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Telling Stories

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Molly Malone’s is a run down bar that plays host to some of The Town’s most unsavoury characters. They sell cheap liquor that’s been stolen in bulk thefts from warehouses and cigarettes underneath the counter, of course sourced in the same way as the alcohol. If rumours are to be believed, it isn’t only cheap alcohol and stolen cigarettes that cross over the bar, but drugs as well and even though the authorities knew of the goings ons in the bar, it was never acted upon. Unless people were killing people or committing serious crimes, nobody really cared and everyone who belonged to The Town know the unwritten rules.

A cheesy eighties pop song plays from the recently refurbished jukebox and most of the tables are taken, the bar steadily cluttered with thirsty customers. Laughter erupts from a table in the corner, furthest away from the door, but close enough to the bar. Three men, all Townie’s through and through are throwing back shots of tequila and killing the battery acid taste with beer. They are amused by something, probably the two scantily-clad women who are literally begging strange guys to buy them drinks and use their charming methods of seduction to get what they want.

Jem Coughlin heads off to the bar, checking out the two women and shaking his head at how desperate they seem to be for a drink, how they are throwing themselves at anyone and everyone. He leans against the bar on one elbow, his blue eyes watching the door as he waits to get served. He’s always aware of his surroundings, never letting his guard down even in comfortable situations because he only trusts a select few, those who he’s known for a number of years or people who have earned his respect.

"What can I get you, Jem?" Beth, the girl behind the bar asks.

Without looking at her, his eyes focussing on the man who has just entered the bar, his good friend and brother, Doug MacRay.

"Four buds and four Jameson’s." He answers, peeling off two twenties from a bundle of notes.

Anyone watching Jem Coughlin would say that he’s just been paid from a job and they would be right, if Jem actually had a job. Everyone knows how Jem makes his money and they don’t care, preferring to keep their mouths shut if they valued having both their kneecaps and their internal organs in the right places. Of course, the rest of the clientele hardly stayed on the right side of the law and no one expected any less of them.

Beth waves her hand in front of Jem’s face to bring him back to reality and he looks at her with a confused expression.

"Your drinks and your change" She says, slapping down the money on the bar.

"Thanks, sweetheart"

Jem grabs the tray of drinks and retreats to his table, completely oblivious that Beth, the girl who had just served him is checking out his butt. She’s worked at Molly’s for a total of four months and never has the infamous Jem Coughlin has thanked her or called her sweetheart or even acknowledged her.

Beth continues serving the other customers and casts a glance over at Jem’s table. She would be lying if she said that she didn’t find him attractive, but a guy like him certainly wasn’t going to be interested in a girl like her.

Back at the table, Jem sucks down his beer like it’s his first ever drink and chuckles at something Gloansy says.

"That Beth chick is checking you out, man" Des points out, laughing with Doug.

"So?" Jem shrugs with a laugh.

"You tryin’ to tell me you ain’t noticed the hooters on her?"
Gloansy says with a grin.”If I wasn’t married I’d take her outside and get acquainted with her”

Doug shakes his head and finishes his soda water and lime and says a quick goodbye to his friends and leaves the bar, the days of getting completely shitfaced are long gone and he prefers his life this way; uncomplicated. However, Gloansy, Des and Jem are more than happy to make up for Doug’s sobriety and make the most of their binge session on alcohol and drugs.

Two Months Later

Jem slides his shot glass back over the recently polished bar and Beth, who is stuck on the afternoon shift that’s practically hosting a graveyard, walks over to him with the bottle of Jameson’s.

She watches him as he knocks back another shot and she watches as the muscles in his throat works it down, burning as it goes.

"Rough day?" She asks, setting the bottle down next to him.

"Somethin’ like that." He says, finally glancing up at her and he notices the black eye and the split lip, the heavier than usual make-up that’s trying to conceal a nasty bruise on her cheek."You okay?"

"What?"

Jem taps his cheek and looks at her, waiting.

"Oh, I fell over my own feet and face planted the floor" She replies with an exaggerated giggle.

"I ain’t buyin’ that, sweetheart. How ‘bout I buy you a drink and you tell me all about it?"

Beth sighs and looks around the empty bar and nods, grabbing a glass from the shelf and placing it on the bar. She watches Jem as he fills the two glasses and hands her one and as she throws it back, she almost chokes.

"So, how’d ya get those bruises?"

"I told you, I fell" she replies

"Bullshit" He counters, looking her
in the eye.”I told ya, I ain’t buyin’ it. So, ya better come clean ‘cause I know when someone’s put their fist in someone’s face”

"I don’t want to talk about it"

Jem scoffs and shakes his head.

"What’s it gonna take for ya to realise that the piece of shit whose doing that to ya, is gonna end up burying ya"

"Why does it matter to you anyway?" She asks, becoming irritated that he or anyone else is questioning her like she’s a police suspect.

"Well, I don’t like seein’ women get beat up"

"I’m not a damsel in distress that needs rescuing!" Beth continues to defend her situation and feels the onset of tears sting her eyes, but she won’t let him or anyone else see her cry.

"I never said ya was, sweetheart." He replies in a low voice."But think about it."

Beth glares at Jem as he peels off two twenties and slaps them down on the bar, thanking her for her company and disappearing. She is so mad she could scream and she pities anyone who over steps the mark with her, because there will be hell to pay.

Later that night, while pulling a second shift until midnight, Beth’s stomach churns when she sees Jem Coughlin enter the bar for the second time that day. She tries to avoid looking at him by serving the rowdy bunch of customers at the top end of the bar and dread knots in her stomach as she walks towards Jem.

"The usual?" She asks and is more than relieved that her nervousness hasn’t broken through.

"Yeah"

Jem watches Beth from behind as she uncaps three beers and pours three shots of Jameson, not even bothering to look at him or anybody else in the mirror behind the bar that’s lined with bottles of alcohol.

For the rest of the night, Jem watches Beth as she interacts with the customers and staff and he can see that she was just being funny with him and not everyone else. He doesn’t know why and he shouldn’t care, but he does. Since that night he was told she was checking him out, he had felt drawn to her like a magnet. She makes him curious and he knows she has a dangerous side, but she won’t release it on the asshole whose beating her up.

An argument starts between a drunk guy and one of the other barmaids, Stacey, the big-breasted timid girl who wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
She’s refusing to sell any more alcohol to the guy and he doesn’t like being told no.

Out of nowhere, Beth grabs the guy by the scruff of the neck and marches him outside and when she returns, everyone applauds.

Jem smirks as he sips on his beer, knowing that she had it in her to deal with an asshole. She just needed to deal with her own asshole.

Chapter Text

It’s a crisp morning and the supermarket is deathly quiet and if truth be told, Beth’s seen graveyards that are busier. She passes a number of staff dressed in red waistcoats as she pushes the cart up and down the aisles as she browse’s the shelves, looking for inspiration. She is exhausted from spending most of yesterday at the bar and drained from arguing with Darren until two in the morning. As usual, he had been jealous that she was spending so much time away from him and accused her of sleeping around with the customers, which of course wasn’t true, but she couldn’t convince him. In the end, he did what he always did when he lost his temper and struck her. The fresh bruise on her cheek a painful reminder of how unhappy she really is.

After the weekly trip to the supermarket, Beth hops into a hot shower and prepares herself for another boring afternoon shift at the bar. She has free time to pick up overtime because classes don’t start for another two weeks and she reasons that Darren surely can’t accuse her of cheating while she’s at college and in class.

As she towel dries her hair, the rumble from Darren’s car dies in the street and dread grips her stomach in a painful vice. She holds her breath as the front door slams shut and the heavy footsteps from his boots stomp over the hardwood floors.

"Beth?" He calls out and Beth doesn’t want to answer him. "Beth!"

She waits with bated breath as he climbs the stairs, opening the bedroom door abruptly and standing there and she sees the bunch of flowers that he’s either stolen from a grave or from a gas station.

"You didn’t answer" He says, handing her the pathetic looking flowers.

"Sorry. I was in a world on my own."

"I can see that" He says dryly."So, what are you thinking about, babe?"

"Just work. I’ve got so much I need to do and there’s just not enough hours in the day"

"I wish you didn’t work there. I hate thinking of all those….grubby men ogling you like a piece of meat" He says, his lip turning up in disgust.

"The customers are okay" You say."Sure, the odd guy tries to push his luck, but we can handle it and anyway, our regular customers are loyal and protective"

Darren nods and eyes his girlfriend suspiciously, his clenched fists by his sides and a flush of red tinges his cheeks.

"So, you talk to the regulars?"

"Of course I talk to them" She replies, suddenly worried about where this conversation is going."It’s my job"

"So, your job is to talk to them and then they give you their numbers?"

"Darren, what is this?" She asks.

Unexpected, Darren grabs Beth by the hair and slams her bodily up against the bedroom wall, turning her around to look at him. She’s crying, whimpering.

"Please…stop.!"

"You’re cheating on me you filthy fucking whore!" He shouts, screaming in her face as he pulls back his fist and slams it into her face.

Beth crumples to the floor, crying and bleeding as Darren towers over her.

"Fucking slut!" He spits his venom like a King Cobra that’s been antagonised, acting viciously like he always does when the notion takes him to be cruel and twisted.

She cowers, trying to shield herself from a series of blows and finally, the beating stops and Darren continues yelling obscenities.

He’s gone completely crazy over nothing and even after he’s left, speeding off down the street, Beth continues to sob into her hands that are bloody and shaking. Even after he’s gone, she continues to tremble in fear, thinking that he will come back and the beating will start all over again. But after twenty minutes, she realises that he isn’t coming back and as she dabs her freshly split lip on the towel, her nose and eyes throb mercilessly.

The healing from the last beating is reversed, her cheek and jaw aching like it never has before and more and more, Beth is fearing for her life. More and more Darren is losing his temper, lashing out and coming back hours later with heartfelt apologises, but even they’ve stopped.

Picking herself up from the floor, she heads into the bathroom to see the damage and as she looks in the mirror, she realises that her collection of make-up won’t hide the abuse her face wears. Beth sighs sadly and mentally prepares herself for the questioning looks from customers and resigns herself to the fact that many of her customers will offer looks of pity, but no words of wisdom. She smiles to herself, remembering how the infamous Jem Coughlin showed some kind of concern towards her and she prays he doesn’t come into the bar.

*****  

He’s had the same beer sitting in front of him for more than twenty minutes and he’s only had a few sips, ate a handful of peanuts as his bad mood escalates further. He wants peace and quiet and he couldn’t get it at home, with Krista begging for a loan and Shine crying over the blare of a cartoon on TV and Doug stomping around in his room. The triple decker is a mine-field of noise and he doesn’t want to be anywhere near it, especially not today.

His bad mood is partly due to another hangover that’s making his skull vibrate at every sound and the schemes that are rolling around inside his head. He needs money and it’s not because he’s not got any, it’s because he thinks of himself as some kind of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, which isn’t the homeless on the streets but himself.

Jem glances up at the bar at the sound of a familiar voice and he can tell that Beth’s upset. He physically shakes his head to rid himself of the cobwebs and he already knows why she’s wearing thick layers of make-up and avoiding everyone’s eyes.

Grabbing his beer, he goes to the bar and leans on his forearms.

"What can I get you?" She asks, her hands busy drying glasses.

"Nothin’, sweetheart"

"You’re in here early" She points out, still avoiding his questioning gaze.

"Well, I got some thinkin’ to do and it’s quiet. So, ya can handle assholes, but ya can’t handle your own. I ain’t stupid, sweetheart"

"I don’t know what you’re talking about" She replies coldly, wishing that she could escape but she has to be out front and there’s only one other customer, an alcoholic who had slept in the alleyway a block away and came here for the discounted breakfast and beer he was fortunate enough to receive.

"Sure ya do" Jem says with a small smile."I’ve heard all the excuses too, sweetheart. Does he tell ya he loves ye after he’s done? Does he promise never to do it again and always does?. Does he convince ya that he’ll change?"

"Stop!" Beth snaps, feeling tears sting her eyes and an uncomfortable lump of emotion build in her throat."Why do you care?"

"I told ya, I don’t like seeing women get beat up. So, ya gonna let me fix your problem or are ya gonna wait until there’s a coffin made with ya name on it"

Beth recoils at the harshness of his analysis and she nods silently, admitting to herself that he’s absolutely right. She will end up in a casket if she doesn’t stop what is being done to her and right now, she has that chance to change everything, but she isn’t sure if involving Jem Coughlin is a good idea.

"How do you plan on fixing it?" Beth asks quietly, preparing herself for th worst answer possible.

"Usually I’d take him out back and beat the shit out of him" He answers in a matter of fact tone."But ya don’t want that, right? So, ya pack up his shit and tell him to go."

"But-"

"I’ll be right there beside ya, sweetheart. If he doesn’t take no for an answer, I’ll throw him out." He answers, taking a sip of beer."And he won’t hurt ya."

"How much?"

"Nothin’. Not a dime" He answers and his tone is serious."Just tell me when"

"Why are you helping me?"

"I told ya I don’t like seein’ women get beat up" He replies.

"There’s got to be a reason"

Jem sighs and runs his hand over his buzz-cut and takes a sip of his beer.

"My old man beat my mother up every day of his life and no one would help" He explains."I couldn’t do nothin’ ‘cause I was just a kid."

"So, you’re helping me to make yourself feel better about your own fucked up childhood?"

"It’s not just that" He says as she turns around, angry.

"Then what is it?" She asks, clearly angry and hurt."What other reason could you possibly have to help me?"

"I like ya"

"You what?" Beth asks, confused and wide-eyed.

"I like ya" He replies with a shrug as if it’s no big deal."Look, don’t make a mountain out of a fuckin’ mole hill, okay?"

Beth can’t help but giggle at the cute flush that creeps over his cheeks and the way he’s acting, like a teenager whose been caught with a secret.

"So, ya gonna let me help you out the easy way like I said or am I gonna have to beat up this asshole in an alleyway?"

She sighs heavily and touches her bruised cheek, wincing at the slightest of pressure and she nods slowly at the Charlestown thug in front of her. She knows she is probably making the biggest mistake of her life by getting involved with Jem Coughlin, but she’s desperate and she sees that this is her only way to get rid of Darren once and for all. She just hopes that she’s making the right decision.

Chapter Text

Beth’s hands tremble as she pours coffee into two mugs and leans against the kitchen counter, staring down at the floor as every irrational thought swims around in her head. She still isn’t sure whether she’s made the right decision to involve Jem in her personal business, but she can’t back out of his proposal now.

She had spent many sleepless nights fantasising about how she could leave Darren, but she was never strong enough to go through with it and she was scared. She was scared of what he would do if she ended their relationship ad she knew he was more than capable of killing her.

"Relax, sweetheart" Jem says from the doorway, returning from the bathroom."He ain’t gonna hurt ya"

"I know. I’m just…."

"Scared?" He asks softly.

Beth nods and sucks in a deep breath, groaning in frustration and covering her face with her hands.

"What if he doesn’t leave?"

"Trust me, he will" he replies in a matter of fact tone."It’s gonna be alright"

"I wish I could believe you. I really want to believe you"

Jem takes a step closer towards Beth when the sound of a key turning in the front door jolts Beth back to reality.

"Oh God, it’s him!" She whispers, panicked.

"Hey, it’s gonna be okay. Now, go out there and hand him his shit, I’m right behind ya, sweetheart"

 

Breathing rapidly, Beth walks stiffly into the sitting room where Darren is standing with a confused expression, looking at the bags and back to her.

"Beth, what’s with the bags?" He asks."What’s going on?"

"We aren’t working, so I’m telling
you to leave”

She prepares herself as Darren laughs. He just laughs as she’s telling him to leave and a sickening fear grips her stomach, her oxygen supply being cut off.

"You’re telling me to leave?" He says in a sneer, stepping towards her."You’re telling me? Oh no, I’m not leaving and you don’t tell me anything, you little bitch"

Darren takes another step towards her and is distracted by Jem’s presence in the doorway, standing there with his arms folded across his muscular chest.

"I think ya should do as she says" Jem says in an even tone.

"Who the fuck are you?" Darren barks and Beth physically recoils.

She knew he wouldn’t leave easily like Jem had imagined, but she notices Jem casually sauntering over to Darren, whose a good bit taller than the ex-con with shamrock tattoos.

"It don’t matter who the fuck I am" Jem laughs, but his tone is even and his stance is aggressive."What ya got to worry about is what I’m gonna do if ya don’t"

Darren glares at his now, until just thirty seconds a go ex-girlfriend and points his finger at her.

"This isn’t over, Beth and you know I fucking mean it!"

Out of nowhere, Jem’s fist smashes into Darren’s jaw and he crashes to the floor, holding his mouth. Jem leans over Darren and his face is barely an inch away.

"Listen to me, motherfucker. This is fuckin’ over cause I said it is and if I ever hear about ya showin’ up here or doin’ anything, I’ll fuckin’ kill ya. Got it, limp dick?"

Darren scrambles to his feet and grabs what he can of his belongings and hurriedly packs them into the car. It’s not until he’s sped off down the street that Beth can finally breathe.

"He’s gone and he won’t be botherin’ ya again, sweetheart" Jem says softly, touching her shoulder.

She can feel the heat of his hand through her t-shirt and despite seeing him so aggressive, she feels comfortable around him and she shouldn’t, but she does.

"I don’t know how to thank you"

"Don’t worry about it" He answers with a small smile."Glad I could help"

"You did more than help. Please, let me cook lunch for you or something? It’ll make me feel better"
Beth realises that she’s said the wrong thing until Jem smiles and agrees to her invitation for lunch.

Her stomach flips and she starts to panic, wondering what she’s going to make and if he will even like it and then she asks herself, why is she panicking? She has a sneaking suspicion, but she’s just came out of a very bad relationship and doesn’t need another one.

 

"This is better than sex!" Jem exclaims as he chews and Beth giggles behind her wine glass."I’m serious. How did ya learn to cook like this?"

"My mom. She taught me everything I know and I’m glad you like it. I didn’t think a frozen pizza was a good way to thank you for what you did today"

"I think I’m gonna have to take ya home, sweetheart. Ya can make me chops and mash every night" Jem chuckles.

Beth can feel her face flush slightly at the compliment and didn’t realise her herb crusted pork chops and caramelised red onion mash was so luxurious. Jem’s rusty laugh makes her toes curl and the effect he’s having on her is pleasant and natural, a feeling she never felt with Darren and she soaks it up like a sponge.

"So, what else do ya do? I mean ya don’t just work at the bar"

"I’m a student." She replies with a smile."I’m studying human services, like counselling for addicts and stuff"

"Sounds like hard work. Ya would have a field day ‘round here, ya know"

"Well, I like a challenge" She states with a smirk."I don’t think it’s that bad around here"

Jem laughs loudly and shakes his head, an amused smile playing on his lips.

"Ya clearly don’t know the place"

"Well, If I decide to stay here once I’m qualified I would like to know the town better" She answers "Do you know anyone who could show me around?"

"I could think of plenty of people, sweetheart. But people ‘round here don’t like outsiders."

"Ah" Beth says with a smile."I’m guessing you’re referring to the whole insider and outsider divide; townies and tunies, right?"

"Yeah" he laughs "The big divide. The townies don’t like the tunies and the tunies think they’re smart motherfuckers who get cut down"

"By cut down, you mean given a word of advice, right?"

"Sure. The first time." He drains his glass and sits back in the chair, his arms stretching above his head.

"So, what happens if the tunies don’t heed their warning?"

"It moves up a step, ya know. They got a warning, they’ve made their choice. Ya either stay or ya go." He explains."And live by the consequences"

"Sounds kind of cloak and dagger if you ask me"

"Nobody’s askin’ ya, sweetheart" His tone is firm and she takes that as a warning to drop the subject.

"So, what do you do, Jem?" She asks.

"I’m in the money business"

"Is that code for something?" She asks with a giggle.

Like everyone else, she’s heard the stories, but couldn’t say for sure if they were true or whether they were just bullshit.

"Code for something?" He chuckles and shakes his head."Nope."

"So, what do you do then?"

"I do odd jobs, a bit of this and a bit of that. Nothin’ worth worrying about"

Beth flashes him a smile, gets up and wanders to the fridge and pulls out some brownies she had made yesterday. They were supposed to be for Darren, but he isn’t there and Jem is.

"Desert?"

“Sure” He smiles and carries the dishes to the sink and Beth wonders if he’s always this domesticated or he’s just playing nice.

She takes two large brownies and puts them in a bowl and gives them a little blast of heat in the microwave, finally scooping vanilla ice cream on top and placing it in front of Jem. His eyes go wide and he takes a piece of the edge, a perfect ratio of ice cream and brownie.

"Mmm" He says, pointing to his desert with his spoon."That is fuckin’ amazin’!"

"I’m glad you like it. They were for Darren, but…well, he’s not here anymore"

“I hope ya will stick to it if he comes crawlin’ back.” Jem says between mouthfuls.

"Do you think he will come back?" Beth asks, alarmed.

"Nope" he replies, looking at her dead in the eye."He won’t come back"

"How can you be sure?"

"Cause he’s runnin’ scared. People like him don’t like people gettin’ in their face, so he won’t come back here." He answers confidently."Guaranteed"

"Looks like I’m going to have to trust you on this"

"Looks like it" He smiles."So, ya workin’ later?"

"Yes, I’m due to start in an hour. Want to be my knight in shinning armour and come save me?"

He laughs that rusty laugh and Beth swears that she could listen to him chuckle and giggle all night. It just makes her insides tremble and for the first time, she actually likes that butterfly feeling.

"I’ll be there anywhere, sweetheart. Gotta go do some stuff, but I’ll be there like always. Just make that ya serve me, okay?" He winks at her and it sends her hormones into a frenzy.

****

Jem knew for a fact that Darren wouldn’t bother Beth again and if he did, he would be sorry. He would make sure that he got everything he deserved and more. He’s sitting on the porch of his triple-decker, groaning as his niece starts wailing in the living room. Doug’s truck slides in behind his Transam and he saunters up the path, with a shit eating grin.

"What ya lookin’ so happy about?" Jem asks as he looks up at the taller man.

"I’m alive"

"Not for fuckin’ long if ya keep goin’ all happy clappy on me and shit" Jem answers, picking at the skin next to his fingernail."So, who was on the menu?"

"I don’t know what you’re talking about"

"Sure ya do" Jem says with a wide grin."Was it Audrey or was it that chick with the big tits?"

"None of your business"

"It is my fuckin’ business, Dougy. Cause while you’re out fuckin’ chicks, I gotta listen to Krista’s bitchin’. So, yeah it is my business. Or let me guess, they told you to hit the dirt"

Doug shakes his head and triumphant laughter erupts from the smaller man.

"Fuck off" Doug mumbles and heads inside, ignoring Jem’s laughing from the porch.

Just another day in paradise.

Chapter Text

Beth never in her wildest dreams imagined that Jem Coughlin would be her knight in shinning armour, but suddenly he is and even from the end of the bar he’s still keeping on her. His grey-blue eyes focus steadily on the comings and goings, his gaze fixing on the rowdy group of stiffs that don’t belong in the bar because they are tunis, ultimately outsiders. Beth and the bar staff don’t care whose buying the drinks as long as they are legal and have money, but Jem and most of the other customers do care.

Seeing the worry grow on Beth’s faces makes Jem halt his usually violent temper and he walks up to the group and tells them to quieten down.

Intimidated and wary of their surroundings, they take Jem’s warning and shortly after their current round of drinks, they leave and Beth casually wanders over to Jem with a smile.

"What did you say to them?"

"I just told ‘em to quiet down or else I’ll quieten ‘em" He says, his lips quirking upwards into a smirk."Looked like trouble, sweetheart"

"Thanks. I kind of noticed the tension in here. You locals really don’t like outsiders do you?"

"Nope" He answers for a smile.

"And what about me?" She asks, testing the waters."I’m an outsider"

"I’m willing to make an exception"

Before Beth has a chance to reply, a little shocked that this hulking brute of a man isn’t bothered that she’s an outsider, she’s called away down to the other end of the bar by another staff member. She can’t help but smile at his change of heart, especially towards her.

****

"What’s got you all misty eyed all of a sudden?" Doug asks as he pops himself on the bar stool next to Jem.

"Nothin’" The smaller man replies, still watching Beth closely as she deals with the now calmer group of tunies.

"Horse shit!"

"I’m tellin’ ya, nothin’" Jem grumbles and throws back his shot of whisky.

"I know the look, Jimmy. Come on, tell me what’s up"

"Ain’t nothin’ to tell" He replies and takes a generous gulp of his beer.

Doug catches Jem glancing up at one of the two barmaids and quickly puts two and two together. He makes an assumption and makes an educated guess that he’s looking at Beth, the tunie.

"You’re watching Beth, right?"

"Well it ain’t fuckin’ Gloria fake tits, is it?" He snaps.

"Okay. Jesus." Doug laughs nervously."Never seen you so uptight over a woman. Not even Rebecca"

"Don’t fuckin’ go there, Dougy. Not a smart move"

Taking the hint, he backs off and orders a drink for Jem and a soda for himself, still trying to work out what’s going on with his friend.

"You could ask her out you know" Doug suggests.

"Fuck off!"

"It was only a suggestion, Jem. Got nothing to lose, have you?" He adds with a small smirk, hiding it behind his glass.

"She’s a tunie"

"And?" Doug asks."You really want to stick to banging townie girls? Cause you’ll end up catching something and dying from it and I’m not talking about a cold."

Jem silently finishes his beer and motions to Doug to go outside. On his way out, he glances up at Beth and tells her with a gesture that he’s going for a cigarette and a wave of relief washes over her.

Outside, Doug leans against the wall into the small alleyway next to the bar and a chinese take-away, a cheap place that was once shut down for using cats in their meals.

"Going to tell me what’s on your mind, Jimmy?"
"Ya tell anyone and I’ll fuckin’ kill ya.
Got it?” Jem states, pacing back and forth with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Scouts honour”

"I helped her out." He explains."Was gettin’ beat up by some asshole of a boyfriend and I took care of it"

"You didn’t?" Doug asks seriously."Please tell me you didn’t?"

"What?" He asks, confused and when it finally clicks shaking his head."Helped her dump his sorry ass in the street."

"Since when did you become Mother Theresa?"

"Fuck off, man. She was scared and she was always beat up, so I helped her out." He answers with a shrug.

"And you did that out of the kindness of your heart, huh?"

"Straight up" Jem says, crushing his cigarette under his shoe.

"So, what’s got your panties in a twist?"

“I told ya nothin’” He replies firmly.

"And I said horse shit. You either tell me what’s going on here or I’ll go ask her. It’s up to you"

Jem glares at his friend, the man he calls brother and would kill and die for without question or reason. And it’s at that moment that Doug gets it.

"You’ve got a thing for her?" He laughs.

"Yeah, so what?"

"You going to ask her out?" Doug continues to probe and he is clearly amused by Jem’s revelation.

"Nope"

"Why not?" He continues to eat away at Jem’s patience, knowing exactly what buttons to press and how hard to press them to get the reaction he wants.

"Why the fuck do ya think?" Jem says with a snap."Ya think she would look twice at me just cause I helped her out? No way. No fuckin’ way"

"You don’t know that."

"The fuck I do, brother. Ya know it, I know it, everybody fuckin’ knows it. I’m townie scum to the tunies and that’s just the way I like it" He explains, turning aggressive more than assertive.

"You keep telling yourself that, kid. ‘Cause you’re not fooling me and you’re not fooling yourself either." Doug says calmly."I’ll see you back at the house"

****

Beth is wiping up a spilled drink on the bar when she notices Jem coming back with a face like thunder and without Doug. She assumes that they’ve had some sort of disagreement, but avoids him and his bad mood as much as possible. Gloria, the other barmaid quite happily serves Jem and he grumbles in response, ignoring her more than suggestive body language and not rising to the bait. She let’s out a quiet giggle of satisfaction to see Gloria’s emotionless face turn sour at being rejected, in fact completely ignored by Jem Coughlin who would fuck anything that had breasts and a pulse.

Secretly, she’s happy. She’s happy that he’s here and watching out for her, but she doesn’t want to assume that it’s because he feels sorry for her. She feels that it’s bad enough she needed his help already and he has no real reason to be interested in her. He’s done his good deed as far as she is concerned and that’s it. As far as she’s concerned, he’s done his good deed and she doesn’t know why he’s still hanging around.

It’s after midnight and the bar is filled to bursting and Beth’s feet are aching with being on them all afternoon.

She ushers out the customers and says goodbye to the other bar staff, locking the doors behind them. She jingles the keys as she walks and screams when she sees Jem sitting on a bar stool.

"Jesus christ, you scared me! What the hell are you still doing here?"
She asks and folds her arms across her chest.

"Thought I’d have a little drink, sweetheart"

"Next time give me some warning" She answers as she starts collecting glasses from the table.

"Takes the fun out of it, sweetheart. Thought I’d make sure ya get home safe"

"You really are my knight in shinning armour" She teases with a giggle."First with Darren, then with the customers and now you want to make sure I get home safely."

"I want to make sure ya get home safe. Nothin’ wrong with that, sweetheart"

"I never said there was anything wrong with it, Jem. I just didn’t think you would be so….cute" She says, flashing him a smile.

"I’m cute now?" He chuckles."I’m anythin’ but cute."

"Oh, I think you’re cute in your own way" She says and as soon as she’s said it, she wishes she could take it back.

"Like how?"

"You’re sort of looking out for me" She says, biting her lip. "It’s kind of unexpected with your reputation"

"Uh….yeah. My reputation"

Beth doesn’t expect Jem to edge his way closer towards her and she certainly doesn’t expect to see him suddenly so nervous and jumpy.

"What have ya heard?" He asks, his forehead creasing.

"That you are trouble"

"Good guess" He says softly."What else?"

"I’ve heard that you like to drink, take drugs and fuck"

"I confess to all three, sweetheart" he responds with a light-hearted chuckle.

"And you make your money from shady dealings"

Jem’s eyes harden, but he gives her an easy smile.

"That’s my business"

"So, the rumours are true?" She asks with caution.

"Depends what you’ve heard, sweetheart."

"You’re a drug dealer. You’re a hired thug. You’ll do anything for the highest bidder and you’ll rob anyone whose got something you want" She says, rhyming them off.
Jem gives her an easy smile and swallows the remainder of his drink, turning to her with a soft sigh.

"If ya believe everythin’ people say about me, ya shouldn’t be around me. I’m dangerous, right?"

Beth smiles and she can feel his blue eyes roaming over her body, lingering on her ass and her cleavage as she leans forward to pick up more glasses. She isn’t normally this forward, but she feels comfortable, maybe even too comfortable around Jem and that niggling voice of reason is outweighed and smothered like a smouldering ember.

"Maybe I don’t care what people think or say. Rumours are rumours." She answers with a shrug and grabs her coat from behind the bar."Still want to burn down your reputation by walking me home?"

"Yeah. I’m parked out front"

They walk in silence to his car and the ride to her apartment is just as quiet except for the hum of the engine and Jem’s insistent finger tapping on the steering wheel. Jem even surprises himself when he walks her to her door and he declines her offer of coming in and having something to drink, mumbling that he’s got somewhere to be.

"Thanks for the ride" She says as she opens the door, turning to him with a smile.

"Was nothin’. Wanted ya to get home safe. Too many creeps hangin’ around at closing time"

She smiles and kisses him on the cheek and he looks up at her, stunned.

"Thanks again, Jem. Good night"

He watches her in silence as she enters her apartment and the turning of the locks snap him out of his little day dream. He touches his cheek, still feeling the warmth of her lips against his skin and a weird, unexpected emotion bubbles away inside of him. He likes her. He really does like.

Chapter Text

Doug snaps his fingers in front of Jem’s face and the smaller man looks at his friend, oblivious to the fact that he had mentally wandered away from today’s meeting. The four men, Doug, Gloansy, Des and Jem are in the process of organising another robbery, out of town and everyone’s a little pissed that Jem doesn’t seem concerned. The risks are as always huge, the consequences of being caught are spending the rest of their lives in prison or even being shipped out to another state for the chair, which is unlikely, but it’s possible. Gloansy and Des shake their heads at Jem’s attitude and they know something’s up with him for his mind not to be on the job.

Once they are gone, Doug makes sure he has the smaller mans undivided attention.

"Okay. What’s eating at you, Jimmy?" Doug asks."And no bullshit this time"

Jem let’s out a frustrated sigh and runs his hands over his skull, feeling the growing hair under his palms. He shifts from foot to foot and groans again, not entirely sure how to word what he’s thinking and he’s not entirely sure if the kiss was an innocent thank you or if it was meant how he took it, as a come on,
“Jimmy?”

"Alright" Jem huffs "Alright. I hung around the bar last night"

"And?"

Jem glares at his friend, his comrade for his impatience and shakes his head with a nervous chuckle. He doesn’t usually get involved with women this way, usually content with chasing women until he got what he wanted.

"I took her home and she kissed me"

"What?" Doug asks in disbelief, smirking."On the mouth?"

"No, not on the mouth, Dougy. On
the cheek”

"And?" He asks again and it’s quite literally tryin to draw blood from a stone.

"Do I need to spell it out for ya? She kissed me and I dunno…" He shrugs.

"Well, it’s kind of obvious that you’re attracted to her."

"Well, no fuckin’ shit.." Jem scoffs."What I dunno is if it was a thanks or not"

Doug starts laughing and it only infuriates the smaller man more, clenching his fists by his sides. He can’t help himself but get worked up.

"Quit being a hot head." Doug laughs."You’re trying to work out if she likes you other than for helping her, right?"

Jem nods, sighing in defeat. That was the difference between Doug and Jem, Doug was the brains and Jem was the muscle. A less than simple relationship that was fuelled on brotherly love and loyalty.

"Only one way you’ll find out"

"Don’t give me that shit, Dougy" He replies, frustrated.

"What are you scared of?"

"I ain’t scared of nothin’" Jem replies defiantly."I ain’t scared, alright?"

"Sound scared"

"Well, I ain’t." He snaps.

"You’re acting like it"

Jem laughs and shakes his head, even though Doug’s right he won’t admit it. Especially not about this.

"Are you scared she’s going to give you the elbow?" Doug asks quietly."Look, you need to put yourself out there or else you’ll never know."

"Girls like her don’t look at guys like me, brother. Ya know that"

"Won’t know unless you try. You’ve got nothing to lose except a chance at something real. Is it because she’s a tunie or is because you have feelings?" Doug asks and shoves his hands into his pockets, already knowing that’s the main reason.

"I don’t do girlfriends. Last one I had I was fifteen and Martha O’Connor blew me behind the bike shed. And don’t say feelings like that, alright?" He huffs."I’m not gay!"

"No one said you were. Maybe you should give it a shot"

Jem shoots Doug a look, shaking his head and mumbling something about seeing him later. As Jem walks down the street, he stops off at booze warehouse that sells discounted alcohol and buys as much as he can before going home and raiding the tin underneath Krista’s bed for anything that will numb his thoughts for an hour or two.

**** Three Days Later****

Beth pours bubble bath into the tub and strips off, feeling her aching muscles screaming at her to stop moving. There isn’t a single part of her body that doesn’t hurt and the muscles in her neck feel tight. She lightly rubs the back of her neck and groans as the doorbell rings.

Grabbing her robe, she goes and answers the door.

She is more than surprised to see Jem standing there, looking sheepish with his hands in his pockets and in the dim light of the evening, he looks almost vulnerable.

"Jem, what are you doing here?" She asks, wrapping her robe tighter around here.

"I…uh…came by to check on ya"

"That’s big of you" She says dryly."Considering I haven’t seen you for three days."

"Yeah, about that…Look, I wanted to come see ya"

"And what was stopping you, Jem? You knew I was working at the bar and usually you are there every night" She asks, stating her whereabouts."Is something going on?"

"Kind of"

"Kind of?" She asks and remembers the time."You better come in."

Beth moves aside to allow Jem to walk into her apartment, the musky smell of cigarettes and aftershave and alcohol, cloying and attacking her senses in a thin fog. Jem walks into the spacious and comfortable living room, standing with his hands on his hips and inspecting the foreign surroundings.

"Cosy" He says with a smile.

"So, what’s going on? I would offer you a drink, but I don’t keep alcohol in the house. I see enough of it at work and I think

"Were ya busy?" He asks, returning into meek mode.

"I was going to take a bath. What’s going on, Jem? I don’t see you or hear from you in three days and then you show up on my doorstep. Are you in trouble?"

"I ain’t in trouble, sweetheart" He nervously chuckles."I needed to see ya"

"But why?"

He groans and runs his hand over his head and down the back of his neck, trying to find the best way to word how he feels and to ask if she feels the same way.

"I wanted to take ya for a drink or somethin’"

"You came over here at nine-thirty at night to ask me If I wanted to go for a drink?” She asks, repeating the facts to him for clarification.”I’m not buying it, Jem. So, you either tell me the real reason or you get out. I’m not in the mood for guessing games”

"Alright, alright. Jesus. I wanted to know what ya see in me"

"You wanted to know what I see in you?" She asks, slightly confused and he nods."I haven’t thought about it"

Jem’s jaw tightens and his forehead creases, nodding.

"Look, sorry I bothered ya. See ya around, sweetheart" He says and makes his way to the front door.

After he’s gone, Beth isn’t sure what to make of what just happened and the bath she ran helps her determine how she’s going to work out what had gotten Jem so….nervous. She decides, that the next day she’s working and she sees Doug, she’s going to ask him. He will at least know what’s going on with Jem.

*****

Doug massages his temples while he sits at the cluttered kitchen table, the blare of cartoons on the TV and Jem’s stomping around only antagonising his headache. Luckily, Krista isn’t there to hound him and badger him. That makes all the difference. Last night Jem had come home in a foul mood and snorted thick lines of cocaine off the table and drank a full bottle of whisky and finally stumbled into his room. He hadn’t seen him since to know he was in a terrible mood because he could hear it. Stomping around like a rhinoceros with a hangover. Doug prays that he stays in his room because he isn’t in the mood to deal with Jem’s tantrums.

Finally relieved of baby sitting duty, Doug steps into the bar and orders a coke and lime; the newly found poison of choice that didn’t make him feel like hell. Sure, he missed the buzz of popping pills and drinking himself into a stupor, but he didn’t miss who he was. He’s been clean for five years and temptation is everywhere and walking into a bar doesn’t exactly help, but it’s a small consolation to the temptation that’s all around him at home.

"Doug, do you have a minute?" Beth asks cautiously.

"Sure." He smiles over the bar."What’s up?"

"This is going to sound silly, but is Jem okay?"

"I haven’t seen him, but he’s stomping around the house with a hangover. Why?" He answers, throwing in his own question.

"He came over last night and was acting really strange and I just wondered if he was okay."

Doug takes a sip of his coke and lime, debating with himself if he should tell Beth who is genuinely concerned why Jem “acted” stranger than normal.

"Strange?"

"Yes" Beth sighs."He said he came to see if I wanted to go for a drink and I told him I wasn’t buying that story. Then he asked what I saw in him. I told him I hadn’t thought about it and then he left"

Doug nods, finally understanding why Jem was in such a bad mood and had got himself into a state of barely even knowing his own name.

"He likes you, Beth"

"I know he likes me." She answers."He wouldn’t help me if he didn’t"

"Not like that. Jem likes you. He’s attracted to you and he doesn’t know what to do about it. I think that kiss on the cheek really made his mind up"

"He’s attracted to me?" She asks stunned."Seriously?"

"Yep. But he’s got it into his head that you wouldn’t look twice at him because of who he is"

"He thinks that?" She asks, completely perplexed."Why would he think that?"

"Beth, you aren’t like the other women around here and he knows you’re way out of his league. That’s why he doesn’t think you would ever be interested in him"

"I finish at twelve tonight and then I’ll go talk to him" She decides."Is that okay?"

"Sure."

"Okay, thanks." She smiles and carries on serving and the next thing she knows, Doug has gone.

*****
It’s almost one in the morning when Beth knocks on the door to the run down triple decker and she isn’t surprised to see a bag of empty bottles by the door. Jem liked a drink and so did his sister, the one who had a reputation that even the Priests couldn’t save her morality.

The door opens, revealing a high Krista with a cigarette dangling between her lips and her two year old daughter balanced on her hip.

"What do you want?" She asks abruptly.

"I need to see Jem. Is he in?"

"He’s in the sitting room." She answers and moves out of the doorway to let the guest in.

Beth walks down the hallway in the direction of the blaring television as Krista goes off upstairs with her crying daughter. Jem is completely obvious to her presence, on a come down from some coke he had snorted an hour ago.

"Hi" She says softly, feeling uncomfortable for being in his house at this time of night.

"Beth? What the fuck are ya doin’ here? Ya okay?"

"Yes, Jem. I’m fine, but I need to talk to you about something." She answers and breathes in a deep breath."It’s important"

Chapter Text

"What’s the matter?" Jem asks, sitting up and watching her carefully as she perches herself on the edge of the sofa."Beth?"

She let’s out an anxious breath and chews on her bottom lip, her eyes never leaving the carpet that’s long past replacing. Even in the dimly lit room she can tell everything is shabby, from the carpets and curtains to the sofa and scorched coffee table.

"Why do you want to know what I see in you?"

"Jesus, we’re doin’ this again? Forget about it" he grumbles and sits back in the corner of the green and white striped sofa.

"I thought you deserved an answer"

"Don’t bother" He scoffs and stomps his way into the kitchen.

Giving up had never been something that Beth found easy to do and she had no intentions of giving up now. Especially not when she had so much to say.

She watches him as he pours himself a large whisky and drinks it down in one large swallow, paying particular attention to the way his throat muscles work it down.

"Jem?" She asks softly."You need to know"

"I don’t need to know nothin’"

"Well, I’m going to disagree with you" She says evenly, her tone eventually softening."You asked me what I thought about you and-"

“I told ya to forget about it. I was drunk”

"You weren’t drunk and you know it" She fires back and he slams down his glass, picking up the bottle again.

"Yeah, so what?" He snaps, turning to face her and he avoids meeting her eyes.

"You asked me what I see in you and I’m going to tell you"

"Just wastin’ ya breath ‘cause I
already know” He says with a heavy sigh.”But if it makes ya feel better, go ahead”

"I think you’re the most self-centred man I’ve ever met, who only gives a damn about himself and everyone else can go to hell"

"Gee, no holdin’ back, huh" He scoffs and it confirms his suspicions and fears and it being confirmed is just a massive kick in the gut.

She sees him physically recoil and the hurt that seeps into his eyes as she takes a few steps forward and stands in front of him. She gently touches his stubbled cheek and lowers her voice to a soft tone.

"But I also think you’re the kindest and most sweetest man I’ve ever met. I know you are attracted to me, Jem"

He stiffens and continues to look at the floor.

"I’m attracted to you too" She says softly, stroking his cheek with her thumb."I’m very attracted to you"

"What?"

Beth can’t help but giggle at his reaction to her confession and she watches the relief spread over his face.

Jem can feel his heart hammering away in his chest and he looks into her eyes, wondering if this was a joke that someone had put her up to.

"I like you, Jem." She says quietly."I have done for a while."

"Ya fuckin’ with me?"

"No" She smiles and closes the gap between them."I’m not fucking with you"

Suddenly, he’s nervous as he inches closer and cups her face in his hands, pressing his lips against hers. Jem is surprised when she kisses him back and very quickly they are both gasping for breath.

"I don’t normally do this"

"Me neither" He says whilst trying to catch his breath.

They stand looking at each other for what seems like a lifetime, stuck in a moment of awkwardness and confusion.

"So, what now?" She asks, unsure of where the latest turn of events will take them."Where do we go from here, Jem? I know you don’t do girlfriends or relationships"

"Beth-"

"Look" She says evenly."Maybe this was a stupid mistake. I’m sorry"

Beth pulls away from Jem and starts to turn, to run down the hallway and into the street, knowing she had been a fool for thinking that anything with Jem was just a dream.

"Hey" Jem says, grabbing her arm and spinning her around to look at him."I want that"

"You want what?"

"I want what everyone has. I want the real deal. I want ya" He says firmly in a whisper."I want to be with ya, Beth"

"Are you fucking with me?"

He can’t help but smirk at her quoting back his own words at him and he shakes his head with a chuckle.

"I ain’t fuckin’ with ya, sweetheart"

"Are you sure?" She can’t help but be sceptical given his reputation."Because I would rather you tell me now so I’m not wasting my time"

"I told ya. I like ya and I want to be with ya. I’ve never been more serious"

Sighing softly, she knows by the look in his beautiful blue eyes that he’s deadly serious. She’s never once seen him look like that, sound so desperately honest. Beth takes a step closer to Jem as she feels her hand in his, a small silence falling between them as their lips meet.

****
Beth wakes up feeling frazzled and weak, cracking open and eye and taking in the bedroom she had barely payed attention to the night before. Jem snores softly next to her, his muscular arm wrapped around her waist as if he is protecting her or stopping her from leaving, taking that walk of shame.

She won’t just leave without saying goodbye to Jem because that’s what people do when they are ashamed of their actions and she certainly isn’t.

Checking her cell, she realises that she has a lecture at two and it’s just gone eight. Gently moving his arm from her waist, she grabs Jem’s t-shirt and pulls it on as she makes her way to the locked bedroom door.

"Got some place to be, sweetheart?" Jem’s groggy, sleepy voice fills the room making Beth physically jump a good foot in the air.

"Jesus. You scared me Jem"

"Where ya goin’?" He asks as he sits up, rubbing his face with his big hands.

"Bathroom. That’s allowed isn’t it?"

"And I thought ya were gonna leave without sayin’ goodbye" His lips curl into a grin that melts her on the spot.

"Sorry to disappoint you"

"If I knew ya were such a fire cracker in the sack I would have told ya how I felt sooner" He says with a smile, rolling off the bed and pulling on a pair of boxers.

"Sounds like you are surprised" She answers as he leads her out into the hallway, nudging open the bathroom door.

"I thought ya were a good girl"

"Excuse me?" Beth giggles as she leans against the door frame, leaning in for a soft kiss."I am a good girl"

"Gonna have to prove it, sweetheart."

"Am I expected to make you breakfast or are you making your guest breakfast?" She answers, teasing as she slides her hands over his bare and hairless chest.

"I can make eggs and bacon."

“Sounds good. I’m looking forward to it” She pecks him on the lips as she retreats into the bathroom.

Jem shakes his head with a wide grin, whistling as he heads into the kitchen and starts pulling out a few eggs and a packet of bacon. He’s engrossed by what he’s doing what he feels someone behind him and he speaks to the presence without looking.

"How do ya want the eggs?"

"Scrambled" Krista says as she breaks into a melody of coughs."Where’s your floozy?"

He turns to her sister and it’s like a fog of red mist that takes over his vision.

"She ain’t a floozy"

"The noise you two were making, I thought it was that Cheryl that goes up and down Fifth avenue" She replies with a sharp, nasty smile, of course referring to the local prostitute who will give anyone a blowjob for five bucks.

"Ya would know all about fifth avenue, Kris"

Krista’s eyes turn dark at her brother’s comment and she opens the fridge, grabbing a bottle of orange juice.

"I ain’t a prostitute, Jem"

"Sure ya ain’t" He replies coldly."All those jerks just leave their money lying around, right?"

"Fuck you, Jem" Krista spits back at him and he’s about to say something when Beth enters the kitchen and is surprised to find an unpleasant atmosphere.

"Looks like our Jem’s going up in the world" Krista says with a smirk and her tone is serious."I’d get checked out if I were you, Beth. You don’t know where he’s been"

"Fuck off, Kris." Jem snaps."Get the fuck outta here"

The blonde haired, anorexic thin woman retreats down the hallway with a nasty giggle, stomping upstairs and slamming her bedroom door shut.

Beth folds her arms across her chest and looks down at the checkered green and cream linoleum tiles.

"Ignore the bitch" he grumbles as he cracks open some eggs into a bowl.

"Is she right?" Beth asks hesitantly."Do I need to get checked out?"

"No" he says firmly, a little hurt by her jumping on his sister’s remarks."Ya don’t need to get checked out. I told ya I’m clean. I get tested every six months"

"Why do you get tested?"

"Mom died of AID’s, alright?" He says too quietly and leans on the counter top."I get checked out to be safe"

"I’m sorry"

Jem shrugs and starts whisking the eggs in the bowl, separating the bacon and placing it in the frying pan. She’s about to say something else, to reach out and comfort him when Doug comes into the kitchen.

"Finally, you two got it together" He says with a smile and he directs his question at Beth."Sleep well or is that a stupid question?"

"Shut up, man" Jem answers.

"It’s great being right" Doug replies with a grin, pouring three glasses of orange juice."So, you working tonight or are you being held hostage in Jem’s bedroom?"

"As great as that sounds" She winks at Jem."I have a class at two, so I’m not going to be a very good prisoner."

"I’m sure you two will make up for lost time" Doug says with a smirk and goes back upstairs, leaving them both to enjoy their breakfast.

Beth managed to convince Jem to return to the bedroom on the pretence of “burning off the breakfast calories” and of course, Jem wasn’t one who enjoyed disappointment of any kind. The sex had been great, better than the night before and less rushed. They both had the time to explore each other’s bodies, discover each other’s hotspots and what the other likes and doesn’t like. Definitely the new beginnings for the both of them.

*****

Class had been as usual, stressful as Beth shuffled her bundle of notes at the kitchen table of her apartment. Sighing heavily, she checks the time and wishes that she didn’t have to go to work, to make idle chatter with drunk customers and dish out warnings to the people who had already drunk too much by the time she got there. Pulling on her coat, she grabs her keys and locks the door behind her, completely unaware that she’s going to have to deal with more than drunk customers.

It’s eight in the evening and already the bar is bustling with people in various stages of intoxication. She can barely hear herself think over the noise and she wonders where Jem and his buddies are since they are here every night. By ten, there’s still no sign of Jem and Beth starts to grow concerned. Krista enters the bar, completely wasted on whatever drinks she had bribed other customers to buy for her and whatever she had smoked or snorted elsewhere.

She approaches the bar on unsteady feet and demands a large Jameson.

"Krista, I’m sorry but you’ve had enough already"

"What?" She snaps."You think you can tell me what to do just cause you’re fucking Jem?"

Beth recoils with embarrassment, feeling everyone’s eyes into her skin.

"Not here" Beth says firmly in a whisper over the bar."You’re still not getting a drink."

"Listen to miss high and mighty! Miss little fucking perfect"

"Krista, I don’t know what I’ve done to upset you, but I don’t appreciate the abuse. I’m going to have to ask you to leave" Beth says and is fully aware of the stares from the rest of her customers.

"And what are you going to do? Fuck my brother? You’ve already done that!"

"Enough" Beth snaps as she walks around to Krista’s side of the bar, grabbing her arm and hauling her towards the door."Don’t you ever talk to me like that again or you won’t ever drink in here again"

Beth pushes Krista out onto the street and she falls, scraping her hands and knees on the sidewalk. She staggers to her feet and simply walks away, red-faced and embarrassed because everyone saw her being thrown out onto the street.

It isn’t until she renters the bar, Beth notices a tall and thin stranger with black hair. He’s casually sitting at the bar sipping on a budweiser, soaking up the atmosphere.

"New in town?" She asks him.

"Not as new as you would think. I’ll have another beer and get one for yourself"

Beth smiles and hands over an ice cold beer, taking the change and sliding it into the tip jar next to the cash register.

"Looks like a tough night" He says with a friendly smile, gesturing towards the small scuffle with Krista Coughlin.

"It’s been a lot worse."

"Would it be rude if I asked for your number" he asks and she feels her cheeks flushing.

"It’s incredibly rude. I have a boyfriend"

"And he let’s you work in a place like this?" He chuckles."The name’s Adam."

"Beth. And he knows I can handle myself"

"I can see that" Adam grins and his attention is drawn to Jem and Gloansy as they enter the bar.

Jem walks right up to the bar and
Beth leans over the bar and their lips meet in a quick kiss, answering the stranger’s question.

"Well, it’s getting late. I better get going. Thanks for the chat"

Jem eyes the man suspiciously as he hops off the bar stool and leaves.

"Who was that?"

"I have no idea" She shrugs."He did ask for my number though"

"Really?"

"Are you jealous?" She continues to tease him.

"Nope ‘cause ya are mine"

Chapter Text

Over the course of the next two months, Jem had made himself an almost permanent fixture in Beth’s apartment, but there were some nights he didn’t come home and that got her worried. She could feel it in her gut that something wasn’t quite right, but anytime she asked him about where he had been, he shrugged and mumbled a response. However, Beth didn’t have much time to really think about her relationship with Jem because she was too busy between working at the bar and spending every waking hour in class and quickly she started to feel the strain.

****

Dull clouds move in over Charlestown with the possibility of rain, but it doesn’t stop anyone from going around their daily routine. The two men meet in Sid’s diner, ordering coffee and sitting down with one pair of eyes towards the door, paranoia at it’s very best. Jem doesn’t drink his coffee, just stirs sugar into it and it doesn’t escape Doug that his partner is raring to go and tomorrow probably can’t come quick enough.

"You sure you want to do this?"

"Why wouldn’t I?" Jem counters and his blue eyes fall on his friend’s serious expression."I told ya, I’m in"

"What about Beth?"

"What about her, Dougy?" The smaller man pushes away the cup of coffee and flicks through the dog-eared leather bound menu that is as old as he is.

"Got a lot riding on this one." Doug says simply."Does she know what you’re involved in?"

"Course she don’t know. She don’t need to know."

"Okay, I was only asking." Doug
frowns again and takes a sip of the bitter tasting substance that’s supposed to pass for coffee.”What if we get jammed up?”

"Same rules apply, like always"

A small silence falls between the two men. The reality of going to prison for their third stretch isn’t a welcomed thought, but a reality all the same and while Doug knows the risks of each and every job, the weight of the truth of things still cripples him. He’s resigned himself to the face that he may go to prison, but he won’t go down without a fight and Jem is a completely different story. He won’t let anyone put him back there. The truth is, jem won’t go back to prison full stop and would rather die then go back.

"You really want to put her through that?" Doug asks suddenly, knocking Jem off guard.

"I ain’t got a choice."

"There’s always a choice, Jimmy. You’ve got something worth keeping and here we are doing the same stuff that put us away in the first place" Doug says softly and for years he’s been trying to break away from the shadow of his old man, the preconceived destiny and the actions that were expected from him.

"Don’t go all mother fuckin’ Theresa on me." Jem snaps angrily."Ya don’t know a fuckin’ thing about it. Ya think some rehab burns out the roots, Dougy? Well, it don’t. Ya got ya second chance and here ya are, fuckin’ plannin’ jobs and doin’ the same shit ya always do. Don’t tell me ya got a conscience ‘cause mine is fuckin’ clear and leave Beth outta it"

With that, Jem storms off and almost shatters the glass in the diner door as he slams it behind him. His fists clenches in his leather jacket’s pockets as he stomps down the sidewalk, cursing under his breath at Doug for questioning him. Their relationship had proved to be complicated in the past and as they get older and apparently wiser, Jem’s temper didn’t recede or simmer down. Over the years, Jem seemed to grow more and more volatile towards anyone and everything. No one could potentially soothe Jem’s temper or moods, not even Doug, who had been trying for years. For Jem Coughlin, it was lash out first and ask questions later, but no matter what he got himself involved in, he always had some kind of justification.

***
That night over a quick dinner of mashed potatoes and sausages, Beth knew something was weighing heavy on Jem’s mind. She could see it in his eyes every time he looked at her and even though he wouldn’t admit that something was bothering him, that glint grew like balloons in his eyes.

As she lifts her own empty plate and Jem’s barely touched meal, she rests her hand on his muscular shoulder and is surprised when he tenses up.

"I was thinking that tomorrow we could go do something"

"Can’t tomorrow." He replies as he leans on his folded forearms."Got stuff to do"

"What about tomorrow night?"

"Don’t know if I’ll be back" He mumbles and gets up from the seat."Workin’ outta town, ya know"

"Okay."

Beth sighs heavily and kisses the back of his head and finishes what she’s doing. She knows something is going on and suspects that he may be involved in something illegal, like the rumours she’s heard since before being with him. The thought of it scares her because he’s stepping over boundaries that as far as she is concerned, should never be crossed.

At twenty to one in the morning, run down and exhausted, Beth had let herself into the apartment and quickly crawled into bed next to a sleeping Jem. By seven the next morning, he was already gone with a note left on his pillow.

Gone to work- J

Sighing sadly, she scrunches up the note and throws it into the waste basket in the bathroom and spends the next twenty minutes letting the hot jet of water soothe her body. However, the euphoria is only short lived until lunch time when a news broadcast interrupts the local news and she’s left staring at the TV.

Chapter Text

Beth can’t dislodge the knot of dread in her stomach as the anchorman reports that a robbery has just taken place and reading inbetween the lines; the crooks got away and the police have no suspects. She knows of Jem’s shady dealings, the rumours that circulated through the neighbourhood, but she never thought he would be capable of doing something so serious. A stick-up at the grocery store is what she expected, not a bank robbery.
However, she would never know the truth because she had learned that Jem’s secretive side wasn’t ever going to be a topic of conversation. As the anchorman repeats the same details, she wonders if anyone had gotten hurt and she sorely hopes that her gut feeling is completely wrong.

****

"What the fuck was that?!" Doug yells as he paces the floorspace of an old abandoned building.

"Took care of business, Dougy" Jem replies evenly, deadly serious with his justification.

Des and Gloansy stay silent, both of them pissed as hell for Jem’s rash actions.

"Taking care of business?" Doug scoffs."You executed the guy!"

"He had it comin’. Ya think I was gonna let him pull his gun? No way"

"There’s other ways to deal with it, Jem."

"Like what?" Jem demands."Let him trip the alarm or take one of us down? Ya need ya head looked at If ya thought he was gonna just roll over ‘cause ya were all mister nice"

"He has a point, Doug" Des adds from the side and suddenly backs down as he’s glared at and Gloansy nods in agreement.

"If ya don’t have the balls to do what needs to be done, why the fuck are ya doin’ this?"

Doug sighs and feels his temper boiling over, like it always does when Jem’s around. In his eyes, the job was going perfectly until Jem executed the security guard in front of everyone.

"Because someone needs to keep your ass out of Walpole. That’s why!"

Jem’s jaw tightens and he rubs his stubbled chin, chuckling softly in amusement.

"So, ya are playin’ at bein’ a hero?" Doug watches his friend and brother closely as he gets up from his seat and strides over to him, his face barely millimetres away."I didn’t need ya then and I don’t fuckin’ need ya now. Ya wanna play a fuckin’ hero? Go play it somewhere else."

Doug sees a flash of something in the smaller man’s eyes and he instantly regrets bringing up Walpole, the place where Hell really began for Jem Coughlin.

***

For two days no one had seen hide nor hair of Jem Coughlin and everyone seemed to give Beth the same answers. No one had seen him, but promised to pass on her message. In an act of desperation and worry, she had even approached Krista and wasn’t surprised by her frosty reception.

Since that night at the bar she had been giving Beth daggers and had gone elsewhere to drink, but when she did show up at the bar she was usually beyond wasted and looking for a few lines of coke to chase her vodka and once or twice she even had her daughter, Shine in tow in a stroller. Krista Coughlin infuriated Beth because she didn’t give a damn about anyone but herself and that streak showed in Jem too, especially when her text messages and voicemails weren’t answered.

Slipping on some pyjamas, Beth stares out of her bedroom window and is completely mesmerised by the skyline. It’s a clear night, the sky almost black with a few silvery stars that shine like diamonds in proof that there’s something out there.

She wraps her arms around herself before closing the curtains and climbs into bed, alone and cold from the treatment from Jem. She’s worried about him and he doesn’t even care.

A clattering of metal hitting the floor sends Beth bolt-up in bed, reaching for the light as panic and fear grips her.

Someone’s in her apartment.

She can hear whoever it is rustling around in the kitchen and grabs the extending baton she keeps in the night stand drawer for protection. She never thought she would ever have to use it until now and doesn’t realise that the perpetrator of the noise could use it against her.

Switching on the kitchen light, she squints at the sudden burst of light and her stomach drops when she sees Jem standing there.

"Jem?" She says with surprise."What the hell?"

"Ya said ya missed me"

"I do, but it’s three thirty in the morning.” She says evenly and allows her annoyance to show through.”I’ve been trying to get hold of you for days. Where have you been?”

"Went out and had a good time, sweetheart"

Beth ignores the flash of white teeth behind those very kissable lips and shakes her head. He’s wasted. He’s drunk and high as a kite on something else and she wonders exactly what “having a good time” meant to him.

"I’ve been worried sick!" She expresses her concern and he shrugs it off like a piece of fluff."Where were you?"

"I stopped by some casinos and went to the dogs."

"You did just that in four days?" She asks sceptically and she has a pretty good feeling she knows what else he was up to."So, you just went to the races and the casino? What about the strip clubs and the bars?"

"Ya ain’t my mother" He snaps.
Beth physically recoils and tries a different tact.

"Jem, I thought something bad had happened to you. There’s been all this….commotion about that damned bank job and I thought you were involved. I’m sorry"

Jem doesn’t reply and pours himself a large whisky in the bottom of a glass as he fumbles with his cigarettes.

"Jem?" Beth asks softly, but with urgency."Please tell me you weren’t"

"Was a good pay-out"

Chapter Text

"What?!" He snaps abruptly."Don’t get involved in things ya don’t understand"

"You robbed that bank. Didn’t you?"

"Doesn’t matter" He answers with a shrug and takes a long drag of his cigarette.

"How can you do that to hard working people?"

"I got a job to do, sweetheart. Don’t matter if they’re hard workin’ or a bunch of bums. I do my job" Jem replies.

Beth shakes her head and leans against the counter, shocked and completely knocked off balance by this revelation. She wraps her robe tighter around herself and feels the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

"I knew you were involved in some shady dealings, but I never thought you would be involved in anything like this" She says as every cell in her connects the dots.

"Don’t get all fuckin’ high and mighty on me, Beth. I do a job just like ya do"

"There’s a huge difference between working in a bar and committing armed robberies." She replies evenly."I can’t….I don’t want to believe it"

Jem doesn’t answer her and the vein in his neck expands and pulses as his temper starts to boil underneath the surface. He watches her as she tries to process all the information, being judgement.

"Why?" She asks sharply."Why would you do this?"

"Don’t ya dare stand there and judge me. Ya don’t know a damn thing about it, so don’t act like ya do."

"I’m not judging you, Jem. I just want to know what was going through that thick skull of yours when you decided to do it. What if you had been killed or sent back to prison?" She continues.

"Wouldn’t have happened"

"Listen to yourself, Jem." She finally snaps."You’re so cock-sure of yourself that you don’t see what could have happened!"

"Nothin’ happened!"

"But it could have!" Beth counters and covers her face with her hands and decides she needs to try a different approach."What if I lost you?"

"Ya aren’t gonna lose me."

“And am I supposed to believe that every time I don’t see you for a few days or every time you walk out the front door?” She asks seriously, her tone softening and a few tears sliding down her cheeks.”I don’t want to read in a damn newspaper that you’re either dead or in jail”

Beth’s words seem to strike a chord with Jem and maybe because she’s the first person in a seriously long time that he’s allowed himself to feel anything for.

Running his hands over his buzz-cut, he walks towards her and tilts her head up by the chin so he can look into her teary eyes.

"I ain’t gonna let that happen" He says seriously, softening a little and calming down.

"You can’t guarantee that, Jem. No one can"

"Yeah, I can" he answers and his thumbs stroke her cheek bones affectionately."I can and I will, alright?"

"I just wish you would tell me when you’re involved in these….things"

"It’s too dangerous" He says quietly and he feels her hands on his cheeks."I want to, but I can’t Beth. I can’t put ya in danger"

"I just want to know where you are and if you are okay. Is that asking too much?"

Jem shakes his head and sighs, wrapping his muscular tattooed arms around her and tucking her head underneath his chin.

"No promises, alright?"

"Thank you" She answers as she gazes up at him and kisses him softly."Really, thank you"

****
Her head feels as if it’s going to explode with all the post robbery talk on the news and the stress of school that’s looming over her head. Beth sighs in frustration as she deletes the paragraph she had spent over an hour typing for the third time. She can’t concentrate and she knows why. Jem is out, had left a note and a promise to see her later, but she couldn’t help but ask herself if she actually would or not. Her slender fingers dance over the keys as she amends the paragraph, biting on her bottom lip as she tries to get her point across perfectly.

Checking the time, she curses under her breath as she saves what she’s got on file and grabs her bag and keys, duty calls at the bar. Another day, another dollar.

His eyes wearily scan his surroundings as he licks the froth from his top lip, committing every face in the bar to memory as he listens to Gloansy’s wild story. Des nudges Jem as a new face walks in, straight to the bar after looking around and absorbing the atmosphere.

His jaw tightens, which Gloansy notices and checks over his shoulder.

"Cop?" Gloansy asks and in reply Jem nods slowly."Shit"

"Easy" Jem warns."He thinks we got somethin’ to hide he’s gonna haul us down. Relax."

"Isn’t that the guy who was talking to Beth the other night?" Des asks curiously.

"Looks like it" Gloansy replies without looking around for a second time."Doug comin’ by?"

"Got his AA meetin’" Jem answers dryly and sucks down the last of his beer like a vacuum."Stay cool. They ain’t got nothin’ on us"

"Hey, he’s talking to Beth" Des says suddenly and Jem’s eyes focus on
Beth as she stands behind the bar.

Jem silently observes the interaction as his blood boils furiously in his veins, his jaw set and he’s ready to snap, but he knows if he does he’s handing himself over on a silver platter. He continues to watch their interaction in a scowl; shaking his head at how distrusting she is to laugh at whatever corny joke he’s telling and Jem suddenly realises, he’s jealous.

***
Beth smiles and excuses herself politely from the conversation with Adam and turns to see Des patiently waiting. She greets him brightly and Des can feel the cop’s eyes scan over him.

"What will it be tonight, Des?"

"The usual’s" He replies and leans against the bar on his elbow."Didn’t know you were working tonight"

"Got to make money and pay the bills. Plus, it gets me away from that damn essay!"

She uncaps three beers and measures out three whisky’s, trying to pick out Jem in the smoky bar.

"Is Jem with you?" She asks as she turns to ring up the amount.

"Yeah. Over at the table. You want him?"

"No, I just wondered where he had got to. He left a note earlier and I got so distracted with my essay that I forgot to call him" She answers as she hands over some change.

Des reluctantly heads back to the table with the drinks as Beth and Adam resume their conversation, which only enrage’s Jem to the point of exploding.

****

It’s almost eleven and Beth sighs as she goes into the dark cellar for another crate of bottled beer. She hates the dark and hates the cellar, something to do with the fact that the lighting is so poor and there’s millions of cobwebs, which ultimately lead to spiders. Lost in her own little world of how she can improve her essay, she doesn’t hear the person behind her and doesn’t realise a hand is covering her mouth and an arm wrapping around her waist. She tries to scream, panicked and terrified to the point of passing out when a raspy, familiar voice sounds in her ear.

Chapter Text

"Relax. It’s me"

Beth gasps for air as she turns around in the dimly lit cellar to see Jem standing there with a steady gaze, wound up and ready to go off like a rocket.

"Jem" She says as she regains her emotions."You scared the hell out of me. What the fuck were you doing?!"

If Jem had been in a better mood he would have laughed, but he’s too angry to see the funny side of Beth’s reaction and already his imagination is running wild.

"Who were ya talkin’ to?" He asks a double-barrelled question."That guy?"

"Jem-"

"The guy from the other night." He explains."What did he want?"

“He bought a drink”

"What did he talk to ya about?" He asks as he starts to pace the floor."Beth?"

"I don’t know. Just stuff. What’s this about?"

He rubs his hand down his slightly stubbled jaw and bites down on the inside of his lip, tasting blood.

"Okay, but please don’t get mad" She says softly."He asked if I had a boyfriend and would let him take me out on a date."

"Ya told him no, right?"

"Of course I did" Beth says with seriousness and she doesn’t know what’s got her boyfriend so rattled."Jem, what’s going on?"

"Ya know he’s a cop, right?"

"I didn’t…." It feels like she’s been slapped in the face."Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I’m sure. What was he sayin’ to ya?"

"He just asked me out on a date and I told him I was with you. He apologised and left" She explains.

Jem sighs a breath of relief and tries to calm himself down. He thought that it was game over and he can’t ignore the nagging voice inside his skull.

"Did he say anything else?" He asks.

"Just asked how things had been."

"Like what?" He continues to probe.

"He just asked how things had been going since that new bar opened over on Delaware Avenue. That’s it."

"Ya sure?" He asks again.

"Yes, I’m sure. Stop being paranoid. He wasn’t asking about you or anything specific. Never even mentioned the robbery, so if he was after you and the boys he would have hinted at it."

"Cops are slimy bastards, sweetheart." He answers quickly."Don’t need to hint at it ‘cause they think what they want"

"I really didn’t get that impression from him, Jem. He was kind of nice. Said he had just moved into the area"

The wheels and cogs in Jem’s mind is already working away at full steam ahead, coming up with possible scenarios and reasons as to why a cop would visit such a run down, troublesome bar that catered to some of the Town’s most unsavoury characters. The answer he came up with is easy; this Adam guy was looking for information and possibly suspects.

"If he comes back ya let me or one of the boys know"

"I don’t think that’s necessary" She counters.

"Just fuckin’ do it, alright?!"

The outburst takes her by surprise. Sure, they had argued, but she had never been on the receiving end of one of his tempers and she didn’t like it one bit.

"Don’t you dare snap at me or boss me around like I’m your damn servant. I’m not one of your whores."

"Beth" He says softly, his whole demeanour changing and exposing his softer side."I’m sorry. I just don’t like the idea of some cop sniffin’ around where he don’t belong"

"Baby, I know you are stressed and looking over your shoulder the whole time, but you need to trust me. Even supposing he did ask questions, I’m not going to tell him anything. I’ve got your back on this."

"I’m sorry I scared ya" He says quietly and can’t take his eyes off the floor.

"It’s okay."

"Ya are probably right. I’m just bein’ paranoid" He finally admits.

"If you weren’t I would be worried. Give me half an hour and then I’m all yours."

Jem returns upstairs into the bar as Beth grabs the crate of beers, suddenly more worried about Jem’s temper and frame of mind more than anything else. She knows that he would never hurt her or intentionally hurt her, but being involved in these scams broke her heart because the thought of her worst fear becoming a reality killed her inside.

By the time she gets back upstairs, Jem has already gone and Gloansy is sitting at the bar waiting for her.

"Where’s he gone to now?" She asks as she heaves the crate onto the top of the bar.

"Got a call and had to go"

"Any idea what it was about?" She asks as she uncaps a bottle of beer and slides it across to him.

"None. You coming over to ours this weekend for the barbecue?"

"I didn’t realise I was invited" She answers with a small laugh, trying to push out the fear and dread that’s tangled in her stomach.

"Course you are. Like family now and anyway’s, Joanne’s looking forward to seeing you. Kid’s are too."

Beth smiles and agrees to be there or risk her own demise, which actually is Joanne dragging her to the gathering and she knows the local girl will.

Jem let’s himself into the apartment and tries to keep quiet as he heads into the kitchen, jumping out of his skin when he sees Beth sitting at the table with the laptop open and a huge bundle of notes at her side. She looks frazzled and exhausted.

"What ya doin’, sweetheart?"

"This damn essay!" She replies with frustration."I can’t seem to get the wording right and If I’ve written the same paragraph once I’ve done it a hundred times"

"What’s it on?"

"Economic and political policy" She answers as she digs the heels of her hands into her tired eyes.

"Means fuck all to me"

"And there I was hoping you could help. Where did you get to earlier?" She asks as she sips at her coffee that’s long gone cold.

"Business."

"At that time?" She makes a face of distaste as she picks up her notes and starts reading it."What business is there to do that at that time?"

"Was the Florist. Got a job first thing"

Beth sighs softly and clicks on the save icon. There’s no way she’s going to be able to concentrate.

"What kind of job?"

"Nothin’ ya need to worry about" He answers as he grabs a beer from the fridge.

"It’ll put my mind at ease to know what you’re up to at least"

"Got a special delivery to make." He says and notices the look she’s giving him."Alright, it’s to take a package from A to B"

"Can I ask what the goods are?"

"Coke. Finest Columbian coke there is. Already been cut down and ready to deliver" He answers as he swallows the beer."Nice payout"

"How much for the package?"

"Seventy-three grand" Jem answers almost proudly."Six in it for me"

"That’s a serious amount of money."

"Three off the top for the Florist" He says and sips at the cold beer.

"Whose the buyer?"

"Don’t know" he answers."Don’t need to know."

Beth sighs and organises her school work and tucks it back into the folder, uncomfortable with the conversation and the way it’s going.

"Jem?"

"Mhmm?" He answers with a question.

"Why do you do what you do?"

"It’s all I know, sweetheart" He replies and there’s a detectable amount of shame in his tone.

"Why don’t you try and get a real job, so you don’t have to do stuff like this? It’s safer."

"And whose gonna employ someone like me, Beth? Get real. I’m damaged goods and I got a record." He answers seriously."At least I know this. I can do it"

"But there’s alternatives"

"Like what?" He snaps."Like workin’ in the bar or strippin’ down car parts?"

"You could work with Doug again at the quarry"

"Not gonna happen, sweetheart" He says with a sigh."I’m on their books, I get paid. It’s insurance. A favour. As far as the cops know, I work there. They don’t need to know anythin’ else."

"Jem-"

"Will ya fuckin’ drop it?" He finally snaps."I don’t need ya fuckin’ bitchin’ in my ear every two seconds. I got my life and that’s how it is, nothin’ to do with ya. Why ya with me anyway if ya don’t like what I do?"

"I love you, Jem."

He sighs and rubs the back of his neck, his temper reducing to a non-existent simmer as tears form in Beth’s eyes. Feeling guilty, he kneels down in front of her and gently caresses her cheek, an action that is almost as foreign to him as abiding by the law.

"I love ya too." He whispers."I’m sorry for bein’ an ass. Ya don’t deserve it."

"I just want what’s best for you. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you."

"It ain’t. We’re gonna be okay, babe. I promise" Jem answers confidently and kisses her, hugging her tightly and burying his nose amongst her hair.

If he could change anything….he already knows what it would be.

Chapter Text

The meeting had been cut short due to a furiously drunk member of the group who had shown up, having fallen off the wagon and taking his frustrations out on his peers who changed their lives to a life of sobriety. Doug sips at his bottled water as he sits on the concrete steps of the community hall, a place where he used to get high and drunk as a rebellious teen with his buddies. Something is bothering him. And he would be able to fix it if he knew exactly what it was, but the distinct gut feeling tells him that something is wrong, somewhere.

He checks the time and starts walking to the meeting place, discovering when he gets there that Des, Gloansy and Jem are already there and are talking about last night’s cat fight at the bar. Jem eyes Doug as he leans against the wall, his eyes fixed onto something on the floor.

The three men continue chatting as Doug loses himself in his own thoughts.

"Gloansy, you got the second ready?" He asks finally, referring to the second get away car.

"All set and ready to go." Gloansy answers."Jem’s got what we need stashed. Des here’s already got the alarm breaker worked out"

"Good" Doug says
thoughtfully.”Good. We’ll be ready to go on Friday.”

"I’ll disconnect their panic switches in the main box. Make it look like a whole power cut down that block" Des says with a sense of pride.

Jem doesn’t say anything. He’s just sitting and listening as the plans are discussed.

"We need to do this right."Doug says accusingly, his eyes landing on Jem."No hostages. No beating people up and trying to pour bleach on them"

"And let the motherfucker pull the switch?" Jem scoffs."Let him send us to Walpole on a one way ticket?"

"I didn’t say let him activate the alarm, but we have to be smart about this. There’s enough heat on us already without us handing ourselves over to the feds on a silver platter" Doug counters.

"If they had us as suspects we’d already be in the pen" Gloansy says quickly."We’re home free"

"For how long?" Doug snaps."For how long are we going to be doing this shit and not expect to get caught or questioned. We need to move out of town."

"And ya think that’s going to be easy with the florist, Dougy?" Jem asks with conviction, his eyes staring through his friend and his tone is cold and icy."Ya know there’s no walkin’ away from this. Not now, not ever."

"Listen to yourself. You’ve got every reason in the world to want to stop this game of cat and mouse, but you won’t" Doug states and nods to Gloansy."You too. What’s going to happen to the kids when you’re gone? We can’t keep doing this."

"Do what?" Jem asks almost viciously."Make a livin’? Ya been goin’ to those AA meetin’s too much. Brainwashing ya is what they are doin’"

"The only one here whose brainwashed is you." Doug replies curtly."Be ready on Friday. Usual arrangements.”

****
Beth knew not to push Jem when he came back to her flat in a foul mood, practically choking with rage as he poured himself a large whisky and gulped it down. She hated seeing him so riled up and aggressive, like a bomb that was ready to explode, but she knew if she interfered it would only make things worse. She didn’t want to have to live like that, but now she is and she can’t bring herself to stop it.

It’s late and as usual, Jem is in front of the TV drinking beer and working his way through a bag of potato chips. He had been so stressed, so angry earlier that she figured that some relaxing is exactly what he needed.

Wearing her pyjamas, Beth sits down next to him and he instantly wraps his arm around her shoulders without taking his eyes off the screen.

"What are you watching?" She asks as she snuggles into him, breathing in his scent that drives her wild with desire.

"Jurassic Park"

"Which one?" She asks as she glances up at him and brushes her fingers gently over his forearm.

"Second one. Ya seen it?"

"Once" She answers."When it first came out, I think. Are you hungry?"

"A bit. Ya hungry?"

"I was going to ask you if you wanted some of my famous spicy, cheesy potato wedges." She suggests and tries to get up, but Jem pulls her back down to him, turning to look at her.

"Ya know I love ya, right?"

"Of course I do" She answers softly, reaching out and touching his smooth cheek."And I love you too"

"I mean it, Beth. I really do love ya."

Beth leans in and kisses him softly,
breaking away briefly when Jem tries to deepen the kiss.

"What’s brought all this on?"

"Can’t I just tell ya I love ya?" He asks defensively and his girlfriend isn’t buying it.

"You’ve got a job coming up, haven’t you?"

Jem sighs and shifts uncomfortably, turning his attention back to the TV when the T-Rex invades the make-shift camp, the loud screams and echo of gunfire deafening.

Beth continues to rub his arm and inter locks her fingers through his, feeling their strength and power, but knowing how gentle they can be.

"Jem?" She probes softly and he doesn’t need to say anything to confirm that it’s true. "You promised you would tell me"

"Wasn’t the right time"

"And when is the right time?" She asks."The night before or that morning in a note on your pillow?"

"Course not. I was gonna tell ya later"

She has no option but to believe him and the thought of him wading into unknown territory scares her because she knows the consequences to his actions, even if he won’t acknowledge them. Beth has often wondered why she stays with Jem and the answer is always the same, she loves him. Nothing else will stop her from loving him, no matter what he does.

Deciding to drop the whole conversation, Beth turns to Jem and kisses him hard on the cheek.

"So, do you want some wedges?"

"Need a hand?" He replies with a smile and a nod. His stomach is rumbling and he really needs something to absorb all the beer.

"You can grate the cheese"

"Done deal" Jem laughs and follows her into the kitchen.

***
The morning of the job comes around and as usual, Beth wakes up to find  Jem watching her and she gently rolls over to kiss him tenderly. It’s the same every time he has to go to work and she doesn’t even want to begin to imagine what’s going through his head. She knows by the look in his eyes that he’s praying that he can come home to her, but If he doesn’t, he wants her to be looked after. It’s strange to think that someone like the infamous Jem Coughlin could worry about a woman, especially when he didn’t care before.

"Ya gonna be okay ‘till I get back? He asks gruffly against her lips, his stubble scratching her chin.

"I’m going to be fine. Just promise me that you will come back to me, Jem."

"Ya know I can’t make those sorts of promises" He answers softly, sliding his hand over the curve of her hip.

"Then you try your best."

The couple spend the rest of the morning having sex all over the house, a kind of ritual they had fallen into every time Jem had to go out and work. Beth was always left on tenterhooks every time he left the house, especially when he had somewhere important to be and still, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to fully know the extent of Jem’s “work”. She trusted him and that was enough, but fear creeped into her soul like a serpent, never knowing what was going to happen scared her the most.

Trying to study is practically impossible as Beth checks her cellphone for the hundredth time since Jem’s departure that morning. She finds herself checking the local news channel and sighing in relief that nothing has been mentioned about suspects or casualties from the robbery. She can only assume that Jem and the boys are involved in the robbery, but won’t dare ask him about it because he simply won’t compromise her safety like that.

Beth jumps as he cell vibrates across the table and instantly, she recognises the number. Sighing as she picks up.

"Hello?" She says."Tonight? I don’t think I can…..I’m sorry, but….No, I understand…..okay…..yes…
.Okay, I’ll be there.”

Stabbing her thumb into the “end call” button, she slams her cell down on the table top. Being asked to work at such short notice is always a pain in the ass, but she figures it’s better to keep herself occupied while she waits to hear from Jem. Packing up her schoolwork, Beth heads into the bathroom for a nice hot bath and if she could get away with it, a big glass of wine.

By ten-thirty, panic and fear bubbles away underneath the surface as Beth tends to the usual Friday night crowd and tries to ignore the drunken advances from the regulars. Everyone knows she’s Jem’s girl and wouldn’t flirt with her while he was around, but because he isn’t there, everyone seems to be taking full advantage of it. Muttering under her breath as she throws the handful of change into the tip jar, she checks her cell and her heart sinks when there’s no missed calls or text messages.

Beth continues to keep herself busy and goes to the other side of the bar, collecting glasses and almost drops them as a familiar face walks through the door. Adam, the guy Jem had said was a cop.

Gingerly and trying not to act suspicious, Beth retreats through to the back and tells one of the other girls she’s taking her break. Beth sits down at the small desk and grabs a cup of coffee from the machine on top of the chest high filing cabinet, a strong shot of caffeine is exactly what she needs. Deciding to look busy, she pulls out some stock order sheets and goes over them.

"Am I interrupting?"

Beth recognises the voice and looks up to see Adam the cop standing in the doorway, dressed in blue jeans and a shirt.

"Sorry, but customers aren’t allowed back here." She replies, focussing back on the order sheets.

"I’m not a customer. I’m Agent Frawley and there’s a few questions I would like to ask you"

"What about?" Beth asks curiously and tries to control her nerves that are threatening to burst out of control.

"About Jem Coughlin."

Chapter Text

It had been a very successful job and of course they needed to celebrate their success with a few drinks, which ended up spending a good seven or eight hours in the casino. It had turned into a much more successful night when the four men eventually returned home with pockets full of winnings and their cash from the robbery, hidden safely so it couldn’t be tied to them in any way. The distinct, comforting taste of Jameson”s irish whisky and beer coats his mouth as his head buzzes with the fat lines of cocaine that he had snorted, almost greedily. He didn’t feel bad because he had been out celebrating with his buddies. Perfectly normal behaviour. Jem eventually decided to head for home, he needed to see Beth and let her know he was alright and he would have done it sooner if he trusted technology. He didn’t want to tempt fate by setting himself up for a fall. Jem knew he had so much to lose if he was fingered as one of the robbers and would never see the light of day again if he was sent to prison, but if the worst came to the worst he would rather put his gun in his mouth and squeeze the trigger. He knows he has so much to lose now and shakes the realities from his head as he stumbles in the front door of Beth’s apartment.

The sitting room is in complete darkness and is completely silent, that is until the hallway light snaps on and Beth glares at her boyfriend.

"Where the hell have you been or is that a stupid question?"

"Do I need to answer that?" He snaps back and takes a step towards her."Was out with the boys, ya know"

"You could have at least have let me know if you were dead or alive, Jem. It’s not difficult"

"Ya know how things are, sweetheart" He slurs in reply."Didn’t want to risk ya safety"

She can’t help but roll her eyes

"To hell with my safety!" She answers sharply."I’m already in it up to my neck and then you say you’re thinking about my safety?!"

"What do ya mean?"

"I had a visit tonight at work from that guy you said was a cop." She explains and sighs."Well, he is a cop"

"What did he want?"

"He asked me questions about you. He was looking for you and I told him you were visiting some cousin in Worcester." Beth rants angrily."He wanted to know where you were, how a guy like you got his hooks into a girl like me. And before you ask, I didn’t tell him anything"

Jem rubs his jaw and mentally weighs up his options. If this cop is looking for him it’s bad news and he may already be a suspect in the robberies, but the cop has to prove it and that takes time.

"Ya didn’t tell him shit?" He asks quietly, nodding to himself as she confirms it."Guess I owe ya one"

"You owe me more than one, Jem Coughlin. I love you and I want what’s best for you and for us. I want you to stop working for Fergie and to stop doing these suicide missions"

"Ain’t gonna happen" Jem answers defiantly."Not by a long shot."

Beth rubs her forehead and let’s out a very long and frustrated sigh, trying to hold back her emotions.

"Looks like you’ve made your choice. Shut the door on the way out will you" She says evenly and walks off to her bedroom, closing the door behind her.

***

"This is exactly what I’m talking about" Doug says with seriousness."You’re prepared to let a girl like her go for this shit? Robbing banks and living this life?"

"I ain’t got nothin’ else"

"That’s bullshit and you know it" He counters."You’re not prepared to try and leave it all behind. This is your chance"

"Ya know I can’t walk away from it"

"You deserve a clean break, Jem." Doug says finally."Beth deserves it"

Jem sighs and rubs his hand over his face and jaw, running the tip of his tongue over his bottom lip.

"Ya think I don’t know that?" Jem says finally, his eyebrows furrowing."Ya think I don’t want what’s best for her?"

"And there I thought you were just thinking of yourself"

The smaller man sighs, his shoulders slumping in defeat and Doug knows that Jem carries the weight of the world on his shoulders twenty-four seven, without a break or reprieve. He’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of a football and won’t let anyone in to share the burden.

"I love her, Dougy" Jem says finally, rubbing his hands together and looking at the floor with a deeply sad expression.

If Doug didn’t know any better he would say his partner in crime was ready to cry.

"Yeah, I know. And this is what you owe it to the both of you to have a clean break. She’s terrified she’s going to have to visit you in the morgue or Walpole."

"And what we goin’ to do?" Jem asks as his fingers toys with the stubble on his chin."We go straight?"

"Yeah, we go straight."

A silence falls between them and Doug announces that he’s got somewhere to be, a date with some girl whose way out of his league, but he will at least try to better himself.

Deciding to go for a walk, Jem walks past the beat-up arcade on South-Tulley Street and ignores the joyous yelling from the small public football field across the street. He walks with purpose, like a man on a mission with his hands in his pockets and his jaw clenched tightly as he figures out exactly what he’s going to do.

The bell above the door tinkles as Jem marches confidently up to the counter, his senses viciously attacked by the various arrangements of flowers and plants that decorate the shop.

"I need to see Fergie"

****

A very strong black coffee sits in front of her as she meticulously goes through her class notes in the busy campus coffee shop, the atmosphere a little quieter than normal. Beth chews on her pen as she stresses about the assessment at the end of the month and wonders if she will pass or fail since her lecturer had been of no help when she voiced her concerns. She was quickly brushed off by the professor and when she tried to express her frustrations, he told her that if she wasn’t so stupid she would understand. His harsh, unprofessionalism infuriated her to the point of filing an official complaint, but a friend had given her a useful piece of advice and she knew she would only be making herself a target.

Beth startles suddenly as a presence by her side clears their throat and she looks up to see Doug standing there.

"Can I sit down?" He asks.

"Sure. How are you? I haven’t seen you at the bar in a while."

"Had a lot going on and not enough time to do it in." He answers with a smile."Are you trying to study because I can go if you’re busy?"

"No! I’m just trying to get organised for an assessment. To be honest, I would love the distraction"

Doug watches her as she closes her laptop and puts it away with her bundles of papers and notebooks, watching her closely and realising that she isn’t her usual cheery self.

"What’s bothering you?"

"Nothing’s bothering me" She answers."Why?"

"You just seem….like something’s bothering you"

"It’s Jem" She begins and sighs, leaning in closer so no one can possibly overhear them."He’s so…."

"Stubborn?"

"Yes!" Beth answers with relief and frustration."He’s so damn stubborn he won’t listen to reason. I got mad at him because he didn’t let me know he was okay until he walked through the door. Am I being too paranoid or even crazy?"

Doug takes a sip of his coffee and chooses his next words wisely. Right now he thinks Beth is being paranoid and crazy, but given the circumstances, it’s perfectly normal.
He tells her this and she breathes a sigh of relief and then confesses.

"I got really mad at him"

"It’s Jem we’re talking about." He chuckles lightly."Everyone gets mad at him for something."

"I’m serious Doug. I don’t want to hear through someone else that he’s dead or in prison for being stupid. I just wish he would listen"

"Now you really are being crazy." He answers seriously."Beth, I like you and you need to understand that we aren’t from your blue-collar world. You can’t expect Jem to change into something he’s not. This….life is all he knows. It’s all we know and we know better than to walk away from it."

"He doesn’t even want to try"

Doug sighs heavily and he now realises that Beth is just as equally as stubborn as Jem and it’s no wonder they are at loggerheads, like two bulls in a ring.

“He knows if he tries, he’s a dead man.”

 

A pathetic looking potted plant grabs her attention as soon as she walks into the kitchen and she looks at it with suspicion. Beth knows she wouldn’t have bought such a monstrosity or would at least remember buying it in the first place and she starts to wonder where it came from. A noise startles her and she turns around to see Jem standing there, dressed in a grey wife-beater and tracksuit bottoms. He looks small, distant as he shuffles anxiously from foot to foot and rubs his hands together nervously.

"Just listen" He says as she’s about to speak."I’m doin’ what ya want. I’m givin’ it all up. I’m done"

"You said you couldn’t."

"Got no choice" He answers and finally looks up at her."I love ya"

Doug’s words ring clearly in her ears like a bell and she steps forward, pulling Jem into her arms. She’s scared for him because she loves him and him being on the receiving end of Fergie Colm’s wrath isn’t something she is taking lightly.

"What about money?" She asks."What are you going to do to survive?"

"I’ll get by"

“Jem-” She begins to say and he cuts her off.

"Ya wanted this. Ya wanted me to leave it and so I did."

Beth sighs softly and swallows her
fears and emotions. She’s terrified of what trouble he will get himself into, but she knows he can handle himself and whatever trouble he may get in is better than the Florist breathing down his neck.

"What about the Florist?"

"Nothin’ to worry about" He replies and kisses her forehead, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug."Not a thing"

"I don’t believe that, Jem."

"I told ya not to worry" He says softly and holds her against him.

"But I do worry. Doug told me about what that man is capable of and I don’t want it to happen to you. I’m scared, Jem."

"I know" He breathes out a deep and heavy sigh.

***

The ringing of his cellphone wakes him from a pleasant sleep and he has to untangle himself from Beth’s arms and legs as he rolls over. They had talked well into the night about Jem’s options and none of them were the best, but he had decided to leave the criminal career business behind and that was it.

That was until he got a phone call from Doug.

"You need to get your ass over here, Jem." Doug yells abruptly down the phone.

"What for?"

"You’re little stunt with the Florist has only pissed him off…." Doug yells at a wailing Krista to shut up."They’ve got Shyne. They took her and left a message. You do your job or the kid….well, she’ll be having a funeral. Exact words, Jimmy."

Chapter Text

In the darkness of the bedroom with the only light coming from the digital alarm clock, Jem quietly pulls on his clothes and shoves his gun down the back of his waistband. He’s furious and he’s scared, the latter an emotion he’s never really had to deal with full on before. He knows this situation is his fault and it’s because of him that Shyne has been taken.

He leaves silently from the apartment and makes his way back to the triple decker,every light in the house burning brightly in the street.

He bursts in through the front door and is instantly greeted by a distraught Krista, who is pounding her fists against his chest as Doug tries to grab hold of her.

"You bastard!" She spits venomously."This is all your fault! They’ve got Shyne!"

Jem’s blue eyes dart around the room for any sign that Shyne might be hiding, but rationalise’s that Doug would already have done this. Jem chews on his bottom lip as Krista finally collapses onto the sofa, crying her eyes out and Doug pulls the smaller man into the kitchen.

"I searched everywhere, Jimmy. They’ve really got her. The tape said so" Doug hands over the small cassette and the personal stereo.

Jem loads the cassette and his heart drops like a dead weight into his stomach, his eyes searching Doug’s face for any signs of a practical joke as he listens to Fergie’s thick Irish accent. He holds his breath as he listens to every word, mentally taking note of his instructions and he knows what he has to do. He wouldn’t put it past Fergie to hurt Shyne and he won’t voice those thoughts in front of Krista. There’s no random demand like there normally is in kidnapping’s, just directions to where Jem has to go if he wants to get his niece back safely.

"Come on, let’s go" Jem says as he turns for the door and Doug walks with him out to Doug’s truck.

"You aren’t seriously going to go in there alone, are you?"

"Gotta" Jem answers as he jumps into the passenger seat and he feels sick to his stomach."Ya heard what he’d do."

"Yeah, I heard."

 

They are driving towards the old
slaughterhouse that was condemned years ago, more commonly used now for the homeless who sought shelter and warmth. It’s location is twenty minutes from any main roads, a discreet place where any of tonight’s going’s on’s wouldn’t be heard or seen. That is one of the reasons why the homeless love it so much, because they can see the incoming cars and bail if it’s the cops. It hasn’t been the first time that the old building has been used in criminal activities and it certainly won’t be the last.

"You sure you want to go in there alone?" Doug asks as he steers the truck off the quite literally dead road.

"Don’t got a choice, Dougy."

"I’ll stay outside and once you have Shyne, we run" The bigger man says quickly as his brain tries to form every possible scenario it can. He wants to stay positive for Shyne’s sake, but where the Florist is concerned anything can happen.

Jem lights up a cigarette and glares out the window, loathing himself for being so stupid to think that Fergie would simply just let him walk out like that. He doesn’t say anything to Doug, but he’s pretty sure that he won’t be coming out of the building alive.

"Does Beth know?"

"Course she don’t" Jem answers, frustration making his head ache as he rubs his temples.

"What if-"

"Ya just make sure she’s alright" The smaller man snaps and let’s out a pained sigh."Just make she’s alright"

Doug doesn’t say anything as they drive and he has a gut feeling that Jem knows that he isn’t coming back from the meeting with Fergie Colm.

 

*****

The slaughterhouse is alive with the blare of some sort of lighting which can’t be seen from any of the main roads and this suits Fergie Colm’s purpose. Doug knows this and slows down the speed of his truck as he approaches the building. He is tense and can’t imagine how Jem must be feeling as he lights up his fourth cigarette. Normally he would whine at Jem about smoking in his truck, but secondhand smoke hardly seems important with what’s taken place and what’s about to happen.

The truck rolls to an uncomfortable stop in front of the large bay doors and they are greeted by two of Fergie’s men who are brandishing AK-47’s. Jem sighs and chuckles nervously.

"Been nice knowin’ ya, brother"

"Wait" Doug says quickly as Jem opens the car door."I’m coming with you"

"I told ya, just get Shyne outta here. Take her home"

Jem sighs in frustration and his eyes dart everywhere, his jaw clenching and unclenching quickly.

"I mean it, Dougy" He says "I’m coutin’ on ya. I need ya to do this….for me"

"Okay. Let’s get in there and get Shyne."

Gingerly, both Doug and Jem step out of the truck and are searched by the two gunmen and any weapons are removed. They are nudged forward to enter the building that is in desperate need of demolition and smells of old cow droppings and metal. The concrete floor is cracked and the metal hooks from that had once been used to hang carcasses are rusty and rattle in the breeze. Jem swallows hard as he’s nudged again towards the centre of the room and Doug is held back a little, more gunmen emerging from their various hiding places. Doug counts all fourteen men and silently prays for a miracle.

Fergus Colm steps out of derelict office on the ground level, smirking and shaking his head as one of his stooges carries Shyne. Jem goes to take a step forward towards his niece and Fergie stops him dead in his tracks, raising his hand.

"Ah Jem" He says with a small smile."I wondered how long it would take you to get here. How you doing?"

Jem glances at Shyne and shrugs. If he was to tell Fergie he’s never been so scared, he would be shot on the spot and Shyne would never get home.

"I was very disappointed in you Jem when you decided to retire from the business" He says in a thick Irish accent, a legend in his own right amongst the people of the town."I was very upset"

“Fergie-” Jem tries to speak and is told to be quiet.

"I listened to you talk, Coughlin. Now it’s my turn and you will stand there and listen. Got it?"

Yeah” Jem answers and he can feel sweat trickling down his back.

"I treated you like a son when your
daddy died and this is how you repay me.” Fergie growls “I put food in your mouth when your momma had nothing. I put clothes on your back when your momma was more interested in shooting up. Tell me, who paid for your momma’s funeral ‘cause you didn’t have two buttons to rub together?”

"You did" Jem answers quietly and he looks like a child who is being reprimanded.

Doug feels his guts twisting and knotting, his hands sweaty as he watches Fergie verbally tear Jem apart and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. The AK-47 is sitting too snugly at the base of his skull. 

"Who gave you jobs and money and opportunities?" Fergie raises his voice."Who gave you the best to prove yourself?"

"You did" Jem repeats again.

The florist, old and withered from years of boxing and genetics snaps his fingers and three men approach Jem, one at each side and one from behind.

"Cuff him"

Jem’s arms and wrenched behind his back as the cold metal of cuffs dig into his skin. He doesn’t even try to put up a fight because he knows it will just make matters ten times worse.

"You were going to give all this up from some bitch" Fergie scoffs and a few other men laugh."You were giving up who you are for some girl. Stranger things have happened."

"I just want to take Shyne home" Jem says softly, his eyes pleading with the old Irish gangster.

"I’ll give you the kid, but you stay here and accept the punishment."

"I’ll do it" Jem instantly agrees.

"Jem!" Doug yells."No!"

Fergie and his men continue to laugh into the spacious room.

"Even if it means death, Coughlin?" Fergie leans over and whispers in his ear.

Jem silently nods and it upsets Doug more as Fergie gives the signal for Shyne to be taken to him and he is ushered out.

"Dougy?" Jem says and he looks over his shoulder."Ya promised"

****

Doug jogs to the truck with Shyne in her arms and he can’t begin to imagine how terrified she must be to be taken from her home like that. As he left, the painful thumps and agonising howls from Jem made his heart stop in his chest as he reverses out and speeds off back to the house. He knows that his best friend’s body is going to be found floating in a river or left in an alleyway, dumped and forgotten because he dared to change himself. Guilt squashes him as he carries Shyne into the house because he had encouraged Jem to leave that life behind and it is because of him, that Jem is probably dead.

Chapter Text

He didn’t want to leave the Slaughterhouse, but he knew he had no other choice. As he drives, he glances at Shyne who is sound asleep in the passenger seat and he wonders if she will remember any of this and if it will affect her later on in life. He worries about Shyne because she isn’t being given the best opportunities by her mother.

He makes a note to ask Krista what she was doing when Shyne was taken and then again, he isn’t sure if he wants to hear the answer.
Doug tries his best to not think about Jem and what might be happening to him as he pulls up in front of the three storey house, the lights still burning brightly. Carrying Shyne inside, he finds Krista asleep on the sofa holding one of her daughter’s moth-eaten teddy bears and he gently shakes her.

"Be quiet" he whispers softly."She’s asleep"

"Oh my God!" Krista howls and snatches Shyne from Doug’s arms, smothering her in hugs and kisses, and still she doesn’t rouse from her sleep."Thank you. Thank you so much"

"It’s not me you need to thank"

Krista looks up at him and notices that Jem isn’t there.

"Where’s Jem?"

Doug sighs and heads into the kitchen and retrieves a bottle of water from the fridge, slowly sipping at it as if it’s a fine wine that deserves to be sipped. Guilt crashes into him like a boat on a rock in the harbour and he’s mad at himself that he agreed to Jem’s plan; of getting Shyne and running.

"Doug?"

He turns around and sets his bottle down on the counter, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"He’s with Fergie"

"Oh God" Krista covers her mouth with her hand."What….why?"

"I don’t know, Kris."

******

The trickle of running water disturbs her from a pleasant dream and she moves over to snuggle into Jem, confusion hitting her when she realises that he isn’t there. Snapping on the bedside lamp, she glances around and notices the bathroom door is almost completely closed over and she gets up to make sure everything is alright. Bloody fingerprints and smudges stain the white door and she peers through the crack, watching Jem.

He is standing half-naked, pressing a wash cloth to his beaten body that is a mass of swollen lumps and bruises, ranging from reds to purple, yellows and blacks. She notices his reflection in the mirror, the two black eyes and gash across his nose compliments the split lips and she sees the very angry and deep injury to his head. Beth notices something else amongst the bruising and blood and swelling; tears.

She watches in horror as he stifles a sob and presses the wash cloth to his abdomen, wincing and squeezing his eyes together. She has no idea how he got like this and realises that he must have gone out once she was asleep and she feels terrible because she didn’t wake up and realise he was gone. Lately she had been so exhausted and sleep had hit her like a brick wall, and so does the guilt.

Beth silently pushes open the bathroom door and notices more dark bruising over his shoulders and back, angry welts around his wrists that look as if they have been made from some kind of restraints.

"Jem?"

He physically recoils and stares down into the sink at the bloody water.

"Jem, what happened?" She asks, her eyes stinging with tears as she gently touches his hand.

"Nothin’ for ya to worry about"

"Nothing for me to worry about?" She croaks."Jem, look at you. It looks like you’ve been hit with a truck! Tell me what happened. Where did you go?"

"Dougy called me. I went to see Fergie earlier, told him I was done."

"And?" She asks impatiently.

"He took Shyne. So, I went and got her."

"Is Shyne okay?" She blurts out, her hand covering her mouth in shock."Jem?"

"She’s fine. Doug took her home"

"So, how did you get like this?" Beth continues to ask."Don’t lie to me"

The battered and bruised man sighs heavily and dabs a wad of tissue paper to his bleeding head, wincing as the lump swells and his eyes sink to the floor.

"I forgot the rules, so I got taught a lesson" He answers quietly, refusing to look at Beth who is clearly upset and sniffles."I stick to what I do or he’ll come after you. I got no choice!"

"Jem, I’m so sorry. This is all my fault"

"It ain’t ya fault." He raises his voice above her tears so she can hear him, gently grabbing her by the upper arms and making her look at him."It ain’t ya fault"

"Of course it is. I made you choose between me and what you do, and look what’s happened!"

"Don’t matter" he says, cupping her tear streaked face in his hands."I’m alright"

"Jem-"

"Shhh" he cuts her off and tries to lighten the atmosphere with the only way he knows how."I just gotta stay alive and we’ll be okay"

Beth nods and wipes her eyes, trying to compose herself given the circumstances and grabs the first aid kid from the cupboard underneath the sink. Jem sits down on the toilet seat with a groan, clutching his ribs as he tries to stem the bleeding the head wound.

"Okay, let’s get you cleaned up and then into bed" Beth says as she fills the sink with hot water."You need your rest"

"I’m fine. Nothin’ a beer won’t cure"

“You aren’t drinking” She answers sternly and glances up to see a toothy, white grin.

"Was kiddin’,sweetheart"

"Glad to hear it" She smiles and kisses the back of his hand, which is the only party of him that isn’t battered.

Beth continues to wash the blood from his head and face, then cleans it with antiseptic and then frowns.

"The cut on your head is really big, Jem. I think you need stitches"

"I don’t need stitches" He mumbles.

"And you’ve probably got a few broken ribs. Let me take you to the hospital"

"No way!" He says and let’s out a hiss as you dab the cut on the bridge of his nose."That fuckin’ stings!"

"Don’t be a big baby, Jem."

They both start laughing quietly and then they both erupt into a fit of giggles.

"Okay" She says as she throws the cotton wool into the bloody water."Let’s make a compromise. I’ll give you until tomorrow and if the bleeding won’t stop and you don’t feel any better, you go to the hospital”

Jem silently mulls it over and nods in agreement, more for the sake of a easy life than anything.

"Okay. That’ll do"

"Good" She beams with a wide smile."I knew I could get you to do anything if I tried hard enough. I guess this means you’re going to be doing more jobs"

"Yeah. Beth, I don’t think…we should do this"

"Shouldn’t do what?" She asks, oblivious to his meaning.

"Us"

Beth turns to him and confusion burns in her eyes, an expression of hurt tearing Jem apart as he focusses on the floor and the drips of blood that he had made.

"What?"

"I don’t want ya to get hurt" He says simply."Fergie will get to you if I don’t do what he says an’ I don’t want that."

"I’m not scared of him, Jem"

"Ya should be" He counters."He’s dangerous. Ya should never have got mixed up in the likes of me"

"And we both know you don’t mean that"

Jem avoids her gaze and studies the droplets of his own blood, every inch of his body aching and the dull aching throb in his head isn’t helping matters. He’s scared she gets hurt. He’s scared that she gets pulled into things that doesn’t concern her and it would all be because of him.

"Do the jobs" She says as she kneels down in front of him."But I’m not leaving you, no matter what you think. I love you and that means everything to me"

*****
On the grapevine, he had heard nothing of Jem’s fate and decided to check with Beth, but face to face. If something bad had happened to Jem, she at least deserved the truth and to hear it first hand before rumours were created and spread like wildfire. Krista had cried relentlessly and Doug welcomed the excuse to leave the house, having only been able to deal with the Coughlin sister in small doses since he had gotten sober. They had a history he would love to forget, but Krista Coughlin had no intentions of letting him forget anything about their relationship.

Gathering whatever nerve is left, he goes up to the apartment and knocks on the door, holding his breath.

A few minutes later, the door opens and a bleary eyed Beth stands there in a robe, her hair tousled like a birds nest. She narrows her eyes in confusion at the sight of her late night intrusion.

"Beth, I’m sorry." Doug says seriously."There’s something you need to know"

Alarm sweeps over Beth as she tries to gauge what could be wrong.

"What?" She asks."What is it?"

"Jem’s in trouble. He could be dead"

Realisation comes to her and she tries to stop him, but he ploughs on. He tells her everything that happened, which she already knows as he quickly talks, his agitation and worry growing and growing.

"He’s here"

"What?" Doug asks quickly and tries to look over her shoulder."He can’t be. He-"

"He’s taken a beating and I already know who from. Come on in and see him"

Doug follows Beth into her apartment and he notices the first aid that has been thrown onto the sofa in haste. His guts clench as he is led into the bedroom and breathes a sigh of relief to see Jem sitting up against the headboard, a bandage pulled around his ribs, a plaster over the bridge of his nose and a bag of frozen peas pressed against his head.

"I tried to call you" Doug says sternly and if anyone might look in on the situation, the bigger man might look seriously pissed off, but actually he’s relieved.

"Cell died. Ya okay? Shyne okay?"

"I’m better for seeing your ugly face" Doug laughs softly."Shyne’s fine. It was like nothing happened. Krista’s a mess"

"She’ll be getting high as we speak" Beth adds in contempt.

"So, what happened?" Doug asks.

Jem fills him in about everything that happened at the slaughterhouse and he listens intently, horrified about the abuse and physical beating. Beth at some point had disappeared and returned with a glass of orange juice and some painkillers, practically forcing them into Jem’s mouth and he’s actually relieved that the man he calls friend and brother isn’t drinking beer and taking lines of coke to self medicate.

Deciding to give Jem some peace and quiet, Doug and Beth retreat into the kitchen where she pours them both some coffee.

"This is all my fault" He sighs and rubs his worried, tired eyes."I shouldn’t have talked him into leaving Fergie."

"Doug, I’m just as much to blame. I wanted better for him and I told him. Now look where we are."

"I should have known Fergie wasn’t going to let him just walk away like that." He answers, sipping his coffee and it tastes bitter, but maybe that’s guilt."Beth, I’m sorry you got
messed up in this.”

"He tried to break things off after I patched him up"

This doesn’t surprise Doug at all.

"He tried to tell me I was better off without him" She continues as she stirs sugar and cream into her coffee."But I love him and that’s not going to change because he makes his money differently"

"I’ve never seen him so happy. I wish he had met you a long time ago"

"Underneath that gruff exterior, he’s a nice guy" She admits and she knew Jem would kill her for saying so, but she knows she’s right."I really do love him. I just can’t help what’s best for him and right now…..it’s that…animal."

Doug agrees with her and thanks her for the coffee, again apologising for the mess she is stuck in the middle of, but as he leaves she pulls him into a hug.

"I wish Jem had more friends like you" She says as she let’s him go with a watery smile.

"Hey, don’t go around telling everyone I’m a good guy or you will seriously damage my reputation. Get some sleep. I’ll call Jem tomorrow, okay?”

"Sure" She smiles."Good night"

Beth double locks the door and uses the three dead bolts and security chains, suddenly needing and wanting to feel safe. She doubts that Fergie or any of his minions will try breaking down the door, but she would rather take that precaution as she turns out the lights and climbs into bed next to an already snoring Jem.

Chapter Text

Two Months later

It had been eight weeks since Jem received the massive beating from Fergie and his men and it was so brutal it could have killed him. Jem knew that, but he wasn’t willing to share that piece of information with Beth. She had nursed him back to health, soothed every bruise and cut until he no longer needed soothing and for once in his life, he was truly glad that someone cared enough to do this. All his life people had walked in and out through a revolving door and he learned to trust Beth with his life, but that’s maybe because he’s madly in love with her. Slowly, Jem had started lifting weights again and getting back into a normal routine and for weeks Fergie hadn’t contacted him for anything. Ultimately, he was relieved but he knew that it wouldn’t last long.

***
He sits hunched over the small table in the diner with the door clearly in sight as he twists one of the rings on his fingers. He can see outside onto the miserable rain soaked street and takes a sip of his coffee, his lips pressed tightly together.

At last, Doug walks through the door and sits across from Jem, eyeing him carefully.

"Everything okay?"

"I…uh…" He stutters, rubbing his hands together."I need to talk to ya"

"Sure. What’s going on, Jimmy?"

Jem glances up at his friend, frowning as he studies the wooden table, his hands fidgeting nervously.

"I…I needed to talk to ya"

"Sure" Doug agrees, suddenly worried."What’s up?"

He sits there like he has done for the last hour, trying to string together the right words so he doesn’t sound like an idiot.

"I love Beth" Jem says finally.

"And?"

"I love her…."He says in a whisper, looking over his shoulder to make sure no one is around to hear him."I wanna marry her, Dougy"

Doug can’t help himself and bursts out laughing and Jem scowls at his friend.

"The fuck ya laughin’ at?"

"I’m sorry" Doug answers, composing himself."I thought for a second you were serious."

"I am fuckin’ serious. I shouldn’t of said anything."

Jem gets up to leave, but Doug stops him and motions to the old guy behind the counter that everything is okay. He doesn’t know exactly what to say because he’s simply shocked.

"I didn’t realise you were that serious" Doug confesses."I shouldn’t have laughed. So, when you going to ask her?"

"I ain’t figured that part out yet"

"How do you want to do it?" He asks seriously."Romantic or spur of the moment?"

"I don’t know, Dougy. Ya think I’m bein’ stupid, right?"

"No" Doug answers clearly."I don’t think you’re being stupid. I just can’t believe that you want to settle down after everything you’ve said all these years. You always said you would never settle down and here you are"

"She’s different."

"She sure is" He agrees with the smaller man and orders two cups of fresh coffee.

"I ain’t been like this before. Not ever."

They fall silent as the old guy behind the counter brings them two steaming mugs of coffee and Doug hands over some money, refusing the change to keep the old guy from bothering them. He never thought in a million years that Jem would admit to being crazy about a girl or even considering being in love with her, never mind wanting to marry her.

"Bet ya think I’m high" Jem says finally and looks up, his fingers toying with the stubble on his chin."But I ain’t"

"I know you’re not, Jimmy. I know you’re crazy about her."

"Crazy ain’t the word" He chuckles and digs the heels of his hands into his eyes."What if she says no?"

"At least she’ll know how you feel."

"I guess" Jem nods, changing his focus to the menu."Where am I gonna get a ring? I don’t want people knowin’"

"I know the perfect place. Come on."

They both walk out onto the street and head for Doug’s parked truck across from the diner.

"Where we goin’?"

"East Cambridge" Doug answers as he gets in the truck." Trust me"

****

Shyne’s abduction had caused no long term effects on Krista Coughlin’s life as she throws back another shot of tequila at the bar. Beth is naturally furious that Krista is out enjoying herself after what happened to Shyne. She is furious because Jem had been beaten to a pulp because he dared to go against Fergie Colms and now she can’t get hold of him anywhere and it’s worrying her.

The Tap is quickly filling up with the regulars and Beth isn’t in the mood to make small talk.  She checks her cell quickly and let’s out a frustrated sigh when the inbox messages and incoming calls is empty.

Frustration nags at her as she continues to serve the customers and avoids Krista as best as she can for the rest of the night, at least that’s her plan.

Gloansy and Des enter the bar and manoeuvre their way through the crowd, they are laughing and joking with one another as they approach the bar.

"Hi, boys." Beth smiles."What’s it going to be?"

"Hey, Beth. How are you?" Des answers and then adds his order."Two buds"

"No Jem and Doug tonight?" She asks, trying to hide her curiosity and she hopes she isn’t being too obvious.

"They’ve got stuff that needs doing" Gloansy answers.

"Probably showing off to each other with the weights" Des adds as he sips at his beer.

Beth isn’t convinced and suspects that another job is being planned and that terrifies her. But she rationalise’s that Gloansy and Des would have been there. She doesn’t know what to think as she works the rest of her shift, mopping up spilled beer and listening to the drunk chatter from the customers. She watches Krista as she drunkenly staggers to the ladies bathroom. Beth has lost count of how many drinks have been bought for her and as usual, it’s not just alcohol that’s giving her a buzz. Rolling her eyes, she tries not to show her disliking of the woman and carries on working, never so happy to see the end of her shift.

The end simply can’t come quick enough.

 

As Beth let’s herself into the apartment, the welcoming smell of toast greets her and makes her stomach rumble with hunger. Sliding off her jacket and shoes, she casually wanders into the kitchen and smiles at the sight before her. Jem dressed in nothing but a pair of black boxers, buttering toast.

"Hi there, handsome"

Jem physically jumps and drops the knife, which clatters onto the laminate flooring.

"Jesus, ya scared the shit out of me" He says, once he’s gotten over the initial shock. "Thought ya were workin’?"

"I finished up early tonight. Besides, it’s pretty quiet and I thought an early night would make me feel better."

"What’s wrong with ya?" He asks as he picks up a piece of toast.

"Just school. I feel like I’m going round in circles with it and my tutor isn’t exactly helpful either."

Jem chews thoughtfully and takes another bite, reaching for the bottle of budweiser he had uncapped and let it settle a little at room temperature. For a thug, he liked his beer cold but not too cold and hated icy cold beer.

"Ya need me to talk to him?"

"No, I don’t need you to talk to him" She answers, laughing as she wraps her arms around his neck."But that’s a really sweet offer."

"I can do sweet"

"Sure, Coughlin" She teases with a grin."So, what kept you away from the bar. Gloansy and Des were there."

"We were gonna, but we had things to do."

"What things?" She asks, her lips brushing against his and she can feel his hot hands on her hips."Where were you?"

"It’s a secret. We were out in East Cambridge"

Beth’s eyebrows furrow at the location and wonders why he and Doug had gone all the way out there and then it hits her.

"Is that where the next job is going to be?"

"What?" He asks with confusion."No, we were just drivin’ around, ya know?"

"Jem, you promised me you would tell me these things."

"An’ I have been, sweetheart." He answers softly."I’ve been tellin’ ya everythin’."

"So what were you two doing out there?"

Jem chews anxiously on his bottom lip, weighing up his options and he doesn’t know how to get out of this one. He knows she suspects they were casing a job and the truth is, they weren’t. But he doesn’t know how he can tell her why he was in East Cambridge without telling her about the ring and that he wanted to marry her.

"Are you in trouble?" Beth asks, worry growing like an expanding balloon in his eyes."Please tell me."

Jem sighs and steps around her, telling her to wait there as he retrieves what he had purchased earlier that day with Doug.

Coming back into the kitchen, he pressed the small box into the palm of her and she opens it slowly, her mouth opening wide in surprise and her eyes scanning the gorgeous ring.

"That’s why I was at East Cambridge." He says.

Chapter Text

He stays comfortably at two car lengths behind the armoured truck, occasionally moving to a third car length when paranoia set in. Being the brains of the operation had its advantages and disadvantages and casing a job was one of those disadvantages. Doug’s fear was that he would be spotted hanging around a bank or like he is now, following an armoured truck and he
got stopped by the cops for whatever reason or that they put two and two together. He taps the steering wheel as he follows the truck down another street, taking notes of the streets, times and how long it is to drop off and load up. For the second week in a row he has taken the same journey, calculating any time differences. Doug prefers to call his activities canvassing and he canvasses the hell out of everything, being the meticulous planner to the point of almost obsessive. He likes to be organised. He likes to be in control of the situation and have a back-up plan to the original back-up plan if things go wrong. So far, Doug and the boys had been lucky, but they just never knew when their luck might run out.

Recently, things had been quiet and it was Doug’s decision and not for the lack of work. He had made the decision to postpone any future jobs until Jem had recovered and he felt terrible since Jem’s confession yesterday. Jem Coughlin is his brother and he’s proud of Jem for trying to better himself, even if the repercussions were severe, but it meant he was serious. Since hearing how in love he was, Doug had wondered if Jem could simply move away with Beth and start fresh somewhere else, but Jem wouldn’t want to put anyone he cared about in danger.

Doug pulls into the side of the road and looks down at his notes of the armoured truck’s movements. On this run there are three guards, two old guy’s who are only working for some extra cash and the third is a pompous kid who thinks he’s robo-cop. He knows the two old guys won’t get killed over someone else’s money, but he isn’t sure about the kid. The kid looks like he could be a real problem. Heading for home, he checks the rear-view mirror to make sure he isn’t being followed. Like his companions, he can sniff a cop a mile out and doesn’t want to run the risk of being caught for the robberies or anything else. 

Shyne toddles unsteadily on her feet as Doug closes the front door behind him. He had been told many times that he is Shyne’s father, but a private DNA test had knocked those rumours on the head. As cute as Shyne is, Doug knows she is underdeveloped. At the age of almost two, she is still nowhere near potty trained and that’s down to Krista.

As he lifts Shyne up into his arms, he follows the sounds of the blaring TV and shakes his head at the sight of Krista asleep on the sofa.

"Kris?" Doug says clearly and ends up switching off the TV."Krista!"

Startled, she jumps up and curses as she knocks the ashtray to the floor, spilling smoked joints, cigarettes and ash. Shaking his head, he hands Krista her daughter.

"What the fuck, Doug?" She barks as Shyne starts to wail.

"Don’t even go there, Kris. I’m not in the mood."

"You woke me the hell up!" She counters, ignoring his serious tone.

"Because you should be looking after Shyne."

"I only closed my eyes for a minute" She huffs and kisses her daughter’s head."Besides, I’ve had a rough day."

"So getting high with her around you is okay?"

Krista glares at her ex-boyfriend and if looks could kill, he would be dead. In her mind he had abandoned her when he decided to get sober and since then, she took enough drugs and alcohol for the both of them.

The worst part of it is that she didn’t care how she got her next high as long as she got it. The house could be burning down around her and she wouldn’t care because she was out of her mind on a high.

“Do you even know what it’s like to have fun anymore, Doug? Because that rehab stuff’s really fucked with your brain”

"The only person’s whose brain is fucked Krista is yours and maybe you should concentrate on being a mom instead of getting wasted" He counters, already losing his patience with her so quickly.

"I’m a great mom!"

"Yeah" Doug scoffs, looking around."It looks it. When did Shyne last have a bath or eat a decent meal? When was the last time you read a bedtime story or given hugs and kisses, just because. Well?"

"Don’t talk to me like you know shit about me"

"I know you would rather pop pills and do dope than spend any real time with your daughter" He snaps and for once, Krista actually shuts up."Go get high, go out and leave Shyne and social services will take her into care and look after her. At least she will be better off"

And with that, Doug stomps off upstairs and slams the door, wishing he could just get Krista to see the damage she is doing to an innocent kid.

**********

"You….You’re serious?" Beth stutters as she tries to comprehend what’s just happened and why she has an engagement ring in her hand."Jem?"

"Course I’m serious!"

"You want us to get married?" She asks, still completely shocked.

"I get it, was a stupid move. I get it"

Jem looks down to the floor and shoves his hands into his pockets, furiously angry with himself for thinking that she might even say yes. Beth sees the hurt expression and moves closer to him, cupping his face in her hands and forcing him to look at her.

"Yes."

"What?" He asks, his eyes darting over her face and he doesn’t know whether she’s being genuine or yanking his chain.

"Yes, I’ll marry you"

"Ya will?" He looks at her and expects it to be some kind of joke, but he smiles when she doesn’t start laughing."Ya really will?"

"Yes. I really will marry you"

*****

Beth and Jem had celebrated by themselves and then agreed that they wanted to celebrate with their friends. Molly Malone’s is busy and everyone’s been buying them drinks, much to Jem’s satisfaction. Normally Beth would avoid drinking in her place of work, but the occasion called for letting her hair down and she really is enjoying herself. The other bar staff are really happy that she’s accepted Jem’s proposal, still stunned that the bad boy would ever consider settling down, but none the less they were happy for her. But there is one person who isn’t happy, more furious than anything.

Beth washes her hands and casts a glance in the mirror as the door to the bathroom opens. A reasonably sober Krista struts in with her ridiculous high heels and even more ridiculous mini-skirt and tiger striped blouse that’s tied in a knot at the front just below her cleavage. Krista purposely stands there, just staring and Beth moves to allow her access to the sink, but the blonde doesn’t move and keeps on staring.

"Got something to say, Krista?"

"You know I do." Krista snaps and digs in her purse for the cheap bottle of stolen perfume her latest squeeze had given her."So, my brother decides he wants to settle down and it’s with you. How did you manipulate him? "

"What do you mean?"

"Don’t act stupid with me" She answers evenly."We both know you’re only with him for his money."

"Jem’s money doesn’t interest me, Krista."

"Sure it doesn’t" She answers with sarcasm and shakes her head."I don’t know what he sees in you. We both know you’re going to live off his money. Drag him down and make him your puppet"

"Jem doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do and you should know that, being his sister and all"

Krista purses her lips together in frustration, folding her arms across her chest.

"I’ve got you marked"

"Sure you have" Beth answers and dries her hand."If you’ve got a problem with our relationship, talk to Jem. But it really isn’t any of your business."

"It is my business Miss College. He’s my brother."

"You’ve never given a damn about anyone apart from yourself, so why start caring now?" Beth snaps."But I forgot that you met your dealers through Jem. He loans you money when you can’t afford it. Krista, you need to look at your own life before you start judging mine. Whatever you’ve got to say, I’m not interested."

Beth vacates the bathroom and leaves a subdued and stunned Krista, her almost sister-in-law and returns to the festivities in the bar, grabbing another drink and as she goes to sit down, Jem pulls her into his lap. He’s drunk and she’s glad to see he isn’t high. Since she had accepted his proposal he was on a natural high and she preferred it.

"Ya took ya time"

"I was talking to Krista" She answers and casts a polite smile at Des who has just put down a fresh drink in front of her.

"The fuck did she want?"

“Nothing for you to worry about” Beth smiles.”Just some girl talk”

Doug who has been listening to the brief conversation knows exactly what she means and he shakes his head. Anything Krista does these days doesn’t surprise him one bit, least of all warning off her brother’s potential wife.

****
The celebrating didn’t last as long as either of them would have liked because Doug’s latest job was ready. Another bank. A bank that’s just received the monthly bulk cash transit and it’s too good an opportunity to miss. As usual, Beth fears for Jem’s safety and she wonders how she’s going to survive living like this for the rest of her life, always wondering if the man she loves is ever going to come home. It’s a big risk, but she reasons that love is worth it and so is Jem Coughlin.

Chapter Text

The honeymoon period of engagement was sadly short-lived and a deep depression weighs Beth down as she rolls over to see Jem’s side of the bed empty. She doesn’t need to wonder where he is for long as the conversation from the previous night sparks recognition.
The had argued and then kissed and made up, but the insecurities and fears of Jem working grew and she couldn’t shake that one day he wouldn’t be coming home to her.

Sighing, she gets out of bed and stumbles into the kitchen for a caffeine fix and she groans in frustration at the kitchen table, a mess of notes next to her laptop. She had been writing an essay when Jem came home and announced that he would be gone for a few days and she wanted to handcuff him to the bed so he couldn’t get into trouble, but Fergie had made sure that Jem didn’t have an option.

As the kettle boils, Beth tidies up her school work and throws it into her bag, checking her cell for any signs of missed calls or text messages from Jem. She replaces the phone onto charge and checks the calender. She’s due in at the bar in four hours and the thought of being there is killing her and she just wants to know he’s okay. She knows she won’t know for certain until she physically lays eyes on him.

Later that afternoon while the bar is busy, one of the customers ask one of the girls behind the bar to turn up the volume on the TV and the reporter’s voice grabs Beth’s attention. She is so engrossed in the news report that she over fills a glass with soda and it spills everywhere and it isn’t until the customer yells at her, she realises what she’s done. Retreating to the back room in tears, Beth tries to calm down and is grateful that one of the girls had stepped in. She can’t afford to lose her job for being so distracted by Jem Coughlin.

****

The job had been successful and that’s all that matters. The four men smugly place their bets on the roulette table and order drinks; three beers and one soda and lime. It’s always the same after pulling off a job, the money needed to be washed and no one asked any questions. Once the notes were in a casino’s system, they were hard to trace which is exactly what they wanted.

Des silently watches the silver ball bounce and he groans as the ball settles in a numbered groove that isn’t his number, chalking roulette up to a game of risks and he had taken enough of those for one day. Gloansy and Des head over to the craps table and Jem settles himself down at the blackjack table, expertly cracking his fingers as he starts to play. He’s so deep in concentration he doesn’t realise that Doug has joined him.

Between them they’ve not lost much, but earned more than they walked in with and they don’t care as long as they buy the chips, have a few games then cash the chips in to have new notes. The four men are having a great time and reunite eventually at the slots machines.

"I’m starving!" Gloansy says as he finishes his beer."That rib and steak joint’s still open"

"The fuck we waitin’ for?" Jem agrees with great enthusiasm."Nice big fuckin’ juicy steak. Better than a fuck"

"Don’t let Beth hear you say that" Doug adds as all four of them start laughing.

Doug, Jem, Gloansy and Des laugh like teenagers as they leave the casino and walk to the restaurant that sells the most delicious ribs and steaks, of course with pitcher’s of beer. Happily, they enjoy the rest of their night because every successful job is something to be celebrated because none of them know when it’s going to be cut short.

TWO WEEKS LATER

Beth’s feet are killing her as she eases off her shoes and is glad that the laminate flooring is cold. She’s been on her feet constantly the last three days and her feet can’t take any more of it. Jem walks out of the kitchen with a basin of hot water and places it in front of his miserable girlfriend.

"Should make ya feel better" He says confidently and sits next to her, putting his arm around her shoulders as she submerges her feet in the soothing water.

"Ahhhhh. That feels so good!"

"Ya been workin’ real hard again" He says suddenly."Ya need to take a break"

Beth relaxes into Jem’s touch and absorbs his warmth and calming smells of cigarettes and aftershave. She interlocks her fingers with his and let’s out a deep and contented sigh.

"Ya feelin’ better?"

"Mhmm" She answers with a smile, giddy at how relaxed she feels."Much better and it’s all down to you."

"Guess I’m pretty good"

"You’re amazing" Beth answers seriously and caresses his cheek with her thumb."Always will be in my book."

"Good. Hey, I was thinkin’…..when do ya want to get married?"

His question has caught her off guard as she looks at him, stunned.

"You’re really that serious?" She asks and then smiles."You really want to settle down? With me?"

"Course I do. I don’t want or need nothin’ else. As long as I have ya."

 

It feels good to be wrapped in Jem’s muscular arms and Beth never wants to leave his warmth, but the alarm clock buzzes furiously and they both groan in unison. Beth has an early class in less than an hour and a half and she’s envious of Jem, who can go back to sleep and be warm. There’s an unexpected chill in the air and her teeth clatter together as goosebumps form on her skin. She makes a mental note to set the timer on the heating for the following morning as she steps into the shower.

Clean and fresh as a daisy, Beth toasts herself an english muffin and pours herself some coffee as she reads over her notes. She’s so engrossed in what she’s doing, she doesn’t sense Jem behind her and jumps when he nuzzles the side of her neck.

"Where ya goin’?"

"School" She says mournfully, really resenting her morning already."What are you doing today?"

"Got some stuff that needs doin’. Ya comin’ to Gloansy’s barbecue later?"

"You bet I am" She grins."I’ve got that feeling I’m going to have one hell of a day"

"Ya will be alright. I’ll see ya later"

Jem spanks Beth on the ass hard as he retreats with a quiet giggle into the bathroom. This is what love is.

Chapter Text

The delicious smell of charred meat makes Beth’s saliva glands work overtime as she locates Gloansy and hands him her contribution of a bowl of home-made potato salad. Jem wraps his arm around her waist and hands her a chilled beer, his sunglasses pushed up onto his head as he struts around in a grey tank-top. She can’t help but be mesmerised by the way his muscles move and show through the fabric and to stop the growing flush in her cheeks, she takes a generous sip of beer.

Beth joins the cluster of women around the picnic bench and Gloansy’s wife pulls her into a hug as the kids run at her and hold onto her legs. She manages to convince them to go and play with the other kids and as she turns around, Krista is standing right behind her with Shyne in her arms.

"You’re not welcome here" Krista hisses in a low voice, still smiling so anyone who is looking over would think she is simply being polite.

"I hate to break it to you like this, but I was invited"

"Only because everyone feels sorry for you" She continues."Little miss college, working in a run down bar with a thug and a thief for a husband"

Beth wants to slap Krista, but doesn’t want to cause a scene and put Jem and everyone else in the middle of their ridiculous feud. She can’t understand why Krista has a problem with her, but she’s going to make it her business to find out some time soon because these altercations are driving her mad.

"I don’t care what you think, Krista. I’m past caring what you’ve got to say. If you can’t be happy for me at least be happy for Jem" Beth says sternly and in a low voice, finally turning on her heels and joining the rest of the table and the girly chatter about new movies, gossip in the neighbourhood and much to Krista’s annoyance, Beth and Jem’s engagement.

While the boys drink, it’s Doug’s duty to keep an eye on the barbecue and he laughs as the kids who were playing some ball line up to have some hot-dogs and burgers. One by one, the pile of cooked meat gets smaller and Joanne comes out with a big tray of hot-dogs, chops, burgers, steaks, chicken and vegetables for the grill. Despite being the cook, he’s enjoying himself and he’s glad there’s no animosity between anyone here and he knows to keep an eye on Krista.

The last thing he wanted was her getting high and wasted and end up spoiling everyone’s day, a habit she managed to be perfect at without even trying. It seemed she had the face for trouble because it always seemed to find her.

"You know, I still can’t believe our Jimmy’s going to get hitched" Joanne laughs and hands Doug a fresh soda. "She’s got to have him trained or something"

"I don’t know about trained, Jo."

"They’re cute together" She muses with a grin."I better get back in and do all this salad. Let me know when the chops are done and I’ll bring out more."

Doug agrees with her and smiles as Beth comes over.

"Jem said you overcooked the steak"

"If he’s not happy tell him to come over and cook it" He answers, laughing.

"Oh no, you can tell him yourself. You look a little lonely over here by yourself"

"I’m sober" He shrugs."You get used to it.

Beth frowns and knows how much damage drugs and alcohol had caused Doug in the past and she feels sorry for him that he can’t enjoy the odd cold beer now and again.

"I wish Krista would get used to it" She says quietly so no one else can hear her comment.

"What were you two talking about earlier? She looked too nice to actually be nice"

"It started off by her saying that I
wasn’t welcome here” She explains casually, trying to make it look like they are having a perfectly innocent conversation.”Then, she got bitchy  and said I was only invited because everyone felt sorry for me.”

"You know that’s bullshit, right?"

"Of course I do" Beth says quickly and at the same time she isn’t entirely sure whether she believes it."I just wish I knew why Krista hates my guts"

"It’s probably because you’re with Jem and she thinks you’re taking him away from her. She’s jealous"

"She has nothing to be jealous about, Doug" She points out and folds her arms across her chest, becoming angrier.

"But in her head it fits. For a while it’s always just been the two of them and she doesn’t like the idea of someone taking him away from her. What doesn’t help is that she’s usually messed up"

"I have noticed she becomes a bigger pain in the ass when she’s high" Beth says tersely.

"You should have seen it when it was all three of us"

"Do you miss it, Doug?" She asks and immediately regrets asking."Sorry, that’s none of my business."

Doug doesn’t reply straight away and waits for Des and another friend to pass before he silences Beth with his answer. He doesn’t blame her for being curious because he remembers her telling him that she didn’t grow up with addiction as common knowledge and hadn’t even tried drugs as a teenager.

"No, it’s okay." He sighs."Sometimes I miss it. I miss sitting watching the game with a beer or sitting on the porch in the sun with a cold one. But me, drugs and booze just aren’t good for each other."

"You should be proud of yourself. You turned your life around."

"Not with everything" He says quietly and Beth can barely hear it, but she does.

 

As the night wears on, the kids are put to bed and the back yard is still busy with adults who are eating happily and drinking an enormous dent in the stash of liquor. Gloansy had turned the music down quite a bit so the kids could sleep, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s moods. Beth feels herself being pulled into one of the sun lounger’s and happily settles in-between Jem’s legs as he wraps a protective arm around her waist.

"Ya havin’ a good time?" 

"I’m having a great time" She answers, turning around to kiss him."How much of those steaks did you eat?"

"A few"

"I swear you have worms sometimes" She laughs and relaxes into his body, enjoying the atmosphere."Just don’t expect me to cook anything for at least a week"

"I was hopin’ ya would make those honey barbecue wings"

"And you can forget it!" Beth giggles as his fingers dance up her rib cage."Okay, I’ll reconsider!"

 

At that moment, Krista starts screaming in the kitchen at the top of her lungs and it’s more than obvious that she’s wasted. Beth, Gloansy, Jem and Doug race into the kitchen and have to restrain Krista as she lashes out at Joanne, who is holding her cheek and is in tears. Beth lifts Shyne from the make-shift play pen and tries to settle the upset toddler, kissing her head and doing her best to soothe and comfort at the same time.

"The fuck happened?" Jem roars above the hysteria and Gloansy tries to prise the details from his wife.

"She….attacked….me" Joanne stutters through tears.

"Fucking A!" Krista beams
viciously.”She was defending that little bitch! Saying how nice she is and how lucky Jimmy is. Little skank!”

"Enough, Krista" Doug hollers above the noise.

Gloansy shields his wife behind him and tries to help calm Krista down, but it clearly isn’t working as she tries to lunge forward and attack again.

"You all love this little skank!" Krista hisses in a slur."You all love her and nobody gives a shit about me. Everyone’s always saying, Beth’s a nice girl, Beth’s a sweetheart…..and people don’t know that Beth’s nothing but a fucking dirty little tramp! Fuck off! We don’t want you here!"

Finally having enough of Krista’s abuse, Beth turns and gives Joanne and Gloansy a look of sincere apology and quickly retreats out the back door where the rest of the guests give her a questioning look. Tears sting her eyes as she grabs her coat from the picnic bench, quickly leaving through the gate and walking briskly down the street.

***

His eyes are wide in temper as his face flushes with a scorching heat. His grip on Krista’s arm is tight because he doesn’t want to let her loose and cause even more damage. Doug is trying to calm her down, but it isn’t working and Jem has finally lost his patience.

"The fuck ya doin’, Kris?" He snaps, his jaw locking as he glares at his sister.

"I’m protecting you!"

"I don’t need protectin’" He fires back and he stands directly in front of her, his temper rising.

"You’re making a mistake. Why can’t you see that? She’s no good for you!"

"I fuckin’ love her!" Jem practically screams and shakes his head. "Ya are pathetic, Kris. Stay the fuck outta my life and I mean it. For good. Ya are no sister of mine"
Jem abruptly leaves Gloansy and Joanne’s house, muttering an apology as Krista breaks down crying in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Everyone knew that Jem had a particularly vicious temper, but no one imagined that he would disown his own sister like that. He had been close to hitting her and that’s why he had walked away and he was concerned for Beth, the one good thing he’s managed to do. Period.

****
Passers-by glance towards her with passing concern, realising that comforting a young woman with tear stained cheeks isn’t a good idea. Shuffling on, Beth sniffles as she hugs herself tight and wishes she could stop thinking about everything Krista had accused her of. It hurt, of course it did and Krista knew it would, which is why she said it in the first place. Beth has never met someone who vicious and childish and she hopes she never has to meet anyone like that again.

It feels like there are no more tears left to come as she approaches the apartment complex and two men walk towards her from a parked car.
"Beth?"

"Yes." She confirms her name."What do you want?"

"Jem Coughlin’s girlfriend?"

"Yes" She sighs with impatience."Who are you and what do you want?"

She expects them to pull out some sort of law enforcement badge, but neither of them do. From somewhere behind her, a third man covers her nose and mouth with a chemical smelling rag as she flops into his arms, unconscious. They load her into a white van that pulls up and within minutes they are gone.

Chapter Text

Jem is not happy, that much is obvious as he crashes into the apartment that is in complete darkness. He goes straight into the bedroom and is surprised to find the bed empty, just like they left it before attending Gloansy's barbecue. He is furious. He is livid, red-faced and breathing hard as he searches the apartment methodically, turning on every light in every room.

"Beth?" He yells out, turning on every light."Where the fuck are ya?"

There is no answer.

Sighing and wondering what to do, Jem takes out his cell and tries to call her and his panic rises when it goes straight onto voicemail. He searches for a note, but it doesn't look like she's even been here since leaving with him. Desperately, Jem leaves and drives around, checking out the bar in case she's been called in for a shift and he starts running out of options when the staff at Molly Malone's say that they haven't seen or heard from Beth that day.

He drives over to his place and meets Doug on the front porch.

"Jimmy?" Doug asks curiously, watching Jem as he practically runs up the path and into the house."What's going on?"

"Beth's gone"

"What do you mean Beth's gone?" Doug asks, grabbing Jem by the arm and stopping him from moving."Jem?"

"I can't find her. She's gone."

"Have you tried the bar?" He probes and knows that Krista's violent outburst is a very good reason for wanting to disappear for a few hours.

"She ain't there. She ain't at hers and she ain't here"

Doug sighs and tries to think while Jem quickly becomes agitated. He doesn't know what to suggest to his friend and he tries to think logically as to where Beth has gone.

"She will be taking a walk somewhere to clear her head."

"Somethin' ain't right" Jem answers quickly, scared."Somethin' ain't just right. I know somethin's wrong"

"You don't know that."

"I fuckin' know it, Dougy. Ya need to help me find her." He pleads.

He sighs and looks at Jem as a car pulls up behind Jem's and two of Fergie's goons get out of the car.

"Coughlin?" The bald headed man in the leather jacket says, gruffly."The boss wants you"

"This ain't the time" Jem argues.

"You either walk or we'll carry you" The second guy says with a scorpion tattoo on his thick, meaty neck."Your choice."

 

Doug watches from the porch as Jem follows the two men and slides into the back-seat of their car. For some reason he can't work out why his gut is twisting and turning. Then it hits him. Something is seriously wrong.

***
Salt air is the first thing he smells when he gets out of the car and Jem Coughlin realises that they are at the docks that have been closed down for the last ten years. The soft ground squelches beneath his feet and his blue eyes dart around the abandoned structures. He doesn't know why he's here or what's going on, but he follows the two men into one of the wooden buildings and holds his breath as Fergie crushes a cigarette under his boot.

"Jem, glad you could make it, son" He says and stands up with an icy cold smile.

"What's goin' on?" Jem asks nervously.

"I bet you're wondering why you're here. I have some bad news for you."

"What's that?" He asks as confusion continues to bubble.

"Beth's no good for you, son."

"Fergie-" Jem starts to say and the old Irishman cuts him off with a wave of his hand.

"Now you're going to know why"

Fergie clicks his fingers and Jem turns around to the sound of something scraping across the concrete floor and his heart hammers in his chest as he sees Beth, her hands tied behind her back and a rag in her mouth to keep her quiet.

Two other goons stand on either side of her as tears stream down her cheeks.

"Beth!" Jem stammers, trying to run towards her but he's held back."The fuck, Fergie?!"

"You think you know a person and then all the lies unwind and the truth comes out. She isn't who she says she is."

"What do ya mean?" He asks, his mouth dry and his palms sweaty as he tries to process everything that Fergie is saying.

Beth doesn't even try to struggle in her binding's and every time she looks at Jem it sends fresh tears down her cheeks. Fear grips her and she doesn't know what the hell is going on. She watches Jem as he runs his hands over his head and then over his face, his eyes darting between her and Fergie. He's mentally trying to think of a way to get out of this situation and so far he isn't finding anything.

"Your little girlfriend here is a liar" Fergie says seriously, his eyes searing into her body as he opens a black briefcase."These are papers, son. Who she is, is just a cover"

Jem's eyes slowly move from Beth to the papers in Fergie's hand and he licks his lips nervously.

"She's a fed." He says seriously."Working undercover to get all the dirt she can on you to put you away for a long time."

Jem takes the surveillance photographs and stares at the clear shots of him and his three buddies, the date stamps in the corner are all the days they met to plan their next jobs.

"These aren't the original copies, son. They're copies of the emails she was ready to send to her boss and they make some very interesting reading. She's got every detail of every job you've ever worked, right here. She's got the originals somewhere."

Jem's heart drops as he reads the pages quickly and shakes his head, his eyebrows furrowing together. He can't believe it. He doesn't want to believe it.

"This ain't right" He stammers, heartbroken and it shows.

"It's all here, son. She was taping every conversation you two had about the jobs. You confessed to her and it's enough to send you down for a long time"

Beth mumbles something behind the gag and tries to get up from her knees, but is pushed back down with a thump.

One of the goons start playing one of the recordings and Jem feels his chest tighten at hearing himself confess to a crime, going into details that only one of the real crooks would know, probed by Beth.
"Shit" Jem mumbles and he can't even look at her as she wails.

"Only once choice, son. We get rid of her. Get rid of the evidence and you're free"

As Fergie talks, he removes a pistol from the waistband of his pants and aims it at Beth's forehead, who screams as best as she can. His finger is on the trigger, ready to squeeze.

"STOP!" Jem moves in front of the line of fire."Don't"

"What are you doing, Coughlin? She's got enough to put you inside."

"I don't care" Jem says quickly, taking the gun from his boss."Just.....let her go."

"You aren't serious!"

Jem glances at Beth and swallows hard, nodding as he sets the gun on the table. He's close to tears and won't let anyone see, especially now that everything he's ever felt for the woman is all fake.

"I am. Just...let her go." Jem sighs and turns towards her.

"Son, she'll put you away!"

"I don't fuckin' care!" Jem hollers."I don't care. Let her go."

Fergie sighs and clicks his fingers and she's untied and the gag removed.

"It's your choice, kid. I hope you know what you're doing"

"I thought I did" He answers quietly and stomps out, not wanting to be anywhere near Beth.

***

 

The look on Jem's face had been of pure hurt and devastation, his heart literally breaking as he heard the recordings of the tapes and read the printed out draft emails. He didn't look at her in hate or pity, because he was too hurt. He looked as if his world was falling apart and Beth knows, his world had just crumbled.

Chapter Text

Stricken with fear, Beth gingerly knocks on the front door of the triple decker house and prepares herself mentally as best as she can. It’s been two days since she had been abducted and she hadn’t seen or heard from Jem since, not that she expected him to call or anything. His things are still at the apartment and he hadn’t come to get them, not that spent much time there since her cover was blown.

Walking into Molly Malone’s would start a riot because, as always word travels fast and Fergie would make sure of it.

The door opens and Krista stands there with a smouldering cigarette dangling from her lips, Shyne on her hip.

"What do you want?" She snaps viciously and she does so with great delight.

"I need to see Jem. Is he here?"

"You really think I’m going to tell you, pig?" Krista answers and shakes her head as someone approaches her from behind.

Doug whispers to Krista to go inside and he will deal with Beth. Closing the door behind him and shoving his hands in his pockets, she finally catches a glimpse of how menacing he can really be.

"You’re not welcome here. So, I suggest you leave and go back to wherever you came from."

"Not without speaking to Jem" Beth protests."I need to talk to him. I need to explain."

"Explain that you’re a fed and was just….trapping him?"

Beth’s eyes fall to the ground and Doug sighs heavily, partly in frustration and sympathy, but he won’t admit he feels sorry for her.

"He’s not here."

"Do you know where he is?" She asks desperately, hope building rather quickly and then it falls flat.

"If I knew that I would be with him."

Doug retreats into the house and slams the door, stomping into the kitchen where Jem is sitting hungover and high at the kitchen table.

"Maybe you should talk to her" Doug suggests."Hear her side of the story."

Jem continues to stare at the table top that has a few items of drug, a small square mirror with thick residues of cocaine and a rolled up ten.

"Like hell he should!" Krista snaps and puts Shyne into the rickety highchair.

"It was just a suggestion" Doug retorts and still Jem says nothing.

"Well, it’s a shitty suggestion. He shouldn’t give that skank the time of day. God knows why he did in the first place" Krista says, adding her two cents worth.

"Maybe because he loved her?" Doug argues.

"That shank wouldn’t know what love is if it smacked her in the face! He’s better off without him and you know it."

Krista and Doug continue to argue and it’s doing nothing for Jem’s major hangover. His head is killing him and it feels like someone is walking on his eyeballs with ice-skates. He isn’t in the mood for their bickering and bitching and eventually, he snaps.

"Will both of ya shut the fuck up!" He shouts, getting up from the table. "I fuckin’ know all this. I don’t need to hear it."

And with that Jem storms out and slams the door behind him, leaving Doug and Krista standing in a shocked silence in the kitchen.

He’s gone through it and he doesn’t need to be reminded of how stupid he was. He knows he was stupid. He can’t forget that he was stupid and he vows to never trust anyone ever again.

****

Driving around the neighbourhood in hope to spot Jem had been so far, fruitless. It seemed like a complete waste of time, but she at least had to try and talk to him. It’s a must as far as Beth is concerned. She wants to explain and to apologise, knowing that his feelings were genuine towards her and she had taken advantage of that just to obtain information. Sighing as she pulls in front of her apartment, she goes inside and pours herself a stiff drink, one that’s been needed all day.

It’s after seven and if she thought it would do any good she would go to the bar, but the word of her true identity would be out and she probably wouldn’t make it out alive. The apartment has a cold feel to it and for the first time since meeting Jem Coughlin, she feels completely alone.

The heavy knocking on the door disturbs her from her session of self-pity and she goes to it, her heart racing and she hopes it’s Jem. However, when she opens the door and sees the FBI agent standing there, her hope fades and her heart drops into her stomach like a ball of lead.

"I think we need to have a little chat" He says and flashes his badge at her.

"I don’t want to talk to you"

"That’s too bad" Adam Frawley answers and jams his foot in the door."You either talk to me or I’ll arrest you for obstruction."

"Do what you like."

Frawley glares at her with contempt, his patience running out.

"Look, we both know what your boyfriend is into and I’m going to prove it. And when I do, he’s going to be going away for a very long time."

It clicks with Beth that Adam Frawley doesn’t know that she was undercover and that reminds her that she hasn’t even told her own boss yet and she can’t bring herself to. She failed the team by being found out, but that’s nothing compared to the way she’s hurt Jem.

"I’ll keep that in mind" She answers."I’m busy."

He seems to take that for an answer and leaves and Beth hurries back inside, pouring herself a much larger drink and settles down on the sofa. The look on his face had killed her, shut down the cop in her and she actually believed that she was Beth. The woman who had fallen in love with Jem, who spent hours studying and working in a dive of a bar, but had fun doing it. She had forgotten that she was a cop who was to dig enough dirt on Coughlin so he would never see the light of day again. She has enough evidence and she doesn’t know why, especially with his reputation that he didn’t let Fergie shoot her. She doubts she will ever find out.

***

His body aches and shudders with the cold as he stands in the rain, soaked to his skin in the very sad little cemetery. He hadn’t visited her for a while and now he has, he doesn’t know what else to do except wait for the feds to pick him. Kissing his hand and pressing it to the aged headstone, he glances at his mother’s name and wishes she was here. She would know what to do. She always did, especially when her kids were in trouble. After his old man had died, she had started using and it changed her but she was still inside the thin, drug addicted corpse. Hearing the diagnosis of her AID’s had sent he spiralling out of control and when she died, Jem vowed to find the son of a bitch who gave her it.

Luckily, his mom had written in diaries ever since she was a girl and he found out who had given her a contaminated needle. That guy is now in the bottom of the harbour, fish food and forgotten. Just another junkie gone missing and no one to miss him. Wiping his eyes with his sleeve, Jem wanders the wet streets and finds himself standing outside Beth’s apartment complex, on the hill. He can see her through the window, on the sofa with a drink. Swallowing hard, he decides to leave her to it because he doesn’t even know who she is, but he knows one thing and that’s that he loves her.

THREE DAYS LATER

Watching Jem Coughlin self-destruct wasn’t easy and despite his efforts of trying to help his friend, Doug found himself being pushed further and further away. But last night had been the straw that broke the camels back, literally. Jem had gone out and had gotten wasted at Molly’s and had bumped into some tunies on his way to the liquor store, one of them making a comment that tipped him over the edge and into a violent rage. He had beaten the kid and kept on walking, purchasing alcohol and enough drugs to keep him in a stupor for days and that’s exactly what he planned on doing.

The stale smell of alcohol hits Doug as he strides into the room, pulling up the blinds and opening the window out. The sunlight on Jem’s face doesn’t stir him, so Doug resorts to pouring a glass of water over the sleeping man’s head, which wakes him.

"The fuckin’ fuck?!"  

"You need to stop moping around" He answers and folds his arms across his chest.

"I ain’t moping"

"What do you call sitting and getting wasted every second of the day?" Doug argues."Sitting feeling sorry for yourself"

Jem physically and mentally snaps, grabbing Doug and roughly slamming him against the wall. His eyes are filled with anger and hurt, cold and hard.

"Ya don’t have nothin’ to fuckin’ lose, Dougy!" He yells."I ain’t got nothin’. I need to get outta here"

Doug watches Jem as he quickly pulls on some clothes and grabs a sports bag from the top of the wardrobe, filling it with some clothes and then zipping it up and pulls on a jacket.

"Where you going?" He asks.

"None of ya fuckin’ business."

"Beth came over looking for you" Doug answers."She wants to talk"

"I don’t want to fuckin’ talk. I’ll see ya around"

Chapter Text

Jeremy Renner Frustration
Welcome to Jeremy Renner Frustration! I hope you enjoy your stay. ;)

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Everything on this blog is fictional in content and does not represent the real Jeremy Renner or anyone else included within. All characters belong to their respective creator.
Telling Stories 21
By rennerfan-1
Chapter 21- Across The Lines
NC17 For Mature Themes

 

The storm isn’t showing any signs of passing as she peeks out through the curtains into the dull sky, cradling a hot cup of coffee to her chest. She has spent another sleepless night wondering where Jem is and what he’s doing, how he is and how he is coping with the realisation of her true identity. She wonders how he feels about learning that she had conned him and infiltrated his world as the sweet barmaid and college student; all of it a rouse for information and to secure a conviction.

Beth moves away from the window as a shiver works its way up her spine and she goes into the kitchen, putting two slices of bread into the toaster. She forces down the two slices of toast and takes a hot shower, pulling on some unflattering sweats as she heads out once again to look for Jem.

 

***
His energy is totally spent as he shuffles into the kitchen and throws his keys onto the table, sighing in frustration. He’s worried and he can’t shake the bad feeling in his gut. Doug knows Jem better than anyone, but he can’t work out what’s going on in his mind and where he’s hiding.

"Did you find him?" Krista asks as she spoon feeds Shyne some soggy cereal.

"No ones seen him. I’ve been driving around the whole night and no one’s seen him. Not one person."

“He’ll turn up.” She answers, hopeful.”He always does.”

"Something isn’t right, Krista."

"Jem isn’t going to wait around for the feds to come knocking" She replies."He’ll have Fergie hiding him some place."

"Fergie hasn’t seen him since they let Beth go and he’s not answering his cell."

"Doug, you need to relax." Krista points out as she lights up a cigarette."He will be with one of the boys or someone."

"I already checked with Gloansy and Des. He’s not there and they haven’t seen him."

He watches her as she taps ash into the half-eaten bowl of cereal and turns up the volume of the radio, much to Doug’s annoyance. He grabs the radio and smashes it on the floor, both Krista and Shyne looking up at him in surprise.

"Your brother is missing!" Doug yells."And all you care about is you!"

"He’s a Coughlin and they always turn up."

 

It’s eight in the morning when Beth returns to her apartment for a set of fresh clothes, some breakfast and a shower and a few hours sleep. She’s exhausted and had staked out the strip-club and a few bars she knew Jem frequented and continued to drive around for hours in circles with no sighting of Jem, not even a whisper of where he might be.

Beth is towel-drying her hair when the door goes and when she answers it, she is stunned to see Doug standing there.

"Doug, what are you doing here?"

"I came to talk." He answers."Have you seen Jem?"

"I wish. At least then I would know he’s okay and I could stop looking for him."

Beth rubs her exhausted eyes and tries to ignore the headache that’s pounding away in her skull. She invites him in and makes a very strong coffee for herself and a weaker cup for Doug.

"You’ve been looking for him too?"
"All night" She sighs and pops two aspirins into her mouth. "I’ve looked everywhere I know of and I can’t find him. It’s like he’s disappeared."

"In a way he has. I don’t know where he is."

"I’m really worried about him, Doug and I know I have no right to be." She says honestly, holding back her tears.

It’s in this moment that Doug realises that this show of emotion and concern isn’t an act, but very real and he doesn’t know why. He covers her hand with his in a friendly gesture, offering comfort.

"Why did you do it, Beth?" He asks gently."This whole scam?"

"It started off as a job, a way to prove myself to everyone else that I was just as good as anyone else to go undercover. And for a while I didn’t run into any problems and then I met Jem."

"And then what happened?" Doug probes.

"He told me that he was attracted to me and I mirrored his affections."

"You conned him" He points out and she nods.

Beth refills their mugs and she takes a third aspirin, wanting to rid herself of the drill that’s working it’s way deep into her skull.

"Yes, I conned him." She admits quietly."There was no other way."

"There had to be!"

"There wasn’t" Beth counters and Doug grows quiet."If I wasn’t madly in love with him like I said I was, he wouldn’t have told me a damn thing which meant no case."

"It was all an act. What changed?"

"The pretend feelings I had for him at the start turned real." She answers with a shrug."And I couldn’t get enough of him and all I wanted was to just be with him no matter what. I loved him."

"But you were still going to throw him to the feds?"

"No" She answers straight away."I stopped taking notes of everything over two months ago. The draft emails were never sent and I never made any phone calls to them to tell them what was going on."

"What about the hard copies, the papers?"

"I’ve got them right here." She says sternly."And I’m going to burn them."

"Why?"

"Because they could send Jem to prison for the rest of his life." Beth answers, emotional."And I don’t want that. I love him, Doug."

****

Doug turns his truck into the street as he scans his side of the street and Beth does the other. So far, they haven’t found him and as morning turns into afternoon, it looks less promising. Two sets of eyes are better than one and after hearing Beth’s side to the story, he knows in his gut that she isn’t lying this time.

They pass a few hot-spots and are
feeling morose as they are given blank expressions and shrugging shoulders.

They are almost ready to give up when Doug spots his friend and he curses himself when he realises where Jem has been all this time.

"Look, in the cemetery!"

"Why there?" She asks.

"His mom’s buried there. He always came here when things were on top of him. He hasn’t seen us."

"What’s he doing?" She asks frantically.

"Shit! He’s put the gun to his head."

*****

"Jem!" Beth screams as she runs into the cemetery and towards him."Jem!"

Chapter Text

His finger twitches on the trigger and he turns around slowly, his stomach lurching at the sight of his former girlfriend who had done nothing but lie to him. He sees Doug catch up with her and he looks as white as a sheet, which only adds to Jem’s heartache.

"Don’t do this, Jimmy." Doug pleads and doesn’t attempt to get any closer to his friend.

"The fuck ya want?" Jem answers quickly and presses the barrel of the gun harder into his temple."Huh, the fuck ya want?"

"Jem, this isn’t the answer" Beth says, pleading."Think about what you’re doing."

"Think about it?"

Doug takes an anxious step forward and then backs off as Jem starts to furiously pace.

"I don’t need ya!" Jem spits."I don’t need any of ya"

"Jem, just put the gun down." Doug continues to try and persuade him."Come on, man. This isn’t helping. We can fix whatever’s going on."

"Fix it?" Jem laughs loudly, sneering." Fix it? How the fuck am I supposed to fix it? I’m goin inside, Dougy. I ain’t gonna wait for the feds to pick me up. I ain’t goin’ back inside."

"You’re not, Jem. I promise." Beth says quickly.

"Why should I trust ya? Ya already
fuckin’ lied to me.”

"I promise, Jem. I promise that nothing is going to happen to you. I’ve burned all the evidence and I’ve reported back that you aren’t doing anything illegal." She answers and tries her best to control her emotions, but is failing miserably.

Jem looks at Doug who nods in confirmation of what she’s saying and his stomach continues to lurch as the gun grows heavier in his hand.

"Everythin’ was a lie. Who are ya?"

"My real name is Marilyn Collins." She begins, licking her dry lips as her emotion overwhelm’s her."I’ve been an officer since I was twenty-two and I was assigned to gather evidence on you and your criminal activities."

"I wanted to marry ya and ya said yes. I loved ya!"

"And I love you!" She yells back at him as the tears stream down her face, mirroring Jem’s.

"Ya conned me!"

"It started off as a job, but it changed." She pleads."It all changed. I was never going to get you arrested. I don’t want to see you go to jail."

"It’s true." Doug intervenes."I saw her burn everything. Everything she’s saying is true."

Jem studies his friend and the woman who had led him to believe that she loved him, wanted a life with him and it had all been a lie, a ploy to convict him. Swallowing hard, his watery blue eyes dart between them and he’s stuck in limbo. He doesn’t know what to do and his palms grow sweaty.

"Just put the gun down please, Jem" She says gently."I love you."

"If ya loved me ya would have told me!" He says, holding back bubbling emotions."I loved ya. I still do."

 

He turns away from her and Doug briefly, his finger twitching against the trigger and for Jem, it’s game over.

Chapter Text

The weapon falls from his hand and hits the ground with a dull thud, his knees crashing into the dirt as tears stream down his cheeks. He kneels over the grave of his mother, wounded and beaten and simply feeling hurt and lost. His whole world has fallen apart, all the goodness sucked out of his life like poison from an infected wound and he can't think of anything else except Beth.

But she was a lie, a character used to get whatever information she could on him and he gets she was doing her job, but he doesn't understand why he hurts so much.

Jem sobs harder into his hands, showing his weakness and vulnerability and he feels stupid for it. He feels stupid about the whole thing.

Doug takes off his coat and puts it around his friend's shoulder's, holding him and quietly reassuring him that everything's going to be okay.

"Come on, Jimmy." Doug says softly into his ear."Let's get you home."

Jem allows himself to be pulled up from the ground and led to the car, looking down as Doug ushers him to his truck. Marilyn sighs and grabs the discarded gun and tucks it into the waistband of her jeans, following silently behind Jem and Doug.

 

Back at the house, Doug emerges from Jem's room and sits down at the kitchen table where Marilyn is ignoring Krista's verbal abuse. He isn't in the mood to hear her bitching and it isn't going to help the situation.

"Jem would never have pulled the trigger" Krista says confidently as she sucks down a beer."He's not that stupid."

"You didn't see him, Kris." Doug counters as he massages his temples.

"It's her fault." Krista motions her head to Marilyn."If she hadn't come here and told him stories, he wouldn't be trying to off himself."

"That's enough!" Doug snaps and bangs his fist on the table."Right now that doesn't matter. What matters is what we're going to do for Jem. I think we need to call a doctor."

"A doctor?" Krista scoffs."Give him a few lines and a bottle of whisky and he'll be fine."

"That's not a risk we're willing to take" Marilyn adds, finally standing up to Krista for the first time since her cover was blown."I agree with Doug. He needs a doctor."

Krista shakes her head and sneers in disgust before stomping upstairs and slamming the door shut, leaving Shyne to occupy herself in front of the TV.

"I never should have accepted this case." Marilyn says suddenly."I should have stuck to the boring routine."

"You thought what you were doing what was right at the time. Like us, we might not like what we have to do, but it's a job."

"It was never supposed to get this messed up." She answers with a frustrated sigh."And robbing banks and a nine to five job is completely different."

"Is it really?"

Marilyn drops the issue and cups her hands around the mug of coffee that is now cold. She wishes she could change so much, but magic isn't real and it's because of her part in the investigation that Jem Coughlin tried to kill himself.

"I better call the doc" Doug says as he goes through the contacts in his phone.

"Doug?"

"Mhmm?" He answers as he glances up at her.

"Why are you helping me? I'm the enemy in this, remember?"

"That's the thing about love." He says honestly."It's not perfect."

 

Dr Nolan had spent the last thirty minutes with Jem in his room and the longer he's in there, the more everyone is worrying. Marilyn is sure there's going to be a path worn  into the carpet with the amount of pacing she has done and Doug taps his fingers anxiously on the table. However, Krista is still upstairs sulking and poor Shyne seems to be completely unaffected by what's going on and that's also worrying. Doug had explained that Dr Nolan was an old family friend and even patched him and the boys up on the odd occasion when things didn't go as planned, but he had a soft spot for the Coughlin siblings. Marilyn had asked why such a stern faced man took an interest in two patients and it was simply because he knew their mother, cared for her in the hospice before she died.

Doug goes down the hallway as Dr Nolan leaves the room with his medical bag and they talk quickly in hushed whispers and you pluck up the courage to check on Jem.

He's laying on his back, just staring at the ceiling and his eyes look vacant of all emotions and he doesn't even acknowledge her when she sits on the edge of the bed.

"Jem?" She says his names quietly and covers his hand with hers."I know you really hate me right now and I don't blame you, but I do care about you. I love you. Out of everything, I meant it and I still do."

"Marilyn?" Doug gently touches her shoulder and motions her out of the bedroom.

"What's the verdict?"

"The doc's not happy." He sighs, rubbing his face with his hands.

"Well?"

"The doc says he's having some kind of breakdown." He replies quietly.

"And what can be done to help him?"

"A psychiatric hospital." Doug answers, unhappy about it as much as she is."He can recover and rest. They can help him better than we can and he will be somewhere safe where he won't be able to do anything stupid."

"He isn't crazy, Doug."
"
I know!" He snaps and apologises."No one is saying he is, but the doc says this kind of thing can happen to anyone. If he doesn't get help now he's going to get worse."

"Have you told Krista?"

"I'll tell her once the ambulance comes and gets him" He sighs and scratches his stubbled jaw."She's only going to make a scene and he doesn't need it."

Her insides flip and lurch and it feels like she's stuck on a rollercoaster that won't stop. She wants to get off this hellish ride and she wants to feel her feet on solid ground, but right now that's an impossibility.

"Can they cure him?" Marilyn asks with caution, unsure if she wants to know the answer."Doug?"

"The doc hopes so, but it's going to take a while. But he said that's normal."

"Is it selfish that I want to explain and talk to him about what I did and why I did it?" She asks and glances up at Doug as he leans against the wall.

"Everyone deserves a second chance. That's the way I see it."

"Thank you." She says softly and places her hand on his arm."For everything. Did the doctor say why he isn't talking and just zombie like?"

Doug sighs and chews on his bottom lip as he tries to keep his worries at bay, glancing up the stairs every so often to make sure Krista isn't eavesdropping and getting the wrong end of the stick like she usually does.

"The doc said that his brain shut down and locked out all the bad stuff." He explains."It's like fight or flight mode, but worse."

"He is going to be okay, isn't he?"

"I really don't know" He answers and feels guilty for even admitting his fears to Marilyn."What I do know is that Jimmy's a fighter and he's going to give it a damn good try. Whatever happens."

*****

The flashing of blue lights catches their attention as they sit at the table and instantly they rise, one to the front door and the other to grab the bag they had packed for Jem's stay in hospital. Dr Nolan has returned and is talking quietly to the paramedics, explaining the situation as he hands over a legitimate copy of his medical file which isn't very thick. Marilyn notices the lack of information in Jem's file and she knows that everything in the paperwork is legitimate illnesses or injuries, like the time Jem was fixing something and hammered a nail through his hand or the time he fractured his wrist when he fell down the stairs blind drunk, all normal incidents. She dabs her eyes with a tissue as the stairs creak behind her.

"What's going on?" Krista demands and both Doug and Dr Nolan hold her back as the paramedics roll Jem into the hallway on a stretcher."Where are you taking him?!"

"Jimmy's sick" Doug answers in a soothing tone."He needs help."

"I can help him!" She argues and tries to force her way past them."I'm his sister!"

"Krista, Jem needs specialist care and you or I can't provide that for him" Dr Nolan says calmly."If he doesn't get the help he needs it could be irreversible."

"You can't!" She snaps, crying her eyes out."He's not fucking crazy!"

Marilyn watches on from the end of the hallway as Krista tries to fight to get to her brother and more tears sting her eyes at the sight of Jem's very defeated body. She hears Doug trying to calm Krista down and Dr Nolan mentions something about a sedative, which Doug agrees to straight away. She watches as the paramedics load him into the back of the ambulance and within a few minutes the doors are closed and he's gone.

"How are you holding up?" Dr Nolan asks Marilyn as he sits down next to her at the kitchen table.

"I don't know. I never thought it would be like this."

"People never do." The old man says with a softness and warmth in his voice."Doug told me how and why it all led to this."

"It's all my fault, doctor. It's all my fault that Jem's going into some psychiatric hospital."

"As a doctor, I'm telling you that you need to stop beating yourself up over it or you will end up in there too." He answers, his cold hand resting on top of hers."Marilyn, for a very long time Jem has shown signs of mental instability and he chose to ignore it."

"Why would he do that? Does Doug know?"

"He does now." Dr Nolan answers with a frown."I've treated Jem since he was a child and for several years I've tried to convince him to address this problem. However, he didn't listen to my concerns."

Marilyn swallows hard and reaches for her glass of iced water, her hands trembling.

"And what were they?" She asks quietly."You're concerns?"

"The levels of his aggressiveness. The way he would go into a fit of rage for absolutely no reason at all, but he could justify it to himself."

"He certainly had a temper on him" Marilyn agrees with a sigh.

"It's not just his temper, Marilyn. I believe Jem is suffering from a condition called Intermittent Explosive Disorder."

"What's that?" She asks in horror.

"Intermittent Explosive Disorder is a behavioural disorder characterised by extreme expressions of rage and anger, most incidents are of physical violence and verbal aggression. It's also linked to other mental illnesses, but any time I brought it up he would fly off the handle."

"I can understand that." She says with sympathy."No one wants to be told they are mentally ill."

"Absolutely, but it is treatable."

"How?" Marilyn asks, trying not to let her emotions break through the cracks that are already starting to appear.

"Mostly by medication and psychotherapy, counselling and support groups."

Dr Nolan removes his spectacles and lays them on the table, rubbing his eyes with exhaustion.

"What would have made him like he is now?"

"I believe that Jem is suffering from a nervous breakdown to recent events." He begins."The brain is trying to cope with too much pressure and it's shut down, exploding and closing all the doors to normality."

"So, it is my fault."

"Marilyn, this breakdown would have happened at some point in his life and the recent events are a contributing factor, but not the main cause." Dr Nolan answers."Jem is a very intricate individual who has never showed any sign of weakness in his life before. I think what he felt for you was slowly driving him crazy, because he knew how he felt and he knew he shouldn't."

"How long will it take before he gets better, doctor?"

"It's hard to judge that. The psychiatric team will do everything they can for him and they are damned good at their jobs" He adds."But I do think that it will take some time."

"Is he allowed visitors?"

"He's in hospital, not prison." The old man chuckles and puts on his glasses, diving into his medical bag and places a bottle of pills."Take two of these after some food and they will help you sleep. I will be in touch in a few days."

At that moment, Doug comes
downstairs with Shyne in his arms and Marilyn smiles at the way she is clinging onto Doug's neck, dressed in pink pyjamas after a hot bath.

"Krista's out." He says."I don't think we'll get any trouble from her."

"I better get going." She says as she gets up from the table.

"Stay here. I don't want you being on your own right now." Doug says as Shyne fusses in his arms."I might need your feminine expertise to keep this one occupied."

It doesn't take her long to think about it and Marilyn agrees to help look after Shyne, then sees Dr Nolan out and the thought of being in Jem's room makes her physically sick. While she makes some sandwiches, Doug puts Shyne to bed and comes back downstairs and she notices that he suddenly looks absolutely beat.

"Ham and tomato okay?"

"Sure." Doug answers as he studies the bottle of pills."You better eat more than a few bites on these things."

"I wasn't going to take them."

"Come on, you need to rest and you don't need to be up all night worrying either." He says as he grabs a sandwich from the plate she sets down.

"I just feel so damn guilty."

"You aren't the only one." He admits quietly."I'm his buddy, his brother and I didn't see it. The doc told me about this I.E.D condition."

"Yes, he says it's treatable. But that all depends on whether Jem wants help."

"When he gets out he's not going to have a choice 'cause he's only going to get worse if he ignores it." Doug grabs another sandwich."He's better than that and I'll drag him to every therapy session and make him swallow the pills if I have to."

"He's lucky to have a friend like you. After everything I've done and now this, I don't understand why you aren't screaming at me."

Doug picks up a third sandwich and pushes the plate across to her.

"Because I know no matter what you did, he's crazy about you and once he's better, he's still going to be crazy about you."

Marilyn let's his words stew as they eat up all the sandwiches she made and a chill works its way into her bones as she wraps the remaining sandwiches up and puts them in the fridge. As directed by Dr Nolan, she takes two of the pills and rubs her temples in pain and frustration.

"You can take my room. It's got a lock on the door in case Krista decides to go for a walk and I'll listen for Shyne. The sheets are clean, so make yourself at home."

"Thank you." She says as she gets up to go upstairs."For everything."

Chapter Text

The feeling of guilt sways into her like a wrecking ball that almost sends her reeling for the exit, but she finds the courage to bury her feelings and press on down the sterile corridors of the psychiatric hospital. The distinct odours of antiseptics burn her nose and the faint murmur of voices are the only signs of life in the single rooms and four to a ward that drift out to the nurses station. Naturally, she is asked to empty her pockets and show the nurse on duty the contents of her handbag and she knows the reason why. Most of the patients are here because they are mentally ill to whatever illness haunts them and some are very unstable, acting on impulses and Marilyn understands that a visitor may smuggle in something to a loved one that they could use to harm themselves or someone else. Marilyn clutches her handbag as she follows the burly middle-aged nurse down the hallway, shying away from the odd patient who in most of society's opinions is acting odd. She can't help be unnerved by something she can't predict or understand and the nurse offers her words of comfort.

"Now, he's restrained to the bed comfortably for his own safety and he's very sedated at the moment." The nurse tells her as they enter Jem's room."He may wake-up, but it's unlikely. He needs time to heal and rest, then therapy and treatment begins."

"Thank you."

The nurse leaves Marilyn as she cautiously approaches the bottom of the bed, still holding onto her bag as if it were to disappear in front of her very eyes.

The first thing she notices is that Jem looks very peaceful surrounded by white linen and she winces at the sight of an IV that is for fluids in his arm. Gingerly, she goes to the side of the bed and pulls up the covers to his chin and presses a kiss to his forehead.

"I love you, Jem." She says as she tries to hold back her tears."Whatever happens I'll always love you."

 

*** A week later***

Jem pushes his lunch of macaroni and salad around the plate, his appetite non-existent as one of the nurses comes in and checks on him. He still feels groggy from the reduced dose of sedatives and the sleeping tablets that he takes every night, his mind clogged in a foggy detachment. It feels like he is stuck in a dream that is hazy and unreal, but he knows he's in hospital and why.

"You need to eat something."

"Not hungry" Jem mumbles as he sets down the fork.

"Jem, if you refuse to eat the doctor will want to put you on a feeding tube and it isn't a pleasant thing. But it will happen if you don't eat."

"I'm not hungry." He repeats and takes a sip of the orange juice.

The nurse, a woman called Glenda who is in her early sixties sits on the edge of the bed with sympathetic eyes and a genuine smile, one of the few nurses who actually take time to get to know the patients.

"You aren't doing yourself any good by starving yourself." Glenda says as she rises and checks the IV in his arm."Do you feel up to visitors?"

"No."

"That's too bad" She answers with determination."Because someone's here to see you. A polite young man whose here every day and calling in all the time. You had a second visitor when you were sedated."

Jem really doesn't want Doug to see him, not like this at least.

"Who?" He asks curiously, hesitantly and a part of him is desperate to know because he knows it won't be Krista.

"A young woman, Marilyn she said her name was. Sweet girl, very worried and concerned."

He doesn't say anything as Glenda gently pats his thigh and stands up, smoothing down her uniform. He doesn't get why such a nice lady would want to work in a nut house.

"I'll show him in and try not to let anything upset you."

Jem nods in agreement as Glenda leaves and the silence of the room consumes him, the barely audible noise from the corridor a distant hum and he wonders where all the rest of the patients are. He had heard the crying and screams at night, more like the ones he had heard in prison every time there was a new inmate who couldn't handle it and the goading from everyone else didn't help either. But what really irked Jem was the babbling from some of the patients, how they behaved erratically and almost dangerously and he realised then, that he really wasn't any different.

"Hey"

Jem looks up to see Doug standing in the doorway with a tired expression.

"I don't want ya pity."

"I'm not here out of pity, Jimmy. I'm here because you're my brother." Doug answers and Jem believes him, staring at his hands in his lap."You look better without the sedatives."

An awkward, but expected silence falls between them as Jem picks at some fluff on the blanket, his eyebrows furrowing together.

"She was here." He says quietly.

"Who?"

"Beth." Jem answers and corrects himself."Marilyn."

"Do you expect anything else? She's worried about you."

"And it's her fault I'm in here!" He snaps back.

"And you know that's bullshit, Jimmy. Why didn't you tell me the doc figured something was going on with you?"

"Wasn't important." He answers in a way a child who has been scolded would.

"Like hell it wasn't. Jimmy, you've been sick and you didn't say anything. Why?"

"Ya think I want people to know I'm a fuckin' loonie?" Jem snaps and goes onto ranting."Everyone lookin' at me like I'm some kind of fuckin' disease? Everyone whisperin' behind my back? We all got demons, Dougy."

Doug is strangely prepared for that outburst and he wants to probe further, to get to the bottom of all his friend's problems and help him realise he needs help.

"Yeah, we all have demons, Jimmy." He answers as he leans back in the battered leather chair."But you've got to know when to deal with them instead of running away from them."

"Save ya preachin' for the AA"

"What would your mom say if she could see you now?" Doug asks and is ready for an explosion.

"Don't ya fuckin' dare bring her into this! Don't ya fuckin' dare!"

"Jimmy, you need to start dealing with your problems. Stand and face them." He says firmly and tries another way."She would be worried sick about you. She would be camping out in this chair just to make sure you were okay. She loved you and she was the only person who could make you listen."

Jem's features crumple with raw emotion, tears spilling down his cheeks as he tries to regain some kind of composure and naturally putting up the brick walls to stop anyone from getting inside, to stop anyone from seeing how hurt he still is about her death. But Doug can see it underneath the sniffling and choked sobs.

"When she died, you never really grieved for her." Doug begins, speaking in a soft tone."You buried your head in the sand and took care of business."

"Someone had to."

"You need to start dealing with it." He answers in reply, turning even more serious."Or else you're going to drive yourself crazy."

"Already fuckin' crazy"

"No, you're not" Doug counters with a supportive smile."You need to deal with your issues in therapy, take the medication and start over. It's not easy, but it can be done."

Jem processes everything he's being told and even though he's in denial, he knows his friend is right. He hadn't grieved for his mom and turned angry and bitter at the world. He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and sighs, afraid to look at his visitor who knows him better than he knows himself.

"How is she?" Jem asks quietly.

"Who?"

"Marilyn" He answers and glances out the window."The nurse said she was here."

"She's gone home to get a few hours sleep and a shower. She's been sitting in the waiting room ever since you got brought in."

"Just wants to slap on the cuffs" Jem answers bitterly.

"We told you that she destroyed everything and she did."

"Why would she do that, Dougy?" He asks, snapping again.

"Because she's absolutely crazy about you"

"She's a fed." He answers dryly.

"Yeah, you're right. She is a fed. But she loves you and she resigned. She wanted to stick around and help you, but she knows how you feel about her. She doesn't see any point in waiting for you or anyone else to put her out of her misery."

"Ya think I could?" Jem mumbles, hurt with a range of emotions he can't control."Ya think I could do that to her. Why ya bein' so fuckin' nice to a fed?"

"Because I can see how much she cares about you, Jimmy. She wouldn't resign from her job or use her savings to pay for this treatment if she didn't."

"She don't give a fuck about me" he snaps angrily."It's fuckin' guilt."

"Marilyn does feel guilty, but she loves you more and that outweighs the guilt by a landslide."

Jem watches Doug with a scowl as he stands and grabs the bag of dirty laundry from the locker, stopping to lean over and hug the smaller man he calls brother.

"It doesn't matter what you say, Jimmy." Doug says as he gets to the door."You love her. No matter what she did or didn't do."

Jem glares at Doug as he leaves and he sighs as his head falls back against the white pillows. His friend is right, he does love her.

***
The snide comments and bitchy remarks from Krista is quickly getting on Marilyn's nerves as she loads the washing machine and then moves onto the sink full of dishes. The key is to keep busy and that's what she plans to do, at least for the time being. The faint giggling from the sitting room warms the coldness in her heart and she checks on Shyne who is still strapped into the highchair while Krista sleeps on the sofa. Marilyn stops to wonder what's going to become of the little girl who doesn't have a hope in hell of having a normal life and she prays silently that she will resist her mother's lifestyle when she's older.

Returning to the kitchen, Marilyn flinches as Doug throws his keys onto the kitchen table. He looks around, clearly impressed by Marilyn's housework.

"How is he?" She asks as she scrubs the grime off a pot.

"He's a little calmer, but that's the meds and he's talking."

"That's good" She answers."That's really good."

"Are you going to see him?"

Marilyn stops what she's doing and looks down into the dirty dish water, sucking in a deep breath. She had made every promise she could think of to God, praying that Jem would recover and she would go and see him once he had stabilised, but now the time has come and she isn't so sure.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Why not?" Doug asks quickly, impatiently.

"It's clear that he's made some kind of progress and I don't want him to spiral out of control because I turned up."

"That won't happen." He answers."I get where you're coming from, but I think you need to talk to him."

"You're right. It's only fair that I say goodbye."

"Goodbye?" He asks, his mouth falling open and his eyes widening."What do you mean, goodbye?"

"I'm leaving, Doug. I don't know when yet, but it's going to be soon."

"Why would you leave?" He continues to press her for information.

"The people around here isn't going to forget what I was involved in and neither will Jem. I won't let him suffer the consequences to my actions, Doug. It's for the best."

Doug shakes his head and strides to the kitchen door and closes it.

"Think about what you're doing."

"I have." Marilyn answers with certainty."I've thought about nothing else since this whole mess started. I feel...guilty."

"Guilty over what?"

"The fact that I lied to Jem in every possible way." She says as she dries her hands."The fact that I pushed him over the edge. You saw what he was like."

"He isn't like that anymore and you were just doing your job. It's not like you expected to fall for him."

"It would just be easier if I wasn't around." She answers.

"Easier for who?"

Marilyn avoids meeting his eyes and she already has doubts about leaving, abandoning Jem.

"He loves you" Doug replies."He needs you and he needs your help."

"How am I supposed to help him when I'm the problem?"

"Marilyn, what happened didn't help." He explains with a deep sigh."But Jem's got a lot of issues."

"What kind of issues?"

"The biggest one is when his mom died." He answers."He had to look after Krista and he didn't get a chance to miss her. It's gotten worse 'cause he hasn't dealt with it."

"And the drugs and alcohol?"

"Self medicating" Doug glances up at her."He's been through a lot. It's his way of dealing with it."

 

Over the course of the next hour, so much of Jem's life was revealed to Marilyn and she understood why he is the way he is. But despite the ugliness and the aggression, she still loves him and the thought of leaving is quickly destroying her. She had broke down and cried, sobbing like a baby in front of Doug and he made her promise that she would go and see Jem. She intends to keep that promise.

Chapter Text

The medication leaves a chemical taste in his mouth, but he knows he has to take it or he will never get better or get out from the hospital and back into real life. He misses a cool breeze and the heat of the sun, the little things he always took for granted, even when he spent time in prison. Since being in hospital, Jem has learned that there’s a lot of things he’s took for granted. Strangely, he even misses Krista in his own way and most importantly, he misses Beth. The woman he had fallen in love with and proposed to, the woman he saw having a future with and now that’s changed, because now he has no future. It’s gone up in smoke, just like everything else that had ever been good. 

Still feeling groggy from the sleeping pills, Jem leans back and closes his eyes and the next thing he knows is that it’s visiting time and Marilyn is sitting in the chair next to the bed.

"Hi"

Marilyn almost jumps ten feet in the air at the interruption in the silence.

"Don’t do that. You scared me half to death." She scolds him and then realises she’s overreacting."I’m sorry. I didn’t want to wake you. How are you feeling?"

"It’s fine. Ya look good."

"I don’t feel good." She says quietly and hops from one foot to the other.

"Sit down. I don’t bite."

Gingerly, Marilyn sits down in the chair next to the bed and she looks around the depressing white room and the only splash of colour is the blue curtains.

"I didn’t think I would be welcome."

"Why would ya even want to see me?" He asks."The job is done."

"It started out as a job and I thought it was going to take me places. I wanted to go up the ladder. I never….wanted any of this to happen."

"So, what was gonna happen once ya had done ya job?" Jem asks dryly."Turn me in?"

"At the start, yes. But the more time I spent with you the more I grew to love you. Jem, everything I said to you about wanting to get married was true."

"How can I believe that?" He wonders out loud."Ya already conned me."

"I’m sorry."

"So am I" He answers with a sigh and leans back against the pillow."Why didn’t ya tell me who ya was?"

"I was scared. If I told you who I was and what I was doing, I knew you would kill me so I couldn’t talk."

Jem frowns at her comment and part of it is true, but he knew if it came to it he wouldn’t be able to harm her. He had proved that to himself in the warehouse with Fergie. He didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger on her.

"I..uh…couldn’t. I couldn’t hurt ya."

"You mean at the warehouse?" She asks and he nods in reply."I thought it was shock and that once you realised what was happening…..you would come after me."

The look in Jem’s blue eyes are a mixture of surprise and hurt as he sits up on the edge of the bed.

"I could never hurt ya." He says quietly."No matter what ya did."

"I don’t know how I can ever make up for what I’ve done and-"

"Ya don’t need to." He butts in quickly, genuine and sincere. "I should be the one who needs to make it up to ya"

"But, why?"

"Ya got me….ya showed me…." He trails off, groaning in frustration as he tries to find the words that make sense in his head, but get lost and jumbled on the way to his mouth."Ya taught me things."

"What things?"

"Ya showed me how to…..feel. To be a better guy." He says quietly, a little more than embarrassed."Ya showed me love. What it was like to love someone. I ain’t felt like that before."

"I’m happy I’ve done something good in this mess."

"More than good." He answers.

Jem gives her a warm smile as he runs the palm of his hand over the buzz-cut hairstyle and sighs. He appreciates her being here with him and despite everything that’s happened, he still loves her. He’s crazy about her and he doubts if 
that will ever stop.

"I’m glad ya came." He says with feeling."Will ya come see me again?"

"I don’t know if that’s possible."

His expression changes completely, suddenly looking deflated and hurt.

"What do ya mean?"

"I’m leaving Charlestown, Jem." She answers with a sigh, pained at having this conversation.

"But why?"

"I don’t have a job or somewhere to stay." She explains."I can’t stay here when I’m looking over my shoulder all the time. Who I was, is out and people don’t want me around."

"I want ya around."

"I know you do, but do you really want your reputation and your life made hell because you’re with an ex-cop?" She asks with concern over where this is going."They would make your life miserable and I don’t want that for you."

"I don’t give a fuck what they think! I love ya."

"And I love you too." She responds."But I don’t think we’re going to work. I’m sorry."

"We were doin’ okay. We were happy!"

"Jem, I’m not that person you fell in love with." Marilyn answers as she grabs her handbag from the floor and is about to leave."I really am sorry."

And with that, Marilyn leaves with tears in her eyes and contemplates going back and begging Jem to forgive her, but she doesn’t have it in her to hurt him anymore.

***

The house is unusually quiet and Doug is more or less pleased that Krista has taken Shyne out for the day and he plans on taking full advantage of the peaceful house. As he eats his sandwich, he hears the front door being closed quietly and the squeak of the hallway floorboards. Marilyn is home and normally she would come and see him, but she’s gone straight upstairs into Doug’s bedroom and her sudden withdrawal worries him. 

Knocking lightly on the closed door, he pushes it open to see Marilyn packing her suitcase on top of the pristine made bed.

"Hey, what’s going on?"

"I’m leaving." She answers as she packs."Today."

"Did you talk to Jem."

"Yes." She replies and doesn’t say anymore.

"And?"

"He wants me to stay." She replies as she folds some t-shirts.

"So, what’s the problem?"

"We both know I can’t stay here, Doug." Marilyn sighs in frustration.

He leans against the closed door and watches her as she continues to pack her few belongings.

"Why can’t you stay?" He enquires.

"By tomorrow I’ve got no job and nowhere to live."

"You can get a job anywhere and you can stay here until you’re settled in." He cuts in."It makes sense."

"It doesn’t because I won’t get a job around here and I can’t stay here."

"You don’t know that for sure." Doug adds.

"I think it’s a pretty good guess."

"You know that running away from your problems isn’t going to solve anything, don’t you?" He points out.

Marilyn groans in frustration and let’s out a small scream as she drops her toiletry bag and the contents scatter over the floor. She kneels down to pick them up and Doug helps her and he notices the tears that are forming in her eyes.

"Hey, it’s okay." He says softly and takes her hands, guiding her to sit on the bed."Come on, tell me what’s going on."

"I’m sorry. I’m just so….confused about everything. I don’t want to leave Jem, but I have to."

"You know that isn’t your only option." He answers.

"It has to be, Doug. Staying is just going to screw up the rest of his life. I’ve already done enough."

"If anyone is screwing up Jem’s life, it’s him." He says with certainty."I know he would be devastated if you just up and left."

"He would get over it just like he would get over me."

"And you’re sure about that?" Doug asks."Because I know for a fact that it would kill him and it’s killing you just thinking about it."

Marilyn wipes her tears away and sighs, looking down at her hands in her lap.

"You really love him, don’t you?"

"Of course I do." She answers."I just don’t want to hurt him anymore."

"If you leave then it’s going to hurt him even more. You decide what you want to do, but there’s plenty of jobs you could do and there’s a place to stay here."

Doug pats her thigh and then leaves her to her own devices. Once he’s gone, she remains on the bed and looks at the small photograph she keeps in a silver frame of her and Jem. The tears come hot and fast as she traces her thumb over Jem’s features, the cool glass a soothing feeling to the burn that’s churning around inside of her. She’s torn on what to do and doesn’t know what to do for the best, whatever that is.

The meatloaf is dry and the mashed potatoes are made from instant mash and are lumpy and bland. Jem’s only managed a few mouthfuls, much to the duty nurse’s dissatisfaction and his mood lifts a little when he sees Doug.

"Hey" Doug says as he sets down the brown paper bag on the adjustable table."I brought you lunch ‘cause I figured this slop would kill you."

"Thanks."

"There’s a turkey salad sandwich, some fruit, some potato chips and a piece of pie." The taller man rhymes off the contents of the bag of goodies and sits in the chair next to the bed."I thought you might be hungry."

"I think ya are feedin’ an army, Dougy."

"Like I said, I thought the slop would kill you."

"Thanks."

A few minutes pass in an awkward silence and Doug takes this time as an opportunity to bring up Marilyn.

"You know that Marilyn’s leaving, right?"

"Yeah, she said." Jem mumbles 
sadly, avoiding his friend’s gaze.
"And?"

"I don’t wanna talk about it" He snaps."Just leave it."

"Jem, I’m not going to just leave it. You need to talk about this whether you like it or not."

Jem sighs and rubs his brow, averting his gaze out the window. He doesn’t want to think or talk about anything, especially anything to do with Marilyn because he doesn’t know if he can take it.  Doug is about to say something when his cell beeps in his jacket and he looks at the text sighing, noticing Jem’s questioning expression.

"She’s leaving tonight."

"That isn’t what I want." Jem answers and feels tears stinging his eyes.

"She knows that this isn’t what you want, but she thinks it’s what you need."

They grow quiet again and the wheels and cogs inside Jem’s skull is moving in double time, processing everything that’s happened.

"Dougy, I need a favour."

"Sure." Doug answers."Anything."

Chapter Text

inhales the scent, a mixture of Jem, washing powder and cologne. She’s going to miss his smell as much as she’s going to miss him in person and she’s on the verge of tears as she puts the sweater back on the pile of laundry. 

She turns away from the window to look around the worn sitting room, remembering how she felt at home here with Jem and Doug and in a strange way, she would even miss Krista despite their differences. Saying goodbye is never easy and that’s why she is leaving this way, without anyone trying to stop her. 

A car horn sounds outside and she sees the cab reverse into the driveway. With a heavy heart, she makes her way to the front door.

 

"Shit!" Jem exclaims."There she is. Block the driveway."

Doug does as he’s told and pulls up in front of the parked cab, the driver yelling obscenities. However, there’s no sign of Marilyn and that worries Jem as he quickly enters the house.

"Marilyn?" He calls out."Marilyn?"

He is met with silence and then suddenly a thud upstairs sends him flying upstairs and when he gets to the top floor landing, Marilyn is picking up the contents of a box and is in floods of tears.

"Marilyn?"

"Jem?" She asks in complete surprise."What are you doing here? You should be in hospital!"

"They let me out to see ya. I needed to see ya."

"I need to go, Jem. I’m sorry." She starts to walk towards the stairs but he cuts her off.

"Please, just listen to me. Why ya runnin’ away?"

"We’ve already been through this." She argues. "It has to be this way."

"No it don’t. I love ya."

"Don’t….please." She stifles a sob."Don’t make this any harder than it already is."

"Then stay-"

"I can’t!" She says, raising her voice."You know I can’t."

Marilyn tries to push past him, but he holds her by her upper arms and his touch sends shivers through her body.

"Why?" He asks.“‘Cause ya think people are gonna give me shit ‘cause I love ya?"

"I was a cop, Jem. I was a cop who was sent undercover to get the dirt on you. People aren’t going to forget that."

"I don’t give a fuck what they think" He answers seriously."They don’t matter. Stay."

"There’s no point. Everyone will treat me like a leper and I was just doing my job! I have no house and no job."

"Ya still got me" He says in reassurance."I ain’t goin’ anywhere and I mean it. Stay with me, please Marilyn. Give things a shot here and If it doesn’t work out, we’ll leave."

Marilyn turns to him with a expression of shock, her stomach churning at his offer. She can’t believe what she’s hearing and the hollering of the cab driver isn’t helping. Politely, she asks him to give her a few minutes and turns her attention back to Jem.

"You would give up your entire life for me? I can’t let you do that, Jem. I’m sorry. My cab is waiting."

"I need ya." He says as he blocks her."I love ya. I can’t live without ya. Just give me a chance, give us a chance."

Never has she seen him look and sound so desperate and it makes her crumble a little every time she looks at him.

"I betrayed you." She says stiffly, fighting her own emotions and especially the realisation of what she wants and what she needs to do.

"I don’t give a shit about any of it. Stay, please. I want to marry ya, give ya babies and make ya happy."

"Jem, we’re two different people from two different lifestyles. I was an officer of the law who enforced the laws that you break." She sighs, tears stinging her eyes."It never would have worked."

Marilyn tries a second and third time to get past him and every time he blocks her from the door. She can hear the cab driver complaining to Doug outside and she’s glad that Krista isn’t here because she would only make the situation worse. 

Leaving was supposed to be easy with Jem in the hospital and she wishes now that she hadn’t said anything, not even visited him, but her conscience and heart wouldn’t allow it. 

"I can change." He says seriously."I can change. We can move away and I’ll get a real job, start a new life and be better. I can do it. We can work this out."

"If you really loved me, you would let me go."

Pain and hurt registers in his eyes and quietly and slowly, he steps aside with a deep ache that’s growing by the second. Jem watches her from the doorway as she climbs into the cab and the driver pulls out onto the street once Doug has moved his truck, without looking and interrupted by the driver, he asks her where she’s going.

"The airport, please." She says in a whisper as silent tears stream down her cheeks.

***

"Fuck!" Jem yells into thin air, thumping his fists against the wall."Fuck!"

“You tried, man.”

He turns his head to see Doug standing barely inches away from him, an empathetic look on his face as he squeezes Jem’s shoulder.

"Wasn’t good enough." He answers in reply, pressing his back against the wall."Wasn’t fuckin’ good enough!"

Doug takes a small step back and senses the self-loathing intensifying. He’s worried in case Jem goes and does something stupid, but it’s unlikely because he needs to return to the hospital. Gently, Doug places his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder for the second time.

"We need to go, Jimmy."

"I ain’t goin’ nowhere!" Jem snaps."I don’t need the fuckin’ nut house."

"You’re sick and you need help."

"What the fuck for?" He laughs sarcastically."Not like I got anythin’ worth gettin’ better for, is it?"

"You know that’s not true."

"She’s gone, Doug." He yells and the tears he’s been trying to hold back cascade down his cheeks."She’s fuckn’ gone!"

Jem stumbles and clatters to the floor, landing on his knees with a painful thud. Doug picks him up and ushers him outside and into the truck, taking him back to the hospital where he can get help.

****

A monotonic and expressionless voice comes over the public address system, reminding passengers in the terminals to not leave their luggage unattended and to check that they have all their belongings before they leave. Marilyn looks down at the ticket in he lap and her fingers absent-mindedly play with the edges. 

To anyone passing by, she looks like a grief-stricken woman who has only one small suitcase to travel with as she had mailed the boxes by courier to her parent’s address. She looks grief-stricken because she actually is, feeling guilty and low as two parents try to settle their boisterous brood of five children. She prays that they aren’t boarding the same flight as her because she doesn’t think she can deal with them, their rowdiness and the parents lack of control and already other flyers in the waiting area are staring at them. 

Marilyn suddenly realises that it must be hard to raise a child perfectly, to appreciate the little things in life and to not be greedy or selfish, but good and kind.

Ultimately, she doesn’t know how they do it and she doesn’t want to find out either. The same monotonous voice as before comes over the PA system and announces her flight, directing the passengers to board at terminal seven. 

Grabbing her small suitcase, Marilyn checks to make sure that she has everything and walks towards the terminal and says goodbye to everything in Charlestown.

Chapter Text

Stale sandwiches and a bowl of cold soup sit untouched on a green plastic tray, the television is the only noise in the single person room and the occupant is staring at the clinically white walls. Jem had refused to eat his lunch and ignored the gentle coaxing from the nursing staff and this gave them cause for concern and they immediately contacted his doctor and psychiatrist to talk to him. While the nursing staff checked on Jem periodically while the doctor and shrink tried to spare a few minutes, he was given some fluids through an IV and his medication by the same methods. The nursing staff simply didn't know how to get through to him and understood how the young man was feeling since Doug had filled them in. They offered sympathy and a shoulder to cry on if need be, but Jem Coughlin just sat there emotionless and in a trance like state, causing everyone to worry including his doctor who prescribed a mild sedative so he could possibly sleep and mentally heal from the emotional exhaustion. Later that afternoon, Doug had called in to the hospital and spoke to one of the nurse's he had been speaking to before and asked how Jem was doing, very worried and distressed about what happened at the house. The very petite nurse called Lorraine had explained to him that Jem wasn't doing so good and suggested that he visit Jem later that evening. So, armed with some clean clothes and a few home comforts, Doug arrived at the hospital to visit his brother and friend.

"Hey, Jimmy!" Doug says in a friendly manner as he enters the side-room, dumping a bag on the floor. "What you watching?"

There's no reply from the man in the bed who had finally allowed one of the nurses to give him a bed-bath and tuck him in, the IV still pumping fluids into his body. The much taller man sits down in the chair and starts pulling out the dirty laundry from the locker by the bed, replacing it with clean items as the television blares.

"Do you remember that time you stole all Mrs O'Brien's flowers from her garden so you could give them to your mom on her birthday?"

Doug pauses, expecting some kind of reaction from Jem and continues with the verbal recollection of the memory when he doesn't get it.

"Your mom was going to kill you when Mrs O'Brien came to the door and once she was gone, she grabbed you and hugged you for being so sweet. Do you remember that, Jimmy?"

And still Jem didn't acknowledge any of what his friend had said and continued to stare at the wall. Seeing Jem so....catatonic and unresponsive scared Doug because the smaller man had always been so fully of life and energy, even when his mom died he had some sort of life existing inside of him and now Jem simply looks dead inside, shutting the world out once and for all. After spending two hours of talking to himself, Doug retreats and heads down to the canteen for some supper and some breathing space, wishing he knew to somehow help Jem's recovery, but the nurses had warned him that Jem could be like this for a while yet and Doug prayed that it wasn't true.

Feeling mentally as exhausted as the nursing staff had looked, Doug flops down onto the worn sofa and rubs his tired eyes. His stomach rumbles with hunger and the very thought of eating makes him feel nauseous as he looks around the living room. There are a lot of memories in this house and earlier in the evening he had wondered how to help Jem remember them, those happier times before Marilyn walked into their lives. Doug had already heard that everyone in the town knew where Jem was and why and he had no doubt where the information had come from. While Gloansy and Des offered their concern, Krista was simply swanning around without a care in the world as she repeated Jem's woeful story, angrily throwing out blame and venomous hatred that made her the object of pity. This suited her fine since people would offer to buy her drinks and give her drugs, all medicinal in her mind.

The front door slams shut and Doug groans as heavy, stomping footsteps make their way up the hallway and into the sitting room. A very high Krista sways on her feet as she throws down her small handbag onto the armchair, glancing around in a foggy haze.

"Where's Shyne?" Doug asks calmly.

"Next door's got her for a bit. Needed some breathing space."

"You needed breathing space?" He asks in bewilderment, his eyebrows almost touching his hairline."From what?"

Krista slinks to the armchair and sits down, lighting up a cigarette and running her fingers through her badly dyed blonde hair.

"You know." She answers with a sigh."Having a retard for a brother. That bitch's really messed him up good and he should just get over her."

"Jem isn't a retard."

"Sure he is." She replies as she taps ash onto a cracked saucer."He can't even wipe his own ass."

"And how the hell would you know?"

Krista physically recoils in fright at Doug's sudden outburst, knocking the saucer to the floor with a clatter and she stares at him with heavy eyes that are caked in make-up.

"How the hell would you know?" He demands, his voice booming."You don't know anything because you haven't once been to see him."

"I don't want to see him like that."

"It doesn't matter what you want. You're his sister and he needs you, but no you would rather get wasted than do anything else." He snaps and then adds."Including looking after your own kid."

"Hey, I'm a great mom, Dougy."

"Sure you are." Doug scoffs and massages his temples, wishing she would just go away and leave him alone.

"Don't talk to me like I'm a piece of shit, Dougy. I care about Jem."

"You've got a funny way of showing it" He snaps and glares at his one or two time ex-girlfriend."If you cared you would be at the hospital every day, trying to get him to eat or even shower or just talk! You only care when he's giving you money to get wasted with."

And with that, Doug storms off upstairs and slams his bedroom door in his way, furious that he allowed himself to lose his temper with Krista because she loved the reaction, being the centre of attention whether it was negative or positive didn't make any difference. He lays down on his bed with his arms tucked behind his head, sighing heavily at the state of things and he can't fathom a solution. Downstairs he can hear Krista stomping and slamming things down, probably kicking things over in temper at not getting her own way and he doesn't care what she thinks right now, because how she feels is unimportant, especially when she's this high. Eventually he falls into a dreamless sleep and wakes up a few hours later, still with no clear idea on how to help Jem.

***

If someone had told him that he would have fallen in love, he would have openly laughed in their face and verbally abused them for being so soft in the head, but as he goes over everything, he doesn't see it like that. He never would have believed in a million years that he was capable of loving someone and finding someone to love him, but it had all happened and it had all fallen apart like a badly made cardboard box. Jem hates the deafening silence and it just helps him think more about what he had and lost, comparing who he is now to who he was before Marilyn walked into his life. A squad of cops could walk in and arrest him, charge him with any crime they liked and he still wouldn't budge. It appears that the infamous Jem Coughlin has finally given up.

There is no rest from the dark thoughts that consume his mind and the gentle probing by the nurses does nothing to break down the barriers he's put up in self-defence, not even the doctor or psychiatrist can get though to him and eventually they take the choice out of his hands and insert a feeding tube. He doesn't fight it and accepts it, still staring at the blank walls.

Chapter Text

Admitting she had failed her mission was both embarrassing and heartbreaking when she briefed her commanding officer of the undercover developments. To put it simply, Jem Coughlin was in the clear and she had no evidence to support otherwise and every file she had made, every report had been altered electronically and rewritten to be convincing. At first, Marilyn wasn't sure she would get away with it and she finally breathed a sigh of relief when she was highly praised for her efforts. As she left the precinct, she was cruelly reminded of how far she had come when two officers passed her with an arrestee, and she realised that she was also a felon. She had committed an act of fraud, withheld information in a criminal investigation and possibly another dozen offences on top of that.

*****

The days had already started to blur together and night and day didn't have much difference to Jem Coughlin, sedated and asleep with a blanket up to his chest. The doctors and nursing staff had finally decided to administer a feeding tube and since Jem was a mental health patient, he had no choice in the matter. Sleep had finally came to him after the sedatives and medication and tomorrow he would have a tube inserted down his nose and into his throat and into his stomach. If need be, he would be restrained to the bed to stop himself from pulling it out, to stop himself from starving to death. To stop himself from experiencing a slow and agonising pain, but once he was released from the hospital's care he would be left to his own devices and that scares everyone.

Doug grimaces at the sight of the feeding tube and the emptiness that has taken over Jem's eyes, which are normally bright and full of life. He clears his throat and sighs as he sits down, noticing the soft leather cuffs around Jem's wrists and ankles, a matching strap across his stomach. The room smells like McDonald's and the extra large meal in the paper bag is cooling, courtesy of Doug. Coaxing Jem or getting him to change his mind had always been a difficult task, but now it just seems impossible to even get a response from him.

"I got you a Big Mac and fries, no pickles." Doug announces."Like always."

There's still no reply.

"Jimmy, you need to talk to me. You need to eat." Doug continues to talk, finally confessing his own fears."If you don't eat and talk and start helping yourself, they're never going to let you out. You've got your whole life to look forward to."

He sighs and shakes his head, desperate to see the old Jem who got into trouble at every opportunity and the guy who would nail another guy just for looking at him the wrong way. Doug knows he's wasting his time and Jem Coughlin, the Jem he knew and loved like a brother is gone.

"I'll leave you to it."

Frustrated and angry, Doug stands up and walks to the door and as he grips the handle, a noise behind him makes him stop. He turns around, expecting Jem to fight the restraints, but he's looking at him with watery eyes.

"What life?" Jem croaks, his throat dry and scratchy from the feeding tube."Tell me, Dougy. What have I got worth livin' for?"

"You're...you're talking?!"

"Ya think I ain't been listenin'?" Jem asks, doped on medication."I hear every word, Dougy. Every last word."

Doug quickly sits down and doesn't want to call a nurse just yet. He wants to talk, to get Jem to see sense in his destruction.

"Ya been here every day."

"Yeah, every day." Doug confirms it."I thought I was talking to that wall over there since you were ignoring me."

"Ya goin' to tell me what I'm livin' for or am I sittin' here guessin'?"

"Jimmy, you've got the whole word at your feet and-" He answers and is suddenly cut off.

"I ain't got her."

"There's going to be other girls." Doug tries to sound optimistic and believable.

"But it ain't Marilyn. I don't want no one else."

Jem tugs on the restraints and shakes his head, laughing inside that if this was a different situation it would be hilarious. But it isn't.

"Jem, Marilyn's gone and she isn't coming back. Do you understand that?"

"Yeah." The restrained man answers quietly."I know."

"You need to do everything to get yourself better and back to normal. You need to start eating, take the meds and do the therapy."

"The fuck is normal, Dougy?" Jem asks."The fuck is normal? Back to how it was, workin' suicide missions and endin' up lookin' over ya shoulder? I was goin' to sort things, do things right for her. For us."

"Jem, Marilyn's gone and she isn't coming back. You need to move on."

The smaller man shakes his head and looks out the window from his bed, ending the painful discussion that makes him ache and it feels like he's grieving over the death of someone and he is, the girl he loved who wouldn't stay.

 

Jem's afternoon therapy session was quite literally like pulling teeth, slow and painful and the conversation was all one sided from the psychiatrist. Eventually, Dr Peltz got sick of Jem's awkwardness and sent his patient back to his room where he was again retrained and a feed bag was attached to the tube in his nose and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. While he is in hospital he's going to live and what he does on the outside is his own choice.

 

The mixture from the bag tastes horrible and every so often he gags, wanting to vomit it back up and he can't. He watches the television and thinks about what Doug had said earlier, how he needs to move on and how he needs to help himself. Dark thoughts cloud his mind as he thinks about the past, the memories he had buried in the furthest corners of his mind and he wonders what his dear old mom would make of the situation if she were alive today. Would she be angry with him for being so stupid and careless? Or would she be happy that he had finally experienced love and happiness, even if it was short lived? Nurses pass by in the darkened corridor with trolleys of medication and tea and coffee for the patients before everyone settles down for the night, ready for the day shift to leave and the night shift to start. He watches the TV, feeling numb and lost in his thoughts as a familiar voice calls out to him, the shadows masking their identity.

"Hi, Jem"

Chapter Text

The air is tinged with something fragrant and sweet and he recognises the perfume, sweet and floral and something else he loved about her. He shakes his head, convinced he's imagining hearing her voice and the light overhead flickers on and there she is, standing nervously by the door.

"The nurse said I could have a few minutes. I understand if you don't want to speak to me" Marilyn says softly, gingerly approaching the bed and she starts to turn away when he doesn't answer. "I should go. I'm sorry."

Defeated with guilt, she swallows the lump of emotion and panic that's swelled in her throat and turns to the door, wishing she had come sooner or hadn't left. But it seemed like the only logical choice she had and she regrets it, regrets everything apart from Jem.

"No, wait." He says in a barely audible croak."Stay....please."

She breathes a sigh of relief and gasps in horror at how sick he looks, grey and worn down and strapped down like an animal.

"I'm sorry this happened, Jem. I'm sorry I left. I'm sorry for all the lies I told and I'm sorry for leaving."

"Ya thought ya were doin' the right
thing." He answers stiffly in agreement and he doesn't understand why she is even here."Why did ya come back?"

"I came back because...I love you, Jem. I thought if I distanced myself it would help, but it just made everything worse. I'm crazy about you Jem Coughlin."

"What about ya job?" He asks, unable to believe what he's hearing.

"I quit. I resigned and burned every single shred of evidence I ever recorded against you. I couldn't hand you over to them, let you go the jail."

Naturally she is upset with having to divulge her own failings to him, the man she once loved as another person in a honey-trap, but it had grown beyond working undercover. Jem looks up at her and the combination of her perfume and voice is intoxicating, making his skin tingle and his heart race.

"I came to see how you were and to say...I'm sorry and I really did love you." Marilyn says softly."I still do."

"I love ya too."

"I'm sorry I put you here, Jem." She answers as she sites on the edge of the bed, her hand finding his. "I'm sorry for everything and I wish I could take it all back. I would do anything to change what's happened."

"Ya didn't put me here. I was always sick, didn't care. I just got worse."

"Even after everything that's happened you're still trying to protect me." She smiles, emotional.

"I love ya. Ya goin' to stick around?"

"Do you want me to?" She asks.

Marilyn is completely surprised by how easy going he is, especially after she threatened his whole existence and then ran out on him when he was willing to risk everything.

"Yeah, I want ya to." He smiles genuinely for the first time since her cover was blown and it feels natural and good. "I really want ya to stay."

Unfortunately, their heart to heart had to be broken up by one of the nurses and Marilyn left with a promise to visit tomorrow in the visiting hours and she also took Jem's promise with her that he would get better for them.

***
"What are you doing up and about?" Doug asks in horror, watching Jem as he stands by the large
window."You're supposed to be in bed."

"Doin' what I need to, Dougy. Nurse let me walk around after lunch, after meds."

"What's changed your mind?" Doug asks as he sets the bag of clean clothes, some packaged snacks and some sandwiches onto the bed in a bid to get Jim to eat. "Jimmy?"

"Marilyn was here. She came last night after ya had gone."

The bigger man can't help but shake his head in disbelief. He knows that some of the medication can create vivid hallucinations and he worries that's what Jem had experienced, especially since he had been like a zombie one minute and now like a chipmunk on speed. Doug gently probes at his friend for information and is surprised to find that Jem's hallucinations of Marilyn had been so vivid, that was until the nurse commented about the pretty young lady who visited the night before. Doug finally accepts that Marilyn is back and accepts everything Jem tells him. During the visit, Jem eats the sandwiches and some of the snacks before he's given more medication and the visit is cut short because the therapist wants some extra time with Jem. Already Doug can see a huge improvement with Jem and he prays that it lasts, that everything the reunited couple want is given to them with happiness. He really hopes that it all works out better this time.

The Beacon Motel is rated to be a very pleasant stay by the customer reviews in the foyer, but Marilyn quickly realises that whoever wrote the reviews were lying through their teeth. She grimaces as her shoes stick to the carpet and she doesn't dare take them off, trying not to imagine what the hell has trampled over the fading carpet. The sheets on the lumpy double bed feel like paper and a closer inspection makes her stomach churn with disgust at the stained mattress and she decides to not even consider checking the small bathroom. She is only here because no where else had any vacancies and now she knows why.

Marilyn sits down in the broken armchair by the window and tucks into the sandwich she bought, seriously considering just finding a bench to sleep on since it would at least be cleaner. She is under no illusion as to what probably takes place in these cheap rooms and feels her skin itching at the lack of cleanliness that is guaranteed by the clerk and she considers going out and telling him exactly what he can do with his room. Marilyn decides that tomorrow she will find somewhere else to stay, at least until Jem has recovered and is released from hospital and then she doesn't know what she will do. Is Jem only accepting her because he's heartbroken and vulnerable? Or does he really love her? She doesn't know and doesn't want to try and guess, leaving it to fate as much as she can.

A light knocking on the room door stalls her beating heart and gingerly, she opens it with a sigh of relief.

"Doug, what are you doing here?" She asks in surprise."How did you know I was here?"

"It's a small town."

"It's not that small." She answers dryly, glancing behind him into the parking lot."What are you doing here?"

"I came to talk."

"Come on in." Marilyn says with a forced smile, her nerves dancing frantically.

Doug makes a face of disgust at the state of the room, the sticky and stained carpet, the dusty and broken furnishings that should be in the trash. He shakes his head as he sits on the edge of the bed, shifting his weight to get a little comfortable and he feels sorry for anyone who is resigned to spending the night here.

"I came to talk to you about Jem" Doug says gently.

"Doug, I get that you're here to warn me off and I get it, I really do-"

"I'm not here to warn you off." He cuts in firmly making it clear why he's here."I'm here to see how serious you are, about you and Jem."

"I'm very serious. I've never felt like this before about anyone. I love him, Doug."

"Good." He answers with a small smile."Because he's trying to get better and that's down to you. I just don't want him to get sick again if you decide that you've made a mistake and run off."

"I'm not going to do that. This time I'm staying and I mean it, no matter what happens."

He nods, understanding completely and gets to his feet. He looks down with a sneer at his shoes that are sticking to the carpet.

"That's gross. This whole place is gross. Why are you staying here?"

"It's the only place with vacancies, but I'm considering moving onto a bench in the park." She answers as she subconsciously scratches at her arm.

Marilyn knows that the disgusting and shabby motel room isn't somewhere she wants to spend any length of time in, but needs must and she's reasonably close to the hospital. Doug shakes his head at her and opens the bathroom, gagging at the smell of the half-blocked toilet and mouldy sink and shower cubicle. He wouldn't let his worst enemy stay in a place like this and he closes the door, the dirty smell stuck in his nose as he moves away from the lingering odour of decay.

"A park bench?" He asks with a raised eyebrow."No way. You can take my room and I'll go on the couch. Pack your stuff and let's go."

"Doug, I appreciate the offer but that's really not a good idea."

"Because of Krista?" He points out."Look, my room's clean and safe and comfortable. Jem wouldn't want you staying in a dump like this and neither do I. Krista will probably mouth off, but her bark is worse than her bite. Come on, be realistic here."

"Alright, okay. I'll come with you and it's only because this place is so disgusting."

"I knew you would see sense." He smiles at her."Let's go, kid. And I hope you meant what you said, about you and Jem"

"I do, Doug. I really do.

Chapter Text

It's a reasonably cool morning with a pale blue sky and a warm sun that is trying to break through the clusters of clouds. Marilyn opens the bedroom window and breathes in the fresh air, listening to the birds that are sitting on Doug's car singing and she can barely contain her excitement of the day's events. For six weeks she had visited Jem religiously and today, he would be getting home and would be able to relax mors than he could in the hospital. She knows it hasn't been easy for Jem and she wishes that she could do something to make it up to him, but Doug advised against it. Despite beinf discharged from the hospital, the slightest thing could potentially knock him off balance and send him backwards instead of forwards and that's the last thing she wants to happen. Marilyn watches the world go by from Doug's bedroom window and for the first time in months, she fesls completely at ease with herself and her surroundings. It's been a long and tiring process, hoping and preying for a miracle somewhere along the line. Marilyn had found herself a job at a grocery store stacking shelves and although she wasn't used to that kind of work, she slaved away every shift and knew that it was the start to her new life.

The kitchen is spotlessly tidy and smells of cremated toast, the radio is blaring and Krista is naturally using it to drown out he sound of Shyne. Marilyn had spent hours cleaning the kitchen and she had warned Krista that if it got messy again, the single mother would be cleaning it this time. Another benefit of having Marilyn in the house was that Shyne got decent and regular meals, a bath every night and someone to give the tot some affection, while Krista went out and got wasted. Shyne runs to her in the doorway and she picks up thd little girl, unsure if she's eaten since dinner last night.

Krista clumsily drops some instant coffee onto the counter and has no intensions of cleaning it up, so Marilyn reminds her.

"It takes two seconds to wipe the counter."

"What are you my mother?" Krista responds with a snap. "You would think uou live here the way you are acting."

"No one and especially a child wants to live in squalor."

"Look at you acting like you rule the roost." The Coughlin sister says in a sneer. "You think you're so much better than everyone else, like we're all shit on your shoe. If Jem wasn't retarded he would have you swimming at ths bottom of the ocean."

"Don't act like you care about anyone else but yourself, Krista" Marilyn snaps back. "You never once went and saw him. You've never once asked how he is or even called him."

"I told you, I didn't want to see him like that."

Marilyn shakes her head as Krista stomps off and once again leaves her holding the baby. Their silly row had boiled over from the previous night when Krista wanted to have a party to celebrate Jem's release and Marilyn had put her foot down. There was no way she was allowing Krista to turn it around and make it all about her, as she usually did. In the end, the two women had gone their seperate ways and stayed like that as much as possible, jist staying out of each other's way. Doug had even agreed with Marilyn that some sort of celebration isn't what Jem needs when he first gets out of hospital. He probably wouldn't even want to deal with anyone, but to sit back and relax and enjoy having some privacy again.

******

Jem excitedly packs his belongings into his bag and glances around the room, sure that he's got everything and then he can go when Marilyn comes to pick him up and he hopes she comes soon. He's had enough of the hospital and is looking forward to a decently cooked home made meal and the fact that Marilyn will be next to him makes all ths difference. He can barely control himself as the nurse brings in the paperwork for him to sign for his release. Despite his enthusiasm, he is a little nervous about going home where everyone in The Town will know his story, where he was and why he was there. Since being admitted to the hospital and having Marilyn by his side, it had spurred him on to get himsslf better.

At three-thirty, Jem and Marilyn enter the triple decker house and Doug greets them. Neither of them are surprised that Krista isn't there and Marilyn breathes a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted for Jem coming home was an ugly scene with his sister, because she would make it all about her and it's an extra pressure that he doesn't need.

"How are you feeling?" Doug asks as he pulls Jem into a tight embrace.

"Better for getting out." Jem answers as he looks around the clean sitting room and it looks like he's never even been here. "This place has changed."

"It's just had a tidy up. Your room is just the same as the way you left it." Marilyn says in reassurence.

Jem nods as he retreats into the halway and into his bedroom, mumbling something about needing some sleep in his own bed. He's left to relax and process the big change of returning home, while Doug and Marilyn drink coffee at the kitchen table.

"He's going to get through this." Doug says suddenly as he notices the worry in her eyes.

"I know. It's going to take some time but we can do it. I just don't know how he's going to react to everyone asking questions."

"He promised the doc that he would stay away from the drugs and boozs." Doug adds.

"I hope he sticks to it with all the medication he's on."

'He's going to be just fine." He answers with a smile.

"I'm going to check on him."

She leaves the table and goes down thd uncluttered hallway, knocking lightly on the bedroom door and when she pushes it open, she sees Jem on his back with his hands behind bis head. He flashes her a sleepy smile and pats the bed next to him and she goes to him.

"Ya doin' okay?" He asks gently.

"I'm doing great. Are you hungry?"

"Nah, I'm good." He answers as he presses a kiss to her head. "Can't believe ya came back."

"I was miserable without you and I don't know how I can make up for what I did-."

"Don't" Jem cuts her off firmly. "Don't go there. Ya did what ya had to and it's all worked out now."

Marilyn sits up and turns to him, leaning over and kissing him softly.

"I love you, Jem Coughlin."

"I love ya too. More than anythin'." He beams and wraps his arms around her. "Will ya still marry me?"

"More than anything."

***

 

Walking back into The Town wasn't going to be easy and having question after question thrown at him was enough for Jem to consider never leaving the house. For three days he didn't step outside and managed to venture out of his bedroom for short periods of time, and as far as everyone was concerned It was a step in the right direction. Some days would be easier than others and some days would go as smooth as a dream and other's will be like a livibg nightmare, but Jem doesn't care because he has his friends and Marilyn beside him every step od the way.

Chapter Text

The whispering rumours and the curious glances he could deal with, it having his personal business broadcasted to anyone who would listen wasn't doing him any favours. Krista had been opening her big mouth in every social core she came across and it only made Jem hide behind closed doors and tilted curtains. Marilyn could see the effect it was having on him and she believed that one day he would
snap and face the world, but it didn't appear to be. coming anytime soon. However, one positive was that it kept the temptation of drugs and alcohol out of his way and Marilyn started to wonder if if was a blessing in disguise.

†********

Jem cautiously glances around the street to see if anyone he knows is there and he simply just doesn't want to deal with them. He doesn't want to have to explain himself to everyone or let himself be sucked into his old life that consist of bad habits. What surprised everyone more was that he took nothing to do with the latest robbery, not a single thing to do with it and he knew he had one lucky escape and he wasn't going to put it to the test again. The street is luckily empty of familiar faces as he turns the corner and goes into the grocery store, where shelves of alcohol taunt him and speak to him seductively. Jem buys cigarettes and a soda and quickly leaves, choosing to walk through the park to get home. On that walk home he makes a life changing decision.

"You want to what?" Marilyn asks in shock. "Are you serious?"

"Yeah, I am. I want us to move outta the area, have a new start."

"Jem, you've lived here your whole life. Moving away is a big thing." She tells him.
"Ya think I don't know that?"

"What's brought all this on?" She asks as she scoots closer to him on the sofa. "This is your home and I can't understand why you would want to leave it. You need to talk to me."

Jem sighs and his jaw works itself rigid as he tries to pull the words together from his brain. He isn't the best at talking openly about himself or his feelings, but he had learned to in therapy and any progress was a bonus.

"Jem?"

"I just want outta here, ya know?" He says with a frustrated sigh. "Need a change."

"And there's got to be more behind it than that."

"People keep lookin' at me like I'm a leper." He says eventually. "Everywhere I go, people keep givin' me weird looks and whisperin' behind my back all the time."

"Its because they don't understand what happened to you and what you've gone through. They just don't understand."

"I can't go anywhere." He continues. "I just want out. I just want my life back."

"Does that include going back to robbing banks and drinking and drugging yourself stupid every day."

Jem looks at her, frowning as he processes what she's just said. He couldn't return to that kind of life but its a fear that has been growing in Marilyn's mind since she returned. she didn't want to see him throw his life down the toilet because he simply felt lost. Returning to his old life would be a way for him to find himself with shattering consequences.

"Jem, I'm just worried about you and how a drastic change could alter your recovery."

"I ain't an alcoholic!" Jem snaps in reply.

"No, but you are mentally I'll. certifiably I'll. What would your doctor say to you if you suggested it to him?"

"How the fuck should I know?" He snaps again and he can't help himself, like the aggression comes out of his mouth before he even realises it.

Marilyn looks at him with hurt pooling in her eyes and she tries to brush off his outburst and to get the conversation back on track.

"At least talk to your therapist." She says with feeling. "Please."

"Alright. I'll talk to him."

They share a smile and a soft kiss in understanding as the front door opens and the distinct click of high heels over the floor and into the living room. Krista stands in the doorway with a sneer, wasted as usual and there's no sign of her child.

"This looks real cosy."

"Was until ya showed up." Jem says dryly."What do ya want?"

"I thought since we were playing happy families I could join in." The Couglin sister answers sarcastically. "Or is just you two who are allowed in your happy little word. So, how's my brother doing?"

"He can answer for himself, Krista." Marilyn adds quickly.

"I just thought with him being g a retard now you would need to do all he talking for him." Krista replies, smug about her brother's conditon. "What some of the guys are wondering, Jem. Is if you can still get a hard on and feed yourself. I'm-"

As quick as a flash, Jem has launched himself at his sister and pinned Her to the way by her throat and both women are shocked.

"The fuck ya know about anything'. Ya don't know shit and if ya dont stop running' ya mouth off, I'll shut it for ya." He rages, red in the face and ready to burst."Ya stay the fuck away from us. Ya hear me?"

"Jem..." Krista coughs around his name.

"I said do ya fuckin' hear me?" He says, squeezing harder.

All Krista can do is nod a d sink to the floor, gasping for breath before she regains whats left for her composure and slinks away, probably to he nearest bar to drown her sorrows and to tell any stranger who will listen. Marilyn gently touches Jim's hand and forces him to look at her.

"I think we need to get you out of here." She says in a soothing tone. "We'll go see your therapist tomorrow, okay? We're going to be fine, I promise."

 

****** Six months later******

 

Marilyn wrapis her arm supportively around Jem's waist and looks up at him with an enormous smile. After the encounter with Krista, the therapist agreed that a move for Jem would do him good and it would aid his recovery when people gossiped about him, discreetly and openly. They had moved to Miami Florida to get away from Charlestown and they knew once they hadfound their dream home that they had made the right decision.

"This place looks great." She beams proudly at her partner.

"Sure does. We done good."

"The whole house looks amazing and its all down to you." She kisses his cheek a d grins. "Our home sweet home."

"In time for the baby ."

They smile openly and go upstairs, going over every room and making sure everything is absolutely perfect, especially the baby's room that is already finished and crammed full of supplies. They kiss in the doorway and Jem turns to her with a teary smile.

"I got what I was lookin' for right here. I love ya."

"I love you too, Jem." She smiles and kisses him again. "I've found my happily ever after."