This chapter is kind of a copy of another chapter I wrote in the fic What is the Goliath. I liked the idea so much I decided to revamp it for this.
It was freezing outside. Alek hadn't ventured into the winter landscape yet but it sure looked terrible from his cabin window. He tightened his scarf around his neck before slipping his pilot's cap on. His jacket wasn't nearly thick enough for this kind of weather, but it would have to do for now.
"Mein Gott, Aleksander! You weren't thinking of going outside were you?"
It was Volger speaking and goodness did he look upset. Alek hadn't seen him twitch his mustache so quickly in a long time.
"The ship is in need of repair and the crew needs every man they can get. I'm not going to sit in my room and let the Darwinists suffer through this. Not after they have flown us halfway across the continent."
"In case you have forgotten, sire, they are the enemy. I highly suggest you remove that coat and stay indoors where it is warm and safe."
Alek rolled his eyes. It wasn't like a battlefield outside. The Leviathan had had a brief problem with its hydrogen production due to the bitter cold. They had to make an emergency landing and most of the airship had deflated from the impact. The entire crew was out in the night trying to restore the ship back to flying conditions while Alek was sitting idly in his cabin without any way to help. That is, until he decided to go out and do some heavy lifting himself.
"I don't believe I would be enabling them as an enemy when we are also trapped here until the ship is fixed."
Volger looked like he wanted to say more but he was too busy clenching his jaw to vocalize anything. Alek ignored him and started for the door. He admired his fencing tutor but lately Volger had become especially protective. Alek supposed it had started after he had escaped into Istanbul by himself a few weeks prior. And it probably hadn't helped when he returned to the Leviathan after Volger had clearly instructed him to escape into the countryside of the Ottoman Empire.
Truthfully, Alek could understand the Wildcount's hesitation but he still felt obligated to assist the Darwinists. Alek would not be called the spoiled prince who sat in his bedchamber when there was work to be done.
Yet once he ventured out of the warmth of the gondola Alek realized he may regret his decision. Last time he had been anywhere near this sort of cold had been back in Switzerland where he had first encountered the Leviathan. It had been cold that night but this….. this was the middle of the Russian Empire and far more frigid than what he had seen before.
He pulled his leather jacket in closer to himself and stuffed his face deeper within his scarf. There was an arctic wind blowing from the north which threatened to freeze his skin off. He couldn't see straight due to the flurry of snowflakes that smothered the air as well as the occasional flechette bat that had scampered loose after their landing.
It took him a good ten minutes before he could meander over by the rest of the crew. His feet kept sinking deeply into the snow and he wished he still had his snowshoes from back in Switzerland. The men were attaching ropes to pulleys and assisting each other to pull the ship's dorsal region out of the deepening snow. From their shouts and curses Alek could put together that they were in a great hurry and immediately could see why. Unfortunately the airship had landed onto a frozen lake. Beneath the snow was not solid ground, but ice. There was no way of knowing for sure, but he could guess that the ship's weight may threaten to break the ice beneath his feet.
Quickly, he looked for the nearest officer he could find and asked how he could help.
"Excuse me, sir!" He yelped to a man he recognized as Mr. Rigby, the ships' bosun. "Where can I be of the most assistance?"
Mr. Rigby was leading a pack of sniffer dogs around searching for possible hydrogen leaks. He gave Alek a scornful look but didn't refuse his offer.
"Aye, we need every hand available, even yours, your majesty." He gave a small mocking bow which Alek chose to ignore. "I'm afraid I've got too many fabs and not enough men. Mr. Newkirk has already injured himself, the buffoon, twisted his wrist or something. And I've lost Mr. Sharp."
Alek purpled at that last comment. He had been wondering where Dylan had run off to. The boy had an uncanny ability to get himself into the thickest part of a situation. Alek was certain the midshipman had volunteered for the most dangerous position available after the landing.
"Here." Rigby handed Alek a handful of leashes that were attached to three large sniffer dogs. "They won't hurt you, Clanker. All you have to do is let them lead you around and if they start howling, use this whistle to alert for help. I don't think there are any leaks, but it's always good to be safe. And while you're at it, keep an eye out for Sharp. I'm beginning to worry about the little bugger."
"What was he doing when you last saw him?" Alek asked.
The man gave a sad sigh. "He wanted to help push the hull out of the ice." Rigby pointed to the aft end of the ship where the whale's head had fallen dangerously through some thin ice. "It didn't seem that bad before. We only needed to get her ten or so yards the other way and she'd be ashore. Unfortunately, we weren't fast enough and she's started to break through the ice. It may be a lost cause, and I'm afraid we'll lose the ship."
Alek didn't wait to talk to him any longer and with his small pack of overly zealous fabricated dogs, he hurried over to the whale's head.
There was no one near this area of the ship anymore. Obviously the men had given up on pushing the whale and had started pulling her out of the water instead, hence all the ropes he had seen before. Thankfully it seemed to be working since he could see the large head of the deflated airship inching out of the frosty water.
He ventured as close as he could to the delicate spot where the ice had split, hoping he wouldn't find his friend amidst the frozen waves.
Yet as he closed in on the area, the dogs began to pull him with a great rush of strength towards a portion of the whale's skin. They barked frantically and pulled Alek so hard he fell over, dropping their leads and letting them scurry through the snow. Thankfully the ice was thick enough for their combine weight and Alek followed them as quickly as he could.
They found Dylan hanging on with his bare hands to the ratlines of the fallen airship. His body was almost completely submerged in the water. He must have been standing in that exact spot when the ice had broken beneath him and he had fallen up to his neck in the black, wintry, Russian waters. Instead of tumbling under the ice to drown, Dylan had skillfully grabbed hold of the ropes which he still clung to with icy fingers.
Alek didn't think through what he was doing. He had feared the worst since he had stepped out into the cold and something inside him had wondered if his friend would survive the night.
Pushing those dreadful thoughts from his mind, Alek slid to the ground face first and reached across the hole in the ice. His hands found Dylan's instantly and with a great amount of effort, he pried the boy's grip off of the rope and hauled his friend out of the water and into the snow beside him.
"Gottes Wunden, Dylan. Are you all right?!"
Dylan was conscious, but only barely. He blinked at Alek a few times and shivered terribly, but he didn't say anything. Alek tried to get him to sit up straight, but clearly that wasn't happening. The boy wasn't able to hold up his own body weight and his eyes were starting to droop into sleep.
"DYLAN! God's wounds, don't you dare fall asleep! Stay with me, please!"
Still, his friend was drifting away into a deathly slumber so Alek continued to shout and began to slap his face. The sniffer dogs had all scattered by now and when Alek tried using the whistle to signal for help it was clear that he was out of earshot of the rest of the men.
Frantic, Alek stood as quickly as he could and with unknown strength he swung Dylan's frosty form over his shoulder. If no one was coming he would have to take Dylan back to the gondola himself. He couldn't let Dylan freeze to death. He couldn't bear losing another person who was close to him. Especially his only dear friend.
With the added weight it was even more difficult to trudge through the thickening snow. Not for the first time Alek wished he had brought his snowshoes with him from Switzerland.
After what seemed like years he was able to make it to the gondola. Surprisingly the men had made quite a recovery of the fallen ship. The gondola and almost two thirds of the whale had been pulled onto the shore. Alek didn't pause to find someone for help. He figured he only had seconds before Dylan's life slipped away. Better get the boy to a dry warm place fast and then seek help from the ship's surgeon after Dylan had regained some warmth to his system. He trampled to the first bedroom onboard he could find before finally lowering Dylan onto the bed and looking the middy over properly.
Being chilled was one thing but Dylan had literally turned blue. His wet clothes had begun to freeze along with his already frozen hair and his eyelashes and eyebrows had collected a fair amount of snow. Alek slammed the door to the bedroom closed to keep out the cold before beginning on Dylan's clothes. He figured that the faster he could get his friend out of his wet things and into the dry blankets, the better. So he began to rip the uniform off of Dylan.
For some reason the action of removing his clothing stirred Dylan from his semi unconsciousness.
"No! STOP!" Dylan shouted quite furiously. He attempted to push Alek away with his shaky hands but he was too weak to get far with that.
"Hush. I need to get these off so we can get you properly warm again." Alek grumbled. He easily pushed Dylan's feeble cold arms out of his way.
But Dylan continued to struggle and yell. Never enough to actually push Alek away, but it did worry the prince that the boy would injure himself in the fight.
"You're being ridiculous! Stop fidgeting and let me remove these clothes."
"Dylan, the cold is making you delirious. You need to let me…."
"NO! DON'T TOUCH ME!"
He must have had some strength left because he managed to punch Alek rather hard in the jaw. Alek swore loudly.
"FINE!" The prince snapped. The situation was starting to get more than a little stressful. "I'm trying to help you and you're near death but if you won't let me assist you than I suppose I should leave."
He wasn't really going to leave but the threat did register to Dylan and the middy calmed down.
"Sorry." Dylan whispered through chattered teeth. He stopped moving so Alek could come close and unbutton his jacket. It was practically frozen to his body but Alek managed to yank it off as well as the button up shirt beneath it. Surprisingly when he got down to Dylan's bare skin he noticed that the boy had a tight cotton linen wrapped snuggly around his chest.
"Dylan, what is this?"
Dylan shrugged and looked away. "I….I had an injury before and I ummm ….I had to bandage it."
The bandage was soaking wet with the icy lake water and Dylan's skin was sickly white against it.
"We should remove it." Alek stated bluntly. He reached down for his switch blade so he could cut the bandages quickly but Dylan yelped loudly in protest.
"NO! I….I can't."
Alek groaned in frustration. He didn't have time for this. Clearly the middy was suffering from Hypothermia and Alek couldn't let a wet bandage kill his friend from frostbite.
"I'll bleed to death, Alek!"
That stopped him. Alek realized that removing an old bandage could be problematic. Instead, Alek used the knife to roughly cut off the fabric of Dylan's pants before they froze too much to his skin. Dylan cringed dramatically, but he didn't push Alek away.
Finally, Alek deemed that he had removed as much of the clothing that Dylan would let him. He threw his knife on the ground before beginning to remove his own clothes.
"What….what the hell are you doing?" Dylan squeaked. Alek had pulled his coat and shirts off quickly so he was bare chested before beginning on his outer pants. Dylan's eyes had widened to the size of doorknobs as he stared at Alek undressing.
"I'm saving your life, dummkopf." He stated with a large eye roll.
In seconds Alek was down to his boxers and quickly jumped into the bed beside his friend. He wrapped his arms around Dylan's frigid form and pulled him close to his chest.
"BARKING SPIDERS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?"
"I told you, I'm saving your life. That is, trying to keep you warm with my own body heat. It's the quickest way I can think of to try and rescue you."
He must have been miserable because Alek was starting to feel horribly cold just from touching Dylan's icy skin. He couldn't imagine how cold Dylan must feel.
Yet as Dylan continued to shiver, Alek held him close. With their chests pressed up together and Alek's arms wrapped snug around the middy's back, he could feel the boy's weak heartbeats and tender breaths. It was terrifying, holding him there as close as possible and still wondering whether his friend's life would still slip away beneath his arms.
But Dylan was strong. His breathing slowly began to thicken and his heart rate became steadier. Alek could even feel the warmth returning to the boy's skin. It took hours but Alek was starting to realize that Dylan would survive this fight. He rested his chin on Dylan's shoulder and smiled to himself while pulling the midshipman a little closer. Alek let his eyes close and gently began to drift off to sleep.
To be continued