Shadow Kiss Chapter 12

TWELVE

IF YOU’D ASKED ME six months ago, I would have said there was no way I’d be happy to run into Mia Rinaldi at the Royal Court.She was a year younger than me and had held a grudge against Lissa since freshman year – a grudge so big that Mia had gone to great extremes to make life miserable for us.She’d done a good job.

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Jesse and Ralf’s rumors about me had been a result of her efforts.

But then Mia had gone with us to Spokane and been captured by the Strigoi. And, just like for Christian and Eddie, that had changed everything. She’d seen the same horrors the rest of us had. In fact, she was the only one of my friends who had witnessed Mason’s death and me killing Strigoi. She had even saved my life then by using her water magic to temporarily drown one of the Strigoi. In the great Moroi argument about whether or not they should learn to fight with the guardians, she was firmly on the fighting side.

I hadn’t seen Mia in almost a month, ever since Mason’s funeral. In studying her, I felt like it’d been a year. I had always thought Mia looked like a doll. She was short compared to most Moroi and had young, round-cheeked features. The fact that she’d always curled her hair in perfect ringlets had sort of reinforced that image. But today, she hadn’t gone to nearly that much trouble. Her golden blond hair was pulled into a ponytail, its only curl coming from a slight, natural waviness. She wore no makeup, and her face showed signs of having been outdoors a lot. Her skin looked chapped from the wind, and she had a very, very faint tan – almost unheard of for Moroi, with their aversion to sunlight. For the first time ever, she actually looked her age.

She laughed at my shock. “Come on, it hasn’t been that long. You look like you don’t even recognize me.”

“I almost don’t.” We hugged, and again, it was hard to believe that she’d once plotted ways to ruin my life. Or that I’d broken her nose. “What are you doing here?”

She beckoned us out the door. “We were just about to leave. I’ll explain everything.”

We went to a neighboring building. It wasn’t like a mall or anything, but it did have a few businesses that the Moroi who worked and visited here needed – a handful of restaurants, some small stores, and offices that offered all sorts of services. There was also a coffee shop, and that was where Mia led us.

A coffee shop seems like an ordinary thing, but I rarely got to go to them. Sitting in a public place (or semi-public) with friends, not worrying about school… it was great. It reminded me of when Lissa and I had been on our own, when our entire lives hadn’t been contained within a school and its rules.

“My dad works here now,” she told us. “And so now I live here.”

Moroi children rarely lived with their parents. They were sent off to places like St. Vladimir’s, where they could grow up safely. “What about school?” I asked.

“There aren’t many kids here, but there are some. Most of them are rich and have personal tutors. My dad pulled some strings and set it up so that I can go to them for different subjects. So I’m still studying the same things, just in a different way. It’s actually pretty cool. Less teacher time – but more homework.”

“You’ve been doing more than that,” said Eddie. “Unless your classes are outside.” He’d noticed the same things I had, and in looking at her hands as they held her latte, I could now see calluses.

She wiggled her fingers. “I made friends with some of the guardians here. They’ve been showing me a few things.”

“That’s risky,” said Christian, though he sounded like he approved. “Since there’s still a debate about Moroi fighting.”

“You mean about Moroi fighting with magic,” she corrected. “That’s what’s controversial. No one’s really talking about Moroi fighting hand-to-hand.”

“Well, they are,” I said. “It’s just been overshadowed by the magic controversy.”

“It’s not illegal,” she said primly. “And until it is, I’m going to keep doing it. You think with all the events and meetings that go on around here that anyone even notices what someone like me does?” Mia’s family, in addition to being non-royal, was also pretty lower class – not that there was anything wrong with that, but she had to feel the effects of that around here.

Still, I found her whole situation cheering. Mia seemed happier and more open than she had during the entire time I’d known her. She seemed … free. Christian spoke my thoughts before I could.

“You’ve changed,” he said.

“We’ve all changed,” she corrected. “Especially you, Rose. I can’t quite explain it.”

“I don’t think there’s any way the five of us couldn’t have changed,” Christian pointed out. A moment later he corrected himself. “Four of us.”

We all fell silent, thoughts of Mason weighing us down. Being with Christian, Eddie, and Mia stirred up that grief I always tried to hide, and I could see from their faces that they continually fought the same battle.

Conversation eventually turned toward all of us catching up on what had happened here and at the Academy. Yet I kept thinking about how Mia had said that I had changed more than the others. All I could think about was how out of control I’d felt lately, how half the time my actions and feelings didn’t seem like my own. Sitting there, it almost seemed like Mia was controlled by all of her positive traits now – and I was controlled by my negative ones. Conversations with Adrian replayed through my head, reminding me about how I supposedly had such a dark, dark aura.

Maybe thinking about him summoned him, but he and Lissa eventually joined us. Their bar was probably in the same building, I realized. I’d been blocking her out and not paying much attention.

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Adrian hadn’t completely gotten her drunk, thankfully, but she’d agreed to two drinks. I could feel a slight buzz through the bond and had to carefully shield it out.

She was as surprised as we’d been to see Mia but gave her a warm welcome and wanted to catch up. I’d heard most of this already, so I just listened and drank my chai. No coffee for me. Most guardians drank it the way Moroi drank blood, but I wouldn’t touch the stuff.

“How’d your thing with the queen go?” Christian asked Lissa at one point.

“Not so bad,” she said. “I mean, not great either. But she didn’t yell at me or humiliate me, so that’s a start.”

“Stop being modest,” said Adrian, putting his arm around her. “Princess Dragomir totally stood her ground. You should have seen it.” Lissa laughed.

“I don’t suppose she mentioned why she decided to let us come to the trial?” Christian asked stiffly. He didn’t look very happy about the bonding that was taking place here – or about Adrian’s arm.

Lissa’s laughter faded, but she was still smiling. “Adrian did it.”

“What?” Christian and I asked together.

Adrian, looking very pleased with himself, stayed quiet for a change and let Lissa do the talking. “He convinced her that we needed to be here. He apparently harassed her until she gave in.”

“It’s called ‘persuasion,’ not ‘harassment,’” Adrian said. Lissa laughed again.

My own words about the queen came back to haunt me. Who’s she? Just another Ivashkov. There are a ton of them. There were indeed. I eyed Adrian.

“How closely are you guys related?” The answer popped into my head from Lissa’s. “She’s your aunt.”

“Great-aunt. And I’m her favorite great nephew. Well, I’m her only great nephew, but that’s not important. I’d still be her favorite,” he said.

“Unbelievable,” said Christian.

“I’ll second that,” I said.

“None of you appreciate me. Why is it so hard to believe that I could make a real contribution in these dark times?” Adrian stood up. He was trying to sound outraged, but the smirk on his face indicated that he still found all of this pretty funny. “My cigarettes and I are going outside. At least they show me respect.”

As soon as he left, Christian asked Lissa, “Were you getting drunk with him?”

“I’m not drunk. I only had two drinks,” she said. “Since when did you get all conservative?”

“Since Adrian became a bad influence.”

“Come on! He helped us get here. No one else was able to do it. He didn’t have to, but he did. And you and Rose are sitting there, still acting like he’s the most evil person on the planet.” That wasn’t exactly true. I was mostly sitting there like I had been hit in the head, still too dumbstruck to react.

“Yeah, and I’m sure he did it out of the kindness of his heart,” muttered Christian.

“Why else would he do it?”

“Oh, gee, I wonder.”

Lissa’s eyes widened. “You think he did it for me? You think there’s something going on with us?”

“You guys drink together, practice magic together, and go to elitist events together. What would you think?”

Mia and Eddie looked like they wanted to be somewhere else. I was starting to share the feeling.

Anger burned through Lissa, hitting me like a wave of heat. She was utterly outraged. Her fury didn’t even have that much to do with Adrian, really. She was more upset at the thought of Christian not trusting her. And as for him, I needed no psychic powers to understand how he was feeling. He wasn’t jealous simply because she was hanging out with Adrian. Christian was still jealous that Adrian had the kind of influence to pull this off for her. It was just like what Jesse and Ralf had described, about how the right connections could open the right doors – connections that Christian didn’t have.

I kneed Christian’s leg, hoping he’d get the hint that he really should stop talking before things got worse. Lissa’s anger was intensifying, muddled with embarrassment as she began to doubt herself and wonder if she had been getting too close to Adrian. The whole thing was ridiculous.

“Christian, for the love of God. If Adrian did this for anyone, it was because of me and his crazy obsession. He bragged awhile ago that he could do it, and I didn’t believe it.” I turned to Lissa. I needed to get her calm and diffuse those dark feelings that could cause so much trouble for her when they ran out of control. “Liss, you might not be wasted exactly, but you need to chill out for an hour before having this conversation. You’re going to say something as stupid as Christian, and I’ll be the one who has to deal with the mess – like always.”

I’d gotten worked up and expected someone to tell me how bitchy I sounded. Instead, Lissa relaxed and offered Christian a smile. “Yeah, we should definitely talk about this later. A lot’s kind of happened today.”

He hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. Sorry I jumped all over you.” He returned her smile, fight patched up.

“So,” Lissa asked Mia, “who have you met here?”

I stared at them in amazement, but no one seemed to notice. I’d fixed their fight, and there’d been no acknowledgment. No Thank you, Rose, for pointing out how idiotic we’re being. It was bad enough I had to endure their romance day after day, with no consideration for how I felt. Now I was salvaging their relationship, and they didn’t even realize it.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, interrupting Mia’s description of some of the other teenagers here. I was afraid if I sat there, I was going to say something I’d regret or maybe break a chair. Where had this rage come from?

I went outside, hoping a gulp of cold air would calm me down. Instead, I got a face full of clove smoke.

“Don’t start in about the smoking,” warned Adrian. He was leaning against the building’s brick wall. “You didn’t have to come outside. You knew I was here.”

“That’s actually why I’m here. Well, that, and I felt like I was going to go crazy if I stayed inside another minute.”

He tilted his head to look at my face. His eyebrows shot up. “You aren’t kidding, are you? What happened? You were fine a few minutes ago.”

I paced across the ground in front of him. “I don’t know. I was fine. Then Christian and Lissa started having this stupid argument over you. It was weird. They were the ones who were mad – and then I ended up madder than both of them.”

“Wait. They were arguing over me?”

“Yes. I just said that. Weren’t you paying attention?”

“Hey, don’t snap at me. I haven’t done anything to you.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Christian’s jealous because you hang around Lissa so much.”

“We’re studying spirit,” said Adrian. “He’s welcome to join in.”

“Yeah, well, no one ever said love was reasonable. Seeing you come back together kind of set him off. And then he got upset because you pulled rank with the queen for Lissa.”

“I didn’t do it for her. I did it for all of you – but, well, you especially.”

I came to a halt in front of him. “I didn’t believe you. That you could do it.”

He grinned. “Guess you should have listened to my family history in that dream after all.”

“I guess. I just thought…”

I couldn’t finish. I’d thought Dimitri would be the one who came through for me, the one who – despite what he said – could make almost anything happen. But he hadn’t.

“Thought what?” Adrian prompted.

“Nothing.” With much effort, I managed to utter the next words. “Thank you for helping us.”

“Oh my God,” he said. “A kind word from Rose Hathaway. I can die a happy man.”

“What are you saying? That I’m normally an ungrateful bitch?”

He just looked at me.

“Hey! Not cool.”

“Maybe you could redeem yourself with a hug.”

I glared.

“A small one?” he begged.

With a sigh, I walked over and put one arm around Adrian, leaning my head lightly against his arm. “Thanks, Adrian.”

We stood like that for a heartbeat. I felt none of the crazy electricity or connection I did with Dimitri, but I had to admit that Lissa had been right about something. Adrian was annoying and arrogant at times, but he really wasn’t the bastard I often made him out to be.

The doors opened, and Lissa and the others stepped outside. They understandably looked surprised, but I didn’t care just then. Besides, they probably all thought I was pregnant with Adrian’s love child, so what did it matter? I backed away.

“Heading out?” I asked.

“Yeah, Mia’s got more important things to do than hang out with us,” joked Christian.

“Hey, I just told my dad I’d meet him. I’ll see you guys before I leave.” She started to walk away, then abruptly turned around. “God, I’m so out of it.” She reached into her coat pocket and handed me a folded piece of paper. “This is half the reason I found you guys. One of the court clerks wanted me to give this to you.”

“Thanks,” I said, puzzled. She headed off to see her dad while the rest of us strolled back to our accommodations.

I slowed my pace as I opened the note, wondering who in the world here would want to contact me.

Rose,

I was so happy to hear about your arrival. I’m sure it’ll make tomorrow’s proceedings that much more entertaining. I’ve been curious for quite some time about how Vasilisa is doing, and your romantic escapades are always an amusing diversion. I can’t wait to share them in the courtroom tomorrow.

Best,

V.D.

“Who’s it from?” asked Eddie, coming up beside me. I hastily folded it up and shoved it into my pocket. “No one,” I replied.

No one indeed.

V. D.

Victor Dashkov.

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