"You're probably right," Stan said. "But you weren't thinking about eliminating the threat efficiently. You weren't thinking about your exposed Moroi. You were thinking about how quickly you could do something exciting and redeem yourself."
"Wh-what? Aren't you making a few leaps there? You're grading me on what you think was my motivation. How can you be sure what I'm thinking?" I didn't even know half the time.
"Instinct," he replied mysteriously. He took out a small pad of paper and made some notes on it. I narrowed my eyes, wishing I could see through the notepad and discern what he was writing about me. When he finished, he slipped the pad back in his coat and nodded at all of us. "See you later."
We watched him walk across the snowy grounds toward the gym where dhampirs trained. My mouth was hanging open, and I couldn't even get any words out at first. When did it end with these people? I was getting burned again and again on stupid technicalities that had nothing to do with how I'd actually perform in the real world.
"That was not even fair. How can he judge me on what he thinks I was thinking?"
Eddie shrugged as we continued our journey toward the dorm. "He can think whatever he wants. He's our instructor."
"Yeah, but he's going to give me another bad mark! Field experience is pointless if it can't really show how we'd do against Strigoi. I can't believe this. I'm good - I'm really good. How on earth can I be failing this?"
Nobody had an actual answer for that, but Lissa noted uncomfortably, "Well... whether he was fair or unfair, he had one thing right: You were great, Eddie."
I glanced over at Eddie and felt bad that I was letting my own drama take away from his success. I was pissed off - really pissed off - but Stan's wrongness was my problem to deal with. Eddie had performed brilliantly, and everyone praised him so much on the walk back that I could see a blush creeping over his cheeks. Or maybe that was just the cold. Regardless, I was happy for him.
We settled into the lounge, pleased to find no one else had claimed it - and that it was warm and toasty. Each of the dorms had a few of these lounges, and all were stocked with movies and games and lots of comfy chairs and couches. They were only available for student use at certain times. On weekends, they were pretty much open the whole time, but on weekdays, they had limited hours - presumably to encourage us to do our homework.
Eddie and I assessed the room and made a plan, then took up our positions. Standing against the wall, I eyed the couch Lissa and Christian were sprawled out upon with considerable envy.
I'd thought the movie would distract me from being on alert, but actually, it was my own churning feelings that kept my mind spinning. I couldn't believe Stan had said what he'd said. He'd even admitted that in the heat of battle, any guardian would be trying to get into the fight. His argument about me having ulterior, glory-seeking motives was absurd. I wondered if I was in serious danger of failing this field experience. Surely, so long as I passed, they wouldn't take me from Lissa after graduation? Alberta and Dimitri had spoken like this was all just an experiment to give Lissa and me new training, but suddenly, an anxious, paranoid part of me began to wonder. Eddie was doing a great job of protecting her. Maybe they wanted to see how well she could work with other guardians. Maybe they were worried that I was only good at protecting her and not other Moroi - I'd let Mason die, after all, right? Maybe the real test here was to see if I needed to be replaced. After all, who was I, really? An expendable novice. She was the Dragomir princess. She would always have protection - and it didn't have to be me. The bond was pointless if I ultimately proved incompetent.
Adrian's entrance put my frantic paranoia on hold. He slipped into the darkened room, winking as he flounced into an armchair near me. I had figured it was only a matter of time before he would surface. I think we were his only entertainment on campus. Or maybe not, judging from the strong smell of alcohol around him.
"Are you sober?" I asked him when the movie ended.
"Sober enough. What have you guys been up to?"
Adrian hadn't visited my dreams since the one in the garden. He'd also laid off on some of his outrageous flirting. Most of his appearances with us were to work with Lissa or to ease his boredom.
We recapped our encounter with Stan for him, playing up Eddie's bravery and not mentioning my dressing-down.
"Nice work," said Adrian. "Looks like you got a battle scar too." He pointed to the side of Eddie's face where three red marks glared back at us. I remembered Stan's nails hitting Eddie during the struggle to free Lissa.
Eddie lightly touched his cheek. "I can barely feel it."
Lissa leaned forward and studied him. "You got that protecting me."
"I got that trying to pass my field experience," he teased. "Don't worry about it."
And that's when it happened. I saw it seize her, that compassion and undeniable urge to help others that so often filled her. She couldn't stand to see pain, couldn't stand to sit by if she could do something. I felt the power build up in her, a glorious and swirling feeling that made my toes tingle. I was experiencing how it affected her. It was fire and bliss. Intoxicating. She reached out and touched Eddie's face....
And the marks vanished.
She dropped her hand, and the euphoria of spirit faded from both of us.
"Son of a bitch," breathed Adrian. "You weren't kidding about that." He peered at Eddie's cheek. "Not a goddamned trace of it."
Lissa had stood up and now sank back to the couch. She leaned her head back against it and closed her eyes. "I did it. I can still do it."
"Of course you can," said Adrian dismissively. "Now you have to show me how to do it."
She opened her eyes. "It's not that easy."
"Oh, I see," he said in an exaggerated tone. "You grill me like crazy about how to see auras and walk in dreams, but now you won't reveal your trade secrets."
"It's not a 'won't,'" she argued. "It's a 'can't.'"
"Well, cousin, try." Then suddenly he raked his nails across his hand and drew blood.
"Jesus Christ!" I yelped. "Are you insane?" Who was I kidding? Of course he was.
Lissa reached out and held his hand, and just like before, she healed the skin. Elation filled her, but my mood suddenly dropped without any real cause.
The two of them launched into a discussion I couldn't follow, using standard magical terms as well as some terms I was pretty sure they'd invented on the spot. Judging from Christian's face, it looked like he didn't understand either, and it soon became clear that Adrian and Lissa had forgotten us in their zeal over the mystery of spirit.