(part 2) Tobias: Before (prologue)
"Tobias! C'mon, man. Snap out of it," a voice echoes from above me.
My eyes snap open, gazing at the worried expression worn on the man hovering over me.
"It's been almost an hour," Zeke says, checking his watch as he helps me sit up from the chair. My entire body is shaking, the only thought consuming my mind being of a small girl with short hair, blonde strands stained red.
When I'm standing, I wave Zeke off and splay my hand against the wall, trying to keep my balance. "I'm fine," I say, though my voice sounds frail. I clear my throat.
In my perepheral vision, I see Zeke shake his head. "You've got to stop doing this to yourself, Four," he says. "It's not helping you."
Believe me, I know it doesn't help. But helping was never the motive. I only ached to see her; to hold her and this is the closest I'll ever get. There's pain, sure. Lots of it. But no decision comes without consequence; without payment. And I will pay in full if it means seeing her alive.
"I need to," I gasp, shoving off the wall. I sway, but stay erect.
Zeke crosses his arms and gives me a remorseful look, brown eyes boring into me. "She wouldn't want you to do this."
I shake my head. "You don't know what she would have wanted."
He shrugs. "Well, you do. If you'd died and somehow knew that Tris was doing this to herself...over and over again, do you honestly think that she would feel honored?"
I clench my hands fist at my sides. I understand what Zeke is saying and of course, I never would have wanted to see Tris the way I imagine myself to look now, but I can't help it. "If it made things easier," I reply. I grab the towel hung over the armrest of the chair and dab my forehead, feeling as sweat collects on my brows.
Zeke laughs, aggravated. This would usually be about the time he'd crack a joke. Say something about Tris and how she'd beat me if she knew what I was up to, but the Zeke with that humor is gone. In his place rests a man of small jokes, left beside the fading shadow of a younger brother who is no longer there.
Who hasn't been there for a while.
Zeke looks away, as if in disbelief. "Fine," he says. "Keep tormenting yourself if it makes you feel any better. But don't expect me to help with this." He turns to walk away, but stops just before leaving. "If you truly believe that this is what Tris wanted for you, if this is what she allowed for you...you didn't know her at all."
My anger piques, as if the hot water has just turned on inside me and I'm suddenly boiling. I purse my lips. "And you think you're doing it right?" I ask, stepping forward. "Please, Zeke...tell me how I'm supposed to do this. Tell me the do's and dont's of this entire issue. Tell me how to be fine. Because apparently, I'm doing it wrong."
"They wouldn't want this for us!" Zeke yells, his face suddenly right there in front of me, teeth clenched in anger. "It does them no respect! It doesn't show anyone their sacrifices; the people they were. You aren't required to be penitent." He spits the last word at me, but I remain stoic. He faces the wall and puts his hand against it as if it he is now the one who needs support. "Believe me," he says, "I understand. I understand how tempting it is to want to go in there and see them, even if it isn't real. Even if it's just for a second." Zeke faces me again, his eyes brimming with tears. The only time I've seen him cry was at Uriah's funeral and not a moment since. "But it isn't them!" he continues. "They aren't coming back, Four and keeping yourself locked away in the unreal is just a waste."
I don't want to have this conversation now. Not when everything is still so new; so clear. I look away from his eyes, unable to hold his gaze.
"It isn't the same, Zeke," I say.
I walk up to him and pause in the doorway, just before leaving. I glance at him and it's like everything in me suddenly deflates as the memory awakens from a dark, buried place inside.
"Because you got to say goodbye."