A/N: Thank you all so much for the reviews! I cannot believe that this story has surpassed 400 reviews. It is incredible and something that I honestly never thought was possible. Thank you guys so much! This chapter is a little longer than some of the others, mostly because a lot happens in it. I can't wait for you to read it and to get your feedback. There is a small chunk that is unbeta-ed (because I got excited about sharing it) so I may come back later to do some editing. Nothing major will change though. Please review and let me know what you think but most of all enjoy!
I stand in the foyer of Erudite's building, waiting for the Dauntless envoy to arrive as I mentally replay my latest interaction with Catherine. The morning was spent with Catherine, leading her throughout Erudite and introducing her to the various heads of the departments. Catherine had a tendency to introduce herself as my replacement, however as I explained that I was moving into a position as Jeanine's right hand women, any attention that would have been lavished upon Catherine, was pushed onto me. Every one was looking to further their own agenda and looking for a way to our illustrious leader in order to do so. Thankfully, it would likely be Catherine who would deal with them more now. While the attention will never really be diverted from me, I am just happy that I will no longer frequently have to deal with inconsequential people looking to promote themselves.
"Miss. Elswood?" I look up to see one of the Erudite's from the information desk for visitors standing before me. "The Dauntless are approaching."
"Thank you," I tell her and watch as she scurries back to her desk. I close the file on my tablet and tuck it in my arms against me. The dark figures of Dauntless can be seen approaching through the glass wall. I should have known that any luck I had involving Eric and Dauntless had left me the moment I first met him in Jeanine's office. He is leading the small pack of twenty-five.
I sigh to myself before they enter the building. Eric sees me instantly, leading the others towards me. He smirks as he gets closer, and I ignore the twist of my stomach. It is the first time have seen him since I left Dauntless after the storm. I am reminded that I will need to inform him that anything between us has to end. It likely will not be an easy conversation, and it is unlikely that Eric will simply accept it with grace, but it needs to be done.
"Eric," I greet him before looking over at the small crowd of Dauntless. They seem to exhume a frantic kind of energy, laughing and joking with one another as they look around Erudite. Erudite looks back and I am suddenly aware of how much of their focus is on me.
"Amelia," he says. "Always a pleasure." His voice is low and almost teasing. He steps close, his gaze steady and intense on mine. For a moment I am afraid he's going to touch me, somehow signify that things changed between us and that all the rumours were right. Everyone is still watching.
I ignore it, shoving it down with the rest of my emotions. I break eye contact, looking over the volunteers. "Follow me," I say. I turn and led them towards the stairs that lead to the lab, ignoring the blatant stares from my faction and the heat of Eric's eyes on me.
At the bottom of the stairs, one of the lab assistants wait. He does not look afraid of the Dauntless, instead he nearly sneers as they stop in front of him. The lack of fear was one of the reasons he was chosen for this task, though I have no doubt that the Dauntless will heckle him.
"Miss. Elswood," he greets, nodding in deference to me. I nod back.
"Isaiah will lead you up the stairs to the labs. I am taking the elevator. Wait outside the door until I arrive." I aim this point to all of them, but I look at Eric to drive it home. I am hoping he will lead them on. There is no way for me to follow at their speed up multiple flights of stairs in heels.
"Go," Eric orders and I watch as Isaiah scrambles to lead them before they swarm and overwhelm him. A small tactic at the bias I am sure they all saw in him. Eric turns to me. "Lead the way."
I should not be surprised. There is no peace with Eric's presence. I move quickly towards the elevator. I have no hope of losing him, but if I can make the journey swift enough to decrease the time spent together. If I am lucky, we will not be alone in the elevator.
"Miss. Elswood," Eric teases as we wait in front of the doors, his breath hot on my neck. I am reminded of the last time he was behind me in far different circumstances. I begged, and he let me breathe. He let me forget, yet when I came back reality seemed all that much worse. It would not happen again.
"Do they always treat you like that?" he asks softly. The elevator doors open and we step in. His hand is on my lower back, ushering us in. There is no one else here and while he drops his hand as we turn to face the doors, he does not move away. "Always bowing and nodding and offering you everything you want on a silver platter?" Eric's voice is low. "No wonder you were so…tense before me. No one has ever fought you like I have, have they? No one's pushed back." I don't bother with a response. I can feel the heat of his body next to mine and I watch as the doors finally close. My heart is pounding. There is little doubt that once we are alone, he will do something. He overwhelms me, and I need to push back. There is too much of a chance that we will get caught if he tries anything here and then all of my work will be for nothing. A hand catches the door before it fully closes. Eric shifts back slightly and I feel myself breathe before I catch sight of the person stepping in. Riley. When I hoped we would not be alone, this is not what I meant.
"Amelia," he greets me with fake enthusiasm. He glances at Eric and narrows his eyes at the sight of him. Riley nods, but does not give him the curtesy of a formal greeting. "I've been looking for you."
"I was not aware," I state. I have not actively been avoiding him, but I had no desire to be near him after our last encounter. For all of his intelligence, he does not seem to take obvious clues well. He presses a button for his floor before moving forward, trying to shift his way in-between Eric and I. I am tempted to let him try to move Eric, but I do not need to deal with their posturing now.
"I was hoping we could speak," Riley said. "We did not finish our last discussion."
I turn towards him. "I was perfectly clear, Riley. What did you not understand?"
"You are being illogical, Amelia," he hisses. He is not very good at not drawing attention to himself. I can see Eric looking between us, moving his eyebrows seemingly in an effort to communicate whether or not he should intervene. I shake my head as minutely as possible.
"I meant what I said last time, Riley. Do not push my limits. You will not like the result." I had threatened to make him factionless. Riley's eyes narrow on me.
"I am trying to give you a chance," he says to me. "To help you prove the rumours about you and this…brute false. There is no one else here, Amelia, who is willing to put up with this and these…dalliances of yours." Good, I want to tell him. I do not want any of them. He is pushing my patience and I can easily see Eric getting angry. Whether it is the blatant dismissal of him or something else, I do not know, but I need to stop this before he murders Riley. We are nearly there.
"These dalliances, as you call them, are me doing my job," I nearly snarl. I am far too wound up about this and the small space where we are all together. Riley has far too much nerve to push this topic here. I thought the dinner had been bad enough, but at least there were others to break the tension. My emotions are far too close to the surface and I shove them back. I cannot react like this. "Do not ask me again."
The doors finally open and I can breathe as I push past him. I know he is watching as Eric follows me out, hand once again on the small of my back. I am almost certain that Eric looks back, but the Dauntless standing in the hallway, fidgeting and moving as they wait, catch my attention.
"Thank you for waiting," I tell them. "Follow me."
The process into the lab is remarkably easy. Gregory is there as lead technician, taking over the duties of informing the Dauntless of the process of the tests. I stand to the side, overseeing that everything flows smoothly. It takes far more redirecting of some of the Erudite's attention away from the Dauntless than it should. Eric, as anticipated, stands next to me.
I focus on my tablet, giving in to any possibility that he will tease me about it. I have too much work to do and I need to regulate myself. I need space to breathe and it is not given.
"What was Riley asking for?" Eric asks. He is staring at the proceedings, at his Dauntless being put under tests, but I am not certain he is really paying attention to them. "Does he still want to fuck you?"
My jaw clenches. I will not answer him. I will not give him the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me. Not here. It is bad enough he was a witness to that. I will not have Riley's blood on my hands. After a moment, Eric tries a different tactic.
"You're stressed," he says softly. "Perhaps we should meet later. Break in your bed?" He leans towards me slightly with a smirk. If I am honest with myself, it is tempting. There was nothing to be concerned about when I was in his bed. Only him. I cannot give into that desire though. It was a mistake last time, one that I had promised could not be repeated. No matter how much I want it. I look around the lab. The Dauntless are keeping the technicians busy and it occurs to me that the timing may never be better. While the semi public place is not ideal, it may keep things from getting too out of hand. Eric is prodding me for a reaction. He will get one.
"I need to speak with you about that." I motion and move to the side, closer to the wall and further from anyone listening. He looks far too amused to know what was coming. "Trying to cop a feel now? In public? I never expected it of you…" he grins slightly. "I'm all for it. What's more exciting than the risk of getting caught?" He leans forwards, reaching for me. I step back. Eric immediately tries to take control, using his hands and body to usher me further from the others in the lab. There is a small alcove to the side, hidden enough to be out of sight from the others.
"Stop," I snap. I cannot let him hide me away from the others. I put one of my hands against his chest, the feel of his muscles trigger a memory that I mostly try to ignore, focusing instead on forcing him back. He humours me slightly. His back is to the lab though, still covering me from anyone watching.
"No. Eric," I look around, trying to ensure that no one can hear before I lower my voice. "I am officially calling an end to…whatever this is. It's over." I watch as all expression on his face shuts down. It is an alarming change, but exactly the reason I try to stay in sight of the others. I cannot have him explode. "It cannot continue. I finished our work at Dauntless, and I have other requirements that need my full attention. I cannot afford to be distracted by you or the rumours that your presence brings. I'm sorry, but you will be far more satisfied with someone of your own faction."
"What?" He reaches out and grabs my arm, pulling me towards him. My arms come up automatically, trying to stop myself from crashing into his chest.
"You heard me," I snap. I try to push back, to gain some room but he is impossible to move. "It's over, for good."
"It doesn't fucking work like that, Amelia. I won't let it." His grip tightens as he seems to straighten, towering over me. I always feel small near him, but the fear of his posturing sparks anger in me.
I narrow my eyes at him. "You don't get a choice here," I snap, before realizing just how loud we are getting. "Not now." I take a deep breath. He looks furious, similar to the last time I tried to tell him it would not work. That did not work out as planned, but there is no bed here for him to force me back onto. I will not back down. Why can he not accept it? I am too tired for this. I need him to move, to give me space and step out of this situation. "Just go back, Eric. Forget about all of this, okay?"
"I'm not going to fucking forget it," he snarls. "You don't get to just decide –"
I cut him off, my anger getting a hold of me. The logical part of me approves for stopping him before he gets too loud and draws far too much attention to us. "Actually I do. It's my life and my body."
"You don't understand, Amelia," he drags out my name and leans forwards. My jaw clenches at that. He never listens. "I get what I want. Always." His tone is dark and fear strikes through me. If Erudites did not surround us, I would be afraid of his next actions. He cannot keep me here, forcing me to react to him until I admit that I want him and he knows it. It is a calculated risk that I had to take. I do my best to hide the fear, to ignore how his eyes seem to see right through me. His eyes are dark and filled with promise, similar to our first interactions.
I pull my arm from his grasp, glaring up at him. "Not this time."
"Miss. Elswood." My attention snaps away from him as one of the lab technicians calls me. Erudites always seem to have impeccable timing. It pulls me back into reality, and I look around to see if there are any spectators. None of them seem to be outright looking, but the Dauntless are watching and making facial expressions at each other. I look at Eric quickly. His body is tense, his hands clenched as if he's stopping himself from lashing out and hitting something or someone.
"Excuse me," I say. "I have to get back to work." I turn and walk away. I am no longer needed at Dauntless, at least not alone. It is nothing to worry about except hoping he finally understands. There are more important things that need my attention now.
Miraculously, Eric does not say another word to me. I stay to the other end of the room, conversing with some of the scientists about the results in-between setting up the details of the faction testing and messaging Jeanine the details. My arm aches from where he held it and I am lucky that I am wearing long sleeves still. I can feel his eyes on me as I lead them out of the lab and, after meeting them at the bottom of the stairs, out of Erudite.
Eric stops next to me in the foyer as the Dauntless leave the building. Some of them look back, but they all avoid Eric and do not say a word. My heart pounds in my chest, wondering what he is going to do next.
"It's not over," Eric says quietly. He looks eerily calm. He leaves before I can assert myself and confirm that it is. As I watch the Dauntless go, I can see them avoiding Eric as they run to the train. When the train is out of sight, it feels as if I can breathe. One issue is dealt with, provided he does not insert himself into my home. I make a mental note to avoid it as much as I can in the next few days. I can only hope that only the others will be as easy.
Most of my day is spent organizing the testing. I have to ensure that the machines are in good working order and that the faction volunteer lists have been vetted. Abnegation usually does most of the volunteering, but this year there is an increase in interest from other factions. I wonder if it its Jeanine's encouragement over Divergents that has prompted it. It seems unlikely that the factions will continue to work together, but if Jeanine unites them under this fear, then it is possible. The thought is alarming. The diversity of the volunteers means that I will have to set up a meeting to go over the protocols of the testing, and the necessity of alerting Erudite if any anomalies appear. The thought of it makes me sick. An anomaly would be a sign of divergence. It is another step towards helping Jeanine annihilate people like me. I take a deep breath and try to steel my resolve. I cannot think about it. I cannot think about the deaths I am helping cause, or the torture they are likely to succumb to…like Vera. I can only hope that others are smarter, more efficient at hiding themselves. I pray that they are.
I quickly check my schedule before sending off a notice to the factions about when the meeting will occur. They will have to make time for me as I have none to spare. A glance at the window tells me that it is finally getting dark outside. The weather is beginning to warm and while time could have no meaning when one is invested in a project, longer days generally mean longer workdays. I am already exhausted.
The security system to Jeanine's lab will forever unnerve me. I fear that one day it's response will change and I will be left to face the defensive and aggressive measures she has put into it. For now, I pass through with ease, finding Jeanine talking with a lab assistant as I walk in.
I wait until she is finished speaking with the assistant and she turns to me.
"Amelia," she says. Her voice is hard and as sharp as glass, a clear signal that something is wrong. "How was the assessment of the Dauntless?" There is something in her gaze that warns me that she is testing me.
"It is going well. Gregory informs me that they will soon start with the trial testing and monitoring the effects. He predicts a positive outcome within the year."
"Inform him that he does not have a year, understood?"
She peers at me over her glasses for a moment. "I am informed that there was an incident in the labs between Eric and yourself. Explain." Fear strikes through me but I nod regardless and try to figure out what to say. I cannot tell her the truth. My mind quickly runs through the possibilities of who could have seen something and informed her. There are too many options though and I can only speculate what they may have seen or heard, and what they told her. I have to relax and say something that will will sound enough like the truth but maintain my capability to her.
"There was. I dealt with it swiftly. Eric seemed to think that the extended time spent in Dauntless meant that I took orders from him. I merely stated that I worked for you and that my loyalty is only to you and Erudite. No one else. He did not take kindly to me informing him that I was under no circumstances required to give him all the information that he demanded from me, including the details about the testing. I informed him that any information he needed to know, he would, but not from me without orders to give it." I state it clearly, in a way meant to showcase my loyalty to her before our faction. It is a subtle way to further protect myself, especially if she thinks I did it subconsciously. It is becoming far too easy to lie quickly. It is an unpleasant necessity.
"I see." There is a pause and I feel as if she is assessing me once again. As if I am the swab under the microscope. "Indeed. I will have words with Eric about the necessity of information and how he will deter in his harassment of my assistant. I will not have him distracting you with inane questions. Not when time is crucial to our work."
I feel something lift in my chest with relief. Perhaps this was finally going to push the point across to him. "Thank you," I said.
She gives me a nod. "Our focus is now on the possibilities of creating new serums that will be beneficial to us. There is a lot of work ahead and we will need our allies, Amelia. Is that understood?"
I nod, hiding my confusion. New serums? And allies? Something was wrong. Why the focus on the factions and testing? What happened to the focus on determining what made Divergents…divergent? "What about the testing on the divergent?"
Her gaze turns sharp. "The divergent we had in custody succumbed to the testing. The autopsy will hopefully prove more valuable than the live testing did. For now, we will focus on the serums, though if more suspects become known in time, we will deal with them then."
My heart stops. I nod automatically as my mind whirls over the meaning of her words. Vera is dead.
"If that is all, Amelia, you may go. I will message you if I need you."
I nod again, murmur a "yes, ma'am", and leave. My body moves on autopilot as my mind keeps replaying her words 'succumbed to testing.' Vera is dead. Vera is dead and I helped kill her. I had killed her. My throat goes tight and my heart pounds in my chest. The world moves around me but I take no notice of it. I have to get home. I have to get somewhere safe. I have killed her. I had killed her for no reason other than to save myself. Oh god. My vision sways slightly as I walk into my building. I struggle to breathe. I collapse to my knees as I enter my apartment. I don't know how I got there but it is empty and a part of me remembers to the shut the door before I start crying. I try to breathe, taking in huge gulps of air that stutter in my chest. I exhale more than I can take in, my chest threatening to collapse inwards as I can't help but bawl. I curl up into myself as much as I can. Only one thought was repeating through my head. I killed her. I killed her. I killed her.