Sonya was pleased. "That's how it should look to people who know she's got a charm on. Hopefully, to the other guardians, she'll be wearing a different face.' It was a variation of what Lissa had made when we'd busted Victor out of prison. Only, this required less magic because Sonya only had to slightly alter my features and didn't need to obscure my race. She was also more practiced than Lissa.

The restaurant I'd chosen in Greenston had long since closed when we rolled in at eleven thirty. The parking lot was nearly black, but I could make out a car in the back corner. Hopefully, it was Mikhail having gotten there early--and not a guardian hit squad.

But when we parked nearby, I saw that it was indeed Mikhail who got out of the car-- along with Adrian.

He grinned when he saw me, pleased at the surprise. Really, I should have seen this coming when I'd told him to pass the message on to Mikhail. Adrian would have found a way to come along. My stomach rolled. No, no. Not this. I had no time to deal with my love life. Not now. I didn't even know what to say to Adrian. Fortunately, I wasn't given the chance to speak.

Mikhail had come striding toward us with guardian efficiency, ready to find out what task I had in mind. He came to a screeching halt when he saw Sonya get out of our car. So did she. They both stood frozen, eyes wider than seemed physically possible. I knew then that the rest of us had ceased to exist, as had all our intrigue, missions, and ... well, the world. In that moment, only the two of them existed.

Sonya gave a strangled cry and then ran forward. This jolted him awake, in time to wrap her in his arms as she threw herself against him. She started crying, and I could see tears on his face too. He brushed her hair back and cupped her cheeks, staring down at her and repeating over and over, "It's you ... it's you ... it's you ...'

Sonya tried to wipe her eyes, but it didn't do much good. "Mikhail--I'm sorry--I'm so sorry--'

"It doesn't matter.' He kissed her and pulled back only enough to look into her eyes. "It doesn't matter. Nothing matters except that we're together again.'

This made her cry harder. She buried her face against his chest, and his arms tightened more fiercely around her. The rest of us stood as frozen as the lovers had been earlier. It felt wrong witnessing this. It was too private; we shouldn't have been there. Yet ... at the same time, I just kept thinking that this was how I'd imagined my reunion with Dimitri would be when Lissa had restored him. Love. Forgiveness. Acceptance.

Dimitri and I briefly locked eyes, and an uncanny sense told me he was recalling my words: You have to forgive yourself. If you can't, then you can't go on either. We can't. I glanced away from him, looking back at the happy couple so that he wouldn't see me tear up. God, I wanted what Mikhail and Sonya had. A happy ending. Forgiveness of the past. A bright future ahead.

Jill sniffled beside me, and I put an arm around her. That small sound seemed to draw Mikhail back to our world. Still holding Sonya, he looked over at me.

"Thank you. Thank you for this. Anything you need. Anything at all--'

"Stop, stop,' I said, afraid I might choke up. I'd only just managed to blink away traitorous tears. "I'm glad ... glad to have done it, and well ... it wasn't really me at all.'

"Still ...' Mikhail looked down at Sonya who was smiling at him through her tears. "You've given me my world back.'

"I'm so happy for you ... and I want you to have this, to just enjoy this right now. But I have a favor. One more favor.'

Sonya and Mikhail exchanged glances in a knowing way. You never would have guessed they'd been apart for three years. She nodded, and he returned his gaze to me. "I figured that's why he brought me here.' He inclined his head toward Adrian. "I need you to get me into the hotel where the Alchemists are staying.'

The small smile on Mikhail's face dropped. "Rose ... I can't get you into any place. You being this close to Court is dangerous enough.'

I pulled the bracelet from my pocket. "I'll have a disguise. They won't know it's me. Is there a reason you'd have to see the Alchemists?'

Sonya stayed in his arms, but his eyes were dark with thought. "They'll have guardians near their rooms. We could probably pass ourselves off as relief.'

Dimitri nodded in agreement. "If it's too different from their scheduled shift change, it'll raise eyebrows ... but hopefully you'll have long enough to get in and find out what you need. The guardians are probably more worried about the Alchemists getting out than other guardians getting in.'

"Absolutely,' said Mikhail. "So it's you and me, Rose?'

"Yup,' I said. "The fewer, the better. Just enough to question Sydney and Ian. I guess everyone else waits here.'

Sonya kissed his cheek. "I'm not going anywhere.'

Adrian had strolled over by now and given Jill a light, brotherly punch in the arm. "And I'm going to stay and hear how on earth you got involved with this, Jailbait.'

Jill mustered a smile for him. She had a pretty hardcore crush on him, and it was a sign of her stress that she didn't blush and go all weak-kneed. They started a conversation, and Dimitri gestured for me to follow him around the car, out of sight.

"This is dangerous,' he said quietly. "If that charm fails, you probably aren't going to get out of that hotel.' There was an unspoken alive at the end of his words.

"It won't fail. Sonya's good. Besides, if we're caught, maybe they'll bring me back to Court instead of killing me. Imagine how much that will slow the elections.'

"Rose, I'm serious.'

I caught hold of his hand. "I know, I know. This'll be easy. We should be in and out in under an hour, but if we aren't ...' Man, I hated grim contingencies. "If we aren't, then send Adrian to Court with Jill, and you and Sonya hide out somewhere until ... I don't know.'

"Don't worry about us,' he said. "You just be careful.' He leaned down and pressed a kiss to my forehead.

"Little dhampir, are you--'

Adrian came strolling around the car, just in time to see that small kiss. I dropped my hand from Dimitri's. None of us said anything, but in that moment, Adrian's eyes ... well, I saw his whole world come crashing apart. I felt sicker than if a fleet of Strigoi were around. I felt worse than a Strigoi. Honor, I thought. For real: the guardians should have taught it. Because I hadn't learned it.

"Let's hurry,' said Mikhail, walking over, oblivious to the drama that had just exploded beside him. "Sonya says you guys have a ticking clock at Court too.'

I swallowed, dragging my eyes from Adrian. My heart twisted within my chest. "Yeah ...'

"Go,' said Dimitri.

"Remember,' I murmured to him. "Talking to him is my responsibility. Not yours.' I followed Mikhail to his car, slipping on the charmed bracelet. Before getting inside, I cast a quick glance back. Jill and Sonya were speaking together, Dimitri stood alone, and Adrian was taking out a cigarette, his back to them all.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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