"Fuch!" Magenta hugs me until I can't breathe. She's run toward us in the night and doesn't seem afraid of the Cloak or even aware that our ride is illegal. "I'm so glad to see you! How's your mom?" she rambles like we're at a reunion and then it hits me she's covering with small talk in case we're being watched. I turn to give the Cloak a "make yourself invisible" signal and he folds his enormous wings behind him.

"You must come in for some tea," Magenta says, putting her arm around me.

Magenta's kitchen has always felt like home. Her mom, who is an artist, painted the ceiling to look like the sky with wispy peach clouds and a rising crescent moon. The lighting under the cabinets is butter yellow and the island has withstood many late night snacks and YouTube sessions, our hair wet from swim practice.

We fill her in on our quest. I don't tell her all the things we could be arrested for, just focus on getting Mom and the other two victims we don't name better. Magenta rummages in her pantry and comes up with three containers we can fill.

Cord and I sneak out under the moonlight turning the water silver. It's chilly and the breeze whips his hair as he bends to fill the bottles. I'm supposed to keep lookout, but it's hard not to focus on him. The breath escaping his lips fogs in the cold.

I'm reminded of the day we met when he was doing this exact thing, filling vials instead of bottles from the creek behind school. I didn't know then how much my life would change. Being the center of gossip seemed so important, but it's nothing compared to the life threatening secrets we share now.

He brings the bottles to me and we hold them together between us. We're one form in the dark and our lips brush for just a second. "There's no time," he says, but he says it like he wants all that time for me.

"I'll take it when I can get it," I whisper and then give him a deep taste of my desire without dropping the bottles between us. Time stops anyway.

Cord's golden locks tickle my neck as we melt together. Needs twist like vines that could choke each other if left to their own devices. It begins to burn, but he wrenches free from us in crushing breaths as though he just ran a mile. His eyes tell me he would keep this snaking dance going if we weren't in such a desperate race against time.

The bottles got divided between us in the split: he has two and I have one. "You'd better summon the trout," he finally says.

I'm getting pretty good at trout fishing and translate what the bubbles tell me into this verse:

Ring Around the Grove
A pitcher for to prove
Quick as a wink my love will heal
High water on her lips

I punch the verse into my phone, thank our Trout and head back to the house to tell the Cloak. He's asking Magenta's mom about her paintings hanging in the hall. "And in this one how did ya get tha light so perfect?" He practically squats to get closer.

"Oh, it's a technique I learned in art school that involves layering glazes. The trick is to be patient while it-"

"Got em and got the next verse," Cord interrupts.

I show the verse on my phone to the Cloak. "Ya got that one right here," he says, pointing to the water bottles Cord's holding.

I read the verse again and it makes sense. A wave of relief tells me we've already accomplished one of the tasks, but when the Cloak hands me a scroll of paper inked with fancy writing, the next verse looks much more complicated. It must be ancient.

"I can't let ya keep it. Got to memorize it and give it back ta me," he adds. "Don't want two verses together in the wrong hands." His eyes shift about the room like we're being watched.

Ring around the Grove
A bed to rest my love
Rich and deep, my enemy keeps
His head upon that green pillow

Cord and I lip synch the words until we've got it. But what does it mean?

"Well, I gotta get while it's still dark," the Cloak puffs up his wings. "Thank ya fer yer warm hospitality." He stashes the bottles deep in his pockets and nods to Magenta's mom.

"Oh, it was our pleasure. I have to say it's an honor to have a Cloak in this house. I'm glad to see the legend of our symbiotic relationship lives on."

The Cloak just about blushes. "Aw, just doin ma job, ma Lady," and he mimics the brown nosing tone of a Messenger that makes us all snicker. "It's true we can't survive without munchin on yer leaves when we're wee caterpillars, so helping ya in underground missions is our way a givin' back."

"We are truly thankful," Cord says like a diplomat. "Just promise me you won't get tricked by their artificial light again." No one says a word about the patients in urgent need of healing, but I send a silent prayer to a God that doesn't behead us that She will show mercy.

"I'll do ma best to get that water safely to – uh, where it needs to go," he nods and is out the door in a flash.

Magenta hugs me again as we're leaving. "Keep me posted," she says and I know I will without worrying if she's spreading gossip or endangering our mission.

Cord's phone buzzes. "It's Mom. There's been a – change in Lemon's condition. She's stable and finally accepting the grafting."

We don't say that it must be due to her grandfather stealing the Rings of Memory serum meant for Mom. "And Mom?" I whisper.

"Your mom is-," His pained look is back.

"Cord, just tell me." It kills me not to know. I dig my nails into my elbows.

"Her body's not accepting the replacement nutrients, but they'll keep feeding her with the IV. Mom says staying focused on our tasks is urgent."

"And Mr. S, did he – is he –"

"He's alive, but barely. We've got to get that second rhyme figured out, any ideas?" He looks calm but his eyes race with worry. I think this is what he'll look like when he's a healer someday.

"The three things we can't live without are what?" I ask.

"Water, soil nutrients and sunlight."

"Exactly. And we rest in soil, but like the high mineral healing water, this soil has got to be special." I know where we need to go. "Come on, we're going home."

From a distance, my house is wrapped in darkness like a vacant shell. As we climb over the crime scene tape, I step into a hole and shine my phone on the lawn pock marked with all the places where they dug up the bodies of illegal Toadflax.

Once we get past the front steps, it feels like entering a haunted house. The screen door wants to squeak as usual but when I look for the hidden key it's gone. This is where I grew up, yet it feels like I'm breaking into someone else's house. I try the door and it gives easily.

I shine my light over the ransacked rooms covered in piles of all our belongings. It's clear the guards erred on the side of caution when they searched for evidence that my parents were guilty of harboring a fugitive. They didn't even bother to be careful with the fragile pottery collection. Smashed bits glimmer on the crumpled rug. Books with broken backs join the carnage and my heart jumps into my throat when I see the pillow my grandmother embroidered ripped open during the frantic search by heartless guards.

Cord reaches out to comfort me but I shake him off and head toward the stairs before I lose it. My door is hanging off the hinges and I rush past the debris of my books and clothes to feel under the closet shelf for what I'm after. The box is still there, tucked away like a time capsule from my other life, the one when Lemon and I were friends.

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