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CHAPTER NINETEEN

WHEN I WALK IN, most of the other initiates—Dauntless-born and transfer alike—are crowded between the rows of bunk beds with Peter at their center. He holds a piece of paper in both hands.

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“The mass exodus of the children of Abnegation leaders cannot be ignored or attributed to coincidence,” he reads. “The recent transfer of Beatrice and Caleb Prior, the children of Andrew Prior, calls into question the soundness of Abnegation’s values and teachings. ”

Cold creeps up my spine. Christina, standing on the edge of the crowd, looks over her shoulder and spots me. She gives me a worried look. I can’t move. My father. Now the Erudite are attacking my father.

“Why else would the children of such an important man decide that the lifestyle he has set out for them is not an admirable one?” Peter continues. “Molly Atwood, a fellow Dauntless transfer, suggests a disturbed and abusive upbringing might be to blame. ‘I heard her talking in her sleep once,’ Molly says. ‘She was telling her father to stop doing something. I don’t know what it was, but it gave her nightmares. ’”

So this is Molly’s revenge. She must have talked to the Erudite reporter that Christina yelled at.

She smiles. Her teeth are crooked. If I knocked them out, I might be doing her a favor.

“What?” I demand. Or I try to demand, but my voice comes out strangled and scratchy, and I have to clear my throat and say it again. “What?”

Peter stops reading, and a few people turn around. Some, like Christina, look at me in a pitying way, their eyebrows drawn in, their mouths turned down at the corners. But most give me little smirks and eye one another suggestively. Peter turns last, with a wide smile.

“Give me that,” I say, holding out my hand. My face burns.

“But I’m not done reading,” he replies, laughter in his voice. His eyes scan the paper again. “However, perhaps the answer lies not in a morally bereft man, but in the corrupted ideals of an entire faction. Perhaps the answer is that we have entrusted our city to a group of proselytizing tyrants who do not know how to lead us out of poverty and into prosperity. ”

I storm up to him and try to snatch the paper from his hands, but he holds it up, high above my head so I can’t reach it unless I jump, and I won’t jump. Instead, I lift my heel and stomp as hard as I can where the bones in his foot connect to his toes. He grits his teeth to stifle a groan.

Then I throw myself at Molly, hoping the force of the impact will surprise her and knock her down, but before I can do any damage, cold hands close around my waist.

“That’s my father!” I scream. “My father, you coward!”

Will pulls me away from her, lifting me off the ground. My breaths come fast, and I struggle to grab the paper before anyone can read another word of it. I have to burn it; I have to destroy it; I have to.

Will drags me out of the room and into the hallway, his fingernails digging into my skin. Once the door shuts behind him, he lets go, and I shove him as hard as I can.

“What? Did you think I couldn’t defend myself against that piece of Candor trash?”

“No,” says Will. He stands in front of the door. “I figured I’d stop you from starting a brawl in the dormitory. Calm down. ”

I laugh a little. “Calm down? Calm down? That’s my family they’re talking about, that’s my faction!”

“No, it’s not. ” There are dark circles under his eyes; he looks exhausted. “It’s your old faction, and there’s nothing you can do about what they say, so you might as well just ignore it. ”

“Were you even listening?” The heat in my cheeks is gone, and my breaths are more even now. “Your stupid ex-faction isn’t just insulting Abnegation anymore. They’re calling for an overthrow of the entire government. ”

Will laughs. “No, they’re not. They’re arrogant and dull, and that’s why I left them, but they aren’t revolutionaries. They just want more say, that’s all, and they resent Abnegation for refusing to listen to them. ”

“They don’t want people to listen, they want people to agree,” I reply. “And you shouldn’t bully people into agreeing with you. ” I touch my palms to my cheeks. “I can’t believe my brother joined them. ”

“Hey. They’re not all bad,” he says sharply.

I nod, but I don’t believe him. I can’t imagine anyone emerging from the Erudite unscathed, though Will seems all right.

The door opens again, and Christina and Al walk out.

“It’s my turn to get tattooed,” she says. “Want to come with us?”

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I smooth my hair. I can’t go back into the dormitory. Even if Will let me, I am outnumbered there. My only choice is to go with them and try to forget what’s happening outside the Dauntless compound. I have enough to worry about without anxiety about my family.

Ahead of me, Al gives Christina a piggyback ride. She shrieks as he charges through the crowd. People give him a wide berth, when they can.

My shoulder still burns. Christina persuaded me to join her in getting a tattoo of the Dauntless seal. It is a circle with a flame inside it. My mother didn’t even react to the one on my collarbone, so I don’t have as many reservations about getting tattoos. They are a part of life here, just as integral to my initiation as learning to fight.

Christina also persuaded me to purchase a shirt that exposes my shoulders and collarbone, and to line my eyes with black pencil again. I don’t bother objecting to her makeover attempts anymore. Especially since I find myself enjoying them.

Will and I walk behind Christina and Al.

“I can’t believe you got another tattoo,” he says, shaking his head.

“Why?” I say. “Because I’m a Stiff?”

“No. Because you’re…sensible. ” He smiles. His teeth are white and straight. “So, what was your fear today, Tris?”

“Too many crows,” I reply. “You?”

He laughs. “Too much acid. ”

I don’t ask what that means.

“It’s really fascinating how it all works,” he says. “It’s basically a struggle between your thalamus, which is producing the fear, and your frontal lobe, which makes decisions. But the simulation is all in your head, so even though you feel like someone is doing it to you, it’s just you, doing it to yourself and…” He trails off. “Sorry. I sound like an Erudite. Just a habit. ”

I shrug. “It’s interesting. ”

Al almost drops Christina, and she slaps her hands around the first thing she can grab, which just happens to be his face. He cringes and adjusts his grip on her legs. At a glance, Al seems happy, but there is something heavy about even his smiles. I am worried about him.

I see Four standing by the chasm, a group of people around him. He laughs so hard he has to grab the railing for balance. Judging by the bottle in his hand and the brightness of his face, he’s intoxicated, or on his way there. I had begun to think of Four as rigid, like a soldier, and forgot that he’s also eighteen.

“Uh-oh,” says Will. “Instructor alert. ”

“At least it’s not Eric,” I say. “He’d probably make us play chicken or something. ”

“Sure, but Four is scary. Remember when he put the gun up to Peter’s head? I think Peter wet himself. ”

“Peter deserved it,” I say firmly.

Will doesn’t argue with me. He might have, a few weeks ago, but now we’ve all seen what Peter is capable of.

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“Tris!” Four calls out. Will and I exchange a look, half surprise and half apprehension. Four pulls away from the railing and walks up to me. Ahead of us, Al and Christina stop running, and Christina slides to the ground. I don’t blame them for staring. There are four of us, and Four is only talking to me.

“You look different. ” His words, normally crisp, are now sluggish.

“So do you,” I say. And he does—he looks more relaxed, younger. “What are you doing?”

“Flirting with death,” he replies with a laugh. “Drinking near the chasm. Probably not a good idea. ”

“No, it isn’t. ” I’m not sure I like Four this way. There’s something unsettling about it.

“Didn’t know you had a tattoo,” he says, looking at my collarbone.

He sips the bottle. His breath smells thick and sharp. Like the factionless man’s breath.

“Right. The crows,” he says. He glances over his shoulder at his friends, who are carrying on without him, unlike mine. He adds, “I’d ask you to hang out with us, but you’re not supposed to see me this way. ”

I am tempted to ask him why he wants me to hang out with him, but I suspect the answer has something to do with the bottle in his hand.

“What way?” I ask. “Drunk?”

“Yeah…well, no. ” His voice softens. “Real, I guess. ”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t. ”

“Nice of you. ” He puts his lips next to my ear and says, “You look good, Tris. ”

His words surprise me, and my heart leaps. I wish it didn’t, because judging by the way his eyes slide over mine, he has no idea what he’s saying. I laugh. “Do me a favor and stay away from the chasm, okay?”

“Of course. ” He winks at me.

I can’t help it. I smile. Will clears his throat, but I don’t want to turn away from Four, even when he walks back to his friends.

Then Al rushes at me like a rolling boulder and throws me over his shoulder. I shriek, my face hot.

“Come on, little girl,” he says, “I’m taking you to dinner. ”

I rest my elbows on Al’s back and wave at Four as he carries me away.

“I thought I would rescue you,” Al says as we walk away. He sets me down. “What was that all about?”

He is trying to sound lighthearted, but he asks the question almost sadly. He still cares too much about me.

“Yeah, I think we’d all like to know the answer to that question,” says Christina in a singsong voice. “What did he say to you?”

“Nothing. ” I shake my head. “He was drunk. He didn’t even know what he was saying. ” I clear my throat. “That’s why I was grinning. It’s…funny to see him that way. ”

“Right,” says Will. “Couldn’t possibly be because—”

I elbow Will hard in the ribs before he can finish his sentence. He was close enough to hear what Four said to me about looking good. I don’t need him telling everyone about it, especially not Al. I don’t want to make him feel worse.

At home I used to spend calm, pleasant nights with my family. My mother knit scarves for the neighborhood kids. My father helped Caleb with his homework. There was a fire in the fireplace and peace in my heart, as I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and everything was quiet.

I have never been carried around by a large boy, or laughed until my stomach hurt at the dinner table, or listened to the clamor of a hundred people all talking at once. Peace is restrained; this is free.

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