• Prologue

    Anastasia clung close to Vladimir’s side, looking out into the frosty night from their Kirov apartment. Vlad was her only comfort now from this harsh siege of their homely village in Leningrad. She swallowed painfully against the hard lump in her throat. Ana was hungry and by far the worst she felt since her change. She looked up, staring into Vladimir’s once healthy clear blue eyes, now a dull cobalt. But yet he always held a smile for her even in the worst of times, always thinking of her first, like now.

    He had felt her gaze and looked down at her, smiling his dazzling smile. The smile didn’t hold though, he had sensed her unhappiness even through her fake smile, her lips newly cracked and bleeding. His eyes darkened even deeper by misery, were shadowed by his worried frown. He reached out a scarred hand and stroked her cheek as he attempted unsuccessfully to secure a stray brown lock of her hair behind her ear.

    “You should have gone with the others back in September.” He said his lips pursing the way they always did when he was being stubborn.

    Ana glared up at him, mirroring his stubborn expression. Her eyes narrowed. You know I can’t go with them. Who would take in another orphan? I would just be another mouth to feed! Her expression softened. Besides I would never leave you.

    She knew he understood even though she couldn’t speak it. They had already exchanged opinions back in September when all the women and children were gathering to leave, back when they could spare pen and paper.

    He sighed, knowing this conversation was a lost cause. He bent down and kissed Ana’s mute lips and gave her a warm smile. “I am glad you are with me, even now, when you’re thin from hunger from this blasted famine.” His forehead creased angrily for a moment, but smoothed out almost instantly.

    Ana reached up and traced the scare that puckered the left side of his beautiful face. She had been so devastated by the blemish when she first saw the side effect it had caused him from the medicine they had taken back in 1770 when the plague hit. But now it was just another part of him and she didn’t want it any other way. He closed his eyes and smiled solemnly.

    “This is one of the many things we went through together, but I wish that we could take it all back. We probably would have died a painful death a few days later, but it would have been worth it to die hearing your voice again, to at least have seen you well fed, not trapped in a hunger that neither of us can die from, even if we wanted to. I want you to be happy my mute angel.”

    Vlad gave her a sad smile, tears now staining his cheeks. She hadn’t noticed she had been crying as well until she went to mouth her answer: I am. She laughed inwardly, she loved him so much. She strained on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck kissing his broad nose, now wet and salty.
    They both jumped when Lev moaned feebly from his place on the floor, heaped in all the blankets they had. Ana ran over whipping away her tears as she did so and knelt down next to him. She smiled down at her human friend with as much reassurance as possible, even though she and Vladimir both doubted he would last the rest of the night. Placing a comforting hand on his cheek she let Vlad answer for her, they both knew what she wanted to say.

    Vladimir took a deep breath beside her. “It will be alright Lev, we’re watching over you.” He moaned again.

    Ana gave her partner a nervous glance. She hated seeing her friend like this. Vlad and she had met the man while digging a ditch a couple of weeks prier and the trio had connected almost instantly. Now their friend was dying of starvation and the cold. She lay down next to him with a contemplative sigh. She wished that she could offer her body for warmth but knew it would just make Levin’s condition worse.

    Should we give him our rations? Maybe that will make him live a little longer. I mouthed, hopeful.

    Vlad shook his head. We can’t waste food on dying men. You’re suffering, you need the food, he mouthed back.

    Ana stared at him in shock. He shrugged indifferent by the situation. She frowned and took her moldy lump of bread and kneaded it in her palm until it was a softer texture, but never doughy. She hand fed Levin her portion as Vlad angrily watched in silence. She watched poignantly as Lev swallowed the dry excuse for food noisily, wincing each time as it scrapped down his parched throat.

    They sat the next hour in silence until Lev finally fell asleep with a relieved sigh, as if sleep would take away the pain of his suffering. The silence then was eerie, not a sound besides Levin’s labored breathing and their more normal inhalation –well for a starving man. Finally, Vlad sighed and reached carefully over Lev’s limp lump under the quilts and handed Ana his bread roll. She looked down at the lump of food in his outstretched hand silently, her hands knotted into worried fists in her lap. He silently thrust the food at her again, ordering her to take it. She shook her head.

    He sighed again and inched dangerously closer to Lev’s still form, almost disturbing the dying man’s sleep. Take the bread. I know it’s not much in nutritional value but you need it. He hissed quietly.

    Ana pushed at his hand trying to close his fingers over the lump of dough but he was stronger than her.

    “You’re eating it. I will be getting a raise in rations tomorrow anyway since I have been raised a rank to be a soldier in the Red Army. He smiled proudly.

    Ana blinked back tears and ate the sawdusty roll, never noticing that Vladimir had inched around their comrade and now sat beside her watching her every move. Her lip trembled and she looked up into his eyes, seeing the lust in them. She blushed and gulped down the last grainy bite.

    He smiled as he lifted her into his arms and retreated to the bedroom, nudging the door shut with his foot causing it to thump softly shut. They froze to listen for a second and nothing happened. A low chuckle escaped his lips and she couldn’t help but smile. This is our moment, she thought as he laid her in the bed. She felt sad knowing this was the last time they would make love in a very long time, but for that reason this night seemed to be greatest night they would ever have… too bad it was their last together forever.