ALLEGIANT: An Alternate EndinG
The death serum smells like smoke and spice, and my lungs reject it with the first breath I take. I cough and splutter, and I am swallowed by darkness.
I crumple to my knees. My body feels like someone has replaced my blood with molasses, and my bones with lead. An invisible thread dugs me toward sleep, but I want to be awake. I imagine that wanting, that desire, burning in my chest like a flame.
The thread tugs harder, and I stoke the flame with names. Tobias. Caleb. Christina. Matthew. Cara. Zeke. Uriah.
But I can't bear up under the serum's weight. My body falls to the side, and my wounded arm presses to the cold ground. I am drifting…
It would be nice to float away, a voice in my head says. To see where I will go…
But the fire, the fire.
The desire to live.
I am not done yet, I am not.
I feel like I am digging through my own mind. It is difficult to remember why I came here and why I care about unburdening myself from this beautiful weight. But then my scratching hand find it, the memory of my mother's face, and the strange angles of her limbs on the pavement, and the blood seeping from my father's body.
But they are dead, the voice says. You could join them.
They died for me, I answer. And now I have something to do, in return. I have to stop other people from losing everything. I have to save the city and the people my mother and father loved. I have to live.
When I go to join my parents, I will look them straight in the eye and they will know that because of their sacrifices, I lived and lived and lived. I will not accept this senseless collapsing at the threshold.
The fire, the fire. It rages within, a campfire and then an inferno, and my body is its fuel. I feel it racing through me, eating at the weight. There is nothing that can kill me now; I am powerful and invincible and eternal.
I feel the serum clinging to my skin like oil, but the darkness recedes. I slap a heavy hand over the floor and push myself up.
Bent at the waist, I shove my shoulder into the double doors, and they squeak across the floor as their seal breaks. I breathe clean air and stand up straighter. I am there, I am there.
But I am not alone.
"Don't move," David says, raising his gun. Hello, Tris."
"How did you inoculate yourself against the death serum?" he asks me. He's still sitting in his whellchair, but you don't need to be able to walk to fire a gun.
I blink at him, still dazed.
"I didn't," I say.
"Don't be stupid," David says. "You can't survive the death serum without an inoculation, and I'm the only one in the compound who possesses that substance."
I just stare at him, not sure what to say. I didn't inoculate myself. The fact that I'm still standing upright is impossible. There's nothing more to add.
"I suppose it no longer matters," he says. "We're here now."
"What are you doing here?" I mumble. My lips feel awkwardly large, hard to talk around. I still feel that oily heaviness on my skin, like death is clinging to me even though I have defeated it.
But already I my thoughts have moved beyond that struggle. I dimly register the weight of my gun pressing against my lower back, still resting where I placed it before I stepped into the vestibule. He hasn't asked me to disarm myself. He must think I entered the Weapon Room unarmed, sure that once I made it past the death serum, I would be unchallenged in my mission. Or perhaps he believes my distaste for guns still rules me.
He does not know me very well.
He has not been trained by the Dauntless.
I steel myself, ready.
"I knew something was going on," David says. "You've been running around with genetically damaged people all week, Tris, did you think I wouldn't notice?" He shakes his head. "And then your friend Cara was caught trying to manipulate the lights, but she wisely knocked herself out before she could tell us anything. So I came here, just in case. I'm sad to say I'm not surprised to see you."
"You came here alone?" I say. "Not very smart, are you?" I squint at him. Approximately fifty feet of shining white tile stretch between him and me, and I slowly wonder if he has put much time into target practice.
His bright eyes narrow. "Well, you see, I have death serum resistance and a weapon, and you have no way to fight me. There's no way you can steal four virus devices while I have you at gunpoint. I'm afraid you've come all this way for no reason, and it will be at the expense of your life. The death serum may not have killed you, but I am going to. I'm sure you understand – officially we don't allow capital punishment, but I can't have you surviving this."
He thinks I'm here to steal weapons that will reset the experiments, not deploy one of them. Of course he does.
I try to guard my expression, though I'm sure it's still slack. I sweep my eyes across the room, searching for the device that will release the memory serum virus. I was there when Matthew described it to Caked in painstaking detail earlier: a black box with a silver keypad, marked with a strip of blue tape with a model number written on it. It is one of the only items on the counter along the left wall, just a few feet from me.
Fifty feet. Sixty, at the most, separating his gun from me. My advantage is my small frame, my speed. He is, after all, essentially immobile, and inexperienced in action.
He has not been to war, as I have. He has not killed, as I have.
You have no way to fight me, he'd said.
He is wrong.
"I know what you did," I say. I start to back up, hoping the accusation will distract him. I only need him to feel one instant of uncertainty, make one small mistake, and I will win. "I know you designed the attack simulation. I know you're responsible for my parents' deaths – for my mother's death. I know."
"I am not responsible for her death!" David says, the words bursting from him, too loud and too sudden.
"I told her what was coming just before the attack began, so she had enough time to escort her loved ones to a safe house. If she had stayed put, she would have lived. But she was a foolish woman who didn't understand making sacrifices for the greater good, and it killed her!"
I frown at him. There's something about his reaction – about the glassiness of his eyes – something that he mumbled when Nita shot him with the fear serum – something about her.
"Did you love her?" I say. "All those years she was sending you correspondence…the reason you never wanted her to stay there…the reason you told her you couldn't read her updates anymore, after she married my father…"
David sits still, like a statute, like a man of stone. I shift my weight to the left to disguise the small step I take toward the green button.
"I did," he says. "But that time was in the past."
That must be why he welcomed me into his circle of trust, why he gave me so many opportunities. Because I am a piece of her, wearing her hair and speaking with her voice. Because he has spent his life grasping at her and coming up with nothing.
I hear footsteps in the hallway outside. The soldiers are coming. Good – I need them to. I need them to be exposed to the airborne serum, to pass it on the the rest of the compound. I hope they wait until the air is clear of death serum.
"My mother wasn't a fool," I say. "She just understood something you didn't. That it's not sacrifice if it's someone else's life you're giving away, it's just evil."
I step again, slightly, slowly, to the left. "She taught me all about real sacrifices. That it should be done from love, not misplaced disgust for another person's genetics. That it should be done from necessity, not without exhausting all other options. That it should be done for people because who need your strength because they don't have enough of their own. That's why I need to stop you from 'sacrificing' all those people and their memories. Why I need to rid the world of you once and for all."
I shake my head.
"I didn't come here to steal anything, David."
With a quick burst of speed, I reach behind me and grasp my gun, steel firm in my hand, and then I am running toward the device, firing at David as he is firing at me. The room explodes with noises our guns go off and my body is on fire and pain races through my body. Suddenly I am not running, I am on the ground, and I hear my own voice crying out. My leg.
He has hit me on the thigh, and I can't run. I try to push myself up but my left arm is weak, not moving, and there is bright red staining the white tile beneath me. I am hit, but I am stronger than him. I am invincible.
"Goodbye, Tris." I hear in his voice the sureness that he has won. He is so sure that he takes the time to savor the moment as he raises his gun for what he must think with be the shot that will end my life.
It is him or me. The realization is familiar, and I don't want it to be. Yet as I raise my gun with my right hand, shaky and bloodstained , and aim at David's forehead, it helps that I have been here before.
I shoot to kill, and I do not miss. David's body slumps in his chair. I drop my gun, feeling lightheaded and weak. The fire is dying. I can feel it going out, the coldness taking over. I am shaking.
But. But I cannot stop. I am not finished. This is what I must remember.
I crawl, the effort of it a horrible, heavy thing I wish I could push off of me. I am in pain now, and every movement feels like my innermost tissues are being ripped apart by a sharp, unforgiving blade. I hear the soldiers outside and know they have heard the gunshots. How long will the threat of the death serum keep them from rushing inside the Weapons Room, from stopping me from what I must do?
I keep moving, pushing myself forward with my good leg, pulling with my good arm. I reach the counter, and I push, push myself up, pulling on the counter so I am finally on one foot, and I gasp from the pain shooting up from my thigh and running across my shoulder and chest.
With a quaking hand, I punch in the numbers I can still hear Caleb repeating the code for Matthew. Black edges on my vision, but I hear Caleb speaking again. The green button.
So much pain.
But how, when my body feel so numb?
I start to fall, and slam my hand into the keypad on my way down. A light turns on behind the green button.
I hear a beep, and a churning sound.
I slide to the floor. I feel warm liquid running down my leg. Red. Red is a strange color. Dark.
From the corner of my eye, I see David. I see what I did to him. And even though I know I had to do it, I feel sad. I am tired of killing. I am tired of death.
Then my mother walks out from behind David's body.
She is dressed in the same clothes she wore the last time I saw her, Abnegation gray, stained with her blood, with bare arms to show her tattoo. There are still bullet holes in her shirt; through them I can see her wounded skin, red but no longer bleeding, like she's frozen in time. Her dull blond hair is tied back in a knot, but a few loose strands frame her face in gold.
I know she can't be alive, but I don't know if I'm seeing her now because I'm delirious from the blood loss or if the death serum has addled my thoughts or if she is here in some other way.
She kneels next to me and touches a cool hand to my cheek.
"Hello, Beatrice," she says, and she smiles.
"Why didn't you let me know you?" I say, and I'm not sure if I actually say it or if I just think it and she hears it.
"Oh, Beatrice," she says, her eyes bright with tears. "I wanted to. I'm so sorry. Everything I did was for you, for your brother."
"Ever since you died for me, I've wanted to make you proud. So my life would be worth your sacrifice."
"And you've done so well, dear child. Don't worry. Your father and I are at peace."
I reach toward her, craving her touch, her warmth, and she takes my hand, kisses my fingers. I smile. "Am I going with you?"
"It is your choice, Beatrice. You have done so much. You have done enough. Come with me, and you can finally rest. No more killing. No more death." She smiles. "The pain of this life will be gone. You will know only forgiveness and love."
I see her and hear her and I know what she speaks of will be beautiful. I want it, I want it. Part of me always has. I am not afraid.
But. But. "Tobias, Caleb, my friends…what about them?"
"They'll care for each other. That's what people do. They mend."
I remember how it was for me, after I killed Will and after my parents died, how I wanted to be lost, wanted to join them so I wouldn't have to ache for them anymore. How I wanted to see whatever came next and escape from the immense weight of the guilt that allowed me no relief.
I see the world as it is, horribly flawed and irrevocably broken.
I see people obsessed with power and killing, people aching with hunger and burning with hatred.
I see Tobias, his heart in his eyes as he moves inside me, gentle and tender, yet urgent and hungry. Tobias, my love, so wounded but so strong, healing and capable of making his way in the world without me.
But it is Caleb I see as I close my eyes, and make my choice.
I once thought my greatest act of bravery was also my greatest act of selfishness. I remember that day, the blood dropping to the bowl of flaming coals. This is what I know now: selflessness requires bravery. Sacrifice requires love. I have so much of both. I am willing to die, I am.
And now, I am selfless, I am brave.
…..We drive past the fences and stop by the front doors, which are no longer manned by guards. We get out, and Zeke seizes his mother's hand to steady her as she shuffles through the snow. As we walk into the compound, I know for a fact Caleb succeeded, because there is no one in sight. That can only mean that they have been reset, their memories forever altered.
"Where is everyone?" Amar says.
We walk through the abandoned security checkpoint without stopping. On the other side, I see Cara. The side of her face is badly bruised, and there's a bandage on her head, but that's not what concerns me. What concerns me is the troubled look on her face.
"What is it?" I say. "Where's Tris?"
Cara touches my arm. "Tris went into the Weapons Lab instead of Caleb," Cara says. "She survived the death serum, and set off the memory serum, but…but she was shot. Multiple places. They had to remove her right leg, from the hip down, and she may not regain use of her right arm. If….if she survives."
"If?" Christina says roughly. "What do you mean, if?"
Cara shakes her head, and looks at me. "I'm sorry. She lost a lot of blood. The doctors said…they do not expect her to live."
Most of the time I can tell when people are lying, and this must be a lie, because Tris cannot die, she cannot. She must live, be alive, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed and her small body full of power and strength, standing in a shaft of light in the atrium. Tris cannot leave me here alone, she wouldn't go to the Weapons Lab instead of Caleb.
"No, Christina says, shaking her head. "No way. There has to be some mistake."
Cara's eyes well up with tears.
It is then that I realize: Of course Tris would go into the Weapons Lab instead of Caleb. Of course she would.
Christina yells something, but to me her voice sounds muffled, like I have submerged my head in water. The details of Cara's face have also become difficult to see, the world smearing together into dull colors. The last time doctors told us someone was unconscious and would not wake up, it was Uriah, and it was true. We were going to unplug Uriah soon, too soon.
I cannot unplug Tris. I will not I will not.
All I can do is stand still – I feel like if I just stand still, I can stop time from moving forward, I can pretend that everything is alright. Christina hunches over, unable to support her own grief, and Cara embraces her, and
all I'm doing is standing still.
When her body hit the net, all I registered was a gray blur. I pulled her across it and her hand was small, but warm, and then she stood before me, short and thin and plain and in all ways unremarkable – except that she had jumped first. The Stiff had jumped first.
Even I didn't jump first.
Her eyes were so stern, so insistent.
But that wasn't the first time I ever saw her. I saw her in the hallways at school, and at my mother's false funeral, and walking the sidewalks in the Abnegation sector. I saw her, but I didn't see her; no one saw her the way she truly was until she jumped.
I have heard it said that a fire that burns that bright is not meant to last.
I hope it is not true. There must be a place for someone like her in the world to live and be alive and let the flame burn burn burn.
The fire is meant to last forever.
I go to see her. Her body lies, lifeless and pale, on the bed. She is hooked up to dozens of wires and tubes, and I almost don't recognize her. Her arm is encased in a thick, rock-hard material, and the blanket covering her lies strangely flat where her right leg should be.
It looks wrong. It is wrong to see such strength reduced to this kind of helpless weakness and brokenness. Wrong.
When I touch her, she doesn't move. I want her to wake up and smile at me and press a kiss to my mouth. But it is just like with Uriah. It is familiar; I know this well. No movement. No recognition. No life. There is nothing but the beep of the machine that stands beside her bed, and it is that beeb beep beep that keeps me sane in this moment, because it means that at least her heart is still beating. It is something, even if it is not enough.
Christina sniffles and sobs. I squeeze Tris's hand, praying that if I do it hard enough, I will send awareness back into her body and she will flush with color and wake up.
But she does not move, and it is her perfect stillness that breaks me. I feel all the strength go out of me, and I fall to my knees beside the bed and I think I cry, then, or at least I want to, and everything inside me screams for just one more kiss, one more word, one more glance, one more.
In the days that follow, it is movement, not stillness, that helps to keep the fear and sadness at bay, so I walk the compound halls instead of sleeping. I watch everyone else recover from the memory serum that altered them permanently as if from a great distance.
Those lost in the memory serum haze are gathered into groups and given the truth: that human nature is complex, that all our genes are different, but neither damaged nor pure. They are also given the lie: that their memories were erased because of a freak accident, and that they were on the verge of lobbying the government for equality for so-called GDs.
I find myself unable to suffer the company of others, yet I am crippled by fear when I leave them. I cannot stand to be around them, because they are all resigned to the idea that Tris is gone forever, that she will not wake up, that it is only a matter of time before we must unplug her as we must unplug Uriah. I cannot listen to them talk such ignorant, stupid, talk. It is unbearable because they don't even realize how stupid and pathetic they sound. Tris will not die. I will not let her.
The longer I am around them, the more powerful the hate inside me grows, until I feel I it simmering in my veins, and I cannot stop myself from snarling at anyone who dares to hint that she is gone.
I have no compassion for those who grieve for her. I do not share in their grief, I do not take comfort in the stories they tell about her past feats, now legendary, in hushed, reverent tones. Anyone who dares use the past tense to describe Tris in my presence quickly regrets it.
For their own good, I stay away.
But when I am alone, it is worse, because I am not angry and hate does not dull the pain I feel. There is no use hiding it from myself: I am terrified. I cannot lose her. My hands shake as I sit by her bedside and wait for something, something to show me she is still in there, somewhere, buried under layers of hurt and pain but still there.
I told her once, and now, every day, every hour and minute I tell her again and again, my mouth pressed to her ear as she lays in her stillness, you are too important to die. I believe you're still in there. Come back.
Come back. It is my mantra, it is the last thought before I eventually fall into a fitful, disturbed sleep, disturbed and not peaceful because even in darkness my body knows something is wrong, because she is not there, stretched out on the cot beside me, her hair spreading over her pillow and her hand brushing the floor, and it is the first thought when I jolt awake, as if from a nightmare. But the real nightmare is life.
When I can no longer watch her ceaseless stillness, when Christina comes to take vigil by Tris's bedside, I walk to the control room for a distraction. I see the city on the screens. Johanna is arranging transportation for those who want to leave the city. They will come here to learn the truth. I don't know what will happen to those who remain in Chicago, and I'm not sure I care.
I shove my hands into my pockets and watch for a few minutes, then walk away again, trying to match my footsteps to my heartbeat, or to avoid the cracks between the tiles. When I walk past the entrance, I see a small group of people gathered by the stone sculpture, one of them in a wheelchair – Nita.
I walk past the useless security barrier and stand at a distance, watching them. Reggie steps on the stone slab and opens a valve in the bottom of the water tank. The drops turn into a stream of water, and soon water gushes out of the tank, splattering all over the slab, soaking the bottom of Reggie's pants.
I shudder a little. It's Caleb. I turn away from the voice, searching for an escape route.
"Wait. Please," he says.
I don't want to look at him, to measure how much, or how little, he grieves for her. And I don't want to think about the sacrifice she made for such a miserable coward, about how he wasn't worth her life, or her limbs, or the seconds and minutes and hours and days she has spent in utter stillness, waiting for death or whatever comes next.
Still, I do look at him, wondering if I can see her in his face, some part of me hungry for her and planning how I will have some of her after she is gone. Then I am angry at myself because how can I be planning for that when I have not accepted that she is gone? I have betrayed myself, I have betrayed her.
Caleb's hair is unwashed and unkept, his green eyes bloodshot, his mouth twitching into a frown.
He does not look like her.
"I don't mean to bother you," he says. "But I have something to tell you. Something…she told me to tell you, before…"
"Just get on with it," I say, before he tries to finish the sentence. Because SHE IS NOT DEAD. Anyone who fails to remember that is better off avoiding me.
"She told me that if she….she wanted me to tell you…." Caleb chokes, then pulls himself up straight, fighting off tears. "That she didn't want to leave you."
I should feel something, hearing what may be her last words to me, shouldn't I? I feel nothing. I feel farther away than ever.
"Yeah?" I say harshly. "Then why did she? Why didn't she let you die?"
"You think I'm not asking myself that question?" Caleb says. "She loved me. Enough to hold me at gunpoint so she could die for me. I have no idea why, but that's the way it is."
He walks away without letting me respond, and it's probably better that way, because I can't think of anything to say that is equal to my anger. I blink away tears and sit down on the ground, right in the middle of the lobby.
I know why she wanted to tell me she didn't want to leave me. She wanted me to know that this was not another Erudite headquarters, not a lie told to make me sleep while she went to die, not an act of unnecessary self-sacrifice. I grind the heels of my hands into my eyes like I can push my tears back into my skull. No crying, I chastise myself. She is not dead she is not dead, but it is no comfort because she might as well be and I cannot bear it.
Sometime later I hear voices nearby – Cara and Peter.
"This sculpture was a symbol of change," she says to him. "Gradual change, but now they're taking it down."
"Oh, really?" Peter sounds eager. "Why?"
"Um…I'll explain later, if that's okay," Cara says. "Do you remember how to get back to the dormitory?"
"Then…go back there for a while. Someone will be there to help you."
Cara walks over to me, and I cringe in anticipation of her voice. But all she does is sit next to me on the ground, her hands folded in her lap, her back straight. Alert but relaxed, she watches the sculpture where Reggie stands under the gushing water.
"You don't have to stay here," I say.
"I don't have anywhere to be," she says. "And the quiet is nice."
So we sit side by side, staring at the water, in silence.
"There you are," Christina says, jogging toward us. Her face is swollen and her voice is listless, like the effort it takes to form words with her lips is all she has to offer the world, and it better not ask more of her today. "Come on, it's time. They're unplugging him."
And. My. Heart. Stops. Because for a second, one horrible, terrifying, soul crushing second, I think she is saying it is time, they are unplugging her, they are unplugging Tris, and I cannot think. Then my mind hears what she says and I am relieved, and I feel guilty again because I should not be relieved. It is just as horrible that it is time to unplug Uriah. But my grief for Tris has taken me over, and what is happening to her is so horrible that everything else pales in comparison to that.
I push myself to my feet. Hana and Zeke have been hovering over Uriah's body since we got here, their fingers finding his, their eyes searching for life, just as I have been searching for any sign of life in Tris. But there is no life left, just the machine beating his heart.
Cara walks behind Christina and me as we go toward the hospital. I haven't slept in days but I don't feel tired, not in the way I normally do, though my body aches as I walk. Christina and I don't speak, but I know our thoughts are the same. Can we watch them unplug Uriah, see Uriah's last breaths, knowing this is what Tris will look like, this is what will happen to Tris if she does not wake up soon? But we owe it to Uriah, I owe it to Zeke and Hana to be here for this. I cannot turn away.
We make it to the observation window outside Uriah's room, and Evelyn is there – Amar picked her up in my stead, a few days ago. She tries to touch my shoulder and I yank it away, not wanting to be comforted.
Inside the room, Zeke and Hana stand on either side of Uriah. Hana is holding one of his hands, and Zeke is holding the other. This will be me and – who? Christina? Caleb? – when, no if, we unplug Tris, and as soon as I think this thought I push it away.
In Uriah's room, Zeke and Hana join their free hands over Uriah's body. I see Hana's lips moving, but I can't hear what they're saying – do the Dauntless have prayers for the dying? The Abnegation react to death with silence and service, not words. I find my anger ebbing away, and I'm lost in a muffled grief for Uriah, whose smile is burned into my memory. My friend's brother, and then my friend, too, though not for long enough to let his humor work its way into me, not for long enough.
The doctor flips some switches, his clipboard clutched to his stomach, and the machines stop breathing for Uriah. Zeke's shoulders shake, and Hana squeezes his hand tightly, until her knuckles go white.
The she says something, and her hands spring open, and she steps back from Uriah's bady. Letting him go.
I move away from the window, walking fast, and then running, pushing my way through the hallways, careless, blind, empty.
I sit by her bedside, because that is where I must always return. I always return to her, because I still feel she will return to me.
And what if she didn't? I have looked in the mirror, I have seen my face. I have never looked paler; the circles under my eyes have never been more pronounced. I have spent the past few days somewhere between sleeping and waking, not quite able to manage either extreme.
I hear Christina come in the room. She hesitates when she sees me, bent over Tris's hand, kissing her fingers. I look up at her, and I know I am glaring, but I can't help it.
She swallows, taking her place at Tris's other side. "The doctors say – " she cannot finish, and it is okay, because I do not want to hear what the doctors say.
"What will you do?" She say. "After."
She is the only one with enough nerve to ask me that question. Everyone else has tiptoed around it, knowing it is too soon. Apparently the Candor in Christina is still alive and well, forcing words out of her mouth that should not be spoken.
I do not answer.
She sighs. "Look at her Tobias. Really look at her. She is tired. She has lost her leg, and she has half an arm. We want her to stay, but have you ever thought about what she wants? Maybe we need to tell her it's okay for her to let go. So she can die knowing we will be okay."
I jerk to my feet, suddenly more furious than I have ever been. Anger stampedes through me, hot and lively. "Can you hear yourself? You want her to die? Is that what you want?"
"Of course not, Tobias. She's one of the last friends I have left. But I don't want to her to die thinking we won't be able to live without her. That's selfish, Tobias. If she has to go, we should let her go peacefully. We should tell her goodbye, tell her we will be okay."
The muffled feeling around my ears fades away, making even this quiet room sound loud. I shudder with the force of it.
"Shut up!" I yell. "Shut up! I will not be okay, Christina! I will not be okay! Nothing will ever be okay without her!"
"Then you're not the man she thought you were, Tobias. She thought you were better than her, she thought you were selfless and strong. Can't you come out of your stupor for long enough to see how selfish, how cowardly you're being – "
"I said shut up! You don't know what she thought of me; you didn't know her, you – "
"I know enough!" She snaps. "I know she wouldn't want you to live like some barely-there shadow of a person, like life isn't worth living if she isn't here! If she meant anything at all to you, you'll – "
I lunge toward her, pinning her shoulder to the wall, and lean close to her face. "Don't you dare say that to me," I say. "I'll – "
"You'll what?" Christina shoves me back, hard. "Hurt me? You know, there's a word for big, strong men who attack women, and it's coward."
I remember my father's screams filling the house, and his hand around my mother's throat, slamming her into walls and doors. I remember watching from my doorway, my hand wrapped around the door frame. And I remember hearing quiet sobs through her bedroom door, how she locked so I couldn't get in.
I step back and slump against the wall, letting my body collapse into it.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"I know," she answers.
We are still for a few second, and the only noise is the beep beep beep of Tris's heart, still beating. But is that what she wants? I shut my eyes against the thought, but now that it is there, it will not leave.
Christina and I look at each other. I remember hating her the first time I met her, because she was a Candor, because words just dribbled out of her mouth unchecked, careless. But over time she showed me who she really was, a forgiving friend, faithful to the truth, brave enough to take action. I can't help but like her now, can't help but see what Tris saw in her.
The tears come, and pain comes with them, hot and sharp in my chest. I am desperate for relief, for protection from the pain of every memory that claws inside me like an animal.
Christina comes toward me, puts her arms around my shoulders. Her embrace only makes the pain worse, because it reminds me of every time Tris's thin arms slipped around me, uncertain at first but then stronger, more confidant, more sure of herself and of me. It reminds me that no embrace will ever feel the same again, because no one will ever be like her again. Crying feels so useless, so stupid, but it's all I can do. Christina holds me upright and doesn't say a word for a long time.
Eventually I pull away, but her hands stay on my shoulders, warm and rough with calluses. Maybe just as skin on a hand grows tougher after pain in repetition, a person does too. But I don't want to become a callused man.
There are other kinds of people in this world. There is the kind like Tris, who, after suffering and betrayal, could still find enough love to lay down her life instead of her brother's. Or the kind like Cara, who could still forgive the person who shot her brother in the head. Or Christina, who lost friend after friend but still decided to stay open, to make new ones. Appearing in front of me is another choice, brighter and stronger than the ones I gave myself.
Can I do it?
Christina says: "Be brave, Tobias."
Be brave. Let Tris go, set Tris free.
It is my worst fear, even greater than the fear of becoming my father. And somehow, it makes sense, because Tris always pushed me to overcome my fears. To overcome them in the right way, in the way that requires a persistent chipping away at the problem, and a grand gesture that goes far beyond what I thought I was capable. The same as I always demanded from her.
And so, for Tris, out of my love for her, I go back to her bedside, take her hand, kiss her face, her cheeks, her lips, feel the breath escaping her mouth one last time.
Can I let her go? I can.
I do not want to.
"Do you want me to leave?" Christina says.
I cannot speak yet. I am too full of the enormity of this moment, this moment in which I will tell Tris that she has done enough, that she is free, that she does not have to stay here for me. That I will be okay, living in a world that rejected her fire.
And then, it happens: her fingers twitch, just slightly.
My heart is not beating and I do not breathe. I do not move I do not hope, I do not.
Then, again. Just the smallest twitch, and it is too good to be true, it is better if I do not believe it, maybe it is just some fluke thing –
I look up. I must.
And, there: her eyes are open, not just a little but wide open, the beautiful pale blue light of them staring back at me, and she is there, she is awake, and I am so happy I could die.
Behind me, Christina gasps, and then she is there, by my side, and we are all struggling to breathe.
"Tobias?" Tris says faintly, and the sound of her voice is all I ever want to hear. "You look like you need a nap." She sniffs weakly. "And, a shower."
Then Christina is laughing, but I am too relieved to laugh, I can only clutch her hand and silently thank her for not dying, for coming back to me.
I feel her good hand squeeze mine, and I lift my face to hers. I am desperate to feel her breath against my face, to feel more evidence of her life. As I lean in close to her, I hear her whisper: "You live, I live too."
I kiss her, tubes and all, and the world is as it should be.
The experiment is over. Johanna successfully negotiated with the government – David's superiors – to allow the former faction members to stay in the city, provided they are self-sufficient, submit to the government's authority, and allow outsiders to come in and join them, making Chicago just another metropolitan area, like Milwaukee. The Bureau, once in charge in the experiment, will now keep order in Chicago's city limits.
It will be the only metropolitan area in the country governed by people who don't believe in genetic damage. A kind of paradise. Matthew told me he hopes people from the fringe will trickle in to fill all the empty spaces, and find there a life more prosperous than the one they left.
I have a long recovery ahead of me. When I woke to see Tobias and Christina by my side, I didn't realize at first that my leg was gone, that I could not move my arm. I didn't realize it until a while later, when I glanced down to see the blanket flat where there should have been the round shape of my thiugh, the jutting up of my foot.
But it is okay. I will learn to walk with the metal leg they have fitted for me, and I will do the therapy they say I need to regain even partial use of my injured arm. I will let Tobias and my friends care for me, like we cared for Shauna when she was hurt. My heart is full to have such friends.
There is something I know about myself, something I cannot share. Since returning from the threshold of death, I am different. I have been offered death, have seen that for me, death is better than life, and I chose life anyway. It makes me selfless and fearless, stronger than I ever was before.
It makes me brave.
There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
But sometimes it doesn't.
Sometimes it means being willing to make the other choice, the choice to be there through the pain, the work of every day, the slow walk and constant struggle of life.
That is the sort of bravery I must have now.
FIVE YEARS LATER
Evelyn stands at the pace where two worlds meet. Tire tracks are worn to the ground now, from the frequent coming and going of people from the fringe moving in and out, or people from the former Bureau compound commuting back and forth. Her bag rests against her leg, in one of the wells in the earth. She lifts a hand to greet me when I am close.
When she gets to the truck, she kisses my cheek, and smile. The agreement, when I offered it to her five years ago, and when she made it again with Johanna shortly after, was that she would leave the city. Now, so much has changed in Chicago that I don't see the harm in her coming back, and neither does she. Though five years have passed, she looks younger, her face fuller and her smile wider. The time away has done her good.
"How are you?" she says.
"I'm well," I say. "Natalie took her first steps yesterday."
Evelyn smiles. "She is growing up so fast."
I glance at her. "Tris and I have been talking. We want you to be a part of her life. You are her only grandparent, after all."
Evelyn looks at me, her mouth quivering. "I would love that, Tobias. Thank you. Tell Tris I thank her, too."
I smile. "Tell her yourself, when we get home."
Evelyn puts her hand on my shoulder and looks out at the fields. The crops that were once isolated to the area around the Amity headquarters have spread, and continue to spread through all the grassy spaces around the city. Sometimes I miss the desolate, empty land. But right now I don't mind driving through the rows and rows of corn or wheat. I see people among the plants, checking the soil with handheld devices designed by former Bureau scientists. They wear red and blue and green and purple.
"What's it like, living without factions?" Evelyn asks.
"It's very ordinary," I say. "You'll love it."
I take Evelyn to the apartment I share with Tris and our daughter, on a middle floor of the Hancock building. We were among the first settlers in the new Chicago, so we got to choose where we lived. Zeke, Shauna, Christina, Amar, and George all opted to live in the higher floors of this building, as Tris wanted to. This building is a Dauntless place, because they are the ones who embraced it, for its height and, I suspect, for its loneliness. The Dauntless liked to fill empty spaces with their noise. It was one of the things I liked about them.
I wanted to live on a lower floor of an apartment by the river, so this apartment represents a compromise, one of many we have made in the two years we have been married.
I look down at my left hand and see the wedding band tattooed on my finger, the one that matches hers. It reminds me of everything that matters to me.
"Our neighbor is a history expert, he came from the fringe," I say as I search my pockets for my keys. "He calls Chicago the 'fourth city' – because it was destroyed by fire, ages ago, and then again by the purity war, and now we're on the fourth attempt at settlement here.
"The fourth city," Evelyn says as I push open the door. "I like it."
Tris and Natalie look up from where they are playing on the rug in the middle of the living room.
"Look! Daddy's home!" Tris carefully pulls herself up to her feet – one of them made of the metal she has long since grown used to wearing – and picks Natalie up, balancing her on her good hip as she walks toward the door.
"Daddy!" Natalie screams, holding her arms out to me, and my heart melts, like it does every time I open this door and she is there, waiting for me. I am a father. This is my daughter. She does not fear me; she is eager to embrace me when I get home. I make her feel safe. It is my biggest accomplishment; my greatest achievement.
I hold my arms out to her, and she leans into me. I kiss Tris lightly on the mouth as I take our baby from her, because I know there will be another time, and another, and each kiss is not so significant that I need to make it count as if it could be the last. This is the comfort these five years of peace have given me: life is not as fragile as it once was.
Evelyn greets Tris and Natalie, and then drops her bag on the couch. "Thanks for letting me stay with you. I promise I'll find another place soon."
Tris smiles easily. "It's no problem. Stay as long as you like." I smile again and rub my hand down her slender back. She is so generous with my mother. It is hard to believe she once distrusted her, that my mother once told Tris she was temporary. Tris has forgiven Evelyn of that, and I have forgiven her for everything else. We are piecing together a family, a family for Natalie.
"George says he needs some help training the police force," Evelyn says. "You didn't offer?"
"No," I say. "I'm done with guns."
"That's right. You're using your words now," Evelyn says, wrinkling her nose. "I don't trust politicians, you know."
"You'll trust me, because I'm your son. Anyway, I'm not a politician. Not yet. Just an assistant."
Tris snorts. "You mean chief of staff to Johanna Reyes, one of the most important representatives in the country."
I smirk. "Okay, chief of staff. Whatever."
Evelyn looks at Tris. "What about you? I'm sure they could use your help."
Tris shrugs. "They've asked me. I'm still thinking about it. There's a lot to consider." She looks at Natalie.
"And in the meanwhile?" Evelyn asks.
"I'm still working at the fringe, trying to educate people amount genetics and arrange for housing and jobs in the city for those who want to move here. And when I'm not doing that, I'm with Natalie. We're baby-proofing." Tris grimaces, but it is a happy grimace, the grimace of someone who knows the thing they are grimacing about it not really all that bad.
"And you other friends?"
"We've all found a place. Christina works with me in the fringe. Cara and Caleb still work in the laboratories at the compound, for the Department of Agriculture. Matthew works in psychiatric research, studying memory. Zeke and Amar are policemen, and George trains the police force."
"Do you know where your father is?" Evelyn asks me.
I shrug. "Someone told me he left. Went with one of the groups that wants to settle the west."
"There's nothing you wanted to say to him, before he left? Anything at all?"
"No." I say. "I just wanted to leave him behind me, where he belongs."
Five years ago, when I stood in the park with the snow falling around us, I realized that just as attacking him in front of the Dauntless in the Merciless Mart didn't make me feel better about the pain he caused me, yelling at him or insulting him wouldn't either. There was only one option left, and it was letting go.
Evelyn gives me a strange searching look, then crosses the room and opens the bag she left on the couch. Natalie starts fussing, so I hand her to Tris, who takes Natalie to the kitchen.
Evelyn comes back to me holding an object made of blue glass. It looks like falling water, suspended in time.
I remember when she gave it to me. I was young, but not too young to realize that it was a forbidden object in the Abnegation faction, a useless and therefore self-indulgent one. I asked her what purpose it served, and she told me, it doesn't do anything obvious. But it might be able to do something in here. Then she touched her hand to her heart. Beautiful things sometimes do.
For years it was a symbol of my quest defiance, my small refusal to be an obedient, deferent Abnegation child, and a symbol of my mother's defiance too, even though I believed she was dead. I hid it under my bed, and the day I decided to leave Abnegation, I put it on my desk so my father could see it, see my strength, and hers.
"When you were gone, this reminded me of you," she says, clutching the glass to her stomach. "Reminded me of how brave you were, always have been." She smiles a little. "I thought you might keep it here. I intended it for you, after all."
I wouldn't trust my voice to remain steady if I spoke, so I just smile back, and nod.
Tris and I leave Natalie with Evelyn the following Saturday. We have somewhere to be.
The spring air is cold when we reach the roof of the Handcock building, but I leave my coat open so I can feel it in my chest, so it stings my fingertips, a reminder of lingering winter. I look over at Tris and see her blond hair flying around her face, her cheeks flush with pink and her eyes sparkling blue.
We walk toward the group that has gathered. Christina stands with Zeke and Shauna, who sits in her wheelchair with her blanket over her lap. She has a better wheelchair now, one without handles on the back, so she can maneuver it more easily. George stands with his toes over the edge of the building.
"Hi," Tris says, and they turn, letting out Dauntless-like whoops of greeting whent hey see us. Christina hugs Tris and Zeke slaps me on the back.
Uriah died five years ago, and we said goodbye to him just weeks afterward, scattering his ashes in the chasm, amid the clatter of all his friends and family. We screamed his name into the echo of the Pit. Still, we get together every year to remember him, and all the other friends we lost along the way. Every year, our act of Dauntless bravery honors their memories: Uriah, Will, Marlene, Tori, and Natalie and Andrew Prior. We would not be who we are today if they had not lived.
"Got something to show you," Shauna says, and she tosses the blanket aside, revealing complicated metal braces on her legs. They go all the way up her hips and wrap around her belly like a cage. She smiles at Tris, and Tris lets out an encouraging shout. Tris and Shauna have bonded over the years because they have both struggles to become physically whole again. With a gear-grinding sound, Shauna's feet shift to the ground in front of the chair, and in fits and starts, she stands.
Everyone cheers, shouts, and acts like the formerly-Dauntless bunch that we are.
"Caleb and his lab buddies made them for me," she says. "I'm still getting the hang of it, but they say I may be able to run someday."
"Any updates from Peter?" Zeke asks me as we look over the edge. After Peter emerged from the memory serum haze, some of the sharper, harsher aspects of him returned, though not all of them. "He went with my father's group, the one that left to explore the west. There are a lot of people who want to resettle that area someday."
Zeke runs across the roof to the zip line and attaches one of the man-sized slings to the steel cable. He locks it so it won't slide down, and looks at the group expectantly.
"Christina," he says, "it's all you."
Christina gets in the sling feet first, belly down, so she'll watch the building get smaller as she travels. I shudder.
I can't watch. I close my eyes as she travels further and further away, and as the others follow.
"Your turn, Four," Zeke says. "Better get it over with, right?"
"No. You go," I tell Tris. "Please."
Tris climbs into the sling, face first, then looks back at me. "You can do it, Tobias."
Then she is gone, her voice screaming into the wind as she travels, her arms out at her side like she is a bird and there is nothing she loves more than to fly.
Then it is just me and Zeke. "I don't think I can do this."
"Sure you can. You're Four, Dauntless legend! You can face anything, right?"
I cross my arms and inch closer to the ledge. Even from feet away, I feel my body pitching over the edge, and I shake my head again and again.
"We do this every year, Four. It's not about you, it's about them. Doing something they would have liked to do, something they would be proud of you for doing. Right?"
That's it. I can't avoid this, I can't back out. "All right."
I get into the sling the same way as Tris, face first. I am shaking so much I can barely zip the sling. I stare down at Lake Shore Drive, swallowing bile, and start to slide.
Suddenly I want to take it back, but it's too late, I am already moving toward the ground. I'm screaming so loud, I want to cover my own ears. I feel the scream living inside me, filling my chest, my throat, and my head.
The wind stings my eyes but I force them open. I am flying, I am a bird.
I stop moving, and let myself drop into the arms of my friends below me. We all laugh.
And then Zeke is on his way. He crows with joy as he eases to a stop, and I help the group to catch him. Then we are finished, and we all get quiet, remembering. Wishing things could have been different. Wishing Uriah were here to do this with us, wishing Tori could have known her brother was alive. Letting ourselves feel, once again, the pain we have pushed back all year, saving it for this moment, so we could share it with those who understand.
Since I was young, I have always known this: life damages us, every one. We can't escape that damage.
But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.
After we are finished zip lining, we go back home and have dinner with Natalie and Evelyn, and Caleb is here, too, because I invited him. I am happy because we are more a family than we have ever been, the four of us, sitting here together, us three plus one from my side and one from his. But I am sad because of what might have been: me, Tobias, Evelyn, Caleb, and also Mom and Dad, sitting here, just talking and being ordinary.
My daughter's dark blue eyes peer up at me as I bend to kiss her forehead. She is everything now, my life. I live for her smiles, her loud shrieks of laughter as her eyes meet mine during a game of peek-a-boo. Everything I do, I do for her. She has given me new life beyond the pain of all that went before, something to live for besides the ceaseless fighting and struggle that dominated my life in the months after my Choosing Ceremony. It is okay that I no longer fight, that I mostly leave the work of change to Tobias and the politicians he serves. Now my job is to teach her, love her, teach her all I have learned about this world.
The night I told Tobias I was pregnant, we wept together, out of some mixture of shock, fear and an incredible, wondrous joy. Tobias said if he could go through his fear landscape now, he would have five fears, because the instant he knew about her little body forming inside me, he feared harm coming to her. He is Five, and I am Seven once again. But we have learned that fear is not always a bad thing. Fear can tell us what is important. Fear reminds us what is at stake.
We have spent hours talking about what kind of parents we want to be, and how we will raise our child. I know one thing: I will let her know me. I will tell her my past, and openly share my choices and the reasons I made them. I will tell her what I know and what I believe in. I will give her myself, a gift I only received from my own mother at the very end.
Tobias swears she will never wonder if he loves her, and that she will never have a reason to be afraid of him. It is so important to him that she always feel valued and safe. I watch them together sometimes, as he holds her in his lap, reading stories to her before we put her to bed. He does all the voices. He is the kind of father he wants to be, and I am so happy.
After we finish eating, I find Caleb standing on our patio, all by himself overlooking the city. At first we stand in silence, but there is something about him, something he carries like a dark burden. I see it on his face, every now and then, and I know he has not healed, not quite like Tobioas and I have. He needs something from me.
"Caleb, how can I help you?" I say, knowing he will understand what I mean. How can I help him move past the things that went before. I can I help him feel forgiven.
"What happened that night, Tris?" He burst out suddenly, a question he has probably wanted to ask for years, but could not because fear of the answer held him back. "You never told me. You never told me why you wanted to die for me. How could you do it, after what I did?"
I look at him, see the pain in his eyes. I have never described to anyone the choice Mom offered me when David shot me. It was enough for Tobias and Christina and the others that I am alive. There is nothing more than needs to be said.
But Caleb always was inquisitive, even when I did not see it. Caleb needs to know the truth.
"You know why I held a gun to your head and forced you to give me that backpack? It was because you were going to sacrifice yourself out of guilt. Guilt over something you'd done to someone you love. I know what it is to carry the burden of that guilt. I once wanted to sacrifice myself to earn forgiveness, too. I acted recklessly out of that desire. So I went, knowing deep down that I could survive the death serum."
I draw a deep breath, savoring the feel of the cold night air in my lungs. "When David shot me, I saw mom. She told me it was my choice. To live, or to die. She showed me that in death, I would know forgiveness and love, that killing and death would be over." I look at him. "I wanted that, Caleb. Part of me really did."
"Then why did you choose to live?"
"For you, Caleb. I chose to live for you."
He looks stunned. "For me? Not Tobias?"
"For you. Tobias, yes, I love him and he loves me. But he would have been okay, eventually, with help from our friends, and with time. He really would. But I knew if I died in your place, the guilt you already felt would be even greater, and you would suffer cruelly under the weight of it. I knew, because Mother died for me. It is a terrible thing to try to be worthy of that sacrifice. I didn't want that for you."
Caleb's eyes well up with tears, and then they fall. We stand in silence for a while, but it is not a silence full of unspoken wishes and secret motives, as it once would have been. It is a silence between two people bonded by the strong cord of a shared childhood and a kind of forgiveness that covers all past offenses, no matter how great, or how small.
Finally, Caleb speaks. "I once asked Tobias if he was too old for my little sister. He gave me this scornful look, like he was really disgusted, and told me you aren't my little anything." Caleb smiles a little. "He was right. You may be small, but no one is bigger than you, Tris."
I reach out, take his hand. This is my brother. I am overwhelmed with gratitude because he is here and we are on the same side. "I love you, Caleb."
He squeezes. "I love you, Tris."
I look at him, then glance behind me through the glass door to see Evelyn and Tobias tickling Natalie. And I am full, in spite of everything that went before.
I am full of selflessness, honesty, peace, bravery, and wisdom. There is also selfishness, lies, war, fear, and ignorance. I accept it all, for this is life: the good and the bad, all mixed together in a beautiful, terrible kaleidoscope of a flawed but ultimately redeemable humanity.
This is life. It is ours.