He huffed. “Fine. I will bring Greyson here once we’ve overtaken Elsewhere, and then you’ll be able to see for yourself that he’s safe. The instant he arrives, you tell me where the file is. Deal?”
“And you’re going to tell me what was in mine, too.”
A low growl escaped him, but at last he nodded shortly. “Deal.”
The three of us spent the next few hours on the guard tower as Benjy and I curled up against the wall, keeping each other warm as we talked about nothing and everything. Knox pretended not to listen, but I could see the way his head tilted toward us whenever we whispered to each other, and part of me wondered if what Hannah had said back in Mercer Manor was true—if Knox really did love me the way she claimed.
It was ridiculous. I was a pawn to him in a game he was determined to win, and he’d proven time and time again that he was willing to sacrifice me for the greater good he claimed to believe in. At this point I wasn’t sure he was capable of loving anything more than that, and even if he did, I wasn’t it. Benjy was my home. He was my other half, and that was the love I was fighting for. That was the love I believed in.
At last the sun began to dip below the horizon, and it was time to go. Benjy was in the section beside ours—the one Noelle had grown up in before she’d come to Section X. “It’s safer there,” said Knox as I hugged Benjy one last time. “The guards are gentler, and the section leaders don’t allow violence in front of the children.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Benjy, nuzzling the top of my head. “Take care of yourself, all right? Don’t do anything crazy. I can’t lose you again.”
“You won’t,” I said fiercely, and I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. His lips were chapped, but it was the same familiar kiss I would have crossed mountains to find. He hadn’t been Masked.
One of the guards led Benjy down the stairs first, and as soon as he was out of sight, something inside me began to ache. I told myself again and again that this wouldn’t be the last time we would be together, but I wasn’t sure what to believe anymore.
“If he has so much as a scratch on him next time I see him, I’ll slit your throat,” I said to Knox as we descended the steps a minute later, once Benjy and the guard had disappeared beyond the fence into the other section.
“I know,” he said. “Come on, we’ll stop by your bunkhouse before we go back to the Mercers’. They’re probably wondering where we are by now.”
I yanked my arm from his grip. “I know the way. I’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“We’re not friends,” I said, walking backward and putting several feet between us. “After what you put me and Benjy through, we’re never going to be friends again. So you might as well stop pretending, all right? There’s no point anymore.”
I turned and hurried away, shoving my hands in my pockets and ducking my head. Knox didn’t call after me, and by the time I worked up enough courage to look over my shoulder, he was gone.
I tried not to think about him as I wound through the gray, slushy streets of Elsewhere, instead focusing on the fact that Benjy was alive. Every time I remembered the warmth of his arms around me, my heart skipped a beat, and it was all I could do to hold it together. There was still a chance. We still had a chance at the future we wanted together, and this time I wasn’t going to let anyone, especially Knox Creed, steal it from us.
When I reached the dining hall, I turned a corner to cut through an alleyway I remembered from the night before. Instead I nearly tripped on a girl curled up against the wall, sobbing.
“I’m sorry, I—” I began, but as soon as she looked up, I dropped to my knees beside her. “Noelle? What’s wrong?”
Her dark hair hung in a limp curtain, hiding her features, and I brushed it back so I could see her face. Her cheeks were red and streaked with tears, and her entire body shuddered with sobs as she forced herself to speak. “It—it’s Elliott,” she cried. “He—he wasn’t at the fence today. I think—I think—”
I hugged her thin shoulders. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m sure he’s fine. His schedule probably got shifted around or—something. Maybe there was an incident, and he didn’t have time to meet you.”
She shook her head. “You don’t understand—he never misses a day. Ever. Something happened to him. I know it.”
“But he’s a guard. No one’s going to hurt him.”
Another choked sob escaped her. “Sometimes, if the guards are caught doing really horrible things—sometimes they—they—”
“Would Elliott do anything really horrible?” I said gently.
She sniffed and rubbed her eyes with her sleeve. “No. I don’t know. He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
“Then I’m sure he’s fine,” I said. But that only made her break down all over again, her body trembling as she hid her face in her bare hands.
I inched closer, pressing my side against hers for warmth and running my fingers through her hair, trying over and over again to reassure her. But the more I spoke, the harder she cried, until finally she gasped, “How do you know it’ll be okay? You’re here, just like the rest of us. You don’t know anything for sure.”
I bit my lip. She was right, but at least when I was wrong, that meant my nightmares hadn’t completely come true yet. “I do know we aren’t nearly as alone here as they want us to think,” I said quietly. “There are people out there—lots of people, powerful people—who know what we go through. They want to help, and they’re going to. You just have to hang in there and trust that nothing’s going to happen to Elliott.”