this is what love does
A/N: so here is your friendly neighbor zoyalai who rewrote that scene in the Os Kervo main hall (Rule of Wolves chapter 46). Idk man this is what I have in mind and I just wanted to put more monologue and make some drastic changes KJHASDFLKHASDF
i think their scene in this chapter could have gone better ngl ahjsfkajsf but if you’re okay with canon, i’m absolutely glad you are. I just needed to make this bc my zoyalai heart said so HHAHAHA
as always @wafflesandkruge enabled me again and volunteered to edit this mess so thank you ily 🥺
contains some spoilers for Rule of Wolves so pls beware before reading :>
Word count: 4169
When the doors to the hall finally closed, Zoya released a breath of frustration. She wanted a moment of total silence, where she could shut out the voices of the people chanting her name or the affirmative tones of the dukes that agreed with Nikolai in nominating her as Ravka’s new queen. A bottle of brandy would be good too, and yet it didn’t materialize out of thin air just as she wanted it to.
She put a hand to her forehead, feeling the fatigue from the war slowly drain what was left of her strength. This was madness—everything that had happened in the past few weeks. Headache after headache, they kept coming like the barrage of Fjerdan firepower they had just encountered in the battlefield hours ago.
But the biggest headache of all was standing right in front of her in all his confident glory, the small grin never leaving his lips even as Zoya scowled at him. Nikolai Lantsov was a royal through and through. And despite the dirt that still smudged on his face, or the dried blood on his collar, he never lost that spark in him, no matter what he said about not wanting to claim the Lantsov bloodline.
How could he suddenly expect her to do this on her own terms?
"Are you out of your saintsforsaken mind?" Zoya hissed at the smiling king. He still was the king, and would continue to be as far as she was concerned. "I could strike you with lightning right now but I don't think I have the energy left for that."
Nikolai's grin turned into a wince. "Ah, but I'm always in the right state of mind," he said as he approached her with rather careful steps as if he was testing the waters around her. "And I have never been more sane and sober than now, Zoya."
The urge to summon lightning at him was still strong, but she shoved the thought down. Ravka didn't need another funeral right now, and especially not for its king.
"Say something spiteful."
Zoya furrowed her eyebrows. "What?"
"You're scowling again, and I think the only way to really know you're angry is when you combine your scowl with harsh words."
“Do you really have a death wish?"
The infuriating king pretended to think for a moment, his eyes narrowing curiously as he scratched the spot behind his ear. “I think we’ve had enough of staring down death today—”
Thunder rumbled in the skies as Zoya’s anger flared, and Nikolai flinched. But Nikola, being himself, recovered quickly with a grin. She looked at him in disbelief. It was both baffling and amazing how fast this man could change into one of his masks in just a matter of a second and then he was another person entirely.
It was their difference—Zoya didn’t have that skill. She’d never had the capability of pretending. Where she had walls around her heart to hide the girl who once believed in fairy tales and love and other nonsense, Nikolai wore his masks like they were his second skin, and it blended with the boy who just wanted what was best for his country, until he didn’t know who he was anymore.
She had never shown any signs of weakness or vulnerability, and even if she did, she would still deny it until she convinced her heart it had never happened. But he was different. He was ready to wear his heart on his sleeve if he wanted to, displaying his emotions at all times. And if he didn’t get anything out of it, he would put his mask back on like nothing happened.
Zoya hid; Nikolai pretended. If she were to look at it, pretending was better than hiding.
“Is it really that bad?” Nikolai asked softly.
I don’t know.
If she were still the same person she had been three years ago, she knew she would have accepted the offer right away. But things had changed and progressed since then, and whoever she once was, someone who wanted so much power, was long gone.
“We both know I’m not cut out for this, Nikolai,” she replied.
He didn’t say anything else, and just waited. Zoya huffed in frustration.
“You’re the diplomat, the charmer.” She gestured in the air vaguely. “Even if you’re not of the royal bloodline, there is no denying that you’ve always had the knack for this. I’m just—”
She was just what? A general? A Grisha who broke the boundaries of the Orders and achieved the impossible? An actual living saint?
Zoya let out a breath. A shadow passed on Nikolai’s face, his expression darkening to some kind of disappointment as if he already knew what she was going to say. But considering everything they had been through, it was definitely safe to say he knew her no matter how good she was at hiding.
She still said it anyway. “I’m just no one.”
“Don’t even go there.”
“You know I wouldn’t say anything I don’t mean, Nikolai. I was meant to be a soldier, to train and lead armies to their victory and be with them until our very last breaths. It was always like that.” And when Nikolai looked like he was about to contradict her, Zoya beat him to it by raising a finger to silence him. “Don't. There's nothing to say. And don’t start with me by saying you were never meant for the crown, nor the throne. That may have been the case, but you are what Ravka has needed for a long time. You fought for it instead of selling it. Hurt for it, bled for it, almost dying twice just to keep it from the mud. If that’s not what a king does, then I don’t know what I should call it.”
“A job well done?” he offered, laughing lightly when she gave him a glare that could silence the Second Army in a heartbeat. “I’m merely joking, Nazyalensky.”
“Can you be serious for once?” Zoya shook her head, heading over to one of the benches and slumping down on it.
It was only then she felt the weight of today’s war come back to her, and she found herself not wanting to stand up for a moment. Maybe she would just stay here until the madness outside passed, though she knew it would take a while.
She hunched forward with her eyes trained on her hands clasped together on her knees. She couldn’t bear to look at him as of the moment, and it irked her as it felt like she was hiding yet again and she was already tired of doing that. But when an enormous responsibility was suddenly presented to her, along with the ability to hold power over everything else, didn’t she have the right to hesitate or even think about it?
It felt like being appointed to the Grisha Triumvirate again after the war the Darkling waged that almost took Ravka down with it, and they were forced to stand up on their own feet to save the country from drowning right after fighting for their lives. It was never fair, but they braved through it.
But at what cost?
It doesn’t stop with us. It never does.
It was what David always used to say, and Zoya found those words haunting her every night after his death, knowing all too well she could have done so much better to protect him and save Genya from her pain. If it didn’t stop with them, what difference would it make if it was her seated on the throne?
Ravka was finally free, even if not completely yet, but the light at the end of the tunnel they had long since walked through was already bright as any star could have been.
A shadow on the marbled floor caught her eyes, and she looked up just in time to see Nikolai kneel in front of her, taking her hands in his. She almost—almost—wrenched away from him, but then she realized that it was him, the boy who wore his heart on his sleeve and bared everything to her without a second thought. He was looking up at her with such a soft, understanding expression on his face that she wondered if she was seeing right.
She blinked, and then she felt as if she was back at the ship again, hearing his confession that took the breath out of her lungs and made her heart beat like it had never been before.
And for the past years of her life and the rest that would still come, Zoya was sure she would never feel as frightened as she was now.
You promised yourself you would speak your heart when you had the chance, didn’t you? she scolded in her mind. Only the saints knew how much she had waited for this moment between them after the war. She almost didn’t have the chance. So why was she trying to run away from it again?
He was so, so near, and yet she was still terrified to reach for him.
"I can't do this, Nikolai," she said instead.
"I will be by your side." Always, was what hung at the end and not said aloud, but she knew he meant it.
Zoya felt a small smile on her lips, the urge to touch his face becoming stronger than her will to fight it. What was stopping her? Her pride? Maybe it really was that, but her damn pride had already cost her enough.
So she reached a hand up to his cheek, her touch gentle as the breeze that fluttered in the room when her skin met his.
Nikolai learned in her hand almost immediately, a content sigh coming from his lips.
"I would give my life for Ravka over and over again, as I know you would too," she whispered, her thumb gently brushing his cheekbone. She dropped her hand and put it on top of his. "But I don't think this is what's best for Ravka. We have fought and lived through the wars it suffered. We vowed to drag it from the mud it had fallen into until our last breaths, and now that it can finally stand up on its own, I think it's had its fill of kings and queens and wars. Ravka now needs to listen to its people."
Zoya knew it sounded ambitious and audacious, but it could be a start, a beginning of a new age. The journey would be a tedious one, as always, but she knew it was worth the try. Ravka was always worth the try, no matter how much it took from them.
Silence stretched between them for a moment, and Zoya was thankful for it being a comfortable one rather than a tense pause. She searched his eyes, trying to find the stubborn glint in them as a sign that he was thinking of arguing back. But she didn't see it.
There was only the look he had always sent her way, the same one he had when he bared his heart to her in the airship, and she felt her breath hitch in her throat. She really ought to strangle him for making her feel this way.
"Spoken like a true queen, I'd say," said Nikolai with a laugh.
Zoya scoffed, grateful for the sudden distraction. "I remember that I didn't agree with the proposal of me being the new queen, so that means you're still the king, Your Idiocy."
There was a hint of an amused grin at the corner of his lips. "What can I say? When I thought of what's best for Ravka, my mind instantly thought of you."
"Didn’t I ask you to be serious even just for once?"
"You speak as if I were making those words up."
"If you know what's best for you and Ravka, you would stop trying to change my mind because my decision would remain the same."
Nikolai smiled ruefully. "I know." He paused, turning his attention to their joined hands. There was an unusual slump in his shoulders, something she rarely saw him have. He sighed, and then slowly pressed his forehead to her knuckles. "I thought I lost you today," he said quietly.
Her heart clenched at the pain in his voice, but she understood it. She almost lost him today too. "You won't be rid of me that easily, Nikolai," Zoya said.
He chuckled, and it sounded more in pain than in amusement. Then he drew in a shaky breath before looking back up at her. "When I saw you fall, I thought the worst and I—" He stopped with a dry laugh. "But I guess you're right, I won't be able to get rid of you that easily."
She felt a smile curl on her lips. "I should be the one telling you that, but I figure it can go both ways," Zoya said, and before she could make herself hide away again, she gave in and lowered her forehead to touch his. In a soft whisper, she said, "But I've never been more grateful you're still here with me."
They were still here, alive and breathing, and she was glad they both got to see the end of the day. When she felt herself plummeting to the ground, she thought that it was her end, and she had accepted it. Exhaustion crept in her bones, her own strength not enough to whip up a draft to cushion her fall. But there was a gust of wind—from Nadia or from Adrik—that caught her, saving her from the deadly impact.
And then a voice. His voice, full of worry and hurt and pain, pleading her to wake. He was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes again, and it was during that moment she allowed herself to wish that he would be the one she would wake up to every morning, and the last one she’d see when she fell asleep at night.
It had reminded Zoya of the time she saved the king from falling once, back when they were just soldiers fighting for their lives in the Fold, and she wondered if he had been glad to see her when he opened his eyes.
Nikolai reached a hand up to touch her cheek, his fingers light as if she were the most important thing in the world that he was finally allowed to touch. His eyes never wavered from hers.
"I would still choose you, you know," he suddenly said, his voice trembling. "Even if you didn't want to do anything with me anymore. Even if you were in some place else, reassigned to another position. Even if you didn't want me." He tried to smile, but it seemed to take more effort than just not. "I'd still want you. I'd still want you with everything in me."
Zoya already knew how he felt for her beforehand, his confession back in the ship sharpening into focus in her mind. And yet she still felt like she heard him bare his heart to her for the first time, even when he had already been doing it for years.
It would be so easy to tell him that she felt the same; those three words that were hanging between them for a long time begging to be set free. But still a small, terrified part of her held back, and she realized that it was the girl she had once been, the girl who believed in everything before the cruel world took that magic away from her and replaced it with fear.
This is what love does. It took away everything, blinded one's logic and reasoning, and even brought pain that no one should feel. Why should people hurt when all they ever wanted was to have and feel the love they deserved?
“I know I’ve already told you this on the ship,” Nikolai continued, the rueful smile returning to his lips. “But I wanted you to hear it again, as I almost didn’t have the chance today. No prince and no power could ever make me stop wanting you.”
Zoya felt her breath get knocked out from her lungs again, but her doubts and insecurities continued to cloud her, lingering in her as if they were the only ones her heart knew of. “Maybe for now you will want me.” She paused, unexpected tears stinging her eyes. She closed them instead; she didn’t think she could bear looking at him. “But soon enough you will grow to hate me. I’m too sharp. Too angry. Too spiteful.” And you deserve so much better than that. “That’s who I am, Nikolai.”
“Zoya,” Nikolai murmured.
She felt his breath ghost over her skin, and yet she still refused to look at him. She couldn’t. But if there was one thing she knew about Nikolai Lantsov, it was his persistence for everything.
“Zoya, my love. Look at me,” he said softly, and this time Zoya finally obliged him.
An unwanted ache clogged her throat as she met his gaze, bright and warm and open. There was nothing in them except the sincerity he always had around her. In this light, his hazel eyes looked almost golden. He had a golden spirit. Then it struck her, as she remembered the words from a memory a long time ago, that maybe she was finally looking at that boy in her aunt’s story. He had been in front of her all along.
Nikolai grinned, his eyes brighter than she had ever seen them, and there were tears clouding them as well. “You speak as if I haven’t seen you at your worst,” he said.
“You will grow tired of me, Nikolai.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said. A tear escaped his eye, and she felt it land on her hand. He let out another breathless laugh. “I’d want you for the rest of my life, Zoya.”
Something broke inside her chest, and then a tear fell from her eye as well. Her fingers intertwined with his, their hold on each other’s hands tightening as if the other would disappear if they let go. He brought her hands to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. A few tears slipped on her hand as he did, but he had a look of contentment on his face, like he finally felt he was home.
More tears fell from her eyes as she pressed her forehead back to his. For years, she had let herself believe that she wasn’t worthy of being loved, that she was only made to be a soldier, a weapon to be used by her own country.
This is what love does. Zoya had been wrong from the start. Because in the end, Nikolai’s love for her was what made him see past her worst self. Every flaw and every scar, he accepted them wholeheartedly. She didn’t know how he’d come to love her, someone who had avoided any signs of kindness and sincerity he gave her, thinking that it would be used against her later.
There was no denying the pain they had caused each other through the years, when their words were too sharp and they wounded their hearts and pride before they could even have the chance to think of it. And yet they always came back to each other, their faith in each other still there if not stronger before.
Love was never without pain. It would still be felt over and over again because it was real.
And if tearing down the walls she had built around herself and giving her heart away would make her vulnerable to hurting, then perhaps it was something she was willing to do.
Because Nikolai Lantsov was worth every pain.
So Zoya took the leap, drawing him up to her and pressing her mouth to his, and everything felt like it finally clicked into place. He acted immediately, and she could almost feel his smile against her lips. After the long days of wanting, her heart was at peace for once. The Fjerdans could have come back and waged war against them again, but she didn’t care about anything but the warm press of his lips.
When the need for air became stronger than the need for each other’s lips, Zoya pulled away and rested her forehead against his. Her eyes were still clouded with tears when she finally said, “I love you.”
To say that Nikolai’s grin was bright would have been an understatement. In the dull colored room they were in, he seemed to be glowing. He let out another breathless laugh. “I never thought I would hear those words come from you,” he said, his eyes alight with utter bliss. “But for what it’s worth” —he wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb— “I love you too.”
Silence fell around them and everything focused on the man in front of Zoya. Perhaps she could stay here in his arms for another while and ignore the looming responsibilities standing right outside the doors.
She was his, and he was hers. For now, that was all that mattered.
“Is there really nothing that can change your mind?” Nikolai said, breaking the comfortable silence between them, and Zoya wanted nothing more than to strangle him right now.
“You really had to ruin the atmosphere, didn’t you?”
He laughed lightly. “My ruthless Zoya, I am merely joking,” he said, and then his face became serious. For a moment, a small twinge of fear clawed at her heart. “Then what do you think about being a regent? At least until we find someone to rule properly, or until we could transition the monarchy towards something else.” He wrinkled his nose. “I mean, I said I would give you a crown, and this is my last chance to make good on my words even just for a short time. Besides, Regent Nazyalensky does have a nice ring to it.”
Zoya raised an eyebrow, the idea not occurring to her until now. She furrowed her eyebrows. “You actually suggested something reasonable,” she said, earning a pout from the king. She looked at him with mild concern then, realizing the meaning of having a regent. “Are you really abdicating the throne?”
“I’m not joking when I said that the crown was never meant for me, and I think my bloodline really solidified that fact. I realized I was only fighting for this country, not the throne.” He shrugged as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “And if that’s really your decision, I would be with you in every step of the way. But I hope we can stabilize Ravka until we can have a solution to my....sudden resignation.”
“What’s your plan if ever that time comes?” Zoya knew she was asking so many questions, but she couldn’t help it. This man continued to surprise her with his declarations and she had no idea what could come next. “Play pirate again?”
Nikolai scowled at her, and she wanted to laugh at his expression. “Privateer,” he corrected like always. Then he smiled, his eyes suddenly having a faraway look. “For once, I don’t know. But maybe I would play privateer again as I’ve missed the seas terribly.” Then he turned to her, his expression gentle. “If I ask you to come with me as my first mate then, would you agree?”
Would she? Zoya had never known anything outside her life in Os Alta. For years, it had been a continuous battle for the freedom of the country that took everything from its people, and she had no time to think about her freedom if she ever did retire from being a soldier.
But she could already see glimpses of a future ahead, a quiet and easy life, without any fear of having to go back to war. And in those glimpses, she could see him.
Zoya huffed, making it sound as disbelieving as possible. But she already knew her answer. “I’d make a horrible first mate as I easily get seasick,” she said.
“Ah, but I don’t mind. As long as you’re there with me,” Nikolai said, taking her hands in his again. He pressed another kiss to her knuckles. “So what do you say, Regent Nazyalensky?”
The future was something she had no control over, she always knew that. The only way to know what it held was to continue fighting until she reached it, and as long as she had the right person beside her, she knew she would be alright.
They had always been a team, she and Nikolai, and they would continue to be like that for as long as they lived.
So without another hint of doubt, Zoya intertwined her fingers with his, squeezing his hand gently. “Alright, dearest privateer,” she said. “Let’s keep this country standing upright until then.”
And they would. Together.
90 notes · View notes