Anastasia paced in her room, the sound of the birds foreign and yet familiar, coming through her window. The morning had come, like every one before, but this one was different.
For starters, her day hadn't started with Yelena, but it was for a good reason. Yelena had...
What Yelena had done to her - since the days in the House, years ago, when Anastasia was herself - had been unfair. Unjust. She broke her heart, but these feelings - feelings she had been nurturing for the past six years, feelings that had boiled over the night before she had realized who she really was - would not go away so easily.
Besides, it wasn't like she could be in love with a woman, could she? She was a Grand Duchess, and no Grand Duchess was ever married to a woman. It was impossible, not meant to be, and as such, she should deal with it herself. Closing herself off, finding a good and proper husband, raising a family.
She shuddered. The very thought of being with a man made her want to puke. The simple idea of being a mother… Ugh. She would rather go back to Leningrad and die by firing squad after revealing herself as Anastasia than to have the fate expected of a lady of her station. Yelena would not have...
With a shake of her head, Anastasia bit her lower lip, looking out of the window. She couldn't just go back to Leningrad, back to her job as a simple street sweeper, back to that little apartment with thin walls with Yelena, her lips on hers, warm and soft and -
Anastasia groaned; why did her every other thought now seem to turn back to Yelena? The girl had lied to her, had hidden the truth from her, and yet -
And yet Anastasia couldn't help but loving Yelena. She missed Yelena, she missed her so much. Waking up without her had been odd, like a piece of her puzzle had been missing and she had only found out after it was near completion. Sure, she had her own self back, but the cost was high. She had lost everything.
But still… With a soft sigh, she kept pacing, a tiger stuck in its cage with nowhere to go until aunt Olga woke up, just pace around and decide what to do with the rest of her life. Not like she had any idea, in fact. Before the cellar, she knew what her life would be. But now, now…
Now all she could think was going back to Yelena, going back to cleaning the streets all day - she couldn't help but wonder how Esfir, Anzhela, and Masha were, if they had been able to eat. Usually, they found something and shared (Anastasia always picked the smaller part, because she knew Masha and Anzhela had children to feed, and because Dimitri always brought something for them) whatever it was, because it was the only way the four of them wouldn't be hungry. The only consolation Anastasia had now was that their shares would be bigger. Knowing her friends' soup would taste better was...
Well, it wasn't waking up with or kissing Yelena, but it was nice, too.
Anastasia went to the window, the river in the distance foreign to her. Its surface glittered in the early light, softly tinged in pinks and oranges, and Anastasia wondered if its waters were still or raging, if they seemed as peaceful from the distance only to trick whoever fell into them. In a way, the river mirrored Yelena - seemingly calm and innocent, beautiful and kind from a distance, but it probably held terrible secrets in its depth, murky waters that didn't let one see its insides.
And she had fallen in that river, drank from its waters, enmeshed herself with it until she was not Anastasia, but Anya, and she had done it with such fervor and love that Anastasia still felt its coldness. She tore her eyes out from the window, frustration building out in her throat.
She wanted to scream out of the window, but it wasn't polite to do so. She wanted to run away back home, but her home had been a nest of lies. With a frustrated growl, Anastasia marched to her bed, where she picked up one of the multiple pillows - so many she barely knew what to do with them -, soft and frustrating, and beat it against the unmade bedding, biting her lower lip as so not scream, the feathers floating around her as the pillow exploded.
She had nowhere to go, nowhere but a path she didn't truly wish to take, and a path she couldn't take.
"Are you satisfied?" Asked her aunt, forcing Anastasia - breathless, face warm with blood, with shame and fury etched in her expression, surely - to stop her assault on the pillows.
Aunt Olga, however, didn't seem to mind the sudden covering of feathers on the floor, smile placid in her face. She walked over the sea of feathers, sitting in the bed as if she didn't notice the feathers strewn around.
"Aunt Olga, I'm sorry, I just…" She started, and aunt Olga looked at her like she could read her mind. "I… I don't know what came over me."
"You miss that girl. Black hair, braided, servant." Aunt Olga said, as if she was seeing inside her heart. Anastasia puffed, sitting by her aunt's side, the empty pillowcase resting in her lap.
"I don't." She lied smoothly, putting a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear. Her aunt stared, brown eyes warm and affable. She missed the woman so much, all those years, and never noticed how. "She lied to me, she… She..."
The words were stuck in her throat, choking her, and Anastasia fell silent. The words weighed, heavy, on her throat. Yelena had lied, and they had broken her trust; that was the truth, and it was black and white simple.
"She protected you and stopped you from being killed." Aunt Olga continued, and Anastasia shook her head. No, she refused. "Nastya, darling, please think, use that pretty little head of yours. What would have happened if the Bolsheviks had found you?"
"They would have killed me," Anastasia replied, as if she weren't talking about herself. She frowned, when aunt Olga said nothing, and knew it was a silent invitation to keep her train of thought. "And then, they would have killed Yelena for saving me."
"Killed, yes, and worse. War is war, Nastya." Anastasia couldn't help but notice that her aunt wasn't using the usual nickname for her - Anya -, as if to avoid reminding her of who she had been. "But now, think. What would have happened if the whites had found you?"
"They would have…" Anastasia started, but aunt Olga shook her head, interrupting her.
"They would have shot Yelena and then, they would have interrogated you, no matter the condition you were in. I might be old, Anastasia, but I'm not blind. They would have interrogated you, deemed you a pretender, and shot you because they'd not recognize you." The words shocked Anastasia, but she figured there was truth to them. It was a possibility, truth to be told, if what she had heard had any truth to it, instead of being just propaganda.
"But what if they had recognized me, aunt Olga?" Anastasia insisted, and her aunt smiled bitterly.
"Then they'd have shot Yelena, and when the white army was captured, Anastasia, you would've died either way." Anastasia looked at her aunt in shock, and her aunt smiled as if it was nothing but a request for more tea. "Anastasia, please, see through your judgment, and notice there was no path but the one you took that would have left you alive."
"But she could have told me, aunt…!" Anastasia protested, feeling childish, but she had to. "She could have told me, she could have not hidden my identity…!"
"And you would have asked to get out of Russia as soon as possible, and then gotten shot because you would be hasty." Her aunt shook her head, and grabbed Anastasia's hands delicately. "Nastya, think. Use your pretty head, and think. It does not matter, the past, now. She kept you alive and well, and she saved you. She could have left you to die, but she didn't. And now you're all fussy because she didn't tell you who you were?"
"Yes!" Anastasia cried out, and her aunt just held her hand tighter. "I spent years wondering who I was, why I was left alone to die, and she knew, all this time! She held me when I cried about it, aunt, and she knew, she knew, she knew!"
Tears stung her eyes, but Anastasia refused to let them fall. Her aunt, meanwhile, sighed, shoulders slumping.
"Then why are you still so hung up on her?" Anastasia knew when her aunt was prodding, digging deeper to get to the juicy bits - she was just like aunt Xenia in this matter -, but as of now, she didn't care. "She betrayed your every trust, and yet, it is to her your mind returns. Do you love this girl?"
She did - she had fallen for Yelena, to the point where she was willing to let go of a peaceful life in comfort for a tiny apartment with a ratty bed. She was willing to give up being Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov, to be Anya Mikhailovna Vasiliev, to give up being royalty to be a commoner. What was that, if not love? She was willing to uproot her entire life just for Yelena, and yet -
"More than anything, aunt Olga," Anastasia answered, and her aunt hugged her. She sobbed, loudly, uncaring for appearances as she let herself go. "But I'm so afraid, aunt Olga. What if…"
"Darling Nastya." Her aunt let go of her, hands on her shoulders. "She loves you, and you love her. Of that, I am sure. So go after her, no matter what."
"But what about you? What about you, aunt Olga?" Anastasia asked, and her aunt smiled.
"I receive people all the time, Nastya, be them a common man or another noble. You can visit me, and I can tell Xenia to let you visit." She kissed Anastasia's forehead, and the girl sniffed. "Now go, darling. Don't mind this old woman."
Anastasia nodded, getting up, and getting out of there, the river by her back glinting under the risen sun as she went to find Yelena. She probably was with Dimitri, and as such, she went to the hotel they were supposed to stay in.
"She's not here." Said Dimitri, as Anastasia stared at the empty room. Her bags were there, sure (because she had had no time to grab them, but now it would be useful), but Yelena's weren't. She stood in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do, and Dimitri's voice echoed around her. Anastasia did not turn to face him. "I recommended her she made her own life, and who'd think she'd listen to me?"
"Yelena left?" Anastasia asked, eyes still on where her bags should be. Yelena should be here, and she should…
"Yes, she was quite broken-hearted. So a nice girl from the bar and I suggested she enjoyed life, and she will. I think she was going to the train station. Something something… Paris?" Dimitri was having fun, she knew this; it was in his inflection, in his every word and syllable. She hated him.
But it was fair for Yelena to run away. After all, she hadn't expected that Anastasia would come back. Not even Anastasia herself had expected it. In her situation, she would have done the same.
"Thanks." She said, picking up her bags, and turning back to face Dimitri, who seemed… Melancholic. She stared at him, and he stared right back. "What?"
"Theoretically, this is the part where I shoot you for running off, asset." Dimitri produced a small pistol from somewhere in his person, pointing at her, and Anastasia tensed, memories -
wherearewegoing/it'sforyourownsecuritythewhiteshavefoundyouandnowwemustmoveyou/thecellarhasnoescapethough/shutthefuckupprisioner/nowwaithere/pleasebringachairformeandalexei/sure/dontyouthinkit'sabitweirdpapa/thishashappenedbeforeanya/butit'sthemiddleofthenight/hereisyourchair/thankyou/attentionprisionersthisisnowacommunicate of yo u h
"No!" Anastasia fell, and Dimitri's gun kept pointing at her, even if he raised an eyebrow at her. She was at his mercy, wasn't she? Just like she had been, back then. Different men, same tactic. "Don't shoot me, I have done nothing wrong!"
He gave a step inside, closing the door behind him, gun still trained on her. She stared at him, grey-blue against forest green.
"Your only crime, Anastasia, was being born in the imperial family." He smiled, giving one step closer. She kept her eyes on him, as he approached, each step an infinity.
"Then shoot me. Shoot me, Dimitri, and end this." She hissed, rising up - her legs felt like they would give up any minute, now, but she had her dignity to keep. She had her family name to uphold, and by God, she would not die crying, begging for her captor not to kill her. She had already done that, once, and she refused to bow down once more.
He put the muzzle of his pistol against her forehead, and she kept her eyes on him. He smirked at her, finger on the trigger.
"Poor Yelena will cry so much, when she finds out. Or perhaps she won't, since you've broken her heart." He said, and Anastasia kept her eyes steady, even though her mind imagined hearing about it, Dimitri telling her that he had gotten rid of Anastasia, hands still bloodstained, smelling like gunpowder. Would she cry, or would she just close the door and pretend he hadn't done that, pretend she never knew Anastasia?
Would she leave Anastasia behind - no, she was already leaving. If she thought Anastasia was alive and well, then she would be satisfied.
No. Anastasia couldn't let her find out Dimitri had been killed.
"Don't. Don't let her find me, please, Dimitri. If you hold any love for her, then please…" Anastasia hated begging like this, but the idea of Yelena discovering all she had done to keep her alive had been futile hurt her deeply.
Dimitri smiled, a wry devil in a suit. He cocked his gun.
"There is no use begging now, prisoner. You're at my mercy." Anastasia closed her eyes when she saw Dimitri's finger move, and fell when the gunshot.
When Anastasia realized she hadn't been murdered (again), she opened her eyes, Dimitri offering a hand at her. There had been no shot; it only had been her memories.
"You didn't kill me," She said, more baffled than she had any right to be. Still, she accepted Dimitri's silent offer, straightening her dress. "Why?"
"I said you're at my mercy, didn't I?" He replied, and messed up her hair with his free hand, putting the empty pistol back in his pocket. She stared at him, and his eyes seemed full of emotions she could barely get. "My mercy says you live, comrade. Now go. Yelena will pick up the train that leaves at noon, and perhaps you'll get a ticket, if you arrive soon."
"Won't you get killed for this? It is treason." Anastasia moved to pick up her bags, however - she wasn't dumb enough to stick around, but curiosity got the best of her -, an eye on Dimitri, who seemed content on standing around, hands in her field of vision.
"You will, perhaps, just need to answer a letter every once in a while, or host someone for a day or two, depending on where you decide to move. I will bear the burden of whatever may fall upon me." He shrugged, and Anastasia put her bag in her shoulder, staring at him. He laughed. "Don't worry, Anastasia, they won't kill me. After all, I am the only one who knows where you are going."
"I can disappear." She pointed out, adjusting the bag, and Dimitri kept the wry smile on his devilish face.
"And let dearest aunts Olga and Xenia all alone?" He replied, and she cursed under her breath. "You've wasted enough time with me, Anya dear. Go, before is too late."
She didn't need to be told twice. With a firm nod, Anastasia left the room, leaving behind Dimitri, who simply watched.
The train station wasn't crowded, which was rather nice, because she zeroed in Yelena very quickly. Not that it'd be hard, since she knew Yelena well, but still. Easier. She stopped for a moment, trying to catch her breath, and watched Yelena.
She looked beautiful - not that she wasn't normally, but something about the light that fell over her head, the way her braid was tied, the clothes that seemed cleaner than usual -, fidgeting with the strap of her bag, eating something that she couldn't exactly identify. Anastasia had no right to go there and bother her, but it wasn't like she was ever told "no" as a child.
Well, her parents and sisters had tried, but the lesson hadn't exactly stuck. With a deep breath, Anastasia approached, slowly but surely. She would make it a surprise.
Yelena looked so pretty.
"Yelena!" She called, unable to stop herself, and Yelena blinked quickly, twice, before looking up in her directions, shoulders falling as she rose. When she arrived, she was once more breathless, hands on her knees as she tried her very best to look regal, looking up to the girl in front of her, dark eyes staring at her. "Yelena."
"Anastasia. May I ask that, if I find your card in another chocolate box, I can keep it?" She asked, softly, putting a hand under Anastasia's cheek, pulling her up slightly. Anastasia obeyed the quiet order, and huffed. "Please. Let me have this one thing of you, I beg."
"No. You can't have a picture of me." Yelena gave a step back, and Anastasia stepped forward. "I'm coming with you. Don't think you're getting rid of me so easily, Yelena."
Yelena blinked once more, hands joining with Anastasia, fingers interlacing.
"But I thought…" She started, and shook her head. "Don't you hate me, now? What I did..."
"Was for my protection." She interrupted, and Yelena looked at her, bewildered. "Listen, Yelena, I realized, and honestly, being a Grand Duchess isn't all that it's made to be, really. It's very boring, in fact, and seeing the world seems way better."
Yelena seemed to hesitate for a moment, eyes cast down.
"I'm not rich."
"We will probably go hungry."
"We've gone hungry more than once."
"You deserve better."
"I know exactly what I deserve, and right now, it's taking a trip around the world the world with you." She paused, and relaxed. "If you'll have me."
"Why wouldn't I?" Yelena asked, hugging Anastasia, warm and soft, just as she remembered. She missed it, somehow, even if it hadn't been a full day.
And she also sort of wanted to kiss her, but they were in public, and that probably wouldn't be acceptable. What she wouldn't give to be in their little room, right now…
"Wait, hold up a moment." Yelena said, blinking quickly. Anastasia tore her eyes off Yelena's lips, blushing. "If you're going with me to Rome, then we need to get your tickets."
Yelena pulled at her, grabbing her bag, and going for the ticket office, but Anastasia was sporting a frown on her face.
"Rome?" She asked, as Yelena dragged her down.
"Yes, I was planning to go to Paris, but I figured Dimitri would figure it out, so I changed my mind midway here. Faster, Anastasia, we got…"
"Anya." She blurted out, making Yelena stop in her tracks. Anastasia put a strand of her hair behind her ear, feeling the blush spread. "Anastasia is dead, isn't she?"
Yelena stopped, for a moment considering what Anastasia had just said, and nodded.
"Sure, Anya. But still, let's go. The train is going out soon, and if I lose it, I'm going to actually have to go to Paris." She replied, pulling her, and Anastasia - no, Anya - smiled, going with Yelena. She could feel the missing part of the puzzle coming back together, and God, she had never been happier. She just wished she could kiss Yelena, but that could be solved later.
"What will you tell them?" Asked Olga Alexandrovna, writing a letter, and Dimitri drank a sip of his tea - Earl Grey, a rarity in the Union. He would miss this. -, before answering, collecting his thoughts.
"That Anastasia has decided that she will not come back to the Union, but she also will not step up as the actual Anastasia." He said, and Olga Alexandrovna rose her dark eyes. They were intelligent, and she reminded him of Yelena, if Yelena was a Grand Duchess. He drank another sip.
Olga didn't seem to believe it and kept her eyes on him. He placidly ignored her, enjoying his tea.
"Shall I send money for your funeral, or are you going to get thrown down a shaft?" That was… Dangerously close to some truths Olga wouldn't really like to hear. Dimitri smiled, putting down his teacup. "It'd be great, economy-wise."
"I have an agreement with the girls and the police. They'll be sleeper agents, and I am their contact point." Dimitri replied, and Olga looked at him for a mere second, before going back to her letter. "I know it is not what you dreamed for Anastasia, but…"
"You're right it is not what I dreamed for her. I wanted her married, with a palace and a title to her name." She used her fountain pen to point at Dimitri, and he decided it was a bad moment to drink more tea. "I wanted my niece to be royalty, and you reds took it from her."
Olga paused, and sighed, shoulders slumping, and she went back to writing. He guessed it was to Xenia, but there was no way of knowing.
"But, most of all, I wanted my niece to be alive, and… That she is. I wanted Anastasia to be happy, and that she is. I cannot ask for more." She sighed once more, and Dimitri drank his tea. He probably could grab a biscuit, too. It seemed to have sugar, and it had been years since he had sugar. "Dimitri, tell me."
"Whatever you wish, ma'am." He replied, grabbing the biscuit. He could feel the sheer quantity of sugar on it. "Except a few things, but I assume your question is about Anastasia."
"The girl I saw here… She is the real one, right? The girl at the hospital…?" The doubt in her voice was delicious, Dimitri had to say. He took his sweet time in eating the biscuit and drinking the tea, and Olga kept writing her letter.
"The girl at the hospital is a fake. The one with Yelena is real." He replied and Olga's shoulders relaxed. "I'm not sure who is behind the one at the hospital, but I think they might be after a certain Romanov fortune."
That made Olga stop, spluttering in a manner that wasn't very royal-like. Dimitri politely pretended not to see it, using the moment to have one biscuit or three more.
"Romanov fortune? Really?" Olga laughed, and Dimitri's eyes rose, eyebrow raised. "Well, when they find it, let me know where it is. I'd love to get my hands on it, as well."
Dimitri chuckled, and he kept sipping his tea, as the sound of the pen against paper resonated around the room. He looked out, the vision of a river that was foreign to him, and smiled a little.
It reminded him nothing of the rivers of the Soviet Union, but a river was a river, and rivers were all the same.