1 - The Fearful Bones (III-V)

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III

"Mikie!" Corey's shriek set Garrett's ears to ringing as he watched the house explode through the windshield.

It was like watching a movie, the part where the bomb goes off and you hope to hell that no one's hurt and that the hero makes it out alive, but at the same time you quietly know they're alive because they're the hero. They're the star. And that's what Mikie was on the runs. It didn't matter how far they had to go for food, how pressed for time they were. Mikie always got the job done. Even after Maria—

Corey screamed. She screamed like he bet Maria would have and for a second it was his sister in the passenger seat, her mahogany hair spilling over her shoulders and she was swearing up and down in Spanish as loud as she could. And then it wasn't his sister it was Corey and Corey was sobbing and Troy had her pinned to the passenger seat as she fought to get out the door. It was Troy that snapped him out of it.

"Hey!" Garrett clamped a hand over Corey's mouth. "Shut up."

Corey tried to speak against his hand, jerking from side to side. He felt her tears slip beneath his palm. He took another look at the blaze, his stomach pitting.

This wasn't a movie and Mikie wasn't going to miraculously come darting away from that fire. He knew how this ended. This was real and real wasn't Hollywood. If it was, there wouldn't be a brain-eating virus that knocked out the entire country in a week's time. If it was, he'd still have a sister. A mother, even. And so Mikie wasn't going to heroically appear from the fire because that's not what happened in real life.

But Corey kept pressing and kept jerking. She managed to wrestle and arm free and pointed.

Garrett looked, watching as something, someone, approached the fire from the field. Troy had his gun cocked and raised in a breath but by that point, the thing was too far out.

"Put it down. We're going home." Garrett's voice was heavy. And he was tired. Tired of running. Tired of thinking. He wanted to do something. He wanted to run into the fire and drag Mikie back himself, but he was reminded, once again, that this wasn't Hollywood as the shrill hissing met his ears. "Guys, we have to go. Now." He eyed Corey. "Can you just sit still?"

She nodded, her shoulders sagging. But she didn't take her eyes off the fire as Garrett started down the road again, just in time to watch one of the surviving Virals step onto the pavement at their backs.

The first mile of the ride was silent, and then:

"We left her." It was Corey—always Corey—who said it. Leave it to the blonde to state the obvious. "She wouldn't have left us."

Garrett blinked and tightened his hands on the wheel, pushing the Jeep faster and willing the whip of the wind to wipe out her words. But he spoke anyway, more to the night than to Corey, but also to Corey because she needed to hear it too. "She would have. She's done it before, remember?"

It was a year to the day. A year and a single hour since Mikie came home alone from a run. It should have been simple. It should have been easy. This run was harder. But this run should have still been...better. But it was an easy run that stole his sister. An easy run that brought home one runner, not two. And then tonight they were returning with three—not four. And they all remembered the day that Mikie drove home and had to tell the story of how she left Maria.

No one said anything after that.

Garrett wasn't sure if the others knew how bad Mikie shook that night. How much she cried. That she hadn't slept for days. And he was determined not to face the same reaction when he told West the story of what happened tonight. He was determined to be a leader. Hold his head high and make Mikie the honorable girl she was. He was determined to keep this about her. And he was sure as hell that he'd take the Jeep back there in the morning to try and find her body in the ashes, regardless of what his father said.

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