Yelena was paid handsomely well for a servant of the House of Correction, which was why she didn't mind taking the job in the first place.
Sure, she just cleaned and cooked for the soldiers, but she had a second job while she was going about her business near the (now deposed) Royal Family. As the Commander had said, she was to listen in, and make sure they weren't planning anything stupid, such as running away. His words, not hers. Yelena was more interested in watching than listening, truth be told, and after her mere month of work, she had a few anecdotes ready.
The Czar (a slip of tongue, really) was an intelligent fellow, eyes quiet and watching, and Yelena couldn't help but think he had to be this way. She always kept herself wary around him, because he seemed to watch her every move, as if aware of her second job. He probably was, but as long as he didn't give her any reason to report him, it wasn't any of her trouble.
The Czarina, meanwhile, seemed sick and frail, a quiet presence muttering prayers to a God above. Yelena didn't exactly understand - she prayed in foreign tongues, even against the Commander's order they speak in Russian all times. It seemed, however, vaguely similar to the prayers she remembered listening in church, long ago. Not like she had gone much to it; her parents preferred to tend the farm than to spend a few hours cramped in church.
The Royal children, meanwhile, were an assorted bag of oddness: Olga and her quiet, pale sadness, slinking in corners almost ready to cry; Tatiana and her obsessive, almost methodical way of writing poems, writing and rewriting until perfection; Maria and her muted vividness, after some incident or another with a soldier. It surprised Yelena she was still so vivid, after spending so long in the House; sickly Alexei, who longed to be running off, free as a bird, cursing his frail body, and instead, bed bound and moaning in pain.
And then the youngest of the four sisters, Anastasia, all impotent rage and fury, sitting and watching Yelena as she moved around. If Yelena could read minds, she was almost sure she'd be able to hear the girl cussing at her, swearing her off like a sailor would. She didn't need to, however; her eyes, blue-gray and angry, said enough.
The Commander, too, was a curious man to watch, but it wasn't her place to do so. Instead, she kept her observations about the family to herself - because he didn't care, as long as it wasn't about planned escapes.
She shook her head; it was late - almost three in the morning, and she should be asleep, ready for work, when the sun rose in about an hour. Unfortunately, she seemed to have a spell of insomnia, feeling something twist inside her chest. Worry, but she couldn't place a finger on a possible why, like some sort of anxiety that gnawed at her chest for no other reason than to simply gnaw her heart.
Yelena shuddered, huddling herself near the dying fire of the oven, the embers glowing dimly orange, and looked up when she heard the sound of heavy steel boots against the tiled floor. She rose, closing her thin woolen blanket near her body, and faced the soldiers. They seemed nervous, and the worry in her heart made her chest burn with pain.
"Is something needed?" She asked, and one soldier approached. Maybe food? Sure, she could probably whip something out, but it'd take at least twenty minutes.
"Vodka." One of them said, voice hoarse, and she - but a simple servant who couldn't deny anything the soldiers asked - nodded, picking up the bottle and glasses for them, hearing them sit. She could hear the sound of them fiddling with their guns, and cold dread settled in her shoulders.
Yelena slid them their glasses, and with no exception, they all drank it at once. She blinked, surprised, and poured more. Were they going to war? Was she going to die?
"Don't mind my question, but are the Whites nearby?" She sat with them, blinking her dark eyes, and one of them grimaced.
"Commander Yurovsky has received orders from Moscow." He said, and it was enough, eyeing his gun. His partner drank both their drinks.
She very much doubted the order came from far, dream-like Moscow, and not directly from the Commander, but who she was to question anything? Yelena was just a lowly servant, at the end of the day. What did she know about what the Party thought?
Yelena nodded, quietly, legs failing her as she sat down, and one other spoke up.
"We shouldn't even be telling you this, but… More." She rose, ignoring the pain in her legs, pouring the soldier more before sitting back down, another soldier simply grabbing the bottle and guzzling it down. "But duty..."
"Is a duty." She agreed. They were all working for the Reds; it was in their best interests to do their job, bow their head and work. The soldiers shared the bottle in silence, until the Commander appeared, as well, and swiped down the bottle. They all rose, standing in position.
"Botkin was alerted. Into position." He said, and eyed Yelena. She looked at him back, and he pawed the bottle as the soldiers left.
"Is there any way I can be of use, Commander?" Yelena asked, and the commander took a swig from the bottle.
"If you can stay awake, we might need help with the bodies."
The bodies, he said. As if they weren't human anymore. As if they were just like the sacks of meat animals became after being hunted and butchered.
He spoke of the soon to be dead royal family in such a definite way, like it was already out of his control, that all her doubts about the orders being from Moscow were squashed. Truly, they were from the leader himself. There was no room for doubt anymore.
"Commander." She replied, and he left the bottle on the table. Yelena rose up from her seat, going to huddle herself near the fire, and pretended the screams she heard soon after were just the cracklings of the pine.
The bodies were twisted and gruesome, but it wasn't Yelena's job to say anything about their appearance; she was here to dig the hole to put Anastasia and Alexei's bodies to rest. That was her job.
"This way, if they are found, they won't think it's the royal family," The Commander had explained, waving at a random direction that Yelena and another two soldiers were to go, with their cart containing small bodies. "Because, you see, two bodies are missing. Twelve is the royalty. Nine? Oh, it happens."
His "it happens" had inspired no good feelings in her, but she had just nodded, shovel in hand, sitting near the bodies as the two soldiers, ghostly quiet, sat in the front. Yelena knew she should feel disgusted, but what was the difference between a human and a pig after death? None; they were both sacks of meat. The only difference was that one could not be eaten. In theory.
She looked around, feeling herself too close to the bodies, and closed her eyes, wondering what Dimitri would've said, if he had seen her like this, sitting between two bodies - one of a girl her age, the other of a boy who was the same age Klavdiya would've been, had she lived -, but she figured he'd be proud, since Dimitri now worked for the Party.
Yelena, grasping firmly her shovel, opened her eyes and looked to Anastasia, the girl pale as death, her lips, blue-ish in the rising light of morning and slightly open, fog leaving through -
Wait, what? Fog? With one quick look to the soldiers, to assure herself they weren't looking to her, she put her finger under Anastasia's nose, shock seeping through her body when she was met with labored, quiet breath. A finger to her throat proved that the girl had some raspy breath, some fight left in her, and -
Oh, cursed be the god she had prayed to, as a kid and then never again - Anastasia was alive.
Looking to the soldiers, she formed a plan. It was stupid, but this girl, this girl was her age, and Yelena -
She couldn't let Anastasia die - every single part of her mind solidly refused this as an option, refused to even consider this as a possibility -, and as the cart bumped through the ground, she prayed to every listening deity that Anastasia did not let out a single sound, that she stayed quiet, that her chest didn't rise too much or too little, that she stayed in the realm of life and death she was stuck into.
When the soldiers determined it was a good place as any to bury the frail corpses, Yelena worked quickly, praying under her breath to a god she didn't know existed, but hoped so. The soldiers didn't seem to notice, drunk as skunks, and Yelena couldn't help but wonder if they were shaken so much for death, what were they like during the great war? She had never been to the front, but when the boys from her town came to a visit, they seemed shaken in the same way.
Well, except for Dimitri, but Dimitri had always been odd. Dimitri also had never visited.
When the bodies were buried - Yelena made sure to let the earth loose, as to facilitate her later work, she quietly faced the soldiers. They looked at her, somber, confused, drunk and gloomy. Good.
"You can go ahead," She told them, and the two stared at her, disbelief written in their faces. She grabbed the shovel strongly against herself, and one of them rolled their eyes. "I wish to pray for their souls."
One of them huffed, the other rolling his eyes, but they left her, taking the bloodied cart and leaving the resting place of Alexei. She counted down every heart beat until they were more or less sixty beats away, and started to work over Anastasia. She thanked herself to have kept the shovel, and didn't waste a breath on praying.
When the girl was revealed, she put her ear to the girl's chest, dirtied with mud, and released the shakiest breath when she found Anastasia's heart still beating, weak as it was. Good - the girl was still fighting, and Yelena wished she continued to do so.
Yelena rose, looking around; to her home - a small hut where she lived alone, after her family had died off a winter sickness and she had survived, leaving her alone and with no relatives - it would be, maybe, a few kilometers. And she still, perhaps, needed to go back to the House, see if they needed her anymore. If they didn't, good, but if they did, she wasn't sure how she was supposed to care for Anastasia.
Cursing her own heart, handling Anastasia as gently as she could, she put the almost dead girl in her back, and set to her home. The walk would be rough, but she would do whatever it took to have Anastasia survive, even if it came at the expense of herself.
She arrived at her home when the sun was heavy on the sky, shining on her path like a curse, and luck, somehow, was on her side, today; none of her neighbours were around. She avoided a sigh of relief, focusing on the sound of the river nearby, roaring in her ears as she left the shade of the forest, going for the clear path that took her to her house, filled with weeds she never had time to take out anymore. Her parents would be ashamed.
Yelena scuttled home, closing her door quickly behind her with one hand (dirty with mud, encrusted with blood) and kept her windows shut, as she gently laid down Anastasia in her bed. Dirt and blood almost instantly seeped through, and Yelena avoided cringing.
She'd have to burn down the sheets later. Maybe she could salvage the blankets, but the sheets were a goner.
No, that wasn't what Yelena should focus on, right now; she rose, making sure her black hair was in a tight bun, and went for the terrible little first aid kit her mother had put together from her little tour to the hospitals during the war. She had been a sister of mercy, and when she had come back - when Russia had left the war, which now seemed like a lifetime ago -, she had taught Yelena a little of the basics. Just enough to get by. It hadn't been enough to save Klavdiya and Alexandra, but...
But now, she thanked her mother; the knowledge that had been passed down to her would come in handy. Yelena picked up the battered little box and went back to Anastasia. The girl's breath, now that she was being warmed up, seemed more laboured, and as such, Yelena made sure to work quickly, cutting away with her sewing scissors the fabric almost glued to her body with blood, assessing the wounds - stabbing wounds, it seemed, which made Yelena wonder why they stabbed her, if the soldiers had guns, in the first place - for a moment before starting to work.
She cleaned the wounds, biting back a smile every time Anastasia's breath hitched - it was bound to mean something good, right? She was reacting, after all! -, sewing her back, and hoping, a fervent prayer she had thought long forgotten gracing her lips, no infection settled in. However, with how Anastasia had been handled, she'd be lucky to not be infected with something that would have Yelena end up with a corpse in her house. A corpse would be difficult to explain.
When she was finished, Anastasia didn't seem so pale, even though her breath still seemed weak. And yet, she had to show up to work, see what the Commander's orders were now that the family was gone. Cleaning her forehead with the back of her hand, noticing, for the first time, how much her hands were shaking, she took a bath to clean herself, before heading back to the House.
Cursing her own inability to write and read beyond her own name, Yelena all but ran there, praying to no one she could come back before Anastasia woke up.
The Commander paid her, and she stared, incredulous, at the money. It was more than expected for her measly one month of work, if the weight of the coin sack was anything to go by.
"The Whites mustn't know." Ah, so it was a bribe. Helena nodded, putting it in her pockets. At least now she was sure she could feed herself and Anastasia. The man hesitated for a moment, and Yelena waited. "And, if you don't mind me saying, Saltanova, leave Yekaterinburg."
Had she heard it right? How was she to leave the only place she had ever known? Yelena barely knew how to read, how was she supposed to feed herself?
"Why is that, Commander?" She asked, and he seemed… Nervous, almost. The deaths must really take its toll on him, she thought, and then scoffed at herself; why would the man behind the gun be nervous at death? She should be the nervous one.
"The Whites are too close to this town. Leave, Saltanova, and take this secret with you. Dismissed." Yelena nodded, taking her leave, unwittingly fired from her job.
She took a detour before heading back home, buying enough food it wouldn't trip the local network of gossip, but that also could feed both her and the recovering Anastasia with no problems. Which meant it bound her to make soup. In the middle of summer. With a sigh, Yelena decided she deserved to take a nap, later.
When she arrived in her home, to her surprise - and fear, cold like the winter in her body - Anastasia was awake, looking at the ceiling, face mended into a frown. Her blue-gray eyes turned to face her, and instead of the rage from before, Yelena found nothing but a great, blank emotion, like a fresh piece of paper.
"Hello?" Yelena started, closing the door behind her, and Anastasia tried to sit, which just made her whine in pain. Leaving the food fall to the floor, she went to Anastasia's bedside, shushing her. "No, no. You're recovering, don't move too harshly. It might undo the stitches."
Anastasia stopped moving, but it were her empty eyes that left a bad taste in Yelena's mouth. What had happened? Was Anastasia's case harder than expected? Was Yelena way over her head?
"Who am I? Where am I?" She whispered and Yelena had to avoid cheering.
She had memory loss. Yelena paused, and bit her tongue, trying to make up something that would convince her.
"I don't know," She lied. It was better this way. Easier, too. "I found you bloodied and battered by the side of the road,and took you home."
Anastasia nodded, feeble and weak, and Yelena wondered what she should do. Anastasia tried to touch her own throat - perhaps she was thirsty? -, and stopped when she winced. So, she was in pain. Yelena started to think if she had pain medicine in her house, but first, she had to prioritize something else.
"What do you remember?" Yelena asked, hoping to cover her bases as soon as possible. If she knew what Anastasia remembered, she could lie her way out.
Anastasia seemed to struggle with her memories - or lack of then, rather -, and Yelena excused herself to get a glass of water for Anastasia, and she fed the girl little sips, her mind working to think about her past.
"I think… I remember my name." A pause, and Yelena prayed she didn't tell her own name. Anything but Anastasia, please... "Anya, I think."
Yelena thanked God for the small blessing she had received, and frowned.
"I can't say I have ever heard of an Anya here, or if anyone with your appearance." Anastasia deflated at this, and Yelena bit her tongue as she watched her wince with pain. "Would you like anything for the pain? I think I may have some medicine."
Anastasia seemed relieved, nodding weakly, and Yelena went for the first aid kit. Some fumbling revealed she still had some cough syrup that made her family stop moaning in pain, and as such, she fed Anastasia a spoonful. Anastasia thanked her, and Yelena smiled.
The girl fell in a fitful sleep soon after, and Yelena, shoulders sagging, decided two things: one, she was to make dinner. Two, she would move to somewhere else as soon as possible.
In Yekaterinburg, all seemed to know how much each other ate and bought, who lived with who and the happenings in each other's lives. Yelena couldn't, possibly, stay and allow people to speculate who Anya could be, and if she wasn't the now lost Grand Duchess. There was also the matter of the closing by Whites, and if they found her - who had worked in the House, who had colluded with the murders, who was hiding the Grand Duchess -, who knew what they'd do? Yelena was but a mere servant and they, they were powerful men, and Yelena didn't wish to die.
Moving away was the best option. She'd have to check her funds, but anywhere was better than here.
Besides, she could always count with Dimitri. But right now, dinner.
Anastasia, Yelena found out, recovered quickly, as if the stabbing she had received were nothing but scratches. With her recovery, her personality came back, the impotent fury she felt now directed not at Yelena, but at her lack of memories.
"Cheer up, comrade." Yelena told her, one such night, the train tickets for St. Peters - no, Leningrad - she had bought for the next week in her pocket. She also had sent a letter to Dimitri, with the help of the local teacher, and he had gotten them a little place, for a while. "Think of it as a clean slate. Who knows what your life was like before, to have ended with you thrown out to die in a ditch?"
"Maybe you're right, Yelena, but I still feel like I'm missing something." Anastasia replied, eating the soup. It had been soup for dinner and lunch every day, and Yelena could feel that both of them were growing sick from it.
Yelena smiled, taking out the train tickets from her pocket - it had cost her most of her savings, and the little apartment almost everything that had been left. The bribe the whites asked had taken the rest. -, sliding it over the table. Anastasia, one eyebrow rising, picked one, reading it (she had kept her ability to read, as Yelena had found out one day, when Anastasia herself had been surprised at her ability to read the can of tomatoes Yelena had traded one old dress of her mother for) for a moment, frowning.
"I'd say I never heard of Leningrad, but then, I haven't heard about most things." Her tone of voice was bitter, and Yelena could understand.
Even with no memories, Anastasia's personality shone through clear as daylight.
"It used to have another name. Saint Petersburg? Maybe you've heard of it." Yelena was playing with something she shouldn't have, but she felt sorry for Anastasia. To be without memories was to be without a life before, and to trust a stranger blindly took much faith. Yelena commended her for it, but she felt pity.
She could see Anastasia struggle, and she sighed, but frustration welled up in her throat.
"Nothing?" She prodded, eating her soup, and Anastasia shook her head, sliding the train tickets back to Yelena. She took them, and put it back in her pocket. "Well, maybe you just were a country bumpkin, or something. One who couldn't even read a map."
Anastasia cracked a smile, beautiful and blinding, and something pulled at Yelena's heartstrings. Guilt, probably.
"As you said, comrade, who knows?" And with that, she went back to eating. Yelena wanted to release a shaky breath, but she didn't.
Theoretically, Yelena knew, but it was a secret that died with her.
The train trip to Leningrad was easy and simple, and Anastasia seemed at home in a train.
Yelena, meanwhile, who had never traveled through train, was having motion sickness. Anastasia seemed to have fun with that, though, but she glared at the Grand Duchess through a queasy stomach, sure that, if she were to open her mouth, she would puke.
The stops - when the soldiers would come onboard, either leaving, boarding or just greeting their comrades - were always the worst part, because Yelena was too busy trying to both control her stomach and keep Anastasia out of sight and mind.
Her stomach came to good use, at these times - she just pretended she had to go outside to puke, and instead walked around the station, in the shadows, Anastasia with her looking around as if it was new to her.
Well, it was. Yelena didn't know how the royal family traveled, but she was sure they'd never stop on the little rundown train stations they were stopping, filled with people with hollow eyes and death in their wake.
Arriving in Leningrad made her puke; luckily, outside the train. It meant, however, that she was unpresentable for meeting her escort, her old childhood friend Dimitri.
Dimitri was the son of Yelena's neighbor, good old Mrs. and Mr. Pasternak; he was four years older than her, and had gone to the front before the required age with some rather clever falsification of papers.
Now, however, Dimitri was in a good position inside the Party, and had some ways into the bureaucracy Yelena alone didn't have. Cleaning herself better, as Anastasia held off her hair, Yelena thanked whoever listened that his mother had asked her to keep in touch.
Now, that Mrs. Pasternak was dead and gone and Mr. Pasternak had left to the front and did not come back, she was the closest Dimitri had to family. Which meant he owed her.
Probably. Who even knew.
"Come, he must be waiting for us," She told Anastasia, who shouldered their bags - simple duffel bags, and she had traded soup in cans for it. They had brought some other food, but it was little. Sleeping was better at warding off the hunger than the meager rations they had brought.
"You didn't tell me much about this Dimitri fellow." There was a vague curiosity, a vague accusation, in Anastasia's tone, but she was too weak to care. Her mouth tasted absolutely vile, and her limbs felt like they were made of soup. Maybe they were.
"He's a friend. A cousin, almost." Yelena replied, and Anastasia nodded, as Yelena used her as support. If it were up to her, Yelena would never, ever set foot in a train again.
"It must be nice to have cousins. Not that I'd know, anyway." Yelena thought Anastasia had cousins, but it wasn't as if she had ever researched the royal family. She was barely literate, how was she supposed to do any reading? Anastasia faced Yelena, and she was still the same girl she had been, the same rage and fury.
Yelena wondered how Anastasia was before the captivity. Was she a good kid? Was she a rebel? What was Anastasia, before Yelena had ever met her, before she had been a captive on a house because of her birth, before they had killed her?
Well, there was that one time - long ago, a picture in a chocolate - but it didn't matter anymore. She noticed Dimitri, looking like the model soldier in his little uniform, and Yelena sped up, Anastasia picking up pace as she forgot about being sick.
They looked similar, Yelena and Dimitri: the same pale skin, the same black hair, the same shape of their nose - when they were kids and the lake was their only mirror, they'd have thought themselves twins, had it not been the difference in their ages.
The similarities ended with their eyes - while Yelena had the dark eyes of a moonless night with the bags under her eyes to match, Dimitri had the gentle eyes of a forest.
"Mitya!" She called, and he turned to face her, a smile gracing gently his lips. He had always been the prettiest of the boys in Yekaterinburg, and even war couldn't mark his face.
A pity she had no interest in him; in another life, perhaps she could have married him.
"Lena." He said his name like one that met his long-lost lover, and she could feel Anastasia fidgeting by her side, suddenly uncomfortable. His green eyes met Anastasia, and if he recognized her, he said nothing, nor did he act. "And that must be Anya?"
"I suppose so." Anastasia shrugged, and he looked back at Yelena. "And you must be Dimitri?"
"That'd be me, yes." He replied, looking around - his eyes assuming that shifty tone they did every time he did something that wasn't in the correct side of law.
Anastasia's papers, she supposed. He'd give them later, out of sight.
"I assume you have a place for us to sleep, or should we look for a marquise already?" Yelena asked, and while Anastasia's shocked face, betraying her cool exterior for a moment, and the two laughed. Some others looked at them, but they started to move instead, Dimitri - ever the gentleman - guiding them away from the masses.
"It's not funny to laugh about a girl with amnesia. I'm frail, you see." Anastasia grumbled, but that just made Yelena snort. Frail, the girl who survived an execution. Sure, she was the most fragile thing ever.
"Forgive me, miss, but you do not seem the frail type. Had Lena not told me, I'd say you were quite the healthy lady of the court." Even if she was smiling, she was cursing Dimitri's keen eyes. Damn it. What had he noticed, that Yelena had missed smoothing over? "No, excuse me, I misspoke. No lady of the old court could seem as headstrong as you."
"Do I? I wish I knew." There was pure, acid, caustic anger in her reply, and it just made Dimitri smile at Yelena. She glared at him and he started telling them about Leningrad as if he was a local.
The war had changed him, but somehow, it was just barely perceptible - or Yelena was just used to him that she couldn't notice. But there was a difference.
The apartment was small, cramped. The walls were thin, and the windows didn't shut completely. The heater was barely working. There was an obnoxious rust stain on the wall. There was only one bed. Yelena was almost sure she could smell the rats hiding in the walls.
"But, this was the best I could manage." Dimitri said, waving at the apartment that had almost wiped out her savings. Anastasia seemed fascinated with it, like its small size was enough. "And I'm sorry about the heater, but if you share the bed, it won't be really needed, will it?"
Yelena and Anastasia looked at each other - Yelena had been sleeping near the stove, curled up near it and waking up like a cat covered in the soot, to allow Anastasia to heal better -, but it was Anastasia who spoke up.
"I have no say in the matter. I also don't really care. Besides, it sounds like fun, you know? Kind of like sleeping in the same bed as your sister." Anastasia went to look around, unaware of what she had just uttered, and Dimitri send Yelena one long look.
Dimitri knew. Maybe they had not spoken about it yet, but he knew there was more to her story of "a girl I found on the side of the road".
"Hey, Anya, me and Lena will go out to get you two some nice dinner, what do you say?" Dimitri decided, all on his own, and Yelena glared at him, smoothing over her expression when Anastasia popped up from the other room.
"Bring something good. No offense, Yelena, but I'm tired of soups." Yelena smiled, and agreed, polite platitudes she had said to other soldiers, and even to the Commander, when they met.
With that, she and Dimitri left the apartment - lucky to have their own, but as she saw around, too lucky. Yelena half wondered what Dimitri did, to get them that place, but she also didn't want to know.
"Who is she?" He asked, arm in hers, walking around, as if they were two members of royalty.
"A girl I found on the side of the road." Yelena replied, sticking to her story. Dimitri smiled like she was that dumb child he once knew, and she felt like one.
"Don't play me, Lena. I do know where you worked." Dimitri said, purring, almost, and he traded a few pieces of paper - she couldn't read what it was, but it had the symbol of the Party - for a few cans of beans, with such expertise Yelena wondered how many times he had done this. He passed her the cans, and Yelena carried them in a careful pile. If two cans could be called a pile, anyway.
"Do you?" Yelena hummed, and Dimitri nodded. Did he work for the Cheka? Perhaps this was how he knew. Maybe he had seen her name and connected the dots.
"It is none of my business what you did, really, but know that there are people watching. And if she is who I think she is, Lena…"
There was a pause for him to trade one of the can of beans for some battered can of stew, and Yelena knew that this conversation could only end in two ways: with a death threat or with a death.
"I'll do my best to protect you. It is better to have her on our side, spouting off propaganda about us, than to them." She stared, incredulous, at Dimitri, and he seemed to glow. Bastard. "If she decides to, ah, refuse us, I might have to tell on her. That rust stain in your new house is there for a reason, although I can't confirm it is rust."
Yelena stared at him, eyes half-lidded.
"Is this a threat?" This wasn't what she wanted to ask. Her real question would be "do you think Sergei would like this game you're playing?", but the wound was still too raw on them.
"Should it be anything else, Lena?" He asked, and she knew the question was fully rhetorical. The smile on his face, however, did not match his tone, cheery and happy as they walked around, trading goods for food. The ladies seemed to love him, at least, smiling and chirping and giving way too much because he was pretty and dressed like a soldier in a high position. Logically, Yelena should be jealous of all the attention he was getting.
He was pretty, Yelena supposed. Maybe in another life, one where Yelena was actually interested in men, and Dimitri was interested more in women than in the soldiers he lived with, they could have gotten married, but that sounded as far off as having the monarchy restored.
Her eyes were only for Anastasia, Yelena noticed, blinking in surprise. She always knew of her every movement, the way her short hair - now just past her ears, growing surprisingly quickly for how badly they were eating - blonde in sunlight and her eyes, greyish and blue like the surface of a frozen lake, like snow dirty with soot. Her hands were charming, graceful as if she was still Anastasia, not Anya, even in the way she held the old cutlery Yelena hadn't sold for food. It was almost like she remembered, without ever remembering.
Yelena knew Anastasia, but Anya was a mystery.
"Mmmh, I think you have enough for a week." That brought Yelena back from her thoughts, as she looked to the now pile of cans in her arms. That was… Quite a lot. "Can't say I can do this again, because you two need a job, but it was surprisingly fun."
"Does the Party give you food?" Yelena asked, as Dimitri guided her through the streets of Leningrad, back to her small apartment, back to Anastasia.
Dimitri smiled, a mystery on his lips, and Yelena huffed.
When they arrived, Dimitri excused himself - "the revolution must go on, ladies," he had said, and Anastasia had rolled her eyes at that as he hugged Yelena, putting the girl's papers on her pocket -, and disappeared through the crowd down under. Yelena watched him go, one ear on Anastasia struggling with the cans.
Anastasia stopped all too suddenly, but Yelena was still looking for Dimitri in the crowd, not listening fully to the other girl. How much did he know? How much did the Party know? Was Dimitri a friend, or a spy? Were they still friends, after her request? Was Dimitri using her to move politically? What if Anastasia remembered who she was? Would she have to worry about being woken up by a knife in the gut, if Anastasia did not behave appropriately? Would she have to hear more screaming? Would her grave be an unnamed one, in the middle of the forest?
Was her decision to save Anastasia the best one Yelena could have made?
"Do you love him?" Anastasia blurted out, and Yelena whipped her head to the girl, confusion brewing in her mind and making her forget her early questions. "Dimitri, I mean."
"What?" Yelena asked, and Anastasia shrugged, fidgeting with the can of diced carrots. "No, no. Dimitri is like a brother to me. Besides, he isn't exactly interested in me, nor in any other woman."
Anastasia frowned, and when the words sunk in, she let out a breathless little "oh!" in the same intonation Tatiana had used when she had found a mistake in her writings. It was rather cute.
"And… There aren't any other men in your life?" Anastasia asked, and Yelena shrugged. "Besides Dimitri, I mean."
"If there was, I wouldn't have left Yekaterinburg." Leaving her place on the window, Yelena moved for the cans, noticing how Anastasia smiled like it was a whole new world to her. "Now come on, let's make dinner."
"Great!" Her voice seemed happier, too, and Yelena tallied it up for the promise of dinner. "What's for dinner?"
"Soup." Anastasia let out a whine, and Yelena just giggled as an answer. Things would be all right, much probably.