"Yeah. I have two." Thinking about the tiny tattoos on the back of my neck made my skin itch.
Her pale green eyes - if possible - grew wider. "Oh my God. Wow."
I usually grew irate when people made a big deal about the molnija marks. After all, the circumstances had not been cool. But this girl was young, and there was something appealing about her.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Jillian - Jill. I mean, just Jill. Not both. Jillian's my full name. Jill's what everyone calls me."
"Right," I said, hiding a smile. "I figured it out."
"I heard Moroi used magic on that trip to fight. Is that true? I would love to do that. I wish someone would teach me. I use air. Do you think I could fight Strigoi with that? Everyone says I'm crazy." For centuries, Moroi using magic to fight had been viewed as a sin. Everyone believed it should be used peacefully. Recently, some had started to question that, particularly after Christian had proved useful in the Spokane escape.
"I don't know," I said. "You should talk to Christian Ozera."
She gaped. "Would he talk to me?"
"If you bring up fighting the establishment, yeah, he'll talk to you."
"Okay, cool. Was that Guardian Belikov?" she asked, switching subjects abruptly.
I swore I thought she might faint then and there. "Really? He's even cuter than I heard. He's your teacher, right? Like, your own personal teacher?"
"Yeah." I wondered where he was. Talking to Jill was exhausting.
"Wow. You know, you guys don't even act like teacher and student. You seem like friends. Do you hang out when you're not training?"
"Er, well, kind of. Sometimes." I remembered my earlier thoughts, about how I was one of the few people Dimitri was social with outside of his guardian duties.
"I knew it! I can't even imagine that - I'd be freaking out all the time around him. I'd never get anything done, but you're so cool about it all, kind of like, 'Yeah, I'm with this totally hot guy, but whatever, it doesn't matter.'"
I laughed in spite of myself. "I think you're giving me more credit than I deserve."
"No way. And I don't believe any of those stories, you know."
"Yeah, about you beating up Christian Ozera."
"Thanks," I said. Now rumors of my humiliation were trickling down to the lower campus. If I walked over to the elementary dorms, some six-year-old would probably tell me she'd heard that I killed Christian.
Jill's expression turned momentarily uncertain. "But I didn't know about the other story."
"What other story?"
"About how you and Adrian Ivashkov are - "
"No," I interrupted, not wanting to hear the rest. "Whatever you heard, it's not true."
"But it was really romantic."
"Then it's definitely not true."
Her face fell, and then she perked back up a few seconds later. "Hey, can you teach me to punch someone?"
"Wai - What? Why would you want to know that?"
"Well, I figure if I'm going to fight with magic someday, I should learn to fight the regular way too."
"I'm probably not the right person to ask," I told her. "Maybe you should, um, ask your P.E. teacher."
"I did!" Her face looked distraught. "And he said no."
I couldn't help but laugh. "I was joking about asking him."
"Come on, it could help me fight a Strigoi someday."
My laughter dried up. "No, it really wouldn't."
She bit her lip, still desperate to convince me. "Well, it would at least help against that psycho."
"What? What psycho?"
"People keep getting beat up around here. Last week it was Dane Zeklos, and just the other day it was Brett."
"Dane ..." I ran through my knowledge of Moroi genealogy. There were a gazillion Zeklos students around. "That's Jesse's younger brother, yeah?"
Jill nodded. "Yup. One of our teachers was so mad, too, but Dane wouldn't say a word. Neither would Brett."
I did a double take. "Ozera?"
I had the impression she was really excited to tell me things I didn't know. "He's my friend Aimee's boyfriend. He was all bruised up yesterday - had some weird things that looked like welts, too. Maybe burns? But he wasn't as bad as Dane. And when Mrs. Callahan asked him about it, Brett convinced her it was nothing, and she let it go, which was weird. He was also in a really good mood - which was also weird, since you'd kind of think getting beat up would bring you down."
Somewhere in the back of my mind, her words tickled a memory. There was some connection I should be making, but I couldn't quite grasp it. Between Victor, ghosts, and the field experiences, it was honestly a wonder I could string words together anymore.
"So can you teach me so that I won't get beat up?" Jill asked, clearly hoping she'd convinced me. She balled her fist up. "I just do this, right? Thumb across the fingers and swing?"
"Uh, well, it's a little more complicated than that. You need to stand a certain way, or you'll hurt yourself more than the other person. There are a lot of things you need to do with your elbows and hips."
"Show me, please?" she begged. "I bet you're really good."
I was really good, but corrupting minors was one offense I didn't yet have on my record, and I preferred to keep it that way. Fortunately, Dimitri came back just then with Ms. Davis.
"Hey," I told him. "I have someone who wants to meet you. Dimitri, this is Jill. Jill, Dimitri."
He looked surprised, but he smiled and shook her hand. She turned bright red and became speechless for a change. As soon as he released her hand, she stammered out a goodbye and ran off. We finished up with Ms. Davis and headed back toward the chapel for our second load.
"Jill knew who I was," I told Dimitri as we walked. "She had kind of a hero-worship thing going on."
"Does that surprise you?" he asked. "That younger students would look up to you?"
"I don't know. I just never thought about it. I don't think I'm that good of a role model."
"I disagree. You're outgoing, dedicated, and excel at everything you do. You've earned more respect than you think."
I gave him a sidelong glance. "And yet not enough to go to Victor's trial, apparently."
"Not this again."
"Yes, this again! Why don't you get how major this is? Victor's a huge threat."