Our internet router died and short of copying this to a jump drive and hauling my two toddlers to a public library, I was without means to post, so again I apologize for the wait.

Your reviews and PMs have been incredible and I really appreciate you taking the time. I'm just so pleased that you like the story. Thank you so much, I am genuinely grateful for the response you've given and I just hope you continue to enjoy. Just a few more chapters left!

Out of the corner of his eye Jax could see Opie, see the worried furrow to his brow and the bags under his eyes. The weight of the world was on his best friend's shoulders and he couldn't help. It wasn't that he didn't want to, it was actually the thing he wanted most in the world. But to do anything less than tell Opie that he knew from personal experience how hard it was to kill someone in cold blood would only come off sounding condescending.

Fuck, he could still taste the acrid smoke of burning flesh and plastic in the back of his throat as he tightened the engine back onto the chassis of the bike they were working on. He'd thought that watching Kohn burn, that finally finishing what had been started, would somehow bring some closure to the entire thing. It hadn't. Instead, as he'd stood there, he felt that his own humanity, his chance for a life like the one his dad had wanted for him, was burning right along with it. He wasn't his father's son. He was some strange product of Gemma and Clay and he'd felt like maybe JT's words were wasted on him. He'd tried to do things differently. Tried to change the bigger picture one small decision at a time. For himself. For Abel.

It had ended up with a dead federal agent in a remote wash burning at his feet.

He knew why he'd done it. Knew that he hadn't killed Kohn for club retaliation or to wipe away their ATF problem. As he threw his dad's manuscript into the fire with Kohn, watching the idealism, unrealized dreams and hopes he'd once had for the club turn to ash along with evidence of Jax's own lost idealism he thought about the actual reason he'd killed Kohn.

Because he loved Tara Knowles.

Always had, always would. When it came down to it, he'd trade his life for hers without a second's hesitation.

As the pages began to brown and char at the edges, a realization struck him hard and fast. JT would have understood that. JT was tired of the bloodshed, tired of greed making his brotherhood a violent cadre as opposed to the utopian society that he'd envisioned. One that made their own rules, lived out from under the thumb of the man. JT believed in living by his own code with morals that fit his individual definition of that. But wasn't that what Jax had done? He'd killed, murdered, a man but he'd done it with the intention of saving a life. A life he'd do whatever it took to save. This wasn't a gang hit, a life taken in the course of running guns to the underworld of northern California and beyond to line their pockets. This was a man protecting the woman he loved and in that instant, Jax knew his dad would have not only understood his actions but would have likely done the same thing.

Darting his hand into the flames, he'd snatched the manuscript back out, saving it from total annihilation by seconds and he knew that he was going to get through this. It was still raw, still unsettling and it had changed him forever but killing Kohn wasn't going to break him, wasn't going to make him believe that his life was going to somehow bring ruin and pain to his son and the people he loved. He wasn't going to give up on trying to save his club either, just because some psycho had put him in an impossible situation.

And he wasn't going to let Opie beat himself up over a botched hit on a perfect stranger. He couldn't tell Opie he understood, but he could let him know that they were cool.

"When's Donna getting back?"

Opie looked up in surprise at Jax's words and then back down at the work in front of him. "This morning. You haven't said much to me since Oakland."

Jax went for nonchalant, hoping Opie would pick up on the fact that Jax wasn't upset with him over the whole thing. "I don't got much to say, I guess."

Opie didn't meet his eyes. "You were right. I wasn't ready."

It took everything Jax had not to tell him that was a good thing, every ounce of self control he had not to tell Opie that he was happy his best friend wasn't currently sharing his fate. Wasn't waking up in the morning with a numb feeling and a dead man's face swimming in his head. Instead, he continued to keep it light. "It's done bro."

Walking over to Opie's side of the bike they were working on, Jax kept tightening the screws down. "You doing all right with all that?"

"I'm just a bit out of practice dealing with all that shit, you know?"

Jax nodded, pushing the point home that his loyalty to the club didn't have to mean being a perfect soldier. "Yeah. You know, it's about something bigger man. Club, family."

"That get you past it?"

Jax looked at Opie for a second before nodding slightly. "Yeah." God, but if he only knew.

They continued to work on the bike in silence, Jax's thoughts wandering to Tara as they had so much over the last few days. She'd spent every night in his bed at the clubhouse since the night with Kohn. He knew it was because she didn't feel safe in the house, knew that the idea of sleeping in the room where her ex boyfriend was shot in the head after violently attacking her didn't exactly lay out a path to pleasant dreams. He tried to keep it at that, remind himself not to look too far into it, but it was complicated as fuck trying to sort through all of the emotions it caused.

It would be one thing if she was merely staying with him, putting a little time and distance between herself and the scene of the crime but the fact that they were making love almost every night didn't help him piece together what they were to each other now. She was like a fucking drug to him and he could feel himself slipping back to that place, that wonderful and terrifying place where he put her above all else. He didn't want that. He was a grown man now, vice president of a MC that he would inherit in a few years once Clay couldn't ride anymore. He was a father too and as soon as his little guy got to come home he'd never have to wonder if his daddy had his back. Not ever. He couldn't afford to lose himself in her again, even if the memory of her sleeping naked against him while he lazily traced her crow last night still made his heart skip. She was his, in his heart, she would always be his. But he had no idea where she was with all of this and his history with her made him gun shy.

He would be damned before he'd ever fucking admit it, but Gemma was right about one thing. She had broken his heart. It seemed like a lifetime ago, was all water under the bridge, but it happened and that didn't make him overly excited to tip his cards. This ball was going to have to be in her court. If she wanted him, wanted to be with him, she was going to have to tell him because there was no way he was going to lay himself anymore bare than he already was. The boy he'd been was gone and the man he'd become had learned all too painfully to protect his heart or be eaten alive. If Jax was anything, he was a survivor. Survivors didn't stick their head up in a foxhole. He was just going to have to wait this thing out, no matter how much it tore at him from the inside.

Which, on some small, subconscious level, Tara understood and it terrified the shit out of her. The hospital had been busy that morning, mostly with non-emergent cases, but the nursery was running to full capacity and it was after lunch before Tara could round on Abel. The minute she looked down at him her heart fluttered and calm came over her. God, she loved this kid. Now that he had some meat on him he was starting to look so much like Jax that it was almost painful. She could almost see the little boy he'd become, the little boy who'd climb the tallest tree in the school yard just to prove that he could do it, could see the way all of the little girls looked at him and how special he made all of them feel while keeping them at a respectable distance from his heart.

Tara sighed. There had been a time when he'd let her in. She'd been the only one that he came to, the one he wanted when he couldn't let anyone else see what was going on in his head. These last few weeks had been a roller coaster that she could never have prepared herself for but, she was finding, it wasn't just about Kohn. Being with Jax again, in his bed, made her feel safe. Made her feel like herself again. But there was something missing and she realized, his defenses around her were nearly impenetrable. He was kind to her, even sweet, but the conspiratorial sparkle in his eye was guarded. He didn't tell her what he was doing during the day and she didn't ask. They operated on an almost surface level, not allowing things to get too deep.

And then day would turn to night and he would reach for her in the darkness, keep nothing back as he loved her. She knew that she'd tarnished his unyielding trust by leaving him, knew that he saw it as a betrayal. She also knew that he was desperately telling her with his body what his mind couldn't say, which left it up to her to decide how far she wanted to push things along. Did she love him? Did she want to be with him?

The answer on all counts was yes, but Gemma's words had hit home. With everything she'd worked for and the adults they'd grown to be, was love enough? Or would it undo everything they'd both tried to accomplish? Break the people they'd tried to become? She didn't have the answers to the questions and it tore her apart.

A movement outside the nursery window caught her attention and pushed her thoughts aside to gaze up at a smiling blonde in a business suit. Probably a family member looking for someone's new little addition, Tara made her way to the door to address her.

"Can I help you?"

The woman smiled genially at Tara. "Dr. Knowles?"

Tara's expression turned cautious. "Yeah."

"I'm Agent Stahl of the A.T.F. May I, uh-may I ask you some questions?"

Her tone was relaxed, her smile ever present but all at once Tara's stomach dropped to the floor. She'd had a feeling that she'd be questioned once Josh was discovered missing, but knowing that day was today made her sick.

Outwardly, she slapped her professional expression on so fast that Stahl never saw the budding terror spreading through her. "Of course."

Willing her heart to stop pounding, they made their way over to some chairs that sat against the wall by the nursery and sat beside one another. She tried to push everything into a compartment and lock the door, to put on the façade of the surgeon who would never find herself caught up in something illicit. Somewhere in the far recesses of her mind it actually unnerved her more that it seemed to come fairly easily.

Finding it best not to beat around the bush with her, Stahl got right to the point. "I'm trying to wrap my brain around your history with Samcro."

Tara couldn't keep the surprise from her face or from her tone. "Excuse me?"

Stahl continued, her voice soft and conversational. Like two girls gossiping over coffee. "Well, your mom died when you were 9. You left Charming and your drunk daddy 11 years ago. Moved in with an aunt in San Diego."

Flickers, tiny almost imperceptible flickers, began to show themselves through Stahl's façade and Tara realized that this mask of kindness covered a ruthless person. She was going to try to take Tara by surprise to trip her up, try to shock her into talking to her about whatever the fuck she was actually here for. A smirk broke lightly on Tara's lips. Thankfully it hadn't been her morning to swallow the idiot pills. "My father's cousin."

Without realizing that her tactics were already well observed, Stahl pressed on. "Right, right. You graduated UCSD with honors. You were top of your class at Loyola med and you did your internship at Chicago Presbyterian. Really very impressive."

Pushing down the incredibly unnerving sensation of having a stranger know absolutely everything about her Tara adopted a cocky, condescension as she replied. "Yeah, I know. I was there."

Intensity flashed into Stahl's eyes instantly at her response. She was a woman who knew her prey and her prey was onto her. She dropped the smile and switched gears with dizzying speed. "Yes. And now you're here. At St. Redneck's getting dirty with the bad boys again. How does that happen? Hmmm?"

Temper crackled behind Tara's eyes, but she held herself in check. That is just what Stahl would want, to piss her off until she said something stupid or incriminating. Tara wasn't about to give this woman a thing. "My personal life is really none of your business. What do you want?"

A light smile touched Stahl's lips as she switched gears yet again. "Fair enough. Do you know of any illegal activity that Jax Teller or the Sons of Anarchy are involved in?"

Relief spread thick and warm through Tara's limbs, making her grateful that she was sitting. That's what this was all about? Samcro? This woman didn't want to talk about Josh at all. The look of wide-eyed innocence on Tara's face as she shook her head was completely genuine. "No, I don't."

"Well that was easy." Stahl laughed lightly and Tara allowed a smile, sensing that this small slice of horror was nearing its end as she watched the agent in front of her reach into her bag for a card. "Well, listen, um, if you do think of something or you see something that just doesn't feel right would you please give me a call?"

Tara reached out for the card with a noncommittal noise of assent and continued to smile lightly as she looked down at it, losing the battle in her head not to be completely pissed off. This woman had spent an incredible amount of time memorizing a Jeopardy game worth of information about her and for what? To fuck with her head so she could get something on the Sons? Tara's loyalty didn't exactly fall with a gang of bikers these days, but it sure as fuck didn't fall with this manipulative bitch either.

Glancing back up at Stahl's retreating back, she called after her. "What exactly is it you're hoping to find? Just wondering what digging up dirt on old girlfriends gets you."

Sensing Tara's annoyance, Stahl drilled her cold eyes into Tara's. "Is that what Kohn liked? Your inquisitive nature?"

She sat stock still but her heart slammed in her ribs at the woman's jab. Even without a change in expression, Stahl knew she'd gotten to her and pressed her advantage home. "You know, I understand that he never got off the plane in Chicago. He's M.I.A. Threw away his career for love. I just hope you're not doing the same, Doctor."

She turned to leave, her message abundantly clear as she swung through the double doors with her partner. Don't fuck with me, or I will destroy you.

Tara strode back into the quiet of the nursery, panic creeping slowly in like fog to every corner of her consciousness. Before she'd come back here there would never have been enough dirt for a law enforcement agent to unearth. Her record was long behind her and entirely in the juvenile system. But now here she was, lying to cops again and worrying about protecting secrets. It was what had convinced her to leave in the first place. Gemma's words were ringing stronger with every second.

And then as if she'd conjured Jax with her thoughts, he was there, striding through the double doors that Stahl had just gone through and her heart skipped a beat. She wanted to run away from him and to him at the same time and the feeling of exhaustion her torn thoughts caused rendered her immobile.

The minute he'd seen Stahl his heart had dropped to his feet. Sure, he stared her down with the cockiest look on his face that he could muster, but as soon as he'd passed her in the hallway he'd had to fight the urge to pick up his pace. One look at Tara and his suspicions had been confirmed. He could see just from the guarded, worried look on her face that she'd gotten under her skin.

Sighing, he walked over to stand in front of her. "What did she say to you?"

Shaken, Tara gazed imploringly into his eyes as her words came out with exasperation. "She knew all about me. She knows about us."

He shook his head, doing his best to appear calm in order to alleviate her stress even though he was beginning to worry that this Stahl might be a more formidable foe than he'd thought. "It's all smoke. Look, they got nothing on Samcro so now they're harassing people close to us. I'm sorry."

The stress on her face didn't lessen and for just a moment, he wondered if maybe he had more to worry about than he'd thought. "You didn't say anything?"

The look of revulsion at the thought was instantaneous on her face. "No, of course not. She mentioned Kohn. Said he was M.I.A."

Jax relaxed immediately. Whatever his trust issues with Tara were, he knew ratting would never be one of them. Shrugging his shoulders he did his best to convey how little she should be worried. "Kohn was a wanted man. He didn't show up in Chicago cuz he didn't wanna go to jail. Probably halfway around the world by now."

Tara scoffed and looked away, her words coming out as a mumble. "Yeah. Halfway."

Feeling his protective instincts flare up, he regarded her seriously. "This will never blow back on you. That's a promise. I wouldn't let you get hurt."

She saw in his eyes, heard in his words, all of the things that she knew he felt but couldn't say and she turned her attention away, gazing worriedly through the window toward the chairs that she'd sat in with Stahl. It was like there were layers upon layers of decisions, complications, fears, uncertainties and unknowns all pressing down on her, making her feel like she was about to break.


His voice broke through her thoughts and she turned back to him, felt herself go gently into his arms for the comfort that she needed. He pulled her close, cradling her head in his hand and pressing a soft kiss to her forehead as they stood over his son. Neither said a word for awhile. There was no need. They drew strength from each other until Jax pulled back to look into her face, placing another kiss to the tip of her nose before he spoke.

"Are you sure you still want to do this?"

She nodded and forced a wan smile. Of course she didn't want to do this. She never wanted to step foot in that house again. But it was hers and she had to face it sooner or later. Given that now the ATF had been watching her, the decision seemed especially timely now. "I have to. Did you bring my bag?"

"Yeah. I'll follow you to your place. Meet me downstairs when you finish up."

She nodded again and with a small squeeze of her shoulder he let her go, walking back the direction he'd come. Tara had called him and asked him to bring the duffel bag she'd been using at the clubhouse up to the hospital. Said she wanted to stay at her house tonight alone. It hadn't surprised him, she'd been living like a homeless person in the dingy back apartment of a motorcycle clubhouse for days on end. What had surprised him is that it had hurt. He didn't want her to go, had grown accustomed to seeing her at the end of the day. He'd even started to look forward to coming home to her, except it wasn't their home. They were merely playing house and no matter how much he didn't want that to end, it was probably best that it did.

They made the ride to her place in companionable silence, both of them trying to drink in the feel of the other as his bike drew them closer and closer to being separate entities again. He parked in the driveway and followed her inside, watching her anxiety ratchet up with each passing step as they made their way back to the bedroom. He dropped her bag on the newly laid floors that he'd paid a guy under the table to do and watched as she looked around apprehensively. Her arms were crossed in front of her, her hands rubbing up and down for comfort as she paced around the room a bit, getting a handle on the emotions being there had for her. Strangely, she didn't feel all that afraid. The idea of that was terrifying.

He could see her unrest and he looked at her sincerely. "I can stay."

God she wanted him to. She wanted to run into his arms, tell him never to leave her side again, tell him that she needed him. Instead she shook her head and turned to face him. "No. Hm-mm, I gotta just be okay here, you know?"

He knew this was something she had to do, something important to her ability to move past what had happened. He'd need to do the same thing if the roles were reversed. Still, the idea that she wouldn't be in his bed tonight, that the distance they'd closed could start moving them apart again bummed him the fuck out and he wanted to throw himself into dealing with some club shit, with Stahl locking up Cherry and Luann, to get it off his mind.

"Yeah." He nodded that he understood and she nodded back. With nothing left to say he made to turn for the door. "I'm gonna go."

She didn't know if it was fear, impending loneliness, vulnerability or something else entirely, but before she could stifle the words that had swirled in her head for more than a decade unvoiced, they suddenly flew from her mouth at his retreating back. "Hey, what would've happened if you'd left with me 11 years ago?"

Her question stopped him dead in his tracks and he sighed, leaning against the doorframe to her bedroom with his hands in his pockets. It was a legitimate question, one that he'd asked himself no less than a thousand times and one that he still had absolutely no answer for.

"I don't know Tara." Pushing away from the doorframe, he walked closer to her. "What would have happened if you'd stayed?"

He leaned against her vanity and crossed his arms, causing her to cross hers in response. He always seemed to answer her questions with questions. It was annoying as hell. "Maybe I wouldn't have killed someone."

"You didn't. You're gonna get past this. You won't feel like this forever." He watched as she turned to stare at where Kohn's body had lain, where Jax had put a bullet in him and she couldn't imagine ever feeling okay with what had happened but he pressed on in his reassurances. "Honestly Tara."

In the quiet of her house, in the soft light of her room, something yielded inside of her and she decided to broach the real issue. To try to tell him what was really going on in her head. "Your mom says I have to end this. That whatever we're doing here can't work."

To the untrained observer it would have appeared that her words caused no reaction, but she saw the flash of annoyance in his eyes. "You believe her?"

She wanted to tell him no, to tell him that she knew Gemma was a master manipulator capable of pulling out every stop in order to get what she wanted but she couldn't and the truth of that shamed her. Instead, she pulled a trick out of his book and turned the tables back. "What is this? I mean, is it just about the Kohn thing? What do you want?"

He was 16 again, standing in his backyard while she asked him if he wanted to put on name on what they had. He hadn't been able to do it then and it had almost fucked everything up between them. Now, 13 years later he was no more capable of answering her as he had been that particular night and he wasn't dumb enough to try and charm his way out of it. Which left only one logical course of action. He was going to avoid it entirely.

"I want you to stop listening to my crazy mom and get some sleep."

Her voice took on a hint of desperation and she realized that she wanted him to give her something, anything, in the way of his feelings for her. She wanted to wipe that mask of indifference that he wore everywhere but the bedroom off of his face and get the open, trusting Jax back. "Well, we can't keep looking the other way, we need to think about this. What the hell are we doing?"

He'd wanted the ball to be in her court, wanted her to be the one to lay it on the line this time and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to stick to that. What did he want? What the hell were they doing? Fuck, he knew what he was doing. He was spending every waking minute thinking about her, wanting her, just like he had as a kid. He was walking around knowing how in love he was and only able to express it at night when they were in his bed and he could pour his soul into her, willing her to understand. To feel the same way. What he wanted was for her to tell him that she was feeling that too.

Rising up from the vanity he rubbed his hands down his face and put the question to her point blank. "Do you love me?"

She watched in stunned silence as he walked slowly toward her, his question hanging above them in the air like heavy smoke and she knew she must look like a deer in headlights. She hadn't expected him to lay it out so plainly and her mind struggled to form an answer. Did she love him? This man who'd laid everything on the line for her without question, who thrilled her heart and mind just by being near her. This man who'd taught her what love and family were when she'd never known either. Did she love him? God help her, she loved him with every cell inside of her. That wasn't really the question. The question was, should she?

Her silence began to cause the pit in his stomach to grow with each millisecond. He needed to know the answer, be it yes or no, if he was going to be able to move forward with his life. It still didn't change the fact that if it was no it would kill him.

"It's a simple question babe."

She met his eyes, willed him to understand the tumult that he had to see in them. "It's not a simple answer."

He let out a small breath that he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. It wasn't a no and it wasn't a yes, but he still felt calmed by her response. It was honest and after all of the thought he'd put into it this morning alone, he understood it completely. This shit was far and away more complicated than it would have been under any type of normal circumstances and even then, with all of the water under their bridge, it would still have been a tricky answer. He would have to know eventually, would need her to commit one way or the other to how she felt, but for now it was enough and he let her off the hook. "I know."

They stared for a moment, understanding passing between them before Jax knew he needed to leave her to sort through all the shit in her head. "All right." Taking her head in his hands he gathered her hair up gently into his fists, pressing light kisses to her lips. Fuck, he wanted to stay. "I'm gonna go, okay?"

She nodded her head in response and he turned, making his way toward the door before she could stop him. He had shit to do and if he stayed one more second he was gonna find himself buried inside of her, personal pride and duty to the club be damned.

A few hours later, as the night wound down and Jax made the drive to Piney's cabin with Cherry on the back of his bike, he couldn't help but let his mind wander. It was one of those nights when, though things hadn't gone according to plan, they'd worked out like they'd needed to. He'd been able to tell Luann that Otto needed to be warned about the rico case ATF was putting together. Of course, that had come at the price of sneaking Cherry out of Unser's jail so she wouldn't rat. He couldn't help a tiny smirk at the questions Unser would undoubtedly have to face about that one, but it wasn't really his problem. His smirk blossomed into a full blown grin as his mind conjured the image back up of Hale burying his face in Stahl's pussy. Stahl was a cold, manipulative, humorless bitch who would stop at nothing to achieve JUSTICE. Jax was sure Hale had probably had to go to the bathroom at the Sheriff's office to rub one out the second he'd met her.

Cameron was already set to leave tomorrow, Tara would be coming up to check him out and change his dressings. It hadn't taken much maneuvering to get an extra seat on the plane for Cherry and as Jax pulled onto the dirt road that led up to the cabin he could see headlights not far behind him, knew they had to be Half Sac's. He'd never admit it to a soul, but he felt for the guy. It was no fucking secret how in love with this girl he was and now she was jetting off to Ireland for god knew how long in order to beat an arson rap out of Nevada. He'd had to watch the love of his life leave once, he knew how it felt.

He cut his engine in front of the cabin and Cherry hopped off the bike, turning to stare down the road at the approaching headlight and Jax took his cue to leave her alone. Walking into the house he greeted his mother and Cameron and then made his way to a back bedroom to crash. It had been a long day, he was exhausted, but somehow he knew that sleep wouldn't come easy tonight. He missed her. Missed the feel of her beside him and he stared out the window at the stars, brighter up here than they were in Charming. He wondered how Tara was doing, wondered if she was laying in bed unable to sleep, terrorized by the ghosts in her bedroom. He wondered if she was thinking about him, wishing he was touching her right now as much as he was wishing he was.

Closing his eyes against the ache in his chest and his groin he willed himself to sleep, tried to keep the images from his mind of how he'd spent his nights these last days but he couldn't. Her face swam in his thoughts, a look of passion crossing her features and desire burning in her eyes. He didn't know why they couldn't say what they needed to, why they couldn't give voice to their feelings. All he knew was he'd come to crave the honesty and pure emotion they seemed only able to convey with their bodies. Laying here, in the silence of the wilderness with the stars burning brightly outside of his window and the muffled sounds of the prospect making love to his old lady for what would maybe be their last night together he couldn't help but feel desperately alone.

He didn't know when he'd fallen asleep, but as he opened his eyes he realized that soft sunlight was streaming through the window. Muffled voices in the other room told him that people were up and about and he glanced at the clock, seeing it was already after 9. Fuck, Tara was probably already here and in a room with a representative of the real IRA and Gemma. Given the circumstances, she was probably safer with the gangster and Jax jumped up to throw his kutte on and go out there.

Cameron lay on the couch, his ass out for the room to see, as Tara calmly inspected his wound. Catching his movement from the corner of her eye, she lifted her gaze for just a moment to smile at Jax and then directed it back down to what she was doing while he took a seat. As he watched her work, watched the seriousness of her gaze as she took in her patient he realized that he'd never grow tired of seeing her in action.

She patted Cameron, let him know that he was looking okay and then rose from the couch to let him get his pants back up. She made her way over to Jax, her expression soft as she gazed at him. "His dressings need to be changed every day. As long as he doesn't move around too much, he should be fine."

He met her eyes and stared into them for a second, not awake enough yet to keep the affection out of his expression. Not awake enough to notice that Gemma was standing in the doorway to the kitchen and watching their interchange with avid interest. He'd been away from her for one night and he'd missed her like she was part of him. "Thanks. Did you sleep okay?"

"Yeah." The word came on a quiet smile as she reached up and toyed sweetly with his beard for a second and his heart melted.

"Yeah?" For just that minute, they were the only people in that cabin and he couldn't stop his eyes from filling with love as his own lips picked up in a small smile.

Gemma's blood ran icy cold as she saw the look in her son's eyes and she started toward the obvious couple. "Irishman good to go?"

Just like a caught teenager, Tara moved guiltily away from him with a nod and Jax regarded his mother with pure annoyance. "Yeah."

With no small amount of theatrical flair, Gemma kissed Tara and thanked her as Jax rose from his seat and made his way toward the door. He was well aware of her antics, well aware that she would stop at nothing to see Tara back out of his life. Getting on his bike, he stared back toward the doorway and felt his stomach clench at the vision of Tara staring back at him. He had to go with the convoy to get their fugitives safely off to the mother country, but the idea of leaving Tara here with Gemma actually scared him. She'd already managed to get into her head, that was obvious from their conversation last night. Still, it had seemed like despite the confusion in her mind Tara's heart wanted to put a name on things again and he knew all to well how just one well placed doubt from his mother could fuck that all to hell.

As if summoned by his thoughts, Gemma appeared in the doorway at Tara's side and stared out at the departing group. There they were, the two most important women in his life and they hated each with all they had. Just one more layer to add to the pile of complications.

Tara tried not to act as if Gemma's proximity fazed her, tried to hold her ground, but it wasn't getting any easier. In fact, as she and Jax grew closer it was getting harder. When they weren't involved it was easy for Tara to brush her off, but everything was flipped upside down now and dealing with Gemma was more complicated. They watched together as the truck and the bikes pulled away from the cabin and then turned in silence from the door to gather up their things. For just a second, Tara thought she might get lucky enough to grab her bag and keys and get out without a confrontation but as she turned back toward the door Gemma's cross-armed stance in front it shot that fantasy all to hell.

"So this is really happening now? After everything I said the other morning at the clubhouse. I gotta say, maybe I was wrong about you. Maybe you're not as smart as I thought you were."

Tara rolled her eyes. "Sorry to disappoint you Gemma." Mimicking the older woman's stance, she met her eyes and felt her temper start to crackle. "You know, I don't much care what you think and I certainly don't have to dignify your constant attempts to butt into my private life with responses."

Gemma smirked. "You don't have to say shit sweetheart, the puppy dog look on my son's face said it all. I knew he wasn't strong enough to stop this train wreck before it started, but I underestimated just how hung up on you he still is. Seems like the feeling is mutual from what I could see, or at least you want him to think that it is."

Tara's eyes lowered into a glare, her desire not to engage evaporating in the red, hazy temper swirling into her peripheral vision. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Gemma took a step closer, her sky-high heels giving her a height advantage that she was more than happy to take. "It means, you didn't love him enough the first time around not to bail out on him but you sure as hell made him think you did. You used him to pass the time just like you're using him now to get over whatever bullshit that had you running around Charming with a gun in your bag. When that's done you and I both know you'll be looking for the nearest exit again."

Just, don't go anywhere.

His words, the desperate look in his eyes floated to the front of her mind from the day after Khon's murder and she took a step of her own, meeting Gemma's eyes unflinchingly despite the older woman's attempts at intimidation. "I'm not going anywhere Gemma. Like it or not, I'm in his life. I don't know what that looks like yet, but the long and short of it is simply that. Now get out of my way."

They stared at each other for a tense moment before Gemma moved aside, watching as Tara walked out of the cabin and made her way toward her car. She had to hand it her, she was still the only girl who'd ever had the balls to step up to her. She'd respect her for it if she didn't hate her so god damn much.

Gathering her keys, she locked up the cabin and headed for her Caddy. Reasoning hadn't worked, intimidation hadn't worked. Hell, it seemed no matter how hard she tried she only managed to push them closer together. There had to be something, a wedge that she could get between them before it was too late but as she made her way back to Charming her mind drew a blank. For now.