kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Burned by all our fears: Part 2/3



The train pulls into the station just before nine on Monday morning. The disadvantage to taking off weeks in Two is the 4 AM departure time from the Capitol to get there. Oh well. Rokia’ll be at the shop, Sara can nap for a while and be ready to see her when she gets home.

Except when she pulls her bike into the garage, Rokia’s is still there.

And when Sara walks into the house, Rokia’s curled up with her head in Lyme’s lap watching some nature documentary, and that is exactly the opposite of a good sign.

Sara drops her duffel, doesn’t bother to take her boots off, just walks over and perches on the opposite arm of the couch. Lyme glances over and gives her a “be careful” kind of look, lets out a long breath.

“Hey, Rokia,” Sara says, quiet.

Rokia looks over, pushes herself up to sit, but stays pressed close against Lyme all the same. She rubs at her eyes. Also a bad sign, means Lyme pulled out the serious drugs to make her sleep, and if they’re still not worn off completely it means she took them late because she put up a fight over it.

It’s been a long time, but Sara remembers the signs.

“Hi,” Rokia says, dully. “Welcome home,” she adds, sarcastic and biting.

Sara slides down to sit on the couch, reaches over and grabs Rokia’s foot, the only thing she can reach, starts rubbing her thumb along the pressure points. “I’m glad to be home,” she says, “what’s up?” She keeps it light, relatively, no point getting drawn into a fight about whether or not Rokia is a burden or stupid or crazy or whatever it’s going to be today.

Rokia sighs. “Allie’s having a baby. On purpose,” she adds, seeing Sara’s confusion, “she’s happy about it, but it fucked me up thinking about.”

Sara glances up at Lyme, who’s as usual unreadable, and back to Rokia. “Well sure,” Sara says, guessing, “I wasn’t sure you were gonna make it, after Kadi.”

Rokia shrugs, looks away. “Wouldn’t have, without you,” she says, low and mumbling. “I dunno, paying for babysitters and stuff, didn’t you get in trouble?”

Sara isn’t particularly thrilled talking about this either. She’d done it out of something like panic, because Rokia was exhausted and gaunt and struggling even with Sal paying her for almost twice the hours she managed to work. “Oh, well,” she says, once she can trust her voice to stay level, “I got yelled at some, but that wasn’t anything new.”

“But—“ Rokia starts to protest.

“Rokia, it’s my money, nobody missed it all that much, and you needed the help. I absolutely forbid you from feeling guilty about it.”

Rokia gives her a flat look. “You didn’t have to help, but you did, and I—“

“Look, you know who I blame for it?” Sara snaps, and she can’t keep the anger out of her voice. “Your fucking mother, okay. They’re her kids, it never should’ve been your responsibility. You were twelve. She shoud have been taking care of you, too.”

Rokia blinks, as though the idea is somehow new. “I could take care of myself fine, it was just—“ she stops. Shakes her head. “Lyme keeps reminding me Allie was 12 when they came here,” she says. “It just— didn’t seem that young then.”

Sara sighs, pulls her hands back and rubs them along her thighs. “You were tiny,” is all she says, but the memory is sharp enough to cut. She looks over at Rokia. Rokia gives her a long, confused, young-seeming look, then pulls away from Lyme, glances up at her and shifts toward Sara.

Sara breathes deeper, pulls Rokia all the way onto her lap and holds her tight. Rokia buries her face in Sara’s shoulder, curls up small. They sit like that, quiet, Sara rubbing Rokia’s back and scratching at her scalp.

“Hey,” she says softly, after a little while. Waits for Rokia to look up at her. “I love you, okay? You’re amazing.”

Rokia looks away, but it’s better than rolling her eyes.

Lyme glances at Sara, gets up and goes into the kitchen. She comes back with muffins and some kind of juice.

Rokia uncurls a little and sighs. “I ate breakfast,” she says, in a much more normal voice than Sara’s heard since she came in. “Before Kadi left.”

“Yep,” Lyme says. “But these are good, and Sara might be hungry too.”

Rokia slides down so she’s sitting next to Sara instead of on top of her, and Sara reaches for the food. Rokia follows, looking resigned.

And then once she’s done eating, she’s restless and fidgety, and Lyme looks at her and says, “C’mon, you,” and Rokia follows her outside.

Sara closes her eyes and takes several deep breaths. Well, shit.

It makes sense, in the way that fucked-up things do, that the idea of Allie having a baby would set Rokia off. The memories that brings up aren’t even comfortable for Sara, and it wasn’t her scrambling for the next meal or the next place to leave a baby so she could get some work done or stashing money so her mom couldn’t steal it. Sara, almost three years older, couldn’t fathom how Rokia kept things together as well as she did.

And up till now they really haven’t talked about it, because what’s to say, really? At first Rokia’s guilt about her mom getting killed was tied up in all the rest of what happened in the war, and telling Rokia that it was good fucking riddance and lucky Mata lived even that long was not going to help anything. Telling her how Sara’s whole body had locked tight and vibrating with fury when Rokia casually mentioned her mom had passed out on the couch and forgotten about Allie again, that that’s why Allie was tagging along to the shop—that wasn’t going to help either. Rokia’s anger and frustration with the woman were always shaded over with a wish if not anyomore a hope that her mom could change. She’d bailed Mata out from the cops any number of times, tried to get her to eat when she could, made sure rent and bills were paid and Sara couldn’t stand to see all that energy wasted on the woman. When she gave nothing back. When Rokia couldn’t trust her to watch her own kids, when her infant daughter wouldn’t stop crying so she handed the baby to a twelve-year-old girl and walked out the door.

She would’ve shot the woman herself if she thought she could get away with it.

When Rokia comes back in she looks a little better, less turned in and faraway. “I’m going to work,” she announces. Lyme raises an eyebrow. “It’s fine, I’ll quit at six when the rest of them leave, I promise. I just need to do something productive.”

Lyme crosses her arms. Rokia stares her down, apparently, because finally she nods. “Okay,” she says. “Eat lunch, come home on time. I’ll check in tonight sometime.” She looks over at Sara. “You keep an eye on her,” she says. “And she goes to bed at a reasonable hour, and if she’s not tired there’s meds for that.”

“I am standing right here,” Rokia says.

“Yeah, but you already know, smartass,” Lyme says. “And yet somehow you still don’t do it.” It sounds harsh, but Lyme’s look is fond.

Rokia rolls her eyes, exaggerated for effect. “Fine,” she says. “Now I have work to do.”

Lyme leaves after Rokia does, and Sara calls Claudius.

“I need to punch things,” she says, when he picks up.

He gives a little startled laugh. “Okay,” he says. “I can stop by at noon, unless it’s an emergency.”

It’s not an emergency, not really. But apparently Sara doesn’t answer quickly enough. “Nevermind,” Claudius says, more serious. “I’ll be over as soon as I can.”

Sara meets him on the front porch. He raises one eybrow when he sees her but they walk around to the back without saying anything, and he kicks off his shoes. “C’mon,” he says, and that’s all Sara really needs.

She’ll never be as good as the Twos, but she’s fast, and she doesn’t hesitate to use dirty tricks when she needs to, so every once in a while she can surprise Claudius enough to knock him down. Not often, and she spends a lot more time on her back in the grass than he does, but enough to make it fun.

“So what’s up?” Claudius asks, offering her a hand and hauling her back up to her feet.

Sara shakes her head, and they keep going. He takes her down again, one of her arms twisted up behind her back just to the point of pain. Stays there a little longer than usual before he lets her roll over and hauls her up again. “Her fucking mother,” Sara growls, and there’s something that might have been a flinch on anyone except a Two. He starts up again this time. “Worthless fucking waste of air,” Sara grits out. “Fucking junkie whore bitch.” That doesn’t get a reaction, really, even though she’s so far out of line she can’t even see it from here. She keeps up an itermittent string of profanity until she hits the ground again, rolls to a crouch. A little later: “Wish I’d fucking shot her myself.” She swallows what feels like shards of glass and keeps going.

Finally Claudius lands a hit to her sternum that not only knocks her down but actually knocks the breath out of her, and steps back. “You’re too tired, Sara, I don’t wanna hurt you,” he says, while she’s trying to breathe. She nods. She hates that he’s right, but he’s right. Once she’s back on her feet they go inside, into the kitchen for water. Sara starts making sandwiches, because she can’t tell her girl to eat if she’s not gonna do it herself.

“My mom kicked me out when I was seven,” Claudius says, abrupt in the quiet. “I was on my own for six months until the Centre found out.”

Sara looks at him. “I thought stuff like that didn’t happen in Two,” she says, and immediately wishes she hadn’t. “Sorry.”

He shrugs. “It’s okay,” he says. “There’s shit parents everywhere, though.”

Sara nods, goes back to making food. “Guess so,” she says. Sighs, then asks, “Did you hate her?”

Claudius shrugs. “Sort of. Not exactly.“

“Rokia doesn’t,” Sara says. “I do.”

“It’s complicated.”

Sara laughs, almost a bark. “That much I’ve gathered.”

“She’ll be okay,” Claudius says.

She brings him his sandwich, raises one eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Claudius says. “I am. Lyme’s good at her job. Rokia’s got you.”

Sara sighs. “I don’t think I’m much help.”

Claudius leans across the table to punch her arm. Hard.

“You’re mean,” Sara whines, rubbing at her arm. “Next time I’m gonna go shoot things with Selene instead.”

He just smiles and takes a bite of his sandwich.

After Claudius leaves Sara curls up on the couch to take her much delayed nap. When she wakes up, she hears movement, out in the kitchen, so she stretches, pulls her hair out of her face and walks over, fingers still working through tangles.

It's Kadi, sitting at the kitchen table and scowling at something. She looks up when Sara comes in.

“Sara!” she says. “You're back!”

She hops up and Sara makes her way around the table for a hug. “Sure am,” she says. “Got in this morning.”

“That's good,” Kadi says, uncharacteristically serious. “Rokia really missed you this time.”

“Oh yeah?”

Kadi shrugs. “I mean, she's just more relaxed when you're here. She works too much otherwise.” She hesitates. “And last week was… weird, and then Lyme’s been here and Rokia's like… like when we were first here, all…” Kadi trails off, shrugs uncomfortably.

“Hey, c’mere,” Sara says, pulls Kadi into another hug. Kadi rests her head on Sara’s shoulder, relaxes a little against her. She lets Kadi stay close as long as she wants, which ends up being long enough that Kadi looks a little sheepish when she pulls away.

“Sorry,” she says, blinking fast. “It's just weird.”

“Okay, c’mon,” Sara says, heading for the freezer. “Break time for ice cream and telling me all the crazy shit you've got up to in school.”

Kadi smiles a little, grabs spoons out of a drawer and follows Sara to the couch.

It's a ridiculously comfortable couch, and it's huge but they sit close together, and Kadi snuggles up under Sara's arm. “So I'm getting math help from Eibhlin,” she starts.

“Oh boy,” Sara says.

Kadi giggles. “Yeah, she's kinda… a lot?” She shrugs. “But she's really good at this stuff. And she's fun, in her own weird way.”

“Sure,” Sara says, noncommittal.

Kadi goes on. “Well apparently her and Rokia started building rockets but couldn't ever get the guidance good enough because—” she pauses. “Anyway, I want to send stuff to Phillips and I was thinking we could make something that could get to District Six probably, and Beetee says he’ll help if I get an A in my class.”

“Isn't that incredibly illegal?” Sara asks.

Kadi pauses, takes a big spoonful of ice cream and looks up at Sara while she eats it. “So there’s this guy,” she starts, and Sara tries not to laugh. Kadi digs an elbow into her ribs. “Shut up, it's just a… it's not some big thing, he’s just been flirting after class, and I may have said something about wanting to get registered for doing rocket tests, and he may have hacked some government databases for me, and I may be going out with him next weekend sometime.”

Sara bursts out laughing. “Oh, nerd love,” she says, and Kadi pushes off of her to go sit at the other end of the couch and glare. With the ice cream.

“Don't tell Rokia,” Kadi says. “I don't want her getting all weird.” She takes another bite of ice cream. “And if you tell Uncle Brutus I will sneak into your room and shave your head.”

Sara snorts. “Girl, what would I have to talk to Brutus about?” she says. “No worries, secret’s safe with me.”

“Good,” Kadi says, pacified somewhat. She scoots over and proffers the ice cream. “I usually just tell Rokia I'm studying, and I guess since half the time she’s working on Saturday night she doesn't think it's weird.”

Or she’s just decided she doesn't want to know, Sara thinks, but either way it's fine. Kadi can handle herself. Although. “If you ever want, y'know, backup, me and Selene have been known to kick around town on a Saturday night.”

Kadi gives her a scheming look. “Well, I mean Mason’s easy, but I bet you guys would make pretty good wingmen.”

“Oh hell, Kadi, I'm not sure I can handle helping you pick up dudes in bars, I’ve known you since you were born.”

“What about picking up girls?” Kadi asks, calculating. “Girls aren't scary, right?”

Sara grabs the ice cream. “Shit, Kadi, your sister would kill me.”

Kadi sighs. “No, she'd just get that confused look and go hide in the shop all night.” She sighs, serious again.

“Mom used to tease me about how I was the worst baby,” Kadi says. “Was I really?”

Sara blows a long breath through her nose, turns so she can look at Kadi. “You were just a baby,” she says. “Does it really matter?”

Kadi just scowls, and okay that one probably wasn't going to work, but worth a try. “I asked somebody,” Sara says, “because you were really little and you cried a lot,” Kadi looks down. “It's because your mom was taking morphling when she was pregnant, honey,” she says, shifting so Kadi can duck under her arm again. “You were going through withdrawal, basically. So everything hurt, everything was too loud and too bright, and you needed someone to help you.”

Kadi curls up, like she's trying to make herself as small as possible. “And Mom didn't fucking care, so Rokia had to deal with me.”

Sara sighs. “I mean, it's not just you, your mom didn't give a shit about anything or anyone except herself.”

“I remember she came to my birthday parties, when we had the house,” Kadi says, hesitant. “I thought if she liked me enough maybe she'd stay. But she always had to leave.”

Sara doesn't have anything to say to that. Kadi sighs, uncoils a little. “Rokia loves you, Kadi,” Sara says, finally. “Always has.”

“But now she hates babies because of me,” Kadi says. “What if you guys wanted to have kids or something?”

Sara stares blankly. Kadi starts giggling. “Guess I don't have to worry about that one,” she says. “You sure you're not bottling up some secret maternal instincts?”

Sara shoves her off the couch. But Kadi’s Two enough, she rolls and comes up ready, tackles Sara to the floor, laughing.

And that's where they are when Rokia walks in.

“Hi Rokia!” Kadi calls, but she doesn't loosen her grip enough for Sara to get her arm free. Sara sighs, taps out with the other arm. Kadi lets her up with a triumphant grin, then looks back at Rokia, who’s still standing by the door with a bemused smile. “Your wife needs to fight more girls, just sparring with D makes her fight like a dude.”

“Hey!” Sara says. “Some of us haven't been sparring since elementary school, okay.”

Kadi just keeps grinning, pleased with herself, and finally Rokia shakes her head and laughs. “Glad you kids are having fun,” she says. “But we better get some dinner put together before Lyme shows up and yells at us.”

Sara and Kadi both glance at the empty tub of ice cream. Rokia rolls her eyes. “No, ice cream does not count as dinner,” she calls over her shoulder on the way into the kitchen.

Sara follows her, catches up as she’s opening the fridge, comes up behind her for a hug. Mistake, she realizes, as Rokia tenses, she wasn't thinking. She steps back to let Rokia turn around. “I'll make food,” Sara says, hoping Rokia can read the apology. “Go sit, you look tired.”

Rokia sighs, but she heads for the table. Kad’s collecting her papers, and Rokia glances down. “What're you working on?” she asks.

“Oh, mostly structural mechanics today,” Kadi says. “It's not too bad.”

Rokia picks up the top sheet. Sara opens the fridge again and takes inventory.

“I did a little of this,” Rokia says, “Wiress sent me a book.”

There's vegetables, fresh from Allie’s garden. Sara pulls out tomatoes and onions and some kind of greens.

“Oh yeah?” Kadi’s saying. “I didn't know that.”

“Yeah,” Rokia sounds preoccupied. There's eggs, too. Tomatoes and onions and greens, the eggs can poach in the sauce. Easy.

She looks up. Rokia's still looking at the sheet of Kadi’s homework, frowning. “Yeah, her and Beetee taught me all kinds of stuff.” She glances up, hands the paper to Kadi with a rueful smile. “I'm glad you get to learn it the regular way.”

Kadi ducks her head, looks pleased. Rokia puts an arm around her shoulder, half-hugs her, brushes some stray hair away from Kadi’s face. Kadi ducks out with her work and Rokia comes over to where Sara’s collecting stuff to make food.

“Hi,” she says quietly, stepping up next to Sara.

“Hey,” Sara says, putting her things down. “How’re you doing?”

Rokia shrugs. “It's fine,” she says, which is Rokia-code for not actually fine but doesn't want to talk about it.

Sara hands her a couple tomatoes and a knife. Kadi comes back in a minute later. “Can I help?” she asks.

“Nah,” Sara says. “Perch somewhere and chat.”

Kadi does, hops up onto a patch of unused countertop and starts telling stories about kids from school. Mason comes up once or twice and Sara has to work to keep a straight face. Rokia glances in her direction, eyebrow raised, but Sara just shakes her head.

Rokia unwinds as they work, until when she's finished chopping and hands off to Sara to actually cook the food, she goes to sit at the table and the two of them launch into a conversation about aerodynamics that Sara doesn't even try to follow.

And sure enough, before they've finished eating the door opens and Lyme calls hello.

“We're eating,” Rokia calls back, pointedly.

“Good,” Lyme says as she walks in. “Hi Sara, Hi Kadi.”

Sara gets up. “You want something to drink? I think we finished all the greens but there's more bread and stuff.”

Lyme shakes her head. “Nah, I'm fine, just wanted to check in.” She leans against the doorframe and apparently has an entire conversation with Rokia without either of them saying a word.

Sara sits back down and finishes her food, starts reaching for the others’ plates. “If you all have stuff to do, go ahead,” she says. “I can clean up.”

Rokia scowls at her. “You don't have to do everything,” she says.

“I know,” Sara smiles back. “But I got this, seriously.”

Rokia stares her down a little longer, then sighs and heads out back with Lyme, while Kadi recolonizes the kitchen table and starts scribbling.

They're not gone long, and when she comes back in Rokia doesn't look like they've been fighting. Lyme doesn't come back, this time, Rokia calls a goodbye at the door and comes over to meet Sara. This time Rokia wraps her arms around Sara’s waist, rests her head against Sara’s shoulder for a minute before letting go and grabbing a dish towel.

Sara sees Kadi watching, turns to wink. Kadi smiles and settles back in.

Kadi finishes her work and the two of them disappear downstairs, while Sara curls up with a book and a cup of tea and turns on some music. A couple hours later her phone buzzes. Lyme: Put that girl to bed, will you?

Sara smiles. Which one? She sends back.

Both of them, but only one’s gonna fight you on it.

I'll call if I need backup

Do that

Sara sighs, sets down her book and turns off the music, heads downstairs. “Bedtime, kids,” she calls, as she gets to where she can see the place. The two of them are crowded over something on the work table, their heads bent close until the look up at her with matching dismayed expressions. Sara sighs, shakes her head, but she knows she's smiling. “Your toys will still be here in the morning,” she adds, sweetly.

The two of them don't usually look all that alike, it's Allie who looks most like Rokia of the two girls, but these unimpressed flat-mouthed stares match almost perfectly.

“Yeah, alright,” Rokia says finally, sounding put-upon. “Kadi, you have class in the morning anyway.”

Kadi sighs as she reaches for her datapad, but when she brushes past Sara on the stairs she smiles. Rokia follows her, and Sara comes close behind, reaching out to turn off the light.

Kadi says goodnight and heads upstairs, but Rokia hesitates. Glances toward the downstairs bathroom. Or, more likely, the medicine cabinet.

Sara reaches down, interlaces their fingers and squeezes. “Bring it up with you,” she says. “If you sleep fine without it, okay, if you wake up you can take it then.”

“Yeah, but then it’ll be late and it’ll screw up the whole morning,” Rokia says.

“And you know how much I hate lazy mornings,” Sara deadpans.

Rokia glares at her, then sighs, runs a hand through her hair. “Fine,” she says, goes to fetch the bottle.

Sara can usually sleep through anything. Years of sleeping in barracks and cramped crew cars will teach you that or make you crazy. But by now she's taught herself to notice when Rokia starts moving around or making noise in her sleep.

And she's not surprised when Rokia jerks awake and gasps, freezing in an effort not to wake Sara up.

“Hey,” Sara says quietly, rolling over. “You wanna c’mere?” It's even odds either way, really. Sara much prefers nights like this, when Rokia doesn't say anything, just slides over and lets Sara hold her close. It's a few minutes before Rokia starts taking big, deep breaths and shifts away, rolls onto her back.

“Fuck,” she says, hands over her eyes.

“You wanna talk?” Sara asks

Rokia shakes her head. Takes her hands away from her eyes, blinks and looks up at the ceiling. Sara props herself up on one elbow and looks over. Rokia's taking deep, deliberate breaths, but her eyes are wide and frightened, body tense.

“You know what I'm gonna ask,” Sara says, trying to keep her voice light.

Rokia rolls her eyes, nods. Swallows. “Yeah.” She says, “I do.”

Sara rolls toward the edge of the bed, sits up and finds the glass of water and the bottle of pills, gets one out. She turns back toward Rokia, who’s turned towards her. “What time is it?” Rokia asks.

Sara finds her watch. “Almost one.”

Rokia groans. “I just want to fucking sleep like a fucking human being,” she grouses. “Why is that so damn hard?”

“I mean…” Sara says. “I think you know, but also yeah. That sucks.”

Another eye roll. “I could go downstairs, wear myself out for an hour,” she says, as though it's a negotiating position.

“Yeah and then Lyme will come over here and feed me my own liver,” Sara says, because no, she is not getting pulled into that spiral of crazy in the middle of the fucking night.

“Kadi needs breakfast—”

“Girl, she's practically grown, she can make coffee and oatmeal just fine. Plus I'll get up to make sure, if it'll make you feel better.”

“Yeah but she's been more clingy, I don't want her to think—”

“Babygirl, you know I love you, but that's a load of bullshit,” Sara says. “She's worried about you, best thing you can do is take care of yourself.”

Rokia glares. Shuts her mouth. Opens it. Sits up, gestures for the glass. “Fucking fine,” she says. Sara hands her the pill

“I could just take half,” Rokia says.

“You can take half once the nightmares aren't so bad,” Sara says. “You don't think Lyme told me how this works?”

Rokia sighs, swallows the pill, swallows the water, flops down in bed and rolls to face away.

Sara sighs and settles herself.

“Thanks,” Rokia says, after a bit. It's grudging, and she doesn't uncurl, but it's also drowsy, so Sara will take it.

Fuck. She stares up at the ceiling until Rokia’s breathing evens out, sleep-shallow instead of panic-shallow, her body going slack. Watches the blankets rise and fall with Rokia’s breathing, forces herself to let go of the frustration and the anger (at the situation, and everyone to blame for it, never at Rokia, not even now). Forces herself to take deep breaths, counting the inhales and the exhales until she manages to sleep.

She dreams of gunfire. Most of it her own, crouched on top of a boxcar firing at black-clad figures in the shadows. Sees nameless faces she knows in the dream are enemies, dreams they go down, bullets leaving ragged holes, eyes dead and blank.

She wakes up, to the alarm she set to check on Kadi, tastes blood because she bit her cheek somehow in her sleep, feels the rush of adrenaline, righteous fury and excitement and ruthless fierce pleasure, and—

She doesn't miss it, not really. Not any of the rest of it certainly. But— but. So much more satisfying, making the world better by shooting people.

Rokia stirs faintly when Sara gets up, but Sara just rubs her back through the blanket. “Shh, it's okay, I'll be right back.”

She tiptoes over to Kadi’s room and knocks. Kadi answers, looks out morning-dazed. “Is everything okay?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Sara says. “But I convinced Rokia to sleep in for once and one condition was I'd check on you in the morning.”

Kadi looks confused, laughs a little. “Okay?” she says. “I mean, I'm a big girl, I know how to make coffee.”

“This is what I said,” Sara replies dryly. “But I promised, so I'm checking.”

Kadi shakes her head. “Alright, duty done, go back to bed. You look like you could use another couple hours yourself.”

Sara nods. “Planning on it,” she says. “See you this afternoon.”

“Okay,” Kadi says again, pushes the door closed.

Sara goes back to bed. She sleeps lightly, and doesn't dream.

When Sara wakes up again, Rokia’s watching her through half-lidded sleepy eyes, head on one hand. Sara smiles, shifts closer, curls on her side. “Hey there,” she says. “You’re awake.”

“Kind of,” Rokia says. She sighs, but it mostly seems contented, relaxed rather than resentful.

“Hmm,” Sara says. “Kadi’s gone, we could go curl up on the couch and watch movies and drink tea.”

Rokia yawns, considering. But Sara knows if they actually stay in bed too long Rokia will get antsy. Somehow at least the pretense of doing something will actually let her relax.

“C’mon,” Sara says, “It’s my week off, y’know.”

Rokia nods, stretches. “Okay,” she says, and sits up. Sara follows her, and for once Rokia’s moving slow enough Sara can catch up, wrap an arm around Rokia’s waist and let her fingers trail under the hem of Rokia’s T-shirt. Rokia shivers, turns to face Sara, presses close and stretches up for a kiss. Something in Sara’s chest unknots, even as she makes sure her arms stay loose, don’t pull tight enough to make Rokia feel trapped. And when Rokia pulls back, it’s with a lopsided smile, still sleepy-eyed and loose limbed.

“Hmm,”Rokia’s eyebrows go up. “Yes okay, you have good ideas,” she says, pads for the door still in sleep clothes, shorts and someone’s enormous stolen T-shirt, her fingers pushing the collar to one side to dig absently at the muscles in her shoulder.

It takes a second, after that, for Sara’s brain to wake up, and she has to hurry to catch up with Rokia down the stairs. Rokia heads for the couch but Sara hesitates. “I’ll make tea,” she says, “you get cozy.” Rokia looks up and nods, pulls the blanket off the back of the couch while Sara heads for the kitchen. Because yeah, she’d like something hot to drink, but also they should eat something, and if they curl up on the couch now they’re both liable to forget for…a while. Hopefully.

But there’s toaster waffles, and honey, and cinnamon, and tea, and it’s quick enough Sara’s only starting to get cold by the time everything’s ready.

Rokia rolls her eyes a little at the food, but she waits for Sara to sit in the corner of the couch before wedging herself in, leaning back against Sara’s shoulder and picking up one of the waffles. And okay if Rokia’s going to eat, she can damn well eat with her hands if she wants, and then Sara can too, even if it’s a little tricky to keep from getting cinnamon in Rokia’s hair. Food finished, Sara settles back. Rokia curls against her, licking honey off her fingers absently, then looks up, smiling like she knows exactly how fucking distracting that is. And oh yes, she definitely does, interlaces her hand with Sara’s and pulls Sara’s fingers toward her mouth. Sara groans, until Rokia turns so Sara has to shift, lie almost flat while Rokia gets a knee between her legs and her hands on either side of Sara’s face, leans down and kisses her.

And earlier it was sleepy and friendly, this is—well, Sara’s not really sure, because that’s the point when her brain flings up its hands and decides it’s no longer needed here.

Yes. Sara has very good ideas.

“Tea’s got cold,” Rokia says, later, reaching from where she’s curled against Sara to feel the side of the mug. She pulls her hand back, twists up so Sara can she she’s teasing.

“And I’d make more,” Sara says, digging in a little with the fingers she has wrapped around Rokia’s waist. “But then we’d both have to move, and I really don’t think it’s worth it.”

“No,” Rokia says, pulling the blanket over them and settling back. “But you should make that thing entertain us.” She waves vaguely toward the TV, hands the remote to Sara.

It’s pretty much permanently set on the nature channel, and even on the rare occasions when Selene wants to watch terrible shit so she can mock it, it gets set back before it’s turned off. So the scariest thing they could see when it’s turned back on again is a grizzly bear.

Today though it’s District Four, a guy from Three on a fishing boat getting kitted up to dive down and explore—something. Doesn’t really matter, because Rokia’s half-watching and drifting toward sleep again, as though her body’s decided that it might as well get as much in as it can while she’s not paying attention.

They both wake up with a start when the door opens, but then they hear, “Just me, girls,” in Lyme’s voice, and Sara feels Rokia breathe again, make a halfhearted attempt at sitting up. “Stay put,” Lyme says, half permission, half demand. So Rokia lies back down, although Sara imagines she can feel Rokia’s eyes rolling even from behind.

Lyme comes around to grab the empty plate, one corner of her mouth quirking up at the mostly-full mugs of cold tea, and Sara hears her drop them in the kitchen. “I’ll leave you be,” she says, from by the door. “Might want lunch at some point,” she adds, dryly, and the door closes before Rokia can get out any sarcastic response.

“I should go in for the afternoon,” Rokia says reluctantly, stretching and generally working her way towards actually awake.

“Nope,” Sara says. And doesn’t pull Rokia back in, even though she wants to. “You should stay right here.”

Rokia sighs. “I can’t sleep all day,” she says.

Sara has to grant that, if only because it’ll fuck up Rokia’s sleep schedule just when she’s trying to have one again. “There are more things in the world than sleep and work,” she says.

Rokia pushes herself up to sit, scrubs her hands over her face. Huffs something like a rueful laugh. “Okay,” she says, “like what?”

Sara takes the time to sit up and think of something. “Bikes’re in the garage,” she suggests. “Doesn’t appear to be raining.”

Rokia cocks her head to one side. “True,” she grants. Sara lets her think. Eventually she sighs and nods. “Okay, let me call down to the shop and make sure they don’t need me down there,” she says. “And then we can ride up to the old quarry lake or something.”

She steals the blanket when she gets up, smirking a little at Sara as she wraps it around her shoulders. Sara isn’t going to complain. She heads for the kitchen while Rokia makes her calls, puts together sandwiches and a couple of early apples to take along, finds in the fridge a bottle with a note in Lyme’s handwriting that just says “Drink this.”

She pulls it out, sets it on the counter, picks aimlessly at the bowl of trail mix on the table until Rokia comes in. “Okay,” she says, “Blaine just made fun of me for thinking they couldn’t handle things, so I guess we’re clear.”

“Present from Lyme,” Sara says, pointing at the bottle. “And then we can go.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Rokia says, picks it up. She snorts when she sees the note, but screws off the lid of the bottle anyway, scrunches up her nose and drinks. “Come on,” she says, “I’ll finish the damn thing while we get dressed.”

Sara follows Rokia through the city streets, out onto the highway, until they get to the rutted dirt access road, almost invisible in the brush. Rokia takes the turn fast, starts up the road with her head down, weight balanced on the footpegs, slaloming around potholes. It’s different from riding with Selene. Selene’s just as fast, but Selene rides like she’s daring the bike to throw her, charges through practically anything full speed ahead. Rokia’s more finesse, balance and precision so she doesn’t ever hit something that’d stress the shocks, just slides past. Sara’s somewhere in between. Less precise than Rokia, less reckless than Selene, and she doesn’t usually beat either of them if they’re racing but she can keep up just fine. They top the ridge and hit the wide flat road that used to be this quarry town’s main street, and as usual Rokia guns it, races past the abandoned buildings until she has to slam on the brakes to avoid flying off the edge into the quarry pit.

Sara pulls up a little later, having no particular need to risk life and limb for five seconds of hair-raising speed. Rokia pulls her helmet off and grins, eyes sparkling. “Beat you,” she says.

Sara sets her helmet on the seat in front of her and scratches at her scalp. “Yeah, you forget that unlike Selene I don’t really care that much,” she says. Rokia laughs, gets down and walks over to the edge, a little too close to the sheer drop-off for Sara’s comfort.

“You are a menace,” Sara says, and Rokia turns to smirk at her.

“You like it,” she shoots back. And Sara really doesn’t have a response to that, because, well, she does.

There’s something about the air and the ride that mean Rokia doesn’t even whine when Sara hands her a sandwich, just sits on the grass with her legs stretched out and watches…well, everything.

“Thanks,” she says, shifty-eyed, when she finishes. “I—this is good.”

Sara slides over and knocks against her shoulder. “See, I do have good ideas,” Sara says. Rokia leans against her.

“I’m sorry I got so—“

“Rokia,” Sara starts, warning.

“No, I know, just… I didn’t expect it to be this hard.”

Sara shrugs. “Is what it is,” she says. “You don’t have to apologize.”

Rokia sighs. “Y’know, the weirdest part is… she got to choose, and she still decided she wants a baby, and I’m just…” Rokia spreads her hands. “Why?

The pure, simple bafflement on Rokia’s face makes Sara laugh. Rokia glares, then shakes her head and sighs. “No, babe, I’m not laughing at you,” Sara says, “I don’t get it either, honestly.”

“I don’t understand Allie, really,” Rokia says. “But as long as she’s happy…”

“Hey,” Sara says. “That’s what’s important. You don’t have to know why, you just have to know she’s doing what she wants and that’s okay.”

Rokia shrugs. “Yeah,” she says. “She’s a good kid.”

Sara tries not to smile. “She’s about to have a kid, Rokia, she’s getting pretty grown up.”

Rokia shakes her head. “I swear I was just trying to teach her how to tie her damn shoelaces,” she says. “How the fuck does that happen.”

Sara puts an arm around Rokia’s shoulders. “Time just keeps going forwards,” she says.

“Thankfully,” Rokia says acerbically. “Wouldn’t it suck if it actually started going backwards?”

Sara shudders. “Yeah no, let’s just not think about that,” she says.

Rokia leans against her and sighs. “You’re not suddenly going to decide you want babies or something, are you?” she asks, in a tone of voice you could take for joking, if you didn’t know Rokia.

“Fuck no,” Sara says, emphatically. “Kadi asked me that yesterday and I pushed her off the couch.”

“Oh is that why you were pinned to the floor when I got home?” Rokia asks, one eyebrow raised, her eyes searching Sara’s face a lot more seriously than the rest of her expression calls for.

“Your sister’s been fighting since she was little, and in case you didn’t notice she’s almost my size,” Sara says. “It’s not my fault.”

Rokia turns away, looking pleased. “Okay,” she says, shifts and gets up. “C’mon, let’s head home.”

Rokia leaves her bike in the driveway, so Sara does too. “I want to check the clutch tension and stuff,” Rokia says, when she pulls her helmet off.

“After dinner,” Sara says.

“Fine,” Rokia sighs. “Yes, okay, after dinner.”

They’re chopping vegetables for stir fry when Kadi rushes in, grinning. “Rokia!” she calls, pulling off her boots.

Rokia goes to the doorway and peeks out.  “Yeah?”

“I was over at Eibhlin’s working on my math homework and I got all of it done and I actually understood it and Eibhlin actually said it was good.”

“Wow,” Rokia says. “Eibhlin doesn’t exactly throw compliments around, well done kiddo.”

Kadi’s beaming as she walks in.

And Beetee says I can have time on the school computer to run aerodynamics tests for the rockets this weekend and Eibhlin’s going to help with the coding but she can’t tonight because she promised Claudius they could do fire bubbles once it gets dark.”

“Nice,” Rokia says, pauses, sets down her knife and glances at Sara, one eyebrow raised.

“Go,” Sara says, and Rokia turns.

“Show me?” she asks Kadi, who ducks out and comes back with her datapad, sets it on the kitchen table.

“So,” Kadi starts, and that’s basically the last word Sara understands until she makes them put away their toys to eat.

Rokia remembers about the bikes after dinner. “C’mon,” she tells Kadi, “You can bring that along.”

So Sara and Rokia trade sockets back and forth, checking over the bikes while Kadi sits with her back against the wall and scowls at her datapad, occasionally looking up and asking Rokia something about exception handling in Python 6 or complaining about memory limits on her datapad. There’s an occasional bright light from the direction of Claudius’ house.

Sara hands Rokia a pill as they’re heading for bed. “How ‘bout we skip the negotiation, it’s been a good day,” she says.

Rokia’s eyes shift to the side, but she doesn’t immediately start arguing at least. And then she sighs. “Fine,” she says, swallows the thing, finishes the water and hands the glass back to Sara. “There.”

Sara hugs her, and Rokia rests her head on Sara’s shoulder. “Thank you,” Sara says quietly.

“It has been a good day,” Rokia says, pulling back and climbing into bed. “So y’know. Thanks for that.”

Sara slides in on the other side, curls so she’s facing Rokia. “Goodnight,” she says.

“Goodnight,” Rokia echoes. Then, “I love you,” almost too soft to hear.

“Love you too,” Sara whispers back.

Rokia reaches out, squeezes Sara’s hand once, then rolls over to face the door.

Sara watches until she’s sure Rokia’s asleep, then drifts off herself.

And this time nothing wakes them up until the sun shines in the window.



Part 3
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