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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

“TRIS. ”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

In my dream, my mother says my name. She beckons to me, and I cross the kitchen to stand beside her. She points to the pot on the stove, and I lift the lid to peek inside. The beady eye of a crow stares back at me, its wing feathers pressed to the side of the pot, its fat body covered with boiling water.

“Dinner,” she says.

“Tris!” I hear again. I open my eyes. Christina stands next to my bed, her cheeks streaked with mascara-tinted tears.

“It’s Al,” she says. “Come on. ”

Some of the other initiates are awake, and some aren’t. Christina grabs my hand and pulls me out of the dormitory. I run barefoot over the stone floor, blinking clouds from my eyes, my limbs still heavy with sleep. Something terrible has happened. I feel it with every thump of my heart. It’s Al.

We run across the Pit floor, and then Christina stops. A crowd has gathered around the ledge, but everyone stands a few feet from one another, so there is enough space for me to maneuver past Christina and around a tall, middle-aged man to the front.

Two men stand next to the ledge, hoisting something up with ropes. They both grunt from the effort, heaving their weight back so the ropes slide over the railing, and then reaching forward to grab again. A huge, dark shape appears above the ledge, and a few Dauntless rush forward to help the two men haul it over.

The shape falls with a thud on the Pit floor. A pale arm, swollen with water, flops onto the stone. A body. Christina pulls herself tight to my side, clinging to my arm. She turns her head into my shoulder and sobs, but I can’t look away. A few of the men turn the body over, and the head flops to the side.

The eyes are open and empty. Dark. Doll’s eyes. And the nose has a high arch, a narrow bridge, a round tip. The lips are blue. The face itself is something other than human, half corpse and half creature. My lungs burn; my next breath rattles on the way in. Al.

“One of the initiates,” says someone behind me. “What happened?”

“Same thing that happens every year,” someone else replies. “He pitched himself over the ledge. ”

“Don’t be so morbid. Could have been an accident. ”

“They found him in the middle of the chasm. You think he tripped over his shoelace and…whoopsies, just stumbled fifteen feet forward?”

Christina’s hands get tighter and tighter around my arm. I should tell her to let go of me; it’s starting to hurt. Someone kneels next to Al’s face and pushes his eyelids shut. Trying to make it look like he’s sleeping, maybe. Stupid. Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t. It isn’t.

Something inside me collapses. My chest is so tight, suffocating, can’t breathe. I sink to the ground, dragging Christina down with me. The stone is rough under my knees. I hear something, a memory of sound. Al’s sobs; his screams at night. Should have known. Still can’t breathe. I press both palms to my chest and rock back and forth to free the tension in my chest.

When I blink, I see the top of Al’s head as he carries me on his back to the dining hall. I feel the bounce of his footsteps. He is big and warm and clumsy. No, was. That is death—shifting from “is” to “was. ”

I wheeze. Someone has brought a large black bag to put the body in. I can tell that it will be too small. A laugh rises in my throat and flops from my mouth, strained and gurgling. Al’s too big for the body bag; what a tragedy. Halfway through the laugh, I clamp my mouth shut, and it sounds more like a groan. I pull my arm free and stand, leaving Christina on the ground. I run.

“Here you go,” Tori says. She hands me a steaming mug that smells like peppermint. I hold it with both hands, my fingers prickling with warmth.

She sits down across from me. When it comes to funerals, the Dauntless don’t waste any time. Tori said they want to acknowledge death as soon as it happens. There are no people in the front room of the tattoo parlor, but the Pit is crawling with people, most of them drunk. I don’t know why that surprises me.

At home, a funeral is a somber occasion. Everyone gathers to support the deceased’s family, and no one has idle hands, but there is no laughter, or shouting, or joking. And the Abnegation don’t drink alcohol, so everyone is sober. It makes sense that funerals would be the opposite here.

“Drink it,” she says. “It will make you feel better, I promise. ”

“I don’t think tea is the solution,” I say slowly. But I sip it anyway. It warms my mouth and my throat and trickles into my stomach. I didn’t realize how deeply cold I was until I wasn’t anymore.

“‘Better’ is the word I used. Not ‘good. ’” She smiles at me, but the corners of her eyes don’t crinkle like they usually do. “I don’t think ‘good’ will happen for a while. ”

I bite my lip. “How long…” I struggle for the right words. “How long did it take for you to be okay again, after your brother…”

“Don’t know. ” She shakes her head. “Some days I feel like I’m still not okay. Some days I feel fine. Happy, even. It took me a few years to stop plotting revenge, though. ”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“Why did you stop?” I ask.

Her eyes go vacant as she stares at the wall behind me. She taps her fingers against her leg for a few seconds and then says, “I don’t think of it as stopping. More like I’m…waiting for my opportunity. ”

She comes out of her daze and checks her watch.

“Time to go,” she says.

I pour the rest of my tea down the sink. When I lift my hand from the mug, I realize that I’m shaking. Not good. My hands usually shake before I start to cry, and I can’t cry in front of everyone.

I follow Tori out of the tattoo place and down the path to the Pit floor. All the people that were milling around earlier are gathered by the ledge now, and the air smells potently of alcohol. The woman in front of me lurches to the right, losing her balance, and then erupts into giggles as she falls against the man next to her. Tori grabs my arm and steers me away.

I find Uriah, Will, and Christina standing among the other initiates. Christina’s eyes are swollen. Uriah is holding a silver flask. He offers it to me. I shake my head.

“Surprise, surprise,” says Molly from behind me. She nudges Peter with her elbow. “Once a Stiff, always a Stiff. ”

I should ignore her. Her opinions shouldn’t matter to me.

“I read an interesting article today,” she says, leaning closer to my ear. “Something about your dad, and the real reason you left your old faction. ”

Defending myself isn’t the most important thing on my mind. But it is the easiest one to address.

I twist, and my fist connects with her jaw. My knuckles sting from the impact. I don’t remember deciding to punch her. I don’t remember forming a fist.

She lunges at me, her hands outstretched, but she doesn’t get far. Will grabs her collar and pulls her back. He looks from her to me and says, “Quit it. Both of you. ”

Part of me wishes that he hadn’t stopped her. A fight would be a welcome distraction, especially now that Eric is climbing onto a box next to the railing. I face him, crossing my arms to keep myself steady. I wonder what he’ll say.

In Abnegation no one has committed suicide in recent memory, but the faction’s stance on it is clear: Suicide, to them, is an act of selfishness. Someone who is truly selfless does not think of himself often enough to desire death. No one would say that aloud, if it happened, but everyone would think it.

“Quiet down, everyone!” shouts Eric. Someone hits what sounds like a gong, and the shouts gradually stop, though the mutters don’t. Eric says, “Thank you. As you know, we’re here because Albert, an initiate, jumped into the chasm last night. ”

The mutters stop too, leaving just the rush of water in the chasm.

“We do not know why,” says Eric, “and it would be easy to mourn the loss of him tonight. But we did not choose a life of ease when we became Dauntless. And the truth of it is…” Eric smiles. If I didn’t know him, I would think that smile is genuine. But I do know him. “The truth is, Albert is now exploring an unknown, uncertain place. He leaped into vicious waters to get there. Who among us is brave enough to venture into that darkness without knowing what lies beyond it? Albert was not yet one of our members, but we can be assured that he was one of our bravest!”

A cry rises from the center of the crowd, and a whoop. The Dauntless cheer at varying pitches, high and low, bright and deep. Their roar mimics the roar of the water. Christina takes the flask from Uriah and drinks. Will slides his arm around her shoulders and pulls her to his side. Voices fill my ears.

“We will celebrate him now, and remember him always!” yells Eric. Someone hands him a dark bottle, and he lifts it. “To Albert the Courageous!”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“To Albert!” shouts the crowd. Arms lift all around me, and the Dauntless chant his name. “Albert! Al-bert! Al-bert!” They chant until his name no longer sounds like his name. It sounds like the primal scream of an ancient race.

I turn away from the railing. I cannot stand this any longer.

I don’t know where I’m going. I suspect that I am not going anywhere at all, just away. I walk down a dark hallway. At the end is the drinking fountain, bathed in the blue glow of the light above it.

I shake my head. Courageous? Courageous would have been admitting weakness and leaving Dauntless, no matter what shame accompanied it. Pride is what killed Al, and it is the flaw in every Dauntless heart. It is in mine.

“Tris. ”

A jolt goes through me, and I turn around. Four stands behind me, just inside the blue circle of light. It gives him an eerie look, shading his eye sockets and casting shadows under his cheekbones.

“What are you doing here?” I ask. “Shouldn’t you be paying your respects?”

I say it like it tastes bad and I have to spit it out.

“Shouldn’t you?” he says. He steps toward me, and I see his eyes again. They look black in this light.

“Can’t pay respect when you don’t have any,” I reply. I feel a twinge of guilt and shake my head. “I didn’t mean that. ”

“Ah. ” Judging by the look he gives me, he doesn’t believe me. I don’t blame him.

“This is ridiculous,” I say, heat rushing into my cheeks. “He throws himself off a ledge and Eric’s calling it brave? Eric, who tried to have you throw knives at Al’s head?” I taste bile. Eric’s false smiles, his artificial words, his twisted ideals—they make me want to be sick. “He wasn’t brave! He was depressed and a coward and he almost killed me! Is that the kind of thing we respect here?”

“What do you want them to do?” he says. “Condemn him? Al’s already dead. He can’t hear it and it’s too late. ”

“It’s not about Al,” I snap. “It’s about everyone watching! Everyone who now sees hurling themselves into the chasm as a viable option. I mean, why not do it if everyone calls you a hero afterward? Why not do it if everyone will remember your name? It’s…I can’t…”

I shake my head. My face burns and my heart pounds, and I try to keep myself under control, but I can’t.

“This would never have happened in Abnegation!” I almost shout. “None of it! Never. This place warped him and ruined him, and I don’t care if saying that makes me a Stiff, I don’t care, I don’t care!”

Four’s eyes shift to the wall above the drinking fountain.

“Careful, Tris,” he says, his eyes still on the wall.

“Is that all you can say?” I demand, scowling at him. “That I should be careful? That’s it?”

“You’re as bad as the Candor, you know that?” He grabs my arm and drags me away from the drinking fountain. His hand hurts my arm, but I’m not strong enough to pull away.

His face is so close to mine that I can see a few freckles spotting his nose. “I’m not going to say this again, so listen carefully. ” He sets his hands on my shoulders, his fingers pressing, squeezing. I feel small. “They are watching you. You, in particular. ”

“Let go of me,” I say weakly.

His fingers spring apart, and he straightens. Some of the weight on my chest lifts now that he isn’t touching me. I fear his shifting moods. They show me something unstable inside of him, and instability is dangerous.

“Are they watching you, too?” I say, so quietly he wouldn’t be able to hear me if he wasn’t standing so close.

He doesn’t answer my question. “I keep trying to help you,” he says, “but you refuse to be helped. ”

“Oh, right. Your help,” I say. “Stabbing my ear with a knife and taunting me and yelling at me more than you yell at anyone else, it sure is helpful. ”

“Taunting you? You mean when I threw the knives? I wasn’t taunting you,” he snaps. “I was reminding you that if you failed, someone else would have to take your place. ”

I cup the back of my neck with my hand and think back to the knife incident. Every time he spoke, it was to remind me that if I gave up, Al would have to take my place in front of the target.

“Why?” I say.

“Because you’re from Abnegation,” he says, “and it’s when you’re acting selflessly that you are at your bravest. ”

I understand now. He wasn’t persuading me to give up. He was reminding me why I couldn’t—because I needed to protect Al. The thought makes me ache now. Protect Al. My friend. My attacker.

I can’t hate Al as much as I want to.

I can’t forgive him either.

“If I were you, I would do a better job of pretending that selfless impulse is going away,” he says, “because if the wrong people discover it…well, it won’t be good for you. ”

“Why? Why do they care about my intentions?”

“Intentions are the only thing they care about. They try to make you think they care about what you do, but they don’t. They don’t want you to act a certain way. They want you to think a certain way. So you’re easy to understand. So you won’t pose a threat to them. ” He presses a hand to the wall next to my head and leans into it. His shirt is just tight enough that I can see his collarbone and the faint depression between his shoulder muscle and his bicep.

I wish I was taller. If I was tall, my narrow build would be described as “willowy” instead of “childish,” and he might not see me as a little sister he needs to protect.

I don’t want him to see me as his sister.

“I don’t understand,” I say, “why they care what I think, as long as I’m acting how they want me to. ”

“You’re acting how they want you to now,” he says, “but what happens when your Abnegation-wired brain tells you to do something else, something they don’t want?”

I don’t have an answer to that, and I don’t even know if he’s right about me. Am I wired like the Abnegation, or the Dauntless?

Maybe the answer is neither. Maybe I am wired like the Divergent.

“I might not need you to help me. Ever think about that?” I say. “I’m not weak, you know. I can do this on my own. ”

He shakes his head. “You think my first instinct is to protect you. Because you’re small, or a girl, or a Stiff. But you’re wrong. ”

He leans his face close to mine and wraps his fingers around my chin. His hand smells like metal. When was the last time he held a gun, or a knife? My skin tingles at the point of contact, like he’s transmitting electricity through his skin.

“My first instinct is to push you until you break, just to see how hard I have to press,” he says, his fingers squeezing at the word “break. ” My body tenses at the edge in his voice, so I am coiled as tight as a spring, and I forget to breathe.

His dark eyes lifting to mine, he adds, “But I resist it. ”

“Why…” I swallow hard. “Why is that your first instinct?”

“Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up. I’ve seen it. It’s fascinating. ” He releases me but doesn’t pull away, his hand grazing my jaw, my neck. “Sometimes I just…want to see it again. Want to see you awake. ”

I set my hands on his waist. I can’t remember deciding to do that. But I also can’t move away. I pull myself against his chest, wrapping my arms around him. My fingers skim the muscles of his back.

After a moment he touches the small of my back, pressing me closer, and smoothes his other hand over my hair. I feel small again, but this time, it doesn’t scare me. I squeeze my eyes shut. He doesn’t scare me anymore.

“Should I be crying?” I ask, my voice muffled by his shirt. “Is there something wrong with me?”

The simulations drove a crack through Al so wide he could not mend it. Why not me? Why am I not like him—and why does that thought make me feel so uneasy, like I’m teetering on a ledge myself?

“You think I know anything about tears?” he says quietly.

I close my eyes. I don’t expect Four to reassure me, and he makes no effort to, but I feel better standing here than I did out there among the people who are my friends, my faction. I press my forehead to his shoulder.

“If I had forgiven him,” I say, “do you think he would be alive now?”

“I don’t know,” he replies. He presses his hand to my cheek, and I turn my face into it, keeping my eyes closed.

“I feel like it’s my fault. ”

“It isn’t your fault,” he says, touching his forehead to mine.

“But I should have. I should have forgiven him. ”

“Maybe. Maybe there’s more we all could have done,” he says, “but we just have to let the guilt remind us to do better next time. ”

I frown and pull back. That is a lesson that members of Abnegation learn—guilt as a tool, rather than a weapon against the self. It is a line straight from one of my father’s lectures at our weekly meetings.

“What faction did you come from, Four?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he replies, his eyes lowered. “This is where I am now. Something you would do well to remember for yourself. ”

He gives me a conflicted look and touches his lips to my forehead, right between my eyebrows. I close my eyes. I don’t understand this, whatever it is. But I don’t want to ruin it, so I say nothing. He doesn’t move; he just stays there with his mouth pressed to my skin, and I stay there with my hands on his waist, for a long time.

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