Home > Divergent (Divergent #1)(9)

Divergent (Divergent #1)(9)
Veronica Roth

And we do.

I feel the roar of the river in my chest.

We stand near the railing. The Pit is almost empty; it is the middle of the afternoon, though it feels like it’s been night for days.

If there were people around, I doubt any of them would help Christina. We are with Eric, for one thing, and for another, the Dauntless have different rules—rules that brutality does not violate.

Eric shoves Christina against the railing.

“Climb over it,” he says.

“What?” She says it like she expects him to relent, but her wide eyes and ashen face suggest otherwise. Eric will not back down.

“Climb over the railing,” says Eric again, pronouncing each word slowly. “If you can hang over the chasm for five minutes, I will forget your cowardice. If you can’t, I will not allow you to continue initiation.”

The railing is narrow and made of metal. The spray from the river coats it, making it slippery and cold. Even if Christina is brave enough to hang from the railing for five minutes, she may not be able to hold on. Either she decides to be factionless, or she risks death.

When I close my eyes, I imagine her falling onto the jagged rocks below and shudder.

“Fine,” she says, her voice shaking.

She is tall enough to swing her leg over the railing. Her foot shakes. She puts her toe on the ledge as she lifts her other leg over. Facing us, she wipes her hands on her pants and holds on to the railing so hard her knuckles turn white. Then she takes one foot off the ledge. And the other. I see her face between the bars of the barrier, determined, her lips pressed together.

Next to me, Al sets his watch.

For the first minute and a half, Christina is fine. Her hands stay firm around the railing and her arms don’t shake. I start to think she might make it and show Eric how foolish he was to doubt her.

But then the river hits the wall, and white water sprays against Christina’s back. Her face strikes the barrier, and she cries out. Her hands slip so she’s just holding on by her fingertips. She tries to get a better grip, but now her hands are wet.

If I help her, Eric would make my fate the same as hers. Will I let her fall to her death, or will I resign myself to being factionless? What’s worse: to be idle while someone dies, or to be exiled and empty-handed?

My parents would have no problem answering that question.

But I am not my parents.

As far as I know, Christina hasn’t cried since we got here, but now her face crumples and she lets out a sob that is louder than the river. Another wave hits the wall and the spray coats her body. One of the droplets hits my cheek. Her hands slip again, and this time, one of them falls from the railing, so she’s hanging by four fingertips.

“Come on, Christina,” says Al, his low voice surprisingly loud. She looks at him. He claps. “Come on, grab it again. You can do it. Grab it.”

Would I even be strong enough to hold on to her? Would it be worth my effort to try to help her if I know I’m too weak to do any good?

I know what those questions are: excuses. Human reason can excuse any evil; that is why it’s so important that we don’t rely on it. My father’s words.

Christina swings her arm, fumbling for the railing. No one else cheers her on, but Al brings his big hands together and shouts, his eyes holding hers. I wish I could; I wish I could move, but I just stare at her and wonder how long I have been this disgustingly selfish.

I stare at Al’s watch. Four minutes have passed. He elbows me hard in the shoulder.

“Come on,” I say. My voice is a whisper. I clear my throat. “One minute left,” I say, louder this time. Christina’s other hand finds the railing again. Her arms shake so hard I wonder if the earth is quaking beneath me, jiggling my vision, and I just didn’t notice.

“Come on, Christina,” Al and I say, and as our voices join, I believe I might be strong enough to help her.

I will help her. If she slips again, I will.

Another wave of water splashes against Christina’s back, and she shrieks as both her hands slip off the railing. A scream launches from my mouth. It sounds like it belongs to someone else.

But she doesn’t fall. She grabs the bars of the barrier. Her fingers slide down the metal until I can’t see her head anymore; they are all I see.

Al’s watch reads 5:00.

“Five minutes are up,” he says, almost spitting the words at Eric.

Eric checks his own watch. Taking his time, tilting his wrist, all while my stomach twists and I can’t breathe. When I blink, I see Rita’s sister on the pavement below the train tracks, limbs bent at strange angles; I see Rita screaming and sobbing; I see myself turning away.

“Fine,” Eric says. “You can come up, Christina.”

Al walks toward the railing.

“No,” Eric says. “She has to do it on her own.”

“No, she doesn’t,” Al growls. “She did what you said. She’s not a coward. She did what you said.”

Eric doesn’t respond. Al reaches over the railing, and he’s so tall that he can reach Christina’s wrist. She grabs his forearm. Al pulls her up, his face red with frustration, and I run forward to help. I’m too short to do much good, as I suspected, but I grip Christina under the shoulder once she’s high enough, and Al and I haul her over the barrier. She drops to the ground, her face still blood-smeared from the fight, her back soaking wet, her body quivering.

I kneel next to her. Her eyes lift to mine, then shift to Al, and we all catch our breath together.


THAT NIGHT I dream that Christina hangs from the railing again, by her toes this time, and someone shouts that only someone who is Divergent can help her. So I run forward to pull her up, but someone shoves me over the edge, and I wake before I hit the rocks.

Sweat-soaked and shaky from the dream, I walk to the girls’ bathroom to shower and change. When I come back, the word “Stiff” is spray-painted across my mattress in red. The word is written smaller along the bed frame, and again on my pillow. I look around, my heart pounding with anger.

Peter stands behind me, whistling as he fluffs his pillow. It’s hard to believe I could hate someone who looks so kind—his eyebrows turn upward naturally, and he has a wide, white smile.

“Nice decorations,” he says.

“Did I do something to you that I’m unaware of?” I demand. I grab the corner of a sheet and yank it away from the mattress. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we are in the same faction now.”

“I don’t know what you’re referring to,” he says lightly. Then he glances at me. “And you and I will never be in the same faction.”

I shake my head as I remove my pillowcase from the pillow. Don’t get angry. He wants to get a rise out of me; he won’t. But every time he fluffs his pillow, I think about punching him in the gut.

Al walks in, and I don’t even have to ask him to help me; he just walks over and strips bedding with me. I will have to scrub the bed frame later. Al carries the stack of sheets to the trash can and together we walk toward the training room.

“Ignore him,” Al says. “He’s an idiot, and if you don’t get angry, he’ll stop eventually.”

“Yeah.” I touch my cheeks. They are still warm with an angry blush. I try to distract myself. “Did you talk to Will?” I ask quietly. “After…you know.”

“Yeah. He’s fine. He isn’t angry.” Al sighs. “Now I’ll always be remembered as the first guy who knocked someone out cold.”

“There are worse ways to be remembered. At least they won’t antagonize you.”

“There are better ways too.” He nudges me with his elbow, smiling. “First jumper.”

Maybe I was the first jumper, but I suspect that’s where my Dauntless fame begins and ends.

I clear my throat. “One of you had to get knocked out, you know. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been you.”

“Still, I don’t want to do it again.” Al shakes his head, too many times, too fast. He sniffs. “I really don’t.”

We reach the door to the training room and I say, “But you have to.”

He has a kind face. Maybe he is too kind for Dauntless.

I look at the chalkboard when I walk in. I didn’t have to fight yesterday, but today I definitely will. When I see my name, I stop in the middle of the step.

My opponent is Peter.

“Oh no,” says Christina, who shuffles in behind us. Her face is bruised, and she looks like she is trying not to limp. When she sees the board, she crumples the muffin wrapper she is holding into her fist. “Are they serious? They’re really going to make you fight him?”

Peter is almost a foot taller than I am, and yesterday, he beat Drew in less than five minutes. Today Drew’s face is more black-and-blue than flesh-toned.

“Maybe you can just take a few hits and pretend to go unconscious,” suggests Al. “No one would blame you.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Maybe.”

I stare at my name on the board. My cheeks feel hot. Al and Christina are just trying to help, but the fact that they don’t believe, not even in a tiny corner of their minds, that I have a chance against Peter bothers me.

I stand at the side of the room, half listening to Al and Christina’s chatter, and watch Molly fight Edward. He’s much faster than she is, so I’m sure Molly will not win today.

As the fight goes on and my irritation fades, I start to get nervous. Four told us yesterday to exploit our opponent’s weaknesses, and aside from his utter lack of likable qualities, Peter doesn’t have any. He’s tall enough to be strong but not so big that he’s slow; he has an eye for other people’s soft spots; he’s vicious and won’t show me any mercy. I would like to say that he underestimates me, but that would be a lie. I am as unskilled as he suspects.

Maybe Al is right, and I should just take a few hits and pretend to be unconscious.

But I can’t afford not to try. I can’t be ranked last.

By the time Molly peels herself off the ground, looking only half-conscious thanks to Edward, my heart is pounding so hard I can feel it in my fingertips. I can’t remember how to stand. I can’t remember how to punch. I walk to the center of the arena and my guts writhe as Peter comes toward me, taller than I remembered, arm muscles standing at attention. He smiles at me. I wonder if throwing up on him will do me any good.

I doubt it.

“You okay there, Stiff?” he says. “You look like you’re about to cry. I might go easy on you if you cry.”

Over Peter’s shoulder, I see Four standing by the door with his arms folded. His mouth is puckered, like he just swallowed something sour. Next to him is Eric, who taps his foot faster than my heartbeat.

One second Peter and I are standing there, staring at each other, and the next Peter’s hands are up by his face, his elbows bent. His knees are bent too, like he’s ready to spring.

“Come on, Stiff,” he says, his eyes glinting. “Just one little tear. Maybe some begging.”

The thought of begging Peter for mercy makes me taste bile, and on an impulse, I kick him in the side. Or I would have kicked him in the side, if he hadn’t caught my foot and yanked it forward, knocking me off-balance. My back smacks into the floor, and I pull my foot free, scrambling to my feet.

I have to stay on my feet so he can’t kick me in the head. That’s the only thing I can think about.

“Stop playing with her,” snaps Eric. “I don’t have all day.”

Peter’s mischievous look disappears. His arm twitches and pain stabs my jaw and spreads across my face, making my vision go black at the edges and my ears ring. I blink and lurch to the side as the room dips and sways. I don’t remember his fist coming at me.

I am too off-balance to do anything but move away from him, as far as the arena will allow. He darts in front of me and kicks me hard in the stomach. His foot forces the air from my lungs and it hurts, hurts so badly I can’t breathe, or maybe that’s because of the kick, I don’t know, I just fall.

On your feet is the only thought in my mind. I push myself up, but Peter is already there. He grabs my hair with one hand and punches me in the nose with the other. This pain is different, less like a stab and more like a crackle, crackling in my brain, spotting my vision with different colors, blue, green, red. I try to shove him off, my hands slapping at his arms, and he punches me again, this time in the ribs. My face is wet. Bloody nose. More red, I guess, but I’m too dizzy to look down.

He shoves me and I fall again, scraping my hands on the ground, blinking, sluggish and slow and hot. I cough and drag myself to my feet. I really should be lying down if the room is spinning this fast. And Peter spins around me; I am the center of a spinning planet, the only thing staying still. Something hits me from the side and I almost fall over again.

On my feet on my feet. I see a solid mass in front of me, a body. I punch as hard as I can, and my fist hits something soft. Peter barely groans, and smacks my ear with the flat of his palm, laughing under his breath. I hear ringing and try to blink some of the black patches out of my eyes; how did something get in my eye?

Out of my peripheral vision, I see Four shove the door open and walk out. Apparently this fight isn’t interesting enough for him. Or maybe he’s going to find out why everything’s spinning like a top, and I don’t blame him; I want to know the answer too.

My knees give out and the floor is cool against my cheek. Something slams into my side and I scream for the first time, a high screech that belongs to someone else and not me, and it slams into my side again, and I can’t see anything at all, not even whatever is right in front of my face, the lights out. Someone shouts, “Enough!” and I think too much and nothing at all.

When I wake up, I don’t feel much, but the inside of my head is fuzzy, like it’s packed with cotton balls.

I know that I lost, and the only thing keeping the pain at bay is what is making it difficult to think straight.

“Is her eye already black?” someone asks.

I open one eye—the other stays shut like it’s glued that way. Sitting to my right are Will and Al; Christina sits on the bed to my left with an ice pack on her jaw.

“What happened to your face?” I say. My lips feel clumsy and too large.

She laughs. “Look who’s talking. Should we get you an eye patch?”

“Well, I already know what happened to my face,” I say. “I was there. Sort of.”

“Did you just make a joke, Tris?” Will says, grinning. “We should get you on painkillers more often if you’re going to start cracking jokes. Oh, and to answer your question—I beat her up.”

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