I hated being chastised by anyone. I especially hated being chastised by him. And I especially hated being chastised by him when he was right. But I couldn't help it. I was too angry, and the lack of sleep was taking its toll. My nerves felt raw and strained, and suddenly, little things seemed difficult to bear. And big things like this? Impossible to bear.
"Sorry," I said with great reluctance. "But this is stupid. Nearly as stupid as not bringing us to Victor Dashkov's trial."
Alberta blinked in surprise. "How did you know - Never mind. We'll deal with that later. For now, this is your assignment, and you need to do it."
Eddie suddenly spoke up beside me, his voice filled with apprehension. I'd lost track of him earlier. "Look ... I don't mind.... We can switch...."
Alberta turned her stony gaze from me to him. "No, you certainly cannot. Vasilisa Dragomir is your assignment." She looked back at me. "And Christian Ozera is yours. End of discussion."
"This is stupid!" I repeated. "Why should I waste my time with Christian? Lissa's the one I'm going to be with when I graduate. Seems like if you want me to be able to do a good job, you should have me practice with her."
"You will do a good job with her," said Dimitri. "Because you know her. And you have your bond. But somewhere, someday, you could end up with a different Moroi. You need to learn how to guard someone with whom you have absolutely no experience."
"I have experience with Christian," I grumbled. "That's the problem. I hate him." Okay, that was a huge exaggeration. Christian annoyed me, true, but I didn't really hate him. As I'd said, working together against the Strigoi had changed a lot of things. Again, I felt like my lack of sleep and general irritability were cranking up the magnitude of everything.
"So much the better," said Alberta. "Not everyone you protect will be your friend. Not everyone you protect will be someone you like. You need to learn this."
"I need to learn how to fight Strigoi," I said. "I've learned that in class." I fixed them with a sharp look, ready to play my trump card. "And I've done it in person."
"There's more to this job than the technicalities, Miss Hathaway. There's a whole personal aspect - a bedside manner, if you will - that we don't touch on much in class. We teach you how to deal with the Strigoi. You need to learn how to deal with the Moroi yourselves. And you in particular need to deal with someone who has not been your best friend for years."
"You also need to learn what it's like to work with someone when you can't instantly sense that they're in danger," added Dimitri.
"Right," agreed Alberta. "That's a handicap. If you want to be a good guardian - if you want to be an excellent guardian - then you need to do as we say."
I opened my mouth to fight this, to argue that having someone I was so close to would train me up faster and make me a better guardian for any other Moroi. Dimitri cut me off.
"Working with another Moroi will also help keep Lissa alive," he said.
That shut me down. It was pretty much the only thing that could have, and damn him, he knew it.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Lissa's got a handicap too - you. If she never has a chance to learn what it's like to be guarded by someone without a psychic connection, she could be at greater risk if attacked. Guarding someone is really a two-person relationship. This assignment for your field experience is as much for her as for you."
I stayed silent as I processed his words. They almost made sense.
"And," added Alberta, "it's the only assignment you're going to get. If you don't take it, then you opt out of the field experience."
Opt out? Was she crazy? It wasn't like a class I could sit out from for one day. If I didn't do my field experience, I didn't graduate. I wanted to explode about unfairness, but Dimitri stopped me without saying a word. The constant, calm look in his dark eyes held me back, encouraging me to accept this gracefully - or as close as I could manage.
Reluctantly I picked up the packet. "Fine," I said icily. "I'll do this. But I want it noted that I'm doing this against my will."
"I think we already figured that out, Miss Hathaway," remarked Alberta dryly.
"Whatever. I still think it's a horrible idea, and you eventually will too."
I turned and stormed off across the gym before any of them could respond. In doing so, I fully realized what a bitchy little brat I sounded like. But if they'd just endured their best friend's sex life, seen a ghost, and hardly gotten any sleep, they'd have been bitchy too. Plus, I was about to spend six weeks with Christian Ozera. He was sarcastic, difficult, and made jokes about everything.
Actually, he was a lot like me.
It was going to be a long six weeks.
"WHY SO GLUM, LITTLE DHAMPIR?" I was heading across the quad, toward the commons, when I detected the scent of clove cigarettes. I sighed. "Adrian, you are the last person I want to see right now." Adrian Ivashkov hurried up beside me, blowing a cloud of smoke into the air that of course drifted right toward me. I waved it off and made a great show of exaggerated coughing. Adrian was a royal Moroi we'd "acquired" on our recent ski trip. He was a few years older than me and had come back to St. Vladimir's to work on learning spirit with Lissa. So far, he was the only other spirit user we knew of. He was arrogant and spoiled and spent a lot of his time indulging in cigarettes, alcohol, and women. He also had a crush on me - or at least wanted to get me into bed.
"Apparently," he said. "I've hardly seen you at all since we got back. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were avoiding me."
"I am avoiding you."
He exhaled loudly and raked a hand through the sable brown hair he always kept stylishly messy. "Look, Rose. You don't have to keep up with the hard-to-get thing. You've already got me."
Adrian knew perfectly well I wasn't playing hard-to-get, but he always took a particular delight in teasing me. "I'm really not in the mood for your so-called charm today."
"What happened, then? You're stomping through every puddle you can find and look like you're going to punch the first person you see."
"Why are you hanging around, then? Aren't you worried about getting hit?"
"Aw, you'd never hurt me. My face is too pretty."
"Not pretty enough to make up for the gross, carcinogenic smoke blowing in my face. How can you do that? Smoking's not allowed on campus. Abby Badica got two weeks' detention when she got caught."