If given the choice between Aquatics Training and listening to Lauren complain about the new Initiates, Eric definitely would choose having the Instructor in his office airing her complaints. He took another breath in as Richards drove them to Dauntless’ floating pier near the Northernmost point of the city.
Since Holiday he and the driver came to a level of mutual respect. Plus it counted as good form to get in good with Tris' best friend. Eric was painfully aware Richards heard it when he pissed Tris off. Although today they both were at the same place of not wanting to report for Aquatics Training. It provided for a sense of disdainful camaraderie over the issue. Eric slouched in his seat while Richards took the longest possible route to the water.
“Why do you hate Aquatics?” Eric asked after they drove past the the exit for Candor for the second time. “Didn’t we pass this part of the city already?”
“The water is cold and the smell stays in my hair for a week afterwards.” Richards answered and stepped on the gas. “I missed the turn for the pier.”
Bullshit. Out of all the drivers in Dauntless, Richards knew the routes and layouts the best; he liked to brag about it. Eric put a foot on the dashboard. Richards reached over and swatted his boot, forcing the leader to put his foot on the floor. And he did it all without looking away from the road.
That galled Eric a little.
Rather than call Richards out on deliberately driving to put off the inevitable, Eric stare out the window, trying to remember what Tris told him before she left before the day. Lately they’d been crashing together instead of going to their separate apartments. They slept in the same bed yet it went no farther than that due to the fact Eric wasn’t wired for it. He’d been so afraid to tell Tris. She'd smiled and told him they’d figure it out as they went along then hit him with a pillow.
Richards parked his truck and leaned forward on the steering wheel. Eric sighed and reluctantly got out. His position in Leadership meant in the event of an attack he led the roof sniper units to guard center city. Nowhere near the water. But since Max was executed and replaced by a Leader who formerly led the Psyops division, things were changing quickly. He agreed with most of Leader Hathaway’s new regulations except for her first order after assuming office; all Leaders must cross train in as many areas as they can in case of infrastructure breakdown.
“Why do you dislike Aquatics Training?” Richards asked. He walked around to the front of the truck to stand next to Eric. Drivers needed to have Aquatics Training in addition to basic boat navigation and steering.
“I sink,” he answered, staring down at the choppy water.
“You are all muscle,” Richards agreed. They started towards the gangplank that lead to the floating pier. “You could walk across the bottom of the lake instead of trying to swim.”
“You’ve been looking at my muscles, Richards?” Eric asked, trying to not jump when the pier swayed, making the gangplank shift.
“You would be so lucky. No one can miss all the ridiculous posing you do around Prior.” Richards shot back. He bumped his shoulder against Eric’s; a rare gesture of friendliness between them, “She already agreed to have you, no need to preen anymore than necessary.”
They stopped next to the sign in table then watched two of the free swimmers come back from a buoy farther than Eric felt comfortable thinking about. The two were in full body suits with no gear or goggles. Maniacs the both of them he thought. Beyond what Eric considered Dauntless crazy. Preliminary research on the lake depth meant the water under the floating pier was fifteen or more feet deep.
The shorter swimmer reached the pier first then dragged herself onto the wood. She got to her feet and Eric realized it was Tris. She ran towards an X made of silver tape six feet from the pier’s edge. Kyle bolted out of the water, making it a close race due to his height and his stride but Tris beat him by one footstep.
Eric smiled when Tris let out a triumphant cry before Kyle lifted her up and spun them both around. The two laughter carried across the pier until Instructor Dmitri barked a harsh order at them.
Eric stole a glance at Richards, who tried and failed to hide a soft smile of his own at the sight of his boyfriend and best friend having fun. Kyle put Tris down after he spotted the Leader and the driver watching them.
“You sure Kyle isn’t part fish?” Eric asked and opened his arms when Tris spotted him.
“It would explain why Millie likes him.” Richards replied then walked towards his boyfriend.
She ran into his arms, grasping at his neck, and he swept her off her feet. This was one of their more enthusiastic greetings. Instead of kissing her, Eric bumped his nose against hers, and held on tightly. Tris kissed the skin under his ear. It was perfect because it was them. Normally they greeted each other with a tight hug when in the compound.
“What are you doing here, Prior?” Eric asked after he put her down. “I thought you were going out to the fence line today.”
Tris rolled her eyes.
“You really are useless half awake. Kyle made it so Christina is out on the fence line and I’m here,” Tris explained. They turned for a half a moment to see Richards dodging Kyle’s hand as he went for the driver’s hair.
“Why?” Eric couldn’t figure it out.
“To give moral support, Coulter. You’re suppose to be the smart one.” Tris sighed and looked up at the sky. “At least he’s good looking.”
“Hey,” Eric mock protested then pressed a rare kiss to her lips. “Thank you.”
“The task is simple; retrieve your hostage from the invaders without being noticed or having your hostage die.” Instructor Dmitri paced a short length of the pier. He was former Amity and they grew them tall out there. “Due to conflicting interests and a large betting pool, Coulter and Prior will be on separate teams.”
Eric almost protested the pointed comment but decided against it. If he did, it would be a bad showing of his Leadership. Instructor Dmitri was in charge of Aquatic Training which made anyone attending his student and therefore, his subordinate. Even Leaders like him.
On the other hand he took it as a compliment. If they were put on separate teams then it meant Instructor Dmitri thought they were unstoppable together. Which was the fucking truth, of course, and Eric would kick the ass of anyone who disagreed.
“Prior will be partnered with Richards. Coulter, you’re with Ballou.” Instructor Dmitri ordered then shoved Kyle forward. “Decide which team goes out on the boat first.”
“Your last name is Ballou?” Tris asked as she put on a pair of swim shoes.
Kyle nodded before Eric saw the look in his eye. It only gave the Leader a moment before he found his arms full of gangly receptionist. Eric was tempted to drop him in the water on sheer principle alone.
“Be nice to Eric, he has to rescue you from me.” Richards halfheartedly ordered. He checked the pressure on an air tank then stripped down to his boxer briefs to pull on a wet suit.
“Yeah, Coulter, rescue me.” Kyle said. He placed a loud, smacking kiss on Eric’s cheek, making the Leader walk over to the water. “You wouldn’t.”
“I would.” Eric confirmed and dropped the receptionist.
Tris laughed when Kyle broke the surface, indignantly sputtering as he hauled his tall frame onto the pier.
“I hope Rich kicks your ass.” Kyle’s words held no real threat because the redhead only rolled his eyes while pulling his boots back on. He strapped fins to the bottom of them then waddled awkwardly towards the water.
“You get a five minute head start in the boat, I suggest you use it wisely, Leader Coulter,” Instructor Dmitri said. He tied Tris’ wrists together. “Richards is already in the water.”
-Situational Awareness 1
Eric brought the boat to a stop half a mile from the pier. It was a small speedboat, modified to transport troops rather than fun. He checked the water around them then Tris’ bonds. She sat docilely in a seat next to the wheel.
“Any further out and we hit the floating mines.” She explained. “Hathaway was talking about layering them up at different depths.”
Eric groaned at the prospect of sitting through the budget meeting for that idea with the city’s council. Candor had let up on their restrictions but they still liked screwing Dauntless over when it came to “luxury items” like cloth for sleepwear or fresh fruit beyond apples and oranges. He knew Kyle had an under the table deal with Amity; various fruits and vegetables for Dauntless booze. He also suspected Richards helped with the transport since the mechanics got an influx of new dyes to trade out recently.
“Whatever am I going to do with my hostage?” Eric wondered aloud.
“I don’t know, I am totally in your power, Leader Coulter.” Tris replied, a grin on her face. “I am going to ache tomorrow, I forgot how many muscles you use to swim.”
He sat down in front of her, bringing her right foot into his lap then he dug his fingers into her calf. The muscle was tense and soon yielded under his touch. Tris sighed happily. Eric became preoccupied with completing the first leg he ignored the metallic banging sound against the side of the boat, assuming it was the anchor.
“We should add swimming to our training regimen in the summer months,” Tris suggested. She sat up a little to look around as he started on her other leg. “It’s what Kyle does.”
“Kyle also cat naps on the filing cabinets when he thinks we aren’t looking,” Eric said. He stopped at a spot right below her knee. “Better?”
“Much and I’m sorry, Eric.” Tris said with a sly grin.
Before he could ask what she was sorry for a hand gripped his hair and pulled his head back. It may have been overkill when Richards placed the sheathed blade of a knife against the Leader’s throat. Eric looked at his watch, they’d only been on the water for half an hour. The driver was early.
“Tris was the distraction.” Eric said. He remembered the metallic noise. Richards let him go then walked around to lean a hip against Tris’ seat. “What part of the motor did you disable?”
“Nothing I cannot put back in five minutes. Checking over your vessel’s sides for enemies is the first thing you should do before turning the engine on,” Richards informed him. Tris held up her hands for Richards to cut through the rope. “And you improperly pulled the mooring rope up, I held onto that.”
-Situational Awareness 2
Eric stared at the water. Tris had tied Kyle to the boat’s seat after checking the mooring rope was completely on the deck and that Eric wasn’t hanging onto the side. That had been ten minutes ago. Richards sat on a supply crate with his wet suit half off, the arms tied around his waist.
“You could go bare minimum with gear,” Richards suggested, taking a sip from his water bottle, and looking at the pile of gear Eric stood next to. “There’s enough air in the mini tank for five minutes but you’re blonder than a bat and Tris will see you coming. Takes about twenty minutes to get half mile out, not counting the wave chop.”
It gave Eric an idea. He strapped on a utility belt then tied on one of the mini tanks. He checked the zipper on his wet suit before pulling his goggles down. It was about speed in his case and while he was built for strength, it meant he had enough stamina to get to the boat without tiring.
“Good luck, Coulter!” Richards called.
Eric plunged into the water, swimming in the direction the boat went. If he stopped he could barely see it over the waves. Instead he kept a steady pace, thinking about how he was going to free Kyle. When the boat came into view, he saw Tris raise her binoculars towards him, and he dove down. The mini oxygen tank provided enough air to reach the boat with a minute to spare.
He heard Tris run to the boat’s prow to look for him. Using the last minute of air, he went under the water to bang on the starboard side with his fist. He went under the boat to the other side, securing the empty tank to his belt on the way to surface. Kyle looked bored in his seat but smiled when he spotted Eric.
Quietly, the Leader pulled himself over the rail and onto the deck. He crept past Kyle, who tried to put a leg out and got a swat to the back of the head for his trouble.
“Eric?” Tris called as she bent over the starboard side. “Are you there? Are you in trouble? Eric!”
“I’m fine, Prior,” Eric said. He put his hand on her lower back.
She fell into the water with a surprised shriek accompanied by a large splash.
If this were a real life situation, he would go to the wheel, and turn the boat as hard as he could to make the blades cut through the enemy before escaping. Instead Eric reached a hand down to help her back onto the deck.
“You have to untie the hostage.” Kyle reminded him. “Not save your girlfriend from the lake monsters.”
“I thought you came from the lake, that’s why you’re freakishly tall,” Eric shot back but untied the receptionist anyway.
Instructor Dmitri passed them both. Since he swam at the top of the water for most of his test, he was excused from the speed swim. Eric stripped out of his wet suit and only pulled on his tac pants. When the afternoon heat became unbearable, Tris dunked herself into the water in her tank top and tac pants before climbing to the top of Richards’ truck.
Eric followed her, intent on making up for pushing her overboard. Instead he found Tris and Kyle arranging towels and what could only be cushions from all of their couches on the truck’s roof in a circle.
“Where did you get that?” Eric asked after Tris setup a canopy over their handiwork. The slits in the olive cloth still let sunlight in but kept enough shade to be cool. The canopy was supposed to be for camouflage in the field.
“Richards keeps one in his floor storage along with flares and what is probably one of the most non-regulation medic kits I’ve ever seen,” Tris told him. Kyle lugged up a cooler and a net bag filled with clanking metal. “You got it?”
“Of course I got it, Trissy. What? Did you think I was all talk?” Kyle said and opened the cooler.
Inside were a few plastic gallon containers with letters on top of them along with plastic squeeze bottles filled with different colored liquids. Eric’s eyes widened at the realization the receptionist sat behind a cooler full of ice cream and toppings.
The Factionless kitchen staff must’ve worked for days to make that much ice cream. Not even Leadership could requisition the treat in a short amount of time. Then again, Kyle never lost the kitchen’s paperwork and got them the best ingredients with his gray market fruit and vegetable trade.
“I am going to eat until I get sick,” Tris announced, reaching for the chocolate and a proffered bowl from Kyle.
Hours later after some traded barbecue and the last of the ice cream, Eric lay on his back as night fell. Tris groaned next to him and held his hand while they pretended to ignore the noises coming from in the truck.
“Thanks again for showing up,” Eric said without looking over. “I owe you.”
Tris rolled onto her side, placing a hand on his chest while using the other to prop her head up to look at him. In the dusk her sun kissed skin glowed. Eric tried to figure out what she was going to do after a serious expression came over face.
“I know how you can repay me, Eric.” Tris stated. He raised an eyebrow and placed both his hands over hers on his chest. “Move in with me.”
“Do you want me to move in with you or is it the ice cream talking?” Eric joked. The idea made him nervous. What if she woke up one day and wanted a guy who didn’t have issues with sex?
Tris shook her head.
“Coulter, just say yes then kiss me.” Tris ordered.
“Yes, Tris, I will move in with you.” Eric recited obediently then rolled over to pin her under him to kiss quickly. “Half my shit is already in your apartment anyway.”
“I wonder how that happened.” She wrapped her arms around him. “Could it be how you just left your laundry in my closet after having it done? Or could it be you spent most of the winter crashing on my couch?”
“Took forever for you to be a good hostess and offer to share your bed,” Eric shot back. He took a breath in. “Look, Tris, I’m not ever going to-”
“I know, Eric, and I don’t care. I love what we have now, it works. Anything else comes up, we’ll deal with it when it happens. Get out of your own head,” Tris ordered. She winced at a particularly loud bang followed by a string of curses that made Eric blush. “Want to go for a walk?”
“I would love to go for a walk.”