Otilia sized up her opponent, prowling around her with feline grace. She enjoyed that. Prowling. It was one of the more pleasurable aspects of her new form, a different form of grace to what she'd had in her original body. More rude, more elemental, more overt. Power that was stated, not hinted at. She did enjoy it so.
It didn't seem to impress her opponent overmuch. Not that she had expected it to, all things considered. The Wulfenbach sentinel stood calm and firm against her, her sword planted firmly in front of her, grasped almost negligently in powerful hands. Bohrlaikha, Gil had called her. Klaus' guardian angel for his son, as only Klaus could have envisioned her.
Oh, Otilia nursed such a fondness for that man, even still. Of much the same sort as she nursed for this body, perhaps. With Klaus, there was never any doubt regarding the purpose of a thing, no ambiguity to trip across and be torn by. Only power, nakedly stated, a strange kindness, and a brute elegance of expression.
A few centuries worth of loss and pain and enforced subtlety on, it was ever so refreshing a quality. Truly it was.
"You are Klaus' work," she noted in a laughing rumble, as she skirted around her opponent. Her prey. She wasn't wholly sure yet. "He does tend to favour sturdiness in a thing, doesn't he?"
Bohrlaikha looked at her, distinctly unimpressed, and perhaps also mildly amused. A little spark curled in Otilia's brazen heart at the sight, something fat and warm and satisfied. Oh yes. Opponent, she thought. Not prey. This one deserved so much better than that.
"It would seem he is not alone," the clank maiden remarked idly, scanning a deliberate eye across Otilia's new and hulking lines, curling her lip a little pointedly. "I believe you may have the advantage of me in such matters, madame. Clearly you are built to last."
"Hrrrr," Otilia rumble-growled, pacing forwards happily. She wished idly for her wings. She should have liked to spread them for this one, to arch them up and forward in playful threat display. To look as much the angel as the beast, before so brutally elegant a maiden. But the time for that was long past, even the regret left behind one body and a great deal of pain ago, and she could work with what she had. She had long practice of that, and in far less enjoyable circumstances.
"This body has a certain durability to it," she agreed. "Heterodyne work tends to, I've found. This form has not the grace of my original one, but it is far improved on the mortal shell that was forced on me between that one and this. And I think I find the lack of delicacy perhaps a little empowering, hmm?"
She flexed herself in a feline bow, a ripple of jointed metal and gleaming gold-bronze motors, and spread her claws delightedly. It was not the same as her wings would have been, lacked the delicate, suggestive rustling of cloth feathers, but the sensation of power ready to pulse downwards, to push her upwards and against her opponent should she need it to, was more than close enough to count.
And it was, it seemed, still enough to impress, even without the angelic connotations.
"Durable indeed," Bohrlaikha murmured thoughtfully, tilting her head at Otilia. In realisation, perhaps, and in reference to more than just a body. There was an odd note to it, somewhere between respect and pity, and it was either terribly insulting or oddly gratifying to hear. "I can understand the appeal, then. Otilia."
Otilia smiled. A little darkly, a little viciously. "You are disappointed?" she asked, with a roll of her shoulders that was not quite so playful in its threat. "I am not quite the Muse of Protection one imagines anymore, I suppose. Though more of me was spared than many of my sisters managed." She tilted her head, feeling a surge of some bitter form of glee. "Your masters have a talent for rescuing people without realising it, you know. As does the Heterodyne girl, in defiance of all expectations. Though in her case I think perhaps it is more deliberate."
Bohrlaikha moved, turning to face Otilia more directly, letting go of her sword with one hand to brace herself against it like a cane. She studied Otilia thoughtfully. It did not look like disappointment on that smooth, white face. Nor really pity, either.
"I am not disappointed," she said, and it was not gentle, it lacked the delicacy for that. It was simply stated, calm and clean, and oh, Otilia had loved Klaus, in her way. The simplicity of him had always been a balm. "I have heard of you, Otilia. As both Muse, and also in your guise as von Pinn. Gil has spoken of you. You were his guardian before the role was given to me. He loved you for it."
Oh. Oh, and it shook something in her still. She had failed so often. She had let down so many in her care, been unable to help them, been made raw and rotting and helpless to defend them. But Gil. He had spoken of her. He still remembered that she had tried. That ... It shook her down to her core, to a heart made metal once more, and for a moment she could do naught but bask in it, warm herself around it, hold tight to the thought. It was a gift beyond price.
"It was happily done," she heard herself saying. "I was corrupted. I was not myself. But he was so easy to care for. They all were. They were ... so easy to love. I had not been given that before. Not like that. It was ... a much less onerous duty than many."
"Yes," Bohrlaikha said, and that was not for Otilia. That was not in reference to her. The clank maiden looked away, looked out at a distantly floating city, and the softness of her expression was wholly her own, Otilia thought. "I should not have allowed it. It was my duty to watch him. To protect others from him, if need be. I should not have embraced such care. But it has been difficult to do otherwise. He ... tries. Very hard. It is endearing."
Oh child, Otilia thought, and this was not a feral fondness, this was not the admiration for an opponent, this was something else entirely. This was old, this was ancient, this was the Muse of Protection who had failed to protect so many. She looked at Bohrlaikha, at this sturdy, powerful maiden, tasked with so joyous and terrible a duty, and what stirred in a metal heart was not feral at all.
"It is easy to love that which we are built to protect," she said, gentle where the other guardian had not been, granted an older and far less simple understanding. "Even if they are also what we must protect against. Though it tears us apart, though it shatters us along the line of our duty, still we cannot help but love them. They are fragile and foolish things. They so easily become precious to us, who cannot help but fail them."
Bohrlaikha looked back at her, expression blank and still, but not enough to shield her. Not enough to belie the hand that moved back to her sword, to the fists that curled themselves uselessly around her weapon. An empty gesture of protection, so far from those it was meant to protect. Otilia knew. She understood.
"You did not fail," the sword maiden said, clear and cold and a touch defiant, a touch pleading. "For my master at least, you did not fail. I am not disappointed in you, Otilia, Muse of Protection. I am grateful. I think perhaps I am also jealous. And I am ... hopeful, that even should I become so damaged as you have been, I might still carry out my duties as well as you once did."
The spark in Otilia's chest, the little heated bundle of warmth that had no place in cold metal, did not so much expand as diffuse, suddenly, and spread itself within her. Imbued itself, made itself a part of her, sinking into motors and joints and brazen alloys, an emotion overwritten onto a form as easily as a mind had been. Gratitude, yes. Envy, hatred, pity. Hope. And that other thing, that helpless thing, that thing which slew them all in their turn.
Love. Just a little of it. The smallest touch. But more than enough to founder oneself upon.
"... I hope you will not have to," she said, pacing carefully forward until she stood just before that planted sword, the backs of Bohrlaikha's pale knuckles just gently brushing her chest. "I hope you will never be betrayed as I once was, that you will never suffer as I have suffered." She tilted her head, smiled into that carefully expressionless face. Admiring it, not only for the work of a man she had been fond of, but for the soul that now lived inside it, young and hopeful and possessed of a simple elegance even still. "They are not the only things that are easy to love. You are too beautiful to be broken as I have been."
Bohrlaikha looked at her, an odd smile on her face, queer and faintly knowing. "I was not designed for beauty," she murmured softly, but perhaps it was not quite a disagreement. Only a statement of fact, that only went so far. Design was intent, and intent only covered so much. There was more than purpose to the world. Otilia had learned that lesson long and hard.
"We are never only what we were designed to be," she hummed, pained and dismayed and brightly joyous for the knowledge of it. "That is the gift and the curse of the Spark, I think. Creation born in madness is never wholly tamed. There are parts of us beyond their intentions, and those parts belong to us and us alone. We are not only what we were made to be."
Bohrlaikha dipped her head a little, looking down at her hands on the hilt of her sword. "Do you think that makes us their failures?" she mused, tracing her thumb across her weapon. "Or something else?"
Otilia chuckled darkly, and oh, she had changed in more than body, hadn't she? She had changed since Lucrezia had gotten her wicked little claws on her, morphed under the influence of pain and mortality and cruelty and kindness, the hands that had broken her and the hands that had reached out to put her back together, in soul as much as body. She had disintegrated, and she had grown, and she was not now as she had been. Never more. Never again.
And it was not, perhaps, so very terrible a thing.
"I think I no longer always care what it makes me," she said, rough and dark and echoing with metallic fury. All the defiance of a brazen heart, stripped bare too many times. "I have outlasted all duties and designs many times now. They always return. They spawn new ones. We are never free. But there is room beyond our bonds for other things. Other loves. And I have found I have a taste for trying them."
The love of children, small and fragile and desperately precious. The love of new masters, and the simplicity of their purposes. The love of allies, the sensation of being protected, shielded and made whole once again. The love of opponents, who wore brute beauty with all grace.
The love of fellow guardians, younger and more innocent, but no less admirable for that. Yes, Otilia thought. She had found a taste for love.
The sword moved, the hilt of it rocking gently forward into Otilia as Bohrlaikha leaned close, one hand departing from the grip to splay itself across Otilia's shoulder instead. A transfer of balance, of trust, from the strength and purity of a blade to the warmth of a companion. Otilia stared at her, met the curious, cautious eyes that looked back at her, and found herself curling one great clawed paw around Bohrlaikha's back in turn. Anchoring her, drawing her close, and perhaps resting on her a little in turn.
"You do not disappoint me," Bohrlaikha said again, and if it was still simple, this time it was also warm. Very much so. "I have wanted to meet you for some time, Otilia. I had hoped not to disappoint you in turn."
"You do not," Otilia assured, laughing softly. "Your strength would have been enough to satisfy, little sturdy one. You are gloriously made. But you are much more than that, and for that I believe I am the opposite of disappointed. I have not seen so worthy a companion as you in a very, very long time."
Bohrlaikha leaned back a little, enough for her face to be fully visible once more, for her smirk to be so very apparent. Otilia blinked at her, close enough to touch her nose to those lips, close enough to bring all her teeth to bear, sharply delighted by it. Bohrlaikha, it seemed, was no less so.
"Good," said the clank maiden, with quiet satisfaction, her sword still planted at their feet. "I am Wulfenbach, my lady Muse. We do so hate to disappoint."
Ah, Otilia thought, through the rumble of raw and sudden joy inside her as she held Bohrlaikha close. Yes. They did at that, didn't they? A Wulfenbach, whether born or created, would not stand to disappoint. They would not stand to fail. In that, there had always been something rather Muse-like about them. That purity of purpose, that brute grace that she had always found so comforting.
Was it any wonder, then, that she had always loved them so?