First things first: thanks so much to Johnsoneer, Cita, bookworm250250, Jett-Wolfe98, Middy Miles, Sassysplash, Spartan Ninja, and Zmusic2014 for the reviews! Each of you is wonderful and I lovelovelove to hear from you. :)
Now, I know I'm the worst. Zmusic2014 has sent me some AWESOME prompts, and I PROMISE I AM WORKING ON THEM. But I just can't crank out stories until I've got the ending just right, and that's what I'm waiting for. But they're on my computer, mostly written! They have names! I PROMISE I will have them done someday. :)
Sassysplash: I think Deryn would have cougarish tendencies if it weren't for Alek. ;) She can have whomever she wants! ;)
This one takes place right after Goliath, so it's when they were younger. So I guess this one is kind of for you, Johsoneer! :)
All original characters and plotline belong to Scott Westerfeld; I own nothing!
Deryn balanced the plate of food and her sketchbook in one hand precariously as she attempted to open the door with her elbow. It was no simple task, what with a heavy loris sitting on one's shoulder and not offering a bit of help.
"Barking spiders!" Bovril said into her ear.
"Yes, beastie, I heard you the first time," Deryn answered, sticking her tongue out in concentration. It took two tries but on the third the locked finally clicked!
Barking daft prince, she thought to herself.
Alek hadn't showed up to the Zoological Society's Christmas party earlier that evening. It had worried Deryn more than she cared to admit, for Alek never forgot these sorts of things and he was only staying on the next floor up. But since Deryn was still disguised as Dylan, she couldn't exactly go scampering after him without looking a wee bit suspicious.
She had duties to perform anyways, such as assisting Doctor Barlow while she schmoozed all of the fancy-boots boffins and also carrying Bovril around for everyone to get all googly-eyed over (until the creature had repeated a certain strand of words and Deryn and the beastie were immediately shooed to another part of the room). The lady doctor had dragged them around, making Deryn listen to boring stories and not letting her drink a single drop of eggnog. Pure dead boring is what it was, and Alek was a complete bum rag for making Deryn endure all of it alone.
She had finally managed to sneak away from the boffin long enough to go up to Alek's room to find it locked and received no answer when she knocked. So, Deryn and Bovril were on their way to the flat rooftop, hoping Alek was up there.
It was a good thing she was in the Christmas spirit, or else Deryn might slug that bum-rag for abandoning her to the dull dinner.
Carefully, she opened the heavy door and scanned the rooftop. Sure enough, sitting just on the edge, was a very Alek-shaped silhouette.
The cold wind hit her face and made Deryn wish she'd worn her coat. How that barking daft prince managed to stay out here without his winter coat was beyond her. Even Bovril shivered atop her shoulder.
The gravel beneath her feet crunched as she walked over to him and plopped down.
His face was aglow with the London city light, making him look especially handsome. Bum-rag. Also quite noticeable was the puffiness of his eyes and the tear stains on his cheeks. His usual gelled hair was slightly mussed, like he had raked his fingers through it as he often did when he was anxious. Deryn recognized this look for she knew it well; she had dealt with the same problem countless times.
"Oh! Hello, Der-"
A wide-eyed warning look from her stopped him before he finished saying her name. Even though they might have been alone at the moment, she didn't want a guard running up to the roof for a quick breath of fresh air to hear.
"I mean, Dylan," he corrected, clearing his throat. "And Bovril. Hello. What are you doing up here?"
"You missed the Christmas party," she said.
A look of disbelief came over his face. "I did?"
"Aye, it was over hours ago! Everyone's down there singing now, so we managed to slither off," she continued, grabbing the plate and passing it to him. "But luckily for you, I saved you some dessert."
Hours ago! Echoed Bovril, jumping from Deryn's shoulder and scampering away.
He took the plate and looked at. "Thank you," he said quietly. He picked at the biscuits and cookies and the slice of cake, feigning interest. "I'm sorry I didn't come, I meant to but I just needed-"
Deryn interrupted him before he could finish. "The first year's always the hardest."
Alek didn't say anything but held her gaze for a moment and then nodded. "Yes," he said, his voice hoarse and barely above a whisper. "It is."
"If it helps," Deryn said slowly, "I promise it gets easier."
"That does help, thank you," Alek said, looking back down at the plate. "And thank you for this. I'm surprised you managed to save it all," he said, smirking slightly.
She rolled her eyes but couldn't help but smile just a little. "Aye, it must be a Christmas miracle."
They were quiet for a moment, listening to the soft singing from inside.
All is calm
All is bright
"That's an Austrian carol," Alek said.
He smiled at her, fading softly as he looked back out to the skyline. "I always loved Christmas. It was one of the only holidays when it was just my parents and I. No meetings, hearings, or anything like that; just us. It was always my favorite."
It was a quiet night for London. Aside from the singing inside, church bells were ringing in the distance, clip-clopping came from the cobblestones in the streets below; low chatter was heard here and there. Everyone was most likely inside and celebrating with their loved ones.
Deryn didn't say anything, but reached for her sketchbook instead and tugged out the loose piece of paper. "Here, this is for you."
Alek looked at her with a confused expression. "But I thought we weren't-"
"I wanted to," she said. "Besides, I've been working on it for a month."
He flipped the page over and his eyes widened. Deryn peeked over his shoulder to see if she got the same reaction, though she was used to staring at it now.
She was quite proud of it. It had taken her ages to get the mouths just right and getting the colors right was painstaking. And, of course, the countless practice sketches of the people she had never seen in person took up quite a bit of time. Really they were just guesses, and she did hope they were good.
"Well," she said. "What do you think?"
No response from him made her a wee bit nervous. Maybe she had spent too long on it; maybe she had gotten everything wrong-
"It's perfect," Alek said finally. He looked up at her. "It's absolutely perfect. Thank you so much. What made you think of this?"
"You told me you never had a picture taken together," she said, "so I thought I'd make you one."
He nodded. "No, there aren't any pictures of us, actually." He looked back down at the paper in his hands. "How did you do this?"
Deryn shrugged. "I just went by the picture in your locket and what you told me about your Da. Believe it or not, you were the hardest."
He raised an eyebrow. "Was I?"
Deryn wouldn't admit it, but Alek was actually the easiest. She had long since memorized nearly every feature on his face, the way he smiled, the curve of his nose, even the way that one piece of hair never stayed in place. "Oh, aye. You and your terribly handsome face."
Alek ran his finger lightly over the drawing. "Thank you," he whispered. "This means so much to me, Deryn. I love it." He opened his mouth like he was going to add something else, but hesitated. " I- I love… you, Deryn."
Deryn blinked. No boy had ever told her that he loved her (save for Jaspert, and that was with Ma breathing down his neck). Was she supposed to say it back? She reckoned that she did love him, and quite a lot at that, but now she felt a bit odd saying it back just because he had. Still, though, she didn't want to upset him, especially with the night he'd been having.
"I love you, too," she said quietly.
And without thinking about it, Deryn pressed her mouth to his, grinning; happy. Alek jumped a bit, and then relaxed. She wasn't sure, but Deryn was quite certain she heard a "Barking spiders!" from Bovril.
After a moment, she pulled away and Alek's face was visibly red in the dim light. "That's just what I wanted," she said, not before pressing another quick peck against his lips. "Happy Christmas, Alek."
He smiled back at her. "Happy Christmas, Deryn."