The Night We Met
A Jax and Tara One Shot
Jax Teller knew every highway, every road, every lane, and every dirt path in Central California. They were his security, his salvation, his livelihood; they were the very things that made him live a life rooted in the present, dependent upon the next run, the next deal, the next crime. Roads paved his way towards the future, and they pulled him back towards the past. His knowledge of every possible route made it so that, physically, Jax was never lost, but mentally? Emotionally? Even with a map, he wouldn't have been able to find himself. Roads were memories, conduits. Night after night, he traveled them. Alone. When he should have been sleeping, when he should have been getting the shit-storm that was his life in order, Jax, instead, rode around searching for something that could no longer be found. Roads were futility. They were his damnation.
He had read somewhere once that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. But sometimes an action wasn't about getting something out of it but, rather, trying in the first place. Or so Jax told himself. Because it had been eleven years, and that one road in billions – the road that was a start, an end, and everything else in between – still drew him in like a goddamn moth to a flame, and, night after night, it still burned him.
Eventually, if he followed the narrow, tar and chipped back road its whole way, Jax would end up in Lodi, but he never went that far. Arcing onto the twisting, twining trail, he didn't even have his bike going straight once more before he pushed the throttle. Wind whipped between the trees that lined the desolate course, drowning out the hum of his bike but failing to clear his mind. Unlike the interstate system that lined California like an intricate web of veins, that road, their road, didn't conquer and flatten everything else around it. Instead, it followed the natural topology of the environment, bending for water and angling for hills and valleys.
Despite this, Jax raced on at dangerous speeds, too secure in his disconnect to fear... anything. Hell, maybe he even welcomed wrecking. It'd be a departure – something different, at least. He wasn't suicidal. He wanted to live. But he was fucking tired of the monotony of loneliness. His life was filled with people – friends, family, women, but it was only when he was riding by himself, returning to the road of his youth, that Jax felt the unattainable was within reach again. He was foolishly looking for something, someone, long since lost to him and doing so despite knowing that she didn't want to be found.
Not by him.
Maybe he was crazy.
Urging his bike on further, faster, with that thought driving him, Jax raced headfirst towards the past.
I am not the only traveler
who has not repaid his debt
I've been searching for a trail to follow... again
Take me back to the night we met
Tara was quiet... which wasn't unusual onto itself, what with most of the people in her life – her asshole of a father, Jax's club and friends, his mother – not caring about what she had to say. But this was a different sort of quiet. It hung over them awkwardly – like there was something she wanted, needed, to tell him but didn't know how. If Tara was neither seen nor heard by the other people in their lives, it wasn't like that between the two of them. Jax prided himself on being the one person she could really talk to, the one person that Tara actually wanted to know her, so that's what had him worried. She could be quiet with everyone else but not him. Never him.
Without discussion, they had both gravitated towards his bike. Since the very first night she had come crashing, literally, into his life, it seemed like all the monumental moments of their relationship happened either on the back of his bike or out in the middle of nowhere after a ride that took a route only the two of them appreciated or seemed to know about. And that night was no different.
Jax cut the engine to his bike, but he made no further move. Instead, he waited. He liked to think that his patience was out of respect towards Tara – not wanting to pressure her into something that she wasn't ready for, but, in reality, it was self-preservation. Call it instinct, call it that he could see the fucking writing on the wall, but Jax knew, as much as he hated Tara's silence towards him, it was preferable to whatever words she was keeping to herself.
It was Tara who made the first move. Dropping her arms from where they were wound around his middle, she, first, pushed herself back and away from him... as much as the narrow bike seat would allow, and then she stood up – her gaze avoiding his, her right hand automatically lifting in a loose fist towards her mouth, her feet anxiously pacing and kicking up small clouds of dust. Though the thin road was tarred and chipped, the summer was dry. Without rain to wash it away, a layer of dirt choked the countryside, their road in particular. Jax was too focused on identifying and sympathizing with the sensation of feeling strangled – not by the air but by feeling powerless to stop whatever was coming next – that he failed to prepare himself for the blunt, hard edge of Tara's reveal.
Two words; an unmeasurable amount of denial. And rage.
Still sitting astride his bike, Jax ineptly stumbled over his confusion. "What?"
That irritated obtuseness caused Tara's own temper to spark to life. At least, that was familiar – their ability to sharpen each other's emotions, make them flare. No longer nervously biting the cuticles of her right thumb, Tara spun around to face him, green eyes blazing. He loved her like this – so passionate, so... elemental. Hell, Jax didn't even mind when she was angry at him, because nothing was better than pissed off sex, but instinctively he knew, this time, there'd be no making it up to her. No soft touches or hard kisses would mollify Tara back into his bed... where she belonged. "I said that I'm leaving, Jax!"
"And I heard you the first time, but the words won't make sense no matter how many times you repeat them."
She scoffed, laughed incredulously. They were ugly sounds, bitter sounds, especially coming from her lips. "How can you be surprised by this?" Where just a few moments before, she had been rigid in her quiet, now that Tara had started to unleash her words, they rolled into him like a tidal wave – potent and formidable, drowning the both of them. "I've always wanted to get out of this... this close-minded, poisonous town, Jax. I've never made that a secret. Hell, I'm surprised that I stayed here as long as I have. Because I want more. I want college, and med school. I want a career. And I can't have that here. What's more, I don't want it here, because I hate Charming."
Spreading his arms out wide to his sides, Jax emphasized his point. "I am Charming, Tara." When she went to protest, he kept talking over her. "I'm small town, and I'm old fashioned, but I'm okay with that. I like who I am, and I thought that you loved me for who I am as well." It hit low, but, at that point, Jax didn't care, because, as quickly as he was shoving aside her declaration of intent, Tara was moving just that much further away from him. She might have just been an arm's length away, but it felt like she was already gone. Already lost to him.
For several seconds, Tara just stared at him. Head tilted to the side in observation, eyes narrowed, she studied him, and, when she eventually spoke, her words were soft, belying the emotions behind them. "You know, as much as I despite this place, I despise Gemma even more."
"Tara, my mom has nothing to do with..."
"She has everything to do with this," she screamed, cutting off his defense. Throwing her arms up in aggravation, Tara continued, "all your life, Jax, she has tried to keep you locked away from the rest of the world. Sheltered. Blinded to Charming's real faults and the opportunities elsewhere. She's made you think that you actually need Charming as much as it needs you, but she's wrong. If you could just see yourself the way that I see you..."
Finally feeling more at ease with their conversation – this was his girl, the Tara he knew, and recognized, and loved, Jax stood. He sauntered towards her, smirking, because he believed she was now ready and willing to be convinced into staying. "Babe, I don't have big dreams and aspirations like you do, and that's a'ight."
"No, Jax," Tara refuted, looking far more sad than he had ever seen her look before, far more sad than she ever deserved to feel. "It's not alright, because you're so smart, and you have a big heart. You have so much potential." Lifting her hands so that she could rest them against his chest, Jax observed Tara as she nimbly traced the lettering of his relatively new kutte. He melted under her touch... like he always did. While she could deny everything he said, she couldn't deny her body's own reaction to his nearness, and that gave Jax hope that, despite her words, Tara's actions would prove that she couldn't actually leave him, couldn't leave them, behind. "You're more than just your father's club, Jax. You don't need a motorcycle or a kutte to have worth, or value, or power."
Though she didn't stop touching him, Jax suddenly realized that their shared moment of closeness wasn't a reprieve. Tara hadn't changed her mind. Instead, her tender words were meant as encouragement – as both a parting and a pleading, a goodbye and an ultimatum. While she wouldn't stay with him, if he were to ever change his mind, she'd welcome him with open arms, heart, and bed. But it would have to be somewhere else, anywhere else, than Charming.
With a fluttering of lashes dark with tears, Tara finally looked up at him. She smiled softly, resigned. "You know, I'd compromise or give up just about anything for you, Jackson Teller. If, together, we decided med school would be too much – money, time, I'd settle for being a nurse. I'd sacrifice all my dreams to help you find just one of your own. Hell, if it meant making you happy, I'd gladly be a stay at home mom – cooking for you, cleaning your house, raising your children. And I could be content with such a life, too, if you were with me, free and safe as well. But the one thing I won't give up, Jax, is leaving."
Removing her touch from his body for what he feared would be the last time, Tara quietly walked away from him and back towards his bike. Patiently, she climbed astride the machine and just sat there, waiting for him to admit defeat and help her ride away from him for good. While it took him several minutes to accept the harsh truth of the ending of their relationship, he did just that. He, too, climbed onto his bike. He put up the kickstand, and he brought the motorcycle to a roaring start, and Tara even wrapped her arms around his waist once more, one last time. But she was already gone. He'd been losing her in bits and pieces over the years – slowly since that very first day, and, now, he had absolutely none of her left.
And then I can tell myself
what the hell I'm supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
not to ride along with you
Never before had Tara ever held onto him as tightly as she was that night. It sent a thrill through Jax. Wanting to talk to her, wanting to share in her excitement and pride, he encouraged his bike to go that much faster, urging it to their spot. While they rode everywhere together, Jax and Tara inevitably ended up in the same place almost every night. Their place; their road. Given that he was due to patch into the club the next night, it felt right that they should celebrate where everything between them had begun.
They never rode out further than where they had found each other that first night. Jax wasn't sure if the mutual decision to stop there was due to realizing they didn't need to go any further or a fear of what would happen if they did. Either way, that night wasn't the time for contemplating such deep concerns. He had his girl, they were riding together on the back of his Harley, and, in less than twenty-four hours, he'd have his club, too. His father's club. The night was too perfect to allow anything to bring them down.
However, when he brought the bike to a smooth stop, Jax was confused – gratified, for he'd never complain about Tara's arms around him – but confused, because she absolutely refused to let go. Even after his kickstand was down and his headlight was turned off, Tara held onto him for all that she was worth. They were completely still, yet she gripped him like they were about to go careening around a sharp curve at 90 miles per hour on a wet and foggy road, like they were preparing to jump a cliff. And, in a way – given the changes that were about to take place in their lives, in their relationship, maybe they were. But it wasn't adrenaline that had Tara holding him in a death grip. With dawning realization, Jax finally noticed what his girlfriend was really feeling: fear.
Dropping his hands down so that they could fold around hers, he held her against him, twisting his neck to the side. But Tara's face was buried between his shoulder blades. She wouldn't look at him. "Babe?"
Although it took her a few seconds, she eventually confessed on a whisper, "I'm scared, Jax." She didn't need to speak loudly, however, for Jax to hear her clearly. Those three words – words he never wanted Tara to have reason to utter – went off like a shot against the otherwise still and silent night air.
The only thing he could think of was that there was something wrong in her life separate from their relationship that she hadn't yet shared with him, and that's what was causing her distress. "Did your dad do something? Is he sick?" Swallowing thickly, Jax then posed a suggestion he never wanted to contemplate and certainly not when they were just eighteen. "You're not... there's nothing wrong with you, right?"
Thankfully, Tara was quick to reassure him. "I'm fine, Jax." And he believed her. Tara had never lied to him before, and, really, that was just the worst scenario presenting itself in light of her obvious level of deep upset. Tara was healthy. She was beautiful, and she was fit, and no one knew that, knew her or her body, better than Jax himself. "And my dad... well, he's my dad."
She still wouldn't let go of him, and she still wouldn't let him look at her, so he could do nothing more than squeeze her hands. "Then what is it? What's wrong?"
Slowly, hesitantly, she revealed, "it's the club." In his bewilderment, Jax didn't respond, and Tara hastily attempted to explain herself. "I just... you know the club frightens me. The violence, the guns, some of the people." Jax did know that. Tara had always been upfront about how the club made her feel uncomfortable, how she didn't fit into that world and never would. But Jax liked that about her – that she was different, that she was more, better. Because someone like her chose him. "But it's not that. I'll always be scared for you, Jax, but, now that it's time for you to patch in... I guess I just always hoped this day would never come. But, now that it has, I'm scared for us, too – what it'll mean for you, and me, and our relationship."
"Babe, trust me," he started only for Tara to interrupt him.
"I do trust you, Jax. That's never been in question. I just don't trust anyone else."
Needing to see her to really sooth her alarm, without hurting her, Jax forced Tara to release him. Once he was free, he stood up, and he pulled her up and off the bike with him. Not letting go of her hands, Jax stood before Tara, looking down upon her, as he talked. "Me patching in? This is going to be good for us. It won't be like before when I was a prospect, responsible for all of the club's bitch work. I'll have more time for us, I'll be making more money, and I've earned the guys' respect now, Babe, so that means you have, too." And maybe he wanted her to be looking at him when he made this vow. "I promise, Tara."
But she was already shaking her head, refuting his assurances. "You know none of that crap means anything to me, Jax. I just want you. But now the club will have an even bigger part of you, and I feel like I'm losing you. Hell," Tara swore, rolling her eyes towards the sky and away from his gaze. With the light of the moon, Jax was able to see that she was battling back tears. In his focus, she succeeded in pulling her hands away from his to protectively fold them across her chest – like she was trying to shield herself, shield her heart, from him. That stung. "You're losing yourself, Jax, and you don't even see it."
Without anything else being said between them, Tara turned her back on Jax and moved once more towards his bike. As he glumly followed her, his mind was split between confusion and frustration. The frustration was easier to process. While Jax did his best to respect Tara's feelings and opinions, he just didn't understand where she was coming from. He didn't get her distrust of the club. Though her fear put a damper upon his enthusiasm, it certainly wasn't going to change his mind about patching into Samcro. Not only had their argument not solved anything between them, but it also killed the idea of celebrating as well. His confusion, however, was a little more difficult to confront.
He had no idea what Tara meant when she said that she felt like she was losing him, that he was losing himself. He loved her more than anyone else in the world, and Jax had never been shy about making that fact known not only to Tara herself but to Charming, his club, and his mother. And he'd do anything for her... except the one thing she wanted. Jax didn't understand why she couldn't accept his club. It was a part of him... just like a love of science, her drunk dad, and bubble baths were a part of Tara. And Jax loved everything about her, so he didn't think it was too much to ask for Tara to, if not love the Sons, then to at least accept them. So, while he still couldn't understand what had her running emotionally scared from him, he did grasp one thing: while Tara felt she was losing him, Jax knew, in agreeing to patch into Samcro, he'd already lost another part of her.
I had all and then most of you
some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do
haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met
When Jax had picked Tara up for their ride earlier that night, she had believed it to be just like any other date... not that their dates were anything considered normal. Jax didn't take her out for dinner and a movie. They didn't go bowling, or putt-putt-golfing, or anything else lame that someone like David Hale would do with a girl. (If David Hale could actually get a girl.) No, Jax and Tara went riding, or they hung out at whoever's house was parent-free, spending their time in bed, having sex, doing homework, and sometimes just talking. Well, Tara did her homework; Jax spent most of his time trying to convince her to have sex with him again.
In this light, their ride that night was still a date. They were alone, they were on the back of his bike, and Jax had every intention of doing whatever he had to in order to persuade Tara onto her back. But he also had to talk to her, to tell her something, and he wasn't particularly looking forward to the conversation... or Tara's reaction to his news. He was expecting disappointment but hoping for annoyance. Her ire he could work with, for no one was hotter than a pissed off Tara Knowles, and she enjoyed angry sex just as much as he did. But her disappointment? That he dreaded, because, already, Jax didn't understand why someone like her would want to be with someone like him. Toss in some disillusionment, and he was probably doomed.
Hence, the ride: because, while Jax's favorite thing to do was take his bike out... okay, it was his second favorite thing, Tara enjoyed riding just as much as he did. It relaxed her. She said it made her feel connected to him... and not just because their bodies were molded together from tip to top but because, in taking her out on his motorcycle, Jax was sharing something important to him with her. While Jax didn't really get that part of it – Tara could talk anatomy and biology, chemistry and physics with him until she was blue in the face, and the only way he'd be interested in science was if there was some hands on experimentation happening, he was grateful for her delight and enthusiasm just the same.
To further soften the blow, Jax directed them towards their spot, their road. Inevitably, they always seemed to find their way there by the end of the night, but this time it was intentional, and it was direct. Despite his nerves about confessing to Tara the decision he had come to in regards to his future, Jax also wanted it over with and out in the open. Forget ripping off the bandaid; bandaids were for pussies.
It seemed like, before Jax even had his bike properly parked off the side of the road, Tara was hopping off the back and pulling him along with her. They jumped the ditch and then waded through the thick, damp weeds, coming out in what was somewhat of a clearing amongst the trees. It wasn't quite full dark yet, but the sun had already fallen, and night wouldn't be long off. Thinking it was like any other time they stopped the bike when out riding, Tara pushed Jax down to the ground – not that she had to particularly convince him – and then plopped down on his lap. They were facing opposite directions, so they were molded together, and she immediately tossed him a cheeky grin before joining their mouths. Tara looped her arms around his neck, and Jax laced his low against her waist. Although he let himself get lost in her lips, and her tongue, and her taste for a few minutes, he also didn't let her take it any further than kissing.
"Babe," he tried to distract her, managing to pull away for a handful of seconds before Tara groaned in impatience and punished him by tightening the grip her legs had around his hips and grinding down on top of him. However, Jax wasn't deterred – aroused, and hard, and more than eager, but he couldn't have sex with her until he told her the truth. "Babe, I'm serious. We need to talk."
That got her attention. Pulling away as much as she pushed him back, Tara braced herself against his shoulders while quirking a perplexed brow. You want to talk? Now?" Jax could only lick his lips... which wasn't the smartest move, because he could still taste her there... and nod. "Okay, who are you, and what have you done with my boyfriend?" Pouting slightly, Tara groused, "I knew I shouldn't have let you talk me into leaving my purse behind."
Despite his anxiety, that brought a smile to Jax's face, because his girl was the only chick he knew that carried a purse to lug around her first aid supplies instead of makeup. "I'm not sick, Tara."
Wiggling against him, she teased, "well, it's certainly not because you can't, that's for sure," making Jax moan.
Looking away from her so he could concentrate, Jax revealed, "there's something I need to tell you."
Apparently, Tara could sense how serious he was, because she stilled her hips and sobered. "Okay."
"I, uh, I decided that I'm going to quit school."
A decided chill crept into Tara's tone of voice. "What do you mean you're quitting school?"
"I'm dropping out," Jax clarified, though he knew she really wasn't asking him what quitting meant and, instead, wanted to know what for, why. "So I can prospect early. If I do this now, I'll be able to patch in when I'm eighteen – the youngest Son ever."
Tara couldn't seem to scramble off his lap fast enough. Backing away from him, she settled onto the ground. He watched as she folded in onto herself – her arms coming up to wrap around her torso, while her legs curled underneath her ass, and her shoulders slumped forward. With one word, she expressed her incredulousness, told him that she was horrified by his decision. And it was just that. Fair or not, this wasn't a discussion. Jax's mind was already made up. He was just telling her first so that no one else could use the information against them or to hurt her. "Why?"
While Jax had expected such a reaction, he didn't understand why it upset her so much. Tara wasn't pleased that he was dropping out of school, but it was more than that; it was about what he was dropping out of school to do. He started to explain, "I just...," but quickly changed directions with his thought process. "Jesus, Tara," Jax exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. "You know I'm shit at school. I hate it. I skip all the time, and, when I do actually show up, I have to be drunk, or stoned, or both to make it through the day. Trust me, Charming High wants me there as much as I want to be there."
Sitting up on her knees, she tried to implore him. "Jax, a diploma with bad grades and an even worse attendance record is still better than no diploma at all. What the hell are you going to do with your future if you don't go to college, let alone finish high school?"
His future? College? Jax had no idea – he was shocked – that Tara had been holding onto such hopes for him. "Babe, college has never been an option for me. This has always been my plan. My future is Samcro. You, the club? It's all I've ever wanted – all I'll ever want."
"But you hate working at TM."
"Yeah, doing Clay's bitch work and running errands for my mom. But it'll be different when it's mine. Besides, once I'm patched in, I'll have other sources of income."
Tara wasn't an idiot – far from it, in fact, but they'd never really discussed what the Sons of Anarchy really were. Everyone in Charming knew the basics. You couldn't be born and raised there like Tara had been not to know that some shady things went down inside of Samcro. But Jax had also purposefully kept the full brunt of the truth from her – not because he didn't trust Tara or because he didn't think she could handle it but because why place that burden upon her shoulders if not necessary? Plus, the less she knew about the Sons illegal activities, the better, because she also didn't like the drugs, and booze, and girls. Give her the explicit knowledge of how the members of Samcro paid for such things – by running guns, and Jax feared she'd walk away from him. If nothing else, it'd change the way she saw him, and he wasn't ready for that. Not yet.
Pulling him out of his thoughts, Tara spoke softly. "It's not the club that I'm against, Jax, or you joining it." He met her gaze pointedly, and she rolled her eyes. "Okay, so it isn't just that. But Samcro can't be your entire future. Charming can't be your entire future. You're meant for bigger, better things."
Flashing her his best panty-dropping smile... or so he had been told, Jax agreed with her, "I know. I'll have you, too."
The grin she offered him in return was exasperated and amused, frustrated and touched. "You know that's not what I meant." Jax shrugged unrepentantly, and Tara leaned forward to take his much larger hands within her own. "What if we left, and you joined another charter? What about Tempe? I could go to ASU, and you'd love the desert, because it'd be hotter than hell, and neither of us would ever want to wear clothes. Or we could go to Pittsburgh. There's PITT and UPMC for me, and I bet you'd love snowmobiling." Jax had no idea that she had put this much thought into their future together, that she, apparently, had the list of SOA charters memorized. While he contemplated these reveals, Tara kept talking, her words coming faster and faster in her desperation to convince him. "Better yet, you could start your own charter wherever you wanted – your rules, your men, your ideals."
"Tara, I love you, and I love that you've put so much thought into this, but Charming is the mother charter."
Under her breath, he heard her snark, "yeah, no shit it's your mother's charter."
But Jax ignored the remark, because they weren't going to get anywhere if they brought his mom into the conversation. Jax wasn't sure what it was between Tara and Gemma, but, from day one, the two of them had disliked each other. "It's where my dad started everything. While my dad founded the Sons of Anarchy, Samcro is his legacy, which means it's my birthright."
Shaking her head in disagreement, Tara argued, "I don't see it that way, Jax. I see Charming – and Samcro – as a noose around our necks. This place? It's haunted. Here, we're constantly surrounded by the ghosts of our past – your father, your brother, my mom. Don't you want a fresh start? Don't you want to live in a place where you can just be you and not Thomas Teller's brother, John and Gemma Teller's son?"
From Tara's perspective, he got where she was coming from. All of her life so far, Charming had always seen Tara as the daughter of a dead mother and the town drunk, but, with Jax in Samcro and one day hopefully its president, as his wife – because he had every intention of marrying her, their neighbors would forget she was ever a Knowles, for she'd become a Teller – his old lady and the Queen of Samcro. So, yeah, maybe Tara felt trapped by Charming now, but she wouldn't always. And, as for Jax, he didn't feel that way. "No, Babe. I don't."
At that point, they both fell quiet. Tara crawled back into his lap, and, though she let him hold her, she didn't pick up where they had left off when he had stopped her for their talk. Dusk turned to the dark of night, and, still, they remained there together, both lost to separate thoughts. While Jax's worst fears weren't realized – Tara didn't leave him, his decision to quit school hadn't pissed her off either. Instead, she was sad – determined to change his mind about his future but nonetheless disappointed as he had predicted she would be. Her disappointment and sadness weren't enough to change his mind, but Jax realized that, in finally gaining a place within his father's club, he had lost a part of Tara that night. For the first time since he had found her on that road, their road, he didn't have all of her anymore.
When the night was full of terror
and your eyes were filled with tears
When you had not touched me yet
Take me back to the night we met
Sometimes, it seemed like all Jax did now was ride his bike... well, that and dodge Gemma and Clay and get sucked off by the croeaters who weren't against going down on the underage prince. Now that Ope had his license and bike, too, sometimes they drove off exploring together, but, more often than not, Jax went by himself. While Opie craved the speed of the open road, Jax preferred the appeal of distance. He'd often stay out all night, trying new roads without a destination in mind. He liked to think that, if he kept at it long enough, he'd get to the point where he'd never have to repeat the same route twice; he'd know that many different streets and paths.
He also appreciated the quiet. Everything else in his world was so loud, and that was alright. There was a time and a place for noise, but sometimes it was nice to just drown out all the chaos and clutter. The back roads allowed Jax to do this. With the pavement or the dirt beneath his tires and the night wind whipping against his face, even the roar of his Harley would disappear and fade into nothingness. He'd ride, and he'd ride, and he'd think – sometimes about nothing in particular, but it was nice to finally find a way to shut up all the other voices in his head and only hear his own.
Sometimes, Jax would become so lost in the night, in the dark, in the quiet, in the road, and in his own thoughts that he'd become lost. He'd lose track of where he was, and he'd be forced to either rely on the stars to help him navigate or just ride until he eventually came to something familiar once again. Those were his favorite nights. It only happened, though, when he wasn't paying attention. Jax couldn't force getting lost; getting lost had to find him.
"What the fuck," he swore, startled out of his head by the sudden appearance of a ditched car. The road was all but deserted. Nobody lived that far out. It was either grapevines, grazing land, or forest, and, when Jax was on the back roads... which was almost always, traffic was nonexistent that late at night. He abruptly pulled his bike to the left in order to avoid colliding with the crooked, wrecked car, skidding across the tar and chips. By the time he came to a stop, Jax was annoyed, because he almost put his bike down. The other driver didn't even have the decency to have on his flashers. His animosity, however, quickly disappeared when he realized that he recognized the car.
Cutting his Harley's engine, Jax propped his bike on its kickstand and hopped off. After unsnapping his helmet and tossing it onto the handlebars, Jax tucked his hair back behind his ears. Squinting into the inky darkness, he tried to place the old Cutlass with its owner, but a name wouldn't pop. The car was memorable because it was a classic. Black and packing a serious punch, if Jax had to ride in a cage, he'd want it to be something like the ditched car. But its owner wasn't ringing any bells, so they definitely weren't connected to TM or the club, and, when he actually showed up at school, Jax didn't remember seeing anyone driving around in the Olds. His attempt to puzzle out the identity of the owner, however, flew by the wayside when Jax realized the driver was still inside and slumped over the steering wheel.
"Jesus christ," he swore, rushing the rest of the way. Without considering the consequences, Jax wrenched open the driver's side door. He thought he'd find some passed out, old drunk. Instead, he was in for quite a surprise. The driver was female, and young, and hot, and she didn't seem so much hurt as scared. "Tara," he breathed out in recognition. "Tara Knowles?"
She didn't answer him. Hell, Tara didn't even acknowledge Jax's presence. And he knew she knew who he was. Everyone in Charming did. And he was pretty sure that she knew he was there as well, because, when he went to pull her from the vehicle, she held onto the steering wheel just that much tighter. But Tara, even buoyed by her raw emotions, was no match for Jax's strength. Distantly, from some health class that he mainly slept through, Jax could remember learning that, if someone's been hurt, they shouldn't be moved in case their spine was fucked up, but he wasn't waiting around for someone else to come along, find them, and then leave again to call in the accident. It could be hours – hell, the next morning – before an ambulance arrived, and Jax was more concerned about why Tara Knowles was out in the middle of nowhere by herself so late at night – and crying – than he was about her physical condition. Yeah, the car was lodged into the ditch pretty deep, but nothing looked broken, so he was fairly certain it hadn't been going that fast when Tara lost control.
Still, though, once she was standing before him, Jax started to run his hands along her body. For the first time in his life, he was feeling up a chick, and it had nothing to do with sex. Not that he'd turn sex with Tara Knowles down. She was hot. Maybe they weren't friends, and maybe they existed in two very different worlds within one very small town, but he'd definitely noticed her before. They were the same age, had always gone to school together, and Tara had the best ass in Charming. Plus, she was really smart in that it's so intimidating that it's sexy kind of way. While Tara had never given Jax the time of day, let alone a passing glance, he liked her. She minded her own business, didn't judge him or his family, and she was someone who was nice to everyone but it was sincere in a non-pushover kind of way. She was sweet, but she had a backbone, so it threw Jax to see her so distraught.
"I'm okay. I'm fine," Tara spoke through her gasping attempts to breathe, through her sobs. While she seemed unhurt physically, he didn't let go of her, and she, surprisingly, didn't push him away. He cupped her face to lift it up so that he could see the truth of her reassurances in her eyes for himself. They were green with shots of amber, and Jax liked them, because they reminded him of what the woods looked like when blurred into nothing more than streaks of color while on the back of his bike.
"What happened," he asked. Then, his previous fear and confusion bleeding through, Jax demanded, "what the hell are you doing out here, Tara?"
"I... I just," she tearfully started to explain. But then, like a flair snapping to life inside of her, Tara's grief turned into anger. "I couldn't take it anymore, you know?" In her rage, she was shaking, her voice trembling, though it was still strong with conviction. "I couldn't stand him for one more day." While Jax had never shared more than just a passing word with Tara Knowles before, everyone in Charming knew everyone else's business. He knew her mother died when they were still in grade school, and he knew that her dad was, at best, a disinterested father, and, at worst, an abusive drunk. While no one thought that Frank Knowles beat his daughter, there were other ways, perhaps even worse ways, to kill a child's spirit. "So, I packed a bag, and I stole my dad's car. I'm leaving him, Jax. I'm finally leaving him, and I'm leaving my awful life, and I'm leaving this... this shit-hole of a town. For good. Or, at least, I was."
Tara paused long enough to glance around their surroundings. She took in the thick pocket of trees they and the road they were standing on were bisecting. She seemed to notice the stillness, how dark it was, and then she caught a glimpse of the ditched car behind them, and her agitation returned. "I... I got turned around somewhere and lost track of where I was. But I didn't want to turn around, because, if I went back at all, I was afraid I'd never get the nerve to leave again. So, I kept going, but I started to panic. And I was still so mad, but I was also nervous, and scared, and I know it's stereotypical, but, when I get upset, my body's natural reaction is just to cry. The next thing I knew, the car was tilted, and I wasn't moving anymore, and then you were there, and I..."
Somehow instinctively knowing that the last thing Tara needed was quiet – that girl obviously lived in her own head enough, Jax rushed to fill the silence. "Do you even have a license?"
Biting her lip and refusing to meet his gaze, Tara confessed on a whisper, "no." If Jax wasn't mistaken, there also might have been flashes of a pout in there as well.
He laughed. "That's hot."
Tara was so taken aback by his response, that she gaped at him. "What?"
"Straight laced Tara Knowles just stole her father's car – you realize that's grand theft auto, right, Babe?, and she doesn't even have a license? I didn't know you had it in you. And this wild streak of yours is hot."
"Jax Teller would find rebellion a turn on." Her words were reward enough for his efforts, but then Tara punctuated them with a little giggle, and Jax felt like he could accomplish just about anything.
"Alright, so this is what we're going to do: I'm going to give you a ride home, and, when we get back to Charming, I'll call the car in and have the garage tow it back to your dad's place. If anything's broken, they'll fix it for you, and your dad will never realize you or his Cutlass ever went on this little, illegal joyride." Before she could protest, he continued, "it's late, so I'm guessing you've been driving around lost for a while now, which means that you're probably low on gas. So, your first attempt to run away was a bust?" Shrugging, Jax dismissed, "who cares. Plus, you learned a valuable lesson tonight."
"I did?" Her words said agreement, but her tone was a question filled with doubt.
"Yep. You learned that, the next time you want to leave, you should ask me for a ride."
They both knew his words held more than one meaning.
When Tara didn't object, Jax felt ten feet tall – strong, powerful, invincible. When she calmly said, "maybe I'll do just that," it didn't sound like a flirtatious line but a promise. And, when he leaned down to kiss her, and she didn't pull away, it was the best rush of his life. That kiss was unlike any other kiss Jax had ever shared with a girl before. It was soft, and sweet, and gentle – like Tara herself. With just his right thumb and forefinger, Jax tilted her mouth upwards to meet his own, and then he sipped from her. But, just as Tara had a secret edge to her, it was she who took the kiss further, nipping at his bottom lip and then soothing it with a quick flick of her tongue. Jax had to fight his every instinct not to pick her up and lay her back down on the hood of her father's car.
He didn't hold back because he necessarily knew that, with her, it should be different, special. He always wanted to get laid, and Tara Knowles was definitely fuckable. And she wanted him. He could tell by the way she kissed him that she wouldn't turn him away if he decided to take things between them further. No, what stopped Jax was that, if Tara would look at him like he was everything just for helping her, for showing an interest and making her laugh, then he wanted to see how she would look up at him at every stage of a relationship and not just from on her back after they had a quickie in the middle of the nowhere. Plus, if he wouldn't have pulled away, then he wouldn't have noticed her blush. No girl had ever blushed for him before, and Jax knew it was a sight he could – and would – become addicted to... and quickly.
After they climbed onto the back of his bike together, Jax turned them around and started back towards Charming. Although Tara never expressed a desire to head directly home, Jax wasn't about to continue on the same road that he had found her trying to use as a means of escape, of running away. With that said, however, they spent hours that night on his motorcycle. He took her places, showed her hidden trails, that he'd never shared with anyone else before. Perhaps Tara couldn't fathom the significance of his gesture, but that didn't mean that she failed to appreciate the ride.
Jax knew it was foolish – keeping her out that late. While he didn't give a shit about school, Tara was on track to be their valedictorian. She never missed, was never tardy, and, if he had to guess, she probably showed up early to do extra work. But he didn't want the night to end, and he didn't want to see that light he put in her green eyes extinguished when he took her back to the life she hated so much. He'd promised her that he'd have her father's car taken care of, and Jax meant to fulfill that promise, but the later they rode, the harder it would be to keep his word. Still, he pushed them deeper into the night.
In a matter of hours, Tara Knowles had gone from someone who lived on the periphery of his life to his focus, and Jax just knew that, in finding her that night, in offering her that lifeline, he had become her everything. A reason to stay. It was the first time he had ever experienced something so... unselfish, so pure, so complete. Jax had no doubt that his mother loved him, but it was different. She had Clay, and she had the club, and she had her goddamn birds. But, as soon as Jax pulled Tara from that car, started to take care of her, and showed her an interest and a kindness no one else ever had, she gave herself to him – all of herself.
It was new, and it was fast, but Jax had never valued anything in his life more – not even his bike.
I had all and then most of you
some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do
haunted by the ghost of you
Take me back to the night we met
In the eleven years since she had left, Jax had lost count of how many times he drove that familiar path. After every single trip, he always promised himself never again. It was an exercise in futility. She was never coming back, and he was never going to leave. Even if he wanted to go, he couldn't now. There were too many things tying him to Charming, things that, if he ignored and abandoned them, he'd lose that last piece of himself that she had known and loved. But the promises always fell onto deaf ears, and he now realized that he made them in vain, because even the pain of remembering and confronting what he no longer could have was better than the nothingness that greeted him around every other bend, on every other single road.
So, he went there. Maybe he didn't make the trip every night. He couldn't. He had responsibilities, commitments. But he made the trip enough to be intimately aware of every single detail – so much so, in fact, that he had long since memorized the timing of every turn, of every dip and rise in elevation, of every pothole. Jax could close his eyes and see the road clearly in his mind. Sometimes, when he did so, she'd be there again – those nights they had spent out there together on that old, almost always deserted road playing through his mind and his heart on a goddamn fucking loop. Teasing him. Taunting him. Reminding him of what he had once had, still wanted – would always want, but couldn't have.
It was dangerous, going there – not only physically because of the distraction it presented, but, afterwards, that distraction would linger, haunting him. He couldn't move on, because he couldn't forget, and he couldn't forget, because he didn't want to move on. It was a vicious cycle. Jax tried to break it. He'd fuck, and he'd rut, and he'd use his own body just as much as he used the bodies of the women who so willingly slept with him. But she was always there. He'd drink, and he'd smoke. But she was always there. He'd get into the ring outside of the clubhouse, and he'd beat the ever living shit out of someone... or he'd get the piss knocked out of himself. But she was always there. On runs, during shootouts, while at church, in lock-up. She was always there. Lingering. Beckoning. He'd try to ignore her; Jax would shove any and all thoughts of her aside. And this is where those promises to never return would make their appearance. But then night would fall, and the shadows would crowd in just that much closer, and the ghosts would refuse to leave him alone, and he'd find himself once more on the back of his bike, following that same road... as though, if he just traveled it enough times, eventually it'd take him where he wanted to go.
To the past.
"What the fuck?!"
Unlike that night so many years before, this time, Jax saw her clearly. It was just as dark, and it was just as improbable – perhaps even more so – that she be out there, but, nevertheless, it was her. He didn't need to see her face to recognize her. Maybe, if this had happened before, Jax would have questioned if he was just seeing what he wanted to see. But it hadn't. Oh, he'd seen her before... on all those other rides – crying in her father's car, holding back her tears of disappointment, pleading with him, leaving him. But that had been the ghost of the girl who had left him, and this was the woman that decision had molded.
He didn't say anything, and neither did she. Jax slowly, methodically, brought his bike to a stop. He turned off the engine, and he parked it securely. As he climbed off the machine, he removed his helmet, his riding glasses. The helmet went on the handlebars, while the glasses were folded and tucked into a pocket inside of his kutte. But he didn't move any closer to her, and she never turned around to observe his presence. While she stood staring off down the road towards Lodi, Jax stared at her, his hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans. Waiting.
"Did you ever wonder what would have happened if you'd never found me that night?" He didn't answer her, because of all the 'what if' scenarios that had burdened him over the years, that was not one of them. And he didn't need to ask her what night she was referring to, because there was only one possible answer. "We both could have avoided so much pain, so much heartache, so much anger."
"I can't speak for you, Tara, but I know that I'd take a lifetime of miserable nothingness in exchange for even just that one night of being with you. Of having you. All of you."
Still, she refused to turn around and look at him. "You always had a way with words, Jax. Pretty words. Empty promises."
"What are you doing here? How did you get out here?" While Jax wanted the answers to those questions, what he really need to know was, "are you... back?"
"I had a cab drop me off."
She wouldn't engage fully with him. She was vague, and dismissive, and yet he would continue to take her abuse – and savor it, because, even when Tara was pushing him away, he felt more than with any other woman who was pulling him close. "Jesus christ, Tara! Do you realize how dangerous that was – coming all the way out here, alone? You could have gotten hurt. How were you going to get back?"
In the stillness, he could hear her breathe in slowly and then exhale. Simultaneously, Jax watched as her shoulders rose and then fell – her entire body expanding and then seemingly shrinking back into itself. He'd never seen her look so frail or small, so unsure of herself, and Jax found himself wondering if that was the result of her return... or from leaving in the first place.
"You asked me if I'm back."
Even though she couldn't see him, he nodded. "I did."
"I never really left, Jax. I couldn't. Not when I gave myself – all of myself – to someone, to you, so long ago."
She was still facing the wrong direction, looking out towards the world which had always beckoned her away from him. He hadn't even touched her yet, but Jax realized that he was getting a second chance. They weren't innocent kids anymore. He had too much blood on his hands for her tears to ever wash them clean again; their differences only loomed just that much bigger between them; and he would eventually, inevitably, piece by piece, lose her again, but he didn't care. Because, of all the people who had left him in his life, Tara was the only one who had ever come back. And that was enough for him. It would always be enough.
He just hoped the fact that he had stayed, that he had waited, and that he had never stopped loving her would be enough for Tara.
Slowly, Jax walked towards her – not because he was afraid of spooking her but because there was no need to rush. This time, she wasn't going anywhere; she wasn't going to disappear on him. When he came to a stop, he didn't hover behind her, or move to block her way around him, but he stood beside her. Removing his left hand from his pocket, Jax gently placed it upon her right shoulder. He squeezed it softly – just enough to show her sincerity and support, gratitude and respect.
"Come on," Jax whispered, kicking his head back towards his bike in invitation. "I'll give you a ride home."
A/N: The song used in this story was "The Night We Met" by Lord Huron.