The tiara feels unbearably heavy on her brow. Her hand tangles itself in the rich red velvet of the curtains as she stares at the figures turning, flitting about the hall in their perfectly pressed suits and couture dresses. She could feel a knot in her stomach the size of a peach pit, growing larger with every passing second. This is where she belongs. Where she's always belonged. Dripping in diamonds, surrounded by glitz and glamour. This is all she ever wanted, ever since she was a little girl.
Then why does it feel so wrong?
"He's not there."
The quiet, gentle voice of the Dowager Empress startles her. She looks back at her grandmother. "Oh, I know he's not...he..." A pause. "Who's not there, Grandmama?" Her grandmother smiles at her, pushing aside the curtains on the other side. "A remarkable young man, who found a music box..." For a moment she can feel her blood roil beneath her skin. "No, he's probably too busy spending his reward money as fast as he can." She does not try to conceal the bitterness in her voice. She had been trying very hard during the past few hours not to think of Dimitri, and what he'd done. But her grandmother does not seem to notice. If she does, she pays it no mind.
"Look at them dance. You were born into this world of glittering jewels and fine titles, but...I wonder if this is what you really want." As though she'd been reading the young woman's mind only a few moments prior. It's funny, she thinks, how easily the Empress can understand her now, though they'd spent so many years apart. She does not give voice to these thoughts. "Of course!" She allows the curtain to fall from her fingers. "Of course it is. I found what I was looking for. I found out who I am. I found you." But she's trying so hard, so desperately to justify this to herself. This is what she wanted. She couldn't possibly give it up, now that she had it. She'd been lost for so long. "Yes, you did find me." The old woman's smile only grew as she enveloped Anya in a warm embrace. "And you'll always have me. But is it enough?" She wants to argue, but she cannot bring herself to speak. She only clutches her grandmother to her, until she lets go, her hands surprisingly sturdy and soft on the young princess' shoulders.
"My darling. He didn't take the money." Her eyes widen. Her stomach drops. "He didn't?" A thousand questions run through her mind. Why didn't he take the money? That's what he wanted, wasn't it? Is it possible that he... "Knowing that you are alive,
seeing the woman you have become...brings me joy I never thought I could feel again." Grandmother kisses her forehead. "Whatever you choose, we will always have eachother."
"Grandmama can't you tell me..." But when she turns, the Empress is gone, and Anya is left more confused than she had ever been in her life. It's only the barking of Pooka that lifts her from her introspection. She watches him run from the ballroom. Curious, and afraid he may get into something he oughnt, she chases after him.
And that's when everything becomes chaos.
The screaming, the smell of smoke -- it all reminds her of that day so long ago when the palace was laid siege and her family killed. She finds herself reliving those moments, that up until just today she could never remember. She's frozen.
A hand on her arm, tugging her backward as she stares at the ensuing destruction of the estate and its grounds. "Your highness!" someone yells, but their voice sounds like it's a million leagues under murky water. Everything seems to slow; she's consciously aware of every little thing happening around her, the way the chandelier has scattered thousands of pretty little crystals across the ballroom floor, the way she's being relentlessly pulled back and back by that incessant hand on her arm...she can see it, she can feel it, yet none of it seems real. She...
"--been getting along since we last spoke?"
She ceases fiddling with the chain of her necklace, her leg bouncing up and down only twice more before going still. "Hm?" The life comes back to her blue eyes, the vacant, somewhat glazed look gone with a blink. "I asked how you've been getting along since we last spoke," the woman said patiently. "It's been four years, Miss Anosova. I take it you've found your place in our city?" Anya -- now going by Natasha Anosova -- sunk lower into the plush office chair. She began fiddling with the chain of her necklace again, not meeting the woman's eyes. "You could say that, sure." In fact, though the first few months had been an impressively steep learning curve, the girl had taken to San Francisco surprisingly well. She'd been determined that if she had to carve a new life for herself in this strange world, she'd damn well do it. After all, what other choice did she have? She had no home to return to. No Paris. No St. Petersburg. She was, and is, like an island alone in the midst of a great and terrible sea.
"I'm glad to hear it." She wonders if the woman is glad at all. She probably says that to all the people who filter through this place. "No loss of memory? You've been taking regular trips to the other side?" As though she would ever allow herself to forget again. It'd be like spitting in the face of everyone she ever loved. Her grandmother, Sophie, Vladimir, Di--
She shakes her head. No. Not today. "I go whenever I can." Pushes a stray strand of vibrant red hair from her face. "Or try to, anyway." The woman, sitting now, fixes her with a very stern look. "You do try to be..." Natasha interrupts, "Careful? Yeah, yeah. Believe me, I'm careful as can be." Her leg begins to bounce again of its own free will. The woman quirks a brow at her but does not comment. "It's just that, well, it is dangerous there." Natasha sighs. "I know." If there was some easier, less terrifying and potentially life threatening way to retain the essence of who she is she'd love to know. Instead the woman seems to yield, dropping the subject entirely.
"Alright. I just have a few more questions before I can let you go..."