Violetta stomped murderously into his lab and swung a punch at his head. "YOU DID IT AGAIN! You won't even TRY! WHY do you have to be like this?" she wailed.

"Hey! Watch that! You'll break that clank!" the lanky redhead said, stabilizing what appeared to be an ornate cigar-cutter in the shape of an odalisque, but was probably something much more sinister. Or perhaps merely more elegant.

"'. You won't even TRY to learn self defense! You're fifteen years old and you won't learn to block a simple sword shot." she boiled, kicking a chair across the room.

He turned away from her with a show of disinterest. "It's boring. I've told you before, it's not important to me."

"Not important to you? Death? Death is not important to you? ARGHH!" She threw aside some sketchbooks from the sofa and flopped down.

"I have you to protect me from death, Violetta. That's *your* job. Your *hereditary* job."

"Riiighhht. And I'm just doing SOOOO well with it. I wish Grandmother would go back to having a footman smack me with a belt instead of just being so smarmy about my incompetence!" Violetta clearly hadn't figured out that her developing, if muscular, figure, had led to what Tarvek considered a small mercy, since Grandmother would never stoop to doing her own thrashing and she had no desire to see her lackeys lusting after a Sturmvarous girl. It was only on Castle Wulfenbach that Tarvek himself had realized that other heirs of the fifty families didn't bear scars from routine physical punishment.

"Look, Violetta, it *is* your job. I have more important things to do. And think what it ads to your consequence to be bodyguard to the Future Storm King. "

"First of all, designing stupid toy clanks and sketching imaginary girls isn't important- it's stupid. And I don't *want* to be a bodyguard. I want to be a *girl*. I want to wear nice dresses and do my hair and go to parties and dance with a beautiful young man! I would even settle for wearing chinzy dresses and going to the local festival and dancing with some farmer! I don't want to be a Smoke Knight! I suck at it! If I have to be a minion, why can't I at least be a minion in a SKIRT?"

"Nonsense. You may not be sparky or royal, but you'll be a perfectly good Smoke Knight. You've got the sleight of hand down pat. You wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you had to be an ordinary minor connection of the Fifty Families. You'd be bored stiff." She would, too. She was too damn clever by half, and it was getting hard to keep her playing her part in relative ignorance. If they found out how smart she was, and how good at the Smoke Knight stuff, they'd put her right in the line of fire- advancing their own plans and getting rid of a girl who wasn't a spark at one blow.

"I never wanted to be sparky. Look what happened to Anevka. And my sister! I just don't want to be your bodyguard, you stupid ass!" She was near crying now, and it was hard to avoid trying to comfort her.

But if they thought she was a potential ally of his and might foil their plans by loyalty to him rather than them, her life was in danger. Why did everyone's life have to be in danger, all the time? Damn them. Damn the Knights of Jove. Damn the goddamn Mongfishes. Damn the Wulfenbachs. Damn the Fifty Families. Damn his father, and damn the old Heterodynes and the original Storm King for starting this. Not to mention Lucrezia, the Other, and the thrice-bloody-bedamned Geisterdamen. Who were, he knew, listening through their secret spy-holes.

"Well, once I'm Storm King, maybe I can design a courtier-clank and order him to overlook your shortness, your family status, and your training and at least squire you to some parties while I'm impressing the Fifty Families and commanding the Empire. Designing some clothes for you that wouldn't show off how dumpy you are would be an interesting challenge... " He said it with a forced lightness, knowing the words would hurt. Not to mention making him look daft, which was the point. The Geisterdamen thought all males were idiots, but it was a good idea to keep that impression in the front of their minds about him.

"You idiotic, mindless, sanctimonious, *useless* ASS! King THIS!" she shouted, aiming a blow at his head. He allowed it to connect, even though it landed on his glasses and shook his whole skull.

"Ow! And now you've broken them. If you're going to go around hitting me in the face, maybe I should resort to pince-nez like Great-Aunt! I think I'm getting a bruise here! How many times must I tell you, Not The Face! how can I impress anyone with a black eye?"

"GOOD! You deserve it! Stop whining! You could have stopped me easily with a baby's defense!" She stopped short and considered. "That's it! That's IT! I'm going to KEEP hitting you from now on. Eventually you HAVE to start defending yourself, dammit!" She seized one of the notebooks and chased him around the room, slapping him with it, half in fury and, eventually, half-laughing. She hit pretty hard, too.

Fortunately, before she could cause too much pain or havoc, the dressing-for-dinner bell rang, and he was able to gasp out, "Bell... Grandmother... have a fit... dining room... practice clothes..."

Looking stricken, she stopped and headed for the door, muttering "You idiot. I may have to go get cleaned up to attend you now, but I'm not done yet!"

"Remember, no horizontal stripes! They make you look like a peppermint drop! And NOT the burgundy sash, it clashes with your hair!" he shouted after her.

As her finally "ARGH!" faded down the hall, he shut the door and collapsed against it. Silently he vowed that someday, come hell or high water, he would get Violetta that opportunity to wear pretty dresses and dance at a ball. He'd overrun all of Europe, and control all the idiots in the Fifty Familes, if that's what it took. It occurred to some part of the back of his mind, idly, that that seemed to be the solution to most of the problems he faced. That must be what it felt like to be Klaus Wulfenbach, that dirty bastard.