And, oh, the lies and secrets. They ran through the halls and hid in the corners. Someone here hated Lissa, someone who was probably smiling right to her face and pretending to be her friend. I couldn't let them destroy her.

"You need to get some sleep," I told her.

"I can't sleep."

"Yes, you can. I'm right here. You won't be alone."

Anxiety and fear and other troubled emotions coursed through her. But in the end, her body's needs won out. After a while, I saw her eyes close. Her breathing became even, and the bond grew quiet.

I watched her sleep, too keyed up with adrenaline to allow myself any rest. I think maybe an hour had passed when the nurse returned and told me I had to leave.

"I can't go," I said. "I promised her she wouldn't be alone."

The nurse was tall, even for a Moroi, with kind brown eyes. "She won't be. I'll stay with her."

I regarded her skeptically.

"I promise."

Back in my room, I had my own crash. The fear and excitement had worn me out too, and for an instant, I wished I could have a normal life and a normal best friend. Immediately, I cast that thought out. No one was normal, not really. And I'd never have a better friend than Lissa...but man, it was so hard sometimes.

I slept heavily until morning. I went to my first class tentatively, nervous that word about last night had gotten around. As it turned out, people were talking about last night, but their attention was still focused on the queen and the reception. They knew nothing about the rabbit. As hard as it was to believe, I'd nearly forgotten about that other stuff. Still, it suddenly seemed like a small thing compared to someone causing a bloody explosion in Lissa's room.

Yet, as the day went on, I noticed something weird. People stopped looking at Lissa so much. The started looking at me. Whatever. Ignoring them, I hunted around and found Lissa finishing up with a feeder. That funny feeling I always got came over me as I watched her mouth work against the feeder's neck, drinking his blood. A trickle of it ran down his throat, standing out against his pale skin. Feeders, though human, were nearly as pale as Moroi from all the blood loss. He didn't seem to notice; he was long gone on the high of the bite. Drowning in jealousy, I decided I needed therapy.

"You okay?" I asked her later, on our way to class. She wore long sleeves, purposefully obscuring her wrists.

"Yeah...I still can't stop thinking about that rabbit...It was so horrible. I keep seeing it in my head. And then what I did." She squeezed her eyes shut, just for a moment, and then opened them again. "People are talking about us."

"I know. Ignore them."

"I hate it," she said angrily. A surge of darkness shot up into her and through the bond. It made me cringe. My best friend was lighthearted and kind. She didn't have feelings like that. "I hate all the gossip. It's so stupid. How can they all be so shallow?"

"Ignore them," I repeated soothingly. "You were smart not to hang out with them anymore."

Ignoring them grew harder and harder, though. The whispers and looks increased. In animal behavior, it became so bad, I couldn't even concentrate on my now-favorite subject. Ms. Meissner had started talking about evolution and survival of the fittest and how animals sought mates with good genes. It fascinated me, but even she had a hard time staying on task, since she had to keep yelling at people to quiet down and pay attention.

"Something's going on," I told Lissa between classes. "I don't know what, but they're all over something new."

"Something else? Other than the queen hating me? What more could there be?"

"Wish I knew."

Things finally came to a head in our last class of the day, Slavic art. It started when a guy I barely knew made a very explicit and nearly obscene suggestion to me while we all worked on individual projects. I replied in kind, letting him know exactly what he could do with his request.

He only laughed. "Come on, Rose. I bleed for you."

Loud giggles ensued, and Mia cut us a taunting look. "Wait, it's Rose who does the bleeding, right?"

More laughter. Understanding slapped me in the face. I jerked Lissa away. "They know."

"Know what?"

"About us. About how know, how I fed you while we were gone."

She gaped. "How?"

"How do you think? Your 'friend' Christian."

"No," she said adamantly. "He wouldn't have."

"Who else knew?"

Faith in Christian flashed in her eyes and in our bond. But she didn't know what I knew. She didn't know how I'd bitched him out last night, how I'd made him think she hated him. The guy was unstable. Spreading our biggest secret - well, one of them - would be an adequate revenge. Maybe he'd killed the rabbit, too. After all, it had died only a couple hours after I'd told him off.

Not waiting around to hear her protests, I stalked off to the other side of the room where Christian was working by himself, as usual. Lissa followed in my wake. Not caring if people saw us, I leaned across the table toward him, putting my face inches from his.

"I'm going to kill you."

His eyes darted to Lissa, the faintest glimmer of longing in them, and then a scowl spread over his face. "Why? Is it like guardian extra credit?"

"Stop with the attitude," I warned, pitching my voice low. "You told. You told how Lissa had to feed off me."

"Tell her," said Lissa desperately. "Tell her she's wrong."

Christian dragged his eyes from me to her, and as they regarded each other, I felt such a powerful wave of attraction, it was a wonder it didn't knock me over. Her heart was in her eyes. It was obvious to me he felt the same way about her, but she couldn't see it, particularly since he was still glaring at her.

"You can stop it, you know," he said. "You don't have to pretend anymore."

Lissa's giddy attraction vanished, replaced by hurt and shock over his tone. "I...what? Pretend what?..."

"You know what. Just stop. Stop with the act."

Lissa stared at him, her eyes wide and wounded. She had no clue I'd gone off on him last night. She had no clue that he believed she hated him.

"Get over feeling sorry for yourself, and tell us what's going on," I snapped at him. "Did you or didn't you tell them?"

He fixed me with a defiant look. "No. I didn't."

"I don't believe you."

"I do," said Lissa.

"I know it's impossible to believe a freak like me could keep his mouth shut - especially since neither of you can - but I have better things to do than spread stupid rumors. You want someone to blame? Blame your golden boy over there."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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