Author's Notes: I … have no excuses for this story

Author's Notes: I … have no excuses for this story. Alexei Romanov was actually 13 when he died, but the movie didn't really pay attention to historical accuracy and made Anastasia 8 when her family was killed (putting Alexei at 4). I completely ignored the whole magical-Rasputin nonsense (even though, don't get me wrong, Bartok is sort of my favorite thing ever), it just didn't really flow with the rest of the story.

I have a big, fat friend crush on the real Anastasia. If they prove that the latest uncovered bodies belonged to her and Alexei and she didn't really escape … I will cry. That is all.

for every float, there must be a drowning

For Atonement.

I cried like a little baby.

1.

Sometimes he catches glimpses of her, flitting through the palace's hallways or weaving through the gardens. One can hear the echo of her laughter wherever they stand, bouncing off of walls or curling around her mother's favorite roses.

He isn't allowed to call her by name; but then, not even her family uses the full title. She is always "Your Grace" or "Princess" or "Duchess"; sometimes, under his breath he whispers the name only ever used by her father: Malenkaya, little one, his favorite princess.

He never speaks to anyone of the way his eyes always find hers, or the way she seems to smile just for him. He never admits to sneaking out of the kitchen simply to watch her dance at the parties.

After all. Duchesses do not marry kitchen boys.

2.

What he never tells Vlad is that he is the only one who can train an actress to be the perfect Duchess. He does not tell him that he studied her every move, knew the twinkle in her eye and the curve of her lips. He does not tell him of the dreams that he wakes from, sweating, panting, fighting screams-- dreams in which he can hear the gunshots and the screaming, cries of terror ripped from voices too young to ever be afraid.

Alexei was four. Dimitri could hear his wails above the rest. Perhaps he imagined them, but it doesn't matter. Still they echo in his skull, memories of the sound of an entire family murdered.

All but one. Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova. She came for her music box and she found an escape. He does not know if she made it across the ice; but he prefers the thought of her drowning to the thought of her body being ripped through by a bullet.

3.

When he sees her in front of the portrait, he knows. He doesn't acknowledge it, not at first; he chooses to believe she is the perfect look-alike because the thought that this lost, dirty, forgotten young woman is all that's left of his bossy, impish, energetic little Duchess is too much to bear.

She is nothing like his Anastasia and she is everything like his Anastasia, and it is all too confusing and it makes him angry-- at her and not at her, at the world, at himself.

The thing is, she makes him remember life before he was robbing people blind. She makes him remember what it felt like to push an Empress through a hole in the wall and care about what was right, what was good, not what was the most lucrative.

When he looks at her, Vlad sees a young woman who displays grace and royal qualities. He Dimitri looks at her he hears echoing laughter and a deep voice whispering Malenkaya, Malenkaya, my precious little one.

Vlad sees ten million rubles. Dimitri sees burning palaces and bloodstained floors.

And then she wears the dress, that stupid blue dress that he bought because-- oh God-- it matched her eyes, and she pulls her hair back just the way she used to, in a single ribbon, curled at the ends, eyes wide and blue blue blue blue blue.

He stutters and mumbles and almost kisses her but he catches himself, at the last moment, because no matter how much Anya might not remember he can't seem to forget.

4.

Anya has nightmares. (Anastasia never did.) He wakes at night to find her shivering, shaking, shrunk into the bottom corner of her bed while Pooka whines and licks at her face. She does not remember her dreams, and he is glad. He knows all too well how to fill in the blanks.

Sometimes he is punched with the fact that she has lost her entire family, that they were murdered and she has nothing. And he is glad-- as much as he hates himself for it-- he is glad that she does not remember, that she cannot feel the true extent of her loss because excuse him, but he thinks loneliness is better than the utter despair she would undergo at the assault of their faces and their fates.

He does not tell Vlad that he was the boy that helped them escape and he does not tell her that there was a boy. Because-- he tells them he forgot-- he almost wanted her to fail. To never realize who (what) she was, because duchesses do not marry kitchen boys, but orphans . . . orphans are fair game.

But she remembers and he is suddenly, inexplicably conscious of his dirty old green vest and unshined shoes.

He is in the presence of royalty. He feels like a schmuck.

5.

He doesn't take the money.

He wants to. He wants to so badly that it makes his fingers itch. He has gone through live starving, lying, cheating, stealing, conning, robbing, counterfeiting. Every survival instinct in him shouts that there's nothing wrong with taking the money. There is nothing wrong with collecting his reward. Vlad has Sophie and his newly reinstated power, and Dimitri deserves a little money for his pain.

Except he feels somehow that this some sort of a test, and he can't bear to fail now. And anyway, he has a life waiting for him-- reality-- a home the size of a town, even if it doesn't belong to him. He can go back to his anonymity and curl up on her dusty bed and look at her eight-year-old oil-on-canvas eyes and it will feel like he is with her, even though he isn't, even though he is alone.

He doesn't take the money and he doesn't tell her that he didn't take the money. She is wearing a dress that costs more than his life and her eyes are so blue, so blue blue blue blue blue, and now with her memories and her jewels she is exactly as he remembers.

Bossy, impish, energetic. She will rise again, and they will love her. She is as Grand a Duchess as they come and he is still nothing but a kitchen boy.

He has nothing else, but he has his pride. She has taken everything, but she will not take that.

6.

"Dimitri! Dimitri, wait!"

He turns and she is running towards him, tattered skirts gathered in her hands, shoeless. She has a bruise on her left cheek and scrapes all down her arms and her hair is sticking out at all the wrong angles but-- it is unmistakable. She is Anastasia Nichaelovena Romanov, mothers eyes and father's smile and grandmother's hands.

"Your Grace," he begins.

She looks annoyed. Not hurt (she is her mother's child), but irritated, impatient. "Don't call me that," she demands. "It's Anya, I'm Anya."

He blurts, "They never called you Anya," and then covers his mouth with his hand. "Oh, God. I'm sorry, I didn't-- " think "-- mean that the way it sounded."

She shakes her head, taking a step forward and reaching for his hand. "I know they didn't. It was Malenkaya. My father used it. It means 'Little One' . . . I hated it when anyone else used it but from him it sounded . . . this is silly. It sounded like a compliment." She looks up at him, full in the face, eye-to-eye, meeting it face forward the way she always does.

Romanov's don't beat around any bushes, and Anastasia never even liked the gardens, she just liked running through and crushing the flowers. Her mother's favorite roses.

"Look," she says bluntly, "I love you. Okay? I do. I don't know why, you can be so horrible, but you can be so wonderful too. And I know you didn't take the money. And I don't know why that matters, but it does. I mean, it shouldn't, you deserve that money and I know you wanted it but the point is-- you didn't take it. It just means a lot."

What he wants to say is: I love you. Shut up, Anya, Anastasia, I love you.

But instead: "You're a Duchess. I'm a kitchen boy. It just-- it's probably not even legal. There's probably rules-- "

"I'm not a Duchess," she interrupts impatiently. "I gave it up. Abdicated? Can Duchesses abdicate? Well, whatever the verb is, I did it. I did it in French, English, and Russian just to be sure that everyone understood. I don't need the power, what am I going to do with it? I just wanted my Grandmama and I have her. And now I want you." She pauses thoughtfully. "And you aren't a kitchen boy, at least not anymore. You're-- well, I don't know what you are except a scoundrel but that's why I love you. I love you."

He hesitates. He doesn't even know why except that a lifetime of doubt is suffocating him, cutting off his words and his air supply.

She's speaking again. She never shuts up, she never has. "And even when you were a kitchen boy, I loved you then too. Although of course I was only a little girl so I didn't know I was in love with you, I suppose I just thought you were cute-- I know you used to watch me all the time, I remember now; and I would always smile at you and try to get you to come talk to me but you never did. I wanted to make you call me Anastasia but it was always Your Grace or Grand Duchess and it would make me so mad. I would always talk louder when you were nearby so that you would hear me. I thought if you could hear me you would want to talk to me and maybe you would-- I don't know. I don't know." She looks at him earnestly. "Dimitri. I'm talking too much. Shut me up."

And he does. He draws her in and kisses her for as long as it takes until he believes that she isn't going to dissolve out of her arms and be little more than a dream.