Length: 2,500 words
Disclaimer: I do not own the fictional or the real Anastasia.
Notes: She was always my favorite. Also, I haven't watched the movie in years, so…the plot might be…creative?
He remembers the day she was born. Which is strange, because it seems like his brain is programmed to remember only the bad things, but this…this is different.
He hadn't been working at the palace yet. Too small, and his mother had still been alive. But he remembers looking up at the palace, over the quelled riot, as everyone saw the sun coming up pink. He remembers the czar's men stepping out and the soft, warm name passed from blistered lips. Anastasia. The little princess. A name that meant resurrection, revival, rebirth, and it occurred to him then that this was a name of miracles.
There is a girl in his palace, looking at his Anastasia. When she turns around, startled, her song is swallowed back and she brushes at her bangs. Her clothes are shabby and patched, lips chapped, and her hair is a mess. She looks dirty and proud and like nothing he wants to deal with right now and her eyes are this irritating shade of blue and he doesn't want to meet them which makes no sense because it's not like he has anything to be ashamed of, not in front of her, not in front of this penniless—
God, her eyes are so blue.
Vladimir touches his arm and draws him down and whispers, She is the one.
No, Dimitri hisses back, No, not this one.
This girl is not pretty enough to be Anastasia. Not smart enough, not witty enough, not cultured enough, tall enough, quick enough, lovely enough—no. She is not enough of anything and entirely too alive to ever be his elusive, lost princess. His dead, forgotten Anastasia.
…which is just as well, he tells himself, because Anastasia might have been (always) beyond his reach, but Anya…Anya was here and ready to use.
He looks at his sweet girl's portrait, then back at the ragged young woman before, trying to make Anastasia anything less than perfect. He could almost imagine the resemblance.
Anya eats like the food might grow legs and run off the table. They'll have to work on that. She steals scraps and tucks them into her pockets when she thinks he isn't looking—another thing to remedy. God, he doesn't even know where to begin—no. No, it's impossible, he'll give her one good meal and then send her on her way. It would never work.
She sticks out her pinkie when she drinks, eyes heavy lidded and searching the bottom of her glass. Vladimir smiles at her, nearly charmed, while Dimitri sulks and thinks that this meal is going to be cutting into his monthly income at the rate she's going.
When she reaches across the table too suddenly her sleeve slips backwards and he can see bone, wrapped thinly in skin. His lips part a bit, fork propped between his teeth, before he pushes his plate towards her.
A few meals, then.
The problem with Anya is that she might want to believe what they're telling her is true, she might want to be of a royal family, of any family at all…but there is still a certain, rational streak in her that knows it can't be true. Maybe she can read minds. Maybe that's why she looks at him and will stop humming, something confused and upset scrambling across her features before she pushes it back, and says something sharp so he'd stop making That Face.
He tries teaching her new songs. First the pretty, new ones, the recent operas or orchestral compositions, but they never seem to stick. Too long, or just too complicated. Vladimir murmurs delicious bar-songs into her ear, too crude and too delightful for polite society. A week will pass and she will remember the words, if not the tune, and Dimitri will stomp off aghast and wondering why it couldn't have been the opposite.
That stupid lullaby haunts him. Wistful and melancholic and just plain sad, and he knows he's heard it somewhere before, but doesn't try to remember too hard. That horrible, torturous song. He can't take out his—her music box anymore.
He's never had an ear for music, but he feels like it might be the same tune.
And another thing: Anya can't dance.
Oh, she's light enough on her feet, and quick too—but she can't seem to grasp the concept of letting someone else lead. But you go so slowly, she keeps saying, This is all wrong. I want to twirl more.
He deliberately spins her around until she has to brace both her hands against his chest and stagger to the wall. Vladimir rolls his eyes. Dimitri feels rather put out.
Your job isn't to navigate, he explains to her for perhaps the thousandth time, I can do that. You're supposed to look pretty.
But you don't know where you're going, Anya mutters, dizzy and still sarcastic.
No. No, definitely not Anastasia.
They keep doing this until Vladimir abruptly stands and says, Dimitri, you do your women all wrong.
And Dimitri is then perfectly entitled to puff up and huff, She is not a woman. She is a brat.
Come, my dear, Vladimir helps Anya to her feet, shaking out his handkerchief, and for one awful, gut wrenching moment, Dimitri thinks it's because she's been crying. But Vladimir does not dab at her eyes, only wraps them into a blindfold, and takes her hands kindly, walking backwards. If you can trust this one, he says with a wink towards Dimitri, You can dance with any man.
He drops her hands, having steered her directly in front of Dimitri. Her arms remain upright, fingers half curled, as her head turns, trying to find them. I knew it, she says, I knew this was cruel and unusual punishment.
Punishment implies you've done something wrong, Dimitri wants to say, but can't. He can't help noticing that her hair's gotten longer—sleeker. Her face is a bit rounder as well, softer, a bit more womanly. He keeps looking at her hands, the fingernails bitten down, and wondering why this moment feels so monumental.
Don't worry, Vladimir says, and Dimitri's revere is shaken, He wouldn't ever drop you.
The left corner of her mouth dimples when she smiles, and she smiles harder on that side as well, making her face uneven. Anastasia used to smile like that. No, no, it was to the right. Of course it was. It must have been.
He takes her hands a bit more gently than he'd meant to, as though he'd expected them to be smaller.
He'd caught sight of her necklace before but—but. Such things happened. Items touched by the late royal family were the currency of choice on the black market, and counterfeits were even more common. And perhaps it wasn't Romanov at all—perhaps Anya was Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian.
But what if…?
No, no the odds were too low. He would have known if she were Anastasia. He would have felt it, would have found her in the middle of the crowd, and he hadn't, because she was not Anastasia because Anastasia was dead.
Communism allowed no princesses.
Not Anastasia, not enough for him, just enough for that horrible old woman in Paris. Just enough to get his money. And then. And then.
But maybe they would know? They had to know, because she was so obviously Anya, not Anastasia, and she was obviously not a princess and obviously she should just stay with him.
He pulls out his/her music box and listens to the song Anya sang until she woke up and squints at him, stuffing it away and out of sight and asks, Dimitri, why're you making that face?
So I was thinking, he says to Vladimir, That maybe we should just skip Paris.
Vladimir takes a gulp of Vodka, pondering the map. Oh?
Well, Dimitri rubs his hands against his thighs, feeling them catch, It's just. She's not going to fool anyone, is she?
Good food in Paris, Vladimir says airily. Dimitri purses his lips.
We could go to Italy, he says, already imagining how light his pockets shall feel, Absolutely top-notch, I hear.
Vladimir looks at him for a moment, tilting his head, smiling below his grave eyes, She will be disappointed, he says in a way that is more factual than accusing. Dimitri tries to ignore the feeling of it stabbing into him.
Better than letting her go all the way there and finding out, he forces this line, so obviously rehearsed, into the face of an experienced conman. Vladimir does not so much as raise an eyebrow, and Dimitri skulks away feeling small, cowardly and irredeemably selfish.
But she isn't Anastasia. He won't let her get beyond reach. Not again.
Dimitri, Anya shakes him awake, her hair spilling out of its knot and down her shoulders, her face flushed, Dimitri, wake up.
He makes a sort of moaning sound and does so, squinting at her and reminded of how uncomfortable this train is, despite the rocking motion. Anya kneels, so that her face is only slightly below his own. I had a dream, she says simply.
So did I, he tells her, And then you interrupted it.
She does not apologize, merely looks at him while he slides down to join her on the floor, muttering weakly. She draws her knees up to her chest, blue eyes wide and curious while his muscles crack. Was it a bad dream? He says at last, perhaps a bit indulgently, because if it doesn't have her plummeting over the railing than he isn't sure how much he cares.
Yes, she says, An old one, of running and slipping, then drowning, then she bites her lip and looks uncertain, struggles for a moment, and then rushes him with, Do you think she'll like me?
Who? Is all he can think to say, not at all preoccupied with the feel of her, sudden and unguarded.
My Grandmother, she says, Do you think she'll like me? And then looks at him in a way that is almost shatteringly young, and trusting, and she can never tell when he's lying to her and it would be so easy, so perfectly simple.
Her hair is long now. Down her back and styled to look like dead princesses. Her nails have been manicured, posture corrected, speech enriched, manners perfected, and it comes to him now that he cannot see Anya anymore.
Anastasia blinks at him, waiting for an answer. She has always been so far out of reach.
She loves you, Dimitri says, because she knows about the tunnels in the wall and he cannot even entertain the notion of denying her.
Anastasia falls asleep humming, and he buries his face in his hands, and decides then that it doesn't matter if she knows or if she doesn't, only that he will not ever let her fall. Anya or Anastasia, who wore the same face and spoke in the same voice and stood so near him and so far away.
But Anastasia is dead.
Dimitri, Anastasia yells at him, Why do you have to develop a sense of selflessness at the worst possible time?
His princess disappeared nearly ten years ago, buried in red snow.
You are so embarrassing, she continues, stabbing at his chest with a strong pointer finger, those damning blue eyes narrowed, I can't believe you're making me actually say it.
Her skin blistered full of diamond shards, the jewels against her skin forming an imperfect armor as the rebels shot—and shot...
Wasn't I so obvious? Anastasia asks him, her nose turning red from the cold, cheeks flushing, chin thrust forwards proudly, nothing meek or shy about her, Don't you—I thought you were supposed to be good at this…this flirting thing! This is hideously unromantic and I don't even care!
Eyewitness accounts of her murder—dozens of men, swearing, I did it, I killed the little princess. I shot her in the head and then the chest, and then the head again, because the bullets just bounced off her stomach. Unlucky.
You are so annoying! Anastasia and Anya yell as one, and he feels so lost when he looks at her, I have everything and more than I had ever wanted and I want you more than any of it put together and—god, Dimitri, I know you didn't take the money!
Her body never found. Lost in the chaos of mangled into nothing. Hidden with the other casualties. Accidentally switched.
I love you, Anya says, a little breathlessly, And I'm not sorry.
But what if—
This is all your fault, Anya states, clear and imperial and so, so lovely. So ancient and so hopelessly young, What if we become disgustingly cuddly? I wouldn't like that. Well, maybe a bit. But mostly not, because then it wouldn't be you and I just said that I don't want anyone but you and have I mentioned—have I mentioned that—
Yes, Dimitri whispers, What if?