"Hathway! What are you storming off for?" Patrick called lightheartedly behind me. I grimaced, unsure how to handle the situation.

"What do you want?" I whipped around, looking him dead in the eye. I knew I was being unreasonable, but I couldn't control myself. I was frustrated and hurt and I didn't have the patience to deal with another guy right now.

"I want you to talk to me." His eyes were earnest and he looked genuinely concerned. I felt the anger begin to deflate. "Look I know that we're guarding partners and if you don't want to pursue this at all I totally understand. But I'd at least like to be friends. I understand that Vasalissa is your priority, and she is mine as well. I don't want anything to complicate that, so tell me what you want." I sighed.

Patrick was so laid back and easy. No one would really care if we dated. There were no Royals that would send me dirty looks for being with him. There were no complicated emotions. There were no ultimatums or secret suicide missions or honor codes or alcohol abuse. I didn't dislike the idea of pursuing things with him, but everything was too messy. He was sweet and a great Guardian- he was very committed to Lissa. He also had a great sense of humor and was fun to be around. But was that enough?

There wasn't electricity like there was with Dimitri. Or at least like there had been. Dimitri had made it abundantly clear that we were over.

Then there was Adrian. Adrian was sweet, but we were on different pages. I had known it for a long time, but was too scared to end things. I had a feeling it would destroy him. Adrian was fun to be with, but he was a Royal Moroi, and I was a dhampir Guardian. There was no future there- Daniela and Tatiana had shown me that. I was his dhampir fling- not his future wife. Recent developments had made that even more obvious. Adrian's family was starting to force him into the world of politics, pulling him out of his playboy lifestyle where it was okay that he was with a dhampir.

His life was moving from parties with strippers to soirees with dignitaries. And that was okay. He was growing up, but our paths were moving in different directions. It was time to acknowledge that and move on before things got ugly.

"Patrick, I'm not going to say no, but I am going to say no for right now. I think the best thing is for us to be friends, at least until I get some things figured out. You don't really know me, and I don't really know you. I have too much going on with…" I shook my head, "with work I guess." It was a lame excuse, but he didn't press me for answers.

He nodded, seemingly accepting my answer. "Okay then. Well, let me know when you figure it out. I'll be waiting." It wasn't the answer I had been hoping for. I didn't want him to wait for me. It was too similar to the situation I had put myself in with Adrian. At least I hadn't promised anything to Patrick like I had with Adrian. I was tired of having a guy in my life that wanted something. I needed to be alone.

We went our separate ways and I called Adrian to find out where he was. The answer was less than delightful.

As I walked into the Royal quarters I took in the gilded walls and ornate vases that were scattered along the halls on top of ornately carved tables. At one point in my life, I would have dreamt of living in a place like this. Now, it felt gaudy and ridiculous. Moroi hid in these palaces while dhampirs died to protect them from the Strigoi. Many Moroi couldn't even afford to have dhampirs. Yet here was our Queen, showered in luxury while others suffered.

Adrian had just stepped into the hall, pausing to hug Tatiana, when he spotted me. "Rose!" I smiled. Despite the recent reflections on our relationship, I had still missed him.

"Ah, Rosemarie. Good to see you. I hope you're well?" I forced a smile as I turned to Tatiana. She extended a hand, which I delicately shook. She immediately pulled a small handkerchief out of the pocket of her expensive looking pantsuit and wiped her hand off. I bit back a sarcastic comment on her elitism, but opted instead to grab Adrian's hand.

"I'm doing very well, thank you. Adrian, do you mind grabbing lunch with me?" Tatiana's eyes narrowed, obviously displeased.

"Adrian, I believe you are supposed to be having lunch with Ariana Szelsky. Remember you were supposed to speak with her about the age decree on my behalf?" Her words were light, but I could feel the threat below them. Adrian shrugged.

"Another time. I can reschedule." I could feel Tatiana's annoyance as we walked away, hand in hand. I knew she was losing patience for our relationship, and was sad to be giving her exactly what she wanted. I wasn't one to comply with authority.

"So what's this age decree?" I asked as we walked to lunch.

"If I could tell you, I would, but Tatiana has me on a really short leash recently. I'm actually surprised I'm allowed to know about it, and I don't even really know most of the details." He dodged my gaze and pulled a cigarette out of his coat pocket. Knowing what I was about to do, I didn't bother complaining.

"Oh come on Adrian. It's me. You have to tell me." He laughed and I winced, guilt overshadowing any enjoyment I could get out of this moment.

"Fine, fine. Tatiana is trying to increase Guardian numbers by changing the age that dhampirs graduate. I don't know how much they're changing the graduation time, but I've heard rumors that it's going to be a very, very small change. Maybe like six months." I felt my eyes widen in surprise.

"That's insane!" I stopped in my tracks. I couldn't believe Adrian wasn't as outraged as I felt.

"What do you mean?" He took another long drag from his cigarette, and blew it off to the side, watching the smoke dissipate into the dark sky. "It's a small change and Tatiana is only doing it because she's getting so much pressure from the more conservative members of the Council." He shrugged it off like it was nothing.

"Six months is huge. You can learn so much in six months. And what if it's more than six months? What if it becomes a year? Two years? It's a slippery slope Adrian. If they can ask eighteen year olds to die for them, they owe them those six months." I was trembling by the time I finished and Adrian's casual stance on this was making me even more enraged.

"I think you're blowing this out of proportion Rose. Tatiana is doing the best she can with the situation. You're being a little unfair." The condescension in his voice caught me off guard. I looked up, meeting his eyes and seeing the anger there.

"I think sending seventeen year olds off to slaughter is unfair. But that's just me." I turned away from him, fully intending to walk away but he caught my arm and I let him.

"What's going on, Rose? Why are you so upset?" Silence. Could I really do it?

"I…" I thought of Dimitri, and Patrick, and the reflecting I had done on my relationships. "I think this is over."

His hand dropped from my arm and I turned to look at him. Confusion and hurt lit up his face and it took all of my strength not to look away. I needed to look him in the eye.

He lowered his gaze, watching his cigarette burn. "So that's why." I realized he was referencing why I had let him smoke in front of me. "It's him, isn't it?" I closed my eyes, tilting my head up towards the starts and letting out a long sigh.

"No, Adrian. It isn't him. He was never the problem." He shook his head vehemently.

"You never even gave me a chance! I should have known better." His voice was full of bitterness and anger. I couldn't bear to hear it. Adrian was never angry. It wasn't like him. His anger felt unfair and misplaced. Dimitri had nothing to do with my actions in this moment.

"You absolutely should have known better. You knew how I felt about him, and when I came back, I truly tried to move on. I gave you the best shot I could manage. And now he's back and he hates me. And you know what? I hate myself." My voice broke as I said it, and I tried to choke back a sob. His face immediately softened, and he stepped forward, encircling his arms around me.

"Never say that, Little Dhampir. You're too beautiful to hate." I broke down into tears.

"I'm so, so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted it to be this way. I thought I could move on from him right away, and now that I have, I'm too broken to do this anymore. I love you, but I can't. I can't be the reason you want to be better. I can't be your crutch when I can barely stand myself." I was rambling at this point, sobbing uncontrollably into his chest. He just stroked my hair and held me, and for that I was grateful.

When my tears stopped and I could breathe again I pulled away, suddenly very aware of how quiet he had become. I had said a lot with very few words, and I wasn't sure how he would react to me calling myself his crutch.

"Do you hate me?" My voice was very small, as I was terrified of the response. He shook his head with a sad smile.

"Never." I wanted to smile, but it felt inappropriate.

"Can we still be friends?" He winced, and I felt ashamed for asking so much of him. After a few moments, he broke the silence.

"Of course. Who else is going to show you a good time?" he said with a cheeky smile. I could feel my heart breaking. It was over, and I was forcing Adrian to hide his heartbreak with his typical bad boy humor.

"I'm sorry." My voice was barely a whisper. His face darkened.

"I know, Rose. I forced you to do and be something that you couldn't. Like I said, I should have known better." With that, he turned around and began to walk away, leaving me alone in the middle of a cobblestone courtyard on the far side of Court. I sat down on the edge of the fountain that lay in the center of the courtyard, unable to move and watched him retreat, a new cigarette in hand.

Adrian and I hadn't been compatible, but that didn't mean I hadn't loved him. I had loved him dearly, and though it hadn't been the same way I had loved Dimitri, it was still love and it still hurt to end it. I just hope the damage I had caused him would be greater than the damage he was about to do to his liver.