Charlotte Rose Wynter had succumbed to a disease that had caused her much pain during her life. She died with little regrets, surrounded by her loved ones. It had been exactly as she had wanted.
She had not, however, foreseen having been drug back from beyond the grave and opened her eyes for the second time.
For the better or worse, and with her luck it was probably worse, her soul was cast from the afterlife into a new, innocent form.
She spent what felt like an eternity in pitch black darkness that surrounded her like a cocoon. And she emerged into her new life in complete silence, near death and two months early. Her birth complications resulted in numerous medical bills and her sorry excuse of a sperm donor had disappeared mysteriously before her birth, leaving her new mother in debt and a single mother.
She was drawn and haggard each day she came to visit her in her sterile environment in the hospital. To her ears, she spoke gibberish. But there was one word she would always repeat while looking at her direction. ‘Iliya’ was her new name now.
Iliya Volkov was allowed to be released after two months in the hospital.
And Iliya also found out, ‘she’ was a ‘he’.
By his first birthday, after accepting the gender change, Iliya was able to learn some basic words for himself. He also found out that the language he was learning turned out to be Russian. His mother was a pureblooded female Russian whilst his supposed father was a handsome Italian man.
He also learned that his mother worked three jobs just to support them.
He learned it one day when his mother came home late at night, tired and spent. She entered his room and cried her heart out silently, pouring all her complains to what she believed to be a child who was asleep and unable to understand if awake.
His heart went out to her, it really did.
His previous family was also struggling to pay for his medication, to keep him alive for another month. But they always had each other to lean on during hard times. His new mother didn’t have that.
He felt terribly guilty that his presence drive her to such measures, but he could not regret being born. His existence was the only thing that was keeping his new mother sane, and he couldn’t begrudge anything that made such a kind woman happy, even himself and all the burdens that followed him.
His first birthday was marked with a small cake that he indulgently smashed between his fingers and smeared onto his face childishly for his mother’s benefit. She loved taking pictures of him doing ‘childish’ things so she could show them to him when he was older. She had the habit of printing them, even when they didn’t have much money to waste on trivial frivolities, and kept them in an album.
Most of the pictures were ridiculous and embarrassing, but he couldn’t be bothered to care.
He was enjoying being able to act like a child, his childhood previously had been short lived and filled with constant hospital visit.
He liked this life.
His next three years passed by slowly.
Maybe it was to keep his sanity, maybe it was his instinct slowly adapting, but he found he no longer minded his male body as much as when he was first aware of it. Of course, deep inside he was still a ‘pure maiden’ and he bet he would be able to understand women better then most men, but other than that, he seemed to have turned completely into ‘male’ mindset.
Well, better for him that way.
After he was taught to read and write, Iliya began to read all kinds of books. The difference in time made everything different and it fascinated him. His mother never commented on the fact that he devoured books as soon as she brought them to him. She never said anything about how he learned much faster than his age.
Iliya was also fascinated with the capability of toddler’s brain to remember things as natural. Taking advantage of his fresh mind, Iliya started to learn Italian then French, German, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. He found the old way of speaking the languages intriguing and couldn’t help but satiate his curiosity.
His mother only smiled and looked at him with a face that glowed with pride and took several pictures of his little form pouring over books that were nearly as large as him.
So he grew, he learned much about his new world, and he made his mother happy beyond belief. She slowly ascend to a stable position that paid much more to the point that she only worked one job nowadays.
“Iliya, it’s not good for you to be cooped inside all day. You are a growing boy that needs fresh air, playing with children your own age would be good for you,” his mother said one day as she dragged her son away from his books and outside their little cozy house.
His mother had brought him to a park. It was alright, he did need to interact and make connections with children his age. The problem, however, was that he had somehow gotten separated from her and due to his … height, he was unable to find her.
The park was big enough that one couldn’t see the east side from the west nor the south from the north. While he was aware that children were supposed to stay put when lost, he really didn’t consider himself a child, no matter how much he enjoyed the benefits of having childhood. So, he wandered about the park in search of his mother.
The copper taste of blood filled his mouth. He nearly choked on his own liquid life while coughing before he could expel it. Clutching his chest, he bent over and spit out the crimson substance. He grimaced. It seemed that disease would forever haunt him, even in this new life.
Once he managed to recover, he noticed the presence of someone who must have appeared in the small bushes area of the park he had fled to cough up his own blood in private.
So much for private.
He wiped his blood coated hands on the grass before turning his attention to the silent wide-eyed child that was staring at him.
“Shouldn’t you be with your parents?” that question got the white haired child’s attention, though he really shouldn’t call the other boy a child since he looked to be his own age, physically.
“I’m old enough to take care of myself,” the boy said with a very strained smile, former speechlessness completely gone. “I think that you’re the one who needs to be with his parents. Sick person shouldn’t be anywhere without supervision.”
His brow twitched. “I’m fine.”
The boy raised an unbelieving eyebrow. “Of course, coughing up blood in the bushes by yourself means everything is perfect and you are completely fine,” he drawled in mocking tone. “How old are you, even? Three?”
Iliya raised from his crouching position with indignation. “I am four!”
“Only a year younger than me?” the boy muttered in surprise, his smile temporarily wiped. Iliya got treated to an intense stare. “So? What are you doing here by yourself other than being sick? Got separated from your mother?”
“Humph,” Iliya turned away. He was not liking this conversation. Acting like a child for four years had obviously degraded his conversational skills if a normal four year child could get the upper hand on him.
The boy smirked.
“Oh little lost boy, shall I help you find your mommy?” he taunted.
Iliya once again twitched but did not deigned to give any reply.
The boy chuckled. “You are interesting. I like you. Come, we’ll explore this place together until we find her!” the boy grabbed his hands and started to drag him into the more populated area of the park. Iliya just let him, he didn’t think the kid would hesitate to track him down if he tried to get away.
“Ah, how rude of me, my name is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. What is yours?” asked the boy as Iliya was drug behind him.
This just might be the start of a friendship.
Pyotr, it turned out, was the son of a rich family. He snuck out to play at the nearby park with his attendant. Apparently he was bored of his lessons and wanted a bit of free time.
They managed to find Iliya’s mother after they toured the place.
She was almost on the verge of breakdown for losing him when they found her.
“Iliya, thank goodness,” she sobbed as she hugged Iliya. Pyotr merely smiled from the sidelines as his mother checked him over. “Thank you, I don’t have much, but if you need anything and it is within my capability, please don’t hesitate to ask!” she bowed to Pyotr while clutching Iliya.
“Oh, it’s fine, it’s fine,” Pyotr replied, smiling cheerfully. “But I will certainly be happy if Iliya can be my friend!”
Iliya eyed him, a mix of shock and incredulousness in his blue-green eyes.
“Of course! Iliya would be happy to!” his mother answered brightly. Iliya whipped his head so fast it seemed to hurt, a betrayed look on his face as he looked at his mother who had just sold him out easily.
Meanwhile, Pyotr merely smirked out of sight. Jerk.
They exchanged a few more pleasantries before Pyotr’s attendant came to get him home. The brunet bid his goodbye, but not before winking at Iliya conspiratorially.
“What a nice boy,” his mother commented as they walked home too.
“Hm,” Iliya grunted, “Do I have to be his friend?”
“Iliya, he is your savior!” chastised his mother. “Be nicer to him!”
Iliya pouted and looked down. He could have found her by himself just fine!
Since then, they would often meet up at the park where they first met. For the first few times, Iliya’s mother came to chaperone them. Apparently, Pyotr and his attendant Ivan also had received proper permission to go out and play and he wasn’t sneaking out again.
After a few meetings, Iliya felt bad for his mother who got more and more exhausted as she also need to find time to accompany him. Thus he badgered his mother to stay home and rest on the grounds that the park wasn’t that far and Pyotr usually came with Ivan anyway. It’s not like the two kids would be all on their own.
Iliya’s mother was reluctant, but the exhaustion won out.
The first time Iliya came by himself, Pyotr merely raised an intrigued eyebrow but didn’t ask anything about his mother. Instead he took out his newest children book to read together under the tree’s shade.
“Iliya, why is your absent today?” Ivan asked when the Pyotr started to doze off as he leaned on Iliya, who was nibbling on his zavarnoy bread.
“Uhm, mother is resting. She have to go work in the evening,” Iliya decided to answer just enough to satisfy the attendant but not enough to flaunt how tight in money they were.
“I see. She does seem rather tired usually,” Ivan left after commenting on that.
Iliya sighed and was preparing to doze off too, knowing Ivan was never far away nor did the man ever took off his eyes from the boys. He would keep a distance to let them play freely and to their hearts’ content, but he would never let them out of sight.
“…are you poor?”
Jolted from his musings, Iliya turned his head slightly to look at Pyotr’s uncharacteristically serious face. “What does it matter to you? Are you one of those snobs that don’t want to touch us poor people because we’re gross?” snorted Iliya.
Pyotr’s smile came back before he burrowed deeper into Iliya’s shoulder.
Unknown to him, a blush developed on Iliya’s face.
…hey, he was once a ‘female’ okay?!
“Come work for me,” Pyotr suddenly said.
“Huh?” Iliya looked at his tentative friend, dumbfounded.
When Pyotr said his family was rich, Iliya never thought that it meant his family was filthy stinking rich. When they, as in him and his mother, finally stopped in front of his manor, the both of them couldn’t help but gape at the sheer size.
“My father is in military, my grandfather and great-grandfather are also in military, as soldiers and physician respectively,” Pyotr explained when Iliya turned to him with wide eyes.
“…is it really fine for me to work here?” Iliya’s mother wondered faintly.
Iliya nodded inwardly, even he wasn’t sure!
“It’s fine! You two would be under me. The first two, actually!” Pyotr chirped cheerfully as he led the pair of mother and son into the manor. “You can be my minder, Mrs. Volkov, and Iliya can be my retainer!”
“What about Ivan?” Iliya asked curiously.
“Ivan is my father’s,” Pyotr scoffed with a put upon look. “He was just lent to me as I didn’t have anyone. But I have you two now!”
“Your servant is loyal to only one generation of master?” Iliya asked incredulously. That was rather … abnormal. Usually, servant would be loyal to the master’s family, not only to one master.
“Yes, it’s weird, I know,” Pyotr said, hands reaching for Iliya’s to swing around childishly. “But it’s tradition, I guess? I don’t know, it just kind of become like that.”
“I … see,” no, Iliya really didn’t see.
“Enough about that! Let’s go to your new rooms!”
In his previous life, as Charlotte Rose, he was actually a cover song artist.
Not having enough stamina and strength for strenuous activities, Charlotte Rose was more often than not confined to her bed. Music was her salvation of sorts.
Even now, as Iliya Volkov, he held fondness for it. He was also proud to say that he remembered most of the songs he had covered; the lyrics, the notes, the music, everything.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that sooner or later, Pyotr himself would found him humming or singing as he cleaned the room.
“What was that?!” Pyotr asked excitedly.
“Eh? A song,” oblivious, Iliya answered simply.
“What song is that? I have never heard such lullaby!” he gushed, uncharacteristically excited. Maybe a sugar high? What did Pyotr had for lunch again?
“Well, I made it up,” Iliya told him, mentally apologizing to the creator of Disney music as he had sung a Beauty and the Beast song.
“Sing it for me!”
“Eh? Well….,” Iliya hesitated. After all, despite Russian being his mother tongue in this life, he wasn’t even sure the Russian lyric of the song and was singing in English just now. “…It’s in a different language you know.”
“What language is that?” Pyotr cutely tilted his head.
Iliya deadpanned. And this guy was supposed to be older than him, well, physically.
“It’s in English,” Iliya answered carefully. It would be bad if Pyotr badgered for more songs, as most songs he knew was in English.
…ah, who was he kidding, he could count in his hands the number of non-English song he knew.
“…I see, that’s fine! I like the tune!” Pyotr replied as he made himself cozy on the lounge sofa Iliya had just fluffed up.
Iliya eyes his master slash friend critically and received an expectant look back.
…well, how bad could it be?
Hm, not a Disney song, who knew if Disney were already invented or not.
I’ll tell the world I’ll sing a song
It’s a better place since you came along
Since you came along
Your touch is sunlight through the trees
Your kisses are the ocean breeze
Everything’s alright when you’re with me
Iliya glanced at the enraptured Pyotr and somehow got the bravery from the slight pleased smile hanging onto Pyotr’s lips.
And I hold my favorite thing
I hold the love that you bring
But it feels like I’ve opened my eyes again
And the colors are golden and bright again
There’s a song in my heart
I feel like I belong
It’s a better place since you came along
It’s a better place since you came along
As the song ended, Pyotr was entranced. Iliya shuffled and fidgeted nervously. It was the first time he ever sung to anyone in this life, not even his mother knew he could sing!
“Pyotr?” Iliya looked up when he heard a murmur, but he merely got a confident and mischievous smirk.
“I know what I want to do!” he declared.