Author's Note: Yay! An update spree! I hope to keep the ball rolling and start working on the next chapter to another story. I'm sorry about the long wait, but I have to say, everyone's support in this story has really built my confidance in it. I do really hope you all continue to enjoy and that your day is half as wonderful as you are! Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I own nothing!

Warnings: Rose's foul mouth, mentions of death, OOCness and unbeta'd.

Word Count: 6, 910

"You are such a liar, Rose," Dean says.

"Yeah, I can't believe we believed that for a second!" Meredith laughs, nudging one of the guys next to her. Stan looks annoyed, Dimitri looks away and the class erupts into jeers, the din filling the room. I drop my hair turn around and head back to my seat so that class can continue. Eddie and Mason both nudge me when I sit, telling me I got them good. I would pretend to be embarrassed and keep to myself until I met up with Lissa later. By then, the rumor of me being a liar has spread like wildfire and now everyone is staring at us for an entirely different reason.

Just kidding. I kind of wish that was what happened. Because even being called a liar and written off as such for the rest of the brutal school year somehow would have been better than the collective gasp and dead silence that follows. Anything to stop this deafening silence. My heart is beating so loud in my chest and I feel embarrassed. This feels so wrong, so bad. No one else would have been asked this. No one else would have to show themselves off like this. Maybe it's not all that bad and I'm simply being overly sensitive about it because of my history, but this moment has to be one of the worst.

And the point that makes it so bad is my class has no idea how bad it is, but the Guardian's do. It's like admitting to Dimitri that everyone was calling me a blood whore. It was embarrassing and degrading. It hurt.

But only this once. No one else. If they want to see if it's true, they'll look at my neck when I walk by with my hair up. That's it.

I let my hair slide through my fingers and down my back. I wiggle my fingers to get all the loose strands from between them before turning around. I turn around slowly, willing my racing heart to slow down. This is nothing. I've faced down Strigoi, Royals, my parents. This is nothing. This is my peers from school, most of which I don't see again. At least in the five years that follow leaving the Academy.

I face all of those things with more grace than I'm facing my peers. Dimitri was right about something; I'm all screwy with my moral compass and my rational one.

Scanning the astonished, disbelieving face of my peers, I can't help but find it funny. I've spent my entire schooling career awing people with what I say and what I do, that finally just telling the truth - well, in a twisted way - I get the reaction that I've always gotten. People are astonished. People are speechless. I think they were ready to call me out on a big lie too. And I think they are racking their brains trying to figure out how I go so many molnija and zvezda markings in such a short amount of time. It's unbelievable. It's beyond comprehension. If anyone believed it was true, maybe I would have one or two molnija marks but I had many more than anyone anticipated.

Even Dimitri, master of his facial expression and controller of his calm, has wide eyes and parted lips. Any of them who know my mother, who have met her before and seen all of the marks she's got, probably think me the second coming. My neck's not completely covered up just yet, but I've got a lot of markings. Even for a girl twenty-three-years old. Notwithstanding the fact that I am supposed to be seventeen.

That just makes this entire thing unbelievable.

"I learned very quickly that the way I was protecting Lissa wasn't right. I got lucky that we didn't run into any Strigoi while I was still riding on the idea that I had this all covered," I say, folding my hands behind me, giving everyone a moment to pull back from their thoughts. If Stan wanted to know my methods, I would tell him. Besides, someone else might find it useful in how they protect Moroi.

Once people start blinking out of their shock, I continue, "I had to learn quickly a few very important things that weren't taught in school if I wanted to be adequate protection for Lissa. The first was my method of protection. No matter what room I'm in, or building I go into whether it's premeditative or spur of the moment, I will know or figure out everything I need. Three simples things in each and every room and building I go into. One; where are all the exits and entrances. Two; where is all of the weapons I could use, and three; where is the Danger Triad and on what level am I dealing with them?"

I give my stunned classmates a moment to digest that information.

Eddie is the first to visibly recover. Probably seeing me now as less of a fellow and more like a superior, he raises his hand in question. I nod at him, kind of weirded out by his actions. "What is the Danger Triad?"

"The three most dangerous things that one can come across out there in the world as a Guardian. This one I learned quite a bit after I graduated but it's become so ingrained into me it feels like I've been doing it for a lifetime," I admit. "Tell me, does anyone know the three most dangerous things you can come across out there?"

"Strigoi," Mason says, eyes were blown wide. It's a common first thought for us dhampir, yet that somehow actually hurt me. It's like even now the threat on Mason's life hangs over him.

"Good," I say, surprised I didn't choke on that. "You've got the least dangerous of the three. What are the two most dangerous?"

A small, sick part of me finds some amusement in everyone's eyes looking around the room and at each other. No one knowing the answers. And that's okay. I honestly don't expect them to know. It's not something taught in the Academy. It's simply something I learned out in the real world. They may not believe it when I tell them, but in years to come, I hope that they come to understand. And maybe it helps someone. Sometimes I wish someone had taught me this before I left the Academy.

"I don't think you'll guess it, so I'll tell you. The second most dangerous thing you will encounter out there is Moroi. Now, I already know what you are thinking; is Rose high? How can a Moroi be dangerous? We face Strigoi to protect them." I take a moment to look around the room to make sure I've got everyone's attention. I do. Even the Guardians, who have usually heard all of the lectures in these classes before, aren't staring on glassy-eyed. They are listening to me too. Maybe I'm about to say something that they always knew, but didn't know they knew.

I may be able to help someone after all.

"How are the Moroi more dangerous than a Strigoi?" One of the other Novices asks incredulously.

"Because we know Strigoi. We know what they want and what they are willing to do to get it. They either want to kill you, drink your blood, take you away, or take you and your Moroi away. Simple, easy as that," I tell them, voice surprisingly level, even with the flashes of Dimitri behind my eyelids every time I blink. How his face looked at me before he was swallowed up by the growing horde of Strigoi that had surrounded him in that cave. Even now, years later - or years prior? - it is still fresh in my mind.

No one could deny that, as painful as it is. That's the world that we live in.

"Moroi's danger comes from their unpredictability," I tell them. "In a moment of danger, like being cornered by a Strigoi, or any other dangers that can come about out there in the real world, a Moroi can do any number of things without prompt. Run when they need to stay. Stay when they need to run. Panic when they need to stay calm. Draw attention to themselves when they need to hide away. Throw themselves in harm's way when they need to keep guard." I shift my weight from one foot to the other, trying to release a little bit of the tension from my hips. "No amount of prompting or conditioning can get eliminate the lethality that such an unpredictable element provides in such a dangerous situation. That is why they are number two of the most dangerous things you can come across out there. You never know what they are going to do next."

"Have you ever had that happen to you?" One of my classmates asks.

I nod. I've had that happen to me more times than I care to admit. I think about Spokane, when Mia came back after Mason died and saved me from Isaiah, she was out in the sunlight, she was free. I think about the attack on the Academy when I was losing my fight against those Strigoi and Christian lit one up when he should have been trying to run for safety. I think about Lissa, at Court, when Tasha took Mia hostage. She should have sat back and let the Guardians handle the issue, but that's not Lissa. That isn't who she is. That isn't who Christian and Mia are either. They are people who are willing to do what they can to help those in need. I can't blame them for it, seeing as in two of those scenarios they were trying to save my life and with Lissa... well, she just thought that Mia's life was in danger and wanted to protect her.

"It's not what you expect," I tell them, pulling myself away from those memories. "Danger comes in so many different forms. Most of the time it is unintentional. Not a lot of things go out one day with the intention of just hurting or killing someone. They are unintentional consequences of one thing or another." I shake my head a bit. "But the number one most dangerous thing you can run into out there is a Guardian."

That gets the reaction I was expecting. Now all my classmates are talking at once, arguing with me on that. We are going to Guardians - I am a Guardian - so why would we be dangerous to each other. I am able to explain the Moroi part to them well enough. I mean, we just went over this. I told them about Moroi, they lost their minds, I explained it and they believed me. Now we are on Guardians. Rinse, lather, repeat. No faith at all.

But I let them talk, let them argue until they are ready to hear why I would say that. Why I would consider Guardians more dangerous than Moroi or even Strigoi? Well, the answer is so simple.

"A true, good Guardian isn't a Guardian for the sake of other Guardians. We are Guardians for the sake of Moroi." Silence once more. No one could dispute that. Sometimes, my Rose-logic happens to be tinged with actual logic. "We don't go through our schooling here with the mantra of 'Guardians unite against the Strigoi foes before us'." A dry laugh escapes me as I shake my head. "It's 'they come first'. The Moroi come first, which is why they are my number one. Because a true Guardian will do anything and everything for their Moroi. It's how we were raised, how we were trained."

I think they are starting to understand and I have to wonder if Dimitri had the issue of going up against Guardians before Victor had kidnapped Lissa, based on his reaction in here. He lowers his eyes for a moment, probably being lost in thoughts about that moment he's thinking of. To be honest, this was such a terrible time in my life that I didn't even really think about this afterward. I guess I just figured that he was protective enough to take the fact that Lissa was in danger and Guardians were involved... well, he took it in stride. But maybe, as I already know, Guardians coming into conflict with other Guardians is more the norm than I had originally thought.

"We do anything for our Moroi, but when they come into conflict with another Moroi and a Guardian with the same training, the same mindset, and the same dedication and there comes the biggest problem. This goes beyond survival, like Strigoi, and emotions, like Moroi. It's identity. It's who we are and what we stand for. The building blocks of our foundation, our creation, our childhood, and our future is based almost solely on the protection and preservation of our Moroi. It's a volatile concoction when the Moroi starts coming into conflict with one another."

I sigh, shaking my head.

"Wait, are you talking about Moroi fighting against other Moroi?" One of my classmates asks incredulously. "That doesn't happen."

"Why not? Are all the Moroi in this school best friends?" I ask, looking between my classmates. "Do we all love one another and dedicate our lives to the ambitions of others without a thought to ourselves? No. We are all beings of free will. We may do as we are told, but we don't like all the orders and we are able to think for ourselves. Moroi in all their majesty and greatness aren't immune to petty squabbles and arguments, in fact, if anything, they do that better than pretty much anything else."

"Are you saying other Guardians are dangerous because if they are loyal to their Moroi and do whatever they say, even if it's against our laws, that it makes them more dangerous because they know everything we do, how we do everything?" Eddie asks, brown eyes wide.

I nod. "Yes. Good people exist. So do bad. Good Moroi, bad Moroi. Good Guardians, bad Guardians."

The class mumbles amongst themselves, trying to decide just how full of crap that I am. While they are busy doing that, I turn to look at Stan, wondering why he hasn't stopped me yet, which I sort of figured he would. Maybe the revelation that someone may have passed me was enough shock to kill him. When I catch him just staring back at me unmoving I wondered if I was right and his death was so swift, his muscles atrophied in mere moments basically turning him to stone where he stands.

I wait a moment more like maybe my eyes held the cure to his petrification, but when he doesn't recover right away, I look back over the class, my eyes traveling to the back of the room to Dimitri. He's staring back, dark eyes swimming with all of the thoughts not spreading across his face. That's always been something that he's been good at, keeping what he's thinking locked deep inside where only he was privy to. As good as he is, as great as he is about many things, I have learned to read him.

He's listening with rapt attention, he's absorbing every word I'm saying, analyzing it and filing it away. Wise and logical Dimitri can understand what I'm saying and even accept it as reality. He's not so blinded by emotion - like I am - that he can't see truth and logic when it's being thrown in his face. I am throwing his brain for a loop, though.

In his eyes, I'm seventeen. I'm young and bullheaded and when he handed my ass to me outside of our shared apartment in Portland, it was to be expected. I was a seventeen-year-old Novice who hadn't been in school for two years. Of course, a skilled, lethal Guardian in tip-top shape such as himself would be able to throw me around as easily as he had. But here I am, not even ten hours later telling him I'm just as dangerous and lethal as him. That for all intents and purposes, I have killed more Strigoi than he and have the marks on my neck to prove it.

He can't figure out what changed in the few hours between him kicking my ass and me now proving I should, technically, be his equal. His eyes won't let him see twenty-three-year-old Rose, because before his very eyes I'm seventeen.

That and, just this morning he was bullied into training me thinking that I would be two years behind everyone else. Now he's probably wondering why I didn't just come out and say that I was a Guardian to Kirova in the first place.

Shit. What are the chances they aren't going to think to ask that?

"Once I've figured out those three things," I say slowly, remembering how I originally got to this conversation, "where are the exits and entrances, weapons I can use and the Danger Triad, I react accordingly," I reiterate, figuring they forgot as well as I do what sent us down the road, to begin with. This was still a protection class, if anyone can take a little bit of what I learned and use it - even improve upon it - then I'll be happy.

Maybe this could help Eddie. Maybe it could save Mason.

A part of me wanted to tell them about Mason and Eddie and Spokane. I wanted to tell them about my ignorance and foolishness and how quickly things can go from being childish to dangerous. There were so many things that gave me pause. I couldn't mention Adrian, I hadn't met him yet, and I could tell them about how he reminded me about magic by him using Spirit to dream walk to me. I couldn't use anyone's name, namely two in the class with me at this moment and two Moroi who I haven't spoken to before. I couldn't mention Spokane or the Strigoi killings in specific - about how they were working with humans and killing large groups within the royal families. I couldn't even give the time of year or why we were away from the Academy. Plus, if I'm going to a Guardian school, why the hell would I be around Moroi kids my age without building more of a lie?

It's hard too, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if maybe it was right to tell them the cliff notes. The parts I could get away with without fact-checking. I can't look at Eddie or Mason as I talk, making sure to steal myself. I think back to when my mother came to this very class and told us about how she and a few other Guardians managed to fight off Strigoi, and try and pull from that moment. I omit all the names, preferring to keep their identity safe is what I told them, but I just wasn't sure I would be able to lie enough to make it believable as well as I'm not sure if I would be able to make up a name for them and remember it.

I use facts. The only thing I said in a description of the Moroi is the boy has fire magic, the girl has water, and the dhampir with me were both boys. I describe the house, using the whiteboard behind me to draw out the layout of the two floors I was on, the main level and the basement. I explained the set-up of the room that we were held in and the living room where the action took place. I explained what the Strigoi wanted and how they kept drinking from one of the dhampirs - Eddie - and how we escaped. I omit the humans involved and how exactly we were captured other than we were caught off guard.

I tell them that we used the Moroi boy to burn away our binds with fire magic then we went upstairs and made a break for the exit. I tell them that I found a gun on the premises and was able to get a shot off on the female Strigoi which bought everyone enough time to escape, the sunlight scaring the Strigoi into the living room to get away from it. Taking me with them. Cut off from the sunlight and my chance to escape.

"I want to say that this was the moment that I found my groove, that I kicked ass and saved the day, but I would be lying," I tell them, voice level even though my chest is hurting and it's hard to breathe. "I was trapped. I couldn't break away from them and the only reason I wasn't dead in that very moment was because they started arguing with one another. Long enough for one of my fellow novices to come back. And he became the bigger threat than me. He came back not for honor or duty. He came back because he loved me."

It's a stigma. Sort of. It's almost unheard of. A dhampir male coming back for a dhampir female to save her life from Strigoi isn't unheard of. It's not strange in that regard. It's that I admitted that love and acknowledged something that is pretty... um, unusual in our society. Teenagers can play around with teenagers, but once we become adults it's not common. There isn't a reason for two dhampir to be together. We can't further our race. At least, as far as they know. But I know something that they don't. I know that there is a very real possibility that Dimitri and I could have kids.

Even now we don't know if one needs to be ingrained with Spirit, or if both partners need to be. If it's one, then even now Dimitri and I are good seeing as I'm Shadow Kissed but if it needs both of us, then I'm never going to be able to have his kids because everyone is dead wrong if they think that I'm going to let Dimitri be turned Strigoi again just so we can have kids together - er, if I can somehow win him over again - even though I want his kids and it was something we talked a lot about and even started using protection to keep ourselves safe until we were ready, we still wanted them. We still were planning on having children once we got married and we were financially stable.

Guardians don't get paid a lot. And while most of our needs were paid for by our society, we weren't going to be able to afford taking care of a child, childcare and ourselves at the moment. We needed to save up. And we were. Dimitri had a decent - it was honestly impressive to me but I shouldn't be surprised considering how frugal he is with his money on a good day - saved up but we wanted more. He bought my ring himself and he wanted to pay for our wedding himself, although we both knew Abe was going to stick his big Turkish nose into it, we still wanted to do a lot of it ourselves, and that would have drained him dry. We needed to save up more.

And now... now we may never get the chance. But I can't think about that. Not now.

"The Strigoi killed him. Killed him because... well, he could." I look down at the ground, ignoring the way my voice cracked. I can't look at Eddie, or Mason. Especially Mason. I can't look at him because behind my eyelids I see him crystal clear. His eyes wide with the shine gone from them, his neck twisted unnaturally as he is thrown half-hazardously onto the floor for Elena or whatever her name was to drink from. Like he wasn't alive just a moment ago. As if his life isn't important. Well, to them, it wasn't.

But he was to me, and at that moment, he was gone. He was killed as if he didn't matter and left to be drained just the same. I explain how Mia saved my life - without using her name - using the aquarium I mentioned briefly beforehand to drowned him until I stabbed him into unconsciousness while the female Strigoi was distracted by the female Moroi, yet unable to get to get to her. I then explain how I killed the female Strigoi with the sword, by cutting her head off and then the male Strigoi's head rolled after.

I didn't talk about staying behind and cry over his body. I didn't talk about the numbness. I just stopped talking after "and then I cut his head off too." Nothing. No one speaks, not right away. No one knowing what to say. It's one thing for someone no one knows personally to talk about losing someone on the field, but they know me. I'm familiar to them. I'm one of them, as far as they know. I'm their age - er, sort of. At this age, we're unstoppable. Or so we thought. Life is so fragile, so delicate.

One moment, one decision and it's all ripped away.

"That moment was one of the biggest moments of life. One of the most impactful. That was probably the moment I began to take those three steps. It's slow and steady over time, but this was the beginning. Who I am today, really started in that moment. In this world, an infinite number of people will hate you. For things, you can control, things that you can't. Your skin color, height, weight, size, race. If it's something about you, someone will find a reason to hate you for it. But only a finite amount of people will love you. For who you are or what you do. Never take them for granted, because you'll never know when they are gone."

Too much. Too serious. Too much twenty-three-year-old Rose and not enough seventeen-year-old Rose.

So I smile, a toothy half smile that not even I believe in. "So I take what that situation taught me. I take what every situation has taught me and utilize it to the best of my abilities today. Lissa is my priority. I will protect her from anything that threatens her. My methods tend to be pretty straightforward and a lot of calculations done at the moment, but I am confident that I can protect her. She may not be perfectly safe with me at her side, because danger is always prevalent no matter if it's just us or there are a hundred Guardians with us to help, but I do know one thing for certain," I pause, thinking about every time Lissa has been taken away from me, kidnapped or hurt. Victor, Strigoi Dimitri, and Preston Callic are just a few names that come to mind. I stare back at my classmates, folding my hands behind my back and spreading my legs out in a relaxed stance. "Lissa is a hundred times safer with me at her side than she is if I'm not."


Lissa links her arm through mine as soon as I step into the hall after two more classes following Stan's, directing us toward the cafeteria. I've been the subject of conversation in the whispering halls since Stan's class ended. My fellow Novices spreading the news in the halls so by the time that Lissa caught me, it had somehow already reached her, even though Novices are separated from Moroi in the beginning of the day.

"Wow, Rose. I don't know what to say," Lissa says as we walk.

"Your hair looks amazing even though it hasn't seen a brush in hours and probably won't until my inheritance is released from captivity by the Moroi Royals?" I squint at her.

Lissa rolls her eyes. "Your hair looks great, as always. But I mean about the little stunt in Stan's class."

"I know what you meant, but it's not something we have to talk about right now."

Lissa raises an eyebrow. "What do you mean? I feel like now is a pretty good time to talk about it."

I turn my eyes into the darkness and spot a dark shadow hiding in it, almost blending into it perfectly. He caught me the first time, but now I can spot him in utter blackness. It's like a sixth sense, now. I'm so acutely aware of him, I could pick his voice out of a crowd, find him in the dark blindfolded, and just know he's near by the feeling washing over me.

Lissa's eyebrows pull together, then she follows my line of sight, looking past Dimitri at first, but then a shock zips through her as she spots him the second time. Her eyesight is better than mine, but not trained to find dhampir Guardian Gods hiding in the darkness.

"Oh! Should I..?" She looks between us.

"Go ahead to the cafeteria, I'll meet you there. Careful of you-know-who and don't say anything. We'll talk when I get there." I lean closer and whisper as quietly as I can so that even she can barely hear me, "Victor is prowling around here too. Just go."

A look of distaste and mistrust crosses her face but she manages to cover it up. She nods, sparing Dimitri a curious glance before turning back to me, taking my hands. "Don't be too long, we have much to discuss before lunch ends."

I nod, giving her hands a squeeze. "Gotcha."

She pulls her hands back and starts toward the cafeteria, stopping to look over at Dimitri, who steps out of the shadows and bows his head to her. She smiles sadly and I feel her pain. She misses Dimitri. He's so close that only a few steps separate them yet she couldn't reach him. He's miles away from her. She misses the bond they had. The closeness. She's hoping that they will be able to bridge the gap sooner than they had originally. She hopes that it won't take her bringing him back from Strigoi-death to build that bond. She wants that now.

Same.

"Guadian Belikov," Lissa says sweetly, offering a pretty smile.

He tips his head to her a bit, respectfully. "Princess Vasilisa."

Her smiles faulters. She swallows thickly, shoots me a look of sadness before retreating toward the cafeteria with hastened steps, sadness washing over her. Dimitri watches her go with a small crease between his eyes, not seeming to understand why she appeared sad. He caught that, huh? Well, of course he did. This is Dimitri we're talking about. He doesn't miss much.

He wants to ask. I know he does. He wants to ask so bad if she's okay because that's who he is. He cares, and he cares a lot. He doesn't want to appear emotional or attached just yet. But the honorable cowboy that makes up Dimitri Belikov can't just easily ignore a damsel in distress. He just met Lissa, yet I know he already wants to protect her from everything in the world.

I love this man.

"What can I do for you, Comrade?" I ask, interlacing my fingers in front of me to stop from reaching out and grabbing at the man what was supposed to be my fiance right now. Well, not at this moment but... with the present me? Not the seventeen-year-old me but the twenty-three-year-old me. God, this is getting hard to keep straight in my head.

Dimitri scowls at the name, thoroughly distracted from Lissa for now. "Don't call me that." Oh, you'll come to love it, just wait.

I raise my hands in surrender before interlacing them again. "Sure, sure. What do you need?"

Dimitri steps up in front of me, looking up and down my person as if all of his questions are written across my skin and clothes. He's going to have to stop staring at me like that or we are going to have a very intimate problem. His eyes are like hands running up and down me. My skin begins to warm up and gooseflesh is spreading over my body. I want him to touch me. I want to touch him. It feels like a hundred years since I've last touched him. I miss him so much. He's so close, yet we couldn't be further apart.

My fiance, my love, my soul mate, I miss you.

Noticing me fidget, his eyes draw back up to my own. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"I like you watching me," I say automatically, flirtatious mode on overdrive.

Dimitri looks like the comment fried his brain and I could have honestly punched myself in the face. My heart sees my fiance in Dimitri, while my brain sees a man who hardly knows me even though I love him so much. I've known for a long time that my heart kicks my brain's ass every time I open my mouth but Christ! I could have at least waited twenty-four hours before I started dropping subtle hints that I liked him.

Keyword being subtle!

Whelp, it looks like I really will have to leave and join the Keepers. Good luck, Lissa. I hope you figure this all out.

Trying to recover from my verbal slip up, I quickly say, "I've heard of you, I mean. You're pretty famous! Dimitri Belikov. So young and yet well respected in the Guardian ranks." Please buy it. Please forget that I purred better than a cat at you. "It makes me feel like I'm doing something right if I have your attention." Whoa girl, reign it in a bit.

Recovering a bit, but obviously a bit cautious, Dimitri says, "I didn't get that impression when we first met."

"I didn't realize who you were," I almost choke on that lie. One of the biggest in my life. I would know him anywhere. "I was just pissed off that by, um, giving blood to Lissa threw me off my game so much, that uh, I made a terrible first impression on you."

Dimitri blinks a few times. "You didn't make a bad impression on me," he says honestly like he didn't just half kill me. "Although I have to admit, what you displayed and what I've seen of your marks has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I didn't anticipate that."

"Blood loss does insane things to people," I say, then flinch. This really wasn't a part of my life I wanted to relive. I know he would never judge me, but some little punk walking around could overhear and spread that terrible rumor again and while I know it won't destroy me now - because come on, if I can survive the Moroi Queen Tatiana calling me a blood whore, some shitty high schoolers won't be the end of the world - but that was still a stigma that followed me around and I'm not so sure that I won't just start swinging this time around.

"I suppose," Dimitri says slowly. "But I mean about your Marks. Why did you not say anything before? To Headmistress Kirova? To me?"

Don't get your hopes up. He's just curious. He's not interested yet. Not the way you want him to be, at least.

I honestly don't know how to answer him. I feel like all I can do is lie to him now and that's not what I want. I don't want to build our relationship's foundation on lies. I don't want to ruin our chance at a future because of this. So.. maybe a bit of honesty could be beneficial.

"I..." I hesitate, looking up into his eyes, thankful that he seems to have forgotten about my verbal vomit a few minutes ago. "I don't know. I thought..." I shake my head, running my hands through my hair. "I thought this part of my life was over. I never thought that I would be coming back. Not like this. Not..." I wave my hand around. Not going back in time. Not losing everyone I love. My friends, my fiance, my father. Even my mother. Janine and I haven't bonded so there is still this underlying tension. Hopefully by me not being an ungrateful daughter it won't be so bad, but I won't know until I see her.

But my bond with Abe is basically dead at this point. He knows I'm out here, but he has no reason to seek me out. I'm not even really sure what made him come back into my life. Sure my mom put him on notice that I was missing and to keep an eye out, but he didn't have to ever come back into my life. What if he initially never planned to again and because I'm not going to let Dimitri turn into a Strigoi, I can't meet up with Abe?

I mean, I don't even have his number memorized and I can imagine it's hard to track good ol' Zmey when he doesn't want to be found.

"I never thought this would ever happen," I admit, dropping my hands to my sides.

Dimitri stares back at me. "You went two years without being found, I suppose I can understand. But taking the Princess away from the safety of St. Vladamir's was very foolish of you."

I smile faintly at him. "Yeah, well, you found me in weeks what other Guardians failed for years to do."

Dimitri nods slowly to himself. "I suppose I have to admit, you did well going back to school to finish up and be better prepared in protecting Princess Vasilisa."

"Lissa," I say automatically, hearing her full name come from his mouth is just too weird.

Dimitri blinks. "What?"

"She doesn't like being called Vasilisa. She wants you to call her Lissa."

"It's not - " He starts but I stop him by holding my hand up.

"She doesn't care if it's impersonal. She doesn't like being called that. It's why she frowned before she left. She doesn't want you to call her that." Well, at least that's mostly true.

Dimitri's dark eyes turn to where we last saw Lissa. "Oh. I see." He considers something for a moment before looking over at me, curiously. He hesitates, trying to decide on something. I raise an eyebrow and open my mouth, about to ask him what he was thinking about, when he says, in Russian, "I can't believe that you managed to go across the world to Siberia to finish your schooling. Why not just return to St. Vladamir's?"

I close my eyes, thinking back to all the nights we would stay up late, laying side by side. We would whisper Russian to each other. I would try to speak a full cohesive conversation in Russian to him and he would help me with the words I couldn't figure out and the pronunciations that illuded me. I would butcher a simple word and he would chuckle softly in the darkness of our room, blackout curtains keeping the sunlight out.

"No, Roza," he would whisper, pulling me into his arms and kissing my forehead. "It's pronounced like this..."

I miss him so badly, it hurts.

I open my eyes and look at him wishing so badly that we could go back to that moment if even for a second. I just want him in my arms so I could tell him I loved him one more time, kiss him one more time, just breath him in one more time. But I can't. I can't go back to that moment because I'm apparently trapped in this hell trying desperately not to ruin my own life by knowing what the future holds.

Instead, I lock eyes with his beautiful brown ones, saying, in Russian, "Because Lissa doesn't feel safe here."