Author's Note - This chapter takes place the day after Dimitri rescues Anya from unwittingly taking a deadly plunge into the water due to Rasputin's 'nightmare.' It's also the day after that beautiful waltz that had so many of us sighing and our poor Dimitri all tongue-tied. This is being narrated from Anya's POV. I prefer writing from her perspective because I thought that the movie captured Dimitri's thoughts more frequently than Anya's. I meandered between flashbacks and the present in this chapter a few of times, which I usually don't do, but hopefully it's still clear enough and easy to determine what is from the past and from the present. Oh, and I don't think every ship's cabin from this time period had its very own bathroom, but we're going to pretend that our trio's did, okay? :)
TREADING UNCHARTED WATERS
The Tasha sailed smoothly across the North Sea on what was turning out to be a beautiful, sunny morning. The breeze was light and the waves were tranquil. Still, Anya proceeded with exaggerated caution, securely planting her feet down with every movement, as if one false motion could lead to some sort of catastrophic situation. She hesitated for a few moments before drawing in a deep breath for courage and made the remaining few steps all the way to the ship's edge. She slowly reached forward and rested her arms on the ledge and let out a sigh of relief. She was proud of herself for making this daring journey all the way from the cabin to where she currently stood at the ship's outermost limits. She stared out at the landscape before her: nothing but sapphire blue water all the way around, only coming to an end at the periphery where the earth met the horizon. It was hard to imagine that she had been in the midst of a raging storm only hours earlier on that very same deck. Actually, thanks to Dimitri, she was very lucky that she hadn't literally jumped over the deck. She shuddered at the thought of how much worse her fate could have been had he not prevented her from taking a deadly plunge into those unforgiving waters. Had she even thanked him last night? She wondered. Her mind had been a blur after they'd returned to the cabin. She faintly remembered him handing her a towel and asking her to scrub herself dry of as much sea water as possible. He then asked her to change into another pair of pajamas – her only other pair – and had volunteered to turn his back to her while she did so. Anya had done as instructed, all the while keeping a watchful eye on him. It wasn't that she was wary that he would sneak a peek…it was more to gauge what he was likely thinking or feeling after what had just transpired, even if the back of his head was unreadable. The only words Anya could remember saying last night were a subdued, "I'm done," indicating to Dimitri that he was now free to turn around. Dimitri spun around on cue but didn't make eye contact with her.
"You should try to get some sleep," he said in her general direction, his voice solemn and distant.
Anya simply nodded and climbed under the covers. She was still too shaken up and shocked to form a complete sentence. Pooka, who had been lying at the foot of the bed, quickly trotted over and nestled himself against her protectively. She stroked him lovingly and watched Dimitri walk across the room and turn off the light. The cabin then faded to pitch black and Anya soon slipped into a deep sleep.
When she awoke the next morning, Dimitri was still sound asleep amidst his makeshift "bed." It was strange to see him still sleeping when he was usually the first one of their trio to wake up every morning. Had he not gotten much sleep the previous night? The storm had been rather loud and violent she supposed. She looked up to see that the mattress above hers was taut. Vlad wasn't in his bed. She guessed that he was in the bathroom and knew she'd have to wait her turn. What was she to do until then, she pondered? Pooka, having migrated sometime during the night, was now dozing by her feet. Anya's eyes wandered over to the suitcases on the floor and landed beyond them again. His back was to her, but she could feel him breathing in and out. She smiled, not even really sure why. She didn't know how long she had remained in that comfortable position until Vlad emerged from the bathroom.
"Good morning, my dear," he greeted her cordially.
She broke her gaze and looked up as he began walking towards her.
"Good morning," she replied with a small smile.
"Did you sleep well last night?" Vlad asked as he reached down and picked up a newly awakened Pooka, who licked Vlad's plump cheek.
Anya became flustered at his question. Vlad had been in too deep of a sleep the previous night to realize what had happened. While he had stirred a couple of times after she and Dimitri had returned to the cabin, shivering and soaking wet, he hadn't awoken from his slumber. She glanced over at a still asleep Dimitri before looking back at Vlad.
"Uh…yes, thank you," she fibbed. She quickly threw her covers back and got out of bed. She walked over to where her blue dress hung and freed it from its hook.
"I'm going to go take a shower," she said to Vlad, hastily making for the bathroom.
"Okay," she heard him respond before he went back to whispering something playfully to Pooka.
When Anya reemerged from the bathroom a short while later wearing her blue dress, running a towel through her damp hair, she noticed that Dimitri was still asleep. Vlad and Pooka were nowhere to be seen, and if Anya knew Vlad as well as she did by now, she deduced that they were in the little café downstairs, taking care of breakfast. She threw one final glance in Dimitri's direction before making her way upstairs to the main deck…there was something she had to do. A fear she had to conquer before it conquered her.
In the present…
Anya continued to think of the horrific storm from the night before and how much worse the repercussions could've been had it not been for Dimitri. Dimitri. He was all she could think about. And although she tried to convince herself that it was due to gratitude, she knew that her thoughts went deeper than that. Her mind wandered to what had occurred much earlier that evening.
She recalled feeling dizzy and lightheaded, but not in a bad way…in a surprisingly pleasurable one. Deep down she knew it wasn't about the dancing…it was about the intimate closeness. It was about holding his hand, feeling the other one delicately planted on her waist, and being entranced by those warm, chocolate brown eyes. They had started out awkwardly, both a little nervous and unsure of how it would go. He had acted a little odd, making a silly comment about how she should wear the dress she was already wearing. When she pointed it out to him that she already was, he had turned a little red and mumbled an "of course" in agreement. Still, she had felt goosebumps when he had complimented her on how good the dress looked on her and noticed the distinct twinkle in his eye as he had said it. After that they had danced in silence, a little out of sync at first, but then falling into a comfortable, graceful rhythm where their bodies began swaying in harmony, their eyes never leaving the other's. Anya remembered smiling as they had moved around the deck and recalled him responding in like. It had been a magical evening as they had danced under the light amber streaks of early sunset all the way into the rusty mahogany shades of dusk. Much like with the dress, Anya had had to point out to Dimitri that they had already come to a stop when he had suggested that they should probably wrap up their dancing to rid themselves of the dizziness and lightheadedness. The revelation had startled him and seemed to snap him out of some sort of reverie as he blinked his way back into reality. He continued to hold her hands in his and whispered her name.
"Anya, I…" he uttered softly.
"Yes?" she asked in anticipation.
Their bodies began moving toward each other like two opposing magnetic poles instinctively being drawn together. Anya closed her eyes and waited with bated breath as they continued to lean in. Their mouths were only inches apart. She could feel his warm breath gently caress her face. Then all of a sudden, it was gone, and all she could feel was the cool evening air. She felt a series of quick, firm pats to the back of her hand.
"You're doing fine," she heard him say softly, and when she opened her eyes, he was no longer standing in front of her. She turned to see him walking away, his steps gaining in speed as if he needed to be somewhere else in a hurry. Just like that, the spell was broken and all traces of the enchantment that had been encircling them from the evening had disappeared. Disappointment and confusion coursed through Anya and she felt powerless at making it go away. She had turned to look at Vlad for the first time since she and Dimitri had hit the 'dance floor,' and he shot her an expression that was a mixture of sympathy and helplessness.
As she stood there overlooking the water, hours after learning to waltz, her mind kept going back to that moment when he had walked off abruptly. Why would he pull away? Anya wondered. Then suddenly it hit her. Valentina, she thought. Suddenly she was hit by a new emotion, one she fully recognized but did not dare want to admit.
She had first learned of Valentina about two weeks ago while she, Dimitri, and Vlad had camped in the wilderness by a riverbank in central Germany. Anya had stormed off to "bed" after an argument with Dimitri. She had huddled next to a large, fallen tree trunk and wrapped her coat around herself and Pooka, leaning in the direction away from Dimitri. Sure, this meant that she could no longer feel the warmth of the roaring fire that Dimitri and Vlad were settled in front of as they leaned against a large rock nearby, but she really didn't care. All she wanted was to get away…but not too far away…from the most annoying, aggravating, and arrogant Russian man she had ever met.
Anya was too angry to fall asleep, so she just lay there in the stillness of the night and listened to the occasional sounds of nature. Unfortunately, this meant that she could also still hear his voice as he and Vlad continued to go over travel plans and continued to peer into a map that Dimitri had carried in his backpack since the beginning of their journey. They did this at least once every couple of days to stay on track. By now, it had become rather mundane to Anya as she hardly recognized most of the terrain and places they conversed about. Then an unexpected topic breached by Vlad involuntarily made her ears perk up.
"So, are you going to pay Valentina a visit when we get to Paris?" Vlad asked Dimitri in a rather upbeat voice.
Hmm…must be a sister or cousin Anya initially thought, but something about the hesitance in Dimitri's response told her that she was wrong.
"That was a long time ago, Vlad," Dimitri replied, almost sounding flustered. "Besides, I wouldn't even know where to look. She and I didn't exactly exchange addresses."
"Well, where there's a will, there's a way," Vlad insinuated cheerfully. "She was something, wasn't she?" he reminisced. "And she was certainly crazy for you. Ahh, Valentina: that milky smooth skin, that flowing brown hair, those plump lips, those rosy cheeks, those enticing curves, those long legs…"
"Okay, down, old man!" Dimitri interrupted sharply.
"What?" Vlad asked innocently. "It's not for me…I'm only looking forward to seeing Sophie. I'm just refreshing your memory…as if you could ever forget a bombshell like her," He added as he laughed heartily. "Unless of course that unspoken attraction..."
"No! Don't go there!" he warned sharply. "We've got a job to do. Let's just focus on that, alright? Now, Stralsund…"
Anya knew that they had returned to plotting the remaining journey and her ears tuned out their conversation. She suddenly became preoccupied by a new thought based on the information she had just overheard. She started to imagine what this Valentina must look like based on Vlad's descriptions. Surely, he was exaggerating, she thought; no one can be that pretty. Yet, the whole thing bothered her. She hadn't even met this girl and she already disliked her. She reminded herself that Dimitri had no clue where to find Valentina even if he wanted to resume their 'friendship', and based on a book she had recently read on Paris, it was a substantially large city. Searching for a person within that population was like searching for a needle in a haystack. It then occurred to her that she was headed to Paris with the very same mission and felt a little foolish for her previous deductions. She quickly refocused on Dimitri and Valentina. Wait…she paused: why did she care in the first place? And what was this about some "unspoken attraction"? Hopefully it was all in the past. She shook off any lingering thoughts that likely meant nothing anymore and tried her best to fall asleep.
Back to the present…
"Anya!" a voice called out sharply from behind her and Anya turned to see Dimitri rushing towards her.
"Good morning," she greeted him with a small smile.
"Is everything alright?" he asked, his face full of concern.
"Dimitri, relax," she assured him. "See?" she said and batted her eyelashes, "I'm wide awake. I just…I just needed to make it all the way over here to face my fears. If not, I might've never been able to walk all the way out to a ship's edge again." She turned around and rested her arms on the ledge again. "This is the first time I can remember ever being on a ship, and I don't want to become afraid of them to the point where I'll never get on one again," she informed him.
Dimitri leaned on the ledge next to Anya and smiled.
"Do you share the same outlook on trains?" he asked rhetorically, to which they both chuckled before Anya grew serious.
"It's such a beautiful day," she observed aloud. "It's hard to imagine that it was just last night that…" she trailed off, not quite knowing how to finish her sentence. But the look on Dimitri's face told her that she didn't need to.
"I know," he said softly, a grave expression on his face.
"Dimitri," Anya began slowly. "Thank you for saving my life. I was so beside myself after you pulled me off this ledge that I couldn't even remember whether or not I thanked you…so, thank you."
Dimitri smiled gently.
"You're welcome, your grace," he replied. "It's what any loyal subject would do."
They smiled at each other again before gazing back out at the water, each lost in the silence and serenity of the atmosphere around them. That is, until the ship was rocked by an unexpected motion. The ripple of a surprisingly large wave nudged Anya a few inches to her left, causing her to gently collide with Dimitri's body. The contact instinctively made them lock eyes. Neither moved nor said anything for a long while, blue eyes and brown eyes unable to peel away from the other. There was something about touching Dimitri that caused a fluttery sensation in Anya's stomach…as if a dozen sleeping butterflies had suddenly been awakened inside her. Why was that? She wondered. She hadn't ever felt this way about anyone else before…what made it so different when it came to him? She blushed when she realized that they were still looking at each other.
"Sorry," she apologized, her voice coming out a lot softer than she had expected.
Dimitri nervously cleared his throat.
"It's alright," he replied, his own tone matching hers.
They retreated to their former positions slowly and almost reluctantly before redirecting their attention to the ocean landscape before them. They stood in silence a little while longer and Anya couldn't help but scan the nearby waters for any more signs of unusually larger waves in the midst of more tepid ones.
"Have you eaten anything?" Dimitri asked, finally breaking the silence.
"Um, I'm not hungry just yet," Anya replied, turning to look at him.
"Well, I suppose we can wait a little longer," Dimitri remarked. "Unlike Vlad…"
They both looked at each other and laughed.
Anya noticed just how rich and shiny Dimitri's hair was as the sunlight reflected against it. Then her eyes drifted to a few granules of sand embedded on his head and even before she could resist the urge, her fingers were threading through that thick brown hair.
"You've just got a little…" she whispered as she caught his surprised reaction but continued to brush out the specks.
"Thanks," he said softly. "But this doesn't mean we're even," he added with a grin.
"Agreed," Anya replied.
When had her relationship with Dimitri changed so much? Anya wondered. Only a few short weeks ago they had been grating each other's nerves, and yet, here they were…the same old Anya and the same old Dimitri…and all they could do lately was smile at each other and talk in hushed tones that Anya wasn't even aware she was capable of before.
Dimitri cleared his throat again.
"Well, I guess I should go wash all this sand out," he said and excused himself.
"What would you do without me?" Anya joked.
Dimitri smirked and simply shook his head as he walked away.
When he was out of view, however, Anya was struck by the flipside of what she had just said and her mind was flooded by a swirling current of questions. What would she do without him? What would happen when they reached Paris? What if there was the slightest chance that she was the missing princess? No…she thought. The chances of that being true were slim to none. But regardless of the outcome, this is where she and Dimitri (and Vlad) were to part ways. She would go looking for her family and he would go about doing whatever it is he was planning to do in Paris. But what if she didn't find her family? Or what if she did find them? Either way, Dimitri didn't factor into either scenario. And why would he? He probably had plans untold anyway. Paris was a great scene for professional and personal endeavors. There were many places to visit and many friends to make. After all, French girls were considered to be quite lovely. The very thought made her heart sink.
Anya stood there in her world of ruminations until she finally came to a decision. She needed to talk to Dimitri. She sent a quick prayer heavenward and made her way across the deck and down to the cabin. It was now or never.
"Dimitri, I need to talk…" Anya started to say as she stepped into the tiny cabin and found him staring out the porthole. She jolted to an abrupt halt and had to grip the side of the doorpost to keep from buckling at the knees.
Dimitri turned to look at her and Anya's entire attention impulsively went to his upper body. She wasn't so much interested in the lower half of him which was clad in his usual pair of brown slacks…it was the other half. The naked half. He stood there shirtless, his hair still damp, a few moist droplets of water still glistening on his bare shoulders and chest. She was mesmerized by the sight of him. His skin was unbelievably smooth, his shoulder blades broad and well-defined, his biceps masterfully sculpted, his chest hard and soft at all the right places, and his abdomen heightened by tight muscle that completed a body so impressive, that all she could do was stare.
Anya hoped and prayed with every fiber of her being that he could not hear the pounding of her uncontrollable heart that had now begun echoing inside her head. She could feel a warm tingling begin to sneak up to her face and she knew that her cheeks were now flushed to a bright shade of crimson. Those same goosebumps from the night before had returned…only this time, she wasn't looking at his face.
"Anya, you wanted to talk to me?" Dimitri asked, snapping her out of thoughts that tasted more delicious than all the desserts she had ever eaten in her life.
"Huh?" she asked, still somewhat in a daze. "Uh…yes. I wanted to tell you that…" she trailed off as she looked up into his eyes.
A perfectly symmetrical face with gorgeous brown eyes, thick eyebrows, high cheekbones, a chiseled jaw, and a smile that could dazzle even the hardest of hearts: why was she so surprised that there was more to him than just that face? Sure, she had said a few nasty things about his nose when he'd whined about how she'd almost broken it on that train, but she'd secretly admitted that it didn't detract from how handsome he was. In fact, she had grown to admire it as his trademark. It was something unique to him that she had come to cherish…unbeknownst to him, of course.
Dimitri's chuckle stupefied her.
"Am I making you uncomfortable?" he asked, gesturing to his ensemble (or lack thereof.)
"No!" she said a little more quickly and enthusiastically than she had intended.
He lifted his eyebrow suspiciously at her behavior but bent down and picked up a clean shirt from his suitcase.
"So, what did you want to talk to me about?" he prompted again as he began working on the buttons of his shirt.
Anya felt like a gawking fool. She mustered up every ounce of strength and willpower she could gather from that determined mind and finally strung out a complete sentence.
"Um…I just wanted to tell you that I was hungry."
Dimitri seemed unconvinced.
"Uh…huh…" he said. "Are you sure? It seemed like it was more than that."
Her mind wandered again. Of course Valentina had been crazy about him. Although Anya didn't have much experience with the outside world, she was smart enough to comprehend that Valentina hadn't likely been the only girl in Dimitri's past. She was well aware that dashing young men like Dimitri didn't just go unnoticed in a society full of lovestruck young women who yearned for romance. Women who knew the right things to do and say to hold the attention of a man like him. She, on the other hand, was just an inexperienced young orphan who had nothing to offer except the punches and insults she had hurled his way.
"No," she denied with a sigh as he fastened the final button of his shirt. "Nothing more. Let's go have some breakfast. I'm starving."
She watched longingly as he made his way past her to the door and followed after him. She wasn't exactly lying. She was starving.