A/N: Hey, guys - this is a quick sequel to my fic Casting Shadows, featuring Kozik as the main character. If you haven't read it, you don't have to - but you might need to stick with this until the next part for the background to become clearer. This is gonna be a short one - both in chapter length and as a fic - with only a couple more parts after this. I'd really love to know what you think!
They had a long way to go, he knew that. But they'd get there, he'd make sure of it – whatever it took. She meant too much for him to fail.
Leaving everything behind though, the club in particular, hadn't sat well with the Tacoma sergeant-at-arms. But he had to admit that the man he called boss had been right.
"Listen, man – you ain't much good to us with your head all over the fucking place anyway. And I mean that in the kindest possible way," Deacon added gruffly, a hand on his right-hand man's shoulder. "I know you've been keeping your shit together, but making do ain't right. Not over something like this. So you take your girl somewhere nice, you hear? Work on giving her that kid ..."
"But nothin'. I already talked to Clay and Quinn - Happy's gonna come in for us to cover, but your spot's yours again when you're ready. Any time. We ain't looking to get rid of you. You've just always had our backs ... now we got yours, brother."
Kozik had been taken aback by the talk from his usually stoic leader, but he had heard Clay in particular's influence in what had been said and that made more sense of it. Deacon was a good president, but things not directly linked to club business tended to get overlooked on his watch.
That said, it had been his remote log cabin that had been offered up as a getaway without a second thought.
"It ain't nothin' fancy," came the almost embarrassed expansion on the idea. "Used it as a hunting base myself, but it's beside this lake and I always thought an old lady might kinda like it. Not that I've ever been one to bother with all that romance shit ... You wanna take Tasha, it's yours."
Turned out it was exactly what they'd both needed. Time and space in just each other's company, away from the club and the rest of the world. Time to grieve for what they had lost and to hope for what was still to come. Time to hurt and time to heal. Together.
And they were getting there.
The sound of contorting metal ... The gunshots that rang out in the night, making fear twist through the pit of his stomach in a way nothing could when it was just himself he had to take care of ... Then the powerless horror of hearing her cries of pain, the wail of sirens ...
Some things could never be forgotten though, as well he knew.
He'd killed four men that night. Or was it five? That he couldn't remember so well – because he didn't care. Killing them hadn't cost him a thought and he knew he'd do it again in a heartbeat if he had to. He'd done worse shit in his time and with a lot less provocation. Those bastards had targeted his family. They were just lucky he'd made their deaths quick.
Every second of what had followed was still etched in painful clarity on his mind though.
The damp heat of his girlfriend's blood seeping through his shirt ... the terror in her eyes as he held her in his arms and lied to her, told her everything would be okay ... and the agony when the dark truth of it all was broken to them ...
Blowing cigarette smoke into the cool night air out of the corner of his mouth, Kozik didn't turn from his position on the small porch where he'd been leaning on the wooden railing, looking out over the darkness of the lake. What had been a beautiful day had faded into a clear-skied night, millions of tiny twinkling stars visible through the canopy of trees.
"Didn't mean to wake ya, honey."
"You didn't – I just woke up and you were already gone," the young woman shrugged, her bare feet padding across the cold wood as she came up behind him and laid her head gently against his tattooed back, her arms slipping around his waist. "You okay?"
He'd been different since ... then. Quieter, more serious. Not the loud, brash, man full of confidence and charisma who had so easily charmed her off her feet and into his bed back when they had first gotten involved. Not that it changed how she felt about him – or that she could blame him. She wasn't exactly the same person she had been back then either.
"I'm fine," he replied automatically, his shoulders slumping when he felt rather than heard her sigh. Honesty, that had been the deal. No more hiding how they were feeling from each other, no bottling everything up. They were in this together – for better or worse, to coin a phrase they had yet to use officially but which was no less apt for that. "Just couldn't sleep – guess that's what too much thinking does for ya."
Stubbing out his cigarette butt and shifting in her arms, Kozik managed a smile for his girlfriend as he lifted her easily up on to the railing to sit with her hands on his shoulders for balance as he stood in front of her. "I'm okay though – honest. And aren't I supposed to be the one looking after you, babe?"
"I can look after you too," she said softly, fingertips tracing the scar of a bullet wound a few inches below his collarbone. He'd been lucky, if you could call it that under the circumstances.
Her own scars hidden under the oversized t-shirt she had borrowed from him to sleep in, he touched a hand to her cheek and kissed her, tucking a stray lock of hair back behind her ear in a casual but affectionate gesture. "Being here got me thinking," he said, his voice unusually low. "How it'd be if it was just us all the time ..."
For a long moment, it was as if all the air disappeared leaving her unable to breathe. Mistaking it for what she had been fearing – him realising he wanted more than she might be able to give him.
"If I quit the club."