And that was all I could get out of them, no matter how much I argued and demanded to be released from the car--and believe me, I did a lot of that. Their ability to ignore me was pretty impressive, really. To be fair, I'm not even sure that they knew what had happened. Everything had occurred so fast. The only thing these two knew was that they'd been ordered to escort me out of the building.

I kept hoping someone I knew might join us in our SUV. Nope. Only more unknown guardians. No Christian or Tasha. Not even Hans--of course, that was understandable. He was probably afraid I'd accidentally punch him again.

When we were loaded up and on the road, I finally gave up my badgering and sank back into the seat. Other SUVs had left with ours, but I had no clue whether my friends were in them.

The bond between Lissa and me was still numb. After that initial shock where I'd felt nothing, I'd slowly regained a slight sense of her, telling me we were still connected and that she was alive. That was about it. With all that power that had blasted through her, it was almost like the bond had been temporarily fried. The magic between us was fragile. Each time I tried to use the bond to check on her, it was as though I'd stared too brightly at something and was still blinded. I just had to assume it would reestablish itself soon because I needed her insight on what had happened.

No, scratch insight. I needed to know what had happened, period. I was still in a bit of shock, and the long ride back to Court allowed me time to process what few facts I had access to. I immediately wanted to jump to Dimitri but needed to start at the beginning if I really wanted to analyze all that had occurred.

First: Lissa had charmed a stake and withheld the info from me. When? Before her college trip? At Lehigh? While captive? It didn't matter.

Second, in spite of her failed pillow attempts, she had gotten the stake into Dimitri's heart. It had been a struggle, but Christian's fire had made it possible. I winced, recalling the burns Lissa had suffered during that ordeal. I'd felt the pain of those before the bond blanked out, and I'd also seen the marks on her. Adrian wasn't the world's best healer, but hopefully his magic would be enough to take care of her injuries.

The third and final fact here... well... was it a fact? Lissa had stabbed Dimitri and used the same magic she would for a healing... and then? That was the big question. What had happened, aside from what felt like a nuclear explosion of magic through our bond? Had I really seen what I thought I'd seen?

Dimitri had... changed.

He was no longer a Strigoi. I felt it in my heart, even though I'd only had that brief glimpse of him. It had been enough to allow me to see the truth. The Strigoi features were gone. Lissa had done everything Robert had sworn she needed to do to restore a Strigoi, and certainly after all that magic... well, it was easy to believe anything was possible. That image of Dimitri came back to me, clinging to Lissa with tears running down his face. I'd never seen him so vulnerable. Somehow, I didn't believe Strigoi cried.

Something in my heart twisted painfully, and I blinked rapidly to stop from crying too. Glancing around, I tuned back into my surroundings. Outside the car, the sky was lightening. It was nearly sunrise. The guardians with me had signs of weariness on their faces, yet the alert expressions in their eyes never faltered. I'd lost track of the time, but my internal clock told me we'd been on the road for a while. We had to almost be back at Court.

Tentatively, I touched the bond and found it was back but still fragile. It was like it flickered in and out, still reestablishing itself. That was enough to put me at ease, and I breathed a sigh of relief. When the bond had first come about years ago, it had been so strange... surreal. Now I'd accepted it as part of my life. Its absence today had felt unnatural.

Looking through Lissa's eyes, at the SUV she rode in, I immediately hoped I'd see Dimitri with her. That one glimpse at the warehouse hadn't been enough. I needed to see him again, needed to see if this miracle had truly happened. I wanted to drink in those features, to gaze at the Dimitri from so long ago. The Dimitri I loved.

But he wasn't with Lissa. Christian was there, however, and he glanced over at her as she stirred. She'd been asleep and still felt groggy. That, combined with the aftereffect of that searing power earlier, kept our connection a little hazy. Things shifted out of focus for me off and on, but overall, I could follow what was happening.

"How do you feel?" asked Christian. His voice and his eyes as he peered at her were filled with so much affection that it seemed impossible she didn't notice. But then, she was a little preoccupied right now.

"Tired. Worn out. Like... I don't know. Like I've been thrown around in a hurricane. Or run over by a car. Pick something horrible, and that's what I feel like."

He gave her a small smile and gently touched her cheek. Opening myself to her senses more, I felt the pain of her burns and that he was tracing the skin near one, though being careful to keep away from it.

"Is it awful?" she asked him. "Is all my skin melted off? Do I look like some alien?"

"No," he said, with a small laugh. "There's not that much. You're beautiful, like always. It would take a lot for that to change."

The throbbing pain she felt made her think that there was more damage than he was admitting to, but the compliment and the way he'd said it went a long way to soothe her. For a moment, her whole existence focused on his face and the way the rising sun was starting to light it up.

Then the rest of her world came crashing down on her.

"Dimitri! I need to see Dimitri!"

There were guardians in the car, and she glanced around at them as she spoke. As with me, no one seemed willing to acknowledge him or what had happened.

"Why can't I see him? Why'd you take him away?" This was directed to anyone who would answer, and at last, Christian did.

"Because they think he's dangerous."

"He's not. He's just... He needs me. He's hurting inside."

Christian's eyes suddenly went wide, his face filling with panic. "He's not... You aren't bonded to him, are you?"

I guessed by the look on his face that Christian was recalling Avery and how bonding with multiple people had pushed her over the edge. Christian hadn't been there for Robert's explanation of the soul going to the world of the dead and how restored Strigoi didn't get bonded.

Lissa shook her head slowly. "No... I just know. When I... when I healed him, we had this connection, and I felt it. What I had to do... I can't explain it." She ran a hand through her hair, frustrated that she couldn't put her magic into words. Weariness was starting to overtake her. "It was like I had to do surgery on his soul," she said at last.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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