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“Okay, you don’t have to hold hands with anyone,” Zeke says, like nothing happened. “Just go, all right? I’ll owe you one.”
I look at Nicole. She’s sitting at a table near the tray return and laughing at someone else’s joke again. Maybe Zeke’s right—maybe it’s not that big a deal, and maybe this is another way that I can unlearn my Abnegation past and learn to embrace my Dauntless future. And besides—she’s pretty.
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll go. But if you make some kind of joke about hand holding, I’m going to break your nose
“Did your Stiff house even have a computer, Four?”
“No,” I say.
“Well, you see, this is how you open a file,” he says with an exaggerated tap on the file on his screen. “See, it looks like paper, but it’s really just a picture on a screen—you know what a screen is, right?”
“Shut up,” I say as I open the test.
“Learning how to think in the midst of fear is a lesson that everyone, even your Stiff family, needs to learn,” I say. I doubt a lot of things about Dauntless initiation, but the fear simulations aren’t one of them; they are the most straightforward way for a person to engage their own fears and conquer them, far more straightforward than the knife throwing or the fighting. “That’s what we’re trying to teach you. If you can’t learn it, you’ll need to get the hell out of here, because we won’t want you.”
"I might not need you to help me. Ever think about that?” she says. I want to laugh at the question. Of course she doesn’t need me. When was it ever about that? “I’m not weak, you know. I can do this on my own.”
“You think my first instinct is to protect you.” I shift so I’m a little closer to her. “Because you’re small, or a girl, or a Stiff. But you’re wrong.”
Even closer. I touch her chin, and for a moment I think about closing this gap completely.
“My first instinct is to push you until you break, just to see how hard I have to press,” I say, and it’s a strange admission, and a dangerous one. I don’t mean her any harm, and never have, and I hope she knows that’s not what I mean. “But I resist it.”
“Why is that your first instinct?” she says.
“Fear doesn’t shut you down,” I say. “It wakes you up. I’ve seen it. It’s fascinating.” Her eyes in every fear simulation, ice and steel and blue flame. The short, slight girl with the wire-taut arms. A walking contradiction. My hand slips over her jaw, touches her neck. “Sometimes I just want to see it again. Want to see you awake."