"What if true freedom means sacrificing the most important thing? Each other."
After Rose died to protect Lissa and made that Last Sacrifice, things have been looking up. Now, she's looking forward to enjoying that freedom. A hunting trip, return to Russia, visit to the Corn Palace, make-ups and a few little surprises are all in store for Rose, Dimitri and the rest of them.
This is the first part in my After Last Sacrifice series, which will be following the lives of the gang after the last book. Because let's face it- Rose's story is a long way from over.
The ALS series will be made up of stories of varying lengths, from a couple of chapters to over 70,000 words. To make it easier to keep the series in order, I'll name the long stories AlS '1, 2, 3' etc, and the shorter ones will be ALS '1.5, 2.5, 2.75' etc. This way I can go back and add a short story (if I happen to think of another one) where it needs to be without changing any of the other names.
For example, I already have 3 long stories nearly finished, and 2 shorter ones in-between.
ROSE: "Hey, stop rambling and get on with the story!"
ME: "Well excuse me. I was just trying to explain what was going on. If you're so impatient, you can do the disclaimer yourself!"
ROSE: "Whatever. Dimitri' .Shewolf does not own anything. All credit goes to Richelle Mead."
And with that, I end this incredibly long Author's Note. At least there's a long chapter to make up for it :D
I fell on my ass, and quickly glanced around to see if anyone had seen me fall. Only Dimitri.
"Are you okay, Rose?" He asked, concern written all over his perfect face.
I nodded. "Yep, just some hurt pride."
I stood up shakily, ignoring his outstretched hand- and the sharp pain in my chest.
It was a month after Lissa's coronation, and I had been on active Guarding duty for the last 2 weeks, though that had only entailed standing around watching Lissa go about her new Queenly business. Fortunately there had been no trouble, as I wouldn't have been much help.
This was my first actual combat session since being shot, as Dimitri and I both had some free time today, and Guardians were expected to keep their training up. It was painfully (literally) obvious that I was not ready for a fight if a threat arose.
"This is ridiculous. I feel like we're back at the academy, and I haven't trained in 2 years." I grumbled.
"Rose, even though you wounds have nearly healed, your body has been under a lot of stress to do that. You can't expect to be up to your usual standard."
"Well, I'm sure any Strigoi that come for Lissa will totally understand that, and go easy on me." I snapped.
I felt a little bad afterwards, but I had been under a lot of stress lately, plus my chest hurt.
Dimitri realised this, and didn't seem fazed by my bitchiness.
Instead, he stepped towards me and took my hand.
"I know, Roza. I didn't mean that. But you can't deny that your body needs more time to recover. You barely survived, and no one expects you to even be on duty yet, especially without accepting Lissa's healings."
I sighed. I hadn't let Lissa heal me as now that the bond was gone, I couldn't take the darkness from her anymore, so the risk of darkness was greater, and now she had the responsibility and stress of being Queen, I didn't want to send her over the edge.
I squeezed Dimitri's hand and leaned into him, allowing my exhausted body some respite.
"I know. I just hate feeling useless. If there was an attack, I wouldn't exactly be much good, would I?"
"Roza, even now you could fight a Strigoi. If Lissa was in danger, I know you'd be fine to protect her."
Dimitri tilted my chin up, the hint of a smile on his lips.
"Come on. You need to rest before we go back on duty later. Let's go home and enjoy the rest of our time off."
How could I refuse?
We walked the short distance across court to where we lived with Lissa and Christian and all their other near-guards.
Yeah, me, Rose Hathaway, lived in the Royal Palace. Who would have guessed?
We got a couple of 'looks' from the Royals we passed, who still weren't entirely happy with Dimitri and I being together. Well, screw them. The other Guardians didn't care, and neither did the non-Royals. Probably because they didn't have any claim to Guardians anyway.
With Royals, their safety might come first, but to me, their opinions were still worth shit.
As soon as we were in our apartment, I flopped down on the sofa, laying my head over the arm, and closed my eyes.
I loved this place already. Huge living room, bathroom and bedroom, and a little kitchenette. (Not like I ever cooked anyway. I loved this place; I didn't want to burn it down.)
And right next door to Lissa's apartment, of course. Hers was a lot bigger, obviously, taking up the whole of the top floor of the Palace building. The Guardian section was in a wing off to one side, which was pretty cool.
There were 2 adjoining doors that led to her place, one in the living room and one connecting our bedrooms. The one in the bedroom was only for emergencies, in fact it was hidden behind a fake wardrobe, in case a Strigoi could use it as an easy way into either apartment. If it was secret, it was safer. At least that was what the people who built this place said; it was either that or they had a secret obsession with Narnia, and were living in hope of Prince Caspian jumping out of it (Well, I wouldn't complain if he did).
I heard footsteps coming closer. I cracked one eye open to see Dimitri standing in front of me with a glass of water.
I sat up and he passed it to me. I drank it quickly, not realising how thirsty I was until the cool liquid reached my overheated body.
"Thanks." I said, before dropping my head back down again. I was so exhausted from only 2 hours of sparring.
I felt Dimitri touch my cheek softly.
"Does it hurt?" He asked quietly.
"Just a bit." I replied. I opened my eyes into his, to see that he knew I was bullshitting him.
"Okay, so maybe a bit more that a bit." I conceded.
He frowned. "Roza, you can't just keep pretending like nothing's wrong. You were shot in the heart. Not even you can heal that quickly." His face softened. "I just don't want you to be in pain. There's a reason that it hurts when you exercise. Your body's telling you that it needs more time."
I couldn't even fight back on this logic, because I knew he was right.
"But what can I do? I know I'm not in any shape to be fighting yet, so that probably means I should let someone else guard Lissa in my place for a bit, because I don't want my weakness to endanger her. But I refuse to spend another day sitting around here doing nothing."
It had been alright for a little while, as I'd been able to unpack our things into our new apartment, but after a week or so everything had been done, Dimitri had been with Christian, who was with Lissa. I hadn't been able to spend time with her, as there was no room for a non-guarding Dhampir in the court business following her coronation.
Dimitri studied me for a moment before crouching in front of me and speaking.
"We don't have to stay at court. We can take a couple of weeks leave, that should give you enough time to recover fully, and we can take a break. It's been so chaotic here since we got back, and long before then. Maybe actually relaxing will help you get better faster."
I blinked a few times. Dimitri suggesting taking leave and going on vacation? He was right, though. Once Lissa started her fight against the Dhampir age law, there would be no time to relax in between the constant meetings and paperwork. Besides, I wasn't going to turn down a chance to spend some time alone with Dimitri away from the judging eyes at court.
"We?" I asked.
"Of course. I'm not going to let you leave without me. I'd only have to come and help clean up whatever mess you'll no doubt get yourself into anyway."
I resisted the urge to slap him; because he was probably right. I did want to go, and I was pretty sure that it actually would be beneficial to me.
But I still felt bad about leaving Lissa in such a stressful time for what was basically a vacation, so I tried to find a reason to justify it to myself. Then, I thought of something very important that Dimitri and I still had to do.
"Okay, I'll take some time off and I'll even stay out of trouble, just for you." I promised.
Dimitri smiled, but before he spoke, I continued.
"But on one condition."
He looked a bit confused, but let me carry on anyway.
"We spend at least some of vacation in Russia, visiting your family."
The smile dropped off his face instantly.
"Roza"- He said, sounding pained, but I cut him off again. We'd had this conversation before, and I sat up and faced him.
"No, Dimitri. You can't expect to let them keep thinking that you're dead. I agree that you can't write or call them in case they don't believe you, but think how they'll feel if they find out from someone else, and you haven't even bothered to tell them? I know it's hard for you, but if I had to tell your mother that her only son had been turned Strigoi, you can tell her that you're alive. She doesn't need to still be in pain for something that isn't even true anymore. She deserves better than that, they all do. They still love you, and miss you like crazy."
Dimitri stayed silent for a moment, and I waited for my words to fully sink in. I'd never been this blunt with him about this before, understanding what he was going through. But now the time had come for him to make a decision.
Suddenly, he reached out and held me close. I hugged him back tightly, knowing that he had come to a decision.
"You're right, Roza. It isn't fair to let them find out from someone else. And I really miss them too. I want to see them so badly. I just hope they will be as happy to see me as you say they will be."
I pulled back just enough to look him in the eye, and laid one hand on his cheek.
"Of course they will. They were heartbroken when I told them what had happened, but they were so proud of you, that you'd given your life protecting others."
I laughed quietly. "And let's face it, Yeva probably knows already. I'm surprised we haven't had an angry letter from her, demanding to know why we didn't go back the moment you were restored."
He laughed too at the thought of his scary grandmother.
"You're right; she won't be happy. She'll probably slap me with a dishcloth or something when we get there."
I grinned. "That makes two of us. When she told me to go 'do what I had to do', I don't think she meant sneaking out in the middle of the night. I feel so bad that I left without even saying goodbye, especially after everything they did for me. Olena was so kind to me, I never wanted to leave. Then there's Viktoria, and the fact that I'm Zmey's daughter..." I hoped that Vika didn't still hate me.
Dimitri frowned. "What happened with Viktoria? You didn't get along?" He sounded like he didn't believe that.
I shook my head sadly. "No, not that. We got on great, she said I was like her sister, and I really felt like it, but then I tried to help her with something, but she didn't realise that was what I was doing. We had a fight the day before I left, which is why I left at night."
Dimitri smiled sadly.
"She'll probably have forgiven you before you even left. That's the thing about Vika; stubborn as a mule, but she forgives quickly, and ends up blaming herself."
I rubbed his cheek with my thumb.
"Just like her brother, then."
Dimitri smiled the brilliant, full smile that could brighten up the rainiest of days, and all the apprehension about whether the Belikovas would be angry with me dissipated as I kissed him.
When we stopped to catch our breath, Dimitri rested his forehead against mine.
"I love how much you love my family." He whispered.
"It's hard not to. The sweet, caring, easy-to-love thing must be a Belikov thing. Sorry that the same can't be said for my parents."
He laughed. "Well, you definitely got the protectiveness, but it's not nearly as endearing on them."
"Come on Comrade, you're just scared of them. Admit it." I teased.
"Who isn't? Guardian Hathaway and Zmey Mazur are scary enough to anyone. When you're dating their daughter? Yeah, scary doesn't begin to cover them."
I had a classic Rose comment about that, but forgot it when I noticed the time.
"Shit! We gotta run." I said, shoving my stake back into my belt and standing up, Dimitri doing the same.
5 hours later our shift was over, and I'd even been able to talk to Lissa. She'd agreed that me taking some time off away from Court was probably a good idea, and when I'd told her that we intended on visiting Dimitri's family she'd insisted that we both take as long as we need.
In the end we'd settled on 2 weeks, which would give us at least 10 days with his family if everything went to plan. We would leave at the end of the week, which would give her enough time to find some replacement Guardians. I'd suggested Eddie as one of them, as he'd been stuck in a filing job since the whole mess with James. If he proved to be a good Guardian to the Queen for a while, then others might consider asking him to be their Guardian in the future. It could only help.
Friday finally rolled around, and I had finished my shift an hour before Dimitri. I was supposed to be packing, but I was probably the worst person for this in the entire world. I either took way too much, or ended up forgetting things. Usually both.
When Dimitri finally walked in the door, I was sitting in a huge pile of clothes and other stuff, with half-filled suitcase on the bed, everything screwed up inside it.
To his credit, he regarded the scene with merely a raised eyebrow, before coming over to my nest of clothes.
"Need some help there, Rose?" He asked, and I could tell he was trying not to laugh as he noticed how flustered I looked. I threw a balled-up pair of socks at his head, which he caught before they could inflict any damage.
"Just get this into that." I said with dignity, indicating the debris around me and then the suitcase.
He nodded, still smirking, and started to re-pack the suitcase, folding everything neatly. I stood up and jumped out of the ring of clothes and went to make lunch.
20 minutes later I came back into our room to see Dimitri just zipping up the second case. He turned around when he heard me enter.
"For someone who was on the run for 2 years, you pack terribly." He commented.
I shrugged. "Lissa did it for me. I just sat on the cases to close them at the end, and carried them around."
Dimitri lifted the cases off the bed and put them over by the door before sitting down next to me.
"So, where are we going tomorrow?" I asked.
We hadn't been able to book the jet from Court for another 2 days, so we'd have to spend a night in still in the US before flying to Russia.
Dimitri looked down at me, smiling. "What about South Dakota?"
I frowned. "What's in- wait, the Corn Palace!"
He grinned. "Exactly. Do you still want that T-shirt?"
I nodded enthusiastically, and kissed him.
When we finally broke apart, I was the first to speak.
"That day in the library, I had to keep reminding myself that we were just friends. It felt so good just to be with you again, and I didn't even care that we were running for our lives. I'd have kept running forever, as long as I had you by my side."
"Do you remember I was telling you why I had decided to run with you?" He asked, and I nodded. "Well, there was a reason that I started to say but never did. I was going to tell you that I wanted a chance to make things right between us; that I'd never given up on you."
Let's just say that it was convenient that we were already on the bed, as it was put to good use after that.
There you go, people. The first chapter of ALS 1: New Beginnings. Next one will be up soon.
Please review. Dimitri might take you on holiday ;)