“I can’t believe he’s still sleeping as heavily as he is…did you knock him out?” Howie joked hours later when they were nearly in New York City. Ava had relaxed Nick with her back massage so much that he had given into his battle with sleep and finally crashed. She very carefully lay on her stomach on top of his back, rested her head against him, and covered up with his blanket too, before turning on the TV and that’s where she stayed the whole trip.
She wanted to hold him and be there for him while he slept like he always does for her. Jade had eventually curled up in the small space beside him too, while Zara lay on the floor with her pillow and the three of them lay there all afternoon watching kid friendly movies.
“He just really needed it…he was exhausted from not sleeping all night and then running errands all morning” she insisted seriously, before leaning down and kissing the back of his neck lovingly before once again nestling her head against him comfortably and looking to see everybody sit around the living room with her. “The man needs a serious intervention…he just never stops. He’s going to run himself into the ground if I don’t step in and start taking care of him.”
“Just give him a chance to realize he’s finally got you, he’ll settle down…” Brian reassured amusedly as he sat on the floor and gently gathered Zara up, swaddled her in her blanket as if she were an infant and cradled her in his arms. The movement hadn’t even phased the four year old who continued to sleep peacefully. “It’s going to take some time for it to sink in; he’s spent so many years waiting for you.” Ava wrapped her arms a little tighter around Nick’s waist affectionately and snuggled into his back a little more.
“How did the search for a caterer go?” she asked with a sigh a moment later. She had been successfully avoiding it all day, another reason she was sticking to Nick like glue, but with everybody now surrounding her, she felt like she had to ask. Especially since she really doesn’t want to talk about how much she hurt Nick anymore.
“Not so great, no one is biting” Kevin answered stressfully.
“You would think people would jump at the opportunity to cater for the Backstreet Boys…it would be big business for them.”
“No one wants to do it last minute” Brian shrugged. Ava buried her face in Nick’s back. She lay there with him in silence as she took in his words of encouragement from earlier that morning. why not spread your wings and really venture out there with your recipes? She’s never cooked for anyone outside her family before…except for David, and that didn’t go over so well. How is she supposed to cook for a bunch of strangers? The thought terrifies her…but she’d do it for her family to help them out of a bind in a heartbeat if she had no other choice and it’s starting to really feel like she has no other choice. She’s been listening to them struggle over at that table all day. Sighing softly once more, she planted a small kiss on Nick’s back before looking at Howie and Carrie who sat there watching her quietly, just waiting.
“What kind of food are you looking for?” She asked, making eye contact with Carrie.
“There’s no limit, as long as it’s fit for a Barbeque.” Ava bit her lower lip nervously.
“Okay,” She responded softly. “You provide me with information on how much food you think we’ll need, the grill, and the list of groceries that I give you and I will be your caterer…”
“Are you sure sweetheart? That’s a really huge job…” Kevin spoke up as he noticed Howie discretely give Carrie a look that looked suspiciously like I told you so and suddenly realized what he’s doing.
He rubbed his hand over her back gently as he sat on the floor leaning back against the couch she and Nick were laying on. “You’re finally recovering from what David put you through; it would be understandable if you need more time…” he added, giving Howie a serious look. He knows how important it is to get Ava past this, he understands how beneficial to Ava it would be for her to own and cook in her own restaurant someday, but Ava is like a baby sister to him. He helped AJ take care of her all of these years and will always feel like he needs to protect her, especially when AJ isn’t around.
“No, it’s okay…I want to try. You guys need a caterer, and I’m right here. It only makes sense.”
“You have a date with Nick and Jade tonight, are you sure you can handle a big job that needs to be done by 3:30 tomorrow?”
“Of course she can handle it,” a groggy Nick suddenly spoke up and she looked slightly surprised as he rolled over and wrapped her in his arms protectively. She rested her forehead against his and looked into his eyes and she saw utmost pride in them. “She’ll have me there to help her and Team Carter is a force to be reckoned with.” He insisted before brushing his lips lightly over hers and gently making her rest her head against his shoulder. “She’s not alone,” he added while hugging her close to him affectionately. She nestled into him comfortably and took in his affection like a sponge. She really needed to hear that right then.
“What should we make, partner in crime?” she questioned while placing delicate kisses on his neck and shoulder and he slid his hands down into the back pockets of her jeans just resting them there as he took in her kisses.
“You make delicious barbeque food sweetheart...I personally love your ribs.”
“Ribs are too messy…your fans aren’t going to want to eat those and then get their picture taken with you afterwards” Ava reasoned. “I’ll make ribs for you some other time” she promised, placing her hand to his cheek and looking up into his blue eyes. He rested his forehead against hers. “How about simple hamburger and hot dogs?” she suggested and Nick scrunched up his nose.
“This is your chance to show off baby…be creative.”
“I’m not doing this to show off; I’m doing this to help my family in their time of need.”
“As long as you are helping us, you might as well show the world what you’re made of while you are at it and have some fun with it.” Ava bit her lower lip nervously.
“I’m scared, Nicky.” Nick tightened his arms around her and hugged her close to him protectively.
“I know baby, but I’ve got you…force to be reckoned with, remember? I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“And you know I’m not going to let anything happen to you either,” Stefan spoke up from his lazy boy chair across the room where he’d been sleeping. He hasn’t even opened his eyes yet, but was awake and listening nonetheless and even in his sleep he was aware of Ava’s location at all times. He and Demyan decided to take advantage of being on a bus all day and caught up on sleep too, Demyan following Zara’s lead and crashing on the floor. “The minute anyone so much as looks at you wrong, they’ll be escorted out of the place.”
“Damn straight…and I will be doing the escorting” Q agreed. “You’re AJ’s sister and not to mention my girl…nobody is going to mess with you sweetheart.” Ava turned her attention back on Nick, her forehead still rested lightly against his and he gazed into her brown eyes and idly slid his fingers through her brown hair.
“The point is, it’s a new experience but you’ll be experiencing it surrounded by your family. We’ve got you,” he reassured her and she tightened her arms around him. “It’s a fall barbeque, so how about chili? That’s one of my favorites too. Probably more so than ribs…”
“Kay,” She agreed and closed her eyes as he rained kisses on them. “We could do a Chili Bar with bread bowls, hot dogs, and even your mouth-watering corn bread.”
“It sounds scary, but if you are there to help me, I can conquer anything…” she told him softly and he planted a kiss on her nose.
“Get the list to me this afternoon sweetheart and I will do the shopping for you and have the groceries brought to your room before dance practice tonight,” Carrie spoke up again.
“Ava, sweetie you’re going to be fine…” Kathryn reassured as the two friends sat together on the beach. Stefan and Demyan sat together a short distance behind them, giving the women enough privacy to talk but not too much that they couldn’t get to them if something should happen. Nick was off playing in the sand with Jade, Brian, and Zara. They had arrived in New York with just enough time to spare to relax and everyone decided the beach was the place to be. With Kathryn’s help, Ava had just finished her list and Carrie had run off straight away to get the shopping done. “Who in their right mind would ever criticize you, or your food?” She added seriously and Ava quietly bit her lip as she idly picked dry sand up in her hand and let it cascade through her fingers, enjoying the warmth of it that the sun created.
“You’d be surprised at just how cruel people can be, Kit Kat…” she spoke softly, using the nickname that Ava had given her years ago, shortly after meeting her.
“Not to you, you’re too sweet and innocent…nobody in their right mind would want to hurt you.”
“In the family, sure…I know you guys love me. But outsiders are a whole different story…” Kathryn looked at her best friend and quietly watched the pained and faraway look that she so often sees when she’s thinking about something she doesn’t want to share form behind her eyes. She’s aware that she’s had a difficult childhood that she knows only so much about. She wrapped her arm around her shoulders, hugged her close, and kissed her forehead affectionately.
“Do you know why I chose to sit at that table in the library with you every day all those years ago, Ava?”
“No…why?” Ava asked softly and she rested her head against her shoulder and looked up at her with genuine curiosity. She always has wondered this. There were plenty of other tables for her to sit at, yet she always chose the one Ava was sitting at.
“Because being the people watcher that I was back then, I could tell just by looking at you that you were a person I wanted to be around. I saw the way you interacted with the people around you. I could see that you were shy; you never approached them on your own unless you absolutely had to, but on the rare occasion when they approached you; you were always so sweet and kind to everyone…you don’t have a mean bone in your body. And don’t even get me started on your family…” Kathryn explained, and she smiled fondly at the memory.
“The first thing I noticed was that it was big, because there was always a different person there to pick you up each day. And close too…and each and every one of them had such obvious love and adoration for you anyone could see that. I was just a stranger doing some people watching and still I knew you were the heart of this family and they wouldn’t survive without you. And you love each and every one of them just as much and all you ever want to do is please them, I could see that by the way you spent an hour each day pouring through cookbooks trying to plan dinner and dessert for them later on that night before you did anything else. You represented warmth, love, and family to me and I wanted to be a part of it. As an outsider, Ava…” Ava slid her arms around Kathryn and hugged her closer to her and Kathryn hugged her back.
“How come you never talked to me?” She asked softly, working real hard not to get emotional.
“Because while you were painfully shy, I was also very scared and cautious…we made a great pair, huh?” she laughed. “Neither of us was getting anywhere until Howie came along and forced us out of our shells.” Ava quietly nestled her head against Kathryn’s shoulder and bit her lip as a feeling of slight unease took over. She wants to ask what she could possibly have to be scared and cautious about, but she knows she’s not ready and won’t give her a real answer. “You are a ray of sunshine in everybody’s life sweetheart and anybody who doesn’t see that…David, the other fucktards that you dated before him, and whoever else came into your life and took you for granted back then that you can’t let go of now…are truly messed up and aren’t worth thinking twice about.”
“Thanks Kat…I needed to hear that. I love you.”
“I love you too,” Kathryn responded. “And if there is anything I can do to help you with this event just let me know. No matter how scared you are this really is your chance to shine, so have fun with it honey…”
“I am scared, but I’m sure with the never-ending support that I receive from Nick I will get through it. He really is my rock…” Ava admitted, suddenly looking over at Nick across the beach only to meet eyes with him. He had already been looking at her and could see that whatever she and Kathryn are talking about, it’s intense. Everything okay baby? he asked her with his eyes and she gave him a small smile and blew him a kiss, causing him to act like he is catching it and Jade giggled.
“Yeah, I know, you two are so adorable it’s almost sickening” Kathryn laughed. “Why don’t you go be with him while you can before he has to get to work later? I need to go talk to Howie for a little bit.”
“Okay,” Ava agreed, silently making a decision to spend some one on one time with Howie herself the moment she gets a chance and she leaned up and kissed Kathryn’s cheek. “Thanks for cheering me up, I really needed the girl time.”
“No problem sweetheart, that’s what best friends are for” Kathryn told her as the two of them got up. She gently squeezed her shoulder and walked off toward Howie and Ava turned and headed toward Nick. When she approached him, he looked up at her and slid his arms around her bare legs as she stood beside him wearing only his bucs hoodie and a bikini underneath and wound her arms around him.
“Come sit with me down by the water, baby, please…” she pleaded. Not needing to be asked twice he got to his feet and in one swift movement, playfully lifted her up over his head so she was looking down at him, making her squeal in surprise. She gently cradled his face in her hands, tilted his head back so he was looking up at her and kissed him with so much intensity that it took his breath away and it was a moment before he could kiss her back.
When she finally released him from the power she has over him, he took a deep breath and brought her over to the huge rock that was so close to the shoreline that waves crashed against the side of it and sat down with her in his lap. She slid her arms around his neck and he pulled the hood to his bucs pullover hoodie down over her head, before sliding his arms around her waist and hugging her close. He feels right at home sitting on a beach with her in his arms listening to the waves crash against the shore. Like everything is finally right in the world.
“You looked like you two were having a serious conversation over there, is everything okay?” He asked, looking into her chocolate brown eyes.
“I don’t know,” Ava answered, biting her lip nervously. “There’s something going on with Kat that she’s not telling me.” Nick planted a soft kiss on the tip of her nose and rested his forehead against hers. “I know we have a lot of work to do tonight and in the morning…but can we find some time just you and me to sneak away for a little bit and come back here? I miss our times together on the beach…”
“I don’t know about the just you and me part, Stefan and Demyan are kind of a necessity right now, but other than that…I will see what I can do okay?” Ava nodded quietly and he brushed his lips lightly over hers. “I miss our times on the beach together too, the last time was at home and it wasn’t one of our fondest moments” He told her between kisses and tightening his arms around her waist.
“Shhh…” Ava told him, tightening her arms around his neck and hugging him to her. “Baby don’t…” she pleaded, before kissing him back. “You’ve got me. I’m not going anywhere…don’t bring up bad memories.” Nick buried his face in her neck and she gently ran her fingers through his hair.
“I’m sorry sweetheart; I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”
“I’m just trying really hard to make up for hurting you and Brian has already reminded me of it once today.” Nick frowned slightly.
“Why did he go and do that? And when?”
“When you were sleeping…he wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me though...I’m just feeling overly sensitive about it right now.”
“You’re going to have to forgive yourself sometime, sweetheart…you can’t keep making yourself sick over this.” Nick insisted while hugging her close to him protectively. “Let it go…you and Jade are mine now, you’ve always been mine and that’s all that matters. We have our entire lives together to move on and create happy memories. It’s okay,” he reassured while kissing the top of her head as she nestled it into his shoulder. “I know part of the reason you are having such a hard time is because I shut you out. I handled my pain all wrong and I’m sorry for that baby…that’s never going to happen again. I love you.”
“You handled your pain like any normal human being would in that situation, Nicky…and I love you too.”
“I handled it the way a child human being would…from now on any problem we have in the future will be talked out and worked through together.” When Ava didn’t say anything, he shifted so his forehead was rested against hers while it remained nestled comfortably against his shoulder.
“Should we bring wine and dessert to our fresh start on the beach tonight?” He asked, gently brushing her tears away and changing the subject.
“And pillows and blankets…it’s going to be cold.”
“Don’t you have Jade to look after? I thought she was supposed to be your responsibility?” Kathryn questioned Demyan who had gotten up and followed her when the two women had parted. She stopped amidst going to Howie, who wouldn’t want her anywhere near the Russian and turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Drake has her and before you ask, Stefan has his eyes glued to Ava, which gives me the free time to look after you.”
“I don’t need looking after, I can take care of myself” Kathryn insisted indignantly.
“Kathryn, you came back from the venue by yourself last night when there is an abusive man after your best friend…you call that taking care of yourself?” Kathryn rolled her eyes.
“I took a cab, it’s not like I walked back and you didn’t need to tattle tell on me either. What are you five?”
“You still shouldn’t have come back alone. And Howie sure as hell deserved to know how careless you were – he didn’t know you were alone and neither did anyone else. You didn’t know anything about that cab driver, what if something bad had happened to you?”
“You keep talking like Howie is my keeper. What gave you the impression that he controls me at all?”
“Well maybe he should start. If he doesn’t keep better tabs on his girlfriend, she’s going to get into trouble one of these days.”
“That’s very caveman of you to say…and I’m not his girlfriend.”
“You can’t sleep with him and have him glued to your side everyday like he is and try to tell me the two of you aren’t seeing each other.”
“Sleep being the keyword there, that’s the only thing going on.” Demyan arched his eyebrow at her, not believing her. “He holds me at night because I have nightmares and can’t sleep alone. He’s my best friend and yeah he’s protective of me, but that’s as far as it goes. Kissing him would be like kissing my brother and believe me; we tested the theory many years ago.” Demyan was silent for a full moment as he took in this information.
“Why are you insistent on following me around and protecting me? You aren’t this obsessive about Tierja or Raven and the other two security guards don’t seem to care this much about me either.”
“Tierja and Raven seem to have better common sense about their safety than you do.” Was all Demyan said. He doesn’t know why he can’t seem to leave her alone. He has no doubt in his mind that she could hold her own just fine in a bad situation like she keeps saying. He can see that she’s tough and he senses that she’s had to before, but at the same time she seems fragile and small in some way and every time he’s near her, he just wants to protect her. From what, he’s not sure. He knows she’s hiding something, if the conversation he tried not to overhear between her and Ava earlier is any indication. He has perfect hearing no matter how far back Ava asked them to sit. Kathryn scowled.
“Are you trying to make me angry? Just…I need to go talk to Howie” She insisted, and turned to walk away only to have him reach out and gently grab her hand.
“Why are you having nightmares?” Kathryn gave him a look like she might want to ask him yet again why he’s so interested, but remained silent nonetheless. He noticed the small fragile look behind her eyes like anyone outside of this close group that she has surrounding her showing any sign that they might want to care about her is foreign to her. Maybe even suspicious…he gently rubbed his finger over the back of her hand that he held gingerly in his own.
“Howie knows why, and that is enough” She spoke softly. “And I’d really like to go to him now” She added, looking into his eyes with a pleading look in her own. Demyan released her hand and watched her at a distance as she made her way to Howie.
“So, how did my baby sister end up being our caterer tomorrow?” AJ interrogated Howie knowingly, as the two of them stood on the beach with Kevin and Kathryn suddenly joined them.
“Howie basically forced her into it,” Kevin immediately tattled.
“I didn’t force her into it, she volunteered to do it” Howie answered innocently as he wrapped an arm around Kathryn who quietly rested her chin on his shoulder.
“You manipulated the situation knowing she has a strong need to please her family all the time and wouldn’t leave them stranded and you played on it. Was there even a caterer at all in the first place? Or did you and Carrie plan this together?”
“So what if I did?” Howie admitted unrepentantly. “I know you’re feeling protective of her, but it’s what’s best for her and you know it. If we don’t gently push her to get past this she never will and it’s what’s best for her, even Nick knew it. He never would’ve let me do it if he didn’t, I wouldn’t even be able to get within five feet from her with how protective he is of her. She needs this restaurant.”
“I agree with him on this, but she’s going to constantly need someone she’s comfortable with by her side through-out the whole event or she will panic” AJ cautioned. Howie looked at him with a raised eyebrow, giving him and Kevin looks that clearly stated how crazy over protective the two of them are.
“She’s not as fragile as you guys make her out to be you know…David knocked her down, but he didn’t destroy her.”
“It has nothing to do with David, D, this goes way beyond David. I am serious…close family member and Stefan by her side at all times or things will go bad.”
“Don’t worry Aje, I’m not leaving her side at all tomorrow and Stefan already made it clear he wasn’t either” Kathryn reassured. “I don’t know what happened to Ava in the past, but I do know her. Even I notice she is either clinging to you, Nick, or Q at your public events at all times or hiding in the back. I’ve got her.” AJ nodded, letting Kathryn reassure him. When the slight fear for his sister faded away, he grinned a little.
“So, what delicious meal is my sister making, did she happen to share?”
“Nick talked her into making a chili bar,” Howie answered while eyeing his friend curiously as he didn’t miss just how tense he had been.
“Yum, I am looking forward to that…”
“Will you watch Cinderella with me when we get back Brian?” Zara asked hopefully as everybody headed back to their hotel located just down the street from the beach.
“I sure will baby, but right after our bathing suit party in a nice warm bubble bath all right?” He asked, seeing the look Raven was giving him.
“We’ve been playing in the sand on a cold October day in New York; we need to get clean and warm before we do anything else.”
“Kay,” Zara replied happily. “I have to have my rubber ducky in our bath party, Brian.”
“We will see to digging him out sweetheart, I promise” He grinned, kissing her on the cheek.
“Once everybody is all clean and warm, I will make you all hot chocolate to have during your movies, how does that sound?” Ava spoke up. “Nick has promised J-Baby that they would snuggle and watch a movie too and with weather such as this, hot chocolate seems like the perfect thing to have” She added, looking up at the sky that had turned murky on them. It had also gotten pretty windy too, making them all agree that they should probably head back before it gets worse.
“You spoil us so much sweetheart,” Howie told her while suddenly wrapping his arm around her shoulders, pulling her near, and kissing her forehead. “What would we ever do without you?”
“If I have it my way, you will never have to find out,” Ava insisted while hugging him back.
“Since when do we have hot chocolate? I don’t remember you packing hot chocolate…” AJ spoke up curiously as he gently slid his fingers through his sister’s hair. He misses her. He’s been putting his all into wooing Tierja these past couple of days, he hasn’t seen much of his sister and that’s not normal. “You’ve packed plenty of tea, but not hot chocolate…”
“Carrie should be bringing me back some very shortly here,” Ava answered. “I’ve decided since we’re doing the whole “fall barbeque” thing, we could throw in a hot chocolate and dessert bar too…”
“Did I tell you thank you for doing this at all?” Howie asked while hugging her a little tighter. “I know it’s going to be difficult for you.”
“You’re my family and you needed me, of course I am going to suck it up and do it no matter how hard it is.” Howie planted a kiss on her cheek.
“Well thank you,” he told her sincerely. “I know you will be just fine, not only will all of us be there to support you, but you are very strong and capable.”
“I second that,” Nick agreed while reaching out and gently snatching his girlfriend with one arm and reeling her in close to him so she walked backward with his arms around her waist while Jade occupied his shoulders. “My baby is superwoman whether she wants to believe it or not,” He insisted before leaning forward and brushing his lips lightly over hers. Ava smiled slightly and rested her head against his chest, letting him guide her as they walked.
When they arrived back at the hotel everybody went up to the floor their suites were on and while Kathryn disappeared into hers, Howie’s, Brian, Raven’s, and Kevin’s connected suites with Brian and Raven, Ava gently reached out and grabbed hold of Howie’s arm and pulled him into the two connected Carter and McLean suites before he could follow her.
He arched his eyebrow, but went with this nonetheless. He noticed Demyan linger in the hallway right outside of his and Kathryn’s room and felt mixed emotions. The man makes him very wary with his obvious interest in his best friend, but at the same time, she does need looking after whether she likes it or not. He just would prefer one of his security guards, not him.
“Will you give our little ballerina a quick warm bath and put her in comfy clothes for now? I will put her in her ballet-going-outfit later when it gets closer to that time” Ava asked Nick, looking up into his blue eyes with a loving smile. He grinned in return and leaned down and gave her a brief but sweet kiss before walking into their room with their daughter.
“What movie are we watching sweetheart?” She heard him ask conversationally as she turned and gently pulled Howie into the kitchen with her. AJ and Tierja were in their suite with the connected door open, Denise was on the other side of their room in hers, which just left her, Howie, and the security in hers and Nick’s.
“What’s up?” Howie asked curiously, as he watched her check out all of the groceries Carrie had left in her kitchen.
“I just felt like having some one-on-one time with one of the two of my best friends outside of Nick” Ava answered, giving him a small innocent smile, before pulling out the hot chocolate. Howie rolled his eyes playfully.
“You made it a point to make sure Kat was nowhere around. Start talking, woman” He ordered playfully, as he proceeded to help her make everybody hot chocolate.
“No, you start talking, mister. What is going on with Kathryn? I know you know so don’t try and tell me otherwise.”
“It’s not my secret to tell” Howie answered, and she looked up at him briefly and noticed a faraway look in his eyes all of the sudden as he set up the mugs for her. “She would never talk to me again if I betrayed her trust like that. Don’t make me do that to her.” She turned and suddenly fixed him with a serious gaze. “Is she in any kind of danger that I don’t know about? She let slip earlier that she was too scared and cautious to talk to me on her own in the library all those years ago…and it really alarmed me. What could our sweet Kathryn have to be scared and cautious about?”
“You know I would never let anything happen to her. I’ve got her taken care of, don’t worry about it.”
“You know it’s impossible for me not to worry about anybody that I love, Howie” Ava insisted, while turning her attention back on the hot chocolate.
“I know, and that’s one of the many reasons why you are the heart and soul of this family” Howie told her with a small smile and gently squeezed her shoulder. “You like to take care of each and every one of us. But I’ve got Kathryn for now okay?” Ava bit her bottom lip worriedly, but nodded nonetheless. Howie quietly helped her with the hot chocolate and by the time the two of them had enough made for everybody, Nick had brought a now bathed Jade out into the living room in fuzzy closed foot pajamas. With a big cozy blanket, the two of them had snuggled on the couch with Peter Pan in the DVD player.
“Well, if you aren’t going to be useful and answer my first question, how about you tell me what your deal with Demyan is?” She questioned when she noticed Stefan and Q step out into the hall. She flashed her friend a small smile as she handed Nick and Jade their hot chocolate. Howie sighed somewhat as he put more mugs of hot chocolate onto trays so he could help her deliver them to everybody else.
“He just makes me wary…that’s all. The man never smiles. It’s obvious he has demons in his past and it’s also obvious that Kathryn is attracted to him – I can’t keep her away from him. He’s not really the ideal fit for our sweet Kathryn. She’s fragile.”
“Are you sure there aren’t any hidden feelings about her and you aren’t just jealous?” Ava teased somewhat. “She told me no, but maybe you’re just good at hiding it from her.” Howie rolled his eyes playfully.
“This isn’t a Nick and Ava kind of thing sweetheart, I promise. She’s my best friend and I love her with all of my heart, but not like that.” Ava looked at him with an amused smile. “I just don’t like people that I hardly know near her.”
“Just because he has some demons in his past it, doesn’t make him a bad person honey…” she spoke up after a moment. “We all have them…me especially. Stefan told me he’s hurting over a recent rescue mission that went terribly wrong…he put the blame all on himself. It just makes him human, that’s all.” When Howie didn’t reply and seemed to just be taking this new information in, she went on.
“He smiles around her though. It’s kind of a new thing for him, but she brings it out of him nonetheless. She makes him a whole different person when she’s around…you should look past his demons and maybe you would see a whole different side to him. He’s been nothing but fiercely protective of both Jade and me and I think with whatever might be happening with Kathryn that neither of you want to tell me about…he would be good for her to have around.”
“I will take that into consideration, I promise” He told her as he grabbed one of the trays of hot chocolates up and he glanced over at her. “Are you sure you can carry that honey? I can have AJ help me.” He added as he watched her pick up the other one.
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’ve got it” Ava insisted in playful indignation, before turning and heading into her brother’s room. Howie chuckled softly followed her. As soon as AJ, Tierja, and Denise all had theirs, the two of them headed into Brian and Raven’s room across the hall where they found Raven and Zara both snuggled up with Brian watching Cinderella.
“Aww…don’t you three look like the picture perfect family,” Ava commented amusedly as they all three looked up at them when they entered.
“Hot Chocolate! Yay!” Zara exclaimed happily.
“Yay,” Ava agreed and giggled, before bringing her tray over to them.
“Gee, I wonder which one could be yours, Zee” Brian spoke up amusedly when he noticed the Simba shaped mug and she giggled. He reached out and grabbed it off the tray for her and handed it over.
“Careful honey, don’t spill it” Raven cautioned her gently.
“I put the kids’ in their own special mug to tell them apart, because there’s aren’t as hot as everybody else’s.”
“Which mug did J-Baby get?” Zara asked enthusiastically.
“Tweety Bird” Ava answered with a small smile. “It’s one of her favorite mugs” she answered.
“Yeah, it’s very cool” Ava laughed and Brian and Raven each grabbed another mug.
“Thanks for the hot chocolate honey” Raven thanked her and she smiled.
“You’re welcome,” she responded, before following Howie into Kevin’s room and then into his and Kathryn’s. When the two of them walked in, Kathryn gave Howie a curious look.
“Where have you been all this time…?”
“I thought I would help Ava make some hot chocolate. You got to spend all this time with her earlier, I thought it should be my turn” he told her, before leaning forward and kissing her cheek. He held his tray up to her and she grabbed up the third to the last hot chocolate off of his tray. As soon as she had, Ava grabbed hers, leaving the last one for him. He grabbed it up and set his empty tray down on top of hers on the coffee table. She looked at him and Ava somewhat suspiciously, but otherwise didn’t comment as she took a sip of her hot chocolate.
“Mm…Ava this is really good, as always” She insisted. Ava opened her mouth to respond when suddenly Demyan, Stefan, and Q entered the room, making all three of them look their way.
“You weren’t in your room – you aren’t allowed to disappear on us like that Ava…” Stefan lectured with obvious stress in his eyes and Ava couldn’t help but laugh.
“I’m sorry honey, I didn’t think about it.” Stefan scowled as he watched his charge take a sip of her hot chocolate and Q smiled in amusement. He has a feeling Stefan isn’t going anywhere when his job is all over. Ava has gained a bodyguard for life.
“But if all three of you are in here, who is in my room watching Jade?” She added, she too smiling in amusement. She really hadn’t meant to stress Stefan out.
“Drake,” all three security guards answered. “He and Demyan decided to share the job of protecting her” Stefan added.
“Your cousin did most of the deciding…” Demyan grumbled somewhat from his perch against the wall at a distance from everybody else. “But yeah, we’re sharing.”
“I see,” Ava responded. “Well there is hot chocolate in my room for any of you who wants some.”
“Sweet! I’m definitely getting myself some of that…” Q insisted, and he turned to head toward the door, only to have Demyan move from the wall and charge toward Kathryn at blinding speed.
“GET DOWN! Everybody get down!” he shouted, just as he grabbed her and dropped to the floor with her underneath him and a bullet shot through the window. He looked toward Ava who had shrieked shrilly when Stefan, who had moved when he did, no questions asked had grabbed her and Howie and took them down with them.
“Where are they, Demyan?” He demanded, as he watched Q crawl over to him and Ava.
“There is a sniper on the roof of the building across from the hotel, the bullet damn near fucking hit Kathryn in the head” Demyan answered, looking murderous.
“Obviously they were aiming for Ava, they were standing right next to each other” Q insisted.
“Someone needs to go get Jade! What if they’re going after Jade?” Ava stressed tearfully.
“Drake isn’t going to let anyone get her honey, just let us take care of you right now” Stefan reasoned with her gently. He cradled her face in his hands and looked into her teary eyes and she felt Q take her hand into his as well. “It’s going to be okay, calm down.”
“Kat, I haven’t heard a word out of you” Howie spoke up, struggling to breathe over the stress of how frighteningly quiet she is.
“She’s fine, she’s just in shock” Stefan spoke up again in the most calming voice he could muster, when really he would like to go into action mode right now and track the bastard down.
“I’m okay Howie…” she added when she managed to find her voice, knowing he needed her reassurance or he would get up and go to her himself. He doesn’t trust Demyan. “Don’t do anything stupid…just stay there.”
“I can hear Zara crying in there, what if Brian tries to come in here?” Ava spoke up worriedly when she managed to make herself calm down to an extent, though stress for her daughter was still evident in her watery eyes.
“BRIAN, WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T COME IN HERE. IT’S NOT SAFE.” Howie shouted after a moment.
“IS EVERYONE OKAY? WHAT’S GOING ON?” Brian shouted just outside the door, telling them all that he was indeed about to come in there. Howie shook his head.
“What did I tell you honey? The heart of the family. You know us all too well,” He told her and she couldn’t help but laugh tearfully.
“Of course I do…I have a lot of bossy men in my family, you all like to play the hero.”
“SNIPER ON THE ROOF. GET ZEE AND RAVEN DOWN JUST IN CASE,” Stefan spoke up this time.
“Shit…” they all heard Brian say and then heard him making orders to Raven to get down. Stefan gently gathered Ava up in his arms and crawled over to the wall out of view of the window so he could sit up with her in his lap. As soon as he did he pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to call Drake so he could ease Ava’s fears and get help. They certainly can’t stay pinned to the floor all day.
“Yeah, we already know” Drake spoke into the phone upon picking up before Stefan could say a word. “We heard the glass shattering and Ava’s screaming – it was all we could do to keep Nick from running to her rescue and Jade is just in hysterics wanting her mommy, but otherwise she’s fine. You can reassure her that no move has been made on this side of the building” He added, knowing Ava all too well even in such a short time.
“So I can assume since you are all so knowing, you’ve called for help then?”
“Yup…our NYPD buddies are out there searching as we speak.”
“Demyan says he’s on the roof. Kat was standing next to Ava and was the one who nearly got hit, so he’s furious, but otherwise we are all okay too.”
“If he’s any kind of sniper, he’s gone already, no one’s going to get him” Demyan spoke up. “Fucker has bad aim…so he can’t be any good though…”
“Let’s count our blessings that he does and that my Ava is just fine and that you have fast reflexes…and don’t cuss.” Kathryn scolded. Demyan scowled as he heard Drake laughing on the other end of Stefan’s phone conversation, having had heard what Kathryn said, but otherwise worked on calming down as he gazed into her brown eyes.
“Are you okay otherwise?” He asked, ignoring the conversation his partner and his partner’s cousin were having about him over the phone. “I know I shoved you to the ground pretty hard, and I am anything but light.”
“You probably knocked the wind out of me for about a second, but I’m okay. I’m surprised none of us were holding our hot chocolate at the time – I could just see us ending up with burn injuries if the outcome had been different. I need to make sure for myself that Howie is though.”
“You aren’t getting up until Drake gives the okay,” Demyan insisted firmly.
“And anyway, there’s no need because I’m right here and just fine sweetheart,” Howie spoke up, having had crawled over to her himself. He reached over and gently tugged her into his arms instead, though Demyan kept a firm hold on her hand. She slid her arm around Howie and hugged him, resting her head against his shoulder.
“You need a bodyguard with you at all times from now on, do you hear me? There will be no more careless cab rides home from now on” He insisted while hugging her close to him affectionately.
“Don’t worry, she’s got one.” Demyan spoke up. Howie bit back his protest, trying really hard to remember Ava’s words from earlier. The man did after all, just save her life.
“I’m well aware you don’t trust me and would prefer your guys, but their top priority is the five of you. That’s why we’re here.”
“You’re here to protect Ava and Jade.”
“Stefan has Ava, I have Jade – who I now share the job with Drake, as we made clear earlier. Jade is four years old…I think I can handle one more charge who happens to always be with Ava anyway.” Howie sighed heavily, but otherwise made no further argument.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got her too. She and Ava both.”