I began to wonder if the supposedly dead security cameras in the office and around the facilities were actually on.

I did try to go see Clancy a few times to apologize, but he always sent me away with a stern I don’t have time for you today. I got the sense he was punishing me, but I wasn’t sure what I had said or done to warrant it. In any case, it quickly became clear that I needed him in my life more than he needed me. That, combined with my stinging pride, made me feel even worse.

It was a Wednesday, only an hour before Liam and the others were meeting to discuss a new camp liberation strategy, before Clancy was finally ready to see me.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” I told Liam, squeezing his hand at breakfast. “I’ll just be a few minutes late.”

But when I walked into Clancy’s office and saw the state of it, I wondered if I should have come at all.

“Hey, come in—just watch your step. Yeah, sorry about the mess.”

Mess? Mess? His office looked like someone had detonated a bomb and unleashed a pack of wild wolves to pick over the salvageable remains. There were piles of paper everywhere, printouts, torn maps, boxes…and then there was Clancy himself, his hair falling into his face, wearing the same rumpled white shirt I had seen the day before.

In the weeks I had known him, I had never seen Clancy as anything less than impeccable. It was actually a little scary how put-together he was. I’m sure some of it had to do with the way he was raised. That even if his father hadn’t taught him himself, some crotchety old nanny had waxed poetic on the value of tucking your shirt in, polishing your shoes, and combing your hair. He looked like he was fraying at the edges.

“Are you okay?” I asked, shutting the door behind me. “What’s going on?”

“We’re trying to coordinate a hit for med supplies.” Clancy settled down into his chair but was back on his feet a moment later, when his laptop began to chime. “Hang on just a sec.”

I toed one of the paper piles on the floor, trying to peek at what was written on it.

“Those are reports of the usual nightly activity at a nearby truck stop,” Clancy said, as if reading my thoughts. His fingers flew over the keyboard. “And League intelligence about PSFs in that area. It seems that Leda Corporation is now employing the government to protect their shipments.”

“Why the PSFs?” I asked.

Clancy shrugged. “They’re the largest military force the government has now, and, thanks to dear old Dad, the most organized.”

“I guess that makes sense.” I leaned back, but staring at the glowing symbol on the laptop lid reminded me of Chubs. “Can I ask you a favor?”

“Only if you let me apologize first.”

I sat down and studied my hands. “Can’t we just forget it ever happened?”

“No, not this time,” he said. “Hey, will you look at me?”

The expression on his face alone made my heart swell to twice its usual size. It was dangerous how handsome he was, but today his pained look was absolutely lethal.

He does care, a little voice in my head whispered. He cares about you.

“I’m sorry for losing my temper,” he said. “I didn’t mean the things I said about your friend Suzume, and I definitely didn’t mean to imply that you haven’t been trying.”

“Then why did you say that?”

Clancy rubbed a hand over his face. “Because I’m an idiot.”

“That’s not an answer,” I told him, shaking my head. You really hurt me.

“Ruby, isn’t it obvious?” he said. “I like you. I’ve only known you for, what, a month? And you’re probably the only real friend I’ve had since I turned ten and figured out what I was. I’m an idiot for getting so upset that you were focused on someone else when I wanted you to be focused on me.”

I was almost too stunned to move.

“I didn’t let Suzume and the others go because I thought it would help you focus. I let her go because I thought it would make you happy. I didn’t even stop to think that, yeah, of course you’d be worried about her, especially after how hard you worked to protect her.”

He more than cares about you.

I had to look away now. Play the situation off. My brain had turned to mush, and my heart wasn’t much better. “I guess I could forgive you.…”

“But only if I do you that favor?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “Sure. What?”

“Well…I know you don’t allow it, but I was hoping you’d make an exception in this case,” I said, finally looking back at him. “My friend…he needs to use your computer to try to contact his parents.”

Clancy stopped smiling. “Your friend Liam?”

“No, Chu—Charles Meriwether?”

“The one who’s been skipping Garden duty?”

Okay, apparently that girl had ratted him out.

Clancy was silent as he shut the laptop and stood. “I’m really sorry, Ruby, but I thought I made it clear that no one else could leave.”

“Oh no!” I said, forcing a laugh. “He just wants to check in with his parents to make sure they’re all right.”

“No,” Clancy said, moving around so he was sitting on the edge of the desk in front of me. “He wants to make arrangements to leave and take you with him. Don’t try to cover for him, Ruby. It’s the same for everyone. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s desperate enough to tell his parents the location of this camp.”

“He would never,” I said, getting riled up on Chubs’s behalf. “Really.”

“You were there when we had intruders a few weeks ago. You saw how easy it could be for someone to slip past our defenses. What if they hadn’t triggered the alarm? We would have been in serious trouble.” Clancy’s face was dark, worried. “If Charles wants to contact his parents, tell him he needs to fill out a request with instructions on how to do it, just like everyone else. I have to base my decisions on what might threaten the camp’s security—no matter how much I want to help you help your friend.”

It was no good. Chubs would rather not contact his parents at all than grant a stranger access to his only means of safely communicating with them.

“Though,” Clancy said after a moment, sitting down next to me and kicking his legs up on the desk. “There is something that could persuade me.”

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