She was sneaking into the chapel's attic again, confirming my worst fears. Like last time, she met no resistance. Good God, I thought, could that priest be any worse about securing his own chapel?

Sunrise lit up the stained-glass window, and Christian's silhouette was framed against it: he was sitting in the window seat.

"You're late," he told her. "Been waiting a while."

Lissa pulled up one of the rickety chairs, brushing dust off it. "I figured you'd be tied up with Headmistress Kirova."

He shook his head. "Not much to it. They suspended me for a week, that's all. Not like it's hard to sneak out." He waved his hands around. "As you can see."

"I'm surprised you didn't get more time."

A patch of sunlight lit up his crystal-blue eyes. "Disappointed?"

She looked shocked. "You set someone on fire!"

"No, I didn't. Did you see any burns on him?"

"He was covered in flames."

"I had them under control. I kept them off of him."

She sighed. "You shouldn't have done that."

Straightening out of his lounging position, he sat up and leaned toward her. "I did it for you."

"You attacked someone for me?"

"Sure. He was giving you and Rose a hard time. She was doing an okay job against him, I guess, but I figured she could use the backup. Besides, this'll shut anyone else up about the whole fox thing, too."

"You shouldn't have done that," she repeated, looking away. She didn't know how to feel about this "generosity." "And don't act like it was all for me. You liked doing it. Part of you wanted to - just because."

Christian's smug expression dropped, replaced by one of uncharacteristic surprise. Lissa might not be psychic, but she had a startling ability to read people.

Seeing him off guard, she continued. "Attacking someone else with magic is forbidden - and that's exactly why you wanted to do it. You got a thrill out of it."

"Those rules are stupid. If we used magic as a weapon instead of just for warm and fuzzy shit, Strigoi wouldn't keep killing so many of us."

"It's wrong," she said firmly. "Magic is a gift. It's peaceful."

"Only because they say it is. You're repeating the party line we've been fed our whole lives." He stood up and paced the small space of the attic. "It wasn't always that way, you know. We used to fight, right along with the guardians - centuries ago. Then people started getting scared and stopped. Figured it was safer to just hide. They forgot the attack spells."

"Then how did you know that one?"

He crooked her a smile. "Not everyone forgot."

"Like your family? Like your parents?"

The smile disappeared. "You don't know anything about my parents."

His face darkened, his eyes grew hard. To most people, he might have appeared scary and intimidating, but as Lissa studied and admired his features, he suddenly seemed very, very vulnerable.

"You're right," she admitted softly, after a moment. "I don't. I'm sorry."

For the second time in this meeting, Christian looked astonished. Probably no one apologized to him that often. Hell, no one even talked to him that often. Certainly no one ever listened. Like usual, he quickly turned into his cocky self.

"Forget it." Abruptly, he stopped pacing and knelt in front of her so they could look each other in the eye. Feeling him so close made her hold her breath. A dangerous smile curled his lips. "And really, I don't get why you of all people should act so outraged that I used 'forbidden' magic."

"Me 'of all people'? What's that supposed to mean?"

"You can play all innocent if you want - and you do a pretty good job - but I know the truth."

"What truth is that?" She couldn't hide her uneasiness from me or Christian.

He leaned even closer. "That you use compulsion. All the time."

"No, I don't," she said immediately.

"Of course you do. I've been lying awake at night, trying to figure out how in the world you two were able to rent out a place and go to high school without anyone ever wanting to meet your parents. Then I figured it out. You had to be using compulsion. That's probably how you broke out of here in the first place."

"I see. You just figured it out. Without any proof."

"I've got all the proof I need, just from watching you."

"You've been watching me - spying on me - to prove I'm using compulsion?"

He shrugged. "No. Actually, I've been watching you just because I like it. The compulsion thing was a bonus. I saw you use it the other day to get an extension on that math assignment. And you used it on Ms. Carmack when she wanted to make you go through more testing."

"So you assume it's compulsion? Maybe I'm just really good at convincing people." There was a defiant note in her voice: understandable, considering her fear and anger. Only she delivered it with a toss of her hair which - if I didn't know any better - might have been considered flirtatious. And I did know better...right? Suddenly, I wasn't sure.

He went on, but something in his eyes told me he'd noticed the hair, that he always noticed everything about her. "People get these goofy looks on their faces when you talk to them. And not just any people - you're able to do it to Moroi. Probably dhampirs, too. Now that's crazy. I didn't even know that was possible. You're some kind of superstar. Some kind of evil, compulsion-abusing superstar." It was an accusation, but his tone and presence radiated the same flirtatiousness she had.

Lissa didn't know what to say. He was right. Everything he'd said was right. Her compulsion was what had allowed us to dodge authority and get along in the world without adult help. It was what had allowed us to convince the bank to let her tap into her inheritance.

And it was considered every bit as wrong as using magic as a weapon. Why not? It was a weapon. A powerful one, one that could be abused very easily. Moroi children had it drilled into them from an early age that compulsion was very, very wrong. No one was taught to use it, though every Moroi technically had the ability. Lissa had just sort of stumbled into it - deeply - and, as Christian had pointed out, she could wield it over Moroi, as well as humans and dhampirs.

"What are you going to do then?" she asked. "You going to turn me in?"

He shook his head and smiled. "No. I think it's hot."

She stared, eyes widening and heart racing. Something about the shape of his lips intrigued her. "Rose thinks you're dangerous," she blurted out nervously. "She thinks you might have killed the fox."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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