Author's Note: I am so sorry about the wait! Thank you all for saying such sweet things to me! I'm sorry that I haven't been able to update this story in a long time so I'm glad that there was still people reaching out to me. I just love hearing from you all. I do hope that there is still some of you are still out there enjoying this story! Let me know what you think! Enjoy!
"I daresay that you weren't taking our first meeting seriously, Hathaway," Dimitri says, going through cool-down stretches.
I laugh as I seductively realign all of the bones that were knocked out of place by being thrown around the entire gym. I grin at the bruised side of his face where I might have gotten a little overzealous and elbowed him to get out of his grip. It worked, and I'm sure he's going to be feeling that one for the next few hours. And hey, it was payback for that gut punch. It took about two-point-five seconds for him to realize that he couldn't treat me with Novice hands. I've had to fight off Strigoi - a lot of them - and it's left me a lot tougher than I look.
I might not build muscle like some of the other female Guardians - I'm more like my mom in that way - but I can pack a punch when I land one. Dimitri can attest to that, both before Lissa and I were free thrown back in time and probably now that we've sparred for real. It didn't take long after the first solid shot I landed on him before he realized that I was to be treated like his equal and he slipped into the role so easily, accepting my skills without question or hesitation and it reminded me of our time back at Court.
Dimitri and I were no strangers to sparring to keep ourselves in shape and our skills sharp, but it's been a while since we had actually went ham on one another, trying to best each other. We already knew each other skills and tended to stick to them to keep them sharp, but occasionally my Russian eye-candy would spice up our spar-life by wanting to work on our more perceivable weaker areas. This very much felt like one of those moments. Going all out to try and best one another to see where we needed to keep working or draw attention to things we were growing lax in.
It was hard not to default kiss him every time I put a particularly hard hit on him. Dimitri never does that. He never accidently hits me harder than he intends. No doubt drilled into him from years of an abusive father, but he's always been very precise with his strikes. It doesn't mean that he won't accidently hit a tender spot, which will earn me an apologetic kiss when I double over, or falter, but I'm definitely a lot more prone to hurting him than he is to hurting me.
Like one time, in our sparring back at Court a few weeks before it was attacked, I was frustrated over Adrian having gone missing that Dimitri took me aside to try and work off some of that pent up frustration and a kick that should have gone for my hips to knock me back, ended up hitting me in the stomach. He didn't do anything wrong, my brain just short circuited. I bent down instead of push back and he hit me far harder than he ever would have to my stomach. Not hard enough to do any damage, but I remember the blast of pain and just crumbling into the mat, completely winded.
I barely hit the ground before he landed on top of me, hugging me tightly. We laid there on that hideous mat for a few minutes, me trying to catch my breath, while he apologizes, kissing my cheeks and forehead. I'm never mad, I know for a fact that I've hit him harder than he's ever hit me, intentional or not. Still, I feel bad knowing that he would never want to hurt me, even in training, if he could avoid it. As a Guardian, I need him to be rough with me, because everyone else will, and that's his way of mentally justifying it, but he always gets a very somber, pained look whenever something like this happens.
Me? Well, whenever I strike him harder than I intend, I just grab his face and plant a kiss on his forehead, squeeze his cheeks a bit before letting him go. So long as it wasn't like the time I mentioned when he hit my stomach, he usually kisses my hand as apology. It's only when he was like that, holding me in his arms, that I know he felt horrible for it.
This felt a lot like those times, though. Training to learn instead of to hone. Yet still, all of his strikes were precise, purposeful. But he doesn't know me yet, so he was prone to more accidents than when used to train together. I moved in ways he wasn't ready for and more often than not, it left both of us in a tight spot. Sometimes I overpowered him, sometimes he overpowered me. It's unfair, honestly, because I happen to know him very well, so I can usually predict his next move with relatively good accuracy. Doesn't always help me, but it's more than he has.
But instead of saying all of that, I say, "What can I say, Comrade? You caught me on an off day."
"I'm starting to see that," Dimitri says easily. He moves smoothly to his feet and walking over to his bag, grabbing out his phone while pulling his hair tie from his hair, letting his chin length fall around his head as he checks the time before turning to me. "I think I've seen everything I need for now. We will pick this up again tomorrow morning. If that's alright with you?"
I give him a sideways look, "Sure thing, boss. Just tell me the time and I'll be there."
Dimitri shakes his head, level brown eyes finding mine. "Don't call me that."
"Boss or comrade?" I ask, grinning. "Pick your poison."
"I'd rather neither," Dimitri says, a subtle amused quirk to the corner of his mouth that I bet he thought I'd miss. I didn't.
Grinning wider, I offer, "There are other things that I could call you, if you want. But those are reserved for behind your back, unfortunately."
Instead of being insulted, like most people would when phrased like that, Dimitri lets out a huff of a laugh, a smile pulling more on his lips as he looks away. No doubt he thinks I'm talking about worse names and not the sultry ones that I know I'm referring to. But hey, what he doesn't know won't hurt him, and besides, he got a bit of a laugh out of that one.
I head for the door, giving him a little wave over my head as I go. "See you later, comrade."
"Looks like we didn't need those safe phrases after all," Dimitri says, grabbing his bag and following after me at a much slower pace.
I twist around, walking backward as I throw a wink his way, saying, "Next time," before turning back around and heading out of the room.
On my way to the quad, I jump into Lissa's mind, hoping to not only find her, but to know if she figured out what she was going to be doing about her living situation only to find that she was in the middle of figuring that out.
"Rose isn't a flight risk," Lissa was saying evenly, sitting across Kirova's desk while the other woman looks down her bird nose at the Dragomir Princess. "She didn't take me from here two years ago. I went with her, willingly. I didn't feel safe here. I still don't. I feel better having her with me." Lissa tries not to rationalize it away. Because, the honest truth is that she's not afraid. Not of Natalie. Not of Victor. Not of St. Vladimir's. None of that. She's scared of what she doesn't know. Why we are here and if there is any way of grasping the pieces of our lives from before, or if we are forced to rebuild with what we can and hope for the best.
Lissa misses our friends. She misses Christian. Even me. She feels this distance between us. Not the space that separates us, but the people. We worked so hard to get to the point where everyone just accepted us together without question. She never had to worry about someone taking me away from her. I was as high up as I possibly be and the only person who had any sort of control over my fate was her and she would never send me away. Now she feels like everyone is trying to tear us apart from one another and she hates the helplessness she feels for being unable to make it stop.
Kirova interlaces her fingers on her desk, looking unconvinced. "Novice Hathaway can't be trusted with your safety, Vasilisa."
"Guardian Hathaway," Lissa corrects on my behalf evenly, keeping her eye level with the Headmistress, "has kept me protected perfectly fine since we left St. Vladimir's. We left at my behest, and she did a wonderful job with what she had, and made the smart decision to go back to school to finish her training. Rose is skilled and vetted. I trust her more than anyone else."
"What are you so scared of?" Kirova asks, more concerned with Lissa's hesitation about remaining than my qualifications.
Lissa hesitates, not sure how to put it into words without giving anything important away. She wishes I was there, because she thinks I would somehow better be able to convince Headmistress Kirova that I was worthy, seeming to have forgotten that when I opened my mouth I almost got myself kicked out of St. Vladimir for the rest of the year. She mentally wars with herself, trying to think of a way to convince Kirova of how she feels without putting us both at risk.
She hears herself say, "I felt like someone was watching me. Someone was always watching me since my family died. They would follow me around, scare me, and I thought they were going to hurt me. I didn't feel safe here. I still don't. I want to be with the only person that I trust to keep me safe. Please, Headmistress Kirova. I promise we will be on our best behavior."
Kirova shakes her head in disbelief. "Why didn't you say anything, Vasilisa? If you felt like you were being harassed, you should have said something. We would have spoken with whomever was bothering you. Leaving wasn't the best idea, and just shows that you are still a thoughtless child."
"Where is Ms. Karp?" Lissa asks, suddenly, leveling her eyes with Kirova. I am instantly proud of her. The look on Kirova's face is enough to make me laugh aloud. She definitely didn't anticipate that. Lissa and I both know where Sonya is, and know what happened to her, but it was supposed to have happened after we left. As far as Kirova is concerned, we should have no idea. But when she opens her mouth, probably preparing a lie, or a placating half-truth, she stares into Lissa's eyes and sees the truth shining there.
Lissa knows exactly what happened.
Before Kirova can collect herself from the shock, Lissa says, "Ms. Karp was seeing things. She thought people were following her. She was scared all the time. She felt that turning Strigoi was the only way to escape. No one helped her. No one spoke her problems away. If the faculty were willing to forsake one of their own, what would they do to a 'thoughtless child'?"
"Ms. Karp was very disturbed..." Kirova starts but Lissa shakes her head, standing up.
"No, she was scared. She was so terrified and felt that no one was helping her so she found the only escape that she could. I won't be like that. I won't live in fear. I will have Rose by my side, you will respect that and her, and this discussion is over." Lissa's Queen voice paralyzes Kirova to her seat and I swear in that moment that Lissa was my freaking hero. I might not completely dislike Kirova - we've had our bad times, and it's both of our faults - but I felt like maybe that was the best way. Lissa doesn't want to use compulsion, I get that, but she is naturally very charismatic because of Spirit without actually having to use it.
And she's a badass Queen of the Moroi at eighteen years old.
Kirova might be hot shit here as Headmistress of the school, but Lissa is used to dealing with a lot worse than her. And by a longshot too.
The Headmistress looks like she's trying to decide what to say when Lissa, calmly asks, "Which shall it be, Headmistress? Will she come to the Moroi dorm to be with me, or may I go to the Novice dorm to be with her? I'm assuming that you're going to room us together and there is more room in the Novice dorm and I don't mind getting some curtains. I know they have more windows than we do."
"Vasilisa," Kirova starts but Lissa shakes her head, holding a hand up to stop her. An action I've seen her use against the Moroi Royalty a thousand times to stop them from arguing with one another or trying to talk over her. Lissa realizes the action too late and lowered her hand, chastising herself about forgetting that she isn't the Queen of the Moroi and that she can't just silence people. She has to remember that she's no better than anyone else.
I can't see myself roll my eyes, but man did I feel it.
"Headmistress Kirova," Lissa says slowly, staring into the older woman's eyes, carefully, "I need to know how to get you to understand that I am not comfortable here. I don't feel safe. I will never stop trying to run away from here if you keep us apart. If you would like me to stay, I will stay with Rose. Please. I hate to say it like this, but I need you to understand. Please, Headmistress."
Kirova looks shaken as touches of compulsion leaks into Lissa's words.
Lissa doesn't want to compel anyone. She wants to live honestly - or as honestly as she can - and she does like Kirova and want to be as forthright as possible with the woman, but she's not sure what else to do. As much as she wants to uphold the moral high ground and just try and talk her way into what she wants, she can't stop thinking about Natalie. She can't... she can't be in that room. She can't be with her. She's not scared. She's sad. Natalie was like family. Natalie didn't deserve the fate she got - killed by Dimitri - but it was her choice. A misguided one that no doubt was birthed from Victor's sick mind, but it was still her own.
They probably hoped to bring her back to life, but it never got that far.
Lissa can't even think about Natalie without thinking about everything that went wrong, and the part that we played in her death. She doesn't blame us. But she feels the weight of our role in that entire ordeal and all the actions we took to get us to that moment. And it weighs down on her shoulders like a terrible weight. And the more Lissa thought about it, the more she couldn't bring herself to allow Natalie so close again. It hurt so bad to be betrayed the first time, and no matter how hard she considers it, she's not sure if there is a way to convince Natalie to not do what she did.
All she can do is stay with me and pray that we can make it through together and not have any sort of repeat of last time.
Kirova sighs, looking down at the papers on her desk and Lissa has to stop herself from following suit, not sure she wants to know what could suddenly be more important than this conversation with the Headmistress.
"Fine, but if I get even an inkling that something is up, I'm splitting the two of you up," Kirova says strictly, glaring at Lissa, who somehow manages to impress both of us by keeping her face completely even despite the excitement and hope swirling around in her chest at getting what she wanted. I feel myself grin.
"Yes, Headmistress," Lissa says, sensing me closing in on her in the back of her mind. "So... is she moving to the Moroi dorm with me..?" She wants to get the official permission before Kirova changes her mind. I wouldn't put it past her. The more Lissa thinks about it, the more she wants to put as much distance between herself and Natalie as possible. She doesn't want to encourage Natalie to go after her and die as a result. The Novice dorm is exactly what she wanted.
"Oh no, absolutely not," Kirova says, face crinkling up in disgust and I choose to think that she caught a whiff of something nasty and not the abhorrent idea of me being around the impressionable little Moroi royals. The Moroi will be just fine without her gatekeeping their safety. I've only hurt a few Moroi in my tenure as a Novice and I choose to think most of those times weren't my fault.
"Then I will stay at the Novice Dorm with Rose," Lissa says easily, not really minding either way. Kirova looks surprised, like she forgot that if I didn't stay in the Moroi dorm than Lissa would have to stay in the Novice dorm, but before she could say anything, Lissa smiles sweetly at the bird-nosed woman and says, "Thank you so much for hearing me out, Headmistress Kirova. Rose is here to pick me up, so I just need the number of the room that we'll be staying in and I'll be out of your hair."
Kirova wars with herself for a few long moments with Lissa intensely staring at her, before giving in and going for a book on her shelf, looking through it to find a suitable place for the illustrious Dragomir princess amongst us plebian scrubs. Lissa stands in silence, keeping herself composed despite her laser focus on the other woman, praying that she doesn't change her mind at the last mind. She takes slow, shallow breaths as quietly as she can as to not disturb Kirova and accidently set her off.
Finally, Kirova gives her the room number and floor in the Novice dorm and Lissa flashes her another award-winning smile that melts the Headmistress's cold dead heart and a sweet passing thanks before Lissa turns to leave, not wanting to tempt fate any more than we already were.
I'm standing outside Kirova's office when Lissa finally steps out. I blink out of her head, not liking to literally see myself in her eyes. I like her imaginary version of me when she thinks of me, but just seeing myself standing there, dead-eyed like a zombie is kind of creepy. And if she hadn't been riled up in her conversation with the Headmistress she would have offered more than a peripheral thought to me when she felt me and briefly mentioned me in conversation and thus wouldn't have been startled to see me standing there once she left Kirova's office. Kirova glared at me through the opening as Lissa closes the door behind herself.
"Did you see that or do I have to tell you?" Lissa asks.
"Regale me with how you used their failure to help Sonya to get you to stay with me in my dorm," I insist as she links her arm through mine.
Lissa rolls her eyes. "I would rather not. I feel bad for doing that. It's not their fault for Spirit driving Sonya into becoming a Strigoi. And it's not really my story to tell, or to manipulate to my advantage. It's not right." Lissa says, remorsefully. When we see Sonya again, she'll apologize. After we turn her back, of course. Because we will get her back. No matter what.
Ah, it's like she can read my mind.
"It's okay," I assure her. "Sonya will understand."
Lissa doesn't look assuaged by my words and has resigned herself to feel bad about it until she can apologize. I know how Lissa is but Sonya is also our friend so it's different. Lissa would have felt bad if Sonya had just been our teacher but we really know Sonya and her struggles with her time as a Strigoi. And we love her. Plain and simple.
"Okay, so we are going to the Novice dorm?" I ask, despite already knowing the truth. I need to get her out of the dark place her mind is starting to drift to. The dark place my mind is starting to drift to.
Lissa nods. "Yeah. I figured if we are going to the Natalie-avoiding extreme, then I might as well go to the... max."
I laugh. "You were going to say "extreme" again, weren't you?"
Lissa bumps my shoulder with her own, playfully embarrassed at being caught in her little slip up. "It was already too late right from the start. I didn't know what else to do."
"Not make it painfully obvious would have been a good start, I think."
Lissa rolls her eyes. "Just come help me move my stuff, please."
"You know," I start and Lissa groans, already knowing what I'm going to say which makes me grin, "if you had just went to talk to Kirova earlier we wouldn't be having to move our own stuff. The gremlins under the school would have already done it by the time we get back from dinner."
Lissa scoffs to cover her laugh. "Gremlins? What?"
I wave her off. "Gremlins, rejected Novice, whatever. Either way, it wouldn't have to be us."
Lissa laughs and it feels like forever since she's let her hair down, so to speak. With everything going on at Court and our friends steadily going missing one-by-one, there wasn't a lot to be happy about in those days leading up to the attack on at the palace. So it's nice to be able to hear her laugh, even if it's at a stupid joke like that one.
"A little hard, manual labor never killed anyone, Rose," Lissa says mirthfully.
"Sounds like something someone who doesn't do a lot of manual labor would say."
Lissa laughs again, dragging me toward the Moroi dorm. "Come on! We're rooming together in the Novice dorm!"
"Yeah, I figured the star power that comes from being the Dragomir Princess would override my swamp monster presence but I guess not."
Lissa laughs again, leaning in close and I'm just a bit more relieved each time just to see her smile a little bit. I really missed it. "I'm not sure why she agreed but I'm just glad to be away from Natalie. And maybe if she tries any of her tricks we have a better chance of catching her in the act. And maybe avoiding her terrible fate."
I don't necessarily know about that, because Natalie knows there is a way back from being a Strigoi through Robert Doru, Victor Dashkov's brother and her uncle, or she trusted her father to know of a way. So maybe there isn't a way to stop her with there being a chance to arm herself with that knowledge, but I'm willing to hope for that too. Natalie isn't evil. Misguided maybe, but not evil. But I don't get to decide any of that. All we can do is hope for the best with whatever is being thrown at us.
Although, catching Natalie in the act hadn't really occurred to me. Maybe that would prevent a lot of things if Natalie went under lockdown for harassing Lissa. I mean, Natalie is already a social outcast so it's hard to stomach the idea of making her more isolated but I don't know if there is anything that we can do. We did hang out with her before. She was our friend and yet she betrayed us.
Were we great friends to her? No, probably not, but we weren't bad. I mean we could have done things differently but I'm not sure I'm convinced it would have changed anything, really.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just trying to justify how I feel. Would I like to have things be different with Natalie? Of course! It was hard to see her become Strigoi. For both Lissa and myself. She was my first Strigoi. I never forgot how she looked. How my friend stood before me, but yet she didn't. That wasn't Natalie anymore.
I can only imagine how it feels to have been one. Even days leaning up to our unfortunate time-traveling debacle, I would still wake up from a dead sleep from Dimitri crying out in terror of his time as a Strigoi. Begging himself to stop, "No! No! They don't deserve it!" and even praying for me to kill me, "It's not me, Roza. Please! Please see that! Please!"
And I'm shaken every time.
But I wouldn't tell him that. I would just wrap myself around him like a viper and hold him to me as closely as I can. I would kiss him and run my hands through his hair and up and down his back until he's soothed once more. We don't talk about it a lot - and not for a lack of me trying, of course - but sometimes he'll feel strong enough to put what he's feeling and seeing into words. Never much, and never for long, but I would sit in silence and just listen to him whisper into the darkness of our room.
I would pull him onto my chest and just breath evenly until he's done. He doesn't want to have me talk him down from the ledge he's on. He doesn't want me to make him feel better. He just wants to talk through it - sometimes - and heal in his own way.
I don't like how badly this hurts him, but I love him too much not to let him try and heal in his own way. Even though I don't fully agree with him bottling up so much of himself. But so long as he doesn't shut me out and does seem to feel better - even if only a little bit - then I will have to accept it.
Lissa's hand finds mine and she sends me this soft, sad smile. I don't think she knows exactly what I'm thinking about but she can tell that whatever it is, it's making me sad. We lean into each other, trying to absorb strength of the other into ourselves as we walk toward the Moroi dorm in silence.
Once we get inside and see how empty it is, I immediately pray that Natalie is still at dinner so we don't have to explain to her why Lissa was supposed to room with her but now isn't.
"If Natalie is there let me talk to her," Lissa says softly as we head for the stairs in the dorm to go up to her temporary room to get her stuff.
"Are you sure?" I ask, casting her a sideways glance. "I'm a better liar than you."
Lissa scoffs, giving me a look in return. "What are you talking about? We are both garbage liars. And besides, I'm not going to lie, I'm going to tell her the truth."
"That would would rather share a bedroom with a swamp monster than that absolute sociopath?"
Lissa gives me a chiding look, although she thinks it's funny that I keep referring to myself as a swamp monster. she makes sure to keep the amusement off of her face. "No, that I would just feel better being able to stay with you."
I could make more jokes but decided that neither of us would really find it in good spirits anyway, considering. I don't think that either of us are really into continuing to pick at that wound any more than we already did. So I decide to just drop it and let Lissa handle this however she sees fit. I'll step in if she needs me to, but I honestly don't think that she does. It's been a long time since I've had to face off in a verbal bout with someone to defend Lissa's honor. She can be quite the orator when she wants to be. Naturally charismatic, that one.
Luckily when we get to Lissa's room, Natalie isn't there and with all of Lissa's things already packed up for her from Portland, we each grab everything that we can carry and head back out the room, resigned to having to make a second trip to get the last box box at a different time but thankfully neither of us have a lot of stuff because we got used to living relatively frugally while we were out on our own but that was past Lissa and Rose. Current mindset Lissa and Rose is a freaking Queen who can get whatever she wants and a full fledged Guardian with her own big girl job and big girl paychecks. Now her inheritance is frozen and I'm broke as shit.
I hate it here.
Some of the Moroi in the dorm give us weird looks as we head back out, probably figuring we were trying a second attempt at an escape - while hiding in plain, obvious, sight - but we just ignore them. Lissa's thoughts are occupied with her worry over Natalie and her relief at not having to face the girl that was like a cousin to her just yet, while I'm keeping my head on a swivel, just in case either her, Mia, or Victor decide to darken our doorstep with their presence while we are out in the open and vulnerable.
We quickly make it to the Novice dorm and head up to the room that was assigned to Lissa and I only to find that it had to have been recently cleaned. I'm not sure when exactly that was, but I'm relieved that everything is fresh and clean and we don't have to worry about that. As a two person bedroom, it's bigger than my room was, yet not as big as Lissa and Natalie's was. Be careful, Moroi Royals, your favoritism is showing.
Lissa looks around with a frown on her lips, thinking the exact same thing that I am. She's been to my room before, and to Novice rooms in general, but she's never looked at them through the lenses of a Queen. A Queen who has spent a great deal of her time fighting for dhampir to get more rights in our society.
Lissa catches me staring at her with a knowing look on my face and defends herself, calmly, "I'm not going to say anything." Her voice is even and I trust her. She's not going to say anything to me. That doesn't mean she's not going to say something to someone.
I nod, eyebrows raised. I lay her box down by her bed and head for the door. "I'm going to grab the last box."
"I should go with," Lissa says, turning back toward the look, a dissatisfied look on her face.
I wave her off. "I'm going to be fast and hope that Natalie won't be there, so you just start packing, okay?"
Lissa sighs, looking around a bit, as if lost. She nods reluctantly and lowers onto her claimed bed further in the room than mine, which was by the door. She opens up the box closest to her.
I head out quickly, skipping steps as I head for the exit of the building and make my way across the quad toward the Moroi dorm. I keep my head on a swivel but thankfully I make it in and out again without running into Natalie - although I did see Christian watching from a distance probably about to head out for dinner, but he doesn't know how to approach me yet as Lissa's best friend - and make my way back toward the Novice dorm. I drop it off in our room to see Lissa is right where I left her before heading to what should have been my room to get my two boxes.
I juggle those down the stairs without dropping everything or falling down and breaking my neck, which is a plus. Lissa and I spend about an hour getting our room set up a bit before I remember my email. I jump out of my bed and drop into the chair in front of our shared computer. I hop onto the internet and get into my email. My heart leaps up into my chest as Lissa pops up at my side, her green eyes wide.
"An email from Abe?" Lissa gasps, also having forgotten about the plan from earlier in the day, like I did.
And there was. An email from the one that I made Abe earlier. My heart is pounding as I click on it to see what he said in response. A simple line stares back at me as I read it three times before leaning back in my chair, letting out a slow, tentative sigh.
The line reads: It will be done.