kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Fic: Scared and tired and barely seventeen

Scared and tired and barely seventeen (5587 words) by kawuli
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games Series - All Media Types
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: OFC/OFC
Additional Tags: Implied/Referenced Child Abuse, Child Neglect, Underage Drinking, Implied/Referenced Drug Use
Series: Part 2 of Smiles and Promises
Summary:

Sara knows it’s bad when Rokia isn’t at the shop when she gets there from school. Confirms it when Rokia comes in later, furious and breathless, Kadi on one hip and a battered duffel over her other shoulder. She barely glances at Sara, on her way up the stairs to the office where Sal’s been holed up doing paperwork. At the very least, the latest attempt to get Mata to watch the girls after school apparently isn’t working. But this feels like more than that.

What do you do when you can't fix the real problems? For Sara, it comes down to helping where she can. Even if that means breaking some laws.


Sara knows it’s bad when Rokia isn’t at the shop when she gets there from school. Confirms it when Rokia comes in later, furious and breathless, Kadi on one hip and a battered duffel over her other shoulder. She barely glances at Sara, on her way up the stairs to the office where Sal’s been holed up doing paperwork.

At the very least, the latest attempt to get Mata to watch the girls after school apparently isn’t working. But this feels like more than that.

Rokia comes down a few minutes later, Allie clinging to one hand. Sara watches her walk over to one of the workbenches, dig out crayons and scrap paper, and coax Allie into sitting on the stool and drawing with her crayons.

Then Rokia comes over to where Sara’s checking faulty wiring and pauses, dragging both hands down her face. She closes her eyes for a second, then looks up at Sara. “Hi,” she says, with a sardonic smile.

Sara can’t help reaching out and pulling Rokia toward her. Rokia sags, her arms coming around Sara’s waist, head resting against Sara’s shoulder. She stays that way longer than Sara would’ve expected. When she finally pulls away she’s dry-eyed, but she’s looking into the middle distance, eyes unfocused. “That bad?” Sara asks, softly.

It’s as though that breaks some spell, and Rokia laughs, jagged-edged and harsh. “Fuck, Sara, I don’t—“

Sara glances over to where Matt’s working, raises an eyebrow. Matt nods, starts coming toward them. “C’mon,” Sara says, slinging an arm around Rokia’s shoulders and heading for the door.

Allie spins to watch them. “Rokia!” she calls, frightened, as they get close.

Rokia pulls away from Sara, looks at Allie. “It’s okay, honey, I’m just gonna be right out here.”

Allie bites her lip, frowns. “Promise?”

“Yeah Allie, I promise,” Rokia says, and even talking to Allie she sounds flat and tired.

 

There’s still a stack of pallets out back, and Rokia drops onto them with a sigh. Sara pulls out her cigarettes, hands one to Rokia and lights it for her.

Rokia blows a stream of smoke up toward the sky and shakes her head. “She was locking the girls in their room,” Rokia says, “Except apparently her dipshit boyfriend was going in there, and she didn’t even know.”

Sara freezes.

“Allie told me,” Rokia says, takes a long draw on her cigarette until the ember crackles. “She didn’t like sitting on his lap.”

“Shit,” Sara hisses, under her breath. “Did—“ She stops.

“Apparently that’s as far as it got, but fuck, Sara, I left them with her for three days. She told me she could watch them. She swore it’d be fine.”

Sara doesn’t know what to say to that. What she wants to say is of fucking course, but she knows how much Rokia wanted this to work out, so she keeps her mouth shut. She flicks ash onto the ground, takes a drag, and only then can she say anything appropriate. “So the duffel’s…?”

“Sal’s letting us crash here ‘till Magda gets back,” Rokia says. “We’ll set up in the office for a couple weeks.”

“And then what?” Sara snaps—she shouldn’t, she can’t expect Rokia to have that figured out.

And sure enough Rokia just shakes her head. “I don’t know,” she says. “I’ve been looking for someplace else, but even squats you gotta buy into.”

They’ve been to parties at some of those squats. Some of them aren’t terrible, and that’s about the best Sara can say for them.

“We’ll figure something out,” Sara says.

Rokia gives her a sharp, sour look. “Yeah,” she says, looks away.

Sara takes one last drag on her cigarette, drops it to the damp asphalt, where it hisses out.

Rokia stands up, grinds hers under her heel, takes a deep breath and goes in.

 

When they’re clearing up at the end of the night, Sara grabs Matt, drags him over to where Rokia’s talking to Allie. “Come on,” she says. “Go get Kadi, I’m taking everyone out for dinner.”

Rokia gives her a skeptical look.

“Go on, get the little nugget, tell Sal we’ll be back in an hour or so.”

Rokia shakes her head, but she goes.

“Sara,” Matt says, “What—“

“We’re getting food. You’re coming. Kadi likes you.” Sara glares at him and he subsides.

Rokia comes back with Kadi, still carrying her, even though Kadi turned 3 a couple weeks ago. Sara looks pointedly at Matt. “See?” she whispers.

He flips her off behind his back as he’s walking over toward Rokia. “Hey there Kadi,” he says. “Wanna come with me for a bit?”

Kadi studies him carefully with big solemn brown eyes, then nods and shifts in Rokia’s arms. “Where we goin?” she asks, settling in his arms.

“I dunno, you better ask Sara,” Matt says.

“We’re going to the diner,” Sara says, and Kadi pulls her face away from Matt’s neck to grin.

“I want waffles,” she says. “With syrup.”

“Allie, can you put your crayons away?” Rokia asks, going over to help.

They do, and then Allie hops down and holds tight to Rokia’s hand, looking around uncertainly. “We’re all going?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Rokia says. “Sara’s taking us special.”

Allie considers that.

“Come on,” Sara says, and since she’s the only one with both hands free she holds the door open for everyone.

 

They squeeze into a booth. Kadi ends up sitting on Matt’s lap, and Allie’s plastered to Rokia’s side, but everyone seems more cheerful once they’ve eaten. Kadi insists on pouring the syrup herself, with both hands, so what she’s eating is maybe more syrup than waffle. Allie gets grilled cheese and french fries and ends up with a ring of grease around her mouth. The rest of them get burgers, and Sara doesn’t think she’s imagining that Rokia stops halfway through inhaling hers and forces herself to slow down.

Sara offers to walk them back to the shop, but Rokia shakes her head. “It’s only a few blocks, and it’s out of your way,” she says, when they’re back out on the sidewalk.

Sara hesitates, then steps up to give Rokia half a hug, since Allie’s attached to her other hand. “See you tomorrow,” she says, and Rokia nods.

 

“Where were you?” Mom snaps, as soon as Sara gets the door open. “I was worried sick, you didn’t come home for dinner.”

“I had to help a friend,” Sara says, trying to slip past.

“You should be careful hanging around those people, you know they’ll try and take advantage of you.”

“Yeah, Mom, it’s fine,” Sara says, manages to duck around Mom and back to her room.

It’s too quiet in the house, ever since Jake left last year. Mom has too much undivided attention to give to Sara.

Dad gets home a little later, and Sara can hear the whine in Mom’s voice through the door. She tries to ignore it, tries to concentrate on stupid math problems she doesn’t care about, until Dad knocks once and walks in.

“What?” Sara snaps. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Sara,” Dad says, and she sighs and turns to face him. “Your mother was worried about you. It’s not a good part of town for you to be wandering around in.”

Sara scowls. “It’s fine,” she says. “I’m almost eighteen, she shouldn’t be acting like I’m just a kid.”

“You’re always going to be her kid, Sara,” Dad says, conciliatory. “Mine too, if it comes to that.”

Sara looks up at the ceiling, back at Dad. “Whatever.”

He shakes his head a little. “Goodnight, Sara,” he says, turns and walks out, pulling the door shut behind him.

Sara glares at it for a bit, then goes back to her stupid homework.

 

At least the next day is Friday. And if Rokia’s staying at the shop, she can leave the girls for a couple hours once they’re asleep, nobody’s gonna bug them. So Sara stops at the corner store where one of Jake’s friends works and gets him to sell her a case of cheap beer and a pack of cigarettes.

“You’re gonna get me in trouble for this,” he says, shaking his head, but he takes her money and gives her what she asks for all the same.

Matt’s already getting set up when she gets to the shop, and he grins when he sees what she’s brought. “Planning a party?” he asks.

“Something like,” Sara says, heading over to see what they’ve got to do for today. “You up to hang out for a while?”

Matt shrugs. “Sure,” he says. “Mom’s home, I don’t have to watch the kids.”

Sara grins. “Excellent. Once Rokia puts her girls down we’ll go find someplace.”

Matt shakes his head. “She’s not gonna go far,” he warns. “Don’t go thinking you’ll drag her downtown, even if there are good locks on the doors here.”

Sara shrugs. “Okay, so we’ll find a fire escape to sit on, watch the lights.”

“Fancy,” Matt says, “You sure know how to treat your friends.”

“Oh, fuck you, Matt,” Sara says.

He flips her off but doesn’t say anything right then because Rokia’s coming down from the office with a pile of papers. She looks—better, like she actually got a decent night’s sleep for once, like Sal probably brought breakfast for all of them when he came in. She smiles a little when she sees them, comes down the rest of the stairs and hesitates in front of Sara. Only for a second, though, before she ducks close, wraps an arm around Sara’s waist and lets Sara’s drop onto her shoulders.

“Hi,” Rokia says, looking up. “How’s school?”

It’s been almost three years since she quit going, but still, once in a while Rokia asks, with something like nostalgia. Sara rolls her eyes. “I probably failed my math test,” she says, “I should’ve brought you in to pretend to be me, I seriously don’t think Mr. Buckley would notice.”

Rokia smiles, shakes her head, then shakes free and hands Sara the paperwork. “Maintenance requests for crumpled wing plating,” she says, walking towards the new craft that’s parked in the middle of the hangar. “Someone apparently flew it into a mountain. But only a little bit.”

Matt snorts. “Only a little bit into the mountain?” he asks. “How does that work.”

“Well, they didn’t die and they just fucked up the one wing, so…only a little bit into the mountain,” Rokia shoots back. “Anyway, we’ve gotta strip the damaged plating, see if the structure’s still sound, then fix everything.”

No wonder she’s happy. Rokia likes this kind of work, tearing apart half a hovercraft, poking around inside to see how it’s held together. “Alright,” Sara says, “Let’s get started.”

 

Rokia protests when Matt comes in with takeout fried chicken after the others have left, but Matt just pretends not to hear her and walks up the stairs. “Hey, kids, I brought supper,” he says, and Rokia’s mouth goes thin and tight but then she takes a deep breath, shakes her head.

“I brought beers for later,” Sara says, to get all the annoyance out of the way at once. “Once you put the girls to bed I thought we could find a fire escape to sit on or something.”

Rokia glances sideways. “I shouldn’t leave them,” she says, reluctantly.

Dammit, why is Matt always right. “We won’t go far,” Sara says, cajoling. “Shit, we can just sit on the front steps if you want, but c’mon, girl, have some fun for once.”

Rokia glances around, then nods, gives Sara a small smile. “Okay,” she says, “you win.”

 

Kadi is her usual talkative self, even if Sara only understands half of what she says. Allie’s still even quieter than usual, still sticking close by Rokia, but Matt manages to coax her over to him with a little metal car he’s carrying around in his pocket. Allie scoots over to sit next to him, drives the car down his leg and onto the floor, until Kadi decides she wants to play too, and then everything devolves into crying and Sara wonders why on earth anyone would ask for this nonsense.

Rokia calms Kadi down with the little hovercraft she built for them out of scrap, then finally pulls both of them back into the storage room and closes the door.

Sara goes over to the fridge for the beers.

“Shit,” she says, popping hers open and handing one to Matt, “I don’t know how you guys deal with them.”

Matt shakes his head. “Spoken like a true youngest sibling,” he says. “Not like we really got a choice putting up with you.”

“I guess,” Sara says. “But I would seriously run away screaming, I don’t care if the munchkins are related to me or not, that shit’s ridiculous.”

Rokia comes out almost a half hour later, looks at the two of them, shakes her head, then completely undermines any moral high ground she might have had by going to the fridge and getting a beer for herself.

Sara follows her over, grabs the rest of the beer, and gestures toward the door with her head since neither of her hands are free.

They walk out into the cool, damp night, and Sara looks around. The building across the street is some kind of office, and it’s closed for the night, same as Sal’s. And it’s tall enough for fire escapes.

Rokia raises an eyebrow, hands Sara her beer. “Hey Matt,” she calls, and Matt laughs.

Sara watches while Matt boosts Rokia up to the first landing, where she lowers the ladder for them to climb up. “Thank you ma’am,” Sara says as she gets up, handing Rokia her drink and sitting with her back against the rough brick. Rokia sits down next to her, Matt on the other side, and they watch the streetlights come on.

Rokia gets giggly when she drinks. It’s pretty much Sara’s favorite thing. Matt just…relaxes. Talks more. Smiles more. Sara—well, apparently Sara analyzes her friends, but mostly she just enjoys not having to do anything for once.

Rokia finishes whatever story she was trying to tell between bouts of laughter, and scoots in against Sara, leaning her head on Sara’s shoulder. Sara puts an arm around her, kisses her lightly, and digs in her pocket for cigarettes.

“Y’know,” Rokia says, once her cigarette’s lit. “I hear you can get good money for copper wiring.”

Sara hands her another can, opens a new one of her own.

“No,” Matt says. “Rokia, oh my god.”

“What?” Sara asks, because apparently this is one of those things you pick up on if you grew up around here but not if your parents keep you sheltered your entire childhood.

Rokia takes a drink, looks at Matt, smirks a little, and shifts to look at Sara. “The wiring, in houses? You can sell it, it’s copper, there’s guys who’ll give you good money.”

“You want to break into people’s houses and start…what, taking apart the walls?”

Rokia giggles. “No, but that’d be funny. No, you find a place that’s burned down, go in at night.”

“Yeah,” Matt says. “And then someone sees you and calls the cops and they shoot you.”

“No,” Rokia insists, drawing out the word. “It’d be fine, I’d be quick about it.”

“So, what, you’re gonna go set some building on fire?” Sara asks, still mostly baffled at the whole concept.

Now Rokia and Matt both laugh. “Don’t have to,” Matt says. “Just wait for a meth lab to blow up.”

“Or someone lights a cigarette and then passes out,” Rokia chimes in, helpfully. “Or, I don’t know, forgets they were cooking food—seems like every other week there’s something. We just have to ask around.”

Sara just shakes her head, joins in the amusement as much as she can behind the slightly horrified surprise she really should be immune to by now. “Shit, Rokia, you can’t do that by yourself,” she says.

Rokia grins widely. “I figured you might be up for it.” She leans forward to look around Sara to Matt. “You could come too, or we could just tell you all about it afterwards.”

Matt smacks his forehead with one hand, drags it down his face. “Aw, don’t do that,” Sara teases. “You look like my dad.”

Matt glares. “Oh, fuck you both,” he says.

Rokia tilts her head to one side. “How would that—work, exactly? Sounds complicated.”

Matt’s eyes go wide, and Rokia and Sara almost fall over laughing.

He shakes his head again, sits back. “Fine,” he says, put-upon. “But only because if I don’t come you’re gonna call me to bail your asses out of jail, and I don’t have that kinda money.”

Rokia sighs happily, rests her head on Sara’s shoulder. “Excellent,” she says.

 

Sara walks back with Rokia, holding hands. “I’m staying over,” she says—it’s not a question, because Rokia will make excuses every time if Sara asks. This way she’ll only put up a fight if she actually means it. Tonight Rokia just rolls her eyes a little and unlocks the door. Sara comes in behind her, locks up, then looks at Rokia where she’s paused to wait.

And the thing is—Rokia’s not pretty. She’s scrawny and disheveled and suspicious, tense in a way that always makes Sara think of coiled springs, but just now, in secondhand streetlight, smiling back at Sara, well.

Sara steps close, brushes her fingers along Rokia’s jaw, bends down to kiss her. Rokia rises up on her toes, pushes back, breaks away with a soft sound, tangles her fingers with Sara’s and turns to walk toward the stairs.

They settle into Rokia’s nest of blankets, spread over the floor by the door. Rokia relaxes into the curve of Sara’s body and sighs. “This is nice,” she says, sounding sleepy and content. Sara reaches one arm around Rokia and pulls her tight, then relaxes.

“G’night Rokia,” she says.

“G’night,” Rokia echoes.

 

It takes Rokia less than a week to find a burned-out building to scavenge. She corrals Sara and Matt as soon as they come in after school, hauls them off to the storage bins behind the lathe.

“I found a place,” she says. “We should go tonight.”

Matt sighs and shakes his head. “You’re really gonna do this?” he asks.

Rokia stares him down. “Yeah,” she says. “I am. I’m not going back to that place, and Magda’s coming back next week and she’ll throw a shitfit if she finds out we’re staying here, and I don’t have the money to move, otherwise.”

“Where do you even sell that stuff?” Sara asks.

Matt and Rokia share the look that means Sara just asked a dumb question. “There’s guys,” Rokia says, and Sara’s about to be annoyed at how vague she’s being, when she goes on. “They sell stuff on to the railroaders, and they take it to the smelters and stuff.”

“And you know a guy?” Sara guesses.

Rokia shrugs. “Know where to find him, yeah.”

Matt’s been quiet, and now Rokia looks over at him. “You don’t have to come,” she says.

He shakes his head. “Yeah, I do,” he says. “I’m not letting you go on your own.”

“I’m coming, too,” Sara says, indignant.

“‘Course you are,” Matt says. “But you’re worse than she is.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Sara says, trying for haughty. It doesn’t work very well, especially when Rokia starts laughing at her.

“Okay,” Rokia says, once she can keep an almost-straight face. “We’ll go over at one, after the shift change. That should give us time to get stuff cleared out before morning.”

Matt nods. “Okay then,” he says. “C’mon, let’s get to work.”

 

Sara goes home at the normal time, eats dinner with her parents, goes to do her homework—or mostly, to pretend to do her homework while waiting to hear when her folks go to bed.

She sneaks out at midnight, when the shift changes at the factories that run three shifts. That way there’s people in the streets and she doesn’t stand out much. When she gets to Sal’s she tosses gravel up at the office window until Rokia comes down to let her in.

Rokia’s grinning when she opens the door. “Come on,” she says, as Sara walks in. “We’re meeting Matt there,” she adds, “It’s not far from his place.”

Sara’s excited, too, but she can’t deny she’s also nervous. “You sure this is a good idea?” she says, glancing around at the unfamiliar shadows.

Rokia shrugs. “Sure,” she says. “It’ll be fine.”

Sara pulls out cigarettes as they leave, hands one to Rokia and hopes that to anyone who notices they look like just a couple people a little late going home. They’re not the only ones on the street, not here, but Sara’d put good money on them being the most sober. The knots of people gathered in the spill of light from bar doorways barely register their presence in the dark.

Sara hasn’t been this way before. It’s down near the auto factory, where the air smells like soot and paint and who-knows-what chemicals, and the apartment buildings have broken windows like gap teeth, everything faded and dirty.

And then she sees where they’re going. A charred shell of brick and metal between two empty-looking rowhouses, cordoned off and plastered with “Do Not Enter” signs with the Capitol seal in bright red.

Rokia ducks under the ropes, up to the front door, broken and dangling on its hinges.

“They just left it like that?” Sara asks.

Rokia glances sideways. “I may have done some scouting last night,” she says. “It was almost broken!” she says, at the look on Sara’s face. “I just figured it’d save time tonight.

“Okay,” Sara says skeptically. “What now?”

Rokia pulls her away from the doorway, a finger to her lips telling Sara to shut up right now. And then Rokia looks out and relaxes. “It’s Matt,” she says.

“Damn, I was hoping you’d come to your senses,” Matt says.

“Hello to you too,” Rokia replies. “Give Sara a screwdriver, let’s go.”

The two of them pull half a toolchest from assorted pockets. Then Matt heads toward the back of the house and Sara follows Rokia toward the front.

“Pull off that outlet,” Rokia says, pointing, “And pull as much wire as you can get.”

“That’s it?” Sara asks.

Rokia grins. “See? No problem.”

 

No problem except that since they don’t know how the wires run, sometimes they get a house length of wire and sometimes they get two feet. And the building is three stories tall, with stairs Sara holds her breath on, broken glass everywhere, and before long everything they’re wearing is covered in a layer of ash.

But before the sun comes up, they have a good-sized pile down near the door, and are rolling it onto broken boards for makeshift spools. It’ll take all of them to carry the stuff, and Sara really hopes they’re not going far. None of them are good enough storytellers to come up with an innocuous explanation if they run into Peacekeeper patrols.

“Come on,” Rokia whispers, and walks fast toward the back of the factory.

Near the wall is a haphazard little shack, not much more than pieces of scrap leaned up against the wall to block the rain. Inside, an old man is sitting on a stool smoking a cigarette.

“Well,” he says, looking at them. “What have we here?”

Rokia glances at Matt, and he steps forward. Sara’s surprised, but maybe she shouldn’t be. Rokia’s good at acting tough, older and bigger than she is, but Matt’s shooting up to be taller than Sara, and people are less likely to try bullshit with a man.

Sara hangs back a little while Matt argues with the guy, presumably over price. Finally Matt looks over to Rokia, who’s watching intently past his shoulder. She nods, and the old man grins and starts counting out money. He hands it to Matt, who counts it again and hands it to Rokia. She nods, they turn back, and Sara can see the relief on Rokia’s face even in the dark.

It leaves her looking tired, and when Sara pulls her in for a hug Rokia relaxes against her like she almost never does, letting out a deep breath like she’s just come up from underwater.

“C’mon,” Matt said. “Last thing we need is to get jumped, or stopped by the damn PKs.”

Rokia steps back, smiles again. Sara feels a little giddy, finds herself grinning as they walk. She passes around cigarettes, and they walk quietly until Matt turns off for his place, with a warning to them to be careful.

Rokia’s practically skipping now, and the excitement is contagious. They make it back to the shop in practically record time, and the sun’s come up enough that they can see their reflections in the window glass. Sara looks, while Rokia pulls out keys to let them in, and starts laughing. They look like coal miners, black from head to toe, clothes hopelessly stained.

Rokia glances back to see what Sara’s laughing at, then she sees too and shakes her head. “Good thing it’s night,” she says.

She looks at the clock on the wall when they get in, then over at Sara. “You’d better shower before you go home,” she says. “Your folks’ll lose their shit if you go in there looking like that.”

Sara laughs at the thought. “I don’t have clean clothes,” she realizes. “And yours aren’t gonna fit.”

That makes Rokia laugh. “There’s your coveralls,” she says.

“Oh hell, they’re gonna be so confused if they see me,” Sara says, but it’s better than the alternative. But if she hurries, she can get in before they’re up. So she washes off the worst of the ash, pulls on her coveralls, kisses the top of Rokia’s head, and races home.

 

She makes it, just barely. She can hear Mom and Dad moving around, but she still has time until breakfast. So she grabs her bathrobe, ducks into the bathroom, and runs the shower just long enough to make her wet hair believable—and to check for any missed dirt on her face.

All clear.

She’s a little late for breakfast, but that just gives her an excuse to eat fast and dash out the door, rather than making conversation.

 

For once, Matt’s the one grumbling in first period about being tired. Sara’s great, between the shower and coffee at breakfast and a cigarette on the way here (and she’s gonna have to pick up more soon, damn). It’s fine—except then second period is history, and she’s never cared enough to pay attention, and Matt has to shove her at the end of the hour to wake her up for their next class. And then he looks at her, and shrugs, and asks if she wants to just go to Sal’s instead.

Sara’s still trying to wake up, and the idea of spending the whole day in school just sounds like torture. “Sure,” she says. “Let’s go.”

They stop for coffee and donuts on the way. Rokia’s in the shop when they come in, sitting at a workbench next to Kadi and assembling something while Kadi plays with crayons and scrap and whatever tools she can get her hands on.

Rokia looks up when they come in, and Sara’s extra glad they stopped, because Rokia’s face lights up when she sees the food.

“Wait here, Kadi,” Rokia says, hopping down and coming over. Sara hands her a cup of coffee and Rokia breathes in the steam like it’s magic. “You are a lifesaver,” she says. “Allie left for school and Kadi won’t let me out of her sight long enough to pick anything up.”

Sure enough, Kadi’s watching them closely, while Rokia drinks her coffee and basically inhales two donuts. “Okay,” she says, and she looks better now. “Sal’s coming in an hour and he wants this stuff ready to send out, let’s get going.”

 

Rokia ducks out in the afternoon, once Allie’s back from school and after telling Matt to keep an eye on the girls. When she comes back an hour later, she goes straight up to Sal’s office and stays there for a good fifteen minutes. When she comes down she looks annoyed, but she grabs the truck keys off the wall and comes over to talk to Sara and Matt. “What’s wrong?” Sara asks.

Rokia shakes her head. “Nothing,” she says. “Just Sal being Sal.”

“He’s mad you’re moving into that squat?” Matt guesses. “Of course he is,” he goes on, when Rokia nods. “Disrespecting Capitol property or something, right?”

“Something like that,” Rokia says, and sighs. “I’m taking the truck and collecting our stuff to take over, don’t tell the girls yet, they’ll be mad we can’t stay here.”

“I can come help,” Sara offers. “Or at least run interference at the house.”

Rokia hesitates.

“Come on,” Sara says, walking toward the garage. “Let’s go.”

Rokia’s too young to be driving, technically, but the Peacekeepers know Sal’s truck, and he kisses up enough they’re not gonna stop it just because they want to hassle a possibly-underage driver. Sara’s more worried about Rokia’s mom than the PKs.

And sure enough. “Mom, we’re moving out,” Rokia snaps, as soon as they get in the door.

Mata’s awake, at least, and fully clothed. “What d’you mean, baby?” she asks, in a whine that grates worse than nails on a chalkboard. “’S a nice place here, Dusty says we can stay as long as we want.” She elbows the guy sitting next to her on the couch, who must be Dusty. “Isn’t that right?”

“Sure,” the guy says, eyeing Rokia and then Sara with a look that makes Sara’s hands clench to fists before she’s even noticed. “You got such a nice family,” he adds, slumping back against the couch.

Sara watches Rokia’s shoulders rise, then drop. “Well, Mom, you do what you want, me and the girls are moving down to 8th Street,” she says, and walks toward one of the back rooms.

Sara follows her in, pushes the door closed behind her, and looks at Rokia.

“That fucking…” Rokia starts, stops. “I can’t believe he—fuck.”

She looks at Sara, furious and frustrated and helpless, and Sara takes the step closer she wasn’t sure was a good idea before, so Rokia can slump against her, head knocking once, twice against Sara’s collarbone.

Then she takes a deep breath, steps back and looks around. “Mattresses are ours,” she says, pointing. “They roll up. Blankets too, and the lockbox, and that’s all I left here,” she finishes, and starts stripping beds.

When they start pulling stuff out to the truck, Sara half-expects trouble. But Mata and her boyfriend are gone, and good riddance.

 

Sara’s not actually sure the new place will be an improvement. It’s more rundown, paint flaking off the walls, steps uneven from missing bricks, but like Rokia said, it’s cheap. A couple guys are sitting on a filthy couch in the front room, smoking and watching TV. They nod vaugely at Rokia when she comes in, then go back to what they were doing.

Their room is small, but it has a window out over the back, and it’s more or less clean. Rokia’s quiet while they spread out the mattresses, make them up into beds. Then she stands up, looks around, nods. “Okay,” she says, quiet and tired. “This’ll do.”

The door to the room doesn’t lock, Sara notices as they leave.

 

All Sara wants to do is go home, but she can’t leave Rokia alone with two screaming kids. Because just like Rokia predicted, both girls cry when she comes down with all their things packed into her duffel. Sara tries not to eavesdrop until finally Rokia scoops up Kadi, takes Allie’s hand, and starts walking toward the door. And toward Sara, who takes the duffel, since she can’t really take the girls.

“It’ll be fun, Allie,” Rokia’s saying. “We can draw on the walls if you want.”

That gets Allie to stop sniffling and look up, tentative. “Really?” she asks, suspicious.

“Sure,” Rokia says. “We’ll get paint sometime and you can put up whatever you want.”

Allie scowls, looks away, but she stops dragging her feet along the pavement.

Kadi just clings, quiet and teary-eyed.

They both look around suspiciously when Rokia opens the door. Allie huddles close against Rokia’s legs, and Sara steps up next to her, so she’s between Allie and the guys who haven’t moved from the couch.

Once they’re in their room, the girls relax a bit. Rokia sits on their bed with Kadi in her lap and Allie next to her, leans back against the wall, and only then seems to remember Sara.

“You can drop that wherever,” she says. “Thanks.”

Sara wishes there was something more she could do. Wishes Rokia wasn’t saying it like a polite version of “go away,” wishes she wasn’t actually relieved to do just that. But there’s nothing she can do about any of it.

“See you tomorrow,” she says, because as dumb as that sounds she doesn’t have anything else.

Rokia nods. “See you,” she echoes, then looks down at Allie, while Sara closes the door behind her and tries not to look like she’s fleeing.

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