I brushed snow off of a large, box-like object that looked to be part of the ventilation system. Heedless of my dress, I sat down on it. Wrapping my arms around myself, I stared off, taking in the view and the sun I rarely got to enjoy.
I was startled when the door opened a few minutes later. When I looked back I was even more startled still to see Dimitri emerge. My heart gave a small flutter, and I turned away, unsure what to think. His boots crunched in the snow as he walked over to where I was sitting. A moment later, he took off his long coat and draped it over my shoulders.
He sat down beside me. "You must be freezing."
I was, but I didn't want to admit it. "The sun's out."
He tipped his head back, looking up at the perfect blue sky. I knew he missed the sun as much as I did sometimes. "It is. But we're still on a mountain in the middle of winter."
I didn't answer. We sat there in a comfortable silence for a while. Occasionally, a light wind blew clouds of snow around. It was night for Moroi, and most would be going to bed soon, so the ski runs were quiet.
"My life is a disaster," I finally said.
"It's not a disaster," he said automatically.
"Did you follow me from the party?"
"I didn't even know you were there." His dark clothes indicated he must have been on guardian duty at the party. "So you saw the illustrious Janine cause a commotion by dragging me out."
"It wasn't a commotion. Hardly anyone noticed. I saw because I was watching you."
I refused to let myself get excited over that. "That's not what she said," I told him. "I might as well have been working a corner as far as she was concerned."
I relayed the conversation from the hallway.
"She's just worried about you," Dimitri said when I finished.
"Sometimes mothers are overprotective."
I stared at him. "Yeah, but this is my mother. And she didn't seem that protective, really. I think she was more worried I'd embarrass her or something. And all that becoming-a-mother-too-young stuff was stupid. I'm not going to do anything like that."
"Maybe she wasn't talking about you," he said.
More silence. My jaw fell open.
You don't have the life experience for it- you haven't even lived your own life yet. You won't be able to do the kind of job you wish you could.
My mom had been twenty when I was born. Growing up, that had always seemed really old to me. But now...that was only a few years off for me. Not old at all. Did she think she'd had me too soon? Had she done a shoddy job raising me simply because she didn't know any better at the time? Did she regret the way things had turned out between us? And was it... was it maybe possible that she'd had some personal experience of her own with Moroi men and people spreading rumors about her? I had inherited a lot of her features. I mean, I'd even noticed tonight what a nice figure she had. She had a pretty face, too- for a nearly forty-year-old, I mean. She'd probably been really, really good-looking when she was younger....
I sighed. I didn't want to think about that. If I did, I might have to reevaluate my relationship with her- maybe even acknowledge my mother as a real person- and I already had too many relationships stressing me. Lissa always worried me, even though she seemed to be okay for a change. My so-called romance with Mason was in shambles. And then, of course, there was Dimitri....
"We aren't fighting right now." I blurted out.
He gave me a sidelong look. "Do you want to fight?"
"No. I hate fighting with you. Verbally, I mean. I don't mind in the gym."
I thought I detected the hint of a smile. Always a half-smile for me. Rarely a full one. "I don't like fighting with you either."
Sitting next to him there, I marveled at the warm and happy emotions springing up inside of me. There was something about being around him that felt so good, that moved me in a way Mason couldn't. You can't force love, I realized. It's there or it isn't. If it's not there, you've got to be able to admit it. If it is there, you've got to do whatever it takes to protect the ones you love.
The next words that came out of my mouth astonished me, both because they were completely unselfish and because I actually meant them.
"You should take it."
He flinched. "What?"
"Tasha's offer. You should take her up on it. It's a really great chance."
I remembered my mom's words about being ready for children. I wasn't. Maybe she hadn't been. But Tasha was. And I knew Dimitri was too. They got along really well. He could go be her guardian, have some kids with her ... it would be a good deal for both of them.
"I never expected to hear you say anything like that," he told me, voice tight. "Especially after- "
"What a bitch I've been? Yeah." I tugged his coat tighter against the cold. It smelled like him. It was intoxicating, and I could half-imagine being wrapped in his embrace. Adrian might have been onto something about the power of scent. "Well. Like I said, I don't want to fight anymore. I don't want us to hate each other. And...well ..." I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them. "No matter how I feel about us ... I want you to be happy."
Silence yet again. I noticed then that my chest hurt.
Dimitri reached out and put his arm around me. He pulled me to him, and I rested my head on his chest. "Roza," was all he said.
It was the first time he'd really touched me since the night of the lust charm. The practice room had been something different ... more animal. This wasn't even about sex. It was just about being close to someone you cared about, about the emotion that kind of connection flooded you with.
Dimitri might run off with Tasha, but I would still love him. I would probably always love him.
I cared about Mason. But I would probably never love him.
I sighed into Dimitri, just wishing I could stay like that forever. It felt right being with him. And- no matter how much the thought of him and Tasha made me ache- doing what was best for him felt right. Now, I knew, it was time to stop being a coward and do something else that was right. Mason had said I needed to learn something about myself. I just had.
Reluctantly, I pulled away and handed Dimitri his coat. I stood up. He regarded me curiously, sensing my unease.
"Where you going?" he asked.
"To break someone's heart," I replied.
I admired Dimitri for a heartbeat more- the dark, knowing eyes and silken hair. Then I headed inside. I had to apologize to Mason...and tell him there'd never be anything between us.