Breathe

"I love you," I told Katrina. "Yeah. I love you. But I only love you when you're Dauntless. When you're not afraid of anything. I don't love you when you tell me you're Divergent, because that doesn't make you brave, that makes you vulnerable. That makes you weak."

This is the story of Eric as a Dauntless initiate.

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2. Chapter Two

 

I’m lying on my bed with my eyes shut, but I’m not asleep. I’m thinking. It seems to me that, unlike in Erudite, you don’t get a lot of time to think in Dauntless. It’s more impulsive, here. Things are left to chance. At the moment, I’m not sure whether I like that or not.

There’s only me and the seven other transfer initiates in the dormitory, but it seems a lot more crowded. Maybe it’s just all our stifled excitement or blasé anticipation clogging up the room. Along with me and Katrina, the transfers are two other Erudites, three Candors, and the one Abnegation boy who jumped onto the rooftop first. We’re not going to see the Dauntless born initiates until the last stages of training.

According to the man who introduced himself on the rooftop as our training instructor, Amar, we’re going to be tested and ranked – and only the ten best initiates are actually going to make it into Dauntless. The rest will become Factionless. I could be Factionless - homeless - in a matter of days from now.

It’s not a happy thought, and I do my best to push it aside.

If I hadn’t spent the entire day with the other transfers, I would barely be able to tell who’s from which faction. We’ve changed into clothes made from sleek Dauntless black, the kind of material that hugs the body. Still, the remains of our old factions still cling to us like skins we can’t quite shed.

I open my eyes lazily, peering around the room. The Stiff sits silently in the corner of our dormitory, his features tight against his skin. No one’s approached him all evening, and it’s not hard to figure out why. He looks about as agreeable as a bed of nails.

I smile, my lip curling. Now that I know that it’s going to be a competition to stay in the faction, I want to establish myself as the one in charge, the one people won’t want to beat for fear of what I’ll do to them afterwards. It’s the clever thing to do. The Erudite thing to do, a voice at the back of my head taunts.

Sitting up on the bed, I throw the covers away from my legs. “Oy! Stiff!”

The Abnegation boy looks up, glaring at me before turning his head away.

“Hey!” I say, standing up and walking towards the Stiff. “Stiff! Are you deaf or something?”

This time the Stiff makes no response at all, just carries on focusing over-intently on the floor. The dormitory is quiet – the Candor kids have stopped debating loudly about nothing in particular, and now watch us instead. I take a deep breath – what I’m doing now is my first impression on most of them. I have to make it count.

The Stiff tenses as I take another step towards him. In a split-second decision I lash out at his chest, pushing him backwards. He gasps, a tiny intake of breath that’s just loud enough for the others to hear him.

“Are there any other Stiffs in the room?” I ask the Abnegation boy, gesturing in mock-exaggeration. “Did you think I was talking to someone else?” I shove him again, laughing at the sense of power that surges through me. “Huh?”

I lean down, bringing my face close to his. “So,” I say, spitting the words out. “Do you have a name, Stiff? Are you Abnegation even allowed to have names, or is it classed as too damn selfish?”

Somewhere behind me, I hear one of the Candor boys laugh. The noise lifts me up, hands me my very own pedestal to stand on – I feel unbeatable, the sound of approval from the other transfers like the one thing I never knew but always needed. Back in Erudite, I was never popular – to be popular, you had to be intelligent enough to reel off popular’s twenty different synonyms. I mean, yeah, I suppose I was clever enough, but I was never one of the know-it-alls who could outsmart the teachers from their seventh birthday onwards.

In Dauntless, things could be different. I could be popular. I could be the best – I know I could. Some people aren’t brave enough to even transfer in the first place, but I have a whole lot of courage left to spare.

In a swift, easy movement that looks much more practiced than it probably is, the Stiff knocks me aside, standing up so that we’re face to face. He looks at me, his blue eyes blazing, the light making them appear almost black.

“Everyone knows the Erudite are jerks,” says the Stiff, his voice level, “but I always blamed it on bad parenting.” He looks at me, jaw set, voice level. Challenging me. “Funny. Even without your parents here, you’re still a pretentious bastard.”

His words catch me off guard, my eyes widening in shock. He tilts his head, mocking me, and – with nothing else to do - I spit at him before I walk away. The Stiff laughs.

I go back to sit on my bed, ignoring the others, but it’s hard not to notice that the atmosphere in the dormitory has changed. At the moment, I don’t know whose favour the shift is in. It’s unsettling.

I scowl.

“Someone switch the light off,” I snap, clambering under my duvet like a child afraid of the dark. “I want to get some sleep.”

 

🔥🔥🔥

 

My sister stands facing me in the middle of her bedroom. She’s soundproofed the room by balling up jumpers and shoving them under the gap in the door – she’s clever like that.

I’m young, only about eleven. She’s nearer sixteen – older, and wiser, and better. Her Choosing Ceremony is soon, and everyone knows she’ll stay here, in Erudite. Daddy says that her talent is so rare, one day she could be the faction’s leader.

“Will you tell me now?” I ask her, bouncing on her bed in anticipation. My voice is thin and reedy, not yet broken, and next to Harriet I seem equally as frail. Her presence seems to take up the entire room, leaving me squashed into whatever tiny space remains, like a starved bird snapping up crumbs.

Harriet smiles at me, her features softening. In class we’re learning the give-aways of body language, and I notice that, though she is grinning, her eyes are solemn like she has bad news. She bends down so I can’t see her face, smoothing out her sheets where I ruffled them.

“What is it?”  I say nervously, my ignorance endearing. “Are you upset? Have I done something wrong?”

“Eric,” says my sister, softly. “In four weeks’ time, I am going to die.”

 

🔥🔥🔥

 

When I wake up I am sweating, and it takes a moment before I realise where I am.

“Sweet dreams?” asks a voice sarcastically, and I whip my gaze wildly around the room before it settles on Katrina, sitting up in the bed next to mine.

I chuckle nervously, raking my hands through my hair. “Something like that.”

“I thought you were going to fall out of bed. You were thrashing about like you thought someone was going to murder you. You woke me up.” She pauses, looking at me curiously. “So what were you dreaming about?”

“Nothing,” I lie, averting my eyes. “I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

Katrina looks at me critically, even as her face droops with exhaustion. “You do remember,” she says, quietly. “I can tell.”

I do not reply.

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