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The Grandegg

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When Klaus reaches Castle Heterodyne, Vanamonde and the Castle itself let him in, but Gil comes to meet him red-eyed and haggard and Klaus's breath seizes even before the explanation.

"It's not really a good time, Father," Gil says through gritted teeth. "Agatha's... I think we're going to lose the baby."

Klaus says, "Maybe I can help," and wishes Gil would look less surprised.

Gil takes him to a laboratory where Agatha is pacing -- staggering -- with tears streaked down her face. Tarvek is feverishly building something, the tinest life support system Klaus has ever seen. Agatha stops, clenching her jaw and letting out a hum with a definite whimper in it as if she can fight off the ill-timed contractions in her swollen abdomen by sheer will.

She looks almost nine months pregnant, not two -- Klaus looks at Gil, and it clicks all at once. "It's all right," he says to Agatha. "You're not miscarrying. It's an egg."

Understandably, they all look at him as if he's lost his mind.

"Excuse me?" says Agatha. Disbelieving and a little bit offended but there's a tiny thread of hope in her voice.

Klaus reaches for her shoulders. "Zeetha would have seen it by now," he says. But Zeetha is home right now. This is strange, but then it would be a very strange miscarriage. "I assumed your physiology would be the determining factor, but your child must be developing along Skifandrian lines. Skifandrian women lay an egg, at about this point. Full size. Zantabraxus was appalled at the idea of a gestation more than four times as long. "

Agatha takes a gulping breath and looks up into his eyes. "It's not dying."

"No."

"I'm... I'm effectively in labor. At full term."

Klaus considers this. "Essentially. You may have a harder time than a Skifandrian woman because you are not adapted to egg-laying, but I imagine most of the strain would have been from the rapid development up until this point. Part of the evidence is that you look much too far along for this to be a simple first-trimester miscarriage."

Agatha snorts, and he remembers wondering whether to ask Zantabraxus about the rapid growth. At some point in the process of taking over Europe his ability to care if he offended people apparently snapped. Not that he hadn't done it enough before that. But Agatha's arms and shoulders are no longer rigid under his hands, and when his son comes up behind her, his face a study in hope and consternation, Klaus lets go and she leans back into Gil's arms. "I just thought I was putting on extra weight around it," she says. "I've been eating everything in sight. It's worse than during breakthrough."

"I'm still sorry I missed that," Klaus says. "I mean to see this child's."

"How sure are you about this?" Tarvek asks, voice even and hands still busy. "Really?"

"Almost completely." Klaus looks over at him. "The timing and phenomena are essentially a perfect match for Skifandrian gestation, much closer than I'd expect under the circumstances."

"Okay," says Agatha, and she's a little breathless but her voice has hardened decisively. "Tarvek, keep building that just in case we're wrong. Otherwise--" She breaks off, eyebrows knitting. "Is there anything special I should do to lay an egg?"

Klaus isn't actually sure how to answer that question. "The egg is supposed to cure half an hour before being handled. If you can get a nest of clean warm sand, you should."

"This is Mechanicsburg," Agatha says. "I think I can get warm sand." She looks over at Tarvek. "And afterward, cake."

The strain on Tarvek's face finally breaks for laughter. Klaus just doesn't ask.

Agatha is having a harder time than Zantabraxus did, possibly because her body lacks whatever obscure adjustments were supposed to be involved in egg-laying. She summons a midwife. She demands sand in tones that nearly send Klaus after it himself, but he pounds the impulse flat and tells Gil to bring her chipped ice, only to discover Tarvek beat them to it. Tarvek hands the ice off to Gil and attacks the backup life-support system again. Klaus goes over to join him. Even if this baby is a perfectly healthy egg, someone will surely need one eventually.

"Isn't somebody supposed to be boiling water?" Tarvek wonders.

"No," says Gil, "because we have a high-capacity triple-distillation system with half a dozen filters already. We have all the clean water we could possibly need and it's not going to get any cleaner by boiling it."

"It could be warm, though," says Agatha, suddenly fending Gil off. "Too much ice!"

"You said you were too hot!"

"Well, that was two whole minutes ago and there's been some evaporative cooling!"

Klaus explains the situation all over again to the midwife, who is from Mechanicsburg and therefore takes the news that her Heterodyne is laying an egg with aplomb. There is a little dithering as to whether Klaus himself should remain in the room at the key moment. He and Agatha would both just as soon he not be quite so personally involved, but on the other hand he is the only one familiar with the process. Eventually he points out that he witnessed it once, there were no problems so it's not as if he has experience troubleshooting it, and he's told them literally everything he knows about it.

He waits just outside. When they start sounding worried he calls back through the doorway that it's normal for the egg to be significantly elongated by the pressure.

After a brief bout of strained humming Agatha calls back, sounding a little disturbed, "Thanks."

When he does go back in, the egg has recovered its equilibrium shape. It's as red as any Skifandrian one and looks oddly out of place nestled on golden-white sand. Agatha's clothing is back in order and she's washed her face, but she's crouched next to the sandbox looking at her egg in fascination. "How do we look after this?" she asks, not looking up. "I can't -- From everything Zeetha's said, I cannot imagine her mother sitting on an egg for months."

"Eggs should be cuddled," Klaus says. Translates. "It makes them feel loved." He says it as plainly and naturally as he can, exactly the same way he'd tell them to support an infant's head because the neck muscles aren't developed if he thought they didn't already know. They all look at him uncertainly as if they can't believe that just came out of his mouth. He adds, "Men do most of the incubating."

Agatha looks abruptly possessive. She might not want to sit on an egg, but she hasn't been expecting to hand it over to anyone else this soon. Tarvek looks a bit dazed. Gil says slowly, "It's hard to imagine you cuddling an egg."

Klaus catches his breath at that, memory flooding over him. "I carried you and Zeetha with me almost constantly," he says, going over to scoop sand unnecessarily around the new egg in a little heap. "It's dangerous to have two babies in the same egg. There's a risk they'll injure each other." He's softening it. There was a risk they'd beat each other to death.

"Because it gets crowded?" Agatha asks, frowning. "I don't think twins usually beat each other up in the womb."

"Twins in a womb aren't getting ready to punch their way out."

"Ow," says Agatha. "I'd hope not." A small clank hovering by her ear starts ringing like an alarm clock, and she reaches out at once and puts a hand on the egg.

"On reflection," Klaus says, "this may have been easier all around." Internal gestation of a baby with Skifandrian hatching reflexes does sound uncomfortable. Though he has to admit he hopes it isn't twins. Even if he's almost sure the same thing could work again.

It all comes back to him every time they let him hold it, which is more often than he'd have expected. Especially given the amount of competition. It's not that Gil doesn't take his incubating duties seriously (a little incredulously, but seriously), but the egg is the newest Heterodyne and... well, it's an egg. That isn't normal here. Klaus is fairly sure all of Mechanicsburg gets a turn cradling it, and if it's ever left otherwise alone, it's in a perfectly heated sand pit with Castle Heterodyne brooding over it.

Klaus finds he rather likes holding his grandchild, and Gil watches him in not very covert fascination.

Zeetha comes back late -- to his delight and disbelief, with Zantabraxus, who explains blithely that Agatha sent along the plans and she built a portal on her end, so there's no longer any travel time involved to speak of. Agatha and Gil quiz them about the potential complications of twinned eggs, and Zantabraxus goes over the dangers clinically. Tarvek diligently takes notes, which for no apparent reason are in code. Klaus takes a walk. The egg probably doesn't need to hear it.

This egg is not twins. It is vigorous enough that Klaus counts limbs several times before he's really confident of that.

Klaus eventually comes back into the room and Agatha darts over and hugs him. It's been years since they tried to kill each other, but this is new. He looks across in bewilderment at Zantabraxus, and she starts laughing. "I'm sure this is your doing somehow," he tells her.

"I told her how you looked after our egg," she says, "and saved both our children."

"I'm not sure this is an explanation," Klaus says, even though it presumably is.

"I'm kind of fond of both of them, you know," says Agatha, meaning she'd move worlds for either one.

Klaus shifts the egg a bit sideways and puts an arm around her. "I've noticed." He would too.