"Not on everything."

"But on some things."

I heard the double meaning in my voice and wondered where it had come from. I'd accepted a while ago that there were too many reasons for me to even think about him romantically anymore. Every once in a while, I slipped a little and kind of wished he would too. It'd have been nice to know that he still wanted me, that I still drove him crazy. Studying him now, I realized he might not ever slip because I didn't drive him crazy anymore. It was a depressing thought.

"Of course," he said, showing no indication we'd discussed anything other than class matters. "It's like everything else. Balance. Know which things to run forward with - and know which to leave alone." He placed a heavy emphasis on that last statement.

Our eyes met briefly, and I felt electricity race through me. He did know what I was talking about. And like always, he was ignoring it and being my teacher - which is exactly what he should have been doing. With a sigh, I pushed my feelings for him out of my head and tried to remember that I was about to touch the weapon I'd been longing for since childhood. The memory of the Badica house came back to me yet again. The Strigoi were out there. I needed to focus.

Hesitantly, almost reverentially, I reached out and curled my fingers around the hilt. The metal was cool and tingled against my skin. It was etched along the hilt for better grip, but in trailing my fingers over the rest of it, I found the surface to be as smooth as glass. I lifted it from his hand and brought it to me, taking a long time to study it and get used to its weight. An anxious part of me wanted to turn around and impale all of the dummies, but instead I looked up at Dimitri and asked, "What should I do first?"

In his typical way, he covered basics first, honing the way I held and moved with the stake. Later on, he finally let me attack one of the dummies, at which point I did indeed discover it was not effortless. Evolution had done a smart thing in protecting the heart with the sternum and ribs. Yet through it all, Dimitri never faltered in diligence and patience, guiding me through every step and correcting the finest details.

"Slide up through the ribs," he explained, watching me try to fit the stake's point through a gap in the bones. "It'll be easier since you're shorter than most of your attackers. Plus, you can slide along the lower rib's edge."

When practice ended, he took the stake back and nodded his approval.

"Good. Very good."

I glanced at him in surprise. He didn't usually hand out a lot of praise.


"You do it like you've been doing it for years."

I felt a delighted grin creep over my face as we started leaving the practice room. When we neared the door, I noticed a dummy with curly red hair. Suddenly, all the events from Stan's class came tumbling back into my head. I scowled.

"Can I stake that one next time?"

He picked up his coat and put it on. It was long and brown, made of distressed leather. It looked very much like a cowboy duster, though he'd never admit to it. He had a secret fascination with the Old West. I didn't really understand it, but then, I didn't get his weird musical preferences either.

"I don't think that'd be healthy," he said.

"It'd be better than me actually doing it to her," I grumbled, slinging my backpack over one shoulder. We headed out to the gym.

"Violence isn't the answer to your problems," he said sagely.

"She's the one with the problem. And I thought the whole point of my education was that violence is the answer."

"Only to those who bring it to you first. Your mother isn't assaulting you. You two are just too much alike, that's all."

I stopped walking. "I'm not anything like her! I mean...we kind of have the same eyes. But I'm a lot taller. And my hair's completely different." I pointed to my pony tail, just in case he wasn't aware that my thick brown-black hair didn't look like my mother's auburn curls.

He still had kind of an amused expression, but there was something hard in his eyes too. "I'm not talking about your appearances, and you know it."

I looked away from that knowing gaze. My attraction to Dimitri had started almost as soon as we'd met - and it wasn't just because he was so hot, either. I felt like he understood part of me that I didn't understand myself, and sometimes I was pretty sure I understood parts of him that he didn't understand either.

The only problem was that he had the annoying tendency to point out things about myself I didn't want to understand.

"You think I'm jealous?"

"Are you?" he asked. I hated it when he answered my questions with questions. "If so, what are you jealous of exactly?"

I glanced back at Dimitri. "I don't know. Maybe I'm jealous of her reputation. Maybe I'm jealous because she's put more time into her reputation than into me. I don't know."

"You don't think what she did was great?"

"Yes. No. I don't know. It just sounded like such a ... I don't know...like she was bragging. Like she did it for the glory." I grimaced. "For the marks." Molnija marks were tattoos awarded to guardians when they killed Strigoi. Each one looked like a tiny x made of lightning bolts. They went on the backs of our necks and showed how experienced a guardian was.

"You think facing down Strigoi is worth a few marks? I thought you'd learned something from the Badica house."

I felt stupid. "That's not what I - "

"Come on."

I stopped walking. "What?"

We'd been heading toward my dorm, but now he nodded his head toward the opposite side of campus. "I want to show you something."

"What is it?"

"That not all marks are badges of honor."


I HAD NO IDEA WHAT Dimitri was talking about, but I followed along obediently.

To my surprise, he led me out of the boundaries of the campus and into the surrounding woods. The Academy owned a lot of land, not all of which was actively used for educational purposes. We were in a remote part of Montana, and at times, it seemed as though the school was just barely holding back the wilderness.

We walked quietly for a while, our feet crunching through thick, unbroken snow. A few birds flitted by, singing their greetings to the rising sun, but mostly all I saw were scraggly, snow-heavy evergreen trees. I had to work to keep up with Dimitri's longer stride, particularly since the snow slowed me down a little. Soon, I discerned a large, dark shape ahead. Some kind of building.

"What is that?" I asked. Before he could answer, I realized it was a small cabin, made out of logs and everything. Closer examination showed that the logs looked worn and rotten in some places. The roof sagged a little.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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