Adrian wasn't sure why he'd chased after her. He'd long accepted that he was a glutton for punishment; after all, he'd spent the best part of the last year chasing after Rose like a whipped puppy running back to the familiar arms of a cruel master. After Sydney had rebuffed him, he'd deliberately distanced himself from her, not wanting to become that man again. And yet here he was, calling out to her as she fled Sonya and Mikhail's wedding reception looking for all the world like a real-life Cinderella. Only it wasn't a dashing prince Sydney Sage was running from. He'd seen the dull look in her eyes as she sat alone among the dancing guests. It was a look he was all too familiar with. Loneliness. And he knew just as well as she did how painful it was to feel alone in the middle of a crowd.
So when she'd stood up and edged her way warily through the throng of dancing moroi and dhampirs towards the exit, he'd found his own feet moving him in her direction, chasing blindly after her without really realising where he was going until he was outside the huge greenhouse, just a few steps from where she now stood.
Sydney tensed at the sound of his voice and when she turned to face him, her eyes didn't quite meet his. "Adrian," she said tiredly. "What do you want?"
You. I want to see you smile. I want to hear you chattering away about architecture or chemistry, or any number of dull subjects that normally I couldn't care less about. I want to kiss you again and feel you kissing me back.
"Well," he said in a light, careful voice, "it's a wedding. I was going to ask for a dance."
Sydney's eyes flew up to meet his, wide with shock. She stood rigid in her gorgeous taupe gown, hands clenched at her sides. She took a step further from him; a step further out of sight of the dhampir guardians standing watch by the entrance of the domed glass greenhouse.
"I don't think that's a good idea," she said.
"Come on, Sage," he wheedled. "Just one dance. Then you can leave, go back to your empty room to report on the wedding security and life at Court and whatever else it is the alchemists want to know. I won't try to stop you. Just one dance."
She didn't reply. She just stood there, staring at him. Her gaze stripped him bare. He knew he looked good in the tux he'd fished out for the occasion but with Sydney he found it impossible to hide behind his looks and a charming smile. He'd let her under his skin and now, when she looked at him like that, she saw everything. She saw past the pretences, the sharp wit and narcissism, to the broken, half-mad man he really was. Even Jill couldn't ever understand him in the way she did. And in her, he saw a kindred spirit, a hollow girl, her outer shell cracking under the weight of so many expectations. Prim and proper she might be, but Sydney Sage was the one person he could not hide from. The one person he didn't want to hide from.
She pursed her lips and he could almost see the painted cogs turning in her mind, ticking away as she analysed his words and applied logic and reason to them. Any moment now she would turn away.
And then the most remarkable thing happened. She took a step closer.
"Adrian," she said in a half-strangled voice, her eyes swimming with sadness, "I'm tired."
And although the words could have been a refusal, Adrian knew what she really meant. He was tired too – tired of pretending that he wasn't in love with her; tired of maintaining a cool distance whenever he spoke to her. Tired of feigning neutrality as he watched Sydney struggle with the war between her head and her heart.
"Oh, Sage," was all he said, and then she was in his arms without him quite understanding how she'd come to be there.
"Adrian," she breathed into his shirt as she clutched the back of his jacket in an unusual display of affection, "I –"
"Shh," he said. He didn't want them to talk. They'd only end up arguing, and he didn't want this brief respite from Sydney's cold, distant professionalism to end so soon. "We're supposed to be dancing, remember?"
She leaned into his touch, closing her eyes and letting him tug her closer. The darkness of the night and the thick green tendrils adorning the glass walls provided a small degree of privacy and he was determined to make the most of it. His hands splayed out on her lower back, feeling the dip just above her bony hips and the curve of her spine jutting out against his fingertips. She wasn't quite skin and bone, but she was getting there – he knew from Jill that she'd been eating less and less recently. It had diminished her beauty but it did nothing to quell his attraction to her. Instead, it only worsened the regret he felt at distancing himself from her. The make-up she wore did little to hide the shadows under her eyes and he knew that he was partly to blame for the churning thoughts that kept her up at night.
Despite the late December chill, her skin still smelled of summer dust and a sweet floral perfume he recognised from the last time he had held her this close. He breathed in deeply, inhaling the scent of summer sunshine that belonged to no one else but Sydney Sage.
"Adrian," she said in a small voice as they swayed, "I'm sorry. I know you must hate me for even saying those words, but I mean it. I'm sorry I can't… be with you the way you want me to. I just…" She opened her eyes and stared at him, more confused and conflicted than he'd ever seen her look before.
"I know," he said as his heart twisted with a curiously muted pain. He knew that it would hurt more later. Now, with Sydney so close, with her arms reaching up to wrap around his neck and her eyes burning into his, it was bearable. Maybe his actions tonight had been crazy, but if this was Spirit's doing he'd gladly accept the inevitable fall into madness.
He knew he shouldn't be holding her like this. It was too soon. Eighteen years of indoctrination against his kind hadn't been undone by a single kiss, and it likely wouldn't be undone at all if he kept pushing. Just one dance, he told himself as they swayed to the faint whine of violins on the other side of the glass. He moved lazily, leading her into a slow-stepped dance and she matched each movement perfectly.
"You can dance," she said, sounding bemused and a little dazed. Her fingers, seemingly of their own accord, brushed the hair at the nape of his neck, sending shivers down his spine.
"Don't be so surprised, Sage," Adrian said with a grin. "The Ivashkovs are royalty, remember?" He dipped her without warning, hoping to catch her off guard, but she simply leaned back in his arms, trusting him completely.
"You're not going to ask why I learned?" she asked as he brought her closer to him again.
"'Course not," he said. "You can do everything else. Why would dancing be any different?"
She smiled, letting him lead her into another step as they twirled effortlessly, the cold night air tugging at their formal wear.
"There," he said, bending down to breathe the words close to her skin. "That's better."
She lost her smile and stiffened, seeming to realise for the first time that she was dancing with a moroi. The vampire she'd been avoiding for a month and a half. And then she relaxed completely in his arms, giving herself over to the ever-present tug that he now knew she felt too.
"It's okay, Sage," he whispered into her skin. "There's no one else here. Just you and me."
He didn't voice what they both knew. That soon, this moment would end. And when it did, neither of them would know where they now stood with each other.
"What did you mean, 'that's better'?" she asked him as they continued to sway on the spot, so close now that even their feet were touching.
"You just… you looked so lost and sad," he said softly, hugging her tightly. "So alone. I just wanted to make you smile."
"You always make me smile," she said.
"Not always." He couldn't help but remember that day. The day he'd kissed her. The day she'd walked away from him.
Her smile now was sad again. "You do," she said. "You make me cry and lie awake at night cursing myself. And sometimes just the thought of you makes me feel like I'm going insane. But most of all… most of all, you make me smile."
It wasn't much of a declaration, but it was a start. Hell, it was the closest she'd come to admitting her feelings since she'd returned his kiss in November. She wasn't ready for anything more and he knew it'd be a while before she would be. But this he could accept. This could tide him over.
He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead and tugged her closer, his heart plummeting at the knowledge that all too soon he'd have to let her go.