But I'm just keeping you from the action here. Without further ado...
Disclaimer: I don't own this. Really, we've been over this before.
That boy was looking at him. The one that was on the train. What was his name, again?
Deryn was making sure to stay out of his line of sight, but it was hardly necessary. Tad’s eyes were glued on Singe because he thought the boy was Dylan. As it was, Singe didn’t think Tad would recognize her given that he thought she was a girl, when she was pretending to be a boy and--
Singe shook his head. It was all so barking confusing with that girl. As long as he could keep the boy from realizing he wasn’t Dylan until they could sort this all out, it would be fine. He gave Deryn a nod to show he understood the situation. She sighed in relief and set back to taking care of the unconscious girl. The pretty one from the cellar.
“What are you looking at?” Singe said gruffly.
Tad raised an eyebrow. “You.”
“Like the uniform? It’s great out here in the cold mountain weather. You should really get yourself one of these.” He couldn’t help but taunt the boy a little. He was wearing only a pair of trousers, a shirt and thin jacket, and boots, and he kept shivering.
“I would, but my wrists are tied,” he managed, teeth chattering. His lips were turning blue.
Groaning inwardly as the sympathetic part of himself took over, Singe pulled his outer layer off and draped it over Tad’s shoulders. He hissed as the frigid mountain air sliced through his middy’s uniform.
“Compromise, you see? You have a coat, but your wrists are still tied. I’m happy, your happy.”
“I can hardly say I’m happy.” He rolled his eyes. “But thank you.”
“Can’t have my prisoner getting frostbite, can I?” Singe patted him on the shoulder a little too hard, and Tad nearly fell over. “Don’t you worry, though. It’s perfectly warm on the ship. The heat from the gut is quite comfortable.”
He turned away to address his assembled men as the Clanker cringed.
“That’s all of us, aye? Count off.” He waited patiently as his men numbered themselves off to sixteen and ignored Tad’s comment about not knowing Darwinists could count so well. Pulling out his semaphore flags, he sent the ready signal to the bridge. He could almost see the splotch of the captain’s head nod.
The scent of vented hydrogen filled the air and the ship dropped quickly. A ladder dropped from the cargo hatch when the beastie was ten yards above the ground, and Singe watched as the airmen climbed up with various found things. One of the bigger men carried the Clanker girl on his shoulder, and Singe clipped himself to Tad’s belt and untied his hands.
Once everyone was up the ladder, the ship rapidly spilled ballast and they shot upward. Now it was time to inventory their findings.
“What’ve we got, lads?”
“A midshipman!” Levi cried gleefully, and was rewarded by many slaps on the back, even a hug. He turned pale and grimaced, though Singe wasn’t quite sure why.
“Two Clankers, obviously. This here is Thaddeus Welker. Say hello, Tad,” Singe said, and continued, not waiting for a reply. He gestured to the girl. “I’m not sure who this lass is, though. Anything else?”
“I’ve got a funny looking box and a lump of mechanical parts,” a man offered, and Singe nodded, only mildly intrigued. That could be expected of any Clanker hideout. As for the box, it probably only caught the man’s attention because he’d seen the seal in Constantinople, or so Deryn had explained. He’d personally never seen it before, but that was mostly because he’d spent almost the whole trip inside the air beast, much less where he could see the official symbol of the sultan.
The head rigger stepped in and took over Singe’s job, and he gratefully took leave to his room after seeing that the prisoners made it safely to the brig. He promised to bring Tad breakfast with a sarcastic air kiss. The girl still hadn’t woken up.
The moment his head hit the pillow, he was asleep.
It wasn’t very hard to carry two breakfast trays, especially since they had barely any food on them. With the whole ship still on half-rations, the prisoners wouldn’t be eating any better.
Singe hesitated a moment before unlocking the door to the girl’s cell. It wasn’t unpleasant down here in the brig, but it certainly wasn’t the best conditions. He stared down at one of the trays he was carrying sullenly; there was a stale biscuit and a mug of old coffee, which was warm, at least. Sighing, Singe pulled the few potatoes he’d saved and wrapped in a napkin from his own breakfast earlier and placed them on the one for the girl.
The door opened with a click that hardly echoed in the small room. In the corner, a slight form was huddled, knees folded in on herself, holding them tightly; like a hug, Singe thought. When she looked up, he was caught by the greenness of her eyes.
“You’re meal,” he said curtly. The girl nodded dumbly but didn’t say a word. “Do you speak English?”
“Yes. Some.” Her voice was distracted, eyes fixed hungrily on the tray he held. Quickly he handed it to her and stood silently as she swallowed the biscuit in three bites, the potatoes in two, and washed it down with the coffee. She let out a deep breath when she was done and leaned her head against the wall. “Thank you.”
“I’m just doing my job.”
“For the potatoes,” the girl pursed her lips and inclined her head, making the grimy blond hair fall into her face. She must have seen the other tray, the one for Tad, that had none. She certainly didn’t miss much, did she?
“What’s your name?” He asked suddenly. In the moment it took her to process the words, she let her long legs stretch on the cot, which pulled the hem of her trousers up well past her ankles. He would be embarrassed about seeing this, but she had such an effortless grace that he didn’t think to look away.
“I have two names,” she said slowly, “I am Rachel. My men call me Ronnie when we work. You understand?”
“Y-yes.” He stuttered. “I am--er--Eugene.”
He stood awkwardly, not sure what to do next. Rachel extended a calloused hand toward him. “I am pleased to meet you, Eugene.”
He took her hand gently and was surprised by the firmness of her shake. “The pleasure is mine, Rachel.” She let go of his hand and folded her legs up again, leaving a space next to her on the small cot.
“You sit? You are tired,”Rachel offered, patting the spot next to her. Singe was, in fact, very tired from all that had happened. He sat gingerly on the edge, careful to leave as much space as possible between them. Utterly aware of both her closeness and the way she was staring at him, he decided his boots were extremely interesting. She’s a Clanker, he reminded himself. The enemy.
But then why was he so drawn to her?
“So...” Singe picked at his fingers.
“You want to ask a question?” She reached over and touched his shoulder lightly, and Singe had stop himself before he took hold of her hand.
“Yes, I do,” he admitted. There was a silence as he tried to figure out how to phrase his words.
“Why... why do you...”
“Why do I work with the men?” Singe nodded, and she shrugged. “Because it is what I like to do. I always have liked machines. My father paid the commander to take me up and work. The men I work with... they call me Ronnie so they forget I am a girl. It is not customary for a girl to work like I do.”
“I understand. I know someone who’s a lot like you.”
“Uh--well, that’s hard to explain. Look, I won’t be back until tomorrow, with breakfast. They may come and question you, to get information on what you were doing in the mountains.” Because she’s a Clanker, he didn’t say, but made sure he reinforced the fact to himself. “Please, tell them what they want to know.”
Rachel pressed her lips together, shaking her head. “You should go. Thaddeus still needs his food, yes?”
He stood stiffly and walked to the door, not looking back even though he could feel Rachel’s eyes on him. She’s a Clanker. He couldn’t like her.
But that hadn’t stopped Deryn, had it?
Setting his jaw, he pushed the door open and slipped into Tad’s cell, lit only by a small worm lamp. The only furnishing was a fabricated wood cot covered with a few blankets and a hard pillow, just like Rachel’s--no, it would be better to think of her as Ronnie--cell. The boy was laying on top of it all.
“I come with breakfast, your countship,” Singe said sarcastically to hide the knot in his chest. Tad sad up upon his arrival.
“Not much of a breakfast,” he replied, wrinkling his nose at the stale biscuit and mug of warm, bitter coffee. “And I’m not a count. Yet. You seem well rested, Mr. Newkirk.”
“As much as I can be. But I can’t stay and chat. Fraternizing with the enemy isn’t part of my duties.”
Tad leaned against the wall, a smug grin stretching across his mouth. “Oh, I think you can stay and chat for as long as I want you to.”
“You see, Mr. Newkirk, I have this all figured out.”
His spine was prickling. “You have what figured out?”
“All of it. You might want to seal that door.” Singe did, but he kept his eyes on the Clanker boy the whole time. He’d already made the mistake of responding to Newkirk when he was supposed to be Dylan, and he wasn’t about to make another.
“It wasn’t hard, really. Once I realized that you weren’t Dylan, the pieces just clicked into place. To think, the British Air Service would be so shamed! A girl...”
Freezing in place, hands clamped tight on his jacket, Singe turned to Tad. “What did you just say?”
“A girl in the British Air Service. They’ll be very discredited when the world finds that out. But I could be persuaded to keep my quiet, at a price.”
“Oh, I’ll persuade you, alright,” he growled, pulling out his rigging knife. “Breathe one word about Deryn and I’ll--”
“Deryn? So that’s her real name?” Tad asked coolly, then muttered to himself: “But which one?”
Singe blinked. Did Tad think that Deryn had more than one real name, or...
“Ah, I’d suppose that’s Dylan’s name, then? You know, it was very clever of--”
“Stop. What do you know? Tell me from the beginning.” Singe took a leveling breath and set his jaw.
“But that would be absolutely no fun. No, I’ll leave you guessing.” He shrugged, turning to his breakfast. “You can go now.”