For a moment, time in the room seemed to stop. Leo's head fell, his body slumping down in the chair. V. didn't lower the knife, but remained standing with it held out, frozen, covered in blood. Jax stood next to her, also very still, his eyes not on the dead man, but on V.'s face. Clay, too, was still, his gun still pointed at where Leo's head had been.

Finally, Tig motioned for Bobby to cover the man he was standing over, then stepped towards V. and Jax. "Freak out later," he said in a low, cold voice. "We gotta finish this now and get out of here." He reached out and grabbed V.'s shoulder. "What do you want to do about the rest of these guys? And your brother?"

V. turned towards Tig, her face still blank. She lowered the knife. Slowly, she nodded. She moved past Tig, looking for the first time at the three men on the floor. "Get them up."

Chibs, Happy, and Bobby all hauled the men they were guarding to their feet. All three men were bleeding, but conscious. V.'s eyes moved over them. She didn't recognize two of them. The third was one of those who had attacked her from the van. She walked towards him. "You," she said. "You tried to kidnap me. Do you want to live?" Happy was holding a gun to the man's head.

"Yes," he said.

"This man," V. gestured to Happy, "would be more than happy to put a bullet in your head."

Happy laughed. "That I would."

"That goes for all you," V. said, looking around. "These men won't have any problem killing you."

Bobby and Chibs both moved a bit closer to the men they were guarding, making it clear that V. was correct.

"If I ever see any of you again," V. continued. "Then one of these men will kill you. Or I'll do it myself. Do you understand?"

All three of the guarded men nodded.

"If anybody ever hears about what happened here tonight, you will die. Do you understand?" The men continued to nod.

"OK. Go back to Texas." V. turned towards her brother, still unconscious on the floor. "And take him with you."

She turned back to Tig. "Can we get rid of him?" she asked, gesturing at Leo.

"Yeah," Clay said. "But you don't have to do that." He looked at Jax. "Get the Prospect's bike, take her home. We'll deal with this."

V. opened her mouth to protest and Clay spoke again. "Sweetheart, give in on this one. Let us help you."

Jax nodded, agreeing, for once, with Clay. His hand on her back, he steered V. towards the door. Chibs stopped them, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handkerchief, then handing it to V. "Wipe your face off, princess," he said softly. She smiled warily, her face blank and far away. Chibs' hand closed over hers, helping her wipe the worst of the blood from her face. "It's going to be OK now," he said.

Jax exchanged a glance with Chibs. In reality, neither man was at all sure V. was going to be OK. Her face was a bloody blank. The knife was still in her hand. Jax reached out and took the knife from her. "It's OK," he said. "Do you want to get rid of this?" Slowly, V. shook her head. "OK," Jax said. "I'll hold it for you." Taking the handkerchief from Chibs, he wiped the blade. V. shook her head again. She leaned over, pulling up her pants. Jax nodded, then knelt and returned the knife to V.'s boot holster.

As Jax straightened back up, V. finally met his gaze. Reaching out, she took his hand. "Good," he murmured. "Let's go." He glanced back at Tig and Clay. "You're OK on this?"

Tig nodded. "Yeah brother. Just take her home."

As they reached the door, V. stopped and turned around. "Don't kill my brother," she said to Tig. "I know you probably want to. I want to. Please don't."

"It's your call," Tig said. "You want us to leave him, he stays."

V. nodded. "Thank you."

On Half-Sack's bike, neither V. nor Jax said a word. She wrapped her arms around him and held on as tightly as she ever had. He wasn't sure, but as he sped back towards Charming, he thought he felt her crying against his back. Stopping at a light, he lowered a hand off the handlebars and squeezed her hand. She tightened her grip, but said nothing.

By the time they got back to Teller-Morrow, Jax could feel V. shaking behind him on the bike. When he could finally turn around to look at her, he saw she was sobbing, blood and tears mixing grotesquely on her face. He pulled her into his arms, holding her close to him in the parking lot. "It's gonna be OK," he repeated, over and over. "Nobody's gonna hurt you anymore." Standing under a street light, he rocked her gently, and, in a way that was totally unlike her, she just allowed herself to cry into his chest. He stroked her hair, inhaling her scent. It seemed much longer than just a couple of days ago since he'd shared his bed with this woman. Feeling her in his arms again now, so broken, he wasn't sure how he'd ever let her go again.

Finally, she moved out of his grasp. Her sobs had slowed, though tears were still running down her face. Without saying anything, he took her hand and let her inside, through the clubhouse and back into her room. "V.," he said softly. "We need to get cleaned up and get rid of these clothes." V. looked down. Her shirt and pants were soaked with Leo's blood. Jax, too, was covered. She nodded. He turned, intending to leave the room so that V. could undress and get into the shower.

"No, Jax," V.'s voice was soft. "Please. Stay with me." Her eyes met his. "I don't want to be alone."

"Sure." Jax smiled slightly. He stood in front of her awkwardly, not sure what to do. She looked at him and waited. Slowly, he reached out, grabbing the hem of her sweatshirt and pulling it gently over her head. "This OK?" he murmured. She nodded and moved closer to him. He continued to undress her very slowly, pulling her tank top over her head, unhooking her bra, unbuttoning her cargo pants. Soon, she stood in front of him naked, her hands and face still spattered with blood. She reached out, then, and began to unbutton his shirt. He helped her, his eyes locked with her's.

After he was undressed, Jax took V.'s hand again, leading her into the bathroom. He turned on the shower, then led her into it. She didn't speak for several moments, watching the blood run off of their bodies and down the drain. Finally, she said, "Devin wasn't always like that."

Jax nodded, watching her face. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I didn't realize he hated me so much." V. tipped her head back, letting the water run through her hair. "I should have, I guess. But I didn't."

"You just tried to protect him," Jax said, reaching out to her and smoothing her wet hair off her face. "There's nothing wrong with that."

V. smiled. "Well, my intentions were good, anyway." She sighed. "I wanted to kill him tonight. I thought about killing him."

Jax nodded. "I know. I don't blame you." He smiled slightly. "I thought about killing him, too." He reached out and touched V.'s wet face. "I can't imagine how hard tonight was for you, baby. But you did good."

"Thanks." V.'s face was sad. "I thought I'd be relieved. Or I'd feel guilty. But I don't feel anything, really. Just tired."

"It will get better."

"I hope so." V. looked at Jax, his damp hair sticking to his face, droplets of water beading on his chest. "Thank you, Jax."

"Of course," he said. He tried to keep his eyes on her face, to ignore her wet body, only inches from his. This wasn't the time. Jax's arousal never had great timing, though. V. moved towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him with her into the shower stream. He bit his lips, trying to will his body to cooperate. It didn't. She felt so right.

V. thought of pretending she didn't notice Jax's hardness against her belly. The way he was trying to hold himself away from her implied that he'd prefer she not notice it. She felt the stirring inside herself as well. "Is it twisted," she finally asked, "to want you so much right now?"

"I'm probably not the right person to ask," Jax replied. Unable to help himself, he pulled her tighter to him, flattening her breasts against his chest. His face was close to her's, his lips within inches of her mouth.

"I don't know how I'm going to feel about this tomorrow, Jax," V. said softly, he eyes focused on his mouth. "I can't make promises."

"But tonight?" he asked.

"Tonight all I want is to be with you."

Jax kissed her very softly. She responded with equal tenderness. The kiss was long, lingering, gentle. The shower spray rained down on them, the blood long since washed from their skin. He held her against him, running his hands slowly down her sides, under her hair and over her back. He moved his mouth from her lips, landing kisses on her forehead, against her temple, down onto her throat. His pace never increased. She closed her eyes, thinking of nothing, just letting herself feel him, fall away into the warm water and his pressing body.

Jax and V. stayed in the shower a long time. He washed her hair, holding her back against him while the white suds rinsed down his chest. They spoke very little, but moved comfortably together, with her following his lead. When the water began to cool, he stepped out of the shower first, finding a towel and wrapping it around her. As she dried off, he resumed kissing her, his lips trailing down her arms. He picked up each of her hands, kissing the center of her palms. When she dropped the towel, he stepped back and looked at her.

"You're so beautiful."

She smiled. "You're not bad yourself."

"Come to bed with me."

She nodded. He took her hand. They stepped over the piles of bloody clothes. V. looked down at them, but didn't begin to shake or cry. It was done. It had to be done and now it was. Jax let go of her for only long enough to switch off the light, then got into bed next to her.

"There's something I want to tell you," he said, pulling her close to him.

"OK." She raised raised her face and kissed him.

"I'm not sure if you'll want to hear it," he continued, "but I need to say it."

V. nodded, realizing whatever it was, it was serious.

"I'm in love with you."

The room was very quiet. I've never been in the clubhouse before when it's been quiet, V. thought. Jax continued. "I don't think you want me to be, but I am. I can't not think about you. I can't not try to keep you safe."

V. kissed Jax's lips. "I've never been in love, Jax," she said. "I don't think I know how. I'm afraid being in love with me won't be good for you. I'm afraid it won't make you happy." She kissed him again. "But it makes me happy to hear it."

He smiled. It wasn't the response most men would expect, but it wasn't bad. It was something. He returned her kiss, deepening it. "Will you try?" he asked. "Will you try to let me love you?"

She kissed him again. "Yes," she said. "I will."


Note: Whew! I didn't intend for that to be so long! Thank you for sticking with it and I hope you enjoyed it. Do let me know if you'd be interested in a sequel sometime down the line.