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

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43 - I Can't Go on without You

“Remember when you embarrassed the fuck out of yourself by challenging me to a race?”

“Motherfucker, I won that race.”

“Oh, here we go,” Tyler smirked as he rolled his eyes.

“Don’t roll your little eyes at me. You know good and well I wiped the floor with your ass,” Leo snickered as he took a sip from his beer.

“It was best 2 out of 3,” Tyler scoffed.

“Ya! I won 2 out of 3!”

“You must be suffering from some sort of amnesia, Leo,” Tyler mocked.

“And I think you’ve been boxing too much, Evans. Knocked a couple of screws loose,” Leo chuckled, playfully punching his chin.

“Asshole,” Tyler grinned as he finished his beer. He leaned over the railing of an old bar in downtown Manhattan. While the women stayed at his loft with Tiana for a girls’ night only slumber party, the guys went out to a local bar for some drinks.

Tyler felt helpless as Tiana’s health continued to deteriorate. Watching his woman transform from the jokester that always got on his nerves to a shell of a person who feared her uncertain death was more than he could bear.

Owen’s plan to invite all of her friends was probably their biggest highlight. They had never seen her so happy. As much as they wanted to be there to support and comfort her, it was clear what she needed was the love and support of her sisters.

“I heard you got her a bike,” Leo said, breaking Tyler out of his thoughts.

Tyler nodded. “Yea...”

“You gonna teach her to ride?”

“With what time?” Tyler muttered.

“Tyler...”

Tyler looked at Leo and sighed. “Sorry... I just...”

“I get it,” Leo said, putting his hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “Celebrate her now. Don’t speak as if she’s already... gone.”

“You sound like Jason,” Tyler scoffed.

“Clearly he’s a smart motherfucker,” Leo grinned.

Tyler rolled his eyes as he swung his empty beer bottle between his fingertips. “I just... I’m not ready to lose her, Leo... I can’t... And the thought of it makes me physically ill. I... I’ve never loved someone the way I love her. I wish I could trade places with her. She doesn’t deserve this,” Tyler said, rubbing his hand over his face. He had promised himself he wouldn’t cry anymore, but just the thought of losing his girl already sent him to the edge. “Fuck, I said I wasn’t gonna cry,” Tyler muttered.

“There’s nothing wrong with crying,” Leo said.

“I’m tired of crying,” Tyler said irritably.

“Okay...” Leo said, resting his elbows on the railing. He looked out over the city. “Tell me about her.”

“What?”

“Like how you met,” Leo probed.

“Um...” Tyler said. “We sorta... kidnapped her.”

Leo immediately spat out his drink. “I’m sorry, what?” he asked, startled.

“So… what happened was...” Tyler started.

“We wouldn’t have had to kidnap her if some people had just stuck to our original plan.”

Leo and Tyler looked over their shoulders back at the bar and saw Owen walk out, holding two beers. “Refill?” Owen asked, handing one to Tyler.

“Thanks,” Tyler said, taking it. “Got too crazy in there with Jason?”

“It’s always crazy with J,” Owen smirked. “I just needed some fresh air.”

“Don’t try to change the subject,” Leo blurted. “What do you mean you guys kidnapped her?!”

Tyler and Owen exchanged looks. “You know those guys you heard about on the news that tried to eradicate like half the planet like they were Thanos or some shit?” Owen asked.

“Uh...” Leo said.

“Yea, we were trying to protect her from them,” Owen sighed. “Which we failed hard at.”

“So fucking hard,” Tyler grumbled. “I mean the son of a bitch fucking raped-”

“Okay, take it back a little,” Leo said, butting in. “You dwell on that shit, and it’s going to eat you alive. Talk to me about the good times.”

“...the good times...?” Tyler frowned.

“Like how the fuck did she agree to date all three of you, especially after you kidnapped her?” Leo asked.

“Well, Owen was already in love with her, and she was head over heels for him,” Tyler said. “Jason was a persistent little bastard.”

“Why am I not surprised,” Leo smirked.

“And Ty was a stubborn little shit,” Owen grinned as he leaned back against the railing. “Always angry. Always arguing.”

“Owen...” Tyler muttered.

“They hated each other,” Owen continued. “Until he got a taste of that sweet pussy, and he was never the same again.”

“I swear I can’t stand you,” Tyler said, giving his brother the side-eye as Leo laughed out loud.

“Didn’t I tell you?” Leo snickered. “Didn’t I say all you needed was a good woman?”

“Yea, yea,” Tyler said, rolling his eyes as he sipped on his beer.

“My brother was like... a stubborn mule,” Owen continued. “And Tiana managed to tame him.”

“Owen-” Tyler groaned.

“You mean he was a donkey,” Leo teased. “A jackass who needed a good and proper fuck to calm his ass down?”

“Seriously, Leo?” Tyler snapped.

“Yea, he was a real Neanderthal who could only emote one emotion-” Owen continued.

“Are you motherfuckers done?!” Tyler snapped as both Leo and Owen laughed out loud. “Assholes,” he muttered.

“Be real, Ty,” Owen grinned, putting his hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “You gave our girl a hard time... for nooooo fucking reason. Like I don’t even know how she put up with you.”

“Yea, well, she was no fucking walk in the park either,” Tyler snapped.

“Here we go,” Leo smirked. “You got more excuses for me, Evans? This is starting to sound like you trying to twist the results of that race again.”

“You know what? Fuck you, Leo,” Tyler scoffed as Leo threw his head back laughing.

“Where’s Alex?” Owen asked.

“He went to go visit Chris,” Leo said, running his fingers through his hair. “They go way back.”

“You guys seem so different from each other,” Owen said. “Alex comes off as... quieter... more demure...”

“More mature,” Tyler smirked. “Whereas you’re a rowdy, obnoxious, loud asshole.”

“Fuck off,” Leo grinned. He looked up at the sky and smiled. “Alexander’s like... another part of me. We’re connected. Bonded. Don’t really know any other way to explain it in your language.”

Our language?” Tyler said, confused. “We’re speaking English here, Leo.”

Leo raised a brow before he smirked. “Right...”

“It’s cool. We get it,” Owen said. “It’s kind of the same with Jason, Ty, and I.”

“So, how exactly did you guys agree to share her?” Leo asked.

Tyler and Owen grinned at each other. “Jason,” they both said at the same time.

~

“CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! YEEEEEAAAAAA!!! THAT’S MY BOY!” Jason said, clapping his hands.

“Oh god!” Jeremy choked out as he slammed the large empty beer glass on the table. “Wow, that was a lot of beer! Holy shit!”

“Think you just grew some MAN hair on that baby soft chest of yours! Yea!” Jason cheered. He slapped Jeremy hard on the back, and the poor boy nearly stumbled off of the bar stool.

“Did I do good?” Jeremy asked.

“Fuck yea! You did real good! Fucking proud of you, bro!” Jason said, chest-bumping his little brother.

Peter looked at Jeremy and Jason like they were two monkeys in a zoo flinging poop at each other. Jeremy coughed as he hit his chest. “...Are you alright, Jeremy?” Peter asked with concern.

“Yea, yea, I’m good,” Jeremy said, trying to catch his breath. He looked at Peter rather dazed. “Were those spots always there? There’s like... a bunch of spots floating around your head. You see them?”

“Bartender!” Jason shouted. “Another round.”

“Isn’t the legal age for drinking alcohol like... 21 in New York?” Jeremy asked.

“So?” Jason shrugged. “I had my first beer at 15.”

“That explains quite a lot...” Peter said condescendingly. Jeremy gave him a sideways look.

“Be nice,” Jeremy smirked as he teasingly squeezed Peter’s thigh.

“So, how long has this been going on?” Jason asked, pointing between the two of them. He leaned over on the table and sipped from another beer bottle.

“Over a year now,” Jeremy smiled as he looked at Peter. “Peter and I met at school. He was lost, grumpy, and adorable.”

“Good grief, Jeremy,” Peter groaned.

“Lookin’ like a real shnack,” Jeremy teased.

“Please stop,” Peter grumbled.

“And then I swooped in to save the day and changed his life forever,” Jeremy grinned.

Peter smirked. “And Sasha was there.”

“Right, right, Sasha was there. But I was his first kiss so booyah!” Jeremy said, pretending to drop a mic.

“You’re embarrassing,” Peter said, shaking his head with a grin.

“Meh, you love it,” Jeremy smirked. He leaned over and kissed Peter softly on the neck.

“That’s the cutest fucking shit I’ve ever seen,” Jason grinned, tracing his finger on the rim of his bottle. “How old are you, Peter? You look kinda young.”

“Around two hundred eighty-” Peter started.

“19!” Jeremy blurted. “He’s 19!”

Jason looked at Jeremy startled as Peter rolled his eyes in annoyance. “19, huh,” Jason said. “You look younger.”

“Not everyone can be as buff as you, Jason,” Jeremy smirked.

“Oh what? Please. I wasn’t born with these babies, I had to work for ’em,” Jason said, kissing his biceps. “Spend a couple of weeks in the gym with me, and I’ll make you fit enough to take on a badass like Chris Richardson.”

“Mmm...” Jeremy grinned. “I’d like to take him on in a different way-OW!” Jeremy shrieked as he rubbed his arm. “Peter!”

“Watch it...” Peter said with warning as he rubbed his fingers together.

“You can get in on this too, Peter,” Jason said. “Couple of rounds with me, and you’ll be lifting like a pro.”

“Thank you, but I’m not interested in your dull mortal Neanderthal activities,” Peter said dismissively.

“I... feel like I was just insulted... but with high sophistication,” Jason said confused.

“You could have just said ‘no’,” Jeremy whispered to Peter before he looked at Jason. “Peter is actually a lot stronger than he looks,” he said, winking at Peter who rolled his eyes amused. “Never judge a book by its cover.”

“So true,” Jason said, resting his hands behind his head. “Most people think I’m some dumb jock who’s obsessed with sex. When the truth is... I’m a genius jock who’s obsessed with having sex... with Tiana. Very stark difference.”

Jeremy chuckled amused. “You say that with such pride.”

Jason shrugged. “I won’t apologize for how I am. Life’s too... short...”

Jeremy noted the drastic shift in his brother’s demeanor. He remembered that the whole point of taking Jason and his friends out was to get their mind off of how depressed they were over Tiana. “Tell me about your dad,” he said quickly. “Is he as funny as you?”

“Ah, Chuck?” Jason laughed. “Nah, pops is funnier. Way funnier than my lame ass. And he’s so fucking smooth. A real sweet guy. Pops is the type of guy that everyone knew, ya know? Always helpful. Heart of gold. I mean... he has his problems, but fuck if we all don’t, right?”

Jeremy nodded fondly. “He sounds like a great guy.”

“He is,” Jason smiled proudly. “You’d fucking love him. And he’d love the shit out of a cool guy like you.”

“Really?” Jeremy said. “But... I’m... a product of his ex-wife’s infidelity.”

“So, you’re just not saying ‘mom’ anymore?” Jason laughed.

“She doesn’t really deserve that title...” Jeremy sighed.

Jason gave Jeremy a rueful smile. “My pops doesn’t care about that shit. You’re family. I mean he practically raised Ty and Owen-” Jason stopped himself as he rubbed his chin. “-when he was sober.” Peter scrunched his brows with confusion. “Honestly, when he’s sober, he’s the funniest guy ever. Have you cracking up for days. Take my jokes and multiply it by ten,” Jason snickered.

“Bloody hell...” Peter muttered.

“Nice!” Jeremy laughed. “I can’t wait to meet him!”

“We’ll make a day out of it,” Jason winked when suddenly his phone went off. He checked to see a picture message from Tiana with Sasha and Kiara. He smiled fondly and held the phone up for Jeremy and Peter to see. “Look at this cute ass shit,” Jason grinned.

“Aww,” Jeremy smiled.

“Thanks for bringing your girl to cheer Tiana up,” Jason said. “And for... distracting me from how much this fucking hurts...”

Jeremy and Peter gave Jason a sympathetic smile as Jeremy comfortingly gripped Jason’s shoulder. “Anytime, big brother,” he said warmly.

~*~

“Kiara, you really gotta stop crying, girl. Cause now I’mma feel bad that I made a pregnant woman cry.”

“I’m sorry,” Kiara said, trying to wipe the tears from her face. “I can’t help it. I think it’s just the pregnancy hormones.” Tiana leaned back against the foot of her bed as she felt Kiara’s tears splash on her forehead from above. Kiara had been putting the finishing touches on her hair after Shae angrily stormed out of the house with Ava chasing after her. “I just... I wish I could have done more to help you...” Kiara said sorrowfully as she braided Tiana’s hair.

“You did,” Tiana said. She rested her arm on Kiara’s knee as she sat on the floor between her legs. “That number you told me before...0821. Those were the exact digits I needed to set off the self-destruct system.”

Kiara paused from doing Tiana’s hair and looked at her in the mirror. “Seriously?” she asked.

“Yea, sis,” Tiana smiled. “So, you basically saved the world...twice. You gotta make sure to play those numbers next time, girl.” Tiana chuckled, and it brought a small smile to Kiara’s face. Kiara was in awe that even on the brink of death, Tiana seemed to be the most optimistic out of all of them. “Wow, you did a really good job,” Tiana said, breaking Kiara out of her thoughts. Kiara looked at Tiana in the mirror as Tiana gently touched her edges.

“You like it?” Kiara asked.

“Yea, it’s dope,” Tiana said. “Thanks, boo.”

Kiara smiled when suddenly the door opened to Tiana’s room and Gabrielle walked in. “So, pizza has been ordered,” Gabrielle said, plopping herself down on a chair in front of Tiana. “Sasha, Anna, and Rhea went to go get some ice cream.”

“And Shae?” Tiana asked quickly. “Is she...”

Gabrielle twisted her mouth into a frown. “She’s still outside talking to Ava...”

Tiana deeply exhaled as she lowered her head. “She’s taking this harder than me...”

“That’s no surprise. She loves you,” Gabrielle said.

“We all do,” Kiara added. Tiana looked at Gabrielle and Kiara surprised.

“Kiara’s right,” Gabrielle said. “You’re special to us, Tiana.”

“And a really good person,” Kiara added. “... you don’t deserve this...”

“Guyssss staaaaaahhhhp! Jeezus y’all gonna make me cry!” Tiana said, fanning her face. “And then you’re gonna cry, and we’ll all be a crying mess!”

“Too late!” Kiara said with tears pouring down her cheeks. “God, I swear being pregnant is like my hormones are on freaking steroids!”

“Glad those days are over for me,” Gabrielle said, wiping her eyes with a tissue. “I swear my husbands are trying to get me pregnant again, and I’m just not here for it. Charlie has the audacity to be the most persistent when his son is the baddest of them all.”

“So, he’s a cute little devil just like his father,” Kiara smirked.

“Yup,” Gabrielle laughed. “We’ve been working on different forms of discipline. I don’t feel comfortable beating my kids aside from taps on their bottoms.”

“Don’t say that too loud. The black delegation will oust you,” Tiana grinned.

Gabrielle chuckled. “I’m well aware. I’ve already received opposition from my mother. Unsurprisingly. But it’s a decision I’m comfortable with.”

Kiara looked at Gabrielle curiously as she grabbed a scarf to tie around Tiana’s hair. “Can I ask why?” Kiara said. “I mean... I lost my parents when I was a kid and grew up an orphan. So... I don’t really have anything to model in terms of how I raise my child. I was concerned about the discipline aspect.”

“Well, it differs for everyone,” Gabrielle said. “For me... I was a victim of domestic violence. I was in an abusive relationship for a really long time.”

“Oh fuck...” Tiana said as Kiara gasped.

“I’m so sorry,” Kiara said shocked.

“It’s okay,” Gabrielle said. “That was a really rough time in my life that took me a long time to get over. I didn’t feel comfortable going to therapy for it until Michael pushed me. I got in contact with my friend Cass who is a psychologist.”

“The one who is treating me,” Tiana said.

Gabrielle nodded. “In some of my sessions, I took the time to unpack why I stayed with my ex, Damian, for so long. I loved Damian. Blindly. And I was loyal to him without question. When he started hitting me, it never actually occurred to me that that was wrong because well... I was so used to it as a child. I was raised under the belt.”

“Now, I’m not saying my mom was abusive or anything,” Gabrielle continued. “But I was raised being beaten if I did something wrong. And after I was beaten I was told ‘I do this because I love you.’ I didn’t really see much of a difference with Damian. I thought he was hurting me because he loved me and he would say the same thing: ‘I do this because I love you’. I didn’t see anything wrong with it because it was so normalized for me as a child. I genuinely thought the issue was with me... not him.”

“Shit... that’s deep,” Tiana said. “I never even thought of it like that.”

Gabrielle shrugged. “Like I said, it’s different for everyone. But seeing how it nearly cost me my life... I don’t want to take that risk and make that mistake with my children. I’d rather find another way and use positive reinforcement.”

“I admire you for that,” Kiara smiled. “My aunt was pretty verbally abusive in the time I stayed with her. But that’s because she was struggling, so I get it. I don’t think you need to always beat your kids to raise respectful, empathetic children. If anything... you kinda risk scarring them, don’t you?”

Gabrielle nodded. “Different strokes for different folks. But it can definitely take the form of trauma.”

Kiara looked down at her stomach and rubbed it with a smile. “I’ll give my baby the childhood I wish I had... OH!”

“What?” Tiana asked.

“I felt a kick!” Kiara said excitedly.

“Really?!” Tiana said.

“Yea! Oh my gosh, another kick!” Kiara squealed. “Do you wanna feel?”

Tiana nodded and turned around as she gently pushed her hand against Kiara’s swollen belly. “There it is,” Tiana smiled brightly. “I feel it... wow...”

Gabrielle smiled fondly as she watched Tiana’s eyes widen. “Let me get you some water,” Gabrielle said. She stood to her feet and walked to the bathroom.

A warm feeling washed over Tiana as tears brimmed in her eyes. “I can’t believe I’m gonna... miss out on something like this...” she said softly.

Kiara immediately felt a sob bubble in her chest as she watched tears start to cascade down Tiana’s plump dark brown cheeks. “Tiana...” Kiara said sorrowfully. Tiana ran her hand over Kiara’s belly again and looked at Kiara with happy, tearful eyes. She went to speak when suddenly her eyes widened, her pupils enlarged, and her jaw twitched awkwardly. Her body started to convulse. “Tiana?!” Kiara said frantically. “Tiana! GABBY!”

Gabrielle rushed back into the room and saw Kiara leaning over Tiana’s body shaking with violent spasms. “Tiana!” Gabrielle said, rushing to her side. She quickly grabbed Tiana’s arm, throwing it over her shoulder, and picked her up. “Grab your keys, Kiara!” she shouted.

~

“Tiana?! Tiana, stay with me, girl! Come on,” Gabrielle said, performing CPR. Ava turned the wheel of the car as it spun crazily down the street.

“What’s happening?!” Shae panicked as she squeezed Tiana’s hand.

“She’s going into shock,” Gabrielle said, checking Tiana’s pupils. She pulled out a syringe and stuck it into Tiana’s arm.

“Is she gonna be okay?” Kiara panicked. Gabrielle nervously bit her lip. She kept Tiana’s head propped up and looked out the window as they finally pulled up to the hospital.

~

“I NEED AN IV STAT! SOMEONE GET ME A RESPIRATOR! CLEAR OUT ROOM 402!” Gabrielle barked. She rushed into the hospital, holding a weak Tiana up with the help of Shae.

“Doctor-” one of the nurses said, rushing up to her with a medical bed.

“I need you to contact Dr. Jimenez. Get my supplies ready,” Gabrielle ordered as she carefully laid Tiana onto the bed. Tiana’s eyes rolled up to the back of her head until her pupils were no longer visible. A white foam tinted red from her blood started to spill from her mouth as she struggled to breathe. “I need to create tracheal intubation,” Gabrielle said, walking alongside the bed as they rolled Tiana towards a room.

Kiara and Shae quickly followed before one of the nurses stopped them. “I’m sorry. Only authorized personnel after this point,” the nurse said.

“I’m Dr. Gabrielle’s lead medical practitioner,” Kiara said, quickly flashing her badge. The nurse nodded, letting Kiara through. Kiara turned to Shae who was steadily freaking out. “I’ll let you know as soon as there’s progress okay?” Kiara said, trying not to panic herself.

“Please! Please just let me know she’ll be okay!” Shae cried. Kiara nodded and quickly rushed in after Gabrielle.

~

“I need a .9 blade scalpel,” Gabrielle said, holding her hand out. She held the tube that she had lodged into Tiana’s throat to get her breathing again. Kiara walked in and stood by the door as she watched Gabrielle work in a medical lab coat and face mask. Kiara felt so helpless as she rubbed her stomach, saying a little prayer that everything would be okay.

“Drainage! I need drainage!” Gabrielle barked. She worked tirelessly as she tried to figure out the cause for Tiana’s sudden reaction. “Guys, where the heck is that respirator?!” she said angrily. She looked at the monitor Tiana was hooked up to and panicked at the results. “Tiana? Tiana, you have to stay with me, okay? I need to keep your eyes on me! Tiana!”

Kiara could hear the panic in Gabrielle’s voice, and it nearly made her heart stop.

“Tiana, come on!” Gabrielle said. She looked at the monitor again and shook her head vehemently. “DEFIBRILLATOR!” she yelled. Kiara anxiously bit her bottom lip as she watched tons of nurses swarm Gabrielle to the point she couldn’t see Tiana’s body anymore. She heard a strange sound coming from the monitor and looked at Gabrielle whose eyes were misty-eyed. “Come on, come on,” Gabrielle muttered as she used the defibrillator again.

The machine made another strange sound that didn’t sit well with Kiara at all. Gabrielle stared at Tiana’s peaceful face before she raised her tearful brown eyes to meet Kiara’s. Kiara looked at Gabrielle as her mouth parted in shock. “No!” Kiara snarled. “No! Try again! It’s too soon! Try again!”

Gabrielle looked back down at Tiana and grabbed the respirator. She gently lifted Tiana’s head and attached the respirator to her face. “I need... I need a minute to think,” Gabrielle said, staring blankly at Tiana’s face.

“Doctor, she’s-” one of the nurses said.

“I SAID I NEED A MINUTE!” Gabrielle snapped.

~

Shae sat in a chair in the waiting room. Her knee bobbed up and down frantically as she obsessively checked her phone for a text from Kiara. She felt a hand slide against her palm before she heard the tender softness of Ava’s voice.

“It’s going to be okay,” Ava tried to reassure her. Shae looked up at her friend to see a warm comforting smile that would have convinced her everything would indeed be okay if not for the fear in her eyes that betrayed her.

Suddenly, they heard frantic shouting. They looked toward the entrance of the hospital to see Jason, Tyler, and Owen rushing inside with Peter, Leo, and Jeremy a few feet behind them. “Owen,” Shae said, standing to her feet.

“WHERE IS SHE?!” Owen said frantically. “WHERE’S T?!”

“They’re operating on her now-” Ava started. But Tyler and Jason were already barging out of the waiting room towards the nurses’ station.

“Sir-” one of the nurses said, trying to stop them.

“WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE’S TIANA?!” Tyler shouted.

Leo walked up to Ava who was trying to comfort Shae shaking uncontrollably in her arms. “What happened?” Leo asked worriedly.

Ava shook her head as tears streamed down her face. “Sh-she... she just went into sh-shock,” Ava stammered. “K-Kiara went in there w-with them.”

Leo furrowed his brow. He looked up past the glass window and saw Jason, Tyler, and Owen surrounded by several nurses when Gabrielle walked out of the room wiping her face. The boys nearly ran her over to figure out what was going on.

Jeremy felt fear and anxiety grip his heart as he watched them on the other side of the glass, listening anxiously to whatever the doctor was saying. He couldn’t hear them, but from their reactions... it didn’t seem good. He watched as Dr. Gabrielle talked anxiously with her hands. But whatever she said sent them off the deep end. He could hear Owen screaming “NO!” over and over again as he angrily kicked over a chair.

Tyler was the loudest as Jeremy could blatantly hear him scream: “YOU SAID SHE HAD MORE TIME!”

The doctor seemed helpless from their reactions, but it was Jason’s reaction that tore at Jeremy the most. Jeremy felt his entire being grow cold as he watched his brother utter a blood-curdling scream and punch a hole in the glass before he slid to the ground sobbing.

~*~

“God, please... please...”

Owen’s knee bobbed up and down sporadically as he rubbed his hands together over and over again. He nibbled on his thumb as his mind became a flurry of thoughts that consumed him completely.

“Owen?”

Owen’s teary, bloodshot eyes looked up at Leo holding out a hot cup of coffee. Owen eagerly grabbed the cup and sipped it like it was his life force. His blue eyes constricted as the doctor’s words echoed in his mind like a bad memory.

Tiana was brain dead. With no sign of recovery.

They still didn’t understand why or how. It happened so suddenly. The nurses advised that they should pull the plug on her life support. But Gabrielle wasn’t ready to make that decision. The guys weren’t ready to make that decision.

No one was ready to make that decision. To accept that Tiana Morris was actually gone.

It was two in the morning. Leo looked around the private waiting room that Gabrielle had reserved for them all, and counted who remained: Jason, Kiara, Tyler, Owen, Shae, Joey, Peter, Jeremy, and Sasha.

Jason paced the waiting room for the past three hours. He couldn’t sit for more than five minutes. Leo didn’t understand how a mortal could stay moving for so long. But at this point, it seemed he was running on pure adrenaline. Tyler disappeared and then returned before disappearing again. Leo ran after him the first couple of times before Owen advised him to leave him be. Owen hadn’t left the chair he fell into when he first heard the news. His shirt was soaked from his tears, and his neck and face were red from how many times his hands frantically rubbed over them.

Shae had fallen asleep crying on Joey’s chest as he held her tightly, while Darren and Anna left for the store to pick up some snacks for everyone. Sasha fell in and out of sleep on Jeremy’s shoulder while Peter sat protectively nearby. Sasha randomly woke up every so often to see if Tiana had recovered, only to cry herself back to sleep.

Kiara sat in a large recliner to support her back. Leo watched her attentively, concerned about the toll this level of stress might be taking on her body and their baby. He walked over to Kiara and crouched down in front of her. Her eyes looked glazed over as she stared at nothing. “Angel?” he said, gently grabbing her hand. Kiara snapped out of it as her eyes switched to her lover’s face. “You should sleep,” he insisted.

Kiara shook her head. “...I can’t, Leo... I...”

Leo furrowed his brow as he watched Kiara look at her stomach and rub it apprehensively. “What is it?” Leo asked.

Kiara swallowed hard and hesitated to speak. Suddenly, they both looked up the moment they could feel his presence. Alexander immediately barged through the door with Chris and Arthur trailing closely behind.

“Kiara? Leo!” Alexander said, quickly rushing toward them. Leo helped Kiara stand to her feet as Alexander pulled them both into his arms. Alexander kissed the top of Kiara’s head when she quickly pulled away from him. “Are you alright? How’s Tiana?” he asked.

Kiara shook her head with tears in her eyes. “She’s... she’s brain dead, Alexander. And...”

“Kiara...” Leo said with warning. “Don’t you dare-”

“I think it’s my fault!” she blurted.

~

“Owen.”

Owen stopped nibbling on his fingers that had turned completely red. He looked up to see his good friend and mentor Arthur Richardson standing over him. “Hey, mate...” Arthur said in his thick English accent, laced with concern.

Owen barely had a chance to respond before he was on his feet and giving Arthur a rough hug. Arthur palmed the back of Owen’s head as he tried to comfort his trembling body within his embrace. He had never seen him so broken.

“I... I can’t... I c-can’t l-lose h-”

Owen couldn’t get out a full sentence before he broke down again and went limp in Arthur’s arms.

~

The waiting room was thick with a level of anxiety and depression that Chris had never felt before. His blue eyes glanced around the room, lingering on Jason and Owen. He wondered where the third one had disappeared to.

Their distress felt too familiar. He shuttered at a similar memory of when he almost lost his wife. His steps led him down the hallway towards the room where Tiana was being kept. Several nurses quickly moved out of his way as his footsteps echoed in the dark empty hall. Chris turned the handle and opened the door to a darkly lit room. Only the subtle beeping sound of the machine could be heard. He stepped inside and saw Tiana’s body lying in the bed with a mask covering her face.

“Chris?”

He glanced over at his wife sitting on a chair in the corner with a dim light hovering over her lap and a notepad covered in scribbles. Her hair was frayed out, and she had bags under her eyes that were bloodshot. “Gabs?!” he said with concern as he rushed to her. “Baby, what are you-”

“It doesn’t make sense, Chris. It doesn’t- she was supposed to- And I- but-” Gabrielle stammered as she fumbled through her papers.

Chris crouched down in front of her and pulled her trembling hands away from the papers scattered on her lap. “Baby, you need to rest,” he said, holding her hands.

“I-I c-can’t,” Gabrielle said, blinking frantically at him. “I can’t I.. I have to figure this out, Chris. I h-have to f-figure out what h-happened.” She looked from Chris’s concerned face to Tiana’s body lying motionless in the hospital bed.

~

“Again! Again! Stop, not like that! Oh my gosh!”

Tiana burst out laughing as she watched her dad mimic Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. “James, you betta sitcho old black behind down before you break yo damn hip,” Cheryl said. She sucked her teeth as she clicked the remote from the couch in the living room.

“Dang, ma. That’s cold-blooded,” Dante laughed from the living room floor.

“See? Ya mama rollin’ her eyes now,” James smirked. “But back in the day... these were the moves I used on her. And now lookit us. Married. With kids.”

“You mean black, broke, and fed up,” Cheryl mused.

“Someone’s cranky,” Tiana teased as she tackled her mother.

“Girl, if you don’t get your big behind off of-TIANA! LAWD JESUS! JAMES, COME GET YO CHILD!” Cheryl broke into laughter as her daughter jumped on top of her. Tiana laughed as she felt herself get hauled off of her mother before she met her father’s deep brown gaze.

“There’s my little genius,” he smiled at her. Tiana’s brows furrowed in confusion as she watched her father’s face drastically age. An explosion went off behind him. The sound of military planes flying above them blasted in her ear as toxic smoke infiltrated her nose and blurred her vision.

“Pops, you can’t leave us again!”

Tiana looked to the side to see Dante crying as he tugged at his father’s hand.

“I promise I’ll be back, Dante,” James said, hugging his son. “Look after your mother and sister for me, okay? You the man of the house for now till I get back.” Tiana watched as her father hopped in a random U.S. military tank. It drove off into a cloud of smoke before it immediately returned with several dead bodies, violently mutilated and dangling off the side.

Tiana blinked and found herself in a white room. A body lay on a metal table in front of her. She felt someone tightly squeeze her hand as the sound of her mother bawling blared in her ears.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Morris. She was a hero for her country.”

Tiana looked up at a man dressed in a U.S. military uniform. His green eyes looked down at her, unwavering. “I want to see the body.” Tiana heard those words in her mother’s voice, but it was her feet that were moving.

She walked up to the body lying on the metal table and hesitated as she pulled back the sheet. She lost all the air in her lungs when she saw the body on the table was hers.

“She was a hero to this country. She was a hero. She was a hero. A hero. A hero...”

Tiana held her hands to her ears as she heard a loud piercing sound reverberate around her.

“Tiana. Tiana!”

She spun around in circles, feeling dizzy until she felt herself slip and fall into a dark hole. Tiana opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out. She gasped once her back made impact with something hard.

“That looked like it hurt...”

Tiana struggled to open her eyes as she slowly sat up. Her fingers felt around the floor beneath her as she touched... grass. “What the hell...” she groaned.

“Well... you’re not there...”

Tiana blinked in confusion until she saw the impeccably beautiful face of a strange woman dressed in all black. “Are you supposed to be my guardian angel or something?” Tiana groaned. “Cause let me tell you something, hunty. You did an awful job.”

The woman chuckled amused. “Well, you’re not exactly very easy to protect, Tiana...”

Tiana furrowed her brow as she rubbed her temple. “So you are my guardian angel?” Tiana asked. “Does that mean I’m in heaven?”

“No and no,” the woman said, looking Tiana over peculiarly. She walked around her as she analyzed her form sitting on the ground. “Mortals... don’t usually come here...” The woman furrowed her brow as she crossed her arms over her chest and eyed Tiana attentively. “... you were sent here...”

“Huh?” Tiana said, confused.

The woman raised her brows. “My name is Melissa. You should be dead, but... it seems... one of my kin has intervened...” Tiana looked at the strange woman confused as she paced the soft grass. Melissa mumbled to herself as if she were thinking. She abruptly stopped and a small smile came to her face. “...interesting...” she said, turning to Tiana. “Already so powerful this one...”

“What?” Tiana said, confused. “Listen, lady. I’m gonna need you to start making sense. I know I haven’t been to church in a while, but I DO NOT remember reading about this place in the Bible... I’m deadass lying about reading the Bible. I haven’t opened that book since I was like 9. Sorry, God... yo where He at, anyway? WHO ARE YOU?!”

Melissa raised an amused brow before she chuckled. She leaned down and looked Tiana in the eyes.

“Wake up, Tiana. Wake up!

~

Tiana shot up from the hospital bed, gasping for air. She frantically pulled at the mask latched around her face. Gabrielle screamed when she saw Tiana shoot up from the bed. She immediately rushed over to her and pulled the mask off as she pulled Tiana into her arms.

“YOU’RE AWAKE?!” Gabrielle said shocked. “YOU’RE AWAKE! HOW?! WHAT?!”

Chris looked at her wide-eyed before he rushed out of the room and shouted down the hallway. Tiana struggled to breathe as she felt her heart beating fast in her chest. In seconds, she saw Jason and Owen stumble into the room, nearly tripping over themselves to get to her.

“TIANA! HOLY SHIT!” Owen blurted as he rushed the bed.

“FUCK! OUR BABY IS AWAKE!” Jason shouted as he jumped on top of the bed.

“Wait, Jason-” Gabrielle started. But Jason was already crawling on top of Tiana as his mouth attacked hers. Owen could barely see through the tears blurring his eyes as he pulled Tiana’s delicate body into his arms. He knew he should be gentle with her, but he didn’t have it in him to be rational. He needed to hold her. Touch her. Feel her breathe against him again.

“Somebody go get Ty,” Jason said as he moved under the covers with Tiana.

“Jason, that bed isn’t big enough for both of you,” Gabrielle said annoyed as Tiana laughed. “And I still need to run some tests.”

“Run your tests, doc!” Jason said. “Baby, scoot over so Owen can get in.”

“What in the-” Gabrielle started. She watched Tiana move over as Owen got in next to her.

“Watch the IV,” Jason said.

“Yea, yea, I got it,” Owen said, sliding his hand around Tiana’s waist. He kissed her cheek as she giggled uncontrollably.

“I-” Gabrielle watched bewildered as Tiana’s body disappeared beneath both of theirs.

“Just let them have their moment, babe,” Chris chuckled. He grabbed his wife by her waist and escorted her out of the room. He went to close the door when he heard rapid footsteps. A bright red Tyler nearly slid on the slick hallway floor, panting out of breath as Leo caught up with him.

“SHE’S AWAKE?! IS SHE- SHE-” Tyler said, tripping over his words.

“Just get in there,” Chris said, opening the door.

Tyler’s mouth parted and his watery eyes widened when he saw Tiana actually laughing between Owen and Jason. “Leo... is this real or did I have too much to drink....” Tyler croaked.

“You stopped drinking hours ago, bro,” Leo said, shoving Tyler inside.

Tyler stumbled into the room as Chris quickly closed the door behind him. Tyler still wasn’t sure he should believe what he was seeing. Until he felt an empty water bottle hit his face. “Stop standing over there like a doofus, you idiot, and come kiss your girl!” Jason blurted.

Tyler snapped out of it and rushed to the bed. He crawled on top, knocking Owen off as he pulled Tiana up by her shoulders. “B-baby...” Tyler choked out as his tearful eyes searched hers.

“Hey, Tyler...” Tiana smiled weakly. Tyler blinked the tears out of his eyes. He leaned down, grasping the back of her neck, and kissed her with every fiber in his being.

~*~

Tiana took deep breaths as she leaned her head back against the hard pillow. The bed she lay on rolled into the large machine that glowed a bright blue. “Just take deep breaths, Tiana,” she heard Gabrielle say from a small speaker inside the tube she was being moved into.

She waited a few minutes as she thought about the craziness of her circumstances. She didn’t know how she was still alive. And who was that woman?

“It’s crazy...” Gabrielle said, looking at her screen.

“What?” Chris asked.

Gabrielle shook her head. “All traces of her cancer are gone. It’s like... almost like it was never there. There aren’t even any damaged red blood cells. Her body’s like new.”

“The medication you gave her?” Chris asked.

Gabrielle scoffed. “There’s no way. I mean I pride myself in creating the most advanced medicine in the field but... I haven’t created anything that can work this quickly.” She looked up at Chris. “This wasn’t me...”

“Maybe her body was strong enough to fight it off and heal,” Chris said.

“Maybe...” Gabrielle said, twisting her mouth.

~

Owen waited behind the window, watching as Tiana finished up the lasts of her tests.

“This is it.”

Owen glanced to the side and saw Jason staring out the window. “This is our second chance with her,” Jason said. “Our second chance to have a life. To make her our wife... Bars.”

Owen laughed out loud as Tyler shook his head. “You’re right,” Owen said. “And we’re not gonna fuck it up. It’s time for us to start fresh.”

“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Tyler said, breathing out. “I know you can’t see it on my face, but I’m really fucking happy.”

“Rare for you, Evans,” Jason smirked. “I’m gonna give her so many fucking kids. Like a fuckin’... football team.”

“Okay, relax,” Owen laughed. “Can we marry her first?”

“Yea, yea, that shit too,” Jason grinned.

“She’s done!” Tyler said excitedly once Tiana was rolled out of the machine.

~

Gabrielle walked up to Tiana and gave her a bright smile. “You are 100% cancer-free, sis,” she said.

“WOOO! WON’T HE DO IT!” Tiana said, clapping her hands. “That’s what my mama would say. OH SHIT! I GET TO SEE MY MAMA!”

“You have a few others who really wanna see you first,” Chris grinned as he gestured to the door.

Tiana looked at the window and a huge smile etched across her face to see her three men plastered against the window, eager to get to her. She threw them a thumbs up and they immediately started whooping behind the window.

“That’s all they needed?” Gabrielle laughed.

“Yup,” Tiana smirked.

~*~

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