My mind is blissfully buried beneath several layers of consciousness, in the only respite that guardians can take for the most part. I roll over in my sleep, stretching my arms and legs to get as comfortable as possible.
A distant thought trickles into my sluggish mind. That move should have earned me a kick in a sensitive area. Something is wrong. Rose.
My eyes snap open instantly and I'm on my feet in the same second. My training kicks in. Rose isn't in bed with me and I mentally flick through the possibilities while scanning the semi-dark room for details.
Strigoi? No, they can't get into the Court and I would've heard if somebody had broken in. I know Rose's schedule by heart, so she's not on duty. Maybe she's doing a favour for someone? No, she would have told me.
I hear footsteps outside, then scrabbling at the door. Somebody's coming. I crouch down behind the chest of drawers closest to the door. Slowly it opens.
I jump up from behind the counter and pin the intruder to the floor. There's a rustle and a thunk as something hits the floor, before I find myself glaring down at a very familiar face.
"Well," says Rose, raising an eyebrow. "I see you're up."
I'm pinning her down with my weight, so our faces are only inches apart. I study every beautiful detail for damage, but find none.
"I woke up when I discovered you were gone. Where were you?" my question comes out more like an accusation.
She rolls her eyes. "Relax, comrade. I was out buying breakfast." She brushes her lips against my own. "I'm sorry I made you worry."
I narrow my eyes. "We have food here."
This makes her smile. "Yes," she replies, "But I know what day it is."
"Tuesday?" I check.
"Real cute," she scoffs and then her eyes widen as she remembers something. "Oh crap!"
It's almost embarrassing how easy it is for her to counter my pin and escape. That's my Roza.
She picks up a white plastic shopping bag off the floor and checks the contents.
"Oh thank goodness!" she exclaims. "They're okay."
My curiosity is piqued. "What's in the bag?" I ask, sitting up.
She places it on the table and then turns to face me, her arms folded.
"I told you," she says with a smirk. "Breakfast. In bed."
I start to argue, but I recognize her expression from our time training together. It's a Rose Hathaway patented obey-or-die glare, so I shrug and climb back into bed. She joins me a few minutes later, carrying a tray straight from my childhood.
"Blini?" I'm astounded. And suspicious.
She nods, a little too enthusiastically for my taste.
Some mornings, Rose provides my entire workout for the day when I practically have to drag her out of bed, kicking and screaming. So the fact that she would voluntarily wake up hours early to walk to the little Russian bakery across Court and back again, before I even woke up, is downright ominous.
"Why?" I ask, narrowing my eyes.
She laughs at my expression. "Olena phoned me yesterday."
My eyes widen in alarm, but Rose pre-empts my question. "Everything's fine. She just wanted to chat." Something about her grin tells me that there's more to this story.
Finally, she can't hold it in any longer.
"Happy twenty-sixth birthday!" she squeals, wrapping her arms around me in an embrace. She almost upends the tray in the process, but I save it reflexively.
It's not that I ever kept my birthday a secret, I just haven't really celebrated it in the last couple of years.
When I was growing up, my mother would make my favourite foods and buy me a new western novel. Some of the neighbours would stop by, bringing sweets and small gifts and then afterwards we would play games.
At Saint Basil's, nobody really knew me well enough because I always kept my head down and worked hard. Except for Ivan, of course. He managed to weasel it out of my one year. Even when I was his guardian, he'd make sure to throw a party or arrange a special dinner on the day.
"Come on, Belikov," he'd say, holding out a bottle and swirling the contents around. "Live a little!"
I'd always refused, for obvious reasons, but in the end it wasn't enough. After he died, it just became another day. I'd wake up, eat, train and do my duties. The only thing different was that my mother made me promise to phone her every year.
It's not that I want to ignore the day I was born, it's just that I stopped having anyone to celebrate it with. Until now.
Rose's excitement is adorable as she watches me eat. She's wary at first, but I finally get her to try one of the blueberry-filled blini. I laugh as I watch her expression transform.
"Wow," she says through a mouthful of half chewed pastry. "Now I see why you put up with that barren tundra for so long. These are almost as good as Olena's."
I roll my eyes and smile. Even though she's been to my home town, she still insists on using stereotypes in an attempt to wind me up. It's so very Rose.
We share the rest of the blini and then lick our fingers clean.
"Man, we have got to get those again," she says with her eyes full of wonder.
"Maybe next time we can make our own," I suggest, kissing her nose as I get up from the bed.
Her expression turns to one of outrage.
"And where do you think you're going, comrade?" she asks indignantly.
I raise an eyebrow. "To get dressed for work," I reply. "My shift starts in twenty minutes."
"About that…" Rose begins.
I sigh. "Roza, what did you do?"
"Well, it was such short notice, I had to have someone to help me plan," she explains. "So I mentioned it to Lissa and she mentioned it to Hans. He rearranged the schedules to give us both the morning off!"
"That's not a bad thing," I say cautiously, studying her expression. "So why do you still look guilty?"
"You know me too well," she grumbles.
"Yes," I agree, "I do. What are you hiding?"
She scowls. "Well, Lissa's planned a party for you this evening, with all our friends. She wanted it to be a surprise, but after this morning, I thought maybe it would be better if you didn't take someone out. Even though it would be fun to watch." She gives me a smile that seems almost proud, but then her tone turns serious again. "But act surprised anyway, okay? They've got you presents and everything."
I begrudgingly concede and her grin returns.
"And speaking of presents," she says, reaching down to grab something under the bed, "I bought this for you."
She places a large plain black box in my lap, tied with a silver ribbon.
Her grin gets wider as I untie the ribbon and pull off the lid. At first glance, I think it's empty, but then I catch the little piece of paper between my fingers. It's a receipt.
"Do you like it?" Rose asks, excited.
I frown. "Do they even sell stuff for guys at Victoria's Secret?"
She rolls her eyes. "Comrade, all their stuff is for guys. Indirectly at least."
"Okay," I say, trying to understand. "So then where is it?"
I look up at her.
"Come on, Dimitri!" she chides, pulling her shirt off over her head. "It wouldn't be very romantic if I had to leave to change into it."
She slowly removes her jeans as well, and then stands up so that I can admire what little there is of my black lacy gift.
"Do you like it?" she asks with a falsely innocent tone.
My brain seems to have momentarily stopped functioning as all my blood flows… elsewhere.
"Uh huh," is my genius response.
"SURPRISE!" everyone choruses as I walk through the door and I put on my best surprised face as the lights flick on.
"Wow," I say, turning to Lissa. "I am so surprised right now."
Behind her, Christian erupts into snorts of laughter.
Lissa grimaces. "Dimitri, you're a terrible actor. Did Rose tell you about it?"
I nod and Lissa sighs, while Christian continues to laugh.
"Well," she says, her tone resigned. "At least you didn't hurt anyone." That makes Christian laugh even harder and with another sigh, she pulls him away to engage in what looks like a reprimanding conversation with Rose.
I watch them talk animatedly until Eddie approaches me.
"Happy birthday," he says, to which I offer my thanks. Rose looks up from her conversation with Lissa to hear what we're saying.
"So, how's your day been?" Eddie asks.
I meet Rose's eye with a grin.
"Best birthday ever," I reply, making sure my voice is loud enough to carry straight to the whole reason for it.
She grins in response.
This was written as a tribute to my own birthday. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me...
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it! If you did (or didn't and have some criticism) and wish to tell me so, please review! Your support and suggestions really do mean so much to me. Whether you favourite or not is up to you, but I strongly recommend it. Then again, I may be slightly biased.
Shout out to my sensational Beta reader NB313! Take a look at her material, you won't regret it!
If I owned Vampire Academy or any of the characters therein, I would be a lot richer and more talented than I actually am. A round of applause to Richelle Mead!