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HE LIES NEXT to me as I fall asleep. I expect to have nightmares, but I must be too tired, because my mind stays empty. When I open my eyes next, he’s gone, but there’s a stack of clothes on the bed beside me.
I get up and walk into the bathroom and I feel raw, like my skin was scraped clean and every breath of air stings it a little, but stable. I don’t turn on the lights in the bathroom because I know they will be pale and bright, just like the lights in the Erudite compound. I shower in the dark, barely able to tell soap from conditioner, and tell myself that I will emerge new and strong, that the water will heal me.
Before I leave the bathroom, I pinch my cheeks hard to bring blood to the surface of my skin. It’s stupid, but I don’t want to look weak and exhausted in front of everyone.
When I walk back into Tobias’s room, Uriah is sprawled across the bed facedown; Christina is holding the blue sculpture above Tobias’s desk, examining it; and Lynn is poised above Uriah with a pillow, a wicked grin creeping across her face.
Lynn smacks Uriah hard in the back of the head, Christina says, “Hey Tris!” and Uriah cries, “Ow! How on earth do you make a pillow hurt, Lynn?”
“My exceptional strength,” she says. “Did you get smacked, Tris? One of your cheeks is bright red. ”
I must not have pinched the other one hard enough. “No, it’s just . . . my morning glow. ”
I try the joke out on my tongue like it’s a new language. Christina laughs, maybe a little harder than my comment warrants, but I appreciate the effort. Uriah bounces on the bed a few times when he moves to the edge.
“So, the thing we’re all not talking about,” he says. He gestures to me. “You almost died, a sadistic pansycake saved you, and now we’re all waging some serious war with the factionless as allies. ”
“Pansycake?” says Christina.
“Dauntless slang. ” Lynn smirks. “Supposed to be a huge insult, only no one uses it anymore. ”
“Because it’s so offensive,” says Uriah, nodding.
“No. Because it’s so stupid no Dauntless with any sense would speak it, let alone think it. Pansycake. What are you, twelve?”
“And a half,” he says.
I get the feeling their banter is for my benefit, so that I don’t have to say anything; I can just laugh. And I do, enough to warm the stone that has formed in my stomach.
“There’s food downstairs,” says Christina. “Tobias made scrambled eggs, which, as it turns out, is a disgusting food. ”
“Hey,” I say. “I like scrambled eggs. ”
“Must be a Stiff breakfast, then. ” She grabs my arm. “C’mon. ”
Together we go down the stairs, our footsteps thundering as they never would have been allowed to in my parents’ house. My father used to scold me for running down the stairs. “Do not call attention to yourself,” he said. “It is not courteous to the people around you. ”
I hear voices in the living room—a chorus of them, in fact, joined by occasional bursts of laughter and a faint melody plucked on an instrument, a banjo or a guitar. It is not what I expect in an Abnegation house, where everything is always quiet, no matter how many people are gathered within. The voices and the laughter and the music breathe life into the sullen walls. I feel even warmer.
I stand in the doorway to the living room. Five people are crowded onto the three-person couch, playing a card game I recognize from Candor headquarters. A man sits in the armchair with a woman balanced on his lap, and someone else perches on the arm, a can of soup in hand. Tobias sits on the floor, his back against the coffee table. Every part of his posture suggests ease—one leg bent, the other straight, an arm slung across his knee, his head tilted to listen. I have never seen him look so comfortable without a gun. I didn’t think it was possible.
I get the same sinking feeling in my stomach that I always get when I know I’ve been lied to, but I don’t know who it was that lied to me this time, or about what, exactly. But this is not what I was taught to expect of factionlessness. I was taught that it was worse than death.
I stand there for just a few seconds before people realize that I’m there. Their conversation peters out. I wipe my palms off on the hem of my shirt. Too many eyes, and too much silence.
Evelyn clears her throat. “Everyone, this is Tris Prior. I believe you may have heard a lot about her yesterday. ”
“And Christina, Uriah, and Lynn,” supplies Tobias. I’m grateful for his attempt to divert everyone’s attention from me, but it doesn’t work.
I stand glued to the door frame for a few seconds, and then one of the factionless men—older, his wrinkled skin patterned with tattoos—speaks up.
“Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
Some of the others laugh, and I try a smile. It emerges crooked and small.
“Supposed to be,” I say.
“We don’t like to give Jeanine Matthews what she wants, though,” Tobias says. He gets up and hands me a can of peas—but it isn’t full of peas; it’s full of scrambled eggs. The aluminum warms my fingers.
He sits, so I sit next to him, and scoop some of the eggs into my mouth. I am not hungry, but I know I need to eat, so I chew and swallow anyway. I am familiar with the way the factionless eat, so I pass the eggs to Christina, and take a can of peaches from Tobias.
“Why is everyone camped out in Marcus’s house?” I ask him.
“Evelyn kicked him out. Said it was her house, too, and he’d gotten to use it for years, and it was her turn. ” Tobias grins. “It caused a huge blowup on the front lawn, but eventually Evelyn won. ”
I glance at Tobias’s mother. She is in the far corner of the room, talking to Peter and eating more eggs from another can. My stomach churns. Tobias talks about her almost reverently. But I still remember what she said to me about my transience in Tobias’s life.
“There’s bread somewhere. ” He picks up a basket from the coffee table and hands it to me. “Take two pieces. You need it. ”
As I chew on the bread crust, I look at Peter and Evelyn again.
“I think she’s trying to recruit him,” Tobias says. “She has a way of making the factionless life sound extraordinarily appealing. ”
“Anything to get him out of Dauntless. I don’t care if he saved my life, I still don’t like him. ”
“Hopefully we won’t have to worry about faction distinctions anymore by the time this is over. It’ll be nice, I think. ”
I don’t say anything. I don’t feel like picking a fight with him here. Or reminding him that it won’t be so easy to persuade Dauntless and Candor to join the factionless in their crusade against the faction system. It may take another war.
The front door opens, and Edward enters. Today he wears a patch with a blue eye painted on it, complete with a half-lowered eyelid. The effect of the overlarge eye against his otherwise handsome face is both grotesque and amusing.
“Eddie!” someone calls out in greeting. But Edward’s good eye has already fallen on Peter. He starts across the room, nearly kicking a can of food out of someone’s hand. Peter presses into the shadow of the door frame like he is trying to disappear into it.
Edward stops inches from Peter’s feet, and then jerks toward him like he is about to throw a punch. Peter jolts back so hard he slams his head into the wall. Edward grins, and all around us, the factionless laugh.
“Not so brave in broad daylight,” Edward says. And then, to Evelyn, “Make sure you don’t give him any utensils. Never know what he might do with them. ”
As he speaks, he plucks the fork from Peter’s hand.
“Give that back,” says Peter.
Edward slams his free hand into Peter’s throat, and presses the tines of the fork between his fingers, right against Peter’s Adam’s apple. Peter stiffens, blood rushing into his face.
“Keep your mouth shut around me,” he says, his voice low, “or I will do this again, only next time, I’ll shove it right through your esophagus. ”
“That’s enough,” Evelyn says. Edward drops the fork and releases Peter. Then he walks across the room and sits next to the person who called him “Eddie” a moment before.
“I don’t know if you know this,” Tobias says, “but Edward is a little unstable. ”
“I’m getting that,” I say.
“That Drew guy, who helped Peter perform that butter-knife maneuver,” Tobias says. “Apparently when he got kicked out of Dauntless, he tried to join the same group of factionless Edward was a part of. Notice that you haven’t seen Drew anywhere. ”
“Did Edward kill him?” I say.
“Nearly,” Tobias says. “Evidently that’s why that other transfer—Myra, I think her name was?—left Edward. Too gentle to bear it. ”
I feel hollow at the thought of Drew, almost dead at the hands of Edward. Drew attacked me, too.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” I say.
“Okay,” Tobias says. He touches my shoulder. “Is it hard for you to be in an Abnegation house again? I meant to ask before. We can go somewhere else, if it is. ”
I finish my second piece of bread. All Abnegation houses are the same, so this living room is exactly the same as my own, and it does bring back memories, if I look at it carefully. Light glowing through the blinds every morning, enough for my father to read by. The click of my mother’s knitting needles every evening. But I don’t feel like I’m choking. It’s a start.
“Yes,” I say. “But not as hard as you might think. ”
He raises an eyebrow.
“Really. The simulations in Erudite headquarters . . . helped me, somehow. To hold on, maybe. ” I frown. “Or maybe not. Maybe they helped me to stop holding on so tightly. ” That sounds right. “Someday I’ll tell you about it. ” My voice sounds far away.
He touches my cheek and, even though we’re in a room full of people, crowded by laughter and conversation, slowly kisses me.
“Whoa there, Tobias,” says the man to my left. “Weren’t you raised a Stiff? I thought the most you people did was . . . graze hands or something. ”
“Then how do you explain all the Abnegation children?” Tobias raises his eyebrows.
“They’re brought into being by sheer force of will,” the woman on the arm of the chair interjects. “Didn’t you know that, Tobias?”
“No, I wasn’t aware. ” He grins. “My apologies. ”
They all laugh. We all laugh. And it occurs to me that I might be meeting Tobias’s true faction. They are not characterized by a particular virtue. They claim all colors, all activities, all virtues, and all flaws as their own.
I don’t know what binds them together. The only common ground they have, as far as I know, is failure. Whatever it is, it seems to be enough.
I feel, as I look at him, that I am finally seeing him as he is, instead of how he is in relation to me. So how well do I really know him, if I have not seen this before?
The sun is beginning to set. The Abnegation sector is far from quiet. The Dauntless and factionless wander the streets, some with bottles in their hands, some with guns in their other hands.
Ahead of me, Zeke pushes Shauna in her wheelchair past the house of Alice Brewster, former Abnegation leader. They don’t see me.
“Do it again!” she says.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay . . . ” Zeke starts to jog behind the wheelchair. Then, when he’s almost too far away for me to see, he pushes himself up with the handles so that his feet aren’t touching the ground, and together they fly down the middle of the street, Shauna shrieking, Zeke laughing.
I turn left at the next intersection and start down the cracked sidewalk toward the building where Abnegation had its monthly faction-wide meetings. Though it feels like it has been a long time since I last went there, I still remember where it is. One block south, two blocks west.
The sun inches toward the horizon as I walk. The color drains from the surrounding buildings in the evening light, so that they all appear to be gray.
The face of Abnegation headquarters is just a cement rectangle, like all the other buildings in the Abnegation sector. But when I shove the front door open, familiar wood floors and rows of wooden benches arranged in a square greet me. In the center of the room is a skylight that lets in a square of orange sunlight. It is the room’s only adornment.
I sit on my family’s old bench. I used to sit next to my father, and Caleb, next to my mother. Now I feel like the only one left. The last Prior.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Marcus walks in and sits down across from me, his hands folded in his lap. The sunlight is between us.
He has a large bruise on his jaw from where Tobias hit him, and his hair is freshly buzzed.
“It’s fine,” I say, straightening. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw you come in. ” He examines his fingernails carefully. “And I want to have a word with you about the information Jeanine Matthews stole. ”
“What if you’re too late? What if I already know what it is?”
Marcus looks up from his fingernails, and his dark eyes narrow. The look is far more poisonous than any Tobias could muster, though he has his father’s eyes. “You can’t possibly. ”
“You don’t know that. ”
“I do, actually. Because I have seen what happens to people when they hear the truth. They look like they have forgotten what they were searching for, and are just wandering around trying to remember. ”
A chill makes its way up my spine and spreads down my arms, giving me goose bumps.
“I know that Jeanine decided to murder half a faction to steal it, so it must be incredibly important,” I say. I pause. I know something else, too, but I only just realized it.
Right before I attacked Jeanine, she said, “This is not about you! It’s not about me!”
And this meant what she was doing to me—trying to find a simulation that worked on me. On the Divergent.
“I know it has something to do with the Divergent,” I blurt out. “I know the information is about what’s outside the fence. ”
“That is not the same thing as knowing what’s outside the fence. ”
“Well, are you going to tell me or are you going to dangle it over my head and make me jump for it?”
“I did not come here for self-indulgent arguing. And no, I am not going to tell you, but not because I don’t want to. It’s because I have no idea how to describe it to you. You have to see it for yourself. ”
As he speaks, I notice the sunlight turning more orange than yellow, and casting darker shadows over his face.
“I think Tobias might be right,” I say. “You like to be the only one who knows. You like that I don’t know. It makes you feel important. That’s why you won’t tell me, not because it’s indescribable. ”
“That’s not true. ”
“How am I supposed to know that?”
Marcus stares, and I stare back.
“A week before the simulation attack, the Abnegation leaders decided it was time to reveal the information in the file to everyone. Everyone, in the entire city. The day we intended to reveal it was approximately seven days after the simulation attack. Obviously we were unable to do so. ”
“She didn’t want you to reveal what was outside the fence? Why not? How did she even know about it in the first place? I thought you said only the Abnegation leaders knew. ”
“We are not from here, Beatrice. We were all placed here, for a specific purpose. A while ago, the Abnegation were forced to enlist the help of Erudite in order to achieve that purpose, but eventually everything went awry because of Jeanine. Because she doesn’t want to do what we are supposed to do. She would rather resort to murder. ”
My brain feels like it is buzzing with information. I clutch the edge of the bench beneath me.
“What are we supposed to do?” I say, my voice barely more than a whisper.
“I have told you enough to convince you that I am not a liar. As for the rest, I truly find myself unequal to the task of explaining it to you. I only told you as much as I did because the situation has become dire. ”
Dire. Suddenly I understand the problem. The factionless plan to destroy, not only the important figures in Erudite, but all the data they have. They will level everything.
I have never thought that plan was a good idea, but I knew that we could come back from it, because the Erudite still know the relevant information, even if they don’t have their data. But this is something even the most intelligent Erudite do not know; something that, if everything is destroyed, we cannot replicate.
“If I help you, I betray Tobias. I will lose him. ” I swallow hard. “So you have to give me a good reason. ”
“Aside from the good of everyone in our society?” Marcus wrinkles his nose in disgust. “That isn’t enough for you?”
“Our society is in pieces. So no, it’s not. ”
“Your parents died for you, it’s true. But the reason your mother was in Abnegation headquarters the night you were almost executed was not to save you. She didn’t know you were there. She was trying to rescue the file from Jeanine. And when she heard that you were about to die, she rushed to save you, and left the file in Jeanine’s hands. ”
“That’s not what she told me,” I say hotly.
“She was lying. Because she had to. But Beatrice, the point is . . . the point is, your mother knew she probably would not get out of Abnegation headquarters alive, but she had to try. This file, it was something she was willing to die for. Understand?”
The Abnegation are willing to die for any person, friend or enemy, if the situation calls for it. That is, perhaps, why they find it difficult to survive in life-threatening situations. But there are few things they are willing to die for. They don’t value many things in the physical world.
So if he’s telling me the truth, and my mother really was willing to die for this information to become public . . . I would do just about anything to accomplish the goal she failed to achieve.
“You’re trying to manipulate me. Aren’t you. ”
“I suppose,” he says as shadows slip into his eye sockets like dark water, “that is something you must decide for yourself. ”
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