Jill's eyes flicked briefly to Lissa--still stone-faced--and then back to me. "What does "take part' mean, exactly? What would I have to do?'

"Nothing hard,' I assured her. "It's just some formalities that are usually done by family members. Ceremonial stuff. Like you did with the vote.' I hadn't witnessed that, but Jill had apparently only had to stand by Lissa's side to show family strength. Such a small thing for a law to hinge on. "Mostly, it's about being on display and putting on a good face.'

"Well,' mused Jill, "I've been doing that for most of this week.'

"I've been doing it for most of my life,' said Lissa.

Jill looked startled. Again, I felt at a loss without the bond. Lissa's tone hadn't made her meaning clear. Was it a challenge to Jill--that the girl hadn't faced nearly what Lissa had? Or was it supposed to be sympathy for Jill's lack of experience? "You'll ... you'll get used to it,' I said. "Over time.'

Jill shook her head, a small and bitter smile on her face. "I don't know about that.'

I didn't either. I wasn't sure how one handled the kind of situation she'd been dropped into. My mind rapidly ran through a list of more meaningless, kind things I could say, but Lissa finally took over. "I know how weird this is,' she said. She determinedly met Jill's green eyes--the only feature the sisters shared, I decided. Jill had the makings of a future Emily. Lissa carried a mix of her parents' traits. "This is weird for me too. I don't know what to do.'

"What do you want?' asked Jill quietly.

I heard the real question. Jill wanted to know if Lissa wanted her. Lissa had been devastated by the death of her brother ... but a surprise illegitimate sibling was no substitute for Andre. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in either girl's place. I tried and failed.

"I don't know,' admitted Lissa. "I don't know what I want.'

Jill nodded, dropping her gaze, but not before I caught sight of the emotion playing across her face. Disappointment--yet, Lissa's answer hadn't entirely been unexpected.

Jill asked the next best thing. "Do you want ... do you want me to be in the ceremonies?'

The question hung in the air. It was a good one. It was the reason we'd come here, but did Lissa actually want this? Studying her, I still wasn't sure. I didn't know if she was just following protocol, trying to get Jill to play a role expected among royalty. In this case, there was no law that said Jill had to do anything. She simply had to exist.

"Yes,' said Lissa at last. I heard the truth in her words, and something inside of me lightened. Lissa didn't just want Jill for the sake of image. A part of Lissa wanted Jill in her life--but managing that would be difficult. Still, it was a start, and Jill seemed to recognize that.

"Okay,' she said. "Just tell me what I need to do.' It occurred to me that Jill's youth and nervousness were deceptive. There were sparks of bravery and boldness within her, sparks that I felt certain would grow. She really was a Dragomir.

Lissa looked relieved, but I think it was because she'd made a tiny step of progress with her sister. It had nothing to do with the coronation. "Someone else will explain it all. I'm not really sure what you do, to be honest. But Rose is right. It won't be hard.'

Jill simply nodded.

"Thank you,' said Lissa. She stood up, and both Jill and I rose with her. "I ... I really appreciate it.'

That awkwardness returned as the three of us stood there. It would have been a good moment for the sisters to hug, but even though both seemed pleased at their progress, neither was ready for that. When Lissa looked at Jill, she still saw her father with another woman. When Jill looked at Lissa, she saw her life completely turned upside down--a life once shy and private now out there for the world to gawk at. I couldn't change her fate, but hugging I could do. Heedless of my stitches, I put my arms around the young girl.

"Thanks,' I said, echoing Lissa. "This'll all be okay. You'll see.'

Jill nodded yet again, and with no more to discuss, Lissa and I moved toward the door. Jill's voice brought us to a halt. "Hey ... what happens after the coronation? To me? To us?'

I glanced at Lissa. Another good question. Lissa turned toward Jill but still wasn't making direct eye contact. "We'll ... we'll get to know each other. Things'll get better.'

The smile that appeared on Jill's face was genuine--small, but genuine. "Okay,' she said. There was hope in that smile too. Hope and relief. "I'd like that.'

As for me, I had to hide a frown. I apparently could function without the bond because I could tell, with absolute confidence, that Lissa wasn't exactly giving the whole truth. What wasn't she telling Jill? Lissa did want things to be better, I was certain, even if she wasn't sure how. But there was something ... something small that Lissa wasn't revealing to either of us, something that made me think Lissa didn't actually believe things would improve.

Out of nowhere, a strange echo from Victor Dashkov rang through my mind about Jill. If she has any sense, Vasilisa will send her away.

I didn't know why I remembered that, but it sent a chill through me. The sisters were both mustering smiles, and I hastily did as well, not wanting either to know my concerns. Lissa and I left after that, heading back toward my room. My little outing had been more tiring than I expected, and as much as I hated to admit it, I couldn't wait to lie down again.

When we reached my room, I still hadn't decided if I should ask Lissa about Jill or wait to get Dimitri's opinion. The decision was taken from me when we found an unexpected visitor waiting: Adrian.

He sat on my bed, head tipped back as though he was completely consumed by studying the ceiling. I knew better. He'd known the instant we approached--or at least when Lissa approached.

We stopped in the doorway, and he finally turned toward us. He looked like he hadn't slept in a while. Dark shadows hung under his eyes, and his cute face was hardened with lines of fatigue. Whether it was mental or physical fatigue, I couldn't say. Nonetheless, his lazy smile was the same as ever.

"Your majesty,' he said grandly.

"Stop,' scoffed Lissa. "You should know better.'

"I've never known better,' he countered. "You should know that.'

I saw Lissa start to smile; then she glanced at me and grew serious, realizing this was hardly let's-have-fun-with-Adrian time.

"Well,' she said uneasily, not looking very queenly at all. "I've got some things to do.' She was going to bolt, I realized. I'd gone with her for her family chat, but she was going to abandon me now. Just as well, though. This conversation with Adrian had been inevitable, and I'd brought it on myself. I had to finish this on my own, just as I'd told Dimitri.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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