Everything she meant to say died on her lips at that echo of the past come back to haunt her. Just like in the goddamn photograph. She left them without comment, probably wondering what she was up to this time, and by early afternoon Gemma had hidden herself away in her house with a cigarette and a beer and a half in her and felt a little more in control of her surroundings. A little in control might be the best she'd get, these days.
She didn't know where she'd gone wrong. Maybe it was the panic over the letters, maybe it was letting Clay go on longer than she should have. Maybe it was picking Tara over Wendy, Tara's influence pulled Jax away from her faster and harder than anything she'd ever experienced. Maybe it was denying to herself that Clay was as far gone as she thought, that he was capable of the things he'd done. Gemma dropped the cigarette into the dish on the table before she caught her hair on fire and dropped her forehead against her palms. Too old for this bullshit, and too tired. She wanted security, and that was getting her into too much damn trouble.
"Seriously losing my touch," she muttered to the table. And she couldn't begin to find where it went wrong, either. Time was, she'd been in control of all the strings, even with Clay.
"I wouldn't say that."
Gemma smiled at the table. It didn't feel like a smile but it was one, dear old Tigger. She didn't have to look up to hear his boots approaching her from the kitchen door. "What are you doing here."
"Just came to check on you." He smiled, not his usual horrific leering grin but a small smile, the Tig she trusted with her life looking out behind the killer blue eyes. Poor Tiggy. He'd had a hard go of it the past few days, and there were times she felt guilty about not letting him in on what was really going on. "How're you doing, Gem?"
She threw him a flat look as a matter of course, then shook her head. "I'd be a lot better if everyone stopped asking me if I'm all right," she pointed out, pushing back from the table and moving to the sink to dump the rest of her beer out. This was a mood for something stronger, though she'd have to wait a little while if she didn't want to get sick. Still, no reason Tig couldn't sooth his rattled nerves with some of their Crystal Skull and some orange juice.
"Sure it's not a little early for that?" Tig gave her a dubious look, and when he came up close to take the glass from her she remembered the last time he'd been drinking any decent quantity of vodka in their house. More than she wanted to remember right now. Gemma stepped away.
"It's too late to start lecturing me on my bad habits," she told the sink, rinsing out another glass for herself.
The chair creaked behind her as he settled into it. Big man. Most of the club was big men, her husbands, Jax, Opie. Piney, Tig. Big men she'd fed many a big meal to right here from this very kitchen. Back in the old days.
"How'd he do?" she asked, didn't turn around. Moved to the fridge and poured herself a glass of water to get through the beer quicker so she could get to the hard stuff, put up a fuzzy wall between her and all the shit coming down.
Tig creaked leather and shifted in his chair. "Not bad. Kinda quiet. Think everyone was trying to wrap their heads around Jax being in the chair..." Gemma finally turned around in time to catch him shaking his head. He looked about as tired as she felt.
"I saw you weren't on the right," she asked without asking. With all that came down around Tig being Clay's right hand for so long, then giving it up once Clay went so far off the rails, only for Clay to take those bullets and everything else even she didn't know how he felt about not being the Sergeant at Arms to the new President. "That your choice or..."
"His," Tig tapped the bottom of the glass against the table a couple of times. "Can't say I blame him."
Gemma shifted, folding her arms against her chest and then dropping them again because getting belligerent with Tig wasn't the way to go. "What do you mean?"
Tig looked up at her, still tired, kind of a wry smile though. "We're part of the old guard, Gem. He wants people ... People he can talk to."
"Uh-huh. You mean, people he trusts."
"That too." But Tig didn't seem bothered by the implication. "I mean, I won't say I understand why he picked Chibs. Opie'll be his VP, that's all right."
Gemma snorted, taking water and vodka over to the table and sitting down at the head, facing Tig. "And it's all right for the President's old lady to come barging in on the meeting like some..." she didn't have a word strong enough for Tara. She didn't have the right word, because as much as it pissed her off that Tara had such a hold on her boy, her son, she had to admire the girl for balls.
Not that Tig had any sympathy for her. He just laughed. "Like you used to?"
"Don't you start with me," she pointed a finger at him. He laughed again, caught her hand and made her remember why he'd been one of her best friends for longest. "I mean it, Tiggy."
"Uh-huh. You're just pissed because she's taking over the role you had all those years, and you're not ready for it."
Gemma opened her mouth to deny it and covered the lack of anything real to say by taking a sip of vodka. It burned up her nose and down her throat and gave her enough time to come up with something decently angry. "Little girl better learn some respect." And more sulky than angry, what was wrong with her? "What's wrong with me, Tig? Am I really getting too old for this?"
"Nah," he waved that away. "It's not you, it's the rest of us. It's Clay. It's just the way the world works, babe, you know that. Clay went down... took the rest of us down with him."
Just like that, it wasn't a laughing matter anymore. Clay had gone down. And she'd hitched her life to his in more ways than one, more ways than even Tig knew, and he'd burned it all up and she was pissed at him for that. For that, and a couple other reasons, damn good reasons, he'd had to die. She thought she'd managed to get it done. "Almost took the whole club with him," she muttered. "I have no idea what the hell he was thinking."
"He wasn't thinking," Tig shrugged, looking more and more morose the more they talked about it. "I don't know what he was thinking, no one does. Got so wrapped up in himself, this cartel shit..."
Gemma shook her head. "Hey. Hey, babe..." Pushed off from the table and now that she had a shot or so of vodka in her she at least felt up to taking care of the overgrown teddybear in her dining room. "You're right, you know that? You're exactly right. No one knew what he was thinking because he wouldn't let any of us in, he got old... he got too scared of getting old. And he got paranoid. We can't none of us go it alone, and he forgot that. We all need somebody. Jax has Tara. He's got Opie, he's got you boys. Clay pushed everyone away, no matter how hard we tried." And Tig had tried, she knew the guy well enough to know that even if she hadn't been there.
She draped her arm around his shoulders and he put his arm around her waist and pulled her in close so he could burrow his face against her side and there was that flashback again. Hot and unwelcome, right now. Unlike last time, at least, they were still mostly sober. In their right minds.
"And you? Who've you got?" Tig looked up at her. She dragged up a smile from somewhere, just for him.
"I got you. I got Wayne. Even got Jax, sometimes, when the club isn't taking up all his attention. Don't you worry about me, Tigger. I'll pull through. Always do."
That, she decided, was the important thing for her to remember. Even if it was only to tell someone else that, she had to believe it and make them believe it. She'd pull through. If she had to claw her way to it, she'd make it. That was her way, wasn't it, to survive? She'd outlasted two marriages and a she-bitch mother from hell. She could deal with one upstart daughter-in-law twisting her son away.
Gemma rubbed her hand along Tigger's back and let him pull himself back together while she pulled the threads back together in her mind. It wouldn't be easy, but she could do it. She'd pulled off harder deals, and Tara was easy, with her buttons right there in the open. She could do this. Wouldn't even be that hard.