Over two years it had taken to get to this point, to find her- to find them. To find Rose Hathaway and her best friend, Princess Vasilisa Dragomir.
I awoke to check on her and make sure all was fine. Lissa's contented dream started to morph into the all-too-sinisterly-realistic nightmare. I gently shook her awake before she started screaming.
"Oh god, Rose," she cried softly into my shoulder.
"It's okay, you're not there, you're not there." Slowly, she calmed. I took in her appearance. She looked a little worse for wear. "When was-?"
"Early yesterday. I'm not hungry."
I sighed. I knew stubbornness when I saw it. I could also be the definition of it when I wanted or needed to be. "Go get a yogurt or something." I didn't need to tell her since that was the plan she was already putting into action.
"Have you checked on her yet?" asked Lissa before she walked out the bedroom door.
I nodded. "Yeah, but I haven't checked with her yet."
"She's such a sweetie."
"A handful, you mean," I called after Lissa before returning to her room.
When I spotted her sleeping form I smiled fondly, proudly. Peace was something we rarely found, but her innocence provided both Lissa and I with comfort and reassurance, yet another motivation to stay hidden. I flipped on the lamp and sat beside her on her Princess-themed bed.
"Sweetie," I called softly as I ran a hand through her long curls. She didn't stir. "Honey, you need to wake up, baby girl."
She grumbled as she turned over. I was again struck by her features, her likeness to me and yet she so freakishly resembled her father. "Momma," she complained incoherently.
"Come on, baby, time to go to the toilet," I prompted. This had been by far the weirdest stage of child-rearing I had gone through as yet. Toilet training. Daytimes she had nailed, but nights... they still needed work.
"But Momma!" she whined sleepily.
"You just need to try to go. I'm not dealing with a wet bed tomorrow. Now get your Princess-butt in that bathroom, little girl."
She nodded and moved to the bathroom. As she went I made the routine check. Better, getting better. It'd been a dry bed for ten nights now, back-to-back.
Once I pulled up the sheets I noticed the house cat come her and Lissa's unofficial pet- Oska, as she pronounced- stiffen after jumping from her bed to her window sill. Yes, my daughter slept with a cat on her bed. I had no clue why, but animals took to her as easily as they took to Lissa- and Moroi in general. Except my daughter wasn't a Moroi. She wasn't a human either. Nor was she a dhampir, much as she had many of the characteristics of one. If she was a dhampir Oska would avoid her as he did me. So, when I saw his tension I looked out and spotted what he saw. No... No! This can't be happening. I knew that silhouette, but in that moment I wished to god I didn't. For once it meant danger not safety.
Trying to control my panic yet again, I grabbed her emergency bag, returned to the room I shared with Lissa, and grabbed our bags. I barely noticed as I pulled jeans and shoes on and threw my hair in a bun.
"Done, Momma," she said sweetly as I exited the room with the bags on my shoulder. I swooped her up as I went and put slip-on closed-in shoes on her.
"Get his keys," I murmured to Lissa, hoping my daughter wouldn't register I was asking her Aunty to use compulsion.
Lissa's eyes widened and fear pulsed into me from her. She nodded and placed her absolute trust in me again as she turned to our housemate who was studying for some college math assignment. As she did, I hurriedly braided a scared-looking daughter-of-mine's hair.
We had four blocks to run. With a twenty-six month old. It wouldn't be the first time, but it certainly wasn't as easy to escape with her in tow. I wouldn't have it any other way, though.
"Stay with Aunt Lissa, and be quiet," I instructed as we stepped out the door. I knew I could outrun them both any day, but I would only ever leave them behind after I died protecting them.
I spotted our housemate's car and indicated for my girls to speed up. But that silhouette took form in front of me, we were only a tauntingly small handful of feet away when they surrounded us- when he blocked us. I shoved Lissa behind me and her behind Lissa.
Rose dropped into a crouch and I took another step forward. "Rose," I warned.
"Don't touch her," growled the dangerous Rose Hathaway.
I threw my hands up in surrender. I hated fighting with this girl- this young woman. "I don't want-" I took a half step forward. Wrong move, Belikov. Rose's hair was up, you idiot, she had known she'd be fighting.
Rose attacked me with a move I hadn't thought she'd used in the whole time she'd been gone. I'd expected an easy block. Not what I got. I should've known better than to underestimate her. I had the skills and the kills on her, but I didn't have the element of surprise or the drive she was showing tonight- today, whatever time it was. It gave her the edge to pin me, and to do so surprisingly quickly.
"Concede?" she demanded with dangerous eyes. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. Concede or I'll render all of you unconscious. Just. As. You. Taught. Me."
"Momma?" a tiny voice called. Rose's ears perked up but she didn't shift her menacing glare from me or loosen her hold. She was good, brilliant actually and I was proud of her, but she didn't have a clue how she was hurting me right now. "Yes, baby?"
"He hurt you?"
Still glaring at me, Rose shook her head. "No, baby, Momma's fine. Him, well, he may be." Damn, she did know! How did she always know!
Confused and- frankly- rather hurt, I spoke. "Fine. I concede. Now let me up, Rose."
Rose's brown eyes bored into mine before she nodded and returned to her feet and prior protective stance. When I was back on my own feet I truly noticed the little girl for the first time as she clung to Rose's leg. She was in pink, princess pyjamas and looked like Rose all over again. From the nearly-black braided hair to the warm brown eyes, from tip to toe she screamed out she was Rose's.
"Rose. Don't," warned Lissa with one hand on Rose's wrist, the other gently wresting the girl away from Rose.
"Momma," pleaded her daughter.
After what felt like hours and Lissa speaking a special language without moving her mouth or looking at her friend, Rose ever-so-slightly relaxed. I took that as my cue. My attention turned to my charge and I bowed in respect.
"Princess, my name's Dimitri Belikov," in case you forgot, unlike someone, "I've come to take you back to St Vladimir's Academy."