It's not real.
None of it can be real.
I see her face, like I can reach out and touch it. That all I have to do is lift my hand to feel hers wrap around my fingers.
But I'm suddenly scared to, because I know she's not really here. And if she's not really here, I do not understand why I think she is.
"Am I done yet?" I ask, feeling warmth spread down my neck. I think it's supposed to hurt, but the agony has subsided, dulling as my vision goes in and out of focus.
I force my eyes to stay open, though. Because If I close them , she will disappear. If I close them, so will I.
She bends down to me, her hand hovering over my face and her eyes-still the same- hold a silent ache, visible ache. I wait for her to touch me; for the mother who gave her life up to save her daughter to embrace me. I wait for it.
But she just lowers her hand back to her side and stands up.
"You've been so brave, Beatrice," she says. "You've raged war after war. And I am so proud of you." My mother smiles. "But you still have so much to live for. And you deserve the chance to after all of this."
She takes a step back. Just a small movement, but it feels like she is creating an endless void among us, dissolving the bridge between life and death. "You deserve to find peace."
A sob builds in my throat and hushes through my lips in a gasp, a truth I don't want to face. Not after I'd just gotten her back. "Will…Will I see you again?"
She laughs, but there are tears in her eyes. "I don't doubt it."
"But…But you're crying," I say, because I can count on one hand how many times I have seen my mother cry and if this is to be the last time, I want to know why.
She shakes her head slightly, her lips breaking into a smile. "I'm not crying because I'm sad for you, Beatrice," she says, her voice lightening as darkness swells around my vision; threatens to pull me down. She is fading, but I hold on.
I hold on so tightly to this last moment.
"Tris, I'm crying because I'm happy for you," she says. "Because unlike me, you found freedom. And because of you, so many else have, too."
And that is the last thing I hear.
That one word that has raged battles and stolen victories, taken lives in the name of it.
In my mind, I see ash.
I see fire.
I see smoke and rubble.
And then there's just nothing. Like I've turned to air and disappeared until I too, have become nothing. Until I float into some distant recess of my own head, unable to fight my way back to whatever reality is mine.
Am I even supposed to fight?
What am I fighting to return to?
Raining ash? Cascading rubble? Fire? I've already seen too much of that. I can't remember when or where, but I just know I have. And that is not a world I care to revisit.
Faces flash through my mind then. Dull. Unclear. Barely recognizable.
One of a young man, who looks sort of like me in an older-version. Lines under his eyes indicating he has a lot to smile about. That's reassuring. To know that in this darkness, people still have things that make them smile. A name tugs against my tongue, but I can't pin it down.
There's other people, too. Like a group of persons forced into my subconscious. There are two girls, one with dark hair, darker skin, another much shorter, much thinner. But something tells me she is strong, that they both are.
And there's another man, too, who stands by the blond, dwarfing her even further in comparison. Her hand is in his and for some reason, it makes some part of me hurt. My chest? Something that has the ability that forces me to either look away or wish for something so strongly, that I swear I can feel the words inside my mouth ready to scream for the impossible.
Why is it impossible?
I don't remember, I just know it is.
But it isn't so bad. Because there's this girl. When I'm not floating inside my mind, in a place where time is nonexistent, where I am unsure whether I'm alive or dead or someplace in between, I sometimes see her.
She's beautiful, this girl. Radiant. Everything about her screams defiance and amazement and power. Eyes so bright and alive. A smile that makes that weird, achy feeling in my chest just disappear, as if it never existed to begin with.
It is the only name that I can put to someone that I have in this place, devoid or reality or time.
The girl's name is Marlene.
I'm impatient on the way back to the Bureau. Nothing inside me chooses to sit still, like my blood is on fire, electric as it pulses through my veins. In that instant, I want a train to jump on. A landscape to endure. Anything but this infuriating stand still of hearing the truck pass over rocks as the wind slaps against the glass.
It takes effort to wait for the truck to come to a complete stop inside the gated compound before I exit.
And then I start walking, quickly, through the small town and to the main building. I pass through the doors and up the stairs and I imagine Tris there, because I know she will be hurting after Caleb. Maybe she doesn't want to see me. Maybe she wants to be alone. If so, I understand, but I'm going to let her tell me that.
I make it up the last of the steps.
I expect to see Tris. Or Matthew. Perhaps even Christina.
But all I see are people in white, smeared with red.
At first, I think it must be Caleb. That they've retrieved him from the vacuole and are dealing with his body. But that doesn't explain the blood.
And then he's walking towards me. Caleb. The man who is supposed to be dead. Whose sister should be standing where he is standing now.
"Tobias," he says and I hate how my name sounds when he speaks it. I ignore him, pushing him out of my way as I approach the small swarm of white-swaddled people. They are obviously in a hurry, grabbing gauze, fetching IVs. I don't know how many times I see a stethoscope raised.
Everything in me by this point is telling me I should stop. Warning me that I don't want to see beyond the barrier of nurses.
But I have to. For some reason, I have to.
As I get closer, the noise begins to muffle, like my mind is drowning everything out. Then I reach them and ease my way between, peeking through a small space they leave open.
I stare and try to understand the sight before me, but it just seems too unreal. Too impossible.
I see blood.
I see gauze.
And beneath that, there is Tris, lying still. Her eyes are closed. Her cheeks whiter than they should be.
Someone touches my shoulder, I think, but I don't really feel it. I know they are speaking, but I don't really hear it. I can't stop staring. I want to look away, but it is as if I am rooted there, unable to do much of anything but watch as Tris fights for her life.
"….David…." the name enters my conscious, and I turn to the person talking to me.
I shake my head. Try to clear it. "What?"
His eyes are glazed, but I don't feel anything for him. I cannot muster up any sympathy for the man standing before me.
"Tris took my place," he says. "She thought she could overcome the death serum. She…she did. But….David was there and he-he shot her."
I wait for the hate to come. I wait for it to flow over me like fire, but all I feel is a swirl of desire to see the man dead. It is a dark thirst, with no promise of mercy or suffering. Just a silent wish of death.
"Why didn't you go?" I ask, my voice cold. So cold, I don't even recognize it.
Caleb catches his breath. "She put a gun to my head. Told them I was her hostage."
"And you so you gladly went along with that?" I hiss, turning on him, almost wanting the same dark wish to befall him as well, but there is a reason as to why Tris chose to sacrifice herself to save Caleb.
I look back at her.
So much blood, staining through the gauze, like its purposefully trying to fight its way out of her.
My legs shake. I know that not because I feel it, but because my vision wobbles. Because the ground is moving. Because my fingers won't stop vibrating.
I've felt helpless before. I've even felt vulnerable. But I've only ever had it like this once before and suddenly, it is like I'm reliving that day again, when I awoke to find the other side of my bed vacated, after Tris promised not to leave. She tore that promise into pieces only a few hours after she'd made it.
I underestimated her then and I underestimate her now. I thought she wouldn't go to Erudite, I thought she wouldn't take the place of her brother when he was so adamant on redemption.
Last time was my warning. Maybe this time it's the end.
I'm surrounded by white. The bright fabric of it surrounds me, touches me, it is leaning over me. For a moment, I wonder if I am dead. Perhaps my mother was wrong and the duration of my life was cut short, that the whiteness around me is wings. Glory. But it seems far too sterile than my preconceived notion of how I pictured Heaven to be.
Sometimes I think I hear voices. Low murmurs sound from over my head occasionally, both high and low tones. I must be lying down. Why am I lying down? I almost want to be irritated by the fact that I don't know, but I'm too tired to be.
Then the voices will fade as the exhaustion takes over, muddling my brain, images flowing absently over my mind, lulling me deeper into some intoxicating blackness. How I would love to fall into it and just give up. Let its current take me. I can't even determine if I am still fighting against it or not.
But if I am, I can't stop.
If I am, I won't give in.
His name is Zeke.
It comes to me sometime during…during something. Maybe the night, maybe the day. Maybe it has been a long time since the world experienced either.
I think the girl-Marlene- told it to me. How she would know, I don't understand. But that's because we know a lot of each other, she tells me, and that I'll remember it all when I wake up.
Because apparently, I'm not awake.
I ask her if she will be there. If she will be there to welcome me back to the reality where ash and fire and rubble dominate. But she never answers, though I've asked her more than once. And when I do, she just kind of drifts away, long enough for me to panic and worry that she won't return, but then she does. And now I have learned not to ask that question.
I am even remembering some of the other names. I know the blond's started with a T, as did the guy who held her hand. Her friend, though, has a longer name, beginning with a C or maybe a K, but the sound is there.
I wonder if that is because I am starting to "come back." That maybe I'm beginning to return to my own body, where my thoughts can re-inhabit my mind.
And it is strange, because a part of me doesn't want to leave. I don't want to leave Marlene, because I have a feeling that if I do, I may not see her again. At least, for a while, that is.
But I guess there are things we get no say in. Where words hold no power and where there are things we can't control, even in a world that was designed specifically for that purpose.
Maybe I've been here long enough for that world to have disappeared.
Maybe that world of ash and fire has already burned itself down.
The voices are getting louder. Or maybe that is just the noise inside my own head. How odd it is- being a prisoner in your own mind. It's as if some distant part of me is aware of everything, but is numbed, weighed down by thoughts of water and ravens, of tall buildings and the barrels of guns pointed at me. I see my mom, but she is not as clear as she once was, like a foggy apparition of her that haunts me from the shadows of my mind.
She doesn't speak, though.
And there's only one voice that can coax me from the thick layer of my own thoughts.
"It's been three days," says the voice, deep, melodious. Pained. "It shouldn't be taking this long."
"She's lost a significant amount of blood," someone answers." She needs to recuperate which takes time."
A curse. "Don't patronize me. Just tell me…Just tell me the chances."
I wait. Or at least, I think I do. If you are unaware of time, does that even accomplish a sort of waiting?
Instead, I focus on my heartbeat. Four pass before one speaks.
"I can't say," says the second voice. "Her injuries were quite severe. I am not saying her chances of recovery are impossible, but there is a definite possibility that the amount of blood loss was just simply too great for her body to reconcile…"
The voices fade out again.
And for a moment, I wonder if this is what it would feel like to be a ghost. There but not there. Voices you can hear to the faces you can't see, lying just beyond the shadows you can't overcome
I think I am running out of time.
Everything around me, the darkness, the unknown void, is seeming to weaken, like it is all soon to disappear. I hear things, too. Things that are just far more alive than what they could be where I am. They say things that tug at memories, like a hand coaxing me back to reality, one word at a time.
And I see it in Marlene, too.
She is fading. Visiting less often. Our time runs on the same clock, so it would seem.
And If I had a choice, I would probably stay here, but there has to be a reason why I'm not dead yet, If I'm not already.
I think she would want me to find that reason.
And I wonder where she'll go if I do.
Beeping. I hear it. Clearly, like it is right there, just out of my reach. I'd like to find the source of it and tell someone to turn it off, whatever it is. But there is a part of me that whispers this is a good thing.
I also don't feel so numb. In the current, I knew what toes and feet were, how to move my legs and my arms, but I couldn't find the controls to order them to. But now I do. I know where my hands are and there's something soft underneath one of them. Something hard. Firm. Unbreakable. Something of a texture I silently marvel at, like a secret I bear in my palm.
As time prolongs, I can suddenly feel my fingers, each one. I can tell them to bend and they listen. I can tell my toes to twitch and they obey.
And eventually, I tell my eyes to open.
And they do.
I know them. I know each face behind every identity. I can see them in my mind after years of drifting, dreaming. Falling.
So I know I'm almost there.
It's almost time.
I think I'm waiting for her, though, before I go. Just to say goodbye and see her once more. And after a while, I wonder if she isn't going to come back, but then I see her, faint, vague, a shadow of the girl who was once so real to me.
"Mar," I say, walking up to her, expecting to feel her against me, like I have so many times in this place. But she only smiles and slips out of reach, an echo of a touch we won't share again.
She sighs. "Seems like we're out, Uri."
I nod. Or, I think I do. It's hard to feel my own actions.
"Don't we have a little more time?" I ask, suddenly desperate for her not to go. Like the realization has finally come, settling in.
Marlene laughs lightly. "You always were good at persuasion of procrastination," she says.
"No, I'm actually very punctual," I reply. "Have you ever seen me miss a date so far?"
"So you consider this a date?" she asks.
I shrug. "Why not?"
Her image shimmers then. Vaguely. And there are voices, whispering from someplace else, someplace farther away, but getting closer.
Marlene claps her hands together, but the sound is inaudible. "Okay, then. So where do you want our next date to be?"
I think for a moment, letting possibilities flood my mind, pushing away those pinpricks of pain. For this time, I pretend our moment here is infinite.
"How about one of those cafe's?" I decide. " We can go in and buy out all their muffins. That way we can fit both lunch and target practice into one activity."
She laughs again, a sound I wish I could take with me everywhere, where I could store it away and preserve it. But her laugh will fade over time, just as she is fading now.
"That sounds perfect," she says, taking a step back. Her eyes look wet. "So I guess I'll be seeing you in a little while?"
I try to remember how to smile and nod, but It's like I suddenly can't speak. "Yeah," I say. " I'll see you in a little bit."
"Don't be late."
"Didn't we just establish my excellent punctuality?"
Mar smiles again, the vibrant color of her eyes bleeding out.
Then she turns away.
And it's like this world is collapsing; That after I was taken from one of fire and ash, I was only placed into another of darkness and shadow.
And maybe that's all there is.
But there is still one last thing I have to say.
One thing she needs to know.
I run forward, catching a last glimpse of her face, her eyes sparkling in this place of shadow. "I love you, Mar," I whisper.
She turns back to me and smiles.
And that's the final thing I see.
Her smile, just as the last remnants of her light fade from the surroundings of yet another dying world.
After days of staying still, refusing to feel and to accept, slowly solidifying in a chair, you can tell when things seem different.
I feel something moving, turning against my hand and I'm instantly awake, pulled out of nightmares of women in white; where they pushed be aside and pulled a blanket over Tris's head.
I am suddenly terrified that's what is about to happen. That one of them will be standing over me, holding their hands together like a vice to protect themselves behind. Wearing one of those foreboding expression with a false addition of hope, like they can ease you into their words of loss.
The words that will destroy you.
I open my eyes.
But I don't find a woman wearing white behind it. No sterile angel coming to deliver bad news.
Instead, I wake to find bright ones staring back at me.
It lasts a few seconds before I am able to fully take her in. Every part of her. So strong. So brave. So beautiful.
"Tris," I breathe, praying that this is not some sort of dream. That if it is, there won't be anything to wake me from it.
She smiles. Her hand squeezes mine, light, but not weak. "Beatrice," she says.
And I don't wait any longer. My lips collide with hers.
I make sure to memorize this; this feeling of her against me, the fire her touch gives me. I place it all in a mental box; somewhere to store this memory. This moment. Something that feels so fragile but can undergo a hundred battles. Rage against a thousand wars. That can even bring death himself to his knees.
And I make sure to take my time with it, too.
We stand around Uriah's bed, Tobias's hands clasped firmly between my own. It's been almost a week since I woke up in the infirmary, but I'm still instructed to use a wheelchair, which I do not like.
Zeke stands with Shauna, clutching his little brother's hands, tears running down his cheeks. I wish I could comfort him; I wish I could tell him that his brother was brave and noble and that Uriah went out fighting.
But he didn't. He'll simply stop breathing.
I try to keep the image of him waving to me out of my mind, but I somehow find it morbidly ironic. Like he knew, the explosion behind him appearing like wings in my head.
How many times had I seen his smile? Found comfort in it? How often had I seen myself as a Dauntless without him there, too?
I guess that's how death works, though. He shows you how much something truly matters to you before it is taken away.
I don't know whether to be grateful for it or to think it downright cruel. Probably both.
I glance at Tobias, who avoids looking at Uriah's bed. Or Zeke. Or Shauna. Mostly, he stares right at the wall, the plague of guilt on his face only evident to me. And I know I can't say anything to make it better. I know first-hand that after the fault of a friend's death falls at your feet, the best thing to do is endure it quietly. To talk when only you feel like it, otherwise it is like walking on broken glass.
I wonder if every time he sees a bright flash, he also sees Uriah's face, just like I see Will's, in the barrel of every gun I hold.
The voices are distinct. I hear people talking, but it doesn't feel like anything to be excited about.
I think I even hear crying, like someone is silently choking next to me. The voice sounds familiar, and everything in me is pushing to comfort whoever it is, to let them know that I'm okay.
But I don't even know if that's true.
"Hey, guys…could I have a minute with him?" Someone asks, followed by the low monotones of other voices. A few seconds of silence fall by. I wonder if the voices have disappeared completely before it returns a little while later.
Uri…." Someone calls then, quietly, followed by a curse. "Why do you have to do this?"
I want to know what he's talking about. For the past however long, I haven't really been doing anything.
A sharp intake of breath-"I…I promised to protect you. Are you really going to make me look like a liar?"
I want to answer him. I want to, I want to. But my lips won't work, my voice shushed and gagged into submission.
He curses again. "Uriah, please…you've got people here who care about you. I have no doubt you're some place, shacking up with Marlene or something, but…I need you to come back. I need you here." The voice breaks then. " Nurses are telling me that I should say goodbye, clear my conscience or whatever crap that is, but, Uri…I can't say goodbye."
Zeke. It is Zeke. Something bubbles up inside me, unnerved by his tears. I haven't seen my brother cry many times and I want nothing more than to stop it; to tell him that he's being dramatic because I am fine.
"So, I'm just going to say that I'll see you in a bit, okay? I don't want you to think I'm leaving you. I'm not, I swear it, Uri. I'm just saying 'see you' for a little while." I feel him squeeze my hand. "I'm going to miss you, little brother."
I'll see you in a bit.
I'll see you in a little while.
Marlene and Zeke and their goodbyes. Both I catch, so vivid in my mind.
I'll see you in a bit.
I felt his hand.
The thought freezes me; puts fire in me.
I felt my brother's hand when he squeezed it.
I felt it.
I felt it.
"Are you ready?" A different voice asks. One that is sick with false sweetness. A nurse.
"No," my brother whispers by my side, so low that I am probably the only one who heard it.
In my mind, I mimic his protest, almost mechanically. No.
That's what they're preparing for, my death? Do I want to die?
I do not want to die. I am not ready. I know I have more to give to this world of fire and rubble.
No! I shout at them. I'm right here! I'm right here! A sudden desire to see her face blooms inside my chest. Christina, who has endured so much, declaring a goodbye to yet another friend. I want to see her. I need to see her. I need to see them, and this desire brings with it flames, a fire that burns and scalds inside me, one that cannot be put out or tamed.
I want to see them.
I want to see them.
"Say hi to Marlene for me."
Marlene wants me to live, Tris, I want to scream. She wants me to live!
"I can't watch this," a man's voice says then. Tobias. "I can't"-
"Uri would want you here, Four," my brother replies. "He wouldn't have blamed you. It really wasn't your fault."
The fire burns brighter, lighting my insides, yet I don't turn to ash. Let me be the one to tell him that! I yell. Please, just let me!
And then the heart monitor goes off.
My body tingle and my last thought is please.
Please, just let me live.
Minutes tick by; they hang precariously on the hands of a clock before falling away. No one moves. Zeke remains clutching Uriah's hand. Christina on his other side, touching his cheek.
Tobias stands with me, now staring at Uriah's slack face, the lines growing deeper, like he expected more.
Like he expected the earth to bid its own farewell at losing such a bright light.
Like the sky would have turned towards Uriah to wave goodbye.
But nothing happens.
It's now just another body to put in the ground, yet something feels slightly off.
Zeke stands then and there's a desperation around him that tells me he needs to get away from this sight.
He goes to leave, but something snags on his hand- and it is another hand.
Zeke freezes and so do I. Everything in us stills, like the room has dropped and we have all turned to solid ice.
Uriah is moving his fingers.
Uriah is opening his eyes.
Uriah is staring at us.
No one says anything, we just continue to stare, disbelieving as the nurse next to him recomposes herself and begins fluttering about him, inquiring to no one in particular how this could have happened and how it should not have.
My face feels wet and it is only then that I realize I have been crying. It is like a weight in my chest I thought I would have to carry for the rest of my life has suddenly been cut away.
Christina recovers the quickest, gently wrapping her arms around his shoulders and giving him a light squeeze. I notice that she is crying too and I expect her to say something, but I don't think any of us can manage the words to express whatever is being felt.
Zeke grabs his brother then and practically tackles him into a hug, which the nurse quickly and quite terrifyingly scolds. "That was unexpected," Zeke says, wiping his eyes. "Man, what a time to start listening to me."
Uriah smiles at that.
And it's like everything is back into place again; all the puzzles of our discombobulated and fragmented lives have slowly coaxed one another back into a reasonable shape, of a world that resembles something close to hope.
"Hey, T-ris," he says to me and I wave weakly.
"What happ-ened to you?"
I shrug, nonchalantly, having the sudden urge to laugh. We both lingered under the threat of death's shadow and neither one of us fell victim to it. Who knew the hands of a mortals' could stilt those of death's? But maybe it was only a mercy he decided to give us or perhaps he was just having an off day.
Either way, Uriah is here and so am I. And I'm grateful. "I'll tell you about it later," I say, smiling.
Tobias lingers back a bit, but I pull him forward, not because I think him weak to confront whatever guilt writhes inside him, but because I don't think he knows what to really do.
And neither do I, which gives him the only option of going forward.
"Hey, Four," Uriah calls from him bed and Tobias gives him a smile. "It's good to see you up."
"It's good to b-be up," he replies, but I see confliction there. Uriah shifts his gaze between his brother and Tobias. "You sh-should know, Four…that whatever you did…Zeke was right, I d-don't blame you."
Tobias takes a moment to respond and he nods in reply.
"Wait," Zeke says, turning to Uriah. "You could…hear me?"
He shrugs as best as a man who just exited a coma can. "Towards the e-end, a little."
"So…you knew what was happening?"
Uriah nods. "Sort of. I…I just felt it."
Zeke curses. "Well," he says, his tone turning light. "You are going to use that against me for a while, aren't you?"
His little brother's smile broadens. "Nah….Later-when it isn't-too soon."
The nurse approaches us, waving her hands then, silently herding us to give him time to rest. As I leave though, I see Zeke embrace his brother once more.
"It will always be too soon," he says.