“You’re not very nice,” I say, grinning.
“You’re one to talk.”
“Hey, I could be nice if I tried.”
“Hmm.” He taps his chin. “Say something nice, then.”
“You’re very good-looking.”
He smiles, his teeth a flash in the dark. “I like this ‘nice’ thing.”
We reach the end of the lawn. The metal structure is larger and stranger up close than it was from far away. It’s really a stage, and arcing above it are massive metal plates that curl in different directions, like an exploded aluminum can. We walk around one of the plates on the right side to the back of the stage, which rises at an angle from the ground. There, metal beams support the plates from behind. Tobias secures his backpack on his shoulders and grabs one of the beams. Climbing.
“This feels familiar,” I say. One of the first things we did together was scale the Ferris wheel, but that time it was me, not him, who compelled us to climb higher.
I push up my sleeves and follow him. My shoulder is still sore from the bullet wound, but it is mostly healed. Still, I bear most of my weight with my left arm and try to push with my feet whenever possible. I look down at the tangle of bars beneath me and beyond them, the ground, and laugh.
Tobias climbs to a spot where two metal plates meet in a V, leaving enough room for two people to sit. He scoots back, wedging himself between the two plates, and reaches for my waist to help me when I get close enough. I don’t really need the help, but I don’t say so—I am too busy enjoying his hands on me.
He takes a blanket out of his backpack and covers us with it, then produces two plastic cups.
“Would you like a clear head or a fuzzy one?” he says, peering into the bag.
“Um . . .” I tilt my head. “Clear. I think we have some things to talk about, right?”
He takes out a small bottle with clear, bubbling liquid in it, and as he twists open the cap, says, “I stole it from the Erudite kitchens. Apparently it’s delicious.”
He pours some in each cup, and I take a sip. Whatever it is, it’s sweet as syrup and lemon-flavored and makes me cringe a little. My second sip is better.
“Things to talk about,” he says.
“Well . . .” Tobias frowns into his cup. “Okay, so I understand why you worked with Marcus, and why you felt like you couldn’t tell me. But . . .”
“But you’re angry,” I say. “Because I lied to you. On several occasions.”
He nods, not looking at me. “It’s not even the Marcus thing. It’s further back than that. I don’t know if you can understand what it was like to wake up alone, and know that you had gone”—to your death, is what I suspect he wants to say, but he can’t even say the words—“to Erudite headquarters.”
“No, I probably can’t.” I take another sip, turning the sugary drink over in my mouth before swallowing. “Listen, I . . . I used to think about giving my life for things, but I didn’t understand what ‘giving your life’ really was until it was right there, about to be taken from me.”
I look up at him, and finally, he looks back at me.
“I know now,” I say. “I know I want to live. I know I want to be honest with you. But . . . but I can’t do that, I won’t do it, if you won’t trust me, or if you talk to me in that condescending way you sometimes do—”
“Condescending?” he says. “You were doing ridiculous, risky things—”
“Yeah,” I say. “And do you really think it helped to talk to me like I was a child who didn’t know any better?”
“What else was I supposed to do?” he demands. “You wouldn’t see reason!”
“Maybe reason wasn’t what I needed!” I sit forward, not able to pretend I am relaxed anymore. “I felt like I was being eaten alive by guilt, and what I needed was your patience and your kindness, not for you to yell at me. Oh, and for you to constantly keep your plans from me like I couldn’t possibly handle—”
“I didn’t want to burden you more than you already were.”
“So do you think I’m a strong person, or not?” I scowl at him. “Because you seem to think I can take it when you’re scolding me, but you don’t think I can handle anything else? What does that mean?”
“Of course I think you’re a strong person.” He shakes his head. “I just . . . I’m not used to telling people things. I’m used to handling things on my own.”
“I’m reliable,” I say. “You can trust me. And you can let me be the judge of what I can handle.”
“Okay,” he says, nodding. “But no more lies. Not ever.”
I feel stiff and squeezed, like my body was just forced into something too small for it. But that’s not how I want the conversation to end, so I reach for his hand.
“I’m sorry I lied to you,” I say. “I really am.”
“Well,” he says. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like I didn’t respect you.”
We stay there for a while, our hands clasped. I lean back against the metal plate. Above me, the sky is blank and dark, the moon shielded by clouds. I find a star ahead of us, as the clouds shift, but it seems to be the only one. When I tilt my head back, though, I can see the line of buildings along Michigan Avenue, like a row of sentries keeping watch over us.
I am quiet until the stiff, squeezed feeling leaves me. In its place I now feel relief. It isn’t usually that easy for me to let go of anger, but the past few weeks have been strange for both of us, and I am happy to release the feelings I have been holding on to, the anger and the fear that he hates me and the guilt from working with his father behind his back.
“This stuff is kind of gross,” he says, draining his cup and setting it down.
“Yes, it is,” I say, staring at what remains in mine. I drink it in one gulp, wincing as the bubbles burn my throat. “I don’t know what the Erudite are always bragging about. Dauntless cake is much better.”
“I wonder what the Abnegation treat would have been, if they had one.”
He laughs. “Plain oatmeal.”
“Sometimes I think I believe everything they taught us,” he says. “But obviously not, since I’m sitting here holding your hand right now without having married you first.”
“What do the Dauntless teach about . . . that?” I say, nodding to our hands.
“What do the Dauntless teach, hmm.” He smirks. “Do whatever you want, but use protection, is what they teach.”
I raise my eyebrows. Suddenly my face feels warm.
“I think I’d like to find a middle ground for myself,” he says. “To find that place between what I want and what I think is wise.”
“That sounds good.” I pause. “But what do you want?”
I think I know the answer, but I want to hear him say it.
“Hmm.” He grins, and leans forward onto his knees. He presses his hands to the metal plate, framing my head with his arms, and kisses me, slowly, on my mouth, under my jaw, right above my collarbone. I stay still, nervous about doing anything, in case it’s stupid or he doesn’t like it. But then I feel like a statue, like I am not really here at all, and so I touch his waist, hesitantly.
Then his lips are on mine again, and he pulls his shirt out from under my hands so that I am touching his bare skin. I come to life, pressing closer, my hands creeping up his back, sliding over his shoulders. His breaths come faster and so do mine, and I taste the lemon-syrup-fizz we just drank and I smell the wind on his skin and all I want is more, more.
I push his shirt up. A moment ago I was cold, but I don’t think either of us is cold now. His arm wraps around my waist, strong and certain, and his free hand tangles in my hair and I slow down, drinking it in—the smoothness of his skin, marked up and down with black ink, and the insistence of the kiss, and the cool air wrapped around us both.
I relax, and I no longer feel like some kind of Divergent soldier, defying serums and government leaders alike. I feel softer, lighter, and like it is okay to laugh a little as his fingertips brush over my hips and the small of my back, or to sigh into his ear when he pulls me against him, burying his face in the side of my neck so that he can kiss me there. I feel like myself, strong and weak at once—allowed, at least for a little while, to be both.
I don’t know how long it is before we get cold again, and huddle under the blanket together.
“It’s getting more difficult to be wise,” he says, laughing into my ear.
I smile at him. “I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
SOMETHING IS BREWING.
I can feel it as I walk the cafeteria line with my tray, and see it in the huddled heads of a group of factionless as they lean over their oatmeal. Whatever is about to happen will happen soon.
Yesterday when I left Evelyn’s office I lingered in the hallway to eavesdrop on her next meeting. Before she closed the door, I heard her say something about a demonstration. The question that is itching at the back of my mind is: Why didn’t she tell me?
She must not trust me. That means I’m not doing as good a job as her pretend right-hand man as I think I am.
I sit down with the same breakfast as everyone else: a bowl of oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar on it, and a mug of coffee. I watch the group of factionless as I spoon it into my mouth without tasting it. One of them—a girl, maybe fourteen—keeps flicking her eyes toward the clock.
I’m halfway done with breakfast when I hear the shouts. The nervy factionless girl jolts from her seat as if stuck with a live wire, and they all start toward the door. I am right behind them, elbowing my way past slow-movers through the lobby of Erudite headquarters, where the portrait of Jeanine Matthews still lies in shreds on the floor.
A group of factionless has already gathered outside, in the middle of Michigan Avenue. A layer of pale clouds covers the sun, making the daylight hazy and dull. I hear someone shout, “Death to the factions!” and others pick up the phrase, turning it into a chant, until it fills my ears, Death to the factions, death to the factions. I see their fists in the air, like excitable Dauntless, but without the Dauntless joy. Their faces are twisted with rage.
I push toward the middle of the group, and then I see what they’re all gathered around: The huge, man-sized faction bowls from the Choosing Ceremony are turned on their sides, their contents spilling across the road, coals and glass and stone and earth and water all mingling together.
I remember slicing into my palm to add my blood to the coals, my first act of defiance against my father. I remember the surge of power inside me, and the rush of relief. Escape. These bowls were my escape.
Edward stands among them, shards of glass ground to dust beneath his heel, a sledgehammer held above his head. He brings it down on one of the overturned bowls, forcing a dent into the metal. Coal dust rises into the air.
I have to stop myself from running at him. He can’t destroy it, not that bowl, not the Choosing Ceremony, not the symbol of my triumph. Those things should not be destroyed.
The crowd is swelling, not just with factionless wearing black armbands with empty white circles on them, but with people from every former faction, their arms bare. An Erudite man—his faction still indicated by his neatly parted hair—bursts free of the crowd just as Edward is pulling back the sledgehammer for another swing. He wraps his soft, ink-smudged hands around the handle, just above Edward’s, and they push into each other, teeth gritted.
I see a blond head across the crowd—Tris, wearing a loose blue shirt without sleeves, showing the edges of the faction tattoos on her shoulders. She tries to run to Edward and the Erudite man, but Christina stops her with both hands.
The Erudite man’s face turns purple. Edward is taller and stronger than he is. He has no chance; he’s a fool for trying. Edward rips the sledgehammer handle from the Erudite man’s hands and swings again. But he’s off balance, dizzy with rage—the sledgehammer hits the Erudite man in the shoulder at full force, metal cracking bone.
For a moment all I hear is the Erudite man’s screams. It’s like everyone is taking a breath.
Then the crowd explodes into a frenzy, everyone running toward the bowls, toward Edward, toward the Erudite man. They collide with one another and then with me, shoulders and elbows and heads hitting me over and over again.
I don’t know where to run: to the Erudite man, to Edward, to Tris? I can’t think; I can’t breathe. The crowd carries me toward Edward, and I grab his arm.
“Let go!” I shout over the noise. His single bright eye fixes on me, and he bares his teeth, trying to wrench himself away.
I bring my knee up, into his side. He stumbles back, losing his grip on the sledgehammer. I hold it close to my leg and start toward Tris.
She is somewhere in front of me, struggling toward the Erudite man. I watch as a woman’s elbow hits her in the cheek, sending her reeling backward. Christina shoves the woman away.
Then a gun goes off. Once, twice. Three times.
The crowd scatters, everyone running in terror from the threat of bullets, and I try to see who, if anyone, was shot, but the rush of bodies is too intense. I can barely see anything.
Tris and Christina crouch next to the Erudite man with the shattered shoulder. His face is bloody and his clothes are dirty with footprints. His combed Erudite hair is tousled. He isn’t moving.
A few feet away from him, Edward lies in a pool of his own blood. The bullet hit him in the gut. There are other people on the ground too, people I don’t recognize, people who got trampled or shot. I suspect the bullets were meant for Edward and Edward alone—the others were just bystanders.