Al died a long time ago. He died when he lost all his pride, not when he jumped into the chasm.
I taste bile when I hear Eric call his suicide brave. He wasn’t brave. I hear Eric, yelling above the crowd, “To Albert the Courageous!” And I hear the crowd, screaming, “To Albert!” until his name loses all meaning, until it’s not his name anymore.
He was selfish, he was a coward, and he tried to murder Tris.
And this is what they celebrate; this is what they cheer for. He was not strong, he was not brave. I give him no respect.
I see Tris, escaping from the crowd, heading down a dark hallway. I follow her, and I hide in the shadows, watching her shake her head with disgust. From the work I do in the control room I vaguely remember that a security camera lurks in the corner.
I step into the blue light. “Tris.”
I see a jolt go through her, and she turns around. “What are you doing here?” she asks, “Shouldn’t you be paying your respects?” She says it like it’s poison stinging the inside of her mouth and she has to spit it out.
“Shouldn’t you?” I ask. I step closer so she can see me better.
“Can’t pay respect when you don’t have any,” she replies. I see her pause for a second and shake her head, like she’s shaking off the guilt inside her. “I didn’t mean that.”
Yes, you did mean that.
I want to tell her that he doesn’t deserve any respect in any case, but I don’t want to make it worse. “Ah.”
“This is ridiculous,” she says. Her cheeks glow bright red with anger, and the fire behind her eyes blazes. “He throws himself off a ledge and Eric’s calling it brave? Eric, who tried to have you throw knives at Al’s head?” She grimaces, and I know she’s thinking about everything that makes up Eric: false smiles, artificial words, twisted ideals. And lies. Lots and lots of lies. “He wasn’t brave! He was depressed and a coward and he almost killed me! Is that the kind of thing we respect here?”
There are still people who believe in what’s right. Like me. Like you,Tris. I just don’t think it reached Al’s heart in time. Despite how corrupt a faction may be, there are still people, at the heart of the faction, who believe in the virtues the faction once had. In shouting for those who can only whisper, in defending those who cannot defend themselves. In the pursuit of knowledge that can make our lives easier. Make others’ lives easier. In forgiveness, and trust, and kindness. In honesty that leads to peace. In projecting always outwards.
“What do you want them to do?” I tell her. “Condemn him? Al’s already dead. He can’t hear it and it’s too late.”
“It’s not about Al,” she snaps. “It’s about everyone watching! Everyone who now sees hurling themselves into the chasm as a viable option. I mean, why not do it if everyone calls you a hero afterward? Why not do it if everyone will remember your name? It’s…I can’t…”
She shakes her head and shudders. “This would never have happened in Abnegation!” she shouts. “None of it! Never. This place warped him and ruined him, and I don’t care if saying that makes me a Stiff, I don’t care!”
She’s basically telling the world of her Divergence. In front of a security camera. I glance at the shadowy corner. “Careful, Tris.”
“Is that all you can say?” she yells, scowling at me. “That I should be careful? That’s it?”
She’s exploding, not caring to listen to a word she says. I grab her arm and drag her away from the drinking fountain, before it’s too late. “You’re as bad as the Candor, you know that?”
I stop and put my hands on her shoulders, squeezing her like maybe all the words she just said will go back inside her. “They are watching you,” I tell her quietly, “You, in particular.”
“Let go of me,” she says weakly. She sounds like a mouse that squeaks when it’s being squeezed to death. I let go of her and straighten.
“Are they watching you, too?” she says so quietly that only I would be able to hear.
I ignore her.
“I keep trying to help you,” I tell her, “but you refuse to be helped.”
“Oh, right. Your help,” she says, sneering at me. “Stabbing my ear with a knife and taunting me and yelling at me more than you yell at anyone else, it sure is helpful.”
“Taunting you? You mean when I threw the knives? I wasn’t taunting you,” I snap at her. She’s taking a long time to catch on. “I was reminding you that if you failed, someone would have to take your place.”
A wave of realization hits her, and she cups the back of her neck.
“Why?” she asks a moment later.
The Dauntless manifesto pounds in my head.
“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”
The Abnegation would probably agree with that statement, too.
“Because you’re from Abnegation,” I tell her, “and it’s when you’re acting selflessly that you are at your bravest.” It’s when you are most awake. Fear doesn’t shut you down, Tris; it wakes you up.