Henrietta was sick of it.
She marched out of her bedroom and down to Benedict’s office. That’s it, She thought. Either he’s guessed, or knows, why I’m here or I needn’t bother with secrets.
She was surprised at how old he looked.
Benedict had his elbows on his desk, sleeves pushed up, his chin resting on his hands. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was a bit of a mess. His clothing was rumpled and he had creases on his face that hadn’t been there before.
“Hello, love.” He said in a weary voice.
Henrietta couldn’t breathe.
For an instant she saw the body of the dead assassin on the ground. She saw his dark hair and blood spilling on the carpet, and she saw Hugo lying in his place. Henrietta gripped the doorframe.
Benedict frowned, the lines on his face deepening. “Are you alright?”
“Who was that man?” She asked hoarsely. “Did you ever find out? Who was Nocks really? What did he do? What was the key for? Why do you have to take over Seolfor?” The questions spilled out, and Benedict showed no surprise at them. He just nodded, rubbing his brow with one hand.
Henrietta walked forward, avoiding the side of the carpet where the assassin had fallen. She sat down at Benedict’s feet, feeling much like she had that day.
Benedict reached over and picked up a miniature dirigible. He turned the tiny device over in his hands, studying it.
“The man was an assassin. I didn’t bother to learn more.” He said finally. “Nocks was a man who took care of my legal business. Covered up anything a bit scandalous. When he came that night, he claimed that the fellows who worked with him had found out and he was looking for safety.”
“So you locked him up.” Henrietta said, voice hollow.
“He… he let things slip. He endangered things.” Benedict said. Henreitta had never heard him stumble over his words before. The suaveness was gone, replaced with a worn man.
“Your necklace is a key. I suppose I needn’t hide it from you any longer that it is the only one, and the only one that will ever be made. I do need the key. But that’s not why I came to get you.” He said hastily. Benedict looked at her imploringly, begging her to believe that he had come for the sole purpose of rescuing her.
“Seolfor.” Henrietta nudged.
“Yes.” He paused, setting down the miniature. “I wanted to make you queen.” He said simply.
“And what about making yourself king?” She asked coldly. Benedict winced at her voice, as though it physically hurt him.
“That was a side-effect. But believe me, Hettie. Everything I did was for you. It was always for you.” He looked at her again.
Henrietta bit her lip.
It was sweet, in a savage sort of way. Here’s how I’ll show my wife I love her… I’ll kill everyone that disagrees with making her Queen!
“I don’t want to be queen.” She whispered. “I just want… I just want you to be you. The you you were before you did all those horrible things. I never wanted that.” To her horror, a tear had slipped down her cheek. She tried to imagine bits of her heart sliding out with it, but to no avail. Henrietta’s heart was here to stay.
“Oh, Hettie.” Benedict said miserably.
“I don’t even want to be a lady! I don’t care about luxury. I don’t care about what the nobles think! I want to be with my friends, I want to be with you. I want to be more than a trophy, dusted off and prettied up. I want to help people! I want to build things, like Drake, and Temper magic like Hugo. I want to show Carl’s wisdom and Mina’s kindness. I want to help Geneve and Becca. I want to love you again. I-“ She choked on her own words, drowning in air like the night she had run.
Benedict wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to his chest.
“Then we will.”
“I want you to mean it. To mean that you regret what you did. Not for me, but for those you hurt. I want you to feel guilty, and then to forgive you. Not because I think it’s wrong, but because you know it was.” She clenched her eyes shut, speaking everything she had been thinking. “I want you to be human.”
“I’ve regretted it. Every day I’ve-“
“Sweet.” Said a familiar voice from the hallway.
Hettie turned and gasped.
Because in the door-frame was Hugo.
He stepped forward, boots silent on the carpet. "Hettie, love, step back." He had a gun trained on Benedict.
"Hugo?" She whispered. Then she got her voice back. "Hugo! Don't be a crack-brass."
He laughed. "You think living a month in the Crease has made you so tough, don't you Case? Not that I mind... gives you an edge. But step back, sweet-heart. These pistols aren't reliable. I'd hate to shoot my girlfriend instead of this-"
"Hugo!" She barked. "Put the pistol down!"
"No." He said evenly. "I'm done catering to the nobles." Hugo cocked the gun.
"I thought you were on my side." She said.
"I like you and all. But I'm on the Crease's side."
"Mina wouldn't do this! Drake wouldn't do this!"
"Mina's a pestering twit and Drake's a pacifistic idiot." He sneered. "I'm going to make some changes. Instead of stopping a noble from taking over Seolfor, I'm going to take over his plan for taking over Seolfor."
The words were worse than a bullet.
"I didn't think I'd trade one villain for another." She snarled.
"Henrietta, let me handle this." Benedict whispered, lips not moving.
"No." She said brazenly. "I've always wanted a chance to beat Hugo up."
Hugo laughed again. "I'm a mechanic, born and raised in the Crease. I've been lifting things half my weight all my life. You did some housework for a few weeks. Why do you think you could stop me?"
"You can't think outside the box." Hettie said evenly. She kept her eyes on Hugo, slipping a hand around something on a desk.
"A jar of sand." Hugo said, unimpressed. Then he blinked.
Hettie hurled the jar at his gun.
The bullet, jar, and gun all collided at once. The glass shattered, spraying shards all over the office. The gun made a snapping sound, and the bullet veered into a tinted window.
Hugo cocked the gun and squeezed the trigger.
"You always use too much magic." Henrietta said confidently. "Just a bit would snap any mechanics you made."
Hugo threw the gun to the side in disgust. He was covered in the sand... nothing he brought with him would work.
He lunged at Henrietta.
But in the magical scuffle, Benedict had been preparing. He pulled out a pistol of his own and shot.
Hugo's features twisted in agony, and he looked down at his wounded arm. He scowled. "Fine."
He said nothing else as he turned and ran out the broken window.
Hettie and Benedict were frozen for a moment. They turned slowly to look at one another.
"You should really get stronger windows." Hettie commented.