I put my hand on the wall near her face and lean into it, thinking of the tattoos forming a line on my back. It wasn’t getting the tattoos that made me a faction traitor. It was what they meant to me—an escape from the narrow thinking of any one faction, the thinking that slices away at all the different parts of me, paring me down to just one version of myself.
“I don’t understand why they care what I think, as long as I’m acting how they want me to,” she says.
“You’re acting how they want you to now, but what happens when your Abnegation-wired brain tells you to do something else, something they don’t want?”
Much as I like him, Zeke is the perfect example. Dauntless-born, Dauntless-raised, Dauntless-chosen. I can count on him to approach everything the same way. He was trained to from birth. To him, there are no other options.
“I might not need you to help me. Ever think about that?” she says. I want to laugh at the question. Of course she doesn’t need me. When was it ever about that? “I’m not weak, you know. I can do this on my own.”
“You think my first instinct is to protect you.” I shift so I’m a little closer to her. “Because you’re small, or a girl, or a Stiff. But you’re wrong.”
Even closer. I touch her chin, and for a moment I think about closing this gap completely.
“My first instinct is to push you until you break, just to see how hard I have to press,” I say, and it’s a strange admission, and a dangerous one. I don’t mean her any harm, and never have, and I hope she knows that’s not what I mean. “But I resist it.”
“Why is that your first instinct?” she says.
“Fear doesn’t shut you down,” I say. “It wakes you up. I’ve seen it. It’s fascinating.” Her eyes in every fear simulation, ice and steel and blue flame. The short, slight girl with the wire-taut arms. A walking contradiction. My hand slips over her jaw, touches her neck. “Sometimes I just want to see it again. Want to see you awake.”
Her hands touch my waist, and she pulls herself against me, or pulls me against her, I can’t tell which. Her hands move over my back, and I want her, in a way I haven’t felt before, not just some kind of mindless physical drive but a real, specific desire. Not for “someone,” just for her.
I touch her back, her hair. It’s enough, for now.
“Should I be crying?” she asks, and it takes me a second to realize she’s talking about Al again. Good, because if this embrace made her want to cry, I would have to admit to knowing absolutely nothing about romance. Which might be true anyway. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“You think I know anything about tears?” Mine come without prompting and disappear a few seconds later.
“If I had forgiven him . . . do you think he would be alive now?”
“I don’t know.” I set my hand on her cheek, my fingers stretching back to her ear. She really is small. I don’t mind it.
“I feel like it’s my fault,” she says.
So do I.
“It isn’t your fault.” I bring my forehead to hers. Her breaths are warm against my face. I was right, this is better than keeping my distance, this is much better.
“But I should have. I should have forgiven him.”
“Maybe. Maybe there’s more we all could have done,” I say, and then I spit out an Abnegation platitude without thinking. “But we just have to let the guilt remind us to do better next time.”
She pulls away immediately, and I feel that familiar impulse, to be mean to her so she forgets what I said, so she doesn’t ask me any questions.
“What faction did you come from, Four?”
I think you know. “It doesn’t matter. This is where I am now. Something you would do well to remember for yourself.”
I don’t want to be close to her anymore; it’s all I want to do.
I want to kiss her; now is not the time.
I touch my lips to her forehead, and neither of us moves. No turning back now, not for me.
Something she said sticks with me all day. This would never have happened in Abnegation.
At first I find myself thinking, She just doesn’t know what they’re really like.
But I’m wrong, and she’s right. Al would not have died in Abnegation, and he would not have attacked her there, either. They may not be as purely good as I once believed—or wanted to believe—but they certainly aren’t evil, either.
I see the map of the Abnegation sector, the one I found on Max’s computer, printed on my eyelids when I close my eyes. If I warn them, if I don’t, I’m a traitor either way, to one thing or another. So if loyalty is impossible, what do I strive for instead?
It takes me a while to figure out a plan, how to go about this. If she was a normal Dauntless girl and I was a normal Dauntless boy, I would ask her on a date and we would make out by the chasm and I might show off my knowledge of Dauntless headquarters. But that feels too ordinary, after the things we’ve said to each other, after I’ve seen into the darkest parts of her mind.
Maybe that’s the problem—it’s all one-sided right now, because I know her, I know what she’s afraid of and what she loves and what she hates, but all she knows about me is what I’ve told her. And what I’ve told her is so vague as to be negligible, because I have a problem with specificity.
After that I know what to do, it’s just the doing it that’s the problem.
I turn on the computer in the fear landscape room and set it to follow my program. I get two syringes of simulation serum from the storeroom, and put them in the little black box I have for this purpose. Then I set out for the transfer dormitory, not sure how I’ll get her alone long enough to ask her to come with me.