Mal/Alina/Nikolai -people trying to figure out if Mal is having an affair with the king or queen or alternatively people trying to figure out if Nikolai is having an affair with the married man or the married woman who runs Keramzin
There was a time when Mal would have just punched anyone making insinuations about his relationship with Alina. Or Alina’s relationship with anyone else, for that matter. In general, Mal hadn’t been all that excited about insinuations, particularly not the sort that permeated the Ravkan court.
“You know they say that the king can’t have children,” a pair of recruits whisper on the training field.
“Really? I heard that he can. He just probably won’t, if you know what I mean.”
He cuts his gaze to the recruits at that, with a bare flicker of his eyelid. Mal’s made a name for himself as being a fair leader, but a relentless one. When it comes to the Queen’s protection, he accepts nothing less than the best, and both recruits abruptly wear the sick expression of two teenagers who are watching their entire future flash before their eyes.
He looks away, sighing heavily. Gossip is currency in this place, and he won’t have his soldiers be poor.
Tamar wanders across the training field, hands in her pockets.
“If it helps, they’d probably be saying the same things even if you weren’t all sleeping together.”
Mal groans, garnering exactly no sympathy from Tamar, who is just giving him a toothy grin.
“The things we do for love, huh?”
“I’m telling Nadia you weren’t being careful with that ankle.” She’d broken it thwarting an assassination attempt three weeks ago, and her girlfriend had been hovering
“Who taught you to play dirty, Oretsev?”
“You pick a few things up here and there,” he says dryly, bringing his sword up in a defensive position. “Come on. Let’s see if a demonstration can keep their minds off stupid shit like who’s boning the royal family.”
“You know I can do this myself, right?” Alina says, meeting Genya’s eye in the mirror. It rolls, as impressed this time with the argument as she’s been all the other times Alina has tried to make it. The next tug on her hair is a little harder than the last. “Also, you’re not just a Tailor anymore. You don’t have to–”
“Maybe,” Genya says, wrapping a lock of hair around her finger. It springs away curly. “I enjoy doing this. Did you consider that?”
Alina winces at the grip her friend has. “Did I consider that you enjoy making my life hell? Only two or three hundred times, why?”
Genya sniffs. “You’re a queen, Alina. It doesn’t have to mean anything to you, but it definitely matters to other people what you look like. Even Nikolai knows that.”
“Especially Nikolai knows that,” Alina mutters, thinking of her husband’s perfectly cut outfits. In more muted colours these day, but as much of a peacock as he’s ever been.
“Plus,” Genya continues, securing the larger weight of Alina’s hair into a pearl net. “When would I tell you about how you’re filing to satisfy your husband if I couldn’t see you in the morning?”
“Perfect,” Genya says, wicked satisfaction tinging her voice as she lifts her hands away.
“You’re a monster, you know that?”
“Oh, absolutely.” She drops onto the stool next to Alina’s dressing table, resting an elbow on the surface, her chin in her hand. “But the true menace is really Mal, of course. Stealing your husband from you like that.”
Alina very slowly closes her eyes. “Is this a lecture about how we need to be more discrete, because Zoya’s already gotten on my back–”
“And deprive me of such entertainment? Perish the thought. No, this is just your typical gossip mill in overdrive. Far better to have their attention occupied by potential sex scandals than some of the policy changes you and Nikolai are working on.”
“It’s all a game, then?” Alina thinks keeping her eyes shut forever might just be the better option here.
“Of course.” A soft hand reaches out, pats the back of hers. “But you knew that when you decided to take this path, Alina.”
Nikolai wouldn’t personally call what he’s doing brooding. The dancing flames in his study’s fireplace just happen to make for an excellent distraction to some of the more tedious matters occupying his mind, and the tumblr of whiskey is really more of an affectation.
“Having you been brooding all day?” Alina sighs, dropping into the seat opposite his desk.
Nikolai doesn’t startle. Ever since….well. He doesn’t have much trouble telling when Alina is approaching these days, suffice to say. He grins at her instead, taking a sip of his drink and setting the glass down with a thunk.
“‘Course not.” Mal stands in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, head half-turned to look into the main quarters. Nikolai takes a brief moment to appreciate the bare stretch of his throat, and isn’t sure which baser urge stirs in his gut. “The King of Scars doesn’t brood. He mulls. Totally different.”
“Right, right. How could I forget?” Alina nudges his knee under the desk. “Really, though. How was your day?”
They all pick up on the concern in her voice. Alina isn’t the best at being soft, but perhaps none of them are. Perhaps that’s what makes them all fit so well together. There’s a quiet click as Mal closes the door, sealing off the outside world.
“Long,” Nikolai admits, and that’s as far as he’s willing to get into it now. “This’ll make you laugh, though. I had a meeting with the new Apparat today, and would you believe he’s under the impression that Alina and I have a perfectly usual and monogamous marriage?”