I swallowed. I walked into prisons and nests of Strigoi, but saying what I did next to Adrian filled me with apprehension. "Because there might be a way to save Strigoi. To turn them back to the way they were. And Victor... Victor knows someone who might have done this."
Adrian stared at me for several long seconds, and even in the midst of the casino's movement and noise, it was like the world grew still and silent.
"Rose, that's impossible."
"It might not be."
"If there was a way to do that, we would know."
"It involves spirit users. And we only just found out about them."
"That doesn't mean it's--oh. I see." His deep green eyes flashed, and this time, they were angry. "It's him, isn't it? This is your last crazy attempt to get to him. To Dimitri."
"Not just him," I said vaguely. "It could save all Strigoi."
"I thought this was over!" Adrian exclaimed. His voice was loud enough that a few people at nearby slot machines glanced over. "You told me it was over. You told me you could move on and be with me."
"I meant it," I said, surprised at the desperate note in my voice. "It's something we only just found out about. We had to try."
"And what then? What if this stupid fantasy works? You free Dimitri in some miraculous act, and you drop me like that." He snapped his fingers.
"I don't know," I said wearily. "We're just taking this one step at a time. I love being with you. Really. But I can't ignore this."
"Of course you can't." He turned his eyes heavenward. "Dreams, dreams. I walk them; I live them. I delude myself with them. It's a wonder I can spot reality anymore." The weird sound of his voice made me nervous. I could recognize one of his slightly crazy, spirit-induced lapses. Then, he turned from me with a sigh. "I need a drink."
Whatever pity I'd felt for him turned to anger. "Oh, good. That'll fix everything. I'm glad in a world gone mad, you've still got your old standbys."
I flinched at his glare. He didn't do it very often, and when he did, it was a powerful thing. "What do you expect me to do?" he asked.
"You could... you could..." Oh God. "Well, now that you're here, you could help us. Plus, this guy we're meeting. He's another spirit user."
Adrian didn't betray his thoughts, but I had a feeling that I had piqued his interest. "Yeah, that's exactly what I want. To help my girlfriend get her old boyfriend back." He turned away again, and I heard him mutter, "I need two drinks."
"Four thirty," I called after him. "We're meeting at four thirty."
There was no response, and Adrian melted into the crowd.
I returned to the room in a dark cloud that had to be obvious to everyone. Lissa and Eddie were smart enough not to ask questions, but Victor, of course, had no such reserves.
"What? Mr. Ivashkov isn't joining us? I'd so been looking forward to his company."
"Shut up," I said, crossing my arms and leaning against the wall near Eddie. "Don't speak unless you're spoken to."
The next couple hours dragged by. I was convinced that any minute, Adrian would come back and reluctantly agree to help us. We could use his compulsion if things went bad, even though he couldn't match Lissa. Surely... surely he loved me enough to come to my aid? He wouldn't abandon me? You're an idiot, Rose. It was my own voice that chastised me in my head, not Lissa's. You've given him no reason to help. You just hurt him again and again. Just like you did Mason.
When four fifteen came around, Eddie looked over at me. "Should we stake out a table?"
"Yeah." I was restless and upset. I didn't want to stay in this room any longer, trapped with dark feelings that wouldn't go away. Victor rose from the bed, stretching as though getting up from a relaxing nap. Still, I could have sworn there was an eager glint hidden in the depths of his eyes. By all accounts, he and his half-brother were close, though I'd seen no indication that Victor displayed love or loyalty to anyone. Who knew? Maybe somewhere there was true affection for Robert.
We formed a sort of protective configuration with me in the front, Eddie in the back, and the two Moroi between us. I opened the room's door and came face-to-face with Adrian. His hand was raised as though he'd been about to knock. He arched an eyebrow.
"Oh, hey," he said. He had the standard laid-back Adrian expression on his face, though his voice was a bit strained. I knew he wasn't happy about any of this. I could see it in the tight set of his jaw and agitation in his eyes. Nonetheless, he was putting on a good front for the others, for which I was grateful. Most importantly, he'd come back. That was what mattered, and I could ignore the scent of alcohol and smoke wreathing him. "So... I hear there's some party going on. Mind if I join you?"
I gave him a weak, grateful smile. "Come on."
Our group now up to five, we headed down the hall toward the elevator. "I was cleaning up at poker, you know," Adrian added. "So this better be good."
"I don't know if it'll be good," I mused. The elevator doors opened. "But I think it'll be memorable."
We stepped inside, off to see Robert Doru. And what might be Dimitri's only salvation.
ROBERT DORU WAS EASY TO SPOT.
It wasn't because he looked like Victor. It wasn't even because of any dramatic running-toward-each-other reunion type thing between him and his brother. Rather, it was Lissa's mind that tipped me off. I saw Robert through her eyes, the golden aura of a spirit user lighting up his corner of the restaurant like a star. It caught her by surprise, and she stumbled briefly. Spirit users were too rare a sight for her to be fully used to them. Seeing auras was something she could tune in or out, and just before "turning his off," she noted that even though his had the brilliant gold she saw in Adrian, there was also a feel of instability to it. Sparks of other colors flashed there too, but they trembled and flickered. She wondered if it was a mark of spirit's insanity setting in.
His eyes lit up as Victor approached the table, but the two didn't hug or touch. Victor simply sat down beside his brother. The rest of us stood there awkwardly for a moment. The whole situation was too weird. But it was the reason we'd come, and after several more seconds, my friends and I joined the brothers at the table.
"Victor..." breathed Robert, eyes wide. Robert might have had some of the Dashkov facial features, but his eyes were brown, not green. His hands toyed with a napkin. "I can't believe it.... I've wanted to see you for so long...."