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The razor stills and Alina’s fingers pause as they brush over the pale skin on Aleksander’s throat. 

 

There, nestled just on the edge of his preferred border point of his beard blooms a small, purple bruise. A little further down, just peeking out of the open collar of his shirt sits another. 

 

A hot bitter jealousy blooms in Alina, like she has one of her globes of sunlight seering her chest. She wants to cut the offending mark out of his skin with the razor in her hand. She wants to cut his throat clean across.

 

No more boys. He had said to her a few short months ago. The more a mockery in itself, but now? With this? The evidence of another’s affection so brazen on his skin all the while he keeps her sequestered like one of his prize fillies awaiting the stud?

 

She shouldn’t neaten his beard, she should stab him in the heart. 

 

But then she would be alone. 

 

“Something wrong, pet?” he asks, eyes still closed, head tipped back so she can work, nestled in his lap. 

 

“How many times do I have to tell you not to talk?” she chides, “One of these days I really am going to-” 

 

And that’s it. 

 

That will show him and his peacock pride. 

 

She’s seen him stroke his beard as he preens before women who flirt with him. She’s seen him do it when she makes coy comments to him too. 

 

For a man of fairly spartan tastes Aleksander’s beard was one of his few vanities, and one that Alina currently held all the power over. 

 

She hovers the razor just on the edge of his jaw and waits for his inevitable impatience. 

 

Alina! ” he says, sitting forward, “What are you- ah! Saints’ blood!

 

The blade has taken a clean stripe of beard off his cheek and then nicked the skin. 

 

Aleksander has pushed her hand away from his face and cupped his cheek in shock. Alina sits frozen in his lap, trying not to look at the glint of red colouring the white on the blade in her hand but she can’t ignore the blood on his fingertips when he pulls his hand from his face. 

 

“What on earth has gotten into you?” he demands, his dark eyes fiercely cold. 

 

Alina feels all the fight drain out of her. 

 

“It was an accident,” she says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t lie to me Alina,” he says, his voice as hard as Grisha steel. “What were you doing?”

 

Alina swallows down her fear, rallies the last scraps of her own indignation.

 

“Maybe you should have asked the person who gave you this to shave you,” she says, poking the bruise on his throat. 

 

Aleksander grabs her hand where she has it poking against his neck.

 

“Is that what this is about? You… little… brat !”

 

He tips her out of his lap and unceremoniously onto the floor as he hollers for Ivan. That’s where she stays, feeling oddly triumphant as she watches the two men disappear off into Aleksander’s bathroom to deal with her mess. 

 

Strangely, she feels more certain of her actions the longer she sits and thinks of them. If no one can touch her, then no one can touch him. It’s only fair. 

 

She’s sure enough of herself that when he emerges wiping a towel across a completely clean shaven jaw she bursts out laughing. 

 

“Oh I’m pleased that you find this funny, pet,” Aleksander says, scowling, but the warmth has returned to his voice. 

 

He crosses the room, holds out a hand to her. Helps her to her feet like she weighs nothing. 

 

She smirks proudly as she strokes his bare cheek, thumb running over the faint scar where Ivan has patched him up. He presses his hand over hers.

 

“Don’t look so pleased with yourself,” he warns. “I’m still considering whether or not to put you over my knee for that little stunt.”

 

“Promises, promises,” Alina teases and he laughs, a dangerous glint in his eye. 

 

“What has gotten into you today?” he asks, turning his face in her hand so he can kiss her palm. 

 

She untangles her fingers from his grip, taps the mark on his throat again, where it stands out more plainly than ever now that it has no beard to hide within. 

 

“No more of this,” she says, sounding and feeling far older and more confident than she is. “I won’t be made a fool of.”

 

“Of course not,” he says. “I would never.”

 

When he kisses her cheek it feels like a stranger, smooth skin against her own. 

 

That is perhaps her only regret.