"The hero is the one that stays."
- Veronica Mars

She shivers as his fingers slide over her smooth skin, slipping under her shirt, pushing it upward. A flood of warmth surges through her, along with goosebumps, and guilt squirming in the pit of her stomach. He leans forward, careful, hesitant. His other hand gently cradles the back of her head. She is aware of nothing except for how close they are. She closes her eyes, afraid to look at him, and inhales, slowly. His lips brush over hers. She can taste something unfamiliar on his breath, something fruity and sharp, mixed in with the tingling harshness of baking soda toothpaste. It's then that she allows herself to recognize how slowly he's moving. When she pulls away from him, slipping under his arm, he stumbles, barely catching himself against the plain, empty wall of her bedroom. His body slams against it, hard, and she winces despite herself.

"Tobias, are you drunk?"

"Maybe," he slurs.

She shouldn't condemn him, she shouldn't judge, she shouldn't make him feel bad. Abnegation instincts war inside her; she manages to stop herself from saying anything, but she can't help the disapproving frown, the pounding knowledge in her brain that this is not allowed.

She is willing to forgive him, of course. She'll always be willing to forgive him. It's what she's supposed to do, after all. But she skips hurriedly past the shadowy awareness that her acceptance of his weaknesses has nothing to do with her and everything to do with him. He is not just a young man in need of help. He's Tobias. Hers. (This is not allowed.)

"Bee-tris, I..." He stretches his hand toward her, open, palm up. She rests her hand overtop of his, tracing rough cuts and calluses. Some are new, even since yesterday.

"Tobias," she breathes. Her heart swells, bleeding with fear for him, this destructive tailspin he's pulling himself into. Worry nags at her, it hurts.

"S'nothing," he insists. "Cut myself... with the bottle. I think."

She brushes her lips over the cut, pulls his hand up to her mouth. He falls into her, pressing his body against hers. He smiles, and his eyes are hazy, he's drunk enough to forget that he's supposed to pretend he doesn't want this. She's long since stopped pretending to care about the rules they're breaking, even if they won't stop screaming in her head.

She pushes him carefully toward the bed, uncertain of his ability to stay standing for very much longer. He allows her to lay him down, and she can feel the heat of his breath on her neck as she lets him peel off her shirt. He balls it up and holds it in one hand, as she straddles him in just a bra. There is an illicit thrill in this, and her heart races just as quickly as it did when they'd done this the first time, when he'd followed her to the roof of her building the night after her Choosing. They'd sat up there until the twin red lights atop the Hub had winked out at midnight. Then, his touch had made her panic until she'd been certain she was going to throw up on his shoes. But even then, she'd known, felt the awareness vibrating through some core piece of herself deep within, that she belonged to him. Not to Abnegation, not really, but to him. He will keep her here, when nothing else is strong enough to do so.

Her hand rests just above his heart, beating steadily through his thin gray t-shirt. She can feel the warmth of his skin through the fabric. He smiles his lazy smile and she laughs, drawing in a quick breath, along with the courage to work the clasp of his pants. With that out of the way, she shifts her searching fingers to his waistband, pushing them down, excitement and warmth and want knotting inside of her and radiating outward to wrap her in a pleasant buzz.

Tobias whispers and nibbles at her ear, and she gets bolder. Her fingers lock around the small of his back, eager and racing forward, until she feels Tobias flinch. Her breath catches in her throat, and she instinctively pulls her hand away. She looks down to see her fingerprints lingering, sharp white contrasting with the dark bruise painting his pale flesh.

He shifts away from her, scrambling to pull his pants back on.

"Sorry," he mutters. "I... didn't think."

She pins him beneath her and stretches just enough to fumble with the shallow drawer under the table next to her bed. She pulls it open to grab a tube of medical cream. Tobias doesn't even bother resisting as she squeezes its contents onto her fingers and begins running them over the worst of it. He trusts her. She doesn't deserve it, but he does, and they've done this before, and that hurts more than anything else, a deep burn inside her chest, guilt and rage that threatens to swallow her. It takes effort not to hurt him when she feels this angry. She concentrates on that, slowing her breathing while his quickens at her touch. She can't pull away from the overlapping layers of wide welts and deeper bruises, individual marks that somehow blend into a general tapestry of pain, running from his lower back downward to cover most of his upper legs. No wonder he's moving so stiffly. No fucking wonder he'll drink whatever he can get his hands on.

This is not allowed.

Bile rises in her throat. He's told her, she's seen it before, but it does not ever get any easier, it does not ever become acceptable or right. Tobias is an adult, older than she is by enough years that it should matter. She hates that it takes these moments when he breaks completely to remember that. She continues rubbing soothing cream over his skin as he moans beneath her, and wonders if that makes it better, or worse. "You can let yourself be in pain," she reminds him gently. "It's just me here." He won't though. He'll let her take care of him, because both of them were raised that way, but he will not let her pity him, and she doesn't let herself either. Not for long. His eyes meet hers for just a moment, until he breaks the contact and rolls away from her to pull his shirt over his head. She glances sideways, noting his dark expression. She doesn't have imagine the pure terror reflected there, mixed with shame and self-loathing. The knowledge that it's his father doing this to him, that he has been doing it for years, since Tobias was a child... the knowledge settles in the pit of her belly like a block of ice, something physical, writhing cold. Definitely worse.

There's a fine but critical line between "selfless" and "helpless," and Marcus Eaton has pitched his son over the line with vicious cruelty.

"Don't you ever be sorry!" she snaps suddenly, her voice seeming to bounce off of the silent walls. She no longer cares about her loss of carefully-maintained control. Her breathing comes in harsh gasps as she chokes on her guilt and fear. "God, what the fuck is wrong with you, Tobias?" Her heart hammers in her chest, shame choking her. He's just been beaten all to hell, and she's yelling at him? "You could have left," she insists, as tears sting her eyes and trace down her cheeks. She doesn't bother to wipe them away. "You could have gotten out."

He is two years older than she is; she didn't know him at all when he'd been sixteen, when he'd taken the test... She tries to remember his Choosing, if she'd even been there that year, but if she was, she can't remember anything about it. She has a vague recollection of him sitting alone at the initiation a month later, feet still bare and damp, the rest of his body cloaked in Abnegation gray.

"Why'd you stay?" he asks. He is fully clothed again, curled up with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, leaning against the headboard of her bed. His voice is quiet, but it pierces through every defensive wall she's carefully constructed in her brain.

This isn't about me, she wants to snap, but she just shakes her head. "Someone had to," she says instead, keeping her voice even. Noncommittal.

"After Caleb, you mean? You did it for your family?"

She looks away, at the patch of gray winter-light let in by the room's one small window. It forms a neat rectangle on the bare concrete floor, and she lets her feet swing back at forth to cut through the sharp angles. "Why wouldn't I stay?" she murmurs, still refusing to look at him. She can feel the space between them, the space of years, the space of not allowed, a space that has never felt larger or more important.

"Because," Tobias says. "Someone who scored Abnegation wouldn't... wouldn't... You just don't belong here, okay?"

She freezes, and whirls her head back around to glare daggers at him, with all the anger she can muster, mixed with fear. Her heart pounds in her chest and a roaring surf pounds in her head, crashing against the edges of the box hidden in her mind that holds the word she is never allowed to say. And she's Abnegation enough not to spew back the retort that rattles behind her clenched teeth: that someone who scored Abnegation wouldn't get drunk, wouldn't carry a knife in his pocket, and definitely wouldn't sneak into her house while her parents are working to have sex.

"I scored Abnegation," she insists.

Tobias stares at her, but he does not disagree, and he finally nods. The gift he's giving her fills her with shame. He immediately accepts the lie, will not challenge it. She is not Abnegation enough, apparently, to just let it be.

"Why did you stay?" she demands.

Tobias shrugs. "Same as you," he insists. "For my family."

"Tobias, don't be an idiot," she pleads, weakly.

He will let her do what little she can to heal him, but they do not Talk About It. It's an arbitrary line, but it matters to him, so she wallows in silent guilt. The worst she's ever had to contend with is a lecture, maybe some extra chores. At her age, her parents don't have much say over her choices anyway. She's chosen Abnegation, and is accepted as an adult within the faction. She could move out into her own apartment, start her own life, whenever she wants to. She says she stays to take care of her parents, who are still reeling after Caleb's desertion. It is an expected Abnegation response. The truth is, she stays because if Tobias cannot leave his father's home, than she won't leave hers either. This is something that connects them. Or at least, she pretends it does. She pretends that it is a choice they are both making.

Once, she took a belt from her father's closet and lashed it down against her bare skin, to see what it felt like. It hurt, but not enough, because she was both expecting and controlling the pain, and she's too much of a wuss to go any further than a half-assed hit, a single bright patch of pink-red that faded within minutes. She could ask Tobias to show her, for real, but she knows he'd never do it and honestly, Beatrice Prior, how fucked up are you?

Fucked up enough, Abnegation enough, that it kills her to see Tobias in pain, and not be able to take it away from him, onto herself. She should tell. She should tell her parents, there has to be a way.

She should tell, but Tobias begged her not to, and she is too selfish to give him up.

She can still smell the alcohol on his breath, his footsteps are unsteady, the sun is setting rapidly, the sky grows dark and dangerous.

The truth is she is afraid. So far, he has always been able to find her again. He looks like hell half the time, but so far, despite the intensity of his fear, he does not seem to believe that his father would really hurt him, beyond welts and blisters and bruises. They heal, they leave no lasting scars. The blood, the thin, careful cuts, are his own doing. She knows without needing to ask him; he won't admit it and she won't force him to. But as she traces one of those fading lines across his wrist, dread pumps through her heart, fear of the day when he loses his balance; drinks too much, cuts too deeply, loses all control.

"I'm gonna go home," he slurs.

"Tobias - "

"If I stay, you'll get in trouble," he insists. It is his excuse, it is the truth. Taking it from him would take away whatever scrap of pride he still manages to cling to, and she won't do it. She'll let him protect her, because although he needs the help far more, she cannot give it to him.

"You belong here," she admits bitterly, as tears begin to spill again.

Tobias forces a smile. "I know."