I am so sorry that this is 143873948273 years late. Life got in the way in a big way, but I'm back now, and hopefully I'll be able to wrap this up soon. I hope you guys enjoy! As always feedback is appreciated.

Ignoring the identical looks of concern that my mother and Lissa wore, I took off into the dark night at a sprint, heading away from the cabin. I had barely been running for a few moments before I heard the sound of movement near me. Slowing to a walk, I slunk through the darkness in order to avoid detection. A wave of nausea hit me as I neared the sound and I tensed, brandishing a stake as I prepared for the threat.

My sensation of unease grew as I came closer to the sound. I froze when I saw that there were many Strigoi- six, seven?- circling someone in the clearing. The moonlight illuminated their target. My heart jumped to my throat when I saw who it was. I could recognize those eyes anywhere. Dimitri.

I jumped into the fray, hoping I could catch the Strigoi by surprise. I managed to nick one in the heart before two of its comrades turned to me, their eyes glinting in the moonlight. I barely registered Dimitri's yell as I faced my new foes. I needed to destroy them- to get him to safety. I danced around them, dodging their blows and hoping to deal one of my own. They were both experienced though, expertly shielding their hearts. Before long, I felt myself falter slightly, overwhelmed as yet another Strigoi joined the battle. Almost as though in agreement, the three crowded in on me at once, one attacking me from the back while the others crowded me on either side. I weaved through their advances, but it was too much. One of their blows hit me, flinging me backwards.

Before I could get up, one of them was on me, his fangs bared. My heart froze as I saw the pure hatred in his eyes. I struggled kicking against him, but it was to no avail. He was far stronger than me. His eyes glinted, his mouth bared in a grin, as he lowered his fangs to my neck.

Before he could bite, he was thrown off. I opened my eyes, half expecting to see Dimitri like I had before. My blood ran cold when I recognized the tall blonde Strigoi that stood in his place. His eyes glinted as he came closer and I froze, momentarily paralyzed by the intensity of his glare.

"I told you, you'll never win," his voice was cold, dangerous.

His words broke the trance I had been in and I scrambled to my feet. He considered me momentarily before crouching into an attacking position. I mirrored his movement, wielding my stake. I danced around him, searching for any opening to strike. To hurt. To kill. But he was good, better than anyone I had ever had to fight before. After a few moments, I realized that he was toying with me. His movements were easily calculated. He was always a fraction of a second too fast for me to catch him. As our pace quickened, I found myself farther and farther behind him. Before long, I was struggling just to keep pace, just to stay alive.

I stumbled backwards and he took advantage of my momentary lapse of concentration in order to pin me to the ground. His weight crushed my leg, sending a sharp jolt of pain through my ankle. Before he could do anything else, Dimitri was there. I barely registered his look of concern before he was gone again, dueling with the Strigoi like he had been before.

I jumped to my feet to help him, only to fall back to the ground at the crippling pain that shot through my ankle. I bit back a cry as I lay there helpless, unable to aid Dimitri. I couldn't fight- not like this. I'd only be a liability.

Above me, Dimitri circled the Strigoi, his movements swift. I had watched him fight so many times in training, but his agility never ceased to take my breath away. Watching him with the Strigoi was almost like watching a dance. Both of their movements were lithe. They were so evenly matched that it seemed as though it could go on forever.

A movement in the shadows behind them caught my eye. I turned, half expecting to see another Strigoi. Instead, my mother stepped out of the darkness and took a crouch behind the Strigoi. Seeing her, he seemed to falter and Dimitri took advantage of his momentary lapse in concentration to jab at his arm. The Strigoi let out a howl of pain and my mother swirled around and sunk her stake into his heart, causing him to fall to the ground.

Dimitri was at my side in an instant, his eyes bright with worry. His hand came to brush my cheek, his finger tips leaving a trail of fire where they touched. It was ridiculous that he could have such an effect on me despite everything. "Roza," his voice was barely a murmur, and I felt something warm in my stomach at his clear concern.

"I'm okay," I said, making to get up again. This time, he caught me when I fell. I rolled my eyes at the pointed look he gave me, "Okay, so my foot's being stupid. Must have sprained my ankle or something." I made a face, hoping to lighten his mood.

His face remained sober. "What were you thinking? You could have gotten hurt or-" he faltered, his distress evident.

My mother stepped forward before I could retort. "He's right. You can't just run off. You have a responsibility to Lissa-"

I cut in before she could continue. I was sick of this, so sick of this. "I also have a responsibility to me and to what I want to do. Look, maybe you're capable of being a Guardian and having that be the only thing in your life, but I can't. I love Lissa, and I would do anything to protect her, but I also love Dimitri. If he's in danger, I'm going to do everything I can to help him. I can't give that up- I can't give him up," I turned to face Dimitri, my heart catching at the intensity of his expression. I faltered for a moment, "I-I know this isn't enough for you. I know that you think I'm too young for you, or too immature, or whatever. I just- it doesn't mean I'm going to stop loving you."

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