I was wrong. Those two days were an incredibly long time to endure, and I found myself pacing the room over and over. I'd been allowed to bring Rose back to our room, and she was resting in our bed. Every so often, I would pause and sit in the chair beside her bed, taking her limp hand in mine and stroking the soft skin. She looked peaceful in sleep, an expression I hadn't seen in an incredibly long time, and her rich chestnut hair was spread across the pillows.
When I wasn't with Rose, I was busy doing errands for Lissa and the other Moroi. I had many duties to do, and I was desperate to impress Hans after placing my request for Christian Ozera to be my charge. Even when I received the part, which Hans presented to me with a firm handshake, a warm smile and a whispered, "Welcome back," I still couldn't muster up the courage to celebrate like I would've done if the situation had been different.
I knew in the back of my mind that I should probably call my family and let them know about everything that had happened in the past few months, but decided to prolong the call until Rose was awake to do it with me. I knew I would need her strength and moral support when trying to convince my family that I wasn't an evil bloodsucker anymore.
On the third day, by which time I was getting restless despite my constant exhaustion, I was sat by Rose's bed and talking to her about my first duties as Christian's guard and commenting on her new status as Lissa's head guardian.
"Head guardian for the Queen, Roza! This is going to be such a fantastic journey," I told her, "As soon as you wake up, I'm...I'm..." I faltered as I watched her on the bed, her hand twitching slightly. I paused in my speech, pulling away and leaning back into the chair. I'd been told not to crowd her when she woke up just in case there was any damage to her body that we were currently unaware of.
The next half an hour was agonising. I sat in hushed silence, watching Rose as her body gradually began to awaken. Her eyelids flickered, lashes fluttering against tanned skin, and then her eyes slowly opened to reveal those chocolate irises I'd always loved. I held my breath as her eyes flickered around the room, taking in her situation and adjusting to it.
"Sleeping Beauty awakens," I murmured. A smile flickered across her full lips and I felt a matching one grace my own face.
"Are you my nurse?" she asked cheekily, her voice ever so slightly shaky but still the same as it had always been. I pushed myself off the chair and into her line of view, smiling down at her and hoping to convey how glad I was to see her. It seemed so long since I'd seen her smile, seen the slight flush in her cheeks and felt a healthy pulse underneath her silky smooth skin.
She tried to sit up to me when she saw me, but I chastised her until she laid down again.
"No, no, you need to lie down." She winced as she reclined again, and I noticed how she was slightly out of breath after such a tiny movement.
"Then come closer. I want to see you." I kicked off my shoes as Rose rolled onto her side, shuffling backwards to make room for me on the bed. I laid down next to her, curling my legs up to stop them taking up so much room. Her face was inches from mine, dark brown eyes staring directly into mine.
"Is this better?" I wondered, wanting to fulfil her every need.
"Much." A lock of hair fell onto her face, resting on her cheekbone, and it was too much to resist; I reached out to gently tuck it behind her ear, stroking her cheek.
"How are you?"
"Hungry." I chuckled. Typical Rose. Full to the brim with love for the girl beside me, I let my hand fall to her back, drawing her closer to me.
"Of course you are. I think they've only managed to get broth into you so far. Well, that and IV fluids early on. You're probably in sugar withdrawal." She winced slightly, nose turning up.
"How long have I been out?"
"A few days." Although it felt like years.
"A few days..." She visibly shivered, as if this information was startling to her, and I suddenly wondered if she remembered anything that had happened before. When she whispered,
"I shouldn't be alive," however, my suspicions were thankfully proved wrong. She nibbled on her bottom lip, obviously lost in thought as she tried to remember the events that led to her ending up in the bed. "Oh Lord, Lissa healed me, didn't she?"
"No, she didn't heal you," I informed her, hoping that he would come to the conclusion herself and see how truly heroic she was. Small dents formed between her eyebrows as her face contorted into an uncharacteristic frown.
"No? Then...Adrian? He'd never...after how I treated him...no. He couldn't have..."
"What, you think he'd let you die?" She might have done him wrong, and he might hate both of us from the bottom of his heart, but he'd never let Rose die when he obviously loved her so much. Rose swallowed but didn't say anymore. "No matter how he feels...Well, he wouldn't have let you die. He wanted to heal you. But he didn't either." The confusion on her face only grew clearer.
"Then who? Sonya?" I shook my head.
"No one. Well, you, I suppose."
"I...what?" She faltered, staring up at me with wide eyes.
"People can heal without magic now and again, Rose," I reminded her gently, a small smile flickering at my lips again. "And your wounds...they were bad. No one thought you'd survive. You went into surgery, and then we all just waited."
"But why...why /didn't/ Adrian or Lissa heal me?" She looked almost outraged, as if she couldn't comprehend why her best friend wouldn't try to save her life instead of letting her die.
"Oh, they wanted to, believe me. But in the aftermath, in the chaos...the Court went under lockdown. They were both taken away and put under heavy protection before they could act. No one would let them near you, not when they still thought you might be a murderer. They had to be certain about Tasha first, even though her own actions were pretty damning." I felt my lips pull down into a frown at the thought of my old friend, still unable to believe she could do such a thing.
"Is Tasha...still alive?" Her question was hesitant, and she looked away from me as she asked.
"Yes. They caught her right after she shot you- before anyone else could get hurt. She's detained, and more evidence has been coming in."
"Calling her out was one of the hardest things I've ever done," she admitted sorrowfully. "Fighting Strigoi was easier than that."
"I know. It was hard for me to see, hard for me to believe. But she made her choices, and all the charges against you have been dropped. You're a free woman now. More than that. A hero. Abe's bragging that it's all his doing." Indeed, I'd run into Rose's father several times over the past few days, and every time I'd seen him he'd been telling people about how he trained Rose in Russia- which I knew was a lie.
Rose smiled again, her teeth glinting between rosy lips.
"Of course he is. I'll probably get a bill from him soon." I chuckled, glad to see her joking around just as she usually did.
"So, what now?" she questioned after a moment of comfortable silence, my hand still rubbing her back soothingly.
"I'm not sure. I'm just so glad...so glad you're alive. I've been so close to losing you so many times. When I saw you on the floor, and there was so much commotion and confusion...I felt so helpless. I realised you were right. We waste our lives with guilt and self-loathing. When you looked at me there at the end...I saw it. You did love me." I just wished it hadn't taken Rose nearly dying for me to notice it.
"No. I mean, I knew then that you didn't just love me. I realised you had really forgiven me."
"There was nothing to forgive, not really." The words brought back too many memories of the night in the motel, not even a week ago.
"I've always believed there was. And that's what was holding me back. No matter what you said...I just couldn't believe it." I pulled back slightly, trying to make eye contact with her as I confessed my most personal thoughts. "Couldn't believe you would forgive all the things I did to you in Siberia and after Lissa healed me. I thought you were deluding yourself."
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time I've done that. But no, this time I wasn't."
I wondered what Rose meant, sure that she'd always consciously followed what she believed to be real instead of hiding the truth.
"I know, and with that revelation...in that split second that I knew you forgave me and that I really had your love, I was finally able to forgive myself too. All those burdens, those ties to the past...they went away. It was like..." I couldn't think of a word to describe the feeling.
"Being free? Flying?"
"Yes. Except...it came too late. This sounds crazy, but while I was looking down at you, having all these thoughts coming together in my head, it was like...like I could see death's hand reaching for you." It sounded even stranger when I said it out loud, and I'd thought it was weird the first time I considered what I saw. "And there was nothing I could do. I was powerless. I couldn't help."
"You did," she told me softly. "The last things I saw before blacking out were you and Lissa. I don't know how I survived getting shot, how I beat the odds...but I'm pretty sure your love-both of you-gave me the strength to fight through. I had to get back to you guys. God only knows what trouble you'd get into without me."
I resisted the urge to laugh at that, instead focusing on the sentiment shining through strongly. She came back for me. For Lissa as well, of course, but me all the same. She really loved me that much. I leant down to bring our lips together, so glad to feel that softness beneath my hands again. I stroked her face gently, worshipping her and praising her for her strength, before pulling myself back.
"Hey, what gives?" she protested, pouting at me.
"You're still recovering," I warned her, "You might think you're back to normal, but you aren't."
"This is normal for me. And you know, I thought with all this freedom and self-discovery and expression of our love stuff that we could finally stop with the whole Zen-master wisdom and practical advice crap." I grinned, so glad to hear her old jokes again.
"Roza, that's not going to happen. Take it or leave it." She pecked my lips sweetly.
"If it means getting you, I'll take it." She paused for a moment, her face falling slightly. "Dimitri...for real, what happens to us?"
"Life. It goes on. We go on. We're guardians. We protect and maybe change our world." I could feel myself falling into 'Zen master' mode again.
"No pressure. But what's the 'we' and 'guardians' part? I was pretty sure we were out of that career path." I felt my smile grow again. Obviously she hadn't heard me earlier.
"Mmm. Along with our pardons, we received our guardian status again."
"Even you? They believe you're not a Strigoi?" she cried, excited disbelief colouring her tone. I nodded. "Huh. Even if I got my name cleared, my ideal future was that we'd get filing jobs near each other." I couldn't hold in my secret any longer. I leaned closer, making sure she watched my face.
"It gets better: you're Lissa's guardian." Her eyes grew comically wide and she pulled back slightly, falling into the pillows again.
"What? That's impossible. They'd never..."
"They did. She'll have others, so they probably figured it was okay to let you hang around if someone else could keep you in line," I laughed, although it was half true. Lissa would definitely have too many guardians for comfort.
"You're not...you're not one of her guardians too, are you?" I could see the nervous glint in her eyes and knew what she was worried about, remembering when we spoke about it ages ago back at the Academy.
No, I have a different assignment."
"I'm Christian's guardian." She bolted up, her hair slightly mussed from where it was pressed against the bed, like a cute little hedgehog. I grinned at her.
"But that's...that's practically the same thing!"
"A little. But they won't be together every moment, especially with her going to Lehigh. He's not going...but they'll keep coming back to each other. And when they do, so will we. It's a good mix. Besides, I think you've proved to everyone that you're willing to put her life first." My face fell. I knew it was selfish of me, but I hoped that it wouldn't have to happen again.
Rose shook her head at me.
"Yeah, but no one was shooting at you. Only her." I felt a frown forming, having lost track of what she was talking about. Did she think that I was upset that she'd jumped in front of Lissa instead of me? Surely she knew that I'd never ask her to do that for me? Especially as she had to hold up the guardian oath. "You followed me when I jumped in front of Lissa, didn't you? Who were you going for? Me or her?"
I paused, not knowing what to say. My first initial instinct was to go for Rose. How could I possibly let her die? No, I'd definitely jumped for her, but how was I supposed to say that without revealing myself? How was I supposed to tell her that, despite warning her against letting her charge fall to second place, I had done so myself?
"I don't know, Roza. I don't know." She sighed in the silence.
"This isn't going to be easy."
"It never is," I reminded her, pulling her close to comfort her. She felt perfect in my arms, her natural warmth soothing me, and I felt like I might drift off until the door cracked open.
"Sorry," Lissa apologised, her eyes slightly wide as she took us in from the doorway, "Should have put a sock in the door. Didn't realise things were getting hot and heavy." Not that cuddling was exactly what I'd call hot and heavy, but I kept the thought to myself.
"No avoiding it," Rose brushed it off, her hand finding mine. "Things are always hot with him around." I paused, shocked into silence. My conscience kept screaming at me, not with Lissa in the room! Everything about this felt backwards, but then I remembered that we didn't have to hide our relationship any longer. Everything we felt was fine and nobody could separate us again, nor would they. Despite this, I wasn't sure how comfortable I was revealing this sort of private stuff to anyone other than Rose.
"Oh, this is going to be fun," Rose teased. "Now that everything's out in the open." I was reminded of something I'd seen over the past couple of days and could feel heat growing in my cheeks.
"Yeah, I got a pretty 'fun' look from your father the other day," I replied, turning to Lissa before I could see Rose's inquisitorial look. The fair girl was standing in the doorway still with a wide smile on her face, secrets hidden in her jade eyes that I knew she was just bursting to tell Rose. "I should go and let you two talk." I got up from my place on the bed, intending to go and finish off some work. I knew Rose and Lissa would want to talk for a long time, and Lissa would certainly take care of Rose while I wasn't there.
"Will you be back?" Rose asked me as I stood in the doorway. I turned back to her and smiled at her, our eyes meeting for a moment.
"Of course." Lissa sat on the side of the bed gingerly and I took that as my cue to leave, shutting th door softly behind me to give them some privacy. I still wasn't used to living in Palace housing, the corridors too ornate for my tastes. Picture frames with photos of faraway Moroi castles and family trees lined the walls, the carpet soft and plush beneath my feet. I always felt like I was dirtying the place after I came back in from work, too scared to touch anything in case I left marks. The only thing to reassure me was that the Palace was run by Lissa, so I didn't suppose she would mind as much as Tatiana would've.
I paraded the hall for a moment, and finally decided I needed some fresh air to clear my hazy head. It was so full of love that my vision was blurring, and heart ached for Roza already, even though I knew she was in good care. I began counting down the minutes until it would be acceptable to go back and sit with her again.
I sat down on a small wooden bench outside the housing, crossing my legs and observing all the people walking past. Guardians patrolled on duty, some simply shadowing their Moroi and others discussing with them whilst keeping a careful lookout. I noticed a few look in my direction, still receiving a few wary glances, and nodded at them. And as I sat, I noticed Adrian shuffling past. He glanced in my direction for just one fleeting moment, but I could see all the pain in his eyes. I immediately felt bad for him, despite the fact that he'd been my rival only days ago.
Still, I couldn't let it get to me. That was something Rose would have to deal with when she felt well enough. Which reminded me...