Disclaimer for entire story: I own nothing but a horrible clove cigarette habit similar to Adrian's as well as his slightly conniving thoughts in parts of this story. The characters, select dialogue and VA belong to Richelle Mead.

"You're surrounded in blackness." His eyes studied her shrewdly, but not in a checking-her-out sort of way. "I've never seen anyone like you. Shadows everywhere. I never would have guessed it. Even while you're standing here, the shadows keep growing."

She looked down at her hands but saw nothing out of the ordinary then glanced back up. "I'm shadow-kissed…."

"What's that mean?"

"I died once." She paused, as if considering her next words. "And I came back."

Wonder lit his face. "Ah, interesting…"

She vanished, instantly. Forced out of the dream he'd created, he fell into one of his own. Not a spirit dream, but rather, simply, a dream woven by his own subconscious. She stood before him, dark hair shining in the flickering flames that surrounded her. The fire sparkled in the depths of her gleaming brown eyes, calling to him—tempting him. Taunting him. He reached out a hand to caress her cheek and she vanished, her throaty laughter lingering in the air, the sound filling him with desire.

He sat up in bed, groaning as the dream dissolved. Running his hands through his hair, he was stunned to find himself shaking. Not because he needed another drink, instead this time he was quivering in anticipation. Ever since meeting her last night, she'd been on his mind. He had to see her again.

Rose Hathaway.

He rolled her name around in his head, reaching for his cigarettes. His mouth was numb feeling, his lungs heavy and abused as he lit his first smoke of the day. The fact his chest hurt didn't worry him. Most Moroi wouldn't experience the congestion he felt after taking a single drag off a cigarette. He knew the only reason he felt the way he did was because of the sheer volume he consumed on a daily basis. It was a must, if he wanted to keep his powers in check. If he didn't succumb to his vices, he would be awash in flickering colors 24/7, his mind slowly eroding away, filled with ideas and emotions he couldn't control.

Eying the bottle on his nightstand, he wondered if he dare go without his morning absolution. It was risky, to say the least. If he wasn't properly lubricated, he might start spouting off about the random thoughts that constantly danced through his sober mind—not that he was sober all that often. Still, it might be worth it, just for today. He had a growing desire to see Rosemarie Hathaway in all her glory, aura and all, as he had when they met in the dream. If he didn't drink, he could watch her aura, gauging her reaction to his charms. That thought immediately settled his internal debate. Better to tempt madness than to try and woo her blindly. He knew almost instinctively that she'd be a hard girl to pin down.

He wondered, briefly, if Vasilisa experienced the same things he did. He'd heard rumors that she might. The fact the Princess was also best friends with the girl he was determined to impress might actually work in his favor. If he befriended her, then he'd be around the lovely Miss Hathaway. Once she got to know him, surely she wouldn't be able to resist him. He wasn't that much older than her, despite her sarcastic statement about not liking older guys. Which had been a lie—he'd seen it in her aura. For all intents and purposes, he was a living, breathing lie detector.

With a groan he stood, hobbling towards the shower. The sooner he made himself presentable, the sooner he could be near her. That was his only goal for the day—to be near his beautiful dream girl. It was time to make it happen.

As soon as he entered the lobby, he zeroed in on a young dhampire and approached him, smiling. With only the slightest bit of compulsion, the boy answered his questions. Rosemarie Hathaway was Saint Vlad's shining star. Under the tutelage of her mentor—a Guardian named Belikov—she had become a force to be reckoned with. He quizzed the youth about the mentor—the name sounded familiar. Ah, yes. The tall Russian who always had a grim expression on his face. He wondered, briefly, if the man's sour expression was due to Rosemarie's sassy attitude. He would be willing to wager that she was just as sarcastic and condescending to her mentor as she was to everyone else.

Releasing his compulsion, he dismissed the boy. It was time to corner his prize, and he knew exactly where to find her. Everyone was abuzz, muttering about the 'meeting' that was being held. He made his way to the designated room, lounging in an alcove, almost hidden from view. His eyes searched the room, seeking her out from the assembled crowd. He was amazed at the way his heart skipped when he spotted her. That was a first.

A red-haired dhampire sat beside her, gazing at her with adoring eyes. He studied their auras, dismissing the boy in an instant. He could read their feelings for each other clearly, it only took a brief glimpse. The young dhampire was crazy about her, but it was nothing more than puppy love. More importantly, she felt nothing for him, except friendship.

He studied the blackness that surrounded her like an angry thundercloud. He could still see the colorful aura that surrounded her, it shone against her darkness and was incredibly similar to the way the Aurora Borealis flickered against the sky at night. It was—


As he watched, focusing on her aura, it… changed. It flickered through a riot of colors, reminding him of an acid trip he'd once had. Once minute it darkened to a blood like red, then shifted to a deep cerulean blue, before fading into a vibrant purple. More amazing was the fact that it was… brightening.

The black cloud of darkness still surrounded her—so heavy that he could almost feel it's weight from across the room—but it was… shrinking back, somehow. It seemed almost diminished by the bright golden glow that was slowly surrounding her. That one color—the gold—stayed constant, while the others faded in and out in a myriad of constant change. Stranger still it was…

He tilted his head, confused. He'd never seen an aura act this way. It was moving. He let his eyes go slightly out of focus, trying to grasp what he saw before him. It was expanding… almost as if it were reaching out to something, merging with…

His eyes refocused instantly, and he noticed a matching golden glow on her opposite side. He'd been so intent on studying her that he had failed to notice the person who had claimed the seat on her other side—the person who Rose's aura was reaching for. He shifted his focus to the interloper…

Holy Fuck.

It was Belikov. He watched their auras, both pulsing to the same beat, the colors flickering in a synchronized dance. What the hell? This wasn't friendship. Respect maybe? No… that didn't feel right either, although both emotions were present. He realized he'd have to get closer to them to get a better reading, and that wasn't happening anytime soon.

He let his eyes wander around the room, searching for similar occurrences. He knew he'd seen a glimpse of it somewhere before, but exactly where escaped him. It was driving him crazy, like an itch on his brain that he couldn't quite scratch.

Yes—a few other auras were merging, although none as strongly as Rose and Belikov's. His eyes narrowed as he studied the people surrounded by the auras, not liking the dawning realization that was occurring. One pair in particular, he recognized. They were distant relatives, both well into their seventies. He vaguely recalled his mother telling him they had caused a scandal when they had eloped together at age sixteen.

No, he didn't like this one little bit. All the merging golden auras belonged to… couples. Extremely committed, devoted couples, at that. His eyes flicked back to Rose, his jaw tensing. Now their auras were twining, flowing through each other, glowing even brighter than his own. As if their auras weren't enough of a giveaway, their physical reactions screamed the truth as well. How did no one notice this? Guardian 'Straight laced' Belikov was staring at the front of the room—so was Rose, for that matter—but their bodies were leaning towards each other, as if one was a magnet and the other one an iron plate. From time to time he would glance down at her, his stoic expression softening for the briefest instant. Each time he did it, his aura would flash vibrant red, then pink and blue, signifying lust, love and sorrow. The same happened when she glanced at him.

So much for her not liking older guys—he'd known it was a lie as soon as she uttered the words. He hoped Belikov was ready for some competition, because now he wanted her more than ever. Sighing, he fought back the urge to light up another cigarette. He'd get to the bottom of this, but first he had to get through this stupid damned meeting.