It's Never Too Late for a Happy Ending
CHRISTMAS DAY NIGHT, 1991
"Well, it's just about time we finish the proceedings," the white-haired man told the excited crowd beneath the Kremlin's walls, "But before we do, Mr. Gorbachev and I invited one last speaker for the occasion, someone fitting enough to be a bridge from the past to the present. Give a large hand if you will, to the last remaining Romanov."
The crowd did indeed break into a huge applause as the old woman tenderly made her way to the microphone with the help of her cane. She scanned over the crowds of cheering people, all actually happy-the first time she'd seen her countrymen truly happy in close to three quarters of a century. She leaned close to the microphone. "I remember it like it was just yesterday," she said in a creaky yet strong voice that brought the square to silence, "For one brief moment at our family's three hundredth anniversary ball, all seemed right with the world. Then, HE came in, with his hateful yellow eyes and his dark magical powers, and he cursed our family to eternal death. I don't know why I was the one who survived, but all this time I've been watching you, my people. I've seen what has happened to you over the years. Although he died for good sixty-five years ago on a bridge in Paris, those who believed in the same things he did kept his work alive by the terrible things they did to you in what they said was the name of social progress. And I felt every ounce of pain and suffering, and wondered whether my family would be remembered or cared for again. By your actions over the last few months, you have shown that you do care, and by bringing down those who have oppressed you through your heroic actions, you have killed Rasputin once and for all. You are a strong people; you always were, and now you stand triumphant. So it gives me great pleasure to tell you, the nightmare is over. You are free. Move ahead to a brighter future, for you have earned it. Thank you."
The applause she got was tremendous. "Her Imperial Highness," Yeltsin gently nudged her back from the microphone, "And I guess then it's time for the final transfer. Flag crew," he called to the uniformed men around the Kremlin's main flagpole, "Make the transition."
Tears started flowing from the old woman's eyes as music she'd thought she'd never hear again rose up from the band on the platform. She glanced upward at the flagpole as the red flag, emblem of hate and terror and of everything Rasputin had stood for, was pulled down for the last time. Once it was unhooked, the white, blue, and red flag of her father was attached and hefted up to the top of the pole where she knew in her heart it belonged. Fireworks shot into the air and exploded when it reached the top. She glanced out over the square, unable to control her emotions anymore. On the far side, a crane was pulling down what was probably the last statue of Lenin-now exposed to all of Russia as Rasputin's partner in slime- still standing in Moscow, only to, perhaps on purpose, drop it from a high position, shattering it on the square. Those in the crowd not cheering set about throwing the remains all around. It was like a dream she'd never have thought she'd live to witness.
"Well said, your Highness," Gorbachev patted her on the shoulder, still looking rather glum that the world he knew was coming to an end that evening-although she could wholly sympathize, "In a way, I guess, over the last few months, your family has come back to life. Oh, speaking of which," he glanced down the walkway, "There's someone here who'd like a word with you."
"You haven't met her yet, but if what she tells us is right, you're in for a pleasant surprise," Yeltsin took her arm and helped to escort her down the walkway. The outline of another elderly woman, formally dressed, could be seen. "Your Highness," the incoming president told her, "Allow me to introduce Mrs. Raisa Rodanov Ryutin, chairwoman of the State Archaeological Commission."
"Rodanov?" from the back of her mind, over the decades, something clicked, "You mean...?"
"My father was the man you cheered up all those years ago in the hospital. He'd talk about you all the time after the Revolution. I'm just honored to meet you in person at last, your Highness," Raisa walked forward and hugged her, "He and Ivan Turganov were bent on beating the curse of Rasputin and getting your family safely out of the country before anything happened to them. At the time, he didn't know you'd missed that train, and repaying you further for your kindness drove him all the while. He and Turganov led a group of Whites towards Yekaterinburg after they got information they were there, but in the end...they were no more than two days too late, and that haunted him the rest of his days. However, I'm glad to tell you I can atone for him; your Highness, my teams have found your family's bodies outside Yekaterinburg."
"You have?" her eyes went wide with excitement.
"I've been looking for years, using under-the-table funds whenever possible since of course the old regime wasn't too enthusiastic about any such search," Raisa told her, "But we'll be bringing them back here to the capital once we've excavated them all, and Mr. Yeltsin's arranged for a proper funeral, haven't you?"
"Indeed we have," Yeltsin nodded, "It'll be a formal state affair, your Highness, just the way it should have been. And we'll lay them to rest in the Fortress with the rest of your ancestors."
"I...I don't know what to say," she fought to find the right words.
"If you could, please accept my apology," Gorbachev bowed humbly, "On behalf of everyone in my now defunct party for their terrible treatment of your family and the people over these long years."
"Mr. Gorbachev, I've forgiven you and everyone long ago," she told him, "Forgiveness is the way a wise man someone I loved knew would have wanted it. And why hold a grudge?" she glanced at more fireworks going off above them, "We can only move forward, after all; whatever the future holds, let's embrace it and make the best of it."
She was still smiling as she lay in her bed back in the hotel later that evening, listening to the people celebrate in the streets below. For all its dark evil power, she knew in her heart now, and for all the lives it had claimed, Rasputin's curse had failed in the end. Gorbachev was right; her family was alive again, and they would stay that way.
She rolled over and sighed. She had lived to see what she'd hoped she'd see. Now her life was complete. Now she was ready to join them when a higher force deemed she was ready...
"Anastasia..." came a low voice from somewhere in the room...a voice she hadn't heard in close to sixty years, "Anastasia, it is time. Come on home."
A bright light was now shining around the ceiling. She squinted up through it. "Grandmama?" she whispered softly. Yes, there was no doubting it; there was her grandmother, standing right in the middle of the light, beckoning her forward. A smile crossing her face, she rose up and walked towards her, the light getting brighter and brighter as she did so-and she noticed that, with each step, she seemed to be getting younger and younger, until when she finally stood before her grandmother face to face, she was just a girl again, as she had been that night everything had come crashing down. "Oh my dear Anastasia, welcome home at last," her grandmother hugged her strongly, "I was starting to think you'd never be ready."
"I suppose some higher force decided I was to have stayed until it ended, and we were rehabilitated in the people's eyes. Oh Grandmama, it is so good to see you again. Is everyone else...?" her heart leaped at the prospect of seeing faces she hadn't seen in three quarters of a century again.
"See for yourself, my dear," her grandmother pointed into the light. A tall figure was walking towards them. She blinked. Yes, that crisp beard and those warm eyes...
"Papa!" she leaped towards him. She had spent long nights after her memory had returned wishing she could see him again somehow, and now that moment had come. Tears were filling his eyes as he swept her up and flew her for the first time in so long. "Oh my precious Anastasia," he whimpered between the tears, "I thought I'd never...I'm so proud of what you said today; you've kept us alive for the people for so long. I've been waiting for this moment for so many years. I just wish I'd kept you nearby before they stormed the palace; then I wouldn't have failed on my promise to make sure nothing happened to you..."
"You didn't fail, Papa," she was sobbing herself now, "It happened too fast for you to have done anything, I know that now. I just wish I'd been able to say goodbye when it had happened; that's what's been dragging on my soul for so long. Is Mama...?"
An excited burst of pleasure to her right showed her mother all right. With a flourish, Alexandra picked her off her father and embracing her, sobbing in delight and unable to say anything. And coming out of the light now, she saw...
"Alexei!" she pulled free and rushed to her brother, "Oh Alexei, I think I've missed you the most!"
"I think he did too," their father said, "He lost the will to go on after you missed the train, really-in fact I think we all did. He said you were his better half, and he felt incomplete without you."
"Guess what?" Alexei told her eagerly, "I don't bleed anymore. Once we came here, I finally became normal. So I guess dying wasn't all that bad. Still, it would have been nice to have taken the throne someday. I always wondered how I would have turned out as tsar."
"Well, I stand by what I said so long ago, Alexei, you WOULD have been the best tsar Russia ever had," she told him, rubbing his hair in delight. And coming out of the light now, she could make out her sisters. They shouted in delight and embraced her when she ran to them next. "So what took you so long!?" Olga told her, overjoyed, "Grandma was right, we thought you'd never get up here!"
"You made us wait so long to thank you for destroying Rasputin-twice!" Tatiana added.
"Well, the first time was basically his own foolishness at jumping onto the ice after me not knowing how..."
"Come on, over here," Marie dragged her deeper into the light, "He hasn't been waiting as long as we have, but every day without you has been hard on him too."
"Who...?" she stopped as she saw the figure by the marble railing that had appeared out of nowhere. "Dmitry," her heart rose. It had been only fourteen years since he'd gone to the next world, but that had seemed like a lifetime to her. And now, here he was again-as she had first seen him, as the boy who'd popped out of the door in the wall to escort her and her grandmother to safety just as the Bolsheviks were about to kill them. And, she noticed as she rushed to embrace him, he was, despite the age he was appearing at, wearing a formal court uniform. "Dmitry, where'd you get this?" she asked him, amazed.
"I'm now Grand Duke Dmitry Oldenstein-Romanov," he explained with a smile, "It was your father's idea."
"Oh he deserved a reward as I saw it," the former tsar strolled over and smiled approvingly at his son-in-law, "How could I not reward the man who saved my daughter's life four separate times?"
"Well, three and a half, sir," Dmitry admitted modestly, "She did basically save herself on the bridge after I'd shown up."
"Ah, so you finally got your fortune, huh Dmitry?" she teased him, "Now wasn't it worth waiting for to get it the right way?"
"At any rate, it was a thrill to welcome him fully to our family," her father told her, "Which reminds me, we were waiting for you to show up to finish the tricentennial ball after it got interrupted by HIM, and since I'm told the two of you did quite a bit of dancing in life, why don't the two of you take the lead? Bandleader," he called down the staircase railing, "It's time. 'At the Beginning' if you please."
She could hear the familiar song rising up again. "Come on," Dmitry took her hand and led her down the staircase, "Now we can finally do what I wanted to that night before Rasputin ruined everything. But you lead; this is your celebration, after all. Surprised?"
Indeed she was. For out of the light, the Winter Palace had emerged around them-the Winter Palace as it had been that fateful night so many Decembers ago, restored to its former glory. And as they took to the center of the ballroom and began dancing to the music, familiar people came out of seemingly thin air and started dancing to it as well, although they kept a respectful circle around the two children who had grown to adulthood and were now children again in this special place. She recognized so many familiar faces, so many lives that had been shattered from Rasputin's blind hate of her family, now restored and happy again. Most of them gave her a proud smile, and she knew they were glad to have her back. As she was glad to have them.
She glanced around for more familiar faces. Sure enough, there was Bishop Feofan, leaning against the throne her grandmother and Alexei were sitting down in to watch the ball proceed as it should have. She had learned of his fate shortly after she'd been invited back to Russia by Gorbachev: that the bishop had been arrested by the Bolsheviks for harboring refugees they'd branded enemies of the people, but despite being severely tortured and eventually executed, he'd refused to betray them or renounce his faith. He smiled and waved at the two children whose relationship he'd approved of back when few others would have. And there over by the snack table was good old Vladimir, taking more than his fair share. He waved as well when he saw she was looking. True, money may have been his objective as well when he and Dmitry had convinced her to go to Paris with him, but she knew from years of experience that his heart was generally in the right place, so it was no surprise her old friend would be here as well. And a quick glance back through the crowds, where her parents were dancing themselves now, she could see Uncle Michael and Aunt Natalia dancing away, finally able to be together without anyone interfering. And next to them were Turganov, Rodansky, and the blinded soldier-now fully able to see-who had chosen her sisters as their dance partners, with the rest of the wounded men she'd comforted so long ago leaning against the far wall, taking everything in. She had to laugh-Marie had finally gotten her soldier, better late than never. And over by the railing leading into the ballroom-she had to squint to make sure she was seeing what she was seeing, but indeed she was-were a pair of peasants conspicuously out of place among the well-dressed nobles, but who smiled warmly and waved at her. She was finally getting to meet Dmitry's parents, she knew, and she could tell they had no problem that their son had fallen for a princess. Oh the things she could tell them when she got the time...
But that time would be later, she thought to herself, still whirling with Dmitry across the floor. Right now, she wanted to enjoy in full the fact that she was back with her family again, back at that magical moment so many Decembers ago-where once upon a December had become now and forever-in a place where she knew Rasputin could never come even if his soul still lurked in some other realm, and this time she'd never leave them again. Finally, after so many years of waiting and hoping, she was finally home again.
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