Chapter One: This life

Juice hadn't thought that he could discover something about himself that was worse than who his father had been. To even think like that made him feel slightly disgusted with himself, because what was wrong with being black? But there were rules and traditions and the club stuck to them. Chibs might have treated the news about his father's race with a nonchalance that had been sincere, but this was different. This was so different that Juice didn't know what to do. He was still stuck at trying to convince himself that it was a choice.

Not like his roots at all. This was inside him, like a switch he could flip and it would be gone. So, no one would ever have to find out. No one would ever have to know. It was a choice and he could simply decide to be... not that. Then everything would be fine.

This year had done a number on him and he deserved some peace of mind. Between Potter and Roosevelt and Miles and every stupid decision he had made, he was due for a break. One good decision to balance out the wrong ones. So, he had decided that: yes, this was a choice.

Except it fucking wasn't. And he knew it. He could feel it in every bone in his body. The way his skin prickled with sweat. It ached and men weren't supposed to ache for anything; especially not this.

For the millionth time, he wondered why it couldn't have been Jax. Jax was objectively handsome. Then, at least, he'd be able to pretend that it was a purely physical thing. That was bad enough in itself.

He had dreamed about Jax once. It had been met only with embarrassment in the morning. He had dreamed about Tara and Gemma and several porn actresses he wasn't remotely interested in too. When that happened, you chuckled and moved on with your life. Dreams meant nothing.

However, the night after Jax assumed his role as club president, Juice woke up clutching at the sheets. It was the familiar nightmare about shooting Miles. Its vividness remained alarming. He swore he could feel the blood spatters on his face. To have something to do, he checked the time. It was almost 2 a.m.

With his heart still racing, he lay back down. That was when it popped into his head. Just a thought. I wish Chibs were here. It felt completely natural. Like cleaning out your apartment and finding something. The unexpectedness couldn't disguise the fact that the feeling had been there for God knows how long. And when he thought about it - which he didn't want to, but it wasn't as if he was going back to sleep after that shit – Juice discovered that it perhaps wasn't all that sudden and surprising after all.

The feeling filled him with shame. He honestly didn't think he could do this again. The hiding, the secrets, the lying: it had almost done him in before. The murder of Miles had factored into it, but it had mostly been the sustained effort of constantly conning his friends.

After a largely sleepless night, Juice wasn't sure he was cut out for this life. Not that he was contemplating drastic measures yet, but it definitely posed a problem. This was the only life he knew. The only family he had.

Over a sandwich that remained untouched, he tried to find a solution. The trouble was that he was not a good liar to begin with and when it came to his damn crushes he was even worse. Every single girl that he had ever liked had immediately known. His jokes became a little clumsier, his looks a little longer and more intense: it wasn't hard to spot. He practically telegraphed every emotion he felt.

A few short raps on the door startled him. Hesitantly, he got up and opened the door.

'You ready, Juicy-boy?'

Juice shrugged absentmindedly and grabbed his cut, attempting to mask the newfound shame attached to his nickname. When he turned around, he almost collided with Chibs, who was blocking the doorway. The smile on Chibs face turned into a serious expression.

'You look like shite. Everythin' alright?' Chibs asked. His voice was laced with concern. No, I simply know now that I want you, Juice thought. Instead of going with a truth that would probably earn him nothing but disgust, he grinned sheepishly and mumbled something about having had a rough night.

'Aye, I know what you mean.'

Chibs's expression softened, but Juice noticed that it didn't lose its wariness. Artificially chipper, Juice slipped past him. There was no contact, which was just as well. Their proximity was enough to make Juice feel flushed and hot. He was in no state to fool anyone, least of all Chibs. This was going to be a long fucking day.