"Miss Sharp, do you always lounge on someone else's furniture like that?" asked Dr. Barlow in annoyance, looking up from her book. Deryn yawned and rubbed her temples, her head pounding as her blood emptied into it. She was sprawled upside-down on the sofa in the lady boffin's flat, trying to stay awake. It was quite late at night that Christmas Eve but Deryn was determined to stay up and wait for those two Clankers.
"No," she yawned widely, "I just don't want to sleep." Dr. Barlow shook her head and looked back at her novel.
"Then don't sit like that," she sighed, adjusting her reading glasses, "You'll pass out. Drink some tea."
Deryn blinked and sat up, shaking her head as a dizzy spell came over her. She stood up and straightened out her shirt and pants before heading into the kitchen to put the kettle on. She leaned back against the counter as she waited, and watched Dr. Barlow. This would be the boffin's first Christmas without her husband or her childrenthey'd been killed in a bomb raid over London. It still affected the city and Dr. Barlow appeared indifferent, but Deryn knew she wasn't. Sometimes, she wondered how much it hurt the lady boffin.
Alek and his-former-countship Volger had been away for quite sometime on an exclusively Clanker mission for the Zoological Society, and Deryn missed him badly. But she had written him, so he wasn't killed yet. He said he was en route to London but he wasn't sure when he would arrive with the nasty snow that'd been pelting the city for days. It made Deryn worried.
"When d'you think they'll get here?" she asked suddenly, frowning.
"Sorry, what?" Dr. Barlow glanced up at her.
"When do you think Alek and Volger will get here?" she repeated. Nora sighed and frowned.
"I hate to say it, but I honestly don't know," she said, looking outside to peer into the darkness and the harsh snowfall, "but I'm sure they'll be alright."
"Aye, I hope so."
"Don't know," Bovril disagreed somberly from the kitchen cabinet above Deryn's head. She looked up and took the beastie.
"Don't be that way, beastie, they'll be fine."
"But," it sighed, "emperors are vain and useless things."
"Good thing Alek isn't an emperor then, eh?"
She set the beastie on the back of the sofa and gave it a pat on the head as the kettle screamed. She turned and made up her tea jadedly. She wrapped her fingers around her mug and sat back down on sofa, properly this time, and let its warmth spread through her. She sipped at her tea and stared out the window sleepily. The tea Dr. Barlow had suggested wasn't helping her stay awake. In fact, it was only making her sleepier.
Her eyelids were heavy but she forced them open. It was up to her to stay awake for her prince. But she was slowly failing, no matter how much tea she gulped down. She fumbled to put her mug down on the coffee table and she yawned again, slouching forward. She wouldn't be able to stay up for Alek; the only thing she wanted that year.
Her eyes shut, and she was gone.
When Deryn woke up Christmas morning, she found she was still laying on the sofa but her head was on pillow and a blanket covered her. She was facing the small pine tree that she and Dr. Barlow had picked out and decorated, and the four little boxes underneath. An exchange between the lady boffin and herself, and a present for Alek and Volger each that they'd picked out together.
Deryn was curled up in a ball and she felt a heaviness at the end of the sofa, like someone else was sitting there. She heard voices but she wasn't paying attention and began to lapse back into sleep when she realized the lady boffin wasn't talking to herself. She sat clumsily and nearly fell off her place when an arm wrapped around her waist and held her up.
"Easy there, MR. Sharp," teased the boy. She could only blink at Alek dumbly. She actually thought, "How did Alek get into the flat?"
"Alek!" she squealed when she collected her thoughts. She wrapped her arms around his chest and squeezed him tightly. Alek laughed and tightened his grip around her waist playfully.
"Barking spiders, when did you get here?" she asked excitedly. Just as Alek was about to launch into an undoubtedly exaggerated, and fake, story, the lady boffin called out, "Just after you fell asleep, ironically." Deryn peeked at her. She and Volger were seated at the small table, eating breakfast and chattering away like the middy's old womenor her aunties, which were one in the same to Deryn.
Deryn pulled out of Alek's grasp and stole the ribbon off her present. She walked over innocently toward her prince. His mouth was open, probably to ask her what she was doing, when she slapped it forcefully on his forehead. She sat beside him calmly as he let out a yelp. He touched the bow and huffed.
"God's wounds, what was that for?" he spluttered. Deryn grinned and kissed his cheek.
"You're the only thing I wanted for Christmas," she said lovingly, "so you should look the part, aye?"
"Aye," he agreed, his eyes softening. He gave her a lingering, tender kiss and Deryn heard Volger give a fake dry-heave. But she ignored it. When Alek pulled away, he was grinning and there was an impish glint in his eyes.
"But you DO realize I'll have to get revenge, don't you?" he purred. Deryn snorted.
"Go ahead and try, barking prince," she scoffed.
Immediately, he began to tickle her and Deryn began to giggle and laugh so hard it hurt. Alek was merciless, tickling her til tears streaked down her face and he was practically on top of her. She was listening but, Volger and Dr. Barlow were having their own conversation.
"Disgusting," the man growled, taking a bit of toast. Nora nudged his arm.
"It's all in good fun, Ernst," she said lightly, "Leave them alone."
"Yes, but 'all in good fun' may lead to children, mind you. And just think what kind of Christmas present that would be."
She shook her head and sighed, turning around to watch the two young adults. She absently laced her fingers in the former count's.
"Happy Christmas, Ernst."
"BARKING SPIDERS, STOPPIT, YOU BUM-RAG! YOU'RE GOING TO KILL ME!"
"You brought this on yourself!"
"Happy Christmas, Nora."