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Girl Genius fic: Sacrifices Better Left Undone

The machine is finished. It works just as Agatha predicted. But not everything goes according to plan. Now Gil has to make a difficult decision. Too bad Tarvek is thinking the same thing. Written for Day three of Girl Genius Week 2018.
1100 words | [PG]


Gil stumbled back as their creation came to life. It chugged and whistled while it gained momentum, gears spinning and parts clanking in a growing cacophony.

“Is it supposed to do that?” Tarvek shouted over the noise, his voice shriller than usual.

“I-” Gil joined Tarvek a few feet from the machine. “I have no idea.” The contraption vibrated violently, raining dust and debris from the ceiling as the tremors grew. Gil feared it might tear itself apart and take half the castle with it. What have we even done?

Tarvek said something Gil couldn’t hear—alarm etched all over his face. Gil shook his head in confusion.

Then it all stopped. The silence was deafening. They exchanged worrying looks before Gil inched forward.

“What are you doing?” Tarvek screeched, grabbing at Gil’s arm.

“Something’s-”

The rest of his statement was lost to the boom of an explosion. The blast threw them across the room. Gil skid along the rough, stone floor, landing in a heap with Tarvek. He groaned as they untangled battered limbs.

“You did it!” Tarvek grinned, adjusting his glasses.

Gil glanced over his shoulder at the device. It sat dormant, but in the center, a swirling vortex beckoned. It was mesmerizing. Gil got to his feet and dusted off his shirt. “Was there ever any doubt?” he asked—the tremor in his voice belying his attempt at bravado.

Tarvek narrowed his eyes, but before he could comment, the machine wheezed, belching acrid, black smoke. The small gears began spinning, slowly forcing the larger ones into motion. As it built speed, the vortex flickered.

“No!” Tarvek ran for the controls. “It’s going to collapse. If we can’t stabilize it-”

Gil wasn’t listening. He already knew. If they couldn’t stabilize the portal, there was a very likely chance whoever went through wouldn’t be coming back. He glanced back at Tarvek madly twisting dials and flipping switches in a fruitless attempt to fix their machine. His string of curses was drowned out by an increasing whine.

Gil turned back to the flickering portal, shoulders squared. This had to be done or everything would be lost. Everything Agatha had fought for—the castle and the town and her people. The empire would follow and then all of Europa.

Suddenly, Tarvek appeared at his side, fingers firm around Gil’s wrist. “What are you doing?”

Gil looked from Tarvek to the portal then back. “I’m going in. Someone has to. It’s the only-”

“Which is why I’m going.”

“What? Are you crazy? I mean more than usual? That thing is unstable. It’s dangerous!”

Tarvek’s grip loosened until his hand slid down to tangle his fingers with Gil’s. He was trembling. “Which is why I’m going. It makes sense.”

“How-”

“Gil, Agatha needs you. Your empire needs you. I’m- Most of my family has already disowned me and the other half are actively trying to kill me. I have nothing to lose.”

“You’re just trying to steal my heroic exit, aren’t you?” Gil said, but it lacked any bite. “Tarvek, this is all my fault. I screwed up.”

“As usual.”

Gil growled. “And I’m going to fix it.”

“Your father has lackeys to fix your mistakes.”

“I’m not my father,” Gil shouted. What was his problem? Why was he being difficult? He shook his head and squeezed Tarvek’s hand. “I have to do this.”

Tarvek sighed. “I’m sorry about this, Gil. I really am.”

Before Gil could respond, Tarvek grabbed his face and pressed a firm kiss to his lips that sent a jolt through Gil’s body. What? The kiss ended way too soon for his taste, leaving him dizzy and confused. He blinked at Tarvek, unable to even form words. Why was he sorry for that?

Tarvek swallowed hard. “Tell Agatha I love her.” Then he slammed his fist into the side of Gil’s head, sending him sprawling.

Gil struggled to get back to his feet as the room spun. “Tarvek, don’t-” he screamed, but he knew it was too late. The whine from the machine overtook his words then the vortex disappeared with a soft pop. Gil stared at the empty space.

“You idiot—why did you do that? What am I supposed to tell Agatha?” Everything blurred behind a curtain of tears. “What am I supposed to do without you?”

The emptiness that settled in his chest mirrored the stillness of the device, the silence of the room. The last time he felt this way he stood over a recently dug grave. An ache built in his heart, spreading through his body like a malignant tumor. He pulled his legs close and buried his face in his knees until he felt someone drop down next to him.

He looked up to find Agatha—all wide-eyed and wild hair flying everywhere. “Gil? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

Hurt? There wasn’t a word for what he was feeling. He shook his head.

Her eyes roamed over him looking for injuries, relaxing some when she didn’t see anything life-threatening. “What happened? Did it work?”

His stomach knotted as he nodded. “We got the portal open. The machine worked just like you said it would.”

Agatha squealed. “Amazing.” Her smile faded at his lack of enthusiasm. She glanced around the empty room. “But what happened? You turned it off already?”

“It shorted out,” he whispered, bile rising because he knew what was coming next.

“Shorted? But it needed to stay open. It-” He brow furrowed as her gaze zeroed in on the machine. “Where’s Tarvek?”

Gil forced himself to keep eye contact. “I tried to stop him but he wouldn’t listen. The idiot never listened.” He punched the ground, pain shooting up his arm to add to the ache. “I’m so sorry.”

Agatha collapsed against Gil—a sob erupting from deep within her soul. Gil wound his arms around her and buried his face in the crook of her neck. “He told me to tell you-” The words caught on the lump in his throat. “He said he-”

Her fists tangled in his shirt. “What do we do now?” she murmured.

Gil tightened his grip, but he had no answer. He wasn’t even sure how to get through the next minute. He knew they would, though. Or Tarvek’s sacrifice was for nothing. “I don’t know,” he finally said, “but we’ve still got each other. We’ll figure it out.” We’ll get him back. Somehow. He didn’t say the last part, but he knew she was thinking it, too. “We’ll figure it out,” he repeated more for himself.

Agatha nodded against his shoulder. “Together.”

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