The kid’s phone rings after lunch. Rokia jumps at the sound of it, pulls it out of her pocket with an expression of resigned annoyance, until she sees the number. Then her face goes blank, eyes wide as she answers, stands up, walks toward the living room, her free arm wrapped across her ribs like she’s afraid of a knife to the gut.
It’s not like Lyme needed more evidence that there was a problem, but if she had, the hesitant way Rokia answers would give her more than enough. The kid never sounds hesitant. Guarded, yes, or skeptical, but never hesitant, not like this.
She’s quiet for a long time, and Lyme moves to the doorway where she can see Rokia, curled into the chair in the corner, hugging her knees. “Magda, I—“ she starts, then stops, cut off by whoever’s on the other end. “I’ll try,” she says finally, “but you gotta give me a couple days, I’m not in the Capitol.”
Rokia’s biting her lip, while whoever Magda is talks. “Yeah, okay,” she says finally, flat and exhausted. “Tomorrow, then.” And that seems to pacify the caller, because Rokia says goodbye and hangs up.
She rests her forehead on her knees and takes a few shaky breaths before unfolding, standing up in one jerky motion and turning to see Lyme. “I have to go,” she says, sharp and brusque and any hint of the warmth that had been starting to peek out vanished under steely resolve. “I need to be in the Capitol by tonight.”
Lyme raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. Rokia shoves her phone in her pocket and turns toward the stairs.
Lyme moves to block her way. Rokia’s eyes flash, search for a way around, but it’s not happening and the kid knows it. She backs up, crosses her arms, glares up in shaky defiance. “What the fuck?” she asks. “I gotta get my shit from upstairs.”
“What’s so urgent?” Lyme asks.
“Train leaves for Six early tomorrow, I gotta get some stuff to send to my aunt.”
“Do you now?” Lyme keeps her voice calm, a little sardonic, despite the alarms blaring in her head.
“Yes,” Rokia says, moves forward. She tries to slip past, but Lyme’s immovable and she pulls back again, frustrated. “What the hell?”
Rokia rolls her eyes. “Oh for fuck’s sake, it’s nothing, her husband got killed in the war and she needs money for her and her kid.”
“Yes, from me, her husband’s dead because of me, it’s the least I can do.”
Oh, fuck. There’s no way this ends well.
“Why do you say that?” Lyme asks, still as though this was an ordinary calm conversation.
Rokia actually flings up her hands, walks away and comes back. “I worked for him. Snow’s people grabbed everyone from the shop and shot them on TV to prove a fucking point.”
“That’s on Snow, not on you,” Lyme tries.
Rokia snorts. “Sure,” she says. Doesn’t bother engaging. “I’ve answered your damn questions, now let me get my stuff and go.”
Lyme doesn’t want to, but she can’t have the kid thinking she’s stuck here, either. She steps to one side, letting the reluctance show in her body language, and the kid races up the stairs and disappears.
It doesn’t take long for her to grab the handful of things she came with, and then she’s back down, on the phone with someone else. “Yeah, Two,” she says, “I gotta get to the Capitol tonight.”
She stops at the door to shove her feet into boots, pauses. “Great, I’ll be there.”
She shoves the phone back into a pocket, ties her shoes and stands up. “Can I get a ride to the station? I can walk, but I don’t want to be late.”
Lyme shrugs, finds her keys.
The kid’s keyed up, tapping her fingers against the armrest, her thigh, glancing around.
When they get to the station Rokia hops out. “Thanks,” she says. “See ya.”
“Count on it,” Lyme says. Rokia rolls her eyes and heads for the platform.
Lyme tries to think, on the drive up, then sighs when she realizes there’s only one real option. She owes Phillips a heads up anyway, Rokia’s his girl and Lyme’s…well, when it comes down to it, she is poaching his kid. Normally it’d be way out of line and Lyme wouldn’t dream of it, but they left normal behind sometime in 73, maybe before.
So she pulls out the list of phone numbers Beetee drew up and finds Phillips.
“Hello?” He sounds puzzled. Fair enough.
“Phillips, it’s Lyme,” she says.
“I’m calling about your girl,” Lyme says, then, at Phillips’ quick intake of breath she adds, “She’s—nothing’s happened, I’ve dragged her out to stay with me a couple times, and I’m probably going to keep doing that, so I thought I should let you know.”
There’s a long pause. Then Phillips sighs. “Good,” he says, and it’s emphatic but laced with—something else. Doubt, sadness, guilt, something, and if Lyme was his Victor she’d hate that. “Better Two than the Capitol,” he adds, and Lyme’s pretty sure he doesn’t mean that as an insult so she tries not to take it as one.
“There’s one thing,” Lyme says. “She got a call from someone named Magda, she said it was her aunt?”
“Yeah,” Phillips says, cautious.
“Well, Rokia didn’t sound thrilled to be talking with her,” Lyme says, letting Phillips draw his own conclusions about how much of an understatement that is. “And she took off back to the Capitol right after, said she had to send money to Six on the next train.” Lyme pauses. “It seemed strange.”
Phillips takes his time, speaking carefully. “Magda was—is—“ He stops, starts again. “Rokia worked for her uncle, Magda’s husband, before the Reaping, she always felt like she owed him.” And Lyme can tell there’s a lot hidden in that sentence, but now’s not the time. “Magda was always polite to me, but Rokia…” He pauses again. “Her girls stayed with Magda whenever we were both away, and Allie said some things—“ He stops, takes a breath, then like he’s starting over, he says, “If I had to guess, I’d say Magda’s trying to get everything she can out of Rokia, because she knows Rokia feels guilty about Sal.”
Lyme isn’t surprised, really, it’s just confirming her own suspicions, but she sees red, regardless. “Fuck that,” she snarls, because she can’t snarl at the kid but Phillips can take it. “You got a way to get in touch with this woman?”
“The phones are mostly out in Six still,” Phillips says, “But I know where she used to live, if I had a way to get to Six.”
Lyme’s eyes slam open when she realizes, fix on the wall across from her. “I know a guy,” she says. “And I’ll come with you.”
Phillips chuckles, low and grating. “Good,” he says, and for a second he sounds just as angry as she is. “Just tell me where and when.”
“I will,” Lyme says, and hangs up.
She’d gotten the rail crew boss’s phone number mostly on a whim, given him hers so hopefully any bad news for Rokia could come through Lyme, and not over the phone, with Rokia alone in her shop.
It’s useful, now. He picks up with a confused hello.
“Is this Joe?” Lyme asks.
“Who’s this?” is the gruff reply.
“This is Lyme,” she says. “I need a favor.”
“Okay,” Joe replies, cautious.
“It’s for Rokia,” Lyme adds.
“Well that’s different,” Joe says, “What d’ya need?”
“Someone’s trying to guilt money out of her,” Lyme says, letting herself be angry. It’s useful, now. “Phillips and I would like to have a conversation about that, but we’re not supposed to be traveling to places like Six.”
“Aw, hell no,” Joe says. “That girl don’t owe nothing to nobody.”
“Nope,” Lyme says, waits.
There’s a pause. “I’m pulling up schedules,” Joe says, preoccupied. “Gotta be going through Two and Nine, gotta get you back out quick, ‘cause I don’t wanna answer twenty questions about procedures if someone sees you there.” He pauses. “Do you mind if it’s late? I can get you there around midnight and back out by three, if we go tomorrow night.”
Lyme thinks about it. “Sure, if you can help us track her down. I don’t wanna go knocking on doors in the middle of the night unless I know who’s behind them.”
“Her?” Joe asks, suspicious.
“Rokia’s aunt, Magda.”
“Of fucking course,” Joe says, like he’s spitting it. “I know where she’s staying. Hell, I’ll take you there myself.”
“Good,” Lyme says. “Now what time should I be ready for you?”
Lyme climbs onto a cargo train the next afternoon, gets a handshake and a grin from Joe and strict instructions not to leave the crew area, seeing as she isn’t supposed to be here. She nods, settles in and watches the crew as the land levels out into the disconcerting openness of the prairie districts. There’s construction everywhere, the train slows to a crawl over temporary bridges, rumbles over new track, jerks and shakes the way no passenger train ever did. Nine to Ten took all of a couple hours on Tours, but today it’s half the day, so it’s after dark by the time they stop for Phillips. He climbs on, nods to the crew, and takes a seat next to Lyme.
“Hey Phillips,” Lyme says, making room.
“Hi Lyme,” he echoes, sits back, stretching out his legs. Lyme watches him from the corner of her eye. He looks better than he did, back in the Capitol, and that’s hardly surprising but it’s still good to see.
“How’s Nine?” Lyme asks, honestly curious.
Phillips smiles a little. “Quiet,” he says. “Big. Lots of sky, hardly any people. Not much to do, till it warms up.” He glances over. “Apparently I’m going to help Cora plant a garden, in spring.”
Lyme raises an eyebrow. “That so?”
He looks pleased. “She says it’ll be relaxing.”
Emory was the one who planted a garden, before. Emory and Odin. Won’t be gardens in spring, not this year, not in the Village.
Phillips sees something on her face, looks away. “You said Joe knows where Magda’s at?” he asks.
Lyme clears her throat. “Yeah. Could ask him.”
Phillips calls him over, and Joe leans back against the wall and looks down at them. “She’s been coming around, talking to the guys she used to work passenger trains with, complaining mostly. I was wondering how she got set up so nice, she’s not working so far as I know.”
Lyme’s teeth grind, and Joe gives her a sour look.
“She’s got a brother,” Phillips says, like he’s just remembered. “Out in…Warren maybe?”
“Well she hasn’t been to see him, least not by train.” Joe sounds certain enough that Lyme doesn’t question it, but she does make note. Joe might sound like any Six gearhead but he pays attention, and he’s apparently high enough up to know who’s going where. Could be useful, knowing someone like that.
“Maybe she ought to go see how he’s doing,” Phillips says, cold and sharp. “Seeing as how she won’t be getting Rokia to pay her rent anymore.”
Joe grins. “Now that sounds like an excellent idea,” he says. He straightens up. “I gotta check some things, we’ll be in Six in a couple hours.”
Once the train’s stopped and the rest of the crew has left, Joe comes back, motions them out. Power’s still spotty in Six, and beyond the loading docks it’s nearly pitch black. When Lyme looks over, she realizes Joe’s carrying a gun in a holster at his waist, and that his eyes—startling in the dark that makes the rest of his face nearly disappear—are checking alleyways, doorways, even roofs.
Lyme stands up straighter, lets her hands hang loose and ready at her sides. Even Phillips is on alert.
Given all that, it’s almost a disappointment when they get there without incident, duck into a rundown apartment building and up three flights of stairs. Joe walks up to a door and bangs on it with his fist, three times.
They hear footsteps, and then a woman’s voice. “Who’s there?”
“Magda, it’s Joe, I need to talk to you.”
There’s a pause. “It’s the middle of the night,” Magda says, fear and irritation making her voice harsh.
“It’s important,” he says, and they hear the sound of the latch being opened.
As soon as the door opens a crack, Joe puts a hand on it and pushes it the rest of the way open, so even if Magda had wanted to slam the door in their faces Lyme doesn’t think she’d manage.
Lyme steps in behind him, and Phillips is close on her heels. Magda backs away into the dark room, then stops. “What is this?” she snaps. “Who are you?”
“You remember me, Magda, don’t you?” Phillips’ tone is sliding and mean and unfamiliar. Magda freezes, her face gone white.
“Phillips? Well I’ll be…” she says weakly.
“And this is Lyme,” Phillips adds. Magda looks up, and Lyme nods.
“We’re here about Rokia,” Lyme says, and doesn’t try to keep any of the anger out of her voice, lets it burn, hot and smooth.
“I got nothing to do with her,” Magda says quickly.
“She sends you money,” Phillips snaps. “She feels sorry for you.”
“Course she does,” Magda says, defiant again. “We kept that child fed and clothed, her and her sisters. She’s the one that dragged Sal into that whole mess, now he’s gone, she owes it to him to look out for us.”
Lyme shifts her weight, and Magda looks over, then away.
“She doesn’t owe you shit,” Lyme says. “This stops, now.”
Magda opens her mouth, but Joe cuts in. “You saw those damn hearings, you know what they made her do. You—“
“You’re damn right I know,” Magda bursts out. “If you think I care what happens to that dirty little—“
“Enough,” Phillips growls, his hands clenching to fists. “If you ever, ever try this again, I—“
“You won’t do shit,” Magda snarls. “You had to sneak over here in the middle of the night because everyone knows they’re keeping the Victors away from honest people. You think you—“
“That’s enough,” Joe says, with enough authority that Magda shuts up, glares at him. “You’re not getting money sent by train, because I will make anyone who helps you wish they’d never been born.”
“And you’re not going to call her,” Lyme adds. “You’re not going to complain to her about this. You’re not going to contact her in any way.”
“Or what, bitch, they won’t let you out of your cage either.”
Lyme steps forward. “What makes you think I need anyone’s permission?” she snarls. “You think I can’t find you out here?”
Magda’s mouth snaps shut. She looks from Lyme to Phillips to Joe and back to Lyme. “I hear you have a brother,” Phillips says, mock-politely. “Maybe it’s time to go say hello.”
“Are you kicking me out of my own home?” Magda asks, but the force behind the words has died down, and her voice wavers.
“Not yet,” Lyme snaps.
“Gonna be pretty hard to keep up the rent on this place, though,” Joe says, conversationally. “People pay good money for spots like this.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Magda tries.
“Watch me.” Lyme says, crossing her arms. Phillips and Joe are standing beside her, just as impassive, and Lyme finds grim satisfaction in watching the woman cave.
She doesn’t even bother with tears, just shakes her head.
“Fine,” she snaps. “Now get out of my house.”
Lyme trades a look with Joe, then Phillips, then turns and walks to the door.
They walk down the stairs in silence, stop in the dingy building lobby. Joe looks around, heads for what Lyme had taken to be a closet. There’s a pay phone inside. Joe pulls a knife out of a pocket, pries open a panel, and cuts an apparently random couple of wires. Lyme grins.
“They’ll fix it soon enough, and she can find a phone if she really wants,” Joe says, slipping the knife back and dropping the panel. “But this’ll slow her down.”
They drop Phillips in Nine as it’s getting light, and Lyme gets to Two just after noon. She stops in to see Beetee on her way home—because she wants a backup plan.
“Hello Lyme,” Beetee says when he answers the door. He motions her in, one eyebrow raised in question.
“I need help with a phone problem,” Lyme says, not quite sure what else to call it, especially not after spending most of the last 24 hours rattling around through four districts.
“Can you see who’s been calling Rokia?” Lyme asks.
“I could,” Beetee says, cautiously.
“I know she talks to that friend of hers with the shop, but I want anyone else who tries calling her from Six to get me instead. Can you do that?”
Beetee raises one eyebrow. “It’s possible, yes. Why do you want to screen her contact with her home district?”
Lyme is far too tired to sugar coat it. “A woman, an aunt of hers, has been guilt tripping Rokia into sending money.”
That’s all she needs to say. Beetee’s expression darkens and he nods. “I will implement that immediately.”
“Good,” Lyme says.
Beetee walks her out, and she heads home.
The next morning, Lyme calls Rokia. The phone rings for a while before Rokia answers, and then she’s abrupt, a little out of breath.
“How’re you doing, kiddo?” Lyme asks. “You ran out pretty fast the other day.”
There’s a pause, and then Rokia’s voice is strained. “I’m fine. There’s a lot to do here, I really shouldn’t keep taking time off, everything gets backed up.”
“They’ll survive,” Lyme says.
“Maybe,” Rokia replies, and it’s not sarcastic. “All them logging towns up in Seven, parts of North Six, nothing’s getting up there but hovercraft. We don’t keep shit running, folks don’t eat.”
Lyme runs a hand through her hair, since the kid can’t see anyway. Fuck. “There’s other people that can fix stuff though,” Lyme says, keeping her voice calm, not arguing.
“Sure,” Rokia snaps. “And we need all of ‘em. I’m not the only one working hard.”
The problem with this argument, the reason they keep having it, round and round in circles, is that Rokia isn’t completely wrong. They do need all hands on deck keeping shit moving. And Rokia can’t see how hard she’s driving herself, can’t see anything other than working flat-out as good enough. Of course she can’t, the kid’s running on adrenaline and stubbornness and that doesn’t exactly lend itself to clear thinking.
“Well, you gotta take breaks sometimes,” Lyme settles for, with a teasing lightness she doesn’t feel. “Think you can make it back soon?”
There’s a long pause, then Rokia sighs. “I dunno,” she says. “I just—there’s just a lot to do.”
“Alright,” Lyme says. “You take care of yourself, okay?”
“Sure,” Rokia says, already preoccupied. “Bye.”
Lyme gives it another two days, then hops a train to the Capitol when the second phone call goes about like the first. She gets in in the evening, as most of the shop is closing down for the day. There’s a few stragglers, climbing around on one of the fast transports that reminds Lyme of the tribute craft.
And there’s Rokia, on her back in a narrow access shaft, doing something that’s sending sparks cascading over her from the tools she’s using to fix something above her. It’s loud, and Rokia’s wearing a welding mask, so Lyme just waits until Rokia slides out, flips the mask up, and flinches, hard, when she sees Lyme standing there.
Lyme waits until she calms down, leans her head back against the side of the hovercraft. “Hey kiddo,” she says.
Rokia pulls off the mask. There’s a bright red mark, almost a dent, where it sat on her forehead. “What the hell are you doing here?” Rokia asks. It’s not even angry, it’s flat, and that’s worse.
Lyme shrugs. “Came to see you,” she says.
“What the fuck is this about?” Rokia blurts out. “I’m not some baby Two Victor who needs a mentor to hold my hand, okay.”
Lyme shrugs one shoulder. She doesn’t like the visual here though, towering over Rokia, so she goes to sit next to her, leaving an armslength of space between them. “I know you don’t need handholding,” Lyme says. She waits for a response, but doesn’t get one. “Just want to make sure you aren’t stuck here by yourself.”
“I chose to stay here,” Rokia says, still in that flat, uninflected voice. “I’m not stuck.” She looks over at Lyme. “And I have work to do.”
Rokia grabs her mask and stands up, one hand tracking up the side of the hovercraft as she goes. She glares at Lyme, at the hovercraft, heads for her office.
Lyme waits. Counts off five minutes in her head, then when Rokia hasn’t come out, she goes in. Rokia’s bent over the desk, datapad between her elbows, forehead on her hands. She doesn’t seem to notice Lyme, so Lyme waits in the doorway for long enough to get a good look, then says, softly, “Rokia.”
Rokia turns her head towards Lyme, blinks a couple times, then sits up. She looks around at the office, pulls a notebook toward her, a few loose sheets of paper. She stacks everything on top of her datapad and stands up. “Fine, alright, you win,” she says, “Let’s go.”
They walk to the station in near-silence. Rokia keeps her things folded against her chest, her head down. When they get to the station she uncoils enough to find out when the next cargo train’s leaving—an hour from now—and then goes to sit on one of the benches. They’re the old ones still, polished mahogony, carved into some kind of silliness and not very comfortable, but Rokia pulls her feet up under her and pulls up something on her datapad. She ignores Lyme until the train comes, says a short hello to the crew, grabs a seat in the sparse passenger area, and goes back to the datapad. When Lyme catches a glimpse, it’s lists and text and documents, which isn’t what she expected—usually Rokia’s working with sketches and models and pictures, but Lyme knows better than to ask right now.
Rokia loses the fight against sleep once they’re under way, curling against the wall and dozing lightly enough that any movement wakes her up. She’s groggy and slow when they get off in Two, hauls herself towards wakefulness on the drive up to the Village.
“Hungry?” Lyme asks, as they walk in. She can guess at the answer, but she figures it’s good to ask anyway.
Rokia shrugs. “Nah,” she says. She sets down her things long enough to yank at her shoelaces, pull off her boots, then picks up the pile again. She glances around, uncertain, then heads for the couch. “I’m just gonna look at some of this,” she mumbles, wedging herself into a corner. It’s only then that she glances up at Lyme, as if daring her to say no.
Lyme just shrugs. “Sure,” she says.
Rokia falls asleep like that, not long after. Lyme leaves the kid there until she’s ready to go to bed herself, then hesitates. She’s not leaving Rokia asleep sitting up down here. She also doesn’t want to wake Rokia up and risk an argument. So Lyme sighs, walks over, takes the paperwork off the kid’s lap. Rokia shifts a little at that, but doesn’t wake up. Lyme crouches down, gets an arm behind Rokia’s back and one under her knees, and picks her up. Lyme’s hauled Misha up to bed when she’s being petulant, Claudius when he’s sicker than he’ll admit, Brutus on one very memorable occasion involving obscene amounts of alcohol. She’s surprised at just how light this kid is. Rokia’s eyes open halfway, looking around, as Lyme walks up the stairs. “You’re okay, kiddo,” Lyme says, softly. “Just going up to bed.”
Rokia’s eyes slide back closed. When Lyme puts her down on the bed, she shifts, blinks a few times, and goes back to sleep. Lyme watches for a few minutes, then pulls the door closed and heads for bed.
At first she doesn’t recognize what woke her up, but then she hears it again, a cry from Rokia’s room. She goes right away, stops in the doorway of the room and calls, softly. “Rokia, it’s okay, you’re in Two, you’re safe,” over and over until Rokia sits up with a gasp, looks around wildly and then sees Lyme. “You’re okay,” Lyme repeats, “You’re in Two, with me. You’re safe.” Easy words, repeated until they reach through the panic. Lyme sees when that happens, Rokia’s whole body sags. “Can I come sit with you?” Lyme asks.
Rokia nods. Lyme sits on the edge of the bed, rubs circles on Rokia’s back, until Rokia looks up with a crooked half-smile. “Sorry,” she says.
“For what?” Lyme asks.
“Waking you up,” Rokia shrugs. “I’m okay, you can go back to bed.”
Lyme doesn’t roll her eyes. “Lie down, I’ll stay till you’re asleep again.”
Rokia looks confused. “I’m not going back to sleep.”
“Sure you are, it’s three o’clock in the morning,” Lyme says.
“So you’re going back to sleep for at least another couple hours.”
“I’m really not,” Rokia says. “I can never get back to sleep after nightmares like that.”
“Like what?” Lyme asks. “You wanna tell me about it?”
Rokia shakes her head, fast.
“Okay, then I’ll go get you some meds,” Lyme tries.
“No,” Rokia says, quick. “I’m not taking those now, I’ll fucking sleep till noon.”
Which would be exactly what you need, Lyme thinks, but she doesn’t think that is a good idea to say out loud.
Rokia pulls away, crawls around Lyme and gets up. “You can go back to bed, I’ll be fine,” she says. “I figured out how to work your coffeemaker last time, remember?” She flashes a quick smile and walks out of the room.
Fuck. Lyme wishes she could go after the kid, haul her back here, pin her to the bed, and tell her she was taking the damn pills and if she slept till noon that was just fine, because she didn’t owe anyone shit. But even at 3 AM she’s not stupid enough to think forcing Rokia to do anything is a good idea. Not this kid. Not now. Not after…all that.
Which means, for the moment, resigning herself to fucking up her own sleep schedule, because she’s not leaving the kid down there alone, no matter how much Rokia wants that.
Lyme sighs and heads downstairs.
Rokia’s making coffee, arms wrapped around herself like she’s cold. Maybe she is, Lyme keeps the house pretty warm, but who knows. Lyme grabs the blanket off the couch and hands it to Rokia as she goes past to get food, and Rokia takes it gratefully, pulls it around herself. Once the coffee’s ready she takes a cup to the table and sits with her hands wrapped around it, starts pulling up stuff on her datapad.
Three fifteen in the fucking morning, up from a nightmare after four hours’ sleep, after being tired enough to fall asleep sitting up, and the kid hasn’t even had breakfast before she’s back to work. This girl might even beat Brutus for sheer workaholic insanity.
When the oatmeal’s ready, Lyme sits down across from Rokia, who glances at the bowl and goes back to whatever she’s doing.
“What’re you working on?” Lyme asks, sipping at her own coffee.
Rokia shrugs, doesn’t look up. “Looking for my sisters,” she mumbles, then grabs the spoon and takes a mouthful of oatmeal.
Oh. Right. Two sisters, that was in Rokia’s file, and Phillips mentioned it, and Lyme remembers, vaguely, Rokia mentioning them, back before. “What happened to them?” Lyme asks, carefully. She should’ve asked Phillips about this before. Oh well.
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be trawling hospital records and refugee lists,” Rokia says, sharp.
It’s a fair point. Lyme sips at her coffee and goes quiet, because any other questions she can think of sound just as dumb. Eventually Rokia sighs, sits back, and picks up her coffee again, holding it against her chest. “They’re supposed to be up in North Six,” she says, reluctantly. “My grandma took them at the Reaping.”
“But you haven’t heard from her?” Lyme asks, after a pause.
Rokia shakes her head. “My grandma got picked up by Snow’s guys. No record after that. Nothing about the girls.” She shivers, pulls the blanket closer around her. “Every time they update the population databases I check. There were new Peacekeeper records released a couple days ago.”
Lyme stays quiet. This is more than she’s gotten out of the kid yet, she doesn’t want to say something wrong and mess it up.
Rokia takes a sip of her coffee and sighs before going on. “But this is the last of it,” she says, gesturing at her datapad on the table. “There’s nothing.”
“I’m sorry,” Lyme says, because anything else would be bullshit. There’s no point saying the girls will turn up, that surely next time, no real reason to be optimistic.
Rokia shrugs one shoulder. Then she sighs, sets down her coffee and stands up. “I don’t know why I let you drag me down here,” she says. “That cargo craft in the hangar’s supposed to be ready to fly by tomorrow, I should be there.”
Rokias fingers tighten on the blanket and she walks out into the living room. She walks the perimeter of the room, like a caged animal, stops by the door and looks out into the dark, comes back. “There’s nothing to do here,” she says. “It’s even too cold and too dark to go running.”
There’s only really one thing Lyme knows to do with this kind of restless energy. “Do you want to spar?” she asks, hoping Rokia remembers, back in the Training Centre what seems like a lifetime ago.
Rokia shakes her head, sharp. “I don’t like fighting,” she says, voice tight.
Lyme shoves down her instinct to argue, sparring isn’t fighting, not really, but there’s no point to it if it’s just going to wind Rokia up further.
“There’s weights and things in the basement,” Lyme says.
Rokia looks skeptical but then she sighs. “Yeah, alright,” she says. “Show me?”
Lyme’s a little surprised when Rokia goes over to the free weights and starts moving through what’s obviously a familiar sequence of bodyweight exercises and light weights. Lyme goes over to the pullup bar, so she can fuck around enough to not be too obvious about watching, but be close enough if she needs to intervene.
Rokia works for an hour or so, then heads for the stairs. “I’m gonna go shower,” she says, and she’s breathing fast, but she also doesn’t look so agitated, so Lyme just nods. And ignores the part of her that wants to talk about cooldowns and stretching and shit that really is not important right now.
She’s back in the kitchen, clearing away dishes and frowning at Rokia’s nearly-untouched bowl, when Rokia comes down.
“You wanna finish your oatmeal?” Lyme asks, “I’ll heat it up for you.”
Rokia hesitates, then shrugs. “Sure, why not.” When Lyme turns back to hand it to her she’s back at work, but this time it’s diagrams of hovercraft parts, in projected wireframe that Rokia pokes at with one hand while she eats. It’s starting to get light, the kid’s eating and no longer trying to crawl out of her own skin, and Lyme feels herself exhale.
Brutus calls in the afternoon, from town, wanting to come over to talk about materials and costs. Lyme hesitates, but it does need to get done, Rokia’s settled herself at the kitchen table with her work, and why not.
Rokia’s head jerks up as soon as she hears Brutus’ truck. Uh oh.
“Brutus is stopping by for a bit,” Lyme says, carefully. “That okay?”
Rokia looks over at her, confused. “Yeah, of course,” she says. She goes quiet again, her head cocked like she’s listening for something, until the engine quits and the truck door slams as Brutus gets out.
He knocks, which is odd, but not a bad idea with the kid here. “It’s open,” Lyme calls, getting up.
Brutus comes in, looks around till he sees Rokia, nods. “Hi, Rokia,” he says, friendlier than he’s ever been with Lyme.
“Hi,” the kid echoes, sitting back. She hesitates for a second, then goes on. “You know your engine’s running rough?”
Brutus stops. “My engine’s running rough,” he repeats, deadpan, one eybrow quirking upwards.
Rokia nods. “Yeah, you should get the valves checked, or it could be fuel injectors.”
There have not been many times Lyme’s seen Brutus speechless. None that involved a kid a third his size talking to him about a topic as unthreatening as automotive repair.
“I could take a look at it,” Rokia continues, sounding hopeful. “Lyme’s got the tools.”
“I’ll pull my car out,” Lyme says, grinning. “Pull yours in and let Rokia take care of it for you.”
Brutus won’t snarl in front of the kid, but he does give Lyme a flat look that means he’ll be paying that one back with interest sometime in the near future.
Rokia’s just waiting, watching expectantly, and Lyme’s betting it’s the barely-camouflaged desperation that gets past his…Brutus-ness, when he sighs and says “Fine,” getting up with bad grace and going out the door.
Rokia flashes Lyme a grin and gets up. Lyme digs out her car keys and follows Rokia out to the garage.
Brutus glares at her when he comes back in, shoving the door closed and shaking his head.
“She’s a good kid,” Lyme says, trying not to sound defensive.
“How’s it going?” Brutus asks, settling in with a pile of paperwork.
Lyme sighs. “It’s going,” she says. “Hard to say. Wish she’d stay here instead of tearing off back to the Capitol all the time.”
“You gonna keep letting her do that?” Brutus asks.
“Fuck, I can’t just sit on her until she gives up,” Lyme says. “I think she’s had enough of people telling her what to do.”
“Maybe,” Brutus says. “But you know it’s not the same thing.”
“Yeah,” Lyme says. She looks around the room, as though the walls have any clues for her. “And every time, she comes back wound up and worn out.”
“And she’s no good to anyone if she works herself to death.”
Lyme stares at him, but he doesn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed. Hypocrite. “She’s not gonna just sit around here, though,” she says. “You saw how eager she was to get her hands on your damn truck.”
Brutus nods. “Could get her set up out here,” he says.
“I don’t think you could fit a hovercraft in my garage,” Lyme says.
“Not here, here as in Two.”
Lyme doesn’t really see how. “This isn’t Six, it’s not like there’s some factory she can go overhaul or something.”
“There’s the hangars by the train station. There’s probably salvagable tools and equipment around.”
“I’m pretty low on favors, I’ve been using all of them on convincing assholes to quit losing shipments.”
“So ask Beetee.”
Lyme pauses. “You think he’d help?”
Brutus snorts. “Course he’ll help. He likes her.”
Lyme wants to ask how Brutus knows, but thinks about the look on Beetee’s face when she asked him to screen Rokia’s calls. Okay, so Beetee likes the kid. Makes sense, she’s almost as much like Three as Six. “You think we could swing it?”
“Fuck if I know,” Brutus says. “But it’s worth a shot. Kid can’t keep going back there forever.”
It’s true. Every time Rokia comes back, they’re almost starting over. It’s no good trying to get the kid to eat and sleep on a regular schedule here if she’s just going to go back there and work all hours. No good trying to get her to open up if she just leaves, shuts down, and has to be pried open again the next time. It’s got to change, or the kid’s going to be stuck in this odd sort of limbo, not a crisis but not recovery either, and that’s no place to stay.
“Alright,” Lyme says, “I’ll talk to Beetee. What’d you want to talk about, anyway?”
Brutus sighs, pulls out lists and estimates, and they get to work.
When Brutus is ready to leave, Lyme pokes her head into the garage. Rokia’s got the hood open and parts pulled out in neat lines, and Brutus isn’t going to be driving anywhere.
“You can use my car if you need it,” she says.
Brutus shrugs. “If she’s not done in a couple days, maybe,” he says. Lyme walks him to the door. “I’ll be at Petra’s,” he says, as he’s leaving.
And well. At least Lyme isn’t the only one who’s got a kid acting like a fresh-out Victor. Petra’s got every right, fuck knows, but all of Panem should be grateful Brutus survived, if only to keep a handle on his firecracker of a girl. “See you later then,” Lyme says, and Brutus heads out as she closes the door.
Rokia’s occupied in the garage, and well, might as well talk to Beetee now, before something else comes up. Lyme looks in on Rokia, says she’ll be at Beetee’s place, and gets an absentminded “okay” from under the truck.
Beetee, as Brutus predicted, likes the idea. “The shortage of personnel is more severe than the shortage of equipment,” he says, “We should be able to procure the essentials.”
“Brutus thinks the hangar down by the station,” Lyme says.
“That would do nicely,” Beetee says, nodding. “I will investigate with the salvage operations in Three and in the various Peacekeeper installations, for a start.”
Lyme nods. “I’m not exactly anyone’s favorite in Six, but there might be people there who’d help.”
“I’ll contact Joe,” Beetee says. “He will know who we should talk to.”
It’s probably a coincidence, but it’s an odd one. “Joe? Rail crew boss?” Lyme asks. “Big guy, dark skin, short hair?”
“You know him?”
“Rokia introduced us. He…did us a favor, with Rokia’s aunt.”
“Ah, yes, you visited Six, did you not?”
Lyme stares. Beetee gives her a faint smile. “You asked me to reroute Rokia’s calls. I did some additional investigations on my own.”
Lyme decides she doesn’t need to know. “How do you know him?” she asks.
Beetee’s face closes off, he looks past Lyme toward the window. “He was a key contact for the rebellion,” Beetee says, tight. “The rail crews have the most access to the districts, you see, and he was very much involved in coordinating the early efforts in Eight and Nine.”
Lyme doesn’t press, just nods. Beetee pulls himself back, looks at her. “He’ll know how to get what we need, if it’s in Six. And he’ll do it for Rokia.”
“She’s a popular kid,” Lyme says.
“He got her out of the Capitol,” Beetee says. “He put her on a train to Eight, I heard she was there, had her brought to Thirteen.”
Well that’s one question answered. Lyme’s glad not to have to ask.
“I thought she would be safer there,” Beetee adds, a bitter twist to his mouth. He takes a deep breath. “Anyway,” he says, “I will see what I can do.”
Lyme knows a dismissal when she hears one. She nods, lets Beetee walk her out.
Lyme gets caught up in work herself after supper, until her eyes start crossing over a list of supply requests and she sits back and checks the time. After 11, no wonder she's tired, given how early they were up. Logistics can wait till tomorrow.
When she walks into the garage it looks like Brutus’ engine exploded, and Lyme doesn't see Rokia anywhere.
“Rokia?” Lyme calls, and the movement catches her eye so she sees Rokia’s feet, poking out from underneath. “Hey kiddo, it's bedtime.”
Rokia scoots out and sits up. “I'm in the middle of this,” she says, flat. “You can go ahead.”
She shifts to slide back under. “Rokia,” Lyme says, a little firmer this time, “go to bed.”
Rokia stops, looks around, then up at Lyme. She's frowning a little, confusion rather than annoyance. “Why do you care?” she asks. “I'm not going to steal your shit and run off while you sleep.”
It doesn't sound sarcastic. Doesn't sound like much of anything really, uninflected and tired. “I know,” Lyme says. “But it's late, you need to rest.”
Rokia just blinks at her. “I'm good for another couple hours,” she says.
Lyme raises an eyebrow. “This will keep till morning.”
Rokia glances around. “Brutus might want it back in the morning. I was gonna finish tonight.”
Lyme looks around. “Kiddo, Brutus said it's fine, and if he needs to go somewhere he’ll take my car. Neither of us want you up till 4 AM working on this.”
Rokia scowls down at the ground, but doesn't say anything.
“And regardless, I'm not leaving until you come to bed,” Lyme adds.
That gets her a sour look. Rokia looks up at her, and the kid may be stubborn as hell but her eyes are so tired they barely manage to focus, and it's only through sheer force of will that Lyme keeps from hauling the girl bodily up to bed.
Rokia closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, her shoulders slumping as she exhales. “Fine,” she says, getting slowly to her feet.
Lyme puts a hand on her shoulder, squeezes just a little, then follows Rokia upstairs.
They make it till almost 5 before Rokia gets up, hurries through breakfast and coffee, and disappears into the garage. It's a couple hours later when Lyme’s phone rings.
And thank you Beetee, because it's a D6 number. And not one she recognizes.
“Hello,” she says, calm.
She hears a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line, so looks like she guessed right. Lyme glances toward the garage door and walks out back.
“Who is this?” a familiar voice demands.
“This is Lyme. I thought I told you not to call.”
“I wasn't calling you,” Magda snaps. “I need to talk to Rokia.”
“Yeah, that's not gonna happen,” Lyme drawls.
“It's important! She's family.”
Lyme’s jaw tightens. She doesn't bother responding.
“You can't just do this,” Magda says. “I need her help.”
“She's helped enough,” Lyme says. “Ask someone else.”
Silence. “You people,” Magda snarls. “You’re nothing, not anymore, and you think you can still just tell the rest of us what to do but you can't. You'll see.”
There's a click, and the phone goes silent. Lyme looks at it, considering. How much pull does the woman have? Should Lyme be worried about her actually going to the Capitol to talk to Rokia directly?
Probably not, not if Joe is as capable as he seems to be. But it's another reason to keep the girl here. Nobody's getting through the gates, even now, without their say so, and even if anyone did, there's no way they get through the front door without some broken bones. And that's if Lyme’s in a good mood.
Rokia finishes Brutus’ car mid afternoon, and by evening she's restless, fidgeting and twitchy. Finally she sets down her datapad and looks up. “Can I use your weight room again?” she asks, “I'm tired of sitting still.”
Lyme shrugs. “Sure, I'll join you.”
That gets her a flat, suspicious look, but Lyme doesn't know the kid well enough to leave her alone down there. Doesn't know what kind of training she's had, how she—
“Where'd you learn this stuff?” Lyme asks as they head down, her curiosity getting the better of her.
Rokia shrugs. “VA people,” she says offhand, “They had a trainer talk to me, guess they do it for a lot of outliers.”
Lyme is confused for a second, because that doesn't seem right, but Rokia goes on.
“Apparently, some Victors let themselves go, and people complained.” She glances up and sees Lyme’s incomprehension. “Clients,” she says, with a sardonic smile. “Capitol assholes have a type.”
She drops down to the mats, shakes out her arms and starts doing crunches, while Lyme forces herself to go over to the heavier weights and look around like she's getting set up. She finds heavy plates, loads them on the bar and lies down on the bench, because if she picks up anything light enough to throw she's not entirely sure she'll be able to restrain herself. She should be paying attention to the kid, but she can't do that either, not until she has to rack the weights because her arms are shaking.
Then Lyme looks over, while she stretches her wrists, her shoulders. Rokia isn't paying attention, going through the motions. And now that Lyme is using her fucking brain, she can see it: body weight exercises mostly, things you could do at home if you didn't have much equipment. And the kind of thing that’s designed for slim and toned, not bulky. The kind of thing that goes on bullshit Capitol workout videos that claim you can get a Career body in just 20 Minutes a Day. She's done those videos, they all have, they all joked about how the only thing they were good for was giving lazy Capitolites enough stamina to fuck their mistresses.
Lyme looks away. She can't do this right now. She can't. Rokia has apparently pulled this free enough of bad associations that she does it willingly, and that has to be enough. Is enough. What's the first rule of mentoring? It's not about you. Not about your feelings. This kid doesn't need Lyme snarling about something that's over and done. Not now. Maybe not ever.
But when Rokia finishes and heads upstairs, Lyme goes to the medicine cabinet and pulls out a sleeping pill.
Rokia looks at it like it's poisoned. “I don't need that,” she says.
“You ready for bed?”
“Not yet,” Rokia says.
“Yeah, or how about now.” Lyme feels a little guilty for pushing. Yes, the kid needs sleep, needs a night that's more than 4 hours long. But Lyme is pushing today because she needs to know Rokia is asleep, because she needs to talk to Nero. And it won't wait till tomorrow.
Rokia looks at the pill in Lyme’s palm, and the look on her face makes Lyme feel a little more like she's doing the right thing. The kid wants to take it, she just can't convince herself she can, not without some push.
“Rokia, it's okay, I promise. It worked last time, didn't it?”
Rokia bites her lip, nods. Hesitates another couple seconds, than reaches for the thing, takes the glass from lyme’s other hand, and drinks. “There,” she says, the bad grace mostly put on, mostly not directed at Lyme.
“Good,” Lyme says. “Come on.”
Once the kid’s down, Lyme heads out across the grass to Nero’s. The only light on is in the bedroom, and Lyme would feel bad about bothering him if it was anything less important.
“Hello,” she calls, as she walks in, and a second later she hears Nero’s footsteps on the stairs.
“What's wrong?” he asks, as soon as he can see her.
Lyme isn't quite sure what her face is doing anymore. “I need to spar,” she says, because everything is jumbled and chaotic and she needs the time to sort it out before she can put it into words.
Nero just nods. It's freezing cold outside, so he shoves the coffee table out of the way, pushes the couch back, and stands in the middle of the room, waiting.
Lyme takes him down, hard, just so he knows how this is going to go. And Nero might be pushing 60 but he's still always going to be able to pin Lyme to the floor with an arm across her throat, or a knee between her shoulder blades, or just his hands on her arms. Always going to knock her down without spitting in her face, always going to remind her she isn't going to win here, and more importantly, that that's okay.
It takes a while, but finally Lyme stops fighting. She pulls herself to sitting, leaning back against the wall with her legs stretched out in front of her. “They gave her training,” she grits out. Nero goes still. Lyme thinks back over what she says, wants to throw up all over again. “Not— I mean fuck, I don't know, but— Workout tips,” Lyme sneers. “So she would look good for them.”
Nero sighs. “Not really surprising, is it?” he asks, mildly. “It's not like we didn't all play that game, at least a little bit.”
Lyme shudders. She hadn't thought of it that way, not much, but even she had to play along. Even if she would never have let herself lose weight and bulk and strength to fit some Capitol idea of what she should look like, she still played the game. They all did.
“But we had a choice,” Lyme says, but even as it comes out it falls flat. Nero didn't, not really. Not when he was saving kids’ lives by playing along. Not when he got told Residential or jail.
“We did,” he says, despite all of that. “We knew what we were doing, and why, and for who.”
“She didn't. She got Reaped, bad fucking luck, that's all, and she didn't have any leverage, and neither did Phillips, and they knew it, and they… They made her the way they wanted and she didn't get any say.”
“No,” Nero says. “She didn't.”
“I want to kill them, Nero,” Lyme says, low and dark and rising up from places she didn't think she'd ever reach again. “All of them, anyone who fucking touched her, I—”
“I know,” Nero says, and Lyme looks over sharply but he is taking her seriously. “But that doesn't change anything. And it doesn't help your girl.”
“I know,” Lyme sighs. “I wish I'd done it then.”
“Wouldn't have helped her then, either,” Nero says, infuriatingly calm. “You'd just be dead, and who knows what else they’d have done.”
Lyme has to grant the point.
“You did what you could. You're doing what you can. You're not responsible for what happened in the Arena. You don't control the Gamemakers. She's out now, and you gotta remind her of that. She's out, and she's safe, and she trusts you.”
Lyme huffs. “I'm not so sure about that,” she says.
“She's asleep now?” Nero asks.
“Yeah, I gave her meds so I could come over here without her waking up.”
Nero smiles. “You know how much trust that takes. Even just to get that far.”
Lyme feels her ears get hot. “Was I this bad?”
“Not bad,” Nero says. “Took you a while to trust me, though.”
Now Lyme has to smile. “Understatement of the year,” she admits.
“So give it time,” Nero says. “She'll come around.”
Lyme sighs, leans against him for a minute. She's tired. She wants her mentor to put her to bed. But her girl’s waiting, and Lyme shouldn't leave her alone much longer. Just in case.
She sits up. “I should get back,” she says, climbing to her feet.
Nero walks her to the door. “You're doing fine,” he says, as she's walking out.
Lyme looks back at him, takes a deep breath, then squares her shoulders and walks home.
Rokia’s still asleep when Lyme wakes up, for a very welcome surprise. She only makes it downstairs to make cofee before the kid comes down, though, so it could be she was awake and just stayed in bed. Still, even that’s an improvement.
When Lyme turns to look, the kid’s settling herself in a chair by the window, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She’s still drowsy, meds dosed for Lyme or even D are going to hit her pretty hard, small as she is. She seems okay though, just quiet and sleepy. Lyme brings her a cup of coffee and some toast, and gets a smile, a real one, in return. Lyme sits on the couch with her own breakfast and a pile of paperwork she can pretend she’s working on while she watches Rokia.
It’s only now, when she’s finally still, that Lyme realizes how unusual that is, how much Rokia is in constant motion. Realizes how sharp and wary she usually is, once she’s seen that quiet, open smile. Fuck, kid, Lyme thinks. Just let me give you the damn pills. Let yourself want them.
But by the time she’s through breakfast and coffee, the usual restlessness is slipping back in. Rokia glances around, glares at her datapad where it’s sitting on the coffee table, looks over to the door that goes to the garage. “You know, I only did your brakes last time,” Rokia says, thoughtful. “I bet I could tighten up your steering, get you a little better gas milage if I clean some stuff out.”
She looks hopefully at Lyme. And what the hell, it’s not like she’ll manage to keep the kid still, and if Rokia isn’t going to rest she might as well be doing something she seems to enjoy. And Lyme knows full well it’s a make-work job, but what the hell. If that’s what her girl wants she can take the whole damn car apart. Less messy than half the shit Misha pulled anyway.
“Sure,” Lyme says, and Rokia brightens, sits up straighter. Lyme goes to find her keys and hands them to Rokia.
The advantage Lyme didn’t count on when she let Rokia overhaul her car is that it keeps the kid in Two a couple more days. The morning after Rokia’s finished she eats her breakfast and says she has to get back to the Capitol.
Damn. It isn’t surprising, but that doesn’t mean Lyme likes it. It’s hard to argue though that Rokia’s needed, not when she’s been getting calls about who knows what and spending half her time in back and forth with Six and Three about—Lyme couldn’t tell you.
But after she puts Rokia on the train she goes straight to Beetee.
“Any progress on the equipment?” she asks, once she’s taken off her shoes and followed him in.
“Yes, we have managed to get official permission to use the hangar, and we’re starting to bring in tools,” Beetee says. “I believe the only thing we need to move from her Capitol workshop is the CNC: those we don’t have spare. But she’s the one who uses it there, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Good,” Lyme says.
“It will take a few weeks to get everything,” Beetee says. “But I don’t anticipate major setbacks.”
Nobody ever anticipates things going wrong, if they did they’d have a plan and things wouldn’t go to shit. But Beetee knows that. Lyme will have to trust him.
“How did you know what equipment she’d need?” Lyme asks, because Beetee might be a genius but that doesn’t mean he knows everything—especially when it comes to practicalities.
Beetee adjusts his glasses a little. “Our friend Joe asked around,” he says, reluctantly, “And… well, Wiress was involved in the more technical aspects. Some of her notes are still on the Network.”
Oh. Lyme takes a deep breath, lets it out. “Well, thanks,” she says. She doesn’t know what to say about Wiress. Might never really know how to deal with things like this.
Beetee gives her a small smile and a very knowing look. “I’m glad to help,” he says, and follows her out.
Lyme’s starting to think about asking Rokia back when Claudius shows up at her door. It’s late, and she’s getting ready to head for bed, but as soon as she sees him she knows something’s wrong. He’s gripping his phone hard in one hand and looking— angry, bewildered, frustrated, and Lyme gets just within arm's reach before he steps up and hugs her tight.
And that’s unusual, but his breaths are coming quick and too shallow, so Lyme just pulls him tight. She feels him sag a little, his breathing slows down, and finally he steps back. It’s only then he really notices the phone in one hand, and sets it down, looking a little sheepish about it.
“What’s wrong?” Lyme asks, watching for clues, but he just shakes his head.
“Sparring first?” he asks, and she nods, shoves the coffee table out of the way because D hates cold, and waits for him to come at her.
He fights like he’s angry, and it takes a while for him to wind down. Finally she has him pinned, her hands on his shoulders, and he closes his eyes and breathes, deep. “Talk to me, D,” she says, and he shakes his head. Lyme waits.
“Let me up,” he says, finally. “I don’t wanna talk about this while we’re sparring.”
The tightness creeps back into his shoulders as he shifts, sits on the floor with his back against the couch. Lyme sits beside him, puts an arm around his shoulders and squeezes once.
Claudius leans his head back and starts. “Selene called me,” he says. Lyme doesn’t move, doesn’t react, but that itself is enough of a tell that Claudius hurries on. “She’s okay—or—well, yeah, she’s okay now.” Lyme takes a second to be proud of him for that, and to enjoy the pleased look that he gets at saying it. Then he takes another deep breath and goes somber again. “She was out with Rokia some place and a guy…started hassling Rokia, I think, Selene just says Rokia— froze up.”
Lyme feels the bottom drop out of her stomach. “Oh shit,” she says, under her breath.
Claudius glances over. “Yeah. Apparently he was one of her…clients,” he spits the word. “Selene made him leave, took Rokia home, then called me to talk her out of looking the guy up and killing him slowly.”
Lyme’s first thought is that it’s good Selene called Claudius and not her, because she knows, she knows they can’t have people running around playing vigilante, but… But fuck, sometimes she wishes that weren’t true.
“And Selene’s okay now?” Lyme asks, mostly to get it out of the way. She cares, of course she does, but it’s hard to tell around the white-hot need to protect her kid.
Claudius nods. “Yeah, I mean, she’s good for now, and I told her she’s taking the first train here after she wakes up, and Marius can fight me over it if he’s dumb enough to want to.”
Lyme nods. He did good. She reaches up to ruffle his hair.
But she’s not Selene’s mentor. “She took Rokia home?”
Claudius nods. “Rokia’s apartment, I guess. Lene says she… I don’t know, apparently she pulled herself together okay by the time Lene left.”
He sounds skeptical, and no wonder. It’s fine to let Selene think that, but Lyme knows damn well how these things work.
And of course, it was bound to happen eventually, because people in the Capitol are idiots and not even the war could change that. But that’s it, Rokia’s coming back here, and she’s staying this time.
Lyme looks at the clock. It’s late. Lyme doesn’t want to risk waking Rokia up if she’s managed to sleep. And she should see if she can get arrangements for the shop made first, so they can present Rokia with a done deal. That means more phone calls and talking to Beetee and Brutus, and logically she knows that a few more hours after too fucking many years isn’t going to make much difference, but it’s all she can do not to storm down to the station and show up in the Capitol like—well, like a crazy person, unfortunately, at least that’s how it would look to Rokia, without knowing everything that comes with being a Victor in Two. She really doesn’t need to scare the kid, there’s always the chance she’ll run away, close herself off for good, and if she’s already been triggered that badly, well, that means it’s even more important to tread carefully.
Lyme takes a deep breath. “Okay,” she says. “Thanks for telling me.” She looks over at Claudius. “You did good, kiddo,” she says.
He can’t help but smile at that, shyly pleased. Lyme pulls him close and takes a moment to just be happy for her kid—the one who’s right here.
He leaves, yawning, after that, and Lyme finds herself furious and restless. She would go find Nero, except that by now it’s almost two o’clock and she’s a fucking grown-up, she can deal with her own feelings herself. It takes an hour, takes till she’s gasping for breath and streaming sweat. Takes being tired enough she almost falls asleep in the shower, but Lyme makes it to bed and sleeps.
There’s a hundred things to do the next day, but first, Lyme gives in and goes to see Nero. They fight in the snow, slippery and cold and the sun too bright in her eyes. “She’s mine,” Lyme snarls, ducking away from Nero’s fist. “How dare they.”
She doesn’t tell him the whole story until he’s hauled her back inside and brought her hot chocolate. Shit. She must look rough if he’s breaking that out.
It’s not like it’s much of a story. “One of her clients found her,” Lyme says, trying to keep her jaw from locking. “Selene was with her, she sorted it out, took Rokia home,” she adds, then goes quiet.
“You bringing her back here?” Nero asks mildly.
Lyme nods. “And she’s fucking staying here this time,” she says. “Like she needs to get hit on by rapists, as if she doesn’t have enough shit to deal with.”
Nero blows out a long breath. “Okay then,” he says. “Good.”
It occurs to Lyme that technically, she probably should ask Ronan, at least, before moving a kid in who’s not Two. It also occurs to her that she doesn’t give a fuck what anyone has to say about it, but just because she’s gonna do it anyway doesn’t mean she shouldn’t at least give people a heads up.
“I guess I should talk to Ronan,” she says, reluctantly.
Nero nods, considering. “I’ll do it.”
Lyme’s surprised, though probably she shouldn’t be. “Really?” she asks.
Nero smiles a little. “Go, put on some dry clothes,” he says. “Can’t take care of your kid if you get pneumonia.”
Next stop is Beetee, who says there’s a few things already in the hangar and more on the way, and looks relieved when Lyme says she’s bringing Rokia back for good. After that is Brutus, who’s apparently taken charge of getting things moved in. Then the three of them go look at the place, and Lyme knows fuckall about any of this but it seems fine.
Claudius comes over again after lunch.
“Selene stopped by to see her,” he says, perching on the arm of the couch. “She’s… well, Lene says she looks rough.”
“I was about to give her a call,” Lyme says. “And I’m going to ask her to stay, this time.”
Claudius’ look of surprise wouldn’t be obvious to anyone but her, so she waits till he asks, “Permanently?”
Lyme sets down her papers and goes over to sit. He slides down onto the couch next to her. “Let’s say indefinitely,” she says. “I don’t know, D, I don’t have any precedent to work from here either.”
He looks down at his hands. “It’s good,” he says. “Selene will be glad.”
“How about you?” Lyme asks. She doesn’t reach for him, lets him think on his own for a bit.
Finally he looks over with a crooked smile. “I hope she realizes how lucky she is,” he says.
Now she musses his hair, lets her arm drop to his shoulders. “I know it’s weird,” she says. “But we’ll figure it out.”
(for what happens next see this one, which I won't be writing the alt-POV for because I can't.)