AN: Hey guys! Thank you all for your nice reviews, keep up with that and I will do my very best to deserve them :D
Like every time, I want to thank the great LonePalm for the much time she spends to push this story with corrections and suggestions.
Disclaimer: Sons of Anarchy and all characters in this fic – except for Adam Learner, the nurse James and some unnamed supernumerary – belong to Kurt Sutter and the FX Network.
There was a window in the ceiling, that allowed just a bare impression of the sunlight down to them. Helpless, Opie watched Jax struggling to breathe. He searched for a pulse and found it, but it was more like a fluttering vibration under his fingers.
»Come on, Jax. Don't do this to me« Opie begged his unconscious friend on the floor and stuffed his kutte under Jax's head while he reached for his cell. Loud clanging noises reminded him of the Russians, who were still trying to break the lock of the storage room with one round after another, but luckily with no success. Opie called the bar phone of the club house. The line was busy. Fuck. Holy shit, why now? He tried Clay's number, but nobody answered. Jax stirred. It sounded somewhat panicked but he didn't come around. His breathing got more labored than before, if that was even possible, and then … it stopped. Opie let his cell drop and bent over Jax, who – a few torturing seconds later – gasped again and continued to wheeze with bigger growing gaps between every movement of his chest. At least he was breathing. Opie watched him anxiously and dialed Chibs' number. Relieved, he heard someone answering.
Tara passed through the gate of Teller-Morrow and parked her car hastily by the side. She jumped out and looked around the yard in a glance. Clay stood in one of the garages with his back to her and arguing with presumably Tig, Bobby was absorbed in a puzzle that once might have been a motor, Piney was drinking as he sat next to Juice who was sunk behind a laptop under the awning. The only person who seemed to recognize her was Chibs, who stood in the middle of the courtyard. He had turned pale while listening to his cell and stared her directly in the eye. She went over to him.
» … don't need to. She's here« he answered to the unknown caller and let the phone sink.
»What is it?« Tara asked and felt a misgiving rise slowly. »Where … where is Jax?«
The Scotsman shook his head. »Hurt.«
»Where is he?« she expelled horrified.
»Get into your car« Chibs directed her and pointed at the vehicle behind her.
»Chibs, please« she pleaded. »I need to know.«
The biker sighed. »On the Wahewa reservation. Russians got them. Jax collapsed.«
»You should call an ambulance« Tara hissed.
»They won't find that place. Only a few know where it is.«
»Then take me to him!«
»I will. Get in the car. I'll go and tell the club.«
Tara nodded and stumbled shakily backwards. Chibs grabbed her sleeve and gave her his cell before he left – running. Confused Tara raised it to her ear, he hadn't end the call.
»Jesus Tara« Opie breathed.
Opie took a deep breath. Maybe the guilt for this was on his shoulders.
Tara held her breath. The guilt for this was on HER shoulders.
»Opie, what happened?« she repeated.
»He just collapsed. He isn't hurt at all.«
»Does he have a pulse?« she snapped in a weird kind of routine.
»Yeah, yeah he does … but it's fast and not very steady.«
»What about his breathing?«
»He is breathing, but it's getting flatter and … «
»Okay, okay. Do you know CPR?«
»Tara, whats happening to him?«
»I don't know« she spat. »Do you know CPR?«
»Do you know it?«
»Yeah, I took a course at the lumber mill.«
»Okay. I want you to raise his upper body. That may help him breathe. And I want you to watch him closely. Do you get that?«
»Yes« Opie confirmed and got behind Jax. He pulled him over to a pile of boxes and propped him up. Jax's skin was clammy and had turned to a bluish shade. It was possible that his imagination was playing tricks on him but he couldn't shake the thought that Jax's lips had turned a dark violet color as well. Fortunately his new position seemed to ease the troubles he had, at least partially.
»It's working« Opie nodded under a new barrage of shots on the outside, that the door stubbornly held back.
»What was that?« Tara cried out and grabbed hold of the passengers seat she just had reached as she watched the members of the club starting to move.
»The Russians are trying to break the down the door« Opie stated darkly. »We're safe, Tara. They can't get to us.«
Tara saw Chibs heading to the car, a holster with two guns over his shoulders and a bulletproof vest in his hand.
»Don't hang up« she whispered to Opie and took the vest in exchange for the car keys. »Where are you taking me?« she asked and looked worried at the vest.
»Jax would have wanted you safe. It's his.«
Opie heard Chibs starting the car. He sank back against the wall, relieved that help was on it's way, even though it was still far away. The Russians outside had obviously decided that the door wouldn't give in, not under a thousand of 9 mm bullets. He heard them talking, muffled and unrecognizable words made their way into the dark space that gave he and Jax shelter. Again he searched for a pulse and found it. God, Jax had always been a stubborn ass. Some things never would change.
»She's coming« he assured his best friend. »Tara is on her way.«
Tara listened to the words the calm and deep voice whispered. Her throat got tight. She was not the help Jax needed. She wouldn't be much more than a bandaid that covered a bullet hole. But out there in the depths of the desert, she might be the only chance for the man she loved.
Chibs was a good driver. He rushed the car down the road as if the tires didn't even touch the asphalt, but the bikes where faster. In a roaring noise the rest of SAMCRO took them over and disappeared in the distance as small, dark dots. Tara looked over to Chibs and he pushed the gas pedal to the floor.
»Tara?« Opie addressed her after a minute of silence.
»What is it?«
»I don't know if it is good or … um … it's hot in here. I mean, Jax was ice cold but now … «
»Get him out of his shirts, but be careful with the right wrist.«
Opie put the phone aside and peeled Jax out of his kutte. Gently he pulled the sleeves over his best friend's hands and the sweater over his head. His chest was still covered with the monitor electrodes and he spotted a cath on his wrist. The uneven scars of the stabbing became visible and the thin line were surgeons had extended the cuts to repair the damage the knife had caused appeared between the small circular marks of the stitches. Opie looked down on the man that once had been indestructible. Now he was broken. Ailing under his fingers and there was nothing he could do to help him but watch and wait. He should have held him back, when Clay had sent them to the Wahewa. All too well he remembered Tara's words. She hadn't shared it with him because she hadn't had someone to turn to, she had told him because she had trusted on him to protect Jax when she wasn't there. Opie felt his failure burning on his skin. Literally.
»I'm sorry, Tara« he spoke.
»You don't need to be« her soft voice answered. »How is he?«
»The breaks between the gasps are getting longer and I think his lips are turning blue.«
»Fuck« Tara expelled loudly and shifted in her seat. »Count the seconds.«
»From exhale to inhale?«
»Okay. Is there a window?«
»Yes« Opie affirmed and looked up but dark clouds had shaded the small porthole over them. No, not clouds, he suddenly realized. Wisps of smoke. And the heat wasn't caused by inner guilt or the sun. He held his hand near the steel door but didn't dare touch it. It had to be scorching hot.
»Damn it!« he called out. »They set fire to the house!«
»They did what?« Tara cried and looked over to Chibs who had also heard Opie's last words. He shook his head.
»They won't get there faster even if they know, Tara« he answered her unspoken suggestion to tell the others about the fire.
»Can you get out?« she shouted into the cell. »Is there a door or … what about the window?«
»There's no way« Opie breathed and rubbed his face. No way out.
Tara got her cell out and dialed. She turned to Chibs while she was waiting for someone to answer.
»At the reservation, is there anywhere a highway, a crossing or something recognizable I can direct an ambulance to?«
»There is a settlement. Milton. Three or four miles from the safe house. Behind that there is just a dirt track through scrubland.«
»Alright« she nodded 'til someone took her call.
»Department of cardiology, this is James.«
»James? This is Dr. Knowles. I need to talk to Dr. Learner.«
»He is on his rounds. Do you want to leave a message, Dr. Knowles?«
»It's urgent. Get him as fast as you can.«
Tara could literally hear the moment the nurse James recognized the nature of her call and disappeared from the phone without any further word. Just half a minute later Adam picked it up.
»What's going on?« he asked alarmed.
»How fast can you order an ambulance to Milton near Morada?«
»What? Did you find Jackson?«
»I'm on my way to him. I think he has an arrhythmia.«
»The ambulance« Tara reminded him sharply.
»Of course. Milton?«
»Yeah, I will meet the EMTs there. They should call me. You have my cell number?«
The club reached the outer limits of the desert. Clay, as always drove ahead. So he was the first to spot the two hundred yard high column of thick, dark smoke, rising from the only place that held life in this dead and inhospitable area just a few miles in front of them. The members didn't need an invitation to squeeze the last bit out of their Harleys, so they rushed – everyone drowning in their own sea of horror and disbelieve – towards the unmistakable sign of final destruction.
It was getting hotter with every second in the locked up storage room. Opie had reported to Tara every minute about Jax's condition. It hadn't improved. Not even a little bit, just changed to a new level of scary. His breathing deteriorated with every gasp until he stopped completely for a few seconds and started again. Opie watched it for what felt like the thousandth time.
»Still here« he replied tired and wiped a trace of sweat from his forehead.
»How … « she asked interrupted by cracking.
»The same as before, Tara« he sighed.
Opie got up and climbed onto another pile of boxes. The heat wasn't only suffocating Jax but him as well. If he just could break the window glass or find a mechanism to open it. Certainly nobody would fit through that ridiculous small hole, but at least they could breathe fresh air or what was left as thin bright blue lines between the all the smoke. But the window remained shut and he descended. He bent down to Jax, checked his pulse and breathing only to notice that the latter was gone and remained so.
»Tara!« he shouted into his cell. »He stopped!«
»Breathing?« Tara cried out and dug her fingernails into her thigh.
»Yeah … I … I … «
»Calm down!« Tara barked at him and tried to brace herself. »Like y… have learned … get him flat … his back … pull his head ba… «
Cracking followed by something like white noise cut the connection and Opie dropped the cell. Hastily he pulled Jax onto the floor and did as he was told. Inhale, exhale. A few times. Still he found the pulse. Every time flatter and more irregular than before. Even Opie knew that it was just a matter of time until it would vanish completely. He couldn't help it. All he could do was just try to breathe for both of them as he knelt in the dark, hot space that must feel like hell itself.
They could sense the heat from the distance. Wind had sprung up and blew the first fumes into their direction. Clay stopped and dismounted, indicated to the others to do so as well, but the most of them stood there already ready to fight, if there was something left to fight for. Tig dropped his helmet and pulled his gun. He nodded and they spread out before they slipped into the lot. The fire created a bloodcurdling thundering rumble and the smoke burned in their noses and lungs. The place seemed deserted, as dead as everything else around there, but they knew there was someone waiting for them … a huge black SUV parked by the side of one of the buildings. Tig tapped Clay on the shoulder and pointed to it.
»Got the C-4?« Clay asked and provoked a mischievous smile on Tig's face. »Juice!«
»Boss?« Juice nodded after had crawled to Clay through the dusty yard.
»Take Piney and Phil. Go and find a way to kill that burning bitch.«
Juice nodded but a series of small detonations followed by real shots threw him to the ground and left them searching for cover. Clay spotted a guy in a suit firing at him and bending back down into the cover behind the black SUV. Juice got over to the other side and disappeared with Piney and Phil between the buildings. Tig returned with a small package of plastic explosives and a blasting cap.
»Ready to fire up their asses« he grinned.
»Later« Clay called him off. »Can you get a clean shot?«
Disappointed Tig looked over at the Russian, who was firing at him and nodded. He pulled his gun, got up, waited for the second the Russian to leave his cover and placed a single bullet between the guy's eyes. He dropped dead into the dried up mud.
»One left« Tig counted and sank back into his cover. »Can I blow up that black pussy wagon now?«
Clay shook his head before he answered »Do whatever you have to.«
Opie was getting tired. Sweat ran down his skin. His body was already aching under the strain. He didn't know how much longer he could do it, or if it still made sense. Could be minutes, could be hours, he couldn't tell. Only desperation fueled adrenaline kept him going, squeezing air into the motionless body which might still hold Jax's mind. Jax hadn't responded at all; limp as the dead and pale and bluish as water evaporating into an unknown sphere.
She was going crazy while Chibs drove her car like crazy. But even he couldn't grow that desolate vehicle a pair of wings. Tara clawed her fingers into the handgrip of the door. They rumbled over the dirt track towards a horizon dulled by smoke and dust. She had been crying since the connection to Opie had broken down. Umpteen times she had tried to call him, but the line had remained silent.
They came closer. The settlement became visible and something else that was approaching the car. It was a man in a black suit and he was running with a Harley on his trail. Tig was on his trail. Just before they all met, Tig caught up with the fugitive and ran over him. A choked scream escaped Tara's mouth as she stared in horror at the scene that they where passing at maximum speed.
»Tara … « Chibs began but she raised her hands in refusal.
»No. Not a word.«
In the distance she saw the burning wreckage of a metal building and something big moving above it. She didn't recognize the watertower until it burst through the clouds of smoke and shattered on the roof of the burning cabin, dowsing almost all the flames. The rest of them were put out with an extinguisher by a figure she recognized as Piney. When Chibs stopped the car Tara had already opened the door and jumped out; while Tig, Juice and Phil vanished into the deformed and steaming ruins of the building. She stopped between Clay and Piney, watching in horror as the other three drug the bodies of two men into the light of the day, burned beyond recognition.
The world lost grip on Tara. Too late … they were too late. She fell to her knees and collapsed into the fresh ash speckled mud. Clay bent down to her and gently picked her up. She could tell that he was crying too. So was Piney. They stood there shaking, too shocked to talk, too overwhelmed to scream.
Tara was the first to find her voice again.
»Impossible« she shook her head and Chibs laid his hands on her shoulders.
»Where did you find them?« Chibs asked Tig, who shrugged.
»You broke the storage room open?« the Scot inquired and slowly all eyes turned to him.
»What storage room?« Juice raised his grime smeared eyebrow. Tara turned to Chibs too. In that moment her cell started ringing. It showed Opie's name on the display. Tara answered the call.
»I can hear you guys talking. Why the hell are we still stuck in here?« Opie's grumbly voice rang out from the cell.