New Year's Eve 1914 in Times Square, New York City.
It is probably the one night of the year that the strangeness of what appears to be two well-dressed military boys from warring nations on a date is completely and totally overlooked. Deryn chalks this up as a good thing. The lady Boffin has a few more things to do in New York before they can head back to London to do... well whatever it is the Zoological Society actually wants them to do. So tonight, Deryn and Alek are on an incredibly spectacular date.
The lady Boffin gave them both a small fistful of American money as their sign-on bonus and Alek's went directly into some special hiding spot, she assumes. Hers is nearly gone. She has wined and dined her Prince like a proper gentleman. She's not really certain how this sort of thing is supposed to go, but she wanted to do something to show him how happy she is. So she pays for dinner at a restaurant and they try all of the strange American food and quietly snicker over the New York accents of the waitstaff. They drink huge milkshakes (Chocolate for Deryn, Strawberry for Alek), and go to a nickelodeon and hold hands in the darkness.
Deryn pays for everything because she wants to. Alek protests, but she doesn't have any use for money, really. She tells him very firmly that she wants to. Because she has to find some way to show him how he makes her feel.
It's very happy. That's how she feels. It only takes a look into his emerald eyes, his strong jaw and the daft, sappy look on his handsome face that she feels as though she's filled with champagne bubbles. Actually, she very well might be, because they have also been drinking, since they left the theatre and made their way to the center of the place called Times Square, where for the past few years everyone has gathered to watch an electrikal ball drop to celebrate the coming of a new year. Deryn and Alek came to investigate it earlier on in the day and found that the thing is merely lowered on a line until it gently touches the bottom. Neither of them thinks that will be too exciting, though perhaps they're too used to explosions.
But still, they'd made their way into the throng to celebrate. They dance to the wild music that seems to come from all around. They cheer with the crowd around them when each hour closer to midnight passes. They shout commentary to one another on their fellow revelers; men with long hair, women in short dresses, people, who like Deryn could be boys, but maybe are girls. They drink champagne straight from the bottle Deryn bought and toast each other, the Leviathan, their parents, the party, even Volger and the Lady Boffin.
With the lights and the throngs of people with their fabricated beasties and their glowing mecha gadgets, it's a fantastic celebration of everything excellent both Darwinist and Clanker.
It's loud. It's alive. It's electrikal.
Now, Deryn can hold her liquor. It seems, however, that his Serene Highness cannot. His high cheekbones hold a permanent blush and his usually proprietary lips brush her cheeks, her lips, her shoulder, her neck- generally wherever they can reach. He isn't above teetering on his toes to reach to kiss her nose and her forehead, either, which he would never deign to do in a million years if he were completely sober, she figures. Each chaste kiss makes her skin feel like it glows.
It's about five minutes to midnight and Deryn is enjoying the feeling of Alek leaned closely against her and the anonymity of the throng. She's been at enough festivals, though, to know that this one is going to be impossible to escape quickly. She also figures that it'll take nearly to sunset to make their way out of here after midnight... and she has plans. Their chaperones are off at their own affairs tonight and if they can get home before they do- well, all the more time.
"Oy, your Princeliness," Deryn shouts in his ear above the din, "We best be going."
Alek's face falls entirely, "Was? Warum? It's 11:55, Deryn! Aren't we waiting for Mitternacht?"
"No," she says confidently, "We'll be up to see the bells, Midnight'll happen all over New York and there'll be no way out of this mess. We'll be leaving now so I can take you back to the hotel, your princeliness."
He frowns narrows his eyes, "but you do promise to küss mich um Mitternacht? Ja?" She can barely hear him over the throng, but she has to bite her lip to keep from laughing at him. He looks so barking silly and well... cute. Especially his new apparent talent for Darwanker sentences.
She wishes she could stop the silly grin on her own face as steers him through the throngs of already cheering people. "Oh, aye, Alek, I'll kiss you, alright, but in your state people might say I'm taking advantage."
"Das ist lächerlich!" Alek asserts, with a finger pointed to the sky, and his nose in the air, as he is tugged along, "If I give consent you have no advantage. And what if I want to take advantage of you, liebste? Also, Ich bin nicht betrunken!"
"As I'm the sober one, I think I'll be the judge of that." Deryn replies in a more normal volume, as the crowd has thinned where they are now. She loosens her hold on his arm and slides her hand down to lace with his. "And you are drunk, m'love, you keep falling into Clanker-talk."
His eyebrows rise into his hairline and he stops walking for just an instant. He looks surprised, as though he hasn't heard himself talking, "I suppose I have," he admits, "I've never done that before!"
Deryn gives him a sly look, and squeezes his hand in hers, "Aye your Princeliness, but I don't suppose you've ever had half a bottle of cheap champagne either."
"Oh," he says with surprising sobriety, "I've had plenty to drink before. I just don't think I've ever let myself..." he trails off and tilts his head thoughtfully, before blurting out, "I think I actually got carried away!"
She's smart enough to know what he's really saying- Alek has never had occasion to just have fun, and even if he did, well, the poor Clanker Prince probably didn't want to let loose in front of all of those tutors or his royal parents. That he had fun tonight- that he can have fun, real fun with her. Well, it's pretty barking marvelous, she figures.
"I'm glad you had fun," she says quietly, as the noises of their footfalls become louder in the less populated streets.
They're both silent after that, and Deryn takes the time to enjoy the sights of the clearing streets and the bright lights. She can't see any stars, but the maze of alleys and storefronts and garishly dressed New Yorkers are interesting enough. She's thankful, again, that no one here seems to care about two boys with their fingers entwined. She hums Auld Lang Syne to herself and presses a kiss to Alek's dark hair as they walk. They share a strangely quiet and shy smile. He does seem to be a bit more sober than even moments ago as his steps are even and he doesn't wander. It's nice to have a night out not worrying that there's a war on.
Of course there isa war on, and that'll be completely impossible for either of them to ignore under the employ of the lady Boffin. She hopes that Alek will start feeling better about Tesla and about his destiny. It never ceases to amaze her that he's only the one boy and yet he fully expects himself to be able to change the world in a day. Maybe that's some of his daft princely teachings, but she actually wonders if it isn't just Alek being hard on himself. Maybe sometime soon they can have another night like this one.
By the time clocks all around the city are beginning to chime twelve, the two of them are alone on a long, dark street very near to their hotel. The sounds of cheering people and fireworks and chiming clocks are nearly overwhelming, even in their abandoned street. Suddenly, her heart is beating madly, like she's out on a Huxley in a storm. But the air is cold and calm and Alek's hand is warm.
"Well," he says with a little cough as they slow to a stop in the middle of the deserted street. "Happy new year, Deryn." He takes hold of her other hand and she can't stop looking at his eyes and can't imagine how they got so blasted green. How his hair manages to stay the exact perfect combination of mussed and combed and how he got to be so... him.
"Happy new year, Alek," she whispers back, forgetting entirely to sound like a boy.
He takes a step closer and wraps an arm around her, pulls her into him. Even through their winter coats, the proximity sends a warm jolt up Deryn's spine. She can feel his warm breath on her face, which seems to have gone numb with cold at some point.
They kiss as the clocks chime midnight in a chorus of bells.
Somehow it seems like the first time they've ever kissed. Of course, the first time they kissed Alek was nearly unconscious and it was raining everywhere, so perhaps it doesn't really count. But it feels like being topside on the Leviathan again. It's how she knows that leaving the airship was the right thing to do. Though she hopes the lady Boffin will have some flying for her to do, as long as she has Alek, she'll fly just fine.
Like now. His long fingers trail against the back of her neck and pull her head just a bit further down. It's strange to kiss out in the cold, it's like the two of them are in a balloon of warmth. The rest of the world can go on being freezing.
It seems daft to have this many feelings for one person, Deryn thinks absently as she darts her tongue out to tease at his lip. He growls like a tigeresque and the pleasant, warm feeling that had filled her up turns to something hot and burning. But Deryn has never felt burning like this. She's afraid of fire, as anyone in her position, as anyone with her history, might be. This fire is different. It lives in the pit of her stomach and she can tell that an ocean of water will not put it out. But she has an idea of what might.
She breaks their kiss and breathes, "do you want to," she sucks in a deep breath, "go up to our rooms?" She searches his face, memorizing his swollen lips, his cold-pink nose and those devastating green eyes. For a moment she's worried that he doesn't want to, that she's mucked it all up, but then he smiles that daft, gorgeous, smile.
"Ja," he whispers, smiling magnificently, "Ja gern."
So she smiles back and gives his hand a little tug. They run the rest of the way to the hotel.