thank you for the prompt @weisse-rose! (Also on AO3 and FFN)
genre: canon divergence (end of season one)—based on the show only
summary: On the run with Mal after defeating the Darkling, Alina has unsettling dreams that force her to question the path she's chosen.
a/n: it’s important to note that i haven’t read the books and don’t plan to. my understanding of the grishaverse comes entirely from the netflix series and google.
A MIRROR IN CONTRAST
They’ve been hiding for months—from what, Alina isn’t sure anymore. He’s gone, torn apart by his own black creation. A fitting end for the heretic who brought centuries of suffering and death down on Ravka. Whose monstrosity killed her friends, her parents. Who expertly played on her naivety in the name of his unending thirst for power.
(These are the sins she has to recount to drown out the memory of the wet anguish in his gaze, to silence the unrelenting echoes of “For us. To help us.”)
The Darkling is gone.
And yet, there are moments when he seems so alive, drinking the air from her lungs, tasting the food on her tongue, warm breath against her ear. She takes surreptitious glances at her reflection—in a trough of water, in polished metal—expecting to see thin black veins branching up her neck. But whenever she looks, there’s nothing but the dirt and grime from their travels.
His shadows curl through her lifelong bond with Mal too. Darkening it. Weakening it. She catches the sidelong glances her oldest friend gives her despite his assertion that her newly awakened ability doesn’t change anything. A wisp of bitterness seeps from the corners of his gaze, and she hates that a responding flower of resentment buds in her chest. (Because he never truly saw her until she became canonized.) But she won't blame Mal. She blames the power she never wanted.
She blames the Darkling.
Always the Darkling. She never utters his true name, never thinks it, not even when he infects her dreams. Not when his mouth covers hers, soft beard rasping against her skin, fingers sliding inside of her kefta. There isn’t a knock at the door to interrupt their interlude, no Baghra appearing from a concealed tunnel to shatter Alina’s hopes with a hideous truth. It’s only the reverence—so achingly authentic—written in his eyes as he worships her. As he murmurs, “Sankta Alina,” again and again.
She wakes, sweating, panting, before he sends her over the precipice.
Mal looks at her with desire, and though it’s what she secretly hoped for since adolescence, she leaves the invitation unanswered. Because it won’t be him she’d be communing with, but the darkness that the Shadow Summoner left inside of her.
The Darking’s specter finally abates when she stops using the Small Science altogether, though it’s a fragile relief. Denying her power is killing her, carving out her insides bit by agonizing bit. Death is creeping languidly closer to her each month. (It looks disturbingly like a man in a tattered black coat, charcoal mist coiling at his boots. A man with jagged, starless scars slashed across his beautiful face.)
Oblivious at first, Mal talks of a simpler future, one away from wars and Grisha. A quiet life on a farm. She pretends with him, even as her footfalls become increasingly unsteady, even as their meager meals turn to ash in her mouth. Power scratches at her, demands to be let in—to fill her with life—but she ignores it.
It can’t have her. He can’t have her.
No matter the stained part of her that craves both.
Fever takes her, a minor illness turned lethal by her frailness. Mal finally sees what her sacrifice is costing her, and frightened, he has gone to hunt down help. In her delirium, she thinks she won’t mind slipping into the abyss. Isn’t that freedom?
(Did death liberate the Darkling as well—separate the man from the monster that merzost made of him?)
She dreams new dreams in the thick blanket of night, disjointed flashes at first. The stag kneeling to her. The swirl of a gilded kefta. Light and shadow woven together in a breathtaking tapestry. As she tosses and turns on a cot, the vision coalesces into a single, familiar moment.
She’s on the floor of a large tent, the canvas walls covered with delicate, handmade lace. Lavish rugs and furniture make the space opulent, and her pulse stutters at the simple black gown she wears, at the manacled metal bar that holds her wrists apart. She knows this place, knows who is silhouetted by the late afternoon sun filtering through the opening of the tent.
But it isn’t him.
The air becomes unbreathable as Alina stares up at herself—though not a version of her that she recognizes. The other woman stands tall, back straight. Regal. Her golden kefta shimmers in the lamplight, and a starburst crown adorns her head. Chin tipped up, expression cool, she is beautiful and terrible all at once. This is Sankta Alina, the Sun Summoner.
(This is what he meant for her to be.)
Alina stands on shaky legs. She won’t kneel to this false saint, to the Darkling’s marionette.
Lips pursed, the other woman gives her a measuring gaze. “What have you done?”
“Me?” Alina replies with incredulity. She holds up the shackles with a glare. “I could ask you the same question.”
The Sun Summoner raises her brows. “I didn’t do this to you. You are your own jailer—your own executioner too, given enough time.”
Alina glances at her hands, stomach churning with understanding. But this self-imposed constraint is a choice that she was forced to make. She had to stop the Darkling from contaminating her. “Better than being his puppet,” she says, glowering at the other woman. “At least I’ll die with a clear conscience.”
“You think he pulls my strings?” the Sun Summoner asks, drawing closer to Alina. “No, you are the one controlled by him. You make yourself his victim.” She shakes her head. “But yes, let’s talk about your conscience. Remind me how many died because of those maps you burned.”
Guilt climbs Alina’s throat with prickly fingers, and she shoves it down. Yes, her impulsive decision cost lives, but it was an innocent mistake. “What about Novokribirsk?” she counters through gritted teeth. “How many died then? How many have died because of the Fold?”
“And how many Grisha will die now that you’ve stolen their protector from them? How many will continue to die in the Unsea because you’ve rejected your gift?” the Sun Summoner returns with equal heat. “He may have committed atrocities in a misguided attempt to save our people, but you’ve hardly looked beyond your own nose to see things for what they truly are and others will pay for it. Many already have.”
Her expression softens, and sadness rings in her eyes as she clasps Alina’s hands. “You could have tempered him, awakened the humanity inside of him. You could have shown him another way.” She steps back, releasing Alina’s hands. “Now you’ll die for nothing, and all of Ravka will be condemned because of your ignorance.”
Her indictment is a poisoned dagger in Alina’s gut, and she wants to scream that she never wanted any of this, that the safety of the Grisha—the safety of all of Ravka—can’t be thrust into the hands of a humble First Army cartographer. Her protest withers without finding a voice, though. Because she heard it before she could utter a single word. The whine of a petulant child stamping her foot. The whimper of a girl who shrinks from the chance to end all suffering.
What have you done?
She looks at her hands again, at the bar between them, tears of frustration—of shame—stinging in her eyes. She doesn’t want this crushing responsibility!
But if not her, then who?
(Did he once ask himself the same question?)
Will the heavy burden eventually corrupt her as well? No. She won’t let it.
The chains clatter to the floor in answer to the shift inside of her. She inhales, heart thrumming in her chest, and then presses her palms together. Light bleeds out between them before she can pull them apart, and power surges into her, filling every empty crevice inside with vitality. Joy chases the sunlight as it restores a portion of her strength, and she glances up with a smile, unconsciously seeking the approval of the woman she could have been.
Her breath turns sour in her lungs when it’s the black eyes of the Darkling returning her gaze. His presence is oppressive, hungry, and she resists the instinct to flee. Instead she mimics the Sun Summoner with a straight back, with a chin jutted in bravado—though she gives the obsidian scars marring his face a curious glance. Where has she seen those before?
In his quiet baritone, her name is both a prayer and a curse. It’s a need that he despises by the snarl ghosting on his lips, and she’s disturbed by how perfectly it mirrors her own conflicting emotions. She doesn’t want this unrelenting connection to him any more than she wants the weight of Ravka on her shoulders. And yet, he is an inextricable part of her, as necessary as the blood in her veins.
He steps toward her, shadows lapping at his heels. Anger and pain are woven in his piercing stare. “We are not finished.”
An unsettling revelation blooms in the pit of her stomach as she looks at his unusual scars again.
He’s not gone.
He survived and he’s been reaching out to her for months. But how—?
Her surroundings come into sharp focus, and she bites back a gasp. Gone is the elegant tent of her dream, replaced by the crumbling shack that Mal left her in as he went to find aid. She wears a rumpled shirt and trousers. The dirt floor is cold against her bare feet. A flickering oil lamp and the dying embers in the modest hearth paint the room in a tawny glow.
The Darkling takes another step closer and brushes her hair from her cheek. Longing flashes briefly in his dipped brow, and it calls to a hollow place inside of her.
I’ve been waiting a long time for you.
“Aleksander.” The proscribed name slips from her in an unbidden whisper.
She’s taken back to that night in the war room—when he was nothing more than a lonely, beleaguered general and her a glittering ray of hope in his unflagging gloom. She’s since learned that “hope” to him meant something like “hell” for others.
Isn’t that war, though? Isn’t each battle a hope for the victors and hell for the defeated?
No. She can’t accept that an unending cycle of violence her nation’s only recourse. She’ll find another way—a better way. She has to.
But she can’t fight Fjerda, Shu Han, and him. The Grisha cannot be divided between two leaders eternally at odds. Pulse drumming in her ears, she prays the Sun Summoner from her dream is right—that she can somehow appeal to whatever humanity he has left. She takes his hand and twines her fingers in his.
This is not acceptance of their tangled fate, not quite. This is not forgiveness. This is compromise.
(This is dangerous.)
“Do you still want to save our people?” she asks, grateful that her voice is steady, confident.
He blinks at the question as if he hadn’t expected it. Dense silence hangs in the air before he answers with a guarded “Always.”
She nods, swallowing at the knot of fear and anticipation rising in her throat. “Then we will—together.”
Surprise flits across his gaze again before he shutters it away. He searches her face, suspicion pinching his features. But that longing is in his eyes as well—so acute, so searing that she feels branded by it.
“And so we shall, Santka Alina,” he finally relents. There is no reverence in his tone, only a stoic resignation that echoes her own.
He brings her hand up, feathers a perfunctory kiss against her knuckles as a seal for their tacit agreement, and then backs away, disappearing in the shadows. For a moment, she’s afraid that she’s made a pact with a mirage, that her mind is still addled with fever. But no, he was here somehow. She knows it, just as she knows where he will wait for her.
Herbal remedies in hand, Mal finds her in the morning sitting on the cot, her pack leaning against her leg. His relief at her sudden good health falls away when she tells him she’s returning to Os Alta. He is vehemently against it, and she feels strangely removed from the one-sided argument. Because he doesn’t understand, and he likely never will—not a tracker who has fantasies of an uneventful life on a farm.
And so she gives him a hug and thanks him for his friendship. For finding the stag and protecting her when she needed it. She slings her pack over her shoulder, and with a noise of irritation, he scrambles after her as she begins the arduous journey to the capital. Of course he’s coming with her, he says. But it doesn’t matter whether or not he does. She loves him, she always will, but that affection has been irrevocably altered—for he is otkazat’sya and she has been fully reborn as the Sun Summoner.
Sankta Alina belongs to the Grisha. Ravka’s wars are her wars.
And there is only one other who can help her bear the weight of hundreds of thousands of lives.
Send me a character or ship and I’ll write you a short fic.
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Did they/didn't they + I didn't mean to turn you on, for Darklina, please! 🖤
Ivan, who knew, wouldn’t say a word, Saints vex him. Fedyor, who also knew, wouldn’t say anything either, out of marital solidarity or sheer impishness; the latter was supported by the perpetual display of his dimples. The gossip about the status of Alina’s relationship with the General, dating back to that first day in his billowing silk tent when General Kirigan raised her grubby linen sleeve far higher than he had any real need to in order to test her properly, was as present as pickled herring at every meal, as mulled over as the last glass of kvas in any bottle. Alina, too busy trying to make up for the lost years of education and camaraderie at the Little Palace, was oblivious to the chatter and the Grisha were collectively too astute to let even the faintest hint of their speculation reach their General’s ears, but to Ivan, the damage was done.
“I thought Zoya would choke on her tongue when she heard Alina mention her presentation to the Tsar,” Fedyor remarked, in what was supposed to be refuge of their marriage-bed. Ivan lay back and looked at the canopy above them, letting Fedyor’s words drift around like stardust. “Alina complained about the gold veil, she was really rather funny about it, but it was clear she didn’t realize the significance of it, or the General taking her hand, well, let’s just say I was relieved Zoya could only whip up a tornado and not burn the Little Palace to the ground. I would have been a pile of cinders, Vanya.”
“Zoya should have better self-control,” Ivan said. “And her expectations about her own…assignation with the General were grossly out of proportion.”
“Marie is convinced they are betrothed,” Fedyor said.
“The myrtle binding,” Fedyor said. “It is extremely amusing to imagine the General wearing a myrtle wreath—”
“He wouldn’t want to muss his hair,” Ivan said, just this side of scoffing. Fedyor batted him lightly on his broad, scarred shoulder.
“I grant you, he’s entitled to his vanity,” Ivan said. “And it never interferes with his command, but for a ceremony—Marie is blinded by her own romantic ideals. She would have the Sun Summoner trussed up in frills and ribbons—”
“Sergei asked David what he thought and David said it was impossible, a man like the General, a woman, a girl like Alina, one so fair, one so dark, they’d never be able to bridge the distance between them,” Fedyor said.
“He’s just talking about Genya,” Ivan said. “Though I’m impressed he imagines himself in General Kirigan’s place.”
“He’d be Alina,” Fedyor said. Ivan laughed but it was true.
“I honestly think they don’t even know themselves,” Ivan said. “It’s enough to drive me mad some days. She blushed red as Nina’s favorite kirtle last week when she came in and heard him singing in the bath, which, I admit, it’s startling when you hear how clear a tenor he has and I might have thought him a fresh recruit to the First Army by his own expression, both of them overcome, painfully obviously with the most fearful lust, Fedya, the General looked feral. I almost knocked over that overdone horse sculpture the Tsarevich commissioned for the War Room just to break the tension—”
“You just hate that stallion, milyy,” Fedyor said.
“It’s ugly,” Ivan said. “And crass. It’s perfectly Lantsov and it has no place in the Little Palace.”
“Are you going to say anything?”
“About the sculpture? There’s no point, the General hates it as much as I do but the ramifications of its removal are too great—”
“No, malysh, about them,” Fedyor said. “I take my cue from you on this score.”
“He wouldn’t want us to say anything,” Ivan said. “Yea or nay. Not until the pot is bigger—he knows we can’t afford that dasha in the country on our pay. He’s spoken of it, how important it is for a couple to have their own retreat, a home, how he wants that for all the Grisha.”
“This, right now, is enough for me, Vanyushka,” Fedyor said softly.
“I know. But I want more for you,” Ivan replied. “The General wants to remake Ravka, the entire world, for her and she wants to make night into day for him. I can want a dasha with a paddock and a grape arbor for you, Fedya. They understand.”
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Much as I LOVE the boat chapters of Siege and Storm because I’m a sucker for bottle episodes and “people who don’t like each other grudgingly having to work together on a task and try not to murder each other” (seriously, I wish that section had been the entire book because I had so much fun), I reeeeeeeally don’t think it will actually WORK for the show and needs some fixing:
Reasons why I don’t think it’s narratively strong (despite being tropey as fuck in ways I enjoy)
Way too much of an immediate Uno reverse. Shadow and Bone ends with “oh yay, we escaped the Darkling” and then the FIRST CHAPTER of Siege and Storm is “surprise bitches, bet you thought you’d seen the last of me” aaaaaand they’re captive again
The narrative tension of Alina thinking he’s dead gets shot reaaaal fast, minimizing the payoff
Alina……. doesn’t do anything. At all. In this entire part of the book. The Darkling sets their little whaling field trip in motion, Mal tracks the sea whip, Nikolai arranges the rescue entirely unbeknownst to Alina, who doesn’t get anything meaningful to do during this little excursion. Considering how much more agency the show has been trying to give Alina at every turn (thank god), an entire boating expedition where Her Three Boys are the only active agents while she’s just a spectator isn’t gonna fly
Objectively it’s a really dumb ~villainous plot. “well, killing an amplifier and putting it on you to take your power didn’t work well LAST TIME, but let’s immediately try again. I’m sure it will work out better this time.” I’m in it for the plot (the Darkling standing at the bow, gazing out at the water with his cloak billowing around him), but for viewers who are in it for the PLOT Plot, it’s just… the same plot as last time, but shorter. Disappointing. Will be super obvious when you binge.
In the book, the Darkling needs to show up again in order to Be In The Story since everything is limited to Alina’s point of view, but that’s obviously not true in the show and that opens up a lot more options for what he could be doing and ways he can be present in the story without Currently Talking to Alina
Personally, my idea for the show's sea whip in order to a) make more sense plot wise, b) give Alina more agency, c) not IMMEDIATELY rehash the exact same ending of the previous book vis-a-vis “oh no we’re captured” and “oh no another unwanted amplifier”
Alina and Mal are already on the same boat as the Crows at the end of season 1, so they’re at least heading in the same direction for now
We open with Alina and Mal lying low in Ketterdam
Alina gets her wish to visit the library in Ketterdam (good opportunity to start incorporating some Jesper backstory too), where she’s doing her own research on how to make her power stronger and trying to piece together information on Morozova’s amplifiers (unfortunately, the Little Palace library has the BEST books on the subject, but she’ll make do in Ketterdam)
Alina makes the decision to go after the sea whip herself, because Alina Actually Getting To Make Choices And Drive Her Own Story is my kink (as well as Alina Actually Getting To Want and Seek Out Power)
But o! We need a ship! How ever will we go chasing this legendary sea monster?
Fortunately, Kaz-who-knows-everything knows of a certain sea captain juuuust crazy enough to take on the job. He’s due to dock in Ketterdam for trade within a fortnight. Kaz offers to make contact
I wrote this in literally two minutes:
“Can we trust him?” Mal asks.
“You can’t trust anyone,” Kaz says sharply, “but he’s a legendary smuggler and a patriot.”
“A patriot?” Alina asks. “What d’you mean, a patriot?”
Then, from behind them, “A patriot, lovely, means I care about the fate of Ravka, a fate which is currently quite precarious, wouldn’t you say? I’ve agreed to help your little expedition for the good of our country. And for a rather handsome sum of money.”
Kaz rolls his eyes.
“What is it, Mr. Brekker? No secret honorable intentions, no love of your homeland, lurking in that cold heart of yours?”
“Kerch can sink for all I care.”
“Well, in that case, best set sail before that happens. I’d hate to ruin these shoes.”
I don’t know exactly what I want the Darkling to be doing during all of this, but fortunately this isn’t my job to figure out and hopefully they’ll come up with something clever that isn’t “hand him the idiot ball and make him try literally the same villainous scheme a second time.”
We can already establish the darklina mental link as forged through the stag—considering the change that they both had the same bone in them (lol)—or even have the bond start once she gets the sea whip. The stag makes sense because same bone, BUT the sea whip has the potential of “wait, why is this happening, why does this connect me to you, you had nothing to do with this” so that we can build on his own connections to Morozova
Pros: avoids literally rehashing the same thing that JUST happened at the end of Shadow and Bone; makes the sea whip Alina’s choice; lets Alina drive the story instead of Her Three Boys; incorporates the Crows into Alina’s story before they diverge again; lets Ivan live longer
Cons: we can’t dub “my heart will go on” over darklina boat argument scenes :(
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