[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Smells Like Hope Part 4: Reveal
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Girl Genius
Characters: Agatha Heterodyne, Jorgi, Adam Clay, Lilith Clay, Sergeant Zuli, OC citizens of Zumzum (notably Lyov, Masha, Katia, and Evgeny)
Word Count: 18,953
Rating: G
Pairing(s): Agatha Heterodyne/Jorgi, Adam Clay/Lilith Clay
Warnings: Arguably justifiable fantastic racism (against Jägers), parental figures keeping secrets, family arguments, weird consent issues (no adult content but they're present and lightly discussed), Barry Heterodyne's A+ Parenting (abandonment issues), Lucrezia Mongfish and associated nope (humiliation, consent issues, mind control, so on and so forth), and one OFC who has the potential to run away with me a little bit.

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: Agatha Clay forgot to tell her adoptive parents that her long-distance suitor is a Jägermonster. Adam and Lilith Clay have been putting off telling Agatha that she's actually a lost Heterodyne heir, and straight-up avoiding telling her that her locket has been keeping the parking brake on her brain for eleven years. Jorgi should probably inform Agatha that there's a city-state being held in trust for her, since nobody else seems to be bringing that up.

Previous Part


Under the rule of Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, ‘human’ and ‘person’ are not interchangeable terms. Most of Europa’s people are, of course, human, more or less as nature intended. Clanks are only rarely people, due to the complexity of full sapience in thinking engines. Constructs, on the other hand, are always at least partly biological, and although many only possess animalian intellects, a great many are as sapient, intelligent, and communicative as any unaltered human, regardless of the source of their component parts. Though variably enforced, the Pax Transylvania provides legal protection to constructs across the whole of Europa.

Zumzum was a fortress town in the foothills, surrounded by pine forests, in a quiet stretch of the Empire just within the area that the Old Heterodynes used to happily raid. Jorgi wasn’t sure he’d ever been on a raid on Zumzum personally, but it wasn’t impossible. They tended to blur together after the first fifty years or so, unless something really stood out.

Out of a combination of courtesy and paranoia, Jorgi had asked to be dropped off one town west of Zumzum and travel the rest of the way on foot. It wasn’t far-- well, it wasn’t far if you were a Jäger who relished the chance to run flat-out through a sliver of the Wastelands-- and it kept any ominous airship shadows off of the small town where everyone knew everyone, which might have spooked Agatha’s parents. (He was a little concerned about Agatha’s parents. The last letter he’d gotten before leaving Castle Wulfenbach contained Agatha’s admission that she was still trying to find an opening to tell them that Jorgi, the nice young soldier in Baron Wulfenbach’s army she’d been trading letters with, was actually Jägerkin. She’d come off as optimistic, determined, and frustrated, but it had been the better part of a week since he’d had news.)

On approach, he kept to the road, and made sure his Wulfenbach badge was visible and firmly attached to his hat. He knew these little gated fortress towns on the edge of Old Heterodyne raiding territory.

Closer to Mechanicsburg, there tended to be a sort of pride in a history of surviving military rampages-- sure, they got raided by the Old Heterodynes now and then, and the Old Heterodynes tended to pillage and burn and carry off and there was that one time the Heterodyne had the Jägerkin very carefully burn a trilobite into a wheat field because he could see it from the town wall, but only the Old Heterodynes ever raided them, and anybody else who tried got crushed, hard. Further away-- for instance, out where Zumzum was-- they hadn’t raided as often and there’d been no shopkeepers yelling not to break things on their way past this time, or kids up trees yelling out which Jägers they could spot in the horde.

Out this way, so far south, a Jäger alone had to be very careful. Heterodyne raids and Jägerhordes had never been regular enough to be anything but terrifying. It was too easy to tell a questor ‘he wasn’t wearing a Wulfenbach badge, so we opened fire.’ To a point it depended on what they were shooting or how many shooters there were, but-- Jägerkin were sturdy, not indestructible, immortal, but not unkillable.

He was well in view of Zumzum’s east gate and its lookout towers (but unless they had really good scopes, he probably just looked like a borderline-filthy soldier with dark skin-- there were advantages to being plain for a Jäger) when Jorgi spotted a piece of luck-- a carter with a wheel stuck in a rut. It was a clank cart, so no unfortunate horse or ox to deal with, but that also meant the carter was struggling with a contraption of iron and steel instead of wood, and didn’t have any muscle but his own to do it with. “Hoy! Hyu vants a hand vit dot?”

The carter froze. “… Jägermonster…”

“Yah, but--” he tapped his hat, “Hy vork for de Baron. Just a leedle grubby from de valk. Also Hy can lift dot ting right out of dere, if hyu vants.”

“Sure,” although he didn’t sound sure. Still, he stepped away, and Jorgi shifted his pack, checked to make sure he wasn’t likely to break an axel or anything, and hefted the back end of the cart straight up maybe half a meter-- not so high it would spill its cargo. One big step toward the center of the road and he set it down again; the carter would need to straighten it out, but-- one cart, well out of a rut. “So, uh, so, you heading toward town?” The carter climbed back up, started the engine, and turned more towards the gates.

“Dot’s Zumzum up ahead, yah?”

“That’s it.”

“Den dot’s vhere Hy’m goink. Mind if Hy valk vit hyu?” he asked, trying to look… less harmful, if he couldn’t pull off ‘harmless.’ “Hy dun van ennybody tinking Hy’m a vild Jäger. Bad business.”

“… I… suppose so. You, uh, you visiting Zumzum on the Baron’s business?”

Jorgi couldn’t help the grin, and the carter leaned away from it. “Nah, Hy’m on leave. Gots a gurl in town.”

“A girl in--” The carter hit the brake and took a long look down at him. “… Red fire. Is your name Jorgi, by chance?”

“… Zo Hy am gonna haff to vorry about a blacksmith vot just found out about the Jäger ting, den?”

“I have no idea, son,” and okay, a guy who couldn’t be more than forty-five was calling Jorgi ‘son,’ maybe he wouldn’t have to fight the whole town, just Agatha’s father, “I’ve been outta town a week or so myself. But that Miss Clay’s always happy to tell people she’s writing back and forth with a Wulfenbach soldier name of Jorgi. You don’t think she told her parents?”

“She vas vorkink on it last Hy heard from her.” He hoped she’d done it.

“You know, you hear things about how girls out Mechanicsburg way go for Jägers,” the carter said, starting up again, “but I wouldn’t have figured Miss Clay for it. She’s downright quiet, most of the time”

“Vell, Agatha is…” Determined. Quietly, almost silently brave. Brilliant. Protective and, failing that, comforting. A hurricane lamp-- pretty and delicate, protecting and containing a bright flame. “Verra nize,” Jorgi concluded.

The carter looked down at Jorgi for a long moment, and Jorgi wondered exactly what stupid expression had plastered itself all over his face. “Good luck with the blacksmith, son. Never thought I’d see the day.” As they neared the gate, the carter called out, “Zuli, get the hell down from that gate, old man! You’ve gotta hear this!”

“Hy’m hot gossip, den.”

“Zumzum’s not a big town. Our city girl’s soldier suitor finally showing up would be better than a traveling Heterodyne Show even if you were human.”

Zuli was an old town guard with a prosthetic ear, probably one with some kind of rank. “Lyov, where in hell did you pick up one soldier?” Zuli didn’t wait for the carter to answer and turned to Jorgi, “There trouble on the way?”

“Zuli,” Lyov the carter said, “This is Miss Clay’s young man Jorgi.”

“Dot’s me,” Jorgi admitted, careful about how many teeth showed. Town guard, now, there was something to be cautious about.

“… I’ll be damned,” Zuli said. “Does Miss Clay know you’re a Jägermonster?”

“Yah, ve met de day before she moved,” Jorgi said. “But Hy dunno hif she told her parents yet.”

“The Clays are good people,” Zuli said, giving Jorgi a measuring look. “Maybe a little too good, raising that girl thinking every construct can be civilized given half a chance. Wonder if there’s a bridge too far even for them.”

Jorgi clenched his jaw and made a valiant effort at stifling a growl. There were town manners and then there was responding to an insult.

“Zuli, for the love of-- he’s one of the Baron’s Jägermonsters. Don’t rile him up on purpose.”

“Who’s been writing your letters for you?” Zuli asked.

“… Hy haff,” Jorgi said, blinking. … Wait, Zumzum’s people hadn’t had time to get used to Jorgi, The Incredible Reading, Writing Jäger.

“Jägermonsters can’t read,” Zuli said with the confidence of someone who’d seen a couple of Jäger raids in his time. Street signs were things that happened to other people.

On the other hand, Zuli was probably old enough to know where you got baby Jägers. “Yah, vell, Hy’m pretty sure my poppa only had keeds so he could make somebody talk about Plato vit him. After fifteen years of duality und de politics of non-beink as related to Platonic reality, hyu’d be ready to run avay und join de Heterodyne army, too. Furst six months dey had me shovelink op after de horses, but nobody vanted to talk about de hierarchy of multiple souls, so it vas a schtep op.”

Lyov was leaning hard against the safety rail of his cart, laughing, and Zuli was trying to stifle a smirk and not doing to well at it. “Well, I guess you’re educated enough for Miss Clay, you poor bastard.”

Laughter was a good weapon. Also a good lock pick; it opened doors, and, in this case, got Jorgi through the town gates, and had Lyov pointing the way to the Busted Clank, Zumzum’s only inn. The innkeeper was a heavyset woman who treated him with the same ‘you have not yet proven to me you are not a wild animal’ disdain she turned on her more human customers. He paid up front for the room (probably overpaid, but that happened and he could afford it) and got told in no uncertain terms that he’d be paying for anything he broke before she’d surrender the room key.

Even knowing how fast gossip traveled in small towns, Jorgi took the time to clean up and change. Agatha liked how he looked in a nice uniform, and that was reason enough to make sure he didn’t see her for the first time in months wearing a road’s worth of dirt and smelling, not unreasonably, like he’d run full-tilt for several kilometers just to see her.

---


Agatha sketched gears in her room, trying to map out what she wanted to do on paper before trying it in iron or brass, following theory before practice. It was slow going-- every time something looked really interesting she had to take a moment to stave off a headache-- but maybe someday she’d have a working clank for her efforts now. She had better things to do, of course-- Jorgi was due to arrive in town tonight, maybe tomorrow morning, and Adam and Lilith still didn’t know he was a construct, much less Jägerkin. It didn’t pull her away from her drafting table.

The her bedroom door flew open, revealing Masha, the swineherd’s daughter, grinning like a fiend and eyes bright. “Agatha!”

“… Masha?”

“Hurry! Wait, stand up--” Not being one of nature’s more restrained individuals, Masha grabbed Agatha’s hands and pulled her to her feet. “Hm, no, that’s good. Turn around.”

“What’s good?” Agatha asked, obediently turning in a circle. Masha snatched Agatha’s hairbrush off her nightstand and ran a few strokes through Agatha’s hair.

“Well, that’s tidier. Okay, come on!” Masha wasn’t that much stronger than Agatha, so possibly it was sheer force of personality that had her pulling Agatha from her room and down the stairs.

“Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise!”

“Have fun with your mystery, Masha!” Lilith called from the kitchen as Masha tugged Agatha down the hall and toward the front door.

“Oh, I will, Frau Clay!”

Before Agatha knew it they were out the door and halfway down the street. “Masha! Really, what’s going on?”

Masha stopped and whirled on Agatha, bouncing. “You didn’t tell anybody your Jorgi is a Jägermonster!”

“It never came up, and--” Agatha bit down on ‘it’s just “Jäger”’ to stare at Masha with wide eyes. “Wait-- is he here?”

“At the Busted Clank! Come on!” She grabbed Agatha’s hand again and started pulling, but this time Agatha laughed and followed with a will. “Pavel says it looked like Sergeant Zuli wasn’t even going to let him through the gate, but then he told some story that had Lyov laughing so hard he almost fell off his cart and old Zuli had to let him in after that. And of course he didn’t have any trouble at the inn, you know how Katia is, she hates everybody all the same. Yeva says she saw him coming up the street and she doesn’t think he’s a Jägermonster, she thinks he just has some teeth he needs pulled.”

“Any dentist who tried would probably lose a finger,” Agatha told her, “and anyway if you want to be nice, it’s just Jäger, not Jägermonster.”

“Yeva said he was just brown, not any funny color-- but Pavel said he lifted Lyov’s cart out of a rut, so…”

“Well, maybe Lyov will listen to Adam now and get wider wheels for that old thing.”

“Agatha! Really he’s a Jägerm--mm-hm?” It wasn’t a graceful save, but Agatha laughed happily for Masha making the attempt.

“Stay and wait for him to smile, you’ll see.”

Agatha was set to dash through the inn doors once they were in sight, but Masha stopped her. “Do your breathing thing just in case. And let me see your hair again.” While Masha finger-combed Agatha’s hair and straightened her waistcoat, Agatha inhaled (one two three four), held her breath (one two three four), and exhaled (one two three four). She started a second round, but Masha exclaimed, “Oh! I should’ve made you find a pretty hat!” and Agatha dissolved into giggles.

In a larger town, Agatha would never have set foot in the Busted Clank; Lilith wouldn’t have allowed it, because the whole ground floor was the tavern (and kitchen). Zumzum was only so big, after all, and it could support an inn-and-tavern better than just an inn. But-- Zumzum was only so big, and everyone knew everyone, and almost everyone was at least a little bit afraid of Katia, certainly too afraid to let any harm come to young women in Katia’s house. (There was a persistent rumor that Katia had caught a traveler using a girl cruelly, beat him to death with either a rolling pin or a beer stein, and tossed his body in the cesspit.) Agatha felt reasonably safe stepping inside, Masha at her back, still bouncing happily.

The tavern smelled like stew and beer, the two staples of Katia’s menu, and was full of murmuring that ebbed when she walked in. She wasn’t two meters into the room when Jorgi emerged from the stairwell, adjusting his cuff, just as tall and tailored as she remembered.

Behind her, Masha whistled between her fingers, a single sharp note that caught most of the tavern’s attention-- including Jorgi’s. For Jorgi to look at Masha, though, he would’ve had to look through Agatha-- instead, they locked eyes. His grin nearly split his face. (Behind Agatha, Masha let out a quiet, “Wow, teeth.”)

Her heart felt like an electromagnet pulling her toward Jorgi-- she dashed across the tavern floor (he vaulted lightly over a table) and where a romance novel might have had a passionate kiss, or Agatha throwing herself into Jorgi’s arms, reality instead Jorgi scooped her up under the arms and spun her in a circle like a fairytale princess. (Agatha might have squeaked.) The moment her feet touched the floor again, Agatha pulled Jorgi into her arms-- and he must’ve been happy to follow because she succeeded-- and wrapped him in the fond embrace she’d been wanting for months.

---


Agatha was warm and soft and sweet in Jorgi’s arms, and it was worth the entire trip to Zumzum and being the ball in a game of Gossip Polo. He pulled her close, her hair slippery and soft between his hand and her back, and took a deep breath. In Beetleburg, clinging fear had overpowered Agatha’s own scent, but he’d only known her for one very challenging day. Zumzum had been kinder to her, and Jorgi wanted to overwrite the sense-memory of Agatha Smells Like Fear.

Individuals’ scents were hard to describe; all the languages had been invented by humans and humans just couldn’t smell that well. No one inherently smelled like fruit or flowers (well, maybe there were plant constructs, but no one made of meat), but it was hard to explain how a specific person smelled without relating them to other people who smelled similar-- or just getting metaphorical. Jorgi’s upbringing left him with a weakness toward the metaphorical; he tried to keep it inside his head most of the time, and derail any particularly florid trains of thought he caught himself riding.

Agatha Clay smelled like hope, and home, and love. She smelled like the promise of security, like refuge, like care. She smelled perfect, and Jorgi tucked his face against her hair, facing down a very sharp desire to just hold on forever and breathe Agatha’s scent for the rest of his life.

“Hyu schmell,” he murmured, before he could meander into the depths of his vocabulary or sniff her in silence for too long and make things awkward, “zo nize.”

Agatha pulled away a little to look up at him, and… well, her smile was a fair trade for the distance, soft and sweet and just happy, not timid or watery or sad or in spite of terrible things, as all the smiles he remembered had been. “I guess you missed me, then.”

“Ken Hy kees hyu?” and really, no, that was stupid, why had that fallen out of his mouth-- God’s fish in little trousers, they weren’t even anywhere pretty.

But Agatha stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed him anyway, soft and light, slow and lingering.

The tavern broke into applause and whistles, because it was three in the afternoon and they were kissing in a tavern, because life liked to make a happy fool of Jorgi, and Agatha pulled away, blushing. Blushing and smiling.

Well, that was it, Jorgi was done for, every leave would be in Zumzum for the foreseeable future, this was worth an angry blacksmith poppa with a red hot iron chasing him down the main street. This was worth all the stupid stories any of the Jägerkin had to tell about various sweethearts and the ridiculous lengths they went to and risks they took and kitchen implements they’d taken to the face for the chance to be with those sweethearts.

Jorgi had it bad.

“Hyu, ah. Hyu mebbe vants to take a valk?” Somewhere at least slightly more inherently respectable (or at least with fewer day-drinkers) than a tavern, anyway.

Agatha tucked her arm into his and brushed against his side. (Done for, he was done for, he couldn’t even think of any stupid words for how done for he was. Agatha could have taken his hat off and he probably would have just smiled stupidly at her. Probably.) “I’d like that.”

He led Agatha toward the door, and the girl already there-- grinning fit to hurt herself-- dashed over to the bar. It was probably only Jäger hearing that made her voice and the innkeeper’s carry, though, “That was the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

“If I’d known Jägermonsters cleaned up that nice, I might’ve chased a couple when I was her age, too.”

Outside, the sunlight caught Agatha’s hair like red gold and Jorgi had it bad, he already knew that. It wasn’t fair at all that his mind kept running on when he looked at her, making him feel even more ridiculous. They wandered south, arm in arm. “You haven’t stopped smiling since you saw me,” Agatha told him, quietly, as though she weren’t smiling as she said it.

“Vell. Hy guess dot means Hy’m pretty happy to see hyu.” He wanted to kiss her again. Maybe the town had a fountain or a little bridge somewhere, those were traditionally good places for kissing.

“I missed you.”

“Hy ken’t get leave more often,” Jorgi admitted, “But Hy ken come here vhen I gets it.”

She beamed up at him. “I’d love that.”

He would do terrible things for that smile. Or stupid things. Or embarrassing things. That was a smile worth a lot of effort. “Oh! Vait, I gots hyu sometink…”

“You didn’t have to-- just having you here is enough--” But Jorgi waved off the protests before patting his pockets. Right, in the jacket, that’s where he’d settled it.

“Vell, Hy thought, ‘vot can Hy bring Agatha dot vill make her like me eefen more?’ Und Hy couldn’t get to Beetleburg for dose leedle apple-ginger cakes, und de vay Hy came to town, flowers vouldn’t haff made it. Zo--” He dipped a hand inside his jacket and held out something that, all right, had cost a little more than pastry or candy or flowers.

Agatha squeaked and put her hands to her mouth like some kind of storybook damsel. “You got me a death ray!”

“A leedle vun,” he agreed, watching Agatha admire the tiny gun-- too small for him but just right for a lady’s hands, “But dot just means hyu ken hide it in a pocket or up hyu sleeve und nobody knows about it but hyu.”

“They never even let me play with these in the labs back in Beetleburg,” she said, then turned the full force of her smile on him again. “I could kiss you.”

“Keep hyu finger off de trigger und Hy say yes.”

She laughed and kissed him, jumping up to wrap her arms around his neck, which meant of course he had to wrap his arms around her back, to support her. That was just gentlemanly. After that, instead of taking Agatha’s arm again, he settled his around her shoulders-- questioning with a look to make sure she was all right with it. Her answer was to cuddle close against his side.

He had no idea where they were going. “Zo…”

Agatha looked up at him, content and smiling. “Hm?”

She had the prettiest eyes.

Focus.

“At dis rate, is ve gon’ gets to hyu house before de gossip reach hyu parents?”

Agatha frowned. It didn’t manage to make her any less beautiful. “I haven’t told them.”

“Yah, I vas suspectink. Vhy not?”

“At first…” she paused, took a slow breath, and let it out-- the breathing trick he’d written her about, he tried not to grin at seeing it, something he’d found for her helping her-- “At first it was just about not quite finding a good moment. I’d talk about you, meaning to… to say something like ‘well, as Jägerkin, Jorgi thinks…’ but the conversation always seemed to shift before I got that far. About a week ago I mentioned that you had leave coming, and that you were planning to spend it here, and…”

Her jaw tightened, her brow looked gently stormy, and she took another measured breath. “I don’t think they expected me to ever actually want to see you again, or that you’d want to see me, or something.”

“… Vell, dot’s krezy talk,” Jorgi informed her. “Hy haff vanted to see hyu again since hyu closed hyu door in Beetleburg.”

That got him another smile. He would fight a small army for more of those smiles-- especially when Agatha’s smile turned into a delicate, glittering, hard thing. “If it’s all right with you, I’ve been thinking about just sort of dropping you on my parents.” Like a dagger made of faceted crystal.

“Vot, like, ‘dis is Jorgi, he’s verra dashink und stronk, vot’s for dinner, oh vait did I not mention de Jäger ting?’” He could just see Agatha playing it that lightly.

“I suppose it just never came up,” she agreed, smiling almost blandly. There was still a little of that diamond-hard glitter. “And of course I’ll be very confused if they act like anything’s wrong. Because nothing’s wrong.” She leaned up again, to kiss his cheek. “You’re perfect.”

“Sveethot, hyu is a hazard, but hyu is de best kind of hazard,” Jorgi told her. On the other hand, “But Hy dun vant hyu to haff problems vit hyu parents dot dun go avay. Hy dun mind if hyu poppa vants to chase me op und down de street vit a hammer, but if hyu tink hyu plan might mean hyu mamma neffer talk to hyu again…”

“They… can be strict,” Agatha allowed, “But they’ve always been very supportive of constructs. I think it might be time they realized that Jägerkin are constructs, too.”

Jorgi’s grin felt far too wide, but he couldn’t seem to tone it down. “Hy vas right.”

“… About what?”

“Hy likes it vhen hyu say Jägerkin.” Agatha looked right up at him and his vicious predator’s smile, and responded with a happy grin of her own, not afraid in the least. “Ve isn’t qvite like odder constructs, though.”

“… Well-- I know you-- I know Jägerkin sort of stand apart…”

“Becawse ve is… ve has a… a culture. Hyu parents-- und de Baron, in his vay-- is makink vit de support for constructs, vit money und food und vork und… pipple who von’t look at dem und tink, ‘yikes.’ Und dot’s good! Dot’s wonderful. But.”

“But,” Agatha prompted.

“Jägers is already havink most of dat. Jägerkin is a brodderhood, Hy tink Hy said dot in a letter-- ve is all verra different, but ve also gots more in common vit every odder Jäger den ve do vit most odder constructs. Ve’s all liffed in Mechanicsburg, vether ve vas born dere or not. Ve all takes de same vows, serves de same family, suffers de same growink pains. Ve is Jägerkin, ve haff de pack, alvays.” Except the detached Jägers, out there wandering and searching. Sacrificing, for the sake of the pack. Jorgi spared a thought for them, a moment of gratitude, and a wish for luck.

But now Agatha was looking at him differently-- still happy, but softer, admiring. “Come and meet my parents,” she said, gently proud, somehow. “If they’re shocked, they’ll get over it-- maybe not today-- but I want them to know you. I want you to meet them.”

And somehow ‘meet my parents’ was a more intimidating prospect than ‘shock my parents.’ “Hif hyu poppa chases me down de street vit a hot iron, Hy vant hyu to remember Hy dun blame hyu.”

“If they decide to be really unreasonable, I’m sure Masha would be happy to smuggle letters until they calm down.”

“Hyu makink friends here, den?” If she was, good. He had no idea why Beetleburg had been so cruel to her, but he was glad she’d gotten out.

“A few,” she agreed, smiling. “Masha’s the swineherd’s daughter I mentioned once-- the one who thinks city people are disgracefully impatient. She found out you were here and practically dragged me out of the house to see you.”

“Hy likes her already.”

Agatha smiled, and although she stayed tucked under his arm, she gently steered him-- toward home, he assumed. “Oh-- um, speaking of things I know are important but never remember to bring up…”

“… Vitch vun of hyu parents is a clank?”

Agatha laughed out loud at that (Jorgi thought wow), then took a measured breath. “Nothing like that. Adam-- my father-- is mute. My mother does most of the talking, but Adam makes himself understood in other ways.”

“Dot’s goot to know,” Jorgi agreed. “Shouldn’t be any trouble. Hy leesens vit my nose a lot of de time, ennyvay.”

“With your nose?”

“Sure. Hy ken schmell how much happier hyu is here den hyu vere in Beetleburg. Hyu vas scared effery minute of dot day, eefen de borink parts.”

“There’s much less pressure here,” Agatha agreed, “and those breathing exercises help a lot.”

“Den vas vorth runnink op und down de airship esking for ideas.”

“I’m grateful you went to all that trouble.”

“Und Hy’m grateful hyu… esked de tings hyu esked about Jägerkin. Und for de vay hyu esked.” Maybe not so much the sad story of The Heterodyne Boys and the Stay-At-Home Jägermonsters, but she’d asked him to tell her what he thought she should know. She’d asked respectfully, admitting ignorance. He hadn’t told her everything yet, but he had high hopes of getting there.

“Anything you want to tell me, about yourself or Jägerkin in general, I promise I’ll listen,” Agatha told him. She led him down a street near the center of town-- not too far, he thought, from the Broken Clank-- and said, “That’s us.”

The Clay house-- the new Clay house-- was still attached to a forge. Like all the houses in Zumzum, it was gaily painted, and the tiny front garden had been carefully plotted out-- as soon as the weather warmed up, it was pretty obviously going to be a vegetable garden instead of a for-show garden. Though it was hard to tell from outside, it smelled much like the family’s house in Beetleburg had-- like a forge, like onion and garlic and pickling spices, like constructs, and-- now that Jorgi had a better idea what she smelled like-- like Agatha. At the front door, Agatha took another measured breath, then slipped out from under Jorgi’s arm. (She took his hand, though. He supposed she’d tucked the little death ray into a pocket, since he didn’t see it anywhere.)

Jorgi braced himself for the backlash from being a metaphorical punch in the gut to Agatha’s parents.

Agatha opened the door and called out, “Lilith? Adam? I’m home-- Masha dragged me off because she found out Jorgi got to town today.”

“Did he?” called a woman’s voice that… sounded familiar, somehow. Familiar and very slightly disapproving.

Another measured breath, and with deliberate lightness (and her hand still clutching Jorgi’s), Agatha called out, “Yes! Come and meet him!”

That was enough to make the Clays hurry-- he could hear them hurrying-- from the kitchen out into the parlor or sitting room-- the front room of the house. Adam Clay’s bulk filled the doorway, and for a split second Jorgi thought this guy might actually be able to hurt me before the details (about seven feet tall and at least a meter wide, heavily muscled, shirt collar and sleeves buttoned up tight, black hair, broad face, Agatha said he was mute) clicked together and he recognized the whole picture.

“… Meester Punch?”

---


Agatha looked at Jorgi, puzzled for a moment-- then realized. He could smell that Adam and Lilith were constructs. Couple that with how big Punch and Judy were supposed to be, and it made sense. “I-- I think I see how you might get that, Jorgi, but-- these are my parents, Adam and Lilith Clay. Adam can’t talk, I mentioned that?”

“Dot’s… dot vas just for de books, Agatha,” Jorgi managed, hand weirdly loose in her grasp. “Is hard to write fonny dialogue for somebody who dun talk, yah?” He was still watching her parents, and he sounded strained-- not angry, just-- “Efferyvun tinks hyu is dead,” he told Adam, rough and quiet.

Oh.

Well, no matter how much Adam might resemble Punch, Agatha recognized ‘about to fall over’ even on a Jäger; she’d spent enough time in that state herself.

She should probably not have been able to herd anyone as strong as a Jäger over to the sofa, much less tug him down to sit, but Jorgi went along without seeming to register it. Adam was watching Jorgi with both surprising sympathy (maybe not that surprising, her parents were used to seeing constructs have minor emotional breakdowns) and wariness. “Vhere haff hyu been?

“Beetleburg,” Lilith answered tightly, finally properly joining them in the sitting room.

“Meestress Judy…” He sounded young, and oddly fragile, and Agatha scooped up one of Jorgi’s hands to hold tightly. He squeezed her hands for a brief moment, then relaxed his hand completely again-- so he wouldn’t hurt her, she realized, suddenly. So he had a little more time to remember not to accidentally squeeze too hard.

Agatha took a measured breath and resisted the urge to just throw her arms around Jorgi.

Lilith, however, went on. “We went to Beetleburg. We had the Masters’ permission-- and blessing. Mechanicsburg had been changing while we were off adventuring with the Masters. When they agreed to let us retire, we found out how much it had changed. The tourism was good for the town, but humiliating for us. We hated the notoriety, the lack of privacy. We hated being… tourist attractions. We are people, not sideshows.” Lilith sat on one of the armchairs, perching and looking very ladylike, but Agatha knew how fast she could be on her feet from that position. “We moved to Beetleburg and became Adam and Lilith Clay.”

“You really are Punch and Judy?” Agatha asked.

Her parents offered wry smiles, but before Adam-- Punch-- could nod or Lilith-- Judy-- could confirm, Jorgi asked, “Vot about de Masters? Is--”

Jägerkin belonged to the Heterodyne family. Agatha squeezed Jorgi’s hand.

“We don’t know for sure,” Lilith told him. “I’m sorry.”

Jorgi just sort of slumped, and Agatha’s heart broke for him all over again. The only thing she could think to do was slip her arms around him and hold on. She tried, very hard, not to think of Lilith telling her that Jägerkin didn’t need her tears, and instead took a measured breath, and then another. Jorgi settled his head on Agatha’s shoulder for a long moment-- she thought he might be doing the breathing exercise, too-- shuddered once, and made himself sit up.

“Hyu two raise goot keeds.”

Adam and Lilith exchanged quick, concerned glances. Adam was still standing, though he’d moved closer. “We’re very proud of Agatha,” Lilith said-- sounding guarded.

“Zo… vhere’d hyu meet her uncle?” Jorgi asked. “Or, hyu know, ennybody else vants to make vit de small talk…”

Lilith started to say something, but Agatha didn’t hear it.

Her uncle.

How had her foster parents, who were actually Punch and Judy under different names, met her uncle.

The only blood relative she knew of.

Agatha’s Uncle Barry.

The headache hit hard and fast, and Agatha keened, closing her eyes against the too-familiar pain that had crept up on her again-- but instead of holding her head as though the pressure might keep it together, she clawed at her locket.

“Agatha-- Agatha, sveethot--”

“Help me,” she wailed, “help me get it off--”

“You’re not--” Lilith started, but Agatha knew, she knew she wasn’t supposed to take her locket off, and when Jorgi finally got it undone, her neck felt strangely light.

Her eyes were still watering, and she was still in pain, breathing hard, but Agatha held on to Jorgi’s shoulders. “My uncle’s name,” she told him, because she hadn’t told him before, because it hadn’t been important, “was Barry.”

She saw the moment when Jorgi got it-- his eyes snapped from Agatha to the locket. “The only pictures of my natural parents are in there. Please-- is it them?” Uncle Barry left her to be raised by Punch and Judy. Her father had black hair and a friendly smile; her mother was a beautiful blonde with intelligent eyes. But Agatha didn’t know.

Jorgi fumbled with the locket-- it would probably have been easier for her to open it, even with unsteady hands, than for his claws to work the fiddly mechanism-- but finally it snapped open in his palm.

Jorgi stared, and Agatha held her breath. She didn’t even want to think her suspicions, just in case-- just in case-- well, Punch and Judy were heroes, too, the stories said (oh, no, the stories always wrote them as so stupid, no wonder Adam and Lilith hated them), and Barry Heterodyne couldn’t possibly be the only Barry in Europa who had an orphaned niece. It was possible that Uncle Barry had just… met Punch and Judy-- or Adam and Lilith-- sometime, and when he realized Agatha wasn’t going to be able to travel with him easily or safely, he went to them for help, and ‘help’ turned into ‘adoption.’

And Agatha’s aching brain was running away with her, because Jorgi’s usually expressive face was unreadable.

“Vell,” he managed, sounding dazed, after far too long, “Hy guess dot explains vhy hyu schmell so goot.”

“… Jorgi. Please?”

“Yah. Dis is-- dis is Master Bill und de Lady Lucrezia. Und-- hyu parents?” He glanced to Lilith, then Adam, who both looked scared to death-- but they nodded. Jorgi looked back to Agatha (finally. She couldn’t say why, but she wanted him looking at her-- she wanted him close). “Hyu is de Heterodyne,” he told her. The words seemed to settle over the room like a fall of snow, icy and heavy.

Then Jorgi’s eyes went wide and he pulled away from her, slipped to the floor. Agatha reached to pull him back-- but he took a knee, instead, right hand over his heart, head bowed. “Hyu is de Heterodyne,” he repeated reverent and serious, “und Hy is at hyu service, mine lady.”

Oh.

The Jägerkin belonged to the Heterodyne.

Oh.

Oh, no.

“No,” Agatha breathed, and Jorgi’s head snapped up-- he looked heartbroken but Agatha only saw it for half a second before she was on the floor, too, on her knees, no care paid to how her skirt settled. She threw her arms around him, desperately clinging as tight as she could-- “Not like that-- please, not you, not like that--”

Kneeling and distant and professional and no, no, she would not have Jorgi untouchable, she just got him back in touching range--

Inhumanly strong arms folded around her back, cradled her close, and she felt Jorgi’s whiskers rustle against her hair. “Like dis?”

Agatha nodded. Her head was killing her and her heart was in her throat and the world felt wrong, but-- “From you? This. Please.”

“Hokay,” Jorgi promised, quietly.

They stayed that way for quite some time.

---


Hearts, in the non-metaphorical sense, were soft things. Strong but tender muscle, and muscle didn’t break. Muscle could bruise, tear, weaken and atrophy, strengthen, or seize and die.

Jorgi rather felt like his metaphorical heart had been tossed down a flight of stairs and only caught at the bottom, and that was as far as he was willing to take that metaphor.

Punch and Judy were alive.

Punch and Judy were Agatha’s parents, the ones who’d adopted her but wouldn’t let her claim them as mamma and poppa.

Master Barry had delivered Agatha into Punch and Judy’s care when she was six, lived with them for a year, and left again when Agatha was seven.

Master Barry had been alive eleven years ago.

Master Barry had been alive eleven years ago-- eight years after the Castle fell, four years after Mechanicsburg and the Jägerkin agreed to be held in trust until a Heterodyne returned-- and hadn’t claimed Mechanicsburg.

(Had he hated them all so much?)

Agatha was Master Bill’s and Lady Lucrezia’s daughter.

Agatha was the Heterodyne, or could be, and anyway as far as Jorgi knew she was the only Heterodyne they had.

(Agatha had scared him half to death with that terrified little ‘no.’ He’d been so sure for a heartbeat that she was going to reject, renounce everything, but then she’d been on the floor, wrapped around him like ivy, wanting him but not, he thought, him on his knees in front of her. He would ask, eventually.)

Agatha was Lady Heterodyne, at least, and Jorgi was falling in love with her.

And he really wasn’t sure he could stop falling on his own.

Something rattled, alarmingly close to his head, and he looked up to see Judy-- or Lilith Clay-- setting a tray with four mismatched mugs and a teapot onto the tea table. “Agatha,” she said, gentle but firm, “If you and Jorgi would like to sit on the sofa again, I think we could all use a cup of tea.”

Agatha stiffened in his arms, and Jorgi wondered if maybe he was going to have to fight Punch and Judy after all, but she just asked, “Can I have some answers with my tea?” It was said softly, but the words were intended to sting-- from Judy’s face, they’d hit the mark.

“Yes,” Judy said-- surprising Agatha, she finally looked up from where she’d been hiding against his chest, impressions from some of his buttons denting her cheek. “We never wanted it to be this… abrupt, but… here we are.”

“Here we are,” Agatha agreed, in that same soft-but-stinging tone.

Jorgi shifted his hold on Agatha just enough to get them both situated on the sofa like civilized people, and not sprawled on the floor like the whole world was falling apart around them. Jorgi was a Jäger with a Heterodyne; the world should be coming together again. “Vhy did hyu hide her?”

“To protect her,” Judy said, simply, and poured tea. Punch touched her shoulder, gently-- he’d settled in the big armchair, the one obviously built for a big man, while Jorgi and Agatha had been… well, clinging. Punch gestured to them-- to Jorgi, mostly, it looked like-- and Judy nodded. “I’d like to start at the beginning, but… Agatha, if you’d like to put your locket back on…?”

“… Why?” Agatha countered. “I’m not six anymore. I don’t actually believe my parents can protect me through it these days.”

Judy bowed her head and Punch looked hurt, but Judy didn’t push. “Then at least don’t let Jorgi hold it for too long.”

Now it was Jorgi and Agatha’s turn to communicate with a look. Why would Master Barry ask Agatha to wear a locket forever, basically, that would lead Judy to being concerned about Jorgi holding it too long? The only answer Jorgi could think of was Spark stuff, which was as good a reason as any to use his head. “Vhy dun Hy just set dis on de table?” he concluded, and did just that.

The latch hadn’t caught, and the locket stood open like a tiny picture frame, leaving the image of Lady Lucrezia staring at him. He was probably just imagining her appraising expression… but Jorgi nudged the locket so the picture was giving that look to something else.

Judy handed him a mug, possibly to keep him from fiddling with the locket any further. “First of all,” she said, “None of this must get back to the Baron. Master Barry was very clear about that.”

Master Barry had never been the Heterodyne, and if Agatha really were Master Bill’s daughter, she was. (Or would be as soon as she was recognized.) “Hif Agatha agrees to dot after hearink de whole story.”

“No, Jorgi, this is important--”

She is impawtent,” Jorgi countered. “She is Master Bill’s dotter. She is de Heterodyne, by right und by blood. Hy follow her orders.” Also he was still holding Agatha’s hand, and she was still tucked close to him. If she asked him to do something, anything, he’d do it or die trying.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Agatha agreed, “at least the part about not agreeing to anything before we hear the whole story.” Her gaze flicked between Punch and Judy. “You owe me this. I love you both, but you owe me this.”

Judy just sighed. “I suppose you’ll understand when you hear it.

“Nothing I said when Jorgi recognized us was untrue,” she started. “We really did move and change our names because living in Mechanicsburg was like living in a fishbowl. We begged the Masters not to tell anyone, so that the notoriety wouldn’t follow us. We chose Beetleburg because it had good relations with Mechanicsburg, in those days, and… it was a simple, quiet life. We were happy, for the most part-- we still helped people, if not with the same flair that the Masters did.

“Then the Other War began. The Castle shattered, Lucrezia missing, Europa crawling with revenants. We only got word from the Masters once, saying that if we were safe in Beetleburg, to stay in Beetleburg.

“The war stopped, the Masters disappeared, and we didn’t know any more than the rest of Europa.” Punch-- maybe he liked ‘Adam’ better, though-- reached over and put a heavy hand on Judy’s shoulder. She took a sip of her tea and went on. “Then Baron Wulfenbach returned from wherever it was he’d been in hiding--”

“Dot’s not fair,” Jorgi interrupted. “Hyu vas in hidink, too.”

“We were told--”

“Yah. But don’t say ‘de Baron vas in hidink’ like he vas de only vun.” Judy gave him a measuring look, but nodded before he could figure out what he was measuring. (Agatha squeezed his hand, though.)

“I’ll do my best,” Judy said. “Well. The Baron returned and immediately began conquering Europa. Some cities rolled over, needing any kind of help they could get; others resisted and were fought down for it. The Wulfenbach army grew. The Wulfenbach Empire grew. Beetleburg became part of the empire largely because it had been untouched by war so far, and Tarsus Beetle wanted to keep it that way. The Baron changed nothing about day-to-day life in the city.

“And then he took Mechanicsburg. He conscripted the Jägermonsters.”

Agatha stiffened beside Jorgi.

“Yah. Hy know. Hy vas dere. In Mechanicsburg, vit all de Jägerkin. Becawse ve vas ordered to stay in de town, just like every time de Masters vent out to make vit de heroics.”

“So you joined with Klaus because he let you fight,” Judy concluded.

“Ve joined vit de Baron becawse de Baron agreed to hold Mechanicsburg in trust against de day vhen a Heterodyne vould return.” Which wasn’t the whole story, he’d tell Agatha the whole story later, but it was enough for Punch and Judy for now. “Mechanicsburg is a provisional holdink. Vhen--” Agatha went home-- “de Heterodyne returns, de Baron vill haff to make de treaty all over again.”

“That explains the town,” Judy said, “but not the Jägers. Why would you leave Mechanicsburg and fight for the Baron, if you’re sworn to the House of Heterodyne?”

Something else he’d tell Agatha the whole of, later. “Hyu is lucky General Goomblast vas usink me as courier back den,” Jorgi said. “Dot decision vas made becawse… it had been tventy years since ve rode out vit a Heterodyne.” Officially. Agatha knew that part. “Tventy years since ve vas allowed to leave Mechanicsburg. Now, ve vas terrible vhen ve rode out vit old Saturnus and all de odders, but ve vas known. Tventy years on, ve vas already startink to be de boogeyman, yah? ‘Be good, keeds, or de Jägermonsters vill eat hyu all op.’ De Baron knew us, und ve knew him. Ve remembered him from vhen he got to ride out vit de young Masters-- hyu know, he vould tell us vot de Masters had been doink? Und he esked about us. He vanted to learn.” Some of the things Agatha had asked, Baron Wulfenbach had asked first, and been told. Some of his questions had been Sparky stuff, and he had not been told. (Agatha hadn’t asked any Sparky questions, and she had a right to those answers.) “He vas a friend. Ve vent vit him becawse two thousand Jägers is pretty goot odds vhen hyu is fighting an army, but not so goot vhen hyu might haff to fight all de armies.”

“… You allied with Klaus because you were afraid,” Judy said, like she didn’t quite believe it. Adam looked puzzled by it, too.

“Oh, yah, ve vas terrified. Und lost, und in mournink. Jägerkin live und die for de House of Heterodyne, but de Heterodynes ve had vent off und disappeared vitout any of us. Vhen de Baron made vit de offer, it looked like a pretty good vay to keep most of us alive until ve had a Heterodyne again.” And look at that-- it had worked. There was a Heterodyne right next to him, tangling her fingers up with his.

Judy looked to Punch, and he twitched his eyebrows, the corner of his mouth, tilted his head toward Jorgi, and shrugged. “When Master Barry showed up on our doorstep four years later, with Agatha, he told us that Klaus was in league with the Other.”

Agatha sucked in a breath.

“Ho boy did Master Barry effer get some bad intel,” Jorgi said. Agatha relaxed, but only a little.

“We had good reason to believe him.”

“De Odder probably wrecked de Baron’s castle,” Jorgi said. “Killed his mamma und poppa. Made it so all of Europa vas fightink itself again. De Odder made it so de Baron couldn’t just take his leedle boy home, he had to fix Europa und build a new home und deal vit politics und hardly do any of de fightink or science himself.” And maybe that wasn’t common knowledge everywhere (and maybe the Other having destroyed Castle Wulfenbach was never confirmed), but if you lived on Castle Wulfenbach, you picked it up sooner or later.

“Lucrezia Mongfish was the Other,” Judy informed him-- them, really, making Agatha gasp beside him, but Jorgi figured the bluntness was for him, not Agatha.

“… Hy… ken see dot,” Jorgi allowed. The Other had tried to destroy Sparks, smashing their castles and towers and labs, and had used slaver wasps to destroy regular people’s minds, turn them into obedient revenants. When Master Bill had married, Lady Lucrezia showed an interest in Jägers, and they had hoped; maybe a wife who was a little less good could show the Heterodyne what to do with Jägers. They had been wrong; what Lucrezia best understood was what you could do with people who couldn’t say ‘no.’

“… You can?” Agatha asked, aghast.

“Yah. Hyu--” No, not her mother. Judy was effectively Agatha’s mother, and that was how Agatha always talked about her-- “Lady Lucrezia vas a schmott lady und a verra stronk Spark, but she vas not a nize lady. Und… she liked to be in control of pipple.”

And Agatha looked at him, searching, for a long moment. “What did she do to the Jägerkin?”

Demanded to use flat-topped hats as tables for little things like wineglasses and notebooks and lit candlesticks, and of course the Jäger wearing the hat had to be on his knees, or hands and knees, so Lady Lucrezia could reach what she wanted when she wanted it. Refused to let the Castle rearrange the furniture for her, making Jägers trot things up and down stairs and hallways and always, always move the biggest or most awkward thing at least six times. Cast the odd calculating look that had General Goomblast suddenly deciding all these young Jägerkin (the ones who hadn’t been Jägerkin long enough to get too many fun goodies, the ones who might, as Katia had said, clean up nice) needed training in how to be couriers and generals’ aides and guards whose whole jobs were standing on either side of a door and looking official, even if they were already expert trackers or cavalry fighters or crack shots or anything that might actually have been useful if they’d been allowed to leave Mechanicsburg.

“Nothink goot,” he told Agatha, carefully, “but also nothink ve vould haff had to tell Master Bill about. But Hy can see how, if Lady Lucrezia could play vit pipple’s minds und make dem obey her, she vould haff done.” He was surprised-- but not shocked.

Agatha set her mug of tea on the table, then firmly closed the locket. It fell over with a soft thud. “I’m so sorry.”

“Vasn’t hyu fault, sveethot,” he assured her.

“Why didn’t you tell Master Bill about it?” Judy very gently demanded.

Jorgi could only shrug. “He vas in love vit her, und he hated us Jägers, und she vas verra careful nobody got hurt. It… made more sense to tink he’d say ‘vell, Hy guess hyu guys isn’t allowed in de Kestle ennymore,’ den hope he’d fix his own orders.”

Punch knocked on the table, gently, with one knuckle, then mimed turning something-- a doorknob? Maybe a screwdriver?-- and gestured for Jorgi to go on.

“‘Fix his own orders’?” Judy translated.

Oh. “‘Just do vot Lucrezia tells you.’”

Agatha took a sharp breath, but when Jorgi looked over at her she had her eyes closed-- measured breathing. It took her four rounds of it to open her eyes. “I want to slap him.”

“… Him, not her?” Jorgi asked, almost amused.

“If I think too hard about what I want to do to her, I’ll give myself a headache I don’t want to make time for,” Agatha said, primly-- and curled up close to Jorgi, taking his hand again. Then she stilled. “… Is this all right?”

Seeing Agatha happy earlier in the afternoon had made Jorgi carefully not think that he would do anything Agatha asked him for that wouldn’t result in him breaking the Jägertroth; now, happily, there was literally nothing Agatha could ask that would break that oath. “Is fine, Hy promise.”

“… Promise you’ll tell me if it’s ever not fine, too?” and oh, Agatha was going to be a unique Heterodyne.

Jorgi grinned at her, partly to offset the formal, “Hy so svear, mine lady.”

Agatha cringed a little. “The ‘my lady’ stuff is going to take some getting used to.”

The last thing he wanted was to make her hate any part of being a Heterodyne. “Mine… dear lady?” he tried, and Agatha blinked, surprised. “Mine sveet lady? Brave lady, schmott lady, kind lady--”

Blushing and blessedly smiling, Agatha said, “There is a serious conversation happening, Jorgi.”

“Yah, und now hyu’s feelink better for it, right?”

She tucked her head against his shoulder for a moment, giving him time to notice how her parents were looking at them. Judy looked surprised, almost baffled, like she’d just seen a mimmoth recite Shakespeare, while Punch looked more thoughtful-- and was faintly smiling. (Very faintly.)

Then Agatha sat up, smoothed her hair, and asked Judy, “Why on earth did Uncle Barry think Baron Wulfenbach was working with--” Agatha broke off and looked unsure, like she didn’t know how to talk about Lucrezia anymore.

“Lucrezia,” Judy filled in. “Well, they were on-and-off lovers before she married Master Bill, and Baron Wulfenbach disappeared very shortly after Master Bill proposed, only to reappear when Europa was in chaos-- and then he started taking over. And collecting anything to do with the Other.”

“Und studyink dem,” Jorgi agreed, “zo ve ken do better job of destroyink dem. Do pipple not know dot? Serious qvestion.”

“With what Master Barry said about Lucrezia, we didn’t dare believe it,” Judy admitted.

“What did he say?” Agatha asked. “… And-- is she dead?”

Which was a good question-- the Other’s coordinated attacks had stopped, and revenant sightings were getting rarer every year. If Lucrezia was the Other, it was tempting to assume she was dead-- but maybe not smart.

“The Masters… found you when they were hunting for Lucrezia-- when we all thought she’d been kidnapped just as Castle Heterodyne collapsed. You were being looked after by Geisterdamen, and… they worshipped Lucrezia as some kind of goddess. Master Barry told us that Lucrezia had planned to use you as a vessel-- to copy her mind over yours, and then someday to your daughter, and her daughter.

“Master Barry escaped with you, Agatha. He told us Master Bill had died to stop Lucrezia, but he couldn’t be sure whether she intended to transfer her mind directly, or if she’d made a copy of herself somehow. I’m so sorry.”

Agatha was pale and shaking, and starting to smell like she had the first day Jorgi had met her-- terrified. “Hokay. Vell. Vhen Hy gets back to Kestle Vulfenbach, Hy’ll just tell--”

“No!” Judy shouted, and Jorgi stared at her. Even Punch looked alarmed.

“-- De Jägergenerals,” he continued. “Hyu tink dey vant de Heterodyne to get snatched op by Geisterdamen?”

“Master Barry wanted us to raise her and keep her safe and hidden,” Judy said. “She has to stay secret.”

“Uncle Barry,” Agatha snapped, diamond-sharp and crystal-brittle, “left me. As soon as I started getting headaches, as soon as I needed help, he-- all right, he found you, he found somewhere I’d be safe and loved, but then he left. I don’t care what Uncle Barry wanted. If what happened to me was so important to him, then he should have come back.” She dragged in a slow breath, glaring down her parents only a little shakily. “I need to go lay down,” she said, standing slowly-- Jorgi stood with her-- “and try to fight this headache.”

“All right,” Judy said, collecting the locket and holding it out to Agatha. “Make sure you put this on--”

“No.”

“… Agatha, Master Barry was very clear that you’re supposed to wear the locket at all times--”

Then take her picture out of it!” Agatha snarled-- then grabbed her head and swayed. Jorgi caught her elbow and held her upright. “I will not put anything of her or hers near my head ever again,” she swore, “not even a picture. Jorgi, it’s been wonderful to see you and I want to see you again, very much, but-- maybe tomorrow? I--”

“Hyu head hurts.” Impulsively, he kissed her forehead. “Hy gets it. Dun vorry, vun of dese days, ve haff a day togedder vhen nothink hurts you. Ve keep tryink.”

She hugged him tight, her poor head settled over his heart. “You’re the best part of any day that has you in it,” she told him. Then she slipped away and made for the stairs.

“I suppose it’s far too late to ask you about your intentions toward Agatha,” Judy started.

He wondered if she realized she was baiting him, then wondered if he cared. “Dey’re different from vhen I vas schtill on de front porch,” he admitted. “She is de Heterodyne. Hy liff und fight und die for her. Und she is Agatha.” He loved her and was falling in love with her. “Vateffer Hy ken do for her happiness, Hy vill do.”

“Start thinking about her safety, then,” Judy told him.

… Well, he’d given her a death ray, so Jorgi supposed that was a start. “Hy vill-- if hyu vill schtart tinking about vot Agatha vants. She’s not a leedle gurl ennymore.” He nodded, first toward Punch-- “Herr Clay,” then Judy, “Frau Clay. Hy ken see myself out. Please dun move house overnight again.”

---


Agatha slept, and Agatha dreamed.

She dreamed of music, and cold, shining gears; of perfect order and perfect repair, and of beams of arcing blue heat carving flawless circular holes in whatever they struck. She dreamed of a half-forgotten voice telling her she was too young, and that her parents would protect her. Of phantasmal women in delicate pastel shades and crystal-white spiders as tall as trees.

The ghosts and spiders loomed, and monsters leapt from many-colored shadows, shark teeth flashing, and in her dream she knew it wouldn’t be enough to be protected.

She stretched out a hand to protect in turn, and the blue light flew from her, tearing ghosts and spiders to pieces and leaving the monsters, her monsters, intact and unharmed.

Yes. That was what she needed. To protect.

Agatha dreamed.

Agatha didn’t precisely wake up so much as open her eyes.

On opening her eyes, she stared at the ruin of her vanity table. It was a good thing Agatha owned so many little things she never used, because most of them were ruined. Her hairpins had been bent open and twisted into odd, delicate shapes (but she normally wore her hair loose), the pocket watch she never wore had been gutted, and her good earrings-- only green glass cabochon studs, but they were still her good earrings-- had been repurposed into buttons for…

… For…

Well, she recognized parts of the little pocket death ray Jorgi had given her, but it had apparently been disassembled, it’s components divided and augmented with watch parts and what looked like the handle of Agatha’s second-best buttonhook, and now Agatha had two pocket death rays.

Agatha also had no idea how they’d gotten there.

Agatha also had a burning urge to go try them on something.

She managed to talk herself out of it with measured breathing and reminding herself that she actually wasn’t sure if the death rays would work or just take her hands off, and that she’d have to go outside the town wall to test them and it was getting late, and that maybe she’d like Jorgi to teach her out to shoot.

… And, on top of those very good reasons, she was apparently wearing only her chemise and pantalets, for some reason.

No, she remembered- she’d undressed to nap and dreamed something about… gears and spiders…

But still, the world seemed to want to not quite make sense. And for some reason, her fingertips hurt, as though…

… Well, as though she’d bent those hairpins into shape by hand.

Agatha had the sudden suspicion that Lilith hadn’t quite finished explaining everything that needed explaining. She really didn’t want to go through another round of that without Jorgi to lean on-- but on the other hand-- on the other hand, secrets were being kept and she was sick of it.

If Agatha had more secrets, then she damn well deserved to know them herself.

She pulled on her dressing gown, tucked a delicate little death ray in each pocket, and swept downstairs.

Adam was fiddling with Agatha’s locket, and frowning, so it was Lilith who saw her first. “Agatha, dear, you’re up. We have a small problem-- your uncle painted the pictures directly onto the locket, and we’re not sure how to remove Lucrezia without--”

“So, because he wanted to get me something more personal than flowers or candy,” Agatha said, “Jorgi brought me a little death ray as a ‘lovely to see you again’ gift.”

“… A death ray?” Lilith echoed, and even Adam looked up to stare.

“Just a little one-- a ladies’ one. Fits in a purse or a pocket.” Agatha pulled her hands out of her pockets and set the pair of death rays, one more kludged than the other, onto the tea table. “When I woke up, I was at my dressing table, and there were two of them.”

“Are those your good earrings?”

“And my second-best buttonhook, and my pocket watch,” Agatha agreed

“Turpentine,” Lilith sighed, as though that made any sense at all. Adam ducked his head.

“… What?”

“Turpentine,” Lilith repeated. “We can’t get Lucrezia’s portrait out otherwise. I hate to destroy your uncle’s artwork, but you have to wear your locket.”

Why?

“Master Barry insisted.”

“I understand that, but--” was it a construct thing? Had Uncle Barry ordered Lilith not to tell her? … And if so, how dare he, taking advantage of the master-construct relationship-- but apparently the Heterodyne Boys were no heroes when it came to family constructs-- “Lilith, if you can’t or won’t tell me why Uncle Barry insisted I wear a picture of the woman who bred me specifically to erase my brain, then I will take this blasted locket upstairs, attack it with the fiddly little tools I twisted all my hairpins into while I slept and dismantle the damned thing myself!

Agatha felt fine.

Well, no, she didn’t, she felt disappointed and a little guilty (she’d never shouted at anyone like that, much less Lilith-- although sometimes she’d wanted to) and still, honestly, furious, and kind of afraid, but Agatha’s head felt fine.

“And why don’t I have a headache?

Adam reached out and tapped Agatha’s hand-- gripping the table so hard her knuckles were white-- to get her attention, then tapped the locket.

“You’re a Spark,” Lilith said, finally, while Agatha caught her breath.

Inhale (one two three four), hold (one two three four), exhale (one two three four)-- no, she was going to need more of those to properly calm down, but-- “I was starting to suspect.

“You were five when you started breaking through,” Lilith went on, looking a little defeated. “Master Barry made the locket to keep you from breaking all the way through. He said… he said the headaches were a side effect.”

“… A ‘side effect.’”

“Breakthrough is dangerous-- the locket is supposed to clamp down on any moment emotional enough to trigger it. I’m so sorry, Agatha, but you have to put it back on.”

Make me, Agatha thought, viciously. “You want me to voluntarily wear a Spark-dampening device that includes debilitating headaches as a side effect? Waking up to an extra death ray was disconcerting, but-- why would I do such a thing?”

“Because young Sparks never survive without powerful protection!” Lilith hardly ever raised her voice, but Agatha couldn’t seem to lower hers, so she guessed it was fair. “If they don’t blow themselves up or get killed by their creations, they’re likely to go mad and kill everyone around them. Master Barry was gone, Beetle wasn’t strong enough-- if you’d broken through in Beetleburg, the Baron would have taken you instantly. Zumzum isn’t big enough to hide you, and you stand out in too many ways already-- confound it, Agatha, and you just had to bring home a Jägermonster-- and on top of everything, you’re a girl. Girls with the Spark usually just disappear.” Lilith stood, slowly, and Agatha seethed, trying to remember how to breathe her way through her fury-- it was difficult. The world stood out in sharper relief, somehow, higher contrast, she noticed everything, and Agatha had physically never been able to get this angry before. “Every power in Europe will try to kill you or control you if you don’t hide your Spark, especially with you being a Heterodyne. With the locket, we could hide you. It keeps you ordinary-- it keeps you safe.”

“It keeps me stupid,” Agatha bit out, “and distracted, and-- and-- I blamed myself, did you know that? I blamed myself for Uncle Barry leaving us-- because I was stupid and useless and cried all the time. But he did that to me, didn’t he? He built that locket, he put it on me-- he knew about Lucrezia and still painted her little portrait for me to wear around my neck like a control collar for an animal.” Agatha panted, tears in her eyes and face hot, angrier than she knew she could be. “I need some air,” she hissed, snatched her pair of death rays off the table, and stormed out the front door.

After two steps, she whirled around and stormed back into the house. “I am still in my dressing gown, but I will fix that and then get some air.”

Agatha continued to storm, upstairs, this time, and back into her clothes, and downstairs again.

Lilith was waiting for her. “Agatha, be reasonable--”

“I can’t,” Agatha bit out, “I can’t be reasonable, because I have literally never been so angry ever before in my LIFE! And you know something, Lilith? It turns out that’s not my fault!

Agatha ran.

It was easy to get turned around in Zumzum-- a walled town was always growing taller buildings and narrower alleyways-- but hard to accidentally blunder outside the walls and into the Wastelands. Agatha only followed twisty streets with random turns for a few minutes before sitting down on someone’s stoop and just letting herself cry.

The anger was still there, bubbling under the surface, and she still sort of wanted to toss it like a hot drink in Lucrezia’s face, or Uncle Barry’s, or Bill Heterodyne’s. Mostly Lucrezia, of course, she was… the sort of person who actually deserved to be called a monster, dead or alive. But Uncle Barry was a close second, and she kind of blamed him for the way she’d shouted at Lilith-- who hadn’t deserved as much as Agatha had thrown at her. She knew how hard, sometimes impossible it was for a construct to disagree with a creator they still considered their master.

But the misery drowned the anger. She’d shouted at Lilith, who had done her best to be a mother to Agatha all these years, who had been stuck with horrible orders from a master most everyone venerated-- one of the infallibly good Heterodyne Boys. She’d shouted over Adam, which had been just generally awful of her.

And what did she know? Maybe she really was in terrible danger for being in breakthrough. Maybe there really wasn’t any way to hide her Spark (she was a Spark! How dare Uncle Barry decide to keep that from her!) besides the locket.

But if she believed everything else-- if she believed Lucrezia was the Other, if she believed that the only reason Lucrezia had given birth to Agatha was to overwrite her mind, if she believed Lucrezia had mistreated Jägerkin-- then she couldn’t keep a picture of that woman at her throat.

“Agatha?” It was Masha, a basket full of potatoes at her hip, promptly set down so Masha could sit next to Agatha. “Are you okay? Is it Jorgi? Your parents? Your head? Should I get Jorgi or your parents?”

“No, no, it’s--” She wiped tears from under her glasses. “I took him to meet my parents, it went…” weird. It went very weird. “It went okay. Everyone was civil. Just… afterward…” She couldn’t explain any of it, not really.

“Your parents told you they don’t approve once he was gone,” Masha guessed-- then asked, “Did you lose your locket? I’ve never seen you without it.”

“… I left it at home.” Maybe Lilith was right and turpentine was the answer.

“Okay, I’ll bite. Why?”

Well. Maybe Agatha could get a little friendly sympathy for something, even if it wasn’t the most important thing. “Apparently, my natural parents wouldn’t have approved of Jorgi.”

“… And your actual parents are holding that over your head? Oh, no, Agatha…” Masha wrapped her up in a hug. “That’s terrible.”

“They’re not holding that over me--” actually, she wasn’t sure exactly what Adam and Lilith thought of Agatha’s one and only suitor being a Jäger-- “It’s… it turns out that my-- my natural father hated Jägers,” she admitted.

“A lot of people do,” Masha said. “A lot of people here do, actually. Your guy is really brave. They say Jägermonsters-- sorry, Jägers-- need a pack or they die, but what that actually means is, one Jäger can’t fight off an angry mob on his own.”

“… That’s terrible.”

“Swamp, shovel, and shut up,” Masha agreed, which Agatha took (correctly) to mean ‘overwhelm with numbers and/or weaponry and hide the evidence.’ “Seriously. Brave guy. And probably knows he’s lucky that regular human soldiers come in brown, too.”

Now Agatha wanted to build another death ray, for Jorgi. (The thought of it made her fingers itch.) Maybe she’d just give him one of hers. (The thought of that was enough like the old ’two halves of a token for parted sweethearts’ trope that the romance of it almost overwhelmed the urge to build.) “I almost think my natural mother was worse. Apparently she didn’t really treat any constructs like people.”

“… Can I say something really mean?”

“As long as I don’t have to like it.”

“Agatha, your natural parents are dead, and you’re eighteen. You do not have to care what they would have thought.”

“… You’re right.” Uncle Barry, too. Agatha wasn’t going to pretend she knew everything at eighteen, but she was more than old enough for a reasonably-timed breakthrough, and Uncle Barry, who had left her and possibly died, had no say in what she decided. … Or what she wore around her neck.

“Of course I’m right. And anyway, Ludmilla just started a betting pool on how long it’s going to be before you’re our weird townie newcomer who married a Jäger, so.”

Agatha had to laugh. “I know how seriously Zumzum takes its betting pools.”

“So let me know when you set a date and I’ll split the pot with you. I’ll even go sixty-forty with you, maybe you can honeymoon somewhere nice.”

“I’m not even ready to say I love him yet!” Agatha protested. “I’ve only spent a few hours with him altogether!”

“But you write all the time. Also you look at him like he hung the moon, and he looks at you like you scattered the stars. He gets good pay, you hardly ever get headaches anymore since you started doing the breathing thing, and my auntie says when Jägermonsters-- sorry, Jägers-- have babies, they come out human.” Masha paused, then advised, “But you should probably double-check that. Anyway, you could do a lot worse for finding someone to marry, is what I’m saying.”

“How do you have time for pigs when you’re so busy knowing everything that everyone’s doing?”

“Pigs aren’t sheep, Agatha, they don’t need a lot of supervision most of the time.”

Agatha smiled a little and shook her head… and then actually thought about maybe someday marrying Jorgi. (She’d idly considered it while reading a few letters, but that was very idle consideration indeed.) But now, apparently, she wasn’t just a transplanted townie with headaches, but a Heterodyne Lady. Agatha Clay hadn’t really had any power over Jorgi, but Lady Heterodyne did. (And she kind of hated how much. They lived and died for the Heterodynes, and Jorgi had told her that openly, easily, before either of them had any idea she might be a Heterodyne.) “Masha? What if it’s a mistake?”

“… What, now, or thinking of the future?”

“Either. Both.” Was it right? Could it be right if he technically belonged to her? Then again, he hadn’t had any trouble teasing her to make her smile…

“Does he make you happy?”

“Um-- that’s not what I asked?”

“It’s what I asked. Does Jorgi make you happy right now?

“Yes.” Absolutely and all the time.

“Then either it’s not a mistake or it’s just the kind of mistake you’re allowed to make when you’re eighteen.”

… The kind of mistake you’re allowed to make when you’re eighteen. Because eighteen-year-olds did rash things, sometimes, foolish things, rushed headlong into important decisions without thinking them through, courted people and had it end in screaming fights or hurried weddings-- and that was normal. Agatha knew that was normal. She just hadn’t really done much of it before.

“Do you know,” Agatha said, slowly, “I think that’s the first time anyone’s ever told me I’m allowed to make mistakes? Thank you, Masha--” and when Agatha moved to hug her, Masha returned it almost eagerly-- “you’ve really put things in perspective.”

She also owed Lilith a very precise apology, but first she walked Masha partway home-- until their paths would’ve diverged anyway-- chatting about things that didn’t matter at all. It was calming.

Adam and Lilith (Punch and Judy) were still in the sitting room when Agatha got home, and they stood up when she opened the door. “… I’m surprised you didn’t come after me,” she admitted, first.

“We… were going to give it another fifteen minutes, or until something exploded,” Lilith said. “You were in full Spark voice, so the explosion really was a concern.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just ‘legitimately angry teenager’?” Agatha sighed. “That’s not fair of me, never mind that. I am sorry I shouted at you, Lilith. And, Adam, I’m sorry I shouted over you. I’m… sorry I wasn’t in better control of myself.

“But… I’m old enough to make decisions about what kind of jewelry I wear for myself, and I don’t want to put the locket back on.”

“Agatha--”

“I’m also old enough to break through without anyone being suspicious. I’m already weird, in Zumzum, and people are really kind about it because I’m their weird city girl who has terrible headaches and forgot to tell anyone that her Wulfenbach soldier is also a Jäger. And if high emotions trigger breakthroughs, I have a perfect excuse right now.”

“They could still turn on you. On all of us, in fact, we are still outsiders.”

Agatha looked from Lilith to Adam and back and shook her head. She wasn’t sure how to make them believe her, but she knew… “I just came from talking to Masha,” she said, “and I told her I found out how much my parents hated Jägerkin.”

“Master Bill didn’t hate them--”

“Didn’t he? The Heterodyne Boys never once traveled with Jägers. And there are thousands of them, aren’t there?” Her parents exchanged a loaded glance, but only nodded. “So out of thousands of Jägerkin, he couldn’t have found one or two he liked enough to bring along?” She knew what Jorgi, at least, thought had happened already-- that when the Heterodyne Boys had decided they did want clever, durable, strong, caring constructs to help them on their adventures, they build Punch and Judy. “He hated them, or he was afraid of them, or he hated that they were part of the Old Heterodynes, and forgot that they’re people, too.”

“Agatha,” Lilith said, actually gently this time, “the Heterodyne Boys were heroes-- they helped a lot of people-- but they were also human, and you have to forgive them being fallible because of being human.”

She wanted to argue-- she probably could argue without hurting herself, which was amazing and actually a terrible reason to argue-- but instead Agatha took a measured breath and said, “That wasn’t my point, anyway. Masha… well, you know Masha.”

“She’s a lovely girl,” Lilith allowed, and Adam clapped a hand over whatever his mouth was doing.

“She is. She’s sympathetic and enthusiastic and she knows absolutely everyone’s business. She’d be the worst gossip, but she’s never mean about it, just excited that things are happening. And Masha says--” Lilith visibly braced herself, and Agatha shot her a wry look-- “Masha says that a Jäger alone is in a lot of danger, just for being a Jäger alone.”

“I’m sure you don’t need to worry about Jorgi--”

“No, apparently he’s been telling funny stories and helping people move heavy things and being brown instead of green,” Agatha agreed. “He’s being careful. And Ludmilla started a betting pool over when the wedding will be.”

Adam and Lilith shot to their feet, Adam so hard that his armchair toppled backwards. “Agatha! You haven’t!”

“We haven’t,” she agreed, “not even just talking about it. But there’s still a betting pool for it. I’m sure there’s a limit to how much strangeness Zumzum, on the whole, will put up with,” Agatha said, “but it put up with ‘strangers’ and ‘mute blacksmith’ and ‘sudden debilitating headaches’ and ‘constructs passing through asking for help’ and, so far, ‘Jäger sweetheart.’ Unless I actually do go mad, in which case we have bigger problems, I don’t think ‘Spark’ will be the thing that’s too weird for Zumzum, as long as they can think of it as theirs.”

“It’s too great a risk. I did mean it-- girls who break through often just go missing, even from big cities. No one seems to know why it happens.”

“I won’t trade safety for pain, Lilith,” Agatha said, actually gently. “I won’t.”

Lilith moved closer, hesitantly, and Agatha hugged her-- then Adam, for good measure. “We’re supposed to keep you safe while you grow up,” Lilith told her.

“But you have to let me grow up, and let me make my own decisions.”

“… You do understand that some of your decisions lately have been… strange, don’t you?” Lilith was concerned, and Agatha… Agatha couldn’t decide if she couldn’t blame her or wanted to argue. “It was less odd that you wanted to write to a soldier-- after everything you’d said-- than that you’d asked him to call in the first place, and then never telling us he was a Jäger, deciding to invite him to spend his leave here…”

“I asked him to call because he’d seen me at my worst and… still seemed interested. At all of my worst, it was a terrible day. You know how hard it was for me to keep friends in Beetleburg-- it always seemed like they drifted away or dropped me after I’d had a few headache attacks.”

“We’re both glad you have more friends in Zumzum. Even Masha.”

“And… I didn’t tell you Jorgi is a Jäger at first because… I forgot.” Oh, no, she knew how that sounded, and now both her parents had Raised Eyebrows.

“You forgot he’s a Jägermonster?”

“I forgot I hadn’t mentioned it already,” Agatha clarified. “It’s such a basic part of who he is, and… I really don’t know how I didn’t lead with it. … Maybe it’s just that ‘Jorgi the Jäger’ sounds like a stock comedy character.”

Adam and Lilith exchanged a fond look. “I suppose we of all people can sympathize with that.”

“… I’m so sorry about the shows…”

“They’re not your fault, Agatha, but thank you. Now-- about inviting Jorgi to spend leave here without asking us…”

“Okay, that one was just-- I really didn’t want you to have time to say ‘no,’” Agatha admitted. She was eighteen. She was allowed to make mistakes and do stupid things. She was. “It was… cowardly of me, I guess.”

“I might have said ‘irresponsible’ or possibly ‘improper.’ Why do you say ‘cowardly’?”

“I… wanted to see him again so badly that… it seemed better to invite him and possibly have you angry than ask and not be able to see him at all.”

Lilith looked to Adam, and Adam made a ‘go on’ sort of gesture, looking encouraging. “How serious are you about Jorgi?”

And that was a hard question to answer, especially with no other real experience for comparison. “I know there are some… ethical issues,” she allowed, “and we’ve only spent a few hours actually in each other’s company. … I don’t know how serious I am-- I’m not ready to say I’m in love with him or anything like that.” Agatha didn’t miss that Lilith looked relieved at hearing that. “But I’d like to find out how serious we could be.”

“It can’t be anything but difficult, for both of you,” Lilith warned.

“Can’t I just… have this? I’m eighteen, I’m allowed--” to make mistakes-- “to make impractical romantic decisions.”

“You’d go forward even if we told you no, wouldn’t you?” Lilith asked, somehow sounding worried and indulgent at the same time.

“I’d like your permission, but… yes. I’d find a way without it.”

Adam nudged Lilith, wearing a tiny little smile. “Fine, Adam, you were right, she already was doing that before the locket came off. Agatha, dear, just-- promise you’ll be careful.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“And don’t give him any orders you don’t really want him to follow.”

“I don’t intend to give him any orders at all-- it would be… weird.”

“Agatha, you’re breaking through. You may hit a point where you’re giving everyone around you orders without realizing it.” And Lilith, from what Agatha knew of Sparks-- from what she’d seen of Gilgamesh Wulfenbach deep in fugue back in Beetleburg-- might be right.

“Then I’ll have to tell him,” she decided, “so he knows what’s going on and that… I might not be entirely myself sometimes.”

Or, without the locket, quite possibly more herself than she’d ever had the chance to be.

---


Jorgi spent his first night in Zumzum making an effort to befriend… well, probably they were just the town barflies, or the friends of barflies who’d heard there was a Jäger in the tavern and wanted to see, but he’d start where he could. The arm-wrestling competition hadn’t been his idea, exactly, but one of the tavern patrons had plopped down across from Jorgi while he was eating his dinner (he’d had worse, and had made better, but ‘better’ might’ve been wasted on this crowd) and said, “I bet you’re not a real Jägermonster.”

Jorgi smiled pleasantly, showing a lot of teeth. “Vot makes hyu say dot?”

“I bet you’re just a fella. With teeth. An’ a funny accent.”

“Hy tink hyu is verra drunk.” There were disadvantages to being a plain-looking Jäger; he wasn’t as immediately intimidating. And it wasn’t that a bar fight with a stupid drunk wouldn’t be fun, but he didn’t want to do it in Agatha’s little town. … At least, not until he was sure that wouldn’t end with him chased out of town without his hat and slightly on fire.

“I’m gonna win a bet,” the drunk said.

“… Vit who?” The drunk pointed down the table, and towards one end-- yep, a bunch of men (and one woman, sitting on somebody’s lap) were watching with poorly concealed grins and a small heap of coins right out in the open. “Vot dey vant hyu to do?”

The drunk propped his elbow up on the table. Jorgi would give him that he was a big man, and probably thought he stood a chance. (Sober, maybe he would have been smarter.) “We’re gonna arm-wrestle. An’ I’m gonna win.”

Jorgi looked down the table at the drunk’s ‘friends.’ “Hy vin,” he told them, “Hy get ten percent. Loser,” he announced, “Pays for ennyting he break, including himself. Hokay?”

“Sure,” the drunk said, and Jorgi set his own elbow on the table.

The drunk grabbed his hand and started pushing with all his might, but Jorgi’s arm didn’t budge. “Hyu is verra stronk,” he encouraged his opponent, grinning. “Mebbe hyu vear me down yet.” The drunk pushed with probably all his strength (really, it was smarter to pull, but the really big guys-- even the really big Jägerkin-- never seemed to figure that out). “Hyu vant to use both hands?”

“S’cheating an’ I’m gonna win,” he grunted, turning red.

Jorgi let him go for about another minute, then pulled the guy’s hand down to the table with ease (and a meaty thud).

The tavern patrons erupted into cheers and laughter, and someone said, “Come on, you idiot, let’s get that arm looked at,” and collected Jorgi’s drunk opponent.

Someone Jorgi couldn’t see yelled out, “Evgeny should go next!”

Probably Evgeny yelled back that he wasn’t that drunk yet, but another voice just called out, “I got winner!” which earned a chorus of agreement.

“Vaitaminute! How many hyu guys vants to arm-wrestle?” A round of cheers and a surprising number of hands shot up. “… Hokay, Hy take five of hyu, oddervise ve be here all night. Loser pays damages. Hyu ken figure out who hyu five stronkest guys is hyuselves.”

Jorgi had lived among soldiers and ridden with the Jägers for years before taking the bräu himself, and had been Jägerkin among Jägerkin for the better part of two centuries.

He really should have expected ‘send me only your strongest men!’ to start an arm-wrestling tournament, but he still found himself shocked at how fast the barflies scrambled together an organized list of volunteers and starting matches. “… Vot did Hy just do?” he asked Katia, who refilled his beer as she passed by.

“Encouraged Zumzum’s gambling spirit,” she told him. “It’s a small town. We make our own fun. That one’s on the house-- thanks for ‘loser pays damages.’”

“Hy vasn’t plannink on breaking hyu table, but hyu neffer know,” he offered, but saluted her with his beer anyway.

The impromptu tournament gave him time to finish eating, anyway, and turned out to be fun to watch-- he didn’t really catch anyone’s names except Evgeny, who had muscles on his muscles and sat down across from him. “Please don’t twist anybody’s arm out of the socket.”

“Dot’s hard to do on accident, und dis is just a leedle friendly competition. Hyu not playink?”

“Still not that drunk yet. I will probably never be that drunk.”

“Ah-- Evgeny?”

He nodded. “I’m a baker.” Which explained the arms, which explained why somebody thought he’d be strong enough to arm-wrestle a Jäger, even if he wasn’t stupid enough.

“Und a schmott guy,” Jorgi agreed. “… Hyu make sveets or just bread? Hy vants to get sometink for Agatha, but all Hy know is she likes apple und ginger togedder.”

“You really are gone on her-- I’d wondered. … Sorry,” he added, and Jorgi nodded acceptance-- because while that was the same kind of ‘come stare at the Jäger’ that the arm-wrestling was going to be, it was good (or at least better) that Evgeny recognized it was wrong-footed. “I can do you a spice cake with apple in it, and add extra ginger.”

This descended into a conversation that started at what spice blends Evgeny could put in Agatha’s cake, then wandered to what Jorgi would put in a bug pie (with a fully-stocked kitchen instead of on the march), followed by the finer points of stretching your meat (or bug) supplies with mushrooms and which of the local mushrooms were safe to eat, which were poisonous, and which would lay you out flat watching things that weren’t actually there. (Jägerkin could eat almost anything, but there was a difference between ‘could eat’ and ‘would enjoy eating.’) By the time they got to Jorgi trying to explain how grasshoppers tasted-- “Meaty coriander, but Hy dunno if dey taste dot vay to regular pipple--” with the intent to debate seasonings and how to cook them-- “I’m not saying everything cooked in butter is delicious, but it’s more delicious than the same thing not cooked in butter--” their fellow drinkers had finally worked out their five champions.

Jorgi beat them, easily, and only dented the table once. Then he bought a round for the house to ensure no hard feelings, for all he said it was because he’d never seen such an organized contest happen so fast.

It wasn’t until he finally tried to sleep that it got hard to stop thinking about his visit with the Clays.

Punch and Judy were alive, Master Bill probably wasn’t, Master Barry could go either way, Lady Lucrezia was a damned nightmare and, if the world were just, was dead with her machines shattered, and Agatha, the sweet, brave, quietly determined girl who would hopefully still sympathize with Jägerkin so much after she saw a good fight, who signed her letters with a simple yours that made his heart hammer the first time he’d realized its implications, was Master Bill’s heir and was, or would be, the Heterodyne.

And Jorgi was falling in love with her.

He had no idea if that was a thing Jägerkin were allowed to do, much less act on, or if it had ever happened before. But Agatha had made it pretty clear that she meant to go on as they had been (or as they had been wanting to, if not for distance), and he certainly wasn’t going to take himself away from her. It would be cruel to Agatha, for one thing. For another, while it might be iffy now, eventually Agatha would be recognized as the Heterodyne and Mechanicsburg and all the Jägerkin would recognize her legal right to do whatever she wanted.

… But that, he realized, hadn’t come up during the whole ‘you are Agatha Heterodyne, and your mother was the worst creature to crawl out of the depths of hell wearing a pretty shape’ conversation-- that being a Heterodyne meant more than inheriting a title and command of the Jägerkin, it meant Mechanicsburg was hers.

He’d tell her in the morning, he decided, if her parents hadn’t already told her, or had only told her part of it. Jorgi fell asleep working out what to say.

He took an early-morning run looping idly through the woods around town-- town manners were easier to maintain if he made some time to stop using them. A simple run wasn’t perfect, but it helped, and town manners also meant it was smart to check if there were local rules about hunting things, when or what or where. By the time he was cleaned up, fed, and had checked in with Evgeny at the bakery (cake tomorrow, which should be fine), it was half past ten, a reasonable hour to go knock on someone’s door for a social visit.

Judy answered. “You might as well come see this,” she said, instead of ‘hello’ or ‘go away,’ and led Jorgi through the house and into the forge.

Agatha was seated in an out-of-the-way corner, at a workbench, dreamily connecting a pile of brass rods into something Jorgi couldn’t quite figure out, more ‘decent’ than ‘dressed’ (she had a robe on, but no slippers), and she was--

“Heterodyning,” Jorgi breathed, moving closer just to hear it better. Well, she was building something out of metal, so she wasn’t likely to want to break Jorgi down for parts. It was probably safe to get closer. And it had been decades since he’d heard that inimitable family hum. He wasn’t sure anymore if it had always felt like it was cutting right to the heart of him, if it was nostalgia and homesickness, or if it was… well, just Agatha. Heterodyning.

“In her sleep,” Judy said.

“She’s a Spark,” Jorgi almost-asked. “She said she vasn’t, in her letters.”

“Her locket suppressed it,” Judy admitted. “Master Barry made it for her when she was five, and started breaking through.”

“… Five!”

“And it… was responsible for her headaches.”

“Und hyu let her keep vearing it?”

“Yes,” Judy hissed, hard to hear under the Heterodyning and the clanging of Punch’s hammer. (The big door to the forge was closed, Jorgi noticed, finally, but Punch was still making a load of noise anyway.) “We couldn’t have hidden her-- protected her-- otherwise. I’m still not pleased she won’t put it back on.”

“But-- vhy hide it?”

“What happens to girls with the Spark?” Judy countered.

“… Hyu mean on Kestle Vulfenbach or just generally?”

“Both, if you know.”

“De Baron gives dem a lab und tells dem to make tings, mostly. Vateffer dey vants to make. Off Kestle Vulfenbach… Hy dunno. Ve gets reports of dem, but by de time ennybody gets dere, de gurl is usually gone. Ve dunno vhy or vhere.” The Baron hated it, actually. He couldn’t figure out if it was something in the makeup of female Sparks that made them run off, or if some very fast-moving and well-informed opponent was collecting them.

“That’s about what I told Agatha,” Judy said. “Girls with the Spark disappear. I am not putting her in Wulfenbach’s hands, which leaves us trying to conceal a Spark in breakthrough from… some unknown threat, because Agatha refuses to put the locket back on.”

“… Dot’s her right, Meestress Judy,” Jorgi pointed out. “But-- hyu probably right about de risks.”

“How fast can you have extra help here to protect her?” Jorgi turned to stare at Judy. “Jäger help. There have to be a few people Klaus won’t miss. I give up, Adam and I can’t do this alone, but we’re supposed to keep her safe and hidden.”

“Vell, Hy still gots more leave, she gots me.” Only for another couple of days, but one Jäger was better than none. (Unless the town turned on him, but he thought he was making progress ensuring it wouldn’t.) “Take me half a day to gets to mine pickup. Might take a couple hours after to get to vun of de Generals, depends on General schtuff.” From there, maybe a few hours or a day to get word to some of the detached Jägers and get whoever was closest into Zumzum. “Mebbe vun day, mebbe t’ree.” Not long, but still-- maybe too long.

“That’s… probably workable. Adam or I can take turns on watch, and not leave her alone.”

The Heterodyning stopped, and Agatha’s voice-- confused-- said, “… Well, at least it’s not another death ray…”

“Good mornink, Agatha.”

“Jorgi!” She whirled on him, smiling bright, and confirming his decision to just keep on being hers in any way she wanted him. He couldn’t help smiling back, for all Agatha turned beet red as soon as she noticed she was still in her robe. “… I, um, don’t appear to be dressed for guests,” she concluded.

“Hyu look beautiful ennyvay,” he told her, “but go und get dressed und den ve find out vot hyu been making. … Ken Hy…?” he tipped his head toward the workbench, asking permission to look.

“It all seems to be brass rods, nothing volatile, so go ahead. I’ll be right back.”

She practically fled the workshop.

So Jorgi went to look at Agatha’s breakthrough doodad. It didn’t seem to be much-- a wide two-prong fork made of brass rods, connected with nuts and bolts instead of welding. The tip of each tine had a complicated little mechanism involving a strong spring and a small lever, and the mechanisms were connected by a chain.

Experimentally, Jorgi tugged on the chain, using the tip of one claw and hardly any pressure.

Careful,” Judy warned.

“It does sometink,” Jorgi said, “But Hy ken’t figure out vot. Looks like is not done yet, mebbe.”

“… How… do you know that?”

“Mine poppa vas a blacksmith und I vas born in Mechanicsburg. … Mebbe is done, but is supposed to hold sometink?”

“Oh!” Agatha exclaimed, and Jorgi turned to look at her. She was simply dressed, a skirt and a blouse and bedroom slippers, but she still looked wonderful. “It might be. The first thing I did was take apart the death ray you brought me-- I’m so sorry, I was asleep when I did it-- and turn it into a pair of little death rays. I’ve been itching to test-fire them, but every time I think about that, I think ‘I have literally never built anything else that has ever worked,’ and I really don’t want to lose a hand.”

“Zo de leedle levers is for pullink triggers, und de chain is… vell, hyu still gotta be pretty close for dot…”

“… You might not,” Judy said. “Here, Agatha, this is the first thing you made this morning.” She handed Agatha a long wooden dowel with a tiny brass hook screwed into one end. “You called it perfect and went on to the…”

“Sacrificial hand,” Agatha offered, but she was smiling. “We could take a picnic lunch and go outside the wall to do some test fires,” she told Jorgi, “and if they don’t explode, you could teach me how to shoot?”

The guns, if they survived, would be too small for Jorgi’s hands, so Agatha would have to hold them and he’d have to correct her stance and check her trigger discipline and-- well. “Dot sounds great.”

“Just… stay together,” Judy urged.

“… On a romantic picnic in the woods, with experiments and death rays?” Agatha asked. “Yes, we’ll probably stay very close together.”

“… Dot vas snarky.” A little unusual for Agatha-- maybe not, she’d been ready to surprise her parents with Jorgi yesterday, but this was a different tone.

“It was, I’m sorry, I’m still-- the locket clamped down on any emotion strong enough to potentially trigger-- or maybe complete-- breakthrough. I… sort of feel like… all my brakes are off. I feel everything, so much.” She offered Jorgi a wry look. “I’m probably going to be a little weird for a couple of days.”

That sounded an awful lot like becoming a Jäger-- not only were you suddenly stronger, faster, and tougher than anyone had any right to be, everything just felt like more. Some of it was heightened senses, but tempers often didn’t get down to reasonable levels (by Jäger standards) for years. “Dot makes sense.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Sveethot, Hy’m from Mechanicsburg. Hyu go ahead und be as Sparky und veird as hyu vants.”

Agatha beamed at him.

Agatha and Judy assembled a picnic lunch fairly quickly (Jorgi offered to help but was shooed firmly out of Judy’s kitchen), in a basket big enough to carry the sacrificial hand (which was a fun name even if it had been a joke; Jorgi liked it). Agatha got dressed properly, which took a little more time and included a sun-hat that Jorgi thought flattered her very much, even if it was still pretty crisp outside. As they headed out, Agatha happily informed the gate guards on duty that, “Jorgi brought me a death ray, and he’s going to teach me to shoot! If you hear explosions, it’s probably just us,” as they headed out into the woods.

“Dey not vorried about hyu vandering into de Vastelands?”

“It’s actually fairly safe close to the town, most of the time,” Agatha said, “and between ‘death ray’ and ‘Jäger,’ I feel pretty safe.”

“Hy do like being de scariest tings around.”

They did test firing first, aiming sort of very generally at trees, and then tried to figure out the best way to actually pull the trigger chain in case of explosive death rays or wood chips flying back in their direction. They settled for Agatha on the ground, on the blanket for their picnic lunch, and Jorgi low beside her, ready to cover her if necessary.

Agatha hooked the chain and tugged, pulling the triggers.

Both death rays fired reliably, and though the beams were on the weak side, they bored neat holes through the trees they hit. They’d be messier than the usual death ray, but still pretty deathy.

Nothing exploded. “Nothing exploded!” Agatha crowed, shoving to her knees and hugging Jorgi out of sheer enthusiasm. “This is fantastic! I’ve never even made anything out of just gears that hasn’t exploded!”

“Ve give dem a couple more tries, und den mebbe Hy trust hyu hands vit dem,” he agreed, grinning at her.

“That’s fair.” Further testing showed that the gun with the replacement handle got hot after a few firings, so instead of going straight to shooting lessons, they let the death rays cool off and started in on lunch.

“Hy tink hyu is gonna love Mechanicsburg,” Jorgi told her. If her parents had brought it up-- well, if they hadn’t, maybe he still wouldn’t judge. The ‘whoops you’re a Spark’ thing might’ve been a little distracting.

“Oh?” Agatha asked, mildly, and Jorgi concluded that she hadn’t been told.

“Vell. Is hyu town, yah? Mechanicsburg has been vaiting for a Heterodyne since der Masters left. Jägerkin, too.”

“… I didn’t get the full explanation, did I?” Agatha asked, sighing over a ham sandwich.

“Hy thot hyu parents might tell hyu after Hy left, but…” He shrugged. “Spark stuff happened.”

“Wait-- no, you did mention it, didn’t you? ‘Mechanicsburg is a provisional holding.’”

“… Hy said all dot? Out loud?” Jorgi cringed. “Hy try not to do dot kind of ting.”

“Why?”

Because ‘big dumb monsters’ got you underestimated. “Ve come back to dot, und talk about Mechanicsburg first?”

“All right. So-- provisional holding?”

“Yah. De Baron is holdink Mechanicsburg, in trust, against a Heterodyne returnink. Dere is-- dere vas not much hope of dot happenink, but de promise vas de only vay he could get Mechanicsburg to join op vit him. Eefen vit der Kestle und most of de goot veapons broken. Ve’s loyal pipple, Mechanicsburgers.”

“But… now there’s a Heterodyne,” Agatha said. “Me. Am I supposed to go to Mechanicsburg?”

“… If… hyu dun vant to, nobody vill make hyu,” Jorgi offered, not sure what to think, “But part of de treaty is dot de Jägerkin ken’t go back to Mechanicsburg until ve gots a Heterodyne in residence und de Doom Bell rings.”

“But that’s your home.”

“Is our hometown, yah.”

“Why would anyone agree to that?”

“… Oh. Vell. Pipple… haff verra long memories. Young vuns like hyu, dey see Jägerkin und tink ve belongs to de Baron und a goot ting too, becawse ve is sharp und dangerous. De grandpoppa types, dey remembers vhen seeing Jägers all dressed op for var vas… a pretty good sign hyu town vas about to get sacked. Dey vas usually right. In between, hyu gots de pipple who never saw a Jäger, because… de Heterodyne Boys left us at home, but dey heard schtories from deir parents. ‘Be goot, keeds, or de Jägermonsters vill eat hyu all op.’ Zo,” he said, “Dere’s Mechanicsburg. Der Kestle vas broken-- is broken-- vitch means de goot veapons dun vork, und all de Jägerkin is in town, because dey vas told to stay put before de Boys vent off lookink for Lady Lucrezia.”

“You were an easy target,” Agatha concluded. “But you’re so strong…”

“Ve’d fought off a few leedle attacks already. But vhen de Baron came to town, de Generals decided it vas better to vork for him den vait und see how fast de neighbors forgot Lord Villiam und remembered Lord Saturnus.”

“So you need me to go to Mechanicsburg and ring this bell so you can go home again.”

“… Ve vants hyu to-- vell, ve vants a Heterodyne to. But ve dun need hyu to, not if hyu really dun vant to go.”

“What happens if I go?”

Whatever she wanted? “Hyu vould be officially de Heterodyne. Fix der Kestle, it rings de Doom Bell, make vateffer treaty hyu vant vit de Baron, liff in der Kestle. Run de town if hyu vants to, but dere’s a council, zo hyu dun haff to.”

Agatha nodded, thinking that over, then asked, “I’d be important, wouldn’t I?”

“Hyu is impawtent, Agatha.”

“I mean-- I’d be Lady Heterodyne. People… would probably object to…” She gestured between herself and him. To the implication, let alone the reality, of a relationship between them.

“Oh. Vell. Hokay, yez? But.” But he wasn’t going to let her go if she didn’t want to be let go-- if she didn’t want it. “Vun, pipple is going to object to dot ennyvay, becawse hyu is a pretty gurl und Hy am de big bad Jägermonster. Two, de pipple who object to fancy Ladies valking out vit rank-und-file soldiers is pretty fancy pipple demselves und mostly object vhen it’s deir own keeds doing de valking-out. Master Bill ken’t schtop hyu.” Which stung Jorgi because… they’d lost that Heterodyne. “Und t’ree, nobody in Mechanicsburg is gonna care. Hyu vill be de Heterodyne, vitch means hyu ken do vateffer hyu vant vit suitors. … As long as hyu vant keeds, a leedle, becawse ve dun like beink vitout a Heterodyne for so long.”

“So this… this is okay? I know it has to be at least a little weird-- with the vows you take-- follow, obey, and protect…” Agatha looked at him seriously. “And then there’s whatever happened with Lucrezia, so I know you take direct orders seriously.”

“Ve do,” he agreed, “but ve obey becawse ve is svorn to obey, not becawse ve is compelled. Und… vit Lady Lucrezia, it vas more…”

“You didn’t want to be barred from the Castle, too,” Agatha agreed-- showing she’d been listening.

“Vell, also, ve didn’t vant to object to de vun ting Master Bill had told us to do since ‘stay in Mechanicsburg,’” Jorgi admitted, “Und nobody got hurt, Lady Lucrezia vas verra careful about dot. It vas humiliatink-- but Master Bill und Master Barry… giff us zo leedle ve could do for dem-- puttink up vit it didn’t seem like zo much.” And if Lucrezia had gotten caught, Master Bill might have seen that it was her fault. If the Jägerkin had complained, it would’ve been their fault.

Agatha set the waxed paper from her now-eaten sandwich aside, leaned across the blanket, and hugged Jorgi again. “I’m so sorry-- about all three of them.”

“Not hyu fault, Agatha,” but he returned the hug happily.

“Well,” she said, slipping away to sit up prim and proper again, “then I’m disappointed in their behavior.”

Jorgi chuckled. “Hy giff hyu dot.”

“What would… what would the Jägerkin on the whole,” which was maybe a little redundant, “expect me to want them to do for me?”

“Vateffer hyu vant.”

“That’s very non-specific.”

“Is truth,” he said, shrugging. “Hyu vants us to go to var for hyu, ve do it. Hyu vants us to fetch und carry, ve do it. Vun of de earlier veird jobs I vas on, de Red Heterodyne vas fighting a var underground-- really under de ground-- und he had us stay down in dose caverns an extra year becawse de Red Heterodyne vanted more bat sandvitches. Ve vas made to be an army, dot’s true, but hyu ken esk us for vateffer hyu vant.”

“… Okay, that’s a little bit daunting. And a lot of responsibility.”

“… Ho yez?”

“Well, it… should I not leave you to your own devices? And it certainly sounds like the Jägerkin need a secure and defensible place to call home-- the Baron’s construct protection laws are an excellent idea, but they have to be enforced to do much good. And I don’t particularly want there to be a war or anything--”

“Agatha,” Jorgi said, reaching for her hands-- she’d started fluttering them, illustrating things with vague and not remotely descriptive motions. “Sveethot. Mostly Hy tink ve vill be hokay if hyu like us.”

Her smile was warm and soft. “Well. I like you.

He really just wanted to smile back, absolutely stupidly fond. “… Dot reminds me…”

“… I’m worried you sound upset by the reminder.”

“Nah, just vun more ting before ve can get to de shootink lessons, hyu know, vhere Hy gets to schtand behind hyu und adjust hyu arms und everyting.” Agatha giggled and blushed, and Jorgi went on, “Hyu momma-- Meestress Judy-- vants me to get a couple more Jägerkin out here to help look out for hyu. From de Geisterdamen und vateffer makes girl Sparks vanish, becawse hyu is a Spark now.”

“Is that safe? Masha says-- Masha says you were very brave to come all the way out here, especially alone.”

“Vell, Hy gots goot camouflage until Hy gets op close,” Jorgi assured her, “Und Hy am beink verra friendly und generous vit de townies. But-- vell, if Hy can, mebbe Hy esk de Generals to send some nice schneaky Jägerkin for hyu.”

“… Without strong Mechanicsburger accents,” Agatha mused, “and maybe who can pass for other kinds of constructs? Adam and Lilith are still doing that work, but they couldn’t keep that a secret in Zumzum.”

“Zo nobody vill be surprised if de fonny-lookink guys comes lookink for de Clays, so long as dey don’t sound like Jägerkin. Dot’s goot to know. Hy pass dot along.”

“And they can pass through-- rotate? If there are enough, anyway.”

“Und mebbe come back-- ‘yah, Frau Clay, de position vas filled before Hy got dere,’” like dot.” Jorgi nodded-- it was definitely something to present to the Generals. “But Hy dunno if ennybody vill vant to leave. Vas goink to be hard enough for me to go vhen hyu vas just Agatha, but now hyu’s de Heterodyne, und…”

“And,” she said, shifting to sit next to him, “You still have some time to spend, and you’re relaying messages to keep me safer, and we’ll still be writing.”

“Von’t be de same. Hy vill look forvard to Mechanicsburg.” Once Agatha was recognized and installed and Jorgi could go home and whether or not they spent months apart wouldn’t depend on anyone but them. “… If hyu haff decided about Mechanicsburg, ennyvay?”

“I… I’m thinking. Most of the things I know about running a town are administrative, but you say there’s a council--”

“Und hyu dun haff to do de papervork if hyu dun vants to.”

“That’s-- but if I’m not there doing something more practically useful than being a living member of my bloodline, I’d just… feel wrong about it. Right now it doesn’t feel hard to wash my hands of my parents, but Mechanicsburg is… apparently my inheritance from my father?” She was right, so Jorgi nodded, and Agatha plunged on. “It doesn’t sound like he was home often enough to run the town, and still managed to turn it into a tourist trap. And me turning up to claim the place would change the situation with the Baron, probably even if I don’t do anything. … I’d feel like I hadn’t done anything to deserve it.”

“Zo vot hyu vant is to rule Mechanicsburg?” That… could be good, Jorgi thought. On the other hand, Jorgi was extremely biased in Agatha’s favor.

“Would Mechanicsburg want me to?”

“Hyu vill be de Heterodyne,” he told her, and got a wry look for his trouble. “Hy tink if hyu ruled badly, dey vould vork around hyu, mostly.”

“Would they be willing to tell me, instead, so I could do better?”

Jorgi couldn’t decide if he was biased in Agatha’s favor or if she’d be a very different sort of Heterodyne than they’d had before. “Hy tink zo. Hyu dun seem like de ‘break hyu down for schpare parts’ kind of Spark.”

“I still really want to build clanks,” Agatha told him-- she probably wouldn’t end up the spare-parts kind of Spark. … But-- well--

“Den vot’s vit de death rays?”

She sighed, and shifted to lean against Jorgi a little, then settled comfortably against him when he slipped his arm around her shoulders. “I really really want to be able to protect myself right now.” And breakthrough-- and sometimes a trip to the madness place-- was usually about what the Spark felt like they desperately needed. Sometimes that was cake, sometimes that was transportation, sometimes that was a friend-- and sometimes that was a way to stay safe.

“Vell. Den hyu vants dose shootink lessons?” he offered.

Agatha rested her head on his shoulders and closed her eyes, trusting and fond. “In a little bit. Right now I want this.

“Hyu just say vhen, sveethot.”

She could have her safety in his arms until then.



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