Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on characters created and owned by Kurt Sutter. No compensation, monetary or otherwise, is being made through the writing and posting of this. All rights to Sons of Anarchy belong to Kurt Sutter, Sutter Ink, Linson Entertainment, Fox 21 and FX Productions.
A/N: Inspired, for some crazy reason, by the Eurythmics', "Here Comes the Rain Again", and the hc_bingo prompt: humiliation. This will have some kissing, but no overt slash.
It's raining and Juice feels like shit. He just wants to get out of the rain because it's been one of those days. And is it too much to ask that he be warm and dry?
He enters the clubhouse, already tugging at the hem of his sopping wet tee-shirt. It's heavy with water and plastered to his skin. It gets stuck, and he can't get it over his head, and he's so fucking cold that his fingers don't really want to cooperate.
He struggles with it, getting more frustrated by the second as the shirt stubbornly refuses to move. If anything, it becomes more twisted around his face. It's covering his nose and mouth, and it's suffocating him.
The sound of laughter reaches his ears, and he just stops, lets his arms fall to his sides. He stands there, in the middle of the clubhouse, dripping water on the floor. His heart is pounding; his head aches and he can't get his shirt off. He's shivering, but it's too hot and he really can't breathe, though his lungs are working double-time to draw in air.
It's humiliating. He's a grown man and he can't manage to take a fucking shirt off without getting it stuck.
And he's suddenly five years old again. The zipper of his jeans is caught on the inner lining of the fabric and it breaks when he yanks on it a little too hard, and he has to pee so bad that he's dancing on his tippy-toes. The other boys laugh at him and he pees his pants before Mrs. Mahoney can work the zipper down.
He doesn't want to cry, because that isn't what grown men do when they're caught in an embarrassing situation like this. They either laugh it off or hit someone. But Juice is tired, his body aches and he thinks that maybe he's coming down with the flu, and the tears come whether he wants them or not. They're warm and salty on his cheeks and he's drowning in all this water.
When someone quiets the laughter with a hoarse, "Alright, that's enough," the only sound that can be heard is that of Juice's ragged breathing, and that's embarrassing too. It's loud and deafening in the silence that has fallen over the clubhouse.
All of a sudden, there are hands on him – on his shoulders, his back, and pulling at his arms. He doesn't have the strength to fight back. Though he does manage to make a fist, his swing is wide and connects with nothing but air. One of his brothers, he doesn't know which, grabs his arms and pins them to his side to keep him from struggling, but he wriggles in the grasp and tries to kick out at his assailants.
He's ten years old and Billy and Tommy have got him down on the sidewalk. He's smaller than them, and has the wrong color of skin for this side of town – it's a shade too light. The older boy, Billy, is straddling his waist and has his arms pinned up over his head.
He's taunting him, calling him names, and Tommy's standing off to the side laughing. Billy dangles a thick wad of spit over his face, sucking it in and out of his mouth and Juice bucks and twists trying to free himself, but the boy's stronger than him.
Juice turns his head to the side when the spit almost touches his chin, but Tommy kneels beside them and grabs his head, wresting his mouth open. Billy lets his spit dribble into Juice's mouth and then Tommy shoves his mouth shut so hard that his teeth clack together and he feels the vibration of it back at the base of his skull.
Juice breathes heavily through his nose, and his stomach churns. Acid burns his throat, and he can feel rocks digging into his back as he wriggles beneath Billy who has at least fifty pounds on him. Tommy's got one hand beneath Juice's chin, and the other hand's covering his mouth, making it impossible for him to expel Billy's spit. Tommy and Billy exchange a look, and when Billy nods, Tommy removes the hand from Juice's chin and pinches his nose.
Juice panics because Billy's spit is slimy and it tastes like cheap cigarettes and stale beer, and he can't breathe.
"Swallow it," Tommy says, and his voice is like iron.
Billy grins evilly and presses his knees into Juice's sides. He's being asphyxiated, and Billy's spit is sitting on his tongue and he can't breathe.
He can't breathe and Tommy's fingers are digging into his cheeks and the boy is not letting go. The edges of Juice's vision darken and he's seeing Billy and Tommy as through a tunnel. Their voices fade in and out, and Juice can't breathe.
"Juicy," Chibs' voice comes from his left and though he can't see because of the stupid shirt, he swivels his head toward the man's voice as though toward a beacon.
"Stop fighting us," Chibs says, "we're trying to help you."
And then the man pulls him into something resembling a hug. Juice's back is pressed tight to the other man's chest and it's Chibs who's got his arms pinioned to his side. Chibs wraps Juice in a cocoon-like hold, using his arms to hold Juice's in place, and he rests his chin on Juice's collarbone and coaxes him to stop squirming so that they can help him.
He feels someone tug on the sodden shirt, and really, it feels like everyone in the club is touching him. Fingers brush across his stomach, a hand snatches one of his and Juice is beyond mortified because he's holding hands with one of his brothers, and he's squeezing back, garnering comfort from the touch.
"Relax," Chibs says, and Juice doesn't know if his mind is playing tricks on him or not, but he can swear that Chibs kisses his collarbone.
It is quick and chaste, and barely there. Like the butterfly kisses – eyelashes lightly skimming over his skin – his mother used to give him when he was a kid.
He relaxes back into Chibs, and lets his brothers work the rain and tear saturated shirt up and over his head with no further protest. And when he can breathe again, his lungs fill to burning with air, and his desperate wheezes slowly subside.
But his throat is sore and his head feels like someone's taken a hammer to his brain. He's dizzy, and if it wasn't for Chibs and his brothers holding him up, he would be flat on his back and sprawled out on the floor.
When he opens his eyes, he's overwhelmed, because feeling the multitude of hands and fingers ghosting across his skin and supporting him is nothing like seeing his brothers – Jax, Opie, Clay, Happy Bobby, and Tig (and the fact that it's Tig who's holding his hand is far too much for him to wrap his head around) – surrounding him. There's no laughter hidden in their eyes.
"He's burning up," Happy says, resting the back of his hand against Juice's forehead.
Juice shakes his head because right now his teeth are chattering, and even with so many bodies pressed in close to his, he's freezing. His jeans are wet and his eyelids are heavy and he likes the way Chibs' arms envelop him and keep him from breaking and shattering into too many pieces like Humpty Dumpty.
"C-c-cold," Juice manages to say.
Before he knows what's happening, his back is no longer being cushioned by Chibs' chest, and Tig's hand is gone. He shivers with the loss of their body heat and the room tilts and sways.
It takes him a minute to understand that the reason the clubhouse looks like it's moving and he feels like he's on a roller-coaster is because Opie's carrying him. Juice isn't in a position to object to being treated like a child, and he lets his head fall back into the crook of Opie's elbow. He doesn't even care where the man's taking him, or what his brothers are going to do to him once they get there.
He's too tired to keep his eyes open for much longer. He's sweaty and uncomfortably hot. He blinks in confusion because just a minute ago he was so cold that he felt like he'd been dunked in ice water.
"Almost there," Opie says with a grunt, and Juice watches in dumb fascination as Bobby opens a door for them.
Opie walks sideways through the door, careful so that Juice's head doesn't bang against the frame, and then deposits him on a bed. He sits down beside Juice, and there's a frown on his face, as though he's unhappy about something. Opie rubs his thumb back and forth in a soothing repetitive motion across Juice's forehead and Juice sighs and closes his eyes as it eases some of his pain.
Jax somehow manages to remove his wet jeans and boxers without making Juice feel scandalized. And then Clay and Chibs towel him dry. Tig tosses a pair of clean boxers to Happy and Jax dresses him.
Opie lifts him so that Tig can pull the covers back, and then he's being tucked into the bed by the giant of a man.
"Get some rest, son," Clay says, patting his foot through the bedclothes, and then he leaves the room.
Bobby stands at the foot of the bed with his hands in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his feet.
"I'll bake you a nice batch of cookies that'll help you feel better in no time at all," he says, "or would you prefer brownies?"
"Brownies," Juice says in a voice that is low and raspy. His throat feels like he's gargled broken glass.
"Sorry I laughed at you kid," Tig says, he's standing in a corner of the room, "I didn't know you were sick." His blue eyes flash something that Juice can't read, and then he quickly ducks out of the room.
"Juice, you gotta take better care of yourself, brother," Jax says.
He squeezes his shoulder for a few seconds, letting his words sink in, and then he nods at Chibs. Juice doesn't quite catch the look that the two exchange, but it makes him feel anxious, like maybe he's under some kind of watch.
"Yeah," Opie says, communicating so much raw emotion in that single syllable that Juice is a little taken aback.
Opie leans down and kisses him on the forehead. His lips linger there for a few seconds and then he pulls back and frowns.
"His temperature's pretty high, we should get some Tylenol in him," Opie says and when Chibs raises an eyebrow at him, the man blushes and adds, "it's something that Donna used to do when the kids were sick. She said she could get a more accurate read on their temperature when she kissed their foreheads."
He shrugs as if it's not that big of a deal, and then rubs his thumb across Juice's forehead one last time. The bed shifts when Opie gets up, and Juice watches him walk out of the room in something akin to awe, because the man had treated him like family. Like real, honest to goodness family.
Happy stands over him with his arms crossed over his chest. His face, as always, is unreadable, but there's something in his eyes that makes Juice look away.
"You should've said you weren't feeling well before you were sent on that run," he says.
Juice doesn't respond. He doesn't want to admit that he's afraid that if he doesn't do everything asked of him, he'll be kicked out of the club.
Happy sighs and Juice meets his unwavering gaze. Understanding flickers in Happy's eyes, as though he's just read Juice's thoughts and seen all of his misgivings in those few seconds of eye contact. Happy nods.
"You're one of us," he says, "a brother, and brothers take care of each other. If you're sick, you need to tell someone. Don't wait until you're dead on your feet. Bad things can happen when one of us gets sick and doesn't tell the others. We can't trust you to have our backs if you aren't being honest with us Juice."
"Sorry," Juice rasps, and tears well up in his eyes.
He isn't used to being able to rely on others for help, and, even though he's been with the Sons for a while now, their brand of family is still very new to him.
Being a part of Juice's family meant having to keep secrets, because if you didn't, someone would get hurt. It also meant pretending to be strong, especially when you felt weak. And lastly, it meant fending for yourself because no one else was going to help you if you didn't first help yourself. But being a part of the family that was the Sons of Anarchy was as different from what Juice had grown up with as night was from day.
Happy just nodded as though satisfied that he'd gotten through to him, and then left the room.
It's now just him and Chibs and Juice feels self-conscious. He really likes Chibs as a brother and a friend, and he hates disappointing him about as much as he hates disappointing Clay.
Both men are like fathers to him, but he'll never admit to it, because he knows that they'll either laugh it off or tell him he's being foolish. He doesn't want to be rejected by them as he'd been rejected by his biological father.
"What've you got rolling around in that thick skull of yours?" Chibs asks quietly.
He sits on the bed beside Juice, taking the spot that Opie vacated. He raps a knuckle against Juice's head and Juice winces, even though Chibs' touch hadn't been very hard, because his headache kicks up a notch.
Juice shrugs because he isn't sure how to put any of what he's thinking and feeling into words. Words have never been his strong suit. He's much better with computers than with people. Computers are far less complicated and are easy to fix when something goes wrong.
People though? Dealing with them can be messy and it often leaves Juice feeling like he's been tied up in knots, especially when he makes a mistake and doesn't know how to fix it, or when there're words involved.
With a computer he can look at the code, or take it apart and see what component is missing or fried. And from there it's usually an easy fix – rewrite a portion of the code or replace the bad part. Simple.
When Juice's eyelids start to droop, Chibs sighs and rests his hand on Juice's chest.
"Get some sleep," he says, "we'll talk in the morning."
Juice struggles to remain awake for just a little while longer, just until Chibs leaves, but the man doesn't leave, and his eyelids lose the battle to stay open. It's as he's drifting off to sleep that it happens again, the butterfly soft kiss that's barely there. This time it's on his lips – feather-like and quick.
He can smell Chibs' brand of whiskey and cigarettes long after the brief, not-quite-there, kiss is over. The man stretches out beside him on the bed, and Juice's head finds its way onto Chib's chest. The steady beat of Chibs' heart lulls him into a peaceful, healing sleep.
When Juice wakes the next morning, it's to sunlight spilling into the room through a gap in the curtain. He still feels like shit – feverish and achy – but he's dry and warm and not alone. Chibs is lying beside him, one of his arms is draped across Juice's back, holding him close, and there's a single beam of sunlight bathing the man's face in a warm, gentle glow.
Though his heart is beating like mad in his chest and he fears that the sound of it is going to wake Chibs, Juice shifts in the man's arms, giving himself some leverage, and then he presses his lips to Chibs' and lets them linger there for a brief second before resettling in Chibs' arms. It isn't really a kiss, and Juice would be embarrassed to know that, light as the not-kiss was, it's what wakes Chibs out of a sound slumber and causes him to think long and hard about just what it is that Juice means to him.
Weeks later, Chibs is down for the count, having caught Juice's cold. It hadn't been the flu after all. He's cranky and not a good patient, but Juice plays nursemaid, suffering the insults and the tirades. One day, when he's leaning over to adjust the Scot's pillow so that it's more comfortable for the irascible man, Chibs catches him by the wrist, and Juice thinks, Shit, what'd I do wrong now?
Chibs says nothing. He pulls Juice close and then he kisses him. No tenderly soft butterfly wings alight upon Juice's lips this time around, but there's a tongue questing entrance to his mouth. Thrown off balance, Juice's lips part and Chibs' tongue is scraping over his teeth and wrestling with his tongue. Juice isn't sure where to place his hands, but they wind up on either side of Chibs' head, on the pillow he'd been so intent upon fluffing earlier.
Minutes, or maybe it's hours later, Juice regains himself and pulls away from the Scot. Chibs' lips are swollen and red, and Juice's feel like they've been stung by a bee. He presses a finger against them and quickly pulls it back, hissing at the pain the touch elicited.
"Shit Chibs," he says once he's regained his composure and has effectively fluffed the pillow, "what the hell was that?"
"Thought it's what you wanted," the man said, looking away. "Seems I was wrong. Sorry about that, won't happen again."
"What? Wait?" Juice says, his brain finally catching up with what his mouth has said, and he realizes that he's stuck his foot in his mouth again. "I uh, I want," he says and he blushes at how ridiculous that sounds.
But Chibs smiles and reaches for him, capturing the back of his neck with his hand. And Juice rests his forehead against Chibs' for a little while. They don't kiss, but that's okay because Chibs' eyelids are fighting a losing battle and the man's breath is evening out into sleep.
Juice stretches out on the bed beside Chibs, and pulls him close so that his head is resting against Juice's chest and Juice has his arm draped across the man's shoulders. It's cozy, and as Juice falls asleep, he can't help but think that none of this would've happened if he'd never gotten sick in the first place.