"Sure," said Adrian. "I bet going in there and kicking down the door will change their minds. Take Rose with you, and you guys'll make a really good impression."
"Yeah?" asked Christian, clenching the back of his chair and fixing Adrian with a stormy glare. "You have a better idea?"
Lissa's calmness began to waver again. "If Victor was free, would he come after us again?"
"If he gets loose again, he won't stay that way for long," I said. "I'll make sure of it."
"Careful there," said Adrian. He seemed to find all of this funny. "Even you couldn't get away with a royal assassination."
I started to tell him that I'd practice on him first, but then Eddie's sharp voice interrupted my thoughts.
Instinct born from years of training instantly kicked into place. I looked up and immediately saw what he'd noticed. Emil had just entered the library and was scanning for novices, taking notes. I shot up out of my chair, taking a position not far from Eddie that gave me a view of Christian and most of the library. Damn it. I had to get a grip, or I'd end up proving Ryan right. Between my brawl in the hall and now this Victor thing, I was completely neglecting my guardian duties. I might not even need Mason to fail this.
Emil hadn't seen me sitting and socializing. He strolled by, glanced at us, and made a few notes before heading off to scout the rest of the library. Relieved at escaping my close call, I tried to gain control of myself. It was hard. That black mood had seized me again, and listening to Lissa and Christian rage over Victor's trial wasn't really helping me relax. I wanted to go over there and weigh in. I wanted to yell and rant and share my own frustration. But that wasn't a luxury I had as a guardian. My first duty was to protect Moroi and not give into my own impulses. Over and over, I repeated the guardian mantra: They come first.
Those words were really starting to annoy me.
WHEN THE FIRST WARNING for curfew came around, the Moroi packed their things up. Adrian took off right away, but Lissa and Christian took their time walking back to the dorm. They held hands and kept their heads close together, whispering about something that I could have "spied" on if I'd gone inside Lissa's head. They were still outraged over the Victor news.
I gave them their privacy and kept my distance, scouting while Eddie walked off to their side. Since there were more Moroi than dhampirs on campus, the Moroi actually had two side-by-side dorms. Lissa and Christian lived in different ones. The two of them stopped when they came to the spot outside the buildings where the path through the quad split. They kissed goodbye, and I did my best to do the guardian seeing-without-actually-seeing thing. Lissa called goodbye to me and then headed off to her dorm with Eddie. I followed Christian to his.
If I'd been guarding Adrian or someone like him, I would probably have had to put up with sexual jokes about us sleeping near each other for the next six weeks. But Christian treated me in the casual, brusque way one might a sister. He cleared a spot on the floor for me, and by the time he returned from brushing his teeth, I'd made myself a cozy bed out of blankets. He flipped off the lights and climbed into his own bed.
After several quiet moments, I asked, "Christian?"
"This is the time when we sleep, Rose."
I yawned. "Believe me, I want that too. But I have a question."
"Is it about Victor? Because I need to sleep, and that's just going to piss me off again."
"No, it's about something else."
"Why didn't you make fun of me over what happened with Stan? Everyone else is trying to figure out if I messed up or did it on purpose. Lissa gave me a hard time. Adrian did a little. And the guardians ... well, never mind about them. But you didn't say anything. I figured you'd be the first one with a snappy comment."
More silence fell, and I hoped he was thinking about his answer and not falling asleep.
"There was no point in giving you a hard time," he said at last. "I know you didn't do it on purpose."
"Why not? I mean, not that I'm contradicting you - because I didn't do it on purpose - but why are you so sure?"
"Because of our conversation in culinary science. And because of the way you are. I saw you in Spokane. Anyone who did what you did to save us ... well, you wouldn't do something childish like this."
"Wow. Thanks. I ... well, that means a lot." Christian believed me when no one else did. "You're like the first person who actually believes I just messed up without any ulterior motives."
"Well," he said, "I don't believe that either."
"Believe what? That I messed up? Why not?"
"Weren't you just listening? I saw you in Spokane. Someone like you doesn't mess up or freeze." I started to give him the same line I'd given the guardians, that killing Strigoi didn't make me invincible, but he cut me off: "Plus, I saw your face out there."
"Out... on the quad?"
"Yeah." Several more quiet moments passed. "I don't know what happened, but the way you looked ... that wasn't the look of someone trying to get back at a person. It wasn't the look of someone blanking out at Alto's attack either. It was something different.... I don't know. But you were completely consumed by something else - and honestly? Your expression? Kind of scary."
"Yet...you aren't giving me a hard time over that either."
"Not my business. If it was big enough to take you over like that, then it must be serious. But if push comes to shove, I feel safe with you, Rose. I know you'd protect me if there was really a Strigoi there." He yawned. "Okay. Now that I've bared my soul, can we please go to bed? Maybe you don't need beauty sleep, but some of us aren't that lucky."
I let him sleep and soon gave into exhaustion myself. I'd had a long day and was still short on rest from the previous night. Once heavily asleep, I began to dream. As I did, I felt the telltale signs of one of Adrian's contrived dreams.
"Oh no," I groaned.
I stood in a garden in the middle of summer. The air was heavy and humid, and sunshine beat down on me in golden waves. Flowers of every color bloomed around me, and the air was heavy with the scent of lilacs and roses. Bees and butterflies danced from blossom to blossom. I wore jeans and a linen tank top. My nazar, a small blue eye made of glass that allegedly warded off evil, hung around my neck. I also wore a beaded bracelet with a cross, called a chotki, on my wrist. It was a Dragomir heirloom Lissa had given me. I rarely wore jewelry in my daily duties, but it always showed up in these dreams.