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It was a long and tense walk Dex and I took to get to the place circled on the map. Dex said we didn't have anything to worry about, that the men in the coats would be long gone by now. That even if they were still here, they wouldn't think twice about us if they didn't see us around the crime scene.
That didn't stop him from turning his collar up to hide his face, though.
Benton Vista wasn't a large city, but it was largish-medium. That meant that even though our destination was only halfway across town, it still took almost two hours to walk there. My stomach was twisting itself into knots with every step.
It was almost over. Once we got to the thief's hideout, we could kill her and take the glove back. I was almost sad. It hadn't even been four hours since Dex had thrown Douglas off the roof, tricking Hendricks into thinking I was dead. Four hours of freedom, and I was rushing in to end it as soon as possible.
The truth was, though, that I wanted it to end. After spending three years living underground, only going out when Hendricks wanted someone killed, I felt exposed out here. And not just because I'd gotten used to never being more than five feet from a wall or ceiling. Without Hendricks' magic to hide me, Majestic's goons could be around any corner. I could be on an operating table by sundown.
But even that wasn't what made me feel so uneasy. I was. All this freedom wasn't good for me. It was barely two in the afternoon, but I still couldn't stop myself from glancing up at the sky every couple minutes. Last night had been a full moon. That meant tonight's not-quite-full moon wouldn't force a transformation out of me, but it would still be incredibly risky. If I wasn't careful, the sheer amount of moonlight that I'd absorbed last night could let my wolf side overwhelm me. If that happened, who would I end up hurting? Or killing? How many innocent people would wind up living out the same story as me? I needed to find the glove and get back before sundown, even if it meant getting skinned by Hendricks.
"So," Dex said, breaking into my gloomy thoughts, "what are you going to do once you get the gauntlet back?"
I looked at him and shrugged. "What do you think? Get it back to Hendricks."
"That's it?" He sounded genuinely surprised. "You're about to have a weapon that turns anger into raw power, and you just want to give it away?"
"Uh, yeah? What else am I going to do with it?"
Dex looked at me like I'd gone insane. "You're not big on imagination, are you, Sugarsnout?"
"What do you want?" I huffed. "For me to go on some kind of rampage?"
Dex didn't answer. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he looked down at the sidewalk. We were in the middle of town now, and even though we had the sidewalks to ourselves there were cars everywhere. I felt safer here. Even if the men in the black coats…or Majestic…knew where we were, they wouldn't try anything in plain sight.
At least I hoped not.
After a minute, Dex spoke up again. "I was thinking about what you said earlier."
"You'll have to narrow that down for me."
He smirked. "About you not wanting to get your hopes up for a happy ending."
I looked at him, with his blue eyes that seemed to sparkle with some defiant kind of happiness even in the darkest of times, and shook my head.
"It's not about getting my hopes up, Dex," I said softly. "To get your hopes up about something, you have to believe it's possible in the first place. Getting my hopes up for a happy ending is like getting my hopes up that Hendricks will buy me a pony when we get back."
"But," Dex said hesitantly, "what if it wasn't like that at all?"
"It is, so there's no point in thinking about it."
Dex sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He didn't say anything for a long time after that, and I was happy to settle back into my gloom and count the sidewalk squares.
When we got there, wherever there was, there would be another fight. Whoever was brave enough to steal from Hendricks must have known what would happen if we caught up to her. She wouldn't let the stupid glove go without a fight. She would probably even use the glove against us. I sighed. As good as I'd gotten at it over the years, I still didn't like killing. It reminded me too much of what I'd—
"Do you know why I signed on with Hendricks, Amber?" Dex asked.
I looked at him in surprise. "For the money, I assumed."
He chuckled and shook his head. "Sugarsnout, Majestic might pay peanuts, but Hendricks pays peanut shells. No, I joined because Majestic promised me something."
A memory tickled the back of my mind, one that I hadn't thought of in years.
"You said something about that to Mr. Vaazkima," I said. "You asked him if he had a…cure or something?"
Dex's expression turned dark, and I immediately regretted saying that.
"Yeah, that's it," he said, nodding. "Nobody works for Majestic because they want to, Amber. They do it because Majestic has something they want. Or, in my case, need."
"What does that have to do with Hendricks?" I asked.
Dex clenched a fist. "Everything. They have my cure. They probably had it before they even hired me. And now Vaazkima's holding it over me, always just out of my reach. He makes me think that if I do enough for him, he'll finally 'discover' it and give it to me. But I've been working there for years now, and now I know the truth. They'll never let me go."
I looked out him out of the corner of my eye. "So you thought it was a good idea to sign on with Hendricks?"
"He's a psycho and a massive douche," Dex admitted, "but there's one thing that, to me, makes him better than everyone in Majestic put together: if he makes a promise, he keeps it."
I couldn't help but laugh at that. "Until it stops being convenient to him."
"No, Amber." Dex stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, and I was surprised by how serious he looked. "That's the thing about demons. They'll lie and cheat whenever they can, but when they make a promise, they're bound to it. Yes, you have to be careful when you make that promise. They'll word things in a way that they can twist however they want. But once they give their word about something, you can bet your life that they'll keep it."
"So Hendricks promised you a cure?"
He nodded. "That's why I know he means it."
"So why hasn't he given it to you yet?"
"Because he hasn't figured it out yet." Turning, Dex kept going, and I followed beside him. "He may have power, but he doesn't have Majestics' limitless resources. He's searching for it. I know that because he promised he would. And he'll find it eventually, just like Majestic did. And when he does, he'll give it to me."
I let all that sink in, but then shook my head. "I don't get it. What does any of this have to do with happy endings?"
Dex sighed. "You said you'll never get a happy ending because there isn't one for you. I thought that too for a long, long time. But then I realized something…"
He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder.
"You can't always wait for a happy ending to come to you, Amber," he said, as serious as the grave. "Sometimes, for people like us, you have to go out and make a happy ending."
I looked at him for a long time, but then shook my head. "Not for me. Sorry."
Dex wilted like a flower in a blizzard, then turned and kept walking without another word. I hurried to catch up to him. Dex didn't press the subject anymore, and I was fine with that. We walked in silence for a few minutes before my curiosity got the better of me.
"So," I said tentatively, "what exactly are you trying to get cured?"
"Sugarsnout, there are some things you're just better off not knowing."
I took a step closer. "Don't give me that! Tell me what—"
He stopped, and I blinked in surprise. "What?"
He held up the map and then nodded to the building in front of us. "This is where the map leads."
My heart sank into my chest. Thinking about everything else, I'd actually managed to forget what we were about to do. But now it all came crashing back down. The thief. The glove. Hendricks. I sighed. Well, time to get this over wi…
I blinked slowly.
"No," I whispered.
Dex didn't say anything.
"No, no, you're kidding me!" I said, voice rising with every word. People gave me weird looks, but I ignored them. "That's not fair!"
A one story building stood in front of us. But it wasn't the building that sank my hopes like the last piece in a game of Battleship. It was the sign.
Benton Vista Bus Station.
TO BE CONTINUED: 7/04/2020