the way I remember theirs—just letters in an alphabet, buried under a nervous haze as I anticipated my own choice. If I strike at their memories now, as hard as I can, become as memorable as my Dauntless self as possible, I can maybe save myself.
I hesitate for a moment, then put my elbows on the table and raise an eyebrow at him.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“My name is Four,” I say. “Call me ‘Stiff’ again and you and I will have a problem.”
He rolls his eyes, but I know I’ve made myself clear. I have a new name, which means I can be a new person. Someone who doesn’t put up with cutting comments from Erudite know-it-alls. Someone who can cut back.
Someone who’s finally ready to fight.
THE TRAINING ROOM smells like effort, like sweat and dust and shoes. Every time my fist hits the punching bag it stings my knuckles, which are split open from a week of Dauntless fights.
“So I guess you saw the boards,” Amar says, leaning against the door frame. He crosses his arms. “And realized that you’re up against Eric tomorrow. Or else you would be in the fear landscape room instead of in here.”
“I come in here, too,” I say, and I back away from the bag, shaking out my hands. Sometimes I clench my hands so hard I start to lose feeling in my fingertips.
I almost lost my first fight, against the Amity girl, Mia. I didn’t know how to beat her without hitting her, and I couldn’t hit her—at least, not until she had me in a choke hold and my vision was starting to go black at the edges. My instincts took over, and just one hard elbow to her jaw knocked her down. I still feel guilt curling up inside me when I think about it.
I almost lost the second fight, too, against the bigger Candor boy Sean. I wore him out, crawling to my feet every time he thought I was finished. He didn’t know that pushing through pain is one of my oldest habits, learned young, like chewing on my thumbnail, or holding my fork in my left hand instead of my right. Now my face is patchworked with bruises and cuts, but I proved myself.
Tomorrow my opponent is Eric. Beating him will take more than a clever move, or persistence. It will take skill I don’t have, strength I haven’t earned.
“Yeah, I know.” Amar laughs. “See, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what your deal is, so I’ve been asking around. Turns out you’re in here every morning and in the fear landscape room every night. You never spend any time with the other initiates. You’re always exhausted and you sleep like a corpse.”
A drop of sweat rolls down the back of my ear. I wipe it away with my taped-up fingers, then drag my arm across my forehead.
“Joining a faction is about more than getting through initiation, you know,” Amar says, and he hooks his fingers in the chain that the punching bag dangles from, testing its strength. “For most of the Dauntless, they meet their best friends during initiation, their girlfriends, boyfriends, whatever. Enemies, too. But you seem determined not to have any of those things.”
I’ve seen the other initiates together, getting pierced together and showing up to training with red, studded noses and ears and lips, or building towers out of food scraps at the breakfast table. It never even occurred to me that I could be one of them, or that I should try to be.
I shrug. “I’m used to being alone.”
“Well, I feel like you’re about to snap, and I don’t really want to be there when it happens,” he says. “Come on. A bunch of us are going to play a game tonight. A Dauntless game.”
I pick at the tape covering one of my knuckles. I shouldn’t go out and play games. I should stay here and work, and then sleep, so I’m ready to fight tomorrow.
But that voice, the one that says “should,” now sounds to me like my father’s voice, requiring me to behave, to isolate myself. And I came here because I was ready to stop listening to that voice.
“I’m offering you some Dauntless status for no particular reason other than that I feel bad for you,” he says. “Don’t be stupid and miss this opportunity.”
“Fine,” I say. “What’s the game?”
Amar just smiles.
“The game is Dare.” A Dauntless girl, Lauren, is holding on to the handle on the side of the train car, but she keeps swaying so she almost falls out, then giggling and pulling herself back in, like the train isn’t suspended two stories above the street, like she wouldn’t break her neck if she fell out.
In her free hand is a silver flask. It explains a lot.
She tilts her head. “First person picks someone and dares them to do something. Then that person has a drink, does the dare, and gets a chance to dare someone else to do something. And when everyone has done their dare—or died trying—we get a little drunk and stumble home.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“How do you win?” one of the Dauntless calls out from the other side of the train car. A boy who sits slouched against Amar like they’re old friends, or brothers.
I’m not the only initiate in the train car. Sitting across from me is Zeke, the first jumper, and a girl with brown hair and bangs cut straight across her forehead, and a pierced lip. The others are older, Dauntless members all. They have a kind of ease with one another, leaning into one another, punching one another’s arms, tousling one another’s hair. It’s camaraderie and friendship and flirtation, and none of it is familiar to me. I try to relax, bending my arms around my knees.
I really am a Stiff.
“You win by not being a little pansycake,” Lauren says. “And, hey, new rule, you also win by not asking dumb questions.
“I’m gonna go first, as the keeper of the alcohol,” she adds. “Amar, I dare you to go into the Erudite library while all the Noses are studying and scream something obscene.”
She screws the cap on the flask and tosses it to him. Everyone cheers as Amar takes the cap off and takes a swallow of whatever liquor is inside.
“Just tell me when we get to the right stop!” he shouts over the cheering.
Zeke waves a hand at me. “Hey, you’re a transfer, right? Four?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Nice first jump.”
I realize, too late, that it might be a sore spot for him—his moment of triumph, stolen by a misstep and loss of balance. But he just laughs.
“Yeah, not my finest moment,” he says.
“Not like anyone else stepped up,” the girl at his side says. “I’m Shauna, by the way. Is it true you only had four fears?”
“Hence the name,” I say.
“Wow.” She nods. She looks impressed, which makes me sit up straighter. “Guess you were born Dauntless.”
I shrug, like what she says might be true, even though I’m sure it’s not. She doesn’t know that I came here to escape the life I was meant for, that I’m fighting so hard to get through initiation so I don’t have to admit that I’m an imposter. Abnegation-born, Abnegation result, in a Dauntless haven.
The corners of her mouth turn down, like she’s sad about something, but I don’t ask what it is.
“How are your fights going?” Zeke asks me.
“All right,” I say. I wave a hand over my bruised face. “As you can clearly tell.”
“Check it out.” Zeke turns his head, showing me a large bruise on the underside of his jaw. “That’s thanks to this girl over here.”
He indicates Shauna with his thumb.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“He beat me,” Shauna says. “But I got a good shot in, for once. I keep losing.”
“It doesn’t bother you that he hit you?” I say.
“Why would it?” she says.?“I don’t know,” I say. “Because … you’re a girl?”
She raises her eyebrows. “What, you think I can’t take it just like every other initiate, just because I have girl parts?” She gestures to her chest, and I catch myself staring, just for a second, before I remember to look away, my face flushing.
“Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just not used to this. Any of it.”
“Sure, I get it,” she says, and she doesn’t sound angry. “But you should know that about Dauntless—girl, guy, whatever, it doesn’t matter here. What matters is what you’ve got in your gut.”
Then Amar gets up, putting his hands on his hips in a dramatic stance, and marches toward the open doorway. The train dips down and Amar doesn’t even hold on to anything, he just shifts and sways with the car’s movement. Everyone gets up, and Amar is the first one to jump, launching himself into the night. The others stream out behind him, and I let the people behind me carry me toward the opening. I’m not afraid of the speed of the train, just the heights, but here the train is close to the ground, so when I jump, I do it without fear. I land on two feet, stumbling for a few steps before I stop.
“Look at you, getting your train legs,” Amar says, elbowing me. “Here, have a sip. You look like you need it.”
He holds out the flask.
I’ve never tasted alcohol. The Abnegation don’t drink it, so it wasn’t even available. But I’ve seen how comfortable it seems to make people, and I desperately want to feel like I’m not wrapped up in skin that’s too tight for me to wear, so I don’t hesitate: I take the flask and drink.
The alcohol burns and tastes like medicine, but it goes down fast, leaving me warm.
“Good job,” Amar says, and he moves on to Zeke, hooking his arm around Zeke’s neck and dragging Zeke’s head against his chest. “I see you’ve met my young friend Ezekiel.”
“Just because my mom calls me that doesn’t mean you have to,” Zeke says, throwing Amar off. He looks at me. “Amar’s grandparents were friends with my parents.”
“Well, my dad’s dead, and so are the grandparents,” Zeke says.
“What about your parents?” I ask Amar.
He shrugs. “Died when I was young. Train accident. Very sad.” He grins like it’s not. “And my grandparents took the jump after I became an official member of Dauntless.” He makes a careening gesture with his hand, suggesting a dive.
“Oh, don’t tell him while I’m here,” Zeke says, shaking his head. “I don’t want to see the look on his face.”
Amar doesn’t pay attention. “Elderly Dauntless sometimes take a flying leap into the unknown of the chasm when they hit a certain age. It’s that or be factionless,” Amar says. “And my grandpa was really sick. Cancer. Grandma didn’t care to go on without him.”
He tilts his head up to the sky, and his eyes reflect the moonlight. For a moment I feel like he is showing me a secret self, one carefully hidden beneath layers of charm and humor and Dauntless bravado, and it scares me, because that secret self is hard, and cold, and sad.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“At least this way, I got to say my good-byes,” Amar says. “Most of the time death just comes whether you’ve said good-bye or not.”
The secret self vanishes with the flash of a smile, and Amar jogs toward the rest of the group, flask in hand. I stay back with Zeke. He lopes along, somehow clumsy and graceful at once, like a wild dog.
“What about you?” Zeke says. “You have parents?”
“One,” I say. “My mother died a long time ago.”
I remember the funeral, with all the Abnegation filling our house with quiet chatter, staying with us in our grief. They carried us meals on metal trays, covered with tinfoil, and cleaned our kitchen, and boxed up all my mother’s clothes for us, so there were no traces of her left. I remember them murmuring that she died from complications with another child. But I had a memory of her, a few months before her death, standing in front of her dresser, buttoning up her loose second shirt over the tight undershirt, her stomach flat. I shake my head a little, banishing the memory. She’s dead. It’s a child’s memory, unreliable.
“And your dad, is he okay with your choice?” he says. “Visiting Day is coming up, you know.”
“No,” I say distantly. “He’s not okay with it at all.”
My father will not come on Visiting Day. I’m sure of it. He will never speak to me again.
The Erudite sector is cleaner than any other part of the city, every scrap of trash or rubble cleared from the pavement, every crack in the street shored up with tar. I feel like I need to step carefully rather than mar the sidewalk with my sneakers. The other Dauntless walk along carelessly, the soles of their shoes making slapping sounds like pattering rain.
Every faction headquarters is allowed to have the lights on in its lobby at midnight, but everything else is supposed to be dark. Here, in the Erudite sector, each building that makes up Erudite headquarters is like a pillar of light. The windows we walk past feature the Erudite sitting at long tables, their noses buried in books or screens, or talking quietly to one another. The young and the old mix together at every table, in their impeccable blue clothing, their smooth hair, more than half of them with gleaming spectacles. Vanity, my father would say. They are so concerned with looking intelligent that they make themselves fools for it.
I pause to watch them. They don’t look vain to me. They look like people who make every effort to feel as smart as they are supposed to be. If that means wearing glasses with no prescription, it isn’t my place to judge. They are a haven I might have chosen. Instead I chose the haven that mocks them through the windows, that sends Amar into their lobby to cause a stir.
Amar reaches the doors of the central Erudite building and pushes through them. We watch from just outside, snickering. I peer through the doors at the portrait of Jeanine Matthews hanging on the opposite wall. Her yellow hair is pulled back tight from her face, her blue jacket buttoned just beneath her throat. She’s pretty, but that’s not the first thing I notice about her. Her sharpness is.
And beyond that—it could just be my imagination, but does she look a little afraid?
Amar runs into the lobby, ignoring the protests of the Erudite at the front desk, and yells, “Hey, Noses! Check this out!”
All the Erudite in the lobby look up from their books or screens, and the Dauntless burst into laughter as Amar turns, mooning them. The Erudite behind the desk run around it to catch him, but Amar pulls up his pants and runs toward us. We all start running, too, sprinting away from the doors.
I can’t help it—I’m laughing too, and it surprises me, how my stomach aches with it. Zeke runs at my shoulder, and we go toward the train tracks because there’s nowhere else to run. The Erudite chasing us give up after a block, and we all stop in an alley, leaning against the brick to catch our breath.
Amar comes into the alley last, his hands raised, and we cheer for him. He holds up the flask like it’s a trophy and points at Shauna.
“Young one,” he says. “I dare you to scale the sculpture in front of the Upper Levels building.”
She catches the flask when he throws it and takes a swig.
“You got it,” she says, grinning.
By the time they get to me, almost everyone is drunk, lurching with each footstep and laughing at every joke, no matter how stupid it is. I feel warm, despite the cool air, but my mind is still sharp, taking in everything about the night, the rich smell of marsh and the sound of bubbling laughter, the blue-black of the sky and the silhouette of each building against it. My legs are sore from running and walking and climbing, and still I haven’t fulfilled a dare.
We’re close to Dauntless headquarters now. The buildings are sagging where they stand.
“Who’s left?” Lauren says, her bleary eyes skipping over each face until she reaches mine. “Ah, the numerically named initiate from Abnegation. Four, is it?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“A Stiff?” The boy who sat so comfortably beside Amar looks at me, his words running together. He’s the one holding the flask, the one determining the next dare. So far I’ve watched people scale tall structures, I’ve watched them jump into dark holes and wander into empty buildings to retrieve a faucet or a desk chair, I’ve watched them run naked down alleyways and stick needles through their earlobes without numbing them first. If I was asked to concoct a dare, I would not be able to think of one. It’s a good thing I’m the last person to go.
I feel a tremor in my chest, nerves. What will he tell me to do?
“Stiffs are uptight,” the boy says plainly, like it’s a fact. “So, to prove you’re really Dauntless now … I dare you to get a tattoo.”
I see their ink, creeping over wrists and arms and shoulders and throats. The metal studs through ears and noses and lips and eyebrows. My skin is blank, healed, whole. But it doesn’t match who I am—I should be scarred, marked, the way they are, but marked with memories of pain, scarred with the things I have survived.
I lift a shoulder. “Fine.”
He tosses me the flask, and I drain it, though it stings my throat and lips and tastes bitter as poison.
We start toward the Pire.
Tori is wearing a pair of men’s underwear and a T-shirt when she answers the door, her hair hanging over the left half of her face. She raises an eyebrow at me. We clearly woke her from a sound sleep, but she doesn’t seem angry—just a little grouchy.
“Please?” Amar says. “It’s for a game of Dare.”
“Are you sure you want a tired woman to tattoo your skin, Four? This ink doesn’t wash off,” she says to me.
“I trust you,” I say. I’m not going to back out of the dare, not after watching everyone else do theirs.
“Right.” Tori yawns. “The things I do for Dauntless tradition. I’ll be right back, I’m going to put on pants.”
She closes the door between us. On the way here I racked my brain for what I might want tattooed, and where. I couldn’t decide—my thoughts were too muddled. Still are.
A few seconds later Tori emerges wearing pants, her feet still bare. “If I get in trouble for turning on lights at this hour, I’m going to claim it was vandals and name names.”
“Got it,” I say.
“There’s a back way. Come on,” she says, beckoning to us. I follow her through her dark living room, which is tidy except for the sheets of paper spread over her coffee table, each one marked with a different drawing. Some of them are harsh and simple, like most of the tattoos I’ve seen, and others are more intricate, detailed. Tori must be the Dauntless approximation of an artist.
I pause by the table. One of the pages depicts all the faction symbols, without the circles that usually bind them. The Amity tree is at the bottom, forming a kind of root system for the eye of Erudite and the Candor scales. Above them, the Abnegation hands seem almost to cradle the Dauntless flames. It’s like the symbols are growing into one another.
The others have moved past me. I jog to catch up, walking through Tori’s kitchen—also immaculate, though the appliances are out of date, the faucet rusted, and the refrigerator door held closed by a large clamp. The back door is open and leads into a short, dank hallway that opens up to the tattoo parlor.
I’ve walked past it before but never cared to go inside, sure I wasn’t going to find a reason to attack my own body with needles. I guess I have one now—those needles are a way for me to separate myself from my past, not just in the eyes of my fellow Dauntless, but in my own eyes, every time I look at my own reflection.
The room’s walls are covered in pictures. The wall by the door is entirely dedicated to Dauntless symbols, some black and simple, some colorful and barely recognizable. Tori turns on the light over one of the chairs and arranges her tattoo needles on a tray next to it. The other Dauntless gather on benches and chairs around us, like they’re getting ready to see a performance of some kind. My face gets hot.
“Basic principles of tattooing,” Tori says. “The less cushion under the skin, or the bonier you are in a particular area, the more painful the tattoo. For your first one it’s probably best to get it done on, I don’t know, your arm, or—”
“Your butt cheek,” Zeke suggests, with a snort of laughter.
Tori shrugs. “It wouldn’t be the first time. Or the last.”
I look at the boy who dared me. He raises his eyebrows at me. I know what he expects, what they all expect—that I’ll get something small, on an arm or a leg, something that’s easily hidden. I glance at the wall with all the symbols. One of the drawings in particular catches my eye, an artistic rendering of the flames themselves.
“That one,” I say, pointing to it.
“Got it,” Tori says. “Got a location in mind?”
I have a scar—a faint gouge in my knee from when I fell down on the sidewalk as a child. It’s always seemed stupid to me that none of the pain I’ve experienced has left a visible mark; sometimes, without a way to prove it to myself, I began to doubt that I had lived through it at all, with the memories becoming hazy over time. I want to have some kind of reminder that while wounds heal, they don’t disappear forever—I carry them everywhere, always, and that is the way of things, the way of scars.
That is what this tattoo will be, for me: a scar. And it seems fitting that it should document the worst memory of pain that I have.
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