"He's dead, Dimitri! He's dead! Stop this. Please.'

Dimitri's face still wore that terrible, terrible expression--rage, now marked with a bit of desperation. Desperation that told him if he could only obliterate Donovan, then maybe he could obliterate everything else bad in his life.

I didn't know what to do. We had to get out of here. We had to get Sydney to disintegrate the bodies. Time was ticking, and I just kept repeating myself.

"He's dead! Let it go. Please. He's dead.'

Then, somewhere, somehow, I broke through to Dimitri. His motions slowed and finally stopped. The hand holding the stake dropping weakly to his side as he stared at what was left of Donovan--which wasn't pretty. The rage on Dimitri's face completely gave way to desperation ... and then that gave way to despair.

I tugged gently on his arm. "It's over. You've done enough.'

"It's never enough, Roza,' he whispered. The grief in his voice killed me. "It'll never be enough.'

"It is for now,' I said. I pulled him to me. Unresisting, he let go of his stake and buried his face against my shoulder. I dropped my stake as well and embraced him, drawing him closer. He wrapped his arms around me in return, seeking the contact of another living being, the contact I'd long known he needed.

"You're the only one.' He clung more tightly to me. "The only one who understands. The only one who saw how I was. I could never explain it to anyone ... you're the only one. The only one I can tell this to ...'

I closed my eyes for a moment, overpowered by what he was saying. He might have sworn allegiance to Lissa, but that didn't mean he'd fully revealed his heart to her. For so long, he and I had been in perfect sync, always understanding each other. That was still the case, no matter if we were together, no matter if I was with Adrian. Dimitri had always kept his heart and feelings guarded until meeting me. I thought he'd locked them back up, but apparently, he still trusted me enough to reveal what was killing him inside.

I opened my eyes and met his dark, earnest gaze. "It's okay,' I said. "It's okay now. I'm here. I'll always be here for you.'

"I dream about them, you know. All the innocents I killed.' His eyes drifted back to Donovan's body. "I keep thinking ... maybe if I destroy enough Strigoi, the nightmares will go away. That I'll be certain I'm not one of them.' I touched his chin, turning his face back toward mine and away from Donovan. "No. You have to destroy Strigoi because they're evil. Because that's what we do. If you want the nightmares to go away, you have to live. That's the only way. We could have died just now. We didn't. Maybe we'll die tomorrow. I don't know. What matters is that we're alive now.'

I was rambling at this point. I had never seen Dimitri so low, not since his restoration. He'd claimed being Strigoi had killed so many of his emotions. It hadn't. They were there, I realized. Everything he had been was still inside, only coming out in bursts--like this moment of rage and despair. Or when he'd defended me from the arresting guardians. The old Dimitri wasn't gone. He was just locked away, and I didn't know how to let him out. This wasn't what I did. He was always the one with words of wisdom and insight. Not me. Still, he was listening now. I had his attention. What could I say? What could get through to him?

"Remember what you said earlier?' I asked. "Back in Rubysville? Living is in the details. You've got to appreciate the details. That's the only way to defeat what the Strigoi did to you. The only way to bring back who you really are. You said it yourself: you escaped with me to feel the world again. Its beauty.'

Dimitri started to turn toward Donovan again, but I wouldn't let him. "There's nothing beautiful here. Only death.'

"That's only true if you let them make it true,' I said desperately, still feeling the press of time. "Find one thing. One thing that's beautiful. Anything. Anything that shows you're not one of them.'

His eyes were back on me, studying my face silently. Panic raced through me. It wasn't working. I couldn't do this. We were going to have to get out of here, regardless of whatever state he was in. I knew he'd leave, too. If I'd learned anything, it was that Dimitri's warrior instincts were still working. If I said danger was coming, he would respond instantly, no matter the self-torment he felt. I didn't want that, though. I didn't want him to leave in despair. I wanted him to leave here one step closer to being the man I knew he could be. I wanted him to have one less nightmare.

It was beyond my abilities, though. I was no therapist. I was about to tell him we had to get out there, about to make his soldier reflexes kick in, when he suddenly spoke. His voice was barely a whisper. "Your hair.'

"What?' For a second, I wondered if it was on fire or something. I touched a stray lock. No, nothing wrong except that it was a mess. I'd bound it up for battle to prevent the Strigoi from using it as a handhold, like Angeline had. Much of it had come undone in the struggle, though.

"Your hair,' repeated Dimitri. His eyes were wide, almost awestruck. "Your hair is beautiful.'

I didn't think so, not in its current state. Of course, considering we were in a dark alley filled with bodies, the choices were kind of limited. "You see? You're not one of them. Strigoi don't see beauty. Only death. You found something beautiful. One thing that's beautiful.'

Hesitantly, nervously, he ran his fingers along the strands I'd touched earlier. "But is it enough?'

"It is for now.' I pressed a kiss to his forehead and helped him stand. "It is for now.'

Chapter Sixteen

CONSIDERING SYDNEY DESTROYED dead bodies on a regular basis, it was kind of surprising that she was so shocked by our post-fight appearances. Maybe dead Strigoi were just objects to her. Dimitri and I were real live people, and we were a mess.

"I hope you guys don't stain the car,' she said, once the bodies were disposed of and we were on our way. I think it was her best attempt at a joke, in an effort to cover up her discomfort over our torn and bloody clothes.

"Are we going to Paris?' I asked, turning to look back at Dimitri.

"Paris?' asked Sydney, startled.

"Not yet,' said Dimitri, leaning his head back against the seat. He was back to looking like a controlled guardian. All signs of his earlier breakdown were gone, and I had no intention of giving away what had happened before we'd fetched Sydney. So small ... yet so monumental. And very private. For now, he mostly looked tired. "We should wait until daytime. We had to go for Donovan now, but if Sonya's got a house, she's probably there all the time. Safer for us in daylight.'

"How do you know he wasn't lying?' asked Sydney. She was driving with no real destination, merely getting us out of the neighborhood as fast as possible and before people reported screams and the sounds of fighting.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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