Three Years Later

"Hi, hon." Alexei quickly hugged and kissed Madison, then glanced around. "Seems awfully quiet today. How's the little one?"

"It's her tonsils again." Madison sighed heavily. "This time the doctor said they're going to have to come out. We have an appointment for a pre-op at the hospital on Tuesday." She put her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. He was just about exactly a head taller than her now. When they had first met he had been perhaps a half inch or so shorter than her.

"Oh, hon, it'll be all right." He embraced her and rubbed her back. Braelyn awakened and began to cry, a thin, weak wail. Alexei went to her right away, lifted her from her crib and held her close. "Daddy!" she cried.

"I'm so sorry my princess isn't feeling well," Alexei murmured, kissing the top of her head. His other arm went around Madison, and he hugged them both tightly to himself.

"Everything seems to be in order," the nurse said crisply, closing the file. "You are to report to the hospital at eight o'clock in the morning. No food or drink after midnight the previous night. Any more questions?"

Madison put her hand over Alexei's. "Honey, I'm scared. She's just so...little."

The nurse smiled indulgently. "It's a bit frightening, I know, but everything will be just fine."

Braelyn sat in her stroller, holding a rag doll and staring with round blue eyes. Alexei smiled at her. "Time to go bye-bye now, sweetheart." Braelyn solemnly waved to the nurse as they prepared to return home.

On the morning the operation was scheduled they returned to the same parking garage and made their way to the hospital entrance. "Registration for surgery downstairs," Madison said to herself.

"Right," Alexei said dully. Braelyn, unaccustomed to being awake this early in the morning, slept soundly in her stroller, oblivious to what she was soon to undergo.

They signed in and sat down to wait. They picked up magazines, riffled through them, put them back. Presently a gurney arrived for Braelyn.

"Mommy," the little girl mumbled sleepily as Madison gently lifted her from the stroller and helped to get her settled onto the gurney. Braelyn's eyes briefly flickered open.

"Go back to sleep, sweetheart." Madison smoothed the hair back from the little girl's forehead and kissed it. "Everything's going to be all right." Braelyn closed her eyes again, and the gurney began to move away. Alexei and Madison embraced one another as they watched it disappear behind the double doors.

"Can I get you some coffee?" Alexei asked Madison.

"I'm fine, thanks," she said in a monotone. Several times over the next half hour or so they attempted to engage in small talk, only to quickly slip back into silence. They went back to riffling through magazines. Eventually the physician came out to talk to them.

"The surgery itself is going normally," he told them. "However, I'm concerned about the amount of blood Braelyn has lost. Her blood isn't clotting as it should."

"I knew it," Alexei muttered through clenched teeth.

"But we were told that hemophilia is passed from mothers to sons, not from fathers to daughters," Madison objected.

"That's true," the physician replied. "Braelyn does not have hemophilia. However, occasionally a condition is seen in sisters or daughters of hemophiliacs in which the clotting factors, although not entirely absent, are of reduced enough quantity to cause problems in surgery."

"Is she going to be all right?" Madison asked.

"We've administered vitamin K, and she's responding well to it so far," the physician told her. "I don't think she'll need a transfusion."

Alexei's face was contorted with anger and grief as he slammed his fist against the wall. "I should have gotten a fucking vasectomy!"

"Don't swear, Alexei." Madison touched his arm in an attempt to console him. "And please don't wish our daughter away."

"You're right, Maddy. I'm sorry." Alexei began to cry, and Madison held him and tried to comfort him. "I did this to her. It's my fault this happened," he moaned.

"No, Alexei, it isn't your fault. It's no one's fault. It just happened."

"But can't you see? I'm the one who gave it to her! She wouldn't have it if not for me!"

"You gave her life, Alexei. She wouldn't be alive if not for you."

Sometime later, the physician arrived looking much more optimistic. "Everything went just fine," he told them. "The surgery is over, and the bleeding has stopped. We'll keep her overnight for observation, and check her clotting factors once more before we send her home, but everything should be just fine."

"Thank God!" Madison cried as she and Alexei embraced one another.

The following morning, Braelyn sat in Alexei's lap as the nurse pricked her finger and pressed it several times to a piece of paper, timing how long it took for the bleeding to stop.

"You're such a brave girl," the nurse said with a smile.

"As long as she's with her daddy, she's fine," Madison said, kissing Alexei's cheek.

Ten Years Later

"What are you doing, Mom?" Braelyn asked, casually swooping into the room to fall across the sofa. She was tall and gangly like her father and wore her long, straight, light brown hair in a ponytail. The little spaniel, Joy, trotted faithfully right behind her.

"Nothing. Just fooling around." Madison had downloaded the photo of Anastasia at the Romanov tricentennial ball onto her computer and had replaced Anastasia's face with Braelyn's. She had also typed in a caption underneath the photo. It read 'Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Braelyn.'

"Let me see." Braelyn walked over to look at the computer. "Cool! Hey, Dad, check this out!"

Alexei joined her. "Would have been, could have been, should have been," he sighed.

"Stupid Bolsheviks," Braelyn mumbled.

"Never mind." Alexei grinned. "You'll always be a Grand Duchess to me...shvibzik."

Many thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this story. :)