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“An heir ?”


Alina hacks up half her tea, spoiling one of her finer dressing gowns. She’s too busy dabbing at the mess with napkins, cheeks warm, to notice the bemused look Aleksander gives her over the top of the newspaper from where he sat reading across the breakfast table.


“The peace treaty—“


She snorts again, muttering something about unconditional Fjerdan surrender.


“—will be signed next week. We’ll have to fill our long hours with something.”


“So you propose fucking,” she says flatly.


“For the purposes of an heir that will stabilize the country. Yes.”


“Only for an heir?” Alina arches an eyebrow. “In that case—“


“Well,” he interrupts sharply, sounding almost nervous. “Not only for an heir. Of course.”








“So we agree.”


Alina scowls, pushing a bit of buttery egg across her plate, the irony of which is not lost on her. “I didn’t say that. You’re suggesting we have a child over cherry pastries and you’ve hardly looked me in the eye once.”


The wall of newspaper—headlines about the eminent treaty, the culled border skirmishes, the might of the Ravkan army—lowers to the bridge of his nose. There is a shade of humor in those grey eyes when she looks closely—but something else, too. Longing.


“What is there to discuss?” He says, leaning back to stretch the elegant line of his neck. Entirely too casual.


She wields her fork at him as threateningly as she can manage before nine in the morning—that’s why he had sprung it on her now, over breakfast. Alina was much more adept at arguing after she was fed and her head wasn’t fuzzy with sleep. “Do you want a child? You have no use for an heir if you’ve got eternal life. And I’m not going into the trouble of having one for…some political scheme you’ve cooked up.”


An expression of distaste clouds his features as he rolls up the day’s print, standing so abruptly the china rattles. “Always an angle with you, my Alina,” he sighs, tapping her head harmlessly with the end of the newspaper. 


Before she can protest, her husband sweeps out of the room, shadows clawing up his back. 




The issue is not, to be clear, that they haven’t had sex. 


In fact, Alina enjoyed the few times he’d visited her bedroom—or the study, or the library. There was even that time he’d cornered her absolutely furious in the stables and fucked her into the hay until she had splinters in her fingertips and could no longer remember why she was so angry. 


But those...incidents were more like accidents, fueled by tension and conflict. She could still count the total number on her fingers. Assured herself when wrestling on a nightgown late at night, that they meant very little, a mere affliction of the mental teather they shared. One that he also seemed to find irritating—if the way he avoided her for days on end after each tryst was any indication.


It’s a few years into their shared rule: some would say, looking upon his handsome, smug face, she’d been quite strong to hold out this long. There is another Alina, in a different universe, that enjoyed him thoroughly each night to the point of boneless satisfaction. 


But this Alina—the one who would not be compromised save for a few select transgressions—sat upon her throne and determinedly ignored how the mere sight of his long fingers made her heart skid like a rabbit. 


He doesn’t bring it up again for a while, the idea of an heir : until one afternoon they’re leaving the courtroom, her arm tucked into his as he leads them past a crowd of courtiers to the antechamber. Until he leans in, lips brushing her ear so he can whisper “I think she likes the kokoshnik.”


She blinks, following his line of sight to where some of the peasantry who’ve come to be heard that morning (another concession she’d wrenched out of him) wait in a line, heads bowed as their regents walk past in gilded kefta


There’s a baby drooling on her mother’s scarf, blue eyes wide on Alina. A chubby arm reaches for her headdress, apparently enamored with how the pearl beading caught the sunlight. 


The baby smiles toothlessly when she comes closer, emitting a babble of delight. Paid actor, she thinks warily, smiling back, allowing Aleksander to pull her along in his wake. Little traitor. 




Alina can remember swinging from the bannister in the Duke’s grand home, asking Ana Kuya where babies came from and getting a particularly hard swat to the bottom as an answer. They’re made with love, the older woman had wagged a finger at her. A blessing for a husband and wife.


She wonders if that is possible for them; watches Aleksander recline in his seat, a chessboard spread out between them, a much larger one looming somewhere in her mind. Alina has been close to winning their nightly match twice this month already, and now a third, judging from the slight frown marring his face as he studies his pawns. His tricks have begun to come easily to her—one day she’ll catch up with him. 


Alina is beginning to suspect he doesn’t mind. 


So she allows it for a moment: imagines him with her baby, as a husband with a blessing like Ana Kuya said. The doting father of her children. Reading them bedtime stories so they won’t be afraid of the dark. 


(And she must admit: stranger things have happened in Ravka.) 



She finds a peculiar thing in the little palace not a month later.


The children—the smallest of Grisha, hardly enough to fill a classroom—are following Aleksander into the courtyard like ducklings, little blue and red kefta clambering for attention beside his long legs. Small voices chant rhythmically: another, another!


Aleksander’s back is to her as he casts; skittering, playful tendrils of shadows that chase giggling boys and girls into snowbanks. The children trip over each other with wild peals of laughter, eventually mounting a defense that subsists of misshapen snowballs hurled at the tallest figure cloaked in back. 


When she peers in the right light, the Darkling’s shoulders shake. Alina does not think about the clear, deeply pleasing sound of his laugh, the way it wrenches her ribs tight and pulls at an invisible string woven into her very soul. 


She does not watch when one of the smaller children catches an errant snowball across the shoulder and begins to cry. Does not look when Aleksander calls off the battle and kneels in the snow, dusting the boy off, insisting he’s perfectly fine, even ruffling his mop of hair. 


Instead, she heads back to the grand palace, does not think, does not think, does not—




“What will you do if they aren’t Grisha?”


He stops stirring sugar into his tea, features a practiced sort of blank. As if he’d been waiting for her to ask this exact question; the effect is unnerving. “They won’t be,” he says slowly, enunciating each word like she is stupid to even suggest such a thing. 


“You don’t know that.”


“They will be like us.”






For a long time, neither of them speak. 


But for the first time, he breaks before she does. 


“They will be Grisha,” he says with the conviction of a man who has seen the heart of the world. “And I would raze entire kingdoms for them just as I would for you, milaya . I can promise you that.”




The imported champagne is light on her tongue, and Alina can’t remember how many flutes she’s had; can’t remember when she started clinging to the hem of his kefta, searching for body heat in the midst of the ballroom. If Aleksander was surprised when she slid up beside him, he made no indication: a soothing palm settled at the small of her back, stroking up and down to the cadence of his conversation with the Kerch ambassadors. In fact, there’s a strange hum laced in his words that could be mistaken for content , of all things.


After a day of politicking, she is exhausted. Wants to curl up in his bed amongst pillows that smell like oak and frozen snow and hear that masculine, content voice speak for her alone. Maybe she can blame it on the drink, but Alina feels something like greed twist in her gut—a girl who has everything: a crown, a throne, and still craves more. 


“If you’ll excuse me,” Aleksander inclines his head at the pair, wresting Alina from her thoughts. “I need to speak with my wife.”


The word wife is sobering from his lips, a fluttering sensation in her belly; she allows him to lead a path to a more private corner, behind one of the marble pillars that ran the length of the grand hall. The world around them darkens just a shade, his power weaving loosely like a slumbering beast, until they’re hidden in plain sight from the crowd. 


“Is something wrong?” He cocks his head, like he can’t quite puzzle her behavior. “Would you like me to take you to your rooms?”


Alina shakes her head, trying not to smile at his unintentional entendre. He wouldn’t know, would he? That she’d spent half the evening imagining how his dark hair would tickle between her thighs, that she could now feel the mess of her own arousal slick in her underwear. Yes, her bedroom was a prospect that sounded more enticing with each passing second.


And then there was this glittering, peaceful kingdom he’d built for her, for a child that didn’t even exist yet. For all the Grisha. The bargain they’d made in a chapel had been fulfilled: Alina would protect the Darkling from the darkest parts of himself, and in return, she’d let him sit on a throne. They weren’t half-bad at it; the balancing act of the double-headed eagle.


And if Aleksander Morozova could promise her the one thing she thought she couldn’t have: a family too—


“I’ve been thinking,” she leans up on her toes, so she can press a kiss to his jaw: the Darkling goes horribly still, his pulse beneath her teeth. “About a baby.”


Hardly even breathing, “A baby,” he echoes. 


“I think you’re right,” she pulls at his coat so he leans closer, the edge of impropriety. “I think it would be good for us. And for Ravka. I could ask one of those handsome Fjerdan soldiers staying in the barracks—they’re quite broad, aren’t they? The servant girls seem to think so.”


The air shifts violently. “What?” 


“I suppose if the child came out with blue eyes, there’d be questions. Nothing a Tailor couldn’t fix.”


His spine is so stiff Alina fears he’ll crack in two.


Aleksander ,” she mocks, flicking some imaginary lint from his lapel. “Why so upset? I never said it would be your—“


Alina never finishes the sentence, caught by the scruff of her kefta like a kitten. The Darkling all but drags her out through a side-door, a seething creature of pure rage, shadows slick at his feet. 


“You want a baby,” he hisses, shoving her up against the closed door the moment they’re inside, the revelry beyond muffled by wood. It reminds her of the Winter fete so long ago, when she was younger and more naive, and she begins to wonder if anything between them has changed at all.


Aleksander looms over her, hands planted on either side of her head. Endless and merciless as the night sky.  “You want a baby, it’ll be mine, understood?”


He yanks her up by the collar when she doesn’t answer quickly enough, antler bone unyielding at her neck, forcing her on her toes to compensate. The empty antechamber is dimly lit, but his eyes gleam bright with anger all the same. “I said, do you understand?”


“Yes,” she croaks out; he drops his hold but keeps her trapped against his chest so she doesn’t collapse to the floor. 


“Good. Then turn around.”




He seizes her jaw in his palm, wrenching her back for a kiss. It melts somewhere deep, trickling from the base of her skull to her knees; his beard rubs her chin pink when he takes his time coaxing open her mouth. Until she has to break away for a gasp of air, clinging to his kefta to stay upright. 


The next words are a mere hiss, his mouth pressed against hers as he speaks. “Turn around. I won’t ask again,” he pulls off her headdress, letting it drop to the ground with a clink . “Going to fuck the brat out of my little wife.”


Trembling, Alina turns to face the wall, the threat of his words spearing through her middle, the conviction of his tone a live-wire stringing them together. Both of them pull at the hem of her kefta until it’s bunched up at her waist, hands warm on her skin when he pulls down the matching trousers, baring her to the empty room. He peels the remaining fabric off completely before sliding one of his still-clothed leg between her own, kicking her stance wider. 


“I was going to fuck you in a bed,” he snarls over the shuffling of his own clothes as she waits, staring blindly at the wall, heartbeat in her ears. “Was going to let you come until you begged me to stop. But you don’t deserve it, do you?”


She shakes her head silently, biting her tongue. Cannot recall ever seeing him so undone with raw, possessive need.


“You want me to fuck you here? So I can send you back out to that party with my come dripping out of you? You want everyone to know the sun-summoner spreads her legs when I tell her to?”


Certainly sounds like you want to, she thinks, keeping her mouth shut; instead, her nails scrape the door when he tsks , thick, prying fingers finding her wet. Cold metal of his signet ring presses against her clit as he works her open, spreading the slickness into her skin, making her stretch and keen—


A hand clamps over her mouth, muffling the sound before it’s peak. “None of that, Alina,” he murmurs, kissing her temple. “You can come after I’ve finished with you.”


The next movement is almost cruel; he pushes inside of her with little abandon, her cry silenced into his palm. Her body burns to accommodate him so quickly, and each time she tries to wiggle away for relief he simply pushes deeper. Both of them fall against the door with a thump when he can go no further; she can see his arm braced against the wood, hand curled in a tight fist, knuckles white in the moonlight.


“Mine,” His forehead drops against her shoulder, nuzzling in with a soft groan. “No one else, Alinochka. No one gets to touch this little cunt but me.”


“Yes,” she pleads, toes curling at the silk of his words. “Yes, yours, Sasha. Please, just move.”


“Going to give me an heir,” he nips her throat; Alina’s accompanying gasp is embarrassingly loud. “Going to fuck a baby into my little wife. So everyone knows who you belong to.”


“Saints”, she swears, swallowing hard. Doesn’t like how much the words feel like a magic more sinful than merzost , or the emotion woven in the low timbre of his voice. If she didn’t know better—


But then she doesn’t have time to wonder how he feels; what he’s been trying to tell her for years without the right words, because it is a language he’s long forgotten. Because he pins her to the door and slams his hips, setting a rhythm that borders on ecstasy—and Alina is busy up on her bare toes, mewling for more, faster, harder. Because it feels good and she is shamelessly wanting. 


Shadows pool black at her feet, spiraling around her ankles, keeping her legs spread as her knees begin to wobble with the power behind each thrust. Aleksander doesn’t let up, apparently intent on using her to the last drop. 


“I’m going to come,” he growls, unrepentant against her temple. “And you’re going to take it.”


“Please,” she warbles, something molten pooling between her hips where he’s pulling her back onto his length with each thrust. He is going to ruin her if they go on like this—can only imagine the things she’d agree to, as long as he promised to fuck her like this for the rest of eternity—


But his fist slams into the wall with one final, deep grunt before he sags against her, weak and heavy. His teeth dig into her shoulder as he finishes, above her old wound. She wants to believe it’s not on purpose. 


“Can you feel it? Inside?” He asks, hand drifting between her legs; she gasps when he finds her clit and begins to rub in slow circles. “I suppose I should let you, since you’ve behaved so sweetly.”


She nods furiously, lashes damp. A laugh huffs across her brow.


“‘M close,” she moans, forehead resting against the door. “Please. I was good. I did w-what you said.”




The collar is tight on her neck. “I’ll let you. I’ll give you one.”


“A baby,” he supplies helpfully, fingers moving faster, keeping her on edge. 


Uh— yes .”


“Good. Say it again and I’ll let you come.”


She resists the urge to step on his toes. 


“I’ll give you a baby, Sasha,” she grits out, light beginning to spark beneath her palms. Can feel a pleased hum from his chest in response, the bond quickening at the rush of power.


“My little wife,” he says with glowing satisfaction. “Come on my fingers, Alinochka. Ah—there you go. It’s alright.”


He rubs across her slick skin in just the right way; Alina’s body clenches at the soft, leading praise dripping from his mouth. It’s easy to tip over to the other side, remembering what he’d done— come inside her, and she could still feel it — a relieved moan slipping from her lips as her orgasm ebbs, shoulders sagging. 


“I’ll take you back to your rooms,” he says finally when they’re both able to catch their breath. Both of them hiss when he pulls away, leaving her empty. 


“What?” She manages to lift her head, still shaking. “What are you going to do?”


The Darkling mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like slaughter every Fjerdan in the city as he helps her dress again, voices down the hallway growing louder. Time to hurry—they’d be discovered eventually. “I still have things left to discuss with the ambassador before he departs in the morning.”


“Right,” she sniffs, smoothing her hair back and straightening her pins. Something hot pools into her underwear, making her shiver. “Well. I guess we’ll see if that did the trick, then?”


That stops him cold. “Excuse me?”


“This arrangement. For a baby. I think we’ve done all we needed, as I understand it.”


His expression morphs to one of bewilderment—Alina struggles not to laugh, biting the inside of her cheek so hard she can taste blood.


“Well,” he says slowly, male pride mortally wounded. “We should probably try a few more times. Just to make sure it takes.”




“Yes,” he says tersely, eyes narrowing at her. 


“Hm,” she pretends to consider it. “You seem to know an awful lot about babies. And how to make them.”


“Yes, and there’s usually much less talking involved,” he wipes some lint off her shoulder, dodging her implicit question. “Come along.”


He pretends to be annoyed, but even Alina can see in the dark his ears are a lovely shade of pink. 




Aleksander has become, for lack of a better word, a caveman


Alina has never seen him so distracted from the cause of the glorious empire—she hardly makes it more than a few hours a day before she catches him lurking behind a corner or down a hallway, always wearing an innocent expression that says oh, I didn’t see you there. While we’re both free, would you like to perform joint marital duties? Before managing to coerce her sweetly (or not-so-sweetly) into the nearest private room. In this case: his study, her legs astride his while he reclines in that great chair and she fucks herself on his cock.


“We’ll be late to the triumvirate meeting,” she mumbles into his neck, sinking down onto his lap, the slight swell of his cock beneath her abdomen making her dizzy. The sensation gets worse when he splays a large hand between her hip bones, stroking just beneath her belly. So he can feel himself inside her. 


“Mhm. Buck your hips, pet.”


“I can still feel,” she flushes scarlet, squeezing her eyes shut. “From earlier—“


“I know,” he says, guiding the leisurely bob of her body. Aleksander would look bored if he wasn’t also smirking. He drops his voice several octaves. “Have to keep my needy little wife topped up, don’t I?”


And at that , her hands curl tightly into his shoulders, digging her nails into his kefta. Could weep as his cock nudges firmly against that heated, swollen spot again—huffs with frustration as she moves, seeking it out.


“Eyes on me,” he seizes her hair, giving a little shake. When she follows the order, she finds that cruel, smug gaze staring back. The one that makes her forget her own name. 


“Look at you, taking it so sweetly,” he croons, an uncomfortable level of satisfaction blossoming in her core at the praise. She wishes he had the capability to shut his mouth, wishes she didn’t like it so much when he talked . “My wife wants a baby so badly she’ll ride my cock whenever I like. Takes all my come at my whim, isn’t that right?”


Alina gulps, nodding minutely. He’s matching her pace, rocking up when she slides down in a maddening, world-altering slide of wet skin. 


“Answer me, Alina,” he says, free hand slapping the curve of her ass. 


“Yes,” she gasps, brow furrowing as she moves quicker, chasing the delightful edge over the spark of pain. It’s hard to speak when each time he's buried to the hilt, it knocks the air from her lungs. “Y-yes, I want—I want a baby, Sasha. G-give me uh—“


“Say please,” he wraps an arm around her and pulls tight, voice barely above a growl. His thrusts grow snappier—closer and closer. “Beg me for a baby. Use your manners, solnishka.”


“Please,” she squeaks, finally relenting, letting him pound up into her, holding her in his lap like a doll. She clings to him, an aching sweetness to being used. “Please Sasha, I want a baby. I want your baby,” she babbles uselessly, hands buried in his hair. “Please come in me, please fill me up with a baby, please, please—“


There’s a choking sound ripped from his throat; his grip on her waist grows painful, and Alina cannot breathe even as she feels the jerk of his cock, a sudden sear of heat deep within when he finishes. 


“Dont,” he instructs tersely, still panting when she tries to shift her weight from his lap after a few moments. “Don’t move yet.”




“Should’ve taken you to bed,” he mutters to himself, looping an arm beneath her bottom and standing with his cock still inside her. Alina yelps, finding herself suspended in the air until he sits her down on the edge of his desk, coaxing her to lie back, tilt up her hips as he slowly slides out. 


Something wet and hot drips as he leaves her cunt empty. Alina shivers, the reality of what filthy things she’d said to him closing in. Groaning, she rubs a hand over her eyes, too embarrassed to look—




His hair does tickle between her thighs. 


“You,” he licks a broad stripe over her clit. “Are making a mess.” And then there are fingers scooping up whatever’s spilled out from her hole, pushing it back in—


“You don’t,” she begins, trying to hang onto the thought. It’s difficult as he presses his mouth over the nub, sucking slightly. “You don’t need to do that.”


Peeking through her fingers, she can see his eyes flick up to hers. They’re bright. Far too human. 


“Helps if you come,” he says, and Alina realizes he’s actually slurring his words. All Saints, what has she done to him? “I read about it.”




“Mhm,” he hums into her skin, the vibration eliciting a shudder, her knees threatening to clamp shut over his ears. “To get you pregnant.”


A shudder wracks her shoulders. “I didn’t know they had those kinds of books in the li— uh— brary,” she continues valiantly, hips wriggling as two of his thick fingers press into her again. 


“My private collection does.”




“It said,” he continues, flexing his hand, cold metal ring brushing her overheated skin. “To fuck your wife boneless, fill her with spend, and keep it in with your fingers. Then make her come so it has nowhere to go but deeper inside. Until she’s bred full. Wouldn’t you like that, milaya?”


That silky, dangerous voice has returned in an instant. Maybe it’s poison, but she drowns in it all the same. 


They are going to be very late to this meeting.



She sometimes wonders how her husband gets by on so little sleep; he teases her in his more lighthearted moods about it, asking if she’s rested well when she crawls out from bed in the morning, hair a tangled mess. Alina never had the luxury of sleeping in at the orphanage, or the army, or at all during the war; why else become a queen than to drool into one of her five pillows until the breakfast chime? 


But Aleksander thrives on his routine: still gets up before dawn (if he slept at all)—sometimes to ride his horse in peace across the dew-damp grounds, or catch up on paperwork, or tend to his books. 


But lately, this instead:


She is still warm beneath the quilt when he slides in beside her; bracketing her body like a crescent moon. There are soft kisses to the back of her neck that Alina is only half-aware of, letting out small, content noises. 


She wonders if she’s dreaming when she’s rolled over on her stomach, a pillow pushed beneath her hips. The stretch feels good on her lower back, so Alina settles into it, pressing her cheek onto the soft cotton of her bedsheet. She could sleep like this, sure. It was warm and soft and dark, and so peaceful. Even with the weight of someone on her back, spreading her knees apart.


Dimly, she is aware of someone pushing up her nightgown, tenderly brushing her hair from her cheek. But it’s not just someone: it’s her husband, the sure, earnest rightness of his touch on her skin. The bond quivers, a plucked string to a song she already knows by heart. 


“Shh,” Aleksander settles over her. “You can sleep, milaya . Just need to—“


Alina whines, tensing up as he pushes inside, body struggling to accommodate his size. 


But then it passes, and she’s just sniffling into the pillow, his cock lodged inside her too deeply. Unable to do anything but lie there, boneless, still wet from when he’d taken her last night, held open—


“Good,” he murmurs, giving a shallow thrust. Alina can feel a puff of air across her neck, goosebumps beneath her antler collar. “Good girl for me, aren’t you?”


There is that guilty, hidden part of her that will always crave this: to please him, because he is so adept at playing master. And she thinks, maybe it isn’t so terrible; to let him rule her instead of a kingdom of ash.


“Behave,” he pins her wrists down when she tries to shift. “I didn’t tell you to move.”


“I’m s—


Two of those long, pale fingers push into her mouth, stretching her open, an easy possession of another part of her body. 


“Or talk,” he says, casually thrusting. “Did I, pet?”


Alina only manages a helpless gurgle as he presses down on her tongue. 


“You don’t need to do anything, do you? My little wife, made a queen. And all she had to do was this ,” he rocks deeper, until they’re pressed together at the seam. “Belong to me. Let me fuck you. Give me as many babies as I want.”


Her drowsy mind latches on to that last sentiment, and she gives a quivering nod. A baby. Aleksander’s baby. He was going to—what had they called it in the army? Knock her up. 


“Better than any collar,” he groans, winding her silver braid around his fist, pulling tight. His weight presses the air from her lungs; Alina moans beneath him, beginning to drool into the pillow, mouth kept open by his fingers. 


“Going to fuck a baby into you, Alinochka. Stuff you full,” he pants in her ear, her answering whimpers only making it worse. “Breed you. Make you carry my heir. Like you were meant to be. Just for me, isn’t that right, pet?”


She clenches hard, flush crawling up her throat, his grip tightening in a way that has become familiar to her; the low growl a warning for her to lay still and take it as he comes brutally deep. Painting her insides with it, making a mess of her as he pleased. 


He’s apparently still mindful enough to not flatten her completely, rolling off her back when he’s finished, sitting at the edge of the mattress, running a hand through sweat-damp hair. The light streaming in through the curtains is beginning to brighten; maybe it’s time for breakfast. She yawns, leaning forward—


She’s promptly shoved back down onto the pillows with a squeak. “I didn’t say you could move,” he drawls, nosing at her shoulder, planting a kiss across the old scars. Holding her down by Morozova’s collar. 


“Aleksander.” Her mouth feels funny, sore from being held open. Like she can still feel phantom fingers on her tongue. 


“I want you to stay here,” his breath is hot on the nape of her neck. “So when I come back, you still have your hips propped up like a good little wife who’s been properly bred, hm?”


And well—Alina does like any excuse to sleep in. 




(She wonders briefly, while bent over the war room table the next day, how long it will take him to notice that they technically don’t need to be doing this part any more. If he’s done the math, or noticed her conspicuous absence spent in the healer’s quarters for doses of nausea tonic.


But, she muses, he’ll probably be even more insufferable the moment she tells him she’s pregnant. 


It can wait a little. Besides, he’s busy.)




It’s the first night of winter, fat snowflakes drifting past the window panes, and Alina is roused from her cocoon of blankets by a strange sound. It’s not uncommon these days—her infant son heedless of a sleep schedule—but it’s not Pasha’s hungry cries that woke her. 


It’s Aleksander, swaying beside the crib, fussy baby swaddled against his bare chest. Hair rumpled, eyes bleary, humming a nursery rhyme, of all things: Alina recognizes the words, half-jogged from old memories, faceless parents. 


May there always be sunshine


One of his long fingers strokes the shell of the little boy’s ear. Aleksander’s face is cloaked in shadow, but his eyes are unspeakably soft, like he’s trying to memorize the curve of his son’s cheek. So he can carry it with him for the rest of his long, long life. 


May there always be Mama


The words are in old Ravkan, his accent rougher at the edges, an odd tilt to his vowels: Alina imagines another little boy from centuries ago, still clinging to his mother’s skirts. Being taught a melody he’ll remember forever. 


May there always be me


Alina feels a smile tug at her lips before rolling over to his still-warm spot on the bed, stealing it for herself. 



Is it not a simple love, but it is not quite something less. 


It is more.


And if anything, Alina has learned to be greedy.