A.N. - I've been missing for a good long while now, as in over six months. *sorry* Life and a few medical emergencies did get in the way, but more than that I had huge problems with Jax in season 4. I had to get over that. And this is fanfic anyway, so if I have to pretend the "real Jax Teller" is the one that cruised through season 2, to get this fic finished, then that's what I have to do. Hopefully there are readers out there who are still interested in this "Season 3 fix" fic. I know it's not exactly new territoy.
It's so dumb it's taken me this long to update because I've had the outline and various scenes for the end of this story done for like a year, and yet every time I opened the word document, I was banging my head on the keyboard. I had to cut this chapter in half. The back half is the morning and it needs a little more polish. *sorry* Look for it in about a week.
As usual, thanks to Norrific for always being a good sounding board and giving me great feedback, even if what I'm sending you is a couple of jumbled paragraphs and an outline. And also, thanks to the readers who reviewed the story months after I last posted. That really got me on track with finishing the story, rather than letting it languish. My plan is to respond to all of the reviews I get from now on. You know, I didn't even realize that was an option for the longest time.
Sack's blood stain is gone, or at least mostly scrubbed away. Jax puts the solvents back in the garage, and despite wearing the rubber gloves, he washes all the way up to his elbows. Jax's neck and shoulders protest and ache as he moves, but it feels good too, like a job well done. If he knows his girl, Tara will bleach it again, or replace the flooring, but for now it's good enough. She'll have to press her nose against the tile to find any remnants.
He looks at the clock. He has a few more hours until Abel usually wakes up and a couple more after that before they need to be at the clubhouse for Gemma's breakfast. Not enough time. Not enough time at all. He rubs at the grit blurring his sight and stretches his back. Scrubbing the floor helped him focus in a way. It cleared his mind and allowed him to separate and laser in on the many obstacles in his path, running contingencies for tomorrow, planning for the future, and tucking a couple of small, painful, things away to look at later. A piece of him itches to talk to Clay and go over the plan again, because Lenny's connection to Putlova is so tenuous. Another piece of him wants to forget the critical importance of the next 24 hours. That piece of him wants to suck on the tender skin behind Tara's knees, and then fall into his bed and sleep for a thousand years.
Jax hit the lights and walks into the bedroom. Tara is curled up on her side in a puddle of moonlight. Her legs are pulled tight against her body, her pillow hugged close, and nothing about her looks peaceful or at rest. He ditches his boxers, lifts the sheet and slips into bed behind her. She always wakes a little bit when he moves around, pressing in closer and mumbling sleepily before drifting back off, but this time she startles and whips around, her hands coming up as if to fend him off.
"Oh… " She sighs, as she wakes fully and recognizes him, her body relaxing. Tara scoots towards him and smiles sheepishly. "Sorry, bad dream," She says by way of explanation.
"Wanna talk about it?" Jax asks her, pulling her against his side. He feels her shake her head against his shoulder as she slips one of her legs between his and gets comfortable.
"It's nothing," she says brushing his question aside.
"Tell me," He insists gently, seeking out her hand, holding it in his own and running his thumb across the tips of her short fingernails.
"Okay," she relents. "Abel was missing and I was on a pier and I was tied to one of those wooden posts. And the tide was coming in and it was washing up over the pier." Tara pauses for a second and takes a shaky breath. "And I don't how, but I knew the water was going to creep in and slowly cover my head."
He gives her hand a squeeze. Jax knows Tara's a strong chick. He wouldn't love her so much if she wasn't, but she really is spooked. He doesn't need Freud's help to interpret her nightmare, and he's going to have to leave her alone for awhile like this, to deal with the aftermath.
"You okay?" He asks and she nods her head. "You gonna stay okay, with me gone for awhile?" He feels her nod again but she presses even closer to him, and her voice is anxious when she speaks.
"I've been trying not to think too hard about it." Tara whispers. "How long do you think you'll serve?"
Jax tries to answer as honestly as possible. "Don't know for sure, but it won't be a long bid. They don't have as much on us as they think."
Tara steals her hand back from him and her fingers play lightly on his ribs, tapping and tracing lines as she digests the information. "But what are we going to do about Gemma? She's not looking at a short bid." She says and Jax stops breathing for a second. He was hoping Tara wouldn't connect those dots until after it was already done.
"We're not going to do anything." He reminds her. "You gotta let me handle Gemma's shit. I don't want you mixed up in it."
"Your bail hearing is the day after tomorrow. She's a fugitive. How can you handle that from the inside?"
"You gotta trust me. I'm taking care of my mother."
"But how?" Tara asks and Jax doesn't answer. He's a good liar and he knows it, but his heart isn't in it. He hopes silence will serve him better than lying, but Tara is a quick study, and he feels her pull away from him a little bit, and knows she's trying to read his face in the dark.
"What's going on tomorrow? Is there more to it than going after Jimmy? She asks and Jax clenches his jaw to stop himself from answering. Keeping Gemma, and now Tara, off the scent of this plan has been way fucking harder than it should be. "I'm right, aren't I? Come on Jax, you promised to tell me the truth."
Jax lets out a big sigh. "I can't tell you this. Not yet. The club's taking out Jimmy and I'm gonna make sure my mother never serves real time. I'm sorry babe, that's all I can tell you."
Tara leans up on her elbow to look down at him, her eyes catching the moonlight and gleaming with curiosity. "How long have you been planning this thing you can't tell me about?"
"Awhile," Jax answers automatically and is annoyed she got that much out of him.
"Jesus, when did you have the time?" Tara asks. "I have no idea how you do it, how you store all of this stuff." She moves the hair off of his face and brushes her knuckles over his forehead and temple. "How many compartments do you have in here?"
"Enough," he answers and smiles. Tara lies back down, gets comfortable, and runs her lips along his jaw line, making her way to his earlobe.
"And it's all happening tomorrow?" She murmurs into his ear.
"Tara, you have to trust me. I can't tell you about this." Jax says. He can hear a note of tired pleading in his voice as he tries to keep this last secret from her. Maybe she can hear it too, because she sighs, and brings her fingers up to play in the scruff under his chin, and she lets it go.
"Did Abel go down for you okay?" She asks, changing the subject.
"He's always good for me." Jax says and can't stop the pleased smile spreading across his face. He's proud Abel reaches out for him, that he lights up when Jax walks into the room, and it mean something to Jax that Abel wants him above anyone else.
"Yeah, he is." Tara agrees and a warm silence falls between them.
Abel's always been an easy kid. Jax hopes he'll stay easy, so Tara doesn't have to wrestle a screaming toddler while trying to feed the new baby. She's going to run out of hands and he won't be there to catch what falls. He won't be there to see what happens.
He won't be the one his kids reach out for.
Jax again feels like he's been kicked in the chest. He's been trying to shake this off, or tuck it away, all night. He can do the years. He's done them before, but he didn't have kids then. Of all the compartments Tara claims Jax has in his head for storing the bad shit, this one has rumbled and strained the loudest against its padlock. No matter where he shoves it or how far he throws it, it boomerangs back to the front of his mind. And at this point, he's too God damned tired to fight it.
"Fuck… I'm going to miss so much." Jax blows his breath out and feels his face crumpling. He brings the heel of his hand up to rub furiously at his wet eyes. "All of that early shit."
"Hey, baby it's going to be okay," Tara says. She strokes his hair and kisses his shoulder. His arm around her waist tightens even as he turns his head, hiding his eyes from her.
"No. It's not." Jax curls down until his head rests on Tara's belly. "They won't know me when I get out. I won't know them." He mutters and then he gives in to the urge to burrow into Tara and mourn his losses.
Tara folds and wraps herself around Jax, stroking his back and pressing her lips to every place her mouth can reach. She was wondering when this would hit him; this terrible aspect of his looming jail sentence and what it means for their very young family. Tara gives him a few moments to grieve before she tries to tug him back up towards her, and when he doesn't budge, she scoots down until they are face to face again. She pushes his hair back and kisses his brow and then does the same to both cheeks.
"Jax… Jax, baby you can't think about that right now." She whispers. Tara loves this part of Jax, the tender spots only she and Abel get to really see, but now is not the time to be soft or lost. Tara doesn't know what the club is doing tomorrow, but she's got a feeling soft will get him killed. She needs him strong and focused so he can come home to her. "We're going to be okay. I'm not going anywhere, I promise. We'll be up there visiting every week. They'll know you."
"Yeah… okay." Jax says, pulling away from her. Tara thinks he might need a little distance to collect himself. She gives him the space. He rolls onto his back and scrubs at his eyes again. When his breath calms down to occasional hitches, he rolls towards her and curls back down into her lap.
"Take lots of pictures, okay?" Jax says and he sounds like himself again.
"Of course." Tara assures him. She runs her hands along the smooth muscles of his torso, trying to commit every detail to memory. Her fingers seek out and trace the slightly raised edges of the ink on his back. She loves that she can feel a difference in the texture of his skin. Loves that she can feel the scar tissue under the design Jax has worked his entire life earning the right to wear on his body.
Skin is so fragile, Tara thinks. It will split like warm butter under the pressure of her scalpel, or a swinging slice from a piece of broken mirror. And sometimes it can't be repaired. Sometimes the damage is too great. Jax is smart and skilled, and has quick reflexes she envies, and Tara trusts him to take care of himself, and take care of her. There was no doubt in her mind that Jax would end Salazar when he walked unarmed through the door. But in still moments like this, it frightens her to realize he's not ten feet tall and made of iron. His body, his skin, is as fragile as everybody else's. One bullet, one blade, one bike spill could be the end of him, and Tara doesn't want to know what the world would look like without Jax in it.
"You got quiet." Jax murmurs against her stomach and it startles Tara out of her thoughts. "What are you thinking about?" He asks.
Jax has enough to deal with. Tara knows it's easier to split skin open and let the blood flow out, than it is to heal and knit the wounds back together. Even the ones the eye can't see, and maybe they've both spent a little too much time bleeding today. She already told him about her dream and she doesn't want to burden him any further with the dark path her mind is traveling. She needs to find a compartment of her own where she can shove all this stuff.
"Tell me about it. It's gotta be better than what's playing in my head." Jax prods, and Tara truly doubts that, but then he lays kisses along her rib cage and squeezes her tighter. "Distract me, babe."
"I was thinking about how much I'm going to miss you." Tara bluffs. It's not exactly a lie. She is going to miss this, miss him, so much. So many tiny things taken for granted: his smile, the dimples in his lower back, his callused hands, his shoulder blades under her nails, and how sweet his eyes are when she's an inch away from them.
"Oh yeah?" Jax asks and she can hear a smile in his voice.
"Yeah," Tara says. She tries to run her hands through his hair, but her fingers get caught in all of the tiny snarls. She feels further, finding the start of a dread behind one ear. She's never understood how his hair tangles so easily. It's all ripples and horns, and she knows if she hit the lights, it would be seriously defying every known law of gravity and physics. A laugh, the likes of which she hasn't felt in a month, skips up from her belly and escapes before she can reel it in.
"What?" He sounds confused, but like he's still smiling. He wants to be let in on the joke. Tara goes with it, chases the unexpected and gossamer bubbles of laughter, because it feels good and they both can use a little bit of distraction. They both need a little light in all the dark.
"Well… Your hair is amazing right now." Tara teases. "And of course I'm going to miss you. You're a hot piece of ass Teller." She grins widely and leans down to nibble at his shoulder.
"Eh, tell me something I don't know." Jax shrugs against her.
"See, but it's your humility that really sets you apart from other men." Tara shoots back.
"You wouldn't know what to do with a humble man." He snorts and shakes his head.
"You're right, I wouldn't know. I've never met one." Tara whispers against the top of his head and Jax's low sleepy chuckle floats up into the air.
"I love you so much." He mumbles, and when he kisses her ribs again, his mouth is slow and tired.
"I love you too." Tara smiles to herself and continues to rub his back. She listens until his breathing evens out before she lays her head down, wrapping herself around Jax, and closes her eyes.
Even though they fall asleep twisted together like a human yin yang, Tara wakes up pulled against Jax's side, the way she's always woken up with him. Her dreams fade but they leave behind an impression, a fingerprint, and it is warm and bathed in golden sunlight. A glimpse of her and Jax young and running through the woods, laughing, climbing trees, and tackling each other. Tara doesn't know if it really happened. Can't sort the floating dream from her memories, not yet, but it brings a smile to her lips before she fully wakes. She shifts to get more comfortable and Jax's arms move with her, rubbing along her skin and hugging her closer.
Oh, he's awake too, she realizes. Tara opens her eyes.