Author's Note: Sorry for the long wait but I do like the attention that this story is getting! I really hope that you all will enjoy this story as much as I am enjoying writing this! I know this chapter is slow but it's building up to the drama. :D If you've read any of my stuff, you will understand well that I love the suspense and drama! XD Let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I own nothing!

Warnings: Language, groping.

Word Count: 6,015

Knowing Dimitri like I do, I know that he didn't appreciate my language, especially since he's not used to it. That, I suppose, comes with time. And love. As Dimitri began to like me, and love me, he got used to my language and mannerisms. And perhaps I evolved a bit over time too. Into someone more likable maybe. Who knows.

The look that Dimitri shot me in the corner of my eyes is easy to ignore - the pain in my chest is not so much. I thought when he came back from being a Strigoi and looked at me with no love that that was the greatest form of agony in my heart that I would have to feel, but looking at him now and seeing absolutely no emotion toward me whatsoever was far worse than that - beyond imagination. There is no love, no caring, no contempt or anger. There isn't anything. It's simply the eyes and expression of a man who stares back at a complete stranger. No attachment in any way, shape, or form.

Lissa and I sit in complete silence the rest of the way to the school, still in utter shock over what has happened. I can feel the flurry of emotions spinning around like a maelstrom inside of Lissa, practically identical to the one circling inside of me too. It's hard to tell where her emotions start and end so intertwined with my own I don't know which is which. It's been a few years since Lissa and I have been linked together with the bond, but it's like riding a bike. I've never forgotten the feeling. I never fully got used to living without the bond. A part of me had become so reliant on that tangible emotional connection to be able to read Lissa that I had to retrain the rest of me to figure out how to read her again.

And now I smoothly reverted back to simply feeling through the bond and understanding her almost immediately. Well, when she has some idea of what she's feeling. Considering neither of us know how we really feel, it makes it impossible to be able to stitch together an understanding without it. I look down at the cuff around my wrist, thinking back to this time in my life. I had rubbed the skin raw trying to wiggle my hand out of it.

When we got off the plane, I remember making a threatening leap out of it for a well-placed knee to the chest to give Lissa and I the chance to get away. It probably would have worked on anyone else in the world but Dimitri. He caught me with ease and threw me over his shoulder. Lissa gave a little laugh, having already lost faith in our escape attempts and walked with us to the black SUVs waiting to take us the rest of the way to St. Vladamir's. He carried me like a sack of potatoes to the car and was even gentlemanly enough to open the back door for Lissa.

He was carrying me on his shoulder with a hand on my lower back to keep me in place, yet he acted as if I wasn't even there. Once she was inside the car he steps up to the front passenger side door and opened that up too. He finally lowered me to the ground and stood in such a way where his body blocked me in between the door and the interior of the car. I had no choice but to go inside unless I magically came up with a way to blast through the Russian meatshield. But I had no way of doing that, just short of a dirty shot that probably wouldn't make me any friends.

So, begrudgingly, I sat my happy ass in the passenger seat with my arms crossed over my chest. Defiance is in my nature.

And he just stood there, now closer than before, still using his body to block any easy way out. If I had enough room I might be able to throw myself over the center counsel and out the driver's side, but that wouldn't get Lissa out of this predicament, so I'm stuck.

But he just stood there, staring at me. "What?" I finally snapped, not sure why he was just staring.

Seatbelt, Lissa wondered to herself, but her soft voice filtered into my mind. I knew she was remembering the car accident. I hadn't been wearing my seatbelt then and was thrown from the car, it's probably what had saved my life. If only I had known then what I do now.

I groaned, grabbed the seatbelt and clicked it into place before glaring at him. "Happy?" He didn't respond. Just stared back at me, almost considering something. Then I opened my big mouth. "It's not like I'm dumb enough to throw myself from a moving car."

He blinked. Once, twice, three times, before he held out his hand to me. I stared at it, confused. Then I looked up into his gorgeous dark eyes but couldn't read his stoic expression. Even Lissa was no help, having no idea what his odd behavior was about any more than I did.

"What?" I asked sharper than I meant to.

No response. Just staring.

I looked down at his hand again, so confused. "What?" I asked again but still nothing. Finally, I reached out and placed my hand in his own, figuring that was the only other thing I could do, except maybe a high five but we weren't good enough friends for him to get a high five from me.

He wrapped his hand around my own, reached behind his back and grabbed out handcuffs and in a swift, deft move, he chained me to the car door and slammed it shut firmly before walking around the car to the driver's side as the other Guardians piled in. Even though my jaw was to the floor in shock, I didn't miss him passing one of the Guardians saying, "Wild girl isn't jumping out of my car."

And now we're here.

I can't believe it, Lissa whispers in my head as the gates to St. Vladamir's Academy opens before us. I can't believe we are here.

She and I both. How did this even happen? It had to of been that circle. All of the elements and a healthy, extra dose of Spirit from three powerful users, probably somehow made this possible. But I'm not smart enough to know how exactly. There has to be a lot of elements in play here. Our magic and that of Satan's magic, along with who knows what other variables. I would seriously have to sit down with Sydney to see what she has to say about this.

My eyes flicker over to Dimitri as a twinge of pain and worry settle in my gut. If Dimitri doesn't remember anything, Sydney wouldn't either, right? Does that mean that Lissa and I are the only ones here? Why? Was it just because we were awake in the circle before the ceiling caved in on us? I don't want to think that we were the only ones that were alive in the circle. That brings a stabbing pain to my chest that sucks the breath right out of me.

Without thinking, without mentally processing myself, I reach back with my left hand to my best friend. I feel her long, thin hand wrap around my own. I can feel the heat of my body with her own. A small wave of comfort washes over her, gaining strength and comfort from me, as I do from her. I feel her squeeze my fingers tightly and peaking into her mind, she's somewhat drowning beneath a torrent of emotions. She's thinking about her life at Court, about the days leading up to her kidnapping which was basically normal, about that weird little limbo dream with her parents and brother, and what this could possibly mean for us now.

Both of us are reeling, thinking about anything and everything in those few months leading up to Lissa's kidnapping and the attempted rescue that went horribly awry and ended with pretty much all of us dying and Lissa and I thrown into hell. Synonymous with our past.

It's only once we are inside the Academy's walls and Dimitri shuts off the car that he finally passes over the key to the handcuffs to me. I take it and uncuff myself, feeling numb. We are here. At St. Vladamir's Academy. As seventeen years old girls. Going through our senior year. Again.

I can't fucking believe this. I went through my senior year already and it sucked on about thirty-five different levels. Not only was there a ton of people here I simply didn't care to see, but there were classes that I barely passed the first time and spent just enough time away to have forgotten everything which is basically worse than the first time because I had a bit of memory for that stuff then but not now. Everything that I know now is all practical stuff, not what I learned in books. I'm not even really sure what I'm doing is considered protocol or not.

I'm Lissa's Guardian. Not a lot of people can tell me what I'm doing is wrong. Not a lot of people can question my decisions. And Dimitri is almost always there with me, helping talk through things with me. Maybe it's his ideas and probing that stops me from going too gung-ho. Considering he's more dressed for the lawless cowboy shtick than I am, the irony isn't lost on me.

I force myself to calm down as Lissa loops her arm through mine, giving me a bit of clarity in my mind. She's uneasy too, as this school year wasn't exactly kind to her either. We can argue who had it worse. I would flip-flop on the days trying to decide if I felt sorry enough for myself to choose me or not, and I know Lissa is the same. Some days this year was the worst for me, some days it was worse for her, but one thing that I know for certain is that these next few years really, really sucked.

"I can't believe we're back," Lissa says, her words intentionally vague as Dimitri and one of the other Guardians walk close by to ensure I don't break a twig off of a broken tree and stab someone in an escape attempt.

I take everything in with my eyes. The same St. Vladamir stares back at me, covered in winter's dust. Ha, just kidding, winter spit up all over Backwater, Montana, and St. Vladamir has become someone's winter wonderland. Not mine, though. I much prefer it if was warmer. And say there was a beach close by, and an ocean within walking distance of that beach.

"Nothing's changed," Lissa says, shaking her head with wide eyes. Her steps have slowed down considerably, and I slow mine to match hers. I'm used to this pace, it's her queenly pace. This is the slow, steady, strong pace that she used to show her confidence and strength. She knew how to do that as a Royal amongst "equals" and "lessers", but she perfected the act, the walk, as a Queen amongst subjects.

I let out a long drawn-out sigh, as we make our way into the building, heading toward the cafeteria for that walk of shame that no one gets tired of, I'm sure. I mean, come on, who doesn't like long, awkward walks through a crowded cafeteria full of hormone driven, gossip fiends that sensed a good story as soon as we stepped onto campus. Because as soon as we walked into the room, making our way to Kirova's office, through all the areas that are the most densely populated so that the rumor can spread as quickly as possible.

"Actually, something has changed," I mumble at her.

Lissa looks over at me, curiously. "What?"

"Us," I say.

Lissa smiles mirthlessly at me, knowing exactly what I'm talking about without needing clarification. "Don't I know it. I can't believe that this is happening to us." She shakes her head slowly, meeting every stare sent her way with practiced grace and calm. "This entire situation is like something out of a dream." She stares down a freshman with beautiful green eyes.

"Or a nightmare," I mumble.

"Rose," Lissa says sharply, before taking a breath, slowing her steps more than before. Dimitri takes this in stride. If it was just me, he would have nudged me along so that we weren't later than we already were. Plus it doesn't hurt that Lissa has perfected the ability to walk around anywhere like she owns every inch of it, and it flows off of her in graceful waves. She seems powerful and untouchable and while the inside of her is a raging maelstrom, on the outside she is calm and in complete control.

I hope that I appear as in control as she does. Sometimes I never know. Her strength made me strong, and I'm praying that my facial control is nearly as good as her own.

Aaron was looking after Lissa, so was Mia with that ugly. angry look on her eleven-year-old looking baby face. I always hated that look on her face. I can't wait until I break her nose and she comes to our side from the bitchy one she's on right now. I love Mia. Mia is my friend and both of us away from St. Vladamir is probably the best thing that happened to our relationship.

She's my friend and I love her, and my impulse control has gotten significantly better than when I was seventeen, but I'm afraid if Bitch Mia turns up her perfect, unbroken nose at me, I might swing again. It taught her a bit of humility and we were able to get over it, so I feel like one or two swings at her should be okay for us, right?

Well, if she's lucky, we won't figure it out.

We walk into Kirova's office and both of our eyes land on Victor Dashkov in the corner of the room. But unlike last time we were in this position, neither Lissa nor I, am happy to see him. In Lissa's mind's eye, she sees the man who kidnapped and tortured her. The man she had to help bust out of prison so that we could find his half-brother and save Dimitri, only to lose him when the undead love of my life attacked us in Vegas. Even though her emotions are a mess from this entire situation, seeing Victor sends a chilling anger through her. She doesn't pity him or love him anymore. All of the good memories she had of him were colored black and red with anger and disillusionment.

But for me, I see his dead eyes staring back at me. I see his body slumped against the wall with blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. I see him through the red haze of anger and rage that coursed through me whenever I thought about him, fueled by Spirit. I feel anger and pain and sadness and shame, all just by staring at him.

Like Lissa, I know that I will never be able to look at him the way that seventeen-year-old Rose used to see him. He will always be a man I despise and chose to not want in my life. I know what he's planning on doing, and I'm not going to let him do it. I won't let him lay his hands on Lissa. I won't let him hurt her. Never again. I failed her too many times to willingly walk into another one. He won't get a hug from her, and he won't get sympathy from me. That's just not going to happen.

I reach up to the back of my neck, thinking about the scores of molnija and the few zvezda marks that I used to have decorated the back of my neck. My badge of honor, but also my reminder.

Lissa catches the movement and misunderstands, thinking maybe I had a twinge in my neck, or I was somehow trying to control my anger when it came to Victor, which was partly true.

But she touches the back of my neck and pushes some of my hair to the side to get a look when a zing of shock runs through her. I turn my head to look at her, knowing I can't say anything, but her eyes are wide and she's already brushing my long hair back into place.

All your marks are there, Lissa's voice whispers in the back of my head. What are we going to do? How do we explain all of your marks? Even your promise mark?

I have no idea. I don't even know how we got here, let alone why I still have my marks on my neck. It became such a normal thing to have - a part of me - that I didn't even think about it. I mean, my mind was sent back in time, I didn't think I would take my marks with me! How in the world am I suppose to train with Dimitri if I can't put my hair up? He won't accept me not putting my hair up.

Oh shit! How am I supposed to be promised, if I already have a promise mark?

The hug that Victor gave Lissa - very much against her will - was stiff and I know she pulled away quickly, but both of us were thinking about my marks and how to cover them up. she was thinking a lot of make-up, but she didn't even think about my needing a tattoo when I graduate. But I'm thinking about it, and unless I come up with a fool-proof plan on how to explain it, I'm screwed. People are probably going to think that I am a liar and a fraud.

What am I going to do?

I sit there quietly, my mind racing. I don't hear Kirova as she stomps back and forth in front of me talking about how I'm the shame of the world because I took Lissa from St. Vladamir's Academy. How I was never punished for what I did before leaving either. She drones on and on about everything I've already heard from her and everyone else over my years as a Guardian. People like to trudge up my past when it suits them. I know I was an idiot when I was younger - seventeen to twenty-one in specific was particularly hard - but I'm not going to let that phase me anymore. Especially since I'm not going to make those exact same mistakes as I did before.

I'm not as impulsive or childish as I used to be. I'm smarter and definitely more worldly than I thought I was when I really was seventeen years old. I'm not seventeen. Maybe my body is - or maybe it isn't seeing as I still had my marks - but my mind is years older. I'm not ignorant to the ways of the world any longer. I may not be in control of my life like I want to be, but I have a bit more control now than I did when I was first in this position.

"Rose," Lissa says, pulling me from my thoughts.

"What?" I say, staring over at her. I hadn't realized that the room fell quiet. Kirova, Alberta, and Dimitri stare back at me with unreadable expressions, while Lissa looks calm, collected.

"Say something to Kirova, Rose," Lissa says, reaching out to take my hand. Her voice is even and confident. She knows what I do. Even if I can't somehow talk my way out of this, Dimitri will.

But I also know what he's going to say.

"Lissa and I are bonded," I tell them, glancing over at my best friend. She looks on without expression. She trusts me. Whatever I say, she's going to back me. Not that what I'm saying is going to be a lie, but even if I did, she would follow me to hell and back based solely on my words. For the first time in a long time, I feel Lissa's complete and utter confidence seeping out of her, through our bond to me.

"That's impossible," Kirova sneers in disbelief. "A bond hasn't been - "

"Lissa and I are bonded," I say again. "In the car accident two years ago, Lissa and I bonded when she saved my life." I'm not sure how much I want to say just yet. The last thing I want is to give anyone more power than they should have, but thinking about the people in this room - Lissa, Alberta, Kirova, Victor, Dimitri - I realized I don't really need to hide it. The only one to pose a threat is Victor, but Lissa and I will be watching him and Natalie like hawks. He's not going to catch us off guard.

"Princess Vasilisa didn't save your life," Kirova says, sounding annoyed. "You weren't even hurt in the accident. Besides, what does this have to do with - "

"The accident was the turning point," I say, cutting her off again. I'm not going to elaborate on how she saved my life, no one would really believe it either. That would have to wait, I think. No one is ready for Spirit just yet. Not that I think anyone is ever really ready for it. "It was after the accident that Lissa and I formed our bond."

"Rose stopped breathing," Lissa joins in, lying easily, although I feel a sting of sadness in her. She likes Alberta, Dimitri, and even Kirova. She hates that she has to lie to them. She doesn't mind so much lying to Victor, because, like me, she's already creating a story in her mind to weave together so that we can say what we want without revealing too much before we are ready. "She stopped breathing and I remembered enough from CPR class and brought her back. I was so wounded, I didn't know if I would be able to do chest compressions or not. But as you can see.." She nods over to me.

"It was after she saved my life that our bond was created," I finish off the lie. I don't look at Victor, but by telling this lie, and knowing what I know about him and what he knows, I am acutely aware of him in the back of my mind. "I took her from the Academy because I felt her life was in danger, so we left. Do you want an explanation for why we ran off? Why I took the Dragomir Princess out of St. Vladamir? I'll tell you - "

Lissa jumps in her seat next to me, alarm and fear spiking through her. "Rose," her voice is sharp in warning. Even though she believes in me and trusts me with her life and our future, but she's still worried about being too honest too quickly.

I stare at her, reassuring her with my eyes. I know what the costs could be if I messed up. I could lose everything and everyone that I love. I could destroy all of our lives by messing up. So, no pressure.

"I'll tell you," I say to Lissa, reassuring her one more time, before looking over at Kirova and speaking to her. "Because with all your wards, and your Guardians and your rules and your school, she doesn't feel safe here. She didn't feel safe two years ago, so she wanted to leave here. And I took her. I am Lissa's Guardian. I have been her Guardian for years. I have kept her safe, I have looked after her and if you want to kick me out? Fine. I will wait outside the walls of the school until she graduates and sell my service to her cheap. I won't be promised, but that's fine I won't be a Guardian if I can't have her."

Kirova looks at me with a mixture of confusion and surprise. I'm sure she must have heard a fair share of nonsense in her many years as both a teacher and a headmistress that I'm sure haven't exactly been this brand of nonsense but I'm sure she's heard her fair share. A part of me wonders what the most absurd thing she's ever heard is. I wouldn't be surprised if it was my words she threw back at me.

But I'm serious. I don't care too much about being in St. Vladamir's Academy if only to be around my friends. Around Lissa. Around Dimitri. I would kill to spend every waking moment - and in Dimitri's case, while I'm sleeping too - at their sides. Dimitri and I were going to get married before all of this nightmarish bullshit. He bought me a beautiful ring that he got himself and had been hounding me for two years to finally walk down the aisle. I finally agreed to set a date, but we never got passed deciding the season. We wanted a summer wedding, he and I. We wanted it in the early morning so that we can appreciate the sunlight on our skin as we promise our lives to each other. We accept our lives being shrouded in darkness, but we wanted to be together in the sunlight.

But that's how they got us. It's how they ultimately won. Dimitri and I were away. I let the pressure of this wedding and my love for Dimitri get in the way of my duty to protect Lissa. I became complacent. It wasn't Dimitri's fault. It was mine. I tried to live my life outside my duty. I love Dimitri. I love him with all my heart, but I didn't need to marry him to know I was going to spend the rest of my life with him. I didn't need a big wedding and a change of my last name to know that he would always be a piece of me until the day I die. I should never have let anyone talk me into a big wedding with people and presents and cake. It should have just been Dimitri and me, two or three friends, along with my parents, his mother, and sisters, and someone to marry us.

If it had been like that, we never would have a need to leave Lissa alone. She wouldn't have been taken. None of this would have happened. It's a common theme, I'm starting to see, that Lissa seems to always get kidnapped when I'm not around. Honestly, I thought that it was going to be the other way around, but once again, color me surprised.

I don't know how I won Dimitri in the first place, let alone how in the world I'm going to replicate it, but I am not letting my man fall for anyone else. Especially considering that the only person that really had any chance with him other than me, as far as I know, was Tasha Ozera. And the anger and jealousy that burned through me at that moment hurt me. I still, even to this day, have many mixed feelings about Tasha that I was perfectly content with pretending didn't exist seeing as I had hardly any to no interaction with her once she was imprisoned for the death of Tatiana Ivashkov, but I'm afraid of how they will present themselves now that I'm going to face her once more.

This time, though, she will have done nothing wrong.

She wouldn't have hurt anyone or killed anyone and she didn't hate me for stealing Dimitri away when she was so close to having him, that she would frame me for both revenge and convenience. Sometimes, and I'm not sure how I make it so easy for the bad guys to be able to get the upper hand on me. And I don't mean in battle, but like when Tatiana tricked me into helping fuel her cause to lower the graduation age to sixteen, or how my calling said Queen a sanctimonious bitch gave Tasha pretty much all the evidence she needed just short of video footage of me doing the deed, to convict me in a court of law. And pretty much each and every instance involving Victor too.

I just don't understand how the bad guys keep getting the upper hand on me. It's not fair. For once I would like to be three steps ahead, rather than struggling to keep up.

"Guardians are fewer in numbers as it is," Dimitri says after a long silence, drawing everyone's eyes to him. "We shouldn't be throwing away any who wish to serve, especially those with talent. And the female Guardian numbers are at an all-time low, as well."

Kirova looks trapped. Her bird nose turned up as she looks at me consideringly. She opens her mouth, probably about to tell Dimitri I would be better suited in some Blood Whore camp, but Victor cuts her off before she can even say a word. "She has somehow kept Vasilisa safe these last two years. Even if they didn't run into Strigoi, it's not safe out in the world for two young girls regardless."

"Rose sprained a gropers wrist," Lissa offers.

I snort, pulling myself a bit from the darkness settling over me. I had forgotten about that. "You're missing a key part of the story: they were groping me, not you."

"Yeah, well, you would have broken his wrist if it was me," Lissa says, knowingly.

She was leaving out another important part of the story. Lissa and I were out on a double date with Christian and Dimitri. Somone had called Dimitri about an event that he was planning the security detail for in a week's time, and Christian had stepped away to grab us some drinks when the guy made the grab at me. Lissa saw him make the grab while was bent over tying my shoe when he grabbed a handful of my ass.

I remember yelping out, "Oi!" before spinning around, grabbing his wrist and giving it a good twist. He was some idiot college guy joking around with his friends. What he didn't know was I was trained to take down guys a lot bigger than me and that beanpole had nothing on some of the people I've faced - excluding the many Strigoi. He didn't know that Lissa's boyfriend was already heading toward us and could have lit him up in seconds if he wanted to, and what he certainly didn't know was while I was very much able to handle myself, the shadow of my angry 6'7 fiance falling over us was a long one.

There is just something unnerving about his height, and the fact that he's Russian. Those American idiots looked terrified when Dimitri glared at them from over the top of me, but when he asked, voice thick with his accent, "Do you have some business with my fiance?" I could see all the color drain from their faces. They didn't know that he was a duster wearing, western loving dhampir god that kills the undead for a living and was even undead at one point. They only knew he was big, strong and angry.

I'm not going to lie, while I'm all for strong, capable women, there is just something thrilling about Dimitri adamant and clearly stating his claim of me as his fiance. Maybe it was because the beginning of our relationship wasn't exactly a relationship and there wasn't really any stake or claim for one another. We couldn't lay claim to one another. I couldn't call him my boyfriend and he couldn't call me his girlfriend. The only thing we could call each other is teacher and student, and that isn't exactly a turn on knowing that Dimitri could get into an unbelievable amount of trouble because of the nature of our relationship at that point. So...

Kirova's annoyed sigh pulls me from my thoughts and back to the present. I don't know if I was living through that moment in my own head, or Lissa's but both of us were feeling deep stabbing pain in our chests. Thinking about that simple, easy date that was just weeks before our lives came to an end. Literally. It was only a few weeks later that Lissa and the others were kidnapped and we died. We hadn't known at that time, while we were laughing and joking and having a fun double date, that Adrian had been kidnapped from work and set this all in motion. Or, at least, the final stages.

"Very well, Ms. Hathaway, you will be allowed to rejoin the Novice class and hope that you have some chance at graduation. But you are going to need to take extra classes if you even hope to catch up with the rest of your class by the end of the year - which I don't think you will. Two years is a lot of time to lose. So someone is going to have to put in extra time." Kirova crosses her arms over her chest and turns her gaze to Dimitri. "Are you willing to take on this burden, Guardian Belikov?" She asks flatly.

This burden has a name. It's Rose Hathaway, thanks.

Dimitri looks stunned, about to protest before his eyes flicker over to me as Kirova says, "No one else will take her, I'm sure. And you were so quick to defend her, I thought you would. If not, then there is no hope for her."

Any protest dies on his lips and it's hard not to swallow back the feelings of pain in my heart. Lissa sends me all the comfort she can muster through our bond. When we were in this position when we were actually seventeen, Lissa hated the bond. Hated the invasion of privacy, but now she's using it to her advantage. Even though she can't feel me through it, she's using it to help me. She is a true, honest friend. I would never be able to bond with anyone else like I do with Lissa. Not like this anyway.

"Very well," Dimitri says reluctantly. "I will train Novice Hathaway."

"Ah," Kirova says, distastefully before looking over at me, "And don't think this gets you off easy. There will be no extracurricular activities for you, either. If you are not in class or training with Belikov, you are in your room, understood?"

I nod, feeling Lissa's hand still wrapped around my own, tighten. "Yes, Headmistress."