The former Prince of Austria-Hungary feels incredibly lucky. At the end of a very long day, he is curled up in bed next to the most wonderful person he knows. With his face right close against hers in their darkened bedroom, he can just make out some freckles and the sweep of her pale blonde eyelashes. Her breathing is deep and even. She almost always falls asleep before he does. He sometimes likes to pretend it's because he has more on his mind than she does, but he knows that isn't really true. She's as much of a tactician as he is. She's got plenty to look back on with terror, too.
It's been a problem for both of them lately, sleeping soundly. Perhaps it's that things have slowed down a bit. That they don't have to scramble and hide to simply survive. Now that things are slower, it seems the past has some time to creep in. Now, thankfully, Deryn seems to be sleeping peacefully. He reaches out and touches her face, heart filling with something warm and deep. Two nights ago, she woke screaming and crying about fire and falling. But he had been there. It nearly broke him to think of her so afraid. At least, he could make sure she wasn't alone.
Alek remembers his nightmares. They are numerous. Deryn dreams of losing her Da, of the Leviathan exploding, of falling thousands and thousands of feet. Alek dreams of all kinds of awful things; his parents dying, people bloodied in battle. No matter what he dreams, that awful smell from the Goliath is there. And Nikola Tesla's distorted, awful face. Alek tries to reason that he has probably killed more than one man. Knows that Deryn has with her flechette bats and her warship. It's just that killing Tesla seems more personal. More atrocious.
The verdammt Tesla cannon didn't work in any case. It wouldn't have flattened Berlin.
Though, it might have set off Deryn's worst nightmare. It might have caused another of his nightmares-- one he never had before they moved into their little flat-- and it's one of the worst.
In the dream, they are in Mexico again. He can see Deryn on her glider. He knows this story. He was there. But in the dream, the glider goes down faster. Goes down further. And though she has fallen, that burnt-skin smell is in the air and her glider looks singed. He has Tesla's stick in his hand. He runs to her, but can't drop the stupid walking stick. Even in the dream, he can feel his stomach plummet and his breath hitching. When he gets to her she is silent. Motionless. Cold. Dead.
The mere memory of his least favorite recurring dream sends shivers down his spine. Deryn mumbles something in her sleep and tucks her head under his chin, presses a sleepy kiss at the very base of his neck. Warmth floods him again and he holds her a bit tighter. Deryn dreams of losing him too. She takes her job as his escort very seriously. It's quite clever, really. No one expects his true bodyguard to be his date.
Then again, there are nights when she wakes up with tears trekking down her face. Usually she tells him all about her dreams, no matter how gruesome. But those nights all she does is hold him tightly, tighter with trembling hands and whispers here you are, here you are, over and over. Her eyes get this wild, vacant look to them and dart quickly over his face as she whispers her mantra, here you are, here you are. He wants her to feel safe, and tries to hold her with equal fervor, yes, here I am, he whispers back to her on those nights, here I am, here we are. It only takes a few repetitions and some feather-light kisses to lull her back to sleep, nestled closer than before.
And naturally, they have good dreams as well. They take a great deal of enjoyment out of telling one another about their dreams over breakfast. Deryn dreams of wild adventures and missions and remembers her dreams down to the last detail of a Huxley tentacle. She recants them in their entirety, spinning stories of flying through the air, evading capture by mere inches. She's an excellent storyteller, and she often chastises him for having that daft look on his face when she tells him about her dreams. He can't help it. He loves her, and her dreams are the perfect illustration of why; she's brilliant and brave and loyal absolutely. So he never apologizes, but will occasionally turn his gaze to his breakfast instead of watching her with rapt attention. After all, they will need to get to work.
Alek dreams of complicated battle plans and difficult puzzles and doesn't remember them quite as clearly. But Deryn is equally interested in his vague, mysterious dreams as he is enthralled by hers. They like to take the time to argue whether the two headed eagle in his dream means something about Russia, or a message from somewhere else, or perhaps merely that the two insufferable sneaky-beaks in their lives have become secretly romantically involved. None of Alek's dreams have proven to be prophetic yet, but it doesn't stop them from discussing the details ad nauseum over whatever breakfast they can scrape together.
They dream of one another, too. But it took many months for it to actually become breakfast conversation.
Alek had experienced several compromising dreams by the time Deryn came to the table wanting to discuss something she had dreamt.
"Do you suppose," she had started, as she spooned some honey into her porridge, "it's possible to bugger someone standing up? Like against a wall?"
Alek was unfortunately drinking orange juice as she posed this question, and struggled to maintain his decorum with citrus juice suddenly invading his sinuses, "I would imagine so, but why...?"
Deryn brandished her spoon thoughtfully, her blue eyes glinting mischievously, "Well, we accomplished it pretty spectacularly in my dream last night, I was just wondering if it was only possible in a dream or if we should actually try it," she paused there and sucked the last of the honey off of the spoon. It was suddenly very hot in their kitchen. "It was dead fun," she supplied musingly.
He attempted to bring his eyebrows down from his hairline and coughed, "Well, liebe, don't you think we should try it lying down first? And be wed?"
She smirked at him then, "You don't seem to mind much about being wed, your Princeliness, living in sin with a common soldier girl."
"Well, yes, but... that..." He trailed off with a vague wave of his hand.
"You mean sex?" She asserted, giving the spoon a lascivious lick.
He was glad this conversation had stopped his breakfast quicker than a walker without oil. "Yes, I mean, we should be married before we..."
"Do it?" She supplied with a grin that she herself would have described as 'clart-snarfing.' "What for, Alek? Not like we won't ever be wed."
He closed his eyes, and took a moment to wonder why it was that Dr. Barlow would give unmarried teenagers a flat of their own. He's never been particularly religious, but being married does make some sense. Even as a Clanker, he knows what results of sex. He also knows what children who come from unmarried parents are called, and he couldn't do that to their children. It's probably the best argument in his arsenal. It gives him back some much needed confidence.
"It's not the principle of the thing, love, it's the logical result-- even if I'm not royal anymore, it seems cruel to have children other people would call bastards."
Deryn is still waving her honey-spoon about, "True enough. But then, what are we waiting for?"
"Meine liebe, we're sixteen years old," he reasoned, and made a valiant attempt to resume his breakfast before his porridge got cold.
She threw up her hands, "Well, I don't want to wait too long before I push you up against a wall and have my way with your Princely self!"
He suddenly resented breakfast very much, as some oats attempted to join the orange juice that was still inevitably stuck up his nose.
It's not as though he wanted to wait either. She's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen and he's had some very interesting dreams and ideas of his own about what he might like to do to and with her. But self control and resolve were at the cornerstone of any royal education and Alek had taken to that particular lesson more quickly than some others. Luckily Alek was always a quick study and learned just as much about diplomacy as self-control.
"How about this for a deal-- short of that-- we can try out whatever you like."
Breakfast had resumed after that, but both of them appeared for work with decidedly red faces.
Alek recalled that morning with a sleepy smile. They weren't wed yet, but he figured that day would be soon. Listening to Deryn's slow breathing, he feels some sleepiness creeping up on him as well. Alek isn't afraid of his nightmares. They only show him the worst of the past and his worries about the future. He knows that no matter how awful they are, he will wake up next to her. That each day they will wake up together and go to sleep together, for the rest of their lives. Wed or not.