"I'll protect you," he says the first time you almost die just because you were there at the wrong time in the wrong place, at his side, the VP's old lady or whatever it is they call it in his creepy club. "I'll protect you," and you look into his eyes, honest and dark and wide and furious, and instead of saying —how? you just nod meekly, yield when he presses a kiss to your lips. What else were you going to do? Leave?
Your father is dead when you come back and even though you can't believe it yet, can't swallow the fact of this death, you're relieved. You know how he would've looked at you.
You fell in love with him at sixteen. He was a fixture in the town, in your life, his father and his mother's son, and you should have known better, should've known that he was one of those boys who end up with leather on their backs and a bullet in their temple, should've known that you can't have the son without the rest of the family.
But his brother died and he came to you first, his fists bloody and his eyes rimmed red. "He's different," you told your parents when you brought him home for the first time, back to his old swagger, grinning like a devil. But they didn't believe you—and why should they? They know the story.
You didn't date for seven months after you got to Chicago, because you wanted to focus on your work and because it felt selfish to apply to someone else the expectations he was never able to meet. The first guy you say yes to is a fellow student, clean-cut and younger than he looks. When you ask him where he was born, he says 'here' with a smile and a rise of his eyebrows, why do you ask?
You smile back. Nothing, you nod—you're just a little eccentric—and you don't ask him who his father is.
It was never what you dreamed of, this life. You know there are girls who do, who hang around the edges waiting to be picked up by their storm, protected in the hails of bullets and blood, but you're not like that. You made a life for yourself. You're tall, independent, the woman you always wanted to be.
Then you come back to Charming; he runs in the hospital corridors, hugs you to his chest with the strength of the nineteen-year-old you left behind. When you pull away there's blood on your smock and you almost scream.
Sometimes in the afternoon you think about leaving. It wouldn't be easy, but it wouldn't be hard: you could fill two suitcases with everything that isn't his, dig into the safe and pull out a few grand and a gun, strap the kids into the safety seats and drive, leave this devil town in the rearview until you can breathe again.
You think about it until four, when he comes back home. He unties his holster, throws his kutte on the table, kisses his kids on the forehead— then he picks you up and kisses you, mouth open, his trust blind and animalistic, and you forget.
You didn't know you could be that cruel, the first time you leave him.
"I'm sorry," you say over the blood rushing in your ears.
His eyes are wide, bemused. You're sorry? he'll scream in a minute, and throw something at the walls because that's what he does, and he can't break you. How sorry are you?
You only trust him, out of all of them. The father, you steer clear of him, or at least you try to, because he smells like death. The mother is a manipulative bitch, there's no two ways about it. His brothers would be nice enough if they didn't earn their living putting holes in people with illegal guns but, well—they do.
(Still, you take Abel to the grave one Sunday afternoon. Jax's rings are still there on the stone, no one steals them because they might bear his curse. Abel asks you who's sleeping under the ground and you say, "Your uncle," remembering that time Jax told you, his head lolling drunkenly in your lap, "He's not my brother," and you couldn't not hear the rest—not anymore. He left me.)
You have a son while he's in jail. Gemma grins a twisted grin at you, tells you, "It's not easy when they're inside," like that's something you should get used to, a fact of life, and you hate it so much it makes bile rise in your throat.
You have a son while he's in jail. He's not there to watch it grow in your belly, not there when you scream, not even there when you visit, his eyes straying back into the yard even as they're focused solely on you, trying to make you believe you're still the only person in the room.
(In bed, they all disappoint you. They're too tender, too nice, too inconsiderate—or at least that's what you tell yourself instead of 'they're not Jax'. But you know: of course they don't move over you like they revere you, they've known you for less than a week. Still, you can't help but hold it against them.)
You fell in love with him at sixteen, or maybe a better way to say it would be—he fell in love with you at sixteen. He hooked a thumb in your jeans, pulled you close, said "I love you," not a dare but a genuine revelation. In hindsight you should've known right then, because who says it like that when they're so young, like they're afraid their time is going to run out?
In bed, one night, he tells you he almost fucked his sister. It's one of the happy times, he doesn't want to pick a fight, just make you laugh. You giggle because that's what he wants but secretly you're ashamed, mortified even. You wonder who you married, and this blood they always talk about, maybe it's different from the one that runs in your veins.
He holds you close to his heart but there are a hundred miles between you and him in his bed. When you slip out his embrace to go pour yourself a glass of water, his sleeping arms reach out blindly, grasping for you. You evade them, wishing distantly that you could do the same when he's awake.
Their parties have hookers and your husband's best friend married a porn star. You know what goes on in the clubhouse when you're not there, and you believe him when he says he doesn't take part, not anymore, but he gets angry when you criticize the way they work, and you have to hold back not to yell, punch him in the face like he too often deserves. But you're not the monster. He is.
The first time Thomas asks for a toy soldier, pointing at it blindly in the supermarket, you cry.
One day you try to trace the origin of this belief he has, that you belong to him. Maybe it was that time you said, as thought it had been punched out of you, that you were his old lady. Maybe it was before that, the rushed encounters in empty classrooms in high school, when his mouth was everything you could think about all day every day. Maybe when he saw Thomas for the first time, through a set of prison bars.
You never drink, but that day you do. You chug glass after glass of bad bourbon, and when he comes home you scream at him, "I wish I'd had a daughter." To this day, you can't remember ever having been more honest.
Welcome to Charming Town, the sign had said when you'd crossed it, forgetting to close your eyes like you used to in your last months here, taunting death because it was a better fate than staying here forever with Jax freaking Teller. Welcome— but you know better. The only thing that's welcome here is the crows that pick on the dead your high school sweetheart lays in the gutter.
You can't hurt for him too. That's why you left. You can't hurt for you and for him, your shoulders are only wide enough for one cross and it's yours; you want the right to be selfish and if you let them the club would make you more than their accomplice, they would make you their daughter.
Now—you can't hurt for him, too. You can hurt for yourself, and you can hurt for your children, but his pain is too big and too messy, bleeding all over your clothes.
"There," you soothe when he kisses you too hard to forget what he's just done, his lips coated in blood. "I love you."
You know he can't hear you, but you say it anyway, repeat it until your voice is hoarse and your throat is raw. Maybe you're trying to convince him—maybe you're trying to convince yourself.
The first day you're back, you walk through the town, trying to find your old landmarks. There are new bulletholes in the telephones poles, notches on a bedpost, and you don't ask who put them there not because you don't have anyone to ask but because you don't want to know. Hale—David — rings you and asks you out for coffee, to 'catch up' and you say yes, because his crush on you was always ordinary and comfortable compared to Jax's violent outlaw love and Kohn's sick fascination.
(The truth, though, is that you regret coming back as soon as you put in a feet inside Charming. It hits you right in the chest and it crawls under your skin; you wonder why you ever thought you would be safer here—who were you kidding, really?)
"I want to be a doctor," you told your mother at your seventh birthday party, before Jax Teller, before the club, before everything.
She beamed, proud, so proud. Would she be proud of you now?
He wants you to save him. He won't let you, but he does. He thinks by just being here you'll act as a saving grace, a human good-luck charm he can press inside his palm when he goes on one of his suicide missions. You don't say no, you never say no. He doesn't ask you, so what is there to say no to anyway?
"I'll protect you," he says now. You blink, find a way out of his arms. Your children are close, and you reach for them on instinct. You feel like your mind has never been clearer.
His hand slides over your cheek, posessive and tender and everything you ever wanted in a man. But behind him the doors of the chapel are swinging and he's never getting out, you know he knows that deep down, just like you know when he makes you all those promises that he's never going to honor them. Still, he always means it. Probably that's the worst thing about the whole situation.
So you don't kiss him one last time—it doesn't take much to pull you back in—you just turn on your heels, your arms full of his progeny, and you walk out.
"I'm sorry," you say over your shoulder—but you feel light, and you know that you're saving yourself.