As usual, Adrian was outside smoking. He'd briefly given it up in an attempt to get me to at least gain a few pounds. He quickly found I was harder to convince than he was. I nibbled at the outside of a rice cracker, waiting for him to return. I loathed the smell of cigarettes, and he'd acquiesced to at least not smoke around me.

Our relationship was a tenuous one, and I found it very hard to resist. My core beliefs told me to stay away from anything romantic towards anyone who wasn't human, but my heart wouldn't listen. It had already plunged into this without consulting with any other part of me. I knew that if my superiors, or any Alchemist for that matter, found out about our closeness and my visits to his apartment, I would not only be pulled off Jill's entourage, but I would be thrown into the re-education centre with Keith and the key would be thrown away.

Something about this forbidden relationship I wanted to risk so much for made it all seem worth it. I'd seen the differences in Adrian since our friendship began, and I'd noticed a few in myself. He'd actually committed to college art classes and converted a room in, or most of, his apartment into a studio for his paintings.


I looked up, seeing Adrian close the glass patio door. He'd done very well, as always, to hide any evidence of smokes and he watched me as he walked over. I let go of the cross around my neck.

"A little," I admitted.

He smiled a little, letting it fade quickly. "Sage..."

"What?" I put on an unassuming expression.

He sighed and sat across from me. "It's been a few weeks and you've been acting weird."

"I've been reasonable. Excuse me if this isn't exactly a normal situation for me." I fell back on my defences.

"Reasonable being ignoring the entire thing happened?"

I looked away. I didn't want to see the hurt in his eyes. I didn't want to be that person. I didn't want...I realised I was thinking about myself, about how I would be affected if this happened. I looked back at him, steeling myself. "I'm sorry, Adrian. I didn't see this before."

"That's it?"

I sighed. "I..." I had no intention to be in this situation. I knew how Rose had broken up with him after exonerating herself. I didn't want to be her in these circumstances. I could see it going that way if I didn't handle it right. "I don't know what I am, or what I'm supposed to be. I just"-

He cut me off: "You're supposed to be you. Nothing more, nothing less. You're you. Why else do you think I was trying to get closer?"

I was not handling this well. "I'm trying to talk to you without hurting your feelings. If you'd let me talk without interruption!"

I waited for a response, but he simply watched me in silence.

I sighed. "I'm sorry. I don't want to seem like I pity you, because I don't. I believe you are capable of great things, especially if people believe in you. But I don't think you understand. I've grown up, lived and believed in the Alchemists. I understand that their belief system is a little archaic and they can get very extreme. But this is me; this is my life. Vampires and humans aren't meant to be together, and don't mention the Keepers. They don't count."

I paused, thinking ahead for my argument. Adrian took advantage of the opportunity. "Sage, I know all this. You think I haven't been listening to you or learning about you? You're talking about how you've grown up in your belief system, but you haven't thought about what it's taken me to get even this far. I grew up believing that Moroi stay together, except when furthering the dhampir race, and that humans aren't even in the equation of romance. Then…I spent some time with you."

I regretted pausing, because he made so much sense. But he also made no sense whatsoever, all at the same time.

"Adrian…" I was having a hard time coming up with new arguments. That kiss shook my world in a different way than any of the ones with Brayden. It shook my world in a way I could never have imagined. "I…can't…"

Adrian leaned back in his chair, looking as though he was choosing his next words carefully. I frowned, wondering what he was up to. He looked back at me, a slight mischievous grin in his eyes. "The answer I'd like to give probably would make things worse." He sighed. "Sydney, when I'm with you, I want to be better than I am. Not to impress you. I only wanted to impress Rose, to make her want me. I want to better myself because you make me believe I can."

This time I sighed and closed my eyes, leaning forward to lay my head in my hands. "Adrian…" His use of my first name made it even harder to resist.

"Just…let me prove it to you. I'll…I'll give up cigarettes, I'll stop drinking, I'll"-

I interrupted, looking at him: "Adrian, you're trying to impress me. I don't want you to try to impress me. I know why you do those things. I can't help being bothered by them, but I do understand why you do them." I did hate his vices, but they helped suppress spirit's side effects and they oddly made him who he was. "It's not just that you're a vampire. Even though you're Moroi. You can perform magic. What's worse is that you can control people's minds and slip into their dreams"-

"You can perform magic as well."

I sighed again. I'd almost forgotten about that. Ms Terwilliger, my history teacher and apparently volunteered magic teacher, had been having me translate spell books as part of my spare subject. Along the way, she asked me to actually put together a few of the spells. One turned out to be a fire charm and it worked, well, like a charm when Adrian and I were confronted by two Strigoi in this very apartment. More recently, Sonya Karp went missing and I had to use a scrying spell to find her. That was an unpleasant experience. However, during the raid to rescue her, I used several to get away from attackers and they were just as successful as the fire charm. I was a lot closer to magic than I was comfortable with, especially with my friendship, and now strange romance, with the Moroi I was watching.

"I know I have. It doesn't mean I'm suddenly okay with it. It's unnatural and it-it…what are you doing?"

He'd been staring at me, and what I think was my lips.

He rubbed his chin and hesitated. "Thinking about that kiss. I'm sorry, Sage, you were saying something. About magic?"

"I…yeah…" He'd been thinking about kissing me. Me, whose first kiss had happened only a matter of weeks ago. I quickly shook it off, knowing that if I continued along that tangent, I would inevitably be involved in another one. Not that I didn't want to be involved in another one, especially if it was as good as the first with him. "Um…Magic is unnatural and humans aren't supposed to be able to use it. It's not…"

"Not something that's supposed to exist?" I nodded sheepishly. He sighed. "So far, your arguments for this not to happen are: I'm a vampire, you're a human, meaning it's wrong; I can perform magic and willingly do it all the time, meaning I'm unnatural…" I opened my mouth to protest, but he kept going without leaving me an opportunity. "…; according to the Alchemists' belief system, which you yourself have admitted is archaic, this is wrong; and, there was one more…what was it? Oh yeah: it's wrong."

I sighed. "I know."

"Not once have you mentioned whether you don't want to do this or not because of how you feel. For once, forget the Alchemists." He suddenly leaned across the coffee table in between us to take my hand, surprising me. "Forget those beliefs you grew up with. Forget your dad and your family. Forget your duties and your studies. Forget everyone everywhere. What do you feel?"

I pulled away and looked away. I'd never thought about that, well, not actively anyway. How did I feel? Was this something I wanted, if I could forget about everything and everyone else? I looked back at Adrian, seeing those beautiful green eyes. I wasn't quite sure how to decide my feelings. I could try a compare-contrast between Adrian and Brayden-


I blinked. "Huh?"

"You haven't said anything."

I gulped, as my mouth had suddenly become dry. "I…I honestly don't know, Adrian. I've never had to think just about myself before."

He nodded. "Then tell me something: how did you feel when I kissed you?"

Again, I gulped. I knew my exact answer to his question: my world was shaken, and definitely not in a bad way. But when I opened my mouth to answer, something quite different came out: "I can't do this, Adrian. It doesn't matter how I feel, or how you feel. I'm an Alchemist. You're a Moroi. I would be taken away to a re-education center and you would…you would…probably suffer…some consequences…of some kind…" To be honest, I didn't know the consequences in the Moroi world of hooking up with a human.

He chuckled a little, but the smile never reached anywhere near his eyes. "Well, I don't want you to be living in constant fear of going to whatever that is." He stood. "Drink?" He grabbed his own that had since been emptied and waited for my answer.

As I always did, I shook my head.

He nodded solemnly and went to the kitchen. I shifted uncomfortably. What I'd said was what I should have said. But then why did I have this wrenching feeling in my gut? I instantly hated myself.