Now if I had had my memory, I'm sure I would have jumped into action like an efficient, badass guardian. However, with six years of training and learning not to hesitate missing, I hesitated big time. Like long enough for the Strigoi to give a short evil monologue in Russian and throw me against the nearest wall type of hesitation.
Luckily, I wasn't the damsel in distress type. It was the first time I had seen a Strigoi for amnesia-Rose. I had no memory of them, other than the creepy dream that I had a feeling was more of a memory. All I remembered from my classes were the three ways to kill them: stake, fire, or decapitation.
I whipped out my stake, slashing it wildly at the Strigoi. My movement felt clumsy at first, but as we circled each other, I felt my adrenaline take over. This was life or death, and I had no intention of dying.
It felt like a puppet was moving my arms. Each time the Strigoi lunged, I dodged him effortlessly, not in control of my own movements. The adrenaline had triggered my reflexes and I was dodging lethal attacks based on instinct and gut reactions. My body didn't feel like my own.
The only problem was, every offensive strategy was situational. It wasn't a reflex that could be called upon in moments of fight-or-flight, and so I had no exit strategy. All I could do was dodge and sometimes counter if the reflex to was there. There was also the issue that I had no idea how to stake a Strigoi. It was something only the most senior novices were taught. I felt like a scared little novice in the body of a seasoned Guardian.
I forced myself to swallow my fear and focus. All I had to do was find an opening to the heart right? One straight shot and it would be over. The tricky thing was, the Strigoi was careful in the way that he attacked. I would have to force him to give an opening. I would have to go on the offensive.
He lunged at me, trying to shove me against the nearest wall, but I dodged him and used his momentum against him, throwing him into the nearest wall. He landed head first with a sickening crack, but it did nothing more than make him angrier than he already was. He recovered in what felt like seconds, but my body had somehow carried me to where he had landed in less than that, kicking him in the rib cage before landed on top of him, pinning him.
He struggled against my grip, screaming something awful in Russian. I had no idea how I understood it, but I was too preoccupied in keeping him pinned to ponder it. I readied my stake, and slashed his throat with it. He let out a bloodcurdling scream, which I used as a distraction to stake the heart. I used all of my force in the staking, and I was shocked when I heard a soft scraping noise. I had staked the Strigoi straight through his chest, something I had never fathomed was possible.
He twitched for a few more moments and then went very still. I shivered. I had just killed what felt like my first Strigoi. I had no idea what I was to do with the body, or how I even felt about taking an undead life.
It made me feel sick all over. I dragged the body behind some trashcans where the sun would soon hit, as it was beginning to rise, and headed back to the hotel.
What greeted me in my hotel room was not what I had expected.
No one even noticed me enter. They were all shouting at each other. Adrian Ivashkov was randomly sleeping in the corner. Janine, Mikhail, Denis and Abe were arguing with each other. It seemed that Janine and Mikhail were in agreement, trying to convince Abe and Denis of something. Christian, Artur and Lev were arguing with Eddie and Lissa. Abe's Guardians were nowhere to be found. And then there was Dimitri, desperately staring at Adrian like he was his only hope in this world, ignoring the rest of the crowd.
Well that's a little weird.
I started to slowly back out of the room. I had been gone for maybe four hours, what's a few more?
That's when Dimitri spotted me. He shot up from his seat, crossed the room within seconds and pulled me into a bone-crushing hug. I was literally being lifted off of the ground. Everyone stopped and stared. Silence ensued.
I was acutely aware of three things in that moment. The first was the subtle scent of coffee and aftershave that came from Dimitri. The second was that everyone was staring at Dimitri hugging me, like it was some huge deal. The third was that I looked like absolute hell.
After a few moments, Dimitri released me and stepped back to take in my appearance. He grimaced. "Strigoi." It wasn't a question, but I nodded.
"How many?" He asked, looking at my ripped clothing and bruised body.
"One." I mumbled, embarrassed for some reason that one Strigoi had made me look so disheveled. I felt my cheeks burn.
"He must have been one hell of a fighter." Christian stated dryly. I felt the corner of my mouth tug up, grateful for the compliment amidst the embarrassment.
"Come. I have a first aid kit in the bathroom." Dimitri walked ahead, leaving the tense room in search of bandages. I followed him, but Denis said something that made me pause.
"You must get the mark. Soon." He said it quietly, but the importance of his words weighed heavily on me. All of the marks on my neck and down my back had meant nothing until now. They had felt like trophies when I saw them in the mirror Dimitri gave me, now they felt like headstones.
Dimitri sat me on the counter, and used a damp towel to wipe the blood off of my arm and face. He even cleaned off the stake that I had just realized was still in my hand. I had probably scared the shit out of some Russians.
His touch was tender, but his eyes gave nothing away. He was intent on his work and said nothing. At first the silence was comforting after all of the noise and chaos I had walked in on, but now, there was a strangely silent sex god wiping blood and grime off of my face and I wasn't sure how to feel about it.
"Don't you want to know what happened?" As soon as I said it I felt childish. He had asked me how many Strigoi, assuming that I was good enough that one couldn't have done this much damage. Now I was asking if he wanted to know the details of my one measly kill.
"That's up to you." There was something strained about his voice, like he was unsure of his words. He didn't look in my eyes as he said it, keeping them on the bandage he was wrapping around a cut on my arm. It occurred to me how useless this was when we had two Spirit users who could easily heal me, but I wasn't about to point that out and make him stop. I liked how close he was, and how graceful and tender his hands were.
"I went for a run." He gave a little half smile, like he found it amusing. I guessed as my mentor I probably complained a lot about running. "I turned a corner and ran into a Strigoi man. I didn't know what to do. He threw me against a wall. Then after fighting for a little while, I pinned and stake him." I paused, unsure whether to say my next words, "But it didn't feel like me."
Dimitri paused in his bandaging of my arm, as if thinking hard about what I had said. "What do you mean it didn't feel like you?" His words were careful.
"I've never seen a Strigoi. Well I have, but I don't remember it. I don't remember doing much hand-to-hand combat training, or even that much running. Yet I managed to sprint for miles like it was nothing and then kill a Strigoi. It felt like I wasn't in control of my body, like I was a puppet or something. My hands just did… that." It wasn't my most eloquent explanation, but I had never been good with words. I avoided his eyes, unable to believe that I had just poured my heart out to what felt like a complete stranger, except that he didn't feel like a stranger. I suddenly wanted to be close to him, to hold his hand, to be held.
He was quiet for a while, but he didn't continue to bandage my arm. He seemed lost in thought. I watched as a myriad of emotions crossed his face: sadness, pain, humor, regret. I would have paid money to know what he was thinking.
"Do you feel guilty?" He voice sounded unsure.
I paused to think about it. "No… I guess I don't. Which is weird that I have to think about it. I know I did the right thing. Killing Strigoi is what I was born to do. It's an honorable thing to do. I guess it just didn't feel as glorious as I always imagined it would. The fact that I have as many molnija marks as I do just makes everything about it seem ridiculous. I mean you asked me how many Strigoi there were like it was unusual for just one to beat me up this badly…" I trailed off, feeling completely exposed. Why did you tell him that? Why can't you keep anything to yourself?!
Her emotions reminded me so much of Spokane. The guilt she felt, the uncertainty. She seemed so young, so innocent. It was like someone had put us in a time machine and sent us back to the Academy. Back to when things were simpler.
When I had handed her that mirror, I wasn't sure that she had kept up her molnija marks while in Siberia. I certainly didn't expect the marks to trail all the way down her back. She had probably amassed more kills than any Guardian in history, but the Guardians would shun her vigilante behavior and never recognize those not made in direct service to the Moroi.
Now, you never would have guessed the death that she could deal. Now, she was a scared 16-year-old girl trapped inside the body of what had become a strong, powerful woman. Yet it was the Rose I had first fallen in love with. Her raw energy radiated off of her. The intensity at which she felt things was alluring. The way she unconsciously played with a strand of that beautiful hair when she was nervous or upset.
I had paused in my bandaging to consider all of these things, and realized she was waiting expectantly for a response. "Do you feel guilty?" I wasn't sure what her response would be, which sort of scared me. I always knew Rose's mind, but with all that had happened, I felt unsure whether we were still in sync. I wasn't sure how the amnesia would affect our connection. I wasn't sure if she could ever love me again the way that she did before I had ruined everything.
"No… I guess I don't. Which is weird that I have to think about it. I know I did the right thing. Killing Strigoi is what I was born to do. It's an honorable thing to do. I guess it just didn't feel as glorious as I always imagined it would. The fact that I have as many molnija marks as I do just makes everything about it seem ridiculous. I mean you asked me how many Strigoi there were like it was unusual for just one to beat me up this badly…" She looked away uncertainly, as if ashamed of her words.
Of course. Of course Rose was embarrassed to have only killed one Strigoi despite not remembering most of her Guardian training. Only she could find fault in that.
"You're too hard on yourself, Roza. We all know the years you lost included much of your training. I'm just thankful that you made it out alive. I don't know what I would have done if…" I shook my head, trying to banish the thought before I could even consider it. Suddenly, this moment felt more precious than any other. I hadn't lost her.
She frowned, as if she hadn't considered her own death. Of course not. It was Rose. "You called me Roza." Her eyes flicked up to meet mine, holding a steady gaze. I could see the confusion mixed with strong desire. It was all I needed.
I reached out and cupped her cheek, dropping the bandage out of my other hand. "You will always be my Roza."
I leaned in, our lips just a centimeter apart. I could feel her tilting her head up to meet my lips halfway. My hand slipped to her lower back and I could feel her body shiver at the contact. I wanted to stay in this moment forever.
It was then that a loud banging broke us apart. Abe stood in the doorway, looking like a very pissed off pirate.
"I was just checking to make sure my daughter was not dying, running away, or in the process of either. Or both, knowing her." I slammed the most professional, neutral face I could manage into place as Abe eyed the both of us. It was useless, however. The sexual tension that he had walked in on was obvious to anyone with eyes. Abe narrowed his eyes at me, arching an eyebrow.
"Am I the only one who can't do that?!" Rose whined. I turned to give her a half smile, but paused. How did Roza know I could arch my eyebrow?I tried to brush it off; many people could arch their eyebrow. It didn't stop me from giving her a curious look though.
Was she starting to remember? I had a feeling it was too good to be true. I wanted it to be true too badly. My mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe later I would bring it up with Lissa.