A/N: My first Sons of Anarchy fic . . . The idea came to me after last week's episode and I just couldn't get it out of my head. My take on what could happen . . . because seriously, I wouldn't know what to do if they killed Juice. I don't think I would be able to even keep watching, I'd be so upset. FYI: Contains spoilers through S05:E10, so don't read if you don't want to know! Love it or hate it, please review. Oh, and I don't own or any of that other legal mumbo-jumbo . . . the characters are only here for my sick and twisted ideas and needs. Thanks!

By the Hand of a Son

"SHIT!"

Swearing loudly, Juice jumped back as a stack of papers fell from the countertop and scattered on the floor.

He was on edge—his nerves ultimately fried—as he continued to dig through Clay's personal belongings. He felt dirty—felt like the rat that he had truly become—but he had no choice. Jax had made that perfectly clear.

"What happens to Clay if I find it?"

Jax's eyes had narrowed, causing Juice's blood to run cold. "The same thing that will happen to you if you don't."

So that was it: It was kill or be killed . . . .

He laughed wryly . . . Not that he hadn't been there before:

Miles unexpectedly flashed into his head—the large gaping hole where his eye had once been was staring at him, boring into his very soul—and Juice felt his mouth go dry. Lately, he couldn't even close his eyes without seeing the gruesome mess that had once been Miles' face . . . without feeling the warm slimy slick of Miles' blood coating his face, without tasting the coppery gore.

He had killed his brother in order to save himself . . . and now he was faced with the same predicament . . . He didn't want to betray the man that he had become so close to over the past few months, but his hands were tied. He couldn't see any other way around it.

So, with his stomach clenched and twisting with greasy bile, he continued to come back . . . so he could rifle through papers and drawers—his heart in his throat and his ear always cocked, listening for any sign that Clay had returned— just so he could look for a rumor. A rumor that he had never seen. A rumor that would more than likely get Clay killed. A rumor that may not even be true.

But, it was a rumor that could save his life. Because exile or death—it was the same thing. He may as well be dead, no matter what the Club decided. And Jax was the only one who could keep his secrets off of the table.

Stooping, he bent to scoop up the loose papers and, as he attempted to straighten them, realized that his hands were shaking. Returning the documents to the floor, he sat back on his heels, and ran his knuckles over his mouth as he exhaled brokenly. He could feel the familiar prickle of tears beginning to form, pressing hot and wet against along the edges of his eyelids, and he closed his eyes, willing the feeling away.

He felt physically sick—his chest tight as his stomach continued to reel. There was a dull pounding between his eyes, a pulsing that landed directly on the bridge of his nose. He knew that he looked sick—tired—and the rest of the guys were beginning to notice: His skin was too pale, the bruises under his eyes too dark. And he was thin—scary thin, actually—but he just couldn't force himself to eat. Lately, his diet had consisted of beer—too much goddamned beer—and cigarettes.

He couldn't remember the last time he smiled—genuinely smiled.

It had been days since he had last slept—actually slept—because he found that his nights were now riddled with ideas, thoughts and dreams—dark, scary shit. His mind was absolutely littered with thoughts of Miles, of his absent father, of the Club—his brothers—and of his attempted suicide. Night after night, he woke up in a cold sweat, unable to breathe as if the chains were still wrapped tightly around his neck. He could feel them cutting into his windpipe as he dangled useless from that godforsaken branch, twitching and convulsing as his body fought to survive, even though his mind had already made the decision to die.

Swallowing thickly, he winced slightly at the residual tenderness that still resided along the length of his throat, before glancing at the clock.

It was getting late and he knew that he was quickly running out of time . . . and options.

Taking a cleaning breath, Juice gathered the discarded papers before rolling to his feet. Then, casting a cautionary glance over his shoulder—peering toward the door to make sure he was still alone—he returned the fallen stack to its rightful place and returned to the task at hand.

SOASOASOASOASOASOA

"Out with the new . . . in with the old."

Romeo's words continued to circle in Clay's head long after he had parted with his Mexican Brethren.

Yet was it really his Mexican Brethren? He knew they were working for some sort of Federal agency, he just didn't know which one. But, even so, they were willing to back him and his decisions . . . working with him so he could regain his throne and remain a key contact for the Irish.

So could they really be all that bad?

He wasn't sure. He was only sure that he needed his seat back—He needed it in order to stay alive. Because without this Club, he may as well be dead.

And he couldn't have it back if Jax was still around.

He was in deep—further over his head than he had ever imagined—and now found himself backed up against a wall. He was at war with Jax—was at odds with the rest of the Club—and, far worse than anything else, he had driven his wife away. His wife—his lifeline—was currently in the arms of another man . . . and it was killing him.

And, because of these things, he needed to be back at the head of the table. But there was only one way that that was going to happen:

Jax needed to be out of the picture.

And he couldn't see Jax just stepping down to allow him passage.

No, he needed to eliminate the problem totally—making sure that no one would be able to get between him and his goals.

But could he kill again?

Brushing a hand over him mouth, he thought of the men that he had betrayed—had killed—over the years. Would he be able to do it again? Especially to the boy who he had raised since 16? The boy that he had called his own—his Son? The boy that he had brought into the Club, teaching him the ways of politics and violence, and who he had watched grow into the President that was now before him?

He couldn't be sure.

He just knew that it was going to be Jax or he who was dead before the morning dawned.

Slamming the rest of his drink, he stood suddenly—his mind made up. It was going to get done tonight . . . he was going to catch him off guard, when he felt safe and protected by his family . . . and he was going to kill them all.

SOASOASOASOASOASOA

He felt drawn to it and he didn't know why.

Once more he found himself with the slate grey safety deposit box in his hands, looking down at the intricate gun—the weapon's black handle embossed, the carved wood on the barrel adorned with the Sons' logo.

He had found it before—found it the first time he had searched Clay's apartment—but hadn't given it much thought. It was just another gun, stored in a cupboard with all of the other weapons and ammunition.

Right?

But, now as he was holding it again, getting the feel of it as he turned it over slowly in his hands, he realized that there was something else about it . . . he just couldn't put his finger on it.

He just knew that it made him nervous—made him feel uneasy . . . as if the gun had a ghost following it. Something unseen.

He couldn't get his mind to stop racing. He had been through the house countless times, digging through cabinets and file folders. And yet, he still managed to come up empty. This was the only thing that seemed slightly out of place . . . and Juice was running out of options.

He couldn't think of anything else and it was beginning to get dark, the sun slowly setting beneath the horizon on the Western skyline. So, looking around, he made a hasty executive decision.

Without another thought, Juice grabbed the gun, sliding it into the waistband of his pants until it came to rest against the small of his back. Then, with one last look—lingering only until he was satisfied that everything was in its proper place—he spun on his heel and left, carefully shutting and locking the door behind him.

He could feel his heart beating steady in his chest—his adrenaline high—as he made his way to his bike, contemplating what to do. He strapped on his helmet—glancing in the direction of his house—but something deep within him pulled his focus to an opposite bearing.

He didn't want to go home.

He didn't feel safe carrying the foreign piece around with him—having it in the same place as he attempted to sleep. It made him nervous—his mouth drying as he felt the cool metal press into his flesh—and, honestly, he just wanted to be rid of it as quickly as possible.

He realized that was getting late, but he also knew that Jax would still be up.

So, making a brash decision, he kick started his motorcycle and aimed his bike away from Clay's, steadily making his way over to Jax's.

SOASOASOASOASOASOA

Turning the corner, Juice slowly as Jax's house came into view. Almost immediately, his stomach twisted—blindsiding him with sharp, unexpected nerves. He could feel his heart pulsing heavily in his jugular and he had to take a deep, cleansing breath before forcing himself forward.

As he drew closer, he realized that the house was dark and quiet—the street and neighborhood already asleep—and he nearly turned around.

But then, he remembered the gun . . . and his uneasiness returned. So he continued to advance— slowly . . . cautiously—until his bike came to rest along the curb just outside of the house.

Extending the kickstand, Juice tipped his head to release the strap from under his chin and immediately froze.

He could see a motorcycle buried deep in the shadows, just down the block. And, as he stared at it—his eyes straining against the dim street lighting—he came to a terrifying realization:

He knew that bike.

He knew it because he had been around that bike nearly more than his own in the last few months.

Adrenaline spiking, Juice's attention snapped back toward Jax's house. It was still dark and quiet—eerily still—and for some odd reason, this caused his trepidation to grow.

He couldn't pinpoint the origin of the apprehension that was now flowing relentlessly through him . . . but he trusted his gut.

And his gut was telling him that something was off.

Dismounting quickly, Juice made his way surreptitiously toward the house, his footsteps crunching lightly over leaves and gravel. All of his senses were heightened—pulsing like an exposed nerve—and before he knew it, he was reaching into his kutte, his fingers searching for the familiar handle of his own 9mm handgun that was tucked securely in the holster that lay against his ribs.

As his fingers found the cool plastic, he felt his nerves diminish slightly. But the feeling was short lived . . . .

Just as his hand wrapped around the grip, the kitchen light flipped on unexpectedly and Juice found himself bathed in light and utterly exposed just before the door.

Inhaling sharply, he was momentarily frozen in place—glued to the ground like a deer caught in a spotlight—before his instincts finally kicked in. Cowering slightly, Juice ducked out of sight, pulling his weapon free of his holster and flipping the safety off with his thumb. Then, slinking silently up to the door, he leaned against it, breathing evenly as he readjusted his grip on his gun. He could hear voices coming from inside—male voices muddled together in low, angry words—but he couldn't quite make out the words.

Pressing his ear to the door, he strained to hear, but the words were too muffled. So, licking his lips, he laid his hand on the doorknob, gently testing to see if the door was locked.

It wasn't.

Turning the knob, he pushed the door open a fraction of an inch, trying to hear . . . to see anything. But he could not.

Without warning, the voices had risen to a shout—the words now mixed with something that Juice could only call fear—before there was a sound of something heavy falling.

And then, Tara was screaming.

Pushing his own safety aside, Juice sprang into action, entering quickly through the door, gun leveled. And, just as he entered, he stopped, gasping at the site before him.

Jax lay, unconscious, on the kitchen floor—a small puddle of blood beginning to pool under his head, spreading sluggishly over the linoleum. Tara, on her knees near her fallen husband, had her hands lifted in front of her. They were shaking violently as she tried to plead with their attacker.

Juice took a confident step forward, his gun trained directly between the shoulder blades of the intruder. "Put it down, Clay."

His voice was low and he was surprised how strong it came out.

Clay—his own gun focused on the back of his fallen stepson's head—stiffened.

Juice could see Clay's finger tense over the trigger—Tara now beginning to whimper—and he took a bold step forward. "Clay, don't make me do this . . . please . . ."

Relaxing, Clay turned slowly. His gun remained trained on Jax's head and Juice was surprised to see how calm his face was, his eyebrows lifted high above his bright blue eyes. "You gonna shoot me, Juice?"

Juice licked his lips and tried to keep his hand from shaking. "If I have to."

Clay's shoulders shifted and suddenly, his gun was pointed directly at Juice's chest. "And what if I shoot you first?"

Juice's eyes drifted from Clay's gun, to Jax. Blood—Jax's blood—dripped slowly from the butt of the weapon and it made Juice's stomach churn. He inhaled deeply through his nose, holding it momentarily before releasing, his eyes lifting to his mentor's face. "I guess I'll have to take that chance."

"So, you're a hero now? Is that right, Juicey?"

Juice shook his head. "I never said that."

"You think you're better than me? Think you have to come in here and save the day?"

"No, man . . . I'm just doing what's right."

Clay laughed—a humorless harsh, dry bray. "Since when do Rats do what's right?"

Juice paled, but he held steady. "Look, I know what I did was wrong . . . but this, Clay . . . this is murder."

"And killing Miles wasn't?"

With his cold words, Juice's insides twisted—tears springing to his eyes. And this time, his voice did falter. "You don't understand . . ."

Clay's eyes narrowed. "Why? Because you were doing it 'for the good of the Club?'"

Unable to find the words, Juice simply shook his head—his jaw tense.

"It was never for the good of the Club . . . and you know it, Juice. It was always just about saving your own ass."

Anger built in Juice's chest. Gripping his gun tightly, he retargeted Clay. "And what about this?" He gestured to the scene around them. "Is this for the good of the Club?"

"It's always for the good of the Club!" Clay's voice had risen to a yell and Thomas was suddenly crying.

Frozen in place and helpless, Tara looked over her shoulder toward the boys' room, her face etched with pain as tears fell freely down her cheeks.

Juice could feel blood pulsing behind his eyes once more, beginning to drum in his ears until it drowned out the screaming child. "And what about the Nomads, the break-ins, huh? Was that for the good of the club?!" He shook his head sadly. "No, Clay . . . it's about power and money . . . and it has been for a long time. You even said it yourself . . . you're chasing after something that you don't necessarily even want anymore!"

Clay's mouth turned downward, his eyes spewing fire.

Unblinking, Juice remained still, staring him down. The hand clutching the gun had begun to sweat and he realigned his grasp. Breathing evenly—staring at the man whom he had once called "father"—he suddenly realized what he had always been blind to: The man that he had loved—had come to trust with every fiber of his being—was slowly becoming a monster right in front of him.

And it broke his heart.

"Did you ever love any of us?" His voice had somehow slipped into a whisper.

Clay frowned, thrown off by the question. Taking a breath, he raised his eyes to Juice's face. "I did once . . . a long time ago."

"When did you stop?"

Clay's face softened, and Juice once more faced the man whom he had become so close to over the last few months. He shrugged loosely. "I honestly don't know."

"Don't you feel remorse?"

Clay's eyes tightened—the softened look short-lived. "Do you?"

Juice laughed wryly. "Every Goddamn day."

"Yeah, well . . . maybe you should work on that." Scorn dripped from Clay's words.

"I did." Forcefully, Juice pulled the collar of his kutte away, exposing the angry bruises that were healing, yet still present on the left side of his neck. "It didn't work."

Clay scoffed, his bright blue eyes darkening behind hooded lids in realization. "That doesn't look like remorse to me, Son . . . that looks like cowardice."

Juice's face paled as the unwanted, yet familiar sense of shame washed over him. However, he kept his gun trained on his former President, his mouth a tight line. "And this isn't?" He tipped his head toward Jax's slack form. "What are you doing here, Clay?"

"Taking back what's mine."

"By killing your family?"

Clay shook his head and a look that Juice had never seen—a hardened look that was somehow filled with sadness—crossed his face. "They're not my family . . . they're Gemma's. She was my only family . . . and I've already lost her." Clay shook his head sadly. "I'm not going to lose my Club, too."

Lifting his chin, Juice looked defiantly at Clay. "You've already lost that." He shifted his gaze toward Jax sadly. "Jax is the future of this Club, not you . . . and I think you know that."

Clay was breathing hard. "You're going to stand in my way? The Rat?"

"Yes."

"Once a Rat, always a Rat, Juicey."

Juice shook his head forcefully. "I would die for this Club . . . for Jax . . . ."

Clay's mouth twisted. "I was counting on that."

The gunshot rang out before Juice had a chance to react.

Caught off guard, he felt his body jerk suddenly backwards.

And then, Tara was screaming.

Juice landed hard—all breath being forced from his lungs. And, as he landed, he felt his 9mm loosen from his hand and go skidding along the floor, far out of reach.

Staring at the ceiling, he gasped, unable to catch his breath. He could feel pain building in his side, spreading through his torso, until it came to rest on his chest—pressing down painfully.

Frantically, his hands groped at his body—trying to find the source of his discomfort—only pausing when they hit a patch of hot, oily stickiness. And it was only then that his breath caught in his throat as he realized that Clay had just shot him.

And, with growing terror, he realized that it was quickly becoming increasingly difficult to breathe—as blood gurgled in his throat and pooled in his mouth.

Yet, even so, there was something deep inside, telling him to keep calm and alert—telling him that he, Jax, and Tara weren't yet out of trouble.

So, gathering all of his strength, he lifted his head slightly.

The first thing he noticed was the deep red wound that was currently blossoming just under his pectoral. And, even though he was trying, his hands were unsuccessful in keeping the blood that was pulsing from his body with each beat of his heart.

The second thing that he noticed was Clay leaning over Tara. His mouth was moving, but Juice couldn't make out the words—until he strained his ears:

"It'll all be over soon, Sweetheart . . . I swear."

Tara was crying, her hands in front of her face as she silently pleaded.

"It's a shame, too . . . you would have made an excellent Old Lady. If you would have just learned to mind your own Goddamn business once and awhile."

Time almost seemed to move in slow motion—almost as if Juice were in a dream—as he watched Clay turn the barrel of the gun toward Tara's head.

And, it was just then that he felt the bulge of metal resting against the small of his back.

Using his remaining strength, Juice reached for the weapon that was tucked into the waistband of his pants. Hands slick with blood, he found that it was increasingly difficult to grip the ornate handle. Yet, finally able to get a firm grasp, he turned the weapon on Clay.

The shot rang out—the pistol recoiling in Juice's hands—and Juice watched as Clay abruptly slumped to the ground, the side of his head suddenly missing.

Gasping, Juice's head fell back. He could feel the edges of his vision beginning to grey and he tried to press down on his wound more firmly.

There was a scuffle across the room—a muddling of words—but Juice didn't have enough strength left to see what was going on. Instead, breathing as evenly as he could, he found that he was fighting simply to stay conscious.

His eyes were beginning to roll when a hand was suddenly on his face—soft, warm, and caring. Forcing his eyelids open, he found that he was staring directly into Tara's face—her eyes red and still brimming with tears.

Juice turned his head, allowing it to fall limply to the side so he could see Jax's still unconscious form. "Is Jax—?" He couldn't finish . . . he was too short of breath.

Shushing him, Tara nodded. "He's fine."

"Are you?"

"I'm fine, too . . . Just don't speak. The ambulance is on its way." Juice moaned as Tara pressed her hands on top of his wound and applied pressure.

"Can you . . ." He broke off, coughing. Blood escaped his mouth, freckling his lips and face before dripping a dark red rivulet down his cheek. "Can you tell J-Jax that I'm s-sorry? . . . . That I would n-never intentionally hurt the C-Club."

Gently quieting him, Tara shook her head, a stray tear falling from the corner of her eye and trailing down her cheek. "You're going to be fine, Juice. Just hold on."

But the blackness was beginning to close in. Breathing heavily, he turned his eyes—wet with tears and fear—toward Tara. "Tell him that he's my f-family . . . you're my family . . . the only family I've g-got." He smiled—the first genuine smile that he had given in weeks—even as a tear rolled down the side of his face. "I'm s-sorry if I caused you all p-pain."

"No, Juice!" Tara's voice was firm. "You need to stay with me. Don't leave me, do you hear me?"

But his eyes were already rolling back in his head as darkness overtook him, taking with him the pain, the burden, and the guilt that had recently become the epicenter of his life.

An epilogue is coming, I swear! I just had to get this posted before the new episode started (I don't want my hopes and dreams crushed if Kurt Sutter decides to do anything brash) and it's on soon! So, I have to skedaddle and watch . . . because this season is NUTS! But I swear, I know where this is going and I won't leave you hanging for long. Once more, thanks so much for reading and I hope to hear your thoughts in a review