Family Ties - (Book 3 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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22 - The Other Side

“Shit...”

Nick looked around at all the broken glass on the floor. Splatters of blood and the dead bodies of ferals scattered the field. “Goddamn vampires,” Nick groaned. He brought over a bottle of water to Leo who chugged the whole thing down in seconds. “You good?” Nick asked him.

“Yea,” Leo sighed as he effortlessly crushed the empty bottle in his hand.

Nick walked over to Kiara and handed her a bottle of water as well. “Thanks, Nick,” she said, grabbing it from him. She took a sip and glanced at Marshala who was still looking over her wounds.

“Not a scratch,” Marshala said, touching her abdomen. “Do you feel any pain?”

“No,” Kiara said. “Whatever juju juice Alexander gave me did the trick.”

“Uh, that ‘juju juice’ was his freaking blood,” Leo said in disgust.

Kiara instinctively spit out her water and stared at them in shock. “What the what?!” she blurted.

“Vampire blood has healing elements,” Marshala told her. “He did it to save your life.”

“Too bad it’s fucking gross,” Leo said, shaking his head.

“There are so many health violations with that, I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Kiara said. “But if vampire blood can heal, they can basically cure cancer, can’t they? Why don’t they use their powers for good like healing people instead of killing?”

“Because they’re innately evil,” Nick muttered.

“Nicholas...” Marshala said, looking at him.

Nick exhaled as he folded his arms across his chest. “Why were you guys out here anyway? Classes are on break.”

“I asked Alexander to take me to the library so I could pick up some books,” Kiara said. “And I ran into Leo after following this little girl roaming the halls. And then Leo and I...” Kiara trailed off when she locked eyes with Leo. “... were talking,” she finished.

Nick quirked up a brow. “That’s it? You guys were talking? And nothing else happened?”

“Nope,” Kiara said.

“Then where does Alexander come in?” Nick asked.

Kiara bit her bottom lip. “He... was just passing by... to check up on me...”

“And then?” Nick persisted. “Leo, I know you too well. Did you pick a fight with Alexander?”

Leo scratched the back of his head. “I mean...”

“Leo, what the fu-” Nick started.

“He didn’t,” Kiara said quickly. “We were attacked when Alexander met us on the field.”

Nick looked at her suspiciously before he looked at Leo who avoided his gaze. “Look at that. You got her covering for your ass already,” Nick smirked. “Fine, I won’t push. But we’ve got a shit load of clean up to do here... and some explaining,” he said, looking at Marshala.

Marshala sighed. “I’ll think of something...”

~

“Look at me, Alexander,” Elijah ordered. Alexander turned his head and diverted his gaze from staring at Kiara in the building to a frustrated Elijah in front of him. “Was it him? Was he here?” Elijah asked.

“No,” Alexander shook his head. “It was Gwendolyn again. But this time she was accompanied by Flynn... and Hugo.”

Elijah scowled as his eyes briefly flickered blood-red. He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to control his frustration. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

“I just need to feed...” Alexander said quietly.

Elijah looked him over before glancing up at Kiara. “She fed from you,” Elijah stated.

“I had no choice,” Alexander said quickly. “She would have died.”

“I am not angry with you for it, Alexander. I’m just... well, you know the risks. And then you fought with the wolf-”

“I didn’t-” Alexander defended.

“Don’t lie to me, Alexander,” Elijah said quickly. “I understand your affections for Kiara, but that’s hardly important when our father is orchestrating these assassination attempts on her life.”

Alexander sighed heavily as he looked down. “I’d die for her, Elijah...”

Elijah looked at his brother wearily. “I know, Alexander...”

Kiara descended the stairs with Marshala and looked down at Alexander and Elijah talking. “Is Elijah not allowed on campus or something?” Kiara asked.

“No, he’s not,” Marshala said. “It’s part of the treaty for Elijah to stay off campus grounds. Cole and Alexander are allowed to attend classes as they still take on the form of young adults despite their age. But Elijah is a more... reputable vampire. Few people feel comfortable in his presence.”

Kiara frowned. “Elijah’s such an adorable softie though.”

“To you,” Marshala smirked. “You have yet to see him in action. Watch him tear apart an entire vampire clan in seconds and you’ll be singing a different tune.”

Elijah and Alexander ceased speaking once Kiara and Marshala descended the stairs. “I’m bringing Kiara home with me,” Marshala told them. “We need to prepare for tonight.”

“I heard you held Gwendolyn off,” Elijah smiled. “That’s impressive.”

“Leo and Alexander did most of the work,” Kiara said. “I still don’t know how I did it. It’s hard discovering these... powers...”

“In time, Kiara,” Marshala said comfortingly. She looked at Elijah. “There’s no reason those ferals should have gotten past the barrier we put over the school.”

“They didn’t,” Alexander said. “But Gwendolyn, Hugo, and Flynn did...”

Marshala frowned. “Then I fear the worst is true.” She looked at Elijah. “William has witches working for him…”

Elijah’s jaw twitched. “We will… we will figure this out…” he said, trying to suppress his anger. Marshala gave him a disheartened nod and continued to escort Kiara to her car. Elijah watched Marshala drive off before he looked up to see Nick watching her as well. They shared a brief glance before Nick sneered.

“How soon before one of your old pals succeeds in killing her,” Nick chided.

“I will not allow that,” Elijah said sharply.

“Like you didn’t allow this to happen?” Nick snarked. “Neither of us was here. She could have died.”

Elijah felt his anger flare up. But then he felt his brother’s deep emotions and glanced at Alexander who looked remorseful. “It is our fault... isn’t it,” Alexander sighed.

Elijah softened his anger as he felt Alexander’s guilt. “Let’s go, Alexander.” Nick watched as Alexander and Elijah quickly took off.

~*~

“That’s her,” Kiara said. She pointed to the portrait of a young girl in the book Marshala was holding. “That’s the girl I saw running in the hallway before she completely disappeared.”

Marshala frowned as she turned the book over in her hand and looked at the painting of the beautiful, smiling dark-skinned girl. “Her name was Madeline LaFleur,” Marshala said. “A healer witch. She was only 12 when William found her and killed her...”

Kiara’s eyes widened as she looked from Marshala to the painting. “So, what I saw... was...”

“A spirit,” Marshala finished. “She was probably trying to warn you that they were coming for you.”

“Jeez,” Kiara said, rubbing her temples in frustration. “12?! This guy’s a freaking lunatic!” She looked at the picture again. “Thanks, Madeline... I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve to go out like that.” Kiara scrunched her brows together as she pondered. “I feel like she’s not the first spirit I’ve seen.”

Marshala looked at Kiara. “Oh really?”

Kiara nodded. “Around the time that I first learned that I was a witch. Back at the hospital, I saw a woman that I thought was a patient, but she disappeared before I got too close. She kept calling my name. I often hear people calling my name...”

“Our ancestors often visit us on this plane, usually to warn us of lurking danger. That was the day you were attacked, right?” Marshala asked.

Kiara nodded. “I just… wonder who it was…” Kiara sat back on Marshala’s couch, clutching one of the couch pillows between her legs. “This... fire power that I have... that I used on Gwendolyn, Gina said it’s pretty rare for a witch to use it without speaking incantations,” Kiara said.

“She’s right,” Marshala nodded. “I have to speak an incantation to use it. You don’t. You know who else didn’t have to speak to wield that kind of power?” Kiara looked at her, waiting for the answer. “Melissa...” Marshala said.

Kiara looked at her curiously. “It’s difficult controlling it. It almost seems like it works based on my emotions.”

“You just need practice,” Marshala assured her. “No witch ever became great overnight, Kiara. You’re going to have to put in the work.”

Kiara deeply exhaled. “I figured.”

Marshala re-positioned herself so that she was facing Kiara. She looked her seriously in the eyes. “The ceremony will take place at Mama Dee’s estate in Cape Cod. She’s one of the elder witches in my coven. You’ll meet a lot of witches and warlocks tonight, Kiara. All of them descendants of the victims of The New Orleans Witch Massacre. Our pain runs deep from the suffering that our ancestors have had to endure. But it is because we have each other that we are able to not only get through it... but thrive. One thing you need to learn and hold onto is that we will always need each other. We can never do this alone. Do you understand?”

Kiara took a deep breath and nodded her understanding.

~*~

“Lift your arm. Your other arm!” Rhea said.

“Girl! It’s too small!” Kiara whined.

“It’s a brassiere, Kiara! It’s supposed to be small!” Rhea said frustrated as she tried to tie a knot behind Kiara’s back.

“I don’t understand why I have to wear this anyway,” Kiara said annoyed as she looked at herself in the mirror.

“I told you. It’s for the ceremony. This is to mimic the traditional garb of our ancestors. We wear it out of respect,” Rhea said as she started working on Kiara’s hair.

“Well, lord, give me the confidence of my ancestors because I do not have the body for this outfit,” Kiara said. She eyed her bubbling cleavage, her exposed stomach, and the short tribal skirt hugging her hips with dismay.

Rhea shook her head. “Remember that our ancestors lived during a time where just walking around topless was the norm. It’s only Western society that shames us for the bodies we’re born in.”

“Preach it, boo. Body love. Self-love and all that jazz. And while you’re preaching, can you pass me a robe to hide in?” Kiara asked.

“Oh my god, Kiara,” Rhea rolled her eyes with a chuckle. “It’s only one night. And you’ll get to change after the ceremony. Besides, I’m wearing the same thing. So is Marshala. And every other witch in our coven.” Rhea turned Kiara around to face her. “You also seem to forget that you’re extremely beautiful. So, don’t talk about yourself like that.”

“Says the melanin goddess,” Kiara teased.

Rhea rolled her eyes with a grin and rubbed her hands comfortingly against Kiara’s arms. “This is a special night, Kiara,” Rhea said to her with a smile. “Tonight... we truly become sisters. We’ll get to send your aunt off to be with the rest of your family...”

“And I may get to see my parents...” Kiara said softly. Rhea nodded with a smile.

“Are you ladies done?” Ava said, walking into the room wearing the same outfit. “Oh! Don’t you two look beautiful!”

“I look like I’m about to drop it low at the club,” Kiara joked as Rhea rolled her eyes. Ava immediately started laughing.

“Come on. We’re starting soon,” Ava said. She turned around and led them out of the room.

~

Kiara was immediately swarmed by people the moment she stepped into Mama Dee’s lively, music-filled living room. The delicious smell of gumbo filled the air. Their voices loudly roared over the rich sounds of Louisiana jazz. Each member of multiple families hugged her, showering her with kisses. People she had never met before talked to her like they had known her their entire lives. She constantly heard that she looked exactly like Melissa. She was often referred to as ‘DeAndre’s little girl’ and ‘Candace’s princess’ or one that formed knots in her stomach... ‘the last LaFleur.’

Giselle and Marshala took their time introducing Kiara to each family member so as not to overwhelm her. “Is that Candace’s baby girl?” Kiara heard an aged voice say. She turned around to see an elderly black woman with a large kinky white afro, sitting in a wheelchair with a cane in her hand.

“Kiara, this is Mama Dee,” Giselle said, nudging her forward.

The elderly woman took Kiara’s hand between her old, fragile palms and immediately sighed with relief. “I can feel your mother on you,” Mama Dee said. “You’ve got her fire. And your father’s passion to help others.” Mama Dee smiled up at her. “I used to hear your mother sing you a melody every night to put you to sleep. It’s a lullaby that’s been passed down from generation to generation in the LaFleur family,” Mama Dee said. She started to hum the tune and Kiara immediately recognized it as a song she would hum randomly to herself. She always thought it was something she had made up in her head. She had no idea it came from her mother.

Mama Dee noticed the nostalgic look on Kiara’s face. “You are home, child,” Mama Dee said.

~

Marshala had been busy welcoming all of the other witches and warlocks. Despite the fact that they were sending a spirit off, the night was festive with activity and celebration. She was grateful that Giselle volunteered to handle the food as she had far too many other responsibilities to manage for the night.

A warm smile crossed her face as she eyed Kiara drowning in a sea of people who were eager and happy to see her. They embraced her as family. Walking outside to light more candles, she adjusted her brassiere that seemed to get smaller and smaller every time she wore it for these ceremonies. She respected the ancestors but she definitely didn’t appreciate the garb.

“Holy shit, Shal... You look sexy as hell.”

Marshala turned around to see Nick pull up on a motorcycle wearing a suit that accentuated his dashingly handsome appearance. Leo and Levi pulled up on their own bikes as well as Levi took out a cigarette and Leo fixed his tie.

“Nicholas,” she smiled as he quickly walked up to her. “You guys look really ni-” She wasn’t able to finish her sentence before he wrapped his hands around her hips and pulled her roughly against him. He captured her in a passionate kiss and nearly sucked all the oxygen out of her lungs.

Nick grinned against her lips. “You need to wear this next time I visit so I can bend your sexy ass over and-”

“Nicholas,” she said, putting a finger to his mouth. “This is a sacred night. And these are sacred clothes. Please... have some respect.”

“Oh, I’ll have some respect alright,” Nick smirked. He teasingly sucked her finger into his mouth.

She immediately pulled her hand away from him and backed out of his arms, trying to repress how turned on he made her with that movement alone. “You guys are late,” she said to him.

“By like 5 minutes,” Levi grinned, leaning back against the wall.

“We would have been here on time if Levi didn’t try to pick a fight with another pack,” Leo said annoyed as he sat on the railing of the stairs.

“I was ‘negotiating’,” Levi said flippantly.

“‘Negotiating’ my ass,” Leo scoffed.

“Oh relax,” Levi said. “You just wanted to get here early so you could eye-fuck, Kiara. His horny ass has been extra moody since the attack. He swore he was gonna drag her home with him afterward.”

“Shut the fuck up, Levi,” Leo said angrily.

“Guys!” Marshala said. “No fighting tonight, alright?”

“That might be a bit difficult since I smell a fucking Blackbourne,” Nick said annoyed. He looked up. “You didn’t tell me those bloodsuckers would be here, Shal.”

Marshala turned around and looked up to see Elijah, Cole, and Alexander wearing fine suits and sitting nonchalantly on the roof. “Oh please, you’re the assholes who live in the fucking woods. We could smell your nasty ass mange from across the town,” Cole taunted.

“Cole...” Elijah said smoothly. “Try not to instigate these undomesticated animals.”

“How about you come down here and say that to our fucking faces, you pale ass bitch!” Levi snorted.

“Guys! Please!” Marshala said, fed up. She looked up at the Blackbournes. “How long have you guys been up there?”

“Like... half an hour maybe?” Alexander said.

“What the hell? Why didn’t you call?” Marshala asked.

“You looked rather... busy...” Elijah said.

“He’s lying,” Cole smirked. “Elijah just wanted to watch you work in that sexy ass outfit. He was ready to pounce on you any minute if these mutts didn’t show up.”

“Cole!” Elijah said angrily.

Nick clenched his fists and his eyes went fiery golden. “This motherfucker-!”

“If I have to tell you guys one more damn time!” Marshala snapped angrily. A fierce wind picked up around all of them and the flames of the candles lit up ferociously. The guys immediately quieted themselves as Marshala took a deep breath.

“Listen... I invited all of you here... because you are all important to Kiara. After her aunt was killed, you are now her only family left. Try to remember that neither vampires nor wolves are usually welcomed for a ceremony like this, as it’s a sacred witch event. You are here as guests. You each play an important part in her journey. I need you guys to behave yourselves. No fighting. No threatening each other. Just act decently for one night!”

Marshala looked between Nick and Elijah. “I need you both to set the example. I will not have you ruining this important night for Kiara,” she said. Elijah and Nick glared at each other before looking back at Marshala. Elijah sighed and Nick rolled his eyes.

“Alexander and Leo,” she said, getting both of their attention. “Please do not distract Kiara tonight. Keep your hands and your lips to yourselves.”

“I wasn’t even-” Leo started.

“But, I didn’t-” Alexander said simultaneously.

“I don’t wanna hear it!” she said quickly. “I said what I said! Let her focus on the ceremony! If I see either one of you doing more than hugging her I will kick you BOTH out!” Alexander and Leo glared at each other as Cole burst into laughter. “You too, Cole!” Marshala scolded him.

“I didn’t even do anything!” Cole said.

“Not yet, you haven’t! Behave yourself!” Marshala warned. Cole rolled his eyes.

“Do you realize how hot you are right now?” Nick muttered heatedly. “You need to order me around more often...”

“Nicholas!” Marshala snapped. She looked at the rest of them. “For the sake of keeping the peace, I told my coven that all of you are here for protection purposes only and to uphold the treaty. It’s too dangerous to reveal your ties to Kiara so soon... not when our enemies seem to be... multiplying...” Marshala frowned as she got lost in her thoughts. Elijah and Nick briefly made unnerved eye contact with each other before Marshala spoke up again. “Blackbournes stay on the left and Volkovs on the right for the duration of the ceremony. You guys think you can handle that?” she said.

“Aye, captain,” Cole said, fake saluting from the roof. Marshala shook her head before walking into the house. Alexander swiftly jumped from the roof and landed on the ground before fixing his suit jacket.

“Try not to eat anyone,” Levi taunted as he snuffed out his cigarette.

“Oh sure. Just make sure you guys use a doggy bag to clean up after yourselves,” Cole snarked back as he and Elijah jumped down next to Alexander. “Furry ass piece of shit.”

“Fucking blood-sucking leech,” Levi shot back.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Nick snapped angrily. He turned to Levi. “Not another fucking word out of you. Let’s go!” Levi cursed under his breath.

“Come on, Levi. Just...leave it alone,” Leo said, nudging him along.

“I’m only tolerating their ass for your girl and your girl only,” Levi said, poking him as they walked towards the other side.

“Why are you always starting shit, Cole?” Alexander said exasperated. He pushed Cole in the other direction.

Elijah’s jaw tensed as he locked eyes with Nick. “...Thank you...Nicholas...” Elijah said lowly.

Nick rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he muttered. He turned around and followed Levi and Leo.

~*~

“You ready?” Rhea asked Kiara.

“Ready as I’ll ever be...” Kiara said as she readjusted her brassiere. She could hear the sound of drums beating outside on the beach as she did breathing exercises to calm her nerves. She followed Rhea outside and saw multiple people sitting down in the sand, a few standing as she walked to the center of a circle. At the front stood Marshala with tribal markings on her forehead, arms, and legs. Her face was stoic and serious.

The flames of the candles around them grew brighter as the witches surrounding them started chanting in an unknown language. Kiara could only make out a few words. She walked to the center to see her aunt’s body had been embalmed in a cloth and drenched with incense. Rhea took a red creamy substance and started rubbing some across Kiara’s arms, down her back, and over her legs.

Marshala stepped in front of Kiara and smeared a white dusty substance on Kiara’s cheeks, forehead, chin, and nose. “We call upon our ancestors,” Marshala said, lifting her head to the sky. “Ancestors of the LaFleurs. Ancestors of the Moreaus. Ancestors of the Toussaints. Ancestors of the Dubois. Ancestors of the Arquettes. Ancestors of the Carreau. Ancestors who sacrificed their lives during The Great Witch Massacre of New Orleans so that we, your children, may live. We humbly come and seek your guidance, your acceptance, your voice, your teachings, your power, your strength, your love.”

The chanting grew louder as Marshala looked at Kiara. She gently grabbed Kiara’s face between her hands. “As you welcome Camille LaFleur into your haven, we ask that you open your arms to Kiara LaFleur. Daughter of Candace LaFleur and DeAndre LaFleur. Descendant of the great Melissa LaFleur,” Marshala continued.

Kiara instinctively closed her eyes from the loud whispers that abruptly invaded her mind. She cringed as it formed a numbing high-pitched volume in her ear. She couldn’t tell if it was from the people around her or something else.

~

“I feel like I’m intruding,” Alexander said, watching Kiara from the rooftop of the house. “This feels... so personal...”

“Are you kidding? This is the coolest fucking shit I’ve ever seen these witches do,” Cole smirked.

“Cole, mind your tongue...” Elijah said as his eyes never left Marshala’s form.

Alexander couldn’t keep his eyes off of Kiara. He felt like he was perverting such a sacred ritual by thinking the thoughts he was about her, but she looked absolutely delectable. He glanced up and looked across the beach to see the Volkovs nonchalantly sitting on the high branches of a tree. Leo was looking at Kiara just as intensely before he looked up and met Alexander’s gaze. They shared a heated glare before the sky suddenly flashed. A bright blue streak briefly lit up the sky before it fell dark again and Kiara immediately collapsed to the ground.

~

Kiara opened her eyes and found herself lying on a soft bed of grass with a strange glow to it. She looked above her to the starry night sky and was amazed by the various neon colors that sparkled above her. She slowly sat up and took in her surroundings. She noticed small balls of light floating around her. She went to touch one of them when she heard a faint voice.

“Kiara...”

She quickly turned her head to see who had called her. “Hello?” she said, looking around. She stood to her feet and proceeded to walk around, maneuvering around the floating balls of light.

“Kiara?”

She spun around until she came face-to-face with two people standing in front of her. A handsome man with smooth brown skin and a smile so bright it rivaled the sun. And a stunningly beautiful tall dark-skinned woman with long flowing hair, soft dark brown eyes, and a warm smile on her face. They both stared at her with wide eyes as if they couldn’t believe she was there.

Kiara felt her heartbeat quicken and a warmth flood her body as she stared at the two strange people she had never seen before in her life.

“Oh... DeAndre...” the woman said suddenly in a voice so soft. “She’s beautiful...”

“She has your eyes, Candace...” the man said.

Kiara’s eyes widened as her lips slightly parted. “...Are... are you my...” The woman quickly nodded her head as a tear trickled down her cheek. Kiara let out a scream and felt an urge build inside her as she immediately ran towards them. She nearly knocked the woman over with her hug as the woman wrapped Kiara in her arms.

“Mom?!” Kiara blurted, looking up at her in awe.

“Oh, my little girl!” Candace said with tears in her eyes. She held Kiara’s face between her hands. “My God... you grew up to be so beautiful, Kiara,” she said smiling at her daughter as tears steadily streamed down her face.

“Mom!” Kiara cried as she nestled her face into her mother’s chest. She sobbed against her, allowing herself to feel the warmth of her mother’s embrace.

“Don’t forget your old man now,” DeAndre chuckled. Kiara quickly lifted her head, taking in the dapper form of her father before she tackled him to the ground with an intense hug. He chuckled heartily as they fell to the glowing grass. He held her tightly as Kiara squeezed her arms around his neck.

“Dad!” she sobbed into his shoulder. She pulled back from him and looked into his eyes. “I made up images in my head of what you looked like,” she told him.

“Oh yeah?” he grinned. “What did you come up with? Denzel Washington? Will Smith?”

“DeAndre!” Candace scoffed with a smirk as Kiara chuckled.

“Better. So much better,” Kiara beamed at him. DeAndre smiled as he helped his daughter stand to her feet.

“We’ve been eager for the day when we would get to see you in person, speak to you, hold you in our arms,” Candace said as she pulled Kiara away from her husband and into her arms again.

“I never thought I would ever meet you guys,” Kiara said, looking at her. “This is... this is surreal. I feel like I’m dreaming.”

“In a way you are, sweetheart,” DeAndre said, coming to his wife’s side. “But this is still very much real. You’re in The In-Between. The place between life... and death. Not dead but not quite conscious. When your mother and I found out that you were trying to connect with us, we knew we had to come find you.”

“I didn’t think I’d be able to,” Kiara said with uncertainty. “The only way I was able to access this place... was because of Auntie Camille. I’m seriously struggling with my powers...”

“Actually, Kiara, it was you that helped me cross over,” a random voice said. Kiara turned around to see her Aunt Camille standing behind her.

“AUNTIE!” Kiara said wide-eyed before she ran over to her.

Camille opened her arms and braced for Kiara’s impact. “Hey there, baby boo,” Camille smiled.

“I’m so glad I got to see you again,” Kiara said, hugging her.

Camille pulled back from Kiara and deeply sighed. “I’m... I’m so sorry Kiara... for the way I treated you when you stayed with me. I was dealing with a lot of hurt... bitterness... and pain. Growing up a LaFleur wasn’t easy when your family was being killed off one by one. I knew my time was coming... But I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Auntie,” Kiara said, squeezing her hand. “I understand. I’m just so glad to see you like this. And not...”

“I know,” Camille said, touching her cheek. “This is how I would rather you remember me anyway.”

Camille looked up to see DeAndre walking toward her with a huge smile on his face. “Hey, big sis,” he said, going to hug her.

“Don’t touch me, D. I’m still mad at you for standing me up for dinner to fight a damn vampire that ended up killin’ yo ass anyway,” Camille said coldly as she hugged Kiara tighter.

“Seriously, Cami? We’re both dead,” DeAndre said.

“So? Yo ass would still be alive if you had just come to my dinner. But nah. You wanna go and act like you Van Helsing or some shit. Stupid ass,” Camille scoffed.

“Damn, Auntie!” Kiara chuckled. “Are you even allowed to curse in heaven?”

“We’re not in heaven, sweetie,” Candace laughed. Camille let go of Kiara and quickly pulled Candace into a desperate embrace. “I missed you, Cami,” Candace said, smiling at her.

“I missed you too, Candy Cane,” Camille chuckled.

“BUT NOT ME?!” DeAndre said shocked.

“Boy, shut up,” Camille said. She rolled her eyes and started lecturing him.

Kiara chuckled, watching the family she’s always wanted laugh and joke with each other. Candace felt Kiara wrap her arms around her waist and she eagerly returned her daughter’s embrace. Kiara heard her mother hum a soft tune as she rubbed soothing, gentle circles on her back. “I remember that song…” Kiara said fondly.

“I sing it all the time. Even from here,” Candace smiled as she stroked Kiara’s head. “Hoping you would hear it. Hoping you would hear me…”

Kiara suddenly looked up at her mother and into her dark chocolate eyes. “Did you ever try to reach out to me?” she asked.

Her mother nodded. “All the time, princess. I could never see you or hear you, but I could feel you. Feel your spirit. Your presence. And sometimes, I could feel when you were in danger or around malevolent spirits. I would try my best to warn you, even if I didn’t know where you were or what you were doing.”

Kiara swallowed hard as she looked up at her mother with deep revelation. “It was you... In the library. In the hallway at school. In the parking lot of the hospital. You were the woman I saw. It’s your voice that I’ve been hearing.”

Candace looked down at her daughter warmly and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Just because I’m not physically there with you, sweetie, doesn’t mean I won’t do everything in my power to protect you.”

Kiara felt her chest well up with emotion as tears brimmed in her eyes. All this time she thought she was imagining the voices in her head. There was something so calming and peaceful knowing it was her mother protecting her. Even in death. Kiara squeezed her mother tightly as she pushed her face into her chest. “I don’t ever wanna let go,” Kiara said. “I wanna stay here with you and dad. I have so many questions.”

“I wish you could too, my sweet girl,” Candace said, kissing her temple. “But... you have to go back... you can’t stay here... you have a mission to accomplish.”

Kiara pulled back and frowned at her mother. “I don’t wanna be without you.”

“Oh, Kiara,” Candace smiled. “You will never be without us. We will always be with you no matter where you go. And now that you’ve officially made the link with us, you can always come back to talk to us.”

Kiara bit her lip as she looked between her father and mother. “What about Melissa?”

Candace and DeAndre exchanged apprehensive looks before glancing back at Kiara. “That... may take a little more effort on your part, sweetheart,” DeAndre said. “Melissa is still hurt... still angry... She still holds that resentment. She refuses to let anyone in. I’ve tried. But you may be the one person that can get through to her.”

Kiara exhaled, not liking the sound of that. “I have to. So many lives are at stake. I need to break this curse before... William gets to me first...”

Candace took Kiara’s hand in hers and forced her to look into her eyes. “My father, your grandfather... was a philosopher. A brilliant man. Education has always been of the utmost priority in our family. It’s one of the reasons you went on to excel so well in school,” Candace said.

“And we’re so proud of how far you’ve come, sweetheart,” DeAndre said. Kiara looked at him with a smile before she looked back at her mother who continued.

“My father used to have me quote some of his favorite authors to motivate me in times where I felt despair. Well... I have one for you, my daughter from Marianne Williamson: ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’ And that’s exactly what you are, Kiara. I want you to remember that when you face the great evils of this world. Remember who you are. Where you come from. You are a LaFleur. Powerful beyond measure. And we, your family, and all LaFleurs who came before you, will stand with you and behind you. You are never alone. And you will never be alone ever again.”

Kiara felt tears well up in her eyes as her mother pulled her into another embrace. She soon felt the warm embrace of her father as well as the three of them hugged each other in one big huddle. “You have to go now,” Candace said. “We’ve kept you long enough.” Kiara hugged Camille one last time before looking at her parents. “We love you, Kiara,” Candace said as a tear slipped down her cheek. Her husband wrapped a comforting arm around her waist.

“And we will always... always be with you, sweetheart,” DeAndre said before the three of them disappeared.

~

Kiara gasped as she sat up straight, coming back to her own time. Her eyes were wide as she took deep breaths, trying to steady her breathing.

“Kiara?!” Marshala said, falling to her knees at Kiara’s side.

Kiara looked at Marshala as a huge smile crossed her face. “I saw them! I saw my parents! And Auntie Camille!”

Marshala’s eyes widened before she hugged Kiara. “That’s incredible!”

Rhea quickly ran up behind her and hugged her tightly. “You did it!” Rhea said excitedly.

~*~

After the ceremony, Kiara changed into the long, elegant black dress she had picked out for the night. The After-Ceremony Dinner party was in full swing as everyone talked and laughed, getting well acquainted with each other.

“You look as stunning as ever, Dee,” Elijah said, kissing the elderly woman’s hand.

“Oh, Elijah, stop it. You were always such a charmer,” Mama Dee blushed. “Where is the littlest one? Peter?”

“We thought it best to keep him home for this particular occasion,” Elijah said. “But I will send him your salutations.”

“Please do,” Mama Dee smiled. “I have such a soft spot for that boy.”

“And he you,” Elijah smiled.

“Levi!” Rhea squealed. She ran up to Levi and jumped into his arms.

“Hello, kroshka,” Levi said, giving her a tender kiss on her lips. “You look fucking sexy in this dress. I can’t wait to take it off of you later...”

“You could at least wait until her family isn’t within earshot to make lewd remarks about my sister, Levi,” Ava smirked from behind Rhea.

Levi looked at her and grinned as he pulled Rhea closer into his arms. “You should know me by now, Ava. I got no damn filter when it comes to my kroshka,” Levi said, nuzzling Rhea’s neck. He left small kisses on her collarbone as he squeezed her waist.

“Levi, stop!” Rhea giggled. “My whole family is here! Behave yourself!”

“How am I supposed to behave myself with you wearing this sexy ass dress,” Levi groaned as he palmed her ass. Rhea quickly slapped his hand away.

Alexander and Cole stood near the far end of the house, watching the activities. Alexander leaned back against the wall, people-watching and waiting for Kiara to return. Meanwhile, Cole perched himself on the edge of a table, taking a shot. “I’m bored,” Cole groaned.

“Tonight’s not about you, Cole,” Alexander said.

“No. It’s about Kiara who isn’t even fucking here. At least I’d have some fun teasing her about her hot and heavy night with you,” Cole grinned. “Did you fuck her rough cause I know you’ve been so damn pent up for years with your lame ‘I’m celibate till I’ve found a girl I can fuck without killing’ ass. Or did you do that slow romantic shit.”

“I’m not having this conversation with you,” Alexander said dismissively.

“You’re no fun anymore, Alexander,” Cole said, rolling his eyes as he downed another shot. Cole eyed the crowd when he noticed Rhea and Levi cuddling. “What’s a hot thing like that doing with a smelly ass beast like him,” Cole scoffed.

“Don’t even look at her. Levi will literally tear you apart,” Alexander said.

“Bitch, he can try. I’ll fuck his ass up,” Cole smirked.

“Wow! What a mouth!” Alexander and Cole looked to the side to see Ava holding a tray of snacks.

“Hey, Ava,” Alexander smiled.

“Hi, Alexander,” she said hesitantly. “Are you guys enjoying the evening?”

“Do we look like we’re enjoying ourselves?” Cole muttered.

“Ignore him. He’s just moody,” Alexander said. “I appreciate you coming over to make conversation. I heard Marshala ask you to come talk to us, but really it’s okay. We don’t mind. We’re kind of used to being avoided.”

Ava blushed slightly embarrassed. “I’m sorry... Kiara should be down soon she just went to change.”

“Well, that’s a shame,” Cole smirked. “She looked fucking hot in that last little number.”

“Cole, I will seriously rip your head off,” Alexander said coldly.

“You may wanna lay back on the cursing. This is still sacred ground,” Ava said to Cole.

Cole looked her up and down, sizing her up before he scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Fucking witches...” he muttered as he strolled away.

Alexander’s jaw clenched as he watched his brother walk away. He wanted to beat the crap out of him for being so damn disrespectful. “I’m not offended,” Ava said quickly. “Don’t worry. Not like vampires are known for their kindness.”

Alexander gave her an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry... I better go keep an eye on him. I don’t want him fuc- I mean... messing anything up.” Ava nodded as Alexander quickly followed after Cole.

~*~

Kiara walked down the stairs and into a small den. She peeked into the living room to see several people talking and laughing. She spotted Nick talking to Giselle and Bernard and Elijah talking to Mama Dee and Ava. She wasn’t at all surprised that they seemed to fit in so well. They had known these people since the war. They helped protect them. It made sense.

Kiara was still on a high from seeing her parents. She turned around to get something to drink to calm her down a bit when she bumped right into Leo. “Leo!” she blurted.

“Hey, Angel.” Leo looked her over and bit down on his bottom lip to keep his groan down. “Angel, you look... incredible...”

Kiara felt her cheeks warm over as she tried to hide her smile. “Thanks, Leo... You look really handsome as well,” she said, eyeing the detail of his suit.

Leo briefly glanced behind him before looking back down at Kiara. “Angel...” He wrapped his hand around her waist and pulled her body flush against his. “Marshala dragged you away so quickly. I missed you so badly, baby...”

Kiara braced her hands against his chest as he lifted her chin with his finger. “Leo...” she breathed out, looking into his crystal clear eyes. His hand descended to the curve of her backside as he lowered his lips to hers.

“10 minutes, cuz,” Levi said, barging into the kitchen with Rhea. “Your ass didn’t last 10 fucking minutes.” Leo groaned as he reluctantly pulled away from her.

“Come on, Kiara,” Rhea said, pushing her into the living room. “More people want to meet you.”

“But why...” Kiara groaned, just wanting some time to herself.

~*~

Nick stepped outside the house to get some fresh air. He knew Marshala was preoccupied, but damn did he miss having her in his arms again. He ran his fingers through his hair as he looked up at the stars, trying to think back to what life was like when she only had eyes for him. Suddenly he tensed up as he felt an unwelcome presence. “What do you want, Blackbourne,” he said tensely, without looking behind him.

Elijah approached Nick from behind with his hands deep in his pockets. “I like you no more than you like me, Nicholas,” Elijah said calmly.

“Hate. Hate is the more appropriate word,” Nick said gruffly. “I have little patience when it comes to you vampires. Now, what... do you want?”

Elijah deeply exhaled as he stood next to him. “Kiara can’t go on like this,” he said.

“No shit,” Nick snarked. “Tell your pops to chill the fuck out and bother someone else then.”

“You know just as well as I do that that’s not possible,” Elijah said.

“And, we’re all the collateral damage of your daddy issues.”

Elijah took a tentative breath, trying to calm his frustration. “I thought about what you said earlier. We weren’t there to protect her and... she could have died. I’ve grown rather fond of the girl. I’m not sure how I would react if something did happen to her...” Nick said nothing as he waited for Elijah to get to the point. “Kiara cannot rely on us all the time... or the boys for that matter... She needs to be able to defend herself,” Elijah said.

Nick raised a curious brow and glanced at Elijah before speaking. “...I’m listening...”

~*~

Marshala walked into the kitchen with an empty cup that she went to fill from the tap. She quickly gulped the water and went to refill it again. “Damn, Shal, are you thirsty, or are you thirsty?”

Marshala jumped startled as she dropped her cup into the sink. She turned around to see Nick leaning against the wall of the kitchen with his arms crossed over his chest. Elijah stood in front of him, his hands deep in his pockets. “Jeezus! Why do you guys always sneak up on me like this?!” she said, trying to calm her fast-beating heart.

“It wasn’t intentional...” Elijah said.

She glanced at them to see them both looking her over, their eyes roaming eagerly over her body. She felt herself get flustered when suddenly her eyes narrowed. “Wait... are you two... talking... to each other?” she asked, alarmed. She put the back of her hand to her forehead. “No, I don’t think I’m sick.”

“Marshala,” Elijah chuckled as he turned to face her. “Nicholas and I have been talking because we both realized something that deeply concerns us.”

She looked between them confused. “What is it?”

“Word is spreading about Kiara, Shal,” Nick said. “She’s gaining just as many enemies as she is supporters.”

“Well... that’s what I’m here for. To protect her,” Marshala said.

“No, Marshala,” Elijah said. “You can’t always protect her. And I won’t always be there. What if one of us comes too late? What if Alexander and Leo weren’t there?”

“She’s practicing magic,” Marshala said. “And she warded off Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn! She’s getting so much better. She’s learning to master her power. You should see what Gina and Makiko di-”

“She needs to do more than just practice,” Nick said, cutting her off. “She needs to learn to defend herself. You’re only hurting her if you keep coddling her like this.”

Marshala sighed as she leaned back against the counter. “What are you guys proposing?”

“We will train her,” Elijah said. “Teach her how to defend herself against enemies: vampires, wolves, and ferals alike who may try to bring her harm.”

“She’s not ready for that,” Marshala said quickly. “She’s just getting over the loss of her aunt. She just barely survived another attack from Gwendolyn. This is too much for her at once.”

“Shal,” Nick said sternly. “If she dies because you or me or Elijah or any of the boys weren’t there to protect her, and she couldn’t defend herself... it would destroy you. You know this...”

Marshala felt a lump form in her throat as she looked at both of them. She could see they were both very serious, but there was a tenderness in their eyes that showed they weren’t just concerned about Kiara but for her as well.

“You can’t keep taking this on by yourself, Marshala,” Elijah said. “You said we are her family now. Well then... let us be her family...”

Marshala swallowed the lump in her throat as she looked out the kitchen and into the living room to see Kiara talking and giggling.

~*~

“It must have been nice seeing your parents,” Alexander said, standing outside with Kiara.

“It was incredible,” she beamed at him. “My mother’s voice is something I’ve always wanted to hear. And my dad, he’s so handsome. I’ve never once seen a picture of my mother. She’s gorgeous.”

“You look very much like her,” Alexander said.

Kiara looked at him startled. “You’ve... met my mother?”

He nodded and gave a sad smile. “Briefly. She was very kind. Selfless. Much like yourself.” Kiara smiled at him. The fact that Alexander met her mother made her wonder just how old he and his brothers really were. “You look absolutely gorgeous tonight, Kiara...” he said, cutting into her thoughts.

Kiara looked down, trying not to show her embarrassment. “That’s too much flattery, Alexander,” she said shyly.

“It’s not nearly enough,” Alexander said, closing the space between them. Kiara backed up against the wall of the house as she looked up into Alexander’s hungry gaze. He trapped her between his arms and could hear her heartbeat quicken. He licked his bottom lip and leaned in to kiss her.

“You sneaky little devil!” Cole said, walking outside and interrupting their moment. “Shame on you, Alexander. I’m supposed to be the rebellious brother, not you. Let’s go. You can snog your girlfriend another day.”

“Cole!” Alexander said angrily. But Cole wrapped his hand around Alexander’s bicep and started pulling him away.

“Night, little thing. Make sure you wear that first outfit around the house more often, yea?” Cole smirked. Kiara merely shook her head with a chuckle.

~*~

After the night’s events had died down and people headed home, Kiara settled on the couch. She snacked on a bag of chips as she waited for Elijah and Nick to enter the room. She was confused as to why they sent the boys away so quickly instead of letting them stick around. She wondered what they had to talk to her about.

When they finally walked in, she noticed Marshala looked extremely anxious. Nick perched himself on the table in front of her while Elijah leaned against the wall. “You guys look like you’re about to drop a bomb-ass mixtape,” she joked. Elijah smirked as Nick looked her in the eye.

“Kiara, after what happened on campus, we’ve decided you need to be trained on self-defense,” Nick said. Kiara looked at him startled.

“We need to make sure that you can protect yourself,” Elijah added. “We only want what’s best for you.”

Kiara nibbled on her bottom lip and nodded. “Okay, that makes sense.”

“You’ll train in combat with Leo and Levi,” Nick said.

“And Cole and Alexander will teach you how to counteract the stealth and speed of vampires who are your biggest threat,” Elijah added.

“Is this in addition to my practicing magic,” she asked, looking at Marshala.

“Yes,” Marshala said. “That can never stop.”

“Y’all know I’m like... one person right? Exactly how am I supposed to do all of this while continuing my studies?” Kiara asked.

“This takes precedent, Kiara,” Marshala said. “But... we’ll work it out...”

“We can make it a practicum,” Nick added. “Add it to your course schedule: Survival 101.”

“That’s not funny, Nick,” Kiara said flatly.

“I wasn’t joking,” Nick smirked. “There will be a final exam.”

“A final exam?!” she said exasperated. “And if I fail?”

“Well, failure means death, Kiara,” Nick said to her.

Kiara looked up at him. “Guess I’ll die,” she shrugged.

“Kiara!” Marshala exclaimed.

“I’m joking, I’m joking,” Kiara chuckled. “Sorta...” She looked at both Elijah and Nick. “So... when do I have to start this... ‘Survival 101’?”

“Now,” Nick said. He stood to his feet and picked her up, carrying her over his shoulder.

“What the hell?!” Kiara screamed.

“Nicholas!” Marshala exclaimed.

“See you tomorrow, Shal,” Nick said, carrying Kiara out the door.

Marshala looked at Elijah incredulously. “Just... let us work, mon coeur...” Elijah said. He gave her a reassuring smile though he was still uncertain of Nick’s methods.

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