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Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

THE FIRST THING I see when I wake, still on the couch in the hotel room, are the birds flyingover her collarbone. Her shirt, retrieved from the floor in the middle of the night because of the cold, is pulled down on one side from where she’s lying on it.

We have slept close to each other before, but this time feels different. Every other time we were there to comfort each other or to protect each other; this time we’re here just because we want to be—and because we fell asleep before we could go back to the dormitory.

I stretch out my hand and touch my fingertips to her tattoos, and she opens her eyes.

She wraps an arm around me and pulls herself across the cushions so she’s right up against me, warm and soft and pliable.

“Morning,” I say.

“Shh,” she says. “If you don’t acknowledge it, maybe it will go away. ”

I draw her toward me, my hand on her hip. Her eyes are wide, alert, despite just having opened. I kiss her cheek, then her jaw, then her throat, lingering there for a few seconds. Her hands tighten around my waist, and she sighs into my ear.

My self-control is about to disappear in five, four, three . . .

“Tobias,” she whispers, “I hate to say this, but . . . I think we have just a few things to do today. ”

“They can wait,” I say against her shoulder, and I kiss the first tattoo, slowly.

“No, they can’t!” she says.

I flop back onto the cushions, and I feel cold without her body parallel to mine. “Yeah. About that—I was thinking your brother could use some target practice. Just in case. ”

“That might be a good idea,” she says quietly. “He’s only fired a gun . . . what, once? Twice?”

“I can teach him,” I say. “If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s aiming. And it might make him feel better to do something. ”

“Thank you,” she says. She sits up and puts her fingers through her hair to comb it. In the morning light its color looks brighter, like it’s threaded with gold. “I know you don’t like him, but . . . ”

“But if you’re going to let what he did go,” I say, taking her hand, “then I’m going to try to do the same. ”

She smiles, and kisses my cheek.

I skim the lingering shower water from the back of my neck with my palm. Tris, Caleb, Christina, and I are in the training room in the GD area underground—it’s cold and dim and full of equipment, training weapons and mats and helmets and targets, everything we could ever need. I select the right practice gun, the one about the size of a pistol, but bulkier, and offer it to Caleb.

Tris’s fingers slide between mine. Everything comes easily this morning, every smile and every laugh, every word and every motion.

If we succeed in what we attempt tonight, tomorrow Chicago will be safe, the Bureau will be forever changed, and Tris and I will be able to build a new life for ourselves somewhere. Maybe it will even be a place where I trade my guns and knives for more productive tools, screwdrivers and nails and shovels. This morning I feel like I could be so fortunate. I could.

“It doesn’t shoot real bullets,” I say, “but it seems like they designed it so it would be as close as possible to one of the guns you’ll be using. It feels real, anyway. ”

Caleb holds the gun with just his fingertips, like he’s afraid it will shatter in his hands.

I laugh. “First lesson: Don’t be afraid of it. Grab it. You’ve held one before, remember? You got us out of the Amity compound with that shot. ”

“That was just lucky,” Caleb says, turning the gun over and over to see it from every angle. His tongue pushes into his cheek like he’s solving a problem. “Not the result of skill. ”

“Lucky is better than unlucky,” I say. “We can work on skill now. ”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

I glance at Tris. She grins at me, then leans in to whisper something to Christina.

“Are you here to help or what, Stiff?” I say. I hear myself speaking in the voice I cultivated as an initiation instructor, but this time I use it in jest. “You could use some practice with that right arm, if I recall correctly. You too, Christina. ”

Tris makes a face at me, then she and Christina cross the room to get their own weapons.

“Okay, now face the target and turn the safety off,” I say. There is a target across the room, more sophisticated than the wooden-board target in the Dauntless training rooms. It has three rings in three different colors, green, yellow, and red, so it’s easier to tell where the bullets hit. “Let me see how you would naturally shoot. ”

He lifts up the gun with one hand, squares off his feet and shoulders to the target like he’s about to lift something heavy, and fires. The gun jerks back and up, firing the bullet near the ceiling. I cover my mouth with my hand to disguise my smile.

“There’s no need to giggle,” Caleb says irritably.

“Book learning doesn’t teach you everything, does it?” Christina says. “You have to hold it with both hands. It doesn’t look as cool, but neither does attacking the ceiling. ”

“I wasn’t trying to look cool!”

Christina stands, her legs slightly uneven, and lifts both arms. She stares at the target for a moment, then fires. The training bullet hits the outer circle of the target and bounces off, rolling on the floor. It leaves a circle of light on the target, marking the impact site. I wish I’d had this technology during initiation training.

“Oh, good,” I say. “You hit the air around your target’s body. How useful. ”

“I’m a little rusty,” Christina admits, grinning.

“I think the easiest way for you to learn would be to mimic me,” I say to Caleb. I stand the way I always stand, easy, natural, and lift both my arms, squeezing the gun with one hand and steadying it with the other.

Caleb tries to match me, beginning with his feet and moving up with the rest of him. As eager as Christina was to tease him, it’s his ability to analyze that makes him successful—I can see him changing angles and distances and tension and release as he looks me over, trying to get everything right.

“Good,” I say when he’s finished. “Now focus on what you’re trying to hit, and nothing else. ”

I stare at the center of the target and try to let it swallow me. The distance doesn’t trouble me—the bullet will travel straight, just like it would if I was closer. I inhale and brace myself, exhale and fire, and the bullet goes right where I meant to put it: in the red circle, in the center of the target.

I step back to watch Caleb try it. He has the right way of standing, the right way of holding the gun, but he is rigid there, a statue with a gun in hand. He sucks in a breath and holds it as he fires. This time the kickback doesn’t startle him as much, and the bullet nicks the top of the target.

“Good,” I say again. “I think what you mostly need is to get comfortable with it. You’re very tense. ”

“Can you blame me?” he says. His voice trembles, but just at the end of each word. He has the look of someone who is trapping terror inside. I watched two classes of initiates with that expression, but none of them was ever facing what Caleb is facing now.

I shake my head and say quietly, “Of course not. But you have to realize that if you can’t let that tension go tonight, you might not make it to the Weapons Lab, and what good would that do anyone?”

He sighs.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“The physical technique is important,” I say. “But it’s mostly a mental game, which is lucky for you, because you know how to play those. You don’t just practice the shooting, you also practice the focus. And then, when you’re in a situation where you’re fighting for your life, the focus will be so ingrained that it will happen naturally. ”

“I didn’t know the Dauntless were so interested in training the brain,” Caleb says. “Can I see you try it, Tris? I don’t think I’ve ever really seen you shoot something without a bullet wound in your shoulder. ”

Tris smiles a little and faces the target. When I first saw her shoot during Dauntless training, she looked awkward, birdlike. But her thin, fragile form has become slim but muscular, and when she holds the gun, it looks easy. She squints one eye a little, shifts her weight, and fires. Her bullet strays from the target’s center, but only by inches. Obviously impressed, Caleb raises his eyebrows.

“Don’t look so surprised!” Tris says.

“Sorry,” he says. “I just . . . you used to be so clumsy, remember? I don’t know how I missed that you weren’t like that anymore. ”

Tris shrugs, but when she looks away, her cheeks are flushed and she looks pleased. Christina shoots again, and this time hits the target closer to the middle.

I step back to let Caleb practice, and watch Tris fire again, watch the straight lines of her body as she lifts the gun, and how steady she is when it goes off. I touch her shoulder and lean in close to her ear. “Remember during training, how the gun almost hit you in the face?”

She nods, smirking.

“Remember during training, when I did this?” I say, and I reach around her to press my hand to her stomach. She sucks in a breath.

“I’m not likely to forget that anytime soon,” she mutters.

She twists around and draws my face toward hers, her fingertips on my chin. We kiss, and I hear Christina say something about it, but for the first time, I don’t care at all.

There isn’t much to do after target practice but wait. Tris and Christina get the explosives from Reggie and teach Caleb how to use them. Then Matthew and Cara pore over a map, examining different routes to get through the compound to the Weapons Lab. Christina and I meet with Amar, George, and Peter to go over the route we’re going to take through the city that evening. Tris is called to a last-minute council meeting. Matthew inoculates people against the memory serum all throughout the day, Cara and Caleb and Tris and Nita and Reggie and himself.

There isn’t enough time to think about the significance of what we’re going to try to do: stop a revolution, save the experiments, change the Bureau forever.

While Tris is gone, I go to the hospital to see Uriah one last time before I bring his family back to him.

When I get there, I can’t go in. From here, through the glass, I can pretend that he is just asleep, and that if I touched him, he would wake up and smile and make a joke. In there, I would be able to see how lifeless he is now, how the shock to his brain took the last parts of him that were Uriah.

I squeeze my hands into fists to disguise their shaking.

Matthew approaches from the end of the hallway, his hands in the pockets of his dark blue uniform. His gait is relaxed, his footsteps heavy. “Hey. ”

“Hi,” I say.

“I was just inoculating Nita,” he says. “She’s in better spirits today. ”

“Good. ”

Matthew taps the glass with his knuckles. “So . . . you’re going to go get his family later? That’s what Tris told me. ”

I nod. “His brother and his mom. ”

I’ve met Zeke and Uriah’s mother before. She is a small woman with power in her bearing, and one of the rare Dauntless who goes about things quietly and without ceremony. I liked her and I was afraid of her at the same time.

“No dad?” Matthew says.

“Died when they were young. Not surprising, among the Dauntless. ”

“Right. ”

We stand in silence for a little while, and I’m grateful for his presence, which keeps me from being overwhelmed by grief. I know that Cara was right yesterday to tell me that I didn’t kill Uriah, not really, but it still feels like I did, and maybe it always will.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I say after a while. “Why are you helping us with this? It seems like a big risk for someone who isn’t personally invested in the outcome. ”

“I am, though,” Matthew says. “It’s sort of a long story. ”

He crosses his arms, then tugs at the string around his throat with his thumb.

“There was this girl,” he says. “She was genetically damaged, and that meant I wasn’t supposed to go out with her, right? We’re supposed to make sure that we match ourselves with ‘optimal’ partners, so we produce genetically superior offspring, or something. Well I was feeling rebellious, and there was something appealing about how forbidden it was, so she and I started dating. I never meant for it to become anything serious, but . . . ”

“But it did,” I supply.

He nods. “It did. She, more than anything else, convinced me that the compound’s position on genetic damage was twisted. She was a better person than I was, than I’ll ever be. And then she got attacked. A bunch of GPs beat her up. She had kind of a smart mouth, she was never content to just stay where she was—I think that had something to do with it, or maybe nothing did, maybe people just do things like that out of nowhere, and trying to find a reason just frustrates the mind. ”

I look closely at the string he’s toying with. I always thought it was black, but when I look closely, I see that it’s actually green—the color of the support staff uniforms.

“Anyway, she was injured pretty badly, but one of the GPs was a council member’s kid. He claimed the attack was provoked, and that was the excuse they used when they let him and the other GPs off with some community service, but I knew better. ” He starts nodding along with his own words. “I knew that they let them off because they thought of her as something less than them. Like if the GPs had beat up an animal. ”

A shiver starts at the top of my spine and travels down my back. “What . . . ”

“What happened to her?” Matthew glances at me. “She died a year later during a surgical procedure to fix some of the damage. It was a fluke—an infection. ” He drops his hands. “The day she died was the day I started helping Nita. I didn’t think her recent plan was a good one, though, which is why I didn’t help out with it. But then, I also didn’t try that hard to stop her. ”

I cycle through the things you’re supposed to say at times like these, the apologies and the sympathy, and I don’t find a single phrase that feels right to me. Instead I just let the silence stretch out between us. It’s the only adequate response to what he just told me, the only thing that does the tragedy justice instead of patching it up hastily and moving on.

“I know it doesn’t seem like it,” Matthew says, “but I hate them. ”

The muscles in his jaw stand at attention. He has never struck me as a warm person, but he’s never been cold, either. That is what he’s like now, a man encased in ice, his eyes hard and his voice like a frosty exhale.

“And I would have volunteered to die instead of Caleb . . . if not for the fact that I really want to see them suffer the repercussions. I want to watch them fumble around under the memory serum, not knowing who they are anymore, because that’s what happened to me when she died. ”

“That sounds like an adequate punishment,” I say.

“More adequate than killing them would be,” Matthew says. “And besides, I’m not a murderer. ”

I feel uneasy. It’s not often you encounter the real person behind a good-natured mask, the darkest parts of someone. It’s not comfortable when you do.

“I’m sorry for what happened to Uriah,” Matthew says. “I’ll leave you with him. ”

He puts his hands back in his pockets and continues down the hallway, his lips puckered in a whistle.

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