“Never forget to keep tension here,” he says in a quiet voice.
Four lifts his hand and keeps walking. I feel the pressure of his palm even after he’s gone. It’s strange, but I have to stop and breathe for a few seconds before I can keep practicing again.
When Four dismisses us for dinner, Christina nudges me with her elbow.
“I’m surprised he didn’t break you in half,” she says. She wrinkles her nose. “He scares the hell out of me. It’s that quiet voice he uses.”
“Yeah. He’s…” I look over my shoulder at him. He is quiet, and remarkably self-possessed. But I wasn’t afraid that he would hurt me. “…definitely intimidating,” I finally say.
Al, who was in front of us, turns around once we reach the Pit and announces, “I want to get a tattoo.”
From behind us, Will asks, “A tattoo of what?”
“I don’t know.” Al laughs. “I just want to feel like I’ve actually left the old faction. Stop crying about it.” When we don’t respond, he adds, “I know you’ve heard me.”
“Yeah, learn to quiet down, will you?” Christina pokes Al’s thick arm. “I think you’re right. We’re half in, half out right now. If we want all the way in, we should look the part.”
She gives me a look.
“No. I will not cut my hair,” I say, “or dye it a strange color. Or pierce my face.”
“How about your bellybutton?” she says.
“Or your nipple?” Will says with a snort.
Now that training is done for the day, we can do whatever we want until it’s time to sleep. The idea makes me feel almost giddy, although that might be from fatigue.
The Pit is swarming with people. Christina announces that she and I will meet Al and Will at the tattoo parlor and drags me toward the clothing place. We stumble up the path, climbing higher above the Pit floor, scattering stones with our shoes.
“What is wrong with my clothes?” I say. “I’m not wearing gray anymore.”
“They’re ugly and gigantic.” She sighs. “Will you just let me help you? If you don’t like what I put you in, you never have to wear it again, I promise.”
Ten minutes later I stand in front of a mirror in the clothing place wearing a knee-length black dress. The skirt isn’t full, but it isn’t stuck to my thighs, either—unlike the first one she picked out, which I refused. Goose bumps appear on my bare arms. She slips the tie from my hair and I shake it out of its braid so it hangs wavy over my shoulders.
Then she holds up a black pencil.
“Eyeliner,” she says.
“You aren’t going to be able to make me pretty, you know.” I close my eyes and hold still. She runs the tip of the pencil along the line of my eyelashes. I imagine standing before my family in these clothes, and my stomach twists like I might be sick.
“Who cares about pretty? I’m going for noticeable.”
I open my eyes and for the first time stare openly at my own reflection. My heart rate picks up as I do, like I am breaking the rules and will be scolded for it. It will be difficult to break the habits of thinking Abnegation instilled in me, like tugging a single thread from a complex work of embroidery. But I will find new habits, new thoughts, new rules. I will become something else.
My eyes were blue before, but a dull, grayish blue—the eyeliner makes them piercing. With my hair framing my face, my features look softer and fuller. I am not pretty—my eyes are too big and my nose is too long—but I can see that Christina is right. My face is noticeable.
Looking at myself now isn’t like seeing myself for the first time; it’s like seeing someone else for the first time. Beatrice was a girl I saw in stolen moments at the mirror, who kept quiet at the dinner table. This is someone whose eyes claim mine and don’t release me; this is Tris.
“See?” she says. “You’re…striking.”
Under the circumstances, it’s the best compliment she could have given me. I smile at her in the mirror.
“You like it?” she says.
“Yeah.” I nod. “I look like…a different person.”
She laughs. “That a good thing or a bad thing?”
I look at myself head-on again. For the first time, the idea of leaving my Abnegation identity behind doesn’t make me nervous; it gives me hope.
“A good thing.” I shake my head. “Sorry, I’ve just never been allowed to stare at my reflection for this long.”
“Really?” Christina shakes her head. “Abnegation is a strange faction, I have to tell you.”
“Let’s go watch Al get tattooed,” I say. Despite the fact that I have left my old faction behind, I don’t want to criticize it yet.
At home, my mother and I picked up nearly identical stacks of clothing every six months or so. It’s easy to allocate resources when everyone gets the same thing, but everything is more varied at the Dauntless compound. Every Dauntless gets a certain amount of points to spend per month, and the dress costs one of them.
Christina and I race down the narrow path to the tattoo place. When we get there, Al is sitting in the chair already, and a small, narrow man with more ink than bare skin is drawing a spider on his arm.
Will and Christina flip through books of pictures, elbowing each other when they find a good one. When they sit next to each other, I notice how opposite they are, Christina dark and lean, Will pale and solid, but alike in their easy smiles.
I wander around the room, looking at the artwork on the walls. These days, the only artists are in Amity. Abnegation sees art as impractical, and its appreciation as time that could be spent serving others, so though I have seen works of art in textbooks, I have never been in a decorated room before. It makes the air feel close and warm, and I could get lost here for hours without noticing. I skim the wall with my fingertips. A picture of a hawk on one wall reminds me of Tori’s tattoo. Beneath it is a sketch of a bird in flight.
“It’s a raven,” a voice behind me says. “Pretty, right?”
I turn to see Tori standing there. I feel like I am back in the aptitude test room, with the mirrors all around me and the wires connected to my forehead. I didn’t expect to see her again.
“Well, hello there.” She smiles. “Never thought I would see you again. Beatrice, is it?”
“Tris, actually,” I say. “Do you work here?”
“I do. I just took a break to administer the tests. Most of the time I’m here.” She taps her chin. “I recognize that name. You were the first jumper, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Thanks.” I touch the sketch of the bird. “Listen—I need to talk to you about…” I glance over at Will and Christina. I can’t corner Tori now; they’ll ask questions. “…something. Sometime.”
“I am not sure that would be wise,” she says quietly. “I helped you as much as I could, and now you will have to go it alone.”
I purse my lips. She has answers; I know she does. If she won’t give them to me now, I will have to find a way to make her tell me some other time.
“Want a tattoo?” she says.
The bird sketch holds my attention. I never intended to get pierced or tattooed when I came here. I know that if I do, it will place another wedge between me and my family that I can never remove. And if my life here continues as it has been, it may soon be the least of the wedges between us.
But I understand now what Tori said about her tattoo representing a fear she overcame—a reminder of where she was, as well as a reminder of where she is now. Maybe there is a way to honor my old life as I embrace my new one.
“Yes,” I say. “Three of these flying birds.”
I touch my collarbone, marking the path of their flight—toward my heart. One for each member of the family I left behind.
“SINCE THERE ARE an odd number of you, one of you won’t be fighting today,” says Four, stepping away from the board in the training room. He gives me a look. The space next to my name is blank.
The knot in my stomach unravels. A reprieve.
“This isn’t good,” says Christina, nudging me with her elbow. Her elbow prods one of my sore muscles—I have more sore muscles than not-sore muscles, this morning—and I wince.
“Sorry,” she says. “But look. I’m up against the Tank.”
Christina and I sat together at breakfast, and earlier she shielded me from the rest of the dormitory as I changed. I haven’t had a friend like her before. Susan was better friends with Caleb than with me, and Robert only went where Susan went.
I guess I haven’t really had a friend, period. It’s impossible to have real friendship when no one feels like they can accept help or even talk about themselves. That won’t happen here. I already know more about Christina than I ever knew about Susan, and it’s only been two days.
“The Tank?” I find Christina’s name on the board. Written next to it is “Molly.”
“Yeah, Peter’s slightly more feminine-looking minion,” she says, nodding toward the cluster of people on the other side of the room. Molly is tall like Christina, but that’s where the similarities end. She has broad shoulders, bronze skin, and a bulbous nose.
“Those three”—Christina points at Peter, Drew, and Molly in turn—“have been inseparable since they crawled out of the womb, practically. I hate them.”
Will and Al stand across from each other in the arena. They put their hands up by their faces to protect themselves, as Four taught us, and shuffle in a circle around each other. Al is half a foot taller than Will, and twice as broad. As I stare at him, I realize that even his facial features are big—big nose, big lips, big eyes. This fight won’t last long.
I glance at Peter and his friends. Drew is shorter than both Peter and Molly, but he’s built like a boulder, and his shoulders are always hunched. His hair is orange-red, the color of an old carrot.
“What’s wrong with them?” I say.
“Peter is pure evil. When we were kids, he would pick fights with people from other factions and then, when an adult came to break it up, he’d cry and make up some story about how the other kid started it. And of course, they believed him, because we were Candor and we couldn’t lie. Ha ha.”
Christina wrinkles her nose and adds, “Drew is just his sidekick. I doubt he has an independent thought in his brain. And Molly…she’s the kind of person who fries ants with a magnifying glass just to watch them flail around.”
In the arena, Al punches Will hard in the jaw. I wince. Across the room, Eric smirks at Al, and turns one of the rings in his eyebrow.
Will stumbles to the side, one hand pressed to his face, and blocks Al’s next punch with his free hand. Judging by his grimace, blocking the punch is as painful as a blow would have been. Al is slow, but powerful.
Peter, Drew, and Molly cast furtive looks in our direction and then pull their heads together, whispering.
“I think they know we’re talking about them,” I say.
“So? They already know I hate them.”
“They do? How?”
Christina fakes a smile at them and waves. I look down, my cheeks warm. I shouldn’t be gossiping anyway. Gossiping is self-indulgent.
Will hooks a foot around one of Al’s legs and yanks back, knocking Al to the ground. Al scrambles to his feet.
“Because I’ve told them,” she says, through the gritted teeth of her smile. Her teeth are straight on top and crooked on the bottom. She looks at me. “We try to be pretty honest about our feelings in Candor. Plenty of people have told me that they don’t like me. And plenty of people haven’t. Who cares?”
“We just…weren’t supposed to hurt people,” I say.
“I like to think I’m helping them by hating them,” she says. “I’m reminding them that they aren’t God’s gift to humankind.”
I laugh a little at that and focus on the arena again. Will and Al face each other for a few more seconds, more hesitant than they were before. Will flicks his pale hair from his eyes. They glance at Four like they’re waiting for him to call the fight off, but he stands with his arms folded, giving no response. A few feet away from him, Eric checks his watch.
After a few seconds of circling, Eric shouts, “Do you think this is a leisure activity? Should we break for nap-time? Fight each other!”
“But…” Al straightens, letting his hands down, and says, “Is it scored or something? When does the fight end?”
“It ends when one of you is unable to continue,” says Eric.
“According to Dauntless rules,” Four says, “one of you could also concede.”
Eric narrows his eyes at Four. “According to the old rules,” he says. “In the new rules, no one concedes.”
“A brave man acknowledges the strength of others,” Four replies.
“A brave man never surrenders.”
Four and Eric stare at each other for a few seconds. I feel like I am looking at two different kinds of Dauntless—the honorable kind, and the ruthless kind. But even I know that in this room, it’s Eric, the youngest leader of the Dauntless, who has the authority.
Beads of sweat dot Al’s forehead; he wipes them with the back of his hand.
“This is ridiculous,” Al says, shaking his head. “What’s the point of beating him up? We’re in the same faction!”
“Oh, you think it’s going to be that easy?” Will asks, grinning. “Go on. Try to hit me, slowpoke.”
Will puts his hands up again. I see determination in Will’s eyes that wasn’t there before. Does he really believe he can win? One hard shot to the head and Al will knock him out cold.