"Rose," he said, and I knew he was no longer smiling. "I don't know why you're lying, but I know you wouldn't do it without a good reason. And if there's something wrong -  something you're afraid to tell the others - "

I spun around rapidly, somehow managing to pivot in place in such a way that his hand never moved yet ended up on my other shoulder.

"I'm not afraid," I cried. "I do have my reasons, and believe me, what happened with Stan was nothing. Really. All of this is just something stupid that got blown out of proportion. Don't feel sorry for me or feel like you have to do anything. What happened sucks, but I'll just roll with it and take the black mark. I'll take care of everything. I'll take care of me." It took all of my strength just then not to shake. How had this day gotten so bizarre and out of control?

Dimitri didn't say anything. He just looked down at me, and the expression on his face was one I'd never seen before. I couldn't interpret it. Was he mad? Disapproving? I just couldn't tell. The fingers on my shoulder tightened slightly and then relaxed.

"You don't have to do this alone," he said at last. He sounded almost wistful, which made no sense. He was the one who'd been telling me for so long that I needed to be strong. I wanted to throw myself into his arms just then, but I knew I couldn't.

I couldn't help a smile. "You say that...but tell me the truth. Do you go running to others when you have problems?"

"That's the not the same - "

"Answer the question, comrade."

"Don't call me that."

"And don't avoid the question either."

"No," he said. "I try to deal with my problems on my own."

I slipped away from his hand. "See?"

"But you have a lot of people in your life you can trust, people who care about you. That changes things."

I looked at him in surprise. "You don't have people who care about you?"

He frowned, obviously rethinking his words. "Well, I've always had good people in my life...and there have been people who cared about me. But that doesn't necessarily mean I could trust them or tell them everything."

I was often so distracted by the weirdness of our relationship that I rarely thought about Dimitri as someone with a life away from me. He was respected by everyone on campus. Teachers and students alike knew him as one of the deadliest guardians here. Whenever we ran into guardians from outside the school, they always seemed to know and respect him too. But I couldn't recall ever having seen him in any sort of social setting. He didn't appear to have any close friends among the other guardians - just coworkers he liked. The friendliest I'd ever seen him get with someone had been when Christian's aunt, Tasha Ozera, visited. They'd known each other for a long time, but even that hadn't been enough for Dimitri to pursue once her visit was over.

Dimitri was alone an awful lot, I realized, content to hole up with his cowboy novels when not working. I felt alone a lot, but in truth, I was almost always surrounded by people. With him being my teacher, I tended to view things as one-sided: He was the one always giving me something, be it advice or instruction. But I gave him something too, something harder to define - a connection with another person.

"Do you trust me?" I asked him.

The hesitation was brief. "Yes."

"Then trust me now, and don't worry about me just this once."

I stepped away, out of the reach of his arm, and he didn't say anything more or try to stop me. Cutting through the room that I'd had the hearing in, I headed for the building's main exit, tossing the remnants of my hot chocolate in a garbage can as I walked past.


THERE HAD ONLY BEEN THREE other witnesses to what had happened out on the quad. Yet, unsurprisingly, everyone seemed to know about it when I returned to the commons later on. Classes were done, but plenty of students moved about in the corridors, off to study or retake tests or whatever. They tried to hide their glances and whispers, but they didn't do a very good job. Those who made eye contact with me either gave me tight-lipped smiles or immediately looked away. Wonderful.

With no psychic link to Christian, I had no clue where to find him. I could sense that Lissa was in the library and figured that would be a good place to start looking. On my way there, I heard a guy's voice call out behind me.

"Took things a bit far, didn't you?"

I turned around and saw Ryan and Camille walking several steps back. If I'd been a guy, the appropriate response would have been, "You mean with your mom?" Because I was not a guy, though, and because I had manners, I just said, "Don't know what you're talking about."

Ryan hurried to catch up with me. "You know exactly what I mean. With Christian. I heard that when Stan attacked, you were just like, 'Here, take him,' and walked away."

"Oh good God," I groaned. It was bad enough when everyone was talking about you, but why did the stories always end up changing? "That is not what happened."

"Oh yeah?" he asked. "Then why did you get called in to see Alberta?"

"Look," I said, not feeling so well mannered anymore, "I just messed up the attack...you know, kind of like you did earlier when you weren't paying attention in the hall?"

"Hey," he said, flushing slightly. "I ended up getting in on that - I did my part."

"Is that what they're calling getting killed nowadays?"

"At least I wasn't a whiny bitch who refused to fight."

I had just about calmed down after speaking with Dimitri, but now my temper was rising already. It was like a thermometer ready to burst. "You know, maybe instead of criticizing others, you should pay more attention to your own guardian duties." I nodded toward Camille. She had thus far been quiet, but her face showed me she was eating all of this up.

Ryan shrugged. "I can do both. Shane's farther behind us, and the area ahead is clear. No doors. Easy." He patted Camille's shoulder. "She's safe."

"It's an easy place to secure. You wouldn't do so well in the real world with real Strigoi."

His smile faded. Anger glinted in his eyes. "Right. The way I hear it, you didn't do such a great job out there either, at least not as far as Mason was concerned."

Taunting over what had happened with Stan and Christian was one thing. But implying that I was at fault for Mason's death? Unacceptable. I was the one who'd kept Lissa safe for two years in the human world. I was the one who had killed two Strigoi in Spokane. I was the only novice at this school with molnija marks, the little tattoos given to guardians to mark Strigoi kills. I'd known there had been some whispers about what had happened to Mason, but no one had ever actually said anything to me. The thought of Ryan or anyone else thinking I was to blame for Mason dying was too much. I blamed myself plenty enough already without their help.

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