[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Smells Like Hope 6: Hanging
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Girl Genius
Characters: Agatha Heterodyne, Dimo, Maxim, Ognian, Othar Tryggvassen, Adam Clay
Word Count: 5,548
Rating: G
Pairing(s): Background Agatha/Jorgi, background Adam/Lilith
Warnings: Mentions (but not graphic descriptions) of Beetleburg's bell-jar executions and the aftermath of a hanging, fantastic racism in the form of anti-construct sentiment and conditional acceptance, and Jägers who need hugs. (If there's something else in here I need to warn for, please let me know.)

Author's Notes: With thanks to Para and Lilithqueen for inspiration and gracious permission, and Celaeno for beta-reading. (Sorry I started you reading a fifteen-year-long comic archive!)

All canon characters, situations, verbatim dialogue, and plot elements are property of Studio Foglio; no money is made from this fanwork and no infringement is intended.

Summary: Dimo, Maxim, and Ognian lose a high-stakes game of Hangman. Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer!) should be ashamed of himself. Agatha Clay (Heterodyne) is going to adopt all the Jägers, and you can't stop her.

Previous Part


Though the bulk of the Jägermonsters, Mechanicsburg’s monstrous volunteer standing army, agreeably signed on with Baron Wulfenbach when Mechanicsburg’s leaders signed the Pax Transylvania, more than a few individual Jägermonsters declined the Baron’s generous offer of employment, housing, and engagement. Like their comrades now working for the Wulfenbach Empire, these Jägers (called wild Jägermonsters in many places) also dispersed from Mechanicsburg, rarely but regularly turning up in villages and towns around Europa. Given the reputation of Jägermonsters on the whole, their reception in these towns varied wildly.

Agatha wasn’t sure if she were still in breakthrough or not.

The sleep-inventing had stopped as soon as she’d started trying to build things while awake-- which she wasn’t doing as much as she might have liked. Most of her time not spent just doing her part to maintain the house or pretending she was still a normal person (they were managing, somehow, so far, to hide Agatha’s Spark), Agatha spent ordering or reading books, mostly on political theory, advanced thinking engines, and the history of Mechanicsburg or the Old Heterodynes.

Her library was limited, yet-- it had only been two days since Jorgi returned to Castle Wulfenbach, not even enough time for a letter to arrive, much less for her book orders to have been filled-- but Agatha at least went through everything she had on thinking engines, making more detailed notes and not-quite-idle plans for little clanks. She had to finish breakthrough (she was sure it was supposed to be more spectacular than it had been, although she had refined her death ray designs and built several different models), learn as much as she could about anything that might help her repair Castle Heterodyne (as it was key to Mechanicsburg’s defenses), learn how to run a city-state, and ultimately take Mechanicsburg, hopefully without making Baron Wulfenbach too angry.

Lilith encouraged her to take breaks. Mechanicsburg had been waiting for her since before she was born, and could wait until she was ready to claim it. (Jägerkin lived for centuries; they could hold on a little longer to go home, even if it made Agatha feel terribly guilty to think she was delaying them.) But it was good advice-- Agatha didn’t know what would happen if she slipped into a Sparky fugue while researching, but she suspected it would result in her building something far too noticeable or wasting all the ink in the house-- so when Agatha started seeing gears and cables behind her eyes, she knew it was time to mark her place, let Adam know where she was going, and take a walk.

All the frivolous things for sale in Zumzum could be found in shops that opened onto the town square, and Agatha was thinking about sugar-roasted almonds as she crossed the square.

Thousands of trips through Beetleburg’s university square had taught her to ignore displayed corpses, although Beetleburg’s giant bell jars were a fair sight more advanced (and arguably slower and crueler) than Zumzum’s simple gallows, so Agatha hardly noticed the three men dangling there. It was unusual for Zumzum, yes, Agatha couldn’t remember a hanging since they’d moved, but the gallows were there for a reason and public executions hadn’t been unusual in Beetleburg. She didn’t gawk or stare. She wouldn’t have noticed the stranger in town if he hadn’t been speaking to the Mayor-- even then, if she hadn’t caught the end of what he’d said…

“-- Gentleman Adventurer! And… don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll strangle eventually--”

She might have just kept walking, if not for that.

Instead Agatha snapped to a stop and actually looked around.

The mayor was talking to a very muscular man, a stranger in town, wearing a slightly ridiculous visor and a luridly dyed cable-knit sweater. “They’d almost have to.”

“… I wonder how long it might take,” the mayor started, but Agatha looked to the gallows and the three figures dangling from the nooses there.

They were obviously constructs; one was purple, one greenish, and one a human-enough ruddy-pale color, but with a ram-like horn twisting out of his hair. Their clothes had a military air that was mostly offset by the fact that they had definitely seen better days. They were also very obviously not dead, breathing without any visible discomfort. The purple one looked frustrated, the pale one looked disappointed (maybe embarrassed), and the greenish one caught Agatha looking at them and offered her a wry smile full of very sharp teeth.

Jägerkin.

Well, she obviously couldn’t just let them hang there.

Agatha turned back to the mayor and the stranger. “Excuse me,” which she felt was pretty polite under the circumstances, “what happened here?”

“Ah, Miss Clay!” The mayor was rarely so happy to see her, not since Lilith had made friends with his softhearted wife and got her support for the Clay family’s ‘charitable work.’ Agatha was immediately suspicious. “Miss Clay, may I introduce Othar Tryggvassen--”

“Gentleman Adventurer,” the large stranger interrupted, grinning broadly and showing off very white teeth.

“Nice to meet you,” but it was perfunctory. “Mister Mayor, what happened?” She gestured toward the loaded gallows.

“Terrible business, of course, but we owe our town’s safety to Herr Tryggvassen--”

“Safety from Jägers?” Agatha countered. “Won’t the Baron be upset?” (Masha had said swamp, shovel, and shut up was the usual way people dealt with lone Jägers, but these three were still alive-- for now. Maybe she could keep them that way.)

“My dear Miss Clay, these are wild Jägermonsters,” the mayor assured her. “Not a single Wulfenbach badge between the three of them, and obviously living rough. You must forgive Miss Clay, Herr Tryggvassen, her sweetheart is a Wulfenbach Jägermonster-- a surprisingly civilized creature, actually.”

Othar looked down at Agatha, eyebrows raised over his visor. “Really?”

Agatha took a breath (one two three four), held it (one two three four) and exhaled (one two three four), and felt fairly sure she wouldn’t say anything regrettable. “What’s a wild Jäger?”

“They don’t work for the Baron,” the mayor informed her. “Declined the offer, so they say. Thrown out of Mechanicsburg all the same, to keep the peace.”

“And what did these three do,” she went on, “to end up… there?” Agatha gestured at the gallows.

They were Jägerkin. They were hers. She wouldn’t leave them there if she had any other choice.

“Why, they matched wits with Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, and lost!”

“Quite the story, really--” the mayor began.

“So they just… came into town, ran afoul of you,” she said to Othar, “and now they’re being hanged? Did they actually hurt anyone first? Steal anything?”

“Miss Clay, you can’t just let wild Jägermonsters run through your town,” the mayor told her. “These ones don’t have fifteen years of proper military discipline to settle them down-- they’re as vicious as they were under the Old Heterodynes.”

“They don’t work for the Baron,” Agatha said.

The two men exchanged puzzled looks. “They don’t,” the mayor agreed.

“So they’re unemployed.”

“… What?” asked Othar.

“Mister Mayor, if three unemployed constructs of any other sort turned up in Zumzum, where would you expect they were going?”

“Miss Clay, I know how deeply you believe in your mother’s work with constructs, but I doubt even she could manage job placement for wild Jägermonsters.

The solution hit her like a bolt of lightning. “I’ll bet you five silver pieces-- per Jäger-- that she can.”

Of course it worked.

Over Othar Tryggvassen’s protests (she had heard of him), the three Jägers were cut down, and the pale and purple ones reclaimed their hats from where they’d fallen with a surprising amount of dignity. The mayor wasn’t the worst of Zumzum’s gamblers-- that would be a hard contest to judge-- but Agatha had made what was very probably a sucker’s bet. She knew the mayor couldn’t resist one of those.

Before she could herd the Jägers out of the town square, a heavy hand fell on her shoulder. “Miss Clay,” Othar said, looking down (and down-- he was tall) at her. “I’m sure you think you can control these three creatures, but you are putting yourself, your family, and indeed your town into danger.”

“Herr Tryggvassen,” Agatha said, shrugging out from under his hand, “your reputation as a hero precedes you. And the first thing I ever learned about heroes is that they help people.”

“We do!” he agreed, beaming and ready to keep talking, but Agatha cut him off.

“The first thing I ever learned about constructs is that they are people. I don’t know how you managed to get three Jägers into nooses without a fight that leveled half the town, but--”

“Oh, that was fairly simple,” Othar told her, amiably. “We played a high-stakes game of Hangman. Jägers love to play games, but they’re fuzzy on the rules.”

Agatha took a measured breath, but still hissed, “If you’ll excuse me,” instead of saying it politely. She tried.

She did not quite manage to lead the three Jägers home with dignity. She ended up behind them most of the way, herding more than leading-- the forge wasn’t far, or easy to miss, and directions were easy to give-- trying not to keep looking over her shoulder.

Hangman! How dare he!

She got them through the door-- she didn’t even bother to tell the one to leave his halberd outside (and when had he picked up a halberd? Had it been with his hat?)-- closed it firmly, and leaned against it, eyes closed.

“Ve ken--” one of them offered, but Agatha held up a hand. Adam was in the workshop, still, she could hear him, and Lilith was probably napping since she’d been taking night watch to make sure Agatha didn’t disappear. She probably had fifteen minutes before someone thought to go tell Adam what she’d done.

“Just please tell me Jorgi didn’t send you,” she asked them, opening her eyes. “He said ‘sneaky,’ I distinctly remember ‘sneaky.’”

“Vhy vould Jorgi haff sent us?” the purple one asked, curious.

The pale one nudged him. “Dot guy vit de nize hat said she gots a Jäger sveethot-- dot must be Jorgi!” he announced with a grin that should really probably have been more unnerving than it was. “Hyu is Jorgi’s gurl, huh? How’z he doink? He treatink hyu goot?”

“Oh-- he’s fine? You do know him?” Wait, they’d gotten off the subject somehow. And the green Jäger was looking dangerously suspicious.

“Sure ve do--”

The green one smacked the pale one in the shoulder. “Use hyu noses!” The other two Jägers inhaled, deeply, and as one, they all looked to Agatha.

Their gazes actually were unnerving, mostly because of their sudden intensity. “Okay, that’s… that’s disconcerting.”

The purple one swept his hat off and took a knee, just like Jorgi had when he’d first realized not only that was Agatha a Heterodyne, but what that meant-- though instead of his hand, the purple Jäger settled his hat over his heart. “Mistress,” he breathed, smiling like all his favorite dreams had just come true.

“Okay, no, please, get up,” she told him, moving to nudge him to his feet by the shoulder without the spiked shoulder guard, “nobody in town knows and we’re trying very hard to keep it that way.”

He stood, but grinned even harder.

What was Agatha going to do with them?

“There should be some stew over the fire in the kitchen-- are any of you hungry?”

From the expressions they turned on her then, apparently ‘feed them’ was the right answer, or at least one of the better options. Agatha led them to the kitchen. “If you want to wash up first, be my guest,” she told them, and nodded at the sink before starting to pull down bowls. “I’m not sure what I’m going to tell my parents, but I’ll think of something.”

“Hyu parents?” the green one asked, simultaneously suspicious and hopeful.

Agatha offered a wry smile to try to soften the blow. “My foster parents, I’m sorry. I should probably start at the beginning-- or we could trade questions,” she suggested, crossing to the big stew pot (which Lilith kept going because stew was filling and they never knew if they’d have odd company drop by) to start ladling up bowls. “There are a few I’d like to ask.”

“Ladies furst?” offered the pale one, accepting the bowl Agatha offered.

“There’s flatware in the chest over on that cabinet,” she told him, because spoons were important to stew, but asked all of them, “Who are you?”

Introductions were managed efficiently; the greenish one was Dimo, the pale one was Ognian, and the purple one was Maxim, and she was, at least publicly, Agatha Clay, and nobody’s Lady Anything. Because they were all obviously anxious to hear it-- and because she ought to get used to telling it-- Agatha gave the trio a brief rundown of her own history, as well, Uncle Barry and locket and secrecy and Jorgi and Punch and Judy and Spark and all, though didn’t focus too much on Lucrezia. “The Geisterdamen might still be a problem,” she concluded, “and nobody knows what makes Sparky girls disappear, and we’re not sure if I’m done breaking through, so we’re not ready to head to Mechanicsburg yet. Which is why I expected…”

“Schneaky guys,” Dimo filled in, with a toothsome grin.

“Well-- yes. I’m not-- I’m not disappointed, I’m glad I got you-- I’m glad I didn’t have to hope you were still alive at midnight and sneak out to cut you down-- but… Sorry?” For expecting someone else, anyway.

None of them looked like Agatha ought to be sorry. Dimo looked proud, and Maxim and Ognian beamed at her. “Hyu gots us. Dot’s vot counts,” Ognian agreed. “Now-- is Jorgi treatink hyu right? Ve gots more reason to vant to know, now.”

“I’m perfectly happy with the way Jorgi treats me,” Agatha said, trying not to smile too hard about it. “He’s… playful and romantic and protective. I…” fully intended to keep him as long as he wanted to be kept. “I’m very happy. What’s a wild Jäger?” she asked, to head off more questions about her relationship with Jorgi. “I should probably hear it from you instead of… anyone human.”

“Ve isn’t vild,” said Dimo, “Not really. Hyu vouldn’t haff let us into hyu nize leedle house if hyu thot ve vas vild, yah? Ve vas detached.”

“From…?”

“From de rest,” Maxim chimed in. Vhen de Baron offered… employment,” and that had been Agatha’s word for the three of them, hadn’t it-- unemployed-- “ve knew ve had to take it.”

Agatha nodded. “I’ve… been told. There had already been a few attacks on Mechanicsburg, and with the defenses down, it’s not an unassailable fortress anymore. Old grudges.”

“… Jorgi tells hyu lots of tings,” Maxim decided.

“I ask. Go on, please?”

“De Generals knew ve had to keep looking for de Heterodynes,” Maxim went on, as asked, “but it vas suspected dis vould not be a high priority for de Baron, so dey ask for a bunch ov volunteers.”

Agatha nodded-- idly noting that Maxim’s accent was a little different than Jorgi’s, somehow. (Maybe it was a difference in dentition.)

Dimo picked up the thread of the story. “Ve vere to leave de group, go out into the vorld, und not return until ve find an heir. No matter how long it take.”

“That’s--” dangerous, she almost told one of the Jägers who’d been hanged in the town square. Who might’ve had worse if there’d been a fight. “… Very brave of you,” she concluded.

“Ve knew it vos suicide mission,” Dimo told her, bluntly, and Agatha’s heart clenched. “De Heterodynes vere gone. Ve vould neffer be able to come back.”

“But because ov us,” Ognian put in, proudly smiling, “de Jägerkin ken say ve had not abandoned our masters. Dey could join de Baron, und de Baron could protect dem. Und now here hyu show op--” Ognian’s smile started to falter-- “Und spoil all our plenz-- ’cause now ve gets to go beck.” He sniffled, eyes shining, and Agatha stood up and took a step toward Ognian. What she was thinking of doing, Agatha couldn’t have said. “Und I neffer-- I neffer thot--”

Ognian practically fell out of his chair, to his knees-- but not to formally kneel. Instead he flung his arms around Agatha, eyes overflowing, face half buried against her apron. Ognian didn’t even notice his hat toppling to the floor. “Ve haff missed hyu!” It wasn’t sobbed, not quite, but it was desperate. “Please, please be real!”

At least this time, the thing to do was obvious.

Agatha folded one arm around Ognian’s shoulders, hugging tight, and made an effort at smoothing his hair (or at least stroking it in what she hoped was a soothing fashion) with her free hand. “I am,” she promised quietly. “It’s all right. I’m real. I’m here.”

Was this what it was like to have people? What it was like to be not just wanted but needed, alive and safe? (It had been different with Jorgi, his need for her as a Heterodyne was tangled with their feelings for each other and it was-- just different.) Ognian had never met her before, barely knew her, but was so desperate for the concept of her-- at least as the end of a long, hard search. She thought she might have loved him for that, a little bit, not because she wanted to be the object of someone’s quest but because… because he needed it. Because he was hers. Because if he was hers, she had to take care of him, somehow. “I’ve got you,” she murmured, as Ognian tried to break down with dignity. “You’re--” hers, they were hers, she would protect them-- “mine, now, if you want to be.” She tried to make it as much an offer as a claim. “All of you.”

Ognian nodded into her skirts and held on a little tighter; across the table, Maxim stood, looking hopeful and needy, but Dimo yanked at his cloak to make him sit back down again. “Vait hyu turn.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she assured Maxim. They were rough wanderers and a little bit broken, maybe, but they were hers. (She spared a moment to hope that not every Jäger would need to hold her until he’d cried himself out, or assured his senses that she was real-- largely because of how long it would take to provide that for everyone.)

The door connecting the kitchen to the workshop creaked open. Dimo’s head snapped around, Maxim stood and whirled to face the door, and Ognian twitched a bit, like he wasn’t sure if he should let go of Agatha to defend her or hold on in case she disappeared. “Adam,” Agatha said, smiling only a little wryly, “these are Dimo, Maxim, and Ognian. They’re, um, they’re probably going to be staying for a little while. I kind of made a scene.”

Adam covered his face with his hand for a moment-- a gesture of Agatha, why?-- but nodded greetings to the three Jägers. So Agatha continued introductions. “This is Adam Clay, who you might remember better as Punch. He’s been my father since I was about six.”

“Ve thot hyu vos dead,” Dimo told Adam. “Und Judy?”

Adam pointed to the ceiling, and Agatha translated, “Upstairs,” in case it wasn’t obvious. Then Adam turned to Agatha and mimed popping something into his mouth. “No, I didn’t get any almonds-- I sort of bet the mayor that Lilith could find work for three--” not wild-- “detached Jägers.”

And it wasn’t really a proper sign, but Adam’s baffled expression and spread hand invited explanation very plainly.

“They were on the gallows,” Agatha told him. “Alive and fine-- wait--” she turned back to… well, Maxim and Dimo could at least make eye contact-- “you are all fine, right? I should’ve asked.”

“Yah.”

“Ve’s goot.”

“Hy could use some vater,” Ognian mumbled into Agatha’s skirts.

She guessed that was fair, for at least two reasons. “If you’re ready to let go, I’ll get you a cup,” she offered.

“… Lemme tink about it.”

Awkward. Agatha glanced around the kitchen, but Adam just gave her a wry look (she had somehow gotten herself into this situation), Dimo shrugged a little helplessly, and Maxim… Maxim sort of looked like he was waiting less and less patiently for his own turn to hug the Heterodyne.

Come to think of it, Jorgi was pretty tactile. And it had been, what, forty years since there was a Heterodyne who liked Jägers?

“Ognian?”

“Yes, Mistress?”

Agatha let that one go, because, “This probably won’t be your only chance to ever hug me.” She’d have to be careful about-- well, about a lot of things, really, and she certainly couldn’t hug the homesickness out of two thousand Jägers. But she only had three of them (well, four, but three present) now, and if the odd hug would help fix things, hugs could go into the metaphorical toolbox.

“… Really?” He pulled away just far enough to look up at her, hopeful but also, Agatha thought, a little afraid. Like if he let go, she’d vanish.

… And maybe that was a justified fear.

“If I disappear without a word,” she told Ognian (though, really, all three of them probably needed to hear it), “I want someone to come look for me. If I ever have to tell you to go away somewhere or stay somewhere, I will not mean ‘forever.’ And if there’s anything else I can say that will help, you are-- all-- invited to tell me what it is.”

Ognian hugged her tighter for a long moment-- then slowly let go. He stood, stooped to retrieve his hat, and sat back down where he had been, returning to his stew. He looked like a wreck, but a happy wreck; Agatha gave him a handkerchief before going to get him a cup of water, working the pump she knew Adam was half-planning to replace with something easier.

… She’d been saying something. Explaining something? “Where was I?”

Adam held a fist above one shoulder and tipped his head toward the opposite shoulder, features slack-- “Right! Hanging. They hadn’t even done anything, or at least nothing the mayor would admit to. It just-- it wasn’t right. And I wasn’t going to leave them there.”

They were hers.

But Adam nodded, and Agatha let out a breath (and handed Ognian his water). Adam also gave Agatha an expectant look and gestured at the three Jägers.

“… I don’t… actually know what to do with them-- with you,” she amended, including them in the conversation, “I don’t really know what to do now at all. I didn’t have a plan besides ‘get them down from there.’” Get them to the house, get them safe.

“Ve is not gonna complain about dot plan, Mistress,” Dimo told her.

Before Agatha could suggest they think of something besides ‘Mistress’ to call her, Adam tapped his temple and then pointed toward the master bedroom upstairs. “Think of one before Lilith wakes up,” Agatha guessed, and Adam nodded. “I’ll try.”

She couldn’t just hide them in the house. Agatha had tried that with a cat once, when she was eleven, and had failed at it rather spectacularly (though Adam and Lilith hadn’t made her give the cat back until it turned out the cat had been lost, not a stray, with an owner who had been looking for her). She still sort of wanted to hide them in the house, though, impractical and ridiculous as it was. It wouldn’t actually keep them out of danger.

“Do hyu vants us to find jobs?” Maxim offered. “Vin dot bet for hyu?”

“I really don’t care about the bet,” Agatha told him, “I just… I’ll look for cheaper books.” It was fine. Fifteen in silver wasn’t anything-- their necks would’ve been cheap at exponentially higher prices. And Agatha certainly didn’t want to send them away.

“Vot hyu readink books about?” Dimo asked.

“Right now I’m going over what I have on clanks, with a focus on how they think, but I’ve got books ordered on repairing and maintaining advanced thinking engines, economics, the history of Transylvania, laws of the Wulfenbach empire, political science, civic engineering--” And she was far too used to Jorgi, Agatha decided; the Jägers’ looked a little bit dazed. “… Anything that might help me fix Castle Heterodyne,” she said, “claim Mechanicsburg without getting Baron Wulfenbach angry at me, and help run Mechanicsburg without making a fool of myself.”

“Und hyu is taking it all verra seriously,” Dimo told her, sounding… careful but interested, she thought.

“People have been waiting for a Heterodyne to go back to Mechanicsburg since before I was born. I should really do my best to make it worth the wait.”

“Hyu vants it, den?” Maxim asked her, something hungry in his eyes. “Mechanicsburg? Hyu vants to make it vot vunce vas?”

“I don’t know what it once was,” she started, “But to start with, I want to make it so everyone who wants to go home to Mechanicsburg can go home. After that--” she shrugged, trying not to look too helpless-- “I won’t really know until I get there.”

She didn’t know Maxim at all, but she could still tell he was trying to hide his reaction. It hurt, a little-- but she thought she hurt for him rather than being hurt by him. He’d known Agatha for all of twenty minutes, too. He had no reason to trust her beyond her bloodline.

But he’d been angling for a hug, too. Maybe he wanted reassurances of his own.

Agatha put a hand over one of Maxim’s-- the left, the one without the rather interesting clank glove. (It didn’t nearly cover, but Agatha was used to having the smallest hands in the room.) “Ten days ago,” she told him, “I was just the adopted daughter of a blacksmith and a piano teacher, and the most interesting thing about me was the Jäger suitor in Baron Wulfenbach’s army writing me letters.”

Now she was secretly Lady Heterodyne and a Spark and a potential vessel for Lucrezia Mongfish’s brain.

Maxim replied with a guarded, “Oh,” and then something ticked over in his eyes, his tone changing to something more understanding, “Ho-- vell. Yah, hyu needs sum time, ov courz,” and patted her hand with his gloved one. “Ten days, hyu gots to be-- dot’s no time. Hyu’s new.”

“And I don’t want to promise more than I can deliver,” she agreed. “I don’t want to lie to you by accident.”

“She vants to get us home, Maxim,” Ognian said. “Dot’s enuff.”

“It’s--” not enough, damn it all, she didn’t want to sit in some castle and do nothing, help no one, she had a thousand ideas (and all right, at least a quarter of those ideas were things to build), but she had no way of knowing how to implement them or if they needed to be implemented, not until she got to Mechanicsburg. She didn’t want to fix anything that wasn’t broken, because maybe it was her town, but there had been people looking after her town while she was busy growing up, and their work deserved her respect.

Agatha failed to notice she hadn’t actually finished her thought aloud when Ognian offered, “… Not enuff?”

“First goal,” Agatha decided. “It’s a first goal. Everything else, I can prepare for but not plan for, not really, not until that first goal.”

“Der Kestle repaired, de Doom Bell rings, de Jägers allowed home, und hyu is de Heterodyne,” Dimo concluded. “Goot goal.”

She offered a smile, and Dimo gave her a calculating grin in return. Maxim still had her hand, which was fine-- she probably owed him a hug. This was going to be okay. She just… she just had to figure out how to keep three (wild) detached Jägers safely in a town that wasn’t entirely sure how much it liked Jägers.

“… I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before-- I know what to do now,” Agatha told Adam, who raised his eyebrows at her. (He looked odd, beyond the deliberate invitation for Agatha to go on-- proud but sad, maybe, or at least conflicted.) “We do the same thing for these gentlemen that we’d do for any three out-of-work constructs.” Put them up, feed them, maybe barter a few household chores or hard-to-find items, and write to people seeing if anyone had work for them. “We don’t actually have to try to find jobs for them-- I don’t-- I don’t want to send anyone away who doesn’t want to go,” she just got them, she wasn’t sending them off to deliver heavy things halfway across the continent, “but we can pretend to be job-searching, and trade room and board for help around the house and shop. Right?” It would be longer-term-- it would be practically indefinite-- but it could work.

(She was planning other things without thinking about them, noticing Maxim’s ragged shirtsleeves and Ognian’s complete lack of a shirt, the none of the three of them had a hem that wasn’t ragged or frayed unless it was reinforced with braid or trim. They needed caring for and part of Agatha was hurt and bewildered that so few people seemed to see that-- not just in Zumzum, which had last seen Jorgi two days ago, but across Europa, anywhere a single Jäger was fair game.)

But Adam was giving the three Jägers an inquiring look. Dimo spoke up for them. “Vorks hokay for us. Ve stay if she vants us to stay.”

… Of course she wanted them to stay, but-- “Do you want to stay?”

All three Jägers looked at her, in varying shades of amused, puzzled, and not quite believing it. Dimo grinned, scruffy and full of teeth. “Mistress,” he said, “Dot’s a schtupid qvestion.”

They’d been searching for a Heterodyne for fourteen years, Agatha remembered-- a suicide mission.

“I guess it is,” she admitted, offering Dimo a wry smile. “I just… don’t want to ask you to stay here if you don’t want to. Considering the hanging.”

“Ve had vorse,” Ognian assured her, smiling. “Din’ eefen hurt dot much-- chust embarrassing.”

“Besides,” Maxim said, “hyu needs a guard. Ve isn’t sottil, but ve ken vatch out for de Geisterdamen und… voteffer else.”

“Thank you,” she told him. “I’m glad to have your help, all three of you.”

---


My dear Jorgi,

I had intended to wait until you sent word of how your meetings aboard Castle Wulfenbach have gone before writing, but I have news that I feel shouldn’t wait.

My parents and I are currently housing three detached Jägers, because I bet the mayor that Lilith could find work for them, just as she can for any other unemployed construct. I fully expect to lose this bet and I do not care, because I first encountered this trio as they were literally on the gallows (they are fine, or so they tell me) for the terribly serious crime of losing a high-stakes game of Hangman to Othar Tryggvassen. I would probably be quite shattered at a man widely hailed as a hero behaving that way, but I now know most heroes are only human; instead I am furious with Herr Tryggvassen. (I am not being stupid; I am also avoiding Herr Tryggvassen. I do not want to take the risk of shouting at him.)

The Jägers in question are called Dimo, Maxim, and Ognian, and although I know it’s a bit of a risk boarding them so soon after you left Zumzum, I can’t bring myself to make them leave. They are careworn and wary (even a little wary of me, sometimes), but they did tell me what it means to be a detached Jäger. The phrase ‘suicide mission’ came up.

Is it normal for someone in my situation to want to keep three obviously very durable Jägers safe and protected? (At the moment I am settling for seeing them fed and sheltered.) They have agreed, very readily, to help with the project you and I discussed with my parents, and I intend to be very quiet about my urge to wrap them up in cotton wool and shame (or just shoot) anyone who tries to hurt them.

I miss you already. My parents are being quite supportive, but my thoughts keep turning around you. Wondering what would I want someone to do for you, if you were in their situation, wondering what you’d say or do or advise me to say or do, or simply wishing I had your arms to retreat to. I’m doing my best to be brave and go forward, knowing you think those are two of my better qualities, and honestly there’s nothing that truly makes me want to stop… but there’s a part of me that just wants to have you hold me and tell me that I’ve done the right thing, or at least tell me I have not made a mess of everything.

All else I will save for a reply to your next letter. I will not be surprised if this one reaches you after you’ve sent it.


Ever Yours,

Agatha




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