Four heads formed a relatively neat downward-sloping line. They had been talking, but as always, one would forget the conversation, and then another until no one could quite remember what they had been saying in the first place. In times like this one, while they waited, words could only momentarily fill the empty spaces. If they listened carefully, hushed whispers and the soft thud of feet painted an imperfect watercolor of what was happening behind the door. Sometimes the words or sounds would run together and bleed; then they would have to start over. It was Olga who had the keenest hearing, and Anastasia who had the least patience. She would be the first to stand and walk slowly towards the door. Each footstep was planned, and the closer she got, the slower she had to move. Once or twice she had gotten close enough to hear everything going on inside, but Tatyana or Olga or even Maria would hiss at her to come back to their couch.

The floral pattern had interested Tatyana Nicholaevna when she was a child. In the darkest and coldest of Russian winters, the flowers had always remained. Even now, though she considered herself to be fully grown, she thought their presence to be something of a gift. But it wasn't winter, and flowers didn't seem to be such a strange thing. It was summer and there were real flowers: ones whose beauty made the fabric pale in comparison; so their usual allure was lost. She looked lazily over at her older sister, who seemed to have sunk even deeper into one of her spells. Tatyana had heard one of their nurses talking about it a few days beforehand; the woman had been worried but Tatya was not. Olga was simply born that way. She could find sorrow in the greatest of triumphs. Her moods and fits were as much a part of her as her blood.

Past the wooden door the boy lay pitifully in his bed, sleeping. His mother grasped his hand in hers and would occasionally stroke it with her delicate fingers. When he did wake, he could see her worried face staring at him as though he was about to disappear before her very eyes. Did she blink? He would wonder before drifting back to sleep. His four sisters and father and various doctors and religious men were shuffled in and out of the room in an orderly manor. He had taken to feigning sleep when a priest or monk came to look at him. Although he was sick, they bored him. His mother would apologize to the men and say that her son was only sleeping, that it was recovery. He'd be fine in the morning, but could they just pray for him? Of course they would nod and say a few prayers. Aleksey much preferred Nastulya's impressions of them. While she couldn't get her voice nearly as deep, her nods and the way she held her mouth were very convincing. Even their father had agreed.

"Has Father Grigori come to see Baby yet?" Maria asked softly, looking up from her knitting needles. A long moss-green scarf snaked its way down her legs and puddled on the floor.

Tatyana glanced sideways at the girl to her right, and shrugged, "Don't you think Mama would have asked him to see us as well?"

"We are not the ones who are suffering." Olga, in keeping with her gloom, spit out. The embroidery needle bit angry holes in the fabric, too wide for the thread to settle comfortably. Tatyana stared at the picture her sister was creating. Garish reds and golds and greens twisted their way along the rim of the hooped fabric, while the middle was only a half sketched and half embroidered winter landscape. Olga had seven kinds of grays lined up along her lap and several whites and creams hanging on the arm of the sofa.

"I am from looking at that thing in your lap! Olishka, what on earth is it?" Tatyana asked, an almost playful tone to her voice.

Maria peered over Tatyana and stared at the mess in Olga's lap, biting back a smile she continued her sister's question, "Who could Mama possibly give that to? Or is it a gift from your heart to your beloved?"

"A beloved?"

"Yes, Nastulya, didn't you know, Olga has a beloved and she's making him a gift!"

"How sweet of our dear Olga, but who is he?"

"Oh she won't tell me, but I'm sure Tatya knows!"

"I don't, but maybe she'll tell us now?" Tatyana smiled at the eldest of the sisters, but it was not returned. A sour grimace appeared on Olga's face and before Tatyana could even think of apologizing, Olga was walking towards the door.

Her grimace had become more of a glower. Her usually fair skin was now blotchy and red, and had they not felt bad about teasing her, one of the other three would have surely started to laugh. "Stop it, you cannot say such things while, while Aleksey is ill. We should be doing other things, just…." Olga trailed off as she often did. She found a drawer and shoved her messy work into it.

A sigh escaped the couch and the three girls who sat there cooed their apologies to the eldest. "I'm sorry Olishka, but it is so quiet and dreary since Aleksey has been ill. I haven't even seen Mama for more than an hour today and I do miss her so. " Tatyana, sobered and solemn, squeezed her sister's hand and let it fall. "I did like your embroidery, maybe Aunt Xenia would want it?" Olga nodded, but she'd returned to her gray world. At times like these it seemed best just to let her sit and contemplate her own life. Anastasia flicked through the pages of her book, uninterested in the French language. Had this been a normal day, she would have asked someone to translate it into Russian or English for her, but instead she stared blankly at the words. Tatyana stroked Olga's hair for a minute or two, soothing her as mothers sometimes do.

She liked to pray when she felt as though the world was going to swallow her up. Olga was too temperamental to see it as she did, and Mashka and Nastulya were too young. So Tatyana took it upon herself to pray for Aleksey and their mother. It was strange, perhaps, how she went from child to woman in just a few moments. But she knew Olga was right, they had to do something else. She could take it upon her self, as she suspected Olga had, the blame of Baby falling. It would eat up at her as it slowly destroyed their mother. Tatyana could see it in the lines on Alexandra's face. Her dearest mother, whose every sorrow had been painfully etched deeply into the plane of her forehead and the furrow of her brow, was wasting away from guilt. Tatyana's prayers were methodical and sensible. She went down a long list of people and things, starting with her father and ending with the unborn babies of every peasant in all of Russia. She addressed the Lord, His Son, the Holy Mother, and a multitude of Saints. On behalf of her sisters, Tatyana said specific verses from the bible and crossed herself a certain number of times.

The wooden door opened, and all four head looked up. The two maids who had been keeping to themselves in the corner of the room kept their heads down. Though one of them peered up through her lashes at the scene. At the appearance of their mother, they stood and rushed to her. Tatyana wrapped her arms around Alexandra's neck tightly and whispered a prayer into her ear. The Tsarina smiled and patted her second daughter's cheek. Maria clung to her mother's hand and babbled about being worried while Anastasia simply smiled, albeit sheepishly. Olga's pursed lips and narrowed eyes went unnoticed. The Tsarina gave her eldest a weary smile but soon turned her attentions elsewhere. "Father Grigori should be arriving soon, I pray – and you must pray as well – that his presence will soothe your brother's pains." Her voice warbled slightly, and though the girls did not notice it, the accent in her Russian sounded much stronger than usual.

"I'm sure he will be able to help, Mama, he always does."

"Yes Mama, you mustn't worry. Look how tired you must be, come sit."

"How is Baby? Is he still sleeping?"

Alexandra quieted them all and followed the hands that guided her to an overstuffed chaise. She sat for only a moment before standing and retreating towards the door, "My son needs me." She said it as though making an excuse for leaving them. And all four girls watched and listened as the wooden door closed, the faint click of metal, and heard the hurried footsteps of the Tsarina, making her way towards Aleksey's bed.

A few minutes, maybe an hour passed, and he came unannounced into the room, as he sometimes did. "Father Grigori!" Tatyana nearly shouted, racing towards him, followed closely by her three sisters. "You must hurry to see Mama and Aleksey, she is so worried for him, we all are. Surely you can help him?" Her words came out all at once, a jumbled and incomprehensible mess. But he seemed to understand. Her fears were quieted and her worries calmed with one look from him. His hand rested gently on her shoulder.

From somewhere in the room, a sharp inhale.

"I shall see them now, if you will lead the way, Tatyana Nicholaevna."

She nodded and smiled. And none of them noticed the dirt on his hands or the grease that shone on his face: for he was a holy man, and they are above the scrutiny of the believers. The doorknob felt cold under her hand and Tatyana pushed it open with some apprehension. She looked first to her mother, who upon seeing the monk who stood behind her daughter, looked as though she would faint of relief. And then her eyes settled on her brother, he seemed to be sleeping still, but for a moment she thought she could see his eye open, before it quickly slid back shut.

*****

AN: I am so sorry for the delay in my updating, but if anyone is still reading, or wants to start, here is the next chapter! I want to thank everyone who read the last chapter and especially thank Written and Michael Howard who reviewed my last chapter!