Chapter 2: Break the Ice
"Barking ninnywhat did I expectstupid blokesgood for nothingcomplete dummkopfwhat a complete mistake
" Deryn muttered to herself, shutting the door to her quarters silently as to not attract attention. She knew she was sulking, but she couldn't seem to shake her dreadful disappointed feelings. Despite what her mind thought of the matter, her heart had hoped for a better outcome.
Well, he asked for it, she reasoned, he wanted to know, and I told him exactly how I felt. But despite how hard she tried to pin the blame on Alek, she knew it was really all her fault. She had lied the whole time; she had let them grow into close friends before releasing the strafing hawk that she was a girl, so to speak. It was she who had burst out the full, complete truth in a surge of rage, and now she had to pay for that.
Deryn started to put up her walls, closing in her punishment and any hope, relief and reality out. She tore her black leather jacket off and threw it onto the lightweight chair in the room, grabbing a glass and filling it with water. She raised the glass to her lips but her hands were shaking, and water started dripping from her mouth down her chin to dampen the front of her white, standard-issue button up shirt. She sat in the chair, staring at the mirror on the opposite wall indifferently as she ran a hand through her short messy blond hair, changing her expression to a serious mask that no one could penetrate.
The next time she saw Alek was going to be torture, but she was a soldier and you could be damn sure she would take it like a man. She would bear his silent shudder, his angry eyes, getting kicked out of the Royal Air Service if he told her secret, living life in a dark underground cell, the epitome of a nightmare for an airman
It's barking useless, Deryn thought despairingly as she watched her eyes tear up, redden, and spill silent, hot tears down her face. There's no way I'll be able to keep up this face in front of the whole crew, least of all Alek. She stood up, wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands roughly and took the glass to the sink, rinsing it and bracing her hands on the frail counter as she forced the tears back into her eyes, still shaking. Maybe she was a ninny at heart, but a little more lying on the outside wouldn't hurt anyone.
Just then she heard a soft knock on the door. Great, Deryn thought, here comes the first officer to take me off to the brig. She opened the door warily and was met with the narrowed eyes of Count Volger, Alek's fencing instructor. She glared back at the wildcount, not in the mood for his usual antics. If he was here to take her away, she would go with the dignity that her Da would have wanted her to have. "What do you want?" Deryn barked.
"I've been asked to come and retrieve you, Miss Sharp," Volger replied smoothly, emphasizing the 'miss'. This is just too rich, Deryn thought, cursing mentally. Of course it has to be him taking me away! When he had figured out her secret, one of a very few, Volger had blackmailed her into helping him escape the Leviathan. He was sneaky, clever, cruel but loyal, and Deryn didn't trust him one squick.
Deryn sighed, resigned. "Do I have time to pack anything to bring with me?" she asked, standing aside so Volger could enter her small quarters if he wanted.
"You won't be needing anything, not where you're going," Volger said, beckoning her out of her room. Deryn thought she noticed a spark of amusement flicker over the count's eyes as she grumbled her defeated "aye" and stepped out into the airship's hallway, head held high.
"Lead the way, Count." Deryn said, slightly sarcastic in her annoyance and distress. Volger started walking down the hall and Deryn followed, preparing herself mentally for the shock of being demoted from midshipman to prisoner. What a ruddy idiot, Deryn thought, Alek told me he'd keep my secret, and he goes straightaway to blab to Volger. He doesn't waste any time, the wanker.
Deryn wasn't quite sure where she should be expecting to go, but heading down a hall of staterooms and stopping at a seemingly random door was not what she expected. The Captain's office or straight to the brig perhaps, but not a regular room. But when Volger opened the door and stepped inside to reveal a room much like hers with Alek sitting in a chair in the middle of it, Deryn's legs nearly gave out. Only her very strict middy training kept her upright, stiff as a fabricated board.
Emotions were flying across her face and heart like Clanker zeppelins: shock, anger, sadness, fear, hurt, relief, guilt. Finally she got her feelings under control as Alek looked casually at Volger and said, in his new archducal voice, "That will be all, Count. Thank you."
Count Volger bowed to Alek, nodded curtly at Deryn and exited the room, closing the door with barely a whisper.
Alek glanced at Deryn, raising his eyebrows regally. "Hello, Miss Sharp. You left quite abruptly in the hall earlier. I thought it would be best to finish our conversation in private."
Deryn went pink in the cheeks, for his words brought her earlier embarrassment to the front of her mind. "I believe I gave more than you asked for, so I have nothing left to say to you, Your Serene Highness," Deryn commented sarcastically, narrowing her eyes. She walked a bit farther into the room and sat in another lightweight chair, showing Alek that she didn't need him to tell her to sit despite his obvious regality.
Alek glanced at her and dropped the formal affixation. "I know, Deryn, and I thank you for all that you said. But you didn't let me respond or tell you how I felt about the situation at all, except that I was shocked and confused."
Deryn thought back to the conversation and realized that, indeed, she had jumped to her own conclusions before letting him voice his. But she thought it was obvious: he must have been horrified and he was sure to laugh at her silly confession. Why wouldn't he? "Alright, Your Highness, you're right. But I'm here now, and I'm sure I know what you're going to say, so you might as well say it, dammit. I'd like to get back to my chambers or to the brig, whichever His Highness commands."
"Please stop being so formal with me, Deryn. You're making this harder than it needs to be." Alek commented, clearly annoyed. Good, Deryn thought, that makes two of us.
"Depending on what you say, I probably won't be saying your name again, in any case. Unless you fancy visiting prisoners in the brig, that is."
"Would you stop being so dramatic and listen? You haven't a clue what I'm about to say, clearly."
Deryn was about to retort with another snarky comment, but was brought up short. He had a point; she was being a bit dramatic. But her heart was breaking inside! How could he expect her to be civil and polite?
Before she could respond, Alek was talking, still sitting calmly with steeped fingers. With every word, Deryn's jaw dropped lower and lower. "I'm not mad at you, Deryn. I was shocked, yes, but I was never angry. I know why you did it, and I had no right to demand that you should have trusted me sooner, though I wish you had. I acted mad to get an answer for why you hid the truth from me, and I got more than I bargained for and more than I deserved. I apologize. So about what happens now. Despite you being common, that never stopped us from being friends before. I don't think this changes anything, Deryn."
Deryn shook off her confusion, trying to wade through his words. Was he really saying that he was going to keep her secret? And that they could be friends? That was much better than she had hoped for. "How can you be so calm about this?" She questioned, getting up out of her chair and stalking around Alek's apartments.
"Because I'm afraid of getting worked up again and blowing my chance to make up my slight to you. You have to admit, I've had a shock," Alek replied, running his fingers through his hair and showing the first signs of nervousness since she arrived. Deryn nodded, still pacing the short living space from the closed bedroom door, past the bathroom on the left and the kitchen on the right to the opposite wall.
"Deryn, if you keep pacing like that, you're going to run a groove down the middle of my carpet," Alek commented, amusement in his voice but also something else. Anxiety? The Royal Archduke of Austria is losing his composure, Deryn thought, half-amused.
Deryn laughed weakly and leaned against the kitchen counter, across from where Alek was sitting. She found that now she was the one with all the questions. "So, let me get this straight. You're not mad, at all?"
Alek cocked his head to the side, thinking through his response, and replied, "Well, I'm a bit frustrated that you kept it from me, but I do understand. Other than that, no. You can't help being a girl."
"Was that an insult?" Deryn said, immediately getting touchy on the subject of femininity. "Lilit was a completely capable female!"
At the mention of Lilit, a revolutionary girl from the Ottoman Empire who Alek and Deryn had met a few months ago, Alek smiled. Deryn, on the contrary, blushed at her choice of words. Lilit had surprised Deryn by stealing her first kiss, and it still made Deryn shudder in disgust and slight admiration. "So that explains why Lilit's crush scared you so much," he murmured to himself. "But no, I am most certainly not slighting you for your gender, Deryn. You're my best friend, and you've proved yourself more than capable of being an airman."
Deryn smiled inwardly at the prospect of still being Alek's best friend despite everything he now knew about her. Maybe things are going to turn out better than my worst nightmares, she thought.
Suddenly she remembered her confession (of love, for God's sake she thought with an internal shudder), and decided it was time to leave before he brought up the regrettable fact that she had said she loved him. Hoping he had conveniently forgotten, she stood up. "Well, is that all?" Deryn said, walking towards the door.
"Not quite, Deryn. I still have one more thing to ask you."
With a feeling of dread, Deryn turned around slowly. She stared at Alek mutely as he smiled slightly and spoke softly, "What you said before in the hall, at the end... Did you mean it?"
Deryn walked slowly back to her chair, taking her time. She contemplated lying to him, saying she was just in the heat of the moment (which was true) and that she didn't actually love him (which was not). But she knew he'd see through her lie as he always did, and then she would make herself more of a ninny. Might as well own up to your feelings and save some pride, Deryn grumbled inwardly. In the strongest voice she could muster (but it still shook slightly regardless), Deryn drew herself straight in her chair, looked down at her white-knuckled fists and replied, "I don't waste my breath on words I don't mean, Alek. May I leave now?"
Alek got out of his chair for the first time and stared down at the embarrassed and quiet Deryn, who was still staring intently at her knuckles. "No," Alek said quietly, standing toe to toe with the young woman.
Deryn stood up and finally looked at Alek to argue her case that she wasn't to be ordered around like one of his subjects, when Alek grabbed her hand. Deryn was shocked into silence, her physical response to his touch immediate. She noticed, all at once, just how close he was standing; the toes of his fancy new leather boots flush with her ratty old combat boots. She noticed idly how their footwear symbolized them perfectly; a noble and a commoner, a Clanker and a Darwinist, a girl and a boy, close together but always apart. She looked down into his eyes but found she couldn't hold his gaze. What a perfect time to turn into a girlish ninny, Deryn thought wildly as her heart lurched at the thought of being so close to him but knowing they could never be closer. Not for the first time, Deryn wished she could have been born into royalty, been a better person for Alek.
Deryn shook her head to clear it. What was she thinking? She didn't become a boy and lie to everyone to become a barking poet. She was a sensible, logical airman.
"If you don't mind, Deryn, I'd like to do some explaining," Alek murmured, stepping back slightly.
Deryn was shocked by the cold air that rushed in when Alek stepped away, still holding her wrist. She wasn't quite sure why at first, but finally some part of her brain supplied her with the answer: her heart was warming her. From that short encounter, just being that close to the only thing she wanted now, her body had completely reacted. But it definitely wasn't unpleasant. However, the cold she was now feeling as she slid back into reality and into herself was definitely unwelcome. She resisted the urge to rub her arms to warm herself, instead wondering what exactly Alek could need to explain to her.
"Look, Deryn. I know it's going to be complicated, and I know it will never be easy, but I think
I think I want to try. Something with you, that is," Alek said simply, looking at the top of Deryn's blond head awkwardly.
There's the Alek I know, Deryn thought with relief. Despite her relief, Deryn still took a moment to comprehend what exactly Alek was offering, was asking for. "You wantyou want... me?" she asked in a small voice, trying not to get her hopes up.
"But, of course, if it'd be too complicated or what have you, you can leave now. That's all I had left to say." Alek let go of her wrist and turned around, shoulders still tall and regal but stiff now, like he was trying not to slump them in defeat.
Deryn took that as a yes. She gripped his shoulders strongly, turned him towards her in one rough spin, and pulled his mouth toward hers. She had no idea what she was doing, having never kissed a guy before (though she had kissed a girl
), but she just knew she was too happy to react any other way. Her eyes were shut, but she opened them slightly to measure his reaction. His face was so shocked and deer-in-the-headlights that she almost laughed, but she didn't want to pull away. She smiled slightly against his lips as she let her eyes fall closed again just as his expression softened, giving in to the moment.
At first, she had only intended to touch her lips to his in her own way of saying 'yes she wanted to try, she wanted to be his, she wanted him', but Alek recovered from his shock to take over and deepen the kiss. She tentatively reached her hands out to grab the back of Alek's neck lightly, pulling him closer. Alek slipped his hands around Deryn's thin waist, clinging tightly to them in a way that made Deryn shiver pleasantly. She suspected her kissing was clumsy, but she hoped Alek wouldn't mind. It wasn't exactly magic, both of them being inexperienced, but it was more than enough for Deryn.
Alek pulled away slightly, still a bit shocked. "Was that a yes?" He answered, genuinely confused.
Deryn puckered her lips and stuck them out to the left, unimpressed, looking at Alek with one eyebrow raised. Then she laughed breathlessly. "We're going to have to work on unscrambling your attic, Mr. Archduke. That was more than a yes, that was more of an 'I thought you'd never ask'" she said, pulling his mouth back to hers.
Alek smiled, pulling her close, and for one brief second, all was right in the world. More than right, perfect, Deryn thought.
Then the doorknob turned sharply and the door was flung open. Deryn turned towards the door, horrified. How this would look to an outsider, a midshipman and a male prince snogging in a stateroom, Deryn didn't even want to gander. Alek dropped his arms quickly; his mouth a wide 'O', and Deryn fell to the floor, her legs no more co-operative than fabricated whale blubber as an after affect of kissing Alek (which she had dreamed about for months).
Luckily it was only Volger, one of the only people who knew about Deryn. "Good God man, can't you knock?" Alek thundered, pulling Deryn to her feet gently as she busied herself brushing dirt off her middy uniform, hiding her burning face. Was there anything this damn man didn't know? Anything that he couldn't hold against her?
Volger bowed slightly, amused at the state he had discovered the young couple in. "I apologize, Alek, but I just thought I'd come to warn you that Bauer and Klopp are coming to speak with you about the engines. I do believe they called for you some time ago."
Alek rubbed his temples, and Deryn cursed quietly. She went about straightening her clothes, which had been ruffled at the waist from Alek's hands. Alek turned to the wildcount with a nod, "Thank you, Count. Can you wait out in the hall for a second?"
"Certainly. Good day Sir, Miss Sharp," Volger said, with a bow of his head to each of them. He sauntered over to the door and pulled it open and shut quietly.
"You Clankers have got to stop calling me Miss Sharp," Deryn grumbled, "Someone else is bound to hear it someday."
"Well, you couldn't exactly expect him to call you Mr. Sharp, could you? After he saw what we were doing?" Alek replied, amused but still slightly angry that their precious moment was up.
"This is true," Deryn admitted, unsure how to proceed. An awkward silence was falling over the pair, neither quite sure what to do anymore.
"Well, I guess I'll see you around, Mr. Sharp?" Alek said, unsure and awkward. He grumbled something in Clanker under his breath that Deryn translated to I'll never get used to this.
"Yep," Deryn replied shortly, stepping toward the door. Her hand was on the doorknob when Alek spoke ruefully. "Okay, can we try that again? That goodbye was terrible."
Deryn laughed, glad it wasn't just her who was mentally cringing from the sudden awkwardness. "We're barking ninnies, you know that?"
She walked back to where Alek was standing, wrapping her arms lazily around his shoulders again. "Of course we are," Alek murmured, standing on his toes to kiss Deryn lightly. She kissed him back for a moment (noting with pleasure that she wasn't as fumbly or unsure anymore), unwilling to leave, but finally pulled away smiling.
"Goodbye, Alek." She whispered against his ear, placing a small kiss on his cheek before turning away and walking across the room. She wondered idly when she became so girly and mushy, but pushed the thought away for another time.
Deryn turned back when her hand wrapped around the cold metal door handle, taking a final look at Alek as she prepared to leave the best moment of her life behind. Alek was slightly turned towards her, hands in the pockets of his brown cotton pants. "Bye, Deryn" Alek whispered back.
She smiled, turning the handle on the door and walked out of the stateroom completely content.