"What the hell?" Hansel managed to say as a crippling pain shot through him. He dropped to one knee, grabbing his stomach.
"Hansel?" Gretel stopped walking and turned back to him. "What's wrong?"
The pain was searing through him, making it hard to talk, but Hansel managed to squeeze a few words between his gritted teeth. "Painful. Fuck."
Gretel looked around, but there was only forest on all sides. They had been walking for a few days now, trying to find their way home, or at least some sign of civilization, but there was none to be found. "I- I don't know-"
Hansel couldn't hold back a moan as the pain increased, and he sank down onto his side. "Oh god, Hansel!" Gretel raced to his side, cushioning his head. "Wait, let me get your pack off."
As she tugged his pack off - Hansel was in too much pain to help - something large fell out. "What's this?" she asked.
"Spell-" he managed to gasp out.
Gretel grabbed the book. "Of course. This is probably a spell." She began to frantically flip through the book. It practically fell open to a well worn page, and she scanned it hopefully. "This says there's something called a sweet sickness. The witch can taint her candy and make you crave it after you're gone."
If he could have spared the brainpower for it, Hansel would have wondered why the witch even needed that spell. Fortunately, Gretel was thinking along the same lines. "She must have placed it on her house. That way if she was out, and some child ate the candy but she didn't catch them, they would be drawn back."
Hansel wasn't sure that entirely made sense, but as the world was starting to go grey around the edges, he really didn't care. "Cure?" he begged.
"Oh, right!" Gretel looked back at the book. "It doesn't mention a permanent cure, but it does say the child will crave more sweets- oh!" Fast as lightnig, Gretel grabbed her own pack off her back. She reached inside and pulled out a chunk of something. Hansel was having trouble making it out, but she broke off a piece and shoved it in his mouth.
The moment the food hit his tongue, Hansel felt the pain start to fade. Gretel quickly fed him another piece of the- gingerbread, he realized it was - and the pain slid away even faster. His muscles began to relax, and he uncurled.
Gretel fed him another piece and then stopped, setting it aside. She readjusted Hansel so that his head was on her lap, out of the dirt, and began to stroke his hair. "Tell me if you need more," she whispered.
He wasn't sure how long they stayed there, but eventually the pain disappeared entirely. Hansel felt like he was floating, and the feeling was lovely, but soon he began to distrust it. Nothing should feel this good. Groaning, he opened his eyes - and when had they closed? - and looked up at Gretel. "We should get going," he said.
She frowned in concern, running her fingers through his hair. "Are you sure? Are you feeling up to it?"
Hansel was feeling up to anything, at the moment, and that was part of the problem. "We need to get going. We need to find safety," he explained.
Gretel nodded and began to repack their bags. As she tucked away the chunk of gingerbread, Hansel had a sickening thought. "Have you eaten any of that?" he asked. Gretel shook her head. "Then don't. Just don't."
"I won't," she promised. As soon as she was done, she helped Hansel to his feet and they set off again.
They finally found an abandoned hut, which the siblings gratefully entered. It was dry and warm inside, and out of the wind, which was more than they had found the last few nights.
Hansel fell asleep right away, his earlier euphoria having faded and left him exhausted. Gretel, however, stayed up, reading the witch's spell book late into the night.
When Hansel woke her the next morning, she immediately showed him the relevant sections. "The spell has no permanent cure," she explained quickly.
Hansel frowned. He really didn't like the sound of that. "It has to have a cure," he complained.
"Well, there isn't one in the book," she replied. "In fact, this section specifically says that one doesn't exist."
"Doesn't exist yet!" Hansel retorted.
Gretel rolled her eyes. "Anyway, I was right. It is a long term trap. But that's the good news. If you continue to take in small doses of the stuff, then you'll be just fine."
Hansel gaped at her. "What? Wait, back up. You want me to take more of this crap?"
"Think about it!" Gretel gestured at the chunk of gingerbread, which she had placed on the corner of the table. "You ate a small piece of that, and your sickness instantly got better. The poison is also the cure!"
"That's ridiculous!" Hansel scoffed. But inside, he had a sinking feeling that she was right. "Besides, what are we supposed to do, go back to that wretched candy house and live there forever?"
Gretel shook her head. "No, that isn't logical. For one, the candy there will eventually rot unless we take care of it, and without magic, we won't be able to. Also, if there are any other witches in the area and they come to visit her, they'll find us instead."
"And we'll kill them too," Hansel replied mulishly.
"But I read this whole section," Gretel continued as though he hadn't spoken, "and there is another way."
She flipped through the book and found the page she was looking for, then thrust it across the table at Hansel. He glanced at it. "This looks like a recipe."
"It is!" Gretel was altogether to pleased with herself. "That's the recipe for what she put in the sweets. If I can make that, then we can use that as a serum to treat you. We won't need any candy, and we can still travel and try to find our way back home."
"You're going to mix up a witch's serum and treat me with it?" Hansel couldn't believe he was hearing this.
"And what if you poison me?"
Gretel gave him a cold look. "Don't you trust me?"
Of course he did. "Of course I do," Hansel admitted. "But, still-"
"And I can experiment with it and try to find you a cure!" Gretel concluded.
As much as he wanted a cure, Hansel cringed at the idea of his sister experimenting on him. In fact, the burning pain he had felt last night might be preferable.
"I'm really not sure I like the sound of that," he muttered. Fortunately for him, Gretel didn't hear. Or at least pretended not to.
But every time she stabbed him in the leg with a needle full of 'cure,' Hansel secretly wondered if she had, and if this was his punishment.