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CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

TOBIAS’S HEAD TURNS, and his dark eyes shift to me. His eyebrows draw in. He stands. He looks confused. He raises his gun.

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“Drop your weapon,” he says.

“Tobias,” I say, “you’re in a simulation. ”

“Drop your weapon,” he repeats. “Or I’ll fire. ”

Jeanine said he didn’t know me. Jeanine also said that the simulation made Tobias’s friends into enemies. He will shoot me if he has to.

I set my gun down at my feet.

“Drop your weapon!” shouts Tobias.

“I did,” I say. A little voice in my head sings that he can’t hear me, he can’t see me, he doesn’t know me. Tongues of flame press behind my eyes. I can’t just stand here and let him shoot me.

I run at him, grabbing his wrist. I feel his muscles shift as he pinches the trigger and duck my head just in time. The bullet hits the wall behind me. Gasping, I kick him in the ribs and twist his wrist to the side as hard as I can. He drops the gun.

I can’t beat Tobias in a fight. I know that already. But I have to destroy the computer. I dive for the gun, but before I can touch it, he grabs me and wrenches me to the side.

I stare into his dark, conflicted eyes for an instant before he punches me in the jaw. My head jerks to the side and I cringe away from him, flinging my hands up to protect my face. I can’t fall; I can’t fall or he’ll kick me, and that will be worse, that will be much worse. I kick the gun back with my heel so he can’t grab it and, ignoring the throbbing in my jaw, kick him in the stomach.

He catches my foot and pulls me down so I fall on my shoulder. The pain makes my vision go black at the edges. I stare up at him. He pulls his foot back like he’s about to kick me, and I roll onto my knees, stretching my arm out for the gun. I don’t know what I’ll do with it. I can’t shoot him, I can’t shoot him, I can’t. He is in there somewhere.

He grabs me by my hair and yanks me to the side. I reach back and grab his wrist, but he’s too strong and my forehead smacks into the wall.

He is in there somewhere.

“Tobias,” I say.

Did his grip falter? I twist and kick back, my heel hitting him in the leg. When my hair slips through his fingers, I dive at the gun and my fingertips close around the cool metal. I flip over onto my back and point the gun at him.

“Tobias,” I say. “I know you’re in there somewhere. ”

But if he was, he probably wouldn’t start toward me like he’s about to kill me for certain this time.

My head throbs. I stand.

“Tobias, please. ” I am begging. I am pathetic. Tears make my face hot. “Please. See me. ” He walks toward me, his movements dangerous, fast, powerful. The gun shakes in my hands. “Please see me, Tobias, please!”

Even when he scowls, his eyes look thoughtful, and I remember how his mouth curled when he smiled.

I can’t kill him. I am not sure if I love him; not sure if that’s why. But I am sure of what he would do if our positions were reversed. I am sure that nothing is worth killing him for.

I have done this before—in my fear landscape, with the gun in my hand, a voice shouting at me to fire at the people I love. I volunteered to die instead, that time, but I can’t imagine how that would help me now. But I just know, I know what the right thing to do is.

My father says—used to say—that there is power in self-sacrifice.

I turn the gun in my hands and press it into Tobias’s palm.

He pushes the barrel into my forehead. My tears have stopped and the air feels cold as it touches my cheeks. I reach out and rest my hand on his chest so I can feel his heartbeat. At least his heartbeat is still him.

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The bullet clicks into the chamber. Maybe it will be as easy to let him shoot me as it was in the fear landscape, as it is in my dreams. Maybe it will just be a bang, and the lights will lift, and I will find myself in another world. I stand still and wait.

Can I be forgiven for all I’ve done to get here?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Please.

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