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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

I DON’T GO back to the dorms that night. Sleeping in the same room as the people who attacked me just to look brave would be stupid. Four sleeps on the floor and I sleep on his bed, on top of the quilt, breathing in the scent of his pillowcase. It smells like detergent and something heavy, sweet, and distinctly male.

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The rhythm of his breaths slows, and I prop myself up to see if he is asleep. He lies on his stomach with one arm around his head. His eyes are closed, his lips parted. For the first time, he looks as young as he is, and I wonder who he really is. Who is he when he isn’t Dauntless, isn’t an instructor, isn’t Four, isn’t anything in particular?

Whoever he is, I like him. It’s easier for me to admit that to myself now, in the dark, after all that just happened. He is not sweet or gentle or particularly kind. But he is smart and brave, and even though he saved me, he treated me like I was strong. That is all I need to know.

I watch the muscles in his back expand and contract until I fall asleep.

I wake to aches and pains. I cringe as I sit up, holding my ribs, and walk up to the small mirroron the opposite wall. I am almost too short to see myself in it, but when I stand on my tiptoes, I can see my face. As expected, there is a dark blue bruise on my cheek. I hate the idea of slumping into the dining hall like this, but Four’s instructions have stayed with me. I have to mend my friendships. I need the protection of seeming weak.

I tie my hair in a knot at the back of my head. The door opens and Four walks in, a towel in hand and his hair glistening with shower water. I feel a thrill in my stomach when I see the line of skin that shows above his belt as he lifts his hand to dry his hair and force my eyes up to his face.

“Hi,” I say. My voice sounds tight. I wish it didn’t.

He touches my bruised cheek with just his fingertips. “Not bad,” he says. “How’s your head?”

“Fine,” I say. I’m lying—my head is throbbing. I brush my fingers over the bump, and pain prickles over my scalp. It could be worse. I could be floating in the river.

Every muscle in my body tightens as his hand drops to my side, where I got kicked. He does it casually, but I can’t move.

“And your side?” he asks, his voice low.

“Only hurts when I breathe. ”

He smiles. “Not much you can do about that. ”

“Peter would probably throw a party if I stopped breathing. ”

“Well,” he says, “I would only go if there was cake. ”

I laugh, and then wince, covering his hand to steady my rib cage. He slides his hand back slowly, his fingertips grazing my side. When his fingers lift, I feel an ache in my chest. Once this moment ends, I have to remember what happened last night. And I want to stay here with him.

He nods a little and leads the way out.

“I’ll go in first,” he says when we stand outside the dining hall. “See you soon, Tris. ”

He walks through the doors and I am alone. Yesterday he told me he thought I would have to pretend to be weak, but he was wrong. I am weak already. I brace myself against the wall and press my forehead to my hands. It’s difficult to take deep breaths, so I take short, shallow ones. I can’t let this happen. They attacked me to make me feel weak. I can pretend they succeeded to protect myself, but I can’t let it become true.

I pull away from the wall and walk into the dining hall without another thought. A few steps in, I remember I’m supposed to look like I’m cowering, so I slow my pace and hug the wall, keeping my head down. Uriah, at the table next to Will and Christina’s, lifts his hand to wave at me. And then puts it down.

I sit next to Will.

Al isn’t there—he isn’t anywhere.

Uriah slides into the seat next to me, leaving his half-eaten muffin and half-finished glass of water on the other table. For a second, all three of them just stare at me.

“What happened?” Will asks, lowering his voice.

I look over his shoulder at the table behind ours. Peter sits there, eating a piece of toast and whispering something to Molly. My hand clenches around the edge of the table. I want him to hurt. But now isn’t the time.

Drew is missing, which means he’s still in the infirmary. Vicious pleasure courses through me at the thought.

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“Peter, Drew…,” I say quietly. I hold my side as I reach across the table for a piece of toast. It hurts to stretch out my hand, so I let myself wince and hunch over. “And…” I swallow. “And Al. ”

“Oh God,” says Christina, her eyes wide.

“Are you all right?” Uriah asks.

Peter’s eyes find mine across the dining hall, and I have to force myself to look away. It brings a bitter taste to my mouth to show him that he scares me, but I have to. Four was right. I have to do everything I can to make sure I don’t get attacked again.

“Not really,” I say.

My eyes burn, and it’s not artifice, unlike the wincing. I shrug. I believe Tori’s warning now. Peter, Drew, and Al were ready to throw me into the chasm out of jealousy—what is so unbelievable about the Dauntless leaders committing murder?

I feel uncomfortable, like I’m wearing someone else’s skin. If I’m not careful, I could die. I can’t even trust the leaders of my faction. My new family.

“But you’re just…” Uriah purses his lips. “It isn’t fair. Three against one?”

“Yeah, and Peter is all about what’s fair. That’s why he grabbed Edward in his sleep and stabbed him in the eye. ” Christina snorts and shakes her head. “Al, though? Are you sure, Tris?”

I stare at my plate. I’m the next Edward. But unlike him, I’m not going to leave.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m sure. ”

“It has to be desperation,” says Will. “He’s been acting…I don’t know. Like a different person. Ever since stage two started. ”

Then Drew shuffles into the dining hall. I drop my toast, and my mouth drifts open.

Calling him “bruised” would be an understatement. His face is swollen and purple. He has a split lip and a cut running through his eyebrow. He keeps his eyes down on the way to his table, not even lifting them to look at me. I glance across the room at Four. He wears the satisfied smile I wish I had on.

“Did you do that?” hisses Will.

I shake my head. “No. Someone—I never saw who—found me right before…” I gulp. Saying it out loud makes it worse, makes it real. “…I got tossed into the chasm. ”

“They were going to kill you?” says Christina in a low voice.

“Maybe. They might have been planning on dangling me over it just to scare me. ” I lift a shoulder. “It worked. ”

Christina gives me a sad look. Will just glares at the table.

“We have to do something about this,” Uriah says in a low voice.

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“What, like beat them up?” Christina grins. “Looks like that’s been taken care of already. ”

“No. That’s pain they can get over,” replies Uriah. “We have to edge them out of the rankings. That will damage their futures. Permanently. ”

Four gets up and stands between the tables. Conversation abruptly ceases.

“Transfers. We’re doing something different today,” he says. “Follow me. ”

We stand, and Uriah’s forehead wrinkles. “Be careful,” he tells me.

“Don’t worry,” says Will. “We’ll protect her. ”

Four leads us out of the dining hall and along the paths that surround the Pit. Will is on my left, Christina is on my right.

“I never really said I was sorry,” Christina says quietly. “For taking the flag when you earned it. I don’t know what was wrong with me. ”

I’m not sure if it’s smart to forgive her or not—to forgive either of them, after what they said to me when the rankings went up yesterday. But my mother would tell me that people are flawed and I should be lenient with them. And Four told me to rely on my friends.

I don’t know who I should rely on more, because I’m not sure who my true friends are. Uriah and Marlene, who were on my side even when I seemed strong, or Christina and Will, who have always protected me when I seemed weak?

When her wide brown eyes meet mine, I nod. “Let’s just forget about it. ”

I still want to be angry, but I have to let my anger go.

We climb higher than I’ve gone before, until Will’s face goes white whenever he looks down. Most of the time I like heights, so I grab Will’s arm like I need his support—but really, I’m lending him mine. He smiles gratefully at me.

Four turns around and walks backward a few steps—backward, on a narrow path with no railing. How well does he know this place?

He eyes Drew, who trudges at the back of the group, and says, “Pick up the pace, Drew!”

It’s a cruel joke, but it’s hard for me to fight off a smile. That is, until Four’s eyes shift to my arm around Will’s, and all the humor drains from them. His expression sends a chill through me. Is he…jealous?

We get closer and closer to the glass ceiling, and for the first time in days, I see the sun. Four walks up a flight of metal stairs leading through a hole in the ceiling. They creak under my feet, and I look down to see the Pit and the chasm below us.

We walk across the glass, which is now a floor rather than a ceiling, through a cylindrical room with glass walls. The surrounding buildings are half-collapsed and appear to be abandoned, which is probably why I never noticed the Dauntless compound before. The Abnegation sector is also far away.

The Dauntless mill around the glass room, talking in clusters. At the edge of the room, two Dauntless fight with sticks, laughing when one of them misses and hits only air. Above me, two ropes stretch across the room, one a few feet higher than the other. They probably have something to do with the daredevil stunts the Dauntless are famous for.

Four leads us through another door. Beyond it is a huge, dank space with graffitied walls and exposed pipes. The room is lit by a series of old-fashioned fluorescent tubes with plastic covers—they must be ancient.

“This,” says Four, his eyes bright in pale light, “is a different kind of simulation known as the fear landscape. It has been disabled for our purposes, so this isn’t what it will be like the next time you see it. ”

Behind him, the word “Dauntless” is spray-painted in red artistic lettering on a concrete wall.

“Through your simulations, we have stored data about your worst fears. The fear landscape accesses that data and presents you with a series of virtual obstacles. Some of the obstacles will be fears you previously faced in your simulations. Some may be new fears. The difference is that you are aware, in the fear landscape, that it is a simulation, so you will have all your wits about you as you go through it. ”

That means that everyone will be like Divergent in the fear landscape. I don’t know if that’s a relief, because I can’t be detected, or a problem, because I won’t have the advantage.

Four continues, “The number of fears you have in your landscape varies according to how many you have. ”

How many fears will I have? I think of facing the crows again and shiver, though the air is warm.

“I told you before that the third stage of initiation focuses on mental preparation,” he says. I remember when he said that. On the first day. Right before he put a gun to Peter’s head. I wish he had pulled the trigger.

“That is because it requires you to control both your emotions and your body—to combine the physical abilities you learned in stage one with the emotional mastery you learned in stage two. To keep a level head. ” One of the fluorescent tubes above Four’s head twitches and flickers. Four stops scanning the crowd of initiates and focuses his stare on me.

“Next week you will go through your fear landscape as quickly as possible in front of a panel of Dauntless leaders. That will be your final test, which determines your ranking for stage three. Just as stage two of initiation is weighted more heavily than stage one, stage three is weighted heaviest of all. Understood?”

We all nod. Even Drew, who makes it look painful.

If I do well in my final test, I have a good chance of making it into the top ten and a good chance of becoming a member. Becoming Dauntless. The thought makes me almost giddy with relief.

“You can get past each obstacle in one of two ways. Either you find a way to calm down enough that the simulation registers a normal, steady heartbeat, or you find a way to face your fear, which can force the simulation to move on. One way to face a fear of drowning is to swim deeper, for example. ” Four shrugs. “So I suggest that you take the next week to consider your fears and develop strategies to face them. ”

“That doesn’t sound fair,” says Peter. “What if one person only has seven fears and someone else has twenty? That’s not their fault. ”

Four stares at him for a few seconds and then laughs. “Do you really want to talk to me about what’s fair?”

The crowd of initiates parts to make way for him as he walks toward Peter, folds his arms, and says, in a deadly voice, “I understand why you’re worried, Peter. The events of last night certainly proved that you are a miserable coward. ”

Peter stares back, expressionless.

“So now we all know,” says Four, quietly, “that you are afraid of a short, skinny girl from Abnegation. ” His mouth curls in a smile.

Will puts his arm around me. Christina’s shoulders shake with suppressed laughter. And somewhere within me, I find a smile too.

When we get back to the dorm that afternoon, Al is there.

Will stands behind me and holds my shoulders—lightly, as if to remind me that he’s there. Christina edges closer to me.

Al’s eyes have shadows beneath them, and his face is swollen from crying. Pain stabs my stomach when I see him. I can’t move. The scent of lemongrass and sage, once pleasant, turns sour in my nose.

“Tris,” says Al, his voice breaking. “Can I talk to you?”

“Are you kidding?” Will squeezes my shoulders. “You don’t get to come near her ever again. ”

“I won’t hurt you. I never wanted to…” Al covers his face with both hands. “I just want to say that I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don’t…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I…please forgive me, please…. ”

He reaches for me like he’s going to touch my shoulder, or my hand, his face wet with tears.

Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.

But if I saw her, I wouldn’t recognize her.

“Stay away from me,” I say quietly. My body feels rigid and cold, and I am not angry, I am not hurt, I am nothing. I say, my voice low, “Never come near me again. ”

Our eyes meet. His are dark and glassy. I am nothing.

“If you do, I swear to God I will kill you,” I say. “You coward. ”

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