Author's Note:
Sorry guys for the late upload. Exam time, and the ideas weren't coming very fast :) I hope this slightly longer chapter makes it up to you. It'll be sometime before I update the story again, so plz review and rate! The more you review, I'll know how much you love this and want me to write more, and the sooner I'll update! And if you don't review... well I'll know that you don't like this story very much and I will discontinue.. (Just kidding! lol)
I hope you'll like this chapter. Adrian's really growing on me, and Vera's kind of special and I have BIG plans for her.. you'll know what soon! And let me know your ideas about who's better for Adrian.. who will he lose his heart too? Keep guessing, and let me know your thoughts! Love you guys :)
Adrian and co belong to Richelle Mead, but Vera's all mine!

Chapter 3

The flight wasn't very long, but it was enough for me to decide that Jill deserved, and needed, much more than just a drop off at school. I hadn't barricaded myself against spirit; something about Jailbait – her innocence, probably – made me cringe at the thought of her seeing me wasted, so I was completely sober and the onslaught of auras was giving me a headache. And Jill's usually clear and strong blue-purple aura was tinged with brown – she was worried. Jill needed her old friends around her while she faced the others; and most of them we had left behind at the Court. All she had to back her was me. And Mia. So I supposed I could spend a couple of days around, away from Court and a certain Dhampir. At least somebody here needed me and not just for favours. I guess that does something to heal a fragile sense of self-worth.

We were almost landing at the private runway at St. Vladimir's when I declared I wanted to stay at St. Vlad's for a couple of days. Mia didn't look surprised but sitting next to her, Jill's eyes grew round with happiness and gratitude. "You will? Thank you so much, Adrian! I wanted you to stay, but I couldn't bring myself to ask... You've already helped me so much..." She looked down at her fingers, fumbling with a loose thread from her skirt. "I'm so scared," She whispered.

"We're here, Jill," Mia said, putting a protective arm around her and squeezing her shoulder. Jill sat straight, wiping her eyes. "I don't want to be scared and... weak like this." She looked up suddenly, her eyes suddenly blazing and defiant and I cringed at the bright intensity her aura suddenly took. "This isn't supposed go like this. I have been training with Christian and you, Mia, in fighting physically. I don't want to go down just because of a mental war. I can't give in!"

The girl just kept making me feel proud and ashamed all at the same time. I smiled at her, letting her see how proud I felt. "That's what I want, Jill. You're not some wall flower or a nobody. You're a royal, a Dragomir, the Queen's sister and an absolutely stunning woman. And I know a lot about women," I added with a sly smile, hiding my bitterness when I inadvertently thought about Rose again.

Jill flushed, and I wasn't lying when I said she was stunning, in a naive way. She had thin but classic features, her hair now no longer parted simply in the middle but brushed stylishly to fall on one shoulder. Her freckles had vanished and her face now was more than pretty; it was now marked with a grace rare at such a young age. Not so young though, I reminded myself. She was almost 15, a sophomore. And add the famous Dragomir eyes to the equation, and you get the result: stunning.

"And you aren't going down anywhere, don't worry," Mia said fiercely, and her aura flared up red with a past rage. "It won't happen to you, not with us here." Her promise hung in the air for a few seconds, and I remembered the angry Mia from our first encounter. It was the first time I'd met Rose. Funny how I'd almost forgotten I'd run into both of them the same day. Rose had preoccupied my attentions, so much so that the details from that day had almost grown biased.

The jet landed smoothly and I followed Mia and Jill as they walked over towards the senior dorm. Jill was walking carefully, regally the way I'd showed her, and her face was determined, despite the slight trembling of her mouth. Hell, I thought as I joined her and put a supporting hand on the small of her back, and Mia held her hand on the other side. She visibly grew relaxed, and as if drawing strength from our touch, she walked ahead, with her head high.

We were greeted with the expected stares and whispers. The Moroi students stopped in their tracks to stare at us, some openly and some covertly. I like attention of course, but these kinds of stares always reminded me of the way people looked at me when I was helpless in the hands of spirit with nobody to help me and I hated it, but as usual, I hid these feelings and walked in a contended swagger. Jill, my protégée totally made me proud, walking ahead calmly. Only I knew she was trembling, and that too because I had my hand on her back.

Then a girl broke out of the surrounding crowd and came forward towards us, all her focus on Jill.

"Vera," Jill whispered as the girl hugged her fiercely and Jill hugged her back. Then Vera broke away and looked at Jill carefully.

"Are you alright?" She asked. Jill smiled tremulously and nodded before turning to us.

"This is Vera Tarashov, my best friend. Vera, this is Adrian Ivashkov. And you know Mia of course."

I bowed at her, smirking slightly and the girl blushed.

"I think I can handle it from here, Adrian." Jill said, looking a bit more relaxed with her roommate there. "Thanks for everything."

"It's my pleasure. Well, see you later then," I said, nodding at Mia and her and smiling at Vera. I turned to leave, but then I heard somebody say, "Wait!"

I turned again and saw Mia hand her bag to Jill's guardian and then join me. "I need to talk with you," she said, shrugging when I raised an eyebrow.

We walked in silence for a while towards the guardians' office where I had to sign myself as a visitor. With everything going in my head, I really didn't want to talk, and was glad that Mia didn't start a conversation.

A colossal headache was starting to build up with the overload of sensations my spirit was causing. The people milling all around were standing out, all their auras distinct and speaking to me about what they were feeling, hinting at what they were thinking. I shook my head and pulled out a cigarette and lighted it, sighing with relief as the familiar scent of cloves filled my sensitive Moroi senses and dulled my sight of auras. I snuck a glance at Mia, wondering if she'd protest, and found her looking at me.

"Does it bother you?" I asked, twirling the cigarette in my fingers.

"Are you all right?" she asked instead, her eyes serious. And I knew she wasn't asking about the headache she didn't know about. I stared ahead. We had been walking slowly, and were only halfway to the guardians' office. We were in one of the training fields when I finally turned around and glared at her. Mia stared right back, her eyes neutral.

"I'm fine" I said roughly, "Thanks for your concern. Is this what you wanted to talk with me about? How I was feeling?"

"This isn't you, Adrian," Mia said, a worried line between her brows. "This bitterness, this isn't you. You don't react like this, no matter what."

"Well, if this isn't me, who am I supposed to be? If you think I'm an imposter, it's fine with me." I knew I was being really rude, but for once I wanted to say it all, just like Rose. "And just in case you didn't know, I have every right to be bitter. You don't know how I feel, so don't pretend to understand."

Mia huffed aloud and crossed her hands on her chest and looked at me, her eyes alight with anger, and I was taken aback at how she looked. While Jill had been looking stunning and gracious today, her outfit accentuating her look, Mia had donned a plain T-shirt and worn jeans that should have paled her next to Jill, but they didn't. Mia had a porcelain doll quality to her face, making her look much younger than she was, and her casual attire brought out her real age. And the anger and pain in her face was captivating. Her blue eyes were burning sapphires, and I blinked, realising that she was talking.

"I know I'm not as royal, and as important as you, Adrian Ivashkov, but don't you dare tell me I don't know about bitterness, about pain." Her eyes were now bright with unshed tears, and she looked away as she spoke. "You lost your aunt to murder, and I know how that feels. I've lost my mother. Rose – Rose didn't mean to betray you, Adrian. She's always loved you, but in a different way from what you want. It isn't her fault, is it? You can't help how you feel."

I grit my teeth as I heard that, but Mia continued. "But no matter what her intentions were, you're hurt. It doesn't matter that she hadn't meant you to. But, Adrian, it hurts more when people hurt you intentionally." She turned then to look at me square in the eyes, her eyes hard as stones. "And don't care that you're in pain."

I felt like she'd slapped me. She understood what I felt. She did understand. I remembered what I'd heard about Andre, Lissa's now dead brother, had used her. Her face grew hard when she saw that I understood.

"So I do understand. And I can help you if you want." She stared at the novices walking in the distance towards their training fields as she spoke. "You're a nice guy, Adrian. I see how you care about Jill and how you're trying to help her. I think you deserve help too."

I stared at her with as much contempt and sarcasm I could muster. "I'm a nice guy, Mia? I'm a drunkard and a chain smoker. Mothers warn their girls to stay away from me when I enter rooms. Maybe you have a different definition of a 'nice guy'."

Mia stared at me squarely and I was suddenly scared at her. I was the spirit user here, but I felt as if she could see my aura, and my soul. And I was scared what she would find there.

"Funny you call yourself a chain smoker, Adrian, since you've been holding that cigarette in your hand for about fifteen minutes and have totally forgotten about it."

I looked down, shocked, at the forgotten cigarette in my hand.

"Call me when you need me." Mia said. She turned around and walked away towards her dorm, leaving me alone in the field, staring after her in shock and all the bitterness, pain and frustration I felt inside me.