Hackers with(out) Remorse - (Book 4 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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40 - Take Me to Your River

“We’re live in downtown Manhattan at Chelsea Piers, just minutes away from the United States Navy’s most historical aircraft carrier... the U.S.S. Intrepid.

“But this historical relic wasn’t the only aircraft carrier in the vicinity. Nearly 20 aircraft carriers were housed in a large warehouse just near the coast, encompassing enough of the virus that has been plaguing New York to wipe out half the planet’s population.

“The damage down here in Chelsea Piers is rather significant. An explosion caused a power outage spanning across the entirety of lower Manhattan, leaving residents in complete darkness for over 5 hours.”

The camera cut to a man with two other guys talking to the reporter.

“It was freaking crazy, man! I mean you just heard tons of shooting like BANG BANG BANG like straight outta *beep* Godfather or some *beep*! It’s *beep* crazy! And then next thing you know BOOM!! Huge ass explosion just *beep* and the whole *beep* sky just lit the *beep* up! That was some crazy ass *beep* like *beep* * beep* *beep*”

The camera quickly spanned back to the awkward face of the reporter.

“And that’s just one pedestrian’s recount. Police have blocked off the entire area within a five-mile radius to keep the place quarantined. Hundreds of bodies were found dead in the aftermath of what the U.S. military is calling what could have potentially been an apocalyptic event. Among the deceased were found Kaya and Roger Peterson, twin children of the late Marie and Ronald Peterson.

“David Michaelson, son of the legendary scientists Thomas and Jessica Michaelson, was also among one of the deceased. He was said to be at the head of this entire operation involving the corrupt participation of over three dozen political officials.

“There is report of one lone survivor, Miles Schulz, who has been reported in critical condition after significant blood loss and body dismemberment. He was found barely alive and has been rushed to NYU’s emergency clinic. Police are hoping to talk to him upon his recovery.

“But what truly went on down here in Chelsea Piers? Inside sources have been looking into a mysterious file that was sent from the warehouse just moments before the explosion. The file contained information outlining the whole operation and who was involved including the 38 politicians involved in David Michaelson’s scheme. Sources believe that the one who sent the file to all news stations is also the one who stopped these deadly aircraft from taking off and wiping out half the planet.

“But just who are the heroes of this story? Who do we have to thank for stopping what could have been the most catastrophic event in the history of the world? More to come on Channel 9 News.”

~*~

Tyler’s knee anxiously bobbed up and down as he leaned over in the chair he sat on. His hands habitually clenched and released just to give them something to do. He looked around the grey, steel-plated room, busy with people in yellow biohazard suits moving to and fro.

“Sir, can you please follow me?” a medic in a yellow suit asked, walking up to him.

“Where’s Jason?” Tyler asked.

“Sir, if you can just-”

“Where the fuck is he?!” Tyler snapped.

“He’s in the next room over. Please, sir. It’s urgent that we check your vitals to make sure you were not affected by the radiation,” the medic said, motioning with their hand. Tyler’s jaw tensed as he reluctantly followed the medic to a room covered in white plastic. “On the table, please, sir,” they said, pointing to a metal table.

Tyler sat down on the table and looked around the tiny room shining with bright lights. There were several different instruments everywhere, and everyone but him was wearing a biohazard suit. “Please remove your shirt,” another medic requested, approaching with a needle. “We also need to take your blood.”

Tyler grumbled impatiently as he pulled his torn shirt over his head and tossed it on the floor. He had several cuts along his skin and face from all the glass that came flying his way during the explosion. He watched as the medic pushed the needle into his forearm and his blood started flowing. “When do I get to see Jason?” Tyler demanded. “You took him away from me and I-”

“Just a moment, sir, please,” the medic said as they removed the needle. “We need someone to tend to those wounds. Analysis on this sample stat.” Tyler watched as his blood sample switched from medic to medic before he was left alone. Another person entered the room and took out a first-aid kit. They went to touch his face when he slapped their hand out of the way.

“Sir-”

“I want to know what you motherfuckers did with my friend!” he snapped.

The medic looked at him before sighing in resignation and speaking into their radio. “Bring Patient JD24 to room 503, over.”

In a few moments, Tyler looked up to see Jason walking into the room. His clothes were torn, damp, and bloodied, but he was still in one piece. “Jason!” Tyler blurted.

“Fuck, Ty!” Jason rushed over to him and hugged him tightly. “You okay? You good? They didn’t hurt you?”

“Nah, I’m fine. I’m fine,” Tyler said quickly as he pulled back. Tears brimmed in his eyes as he looked at his best friend.

“Don’t you fucking cry, asshole!” Jason blurted. “Cause then I’m gonna cry, and I’m not ready for that shit!” Tyler chuckled as he pulled Jason in for another hug. The medic looked at them and checked her watch before quickly leaving them in the room by themselves.

~

Jason sat next to Tyler on the metal table and tried to comfort him. “I saw them take Owen into another room. His eyes were open. I know he’s okay,” Jason said.

Tyler breathed a sigh of relief. “And Tiana?” he asked, looking at Jason.

A bit of color drained from Jason’s face as he looked down. “I... haven’t seen her since the explosion. I tried looking for her body when we collapsed into the water, but... Fuck, I couldn’t find her.”

“Then that means she could still be there?!” Tyler blurted.

“There’s no fucking way,” Jason said. “They had to have found her.”

“We need to be sure,” Tyler said. He quickly got up and rushed to the door. “HEY! HEY!” Tyler shouted, banging on the glass. Two medics rushed into the room. “We need to get out of here,” Tyler said.

“I’m afraid we can’t release you without clearance, sir,” one of the medics said.

“Then get us fucking clearance!” Tyler blurted.

“We’re still waiting for your results,” the medic responded.

Tyler growled impatiently as Jason quickly stood up. “There was a girl,” Jason said. “Beautiful fucking black girl with long braids. She fell into the water. Did you find her?”

“We can’t give out any information right now,” the medic said.

“Bullfuckingshit,” Jason snapped. “You can’t fucking keep us in here and not tell us what the fuck is going on!”

The two medics exchanged tense, anxious looks until one of them spoke into their radio. “Status report on Patient JD24 and Patient TE25, over,” the medic said. Jason and Tyler waited impatiently, ready to knock someone out if it meant getting out of there.

“Patient JD24 all clear. Patient TE25 all clear, over,” a response came from the other end. The medic motioned with his hands, directing them to the exit.

Tyler immediately covered his eyes when the bright lights hit his face. “Shit,” he muttered.

The two of them looked around to see the place was extremely crowded with even more people in biohazard suits. “Just wait here,” one medic directed them to a bench.

They reluctantly sat down, feeling beyond lost. “I don’t even have a fucking phone on me to call Darren, Anna, or Joey,” Jason muttered as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Shit.”

Tyler couldn’t stop bobbing his knee as he impatiently waited for some sign of life from his brother and Tiana. He looked over at Jason who was eerily silent. His light blue eyes were glazed over as he stared at the floor. “J?” Tyler asked, trying to get his attention.

Jason barely moved as he swallowed hard. His thumbs played with each other. “I just... keep seeing her body...” Jason croaked. “Collapsing into the water, and I... I’m such a fucking idiot. I couldn’t catch her. I couldn’t find her. It’s all my fucking fault-”

“Stop,” Tyler said quickly. “It’s not your fault. We’re gonna find her. We’re gonna get through this. Like you said, they probably found her, and she’s being tended to right now. We just... gotta get the fuck out of here.” Tyler looked up as another medic approached them. “Are you letting us go now?” he asked impatiently.

“We have to dress your injuries,” the medic said, pulling out the first aid kit.

“Are you fucking serious?! I don’t give a shit about my damn injuries! I want to see my brother! Where the fuck is Tiana?!” Tyler said, standing to his feet.

“Sir, you need to calm-” the medic started when a few guys from security walked up.

“Calm down!” one of the security personnel ordered, pulling out a taser.

“DON’T TELL ME TO FUCKING CALM DOWN! YOU’VE KEPT US HERE FOR TOO FUCKING LONG!” Tyler shouted as he shoved the guy backward. One of the guards grabbed him, and Jason quickly snapped out of it as he stood to his feet and punched security in the face. A brawl soon broke out as four to five guys tried to hold an infuriated Tyler and Jason down.

“What’s going on here?”

Tyler and Jason followed the direction of the voice. They saw a man with neatly coiffed mid-length dark-brown hair that fell at the base of his neck and a nicely groomed dark beard. He wore black pants, a light blue sweater that matched his eyes, and a dark grey jacket that hung over his broad shoulders.

“Mr. Richardson, sir,” one of the medics said. “We were just-”

“That’s no way to treat the people who just helped save the world,” Chris said, motioning for security to let them go. He looked at the two angry young men in front of him. “You must be Tyler Evans and... Jason Davis,” Chris said, holding out his hand. “I’m Christopher Ri-”

“I know who the fuck you are,” Tyler said tensely. “I wanna see my brother. I wanna know what happened to our girl. Did you find her? Cause your fucking crew won’t tell us shit, and I’m-”

“Yes, we found her,” Chris said. “Tiana Morris. She’s in intensive care right now.”

Tyler immediately let out a relieved breath and nearly fell over as he grabbed Jason’s shoulder. “They found her,” Tyler said, gripping Jason tighter. “It’s okay, J. They found her.” Jason frantically nodded his head as he clutched his chest, unable to speak. For he had no words to express how he felt at that moment.

Chris looked at the two young men curiously when a woman in a suit and lab coat walked up to him with a clipboard. “Sir, I need you to sign for their clearance and release,” she said. Chris grabbed the clipboard and pen as he gave his signature. “And your brother is here,” she added.

Chris nodded and went to turn around when Tyler quickly grabbed his arm. “We need to see them,” Tyler said quickly.

“I get it,” Chris said. “Just... give me a minute. Nurse, can we have someone look at these guys’ injuries.”

“Yes, Mr. Richardson,” a nurse said as a few medics approached Tyler and Jason.

Tyler’s jaw tensed impatiently when Jason grabbed his arm. “Relax, Ty... Tiana is safe. Just think about that, okay?” Jason said, trying to rein in his own emotions. Tyler glared at Chris as Chris approached a man with long dark blonde hair tied up into a ponytail and a matching rugged blonde beard. He wore a black leather jacket and blue jeans.

“What’s with the rage monster,” Charlie asked, lifting a blonde brow. He looked over at the two guys who seemed to be vibrating with anger.

“He’s the kid who stopped Michaelson,” Chris said. “What you got for me?”

“Eh...” Charlie pulled out his phone and showed Chris pictures of the scene at Chelsea Piers. “The spill is fucking insane. We’re looking at a death toll of at least 150 people. If not from that damn missile that went off... these 2 guys and the kid back in the hospital.”

“Shit... that’s a massive clean-up,” Chris sighed as he looked at the pictures. “Can your guys handle it?”

“Course they can,” Charlie scoffed. “But look at these guys.” Charlie gestured to Tyler and Jason who were talking to each other in such a way that it seemed as if they were trying to keep the other calm. They were surrounded by several medics who seemed to be struggling just to give them a simple band-aid.

“Willing to bet they’ve never killed before, and they just massacred an entire Elite-level crew,” Charlie said. “Damn reporters already got their nosey fucking asses all up in this shit. They’ll eat these guys alive. They could be imprisoned. Or worse.”

“Can’t let that happen,” Chris said. “We owe these kids for what they did.”

“We’re not fucking kids, and we don’t need a damn medic!” Tyler said finally. He stood to his feet again and shoved the medic away from him. “Where the fuck are Owen and Tiana?!”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?” one of the nurses scoffed.

“I don’t give a shit!” Tyler snapped. “Either take us to them, or we’ll find them our damn selves!”

Chris and Charlie raised their brows in surprise and exchanged amused looks with each other. “Goddamn. He’s like a mini-you,” Chris chuckled.

“Shut the fuck up,” Charlie scoffed. “I’ll contact Gabs. You get Michael.”

~*~

Owen winced as he felt a surge of pain course through his body. The air felt cold against his skin. He tried to open his eyes, but the light above him was blinding. “T-Tiana... Tiana, baby, no... d-do-” Owen groaned out.

“Patient’s touch sensory is intact.”

Owen struggled to open his eyes and barely squinted as he saw several forms around him.

“Radiation analysis has come back clear, sir.”

“Update his vitals. Re-bandage that leg,” he heard a thick Irish-accented voice say.

Owen felt intense pressure against his thigh followed by a sharp painful sensation. He groaned in agony and finally opened his eyes to see himself surrounded by several people in medical lab coats. “Who are you?” he asked, startled. “Where’s Tiana?! Tiana! Tiana, baby, where are-”

Owen tried to get off the metal table he was lying on when several hands tried to hold him down. “GET OFF OF ME! WHERE’S TIANA?! WHERE THE FUCK IS SHE?!” Owen screamed angrily.

“Restrain him. I’ll give him a sedative.” Owen looked at the familiar man with red hair and a red beard who snapped on a glove before taking a syringe in his hand.

“NO! NO, LET ME GO! WHERE IS SHE? WHERE’S TIANA?!” Owen snarled. He felt the sharp pinch of a needle in his arm before his body grew tired.

“I need you to relax for just a moment, Mr. Evans,” Owen heard the man say again.

Owen lay back down as he took several deep breaths. He looked up at the red-bearded man who looked down at him concerned with blue-green eyes. “I... I know you,” Owen said, blinking at him.

The man looked at the doctors in the room. “Leave us.” He waited for the doctors to leave before he looked back at Owen. “My name is Michael Beaumont of-”

“Beaumont-Richardson Clinic... yeah, that’s what I thought,” Owen groaned.

“You suffered quite a few significant injuries, Mr. Evans,” Michael said. “Quite frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t die from blood loss and infection alone. With your shoulder, the stab wound to your thigh, and a few broken ribs-”

“I don’t give a fuck about what’s wrong with me. I wanna know what happened to my girl,” Owen said quickly. “Where is she? Please tell me she’s okay.” Michael furrowed his brows at Owen with concern. “I need to see her, please,” Owen said desperately. Michael twisted his mouth with uncertainty when he felt his phone buzz. “Hello?!” Owen said impatiently.

“I think there’s someone else you may want to see first,” Michael said, heading to the door.

Owen struggled to sit up as he watched Michael open the door. Jason and Tyler came barging inside. “OWEN! Holy fuck!” Jason shouted, tackling Owen. Owen fell back on the bed as both Jason and Tyler scooped him up in their arms.

“Look at you, you fucking psycho,” Tyler chuckled as he ruffled Owen’s hair.

“Says the one with the flying kicks,” Owen grinned.

“Bitch thinks he’s Bruce Lee,” Jason laughed.

“He wishes,” Owen snickered.

“Fuck you guys!” Tyler said, punching Jason in the shoulder.

Michael watched from the side as their laughter quickly transitioned to emotional hugging. A small smile teased the corners of his mouth when he heard someone clear their throat. He looked at the door and saw Chris motioning him over. Michael quietly walked towards him. “Hey. He okay?” Chris asked, peeking in.

“He will live,” Michael said, looking at the three guys. “I’ve not seen a bond like this before... Not since-”

“Us?” Chris smirked. Michael looked at Chris and smiled.

“And you know what happened to us when Gabs almost died...”

Michael and Chris glanced over at Charlie approaching them. Their smiles faltered when they saw the grim look on Charlie’s face. “I just heard back from Gabs,” Charlie said. “About their girl... It’s... it’s not good...”

“What’s not good?”

Charlie looked up to see Jason walking towards them as Tyler and Owen stared at them with concern. “What’s going on?” Jason asked. “Is it about Tiana? Is she okay? When can we see her?”

Chris looked at Charlie who spoke to him with his eyes. Chris swallowed hard when he understood his brother’s gaze. “I... think we should talk...” Chris said to them.

~*~

“David Michaelson is the nephew of the head of the Elite Council,” Michael said, sitting back in a chair in a small private room. “I knew he looked familiar when you broke into my building and compromised my security.”

“We needed help somehow,” Jason said defensively as he glanced at Owen and Tyler next to him.

“Yes, and by breaking into our security, you gave him exactly what he needed to try to achieve this high-level threat,” Michael sighed as he looked at Charlie and Chris annoyed.

“Well, maybe if you guys weren’t so goddamn secretive all the time and actually gave Tiana the time of day, we wouldn’t have had to. I mean she is one of your employees!” Owen snapped.

“Listen, kid, we run an actual operation here, okay? We’re not just some off-the-grid vigilante group,” Chris said annoyed.

“Who the fuck are you calling a kid?!” Tyler snapped.

“I mean you kinda ar-” Charlie started.

“Alright! Sorry. When you’re in the business as long as we are, everyone else comes off as a kid. That being said. Arthur told us about your skills, and we appreciate the work you’ve already done for us. But hacking into our security system was the wrong move, no matter which way you look at it,” Chris argued.

“That’s bullshit. And as far as we’re concerned, this is all your faults,” Tyler said.

“Come the fuck again?” Charlie snapped.

“David got control of BioPharma Tech under your management. All that shit tanked when you fucked up Lionel Reed and either desecrated or acquired all of his subsidiaries. He saw the weak spot, and he took it. How in the hell you gonna call yourselves ‘Elite’ when you allow that kind of mess to happen under your supervision?” Owen asked.

“Alright, listen you little teeny bopper. The stakes were high, and there wasn’t exactly a lot of time for ‘forecasting’ when we planned on killing the son of a bitch,” Charlie said annoyed. “We were trying to save our wife.”

“Then you would understand why we did what we did to save ours,” Tyler said matter-of-factly.

“You guys are married?” Chris asked, surprised.

“What??” Tyler said startled. “Ew. Pfft. No.”

“Why you gotta say it like that?!” Jason snapped at Tyler.

“Say what like what?” Tyler asked, confused.

“Yea, Ty, what the fuck,” Owen scoffed. “How do you say ‘ew’ at the thought of marrying Tiana, bro?! You got something to tell us?”

“That’s not what I meant!” Tyler said defensively. “And we never even discussed that!”

“Not yet-” Jason started.

“So, in essence... you’re not married,” Michael abruptly interrupted.

Tyler looked at Michael. “She’s our girl. That’s all that fucking matters.”

“... all three of you?” Charlie asked.

“Yea, what of it?” Jason said, defensively. He looked around, and it clicked. “Oh... oh this is fucking weird.”

“The irony,” Chris smirked.

“In any case,” Michael said, clearing his throat. “We’re thankful for your sacrifice. We accept responsibility and will cover full damages and medical bills including for your father and sister Chuck and Mikayla Davis.” Jason looked at Michael startled, surprised by the generous offer.

“Arthur told us about your mother,” Chris added, looking at Tyler and Owen. “We know the best lawyer money has to buy. Her name is Tanya Johansson. She has already gotten your mother a retrial and will be representing her.”

“Wow- that’s...” Owen shook his head. “You guys don’t have to do all that.”

“It’s the least we can do,” Chris said.

“I really wanna be excited about this,” Tyler said. “But why do I feel like you’re saying all this to distract us from something else?”

Charlie swallowed hard and glanced at Michael and Chris. “Don’t do that. Don’t fucking do that,” Owen said quickly. “Is something wrong with Tiana? Tell us what’s going on! When will we see her?!”

Michael let out a deep breath. “I’m afraid Ms. Morris has severe radiation poisoning... She’s currently in her own quarantine in intensive care,” he said remorsefully.

Owen felt all the air leave his lungs as he looked at Michael in shock. The color immediately drained from Jason’s face as he felt his stomach hollow. And Tyler vehemently shook his head as if he refused to believe what he just heard. “No, no that- that can’t be right. She-” Tyler took deep breaths as he tried to find his words. “..h-.how... how bad is it?”

“It’s hard to say,” Chris sighed. “She hasn’t... woken up yet...”

Owen felt hot tears sting his eyes as he remained in shock. He felt Tyler grab onto him as if he needed him for support. “Where is she?” Jason asked abruptly. “We need to see her. We need to see her now.”

“That’s-” Michael started.

“I don’t care what the fuck you have to do to make it happen! Just let us fucking see her!” Jason snarled.

~*~

Tiana shivered as she felt a cold breeze blow over her skin. She tried to move, but her body felt beyond exhausted. Her muscles were almost brittle. Her ears twitched as a light melody floated in the air. She immediately recognized it to be Beyoncé’s song ‘Sandcastles.’ She slowly fluttered her eyes open to an empty white room. She lay on a soft white bed that reflected the bright light shining above her. The room was empty except for one person sitting in the corner scribbling on a notepad.

“...Gabrielle?”

Gabrielle quickly looked up before a bright smile painted her beautiful face. She quickly turned down the music and walked up to Tiana. “There she is,” Gabrielle smiled. “Black girl magic. In the flesh.”

Tiana chuckled. “Are you playing Beyoncé?”

“I heard you were a huge fan,” Gabrielle smiled. “I wanted to play something that might be soothing. I love this album of hers. It’s my favorite. She’s just so raw. So-”

“Real,” Tiana finished with a smile. “It was a love song and gift to black women. God, this album was beyond dope.”

“We are... kindred spirits, my friend,” Gabrielle said softly. “I’m so glad you’re awake. I kept praying that...”

Tiana looked closer at Gabrielle as she trailed off. She noticed that her cheeks were stained with tears. “Were you crying?” Tiana asked.

Gabrielle shook her head helplessly as another tear escaped her eyes. “I just really needed you to wake up.”

Tiana didn’t understand the emotion behind Gabrielle’s words. She quickly looked around as she tried to sit up. “What happened? Are the guys okay?”

“Don’t move too quickly,” Gabrielle said, supporting her. She grabbed the pillow and fluffed it behind Tiana’s back. “Your men are safe. Everyone is safe... thanks to you.” Tiana noted the shimmer in Gabrielle’s gaze as she grabbed her weak hand. “You saved everyone, Tiana. You stopped that missile, and... my god, you’re a hero.”

“I’m honestly surprised I’m still alive,” Tiana said, resting her head back. “I feel so... weak...”

“I treated you for a gunshot wound,” Gabrielle said. “Ran an IV to flush the drugs out of your system. You had several fractured ribs and quite a bit of bruising.”

Tiana quickly looked at Gabrielle. “I need to take a pregnancy test and-”

There was a sad look in Gabrielle’s eyes as she gently squeezed Tiana’s hand. “I tested for that too... You’re not pregnant...” Tiana breathed a sigh of relief as she dropped her head back against the pillow. She wondered why Gabrielle’s grip on her hand was so desperately tight. “I’ve been in your shoes before... I get it...”

Tiana turned her head and caught the emotional look on Gabrielle’s face. “I have a therapist on call for you,” Gabrielle said. “To help you get through this. I’ll set up your first appointment, and they’ll be available on-demand any time after that. And... you have me...”

Tiana looked at Gabrielle and gave her a sad smile. “Thank you…” Gabrielle nodded and let go of her hand as she went to grab her clipboard. “Can I see the guys?” Tiana asked. Gabrielle stopped in her tracks. “Honestly, I thought they’d be here the moment I woke up,” she chuckled. “But they were probably hurt too.”

“They were in quarantine,” Gabrielle said, not looking at her. “I believe they were just released.”

“Great, so I can see them,” Tiana said excitedly. “God, I miss them so much. Do you know how long till they get here? Or you know what, don’t bother. I can just get up and-”

Tiana struggled to get out of bed, but she felt incredibly weak and sore just trying to move. Gabrielle turned around and touched Tiana’s arm, directing her to lay back down. “Please lie down, Tiana...”

Tiana looked at her confused. “Am I missing something?”

“Tiana...” Gabrielle breathed out. “When your body was recovered, you were in... really bad shape.”

Tiana furrowed her brow. “I still have all my limbs so it can’t have been that bad.”

“...You got the brunt of the radiation,” Gabrielle struggled to speak. Tiana swallowed hard, unsure if she wanted to hear the rest of what Gabrielle had to say. “Your... your white blood cell count increased exponentially and...”

Gabrielle’s voice soon became muffled. Tiana wasn’t sure she was hearing her correctly or at all. All the blood rushing to her head was making her head spin. “I’m... I’m sorry, I don’t-” Tiana said, anxiously. Her tongue felt dry and her throat constricted.

She saw Gabrielle’s lips move. “...cancer is one of the most...”

Tiana didn’t hear the rest of what Gabrielle said. Her heart beat so fast in her chest she could practically feel it slamming against her rib cage. “I... I have c-cancer?” Tiana asked, looking at her with disbelief.

“I’m s-still waiting for the results with final a-nalys-sis...” Gabrielle stammered. Tiana could tell Gabrielle was struggling to speak and keep it together. But there were full-blown tears streaming down her face.

Gabrielle had been used to giving people bad news when it came to their health. It was something she hated doing, but she was a professional and it became part of her job to say those fated words.

But with Tiana it was different. It was personal. It was heartbreaking.

“T-Tiana?” Gabrielle said, trying to choke back a sob. “Are you still with me?”

Tiana looked from a spot on the floor that she had zoned out on until she looked at Gabrielle and saw the heavy brokenness in her eyes. “Does this mean I’m gonna turn into a mutant?” she tried to joke. “Cause I’m so ready for that shit. I’ve always wanted to be an X-man. Oh god, just don’t give me Toad’s powers. He’s literally the worst with them unhygienic ass powers. Stan Lee fucked him over with that one.”

Gabrielle let out a half chuckle half sob as she grabbed both of Tiana’s hands. “I swear you’re a woman after my own heart,” Gabrielle said before she started crying.

“Hey... Hey, it’s okay,” Tiana said, trying to comfort her.

“No, it’s not,” Gabrielle said, shaking her head. “Nothing about this is okay. I’m so sorry, Tiana. I-... God, I’m supposed to be comforting you! What is wrong with me?!”

Tiana gave her a sad smile. She had heard about how empathetic the famous doctor was and here she got to experience it firsthand. It made her feel warm and loved. “Come here, sis,” Tiana said as a tear slipped down her cheek. She pulled Gabrielle into her arms, and the two women hugged each other tightly as they cried together.

~*~

Tyler’s foot tapped impatiently. His hands were permanently in his hair as he paced the corridor with heavy anxiety. Jason was crouched down on the floor with his head in his hands. Not a word escaped his lips. Owen impatiently ripped the IV out of his arm as he tried to get up from the wheelchair.

“Sir,” one of the nurses said.

“I’m fucking fine!” Owen snapped. The nurse glanced at Chris standing to the side with Charlie and Michael. Chris subtly waved his hand, indicating for her to leave him alone. The men had been waiting in the small, dark corridor for Gabrielle to emerge. Tiana had been placed in a private room away from the rest of the hospital where Gabrielle was personally treating her.

Tyler quickly came to Owen’s side as Owen struggled to stand to his feet. They quickly looked up once Gabrielle finally emerged from the room. She looked from her husbands standing to the side to the three disheveled men staring at her with fear and anxiety in their eyes. “You must be Owen, Tyler, and Jason,” she said, walking up to them.

“How is she?” Owen blurted abruptly. “Is she okay?”

“Her health is rapidly deteriorating. Her white blood cell count is... generating at a significant rate. We’re doing what we can to keep it controlled,” Gabrielle explained.

“Can you fix her?” Jason asked anxiously. “Can you make her better? What do we need to do?”

Gabrielle looked over at her husbands who tried to give her a comforting look. Charlie looked rather tense while Chris and Michael seemed heartbroken for her. She swallowed hard and looked back at the boys in front of her. “I’m... I’m so sorry...” she choked out.

“What the fuck does that mean?!” Tyler snapped.

Gabrielle shook her head, trying to hold back her tears. “She has a month… maybe two... tops...”

Owen’s mouth dropped open as he felt a gush of hopelessness and angst build up inside him like bile. Jason stumbled backward and fell into one of the chairs with disbelief. Tyler vehemently shook his head. “No. No, no, no, no, no. Fucking hell no.”

“I’m so sorry,” Gabrielle said, shaking her head as she anxiously clasped her hands together. “I promise I’ll do everything I can t-to-”

“We need to see her,” Owen croaked abruptly. “Please, we... we need to see her now.”

~*~

Tiana looked down at her fingers that were raw, sore, and discolored. She wondered if it was because of the radiation. She wondered if this was physical proof that she was dying. “I did it, D...” she said softly as she pulled at her weak fingers.

She tried to blink the tears out of her eyes and quickly swallowed down a sob. She heard the news on the small TV screen above the desk in front of her bed. Leaning over to grab the remote, she turned up the volume to listen to what was being said.

“As you can see, there’s been a lot of excitement here at NYU Hospital as patients are literally dancing in the ER. And they’re not the only ones. Similar reports are coming from New York-Presbyterian, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and hundreds of other hospitals in the Northeast.

“There’s been a groundbreaking development by the CDC. They’ve stated that not only has a cure for those who were infected by the once incurable and deadly virus been developed but also a vaccine to prevent others from being infected. The development of this cure and vaccine comes from young local medical expert Kiara LaFleur from Boston, Massachusetts. She was recently hired by Dr. Gabrielle Beaumont-Richardson as Lead Medical Practitioner overseeing the Rare Diseases and Medicinal Division.

“And if that weren’t exciting enough, Dr. Gabrielle Beaumont-Richardson recently made a statement that the vaccine developed by her team will be made available to everyone around the world... free of charge.”

“Goddamn, that’s badass,” Tiana smirked. “Way to piss off Big Pharma, Gabs.”

“Several pharmaceutical companies have tried negotiating with the doctor to reconsider her decision. But talks have been put on hold as the B-R Foundation continues to help manage the catastrophic events that happened at Chelsea Piers.”

Tiana suddenly lost her smile as she was reminded of everything that happened. She thought about her mom, Anna and Darren, and felt her heart ache. She thought about Tyler, Jason, and Owen and the pain only worsened. “Father God,” she said, putting her face in her hands. “I know it’s been a minute since I’ve spoken to you, but... please... please take this pain in my heart away... I can’t...”

She heard the door open and immediately looked up. The minute she saw them walk through the door, she felt like her heart was going to explode. “Guys?” she said weakly.

“Oh god, T!” Owen said, rushing into the room which was more like a hobble considering he was still recovering from his injuries.

“Baby girl!” Jason blurted. He nearly tripped over himself to get to her. He got to her first and immediately took her face between his hands. He kissed her with such deep emotional intensity that she shivered beneath him. She tried to catch her breath when Jason finally let her go and felt Owen grab her hand. She looked over at him, settled next to her and saw his big blue eyes filled to the brim with tears.

“Owen-” she started, not even sure what she could say. But he solved that problem for her as he leaned down and gently tilted her head back. He kissed her with such loving tenderness it made her want to cry. She could feel the sadness and desperation in his kiss that left her at a loss for words.

“You’re okay,” Owen said when he finally pulled back. “You’re okay, baby.”

Tiana smiled at him and nodded. “I’m okay. We’re okay.”

Tiana felt a cold shiver and goosebumps form on her skin when her eyes switched over to Tyler standing at the foot of the bed. His jaw was tense with anger and his chestnut brown eyes were constricted. “...Tyler?” she asked.

“Why don’t you ever fucking listen?!” Tyler barked at her. “You never listen, Tiana! You never fucking listen! And now this-”

“Ty, the fuck!” Jason said, roughly grabbing his arm. “What is wrong with you!?”

Tiana locked eyes with Tyler and could see the heartbreak and fear in his eyes. He looked as if he was just barely keeping it together. “He’s just upset,” Owen said, glaring at his brother annoyed. “Ty, back the fuck off-”

“Yea, I’m fucking upset!” Tyler snarled. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” Tiana looked at Tyler startled as he walked to the side of the bed. “This shouldn’t have fucking happened,” he said, leaning on the bed and looking her in the eye. “You weren’t supposed to leave us. You can’t- you can’t fucking leave me-”

Tyler couldn’t finish his sentence before he broke down. He fell to his knees as his hands anxiously clutched her thigh through the bedsheets. Tiana had a hard time breathing as every sob she heard from Tyler made her chest throb in agony. “T-Tyler, please...” Tiana said, trying not to cry.

Tyler had never felt a pain like this before. It was traumatic. He wanted to stop crying, but each sob came one after the other without pause. He felt a hand on his shoulder before Jason knelt down on the ground next to him.

“I know, man, I know,” Jason whispered in his ear as he clutched his shoulder. His voice was just as broken as his heart. “I know it fucking hurts, but...I need you to be strong for our girl right now, okay bro? Please...”

Tiana looked at Owen whose blue eyes were staring right back at her. He tried to give her a comforting smile, but she could tell he was internally falling apart. “I love you, baby,” Owen said, swallowing hard as he squeezed her hand.

“I love you too, O...”

She felt the bed move before she saw Tyler stand to his feet with Jason’s help. His face was red and his eyes were bloodshot but his hand was still firmly on her thigh. “...Tyler..?” she said hesitantly. “Are you-”

Tyler leaned down to her and desperately pushed his lips against hers. She felt him grab her face between his large warm hands. She could taste salt on his lips and felt his tears splash on her cheeks. He had never kissed her like this before. “I’m sorry,” he said against her lips. “I’m s-so sorry, baby...” He rested his forehead against hers, taking a slow breath before he pulled back.

Tiana swallowed hard as she looked at the three of them. “You guys were supposed to come in here laughing and smiling and making me feel better,” she chuckled with a sob. “Y’all failed so hard.”

“Sorry, T,” Owen said. “We’re just... we’re so fucking relieved to see you. After everything that’s happened...”

Tiana shook her head. “I’m so sorry about Anna and Darren. I tried to-”

“They’re okay,” Jason said quickly. “They’re alive and well. Don’t worry.”

Tiana looked at him bug-eyed before she loudly exhaled. “Holy fucking shit,” she gasped. “Oh, thank God.” She covered her face with her hands and tried to control her breathing. “Dying from cancer doesn’t seem that bad anymore,” she laughed.

“How can you say that?!” Tyler blurted. Jason and Owen gave him an annoyed look as Tiana shook her head.

“Seriously, it’s okay,” she said, grabbing Tyler’s hand. “Honestly, I could have just died. You know that, right? I shouldn’t even be here.” Tyler swallowed hard as he looked from Tiana’s hand holding his, to her eyes. “But I am,” she said. “I’m with you right now. And I may have like... 6 weeks or whatever Gabrielle said, but that’s so much better than nothing, right?”

Tyler struggled to speak. He wanted to smile for her and agree and give her hope. He wanted to be the strength and support she needed. But he couldn’t. Not when his heart was breaking. Not when he felt like his world was spiraling into darkness again.

“Right,” Owen said, grasping her thigh as he tried to muster a smile. “We still have you now. Right, Jason?”

Jason had never had more difficulty in his life than trying to mask his true emotions at that moment. He wanted to scream out loud. He wanted to punch the wall until his fingers bled or the wall broke, whichever came first. But with the way his woman looked at him with those big hopeful and desperate chocolate eyes he fell in love with...

“R-right...” Jason croaked as the corners of his mouth turned up into a pathetic smile.

Tiana could tell that the words escaping their lips did not match how they truly felt. But Owen and Jason were doing a far better job than Tyler. “Come on, guys, it’s not that bad,” she said, trying to sit up. “Oh! You know what this reminds me of? That movie with Queen Latifah. It was so good! What was it called again…? Where she had like three days or three weeks or whatever to live... What was it called again? Owen, you saw it with me.”

“...Last Holiday...” Owen said weakly.

“Right!” Tiana said, snapping her fingers. “Last Holiday! Even though it had a nicer ending, but whatever. We should just go out and do a ton of shit, you know? I don’t wanna spend my last weeks alive like... in this damn bed. We should go do some stuff. Make a bucket list. I’ve always wanted to go to Kenya. Oh and Brazil. New Zealand maybe so I can dance with the hobbits. Bro, I’ve always wanted to meet Beyoncé. You think these fancy-ass Richardsons got the connects for me to meet Beyoncé? Cause ON GOD that is totally my dying wish. Just sing to me, Queen Bey! I’ll die happy!”

Owen couldn’t help but laugh. He raised Tiana’s hand to his lips and kissed the back of it. “Never change, T,” he smiled at her.

“Okay, but I’m deadass,” she said. “I don’t want you guys mourning over me like I’m already dead. Okay? I wanna get the hell out of here.”

The guys exchanged looks, making a non-verbal agreement with their eyes. Tyler let out a deep breath. “I’ll go get the doctor. Let’s get you the fuck out of here.”

~*~

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