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“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” grumbles Agatha, peering out the window toward the castle doors. Tarvek doesn’t have to open his eyes; he can picture down to the button the Duke, his son, and the entourage they’d dragged along, all on their bristling walk back toward the town. “You know, I could just have the Castle turn them into liquorice statues from here and you’d never have to deal with them again.”

Oooh, what fun! the Castle interjects.

While Agatha argues with her house that no, it can’t actually turn anyone into candy statues even though, yes, she had suggested it, Tarvek lets his head fall back against the wall with a thunk. Idiots. Idiots with enough power and definitely enough crazy to be dangerous. The better part of three days arguing in circles, with the delegation going from restive to as close to outright revolt as they could get in the Castle; and in the middle of it, an apologetic letter from Gil letting them know he'd been delayed. Again. Finding that out had only made the delegation dig their heels in further, and they’d known what a blow straying from diplomacy would be. Now they’re finally gone, but Tarvek’s wound so tight it feels like he might snap, feels like he’s back with his family again. (If it were them, Agatha would almost definitely have turned them into liquorice. He probably wouldn’t have stopped her.)

He clenches his fists and uses a Smoke Knight trick to slow his heart rate, his breathing, and it helps, but then Agatha’s hands are on his shoulders and he softens into her touch without trying, like she's pulled the knot inside him free.

"Tarvek." She runs her hands up to cup the back of his neck, and he opens his eyes. The anger from earlier has all melted away; there’s worry, now, for him, and her concern settles warm in his chest.
“You okay?” She brushes his hair from his face, tucking it behind his ear.

“They didn’t kill me.” He leans into her touch. “I’ve had worse days. How are you?”

“Angry. But mostly glad they’re gone.” She huffs, but then her gaze returns, unrelenting, to his face. Then she presses her warm palm to his cheek and hums, not Heterodyning proper but close to it, close enough that the whole room moves into sharper focus as she closes the space between them, pinning him softly to the wall. And that’s all there is, suddenly: her body against his, her hand against his face. “Tarvek,” she says, “what do you need?”

He hesitates, and presses a hand over hers. “To... not make any more decisions,” he says. Part of him is still amazed that he's allowed to say that at all. The rest of him keeps talking. “Ideally for the next week, but since that’s unlikely, at least for tonight.” He lets his voice drop a little; now that the tension in him is uncoiling and she’s so warm and welcome against him, he can’t think of any distraction he’d prefer to her. “Whatever you want. Please.”

A smile flashes across her face -- understanding, and more than a little devious too. “You need me in charge?”

She’s always in charge. They all know it. But that’s not what she’s asking, and he knows that too. He nods. “Yes, my lady.”

She pushes herself up on her toes and kisses him with one hand in his hair, slow and insistent. A promise. “Go clean up and meet me in our bedroom,” she says. “I’ll have dinner there for you.”

“Of course,” he promises. “Ask if they have a bottle of that vintage from last night left?”

She grins. “I thought you said no more decisions?”

“Oh, well, I--”

She kisses his cheek. “It’s alright. I’ll ask for it.”


He bathes quickly, and ties back his hair, and puts on pajamas with little golden trilobites embroidered all over them. It feels appropriate. Not that it doesn’t the rest of the time, too.

He emerges, tying the sash of his dressing gown, to find Agatha wearing a deep red corset -- one of his favorites, with gold overstitching that catches the light every time she moves -- and in the middle of devouring an enormous sandwich. “Mmf,” she says, gesturing toward the other plate.

There’s cake, too, slabs of chocolate with raspberries, and of course wine. They eat in comfortable silence, pressed together from shoulder to hip, and she leans over every now and then to steal a chocolate-flavored kiss.

“Feeling better?” Agatha asks as Tarvek sets down his cake plate.

“Mmm.” He leans into her until his head comes to rest in her hair. “Definitely. And are you?”

“What do you think?” She turns and pushes him toward the arm of the couch until she can settle on top of him and kiss him breathless. She keeps the pace slow, matching it to the warm slide of her hands over his torso, under the silk of his shirt. He can’t help but melt beneath her, into her, his arousal a banked flame that doesn’t yet cut through the languid, warm haze of her mouth on his.

Then her hand on him through his trousers sends a stab of need through him, hot and electric. He moans into her mouth, still distant and hazy, as she sits up and looks down at him. Her gaze is hungry but tender, and she’s too far away.

Then she climbs off him entirely, getting to her feet, and he whines as she does, a tiny embarrassing noise that makes her smile as she offers him her hands. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you,” she says, helping him to his feet. He’s breathless, almost out of his head, but he goes eagerly when she pulls him toward the bed. “Clothes off,” she tells him, and this time there’s a note of command in it that sets off a matching pulse of need in him. He does as he’s told.

When she’s done arranging him on the pillows, she looks down at him, one hand at her mouth in contemplation. She’s gorgeous, all red and gold in the soft light, looming over him. Taking care of him. Her focus is intense, unbreakable, consuming, and it's dizzying enough to be its center under normal circumstances, but like this? Like this he’s spellbound, lightheaded in the best way. “Close your eyes,” she tells him, after a moment. Obediently, he does; she kisses his mouth, her hair falling against his cheek, and then she's gone. “Good," she tells him. "Keep them closed.” There's a long moment, and Tarvek's suspended in it until she speaks again, farther away but still so close. “You’re different like this, you know,” she says, and his breath catches at the slightest touch of her fingers along his ribs. “In a good way. So relaxed. And you’re gorgeous this happy.” She presses a kiss over his heart. Her lips are burning. “But I think we need more data, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he gets out, his eyes still squeezed shut. One of Agatha’s hands is running down his side now, touch maddeningly light. “Please, yes.”

“All right,” she says, and the bed moves as she repositions herself, her fingers sliding from side to hip to thigh. Her other hand mirrors it, and Tarvek cries out when she takes the head of his cock into her mouth and sucks.

She works him slowly but steadily with lips and tongue, and he’s incoherent instantly, helpless against the wet, perfect heat of her mouth. He digs one hand into the sheets and flings the other over his mouth, biting into it to muffle another, louder sound as she does something amazing with her tongue. And then -- and then he's left bereft as she pulls off him all at once, moving to kiss the inside of his thigh.

“Agatha…” he whines into his hand, his hips lifting off the bed.

She presses down gently on his hip, bringing him back down, still shaking. “Open your eyes,” she says, and it's soft but an order nonetheless. He does, and takes a ragged breath as she locks her gaze on him. Stroking her thumb along the crease of his hip, not looking away, she adds, “And let me hear you.”

There's visible delight on her face when Tarvek goes wide-eyed at her words, and again when he complies and drops his hand. She nuzzles his hip, and then she reaches up for the hand that was over his mouth. He laces their fingers together and then immediately obliges her request for noise when her mouth suddenly wraps around him again. She’s hot and sweet and this time not slow in the slightest, and he’s begging her but he’s not sure what his words even are or if they’re words at all. He squeezes her hand, and she squeezes back, and then he shatters completely.

When he reassembles himself, she’s leaning next to him, wiping her mouth with what is definitely one of his handkerchiefs. He’s not sure he could string together a sentence, but he also can’t find it in him to care. When she smiles at him, a tinge of Madness in the softness there, he’s not sure why anything else has ever mattered.

“Feeling better now?”

He reaches for her, and she fits herself into his arms; he buries his face in the softness of her neck. “Better,” he finally manages, “would be an understatement.”

“Good,” she tells him, “good.”

He can feel her smiling against his hair, and he takes a few more deep breaths against her skin before he’s recovered enough to catch his fingers at the waistband of her drawers, pulling the fabric a tiny fraction down so he can trail over the soft skin of her abdomen. She gives a tiny shiver, and it’s his turn to smile against her. “A favor for a favor, love?”

“Yes, please,” she breathes.