Pairing: Jax/Tara Spoilers: Eventually this will spoil Season 1
Word Count: 3850
Disclaimer: If I owned SOA, they would have started filming season 2 long before April 16
Summary: This is an AU in which Tara never left Charming. This chapter is 1997 when they are 19.
AN: Ladies and gents, here it is… my first chapter fic! Each chapter is a year in the decade that Tara was gone from Charming, but in this story she never left. Each chapter features 2-4 months in that year and there's even a plot involved. A few actually. I already have the entire thing mapped out, it's just a matter of writing it all out. This darn thing has kept me up at night. It seems my best ideas happen at 3 am, or maybe they just seem great at 3 am… hmmm… anyway, Thank you for reading!
"Just stay," he says. Tara feels lips press between her shoulder blades as an arm wraps around her waist, gently pulling her back down to the bed.
The lips marking their course to the top of her shoulder do not inspire Tara to lie back down with him. She's just too tired and it's already after two am. By the time she gets back to her dad's and in bed it will be after 2:30 and she has to be up at seven to get ready for work.
"You know I can't," she replies, allowing the exhaustion to weigh down her voice.
"I know that you won't."
It's too late to deal with him and Tara instead chooses to continue her original plan of action and find her clothes. Closing the button on her jeans, her eyes scan the messy floor of Jax's room above the Club for her shirt and bra, but they are nowhere to be seen. The nearest t-shirt of his littering the floor will be fine for her to go home in. It doesn't really matter what she looks like at this point. Tara just needs to be covered up enough to make it to her car.
The Club is not conducive to a decent night's sleep. It doesn't really get quiet until the early hours of the morning and after spending all day on her feet as a cashier at the local Save Mart supermarket, Tara needs her sleep.
"Fine, whatever Tara, go fuckin' home," Jax tells her. The snapping tone creates a lump that rises in her throat. He's pulling his clothes back on and Tara knows he's going back down to join what's left of the party. It's already much later than she meant to stay and it's more than likely exhaustion is fueling her emotions, but instead of walking to her car Tara just ends up sliding to the floor in tears.
The first sniffle attracts his attention and his hand drops away from the doorknob as he turns back to her. Tara's crouched on the floor at the end of his bed. Short, dark hair hiding her face and her hands are furiously attempting to brush the tears away.
"Tara… shit, I'm sorry." Kneeling in front of her, callused palms brush the brunette strands away from her face and Jax plants kisses on each closed eyelid and one on each flushed cheek.
"No, no, Jax, I'm sorry. I don't know why…" she chokes out between sobs.
"It's all right. It's all right," he murmurs against her ear. Jax pulls her away from the bed just enough that he can move in behind her and pulls her back to lean against his chest. Fingertips brushing rhythmically up and down her arms ease her crying until all that's left is a few hitches of her breath.
It's been like this for almost four months now. At only 19 Tara feels like she might as well be 50. She works all day and most nights all she wants to do is crawl into bed. Keeping up with Jax feels like an impossible task and more often than not lately Tara doesn't even try. Crying and snapping at him when she doesn't really mean it is happening with a greater frequency and Tara wants so badly to stop. This rut she has managed to dig herself into seems like an impossible hurdle and it feels like she's clawing at smooth walls that offer no chance for escape.
In her darker moments Tara pulls out the college acceptance letters that went unanswered and reads the meaningless "Congratulations" and "You have been accepted!" over and over again.
Tara stayed for him, and now she might end up driving him away.
Easing out of Jax's arms she settles herself on the floor next to him and looks out the window at the black night sky. "I'm sorry," she apologizes quietly to Jax, herself, and the stars.
"It's okay Tara," the too easy response slips past his lips and she wonders if he even knows that he's saying it anymore.
"None of this is okay. I'm not okay, and we… we are not okay," she admits her truth to him and wonders if he recognizes theirs. Her answer is his silence.
Ever since Jax moved out of his mother's, into the room above the Club, Tara has felt him growing away from her… or maybe she's growing away from him. Their problems can't even be easily identified making the solutions all that more unattainable.
Jax can't come to her father's home and she never feels like they're alone at the Club. It's sad to say, but they had a lot more time together when he lived with his mother. Gemma and Clay were hardly ever home.
The cut is rarely off his shoulders and Jax has been a full member since he was 18, however Tara doesn't need to be reminded of SAMCRO every single moment she's with him and at the Club that's all she can see. Almost every day that passes she sees less and less of her boyfriend and more and more of the soldier he's become.
"God, I don't… I don't know what to do. I don't want to be this way… I just don't know how to stop." She's grateful for his hand that's holding hers and the thumb rubbing soothing circles on her skin. He always keeps her grounded, especially when her mind wants to run away from her.
"I didn't realize it would be this hard… to stay," the last part comes out in a whisper. Tara wants to take back the words as soon as they're released, but she also feels a small measure of relief. Hurting Jax is never her intention, but it hurts keeping it all inside.
His hand leaves hers and she watches the familiar motions of him running his hands over his face and then through his hair.
"Do you wish you hadn't?"
"I don't know anymore." Tara opens her mouth to continue, but is interrupted by a pounding on his door and a clatter of footsteps out in the hall.
"Jackie boy! Quit yer hidin'!" is followed by another series of rapid knocks. Tara closes her eyes and breathes for a moment before deciding it's all just too damn pointless and braces her arms on the floor to push herself up. A hand gripping her forearm forcefully pulls her back down.
"Tara it's Friday night. Just fucking forget about them, please?" his fingers lace through hers and it's clear he isn't letting her go just yet.
"It's Friday night every night Jax," she points out and Tara doesn't know what they can possibly solve at 3 am, but she knows that she'll be dead on her feet tomorrow. This conversation is going to keep her up for what's left of this night and she has little hope for tomorrow.
Jax breaks a long stretch of silence with, "What if we tried something new?" he asks with what sounds like hope. It's hard to be sure. Tara almost doesn't recognize the concept anymore. Thankfully it looks like they're veering off the earlier subject because Tara doesn't want to tell him that sometimes she dreams of blue and gold sweatshirts, lectures and labs she will never attend.
"Move in with me."
She rolls her eyes and he must catch the movement in the moonlight.
"Christ, not here Tara. I mean let's get an apartment or somethin'… to make things easier."
It could also make things much, much worse. If they move in and all it does is magnify their problems, she will lose him. Then she'll be left with an apartment she can't afford on her own, a crappy job, and absolutely no escape.
However, she does need to get out of this damn hole she either dug herself or Jax was busy shoveling when she wasn't looking. "Ok."
His smile causes a small one to also break out on her face and she doesn't pull back when he leans in, because Jax is worth every chance. Tara stayed for him and even if she has to borrow all her hope from Jax, she has to believe that it will get better.
It takes almost two months for a semi-decent place to become available and Tara almost backs out on the day they have to sign the lease. Tara is absolutely committed to Jax… the black design that found a home on her back two years ago proves that… but the past two months haven't been any easier. In fact, looking for an apartment ended up just adding more stress and nothing but doubt clouded her mind on the drive to the leasing office.
It's a modest one-bedroom and they collect furniture from family and friends… well mostly Jax's family and friends. Her aunt in San Diego sends her a gift certificate to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Tara drags Jax to the store and makes him pick out towels and a shower curtain with her. His complete lack of excitement doesn't dampen hers as she alternates between color choices. Jax does end up having an opinion when she attempts to pick out pale yellow sheets. The fact that he expresses any interest at all is more than likely what allows her to purchase the beige ones he grabs off the shelf.
When it all comes together, nothing actually looks like it goes together. The oddly flower-patterned couch they picked up at a yard sale looks even uglier next to the blue and white plaid armchairs Piney let them have from his basement.
The moment all her doubts go away is when she steps back and admires her work in arranging the closet. Jax's dark sweatshirts and flannels hang next to her blouses and tanks. T-shirts and jeans are stacked on alternating shelves. Something about the way their clothes look next to each other reassures Tara that living together isn't going to wreck them.
As she worked, colorful phrases could be heard from the living room as Jax, Opie, and Kyle attempted to maneuver the couch through the main door. Then of course was the half hour discussion of the best position for optimal TV viewing. Tara alternately rolled her eyes and smiled at their antics as she tried to figure out the best way to split up the lone dresser.
They're already mostly used to each other's routines, but the first few mornings her alarm clock goes off at seven when he doesn't have to be up until nine, Jax nearly destroys it in his hasty attempt to shut it off. Tara ends up having to make do without the snooze button.
It's not at all embarrassing to admit that her happiest night in months is the first weekend in their new place when Jax foregoes going out on Saturday night and stays in with her. They lie on the ugly couch, eat popcorn, and watch Independence Day. The movie is okay, but with her head in his lap and his fingers twisting in her hair, Tara falls asleep halfway through. He gently leads her to bed and they're both asleep before midnight.
The next morning Tara wakes up feeling so good and so happy that she decides not to wait in sharing her excitement. Her tongue only makes it halfway around the "O" on his back before he's rolling on top of her. Still sleepy, he doesn't even bother to open his eyes before his lips are seeking out her neck.
Each night that Tara goes to bed with him and every morning she wakes up next to him feels like a small victory. She feels like she's standing in the light at the end of the tunnel.
Gemma stops by two weeks after they move in to see what type of squalor her son is living in. Jax is at the garage and Tara knows that Gemma is aware of that fact. Gemma must have found out that Tara was home sick that day, because there's no other reason for her to stop by at two in the afternoon.
An incessant pounding on the door forces Tara up and off the couch. A plant is immediately thrust into her hands and Gemma doesn't even wait for an invite before her black boots click their way on the linoleum into the kitchen.
"Don't forget to water that," Gemma tells her, eyes scanning the small kitchen.
"I.. I won't." Tara's mind is a little fuzzy thanks to the cough medicine and these days she needs all her faculties to handle Gemma. Ever since Jax announced that they were moving in together at dinner one Thursday evening, Gemma seemed to have decided Tara's the enemy. Tara's still trying to figure out what war they're fighting and she's absolutely not up for doing battle.
"No chicken soup, but I'm sure you got a can around here somewhere," Gemma randomly comments.
"Yeah maybe," is Tara's reply and she takes a seat at the two person kitchen table, because more than likely Gemma has a point to get across and if Tara is going to figure it out than she can't waste any energy standing.
"You making sure he eats good? Makin' him dinner and all that?" Gemma starts opening cabinets and Tara has the urge to bury her head in her arms or put her hands over her ears like a 3-year old. Maybe if she starts singing la la la la la Gemma will leave.
"I'm trying. We're doing okay…. really okay." A coughing fit sort of takes away her credibility, but she still ends up smiling a little because it's true. They are doing okay and some days could even be classified as great.
"Mmmhmmm. Well don't be getting Jax sick or nothin'."
Tara does lay her head on her arms then and simply listens to the boots click back to the door.
"You're really not lookin' too good. Take care of yourself," Gemma easily breezes out the door and Tara quickly gets up to turn the lock. Nothing could ever really keep Gemma out, but it's still about the symbolism of the act.
Bypassing the couch, Tara crawls into their bed and pulls the beige sheets up tight under her chin. Pulling the other pillow over her head blocks out the light and thanks to an extra dose of the nighttime cough syrup she closes her eyes and tries to lose the image of Gemma's black boots walking all over her.
The clock reads 4:53 when Tara's sluggish eyes finally open long enough to read the time. She almost closes them again when the knocking on the apartment door continues. Jax isn't home yet and if he's out there too drunk to fit his key in the lock he can just spend the night in the hall.
Jingling keys can be heard and it sounds as if someone is trying to fit key after key in the lock with little success. A muffled "Tara" carries to the bedroom and it doesn't sound like the person on the other side of the door is Jax.
Tara's half right when she opens the door and Opie is standing there attempting to right Jax who nearly fell in when the door opened. The dim light from the hallway reveals a bloody and bruised Jax, arms crossed protectively around his torso.
"Oh my God," Tara breathes out. She's only seen him this way once before and that time he was home with his mother. Now Opie has brought Jax home to her and her meager first aid skills seem absolutely useless when faced with the sight in front of her.
"Tara I gotta get him out of the hallway," Opie informs her in an attempt to achieve something other than just a blank stare.
"Right, right… the bathroom. Take him to… you… you know where the bathroom is," she stammers out and finally moves out of the doorway and is only able to watch as Opie half carries her boyfriend into the apartment.
Cautiously, Tara follows until she's standing in the hall, leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom doorway. Opie has gotten Jax seated on the closed lid of the toilet and is attempting to remove his shirt. Each wince and hiss makes Tara want to turn and look away, but this is Jax. This is her boyfriend and she can't turn away from him.
Dark, blue and red bruises stand out on the left side of his chest. When Opie moves Tara sees another large one on his lower left side. In a few days they'll turn a sickly yellow green color and Tara tries very hard not to imagine what caused them. The blood is coming from a wound along his hairline above his right eye and Tara has to keep reminding herself that head wounds just bleed a lot. He's not going to bleed to death in their bathroom… god, she hopes not anyway.
"Does he need… can he go to a hospital?" She addresses the question to Opie because he's the only one in charge right now. There isn't much Jax could do about it in his state if Opie says yes and she will help him wrestle Jax in the car if she has to.
She's dismayed as both men shake their heads.
"It's not that bad," Jax tells her in a wheezy, completely unconvincing voice.
Tara has no idea when Opie found the time to memorize the contents of the bathroom cabinets, but he quickly locates butterfly strips and an ACE bandage. Turning to her, he tosses the bandages and nods in Jax's direction. She manages to get the hint. It's time for Tara to help.
Cool water from the faucet wets the washcloth and Tara gently cleans as much blood away as she can while Opie wraps his ribs. Jax leans into the washcloth and Tara brushes the dirty blonde hair out of his eyes to see him better.
"I'm sorry Tara."
"You say that too often," she gently chastises. A little antiseptic is applied before the first of four butterfly stitches is adhered to the skin. Jax more than likely needs stitches, but this will have to do.
"I really wish I wasn't right now," he tells her with a small smile and a fraction of the usual charm.
"I know baby, I know," she says and finishes the last strip off with a light brush of her lips above his brow. She can hear Opie on the phone in the kitchen and Tara focuses on her next task, relieving Jax's pain. Rooting around in the cabinet under the sink, Tara produces a bottle of vicodin from last year when she broke her wrist. Jax gratefully accepts one and holds his hand out for another which she reluctantly gives him.
"All right man, I think it's time for bed," Opie announces from the doorway and Tara moves out of the way to let Opie maneuver Jax to the bedroom. Tara helps him remove Jax's dirty jeans and they lay him down amongst the rumpled sheets that it feels like forever ago she crawled out of.
Jax still has blood in his hair and some is still seeping from the wound. Tara can replace the pillows later. It would cause Jax unnecessary pain to put him in the shower now and sleep is the best thing for all of them at this point.
"I'll come by to check on him sometime tomorrow. He needs the ACE wrap removed for a while when he wakes up." Opie pauses to give her a moment to digest the information and he rubs her arm comfortingly. Tara makes a mental note to ask Opie when in the hell he became a makeshift EMT.
"Call me if you think he's getting worse," he finishes with a final brush of his hand on her shoulder before making his way to the door.
"Should I be worried about whoever did.."
"No," he answers before the question is finished and quietly shuts the door behind him.
In the ensuing silence, Jax's shallow breathing is all that Tara can hear. The worst might have already happened and he could have a punctured lung or internal bleeding. It's suddenly terrifying being left alone with him because he could be dying right in front of her and she won't know until he's gone.
Needing to get away from the sight and sound of him for a few minutes, Tara needlessly locks herself in the bathroom to clean up. Her tears mix with his blood on the floor as she attempts to sop it up with the soiled washcloth she used to clean his face.
Holding his ruined t-shirt against her mouth Tara muffles a scream of frustration. Last time it was Gemma that cleaned up her son and the mess his blood made. Tara went to the house the next day and stretched out on the couch with him to watch re-runs of old sitcoms. It is inconceivable to her that a mother could do that and continue to campaign for her son to be a part of an organization that can and will cause this.
What if ten years from now when matching gold bands adorn their ring fingers, Opie brings Jax home to her bruised and bloody and he bleeds to death on the front porch or in front of their children? What if Tara's left to watch her husband die in their bed as his abdomen fills with blood or his lungs cease to expand?
Tara could leave. She could walk out the door this very night and be hours away from Charming before anyone notices. Opie will come to check on Jax and when no one answers the knock on the door, he'll pick the lock and Jax will be taken care of.
It isn't courage or strength that's telling Tara to pack her bags. The reflection in the mirror plainly shows the fear and utter helplessness that she's really feeling. She rips the t-shirt of his she wore to bed over her head when she spots the blood dotting the image of the reaper. It falls to the mess on the floor and the metaphor is absolutely not lost on her. SAMCRO is literally and figuratively drenched in blood.
Right now, Tara really can't see herself being around for this in a decade. She can't see herself walking down an aisle to a man that is undoubtedly going to break her heart.
But for tonight, Tara is going to drag one of the old armchairs into the bedroom. She will sit and watch the sun come up and listen to Jax breathe. Maybe Tara will crawl into bed with him after he wakes and proves to her that he isn't leaving her all alone. She'll bury her face in his shoulder, tangle her fingers in his hair, and use his warmth to chase away the chill the events of this night have left in her.