Author's Note: I am so sorry about the wait! I really am enjoying the attention that this story is getting, it really helps spur me on! I am having a lot of mixed feelings about this chapter but no matter how much I've been thinking about it, there really isn't any other way to really move forward than this. Let me know what you think! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Warning: Language, OOCness, Un-beta'd.
Word Count: 4,843
My schedule ended up the same as when I first went through my senior year at St. Vladamir's. Kirova sent us away as soon as I agreed to obey her wishes. I think she was sufficiently sure that both Dimitri and I were adequately punished for killing my social life and taking away Dimitri solitude. She's sure that's going to be enough. What she doesn't know is that she isn't just punishing me. She's torturing me. She's dangling the love of my life in front of me like water in the desert. She might be angry at me and the situation, but I'm sure she doesn't intend to be this cruel. If she knew, I'm sure this situation would have been so different.
Nevermind the fact that I can't in my right mind believe that the Headmistress would willingly and knowingly put a minor and an adult together that would ultimately - hopefully - fall in love with one another and commit a crime just a week before that minor's eighteenth birthday. Maybe I will be a bit smarter about that, seeing as we - and I mean he - got into some trouble for that wonderful act.
Thankfully there was no legal trouble. With Lissa as Queen, she conveniently never really knew about when Dimitri and I got together or when we originally consummated our love for one another. It was more of the backlash from my parents. They went on that hunting trip when I wasn't privy too, but I know that he started out on the wrong foot with Janine and Abe. Thankfully, they came around quickly, like I knew they would and it was all behind us. Still, Dimitri is such a good man, the fact that there was any avoidable friction between him and my parents was a little hard.
I wish I could have stayed with Lissa. I wanted us to be able to sit down and talk about what to do next in this crazy situation, but she was spirited away from me before we could talk. But even as we walked away from one another, our bond still held strong. Strong enough to ease some of the apprehension that is building up inside of me once more. I'm going to go gray before long and die of stress not long after that at this rate. This experience is going to kill me, I swear.
And no, God, that isn't a request or a challenge. Just a bit of dramatic phrasing. Promise.
This wasn't like the last time we were walking this hall, going to separate councilors to get our schedules for the remainder of the term. Unlike the last time we went through this, I have control of the bond. It's been a few years since I've last felt the bond, but it all comes back to me without even the smallest hiccup. It's nice to be able to drone out while other's are talking and filter into Lissa's mind whenever I'm bored. Not that I could do it now, I'm walking to my first class with the other dhampir's, and would more than likely run into a pillar or another student.
Surprisingly enough, I was the dhampir, not the Moroi, and yet I had a personal escort all the way to my class. Not that I minded Dimitri being there. I'm sure Lissa got her own escort, but a part of me wondered what they thought I would do. I didn't leave because I wanted to. I left for Lissa. And I took her with me. Oh well, walking in silence with Dimitri, I could close my eyes and almost imagine that we were back in Court after a long day. Our schedules lined up neatly with one another and we were able to leave guard duty and walk back home together.
Sure, we were hand-in-hand, unlike now. But in the fantasy, we are, and it's nice. It's nice to immerse myself in the fantasy where he and I are together. Walking side-by-side down the halls stopping to share a chaste kiss before we continued on.
What wouldn't I give to be with my sexy Russian eye-candy? To be able to throw him against the wall and kiss him crazy. But I can't. I can't reach out and grab him to me, kiss him crazy and send him on his merry way. I can't share steamy eyes with him or take his hand. I can't because he doesn't love me. I can't because he isn't mine. I can't because he wouldn't understand.
He spares me a look in the corner of his eye but doesn't say anything as we go. I can't imagine what he would have to wonder about. Nothing's really happened yet. I mean, if it's a few weeks from now, or say, tomorrow morning, when he gives me one of his own hair ties because today he won't have thought about it and realize I have molnija and zvezda marks, then I could understand what he would have to wonder about. I'm still not all that sure how to explain why I have my marks. I have a very limited amount of time to try and figure that out.
Someone could notice my marks in class today, if I don't think of something to say soon, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I wish Lissa and I could have had a moment or two to talk about that at least. I'm worried about what we are both making up in our time apart from one another. I can at least try to match my stories with her's from what I see and hear through our bond, but she's going to be flying blind.
Once I get back to my room, I'm going to have to email her, since I don't have my phone anymore. Now that's really taking me back. I didn't get a cell phone until after I got back to Court and proved my innocence about the death of the late - now no longer late - Queen Tatiana Ivashkov. The first thing that Abe did after rubbing it in everyone's face, was buy me a cell phone as a good-job-on-proving-your-innocence-and-causing-a-commotion-at-the-dreary-and-boring-Court present. So, that was nice of him.
I like that he can easily forget that he hasn't seen me a day before my eighteenth birthday. I mean, his ability to think he's a good dad when he has a long way to go is an astounding skill. I think a lot of Moroi men have that ability. Hm.
Not to say that Abe and I don't have a good relationship now that he's around. Or, I mean, we did. Before this.
What am I going to do? I can't hide my marks. I can't pretend that I'm not a Guardian, or a damn good one - if I do say so myself. I highly doubt that Lissa can go back to being Princess when she's obviously built to be a Queen. I don't think the chemistry that we have built as Queen and Guardian can be stopped now that we are Princess and Novice.
Novice? Oh, hell no. I busted my ass to be a Guardian. I think there is only one thing that I can do in this situation: lie my ass off. Well, enough that I am going to go to bed each night hating myself for them.
Once we get to my first class, I almost lose feeling in my legs when my eyes land on a very familiar red head's pure white teeth flashing my way.
"There she is!" Mason laughs. He spreads his arms open wide in a greeting that I couldn't refuse. This will probably be one of the few times in my life that I will walk from Dimitri for another man whom I've wanted to see more. And the irony in that isn't lost on me.
"Mason..." I whisper, hugging him tightly.
Mason laughs, giving me a friendly squeeze, but his hands linger a touch too long before we pull away from each other. When he goes in for our handshake, I'm ready for it. It was something Eddie and I continued doing long after Mason was killed.
He seems pleased that I remembered and somehow it hurts me. I didn't remember because of him. I remembered because of Eddie. And that feels like betrayal too. But he is none the wiser and smiles away completely oblivious to the fact that I know if things continue as they are, he will die before the year's end.
But that isn't going to happen. I won't allow it. That, God, you're going to have to kill me first.
Eddie steps up next and a part of me is relieved that the horrors of Spokane don't shine in his eyes now like they did in the days leading up to my death - err again. Mason was my friend and I cared a lot about him, but Eddie and Madon were best friends. They were closer than close. They were like Lissa and me, strip away one of us being a Guardian. Their friendship would have lasted forever, had Mason lived.
I hug Eddie and it feels distant. I love him like a brother. I am protective of him in every sense of the world. But to him, we are just friends that haven't seen each other in a few years. I have lived through a lifetime of change. A few of them, I think. It is so strange to be back here in this moment, the two mes, the one that should be here and the one that is, feel like they couldn't be more different. It feels like who I was at this moment is someone that no longer exists. I know I said something similar while I was still at St. Vladamir's, but it couldn't feel any truer now.
And now... well, now I feel like I'm drowning in my own past. I'm twenty-three year old Rose, trapped in seventeen year old Rose's reality.
So I didn't get my ass handed to me like I had the first time. A sick bit of pleasure came from showing my classmates that even after all this time, I still had it. I wasn't to be easily outdone. But I knew the truth in my heart, it was all a lie. I am a Guardian pitted against Novices. That's hardly fair, and I wasn't exactly going easy on any of them. Mason, Eddie, even Meredith whom I sparred with a few times before class was over got thrown around. I'm used to dealing with fully minted Guardians and Strigoi, hell, my training partner is considered a God amongst the Guardians.
Once you spend enough time doing that, Novices is like nothing. Well, not nothing. Mason managed to knock me on my back before I kicked his legs out from beneath him. And Eddie managed a good chokehold that would have worked if he hadn't left his stance open as wide as he did. Giving me perfect access to his gut with my elbow. He's lucky I didn't aim lower.
But by the end of class, people were already welcoming me back as if I never left, and in awe over my skills.
"You were just like a real Guardian," Meredith said, rubbing at the back of her neck. "Did you graduate while you were away?"
It was a joke. She doesn't have the ability to see into the future, cause if she did, she would have been able to at least best me once in our bouts, but her words gave me a great idea. Well, not a great idea, a lie that I can weave as my own. I'm not sure for how long and how far I can take it, but it's all I've got at this point. A part of me considered just lying to Dimitri, tell him I'm undercover somehow protecting Lissa as a Novice, but I would still have to somehow explain my marks in class to my fellows. My Instructor has already given me a lot of flack as it is for having my hair down and this is day one.
"Wear it up or cut it, Hathaway, those are your choices," she had said in annoyance. Like I didn't already know that.
I have some serious apprehensions as I make my way to Stan's class. This is it. This is where I'm going to begin to weave my lie together. I have to be careful about what I say. I have to make it believable without giving everything away and backing myself into a corner. And lie my ass off with enough truth to keep Dimitri's bullshit sensing abilities none the wiser.
I find my seat and rub the sweat off my hands onto my thighs. It's been a while since I was dressed down in my salvation army threads. I've gotten so used to wearing my boots and leather jacket outside of my Guardian attire, that it's odd without them. I can hear Eddie and Mason having a conversation with me in the middle of it, but I am trying so hard to get into the zone and pray that I can make this work. The only other option would be to flee the school, join the keepers and live out the rest of my days batting Joshua off with a stick.
"Ah, Rose," Stan says, pulling me from my thoughts, "why don't you come to the front of the class and tell us about your experience out in the world these last two years?"
Maybe if I pretended it would be my pleasure, he would be spiteful enough to not let me go up there. "Do you mind?" I ask politely. Sure, Stan and I aren't ever on good terms, it seems, but he's a good Instructor and Guardian. We might not be the other's favorite person, but that doesn't mean I can't try and be cordial.
Stan smiles like he sees through my ploy. With a grand wave of his hand like a circus ringleader preparing to reveal the tiger on stage, he sweeps his arm and says, "Be my guest, Novice Hathaway." Well, alright then.
I stand up, keeping my moves purposeful and calculated. I wanted to be the perfect picture of calm and cool, even as my classmates "ooh"d and "ahh"d as I made my way to the front. I didn't want them to hear my heart pounding in my chest or see that I was worried sick about how this was all going to play out. I'm not good at lying. I never have been. I'm afraid that everyone can see on my face how worried I am.
As I walk to the front of the room where Stan is waiting for me, I force my shoulders to relax and my breathing to even out. I stop next to Stan, take one more breath before I turn around, fold my hands neatly behind my back, spread my legs out shoulder length apart, and relax. I can see a peculiar look cross over my classmates' faces as they try to put fifteen-year-old Rose in the place of seventeen-year-old Rose. But they aren't getting either. I'm not that girl anymore. She may make surprise appearances once and a while, but she isn't all of who I am anymore. I'm older, smarter, more calculative and more patient than fifteen - or seventeen - year old Rose ever was.
"What would you like me to talk about, Guardian Alto?" I ask, impressed that my voice is completely steady considering I'm gripping my hands so tightly behind my back that it almost hurts.
"Well," he says slowly. He crosses his arms over his chest and hums to himself. In the height of his pitched humming, my eyes find Dimitri, standing in the back of the room, staring down at me with beautiful, impossibly dark brown eyes that I could gaze into forever. "How about, since this is a protection class, you tell me about how you... um, protected Princess Vasilisa?"
"Lissa," I say automatically.
"Nothing," I mumble. I take a deep breath, then ask, heart racing and blood roaring in my ears, "Before or after?"
Stan looks understandably perplexed by the question. "Before or after what?"
"Before or after I became a Guardian?" I ask. I have to applaud myself. I don't need a mirror to know that my face is completely stoic. My Guardian mask, usually used for when I'm dealing with royals by Lissa's side has fallen over my face. It's easy to find that place, to mask myself behind the facade.
Stan stares back at me like he didn't understand, my classmates all look like I'm speaking a different language and for a second I wondered if maybe I slipped into either Russian, which I'm basically fluent in or Turkish, where I can hold up a good conversation in. But I'm sure that I spoke English. Dimitri and Yuri weren't the only ones in the room that looked like they at least understood the words coming out of my mouth.
I'm not sure how many others knew Russian or Turkish. I've heard Yuri and Dimitri speak Russian to one another, and I know that Stan at least understood keywords in Russian. Whereas Dimitri can speak fluent English and Russian, he knows a bit of Turkish and was my conversation partner when I wasn't testing myself out on Abe. If Dimitri had some idea of what I was trying to say, and I could sort of understand him, then I would try my hand at a short conversation in Turkish with my old man.
"What did you say?" Stan asks, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Before or after I became a Guardian?" I repeat, turning my eyes to him. I can stare down Strigoi hundreds of years old. Stan Alto may be an intimidating man, but he wasn't worse than a Strigoi. He can be close, though when he wants to be. Like now.
Every time I say that Stan looks more and more perplexed. "What do you mean?"
"You said you wanted to know about my protection methods for Lissa. I want to know what you mean. Before, or after I graduated and became a Guardian?" I impress even myself with how calm my voice sounds. I can't even talk about the weather that calmly.
"Shit, Hathaway," one of my peers finally recovers. "You're not even back half a day and you're already making up stories?" That gets a few playful jeers from my former classmates. Now that someone has written me off, everyone else is ready to follow their lead. The idea of me being a Guardian is so far out of the realm of possibility to them I'm actually insulted. I haven't seen these bastards in years and this is how they treat me?
I mean, sure. It's completely unheard of for someone who's my age claiming to be a Guardian. That just doesn't happen. But I know something that isn't well known. There are special Academies around the world that are just for dhampirs training to become Guardians. There isn't a lot of them, maybe around five in the whole world, that does special, accelerated training programs for Novices. It's rigorous and brutal and most can't do it.
I only knew about it through Lissa. The biggest Academy specifically tailored for this is in Europe with it's highest graduating class being fifty in the last two hundred years. That was insane. It's not uncommon for these Academies to produce a graduating class of one or two newly minted Guardians. Everyone else either has dropped out or has to start again from the beginning of that year to perfect everything they had done wrong.
It's so exclusive, so reclusive, that only one person I know of, is a graduate of one of these schools. Yep, Dimitri. He didn't graduate early. Technically, a lot don't. Unless someone is exceedingly special. But the school usually recruits someone from a young age and trains them for about ten years. Dimitri graduated in five years if that proves anything.
Do I feel vain alluding that I am one such person that came from this school? Uh, yeah. I feel like a fake and fool. But it's exclusive and to the Guardians - anyone worth their salt, at least - has heard about it as rumors or stories. But even in my time, it's not something that's common. I'm not going to delve too deep into that. I'm not going to outright say it. Just... let them think it.
I'm going to hell.
Mason and Eddie look at each other, confused. Not immediately jumping onto the Rose-is-a-liar bandwagon. That's some real friends right there.
"Sure," I say, ignoring the Novice, "when Lissa and I first ran off I wasn't nearly as vigilant as I should have been and we were lucky that we didn't run into any problems. We... ran into Psi-hounds at one point and somehow managed to get away. I knew after that we needed to go somewhere safe. So we followed some trails and went to Siberia to an Academy there for me to finish my training. Lissa went to a regular public school while I was there."
"That's impossible, you were on the run from the Academy, there were alerts out for you across the grid," Dean, another Novice, says.
I smile at him, having expected this. "No there wasn't. There was one out for Lissa. Not me. Nobody knew who Rosemarie Hathaway was, and no one cared." It's true, Lissa's name was everywhere and St. Vladamir knew that I was with her, but all the Guardians and Moroi of other Academies didn't. Everyone was only looking for the Dragomir Princess. No one was looking for little ol' me. It was easier for me to slide beneath the radar so long as it wasn't someone from my school. Not that I really went anywhere without Lissa often, but I had seen my fair share of dhampirs while we were on the run. No Guardians though.
And no one in this room could deny that. We were all dhampirs. We are all second rate to Moroi. With a Princess missing, even if Kirova remembered to send my name to Court, it would have been lost in the paperwork easy. No one really cares about dhampir children missing. Not when a Moroi child is missing. Especially if that Moroi child was a Royal, and the last of her bloodline.
Nope, no competition there. No one could refute that.
"I finished my training quickly and was Promised. After that, I returned to Lissa and we went on our way." I lean from one hip to the other before leaning back on them. I can see Dimitri in the back of the class, he's hard to miss even standing amongst other Guardians with his long duster and large stature. He's staring holes right through me. If he wasn't interested in me before, he sure is now. Or, at least curious, I mean.
"You've got a Promise mark?" Eddie asks. "Really?"
"I wanna see," Meredith says, leaning forward in her seat. Yeah, now everyone wants to see that because that way they can prove I'm a liar. That, and I'm sure they are having fun not having to listen to anything that isn't Stan rambling on and on about things they've already heard before. Just a little more in depth each year. I'm amusing to them for now.
I reach up and touch my neck, conflicted. They need proof and this is the most surefire way of proving it. But the back of my neck is the story of my life. It paints all the painful things in my life, how many times I've thrown myself into danger. Thrown myself against Strigoi and won. At least enough times that others have bore witness to. It's not something easy to see.
Thinking back on seventeen-year-old Rose seeing Dimitri's molnija marks and commenting on them in the car... it makes sense now why he covered them up. We are supposed to show them off, as proof that we are both Promised and that we have experience in killing Strigoi, but it's personal. It's very personal. It would be no different than stripping me down right now in front of everyone. I'm sure some of those little horndogs wouldn't mind that in the least. But Stan understands. Dimitri understands. All the Guardians understand what they are asking of me and how personal it is.
How many marks on my neck - how many known Strigoi I've killed - probably pales in comparison to those I lost along the way. And pales in comparison to how many those Strigoi probably killed before they met me. And now, every single one of them is alive again out there. Hunting, killing, with no guarantee that I will run across them again. Or that I will be able to kill them a second time.
Dimitri understands. When my eyes lock with his, I see the sadness there. He understands the feeling of wanting to hide the most intimate part of your soul away. It's what he's good at. Killing a Strigoi isn't the honor that Novices think they are. Killing Strigoi is promising at least one person that they will never take another step in this world, ever again. It's never a good thing. Even if more of us survive because that Strigoi is gone. In a sick, twisted and even unorthodox way of looking at it, it's still murder.
That Strigoi used to be a person. A person who probably didn't even want to become a Strigoi. They might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, like Dimitri. Or felt that they had no other options, like Sonya.
"Once," I promise myself. "I will show it only once like some kind of badge of honor and never again." Confusion flickers over the faces of my former classmates because they were all still too young to understand. They won't understand until they've killed someone. Until they've killed a Strigoi. If they kill a Strigoi. If they aren't killed by a Strigoi, that is.
I gather up all my hair, turning my own eyes up to Dimitri, wondering what he's thinking. I see his hands following my hands, but there is something in his eyes that I recognize, something that stirs hope in my gut and pushes me forward with my choice even though I'm very much starting to second guess myself, even though I'm trapped in an impossible situation. There is just something in his eyes that give me the feeling that he has my back. That he understands what is being asked of me and he's silently offering me his strength.
He means it kindly, I know he does. But it means more to me then he will ever be able to understand. I have come to rely on him so much that being without that feeling is... hard. Very hard. Maybe one day, if I can somehow get him to fall in love with me, I will be able to tell him all about this strange situation. Or, somehow I will just be able to go back to moments leading up to Lissa's and my own death and tell him about it.
All of my hair is gathered up into a messy bun on the top of my head, using one of my hands to hold it in place before I take one more breath, force myself to relax, and turn around to show off the back of my neck.