As usual, that afternoon the four men always around Ivan played the double role of colleagues and pains in his neck. After just an hour of political discussion – if they're inexperienced and idle commentary could even be called that – the younger men grew restless and suggested spending the calm winter day outside. Bright does not necessarily mean warm, but the gazebo was always their preferred haunt, regardless of the weather. Somehow, Ivan got roped into a game of chess, although he hardly minded. It was some distraction from the cold and it was better than pointless gossip.

Major Brize was an inexperienced chess player, but that's what made him interesting in Ivan's eyes. Often, the young man's blind stupidity lost him a game. Rarely, it earned him a win. This time, the former seemed very likely.

"Damn, I'm down to one pawn!" Brize said cheerfully despite the circumstances. He'd already lost three games earlier today. "Comrade Zenchikov, are you watching this?"

"I am, and I told you not to capture the bishop with the rook. You're paying for it now." Zenchikov was seated next to him and was attempting to give pieces of advice to his novice of a friend. "The game is up to fate, at this point."

"Oh quiet! Just give me another four turns; I'll bring it in my favor…"

On the opposite side of the chessboard, Ivan's mind began drifting from the game – thanks to a certain irritating Colonel. Komorov was hovering over him like a plague. In the past month he'd gained a slow-growing but insufferable air of superiority. He bestowed it upon all of his subordinates, even Ivan, his equal in rank. Ivan began avoiding him more than usual; otherwise he'd have to punch those glasses into Komorov's vulture eyes.

"I noticed Natalya is back from her vacation." Komorov remarked lightly, keeping his eyes down.

Major Brize made a reckless move, costing him a valuable rook. Ivan placed the little wooden piece in his sizeable pile of captured white pawns. Motova made some snarky comment, but Ivan only heard Komorov's quieting voice.

"It's too bad your older sister left before you three could have a proper, happy reunion. I don't think the wedding counted as one."

"Hm." Ivan moved his knight; making steady progress towards the king's guarding pieces, maintaining his stony look of indifference. Brize was genuinely stumped but denied help from a complaining Zenchikov. "I can do this on my own; I'm not a kid anymore, honestly…."

Ivan now attempted to focus on the board, mulling whether to allow his knight to continue a lonely crusade or to put his unused rook into play. It was half enjoying the game; half attempting to ignore Komorov's eyes that Ivan swore were burning holes into the back of his coat. At least it seemed like the idiot was done talking…

Two turns passed and Brize refused to give up, even with the metaphorical noose tightening around his wooden king. Ivan appreciated that, nothing was more tiring than a game without a struggling opponent. Ivan was contemplating on his next move. If he wanted to draw the game out, just for his own sick amusement, he could certainly pick off that pawn and bishop …

"…Although, I'm sure it won't be too lonely, not with that pleasant little Latvian around." Komorov stabbed suddenly. Quietly.

An indescribable angry shock sped itself up Ivan's spine. He couldn't keep down the growing scowl. In a single turn, Ivan's queen swiftly ended the battle.

The young major sighed good-naturedly. "Every time! You get me every time, comrade!"

"Didn't he use that same move last time?" Zenchikov's voice was deadpanned.

"I dunno… did he?"

"Oh, forget it," Motova took a drink from his ever-present flask. "This isn't your game, kid! I say we play some cards. That alright, Colonel Braginski?"

Ivan looked away, brushing past Komorov and sitting on the farther end of the gazebo. Motova took the intimidating gesture as a yes, so the three relaxed men cleared the table of the chess set and Brize produced a deck of cards from his jacket. Ivan wasn't watching them; he was keeping a feeling of bitterness down his throat. Komorov came and sat next to him, doing a similarly bad job of keeping his posture.

He was smirking with those stupid bird-eyes that ignored the card game but feigned interest, thin lips stretching but trying not to. "I struck a bad chord, didn't I? My sincerest apologies, Ivan."

"You struck nothing, Vadim."

Ivan should've added on an insult onto that. He only exposed himself further. He added, too quickly, "You can never seem to keep your weaseling nose to yourself, and when you find nothing, you fish blindly."

"My weaseling nose didn't have to do anything. You bit the bait yourself."

"If I could even call your prattling that." Ivan kept his grimace steady, but his eyes were afire. It was his turn to give a burning stare, directly into Komorov's face. Matching his comrade's glare from behind his glasses, Komorov's smirk tugged at its sides.

"The great Colonel Ivan Braginski, son of the war hero of the same name …. Flinched."

"Did I? I don't recall. Clean your lenses."

"I saw it, when I mentioned her," Komorov's provoking expression fell and he formed one of suspicion. Weaseling, snooping, dangerous curiosity – that's what Komorov was best known for. "Why do you keep that scrawny girl around? Yekaterina is gone, she has – "

"He~ey! No secret conversations, you two!" Major Brize called cheerfully from the table. The other two men were looking at them questioningly. "Why don't you join us, comrades?" Zenchikov asked carefully. He was asking Komorov more than he was Ivan; no one ordered Ivan, except for Motova, who was drunk enough to get away with it, and he didn't even mean it half the time.

For once, Ivan was glad for their useless games. He pulled his chair closer and watched their game of cards, leaving Komorov behind. No one commented, assuming he'd been put in his place by Braginski. He forced himself to enjoy the game, if not, he was sure he'd throw Komorov across the lawn.

From her seat on the bench, Natalya had a good view of her brother's profile. She focused intently on him, looking up from her lap often, until he moved to the way back and was completely out of her line of sight. She sighed and turned the page on her sketchbook.

"Hm, why'd you stop?" Eduard looked at her from his thick book. He managed to carry a lot of things in that black duffel bag of his.

"I can't think of a subject." Natalya muttered. She'd like to practice with landscapes, since she had difficulty with those, but there was nothing but endless white. White…. She disguised her shudder as a shiver.

"How about the snow? It hasn't been walked on at all, and there's a good view of the gazebo from here."

It's like he was halfway reading her mind, almost there, but not quite. She frowned and looked away, and he quickly said, "Or not. We don't have to be out here, you know, I just wanted you to get some fresh air, we can go back in, it IS rather cold …"

"I don't care about the weather. Though, I really don't like… snow." She used to like it. Maybe if it were a different color.

"Well, it is a pain to walk in. And it really stops traffic. Everyone acts like they're going crazy from being stuck inside."

"It's not that," Natalya sighed again, a little frustrated with her doctor. Well, it's not like he was a therapist; he was a farm boy, he couldn't pick up on things. "All the white reminds me of the … hospital. The room I was in."

"Oh." Eduard mentally hit himself for being so oblivious. It's not like he was trained in this sort of thing, just being on this massive property was strange enough, his main objective was to just get his sister home. "I- sorry. Hm." He coughed into his palm, trying to fake as much as he could that he genuinely needed to clear his throat.

Natalya only stayed silent for a few seconds, and then she flipped her sketchpad to a fresh page towards the back and turned directly to him. Eduard was a taken a bit off guard. "Um, yes?"

"I guess you'll have to do."

"Er, what?" Eduard blinked, then looked down and saw her hand already rapidly sketching. How did it move so fast? She was putting together an outline of… his head it looked like. "O-oh, it's me."

"Is that a problem?" Natalya didn't snap or sound bothered, even if drawing a head seemed to take a lot of concentration. Her eyes rapidly flickered from him to the page.

"Well, no, I guess not…. No, it's fine." Eduard affirmed to Natalya, and watched her sketch. The head took shape and she added the rough shapes of his nose, eyes and mouth. Quickly, she looked up, and he jolted back with wide eyes.

She almost drew a smile. "You'll have to sit still and keep the same expression, you know."

In just thirty minutes she'd sketched, drawn over and shaded a near perfect likeness of him. Eduard looked at it in surprise. He'd seen her sketch, but he'd never seen a finished product – he was impressed. It was good she had an outlet like this – especially since she's so talented at it.

"Have you always been drawing – um, sketching?"

"No… I started doing it in the hospital." Natalya quickly flipped to the previous picture of her brother and started working on it. The men at the gazebo were blocking his face. She challenged herself to perfectly draw his likeness from memory. "Yekaterina sent me pictures to keep in my diary. I really had nothing to do… So I just began doodling."

"I'd hardly call that doodling! But it's good you're doing that, especially if it relaxes you."

She gave a light nod in response, almost completely lost in her work. Eduard appreciated the silence, and he contemplated to the sound of her pencil rapidly moving and occasional noises of deep concentration. She seemed to focus intently when it came to her art. Maybe art and her family had nothing to do with it; she just needed a distraction, something to pull her mind away from… those things.

Eduard suppressed a sigh and slouched against the cold bench. It seemed everyday he had something new to be overwhelmed about. He wondered how Regina had been handling this… everything. This city life was a completely different world. People in his village broke their backs just getting enough to support their families, and this comfortable family was so bored that they kidnapped little girls to play music for them.

He looked at Natalya, and despite her face appearing so docile and focused at her task, he recalled her previous doctor's papers. Eduard's eyes went to the gazebo, where he caught glimpses of Ivan Braginski. A man he was taught and raised to fear, a man who tore a hole in his family for selfish, stupid reasons.

Eduard clenched his fists, taking his eyes away from the profile of the Colonel. Natalya glanced at him, then back to her art. He didn't notice. His mind was far from the Braginski manor.

Just a little longer, He tried to tell himself. It'll only be a little longer.

"Hey, you guys. I just remembered something rather important."

Normally the group ignored most of Brize's chattering, but the seriousness in his voice made them pay attention – though not enough to suspend their game of cards.

"What's that, now?" Motova just stopped himself from taking another drink of his flask.

"Er, well, important to Braginski and Komorov," Brize said, grinning sheepishly to his older comrades. Ivan raised his eyebrow lightly and Komorov simply ignored the young man as he continued, "Big political party tonight, optional, for once. Though, maybe not optional for their rising stars." Brize turned to the two men, heavily hinting at them with his waggling eyebrows.

Ivan wondered if he was even able to hold back his grimace. Motova laughed and took a deep drink before stowing away his near-empty flask. "Naturally! Our comrades are quite the celebrities in our little circle."

"Not little anymore, mind you." Komorov said sharply. Who did this drunken bastard think he was talking to? His remark made Motova duck his head submissively, but it did little to tide Komorov's steadily rising temper. He glanced over to Ivan. An icy mask, as expected.

"Another rally?" Ivan asked in an even tone, setting down his cards, signaling boredom with the game rather than defeat. "I've had my fair share of those for this entire month. It's the same every time."

Komorov's lip twitched. Did the spoiled Braginski son find himself so above his comrades? Zenchikov flopped down his own cards, tired of the game as well. "Guess it pays to be the son of a lower rank sometimes."

Lazy pig. Komorov neatly shuffled his cards together and set them down. His piercing gaze glanced to Ivan as Brize chattered on like some yapping dog.

He flinched. I know it. I saw it.

Ivan was half honestly answering Brize, half lightly insulting him. Of course Brize didn't answer, and then Motova loudly piped up and demanded they go inside due to the cold – or rather, for him to fill his flask.

There is something about that Latvian – one might call it a stretch. But, my gut is never wrong of these things.

Komorov glanced at the forgotten chess board on the side of the table, the black and white pieces haphazardly scattered about.

Who is she, Ivan? A little fling to anger daddy? Of all the mistresses to have, you choose a filthy Baltic –

"Komorov." Ivan's voice pierced into his thoughts. It didn't trip the man up for a moment.


"Would you be interested in attending this rally with me?" The appearance in Ivan's light smile could be compared to a fox's. "It's so boring to just go alone."

"I wouldn't mind that at all, Comrade Colonel Braginski." Komorov answered stiffly. His reluctance went unnoticed by his fellow men. What was this sudden affability from Ivan?

"Excellent, thank you, comrade. I think we'll be much more entertained in each other's company."

He wants to watch me then. Very well, he can certainly try. I have eyes where you are blind, Ivan.

Yekaterina bristled at the handful of letters her doorman handed to her. "Goodness, more of them?"

"I'm afraid so, Comrade Chazovaya. You are a shining star in many of their eyes." The doorman smiled warmly, setting down the papers beside her tea.

I'm sure I am. Yekaterina thought irritably, but lightly smiled back at the man and nodded for him to leave. The worst of the bitter winter was gone, and spring was upon them. She had an endless list of concerts and rallies to attend with Chazov's circle of friends. She was taking up her mother's job, arranging invitations and planning events to entertain. She had a book of Chazov's contacts – now her 'friends' as well – and was taken aback at the reach of the man's influence. Perhaps he wasn't as dull as she anticipated.

Not that it endeared him anymore to her. She was already tired of his jolly drinking and disrespect. The winter wasn't even finished and she was already so irritable … She sighed heavily too herself. How can I expect myself to do this for years … ?

Yekaterina hastily pushed those thoughts from her mind and focused on the biggest event of the summer: The White Nights Festival.

Naturally it would be covered head to toe in Soviet soldiers and speeches but she tried not to keep that from her excitement. Just a few times in her childhood had her family taken the journey to Petrograd to witness the beauty of the 'White Night' – the sun shining in the sky and through the clouds for hours and hours, long after it was supposed to set. She remembered the lively music and the performers, the games for the children. The first time she was so taken aback by all the excitement and noise, which she held fast to her brother's hand the entire evening. The second time he had to keep ahold of her, for she wanted to see and explore as much as she could. The third time, she played guardian to Natalya, who was in awe of the bustle but too shy to throw herself in the midst of it. Yekaterina held her little hand and walked her around the great plaza, showing her the games and sights she saw.

"And over here, Nataha – see the dancers? Look how pretty their dresses are as they spin."

Natalya's little eyes widened and followed the beautiful women, attempting to keep up with their movements. "How do they go so fast, Katyusha?" She asked softly.

"Oh, with magic, I suppose." Yekaterina giggled.

"Magic?" Natalya quickly tore her eyes and looked up at her sister. "Really?"

"Yes, the magic of the White Lights… and the Scarlet Sails."

Yekaterina couldn't keep her smile down at Natalya wiggled in excitement. "Scarlet Sails? What's that?"

"It's the most magical thing in Petrograd – no, in Russia. It only appears in the summer."

"What does? What is it?"

"And it only appears during the night, when there's fireworks and lights and sparkles in the sky – "

"Tell me, Katyusha!" Natalya pulled on her sister's arms impatiently and Yekaterina's laugh only seemed to make her more anxious. "Tell meee!"

Yekaterina scooped up her sister in her arms and spun her as fast as she was able. Natalya laughed and felt like one of the dancing women. Maybe some magic was being given to her?

"The Scarlet Sails is a giant ship, Nataha. A beautiful ship on the water, with big red sails that glow!"

"Where's it go, Katyusha?" Natalya breathed as Yekaterina set her down, but she was still giddy, so she spun in place by herself.

"Oh, wherever it wants! It's magic. I bet it doesn't even need the water. I bet it can just make those sails go big and fly." Yekaterina was starting to imagine it herself. Perhaps the beautiful dancers and the darkening sky, a signal for the fireworks to start soon, were getting to her. "And it flies all night, and all day."

"But where's it go?" Natalya asked impatiently. She lost her footing mid-spin and stumbled on the uneven road, and Yekaterina was quick to catch her and bring the small girl into her arms. She smelled like the flowers they were passing out.

"Anywhere, Nataha." Yekaterina lightly pet her hair and led them to a bench to sit down. "Anywhere you want."

"Away from here?"

Yekaterina stiffened a moment, and then relaxed as Natalya began to snuggle into her lap. She would probably fall asleep before the night fell and the fireworks started. "… Well, anywhere you want, Nataha."

It's what Ivan always told her when she asked about the Scarlet Sails, when she was younger and the ship seemed like something ethereal and enchanted. He told her the fireworks were the magic the ship didn't need, and they lit up the sky and fell down so everyone could have some. He climbed up the railing by the docks and extended his arms, clamping his hands together. He pretended he caught some, and would only sprinkle some on Yekaterina if she promised to close her eyes.

As she predicted, little Natalya was asleep by the time the fireworks started. Yekaterina didn't bother to leave their bench, honestly, the performers and visitors had mostly cleared from the plaza, rushing to the docks to view the Scarlet Sails.

She didn't mind missing it. The ship just didn't seem as impressive without the idea that it was powered by magic.

The girl watched the fireworks as she pet her sister's soft hair. She extended her arms, clamped her hands together, and sprinkled the magic over Natalya.

"Comrade Chazovaya, I'm terribly sorry to bother you again, but there are just a few more invitations for you."

Yekaterina nearly jumped a foot from her seat and the doorman flushed from embarrassment. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you so terribly – "

"No, I'm sorry," Yekaterina cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably. "I was just – s-so, what do you have for me?"

"Just these. It should be all for today," He handed her the documents and left.

She sighed and opened them, but her mind was far from concentrating on their contents. She set several aside, putting them off for the next day. She stopped herself suddenly when she read the name on the last one.

"David Ostriakh? Goodness! How did he … ?" She tore open the envelope with newfound vigor, and excitedly read the letter. He was one of the most famous violin masters in the Soviet Union, and he was one of the performers she dreamed of listening to live. For all her family's influence, she never thought she was able to get a personal audience, and the one time he was in town was when her father forbade her from 'wasting her time' with music.

She had to read the letter twice, and even then she didn't believe. The Ostriakh Trio, playing shortly after the Scarlet Sails event! Comrade David Ostriakh himself, a true master of his instrument …

Wouldn't … wouldn't it be truly magical if Regina were to hear him play? No, if she were to meet him in person? If … he were to listen to her music?

At once Yekaterina retrieved a pen and clean paper, and hastily wrote out a formal request to meet with the Trio. Her attempt at politeness was dashed due to the sheer childish excitement and lightness she felt in her heart. It allowed her mind to float away from old memories, and away from the guests she was supposed to be readying for that night.

Chazov was not in town, and wouldn't come home for at least two weeks, but that did not stop a good number of his associates and friends, military and personal alike, from swamping their great visiting and dining rooms. Yekaterina was expected to receive all of them in the best of her finery, looking more radiant than any woman.

Yekaterina's mother played this role well and naturally, her conversation and charisma flowed like wine in a glass. Yekaterina hardly felt as graceful, and while she was more than able to talk with her guests, she found their idle gossip, false compliments and grumbling complaints off-putting. It was difficult to stand them for more than a minute. Several times she made the excuse of having to greet someone or wanting a refill of wine in order to escape.

The evening was still young, Yekaterina thought bitterly. She already wanted to get out of the tight dress and she knew she could only escape from her guests so many times before she had to eventually stay and converse. She sighed heavily as a servant filled her wine glass, and idly looked about the crowd. Her eyes wandered across the unfamiliar faces that looked too similar, until they froze on one face.

Two of them, actually. They were dressed remarkably different from everyone else – not underdressed, just different. And one of the men looked strangely familiar. When the older-looking man laughed and the younger one made a light grimace, she instantly remembered. He was the one she clumsily met at the ballet theatre. How strange for them to be here!

Her curiosity overcoming her dislike of small talk, Yekaterina quickly made her way to the two men. By the time she was able to push through a throng of heavier women, the oldest had left, leaving the man she ran into by himself. Somehow, she was alright with that.

"Um, pardon me, comrade." She spoke up amidst the loud voices. She was surprised to see the man jumped and almost dropped his glass. "Oh-! I'm terribly sorry – I almost dropped -!" Just then he seemed to truly look at her, and his face flushed with memory. "O-Oh, what a strange coincidence, seeing you again!"

Yekaterina laughed carelessly in spite of herself. "Not completely. This is my house."

The man took a moment to register this, his face becoming redder. "… How embarrassing, I must confess I didn't read the invitation entirely … That, and I didn't catch your name after I rudely ran into you."

"I didn't give you a chance to ask." Yekaterina gave him a gentle smile, the one she was known best for. It said she harbored no ill will towards him at all, and he seemed much less nervous, yet he still blushed. She said, "My name is Yekaterina Chazovaya. I'm entertaining my husband's associates while he is away in Leningrad."

"And my name is Mathieu Bonnefoy." He smiled cordially back at her, his nervousness replaced with youthful goodness. Yekaterina couldn't help but feel he was out of place, a little dog caught between sharks and vultures. "My brother and I are representatives from the FCF in France." Well, that certainly explained the charming accent. It made his Russian sounds so different – in a good way.

"How wonderful to meet a comrade outside of the Union." Yekaterina said, quickly keeping herself in check. Discuss politics with men, society with women. It didn't matter that she was yearning to ask him about his homeland, one she knew little about. "Might I ask why you are here in Moscow? One of the largest rallies of the year is being held in Leningrad. My brother, father and husband are attending as we speak."

Mathieu's embarrassed grimace was decidedly charming. "Yes, yes, that … It was one of the most important events on our itinerary… My brother insisted on a detour here to watch a great ballet, supposedly, a French classic being translated to Russian for the first time. I love the theatre, of course, yet it drove us completely off-schedule. This is the best substitute we found." His smile went shy and sheepish, hinting he was almost happy for the detour.

Yekaterina couldn't blame him in the least, and she didn't bother with anymore talk of politics. She asked excitedly, "I heard of that ballet performance – Unfortunately, I couldn't attend its opening night. Please tell me about it; I'd love to see it."

Mathieu's eyes lit up and matched her's. "Truly, you'd like to see it? I didn't think – well, see, I suppose I should explain the French history behind it."

"Please do!"

"Well, it takes place around the time of Napoleon, and the main character was once a soldier – "


The two's attentions were instantly taken away from each other as a handsome man threw his arm wildly around Mathieu and nearly knocked him over.

Mathieu choked, "Francois – honestly-!"

"A great gathering you have here, Comrade Chazovaya!" He announced loudly, lifting his wine glass to Yekaterina. She hesitated but he hardly took notice. "A room full of progressive minds and rich ideals. I expected nothing less in your beautiful capital. Us FCF representatives have been treated wonderfully by our comrades!"

Mathieu managed to escape from Francois' headlock as he spoke, and Yekaterina nodded simply. "I'm happy to hear that, Comrade Bonnefoy."

"Your hosting skills are as impeccable as your beauty, Comrade Chazovaya. Do not be a stranger to my brother and I in the future." Francois swiftly took Yekaterina's empty hand, kissed her knuckles, then dramatically swept past her into a throng of men who her heatedly discussing the state of the Union.

Yekaterina watched him go with amusement, her cheeks lightly tinted pink. He was certainly the opposite of his brother. "Comrade Mathieu, your brother holds an interesting enthusiasm for our – "

She turned and faced a mortified and pale Mathieu, and it took several harsh pokes and snaps of her finger to budge him from his trance.

He instantly sputtered in a mix of heavily-accented Russian, "I-I-I'm so sorry Madame – er, Comrade Chazovaya! My brother – gah, he can be like that around beautiful women – Ah! I don't mean to offend you, please, you are very lovely this evening, and my brother, well, he's not subtle about anything – "

"Indeed not." Yekaterina cut him off and attempted to stifle her light-hearted mirth, but his flustering was too much. "Don't act so terrified, Comrade Mathieu! I'm not offended at all."

"You're positive?" He was all concern, and it struck Yekaterina that this was the first time a man was apologizing for possibly offending her by remarking on her appearance. It was also the first time one had asked after her well-being.

"I am, Comrade Mathieu." She lingered for a second, and she knew she ought to attend to the other guests. His brother coming around to them again was the only thing that made her budge. A sigh came from her before she could stop it. "I have to speak with the guests that have just arrived. It was good seeing you again, Comrade Mathieu."

Yekaterina gave an informal and friendly goodbye, a wave and a smile. He did the same, except with a boyish blush. She disappeared in the throng of the guests, and Mathieu didn't see her for the rest of the night.

For a high-ranking military man's wife, she was certainly friendly, and so young and pretty. She was very different from the wives he and Francois had spoken with before, but he learned from another party guest that the marriage was very recent. 'Give her time,' The man said. 'She'll become as bitter and cold as all the other wives.'

Such a nice girl, becoming like one of those old crones? Mathieu didn't think it was possible. Rather, he didn't want to think about it. He thought this as he sat on the window sill of their hotel room, looking out at the dreary early spring night.

"…. It's far better than I anticipated, Mathieu. Mon dieu, I can't wait to write back to our comrades in Paris of our progress! What if we were the ones to start some sort of revolution?"

Only half of Mathieu's attention was being given to his brother, or rather, just a third of it. He was drunk and rambling and romanticizing, though he could do the latter even better when he was sober. Francois Bonnefoy, the romantic, the charismatic, the one who joined the FCF with a firm belief that one day he'd make France as great as the enlightened Soviet Union.

Mathieu let out a soft sigh, fogging the window slightly. As he drew a little face in it, he thought of himself. Such a pushover, a doormat, people forgetting he was in the room half the time. He knew he held onto his brother's enthusiasm and confidence. Mathieu hardly had any for himself, and when he stood next to Francois, he felt like he was important, even if it was just for an hour at a party or a rally or a meeting. He wasn't as good-looking or smart, he wasn't entirely sure of spreading a 'great communist utopia' around Europe. Half the things Francois said went right through his ears.

Mathieu felt as if he was using his brother, and it hurt him some days, but then Francois would pat him on the shoulder. He'd thank Mathieu genuinely for coming with him to the heart of the Soviet Union, for believing in him. Mathieu didn't understand how it was possible for Francois to have any insecurity or doubt in himself. He was just so … different.

That girl was certainly different too. Mathieu felt like a complete fool, bumbling like that in front of her, having to apologize for Francois' loose tongue. He had to remind his brother that women didn't like being spoken to like that here. She didn't seem to mind, though … He wished he could've told her about the ballet …. Her eyes seemed to simply light up when he mentioned it. They did, didn't they? He hoped he wasn't seeing things.

"Mathieu? Mathieu!"

The poor boy was startled for the umpteenth time that evening as he turned and found his brother smirking right at him. Mathieu nearly fell off the window sill in surprise – well, he balanced himself for a second, then fell off.

Francois laughed at his clumsiness. "Good to see you're back with the living."

"Ow, thanks a lot," Mathieu grumbled and shuffled himself up. "Anyway, sorry, what were you saying?"

"I wasn't." Francois grinned. "I was finished a while ago."

"Oh." Mathieu flushed lightly. "Er. Sorry."

"You seemed quite preoccupied, dear brother." Francois tapped his stubbled chin lightly. "You were sighing so frequently, and you were staring out like some lost, forlorn dog!"

Mathieu rolled his eyes and groaned, "Oh, don't even start – "

"One would think you were pining for a lost love~! But, I know! It's Chazovaya's lovely wife, isn't it?"

"N-No! What are you thinking?!" Mathieu flushed royal red as Francois tittered. "Oh, oh, my dear Mathieu ~ So young, already experiencing his first taste of forbidden love ~!"

"Forbidden-!? Francois! That's not even close to funny -! I'll throw you out on the streets and you can sleep in the snow!"

"Ohohoho, dear Mathieu, would you like some advice from a dear brother?"

"Non. Not at all."

"Well, you see, when I was a young man and father sent me away to the bustling, beautiful city of Rome – "

"You promised no more Rome stories!" Mathieu covered his burning ears and proceeded to chase Francois across the room, who laughed merrily and relayed his story with surprising detail, despite his being chased and completely drunk.

The flickering lamp was a poor source of light, and the young Lithuanian's eyes strained along with his hand, but he kept at his task, ignoring the aches completely. The sun had long set and he knew he ought to be sleeping – his eyes had been burning for a good hour now – but he chased all his tasks doggedly, and this was no different.

Toris mumbled to himself and ran a sweaty hand through his hair as he crossed out names, wrote some, crossed some out and wrote down a few more. Papers were scattered all across his desk, but not the usual ballet performance scripts or drawings of formations on the stage. They were official Polish, German and Russian documents.

"This is … no. No, that was ten years earlier. This seems plausible, but there's such little information … No, no."

His hand wrote hastily, his handwriting almost unintelligible. He was so absorbed in the paperwork that the sensation of an animal at his ankle made his heart jump from his chest.

Toris looked down with a gasp, and then sighed wearily. Just the cat. He bent down and scratched behind its ears, calming himself down with its purrs. "Goodness, you scared me, Po."

He went back to his desk, suddenly overcome with fatigue and frustration. The information that butler gave him wasn't adding up. But what reason did he have to lie about such a thing? The crotchety old man wasn't the type to make up elaborate pranks, and in the slim to none chance he was, this wasn't thing to joke about.

Once again defeated by the tormenting investigation, Toris gathered the papers with little care of the order they were in. He lifted up the floorboard just under his bed, removed a metal box and locked them securely inside. After testing the box and assuring it would stay closed, he set it back in the floor's hiding spot. The key went to its usual place, in the dirt of the flowerpot on his desk.

In bed, he had wandering thoughts as he drifted to sleep. Wouldn't it be something if it were true? Felicja would have a real chance at happiness. She'd have all the delicious food and beautiful dresses and little ponies she could ever wish for.

Toris' lack of results was overshadowed by the thought of Felicja's surprise and happiness when he took her away, when she found out the truth of her family. Her radiant green eyes were enough for him to keep at it until he found his answer. He didn't care how long he'd have to keep searching.

There's really nothing more to say than I'm terribly sorry for putting this story on hiatus for so long. I really love it, and this pairing, and just recently I've gone over the helpful feedback, the wonderful compliments and all the great reviews everyone has given me. I actually got pretty shaky and teared up! I know I probably disappointed a lot of people by just stopping this story so suddenly ... It was pretty hypocritical of me, given that I'm sorely upset whenever a great story turns out to not be finished.

That being said - it's a new year, and as cheesy as I find New Year's resolution, it's mine to finish this story. I'm already halfway through, and I've planned out almost all of the remaining chapters. Of course suggestions and feedback on historical accuracy are still welcomed and wanted! I want to finish this for everyone, and even though I'm showing a lot of pairings and characters, I promise it's still RussLat, and I plan to deliver!

This chapter is more of a set-up for future events and an introduction to Mathieu. The next one is, admittedly, probably filler. Chapter 12, on the other hand, will be rife with shipping and drama and I might have to split it in two. Then again, I love long updates, and you guys are more than deserving of it!

Tons of appreciation and love from me to you all, and a Happy New Year for everyone!