He held me tighter. "It's not going to happen," he murmured. "You're wild and impulsive, but at the end of the day, you're one of the strongest people I know. Even if you are the same as Anna - and I don't think you are - you two won't share the same fate."
It was funny. I'd often told Lissa the same thing about her and Vladimir. She'd always had a hard time believing it, and now I understood. Giving advice was a lot harder than following it.
"You're also missing something," he continued, running a hand over my hair. "If you are in danger from Lissa's magic, then at least you understand why. She can stop using her magic, and that'll be the end of it."
I pulled away slightly so I could look at him. Hastily, I ran my hand over my eyes in case any tears had escaped.
"But can I ask her to do that?" I said. "I've felt how it makes her feel. I don't know if I can take that away from her."
He regarded me with surprise. "Even at the cost of your own life?"
"Vladimir did great things - so could she. Besides, they come first, right?"
I stared. I'd had they come first drilled into me since I was a child. It was what all guardians believed. Only the dhampirs who'd run away from their duty didn't subscribe to that. What he said was almost like treason.
"Sometimes, Rose, you have to know when to put yourself first."
I shook my head. "Not with Lissa." I might as well have been with Deirdre or Ambrose again. Why was everyone suddenly challenging something that I'd held as absolute truth my entire life?
"She's your friend. She'll understand." To make his point, he reached forward and tugged at the chotki peeking out underneath my sleeve, his fingertips brushing my wrist.
"It's more than that," I said. I pointed to the cross. "If anything, this proves it. I'm bound to her, to protect the Dragomirs, at all costs."
"I know, but ..." He didn't finish, and honestly, what could he have said? This was becoming an old argument, one without a solution.
"I need to get back," I said abruptly. "It's past curfew."
A wry smile crossed Dimitri's face. "And you need me to get you back or you'll get in trouble."
"Well, yeah, I was kind of hoping...."
We heard some rustling near the door of the sanctuary, and Father Andrew walked in, which definitely ended our session. He was getting ready to shut down the chapel. Dimitri thanked him, and then the two of us headed back to the dhampir dorm. Neither of us spoke along the way, but it was a comfortable silence. It was weird, but since his outburst outside the med clinic, I felt like something had intensified between us, as impossible as that seemed.
Dimitri got me past the woman at the front desk, and just as I was about to head off for my wing, a guardian named Yuri walked by. Dimitri called to him.
"You've been working with security, haven't you? When was the last time they laid new wards?"
Yuri considered. "A couple days ago. Why?"
Dimitri gave me a meaningful look. "Just curious."
I nodded to Dimitri to show that I understood his point, and then I went off to bed.
After that, the next week or so played out in a repetitive pattern. I followed Christian for three days a week, had my counseling sessions, and trained with Dimitri. During those times, I could see the concern on Dimitri's face. He always asked how I was but didn't push me to talk about anything I didn't want to. Mostly, it was all physical training, which I liked since it didn't require too much ruminating.
Best of all, I didn't see Mason during this time.
I also didn't witness any attacks - of either the Man? type or the guardian type.
We were in full throes of the field experience, and every other novice in my class was having regular fights. The tests grew intricate and more difficult, and everyone had to stay on their toes. Eddie seemed to have to defend Lissa every other day from some guardian playing Strigoi - but it never happened when I was around. In fact, no attacks at all happened to anyone when I was around. After a while, I began to get the idea. They were going soft on me. They were worried I couldn't handle it.
"They might as well have cut me from the field experience after all," I grumbled to Christian one evening. "I'm not doing anything."
"Yeah, but if you still pass, why worry about it? I mean, do you actually want to get in a fight every day?" He then rolled his eyes. "Never mind. Of course you do."
"You don't understand," I told him. "This job isn't about taking the easy way out. I want to prove what I can do - to them and to myself. You can never get enough practice. I mean, Lissa's life is at stake." And also possibly my future with her. I'd worried before that they might decide to replace me - and that was before they thought I was nuts.
It was nearly curfew time, and I was dropping him off for the night. He shook his head. "Rose, I don't know if you're crazy or not, but I'm actually starting to think you might be the best guardian - or soon-to-be guardian - out there."
"Did you just give me a serious compliment?" I asked.
He turned his back on me and headed inside his dorm. "Good night."
My life was still in chaos, but I couldn't help a small grin as I headed back toward my dorm. The walk always made me nervous since I now lived in perpetual fear of seeing Mason. There were other people scurrying back before curfew too, though, and he mostly tended to show up when I was alone, either because he preferred the privacy or because he really was a figment of my imagination.
Talking about Lissa reminded me that I'd hardly seen her today. Comfortable and content, I let my mind slip into hers while my body continued its walk.
She was in the library, hurriedly trying to finish up some notes. Eddie stood near her, glancing around. "Better hurry up," he said teasingly. "She's making another round."
"Almost done," Lissa said, scrawling a few more words.
She shut the textbook just as the librarian came by and told them they had to leave now. With a sigh of relief, Lissa stuffed her papers into her bag and followed Eddie out. He picked it up and carried it over his shoulder as they went.
"You don't have to do that," she said. "You aren't my valet."
"You can have it back as soon as you fix that." He gestured to where she was tangled up in her coat. She'd shoved it on while trying to get out of the library on time. She laughed at her own disorderliness and adjusted the inside-out sleeve.
"Thanks," she said when he handed it back.