kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Approaching equilibrium in an underdamped system

There's some things even a mentor can't fix. Lyme decides it's time to call in the professionals.

Probably needs a trigger warning for eating disorders, in the context of recovery and Rokia being, unsurprisingly, somewhat resistant to the whole concept.

(Also note I've wrapped in what was initially posted as "Took it all gracefully on the chin" with minor continuity edits, because it fits here now.)


Rokia’s got her arms crossed over her chest, hands fisted in the sleeves of Lyme’s sweatshirt. She pulled out presentable clothes this morning, so her jeans are clean and her shirt fits properly but she looked at herself in the mirror and shuddered and yanked the sweatshirt over her head anyway.

They can make her go but they can’t make her like it. She tries to pull herself together in the car ride down, sitting next to Lyme with her knees curled to her chest and her face hidden. When they get out, she takes deep breaths, sets her shoulders, smiles, but they walk into the building and she just can’t keep it up.

Lyme’s walking next to her, a half-step ahead through the wide tiled hallways and there’s kids walking around, small groups of tall, strong teenagers chattering and laughing on the landings. They watch, out of the corners of their eyes and the conversations keep up but their eyes flick towards Lyme, towards her, when they think nobody’s watching. It seems like a long way to the office but it probably isn’t. They step in and it’s quiet, at least, a few chairs and one receptionist, offices to the sides. Rokia sits, while Lyme talks in hushed voices with the receptionist. She relaxes a little and tries again to pull on the face she wears for talking to bosses and political advisors and guys in the shop who think she’s just a cute little girl. A little better this time. Deep breaths, is the trick, smile, hands still in her lap.

Lyme’s brought a thick file along with her and Rokia glares at it. The Peacekeepers kept files on all of them, apparently, Lyme’s got this one and Selene’s seen it and so has Dash and Rokia told Lyme she might as well bring it along since it would save time. It’s her life for the 4 years since her Games, plus some mostly fictional background, in a file stamped “Secret” but for all of them to read. She would be pissed about that, probably, if there weren’t so many other things to be pissed about.

Lyme comes back to wait with her and she’s not saying anything, she’s just there. There’s not really much to say since Lyme and Beetee said it all last night, before Lyme took Rokia’s motorcycle keys and told her she had to come, no kidding, and Beetee tried to explain why it was a good idea.

She would feel bad about spending the entire night after that banging around in Lyme’s garage, but Lyme told her not to leave the house. In the voice that says “I know you ignore me half the time and I’m fine with that but this time I mean it,” and Rokia might be pissed off but it’s Lyme’s house, it’s Lyme who pushed to bring her sisters here, so there’s some lines Rokia won’t cross.

Still, if Lyme wanted to sleep well she should have thought that through a little better.

But it’s quiet in here and nobody’s watching and it’s easier now, to push her hood back, shove the sleeves up to study her fingernails, press bright red crescents into her wrist and settle down into herself. “Rokia?” A woman calls her name, stretching it into three syllables the way the escort did at the Reaping, and Rokia stands. Lyme hands her the file. When they get into the office she hands the woman the file. “Most of it’s in there,” she says, and her voice is sharp and bitter but that’ll have to do. “Lyme says I should talk to you about it, but this’ll save time.” The woman opens the folder and flips through it, quiet. “Or, you know, if you watched the hearings, I hear they were very popular television.”

When Rokia gets out of her session she’s keyed up and angry and the nausea curling in her stomach is half anxiety and half exhaustion and all fucking obnoxious. People shouldn’t ask her stupid questions about how much she eats or when she sleeps or what she does in her down time or whether she thinks about hurting herself or whether she has nightmares or flashbacks or why she walks around with a switchblade in her pocket--and they especially shouldn’t ask any of those idiot fucking questions if they’re trying to help. Intake assessment, whatever, the woman ought to be a lawyer, she sounds just like the idiots in the Capitol during the hearings, but instead of talking about the facts she asks about stuff that’s personal. Rokia can tune out and talk about fucking people for money she never saw like it happened to someone else if she really has to, but somehow “inadequate caloric intake” and “persistent insomnia” and “dissociation” and “hypervigilance” can sound like so much Three-speak nonsense and set her stomach churning all at once. If Lyme wanted her out she just had to say so, there’s no point trying to prove to Rokia that she’s too crazy to stay here, Lyme’s the one who decided the Victors’ Village in Two was a better place for Rokia in the first place.

And okay, fine, it’s better here than the Capitol, and Allie and Kadi are starting to settle in and that’s great, but if they don’t want her, well, she was doing just fine on her own and she can sleep on the floor in the shop until she finds her own place, or if they kick her out of there, too, she’ll call Matt and hop the next train to Six, or maybe see if Heidi and Marc want another pair of hands in the quarry. She doesn’t need these people trying to fix her—ask the people who still depend on her to do her job: she’s not broken.

She should probably try to be a little more convincing about proving that, but when Adriana opens the door for her and shows her out to where Lyme’s waiting she crosses her arms and glares at the floor, the walls, everywhere to avoid the questions Lyme’s failing to hide in her eyes. The two women trade glances over Rokia’s head (and why, just for the record, is everyone in this fucking district so tall?), and Lyme asks if she’s ready to go. Rokia just nods. It’s not the silent treatment, she’s not that passive-aggressive, but Rokia’s spent the last hour talking and she’s out of words. Lyme catches her eye just for a second and Rokia bites her lip and breathes out. “Yeah, let’s go.”

She’s afraid Lyme will want to talk about it, will ask how it went, because the whole thing was Lyme’s stupid idea, but they ride up to the Village in silence while Rokia counts down the seconds until she can get out and pull on her running shoes because she can’t stay still any longer. But when they get to Lyme’s house Selene is at the front, leaning against her bike and grinning while they pull up. “I get my keys back?” Rokia asks, her eyes flicking towards Lyme.

“Yeah,” Lyme says, then pauses. “That was the deal.”

Rokia figured it was an excuse to keep her home more than an actual incentive, but for once she’s glad to be wrong. They get out of the car and Rokia goes over to Selene. Lyme comes back out with Rokia’s helmet and keys, and Rokia relaxes a little.

“Ready to go?” Selene asks, and Rokia’s not stupid, but if they’re going to play it like Selene just decided she wanted to go riding today she’s not asking questions. At least it gets her out of the house.

Rokia leads out of town, along one of the old abandoned mining roads they’ve found. She’s pushing it, riding as fast as she can get away with and Selene has dropped back just a bit by the time they get to the quarry. This one’s been left to fill with water, a lake so clear they see all the way to the bottom despite how deep it is. Rokia’s leaning against the bike watching the water when Selene comes up.

“Damn, girl,” Selene says, “You’re in a hurry today.”

Rokia sighs, but the adrenaline and the wind in her face have taken the edge off. “Guess I just wanted to get out of there,” she says, shrugs. She doesn’t have the screen-training Selene does, but she’s got enough practice playing casual that she hopes it’s at least somewhat convincing. The way Selene looks at her she sort of doubts it.

“Hey, I get that,” Selene says, “I about ran off when they made me go to therapy.”

Rokia’s eyebrows go up without thinking, and she glances sidelong at Selene. “It’s bullshit,” she says. “I hate it.”

Selene smiles, too small and tight to be playing games, and runs a hand through her hair. “I hated it too. I dunno, though, it’s…give it some time, maybe, it’s not all bullshit.”

Rokia raises an eyebrow. “Who fed you that line?” she asks, because that’s not the Selene she knows.

Selene doesn’t flinch, she’s too well-trained for that, but she does pause, so ha. “Claudius told me--nothing much, just, you had to go and you were pissed about it and might want to get out after.” It’s awkward and terrible and what the fuck is wrong with these people, always knowing each other’s business? But then Selene grins for real. “Look, whatever, it sucks, okay? Let’s go,” she says, pulling her helmet back on and kicking the starter harder than is really necessary, and Rokia remembers why she likes Selene as the dust flies and they’re off again.

--

Twice a week she has to go see the stupid therapist, because Lyme says so, and she sits in a room with this pretty, well-dressed woman and talks about--nothing much. What she did in the shop, her sisters, Heidi and Marc, Sara sometimes, and if nothing else, after the first day Adriana doesn't push. She asks questions, sometimes, mostly about fucking food and sleep as though it mattered, and Rokia shrugs them off and tries not to curl in on herself because that's a ridiculous reaction and also a complete fucking tell and she's trying not to be obvious because who knows what this woman is going to do, who she'll talk to, and Rokia isn't going to lose the best home she has because someone decides she's fucked up and doesn't belong.

But it's not so bad, really, until Adriana brings her into a different room and someone else is standing there, an older woman with grey hair and eyes that see absolutely everything. She barely hears Adriana telling her the woman's a medical doctor, and after that it's all rushing in her ears because the only doctors Rokia's ever seen were in the Capitol, a couple times a year for checkups and shots she never really understood, in cold, bright rooms where she stared at the ceiling and disappeared inside her head so she wouldn't scream while they poked and prodded her like she was a malfunctioning piece of machinery.

"Rokia," Adriana says, and it sounds distant and unreal and then there's pressure on her hand and Adriana is pressing on her fingertips, one after the other and Rokia blinks and looks up at her. "Rokia, you're okay, we just want to make sure you're healthy, you don't have to do anything you don't want to."

Rokia takes a deep breath, shaky and stuttering, then another, smoother, and pulls herself back. Adriana lets go and steps away. The doctor hasn't moved but the lines between her eyebrows say "worried" not "angry" and Rokia is standing in the middle of the room and nobody's touching her, nobody's asked her to strip down yet, and she is massively overreacting. Shit.

"Okay," Rokia says, and her voice still sounds strange but she's not gritting her teeth so small steps. "Let's get this over with." She fingers the bottom of her sweatshirt (Lyme's sweatshirt, Lyme hasn't taken it back even if they are still spending most of their time together silent or sparring) and walks toward the examining table.

The doctor follows, staying in her peripheral vision and out of arm's reach and Rokia isn't going to hurt her, okay, she doesn't need to worry about that. Rokia sighs and pulls off her sweatshirt, reaching for the T-shirt underneath, but the doctor stops her. "You can leave that on," she says, and steps closer. "I'll be as quick as I can," she says, and reaches for a blood pressure cuff.

For all that Rokia is trying not to space out, she can't help disappearing a little, and she doesn't come back until the doctor comes back with a needle for drawing blood. The sting pulls her back and she watches the tube fill, dark red and beautiful in a weird way, and then the doctor turns to her case, hesitates, turns back.

"Do you want a contraceptive shot?" she asks.

Rokia shrugs. "Don't need it," she says. "Not fucking anybody." That's rude maybe, but she's never claimed she was nice.

The doctor almost looks amused, so apparently Rokia didn't offend her. "Some people like them because they stop menstrual cycles."

"Then my old one must still be working," Rokia says. "I haven't, since…" She can't quite remember. It'd been Capitol shots for so long she'd kind of forgotten she was supposed to.

Now the doctor gives her a careful look, checks her chart. "Hmmmmm." She glances at Adriana, who nods. "You can put your sweatshirt back on," she adds. "We're done."

Rokia does, grateful.

The whole thing's lasted maybe twenty minutes and she's supposed to stay with Adriana for an hour, so she's getting herself ready for a bunch more talking when they get to the office. But she's tired, and winding down from being admittedly more wound up than she'd like to be, and she lets herself curl up in the corner of the couch with her hood up and her hands hidden and her sweatshirt over her knees like the fabric will shield her from the questions she's sure are coming.

But Adriana just sits in her chair and says nothing, and Rokia closes her eyes and takes deep breaths until her heartbeat winds down, and when she looks back, Adriana's looking over some papers and not even paying attention--or at least faking it pretty well.

"You're not going to make me talk?" she asks finally.

"Nah," Adriana says, not looking up. "Not if you don't want to. One round of poking and prodding's probably enough for today."

Rokia huffs, she agrees but honestly, she's surprised Adriana's letting her get away with it.

"Anyway, I want to talk to you and Lyme together when she gets here."

Rokia glares. "Why?"

"Because you're underweight and that's a problem. And she's going to help with that."

"The fuck?" Oh, hey, that wasn't supposed to be out loud.

Adriana looks at her, serious. "You heard me."

"Since when do people tell me I should weigh more," Rokia wants to laugh. The one thing about her appearance nobody ever complained about and now that nobody's supposed to give a shit anymore they're upset about her being too thin. Fucking great.

Adriana purses her lips. "Since we care more about your health than what you look like," she says, and Rokia scowls and ducks her head, stops talking.

The receptionist calls when Lyme gets in, and pretty soon she's coming into the room, and Rokia looks at her, tall and strong and, well, huge. Rokia forgets that part sometimes because she's just Lyme but even standing loose and relaxed her arms are about the size of Rokia's legs--and whatever, it doesn't matter, it's just… Rokia shakes her head and sits up, stops thinking stupid shit and looks over at Adriana and then down at the floor because both of them are watching her and trying to pretend they aren't and she's not going to curl up like a baby anymore but she also can't quite manage to make eye contact.

The first part of the conversation is all medical terms like orthostatic hypotension and something about anxiety responses and pulse rates and amenhhorea and Rokia doesn't understand but Lyme's face goes blank which means she doesn't want to react in public so it's probably bad. And Adriana gives Lyme the let-me-dissassemble-your-brain look, and ha ha, serves her right.

But then it gets strange.

"You had starvation tests at the Centre, yes?" Adriana asks, bland, but with just the smallest current of anger running underneath.

Lyme looks startled, just for half a second, and nods.

"The first couple days suck, right? But then it gets easier for a while." Lyme nods again, and man, Careers are weird. "It's a coping mechanism. Dulls emotion, aids dissociation, reduces anxiety."

Lyme nods again, considering, and she doesn't look at Rokia but she's watching anyway, so Rokia holds herself still.

It's not like she doesn't eat, fuck's sake. Lyme's constantly trying to feed her more than she needs, it's just--whatever. It's fine.

But then they start talking about supplements and getting protein powder from the Centre-that-isn't-really, and meal plans and not letting her run and Rokia snaps her attention back long enough to glare at both of them. "This is stupid," she grits out, because they're taking this shit seriously? Really?

"No," Adriana says, "This is important."

Well isn't that fucking great.

They leave, finally, and drive up to Lyme's in silence, and Selene is at work so Rokia goes for her running gear and she's heading out the door when Lyme says "No." Rokia spins around.

"What the fuck no?" she spits, she's antsy and furious and they've been picking her apart and she needs to move.

"You heard Adriana, she said no running."

"Fuck that," Rokia says, and leaves.

She's ten minutes up the trail when she starts feeling guilty. She ignores it another half mile before she gives up and turns around, cursing the whole time. Lyme's sitting at the table when Rokia gets in, and she gives Rokia a bland look before heading to the kitchen. By the time Rokia's got her shoes off, Lyme's back with a glass of that neon-colored whatever it is that she drinks after workouts, and another glass that looks like milk but Rokia's willing to bet is that protein shit Adriana was talking about.

"Really?" Rokia says, eyeing both warily.

"Yep." Lyme crosses her arms. "And I let you take off this time but you pull that shit again and I'll come get you and bring you back. Around here we do what the doctors say."

Rokia raises an eyebrow. "Pretty sure Brutus doesn't go to the fucking doctor," Rokia says, and Lyme's smile is not nice at all.

"He damn well does or I drag him there," Lyme says, and Rokia gives up, takes the glasses and sits on the couch.

"You gotta drink them, not just stare at them," Lyme says, and Rokia drinks the neon whatever in one long pull, stares back at Lyme for a second before sipping at the other. It's sweet and gritty and gross and she makes a face, but Lyme just watches until she manages to finish that too. "Good." Lyme says, takes the empty cups to the kitchen, and Rokia pulls the blanket around her and curls up to stare at the wall for a while.

--

Lyme dishes out her meals after that, and Rokia learned pretty quick that when Lyme says neither of them are leaving the table till the food's gone, she means it. And that nothing short of a signed note from a doctor is going to convince her that these rules are unnecessary bullshit. Even at Marc and Heidi's, she gets her food dished out like she's younger than Kadi, and when she raises an eyebrow at Heidi she just gets a smile. "Lyme called," she says, leaves it at that, and Rokia's not about to pitch a fit in front of the girls, so…whatever.

It'd be fine if it wasn't so uncomfortable all the time, if it wasn't making her realize why people in the Capitol might want to drink something that made them throw up, if it wasn't making her feel sluggish and stupid and, after a couple of weeks, constantly on the verge of crying or screaming or who even knows what. If she wasn't wanting to crawl out of her skin even more than usual.

When Adriana asks how she's feeling Rokia wants to scream, and she's not going to do that, but she does glare, and shift in her seat, and doesn't try to sugar-coat it this time. "I feel like shit," she says. "This sucks."

Adriana sits back, smiles a little. "Yeah, it does," she says, and Rokia's wound-up-furious-confused and she wants out wants to move wants to punch someone for real, and she finally stands up and starts pacing because it's that or scream.

Adriana sits still and watches, just like she always does, and Rokia ignores her until she can come up with something to say. "Everybody wants to tell me what to do," she says, "Like I haven't been running my own life since I was fucking eight years old, and you'd think here it'd be different but turns out you and Lyme are just the fucking same as everyone else, you just want me to do what I'm told. Because I'm not good enough for you, just like I wasn't good enough for them, but at least I knew what they wanted me for."

Adriana's still got her calm face on, but her eyes have widened just a little, and Rokia's darkly pleased to note how hard she's having to work to keep that calm face. Of course they thought they were different, hell, Rokia thought they were different. And okay, sure, she's not being fair, nobody's forcing her to do anything horrible but--she's still not in control. Not really.

"Rokia," Adriana says, soft. "We just want you to be healthy."

"Yeah, sure," Rokia says, and her stomach's roiling, and she's burned off the irritated energy so she's fucking tired, again, and she drops onto the couch. "And when you're done fixing me?"

"You're not broken," Adriana says, and Rokia sucks in a hard breath. "And if you really, truly want to, you can walk out right now."

Rokia glares at her. "And Lyme will just drag me back here."

"Not if I tell her not to."

"She'll kick me out if I don't come."

"Did she say that?"

"No, she said she'd take my bike keys."

Adriana pauses, smiles. "I think you'd have to do a lot worse to get Lyme to kick you out."

Rokia looks skeptical, and Adriana's smile turns michevious when she continues. "You think Claudius and Misha were perfect, well-behaved kids when they came out of the Arena?"

Rokia can't help but smile a little at that, and she shakes her head.

"She's not kicking you out, Rokia, she'd never do that. I'm surprised she hasn't said so."

Rokia shrugs. "She did, I guess." She plays with the hem of Lyme's sweatshirt, the one she damn near lives in now it's not too hot, the one that swallows her completely and makes her feel safe, and she thinks about letting Lyme put her to bed and run fingers through her hair and Lyme swearing that she'd kill anyone who tried to hurt Rokia ever again--and that, that Lyme meant, Rokia's good at seeing lies, and maybe she wasn't telling Rokia to stay just so she could keep an eye on her until she figured out what she wanted Rokia for... maybe, maybe, maybe, who says anyone wants her anyway?

Adriana's watching her. "Ask her if she wants you to leave." Adriana says. "Ask her what she wants from you."

Rokia scowls. "That's rude. I shouldn't have to ask, I should be able to figure it out."

"Says who?" Adriana asks.

Rokia shrugs. "Everyone. It's just…how it works."

"Not everywhere," Adriana says. "Definitely not here."

Rokia raises an eyebrow, suspicious. "When she gets mad I'm making you pay my rent in town," she says, and well, she's not sure she actually believes it'll make Lyme kick her out, just, well. Contingencies.

"You're on," Adriana says. "But only if you promise to ask."

"Fine," Rokia says, and it's probably a trick, but oh well. She might as well.

She saves it until they've walked in the door because she doesn't want Lyme to get pissed and crash the car or something, but may as well get it over with. She plants her feet, back to the door and lets Lyme walk past her toward the kitchen (because she probably has to eat something, fucking again) before she takes a deep breath and steps off the platform.

"Lyme?" she asks.

Lyme turns, confused for a second before she hides it. "Yeah?"

Now she's not sure what exactly the question was supposed to be, but they're standing there, face to face, and she has to say something. "Why are you doing this?" is what she settles for.

"Doing what?" Lyme asks, watching her, careful.

"Letting me stay here, finding a place for my sisters, making me go see Adriana, making me follow all the stupid rules…" That's most of it, anyway, the part she can find words for.

Lyme's fingers twitch but she doesn't move, and her face doesn't change, just goes still. There's enough time before she answers that Rokia starts to regret asking, but then Lyme takes a breath and looks her right in the eye.

"You're here because you're my kid," she says, "and that's just how it goes." Rokia bites her lip. It sounds too easy. "The rest of it--Rokia, I want you to be happy, and healthy, and this is the only way I know to get there."

Rokia looks away. "But--" she shouldn't push, she really shouldn't, but she started pulling and she's going to see where the wire leads, now. "But what do you want from me?"

"From you? Nothing at all, kiddo, doesn't go that way. You can do anything you want, so long as you're happy and safe, I don't give a damn what it is."

Rokia crosses her arms over her chest, frustrated, and it leaves her open if Lyme gets mad, but it's not like she could really do anything anyway. "It doesn't work like that," she mumbles. "Everybody wants something."

Lyme sighs. "That's how it works with me."

"You just haven't figured out what you want," Rokia says.

"Nope," Lyme responds, calm.

"Or I just haven't been enough of a problem for you to want me out yet."

"Rokia." Lyme says, fierce, and Rokia's eyes meet hers without thinking, because that's a voice you listen to. "There is nothing, not one thing, you can do to make me kick you out. There's nothing you have to do to keep me here. You're stuck with me, kid, may as well get used to it."

Rokia's watching for tells, she always knew the twitch of Sal's mouth that meant he liked her but he couldn't give her more than a salary or Magda would scream, knew the look on Mom's face that meant no, there wasn't grocery money today, and she had better take the baby before Mom forgot she was holding it, she knew the look Phillips had that meant she should back off because she was making him feel guilty. She thought she could read Lyme pretty well, but there's nothing there that says that she's telling anything but the truth.

"You don't really mean that," she spits.

"I really, really do," Lyme says, and that's it, the electricity under her skin is too much and Rokia clenches her fists at her side and steps forward, aiming a kick at Lyme's shin, and she hasn't taken her boots off so it'll hurt, and it's childish and mean but she needs to find the edge, can't stand not knowing what she has to do to keep the peace around here, and maybe it's better if she makes Lyme mad enough to kick her out, at least then she'll know where she stands.

But Lyme steps back out of range, catches the follow-up punch Rokia aims at her ribs, blocks the next kick with a foot to Rokia's calf, and she won't let Rokia hit her but she doesn't try to strike back, and eventually Rokia gets frustrated and stops.

"What are you doing?" Rokia asks, crossing her arms again.

"Nothing you can do is going to make me hurt you," Lyme says. "Nothing is going to make me walk away. But I'm looking out for you, because some things I know better than you, and one of them is that you can't just keep pushing this shit back, it'll kill you, Rokia, and I don't want that to happen."

"I survived the fucking Games and the fucking War and I don't need you to tell me what'll kill me." Rokia spits back, and okay fine she can't fight Lyme, she knew that already, she can't do anything Lyme doesn't let her, she's fucking hopeless and Lyme's in charge of her entire fucking life and it's not fair that she's finally truly an adult and now she's got someone feeding her and taking care of her and telling her what to do.

Where were all these people when she was a kid and might have actually wanted them?

"No," Lyme says, pulling Rokia back, and she sounds sad, almost. "You don't. But Rokia, I get it, okay, it's hard to trust someone that much." Rokia looks up, sharp. "But I got there, and I'm going to wait right here until you do, too."

Well. If Lyme's anything, she's stubborn as fuck, so maybe Rokia can start to believe that. "And what if I don't want any of this?" she asks, but some of the venom's starting to drain out. "What if I want to be in charge of my own damn life?"

Lyme sighs. "Kiddo, the door's not locked. I'm not going to force you to stay if you really want to leave. I'm not going to force you to do anything, that's not what this is about. But Rokia, I do want you to try, with Adriana, with all of this, because I know it's hard but I know it can help."

"Oh yeah?" Rokia asks, "How would you know?"

"Because I had to do it too."

That brings Rokia up short. "Really? Why?"

Lyme smiles. "Because my mentor made me go."

Rokia blinks. It's hard to imagine Lyme in Rokia's place, a kid with a mentor, and harder still to imagine anyone making her do anything. But Lyme doesn't lie. "You didn't hate it?"

Lyme actually laughs. "Oh, no, I definitely hated it."

"So--"

"But it helped."

Rokia scowls, looks down, scuffs her boot over the floor. "I guess I can try," she mumbles.

Lyme nods. "Good," she says, "Now, do you want to come help me make dinner?"

"Always with the food," Rokia sighs, but she bends down to pull at her shoelaces. "Yeah, I'm coming."

Lyme waits for her to stand up, puts one hand on Rokia's shoulder, careful. "You're my girl," she says. "That's for always."

Rokia gives her a crooked smile and steps in close, lets Lyme pull her in to her side for a minute before ducking away. "Okay," she says, because she doesn't really know what else to say, and follows Lyme into the kitchen.

--

"So," Adriana asks, smirking--and are therapists allowed to smirk?--"I guess you don't need to hit me up for rent money?"

Rokia tries to glare, but she's half smiling so it's probably not very effective. "No," she says, thinks about it, then goes on. "She says I can stay no matter what." And that's the part that's strange. "I don't know--that doesn't make sense." Adriana looks at her, doesn't say anything. "You always have to pull your weight," Rokia adds. "No free rides."

Adriana's eyes narrow. "Says who?"

"Says everybody."

"No, because Lyme doesn't."

Rokia rolls her eyes. "Well, okay, but she's--I don't know."

"So, says who?" Adriana repeats.

"Everyone!" Rokia's annoyed now. "It's how it works. Uncle Sal let me hang around the shop because I was a hard worker, I got my house because I won the Games, and I kept it just as long as I did what I was supposed to."

"What about when you were a kid?"

Rokia takes a breath. There's still something raw and painful that stabs at her when she thinks about Grandma, and she's made a habit out of not thinking about her grandfather ever since the last time she saw him when she was eight years old, and it's his words Snow echoed in his wood-panelled office on a freezing cold day in the Capitol when she realized just what keeping that Victor's Village house was going to cost her.

She shrugs. "My grandpa always said it--no free rides," and when Adriana raises an eyebrow she goes on. "I lived with my grandparents till he kicked Mom and me out when I was eight."

And of course then Adriana has twenty questions about that, and Rokia tries to answer, and by the end she wishes she'd never said anything in the first place.

Lyme takes her home, and it's silent just like usual, and she doesn't know what she wants, what it is she's missing but her skin is buzzing like she's got electricity running through her, again, and she hugs her knees to her chest on the couch until she realizes, and picks up the phone.

Heidi answers, and Rokia's glad it's not Marc or one of the girls because just her voice makes Rokia's breath come easier, and when Rokia swallows hard and asks if she can come, tonight, Heidi just says that of course she can.

Lyme doesn't say much when Rokia asks for a ride to the train station, and Rokia would feel bad but--well, she's already feeling antsy and horrible so it just all mixes together. She almost runs from the train station, and it's late and the girls will be in bed and she's probably keeping Heidi up but she just needs to see her.

And Heidi must be telepathic or something because she opens the door and gives Rokia a big hug and pulls her inside. Rokia lets out a breath she didn't realize she was holding and buries her face in Heidi's shoulder, standing right there in the doorway until Heidi pulls back just long enough to shut the door.

"Hey, babygirl, you're okay," she says, and Rokia's confused for a minute until she realizes she's crying. She swipes at her eyes and Heidi smiles and leads her to the couch, and she curls up in the safest place she knows and inhales Heidi's calm until she can breathe on her own again.

The next morning Rokia's sitting on the couch looking at cargo craft designs when Kadi comes out of the girls' bedroom and runs at her.

"Rokia's here!" she calls, squirming under Rokia's arm and sitting curled against her side. Alima follows her out, looking confused.

"It's Thursday," she says, cautious, "Is everything okay?"

"Sure, Alima," Rokia says, "I just wanted to come early." Alima nods, relaxes a little, and they go into the kitchen where Heidi's making breakfast.

Once everyone's eaten and headed out--the girls for school, Marc for the quarries--Rokia helps Heidi with the dishes.

"Sorry for just showing up like that," Rokia says, passing plates through the soapy water.

Heidi laughs. "No trouble," she says, "You're welcome anytime, babygirl."

Rokia flushes a little at the pet name, the invitation. "I didn't bring anything." She tries: coffee or butter or whatever fruit looks good at the market--she likes to contribute something when she comes. But last night she was running--away from something, toward some idea of safety--in any case she was in too much of a hurry to stop for shopping.

"You don't have to bring anything," Heidi says, and there's just the slightest edge to her voice. "We just like having you."

"It's just--I'm used to pulling my weight," Rokia says.

Now Heidi smiles. "Don't worry about that," she says. "We really are just glad to see you."

Rokia nods. "Takes some getting used to," she says, trying to take Heidi's word for it. Adriana pointed out she might as well, she can always deal with the rejection if (when) it comes.

They sit at the table later, Heidi working through her ledgers, Rokia filling some of the paperwork she's let pile up. It's comfortable, quiet, until Heidi gets up to pack sandwiches for lunch.

"We'll go meet Marc for his lunch break," Heidi says, "If that's okay with you."

Rokia smiles. "It'll be good," she says, and she mostly means it. She's never been to the quarry, Marc tries to stay away on weekends, and there's more interesting places to go when they want to get out of the house.

Marc's down in the pit when they arrive, and Rokia's a little self-conscious walking down to meet him. It's mostly men working, and it's dusty and noisy and strange, but Heidi waves to old friends, says hi here and there, and Rokia trails along in her wake.

Marc's standing in front of a truck, hood open, peering in with a worried look. The man next to him is shaking his head, and suddenly Rokia feels a little more at home. She steps up next to Marc, and his face breaks into a surprised smile. "Hey there, Rokia," he says.

She clims up on the front wheel and leans over to peer under the hood. "What's wrong?" she asks, and the guy--driver, probably--glances at Marc before answering.

"Keeps overheating," he says, "Must be coolant leaking somewhere."

Rokia nods, looks at Marc. "I can fix it for you," she says, and Marc looks startled. "District Six, Transportation," she adds, grinning, in a bad imitation of a Capitol broadcast accent.

Heidi's the one who answers. "Okay, but you can start after lunch."

They perch on blocks on the edge of the pit, eating their sandwiches while Marc points out what everyone's doing--blasting, cutting blocks, loading onto trucks to haul the stone out. The trucks all look old and battered, and Rokia's fingers itch to get ahold of them. One thing at a time, she tells herself, and finishes her food quick enough she has to wait for Marc and Heidi to finish.

Marc pulls a haphazard toolbox out of his office and carries it down to the truck for her, sticks close while she slides underneath, passes her sockets as she checks connections. It takes a while, but finally she finds the hose that's worn thin, dripping water and coolant just quick enough to cause problems without being obvious. When she pulls it off and slides out, Marc laughs. "Well, would you look at that," he says. "Thanks, kid."

She hands it to him, climbs to her feet, brushing off dust. "We can put a part order in, shouldn't take long," she says. "But I may as well check the rest of your trucks, see if there's other stuff to order."

Marc raises an eyebrow. "You don't have to," he says, cautious.

"It's fun," Rokia says, and adds, "Really!" when he gives her a skeptical look.

"Okay," he says, and calls one of the drivers over.

She's finished going over both trucks when Marc tells her they're calling it a day. She's smiling as they walk home, and Marc reaches over to brush dust out of her hair, big hands moving cautious, the way he always is, and she leans into the touch until he tousles her hair and lets his hand fall to her shoulder.

Heidi laughs when they come in, and the girls, bent over their homework at the table, look up. Alima smiles, her eyes flicking up and down, taking in Rokia, covered in grit and grease.

Rokia goes over, kisses the top of her head.

"You look like…like you," Alima says, and Kadi frowns in confusion but Rokia gets it.

"Yep," Rokia says, still smiling, something like relief rushing through her. She tousles Kadi's hair, making her squirm, and heads to the bathroom to clean up.

"Dinner in half an hour," Heidi calls.

"Yes ma'am," Rokia calls back, cheeky, and goes to shower.

--

Rokia heads back to the Village Sunday afternoon, a little reluctant, but she's got a pile of parts orders for Marc to send in, and besides, it's time. She leans back in her seat and tries to relax, thinks about Heidi's strong, capable hands holding her and comforting her and she smiles. And then her mind slides sideways until she’s five and six and seven years old on Grandma’s weeks off and having her hair braided, sitting on the floor between Grandma’s knees, listening to her stories. And it’s good, it’s comfortable and safe until she remembers the present, the reasons it took a year after the end of the war to even know her grandmother was alive, the reasons she’s working at a hospital instead of on the rails, and by the time Lyme picks her up at the station in town she’s not sure whether she wants to cry or throw things at the wall and watch them shatter.

Lyme just grabs her bag and shoots her a look that says Rokia’s not hiding anything particularly well, and when they get to the house they walk straight through to stand on the grass. Lyme kicks off her shoes and Rokia follows, swinging her arms and taking a deep breath.

Rokia throws herself into the fight, takes everything that’s twisting in her stomach and flings it out, and Lyme’s been teaching her technique but today she fights like the dirty Six punk she is, nasty and mean and smaller than everyone she’s ever fought so if they can’t handle her that’s not really her problem, now is it? Lyme doesn’t say anything, doesn’t tell her to fight clean, just adjusts, and Rokia’s fighting Lyme but she’s fighting the Peacekeepers she can’t get to, the faceless masks standing on the stage where her Mom got turned into just another prop in Snow’s game, the men she never saw who dragged everyone she knew into their filthy fucking cells and made sure none of them came out the same and some of them never came out at all, the bureaucrats then and now who tell her she can’t go back, the things she can’t hardly name much less fight, and it’s all the shit she’s locked up somewhere so she can keep moving from one day to the next, trying to get past the walls she’s put up. She tries to shove it back with the shock as her fists connect, as Lyme blocks her strikes and she twists, ducking and scrambling and refusing to go down, but it’s all still there, settling into a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and a pounding headache and making her lash out, wild and uncontrolled and Lyme’s taught her to control herself better than this but she can’t. She keeps going long past when she’d usually quit, breath coming harsh and fast and heart racing, and finally it’s Lyme who steps back, leaning away from her and just watching, assessing, as Rokia stops and tries to catch her breath, hands on her hips.

“You want to tell me what’s up?” Lyme asks, voice neutral, and she’s barely breathing fast, damn her. Rokia shakes her head, puts her hands back up, and they go again. Finally the simple exhaustion overwhelms the worst of the mess in her head and Rokia steps away, lies down right on the grass when she’s not sure she won’t just fall over. Lyme sits next to her, leaning back on her hands, just watches.

“I was thinking about my grandma,” Rokia says, finally. Lyme raises an eyebrow, and Rokia realizes she doesn’t know anything about Lyme’s family, hasn’t heard any stories at all, and she hasn’t talked about this much herself and maybe it's weird but Lyme did ask. Rokia’s not sure how to explain, how to take years and years and debts owed and consequences paid and put them into a few sentences, so she looks up at the sky for a minute and thinks.

"She always took care of me,” Rokia says, “She taught me how to take care of myself when we left--" and this has to be confusing, it’s nonsense, there’s whole stories she’s not telling behind every word, so she looks at Lyme and smiles, rueful. “If you want the whole story it might take a while.”

Lyme nods and they go inside and Lyme hands Rokia a glass of water and pulls her down on the couch. Rokia keeps a little distance--if she’s going to tell this she doesn’t need anyone close, doesn’t want arms around her tangling with memories in her head so she pulls her knees to her chest, wraps her arms around them and talks.

Talks about her grandpa and her mom, toe-to-toe in the living room until the fists stated flying, about getting apples after he left her with bruises, about braids in her hair and arms around her at night and long weeks by herself and one afternoon when her world shattered. She stares at her feet and when she glances at Lyme, she sees careful, blank, neutral, and she sighs and shifts over and she’s still curled in on herself but she lets Lyme wrap an arm around her shoulders and keep her close. And that’s okay because after that there’s nothing to tangle up in her memories because if she saw Grandma in the city it was stolen afternoons while the trains were loading, in Sal’s rooms above the shop, quick hugs and cooing over the babies, her girls and Sal’s kids and a kiss on the top of her head and she kept her hair too short for braids, anyway.

“And she got the girls out, because I asked her to,” Rokia says, “And they picked her up after, they hurt her, because of me, and she’s never, never going to be the same and there’s nothing I can do. She’s hurt, and I can’t even fucking see her. She helped me and they nearly killed her for it, and there isn’t a god damned thing I can do to help her.” Lyme’s hand tightens on her shoulder and Rokia uncurls enough to lean into her, and there’s tears running down her cheeks and she can’t stop them, and Lyme just holds her while she cries, rubbing her back and combing a hand through her hair. Rokia can hear Lyme’s heartbeat and it’s fast, just a little, and Lyme’s breathing is soft and even but it’s even because Lyme is forcing it to be, and when she finally says something it’s strained, just a little.

“Have you talked to her?”

“The connection is shit,” Rokia says, “and she doesn’t hear so well anyway, between all those years on the train and a few too many hits to the head.” She swallows the bitterness but it leaks out anyway. “I tried to apologize. She says it’s not my fault.”

“She’s right,” Lyme says, “it’s not. It’s Snow’s.”

“Sure, whatever. Doesn’t change the fact she took care of me, she always—she did everything for me and now she needs help and I can’t do shit.”

Lyme is quiet for a long time after that. “Rokia, you can’t always fix things.”

“I know that,” and the irritation is building up again, but Rokia’s too tired to do more than shift so she can glare up at Lyme. “Don’t you think I fucking know that? I hate it, but it’s not like I haven’t learned that lesson a million times. I can’t fix hardly anything.” She’s sitting up straight now, irritation flooding her with that familiar unfocused energy and her fingers twitch for something to do.

Lyme looks over at her, one corner of her mouth twisting up. “You want to go again?” she asks, and what Rokia really wants is to go hole up in the shop for the next week and talk to nobody and try to forget she ever said anything and then maybe get Beetee to invent a cure for nerve damage and fly herself to Six and do something actually goddamn useful for once.

But even if she goes Lyme will come sit in that stupid chair and stare at her until she goes to bed, and she’ll make sure she eats something, and she’ll tell Rokia she’s doing a good fucking job and she’ll be nice to her and put her to bed and make her fucking stay there and supposedly that’ll make things better but they’ve been doing that and all it does is pull shit like this out of the places she’s locked it up and leave her wanting to climb out of her own skin, peel it off inch by inch and pull something else on, as though getting out of her own life was as easy as that.

And still, Rokia wants to go into the hangar and find a welding job she could do with her eyes closed and her mind turned off and she wants to stand under the grinder while the sparks rain down and singe her skin and she wants to set something on fire and stand there watching as it burns.

She’s paralyzed, unsure, twisted up and angry and who knows what, and Lyme gets to her feet and pulls her up. “Come on,” she says, “I know that look, let’s go.”

Rokia’s muscles have cooled and tightened while they talked and complain as she stretches but she doesn’t care, doesn’t care at all, and she fights and pushes and it’s sloppy and ineffective and she’s dimly aware that Lyme is letting her play it her own way and that makes her mad and she shifts position, letting the anger and guilt and whatever else run like fire through her veins but clearing it out of her head. She digs down and remembers what Lyme’s been teaching her and the fight turns precise and controlled and exhilarating and Lyme starts pushing a little harder, moving a little faster, until finally she knocks Rokia down and instead of pushing herself back to her feet Rokia rolls onto her back in the grass and laughs, a little wild, far from amusing, but something’s loosened, just enough that she can breathe. Lyme stretches out next to her and Rokia rolls close and puts her head on Lyme’s shoulder. Lyme’s arms come up around her and there’s nothing to say so Lyme just stays there, holding on, until Rokia shivers as the evening breeze dries the sweat soaking her t-shirt.

Lyme shifts carefully, pulls Rokia to her feet. “Come on, kiddo,” she says, “let’s get you cleaned up.”

Rokia's tired, and sore, and once Lyme's checked her over and cleaned up some scrapes and clucked over bruises she sets food in front of Rokia and sits down next to her. And Rokia's worn out and all the confusion in her head has sunken into something like sadness, and if it doesn't feel good at least it's not jagged-edged and slicing into her whenever she moves. Which makes it easier to sigh, pick up her fork and eat without thinking about how it's too much or she doesn't need it or she shouldn't have to or whatever else. And it's still quiet but it's quiet because she's said everything already, not because she can't say anything, which makes everything lighter, somehow.

She goes to bed, too, when it's time, nods when Lyme tells her, climbs the stairs and gets ready and calls out a goodnight before sliding under the covers. She sleeps better here, she loves Heidi and Marc and the girls but here there's a door that shuts and if she wanted to she could lock it and nobody's coming in that she doesn't want. And it's taken a long time to really believe that, but Lyme hasn't ever come closer than the doorway without asking first, and anyone else who wanted to come in would have to get past Lyme, and the switchblade on the table by the bed is more for comfort than because she might have to actually use it. She's safer than she's ever been before, here in this room, and she tells herself that again and again, until she falls asleep.

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