Thanks, as always, for all the support and all of your kind words! We're slowly closing in on the end of this story, and I'm going to work very hard to get it finished for all of you! I hope you all are eager to see how things play out – I know I am!


Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Sons of Anarchy, only the OC's.

A Hard Conversation

One hour later, Dana was back at her house in Charming. She sat at her desk in the office, the recording of her conversation with Stephanie Nichols playing through the little speakers of the recorder while her hand flew across the page of a yellow note pad, furiously scribbling down notes. When she reached the end of the recording, she shut off the recorder, made a few last minute notes, then set down her pen and reached for her silver flip phone.

Though it had not beeped or vibrated since she had placed it on the desk, she still opened it to make sure she hadn't missed any attempts on Gonzalez's part to get into contact with her. They had not spoken since before she had left for Lodi, and as she looked at the annoyingly blank screen of her phone, she saw that there were still no calls or texts from her colleague. Dana frowned and impatiently wondered if she should try to call him again. After a few moments, she decided against it – if Gonzalez wasn't making contact with her, there must be a reason for it. She just needed to be patient.

A knock on the front door brought her back to the present. She glanced at the time on her phone, saw that it was two minutes to noon, then determined that it must be Jax coming to get her for the house warming party. Dana typed out a quick text to Gonzalez telling him that she would not have her work phone on her and to call her on her personal cell of anything important happened. She then shoved the phone into the drawer of her desk and left the office, double checking that the door was locked behind her, before heading for the front door.

She smiled widely when she opened the door and saw Jax standing there with Abel in his arms. It had only been a few hours since she had left him, but seeing him again made her instantly feel happier and calmer. It was a feeling that she had noticed was becoming a common occurrence in recent days.

"Hey," she greeted.

"Hey yourself," he said back. "You look great," he then complimented, his eyes moving from her red, wavy hair to the formfitting t-shirt and jeans she had changed into, before they raised to meet hers again.

Dana smiled. "Thanks. So do you," she said.

Jax smirked and leaned in to kiss her, which she happily reciprocated. They broke apart when the street filled with the sound of multiple loud motorcycles, followed by a loud wolf-whistle. Tig, Chibs, and Juice had just pulled up and had taken it upon themselves to park in Jax's driveway. Rachel, Dana noticed with a smile, was on the back of Juice's bike and waving at them enthusiastically.

Tig was off his motorcycle first. He took off his helmet and shook out his curly hair, before looking right at them. "You two ready to party or what?" he called loudly, holding his arms out wide and looking at them with a grin that could only mean trouble.

"Yeah, come on, guys!" Rachel added, smiling with excitement as she and Juice joined Tig. "Let's get this shindig started!" she said, doing a funny little dance.

Dana and Jax shared a quick, amused look, before he finally offered her a hand. Dana slipped her hand into his, her fingers interlacing with his own, and then they went to join their friends. After a round of hugging and, on Dana's part, a few wet kisses on the cheek from Tig and Chibs, the group made their way across the street.

They were not the first ones to arrive at the party. As they let themselves inside and headed for the backyard, they saw that a number of people were already there, and they had wasted no time in cracking into the booze and cranking up the music. They found Bonnie-Jean first, who was setting up things at their outside bar, and gave her hugs and kisses. They then found Dupree, who was getting the bar-b-que pit ready and wearing the same apron he had worn at the Taste of Charming fundraiser – the one that had Will Cook For SEXwritten in bold, red lettering. He cheered loudly at the sight of them, shared an enthusiastic, manly hug with each biker, ruffled Abel's blonde hair, then turned a wide grin on Dana and Rachel.

"My favorite ladies!" he exclaimed. He moved to hug them both at the same time, giving Rachel a noisy kiss on the cheek first, then Dana. "Damn good to see you, dolls," he said happily.

Dana shared a look with Rachel, then quirked a brow at Dupree. He was always friendly with them, but he had never been quite so affectionate. "Been drinking already, Dupe?" Dana questioned, thinking he was being overly affectionate due to alcohol.

Dupree shrugged. "Couple beers. Why?" he asked, looking unsure why she was asking.

"You're just in, like…a really good mood," Rachel pointed out. "I've never seen you like this. It's...weird."

Dupree scoffed good-naturedly. "What, I'm not allowed to be happy?" he asked. "I'm back home with my lady, and now I get to spend the day partying with all my favorite people! How could I not be?"

Dana smirked and poked him in the side. "Damn. If I'd known you being with Bonnie would make you less of a grumpy shit, I would've gotten the two of you back together a lot sooner," she joked.

While Rachel and the guys laughed, Dupree rolled his eyes at her and gently shoved her away. "Yeah, yeah, whatever smartass," he tossed back with a grin. He finally moved away from them to return to the pit. "You all help yourselves to some drinks," he said to the group of them. "Food'll be ready soon enough."

His words were met with murmurs of understanding, then they all went back to the bar to get their first round of drinks.

A steady stream of people began to arrive after that, and it wasn't long at all before the party was officially underway. Just as Dana had predicted, it looked like half of Charming had been invited. Within the hour, the house and yard were full to the brim with people, most of whom she either knew or, at least, recognized. It was also a loud affair, too, just as she had expected it would be – between all the many conversations and the loud rock music playing through the outside sound system, she wouldn't be surprised if the entire neighborhood could hear the party taking place.

Chibs and Tig wandered off to go and talk to some friends of theirs, but Dana and Jax went to claim a picnic table with Rachel and Juice. Eventually Opie and Donna arrived with their kids, Ellie and Kenny, and as the two kids broke away from their parents to play with the kids of other party-goers, Opie and Donna came to join them at the table. The six of them just sat around for a while, drinking beer, laughing, and talking with one another. Finally, just before two o'clock, Dupree made the announcement that the food was ready. Jax, Opie, and Juice stood from the table to go grab some food for the table.

"Do you mind watching Abel while I grab us food?" Jax asked, his brows raising.

Dana nodded in agreement without even thinking about it. "Sure, I'll take him."

Jax handed Abel to her, and after a bit of adjusting, Abel was settled comfortably on her lap. The boy gave her a grin almost immediately, showing off the few baby teeth that had come in. "You want anything in particular?" Jax asked.

"I'm good with whatever," Dana answered.

Jax nodded, leaned down to press a quick kiss to her lips, then headed off with Juice and Opie. As they disappeared into the crowd, Dana smiled down at Abel, who was now interestedly watching Kenny, Ellie, and the older kids playing together a little ways away, his hand absentmindedly wrapping around on of her fingers.

"Wow, Abel likes you," Rachel commented as she sipped her beer. "I tried to hold him once and the kid lost his shit."

Dana shrugged, her eyes looking down at Abel as he gave her finger a squeeze. "Guess he's gotten used to me." She had been spending a lot of time around Abel recently, and considering he was generally always happy whenever he saw her, she thought it safe to say that he had gotten comfortable with her.

Donna, who sat a few chairs over, took a drink from her beer and gave her a curious look. "Do you ever want kids of your own, Dana?" she asked conversationally.

Dana pursed her lips at the question. Speaking truthfully, being a mother had never been the plan. Considering how crappy her own parents had been and how messed up she was because of that, she had always felt unqualified to have children of her own – what if she ended up failing them the same way her parents has failed her? Screwing up some poor, innocent kid's life was not something she particularly wanted to do.

But as she looked down at Abel, who had started babbling away as he tried to point out something that had caught his attention, she couldn't deny that there was a small – very small – part of her that kind of liked having a kid in her arms. Whether that was because Abel was cute and seemed to actually like her, or if it was just because he was Jax's son, she couldn't say for sure. But every time she was around Abel, her previous fear of kids faded away just a little bit more.

"I don't know," she finally answered, looking back to Donna. "I'm not sure I was born with the maternal instinct, to be honest. I feel like I wouldn't be very good at the whole kid thing."

Donna lifted a brow knowingly. "This is the second time I've seen you around Abel, and from what I can tell, you seem like you're better at it than you give yourself credit for."

Dana looked at her for a moment, then shrugged again. "There's a difference between babysitting and actually being a mother, though," she pointed out.

Donna gave a conceding nod. "Yeah, that's true. But I also know that things feel a lot different when it's your own kid."

Dana nodded slowly. "Maybe so," she said. She looked at Abel again, then grabbed for her beer with her free hand. "I don't know. Maybe I would consider it, if it was with the right person," she said after taking a sip. "I'd need someone I could depend on, someone who actually cared and wanted to help raise a kid. Someone who actually knew what they were doing, because I sure as hell won't know what I'm doing," she admitted.

Rachel shared a quick smirk with Donna. "Weird. I think we know someone like that," she said. "Don't we, Donna?"

Donna shrugged innocently in response and raised her beer to her lips. "Possibly," she said, before taking a drink.

Rachel whistled. "And good lord would those two would make some gorgeous kids," she said, shaking her head in awe.

Donna just nodded in agreement and sent Dana a wink.

Dana knew they were referring to Jax, of course, because who else would they have been talking about? She flushed a bit and took another drink of beer, a bigger drink this time. It could never happen – it would never happen. But she could not stop herself from imagining, for one tiny moment in time, what it might be like to carry Jackson Teller's child. A strange feeling rushed through her, one she couldn't really put a name to.

Dana quickly shoved those thoughts and feelings away. That was not a future she could have, nor was it one she was even sure she would want even if she could. She cared about Jax, she was far beyond the point of being able to deny that fact. But what they had right now, this small slice of happiness they had been enjoying, was doomed to fail. Everything would turn to shit the moment Jax found out who she really was, and then it would all be over. Jax would wind up hating her, she would wind up going back to her life in L.A., and then they would likely never see each other again. That would be it.

It was not the first time she had admitted to herself that this comfort and happiness she had found with him over the past few weeks had an expiration date, but acknowledging the truth now still made her feel like she'd been punched in the gut. Dana took another drink to try to wash away the uncomfortable feeling that had settled in her belly. It didn't work.

"I think we freaked her out," Rachel commented when she saw Dana's reaction. "In case you haven't noticed, our girl here is a little skittish when it comes to serious matters of the heart," she told Donna.

Donna looked a little guilty for having made Dana uncomfortable. "Sorry, Dana. We were just teasing. We're not trying to upset you or anything," she apologized.

Dana quickly shook her head and forced on a small smile. "It's fine. I'm not upset." That was a lie. "I just…think it's a little weird to be talking about stuff like that right now," she excused, firmly closing her mind to all the weird feelings that had just washed through her.

"Talking about stuff like what?"

Dana tensed as she realized that Jax, Juice, and Opie had returned, each holding two, full plates in their hands. Dana gave Rachel and Donna a quick look, one that said she would prefer if Jax didn't know that they had just been discussing their hypothetical future children. Both women seemed to read her message loud and clear.

"All of Juice's weird habits that I didn't know he had until he moved in," Rachel quickly covered. "You know he likes to work out naked?" she asked, raising her brows.

Everyone looked at Juice, who looked betrayed. "Babe! Why you airin' out my dirty laundry?"

"It's called girl talk, sweetie. That's what we do – gossip about our men," Rachel answered, before giving Dana a meaningful wink. Dana just smiled gratefully in return.

"Maybe we shouldn't leave these three alone," Jax said with a smirk as he set a plate down in front of Dana. "These gossip sessions sound dangerous," he added, giving Opie a look.

Opie snorted and plopped down back into the seat next to Donna. Dana, however, looked at Jax with a smirk as he reclaimed the chair next to her, forcing herself to act normal now that he was back. "What, you afraid I'll rat on you and all your dirty laundry?" she asked teasingly.

Jax gave her a look. "Should I be?" he asked back.

Dana pretended to think about it, then smiled and shook her head. "Nah. Your secrets are safe with me."

Jax smiled and leaned over, so that his lips were less than an inch away from hers. "That's my girl," he said, before capturing her lips in a kiss.

The things she had been thinking about while talking with Donna and Rachel returned at those words, a distinctly sad feeling settling in her belly. He wouldn't be saying that anymore or kissing her like this once everything was said and done. Dana leaned in closer, one hand tightening on his kutte to make him stay where he was, prolonging the kiss. If she was going to lose him, then she selfishly planned to enjoy this as much as she could while she still had the chance to do so.

They finally parted when they were hit with a piece of food, which Opie had thrown at them. They released one another, Jax quirking a brow while Dana's cheeks flushed a tiny bit. "Knock it off over there. People are trying to eat," Opie said with a joking smirk. He didn't really seem annoyed, though – in fact, he seemed happy for them. The big biker shared one last meaningful smirk with Jax, then turned to Juice and nodded his head upward. "How's the domestic life treatin' you, Juice?"

With that question, they all fell back into an easy conversation as they ate their food. Dana let Abel continue to sit in her lap, feeding him little bites of beans and meat every so often. More than once she caught Jax watching her with a little smile on his lips, his eyes filled with something she couldn't quite put her finger on. When she finally raised her brows at him in silent question, his answer was to give her a small smile and squeeze her knee under the table, before he turned to start talking to Opie about the bike he had been rebuilding in his driveway.

Eventually Abel grew restless in her lap, and it wasn't hard to see that he wanted to play with the older kids running around. Jax, having finished his food, wiped his hands on a napkin and then motioned for her to hand him over. "I'll take him over there," he said as Dana carefully maneuvered Abel into Jax's grasp. "You eat."

With that Jax stood from the table and went over to the kids, setting Abel onto the ground so that he stood on his own, unsteady feet. Kenny and Ellie immediately ran over to play with Abel and Jax, and soon all four of them were moving around the yard, the Winston kids holding on to Abel's little hands and guiding him around on wobbly legs, while Jax walked closely behind to keep an eye on them. Dana had to smile to herself at the protective way Jax watched over his son. It was both amusing and endearing to watch him transform from a tough, outlaw biker with a serious reputation into – more or less – a worried mother hen clucking around her baby chick.

When they had all finished eating, Dana and Rachel offered to throw away the plates and grab a second round of beer for everyone. After Opie and Donna told them they would make sure nobody took their table, Dana and Rachel headed off, pushing their way through the crowd to go throw away their trash.

"Hey," Rachel said to catch her attention, placing a hand on Dana's forearm. When Dana looked at her, she saw that Rachel had a slightly worried expression on her face. "You're not mad at me for all the kid talk earlier, right?"

Dana gave her a reassuring smile and shook her head. "No."

Rachel instantly relaxed with relief. "Good. I know I've been annoying you by talking about your future with Jax so much. I just…" Rachel shrugged and then smiled. "I'm just really happy for you guys. I think you two deserve each other, and I'm really rooting for y'all."

It was a nice thing for her to say. Unfortunately, Rachel had no idea that she was rooting for a lost cause. Dana couldn't tell her that, though, so she just forced herself to smile.

"Thanks. That means a lot," she said, and she thought it better to just leave it at that.

They left the trashcans and started toward the bar. The party, if possible, had gotten even more crowded, and as they navigated their way through the thick crowd, Rachel latched onto Dana's arm so as not to get separated. They finally reached the bar, which, of course, was the busiest area in the yard. It took a few moments, but Dana was finally able to reach one of the large white coolers full of bottled beer. She leaned over to wrap her hand around an ice cold bottle, but suddenly there was another hand grabbing for the same one at the same time. Their hands touched, which had them looking to one another. The other person was a man, maybe a few years older than herself. He looked a little familiar – she thought she remembered seeing him at one of the rowdy clubhouse parties.

"Sorry," Dana said with a smile. "You can have it."

"No, no. You have it," the guy insisted, handing the bottle to her.

Dana nodded and took it, very aware of the fact that the guy was watching her as she grabbed a few more beers and handed them over to Rachel. She reached for another beer, her eyes moving back to meet his again when his stare didn't waver. He smiled when he saw that he had her attention again and stuck a hand in her direction.

"I'm Josh, by the way," he introduced.

Dana hesitated, then shook his hand with her free one. "Dana," she said back.

"Have I seen you at the clubhouse before?" he asked curiously.

"Possibly. I've been there a couple times," Dana answered, unsure why he was asking.

Josh grinned again. "I knew it," he said, before giving her a charming look. "I wouldn't forget seeing someone as pretty as you."

Dana blinked in surprise, then looked back at Rachel, who was watching their interaction with raised brows. "Er, thank you," Dana said awkwardly. She grabbed a few more beers, then backed away from the cooler – and, simultaneously, Josh. "We should probably be going now," she said before he could get another word out. Dana smiled politely. "It was nice to meet you."

She motioned to Rachel that they should go, then started to leave. She stopped, however, when she felt a hand close around her elbow. Josh had grabbed her arm. Dana looked down at his hand, then quirked a brow as she raised her gaze back to his. His grip and demeanor weren't overly aggressive, but she still didn't like the fact that he was touching her without permission.

"Hey, I wasn't trying to scare you off or make you uncomfortable or anything," Josh said, shaking his head. "I was just complimenting you."

Dana started to tell him that it was his hand on her that was making her uncomfortable, not his words. Before she could, however, another person appeared beside them. Chibs, who must have been somewhere nearby, had emerged from the crowd and planted himself next to her. His eyes were narrowed as he looked first at Josh's hand, before lifting his gaze to give the man a deathly glare. He must have witnessed the exchange, and he clearly didn't like it.

"An' just what the hell do ya think you're doin'?" he asked, his voice eerily calm.

Josh removed his hand from Dana at once, clearly intimidated by the biker. "I was…just talking to her."

Chibs lifted a brow. "Looks to me like you were manhandelin' her," he accused. He took a step closer, his head tilting to the side. "Do you know who she is?" he asked. "That's Jax's ol' lady." Josh's eyes went wide at those words. So did Dana's. "Do you have any idea what he'll do tah ya if he knows you were grabbin' at her?"

"I…I didn't know," Josh said, sounding very nervous all of a sudden. His eyes darted left and right, as if he expected the biker to materialize out of thin air and start pummeling him to death.

"Now ya do," Chibs said. "Now get out of here, while ya still have tha chance to," he ordered, pointing to the door. Josh nodded and hastily moved to leave, but Chibs grabbed him by the shirt before he could get far. He pulled him close, so that they were nearly nose to nose. "If I ever see ya anywhere near my friend again, I'll beat ya so badly your own mother willna recognize you."

Josh nodded, and after Chibs released him, he scampered right out of the party. Dana and Rachel watched the guy go, then looked at Chibs again with raised brows. His entire demeanor changed in the blink of an eye, the threatening scowl quickly turning into a friendly smile. "Alright, darlin'?" he asked Dana, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Dana nodded. "Yeah, I'm good. Thanks."

Chibs nodded. "You're welcome."

He squeeze her shoulder, then let her go so he could grab himself a beer and then return back to whatever he had been doing before.

Dana watched him go, too surprised by what had just transpired to move or do anything for a moment. Chibs coming to her defense had been completely unexpected, and the fact that he had referred to her as his friend was a surprise. She liked Chibs just fine – he was a little rambunctious, but he was always good for a laugh and was extra entertaining once he got a lot of alcohol in him. They didn't necessarily spend a lot of time around one another, however, nor did they know much about one another. To know that he liked her enough to consider her a friend that was worthy of protecting was certainly news to her.

But as surprising as all that was, it was what Chibs had said that was really making her mind spin. He had referred to her Jax's Old Lady, which was a very serious thing to say. In the biker world, that was not a title that was just thrown around carelessly – it was a title that really meant something. Had Chibs called her that just to scare the guy and make sure he left her alone, or had Chibs called her that because Jax had told him that was what she was?

"Why do you look like you're on the verge of having an existential crisis?" Rachel asked.

Dana blinked and looked at her. "Chibs called me Jax's Old lady," she said.

Rachel nodded. "Yeah, so?" she asked, as if she didn't see why this was any cause for concern.

Dana raised her brows. "Is Jax telling people that I am?"

Rachel shrugged. "I personally haven't heard him say it, but I mean…you're with the man day and night, he lets you around his kid, I haven't seen him even look at another chick in weeks, and he's made it damn clear that any guy who so much as breathes too close to you will get their balls cut off and served to them on a silver platter." Rachel smirked. "If that doesn't make you his Old Lady, then I don't know what does," she concluded matter-of-factly.

Dana blinked dumbly in response, which made Rachel laugh. The brunette clinked one of the bottle she was holding against one of the bottles in Dana's hands. "Welcome to the club, sister," she said.

Rachel turned to walk away, and after Dana stood there for another moment in stunned silence, she got her feet working again and followed her. She couldn't quite say if the sudden pounding of her heart was because the revelation excited or terrified her. It was probably a little bit of both.

Upon returning to where they had left Juice, Donna, and Opie, Dana found that Jax and Abel were nowhere in sight. She glanced around, searching for their blonde hair amongst the crowd, but didn't see him anywhere.

"They went off that way," Opie said when he saw her searching around, waving a hand in the general direction of the bar-b-que pit.

Dana nodded and looked that way. Sure enough, after a bit of searching around she spotted Jax and Abel standing not far from the bar-b-que pit. Jax was holding his son in his arms, smiling widely as he talked to someone just out of her line of sight. The crowd parted a little more a second later, allowing Dana to see who it was that he was talking to. And as soon as her gaze landed on them, Dana felt the muscles in her body instantly stiffen.

Gemma and Clay.

Obviously it made sense that they would have come to the party – Gemma was friends with Bonnie-Jean, and even though she personally had never seen them around each other, she thought it safe to assume Clay was friends with Dupree, just as everyone else in SAMCRO was. Still, it hadn't really occurred to Dana that Jax's parents would be there, and the fact that they were immediately made an unpleasant feeling bubble in her belly again.

Dana eyed Gemma from a distance. She had not forgotten the fact that Wayne Unser was now investigating her, something which she was almost completely certain he was doing under Gemma's orders. She was very aware of the fact that Gemma didn't trust her, and quite frankly, Dana didn't trust her in return. All things considered, she just wasn't really feeling in the mood to talk to the woman or be on the receiving end of her usual looks of disapproval and dislike. It seemed better to keep her distance, especially so if there was going to be alcohol involved.

Jax turned his head and caught her eye, giving her a smile and a wave. Dana forced on a smile and waved back, indicating that she had brought him another beer. She then couldn't help but glance at Gemma, who was looking her way now. Their eyes met from across the yard, and after a second of neither doing anything, Gemma finally inclined her head in acknowledgement. Dana did the same, then turned and took a large drink of beer as soon as Gemma looked elsewhere.

Something told her in that moment that avoiding Gemma Teller would be much easier said than done.

Three hours, a few cigarettes, and several drinks later, Dana had successfully managed to dodge Gemma thus far.

Gemma, for her part, had spent most of time with a group of slightly older ladies, only pulling herself away here or there to talk to someone she knew from town or pay attention to Abel. As for Dana, she had decided that there was safety in numbers and had stuck to her own group, which had grown in size now that even more people had filtered into the party. Half-Sack had shown up with Piney and Bobby Elvis about two hours previous, and while the older bikers had spent most of their time drinking with Clay and Dupree by the bar-b-que pit, the Prospect had quickly joined their little gang at the table. Tig and Chibs had also filtered back in to join them at some point, and they had brought with them Mindy and Tressa, the two friendly girls that had gone out with Dana on her birthday.

With plenty of people to distract her, it was easy for Dana to stay far away from Gemma as she chatted and hung out with their friends. She sat close to Jax, leaning into his side as he rested an arm around her shoulders, feeling protected as long as he was close by. She finally tore herself away from him, however, when Dupree pulled out a beer pong table and Rachel came around begging Dana to be her teammate.

"You don't wanna play?" Dana asked Jax.

He shook his head. "Not really my thing," he answered.

"Alright, then," she said, before getting up to go play. She leaned over to kiss him. "Wish me luck," she said with a smirk.

"Give 'em hell," Jax said, giving her a smirk and a playful swat to her backside.

She and Rachel went up against Tig and Dupree first, who were hardly a challenge. Tig had decent aim, but Dupree was terrible. Dana and Rachel made quick work of putting them out of their misery, cackling to themselves when Tig smacked his cousin up against the back of his head before and loudly declared he was never partnering up with him again. After the cousins chugged their designated beer and moved off, Dana and Rachel next took on a team of two older guys that they recognized as regulars at the bar. They beat the men easily enough, then, when Chibs and Tressa stepped up to challenge them next, they swiftly took them down as well. After winning two more rounds against various people, Dana and Rachel were beginning to feel invincible and rather cocky as their winning streak continued.

It was around that time, however, that Juice and Half-Sack stepped up to take them on, both looking confident and unintimidated. "The streak is about to be over, ladies," Juice said tauntingly.

"I wouldn't be too sure about that, baby," Rachel cooed back sweetly. "See, me and Dana here are basically pro league," she said, slinging an arm around Dana's shoulders. "We're the Michael Jordan's of beer pong. Didn't you know?"

Dana giggled under her breath, while Juice and Half-Sack snorted and rolled their eyes. "You're gonna regret being so cocky when we mop the floor with you," Juice warned.

"Guess we'll just see, won't we?" Rachel tossed back, looking thoroughly unintimidated.

They started playing, and it didn't take long for Dana to think that maybe they shouldn't have been so cocky after all. Juice and Half-Sack were good. Maybe it was because they were fresh or maybe it was because Dana and Rachel had had a little bit too much to drink by this point – either way, the two bikers had incredible aim. Before long, they were down to only one cup on the table, while Dana and Rachel still had four.

Needless to say, the moment Rachel realized that they were indeed about to get their asses handed to them, she began to panic. "C'mon, Prejean!" she said, placing both hands on Dana's cheeks and squeezing them together, making Dana look like a fish. "Get your head in the game, woman! We can't let them beat us!"

Dana pushed her friend away, rubbing at her cheeks with a disgruntled huff. "This isn't all my fault!" she said defensively. "You missed your last three shots!"

"You've missed just as many!" Rachel argued back.

"Hey!" Juice said loudly, making them both stop and look at him. He was smirking arrogantly and standing with his arms crossed over his chest. Half-Sack was resting an elbow on Juice's shoulder, looking just as annoyingly smug. "Stop bitching at each other and just shoot. Let's get this slaughter over with."

While the crowd watching their game unfold laughed and jeered, Dana gave Juice a death glare and flipped him the bird. Squaring her shoulders, she took the ping-pong ball that Rachel offered and got ready to shoot, her eyes locked on the cups on the other side of the table. With determination, she aimed for a cup in the back. When it landed in with a satisfying plop, everyone began cheering.

"Ha!" Dana said, high-fiving Rachel. "That's how it's done!" she then taunted, grinning evilly at the two bikers across from her.

Juice and Half-Sack both rolled their eyes. "Don't get too excited, yet," Half-Sack warned with a wag of his finger. "Rachel still has to make it in for you guys to even have a hope of winning."

All eyes turned to Rachel, who looked calm and collected as she took hold of a ping-pong ball and took aim. The brunette sucked in a breath, before letting it out heavily and releasing the ball. It went soaring toward the cup Dana had landed her own ball in and bounced against the rim. It then ricocheted to the rim of the next cup, before pitifully bouncing onto the table and, eventually, falling to the ground. Juice and Half-Sack began cackling at her failure, while Dana turned a disappointed look on her friend. Rachel was already looking to the sky, her shoulders sagging with defeat.

"You had one job," Dana said with a shake of her head. "One job."

Rachel said nothing, just threw her hands up dramatically.

With Juice and Half-Sack's next turn, they brought Dana and Rachel's reign to an end. They both landed their ping-pong balls in their one remaining cup, which had them cheering loudly and giving high fives to all of the onlookers. Dana shared a look with Rachel while Juice and Half-Sack proceeded to consolidate all of the remaining beer into two cups. After they handed the cups over to them, she and Rachel admitted defeat and clinked their cups together, before chugging the beer down.

"Sorry for beatin' your asses so hard, ladies," Juice said when they had finished. "Actually," he added with a smirk, "after all the shit talking you two did, I'm not sorry."

"Cute," Rachel said with a glare.

Juice laughed and moved closer to pull his girlfriend into his arms. "Aw, don't be such a sore loser, babe. I still love you, even though you suck at beer pong," he said, before leaning down to capture her lips in a long, loving kiss.

Dana turned her eyes away from the couple to look at Half-Sack, who was standing next to her. He smiled at her, then extended a hand. "Good game, Dana," he said.

Dana looked at his hand, then smirked and pushed it away. "Put that thing away," she said, before giving him a congratulatory hug. He hesitated at first, but then returned the hug and patted her on the back. "You played well, Half-Sack. If I had to lose to someone, at least it was to a worthy opponent."

Half-Sack chuckled. "Thanks. And you're a much better loser than Rachel is," he muttered just loud enough for her to hear.

Dana laughed as they separated, then turned to look for Jax. He wasn't around, which led her to believe that he had wandered off during the tournament to find entertainment elsewhere. She glanced at Juice and Rachel, saw they were still making out for everyone to see, then pulled a face and quirked a brow at Half-Sack.

"Let's leave these two to their make out session and get another drink," she suggested.

Half-Sack seemed to hesitate again, but then nodded in agreement. Together, they made their way over to one of the coolers and fished out a couple of beers for themselves. As they popped them open and took a drink, Dana realized that this was the first time she had been alone with Half-Sack since Jax had banned him from dating her. Because she had always liked Half-Sack, and because the alcohol in her system was making her feel chatty, she nudged him with her elbow and gave him a smile.

"It's been a long time since we've talked," she pointed out.

Half-Sack shrugged and gave her an apologetic look. "Yeah, I know. I've been busy with work and the club, and you…" He trailed off, looking a little awkward for a second. "Well, you've – "

"Been busy with Jax," she finished for him. Half-Sack nodded. Dana sighed and gave him a look. "I know things have been a little…weird. But I still think you're a cool guy. I'd like it if we could be friends."

Half-Sack gave her a small smile. "Yeah, I'd like that, too. Though I'm not sure Jax would feel the same," he added with raised brows.

Dana smirked and shook her head. "I can be friends with whoever I want to," she said matter-of-factly. "Jax will just have to learn to deal with that."

Half-Sack didn't look convinced, but if there were any doubts in his mind, he didn't voice them aloud. They each took a drink from their beer, companionable silence passing between them for a moment. Her eyes searched the party for Jax again. It took a few moments, but she eventually spotted him sitting with Piney in two chairs on the far side of the yard. They were both drinking a beer and laughing about something. Jax's wide, genuine smile was infectious and made it impossible to fight back a smile of her own.

"Things are goin' good with you and Jax?" Half-Sack eventually asked, drawing her attention back to him.

Dana nodded. "Yeah," she answered. "Really good."

Half-Sack nodded slowly, before his brows pinched together. "He treats you right? You know…he's good to you?" he asked quietly.

If Dana wasn't mistaken, Half-Sack sounded concerned. Maybe even a little protective. To know that he cared enough to make sure that Jax was treating her right was heartwarming. She couldn't resist reaching over to squeeze his arm. "It's good, Kip," she said seriously, choosing to use his real name rather than his nickname. "Jax makes me happy. Really happy," she then admitted.

Half-Sack seemed convinced now. "I'm glad. You deserve to be happy and you deserve to be treated right," he said firmly. "I'm glad you found that with Jax. He's…he's a lucky man to have you by his side," Half-Sack added, nodding and giving her a small smile.

Dana pressed her lips together for a moment, unsure how to respond to those words. She looked elsewhere and raised her beer to her lips, taking a long drink. When she swallowed her drink, she started to say something to change the subject and steer it back toward waters that felt a little safer. Before she could, however, someone came pushing through the crowd and appeared just next to them, stopping short when they saw Dana and Half-Sack standing there.

It was Gemma.

Gemma looked at her, looked at Half-Sack, then looked back at Dana. "Hello, Dana," she said, giving her a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

Dana wasn't sure if she tensed out of nervousness or out of caution. She glanced at Half-Sack from the corner of her eye, then nodded to Jax's mother. "Hello, Mrs. Teller," she said back in her most polite voice.

Gemma shook her head and waved a hand. "Enough with the Mrs. Teller crap. Makes me feel like an old woman," she said. "Just call me Gemma."

"Alright…Gemma," Dana said, the name feeling weird and foreign on her lips.

Gemma glanced around searchingly, then looked back at her with raised brows. "Where's Jax?"

"Hanging out with Piney," Dana answered, gesturing in that general direction.

Gemma nodded, gave her a long look, then raised her brows at Half-Sack. "Why don't you make yourself scarce, Prospect," she said, the words coming out more as a command than a suggestion. "I'd like to talk to Dana alone for a minute."

Half-Sack didn't need to be told twice. He nodded, gave Dana a look that clearly said good luck, then left. Once he was gone and once it was just her and Gemma, Dana felt even more on guard. She didn't know what to make of the look on Gemma's face, nor was she entirely sure she knew why the woman wanted to speak to her alone.

"You should be careful hangin' out with the Prospect alone like that," Gemma warned.

Dana frowned. "We're just friends," she defended.

Gemma quirked a brow. "If I know my son half as well as I like to think, he would probably rather you weren't."

"Well, I think Jax will just have to get over that," Dana countered before she could stop herself. "He knows how I feel about him. He knows he doesn't have anything to worry about."

Gemma thought that one over for a moment, her eyes contemplative. "And just how do you feel about my son, Ms. Prejean?" she asked, her brows raising.

So this was why Gemma had wanted to talk to her alone. The woman wasn't interested in her friendship with Half-Sack – she wanted to know what Dana's intentions for Jax were.

Dana gave the older woman a serious look. "I would think it would be obvious by now," she countered pointedly.

Gemma paused, and Dana wasn't really sure what to make of the expression that overtook her face as the woman seemed to consider what to say next. Finally, Gemma sighed. "Look, I know you and I didn't exactly get off to the best start," she admitted. "I'm protective of my family and I want what's best for them. I won't apologize for being cautious about a new person coming into the lives of my son and grandson," she said firmly. "But," she continued, "Jax cares about you – a lot. And he has made it glaringly obvious that he plans to keep you around. So, if you're interested, I would like to give all of this between you and me another try."

Dana blinked. This was not how she had expected this conversation to go. Seeing as Gemma had always treated her like the dirt underneath her shoe, the last thing Dana had expected was for the woman to actually try to make amends with her. She couldn't help the surge of suspicion that she felt – was Gemma making amends for Jax's sake, or was she trying to lure her into a false sense of security? She doubted Gemma's feelings toward her would have changed that drastically in just a matter of days. Maybe Gemma was trying to be friendly in the hope of getting something out of her, something that she could use against her. Maybe this was all just an act.

Dana decided that if that was the case, then two could play that game.

"I'd like that," she said, nodding and putting on a smile. Then she extended a hand to Gemma. "Truce?"

Gemma looked at her hand, then took it and gave it a slow shake. "Truce." Gemma released her hand, then raised her brows. "Why don't you and I get to know one another a little better," she said, before glancing at the beer Dana held in her hands. "Put that thing away and let's get ourselves a real drink."

Dana looked at her half-finished beer, then nodded and set it down. With that they went over to the bar, where Gemma made herself a martini, and where Dana opted to pour herself a glass of whiskey, thinking her old, alcoholic friend would give her the strength to make it through whatever conversation she and Gemma were about to have.

They found a few empty chairs to claim and settled in. They started off easy. They talked about life in Charming and Dana's job at The Goat and a few other mundane things – simple, noninvasive subjects to just get the conversation rolling. It wasn't long, however, before Gemma started to breach more personal topics, which Dana had been waiting for.

"So," Gemma said, giving Dana a look. "As I understand it, you've been married before?"

Dana wasn't surprised that Gemma knew – she was pretty sure everyone in Charming knew she had been married by now. "Yeah," Dana confirmed. "We, uh…finalized the divorce not long before I moved here."

Gemma nodded in understand. "Mind me asking what went wrong?"

Dana sighed. "Honestly? I don't think there was ever a time where things were right," she stated truthfully, which had Gemma lifting her brows. "We were never really a good fit," Dana explained. "He never really understood me, and I could never give him what he wanted. We were doomed right from the start. We never should have even gotten married in the first place."

Gemma made a thoughtful noise at that. "Why did you marry him then?"

Dana shrugged a shoulder. "At the time, I was lonely and desperate to connect to someone – anyone. And I thought that I loved him."

"But you didn't," Gemma stated.

Dana shook her head. "No. I tried to. But…I never did."

Gemma nodded slowly in understanding. "Sounds like what happened with Jax and that junkie Wendy," she commented. She shook her head to herself. "You can't force love. If you have to make yourself love someone, it's never gonna work out," she stated.

Dana nodded in agreement. "That's a lesson I learned the hard way, unfortunately," she said with a rueful smile.

Gemma smirked a bit, then took a drink of her martini. Dana helped herself to some of her whiskey, her eyes unconsciously sweeping the party. She could no longer see Jax or Piney anywhere, which left her to assume that Jax had either gone off to tend to Abel somewhere or was just wrapped in conversation somewhere out of her line of sight. She wondered how he would react if he discovered her in the midst of having a drink and a surprisingly civil conversation with his mother.

"So, I have to ask," Gemma said to continue their conversation, making Dana look to her again. "What made you decided to come to Charming?" she asked curiously.

Dana shrugged a shoulder. "Just wanted to get out of the city, start over somewhere fresh in a place where nobody knew me," she explained.

Gemma pursed her lips. "You didn't want to go back to your family?" she asked.

Dana tried to stop herself from pulling a face, but didn't completely succeed. "I'm…not close with my family."

"That's a shame," Gemma said. "The way I see it, family is what's most important. I couldn't even imagine not having mine."

Dana shrugged. "The difference is that you actually give a shit about your family. Can't really say the same for my folks, though. My mother and I haven't seen eye to eye for years. And as for my father, well…" She lifted her whiskey to her lips. "He made it clear what was more important to him long ago," she said, before taking a big drink to wash away the bitter feeling that had just invaded her mouth.

"You talkin' about the Devils Vultures?" Gemma asked bluntly.

The question surprised her so much, Dana nearly choked on her drink. She managed to get her gulp down, turning wide, surprised eyes on Gemma, who was staring back at her knowingly.

She knew. Gemma had found out that Dana was connected to the Vultures.

An uncomfortable feeling raced through her veins. "Jax told you?" Dana asked, knowing that was the only possible way she could have found out.

Gemma nodded, which made Dana feel even more anxious. There had always been a possibility that people would find out. In fact, Peters had wanted her to use her previous affiliation to her advantage. But that was before Gemma had ordered Unser to look into her, before that information had stopped being an advantage and become more of a threat. That sort of information was dangerous for Gemma to have in her arsenal now. If Unser started looking into the Vultures, it wouldn't be too hard for him to figure out that things didn't quite line up with whatever alias the bureau had set up for her. He might start to realize that something was off with her, which would be very bad indeed.

"Something wrong?" Gemma asked astutely, having obviously picked up on Dana's sudden apprehension.

Dana looked at her again, then forced herself to calm down. "I just…didn't know he was gonna tell anyone that," she said, willing her heart to stop beating so fast. "I was kinda hoping he would keep that to himself."

Gemma quirked a brow and tilted her head. "Why?" she pried.

Dana fiddled with the glass in her hands. "There's a lot of bad blood there," she stated, and though it was the truth, it was not the entire truth. "The Vultures are a huge part of the reason my family fell apart. I worked really hard to distance myself from them, and it's not something I really like to talk about if I can avoid it."

Gemma's interest was certainly caught. "Well, that seems strange, doesn't it?" she asked, which had Dana tilting her head questioningly. "You shut the Vultures out, but then came here and got right in with SAMCRO," she pointed out. "How is our club any different from them?"

Dana wasn't sure how to answer. The only reason she had gone anywhere near SAMCRO in the first place was because of her investigation – under normal circumstances, she would have stayed well away from the Sons of Anarchy. But despite the circumstances under which she had gotten involved with SAMCRO, she could not deny that any previous ill feelings toward the club had long since disappeared. She liked the guys in the club, and she more than liked Jax. On paper, the Vultures and SAMCRO weren't much different from each other. But they felt different to her, even if she couldn't really explain why.

"I don't know. They just…are," Dana said with a shrug. When Gemma didn't seem satisfied, Dana sighed. "Look, the truth is that I'm still not completely comfortable with all this. But SAMCRO is a huge part of Jax's life. I don't get him without getting the club, too." Dana shrugged again in resignation. "It's hard. But I'm willing to try…for him."

It was hard to tell if Gemma liked that response better than the first one or not. The woman was a master when it came to hiding whatever it was that she was thinking. There was a brief lapse of silence where the two of them stared at one another. Just when it finally seemed like Gemma was going to say something, however, two people appeared in their line of vision. It was Clay and Jax, and as they came closer, Dana thought Jax looked a little wary of the fact that she and Gemma were together.

"There you two are," Jax said as he and Clay came to a stop in front of them. "What're you guys talking about?" he asked, glancing back and forth between the two of them questioningly.

Dana looked at Gemma, who smiled easily. "No need to freak out. We were just…getting to know one another a little better," Gemma told her son in a placating manner.

Jax looked at Dana for confirmation. When she nodded he relaxed a bit, but not by much. "Got it," he said slowly, before jerking his head in the direction of the table they had been hanging out at earlier. "Rachel's been asking for you. I think she wants to talk to you about something."

Dana wasn't sure if Rachel actually did want to talk to her or if Jax was just making up an excuse to help her escape from Gemma – either way, she nodded and quickly stood up, eager to get away from her conversation with his mother. "It was nice talking to you, Gemma," she said, giving the woman a small smile. "Maybe we can do it again sometime?" she then offered, more so out of politeness than out of actual desire to do so.

Gemma nodded. "Sounds good to me."

With that being said, Jax grabbed her hand and made a move like he was going to pull her away. Before they could take even a step, though, Clay stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

"Hold on a second, Jax," the man said, his expression serious. He looked at Dana, and it was the first time she could remember seeing him without sunglasses covering his eyes. She used to think that not being able to see his eyes or know what he was thinking was a little intimidating, but now, as she met his surprisingly stern gaze, she decided he was far more intimidating without the sunglasses. "I need to talk to your lady about somethin' for a second,"

Jax frowned, but made no move to leave her side, which she was grateful for. A one on one with Gemma was awkward enough – a one on one with Clay was downright terrifying. "About what?"

Clay ignored him, his gaze still locked on her. "It's come to my attention that Jax told you about what SAMCRO does behind closed doors, is that right?" he asked.

Dana blinked, then nodded. "He did, yes."

Clay nodded slowly, his eyes turning briefly to Jax. "If Jax wants you to know the truth, then that's his decision." He looked back to Dana and raised his brows. "But I trust you understand how sensitive this information is. If it were to get out, that would cause a lot of problems for SAMCRO," he said with a meaningful look.

Dana understood what he was saying straight away. She looked at Clay, then at Gemma, who was staring unwaveringly at her. "I would never tell anybody anything," she said firmly, her eyes turning back to Clay's. "Anything Jax tells me will remain between me and him. You have my word."

Clay stared at her for a moment, as if trying to determine whether or not she was being truthful with him. Finally, he seemed to decide she was not trying to deceive him. His shoulders relaxed and his expression eased. "Alright. Jax trusts you, so I will too." He then gave her a lopsided smirk – it was friendly enough, but there was still a slightly threatening feeling to it. "I do hope you're a woman who keeps her word, Dana."

Dana nodded once. "I am," she stated.

Clay just nodded in response. It was around that time that Jax seemed to have reached the end of his patience. "Alright, you made your point, Clay," he said, before raising his brows. He looked annoyed and defensive. "You done threatening my girl now?"

Clay chuckled and patted Jax on the shoulder. "Yeah, I'm done," he said with an easy smile. "You two go on and enjoy the party," he said, waving them away. "We'll talk more another time, Dana."

Dana, who was not looking forward to any conversations with Clay, was barley able to nod and say goodbye before Jax was pulling her away from his parents. They wove through the increasingly drunk crowd of people, leaving Gemma and Clay behind. Once he seemed to be sure that they were out of the hearing and seeing range of his parents, Jax stopped and turned to give her an apologetic look.

"Sorry about him," he said, clearly referring to Clay. "I gave him a heads up that you knew so he wouldn't be caught off guard. I told him you were trustworthy, but…he likes to make sure all his bases are covered," he explained.

Dana nodded in understanding. "It's fine. I get it," she said.

Jax sighed, then gave her a look. "What was goin' on with you and Gemma?" he asked uncertainly.

Dana shrugged. "We were just talking. We both acknowledged that we hadn't gotten off to a great start and decided to go for a redo. We called a truce with one another."

Jax quirked a skeptical brow. "A truce?" After Dana nodded, he bobbed his head and shrugged a shoulder. "I guess a truce is a good thing," he said, nodding to himself. "Maybe she'll finally stop being such a pain in the ass once she gets to know you better."

Dana thought back to what she and Gemma had talked about, then lifted a brow and crossed her arms over her chest. "Seems she knows a lot about me already, actually," she said, which had Jax giving her a questioning frown. "Did you have to tell her about my family and the Vultures?" she asked bluntly.

Jax sighed a bit and stepped closer, placing his hands on her waist as he gave her a slightly guilty look. "She kept saying how she didn't think you were cut out for the club life," he revealed. "I told her about that so she'd shut up and realize she'd misjudged you."

She supposed that made sense, but she still wasn't thrilled about it. "Who else have you told?" she asked, wondering what the extent of the damage control would need to be.

Jax shook his head. "No one. Just her." After Dana sighed and nodded, he pulled her a little closer and leaned down so that his face was close to hers. "Don't be mad at me, babe," he said, giving her a look that made her instantly want to melt into him. "I had good intentions, I swear."

Good intentions or not, it didn't change the fact that she would be majorly screwed if Wayne Unser got his hands on that information and started digging up dirt on her – the real her. She could not express those concerns to Jax, however, and forced herself to give him a small smile. "I'm not mad. Just…try not to tell anyone else, okay? I'm done with the Vultures. I don't want everyone in the world knowing I used to be involved with them."

Jax nodded. "I won't tell anyone else. You have my word."

He then leaned in to kiss her, and she finally uncrossed her arms to slide them comfortably around his neck, unable to help herself as she returned the kiss. Jax pulled away, brushed his lips over hers one more time, then nodded toward the bar. "C'mon, cupcake. Let's get another drink."

Dana just nodded in agreement, then interlaced her fingers with his and headed for the bar.

An hour later, Dana still hadn't managed to forget her conversation with Gemma entirely, but she had pushed it far enough away to where she at least wasn't turning into a nervous wreck over it.

It was just shy of six o'clock now, and after an afternoon full of drinking, she was admittedly feeling more than a little inebriated. She rubbed her eyes as she went to the bathroom in Bonnie-Jean and Dupree's house, hoping that when she opened them again the bathroom wouldn't be tilting quite as hard as it just had been. It didn't really work – the world was still leaning to the right when she looked around again. Or maybe she was just leaning to the right. Dana honestly didn't know.

She finished going to the bathroom, flushed the toilet, then went to sink to wash her hands. She looked at herself in the mirror and frowned when she noticed the make-up smudged under her eyes. Using a tissue, she fixed herself up a little, making sure she looked presentable again. Dana then tossed the tissue into the small wastebasket by the sink and then reached for her phone, which was in her back pocket.

There was an unopened text message from Gonzalez waiting for her, which had her sobering up a little. Dana clumsily punched in the password to unlock her phone and opened the message. Call when you can, it read.

The short message made her frown. It was hard to determine if the message was urgent or not – if something important had happened, he would have outright called. Then again, if nothing had happened, he never would have sent her a text in the first place. Dana frowned, feeling fairly certain this had something to do with Carl Peters, then looked at the time the message was sent. It had only been about fifteen minutes since he had reached out, which meant Gonzalez would probably still be available to talk. Dana decided that she might as well call him, otherwise she was just going to spend the rest of the night wondering what was going on at HQ.

Dana typed out a quick message. Available now?

It took a moment or two, but her phone soon vibrated with a response. Yes.

Call you in five, she typed out. Dana then deleted their text thread, shoved her phone into her pocket again, then opened the door to go and search for a quiet, discreet place to call Gonzalez back.

She had just stepped into the living room when Jax walking into view carrying a fussy looking Abel. As he stepped closer, it wasn't hard to figure out why Abel was upset – the smell of poop hit her so strongly, it made her eyes almost instantly water.

"Abel had a blowout," Jax said, looking only mildly affected by the foul odor coming off his son. He was probably used to things like this by now. "I gotta head home for a bit and get him cleaned up."

Dana nodded in understanding, then realized this would be the perfect opportunity to get away from the noise of the party and call Gonzalez. "I'll come with you," she said.

"You sure?" Jax asked. "You don't have to."

"I could stand to get away from all the noise for a bit," she insisted, gesturing to the loud party goers around them.

Jax finally nodded in acceptance, and with that, they left the party and headed across the street to Jax's house.

Jax made a beeline for Abel's bedroom once they were inside, making soothing shushing sounds to try to console his crying son. Dana trailed behind them and lingered in the doorway of Abel's bedroom, leaning against the doorframe as she watched Jax carefully pull off Abel's clothes. When he finally saw the extent of the damage that had been done, Jax pulled face and shook his head.

"Damn, man! You made a mess," he said with astonishment. He finished undressing Abel, pushed the dirty clothes off to the side, then carefully picked him up. "We might be here a while," Jax told her. "This kid needs a bath," he said.

Dana nodded and moved aside so they could pass by. She scrunched her nose up when she saw how much poop was on Abel. "Anything I can do to help?" she called after Jax as he headed for the bathroom, though she sincerely hoped he would say no – cleaning up baby poop wasn't really her forte.

"Nah, I got it," Jax called over his shoulder, before disappearing in the bathroom.

As soon as she heard the water turn on, Dana turned on her heel and headed into the kitchen. After glancing down the hallway to make absolutely certain that Jax was preoccupied, she pulled her phone from her pocket, dialed Gonzalez's number, and pressed the phone to her ear.

"I was starting to think you'd forgotten me," Gonzalez said upon answering.

"Sorry. I, uh, got hung up," she said as an excuse. She leaned back against the counter, her fingers tapping quickly against the countertop. "What's going on?" she asked, seeing no use beating around the bush.

"Peters is here," Gonzalez answered bluntly.

She had expected it, but it still made her stomach twist. "Figured as much," she said. "How bad is it?"

Gonzalez sighed. "Not great," he said. "He made the announcement that he and Matheson are taking over the investigation."

Dana cursed under her breath and shook her head. "They're pulling me, then?" she asked bitterly. Though she wasn't sure upset her more – that she was getting the boot, that she had failed at her job, or that she would be getting pulled away from Charming, and away from Jax, sooner than she had anticipated.

"That's the thing," Gonzalez said, sounding unsure now. "I'm not sure they are. He didn't say anything about taking you out of Charming. I think they're gonna keep you undercover."

"But I'll have to basically be their bitch and do whatever they tell me to?" Dana guessed.

"More or less," Gonzalez said.

Dana sighed. "Fucking fantastic."

She sighed and looked up at the ceiling, her mind racing with all the possible ways things might go to shit with Peters and Joel officially in charge. What would they try to make her do to once they took the reigns? How would they want to proceed? And how, if she was supposed to be at their every beck and call, was she supposed to find the proof that it was Kyle Hobart and the Mayans that were the real problem here? She had a feeling everything was about to get a whole hell of a lot harder than it already was. And she hadn't even told Gonzalez that there might be a serious problem with Wayne Unser yet.

"Maybe this isn't as bad as we think," Gonzalez said, trying to sound optimistic. "Just because they're taking over, that doesn't mean we can't keep doing what we've been doing."

"No, but it will certainly complicate a situation that's already a bit of a cluster-fuck," she said cynically. She raked a frustrated hand through her hair. "If I'm honest, though, Peters isn't my biggest concern at the moment. We might have a bigger problem on our hands."

Gonzalez hesitated. "I'm almost afraid to ask," he said warily.

Dana looked down the hallway once more, listening to the distant sound of running water and Jax's voice as he talked to Abel in the bathroom. "You know Unser is running background checks on me?" she asked, dropping her voice a little. Gonzalez confirmed that he was indeed aware. "Well, I'm fairly sure it's because Gemma Teller told him to. She's made it clear she doesn't trust me, and everyone knows damn well that she's thick as thieves with Unser."


"So she's having me checked out, which is a problem in and of itself," Dana said. "But now I found out about an hour ago that she knows I used to be connected to the Vultures, which means there's a very real possibility that they might figure out who I actually am."

"You're kidding me, right?" Gonzalez hissed.

Dana huffed. "I wish I was."

Gonzalez heaved out of frustration. "Fuck me," he grumbled.

"My sentiments exactly," Dana agreed. The tapping of her fingers on the countertop increased in tempo as a feeling of dread began to grow in her belly. "This is some serious shit, Gabe. If Unser starts snooping around in the Vultures history, he's gonna find out pretty quick that there's never been a Prejean in that club," she said. "He'll start asking questions that I won't be able to answer, and then I'm fucked."

He must have been able to pick up on the note of panic that had entered her tone, because Gonzalez quickly tried to talk her down. "Now wait a second, Bradshaw. Take a breath. We don't know for sure that he's even gonna go snooping around there," he said. "The alias we set up is convincing, and with any luck, that should be more than enough to make him decide you're no one to be worried about before he ever even thinks about looking into the Vultures."

"And if it's not convincing enough?" she countered. "If he does go snooping?"

Gonzalez didn't answer at first. "Maybe I can tamper around with some public records, forge some identities and try to cover our bases there. It'll be hard, though – Peters and Matheson are watching everyone like hawks. I think they know you've gone rogue, and they know someone is helping you, they just don't know who. If I get caught, they'll know something's up and it might mean both our asses are finished."

It wasn't the response she had wanted to hear. "Wonderful," she responded dryly, the dread in her belly growing even more.

Gonzalez started to say something in response, but he stopped short when new voices sounded in the background on his end. "I think Matheson is looking for me," he said quietly. "Let me call you back."


Dana lowered her phone as the call ended, her mind whirling with a number of different thoughts. She turned her head to look out the kitchen window, able to see drunk people laughing and having a good time across the street. Finally she pushed away from the counter, shoving her phone back into her pocket.

She needed a cigarette, and badly.

Dana made her way back to the bathroom, knocking twice before opening the door. She found Jax kneeling next to the tub, his kutte splayed out on the bathroom counter as he tended to a wet, soap covered, and much happier looking Abel. Abel made a sound of happiness at seeing her, while Jax glanced back with raised brows.

"How's it goin' in here?" Dana asked forcing on what she hoped looked like a normal smile.

Jax smiled. "Much better," he said. "Ain't that right, little man?" he asked, poking him gently in the ribs.

Abel just giggled wildly in response to the tickle. Dana smiled at the boy, then looked back to Jax. "You got any smokes on you?"

Jax nodded, then indicted in the direction of his kutte. Dana stepped further into the bathroom and began searching the pockets of his beloved kutte, until she produced a pack of cigarettes. With the little box in hand, she started for the door. "I'll be out back if you need me," she said.

She hesitated when Jax stopped her with a wet, soapy hand wrapping around her forearm. He gave her a small frown, his brows furrowing together. "Hey, you okay?"

The stress of the day must have began to show on her face. Dana quickly tried to hide it, forcing on another smile. "Yeah. Just…had a bit too much to drink, I think."

Jax stared at her for a moment, then seemed to decide not to push the issue. "Okay."

Dana smiled again and leaned over to kiss him to try to ease his worries. When they parted, she left the bathroom and headed for the back door, leaving Jax to finish washing up Abel.

It was quieter in the backyard, but she could still hear the sounds of the party across the street. She went to sit in one of Jax's patio chairs, sighing to herself as she got comfortable. Dana retrieved a cigarette from the pack and placed it between her lips, using the lighter inside to light it up. As soon as the nicotine entered her lungs, she immediately felt some of her anxiety ease. She closed her eyes and took another hit, relishing in the calming effect.

Her phone started to ring, which surprised her a bit. She had thought it would take longer for Gonzalez to call back – maybe it had been a false alarm. Without bothering to look at the caller ID or even open her eyes, she blindly swiped her thumb across the screen of her phone to accept the call, then pressed the phone to her ear.

"That was quick," she said in greeting. Gonzalez did not say anything back, which made her open her eyes and frown uncertainly. After a few seconds of silence, she furrowed her brows with confusion. "Gabe? You there?"

There was another moment of hesitation, then the person on the end spoke. "I'm not Gabe."

The voice made her blood turn to ice in her veins. For a moment she sat there in stunned disbelief, her mind refusing to understand just what exactly was happening. Finally, she pulled the phone away to look at the number that had called, needing to see with her own two eyes that was indeed who she thought it was. The number she saw was not one that she had saved to her phone, but she recognized the area code in a heartbeat. It was all the confirmation she needed.

Dana pressed the phone back to her ear. "Brannon?" she asked quietly.

"Yeah, it's me," her brother answered. "How are you, Stella?"

She wasn't sure what was stranger – the fact that she was talking to her brother, that he was talking to her so casually, or that he had called her by the atrocious name her father had insisted on giving her at birth. "I'm…I'm…" Dana sucked in a breath to get her bearings. "I don't know how I am right now, actually," she finally managed out. "I…wasn't expecting to hear from you again."

"You got my message then?" Brannon asked. He sounded guarded now, wary.

Dana nodded, even though he couldn't see it. "Yeah. I got it."

"I hoped you would call back," Brannon said, and if she wasn't mistaken, it almost sounded like he was disappointed that she hadn't.

"I didn't know if I wanted to or not…or what I would even say if I did," Dana admittedly truthfully, the alcohol in her system making her lips have a mind of their own.

"Can't blame you there," Brannon said, huffing out an awkward laugh. "I'm not really sure how this is supposed to go."

Dana didn't know, either. What was she supposed to say to the brother she hadn't seen or spoken to in nearly a decade? The last time they had talked, they had yelled and screamed and said unforgivable things to one another. Were they supposed to just pretend that hadn't happened? What, after all these years apart, did they have to say to one another?

She was snapped from her thoughts when Brannon cleared his throat. "So…how long have been back in California for?" he asked to try to strike up conversation.

"A while now," Dana answered.

"Yeah? What are you doing these days?" he asked with interest.

Dana couldn't hold back a scoff. "You didn't really call to make small talk about work, did you?" she asked perhaps a bit too sharply.

Brannon sighed heavily. "I'm trying to have a civil conversation with you, Stella."

Dana cringed at the name again. "Why do you keep calling me that?" she demanded with a frown. "You know I fucking hate that name."

"I thought only people you actually liked were allowed to call you Dana," he countered. "You made it pretty clear I don't fall under that category a long time ago," he added, and this time there was a note of bitterness in his voice.

Dana couldn't suppress the surge of anger she felt. What right did he have to be mad when all of this was his fault? "You were the one who left, Brannon. You were the one who left me to deal with all of mom's bullshit so you could play with your little motorcycle buddies. You knew how I felt about the Vultures. What did you expect would happen when I realized you were patched in?"

"We've been through this already," Brannon said firmly, and she suddenly felt like she had been transported back to the last time she had seen him, when they had argued over this very same thing. "I didn't want to leave you behind, but I wasn't happy in Texas, and you knew it. I had to come back. This is where I belong. I wish you would at least try to understand that."

Dana scoffed. "Oh, I understand perfectly. The club is what's always most important, right? Fuck everything else – as long as you've got that patch on your back, nothing else matters. Including your own family."

"That isn't fucking true," Brannon countered immediately, anger creeping into his tone. "You were the only good thing I had for a long time. You weren't just my sister – you were my best friend. I would have done anything for you."

Dana laughed darkly. "Everything except stay away from the Vultures, apparently," she reminded him coldly.

Brannon went quiet for a long moment, then heaved loudly. Dana took a long drag from her cigarette, hoping it would calm the anger that had begun raging through her veins. It didn't quell the anger much, but it did help get all of the thoughts and emotions swirling through her mind under control again.

"I don't want to argue with you. We've done plenty of that," Brannon finally said to break the silence. He sounded a lot calmer now. "I know shit's been bad between us for a long time. I don't regret going back to the Vultures, but I do regret the fact that I left you – that I hurt you. Hurting you was the last thing I wanted to do…but it happened. And I'm so sorry for that. I'm sorry for leaving, and I'm sorry for the way things went down the last time we saw each other. I really, truly am."

Dana blinked in surprise. It was the first time that Brannon had actually apologized for what had happened between them. What surprised her even more was that he sounded like he actually meant it.

She closed her eyes, exhaling loudly. An apology was what she had wanted nearly ten years ago. But a lot of time had passed since then, a lot had happened since then. As big of a step as it was for Brannon to apologize, she could not just instantly forget all the feelings of hurt and betrayal that she had carried with her all this time. She was not ready to forgive him. He would have to prove he was worth forgiving before she could even consider it.

They sat in silence for a few long, uncomfortable moments. Dana puffed on her cigarette some more, unsure what to say, before she finally decided that it might be better to just steer the conversation to safer grounds.

"Bartending," she said quietly, her previous anger and bitterness gone.

"What?" Brannon responded, sounding completely confused by the rapid change in conversation.

"You asked what I was doing for work these days," she reminded him. "I'm bartending."

"Oh," Brannon said. There was a pause on his end, before he spoke again. "You enjoy it?" he asked.

Dana's shoulders relaxed slightly. Brannon seemed to understand that she did not want to talk about their falling out anymore and was willing to roll with the change in subject, which she could admit she was grateful for. "Yeah. It's fine," she answered. She flicked the ashes from the end of her cigarette and raised it to her lips again. "What about you? Still riding high in the outlaw world?"

"I'm still with the club, yes," he answered patiently. "But I wouldn't consider us outlaws anymore."

Dana frowned unsurely. Everyone else certainly considered them outlaws – what made him think differently? "What's that supposed to mean?"

"The Vultures are legit now," Brannon revealed. "Have been for almost a year now."

Dana sat straight up at those words, her eyebrows raising to her hairline. "Are you serious?"

"Serious as a heart attack," Brannon answered without hesitation.

Dana blinked rapidly, struggling to understand what he was saying. Never in a million years would she have thought the Devils Vultures would go legit. They had been so deep into the outlaw world for so long, she hadn't thought such a thing would even be possible. "How?" she asked. "And why?"

"Shit was getting too dangerous. We've got guys with kids and wives here, people that depend on us to be around. Too many people were getting busted, too many people were getting hurt. It couldn't continue on like that anymore," Brannon explained. "It wasn't easy switching over, I can admit it. We lost some guys, too, guys who didn't wanna leave the outlaw life behind. But we kept at it, and eventually we made it happen."

Dana let out a long breath, still awestruck by the revelation. She had honestly had no idea what the Vultures had been up to because she had purposefully avoided them for so long. She began to wonder if Peters or Joel knew that her brother's club had turned over a new leaf, then decided that they must not have known – it wasn't like Brannon would have sent out emails to all the feds informing that they were the good guys now and that they would appreciate being left alone.

"Wow," she said. "That's…good. I'm surprised as hell, but…yeah, that's good."

"Yeah," Brannon agreed. "It's a lot better now. Calmer. Not as much cash flow now that we got regular jobs, but…my guys are happy and our families are safe. That's what matters most."

Dana quirked a brow. "Your guys?" she asked pointedly.

Brannon paused for a moment. "I'm President now," he said simply.

Dana's breath caught in her throat as a weird combination of emotions swarmed through her – disappointment that he was as deep into the club as he could go, relief that at least the club had gone straight under his command, defeat over the fact that she knew Brannon would likely never leave the Vultures now. But there was something else, too. Fear. Just because the club wasn't on the wrong side of the law these days, that didn't mean they were enemy free. Being the President still painted a huge target on Brannon's back. There could still be people out there – former enemies or bitter ex-club members – that might want to see him hurt. Or worse.

"You're watching your back, right?" she asked before she could stop herself. "Just because the club is legit now, that doesn't mean you're safe."

Brannon huffed out a quiet laugh. "I'm a law abiding citizen, but I'm not a stupid one. I'm still watching my back. We all are," he reassured.

Dana nodded, an inexplicable feeling of relief making her shoulders relax.

The door to Jax's house suddenly opened, which made her look that way. Jax stepped outside with Abel in his arms, his brows furrowing curiously when he saw that she was on the phone.

"We're ready to go back to the party if you are," Jax said, nodding his head in that general direction.

Dana nodded. "Can I just get a few minutes?" she asked.

Jax nodded, but still gave her another questioning look. "Who is that on the phone?"

Dana gulped, then gave him a shaky, half-hearted smile. "My brother."

Jax's eyes widened and his brows shot up to his hairline. He looked completely stunned, then looked like there were about a thousand questions he wanted to ask. He did not ask them, though, just nodded slowly in understanding. "Take all the time you need. We'll be inside," he said.

He gave her one more look, then went back inside with Abel to give her some privacy, closing the door behind him. Once he was gone, she redirected her attention back to the conversation at hand.

"Who was that?" Brannon asked.

"He's, uh…well, I guess you could say he's my boyfriend," Dana said with a shrug. "It's still pretty new," she felt the need to explain. "We haven't been together long."

Brannon made a sound of understanding. "I see. So…you've never married or anything?" he asked.

"I was married, actually," she admitted. "It didn't work out."

"Sorry to hear that," Brannon said.

"Don't be sorry. I'm not," Dana countered.

Brannon laughed a bit. "Alright," he said.

Dana finished her cigarette and put it out. She quickly decided she needed another one, however, and retrieved another from Jax's pack. "What about you?" she asked as she lit her second cigarette. "You married?"

"Yeah," Brannon answered. "Remember Hannah Revak?"

Dana made a sound of surprise. Hannah Revak had been the daughter of Mike Revak, who had been a longtime member of the Devils Vultures and one of her father's best friends. Mike's son, Eddie, had practically been a brother to Brannon growing up – Eddie to Brannon was, essentially, what Opie was to Jax. Hannah was Eddie's younger sister, and even after Dana and Brannon had been swept off to Texas by their mother, the Revak siblings had been the only people from the Vultures they had stayed in contact with. She had always thought Hannah was nice and pretty, and if she remembered correctly, Eddie had always been very protective of her.

"You married Hannah?" she asked, unable to stop herself from laughing. "Eddie must have loved that."

Brannon snorted. "He wasn't too happy at first. It took some convincing, but he finally stopped being a dick about it after a while," he admitted. "He's my VP now," he then revealed. "Ever since I stepped up, he's been my right hand man."

Dana couldn't say she was too surprised to hear that. Eddie had always had her brother's back. "Younger generation really took over, huh?"

Brannon heaved. "Seeing as all the older generation is either dead or behind bars, there wasn't much choice in the matter."

Dana pressed her lips together at those words, a sinking feeling entering her stomach.

For a moment there, things had felt… normal. She and Brannon had been talking like two siblings who actually got along, reminiscing over people she had once been friends with. She had actually felt a little nostalgic about the whole thing. It had felt, for a second, like the old days – it had almost felt good.

But then he had said that, and now she was reminded of the fact that they still had yet to address the giant elephant in the room. Their father was one of the older generation guys behind bars, and he was the reason that Brannon had reached out in the first place. They couldn't avoid the subject forever, and as that realization sunk in, and good feelings that might have momentarily surfaced quickly sunk under a wave of dread.

Dana fiddled with her cigarette, then raised it to her lips. "We finally gonna talk about him?" she asked. She didn't bother specifying who – she knew Brannon would know.

"I was waiting for you to bring it up," Brannon countered.

Dana sighed loudly and decided to just get it over with. "What's wrong with him?"

"Pancreatic cancer," Brannon said. "Stage four."

Dana cursed and shook her head, taking another long drag from her cigarette. "How long since the diagnosis?"

"Not long," Brannon said. "We found out only a couple weeks before I called you."

"Is he gonna do treatments?"

"No," Brannon answered.

Dana frowned immediately. "What? Why not?" she demanded with more force than she had intended. "Is the system not offering them to him?"

"Treatments were offered," Brannon clarified. "Dad just doesn't wanna do them. Says there's no point wasting money to save his own skin just to spend the rest of his life rotting away in a jail cell. Thinks it's a waste of tax dollars to keep him around."

"So he's just gonna let the cancer kill him then, huh? That's it?" Dana asked in disbelief.

"Pretty much," Brannon answered.

Dana cursed again, a combination of anger, disbelief, and annoyance flashing through her. Most people would try do the treatments to try to beat the cancer and stick around for their family and friends. Not Curtis Bradshaw, though. He'd rather just punch his own time card and leave anyone he had ever known behind.

"Well, at least one thing hasn't changed – he's still a fucking selfish bastard," she said with a dark laugh.

"I'm pissed about it, too," Brannon said, though he sounded more resigned than anything. "But it's his choice. If that's what he wants, then that's that."

Dana scoffed. "I'm not pissed," she denied, even though her tone clearly stated otherwise. "Being pissed would mean I care, which I don't."

Brannon paused. "There's nothing wrong with caring," he finally said. "He is our father."

Dana scowled at those words. "That man hasn't been a father to me since I was eight years old. Actually, if we're being honest here, I don't think he's ever been a father to me," she corrected herself. "He never cared about me, so I damn sure won't waste my time caring about him."

"That isn't true," Brannon said at once. "Look, I'll be the first to admit that Dad wasn't great at the whole parenting thing," he confessed. "He lied and cheated and did a lot of bad shit. But don't sit there and say he didn't care, because that's bullshit."

Dana made a sound of disbelief. There had been so many time in the past where she had heard Brannon talk shit about their father, so many times where he had stated how useless Curtis was and how much he hated the man. The man had disappointed them a thousand times over and then had just let them go – he hadn't even fought to keep them in San Diego when their mother decided to move them away. Now Brannon had the nerve to actually defend him? To claim that Curtis cared when all of his actions proved otherwise?

"Wow. You really did drink the Kool-Aid, big brother," she said with sarcasm.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Brannon asked, sounding defensive again.

"Listen to you!" she said with exasperation. "You're practically a cheerleader for the guy! After everything he's done, after all the shit he put us through, how can you sit there and defend him?"

"Things change," Brannon answered. "He isn't the same guy he used to be. He different. He's better."

Dana scoffed again. "Our father? A changed man? I find that very hard to believe."

"It's true," Brannon insisted. "I hated him, too. You know that better than anyone. But we talked things out and worked through our shit. We're good now. We understand each other."

Dana ashed her cigarette and shook her head. "Jesus, do you two sit around during visiting hours singing Kumbaya, too?" she asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Feel free to knock it off with the fucking sarcasm, Stella," Brannon said with annoyance. "You're making this harder than it needs to be."

"Maybe you should take a minute to consider how things look from my end, Brannon," she snapped back. "The brother who abandoned me calls me after ten years of complete radio silence to try to convince me that the shitty father who also abandoned me is some kind of saint now, and I'm supposed to what? Be happy about that? Forgive everything that's happened and come running back just because dear old dad has turned over a new leaf and because you've finally decided I'm worth your time again?"

Brannon didn't say anything for a second, but eventually sighed. "I get that you've still got a grudge, and I understand why," he conceded. "But I stayed away because you made it clear that you wanted me to stay away. And just in case you forgot, communication works both ways. You could have just as easily picked up the phone and called me."

"Would you have even answered if I had?" Dana countered.

"Of course I would have," he responded without hesitation, and she knew by the way he said it that he was telling the truth. "You're still my sister. You're still my family."

Dana started to say something in response, but suddenly there was a new voice on Brannon's end of the conversation.

"Daddy! Daddy!" a little voice said with excitement.

Brannon sighed quietly. "Hold on a second," he said to Dana. "What is it, sweetie?" he then asked, his tone much more gentle toward the little girl that had just interrupted their conversation.

"Mommy says it's time for dinner!" the girl said. She sounded very young.

"Okay. I'll be there as soon as I'm off the phone," Brannon said.

"Who are you talking to?" the girl asked curiously.

"I'm talking to…a friend," he answered evasively. "Why don't you go get cleaned up for dinner now, okay?" he suggested.

"Okay," the girl said.

When the girl was gone, Brannon shifted his focus back to Dana. "Sorry about that," he said quietly.

Dana didn't say anything at first. She couldn't say anything. The fact that Brannon had a child – that he was actually a father – had stunned her into silence. It made sense that he would – he was married, after all. Still, she had never imagined him having kids, and to learn that he did have a kid and that she had gone all this time not knowing that actually…stung a little bit.

"You…you have a kid?" she asked quietly.

"Two, actually," Brannon clarified. "We have a son named Connor. He's seven. And the one you just heard was our daughter. She'll be five in a few months," he said.

Dana fiddled with the cigarette between her fingers. "What's her name?"

Brannon paused. "We, uh…we named her Dana. After you," he said. He sounded vulnerable now, like he had been exposed and it made him uncomfortable. "I…didn't think we'd ever talk again after you cut me out. I felt like I'd lost you for good. Naming her after made me feel like I still had a little bit of you around, you know?" He laughed then, but he still sounded nervous. "She's actually a lot like how you were when you were a kid. Even looks like you a little."

It was like someone had just shot her in the gut. Dana slumped in her chair, a shaky exhale slipping through her lips. After what had happened between them, she had convinced herself that Brannon didn't care about her anymore. It had just felt easier to hate him when she believed that he hated her in return. But now she knew it had never been true. Even though they hadn't spoken in years, even though the last words they had said to each other had been full of anger and hatred, he had still named his child after her. And though she was trying hard not to acknowledge it, she could hear with every word he said that he had missed her.

She suddenly felt overwhelmed by it all. Talking to Brannon again, talking about their father, discovering that she had a nephew and a niece, learning that there was a little girl running around San Diego with her name…her throat began to feel tight and her eyes began to prickle. It was too much to take in. Too much to process. She couldn't continue on with this conversation. She didn't want to find out what else he might have to tell her that would cause anymore cracks in her own foundation.

"Look, uh," Dana had to clear her throat when the rest of the sentence got stuck there. "I should go. I've got some stuff to do and your family is waiting for you."

She felt like a chicken backing down like this, but she had reached her limit. It was time to end this call. "Oh…yeah, okay," Brannon said, and there was no denying the disappointment in his tone. "Before you go, though, can I ask one thing of you?"

"What's that?" Dana asked.

"Could you at least think about reaching out to dad?" he asked carefully. "I know it's a lot to ask, and he's fully aware of the fact that the chance you actually will reach out is a slim one. But…he is dying. He won't be around much longer, which means the time you have to work shit out with him is running out fast."

She started to ask what made him think she wanted to work things out with their father, but then bit her tongue instead. That would probably just result in them arguing again, and she didn't have the mental capacity to argue with him anymore.

"Just think about it," Brannon repeated when she said nothing in response. "You might be surprised what he has to say if you do. It might…make you see things a little differently."

Dana closed her eyes, breathed deeply, then nodded to herself. "Okay. I'll think about it," she said.

"Good." There was a pause, then Brannon spoke again. "Can we do this again?" he asked hopefully. "I'd like to talk to you some more, if you're cool with that."

Dana thought about it for a second. She had run away from Brannon for so long, she had kept that door firmly closed for years. The thought of talking to him again had been something she had dreaded profusely, something she had avoided for as long as possible. Now that they had talked, however, she found that she felt differently. She didn't forgive him yet. They were nowhere even close to be being how they had been back in the day. But she didn't want this to be the end all over again. She wanted to see where this whole thing might go.

"Yeah. We'll talk again," Dana agreed.

Brannon let out of what sounded like a sigh of relief. "I'll call you again soon, then," he said, sounding pleased that she was willing to keep the line of communication open.

"Okay." Dana paused, her eyes turning downward. "Bye, Brannon."


Dana pulled the phone from her ear and ended the call. As silence fell over the backyard again, she stared at the phone in her hands, her mind positively swarming with thoughts as her conversation with Brannon replayed in her head. Eventually she put the phone down, put out her cigarette, and dropped her face into her hands, a shaky breath escaping her and her throat tightening again. Her eyes began to prickle again, which made her press the heels of her hands into her eyes to try to make the incoming tear go away. She didn't want to cry. She hated crying, and she especially hated crying over Brannon. But she had learned so much from that one conversation, felt so overwhelmed by everything. The tears just wouldn't go away. She couldn't fight them back.

There was suddenly a gentle touch on her shoulder, which had her lifting her head from her hands. Jax was there, though she had been so caught up in her own head that she hadn't even heard him come outside. He looked worried, his brows pinching together as he kept his hand on her shoulder.

"You okay?" he asked gently.

Dana looked up at him, her chin quivering a little, before she finally shook her head. "No," she said truthfully.

Jax sighed, pulled her up from the chair, and immediately wrapped her up in his arms. Dana sunk into him, the fight leaving her completely. And as she stood there in Jax's arms, desperate for the comfort he was offering, the tears she had held back for nearly ten years finally came.

We finally met Brannon!

Let me know what you guys thought of their conversation and all the revelations from this chapter!