Still, I am able to be momentarily placated, knowing that this is something my parents might have understood, if they were here right now.
“This may be a bad time,” he says, “but there’s something I want to say to you.”
I tense immediately, afraid that he’s going to name some crime of mine that went unacknowledged, or a confession that’s eating away at him, or something equally difficult. His expression is unreadable.
“I just want to thank you,” he says, his voice low. “A group of scientists told you that my genes were damaged, that there was something wrong with me—they showed you test results that proved it. And even I started to believe it.”
He touches my face, his thumb skimming my cheekbone, and his eyes are on mine, intense and insistent.
“You never believed it,” he says. “Not for a second. You always insisted that I was . . . I don’t know, whole.”
I cover his hand with my own. “Well, you are.”
“No one has ever told me that before,” he says softly.
“It’s what you deserve to hear,” I say firmly, my eyes going cloudy with tears. “That you’re whole, that you’re worth loving, that you’re the best person I’ve ever known.”
Just as the last word leaves my mouth, he kisses me.
I kiss him back so hard it hurts, and twist my fingers into his shirt. I push him down the hallway and through one of the doors to a sparsely furnished room near the dormitory. I kick the door shut with my heel.
Just as I have insisted on his worth, he has always insisted on my strength, insisted that my capacity is greater than I believe. And I know, without being told, that’s what love does, when it’s right—it makes you more than you were, more than you thought you could be.
This is right.
His fingers slide over my hair and curl into it. My hands shake, but I don’t care if he notices, I don’t care if he knows that I’m afraid of how intense this feels. I draw his shirt into my fists, tugging him closer, and sigh his name against his mouth.
I forget that he is another person; instead it feels like he is another part of me, just as essential as a heart or an eye or an arm. I pull his shirt up and over his head. I run my hands over the skin I expose like it is my own.
His hands clutch at my shirt and I am removing it and then I remember, I remember that I am small and flat-chested and sickly pale, and I pull back.
He looks at me, not like he’s waiting for an explanation, but like I am the only thing in the room worth looking at.
I look at him, too, but everything I see makes me feel worse—he is so handsome, and even the black ink curling over his skin makes him into a piece of art. A moment ago I was convinced that we were perfectly matched, and maybe we still are—but only with our clothes on.
But he is still looking at me that way.
He smiles, a small, shy smile. Then he puts his hands on my waist and draws me toward him. He bends down and kisses between his fingers and whispers “beautiful” against my stomach.
And I believe him.
He stands and presses his lips to mine, his mouth open, his hands on my bare hips, his thumbs slipping under the top of my jeans. I touch his chest, lean into him, feel his sigh singing in my bones.
“I love you, you know,” I say.
“I know,” he replies.
With a quirk of his eyebrows, he bends and wraps an arm around my legs, throwing me over his shoulder. A laugh bursts from my mouth, half joy and half nerves, and he carries me across the room, dropping me unceremoniously on the couch.
He lies down next to me, and I run my fingers over the flames wrapping around his rib cage. He is strong, and lithe, and certain.
And he is mine.
I fit my mouth to his.
I was so afraid that we would just keep colliding over and over again if we stayed together, and that eventually the impact would break me. But now I know I am like the blade and he is like the whetstone—
I am too strong to break so easily, and I become better, sharper, every time I touch him.
THE FIRST THING I see when I wake, still on the couch in the hotel room, are the birds flying over her collarbone. Her shirt, retrieved from the floor in the middle of the night because of the cold, is pulled down on one side from where she’s lying on it.
We have slept close to each other before, but this time feels different. Every other time we were there to comfort each other or to protect each other; this time we’re here just because we want to be—and because we fell asleep before we could go back to the dormitory.
I stretch out my hand and touch my fingertips to her tattoos, and she opens her eyes.
She wraps an arm around me and pulls herself across the cushions so she’s right up against me, warm and soft and pliable.
“Morning,” I say.
“Shh,” she says. “If you don’t acknowledge it, maybe it will go away.”
I draw her toward me, my hand on her hip. Her eyes are wide, alert, despite just having opened. I kiss her cheek, then her jaw, then her throat, lingering there for a few seconds. Her hands tighten around my waist, and she sighs into my ear.
My self-control is about to disappear in five, four, three . . .
“Tobias,” she whispers, “I hate to say this, but . . . I think we have just a few things to do today.”
“They can wait,” I say against her shoulder, and I kiss the first tattoo, slowly.
“No, they can’t!” she says.
I flop back onto the cushions, and I feel cold without her body parallel to mine. “Yeah. About that—I was thinking your brother could use some target practice. Just in case.”
“That might be a good idea,” she says quietly. “He’s only fired a gun . . . what, once? Twice?”
“I can teach him,” I say. “If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s aiming. And it might make him feel better to do something.”
“Thank you,” she says. She sits up and puts her fingers through her hair to comb it. In the morning light its color looks brighter, like it’s threaded with gold. “I know you don’t like him, but . . .”
“But if you’re going to let what he did go,” I say, taking her hand, “then I’m going to try to do the same.”
She smiles, and kisses my cheek.
I skim the lingering shower water from the back of my neck with my palm. Tris, Caleb, Christina, and I are in the training room in the GD area underground—it’s cold and dim and full of equipment, training weapons and mats and helmets and targets, everything we could ever need. I select the right practice gun, the one about the size of a pistol, but bulkier, and offer it to Caleb.
Tris’s fingers slide between mine. Everything comes easily this morning, every smile and every laugh, every word and every motion.
If we succeed in what we attempt tonight, tomorrow Chicago will be safe, the Bureau will be forever changed, and Tris and I will be able to build a new life for ourselves somewhere. Maybe it will even be a place where I trade my guns and knives for more productive tools, screwdrivers and nails and shovels. This morning I feel like I could be so fortunate. I could.
“It doesn’t shoot real bullets,” I say, “but it seems like they designed it so it would be as close as possible to one of the guns you’ll be using. It feels real, anyway.”
Caleb holds the gun with just his fingertips, like he’s afraid it will shatter in his hands.
I laugh. “First lesson: Don’t be afraid of it. Grab it. You’ve held one before, remember? You got us out of the Amity compound with that shot.”
“That was just lucky,” Caleb says, turning the gun over and over to see it from every angle. His tongue pushes into his cheek like he’s solving a problem. “Not the result of skill.”
“Lucky is better than unlucky,” I say. “We can work on skill now.”
I glance at Tris. She grins at me, then leans in to whisper something to Christina.
“Are you here to help or what, Stiff?” I say. I hear myself speaking in the voice I cultivated as an initiation instructor, but this time I use it in jest. “You could use some practice with that right arm, if I recall correctly. You too, Christina.”
Tris makes a face at me, then she and Christina cross the room to get their own weapons.
“Okay, now face the target and turn the safety off,” I say. There is a target across the room, more sophisticated than the wooden-board target in the Dauntless training rooms. It has three rings in three different colors, green, yellow, and red, so it’s easier to tell where the bullets hit. “Let me see how you would naturally shoot.”
He lifts up the gun with one hand, squares off his feet and shoulders to the target like he’s about to lift something heavy, and fires. The gun jerks back and up, firing the bullet near the ceiling. I cover my mouth with my hand to disguise my smile.
“There’s no need to giggle,” Caleb says irritably.
“Book learning doesn’t teach you everything, does it?” Christina says. “You have to hold it with both hands. It doesn’t look as cool, but neither does attacking the ceiling.”
“I wasn’t trying to look cool!”
Christina stands, her legs slightly uneven, and lifts both arms. She stares at the target for a moment, then fires. The training bullet hits the outer circle of the target and bounces off, rolling on the floor. It leaves a circle of light on the target, marking the impact site. I wish I’d had this technology during initiation training.
“Oh, good,” I say. “You hit the air around your target’s body. How useful.”
“I’m a little rusty,” Christina admits, grinning.
“I think the easiest way for you to learn would be to mimic me,” I say to Caleb. I stand the way I always stand, easy, natural, and lift both my arms, squeezing the gun with one hand and steadying it with the other.
Caleb tries to match me, beginning with his feet and moving up with the rest of him. As eager as Christina was to tease him, it’s his ability to analyze that makes him successful—I can see him changing angles and distances and tension and release as he looks me over, trying to get everything right.
“Good,” I say when he’s finished. “Now focus on what you’re trying to hit, and nothing else.”
I stare at the center of the target and try to let it swallow me. The distance doesn’t trouble me—the bullet will travel straight, just like it would if I was closer. I inhale and brace myself, exhale and fire, and the bullet goes right where I meant to put it: in the red circle, in the center of the target.
I step back to watch Caleb try it. He has the right way of standing, the right way of holding the gun, but he is rigid there, a statue with a gun in hand. He sucks in a breath and holds it as he fires. This time the kickback doesn’t startle him as much, and the bullet nicks the top of the target.
“Good,” I say again. “I think what you mostly need is to get comfortable with it. You’re very tense.”
“Can you blame me?” he says. His voice trembles, but just at the end of each word. He has the look of someone who is trapping terror inside. I watched two classes of initiates with that expression, but none of them was ever facing what Caleb is facing now.
I shake my head and say quietly, “Of course not. But you have to realize that if you can’t let that tension go tonight, you might not make it to the Weapons Lab, and what good would that do anyone?”
“The physical technique is important,” I say. “But it’s mostly a mental game, which is lucky for you, because you know how to play those. You don’t just practice the shooting, you also practice the focus. And then, when you’re in a situation where you’re fighting for your life, the focus will be so ingrained that it will happen naturally.”
“I didn’t know the Dauntless were so interested in training the brain,” Caleb says. “Can I see you try it, Tris? I don’t think I’ve ever really seen you shoot something without a bullet wound in your shoulder.”
Tris smiles a little and faces the target. When I first saw her shoot during Dauntless training, she looked awkward, birdlike. But her thin, fragile form has become slim but muscular, and when she holds the gun, it looks easy. She squints one eye a little, shifts her weight, and fires. Her bullet strays from the target’s center, but only by inches. Obviously impressed, Caleb raises his eyebrows.
“Don’t look so surprised!” Tris says.
“Sorry,” he says. “I just . . . you used to be so clumsy, remember? I don’t know how I missed that you weren’t like that anymore.”
Tris shrugs, but when she looks away, her cheeks are flushed and she looks pleased. Christina shoots again, and this time hits the target closer to the middle.
I step back to let Caleb practice, and watch Tris fire again, watch the straight lines of her body as she lifts the gun, and how steady she is when it goes off. I touch her shoulder and lean in close to her ear. “Remember during training, how the gun almost hit you in the face?”
She nods, smirking.
“Remember during training, when I did this?” I say, and I reach around her to press my hand to her stomach. She sucks in a breath.
“I’m not likely to forget that anytime soon,” she mutters.
She twists around and draws my face toward hers, her fingertips on my chin. We kiss, and I hear Christina say something about it, but for the first time, I don’t care at all.
There isn’t much to do after target practice but wait. Tris and Christina get the explosives from Reggie and teach Caleb how to use them. Then Matthew and Cara pore over a map, examining different routes to get through the compound to the Weapons Lab. Christina and I meet with Amar, George, and Peter to go over the route we’re going to take through the city that evening. Tris is called to a last-minute council meeting. Matthew inoculates people against the memory serum all throughout the day, Cara and Caleb and Tris and Nita and Reggie and himself.