"WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE YOU?" Henrietta screamed, pointing her candy gun at Abby. Hot, angry tears threatened to spill out of her eyes as she kept her grip on the precious caramel she'd thought had been lost.
Abby looked up at her, but not with an expression of fear or resignation- her eyes were full of tears too, almost pleading.
"Because," she said quietly, "you're more important to me than candy..."
Henrietta looked from Abby to the glowing caramel in her hand, her mind whirling in confusion. "I..." she said, and it was almost a sob. "I was... so... stupid," and suddenly the dam that had been holding her tears back broke. She dropped her gun and slumped to her knees, not even caring how loudly she was crying.
To her surprise, she suddenly felt a gentle hand on her arm, and then one on her back. She tensed on instinct, but only for a second- there was only one person it could have been, anyway. As she continued to cry, Abby rubbed her back softly.
"It's okay," she said to Henrietta quietly, the halting voice from her own curse barely noticeable. "It won't be like this forever. You'll be your old self again. I swear it." She looked at her seriously, taking her free hand. "I promise you can trust me."
Henrietta looked up at Abby, who had her hand outstretched. Her own hand, still holding the caramel, trembled. Slowly, cautiously, she turned her head toward it, as it shimmered tantalizingly. It was beautiful. She couldn't bear to watch herself give something so wonderful away.
So she shut her eyes tightly, and with her hand still shaking, placed the caramel in Abby's palm.
She let go and opened her eyes.
For one horrible moment, there was nothing.
And then, the candy began to glow.
Softly at first, from the inside. Then brighter, brighter, warmth radiating from it like a tiny sun. Henrietta feared if she looked at it for too long her eyes would start to burn. She closed them once again, and the warmth enveloped her like a perfectly snug blanket.
Everything went out of focus, like she was floating above a familiar place that she just couldn't remember. It wasn't a bad feeling. Unusual, yes, but uncomfortable, no. She wanted to stay like this, and yet get back to how she was...
And then, as soon as it had begun, it was over. She found herself on the ground, on her hands and knees. Soft golden hair fell in waves around her face, and she brushed it back without a second thought.
She tried to stand up, but her legs were too shaky and she ended up falling back on her hands.
"Whoa, whoa," Abby said, offering her arm for support. "Maybe not just yet."
Henrietta looked up at Abby. She couldn't quite read her expression, and she felt her stomach twist, partly out of fear.
"Abigail," she said, barely hearing her own voice. "Am I still...?"
She couldn't bring herself to say the dreaded words.
Abby's expression softened. Then, to Henrietta's surprise, she brushed her hand against her cheek.
"You don't have to worry," she said. "Everything is how it should be, Henrietta."
As soon as she heard the last word Abby said, her breath caught in her throat. She hadn't realized how much she missed her name- no, wait. She definitely had.
"Well, not everything," Abby went on. She pressed her own final caramel into Henrietta's hand. It glowed, just as the other one had, until Abby was wrapped in a sort of golden chrysalis. It only took a few moments, and then the magical casing fell away, revealing Abby as she usually was: hat, confident half-smile, and all.
"Just like old times, huh?" she said, holding out her hand. Henrietta took it, intending to stand up, but hesitated.
"Why did you help me? After all I've done... I was awful to you, and you never gave up. Why?"
Abby looked at her, clearly surprised at the question. "Why do you think? You're my friend."
Henrietta hung her head. "I haven't exactly been acting like it." There was a pause, and she knew what she had to say- she just didn't know if she could. Standing up so she was looking Abby in the eye, she could almost taste the tension.
"Abby, I-" She took a breath, then went on. "I'm sorry for all the things I've put you through. I was only thinking of myself, and I ended up hurting you, and- honestly, I should have thanked you a long time ago for sticking with me." She let out a choked laugh. "I'd probably be dead now if it wasn't for you."
"Oh, Heiny..." Abby said, putting her hand on the other girl's shoulder. Henrietta felt her eyes start to sting again.
"I'm not used to apologizing," she admitted.
"I know," Abby responded. "You're doing fine."
At that moment, Abby seemed to realize something.
"I have to tell the others how to lift the curse," she said, picking up the bag of caramels. "Could you stay up here? I'll be back."
Henrietta just nodded, and Abby disappeared back down the ladder she'd climbed up.
• • •
However long Abby was away- though it was probably no more than a few minutes- Henrietta had taken the opportunity to remove her gloves and tried to guess what her face looked like without the curse. After much deliberation, nothing felt all that different- soft skin, slightly upturned nose, et cetera. Cute, she supposed, but her thoughts soon drifted, as they so often did, to candy.
She'd traveled the world, and done a lot of... well, morally questionable things. Now she could start over... but what she'd done before was still there. She felt the worry and doubt start to come back, but pushed it away. What she needed was a distraction.
Luckily for her, Abby returned, albeit without the caramel bag. "You feeling any better?"
"Ja, a bit..." Henrietta stopped. "Abby, what am I going to do? Everything is different now. I want to keep candy hunting, but I've done so much damage... I don't know if I'll even be able to start fresh with things in the state they are now."
Abby was silent for a bit, thinking it over. "Well, why don't you fix it?"
"You said it yourself- you caused a lot of the problems, so I don't see why you couldn't make up for them now."
Henrietta looked away with a grimace. What Abby said was true, but she didn't want to acknowledge it. She'd never been one to atone for her past, and to think about doing it made her uncomfortable. And yet... what if she was right?
Abby sat down beside her. "Look, I'm not going to tell you what to do. Just think about it, okay?"
Henrietta hesitated, then nodded. The two girls sat together in silence, watching as the slowly rising sun turned the dark sky lighter.
"Your hair really is beautiful," Abby remarked, as the early morning light brought them into focus. Henrietta blushed, touching her head self-consciously.
"I have some extra hair ties if you want to put it up," Abby went on. "Long hair is great, but it can be a pain if it gets in the way."
Both girls looked to Abby's hair, stunningly dark and swept back neatly behind her.
"You know, Liebchen... I've always been partial to braids."
• • •
After a while, the sun began to rise, and Abby got up from where she'd been sitting.
"I'd better be getting back," she said. "Want to come see me off?"
"Ja," she replied, following her to the ladder.
As the two girls climbed down, they noticed there was a bit of a ruckus in the room below. Numbuh Three was back to her usual bubbly self and presumably being thanked by one of the operatives hugging her. Numbuh One had obviously gotten his leadership back, as he seemed to be directing the remaining members of the other sector on something. The short boy in orange was leaning up against a wall, looking grumpy, with the boy in the hat and goggles standing beside him.
"Numbuh Fiiiive!" Numbuh Three called, running over to her. She caught sight of Henrietta and her expression changed- first to confusion, then to recognition. She was quiet for a minute, then smiled.
"Wow! You got rid of your curse too!"
"How did you-" Henrietta began in a low voice.
"You said something about losing what you had before, silly!" Numbuh Three replied. "And everyone else looked really different when they didn't have what they usually did, so it was easy to figure out!"
Henrietta blinked, surprised. From what she'd seen of this girl before, she'd kind of figured she wasn't all that smart- but then, appearances could be deceiving.
Abby walked over with her teammate to the other kids, as Henrietta hung back and watched. One of the boys- maybe the one from the volcano incident, though she hadn't given him much thought even then- started talking to Abby. Then, to Henrietta's surprise, he pointed her out to Abby and grinned. Henrietta was indignant. Who was this kid to go pointing at her? However, Abby nodded and walked back over to her.
"This is Henrietta von Marzipan," she said, wrapping an arm around Henrietta's shoulders. "She's an old friend of mine."
"Hey, I'm Hoagie," Abby's teammate said, following after her. Henrietta did not return his smile, which slowly wavered.
"Wait," he said. "von Marzipan... uh, you wouldn't happen to be related to a candy hunter, would you?"
When Henrietta figured out what he was talking about, she couldn't help but start to laugh.
"I thought you were the smart one, Herr Hoagie," she said snidely.
Looking a little wounded, Hoagie looked to Abby, who shrugged apologetically. "So then... you two are related?"
"In a sense," Henrietta said, deciding she may as well have her fun. "In fact, the von Marzipan you speak of and I are very close. You might even say we know one another better than anyone else."
Henrietta was having a great time seeing the confusion on Hoagie's face. Abby, however, looked less amused when Henrietta turned her eyes to her. While she didn't feel bad for him, she didn't want to get on Abby's nerves too soon after they'd re-established their friendship.
"And the reason for that is..." She paused for effect. "The two of us are one and the same. I, Henrietta von Marzipan, am the one you speak of! The world's greatest candy hunter!"
Hoagie's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. "You almost dropped me into boiling chocolate half a year ago!" he said in disbelief. "And you trapped me in bitter chocolate a month after that! Man, and I thought you were cute!"
"Numbuh Two, she is cute," Abby pointed out. "And anyway, someone trying to kill you hasn't exactly stopped you from having a crush before."
"Cree is different," Hoagie said. "We have something special."
"Whatever, lover boy. Somehow I don't think my sister returns the feeling."
Henrietta made a mental note to ask Abby about her sister later.
"What's everyone waitin' around for?" The short blonde boy stormed over, scowling. "We have to go find that cruddy caramel thief! I need to teach him a thing or two-" He broke off and started mumbling something about "see how he likes it" and "gonna wish he never messed with Wallabee Beatles".
Henrietta cleared her threat rather loudly. He looked over at her, eyes narrowed.
"And who the heck is this girl!?"
"Henrietta von Marzipan. World's greatest candy hunter and, er... 'cruddy caramel thief', was it?"
Wallabee groaned. "Aw, don't tell me we gotta deal with TWO of 'em!"
"Um, Numbuh Four-" Hoagie tried to say.
"He'll figure it out," said Abby. "But he's right about one thing. We'd better get going soon."
"The same goes for me," Henrietta said. She brought her arms around Abby, hugging her. "Thank you for not giving up on me, Abby. I... I'm going to think about what you said."
Abby nodded and smiled at her. "Keep yourself out of trouble, Heiny."
Henrietta laughed. "Hello, have you met me, Abby Lincoln? When have I ever stayed out of trouble?"
Abby didn't respond, the smile on her face offset by a hint of sadness in her eyes. The two girls' gazes lingered on one another, before Henrietta finally looked away.
"Until we meet again, Liebchen," she said, walking over to her helicopter. "Auf wiedersehen!"
Abby waved as the helicopter took off. Henrietta, watching her grow smaller as the ground got further away, brushed away a tear at the side of her eye.
She never would have dreamed the night would turn out like this. But now that it was over, she couldn't have wanted it any other way.