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Chapter 18

A few days later the molnija ceremony arrived. Rose would be awarded the tattoos for the kills she'd made. I'd been looking for her, but every time I saw her she'd been moping around and there really wasn't much I could do. Plus she'd sort of pulled away from me; it was like she didn't want to be alone with me.

It sort of broke my heart but I had to try. I wasn't giving up that easy. I was just hoping she'd forgive me for the whole Tasha thing.

I was such an idiot. I should have been minding Rose and none of this would have happened.

When Tasha left we said a small goodbye. I was too focused on Rose for anything and she told me to remember what she had said. I knew that her feelings were somewhat hurt but there really wasn't anything I could do about that.

I was going to tell Roza that it was time for her party but Janine interrupted me and told me that'd she'd go.

I wanted to say NO, I'LL GO! YOU'VE GOTTEN HER ALL WEEK.

But instead I said fine because I'm supposed to be a reasonable person and none an obsessed teacher in love with his minor student.

Finally, we all gathered, well all the Guardians on campus around the building's main meeting room in clusters.

No one really spoke; I think most of us we pretty sensitive to death still. Killing wasn't something to be taken lightly, even if it was Strigoi.

Rose still looked really distant, clearly not over what had happened, but she was healing.

She'd be okay, I realized.

I was a little nervous for her to receive the marks because I knew the tattoos would hurt and the last thing I wanted was for her to be in any pain but she's just killed two Strigoi, I was pretty sure she could handle small tattoos. Plus I couldn't treat her like she was a little girl, she'd probably end up beating me up.

Finally, once the tattoos were finished, the Guardians came up one by one to give their own affection. I didn't really know what to say, because I couldn't say anything that could really explained how I felt, a mixture of pride and uneasiness and compassion, so I just looked at her and we shared one of those precious moments. I swear it was like sometimes we didn't even need words. She seemed to understand the message I was trying to convey because I noticed her eyes start to tear as she looked at me.

Damn. I didn't want that reaction. I put one hand gently on her cheek, wishing I could grab her and kiss her, hold her and protect her, but I had to walk away. I had to be here for Rose and try to not get fired, but maybe after graduation, I don't know. Maybe Tasha was on to something. I couldn't imagine putting anyone before Roza?

And, I wasn't so sure I could stay away from Roza.

Once we were done with that, the drinks and food was served. It was pretty much the only time Guardians received their own sort of party. I kept my eyes on Rose and for once noticed she didn't eat much at the buffet. That worried me.

Luckily, I had gained my own appetite back and had actually to make up for a lot since I hadn't really eaten much when Roza went missing.

I didn't get a chance to talk to Rose after the group dispersed, but I could tell she was actually relieved when it was over.

Who knew Rose would ever be sad to have her own party end?

Except, that worried me. Damn, I was turning into an old man.

Later I had to make rounds and I saw Adrian accepting a stupid bouquet of flowers at the front of the school from a delivery boy. Those better not be for Rose I said silently to myself.

"Getting ready to leave?" I asked gleefully.

At least I'd be rid of him soon.

"Actually," Adrian began; fuck me, "I'll be staying."

"Sorry Adrian, but you already finished high school, in case you can't remember. That's okay though, it happens to unsteady people all the time," I explained.

"Well, I need to practice spirit with Lissa. You know –you're charge –the one you're actually supposed to be paying attention to. It's a good thing –because that way I'll be seeing plenty of Rose. Bet she'll love these flowers," he said and started to walk away.

I would have seriously hurt him then but he had sort of helped when Rose went missing so I couldn't completely be a jealous asshole.

"We'll see," I answered.

"Besides," he continued, "Shouldn't you be leaving with the Ozera girl?"

How the hell did he know about that?

Now he sounded disappointed and I actually managed to same tone he had used, "No, I won't be going, I NEED to keep an eye on Rose. Come to thin k of it, I don't really see myself leaving Rose ever," I answered.

"Right," he smiled. "Well, I like a challenge," he said and then walked away really fast like a fucking coward.

Great, like I needed this fucking asshole.

I couldn't completely hate him though. I was just sort of mad because I had barely seen Rose and it was almost like she was keeping her distance. Plus, I was worried that she might fall for this idiot.

But really, that wasn't my Roza.

What we had was real? Her feelings weren't flippant… were they?

Jesus Christ I sounded like an insecure teenage girl.

I went to the practice room after that. It was time for the usual practice with Rose but I didn't think she'd show, I wouldn't let her practice anyway but I was just sort of hoping she's drop by. I brought my novel and started reading, hoping that God might throw this dog a bone and bring my Princess.

Suddenly, Rose sprang out into the supply room wearing her work out clothes. She caught me reading and I immediately looked up. Maybe I should seriously start praying. It'd been so long since I had her all alone to myself, and now everything had changed.

I didn't really know what to say, so I just blurted out the first observation that came to mind, like an idiot, "I thought you might come by," I said, placing the bookmark in my novel.

"It's time for practice," Rose explained like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Yeah right. I shook my head."No. No practice today. You still need to recover."

"I've got a clean bill of health. I'm good to go," Rose teased putting on as much patented Rose bravado into her words.

I wasn't buying any of that and simply gestured to the chair beside me, "Sit down, Rose."

She hesitated for a moment, and I didn't really get where this was coming from. She tried to sit distantly and I didn't get it. I moved my chair closer so that we sat directly across each other, close enough to stare at those gorgeous eyes that I'd longed for.

She meant everything to me.

I tried to give out some wisdom, hoping that she wouldn't go into one of her temper tantrums and tell me I try to give Zen lessons, "No one gets over their first kill...kills...easily. Even with Strigoi...well, it's still technically taking a life. That's hard to come to terms with. And after everything else you went through ..." I sighed, God I wanted to hold her hand.

So I did.

I reached out and grabbed her hand holding it. She looked down and I had the pleasure of seeing her blush, seeing that I still had the power to do that.

"When I saw your face...when we found you in that house...you can't imagine how I felt." I tried to explain. It was like a little part of me died when I saw the light go out from her eyes.

Rose swallowed,"How ... how did you feel?"

"Devastated ... grief-stricken. You were alive, but the way you looked ... I didn't think you'd ever
recover. And it tore me apart to think of that happening to you so young." I squeezed her hand. "You
will recover-I know that now, and I'm glad. But you aren't there. Not yet. Losing someone you care
about is never easy."

Her eyes dropped from mine and studied the floor.

"It's my fault," she said in a small voice.

"Hmm?" I questioned. How the hell did she think that? She did everything she could? She killed two Strigoi.

"Mason. Getting killed."

I felt horrible, it broke my heart. "Oh, Roza. No. You made some bad decisions...you should have told others when you knew he was gone...but you can't blame yourself. You didn't kill him." He's the idiot that got you in the mess in the first place.

Tears filled her eyes though,"I might as well have. The whole reason he went there-it was my fault. We had a fight...and I told him about the Spokane thing, even though you asked me not to...." I had forgotten that I had told her that and realized why she blamed herself. I guess I just figured Mason had overheard it from someone.

The poor girl. I understood why she would blame herself now –but it wasn't really her fault at all. Mason was an impulsive idiot for trying to attack the Strigoi.

I wiped a near from the corner of her eye and tried to explain to her, "You can't blame yourself for that. You can regret your decisions and wish you'd done things differently, but in the end, Mason made his decisions too. That was what he chose to do. It was his decision in the end, no matter your original role."

Rose pondered that for a minute before answering, "I just wish I'd been able to ... I don't know, do anything..."

I could tell she was fighting to keep from breaking down again. But instead, she pulled her hands away and stood up, "I should go," she said thickly. "Let me know when you want to start practice again. And thanks for ... talking."

Then I got it. Rose was staying away because of Tasha. She probably thought that I'd taken her offer. So I said abruptly, "No," before she could get any further.

Rose glanced back. "What?"

I held my gaze, and suddenly I felt warm all over, knowing that I had made the right choice because even being around her like this, was worth it, even just to see her, even if I never got to hold her. It was better than being with someone else that I didn't truly love. How could I ever love anyone else?

"No," I repeated. "I told her no. Tasha."

"I ..." Rose began. "But...why? That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You could have had a baby. And she ... she was, you know, into you...."

I slightly smiled, "Yes, she was. Is. And that's why I had to say no. I couldn't return that...couldn't give her what she wanted. Not when..." I took a few steps toward Rose. "Not when my heart is somewhere else."

Rose looked like she was about to cry again and I wanted to punch myself in the face. Had I been hurting her that badly?

"But you seemed so into her. And you kept going on about how young I acted."

"You act young," I said, "because you are young. But you know things, Roza. Things people older than
you don't even know. That day ..." I think she knew, the day she called me out on the facade I put on, my self-control. "You were right, about how I fight to stay in control. No one else has ever figured that out- and it scared me. You scare me."

"Why? Don't you want anyone to know?" Rose questioned. I could think of a thousand reasons but instead I just shrugged.

"Whether they know that fact or not doesn't matter. What matters is that someone-that you-know me that well. When a person can see into your soul, it's hard. It forces you to be open. Vulnerable. It's much easier being with someone who's just more of a casual friend."

"Like Tasha," Rose retorted.

"Tasha Ozera is an amazing woman. She's beautiful and she's brave. But she doesn't-"

"She doesn't get you," Rose finished for me.

I nodded. "I knew that. But I still wanted the relationship. I knew it would be easy and that she could
take me away from you. I thought she could make me forget you."

"But she couldn't," Rose stated.

"Yes. And, so ... that's a problem."

"Because it's wrong for us to be together."

"Yes."

"Because of the age difference."

"Yes."

"But more importantly because we're going to be Lissa's guardians and need to focus on her-not each
other."

"Yes."

Rose thought about this for a moment and then looked me dead in the eyes in what had to be the sexiest look in the world, "Well," she paused, "The way I see it, we aren't Lissa's guardians yet."

I couldn't hold back any longer. Instead I pulled closer and kissed her. The kiss felt amazing and I honestly never wanted to let go, I wanted to kiss her all over, feel her all over.

It never felt this right…with anyone else.

I cupped her face between my hands. At first, the kiss was light but just a few moments later the intensity increased. I swear, I wanted to make love to her right here and right now.

But I didn't want to get fired either, who would take care of my Roza?

I couldn't deal with not having her in my life so I reluctantly pulled away. I then kissed her forehead, holding her close for a few more moments, dreading having to part.

I then let her go, because honestly if I didn't right then I wouldn't be able to stop myself any longer. I ran a finger down through her hair and kissed her cheek.

God there were so many places I wanted to touch.

If I could just…

NO!

Dimitri.

I told myself and walked toward the door before I did something I might regret, "I'll see you later, Roza."

"At our next practice?" Rose asked eagerly. "We are starting those up again, right? I mean, you still have things to teach me."

I looked over at her from the door way, where I wasn't too dangerously close, smiled, and said, "Yes. Lots of things," and walked away before I turned into a savage tiger in a heat and pounced on her.