(This will make more sense if you've read this, which is the relevant backstory for Sara--and is actually happy! and/or this which is after Rokia's Games and is, well, kind of okay?)
The one good thing about the Victory Tour is that finally, after an age, it ends. Rokia has never been so glad to get on a train in her life. Phillips follows her into her room and leaves her alone only after Rokia promises him she’s—-well, not that she’s okay, but that she can take care of herself. She forces herself to look him in the eye.
“Phillips. Go to bed, I don’t need a babysitter.” He shakes his head and leaves. All of her things from the Tour are still here, and she sheds her dress, showers, and pulls on the soft, faded jeans and oversized sweatshirt she brought with her when the Tour started what seems like forever ago. Then she heads to the crew cabin.
When she comes into the crew breakroom Joe’s there, playing cards with Alou. He looks her up and down, eyes narrowed.
“You look like shit,” he says.
Rokia can't bring herself to joke, just now, so she just shrugs and says “It's fine, I'm just tired," wrenching her mouth into a smile she knows doesn’t help her case.
Joe nods, mouth flattening into a line that says exactly how much he doesn’t believe her bullshit, and says "Go sleep. Room's open."
Rokia nods, leaves, not quite trusting her voice. On the thin, hard bunk, smelling of machine oil and cigarette smoke, she sleeps better than she has in weeks.
She wakes up when the train slows, looks around blearily. The room’s empty, everyone getting ready for their arrival, and she’s wondering why no one’s dragged her off to prep when Joe comes in. “Hey, kid,” he says, “they’re looking for you.”
Here, in this room, Rokia lets herself groan and scrub her hands over her face. “Yeah,” she says, and after days and days of being too keyed up to sit still she suddenly wants nothing more than to stay in bed for the next week. Joe shakes his head, holds out a hand, and she lets him haul her to her feet. He doesn’t say anything but he knows—she can tell he knows—that none of this is her, this person who goes to parties and stands on stages and wears dresses, and it’s comforting somehow, that even if she’s doing her job well, it’s not just Phillips who sees the person behind it all.
“Last one,” he says, as she leans against the bunks, waiting for her head to clear.
“Yup,” and oh, that means she won’t be back on this train, with this crew, until who knows when. “Hey, thanks for the ride,” she says, looking up at him.
It’s surprising to see the sunset out the window, she’s mixed up and fuzzy-headed after sleeping all day, but she knows how to do this by now so she zones out while the prep team fusses over her, then looks over her speech cards with Phillips over coffee.
He’s watching her, careful, keeping a little distance between them now, and Rokia hates it. But there’s nothing to say, is there? It's a new game, new rules, and the President warned her there’s no free rides in Panem, not even for victors. If it means Phillips stays away, well, that’s just the price you pay.
She’s ready to get it all over with, just one more stupid speech, like the others but no mention of the one dead kid here. Here it’s a party, a celebration for the girl who went through the bloody mess of the games and returned to them Capitol-pretty and smiling on their television screens. She steps off the train, smiles for the cameras, Capitol-approved expressions and nothing touching her, until she looks over to see Kadi and Allie sitting at the side of the stage, fancy dresses and braided hair just like when she came home the first time. And just like the first time, her Mom’s there, cleaned up and smiling, bemused. Phillips glances over at them and his lips purse just for a second and Rokia aches to take her sisters and just go home, and she almost trips when she steps to the podium.
She can’t just give her speech on autopilot, not when she can look out into the crowd and search for Sal or Matt or Sara, not when her sisters are watching her with wide eyes, not with everyone she knows watching—-and sure, they were probably watching before, but she didn’t think about it. Now she’s self-conscious about the fancy dresses, the long painted nails, everything about her that says “I’m not like you, not anymore.” Phillips is standing behind her, and when he puts a hand on her shoulder she realizes she’s frozen, breathing fast. She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes for just a second, and—-okay. This isn’t real, any more than the rest of it, just don’t think about it. She opens her eyes and reads the words they gave her.
Afterwards, after the Mayor congratulates her and a group of schoolkids present her with a plaque and a thank you for all the Parcel Days she’s brought them and Phillips thanks the District Six citizens who gave sponsorship money, then and only then does she get to walk over and wrap her arms around her sisters. They’re less scared this second time than they were when she came home from the Games, but Kadi still refuses to let go of her hand. Mom hugs her, stiff, and she looks anxious and unhappy, which probably means she’s sober, so there’s that. Phillips leads them to the table set out for them and they sit through dinner and music and go outside to watch fireworks burst over the skyline and then finally, when Kadi’s asleep on Rokia’s lap, a car takes them home. Mom stays in the car when they get out, glances up at Rokia. “They let me out special for this,” she says, “I gotta go back tonight.” She looks sad and tired and Rokia wants to say no, stay here, wants to imagine them that kind of family, but Phillips is watching, arms crossed and face serious, so Rokia just says goodnight and lets him close the door.
Once they’re in the house Allie grins and flops on the couch and Kadi wakes up enough to smile against Rokia’s neck and curl in tighter. She’s heavy, but when Phillips offers to take her Rokia’s arms tighten and Kadi holds on tighter too and maybe they both need this. They go upstairs to the girls’ room and Rokia extracts herself long enough to get Kadi to change into pajamas, while Phillips helps Allie find hers. They curl up on the bed together, but when Rokia moves to get up Kadi whimpers, grabbing her hand. Rokia sighs, sits back down on the bed. Phillips says “I’ll wait downstairs,” and Rokia nods.
She leans back against the head of the bed, running her hands over the girls’ hair, rubbing their backs, reminding herself that they’re here, they’re real and this is real and this is home, and she waits until they’re sound asleep before climbing out of bed. She’s still wearing her dress from earlier, and she showers and changes before going down to see if Phillips is still there.
He is, and she watches him for a second, sitting on the couch looking just like he did months ago when he first brought her here, like he did when he told her he could help her mom, like when he told her she could actually design hovercraft if she wanted to. If only things were really the same. It hits her, suddenly, that this isn’t like the Games, isn’t something she can push to the back of her mind because it’s over and she’ll never have to do it again. It’s part of her life now, this Capitol person, and it’s taken her and twisted her up for whatever use they want to make of her and she doesn’t get to get rid of it, not ever. Someone could call next week and tell her she had to come in for a design meeting or a publicity stunt or a personal appointment and she’d have to go. No wonder her stylist was so excited, he’s got enough work to keep him busy until forever now, making her into Victor-Rokia whenever someone wants to pull her out of the box.
Phillips looks over at her. One corner of his mouth curls up in a tired half-smile as Rokia goes to sit in her chair. “Don’t you want to go home?” she asks.
Phillips looks hurt, and she realizes what he must think. “No, I’m not—-I’m not saying you need to go, I don’t know, I thought you’d probably be tired.”
Phillips shrugs. “Slept on the train,” he says.
“Girls are sleeping?” he asks, with a little smile.
They sit in silence for a while. Finally Phillips looks over at her. "You need anything?" he asks.
Rokia smiles. Typical Phillips, always worrying. "Phillips, I'm fine."
He narrows his eyes, watching her, unconvinced. "Okay, kid," he says, getting to his feet. He hesitates, looks back at her. "You'll tell me, though, if there's anything I can do."
He feels guilty, poor guy. "Yeah, Phillips. It's okay."
He nods, then. "Goodnight, Rokia."
"Goodnight Phillips." She locks the door behind him, leans against it, and closes her eyes.
Rokia's lost track of the weeks, so it's a surprise when Sara finds her on the roof of the old place a few days later. It's been a while since she needed the escape but since she came back from the Tour she's having nightmares again, been jumpy and anxious and it's impossible to sit still, so once again, here she is.
She's not sure she wants to talk to Sara. Yeah, the Games were awkward and horrible and she didn't want Sara to think of her like that, but the Tour and the Capitol and the fancy clothes and the parties--that's not her, that's the girl they're making her into and it's not the girl who's been Sara's friend since they were kids and who was just starting to relax enough around her to see whether maybe things could work out after all. And really, how naive. They'd told her, she knew: it's never over. It's always another Game.
Sara's watching her, assessing, careful, as she climbs up and crosses to where Rokia's sitting. "Welcome back," she says, and her voice sounds strange, guarded. "How was the tour?"
Rokia looks over, quizzical, as Sara sits, leaving space between them and staring out over the skyline. She should probably say something polite, but too bad. "It sucked," she says, pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them. "I hated it."
She can see Sarah's quirked eyebrow in the dark. "You looked like you were having a great time, all those Capitol parties." Rokia's not sure if she's being sarcastic or what. "There were pictures of you kissing like six different people."
Rokia feels sick. Part of her wants to scream, to lash out because what right does Sara have to be mad about her kissing anyone. Part of her wants to jump off the damn roof just to keep from talking about it. Part of her wants to vomit up the whole story just so someone else knows.
Absolutely no part of her wants to burst into tears, but fuck if that's not what happens. And when Sara moves closer and goes to put an arm around Rokia's shoulders, she pulls away hard, scrambling to her feet and retreating, turning to rest her hands on the rough wall. Sara's behind her, she can see out of the corner of her eye, can feel her coming close but hanging back, waiting and watching while Rokia lets the rough concrete dig into her too-smooth palms and tries to get herself under control. Finally she turns and looks at Sara.
"Fuck, Rokia," Sara breathes, "What in the twelve districts is going on?"
"It's nothing," Rokia says, instinctive. Nobody is supposed to know, there are consequences for talking about this, Snow's voice whispers in her head. "I'm fine." She rubs her hands over her eyes and forces herself to relax, hopping up to sit on the wall.
Sara looks at her, eyes narrowed. "Bull shit," she says, crossing her arms over her chest. She looks Rokia up and down. "What in the hell did they do to you?"
"Nothing!" Rokia's shaking now. She can't tell. She's not allowed, sure, but more than that, she doesn't even know the words to use to explain. "They dressed me up and sent me to parties, like you said."
Sara hasn't moved. She's giving Rokia a look that's scared and confused and disappointed all at once. "Why are you lying to me?" she asks, and Rokia wants to cry all over again but she can't so she bites down on the inside of her lip until she tastes blood.
Rokia's not sure how this went so wrong, she wants to tell Sara about Joe and his crew and about the districts--the cold in Seven and the sea in Four but Sara's looking at her, scared and sad and disappointed and who knows what. "I'm not lying."
Sara moves closer and Rokia forces herself not to flinch, to make eye contact, to act like everything's fine. "Rokia, I don't--I'm not mad at you, okay, I just--it was so strange, you looked so different out there I didn't know what to think."
Rokia drops her head, hugs her arms across her chest. Sara's standing close, looking at Rokia like she wants to kiss her, and the panic wells up in Rokia's chest and she hops down and walks away, pacing across the roof.
"You shouldn't be here," Rokia says, her voice low. "You shouldn't let them see you around me." Rokia startles with one bright realization: Snow doesn't know about this. Maybe. There's no point taking anything for granted but he mentioned her sisters, Sal's shop, her Mom, but not Sara. Sara who spends most of her time out of the district anyway, who's rarely come into the Victors' Village, who spits treason through her teeth up here on the roof of a building with no power before going back to the trains to collect information against someday being able to change things. There is someone in her life that Snow might not know about, and in order to keep it that way Rokia has to make Sara leave.
She spins, bracing her hands behind her on the concrete, and Sara's watching her, openmouthed. "Rokia, no," she says. "I don't know what the fuck's going on but I'm not going anywhere."
It hurts like hell, but Rokia has to say it. "Then I am." She turns so she doesn't have to see Sara's face, and swings herself over to climb down the downspout, ignoring the tears that spring to her eyes.
She stays away from the old house for a week, until she knows Sara will be gone again. When she goes back she finds a note, wedged between the bricks.
I talked to Joe. Still not going anywhere.