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Change of Heart

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     Entering the drawing room of the Dowager Empress’ estate, Dmitry scanned the marble walls and patterned carpets that closely mirrored the faded luxury of the Winter Palace. He would’ve admired it more if it wasn’t for the circumstances of his visit.

     Dmitry had watched them embrace, had felt the peace of knowing that Anya—Anastasia—had found her family. He had made a promise after all. Home, Love, family. She will have of it.

     Yet something else had loomed over the joyful occasion.

     “Thank you, young man.”

     Dmitry met the Dowager Empress’ eyes. The weariness and heartbreak that had cast a shadow over her had now faded, and instead her eyes were alight with hope and peace.

     The aging woman gave him a questioning look, waiting for a response. He simply nodded.

     “You’re a curious young man, Dmitry,” she began, faintly smirking, “Last night you insulted me, yet you have not a thing to say now?”

     “I’m glad Anya has found her family again,” he mustered, offering a weak smile. The Dowager continued to fix a skeptical gaze at him. She had met him with the same look last night when he returned her cane.

     Dmitry had been aching for any glimpse of Anya, even despite the festering guilt that reminded him he didn’t deserve one. It didn’t matter in the end. Within what seemed seconds of leaving their hotel room, she had stepped into her grandmother's car, and within the street lights of Paris, she was gone.

     “I’ll be needing that,” the Dowager had interrupted, standing taller than before. Turning to face her, Dmitry followed her gaze to the silver encrusted cane. His is knuckles had grown white from his firm grasp, and he briskly handed it to her before hiding his hands behind his back. The Dowager Empress met him with another curious look before entering the vehicle herself.

     The Dowager’s expression suddenly softened.

     “She has returned home,” the woman said, but her voice wasn’t directed at him. It sounded dreamy and far away just as Anya’s had when he first gave her the music box. So much has changed since then.

     The Dowager cleared her throat.

     “Let’s discuss the real reason you are here, shall we?” she said, “You found my Anastasia, and in turn, I have your reward.”

     Dmitry shook his head.

     “I...I don’t want it.” He knew it was foolish. God knows how it’ll bite him in the ass later. But there was still enough money left over for Dmitry to buy a ticket and leave. It was one last thing he could do for Anya: walk out of her life forever. She would be the Grand Duchess now, and whatever he felt, he wouldn’t intercede. Unable to sleep, Dmitry had packed his bags and intended to leave first thing in the morning. Instead, he had let the Dowager Empress’ note delay his plans.

     “Whyever not?” she asked. Dmitry expected to find her in a greater state of shock, but instead she maintained her reserve.

      All Dmitry did at first was shrug. He wouldn’t make any confession, not to her. Just being in her presence reminded him of his unworthiness. Reminded him that he was a conman and street rat through and through. He had no business getting himself into this, yet here he was.

     “Well?” The Dowager Empress seemed to decide that Dmitry wouldn’t be leaving without giving an answer.

     Dmitry sighed and met her eyes.

     “She’s Anastasia.” She’s the girl he bowed to all those years ago. She’s the girl that smiled in return. She’s the beautiful, strong, intelligent young woman that Dmitry hoped would be her. “That’s my reward.”

     Dmitry could’ve sworn he saw a faint smile creep across her face.

     “Then why are you here?” she asked, but by her tone, Dmitry realized she knew the answer. Some part of him had hoped he would see Anya one last time as Lily had led him through the marble grandeur of the Dowager’s estate. But he wasn’t sure if seeing her would ease the blow or make matters worse. Whether he saw her or not, at least refusing the reward would mark the end of his role in the story. It would provide him with some sort of closure.

     “You love her don’t you.”

     Dmitry refused to meet her eyes.

     “It doesn’t matter,” he replied, “You won’t have to worry. I’m leaving.”

     The Dowager raised an eyebrow at this.

     “And where will you go?” she asked.

     “Away.”

     “Certainly not back to Russia?”

     Dmitry almost snorted. With his face over every alley and train station in Russia, he would be met with a firing squad as soon as he set one foot on Russian soil. Paris could not be his home, and no longer could Russia. The realization had left a cruel, ironic sting. Now it was his turn to search for where he belonged.

     “No, not Russia. Maybe Italy. Maybe England,” he said, “Anywhere but here.” Dmitry caught the pity behind the Dowager’s gaze, and after receiving the same look from Vlad the past three days, he was done bearing it.

     “I wish you and Anastasia the best, your majesty,” he bowed stiffly.

     “The same to you,” she replied, the uncertainty of her voice betraying her reticent demeanor. “I’ll have one of the servants see you out.”

     As Dmitry walked back through the halls, he didn’t raise his head to scan for Anya. If he had, he doubted he would recognize her now.