I can feel the weight of the walls bearing down on us. It is suffocating to my logical mind but to the illogical, I want to let this twisted hunger in me grow; the one that yearns for him to press ever closer. I belatedly push these thoughts away. This is about him, not me, and I am only too well aware that of the selflessness I seem always to lack.
His breath hitches again and something akin to a whimper registers in my ear. It is just as likely to be his voice as it is mine, yearning to ease the pain in him. A thought entices me: I am divergent. I can change this. I stretch a palm out and press it flat against the cool wooden wall. Am I willing to share that part of me with him? Am I even strong enough to break through this wall like I did to the glass?
The memory of his reprimand pulls my hand back sharply. It is too risky to try again and risk angering him. Perhaps it would not even work in a fear landscape that was not my own. Instead I pull his arms down around me, closer, and the selfish thoughts invade the sensible ones I’m speaking to calm him down. The box finally releases us and I’m glad I didn’t break it.
His eyes flicker over me with unspoken thoughts and words. I want to ask him something, anything, but I can’t find any words. There is silence between us for many beats of my pounding heart. He is the one who speaks first.
“The landscape. The fears are the same but…” He trails off and then turns his eyes away as he takes in the changing surroundings. A plain room, a woman at one end, a table and a gun materialize. He looks back at me – into me – with that piercing gaze of his. “It’s different with you.”
I don’t know what to make of that so I don’t say anything. He looks briefly disappointed as the moment passes and then a resolve returns to his stance. He moves with determination now as he picks up the gun and loads it. My eyes grow wide as I realize what is about to happen and the coldness he embraces the challenge with. As he aims the gun at the faceless woman, I finally find my voice.
He turns only his head to look back at me, a slight puzzlement seeping into his resolve. I step up to him and lower his arms holding the weapon.
“You don’t want to do this.”
“Tris, I have to.” And as I shake my head, he adds. “It’s the fear. I have to do it to escape it.”
I close my eyes, cringe, and wait for the sound of the gunshot to echo in the closed space. It doesn’t come and it takes me a few moments to realize that it’s not going to. He is waiting for me. I clear my head and try to think. The fear is that of taking someone’s life. On the surface, it seems like a clear choice; it can’t be mentally overcome like the claustrophobia so the only way to conquer is to do it. My mother’s voice echoes in my head: There is another choice. There is always another choice.
I open my eyes and my heart is lighter. “You don’t have to kill her. You can let her go.”
“How can I do that, Tris? We’re in a sealed off room.”
Again I shake my head. I point to the far corner and his gaze follows. There is a moment of panic in his eyes as he registers the faint framework of a door, mostly hidden in the shadows. He has to reach down to steady himself with the table and mumbles, “That’s not possible.”
I am unsure of how to take his reaction. Perhaps I should be afraid, manipulating the simulation and ultimately him, but I am not. I know this is right. I take his hand and lead him to the door. The woman, still complacent in her corner, watches and waits.
Four turns the knob, and when it opens, his eyes grow wider still. I have the uncomfortable thought that I am scaring him now. What if I appear in this landscape the next time he ventures in? Is it paranoia or arrogance that tries to convince me that stoic, intrepid Four could be afraid of a girl like me? Far away, I hear his voice hollowly as he tells the woman she may leave. She doesn’t move but rather becomes fainter as she dissolves away along with the room.
“Four, I…” He raises a hand to silence me. I expect him to be angry with me but he is deadly calm and that is worse.
“I asked you not to call me that.”
Of course. How stupid can I be? I am filled with regret not only for my actions but for being here in the first place. He wanted to show me something incredible and I am ruining it. I already ruined it. I feel light-headed. I want to sit down. “Can you let me out of the simulation?”
“Can’t or won’t?” I ask feebly. He doesn’t respond; he is inside himself, thinking.
“Listen,” he says, and my heart clings to the hope when there is no malice in his words. “Whatever you see in this last fear, do not do anything. Nothing. Understand?”
I nod vigorously and only belated my mind wonders about his wording – last. There is no time to question this as a new room materializes around us. It is dim but a figure begins to emerge, large and imposing. My brows furrow as I recognize the grey robe, the plain room, and strangely, the face of this man. It is Marcus, an Abnegation leader my family knows well.
I would have been strangely pleased for this reminder of home if it weren’t for the dread surrounding his presence. There is only one reason for him to be here, in a fear landscape, and Four shrinks away from the man. My gaze flicks back and forth between the man and boy and I see the coldness in Marcus’ eyes only after I realize he’s brandishing a belt like a weapon.
It’s his father, I think in slow motion as fear-Marcus unfurls the belt.
Four is from Abnegation, as he raises his arm.
That means you’re not Four. Your name is Tobias, as the boy cowers and hides his face from the impending blow.
A sharp whistle-crack snaps me out of my stupor. The belt cracks down on one arm and leaves a sharp red patch of skin in its wake. From behind it, a muffled, anguished cry.
“You’re just like me!” I shout, finally understanding though neither Tobias nor Marcus pay attention to me. I see his protection of me in a new light, one of comradery instead of patronage, his affection for me as more than that of a mentor, and his understanding of divergence as – my heart flutters with hope – personal?
Suddenly the light of understanding in my heart turns fiercely cold. My eyes narrow and focus on his tormentor with the newfound rage that Dauntless has kindled in me. I clench my fists and start forward when I stop, my fist curling around something icy hard in my hand. It is a pistol; not just any pistol but the one from the last fearscape. The one meant for killing.
My heart beats fiercely in my chest as I imagine it: I raise the gun to Marcus and pull the trigger. It hits him in the shoulder, just to wound him. He staggers back and I shoot again in his leg. I want him to suffer like he has made Tobias suffer. I stride over, the smirking cruelness gone from his face as I kick him again and again. Then one last bullet just to end this–
My eyes dart open. I did not realize I had closed them, drifted. My arm are extended in a shooting position, locked and the pistol cocked. When did I do that? The landscape feels off-balance to me, shifting... changing... The sensation scares me and I remember Tobias’ command before it began, do not do anything. I stifle a helplessness cry in my throat as I disarm the safety and let the gun drop to the ground.
As if sensing an opportunity, fear-Marcus grows larger and multiplies. It seems as if he is everywhere at once, belts lashing from all angles striking and scarring my body as well as Tobias, laughter and condemnation simmering in one with every loathsome word he utters.
“Fight him,” I whimper, dropping to my knees. My rage is gone and my heart feels tiny and fragile once more. “Tobias, please!”
He sees me huddled, a victim of his fear and this is the fire he needs to rise above it. He climbs to his feet with the determination and strength of will I have come to expect from him. With a guttural yell he charges the phantom and catches the belt in midair. I can only imagine the pain of this but the fire in his eyes makes me think he didn’t notice or doesn’t care.
“You don’t own me!” He whips the belt away from his tormentor and screams loud enough to echo throughout the room and throughout my mind. “You can’t hurt me anymore!”
The scene fades away. We are in the cement-brick room again and all is quiet. Too quiet. We both look ready to apology for what has happened but we do not. Perhaps it is not necessary; perhaps we do not know how. Again, he breaks the silence first by saying simply, “So now you know: four fears.”
I look at him with something akin to awe. For anyone else it would be an unbelievable feat of strength to have so little to fear from life but he says it with a twist of bitterness. It is a badge of dishonor in his eyes and I wonder if it is the fears themselves or the emotions they, perhaps just the one, stir in him that affects him so. I move closer to him and wrap my arms around him. There is a moment where he hesitates before relaxing into the embrace.
“Thank you for... sharing that with me. I know it wasn't easy.”
He grunts softly. "Life's not easy."
He rests his chin on my head and I feel his breath in my hair. The sensation makes me dizzy. I want to enjoy this, to soak up these moments but I can't stand still. There are things I want to know and I can’t help myself asking, “Are you happier being Dauntless than you were in Abnegation?”
He sighs. “I am now.”
“Because you’re free?”
“Because I found you.”
My cheeks blaze with heat and my mind goes completely blank. All I can think about is how we could have found each other in Abnegation too, but it doesn’t seem right. We wouldn’t be the same people we are now. I start to tell him this but I’m stopped by the quiet laughter in his eyes. “What?”
“Does it scare you when I tell you that I like you? You’re ignoring it.”
I brush my hair away and smile guiltily. “Maybe a little.”
“Well you scare the hell out of me so it works out well.”
“Little old me?” I ask, as innocently as possible. He gives me a little shove on the shoulder.
“Yes, you. You’re ten times stronger than anyone gives you credit for, your heart is more selfless than you think and…” He trails off and his expression becomes serious. “You’re divergent.”
I stare back at him. It’s pointless to argue since he’s known from the time of my first simulation but the words seem cold and harsh in his mouth.
“It’s not just the fact that you are, though. I’ve learned a little about… divergence and it’s unheard of for anyone – anyone – to change a landscape they weren’t directly connected to. But you did, just now.”
I blink back my surprise. No one else can do that? I don’t even know what I’m capable of. And if they were recording this maybe I never will.
“Are they going to find out?” I ask.
He smiles tentatively. “Well I’m certainly not going to tell them, if that’s what you’re asking. Otherwise no, I don’t think so.”
“It won’t be recorded?”
“Only my reactions and physical responses are recorded. I made sure of that before I brought you here. As far as the actual sim data and transmittance, the only fear they’re interested in is the one about my father. They know that’s the reason I’m here and they use it as… motivation for me to continue my training and make the right choices here at the compound.”
I swallow hard, hoping he doesn’t mean what it sounds like: fear as a method of control. What I’ve learned about the Dauntless leaders doesn’t make me doubt it’s the truth though. A smile creeps onto my lips despite this horrible train of thought.
“That was why you told me not to change it. In case they viewed that Sim and saw it was different.” He nodded. “You were protecting me. You always protect me.”
“I’m protecting myself, too.” He added, mirroring my smile.
“It’s a good thing you left Abnegation then!”
We make our way through the stairs and upstairs rooms until we reach one of the entrances to the compound. The night air is clean and fresh on my skin though the breeze is cool. He notices me shiver and puts him arms around me. I feel calm and pensive, two things I have not had much time for lately.
“My mother once told me that in life, there will always be roads not taken. She said it was selfish to dwell on these things because it takes our attention away from what really matters: others. For us, one of those roads is Abnegation.”
“Do you think she was right?” He asked.
“Yes, I do, though maybe not about the reason why. What seems important is that we embrace the choices we have made and find satisfaction in them. Whatever Faction we live in, whoever joins and leaves our lives, we are ultimately responsible for what we do and how we act. No matter how many roads we have to leave unexplored in the process.”
“I can think of one road I would like to explore.” He whispers in my ear and nuzzles his nose and mouth against my neck. I laugh a nervous, happy laugh and settle into the warmth of him around me.
“Are you sure this isn’t still part of the Sim?” I ask. “Because this is feeling too good to be real.”
“Why? Are you hoping you can change the path we’re taking?”
“Nope.” I stare out into the night sky and for the first time since joining Dauntless I feel peace, hope even, slipping into the cracks in my heart. It’s good to feel again. Feel real again. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”