A/N: Written for the yuletide fic exchange on AO3.
Even after the Castle was repaired, the work didn't end. It turned out that maintaining a fiendishly complex mansion driven by an artificial intelligence capable of controlling most of a small city was, in fact, an ongoing job. This was especially true after so many years spent in a fragmented and decaying state. By inspecting the various repairs and additions layered throughout each sub-system of the Castle, Agatha could see her ancestors' talents revealed like geologic strata. Now she would be responsible for layering her own elegant work over theirs. The Castle was the history of the Heterodynes written in the form of a devilish engineering puzzle that could never be truly and completely solved.
In short, it was every Spark's dream.
Agatha threw herself into the task with abandon. Each challenge was the perfect mix of difficulty, creativity, and reward. The only problem was her pair of assistants who were, though helpful, frustratingly eager to please.
Agatha hummed to herself as she worked at rebuilding a fixture in the Master Kitchen – a floor-to-ceiling monstrosity that had been in pieces when she found it – and tried to drown out the voices behind her.
"That's your answer to everything," Tarvek was sneering, "'Just brute-force it back into place!' I think Agatha is looking for a somewhat more subtle solution."
Gilgamesh sounded as though he were nearing the end of his patience as he replied, "Agatha has better things to do than find a 'subtle' solution to every simple problem. The alchemical engine isn't even damaged. If she reinstalls it and reroutes the input through the transmogrifier…"
"Then what did we build the new interface for?" Tarvek interrupted, "The transmogrifier is shot. She needs to incorporate the whole system back into the main kitchen network and hook it up to the repository on the other side of the wall to give it more power."
"That'll take twice as long!" Gil protested.
The argument began to unravel as Tarvek said, "Why don't you just admit that you're better at blowing things up than fixing them?"
Gil shouted, "Why don't you just admit that you're trying to impress Agatha by making things more complicated than they need to be?"
Agatha shoved a panel closed and screwed it back into place as she said calmly, "Um, guys? I fixed it." They didn't seem to notice. She shrugged and began fiddling with the dials on the machine. It whirred quietly, and eventually produced a wine glass full of black tea. Agatha frowned. Well, it was mostly fixed. She still hadn't figured out where the wine glasses were coming from and how to replace them with teacups.
She played with the dials again until the machine produced a sandwich, sat herself on the counter, and watched as the boys came closer and closer to trading blows. She would have ended the argument, but after a few weeks of this she had decided that it was useless. They would only find something new to fight about within the hour.
It had been strange, sharing the Castle with Tarvek and Gil. They made no secret of the fact that they were competing for her affections, and she made no secret of the fact that she was more interested in exploring her new Castle than choosing between them. Still, they stayed, following her around and offering their opinions on everything she did. Even when the task was ridiculously straightforward, one of them would find a way to disagree with the other.
They had resorted to shouting insults back and forth at each other by the time Violetta came to check on her Mistress's progress.
"Hey, you fixed it?" Violetta said, eyeing Agatha's food.
As Violetta began playing with the newly-repaired machine, trying to get it to make her a croissant, Agatha leaned over to her and sighed under her breath, "They are driving me absolutely insane."
In a second, Violetta abandoned her pastry quest to pounce on the boys and chase them out of the room. "The Lady Heterodyne doesn't want to listen to you two idiots shouting at each other all day!" she bellowed, "Go make yourselves useful. Or at the very least, make yourselves QUIET!"
The boys having been banished from the kitchen, Violetta took up her spot next to Agatha again.
"Thank you," Agatha sighed, "I think they're getting worse."
Violetta retrieved a scone from the machine, shrugged, and began to munch it as she replied, "That's a bad sign, if you're getting sick of them already. But it's your Castle. You could kick them out if you wanted."
"I couldn't do that!" Agatha protested, "Besides, I'm not sick of them. I love having them around. It's just when they get together that they're insufferable. Not to mention that it all makes me feel so guilty when they fight over me."
Violetta nodded. "Because you've been stringing them both along ever since that fiasco with the Si Vales Valeo?" she said, making Agatha sputter into her tea.
"I'm not stringing them along!" she said, "I'm just… letting them stay in the Castle. Spending time with them. Enjoying their company."
Violetta winced as if it pained her to point this out to her mistress. "Using them to help you repair the Castle. Letting them both think they have a chance with you…"
Agatha frowned. "That's not at all how I meant it…" she said miserably, "They do both have a chance with me. That's just the problem. If I choose one of them, I have to break the other's heart. How can I do that to either of them? After all we've been through, how can I possibly choose between them?"
"YOU COULD ALWAYS KEEP THEM BOTH," a voice boomed from the walls.
"Shut up," Agatha replied pleasantly. She had gotten used to the Castle's untimely interjections. It couldn't help but overhear every conversation that happened within it, and it rarely exercised the restraint necessary to mind its own business.
Violetta ignored the interruption. "Well," she said, "You know whose side I'm on."
"Tarvek's?" Agatha sighed.
"Yours," Violetta was quick to say. Then she added, "Yeah, I do think you should choose Tarvek, but it's your choice and I'll back you up no matter what. Even though I kind of hate you for complaining about having too many potential boyfriends." She punched Agatha playfully on the arm.
"Agatha?" said a voice along with a knock. The door to the kitchen cracked open to reveal Tarvek and Gil standing in the hallway sheepishly. Agatha felt a momentary grip of panic as she wondered if they had been listening in, until Gil said, "We just wanted to apologize. Both of us."
Tarvek nodded in agreement. "We realize that our rivalry has made us more of a hindrance than a help to you lately," he said, "So we've talked about it, and we've decided that it would be best if we didn't work together anymore."
Agatha's heart sank. "But I don't want you to leave!" she said, even as she knew that it was unfair of her to ask them to stay.
"Neither do we!" said Gil, "With your permission, we'd like to stay in the Castle. We'll just find our own projects to work on so we can stay out of your hair."
"I already have something in mind," said Tarvek cryptically.
"So do I," said Gil, narrowing his eyes at Tarvek. But already their posturing had taken on a more playful tone. Maybe, thought Agatha, if they weren't forced to spend so much time together, they would be able to compete without being at each other's throats.
Agatha glanced at Violetta, who raised her eyebrows as if to say, "It could work."
"I think that sounds like a good idea," said Agatha, "Thank you."
The new arrangement ended up thus: Tarvek and Gil would go off to their separate ends of the Castle, only coming back together to eat meals with Agatha and Violetta. While they all ate, by Violetta's decree, none of them were allowed to talk about their work. For one, she resented not being able to understand most of it. For another, she was convinced that if they all didn't spend at least a few hours each day not in the Madness Place that they would all go insane for real.
For the first few days, the embargo on shop talk made mealtimes extremely awkward. None of them could think of what to talk about, so they usually ended up sitting quietly while the Castle recounted stories of past Heterodynes until everyone lost their appetites.
On the third day, in the middle of one of the Castle's stories, Gilgamesh began to chuckle quietly to himself.
"AND THAT'S WHEN HE LOCKED THE CISTERN AND DROPPED IT INTO THE DYNE. I RELAYED THE SCREAMS UP TO HIM WHILE HE SLEPT UNTIL ABOUT EIGHTEEN HOURS LATER, WHEN THE AIR SUPPLY… WHAT'S SO FUNNY?"
"Er…" said Gil, "I realize that this is going to sound bad, but… this kind of reminds me of when I was a kid."
Agatha looked at him as if he had sprouted an extra arm. "A story about my great-great-great-great grandfather killing people for fun reminds you of your childhood?" she said incredulously.
Turning slightly pink, Gil said, "No, well, obviously the story is absolutely horrific…"
Gil frowned at the interruption. "Shut up. But the part about the cistern reminded me of…"
"Ruckus!" Tarvek finished, looking startled to have recognized what Gil was talking about.
"Exactly!" said Gil with a grin, "He was this big clank who used to guard the biological containment area on Castle Wulfenbach. Father had him commissioned specially."
"And every time we tried to get past him," Tarvek jumped in, suddenly looking several years younger in his excitement, "He would tie us up and hand us over to Von Pinn. No matter what we did, he always knew where we were going to be."
"We could never figure it out!" Gil confirmed. They both seemed to have forgotten that there was anyone else in the room. "And then we found that old cistern with the side-hatch that was just big enough for me to squeeze through. So the next time we got him chasing us, you peeled off and I jumped into the cistern…"
"And he followed you, and I closed it behind him…"
"And I snuck out the hatch…"
"And we activated the electromagnetic feedback interference plane that we had installed earlier…"
"So he couldn't touch the walls or radio for help…"
"And when your father finally found out what had happened, he fired Ruckus instead of punishing us!"
Gill imitated his father as he boomed, "'I don't see why I should discipline them for your crime of being too stupid to avoid such an obvious trap.'"
Agatha was somewhat taken aback. After all their posturing and competing in the past months, it was strange to see them regress to a time when they were obviously the center of each other's world. "What did you find in the biological containment area?" she wondered.
For a second, the boys looked surprised to find Agatha still in the room. Then they happened to catch each other's eye, smiled a pair of conspiratorial smiles, and dissolved into laughter. "That's a whole other story," Tarvek choked out.
From then on, mealtimes were spent retelling tales about Tarvek's and Gil's adventures on the Wulfenbach airship city.
Agatha was getting more done than ever, but she soon found that she missed her boys and wondered what they were getting up to. With a bit of help from the Castle, she found Tarvek where he had installed himself in one of the auxiliary workshops. She was still quite a way down the hall from the door when she first heard his voice.
"Then it must have gone together like this," he was saying, "It accounts for all the parts, and it fits Van Rijn's style."
For a moment, Agatha thought Tarvek must be talking to Gil, and she felt a stab of jealousy that the boys were working together and leaving her alone. But they had kept their promise to steer clear of one another. The voice that answered Tarvek was much bigger and more metallic than Gil's; it was the voice of a Fun-Sized Mobile Agony and Death Dispenser. "No, no," it said, "Van Rijn's 'style,' as you call it, was far more adaptable than that. You're reassembling it as if it belonged to Tinka. But I was not a dancer; I was a warrior!"
Agatha crept up to the door and peeked in. Sure enough, the Death Dispenser that now housed Otilia's personality sat curled up as best it could in the back of the small workshop. She looked uncomfortable, but intent on the conversation. Agatha could see why. On the workbench lay what was left of her old body – the Van Rijn masterpiece that they had found below the Great Movement Chamber, and that Higgs had mostly destroyed. Tarvek was poring over the pieces. There were no tools in sight. The duo simply discussed what should go where, as Tarvek moved the gears this way and that and occasionally noted something down.
"This would give it more strength…" said Tarvek, moving everything into a new alignment.
Otilia dismissed it with a wave of her paw. "Now it has no range of motion, see?"
Tarvek sighed, "Are you sure you don't remember how it's supposed to go?"
Otilia shrugged apologetically. "We were programmed with knowledge of our arts, not of our own blueprints."
Agatha knocked tentatively, making both figures freeze and look up. "I thought I'd see what you were up to," said Agatha, stepping inside even though she felt as though she were intruding, "But I suppose I should have guessed."
The manic grin returned to Tarvek's face as he replied, "This is really unprecedented. I'm studying Van Rijn's work while the subject of said work offers her critiques! Tinka was too damaged to converse with me this way, and there was always the risk that one of my alterations to her body would damage her programming further. This way, Otilia's mind is safe while I rebuild her body!"
His excitement was infectious, and Agatha soon found herself smiling along with him. "Higgs really did a number on her, didn't he?" she observed, glancing down at the mess of loose cogs and twisted chassis on the table.
"Yes, well," said Tarvek, "We wouldn't want to make it too easy for me."
"'Too easy?'" said Agatha incredulously, peering closer, "Tarvek, if it were anyone but you, I'd say it was impossible."
Tarvek preened at the compliment. "If I can get it working again," he admitted, "I hope to transfer Otilia back into it."
Agatha turned to Otilia in her current form and asked, "Is that what you want?"
Otilia looked as bashful as it is possible for a Devil Dog to look. "It's not that I don't enjoy this shell, my Lady," she said, flexing a gigantic paw, "I do. Very much. But while I appreciate my present size and toothiness, I feel that I have lost a certain… artistry. It has been a very long time since I inhabited my true form."
"You don't have to choose between them," said Tarvek as he bent back over the table, "I'm sure I could find a way to let you switch between bodies at will."
If Otilia had had hands to clasp together, Agatha felt confident that she would have done. "Oh, do you really think so?" she asked.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Tarvek replied, "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Agatha put a hand on Tarvek's shoulder. "Otilia," she said, "If there's anyone who can do it, it's Tarvek." She pulled Tarvek away from his work long enough to look him in the eye and say, "This is wonderful, what you're doing. I'm glad you've found something to work on that makes you and Otilia so happy. Now, I have to get back to my own work, but I'll be sure that you get everything you need for this project. Anything. Just ask." A sudden upwelling of emotion made her lean forward and plant a kiss on Tarvek's cheek. A second later, before he could react to the first, she put a second one on his mouth. It was over in a second, and Tarvek was left blinking and blushing clumsily.
"Er…" said Agatha after a moment of awkward silence, "This might be a bad time to ask this, but do you know where Gil is?"
Tarvek's face only fell a little as he answered, "I think he's in the observatory."
"THE BOY MUST BE MISTAKEN," said the Castle as Agatha made her way upstairs, "THE OBSERVATORY WAS COMPLETELY DESTROYED. I HAVEN'T EVEN BOTHERED TO REACTIVATE MY SENSORS IN THE AREA."
"Maybe you should start," Agatha suggested, "Because if that's where Gil is working, then something interesting is sure to be happening there." She arrived at a set of silver doors adorned with a bas-relief mural of the heavens and placed her hand on the handle.
"I WOULDN'T DO THAT," the Castle suggested, "THERE'S NOTHING BUT RUBBLE BEHIND THERE."
Agatha yanked the doors open anyway. What she found behind them certainly wasn't rubble, but she didn't get much of a chance to see what it was before Gil zipped into view. He grabbed the doors and shut them so that all Agatha could see was his face poking out from between them.
"What are you doing here?" he asked breathlessly, his voice rich with sparky Madness.
"I came to see what you were up to," said Agatha, standing on tiptoe and squirming to try to see what was in the room behind Gil, "The Castle says it was all rubble in there. Did you clear it out?"
Gil matched her move-for-move, blocking her view at every angle. "Yes," he said, "I'm working on something. It's a surprise."
"I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING IN THERE," said the Castle grumpily, "ARE YOU SURE IT'S NOT STILL RUBBLE?"
"Ah, yes, er…" said Gil, "I blacked out your sensors in this room."
"YOU WHAT?" demanded the Castle.
Gil sighed a long-suffering sigh. "You report straight to Agatha!" he told the Castle, "Don't you understand the meaning of 'surprise?'"
"Okay," said Agatha, "I admit it. I'm intrigued. What do you have in there?"
"Surprise!" Gil groaned, "It's a surprise! Now go away! I need to work!" And he slammed the door in Agatha's face.
An instant later, the door reopened and Gil emerged, looking very sheepish. Agatha still couldn't manage to see anything behind him. "I'm sorry," said Gil, "That came out badly. I'm very glad you came by, and it's very nice to see you, but I really don't want anyone to see what I'm working on until it's finished. Okay?"
Agatha tried once more to peer over Gil's head, but he was too tall. "Okay," she relented with a sigh, "I'll leave you alone. Dinner's in an hour."
"I'll be there," said Gil with a dazzling smile. This time, before closing the door, he leaned forward and gave Agatha a gentle but lingering kiss. Agatha was so pleasantly startled that she barely had time to register what was happening before the doors slammed again, leaving her standing alone in the hallway.
She stomped her feet for a while, letting them fall softer each time to make it sound like she was moving away from the door. Then, when she was sure Gil had forgotten about her presence, she cracked the door and pressed her eye to the gap. She thought she caught a glimpse of some huge mound of gleaming machinery before Gil leaped across the room to block her view.
"No peeking!" he laughed as he closed the door again, locking it this time.
Agatha, having realized early on that Mechanicsburg's fervent and constant adulation was an exhausting cross to bear, rarely left the Castle. She preferred burying herself in her work to walking down the street, where every person she passed would pledge their undying loyalty to her. The boys, on the other hand, enjoyed going outside now and again. Lately, it had become normal for them to finish their work for the night and leave together, returning very drunk and very early in the morning.
"Where do you two go all the time?" Agatha asked Gil one day when he came to visit her where she was working in the crypt.
"To Mamma Gkika's, most of the time," said Gil, passing Agatha a wrench, "It's nice to spend time with Tarvek again. There's been bad blood between us for a long time, and it's good to finally be able to sit down and have a drink with him without one of us having a secret agenda."
Agatha winced at the reminder of all the Jaegers at Mamma's bar who still needed her repairs. She had seen to the worst of them, but a hefty backlog had accumulated in her father's and uncle's absence. But she ignored that to focus on what Gil was saying. "Are you sure he doesn't have one?" she pointed out.
Gil only smiled. "Well, no," he admitted, "Actually, I'd be surprised if he didn't. But I think our friendship is real. It was real when we were kids, anyway, and everything in between has just been misunderstandings." He sighed wistfully. "I've missed him," he added.
Agatha ignored the sudden, irrational flare of jealousy that had sprung up in her and replied, "Then I'm glad you've made up. At least that keeps you from fighting over me."
"Exactly," said Gil happily, "Why fight when we're all friends, right?" Agatha wasn't sure what to make of that, so she went back to work to keep from having to answer.
Over the next couple of weeks, Agatha's occasional fits of jealousy turned into a near-constant annoyance. "What could they be doing there at one in the morning?" she grumbled, her voice reverberating inside the glass receptacle she was repairing. She had been in the Great Movement Chamber all day, attempting to get the power array back to full effectiveness. The boys had taken off toward Mamma's hours ago, and they showed no signs of returning. "And they've been there every night this week! I hardly ever see them anymore, and they can't have ithat/i much to talk about!"
She had been talking mostly to herself, but the Castle replied predictably, "DO YOU MISS THEM COMPETING FOR YOUR AFFECTIONS? I COULD CONFINE THEM WITHIN MY WALLS IF YOU THINK IT WOULD HELP."
Agatha lifted her upper body out of the bulb to shout, "I don't miss them competing for my affections! And don't you dare confine them anywhere! The last thing I need right now is for word to get out that I'm holding Wulfenbach and the Storm King captive."
The Castle sighed dreamily at the thought.
"Stop that," said Agatha, "I don't want to control them. I just want to know what they're up to."
"THAT COULD BE ARRANGED," said the Castle.
Agatha was about to make a snarky comment when she realized what exactly the Castle was offering her. "Huh?" she said.
"I HAVE SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS IN PLACE OVER ALL OF MECHANICSBURG," the Castle bragged, "EVEN MAMMA GKIKA'S. I COULD SHOW YOU WHAT YOUR PARAMOURS ARE DOING RIGHT NOW, IF YOU LIKE."
Agatha paced nervously. "That's spying," she muttered, "That definitely counts as spying. It would be very bad… Oh to Hell with it. Show me."
"THAT'S MORE LIKE IT," the Castle chuckled as it opened a hidden panel in the wall next to where Agatha was working. Agatha scrambled over to the alcove to find that it held a small screen and as she watched, it flipped from static to a remarkably clear picture of the interior of Mamma Gkika's bar.
"You can pull up video of any place in the city?" asked Agatha breathlessly as she scanned the crowd for her boys. There they were – in the corner behind a table of five loud Jaegers with tall hats. She pointed, and the camera angle changed to give her a better view.
"YES," said the Castle proudly, "YOUR GREAT-GREAT GRAND-UNCLE INSTALLED THE CAMERAS. IT TOOK HIM NEARLY HIS ENTIRE LIFETIME, BUT HE COVERED EVERY INCH OF MECHANICSBURG."
"It must have been very useful during wartime," Agatha noted as she peered at the screen, "To be able to spy on anyone within city limits."
"I SUPPOSE SO," said the Castle, "HE ONLY EVER USED IT TO WATCH YOUNG LADIES WHILE THEY…"
"Never mind. I don't want to know," Agatha was quick to say. On the screen, Tarvek and Gil seemed to be deep in conversation, their heads bowed close together as if to block out the ambient noise. "Does this come with sound?"
A second later, the boys' voices were clearly audible. Agatha could also hear the shouted conversations of the Jaegers all around, but it didn't drown out what she really wanted to hear. For such good sound quality, the microphone must have been embedded in the table. Agatha gave a silent thanks to her creepy old great-great grand-uncle as she listened in.
Gil was saying, "…wish we could go back to that. It was good, wasn't it?"
Tarvek tilted the beer in his mug and looked at the table. "We were kids. Things are different now."
"Not so different. You're still my best friend. I still care about you."
"I believe you," Tarvek sighed, "And that means something coming from me. I don't take anyone at their word. And I care about you too. It's just… it's been so long. And all that stuff in Paris…"
"How many times am I going to have to explain myself for that?" Gil laughed.
"And what about Agatha?" Tarvek added.
Yes, Agatha thought, What about me?
"This isn't about her," said Gil, "This is about us. We can't just pretend that it never happened. When we were kids, back on Castle Wulfenbach, we said…"
"That we would always be together," Tarvek finished. He appeared to be trying to burn a hole in the table with his gaze.
"I still want that for us," said Gil, "Whether that's as friends or… whatever. I don't want to lose you again."
Tarvek looked like he was about to say something, but at that moment a distant whistle sounded and both the boys popped their heads up just in time to see the bar explode into chaos. Apparently the Jaegers had become so accustomed to their nightly bar brawl that it had continued even after the Doom Bell had rung.
The boys stood hurriedly, their conversation put on hold. Gil grabbed Tarvek's wrist as he shouted over the noise, "Must have lost track of the time. Let's get out of here!"
Tarvek didn't follow. He shifted his arm in Gil's hand so that they were gripping each other's wrists, and he stared him in the eye. He didn't even break eye contact when he was forced to duck a flying chair and dodge a wild swing of a Jaeger's fist. Then, suddenly, decisively, he pulled Gil flush against him and kissed his mouth.
"What?" said Agatha aloud as she watched Gil's fingers curl into Tarvek's hair, Tarvek's hands twist into Gil's shirt, "WHAT? What is happening?" The boys were heedless to the brawl taking place around them, and for their part the Jaegers seemed to be giving them a wide berth. Still locked in an embrace, they staggered into a secluded corner and breathlessly made out for what seemed like an obscenely long time. Agatha was wondering how long they could possibly keep it up, and fighting down an emotion that was equal parts betrayed and intrigued, when a sound snapped her away from the screen and reminded her that she was still standing in the Great Movement Chamber beneath the Castle.
"Agatha?" came a voice. Agatha turned to find Tarvek rounding the corner behind her. He stared at the screen in confusion at first, and then his face took on the preternaturally calm expression that he always wore when he was trying to think very fast of a way to handle a difficult situation.
Agatha was less composed. "I… how… you're…" she stammered, pointing back and forth between the screen and Tarvek.
"I'M SORRY," said the Castle, not sounding sorry at all, "DID I GIVE YOU THE IMPRESSION THAT THIS WASN'T A RECORDING I TOOK TWO HOURS AGO?"
Agatha was red in the face as she snapped at the Castle, "I will deal with you later," and at Tarvek, "What is this?"
Faced with the video evidence, the best that Tarvek could come up with turned out to be a sheepish, "We didn't do anything."
Agatha pointed lividly at the screen, which still showed Tarvek and Gil each looking like he was attempting to devour the other's face. "You call that not doing anything?"
"I mean that was all," Tarvek insisted, beginning to look uncharacteristically flustered, "We… kissed. And then we talked some more, and then we left. We just got back. I swear. Just keep watching and you'll see."
Agatha turned her back on the screen. "I don't want to watch any more of this," she said, ignoring the sudden realization that, yes, actually, she really did.
Now that the shock had worn off, Tarvek was beginning to put himself back together. He sounded more confident when he said, "Well, this isn't exactly our fault. It's not like we meant for this to happen. But we've been here for months, and you seemed to have forgotten that we're both carrying torches for you."
"Are you saying that you did this to spite me? To teach me a lesson for leading you on?" Agatha demanded, even though she knew that that wasn't fair.
"Of course not!" said Tarvek, running a distracted hand through his hair, "I don't blame you for that. You've had other things on your mind. This thing with me and Gil, it just happened. It was like that when we were kids. I thought he had forgotten about it but…"
They regarded each other silently for several seconds.
Finally, Agatha, much less belligerently, admitted, "I'm just afraid that you're going to choose him, and I'll be left alone."
Tarvek laughed humorlessly. "That's remarkably close to what I've been afraid of for the past several months." There was another long silence before he added, "I just don't know what to do. I haven't felt like this about anyone before. Now suddenly there's two people and I… How do I choose? How can I possibly?"
Agatha allowed him a small, sad smile. "That's remarkably close to what I've been feeling for the past several months," she echoed.
"So what do we do?"
Agatha shrugged, deflated. "How should I know?"
They sat together miserably until the awkward silence was mercifully interrupted by Violetta calling down the shaft that if they both didn't go to bed immediately she would find them and beat them unconscious.
Tarvek scurried off to his room gratefully. Agatha dragged Violetta into the kitchen with a rough, "We need to talk."
"Boy stuff?" asked Violetta.
"Goody. I'll make tea."
Some time later, Violetta had managed to produce two beer mugs full of tea and Agatha had managed to explain the situation.
"So…" Violetta said slowly, once Agatha had fallen silent, "Tarvek loves you… and Gil?"
"Yes," said Agatha miserably.
"And Gil loves Tarvek, and you?" Violetta went on.
Agatha shrugged. "I suppose."
"And you love both of them," said Violetta.
"Yes, absolutely," said Agatha.
Violetta looked at Agatha with the kind of amused sympathy one might reserve for a puppy who can't go up stairs without tripping on its own ears. "I really fail to see the problem here," she said.
"Don't make fun of me," Agatha sulked.
"I'm not!" Violetta assured her, "Seriously, what's the problem? Have both of them, if that's what you want. It sounds like they won't mind."
"I VERY MUCH APPROVE OF THIS IDEA," the Castle chimed in.
"No one asked you," Violetta snapped, sensing that having the Castle on her side might not help her case.
"It's not that simple," Agatha protested.
"Why not?" asked Violetta innocently.
Luckily, Agatha was saved from having to come up with a reason when the kitchen door flew open, revealing a grease-streaked and smiling Gilgamesh. Violetta gave Agatha a small, conspiratorial smile and disappeared. Gil strode over to the table and took Agatha by the hand.
"It's finished!" he said breathlessly, "Come and see!"
"I… What… Look, Gil, we need to talk about…" Agatha tried to say.
"Later," said Gil, taking her hand and leading her irresistibly away, "Follow me!"
When they arrived at the door to the observatory, Tarvek was already there, looking sleepy and somewhat confused. "What's going on?" he asked as Gil approached, Agatha in tow.
"I finished my surprise for you," said Gil to no one in particular.
"For me?" asked Agatha uncertainly.
Gil beamed. "For both of you," he said, opening the doors.
It was utterly dark inside. Agatha and Tarvek entered on faith and instinct, feeling their ways into the shadows. Gil strode forward easily, and the doors closed behind him, encasing all three of them in darkness.
A second later, a reverberating click heralded the arrival of light. Floor-mounted fixtures illuminated a large, circular room. The tiled floor was sparse aside from a giant telescope in the center of the room. Through the domed glass ceiling, Agatha could nothing but solid brick.
Tarvek turned a slow circle, taking everything in, before he said sardonically, "I can't help thinking that you've missed the point of an observatory."
Agatha couldn't help but silently agree. According to old photos, the observatory had once been on top of a huge, spindly tower. But the tower had fallen during the Other's attack, and had lain in ruins for years. Now Gil seemed to have rebuilt the observatory under a brick ceiling without bothering to rebuild the tower.
Gil didn't look worried. "Just wait," he said, holding up a large remote control. With the push of a button, the bricks above the glass ceiling slid apart like hangar bay doors, revealing the cloudy night sky above. Agatha didn't have time to point out that they wouldn't see much from ground level before Gil pushed another button, and the entire room began to shake.
Tarvek and Agatha edged closer together as the room shook more and more violently, until it wobbled off the brick foundation and rose straight up into the air.
Gil looked ridiculously pleased with himself as Tarvek sidled up to the edge and pressed his face against the glass, peering over the edge to see what was propelling them. "The rockets are very quiet," he noted, "It looks like Bereznyak's design, but you must have modified it to be using four in such close proximity."
Agatha was about to join him to see what he was talking about, but at that moment they burst through the cloud cover and she was somewhat distracted by the view. "Look!" she gasped, and Tarvek soon joined her in forgetting all about the rockets.
Above the clouds, hidden from the lights of Mechanicsburg, the stars were shining. Agatha couldn't remember ever seeing them like this, not even during the dark nights she had spent in the wilderness with Payne's Circus. They were so many that each seemed to melt into its neighbors, and all were swept up in the streak of the Milky Way that crossed the sky from one horizon to the other. There was not a patch of empty sky to be seen.
Agatha and Tarvek stood side-by-side near the center of the room, their heads tilted back to gawk at the sight. Agatha was vaguely aware of Gil pressing another button on his remote before a panel of flooring opened up just behind them and produced a many-pillowed futon. It scooped Agatha and Tarvek up behind their knees, causing them to fall backwards into its cushions so that they were lying on their backs and looking comfortably up at the sky. A moment later, Gil flopped down between them and threw an arm around each of their shoulders as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.
"So, do you like it?" he asked.
Agatha shifted in Gil's embrace so that she was cuddled against his chest. "It's marvelous," she said wistfully, "Just beautiful. Thank you."
Tarvek seemed somewhat more awkward at their compromising position, but he soon mimicked Agatha and made himself comfortable against Gil's steadfast bulk. "I agree. It's beautiful," he said, for once sounding like he wasn't weighing each word.
As she watched the sky, Agatha let one hand go to where Gil's hand was resting on her shoulder. The other hand she let wander over Gil's chest to entwine her fingers with Tarvek's. Gil made it all seem so easy with his grand gestures and un-self-conscious snuggling, but Agatha tried to remind herself that it wasn't real. Wasn't this moment just an illusion that couldn't last? Wasn't it all really terribly complicated?
Agatha tore her eyes away from the sky for a moment to look across Gil's chest to where Tarvek was lying. Their eyes met, and the easy smile on his face burned her doubt away.
There they were. The three of them. Together.
And maybe it really was as simple as that.