I have no words for how sorry I am that I failed to update this story. I know it's an excuse but Graduate school can be difficult. I am out for the summer and really hoping to be able to write.

I own nothing! Nothing is Beta'd so if there are mistakes, they are mine.

This is the last chapter so I hope you enjoy it! Please review!

Stop Being a Coward!

Chapter 26

And then, the world around me dissolved. I stood in a room I didn't recognize. For a moment, I thought I was back in Galina's estate. It certainly had that rich, expensive feel to it. But no. After a moment's examination, I realized this wasn't the same at all.

The furnishings were different. Even the vibe was different. Galina's home had been beautiful, but there had been a cold, impersonal feel to it. This place was inviting and clearly well loved. The plush couch had a quilt thrown haphazardly in its corner, as though someone-or maybe two someones-had been cuddling underneath it. And while the room wasn't messy, exactly, there were scattered objects-books, framed photos-that indicated this room was actually used and wasn't just for show.

I walked over to a small bookshelf and picked up one of the framed photos. I nearly dropped it when I saw what it was. It was a picture of Dimitri and me-but I had no memory of it. We stood arm in arm, leaning our faces together to make sure we both got in the shot. I was grinning broadly, and he too wore a joyous smile, one I'd hardly ever seen on him. It softened some of the protective fierceness that usually filled his features and made him look sexier than I'd ever imagined. A piece of that soft brown hair had slipped his ponytail and lay on his cheek. Beyond us was a city that I immediately recognized: Saint Petersburg. I frowned. No, this was definitely a picture that couldn't exist.

I was still studying it when I heard someone walk into the room.

When I saw who it was, my heart stopped. I set the photo back on the shelf with shaking hands and took a few steps back. It was Dimitri. He wore jeans and a casual red T-shirt that fit the lean muscles of his body perfectly. His hair was down loose and slightly damp, like he'd just gotten out of the shower. He held two mugs and chuckled when he saw me.

"Still not dressed?" he asked, shaking his head. "They're going to be here any minute." I looked down and saw that I wore plaid flannel pajama bottoms and a tank top. He handed me the mug, and I was too stunned to do anything but take it. I peered into it-hot chocolate-and then looked up at him. There was no red in his eyes, no evil on his face. Only gorgeous warmth and affection. He was my Dimitri, the one who'd loved and protected me. The one with a pure heart and soul..."Who… who's coming?" I asked.

"Lissa and Christian. They're coming for brunch." He gave me a

puzzled look. "Are you okay?" I looked around, again taking in the comforting room. Through a window, I saw a backyard filled with trees and flowers. Sunshine spilled through onto the carpet. I turned back to him and shook my head. "What is this? Where are we?"

His confused expression now turned into a frown. Stepping forward, he took my mug and set his and mine on the shelf. His hands rested on my hips, and I flinched but didn't break away-how could I when he looked so much like my Dimitri? "This is our house," he said, drawing me near. "In Pennsylvania."

"Pennsylvania… are we at the Royal Court?"

He shrugged. "A few miles away."

I slowly shook my head. "No… that's not possible. We can't have a home together. And definitely not so close to the others. They'd never let us."

If in some crazy world Dimitri and I lived together, we'd have to do it in secret-somewhere remote, like Siberia.

"You insisted," he said with a small smile. "And none of them care. They accept it. Besides, you said we had to live near Lissa."

My mind reeled. What was going on? How was this possible? How could I be living with Dimitri-especially so near Moroi? This wasn't right… and yet, it felt right. Looking around, I could see how this was my home. I could feel the love in it, feel the connection Dimitri and I had to it. But… how could I actually be with Dimitri? Wasn't I supposed to be doing something else? Wasn't I supposed to be somewhere else? "You're a Strigoi," I said at last. "No… you're dead. I killed you."

He ran a finger along my cheek, still giving me that rueful smile. "Do I look like I'm dead? Do I look Strigoi?"

No. He looked wonderful and sexy and strong. He was all the things I remembered, all the things I loved. "But you were…" I trailed off, still confused. "What happened?"

His hand returned to my hip, and he pulled me into a tight embrace. "You saved me," he murmured into my ear. "Your love saved me, Roza. You brought me back so that we could be together."

Had I? I had no memory of that, either. But this all seemed so real, and it felt so wonderful. I'd missed his arms around me. He'd held me as a Strigoi, but it had never felt like this. And when he leaned down and kissed me, I knew for sure he wasn't a Strigoi. I didn't know how I could have ever deluded myself back at Galina's. This kiss was alive. It burned within my soul, and as my lips pressed more eagerly into his, I felt that connection, the one that told me there was no one else in the world for me except him.

I broke the kiss but not the embrace. My head rested against his chest. "I really saved you?"

"Your love was too strong. Our love was too strong. Not even the

undead could keep us apart." I wanted to believe it.

He kissed me again then and as his hands trailed up my back to twine in my hair, it all came back. This was real. Everything I saw around me, everything that I had wanted and had imagined in a spirit manifestation so long ago was now a reality. I had fought back then to get to where I was now.

Thoughts of that night so long ago drifted through my head. Dimitri had taken me on a date in a limo. We had gone travelled just a few minutes away from court to a two-story brick home in the country. It was actually the perfect location since we were so close to court but we had our own little piece of the world.

Another memory of a time I had told Dimitri we could live alone in the mountains of nowhere flashed through my memory. He had told me that I couldn't last being away from people for so long but I had known even back then that as long as I had him, I could survive anywhere.

This mid-point between the human and vampire worlds seemed to be the perfect medium for the two of us. I was still part of Lissa's Royal Guard and Dimitri was still Christian's guardian. We reported to court every morning but got to retire to our own home most nights.

Pulling back he gave me a questioning look once again. "Don't you remember, Roza?"

I grinned, "I do now Comrade. It's just this had been my dream so long ago, the one where Avery forced her vision into my head. I thought I was back there again for a moment. I thought there was no way this could all be real."

"It's very real. We made your dream, our dream, a reality." He briefly skimmed his lips over mine for only an instant when the doorbell rang.

Groaning I pulled back. "That'd be Lissa and Christian."

He nodded and laughed looking down at my tank top and pajama pants I still wore, "I told you that you needed to get dressed before they got here."

"You get the door, I will be right back." I pressed my lips to his one more time and turned to run up the stairs to our bedroom. "Our bedroom." I said the words aloud and smiled at the thought of it.

This was the place I got to call home. The place I got to lay my head down next to Dimitri most nights. I smiled as I quickly changed out of my pajamas; excited to see Lissa as I could tell she was waiting for me down stairs.

Entering the kitchen again, I saw Dimitri pulling some black bread he'd made out of the oven. Lissa smiled when she saw me, her hand tightly nestled in Christians.

"Bout time you got down here. Your cocoa is cold." Lissa nodded to the cup that Dimitri had retrieved from the shelf.

"I'll warm it up for you," Christian smiled as my mug started bubbling. "Learned a new trick."

"Careful," Lissa exclaimed as I took a cautious sip, "he hasn't gotten the whole temperature thing down yet and it might be too hot."

I grinned as I looked around my home. "It's perfect." And for once it truly was. I had Dimitri and Lissa. I had everything in the world I had ever wanted. "Just perfect."

So that was it...I know it wasn't worth the wait of a year but at least it's finally finished! Please review?