kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

The 72nd Games, Part 1b

The 72nd Games, continued from here


Phillips isn't wrong, is the worst part. As much as she wants to be able to help, she knows, deep down, it won't amount to anything. They're both small, quiet kids, underfed and overworked but Ryan works on an assembly line and Safiatou helps out in her Mom's garden and watches the neighbor kids, and none of it adds up to anything useful. They know it too, and as the days of training go on they get quieter, both of them, until the night before their private sessions. Phillips smiles at Ryan and tells him to show them what he learned from Rokia, make them think he can do what she did. Safiatou is sitting next to Rokia and Rokia feels her go tense when Phillips looks at her. "You too," he says, and he's been distant and stoic the whole time but his voice is soft now. "You're a clever kid, you just show them what you've learned." Safiatou smiles a little and nods, and sits up straight. "Good girl," Phillips says, reaching over to put a hand on her knee.

They head for bed, and as soon as the doors close Rokia spins to face Phillips. "What was that?" she asks, suddenly angry. "I thought you said--" Phillips holds up a hand and motions her out to the balcony.

"I thought you said they had no shot, that we weren't supposed to care?"

Phillips gives her a long, level look. "I didn't say you shouldn't care," he says, "I said you have to keep some distance."

"But why strategy talk all of a sudden if you think they're just going to die anyway?"

"They're not dead yet," Phillips says, and it comes out quick like it's automatic. "Matters to them." Rokia's eyes narrow. Phillips' voice stays even, "It's all we can do, Rokia."

She takes a deep breath and laughs, wonders again how in the hell she got here, leans over the railing and watches the photographers crowding around the doors looking for a shot of one of them leaving, thinks of the flashbulbs in her face last night. She has a night off, wonder of wonders, but someone will be going out who's worth photographing.

"What a ridiculous fucking Game," she says, half to herself, and Phillips gives her a sharp look and a shake of his head.

Rokia turns and leans against the railing, hands gripping tight. She's exhausted, dizzy, cold even though the night is warm, but suddenly everything is funny. Six floors above her and five below full of crazy victors trying to pull out more kids to join the Game. A whole compound, Gamesmakers and reporters and Caesar Flickerman and whatever unlucky people have to build the arenas, for what? It's ludicrous, ridiculous, kids like Phillips' friend the wire salesman asking for autographs from people just because they killed a bunch of teenagers.

Phillips is watching her, one eyebrow raised, and she shifts over, knocks their shoulders together. "Fucking ridiculous," she says again, leaning on him.

He shakes his head. "Come on," he says, and he puts a hand on her back when he straightens to move toward the door, steadying her but not trapping her, and Rokia's too tired to even care that he's babying her still, too tired to protest when he takes her to her room. She does step away then, it's her room and her space and she doesn't want anyone in it. He stays in the doorway. "Goodnight Rokia," he says, giving her a small smile. "Sleep, okay?"

She nods. "Yeah, Phillips," she says, "Goodnight."

She lies down on the bed, looks up at the ceiling. Even as exhausted as she is the expanse of the room, the soft bed, it's all too strange. She sighs, grabs a pillow and a blanket, curls up in the protected corner between it and the wall, and there she's asleep in minutes.

It's still dark when she wakes up, disoriented for a second until her mind slips into place. She pulls the blankets close around her shoulders and searches for something to drag her back toward sleep but it's too late, she's awake now and a million problems clamor for attention and her heartbeat kicks up until she reaches for the datapad she dropped on the bed last night, pulls up the schematics for the new line of racing engines that she'll work on today. The lights come on low as she shifts to sit up against the wall, wrapped in blankets, forcing her scattered thoughts to focus.

She hears Phillips's door open sometime later and climbs to her feet, showers, pulls on the softest clothes she can dig out of the closets. Phillips is already sitting at the table when she goes out, but the kids aren't up yet. She sets the datapad next to her plate as she pours coffee, wraps her hands around it and breathes in the steam for a minute before taking a sip. Phillips slides a bowl of oatmeal across the table. "Eat," he says, when she looks up. Rokia sets down her mug and picks up a spoon, stirring in the milk Phillips has poured over the top. He's watching her, almost challenging, and she eats, slowly, letting it settle into her stomach.

The kids come out later, take quiet places at the table and mumble good mornings. Rokia saves a smile for each of them, even if Ryan flushes and looks away, and Phillips asks them how they slept, reminds them again about their private sessions, holds their eyes serious and concerned and Rokia watches him watching them and wonders again how much he's faking.

After he walks them out he turns his attention back to her and Rokia meets his eyes, challenging. "You can't keep me from doing anything the entire time," she says, and his eyes flick to one side before he meets her gaze. "I have the day off tomorrow for interview prep, opening day is off and then everything else is provisional" she tries not to grind her teeth on the word, the way Linsea acts like it would be an inconvenience for the kids to live longer than she had planned.

Phillips looks wary, like she's not going to like what he has to say, so she leans back in her chair and crosses her arms. "What?"

"You can help with interview prep if you want to," he says, "but you are not watching the opening."

This again.

"Phillips," she says, trying for calm, logical, "we owe them the best chance they can possibly have and that means both of us working to get them out."

Phillips' jaw sets and he looks over her shoulder out the window before he answers her. "Rokia, they're not going to make it out."

"You keep saying that!" So much for calm and logical. Rokia stands up and resents the fact that even so she's looking up at him. "How do you know?"

"Because I do," he says, and as she opens her mouth to reply he continues. "Because I've been doing this 23 years and I know hopeless causes when I see them." He's not yelling. She almost wishes he would.

"But how can you be sure?" It comes out small and uncertain instead of the challenge she wants it to be, but he's staring her in the eye and his shoulders are tight, so she backs away and pulls her arms around herself but she has to ask. She has to.

He backs off. Of course he does, steps back, literally, runs a hand over his face. "Look," he says, flat. "I didn't want to show you this but…" he shrugs, picks up a folder, pushes the dishes aside to make room.

Rokia sits next to him, looks at the pages marked "Games personnel only" and listens while he explains what they've been saying about her win and Annie Cresta's before her and Eibhlin's before that and how they need a return to tradition and just what that means. It twists in her stomach, the Games as--just that really, nothing more than strategy, odds and angles and what the viewers and sponsors want to see, and it makes her head spin but in the end she slumps down in her chair because she sees it, sketched out in black and white and not just Phillips and his gut feelings and protective instinct. He has data.

He finishes the explanation, just as dry as Beetee explaining circuit diagrams, and he must see it on her face, the fight drained out leaving what? It's hopeless, then, so what the hell are they even doing here?

"They're going to die," she says, and her voice doesn't even sound like hers.

"Yes." Phillips says, "But listen to me Rokia," and there's steel in his voice but it's cold strength not hot fury, and her eyes slide towards him, "They are not dead yet."

Rokia watches his face, wonders how many times he's told himself that, wonders how many times she'll have to tell herself, not just this year, not just these two kids she's ferrying off to the Arena. It's too big, too much, and she shakes her head, presses her nails into her palms under the table, focuses on each sheet of paper in front of her until she can trust herself to nod, look over at Phillips and grit out the words. "You're right." He gives her a rueful half smile, and she looks away again.

"Okay," she nods again, flips through the papers. "I have a couple hours before I go to prep, what do we need to tell them for the interviews?"

--

Phillips looks at the kids standing in the middle of the room, nervous and overwhelmed after a morning with Linsea teaching them how to comport themselves in a public venue. He'd sent them there first, hoping he could get Rokia to sleep for a few hours, but she'd just glared at him and pulled out her notebook and her datapad and mumbled something about a next job. It's starting to become a problem, she's not eating enough or sleeping enough, spending too much time wearing herself out on the treadmills in the gym or poring over her work. Apart from her jobs and the gym he doesn't think she's left the floor, and it's not like he wants her drinking all day with Haymitch but it'd probably do her good to see someone who isn't him and isn't Capitol.

But as she points out every time he tries to bring it up, they have a job to do.

She mostly watches as he asks the kids what they like about the Capitol, some innocuous-sounding questions about back home, whatever he thinks Caesar might throw at them tomorrow. Then he glances at Rokia and sighs. He wishes he could send her out but he knows exactly how that'll go.

"And what did you think when Rokia won last year?" Her eyes flick towards him but she hides her surprise and her smile doesn't waver. The little girl bites her lip and looks down, embarrassed, and the boy flushes, going red to his ears.

"Ryan?" The kid glances at Rokia, looks back at Phillips.

"I, uh," he stammers, and Phillips does not roll his eyes because he's seen enough tongue-tied 15-year-olds that he can guess what's going to happen next. "I thought she was really great and really smart and um, I was just really happy she won and I wanted to meet her sometime." It comes out all in a rush while he's looking at his feet. Phillips takes a breath but he knows Caesar will eat this up so he continues.

"And now that you did get to meet her what do you think?" Rokia raises one eyebrow, just a little, and Phillips returns it. She sits stock-still and a year ago, six months ago, he'd be able to see her discomfort but now her posture betrays nothing. Ryan, on the other hand, is shifting in his chair and looking around for escape routes.

"Um, I…she's…she's really nice and she's great and um, she taught me how to make traps like she did and it was really cool."

Phillips sighs. The crowd will love it, is the thing, if they can just understand what he's saying. "That's good," he says, no longer playing Caesar. "They'll like that, you just have to talk more clearly." The kid's still staring at his feet, and he glances up at Phillips for a second, careful not to look anywhere near Rokia, and then he nods.

Phillips looks over at Rokia and she sees what he's asking before he has to say anything. "I'm glad I got to meet you, Ryan," she says, light and friendly, "just too bad it had to be here."

Ryan looks up at her then, just for a second. She smiles at him. "It's okay, tell Caesar about it, they'll like it." He nods.

The girl is easier: she liked Rokia because she's the first Victor District 6 has had since she was born, she likes the way Rokia helps her out here, just like her big sister at home. She's overawed, amazed at the lights and sounds and smells in the Capitol, when even the city in Six was new for her, and there's no way she'll be anything but cute and forgettable so he leaves it at that.

Finally Phillips tells them they're ready, and they disappear into their rooms while Rokia heads for prep.

He sleeps restlessly, wakes up when she comes in because she bumps into something and swears under her breath. When he goes into the hall she's leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, dressed for a Capitol party but with her clothes rumpled and her makeup smeared.

"Rokia," he says, soft, "let's get you to bed."

She stands up straight, bracing herself against the wall with one hand. Stares at him for a second while she blinks herself alert. "Yeah," she says, voice rough, "right, okay."

He hands her her pajamas, waits while she showers, and when she comes out she looks a little better. She won't meet his eyes, keeps her distance, but she crawls into bed and pulls the blankets up to her ears and he watches her until her breathing evens out and her shoulders relax into sleep.

It's only four hours later when Linsea shows up and asks for her, and Phillips wants to tell the woman to go to hell but the kids are watching so he just smiles and nods and goes to Rokia's room. He stands in the doorway and says her name, softly. She jolts upright, turning towards the door with wild, scared eyes for a long moment until she sees him and drops her head into her hands, shuddering breaths making her shoulders heave. When she looks back up at him it's with the pleasant smile she usually saves for Linsea and he almost flinches. "What do you need, Phillips?" she asks.

"Linsea's asking for you," he says, "Sorry for waking you up."

She's climbing out of bed already. "It's fine, Phillips, I should be up anyway."

She comes out a few minutes later, with smiles for the kids and for Linsea and pours herself a cup of coffee while the kids finish their breakfast and head out for prep.

Once they're gone Linsea shakes her head. "Well, I guess they can't all be like you, dear," she says, looking at Rokia. Phillips waits for a flash of anger but it doesn't come, Rokia smiles instead, sits at the table to pick apart a piece of toast while Linsea gives her a schedule of appearances for the day. Phillips will go along for most of them, typical mentor stuff, talking up the tributes and questions about strategies and what they think the Arena will look like. What it's like to mentor for the first time. At least none of it is personal this time, not really.

But it's still interview after interview and Rokia is pleasant and charming and smiles for the cameras and then goes blank-faced and silent between them. When they get back to the Six floor she disappears for a long hot shower before they go to prep. She's going to a party afterwards, and Phillips wants more than ever to wrap her up and put her to bed instead but it's impossible. Impossible and he should know better but his girl is slipping away from him and it's too much to ask not to want to pull her back.

They meet the kids backstage and Rokia melts, as always, under their awed stares, fixes invisible flaws in their outfits, hugs the little girl and smiles at the boy and tells them they'll do great and she means it, she's still giving them her real smiles and her soft, Six-flat vowels, not the clipped, careful accent she kept through all the interviews, the one Linsea's told these kids to use, he's sure.

The interviews drag as they always do, and Phillips can't bring himself to pay attention, not when it isn't going to matter. Rokia's watching with a distant look in her eyes that makes him wonder if she's thinking about the interviews from last year, makes him remember trying to coax something real out of the stubborn, silent kid she'd been.

The stylist's dressed the girl to look like Rokia did, and when she says Rokia's like her big sister the crowd sighs and Caesar beams while the cameras seach out Rokia's pained smile, which clears into a wide grin when she notices. By the time Ryan stumbles through talking about his teenaged crush she's ready with a knowing, indulgent smile that makes people laugh. She meets Ryan's eye though, nods encouragingly, and he gets through without major embarrassment.

After it's all over they meet the kids, Rokia hugging the girl while Phillips just rests a hand on the boy's shoulder and says "Well done." When they get upstairs Phillips has them sit in the common room and looks from one to the other, serious.

"Tomorrow," he says, and they both freeze. "When the buzzer goes off you get to the Cornucopia, quick as you can, and you get one of the backpacks." Rokia's standing behind the kids and he looks up at her sharp intake of breath. She's glaring at him, furious, and he spares a second to stare right back, shake his head. She doesn't move.

It's Ryan who asks the obvious question. "But isn't that dangerous? Rokia ran away last year."

Phillips nods, gravely. "But the Arena will be different this year. Last year's Arena had lots of opportunities to make weapons, find supplies, get water. They never do that two years in a row." The boy nods, and there, the fear is coming through, the panic that usually hits once there's no more little things to focus on, only tomorrow and the Arena. The girl's crying silently and Rokia gives Phillips another fierce glare and goes to sit next to her, holding her close. Phillips lets his voice go soft and reassuring. "You're little, Safiatou," he says, "and you're quick. They probably won't even notice you." It's true, he thinks. The first wild minutes--whoever kills her probably won't give her a second glance. "And you're quick, too," he says, looking at the boy who's still trying to drag up enough anger to drown the panic. "Don't stay and try to fight, just grab the supplies and get out."

They agree, eventually, subdued and terrified but it's better if they think there's a plan, that once they get those first supplies he'll be able to help them out. Rokia gives the girl a long hug when he sends them to bed, then as soon as the doors close she spins to face him, furious. He motions her out to the balcony and sets his jaw for the onslaught he knows is coming.

"They're going to get killed!" she spits. "You told them--it's suicide and you fucking know it!"

"It's better this way," he says, and he should have known better than to think she'd actually accepted how hopeless it really is. "Better to end it quick than to drag it out until, what, they die of dehydration on day four? They starve in the second week? The Careers find them and decide to have some fun? Because those are the options, Rokia." He shouldn't snap at her, he knows he shouldn't, and he feels bad when she flinches back, but she is too smart not to understand.

She's silent a long time, staring out over the city, and he leaves her be, watches as the lights come on around the city center, as the music starts up at the party she'll be at later, and he remembers telling her last year to run, to get away as fast as she could, to find water first of all, remembers her dark eyes fixed, intent on his. When she looks up at him now there are tears in her eyes and she swipes at them impatiently. "You're right," she says dully, "I just…" she hunches in on herself. "I hate this," she whispers, and walks inside before he can react.

She disappears into her room, comes out a few minutes later wobbling slightly on high heels. "Licina said to stop by Remake for touchups," she says, as though it was just an ordinary night, whatever that could be. "I'll see you in the morning."

He barely has time to call out a goodbye before she's gone.

--

Rokia thought she was used to Capitol parties, thought she was over being shocked, but every time they manage to surprise her. The first time a drunk, sentimental woman tells her how adorable her tributes looked tonight she has to pinch herself hard to keep from saying something stupid. The tenth time she just smiles and sips at her drink. Phillips has warned her and Linsea has warned her to be careful not to drink too much, but the man she's with keeps bringing her brightly colored sweet-smelling things that she has to try to "forget" when he looks away. He's young and rich and stupid and as the night goes on and he keeps drinking he drapes his arms over her, affectionante, stealing kisses like he thinks it's romantic.

She tries to escape into something else but all her mind throws at her are images of the tributes at the bloodbath, years of seeing it on TV and last year in front of her and no reason to think tomorrow will be anything but more of the same. Phillips' calm voice for the kids and the venom in it when he talked to her and it's sick to be standing here with tittering idiots talking about odds and longshots and favorites as though it wasn't all blood and gore and pain and death.

When her phone finally chimes that the driver's arrived, she's more than usually grateful. She lets herself be pulled close for a last kiss, then slips back into her clothes and out the door. There are still people on the streets even though the sun will be up before long, laughing and stumbling home through streets so different from the ones she grew up with they might as well be a different world. The screen in the Training Center lounge is playing clips from the interviews and Games highlights and interviews with people on the street, radiating excited anticipation, and Rokia thinks about the kids in their beds waiting and wants to scream.

Phillips is awake when she gets in, sitting in the common room and looking out the window towards the City Center. She nods at him and slips into her room, out of her clothes and into the shower, letting the hot water pound on the sore muscles in her back and burn away the worst of the headache behind her eyes.

They'll be calling the kids soon, getting them ready and flying them out to the Arena and for all that she's wound up and restless and wants to run until she can't breathe she should be there for them now, it's the last chance they'll get to see a friendly face.

She's not thinking about that.

Phillips hasn't moved when she gets out, he looks over at her and for a second he looks tired and hurt and sad, and then he shifts, smiles ruefully, and says good morning.

She paces the room, if she sits down she'll get tired and there's not time to sleep, she needs to say goodbye to the kids and keep her cool and then before long they'll head down to the control room for the start, and she has to be strong in front of all the other Victors, the ones she's seen at parties and the ones she's never met, and she has to be ready for when the countdown ends and the kids--well. Like Phillips said, at least this way it will be quick.

Then she'll let herself be tired. Not now.

She stops pacing when the door opens and Linsea steps in with the stylists, all of them looking grumpy and hungover. Linsea settles her shoulders and smiles, bright and false, and Rokia sighs. Phillips goes to wake Ryan and she stops in front of Safiatou's door, taking deep breaths until she's sure she'll stay calm.

"Babygirl, it's time," she says, and Safiatou blinks her eyes open so fast Rokia's sure she wasn't asleep. Dark eyes, like Allie's, wide and scared and looking to her, and Rokia goes and hugs her one last time, stroking her hair and holding her close and not saying anything because what is there to say? Linsea calls out to her, finally, and she stands and pulls the girl to her feet. "You can do this," she says, letting her voice go hard. "You're a good girl, and strong, and you're going to make your Mama proud, okay?"

Safiatou nods, takes deep breaths, and walks out the door with her head high.

Rokia stays in her room for a minute, hands shaking and stomach clenching, and then presses her fists into her eyes and stands up.

"No." Phillips isn't even arguing.

"But Phillips, I'm her mentor, I have to be there."

"And what in the twelve districts are you going to do there?"

She doesn't have an answer to that. "I owe it to them."

"No, you don't."

"Phillips!" She's aware, dimly, that she's acting childish, but why won't he listen?

"Rokia, listen to me," he says, and she crosses her arms and meets his eyes. "You know what's going to happen just as well as I do," he says, "And you're upset enough already, you don't need wo watch it happen."

"I'm fine" she spits, shoving down the tears and the exhaustion and the creeping panic and focusing on the anger.

He just looks at her, and she meets his eyes until he finally turns away.

"Rokia, please," he says finally, all the anger drained out of his voice. "For me, then, will you please stay here?"

She opens her mouth to tell him no, to ask what the hell he thinks he's doing, asking her that, like she owes him--but she does. She owes him more than she'll ever be able to pay back, damn him, and he's got a right to call in a favor if anyone does.

Besides, she can always watch it on TV from up here.

"Fine," she says, and drops into a chair, pours another cup of the fancy Capitol coffee, and they sit in silence for a while until the door chime sounds. Phillips doesn't look surprised, just gets up to open the door.

And it's Lyme, from District Two, and what the hell is she doing here?

"Rokia, this is Lyme," Phillips says, and Rokia should probably not be snapping at a woman who's twice her size and a Career Victor, but it's been a long week.

"I know, we met on the Tour. What's she doing here?"

Lyme's smiling a little bit, and Rokia isn't sure if she's being nice or laughing at her but she doesn't really care that much right now.

"She's going to sit with you while I'm downstairs."

Rokia stands up and walks over toward the windows because it's that or throw her hot coffee at them, and she's not crazy enough to do that. "I don't need a fucking babysitter, Phillips," she says, spinning to face them. And now Lyme is definitely smiling, looking between her and Phillips.

Phillips looks like he's about to lift off the ground out of sheer frustration, and it's Lyme who responds. "Sure, kid," she says, "because you're not going to turn on the TV as soon as he's out of the room."

Rokia opens her mouth, closes it, and Lyme nods. "Thought so." Then she turns to Phillips. "I got this," she says, and Phillips doesn't quite manage to hide his look of relief.

"See you later, Rokia," he says, turning towards the door.

She's almost frustrated enough to let him leave without a response but she's seventeen, not seven, so she grits out "See you," and a lopsided half-smile.

When he's out the door she glares at Lyme. "Why do you people all insist on treating me like I'm fragile?"

Lyme shakes her head, still with that smile like Rokia's glare doesn't even matter. "Just treating you like I would any of my kids," she says, crossing the room in three long strides to grab the remote and take a seat on the couch.

Rokia stays standing, raises one eyebrow. "Oh really?"

"Sure," Lyme says, relaxed. "Nobody needs to see that their first year out."

"I bet you watched," Rokia says, and she's still angry and confused and everything else, but some of the fight's started to drain out of her limbs.

"Nope," Lyme says. "Kid, nobody in Two watches their first year."

"Really?" She's actually curious now. "Not even Enobaria?"

Lyme actually laughs at that. "Especially not Enobaria."

"Huh."

"Yeah, no special treatment here."

"I'm supposed to be their mentor, though," Rokia grumbles. "It's not right, Phillips doing it by himself."

Lyme sighs. "Yeah," she says, "but he's been doing it on his own a long time, one more year won't kill him."

"But--"

"Look, kid, there isn't anything you're going to say to convince me," Lyme says, "You're welcome to try, or we can do something more interesting."

"Like what?" Rokia's curious, despite herself.

Lyme grins. "Well, you kinda look like you want to hit something."

Rokia laughs. "I know better than to try that."

Lyme gets to her feet. "Come on," she says, "It'll be fun."

--

Phillips gets into the elevator, leans against the wall, and closes his eyes. It's more than just a lack of sleep making his limbs feel like they're made of lead. He's used to the feeling by now, going back up to a newly silent floor and packing up anything the kids left in their rooms before the Avoxes clean them out. Two more kids to add to the tally, and it never gets easier but he knows how to handle it by now.

It's the one he managed to pull out that's making it harder this time. He won't even have to tell her, she'll know, she'll read it on his face, and he's not sure if he'll get fury or blank stares or something new, not sure which he'd prefer, but it's not going to be easy, because it never is.

He opens the door to the Six floor and walks in to silence. As he steps further in he sees Lyme, sitting with a pile of papers in her lap, looking back at him with a wry smile. He opens his mouth to say something and she shakes her head, shifts her work and gets to her feet to meet him. That's when he sees the pile of blankets on the couch, only the top of Rokia's head emerging.

Lyme follows him into his room and he turns to her, eyebrows raised. "How in the twelve districts did you actually convince her to sleep?" He gives her a sharp look. "If you fed my Victor sleeping pills I swear, I will--"

"Come on, Phillips," Lyme says, exasperated, "I wouldn't do that to your kid without talking to you first. Not that I don't think it'd be a good idea--"

"No." Phillips shuts that down right away. There will be no more drug-addict Victors in Six, not on his watch. "So how'd you get her to sleep? I've been trying since we got here and she just tells me to go to hell."

Lyme's smiling a little. "I confiscated her datapad."

Phillips just stares at her, and Lyme's grin gets wide enough that he must look ridiculous, but he can't imagine the shitstorm he'd unleash if he tried that. "She let you?"

"Oh, no," Lyme says. "She's got a pretty good set-you-on-fire glare, doesn't she?" Phillips smiles grudgingly at that. Lyme doesn't seem phased by any of it though, just mildly amused. "I wore her out pretty good, too," she adds, almost as an aside.

Oh, shit.

"She was worn out already, what did you do?"

Lyme shakes her head. "Phillips, come on, I'm not gonna hurt your girl. Just taught her some training forms."

Phillips runs a hand down his face. Sometime in the last year his life stopped making any damn sense and apparently he should just get used to it because it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.

But his brilliant, frustrating, obstinate girl is asleep on the couch in the other room, so apparently he can relax a bit for now.

Lyme sees it, the moment he backs down, and nods. "Your two are out?" she aks, and Phillips swallows, nods.

"Yeah. It's gonna be a hell of a year," he says, "desert arena, nothing but maces for weapons." Something flashes on Lyme's face before she locks it down. "Your two are fine," he adds, as if there were any question, but Lyme's no longer paying much attention.

She nods, runs a hand through her hair. "I gave your kid my phone number," she says, "Just in case." Phillips nods, as though this was normal. He doesn't have Lyme's personal number. "Tell her I'll see her around."

"Yeah," Phillips says, absently, then looks back at Lyme. "Thank you."

"No problem, Phillips," Lyme says, and heads out.

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