Deryn walked Tazza along the long halls of the Leviathan, slowly breathing in and out. She had no clue how much more lying she could take. She was going to have to tell him her secret soon, or else she would burst. Every time she had to sit in a room with him it was as if she were constantly getting punched in the stomach. She would mentally beg him to look at her, just one measly stolen glance, if only to make her heart sink. Barking self-mutilation, really!
Then there were the times that she would catch herself staring at him, almost possessively. It was a wonder that Alek was so oblivious to everything. The sky could be falling and he would still be focused on his damned engine.
"Why can't he just notice me?" Deryn muttered under her breath. "Why can't he just notice that I like him?" She looked around to see if anyone had heard her talking to herself, but there was no one in the deserted corridor. Laughing to herself, she thought of Alek's face if he caught her talking about him to thylacine. "That dummkopf! He never sees anything! He's about as blind as a fléchette bat!" She chuckled to herself. "I could wave my hands in front of him and say, 'oi, Alek! I'm a barking lassie'"
"Coxswain Sharp?" She heard a quiet voice ask from behind her. She whirled around to face the young boy that stood awkwardly behind her. He was one of the new middies, and looked barely a day over 16. In his hand was a small pile of letters, bound together by a piece of string. "There's a letter for you, sir."
"Oh," she said, feeling her face going red with embarrassment. "Well, then. May I have it, lad?" The boy slipped the first letter from the pile under the string and handed it to her. "Thanks, Middy..." She wracked her brain, trying to remember the boy's name.
"Johnson." he completed for her.
"Right." said Deryn, scratching the inexistent itch on the back of her neck. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
Johnson looked at her with wide eyes. "Yes sir, Coxswain Sharp, sir!" The boy saluted to Deryn and scurried back the way that he had come, his boots thumping on the fabricated wood.
Deryn hadn't even realized she had been holding his breath until she sighed out a breath of relief at the boy's exit. She could have been caught! What if she had been caught? She shuddered at the thought.
She kept walking down the hall, determined to finish Tazza's walk before retiring to read her letter. She walked at a hasty speed until she reached the boffin's room once again. Deryn thrust the door open and pushed the thylacine into the room. As soon as Tazza's behind disappeared from her sight, she promptly closed the door and steadily jogged back to her room.
* * *
Dylan, Deryn read as she lay in her bed. How are things on the Leviathan, coz? The Minotaur is wicked. News of your
endeavors has spread throughout the entire Admiralty. My mates keep asking me if the "famous Dylan Sharp" is really my cousin. I really don't know what to tell them. My ma keeps asking about you non-stop. I swear she sends a letter everyday. She's gotten more neurotic since you didn't show up for Easter. Thinking about it, you didn't show up for Christmas or New Year's either. I haven't seen you since that day in London. Your ma's worried sick too. When are you coming to visit? I know you're a hotshot airman and all, Dylan, but you have a family that misses you dearly. Ever since Deryn mysteriously "disappeared," my ma's letters have come with tearstains. Tearstains, Dylan! You of all people know how rare it is for my ma to cry. Ask for a vacation. Cleared leave. Fake smallpox if you have to! Do something! Just come back home in one piece. We all miss you terribly. Your cousin, Jaspert.
You have a family that misses you dearly. The line echoed in Deryn's head like a church bell at Christmas. She missed her family too. In fact, whenever she wrote Jaspert, she felt as if she was going to be torn apart, worrying about her ma, and all. She constantly worried about her brother, too. He was stationed in France. In the middle of all the action. She missed her ma, and even her crazy old maid Auntie and her seven cats! But she couldn't just pick up and leave the Leviathan. Or Alek, who would be all alone without her. Yeah, it wouldn't hurt to go back home for a week or two, but what would happen to Alek if she went home? Deryn was his only family.
Just then, a knock sounded at the door, making Deryn jump in her bed and drop Jaspert's letter. "Dylan?" asked the voice from behind the door.
"Come in!" She hollered as she scrambled to the floor, trying to find the letter, but she couldn't see it anywhere. She stuck her head under the bed, feeling around in the mess that lay under it.
"Are you looking for this?" The voice behind her asked. Forgetting that she was under the bed, Deryn lifted her head, hitting it.
"Ow!" she exclaimed as a sharp stab blossomed from the back of her head. Swearing to herself, she crawled out from under the bed. A hand came down and grabbed her arm, hoisting her to her feet. "Thanks," she said as her eyes lifted to meet Alek's bright green ones. "Oh, Alek!"
His dark eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "You seem surprised to see me."
Deryn cleared her throat and straightened her jacket lamely. "I just thought that you were still talking to Dr. Barlow, that's all." She sat back onto the bed, hoisting her feet up, and leaning back against the wall. She patted the spot on the bed next to her, signaling Alek to sit next to her. " So," she began. "What did you two plotters talk about?"
"You, actually." He said, taking his seat next to her, Jaspert's letter still in his hands.
"Me? What about me?"
"The boffin is worried that you're going to do something stupid on this mission." He stated, his eyes staring at the letter in his hands.
"And I agree with her."
"What!" She exclaimed, feeling slightly betrayed. "Why are you worried about me?"
"The Leviathan is your life, Dylan! I took one glance at this letter and now I'm worried!" Alek waived the letter in her face. "You haven't seen your family in two years!"
Deryn's face paled. "I don't want to go home." She said so softly that her voice was no more than a whisper. "There's nothing for me back there. It all went up in flames with that balloon."
Alek's eyes softened a bit. "I know you miss your father. Not a day goes by that I don't miss my parents, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to forget the most important lesson that they ever taught me." He turned to face her. She had no choice but to look into his deep emerald gaze. "Family is everything. Are you going to throw away what your father gave you?"
"No," she said through gritted teeth. She did not need a lecture, especially from Alek. The only reason that she ever did anything stupid was to save him!
"Promise me?" Deryn narrowed her eyes. He looked as if he were going to beg soon.
"I don't do stupid things, Alek." She said gravely. "That's your department, aye?"
A smile broke onto Alek's previously serious gaze. "Funny. Just leave all of the stupid things to me." He stretched his hand out to Deryn and pulled her off the bed. They were only two inches apart, and she wondered if Alek could hear her heart about to burst from her chest.
"Sounds like a plan." She said, a bit breathlessly. "Do you know if there are any potatoes for dinner?"