Mal lets Alina sleep all night. In the morning, he gives her dried meat and tells her to talk while they walk. Alina explains how the Darkling plans to weaponize the Fold, how amplifiers work, and the significance of Morozova’s stag. When Alina is done, Mal says she shouldn’t have trusted Baghra: the Darkling’s power extends beyond the True Sea, and he’ll catch Alina eventually. Alina doesn’t think she had any choice, even if the plan isn’t great. Mal leads Alina up and down mountainsides in silence for hours. Alina is certain that she’s doomed herself and Mal—after all, Mal gave up everything to help her. He could be executed for treason or desertion.
As Mal sees it, Baghra’s plan ignored just how selfish and ruthless the Darkling is: the True Sea won’t stop him from getting something (or someone) he really wants. Still, it's a good sign that he listens attentively to everything Alina says, as now the two can begin to repair their relationship and the information gap that caused so many problems for them.
That evening, Mal says they’re going north to Tsibeya: they’re going to catch the stag before the Darkling does. If Alina has the amplifier, she might be strong enough to fight him. Aghast, Alina reminds Mal that he could die and asks why he came after her. He says he’s been helping Alina since his unit was tasked with tracking her, and he’s not afraid to die. Over the next few days, Mal leads them quickly through the mountains. He refuses to answer most of Alina’s questions, so Alina spends her time worrying. It’s a relief to leave the mountains for the woods, where they finally can start a fire. Mal isn’t impressed when Alina uses her power to start a fire, and he isn’t impressed by her newfound appetite, either.
Mal demonstrates that, like Alina, he cares about doing the right thing by suggesting they get the amplifier for Alina to use independent of the Darkling. However, this outlook also represents its own kind of greed and selfishness: it doesn’t acknowledge that the stag is a living thing with a life of its own. Though the end goal is different, this is exactly how the Darkling sees the stag. Alina is so stressed in part because Mal, her childhood best friend, doesn’t yet entirely accept who Alina has become. Her old identity has been overtaken by the new, and this is difficult for both of them to accept.
Alina and Mal need new supplies before they head further north, so they approach a small village. Mal disappears for a while and returns wearing a coat and hat he found in an unlocked house. But he says that disturbingly, nobody is home or on the roads. As they get closer to town, they learn why this is: it’s butter week. This is a week in spring when noblemen take carts out among their people, passing out sweet breads and other treats. Alina has fond memories of butter week at Keramsov, so she asks if they can go look. Mal agrees, so they slip into the crowd. He purchases furs and supplies while Alina slips forward and catches a sweet roll the noble in the cart tosses to her.
Mal and Alina venture into the village with extreme caution at first—especially now that Mal has deserted, it’s even more likely that someone is looking for them. But Alina’s happy memories of butter week cause her to let her guard down, suggesting that this might lead to trouble down the line. However, the fact that Alina still finds these memories and traditions so comforting does highlight that she’s still the same person in many ways. She’s just grown up and has developed some new skills.
Mal drags Alina into an alley and says they can’t take risks, but Alina is too happy. She threatens to not give him a bite, and they playfully fight over the roll. But they stop suddenly when they realize two men have snuck up on them—and one man puts a knife to Mal’s throat. The man asks for money and Alina laughs—this is absurd. Mal hands over his money pouch and then shows the men the supplies he just purchased. When they see the gun inside, the men note that they’ve heard a soldier deserted—and the rifle and Mal’s pack look like military issue. Mal lies that the pack is his brother’s, but the men remain unconvinced. One expresses interest in Alina, so Mal growls to leave her alone.
For just a moment, Mal and Alina can be kids arguing over a sweet roll again—but the realities of the dangerous adult world come crashing in when the men accost them. The men confirm that people are out looking for Mal, but interestingly, they don’t give any indication that they know who Alina is or that there’s also a search out for a young woman. This perhaps highlights how much more important Alina is to the Darkling than Mal: he has specific people looking for Alina, and everyone looking for Mal.
The man hits Mal in the head with his knife handle, causing Mal to bleed. Alina shoots light into the man’s eyes and then kicks the other man in the groin and breaks his nose. She’s shocked she did it, but Mal leads her away at a run. They leave the rifle behind. After they’ve traveled several miles, they stop and discuss that the men might try to get people to pay for information. Then, smiling, Mal asks where Alina learned to fight. She tells him about Botkin and how the Darkling doesn’t think Grisha should only rely on their powers.
Now that Alina has proven herself useful, Mal is starting to get used to—and even like—the person she’s become. With this, Mal becomes more accepting of who Alina has become without him. And Alina, too, is continuing to realize just how competent she is, which shows that, like Mal, she’s not entirely at peace yet with her transformation. Still, they can’t ignore that they’re in danger and no longer have all the supplies they really need.
Suddenly grim, Mal says the Darkling is smart—and now he’ll know Alina didn’t head straight for the Fold. Alina pulls the squashed and linty roll out of her pocket—and Mal begins laughing uncontrollably. Alina joins in and they laugh about how terrible Alina is, now that she’s broken a man’s nose. They eat the roll and it’s as delicious as they remember. Mal leads Alina until dusk and then, as they eat their cheese, asks Alina about Botkin and the other teachers. Mal doesn’t laugh as easily as he once did, but it feels like he’s turning into his old self a bit. He lies down next to Alina to go to sleep, and Alina sleeps better than she has in months with her friend beside her. In the night, Mal rolls over and puts an arm over Alina.
The absurdity of the situation—that they got into so much trouble and blew their cover for a sweet roll—finally breaks the ice between Alina and Mal. It shows Mal that they’re still friends and that they still think about their childhood fondly, which suggests that a bond is still there. It thus no longer feels so fraught for Mal to express interest in Alina’s life at the Little Palace, and he’s more willing to engage with Alina as though they’re actually friends. His arm over her at night, however, suggests they might actually be more than friends.