A/N: It's taken a mountain of effort, way too many drafts and outlines to count, and more than a little sweat and frustration to get this chapter done. But it is and I'm content with it; and I hope that y'all enjoy it, too, even if Tris still is far from being out of the woods yet. Also for some reason now when I copy-paste things into FF I lose all my italics so that's a new delight to deal with -_- Casual, totally unrelated reminder that I also upload on Archive of Our Own where things in general are much prettier and easier to look at than on this hellscape of a website.
The Pedrad home wasn't intended for so many bodies, especially not when a pair of piercers came knocking. I spent the awkward stretch of waiting time with my eyes on the ceiling. I wasn't squeamish usually, but my stomach did turn over when they started on Zeke. Even the neatly just sterilizing the scalpel and pliers made me look away.
Uriah took some pity on me. "You want something short sleeved, Tris?" he offered. "Got my clothes still here from before Initiation." It was an excuse to step out of the over-crowded living space, and I was grateful for the offer. Briefly I felt a jolt of nervous fear that came when I recognized we were stepping into a small bedroom, alone. I let it go with a heavy exhale. Uriah was someone I could trust. He wasn't trying to do anything inappropriate.
We left the door open, allowing the quiet chatter from the others rise and fall behind us. It helped with my nerves. Uriah pulled off his vest over his head without even unzipping it. He threw it onto the neatly made bed before leaning heavily on the top of a dresser tucked against the wall.
I waited for him to inhale, pause, and exhale quietly. With a series of blinks Uriah then cleared his throat and yanked open a drawer. "I knew Ma would still have these in here. She's a bit of a sucker for sentiment," he explained. His voice shook slightly just like his hands as he pawed through the clothes there.
Focusing on something small, something manageable was a welcomed break that I desperately needed. I wondered for the first time the fate of my own clothes from my childhood. In Abnegation they would be expected to hand them in to the resource depot, perhaps to be handed out to the Factionless or even just to the neighbors with their own growing children. Would that have happened already? I didn't think my mother would be the type to hold on to the past, but then again I hadn't ever thought she was anything other than Abnegation through and through. I wouldn't have thought she would have fought with my father and come to visit me seemingly in spite of him. Now that I knew she had come from Dauntless, anything seemed possible.
"Sorry if it's a bit big. I think we're pretty close, height wise, though," Uriah said. He had found an apparently suitable shirt, sliding it to the edge of the dresser. With quick motions he pulled off his own and, after wiping his face with it, tugged on the fresh t-shirt. The old one was crumpled and tossed into a corner.
I shrugged off my vest too though I just held it between my knees rather than chucking it to the side. Uriah moved to sit on the edge of the bed. I turned around before peeling off my own shirt. I'd gotten more or less used to changing in front of the others, but I could still snatch some small ounce of modesty. "That's better already," I said just to fill the space between us. My skin was still tacky with dried sweat and what I really wanted was to take a shower; but it certainly helped that I was no longer in skin tight long sleeves. Uriah's shirt was a little baggy - kind of how my dresses had been back in Abnegation - and that helped, too.
The vest went back on, unzipped this time. When I turned around again, I tried to put some kind of smile on my face. It definitely was more of a grimace but at least I felt better than Uriah looked.
He didn't even look up from his zoned out position on the bed. I let my face fall from the forced smile and took a half step closer. "Uriah?" I pressed quietly. His hand was flexing and curling in and out of a fist between his knees. There was still a sheen of sweat on his forehead and a flush at the nape of his neck. I would have expected him to feel better after changing and chucking the thickly padded tactical vest. "Are you okay?"
I watched as he swallowed several times. His lips parted before he shook his head finally. Nothing came out of his mouth. "Do you want some water? You look… bad," I said honestly. He looked like how I felt.
That coaxed a chuckle out of him. It seemed to jumpstart his speech because after another long moment and a swipe of his hand over his mouth, Uriah finally managed to speak. "None of us are okay," he said hoarsely.
"We shouldn't be okay. We are so far from okay it's… it's friggen criminal." I hadn't intended to say so - and Uriah was definitely not impressed with the choice of the word "friggen" - but, by god, what else could I say?
He looked at me with a mix of incredulity and relief. I threw one hand in the air as I let out a half-hearted laugh. "I mean, just. Look at us all. We're holed up in your mom's place because, what? We don't even know what. Something happened that no one understands," I said.
Uriah twisted his hands over on his lap. He tipped his head to one side and then another. It caught my eye, especially with how his eyes shifted without meeting mine.
I paused my tirade and dared to edge closer. "Uriah?" I don't know what I was asking, but I could tell there was something there on the tip of his tongue. That same unknown element that was lingering in the air of the entire faction.
It took another long minute for him to meet my eyes again. "It's not… There are some people who definitely know what's going on. Or what might have gone on," he said vaguely.
I felt myself drop onto the bed next to him. I didn't know how to push, if I should even push, but clearly Uriah had something on his mind. My getting closer did the trick. "If people just ask, there might be others out there who know," he offered.
"Do you know what happened? More than what your mom just said?" The other question I had - how was he able to remember - that would be too much to push. But I couldn't stop from asking this.
He exhaled deeply and when his hands stopped moving they shook. But he managed a quick nod in the affirmative. I wished that it made me feel something. Instead, I felt… nothing. I still needed to know more to understand. I held my breath until Uriah started talking.
"The faction. It was surreal. Like clockwork - like Ma said - but in the worst way possible. You know how you asked on the train if it was a drill? That's what I thought at first. I got up with the rest of you, but no one was really saying anything," he said slowly. "There weren't even radio calls overhead. Just one or two corporals with headsets. Enough to direct us around but it was like herding sheep. Big, tough, sheep that I've known for my entire life."
I didn't like the picture that my mind's eye offered of Dauntless moving in rote motions together at an unknown puppet master's beck and call. "Go on," I nudged. As he spoke, I had the vague sense of deja vu. I didn't remember per se, but the flashes of images that came from his recollection were more than just imagination. Or so I was convincing myself. Maybe it really was just my head playing tricks on me.
"There were loadouts laid out in the gyms. You know how they've been all booked up? Maybe that was for this. I dunno," Uriah theorized. "I followed the rest of us in the dorms, though we got split up. I just picked someone and stuck with 'em. Piper, the gal on the bunk above me."
She'd been on the same train car when I had found Uriah, now that I thought of it. That wasn't important now though.
"Where'd you go? Er, where'd we go?" I asked. I wanted to guide Uriah back to the story rather than getting distracted.
Uriah's lips pressed in a thin line. His hands were back to wringing one another again. I had to nudge him again, this time with my knee. "Onto the trains just... We weren't told where we were going, though I eventually figured it out when the cars started to slow down. Abnegation," he said. He had to clear his throat before continuing.
"From there it was a little more normal? Ish? We weren't the first squad on the ground there, and there were people relaying orders to the Abnies that hadn't been rounded up at first. Orders were simple. Keep 'em quiet. Round 'em up."
If an entire division of Dauntless troops showed up in Abnegation, I knew right away who would be there to push back. Even at the crack of dawn the Council members would be the ones to step forward. I tried to swallow and found myself struggling with a dry throat and a knot buried deep in my stomach. There were flashes of my father behind my eyes. I wished that I knew if they were real or my imagination trying to fill in the blanks.
"And if they didn't come quietly?" The question spilled out from me. My self control was shot. Not when it came to my family.
Uriah closed his eyes and shook his head.
Dread shot through my veins, hot and painful. The lingering perfume of burnt gunpowder that had followed me like a cloud was suffocating now. My hands went to my weapons belt. I pulled out the pistol that had sat in the holster all afternoon. When I popped the magazine out, I had to close my eyes and drag in a fresh breath to stay as calm as possible. There were shots missing and I suspected that the empty loops on my waist hadn't been that way when we had loaded out. Two missing magazines times fifteen plus the four or five that were missing from the current load...
The room we were in was tiny, confining like the glass coffin from my fear landscape. But cracking it open wasn't an option. In fact, I didn't want what we were saying to be overheard, even by the others in his family. I slipped off the bed and peered out the door frame. The piercers were chatting with Zeke still while one of them prepped their tools for Shauna. They didn't notice as I closed the door quietly behind me. I turned back to Uriah. My pistol went back into its holster. He barely seemed to realize that I'd left. The pallor had returned to his face and hands.
"It's not your fault," I insisted.
He let out a bitter chuckle. "You're lucky, in a way. Well, maybe not since we're all stuck with the fallout. But I sure as hell feel like you guys are, somehow," Uriah rasped.
I was about to let loose with a biting remark that Uriah didn't deserve. I gritted my teeth and focused on what he said about all of us being stuck with the fallout. He didn't need to have my thirty-five unaccounted for rounds dumped on his conscience as well. They were my burden to bear. "You couldn't stop a whole faction," I said instead.
"I could have stopped a few, though," he said quietly. He wiped his hands on his knees. They had stopped shaking which was a minor improvement.
There wasn't a good response to that. I paced across the stretch of space between the door and the closet. When I glanced at him I realized now that his own holster was empty. Probably had chucked it when the rest of us had started- I forced myself to stop that line of thinking. I didn't want to remember any of it anymore. The amnesia felt like a blessing even if it did put the faction in the dark.
I spun on my heel and pointed sharply at Uriah. I ignored the voices outside that had started calling for us to come back. "That's it!" I exclaimed. He lifted an eyebrow. "You remember. They - whoever they are that did this to us, whenever Tori or whoever finds them - they can't fight that. It wasn't just a bunch of serumed up Dauntless with amnesia versus the ones who didn't go out there at all. You guys, you're the evidence. The plot won't stay under wraps forever. That's… that's something, right?"
Uriah shook his head. "It's way too late for blame. You don't… when you realize what's out there, what we did. You'll get it, Tris. It's way too little, too late," he said.
It didn't matter to me what he was saying. I waved off his denial with one hand. "But there must have been others like you who were just playing along, right?" I pushed. My brow furrowed as I returned to pacing. There had to be a reason why Uriah hadn't been affected. It was just like me, just like my Erudite aptitude messing with phase two's serum. I tripped as my feet stopped listening to my brain.
My hand moved to my neck, ghosting over the track marks that were all in various stages of healing. The most recent pair twinged as I prodded them with my fingertips. I remembered Lauren's idle mention of Uriah getting hung up on the same insect sim that I had. And the way that we were constantly the top two for times, even after weeks of training with the others. The only time that I'd slipped up had been the one time we'd gone under completely cold. It had been hazy, my head and body not moving in concert. The same feeling that had tugged at me throughout the final fear landscape felt exactly like that in retrospect. It had been the same unnerving ungrounded feeling that had been in place after our group got smoked.
And Uriah had slipped behind that day, too, when we had been smoke-bombed. Exactly the same as myself. We were the only ones to do significantly worse than standard.
I'd assumed the fact that he was always nipping at my heels for times was just the same as all the other Dauntless-borns kicking off Initiation with the home faction advantage. Or just that, well, Uriah was that good. But maybe there was something else under all of that.
There were multiple threads kicking around in my head that I could almost tie together, but just as I fumbled after one, the door burst open. Zeke had a fresh bandage taped on his wrist and a lazy smile that didn't reach his eyes quite yet. I don't think that mine would be in any better shape, either.
"You two done hiding out? They're ready for y'alls now. C'mon."
Uriah's eyes flashed at me, an unspoken plea. I twitched my head in the barest of nods. I wasn't about to go spilling what he had told me to Zeke or anyone else. He exhaled slowly before heaving to his feet. "The sooner we get rid of these things, the better," Uriah muttered darkly.
I wasn't going to sit on my heels indefinitely. Shauna broke ranks first to go and find some kind of food when it was nearing eight or so at night. Hana didn't want anyone leaving - excluding the piercers who had gone their own way to deal with the rest of the floor's trackers - but she didn't have the same sway over Shauna as she did over her sons.
She also didn't have pull over me, either. I didn't relish leaving the comfort of the apartment and stepping back into the tense halls of Dauntless, but I had no real other option. Sitting around just waiting for more information was wrong after what Uriah told me. Shauna gave me a look when we made it to the stairwell. "You be careful out there, okay?" she said as we started to take the steps. Apparently she had already sussed out that I wasn't going to be following her to the kitchens after all.
"You're not going to ask where I'm going? Or why?" I asked.
She shook her head, a tight motion among her quick step-step-step down the stairwell. Militant and sure, that was the Dauntless way even in a crisis. "Your deal is your own. You're Dauntless now. And I'm sure you're thinking the same thing I am. How in the hell did this happen? I just…" she trailed off as we passed by another small cluster of Dauntless going in the opposite direction. She didn't speak again until we had gone down another pair of flights. Even now knowing that some but not all of us were tracker-free, I didn't blame her. Never mind the unanswered question of just who had been pulling our strings when we had them in.
"I'm worried about what we might find out. Not knowing… that's almost better, right?" Shauna admitted.
I could see what she was getting at, but the gunpowder on my hands and the empty magazines at my belt were too insistent. I wasn't going to be able to just close my eyes and ignore that. Not when the faction had been deployed to Abnegation of all places. "I'll let you know if it's better or worse, knowing," I said honestly. Learning more from Uriah had been eye-opening, but there was still more. So much more.
Shauna clapped me on the shoulder when she got to the turn for the cafeteria. There were more Dauntless around now moving in clusters and clumps. There wasn't any shouting this time though. The calls over the speaker system had been quiet for over an hour. I noticed the tell-tale smell of food on the stoves going.
Even in a crisis, people still needed to eat.
I ducked down the opposite hall to the all-too-familiar stretch that led to a much more narrow stairwell from before. The central one that ran parallel to the elevators was for heavy traffic. This one, the one that Eric and I frequented, wasn't intended for the same traffic.
I pushed the bar on the exterior door, waving at the camera above me for good measure. I didn't have an access card, but oh well. It wasn't like the entry and exit rules were exactly high priority right now.
My destination had been simple to keep in my thoughts. Abnegation. My old faction. That was where my new family had been sent to for someone else's whims. I had to see it, touch it, understand what in the hell had happened there.
Moving into a trot, I considered the elevated rail tracks above my head. That would have been easier, but the one thing that had been made clear from the announcements in Dauntless throughout the afternoon was that the whole transport system was offline. No trains, no busses, no inter-factional communication. The city was on lockdown until further notice.
I felt hyper aware of every street and building that I jogged past. There were still barricades up on the main drags. I avoided those when I saw the remnants of Dauntless soldiers still milling about. Apparently not all of the retreat orders had been followed yet. Or perhaps they were the ones with trackers still in place. At least the Dauntless who had been in the faction had all, presumably, returned of their own free will. Who knew with these?
The sun had disappeared while we cowered in the Pedrad apartment. I had to rely on my practice from Initiation to navigate the crumbling sidewalks and criss-crossing roadways of Chicago as the grey dusk slipped into true nightfall.
Had Eric known, somehow, that this would be important? Being able to run the city in the dark? Sure we had the practical with Four - the one that Molly had bombed for us - but it seemed surreal that here and now I was already using that knowledge again. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was everything.
I still didn't understand everything that Eric had done. Like whatever he'd given me before the final sims. Why he hadn't told me about the weird patrols and movements that had been coming back in the mornings. Or where in the hell he and the others in Leadership were now that we were in the middle of a goddamn crisis. I wanted to believe there was a pattern, some logic to it all. I wanted so badly to believe that the Dauntless that I had been exposed to little by little would still be there when I would get back to my bunk tonight.
Moving through the deathly still streets of my city, heading towards the unknown with the bulletproof vest and pistol that both didn't belong to me and yet somehow did at the same time, I wasn't quite sure if I was deluding myself now or then.
There was movement at the next cross street that made me skitter to a stop and duck into the shadows of an old stoop. I was still in the region between factions, the dead space that even the Factionless didn't call home. I had left Dauntless but wasn't quite in Abnegation yet. Limbo. Who were the people here now, out past the barricades?
I squinted until I could make out the reflective strips that were on the side panels of their vests. Their squad patches didn't glow, but the white stitching on them made them stand out regardless. Definitely Dauntless, then. I started to step out, relieved that they weren't some rogue Factionless, but I stopped myself. One of them was hefting a rifle. Another was pushing someone to their knees and manhandling their arms to be behind their back. I felt my gut drop out from under me as I recognized the plain, homespun greys that were being pulled on to keep order.
"Don't make this harder on yourself than this needs to be," the soldier with the rifle snapped. A frustrated cry tore from my throat as I watched him press the barrel of the rifle into the Abnegation's back. Immediately his captive stopped resisting. The other Dauntless soldiers quickly restrained the Abnegation with some zip-tie cuffs, like that was even necessary.
How could they do this? To our own people? For what reason?
"You shouldn't have run. It's dangerous out at night. All kinds of nefarious people out there," someone else said. There was a chuckle exchanged between the group which only further set my teeth on edge. I pushed off from my hiding place and dropped my hand down to my holster. I wanted to be ready for anything. My fingers brushed aside the snap holding my pistol secure there.
I felt a feeling of familiarity when I had the grip of the pistol in my hand. I told myself it was because of training, all the drills that Four and Lauren and even Eric had us go through. But it felt like a lie. I knew this gun for another reason, one which unsettled me deeply. I pulled my hand back and worked the zip on my vest into place instead. Protecting myself would let me stick around to protect this Abnegation like we were supposed to.
I focused instead on the scene ahead of me. Maybe these Dauntless were still under the influence of the trackers. Maybe they were just taking advantage of a fistful of weapons and some scared Abnegation to play tough guy. To what end, though? I wasn't going to let it continue.
"Why don't you pick on someone in your weight class? He's not going to give you the fight you're jonesing for," I called out. Falling into bravado and boasting, that was something I knew from experience any Dauntless would respond to. It was also easy to slip into, letting me delude myself for a moment that this was just another confrontation with a bully like Peter. Simple, straightforward issue. Not wound up in complex questions and self-doubt.
Three sets of uniformed bodies turned to face me. I finished zipping up my vest for good measure before jutting my chin out in further faux confidence. "Where's your CO? We're all supposed to be back at the compound, not out slinking in the dark causing trouble," I jeered.
"Mind your business, girlie," one of them snapped in response. He tipped his rifle back onto his shoulder with a motion that was far too casual and definitely breaking trigger and barrel control discipline. The two by the Abnegation captive moved smoothly to block my view. I kept my focus on the one that seemed most like the ringleader.
"What're you doing with them? Stiffs should go back to their own Faction, too. Let him run along," I said. Throwing around the derogative felt weird. I thought it might make them take me more seriously, but it mostly just put an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. I didn't want to put so much distance between myself and the Abnegation where I tried to put myself above them. I wasn't that person.
The Dauntless man cocked his head. A strange grin flitted across his lips. "You're serious. You have no idea what's going on. And yet, you're tryin' to tell us what to do. That's cute. Real cute," he said.
An unsettling chuckle rose and fell between the other two. I brought my hand back to the butt of my pistol. The motion was slow, sure, but not unnoticed by the man in front of me. He lifted an eyebrow. "And I'd say you're the one jonesing for a fight. That's downright adorable that is."
The rifle came back down into both his hands. I froze when the barrel was pointed firmly at me now. I trusted my vest, but I wasn't an idiot. "Let the Stiff go," I tried once more. I was eyeing the uneven terrain under their feet and trying to think through the best way to get and keep them off-balance. I probably would have a handful of seconds before he would actually start firing on another Dauntless. Then-
"Nah. I think I'll bring 'em with us. And you, too. I think Max'll be curious to hear what's going on back at HQ. Shouldn't impact what we've got going on, but hey, can't hurt. We're so close to finishing the job here," he replied cockily.
My half-baked plans slipped from my thoughts when he so casually name dropped Max. As one of the faction Leaders, it made a horrific amount of sense that he would be involved in coordinating the pieces that lead to today. He had personally been the one to announce the tracker program last night. The rest of the soldier's posturing almost passed by as well until I realized that this might actually, oddly enough, be the best chance to figure out the why of what had happened. Straight from the horse's mouth. Even if it was risky. Even if it was outright stupid, actually. But what, realistically, could they do to me? I was Dauntless, like them. We all were tied up in this now.
I dragged my hand back away from my holster. "So long as you don't hurt them. Fine," I relented. "I'll go wherever. I'm not here to make trouble. Just looking out for the rest of us. You know. For when the other factions stop hiding and start asking questions about what's going on."
He rolled his eyes and waved the nose of the rifle in the direction of Abnegation proper. "What's going on is revolution," he answered with a disgusting amount of earnesty. I swallowed my fears and dutifully followed directions, getting sandwiched between the other two Dauntless along with the Abnegation that I could now tell was a woman.
She was middle aged, maybe ten years older than my mother. Her eyes roved over me before flinching away when I met her gaze. I opened my mouth to tell her not to worry, everything would be fine, and stopped. Closing it again, I realized it would be better not to lie to her. I had no idea what was going to happen. I was just shooting in the dark.
Traveling through the quiet streets into Abnegation should have felt like coming home. I had a strange sense of deja vu that I didn't trust. It wasn't nostalgia. Not in the slightest. The route we took wasn't a trek that I made often while growing up. Only every few months when it was our turn to head out and back to the Dauntless depos for volunteering did we pass this way.
My heart did a strange little flip in my chest as I thought of those simpler times working with Abnegation and Dauntless members to just get through the monotony of sorting fresh shipments of textiles from the manufacturing plant. It was a stark contrast to being marched at gunpoint back to the center of Abnegation by the very people who were supposed to be my comrades now.
As we got further into the faction, I started to see obvious signs of distress even in the dark. While Abnegation didn't get the same electricity allowances as Erudite, we did still have streetlights and porch lamps that would stay on for the night. Several of them were out, glass shattered and scattered across the street or front walks. And I had spent more than enough time at the inside and outside ranges to recognize the pockmarks and gouges in the simple concrete and stone buildings which had been from gunfire.
There was a pocket of light right in the commons that the faction used for public meetings, events, and the monthly swap meet. Bright halogen lamps were perched on the tops and backs of trucks giving a false noon. There were black-clad Dauntless swarming around here, but the numbers were far from those that I had seen in the halls or train today. There were maybe two full squads here. Any conspiracy required limited involvement, but the amount of people was surprisingly large. Assuming they were all in on it and weren't still under the tracker's effects.
At this point I was separated from my fellow captive. One of the silent Dauntless soldiers took them down a wide side street. I tried to track them but got a shove and an order to keep my eyes forward, girlie. I ground my teeth to keep from snapping back.
I didn't have long to fight with that urge as within another minute or so I spotted where I was to be deposited. It wasn't hard to recognize the heart of the operation here. There were three trucks parked in a U to create a sheltered, well lit central command.
Max was an obvious presence there, shadowed by more eager-to-please soldiers like the ones that had brought me here. I stopped dead in my tracks however as I spotted another unmistakable figure. It was only the press of the rifle barrel into my shoulder that got me to realize that I had stopped moving.
Standing just behind Max, oh so casually with his arms crossed on his chest, right at the heart of the apparent coup on my old home, was Eric.