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A Letter from Paris

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Tarvek looked out an expensive leaded window in Sturmhalten Castle, idly sketching out the surrounding peaks with his eyes. The sky was cloudless and a lovely blue- he could practically hear birds twittering. Tarvek thought absurdly that it should be raining- that would be more suited to the contents of this town. Like a badly written horror story.

He huffed through his nose at the idea of himself starring in one of those dreadfuls, but at least the weather would reflect his mood to the degree it ought.

Ever since he'd graduated from university and returned home from Paris…

Well.

No one was around to swap theories with. No sentient noodles trying to steal his screwdrivers or affectionate dye monsters trying to adopt him - not even Gil.

No Agatha, either. He may have only known her for one semester, but she was different. Agatha would actually listen when he complained about the latest misadventure Gil ‘accidentally’ involved him in. Most people just laughed when he told the story about the time Gil had managed to get him covered in corrosive slime at a party. He’d had to rush home to clean it off and had still ended up slightly purple-tinged for better part of a week. Agatha had asked if he was okay. She had commisserated about how his doublet was totally ruined and they had a great discussion on how, if they could recreate the electrical effects, a sludge like that could be used as a trap trigger that while unsubtle, would be difficult to avoid.

She was one of the kindest people he had ever met that didn’t have an obvious secondary motive.

And for not being a spark, she was truly talented at working around them. She had manipulated he and Gil into not strangling one another over their assignments for Dr. Beetle’s lectures. Given how much of a degenerate Gil had grown into, that was practically miraculous.

He'd never socialised as much as during his last semester, with Agatha dragging him out and about and forcing him to interact with her, Gil, and the rest of his Automaton Studies bench.

He also had her to thank for his top marks. If she hadn’t interceded on their behalf, they would definitely have been penalized for having destroyed class equipment, even if they did repair and even improve it after. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if Gil had just trusted him with the alterations to the vent instead of trying to alter the chemical composition of the hydraulic fluid without communicating.

Fortunately enough, she'd given them a second chance to correct their mistake before it impacted their grades.

He missed there being second chances.

Sighing, he turned around to address Veilchen, who had been patiently waiting for him to do so.

Momentarily, Tarvek was reminded of the circumstances of Veilchen’s transferred loyalty; memories of running out of time, of spiralling despair. He shouldn’t resent him.  A smoke knight couldn’t be loyal to a brain dead husk forever, and the blame for that was on Aaronev’s shoulders- and at least partially on Tarvek’s. “Yes, Veilchen?”

“There’s a letter for you, Your Highness. The hand looks distinctively feminine.”

Tarvek froze for a moment - if the letter was from whom he thought it might be -

“I do not think His Highness needs to know.” Veilchen commented.

Tarvek could hear the silent “yet” in that sentence. He swallowed. He’d have to come up with a way to justify the correspondence… assuming the letter even was from Agatha.

For Tarvek Sturmvoraus, Prince of Sturmhalten began the address, though the heading was otherwise quite correct. Tarvek knew that handwriting, and Agatha was one of the few people who wouldn’t know his actual first name was Aaronev since he’d been in the university lists as Tarvek Sturmvoraus.

Agatha sent him a letter. His friend had written to him. He wasn’t stuck alone.

It wasn’t entirely proper for a prince to exchange correspondence with an unmarried woman, but Tarvek didn’t really care.

“I believe I know the sender. If you’d hand it to me, Veilchen?”

Veilchen raised his eyebrows - evidently too well-trained a Smoke Knight to inquire aloud. Rumours must be starting up again. Veilchen was too professional to speculate about his… potentially unorthodox preferences with the other Smoke Knights, but he only pretended that made him less curious. Stupid Gil and his stupid tendency to lose his shirt. Probably why he’d lifted the letter off the steward, though.

“Thank you, Veilchen.”

Tarvek took the letter, opened it carefully.

Salutations to Your Highness, the letter started, and Tarvek smiled - amused by the way Agatha had continually used formality to begin any memo and official notice she'd written, politesse at least a generation out of date, at that. He’s always found the quirk strangely endearing. It also confirmed the letter had been either written by her or by a very competent forger with personal knowledge of his friend’s writing habits and at least one sample of her handwriting… So, probably Agatha.

Before you ask, yes, I have parental permission to write you. The thing is, there were quite a few crossed out lines here, inked out thoroughly enough he couldn't puzzle out what she'd been trying to write-

Well. This is harder to explain than I thought it would be. I'll just start at the beginning.

You remember the night when you were working on the final essay at my place when Gil came with the weirdly tasty alcohol? He grimaced. He'd woken up in only his underwear on top of a university tower the next morning.

I know I promised you to never talk of That Night again, but the inhibition-reducing effects and the slight fevery feeling affected us also, and you'd left us alone, in a room with quite a comfortable couch.

Tarvek read on, puzzled, what did the couch have to do with anything?

I don't really remember how I got to bed afterwards, and Lord only knows how Gil managed to get home safely, as drunk as he was- I know for a fact Gil was hallucinating for a bit just after you left. Well, we talked the next day and he seemed to want to pretend nothing happened and just be friends, but… I have only now discovered certain consequences of that night that make that plan less than ideal. Specifically, consequences of the familial variety.

Freeze.

What?! Had Gil really- Tarvek had known he didn't have much moral fibre, but that would be a new low! Agatha had been what, fifteen? Sixteen? And he'd seduced her?

I know what you're thinking right now, and no, he didn't seduce me: In fact, there’s a strong argument I seduced him . You already know how overwrought he was that night. The next morning, he was more frazzled and embarrassed by what had happened than I was.

I'm writing you for two reasons: The first, do you have any idea on how to contact Gil? I'd like to at least tell him about my being in a delicate state now.

Good lord, that moron didn’t even leave his contact information? Tarvek just kept being blindsided by each new thing Gil did.

The worst part was he didn’t have contact with Gil-  he hadn’t heard from or about Gil since leaving Paris. If he wasn’t still at his address there, which Tarvek assumed Agatha tried, Tarvek had no idea how to get a message to him.

Perhaps he went off with that terrifying pirate woman, to seek spoils and leave a trail of illegitimate children in his wake.

Tarvek shook his head to dislodge the thought. No, that didn’t sound like Gil. But then again- Tarvek was the one that keeps getting surprised by him, so perhaps he was wrong about that.

The second reason- I know this is presumptuous, but… you're probably one of the only friends I have, and I'd like for you to have reason to talk to me; that you're in a stable financial and a social position far above mine doesn't hurt, but means you probably shouldn't take me up on this.  All the same, I wanted to offer you the position of godfather to my child, whenever they're born.

He read on, his thoughts whirling.

Even if you refuse- now that I have permission to write you, I would like to continue our correspondence, if you're willing, but I would understand if you were not.

Yr hopefully-still friend,

Miss Agatha Clay

… Well. This had the potential to blow up in his face really, really badly.

Worse, if he didn’t spin this right for Aaronev, it would be very dangerous for Agatha.

And yet…

He wanted to write to Agatha. Between Anevka not being there and Aaronev’s hypocritical melodrama, this was the most stimulating news he’d gotten since- well, Paris. He didn’t want to go back to doing nothing but managing various neglected bureaucratic duties and missing his sister.

He just was going to have to keep this whole thing under wraps, and take some precautions for what this could mean for his reputation. He'd have to keep her away from his family as much as he could. He would prefer to hide her from them entirely, but he had to assume that Veilchen would mention the letter to Aaronev eventually .

The fool would probably assume it was a mistress, which wouldn't be a problem except he would definitely have her killed to make sure things ended when the order tried their ridiculous plan in Mechanicsburg. The opera was already scheduled for year after next, there was no way he would be able to get her clear in that time, and if he didn’t cooperate with them they would replace him with Tweedle . He would like to spare Europa that nightmare. He had to come up with another reason to correspond with her.

Beetleburg- Dr. Beetle, Agatha was Dr. Beetle’s personal assistant and secretary.

If he spun it right and encouraged her to talk about work in her letters- she would probably drop enough sensitive information to convince Aaronev she was a spy.

A spy would be much safer, especially if he could pad out the content with other intel- easy enough if he was the one processing her ‘reports.’ Aaronev would think she was a valuable tool then- and wouldn’t be as upset even if there were rumors that it was his child.

If he thought- oh. Oh, that would end very badly.

He would have to tell him Gil was the father, then- no way around that. It wasn’t the type of political info he was interested in, anyway. Though he might try to use it to manipulate Gil when and if the fool ever returned to Castle Wulfenbach.

Well, Gil could handle himself. And if he played his cards right, Aaronev might leave that in his hands as well.

But even if Agatha didn’t publicly name Gil Holzfäller the father: being Teufel's grandson would have awful consequences for any child, from his inevitable spark attracting the Baron’s attention to an angry mob of twits seeking misguided revenge on the Black Mist Raiders. And this child was also Agatha's . The same Agatha who'd been left pregnant and alone by “Upstanding Hero” Gil Holzfäller, who was one of the best spark handlers Tarvek knew, kind enough to befriend a Sturmvoraus, and shrewd enough to sort-of-blackmail one. People saw her collapse even once and they seemed to forget every impressive thing she overcame to be there.

Shrewd enough to manipulate one, too- he would have refused something this daring if she had tried to pressure him into agreeing. But when she was so meek, so unassuming-

Tarvek was essentially obligated to help this child.

Fool that he was, he was going to be a godfather.