine it with the rest of her residency at St. Thomas and still declare neonatal surgery as her specialty. In the meantime, because of St. Thomas' size, they didn't have a neonatal surgeon, so, with more experience in the field than any of her superiors, she was given all the applicable surgeries... including Abel Teller's.
"Like I said before, everybody has a past." Turning to better face the man beside her, Tara pulled her legs up and folded them underneath her. "Is that what's bothering you about Abel, why you won't go and see him – because I'm young, and a stranger, and you'd feel more comfortable with a different surgeon – someone with more experience?"
"No, you told me you were great at your job, and I trust you," Jax reassured her. "Plus, you kind of scare the shit out of me, and that's good, too." For some reason, Tara felt like he was talking about more than just her surgical skills and medical proficiency, but, before she could even begin to sort through her thoughts, Jax was talking once again. "I can't go and see him, because, if I do, then I'm going to get attached, and I mean no disrespect to you, Doc, but what's the point of getting attached to my kid when he's probably just going to die anyway?"
Tara angled her head to the side in observation. She smiled softly. And then she stood up. Looking down upon Jax, his head rocked back to gaze up at her, she told him, "your fear of losing your son means that you're already in love with him." He didn't say anything, but she watched as he swallowed roughly, his throat constricting with the effort. He blinked several times, moisture making his eyes glassy under the orange light. Reaching into her back pocket, Tara pulled out a business card, handing it to him. "It has my personal number on it, too. Call me anytime you have questions – day or night – or whenever you're ready to meet your son."
"I'll, uh," Jax paused, regrouped. "I'll send you a text so that you'll have my number as well. I'm not sure what Wendy has listed in her file, but this way you'll be able to get in touch with me if... just in case. And I'll be by in the morning to sign the release papers for Abel's surgeries."
"Good," Tara agreed before turning around and walking back towards the doors of the service entrance. Just as she was about to swipe her ID to get back in, she paused, looking back over one of her shoulders. Jax was knocking out another cigarette, slipping it between his lips. "Hey, if you're going to stay here all night, even if you're not ready to see Abel yet, at least come inside. Sleep on one of the couches."
"Is that where you sleep, Doc – on one of the couches?"
"No, I sleep in the on-call room," she told him indulgently. "We have bunk beds."
He then completely took her by surprise when he asked, "want to share?"
Tara responded with the first thing she could think of. "That certainly would not be very professional."
Jax grinned crookedly. "That wasn't a no."
"It also wasn't an invitation either." As he brought a lighter up to his mouth, Tara swiped her ID card, jerking open one of the doors after a soft buzz of admittance. "Goodnight, Mr. Teller."
The way he said her name made Tara hyper-aware, brought goosebumps to her skin. They were still there when she crawled under the blankets of her bunk in the on-call room fifteen minutes later.
"You want to tell me why the hell I found this in my son's pants' pocket this morning?"
Tara eyed the business card – her business card, ripped in two, laying on the counter before where she was filling in a chart. She was standing at the nurses' station, and, like a bad penny, Gemma Teller-Morrow was back. She didn't rush to answer the older woman's question, however. Instead, she finished the note she had been making before set upon, and she noisily clicked off her pen, placing it in one of her lab coat's pockets. The card she never touched.
Quirking a pointed, curious brow in Gemma's direction, she volleyed back, "only if you tell me why you're still doing your 30 year old son's laundry?"
"Touché," Gemma returned, somehow managing to frown and smirk at the same time.
"But, for your information, I give my business card to all of my patients' parents."
"Do you always give out your personal number, too, Doc?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Tara answered. Noticing that they were starting to attract a few curious glances, she motioned for Gemma to follow her down the hall. The older woman rolled her eyes but did as she was bid, snatching up the ripped business card first. Tara, in turn, grabbed her chart. As they walked, she further explained, "because I'm a neonatal surgeon, my patients are almost always critical. I need to be able to get in touch with their parents day and night, and the same applies in reverse as well. Sometimes I'm not near a hospital phone, and sometimes parents have questions when I'm off-duty." Unable to simply allow the censure upon her professionalism to pass by without a smart retort, Tara snapped, "I'm surprised that you don't find this comforting. Jax did."
"Oh," Gemma pounced, stopping in the middle of the hallway. They weren't quite to Abel's NICU room yet. She grabbed Tara's arm, spinning her around so that they were face to face. "So, it's Jax now, is it?"
"He asked me to call him that. Remember? And besides," Tara added, wrenching her arm free, "even when Abel's surgeries are a success, he'll still be a very sick baby. At ten weeks premature, he's going to be here – in his hospital, under my care – for the next couple of months. During that time, your son and I are going to be spending a lot of time together. It's just natural, and it makes things a little easier when the doctor and the family can get along." Before Gemma could respond, she took a deep breath and plunged forward. "With that in mind, you should keep that card... just in case you ever need to get in touch with me."
"How generous of you. Is this your way of apologizing for yesterday – for trying to keep me from my grandson?"
Tilting her chin up a notch, for Gemma was taller than she was, especially since it seemed like the older woman was always wearing heels, Tara countered, "I don't regret anything."
But Gemma just grinned maliciously. "Oh, I get it. Jax gave you shit about how you treated me, didn't he?"
"Actually, no." And to twist the knife just that much deeper, she added, "in fact, we talked for quite a while last night, and your name barely came up."
"Just as long as that talk was professional and not personal, we won't have a problem."
Tara narrowed her eyes as she observed the territorial woman across from her. "If you have something to say to me, Mrs. Teller-Morrow..."
"For you, just Mrs. Teller will do," Gemma interrupted.
That was interesting... and certainly worthy of further examination but at a later and much more private date. " … then just come right out and say it. Quit with the passive-aggressive routine already."
"Alright fine," Gemma agreed, taking a step forward so that they were almost touching. The move forced Tara to tip her head back even further. "Stay away from my son. You're Abel's doctor. You update him about his son's case. But that's it."
While she had no intention of crossing that line – for many reasons, Tara didn't like being told what she could and could not do. "And if I don't?"
"Well, then, I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were you."
"Meaning... you're an outsider. You came strutting into this town with your fancy degree and your big-city attitude, and you just expected everyone to kiss your ass because you're a surgeon. Well," the older woman scoffed. "Charming doesn't work like that."
"I don't know," she drawled, rolling her eyes. "The majority of the people I've met have been nice enough so far."
"Oh, sure. At first, we'll kill you with kindness, and, eventually, we might come to accept you. You'll never be one of us, but you won't be against us either. But cross me, and I'll run your conceited doctor pussy right out of town." Gemma's eyebrows hiked mockingly. "If you're lucky."
Tucking the chart she was holding against her chest, Tara folded her arms across it. "You don't scare me." But she was starting to think that maybe she scared Gemma Teller-Morrow. "Wife of the local motorcycle club's president or not..." – And, yes, since they had met the day before, Tara had done her research. " … you're just an old lady. The only way that I'm leaving this town is if I want to, and, frankly, your opinion on the matter means shit to me."
"Listen up, Doc," Gemma retaliated, leaning forward so as to intimidate her. It forced Tara to take a step backwards, but the older woman just followed until the point where Tara was braced against the wall. "You wouldn't be the first bitch in heat after my son that I've gotten rid of, and you won't be..."
"Take. A. Walk," a hard, cold voice said from beside them. Tara glanced to the left out of the corner of her eyes. She couldn't help but smile softly.
"Hey, baby," Gemma greeted her son, immediately calming and changing her tone. She went from arctic to simpering in seconds. "Are you here to see Abel?" Tara watched as the older woman approached Jax, tried to take his arm, but had her touch shrugged off. "We can go together."
"I heard what you said to Tara."
"Tara," Gemma echoed, her glare ricocheting towards Tara over her shoulder for a split second before disappearing when looking at her son once again.
"And I can't deal with your insecure shit right now, so just back off, and leave her alone."
"Alright, I'm sorry, Jackson." In Tara's estimation, there wasn't a remorseful bone in Gemma Teller-Morrow's body. "Now, can we just go and see your son?"
"You go. I need to talk to Tara for a minute."
Gemma's mouth pursed - a sign that she was unhappy and that she wanted to say something else but was refraining from doing so. Finally, with a pinched expression and a tight nod, she turned around and moved further down the hallway.
Once they were alone, Tara spoke for the first time. "Sorry about that. I really didn't try to provoke her this time... at least, not much, but we apparently push each other's buttons."
Jax astonished her when all he said in response was, "you handle her well." If she wasn't mistaken, Tara detected an impressed flavor to his words.
Jax smiled, nodded. "So, how's the kid?"
"He's holding his own. I have his stomach surgery scheduled for later this morning. Afterwards, we'll assess his condition and determine when it's best to go in and operate on his heart."
"I, uh," as he spoke, he lifted a hand to rub against the long scruff along his right cheek. Tara watched as the overhead lights got caught on his large, garish rings. She assumed they were related to his club. "I stopped by the nurses' station to ask where you were, and they had the consent forms for Abel's surgeries. I signed them."
"And you'll keep me posted," he requested, wincing slightly, she realized, because he wasn't planning on staying all day at the hospital. "I have some things I need to do today. For the club. My mom will be here if you need anything, and I'll be back as soon as I can, but..."
"I'll send you updates via text messages," Tara found herself promising. It wasn't what she wanted from him; she wanted for Jax to finally break down and be the father she knew he could be, but it was progress. She recognized that and decided to meet him halfway. "And I promise to play nice with your mother, too."
Jax chuckled, stepping forward so that he was directly in front of her. While he was crowding and looking down upon her much like his mother had just been, his actions were certainly not meant to intimidate. Tara wasn't sure what he intended by standing so close to her, but he was the first man to do so in a long time that didn't make her want to run or hide.
There were those words again...
"Don't go getting all soft on me now, Tara," Jax playfully admonished.
She returned his smile. "Wouldn't dream of it."
With one last nod, Jax stepped back, then away. "I'll see you later."
And then he was gone.
Tara was happy when she saw him.
And it wasn't because, when he arrived, she was already in an euphoric state due to Abel's surgeries going well, his favorable prognosis, and the fact that Gemma Teller-Morrow had gone home for the evening – all of which were true, but because he was there.
The realization made Tara pause, her steps coming to a faltering end. What she was thinking, what she was feeling was impossible, and improper, and incredible. It was too soon. Yet, logic did not detract from the truth of her body's reactions. Her heart rate was elevated, she had that intense anticipatory feelings swirling through her stomach – that one that doctors still couldn't explain, and the corners of her lips were tilted up into a shy yet oh-so-genuine smile.
And Jax? He fairly stalked towards her – his movements resolute, his gaze never straying from her face. She searched him for any sign of what he was feeling, needing to know if he was merely there for his son or if he, too – as ridiculous as it was – wanted to see her as well. His face, however, gave nothing away... or perhaps she just didn't know him well enough to read through the walls he kept his emotions locked behind. What Tara did notice, however, was that, despite his determination, there was a tenseness to his walk, a tightness – one that had not been there when he had left the hospital that morning.
Before she could fully grasp what that rigidity meant, though, he was suddenly there, surrounding her. Jax wrapped his arms around her torso, pulling her into and against his body, and Tara found herself returning the embrace – a slight gasp she couldn't hide escaping when Jax dipped his face into the crook between her neck and shoulder. He breathed against her bare skin. It was intimate – far more intimate than what was appropriate, but, for a second, for a minute, Tara allowed herself to melt into him. It had been so long since someone had touched her in such a way; it had been so long since she had wanted someone to touch in her such a way.
Although Jax whispered a sincere "thank you" against the shell of her ear, their embrace had nothing to do with gratitude or even a budding friendship. It was too desperate, too intense. She could feel longing in his touch – a sense of need, and want, and desire, but there was also an underlying note of reassurance – his or hers, she wasn't sure – and a whisper of fear. For a brief moment, Tara felt like the hug was Jax's way of convincing himself he was still alive, but that thought was ludicrous.
… Or at least it was until they slowly, regretfully pulled away from each other, and she noticed the blood on her scrubs and lab coat, on the t-shirt peeking out from beneath his kutte and jacket. "Oh my god. Jax?" Worried, Tara lifted her hands to rest upon his chest, her fingers stilling over the zipper of his sweatshirt. She wasn't sure if she should expose him for an examination or further cover up what he obviously didn't want anyone to see.
"It's okay," he tried to reassure her. "I'm fine."
The glare she leveled upon him was a mixture of reproach and trepidation, of alarm. "You're obviously not fine, Jax."
He had the audacity to smile, though the gesture was tinted with grief. "No, you don't understand. Tara, it's not..."
"Shut up," she cut him off, finally realizing where they were standing – out in the open in a very public hallway with security cameras and hospital personnel watching them. He didn't seem to mind her interruption or her rude command. Jax did, however, raise a brow in question. "Not here," she explained. "We're too exposed." Allowing her hands to slide down his chest – an unconsciously personal gesture, Tara laced the fingers of her right hand with his right, turning around so that she could lead him away, her arm twisted and angled behind her back, but it kept Jax closer to her, her own body shielding his as much as possible. "Come with me," she directed. And he followed without objection.
Tara debated where to take him. A restroom was too public, and she wouldn't have access to any medical supplies or equipment, but a hospital room meant they took the risk of someone questioning why she was treating him when he hadn't been admitted. The on-call room, however, was private, and there would at least be some rudimentary first-aid supplies there... along with a change of clothing for both of them. Because St. Thomas wasn't a trauma hospital, and Charming was a small town, most of the doctors preferred to go home when they weren't on-call or working. Often, this meant that Tara had the on-call room to herself.
As she let them into the staff-only space, she locked the door behind them, grateful when the room proved to be empty. Wordlessly, she moved them into the en-suite bathroom, only letting go of Jax's hand once they came to a stop beside the sinks. Facing him, she lifted her hands to release the zipper of his sweatshirt, the sound of the metal teeth separating magnified by the otherwise still and silent room. Once the jacket was completely open, Jax relaxed his shoulders, allowing his kutte and the coat to fall to the floor.
Biting her bottom lip, Tara avoided looking at his face, instead choosing to focus upon the task at hand. She trailed her fingers over his blood splattered and stained t-shirt, astonished when she found it mostly dry. He didn't seem to have any open wounds. Confused, she finally met his gaze. What she found was a remorseful yet torn Jax. When he spoke, she could hear the regret coloring his words. She just wasn't sure if he regretted having to tell her or he regretted what he had to tell her. "Like I started to tell you before, it's not mine."
"I don't understand." She searched his eyes, and then she searched his chest and abdomen, and then she remembered watching him walk towards her what had inconceivably been just minutes before. His tenseness, the tightness of his movements, they had screamed of pain... or, at least, she thought they had. Perhaps it had been emotional, not physical. Catching his gaze once more, she breathed out her realization. "Oh."
Jax nodded and then turned away, positioning it so that he was facing the mirror and she was off to the side and slightly behind him. He turned on the water, and then he took off his shirt, making Tara choke on a sob. Automatically, her fingers lifted to trace the two round bruises on his back. He stiffened slightly, but he didn't pull away. Over and over again, she whispered her touch against his sensitive flesh. She hadn't lived and worked in Chicago for years not to recognize what she was looking at: bullet wounds, only he was still standing before her because he had been wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Looking up into the mirror, she watched him as he watched her. "But it could have been." And she was self-aware enough to realize that, whether it made her a hypocrite or not, she was glad the blood he wore was somebody else's and not his own.
Wordlessly, Tara crossed the room and removed several washcloths, a towel, and a new bar of soap from the linen closet. Putting her supplies down on the countertop, she tested the water to make sure it was warm before soaking one of the washcloths. Wringing the excess liquid out, she then lifted it to Jax's back, slowly and methodically wiping away every single trace of blood. Next, she took the soap and worked it into a lather, covering his skin with the sudsy bubbles before wetting the second cloth and repeating the process, the second time removing the soap. Once his back was clean, she worked on his sides – first the right and then the left – until, finally, she had Jax turn and face her so she could wash his neck, chest, and torso where the majority of the blood had soaked through his clothes. Before she could begin, though, he stopped her, covering her hands with his own and holding them together between their two bodies.
"Why?" When she just looked at him with a mouth pursed and brow furrowed in confusion, he expanded upon his question. "Why are you helping me? Why aren't you turning me in? How can you even look at me right now?"
Tara tiled her head to the side, weighing her words carefully before addressing his concerns. She didn't want to speak in haste, and it wasn't something that was easy to put into words exactly. "I'm not one to judge, Jax. The things I've seen, the things I've done, the things that have been done to me..." She paused, ran her teeth over her bottom lip. "People aren't just good or bad. A badge doesn't stop someone from being evil, and a criminal can be more than just his or her crimes. I don't understand it," Tara confessed, shaking her head slightly and shrugging her shoulders, "but I trust you.
With a gentle squeeze of her fingers, he promised her, "someday, you're going to tell me what happened to you." But then he let go of her hands, and she returned to cleaning off the blood. When Jax started talking – his voice quiet in introspection yet strong in its confession, she was surprised, but she didn't say or do anything to interrupt. She had a feeling that Jax needed to talk to someone, and she was glad that he was confiding in her.
"Sometimes I don't understand what it is we're doing anymore. Somebody steals our guns and blows up our warehouse? I get sending a message. We got our guns back, and we were going to retaliate by returning the favor and blowing up one of their strongholds. But that wasn't enough for Clay... even if offing those Mayans provokes a war." Jax scoffed, and she glanced up to see him looking into the distance, no doubt reliving the night he had just experienced. "Or I don't know. Maybe it was all about teaching me some kind of lesson."
"What do you mean?"
He looked at her then, forehead creased with worry and doubt. "Another one of the guys, my best friend, he just got out after five years up in Stockton, and his wife? She wants him to go legit, to give up the club, and he's torn. So, I gave him an out tonight, and I told Clay that I could handle wiring up the building myself." Jax shook his head, laughed in scorn at himself. "I messed up, though, made a mistake, and Clay was pissed. He probably figured out I was covering for Ope, too. But anyway, to make up for it, he wanted me to fix the situation, then finish it, but the guy was already down, Tara. There was no reason to shoot him again."
He looked up before shuttering his gaze from her. "No. He died before I could. Before I had to." She didn't know what to say to comfort him, to soothe his concern, and remorse, and grief, and apprehension. But maybe she didn't have to say anything; maybe just listening was enough. "I've shot people before. Some of them have died. But it's always been shoot or be shot; they're never defenseless... not like tonight." Sighing, Jax opened his eyes and stared into her own. "Nothing feels right; nothing makes sense."
Finally, she knew what she could do for him. "That's where you're wrong." Leaving him temporarily, Tara snagged a pair of scrubs from a male colleague's locker, handing them to Jax before leaving the bathroom. Without instruction, he changed, and then he rejoined her out in the on-call room. She quickly bagged up his clothes but, for the moment, left them in her locker. Taking his right hand in her own right again, she turned around and led them back out into the hospital hallway. "Come with me." And he did.
Eventually, they stopped in front of Abel's NICU room. "This feels right," she told him, smiling. "This makes sense." Nodding towards the tiny baby inside the incubator before them, she said, "Jax, meet your son." When he looked at her, there were unshed tears in his bright, blue eyes. Perhaps the stress and anxiety of the night were still with him, but there was also a new sense of contentment as well. "Go on," Tara encouraged. "Go inside."
She went to let go of his hand, but he just held on tighter, uttering a single word. "Stay."
And she did.