“I could report this,” he says.
“No,” I reply. “I don’t want them to think I’m scared.”
He nods. He moves his thumb absently over my cheekbone, back and forth. “I figured you would say that.”
“You think it would be a bad idea if I sat up?”
“I’ll help you.”
Four grips my shoulder with one hand and holds my head steady with the other as I push myself up. Pain rushes through my body in sharp bursts, but I try to ignore it, stifling a groan.
He hands me the ice pack. “You can let yourself be in pain,” he says. “It’s just me here.”
I bite down on my lip. There are tears on my face, but neither of us mentions or even acknowledges them.
“I suggest you rely on your transfer friends to protect you from now on,” he says.
“I thought I was,” I say. I feel Al’s hand against my mouth again, and a sob jolts my body forward. I press my hand to my forehead and rock slowly back and forth. “But Al…”
“He wanted you to be the small, quiet girl from Abnegation,” Four says softly. “He hurt you because your strength made him feel weak. No other reason.”
I nod and try to believe him.
“The others won’t be as jealous if you show some vulnerability. Even if it isn’t real.”
“You think I have to pretend to be vulnerable?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, I do.” He takes the ice pack from me, his fingers brushing mine, and holds it against my head himself. I put my hand down, too eager to relax my arm to object. Four stands up. I stare at the hem of his T-shirt.
Sometimes I see him as just another person, and sometimes I feel the sight of him in my gut, like a deep ache.
“You’re going to want to march into breakfast tomorrow and show your attackers they had no effect on you,” he adds, “but you should let that bruise on your cheek show, and keep your head down.”
The idea nauseates me.
“I don’t think I can do that,” I say hollowly. I lift my eyes to his.
“You have to.”
“I don’t think you get it.” Heat rises into my face. “They touched me.”
His entire body tightens at my words, his hand clenching around the ice pack. “Touched you,” he repeats, his dark eyes cold.
“Not…in the way you’re thinking.” I clear my throat. I didn’t realize when I said it how awkward it would be to talk about. “But…almost.”
I look away.
He is silent and still for so long that eventually, I have to say something.
“What is it?”
“I don’t want to say this,” he says, “but I feel like I have to. It is more important for you to be safe than right, for the time being. Understand?”
His straight eyebrows are drawn low over his eyes. My stomach writhes, partly because I know he makes a good point but I don’t want to admit it, and partly because I want something I don’t know how to express; I want to press against the space between us until it disappears.
“But please, when you see an opportunity…” He presses his hand to my cheek, cold and strong, and tilts my head up so I have to look at him. His eyes glint. They look almost predatory. “Ruin them.”
I laugh shakily. “You’re a little scary, Four.”
“Do me a favor,” he says, “and don’t call me that.”
“What should I call you, then?”
“Nothing.” He takes his hand from my face. “Yet.”
I DON’T GO back to the dorms that night. Sleeping in the same room as the people who attacked me just to look brave would be stupid. Four sleeps on the floor and I sleep on his bed, on top of the quilt, breathing in the scent of his pillowcase. It smells like detergent and something heavy, sweet, and distinctly male.
The rhythm of his breaths slows, and I prop myself up to see if he is asleep. He lies on his stomach with one arm around his head. His eyes are closed, his lips parted. For the first time, he looks as young as he is, and I wonder who he really is. Who is he when he isn’t Dauntless, isn’t an instructor, isn’t Four, isn’t anything in particular?
Whoever he is, I like him. It’s easier for me to admit that to myself now, in the dark, after all that just happened. He is not sweet or gentle or particularly kind. But he is smart and brave, and even though he saved me, he treated me like I was strong. That is all I need to know.
I watch the muscles in his back expand and contract until I fall asleep.
I wake to aches and pains. I cringe as I sit up, holding my ribs, and walk up to the small mirror on the opposite wall. I am almost too short to see myself in it, but when I stand on my tiptoes, I can see my face. As expected, there is a dark blue bruise on my cheek. I hate the idea of slumping into the dining hall like this, but Four’s instructions have stayed with me. I have to mend my friendships. I need the protection of seeming weak.
I tie my hair in a knot at the back of my head. The door opens and Four walks in, a towel in hand and his hair glistening with shower water. I feel a thrill in my stomach when I see the line of skin that shows above his belt as he lifts his hand to dry his hair and force my eyes up to his face.
“Hi,” I say. My voice sounds tight. I wish it didn’t.
He touches my bruised cheek with just his fingertips. “Not bad,” he says. “How’s your head?”
“Fine,” I say. I’m lying—my head is throbbing. I brush my fingers over the bump, and pain prickles over my scalp. It could be worse. I could be floating in the river.
Every muscle in my body tightens as his hand drops to my side, where I got kicked. He does it casually, but I can’t move.
“And your side?” he asks, his voice low.
“Only hurts when I breathe.”
He smiles. “Not much you can do about that.”
“Peter would probably throw a party if I stopped breathing.”
“Well,” he says, “I would only go if there was cake.”
I laugh, and then wince, covering his hand to steady my rib cage. He slides his hand back slowly, his fingertips grazing my side. When his fingers lift, I feel an ache in my chest. Once this moment ends, I have to remember what happened last night. And I want to stay here with him.
He nods a little and leads the way out.
“I’ll go in first,” he says when we stand outside the dining hall. “See you soon, Tris.”
He walks through the doors and I am alone. Yesterday he told me he thought I would have to pretend to be weak, but he was wrong. I am weak already. I brace myself against the wall and press my forehead to my hands. It’s difficult to take deep breaths, so I take short, shallow ones. I can’t let this happen. They attacked me to make me feel weak. I can pretend they succeeded to protect myself, but I can’t let it become true.
I pull away from the wall and walk into the dining hall without another thought. A few steps in, I remember I’m supposed to look like I’m cowering, so I slow my pace and hug the wall, keeping my head down. Uriah, at the table next to Will and Christina’s, lifts his hand to wave at me. And then puts it down.
I sit next to Will.
Al isn’t there—he isn’t anywhere.
Uriah slides into the seat next to me, leaving his half-eaten muffin and half-finished glass of water on the other table. For a second, all three of them just stare at me.
“What happened?” Will asks, lowering his voice.
I look over his shoulder at the table behind ours. Peter sits there, eating a piece of toast and whispering something to Molly. My hand clenches around the edge of the table. I want him to hurt. But now isn’t the time.
Drew is missing, which means he’s still in the infirmary. Vicious pleasure courses through me at the thought.
“Peter, Drew…,” I say quietly. I hold my side as I reach across the table for a piece of toast. It hurts to stretch out my hand, so I let myself wince and hunch over. “And…” I swallow. “And Al.”
“Oh God,” says Christina, her eyes wide.
“Are you all right?” Uriah asks.
Peter’s eyes find mine across the dining hall, and I have to force myself to look away. It brings a bitter taste to my mouth to show him that he scares me, but I have to. Four was right. I have to do everything I can to make sure I don’t get attacked again.
“Not really,” I say.
My eyes burn, and it’s not artifice, unlike the wincing. I shrug. I believe Tori’s warning now. Peter, Drew, and Al were ready to throw me into the chasm out of jealousy—what is so unbelievable about the Dauntless leaders committing murder?
I feel uncomfortable, like I’m wearing someone else’s skin. If I’m not careful, I could die. I can’t even trust the leaders of my faction. My new family.
“But you’re just…” Uriah purses his lips. “It isn’t fair. Three against one?”
“Yeah, and Peter is all about what’s fair. That’s why he grabbed Edward in his sleep and stabbed him in the eye.” Christina snorts and shakes her head. “Al, though? Are you sure, Tris?”
I stare at my plate. I’m the next Edward. But unlike him, I’m not going to leave.
“Yeah,” I say. “I’m sure.”
“It has to be desperation,” says Will. “He’s been acting…I don’t know. Like a different person. Ever since stage two started.”
Then Drew shuffles into the dining hall. I drop my toast, and my mouth drifts open.
Calling him “bruised” would be an understatement. His face is swollen and purple. He has a split lip and a cut running through his eyebrow. He keeps his eyes down on the way to his table, not even lifting them to look at me. I glance across the room at Four. He wears the satisfied smile I wish I had on.
“Did you do that?” hisses Will.
I shake my head. “No. Someone—I never saw who—found me right before…” I gulp. Saying it out loud makes it worse, makes it real. “…I got tossed into the chasm.”
“They were going to kill you?” says Christina in a low voice.
“Maybe. They might have been planning on dangling me over it just to scare me.” I lift a shoulder. “It worked.”
Christina gives me a sad look. Will just glares at the table.
“We have to do something about this,” Uriah says in a low voice.
“What, like beat them up?” Christina grins. “Looks like that’s been taken care of already.”
“No. That’s pain they can get over,” replies Uriah. “We have to edge them out of the rankings. That will damage their futures. Permanently.”
Four gets up and stands between the tables. Conversation abruptly ceases.
“Transfers. We’re doing something different today,” he says. “Follow me.”
We stand, and Uriah’s forehead wrinkles. “Be careful,” he tells me.
“Don’t worry,” says Will. “We’ll protect her.”
Four leads us out of the dining hall and along the paths that surround the Pit. Will is on my left, Christina is on my right.
“I never really said I was sorry,” Christina says quietly. “For taking the flag when you earned it. I don’t know what was wrong with me.”
I’m not sure if it’s smart to forgive her or not—to forgive either of them, after what they said to me when the rankings went up yesterday. But my mother would tell me that people are flawed and I should be lenient with them. And Four told me to rely on my friends.
I don’t know who I should rely on more, because I’m not sure who my true friends are. Uriah and Marlene, who were on my side even when I seemed strong, or Christina and Will, who have always protected me when I seemed weak?
When her wide brown eyes meet mine, I nod. “Let’s just forget about it.”
I still want to be angry, but I have to let my anger go.
We climb higher than I’ve gone before, until Will’s face goes white whenever he looks down. Most of the time I like heights, so I grab Will’s arm like I need his support—but really, I’m lending him mine. He smiles gratefully at me.
Four turns around and walks backward a few steps—backward, on a narrow path with no railing. How well does he know this place?
He eyes Drew, who trudges at the back of the group, and says, “Pick up the pace, Drew!”
It’s a cruel joke, but it’s hard for me to fight off a smile. That is, until Four’s eyes shift to my arm around Will’s, and all the humor drains from them. His expression sends a chill through me. Is he…jealous?
We get closer and closer to the glass ceiling, and for the first time in days, I see the sun. Four walks up a flight of metal stairs leading through a hole in the ceiling. They creak under my feet, and I look down to see the Pit and the chasm below us.
We walk across the glass, which is now a floor rather than a ceiling, through a cylindrical room with glass walls. The surrounding buildings are half-collapsed and appear to be abandoned, which is probably why I never noticed the Dauntless compound before. The Abnegation sector is also far away.
The Dauntless mill around the glass room, talking in clusters. At the edge of the room, two Dauntless fight with sticks, laughing when one of them misses and hits only air. Above me, two ropes stretch across the room, one a few feet higher than the other. They probably have something to do with the daredevil stunts the Dauntless are famous for.
Four leads us through another door. Beyond it is a huge, dank space with graffitied walls and exposed pipes. The room is lit by a series of old-fashioned fluorescent tubes with plastic covers—they must be ancient.
“This,” says Four, his eyes bright in pale light, “is a different kind of simulation known as the fear landscape. It has been disabled for our purposes, so this isn’t what it will be like the next time you see it.”