Once inside his grandmother's home, Alexei sat Rachel on the sofa and brought her a cup of hot herbal tea. Then he called his sisters to tell them what had happened.
"I knew that Vova was bad news from the beginning," Olga said once they'd all gathered together again.
"And to think I actually felt sorry for him because he grew up without knowing our father," said Tatiana.
"What you did was so brave, Alexei," said Maria. "You saved Rachel's life."
"Nobody had better not ever call me 'Baby' again," said Alexei.
"They won't. I'll make sure of it," Tatiana promised him.
"Alexei shot Vova in the thigh, not in the head or chest," Dimitri mused later when he and Anastasia were alone. "So he shot to incapacitate, not to kill."
"Can't you see, Mitya? He couldn't shoot to kill. Not someone with Romanov blood. Not after what happened that night in the Ipatiev House."
"Oh, yes. Of course." Dimitri was immediately contrite. He went to his wife and embraced her. "It's all right, darling. It's all over now, and everyone's safe."
It was a day or so later. Vova had been taken to the hospital by ambulance, and Alexei had returned to the pier to clean up the mess.
"Monsieur." Alexei looked to see who had spoken. She was a petite woman with dark hair and exotic features, and she looked to be about fifty years old. When she saw Alexei's face, she gasped with surprise. "You're his son."
"I'm Alexei Romanov."
"I could tell right away that you're his son," the woman continued. "You're so like him. Your voice, your mannerisms...everything about you."
"Oh, I'm sorry," the woman said. "I'm Vova's mother. My name is Mathilde Kschessinska."
"I had to do it. He was going to kill Rachel."
"I know you did," Mathilde said sadly. "I know what my son is. He isn't like you at all. He didn't have a positive male role model when he was growing up like you did."
"How is he?"
"The doctors were able to remove the bullet from his thigh. He's lost a lot of blood, but they think he'll make it, although there's always the danger of blood poisoning." Mathilde paused. "He's not your brother, Alexei."
Alexei gasped, shocked.
"That's what he told you, isn't it? It's only true in his fantasies. Vova is related to you, but he's your second cousin, not your brother. His father is your father's first cousin Andrei Vladimirovich."
Alexei didn't know what to say.
"Listen, Alexei. Vova stole some letters that were very special to me. If you could help me get them back, I'd appreciate it."
"Why should I?" Alexei asked shortly. He was thinking about how much he missed his mother.
"I never wanted to take the place of your mother, Alexei." Mathilde's dark eyes gazed into Alexei's. He felt himself go weak inside. God, she must have been beautiful when she was thirty years younger...
"I knew from the beginning that he couldn't marry me," Mathilde went on. "He had to marry a woman of royal blood, a woman like your mother. I knew that I could never be the Tsarina, and I never wanted to be. Ballet is my life. I could never have given that up, not for anybody or anything."
Almost of its own accord, Alexei's hand reached to touch her hair. He thought of Rachel and his hand instantly dropped. I'm not like my father in every way...
"The letters were all I had left of him...of us. They were so very precious to me. I'd give anything to have them back."
"They're gone, Madame Kschessinska." Alexei swallowed a lump in his throat. "I'm not at liberty to say what happened to them, but they're gone forever. I'm very sorry."
"Oh, no!" Mathilde collapsed into tears. Alexei held her and comforted her without even giving a thought as to whether it was right or wrong. Eventually the sobs subsided.
"I must go now," Mathilde said. "Good-bye, Tsarevich Romanov...again."
"Good-bye...beautiful ballerina." Alexei didn't even realize that he was crying until he felt the tears wet upon his cheeks.
"Papa?" Anastasia asked softly as she eased the door open. Nicholas looked up with red-rimmed eyes.
"Sunny? Mathilde?" He was very confused.
"No, Papa. It's me, Nastya."
"She's gone, Nastya. Your mother's gone," Nicholas sobbed.
"I know, Papa. But we're going to get her back. Dimitri and I are going to Germany soon and we're going to talk her into coming back. Dimitri can talk anyone into doing anything. You know that."
"I hurt her, Nastya. I knew that what I was doing was wrong but I did it anyway. I thought that everything would turn out all right, but look what's happened."
"Vova isn't your son, Papa. He's your cousin Andrei Vladimirovich's son. He lied about his age. He's not really older than Olga. Mathilde told Alexei that he's only a couple of years older than him."
"There's no way he could be my son, then." Nicholas' shoulders sagged with relief. "I don't owe him anything."
"What did you think you owed him?"
"At least an explanation for why I was never around."
Anastasia sighed. "You're too hard on yourself, Papa. And like I said, we're going to find Mama and bring her back. When she finds out that Vova isn't really your son she'll come back. I know she will."
"I sure do hope you're right, Nastya." Anastasia held her father's head to her bosom as he sobbed. She thought of all the times he'd comforted her as a child and was glad that she was there to comfort him when he needed it.
Grand Duke Ernest Ludwig of Hesse was chatting with his best friend, Erich Strauss, when he received a very unexpected visitor.
"Alix! You're alive!" he cried with joy as he embraced his younger sister. "I'd heard that the Bolsheviks had murdered you and the children."
"It's a long story, but yes, we're back," Alexandra replied. "I've left Nicky. He betrayed me and fathered a child with a ballerina named Mathilde Kschessinska."
Ernie shook his head. "I knew that nothing good would come of it when you left the true faith."
"It was only for love of Nicky that I did it, and now I realize what a mistake that was."
"Come on in," Ernie said. "It's wonderful to see you again, little sister. You may stay as long as you want or need to. This is my friend Erich Strauss."
"It's very nice to meet you, Erich." Alexandra smiled. "I'm Alix. No longer am I to be known as Alexandra, and no longer am I of the Russian Orthodox faith. Once again I'm Alix of Hesse, and I'm a Lutheran."
"It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Alix of Hesse." Alix thought that Erich had one of the friendliest smiles she'd ever seen. Erich thought that Alix was simply beautiful.