With great determination, Anya had run to her past, meeting it with open arms. It connected with her present for only a moment, in the embrace of her grandmother and the placement of a crown upon her head. Again, she was Anastasia, and while the Russia she was young in was far past gone, everything for a moment, just a moment, was right.
And then that moment ended.
Anastasia mulled over what felt wrong that evening she was returned to her grandmother. But that depth was missing, and that was how she so easily found herself back in the arms of Dimitri, calling herself Anya, and running to the south of France with considerable financial support from her grandmother and dreams of a world wide open.
“What do you mean I can’t be in it? I wrote it!” Anya protested.
“And you did a great job with that!” Dimitri insisted. “You always do.”
“I know.” Anya nodded. “I understand the lead character. And she has bright red hair and blue eyes and is 5’ 9”. Her name is Ana.”
“Hm.” Dimitri grunted.
“Which is exactly how I look.”
“You’re not 5’ 9””
“Yes I am! I’m only two inches shorter than you. We measured.”
“That was a bad measuring tape. I’m six feet tall.” Dimitri insisted.
“No you’re not. Look-” Anya pressed herself up against him and moved her hand from the top of her head into his eyes. “See?”
“Ow-I have a three inch forehead. I’m six feet tall.”
“Here - you can be six feet tall if I can play Ana.”
“You win. I’m 5’ 11”.” Dimitri said, gathering up the script copies.
Anya groaned. “Why are you being such a butthead?”
“A butthead ?” Dimitri wheeled around and grabbed his chest. “Anya, please, my delicate disposition. You wound me.”
“I should’ve sent you into Siberia when I had a chance.”
“But you didn’t!” Dimitri gleefully retorted.
“But seriously, Dima, why won’t you let me on the stage?”
Since their settlement in southern France, Anya and Dimitri rented out and fixed up an old theater. In the three years since their arrival it has geared up a small but loyal following - after all, there weren’t that many newcomers around here, and not that many people to begin with. Every three months or so, Dimitri and Anya would rotate out the show. Anya prefered the imaginative writing, though Dimitri helped with the story structure, and Dimitri prefered the casting, set design, and directing, though Anya helped. Sometimes they had a brand new story, sometimes they adapted an old one.
Dimitri brushed off her question again.
“You know I’m only asking to be polite.” Anya insisted. “I could just get up on stage.”
“Toss the other actress out, huh?”
“On her ass!”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“Anya,” Dimitri sighed. “I know no one’s said anything, and it can be easy for me to forget too, but you’re not just Anya. You’re still Anastasia, and the Russia you ruled is not that long gone.”
Anya deflated a bit at this. He was right. Still, she retorted, “What’s your point?”
“My point is that if someone recognizes you-”
There had been other moments, quick flashes, where someone in a market had looked at her for a second two long, or someone had balked a bit before speaking to her, where Anya and Dimitri swore that it was all over. After all, Anya’s grandmother had plastered posters with her sketched likeness - aged up, as the years went on - all over Europe. While the sketches were of course not perfect representations, they were enough to give someone pause, sometimes.
“They haven’t yet!” Anya insisted.
“But how much do you really want to risk it?”
“We’re in southern France, Dima.” Anya said. “We’re not using my name, and there’s plenty of gangly red-haired girls out there.”
“Not with Romanov eyes.” Dimitri muttered.
“I think you’re going soft, Dima, where’s your taste for danger?”
Dimitri looped his arms around her waist. “I don’t have a taste to put you in danger.”
“Then what was that thing we did, getting to France in the first place?”
“A cruel twist of fate.” Dimitri gave a half smile. “I just wanted a nice train ride, you’re the one who had a crazy Russian after you.”
“I still have one.” Anya laughed pushing up to her tiptoes to kiss him.
“Hey!” Dimitri objected, pulling away.
“Oh don’t tell me you just got it, con man.”
“Hey, I’m off my game!”
“You’re telling me!”
Things were bad. Very, very bad. Gleb wished he could ask someone for better words to describe how bad things were, but most of the educated elite had been forced out of the country or underground, so he was sorta outta luck on that.
But things had been bad since the revolution, which made this new sort of Bad so especially concerning. Already people were used to packing themselves into tight homes, or stretching sparse food, that was not the issue.
When the revolution started, people were hopeful that this suffering would be short, yes, but they more hoped that it’d be worth it. That if they held tight for a few years everything would sort itself out and they would get the worker’s paradise they were promised. Instead, things just got Bad. And now people were losing hope.
It made Gleb sick in his stomach, sick in his soul, to see his country falling to pieces like this. After the deaths of the Romanovs, everyone was gleefully anticipating the meaning and the new chapter that was open.
Gleb stood and walked to the window. The chapter wasn’t fully open, there was still one last piece he had let go free. He thought he was doing the right thing - being his own man, instead of his father. He thought he understood the magnitude of his decision, and he thought he had repaid the debt of karma taken when the nation allowed all those other children to die.
Perhaps, he hadn’t made the right choice after all.
Dimitri had been smooth with every other girl. He knew how to tell when a girl was interested, he knew what to say and when to say it, and he knew that everything he did was only temporary because as soon as that spark started to fade closer to genuine affection, he was gone. It was an easy pattern for him to fall into, as a boy who had never really been loved before.
But things were different now, and he was watching the ultimate love of his life move people around on stage, smiling as she demonstrated different movements as she had envisioned them. The show was almost fully cast now - they were missing a few background people, a jeweler, and Ana.
“No, here, when you talk I want you to move your arms like this - you’re very expressive, very excited -”
He loved watching her, and being with her, but he always felt like he didn’t know what to say. Sure, she was easy to talk to and joke with, but whenever he tried to be sweet or loving or genuine in any way, he felt like it didn’t come across just right. When he said ‘I love you’, she would smile and say it back, and often kiss him, but it came across like ‘I love you’. He needed it to come across that he loved her more than he had ever loved anyone, more than he loved himself.
He needed it to come across that he had spent his youth with and around other people, always assuming that he couldn’t love others the way that they were able to. He had assumed there was something wrong with him, that he couldn’t spend more than three weeks with the same person in his arms, and that once a girl had kissed his forehead with so much tenderness that he had left town the next morning.
He needed her to know that ‘I love you’ meant a lot to him, and that he had never said it to anyone else, never even wanted to.
“Hey, Anya!” Dimitri called, putting the casting lists down.
“Yea?” she hollered back, not turning around.
“Can you come here?”
“Why, are your legs broken?”
“Yeah, both of them. Just now. Really tragic, actually.”
Anya smiled at the person she was talking to and flounced over to Dimitri. “What is it, my incredibly impatient love? MIIL for short?”
“Do you ever stop talking?”
“Yes, but only when I’m screaming - aaaAHH!!-”
“Oh my God!” Dimitri laughed, reaching out to cover her mouth, but Anya fell back laughing. “Anya, will you-”
“What is it, what is it?” she asked, rolling forward and putting her elbows on her knees.
“I think you should be in the show.”
“Really?” Anya said excitedly.
“Yeah, if anyone’s gonna be a good Ana, it would probably be you. Anya. That wasn’t coincidental, I’m sure.”
“Oh, I’m trying for subtlety, y’know.” she said, but slid off the stage and threw her arms around his neck. She kissed his cheek and climbed back up, yelling out at the cast. “Meet the new Ana, fuckers!”
Gleb looked at the carpetbag sitting on his simple cot. He knew exactly where the last remaining Romanov was, and he knew what it would mean for the country to once again have an enemy who wasn’t themselves. It wasn’t fair to her - it hadn’t been fair to any of them. The children, especially. But it also wasn’t fair that the entire country waned and folded under its own hopelessness. If he could save another child at her expense, wouldn’t it be worth it? Was that not how debts were paid?
He didn’t give himself much time to think - he didn’t want to think too much, anyway. He slid several changes of clothes and some food into the bag, pulling the tab shut. It was easy for him to get temporary papers - he was a general afterall. He had all the information. He was the only one who could find her, if anyone could.
He remembered how scared she looked when they had first met, but he tried his best to block that out.
The night was young and beautiful, sun setting in brilliant pinks and purples and oranges. Anya loved this hour, especially when they reached the part of their daily walk that went through a wide-open park, full of flowered trees.
“What made you change your mind?” Anya asked when they were walking home, play fully cast.
“I realized I was being stupid. We’re taking as many precautions as we can, and it’s been three whole years since we got here. Nothing has happened, I don’t see why this would be too much. Everyone knows us now.”
“Also I just can’t seem to deny you anything you want.” Dimitri smiled down at her.
Anya smiled at this, and Dimitri squeezed her hand.
“So,” he continued. “I was hoping you’d want this, too.”
“What do you-” Anya turned to face Dimitri as he sunk down to one knee and stuck his hand in his pocket, pulling out a thin wedding band. “Anya...will you marry me?”
For once in her life, Anya genuinely had nothing to say.
“I’m sorry it’s not much. I know we’re mostly living off your grandmother’s money. But this...this was something I wanted to buy you myself.”
Anya reached down, hand shaking, and took the ring out of Dimitri’s hand. It was pretty; a shiny gold with a small diamond at the center. Still holding it between two fingers, she dropped down and wrapped her arms around Dimitri’s neck. “Oh, Dima!” she said, squeezing him. “Yes, of course, of course!”
“Here, put the ring on!” Dimitri laughed, his heart swelling so big it filled up his entire chest. “Don’t lose that, do you know how many plays we had to put on to afford that?”
Anya laughed happily, sliding on the ring and admiring it, the two of them still draped over each other on the ground.
Anya rolled her head into the side of Dimitri’s neck, smiling still.
“Anya, honey.” Dimitri said softly, looking down at her. “I love you... so much.”
“Oh, Dima.” Anya cooed, reaching her ringed hand up to cup his jaw and kiss him.
And for the first time since their journey together began, Dimitri really felt like she knew how much she meant to him.