DISCLAIMER

DISCLAIMER

The following is a work of fiction.

The characters and events involving the Sons of Anarchy are the creation of Kurt Sutter.

No copyright infringement is intended.

Any use of lyrics and the mention of songs and performers in this text is also not intended to infringe upon any copyrights held by any of the artists and songwriters.

Much thanks and love go to:

My DH (aka the Dear Husband, who is thankfully very much alive!), for taking the time to offer insights. Also for having the love in his heart to allow me all my little obsessions and not feeling threatened by them.

It's been a great fifteen years, and here's to many more!

My best friend (who lives in FL) for kicking my ass when needed and for love throughout these many years. And her daughter, my 'unofficial' godchild, for the same. I'm very proud of you both.

The Indy Tarts and Tartans fan group, for giving encouragement in this venture, even though there was little GB involvement. Tignation, Samcro forums, and Facebook friends who also took an interest and added their encouragement. You know who you are.

Kim Sisk (Sisko44 on . Check out her SOA/Tig Story called 'Sapphires and Whiskey'. It rocks!) for the wonderful cover art, which is my avatar. I love it!

Finally, much thanks to Mr. Kurt Sutter for creating the SOA universe in the first place, and to Mr. Kim Coates for his excellent portrayal of Alex 'Tig' Trager.

Charming Pawse

Book Two

Chapter One

After the Revelator

through

Albification

Small Tears

and Fix

The weekend after Donna Winston's funeral, Cat and Alex flew to Indiana so they could attend a reunion in Terre Haute. The reunion was for the staff of a radio station where she'd worked as news reporter and DJ years earlier. The radio station reunion was a part of his wife's past that he wanted to experience first hand. After all, she had certainly spent a lot of time with his friends!

Cat had already replied and reserved a room before he decided to join her. Alex had an ulterior motive for going, besides wanting to be with her. As he and Cat left the cemetary, he decided he needed some time away from all the intrigue and stress killing Donna was causing him. Putting some distance between himself and the situation felt right.

"How would you like some company when you go to that reunion?" He asked when they returned home and she'd once again foiled Ebony's escape attempt.

She glanced over the top of her glasses at him, giving him what they called 'the look'. She wasn't sure if he was offering to go with her, or send someone along to keep an eye on her. Either way, he'd just left himself open to some good-natured teasing. She pretended to consider his question carefully before she replied, "Hmmm. It might be rather nice to have company. Who did you have in mind?"

He snorted in disgust. "Just who the Hell do you think?"

"Oh, I don't know," her green eyes twinkled gleefully. "I thought you might have taken a message from Harrison Ford, Gerard Butler, or Kim Coates." She named off her three favorite actors/obsessions.

"You are rotten to the core!" he growled, realizing that she'd managed to 'zing' him again.

"It's very hard to ignore an opportunity to tease you when you leave the door wide open," she protested. "Besides, you'd miss it if I didn't tweak you once in a while."

"Wanna bet?" he growled again, pouting like a child who'd been denied a cookie just before supper.

She patted him consolingly on the head, only to be grabbed and drawn into his lap, where she was rewarded with a long, satisfying kiss.

"Now, are you still expecting one of those 'boyfriends' to go to this reunion?" he inquired.

"What boyfriends, love? There's nobody I'd rather have go with me than you!"

"That's more like it." He replied, savoring the feeling of belonging and contentment between them.

"You do realize that this trip isn't just for the weekend , don't you? Are you OK with the idea of spending time at Daddy's as well?"

He mulled that over for a while. They'd sent her father a copy of their wedding DVD, so he'd knew what Trager looked like. It might be interesting to meet him, even if it meant he'd have to be on his best behavior for a few days. "Yeah. I'd like to get to know your Dad. You don't think he'd mind?"

She laughed at the question. "Mind? Hell, he'll be thrilled!"

"OK, you twisted my arm! I'll come with you for the entire week." That was definitely fine with him; the more time he took away to deal with what he'd done, the better. Clay owed the time off to him and he was going to take it.

The reunion was being held on a Saturday. Once Alex decided to go, Cat worked her internet magic to get a good price on his plane ticket. She felt lucky to be able to 'name her own price' and have it accepted for the same flights.

Alex seriously thought about enrolling them in the 'Mile High Club', but decided against it. Not because Cat wouldn't have been willing or out of concern of their getting caught. Because her body was still recovering from the abuse he'd inflicted while purging his guilt and despair over killing Donna.

Cat was disappointed that he didn't mention the "MHC" to her, though she suspected the reason for his silence.

When they deplaned in Indianapolis, Cat led him to the shopping court on the upper level. There was a Harley Davidson store that she'd found on her last visit when her mother died. She thought Alex might like to see it.

When they went inside, an ad for rental Harleys caught her eye, and she gave serious consideration to getting one for the week instead of a car. She knew Alex preferred motorcycles. She asked the clerk for one of the fliers, and stuck it in her pocket before Alex noticed.

He didn't see anything he couldn't live without or didn't already have. The store was intriguing for its location. One item did catch his eye; a stuffed black and white kitty that he knew Cat would like. He decided to pick up on their return trip instead of carting it all over the state, unless the store would be closed the day of their return flight.

"Hey, love, I gotta take this call, it's Daddy," she called out to him, moving out of the store entrance to stay out of the other shoppers' way. He waved at her and walked to the counter.

"What're your hours?" he asked the clerk, indicating the day of their return. She handed him a card with the store hours printed on it.

"Would you like anything held for you?" she asked. The clerk had watched him examine the plush animal. "A lot of people will purchase an item and have us hold it for them until they return."

"Nah. I'll get it when we come back," he replied, stuffing the card in his back pocket and departing.

The clerk retrieved the cat and stuck it under the counter where holds were kept. One never knew when they might run out of an item, and he looked like the type of man who didn't take well to disappoinments. If he didn't return, the item could easily be returned to the shelf.

Having forgotten about the conversation with the clerk, Alex caught up with his wife and asked if her father was ok.

"Yup. He just wanted to make sure we'd gotten in and when I thought we might get in tomorrow. I told him late afternoon or early evening."

"That's not very specific," he replied.

"It's as specific as I could get, love, and he understands my routine. I hate being on a rigid schedule."

"Don't I know it!"

They retrieved their bags and approached the car rental desk for the vehicle she'd reserved. It took some time for the clerk to find the paperwork, and then they had to surrender their California driver's licenses for copying. Once they'd finally gotten through the check-in process, they located the shuttle for the rental lot, only to endure another wait for it to return from a run.

Cat used the excuse of going to the necessary to call the Harley store about the rental. Though the daily cost was steep, she felt it would be worth it. When it came time for the dealership to verify her insurance, her plans hit a very solid brick wall. Her insurance carrier's mainframe had crashed so that the Harley dealership couldn't verify the coverage. Unlike the car rental agency, the dealership wouldn't accept a copy of an insurance card; the policy had to be verified in good standing. No verification, no rental.

"Damn it to frackin' Hell!" Cat sputtered as she stormed right past her husband, who'd been waiting by the bathroom door for her.

"What's wrong? Somebody come on to you in there?"

"You wish!" she retorted, stalking off in the direction of the shuttle waiting area.

"Cat, what happened?" He grabbed her by the elbow, turning her to face him. He was concerned over her sudden change of mood.

"It's nothin', Alex. I wanted to surprise you by rentin' a Harley. There's a dealership that offers 'em for rent. The damn place has to verify insurance; the frackin' computers at our insurance company are down, so no verification! We're stuck with a car!"

Alex started laughing, which did nothing for her temper. He embraced her, still laughing heartily.

"I fail to see what's so frackin' funny!" she snarked.

"No one looks sexier than you when you're pissed. Especially when something you wanted to do for me doesn't pan out!" he explained.

"Humpf!" she snorted, but relaxed in his comforting embrace.

"I appreciate that you'd go to such lengths to think of me, babe. Imagine a dealership renting bikes!"

"That's about all you're gonna be able to do!"

"That's OK. As long as we have wheels and a motor, we're get around. Besides, it'd be a little hard to strap that rolling bag of yours to a bike," he pointed to her suitcase and held up his own shoulder bag.

They boarded the shuttle and sat down, but she was still in a mood and glared at him. "You know what I hate about you? I really hate it when you're right!"

He flashed the 'gotcha' grin that he used the few times he would win a battle of wills or wit with her. She continued fuming until they were dropped of at their rental car, a purple PT Cruiser Convertible.

The drive to Terre Haute was about as eventful as the one to Vegas for their marrige had been. Alex handled the driving between the two towns, which was green and lush with grass and trees. It was quite a difference from the rocks and hills of California that he was used to. Their rental car had cruise control and that enabled him to better enjoy his traveling companion's proximity.

"This convertible isn't so bad," he observed as they cruised along the highway, the sun shining down on them. "It's almost as good as riding. At least you get to feel some wind in your hair."

"Yeah, I guess. But you know how I feel about the frackin' seat belt!" she groused, still fuming over the motorcycle let down and the added frustration of having the scar on her neck rubbed by the shoulder harness.

"It's for your welfare, babe. I'm wearing the seat belt, too. Doesn't that matter?"

"No! The damn thing rubs me the wrong way!"

"Then I'll be sure to rub you the right way when we get to the hotel!" he promised. Thinking that a change of subject was in order, he added, "Are we coming out of the closet with our marriage at this party?"

"I'd like to, since we're so far from Charming. But with Frosty being there, I wonder if that's such a good idea." She was referring to her best friend from the station, Frosty Still, who lived and worked on-air in Los Angeles.

Alex took his eyes off the road long enough to gaze at her. He knew she was thinking about his role as Sergeant at Arms with the Sons of Anarchy. It was Cat's idea that they maintain the cover of living together instead of announcing their marriage, so he wouldn't have to worry that someone would take after her in revenge for something he did with the club. Wives were often more of a target than 'old ladies'.

"I think that we'll be OK; it's not like your friend is gonna announce it on air," Alex replied. "If you trust him, that's good enough for me."

Cat took over the driving when they arrived in Terre Haute. She was more familiar with the town, though it helped that she had printed directions to the reunion bar and hotel. Many things had changed since she'd worked and lived there.

Before they checked into the hotel, she took Alex on a tour of her former haunts. This included the very first apartment she'd lived in immediately after her parents' divorce. The outside had changed from a dull red to a light blue, reminding them of the California sky.

She then drove to the site of the radio station, which had been off the air for years. The building was intact, but the interior had been replaced by an optometrists' office that specialized in designer eye wear. The facade was still the same, so she was able to point out where the AM and the FM station had faced the street.

"Come with me," she took his arm and they walked up the street. Just a block from the station, she stopped in front of another part of her past, the Indiana Theatre. It was still in operation, and she wondered if a certain movie was still shown She checked the marquee and exclaimed "Oh my Gawd!" in such a manner that Alex thought she'd sighted something troubling.

"What is it?" He was immediately reaching behind him for his gun, only to remember he'd had to leave his weaponry back home. He launched into Tig mode, looking for whatever might have frightened his lady and considering all the possible avenues of protection.

"Sorry, love," she was smiling with delight. "It's just that they still show The Rocky Horror Picture Show here! I spent many late Friday nights as a member of the originalIndiana Theatre players. We re-enacted the movie while it was shown on the screen." She pointed to the marquee.

"Why would you do something like that?" he asked, inwardly relieved that he wouldn't have to fight his way out of trouble in a strange town. "Sounds like a lot of wasted time and effort."

"Don't you remember? I told you about it when we were looking through my photo albums!"

He shrugged. "I thought that was just a Hallowe'en theme party. You were dressed up like some kind of insane butler."

Cat shook her head. "I don't believe my ears!" She pointed to a poster of pictures of the IRP through the years that included the photo he'd referred to. She was dressed as Riff-Raff, the butler in that picture. Next to that was a photo of her dressed as her regular character, the Criminologist. "The infamous Tig Trager, sexual deviant, recalls nothing he was told about the allure of the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show'? Stop the presses! Hell hath frozen over!"

He glared sternly at her. "I suspect Hell is still hot as blazes. What the Hell's so special about this movie? It's not porn!"

"True," she replied. "Though when came out in '75, it was considered quite risque due to all the double entendres. What makes this so special is the audience participation."

He gave her a look that said, "And your point is?"

"Did you ever see or hear of a program on cable called 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'?"

He nodded. He'd seen about two minutes of it once at the clubhouse. The bottom of the screen had silhouettes of three characters in front of a cheesy movie. The characters made comments throughout the film. He'd not been impressed. "What about it?"

"They took the idea from us. We'd yell insults at the characters; throw toast, T.P., rice, and squirt water from water guns during various scenes. The best thing was that we did the Time Warp in the aisles."

Alex remained unconvinced. "Sounds like my idea of fun, all right. The Time Warp is some kind of dance I assume?"

"It's just a jump to the left!" she sang, hopping once in that direction. She brought her right leg out three times to "And just a step to the ri-eye-eye-eye-ight!" She placed her hands on his hips, grinned slyly and said, "This is where we changed the lyrics. It's supposed to be 'with your hands on your hips', but we made it 'with your hands on somebody else's hips, you bring your knees in ti-eye-ight." which she sang again while swinging her lower body suggestively. "But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insay-ay-ay-ayne! Let's do the Time Warp again!"

'This is not happening! My normally well-behaved wife behaving like a wanton woman public!' He pinched his nose between the fingers of one hand, closing his eyes momentarily. A red tinge colored his face.

He opened his eyes to see if anyone was watching or if a cop was passing by. It'd be just their luck for a cop to nab them for public indecency, the one time he was behaving! The street was blessedly empty. "You danced that way in public? With members of the opposite sex?" His normally low voice came out in a squeak.

She burst out laughing again. "It was a darkened theatre, love! I'd wager they still do the Time Warpin the aisles."

"I suppose we have a DVD of this thing?" His tone of voice indicated that he hoped they didn't.

"The 25th anniversary version, loaded with many extras no less! When we get home, we'll watch it, and we can do the Time Warpin private." She was purring at the notion.

"I can hardly wait," he groaned, grabbing her by the hand and running for the relative safety of the rental.


They checked into the hotel and found their room. There wasn't a lot of time before the reunion was scheduled to begin, but there wasn't any rush. The hotel was right next to the bar where the event was being held.

"I'm puttin' you on notice that there will be men comin' up and huggin' me. I've not seen a lot of them in years, except for their pictures on Facebook. Please don't go territorial, love. We were all very close friends."

"I'll think about it," he replied.

"Thank God we left your weapons at home," she murmured.

"Baby, if I have to, I can make a weapon out of a swizzle stick," he announced reassuringly.

She rolled her eyes to the Heavens. "You're quite welcome not to feel the need!"

"We'll see," his tone of voice indicated he wasn't making promises he wasn't prepared to keep.

She hoped he was just teasing, but his expression didn't look like that was the case. She realized that he was nervous about the reunion. He was out of his element and the combination was going to make him possessive of her. She had a feeling she'd have to keep a watchful eye on him.

They were among the first to arrive. One of the deejays she had worked with, Robert Johns, was hooking up a laptop to one of the big screen TVs. It was going to show slides of the radio station's promotions.

Cat and Robert embraced enthusiastically as their spouses looked on. Both exclaimed they hadn't changed much except for a few whiter hairs for Robert and Cat appeared much thinner. Introductions were made of the spouses.

As former staffers arrived, a number of men and women rushed up to embrace Cat and to meet her husband. Much was made over her appearance, and they welcomed Alex as if he'd always been one of them.

The group was rounded up for a professional portrait. The first group photo was of the entire staff - on-air, production, sales and secretarial - then another photo was taken of the on-air staff.

The photo session marked Tig's first major battle against 'going territorial'. Cat stood between Robert and her former news director, Jim Moore, for the picture. It didn't help when the two men wrapped their arms around her and she smiled with delight, referring to herself as a 'Cat sandwich' and snuggling with them. Both men laughed but kept their hands carefully on her shoulders under his watchful glare.

Frosty Still had arrived long before the picture was taken and sat right in front of her for the air staff portrait. She hadn't had an opportunity to greet him because he was constantly captured for pictures and conversation.

"I thought he was your best buddy," Tig observed grimly, watching as the DJ was pulled off in another direction once again as she was going to greet him. The wistful and pained expression in her eyes as they followed the DJ wounded him.

"He is my friend, love. He's popular tonight. Most of us are 'has beens'; we left the business for one reason or another. He's made it in the big time in LA. He'll make time for me, We spoke on Facebook about it. I'm gettin' a little hungry, let's see what they offer on the menu."

It was her way of changing the subject, so he didn't press the matter. If the situation didn't correct itself soon, he would definitely do something to make sure his lady got the chance to greet her old friend.

Much to her dismay, the bar menu consisted of fried foods that didn't agree with her. The hosts of the reunion had thoughtfully set up veggie, fruit, and cold cut trays to supplement the fried foods for the health conscious.

They had just finished eating when Frosty spotted her as he was heading to the bar for a beer. He stopped in his tracks and shouted, "Cat? Is that you?"

"Hi, Frosty," she replied, standing up and opening her arms. He gathered her in a tight embrace, planting several kisses on each cheek.

"I've been looking for you all night! How are you? You look fantastic!"

"I'm better, now." She turned and held out a hand to Alex, who grasped it possessively. She squeezed his hand reassuringly, letting him know there was no threat. "This, my dear friend, is my husband, Alex Trager. Alex, this is my best friend from the station, Frosty Still."

The two men shook hands, but it wasn't a very sincere greeting on Alex's part. Despite his wife's spoken assurances, he sensed the man was a rival.

Cat knew Frosty had no designs on her, he was just happy to reconnect. There had been many years of silence on her part, followed by only a few weeks of communicating via Facebook. She sensed Alex's distress and crooked her finger to him, indicating he should come closer to her. When he complied, she kissed his cheek and whispered, "Relax, love. You're crushing my hand." He relaxed his grip but continued to hold her hand as he glared intently at the DJ, whose arm was still draped across his wife's shoulders.

"Can I buy you two a beer?" Frosty asked. He wasn't blind to the overprotective air Trager displayed. He hoped offering to buy a drink would defuse the situation.

"Sure," Tig replied. "Beer is good."

"Cat, do you want a beer, or do you still drink Jack and Coke?"

"Neither. I don't drink much these days. Haven't been able to handle liquor since my surgery a few years ago. But I'll take a water with plenty of ice."

"One beer, one water with plenty of ice comin' up."

While Frosty was getting the drinks, Cat attempted to convince Alex that he was worrying for no reason. "This is one of the reasons why I don't go to the SAMCRO parties, love. I'd be just as protective of you around all those predatory young things."

"Does he have to be so touchy-feely with you? Can't he just shake hands by proxy?" Tig growled in response, still unconvinced of the other man's intentions.

"Do you shake hands by proxy with the girls at your parties?" She smiled at him. "I'm not playing tit for tat, love. Frosty is a close and dear friend. Naturally we're going to show some affection! Read my lips, he is not a rival!"

She was right. "You know what I really dislike about you," he asked, repeating the words she'd said to him a few hours earlier. "I really hate it when you're right." He kissed her again on the cheek, his hand caressing the other cheek with his thumb.

"Gee, that sounds awfully familiar," she replied, relieved that he was willing to see sense.

Frosty returned with two beers and a glass, handed one of the beers to Trager and the glass to Cat. He held up his beer in a toast. "To old friends, new friends, and better days!"

"Amen!" Cat touched her glass to Frosty's beer, and after a moment, Alex touched his beer to their drinks.

"Have you been here long?" Frosty asked.

"Since the gig started. You've been in high demand tonight, so I just waited until you had time for me."

"You were the first person I looked for and the last one I found."

"You should've looked behind you when they took the air staff picture," Alex replied. "She was standing right behind you. Oof!" He grimaced when Cat poked him in the ribs.

"I'm sorry, Cat. It's been crazy tonight."

Giving Alex a stern warning glare, she replied, "That's okay, Frost. We're talkin' now, that's the important thing. Have you got a new job yet?"

He nodded. "Can't say much, except it'll be with the flagship station for the alphabet network in about a month. AM radio."

"Damn! If it's a morning show, I won't be able to get it over the air in Charming."

"That's right. You're living there now, up near Stockton."

"We live there. She owns the only coffeehouse in town." Alex interjected proudly, his arm resting casually behind her on the chair while his hand caressed her arm.

"No offense, Alex. I know it looks to you like I'm tromping on your turf – and no getting hissed over that phrase, Cat - I'd feel the same way if the situation was reversed. You've got yourself a great lady, and you've got her for life. Surely you won't begrudge me a few minutes?"

Cat looked from one man to the other but didn't say a word. This was a decision Alex had to make on his own. He'd only seen her interact so affectionately with Chibs, who he knew was not a rival. She'd done everything she could to convince him Frosty was not a rival.

"I don't," Alex replied. "When you're lucky enough to have someone as special as Cat in your life, you don't let your guard down. Some other guy might try to take her away if I did. Sorry if I came on too strong." He held up his beer to Frosty, who touched his bottle against Trager's in response.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, she moved her hand under the table to lovingly pat her husband's knee. "Ok you two, this is not a meeting of my fan club! Congratulations on the new job possibility, Frosty. Will the show be online? Maybe I can tune in that way."

"Please do. You're on Facebook so I'll have the link posted on my page for the podcasts."

"My store, 'Charming Pawse' is also on Facebook," she handed him one of her new business cards.

Their former program director and the professional photographer came up to them, and asked if Frosty and Cat would pose for a picture, as they'd worked several morning shows together.

She gazed worriedly at Alex, but he nodded slightly, giving consent and promising with that nod to behave.

She and Frosty pulled their chairs together, linked arms, and rested their heads on each others' shoulders, wide grins of satisfaction on their faces. Twin flashes blazed momentarily, digitally capturing the moment. Both asked their former boss for a copy of the picture.

"Now, was that so bad, love?" she asked Alex. He grimaced, but indicated he'd survive.

"So what's this about you having surgery? What kind of surgery?"

Cat told him of the gastric bypass surgery she'd had several years earlier that helped her lose nearly 200 pounds and gain years of life. "It's a permanent lifestyle change, not a magic bullet. I can't handle the sugars in alcohol or processed foods. It only takes a thimbleful of booze to put me out like a light. I can't even drink a full beer these days."

"I remember how you could drink most of us under the table."

"You could drink him under the table?" Alex asked in disbelief. He always had to finish her beer on the

few occasions she would drink one. Not that he minded.

"Me, Robert, the whole gang. But she'd run away at the sight of a joint!" Frosty replied.

She rolled her eyes. "One time! Geeze! I was what, 20 or so at the time? Except on film, I'd never seen a marijuana cigarette up close before that night - let alone smoke one!"

She and Frosty shared a good laugh as he recounted the story of the Hallowe'en party held at the program director's home. Someone had brought out a joint and when it was passed to her, Cat had scurried away from the party in fear of the wacky weed.

One of the problems in having a reunion at a public bar was the increased traffic and noise. The reunion had only booked the upper level of the bar for three hours, and the place was getting crowded, making conversation more difficult.

Frosty left them at the table with a request they wait for him, he had a call to make. "I talked to the hotel a bit ago about reopening the bar for us. They agreed. Would you two walk over with me?" Frosty asked when he returned.

Cat had prepared herself for the possibility that she'd not get to speak with Frosty again when he took off to make his call. It pleased her that he returned directly to their table when he'd given the other attendees the news that the hotel bar was opening for them.

The trio walked across the parking lot, Cat linking her hands through both men's arms. When they reached the hotel bar, Frosty purchased a round for all.

Conversation flowed much easier than it had at the first bar. Memories were shared of programs and stunts the station had performed when they were all together.

Alex had never considered that there was so much work involved in the various stunts and bits that DJs performed. When Cat and the others worked at the station, they went to a lot of time and effort to pre-record a lot of the stunts, including the sound effects. These days it was easy to make sound effects and other things happen on the spot with computers.

Cat recounted her first newscast on the station and her 'baptism of fire'. This involved three of the male air staff trying to make her laugh on air. "I looked up for a moment to see three bare butts stuck to the window! Just flattened against it like pink hairy pancakes!"

"She spent the rest of the newscast with her nose buried in her copy," Robert Johns added. "She never cracked a smile the entire time and her voice didn't betray a thing! We nicknamed her 'The Rock' after that!"

"As soon as the music started and my mike was turned off, I dived under the control board, as red as a beet and dying from laughing so damn hard!" Cat replied.

Alex was amused by this untold story of his wife's career. He didn't think many people would be able to ignore three pink full moons with a straight face! He also found it fascinating that while these people had been separated by time and miles, they were as close to one another as the MC. Like the club, what bound this group wasn't just their friendship, but the work they'd done and the special events they had shared.

The hotel bar eventually had to close again, but it was still early, and some of the bars in town were still open. Several of the group, including Cat and Alex, walked across the street to a bar named 'The Vibe.' They scampered out of it much faster than they entered. 'The Vibe' was not the typical college town bar. It catered to an entirely different type of clientele.

"Did you run away this fast from the marijuana cigarette?" Trager asked teasingly.

"Faster," she muttered, picking up the pace as the group moved to a safer sports bar. The group got smaller as the night grew longer, but they managed to close that bar as well.

Just after 3AM, the small group returned to the hotel. Most weren't ready to let the night end, but as late - or early - as it was, there wasn't much else to do or any convenient place to do it, except for the hotel lobby, and there was no alcohol served that late.

Cat hugged her friends goodbye, with promises to stay in touch on the internet and handed out the last of her business cards. Trager shook hands with his wife's friends, and was rather surprised and pleased when her former program director hugged him. He could tell it wasn't just because she'd been drinking all night.

"I can see that you really care about her and make her happy. Thanks for coming with her," the woman said, turning to embrace Cat as well before disappearing in the elevator.

Frosty stepped in front of her and cast an inquiring glance at Alex. He nodded his consent and stepped away to allow them to have a private farewell. Frosty and Cat embraced for a few minutes, and kissed each other's cheeks several times.

"Good luck at the alphabet net, Frosty. I will be listening. And stay in touch, ok?"

"You too, kitten,." he replied. "Alex, it's been a pleasure."

"Frosty," Trager replied. "Good luck."

"I'd say you have the good luck, friend. Take care of her."

"I always do."

As they rode the elevator to their floor, she snuggled up to Alex, encircling his waist with her arms and laying her head on his chest. "Thanks, love."

"What for?"

"For puttin' up with all this, and for not deckin' Frosty and the other guys."

He laid his chin on her head. "You put up with a lot for me; it's about time I stepped up."

They walked arm in arm to their room. Cat was tired but content. She was also very proud of the way her husband had handled the evening.

"Think they'll do this again?" he asked as he shucked out of his clothing.

"Dunno. It'd be nice, especially if they don't wait another 20 odd years for the next one!"

She climbed into bed next to him, laying her head on his chest. His hand idly stroked her hair. She hoped he might make a lecherous offer to her, especially considering they had a nice, big bed to enjoy. They'd have to abstain at her father's. He didn't offer, and even gently moved her hand from his crotch when she started caressing him. "It's a little too soon, babe," he admonished. It wasn't that he wasn't willing, he didn't want to hurt her again. "Let's get some sleep."

Sleep was easier said than done for her. As happened every night since Donna's death, Cat was awakened by his moaning and crying in his sleep. He was twisting and turning while shivering and sweating at the same time.

"Shhh, love. I'm here," she whispered, gathering him in her arms and holding him as close as she could. She tried to cover him when he shivered, but he would toss the covers off and immediately start shivering again. She tried to wake him, but he wouldn't rouse. All she could do was hold him and comfort him as much as she could until he finally settled into a deeper sleep.

When he woke later that morning, Alex had no memory of the nightmare, which was not unusual. Cat was worn out, which he attributed to let down from the end of the reunion. He offered to drive the two hours to Vincennes and she gratefully took him up on the offer. She slept through the entire trip.


Vincennes University was the two year campus where Cat had studied broadcasting and received her Associates Degree. Alex woke her when they entered the city limits to take over the driving. Before going to her father's house, she gave him another mini tour. "Don't worry, love. Vincennes never showed RHPS," she grinned.

As with the Terre Haute radio station, the broadcast facility she'd worked in no longer existed. She felt a little nostalgic for the old brewery building. Although it had meant a four floor run from the control room to the necessary, the building had been a fun place to work. It hurt to see that the site was now a parking lot. It reminded her of the song with the tag line 'pave paradise and put up a parking lot.'

Cat's father lived in a fairly new subdivision just south of town. When he saw the purple PT Cruiser pull into the drive, he had the door open and was standing on the front porch, welcoming them with open arms. She'd never had any doubts about the reception Alex would receive, even though it was the first time the two men met.

Alex was uncharacteristically nervous about meeting her father. Not just because he was Cat's father, but because the man was a retired minister. He was rather surprised to be immediately enfolded in a bear hug. "Welcome home, son." He knew then where Cat had learned her decency and manners. Rev. Marshall had the same charm as his daughter. It'd been a long time since he'd been called 'son' and have it meant as an endearment. Though he returned the hug a bit awkwardly, he was encouraged by the welcome.

Cat's father didn't know the true nature of his new son-in-law's work. She had stretched the truth by telling him her husband was a full time mechanic and part-time entrepreneur. She felt that would be better for him, and less stress for her and Alex.

Cat had planned the visit with her father due to a recurrance of the cancer he'd been fighting for years. He'd first been stricken prior to his divorce from her mother. Cat intended to hire a house cleaner to do the heavy housekeeping every week. She also wanted to get the house spruced up for her ailing parent, as he just didn't have the stamina for that kind of thing.

Once the car was unloaded, she immediately set out to clear the front room of newspapers, magazines and mail. Her father had a tendency to put things on the floor near and around his recliner, so that area resembled a nest.

She and Alex worked together going through mail, separating it into smaller, more manageable boxes for bills, personal correspondence, ministerial mail, and magazines. Junk mail and solicitations were held out for the shredder. Within three hours, the pair had the area completely organized.

The next day, Cat and her father interviewed potential house cleaners while Alex cleaned out the garage. His father-in-law believed in recycling, so there were cans to flatten and newspapers to bag. He also swept out the accumulated leaves and dirt that had blown over the floor and straightened things up so the garage looked neater. He was fascinated by a large world-band radio that his father-in-law had built that was stored in the garage. It still worked, and he enjoyed scanning the stations to see what it would pick up, besides the regular AM/FM bands.

Between interviews, Cat worked on cleaning the house. She mopped the kitchen floor, vaccumed the carpeting, washed windows, put away clean dishware and dusted. By the third day of their visit, the house cleaner had been hired and the place was in order.

They went out to the nursing home to visit her step-mom several times during the week. Her father had purchased meal tickets for them, and Alex always enjoyed the meal and the socializing. It was usually the largest meal of the day for them, and he always took care of anything Cat couldn't eat or finish.

Though her step-mom kept referring to him as 'Bill', Cat's first husband, Alex didn't correct her or get upset over it. Cat felt her heart would burst when he overlooked the error, held the older woman's hand and called her 'Mom'. He shrugged it off because he knew that 'Mom' had the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He wasn't going to get upset over something the elderly lady couldn't help.

He liked Cat's stepmom, and discovered a kindred soul when he leared she liked the same candy bar that he did. On one of their visits, he presented her with a king size Snickers bar, telling her it wasn't as sweet as her and was rewarded with a delighted hug.

They took one day for touring, so that he could match places with stories of her life that she'd shared with him. It was during this tour that she admitted to having a criminal background of her own; she'd run booze across state lines to supplement her college income.

They were walking in a park near a bridge linking Vincennes to Lawrenceville, IL when she made the confession. "The drinking age in Illinois at the time was 18, so the college kids would travel right across this bridge to get booze. The cops would sit here on the Indiana side to stop 'em from bringin' it across."

"Did you ever get caught?"

She shook her head. "Indiana plates was enough to get me stopped. The car had a false bottom that passed a cursory search. Going North or South before crossing over and traveling further in kept me off the radar. I never went to the same store in a month or carried kegs, just cases of beer and bottles of hard liquor. I was expensive to hire but never lost a load."

He knew she wasn't bragging unnecessarily, and was more curious than upset when he asked, "Why'd you kept quiet until now?"

"It never came up in the conversation. Guess being here with you and thinking of the past brought it up."

"That certainly explains how you knew where to find your mother that time," he added

"Not really. I had a lot of news assignments in the area, so I got to know the terrain pretty well. Daddy never knew of that particular skill."

"My wife, a closet criminal," he mused.

"Scandalous, aren't I?" She grinned. "I had a 1970 Plymouth Satellite GT at the time. It was a great car for that kind of thing."

"You're just a wild child at heart, aren't you?"

"It's something I never intend to outgrow," she replied with a warning, mischeivous smile.

Cat's relatives from Southern Indiana came up to visit for a day and her step-brother Danny, a long distance truck driver, was also able to manage some time off to visit. They quickly and easily welcomed him as one of the family.

The day came for them to start their return to California. Though her father was sorry to see her leave, he knew Cat was in good hands. He liked her husband almost as much as he had loved Bill. He gave them both a hug goodbye and slipped checks in their hands for their work on the house, checks that he wouldn't take back. "You two worked hard, and it shows. You earned this money. Consider it a late wedding gift, as I never got around to sending a card," he advised.

"I can do that," Alex replied. "It was good to meet you, Rev. Marshall."

The minister's eyebrows drew together in a frown. "Son, I keep tellin' you to call me either 'Dad' or by my first name. Frankly, I'd prefer 'Dad'. Calling me 'Rev. Marshall' is much too formal."

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm not ready to call you 'Dad' – yet. I can handle your first name." Alex had become more comfortable with his father-in-law so that giving and getting hugs was as natural as the ones he got from the MC. Alex was surprised and pleased when he was presented with a canister of fresh baked Snickers cookies made by his wife and father-in-law . The cookies included ground up pieces of his favorite candy bar in the cookie dough.

He knew that he now had a third family; there was the one he had with Cat, the one he had with the Sons, and now her family. Their acceptance of him as a part of Cat's life filled another hole in his soul he'd not known existed and was happy to have filled.


They stopped in Terre Haute to stretch their legs and Cat made a purchase at a hobby and craft store just off the highway. She wanted to make a visit to Bill's grave before they left for California and the purchase was items that would enable her to leave a small token there.

She was hesitant about telling Alex what she wanted to do, much less ask if he wanted to go along. As was always the case where her past was concerned, she didn't want to make him uncomfortable about it. She considered dropping him off at a bar or restaurant while she went to the gravesite. The more she thought of it, the more she believed it was a good idea.

Alex knew Bill was buried in Indianapolis and that Cat wanted to visit his grave. He also knew she wasn't going to mention it to him because she didn't want to hurt his feelings. He'd waited all week for her to mention it, but she stayed quiet. He alternated watching the road with watching her. Cat was sitting quietly, her hands working the plastic bag from the craft store.

"What'd ya buy?" he finally asked, unable to tolerate the silence.

"A plastic red rose, black ribbon, and a blue topaz stone," she replied, staring out at the landscape ahead of them.

"Any particular reason?" He wasn't a fan of '20 questions', prefering to get right to the point. He'd learned that his wife didn't always respond to the direct approach. If he asking a few questions made it easier for her to talk to him about what she wanted to do, he'd take the long way around the subject, this time.

"Yeah. I was thinkin' about droppin' you off at a restaurant long enough to visit Bill's grave. The stuff in the bag is just to somethin' to leave behind as a token."

'I thought so! How do I get her to understand I'm not threatened by Bill?' He decided not to attack the idea of dropping him off someplace, and concentrated on the token she wanted to leave at the grave. "What are you gonna do with all that?"

"You'll see," She replied, pouring the contents of the bag in her lap. She used her knife to cut a piece of black ribbon and tied the blue topaz stone to it. She next tied the black ribbon in a bow around the stem of the rose, just below the bud. "Beautiful and simple at the same time, and the flower will last awhile," she stated, holding the token up to admire it.

She was right. It was elegant in its simplicity and beauty. He knew the symoblism of the blue topaz, her birthstone, and had a vague idea of the meaning behind the black ribboned rose, but the latter eluded him.

What's the the black ribbon for?" he asked.

"Remember when Mother died, and I told you about the Indy Tarts and Tartans/Gerard Butler fan group?"

He nodded, recalling they'd taken her out the night before the funeral and given her a black ribboned rose and card.

"Whenever a club member lost a loved one, a local representative would present a black ribboned rose to that person. We adopted it from Gerry's version of The Phantom of the Opera. I received several when Bill died because most of the club lives in town. I've kept those flowers ever since the sevice."

"Where?" He couldn't recall ever seeing any such flowers in the house. There were a few vases of roses, but none with black ribbons.

"I keep 'em in the library in a closet, where all the rest of the stuff from my life with Bill is stored. I didn't want their presence to upset you," she replied.

He moved his right hand from the steering wheel to the back of her neck, forcing her head to turn his direction. Taking his eyes off the road for a moment, he gazed intently at her before returning his attention to the road ahead.

"I really wish you wouldn't worry about that, Cat," he said quietly. "Bill's life with you is much a part of you as breathing. You removed his picture and the rings from your bedside after our first night together, and you hardly ever mention him. You don't have to put your entire life with Bill in a closet to make me happy. It doesn't hurt that you loved someone else long before you found me."

"Uh, huh. You say that after the way you got so jealous of Frosty?" she replied disbelievingly. His words now compared to his behavior at the reunion were miles apart from each other. 'He's just saying what he thinks I want to hear, the sweet goof," she thought. 'Why cause him any more distress? It's not worth it!'

She put the token she'd made back in the bag and tossed it over the seat. "I'll take a pass on the visit this time," she announced. Instead of landing on the floor as she'd expected, a gust of wind blowing into the cockpit from the opened top lifted the bag out onto the side of the road. "See? Looks like I'm on the right track!"

"Shit!" he growled, pulling the car to the side of the interstate. He turned off the ignition and stalked back to retreive the bag. "What's gotten into her? I'm not jealous of Bill. Frosty had me worried, he's still alive and it was obvious they're close! I'm not jealous of a God-damn ghost! That's it!"'

He stomped back to the back of the car, unlocked the hatch, and threw the plastic bag inside. Then he rummaged in his carry sack and removed a CD case he'd brought along in case it was needed. He slammed the hatch closed and returned to the driver's seat, removed the CD from its' case, and slid it into the car's stereo system.

Cat recognized it from their collection, Paul Stanley's 'Live to Win'. He punched the selections to number seven, which she knew was called 'Second to None'.

"I want you to listen to something," he ordered tersely.

"Alex what the--"

He put his hand over her mouth. "Just shut up and listen!"

She glared at him, but remained silent. She seriously considered biting the hand that gently covered her mouth. She knew the song, God knows she played it often enough!

"Don't even think it," he growled, hitting the play button and sitting back. His hand remained over her mouth until Paul Stanley's voice issued from the speakers:

We both had stories, loves and lifetimes before

left us wanting for more

But kept us on our journey

With everyone we meet we open the door

There were others for sure

But they never got to know me

It's all a way to a life worth living

So don't mistake what I'm giving

When every day is done

I only wanna run to you

Baby hear the words I'm sayin'

When you're in trouble I will be the one

to pull you through

You might not be the first

But for me you're always second to none.

Sometimes the fears we have will get in the way

And the things people say

Can make it so much harder

The chance for love can look you right in the eye

Then it passes you by

Some live a lie with no happy ending

But I won't lose it all pretending

When every day is done

I only wanna run to you

Baby hear the words I'm sayin'

When you're in trouble I will be the one

to pull you through

You might not be the first

But for me you're always second to none.

Life has its own way of making things brighter

and tighter

Don't throw it away

It takes some faith to see clearly

Believe me

It's all a way to life worth living

So don't mistake what I'm giving.

When every day is done

I only wanna run to you

Baby hear the words I'm sayin'

When you're in trouble I will be the one

to pull you through

You might not be the first

But for me you're always second to none

He turned off the stereo and turned to face her. "I not the first man you loved, but you've never treated me as second. You always put my comfort and needs first. I love that about you, but you've got to quit shutting away that part of your life that existed before me. It's damn important to you. You are gonna make that visit to Bill's grave, and I'm gonna go with you!"

She glared at him, not exactly sure that she liked the chauvenistic attitude he was displaying, even though everything he said was true. "And if I don't want to go there?"

He sighed in exasperation. "But you do want to, baby. Besides, did it ever occur to you that I might want to pay my respects to the man?"

She lowered her eyes from his, feeling a little selfish and ashamed. No, she hadn't thought of that. She'd been too worried about hurting his feelingst, that she didn't realize that she was shutting him out of an important part of her life and shutting it away from her as well. "Are you sure about this, Alex?"

He clasped his hands to either side of her face. "Positive."

She sighed in surrender. "You win. We'll make the visit."

He kissed her, relieved that he'd managed to work out this issue with her. He suspected it wasn't completely settled between them and she might need reminding. He pulled the car back onto the interstate and once the car was back to speed, he set the cruise control so he could slip his arm around her shoulder as they traveled.

She gave him the directions to the cemetary, and he found it without difficulty. The sun was still out and they had plenty of time before they had to be at the airport.

He parked the car and they walked the short distance to the small grave. The last rose she'd left had been the blue one, which had withered and died months ago. There was a small bunch of plastic red roses left from previous visits she'd made before the move. While they had lost their black ribbons, they were still vibrant with color.

She stood silently in front of Bill's headstone, conscious of Alex standing right behind her. She didn't have anything to hide from him, but she feared Alex might feel weird about her speaking out loud to a piece of stone.

Alex gently nudged her. "Go ahead, baby. You can talk to him. I understand."

"Hey, Pookie. It's been awhile. Is Mother drivin' you nuts yet or has she settled down?" Cat sat on the ground in the front of the marker while Alex stood behind her. "Anyway, this is the guy I told you about. Hope you don't mind that he made an honest woman of me. I think you two would've gotten along pretty well had y'all met; even if he is a former Marine!"

A gentle nudge from Alex's knee against her back warned her to behave.

She grimaced and added, "Check that. You two definitely would've gotten along; he has the same appreciation for my humor you had. This is Alex Trager, Pookie. He does a good job of takin' care of me."

"When she lets me," Alex added quietly. "You know what an independent, headstrong, and frustrating woman she is."

"Hey! No gangin' up on me, you two!" she retorted.

She turned the black ribboned rose in her hand as she spoke. "It's been quite a ride, Pookie. The coffeehouse is doin' well and life is good with Alex, but I still miss you, as do the furbabies. Hope the other furbabies are keepin' you company." She paused for a few moments, trying to think of what else she wanted to say. "I just wanted to stop by and assure you that you're not forgotten, and still loved and missed every day."

She kissed the rose and stuck the plastic stem in the ground so that it nestled in the center of the other roses. She sat quietly, scared that she might have just said the wrong thing and hurt Alex's feelings, despite their earlier conversation.

To her surprise, he knelt behind her and embraced her. "I don't mind that he still has a place in your heart, Cat. You have enough heart for both of us to share. Rest easy, Bill. I'll take good care of her for you. No matter what."

Those last three words were from the song he'd selected for them to dance to shortly after their marriage. That he'd chosen to use those words at this moment touched her. She finally believed that Alex really wasn't jealous or hurt by her continued love for Bill. He accepted that it was and always would be a part of her.

"Thanks, love," she breathed softly, returning his embrace. "I understand now what you were tryin' to tell me earlier."

He helped her to her feet, saluted Bill, and they returned to the car. He managed to win the battle of the belt by holding the car door open for her and waiting for her to get in. Then he reached across, slid the belt across her chest and snapped it in place.

"I wanna ask you something, babe," he said once he settled into the driver's seat.

"You don't have to 'belt' me to ask a question," she replied.

He gave her a triumphant grin. "No, I don't. Just didn't want to waste time feuding over the seat belt."

"So what's the question?" She crossed her arms, a bit peeved over his unique and crafty method of one upmanship.

"You referred to Bill as 'Pookie'. You always call me 'Alex' when we're alone, and 'Tig' either when we're around other people or you talk about me. How come you don't have a pet name for me?"

"But I do, love. Bill was 'Pookie' because he was like Garfield's best friend, Pookie the teddy bear to me. He was my best friend in the world."

"I don't get it. How is my real name and my nickname a pet name?"

"The same way you always call me 'babe', instead of 'darlin',' the word the rest of the club uses to address a woman," she explained patiently. "Love is my 'pet name' for you. Short for beloved."

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, not sure if this was one of those moments when she was teasing him or not. Her expression told him she was being quite serious.

"In private, you're 'Alex', because that's how you act with me. In public, I refer to you as 'Tig' because you are 'Tig' and it's nobody's business what I call you in private. Whenever I refer to you as 'love', it's just my way of reminding you that you are my beloved, no matter the situation."

He didn't know how to respond to that. The depth of her devotion to him continually surprised and thrilled him. He took her hand in his and kissed it.

They returned the car to the rental lot, turned in the keys, and checked their luggage at the airline desk. As they were checking in, Cat made a specific request for seats at the very back of the plane.

"That's gonna be kinda cramped for me," he protested.

She grinned impishly at him. "That's why you're gettin' the aisle seat, love."

"That's not gonna help. Can't we have the first row?"

She gave him 'the look'. She had a plan in mind, and he was doing everything he could to interfere with it. "Dearheart, don't you want to walk and stretch a little before we board? You've been sittin' awhile in the car. I think that if you take a walk right now, it would do us both some good!"

Her expression advised him to take the hint. He did have something he wanted to attend to without her presence. "I'll meet you at the food court," he replied, turning and walking away.

"Men!" she huffed, grinning at the reservation clerk, who smiled wryly in agreement. The clerk handed over the seat assignments, the last two seats on the back row as Cat had requested.

"Have a nice flight," the clerk said.

"I intend to," Cat purred, taking the boarding passes and their driver's licenses in hand. "Thanks."

The clerk shook her head and smiled as Cat walked away.

"What was that all about?" her co-worker asked.

"Another would be member of the 'Mile High Club'. First time I've ever had a lady ask for seats at the back of the plane. Usually it's the men."

"The 'Mile High Club'? Do you mean--?"

"Yup. People still indulge in it," the clerk who'd assisted Cat replied. "The really adventurous ones go at it right in the back row without anyone knowing. Others use the bathroom."

"Ew!" The other clerk thought of the tall, dark-haired man and the shorter woman who'd just left the counter. "I hope they don't meet up with too much turbulence."

"Honey," her companion laughed. "They say turbulence just makes it more enjoyable!"

Alex knew Cat was up to something with the seat assignment and had a pretty good idea what that might be. She certainly did like to make his wishes come true!

He headed directly for the Harley Davidson store so he could purchase that stuffed cat for her. To his disappointment, the shelf where there'd been several of the critters was empty. 'What the Hell happened? Did they have a run on the damn things?'

"You're looking for the plush Harley cat," the same store employee he'd spoken with on their arrival was behind the counter.

"Yeah. You run out during the week?"

"Almost. I remembered you were interested, and that you were coming back, so I set one aside. It's right here," she reached under the counter and pulled out the stuffed cat he'd admired. It was a good sized plush animal, with a bell built in its' tail. It had a white underbelly, black top, white paws and wore a collar with the Harley Davidson logo.

"You're a lifesaver!" he exclaimed, pulling out his wallet.

"I hope your lady likes it," the clerk replied as she rang up the sale.

"What makes you think it's for a lady?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

The clerk blushed. "You just don't seem to be the type that collects plush animals. You're more the type to collect bikes."

He grinned at her. "You're right. This is a present for my lady." He accepted his change and the bag. "What's your name, by the way?"

She blushed again and stammered out her name, wondering why he was writing it on the card she'd given him a week ago.

"Not many people go out of their way to be helpful, your boss is gonna hear about this!"

He walked out of the store, bag in hand, just as Cat entered the food court. She'd stopped at the Starbucks counter to purchase drinks for them.

"Checking out the competition?" he asked as he sat in the chair across from her, accepting the cup of black coffee she handed him.

"What competition? I've got the only coffeehouse in Charming, remember?"

"True. What are you drinking?"

"Non-fat, no-whip white mocha. Just indulging in a little caffeine for the trip home."

"Did you get the seats you wanted?"

She nodded, hiding her broad grin behind her coffee cup. "I doubt you'll be as cramped as you think, once we're in the air," she replied.

"We'll see." He replied, pretending to be unconvinced.

She looked at the bag sitting in the middle of the table. "I see you found something after all. Good thinking, waiting until we left to buy it and not having to cart it all over Southern Indiana."

"Especially since it's yours anyway," he replied. "Go ahead, open it."

Her eyebrow rose up her forehead as she took hold of the bag. "Just what did you do, buy a do rag?" She opened the bag and a smile of delight lit her face. "It's purrfect, love!" She withdrew the plush cat and stroked the fur, laughing at the Harley emblem on its' collar. She put the cat on the table, rose from her chair, and kissed him heartily for the gift.

He ran his tongue over his lips after the kiss ended, tasting the white mocha that had transferred from her lips to his. "Hmm. Not bad."

She offered her cup to him to have a fuller taste, but he declined. "This is fine, babe."

They finished their coffee before going to the security area. Cat managed to get through security with little delay. All she had to contend with was her plastic bag, cellphone, keys, wallet and boots.

Alex had to unclip his wallet from his belt, plus remove his keys and cellphone from his pockets and remove the chain from his belt. Then he had to deal with removing his boots. 'Glad I don't have the knife with me. They'd confiscate that in two seconds,' he thought to himself as he stopped to put everything back to rights. It took him a little longer than Cat, who watched the process with a small smirk.

"Don't say a word," he growled as he straightened up from pulling his boots back on.

"I wasn't even thinking of it, love," she replied, still smirking, recalling his earlier comment about her luggage.

"You're gonna pay for that, woman," he replied.

"I fully intend to!" she shot back.

They found their seats at the very back of the plane and settled in. Alex had the aisle seat to accommodate his legs and Cat took the window seat. He watched with amusement as she buckled herself in.

"That's the only time I've seen you willing put on a seat belt."

"I don't have to deal with neck irritation from a damn blasted shoulder belt!" she replied.

He tipped her neck up and around so he could look at the scar on her throat. Sure enough, it was red and irritated, obviously from the car's shoulder harness rubbing on it. His finger traced it, making her shiver.

"You weren't kidding. I thought you were just carrying on. I'm sorry, babe. Does it hurt?"

She shook her head. "It's more annoying than painful. That's why I don't like car safety harnesses. It's just easier to buckle the entire thing behind me than try to put the shoulder harness behind my back."

As a prelude to what he knew was coming and also as an apology for not taking her complaints seriously, he bent his head to her throat and kissed the irritated area, running his tongue over the scar. The feel of his tongue and mustache made her laugh softly. "Feel better?" he asked when he came up for air.

"Much, love. Better than any lotion."

They waited through the usual preflight instructions, and once they were airborne, the in-flight snack service began, starting with their row and moving on towards first class.

Though the seats across the row were empty, Cat wanted privacy for what she intended. Once they'd been served, and the snack cart and attendent had moved forward a couple of rows, she nudged Alex, taking his beer from his hand and placing it on her table.

"What?" he asked, gazing longingly at his beer.

"There's a room behind us that isn't occupied. Make it so, and I'll join you shortly."

He glared at her, still carrying off the pretense. "Just what in Hell are you up to, woman?"

"You'll find out soon enough," she smiled slyly.

He did as she asked. While he waited, already excited about the prospect she had in mind, he tried to determine the best way to make it enjoyable in such a cramped space.

Moments later, Cat slid into the closet sized bathroom and locked the door. Her face was flushed. Melting into his embrace, she slid her hands around his waist, lifing his shirt from his pants as she kissed him. Once his shirt was free, she ran her hands up and down his back and along to his chest.

He sucked air in through his teeth. 'Little vixen!' he thought as he hands became equally busy, grabbing the hem of her untucked shirt and lifting it up over her head, breaking the kiss long enough to remove her shirt. He broke it again when he pulled her bra up over her head, unwilling to take the time to undo the front hooks. Her shirt and 'titsling' fell to the floor behind her. Not to be outdone, Cat unbuttoned his shirt and pushed it from his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.

Alex bent his head to her breats, alternating between one and the other. His tongue expertly teased the nipples until they stood at pert attention. While he was attending to the 'girls', Cat's hands slid to his zipper and belt, quickly and quietly undoing both and letting his jeans fall in a puddle. She slid to her knees, blowing on his erection, laughing softly when it waved a cheery 'hello'.

With Alex's hands on her shoulders, her mouth encircled him, sliding slowly down the length until he touched the back of her throat. Her mouth and tongue moved slowly along him, making him weak in the knees.

"Baby, if you keep that up, there won't be anything left for you," he whispered hoarsely, pulling her back to her feet and holding her close to him. His hands slid from her arms to her rear end, and then to unbuckle her belt. In moments, her jeans and underwear fell to the floor.

He turned so that her rear was against the counter and sink. She slid onto it, making herself more accessible. He knew how she feared it, but he wanted so badly to taste her. He gazed into her eyes, the question unspoken. She closed her eyes and nodded, though he could tell she was apprehensive. "I won't hurt you, baby. I promise."

It was his turn to get down on his knees; the counter put her crotch right on a level with his face, and she slowly opened her legs to him. He inhaled deeply, savoring her fragance. 'God, how can she be so scared of turning me off?' he wondered. 'She smells so good!' He gently stroked her thighs, taking his time as he knew this was the first time for her to receive oral sex. He wanted it to be memorable for her, and not something to fear or be embarrassed about. He wanted her to know it was as natural for him to please her that way as it was for her to give it to him.

He felt her relax and he leaned closer, blowing on her private area just as she'd blown on him. His breath made her quiver, and it delighted him to see her opening move. He continued to blow on her, moving just a little closer with each puff until his face was finally where he'd wanted it to be for so long. He inhaled deeply. "You smell so sweet, Cat," he murmured against her. "You shouldn't be ashamed."

Her hands were on his shoulders, her nails digging into them. He knew there'd be marks later, but didn't care. He'd found Nirvana. Slowly, his tongue touched that special 'G' spot he knew so well, and he chuckled when she gasped in delight.

Without realizing she was doing so, Cat arched her back, moving her crotch forward, inviting him to further exploration. He didn't waste any time, plunging his tongue into her deep, dark entrance, savoring the taste and feel of her.

Cat's hands were on either side of his head; she wasn't trying to push him away. Her fingers were entwined in his hair, holding him where he'd wanted to be for so long. She'd never felt such pleasure, and before she realized what was happening, she exploded in orgasm.

Alex knew it was coming, and it pleased him. He tasted her orgasm flowing into his mouth, sweeter than any Snickers bar, more intoxicating than the finest aged whiskey. He continued licking until she shuddered her last, crying over the experience.

He knew he'd not hurt her, but he moved his head from her pussy and slid grateful kisses up from there to her breasts, exciting her again. Taking just a moment to take some water to 'swish and swallow', though reluctant to remove the taste of her from his mouth, he then kissed the tears from her cheeks.

"Don't cry, baby. You just gave me an incredible gift," he whispered, as he slid into her warm wetness. He felt her muscles squeeze him in welcome as her legs curled around his waist, locking at his back. He had to remind himself to go slow. 'Man, she worked hard for this, don't rush it.'

Cat's hands ran over his chests in circles, pulling at his nipples as her body met his thrusts. Their rhythm was in perfect synch. He held on until he felt her second orgasm start. That's when he let go, flooding her with him, holding her tightly to him as wave after wave of esctacy engulfed them. Alex collasped against her as she squeezed every last drop out of him. They were both panting, and both quite satisfied.

"Welcome to the 'Mile High Club'," they whispered in unison. Cat laughed, joined by his own growling chuckle. He kissed her, long and hard. 'Best damn air ride I've ever had,' he thought.

"Too bad we didn't hit a little tubulence," she murmured against his neck. "Not that I'm complainin' about the service."

He grinned and kissed her again before sliding back into his jeans. "So, how do we get out of this?"

"Same way we came, pardon the pun. You first, I'll follow."

"That's not exactly the order it happened, but I get your drift. Something tells me it'll take a little longer for you to get dressed than it did for me – this time," he replied, buttoning his shirt while she struggled with her 'titsling'.

Once he was dressed, he kissed her deeply again and slipped out of the restroom. The service cart had reached the front of the cabin in the time they'd been occupied. He slid into his seat and reached for his beer, taking a satisfying pull. He felt momentarily distressed that the beer would kill the remnants of Cat's flavor in his mouth. The scent of her remained in his mustache and he inhaled deeply. 'There's sure to be a next time,' he assured himself.

He thought over her long running fear of letting him give her oral sex. From that first night, he'd been aware of her phobia of not presenting a pleasant smell around other people. He'd watched her use lots of soap and hot water for bathing, and she never wore the same jeans two days in a row. When she kept freezing up on him when he'd tried to go down on her, she finally confessed her fear to him, and what had brought it about.

He knew she'd had weight issues before they met, but he never knew what she'd endured at the hands of mean-spirited people throughout her life. She shared with him the indignity and shame of having co-workers complain about her lack of hygiene when she was promoted. That in itself had angered him, and when he learned that one of her employers actually put her on discipinary action from those complaints, he'd felt an urge to kill. Those events had scarred her psyche, making her scared of an act he thoroughly enjoyed. He'd never pursued a large woman as a partner, but he'd never taunted one, either. It surprised him that Cat could endure all that shit and still maintain her decency and kindness.

'She's never smelled bad to me,' he thought, inhaling the scent of her on his mustache. 'She always smells of berries and soap. Clean and fresh, even if she'd been working all day.' He hoped that now that he'd managed to open the door, she'd be less inhibited about letting him go down on her.

He started to get worried, as it seemed it was taking more time than he anticipated for her to dress. His concern was alleviated when she tapped his shoulder. He got up and stood in the aisle to allow her access to her seat.

"What took you so long?" he whispered, moving the arm rest up so she could snuggle next to him.

"I cleaned up the counter. Didn't want to leave any incriminating evidence," she whispered, her face still flushed.

"That's my girl," he replied approvingly, taking another satisfied pull on his beer.

Three weeks passed from Donna's funeral. The Sons' new warehouse had been completed during the week that Cat and Trager had been gone. The club met with the new IRA representatives, Cameron and Edmond Hayes, pertaining to a new gun running deal.

Opie had taken off on his bike, leaving the children with his mother and father, Mary and Piney. He was expected back sometime later in the day of the IRA meeting.

Agent Stahl was still trying to find a way to use the RICO laws aginst the club. Stahl was not having a lot of success and her war with the Sons met a setback with the disappearance of the witness against Bobby Munroe. Stahl had no choice but to release him, though it took three weeks from the witness's disappearance for her to do so.

When Bobby asked her about it, she told him she had the right to allow enough time for the witness to be found. With that time expired, she had to drop the charges. She said all the effort she'd put into attacking SAMCRO had given her peace of mind.

The Sons planned a big 'welcome home' bash for Bobby. It was the first party they'd hosted in some time. It looked like everything was coming back together following the 'incident'.

There had been one moment of tension following the funeral when Piney learned that the One Niners might've been responsible for Donna's death. He took off to Oakland for payback. Jax sent Half Sack after him. Had it not been for Jax meeting with Laroy and then acting as negotiator between Laroy and Piney, war would've erupted between the Sons and the One Niners.

Laroy's denial of involvement in Donna's killing led Jax and Piney to determine Opie had been the intended victim. They had no doubt that the hit was ordered by Clay and someone in the club carried it out, most likely Tig. They had no proof, just their gut instinct.

In order to protect themselves, Clay sent Tig after the meeting with the Hayes' to speak with their hired deputy sheriff, Trammel. The deputy could provide the name of a deserving Mayan gang member that they could use as a scapegoat.

When Opie returned from his travels, the club met in church. Trammel came through with a name of one of the Mayans. Opie, Trager and Chibs would take care of the Mayan. Jax was included at Opie's request, which did not set well with Clay and Tig, but they had no valid reason to deny Opie.

Trager and Chibs rode in the van, Jax and Opie in Jax's truck. The intel they'd received from Trammell indicated where the Mayan was most likely to be selling, and they had no trouble finding him.

The dealer was plying his trade in too public a place, so they had to bide their time until he rode away. The two vehicles followed him to a warehouse area, where they were able to ambush him after a brief chase. When questioned by Opie, The Mayan denied killing Donna. Jax took Opie aside, reminding the widower that the longer they took to take the gang member out, the greater the risk to them all.

While Jax and Opie were talking, Tig sent Chibs after them, then he knelt by the Mayan and cut the dealer's bound wrists. The Mayan continued to plea his innocence. Tig knew he had to do something before the others returned and shot the Mayan in the face. As the three riders ran to him, Tig explained the Mayan had broken loose and tried for his gun, he had no choice but to shoot.

That satisfied Opie, who wanted no doubt of the rider's involvement. He fired one shot into the Mayan's head. To ensure the rival gang knew who caused the death, Opie then carved a large 'A' in a circle in the man's stomach.

Jax ordered the men to go back to Charming. He would take care of the body. Opie offered to stay and help, but he refused, citing Bobby's homecoming as the reason. In reality, Jax intended to remove any trace of the Sons' involvement in the killing.

After he and Chibs returned to town, Tig rode out to Charming Pawse to spend a little time with his wife. With the party for Bobby, he wouldn't be home 'til late - if at all - and he didn't have the luxury Clay had of having the better half working with him.

Cat was manning the store by herself. It was quiet, as there was a lull between the lunch and the after work and school crowd. "Hey!" she called out from behind the counter, where she was running the shop vac clearing the machines of grounds.

"Hey back," he replied, coming around the counter for a hug and kiss hello. "Think you can tear yourself away from here for a little bit?"

"Gee, I don't know," she replied teasingly. "It's awfully busy."

He looked about the nearly empty shop. There was only one customer, sitting and reading a book. The cats weren't even in their area. "Uh-huh," he replied dryly.

"Occupational hazard when school is in session. The kidlings know better than to try to sneak off campus to hang out here; I send them back and bar them for a week."

"Spoil sport," he nuzzled her neck, making her laugh. His beard tickled and it was the only ticklish spot she had. As if in agreement with his observation, the track 'I Want' sequed into 'Bitch' by Meredith Brooks on the sound system.

"Appropriate," he remarked.

"The kids claim that's my theme song," she laughed. "Can you wait for JR to come back? I sent him to lunch about 15 minutes ago, he's due back soon. Then I'll have some time to spare you."

"Wow! I'm honored."

"You should be," she replied, giving him the 'look'. Her attempt at intimidation was spoiled by the twinkle in her eye. "Want some coffee? Just brewed fresh a bit ago."

"Sure."

She handed over a mug filled with steaming fresh coffee. "It's a new flavor I'm trying. What do you think?"

He took a curious sniff. There was a hint of cinnamon and something else that he couldn't readily identify in the aroma. He took a sip, to be greeted with a taste like apple pie.

"What isthis shit?"

"Apple pie flavored coffee. Not shit. People often have pie and coffee, so why not have a coffee with that flavor? I'm considering offering flavored beans for sale."

He rolled his eyes in supplication to the heavens. He preferred regular, black coffee. He tried another taste. It really wasn't bad, if a person liked that kind of thing.

"So?"

"It tastes like apple pie with coffee," he replied, his expression angelic.

"And?" She drummed her fingers impatiently on the counter.

"It doesn't taste like shit."

She sighed. "Coming from you, I'll take that as a five star rating. Can't see using it as a selling point, though it is quite descriptive."

JR entered the store which allowed Alex to finish his coffee in peace. Cat explained to her employee that he would be holding the fort until Pete arrived. "Think you can handle the masses?"

"I'll sure try, boss."

"Everybody's a frackin' comedian these days!" Taking Alex's arm, they left through the back door for the house. "I heard from Gemma that Bobby's getting released today," she added as they walked across the back yard.

"Yeah, the club's having a big bash to welcome him home," he replied. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about."

"This is gonna be one of those all nighters, isn't it?"

He nodded.

"Well, you told me that could happen. I don't have a problem with it, if that's what you're not asking."

"Just as long as what happens in SAMCRO stays in SAMCRO," he replied, recalling the first time she'd used that line with him. Most women didn't like to think that her man might get something on the side, much less approve of it. Cat had told him she knew he might need something she couldn't give, and if he sought it elsewhere, not to tell. Since their marriage, he hadn't felt the need, especially after their memorable induction into the 'Mile High Club'.

"Has anyone heard from Opie lately?"

"He got back today. He'll probably be at the party tonight."

"Give him my best, will ya?"

He gazed down at her. "You're not coming?"

She shook her head. "Unless it's a requirement in my being your 'old lady', I'd really rather not. The reunion reminded me why I don't like big parties. Too many people, the music's too loud, too much booze, and in this case, too much gropin' and grabbin' goin' on for my taste."

"It's not a requirement, babe. Just thought you might want to say hello."

She smiled dryly. "I'm sure there will be plenty of time for that. Bobby's been in stir for two months, and has other things on his mind than sayin' a hearty 'hello' to yours truly. You enjoy yourself."

When he returned to Teller Morrow, the party was already getting started, though the guest of honor hadn't appeared. He reported in to Clay about the Mayan killing. While not everything went as smooth as it could've, the deed was done and Opie felt he had revenged Donna.

Clay wasn't sure that it was a good idea to have Jax take care of the body. But there was nothing that Tig could've done, as Jax outranked him in the hierarchy. Clay hoped it wouldn't come back to bite either of them in the ass.

The guest of honor was finally delivered by Agent Stahl. Bobby climbed from the back of the government issued Ford, happy to be back home. His SAMCRO vest was returned to him and he was given a beer. There were hugs all around.

Night fell and the party was in full swing as a Mercdes Benz sedan pulled into the drive. Four men got out, one wearing an expensive suit, the others in not so expensive attire. One had a buzz hair cut, bushy eyebrows and an intense stare. An upside down peace symbol was tattooed on his neck. The suit had grey hair, not as severely cut as his associates. The other two men also had military style buzz haircuts, but stayed behind the suit and 'bushy brows'.

Clay and Tig walked up to the quartet, while other Sons milled around close by. "Garage is closed," Clay called.

The suit stated they weren't there for car repair, and introduced himself as Ethan Zobelle. He offered Clay a box of cigars, which he refused. Zobelle lay the box at Clay's feet, explaining he would be opening a cigar shop in town shortly.

The man in the white shirt handed a business card to Clay. The card read 'League of American Nationals'.

Zobelle then stated he was putting SAMCRO on notice that their days of selling guns to black and Hispanic gangs was at an end.

That was all Tig needed to hear. He pulled out his pistol, which he held to his side with the barrel pointing down. He didn't like anyone telling him what he could and couldn't do.

Zobelle wasn't intimidated by the sight of the gun. He didn't think Trager would shoot him in front of witnesses, and said so. Chibs, Opie, Juice and other club members moved closer to the group, as it looked like there could be trouble.

Clay walked around the quartet, looked over the car, and then told Zobelle off. He and his comrades returned to their car, laughing at Clay. Tig followed the vehicle to the gate as it backed away, his pistol still drawn and ready.

Gemma walked over to her husband, asked what the scenario had been about. Clay indicated the quartet were friends of Darby's, the leader of the Nords and nothing to worry about. She left the party a little later, leaving the men to have their fun.

Jax returned from Oakland, looking tired from his endeavors. He greeted Bobby, removing him from his excursion in 'red bush mountain'. Bobby was already three sheets to the wind and loving every minute of it.

Jax then went around greeting other club members. He saluted Clay across the room with his beer bottle. An indication that the deed was completed.

As the evening wore on, Clay sat at a picnic table, smoking and thinking. Tig came up to join him, holding a beer. The men hadn't really talked much since Tig's return from Indiana. He reported that Bobby was sound asleep at the summit of 'red bush mountain'. The two laughed and then fell silent for a moment. Tig slapped Clay on the shoulder, assuring him they were going to get over the incident. He had benefitted from the week away and believed he had put the 'mistake' behind him. Tig turned his attention back to his beer. Clay just sat smoking his cigar.

The party went on through the night and into the wee small hours of the morning. Clay crashed in one of the spare rooms above the clubhouse. Other bikers and strippers found places to crash in all manner of undress and positions.

Tig fell asleep on top of the bar. One of the strippers had climbed up on top of him, her boots on either side of his head and her head in his lap. He was awakened by the sound of a phone ringing. It wasn't the two way as it was turned off. It was the prepaid and Cat didn't have that number.

He fumbled in his pocket, pulled out the prepaid and barked into it. He could barely breathe from the weight on top of him and his head felt fuzzy. Alvarez, head of the Mayan club, was on the other end of the line, demanding to speak with Clay.

"Yeah, just a minute," Tig replied, reaching up to push aside the boot at his left ear. The stripper fell to the floor. 'Oops,' he thought. He looked over the bar at the shapely ass pointing towards him. 'That was in my face? Hope to hell she didn't eat the beans!' He struggled for something to say, and muttered "I love you," before staggering away from the bar.

He trudged upstairs, knocked on the door to the room Clay was sleeping in. When he didn't get an answer he opened the door to find his friend laying face down and sound asleep. Trager placed his foot on the bed and shook it, trying to get Clay's attention. When Clay didn't move, he nudged Clay with his boot and received a muffled complaint.

He handed the prepaid cell to Clay, advising him it was Alvarez, and walked over to a nearby table. He checked the two way, but there were no messages.

Clay and Alvarez spoke briefly. The conversation wasn't very long and ended with the prepaid sailing across the room. Clay was pissed, and it wasn't even dawn. That was not good.

Tig was astonished to learn the dead Mayan had been made to look as though the One Niners had killed him. It had to be Jax's doing. He'd seen Opie carve that 'A' in the Mayan's gut! He knew then that Jax had sent them all away in order to cover up the Son's involvement in the Mayans murder. There was nothing that could be done about it now. Alvarez wanted guns and payback from the One Niners. They had a mess to clean up.

Tig retrieved the pre paid, relieved to see that it wasn't destroyed, and dialed Laroy's number. After getting yelled at for waking the drug dealer so early, he arranged a meeting to be held at a gas station later that morning just outside of town.

Tig had a rotten headache and needed caffeine. The meeting with Laroy was hours away, he asked if there might be time to catch some coffee at the shop.

"Yeah, I could do with a jolt myself," Clay remarked. "We'll check in with your wife, get some joe. But don't plan on getting too comfortable."

It was still hours before the coffeehouse was due to open. The two opted to get a couple more hours sleep. Instead of returning to the bar, Tig found an unused room and crashed there. They slept past the busy hours for the coffeehouse and awoke to terribly painful headaches.

The two bikers strode inside the shop, wincing when the bell over the door cheerfully announced their arrival. It was just after the morning rush and with the exception of the stereo, the shop was quiet.

"I'd like to throttle that damn bell," Tig growled, pinching his nose with one hand as they walked to the counter.

Cat glanced up at the sound of the bell and couldn't keep from laughing. "I don't believe I've seen a more sorry pair of scruffy lookin' nerf herders in my life!" she exclaimed, pouring two fresh mugs of black coffee.

"Don't laugh, woman. We're in serious pain," Tig admonished, both hands cradling the ceramic mug.

"Poor babies!" Her voice held just a touch of sarcasm as she reached under the counter and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. She took pity on them and opened the child proof cap for them.

The men gratefully accepted the medicine, washing it down with her brew. To Trager's relief, it was just plain coffee. He didn't think he could handle apple pie flavored coffee this early.

"Would either of you like something to eat with your coffee?" she asked. She didn't bother inquiring after Chibs, who hadn't come in for his ritual tea and scone. If her husband and his friend were any indication, the party had been a wild one. Chibs was probably still 'sleeping it off'.

The two men selected a muffin and stumbled to a corner where they could drink their coffee and allow the aspirin to work. Cat poured herself a cup and sat on the arm of Alex's chair, lightly stroking his hair. He leaned his head against her shoulder and closed his eyes. "I take it Bobby had a proper 'welcome home," she sipped her coffee, an innocent expression on her face.

"Don't tell her anything," Alex warned. "She doesn't like loud parties, so she can't have any vicarious knowledge of what went on."

"Somebody's been studyin' the thesaurus!" she laughed in that impish way of hers that he loved.

His hand moved to her leg and squeezed it. "You know you'll pay for that later, woman."

"Promises, promises. So what's up to have you two leavin' all those luscious beauties and the booze? Certainly not a sudden hankerin' for my coffee! Though I do appreciate a mornin' visit from two handsome lookin' men!"

Despite the pounding in his head, Clay smiled at Cat's charm. Being born and raised in Southern Indiana, her low voice held a hint of Dixie, something seldom heard in California.

"Club business, babe," Alex replied. "We can't stay long. Duty before pleasure."

"Such dedication! Makes my little ol' heart go pitter pat!" she fanned her hand over face, pretending to be an old time Southern belle with the vapors.

Alex groaned. She was in rare form today. "See what I have to put with?"

"It's a beautiful thing," Clay replied, enjoying the by play between the two. He and Gemma were the only people in Charming who knew they were married. Cat accepted knowing whatever Tig felt she needed to know about the club. She knew there was a dark side, but for her own reasons preferred not to be in the thick of it. It was a delicate balancing act, but it had served them well so far, including the night of 'the mistake'. Theirs was a unique relationship; she was as decent and caring as Tig could be cold and ruthless. Clay drained the coffee and held out his cup for a refill.

She had brought the thermal carafe with her, and poured a refill for both men. The coffee was fresh brewed and tasted like ambrosia to them. Between the caffeine and the aspirin, the alcohol fog in their heads was lifting.

"That's good stuff, Lady Cat," Clay offered, using the title Chibs had bestowed on her.

"Yeah, babe. Excellent brew."

"You're both welcome," Her hand was still stroking Alex's hair, the other holding her cup. They fell into a companionable silence, sipping coffee and listening to the stereo. Cat was in a countrified mood; Alabama's greatest hits had been on the stereo ending with 'There's a Fire in the Night'. Now T G Shepherd was singing about how 'I loved 'Em Everyone'.

Clay drained his third cup and stood up, testing his headache. To his relief, the pounding had stopped. There was still a little time before the scheduled meeting with Laroy, and he could tell when three was a crowd.

"Tig, take another few minutes with your lady. I'll meet you outside town. Lady Cat, thanks for the coffee, the food and the aspirin. You're a lifesaver!"

"You said it, brother!"

Clay laid a hand on her shoulder and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"You're welcome, Clay. See ya around."

"Be there in a few," Trager added. The bell chimed as Clay opened the door and departed. The bell wasn't as annoying to him as it had been earlier.

As soon as the door closed behind Clay, Alex grabbed her hand and pulled her into his lap. Her legs were dangling over one arm and her head rested against his shoulder. Bending down, he kissed her. "I love Clay, but I thought he'd never get the hint," he growled. "Morning, wife."

She smiled up at him. "Good mornin', husband. I take it your headache is better now?"

"Much, babe. I missed you last night."

She snorted. "Yeah, right. With all those young strippers bouncin' around?"

"They may be young, but they have nothing on you." He kissed her again, regretting he didn't have more time to spend with her.

"So you think you might remember the way home sometime today?"

"I should be able to find my way. You didn't call."

"You were at a club function, love. There was no reason for me to check on you. Must've been quite a blast, you haven't looked that bedraggled in ages."

"It was. Bobby enjoyed himself. The rest stays in SAMCRO."

"Speaking of which, you're gonna have to get movin' if you're gonna catch up with Clay." She scrambled out of his lap so he could get up.

He stood, stretched, and drained his coffee cup. "How's your Dad?"

"Yesterday was one of his bad days."

"I'm sorry," he opened his arms in invitation and she stepped into them, laying her head on his chest and encircling his waist with her arms. She could smell stale sweat, smoke, and booze, but she didn't mind. It was, with the exception of the sweat, his scent, and it was comforting.

"You know I'd stay around longer if I could."

"I know, love. But duty calls, and Clay's waitin' on you." She accepted his ardent kiss, a promise that he'd return to her soon. "I'll see ya when I see ya."

He kissed her one more time before heading for the door. "I'll see you tonight."

The two riders met up at the gas station and grocery at the edge of town. They were early for the meeting. The coffee and the food had done them both a world of good. As they waited, Rosen, the club attorney, phoned Clay.

A black Mercedes pulled up to the pumps. Laroy got out, his Sergeant at Arms followed. The men discussed the Mayan killing and that the gang would be needing guns. Clay agreed to supply them for a price, and set a delivery for later that evening. They were unaware that someone was taking pictures and monitoring their conversation.

Chief Unser drove up as the men concluded their business. The black Mercedes pulled away. Unser reported to the Sons that a car needed a tow. Tig, already peeved over being delayed in getting home that night, told him to call the garage.

"It's Gemma's Caddy," Unser replied.

That news upset Clay. Unser told him Gemma was at the hospital with Tara and she wasn't seriously hurt. The two sped off in the direction of the hospital. Unser watched them leave, his heart heavy because he couldn't tell Clay what had really happened to his wife.

The man that had been watching the meeting and taking pictures drove away after the riders left. He was stocky, Caucasian, with a buzz hair cut, bushy brows, and an upside down peace symbol tattooed on his neck. That same man had been responsible for gang raping Gemma the night before.

The bikers reached the hospital to learn that Gemma was still being examined and treated. Tig put in a call to the club, then called his wife to tell her the news.

"Is Gemma ok?" Cat inquired.

"Unser said she is, but Clay's pretty worried. I'm gonna be late tonight. More club business. If I can get away for awhile later today, I will."

"It's ok, love. Be safe. Tell Clay I'm keepin' good thoughts for Gemma."

The remainder of the MC arrived by the time he hung up. Bobby looked pretty bad, as if he'd been rode hard and put up wet. He lay on a gurney, moaning and groaning. Jax was the only one who hadn't appeared. That was strange as Gemma was his mother, but nothing Jax did surprised Tig any more.

Tara came out of a treatment room just as Jax arrived. She spoke with both Jax and Clay before moving forward to assure the club that Gemma was fine, just needed to some further tests before Clay could see her.

Trager saw Clay confront Jax for a few moments, presumably about the Mayan. It wasn't a long discussion. Clay was obviously relieved about Gemma, and the others relaxed a bit, but the calm didn't last long.

Unser came through and announced that LuAnn's studio had just been raided by the Feds again. This was some kind of asset seizure; anything and everything of any value was being seized.

'Geeze," Tig thought. 'When it rains, it pours around here!'

Another disagreement arose between Clay and Jax regarding who would handle what. The call from Rosen before the meet was a request from Big Otto to talk to someone within SAMCRO, apparently it had to do with LuAnn and the studio.

Clay announced that Tig and Opie would handle prepping the guns for the One Niners. Jax stated he and the others would check on the studio situation and he would see Otto on his own. Clay didn't look happy about that, but his mind was on Gemma.


Tig and Opie worked quickly to put the AKs together for delivery. One bag of guns was completed, and they were working on the last few. If all went well, Trager would be able to get a few hours in with his old lady. It was the first time he'd had been alone with Opie since the 'mistake'. Being around Opie was damn difficult.

While they worked, Tig asked how Ope and the family were handling their loss. Ope talked about how he dreamed of being back in prison, would wake up relieved to be home, only to realize he was alone.

Tig didn't know what to say. He wanted to try to relate, but he'd never experienced a loss like Opie's. Cat knew. She had shared some, but not all there was to tell of Bill's murder. Not many people knew she had been widowed, but she had shared that with Opie in a gesture of support and caring.

Wanting to let Opie know he wasn't alone, and someone understood, Tig awkwardly recounted how he'd lost a girl once. It had happened long before he joined the club. He'd spilled his bike on the interstate, the girl slid into oncoming traffic and was run over. She was pregnant at the time and he'd almost loved the girl. It didn't seem to help.

Once the guns were prepped and packed, Tig headed home. After being with Opie, he wanted and needed a little time with his own wife.

He was relieved to find the PT and the Yamaha parked in the drive. He entered the house to hear the stereo playing a tape of selected music she liked from the 80's, such as 'Lost Boys and Golden Girls' , 'Self Control' , 'The Other Side of Life' , and 'I Need a Hero'.

He found her in the recliner. Misty was curled up in her lap. Cat's legs were curled under her and a book had fallen on the floor. Both human and feline were sound asleep. He wasn't sure who was purring the loudest.

He sat on the floor next to the recliner, watching her sleep. 'Does she know how beautiful she really is?' he asked himself. "Yeah, she's older than the strippers and crow eaters, so what? She has qualities they don't have and probably never will.' Life and experience gave her wisdom they didn't have. Cat possessed a giving heart and soul, a strong will to make things happen they could only wish to possess. 'She makes me feel complete.'

He reached out to stroke her hair. Though she kept it short and there was more salt than pepper to the color, it always felt like silk to him.

She opened her eyes and smiled at him. "Hey!"

"Hey, back."

"Welcome home, stranger," she added, reaching a hand up to caress his cheek.

He kissed her palm, grabbed her hand and held it tightly. "It's good to be home for awhile. What smells so good?"

"Just a roast in the slow cooker. I started it this mornin' so it should be ready if you're hungry."

"I am. Not that kind, though."

She gazed over the rim of her glasses at him. "All that opportunity last night, and you're comin' home to little ol' me?"

He shrugged, trying to appear non-chalant about it. The more time he spent with her, the less interested he was in the more deviant aspects of sex for which he'd been legendary and for seeking other partners. "You spoil me, woman."

She petted Misty, picked up the sleeping cat and put her in the chair. Taking Alex by the hand, she silently led him to the bedroom. By the time they were ready to eat, the roast was definitely done and tender. He didn't mention the Fed raid on the studio, but did ask about her father.

"You said this morning he didn't do so well yesterday" he reminded her.

"Yeah," she sighed. "Some days are better than others. Between being a 30 year cancer survivor and Mom's Alzheimer's, I wonder how he can stay so positive. I'd be freakin'."

"No, you wouldn't. You're too tough, and I wouldn't let you," he replied.

"Daddy sent his greetings, by the way."

"I sometimes wonder if your Dad would be so decent to me if he knew what I really do," he mused.

"You mean you're not a mechanic and part time entrepreneur?" She asked incredulously.

"You know what I mean. I'm sure he wouldn't be happy to know his little girl is hooked up with an outlaw."

She grinned at that thought. "He'd accept you, as long as you were taking care of me. Course, he'd work hard at getting you to see the error of your ways."

"He seems to like me. It makes me less intimated by him."

"I never thought you could be intimidated! He accepts you because I chose you. He respects a man who works hard to make a living. He did grow up on a farm, so he knows all about hard work. And you do work hard."

"Speaking of work, why are you branching out into flavored coffee? I think what you sell is perfectly fine."

She accepted his sudden change of subject without protest. Despite all their time together and her family's obvious acceptance of him, he still wasn't absolutely certain of his position with her father. It was just one of those things that would be resolved in its' own time.

"If you were my only customer, love, then one type of coffee would be fine. Just because I've got the only coffeehouse in town doesn't mean I can rest on my laurels."

The business was all Cat's. He had no financial stake in it. His interest was a desire for her to be successful. "Seems like your laurels are just fine," he joked with his best lecherous grin.

"Insatiable beast!" She flipped a towel at him. "It's a figure of speech!" Her expression turned serious as she added, "If I want to stay successful, it's important to keep the customers interested. That's why I'm trying out the flavored coffees."

"What makes you think it'll catch on?"

She told him of a friend back in Indiana named BJ, whose shop had inspired hers. BJ not only roasted her own beans, but offered different flavored coffees for sale. The flavored beans had been well received by her customers.

"BJ would offer Black Forest Cake and Blueberry Cinnamon Strudel one month, then something else the next, plus seasonal flavors for the holidays; Hallowe'en, Christmas and the like." She described the research she'd done on the flavoring process that BJ had emailed. Because she did her own roasting, the flavoring wouldn't be that difficult to do in house. "To go along with the flavored beans, I plan to add limited edition lattes and cappucinos to the drink menu."

It didn't surprise him that she'd already put in a lot of research into the project. It was the same preparation and research that made the shop possible and profitable. The amount of work involved, however, was another matter. "Sounds a little ambitious. You're not taking on too much extra work are you?"

She shook her head. "Not if I train the staff. I might even be hiring another youngster and promote Pete to full time to help Anna."

"That's a good idea. He's a good kid and pretty loyal to you. He deserves it."

"I'm glad you approve, love."

She put the last rinsed dish in the dishwasher and headed to the office. "C'mon. I'd like to show you something." She had a program loaded on the computer when he joined her. She had pulled the rocker up next to the computer desk for him.

"This is a record of how the store's done since it started. I've been lucky to have good months and make a profit. Not enough to buy a tropical island retreat, but enough to keep the utilities on."

He knew better than that, but didn't bother to argue the point.

She switched programs to show him the next venture for the store. "I'm thinkin' of addin' a line of merchandise. T-shirts are a possibility, and people have asked about buyin' the mugs."

"What's stopping you?"

She sighed. "I'm just not sure about gettin' into merchandise. Order too much and you have stock sittin' around. Order too little and you have unhappy campers. I just need to do a little more research. The place that makes the paper cups can do the mugs, so that's not a problem."

"If people are asking for mugs then there's interest. Did that place make the motorcycle cups?"

"No. That's all my handiwork. There's no place set up to do that kind of production on a mass basis without it being expensive." She cast an impish smile at him. "I'm glad most of y'all don't get to go drinks. It was hard enough just to keep up with you, much less the whole club."

"I didn't know, babe. I thought ordering those drinks to go was helping you, not making more work," He carressed her cheek in apology.

"It's ok, love. You didn't know, and at the time, I wasn't about to make a fuss. I'd say it worked out purrfectly."

"I hope you've patented your idea. If it ever catches on, you'll make a mint."

"It's patented, but I've not been able to improve on it. It's another one of those projects that fills the time when you're not here."

"Ouch! Point taken."

She squeezed the hand holding hers. "Sorry, love. That barb wasn't intentional. It just slipped out."

"Nice to know I'm missed," he replied, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "Just don't get to pining away too much."

"That's the reason for the projects, love. That and Facebook." She shut down the computer and leaned back in the chair.

He turned the chair slightly so that she was facing him. There was nothing normal about their lifestyle, normal being defined as the 9-5 routine. A lot of women wouldn't put up with it but she accepted it as a fact of life. Sometimes he wondered why she did so. For the moment, he wasn't sure why she was telling him so much about her plans for the coffeehouse. "I don't get it, why tell me all this? It's none of my business."

"I've been thinkin' about some things, and wondered if the club would be interested in being a partner. You said y'all are gonna take a half interest in LuAnn's studio. Mine is an up and running business that would require no investment. I was thinking about making it a 30/70 split. It would look good to the Feds."

Alex had mentioned the partnership with Caracara to Cat as a courtesy to her. He was aware of her ambivalence about porn, and didn't want it to be an issue between them. He'd been surprised when Cat didn't object. She'd explained that Bill's video store had rented and sold porn videos, so she knew there was a market for it. It made sense to her that the Sons needed a legitimate business outlet to cover their not so legitimate deals. What was more logical for an outlaw MC than porn?

The partnership idea had put Clay and Jax at loggerheads again. The other members has been in favor of the idea, it was porn and pussy, which they all liked. It was a good legit cover business to keep the Feds at bay.

She preferred to avoid it, attributing it to the many nights she'd spent processing porn videos for Bill. The pictures on the boxes had turned her off for life as they turned her stomach. The one and only time she'd viewed a porn video with the junkie boyfriend, the violence in it gave her nightmares for a week.

Alex considered her offer. It definitely had merit. Charming Pawse was as legit and above board as a business could be. The Feds definitely wouldn't have reason to raid a coffeehouse! Even 30% of profits with no capital investment up front could be worth much to the MC. "I can't make that decision alone. I'll take it to the club for a vote. Why would you want to give up any part of your business to us?

"I'm not blind and deaf. The Feds cut into your less legitimate operations and y'all need money. Is there some outlaw code that says you can only make money on crime and porn?"

Alex grinned and shook his head. "Not that I know of, though coffee doesn't have the appeal to the guys that porn has. You do realize that you won't just be giving me a piece of the shop, but the entire club."

"I know. Course, you already have a part of the business being my better half. Just let me know when you want to present it to the guys, and I'll put together the information that should help sway them."

He stood up and drew her to him. Her arms went around his waist and she rested her head against his chest. He held her close. "You still talk to your radio friends on that Facebook page?"

"Yup. It's one of the things that keeps me from pining for you. They send their regards to you, including the Frost."

He growled at her, nuzzling her neck.

"Be safe tonight, love."

"I always am. Don't wait up."

"I never do."

His hands moved to clasp either side of her face. He bent his head to hers, kissing her in that way that left her weak. Then he turned and walked out the door.


The meet to deliver the guns to the One Niners started out all right, as money and guns were examined and exchanged. The next thing anyone knew, shots blazed out as the Mayans attacked. Bobby Elvis took a bullet to the shoulder while one of the One Niners got shot in the leg. Bullets flew as Sons and One Niners rushed for cover, leaving the bags of guns on the ground behind the van.

The Mayans drove toward the van in a Ford pickup, still shooting at the two clubs. One Mayan grabbed both gun bags, tossing them into the truck bed.

Clay grabbed the envelope of money from Tig's back pocket and threw it back to Laroy. Two men were down, one from each Club. There was no time to worry about retrieving the guns.

Opie walked out from behind a dumpster, emptying his gun into the Mayan truck. It was a wonder that he didn't get killed, but no bullet struck him. The Mayans sped away; Opie's bullets hit one of the rival gang members.

The One Niner's departed while Bobby was loaded into the back of the van. Opie climbed onto his ride and took off, never explaining his actions. The van and riders raced back to the SOA clubhouse.

Clay put in a call to Tara, advising her they had a medical emergency and needed her help. She had become their unofficial doctor after Cameron Hayes had been shot. They couldn't run the risk of taking Bobby to the hospital for treatment as gunshot wounds were generally reported to the police.

Tara had spent much of the day dealing with Gemma's trauma, and keeping the true nature of her injuries from the club. Gemma didn't want Clay and Jax told that she'd been gang raped, the news would destroy Clay.

Gemma and Neda, Abel's nanny, had returned to Jax's house earlier that afternoon. When Tara returned to the house she found Gemma in Abel's bedroom. Gemma had fallen asleep in the rocker next to the crib. Gemma decided to go with Tara when she learned that there was a medical emergency at the club. She hadn't seen Clay or Jax since that brief interlude with Clay at the hospital. She needed to be with her family. Neda agreed to wait with the baby until the women returned.

Bobby was bleeding heavily, but the bullet had gone straight through his shoulder. Tara and Half Sack worked to patch him up while the others stood around watching.

Jax walked in from meeting with LuAnn at the warehouse, where he presented her with the keys and told her she could use it for her studio. That was also when he announced the club was becoming a 50% partner.

Besides the raid by the Feds, LuAnn had been having trouble from a slime-ball porn producer named Georgie Caruso. The producer had been harassing LuAnn's talent in order to get them to work for him. The MC had thought that by roughing him up – and Bobby's puking on Georgie's bodyguard - he'd leave LuAnn's talent alone. Georgie had one of LuAnn's girls, Lyla, beaten in retaliation, so the Sons had to go back to emphasize their message with a little extra muscle.

Jax reached out to his mom, only for Gemma to recoil slight, which caught Tig's attention. Something about Gemma's behavior nagged at him. She seemed more nervous than an auto accident victim should be. Tig had never seen her flinch from her son before.

Clay stepped out of the chapel and called Jax in for a private confab. Clay was going to lay down the law about the dead Mayan and the botched gun delivery.

As Gemma walked away, Tig realized the way she was walking was exactly the same gait Cat had the morning after the 'mistake'. No auto accident would result in making a woman walk that way, he surmised. This was something that would bear watching. With Bobby out of danger, he wasn't needed any longer. He decided to call it a night and go home.


The house was quiet, Cat had left the light on for him in the front room as usual. She'd already retired, and the cats were with her. The tape player had her favorite Tim Curry music on it. She had all his albums on vinyl and had copied her favorite songs to cassette. A cut from the 'Read My Lips' album, a cover of "Anyone Who Had a Heart' was playing. It was an old Burt Bacharach tune from the 60's. Alex liked the actor's cover of the song, even if Curry had been involved in that movie.

He sat in the chair near the bed, watching her sleep. Out of concern for her light sensitivity, he'd replaced the lamp on his night stand with a smaller lamp which was more like a nightlight. Though he could see well in the dark, she insisted on leaving a light on for him. The soft light made her appear more desirable to him than ever.

He undressed and slid between the sheets, moving up close to her. Despite nearly being killed that night, he stifled the pressing need to possess her that always arose after a FUBAR.

He'd been very careful with her ever since the night of the 'mistake'. Except for the argument they had the morning after the incident, she had never mentioned it. He still felt terrible over the savage way he'd taken her that night. As stealthy as he was about getting into the bed, she sensed his presence. Her hand reached behind her to draw his arm around her.

"Hey," she breathed.

"Hey back," he replied, nuzzling the back of her neck. "You didn't have to wake up."

"I wanted to. Missed you. Glad you're home."

"Same here."

She turned so that she faced him. "Everything go ok?"

"Yeah."

She gazed intently at him, but without her glasses, she couldn't see very well. She didn't have to see to know that something had gone wrong, she could tell it from his tone of voice. She also knew why he was holding back.

The cassette player had moved from the Bacharach tune to one called 'SOS' The words were certainly reflective of their situation. She wrapped her arms around his waist and suddenly turned onto her back, maneuvering him on top of her before he could resist.

'Damn Tai Chi. She caught me off guard!' he thought. The fact that he slept in the au naturel only added to his lack of defense. His body further betrayed him by rising to the occasion.

She smirked just a bit. "The spirit might not be willing, but the flesh sure seems to have a mind of its' own!"

"Baby, I don't want to hurt you again," he protested, while his hands roved all over her awakening body.

"You won't. You never hurt me. I thought you'd gotten over that on our flight home. Now, are you goin' to talk, or act?"

The message she was sending via the music, the movement of her body, and the trust and love in her eyes was all the invitation he needed.