He couldn't help wondering if this was how his father felt all the time.

The fury and frustration that everyone around him made things so hard; the conviction that if they would only shut up and do what he suggested life would be better for everyone; the outright rage that so many refused to believe he could destroy them if that's what it took.

Why would no one listen to him? What did he have to do to be taken seriously? Did it always have to come down to the fist or the death-ray?

He wanted something different from his life, something better: better for the world, and better for him. And he wanted just a bit of happiness—happiness that appeared to have evaded his father. Someone to laugh with, someone to share with, someone to keep the loneliness at bay. Someone to listen, when he had to talk. Someone who understood the crazy, glorious world with its ever-expanding fractal intricacy. Someone to test him to the very core, not like Klaus tested, but like a friend might test him, pushing him to his limits and beyond to match her talent, to revel in her enthusiasm, to shine with her glory.

Agatha. He wanted Agatha.

Knowing her, he understood a little better how his father had come to be Bill Heterodyne's rival. Yes, that competition between two friends was too well-known for Klaus to have hidden it from him. His father had made every effort to steal his best friend's girl. As a boy Gil had been horrified, scandalized, embarrassed. A proper fellow didn't do that to a chum.

Now he understood entirely.

He still didn't know what to do in the face of the danger she presented. He didn't know what to say to the fierce independence that drove her to stand alone when she should have given herself into his protection. He didn't know what to do, or say, when she admired that damned Sturmvarous, even though he and his family and allies were the ones who'd doomed her to be what she now was, and who were turning his world to raging, warring hell.

But he loved her anyway. If he could just fight long enough and hard enough to defeat all the monsters rising with the tide of war and chaos, he was sure – certain – that she'd love him too, and finally let him guide her. He'd protect her, and Europa, and prove he was right and worthy of her.

He thought about his rival, who might once have been his friend, and couldn't help grinning a fierce, determined grin. Tarvek might be an aristo, he might have all the mincing airs and graces of the society fop, he might really love Agatha, he might even be a touch more trustworthy than Gil had thought - but he was still danger. Agatha would see. Gil would make her see. He intended to win. He deserved to win. And he wasn't about to give up now.


He couldn't help wondering if this was how his father had felt all the time.

The ache and longing. The sense that he'd found his one true pole-star. The bone-deep need to rebuild his entire world to conform to his true love's desires. The will to do anything, be anything, sacrifice anything, if that was what his beloved asked for. She had ripped through years of internal defenses, the crushing discipline and numbing despair of a lifetime hiding his mind, heart, and soul while eternally trapped in plain view, and changed everything.

The one difference between him and his father, he thought in shaken dismay, was that he was lucky enough to love someone good and true. But what if he'd loved someone else? Someone like Lucrezia?

His whole life he'd raged, uncomprehending, furious at his father's obsession. Nothing had mattered to Aaronev so much as Lucrezia mattered: not honor, not rank, not duty, not his own wife, not his daughter or son. Nothing was too precious to sacrifice for her—not even his own soul.

Now he understood entirely.

He wanted something better than his father, though. Something better for the world, and better for him. Someone who valued him. Someone who would never turn him into a monster. Someone who understood what it meant to fight a heritage so woven with danger and dishonor that nothing could ever wash the past clean…and only iron will could promise a better future. Someone whose own honor would challenge him to race toward virtue the way other men raced toward vice. Someone who could match him: mind to his mind, heart to his heart, soul to his soul.

Agatha. He wanted Agatha

But it seemed that Agatha wanted Gil.

He thought about his rival, who might once have been his friend, and knew he'd do whatever he had to. Even give Agatha her freedom, even accept her choice. Anything so that his love remained the one bright light in his life. If she chose him, so much the better. But if she didn't, he would fight down the loss and smile. He might lose his joy, but he'd win his own honor in that defeat. If the only way to be worthy of her was to lose her, he'd lose—and in losing, win.

He intended to win. He needed to win. And he wasn't about to give up now.