kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

The Victory Tour

A series of snapshots from the districts, Twelve to One.



They get on the train in the evening, ready to start the long trip out to District Twelve. Rokia's sisters are at her aunt's house, her mom still in rehab, both their houses locked tight against whoever thinks they're fair game. Everything's ready. Rokia's nervous, of course, but it's Phillips who fights off dread that leaves his mouth dry and his stomach roiling.

The Capitol press didn't quite know what to do with a Victor whose talent consists of mockups of hovercraft wing shapes and talks about weak points in welded seams and wind shear. It's almost as if she's from Three except she doesn't really know the jargon so it comes off strange. The girls posed for pictures and talked about how much they liked their new house and Kadi showed off some of their toys while reporters cooed, and Phillips explained how Rokia's mom was undergoing medical treatment and couldn't give comments just now.

And now, finally, they're on the train headed out for the start of the tour in District Twelve and weeks of close quarters and public appearances and fancy clothes all culminating in a grand Capitol reception and Phillips would honestly rather go back to the Arena than drag his girl through this but here they go.

Linsea is fluttering around, excited because it's her first Victory Tour and she's never seen the outlying districts, and this is going to be just wonderful. Rokia sits quiet at the table and picks at her food and occasionally lifts her head enough to make faces at Phillips when Linsea says something completely absurd.

They both escape to their rooms as soon as they can manage it, and Rokia gives him a small smile from the door to her room. "Glad you're along," she says, "I think I'd kick her off the train if it was just me."

Phillips smiles back. "Hopefully we can hold each other back," he says. "Goodnight, Rokia."

District Twelve is unchanged from what he remembers from his own tour, with the exception of Haymitch Abernathy. Haymitch won just two years after Phillips and he's still never pulled a kid out. It's hard not to feel sorry for the guy, bringing tiny, hopeless tributes year after year and watching them bleed out. Phillips hasn't had much better until this year, and he looks at Haymitch now and sees what would happen if he'd let the fatalism get to him and decided he just couldn't keep caring anymore. He's thought about it, late at night in the Games Complex after his tributes are killed again or when he's sitting in his house looking at polling data that won't matter unless he's phenomenally lucky. It's easy to see how Haymitch would decide it's easier to throw up his hands and pick up a bottle. But when Phillips looks at Rokia, when he manages to make her smile or let down her guard just a little, it's all worth it.

She's not smiling now, she's wound up and tense as the prep team makes their final checks and Linsea fusses over her. Phillips sends them all out of the room and shuts the door. Rokia's watching him carefully as he comes to stand in front of her, wide eyed but otherwise outwardly calm. "Hey, Rokia," he says, and she holds his gaze, steady. "You're going to do fine. I'll be right there with you" She nods, takes a deep breath, and smiles for him--it's not real but he almost believes it--and they head out into the cold.

He stands behind her as she reads the speech, and her voice is steady and clear. When he glances over the crowd they're watching her with bored expressions, shuffling a little to stay warm, and when she finishes there's scattered applause. She turns to look at him and he nods, and they file into the justice building for their dinner.

--

They enter District Eleven just after dawn. Rokia watches from the window as they pass the armored gate, treasuring the last minutes of quiet before the prep team descends. Sara always said she thought Rokia should see the other districts but neither of them ever thought it would be like this. Rokia pushes the echoes of memory away because she doesn't want them tangling with nightmares and fear and the roiling frustration of people making her into someone she's not. Rokia-the-Victor wears fancy dresses and elaborate hairstyles and makeup and smells like flowers or something. Rokia-the-Victor is going to give eleven more speeches about honor and duty and gratitude and sound sincere while she does it. Rokia-the-Victor smiles for the cameras and shakes hands and chokes down the food they give her and waves as she gets back on the train. Rokia-the-Victor has nothing to do with Rokia who sneaks out to the railyard when Sara's in town to smoke cigarettes on the fire escape and watch the sun come up. Rokia who's sitting in her room in the dark because she can't sleep is somewhere in between, as though the cords holding her to herself have stretched and frayed as the train flies through the night, leaving her untethered, balanced between Rokia from Six and Rokia-the-Victor, up in the rafters without a harness.

But those are thoughts for sleepless nights, overdramatic in the light of day that's starting to come in the window, and really, it's only the second district: she can't be falling apart already, there's a job to be done. By the time Phillips knocks on the door and takes her to prep she's pulled herself together. Rokia-the-Victor smiles and heads out to face the day.

--

It's strange, passing through these wide-open districts, expanses of land that leave Rokia feeling vulnerable, exposed. It snows through the night as they travel to Ten and when the sun comes up the whole landscape is bleached of color: grey sky, white snow, the occasional bare, black tree. When they get close the feedlots start, pens of cattle that stretch for miles, steam rising in the cold. Ten's central town is low and sprawling and it's the smell that hits Rokia first when the train opens, overpowering at first but fading into mere annoyance by the end of the day. The crowd is bored but not hostile and the Victors shake her hand and congratulate her and Phillips and demand nothing and Rokia counts off one more district done.

--

It's late and Phillips has gone to bed and there's nothing to do and nowhere to go and Rokia can't sleep. At least this time she knows why: tomorrow they're in District Nine, and the girl from District Nine was the first person in Rokia's life she ever killed, and she's not sorry she did it but she still feels like shit. And there's no way she's going to sleep with her brain spinning the way it is, so she might as well give it something to do. She's wanted to meet the crew since she got on the stupid train in Six, but she knows Rokia-the-Victor doesn't get to hang out with train crews and she doesn't want to disappoint Phillips. But Phillips is asleep and so is everyone else and if she has to sit in this room until morning she won't be able to play nice tomorrow, so fuck it.

She pulls on her old jeans and a sweatshirt and boots and heads to the front of the train. The door's open just a crack and she can hear voices behind it. She pushes the door open and walks in, and when every head turns towards her she crosses her arms and says "So how does this thing work, anyway?" with a smile that's half-joking and nothing of the Victor except, maybe, the confidence she's mostly faking. But it breaks the silence, and the night crew boss laughs.

"C'mere and I'll show you around," he says, motioning to an empty seat next to him. When Rokia sits he holds out his hand. "I'm Joe," he says, "glad to meet you."

"Rokia," she says, taking his hand. "But I guess you knew that." He laughs, but it's friendly, and for the rest of the night she sits next to him, drinking cheap district coffee, checking running temperatures and fuel levels and engine power readouts, until the crews get ready to switch shifts. She follows the night crew out, goes past their bunkrooms and into the lounge, where Phillips is sitting at the table looking tired.

"Hi Phillips," she says, and she should by rights be exhausted, but she feels better than she has since they left Six.

He looks up, surprised. "I thought you were asleep," he says, "Where've you been?"

"Don't worry," she says, because Phillips always worries too much, "I was hanging out with the engine crew. They're great, I'm going to help next time we stop for maintenance checks." Phillips' expression goes from worried to confused to resigned, and Rokia just grins.

"Glad you're having fun," he says, watching her in that careful way he has, as though he's checking her over for loose wires. And sure, she's probably got a few, but it's okay, she's fine, she might not have grease under her nails but she's at least felt useful for a few hours and the promise of more, and she tells Phillips about diesel-electric engines and maglev track tolerances and lets that carry her until Linsea comes in to tell her she's late for prep.


Phillips probably shouldn't be surprised that she snuck out to talk to the train crews. He definitely shouldn't be surprised that that leaves her happier than she's been since they left. And yeah, it's part giddy relief and it's thin paper over the mess underneath but he's not going to question it if it means he gets to see her smile for real.

It doesn't last long, anyway, by the time she's back from prep she's back to the withdrawn, careful mask she wears for events and appearances, tired eyes hidden under makeup, dresses to make her look feminine and just a little dangerous. It's so different from the teenager she looked like this morning, coiled-spring tension and quick bright smiles, small and strong and comfortable in worn-thin jeans. She looks like a Victor, and Phillips hates it. But she looks at him for approval and she's trying hard to do everything right so he smiles at her and they go over her speech.

It's different, here, and Phillips knew it was coming but how do you prepare someone to look out at the family whose kid you killed? Rokia's first kill was District 9, Female, who tried to sneak up on her while she was collecting water. Phillips held his breath in the control room, noticed what D9F hadn't: that while Rokia hadn't turned around, she'd frozen, just for a second, at the sound of footsteps behind her. By the time the cannon fired, Rokia was halfway across the ruined city with the girl's knife in blood-stained hands and Phillips let the whisper of maybe, maybe grow a little louder in his head.

D9F, Zea Geisel, 17. Exsanguination. It's starred on his list, death in black and white and clinical descriptions and seared into his mind and Rokia's in excruciating detail.

She's silent and exceptionally still as they leave the train and head for the stage, and when she smiles at him before they get out of the car he almost flinches because her eyes are blank and her smile is perfect and she's hidden herself deep down somewhere and he's not sure how he'll manage to pull her out after. She stands on the stage and reads from her cards and it's just the right degree of somber without showing guilt. The girl's family is standing out in the audience, mother and father and two little boys, all with that same honey-blond hair and blue eyes, stoic and silent and watching her. Rokia glances at them once, and on the huge screens flanking them he sees a flicker of something behind the mask that disappears when she looks away.

She barely speaks at dinner, and the Nine Victors don't press. She's not eating either, poking at her food and watching the others until Phillips makes excuses and takes her back to the train. He walks her to her room and stops at the door. "Thanks, Phillips," she says, and her voice is still strange and faraway and he puts his hands on her shoulders and looks at her until she meets his eyes, reluctant.

"Hey," he says, soft but firm, "Take a shower, change clothes, and come back out." She frowns, confused, then nods, just a little.

She swallows hard, takes a deep breath. "Yeah," she says, "Okay," and when she meets his eyes again she looks a little more like herself.

He takes a quick, cold shower himself, letting the shock steady him, and pulls on the rough clothes he brought from home.

When she comes out to the lounge he's sitting on one of the couches. She comes over half-reluctantly and sits next to him, lets him put an arm around her and leans her head on his shoulder. "You with me?" he asks, pulling her close. She sighs.

"Yeah," she says, soft. She's silent a long time before she says, "I didn't even mean to kill her." Phillips doesn't know how to respond so he stays quiet. "I just wanted to get away."

"I know," Phillips says, because he saw it, she'd reacted like it was a street fight, disarming and disabling the girl and then running away while she bled out.

"I wasn't sure until after," Rokia says, "I didn't know if the cannon was for her." Phillips didn't realize that, didn't prepare her for it, and when he realizes Rokia apparently found out about her first kill on the televised recap he wants to go back in time and kick himself for not warning her. Some mentor he is.

Rokia's drifting a little now, it's late and she didn't sleep last night and her eyes keep fluttering closed and then jerking back open. "You want to go to bed?" he asks, and she nods. He follows her into the room and tucks her in, and when he turns to go her eyes follow him and he hesitates. "Do you want me to stay?" he asks, and she's silent, uncertain. "I'll stay right here," he says.

She relaxes a little, then, and whispers "Thank you," and Phillips settles in on the couch and watches her fall asleep.

--

Eight is strangely familiar. Phillips looks over the crowed streets and hears the hum of factories and smells sewage and it's missing the sharp tang of burning coal from the casting plants but other than that it's not so different from Six. Rokia seems more comfortable here, past the uncomfortable openness of the prairies and back in city streets. A fair number of people watching have hard, satisfied smiles: they see the familiarity, and if it wasn't going to be their kid who won, it might as well be another hard-nosed city kid bringing it home.

Rokia chats with Cecilia at dinner and fusses over her kids and actually smiles, and Phillips takes the good day for the gift that it is.

--

It's bitterly cold in Seven. The only thing that's outdoors is Rokia's speech, and she's wrapped up in layers and layers of wool and still she looks cold.

When they go inside the stylist whisks Rokia off to change and Phillips is left standing alone in a hallway in the cold, drafty Justice building. It's beautiful, the grain of the wood panelling almost hypnotic to his tired eyes, and he stands there leaning against a wall for a while until Johanna Mason appears. She's freshly styled for the cameras, eyes flashing as always, and she looks him over carefully, arms crossed over her chest and eyes narrowed.

"Well," she says, "You look like shit."

Phillips laughs a little despite everything. It's what passes for friendly conversation from Johanna and the bluntness is refreshing.

"Thanks," he says, "I'll tell the stylists you approve."

She flashes him a quick smile before her face goes serious again. "So," she says, "is Snow just dying to get his hands on her?"

She's not the first to ask, but she's the first to put it that bluntly. Not like she has anything left to lose, Phillips knows the story as well as everyone else. "I don't know," he says. "Haven't heard anything."

Johanna studies him. "She's cute," she says, like it's a condemnation. Pauses, rare hesitation, then meets his eyes. "He told me at the end of the tour." She shrugs, looks toward the door where Rokia's getting ready. "Don't get your hopes up."

She turns then, walks away, and when he sees her at the reception she's all brittle sharp smiles and blood-red fingernails and the weight in Phillips' stomach gets just a little heavier.

When they get back on the train Rokia's shivering, her lips blue-tinged under the makeup. Phillips tells her to take a hot shower, then pulls a blanket off his bed. When she comes out in her sweats he pulls her next to him on the couch and wraps the blanket around both of them, holding her close until she warms up.

--

They skip Six, of course, rolling into Five in the early hours of the morning, and they spend half the day touring a hydroelectric plant, which pulls Rokia out of her exhausted haze and leaves her animated and energetic until she's pulled into prep again for the public appearances. The crowd here, like the one in Eight, is glad to see her, and Phillips isn't sure if that's a good thing, but Rokia doesn't seem to notice the crowds much and he says nothing. By the time they get to dinner she's back to silent and withdrawn, and none of the Five victors put much effort into engaging. They leave early.

--

They get to Four the next evening, and Rokia spends hours with the crew running maintenance checks and climbing into access panels, and Phillips watches for a while before giving up and finding his bed. He can't help her if he's exhausted himself, and there's nothing he can do to make tomorrow easier. She'll sleep or she won't, he can't do anything about it either way. District Four, Male, was another of Rokia's kills--one they keep replaying on the recaps, fast and bloody and deliberate and Phillips remembers it as the moment he first thought she could actually win.

She doesn't sleep. He's not surprised.

Four is a beautiful district, the town set up for Capitol tourism, and they've taken advantage of the cameras to show it off. They go out on a boat, tour the harbor, and Linsea laments the cool temperatures that mean they can't swim. Rokia stands in the prow with her face toward the sun and the wind while cameras flash and looks lost. They've put her in a sundress and it's warm but not that warm, and by the time they get back to the dock she's shivering. He finds her stylist and tells him she needs something warmer. The man gives him a dirty look but digs into the racks in the car to find a soft wool shawl. Phillips drapes it around her shoulders and she wraps it tight, fingers twisting in the ends.

In the outer districts there'd been a few cameras but here they swarm around Rokia while she gives her by-now-memorized speech, a few token gestures to the district and barely a mention of the kid she killed. With every district it gets a little easier for her to slip into the mask and a little harder for him to pull her back, and her prep team howls about the exhaustion in her eyes and the weight she's losing and the broken fingernails from working with the crew but nobody has a bad word to say about her performances, so Phillips sets aside his worry and their whining and hopes for the best.

Four is the first district with more than a handful of Victors, and the reception is friendly, despite everything. Phillips is dragged into conversations and clapped on the back and congratulated and it's genuine, not the flashy smiles of Capitol escorts or the faint resentment of some of the other outliers. Mags comes up to him and he bends to meet her embrace. "She's lovely," Mags says, and she's smiling but there's a note of worry in her voice, in her eyes. "You take care of her, now." There's cameras and microphones everywhere and they both know better than to say more, but he takes the warning for what it is. Mags squeezes his hand and he looks down at her, then over to where Finnick is flirting outrageously with Rokia. She's looking away, face flushed, and even the discomfort is a welcome change from her usual blankness. But when Phillips looks back at Mags her lips are pursed tight and she shakes her head, just a little, and his throat closes up again. Rokia is seventeen and Finnick is twenty and in a different world this would be funny and casual but here it is anything but.

Finnick notices them watching and flashes a smile, guides Rokia towards them. "Don't worry," he says, with that same shit-eating grin, "I'm bringing her back just as I found her." Rokia moves close to Phillips and Finnick laughs. "See you around," he says, and saunters off.

Mags shakes her head and looks over at Rokia. "It's good to meet you, my dear," she says, and offers her hand. Rokia takes it, still quiet. "You've made Phillips here quite happy." That gets a smile out of Rokia, a real one, and Phillips is grateful.

"Thank you," Rokia says, polite, and Mags pats her arm and smiles before heading toward where Finnick wandered off.

"They don't hate me," Rokia says, surprised, when they're back on the train afterwards. "I killed their kid and they were nice to me."

Phillips sighs. "It's just how it goes," he says. "It's the Games, they won't hold it against you."

"Oh," she says, soft. "I just--oh."

"Come on," Phillips says, "You should try to get some sleep."

So far as he can tell, she does.

--

District Three is all tall buildings and narrow streets and after too much time flying through wide-open spaces it's a nice change. There are four victors here, and they all sit quiet on the stage behind her while she gives the same tired speech to new, bored faces. It's all autopilot by now and Rokia goes through the motions without letting any of it touch her.

The reception, though, that's actually interesting. The oldest Victor and the youngest disappear together after a brief introduction and handshake and Rokia smiles, polite, as Beetee shows her to a table where he's been sitting with Wiress. Phillips trails behind and Rokia frowns and tries to concentrate on what Beetee's saying.

Wiress looks up and smiles at her. "Oh, hi!" she says, "Did you bring your design notes?"

Rokia looks around, surprised. "Um, no?" she says, "they're on the train." Phillips is smiling, a little indulgent, and trades a look with Beetee.

"I can have someone go get them," he offers, and Wiress beams.

"Oh, excellent," she says, "What they showed on TV was really not sufficient…" she shrugs and trails off.

Beetee pulls out a datapad and lays it on the table, then hands Rokia some kind of pen. He presses a button and pushes the tablet towards her. "In the meantime, maybe you can sketch it out for us?"

Phillips has gone off to confer with Linsea, the rest of the guests are circling around the food tables, but Beetee and Wiress aren't paying any attention to them, they're watching Rokia, asking about things that actually matter, and Rokia shifts in her seat and starts sketching.

She's never used a computer before but with both of the Threes helping they've got a wireframe mockup sketched out before long. Wiress spins the model carefully, looking at the changes Rokia's made, adjusting the shapes and talking in half-sentences. "If you just--" she'll say, and stretch the curve from nose to wingtip, just slightly, and then "It should--" and another quick adjustment.

Rokia nods and follows along and occasionally chimes in. "You can't do it that way," she says once, surprising herself, "That'll block the air intake." And by this time Phillips has come back with her notebooks and she unfolds the schematics and lays them out on the table, and Wiress pulls them toward her and hums as she traces the airflow.

When Rokia looks up, Beetee is sitting back, watching, and Phillips has been pulled away and is arguing with Linsea about something, but nobody's telling her where to go or what to do so she looks back at the papers on the table and grins.

--

Phillips has to pull her away from the reception in Three, and that's a first, but it's late and they're supposed to be in Two tomorrow and Linsea is already annoyed enough that Rokia spent the night talking engineering instead of playing nice and posing for pictures and talking to the rest of the guests. She's talking fast, waving her hands and telling him something he can't understand about guidance systems and air turbulence and he nods and lets her because she hasn't been this excited since she first met the train crew. It's disconcerting the way she can go from blank-faced exhaustion to this kind of keyed-up focused energy and he's not sure what to think about it, so he just tells her to get some rest and finds his bed.

The next morning she's back to tired and withdrawn, as the train snakes through the mountains toward Two and the third of Rokia's four official Games kills. District Two, Male, had been well on his way to bleeding out when Rokia almost literally tripped over him. She'd slit his throat and watched until his breathing stuttered out and it might have been a mercy kill but it's still another death. So he's not surprised when she's closed-off and silent and picks erratically at her breakfast.

Actually, Phillips is nervous--not the creeping dread of what might go wrong, but nervous because they'll be in Two in a couple hours and he hopes he doesn't embarrass himself in front of Brutus and the whole Village full of experienced, competent mentors. It's stupid. Phillips hasn't worried about something as benign as embarrassment in ages, but there he is, checking over Rokia's speech one last time, sighing at the stylists as they get him ready, fidgeting like he's some kind of kid. He's annoying himself, and Brutus would smack him upside the head if he knew, so Phillips takes a breath and tries to calm down.

It's all unnecessary, Rokia might be checked-out but she gives her speech just fine and smiles for the cameras and they leave the escorts and the prep teams in town and head up to the Village. Brutus finds Phillips as they're heading out, shakes his hand and claps him on the shoulder and invites them to ride up with him. Rokia's silent by Phillips' side and Brutus turns to say hello. He watches her carefully, doesn't get close, doesn't even shake hands, just says "Hi Rokia, I'm Brutus," and when Rokia says hello he nods, turns back to Phillips, and walks them over to his truck.

The Two victors village looks nothing like the one in Six, it feels like an actual village, and as the line of cars enters the gate it comes more alive. Brutus shows them in to what's clearly someone's living room with the furniture pushed against the walls to make more space. It's a friendly sort of house party, and they're not there 5 minutes before Phillips has a drink--apple cider--and other Victors shaking his hand and clapping him on the shoulder and congratulating him. Rokia sticks close at first, watching silently, when a woman who Phillips can only describe as "terrifying" comes up to say hello. "I'm Callista," she says, and when Rokia doesn't react immediately she sighs. "I was Creed's mentor."

"Oh," Rokia says, and bites her lip. "I'm sorry, I--" Callista waves a hand and interrupts.

"Nothing to be sorry for," she says. "Congratulations." She shakes Phillips' hand, and Rokia's, and walks away.

Brutus comes back over after that with a woman Phillips recognizes as his first Victor. "I'm Emory," she says, pleasant, shaking Rokia's hand "I was Myrina's mentor. Congratulations."

"Um," Rokia hesitates. "Thank you?" Emory smiles, and it's sad around the edges but it's for real.

"It's good to meet you," Emory says, "And we're all happy for Phillips, too." She smiles at him and Brutus's face cracks into a grin and they go to sit and Phillips feels more comfortable here than he has in a very long time.

--

Two is weird.

There's too many people and all of them Victors, but they're acting like some kind of big family and they've kicked out all the reporters and they're letting her be. She sits next to Phillips at first but she's too antsy to sit still the whole time and so after a bit she wanders off, stands by the window and looks down at the lights in the town, coming on as it gets dark.

She notices someone coming up behind her and spins, but the woman stays well out of reach. She's smiling, holding a couple of mugs. "Hey there, kid," she says. "Just thought you might want something warm to drink." It's warm in the house but Rokia's usually cold these days so she nods.

"Sure," she says, "Thanks, um--"

"Lyme," the woman says, holding out a mug. "Good to meet you."

It's hot chocolate, warm and rich and indulgent, and Rokia wraps her hands around it and leans against the wall, watching Lyme. The name's familiar, strange enough that Rokia remembers she's heard it before, but Rokia wouldn't have recognized her on sight.

Rokia realizes she's staring and looks down at the mug in her hands. "Sorry," she mumbles, and takes a sip.

"No problem," Lyme says, easy, "you want to sit?"

They sit on the couch and Rokia tucks her feet up under her skirt--she left her stupid shoes at the door and her toes are cold. It takes a minute to get properly untangled so she can sit comfortably. When she's done she glances over at Lyme, in short hair and pants and looking comfortable without seeming sloppy and she sighs. "I hate these stupid dresses," she says, half under her breath, and she shouldn't complain, especially not to strangers, but it's been two weeks of this shit and she's so fucking tired of it.

Lyme smiles a little. "Yeah," she says, "I bet."

Rokia looks over. "Did they make you get all dressed up?" She can't really see it, but it's not like anyone ever asked her what she wanted to wear.

Lyme actually laughs at that. "Oh, no," she says, "My mentor told them no dresses, right from the beginning."

"Oh," Rokia sighs. "I guess it's different." Maybe she should have asked Phillips, but she gets the sense it's not always him calling the shots about that kind of thing.

Lyme doesn't say anything to that, so Rokia shrugs. "Whatever, at least I have my own stuff on the train."

"That's good," Lyme says, and Rokia nods.

"Um…I'm sorry about Creed," Rokia says. "I mean--" She stops, because the next words of that sentence are "I'm not, really," and she knows that's a dumb thing to say, however stupid she's being.

"Hey, no," Lyme says, and her voice is kind for all she's twice Rokia's size. "You did him a favor, everyone here knows that."

Rokia glances over at her. "Oh."

Lyme sighs, runs a hand through her hair. "Yeah, oh." she says. "Look, kiddo, you don't have to apologize for what happened in the Games. Not to me, not to anybody, okay?"

Rokia nods, but Lyme's still watching. "Okay," she says, and sips at her cocoa.

They sit there quiet for a bit, until Phillips comes over. "Hi Lyme," he says, and Lyme smiles, friendly, and says hello and congratulations. And then Phillips tells her it's time to go, they have to head back to the train to get ready for tomorrow.

Rokia climbs to her feet. "Bye," she says, "Thanks for the cocoa."

Lyme smiles. "Bye Rokia," she says. "Take care."

--

District One makes Phillips' skin crawl.

He tries to push it back because Rokia can tell when he's antsy, if she's bothering to pay attention. She's had a good couple of days, but he's not naive enough to count on that meaning anything.

Her stylist is showing off for District One--when Phillips checks on the prep team they're braiding thin silver wire into Rokia's hair, rubbing something shimmery into her skin, chattering on like they always do, while Rokia stares into the middle distance and lets them manhandle her body like something mechanical. She doesn't notice him come in, doesn't notice him leaving a minute later, frustrated and disgusted and wondering if he shouldn't have tried to do something different.

District One gets special mention for having the second-place tribute, the media people are all off their train already, along with special reinforcements from the Capitol interviewing people about how it felt to come so close. The outer districts love the underdogs, but the Capitol knows District One, considers them and their oh-so-refined tributes just a step below them, loves it when they win for reasons beyond the one Phillips is refusing to let himself think about. So of course Janus, with his golden-boy looks and vicious grin, was the one they were pulling for. Phillips doesn't care, he got his girl out and they can bemoan it to District 13 and back and it won't make a damn bit of difference, but if they force Rokia to listen to their whining he--well, he'll grit his teeth and bear it, and so will she, because what choice do they have?

They don't, because apparently some things are in poor taste even for people who sew diamonds under their skin, but they do drag her around to visit the workshops that produced the jewlery she's wearing today, and she smiles and thanks people and as soon as they're back in the car she shudders and leans against Phillips and doesn't say a word. The crowd listening to her speech is stone-faced, they know better than to show obvious disappointment but they're not going to fake enthusiasm either. The cameramen snap pictures and titter at the contrast between Rokia--small and dark and dressed in black silk and brushed steel--and the tall, golden-haired One Victors and Phillips is more than usually glad when it's over.

Only a handful of Victors stay for the reception, it's subdued compared to the circus earlier and less horrible than Phillips was expecting. Rokia seems to have used up all her energy being polite for the cameras, and when those disappear she shrinks down, pulling her flimsy shawl closer around her shoulders. The One Victors don't press her to talk, but Phillips catches them giving her frank, appraising looks when they think he's not paying attention. There's none of the pity he's seen in other mentors' eyes, just matter-of fact assessment. He catches someone's eye--Dexter, he's one of the longest-running One mentors--and gets a shrug and a half-apologetic smile in return.

They leave as soon as they can. Rokia doesn't say anything on the return to the train, disappears into her room only to come out dressed in work clothes and pass through toward the engine room.

Phillips doesn't sleep either. Tomorrow, they'll be in the Capitol.

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