Characters/pairing(s): Russia; England, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, France, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, the Baltics, and Prussia all mentioned very briefly
Rating: 15 for realistic description of injury
“It’s as perfect as any earthly thing can be,” Alexandr said finally, setting the paper down and reaching for his pen. Russia took a deceptively calm breath and held it, violet eyes fixed on the stylus. Alexandr signed his name at the bottom with his habitual flourish and replaced the pen, and Russia’s breath escaped him a slow exhale. So that was that.
“It’ll be published in the next paper,” the tsar announced, finally looking up at his nation for the first time in the last two hours. “I hope it will make a good impression.”
Russia paused for a moment before saying slowly, “If it does not, I’m not sure what will, Your Majesty.”
Alexandr gave a short laugh, folding the manifesto and slipping it into a drawer, the tassels on his military jacket swaying as he stood. “Yes, well. I only hope that the people see that I have given all I possibly can.”
Russia nodded. He had his own hopes for the announcement—that it would calm the gnawing unease in his own heart, the discontentment of his people reflected through him. It frustrated him, that restlessness, born from the uneducated and misguided beliefs of the peasants. What sane people would attempt to assassinate not once, but four separate times, the very man who freed them from serfdom simply because he realized what a morally corrupt system it was? Alexandr was their liberator, and they repaid them with violence and slanderous words.
“Yes,” Russia agreed. “I think they will.”
Sunday morning dawned clear and cold. Russia sat across from Alexandr in the carriage as it rattled its way down the cobbled streets to the palace, eyes cast out the window as his thoughts wandered far and away. He thought of Denmark, and his ancient enemy Sweden, of Belgium and England, and wondered what they would think, when Alexandr’s announcement was printed. He knew it would be telegraphed around the world within a few short hours—faster, so much faster than anything else before. In the past, it would take months for the news to spread, even news of this magnitude; now, it would be less than a day.
The speed at which news traveled meant that if any other nation saw Alexandr’s announcement as a weakness, an opening—he pushed the worry aside. Yes, the next few years would be difficult. The sheer amount of change required by Alexandr’s decision was staggering, and Russia still struggled to wrap his head around it. A part of him, a large part of him, feared the results would be disastrous. That the economy and social well-being would be driven into the ground by people who simply didn’t understand what it took to run the country, who did not and could not comprehend the ramifications. But maybe he was being unfair. England managed. So did Sweden and Belgium and Denmark. If they could, so could he. But god, he didn’t know what Poland would do. Or Lithuania, the Baltics, Finland, god forbid Prussia—would they see an opportunity? Would they deepen the cracks in an already fractioning empire? Russia wasn’t blind, he knew something had to change—the anarchists and other dissenters were assassinating official after official through the country. Alexandr hoped, prayed, that this concession would bring them in line without further violence. Russia had no idea if it would be true, but he didn’t see another option. If this didn’t work—
The blast threw him sideways in the carriage, head colliding with the door to blur his vision, the roar of explosion deafening. Dazed, he pushed himself up as if through thick mud, head swimming, an incessant ringing in his ears, and saw Alexandr straightening as well, ashen-faced but unharmed, safe thank god, thank you France, your stupid carriage just saved Sasha’s life. But the tsar was opening the door, no—
“Your Majesty!” The world rushed back to full speed as Alexandr climbed out of the carriage; Russia scrambled after him, taking in the scene quickly. A few men injured, one Cossack guard unmoving on the cobblestones next to a horse torn apart by the detonation. That’s where Alexandr went, instantly swarmed by his guards, there was a crowd gathering, closing in around the site; Russia saw the tsarevich exit his carriage nearby, calling over the men to his father. He shoved a guard out of the way to reach his tsar.
“Your Majesty, get back to the carriage, this isn’t safe—” he begged, gaze frantically sweeping the crowd, what if there are more? But Alexandr didn’t seem to hear him, kneeling at the fallen Cossack’s side, hoping to offer comfort to the dying man. Oh Sasha, dear caring Sasha, they did not have time for this. Russia grimaced and grabbed his arm, hauling him to his feet, “I apologize, Your Majesty, but—”
Another guard cut in, asking, “Your Majesty, are you hurt?”
“Thank god, no!”
Russia pulled him back a step. “Your Majesty, please—”
“It is too soon yet to thank god, Alexandr Nikolaevich!”
The nation whirled to face the source of the shout, saw the man by the fence throw something, no—
The sky was a brilliant, all-consuming blue. Russia stared at it, his entire focus seized by heavens, the sheer force of their peacefulness. He felt as if that peace was pressing him down, folding him into the land at his back; he felt somewhere in his soul that if he willed it, itwould simply part for him like a wave, he’d sink down deep into the cradle of his land and all this pressure would be gone. There wasn’t a single sound in the world, not even his own breathing, but that couldn’t be right, and Sasha—
A whimper fell from his crack lips as the world abruptly reasserted itself. There was screaming, cries for help, pleas to god; Russia felt like he was on fire, pain lancing through his body at every breath but already he could feel his flesh rapidly knit itself back together. He suspected briefly that he had died—nothing triggered such spontaneous healing save what for mortals would be fatal. But if that was the damage he took—
Groaning, he forced himself to a sitting position, just in time to glimpse his tibia straighten itself out as flesh spread over the gaping wound. He didn’t bother to hid his grimace, putting all his effort into slowly rolling over onto his hands and knees, he had to get to his feet, he had to find Sasha. He lifted his head, and saw that he didn’t have to go far.
“Sasha,” he croaked.
Tsar Alexandr lay a few feet away in a swiftly spreading pool of his own blood. The explosion had taken his legs clean off; his stomach was torn open, his lack of mobility the only thing preventing his organs from slipping to the dirty street. His strong, proud face was unrecognizable, mangled by burns and shrapnel. Russia knew he was about to lose his liberator.
He crawled over the still-warm corpse of a guard to reach the tsar, laying a hand on Sasha’s shoulder. “Your Majesty,” he said loudly. Was he already dead? But no, Sasha’s eyes fluttered open and fixed on his nation’s face; Russia saw the shadow of death reflected in the monarch’s eyes.
“To the palace,” the man whispered. Russia nodded, squeezing Sasha’s shoulder at the surviving guards flocked to them. The arctic nation pushed himself to his feet, swaying for a moment, watching numbly as the guards tenderly lifted Sasha, broken and bleeding, onto the military sleigh that escaped the blast. Russia couldn’t help but notice the other corpses littering the street, two dozen at least, bodies still where they had been tossed like rag dolls. Alexandr had been in the centre of the crowd when the assassin struck—the murderer hadn’t cared about the civilians. Despite claiming to fight for the people, they rarely cared if the people died.
Russia rode in the sleigh with the tsar and his guards, ignoring the startled looks as the men took in his burned and blood-stained uniform, yet saw unmarred flesh through the holes. Alexandr was carried to his study and laid on the sofa; the doctor arrived moments later, and the priest, followed immediately by the imperial family, all in various states of shock and grief. Russia stood off to the side, out of the way, as the tsarevich slowly approached his father’s deathbed, kneeling at his side to clasp his hand. He looked stunned, as if he couldn’t comprehend what was happening, the vision of the explosion likely replaying in his head on loop. Thank god the tsarevich hadn’t been by his father’s side—then the throne would pass to the next son Vladimir, and god only knew how woefully unprepared he was, even more so than the tsarevich. If only Nikolai hadn’t died… But Russia knew he was being ungrateful, what terrible things to think as his tsar died. But he was nothing if not practical, and couldn’t help it.
The tsarevich spoke. “How long?” His voice was quiet, and he didn’t look away from his father.
“Up to fifteen minutes,” the doctor replied. Tsarevich Alexandr nodded and stood.
They stood in silence, with only the steady tick of the mantle clock to track the life slowly trickling out from the tsar. The priest performed the last rights, the scent of incense mingling with the lingering hint of gunpowder and gore. Russia’s thoughts raced ahead to the future even as he crossed himself on cue at the priest’s words. He thought of the funeral, of the coronation, what would happen to Sasha’s decision? But his frantic musing was cut off when the study door banged open.
Russia saw the entire imperial family grimace as Princess Yurievskaya burst into the room dressed only in a pink and white négligée, the sheer fabric practically indecent as she collapsed next to the sofa, throwing herself over the tsar as she sobbed.
“Sasha! No, my dear Sasha, please—”
The line of tension coiled through the tsarevich’s shoulders was so taunt Russia feared he would do something rash; he stepped between them quickly, taking the hysterically woman by the arm and gently prying her up, hushing her protests and grief-stricken wails as he steered her out of the study, blood now dripping from her nightgown. Outside the study he did his best to sooth her, signalling to the servants to escort her back to her room. It was undeniably cruel, but Russia knew that if the imperial family could barely tolerate her presence on a good day, on Sasha’s deathbed it would be unthinkable. He watched her be led away, and knew that she was mourning not only for her lover, but for herself.
He slipped back into the study in time to see the doctor at Sasha’s side, listening for his heartbeat with a stethoscope. The room held its collective breath as the clock kept time, and finally the doctor pulled away.
“Three thirty in the afternoon,” he stated solemnly. “His Imperial Majesty Alexandr Nikolaevich Romanov is dead.”
Russia stepped forward. Tsarevich Alexandr heard him, turning to face him with a disbelieving, almost frightened look. With the eyes of the imperial family on them, Russia took a breath, letting it out with more calmness than he felt.
“The tsar is dead,” he declared. “Long live the tsar.” And knelt at Alexandr III’s feet, bowing his head in deference as he kissed the man’s hand—he felt a small spark leap between them, the tie that bound ruler and nation, even before the coronation cemented it. Alexandr sucked in a quiet breath; they all did, when Russia knelt before them, as the knowledge of what it really meant to be tsar settled into their soul.
Russia stood and stepped back, allowing the other Romanovs to declare their loyalty. The nation’s gaze fell on Sasha’s lifeless form, and Russia wondered if he would have a chance to mourn this time.
He found Alexandr III, now tsar in practice even if not formally crowned, sitting in his father’s study later that night, a glass of brandy on the desk as he sorted through papers. Russia lingered by the door waiting for Alexandr to look up—he had known the man since the man was a boy, but sometimes becoming tsar changed people, so Russia was always careful to err on the side of formality for the first few weeks of a new reign. The newly-minted tsar looked exhausted, shoulders slumped as he read through letters and reports, desperately trying to bring himself up to speed before he met with the ministers tomorrow, struggling to wrap his head around all of the little secret things that went on between rulers, between nations. The flickering light from the fireplace warred with the steady flame of the kerosene lamps, sending shadows dancing across the walls. Russia glanced over to where the sofa had stood not hours before; most of the blood stains had been scrubbed out of the carpet by some industrious servant. He cleared his throat.
Alexandr looked up. “Oh Ivan; please, come in.” He waved him in distractedly.
Russia did, shutting the door behind him. He wondered why so many of his rulers refused to use the nicknames that would show familiarity—the use of his full first name had the effect of keeping him at arm’s length. He took a seat in one of the plush armchairs across from the desk. “Find anything interesting?”
“Very interesting things. Too many such things,” Alexandr grumbled, dropping a half-folded letter into a stack on his left before he rifled through the drawer for more.
Russia wondered if Alexandr had found his father’s personal memoirs yet. Probably best if he didn’t. “There’s something I want to discuss with you.”
“Oh?” Alexandr straightened again, a sealed envelope in his hands. Russia recognized it.
“About that, actually,” the nation nodded to the document as Alexandr opened it. “I have considered it at length, and though I find the idea,” Russia fished around for the right term, “nerve-wracking, to a certain degree, after taking into account all relevant facts and the state of the people’s agitation, came to the same conclusion as your late father: namely, that we are left with no other recourse than this, save—”
“What is this?” Alexandr cut him off sharply.
Russia blinked, taken aback by the tone. “It’s, your father’s edict declaring the formation of two bodies of state legislature.” Was that not clear from the writing?
“My father was considering this?” the new tsar hissed, shaking the paper for emphasis.
“Not merely considering, Your Majesty—he signed it yesterday, to be put into effect Monday—”
“Absolutely not!” Alexandr shouted. “This is—the very idea is unthinkable.”
Anxiety bloomed in Russia’s chest, entwining his heart like a briar patch. “Your Majesty, the people demand—”
“I know what they demand! Anarchy, bloodshed, the desecration of the sacred right of monarchs!” Alexandr was on his feet now, hands planted solidly on the dark wood of the desk. “They would see to the very destruction of the empire if they could!”
“Your Majesty, your father feared that without this concession—”
“I will not concede to assassins!” he thundered. “Those bastards murdered my father! I will not reward them with this!”
“To ignore the rampant unrest is to court civil war—”
“If they want war, I will give it to them!” Alexandr declared hotly.
Russia bit his tongue, hard, his nails cutting into the palms of his hands. “Your Majesty,” he said thickly, fear clogging his throat. “Today’s disaster is a terrible ordeal; you are rightfully distraught. But I beg of you, please, to delay your decision until you have had a chance to rest—”
“No,” Alexandr snapped. “No amount of rest or distance in time from this nightmarish day will later my decision.” Swiftly, he ripped the document cleanly apart; Russia’s mouth fell open slightly as the tsar shredded his father’s final edict, before tossing the remains into the fireplace. The fragments caught almost instantly, curling in on themselves as flames devoured them.
Alexandr watched them burn with dark satisfaction. “The only blessing this day has granted,” he murmured, “is that such a mistake never came to pass.”
Russia closed his eyes, counted to ten, and then calmly stood, bowing. “Your Majesty,” he said softly, before turning to go. If he had any questions about the style of Alexandr III’s rule, they were answered.
He caught sight of his hand as he shut the study door behind him—blood under the nails, matching little crescent cuts on his palm. Twice on the same day he bled: once due to his people, and again as a result of his monarch. A cold sense of dread slipped into his stomach like a poison, and he shuddered, hunching his shoulders against the looming sensation as he made his way to his chambers.
In his mind’s eye he saw the edict go up in flames, and with it, any chance of his successful transition to a constitutional monarchy.
The people were turning in a new direction, and the monarchy stubbornly continued their march along tradition. At some point, Russia knew the two courses would meet, but he couldn’t say with any certainty what would happen then.
A horrified part of his head, the part that knew better, told him exactly what would happen then, how people and monarch would turn on him with blind vengeance, and tear him limb from limb.
He hoped the death was swift.
-Alexandr II, Alexandr Nikolaevich Romanov, is also known as Alexandr the Liberator for his edict which bloodlessly freed the serfs from bondage (which a couple of unfortunate side-effects that are too complicated to get into here, but suffice to say that it was a mixed blessing. He was assassinated on March 1st, 1881 according to the Old Calendar, by members of the Narodnaya Volya, the "People's Will", a left-wing terrorist organization which demanded a decentralized government free of monarchs. The first bomb, thrown at the imperial carriage while Alexandr was returning from his weekly military review, did not kill the tsar, whose carriage, a gift from France's Napoleon III, was bulletproof. However, Alexandr then exited the carriage to see if his driver and guards were hurt, which is when a second bomb was thrown. The second bomb claimed more victims, including the assassin, as a crowd had gathered on the narrow sidewalks after the first explosion. Later it was discovered that a third bomber was in the crowd, in case the first two attempts failed. Alexandr II was brought to the Winter Palace, where he died in the same study in which he had signed the edict freeing the serfs almost twenty years before to the day. All surviving assassins were swiftly captured and hung a month later.
-Princess Yurievskaya, born Princess Yekaterina Mikhailovna Dolgorukova, was a minor Russian princess and Alexandr II's lover. A month after his wife's death in 1880, he took Princess Yekaterina as his morgantic wife, titling her Princess Yurievskaya. It's said that the morning of Alexandr's assassination, she begged him not to go out, saying she had a terrible feeling something bad would happen to him. The imperial family frankly despised her; she was denied a place of honour during Alexandr's funeral, and had to attend a separate funeral mass. Shortly after Alexandr II's death, she and her three children were forced to move out of the Winter Palace, forever giving up the right to live there or in any imperial residence in exchange for a 3.4 million ruble pension. They moved to Paris, where she continued to live in luxury until her death in 1922, just as her money was running out.
-The day before his assassination, Alexandr II signed an edict that would have begun the transformation of Russia's absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy styled after that of Great Britian's. It was to be published in the papers the next possible day, on Monday. Alexandr had been debating the idea of a constitutional monarchy for years, and had formed a committee to study the possibilities, possible outcomes, and help draft the new laws the change would require. The edict was the result of that committee. When Alexandr's son, Alexandr III, discovered his father's edict after the assassination, he is said to have thanked god for the chance to prevent such a terrible mistake.
-It remains one of the many cruel ironies of Russia's long history, that assassins should kill the one monarch who could have likely made the successful transition to a constitutional monarchy, the day before that change would have begun. Alexandr III and his son, the ill-fated Nikolai II, the last of the tsars, were both staunch believers in the divine right to rule and the sacrosanct power of absolute monarchy. But Alexandr II was committed to the idea of a constitutional monarchy and would have worked tirelessly to see it succeed. Had he lived, it is very possible that Russia would still have Romanov tsars to this day. Instead, the assassination was another nail in the coffin of Russia's imperial family, and another step towards the revolutions that would break out in 1905 and 1917, and the many bitter years of civil war that followed.