"I'm a girl!" The midshipman Deryn Sharp announced, closing her eyes in shame. She waited for a response, but in the silence that followed none came. She finally opened her eyes to be met with the wide green eyes of her best friend Alek, son of the late Archduke of Austria-Hungary. He seemed to be in shock, but Deryn wasn't surprised. She had been disguising herself as a boy for months now, and Alek was learning the truth for the first time.
"I beg your pardon?" Alek sputtered, polite as ever despite his surprise. He pushed his reddish brown hair through his fingers roughly, no doubt trying to set his thoughts in order.
"I'm a girl, Alek," Deryn repeated calmly, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her airman's uniform and standing as straight as a board, waiting for the storm that was sure to come. "I've been lying all this time, and I'm sorry. I'll never lie to you again."
"God's wounds," Alek muttered, glancing over Deryn's tall frame. She knew he was looking for traces of femininity that he might have somehow missed over the past few months, examining her chest, her lips, her hair, and her hips. Normally this type of analyzing made her squirm and would have earned him a square punch to the jaw, but she was just glad that she didn't have to keep her gender a secret from him anymore. Besides, Deryn knew that he would find nothing; she was always very thorough with her secret and had lots of practice. If he did find anything it would only confirm what he now knew, and Deryn knew she'd never have a chance with him now so she wasn't worried about him thinking her ugly. She looked past Alek's right shoulder at the gray leathery walls of the airship's hallway and waited for a response.
"Butbut how?!" Alek finally stammered, trying to regain his composure and failing. He was now staring at her, slightly horrified and slightly frazzled. The news has him a wee bit scrambled in the attic, Deryn thought, slightly amused and slightly saddened. She had hoped he'd be a little more accepting and a little less horrified.
"It's not that complicated, you barking ninny!" Deryn retorted, raising her voice slightly and crossing her arms over her flat chest. Somewhere in her mind, she felt bad for being harsh, but Alek wasn't asking intelligent questions and they didn't have much time. Alek missing for even a second never went unnoticed on the Leviathan. "I bind my chest, I stitch my own clothes, I cut my hair and I trained myself to talk and walk and act like a lad. What else is there?"
Alek was finally starting to piece things together in his mind, his composure returning. "So, if you're not a boy Dylan
what is your real name, then?"
"It's Deryn. Deryn Sharp." She said, looking away from the pools of emerald fire that seemed to be burning through her carefully sculpted walls. She had always felt that being a girl made her weak and silly. Deryn waited for the questions and the anger to come flying at her, but Alek handled it surprisingly well.
"Well, Dyl Deryn. Why didn't you tell me sooner? I've been nothing but perfectly bloody honest with you for months!"
Deryn thought about being completely honest, that she had hidden her gender from him because she thought he could never love her for being so barking common, but she kept herself in check, afraid it was too much for him to handle. I'll tell him the real answer someday, she reasoned, in a calm, orderly fashion when I know he won't be around to judge me. "Because I couldn't find the right opportunity," she said shortly, looking down at her scuffed black combat boots and feeling like a right coward.
"You had plenty of opportunities. Why did you pick now? Why did it take you so long? I thought you were going to be honest with me now," Alek demanded, seeing through her weak lie easily.
"Every time I tried to tell you who I really was, my cowardice or one of your own bloody comments would make me hold back. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to tell you," Deryn replied, pleased with her somewhat honest response.
Alek looked up at Deryn, examining her eyes carefully. He really does have the most spectacular and intelligent eyes, Deryn thought before quickly looking away in embarrassment. What was it about this bloke that made her weak in the knees, that made her forget her wits so willingly? Whatever it was, she refused to let it make her a silly country lass simply because she was a girl.
"You're lying," he declared with vehemence.
"It's none of your business anyway," Deryn muttered self-consciously, hoping he'd just drop it. She looked down at him, daring him with her darting blue eyes to continue prying so she could hit him.
Alek eyed her cautiously, but said nothing more about it, continuing with his other questions. "Why did you disguise yourself?" He asked instead.
Deryn was relieved at the slight subject change, though she knew he wouldn't forget that she had lied. The answer to this, at least, she could tell easily and honestly. "They don't let lasses in the air force back in Britain, or anywhere really. But I've always known that I wanted to fly, ever since I went up in Da's balloon when I was a wee little thing. The beasties fascinated me, and the prospect of flying was just too much to pass up. When...when my father died, I still wanted to make him proud. But I knew the only way to get what I wanted was to become a boy, so I've been Dylan ever since."
Alek stared at her wonderingly for a few seconds until he heard his name being called faintly. It was probably Count Volger or Master Klopp, Alek's mentors, calling Alek to help them with one of the Leviathan's engines. "Well Deryn, thank you for trusting me. Good day." Alek said, suddenly stiff as he turned to walk away.
Deryn was shocked. After her big reveal, Alek made it seem like nothing, passing news that it hadn't taken her significant time and trust to tell him. Deryn couldn't just let him walk away. "Wait Alek," she called out softly. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"
Alek turned back, looking her over again and saying nothing. His silence said everything she needed to know. It was worse than if he had shouted. He was furious, suspicious, maybe even a little hurt. But Deryn had to make him understand, had to make him help her.
"Promise me," Deryn said, lowering her voice dangerously but refusing to beg. "If you don't, you could ruin everything I've done to get where I am, Alek. Don't do that to me."
He looked at her again, and she wondered why he was suddenly so distant and so
arrogant. "I won't tell anyone, Miss Sharp," he said primly.
"Well, not by calling me that you won't," she protested sharply, irritated by Alek's carelessness and princely air. "It's still Mr. Sharp, bum-rag. You're doing a pretty piss-poor job at keeping my secret so far, Your Highness."
"Be careful how you talk around me, Dylan. Or should I say, Deryn?" Alek snapped back tauntingly. He looked over her, and his eyes suddenly went cold. Seeing that shot her through with hurt, for he hadn't looked at her like that since they'd first met and she'd tried to shoot him, but it was quickly over-road with rage. Deryn was getting pretty fed up with His Serene Highness' attitude.
"Why are you being so barking rude? I thought we were friends, Alek." Deryn yelled, finally reaching her breaking point. She glared accusingly at his sharp handsome face, a good 3 meters down the hall, but now he wouldn't look at her.
"Friends don't lie to each other, Deryn! I want the whole truth before I decide what to think of you." Alek finally looked back up, and for the first time Deryn saw a cold, aristocratic edge there that she had seen in Count Volger, but never before in Alek. He was finally showing his arch-ducal roots, and she hated it.
"You want to know the full truth, Alek? Fine," She spat, stalking over to him and looking him in the eyes, not afraid of the regal edge to his face and demeanor. She pulled her hands from her pockets and gestured with her hands, eyes flashing. "I pretended to be a boy to get where I wanted in life because stupid aristocrats like you don't see the worth in women! I lied to every single person I cared about, including you, because I was trying to be the great airman my father was. You have no right to stand there and judge me! You can't have any idea how hard it was for me to be a constant liar and a fake and an impostor! I've worked harder than any other midshipman on this ship to keep up, to disguise my gender, and to watch every movement I make and every word I say so that I wouldn't be kicked out faster than I can say 'female'! And most of all, I lied to you even though I trust you because I love you. And I know that I'm as common as dirt and that you'd have to run a mile to even be friends with me ever again, so I stuffed my dirty secret away inside! I tried to spare myself the disappointment of losing you, and I tried to spare myself the pain that your angry expression and your cold shoulder would inflict on me! Barking spiders, Alek!"
Deryn couldn't look in Alek's eyes any longer. She had totally stripped herself emotionally naked right in front of the very person who could hurt her the most. She had done the thing she swore never to do, and all in a fit of rage from his displeasure, displeasure that she had expected. She was a complete dummkopf. She forced her wet eyelids to dry as she stepped away from Alek's gawking face and, not wanting him to think her any more of a ninny for nearly crying, turned on her heel and stalked back down the corridor with her head held high. Deryn vainly hoped Alek would call out, correct her, or say that he would run that mile to be with her. But she was mocked with silence.