Vampire Academy Chapter 18

EIGHTEEN

I WOKE UP STARING AT the boring white ceiling of the clinic.A filtered light – soothing to Moroi patients – shone down on me.I felt strange, kind of disoriented, but I didn’t hurt.

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“Rose.”

The voice was like silk on my skin.

Gentle. Rich. Turning my head, I met Dimitri’s dark eyes. He sat in a chair beside the bed I lay on, his shoulder-length brown hair hanging forward and framing his face.

“Hey,” I said, my voice coming out as a croak.

“How do you feel?”

“Weird. Kind of groggy.”

“Dr. Olendzki gave you something for the pain – you seemed pretty bad when we brought you in.”

“I don’t remember that…How long have I been out?”

“A few hours.”

“Must have been strong. Must still be strong.” Some of the details came back. The bench. My ankle getting caught. I couldn’t remember much after that. Feeling hot and cold and then hot again. Tentatively, I tried moving the toes on my healthy foot. “I don’t hurt at all.”

He shook his head. “No. Because you weren’t seriously injured.”

The sound of my ankle cracking came back to me. “Are you sure? I remember…the way it bent. No. Something must be broken.” I manage to sit up, so I could look at my ankle.

“Or at least sprained.”

He moved forward to stop me. “Be careful. Your ankle might be fine, but you’re probably still a little out of it.”

I carefully shifted to the edge of the bed and looked down. My jeans were rolled up. The ankle looked a little red, but I had no bruises or serious marks.

“God, I got lucky. If I’d hurt it, it would have put me out of practice for a while.”

Smiling, he returned to his chair. “I know. You kept telling me that while I was carrying you. You were very upset.”

“You…you carried me here?”

“After we broke the bench apart and freed your foot.”

Man. I’d missed out on a lot. The only thing better than imagining Dimitri carrying me in his arms was imagining him shirtless while carrying me in his arms.

Then the reality of the situation hit me.

“I was taken down by a bench,” I groaned.

“What?”

“I survived the whole day guarding Lissa, and you guys said I did a good job. Then, I get back here and meet my downfall in the form of a bench.” Ugh. “Do you know how embarrassing it is? And all those guys saw, too.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said. “No one knew the bench was rotted. It looked fine.”

“Still. I should have just stuck to the sidewalk like a normal person. The other novices are going to give me shit when I get back.”

His lips held back a smile. “Maybe presents will cheer you up.”

I sat up straighter. “Presents?”

The smile escaped, and he handed me a small box with a piece of paper.

“This is from Prince Victor.”

Surprised that Victor would have given me anything, I read the note. It was just a few lines, hastily scrawled in pen.

Rose –

I’m very happy to see you didn’t suffer any serious injuries from your fall. Truly, it is a miracle. You lead a charmed life, and Vasilisa is lucky to have you.

“That’s nice of him,” I said, opening the box. Then I saw what was inside. “Whoa. Very nice.”

It was the rose necklace, the one Lissa had wanted to get me but couldn’t afford. I held it up, looping its chain over my hand so the glittering, diamond-covered rose hung free.

“This is pretty extreme for a get-well present,” I noted, recalling the price.

“He actually bought it in honor of you doing so well on your first day as an official guardian. He saw you and Lissa looking at it.”

“Wow.” It was all I could say. “I don’t think I did that good of a job.”

“I do.”

Grinning, I placed the necklace back in the box and set it on a nearby table. “You did say ?®presents,’ right? Like more than one?”

He laughed outright, and the sound wrapped around me like a caress. God, I loved the sound of his laugh. “This is from me.”

He handed me a small, plain bag. Puzzled and excited, I opened it up. Lip gloss, the kind I liked. I’d complained to him a number of times how I was running out, but I’d never thought he was paying attention.

“How’d you manage to buy this? I saw you the whole time at the mall.”

“Guardian secrets.”

“What’s this for? For my first day?”

“No,” he said simply. “Because I thought it would make you happy.”

Without even thinking about it, I leaned forward and hugged him. “Thank you.”

Judging from his stiff posture, I’d clearly caught him by surprise. And yeah…I’d actually caught myself by surprise, too. But he relaxed a few moments later, and when he reached around and rested his hands on my lower back, I thought I was going to die.

“I’m glad you’re better,” he said. His mouth sounded like it was almost in my hair, just above my ear. “When I saw you fall…”

“You thought, ?®Wow, she’s a loser.’ “

“That’s not what I thought.”

He pulled back slightly, so he could see me better, but we didn’t say anything. His eyes were so dark and deep that I wanted to dive right in. Staring at them made me feel warm all over, like they had flames inside. Slowly, carefully, those long fingers of his reached out and traced the edge of my cheekbone, moving up the side of my face. At the first touch of his skin on mine, I shivered. He wound a lock of my hair around one finger, just like he had in the gym.

Swallowing, I dragged my eyes up from his lips. I’d been contemplating what it’d be like to kiss him. The thought both excited and scared me, which was stupid. I’d kissed a lot of guys and never thought much about it. No reason another one – even an older one – should be that big of a deal. Yet the thought of him closing the distance and bringing his lips to mine made the world start spinning.

A soft knock sounded at the door, and I hastily leaned back. Dr. Olendzki stuck her head in. “I thought I heard you talking. How do you feel?”

She walked over and made me lie back down. Touching and bending my ankle, she assessed it for damage and finally shook her head when finished.

“You’re lucky. With all the noise you made coming in here, I thought your foot had been amputated. Must have just been shock.” She stepped back. “I’d feel better if you sat out from your normal trainings tomorrow, but otherwise, you’re good to go.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t remember my hysteria – and was actually kind of embarrassed that I’d thrown such a fit – but I had been right about the problems this would have caused me if I’d broken or sprained it. I couldn’t afford to lose any time here; I needed to take my trials and graduate in the spring.

Dr. Olendzki gave me the okay to go and then left the room. Dimitri walked over to another chair and brought me my shoes and coat. Looking at him, I felt a warm flush sweep me as I recalled what had happened before the doctor had entered.

He watched as I slipped one of the shoes on. “You have a guardian angel.”

“I don’t believe in angels,” I told him. “I believe in what I can do for myself.”

“Well then, you have an amazing body.” I glanced up at him with a questioning look. “For healing, I mean. I heard about the accident…”

He didn’t specify which accident it was, but it could be only one. Talking about it normally bothered me, but with him, I felt I could say anything.

“Everyone said I shouldn’t have survived,” I explained. “Because of where I sat and the way the car hit the tree. Lissa was really the only one in a secure spot. She and I walked away with only a few scratches.”

“And you don’t believe in angels or miracles.”

“Nope. I – “

Truly, it is a miracle. You lead a charmed life….

And just like that, a million thoughts came slamming into my head. Maybe…maybe I had a guardian angel after all…

Dimitri immediately noticed the shift in my feelings. “What’s wrong?”

Reaching out with my mind, I tried to expand the bond and shake off the lingering effects of the pain medication. Some more of Lissa’s feelings came through to me. Anxious. Upset.

“Where’s Lissa? Was she here?”

“I don’t know where she is. She wouldn’t leave your side while I brought you in. She stayed right next the bed, right up until the doctor came in. You calmed down when she sat next to you.”

I closed my eyes and felt like I might faint. I had calmed down when Lissa sat next to me because she’d taken the pain away. She’d healed me…

Just as she had the night of the accident.

It all made sense now. I shouldn’t have survived. Everyone had said so. Who knew what kind of injuries I’d actually suffered? Internal bleeding. Broken bones. It didn’t matter because Lissa had fixed it, just like she’d fixed everything else. That was why she’d been leaning over me when I woke up.

It was also probably why she’d passed out when they took her to the hospital. She’d been exhausted for days afterward. And that was when her depression had begun. It had seemed like a normal reaction after losing her family, but now I wondered if there was more to it, if healing me had played a role.

Opening my mind again, I reached out to her, needing to find her. If she’d healed me, there was no telling what shape she could be in now. Her moods and magic were linked, and this had been a pretty intense show of magic.

The drug was almost gone from my system, and like that, I snapped into her. It was almost easy now. A tidal wave of emotions hit me, worse than when her nightmares engulfed me. I’d never felt such intensity from her before.

She sat in the chapel’s attic, crying. She didn’t entirely know why she was crying either. She felt happy and relieved that I’d been unharmed, that she’d been able to heal me. At the same time, she felt weak in both body and mind. She burned inside, like she’d lost part of herself. She worried I’d be mad because she’d used her powers. She dreaded going through another school day tomorrow, pretending she liked being with a crowd who had no other interests aside from spending their families’ money and making fun of those less beautiful and less popular. She didn’t want to go to the dance with Aaron and see him watch her so adoringly – and feel him touching her – when she felt only friendship for him.

Most of these were all normal concerns, but they hit her hard, harder than they would an ordinary person, I thought. She couldn’t sort through them or figure out how to fix them.

“You okay?”

She looked up and brushed the hair away from where it stuck to her wet cheeks. Christian stood in the entrance to the attic. She hadn’t even heard him come up the stairs. She’d been too lost in her own grief. A flicker of both longing and anger sparked within her.

“I’m fine,” she snapped. Sniffling, she tried to stop her tears, not wanting him to see her weak.

Leaning against the wall, he crossed his arms and wore an unreadable expression. “Do…do you want to talk?”

“Oh…” She laughed harshly. “You want to talk now? After I tried so many times – “

“I didn’t want that! That was Rose – “

He cut himself off and I flinched. I was totally busted.

Lissa stood up and strode toward him. “What about Rose?”

“Nothing.” His mask of indifference slipped back into place. “Forget it.”

“What about Rose?” She stepped closer. Even through her anger, she still felt that inexplicable attraction to him. And then she understood. “She made you, didn’t she? She told you to stop talking to me?”

He stared stonily ahead. “It was probably for the best. I would have just messed things up for you. You wouldn’t be where you are now.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What do you think it means? God. People live or die at your command now, Your Highness.”

“You’re being kind of melodramatic.”

“Am I? All day, I hear people talking about what you’re doing and what you’re thinking and what you’re wearing. Whether you’ll approve. Who you like. Who you hate. They’re your puppets.”

“It’s not like that. Besides, I had to do it. To get back at Mia…”

Rolling his eyes, he looked away from her. “You don’t even know what you’re getting back at her for.”

Lissa’s anger flared. “She set up Jesse and Ralf to say those things about Rose! I couldn’t let her get away with that.”

“Rose is tough. She would have gotten over it.”

“You didn’t see her,” she replied obstinately. “She was crying.”

“So? People cry. You’re crying.”

“Not Rose.”

He turned back to her, a dark smile curling his lips. “I’ve never seen anything like you two. Always so worried about each other. I get her thing – some kind of weird guardian hang-up – but you’re just the same.”

“She’s my friend.”

“I guess it’s that simple. I wouldn’t know.” He sighed, momentarily thoughtful, then snapped back to sarcastic mode. “Anyway. Mia. So you got back at her over what she did to Rose. But you’re missing the point. Why did she do it?”

Lissa frowned. “Because she was jealous about me and Aaron – “

“More to it than that, Princess. What did she have to be jealous about? She already had him. She didn’t need to attack you to drive that home. She could have just made a big show of being all over him. Sort of like you are now,” he added wryly.

“Okay. What else is there, then? Why did she want to ruin my life? I never did anything to her – before all this, I mean.”

He leaned forward, crystal-blue eyes boring into hers.

“You’re right. You didn’t – but your brother did.”

Lissa pulled away from him. “You don’t know anything about my brother.”

“I know he screwed Mia over. Literally.”

“Stop it, stop lying.”

“I’m not. Swear to God or whoever else you want to believe in. I used to talk to Mia now and then, back when she was a freshman. She wasn’t very popular, but she was smart. Still is. She used to work on a lot of committees with royals – dances and stuff. I don’t know all of it. But she got to know your brother on one of those, and they sort of got together.”

“They did not. I would have known. Andre would have told me.”

“Nope. He didn’t tell anyone. He told her not to either. He convinced her it should be some kind of romantic secret when really, he just didn’t want any of his friends to find out he was getting naked with a non-royal freshman.”

“If Mia told you that, she was making it up,” exclaimed Lissa.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think she was making it up when I saw her crying. He got tired of her after a few weeks and dumped her. Told her she was too young and that he couldn’t really get serious with someone who wasn’t from a good family. From what I understand, he wasn’t even nice about it either – didn’t even bother with the ?®let’s be friends’ stuff.”

Lissa pushed herself into Christian’s face. “You didn’t even know Andre! He would never have done that.”

“You didn’t know him. I’m sure he was nice to his baby sister; I’m sure he loved you. But in school, with his friends, he was just as much of a jerk as the rest of the royals. I saw him because I see everything. Easy when no one notices you.”

She held back a sob, unsure whether to believe him or not. “So this is why Mia hates me?”

“Yup. She hates you because of him. That, and because you’re royal and she’s insecure around all royals, which is why she worked so hard to claw up the ranks and be their friend. I think it’s a coincidence that she ended up with your ex-boyfriend, but now that you’re back, that probably made it worse. Between stealing him and spreading those stories about her parents, you guys really picked the best ways to make her suffer. Nice work.”

The smallest pang of guilt lurched inside of her. “I still think you’re lying.”

“I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a liar. That’s your department. And Rose’s.”

“We don’t – “

“Exaggerate stories about people’s families? Say that you hate me? Pretend to be friends with people you think are stupid? Date a guy you don’t like?”

“I like him.”

“Like or like?”

“Oh, there’s a difference?”

“Yes. Like is when you date a big, blond moron and laugh at his stupid jokes.”

Then, out of nowhere, he leaned forward and kissed her. It was hot and fast and furious, an outpouring of the rage and passion and longing that Christian always kept locked inside of him. Lissa had never been kissed like that, and I felt her respond to it, respond to him – how he made her feel so much more alive than Aaron or anyone else could.

Christian pulled back from the kiss but still kept his face next to hers.

“That’s what you do with someone you like.”

Lissa’s heart pounded with both anger and desire. “Well, I don’t like or like you. And I think you and Mia are both lying about Andre. Aaron would never make up anything like that.”

“That’s because Aaron doesn’t say anything that requires words of more than one syllable.”

She pulled away. “Get out. Get away from me.”

He looked around comically. “You can’t throw me out. We both signed the lease.”

“Get. Out!” she yelled. “I hate you!”

He bowed. “Anything you want, Your Highness.” With a final dark look, he left the attic.

Lissa sank to her knees, letting out the tears she’d held back from him. I could barely make sense out of all the things hurting her. God only knew things upset me – like the Jesse incident – but they didn’t attack me in the same way. They swirled within her, beating at her brain. The stories about Andre. Mia’s hate. Christian’s kiss. Healing me. This, I realized, was what real depression felt like. What madness felt like.

Overcome, drowning in her own pain, Lissa made the only decision she could. The only thing she could do to channel all of these emotions. She opened up her purse and found the tiny razor blade she always carried…

Sickened, yet unable to break away, I felt as she cut her left arm, making perfectly even marks, watching as the blood flowed across her white skin. As always, she avoided veins, but her cuts were deeper this time. The cutting stung horribly, yet in doing it, she was able to focus on the physical pain, distract herself from the mental anguish so that she could feel like she was in control.

Drops of blood splattered onto the dusty floor, and her world began spinning. Seeing her own blood intrigued her. She had taken blood from others her entire life. Me. The feeders. Now, here it was, leaking out. With a nervous giggle, she decided it was funny. Maybe by letting it out, she was giving it back to those she’d stolen it from. Or maybe she was wasting it, wasting the sacred Dragomir blood that everyone obsessed over.

I’d forced my way into her head, and now I couldn’t get out. Her emotions had ensnared me now – they were too strong and too powerful. But I had to escape – I knew it with every ounce of my being. I had to stop her. She was too weak from the healing to lose this much blood. It was time to tell someone.

Breaking out at last, I found myself back in the clinic. Dimitri’s hands were on me, gently shaking me as he said my name over and over in an effort to get my attention. Dr. Olendzki stood beside him, face dark and concerned.

I stared at Dimitri, truly seeing how much he worried and cared about me. Christian had told me to get help, to go to someone I trusted about Lissa. I’d ignored the advice because I didn’t trust anyone except her. But looking at Dimitri now, feeling that sense of understanding we shared, I knew that I did trust someone else.

I felt my voice crack as I spoke. “I know where she is. Lissa. We have to help her.”

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