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the battle with the heart isn't easily won

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1.

  

 

“Rose,” Lissa says, watching her move around the room. Rose pulls out every single drawer and stuffs clothes—Lissa’s clothes—into a duffel bag. When Rose gets to her bra drawer, Lissa laughs and moves toward her, touching her wrist. “Okay, wait. What are you doing?”

 “We,” Rose corrects, straightening. She has that look in her eye, that stubborn expression of determination that Lissa knows so well. Her eyes dart down to Lissa’s wrists, covered by her long-sleeve shirt. “We’re running away.”

 Lissa grins and raises her eyebrows, but when her smile is met by an unmoving stare, her eyes widen. “You aren’t serious.”

 “Come on,” Rose says, and swings her legs over the bed, packing the rest of the essentials.

 They have always trusted each other unconditionally. In the minutes that pass when Lissa is still, Rose’s stomach twists in uncertainty. She closes her eyes, as if in prayer, and waits. It takes a moment, but Lissa kneels beside her, hairbrush in hand.

  

 

2.

  

 

The moment they get past the guards, Rose lets out a cheer.

 There is something exhilarating about escaping. The school is a prison and they are the fugitives, running from social construct, from the grumpy old teachers, from the people who stare at Vasilia and expect greatness, divinity.

 Rose laughs while Lissa twists around to watch the school building grow smaller and smaller, fading from view. Lissa’s smile falters with apprehension as they push into the unknown. For so long, the walls of the school had been the edges of their world; although this venture, to Rose, is a necessary one, she feels no regret for the life she left behind.

 Rose moves a hand off the wheel and calms Lissa’s fidgeting fingers with her own. Rose’s eyes stay firmly on the road, ignoring her own worries, daring not to voice them aloud. She thinks instead of Lissa, and squeezes her hand, and says, “Everything will be okay.”

 “I know,” Lissa says, softly, honestly. “I’m with you.”

 

  

3.

  

 

Rose was born into a guardian’s life.

 She is a fighter, raised as an elite warrior’s daughter and knows how to use her body as a weapon. She knows where to punch, where to twist, where to shoot. She knows this all in theory; killing is another matter, but when she looks at Lissa—at her wrists, at the dark circles under her eyes— Rose knows that she will, without hesitation, if it is for her.

 “If we ever go back,” Lissa says, after some time, and for a moment Rose tenses, bracing for impact. “If we ever go back,” she repeats, as reassurance, “they might not take you. I’m just—I was just thinking. Just in case.”

 The Dragomir princess will be welcomed with open arms, after the proper scolding has been given. Rose will not receive the same treatment; it is a severe crime, as a guardian, to put the ones they protect in harm’s way, no matter how justified Rose is. She would never be allowed near Lissa again.

 It is that thought, more than anything else, that shakes her.

 “That isn’t going to happen,” Rose promises. “I won’t let them find us.”

 

  

4.

  

 

Lisa collapses on the third day.

 Rose, never more than a foot away, catches her as she falls. Her anxiety is a punch to the gut, and when she brushes the hair away from Lissa’s face, her fingers come away cold. She utters a curse below her breath, inwardly yelling at herself for forgetting the most basic of needs.

 “When’s the last time you fed?”

 “It’s fine,” Lissa tries to stand and fails, stumbling against Rose.

 “It’s not fine,” she snaps, “you need blood.”

 Lissa is the colour of ash and her lips are dry. “From who? It’s not like there are any feeders around here.”

  “We’ll find someone—I don’t know, can you—can you compel anyone, or—?”

 Lissa only smiles, tired. Rose swallows, focuses on a point on the wall, an apology at the back of her throat. She will never be the first to admit that maybe they were too unprepared, too impulsive. But Lissa will die, and it will be her fault.

 The solution jumps to mind when Rose sees Lissa’s gaze lingering at her throat. The idea isn’t a favourable one, and a voice hisses blood whore in her mind, but it is necessary, reputation be damned.

 Rose gathers her hair in her hands and moves it to one side, tilting her head and baring her neck, not once breaking eye contact with Lissa. Lissa recoils when she understands, but whatever protest she has is stifled by the hunger in her eyes when she tries to drag her eyes away from Rose’s neck and fails.

 “It’s okay,” Rose says, hating the waver in her voice. “It’s the only way. Once every few days should be fine for the both of us.”

 “Rose.” Lissa looks away, squeezing her eyes shut, and shakes her head. “Look, I don’t—I can’t.”

 Rose rolls her eyes. “You can,” she says gently. She thinks of Lissa, beautiful Lissa, who Rose loves more than anyone else, and the uncertainty disappears. “You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?”

 “Of course,” Lissa says immediately.

 Rose leans her back against the wall, pulling Lissa along with her. Her hand reaches out to the back of Lissa’s neck and she puts the slightest of pressure, but Lissa moves closer of her own volition, hovering uncertainly in front of her, a protest lodged in the back of her throat. Rose brushes her thumb along Lissa’s jawline and presses her lips to her cheek.

 “It’s okay,” she repeats.

 Lissa takes Rose’s hand. “Thank you,” she whispers, then bends her head to Rose’s neck.

  

 

5.

  

 

(Once, not as long ago as Rose thinks it is, Lissa—and by extension Rose—was invited to their first high school party. Both of them were overwhelmed by the heady rush of the music beating loudly in their ears, the movement of dancing bodies surrounding them, the spiked drinks. They were celebrating something—she can’t remember what—but it was Lissa’s first drink, and she got wasted.

 Lissa kissed her first. This Rose remembers with perfect clarity. Lissa kissed her, and Rose doesn’t remember why, but she kissed her back, noses bumping and teeth clashing and it was terribly imperfect and beautiful in its imperfection. She remembers how she pressed Lissa against the wall, how her mind was telling her that this was not a Good Idea, capitals and all, because she was a Moroi and Rose was a dhampir, because girls were not supposed to kiss girls, because Lissa is royalty and her reputation matters, and because friends were not supposed to kiss friends, period.

 When morning came Lissa didn’t remember anything, though it replayed over and over in Rose’s mind with an unceasing persistency. It hurt, but she learned to push it down, learned to forget, if only for a short time.

 Now, with Lissa’s mouth on her throat and her hand on Rose’s thigh, she remembers everything anew.)

  

 

6.

  

 

Lissa curls next to Rose on the bed, the movie flickering faintly on the other wall.

 “You know, this isn’t so bad,” Lissa whispers to her.

 “The movie?” Rose snorts. “Are you kidding? It’s terrible.”

 “It is not,” Lissa says defensively, then lapses into a short silence. “Not that. I mean this.”

 “Of course it isn’t,” Rose says, “I’m a fantastic person to be around.” Lissa smiles, shaking her head, and they both turn back to the screen.

  “I’ve fallen in love with my best friend,” the girl in the movie says dramatically before promptly falling face-down on her bed. Rose thinks, involuntarily, back to the kiss. Sometimes she gets confused. Sometimes she looks at Lissa and something in her trips; one second Lissa is her best friend, the next second her mind blanks out, stuttering over a feeling she can’t name, and all she knows is that she loves Lissa, not always in the way Rose thinks she does.

 “Rose?” Lissa sits up. “What’s wrong?”

 Her hair falls over her shoulder and Rose has this irrational urge to push it back. She would have done so without hesitation, once.

 “It’s nothing,” Rose says, and for a second Lissa looks wounded, but she doesn’t press on the subject. Rose imagines what Lissa would have said. You know every one of my thoughts. Why can’t you tell me yours?

 There are many things Rose hadn’t expected: running away with Lissa, living in a cheap motel room with peeling wallpaper, wanting to be with Lissa as much as she did.

 “I love you the most,” Rose tells her.

 Lissa laughs and curls up against her.

 For now, it’s enough.