Note: This started out as another chapter for "Quite Peculiar", but it kind of… grew (and grew and grew, and then, just when I thought it was done, it went and grew some more).
All of the chapter quotes are from "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills & Nash, a lovely four-part, seven-and-a-half-minute break-up song with its coda in incomprehensible Spanish. There's no school like the old school, kiddos!
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
Of all the places to hide and sulk on the Leviathan, the observation bubble beneath the navigation room is probably the least comfortable.
Still, it's where Deryn finds herself two nights out from Istanbul, knees curled up to her chest and wondering why, if everything is so barking wonderful, she can't shake the feeling that nothing is right.
She's a decorated soldier. Led a mission that succeeded, despite the loss of her men; been given a hero's welcome home by Captain Hobbes and all the crew. Saved a revolution – half led it, really. Convinced Alek to drag his bum back aboard ship where he belongs. And her secret's still safe, it seems, even if she does sometimes catch that Count Volger giving her sinister looks.
So there's no reason for her to be losing sleep and freezing her toes off, is there?
Except for this daft ache in her chest whenever she thinks of Alek.
The worst part is, he's so happy. She knew he would be, she's glad to see it – but it rather makes it difficult to be miserable around him. Before Istanbul she was content to be his friend; even in the city it was still enough, most days. But now, all her resolutions to the contrary aside, she's coming face to face with the hard truth: she doesn't want to only be his friend. She doesn't want to only be his fellow soldier.
She wants more.
And that, she can't have. Ever.
There's a series of muffled clumps and then the hatch opens. Caught by surprise, she barely has time to drag her thoughts out of mooning girlishness; there's no hope of composing a reasonable excuse if it's a navigator come to check on the instruments.
But of course it's only Alek, glowworm lamp in hand and Bovril clutching at his jacket.
"There you are," he says.
Her heart lifts and hurts all at once, seeing him, seeing how the green light swings and spreads over his handsome face. Daft.
"How'd you find me?" she asks, sidling sideways so he doesn't drop down onto her head.
He got rid of his guard this morning, by solemnly promising to the captain that he and his men would behave themselves. She thinks it's unbelievably mad of Captain Hobbes to let the Clankers off their leashes just on a prince's word (not that she ever thought Alek and his men needed to be guarded… well, maybe Volger), but at the same time she's a bit jealous. That sort of power would be dead convenient.
Bovril makes the short hop to Deryn's shoulder as Alek closes the hatch and sets the wormlamp on the floor. "Bovril thought you'd be here," he says.
"Here," Bovril says. Curls around her neck like a cat, warm and solid.
She scowls at the wee beastie even while she's stroking its soft fur. "How sodding perspicacious."
"What are you doing here, Dylan?" Alek asks, finding a space and settling in beside her. "I'd have thought you'd be asleep by now, or at least in your cabin. I looked there first."
It's a foolish thing, to feel a thrill just because she knows he's been looking for her. She feigns diffidence. "Aye, I ought to be."
An especially cold wind swirls up around the reconnaissance camera. Bovril shivers on her shoulder, then goes to investigate.
"Thinking about Istanbul?" Alek asks.
She grimaces and sighs. "Trying not to."
After a moment he ventures, "Thinking about Lilit?"
"What?" she asks, so caught up in ignoring the heat of him beside her that she's genuinely confused. "Why would I…" Then she sees the smirk on his face, understands, and feels both a fool and angry all at once.
"Oh," she says flatly. "That."
At the time, her attic had been too rattled by everything else for her to understand Lilit's parting words. But since then, she's realized that the other girl had somehow figured out the truth… and yet had kissed her anyway, which makes no sense whatsoever. Pure dead mad, anarchists are.
"It's all right. I'll stop teasing," he says, although he still has that patronizing, superior air that puts her teeth on edge. "Actually, I suppose I'm rather jealous. I've never been kissed by a girl –"
"Never?" Her voice goes squeaky with the surprise of it. Even being the skinny daft girl that she is, she's been kissed before. And him growing up as a prince! – a handsome one, at that! Surely there had been girls queuing up to kiss him?
"Not like that," he says, sounding flustered – it's too dim to see if he's blushing. At least it's taken the princely smirk right out of his voice. But what replaces it is almost worse: a wistful sort of curiosity. "Was it… was it nice?"
She stares at him in disbelief. "Maybe without all the fighting and death and me being – never mind! I don't know. It wasn't awful."
Barking strange, mind. But not awful.
He shifts around, and it takes her a squick too long to realize it's because he wants to ask her more, but is embarrassed to do so. She rolls her eyes. Clankers! The simplest bits of biology throw them into mental spasms. Or maybe that's just another thing about being a sheltered royal: lots of tutors, but no one to tell you where things go and how it all works.
She sighs. Of all the topics they might be discussing… "Just ask, aye?"
He gives her a crooked grin, but can't quite look her in the eye. "What was it like?"
Deryn wants to say, It doesn't matter, I'd rather be kissing you, but she can't. He's so close and she can't. Ever. It's better for both of them if he never finds out the truth about her, and she'll just have to resign herself to it.
Bovril, perched on the camera gears, picks that moment to say, "Never?" and then giggle.
Something snaps inside her brain. Before she quite knows what she's doing, she grabs a fistful of Alek's shirtfront with one hand and the back of his head with the other, and she kisses him full on the mouth.
He doesn't react straightaway – just lets her do it – and maybe something's broken in his brain, because after a half-second his lips open beneath hers and she feels his hand ghost against her side and he's suddenly kissing her back.
Kissing Dylan back.
She pulls away, shocked at herself, at him, at the madness of this thing she's done.
"Dylan," Alek says. Asks. Uncertain. Scared.
"It was like that," she says, although it wasn't; not by half. For once her voice is low and husky enough all on its own, and she has to swallow, then swallow again. Electricity burns heavy and hot in the air between them.
He stares at her, wide-eyed and speechless, for a long moment - until she feels like the cramped space is closing around her. Suffocating. Accusing.
She has to get out.
Before he can say another word, she's up the ladder and through the hatch, racing back to her cabin where she can shut the door and have a proper, girly cry into her pillow.
No one the wiser.