"What is that?" I asked, watching him take out a bowl of some kind of raw, ground-up meat from the refrigerator.
"Meat," he said, dumping it onto a cutting board.
"I know that, you idiot. What kind?"
"Ground beef." He pulled another container out and then another. "And this is veal. And this is pork."
"Do you have, like, a T.rex that you're going to feed?"
"Only if you want some. This is for meatloaf."
I stared. "With three kinds of meat?"
"Why eat something called meatloaf if you aren't actually going to get some meat out of it?"
I shook my head. "I can't believe this is only the first day with you."
He glanced down, focusing on kneading his tri-meat creation together. "You sure are making a big deal out of this. Do you really hate me that much? I heard you were screaming at the top of your lungs back in the gym."
"No, I wasn't. And ... I don't hate you at all," I admitted.
"You're just taking it out on me because you didn't get paired with Lissa."
I didn't answer. He wasn't that far off.
"You know," he continued, "it might actually be a good idea for you to practice with someone different."
"I know. That's what Dimitri says too."
Christian put the meat into a bowl and started adding some other ingredients. "Then why question it? Belikov knows what he's doing. I'd trust anything he says. It sucks that they're going to lose him after we graduate, but I'd rather see him with Lissa."
He paused and looked up, meeting my eyes. We both smiled, amused at how shocked we were to have agreed with each other. A moment later, he returned to his work.
"You're good too," he said, not too grudgingly. "The way you handled yourself..."
He didn't finish the thought, but I knew what he was talking about. Spokane. Christian hadn't been around when I killed the Strigoi, but he'd been instrumental in helping with the escape. He and I had teamed up, using his fire magic as a means of letting me subdue our captors. We'd worked well together, all of our animosity put aside.
"I guess you and I have better things to do than fight all the time," I mused. Like worry about Victor Dashkov's trial, I realized. For a moment, I considered telling Christian what I'd learned. He'd been around the night it had all gone down with Victor last fall, but I decided not to mention the news just yet. Lissa needed to hear it first.
"Yup," Christian said, unaware of my thoughts. "Brace yourself, but we aren't that different. I mean, I'm smarter and a lot funnier, but at the end of the day, we both want to keep her safe." He hesitated. "You know...I'm not going to take her away from you. I can't. No one can, not as long as you guys have that bond."
I was surprised he'd brought this up. I honestly suspected that there were two reasons he and I argued a lot. One was that we both had personalities that liked to argue. The other reason - the big one - was that we were each envious of the other's relationship with Lissa. But, as he'd said, we really had the same motives. We cared about her.
"And don't think the bond will keep you guys apart," I said. I knew the link bothered him. How could you ever get romantically close to someone when they had that kind of connection with another person, even if that other person was just a friend? "She cares about you. ..." I couldn't bring myself to say "loves." "She has a whole separate place for you in her heart."
Christian put his dish in the oven. "You did not just say that. I have a feeling we're on the verge of hugging and coming up with cute nicknames for each other." He was trying to look disgusted at my sentiment, but I could tell he liked being told that Lissa cared about him.
"I already have a nickname for you, but I'll get in trouble if I say it in class."
"Ah," he said happily. "That's the Rose I know."
He went off to talk to another friend while his meatloaf cooked, which was probably just as well. My door was a vulnerable position, and I shouldn't have been chatting away, even if the rest of the class was. Across the room, I saw Jesse and Ralf working together. Like Christian, they'd chosen a blow-off class too.
No attacks occurred, but a guardian named Dustin did come in to make notes on us novices as we held our positions. He was standing near me right when Jesse chose to stroll by. At first, I thought it was a coincidence - until Jesse spoke.
"I take back what I said earlier, Rose. I figured it out. You aren't upset because of Lissa or Christian. You're upset because the rules say you have to be with a student, and Adrian Ivashkov's too old. The way I hear it, you guys have already had a lot of practice watching each other's bodies."
That joke could have been so much funnier, but I'd learned not to expect too much from Jesse. I knew for a fact that he didn't care about Adrian and me. I also suspected he didn't even believe we had anything going on. But Jesse was still bitter about me threatening him earlier, and here was his chance to get back at me. Dustin, standing within earshot, had no interest in Jesse's idiotic teasing. Dustin would probably have an interest, however, if I slammed Jesse's face into the wall.
That didn't mean I had to be silent, though. Guardians talked to Moroi all the time; they just tended to be respectful and still keep an eye on their surroundings. So I gave Jesse a small smile and simply said, "Your wit is always such a delight, Mr. Zeklos. I can barely contain myself around it." I then turned away and surveyed the rest of the room.
When Jesse realized I wasn't going to do anything else, he laughed and walked away, apparently thinking he'd won some great victory. Dustin left shortly thereafter.
"Asshole," muttered Christian, returning to his station. Class had about five minutes left.
My eyes followed Jesse across the room. "You know something, Christian? I'm pretty happy to be guarding you."
"If you're comparing me to Zeklos, I don't really take that as much of a compliment. But here, try this. Then you'll really be glad you're with me."
His masterpiece was finished, and he gave me a piece. I hadn't realized it, but just before the meatloaf had gone in, he'd wrapped it in bacon.
"Good God," I said. "This is the most stereotypical vampire food ever."
"Only if it was raw. What do you think?"
"It's good," I said reluctantly. Who knew that bacon would make all the difference? "Really good. I think you have a promising future as a housewife while Lissa works and makes millions of dollars."