It was hard, sketching the flames as they licked the logs. They kept flickering on and
off. Deryn supposed this was nature, not staying still for you to draw. Unlike Clanker
machines, of course. Those stayed frozen in spot unless someone moved them.
Deryn squirmed inside her stiff dress shirt. She'd been barking stupid to take up the lady boffin's other offer of being her valet for some extra pocket money. She had been serving at Dr. Barlow's dinner party all night, and was too tired to change. Instead, she just stumbled into the living room when it was done and dropped down in front of the fireplace. A tray of dirty plates she'd cleared and a silver bucket of ice with tongs lay next to her discarded white gloves. The dark charcoal lines she sketched glowed in the firelight.
A few minutes later, Deryn heard footsteps approaching. She turned to greet Alek as he sat down next to her. "Mr. Sharp!" Bovril exclaimed and reached out for her.
Deryn put down her sketchbook and pencil and took the wee beastie in her arms. "Aye, beastie." She turned to Alek, who'd been a guest of honor at the party. True, he wasn't an emperor-in-waiting anymore, but everyone who was anyone still wanted to talk to an orphaned Clanker prince who had been in the papers all the last few months. "How was the party?"
"It was all right, I suppose." He shrugged, unbuttoning his jacket and letting it fall to the ground. "I was impressing the boffins with my Latin."
"Aye, I heard," Deryn replied. The whole dinner the conversation had always been in languages she never understood. Latin, Algerian, French, maybe a bit of Arabic. She didn't understand a bit of it. Except for one phrase that distinctly stood out. "Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria, nube. Right?"
Alek nodded. "Let others wage war. You, lucky Austria, shall marry. It's an old Hapsburg saying."
"Come to think of it, you've said it that day we met, didn't you? To the lady boffin. And also to that bum-rag Malone!" It was true, he did. That day after Alek threw away the pope's letter, Malone interviewed him. Deryn had been right there when he said that. A thought suddenly hit her, and Deryn felt lightheaded. "What did you mean by that, anyways?"
To that, Alek didn't answer, just absentmindedly fingered the pocket of his shirt where he always kept the gold toothpick, the last of his wealth. Aside from his tattered and torn Hapsburg Guards uniforms, it was the last of his belongings that came from his past of being barking royalty. Deryn wondered if she'd been too hopeful when she asked the question. Best to change the topic, she supposed. "Do you miss your Clanker engines?" she asked.
Alek had the gold toothpick in his hands now, twirling it around and around his fingers. "Sometimes. A lot of the times, to be honest." He reached out and scratched Bovril, who was perched on Deryn's shoulder. "I don't quite mind most Darwinist creations anymore, but I don't belong here. I was raised alongside machines, not beasties."
Deryn nodded, remembering the feeling she got when she was in Istanbul and living alongside machines. "Aye. I don't blame you. I felt the same, back in Istanbul." Alek smiled knowingly, then he looked around, pulled on one on Deryn's discarded gloves and grabbed the tongs out of the ice bucket. He held the sliver of gold with the tongs and stuck it in the fire.
Deryn was about to ask what he was doing, but Bovril interrupted, digging its claws deep into her shoulders. Into Deryn's ear, it whispered adamantly, "Shush." If there was anything Deryn learned from the loris, it was that it could be trusted. So Deryn held her tongue and instead asked, "I wonder how Lilit is doing?"
Alek kept his eyes focused on the burning sliver of gold, but let out a dry laugh. "Well, I bet wherever she is, she's having fun. Remember the night of the Ottoman rebellion? Everything had gone wrong, and yet there she was, laughing." Alek froze, probably remembering how Lilit had kissed Deryn. "She knew, didn't she?"
"Aye. She's quite perspicacious, Lilit. Figured it out all by herself."
Alek raised an eyebrow, shook his head. "Then... why did she kiss you?"
Deryn laughed, a high, girl's laugh. "You said it yourself, Alek. The girl was quite mad, remember?" She dropped her voice, lowering back into a male's tone. "According to her, she was simply curious."
Alek shook his head again, then took the searing piece of gold out of the fire. He picked up the fire poker and turned his back on Deryn as he began to shape the gold. Deryn watched in amusement as he dropped the finished product into the bucket of now-melted ice. Steam rose from the silver bucket, and Alek pulled off the glove, turning his attention back on Deryn. "Curious, you say?" He laughed. "She's more than mad."
Bovril chuckled at that, and chortled, "Mad!"
"Aye, and so are you, beastie." Deryn teased, then dropped onto the ground. She stared up at Dr. Barlow's high ceiling, the crystal chandelier, and the priceless paintings that decorated the walls and was once again reminded of the miracle that happened with her living in such a classy place. She closed her eyes, then opened them up again when she heard Alek moving. He was only pulling the gold piece out of bucket.
Deryn sat up, cross-legged, and was about to ask yet again what he was doing when Bovril reminded her, "Shush, Mr. Sharp!"
Deryn rolled her eyes, flopped back down on the ground again. "Fine, beastie. Barking spiders," she muttered. She watched the beast as it crawled down from her shoulder and onto the mantle. There, it froze, and among all the Darwin family heirlooms up there too, it looked like a century-old statue. Deryn chuckled softly at that thought.
Then Alek took her hand and slipped something on it. Deryn stopped laughing and sat up once more. She was about to look up at him, but her gaze stopped short at her hand in Alek's.
"Alek," she whispered, staring down at the still-warm ring on her ring finger. Molded from the gold toothpick, it was bumpy, like the meteorite Tesla had, and it was less than perfect, nothing a self-respecting jewelry store would dare sell. But it was the last thing Alek had from his past, so to him- and now her- it was more precious than anything.
She dared a glance at Alek's face and saw that he was smiling. It was his little, proud smile he always had on when he'd done something good and he knew it.
"That's what I meant," he said.
It took a moment for the realization to sink in, but when it did, Deryn threw herself into Alek's arms, a thing she never dared to do before. Bovril seemed to smile, then knowingly scampered away, giving them some alone time. "Barking spiders, Alek," she said. "Am I dreaming?"
Alek asked, "Is that a yes?"
Deryn rolled her eyes and looked up at Alek, revealing small, happy tears trapped in her eyes. "Of course, you daft prince."
"I'm not a prince anymore, remember?"
Deryn held back a groan. Alek sure knew how to destroy a moment. Then the words formed in her mouth. She grinned. "Aye, maybe not to everyone else, you dafty." She closed her eyes, letting herself drift off to sleep in his arms. The ring was still warm on her finger, where it would stay forever.
"But you'll always be mine."