Author's Note: Hello friends! It's been a long time, hasn't it? I know! I'm sorry! I haven't forgotten about this story, I promise! Thank you for all of your support! It really inspires me to hear what you have to say! Thank you for everything! I still enjoy this story and will continue it until the end! Don't give up on me! Let me know what you think! Enjoy!
Warnings: Language, OOCness, Unbeta'd.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Word Count: 5,724
Dimitri's world is small. He doesn't understand why that is, but I do. And I also understand that it's also a matter of time before he learns it. Things won't be the exact same, they can't be, because neither Lissa or I am the same people that we were the first time we were here, so there is no way that it could be. As unbelievable as all of this is, I get the flicker of shock that crosses his face before he covers it up. Despite all that he's seen and heard from me, it's hard to just accept that what I said was true. And while I'm not good enough at Russian to be mistaken as having it as a first language, or grown up learning it, I can pass well enough for having known it for a few years - because I did. I can pass that off pretty good.
"Why?" Dimitri asks, in English this time, controlling himself again easily enough. "What is so scary to the Princess here? What is here that she feels threatened by?"
I hesitate, wanting so badly to just spill everything to him. This is Dimitri! This is the man that I love! Sure, he's not exactly that person at the moment, but enough of him is the same that I know I can trust him. But I can't help but hold myself back. I can't make too many rash decisions without first talking to Lissa. We need to come up with a game plan before this gets too out of hand. We need to get our lie straight before we start talking around in circles with others.
So, no matter how much I want to blab to him, to tell him the truth and bring him into my circle of trust, I know that I can't. I have to hold off for a little while. As far as he's seen, we haven't even known each other for a day. The loyalty and love come later. Right now, all we have is intrigue and camaraderie. And even though I don't want it to be, it'll have to be enough for now.
But I will put him on alert. I'm not going to walk into this pretending he doesn't play a role in it when I know that he does. A lot of things were allowed to get out of hand because I wouldn't go to anyone for help. I would rather play it lone ranger and risk Lissa's safety. I didn't know who to trust the first time around but I do know now. I won't so easily be caught unaware.
I step closer to Dimitri, looking up into his eyes with my own. I drop my voice down low so he will have to focus on it to hear my words. "Let's just say that there are forces here that would rather hurt Lissa for their own benefit. They are trying to uncover the secret of that special day and they are willing to do just about anything to get the answer."
Dimitri looks down at him with furrowed brows, not understanding. "What do you mean?"
I smile at him coldly, "Someone wants to know the truth about that day, and they are willing to risk Lissa's life for it. They'll torture her for the answer and if it's to their satisfaction, then they will use her for their own means."
At the mention of torture, Dimitri's face darkens in worry and protectiveness. "Who?"
My smile fades and we just stare at each other. I try not to feel the heat of his body so close to mine. Smell his clean smell despite not having showered since I've been with him which was at least half a day. Feel his breath ghosting across my face at each exhale. His dark eyes study mine, burrowing into me with their intensity to somehow learn everything that I know. And the protective gleam in those dark depths that I could spot from a mile away shining brightly.
"If I knew who it was, don't you think we would have come back sooner?" I ask, rhetorically. I do know who is threatening Lissa. I am clear on who is our friend and who is our foe. At least here in St. Vladamir's. Everywhere else is a little bit more gray. More ambiguous.
Dimitri looks troubled and I hate having been the cause of that. I want so badly to go back to the peaceful moments. Where everything just so happened to be going right and everyone just so happened to be okay. Before anything went wrong, before anyone knew a storm was brewing, and before our world was on the brink of collapse.
"You don't honestly think she is in danger here? In the Academy, do you?" Dimitri asks, still not able to hop on the conspiracy train just yet. No, he's going to have to see some of Victor and Natalie Dashkov's ploys in action before he can start to believe, I think. And it makes sense to me. I'm sure that Dimitri's Academy days were so grossly different that he isn't able to easily empathize. His Academy was for Dhampirs training to be Guardians through pure unadulterated Spartan training that ends up with people like Dimitri.
They probably didn't have any time for drama. They were too busy wishing that a fissure in the Earth would open up, or Child Protective Services would come.
From the bit that I know from Dimitri and what I've learned from Lissa's research on it, that place was tough as nails to go through. To Dimitri, our training at St. Vladamir's is like a cakewalk. Well, probably not a cakewalk, but at the very least not as intense.
"Danger can come from anywhere, Comrade," I say easily enough, forcing myself to take a step back. "And I'm not going to risk my Moroi's life for a moment. If I have to lie and cheat my way into St. Vladamir's to stay with her and watch her back while you're busy..." I wave my hand around ambiguously, "doing whatever it is that you do around here, then I will. If we're both going to be Lissa's Guardians," and he won't, but he doesn't have to know that, "then one of us has to be the near Guard."
Dimitri gives me a particular look but doesn't outwardly disregard what I've said. Instead, he turns and walks away. Just like that. No goodbye or farewell kiss or anything. Rude ass.
"Well, bye to you too, buddy," I mumble turning to head toward the commons to speak with Lissa. I almost make it there when someone calls out to me.
I glance over to see Victor Dashkov standing by the nearby building, hunched over and leaning heavily on his cane. Any pity I'd once had for him has completely vanished from me. I don't see him as the kind and gentle unfortunate Prince who could have been a great King had it not been for his sickness. Now I see him as a dirty, self-serving slimeball where suffering under Sandovsky's Syndrome wasn't punishment enough. Okay, maybe not that bad. But I still don't have any sympathy or pity for him in my heart.
I contemplate running away, knowing full well that he wouldn't be able to catch me, but his Guardians standing behind him catch my attention. He'd probably think something was going on if I book it away, and may just send his Guardians to kidnap Lissa sooner. Plus, the sight of Ben and Spiridon gives me a sour taste in my mouth. Maybe they weren't so much bad men, but they were loyal to Victor, which means they are no ally of mine.
But just because I can't run away without prompt, I can still try and dip out fast. "Oh, hi. Sorry, I can't stick around to chat, but I have to meet up with Lissa." I jab my thumb over my shoulder toward the commons, hoping he'd let me run off in peace.
No such luck. He waves his hand around, beckoning me over to him. I'm hesitant to comply but stop about three feet from him, forcing myself not to take a defensive stance. I have to fight the impulse to cross my arms over my chest.
"I just wanted to tell you that while I understand the gravity of the situation, I feel it should be acknowledged that you did keep Vasilisa safe all this time. That is impressive," he says, offering the kind grandfatherly smile I remember. It feels like hot pokers to my eyes.
"Thanks," I say, flatly, but quickly recover with, "I mean, we were still caught. So there's that."
"Perhaps," Victor offers, "but surely you faced your own dangers out there." Yeah, I avoided the Psi-hounds you sent for Lissa. "I mean, Siberia is a dangerous place."
Wow, word really does travel fast around here. Now that is impressive. They had to of overheard someone in the hall talking about it. That or Natalie is just that good, I suppose.
"It can be, yeah," I say illusively. "But we made it work and we're fine."
"Did you happenchance come across some of those Strigoi before or after reenlisting with one of the schools in Siberia?" Victor asks innocently, yet I can feel the fishing lure in the water. He's trying to poke holes in my story, and if I'm not careful, he will.
I try to remember what I said. I think I told them all we ran into were Psi-Hounds before we decided it was best for me to go back to school, so I say, "No Strigoi until after I went back to the Academy. Just Psi-Hounds."
A calculated moment of thought before Victor switches topics over, "Ah, Psi-Hounds. Those are some pretty magnificent beasts. I've been hunting with them before."
I look over my shoulder at the commons, now wanting to bolt away as fast as I can. I'm not mentally prepared to duck and dive through this minefield. Not right now at least.
"Look, Prince Victor," I say as calmly as I can muster, "it was really nice to see you again, but I have to go now." I turn and start walking away, forcing myself not to choke on that blatant lie and break into a desperate sprint away.
I only make it two steps before Victor calls out to me again. "Um, Rose?"
I grit my teeth, turning around again slowly. "Yes?"
He hesitates, shuffling around like he's nervous, trying to broach the real topic of conversation he made his way out here for. The action irritates me, but also puts me on edge. It just feels like everything he's doing is all so purposeful. Like there isn't a legitimate bone in his body until he reveals his true nature. Although, I suppose that is sort of the point of all of that. Either way, I hate that he's probably in legitimate pain but will use the sympathy from it to be an actual bastard. It's really throwing off my moral compass.
"What is it like? To be bonded, I mean?" Victor asks, peering down at me with eyes so similar to Lissa's yet shine so very differently from her's.
"It is indescribable," I grind out, not wanting to offer him anything. "I don't think I can put the feeling into words."
"Well, what does it do for you?" He asks innocently and I fluctuate back to pitying him a bit. As much as I don't like him, I remember how it felt after I killed him. I remember how horrible I felt. And even now, as much as the thought leaves a sour taste in my mouth, Natalie loves him, and while she turned Strigoi, she did it for him. She died for nothing, unfortunately, and probably didn't mean nearly as much to him as he did to her, I didn't hate Natalie nearly as much. Or at all, really. As for Natalie, I felt bad for her.
"Sometimes, it... allows me to feel her feelings..." I say slowly, realizing he wasn't going to let me go unless I offer him something. I'm surprised that Robert Deru didn't tell him all about it. Then again, maybe he did. "I am... more intuned with her, even while we are apart from one another."
Victor looked like he wanted to ask more, but a violent coughing fit overtook him. I don't hesitate for a moment. "I think it's time for you to get inside, Your Highness," I say curtly, nodding to Spiridon and Ben. "It's cold out here. I should go anyway."
Victor nods through the coughing and I wait a moment longer, faking my best-concerned look before heading off, trying not to break into a full on sprint, less that draw too much attention. I walk into the school, thankful to be out of the cold, and head for the commons, and almost run right into Lissa and the crowd that gathered around her, Mia, and Aaron.
"It looks to me that it came from a garage sale. I thought a precious Dragomir would have standards."
I'm surprised that Lissa somehow ran into Mia regardless of knowing that this would happen. But I don't feel the same anxiety from before. She's not riled up by Mia anymore. Mia is small potatoes compared to what she's used to now. High schoolers don't have anything on the snobbish, upturned noses of the adult Moroi nobles who are so set in their ways it's hard to dissuade them from what they are used to. Like relying solely on dhampir to protect them and not wanting to learn offensive magic to assist in their own protection. Kinda like that.
Curious as to how she was going to handle this, I hang back a bit.
Lissa stares down at Mia, not at all flustered by the way our one time friend spit her family name. In her heart, she's not mad, she's sad. She's thinking about this Mia and how she must have felt being treated the way she was by Andre like she was just some dirty little secret. She wasn't from a royal family, sure, but Christian was a social pariah and Lissa would never dream of hiding him away or pretending not to know him when around her friends. She hated that the brother that she adored and wanted so badly to emulate would have done that to someone else.
"What?" Mia snaps, glaring up at Lissa like she was trash. "You have nothing to say? No way to defend that trash you're wearing?"
"I don't know what you want me to say," Lissa admits, breaking her silence. Through our bond, I can feel her resigned to this treatment. She doesn't blame Mia, she blames Andre. In some ways, she feels she deserves this on his behalf since he is no longer here, even though she's already dealt with this before.
"So you have nothing," Mia sneers, shaking her head as if in disgust.
"I have plenty," Lissa says easily, pride swelling in her gut. "I have Rose. I have my life. And for all intents and purposes, until just recently, I was happy. My life isn't perfect." She crosses her arms over her thin chest and steps closer to Mia, staring down at her with emerald eyes hard as diamond. "My family is dead and I am the heiress to a nearly destroyed bloodline. I have been on the run these last two years from the Academy who raised me for the better part of my whole life. I have seen Psi-Hounds and Strigoi. I have watched the people I love get hurt, suffer and die. I have been hurt and betrayed, stabbed in the back and lied to. I have watched the weight of my world come crashing down not once, or twice, but three times."
We don't have the attention of all of the commons, but we are starting to gain attention, and the crowd is growing. Mia shrinks a little, not anticipating that Lissa was actually going to stand up for herself.
Lissa stares down at Mia, sad that it had to be this way. She missed Mia as her friend and wanted that friendship back as soon as possible. "I have plenty to say about our world and the way we choose to treat one another like we are the enemy." She frowns in disgust. "Like we are okay with tearing each other apart because of our looks, or our social status, or for our clothes." She makes a vague gesture between herself and Mia. "But that is all childish and I am uninterested in anything of the like. So if you care so much about what I am wearing, then please talk about it with someone else. I am more concerned about our world, our people and our safety to care about something as petty as that."
Lissa casts a look over her shoulder and her pretty green eyes find mine. She offers a thin smile at me, in a way of thanking me for not immediately jumping in to rescue her and allowing her to handle this her own way, before looking back down at Mia, cool and collected.
I felt her desire and before I could say anything one way or the other, Lissa continued, "I am sorry, Mia, for the way my brother treated you. I am sorry that he treated you less than you deserved." Mia's face falls slack with shock, not only about Lissa knowing her name, but acknowledging her connection to Andre in public like that. Aaron, as well as the other spectators, look confused. Her tone takes a touch of pity as she continues, genuinely feeling bad rather than trying to taunt the other girl, "But trying to hurt my feelings, or make fun of me isn't going to hurt Andre. He's gone now. Anything you do against me isn't going to hurt anyone but me. I would like for us to be friends. While he can't feel my pain, I can apologize on his behalf. I'm sorry." Lissa reaches out and touches Mia's shoulder, giving it a little squeeze before looking back over at me. "I need to see the Feeder. Can you get me a raspberry yogurt and wait at our table?"
I nod. "Sure thing, Princess."
Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time left for lunch, so I hope Lissa is going to be quick. We both go our separate ways, leaving Mia and the other bystanders to marvel at what just happened. Lissa was an absolute goddess at killing people with kindness. She's my hero. I hope one day I'm half as good at derailing people's life plans with simple kindness as she is. Although I fear it may be too late for me.
I grab my pile of fries and the questionable chicken nuggets as well as Lissa's yogurt and quickly hunt down a table in the far corner of the commons, making sure to avoid looking in Natalie's direction. There won't be any time for us to talk between her senseless gabbing, and knowing that anything and everything we say is going to be reported back to Victor, I would like to keep our distance. Luckily, before we initially left we hadn't spent that much time with Natalie before. We were friendly but not really friends. So we could get away with not really going out of our way to be around her. At least I hope so.
As for Lissa and she being roommates... well, that's something we are going to have to figure out. No doubt Lissa will have to endure torture from Natalie's senseless animal killings, but we are going to have to find a way to get passed it or use it to our advantage somehow. How we are going to do that...? Well, my ideas are flimsy at best, but I need to run them by Lissa.
Lissa is as quick as she can be. She elegantly walks across the commons and sits next to me as I stuff my face with fries. Not needing to wait for my prompt she says, "Thank you for letting me handle that. Hopefully, that will make the future a bit easier for us."
"Maybe," I say, somewhat doubtfully around a mouthful of fries. I'm gonna hope it was that easy, but I doubt that there won't be at least some rebuff from Mia once she recovers.
"What are we going to do, Rose?" Lissa says keeping her voice in a low whisper, lest someone is listening in. I glance over Lissa's shoulder to ensure that Victor's spy isn't on her way over to us.
"Well, I basically told everyone that I'm already a Guardian so that is going to change things, no doubt," I say, swallowing my mouthful of fries and pushing the plate away a bit. "So, I'm sure I'm going to be called back into Kirova's office any time now. Unfortunately, my lie is probably going to crumble when no one can get records of my passing the trial."
"Maybe not," Lissa says slowly. "We could see if we could get into contact with Abe. He might be able to help."
I had considered asking my old man for help, but I had no way of getting ahold of him. "I don't have his number anymore, Liss, let alone a phone to call him on."
Lissa shrugs her shoulders. "That's okay. We can use the school's phone to make the long-distance call. Besides, it would do us some good to have someone like Abe on our side. And he's your father, Rose. He'll help us if you ask him too. Despite everything, he was a good dad to you."
I roll my eyes. "When he was there, sort of." But admittedly, he was a good dad. He wasn't there all my life, but when I desperately needed him there was never a moment of hesitation with him. His actions may not always be unconditional love from father to daughter, but he never let me down when it really mattered. And admittedly, I miss him and know that his being on our side would be a great benefit to us. "But if we involve Zmey, that means we are probably going to have to tell him the truth. Are you ready for something like that?"
Lissa shrugs her shoulders again, finally opening up her yogurt and grabbing the spoon off of my tray to play around with it a bit, taking a small bite. "Unfortunately we don't really have much of a choice, do we?" She looks up at me, pressing her lips together tightly. "I would rather have Abe on our side now."
I would too, honestly enough. But there was still one tiny problem. "We have no way of reaching him." I sigh. "Unless the school has old knee breakers on speed dial, which they might, or my old man happens to be my ICE contact in my file, I don't think we have any way of reaching him."
Lissa laughs, shaking her head. "Hopefully he hasn't changed his number and we'll be fine."
"Lissa, I don't have my phone anymore," I point out. "How are we going to look up his number?"
"I have it memorized," Lissa says evenly. "I've memorized everyone's number. Well, not everyone's. But your's, Dimitri's, Christian's, Sonya's, Jill's, Adrian's, Sydney's, Janine's, and Abe's." She counts them out on her fingers as she names them off. "Am I forgetting someone? Oh, Eddie's, too! And was there another..?"
I wave my hand around. "Whoa, brainiac! Forget all of that! Are you saying you remember Abe's number?"
She nods. "Sure, I do. I'm good with numbers, remember? I'm in the smart math." She grins at me, flashing me her fangs. What would have once made me a bit anxious is actually a bit cathartic. I haven't seen her this relaxed and happy in a minute. And of course, it's about numbers of all things, the weirdo.
"You're brilliant, Lissa!" I gasp. "Hopefully Zmey has the same number and he'll be willing to help us."
Lissa nods. "Before class starts, we'll go to the office and call him. For now, what are we going to do about Natalie? About Victor? About all of this?"
"We have to stick to the story," I tell her.
I give her a full recap of Stan's lesson and what we talked about. We ran into Psi-Hounds and that led us to the decision to go to Siberia so that I could finish my training at one of the Academy's there. Lissa agreed that it was the only thing that I could say to cover our asses, but looked worried about whether Abe would be able to fake me having been there at all, let alone passed in essentially a year and maybe a half of training. Which is extraordinary, even by their standards. A lot of lying mixed with nuggets of truth went into this story but thankfully I only talked about big events and glossed over the small details.
"What about my feeding?" Lissa asks. "Are we going to try again with the humans agreeing to let me feed on them again and hope it works out better the second time?"
I shrug my shoulders this time. "Sure, but we can add in there the generosity of those we've met along the way. In Siberia, we've come across Moroi who was kind enough to let you feed on their personal feeders and if we have to admit to a dhampir looking for a fix we can. We don't have to be graphic about it. Mention a lot of hungry days, and living off the generosity of Moroi around us."
Lissa is apprehensive, not wanting for me to relive that time being called a blood whore any more than I do. But agrees that she doesn't have much of a choice otherwise.
"What are we going to do about Victor?" Lissa asks, accepting that answer as our only real option for now and moving on to the next pressing matter.
"Thankfully he's leaving sometime tomorrow, if I remember correctly," I tell her, trying to come back to this time in my mind to remember all that happened. "So he's not really going to be our problem until he makes his move."
"He does come back to drive us to the mall," Lissa reminds me.
"Oh, right, but all he does is break my ankle."
Lissa regards me disapprovingly. "That was a terrible experience that I would rather not live through again."
"What?" I grin mischievously at her. "Not a fan of snapping ankle bones?"
Lissa shivers in remembrance. "Oh, that was terrible, Rose. Don't even joke about that." She shakes her head as if to dislodge the image that we both see with crystal clarity in her mind. Well, at least I can be cynical about it, whereas she genuinely hated seeing me like that. Wanting to move on quickly, she says, "Okay, forget Victor for now. What about Natalie? I don't know if I'll be able to sit by while she tries to torture me with all those poor animals."
Admittedly, I wasn't looking forward to that either. That brings both of us back to a really dark place. I didn't like the person that St. Vladamir made Lissa into and neither did she. Our time away was a blessing. This place held too much pain and darkness, for both of us. This is when Lissa's cutting was really bad, and neither of us remembers this place fondly in that regard.
"Maybe they'll let you stay in the Novice dorm?" I offer.
Lissa rolls her eyes. "Oh yes, or maybe they'll let you stay in the Moroi dorm."
"I'm serious," I say. "I mean, think about it, there is hardly anyone of the girls' floor seeing as there is only a handful of us. There is plenty of space and if you get in to see Kirova again it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and convince her that you could use the privacy seeing as there are hardly any single rooms, if any, in the Moroi dorm."
"How am I going to convince her of something like that?" Lissa asks incredulously. "I don't want to compel her."
I shrug. "I don't know, Liss. At least request a private room and a lock on the door. Or come stay with me. There's a chance if they come to accept that I'm a Guardian and don't throw me out on my ass, figuring if you are willing to stay then I've learned my lesson and will obey your wishes or something, they may let you stay with me. Or me with you. Either way."
Lissa looks doubtful. "I don't know." She rubs at her forehead. "I'll speak to Headmistress Kirova after classes and see if I can at least convince her of giving me a roommate that isn't Natalie." She hesitates again, then says, "Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe I should let her try with those animals? I'm stronger now, able to resist the temptation. Plus, I would rather know what she was going to do than not."
As true as that is, I still have to ask, "Are you sure you'll be okay with that?"
Lissa glares at me. "No. I don't want her killing innocent animals and putting them on display in my room but I don't know what else to do. I would rather know what she's going to do next than not."
I have to say, I agree with her. I want to make sure that nothing too unexpected happens while we are still trying to figure all of this out. We both let out sighs, trying to decide on how we feel on the matter. I'm worried about her, and the last thing I would ever want to do is jeopardize her mental health any more than her physical health, but at least we know it's coming with the animals. I don't know. This sucks either way. Who knows? I might just be nearby when one of these incidents is to occur and catch her red handed.
Then she'll have a broken nose and visit the psyche ward to ponder her love for her father and her life decisions. But I'll keep that to myself for now.
I snarf down a few nuggets and some more fries while Lissa finishes a few more bites of her yogurt before we both throw the remainders of our meals away and head out of the room. I didn't miss that Natalie was starting to get up to come over to us, although I did feel a bit bad about simply blowing her off, I wasn't feeling it for too long, though, remembering what is to come.
We go straight to the office and Lissa is quick to charm the attendant there to let her use the desk phone. The school is used to long-distance calls seeing as Moroi and dhampir parents could be anywhere in the world at any time. Lissa types in the number and passes the phone over to me before speaking to the attendant, having remembered her from both before we left and when we originally returned in our past.
I wait with baited breaths as the phone rang about a hundred times before going to voice mail. He hadn't set up a voice mail other than the automatic response so there is no way of knowing who actually has this number. I can't take any chances of giving too much away. While Lissa is distracting the attendant from listening to what I'm saying I quickly plan out my next course of action.
Once the beep hits for me to record my message, I go for it. "Hey Zmey, it's Rose Hathaway calling again to remind you about the email account I set up for you. You must be busy which is why you haven't accessed it yet, but I've lost my cell and didn't get to send you all the information beforehand. Just remember, the email is Oldkneebreaker24/7 , okay? O-l-d-k-n-e-e-b-r-e-a-k-e-r-2-4-/-7, alright? And the password is the name of the Scottish woman with the pretty red hair. First and last name. Bye!"
Lissa gives me a strange look but doesn't question it. I hand the receiver over to the attendant in time for the bell to ring for us to go to class. Lissa and I run from the room to class. But I know she trusts me and will let me handle this as I see fit. Good. I hope that Zmey was on the other line and would understand the message. Now I need to slip away and make that email and leave a message for him.