A/N: Hey guys - I've been going through and editing some of my old fics and this got a little bit of an overhaul. Nothing major in terms of plot, just some tweaking. The rest of the series is in the process of getting the same treatment! Thanks to everyone who's following Koz and Tasha's journey!
"Ten on ten," Clay said, his face stern as he looked around the room. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you we need our top guys on this – who knows what shit Weston'll try to pull. Of course we'll have all our bases covered too, but if it comes down to bare knuckles ... It's us or them, someone ain't walking away."
Taking a moment to light a cigar and to let the weight of his words sink in, the MC president flicked his Zippo closed. "So ... that said, anyone need or want out? If you ain't down with this one hundred percent, you ain't no good to me. This is no time to be trying to save face – this is about walking out of this with the same number we walked in with."
No one spoke. His men just traded glances and then fixed their gaze back to the head of the table.
"Good," Clay nodded. "Well, goes without saying me and Jax are in. That bastard's gotta learn you don't mess with family – Sam Crow or Teller-Morrow. And our sergeant's never one to miss a fight – Tig's also liaising with our back-up. So that leaves seven slots to fill."
"We've already discussed this, guys," Jax said, from the vice-president seat beside his step-father. "And if you agree, we decided Chibs, Opie, Juice and Bobby, you should all be in on this – you've all proved yourselves before when shit's gone bad. That leaves us down three ..."
"Sack," Clay said. "You've impressed in the ring – you up for this, kid?"
"Totally," the Prospect nodded, just about hiding the underlying pride at being considered. Recognising the chance for what it was.
"Now, this is where we had to play it clever," Clay warned. "Piney ... Listen, old man, I don't doubt you could knock a few heads with that oxygen tank of yours, but we need our strongest possible men – some of those assholes Weston can call on are animals. We're calling in support from Tacoma and the nomads."
"Happy? Kozik?" Jax said, glancing from the stoic nomad to the Tacoma sergeant-at-arms. "Can we count on you guys?"
"Any time, bro – any time."
"Koz, you sure about this, man?" Jax asked, his tone low, reluctant as he was to single out the spiky-haired blonde in front of everyone. But it had to be done. "Family's what's getting us into this in the first place – no one's gonna say a word if you can't -"
"I 'ppreciate the concern, buddy – but I'm in. Simple as."
"Then it's settled," Clay ruled. "We ride out tomorrow night, soon as it gets dark. Clear heads, boys – we're gonna need 'em."
"Yo, Koz, not headed home?"
"Nah, man – you heard the boss. Clear head and all that," he forced a smile, going outside for fresh air and a smoke.
Jax leaned against the nearest wall as he lit up too and regarded his friend with a tactful curiosity. He could remember the not-too-distant days when Kozik would have been out of the Teller-Morrow compound almost before the gavel hit the table, in his haste to get back to Tacoma. No matter what Clay or anyone else said.
"So how've ya been?" the vice-president asked, keeping his tone casual. "It's been a few weeks since we've seen you ..."
"Guess so," Kozik nodded. "Took a while for the dust to settle after ... everything."
"And Tasha, she doin' okay?"
"From what she tells me," came the eventual loaded reply.
"It's not too late to get her down here – we're going on lockdown until this shit is done. I know Weston's more likely to concentrate his efforts on Charming, but if you're worried ..."
"She'd never go for it, not right now."
Usually he knew better than to push, but Jax couldn't help but make one last try. "Listen, man, I know we got this beef with Weston, but after ... If you need to talk, I'm just sayin' ... we're all here. Any of us."
"One shit-storm at a time, dude," Kozik drawled, taking another drag on his cigarette. "One shit-storm at a time."
Left alone by the well-meaning mother charter vice-president, Kozik pulled out his cellphone and considered it, his broad shoulders slumping. No missed calls, no messages. It never used to be that way.
Scrolling through his contacts, he found the number he was after and made the call, only to get on the receiving end of an answerphone message. It was tempting to just hang up. But he couldn't.
"Hey, baby," he managed, trying to keep his tone upbeat as usual. "Not gonna make it back tonight – got a bit of extra business with the boys. So I guess I'll see you in a day or so. Stay safe." And then, not an afterthought, just a hesitation. "Love you."
He hung up, finished his cigarette and pitched the butt to the ground, stubbing it out under the toe of his heavy motorcycle boot.
Kozik knew the following night was going to be brutal. He was looking forward to the release.
Listening to the voicemail in the darkness, Tasha curled up beneath the covers and closed her eyes, a tear slipping from beneath her lashes.
It was the first time she could remember that he hadn't told her not to worry about him. Did he think she wouldn't? That she didn't care? Not that she could exactly blame him for that, but it couldn't have been further from the truth. She was just doing a lousy job of showing it.
Tracing her fingers lightly over the tattoo on her opposite wrist, the young woman turned onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. Trying to block out how empty the bed felt without him. Without the soft snores he always denied and the nights when he'd teasingly hog the covers and then offer to warm her up. His deliberately lecherous grin rarely failed to make her laugh.
It had been two years since he'd marked her as his. She remembered the good-natured abuse he'd taken from the guys for waiting so long after their initial chance meeting in Charming.
Kozik had made no pretence about his intentions. When she just about made it to the Teller-Morrow garage before her beat-up old car had given out on her, he could have tried impressing her with his skills as a mechanic. Since he wasn't actually on Clay's payroll though, and was a guy who believed in getting to the heart of an issue, he'd settled for a different tactic.
Hanging around the office, flirting shamelessly with her while she waited and leaving a distinctly unimpressed Tig to do the actual work. Well, he was the one picking up a paycheck after all.
It may not have been subtle – but it had worked.
He gave her a ride home when Tig declared the car on the critical list and caused quite the stir in her quiet little neighbourhood. Tasha was a high school teacher, a good girl – not an obvious candidate to hang around a biker gang.
So arriving at her front gate with her arms wrapped around a Son of Anarchy, wearing his helmet while he went without ... She'd practically been able to hear the curtains twitching.
Of course her students loved it. To them, she was fresh out of college, not a dinosaur, and popular. Nowadays, there was flat-out awe in their eyes when Kozik gave her a lift home. And he loved the attention, showing off his Harley to the boys and waving cheekily to the girls who were clearly crushing on him.
"Oh Koz ..." Tasha managed through her tears, replaying his message. She loved him too, of course she did. And she hated herself for not being able to tell him that.
She was hurting, but so was he. She knew that. But unlike her, he needed to keep a clear head – anything less was going to get him killed.
to be continued ...