Disclaimer: oh dear…
Teaser: the year is 1918 and the Romanov family is marked for death. But history can never be sure what exactly happened to Anastasia Romanov.
Disclaimer: yes, the epilogue! We're done! And it's less with the angst and more with the near-smut romance! w00t.
Though, honestly? It's near midnight and I'm way too exhausted to get excited about anything. Especially when I have a newspaper spread do tomorrow and a acting group to get into gear. I hate myself.
"I'm haunted by a girl whose
life's locked away in these pages
But through these words she will be free
Through these words she will be free"
-"I am Anastasia", Sponge
Inugami Village. Japan. 1921.
Saki stepped onto the balcony and into the crisp air of Japan in autumn. The moon had just begun to win its daily war with the sun and the gentle slivers of light spilled like milk across the land displaced below the balcony.
"Lady Inugami?" Saki questioned softly, unable to keep a wide smile from covering her mouth.
Anastasia Romanov Inugami turned to face her mother-in-law, her eyes dancing in the pale moonlight. The kimono suited her well, the deep purple bringing out the jade hue of her eyes, and she seemed almost as if she were some aloof, Japanese lady waiting patiently for her husband to return.
But Saki knew that Anastasia's kimono hid the thick, thudding Western boots she would never grow out of. Anastasia had attempted, several years ago, to wiggle herself into one of Saki's sandals but had only succeeded in falling on her face numerous times throughout the day. Anastasia had procured so many bruises on her body, both Saki and her son had forbidden her to attempt to wear them again.
"I'm never going to get used to that," Anastasia attempted, heat staining her cheeks. She turned away quickly, her long auburn hair swinging in its loose ponytail.
That was another thing that would always set Anastasia in a different stock than her fellow villagers. Anastasia rarely twisted her hair up into an elegant style like Saki did daily. Sometimes, the younger woman would manage her curly mane of hair into a braid, but never more than that.
Of course, that was more because of her husband's enjoyment at seeing her hair down than Anastasia's love of the style.
It made Saki smile to remember how those callous hands would gentle as they skimmed through the thick tangles of burnt red, tugging a strand, messaging another. The way Anastasia would laugh and swat, but lean in all the same.
Because Saki's son wasn't here at the moment, she ran her fingers through Anastasia's hair, slipping the small band free. She supposed an updo would ruin the true silky beauty of Anastasia's tresses.
"They should be home tomorrow," Anastasia said softly, a sigh working between her lips. "Kurando and Alexei are always going off to Muyko-An and I always miss them."
"You would have had to return," Saki pointed out gently, her hand moving to touch Anastasia's shoulder. "As soon as you found out you would have had to come back. Kurando would have made you."
A snort exited Anastasia's nostrils as she nodded her head in agreement. "Good thing I caught that flu before I left with them. I hate when Kurando treats me like glass."
"It's because he loves you."
"I know." A wide, full smile appeared on Anastasia's lips as her hand slid down to rub almost absently at her abdomen. "That's why I put up with it."
"How are you feeling?" It was a question that Saki had become accustomed to asking in the past week. And she asked each time with a certain amazement that she had become a worrier.
"Well. No sickness yet." A brief frown appeared on Anastasia's face that told Saki she was remembering Russia and something to do with her family. But Anastasia did not say what the memory was and the frown was fleeting.
Even now, Saki and Kurando were careful with talk of Russia whenever Alexei and Anastasia where within earshot. Not because the two were unable to handle those memories—indeed, it was quite the opposite, the former Russian heirs were impossibly strong—but because there was such grief in their eyes as their minds flashed to a memory of a distant time.
So Russia was never spoken off. Or not in a deep conversation. The war was over and done and Russia had fallen to internal strife. Yes, there was the constant worry of what Lenin—that crazy fool!—planned to do.
But that was not something she wanted Anastasia concerning herself with. Both Alexei and Anastasia's home was here, in Japan. Though the pain and destruction had wrecked Anastasia's old life, it hadn't destroyed her, and even if her mind sometimes looked back and sighed, Anastasia looked to the future.
"That'll change soon enough. I couldn't walk ten feet without spitting out my stomach when I was heavy with Kurando!" Saki giggled at her own private joke and, even though Anastasia could hardly share the memory, she laughed with her.
"I can't wait until they get back," Anastasia admitted and resumed her watching of the moon. "Imagine Kurando's face when I tell him!"
"If he doesn't faint he's a stronger man than I give him credit for," Saki agreed, her eyes softening. "He seems to be a ball of nerves whenever you happen to get a little over your head."
"Like when I fell into Sukune Fountain?" Anastasia rubbed her lips with the back of her hand, smothering her laughter. "I was afraid he was going to be the thing that killed me when he dragged me out."
It made laughter ripple from Saki's throat, the memory of it. She brushed aside her dark bangs and smiled tenderly down at her daughter-in-law, imaging what the future held for all of them in a series of months. So much would change.
A wind caressed her face and Saki lifted her head to the sky. Though she could hardly see in the darkening hour, she sensed their approaching footsteps. Eager ones, racing across the gravel and up the stones steps to the Inugami House.
"What is it?" Anastasia inquired as she watched Saki's smile drift toward all-knowing. She tilted her head to the side, blinking her jade eyes at her mother-in-law.
"It seems your brother's returned from courting Yoshiko Kawashima." The smile grew wider and more mysterious. "And with him is your husband."
Anastasia's smile broke through the night like a burning beacon of hope. She turned and hurried down the stairs just as the door burst open below them. Alexei's voice floated up, calling for his sister. Kurando was silent, as was his custom, but his presence was just as potent as Alexei's.
For several moments, Saki was content to lean against the railing of the balcony and listen to the wind as it whistled softly in the forest. She sent her secret thanks up to the sky for giving her such a wondrous and growing family.
There was a sound of a door thudding shut and Saki knew Alexei had retired from his busy day. Kurando had taken the boy under his wing not long after their arrival in Inugami Village and Alexei had proven to have a knack for delegation, something his father had sadly lacked.
With soft footsteps, Saki padded to the stairs, halting at the top. Her smile became wistful as she edged her self to the very first step, peeking her head around the corner so she could peer down at Anastasia and Kurando.
Just as she suspected, Kurando and Anastasia were wrapped up in each other. Anastasia was all but swallowed up by Kurando lanky, tall build, but Saki could see the former princess's arms around her son's neck.
Kurando had arched down to capture her mouth firmly, his hands already worked into her auburn hair. His clothes looked rumpled and untidy, as if he had forgone proper rest in exchange for returning himself to his wife earlier.
Which was something Saki suspected as true.
She allowed herself to linger a moment longer, smiling down at the pair of them, before finally turning away to retire. No doubt Kurando and Anastasia would be hurrying up the stairs soon enough and she didn't want to embarrass them both by bumping into them. Also, it was rather awkward to her.
Her son could be so proper that it was frightening. But she supposed that was for the best.
No matter how old he was, Kurando was still Saki's son and she didn't like to think of him as anything but the baby she had given birth to, held on to. Saki knew that the time was coming for her to take the bedroom on the bottom floor—she had only postponed the move thus far because she was at the far end of the hallway while Anastasia's was at the beginning.
It wasn't a light step to make as the moving would be a symbol that Kurando was the full-fledged leader of the Inugami clan—which, in retrospect, he was already. But it was such a difficult task that Saki had held off as long as she could to give Anastasia and Kurando the time they needed to adjust to their suddenly combined lifestyles.
But Kurando was ready. So was Anastasia.
The soft give of the pillow met Saki's pillow as she settled into bed, listening to the quiet noises of her house that had become an intricate part of Saki's life. A smile tugged at the corner's of her plump lips as she willed herself into the arms of sleep.
"Pleasant dreams," she whispered to Anastasia and Kurando as well as her dearly departed husband. "Tomorrow things will change."
Her heart welling with pride and sadness, Saki fell asleep.
Sometime later—close to the midnight hour—Kurando awoke from his exhausted half-sleep. The room was dark, with only the smallest candle acting as a light, and the shadows created a soothing, calming atmosphere.
Beneath him, Anastasia gave a small, little groan.
"Sorry," he said softly, almost afraid to disturb the silent warmth they had cocooned themselves in.
"I don't mind," Anastasia protested, but Kurando was already rolling onto his back. Anastasia sprawled out against his chest, her head buried at his ribs, her hair acting like a curtain around her lovely face.
"You're tiny, I forget," he apologized, twirling one of her long strands of burnt red hair around his finger.
Anastasia lifted her head, her fingers drawing absent designs on his bare stomach. "I told you, I don't mind." She crawled up his body, her lips seeking his out. Kurando tangled his hand in her hair and held there for a long moment.
He considered flipping her over and beginning it all over again, and the thought brought a pleasant image to his mind, but his body told him he was much too tired to even conceive the notion. He was lucky enough that the last time hadn't killed him.
His wife gave a small laugh and curled against his side, lovingly stroking his side. "You're exhausted. You should've rested at an inn and came home tomorrow."
It gave him a thrill every time Anastasia referred to Inugami Village as home. It was nothing short of a sign that was would not disappear in his arms. Too many things had happened to them both to secure himself with the idea of Anastasia being truly safe just yet. Perhaps in a few more years…
All the same, he kept his ear to the ground when it came to Russia. He was always on the looking out for anyone seeking the Romanov heirs, though he kept the action to himself only—he wanted to keep his mother and Anastasia both content and free of all worried.
Alexei was as informed as Kurando, though the young man had started listening to news of Russia by himself for a year. Then both he and Kurando had crossed each others' paths through their mutual contact meeting and they had decided to listen together. Alexei had just as much stakes in it as Kurando did. The former prince was making a life in Japan and he was pleased to see his sister doing the same and he wanted nothing more than to protected that life.
Besides, Alexei was Kurando's brother and they had been together for nearly three years. Kurando could not think of a man he trusted more and it had seemed foolish of him not to include Alexei—Romanov by blood, and brother to an Inugami and Hyuga's wife.
"I wanted to see you," he mumbled, feeling drossiness take over him. He closed his eyes briefly and fought it back down because he knew that Anastasia was still awake. "But I would have stayed at an inn if Alexei hadn't been so eager to return."
A smile flashed across Anastasia's face as she thought of her beloved brother. "How was the trip to Muyko-An? I'm sorry I missed it."
"I'm just relieved that Alexei didn't ask me anything concerning Yoshiko," Kurando admitted warily, watching as Anastasia continued to grin at him. Inside his head, he added to himself that there had been no news of Russia. The country had been silent, as it had been for almost a year. "I wouldn't have a clue what to tell him."
"My brother can figure out how to court a woman by himself," Anastasia told him proudly, pressing down on his abdomen lightly. "He doesn't need any kind of help… but how is that going? Yoshiko and Alexei?"
"Well, I can only assume." He flushed and looked at the ceiling, pressing Anastasia closer to his side. "I don't exactly hid in the bushes when they're together, Anastasia."
"I would!" she answered on a giggle and pressed a butterfly soft kiss against his taut skin, loving the way his body rocked with laughter. "Alexei and little Yoshiko Kawashima, I would have never thought."
"Me neither," Kurando agreed, his voice growing husky with his tiredness.
As gently as she could, Anastasia lifted herself onto her elbows and leaned over his face, tenderly stroking his cheeks. Kurando smiled dreamily at her, already returning to his half-sleeping state.
He grabbed the wrists she used to caress his face and brought her lips down to his in a tender kiss, lovingly licking her lips and the inside of her mouth. Anastasia sighed and melted against him, sinking deep down into the kiss.
They parted and Kurando rolled against, this time onto his stomach with Anastasia locked underneath his arm. He nuzzled her neck and then turned back into his own pillow.
"Wish I wasn't so tired," he mumbled against the soft cloth, his voice thick with sleep and exhaustion.
Anastasia grabbed their coverlet and brought it over their bodies, smiling a secret smile to herself. "Kurando?" she breathed softly, settling the blanket over his shoulders. "Kurando?"
"Hmmm?" her husband managed to murmur, lifting his closed eyes from the pillow to blindly look in her general direction.
"Tomorrow, there's something I need to tell you." She slid a hand softly up to her stomach and cupped the life that grew there. "I think you'll like it."
"Okay. In the morning," Kurando agreed and lowered his head back to the pillow. His breathing became even and deep and, a sign that he was asleep for good, he rolled his head along his shoulders to settle against her neck.
Absently, she stroked his hair. "In the morning," she agreed and closed her eyes to prepare to join him in sleep. She rolled onto her side and Kurando spooned his body against hers, creating a secure, unbreakable barrier of comfort and dedication.
She noticed that his hands instinctively curled against her stomach and she couldn't help but wonder if he would do the same thing once he found out that she carried his child. Anastasia nearly burst in hysterical giggles with her giddiness.
With Kurando's breathing her soothing lullaby, Anastasia fell into sleep willingly, her hands covering his over her stomach, their bodies molded perfectly in the flickering light of the candle.
While around them the world changed and twisted, wars began and ended. Dynasties started and ending. People died and babies were born. Russia became the Soviet Union and then became Russia again. Empires rose and fell with each setting and rise of the sun.
But Kurando and Anastasia—and Alexei and Saki and Inugami Village—would always be constant.
Notes: that fin sign brings both joy and pain to my heart. This story was actually two chapters longer than I originally intended—which usually doesn't happen to me. But there was just so much more this story wanted to be told, so I humored it. XD Yes, my stories often take on life a life of their own and wake a body up in the middle of a night when it should be getting some sleep. Er, anyway, no real chapter notes since the only historical thing I mentioned was Lenin and he had like one line there so he doesn't count. I really, really enjoyed working on this and I was surprised a how easy it all come together, history and all. And I was so pleased to the responses!
As for a lemon (this means you, Tiger) trust me, I've decided there's going to be one. I've decided to flex my smut-writing prowess. However, it won't be posted here. It'll be over at my Livejournal. A link will be posted in my profile here when I have it up (which has become next week's mission). I'm also toying with doing a prequel to this. On the courtship of Kurando and Anastasia in the world tour I kept referring to. Haven't decided completely yet. We'll have to see!
crazycutie2: aw, thank you. I'm glad you've enjoyed the story and the romance, and even the history!
Kendra: can you blame them? Aw, teenager hormones (unfortunately I'm not through with mine yet! XD). Kurando is… Kurando and that's all that needs to be said about that. I'd drool and drool and put his picture right up with my Johnny Depp one. As for your historical questions, Anastasia is also notably small. The height differences between Alexei and Anastasia at that time, I believe, was only a couple of inches. But really all of the Romanovs, with the exception of Alexandra were tiny. Even Nicholas… wait, I did that in previous historical note section. Gah! I get confused. Anyway, yeah, Anastasia wasn't nearly strong enough to carry Alexei around. The links are to some of the best Romanov websites I've found. I would have put a link to the Alexander Palace website, but they have too many dead links to really count.
I'm glad you enjoyed the one sentences, too. I had a lot of fun with them (I'm in love with their open-ended format). And I've played Covenant three times and the original twice. Shadow Hearts is a really hard game. Not hard as in difficult (though it can in spots) but it just seems to take forever to get where one need to go When I finally managed to reach the insane asylum I was determined to beat the game even if it killed my brother, who is partner in game playing crime. And it nearly did. Not sure what happens to Zhuzhen since he's in China and we don't go to China in Covenant. Keith is a lottery member in bat form and Margarete is at the end of the correctly played trading game (took me two tries to get it right). My first time through Shadow Hearts I made sure I got the good ending and got a rewarding, warm feeling with the huggy-huggy. Then I went back and got the bad ending and was really upset and hated myself for spending four days getting an ending that made me sad. That's the closest a game ever game to making me cry. And that's a lot. A don't cry, ever. Okay, I cried in West Side Story when Tony died. That's it.
I'm glad you picked up on the very subtle Yoshiko/Alexei hints I put out there. I'm not planning on a sequel (note: I'm not… :D) but I wanted to give Alexei a bright future. So he gets a girl. And if the ending makes you blush, head the lemon. I can get down right… descriptive at times. Don't worry though. It's tasteful. Er… you, like the romance novels we all read but say we don't.
Tiger5913: well, happy belated birthday! I meant that showing a courtship between Kurando and Anastasia would be unnecessary. Like humorous stuttering, wacky hijacks, and silly shenanigans such things call for. Romance and fluff weighed down with angst was what this story needed. XD
Trinity: then I shall take this as a good sign. Oh, I've been waiting for that. I had a whole "to smooch or not to smooch" soliloquy all prepared for them and then what "what the hell" and proceeded to make them make out. I like to end stories on a semi happy note, I'd see Kurando and Anastasia getting married. I'm old fashioned like that. Let the warm and fuzzy take over!
Wow, did I make the subtle hints of Yoshiko/Alexei not so subtle? I wanted that to be a pleasant surprise… oh well! Yay you! You called it! And yes, one can never have too much fluff/romance/love/lust/lemons/smut. But more with the smut. It's not illegal for me now. I look forward to the stalking (though don't they prefer the term "extreme escort service-people" now? And yes, Alexei is a chameleon. I like the fact that he can come off as his age, but at the same time so beyond the usual scope of his peers. "Ew gross" was fun because I'm like "every little kid would say that!" and it was perfect to show that he was still, at his heart, Alexei Romanov. And I'm sure now that Alexei has changed his mind about kissing Anastasia could rib him terribly about it. But she won't, of course. She's a bigger person than that (or she's too busy making out with Kurando, whatever.)
Yes, Anastasia needed a few good emotional breakdowns to get herself together. Luckily, Kurando's there for her (the big lug!). Hoping for a man like Kurando makes me feel cynical because there's no way anyone's like that ever! And that's said. Oh, yes, Anastasia's counting her blessing. She's counting them all. (I have no idea how that is a sexual innuendo, but it is). Saki is just made of awesome and she makes me laugh with her being he "beautiful mysterious widow" self. And I image Blanca just getting put out with all the romance going on. He'd just shake his head, whimper, and try to get Yoshiko's attention back. But it happen to catch Yoshiko and Alexei doing something naughty well… there'd be blood. Lots of it. But that's only assume that he's shacked up with Eleanor by now and knows what naughty means. I don't think he did really in the game.
Long chapters are my way of saying: "sorry for skipping days/weeks/months for an update!" Glad you liked it!
Riana1: thank you. This story truly is, at it's core, a story about grief and loss and light at the end of the tunnel. Which was Shadow Hearts was really all about.
IchikoKitsuneKoumori: aw, young, confused nearly engaged love. You remember, don't you? …yeah, me too. And don't worry Alexei knows when to run away… I think he does… wait, how old is he again?
Cody the Impaler: I'm really enjoying our conversations (and I promise to find some way to review next week because everything is going to slow down next week) and thank you for helping me with historical accuracy. It's something that's important to me. And I'll let you know that I'm eagerly waiting.
Lady Nessa Fefalas: I'm a romance lover at heart and I love writing happily ever afters… yet, angst is differently what I'm best out. Weird? Yes. I can't image reading for five hours straight on a computer. My eyes get tired after one. I need constant breaks and food. But that could be the procrastination talking.
Thanks. I usually tend to flower up my words a little two much (and I can't tell which of the two style of writings I like best; more in-your-face writing or this kind). And, though some historical "liberties" have been taken, I did try to make this as cannon as I could. Lengthy chapters, though they take longer to write and post, just seem better for me all around. I just feel accomplished and energized when I finish one.
I was worried a little bit back dragging, mostly because so much had to happen and in all had to happen in a very small space of time. But, thankfully, I had the Anastasia/Alexei angle to spice it up. Thank for the patience and the kudos. Anastasia/Kurando is one of my OTPs and I'm glad so many people out there enjoy the two of them like I do. I'm truly glad you enjoyed it!