Home > Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3)(11)

Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3)(11)
Author: Richelle Mead

This time, I did stand up, pointing my finger at her accusingly. "Not true. I have followed every rule Kirova laid down for me since coming back here. I've gone to every practice and obeyed every curfew." Well, I'd fudged some of the curfews but not willfully. It had always been for the greater good. "There's no reason I'd do this as some kind of revenge! What good would it do? Sta -  Guardian Alto wasn't going to really hurt Christian, so it's not like I'd get to see him punched or anything. The only thing I would accomplish is getting dragged into the middle of something like this and possibly facing removal from the field experience."

"You are facing removal from the field experience," replied Celeste flatly.

"Oh." I sat down, suddenly not feeling as bold. Silence hung in the room for several moments, and then I heard Dimitri's voice speak from behind me.

"She has a point," he said. My heart thumped loudly in my chest. Dimitri knew I wouldn't take revenge like that. He didn't think I was petty. "If she were going to protest or take revenge, she'd do it in a different way." Well, not too petty, at least.

Celeste frowned. "Yes, but after the scene she made this morning..."

Dimitri took a few steps forward and stood beside my chair. Having his solid presence nearby comforted me. I had a flash of déjà vu, back to when Lissa and I had returned to the Academy last autumn. Headmistress Kirova had nearly expelled me, and Dimitri had stood up for me then too.

"This is all circumstantial," he said. "Regardless of how suspicious you think it looks, there's no proof. Removing her from the experience - and essentially ruining her graduation - is a bit extreme without any certainties."

The committee looked thoughtful, and I focused my attention on Alberta. She had the most power here. I'd always liked her, and in our time together, she'd been strict but always scrupulously fair. I hoped that would still hold true. She beckoned Celeste and Emil toward her, and the other two guardians leaned closer. They had a whispered conference. Alberta gave a resigned nod, and the others leaned back.

"Miss Hathaway, do you have anything you'd like to say before we tell you our conclusions?"

That I'd like to say? Hell, yeah. There were tons of things. I wanted to say that I wasn't incompetent. I wanted to tell them that I was one of the best novices here. I wanted to tell them that I had seen Stan coming and had been on the verge of reacting. I especially wanted to tell them that I didn't want to have this mark on my record. Even if I stayed in the field experience, I'd essentially have an F for this first test. It would affect my overall grade, which could subsequently affect my future.

But again, what choice did I have? Tell them that I'd seen a ghost? The ghost of a guy who'd had a major crush on me and who had quite likely died because of that crush? I still didn't know what was going on with these sightings. One time I could write off to exhaustion...but I'd seen him - or it - twice now. Was he real? My higher reasoning said no, but honestly, it didn't matter at the moment. If he was real and I told them, they'd think I was crazy. If he wasn't real and I told them, they'd think I was crazy - and they'd be right. I couldn't win here.

"No, Guardian Petrov," I said, hoping I sounded meek. "Nothing more to add."

"All right," she said wearily. "Here's what we've decided. You're lucky you have Guardian Belikov to advocate for you, or this decision might have been different. We're giving you the benefit of the doubt. You'll go on with the field experience and continue to guard Mr. Ozera. You'll just be on a probation of sorts."

"That's okay," I said. I'd been on probation for most of my academic life. "Thank you."

"And," she added. Uh-oh. "Because the suspicion isn't entirely removed, you'll be spending your day off this week doing community service."

I jumped out of my chair again. "What?"

Dimitri's hand wrapped around my wrist, his fingers warm and controlling. "Sit down," he murmured in my ear, tugging me toward the chair. "Take what you can get."

"If that's a problem, we can make it next week too," warned Celeste. "And the next five after that."

I sat down and shook my head. "I'm sorry. Thank you."

The hearing dispersed, and I was left feeling weary and beaten. Had only one day gone by? Surely the happy excitement I'd felt before the field experience had been weeks ago and not this morning. Alberta told me to go find Christian, but Dimitri asked if he could have some time alone with me. She agreed, no doubt hoping he'd set me on the straight and narrow.

The room emptied, and I thought he'd sit and talk to me then and there, but instead he walked over to a small table that held a water dispenser, coffee, and other beverages.

"You want some hot chocolate?" he asked.

I hadn't expected that. "Sure."

He dumped four packets of instant hot chocolate into two Styrofoam cups and then added in hot water.

"Doubling it is the secret," he said when the cups were full.

He handed me mine, along with a wooden stirrer, and then walked toward a side door. Presuming I was supposed to follow him, I scurried to catch up without spilling my hot chocolate.

"Where are we - oh."

I stepped through the doorway and found myself in a little glass-enclosed porch filled with small patio tables. I'd had no idea this porch was adjacent to the meeting room, but then, this was the building the guardians conducted all campus business out of. Novices were rarely allowed. I also hadn't realized the building was built around a small courtyard, which was what this porch looked out to. In the summer, I imagined one could open the windows and be surrounded in greenery and warm air. Now, encased in glass and frost, I felt like I was in some kind of an ice palace.

Dimitri swept his hand over a chair, brushing off dust. I did the same and sat down opposite him. Apparently this room didn't see a lot of use in the winter. Because it was enclosed, the room was warmer than outdoors, but it wasn't heated otherwise. The air felt chilly, and I warmed my hands on my cup. Silence fell between Dimitri and me. The only noise came from me blowing on my hot chocolate. He drank his right away. He'd been killing Strigoi for years. What was a little scalding water here and there?

As we sat, and the quiet grew, I studied him over the edge of my cup. He wasn't looking at me, but I knew he knew I was watching. Like every other time I looked at him, I was always struck by his looks first. The soft dark hair that he often tucked behind his ears without realizing it, hair that never quite wanted to stay in its tie at the back of his neck. His eyes were brown too, somehow gentle and fierce at the same time. His lips had that same contradictory quality, I realized. When he was fighting or dealing with something grim, those lips would flatten and turn hard. But in lighter times ... when he laughed or kissed...well, then they'd become soft and wonderful.

Today, more than his exterior hit me. I felt warm and safe just being with him. He brought comfort after my terrible day. So often with other people, I felt a need to be the center of attention, to be funny and always have something clever to say. It was a habit I needed to shake to be a guardian, seeing as that job required so much silence. But with Dimitri, I never felt like I had to be anything more than what I already was. I didn't have to entertain him or think up jokes or even flirt. It was enough to just be together, to be so completely comfortable in each other's presence - smoldering sexual tension aside - that we lost all sense of self-consciousness. I exhaled and drank my cocoa.

"What happened out there?" he asked at last, meeting my gaze. "You didn't crack under the pressure."

His voice was curious, not accusatory. He wasn't treating me as a student right now, I realized. He was regarding me as an equal. He simply wanted to know what was going on with me. There was no discipline or lecturing here.

And that just made it all the worse when I had to lie to him.

"Of course it was," I told him, looking down into my cup. "Unless you believe I really did let Stan 'attack' Christian."

"No," he said. "I don't believe that. I never did. I knew you'd be unhappy when you found out about the assignments, but I never once doubted that you'd do what you'd have to for this. I knew you wouldn't let your personal feelings get in the way of your duty."

     Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1)
     Frostbite (Vampire Academy #2)
     Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3)
     Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4)
     Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5)
     Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)
     The Meeting (Vampire Academy 0.9)      Homecoming (Vampire Academy #6.5)