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BUT I’M STILL breathing. Not deeply; not enough to satisfy, but breathing. Peter pushes my eyelids over my eyes. Does he know I’m not dead? Does Jeanine? Can she see me breathing?
“Take the body to the lab,” Jeanine says. “The autopsy is scheduled for this afternoon. ”
“All right,” Peter replies.
Peter pushes the table forward. I hear mutters all around me as we pass the group of Erudite bystanders. My hand falls off the edge of the table as we turn a corner, and smacks into the wall. I feel a prickle of pain in my fingertips, but I can’t move my hand, as hard as I try.
This time, when we go down the hallway of Dauntless traitors, it is silent. Peter walks slowly at first, then turns another corner and picks up the pace. He almost sprints down the next corridor, and stops abruptly. Where am I? I can’t be in the lab already. Why did he stop?
Peter’s arms slide under my knees and shoulders, and he lifts me. My head falls against his shoulder.
“For someone so small, you’re heavy, Stiff,” he mutters.
He knows I’m awake. He knows.
I hear a series of beeps, and a slide—a locked door, opening.
“What do—” Tobias’s voice. Tobias! “Oh my God. Oh—”
“Spare me your blubbering, okay?” Peter says. “She’s not dead; she’s just paralyzed. It’ll only last for about a minute. Now get ready to run. ”
I don’t understand.
How does Peter know?
“Let me carry her,” Tobias says.
“No. You’re a better shot than I am. Take my gun. I’ll carry her. ”
I hear the gun slide out of its holster. Tobias brushes a hand over my forehead. They both start running.
At first all I hear is the pounding of their feet, and my head snaps back painfully. I feel tingling in my hands and feet. Peter shouts, “Left!” at Tobias.
Then a shout from down the hallway. “Hey, what—!”
A bang. And nothing.
More running. Peter shouts, “Right!” I hear another bang, and another. “Whoa,” he mumbles. “Wait, stop here!”
Tingling down my spine. I open my eyes as Peter opens another door. He charges through it, and just before I smack my head against the door frame, I stick my arm out and stop us.
“Careful!” I say, my voice strained. My throat still feels as tight as it did when he first injected me and I found it difficult to breathe. Peter turns sideways to bring me through the door, then nudges it shut with his heel and drops me on the floor.
The room is almost empty, except for a row of empty trash cans along one wall and a square metal door large enough for one of the cans to fit through it along the other wall.
“Tris,” Tobias says, crouching next to me. His face is pale, almost yellow.
There is too much I want to say. The first thing that comes out is, “Beatrice. ”
He laughs weakly.
“Beatrice,” he amends, and touches his lips to mine. I curl my fingers into his shirt.
“Unless you want me to throw up all over you guys, you might want to save it for later. ”
“Where are we?” I ask.
“This is the trash incinerator,” says Peter, slapping the square door. “I turned it off. It’ll take us to the alley. And then your aim had better be perfect, Four, if you want to get out of the Erudite sector alive. ”
“Don’t concern yourself with my aim,” Tobias retorts. He, like me, is barefoot.
Peter opens the door to the incinerator. “Tris, you first. ”
The trash chute is about three feet wide and four feet high. I slide one leg down the chute and, with Tobias’s help, swing the other leg in. My stomach drops as I slide down a short metal tube. Then a series of rollers pound against my back as I slip over them.
I smell fire and ash, but I am not burned. Then I drop, and my arm smacks into a metal wall, making me groan. I land on a cement floor, hard, and pain from the impact prickles up my shins.
“Ow. ” I limp away from the opening and shout, “Go ahead!”
My legs have recovered by the time Peter lands, on his side instead of his feet. He groans, and drags himself away from the opening to recover.
I look around. We are inside the incinerator, which would be completely dark if not for the lines of light glowing in the shape of a small door on the other side. The floor is solid metal in some places and metal grating in others. Everything smells like rotting garbage and fire.
“Don’t say I never took you anywhere nice,” Peter says.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I say.
Tobias drops to the floor, landing first on his feet and then tilting forward to his knees, wincing. I pull him to his feet and then draw close to his side. All the smells and sights and feelings of the world feel magnified. I was almost dead, but instead I am alive. Because of Peter.
Of all people.
Peter walks across the grate and opens the small door. Light streams into the incinerator. Tobias walks with me away from the fire smell, away from the metal furnace, into the cement-walled room that contains it.
“Got that gun?” Peter says to Tobias.
“No,” says Tobias, “I figured I would shoot the bullets out of my nostrils, so I left it upstairs. ”
“Oh, shut up. ”
Peter holds another gun in front of him and leaves the incinerator room. A dank hallway with exposed pipes in the ceiling greets us, but it’s only ten feet long. The sign next to the door at the end says EXIT. I am alive, and I am leaving.
The stretch of land between Dauntless headquarters and Erudite headquarters does not look the same in reverse. I suppose everything is bound to look different when you aren’t on your way to die.
When we reach the end of the alley, Tobias presses his shoulder to one wall and leans forward just enough to see around the corner. His face blank, he puts one arm around the corner, steadying it with the building wall, and fires twice. I shove my fingers in my ears and try not to pay attention to the gunshots and what they make me remember.
“Hurry,” Tobias says.
We sprint, Peter first, me second, and Tobias last, down Wabash Avenue. I look over my shoulder to see what Tobias shot at, and see two men on the ground behind Erudite headquarters. One isn’t moving, and the other is clutching his arm and running toward the door. They will send others after us.
My head feels muddled, probably from exhaustion, but the adrenaline keeps me running.
“Take the least logical route!” shouts Tobias.
“What?” Peter says.
“The least logical route,” Tobias says. “So they won’t find us!”
Peter swerves to the left, down another alley, this one full of cardboard boxes that contain frayed blankets and stained pillows—old factionless dwellings, I assume. He jumps over a box that I go crashing through, kicking it behind me.
At the end of the alley he turns left, toward the marsh. We are back on Michigan Avenue. In plain sight of Erudite headquarters, if anyone cares to glance down the street.
“Bad idea!” I shout.
Peter takes the next right. At least all the streets here are clear—no fallen street signs to dodge or holes to jump over. My lungs burn like I inhaled poison. My legs, which ached at first, are now numb, which is better. Somewhere far away, I hear shouts.
Then it occurs to me: The least logical thing to do is stop running.
I grab Peter’s sleeve and drag him toward the nearest building. It is six stories high, with wide windows arranged into a grid, divided by pillars of brick. The first door I try is locked, but Tobias fires at the window next to it until it breaks, and unlocks the door from the inside.
The building is completely empty. Not a single chair or table. And there are too many windows. We walk toward the emergency stairwell, and I crawl beneath the first flight so that we are hidden by the staircase. Tobias sits next to me, and Peter across from us both, his knees drawn to his chest.
I try to catch my breath and calm myself down, but it isn’t easy. I was dead. I was dead, and then I wasn’t, and why? Because of Peter? Peter?
I stare at him. He still looks so innocent, despite all that he has done to prove that he is not. His hair lies smooth against his head, shiny and dark, like we didn’t just run for a mile at full speed. His round eyes scan the stairwell and then rest on my face.
“What?” he says. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“How did you do it?” I say.
“It wasn’t that hard,” he says. “I dyed a paralytic serum purple and switched it out with the death serum. Replaced the wire that was supposed to read your heartbeat with a dead one. The bit with the heart monitor was harder; I had to get some Erudite help with a remote and stuff—you wouldn’t understand it if I explained it to you. ”
“Why did you do it?” I say. “You want me dead. You were willing to do it yourself! What changed?”
He presses his lips together and doesn’t look away, not for a long time. Then he opens his mouth, hesitates, and finally says, “I can’t be in anyone’s debt. Okay? The idea that I owed you something made me sick. I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like I was going to vomit. Indebted to a Stiff? It’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. And I couldn’t have it. ”
“What are you talking about? You owed me something?”
He rolls his eyes. “The Amity compound. Someone shot me—the bullet was at head level; it would have hit me right between the eyes. And you shoved me out of the way. We were even before that—I almost killed you during initiation, you almost killed me during the attack simulation; we’re square, right? But after that . . . ”
“You’re insane,” says Tobias. “That’s not the way the world works . . . with everyone keeping score. ”
“It’s not?” Peter raises his eyebrows. “I don’t know what world you live in, but in mine, people only do things for you for one of two reasons. The first is if they want something in return. And the second is if they feel like they owe you something. ”
“Those aren’t the only reasons people do things for you,” I say. “Sometimes they do them because they love you. Well, maybe not you, but . . . ”
Peter snorts. “That’s exactly the kind of garbage I expect a delusional Stiff to say. ”
“I guess we just have to make sure you owe us,” says Tobias. “Or you’ll go running to whoever offers you the best deal. ”
“Yeah,” Peter says. “That’s pretty much how it is. ”
I shake my head. I can’t imagine living the way he does—always keeping track of who gave me what and what I should give them in return, incapable of love or loyalty or forgiveness, a one-eyed man with a knife in hand, looking for someone else’s eye to poke out. That isn’t life. It’s some paler version of life. I wonder where he learned it from.
“So when can we get out of here, you think?” Peter says.
“Couple hours,” says Tobias. “We should go to the Abnegation sector. That’s where the factionless and the Dauntless who aren’t wired for simulations will be by now. ”
“Fantastic,” says Peter.
Tobias puts his arm around me. I press my cheek into his shoulder, and close my eyes so I don’t have to look at Peter. I know there is a lot to say, though I’m not sure exactly what it is, but we can’t say it here, or now.
As we walk the streets I once called home, conversations sputter and die, and eyes cling to my face and body. As far as they knew—and I’m sure they knew, because Jeanine knows how to spread news—I died less than six hours ago. I notice that some of the factionless I pass are marked with patches of blue dye. They are simulation-ready.
Now that we’re here, and safe, I realize that there are cuts all over the bottoms of my feet from running over rough pavement and bits of glass from broken windows. Every step stings. I focus on that instead of all the stares.
“Tris?” someone calls out ahead of us. I lift my head, and see Uriah and Christina on the sidewalk, comparing revolvers. Uriah drops his gun in the grass and sprints toward me. Christina follows him, but at a slower pace.
Uriah reaches for me, but Tobias sets a hand on his shoulder to stop him. I feel a surge of gratitude. I don’t think I can handle Uriah’s embrace, or his questions, or his surprise, right now.
“She’s been through a lot,” Tobias says. “She just needs to sleep. She’ll be down the street—number thirty-seven. Come visit tomorrow. ”
Uriah frowns at me. The Dauntless don’t usually understand restraint, and Uriah has only ever known the Dauntless. But he must respect Tobias’s assessment of me, because he nods and says, “Okay. Tomorrow. ”
Christina reaches out as I pass her and squeezes my shoulder lightly. I try to stand up straighter, but my muscles feel like a cage, holding my shoulders hunched. The eyes follow me down the street, pinching the back of my neck. I am relieved when Tobias leads us up the front walk of the gray house that belonged to Marcus Eaton.
I don’t know by what strength Tobias marches through the doorway. For him this house must contain echoes of screaming parents and belt snaps and hours spent in small, dark closets, yet he doesn’t look troubled as he leads Peter and me into the kitchen. If anything he stands taller. But maybe that is Tobias—when he’s supposed to be weak, he’s strong.
Tori, Harrison, and Evelyn stand in the kitchen. The sight overwhelms me. I lean my shoulder into the wall and squeeze my eyes shut. The outline of the execution table is printed on my eyelids. I open my eyes. I try to breathe. They are talking but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Why is Evelyn here, in Marcus’s house? Where is Marcus?
Evelyn puts one arm around Tobias and touches his face with the other, pressing her cheek to his. She says something to him. He smiles at her when he pulls away. Mother and son, reconciled. I am not sure it’s wise.
Tobias turns me around and, keeping one hand on my arm and one on my waist, to avoid my shoulder wound, presses me toward the staircase. We climb the steps together.
Upstairs are his parents’ old bedroom and his old bedroom, with a bathroom between them, and that’s it. He takes me into his bedroom, and I stand for a moment, looking around at the room where he spent most of his life.
He keeps his hand on my arm. He has been touching me in some way since we left the stairwell of that building, like he thinks I might break apart if he doesn’t hold me together.
“Marcus didn’t go into this room after I left, I’m pretty sure,” says Tobias. “Because nothing was moved when I came back here. ”
Members of Abnegation don’t own many decorations, since they are viewed as self-indulgent, but what few things we were allowed, he has. A stack of school papers. A small bookshelf. And, strangely, a sculpture made of blue glass on his dresser.
“My mother smuggled that to me when I was young. Told me to hide it,” he says. “The day of the ceremony, I put it on my dresser before I left. So he would see it. A small act of defiance. ”
I nod. It is strange to be in a place that carries one single memory so completely. This room is sixteen-year-old Tobias, about to choose Dauntless to escape his father.
“Let’s take care of your feet,” he says. But he doesn’t move, just shifts his fingers to the inside of my elbow.
“Okay,” I say.
We walk into the adjoined bathroom, and I sit on the edge of the tub. He sits next to me, a hand on my knee as he turns on the faucet and plugs the drain. Water spills into the tub, covering my toenails. My blood turns the water pink.
He crouches in the tub and puts my foot in his lap, dabbing at the deeper cuts with a washcloth. I don’t feel it. Even when he smears soap lather over them, I don’t feel anything. The bathwater turns gray.
I pick up the bar of soap and turn it in my hands until my skin is coated with white lather. I reach for him and run my fingers over his hands, careful to get the lines in his palms and the spaces between his fingers. It feels good to do something, to clean something, and to have my hands on him again.
We get water all over the bathroom floor as we both splash it on ourselves to get the soap off. The water makes me cold, but I shiver and I don’t care. He gets a towel and starts to dry my hands.
“I don’t . . . ” I sound like I am being strangled. “My family is all dead, or traitors; how can I . . . ”
I am not making any sense. The sobs take over my body, my mind, everything. He gathers me to him, and bathwater soaks my legs. His hold is tight. I listen to his heartbeat and, after a while, find a way to let the rhythm calm me.
“I’ll be your family now,” he says.
“I love you,” I say.
I said that once, before I went to Erudite headquarters, but he was asleep then. I don’t know why I didn’t say it when he could hear it. Maybe I was afraid to trust him with something so personal as my devotion. Or afraid that I did not know what it was to love someone. But now I think the scary thing was not saying it before it was almost too late. Not saying it before it was almost too late for me.
I am his, and he is mine, and it has been that way all along.
He stares at me. I wait with my hands clutching his arms for stability as he considers his response.
He frowns at me. “Say it again. ”
“Tobias,” I say, “I love you. ”
His skin is slippery with water and he smells like sweat and my shirt sticks to his arms when he slides them around me. He presses his face to my neck and kisses me right above the collarbone, kisses my cheek, kisses my lips.
“I love you, too,” he says.