"Yeah? This is Hathaway."
Sydney blinked. "Rose?" There was a pause for a moment.
"Sydney?" Rose asked.
"It's me," Sydney said. There was another pause.
"You know this is my work number, right? How did you even get it?"
"Alchemist records," Sydney answered. "It was the only number I could find."
"Um," Rose said slowly. "Adrian, Eddie, and Jill all have my personal number."
"I...I want to talk about something private," Sydney said nervously. "I didn't want to...bother any of them."
"Bother? You're not—oh, never mind." Rose sighed. "What do you want to talk about?"
Sydney's fingers nervously played with the hem of her shirt as she spoke.
"Mmm...Dimitri. I...I need to talk to you about Dimitri," she said, staring into her lap.
"Dimitri?" Rose asked, clearly startled and thoroughly confused. "What about him? Are you alright, Sydney? You sound strange."
"I'm fine," Sydney said quickly. "No, it's not that. I'm fine. I just...well, really it's not just about Dimitri. It's...it's about you and Dimitri. I mean, I could have asked him, but I just...I don't know. I don't feel like I can talk to him the way I can talk to you. You're just...I can talk to you."
"Whoa, Sydney. Hang on, hang on. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," she said again. "I'm sorry, I'm kind of all over the place. I'm usually much more articulate than this. I just...I have a problem."
"What kind of problem?" Rose asked. "What's wrong?"
Sydney pinched the hem of her shirt and twisted, then untwisted, then tugged on it. It was a nervous habit, one she hadn't ever even noticed herself doing.
"Sydney?" Rose asked, sounding slightly alarmed.
"I'm here," Sydney said quickly. "I...okay. Here I go."
"Okay..." Rose said cautiously. "Go, then."
Sydney took a breath. "Okay. Well, you had feelings for Dimitri while you were still in school, right? And he was your teacher?"
"Yes," Rose said, obviously very unsure of where this was going.
"Right, of course," Sydney said hurriedly. "Yeah. And that was...not a good thing, right? Not allowed?"
"Um...yeah. They generally frown on the whole student/teacher relationship thing," Rose said slowly. "Oh my god!" she said suddenly. "You're falling for a teacher at Amberwood?"
"What?" Sydney asked, startled. "Of course not. Just let me finish."
"Okay, okay. Go on."
"So you...wanted to, you know, be with him. Even though you knew you shouldn't, because he was your teacher," Sydney said with a question in her voice, like she was checking to make sure her facts were straight. Facts were important, and she liked to have them right.
"Yeah," Rose said. "It, um, wasn't just the age thing, though. I mean, yeah, he was my teacher, but we were both going to be guarding Lissa someday." She paused for a moment, and Sydney waited, unconsciously holding her breath; there was more to the story than she'd known. "If we had a relationship, we both would've tried to protect each other instead of her."
Sydney exhaled. It wasn't quite the same, but it was more similar to her situation than she'd originally thought.
She continued, though. She needed the facts.
"He returned the feelings, right?" she confirmed. "I mean, I know he does now, obviously," she clarified, "but then, too?"
"Yeah," Rose said. She seemed to have decided to just go along with Sydney's odd line of questioning and see where they ended up—not her usual style, but Sydney had long ago accepted Rose as a completely foreign creature, not just in species, but in personality and demeanor, too—and she thought Rose had probably done the same of her, as well.
"So he was in love with you. And you were..." Sydney gulped in a huge breath. "You...you thought that, um, there was a...a possibility that maybe you might return some of those feelings—"
"What? No," Rose said. "There was no 'possibility.'" She laughed. "I was completely crazy about him, and we both knew it."
Sydney closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them again.
"Right," she said, exhaling. "So he's told you he loves you, and you're...completely crazy about him, or...you know, whatever. But you can't be together. You can't. It's wrong. It's...it's the most wrong thing you can imagine. It's just disgusting and—"
"Disgusting?" Rose interrupted. "You better watch yourself, Sage." She was pretty sure Rose was kidding, but not completely. One could never be sure with Rose.
"Well," Sydney tried hurriedly to fix her mistake. "You know, he could lose his job, and Lissa could lose one of you as her guardians, and...you know. You can't be together."
"Right," Rose agreed.
"So...how do you make yourself stop thinking about him?" Sydney asked. She'd finally reached her point, her reason for calling.
Rose waited a long moment, listening to Sydney's breathing.
"We're not talking about me and Dimitri, are we?" she finally said. Sydney tugged anxiously on the hem of her shirt. "Should I even bother asking who this completely forbidden guy is?" Rose asked.
"No," Sydney said quickly. "You don't know him." A complete lie, of course, but the last thing she needed was Rose telling Adrian everything she'd just said.
"I thought so," Rose said dryly.
"My question?" Sydney prodded.
"Right," Rose said. "Well...I didn't."
"You...didn't? Stop thinking about him, you mean?" Sydney asked nervously.
"No, I didn't," Rose answered. "I mean, God knows I tried. I tried to date other guys, I tried to just focus on Lissa and my education and let Dimitri go do whatever it was he was going to do with his life, but...no, I never stopped thinking about him. Even for a moment."
"Oh," Sydney said quietly.
"So, tell me about this guy," Rose said. "Why's he so forbidden?"
"The Alchemists wouldn't approve," Sydney said calmly. And really, it wasn't a lie, just not the whole truth. "The Alchemists would have my head if they knew."
"Why?" Rose pressed.
"I'm on assignment," Sydney lied smoothly. "I can't be distracted and risk the mission."
"Right," Rose said. Sydney knew she understood about duty and assignment; even if she couldn't explain about how her feelings went against everything she'd ever believed in, Rose would understand just how forbidden he was. "I say go for it."
"What?" Sydney actually pulled the phone away from her ear for a moment and stared at it.
"Never mind," Rose said. "Tell me about the guy."
"Well, I already said that—"
"No, I know you said why you can't be together," Rose interrupted. "But tell me about him."
Sydney floundered. 'Um...he, well, um...he told me he loves me. I've apparently been, um, completely oblivious to his feelings."
"I'll bet you have," Rose said knowingly.
"Hey," Sydney said indignantly. "What's that supposed to mean?" Rose laughed.
"It means I remember how oblivious you were to that Alchemist guy's crush on you. You were completely shocked when I told you, and it was completely obvious!"
"I—that is so—that's completely irrelevant," Sydney said, irritated and a bit embarrassed.
"Whatever you say," Rose said, still chuckling. "Go on."
"Well, he told me he loved me, and then...he kissed me," Sydney said seriously. She stopped, waiting for Rose to jump in with an opinion, but she didn't. Rose waited, and so Sydney continued. "And...now he thinks I love him back."
"Why does he think that?" Rose asked.
"Because...well, because I kissed him back." Rose sighed.
"So do you love him back?" she asked.
"I can't," Sydney said adamantly. There was a pause. "I mean, I don't. I don't love him back."
"But you can't stop thinking about him?"
"I've been avoiding him," she said.
"But you can't stop thinking about him," Rose said again.
"There are so many reasons we can't be together," Sydney said.
"But you can't stop thinking about him," Rose pressed.
"I shouldn't have feelings for him."
"But you still can't stop thinking about him."
"No!" Sydney cried. "I can't! I can't stop thinking about him! That's why I called you!"
"Sydney," Rose said after a moment, completely serious.
"You love him back," she said. Sydney squeezed her eyes shut, but didn't deny it.
"How do I stop?" she asked breathlessly. Rose didn't answer. "Rose?"
"I think you know, Sydney," she said quietly.
"No, I don't! I have absolutely zero experience with this," Sydney cried. "Tell me what to do."
"You're not going to like what I have to say."
"Just tell me," Sydney whispered. "How do I stop?"
"You don't, Sydney," Rose said, sighing. "You're never going to stop loving him."
Sydney touched the golden lily on her cheek softly.
"No," Sydney agreed, whispering. "I guess I don't stop, do I?"
"So you wait until you finish your assignment," Rose said, a smile in her voice. "Then you go back and get your happy ending with this guy, with the Alchemists' blessing."
Sydney wiped a tear off of her tattoo with shaking fingers.
"Yeah," she said. But there was no happy ending in her future. She wondered what Rose would say if she told her the whole truth.
Go for it. That's what she would say, what she had done with Dimitri. Stop thinking and just go for it.
If only it were that simple.
AN: Not exactly the ending I was hoping for when I started writing this, but what happens happens. Anyway, this was written as a sort of companion to my first Bloodlines oneshot, "The Impossible Girl Phenomenon," so if you enjoyed this story, you might also like that one. Thanks so much for reading, and I always appreciate feedback :)