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Chapter Thirty Nine

I opened my eyes when I heard a soft grunt come from beside me. My eyes, better suited for seeing in the dark than a human’s, immediately adjusted to reveal that I was lying in my bed in the hotel room. I rolled over, ready to go back to sleep—and felt a momentary stab of panic when I saw another lump in the covers right next to me.

 

But then I remembered what had happened. The blissful hours we had spent together before collapsing from exhaustion. I smiled and reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, just wanting to touch him, to show myself that he was real. He grunted again in his sleep, and…

 

I noticed the golden glow coming from beneath the covers.

 

“Uh, Dex?” I asked nervously.

 

He gasped suddenly, his eyes still not opening, and began to toss and turn beside me. The glow grew brighter.

 

“Dex?” I said a little louder.

 

No response. A whimper escaped his mouth, like he was in pain. By the light coming from under the covers, I could see the sweat that was starting to roll down his forehead in buckets. Hesitantly, I reached out and touched his forehead. Cool, but I could still feel a strange heat coming from somewhere nearby. I inched my hand further down, toward the sheets, and the heat grew stronger even as the light grew brighter. My hand hovered over the bedsheet, not knowing what to do. Was this normal? I’d never seen it before, and Dex obviously wasn’t enjoying it. What if I made it worse? What if—

 

“Augh!” he cried out, somehow still not waking up. “N- N- No! G…Gotta…”

 

That was all I needed to hear. Grabbing the sheet in my fist, I threw it off of him, and…

 

“DEX!” I screamed when I saw what was under them.

 

Dex’s eyes finally flew open, and he sat upright in an instant. The yellow light—the same shade as the gem on his scepter—was coming from him! It was bright enough now to light up our entire room. It faded and grew rhythmically, like it was following the beat of his heart, and grew a little stronger, a little hotter, with each pulse.

 

“Dex, what’s going on?” I demanded, suddenly terrified.

 

He doubled over in pain, moaning, and didn’t answer. Trembling, I took as close a look at him as I dared to get. The light was, indeed, coming from his chest, and there was a reason it was thumping with his heartbeat: it was his heart that was glowing! It was shining so bright that the light pierced his skin. I could even see the shadows of his ribcage, appearing and disappearing over and over again. Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump.

 

“A- Amber,” he gasped through the agony. “Help!”

 

I was by his side in an instant, hugging him and suddenly afraid I was going to lose him just after I’d truly found him. “What is it? Tell me what you need!”

 

He raised a feeble hand and pointed to where his suit jacket was lying on the floor, carelessly discarded as soon as we’d both realized we wouldn’t be needing clothes tonight. “Po…Potion!”

 

I was moving before the word even fully left his mouth. The potions he always carried, of course! I got on my knees and started rifling through the pockets. I found the little glass vials almost instantly and held one up. Bathed in the light coming from Dex’s chest, it looked as foreboding as a staring contest with Hendricks. I bounded back over to him, ripping the cork out of the top, and thrusting it toward his lips before he could ask for it. He opened his mouth and gulped the whole thing down in one go.

 

Then I waited. With my fist clenched around the vial and ice careening through my veins, I sat, watched, and I prayed that I wasn’t about to lose him. When the light faded, vanishing far faster than it’d appeared, we both let out a sigh of relief. Dex fell back onto the bed, gasping for breath and drenched in sweat.

 

“Are you okay?” I asked, terrified of what the answer might be.

 

It took him a few seconds, but he eventually shook his head. “I haven’t been okay in years, Sugarsnout. But yeah, for now I’ll be all right.”

 

I sighed again and laid down beside him. “What on earth was that?”

 

Dex didn’t answer immediately. He lay there on his back, staring blankly up at the ceiling, his breathing gradually growing less frantic. I could smell the fear on him, something I normally couldn’t do unless I was in wolf form. Whatever that had been, I wasn’t the only one freaked out by it.

 

“I should have told you a long time ago, Amber,” he finally whispered.

 

I inched a little closer. “Told me what?”

 

“You know I don’t work for Majestic because I want to, and I want to work for Hendricks even less. But…” He paused to cough.

 

“But they have something you need,” I finished for him.

 

He nodded. “Playing with magic is dangerous, Amber. You have no idea how dangerous. I wasn’t always the amazing, all powerful spellcaster you see before you.”

 

I looked at his face, saw him smirking, and resisted the urge to whack him. He was in enough pain already.

 

“I used to be a lonely little nerd, dreaming of someday being something bigger. Better. But it was like every time I thought about it, the world punished me for it.” He paused, his eyes growing vacant as he traveled back in time in his own memories. “Bullies would pick on me at school, and my parents would beat me when I came home. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I was weak and timid back then. I needed something to get the edge. To give me some kind of power over them.”

 

“So you learned magic,” I whispered. My heart began to twist inside my chest, like someone was wringing a wet rag. This was a side of him I’d never seen before. It was strange, hearing him talk like this. If it weren’t for…what we’d done earlier…I might not have thought he was even capable of human emotions.

 

He pointed at me and wagged his finger. “Nuh uh, Sugarsnout. I tried to learn magic. Found an old spellbook in the darkest, moldiest corner of an old bookstore. Stole it because I didn’t have the money to buy it. Tried out the first spell I saw, and…”

 

He stopped, closing his eyes, and I was shocked to see a tear escape his eye, roll down the side of his head, and soak into the pillow below. With a grunt, he sat up. I reached out to stop him, not wanting him to hurt himself more than he already had, but he gently pushed my hand away and turned so that he was sitting with his back to me.

 

“What was I thinking?” he asked, more to himself than to me. “I can’t do this. You deserve better, Amber.”

 

“What do you mean?” I asked, scooting closer to him. I wanted to put my arm around him, to show him that I wouldn’t leave, but something told me that would only make things worse right now.

 

He shook his head. “I can’t be what you want me to be. It’s too dangerous. Everyone who’s close to me is going to die, sooner or later.”

 

I tried to give him a playful chuckle, but it came out sounding more like the last gasp of a dehydrated groundhog. “I think that’s true for everyone, Dex.”

 

“No. Not like this.” He closed his eyes and bowed his head. “We need to stop before something terrible happens.”

 

To my surprise, a little bit of anger rose up in me when I heard that. “Don’t you think I should be allowed to make a decision like that for myself? You haven’t even told me what’s going on yet!”

 

He was silent for over a minute. I shifted anxiously, desperate for him to answer but not wanting to push him.

 

“I took the spellbook home,” he finally answered, “tried to perform a spell with it. I did it wrong. Big surprise, right? The magic I summoned was too much for me to control. It didn’t do what I told it to. Instead, it rebounded, going inside of me. It’s still there now. Trapped.”

 

He reached up and touched his bare chest. Slowly, afraid he might bolt like a frightened deer, I raised my hand too and put it over his.

 

“Was that what I just saw?” I asked. He nodded. “But what does it mean?”

 

“The magic is still there,” he said again, “but it doesn’t want to be. It wants to break out. If it does, it’ll cause an explosion big enough to take out this entire building, and probably two or three of the ones close to it. The only thing that stops it are those potions I drink. Without those, I would explode and kill everybody around me.”

 

He stopped, then looked at me with even more tears in his eyes.

 

“That’s what I am, Amber. Not a person. A bomb. A freaking bomb!”

 

I didn’t say anything for a while. You have to admit, that was a lot to take in.

 

“So,” I finally said, looking down at the glass vial that was still in my hand, “these potions…”

 

“They’re made to absorb magic. I drink it, and it sucks away all the power that’s building up inside of me. But it always comes back, so I have to keep drinking them every few hours to keep from blowing up.”

 

I swallowed hard. “So tonight…”

 

A humorless grin stretched across his face. “I guess I was more tired than usual. I would have slept right through it if you hadn’t woken me.”

 

The thought sent a shiver down my spine. If what he said was true, then that meant I’d been closer to death in those couple of minutes than I’d ever been in my life—and that was saying something!

 

“And that’s the cure Majestic promised you?” I guessed.

 

He shook his head. “No. This is just a temporary solution. Eventually they’ll find my real cure, one that’ll make the problem go away forever. Or so they said nine years ago. I’ve finally given up on them, though. I might hate Hendricks, but at least I can trust him to give me the cure when he eventually finds it.”

 

“Assuming he doesn’t fry you as soon as you take it!”

 

“That’s a risk I have to take, Amber.” He pounded his fist on the mattress. “I can’t live like this anymore!”

 

We were quiet for a few minutes after that, with me staring at Dex and Dex staring at the wall.

 

“So that’s it, then,” he finally said. “I can’t let you be with—”

 

I shut him up with a kiss. His eyes opened wide, and he tried to push me away, but I used my werewolf strength to keep my arms wrapped around him and my lips pressed against him. With our bodies touching, a spark of the same lust I’d felt earlier ignited. I pressed myself against him in a way he would have had to be dead not to notice, just to make sure I had his attention.

 

“You’re such an idiot,” I whispered to him. “You think I care about any of that?”

 

“Amber!” he gasped, eyes widening. “How can you not? Didn’t you hear me? I’m a walking, talking nuke!”

 

“And I’m a giant furry monster that kills everything in its path.”

 

He looked away. “That’s—”

 

“What? Different?” I laughed. “We’re both a danger to everyone around us. That’s what got us where we are. But Dex, you’re the one who taught me just a couple of nights ago that what you are doesn’t matter as much as who you are.”

 

That gave him pause. And why shouldn’t it have? It was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever said.

 

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” he whispered to me a minute later.

 

I shrugged. “No, probably not. But I know who I’m loving. It’s you, Dex, and no amount of magic fireworks are going to change that.”

 

He stared at me, and I smiled. Even more tears were running down his cheeks now. It was hard to believe that this was the same wisecracking wizard who’d just lit an entire art gallery on fire for giggles. But then he lunged forward and wrapped me in a hug. Not a kiss, just a hug. An embrace that simultaneously told me he wanted me closer, and to keep me from ever getting away. I hugged him back, resting my head on his shoulder.

 

“So,” I said, “I guess this means those potions won’t cure my lycanthropy?”

 

“You still think that?” he asked, pulling away and looking at me in shock.

 

My face turned a little red. “Well, what else was I supposed to think? That night when we caught the original Silverblood, you got bitten. Afterwards, you drank one of those potions. Unless I’m mistaken, you, Dexter, are not a werewolf.”

 

Dex sighed and gently took the vial that I still had in my hand. Holding it up to the meager light coming in from the window, he said, “Amber, you know it doesn’t work like that. You’ve already had one, remember?”

 

I jumped a little. “What? When?”

 

“The first time you turned into your Silverblood form. The only way I could stop you was to throw one of these into your mouth. The potion absorbs magic, Amber. It sucked out all the moonlight that was letting you stay in your wolf form. You changed back. But…”

 

His hand tightened around the vial until the glass cracked a little.

 

“…you only survived because it was the full moon. If it hadn’t been, if you took one of these now, you’d die from moon starvation. These are dangerous, Amber. Even to me. I can’t drink one unless the magic in me is already trying to break out. If I did, it’d kill me too.”

 

“I- I’m sorry,” I said, looking down. “I didn’t know.”

 

He tossed it away and gave me a kiss. “It’s okay. I love you, Amber.”

 

“I love you too, Dex. Thank you for telling me.”

 

And with that, he stood up. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom. Be here when I get back?”

 

I laid down on my back, folding my hands behind my head and grinning. “I’ll be here, and I’ll be ready!”

 

He grinned back, then closed the bathroom door behind him. I felt my heart begin to beat harder again, and—

 

“My, my, what a touching moment.”

 

The voice was cold, and sent visions of death and decay dancing in front of my eyes. I gasped in horror, the blood turning to ice inside my veins, and spun around to see…

 

“I would say it warmed my heart, but I haven’t had one for five thousand years.”

Hendricks!