Elise merely shook her head.
Kriss took a deep breath. “I know that Twos and Threes are being targeted, but your homes are safer than most of the ones for lower castes. If you can take in a family of Fours or Fives that you know well, I think that would be a good idea.”
Celeste nodded. “Stay safe. Do what the king says.”
She turned to me, and I realized I needed to say something. When I was on the Report and feeling a bit lost, I tended to look to Maxon, as if he could silently give me advice. Falling into that habit, I searched for his eyes. But all I saw was his blond hair as he stared into his lap, his dejected frown the only thing visible.
Of course he was worried about his people. But this was about more than protecting his citizens. He knew we might leave.
And shouldn’t we? How many Fives could lose their lives because I sat on my stool in the bright lights of the palace studio?
But how could I—or any of the girls—shoulder that burden? We weren’t the ones taking their lives. I remembered everything August and Georgia said to us, and I knew there was only one thing we could do.
“Fight,” I said to no one in particular. Then remembering where I was, I turned to the camera. “Fight. The rebels are bullies. They’re trying to scare you into doing what they want. And what if you do? What kind of future do you think they’ll offer you? These people, these tyrants, aren’t going to suddenly stop being violent. If you give them power, they’re going to be a thousand times worse. So fight. However you can, fight.”
I felt blood and adrenaline pulsing through me, like I was ready to attack the rebels myself. I’d had enough. They’d kept us all in terror, victimized our families. If one of those Southern rebels was in front of me right now, I wouldn’t run.
Gavril started speaking again, but I was so angry, all I could hear was my heart beating in my ears. Before I knew it, the cameras were off and the lights were powering down.
Maxon went over to his father and whispered something to which the king shook his head.
The girls stood and started to leave.
“Go straight to your rooms,” Maxon said gently. “Dinner will be brought up, and I’ll be visiting you all soon.”
As I walked past them, the king put a single finger on my arm, and in that small gesture, I knew he meant for me to stop.
“That wasn’t very smart,” he said.
I shrugged. “What we’re doing isn’t working. Keep this up and you won’t have anyone left to rule over.”
He flicked his hand, dismissing me, fed up with me again.
Maxon quietly knocked on my door, letting himself in. I was already in my nightgown, reading in my bed. I’d begun to wonder if he was going to come at all.
“It’s so late,” I whispered, though there was no one to disturb.
“I know. I had to speak with all the others, and it’s been extremely taxing. Elise was very shaken. She’s feeling particularly guilty. I wouldn’t be surprised if she left in the next day or two.”
Even though he’d expressed his lackluster feelings for Elise more than once, I could see just how much this hurt him. I curled my legs to my chest so he could sit.
“What about Kriss and Celeste?”
“Kriss is almost too optimistic. She’s sure that people will be careful and protect themselves. I don’t see how that’s possible if there’s no way to tell when or where the rebels will attack next. They’re all over the country. But she’s hopeful. You know how she is.”
He sighed. “Celeste is fine. She’s concerned, of course; but as Kriss pointed out, the Twos are most likely to be the safest during all this. And she’s always so determined.” He laughed to himself, staring at the floor. “Mostly she seemed concerned that I would be upset with her if she stayed. As if I could hold it against her for choosing this over going home.”
I sighed. “It’s a good point. Do you want a wife who isn’t worried about her subjects being threatened?”
Maxon looked at me. “You’re worried. You’re just too smart to be worried the way everyone else is.” He shook his head and smiled. “I can’t believe you told them to fight.”
I shrugged. “It seems like we do a whole lot of cowering.”
“You’re absolutely right. And I don’t know if that will scare the rebels off or make them more determined, but there’s no doubt you changed the game.”
I cocked my head. “I don’t think I’d call a group of people trying to kill the population at random a game.”
“No, no!” he said quickly. “I can’t think of a word bad enough to call that. I meant the Selection.” I stared at him. “For better or worse, the public got a real glimpse into your character tonight. They can see the girl who drags her maids to safety, who stands up to kings if she thinks she’s right. I’ll bet everyone will look at you running after Marlee in an entirely different light now. Before this, you were just the girl who yelled at me when we met. Tonight, you became the girl who’s not afraid of the rebels. They’ll think of you differently now.”
I shook my head. “That’s not what I was trying to do.”
“I know. For all the planning I was doing to get you to show the people who you are, it turns out you just do it on an impulse. It’s so you.” There was a look of astonishment in his eyes, as if he should have been expecting this all along. “Anyway, I think it was the right thing to say. It’s about time we did more than hide.”
I looked down at my bedspread, tracing the seams with my finger. I was glad he approved, but the way he spoke—as if it was one more of my little quirks—felt too intimate at the moment.
“I’m tired of fighting with you, America,” he said quietly. I looked up and saw the sincerity in Maxon’s eyes as he continued. “I like that we disagree—it’s one of my favorite things about you, actually—but I don’t want to argue anymore. Sometimes I have a bit of my father’s temper. I fight it, but it’s there. And you!” he said with a laugh. “When you’re upset, you’re a force!”
He shook his head, probably remembering a dozen things at the same time I did. A knee to the groin, the whole thing with the castes, Celeste’s busted lip when she talked about Marlee. I’d never thought of myself as temperamental, but apparently I was. He smiled, and I did, too. It was kind of funny when I thought about all my actions piled up like that.
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