The next few days were extremely difficult for Alek. He couldn't keep his mind off Deryn. Each time he looked at her he noticed just how feminie she was. It was amazing that no one else noticed. When he wasn't with her, he was wishing he was.
Even more amazing was how attracted he was to her after only knowing her true gender for less than a week. It was like he'd known her his whole life. Well, he really had. Before coming to the Leviathan, it was like his life was a blur, a dream that never really existed at all. She was the only friend he'd ever really had. He felt completed when he was with her.
"What are you doing, you fool?" Deryn snapped at him as they were walking Tazza together one evening. Alek had absentmindedly reached for her hand, and she had to slap it away.
"Sorry, sorry. I am." he said, angry that he had let himself slip like that.
"You know how that would look to others, bum-rag. I don't need people thinking anything else along with what the already most likely do."
Alek tried to contain himself when he was around Deryn, for her sake. She couldn't get found out. She was the best man on this ship and he did not want to be the cause of her dismissal from the crew. When he wanted to hold the door for her, he couldn't. When he wanted to take her hand, he had to shove it in his pocket. And it was driving him crazy.
All he wanted to do was get to know Deryn. He knew Dylan well enough, and she was still doing just as good as before at being a boy. Deryn was still a mystery to him, and he wanted to know everything. But it was exceedingly difficult to learn anything at all when she was always so busy. If she wasn't fixing things or cleaning something, she was running errands for Dr. Barlow, who sometimes called on Alek for things as well, but she really enjoyed Deryn's company.
Alek took any time alone with Deryn that he could, talking to her, courting her like a gentleman should. He was raised to treat women with respect, like his father always did, and it bothered him to have to treat her like a man. At night, he would go get her from her room and bring him to his, chatting with her until the sun came up. Sometimes all she wanted to do was sleep, having worked all day, so he would sleep proped up against her bed some nights, trying to remain a gentleman, but others he would join her, still unsure of what to do.
Alek had found a new place he liked to go when things got to overwhelming. He would clib the ratlines near the bow of the ship, Bovril on his shoulder. Together they would sit and watch the sea and land go by below. The view from the airship realy was stunning, and he would miss it when they landed.
"Landing. Leaving." he sighed, handing Bovril a cracker. It took it and gobbled it down quickly, then nestled into Aleks hair. "What am I going to do? I love her, and I barely know her."
"Know her" Bovril said, with an air of amusment.
"Yes, I know. That's exactly what I want to do. Know her. How?" he looked over at the loris, who gave him the strangest look. "What?"
The beast just sat there, looking over towards the gondola. "Love" it said, giggling a little.
"I do. But is that enough to ask her to come with me? Leave her home forever?"
"Home?" Bovril asked quietly.
"Shes so confusing. All she wants to do is fly, and I feel like I've gotten in her way. She fits in here so well, I wish I could stay with her. I don't want to rule. I did, when that was all I had ever known. But Volger's got these huge plans for me, he and the others have thrown they're lives away for me to be able to run a country. And I can't."
The loris climbed down his arm and looked him in the eye, which made Alek slightly uncomfortable. "Rule? Volger."
He was perplexed by what the creature said, and shooed it back up his arm. He sighed, dislodging himself from his perch and climbing back down to the gondola. The sun had begun to set, which meant Deryn would soon be finished for the night. The chilly air bit at his fingers as he descended, but he was soon inside, and walked straight into Volger.
"Alek" he said, his eyebrows knitted close together. "I've been looking for you. Come to my room, I need to speak with you."
Alek followed him, his gut twisting. Had Volger found out? Once inside his cabin, Volger twisted the lock shut and gestured for Alek to have a seat. There was a map spread out on the table.
"So, this godforsaken ship wil be landing in about two weeks, and we need to make sure we've got an escape plan."
Alek nodded, thankful his thoughts had been wrong. But this discussion was one he had been dreading. They would be running for they're lives again in a matter of weeks. He didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to leave...
We will be landing in Tokyo, on a small field outside the city. There seems to be no easy route away from there, except by train. We haven't got much money left" he gave Alek a stern look, making Alek stare down at the map. "Which makes this exceedingly difficult. And now that you've broadcasted yourself to the world, your face will be memorized by many many people. We must move by cover of darkness, again. You must make sure your friend, Dylan, isn't out traveling with the boffin on the night of our arrival. I've spoken with him and he has agreed to help us in out escape." Volger smiled, clasping his hands together.
"You must aks him to stay on the ship that night, or we will be turned over to the officials upon our return to Europe. Do whatever you must to have that boy here." he made a sly face, and Alek gulped. "I'm certain I have already convinced him enough, but it wouldn't hurt for you to set it in stone."
Alek had not spoken the entire time, so he cleared his throat. "But Volger, I can't make any promises. Besides, Japan isn't going to be easy to escape from, it's an island after all." he looked up at Volger, whos face was emotionless, listening. "Why don't we just wait until we're back in Europe. I'm sure Dylan won't mind helping us then."
Volger stood, striding over to Alek, getting inches from his face. "You musn't be so attached to this ship, Alek. It's a Darwinist creation, we do not belong here. You belong on the throne in Austria-Hungary. You belong where you were raised to be." he sneered, setting his hand on Alek's shoulder. "And I don't want anything interfering with that."
Alek pushed Volger's hand off him and stood, looking the wildcount in the eye. "I know what you've given up for me to get this far, Volger. And I'm sorry that I have done that to you and the other men. But I cannot run a country, I cannot risk everything I have grown to...to love for something that might never come to fruitition. With the Holy Father gone, I may never get my chance to rule, and I could very well end up in jail or even killed before I even get the chance. Let's return to Europe and ill change my name and live a normal life. This is all too much for me. You go run a country, you end a war!" Alek was screaming now, both hands on the table for support.
Volger had retreated to near the window, his face stony. His lips barely parted as he spoke, his voice poisionous. "ALek, your father did not give his life for nothing. You owe him this, you owe him whatever it takes to take his seat in your homeland. You were born into this, and no matter what you say or do, it is in your blood and cannot be erased. We will escape in Japan and you will get your chance to do what you were destined. And I will make sure that anything in your way is destroyed. Now, leave my quarters, please." Volger turned to look out the window, giving Alek his leave to go.
Alek stormed from the room and slamed the door behind him. He fled down the hallway, not sure where he was going, until he ran into someone and fell backwards.
"What are you playing at you - oh! Alek! I was just headed to your room." he felt Deryn's hand grab his arm and pull him up off the floor. "Are you alright?"
Alek felt his eyes, there were tears in the corners, and his cheeks were hot. "I'm fine. Just ran into Volger. You know how that goes." he tried to laugh it off, but his heart was heavy.
Deryn stepped closer. "Are you sure? You look like you've just yelled your brains out."
"No, I'm okay. Volger's just being his usual self, obsessing over everything. I just get fed up with him sometimes, especially when he decides to remind me who my parents were."
Deryn gave him a sympathetic look and patted his arm. "Come on, lets go get something to eat, I'm about ready to eat Tazza." the thought brought a smile to Alek's face and he followed her to the mess hall.
The days were going by far to quickly for Alek's liking, and soon they would be landing, and he would have to leave the Leviathan forever. His conversation with VOlger had shook him, and he did his best to forget about it. Didn't he understand how much stress this was putting on Alek? Not just the thought of running an entire country, that was old news that had haunted him his whole life. But soon they would be leaving the Leviathan behind, the only place he had ever truly considered home. And his new found love would be behind with it. His heart crumbled everytime the thought entered his mind. No, there had to be some other way.
Deryn and he had been getting along great. She was the one thing he could count on every day to make him smile. Yes, she had a temper sometimes, and would fume for hours over something small Newkirk had done wrong, swearing like a true airman. Now that Alek new her secret, it seemed she was trying so hard to be a girl for him, but really he loved how she had taught herself to act. He loved her swagger, she had a charm about her that he had never seen in anyone, man or woman. She was tough, keeping up with everyone else on the ship. She could pack a punch good, but also take one from Newkirk without a wince. Alek hated seeing everyone treat her the way they did, but then he reminded himself that in they're eyes, she was Dylan.
As the day of they're arrival in Tokyo came nearer, Alek became more and more confused about what to do. He needed to find out what was going on with Deryn and himself. They spent every moment together that they could, they kissed and hugged when they were alone. But he didn't know if she was on the same level he was. His heart ached everytime he thoguht about leaving her behind, about what Volger had said. He had to do something...
"So, Dylan, think I could chat with you for a moment?" Alek approached Deryn while she was finishing walking Tazza. Newkirk was just down the hall, hammering something. She smiled at him and nodded.
"Sure. Meet me in my cabin, I'll be down in a squick."
Alek hurried to wait there, sitting akwardly on her bed. His heart was pounding in his throat. Deryn entered a few minutes later, a wide smile on her face. She sat next to him, running a hand though her short hair.
"What's up, your Highness?" she said in her usual tone, bumping him with her shoulder.
He sat for a moment, rubbing his hands together. "Well, erm, Deryn....I wanted to know....where....what are we right now?" he kept his eyes down, not wanting to see her expression.
He felt her take his hand. "Well, Alek, you know how I feel about you." her voice had softened from its usual volume, and had the wonderful feminie quality that Alek loved. "And I think I know how you feel about me."
"But....what are we going to do? I...I have to leave this ship soon.....and..." he looked up at her, feeling the corners of his eyes sting. "And I need to know much....how much you love me. I don't want to leave you behind."
Her eyes were on him, and she gave his hand a squeeze. "I love you more than I have e ver loved another person. I can't explain it." she ran her hand through her hair again, sighing. "My home is here, in the air." she stood, leading him over to her window. "This is what I was born to do. Fly." she turned away and he could tell she was wiping her eyes.
"Come with me, Deryn. After this war is over, I'll have enough money and power to make you the captain of your own ship. We can live together for as long as you'll stay..."
He knew he'd said the wrong thing. Deryn turned to him, her face red and eyebrows sky high. "Oh, so that you can end up like your barking parents? Killed, because your mum wasn't royal enough?" her voice rose in volume as she spoke, her face getting redder and redder. "No, I'm not going to be the cause of your murder nor will I join you in death. We can't, we just can't let people see us together."
Alek took a step back. She reached out for his arm and he let her take it, his head swimming. She had said just what he thought she would. His plan was going to work. "Look, I'm sorry Alek. I am. I wish this could work."
"I knew you would say that. Actually, I was hoping you would. I dont want to run a stupid country. You know what Volger said to me the other day? He told me he would destroy anything that got in my way of getting ot the throne. He meant you, I know he did. I'm not leaving with him and the others. Once we land, I'm heading off on my own, changing my name, something, anything to get away from it all. Being with you here, on the Leviathan, has shown me what living is really like. Life isn't about sitting on a throne all day, my life in danger every second. Living is about being happy, and I'm happy with you. These are things I've never felt in my life. But I know I want to be with you. Your perfect. I don't understand my feelings, I've never done this before. I've never felt this way about anyone. But I know for sure this is what's right."
Alek took Deryn's hand and kneeled down on one knee, looking up at her. "I don't know how this is done, but I do know it's what I feel. Deryn Sharp, will you please, please, please marry me?" he pulled a small cloth out of his pocket with a shaking hand and unwrapped it slowly. Inside was a metal bolt he had taken the welder to when no one was looking, and etched the words "I love you" in German. Deryn's eyes got huge as she stared at the ring in Alek's hand. She didn't speak for a long time, just stared down at his open hand.
"Alek" she finally said. "Alek I....I....." she stopped, tears falling from her eyes and into his hand. "Alek, don't make the same mistake your father did, and go after some lassie like me. At least your mother was a princess. I'm a girl acting like a boy so I can fly around in the air. I'm a nothing to those people. If anyone ever found out it was you...I don't even want to think of it." She set her hand on his face. "I do not want to see you end up that way because of me."
Alek's heart seemed to stop beating, as if time itself had stopped. She was right, his father had been stupid to marry his mother. And he always swore he would never let his children end up like him, with nothing. No, he didn't have nothing. He had something more than all the money in the world could buy, more than ruling a country could bring him. He had love.
"Deryn, things have changed. I might not even get to rule at all. So I've decided not to even bother. I don't want all that, all the politics, the fear. I just want you. If you take this ring, and promise me you'll wait for me, no matter how long it takes, I'll find you. Or you can come with me when I run for it. We can start a new life together. Bur I promise you, somehow, that I'll get you back into the air no matter what. I could never deny you the thing you love. Please."
Her tears were pouring now, soaking his sleeve in hot warmth. Alek couldn't stand to see her cry. She took the ring from his hand, letting out a small sob. He stood and took it from her. "Deryn, if you don't want it, I understand. But I had to try."
She held out her left hand and scowled at him through the tears. He shakily slid the ring onto her strong finger, where it fit perfectly. His lips cracked into the biggest smile he had ever made. She inspected it, flexing her hand a few times, then looked him in the eye. She smirked at the look on his face.
"Well, don't go and wet yourself, you bum-rag. It's not like we can do anything about it right now anyway. And I haven't decided whether I'm goign with you or not yet." she pulled away to wipe her eyes, and Alek almost collapsed. She caught him and slapped his cheek. "Wake up, prince, we've got stuff to do. I imagine Rigby's on the prowl right now, looking for us." she slid her work gloves on over her hands and smiled. "Don't want anyone to see that. Might cause some difficulties." she slapped his back and opened the door, waiting for him. He righted himself, feeling like a balloon caught in the wind. Free. Her taking the ring was enough for him. He hurried out behind her, feeling like the happiest person on the planet.