[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Smells Like Hope Part 1: Fear
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Girl Genius
Characters: Agatha Heterodyne, Jorgi, Adam Clay, Lilith Clay, The Enigma, Omar Von Zinzer, Moloch Von Zinzer, Mister Tock, Hugo Glassvitch, Silas Merlot, Tarsus Beetle, Klaus Wulfenbach, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, Nameless Background Jäger, Boris Dolokhov (has no real lines)
Word Count: 7,114
Rating: G
Pairing(s): Agatha Heterodyne/Jorgi
Warnings: This is an easy one to warn for: if you were okay reading the first volume of Girl Genius, you should be okay reading this. Canon-typical violence, Von Zinzers being jerks, Tarsus Beetle's on-panel death, Agatha's locket-driven self-esteem issues, and Klaus Wulfenbach's A+ parenting.

Author's Notes: Based on the Locket prompt by Para, here, with pairing borrowed from Lilithqueen's "You're dating the HELP?!" series, this AU grew legs and ran away with me. Currently there are six parts written and posted, a seventh in the late writing stages, and six more parts outlined. I will keep writing this until I feel like I'll run it up a lamppost if I go any further.

Also, some overall series notes, I occasionally play fast and loose with the timeline, and no, I don't know what I'm doing about the time windows yet. (Maybe I will when the Paris arc is over.) I have only just ordered the novels, so incorporating novel canon will be slow going-- however, I'm going to take the unusual-for-me approach here and say if novel and comic contradict, comic wins. (Usually I just hit 'frappe' on multimedia canons.) That's because this is a straight-up canon divergence AU-- unless I have to declare Time Nonsense, everything happening in canon away from the viewpoint characters is happening in this fic. Since the comic is free to double-check, comic beats novel.

Many thanks to 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 is mugged, but has her property retrieved by something she didn't know existed-- a dashing Jägermonster. She's not sure why he's being so nice, but it's already a terrible day and it's only seven in the morning, so Agatha will take it. He escorts her to class and canon goes gently sideways. (Includes a lot of plot and dialogue from Volume 1 of Girl Genius.)



Now, this isn’t a Heterodyne story like your mama tells you when she tucks you into at night-- well, not exactly. Oh, we all know they’re out there somewhere, fighting the good fight, but right here and now, the Heterodyne Boys are gone. Their lands are overrun, their machines destroyed, their servants scattered, and nothing remains but their name. At least, that’s what everyone thinks…

On an early weekday morning in the heart of Beetleburg, Agatha Clay walked down a market street, making her way toward Transylvania Polygnostic University. She likely should’ve been walking faster; her shift in Dr. Beetle’s lab started at seven and it was very nearly that, but mornings were a tricky time of day, for Agatha. Whether or not her sleep was restful depended on how many headaches she’d had the day before, and the tone of her dreams, and whether she’d been needed late the previous night by her parents, and…

Well, if she could have started in the lab at nine, a lot of things might have gone very differently, if for no other reason than it not being wise to wander a market street with your head in a fog, not in a fair-sized city like Beetleburg.

Still, even on autopilot, she navigated past the locals, the students, the children clutching at parents’ legs, the constructs, and the ever-present clanks with relative ease, eyes down, present but not listening.

Not until people started shouting-- not until Agatha’s glasses shocked her nose with a jolt of-- static electricity? Highly unlikely-- but she wasn’t the only one being zapped by the metal she carried. Swords, buttons, buckles-- one man’s clank legs--

-- And then the air opened up.

A massive, six-sided… window, or portal, or something materialized in front of Agatha, possibly three meters high. A person (probably) was framed in it, face shadowed, hair in strings or tight braids (or… cables?) strung with beads (or connectors, fittings), one metal glove (or hand) reaching out to point at Agatha.

Like that?!” the apparition demanded, echoing, sounding like it was too close, too far away, and had been in the middle of a longer sentence.

It was entirely too much for anyone to face at nearly seven on a weekday morning.

Agatha fled, darting down a side-street that turned out to be an alley, tripped over a crate, and spilled flat out on the ground.

There was a pair of men’s boots in front of her, well-scuffed, and Agatha looked up to see a disreputable-looking soldier-- or a disreputable looking man in an unfamiliar red soldier’s uniform. He had a bandolier of pouches strung across his chest, half the braid on his pants was missing, one leg was wrapped with a bloody bandage, and there was a bottle in his hand that smelled like bread and chemistry labs.

“Well, well, what’s this?” the probable-soldier said, smirking down at Agatha. “Looks like our very own angel of mercy has crash landed.” And that-- no, that wasn’t good. Agatha snatched up her glasses and got to her knees, wishing skirts were less awkward to run in. “Obviously looking for a deserving pair of soldiers-of-fortune to help along their way.”

“Aye, well, that’s us--” there were two of them, the one on his feet looming over Agatha, and the one lounging across a couple of barrels. “She must know that you just spent our last groat on this swill you call booze.” The seated ‘soldier’ offered Agatha a still-drunk smile and a halfhearted wave. “Hi, sweetie, spare some change?”

She thought, for a split second, she could do that-- empty her pockets, skip lunch-- if it got her out of this.

The standing soldier, behind her since Agatha had turned toward the panhandling soldier, drawled, “Oh, she can spare more than change… let’s have a look at that nice jewelry.”

Jewelry.

Her locket.

No.

“No!” Agatha lunged at the seated soldier and grabbed at his bottle-- she knew how to do this, she did, and the bottle was empty enough it wouldn’t break-- and whirled around to the standing soldier, hitting his temple hard enough to topple his hat.

But not hard enough to drop him so she could run away. (That was always Lilith’s advice for ladies’ self-defense-- do whatever one must to get one’s attacker on the ground and then run away, because the idea is to survive, not dispense justice on one’s own.) “That hurt.” Whatever he said next was lost to Agatha, buried under a slap to the face that sent her glasses flying again.

Agatha struggled to stay upright as the other soldier, the panhandler, tried to pull the first away from her, shout him down-- but the vicious one grabbed her locket, anyway, kicked her legs out from under her, and left her on the ground. “My locket!” Her parents’ pictures-- “Help! Thief!

The sound of running boots stopped abruptly, followed by the meaty sound of a punch-- and Agatha flung herself flat again as first one soldier, then the other was tossed back into the alley, over her head, crashing heavily into the barrels.

A third soldier-- from a very different unit, sharply dressed in white pants, a green jacket, and a dramatic green hat, with browner skin than either her attacker or the panhandler-- stepped into Agatha’s field of vision. “So vot der dumboozle is goink on here?

The thick Mechanicsburger accent was set off by an unfriendly grin of viciously pointy teeth-- the third soldier looked like a dark-skinned man, but--

“Jägermonster,” one of the human soldiers choked out, terrified.

Agatha was pretty terrified herself-- her parents had always been very supportive to every kind of construct except Jägermonsters, and pretty explicitly excepting Jägermonsters, too-- but beyond her terror, aside from her stinging hands (from the first fall) and face (from the slap) and what definitely felt like a bruised tailbone, Agatha was furious. “He took-- the one with all the pouches, he threatened me and slapped me and took my locket,” she accused, pointing at the two men with one hand while she groped for her glasses with the other.

She got them on in time to clearly see the Jägermonster grab the locket-thief and slam his clenched hand against the wall, once, twice, and her locket dropped-- and the Jägermonster caught it as it fell, snatching it from the air lightning-fast. “Vell. Dot sure look like a lady’s locket to me.”

“For all you know, that townie’s lying and it’s mine,” the thief protested, but he sounded like he was in pain.

Good, Agatha thought.

“… Ho really?” the Jägermonster said, sounding surprised. “Becawse dis ting is engraved, und hyu look pretty beardy to haff a name like ‘Agatha.’”

The other soldier, the panhandler, the one who’d protested, moved to help Agatha to her feet, but she snatched her hands away. “Look,” he said, to Agatha and the Jägermonster, “We’re both broke. And Omar’s a mean drunk who made a really stupid decision. Just-- just lemme get him off the streets until he sobers up. He’s a stupid, mean drunk, but one dumb decision doesn’t mean he deserves to rot in one of those jars.”

“In Beetleburg, he does,” Agatha bit out. She was moving towards a headache, fast. She could feel it brewing behind her eyes, at the base of her skull, with the bubbling of her anger.

“But I bet you’ve got places to be,” the panhandler said-- pled. “I bet that Jäger has places to be. I swear, miss, you don’t report this and I’ll get my brother off the streets and out of town by the end of the day, and you’ll never have to think about us again if you don’t want. You make a report about all this, it’s gonna drag out. Somebody’s gonna ask what a nice girl like you is doing down a dark alley with two drunks and a Jägermonster.”

“You--” They would, they would ask her-- they’d probably have to-- and never mind that the alley was on the way to the University, she shouldn’t have been there, and if questioned she’d probably just break down crying. “Run,” she growled.

The Jägermonster tossed the thief toward the panhandler. “Hyu heard de lady. Run-- or Hy vill chase.

The soldiers bolted.

And the Jägermonster crouched down next to Agatha. “So. Hyu is Agatha Clay. Hy am Jorgi. Nize locket--” he offered it back, and she took it with shaking fingers. The Jägermonster’s hands were large, with elongated fingers and thick, clawed nails a shade paler than his skin. “Hyu from Mechanicsburg? In town for de University?”

“… What? Oh the-- the trilobite. No.” … The chain broke when the thief snatched her locket away-- Agatha was glad of the pin back, carefully settling the locket into its usual place at her throat. “I think my uncle was, though. This…” Up close, the Jägermonster looked… like a construct, the proportions of his face a little wrong, his skin not quite a human texture, his hair wild, his ears pointed-- the whites of his eyes were yellow, and the irises cherry red. But his skin was brown, his hair darker brown-- and his expression was open, honest, and interested.

It was more than she usually got, and enough to start tears falling. “This has the only pictures of my natural parents. Thank you.”

“Hyu hokay dere?” the Jägermonster-- no, he’d said his name-- Jorgi-- asked, concerned.

Agatha couldn’t help a wet, slightly hysterical giggle. “It’s just-- been a long morning, I guess, and it isn’t even--”

The University’s bells tolled, loud and clear and right on time.

“Seven!” Agatha cried. “I’m late! On top of everything, I’m--” the headache closed in, crushing and vicious and twisting a cry out of her and then a sob. Nothing unusual.

Except for the warm, unfamiliar arm around her shoulders, shifting her from a crumple to a crouch.

Her headaches always worried people the first few times they saw her suffer one. Agatha tried to drag in a deep breath. “I’m-- fine,” she managed. “I get-- I just-- I just get these headaches. When I get upset. It’s normal.”

“Dot’s a lousy normal, Miz Agatha.” She couldn’t-- wouldn’t-- disagree. So she made an effort to stand that went really easily, because Jorgi helped her up like she didn’t weigh anything at all. “Hokay, zo, here’s vot Hy tink. Hy tink Hy should escort hyu to vhere hyu vas supposed to be five minutes ago. Who’s gon’ blame hyu for beink late if hyu’s late on account of Jägermonster?”

She’d heard of Jägermonsters being inhumanly strong, she’d heard they’d take your head clean off if you mess with their hats, she’d heard they were crass and uncouth and vicious and willing to eat absolutely anything, especially meat. Agatha had never heard of a sympathetic Jägermonster before, but she was very grateful that one had found her, and she offered up an attempt at a smile. (It felt watery.) “Thank you.”

Jorgi’s answering smile was disconcertingly toothsome-- but kind.

It was a surprisingly pleasant walk, even though Agatha kept picking up the pace as her headache lessened. Jorgi asked questions about what going to college was like, what Agatha was studying, and if she was a Spark or-- as he put it, “Just a real schmott gurl?”

“Oh, but I’m not-- not really either,” Agatha protested. “I have… a lot of trouble, sometimes.”

“Dose headaches?” he asked, and she nodded. “If hyu say so, but dat schtuff about clank engineerink und tinkink engines sounded pretty schmott to me.”

“I never seem to get anywhere designing my own-- but thank you.” Mr. Tock took the usual near-minute to identify first Agatha, by her student ID number, and then Jorgi, who announced himself as a soldier in Baron Wulfenbach’s army. (Mr. Tock did not have to think as long about letting Jorgi through.)

Every time they passed a University clank, it informed Agatha she was late-- and every time, Jorgi looked puzzled about it. “Vhy do all of dem gots to tell hyu dot hyu’s late?”

“It’s just how Dr. Beetle designed them.”

“But vunce it happens, hyu ken’t fix ‘late.’”

“I know. We’re here,” she said, darting into the lab, Jorgi easily following.

“Mademoiselle Clay?” Dr. Glassvitch said, looking up from his work. “You’re l-- with a Jägermonster.”

“Ah-- yes--” suddenly it was easy to be nervous again-- she was going to have to explain everything. “This is-- Jorgi, and--”

“Miz Agatha had a nasty turn dis morning,” Jorgi said, grinning a sharky grin. “Zo Hy offered to valk her to her class.”

“… They say one bad turn deserves another,” Dr. Glassvitch managed, staring a little at Jorgi, which Agatha was starting to think might be unfair.

“Zo now Miz Agatha is vhere she is supposed to be, und Hy gots to get to vhere Hy is supposed to be. Have fon vit de science!” But on his way out, he bowed a little at Agatha. “Miz Agatha.”

And then he was gone.

“Mademoiselle Clay, are you sure you’re quite all right?”

“I’m--” yes? No? Blushing a little because a Jägermonster bowed to her? “A pair of drunks tried to steal my locket on the way to class,” she said, instead, fingers brushing over the trilobite. It wasn’t even really worth stealing-- it gleamed because Agatha always wore it, but it was only brass. “Jorgi stopped them.”

“Then walked you to class?”

“I’ve never felt less like someone might rob me,” she admitted, trying to smile.

“Mon dieu, I should say not! But-- Miss Clay, I found your little machine.”

Agatha hoped but didn’t expect that this time she might have something to show for her efforts, and true to form the little clank didn’t work, exploding in a shower of brass screws and springs. The casing struck Dr. Merlot as he stalked into the lab-- even angrier than usual-- to inform them that Baron Wulfenbach had arrived, weeks early, for a surprise inspection.

… Which explained why there had been a Wulfenbach Jägermonster handy to save Agatha’s only real family heirloom.

But it also Agatha scrambling to clean up the main lab by herself, in less than twenty minutes, while Dr. Merlot and Dr. Glassvitch dealt with the secondary labs.

For a brief moment, she considered just shoving everything into the storage closet-- but that would only be a different mess to clean up later, and she wasn’t sure she had the energy to actually do it in time. Better to clean smart, even if she could only get the lab to ‘better’ rather than ‘good.’ She focused on flat surfaces-- tabletops, floors, countertops, stools and benches. The floor was most important-- a perfectly tidy lab table only meant there was no work in progress, but a dirty floor was a dirty floor. Once the workspaces looked more organized than organized chaos and the unopened crates were hastily shoved into storage, Agatha spent the rest of her twenty minutes sweeping.

Dr. Merlot wasn’t impressed, exactly, when he and Dr. Glassvitch returned from managing the secondary labs. “It’s certainly not perfect.”

“But it looks like we’re very busy,” Agatha offered. (She was well aware that Dr. Merlot had never liked her. She knew perfectly well she gave non-Spark students a bad name, but she tried.)

“Ve meets again!” Agatha and both professors whirled to stare at the doorway, where Baron Wulfenbach, four armed clanks, a four-armed man with a notebook, a normal-looking young man in a green waistcoat, and two Jägermonsters stood on the raised platform. One of the Jägermonsters was Jorgi. “Hy thot dot hallvay looked familiar! Hallo again, Miz Agatha.”

He winked. Agatha flushed and tried to hide her face with her hand. Or her hair.

“Jorgi?” said the Baron (Tyrant of Europa, the man who would not call himself king).

“Herr Baron?”

“Flirt off duty.”

“Yah, Herr Baron.”

Dr. Beetle trailed in after the Baron, shouting about his being too early, but the Baron neatly cut him off with a request for introductions. Dr. Merlot was called to bow before the Baron first, then Dr. Glassvitch, and finally-- being the only unfamiliar person in the room-- Agatha dipped in a slightly awkward bow. Dr. Beetle swept past after the introductions, starting to say something about the machine they’d been working on when he froze and whirled on Agatha. “Miss Clay! What happened to your face?”

“I was cleaning,” she started, but then put a hand to her cheek to brush away dirt-- “Ow--” right where the thief had slapped her. “… Oh.”

“‘Oh’ indeed, excuse me, Herr Baron, Miss Clay, what happened?

“There… was an electrical anomaly of some sort,” she said, quietly, “and I was accosted trying to get away. I was nearly robbed, but-- Jorgi rescued me.”

“So he was late for good reason,” Baron Wulfenbach said-- to Agatha, not just in Agatha’s general direction.

She wilted a little under his scrutiny, but agreed, “Well, I think so.”

“You should be at home, Miss Clay,” Dr. Beetle insisted, “with that bruise seen to properly.”

Wait,” the Baron insisted, before Dr. Beetle could hustle Agatha out the door against her protests. Really, the bruise didn’t hurt any worse than the lingering remains of her headache. “Did you actually see the event?”

“Yes, Herr Baron,” Agatha admitted. “I was right in the middle of it.”

“Stay. I may have questions for you later.”

“But--” Dr. Beetle began.

“The young lady seems stable enough. I have no objections if someone would like to fetch her some ice, however.”

The Baron’s actions, however, soured his manners-- apparently the device he’d had everyone working on for three months was nothing but an elaborate test… for his son. A sort of expensive and expertly-crafted visual aid, possibly to test the strength of his Spark. Gilgamesh Wulfenbach tore at the machine, took a red pen to the plans as though wielding a sword, and in general worked himself into a minor Sparky fugue all over their lab. Agatha backed quickly away after handing him-- whatever it was he’d requested this time-- and bumped into Jorgi.

“He’s in de madness place,” he told her, with another shark smile. “Hyu is fine.”

“He’s… very angry, when he’s in fugue.” Angry and intimidating. Enough that having a Jägermonster at her shoulder made Agatha feel safer.

“Yah, it ken take some of dem like dot.”

“Have you known a lot of Sparks?”

“Sure! Hy--”

Miss Clay!” the heir to the empire Agatha lived in roared, and she cringed but hurried to fetch him whatever it was he wanted this time.

Ultimately it turned out that the Baron had not provided them with plans that would work, with or without the Spark, but with a test for his son to see first, if he could spot unworkable plans, and second, if he were brave enough to tell his father, the most feared and powerful man in all Europa, that he was handing out unworkable plans. It was unfair-- three months of hard work on a device the Baron knew wouldn’t work, and not three months of hard work for grad students, either. The Baron had wasted the time of University professors for his test. Agatha protested, Dr. Glassvitch protested, but Dr. Merlot went cold, and turned on Dr. Beetle, shouting about real work and secret projects and window dressing-- and slapped Dr. Beetle, right in the middle of the lab, in front of the Baron and his son and the Jägermonsters and everyone.

Then Dr. Merlot threw the lever connecting the main lab to the secondary labs, splitting the wall that separated them when no one was working on anything large enough to need all the available space, and revealed a hive engine-- fully functional and intact-- which Dr. Beetle had been hiding (instead of turning over to the Baron, the way everyone knew every Pax Transylvania treaty demanded).

Agatha looked at Jorgi, but he-- like the second Jägermonster-- had gone grim, a heavy gun trained on Dr. Beetle. She hated it-- but at the same time, she understood. Slaver wasps-- Dr. Beetle was a Spark, not a strong one, but as a Spark he had little to fear. The slaver wasps couldn’t infect him, couldn’t turn him into a shambling, mindless revenant. The hive’s soldiers could kill him, but couldn’t destroy his mind. But for normal people like Agatha-- like Dr. Merlot and Dr. Glassvitch, too-- slaver wasps were the worst things imaginable. Even if the Other truly was gone for good, leaving the wasps to their natural parasitic inclinations with no intelligence directing them, a single hive engine could decimate a city the size of Beetleburg if there were any kind of containment accident.

The Baron scolded Dr. Beetle, cold and dangerous and oddly disappointed, and Dr. Beetle ranted about duress and finally taking control.

And then Mr. Tock opened the ceiling like lifting the lid of a hatbox, shoved his death ray into the lab, and intoned, “Do Not Move.”

The Baron set his son to outlining Dr. Beetle’s plans and the flaws in it, which the young man did both dispassionately and viciously, and as Agatha watched, Mr. Tock (poor thing!) took a blast from an airship right to the thinking engine. When Dr. Beetle called in his smaller clanks for reinforcement, Jorgi, the other Jägermonster, and the Baron’s four clanks made short work of them with nothing more than their guns. It was all over in seconds. “Well, by now, the city should be secure,” the Baron mused.

“This is an invasion?!” Dr. Beetle demanded. “Blast it, Klaus, this is my city--”

“Wrong,” the Baron cut in, almost mildly. “It became my city years ago. I merely let you administer it.”

“But-- but why?

“Withholding a hive engine isn’t enough?”

All the ships in the sky, the ones that had taken out Mr. Tock-- they were too much for the city’s aging clanks-- but maybe just enough for a potential slaver wasp infestation. Dr. Beetle reached the same conclusion. “You already knew?!

He’d already known.

The Baron detailed how he’d known, but Agatha approached him, fearful-- “Herr Baron, please don’t kill him! We need him!” The University, certainly, the city maybe, but Agatha? Her parents? Dr. Beetle was an old friend of theirs, he was the one who’d set Agatha up with her lab assistant job (it made up for the grades she wasn’t getting in classes with a lab component, classes where her trouble concentrating could cause disaster, classes where she couldn’t participate), he turned a blind eye to her parents’ after-midnight activities-- without Dr. Beetle, Beetleburg was going to be a bleak place for the Clays.

“Where do they get these ideas?” Baron Wulfenbach sighed. “Beetle, the loyalty of the rest of your people does you credit. They can rest assured I have no intention of killing you. Indeed, I have use for you--”

“No!” Dr. Beetle yelped, and Agatha feared for a split second that he was clutching his heart-- but no-- “I’ll never submit to that! Never!” Instead, he grasped one of the scarab badges that pinned his cloak to his coat, and tore it away. The Jägermonster whose name Agatha never caught swore, and Dr. Beetle tossed the badge-- spark-work, it sprouted wings, heading toward the Baron-- “You won’t get me! You won’t get any of us!”

Agatha was standing right next to the Baron.

And she was never really sure what happened next, at least, not from anything she could personally remember.

She heard a roar, and a clang, followed by something heavy tackling her to the floor and the familiar sounds of crashing stumbles, then heard Dr. Beetle repeating, “No!” once more-- and finally an explosion. A proper chemical explosion, not like her little clank whose springs had splattered its parts across the lab. She felt the shock of it through the floor, heard the sharp sound of it, but she was protected from the heat of the blast by virtue of the being bodily shielding her from it.

At first glance, everyone seemed to be okay.

Jorgi moved off of Agatha and helped her up-- he’d been the body protecting her from the explosion, she realized. Gilgamesh Wulfenbach had been knocked into the personal lockers so hard that the doors had dented; the Baron was several meters in the opposite direction, but both were sound. Their four-armed man (Boris, Agatha thought she heard) looked rattled but was all right. Dr. Glassvitch was standing on his own, the other Jägermonster looked all right, Dr. Merlot was still over by the hive engine, and Agatha’s ears were ringing but she felt fine otherwise.

Dr. Beetle’s body was a charred ruin.

The Baron swore about the loss of Dr. Beetle’s head, which seemed callous but at least meant the Baron was serious about wanting Dr. Beetle alive, and Jorgi looked from the body to the Baron to Agatha with wide eyes.

“Hokay, dot vasn’t my plan und Hy dunno vot happened.”

“No,” the Baron said, “your plan was to clear myself and my son from the blast radius and protect Miss Clay, who wasn’t in a position to be shoved out of harm’s way. My son’s plan was to play stickball with a bomb.

“I didn’t know it was a bomb--” Gilgamesh Wulfenbach protested, moving to settle a hand on Agatha’s shoulder, as though they were friends, as though she’d welcome his comforting.

“You killed him!” Agatha accused, roughly shoving the Baron’s son away from her.

Even the Baron scolded. “Permanently. A pity, that.”

“He threw a bomb at me!”

“I think they may all have been bombs,” Dr. Glassvitch mused, drawing the Baron’s attention to the body.

The other Jägermonster made a joke about organs, the four-armed man asked to leave, and Agatha exploded-- a furious, tearful rant about treating the death-- the murder-- of one of the greatest scientific minds in all Europa like a kitchen accident, about how much the people of Beetleburg loved Dr. Beetle--

And then old, familiar pain burst across her skull and she screamed, sobbed, and slumped over. Dr. Glassvitch moved to support her (brown hands, pale palms, no claws, so she knew it was him even though she wasn’t particularly focused) and probably explain her headaches. She recovered in time to hear the Baron turn control of Beetleburg over to Dr. Merlot-- as a punishment. “The first time you make a mistake… I’m shipping you to Castle Heterodyne.

Dr. Merlot’s first decision was to expel Agatha and ban her from University grounds.

“But-- I’m a good student! I have trouble sometimes, but I work really hard! You can’t just--”

He could. Just like that.

Dr. Glassvitch told Agatha she wouldn’t much like the University without Dr. Beetle’s protection (which was an understatement, Dr. Beetle’s protection helped her survive in all of Beetleburg), and that this might be for the best.

She started home, bidding a quiet farewell to Mr. Tock as she passed his ruined body.

A mechanical voice said, “Halt,” and Agatha found herself looking down the barrel of a Wulfenbach clank’s very large gun. “All Citizens Are To Stay Off The Street Until Further Notice.”

“Hoy! She’s vit me!” called a now-familiar voice, and the clank stood down and stepped aside to let Jorgi join her. “Dat Doctor Glassvitch, he vas vorried de streets might not be safe. Zo hyu gets a Jäger escort again, if hyu wants it.” Jorgi’s toothy smile was lopsided and wry. “If hyu vants me for it. Hy can svap out vit anodder Jäger-- ve gots a lot.”

“You’re fine,” she assured him, but couldn’t manage a smile this time. What was she going to do without Dr. Beetle around? “Home is this way.”

They walked quietly until they were out of view of the University. The streets were deserted, the Baron’s soldiers apparently enforcing a very early curfew.

“Hyu gonna be hokay?” Jorgi asked, tentatively.

“I don’t know.”

“Hyu don’t haff to believe me, but Miz Agatha, Hy am so sorry.” It seemed to take him a little extra effort to pronounce ‘so’ rather than ‘zo.’ “Dot ting vas going right for hyu face und Hy just--”

“I don’t blame you--”

“No, but hyu blame Meester Gilgamesh und mebbe Hy knocked his aim schtupid--”

“Jorgi--” she stopped, turned and stopped him, with a hand on his chest. (And it was an odd sensation, like she could feel the coiled power there-- he could push her down just by walking forward, but he let her hand stop him.) “If the Baron’s son hadn’t hit the bomb away, it would’ve gone off right over us, wouldn’t it?”

“… Mebbe not so big. Dey vas saying dey tink all de little beetle badges vas also bombs, und dot’s vhy de body got so messed up. But… yah, ve vould haff been right under it.”

He’d gotten the Baron and his son out of the way, but for Agatha, Jorgi had used himself as a shield. “I don’t blame you,” she repeated. “The Baron’s son was showing off-- the whole time, everything he did was showing off for his father-- but you… you meant to save my life.”

“Vell, Hy vasn’t gonna let a nice gurl like hyu get blown up,” and there was an inviting tilt to his smile, and even though it had been a really terrible day-- the worst day since she figured out Uncle Barry was never coming back (because she couldn’t think and always ruined things)-- Agatha thought she really liked that smile.

Young ladies weren’t supposed to feel safe around Jägermonsters, but it was getting hard to remember just why. “I thought you were supposed flirt on your own time,” Agatha said, as primly as she could manage while still waffling about whether or not she felt ready to properly smile.

“… Shift change is at two,” Jorgi offered, “Usually. Vit de vay tings vent krezy Hy might be on duty til seven tonight.”

Agatha wanted that, to invite Jorgi for a late lunch or late dinner, to sit near him and talk and feel safe. She wanted it so badly the back of her skull twinged in warning. “I-- I think--” Well, she wanted more of Jorgi’s time, but-- “I actually think today I just want to cry on Lilith-- my foster mother--” her fingers brushed over her locket-- “for a while, and take a long nap with an ice pack.”

“… Hyu know vot? Dot’s fair.”

“If… if you want to call tomorrow? I should be at home all day.” Because she got expelled, but she’d be at home.

“Hy vill do mine best,” Jorgi promised. “… Vait a minute, is dot home? ‘Clay Mechanical’?”

“My father-- foster father-- is a blacksmith.”

“Vell, vat hyu know-- mine poppa vas a blacksmith, too.”

It was too bold, but Agatha was far too drained to care-- “Maybe it’s a sign.”

Jorgi’s delighted grin showed off all his teeth (they were longer than human, but interlocked neatly) and the unreasonable elasticity of his skin (it made him very expressive, and she wondered if all Jägermonsters shared that trait), but Agatha still found herself liking it a lot anyway. “Mebbe zo.”

He waited until the door closed behind her to leave; she watched him turn to walk back up the street through the window and hoped whoever told him about the layer of soot (or the singed fabric) all down the back of his uniform was nice about it. Before she looked away, Jorgi took a glance to either side, the way Adam did when he wanted to lift something too heavy for even a really big human man to lift, but instead of a feat of strength Jorgi did a happy little dance that lasted barely three seconds before he headed back toward the University (at a very impressive run).

She’d had at least two headaches in front of Jorgi, and matching bouts of undignified sobbing. He’d seen her terrified, he’d seen her angry, he’d seen her scurrying around a lab and cowering from a Spark in fugue like an untried minion, and from Dr. Beetle’s reaction she probably had a very impressive bruise, if not a black eye. After all that, being told Agatha would like to see him tomorrow made Jorgi want to dance in the street. She’d been at her worst, her most pathetic and her least reasonable, and getting an invitation to call on her was, observably, worth celebrating, to Jorgi.

On the one hand, possibly being a Jägermonster limited his options; Agatha understood that well, because being distractible and useless limited hers. On the other hand, she thought he was really a rather handsome Jägermonster. Only a couple of his teeth poked out between his lips when he had his mouth closed, and she’d seen wilder hair on tenured professors. Jorgi was obviously a very well-made construct. His options probably weren’t that limited.

And so far, she liked him. A lot.

She really hoped he called tomorrow.

Agatha turned her back to the door, leaning heavily on it, as Adam (strong, silent, comforting Adam who she would have liked to call Papa) set down the tractor he’d been working on.

“I have had,” she announced, voice wavering more than she wanted it to, “the strangest day.”

Adam whipped off his gloves and rushed to her, gently touching her cheek-- the bruise. “I was mugged,” she started, “but saved! I’m all right, I got my locket back-- but Dr. Beetle is dead, and I was expelled and banned from the University because Dr. Merlot is terrible, and Baron Wulfenbach is an awful parent, and--”

“Agatha?” Lilith asked, standing in the doorway that led from the forge to the house proper. “What are you doing home so early, child--” but Adam gently moved Agatha out where Lilith could really see her. “-- Who hit you?”

“It’s a long story-- do we have any ice?”

Agatha was eighteen, but Lilith still took her foster-mothering duties as seriously as she had when Agatha was eight (even if she never wanted to be called Mama), and bustled Agatha to sit at the kitchen table, with an ice pack for her bruised cheek, before asking, “Now. What happened?

“I was mugged, this morning-- a thief stole my locket. When I tried to fight back--” she gestured at her cheek. “So I yelled for help, instead, and this Wulfenbach soldier turned up--”

“A Wulfenbach soldier? Here?

“I know--” her parents hated the Baron-- “but Lilith, please-- please, Jorgi was the only good thing about today.”

“… He introduced himself?” At least that was just regular ‘a boy is hanging around Agatha’ suspicion.

“He read my name off the locket, so he told me his. And then he walked me to class so I wouldn’t be in trouble for being late. And then the Baron turned up for a surprise inspection--”

“Baron Wulfenbach is here? Klaus Wulfenbach?”

“… Yes? He’s taken the town. Didn’t you notice?

“I’ve been canning all morning--” Lilith shook her head, as though that wasn’t important. “Klaus Wulfenbach! Are you sure?

“He was in the lab, Lilith, I was right there.”

“Did he see you?” Lilith demanded.

“Dr. Beetle introduced me with the others,” Agatha said, baffled by the strength of Lilith’s reaction.

“Yes, of course he did. Why not?” she muttered. “How did the Baron react to you?”

“He let me stay when Dr. Beetle tried to send me home, and said someone could get me some ice.” Adam and Lilith exchanged a look, and Agatha knew they were trying to analyze that, to figure out the Baron. “He was polite but distant, and more interested in his son. Who actually is awful, by the way, a terrible show-off and just mean when he’s in fugue.”

“Agatha. The Baron. Did he show any unusual interest in you?”

“He barely noticed I was there. Even when Dr. Beetle died--”

“Dr. Beetle is dead?

She nodded, helplessly. “He threw a bomb at the Baron--” Agatha felt herself start to shake-- “Lilith, I wasn’t even a meter away from the Baron and Dr. Beetle threw a bomb--

“Are you all right?” Lilith’s hands on Agatha’s shoulders were there as much to inspect as to comfort.

Physically, she was. Agatha nodded. “I didn’t really see all of it. I think the Baron’s son hit the bomb with something, but Jorgi had jumped in--”

“The Jorgi who saved you from a thief?”

“He was in the Baron’s honor guard,” Agatha agreed. “And he-- I know, Lilith, I know how little you like the Baron, but Jorgi protected me-- if the bomb had gone off where it was supposed to, I’d still be all right, but Jorgi would be in the hospital. He was right over me, like a shield.”

Adam and Lilith exchanged another significant look, this time measuring more than worried. “He sounds very brave,” Lilith allowed.

“He was the only good thing about today,” Agatha agreed. “But yes. Dr. Beetle is dead. The bomb killed him-- it was hidden in one of his cloak clasps. From the… from the look of… the body, all of his beetle badges were bombs.”

“And after seeing all that, the Baron let you go home?”

“… Not exactly. He put Dr. Merlot in charge--” and would send him to Castle Heterodyne at his first mistake-- “and you know how awful Dr. Merlot is-- he expelled me. On the spot! He expelled me and he banned me from the University! In front of everyone. Apparently I had to come home early.”

“That makes some things easier,” Lilith said, oddly decisive.

“… What?”

“As soon as your cheek feels better, go and pack-- lightly, but bring everything important, and be ready to leave at dawn.”

Not another move-- “We’re leaving town?” She’d told Jorgi to call-- “But-- the shop! The house! Your canning!” The people, the constructs, who relied on Lilith’s canning, on Lilith’s contacts, because they couldn’t fit in even to a society where the Baron’s laws protected them.

“It can’t be helped,” Lilith said, firm. “If Wulfenbach is here, we’ve got to leave.”

“I--” No, no, no, she’d always hated all the moving, and she had a caller coming who’d seen her a her worst and was still interested-- she’d never even had a friend who’d seen as much of Agatha’s misfortune as Jorgi had seen and wanted to stick around-- “Do I have time to nap first? It’s been--”

“I do understand-- you’re probably exhausted. I’ll come check on you at noon.” Agatha nodded and started up the stairs, and Lilith called, “Agatha? I am sorry.”

“If it can’t be helped, it can’t be helped,” Agatha said with a dejected shrug, carefully not accepting or rejecting the apology.

Once in her room, she didn’t immediately nap. The most disobedient Agatha had ever really been involved sneaking out at night to go see the odd Heterodyne Show, but now? Now she was trying to figure out where she could leave a note so Jorgi would find it, without having to break into the house, and without leaving it outside somewhere Lilith and Adam would notice.

Dear Jorgi,

I hope this note finds you well, and I apologize for my unexpected absence. I assure you, it came as a shock to me, as well. As Beetleburg is now under Baron Wulfenbach’s direct control, my parents insist on leaving town. My parents help constructs who would otherwise struggle with civilian society, trading food and tips on where to find work that won’t discriminate for favors, paid back and forward both. They’ve never trusted the Baron, I think because wherever he goes, he seems to roll constructs up into his army. I’m not sure how that translates to ‘pack everything important, we’re leaving’ rather than simply trying not to attract attention to ourselves, but I’ve always known Dr. Beetle was going out of his way to help me stay at University (with my headaches, studying and focusing for long periods on intense material can get difficult). Perhaps he was giving my parents more protection than I knew, as well?

I would like to write to you again, if that’s agreeable, though I might not be able to do so until I find out how to write to a Wulfenbach soldier when all you know is his first name and what sort of construct he is. You were the only good thing about today, and I’m not quite ready to give up on ever speaking to you again. I invite you to write once I have a return address.

Sincerely,

Miss Agatha Clay

P.S. I have written out my notes about the electrical anomaly that sent me fleeing down that alley, as Baron Wulfenbach expressed an interest in the matter. My parents’ distrust of him is strong, but if the event turns out to be dangerous somehow, it’s probably best the Baron knows about it.


The post-script was an afterthought, and Agatha worked on her notes while she sorted out how much of her stationery and such she wanted to take with her. (Enough to write letters, at least.) She included every observation she could wring out of her brain, and a careful sketch of what she remembered of the apparition.

Those notes concluded with It was at this time I fled, and found myself in the circumstances that led to meeting Jorgi. She rolled them up carefully and left them on the desk.

… If the Baron remembered he’d wanted to talk to her about the event, he might stop by the house tomorrow, too, or send someone to fetch her. Agatha would, she decided, leave both notes on the kitchen table on her way out tomorrow morning. They’d be visible from the front window that way.

She still had a little time before Lilith checked in on her, so Agatha stripped out of clothes that had faced falls, blows, weeping, and explosions and curled up in bed. She needed a nap.

(Hours later, as the Clays prepared to smuggle themselves out of town under cover of darkness, Agatha asked to be allowed to take one last look around the house, by herself, to say goodbye to the first stable home she’d known. Adam and Lilith shared a look, full of regret and heartbreak, and Lilith told her, “Remember to lock the door when you’re done.” Agatha did take the time to look into every room, but it was difficult to look for long when they’d been stripped of every valuable, useful, portable thing. She left her notes for the Baron and Jorgi both on the kitchen table as planned-- but left the door unlocked.)



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