I met up with Adrian after school the next day, and for the first time in ages, neither Lee nor Keith was around the old house. Clarence was, however, and he practically ran me down when I entered.
"Did you hear?" he demanded. "Did you hear about that poor girl?"
"What girl?" I asked.
"The one killed in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago."
"Oh, yeah," I said, relieved there was no new death. "It was tragic. We're lucky there are no Strigoi here."
He gave me a surprisingly knowing look. "It wasn't Strigoi! Haven't you paid attention? It was them. The vampire hunters."
"But they drank her blood, sir. Didn't you say vampire hunters are human? No human would have any reason to drink Moroi blood."
He turned away from me and paced the living room. I glanced around, wondering where Adrian was.
"Everyone keeps saying that!" said Clarence. "As though I don't already know that. I can't explain why they do what they do. They're a strange lot. They worship the sun and have weird beliefs about evil and honor - more unusual than even your beliefs." Well, that was something. At least he knew I was human. Sometimes I wasn't sure. "They also have strange views on which vampires should die. They kill all Strigoi without question. With Moroi and dhampirs, they're more selective."
"You sure know a lot about them," I said.
"I've made it my business to, ever since Tamara." He sighed and suddenly seemed very, very old. "At least Keith believes me."
I kept my face expressionless. "Oh?"
Clarence nodded. "He's a good young man. You should give him a chance."
My control slipped, and I knew I was scowling. "I'll try, sir." Adrian entered just then, much to my relief. Being alone with Clarence was freaky enough without him actually praising Keith Darnell.
"Ready?" I asked.
"You bet," said Adrian. "I can't wait to be a productive member of society."
I gave his outfit a once-over and had to bite off any comments. It was nice, but of course, his clothes always were. Jill had claimed I had an expensive wardrobe, but Adrian's blew mine away. Today he wore black jeans and a burgundy button-down shirt. The shirt looked like it was some sort of silk blend, and he wore it loose and unbuttoned. His hair was carefully styled to look like he'd just rolled out of bed. Too bad he didn't have my hair's texture. My hair did that without any styling at all.
I had to admit, he looked great - but he didn't look like he was going to a job interview. He looked like he was about to go clubbing. This left me kind of conflicted. I found myself admiring him nonetheless and was again reminded of that impression I got from him sometimes, like he was some kind of work of art. It was a little disconcerting, particularly since I had to keep telling myself that vampires were not attractive in the same way humans were. Fortunately, the practical part of me soon took over, chastising me that it didn't matter if he looked good or not. What mattered was that he looked inappropriate for job interviews. I shouldn't have been surprised, though. This was Adrian Ivashkov.
"So what's on the agenda?" he asked me once we were on the road. "I really think 'Chairman Ivashkov' has a nice ring to it."
"There's a folder in the backseat with our itinerary, Chairman."
Adrian twisted around and retrieved the folder. After a quick scan of it, he declared, "You get points for variety, Sage. But I don't think any of these are going to keep me in the lifestyle I'm accustomed to."
"Your resume's in the back. I did my best, but we're operating within limited parameters here."
He flipped through the papers and found the resume. "Wow. I was an educational assistant at St. Vladimir's?"
I shrugged. "It was the closest you had to a job."
"And Lissa was my supervisor, huh? I hope she gives me a good referral."
When Vasilisa and Rose were still in school, Adrian had lived there and worked with Vasilisa on learning spirit. "Educational assistant" was kind of a stretch, but it made him sound like he could multitask and show up for work on time.
He shut the folder and leaned back against the seat, closing his eyes. "How's Jailbait? She seemed down the last time I saw her."
I considered lying but figured he'd probably find out the truth eventually, either from her directly or through his own deductions. Adrian's judgment might be questionable, but I'd discovered he was excellent at reading people. Eddie claimed it came from being a spirit user and had mentioned something about auras, which I wasn't quite sure I believed in. The Alchemists had no hard evidence that they were real.
"Not good," I said, giving him the full report as we drove.
"That shower thing was hilarious," he said when I finished.
"It was irresponsible! Why can't anyone see that?"
"But that bitch had it coming."
I sighed. "Have you guys forgotten why you're here? You of all people! You saw her die. Don't you get how important it is for her to stay safe and keep a low profile?"
Adrian was quiet for several moments, and when I glanced over, his face was uncharacteristically serious. "I know. But I don't want her to be miserable either. She... she doesn't deserve it. Not like the rest of us."
"I don't think we do either."
"Maybe you don't," he said with a small smile. "What with your pure lifestyle and all. I don't know. Jill's just so... innocent. It's why I saved her, you know. I mean, part of it."
I shivered. "When she died?"
He nodded, a troubled look in his eyes. "When I saw her there, bloody and not moving... I didn't think about the consequences of what I was doing. I just knew I had to save her. She had to live. I acted without question, not even knowing for sure if I could do it."
"It was brave of you."
"Maybe. I don't know. I do know she's gone through a lot. I don't want her to go through any more."
"Neither do I." I was touched at the concern. He kept surprising me in weird ways. Sometimes it was hard to imagine Adrian really caring about anything, but a softer side of him surfaced when he talked about Jill. "I'll do what I can. I know I should talk to her more... be more of a friend or even a fake sister. It's just..."
He eyed me. "Is it really so terrible being around us?"
I blushed. "No," I said. "But... it's complicated. I've been taught certain things my entire life. Those are hard to shake."
"The greatest changes in history have come because people were able to shake off what others told them to do." He looked away from me, out the window.