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CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

THE NEXT DAY I take a truck from the compound. The people there are still recovering from their memory loss, so no one tries to stop me. I drive over the railroad tracks toward the city, my eyes wandering over the skyline but not really taking it in.

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When I reach the fields that separate the city from the outside world, I press down the accelerator. The truck crushes dying grass and snow beneath its tires, and soon the ground turns to the pavement in the Abnegation sector, and I barely feel the passage of time. The streets are all the same, but my hands and feet know where to go, even if my mind doesn’t bother to guide them. I pull up to the house near the stop sign, with the cracked front walk.

My house.

I walk through the front door and up the stairs, still with that muffled feeling in my ears, like I am drifting far away from the world. People talk about the pain of grief, but I don’t know what they mean. To me, grief is a devastating numbness, every sensation dulled.

I press my palm to the panel covering the mirror upstairs, and push it aside. Though the light of sunset is orange, creeping across the floor and illuminating my face from below, I have never looked paler; the circles under my eyes have never been more pronounced. I have spent the past few days somewhere between sleeping and waking, not quite able to manage either extreme.

. The right guard is already in place, so all I have to do is run it through my hair, bending my ears down to protect them from the blade, turning my head to check the back of my neck for places I might have missed. The shorn hair falls on my feet and shoulders, itching whatever bare skin it finds. I run my hand over my head to make sure it’s even, but I don’t need to check, not really. I learned to do this myself when I was young.

I spend a lot of time brushing it from my shoulders and feet, then sweeping it into a dustpan. When I finish, I stand in front of the mirror again, and I can see the edges of my tattoo, the Dauntless flame.

I take the vial of memory serum from my pocket. I know that one vial will erase most of my life, but it will target memories, not facts. I will still know how to write, how to speak, how to put together a computer, because that data was stored in different parts of my brain. But I won’t remember anything else.

The experiment is over. Johanna successfully negotiated with the government—David’s superiors—to allow the former faction members to stay in the city, provided they are self-sufficient, submit to the government’s authority, and allow outsiders to come in and join them, making Chicago just another metropolitan area, like Milwaukee. The Bureau, once in charge of the experiment, will now keep order in Chicago’s city limits.

It will be the only metropolitan area in the country governed by people who don’t believe in genetic damage. A kind of paradise. Matthew told me he hopes people from the fringe will trickle in to fill all the empty spaces, and find there a life more prosperous than the one they left.

All that I want is to become someone new. In this case, Tobias Johnson, son of Evelyn Johnson. Tobias Johnson may have lived a dull and empty life, but he is at least a whole person, not this fragment of a person that I am, too damaged by pain to become anything useful.

“Matthew told me you stole some of the memory serum and a truck,” says a voice at the end of the hallway. Christina’s. “I have to say, I didn’t really believe him. ”

I must not have heard her enter the house through the muffle. Even her voice sounds like it is traveling through water to reach my ears, and it takes me a few seconds to make sense of what she says. When I do, I look at her and say, “Then why did you come, if you didn’t believe him?”

“Just in case,” she says, starting toward me. “Plus, I wanted to see the city one more time before it all changes. Give me that vial, Tobias. ”

“No. ” I fold my fingers over it to protect it from her. “This is my decision, not yours. ”

Her dark eyes widen, and her face is radiant with sunlight. It makes every strand of her thick, dark hair gleam orange like it’s on fire.

“This is not your decision,” she says. “This is the decision of a coward, and you’re a lot of things, Four, but not a coward. Never. ”

“Maybe I am now,” I answer passively. “Things have changed. I’m all right with it. ”

“No, you’re not. ”

I feel so exhausted all I can do is roll my eyes.

“You can’t become a person she would hate,” Christina says, quietly this time. “And she would have hated this. ”

Anger stampedes through me, hot and lively, and the muffled feeling around my ears falls away, making even this quiet Abnegation street sound loud. I shudder with the force of it.

“Shut up!” I yell. “Shut up! You don’t know what she would hate; you didn’t know her, you—”

“I know enough!” she snaps. “I know she wouldn’t want you to erase her from your memory like she didn’t even matter to you!”

I lunge toward her, pinning her shoulder to the wall, and lean closer to her face.

“If you dare suggest that again,” I say, “I’ll—”

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“You’ll what?” Christina shoves me back, hard. “Hurt me? You know, there’s a word for big, strong men who attack women, and it’s coward. ”

I remember my father’s screams filling the house, and his hand around my mother’s throat, slamming her into walls and doors. I remember watching from my doorway, my hand wrapped around the door frame. And I remember hearing quiet sobs through her bedroom door, how she locked it so I couldn’t get in.

I step back and slump against the wall, letting my body collapse into it.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“I know,” she answers.

We stand still for a few seconds, just looking at each other. I remember hating her the first time I met her, because she was a Candor, because words just dribbled out of her mouth unchecked, careless. But over time she showed me who she really was, a forgiving friend, faithful to the truth, brave enough to take action. I can’t help but like her now, can’t help but see what Tris saw in her.

“I know how it feels to want to forget everything,” she says. “I also know how it feels for someone you love to get killed for no reason, and to want to trade all your memories of them for just a moment’s peace. ”

She wraps her hand around mine, which is wrapped around the vial.

“I didn’t know Will long,” she says, “but he changed my life. He changed me. And I know Tris changed you even more. ”

The hard expression she wore a moment ago melts away, and she touches my shoulders, lightly.

“The person you became with her is worth being,” she says. “If you swallow that serum, you’ll never be able to find your way back to him. ”

The tears come again, like when I saw Tris’s body, and this time, pain comes with them, hot and sharp in my chest. I clutch the vial in my fist, desperate for the relief it offers, the protection from the pain of every memory clawing inside me like an animal.

Christina puts her arms around my shoulders, and her embrace only makes the pain worse, because it reminds me of every time Tris’s thin arms slipped around me, uncertain at first but then stronger, more confident, more sure of herself and of me. It reminds me that no embrace will ever feel the same again, because no one will ever be like her again, because she’s gone.

She’s gone, and crying feels so useless, so stupid, but it’s all I can do. Christina holds me upright and doesn’t say a word for a long time.

Eventually I pull away, but her hands stay on my shoulders, warm and rough with calluses. Maybe just as skin on a hand grows tougher after pain in repetition, a person does too. But I don’t want to become a calloused man.

There are other kinds of people in this world. There is the kind like Tris, who, after suffering and betrayal, could still find enough love to lay down her life instead of her brother’s. Or the kind like Cara, who could still forgive the person who shot her brother in the head. Or Christina, who lost friend after friend but still decided to stay open, to make new ones. Appearing in front of me is another choice, brighter and stronger than the ones I gave myself.

My eyes opening, I offer the vial to her. She takes it and pockets it.

“I know Zeke’s still weird around you,” she says, slinging an arm across my shoulders. “But I can be your friend in the meantime. We can even exchange bracelets if you want, like the Amity girls used to. ”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. ”

We walk down the stairs and out to the street together. The sun has slipped behind the buildings of Chicago, and in the distance I hear a train rushing over the rails, but we are moving away from this place and all that it has meant to us, and that is all right.

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There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

That is the sort of bravery I must have now.

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