take the headphones from Zeke’s head, and he scowls at me but doesn’t stop me.
Max’s and Jeanine’s voices are quiet, but I can still hear them.
“I’ve narrowed it down to six,” Max is saying. “I’d say that’s pretty good for, what? The second day?”
“This is inefficient,” Jeanine says. “We already have the candidate. I ensured it. This was always the plan.”
“You never asked me what I thought of the plan, and this is my faction,” Max says tersely. “I don’t like him, and I don’t want to spend all my days working with someone I don’t like. So you’ll have to let me at least try to find someone else who meets all the criteria—”
“Fine.” Jeanine stands, pressing her folder to her stomach. “But when you fail to do so, I expect you to admit it. I have no patience for Dauntless pride.”
“Yeah, because the Erudite are the picture of humility,” Max says sourly.
“Hey,” Zeke hisses. “My supervisor is looking. Give me back the headphones.”
He snatches them from my head, and they snap around my ears in the process, making them sting.
“You have to get out of here or I’ll lose my job,” Zeke says.
He looks serious, and worried. I don’t object, even though I didn’t find out what I needed to know—it was my own fault for getting distracted anyway. I slip out of the control room, my mind racing, half of me still terrified at the thought that my father was in my apartment, that he wants me to meet him alone on an abandoned street in the middle of the night, the other half confused by what I just heard. We already have the candidate. I ensured it. They must have been talking about the candidate for Dauntless leadership.
But why is Jeanine Matthews concerned with who is appointed as the next leader of Dauntless?
I make it all the way back to my apartment without noticing, then sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the opposite wall. I keep thinking separate but equally frantic thoughts. Why does Marcus want to meet with me? Why are the Erudite so involved in Dauntless politics? Does Marcus want to kill me without witnesses, or does he want to warn me about something, or threaten me …? Who was the candidate they were talking about?
I press the heels of my hands to my forehead and try to calm down, though I feel each nervous thought like a prickle at the back of my head. I can’t do anything about Max and Jeanine now. What I have to decide now is whether I’m going to this meeting tonight.
On the day you hated most. I never knew that Marcus even noticed me, noticed the things I liked or hated. He just seemed to view me as an inconvenience, an irritant. But didn’t I learn a few weeks ago that he knew the simulations wouldn’t work on me, and he tried to help me stay out of danger? Maybe, despite all the horrible things he’s done and said to me, there’s a part of him that is actually my father. Maybe that’s the part of him that’s inviting me to this meeting, and he’s trying to show me by telling me he knows me, he knows what I hate, what I love, what I fear.
I’m not sure why that thought fills me with such hope when I’ve hated him for so long. But maybe, just as there’s a part of him that’s actually my father, there’s also a part of me that’s actually his son.
The sun’s heat is still coming off the pavement at one thirty in the morning when I leave the Dauntless compound. I can feel it on my fingertips. The moon is covered in clouds, so the streets are darker than usual, but I’m not afraid of the dark, or the streets, not anymore. That’s one thing beating up a bunch of Dauntless initiates can teach you.
I breathe in the smell of warm asphalt and set off at a slow run, my sneakers slapping the ground. The streets that surround the Dauntless sector of the city are empty; my faction lives huddled together, like a pack of sleeping dogs. That’s why, I realize, Max seemed so concerned about my living alone. If I’m really Dauntless, shouldn’t I want my life to overlap with theirs as much as possible, shouldn’t I be looking for ways to fold myself into my faction until we are inextricable?
I consider it as I run. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m not doing a very good job of integrating myself; maybe I’m not pushing myself hard enough. I find a steady rhythm, squinting at the street signs as I pass them, to keep track of where I’m going. I know when I reach the ring of buildings the factionless occupy because I can see their shadows moving around behind blacked-out and boarded windows. I move to run under the train tracks, the latticed wood stretching out far ahead of me and curving away from the street.
The Hub grows larger and larger in my sight as I get closer. My heart is pounding, but I don’t think it’s from the running. I stop abruptly when I reach the train platform, and as I stand at the foot of the stairs, catching my breath, I remember when I first climbed these steps, the sea of hooting Dauntless moving around me, pressing me forward. It was easy to be carried by their momentum then. I have to carry myself forward now. I start to climb, my footsteps echoing on the metal, and when I reach the top, I check my watch.
But the platform is empty.
I walk back and forth over it, to make sure no dark figures are hiding in dark corners. A train rumbles in the distance, and I pause to look for the light fixed to its nose. I didn’t know the trains ran this late—all power in the city is supposed to shut off after midnight, to conserve energy. I wonder if Marcus asked the factionless for a special favor. But why would he travel on the train? The Marcus Eaton I know would never dare to associate himself so closely with Dauntless. He would sooner walk the streets barefoot.
The train light flashes, just once, before it careens past the platform. It pounds and churns, slowing but not stopping, and I see a person leap from the second-to-last car, lean and lithe. Not Marcus. A woman.
I squeeze the paper tighter into my fist, and tighter, until my knuckles ache.
The woman strides toward me, and when she’s a few feet away, I can see her. Long curly hair. Prominent hooked nose. Black Dauntless pants, gray Abnegation shirt, brown Amity boots. Her face is lined, worn, thin. But I know her, I could never forget her face, my mother, Evelyn Eaton.
“Tobias,” she breathes, wide-eyed, like she’s as stunned by me as I am by her, but that’s impossible. She knew I was alive, but I remember how the urn containing her ashes looked as it stood on my father’s mantel, marked with his fingerprints.
I remember the day I woke to a group of grave-faced Abnegation in my father’s kitchen, and how they all looked up when I entered, and how Marcus explained to me, with sympathy I knew he didn’t feel, that my mother had passed in the middle of the night, complications from early labor and a miscarriage.
She was pregnant? I remember asking.
Of course she was, son. He turned to the other people in our kitchen. Just shock, of course. Bound to happen, with something like this.
I remember sitting with a plate full of food, in the living room, with a group of murmuring Abnegation around me, the whole neighborhood packing my house to the brim and no one saying anything that mattered to me.
“I know this must be … alarming for you,” she says. I hardly recognize her voice; it’s lower and stronger and harder than in my memories of her, and that’s how I know the years have changed her. I feel too many things to manage, too powerfully to handle, and then suddenly I feel nothing at all.
“You’re supposed to be dead,” I say, flat. It’s a stupid thing to say. Such a stupid thing to say to your mother when she comes back from the dead, but it’s a stupid situation.
“I know,” she says, and I think there are tears in her eyes, but it’s too dark to tell. “I’m not.”
“Obviously.” The voice coming from my mouth is snide, casual. “Were you ever even pregnant?”
“Pregnant? Is that what they told you, something about dying in childbirth?” She shakes her head. “No, I wasn’t. I had been planning my exit for months—I needed to disappear. I thought he might tell you when you were old enough.”
I let out a short l
augh, like a bark. “You thought that Marcus Eaton would admit that his wife left him. To me.”
“You’re his son,” Evelyn says, frowning. “He loves you.”
Then all the tension of the past hour, the past few weeks, the past few years builds inside me, too much to contain, and I really laugh, but it comes out sounding strange, mechanical. It scares me even though I’m the one doing it.
“You have a right to be angry that you were lied to,” she says. “I would be angry, too. But Tobias, I had to leave, I know you understand why …”
She reaches for me, and I grab her wrist, push her away. “Don’t touch me.”
“All right, all right.” She puts her palms up and backs away. “But you do understand, you must.”
“What I understand is that you left me alone in a house with a sadistic maniac,” I say.
It looks like something inside her is collapsing. Her hands fall to her sides like two weights. Her shoulders slump. Even her face goes slack, as it dawns on her what I mean, what I must mean. I cross my arms and put my shoulders back, trying to look as big and strong and tough as possible. It’s easier now, in Dauntless black, than it ever was in Abnegation gray, and maybe that’s why I chose Dauntless as a haven. Not out of spite, not to hurt Marcus, but because I knew this life would teach me a stronger way to be.
“I—” she starts.
“Stop wasting my time. What are we doing here?” I toss the crumpled note on the ground between us and raise my eyebrows at her. “It’s been seven years since you died, and you never tried to do this dramatic reveal before, so what’s different now?”
At first she doesn’t answer. Then she pulls herself together, visibly, and says, “We—the factionless—like to keep an eye on things. Things like the Choosing Ceremony. This time, our eye told me that you chose Dauntless. I would have gone myself, but I didn’t want to risk running into him. I’ve become … kind of a leader to the factionless, and it’s important that I don’t expose myself.”
I taste something sour.
“Well, well,” I say. “What important parents I have. I’m so very lucky.”
“This isn’t like you,” she says. “Is even a part of you happy to see me again?”
“Happy to see you again?” I say. “I barely remember you, Evelyn. I’ve almost lived as long without you as I did with you.”
Her face contorts. I wounded her. I’m glad.
“When you chose Dauntless,” she continues slowly, “I knew it was time to reach out to you. I’ve always been planning to find you, after you chose and you were on your own, so that I could invite you to join us.”
“Join you,” I say. “Become factionless? Why would I want to do that?”
“Our city is changing, Tobias.” It’s the same thing Max said yesterday. “The factionless are coming together, and so are Dauntless and Erudite. Sometime soon, everyone will have to choose a side, and I know which one you would rather be on. I think you can really make a difference with us.”
“You know which one I’d rather be on. Really,” I say. “I’m not a faction traitor. I chose Dauntless; that’s where I belong.”
“You aren’t one of those mindless, danger-seeking fools,” she snaps. “Just like you weren’t a suffocated Stiff drone. You can be more than either, more than any faction.”
“You have no idea what I am or who I can be,” I say. “I was the first-ranked initiate. They want me to be a Dauntless leader.”
“Don’t be naive,” she says, narrowing her eyes at me. “They don’t want a new leader; they want a pawn they can manipulate. That’s why Jeanine Matthews frequents Dauntless headquarters, that’s why she keeps planting minions in your faction to report on their behavior. You haven’t noticed that she seems to be aware of things she has no right to be aware of, that they keep shifting Dauntless training around, experimenting with it? As if the Dauntless would ever change something like that on their own.”