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CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

TRIS

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

THE SMELL OF bleach tingles in my nose. I stand next to a mop in a storage room in the basement; I stand in the wake of what I just told everyone, which is that whoever breaks into the Weapons Lab will be going on a suicide mission. The death serum is unstoppable.

“The question is,” Matthew says, “is this something we’re willing to sacrifice a life for. ”

This is the room where Matthew, Caleb, and Cara were developing the new serum, before the plan changed. Vials and beakers and scribbled-on notebooks are scattered across the lab table in front of Matthew. The string he wears tied around his neck is in his mouth now, and he chews it absentmindedly.

Tobias leans against the door, his arms crossed. I remember him standing that way during initiation, as he watched us fight each other, so tall and so strong I never dreamed he would give me more than a cursory glance.

“It’s not just about revenge,” I say. “It’s not about what they did to the Abnegation. It’s about stopping them before they do something equally bad to the people in all the experiments—about taking away their power to control thousands of lives. ”

“It is worth it,” Cara says. “One death, to save thousands of people from a terrible fate? And cut the compound’s power off at the knees, so to speak? Is it even a question?”

I know what she is doing—weighing a single life against so many lifetimes and memories, drawing an obvious conclusion from the scales. That is the way an Erudite mind works, and the way an Abnegation mind works, but I am not sure if they are the minds we need right now. One life against thousands of memories, of course the answer is easy, but does it have to be one of our lives? Do we have to be the ones who act?

But because I know what my answer will be to that question, my thoughts turn to another question. If it has to be one of us, who should it be?

My eyes shift from Matthew and Cara, standing behind the table, to Tobias, to Christina, her arm slung over a broom handle, and land on Caleb.

Him.

A second later I feel sick with myself.

“Oh, just come out with it,” Caleb says, lifting his eyes to mine. “You want me to do it. You all do. ”

“No one said that,” Matthew says, spitting out the string necklace.

“Everyone’s staring at me,” Caleb says. “Don’t think I don’t know it. I’m the one who chose the wrong side, who worked with Jeanine Matthews; I’m the one none of you care about, so I should be the one to die. ”

“Why do you think Tobias offered to get you out of the city before they executed you?” My voice comes out cold, quiet. The odor of bleach plays over my nose. “Because I don’t care whether you live or die? Because I don’t care about you at all?”

He should be the one to die, part of me thinks.

I don’t want to lose him, another part argues.

I don’t know which part to trust, which part to believe.

“You think I don’t know hatred when I see it?” Caleb shakes his head. “I see it every time you look at me. On the rare occasions when you do look at me. ”

His eyes are glossy with tears. It’s the first time since my near execution that I’ve seen him remorseful instead of defensive or full of excuses. It might also be the first time since then that I’ve seen him as my brother instead of the coward who sold me out to Jeanine Matthews. Suddenly I have trouble swallowing.

“If I do this . . . ” he says.

I shake my head no, but he holds up a hand.

“Stop,” he says. “Beatrice, if I do this . . . will you be able to forgive me?”

To me, when someone wrongs you, you both share the burden of that wrongdoing—the pain of it weighs on both of you. Forgiveness, then, means choosing to bear the full weight all by yourself. Caleb’s betrayal is something we both carry, and since he did it, all I’ve wanted is for him to take its weight away from me. I am not sure that I’m capable of shouldering it all myself—not sure that I am strong enough, or good enough.

But I see him steeling himself against this fate, and I know that I have to be strong enough, and good enough, if he is going to sacrifice himself for us all.

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I nod. “Yes,” I choke out. “But that’s not a good reason to do this. ”

“I have plenty of reasons,” Caleb says. “I’ll do it. Of course I will. ”

I am not sure what just happened.

Matthew and Caleb stay behind to fit Caleb for the clean suit—the suit that will keep him alive in the Weapons Lab long enough to set off the memory serum virus. I wait until the others leave before leaving myself. I want to walk back to the dormitory with only my thoughts as company.

A few weeks ago, I would have volunteered to go on the suicide mission myself—and I did. I volunteered to go to Erudite headquarters, knowing that death waited for me there. But it wasn’t because I was selfless, or because I was brave. It was because I was guilty and a part of me wanted to lose everything; a grieving, ailing part of me wanted to die. Is that what’s motivating Caleb now? Should I really allow him to die so that he feels like his debt to me is repaid?

I walk the hallway with its rainbow of lights and go up the stairs. I can’t even think of an alternative—would I be any more willing to lose Christina, or Cara, or Matthew? No. The truth is that I would be less willing to lose them, because they have been good friends to me and Caleb has not, not for a long time. Even before he betrayed me, he left me for the Erudite and didn’t look back. I was the one who went to visit him during my initiation, and he spent the whole time wondering why I was there.

And I don’t want to die anymore. I am up to the challenge of bearing the guilt and the grief, up to facing the difficulties that life has put in my path. Some days are harder than others, but I am ready to live each one of them. I can’t sacrifice myself, this time.

In the most honest parts of me, I am able to admit that it was a relief to hear Caleb volunteer.

Suddenly I can’t think about it anymore. I reach the hotel entrance and walk to the dormitory, hoping that I can just collapse into my bed and sleep, but Tobias is waiting in the hallway for me.

“You okay?” he says.

“Yes,” I say. “But I shouldn’t be. ” I touch a hand, briefly, to my forehead. “I feel like I’ve already been mourning him. Like he died the second I saw him in Erudite headquarters while I was there. You know?”

I confessed to Tobias, soon after that, that I had lost my entire family. And he assured me that he was my family now.

That is how it feels. Like everything between us is twisted together, friendship and love and family, so I can’t tell the difference between any of them.

“The Abnegation have teachings about this, you know,” he says. “About when to let others sacrifice themselves for you, even if it’s selfish. They say that if the sacrifice is the ultimate way for that person to show you that they love you, you should let them do it. ” He leans one shoulder into the wall. “That, in that situation, it’s the greatest gift you can give them. Just as it was when both of your parents died for you. ”

“I’m not sure it’s love that’s motivating him, though. ” I close my eyes. “It seems more like guilt. ”

“Maybe,” Tobias admits. “But why would he feel guilty for betraying you if he didn’t love you?”

I nod. I know that Caleb loves me, and always has, even when he was hurting me. I know that I love him, too. But this feels wrong anyway.

Still, I am able to be momentarily placated, knowing that this is something my parents might have understood, if they were here right now.

“This may be a bad time,” he says, “but there’s something I want to say to you. ”

I tense immediately, afraid that he’s going to name some crime of mine that went unacknowledged, or a confession that’s eating away at him, or something equally difficult. His expression is unreadable.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“I just want to thank you,” he says, his voice low. “A group of scientists told you that my genes were damaged, that there was something wrong with me—they showed you test results that proved it. And even I started to believe it. ”

He touches my face, his thumb skimming my cheekbone, and his eyes are on mine, intense and insistent.

“You never believed it,” he says. “Not for a second. You always insisted that I was . . . I don’t know, whole. ”

I cover his hand with my own. “Well, you are. ”

“No one has ever told me that before,” he says softly.

“It’s what you deserve to hear,” I say firmly, my eyes going cloudy with tears. “That you’re whole, that you’re worth loving, that you’re the best person I’ve ever known. ”

Just as the last word leaves my mouth, he kisses me.

I kiss him back so hard it hurts, and twist my fingers into his shirt. I push him down the hallway and through one of the doors to a sparsely furnished room near the dormitory. I kick the door shut with my heel.

Just as I have insisted on his worth, he has always insisted on my strength, insisted that my capacity is greater than I believe. And I know, without being told, that’s what love does, when it’s right—it makes you more than you were, more than you thought you could be.

This is right.

His fingers slide over my hair and curl into it. My hands shake, but I don’t care if he notices, I don’t care if he knows that I’m afraid of how intense this feels. I draw his shirt into my fists, tugging him closer, and sigh his name against his mouth.

I forget that he is another person; instead it feels like he is another part of me, just as essential as a heart or an eye or an arm. I pull his shirt up and over his head. I run my hands over the skin I expose like it is my own.

His hands clutch at my shirt and I am removing it and then I remember, I remember that I am small and flat-chested and sickly pale, and I pull back.

He looks at me, not like he’s waiting for an explanation, but like I am the only thing in the room worth looking at.

I look at him, too, but everything I see makes me feel worse—he is so handsome, and even the black ink curling over his skin makes him into a piece of art. A moment ago I was convinced that we were perfectly matched, and maybe we still are—but only with our clothes on.

But he is still looking at me that way.

He smiles, a small, shy smile. Then he puts his hands on my waist and draws me toward him. He bends down and kisses between his fingers and whispers “beautiful” against my stomach.

And I believe him.

He stands and presses his lips to mine, his mouth open, his hands on my bare hips, his thumbs slipping under the top of my jeans. I touch his chest, lean into him, feel his sigh singing in my bones.

“I love you, you know,” I say.

“I know,” he replies.

With a quirk of his eyebrows, he bends and wraps an arm around my legs, throwing me over his shoulder. A laugh bursts from my mouth, half joy and half nerves, and he carries me across the room, dropping me unceremoniously on the couch.

He lies down next to me, and I run my fingers over the flames wrapping around his rib cage. He is strong, and lithe, and certain.

And he is mine.

I fit my mouth to his.

I was so afraid that we would just keep colliding over and over again if we stayed together, and that eventually the impact would break me. But now I know I am like the blade and he is like the whetstone—

I am too strong to break so easily, and I become better, sharper, every time I touch him.

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