Disclaimer: Not mine.

Summary: The obverse of a coin is a portrait...

Warning: Possible spoil if I'm right about this.

Notes: Set before "Tie" but meant to be read after.

Thinking Out Loud

By NorthernStar

There was single empty seat at the bar. Juice spotted it from the door, fixed his eyes on it, not looking around as he walked, the way the club had always taught. See exits, see corners, see where people or guns could be concealed… The tiniest little detail could keep you alive.

But, here, now, in this second of time, the club was miles behind him and he was just another bastard in a room full of bastards.

The dirty red leather of the bar stool was rough and harsh (not like the pillow which had been soft and downy and…) and a hiss of air sounded out of it as he sat down.

There was a puddle of spilled beer on the bar (golden brown, texture like sun) that felt sticky under his hands (his unclean hands) and the barmaid, a girl of maybe 22, moved to wipe it up with a tattered rag.

"What can I get you?"

"Beer."

She pulled the pint and handed it over. Juice could see that under the heavy make-up and the brassy tones in her dyed hair was a sweet face that promised a kind nature. But no kindness showed in her eyes. She kept them blank (and dead, so very dead, he'd made them dead…), wisely guarded.

The beer wasn't great, but it was plentiful and no one was here to tell him he'd had enough or to judge him for it (because there would never be enough…) He wondered if this was what it was like for Chibbs (the feel of his knuckles smashing against his jaw) slugging back mouthfuls of scotch at 8'o'clock in the morning; if this was how it started for him…

But that wasn't why Juice was here. (Yet he still had Chibbs to thank for that…)

Juice had been watching the girl for some time. Almost all of the drinkers had tried it on with her, but only one wasn't taking no for an answer. A large man, equal parts muscle and beer gut flab, over 6 foot.

When she leaned over to pick up the empty glasses, the man grabbed the girl's wrist, pulling her towards him. She spat out something that was lost in the jumble of noise, something that made his drinking buddies roar with laughter.

He backhanded her across the mouth and she crashed to floor. Her tray of empty glasses smashed around her.

Juice got up, felt every one of his strides over to her, the fingers of his right hand already curled into a fist, his left hand picking up a beer bottle off a table as he passed. He smashed the bottle against the back of the man's head then threw a punch. The man staggered, but didn't fall. Blood dripped down his ugly head as he turned to face Juice.

(I love you brother…)

It felt like concrete smashing into him when the guy hit him in the face, throwing him onto his back. He stuck out his right arm to break his fall and thick shard of broken glass sliced through the sleeve of his hoodie to bury itself (like a needle full of heroin) into his flesh. The man dragged him up, only to knock him down again with another punch. Pain exploded across his eyes and for a moment the world greyed out. (Did she see grey before the black? Was there the Light?) A fist to the ribs brought him round and he kicked out with his right root. Juice's heel crushed against the softness between the man's legs and he gave a sharp cry of pain, dragging Juice down with him when he fell. Fighting dirty was the right thing to do when your opponent outweighed you by over 100 pounds.

Juice had thought he was doing the right thing, (he didn't look as he smothered her, he couldn't) back there in the cabin (Jax's fingers against his skin, the touch of his lips on his cheek an unspoken gratitude…) but Jax hadn't asked, hadn't ordered… Juice had just thought. Out loud. And killed for the good of the club. (Jax had to know what he did, had to see how loyal he was now…)

The man clutched at his genitals, groaning, but still managed to grab at a bar stool with his left hand and swing it at Juice's head. Juice heard rather than felt the wood connect to his skull. The world went fuzzy and far away and when feeling began to return, along with his sight, it was only to register the warm wet streaks of his own blood as it trickled down his face. Dimly he registered two of the bar staff pulling him up. He was barely aware of being thrown out of the bar, the muzzy haze of pain taking over his world. Instinct made his feet put distance between himself and the bar until they could carry him no more and he tumbled; face down, on the ground.

The sharpness of the night air and the chill of the pavement beneath him leeched sense back into him and he finally forced himself to sit up on the kerb. He stifled a cry at the agony that burst through his arm. But beyond that, finally, there was…nothing.

Just like when Chibbs had given him the smack down the week before.

All that guilt over what he had been forced to do to Clay had…faded…under the pain. He remembered sitting there, as Chibbs patched him up, and feeling numb.

Juice pulled the glass shard from his arm, cursing the blood that ran after it.

He had wanted to go on feeling numb.

So he'd taken off his kutte, left behind his bike, driven out of Charming… Just to be numb for a while.

He'd succeeded.

The blood oozed and dripped. No way he could drive home…

-Fin-