Summary: Anastasia Romanov is the Grand Duchess of Russia, and the youngest daughter of the tsar. Well, she was, before she and her family were exiled and killed by Bolshevik soldiers. But instead of killing her, Anastasia was subjected to Mass Memory Erasure, a technology used in hopes of bending the Russian people to the will of communism. Because of this, Anastasia's memories of her past and her family are wiped clean, leaving her with no recollection of who she really is. She is now called Anya, who works multiple jobs and lives above a tavern owned by a nasty barkeeper. But, dreams of a big city with twinkling lights and nightmares of gunshots and screams plague her, leaving Anya questioning everything and everyone. But, with the help of Dimitri Rybakov, St. Petersburg's most notorious con artist, she is pulled further into the world of who she used to be. But will uncovering her true self prove to be dangerous for Anya? Is she safe anymore? Is anyone?
May 20th, 1918
"Maria?" Anastasia called, growing slightly irritated. She'd been searching for her older sister for the past half hour, her older sister who had promised she'd braid her hair. She thought she'd searched every inch of this ridiculous house, most likely angering every single guard that stood on watch, day in and day out.
She and her family have been held here since the end of April, after her father abdicated his throne, leaving them stuck for almost a month in this place. The Bolshevik soldiers who were keeping a close eye on them, told them they had to leave their home at Alexander Palace (where they were under house arrest for a month prior because the government wanted to put her father on trial for his "misdemeanors while ruling") because they claimed that the family needed to be protected in a more secure area, because apparently, thousands of people wanted her and her family dead. Why, she didn't know. She was always kept out of a lot of the business and politics, all of her siblings were. She didn't know why her father stepped down. She didn't understand why he was being put on trial, and she certainly didn't understand why they were all being shut up in this house, far away from everything she knew as home.
She softly went up the stairs, past the second story where their rooms were and up to the third. All of these rooms were unused and empty, according to one of the friendly, chattier guards. None of her sisters ever went up there, although some guards still liked to pace back and forth in the hallway anyways.
Probably to pretend that they had an actual job to do.
As soon as she reached the top of the stairs, Anastasia heard a loud crash coming from the left wing of the corridor. She looked in the direction of the sound, and was startled to find one of the guards had kicked down a door, the very last one in the hallway. She watched it rip completely off the hinges and fall forward, into the room he was desperately trying to get into. She ignored the fear she felt at the fact that he had the strength to do such a thing, and tried to avoid eye contact with the giant rifle strapped to his shoulder.
She heard a shriek now that she instantly recognized as Maria's and she hurried down the long hallway towards the mess.
"Tupitsa!" The guard growled, using the Russian word for 'dumbass', as he pulled Ivan Skorokhodov, the youngest guard assigned watch, out of the room by his right ear. Anastasia's heart sank as she saw his face, because she knew who would be coming out next.
"Come out here, girl." The soldier ordered brusquely, giving her a chance to walk out on her own without force.
Anastasia made it to the broken door and found none other than her sister Maria, standing still as a stone in what looked to be a supply room, her blouse unbuttoned indecently and her lips swollen with sin. She glanced at Ivan, whose guard uniform was completely removed and was left in a plain white shirt. She saw Anastasia and guilt automatically appeared on her face like a passing rain cloud.
Anastasia should've assumed Maria would've gotten caught sooner or later. She's been flirting with Ivan for weeks now. They were around the same age, and he always treated her family kindly, of course, taking quite a liking to Maria. The two of them spent a lot of time together during free hours, against her mother's better judgement. She was constantly scolding Maria, telling her that Ivan was no good, that he was just as bad a Bolshevik as every other soldier here. She also kept reminding her that she needed to lay low, because if she got caught with him, it would not fare well for either party. But Maria, being the coy, stubborn girl that she was (ironically, that was exactly like Anastasia), didn't listen, continuing to hang around Ivan anyways.
And now, they finally did it. They snuck off together, desperate for a moment alone, thinking they just absolutely would not get caught in this small house, where there were guards in almost every corner, guards who apparently couldn't stand her family.
Before either sister could open their mouth and say something, the guard stormed into the room and grabbed Maria roughly by her hair, dragging her out. Maria began to cry at the action, and at the sight of her tears, Anastasia immediately stepped forward.
"Don't touch her!" She shouted, suddenly angry as hell at the fact that he was handling her this way. They were still Grand Duchesses' for God's sake, and whether they were shacked up as prisoners in this old house as nobodies, or living in a palace as the royal Romanovs, they should be treated with respect at all times.
And nobody was to ever lay hands on her family, especially not Maria.
The guard suddenly turned his head to look at Anastasia, his face showing slight surprise, as if he only just now noticed that she was there, and then disgust once he realized who she was.
Without even flinching, he swung his hand and slapped her hard in the face. The slap was so forceful that Anastasia fell to the floor at the impact. She cried out in pain, her vision blurring for just a moment.
"Stop!" Maria yelled, struggling to get out of the grip he now had on her arm.
"What's going on here?" Anastasia heard her father now as he clambered up the stairs, her mother and sisters right behind him. She willed herself not to cry as he rushed to her, helping her up. Her cheek stung profusely, and her father reached out to run a soothing hand across the red skin. Anger clouded his sky blue eyes, eyes identical to hers, as he quickly realized what had been done.
The guard instantly let go of Maria as he saw the tsar and she ran to her family, Anastasia catching her in an embrace.
"I found your whore daughter locked in here with Lieutenant Skorokhodov." He spat out, pointing an accusatory finger first at Maria, than at Ivan.
She didn't know why, but the first person Anastasia looked at after that was said was her mother. She found her standing stiffly behind the rest of her family, her mouth set in a tight line, disapproval and scorn written all over her face. At that moment, she was almost afraid for Maria.
"It's not what it looked like, I promise, we were just-" Ivan tried, but the guard drove his fist straight into his gut, causing him to double over in agony. Anastasia flinched as Maria begged him to stop, and her father squeezed her arm reassuringly.
"Save your excuses. They won't be useful to you now." replied the guard, swiftly grabbing Ivan and beginning to drag him past them and down the stairs. Before they began their descent, he stopped directly in front of her father, staring him right in the face. He let go of Anatasia's arm to straighten up and look right back.
"If I ever see anything like this come from her, or any of your little brats again, I won't hesitate in shooting them."
She heard her mother audibly gasp at this, but her father continued to remain solemn, silently staring at him to show this evil man that he wasn't afraid of these words, and his children shouldn't be either. Despite her father's bravery, Anastasia still felt a chill go down her spine, because she knew that those words rang true, and this scared her beyond belief.
She reached down now to take Maria's hand and squeezed tight. But Maria didn't squeeze back, she instead was focused on the guard bringing Ivan downstairs, her eyes filling with fresh tears.
"Where are you taking him?" She cried, attempting to wriggle out of Anastasia's arms and follow the guard. He didn't answer, just simply made his way down the stairs with a pale faced, terrified looking Ivan.
"Tell me where you're taking him!" Maria finally got her hand free of Anastasia's and started to run after Ivan. Her father and her oldest sister Olga were quicker to react than Anastasia was, immediately restraining Maria from moving, holding her back by her arms.
"Let me go, Papa! Please! I need to know where he's taking Ivan, please, I-"
And that's when they heard the gunshot.
One single, clean shot that sent a lone bullet flying through the air, surely nailing Ivan right in the head.
Anastasia's ears rang with disbelief, stunned speechless at the fact that these men had so much cruelty in their hearts, cruelty that seemed to be reserved especially for her family. Their souls were black with evil, pure malice shooting from their tongues like snake venom. Ivan was one of their own, and a good man, a better man than any of these soldiers would ever be. And they just killed him for disobeying without thinking twice, knowing it would hurt Maria.
Her sister sunk to the ground now, screaming as if she herself had been shot. Everyone was around her in an instant, a cluster of Romanovs kneeling down around her. Her father held her close to his chest and whispered comforting words in her ear, as Olga and Tatiana each held one of her hands. Anastasia stayed farther back, hugging her sister from the side and leaning her head on her shoulder as Maria cried hysterically.
She felt her chest swell with outrage. Ivan had been killed, shot right outside in plain sight, solely because they hated her family. She wasn't denying that Maria should've been more careful, perhaps just avoiding any kind of relationship with Ivan altogether, but there was no reason to shoot him dead. It was immoral and brutal, and the thought of his dead body just laying outside made her stomach turn.
She thought back to the guard, his name she didn't know or care about, hitting her when she'd tried to get his hands off Maria. How she'd just sat there on the floor after, like an immobile halfwit. She should've gotten up, done something more. She cursed herself for doing nothing but simply ordering him not to touch her, as if he'd listen to her. Her smart mouth only got her so far, and it clearly helped nobody in this case.
She was weak. She let the guard push her down, and she stayed down because she was too scared to retaliate further. She let her inadequacy overpower her, making her unable to protect her sister. She knew Maria wouldn't have hesitated, wouldn't have been afraid to shove the guard away to reach for her, even if it cost her. She was fearless, and that's what Anastasia admired about her most.
As she sat there next to her listening to her sobs, a sound she never wanted to hear again, Anastasia vowed that, from now on, she would be fearless too.
Anya awoke with a start, another nightmare having plagued her mind. Before she could even process what her brain just conjured up this time, she felt someone aggressively shaking her. She turned her head to find Dimitri kneeling over her. She gasped, his sudden presence surprising her.
"Jesus, what's your problem?" He asked, staring at her like she grew five heads. When she didn't respond, he spoke again.
"You look awful." He commented loudly, not seeming to care that Vlad was sound asleep only a few feet from them.
Anya felt sweat prickling all over her like unwanted needles, and she heard her heart thudding rapidly, almost afraid it would explode in her chest.
"Are you sick?" Dimitri placed a hand on her forehead, presumably to check for some kind of fever. Anya sprung back at his touch, and she swatted his hand away.
"I'm fine." She answered hastily, sitting up slightly and waving him away from her. "What do you want?"
Dimitri looked at her for a beat longer, something similar to concern lining his features. But it was gone in an instant, going back to business before Anya could even blink.
"I want to show you some self defense moves," he said, as nonchalantly as if he'd said he wanted some water.
She squinted at him through the haziness of still being half asleep, unsure if she'd heard him correctly.
"What?" She croaked, her throat feeling dry, like burning sand in the Sahara that hasn't felt the relief of rain in months.
Dimitri sighed in annoyance.
"You deaf or something? I said I wanted to show you how to defend yourself. I know some tricks that might really help you."
"Now? What time is it?" asked Anya. The theater was still dark, the tiny window that was backstage giving off no sunlight. It was also cold, despite the sweat Anya felt on the back of her neck and underneath her arms.
"A little before dawn. Come on, get up." Dimitri ordered, pulling her by her arm and trying to drag her off of the itchy, thin mattress that was left behind as a show prop. Anya only snatched her arm out of his reach and rolled over, pulling the moth eaten blanket she slept with over her head.
"Anya, I'm not playing around." She heard Dimitri whisper, and he began tugging her arm again, attempting to yank the sheet off of her.
"Go away, Dimitri!" She complained, growing angry at his persistence this early in the morning.
After another minute or so of Anya trying to avoid Dimitri's incessant harassment, she threw the sheet off of her body and stood up, shooting him the deadliest glare she could muster. She knew she probably wouldn't have been able to fall back asleep anyways, but of course, she wasn't going to tell Dimitri that.
Let him think he was interrupting her rest instead.
"Fine! Let's go." She said in exasperation. "You are such a pest."
This made Dimitri smile.
They walked off the stage, quietly so as not to wake Vlad, and headed towards the lobby of the theater. It was a vast space, the state of ruin it was in not taking away from the beauty of it. The floors were white marble, marble that was probably sleek and polished at some point, but was now chipped and dirty. There were multiple tall glass windows that overlooked the street outside, and Anya was surprised that each one stayed perfectly intact. She figured that they weren't the point of interest when the Bolsheviks ransacked this place. She looked at the plush velvet couches and leather lounge chairs set up throughout the lobby, for guests to sit around in while they mingled with other theater goers, drinks in hand, before the show started. They were all covered in a fine layer of dust, as if they'd been unused for a few centuries rather than a few years.
"I know. A shame to see it look like this. It was pretty back in the day, before the Bolshys took over everything." said Dimitri now, glancing over to his left at Anya. She nodded vaguely, still quite groggy from being woken up, to the point where she didn't bother to ask Dimitri how he even knew what the inside of the theater looked like; it's not like they would let people like him enter.
People like him.
Like what? Like poor, homeless people who tricked citizens out of their money, the amount they got never being enough for them to comfortably survive? She looked him over once; at his ragged clothes, at his worn and weathered hands, at the dirt and grime trapped underneath his fingernails. Yet his eyes were sharp and alert, not giving away his fatigue or stress or whatever else he was probably feeling.
She supposed she was one of those people now too.
Lost, not knowing where she'll end up.
"So, why do you feel the need to teach me fighting moves at the crack of dawn anyways?" She drew out those words, earning a look from Dimitri.
"I don't know, just in case something goes awry once we get to Paris and I'm not there to protect you." He replied, grinning cheekily.
A chill slithered over Anya's body as Dimitri said this, suddenly flashing back to the dream she was having before he snapped her out of it.
A slap to her face. A gunshot. A girl with the same light brown hair as Anya's holding her hand, bawling uncontrollably. She dove into the deepest part of her memory, trying to figure out if she could remember the girl she dreamt about, but her face was coming up blank.
What did that mean? Anya had a hunch that she wasn't having these dreams and nightmares randomly. They had to have some kind of special meaning behind them, her mind trying to tell her something. Or perhaps the memories from her amnesia were trying to resurface, attempting to come up for air after a long time of being underwater.
"Anya? Hello?" Dimitri startled her out of her reverie, and she zoned back in to see him snapping his fingers in front of her face.
"Yes, what?" She asked irritably.
"Did you hear what I just said?"
"No, Dimitri, I didn't."
An exasperated sigh from him.
"I said, from what I saw that night in the alley, you don't really know how to defend yourself...like, at all." This got her full attention now, and she glared at him.
"I was scared, and didn't know what to do in that situation." She tried, but Dimitri just shook his head.
Before Anya could say anything else, he looked at her again, his expression serious.
"I know it's random, but...I don't know. I couldn't really sleep, and I guess I just needed to do something." He shrugged like it was nothing, but Anya understood. She knew how it felt to lie awake, tossing and turning and praying for sleep to come, her thoughts all jumbled up like knots of yarn, begging her to untie them all.
She just nodded again, seeing the look on Dimitri's face and knowing that he probably didn't feel like getting into it further.
"Now, the most effective body parts to hit are the eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knees, and legs." said Dimitri, pointing to each part on his own body as he spoke. "If hit, they cause the most damage...trust me, I know." Anya huffed a laugh and he continued talking.
"It all depends on the position someone is in relation to you. For example, if they aren't too close to you, don't move forward to try and punch them in the nose or something. Instead, you can maybe give them a swift kick to their knees, so they'd drop down to the floor and give you time to run."
Anya examined the current distance between her and Dimitri, glancing down to his knees then back up at his face, raising her eyebrows.
"Don't even try it."
Anya hid her smirk as Dimitri launched into lecturing her again, explaining how poking or scratching eyes can make for a quick getaway, aiming for the nasal bones with the heel of your palm will hurt an attacker the most, how kidney punches are apparently very effective, and how to properly make a fist to hit someone if need be, for maximum impact. He gestured animatedly, almost like he was actually enjoying himself. Anya wondered how he knew all this stuff, but then again, he did grow up on the streets...he had to learn how to protect himself somehow.
She guessed that this was why he was showing her all of this, to help her protect herself too. If this bullshit plan actually worked, and she passed off as the real Anastasia Romanov, people still believing in the rebel cause would be after her, wanting her dead, just like the other Romanovs.
Well, the plan that wouldn't be happening, since Anya already had an alternate one, which required sneaking off into the night and never looking back at these two goons again.
As far as they were concerned, Anya needed to know how to defend herself if someone came looking for her as Anastasia, but if she would be around the Parisian streets for a while before she finally got settled down, she might as well finally learn how to throw a mean punch… just in case.
Honestly, she didn't really feel like doing this type of thing this early in the morning, or at all, but she suddenly didn't seem to mind being there, in the lobby with Dimitri, as the sun began to shine a little brighter through the windows, its golden light reflecting off the glass and filling up Dimitri's eyes, becoming more of that gleaming caramel color that she learned to–
"Okay, I want to show you one more thing." Dimitri's voice cut into her thoughts yet again, and she came back to reality, albeit reluctantly. He moved towards her now, and before Anya could react, he grabbed her by the waist and spun her around so that her back was pressed up against him.
"Dimitri!" She objected, but he shushed her just as fast.
"Stop, just listen. Say someone grabs you from behind, maybe puts you in a chokehold-" He wrapped an arm lightly around her neck, so that he wasn't actually hurting her. "You drive your elbow up right into their gut, as hard as you can. It'll stun them momentarily, leave them breathless. Typically, they'll let go and you'll be able to-"
Before he could finish, Anya did exactly what Dimitri just explained, bringing her elbow directly into his stomach, not hard enough to seriously hurt him, but enough to make him let go of her. She whirled around at his shocked grunt, looking at him doubled over in discomfort, clutching the spot she hit.
"Like that?" She asked sweetly, batting her eyelashes at him as he glared.
Just then, they both heard quiet laughter coming from the theater's door. They turned to find Vlad standing there, tiredness still written all over him, but he pointed to Anya and grinned.
Anya felt her cheeks heat up, unaware that Vlad was standing there the whole time, watching them.
"You better watch out, Dimitri. I think Miss Fedorov here could easily kick your ass in a street fight." Vlad said, winking at Anya.
"Doubtful." She answered, laughing.
Vlad joined in for a moment, then rubbed his stomach dramatically.
"I think it's time to go find some breakfast. I'm starved." He walked back into the theater, probably to grab his moth-eaten tweed jacket to wear outside while he asked a restaurant owner or street vendor for some food. Usually telling them he had a pregnant wife and child at home helped his cause, and the three of them were happy to divvy up whatever scraps people were willing to give away. Anya watched him go, then quickly stole a glance at Dimitri, just to see if she actually did hurt him.
She was surprised to find that he was already looking at her.