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And Stars Don’t Fall

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For as long as Alina could remember, she had two goals in life. One: she was going to be a famous actress. Two: she was going to work with Aleksander Morozov.

She had followed Aleksander Morozov’s career for ages, to the point she almost felt a bit stalkery. Her best friend Alexei once bought her tickets to a convention so she could get her picture with Aleksander after his role in The Darkling Chronicles. She had loved his character Leonid, the anti-hero with a heart of gold who fought the evil king Anastas. When she had gotten up to the table to have him sign the convention poster with himself, sparks had shot through her hand as their fingers brushed, and she had become so flustered she could barely get a word out beside “I love you”, at which point she became so mortified she almost didn’t show up for his photo slot. He smiled at her like she hadn’t completely humiliated herself earlier and wrapped his arm around her for the picture. His body had felt so firm and warm and strong against hers that when she returned home, she had promptly struck the second goal from her list. If she ever worked with him, she might just die.

Her big break as an actress came a few months later when her agent Petra called and told her there was a role for the lead actress in a new film and the director had sent it her way for Alina to audition. She had been thrilled. When Petra called a few weeks later to tell her she got the part, she had been ecstatic. 

Traveling to the location in Novosibirsk where the film was being shot was something of a dizzying experience. She had no idea who the others in the film were, but she knew she was playing the role of Sol Koroleva herself, Zinaida.

It was only once she got the full script that she realized that it was part of The Darkling Chronicles extended universe… a tidbit that she should have remembered from the books, but she had never particularly cared about the prequel books and had never bothered to go back and read them. Not only that, Sol Koroleva’s love interest was Leonid after his lover had been killed by Anastas’ soldiers in Part 3. It didn’t take long for her to realize that Aleksander Morozov would be there for the table read and that they’d start filming soon after.

Her face felt like it might catch on fire. Petra had forgotten that little detail. 

The door for the elevator finally opened and Alina pressed the button for the seventh floor where her room for the next month or so was. She just wanted to climb into bed and never crawl out, at least not until they sent someone to physically drag her.

“Hold the door, please!”

She stiffened before she ever saw the voice’s owner, even as she automatically reacted to press the “Door open” button. Aleksander Morozov stepped inside and flashed her a smile even as he reached down to press the seventh-floor button, hesitating as he saw it already lit up. 

He stepped back as the doors closed, a hat pulled low over his face. She kept her eyes straight ahead, hoping that the ride would go quickly and praying to whatever Saints were listening that he wouldn’t remember her.

They must not have been listening.

“Hello Alina.”

She flushed as she turned to see him watching her. 

“Hello.” Her voice was barely a squeak.

“I hope you had a good trip out here?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to talk. His smile seemed genuine, but it dimmed slightly by her lack of response. 

“I must confess, I’m something of a fan. You were absolutely brilliant in Malenchki.”

Malenchki was a B-rated, at best, thinly-veiled horror movie. She played the lead’s love interest turned petty villainess and was pretty positive she only got the part because her and Mal Oretsev, the lead, grew up in the same foster home. She was also vaguely sure she made a face when they had their only on-screen kiss because it felt like kissing her brother. It wasn’t her first film, but it was definitely the one that had gotten the most traction. Mostly because of the twist at the end, she was sure. 

“You don’t have to say that.” She knew her acting wasn’t up to his usual level in that. Him saying she was brilliant in that film felt a little like he was mocking her.

His brow furrowed. 

“I mean it. I was going to tell you at the con a few months ago, but you disappeared so fast—”

“Oh Saints,” she muttered, burying her face into her hands. Clearly, the Saints were having a great laugh at her expense.

“Your film had just come out a week before. It threw me a bit, seeing you there after I had just watched that, and then—”

“And then I made it awkward.” She wanted to die, just melt into a puddle and disappear forever.

“Actually, it was rather flattering.” He grinned, a boyishness taking over his face and if she wasn’t so busy wishing she could blend into the wall, she would have been rather awestruck by it. “I really enjoyed that film but…” He ran his hands through his hair. “If I’m being honest, I hated what they did with your character for most of the movie. It felt a bit cheap at the end there. I don’t think it really showcased the amount of range you showed in your audition tapes for Sol Koroleva.”

“You saw those?”

Was it possible to disintegrate through the floor?

The elevator dinged and he waited for her to exit first. “I can take your bag for you.”

Her shoulder was practically drooping to the floor under the weight of her carry-on. Reluctantly, she let him take the one bag from her as they fell into an awkward silence.

“I’m sorry,” he said as they reached the door. He ran his hands through his hair. “I didn’t mean to make things weird between us. Just that I admire you and am looking forward to working with you.” He gestured to the bag. “I can set this in your room, if you’d like?”

She nodded and keyed into the room, holding the door open.

“Thank you.” He nodded as he set the bag next to the couch. “I’m sorry too. For my part in making it weird.” She blushed, staring at her shoes as she kicked at the carpeting. “I’m looking forward to working with you too.” She bit her lip, tugging the skin between her teeth. “I probably made it obvious at the con, but I’ve had a huge crush on you for, well, forever. So I don’t mean to be weird about it, but, um…”

“Let’s start over.” He held his hand out. “Hi. I’m Aleksander Morozov. And you are?”

She forced herself to meet his eyes and was pleased to find him smiling. “Alina Starkova. It’s nice to meet you.”

She shook his hand and gasped as the sparks met her hands. From the slightly awestruck look on his face, he felt it too.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Alina. I’m looking forward to working with you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes, tomorrow,” she echoed, feeling the heat not subside from her cheeks even after he left the room.

She was very much looking forward to it.


Alina barely made it through the table read. Her face was bright red, she was sure, but it was oddly reassuring to see that Aleksander’s face was too. Even the tips of his ears were pink and the flush continued past his beard down his throat. She wondered how far down it went. 

“We’re going to break for lunch,” Zoya, the first assistant director, announced. “We have catering, or be back in one hour.”

“We should get out of here,” Aleksander said, then froze. “I mean, you look uncomfortable and it might be beneficial for you to leave for a while. Not necessarily with me. Although we can walk out at the same time if you want. Just I don’t want you to think—”

“I thought we weren’t going to make it weird.” She grinned at him. How much weirder could they make it? She had literally told him that she loved him the first time she met him. 

Although, meeting him now, talking to him for the brief period of time before the table read where he offered to bring her coffee to the table so she could toast her bagel, she wasn’t entirely sure she wouldn’t have introduced herself the same way. 

He relaxed as they walked through the doors. “We did. Sorry about that. I hadn’t seen the newly revised script and it’s definitely something.”

“Yes, it’s something alright.”

Nikolai, the director, had added one heck of a sex scene that hadn’t been in the original script Alina had read. Judging from Aleksander’s reaction, it wasn’t in any version he saw either. 

Before, the movie had a tender, sweet, very old-fashioned love scene. Now, the script supplemented it with a borderline pornographic sex scene where Aleksander’s character was supposed to “assert his dominance of her”. More than just assert dominance, he was supposed to wrap his hand around her throat while he fucked her into the mattress from behind. 

She glanced at Aleksander. She fully wouldn’t mind if he did that to her in real life. Her experience with sex scenes had been awkward at best, with the last one being in Malenchki where she and Mal had wound up giggling so hard that they cut most of the scene from the final film. It was just as well. The scene added nothing to the film, in her opinion. 

But this one…

Saints, was it hot in there, or was it just her?

“We can go back to my room, have a drink?” He paused and closed his eyes, grimacing. “That was not meant to be as creepy as it sounded when I said it aloud.”

“No, a drink sounds nice. Maybe some food to go with it?”

She needed a drink if she was going to be around a group who had heard her fake an orgasm on command because Nikolai wanted “to set the proper atmosphere.”

Aleksander smiled in relief. 


“Do you mind if I use your bathroom?” she asked as they entered his room. He shook his head, pointing needlessly to the room off the bedroom. She needed a few minutes to splash some water on her face and calm down. 

“Ivan, listen to me,” he was saying when she opened the door a few minutes later. “You need to get an updated rider on my contract. And if you know Alina Starkova’s agent, she needs one too. Yes, I’ll tell her. I can’t believe Sobachka… well, I can, but that’s beside the point. I don’t know why your husband likes working with him so much.” She coughed quietly in the doorway and he jerked, turning around. “I need to go.” He hung up and smiled at her. “Sorry about that. Want to pick something out from the menu and I’ll order?”

He offered her the room service menu and she took it. She gave him her order and he called it in before they sat down together on the couch. Alina picked at a snag on her pants. Now that she was alone with him, away from the rest of the cast and crew, it felt weird again. Perhaps it was just weird how comfortable the silence felt. 

If she closed her eyes, she could easily fall asleep on his shoulder. 

“You look a little jet-lagged,” he whispered softly. 

“I feel it.”

She had been in a photoshoot in Ketterdam last week and an interview in Os Alta yesterday morning and was looking forward to sleeping in the same time zone for more than two consecutive nights.

He reached out and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Rest then. I’ll wake you when the food comes.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t.”

He smiled at her as he offered her a pillow. Reluctantly, she took it, kicking her shoes off as she pulled her legs up on the couch. “Just until the food comes.”

She tucked the pillow under her head, eyes heavy, and let herself rest.


“Alina,” a voice called. A warm hand was on her arm, shaking her gently. “It’s time to wake up. The food’s here.”

She groaned as she shifted and realized that she was under a blanket. Her brow furrowed. She didn’t remember—

“You were shivering,” Aleksander said, looking a bit sheepish. He held out the plate to her. “Eat. We have twenty minutes.”

Alina winced. “I didn’t mean to sleep so long.”

“It’s okay.”

She smiled at him.

“So, that scene…” she started before she took a bite of her veggie burger.

He coughed, clearing his throat before he spoke. “Yes, that scene.”

“Why did Nikolai add it?”

“I think, in part, to torment me.” She watched him, and he sighed. “I may have mentioned to him while we were filming one of The Darkling movies that I liked being choked during sex.”

His face turned progressively redder with each word and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“How exactly did that come up in conversation?”

He shrugged, face as red as the tomato on her burger. “A bad joke.”

He looked as mortified as she had felt yesterday, appearing to hope that the couch would swallow him up to escape the conversation.

“Hey.” He glanced up at her. “My ex told me there’s no shame in knowing what you like in bed. Just have to find the right person to enjoy it with.”

His brow furrowed. “Isn’t your ex Malyen Oretsev?”

“Mal, yeah.”

“I thought his life goal was to buy a farm and raise goats?”

She laughed. “It is. And he and his boyfriend are very happy.”

Milo, one of their goats, lived in the house and featured heavily on their Photogram accounts. Mal posted more pictures of Milo than most people posted of their kids. Human kids.

“That’s…” He blinked. “I didn’t realize you were on good terms.”

She shrugged. “We weren’t right for each other, but we’ve known each other forever and typical everyone butting their nose in kept telling us that we were perfect for each other. So we figured we’d give it a shot.”

“And it didn’t work out.”

“I love Mal, I do. But it was like sleeping with my brother. Honestly, the best sex we had was with Jesper.”

She laughed again, enjoying the way that his face lit up red even more. Impossibly more.

“Sorry. That’s probably more than you wanted to know.”

“More than I thought I’d know,” he muttered, barely able to meet her eyes.

“Tit for tat. Make me blush.”

Aleksander froze, his eyes watching her for a moment. Finally, slowly, he spoke. “During the second Darkling movie, you know Luda and I were engaged.”

Alina nodded. Everyone knew that. They had been dating a long time and had gotten engaged not long before the movie, though they broke off the engagement not long after it was released. For a while, everyone had gone on that it was like the golden age of Ravka again, during the times of the monarchy. They were something of modern royalty and the world had looked forward to their wedding.

“The sex scene in that wasn’t faked.”

She choked on the bite she had just taken. Shit.

There had been… not much left to the imagination during that scene. She had touched herself an embarrassing amount of times to the sight of his ass as he bent Luda in half and plowed her into the bed. And that had been before she knew it was real. 

“How much of it wasn’t faked?” she asked when she could breathe again. 

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, forearms bare, and it wasn’t fair how good he looked. Like he hadn’t just turned her world upside-down with his words.

“Every second of it was real.”

Fuck.

She shifted on the couch, trying to discreetly press her thighs together and relieve some of the pressure. From the way he smirked, it wasn’t discreet enough. 

“Do you bang all of your co-stars on set?” she said, attempting to recover.

“Definitely not.”

“I… if you don’t mind… what happened between you and her?”

No one knew the full story. Just that one day, they had been engaged, and then, they were broken up and her character was being brutally murdered in the film. It didn’t speak to the most amicable of breakups.

He glanced away.

“You don’t have to. Sorry. I’m overstepping. I should go—”

“Sit down, Alina.” It wasn’t an order. To be an order, it couldn’t have sounded so weary. She settled back on the couch and he sighed. “It was mutual. Mostly.”

“Mostly?”

He nodded. “She fell in love with someone else. I couldn’t ask her to stay knowing that wasn’t what she wanted.”

She reached out and squeezed his leg. She understood that. She hadn’t been able to ask Mal to stay either. He had felt so guilty when he fell in love with Jesper. He thought that the sex would “get the feelings out of his system” but Alina knew better. She had never been particularly attached to their relationship, and that made her feel just as guilty that she wasn’t more upset. But Jesper had been a good addition to their bed, teaching her things about herself that she never knew, and eventually teaching her that she could be happy if she lived her life for herself instead of other people’s exceptions for her.

“It’s okay.”

He took her hand, squeezing it back. “Thank you.”

She glanced at the clock. “We should get back downstairs.”

He nodded.