kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Cry real tears till you believe

Cry real tears till you believe (6252 words) by kawuli
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games Series - All Media Types
Rating: Mature
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Original Characters
Additional Tags: Child Abuse, Drug Abuse, Drug Addiction, will probably make you want to strangle Rokia's mom
Series: Part 8 of Smiles and Promises


The first time the rehab center calls, it’s a couple weeks before the Tour. The absolute last thing Phillips wants to deal with right now is Rokia’s mother.

“She’s finished the program,” the doctor on the phone says. “We need the space, we’re planning to release her next week.”

Phillips closes his eyes and tries to unclench his jaw. “What do you think?” he asks, “She gonna stay clean?”

There’s a long silence on the line, then the doctor sighs. “She’s got a safe place to go back to,” he says, and Phillips winces. “That’s better than most we get here. But she’s…” another pause, “she’s not got much motivation. So I doubt it.” He sounds resigned, matter of fact, and it makes sense, this is normal.

Phillips rubs at the space between his eyebrows, where a headache is starting. “Any chance there’s space in the residential facility?” he asks.

“We could make space,” the doctor says, hesitant. “But usually that’s for—“

“I know,” Phillips says, cutting him off, “And I wouldn’t do this, but we’re leaving on the Tour, and I don’t want that woman alone in my girl’s house while we’re gone.”

“Right,” the doctor agrees quickly. “Yeah, that’s not a good idea. But Phillips, she can’t stay indefinitely.”

“Yeah,” Phillips sighs, “I’ll make arrangements when we get back.”

And then it’s the hell of the Tour and Rokia pulls away from him and spends her time with her sisters or in her uncle’s shop and the lights stay on all night as often as not and even if Phillips hadn’t already wanted to keep Rokia’s mom from moving back, he sure as hell does now. It would be one thing if he had any hope the woman could actually be a support for her daughter. But Rokia’s comment, offhand and bitter, about growing up to be like her mother has stuck. Wormed its way into his head and filled in some color on his sketchy image of Rokia’s life before the Reaping.

So he calls the doctor back, asks him to arrange an apartment, pulls a favor with a guy he knows at the automotive factory to get the woman a job, morning shift painting cars. And when she’s released Phillips is standing on the sidewalk waiting for her.

“Mister Phillips,” she says, smiling.

“Ms. Diarra,” he nods, solemn, and she laughs.

“Ain’t you polite,” she says. “Pretty sure I told you to call me Mata.”

She’s smiling still, but her eyes are sharp and wary and he knows she hasn’t forgotten he’s the one who sent her here.

“Well, Mata,” he says, “I thought I’d give you a ride to your new place.”

She raises an eyebrow. “You keepin’ me away from my own daughter?” she asks, still smiling.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says. “She’s got enough on her plate right now.”

The smile turns dark. “I saw her on TV,” Mata says. “She parties more than I do, lately.”

Phillips’ teeth grind and he has to force his jaw open to speak. “That’s different,” he snaps, “and you know it.”

Mata looks pleased. “Well then,” she says, walking to the passenger side door and opening it, “Let’s see this place.”

Phillips slides into the backseat, and nods when the driver looks back.

The apartment’s on the third floor of a building in the nice part of town. It’s a little scruffy around the edges, but the utilities work, there’s 24-hour security, and the apartment’s full of sensible, sturdy furniture. Mata nods, walking around, looking things over. “Not bad,” she says.

Phillips hands her the keys. “I’ll tell Rokia you’re out. Up to her whether she wants to see you.”

Mata rolls her eyes. “She’s my kid,” she says. “What do you think?”

Unfortunately, she’s probably right.

He tells Rokia after supper, while they’re washing dishes and the girls are playing in the other room.

“I set her up with an apartment,” he says. “I think it’s better if she has her own place.”

Rokia looks startled at first, but then she nods. “Guess so,” she says. “I—I’d rather not give her a key to here.”

She looks back into the soapy water for a while before looking back up at him. “She’s really clean?”

“Looks like it,” Phillips says. Doesn’t give Rokia the doctor’s prognosis, because well, he’ll give Mata at least that much chance.

Rokia looks a little skeptical though. “I don’t think she’s been clean since…” she pauses. “Since we lived with my grandparents, up North.”

Phillips blinks. “You lived up North?” He’s had one or two tributes from the North Country, and they’re usually quiet kids who’re wide-eyed even at the city before they get to the train.

Rokia gives him a crooked smile. “Yeah,” she says, sliding into the accent. “Till I was eight years old.” She looks away, drops back into her usual city-Six speech patterns. “Mom started using again and my grandpa kicked us out.”

Phillips doesn’t push, but it doesn’t do anything to help his opinion of her mother. They wash the rest of the dishes in silence. When they finish, he dries his hands and fishes a piece of paper out of his pocket. “Here’s her address. I got her a job, first shift at the auto plant.”

Rokia looks startled. “Thank you,” she says, goes quiet. Looks at the paper like it might explode.

Phillips wishes he knew what to do to change what happens next, which is that Rokia blinks, settles her shoulders and smiles at him like she has to impress him. “I should get some work done,” she says, matter-of-fact.

He takes the cue. “G’night, Rokia,” he says, heads for the door.

“Goodnight,” she echoes, and he hears the deadbolt slide shut behind him.

Once Phillips has left, Rokia stares at the piece of paper in her hand. Phillips’ clear block printing, an address in a part of town she’s not sure she’s ever been in. And her mom, sober, with a regular job. Part of her wonders, cynical, how long it’ll last, and part of her just wants Mom to come stay with them, play with the girls, eat dinner, be normal. Well. Nothing in her life is normal anymore, but at least that would come closer.

She sits down at the table with her notebook, still working through some of the ideas from Beetee and Wiress and still sort of amazed that she got to talk to them. But she can’t concentrate. Shoves the paper in her pocket, pulls on her shoes and her jacket and heads outside. It’s still cold out, the damp chill of Six, and she hadn’t realized before that there were different kinds of cold but now she knows that in Seven it’s biting, in Nine it’s dry and windy, in the Capitol—well. She’s not thinking about the Capitol.

But this is Six cold, Six grey, the sky tinged orange from the streetlights and the factories, and it’s ugly and familiar and comforting still. Even as she winds her way past the Justice Building and toward the neat apartment buildings behind it, the sorts of places where broken windows get fixed right away and the doors are too sturdy to break into. The odd middle ground between the places they’d always lived since they got to the City and the bizarre luxury of the house in the Victors’ Village. She finds the building listed on the paper. Looks up as if she could find the apartment windows from here, but of course there’s no way to tell how the place is laid out.

She thinks about it a long time before she goes in, but it’s not that late, really, and she wants to do this the first time on her own, without the girls.

So she rings the buzzer, and a man’s voice answers. “Yes?”

“I’m here to see Fatumata Diarra,” Rokia says. “Apartment 3C”

“Fa—oh, she just moved in,” the guy says, and Rokia hears the lock click. She pulls open the heavy door into a cramped room.

“Stairs are there,” the man says, from behind a desk, turning away from a screen of monitors. He doesn’t seem to recognize her, and Rokia’s grateful.

“Thanks,” she says, and heads up.

She knocks on the door before she loses her nerve. “Yeah?” she hears Mom’s voice, wary and strange.

“It’s Rokia,” she calls back, and pretty soon the door opens and Mom’s smiling at her.

“Hey, baby,” she says, standing aside and motioning Rokia in.

Rokia looks around. It’s nice, comfortable-looking but not fancy, and she bends down to untie her shoelaces.

“Your friend Phillips got me all set up,” Mom says, sounding pleased. “Job and everything.”

“Yeah, Mom,” Rokia says. “He told me.”

Rokia steps out of her shoes and follows Mom to the kitchen. There’s a kettle on the stove and Mom goes toward it. “You want tea?”

“Sure.”

Mom pours the water into cups, dunks the teabags in, hands one to Rokia. “Come on,” she says, “let’s go where it’s comfortable.”

Rokia sits on the armchair, while Mom sprawls on the couch. Mom tilts her head to one side. “Been seein’ you on TV,” she says. “Looks like you been havin’ fun while I been holed up here.”

It’s not accusing, exactly, but it is a little resentful, and Rokia feels anger flare in her chest, frustration coiling her shoulders tight. “It’s not like that,” she says, sipping at her tea.

Mom smiles. “Sure,” she says. “Hey, I ain’t gonna judge,” she says, “You earned the right, nobody’s gonna say you didn’t.”

“That’s—I don’t have a choice, Mom,” Rokia says, pulling her knees up to sit curled sideways against the arm of the chair.

Mom sighs. “That guy Phillips, he’s not giving you shit for it, is he? Because I’ll talk to him.”

“Mom!” Rokia snaps, then sighs, setting down her tea and scrubbing her hands over her face. “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

Mom shrugs. “Sure,” she says, “Whatever. Not like I been up to anything interesting though.”

Rokia sighs. “Yeah.” She pauses, trying to think how to say it, then just blurts it out. “You gonna stay clean?”

Mom looks at her. Swallows. “They got a guy from the rehab place comin’ around once a week,” she says. “Checking up.”

“That’s good,” Rokia says.

“Guess so,” Mom replies, shrugging. “I’m gettin’ a little tired of all these people in my business though.” There’s just a hint of an edge in her voice.

Rokia looks at the floor rather than admit she understands that. Decides then, “You can come for dinner tomorrow if you want,” she says. “See the girls.”

Mom smiles. “Yeah, baby, that’d be good.”

Rokia nods. “I should go,” she says, and Mom gets up.

“Good to see you,” Mom says, as she’s opening the door.

“You too, Mom,” Rokia says. “See you tomorrow.”

“Bye, baby,” Mom calls out as Rokia heads for the stairs.

She tells Phillips the next afternoon, asks if he wants to come too. He looks at her, studying her like he does, and then shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Maybe it’s better if it’s just family.”

Rokia nods. “Okay.”

“Let me know if you need anything,” he says, still watching her. “I’ll be around.”

“Sure,” Rokia says, goes in to make supper.

Mom knocks on the door around six, hair still damp from the shower.

“Mama!” Kadi calls, and she’s running to Mom as soon as the door’s shut behind her.

Mom lights up at that, picks Kadi up and sets her on her hip, kissing the top of her head. “Well ain’t you something,” Mom says, and Kadi grins.

Allie stays pressed up against Rokia, watching. Mom turns toward them. “Hi, Allie,” she says.

“Hi Mom,” Allie echoes, not moving.

Mom turns back to Kadi. “So what’ve you been getting up to?” she asks, in a singsong voice that’d be more appropriate for a toddler.

“We have the best trains,” Kadi says. “Wanna see?” She wriggles down, takes Mom’s hand.

“Sure, baby,” Mom says, glances over at Rokia before following Kadi into the living room.

“You wanna go play?” Rokia asks Allie, but Allie shakes her head, follows Rokia into the kitchen. Rokia wonders if she should worry, settles on handing Allie plates and cups and silverware to take out while she strains the spaghetti. She really should learn how to cook better, she thinks idly. The girls have to be getting bored of her staples, but they don’t complain, so it’s not really a priority.

When everything’s ready Rokia sends Allie to get Mom and Kadi from the other room. She comes back with her chin up, leading the other two. “Mom can sit here,” she says, “And Kadi can sit here.”

Rokia smiles, brings the bowls in from the kitchen, takes the seat Allie’s left for her at the head of the table. “Eat up,” she says, and they do.

Kadi keeps up the conversation, mostly, though by the end Allie’s chiming in about what they did at school and the toys Phillips brought back from the Tour, and Rokia almost relaxes.

Mom helps her clear the table when they’re done, rinses the plates and sets them on the counter. “I should get back,” she says, right hand wrapping around her left wrist. She looks awkward, suddenly. “Thanks for dinner,” she says, quick, turns to head for the door.

“Glad you could come,” Rokia says, following her out. Mom hugs the girls, slips out the door, and Rokia locks it behind her and leans back, lets out a long breath before she goes to wash the dishes.

The call comes in the middle of the night, jolting Rokia out of a dream that dissolves into fragments and then mist. She runs down to answer with her heart in her throat, because who possibly would be calling at this time of night?

“Hello?”

“Hey, baby.”

Mom. A whole new wave of who-knows-what washes through her.

“Hi Mom,” Rokia says, “What do you need?”

“I can’t call my baby girl?”

“Mom. It’s the middle of the fucking night. What do you need.”

Mom sighs. “I got picked up and the cops won’t let me go ‘till somebody comes to get me.”

Rokia sighs. It’s not the first time, hell, she lost count a long time ago. Doesn’t mean anything other than Mom out being obnoxious enough for someone to call the cops. Except it almost certainly means she’s not sober. Again.

Not like that’s a surprise either, but she’d hoped.

“Where you at?” Rokia asks, looking for a pen.

“Zone 5 station, out by the crew barracks.” Rokia bites the inside of her lip hard enough to draw blood.

“The fuck’re you doing out there?” she snaps, and when Mom just giggles, Rokia has to take a deep breath to keep from putting a fist into the wall.

“Fine, I’ll be there in a minute,” Rokia hangs up before Mom can reply.

She goes upstairs first, gets dressed, goes into the girls’ room. Allie and Kadi have bunk beds now, but they still sleep curled together on the bottom bunk, Kadi against the wall with Allie curled protectively around her. Rokia watches for a minute, debating, but Allie’s just barely reading and she doesn’t want the girls to wake up and find her gone—and it’s late enough, or early enough that they might.

She reaches out to smooth a couple braids out of Allie’s face, tuck them behind her ear, soft touches until Allie smiles and rolls towards her.

“Hey Allie,” Rokia says, soft. “I gotta run out just quick, okay? I’ll be back in time for breakfast.”

Allie’s eyebrows pull together in sleepy confusion. “Why?” she whines.

Rokia sighs. “I gotta help Mom,” she says, “Don’t worry about it.”

Allie’s lower lip pokes out. “Okay,” she says, drawing it out. “But you gotta come back for breakfast.”

Rokia smiles. “Of course, honey, this won’t take long.” She hopes.

Allie rolls back against Kadi, and Rokia heads out.

Rokia’s been to the zone 5 station before. Used to be one of Mom’s favorite spots, good place to score dope from off the medical shipments in exchange for a little company for a crewman too long on the rails. Peacekeepers usually didn’t bother with the area, especially since the best dope and most of the prettier girls—and boys, sometimes—started off around the PK barracks. But every once in a while things got too noisy or someone in the Capitol got curious and they hauled people in. Fined them, sometimes, or whipped them, or sent them North to the mines, but usually managed to find a way to keep the whole business going. Which meant they’d let people go most of the time, so long as they’d lay low for a bit.

And that meant making someone pick them up. Which in Mom’s case, meant Rokia.

She gets all the way to the station before she realizes she’s not actually Rokia Diarra, District Six, zone 3, underage, mechanic, like it says on her ID card. She’s Rokia Diarra, zone 1, Victor, and shit.

Sure enough, when she walks up to the desk and puts her hood back, the Peacekeeper on duty’s eyes get wide and startled before he schools his face back to neutral and looks down at his ledgers.

“I’m here to pick up Fatoumata Diarra,” Rokia says, businesslike, hopes he’ll let her get away without some kind of surreal discussion about life as a Victor.

“ID, please,” the man says, automatic, and then one corner of his mouth quirks up. Rokia passes hers over without comment, and the guy notes it down. Then he looks back up, starts, “You are—“

“Yeah, and I’d like to pick up Ms. Diarra.” Rokia cuts him off, doesn’t offer anything, and he has the decency to look a little embarrassed.

“Yes, of course,” he says, turning to go. Rokia doesn’t have to wait long, thankfully, before Mom comes out with him. When she comes around the corner to hug Rokia, the smell of liquor is almost overpowering, even when she steps back.

“Here’s her things,” the cop says, passing Rokia a plastic bag. Rokia looks inside. Cigarettes, flask, couple of crumpled bills, but not works, no vials of morphling. Probably why she’s getting let off this easy, and it’s something like a relief.

“Thanks,” Rokia says, and turns to go without waiting for Mom to follow.

But Mom does follow, wobbling on high heels, swearing when they step out into the cold. “Way too fucking cold out here,” she hisses. “Goddamn cops, gettin’ in other peoples’ business all the time. I told ‘em my daughter was a fuckin’ Victor, I told ‘em not to mess with me.”

Rokia spins. “Don’t you dare,” she snaps. “Leave me the fuck out of this.”

Mom’s face is dark, furious. “You’re not past Reaping age, you’re still my kid, you got no right to talk to me like that.”

“That’s fucking rich,” Rokia snaps back. “You can call someone else to fucking get you out next time then.”

“You ungrateful—“

“No.” The anger’s gone cold now, and Rokia doesn’t want to even have this conversation. She shoves Mom’s bag of stuff into her hands. “Go the fuck home, I need to get back to make breakfast.”

Mom glares, but she takes the bag, turns to head down the hill toward downtown. “Bitch,” she mutters, and Rokia doesn’t even respond, just watches until Mom turns a corner out of sight.

Then she goes home, and since she’s awake and there’s plenty of time, she makes pancakes.

Allie comes down earlier than usual, wrapped up in a ratty blanket from their old place, and she sits at the kitchen table while Rokia works.

“What happened to Mom,” Allie says. “Did she get in trouble?”

Rokia’s glad her back is turned. “Yeah, Allie, but she’s okay now.”

“Why does she keep getting in trouble?”

“I don’t know, girlen.”

“I thought she was better?” It’s hesitant, small. “You said she was sick and Phillips’ people were gonna help her, and she got done with that so shouldn’t she be okay now?”

It takes a minute before Rokia can respond, and when she does she goes to sit next to Allie, and Allie turns her face into Rokia’s chest.

“I don’t know, Allie,” Rokia says, dropping a kiss onto Allie’s head. “I think she’s trying,” she allows, because well, maybe.

“And she can’t stay here until she stops getting in trouble?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Rokia says, and this is not a conversation she knows how to have, but too bad that doesn’t matter.

“But why doesn’t she just stop?”

Rokia sighs. She wishes she knew. “I don’t know, Allie,” she says, because there’s nothing else to say, not really, and she’s tired.

Allie sits up, swings her feet against the legs of the chair, tracing the patterns of the wood grain with a finger. Rokia gets up to keep making breakfast, and Allie’s feet drum out a pattern in the quiet kitchen.

They’re quiet until breakfast is almost ready. “Can you go get Kadi?” Rokia asks, and Allie hops down, goes upstairs without a word.

The next time Rokia asks Mom to dinner, she doesn’t show up. Allie’s mad, Kadi cries, and Rokia doesn’t know what to tell them.

But Kadi’s birthday is coming up, and Rokia desperately wants to give her sister what she wants, which more than anything is all of them, together. So she stops by Mom’s apartment, early evening while the girls are with their cousin.

Mom’s shifty-eyed and hesitant when Rokia knocks on the door. Steps out into the hallway instead of inviting Rokia in, and everything about this screams something’s wrong, but Rokia tries.

“Kadi’s birthday’s next week,” she says, and Mom startles, eyes wide. Of course she hadn’t remembered.

Mom smiles. “You gonna have a party?” she asks.

Rokia shrugs one shoulder. “Salif and Magda and Jack are coming. Phillips, probably.”

Mom’s face closes off and she looks away. “All them hate me,” she mutters. “Think they’re better’n I am.”

Rokia sighs. “It’d mean a lot to Kadi if you came,” she says, simply.

Mom glances up, mouth twisted. “Yeah,” she says, “yeah, alright.” She turns back to the door. “What time?”

“Five,” Rokia says, “For dinner.”

Mom nods, goes inside.

It’s fun, really, Phillips helped Rokia order more pieces for the girls’ train set, a couple stuffed animals. Magda brings a cake, Sal brings a car made of wire that Kadi pushes around in the early-spring mud until the wheels get clogged up, and Sal chuckles and helps her clean it up, tells her to keep to the street.

Rokia keeps glancing at the clock and wondering. They’ve already sat down to dinner when the knock comes.

Rokia gets up and answers. Mom’s alone, leaning one hand on the doorframe, smiling. “Hey baby,” she says, booze and cigarette smoke on her breath, steps forward.

“Mama?” Kadi’s crept out from the dining room, makes a beeline for the door. “You came!”

Rokia’s jaw clenches as Mom steps forward, kneels down to brush Kadi’s hair out of her face. “Hey, there’s my girl,” she says, and Kadi throws her arms around Mom’s neck for a hug.

When Rokia turns, Phillips is standing in the doorway, solemn and quiet, and Rokia just shakes her head.

Kadi takes Mom’s hand, pulls her inside and sits next to her, chattering about school and presents and oblivious to the sudden silence around the table.

Allie’s sitting next to Rokia, watching. She reaches for Rokia’s hand under the table and holds on tight.

Allie’s birthday is only a few weeks later. It always made spring hard, trying to save up enough for two presents in two months, and if nothing else, at least that isn’t a problem anymore. It’s just that now it means the Reaping coming and another Games and Rokia’s trying not to think about it but she kind of can’t not.

Allie asks her a few days before whether Mom’s going to come.

“Do you want her to?” Rokia asks. Allie’s helping with supper, standing on a chair stirring the sauce while Rokia chops vegetables.

Allie shrugs. “She came for Kadi,” she says, “She should come for me, too.”

Rokia’s not sure how to take that, whether it’s yes or no. “I’ll ask her to come, if you want,” Rokia says, a little hesitant. Allie’s quiet for a minute, then nods.

“She should come,” Allie repeats, and Rokia decides not to push.

Mom’s late, again, and Allie keeps snatching glances at the door and scowling, between playing with the paper dolls Magda helped Rokia pick out of a Capitol catalog. They’re getting ready to serve cake when the knock comes.

And Mom’s high.

Rokia hasn’t been sure before, never enough to call her out and risk a fight, but Mom’s eyes droop and when she looks up her pupils are points despite the dim light, and she’s leaning against the doorframe like it’s too damn hard to stand up on her own. And she smells, cigarette smoke and a hint of liquor, but underneath there’s the metallic-vinegar tang of cooking morphling.

Rokia steps outside and pulls the door closed. “What the _fuck_ are you doing,” she hisses under her breath.

Mom looks away. “Nothin’” she mumbles. “Comin’ to Allie’s birthday.”

“Mom, you’re using again.” Rokia shouldn’t be surprised—isn’t really, when she thinks about it, but it still feels like a betrayal. “You can’t bring that shit around the girls, are you nuts?”

“I ain’t got nothin’ on me,” Mom whines. “Just needed to calm down, I swear. You and your fancy place stressin’ me out.”

Rokia’s jaw hurts from clenching so hard. “What the fuck were you thinking?” she asks, and Mom glares.

“Gimme a break, you always think you’re so much better’n everyone else, I seen you on your little trips, you ain’t no different.”

Rokia’s shocked silent, until the door opens and Phillips comes out. “What’s going on here?” he asks, and his voice is mild but Rokia can see the muscles in his jaw working.

Mom smiles, looks down. “Aw, Mr. Phillips, we’re just talking,” she says.

Rokia rolls her eyes. “Rokia?” Phillips asks.

Mom shoots her a furious glance. “It’s nothing,” Rokia says, looking away. “Mom’s late, as usual.”

Phillips gives her a searching look, looks at Mom. His lips are pressed together, jaw tight. “Ms. Diarra, I’ll thank you not to bring drugs around my girl.”

“Your girl?” Mom laughs. “I remember when she was born, and you sure as shit weren’t there.” Phillips doesn’t take the bait. “Anyway, I told her already, I got nothin’ on me.”

Phillips nods. “I’m sure that’s true,” he says. “But your daughter wants her mother at her birthday, not a drug addict.”

Rokia doesn’t roll her eyes, because Phillips means well. But Allie’s never known her mother not to be an addict. It’s not like you can separate the two, anyway.

Phillips looks like he’s debating something, then opens the door, and Mom walks in.

“Sorry,” Rokia says, with a one-shoulder shrug. “It’s just how she is.”

Phillips shakes his head. “Don’t apologize for her, Rokia,” he says, and they go to the table.

Mom sits next to Kadi again, even though it’s Allie’s birthday, keeps mostly quiet, dozes off in her chair when she’s done eating cake and wakes with a jolt when Kadi leans against her.

Allie keeps glancing between Mom and Rokia and the other adults—Sal at least knows what’s going on, Magda might, and Phillips is having a hard time not snarling, Rokia can tell. Allie scoots closer to Rokia and Rokia puts an arm around her shoulders.

When everyone’s left, Allie helps bring the plates in from the table. “Why was everyone mad at Mom?” she asks, looking up at Rokia with scared eyes.

Rokia dunks a pile of plates in soapy water and uses the second it gives her to take a deep breath and think.

“Mom’s using morphling again, getting herself into trouble.” Rokia settles on the unvarnished truth, because what the hell is she supposed to say?

Allie looks down. “She doesn’t like me,” Allie says. “She wasn’t like that at Kadi’s party.”

Damn. “Allie, it doesn’t matter what Mom thinks,” she says. “Besides, she loves you, that’s why she came.”

Allie’s lower lip sticks out and she scuffs her toes against the floor. “I don’t get it,” she says, sullen. “If she really cared she’d stop, so she could come live with us again.”

“You want her to live with us?” Rokia lets it slip out without thinking, surprised.

“I want us to have a normal family,” Allie says. “If we had Mom and Uncle Phillips it’d be like regular kids almost.”

Rokia can’t not smile at the ridiculous idea of Mom and Phillips—in any capacity. But she gets it, kind of.

“I’m sorry, kiddo,” she says, drying off her hands and hauling Allie up to sit on the counter. “I don’t get it either.” She sighs. “You understand why I don’t want her here right now, right?”

Allie nods. “It’d be like before,” she says, looking down. “I didn’t like it before, all those people coming around.” She says it fast and quiet and glances up at Rokia when she’s done, scared like Rokia’s going to be mad at her for saying it.

“Me either,” Rokia says. “It's nicer here, isn’t it?”

Allie nods. “No strangers allowed,” she says, smiling a little. “And our room even has a lock on the door.”

“And nothing goes missing, right?” Rokia smiles at Allie, and Allie smiles back and nods. “I wish she could stay, too, Allie,” Rokia says. “But she just can’t right now.” She pauses. “Maybe not for a long time.”

Allie looks down. “You’re not leaving though?” she asks, eyes on the floor. “They said you weren’t coming back when you went to the Games but you did.” She glances up at Rokia.

Rokia takes her sister’s hands. “I promise, Allie,” she says. “I’ll always come back.”

Allie throws her arms around Rokia’s neck, and Rokia picks her up. She’s heavy, warm against Rokia’s neck, but it’s okay. “I love you, girlen,” Rokia says, “I’m not going to leave you.”

Before long Allie squirms down. “I’m going to find Kadi,” she says. When she’s gone Rokia leans against the counter and curls her fingernails into her palms until she can breathe again.

It’s not more than a week since Rokia got back from the Games, she still can’t seem to sleep in a bed, or for more than a couple hours at a time, or without checking on the girls at least once or twice. So she’s awake, pacing downstairs and trying to decide if she could go for a run before the girls wake up, when there’s a knock on the door.

When she opens it, Mom pushes her way in, walks over to the couch, and flops down on it, like she’s completely out of energy. Drops a railroad duffel on the floor beside her and groans.

“Fuck, baby, I’m so glad you’re back,” she says, “Fucking assholes kicked me out, I woulda had no place to go.”

Rokia stares at her, forces her tired brain to think. “What the fuck, Mom?”

Mom rolls her head towards Rokia. “Got kicked out of my place,” she repeats. “I’ll go up to my room in a minute, but I walked all the way here and I’m tired.”

“You can’t stay here,” Rokia says, and maybe if this had happened before the Games she wouldn’t have snapped it off so fast, but she can’t handle this. Is barely keeping everything together for the girls, and Mom staying here—no. Just, no.

Mom raises an eyebrow, sits up. “You’re gonna kick me out?” She laughs, hollow. “I seen you, baby, you ain’t no better than me, you just dress nicer when you fuck ‘em.”

Rokia’s slapped Mom across the face before she even registered the words completely. Mom just laughs again. “See there?” she says, leaning back against the couch. “Got that from me, ’n I got it from my old man, and you always did think you were special, but you’re just like us, that’s why you killed those kids, that’s why you made it back, and that’s why you’ll fuck anyone to get what you need.” Rokia can’t breathe. Stands paralyzed with a lump in her throat. Mom tilts her head to one side. “Fuck ‘em, or fuck ‘em over,” she says, “But we ain’t men, so fuckin’ ‘em’s easier.”

“Get out,” Rokia says, low around the bile in the back of her throat. Mom stays where she is, chuckling. “Get out,” Rokia says again, louder. Nothing.

Enough. Rokia grabs Mom’s arm, hauls her to her feet, grabs the duffel with her other hand. Flings the bag out the door and down the steps, ignoring the tinkle of something inside breaking. Shoves Mom through the door, closes it, slams the lock, leans against the closed door, and cries. Nasty, wracking sobs that hurt her throat, and she presses both hands over her mouth to muffle the sound because she might’ve been almost yelling earlier but she can’t let the girls hear this. Slides down the door to sit, knees to her chest, and cries until she can’t cry anymore.

She’s tired, she’s so fucking tired, and it never stops and nothing ever changes and the only thing she’s ever gotten for herself is this house and Mom wants to take that, too. Wants to claim a share of this thing that Rokia will never stop paying for, and—and that’s not even it, not really. The problem is that Mom isn’t wrong, not really. She’s not wrong enough, because Rokia will do anything they tell her to if it keeps her girls safe in this house with locks on the doors and nobody coming in she doesn’t want. If that means fucking people in the Capitol, fine, if it means fucking over her own mother, apparently she’s okay with that too. Which means that Mom can be completely full of shit without actually being wrong.

She’s dimly aware that Mom’s been yelling, on the other side of the door, doesn’t pay enough attention to hear what Mom’s saying or to worry about it much, but then she hears a door creak open and careful footsteps on the stairs, and oh, fuck.

She swipes her hands over her eyes and gets up so that when Allie gets to the bottom of the stairs Rokia’s there, bending down to hug her. And then Kadi clatters down the last steps where she’s been hanging back and lunges into Rokia’s arms, and Rokia’s crying again, and she has to stop, she’s going to scare them, but instead she just clings, and cries, and the girls cry too, and finally she’s with it enough to take their hands and move the whole thing to the couch.

They both fall asleep with their heads in her lap, and Rokia strokes her fingers through Kadi’s hair, scratches at Allie’s scalp through the braids Magda’s pulled tight away from her face.

She hears Phillips’ soft knock and the key scraping in the lock, then he calls “Rokia?” in a quiet voice.

“Here,” she calls back, and he comes in. Stops when he sees them, stands awkwardly against the wall.

“I heard Mata yelling,” Phillips says. “I put her in a taxi to a shelter I know.”

“She’s just gonna come back,” Rokia says, dully.

“No,” Phillips says, sharp and clipped. “She’s not.” Rokia raises an eyebrow. “Not like that, anyway, and I’m going to get them to change your phone number so she can’t call either.”

Rokia’s other eyebrow joins the first one. “She’s my Mom, Phillips.”

“No,” he says, almost growling it. “She’s not. Not in any way that matters, Rokia, she’s not.”

Rokia doesn’t have the energy to argue. “Okay,” she says. Looks down at the girls in her lap. “Can you call the school and tell them the girls aren’t coming in today?” she says. “I think they need to stay here with me.”

Phillips nods. “Yeah.” He hesitates. “You should get some sleep too, you know.”

One corner of Rokia’s mouth quirks up. “I know,” she says. Leaves it.

“Okay,” Phillips says, finally, goes to leave.

“Thanks,” Rokia says, quick. “For finding her a place.”

Phillips nods, and lets himself out.

Rokia wakes up with the sun in her eyes, slanting in low through the window. The girls are still sleeping but she’s got a crick in her neck so she wakes them up just enough to make it up the stairs and into the double bed she hasn’t even used since she’s been back. With all three of them it doesn't feel huge and strange. With her nose pressed close to Allie's head she smells hair oil and Allie's own skin instead of ghosts of Capitol perfumes. She falls back asleep curled around Allie, who’s curled around Kadi, in dim curtained sunlight that makes the room familiar. Home, she whispers to herself, and safe, and everything around her makes it true.

When she wakes up again the sun’s high in the sky, the girls are gone, and she hears Phillips’ voice downstairs.

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