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oh simple thing, where have you gone?

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old friends whose paths went their separate ways due to the tragedies of the past; the capital of the mired in an endless war country; feast in time of plague; a talk about the long gone, the pain about the already lost

[indent] nikolai                                                               the king
https://forumupload.ru/uploads/0019/e7/78/1909/38932.png https://forumupload.ru/uploads/0019/e7/78/1909/453253.png https://forumupload.ru/uploads/0019/e7/78/1909/482805.png https://forumupload.ru/uploads/0019/e7/78/1909/779543.png
[indent] the saint                                                              alina

oh simple thing, where have you gone? i'm getting old and i need something to rely on so tell me when you're gonna let me in. i'm getting tired and i need somewhere to begin and if you have a minute, why don't we go talk about it somewhere only we know? this could be the end of everything

Отредактировано Nikolai Lantsov (2021-04-28 23:06:47)



[indent] Genya leads her through a short corridor lined with sumptuous wallpaper of gold-embroidered silk. Alina knows that it ends with a grand staircase descending to the ballroom, but now the steps and everything down is drowned in darkness. The Darkling, Starless Saint, dressed all in black, waits at the end of the abundantly lit corridor, but behind him, a wall rises grim darkness, so dense that in comparison, the winter night outside the window seems like light dusk. He meets Alina with a scornful look through his squinted eyes, showing his antipathy, but holds out his hand for her to lean on. She has to make an effort not to retreat. She puts her hand on his, and so, together, on his arm, they walk into the darkness.
[indent] Two steps, six heartbeats, and the blinding black light changes to soothing white. They stand in a circle of light at the top of the stairs. In the darkness below, eyes gleam, eagerly watching their every move. The Darkling pauses, and then, in that very second when the first timid notes, played by the violins of the orchestra, are heard from below, as if the sun's rays tear the darkness to shreds, filling the space of the hall with light. The Darkling, Zoya and David do all the work, and Alina gets everyone's admiration.
[indent] Now she can see the hall. With its simple, repetitive pattern, the parquet, however, made of the most expensive woods, for the sole purpose of further enhancing the gilded splendour of the walls, is covered by a carpet with a wave pattern. The walls are decorated with icy crystal trees with silver leaves, which are obviously supposed to give guests the feeling that they are in a magical forest from the legend of St Nikolai. Still, it makes Alina feel very differently. The sight of the deer, hidden in a tangle of transparent branches, floods her with memories that are sudden and painful, like a heart attack. But she plays her part: she looks dazzling, smiles radiantly, and lets the Darkling twirl her around in a dance. Her gleaming, light-playing jewellery is reflected in the Darkling's eyes with golden sparks of either satisfaction or mockery. Smiling faces pass by, but all she can think about is the man's hands on her waist (that's where the real mockery lies). Black and gold.
[indent] This evening belongs to Nikolai. Alina is grateful to him, at least for the fact that she's not allowed to outshine him, which means not having to pretend to be Sankta Alina for too long. She hopes he will ask her to dance, but his attention seems to be focused entirely on princess Ehri. This makes Alina feel even lonelier, walking towards the garish gilded chairs set up against the wall.
[indent] Nikolai invites Alina to dance, though. Before she agrees, she looks at the Darkling. He nods, and only then does she take her king's hand. He leads her to the centre of the hall, but then the music suddenly stops. Apparently, it was not meant to be.
[indent] Soon the Darkling and Alina leave the hall and, without saying goodbye, go in different directions through a half-empty corridor. Alina doesn't know where the Darkling or she is going. She walks and walks and walks, listening to her heels clattering on the resounding parquet. And then, on an impulse, she pushes open the first door she sees and finds herself in the middle of a dusty parquet plain. The air in the room is stale, and she is stifled by the heat, but instead of leaving, she goes to the window to open it. When she opens it, she realises she has been in the hexagonal room before, resembling a faceted jewel. Standing still, she takes a walk down memory lane, remembering both her meeting with the queen and her night with the Darkling.
[indent] “Does the boy know how willing you were to give yourself to me? Did you tell him what I showed you in the dark?”
[indent] This is so humiliating. What an insecure and trusting fool she once was.
[indent] Alina hears the door open behind her.
[indent] “Please, don't let it be him—”
[indent] She whirls around and exhales in relief, “Аh... It's you, Nikolai. I was just leaving.”

Отредактировано Alina Starkov (2021-05-05 21:05:04)



[indent] The more pompous the holiday is, the worse the state of affairs is in this country. The postulate is practically undeniable and always works absolutely right. So today Ravka, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing was happening, is celebrating another incredibly important date - the day of Saint Nikolai, the churchly patron saint of the ruling Lantsov. Evil tongues will say that the young king is behaving stupidly and recklessly, wasting very limited treasury funds on the celebration for no particular reason. Nikolai prefers to ignore such injections from those who are not so encumbered by the burden of the mind as the crowned Lantsov himself. After the resurrection of the Darkling, after Alina's return from oblivion in the distant Keramzin, the king simply needs to convey to the whole world and to the wearisome Fjorda, in the first place, that no matter how many drüskelle they sent across the border, no matter how many shells they cast in their secret workshops, no matter how many surprises they prepared, it is Ravka for which the Starless Saint and the Sun Summoner are fighting, and therefore the very God is with them, with the suffering people of the unfortunate country. Thus, any reason, even a previously forgotten holiday in the name of another saint will serve as an excellent opportunity to put grit in the machine of the dream - that has become worldwide as it seems - to destroy Ravka to hell.
[indent] The celebration followed the usual routine: first, an endless gathering of guests, accompanied by the first round of gossip, then a whole series of high-profile speeches, ending with the actual address of Nikolai, which habitually evoked tears of compassionate people, then dances in their endless multitude. Nikolai did not particularly like social events, but after spending a fair amount of time in the sandy wasteland of the saints, he learned to appreciate everything that had to do at least anything with real life. Moreover, the current celebration was largely dedicated to him - first, of course, to the saint, and only then to Nikolai, but still today, as never before, he once again wanted to prove to everyone that Nikolai Lantsov was the only hope of the dying Ravka, and if it was not for him, there would be nothing left of either the country or its people.
[indent] Recently, Princess Ehri was his main concern - this was what the court thought, of course; in fact, she was both a hostage and those fetters from which he desperately wanted to get rid of. The bride demanded attention - not so much the Shu Han girl herself, obviously, as the very need to maintain her status - and Nikolai readily put on a familiar smile, and then danced with the future mistress of the palace all waltz tours and half of the mazurkas. Both of them had already almost learned to suppress this feeling of irritation from the prevailing hopelessness, which eternally crawled outward, and therefore they looked together tolerably enough in love so that everyone around, except, of course, those dedicated to recent events, believed in the spectacle they carefully tried to play out. Moreover, now Nikolai could not entrust the task of maintaining two illusions to the Triumvirate at once, because for the time being they had to depict light representations of the Alina Starkov's authorship, who, alas, had lost her powers, but had not yet managed to return them.
[indent] He kept glancing at her throughout the evening. The acting game was not given to Starkov as well as to Lantsov, a mixture of horror, discontent and a desire to get out of the stage as soon as possible was clearly read on Alina's face. When Nikolai invited her to dance, the conversation did not fit, although there was an almost vital need to talk, finally, heart to heart. After all, they haven't done it since she returned. Starkov never said a word, and then left the festive hall altogether, hoping, apparently, to remain unnoticed (Nikolai caught the sight of the her kefta's black silks when she disappeared behind the door). Unrealized desire burned from within, there was no strength or reason to fight it; apologizing to the duke, with whom he was talking at that time, Nikolai followed Alina.
[indent] He found her in one of the many rooms that surround the ceremonial half of the palace. This was the living room of the previous queen, his mother, the room in which she usually had her guests. Alina was standing at the window, the wind fluttering her black hair with silvery tints, the moon shining like gold on the clothes embroidered with jewels. He was not used to seeing her like that, in his memory Alina was preserved as a fighter in a field camp, and not a princess in a fairytale castle. That probably made it that difficult to find the words for such a coveted conversation.
[indent] “I didn't mean to interfere with you”.
[indent] The voice treacherously refused to sound habitually careless.
[indent] “If you want, I'll leave. But it seems like it's high time for us to talk, doesn't it?”

Отредактировано Nikolai Lantsov (2021-05-06 22:03:26)



[indent] Alina doesn't try to argue with this statement. She just remains thoughtfully silent. If he's interfered anything, it's her descent into an abyss of regret and self-reproach. Nikolai's voice sounds strangely tense as Alina turns her gaze from his velvet uniform to his face.
[indent] He had once asked her if they were friends. Lately, she has wanted to ask him a similar question more often. Are they still friends?
[indent] “What do you want to talk about?” Alina demands, looking into Nikolai's eyes. His eyes colour is brown like steel that was white-hot and then dipped in oil (it probably was the colour of incandescence or the annealing colour - Alina doesn't know much about steel, so she isn't really sure about it, but David could tell). Foxy colour. Foxy cunning. She remembered that.
[indent] A frosty chill wafts in from the open window, and Alina feels a nasty cold inside for some reason. She's not sure if it's because she has to hide things from Nikolai or because she suspects he's hiding things from her.
[indent] She turns to the window, before she says or does anything that might embarrass them both. She rests her hands on the cold, altar-like window sill and says, “The Darkling claims to know how to get my power back.”
[indent] As always, it all comes down to the Darkling, but she's not comfortable. She wants to turn around. She wants a king, no, a friend — still, always — to smile at her with the insolence of a corsair and remind her that she can't trust the Darkling or advise her to accept the deal. The deal he offers, because corsairs do not choose, they take what is given.
[indent] “I’m a privateer, Alina, I’ll take whatever I can get.”
[indent] She did not turn around, concentrating on her own palms. The Darkling could have given her back her power. It could have made her the Sun Summoner again. But what did it mean for her? Returning to the palace almost three years later, Alina allowed herself to wonder for the first time how her life might have turned out if she had accepted Nikolai's timid offer and stayed. Would she have been able to make a difference? Prevent the Darkling's return? Would Nikolai have allowed her to make a difference? Would she have been happy, or at least, happier? These were pathetic selfish thoughts, fantasies about things that simply could not be. Nikolai had a bride, a princess, a real one, not an impostor pretending saint. She has a husband. At least, Yana Svetlov, the person Alina had to become, has one. All they have in common are painful memories of war and merzost. No wonder he has been avoiding her all this time.

Отредактировано Alina Starkov (2021-05-07 00:41:48)



[indent] Such an obvious question at first even seems like a mockery to Nikolai. What should they talk about? About everything, probably, dear? Previously he would have drowned in his own eloquence, strangled her with an endless stream of words, because he really had so much to say: about his own loneliness, about dreams and aspirations, about unjustified hopes. After all, they were so similar: both were crushed to dust by destiny, thrown by it first to the sidelines, and then elevated to the status of legends. Not everyone can cope with such differences, but having such a fate it is more valuable to have a friend who understands.
[indent] But that was before. Before her refusal. Before her self-willed imprisonment far from the capital and all that didn't manage to become her home (“but it would have become”, Nikolai thinks, “if she had chosen to become my queen”). Now between them there is endless understatement and foreign awkwardness. Nikolai dreams that the years that now separate them will disappear as soon as possible. So that they can, as before, speak heart to heart.
[indent] “She hasn't changed at all”, Nikolai thinks. It's easy to read in her movements. How she still isn't able to find a place for herself here. How clumsy she is trying to hide anxiety from those who would help to cope with it. Nikolai would be glad to take on this burden of hers, if she would allow it. But the answer was clearly no. As then, at the Spinning Wheel.
[indent] She recalls the Darkling so inappropriately - Nikolai is fuming at the sound of his name. Even if he is not here, even mentioning him is enough for his invisible shadow to stand between them. As before, when the need to fight universal evil did not allow them to do what they wanted. And now everything is utterly ironic: Nikolai himself brought Morozova back to the palace, dressed him again in black and gave him the opportunity to gain strength, grow stronger and accumulate his hatred. Nikolai hopes that it will not be turned against his own people, only against his enemies.
[indent] “I would not delude myself with his words”, as always, a smile plays on Nikolai's face, “but you want it, right? I would try, even if this bastard is among the advisors.”
[indent] An inappropriate joke gives way to silence. This quiet is cold as ice, dense and impenetrable.
[indent] “But that's not what I really wanted to talk about. We will discuss this at a general meeting. I wanted to talk about us. About you and me. As before.”
[indent] In his voice now there is no trace of merriment, he sounds even and soulful, as if Nikolai is trying to get to Alina's very heart, “How are you, Alina?”
[indent] The moon illuminates the room with silver, refracted by rays on the varnished parquet. An entourage befitting a love confession. But Nikolai knows that this will never happen again.
[indent] “I am glad to see you. I really missed you.”

Отредактировано Nikolai Lantsov (2021-05-03 14:52:46)



[indent] Alina nods. In both cases, the answer is a yes: she wants both to be deluded and get her power back.
[indent] Nikolai says exactly what she wants to hear, and it scares her. Is she talking to him, or is she talking to another mask he's put on just for her?
[indent] “Like before, when you tried to charm me, and I wanted to strangle you? Are you sure you want to go back to that?” Alina chuckles, “Or did you bring another ring? After all, it is customary to give gifts today”. The tone she asks this turns the question into a joke, a cheeky, friendly joke, like the ones they've exchanged before. But this is not a joke. Not completely, anyway.
[indent] It's cold standing by the open window. Alina shakes from the cold, but she's in no hurry to close the window or even move away from it.
[indent] In Keramzin, you will not meet a single living soul on nights like these, before an important holiday like svyatkiv. Everyone goes to bed to get up before outrenya starts. So quiet and silent. Not like here. Alina looks down at the festively decorated park below, where the same festively dressed guests walk. There are bursts of drunken laughter coming from the street every now and then.
[indent] “I... I don't know if I missed you,” It didn't sound like missing. More like annoyance, or regret, or pain somewhere in the heart. “And I'm not sure if you missed me.”
[indent] That's the problem.
[indent] Alina finally turns to Nikolai with a sad smile on her face. Nikolai has many unquestionable qualities, but sincerity is not one of them.
[indent] “Zoya told me that the darkness inside you was awakened six months ago. Why didn't you come to me right away? You would have thought of me at all if—" she breaks off in mid-sentence as if some serious doubt prevents her from finishing the sentence.
[indent] “If you hadn't figured out a way to use me.”
[indent] Alina takes a few steps back and away. The parquet floor creaks under her feet.
[indent] “If Genya and Zoya hadn't brought me to the palace behind your back?”
[indent] When it comes to serious matters, it is always difficult for her to choose words, so she keeps circling the subject. These doubts lead to nothing.
[indent] “You know, we have a funny guy in Keramzin. He's not very well educated, he looks after cattle, and he thinks Mal and I are... well, whatever he thinks, he just said once that if you fill your head with shit every day, all the principles stink through. Do you understand? Ever since I got back, I've been wondering if He has already filled your head with shit.”

Отредактировано Alina Starkov (2021-05-05 21:06:14)



[indent] Nikolai had been waiting for this conversation for a long time, he had already managed to play dozens of options in his head, however, in none of the alleged scenarios did he predict what actually happened, namely her displeasure. Alina was needling, almost got angry, even accused her tsar of something that was in her opinion dreadfully shameful. Nikolai could only listen, dumbfounded, until she finished. Apparently, she was trying to find the words while speaking. Nikolai was afraid to think about what in this case came to her mind in the first place. Saints, was he really to blame?
[indent] “It's a pity that my broad gesture is now serving you as a subject for jokes”.
[indent] The smile on Nikolai's face fades, leaving only a dim copy in its place.
[indent] “You know perfectly well that I would give you at least a hundred rings if I was sure that you would say yes”.
[indent] He speaks from the bottom of his heart: in the depths of his soul, he still wanted Alina to become his wife. Ravka needed such a queen: not a foreigner who would adapt to life here, to the local customs, but a queen of the people, beloved by these people. Alina was not just a saint, she was the queen of human hearts - this is much more than anyone could achieve by taking the throne as Nikolai's spouse.
[indent] But Alina did not want to be neither a queen, nor a saint, nor a heroine. She wanted to hide in Keramzin from prying eyes, living a calm life, which she deserved by her own sacrifice.
[indent] “Why didn't I come?” Nikolai checks back, there is excessive irony in his voice, because Starkov touched a nerve, “What would you have done, Alina? Would you have helped me? How then? Isn't it you who chose life in solitude, away from problems, so why on earth should I have brought down another one on you, and of such big scale? It was you who left, not me who didn’t come. And in general, you know—”
[indent] He wants to say something else, but stops himself in time. The words about Mal remain unsaid. “You chose the tracker, not me. And I hate to intrude”.
[indent] “If Genya and Zoya had not brought you to the palace, you would still be in your beloved orphanage. It was their desire, their decision to bring you here. But that doesn't mean I'm not happy to see you”.
[indent] Alina is shivering in the winter night wind: a grisha's kefta protects from bullets, but not cold. Nikolai takes off his ceremonial coat and hands it to Starkov, ”Put it on, or you'll freeze”.
[indent] When Alina refers to the Darkling once again, Nikolai wants to howl with indignation. Morozova was again to blame for everything, as before. He sowed discord, even without making any special attempts for that, the mere fact of his existence was enough. However, this was a necessary sacrifice.
[indent] “Alina, I beg you, don't you consider me a short-sighted idiot. Tell me, do you remember that I was ever wrong? Do you remember anyone tricking me? Such cases can be counted by one hand, and all of them were not my fault”.
[indent] The joke sounds fake, like Nikolai's assurances of his own genius.
[indent] “It's very easy to think from your perspective, you know. While you were peacefully raising children in Keramzin, I tried to restore what was destroyed, watching our enemies only build up their power without losing anything. We do not have enough men in both armies, and it is much more difficult to replenish personnel than to lose them in one unsuccessful battle”.
[indent] He could have speculated for a long time about the problems that tied his unfortunate country hand and foot, but decides to end the monologue with other words, no less truthful, but much more dramatic.
[indent] “Alina, he's my only chance. I'm dying from this thing inside”.

Отредактировано Nikolai Lantsov (2021-05-06 22:04:29)



[indent] “Really?” Alina says playfully. “You weren't so vulnerable before.”
[indent] But, noticing the change in Nikolai's face, she looks so guilty about it and adds without a trace of mockery, “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.”
[indent] It used to be funny, but she doesn't know now. Like she doesn't know what to do with her hands and where to look under Nikolai's gaze.
[indent] Her cheek twitches as he hands her his coat. Alina raises her arms, bent at the elbows, and touches the back of Nikolai's hands, shyly and awkwardly. She shakes her head. She cannot accept his coat (he will have to return soon, and it is unlikely that this will benefit his image of a young king in love with his bride). And she can't look in his eyes. Alina looks down at the black caftan with the gold trim, the shoes with the gold buckles, and bites her lip.
[indent] Her heart beats out: “Sham, sham, sham.”
[indent] She didn't choose to live a life away from everyone who had time to become dear to her. That choice was made for her. And she didn't run away from problems. She ran away so as not to create new ones. How long could she pretend to be a grisha? And to live away from the man she has loved all her life and who has literally sacrificed his life for her? But she dares not to argue with Nikolai, and she sees no point in doing so. What's done is done.
[indent] After Nikolai's humorous tirade, it gets easier, and Alina raises her head and looks at him.
[indent] “There's the Nikolai I know,” she smiles (sincerely this time) and even allows herself a chuckle. “You always find the right words”.
[indent] She wouldn't have said what she is about to say if it hasn't been for the lively warmth under her palms. His hands, warm and long, and not a single ring on his fingers.
[indent] “I understand,” Alina said, almost whispering, trying to hold tears back, “and I'd trade places with you, but don't be so quick to extol my compassion,” it was either a chuckle or a sob. “I would trade places with you because... my life... I envy the dying. They suffer, they're scared, but at least they know their suffering won't last, and me... in the Fold, it's like my heart has been ripped out, I feel the sucking emptiness and pain of loss almost constantly, and I don't know if it will ever go away. I don't think it will.”
[indent] She hasn't admitted it to anyone yet, not even Mal. She especially doesn't want to admit it to him.
[indent] “I like the orphanage you helped build, and I feel better about helping the children, but this unrecoverable emptiness inside me, only the light can fill it—”
[indent] “Or perhaps the merzost... The power—” Alina cuts off the thought.
[indent] “I only stayed because the Darkling had somehow found out Mal is alive” she doesn't ask Nikolai if the Darkling found out with his help. Still, in the half-empty room, quietly reminiscent of a monk's cell, that's a question that needs to be asked.
[indent] “And we both know what a vengeful asshole he is. I was at first afraid he'd want to kill him, and then I was afraid he'd want to take him away. Because Mal is Morozova and I'm—”
[indent] “Nothing.”
[indent] Alina glances at the window, where the bright moon obscures the stars, and, in a single breath, finishes, “You're right, I wish I could believe him, I wish I could get my power back, but I'm not you.”
[indent] “I don't have the Triumvirate, I don't even have hope of healing, I only have Mal.”
[indent] “I can't take that risk.”
[indent] “I can't lose Mal because then I'd be all alone.”
[indent] Alina presses her head against Nikolai's shoulder and wraps her arms around him in a tight embrace.
[indent] “I'm glad we got to talk. It's nice to talk to someone who understands,” she whispers, then pulls away.
[indent] “The whole palace must be looking for you by now.”

Отредактировано Alina Starkov (2021-05-07 00:42:03)



[indent] He lets her talk as much as she did to him. Even though Nikolai does not like most of what she says, he does not interrupt her, allowing her to complete her thoughts and open up completely. After all, he remembers how before everything was easy between them: the words flew from his lips by themselves, absolutely sincere. He would very much like now that even despite the long years of separation, omissions and difficulties, this sincerity returned to their hearts. It had already returned to Nikolai, it was Alina's turn.
[indent] Starkov does not take his coat, to which Nikolai grins. She always refuses his offers. She would probably have refused the help with Keramzin, if she could come to the capital and return all the money sent to her - all solely out of pride. He especially liked that trait of hers. Since childhood Nikolai was used to getting everything he wanted: something got to him by itself, something he had to take by force. Alina, on the other hand, headed the list of what Nikolai could not achieve. And he probably won't be able to ever.
[indent] When she takes his hands, memories of their evenings at the Spinning Wheel, the most wonderful time in their lives, involuntarily pop up in his head. Despite the war raging around, life there flowed almost peacefully, and therefore everyone indulged in dreams without a twinge of conscience. He also dreamed then. About a queen who he was not worthy of.
[indent] “Don't you dare tell me about death, do you hear? No matter how hard it is, no matter how hopeless the situation seemes to be, we have to fight. Look at me, I'm fighting”, Nikolai smiles broadly, but the smile soon fades, and the tone becomes a little more serious.
[indent] “I understand that I am not a grisha, and therefore, I will probably never understand the feelings that you experience because of the lack of your power. But trust me, I know what it means not to be yourself. Feeling like you're missing something. Hands or feet. No, it would be more correct to say: not to feel your own soul inside. I can feel this absence, too. That's why I want to get rid of it. We will save you from this emptiness inside, too”.
[indent] His words should sound convincing, but Alina still stands her ground. Nikolai thinks this is predictable. After all, he makes her work directly with the person who so many times threatened her, her friends, her loved ones, in the end, her very life. Such a freak is really hard to believe.
[indent] Suddenly Alina hugs him: she clings to his chest and squeezes his shoulders tightly. The coat, which she did not wear, now lies on the nearest chair. They are separated only by the thin fabric of his shirt. The warmth of her cheek heats his chest. At this moment he doesn’t want to think,he wants to stand like that forever, pretending that there is no war, no difficulties, and circumstances. Only two of them. Not a saint and not a king, but just a boy and a girl who also have the right to be happy.
[indent] The cold wind outside the window is gaining strength; when Alina moves away (which, of course, make Nikolai regret, he closes the shutters, takes her hand and sits down with her on the nearest sofa.
[indent] “I am the king, Alina, do not forget. In this country, I can do whatever I want”, Nikolai grins as he speaks these words. He, of course, is cunning: not a single official celebration can do without a monarch, but he can afford an extra ten to fifteen minutes of freedom.
[indent] “You know, the last thing I want is you being afraid. Please, stop taking on more responsibilities than you have to. This is no longer needed. We ... I won't let you suffer anymore. I won't let him torture anyone anymore. I am not asking you to trust him, I am asking you to trust me. Please. With your faith in me, we can move mountains”.
[indent] Lights play in his eyes, a smile shines on his face. How he would like these words to really reach the addressee.



[indent] “I'm not going to die, Nikolai," Alina interjects, admiring him. “Not until Ravka is safe and the Darkling is defeated. I may have to live forever. Well, I mean… you and I both know it is Ravka—" she grins, though her heart aches because of the lie she's just told.
[indent] Alina thinks, “No one will ever save me from this emptiness.” It's definitely not something Nikolai can do, no matter how much both he and she want it. Perhaps only the Darkling could save her, but there is no way she would let him even try. There are things worse than death, and the Darkling is one of them.
[indent] So she doesn't say anything. She has neither the desire nor the ruthlessness to destroy Nikolai's optimistic plans, even if it is not plans but dreams.
[indent] The silence that filled the room after Nikolai slammed the window shut is like a loud sound. It's deafening. It seems that for the first time since Alina returned to the palace, no one is disturbing them. No fuss around and no rush.
[indent] Alina squeezes Nikolai's wrists with cold fingers and says abruptly, “Thank you. For everything.”
[indent] Purpose in life, meaningfulness—that's what she's been missing for these three years.
[indent] “Will the final victory over the Darkling dull my pain?” Alina asks herself. The answer is disappointing to her, but she is not going to plague Nikolai with her toxic thoughts. She has no power over her own thoughts, but she has control over her words.
[indent] “I guess we have a deal”, Alina readily agrees and adds in a hushed whisper, “Sankt Nikolai the Moving Mountain”.
[indent] Then she pulls away from his arms.
[indent] “Well, I'm just a trained dog who obeys commands, and I have to go,” Alina stands up. Strangely her heart and mind were never as carefree as now for months.
[indent] “It was really lovely to have some time alone with you.”
[indent] It was also nice that their exchange of remarks didn't feel like a hostage exchange anymore.
[indent] Maybe it's time for her to start believing Nikolai and in Nikolai again.



[indent] Their conversation should have brought relief, but, much to Nikolai's chagrin, this does not happen. Alina's words clearly contradict her real thoughts: as far as the king remembered her, she never changed her point of view after one single conversation, even such an intimate one, which took place between them this evening. Something gnawed at her, there were so many things that worried her that Nikolai could not imagine a complete list of them. Moreover, he did not know how this girl was now living. He knew only a young version of her, the matured Alina still remained a stranger to him. He would really like to help her if he knew how. One conversation could not cancel all these years lived separately and all these hidden grievances that remained between them. But Nikolai will make every effort so that one day things will go back to the way they were.
[indent] When Alina jokes, he feels a relieved. Even if not completely, but she again began to trust him. Nikolai is glad to admit that he sowed in her soul at least a grain of faith in the best. At least he thought he did.
[indent] “And here you go again, leaving your king to fend for himself”, Nikolai makes a touching, tearful face, pressing his hands to his chest and depicting a man wounded in his heart. Clowning is only half of it. He really doesn't want her to leave.
[indent] But Alina exits the room, leaving behind a strange feeling of understatement. Their conversation was short, so short, it was not enough to let them discuss everything that was necessary. Now they have touched only the tip of the iceberg - there are many more issues left at the depth. But Nikolai is not too worried about this. After all, they still have so much time together ahead. He will not let her go to Keramzin again so easily.
[indent] Nikolai remains in his mother's living room for a couple more minutes - loneliness is soothing. Then he puts on his coat again and heads for the door, not failing to take a last look in the mirror.
[indent] The evening had to go on.


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