-Chapter 5: Of Guardian Angels and Party Plans-

The days immediately following what Teague tried to do were the hardest I've lived through. I didn't know what to feel, or think, or say. Everyone was telling me it wasn't my fault, but it only made it worse. My brothers all wanted to kill him; hell, Dylan would have if he wasn't already in police custody. But none of that was actually helping me.

The only person who helped, the only one I could stand to be around who wasn't suffocating me, was Cole. While everyone else asked me questions, or cried for me, or told me they'd kill him, Cole would say nothing, simply wrapping me in a hug. He was the only one who realised I didn't want to talk about it.

After interviews, evidence, and my statement, the next night I was ready to collapse from physical and emotional exhaustion. My birthday was in a week, and I just wanted to curl into a ball and fall asleep forever. When I arrived back home, all the boys were in the living room, waiting for me. I held back a sigh and slowly made my way inside. As I walked in, I caught snippets of their conversation.

"What are we supposed to say?" Wyatt asked, voice hollow.

"Maybe we should all go out, get her mind off it." Cam's voice suggested.

"That's a stupid idea." One of the twins said.

"Yeah, we should get her like, a puppy or something." The other agreed.

"The last thing she needs right now is something else to worry about." Blake responded disapprovingly. "And she definitely doesn't need alcohol poisoning. Maybe we should just talk to her."

"I can't picture Chase being the type to sit down and have a cry to all of us about this. She'll want privacy, we should give her that." Cole said quietly.

"She needs- Chase." Wyatt broke off upon noticing me, startled, and hurriedly stood up, looking unsure.

"Hey, guys." I said weakly. I stood awkwardly for a moment. None of us knew what to say. I turned to move to the staircase and up to my room.

"Wait." Blake said, standing also. He moved closer, placing his hands on my shoulders. "How are you feeling?"

I nearly rolled my eyes. "Like it's Christmas. Look, I just wanna go to bed, I'll talk to you guys-"

"Chase, you can't just-"

"Drop it, Kennedy." Cole intervened, voice rough. "She doesn't wanna talk about it."

Blake scowled at Cole before returning his green gaze to me. "You need-"

"Blake. Seriously, quit it." Cole repeated, moving to stand next to me. "If she wants to go to bed, let her go to bed."

I smiled at him gratefully, my heart warming. He looked into my eyes, a softness there I'd never seen before, something I doubt he'd shown anyone. I thought of going up to sleep in my bed, but was overwhelmed by fear of nightmares and being alone. Cole saw my expression drop and he touched my back lightly. "Are you okay?"

"Cole, I- can you come with me? Just to sleep." I said hastily, cheeks reddening. "It's just, I really don't want to be alone."

His eyes softened even more, and he smiled sweetly. "Of course, sweetheart."

I nearly sighed with relief. That, however, was interrupted by Blake's voice. "Chase, I don't think Cole is... I mean, do you want me to do it?"

As sweet as my best friend was, I knew in my heart that it wasn't just that I didn't want to be alone. I wanted it to be Cole who was there. He was the one who made me feel like I was truly safe. "No, Blake, it's okay." I said carefully. "I'll talk to you about all of it tomorrow, okay?"

His eyes searched mine, I didn't know what he was looking for, but he must have found it, as finally he acquiesced. "Okay. Sweet dreams, Baby Bear." He said gently, using his childhood nickname for me.

Tears pricked my eyes and I gave him a watery smile. "Night, Papa Bear."

I wished all of the boys goodnight and made my way up the stairs, getting to my room and throwing my things to the side. I dared to look in the mirror, and winced at what I saw. My normally golden-brown skin was gray, the only colour being blotches of blue and black. My cheek had a huge bruise where Teague had slapped me. There were additional bruises on my jaw, eyebrow, and my busted lip, from the fight with Sophie Claire.

Aside from the physical damage, my eyes were bloodshot with bags beneath them, my hair lank. I was simply dressed in sweat pants and a tank top, one of Dex's enormous sweaters over the top.

In short, I looked like shit.

I carefully undressed, wincing every time the fabric pulled against the bruises on my face, and got into one of Eli's old T-shirts and some boxer shorts. Wearing their clothes comforted me right now. There was a knock at the door just as I finished dressing. "Come in."

Cole entered, a white wife-beater showing off his dark skin and accentuating his large biceps and shoulders. He shut the door behind him, and stood in my room, looking at me. I swallowed and smiled nervously. "Um, you ready to go to sleep?"

He simply nodded, waiting for my move. I did so, crawling under the covers and snuggling in. Another weight made my bed sink further, and when no warm body came directly into contact with mine, I realised Cole was laying on top of the covers. "You can come under, you know." I told him quietly. "I mean, if it's not too awkward for you, it would really make me feel better."

He paused for a second, before shifting. "Okay." He said quietly, moving under the covers and wrapping an arm around me. I immediately relaxed upon contact with him, and I hesitantly began to move further into his embrace. I'm not sure whether he really noticed or not, but he held me tighter, and I smiled, feeling all the stress drain away, and the ache of betrayal numb slightly.

He ran his hand lightly along my arm, rubbing it and warming me. "Is everyone bothering you?" he whispered, voice concerned.

I closed my eyes and nodded against his chest. "I'm already tired of all of this, and it's only been a day. I just want people to leave me alone and let me come to terms with all of this shit."

He was quiet for a moment, and I wondered if he'd gone to sleep until he spoke. "Is there anything I can do?"

I sighed. "Honestly, what you've been doing has been perfect. The only thing is... can you stay in my room with me for a little while? It's just that I know I'm going to have some nightmares. I just..." I broke off, swallowing the lump in my throat. "I don't want to wake up afterwards alone."

His arms tightened around me. "Of course I'll stay. I'll do whatever you need me to do."

I laughed softly. "Cole Ryan: the white knight out to save the world's damsels in distress."

As I drifted off to sleep, I heard him say one last thing. "Not the world's damsels. Just you."

*-O-*

"Chase, what was the deal with Cole last night?" Blake asked me, a frown marring his handsome face.

I stared down into my cereal and stirred it passively, not really eating it. "He holds off the nightmares."

He pulled a chair up next to me and sat down, and I could feel his eyes fixed on me. "You used to come to me for that stuff. What changed?"

I sighed. "Blake, it's not because you can't help me. I don't know how he does it, but Cole makes everything better. He knows me. I didn't realise it, but he knows exactly what I need him to do." I looked up and met his eyes, beseeching. I wanted him to understand that it wasn't about him, it wasn't that he wasn't good enough. But it was Cole I needed.

His bright green eyes lost some of their worry. "Baby Bear, you know I love you. You've been my best friend since we were little. You bring out the best in all of us, especially Cole. You do know that he doesn't treat anyone else like that?"

I cocked my head, puzzled. "Like what?"

He chuckled, his smooth voice getting lighter and less stressed with every minute we talked. "He smiles at you. He looks after you. When it comes to you, he's selfless. He leaves everyone else to their own problems, but when it's you, hell, I think he'd take 'em, if he could."

By the time he'd finished talking, my cheeks had heated and I would bet that they were a bright pink. "You're crazy." I muttered.

He grinned at me. "You'll see."

I opened my mouth to comment but was interrupted. "She'll see what?" Cole's voice grunted, rough with sleep.

Blake smiled evilly at me. I begged him with my eyes not to make this awkward. "Ah, Cole, how did you sleep?"

He grunted in response, and I turned to see him looking at Blake with warning, but a small smile pulling the corners of his lips up. I grinned slightly at his tousled hair and crinkled wife beater, his eyes still bleary with sleep. He looked... cute.

I pushed the cereal box towards him and rose from my chair. Carter and Brandon had made the executive decision that I wasn't going to school for the next two weeks. I was taking advantage of the break to relax a little.

"You have class today?" I queried.

He yawned loudly. "Nah, skipping. I'm a Phys Ed major, who needs to go to class every day to ace that?"

Blake groaned. "You're a good influence, aren't you?"

I laughed a little, relieved to be feeling vaguely normal. "You're just jealous that he's got the option, Blake. Carter would kill you if you skipped out on classes."

"The price of being his protégé." He grumbled in response, scowling.

Cole snorted. "Suck it, Kennedy."

"Bite me, Ryan."

I tapped my watch. "You have class now, Papa Bear. And work straight after. Running a nightclub isn't just fun, apparently."

He grumbled a bit more, ducking to give me a peck on the forehead before grabbing his keys and heading out the door. As he left, Cole and I were still chuckling. After a few moments we realised it was now just the two of us, and we went quiet.

I moved to the sink, reaching down and throwing out my untouched breakfast before Cole would notice and comment, rinsing the bowl and putting it in the dishwasher. "Please try to eat something, Chase." Cole's gravelly voice said quietly.

I flinched. "I did. I ate yesterday, I'm just not feeling too good this morning." I lied, forcing my voice to sound light.

"I know you're not telling the truth." He said after a moment. "I'll be there for you when you want me, I'm not going to babysit you. I know you would hate that. But that's only gonna happen if you take care of yourself."

I slumped, still turned away from him. His voice had moved closer, and I realised he was now leaning against the counter, a few inches away from me. "I'll be alright. I just need to get used to all of this."

He didn't respond, and I flicked my eyes up to see him scrutinising me closely. I gathered my courage and turned to face him. "Thank you, Cole." When he raised an eyebrow in confusion, I elaborated. "You made everyone leave me alone. You got them to give me space. You're staying with me at night. You have no idea how much what you're doing means to me. And the way you found me, how you were just there when I was in trouble, when I needed you... You're like my guardian angel."

His eyes softened. "I'll do anything, Chase. Anything I can do to try and help you."

My heart soared for a moment, before I was suddenly struck with a thought that made a lump form in my throat. He was Teague's cousin. He believed in respect above all else. What if Cole was only doing this because he felt a sense of responsibility for what Teague had done? What if Cole didn't really care?

"Chase?" he asked, calling me out of my reverie.

I smiled weakly. "Sorry, just thinking."

"Penny for your thoughts." He murmured, moving closer and voice growing deeper.

"Cole..." I murmured hesitantly. "I-"

"Morning!" Camden's voice said brightly, interrupting the intense moment. I shifted away from Cole, slamming the dishwasher shut.

"Morning," I responded, attempting a smile. I didn't have the energy for Camden today. I loved the guy like a brother, but the way he loved me was different, and it wasn't something I could reciprocate.

Cole grunted a hello, before returning to the breakfast table and dropping to his seat, face sullen.

Cam moved over to me and rubbed my arm. "How are you feeling, Chase?"

I grimaced. "I'm fine, Cam. You should get to school."

He shrugged a little too casually, eyes hopeful. "I was thinking about spending today at home with you, maybe just having a good catch up. Just you and me."

I shifted away, starting to feel slightly uncomfortable. Camden was a really good guy. He was sweet, smart, popular and attractive. But he wasn't my type. Unfortunately, he didn't want to accept that. "You should go to school."

His face fell. "I wanted to spend the day with-"

"I'm spending the day with her, kid." Cole's rough voice cut in, light but with a touch of warning. "You need to get to class."

Cam stiffened and glared at him. "You aren't going to your classes."

"That's different. I'm an adult, you aren't eighteen for another month. Go to school, now." Cole told him sternly, his voice final.

Camden grabbed a bottle of juice and left, looking venomously at Cole. The subject of his glares turned to me with a small smile. "He's been in love with you for just about forever, huh?"

I grimaced. "Uh-huh. Dex isn't exactly helpful, either. He'd love for me to get with his best friend."

Cole snorted. "He doesn't know you very well, then. Cam's a good guy, but he's not right for you at all."

I nodded. "I know, right? He's too..."

"He puts you on a pedestal."

I nodded slowly, amazed that he understood me so well. "Yeah."

Our gazes locked and we stared at each other for a moment. My heart thumped in my chest. When I was with Cole, I forgot that Teague had ever existed. "You were going to say something earlier. Just as Cam walked in, you were going to tell me what you were thinking." He murmured, his eyes holding mine.

As I stared into those dark, searching eyes, I knew I couldn't lie to him. I hadn't had the best opinion of him for years, but every moment I spent with him it improved. I swallowed nervously and nodded. "I was just wondering... if all of the stuff you're doing for me, to help me, is because you feel some sense of... obligation. Because it was Teague that tried to hurt me." As I talked I dropped my eyes, and began to stare at my hands.

When Cole didn't respond, I forced myself to look up at him. I wished I hadn't. He looked absolutely furious. I squeaked and made a fumbling excuse before half-running from the room. I don't know why he had the reaction he did, but it frightened me. I ran up the stairs and into my room, swinging the door shut behind me when I heard thumping footfalls following me up. I threw myself onto my bed and buried my head in the pillow, close to tears.

The door swung open and Cole stopped in the doorway. "Okay. We seriously need to start talking all this shit out. You can't just run away when things get hard. It's not very 'Chase Deegan'."

I shook a little, cursing as some tears spilled over and soaked into the pillow. I took a deep breath and forced myself to sit up, turning to look him dead in the eye. "You're right."

He nodded, somewhat calmer. "Why do you think that I'm doing this because of some... stupid sense of duty?"

I thought carefully. "It just makes more sense to me. I mean, a month ago the only time we talked was to insult each other. Now you're acting like I'd expect Blake to."

He moved forward, running a hand through his dark hair with frustration. "I've known you forever. I care about you." He looked away and began to fidget. "I'm not good at this, Chase. I don't know how I'm supposed to talk about all this."

I shrugged. "Same here. I guess we both just have to be... honest."

He nodded, looking satisfied. "Okay. That makes sense."

I smiled half-heartedly. "Good way to build up to my birthday, huh?"

Cole's expression turned thoughtful. "You know, I've been thinking about that. I think we should still have the party. You and me can organise it, Carter and Brandon can see what we do and approve it. We'll just have it here."

I furrowed my brow. "Do you really think that's a good idea under the circumstances?"

He nodded grimly. "I think it's more important than ever, right now. We should do this, it'll be good for you."

I smiled at him. "Okay. Let's do it."

*-O-*

Cole and I were sitting on the sofa in the living room, watching a re-run of NCIS when my brothers burst in. I'd seen them briefly yesterday, but I had been so caught up with all of the police stuff that I hadn't really talked to them. Brandon and Carter had sat in on the interviews, which was humiliating. Carter as my guardian, Brandon as my attorney.

"Sis?" Eli's voice called frantically.

I sighed. "Time for the circus," I mumbled, Cole hearing and letting out a loud snort. "In here!" I yelled.

Three large bodies sprang through the doorway, and two followed with a little more dignity. "I'll kill him!" Dex hissed. "I always knew he was an asshole, I told you that Cam was a better choice!"

I looked down at my hands, fidgeting. "I know. You were right about Teague. I was wrong."

Dylan glared at him and whacked him on the back of the head. "Shut it, loser. She's been through enough."

Brandon nodded, looking disapprovingly at Dex. "Now's not the time, Dex. Leave it alone."

The youngest of my brothers grumbled and rubbed the back of his head. Carter moved forward and pulled me from the sofa and into a hug. "I'm sorry we weren't there to stop it." He murmured. He felt responsible for all of us, because our parents weren't around, as they travelled the world fifty-one out of fifty-two weeks a year. I could tell that he was blaming himself for not protecting his little sister. He thought it was his failure.

I hugged him back tightly. "Nobody knew it would happen." I told him quietly. "I'm just lucky that Cole came for me."

He exhaled heavily. "Yeah." He let go of me and turned his head to look at the man on the sofa. "I could never thank you enough for saving my little sister, Cole. How did you know where to find her? Did you know what he was going to do?"

I saw Dylan stiffen, and he began to move towards Cole, ice-cold fury in his eyes. I barrelled into my brother, knocking him over, and went to move in front of Cole. He let out a sound of protest and tried to push me aside, but I stood firm, laying a hand on his chest to still him. Dylan got to his feet, indignant. "You don't know if he knew what was going to happen, Chase. You don't know what he's capable of."

I held my brother's gaze steadily. "I know that he helped me, Dyl. He saved my life. You need to hear him out."

Carter stepped in, pushing Dylan back. "Calm down. We just need to sort this out."

Brandon nodded, level-headed as always. "We need to hear what you have to say, Cole."

My saviour nodded, face grim. "I saw him run her out the door, and Teague had been saying stuff that had me worried. Lately he'd been saying that if Chase wasn't gonna put out... he'd make her." He winced, and my brothers' faces hardened. "I saw Chase's phone on the counter and decided to follow Teague's car, and give it to her. Just in case. Then I saw him pull up to the hotel." Cole's voice was deep with rage by now. "And I knew that he was going to do something. I followed him in and broke down the door. And I saw-" He broke off, eyes tortured.

Carter was stiff with fury by then. I slipped my hand down to Cole's, grasping it tightly. "Thank you, Cole. Thank you for saving me." I told him softly.

He turned his head and met my eyes, the agony in them making my heart ache. "I should have gotten there sooner."

"You did what you could." Brandon told him, eyes tightly shut. "You saved her. And we all owe you for that."

Cole shook his head. "You don't owe me anything. I want to help her. I know I haven't made the best decisions over the years-"

"I'll say." Dylan muttered, glaring at his former best friend.

"But, I'm a different man, now." Cole continued as if he hadn't spoken. "And I think a lot of that is because of Chase."

Eli smiled. "She has that effect on people."

"Shut up." I muttered, looking to the ground, embarrassed.

Cole grinned, pulling me into his chest with strong arms, embracing me. "Nah, he's right. We'll do anything to help you, Chase. You're the best of us."

I looked around the room and knew that I'd never be alone. No matter what, I had my brothers there for me for the rest of my life. I knew I had the boys of the Prince household, as well. And now, Cole was more of a lifeline than ever. I smiled at them, tears pricking my eyes. "I love all of you."

They grinned and returned the sentiment.

"Now." Cole said, voice becoming light and cheeky. He looked down at me and grinned, a smile that made my heart race. "Let's sort out what we're gonna do for your birthday party."

Carter's smile widened. "Let's make it a wild one."


Look it's an update! Hehehe.
I hope you like the update, I know it's been a while.
R&R please lovelies!