Title: Catharsis and Tea
Rating: M, for some language and sexual innuendo
Standard Disclaimer: Not mine. Studio Foglio's.
Chapter 2/2: Waking Up With Sun in Her Eyes
Agatha woke slowly, her head feeling… fuzzy. Her mind was groggy, as sleep faded from her limbs only a centimeter at a time. For the longest second, she couldn't make her eyes focus, her vision refusing to work with the light shinning directly on her face. Throwing a hand over her eyes, she groaned at the brightness; she could have sworn the bed was in a curtained off section of the room.
Agatha was suddenly completely awake. And completely confused. The room she was in was not the one from last night, she was almost sure of it. She tried to grab onto her thoughts, but they were slipping away, fading from her conscious mind. It had been a large room, she knew that much. Or, she thought she knew that. There had been tea, and chairs, and a bed. She felt her skin run warm as a wisp of a memory flashed through her mind; yes, definitely a bed.
Forcing her eyes to open, Agatha tried to figure out where she was now, seeing as she wasn't on a bed. What ever she was laying on was a far cry from warm blankets and a soft pillow. She rolled slightly to giver herself a better angle, one without direct visual assault by sunlight, and came face to face with a wall. Blinking rapidly, she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. She looked at the octagonal window, and the faded blue walls – and then it clicked. She was in the Medical Suite.
Shifting her position again, Agatha looked down at the fabric under her hands – dark gray and utilitarian. It was one of the medical cots. She must have fallen asleep in the Medical Suite, passing out in the crash area Zeetha had insisted on putting in. She'd thought it was silly at the time – after all, who needs sleep when there's work to be done? Moving again, she realized what she'd thought was a blanket was actually her lab coat. Looking down, she saw that she was still fully dressed, right down to her shoes.
Damn, she thought, I must have crashed hard. But she could have sworn...
Batting at the remnants of sleep that clung to her like spider webs, Agatha rolled away from the wall, and was surprised to find Zeetha, apparently wide awake. Her best friend was idly sharpening one of her swords and watching her with careful eyes.
"Sleep alright?" the warrior Princess asked without preamble.
"Um," Agatha started, trying to force her frazzled mind to make sense. "I think so…"
"Good," her friend replied with a quick smile. "I had to hit you pretty hard there."
"What?" Agatha replied, sitting up slowly. She rolled her neck gingerly as she moved, trying to stretch out the stiffness hanging on her muscles – the cots really weren't comfortable at all.
"You know," Zeetha said with an arched brow, "When you nearly slit Gil's throat with a screwdriver? Or buried your wrench in Tarvek's skull?"
Shoving at the gauze of sleep stilled wrapped loosely around her mind, Agatha tried to gather up the fragmented pieces yesterday. She knew she'd been in the Medical Suite since long before dawn, putting in stitches and replacing limbs. Gil had come in about halfway through the day, she'd taken a Zeetha-enforced break, then went back to work. Tarvek had shown up in the evening, and she'd been happy to have another surgery assistant. But he'd argued. A lot.
Agatha remembered the hot sensation of the rage that had flooded her veins as if she'd turned on a tap. Her vision had turned red as instant fury had turned her friends into a distraction to be dealt with swiftly. The more he and then, inevitably, Gil had argued, the closer she'd come to putting both their brains in jars. That, she remembered now, was about when the screwdriver and the wrench had shown up. Looking back, she'd been ready to do it – which was not a happy thought. But the yelling had eventually stopped, and thankfully not as the result of a double homicide.
It had been...
Her brain stopped. What had it been? It must have been something; arguments between those two didn't just stop themselves. But as hard as she thought about it, she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Regardless, the argument had stopped, and then they left the room – or, she thought they'd left the room. Maybe they'd just walked into the hall? No, there'd been another room, she was sure. And... a chair? And a table? She shook her head, trying to remember more than just furniture. Because, really, how important could furniture be? Except, of course, the bed; that had been important. Because the bed had been where Gil had... And where Tarvek had...
But, no; that couldn't have happened.
Agatha felt a flush crawl up into her cheeks as she struggled to remember what she was sure couldn't have actually happened. She shook her head sharply against the sensation, trying to make her mind get back in order, and dismissed the wisps of thoughts that couldn't be actual memories. Because she'd been dreaming. It had to have been a dream; a wonderful, confusing, embarrassing dream – nothing more. It couldn't have been anything else. How utterly ridiculous to imagine even for a moment that it had been real, no matter that she wished it was.
The errant thought renewed the heat in her cheeks, and she shook her head again, trying to shake away the last dredges of sleep.
"Agatha?" Zeetha spoke quietly, pulling her out of her confusing thoughts.
"Yeah," Agatha answered her friend, trying to snap out of it. "I'm fine. A little unfocused, but fine. I just need to, I don't know, eat something and get back to work… I guess…"
"Well, food we can do," Zeetha replied happily, pointing to a table set by the door. On it were several pitchers, and one very large covered tray. The warrior seemed to take Agatha at her word, because in the next moment she stood, sheathed her sword, and started walking across the room.
"By the way," her friend looked back over her shoulder, catching Agatha's still muddled attention. "You talk in your sleep."
Zeetha smiled when she said it, the look cheerfully lascivious.
Oh? Agatha thought.
Agatha felt a hot blush jumped into her cheeks at her friend's words. Zeetha just laughed, her eyes knowing, before sauntering across the room.
Wanting to get away from her friend's innuendo, Agatha jumped up from the cot and moved quickly toward the food. The movement, though, seemed to be too much for her exhausted body. It only took a few steps to feel a deep soreness radiating from what felt like everywhere between her ribs and her knees. A ghost of a thought whispered some of the warm, spine-tingly things that could have caused that ache, and another blush bloomed across her cheeks.
"Sore, sweetheart?" Zeetha asked with a smile, suddenly standing beside her.
Agatha looked at her friend sharply, her brain struggling to reconcile with reality.
"You were kicking and… um," Zeetha arched a suggestive eyebrow. "...shifting a lot in your sleep. I'm surprised you didn't pull something…"
Without thinking, Agatha reached out an irritated hand and swatted at nothing. Sure, she'd hoped Zeetha's head would have been there, but she'd known perfectly well it wouldn't. Long before she'd swung Zeetha was already skipping away, snickering all the way to the orange juice. Adjusting her coat with an irritated tug, Agatha made it to the breakfast spread, and proceeded to eat like she hadn't eaten properly in a week. She groaned a little when she realized that that wasn't too far from the truth.
On the other side of the room, she could hear the Jäger waking up. Cheerful shouts were mixed liberally with subdued groans. Agatha ate her sandwich quickly, and looked out over her patients; every Jäger in the room was here awaiting surgery or repair of some kind. But, more than that, they were waiting for her. Deciding that she didn't really need a fourth sandwich, Agatha finished eating, scrubbed up, and got to work.
Three days ago, when the Jäger had poured back into the city, Agatha had nearly pulled her hair out trying to restore some sort of order. When the second wave of injured Jäger had come looking for her, it became even more important to figure out a method of dealing. Eventually she'd created a list, the most damaged Jäger at the top and the least at the bottom, with a clear plan to just move through them one at a time.
Pulling the priority list, she noted that the details of the next Jäger in line: Fernik - pale yellow, about two-hundred-ish years old, had the left side of his body crushed by a collapsing war-clank. Had been at Mama Gkika's for almost two years.
She had Zeetha administer the anesthetic that Gil had mixed two days ago, and took a moment to looked at the Jäger's notes while she waited for it to take effect. So far the blue, effervescent chemical cocktail was the only thing they'd managed to come up with that could numb a Jäger, even put him under for an hour or two. It wasn't perfect, though; they still woke up in pain, but it was all they had at the moment. And she refused to work on any of the Jäger unless there was some way she could lessen their pain.
"He's ready to go," Zeetha said, drawing her out of her maudlin thoughts.
She wondered over to the surgery area, and sure enough, there was a pale yellow Jäger that looked like half of his body had been pulled away. Luckily, he also looked as high as a steam-powered kite, and Agatha was confident he'd be unconscious within a minute.
"Good morning, Fernik," she started with a winsome smile, trying to remember Gil's lecture about bedside manner. "You're looking good today."
"Mornink, Miz Agatha," the Jäger responded, his words slurring at the edges. "Deed hyu haff sveet dreemz?"
Wide, innocent eyes looked up at her, and she could almost see herself reflected in the black of his over-dilated pupils.
Looking down at her patient, Agatha waited for her vision to run red, just as it had done for days now. She waited for the instantaneous rage, the Sparky madness and the nearly irresistible urge for violence. She waited for them, but they didn't come. She was irritated, maybe even a little pissed – but really, who wouldn't be with supposed best friends and supposed loyal Jäger making lecherous innuendo about a, um, stress dream? She felt one of her eyes twitch at the thought.
All that being said, though, she was surprised by how much she wasn't instantly ready to kill. Which, though curious, was definitely a good thing. Fernik may have been a Jäger, but he was one of the more injured, and as pleasant as it would have been to crack his skull in two for his teasing, it probably wouldn't have been an improvement to his health.
"Fernik," Agatha started, proud when her voice remained even. At the edges, though, it was jagged; it may not have been the rage that would have come even yesterday – but it wasn't lace and butterflies either.
"I like you," she kept talking, her voice utterly serene. Anyone listening wouldn't have suspected her hand was wrapped snuggly around the Jäger's throat, squeezing until her knuckles turned white. "So when I say that I will kill anyone who even mentions my night, or my dreams, or anything about last night again, I'm only doing it so I'm not forced to put an end to our budding friendship. Do you understand?"
Agatha looked down at the Jäger, taking in the odd blue color his face was slowly turning.
"Do you understand?" she repeated gently, smiling.
The Jäger nodded hastily, unable to get his voice past her tightly griped hand. He smiled while he did it though, the drugged up innocence in his eyes replaced by naked admiration.
Satisfied that that was the end of that, Agatha released his throat and let him resume breathing. Turning her, remarkably still calm, eye to the room beyond the surgery area, she called out, "I trust we all understand?"
She was answered by a chorus of "Oh yah,"s, "Def'nitlee"s, and "Hell yesh, Miztress"s.
"Good," she mumbled, mostly to herself though, as Fernik had finally slipped into a drugged unconsciousness.
Picking up a saw and an incinerator-probe, Agatha got to work repairing the Jäger's destroyed left side.
An hour later, Gil walked into the room. She fought down the urge to look up, to run over to him, and to touch him with a familiarity she knew she only had in dreams. The impulse was so intense, though, that it left the skin across her shoulders feeling tingly. Instead of giving in, she just kept working, trying not to notice his limp as he walked across the room. It caught her attention, though, that limp. It made her watch him out of the corner of her eye, made her notice the split lip and the exhausted bruises under his eyes. Made her notice how incredibly uncomfortable he looked.
When Tarvek walked in twenty minutes later, she looked for the same signs, and found them. Exhausted eyes, a bruise blooming across his lower jaw and extending below his collar, a stiff gait, and an overall look of discomfort. Instead of walking directly over to her, as he would have just yesterday, he moved slowly across the room to where Gil was pulling on gloves and prepping for surgery.
Slipping the alloy hip-substitute into Fernik's open side, she listened as the two men talked. Tarvek asked about which Jäger was next on the list, and Gil explained the anesthetic. Both men were curt, maybe even terse, but neither showed the blatant hostility they had only yesterday. Between the difficultly both were having walking, Tarvek's bruise, Gil's split lip, and now this seemingly civil conversation, Agatha figured they'd finally done it – they'd given in and had a knock down, drag out, nearly-kill-each-other fight. Honestly, she didn't want to think about the damage they could have done, but if it'd purged their vicious animosity for a little while, she was grateful.
Finishing up the fusion point of bone to metal, Agatha put aside the incinerator-probe and began the relatively simple task of putting the Jäger's musculature back in place. Simple, yes; but slow, and by the time she was done Gil and Tarvek had finished talking, scrubbed up, and pulled a Jäger each into the surgery end of the room.
"Zeetha," Agatha called to her friend, trying to keep her mind on the task at hand. "Can you take Fernik? Bandages; a half dose of Battle Draught; and a fluid hook up," the instructions flowed easily, and she wondered if she was getting used to it all.
It was a nice thought, that; the idea of getting used to anything. It might have been wishful thinking, but she wondered if maybe she'd finally moved past the mind-numbing frustration and found a pattern that she could work with. Maybe she was finally making some sense out of the insanity that had become her life. And maybe, just maybe, she might survive to become the Heterodyne she hoped to be.
She managed a tired smile at the thought, and reached out to hug Zeetha before the warrior wheeled the Jäger's table away. Her friend didn't question, just hugged her tightly back, and then moved Fernik someplace he could recover.
Taking a second to stretch, Agatha watched the two men in her life. They were her friends, and to some extent she trusted them both. But as she looked at them now, there seemed to be something more… something she couldn't quite put her finger on. She felt her body respond strangely as she watched them work, each elbows deep in a different Jäger, each politely ignoring the other. In fragments she could picture how their arms would look wrapped around her, or how their eyes would soften when they kissed her. As quickly as the thoughts came, though, they faded.
It had been a lovely dream.
But with a sigh, she let it go. Because that's all it had been – a dream. And right now, she had plenty of reality to work on.
The three Sparks didn't notice when Zeetha finished bandaging up Fernik, patted him gently on the cheek, and quietly left the room. She only looked over her shoulder once, making sure no one had followed her, then snarled under her breath.
"That was not what I meant by 'blow off steam', you pervy mound of rubble."
She was pissed. She was relieved, yes; but Blood and Blade, she was pissed.
Six hours after locking her Zumil in a room with the madboys, the Castle had snagged her attention. It had sounded worried, and Zeetha had followed its voice quickly, having assumed that someone was injured. When she'd walked in the door, she had been hard pressed to wrap her mind around how wrong she'd been.
They were sound asleep when she found them, sprawled and relaxed like she'd never seen them. Agatha had been in the middle, using Tarvek's chest as a pillow and with Gil's head on her hip. Both boys clung to the girl between them, but in sleep they seemed to have found some kind of balance, some kind of peace. Though Tarvek's left arm crossed Agatha's chest in a possessive sort of way, his hand rested on Gil's shoulder. And though Gil was wrapped around Agatha like he was never letting go, his right arm stretched across her so that his hand could rest on Tarvek's hip.
The whole thing would have been sweet...
"Princess Zeetha," the Castle started, its voice barely audible. "It was the Tea… I didn't imagine…"
… if it hadn't been a powder keg.
She didn't answer, her skin suddenly running cold. She just gestured sharply for silence, not wanting to risk waking the three Sparks by talking.
She walked silently over to the bed and began to slowly draw them apart. Of the three, Tarvek had fought her the most; when she pulled his hand from Gil's shoulder, it had gone back almost instantly. She'd tried to shift him three times before she was able to get him rolled over. Once they weren't touching, she began the slow process of getting them all dressed. She started with Agatha, because protecting her Zumil was her first priority. She had to make this night go away; if it had been a fight, even a brutal one, that would have been okay. A bloody brawl had been inevitable, or so she'd thought.
But this? If they had woken then, even fully dressed, there would have been no denying what had happened. She suspected the boys were the most likely to react violently, but Agatha was the most likely to have her heart broken. And that, Zeetha had thought, the first touches of guilt making her pause, … that isn't going to happen.
She'd carefully pulled Agatha from the bed first, cradled her gently, and taken the long walk to the Medical Suite. It had been hard to leave her Zumil there while she'd gone back for the boys, but the more distance she could put between the three of them the better.
Eventually she'd come back to the Medical Suite, both boys safely unconscious in their own rooms, and sat to watch her friend sleep. It was about four hours later that Agatha had woken up, and Zeetha had planted the seed of doubt.
Its not that she thought what had happened was wrong. Far from it! If she'd suspected the three of them had that kind of inclination in them, she would have asked the Castle for a cushy boudoir instead of a disposable battleground. Not that the scheming, decrepit building hadn't provided both. And then drugged them to make sure it got fully used.
"…it was the Tea…" the Castle had said.
That was all Zeetha had needed to hear in order to know – her Zumil hadn't had a choice. None of the three Sparks had; and no one likes their choices taken away, least of all dangerously powerful Sparks. Which was why she'd had to make it all disappear.
Zeetha's biggest anxiety had been the Jäger mentioning something; maybe offhandedly asking where she gone when Zeetha had led her from the Medical Suite, or commenting that she'd been carried back in half way though the night, or – worst of all – remarking on their mistress's change of smell. But Agatha had taken care of that with a few choice words and a near strangulation. The Jäger would help the night fade away, on order from their mistress.
Zeetha sighed in relief as she walked farther from the Medical Suite. She wasn't happy keeping this from her Zumil, but she would do it. That just left the Castle.
"You're going along with the charade, I hope," she growled between clenched teeth, managing a fierce glare despite having nothing fixed to glare at.
"You seem to think it necessary…" the Castle answered slowly, sounding less than enthused.
"You bet your key stone, I think it necessary!" she spat viciously, struggling to keep her volume in check. "Ashtara's tit, Castle; you drugged her! What the hell did von Zinzer put in that tea?"
The Castle was quiet for a moment, and then seemed to sigh. "As far as he knows; an herbal infusion of hibiscus, chili flower, and chamomile."
"What?" Zeetha asked, startled by the answer.
Again, there seemed to be a moment of thought from the Castle, then it explained, "I had him prepare tea – it came out of a jar, was put in a pot, and had boiling water added. That is all he knows…"
Zeetha thought about it as she reached the end of the hall and started down the staircase. If that was true, then maybe von Zinzer wasn't going to need killing. Which was good; Agatha did seem fond of the guy.
"It's called War Tea," the Castle continued after a moment, seeming to have become uncomfortable in Zeetha's long silence. "It is a formula used by the warlord Heterodynes. They would take it before battle to quicken their reflexes and keep away hesitance and pity. I thought it would work well for your purpose; encourage a little mayhem and make my Lady more welcoming of a fight."
Zeetha snorted contemptuously, "How the hell does a berserker tonic lead to happy, drugged-up naked time?"
"Because the War Tea isn't expressly a 'berserker tonic'," it explained, somehow sounding both condescending and imploring at the same time. "Its formula was designed specifically to quicken reactions and, um, slow inhibitions."
"Ah," Zeetha commented dryly, giving into the urge to rub at her temples.
"It has side effects," the Castle spoke after a moment, sounding cheerfully helpful.
"Oh?" the warrior snapped, unable to stop herself. "Are they going to grow horns, or third eyes, or develop a taste for snot weasels?"
"In their own time, perhaps," the Castle remarked casually, and Zeetha rolled her eyes.
"But, because of the Tea?" It continued. "No. It dulls the memories, you see. Always my lords would complain that the Tea-influenced memories were vague – almost like some happy, sanguine dream. It was the job of their assistants to record notes so that it could be fully recalled later. Of course, some of the assistance became notes… footnotes, that is… hehehe…"
"So, they think it's a dream?" Zeetha interjected, cutting off the maniacally blissful giggle.
"Eh-hem," the Castle cleared its throat before answering – which was ridiculous; it was a building, it didn't have a throat. "Ah, yes. Their memories should be fragmentary at best. It would take purposeful recounting and repeated attention to detail to make anything fully flesh out."
"Ha!" the warrior burst out before she could stop it. She had to give the Castle that much; it really could find the humor in any situation. "Like that's going to happen. I can just picture the marathon stuttering and blushing session that would be. No; they're not going to talk about anything, let alone admit out loud they'd had wicked thoughts about the other two. I'm sure the boys are still reeling – even with rationalizing it as just a dream."
The Castle seemed to mull on that a moment, humming amusedly to itself. "Silly boys; surely they know how entertaining a little flexibility can be? Ah well, they will learn in time..."
To that, Zeetha had no comment.
"But I'm sure you are quite right," it continued, and Zeetha imagined that if the pile of rubble had possessed a hand, it would have been waving dismissively. "Plus, the more they drank of the tonic, the more dream-like their experience will have been."
"They all drank as least a cup," she offered, remembering the manly tea-drinking competition she'd seen before closing the door.
"Hmm," the Castle mumbled thoughtfully. "More than enough to have freed their impulses and clouded their memories."
"That," Zeetha started again, "…is a damn lucky thing. If Agatha finds out that you drugged her, she will be so pissed she'll… Well, she might just shut you down again. Or paint you pink. Or come up with a way for you to feel pain." She took a moment to smile with pride for her Zumil, "She's creative."
"Oh... well... She does seem rather sensitive about her sex life, doesn't she…" the Castle mused, more to itself than anything.
Zeetha walked on in silence, making her slow way to her bedroom. It felt like ages since she'd showered, and the scar on her stomach was starting to itch. The last few stairs down seemed to get longer as she went, and she accepted that she was just plain tired. It had been days, nearly a week actually, since she'd slept and it was starting to catch up with her.
As she reached the door to her room, she paused. In that room Agatha had specifically turned off most of the Castle's awareness. It couldn't see, listen, or talk to her in there.
"Castle?" Zeetha called, leaning around the doorjamb.
"Yes, Princess Zeetha?" its rumbling voice came to her at the same conspiratorial volume it'd been using since yesterday.
"Do me a favor; next time you want to "help" me with any of my ideas… don't."
Without waiting for a reply, she shut the door, and headed for a shower.