We scatter like seeds on the wind, in case the Hand of God decides to behead someone else. Bud, in Cord's arms, has started wailing.

"We have to go back," Cord says. He transfers the crying kid to me and I struggle with Bud's weight, until his tiny lap finds my hip.

Cord paces and brushes a hand through sweaty hair. "What happened to the flame he almost dropped?! We have to check." He's starting to run.

"Cord!" I yell. "Wait – don't-

He's already gone. What if Cord gets beheaded? It's only now that I fully realize he's become as essential to me as water.

There's nothing to do but wait. Bud settles down when Mr.S. makes a toy out of his hands, a morning singer that swoops until Bud's tears melt into giggles.

Cord's long shadow finally emerges in front of the slanting sun. "I doused the match and covered the hole back up," he shares. "Let's get out of here."

"What about - the body?" I hiss.

"I rolled it down the mountain side, so it's no where near the Hollow."

"So they won't find your grandma when they go looking for him." Mr. S states the obvious.

We continue with our plan, and as I transfer Bud back to him, Cord gives me a long look that says he's in deep. For these few seconds I know that calling me his girlfriend wasn't just pretend. "I'll make sure Mr. S. keeps an eye on you," he says. He looks into me as he points V'd fingers back and forth between us.

"I - I know. You guys be careful," I nod and turn in the opposite direction before the tears spill.


We make good time, and soon Mr. S. and I enter the glass doors of the hospital. A nurse spots us and rushes to me. "Dear, where have you been? Your parents are worried sick!"

"My parents are here?" I can't breathe. I want to run to them and away from them at once.

"Got here about an hour ago, and They. Are. Frantic! Come with me." She ignores my escort, but he follows anyway.

"Sir, you can't come back here," she says with authority.

Mr. S. is prepared. "I have orders from Judge Paintbrush to make sure our gracious donor goes through with the procedure." Who knew a teacher was so good at lying? I guess that's why they fired him.

Before she can ask for paperwork, he's shoved a yellow slip in her face that looks official enough. She purses her coral-pink lips and squints at the document. "Well, I'll have to run this by Admin. You can wait over there." She points to the lounge.

"Certainly, thank you - Miss," Mr. S. charms her with a wicked grin like she's the cutest thing he's seen since his short-sleeved button down was in style.

She rushes me into a white room, and when I see them, I start to cry. Mom hugs me and I sob, and when Dad loops his arms in, I'm almost hyperventilating. We stand in a big heaving lump.

But when I pull back, Mom doesn't look sympathetic. I've seen this face before. She's about to go into a rant, and her cottonwood ear plugs might come in handy for everyone within a fifty-foot radius.


"What, Mom?" She knows. My harboring the Toadflax is common knowledge and my whole family will suffer from my impetuous act.


After my ears have stopped ringing, I whisper back, "I'm not throwing my life away."

She's pacing now and her voice calms after some deep breathing. "Did Del make you do this? Because if he told you to save Lemon then I have lost my respect for his entire tribe."

"No, not at all. This was my idea." But I like the way she's thinking. Del would be an easy target, and he owes me anyway, after the insulting perfume he sent as a joke and - once Lemon was beheaded - the nerve to ask me to be his Underkiss. What even.

"Why would you do this?" She looks a year older since I last saw her. I don't know what they do to tribe members being held for questioning, but it can't be a picnic in the sun.

The words won't come at first, so I clear my throat. It's obvious that Mom's greatest skill with her job is finding out the truth. "I can't tell you, not here."

"You're not playing hero, are you? Your dad and I have our own mess to clean up. This is not your problem to fix."

"Yes it is." I motion for them to follow me to the sink in the hospital room. I turn the faucet as far as it will go, to drown out the whisper I'm about to tell them. They will disown me after they hear what I've done.

"I'm the one who took the Toadflax from our yard." There, I've said it. I study my hands as precious water gushes out of the faucet.

She looks at me like I've gone to seed, so I keep rambling. "It's my fault you're in trouble, but if I donate to Lemon, her grandfather will pardon you."

"You did what?"

"He's safe; we – my, uh, friend and I - took him to a safe place. He was so little and cute, and I had no idea it would get you guys in trouble, and I'm so stupid, you can ground me for life." (I don't mention the fact that we could all be executed by Sunangel injection should said little cutie be discovered.)

I brace for Mom to start shouting again, but she's quiet. She and Dad share a look I haven't seen since I creamed Alpine High in the finals last year.

"Honey, we couldn't be prouder!" They swarm in for a super hug.


"You are our daughter." Dad shakes his head.

The crying resumes, but this time it's them getting all choked up, not me.

"Ahem." Mr. Schneider is waiting at the door. "Why all the transpiration? I'm not going to let them hurt her." He uses the nerd word for crying (and sweating) like we're lab experiments and not actual beings with emotion. How sciency of him.

Dad looks up. "Al, thank God you're here. I got your memo about the grafting, but do you think it can actually work?"

"I don't see why not. It's been done before with successful results." I think he's gonna reveal that Cord's grandma isn't really dead, that she's hangin in there with a head arm in her hidie hole, but what Mr. S. says next, I'm not prepared for.

"Because a beheaded victim and recipient of this exact treatment is very much alive and well; Cord Arnica is a fully functioning member of society."

A/N: Hold the phone? Cord was once headless?

This chapter is dedicated to @Music_Lover_96 , one of the fastest readers in the West whose lovely comments just make my day!

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