Sooooo I wrote this after re-reading the series this summer (and then finally reading the Bloodlines series I bought the first book of back when it came out…) And I was nearly done with this when I found out Richelle Mead has already written this whole thing in a short story called Homecoming….I haven't read it yet, so any similarities are coincidental, though we all know hers is probably far superior. Unrelated note, though, didn't care for the ending of the Bloodlines series…..
I stopped at the beginning of the road leading into the little dhampir town and smiled, remembering.
"It was nothing like you'd thought, was it?" Dimitri asked, a smile in his voice. He pulled our bags out of the trunk of the taxi, paid the driver, and then handed me my own duffle bag.
"I wasn't prepared last time," I admitted vaguely as he walked up to stop next to me. I wasn't expecting the climate, the scenery, his family.
"I missed it here." We exchanged a glance and he gestured down the right side of the road, hoisting his bag over his shoulder. "It's this way."
" I remember," I smiled.
He frowned at that but said nothing. I felt a little pang in my heart, wishing I'd chosen different words. I avoided bringing up those times when I could, but it was going to make this trip very difficult if I had to continue doing it. But I figured this would be the last nail in the coffin, the last task Dimitri needed to complete to finally put it all to rest. There was no doubt he had forgiven himself for everything that had happened between me and him when he was Strigoi, but that didn't necessarily mean he had come to peace with what had happened. And, for me, this was the last piece for me to move on.
I tugged on the strings to my hoodie, a cooler wind biting my cheeks. It was nearly the end of summer, but clearly the cooler temperatures rolled in early here. This was our only chance to make this trip, though…
Lissa flopped down onto the couch in her new room and sighed. "I blame you entirely," she groaned at me. "You did this to me."
I shrugged lightheartedly. "I regret nothing."
Lissa rolled her eyes. "That's the worse part."
I sat up straighter in the arm chair across from her when a few of her other guardians entered the room, taking their post around the room. No need to look too unprofessional in front of my fellow guardians.
"But seriously, you're doing great."
"It's been a week," she stated flatly.
I lifted a shoulder in a half hearted shrug. "Maybe, but a lot has happened. A lot of good change is happening. And you're not alone in this. Arianna has been super helpful. You have Christian." I gestured to the two other guardians in the room whose names I had forgotten. "You have your guardians—some of them helped Tatiana. And you have me." She glanced up at me with a soft smile.
"How are you feeling, by the way?"
"Good as new." Or close enough to it. I hadn't been cleared for active duty yet. Officially, anyways. But it didn't stop me from being on my guard and getting around. I hadn't spoken to Hans yet about when they'd let me get back to work. "I'll be fine," I pressed when I noticed that slight twitch in her smile, a small sadness taking over.
"I just feel so awful," she sighed.
"It's my job," I told her for the billionth time. "Literally putting my life on the line for yours. I've been saying that for years, Liss."
"I know, I know," she muttered, leaning into the arm rest and covering her face with her hand. "It's just different. I know you've been saying it for years, I know I've known that you'd be protecting me and all then entails—but having you sacrifice your life for me, watching that…"
I smiled sadly, understanding, but I offered no words. She had to understand the gravity of this, and she had to understand it now. She was important—the most important Moroi in the world right now. And a lot of people were upset over this. Her life was more important than her guardians, than mine, yes. But that didn't mean she had to get herself into situations where she recklessly cost lives.
"I would do it again," I admitted honestly. Lissa jerked up to look at me but said nothing. "You're going to make history and I'm going to make sure you live long enough to do so."
Lissa rolled her eyes and sat up straighter. "I'll never be able to repay you," she sighed.
I pursed my lips and took this small opportunity I'd been waiting for. "You don't have to repay me—I was doing my job." Lissa started to protest but I cut her off. "You can, however, do me a tiny favor."
She smiled. "I may be queen, Rose, but I can't give you permission to do anything illegal."
"Such little faith," I groaned dramatically. "I was just wondering if I could take a tiny vacation."
Lissa face went blank and she just blinked at me for a few seconds. "A vacation?"
"I mean—I'll be going with you to Lehigh in a couple weeks but for now you're here at Court with plenty of guards. If you're not safe here then really…But the thing is, is when I left the Academy I went to Russia to tell Dimitri's family…"
"No one's told them he's fine?" Lissa asked softly.
I pressed my lips together nervously, hoping she'd just give me this one thing. "I don't know if he's contacted them or not, but I know it's been years since he's seen them."
I stared. "What?"
"I'll talk to some people and see if I can free up you and Dimitri for the next week," she said, smiling. "Christian should be ok with it—and you haven't been cleared for active duty anyways—"
"Rose this is the least I can do." She stood and smiled down at me. "Like you said, I'll be here at Court until I leave for Lehigh—I've got plenty of security for now. This is probably your only opportunity to do this."
"Thank you," I breathed, jumping up to hug her. I pulled back. "Maybe I can convince Oksana to make a trip out to Court while I'm there."
"That would be nice," Lissa said slowly. "But I can understand if she won't. I'll have to make plans to see her someday."
"I wish I could have seen your face the first time you were here."
Blinking, I looked up at Dimitri as we walked, pulling myself from my thoughts. He smiled down at me.
"My reaction was nothing special," I scoffed. I thought back to when I'd first arrived and pursed my lips. "Actually…" I thought better of it and shut my mouth for once, but it was too late.
Dimitri's eyes were narrowed at me. "Actually what?"
"I wasn't particularly conscious when I got here," I admitted and Dimitri rolled his eyes with a sigh, eyes returning to the road in front of us.
"I don't want to know."
I just shrugged. "It is a really nice place, though."
"That it is," Dimitri agreed with a smile.
We walked in silence and I watched him out of the corner of my eye taking in the small dhampir town. Occasionally his eyes would linger on one place or another for a second and I'd wonder briefly what memory he was thinking of.
"Alright," I started as we walked up to the familiar house. "I really only want to do this once. No need to have the whole family freak out individually, let's try to get them all together and I can tell them all at once." We stopped in front of the door and I gestured to the side of the house. "I'll come get you."
Dimitri hesitated for a second, before agreeing quietly. "Try to be patient," he advised. "Not everyone be—"
"I know, I know," I interrupted, shooing him away. "Not everyone knows it's possible. They'll listen. Now go."
I waited until Dimitri was hidden around the corner before I knocked, not knowing who would answer—or if anyone was even home. When the door did open, though, it wasn't exactly a friendly face. Her face went from a neutral expression, to anger. I caught the fist before it could full impact my abdomen, but the force was still intense and I nearly fell off the small porch.
"Viktoria, wai—" Another fist flew at me and I easily backed away from it. "Viktoria!" I was backing down the steps and switched to the offensive before she could push me far enough for her to see Dimitri. I managed to back her back into the doorway and gripped the door frame to keep her inside.
"Why did you come back here?" she snapped.
"Please," I began, really not wanting to deal with this right now. "We can talk later and you can hit me all you want, but I really have to talk to everyone. Right now." I hoped she sensed the urgency in my voice, and her face did soften a little, but there was still an angry edge.
"Why should I?"
I groaned. "Please, this is…important." I didn't want to say urgent, because it wasn't really. But I desperately wanted her to understand that I needed her to help me. "It's about Dimitri."
Viktoria's eyes narrowed again and she took another swing, but an arm wrapped around my torso, pulling me back, while simultaneously catching Viktoria's swing effortlessly.
"Enough." His voice was deep and gentle and he let me go as Viktoria wilted in front of us, anger replaced by fear and confusion.
"I told you to stay outside," I muttered. "I only wanted to have to go through this once.
"You seem to be rubbing off on me," he smirked.
Viktoria jerked away from Dimitri and stumbled back a few steps. "You—you can't…"
I recognized immediately the emotions playing across her face. I'd reacted the exact same way in front of my first Strigoi. I stepped in front of Dimitri, entering the house, my hands up in what I hoped was a non-threatening gesture. "Viktoria—"
"Is he holding you hostage?" she whispered, but something in her voice was off.
"You know that's not true."
"This isn't possible."
"I know it's a shock, but you have to believe me he's not Strigoi," I pressed.
"But you said—"
"I was. I'm not anymore." Viktoria's eyes shot up to Dimitri, studying his face. I could see her fear and anger dissipating slowly, confusion taking hold.
"How? That's not…"
"It's a long story," I told her, stepping aside to let Dimitri in. "And we'd really like to sit everyone down and only have to go through it once."
Viktoria hesitated, still looking Dimitri over.
"Vika," he murmured softly. He continued to speak gently in Russian, and suddenly Viktoria launched herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around him. They continued to speak to one another in Russian and I felt out of place, standing in the foyer watching this exchange take place.
"Is Olena around?" I asked when Viktoria pulled away.
Viktoria took a moment—she looked like she had forgotten the world around her for a moment. "Uh, yes, she's here."
I turned to Dimitri. "Wait outside for real this time?"
"Yes, Roza," he said with a smile.
"Wait out back," Viktoria added. "Sonya and Grandmother should be on their way home by now."
When the door shut behind Dimitri Viktoria turned to me, a little of her earlier anger back on her face. "Please, can we just talk later?"
Wordlessly, Viktoria just spun on her heel and walked further into the house, calling for her mother.
"What is the matter with you?" Olena chastised, coming out of the kitchen wiping her hands on a towel. "You're going to wake the—Rose."
"We need to get everyone together and sit down," Viktoria told her.
Olena looked between us skeptically. "What's going on," she asked sternly.
"Nothing bad," I explained quickly. "I just—"
"It's hard to explain, but we don't want anyone to freak out," Viktoria told her, a grin on her face. "Trust me, please. Just get everyone together. Tell them it's an emergency—but it's not bad."
Olena rolled her eyes. "Viktoria, no one has time for your antics today." She turned to me and gave me a tight, brief hug. "I'm glad you have come to visit us again—you're always welcome here, Rose."
"Olena, please," I begged. "This isn't Viktoria's antics, it's mine. And it's really good news. We came all the way from Court to tell you guys."
That stopped her and she studied me—no doubt finally wondering what I was doing there.
I took a deep breath. "I brought someone with me," I began to explain. "A lot has happened in our world since I was here last. We've discovered a way to turn Strigoi back."
Olena narrowed her eyes at me. "That's not possible."
"It is," I pressed. "There's a way to do it—but it has to be done by a spirit user like Oksana. My friend—the new queen—she did it."
"He's been saved," Viktoria interjected. "He's alive—I've seen him."
"No," she whispered. "It's not possible."
"Come with me." I held out my hand. "I'll show you. Nothing bad will happen."
"Rose," Olena pleaded before launching into a string of murmured Russian. It was a completely different reaction from when I had come to tell them Dimitri was a Strigoi. My heart ached for her. Because she had probably spent however many countless nights while he was away being a Guardian coming to terms with the fact that dying or becoming a Strigoi was a possibility. She had had to prepare herself for that kind of outcome.
But how often did she prepare herself for the possibility of him ever coming back?
"Please just come with us," I begged, trying to smile.
Olena gave in and followed me towards the backdoor visibly shaking. Viktoria held her hand and was murmuring occasionally in Russian. I stepped outside and held the door for Olena and Viktoria to follow. Dimitri turned to look at us as we stepped out of the house—and the look on his face when he saw his mother made my heart melt. It was a softness, a loving look that I'd only ever seen when we were alone.
Olena froze, staring wide-eyed at the man before her like she was seeing a ghost. She was hesitant as Viktoria nudged her closer. Like everyone at court had, she probably thought it was some kind of trick, a trap.
"Mama," Dimitri breathed, but he didn't reach out for her.
Olena didn't run at Dimitri like I half expected her to. She was still hesitant—less so than before. She walked to him slowly, her hands reaching up to cup his face. Her movements were slow, eyes wide. She turned his face, inspecting him.
She murmured something to him in Russian, her hands finally pulling away from his face.
I didn't hear what Dimitri responded with, but suddenly Olena was reaching up and pulling Dimitri down to her. He was much taller than her, I noticed, and I wondered for half a second about his Moroi father—did he even know what had gone on with his son? Probably not. And for a second I was grateful I knew my father now.
"Come on." I looked over at Viktoria as she grabbed my arm and pulled me back towards the house. I glanced back at Dimitri and Olena for a moment before following, allowing them to have a private moment.
Getting the rest of the family together was a little bit easier, especially when Yeva and Sonya came into the house. Yeva took one look at me and smiled before urging the family to go find a seat in another room.
Getting everyone together took a little while, but considering Olena was still outside with Dimitri, I wasn't in a hurry. But the confusion and mysteriousness of the gathering had everyone in the room on edge. Yeva just sat in the corner, smiling away, and I knew she already knew why I was here.
Viktoria's eyes met mine briefly and she jerked her head towards the front of the group. Nervousness settled in my stomach, but I forced myself to stand and face the group of family members. Silence fell as one by one their attention turn towards me, and I tried hard to remain calm and not let my nervousness show.
Even though Viktoria and Olena had taken the news well, there were still plenty of people back at Court who didn't believe. Dimitri still got looks from some of the harder to convince population, though I was still convinced time would wear them down.
"Rose," Sonya began, bouncing her baby on her hip. She offered a quick, friendly smile when my attention was on her. "Not that we aren't glad to see you again, but considering the last time we all met like this…"
"No, it's nothing bad," I told them all quickly. "I just don't know really how to tell you all what happened."
"Take your time," Karolina encouraged.
"We won't even be mad!" Paul added helpfully.
I smiled and bit my lip, but still couldn't find the words. There were at least a dozen people staring at me, watching. I switched to guardian mode and sucked it up.
"We found a way to turn Strigoi back."
A beat of silence passed before chaos took hold of the room. I took a step back in surprise as some people got to their feet, others vehemently denying my claim. Just like Court.
"Rose, if this is a joke…"
"Can you save him? Could it really be possible?"
"Of course it's not possible."
"If it was possible, why is this the first time anyone is hearing about it?"
I couldn't catch the Russian conversations, but in an instant, the room was still and silent. I glanced over my shoulder to see Olena and Dimitri standing in the doorway.
"So yeah." I backed out of the way to let them into the group. "That happened."
Karolina was the first out of her seat, but her hand carefully nudging Paul behind her didn't slip my notice, so I was positive it hadn't been missed by Dimitri either. "Dimka?"
"It's really him," Olena managed, her face red and puffy, but her smile filling her face.
Viktoria pulled me further away from the crowd as people jumped out of their seats at Olena's confirmation and made their way towards Dimitri.
"Thank you for this," Viktoria said as I watched everyone crowd Dimitri, some demanding answers, others needing no explanation.
"You don't have to thank me," I told her.
"No, but I do need to apologize." She took both of my hands and I finally gave her my full attention, realizing that talk we were going to have "later" was happening now. "I said some awful things before you left, and then you bring my brother back to us—"
"Don't," I interjected. "I overstepped some boundaries. It wasn't my place to say or do anything. I'm sorry."
Viktoria shook her head. "I'm still mad a little bit." A little bit? Attacking me at the door was a little bit? "But you really are like my sister, okay? No one else could have brought him back to us."
I started to respond, but my thoughts vanished when I was suddenly being jerked towards the group of people, arms pulling me into hugs.
It was a long night of celebration before Dimitri and I were alone again. I'd made sure to avoid any vodka being passed by way the whole night. I'd seen Dimitri accept a few drinks, but not as many as I had the first time I'd visited.
Dimitri pulled me down to him onto the bed in an empty room at the back of the house.
"I'm surprised Olena was okay with us rooming together."
"She knows," Dimitri chuckled. He laid down behind me as I tugged off my socks on the edge of the bed. "Thank you, Roza."
"For what?" I asked, joining him in the circle of his arms.
He kissed the top of my head. "For all of this."
I looked up at him and smiled, my heart swelling at the pure love and happiness that shone in his eyes. "Anything for you, Comrade."