Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear. -Mark Twain
I'm kissing Tobias hungrily, frantically, and I can't seem to stop even though I know I ought to. I am planning to leave him tonight, intending to walk out of here and turn myself in to Jeanine Matthews, who wants me dead. But I don't want to think about it. All I want to do is get as close as I can to Tobias, so close that I am inside him and he is inside me and there is no more room for secrets and lies and all the guilt that exists between us.
He stops for a moment and looks into my eyes. His pupils are so dark in the low light that they look nearly black. “Promise me,” he says in a whisper, “that you won’t go. For me. Do this one thing for me.”
It's tempting. I'd like to believe that I could stay here with him-- but no. The guilt comes flooding back, still so fresh and sharp, and I see Will's blank eyes in my mind, his blood on the street.
I don't deserve this happiness.
But if I go, Tobias-- Tobias can stay, and he can live. I will do anything to make that possible. Anything.
His eyes are begging me to stay. It hurts to lie to him, but I know that I'm doing this for his own good. “Okay.” The lie is another obstacle added to the barrier between us.
“Promise,” he says, with a frown.
“I promise," I say.
He knows that I'm lying. I can see it in his eyes. He kisses me anyway, as if he can keep me here with only his lips. For a few minutes, he does.
His kisses are hungry and strong, full of desire. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me close, so that our bodies press tightly together, with only a thin layer of clothing between us. The fire inside him kindles a spark in my chest and I feel it grow inside me, heating my body from the inside.
I climb into his lap, sitting astride his legs so that my knees bracket his hips, and he buries his face in the curve of my neck, groaning into my hair. His breath is heated against my scalp, and it leaves me wanting more.
His body is lean and firm, his muscles tense beneath me, and I can feel him hard against my thigh. He curses against my skin, his voice rough and desperate. I feel a thrill go through me at the sound, knowing that I did this to him.
I shift my hips to the left and suddenly our bodies are aligned, my most sensitive place pressed perfectly against him. I rock my hips, grinding down on his hardness through layers of clothing as heat spreads across every inch of my skin. He presses hot open-mouthed kisses to my neck and shoulders, anywhere he can reach. I throw back my head and gasp as my breasts press against his shoulders, and the added friction sends more sparks dancing across my nerve endings.
I am beyond want, beyond desire, beyond care. I need.
Words and sounds pour out of my mouth without my knowledge or permission. I'm desperate for something that I hardly recognize. Somehow, Tobias knows how to give it to me. His hands grasp my hips and dig into my skin, guiding me as I rock against him, as pleasure fans the flames inside of me. I can feel the fire growing hotter and hotter inside of me, until suddenly I am consumed. I come apart, shaking and quivering and very nearly forgetting how to breathe.
"Tris," he groans then in a rough voice, thrusting his hips up against me. My heart is thudding in my chest a little slower now, and I'm aware that my shirt is sticking to my sweaty skin, but I can see that Tobias is still caught up in his own all-consuming need. His eyes are closed and his face twists in agony, but pain has never looked like this before.
I don't know what to do, or how to help him reach completion, so I just hold him tightly and kiss him as hard as I can, trying to pour my heat and desire back into him as his hips continue to rock against mine. It must work, because a moment later he is groaning into my mouth and shuddering beneath me, his hands fisting tightly into my damp shirt and then releasing.
My hair falls down around his face as I press my forehead to his. He's breathing hard, his breath hot against my cheek. "Yeah?" he asks.
"Yes," I say, "yes, yes," and kiss him hard. I can feel him smiling broadly against my lips, proud of himself, and in that moment I can forget about the barriers of guilt and sacrifice between us, and we are just a boy and a girl, tangled and sticky and sated.
Later, his arms hold me close under the sheets as he drifts off to sleep, but I cannot put it off any longer. The sound of Marlene's body hitting the pavement echoes in my mind and keeps me awake.
I know what I have to do. Despite my promises, I will get out of this bed and go to Erudite. I will turn myself over to Jeanine, so he can live.
When his muscles relax and he slips into sleep, I slide out of bed and tiptoe across the room to where I dropped my shoes earlier, but they are not there. I fumble around on the bare floor, searching blindly for my shoes and finding nothing. Finally, my fingers connect with something and I slip them on my feet. I'm turning quickly toward the door, reaching for the knob when suddenly--
"Tris?" he murmurs, sleepy-sounding at first. It only takes him a split second, though, to realize what I must be doing, and he jerks upright in bed, the sheets falling around his hips.
There is a second between sleep and waking, when I am slow and stupid. Tris could run away in that second and I wouldn't be able to stop her. She's faster than me. But thankfully I'm better trained, because she's still frozen in place while I leap out of bed and race across the floor.
"Don't go." I'm close to begging. "You promised." I hate begging, but I'll do it if I have to.
"Don't tell me what to do, Tobias." There's steel in her voice now. She's stronger than me, more determined. She always has been. Knowing this makes me desperate.
"If you go, I'll follow you there." There's no reason for me to stay here if I can't save her. "I'll walk into Erudite right after you."
She gasps, and her face turns white, pale even in the soft glow of moonlight through the windows. "You can't," she says. "Tobias--"
A vicious sort of satisfaction spreads through me. I've surprised her, and she knows it's not an empty threat. Her choice is to stay, or see us both prisoners.
"I need you safe."
She lets go of the doorknob and her shoulders slump. "I can't just sit here while people die," she says, sounding defeated. "I have to do something. Marlene--"
"Then do something," I say harshly. "But don't go to Erudite and help Marlene's killer. Because that's what you'll be doing if you give in to Jeanine's sick demands. Helping her."
"Then what?" she demands. "Attack her, like Uriah said? We don't have the numbers. We'd be crushed in a minute. She can force half this compound to--"
She's not wrong. Jeanine could crush us if we let her.
We can't let her.
"Are you afraid, Tris?" I use my Four voice on her, my instructor voice. "Are you scared of Jeanine?"
"Yes, I am," she says, her chin raised in defiance and her eyes full of fire. "I've seen what she can do."
She's daring me to deny Jeanine's power, but I won't. "Good," I say instead. "You should be afraid of her." Tris's eyes falter, confused. "But don't give in to the fear. Don't let it make your decisions for you."
I place my hands gently on her shoulders, so she can pull away if she wants, and lean my head close to hers. "Be brave, Tris."
She collapses into me, her arms wrapping tightly around my waist, and I hold her close as she cries. Her shoulders shake and she drags in huge gulps of air like a drowning person, loud and messy. Soon, my shirt is soaking wet with her tears.
Some time later, when her breathing has slowed and her eyes are finally dry, she pulls away.
"What are we going to do?" she asks, as if she's completely out of ideas. Maybe giving in to Jeanine's demand was the only course of action she could think of.
"Come on," I say. Fortunately, I have a few ideas of my own. "I want to show you something."
I follow Tobias down a dark and empty hallway on the tenth floor of the Pire. As we walk, our footsteps echo off the bare stone walls. This we've passed through all the living quarters, and I realize with a start that I have no idea what else is in this building. I've only lived in Dauntless for a very short time, and most of it was taken up with initiation.
We turn a corner, and Tobias stops and unlocks a small door, stepping inside and turning on the light. Inside is a desk and two chairs, a computer and a small file cabinet. It actually looks oddly like my father's office in the Hub, where he worked in the city's central government with Marcus. "It's... an office," I say, not bothering to hide my confusion.
After everything that's happened today, Marlene's funeral and our passionate moment together and then the confrontation that followed, now he wants to catch up on paperwork?
Tobias takes one look at my expression and laughs gently. "You asked what we're going to do to take down Jeanine," he says. "We'll use our resources."
"What resources? This is an office, not a weapon."
"It's information," Tobias says. A smile plays around the corners of his mouth. "If we can figure out what Jeanine wants, why she attacked Abnegation--"
I tried to talk to him about this in Amity, when I overheard Marcus say information was stolen from our old faction during the attack. Back then, Tobias shrugged me off and said we'd deal with Jeanine's reasoning later.
Apparently 'later' is now. For a second, I want to call him on it and demand to know why he's suddenly taking my old suggestion. But, no. Learning the truth is more important than picking a fight. And the truth is, Jeanine Matthews isn't a reckless Dauntless, jumping gleefully into a bar fight. She attacked Abnegation with a plan, a goal, an objective. Finally, Tobias agrees.
I allow myself a small smile, my selfish reward for being right all along. "If we can find out what she wants, then we can stop her."
There's a small picture frame sitting on the desk, and I pick it up. It's a picture of Max and a beautiful dark-skinned woman who looks vaguely familiar, both smiling widely. This must be Max's office.
Or it was. I watched Max die on a bridge outside Candor less than a week ago.
I set the photo down and look back at Tobias, who is watching me intently. "Max's office?" I ask, although the answer is obvious. "I don't think he can help us anymore."
"Maybe he can," Tobias says with a shrug, and he pulls open one drawer of the file cabinet. He reaches into the drawer as if he's about to pull out some files, then pauses. I can see the muscles in his shoulders tense beneath his black t-shirt.
"I knew that Max was working with Jeanine," he says, without meeting my eyes. "I... figured it out during your initiation, but I couldn't-- I didn't know-- it was too late." His shoulders are hunched and his back is bowed and I can hear a hitch in his breath.
Tobias is not the most eloquent person I've ever met, but he's rarely flustered like this. The room is silent for a moment, and then he takes a long breath and speaks in a measured tone. "I knew that Max and Jeanine were working together, that Max was stockpiling weapons and Erudite delivered way too much serum here, but I didn't put the pieces together in time to stop them."
I think of all the guilt and the lies and the secrets that I carry with me, and I realize that I'm not the only one. Tobias has guilty secrets of his own.
"Let the guilt remind you to do better next time." I'm alluding to the conversation we had after Al's funeral, only a few weeks ago. He turns his head and looks at me out of the corner of one eye, and after a moment he nods. "There will be a next time," I tell him. "We'll have another chance to stop them." Oddly enough, I believe it.
In answer, Tobias only reaches out and clasps my hand in his, holding tight for a full minute before letting go.
Eventually, he breaks the silence. "So, you up for a little research?"
"I wasn't expecting research when I transferred to Dauntless," I say in a light voice, as he hands me a stack of files from Max's drawer.
"It's a rigorous training process," he says, and then flashes me a grin that sends a stab of heat through my chest and reminds me vividly of the taste of his skin.
My face flushes and I look down at the news reports in front of me. A girl like Christina or --I ache at the thought-- Marlene might know what to do in this situation, how to tease and flirt with a guy after doing... things together. But my Abnegation upbringing has not prepared me for this. I can hardly even think about what we did, much less talk about it. And the sharp craving for more that I feel in the pit of my stomach is entirely foreign.
Reading. Reading meeting reports and Candor news releases, that's something I know how to do. I take a deep breath and get to work.
"Whatever you're doing, I want in." This is why Zeke's my best friend. He's always got my back, no matter what.
We're sitting in the empty control room, hunched over a single computer in the back corner. We shot out all the cameras inside Dauntless when we took back our home a few days ago, but the ones in the rest of the city are still functioning. The ones at the fence, too. I wonder who watches the feeds now. No one, I guess.
"I told you, it's nothing. Some leadership bullshit." It's a lie, of course. But I have to at least try talking Zeke out of something this dangerous.
Immediately, he reaches over and smacks the back of my head lightly with an open palm. I've seen him do that to Uriah a hundred times, when he's getting out of line. "I'm in this, all right?" he says. "Now, tell me what you're really looking for."
"Anything about Jeanine," I tell him. Even though I know he'd be safer if he weren't involved, I'm grateful for his help. "War plans, the simulation. Anything linking her to Max, Eric, or the other Dauntless leadership."
Zeke lets out a low whistle. "You don't ask for much, do you?" I don't bother answering.
"Just the Dauntless archive?" It's a strange question, because that's all we should have access to. The five factions are linked together in one network, but each faction has their own security measures in place.
"Why?" I can't help but be intrigued. I know Zeke is good with computers, but is he that good? "What else can you get?"
Zeke only grins and elbows me in the ribs. "And you didn't want me on your secret agent team," he says with a grin. "Just for that, I'm gonna need a piece of cake."
"Cake." I shake my head. No Abnegation would ever demand a reward in return for helping the greater good. But Zeke is Dauntless through and through. "I'll bake you a cake myself if you can get into the Erudite network."
He laces his fingers together and stretches out his arms in front of him, then tilts his head from side to side so that his neck pops. "That'll take more time." I can't tell if he's serious or not. Could he really hack into Erudite? "For tonight, I'll take one slice of Dauntless cake and a cold glass of milk."
I shrug and stand up. If he can really do it, it's more than fair. And if he can't... Well, I'll always be a little bit selfless. I would get him a piece of cake anyway. "What are friends for?"
The Dauntless kitchens are in disarray after weeks of abandonment, but cake must've been a top priority, because there are three of them sitting in wrapped trays on the counter. I cut two generous slices and arrange them on a tray with two glasses of milk, grab forks and napkins, and head back upstairs to the control room.
By the time I get there, Zeke is plugging a small drive into his console and tapping in his last few commands. "Now, we wait," he says, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
"And eat cake." I hand him a plate and fork.
"The mighty Four, reduced to bringing me cake," he says, propping his feet on the computer and balancing the plate precariously on his knees. "How does it feel?"
The words are oddly similar to the ones Eric said to me during the simulation, while holding a gun to my head, but that doesn't bother me. There's a world of difference between Zeke and Eric. And after the last few weeks, eating a slice of cake with my best friend feels pretty damn good.
"Not so bad, actually," I answer, scooping up a big forkful. "Maybe I should've volunteered to work in the kitchens instead of this place."
Zeke snorts back a laugh. "Could you imagine? Thanks anyway, Max. Leadership's not for me, I'd rather bake all day." Nobody actually works in the kitchen full time, the staff are made up of fence guards and city patrols who are off duty, rotated in and out on a weekly basis. But the idea is pretty funny anyway.
I grin and return to my cake, and we eat in companionable silence for a few minutes. It's even better than I remembered, rich and chocolatey, and I'm even more grateful for it after seeing what the Factionless eat.
Eventually, Zeke breaks the silence. "So your real name was kind of a letdown."
"Sorry," I say dryly. We haven't talked about this at all, and it occurs to me that maybe I should've told my best friend some of my secrets before the Candor cracked open my head and poured them out for the entire city to hear. I don't have much practice at this whole friendship thing. "Tobias Eaton." I shrug. As if it's just a name. No big deal.
"I had Uriah completely convinced that your real name was Englebert Hemoglobin," he says, laughing so hard I'm afraid he might choke. He doesn't seem to care that my father is Marcus Eaton, or even that I didn't tell him about it.
"Next time I'll try to have a better deep, dark secret."
"See that you do." He wads up his napkin and throws it at the side of my head.
As we unplug the hard drive full of data and walk shoulder-to-shoulder back to the Pire, I feel a deep sense of calm sweep over me. Tris is safe, Zeke isn't holding a grudge, and we've got a plan to take down Jeanine together. On paper, our situation is no less grim than it was yesterday. But for me, it feels like everything is finally coming together.