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I CHECK MY watch. It is seven o’clock in the evening. Just twelve hours until we can hear what Jeanine has to say to Jack Kang. I have checked my watch at least a dozen times in the past hour, as if that will make the time go faster. I am itching to do something—anything except sit in the cafeteria with Lynn, Tobias, and Lauren, picking at my dinner and sneaking looks at Christina, who sits with her Candor family at one of the other tables.
“I wonder if we’ll be able to return to the old way after all this is over,” says Lauren. She and Tobias have been talking about Dauntless initiate training methods for at least five minutes already. It’s probably the only thing they have in common.
“If there’s a faction left after all this is over,” Lynn says, piling her mashed potatoes onto a roll.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to eat a mashed-potato sandwich,” I say to her.
“So what if I am?”
A group of Dauntless walk between our table and the one next to us. They are older than Tobias, but not by much. One of the girls has five different colors in her hair, and her arms are covered with tattoos so that I can’t see even an inch of bare skin. One of the boys leans close to Tobias, whose back is to them, and whispers, “Coward,” as he passes.
A few of the others do the same thing, hissing “coward” into Tobias’s ears and then continuing on their way. He pauses with his knife against a piece of bread, a glob of butter waiting to be spread, and stares at the table.
I wait, tense, for him to explode.
“What idiots,” says Lauren. “And the Candor, for making you spill your life story for everyone to see . . . they’re idiots too. ”
Tobias doesn’t answer. He puts down his knife and the piece of bread, and pushes back from the table. His eyes lift and focus on something across the room.
“This needs to stop,” he says distantly, and starts toward whatever it is he’s looking at before I figure out what it is. This can’t be good.
He slips between the tables and the people like he’s more liquid than solid, and I stumble after him, muttering apologies as I push people aside.
And then I see exactly who Tobias is headed toward. Marcus. He is sitting with a few of the older Candor.
Tobias reaches him and grabs him by the back of the neck, wrestling him from his seat. Marcus opens his mouth to say something, and that is a mistake, because Tobias punches him hard in the teeth. Someone shouts, but no one rushes to Marcus’s aid. We are in a room full of Dauntless, after all.
Tobias shoves Marcus toward the middle of the room, where there is a space between the tables to reveal the symbol of Candor. Marcus stumbles over one of the scales, his hands covering his face so I can’t see the damage Tobias did.
Tobias shoves Marcus to the ground and presses the heel of his shoe to his father’s throat. Marcus smacks at Tobias’s leg, blood streaming past his lips, but even if he was at his strongest, he still wouldn’t be as strong as his son. Tobias undoes his belt buckle and slides it from its loops.
He lifts his foot from Marcus’s throat and draws the belt back.
“This is for your own good,” he says.
That, I remember, is what Marcus, and his many manifestations, always says to Tobias in his fear landscape.
Then the belt flies through the air and hits Marcus in the arm. Marcus’s face is bright red, and he covers his head as the next blow falls, this one hitting his back. All around me is laughter, coming from the Dauntless tables, but I am not laughing, I cannot possibly laugh at this.
Finally I come to my senses. I run forward and grab Tobias’s shoulder.
“Stop!” I say. “Tobias, stop right now!”
I expect to see a wild look in his eyes, but when he looks at me, I do not. His face is not flushed and his breaths are steady. This was not an act performed in the heat of passion.
It was a calculated act.
He drops the belt and reaches into his pocket. From it he takes a silver chain with a ring dangling from it. Marcus is on his side, gasping. Tobias drops the ring onto the ground next to his father’s face. It is made of tarnished, dull metal, an Abnegation wedding band.
“My mother,” says Tobias, “says hello. ”
Tobias walks away, and it takes a few seconds for me to breathe again. When I do, I leave Marcus cringing on the floor and run after him. It takes me until I reach the hallway to catch up to him.
“What was that?” I demand.
Tobias presses the DOWN button for the elevator and doesn’t look at me.
“It was necessary,” he says.
“Necessary for what?” I say.
“What, you’re feeling sorry for him now?” Tobias says, turning toward me with a scowl. “Do you know how many times he did that to me? How do you think I learned the moves?”
I feel brittle, like I might break. It did seem rehearsed, like Tobias had gone over the steps in his mind, recited the words in front of a mirror. He knew it by heart; he was just playing the other part this time.
“No,” I say quietly. “No, I don’t feel sorry for him, not at all. ”
“Then what, Tris?” His voice is rough; it could be the thing that breaks me. “You haven’t cared about what I do or say for the past week; what’s so different about this?”
I am almost afraid of him. I don’t know what to say or do around the erratic part of him, and it is here, bubbling just beneath the surface of what he does, just like the cruel part of me. We both have war inside of us. Sometimes it keeps us alive. Sometimes it threatens to destroy us.
“Nothing,” I say.
The elevator beeps as it arrives. He gets on, and presses the CLOSE button so the doors shut between us. I stare at the brushed metal and try to think through the last ten minutes.
“This needs to stop,” he said. “This” was the ridicule, which was a result of the interrogation, where he admitted that he joined Dauntless to escape his father. And then he beat up Marcus—publicly, where all the Dauntless could see it.
Why? To salvage his pride? It can’t be. It was far too intentional for that.
On my way back to the cafeteria, I see a Candor man walk Marcus toward the bathroom. He walks slowly, but he isn’t hunched over, which makes me think Tobias didn’t do him any serious damage. I watch the door close behind him.
I had all but forgotten about what I heard in the Amity compound, about the information my father risked his life for. Supposedly, I remind myself. It may not be wise to trust Marcus. And I promised myself I wouldn’t ask him about this again.
I dawdle outside the bathroom until the Candor man walks out, and then walk in before the door has a chance to shut properly. Marcus is sitting on the floor by the sink with a wad of paper towel pressed to his mouth. He doesn’t look happy to see me.
“What, here to gloat?” he says. “Get out. ”
“No,” I say.
Why am I here, exactly?
He looks at me expectantly. “Well?”
“I thought you could use a reminder,” I say. “Whatever it is you want to get from Jeanine, you won’t be able to do it alone, and you won’t be able to do it with only the Abnegation to help you. ”
“I thought we went over this. ” His voice is muffled by the paper towels. “The idea that you could help—”
“I don’t know where you get this delusion that I’m useless, but that’s what it is,” I snap. “And I’m not interested in hearing about it. All I want to say is that when you stop being delusional and start feeling desperate because you’re too inept to figure this out on your own, you know who to come to. ”
I leave the bathroom just as the Candor man comes back with an ice pack.