kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

The 72nd Games, Part 1a

Rokia's first Games as a Victor. Phillips' first Games juggling what the tributes need with what his girl needs. Brutus provides advice. Lyme has to talk about feelings. A good time is had by....no one. No one is having a good time this year.

(This has gotten way, way out of hand, as evidenced by the fact that this is part 1a of the 72nd Games, because there is also a part 1b because it is already too long for one LJ post, and there will be a part 2, because this one ends just after the bloodbath.)




Phillips gets the polling data and the public opinion just like every year but as they come up to the 72nd Games it's different.

It's different because when he reads a lobbyist explaining that Capitol citizens have gotten bored, after one winner who survived by treading water followed by another who won with tricks and traps, after two years without a spectacular final battle. People want something different, they want excitement and brutality and a return to tradition, the last few Arenas have been too easy. Phillips laughs when he reads that, harsh and without humor, and he looks across the yard toward Rokia's house, where a light's still on in the kitchen.

Easy. Sure.

But then there's the other memo that came, slipped in along with the information any mentor can request even if almost none of them bother. The memo from Victor Affairs, stamped with the seal of the President but signed by the Games Coordinator because it's not worth the President's time. "Mentoring arrangements for District Six for the Seventy-Second Hunger Games," it says, typed across the top of the paper. Buried in Capitol politeness is the request: Phillips and Rokia will serve as mentors for their district's tributes. The Capitol wants to see if there's such a thing as beginner's luck.

Phillips knows better than to think the odds would ever be in their favor. Closest anyone's come to beginner's luck is District Two, and that sure as hell isn't about chance. District Two keeps their victors home first year out, cocooned in a Village full of people who look out for them, and they mentor when and if they're ready for it. He knew it wasn't going to be his choice--the last time anything about Rokia was his choice was before the Victory Tour--but he'd hoped, stupidly, that they'd wait.

No such luck.

He doesn't want her sitting in the control room watching kids die--not ever but especially not this year, not when she's still this close to it.

Not when all signs point to the seventy-second being a true damn bloodbath.

She's the one who brings it up, finally, a couple weeks before the Reaping. It's late, her sisters must be sleeping. She knocks on his door, lets herself in with the key he gave her, stands in the entryway with her arms crossed.

"Are you going to tell me what I have to do?" she asks, challenge in her eyes. "I don't want to talk about it either but apparently I'm supposed to be a mentor and I don't know the first thing about any of it."

Phillips sighs, motions her over to the table. She sits with her knees drawn up to her chest, and despite the muggy summer heat she's wearing long sleeves, a too-big shirt she pulls over her hands and balls in her fists.

She's not acting like it's fine, for once, and he supposes that's a good thing. "Rokia," he says, hesitant, while she watches. "I don't want you mentoring."

"Pretty sure we don't get a choice, Phillips," she says, mocking. "President's orders."

He sighs. "Yeah," he says, "but look, I don't want you worrying about it."

Now he's caught in a full-on glare, and she shifts to sit up, leaning across the table. "I'm not made of glass, Phillips, come on."

"I know you're not," and oh, doesn't he. "It's just a bad idea."

"You did it, your first year."

"Yeah," he says, sighs. "Wasn't much choice. You know the others."

"And you managed," Rokia says, pressing, "So I can too."

Phillips pauses. He's known Rokia's stubborn since he first met her at the Reaping--and it seems like much longer than a year ago, now--but this is obstinate, childish. "Rokia, I know you can, I just don't think you should."

She looks down. "You don't have to take care of me, Phillips," she says, voice flat. "I can take care of myself."

Phillips sighs. "Of course you can."

She glances back up at him, smiles, rueful. "But you're just trying to help."

"Yeah."

She runs a hand through her hair, pulls her knees back up. "I have to go, though," she says. "I might as well be useful."

Phillips looks down at the papers spread out on the table, looks up at Rokia, tired, tense, still pushing herself to do more, and he shakes his head. "Kid, there's not going to be much either of us can do this year."

She bites her lip. "Because of me?"

"It's always long odds," he says. She nods, looks around the room.

"A whole year," she says, looking out the window towards her house. "It's weird."

Phillips smiles. "Seems longer and shorter, all at once."

"Yeah," she says, still looking out into the distance. Then she shakes herself, looks back at him. "Anyway," she says, getting to her feet. "I should get back."

They haven't solved anything, but it is getting late. "Yeah," he says, gets up to walk her home.

She unlocks the door, turns back to look at him. "Thanks Phillips," she says.

"Anytime," he says, reflex, not sure quite what she's thanking him for, and she smiles and goes inside.

--

It's just like the Tour. The stylists, the prep teams, the photographers, it's all familiar, until she gets to the square. It's eerily quiet, a cough here and there, feet shuffling, whispers. Rokia's eyes drag toward clusters of old classmates with vaguely familiar faces, expressions a mix of fear and dull, drugged apathy. There's always a few more overdoses the night before the Reaping, and Peacekeepers are dragging in stragglers still--sleepy eyed, slack-limbed kids. A few bottles are going around the square, the Peacekeepers let it go so long as the kids actually show up.

Phillips is a reassuring presence beside her, while the mayor welcomes everyone, the video plays, and Rokia looks past the square to the factories on the horizon and imagines disappearing, evaporating into the smog.

Linsea jolts her back, says her name in that high pitched Capitol whine, reminds everyone that clearly the odds have been in District Six's favor lately. And then she reaches long, steel-grey fingernails into the bowl and pulls out a name. "Safiatou Diallo!" She beams, while the cameras find a tiny, dark-skinned twelve-year-old whose face goes slack-jawed and blank. "Well, come on up!" Linsea chirps, and the girl swallows and steps forward, one step, then another, until she's standing in front of Rokia, so close Rokia can see her shaking. Again, for the boys. "Ryan Siler!" A gangly fifteen-year-old, bony wrists sticking out of his reaping shirt, too-long black hair falling into his eyes. He glances towards the girls' side, but the cameras don't find whoever he was looking for. Linsea doesn't have to call twice, and he walks slowly, carefully up the stairs to stand on the stage.

Rokia feels a hand on her elbow and lets out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. The two kids shake hands, and Phillips steps forward to help show them into the Justice Building.

Rokia watches for a minute as the crowd disperses, kids finding each other to laugh and hug and celebrate another year of safety. Sidi from Sal's shop catches her eye and waves before linking arms with his friends and heading out into the city.

Phillips is standing in the hallway with Linsea, waiting to see who will come for the kids. Before long Ryan's parents come, holding tight to each other's hands. The father nods toward Phillips and Rokia before they step into the room. As they're leaving, another woman comes, small and dark, hands scarred and callused, and a faint smell of dynamite clings to her clothes, which are the rough, sturdy canvas Rokia remembers from childhood. The woman's hair is braided into elaborate patterns, and Rokia's breath catches on the memory of fingers in her hair, admonitions to just sit still five more minutes, tracing the lines over her scalp until Grandma tugged her hands down. Her North Country accent just confirms what Rokia could tell at a glance. She stands straight-backed, head held high, but her voice shakes when she asks, "Where's my girl?" Phillips shows her to the door. When the Peacekeepers close it behind her, he glances over at Rokia, one eyebrow raised.

"I was born up north," Rokia says, and she can hear her own vowels twisting to match the woman's accent. "We came down here when I was 8." Phillips looks back toward the door where Safiatou and her mother are saying their goodbyes, and his face flashes furious for just a second before he smooths it away. When the woman comes out three minutes later she is still dry eyed, still standing straight, and she looks Rokia in the eye.

"You look out for her," she says. Rokia just nods.

When the hour is up the Peacekeepers lead the kids out into the hallway. Ryan is scowling furiously, arms crossed over his chest. Safiatou is crying silently, looking away and swiping at her eyes. Rokia puts an arm around her shoulders, not thinking about anything beyond the fact that she's a little girl and she's upset, and Safiatou startles for just a second before leaning into Rokia's side. Phillips gives her a look she can't quite read and motions them all out to the train. Linsea is already there, fussing with Licina over the schedule in her usual high pitched whine. When she comes over to greet them, Safiatou shakes herself free of Rokia and stands straight. Just like her mother told her to, probably. No reason to let them see you weak. The girl holds out a hand and Linsea takes it, smiling. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am," Safiatou says. Her voice is quiet but clear. Ryan just glares when Linsea holds out a hand towards him, and she sighs and turns back to the table. "We'll get in late tonight," she says, "You kids should make yourselves comfortable." Rokia turns to show Safiatou to her room, but Linsea calls after her. "Rokia, stay here please, we need to go over your schedule."

Rokia stops, smiles at the girl, who follows Phillips and Ryan back toward the tribute rooms, then turns back to the table. "Much of it is contingent on how long your mentoring duties last," Linsea says, matter-of-fact. "I am guessing that will not be long." Rokia takes a deep breath. "And during the training period of course you will have some portions of the day free, while the tributes are training, so Victors Affairs has scheduled a few consultations, private appointments in the evenings, it should be fairly manageable." Phillips comes back in as she's finishing, moving to stand behind Rokia's left shoulder. Linsea glances up at him and bites her lip. "Interest is still high, we should take advantage of that, it can only be to the benefit of the district and its tributes."

"Yeah, sure Linsea," Phillips says, "and I'm sure you are managing the schedule brilliantly, but right now I would like to talk to Rokia."

Rokia follows him to the rear of the train, where they can watch the cornfields of District Nine flash past in never ending seas of green. Rokia looks away from the ever present horizon. She feels exposed. Good practice, in any case. "Rokia," Phillips says, watching her, serious. "You can't let yourself get attached." Rokia just stares at him. It's one thing to hear Linsea talking about the tributes like they're a distraction from the more important things on the schedule but it's surprising to get the same from Phillips. Is she just supposed to give up now before they've even started? She thinks back to last year. "You talked to me," she says. It had been annoying, how he wouldn't leave her alone. Phillips purses his lips, glances into the corners of the room.

"You were the best shot I'd had in a long time," he says. "Yeah, I liked you," and it's absurd but Rokia smiles just a little at that, "but I also wanted to help you every way I could. And if you hadn't made it, it would've hurt like hell." Rokia meets his eyes. There's memory there she doesn't know, can't understand, but it's real. She looks away.

"What am I supposed to do? I can't just ignore her. Them. They're kids, they're scared, I can't —"

"Hey, Rokia, take a breath," Phillips says, and Rokia sucks in a lungful of air, lets it hiss out between her teeth. "You don't ignore them," he says, "but you have to keep some distance. You have to keep yourself safe, kid." His voice is gruff.

Rokia just stares at him. It's all well and good to say it here, where there's nothing but cornfields and Snow's surveillance to hear, but those are real kids, who are really hurting, and he's asking her to--what, put on an act as if they were Capitol people to convince, keeping everything superficial and meaningless, and suddenly Rokia just can't sit here anymore. She gets up and walks out, finds her own room and curls into the corner, head in her hands. Phillips leaves her alone for a while, and when the knock comes on her door, she stands up, straightens her clothes, runs her fingers through her hair, and tells him to come in.

He looks at her, half hesitant. "Rokia, I—"

But she stops him. "It's fine, Phillips," she says, "I get it. I'll be careful." She smiles at him, heading out toward the lounge. "It's all just Games, I'll figure it out."

He stays still as she waks out.

--

They get in late, just like always, and Phillips leads the way through the tunnels from the station to the Training Center. The little girl is holding Rokia's hand, eyes huge, and Rokia says something quiet that makes the little one's face crack into a hesitant smile. He doesn't know what more he can say to Rokia, doesn't know how to make her listen. The boy is still sullen and silent, narrowed eyes and tight shoulders and Phillips hates how relieved he is that at least it's only one of the tributes tailor-made to break his girl's heart.

The next morning the tributes go off to Remake and so does Rokia, and Phillips is sitting alone in the Six rooms, looking over the early odds as if they'll tell him anything he didn't already know. Brutus has a girl in this year, and Phillips shakes his head at the image of the huge mentor looming over his tribute and glaring at the cameras. It'd be easier if Brutus had stayed home this year. Phillips wouldn't have any trouble avoiding Callista in the halls, but Brutus, well, Phillips hasn't talked to him since the Victory Tour and doesn't know what he'd say, especially not with Brutus bringing a pretty girl with a good chance of walking out and a guarantee that walking out wouldn't be its own punishment.

But damn if he couldn't use some advice.

He's staring at the TV, not really paying attention, when there's a knock on the door. Phillips starts and opens it, and Lyme's standing there, arms crossed, smirking at him.

She's brushing past him before he can get out a hello, turns to face him in the common room. "I can't believe I'm matchmaking for a couple of grown-ass men, but--" she shrugs, raises her eyes to the ceiling. "Brutus thinks you're pissed at him, and he doesn't want to bother you, and a bunch of other bullshit I tried very hard not to listen to."

Phillips stares at her. It's not that he doesn't know Lyme, she's come out with him and Brutus a few times, but he's never known her to mess around in other peoples' business like this. Which, come to think of it, might be why she's glaring holes in the walls.

"I'm not pissed at him," Phillips says, "I just--"

Lyme raises a hand. "I am not carrying messages around like some kind of--I don't even know. You know where to find him."

Phillips raises an eyebrow, and Lyme just shakes her head as she heads for the door.

"See you around," he manages, as he lets her out. She snorts.

"Yeah, you too."

Even after that Phillips stares at the phone for a long time before picking it up and dialing the Two floor.

Brutus picks up on the third ring. "Yeah?"

"It's Phillips."

There's a pause. "Hey, Phillips."

"You wanna grab a drink tonight, after the Parade?"

Brutus hesitates. "Can't tonight. Tomorrow though, after the kids are in bed?"

"Yeah, sure." Not like Phillips has anything better to do.

"See you then," Brutus replies, and the line goes dead.

Rokia gets back just before the parade, Remade and stunning and blank-faced, and she perches on the edge of the couch while the prep teams fuss over Phillips, nothing but basic hair and makeup for him, a change of clothes so he looks presentable, as they say. Linsea fusses around until they're declared ready and they go to meet the kids. The stylists are beaming as they herd them out, in what someone from the Capitol thinks is a train crew uniform.

Rokia's faraway look melts when the girl comes up to her, awed. "You look so pretty," she says, reaching out to touch the silk of Rokia's skirt. The stylist hisses between his teeth and she pulls her hand away, but Rokia smiles, adjusts the cap on the kid's head.

"You look pretty nice yourself," she says, and the girl beams. "You all set?" She looks between them, and the boy manages a nod, his eyes almost as wide as the girl's. Rokia smiles for them both, and they climb up into the chariot while Phillips and Rokia find their places in the Victors' stands.

Brutus gives him a nod as they go past, and Phillips returns it and tries not to worry about what he's going to say tomorrow night.

When they get back up to their rooms, Rokia ducks into the girl's room to help her get ready for bed. The boy comes out a couple minutes later and, eyes on his feet, mumbles a question about the shower. Phillips smiles and gets up. He puts a hand on the kid's shoulder as they go back in. "Don't know why they have to make them so fancy," Phillips says, "Just hot and cold ought to be good enough." That gets him a half smile, and when he shows the boy the right buttons to push for something that feels like a shower and not some kind of spa treatment he gets a second of eye contact and a mumbled thanks. He returns the smile, bites down on everything it won't do any good to say, and goes back out.

Rokia comes out a little later with the girl's tear-stains on her shirt. Phillips sighs. Her eyes snap to his. "What?"

He shakes his head. "You're setting yourself up for a lot of hurt," he says, cautious.

She looks away, mumbles something under her breath. He raises an eyebrow, and she shakes her head. "Nothing." Looks down, notices the stains on her shirt, and sighs. "I gotta go get ready. Apparently they have opening night parties."

She comes home just before dawn, disappears again in running shoes without saying a word, comes back an hour later breathing hard. She sits at breakfast with the tributes sipping coffee and toying with a muffin and trying to make the kids laugh with a story about a Capitol woman whose wig was shaped like hovercraft wings and blew off in the wind.

Phillips tells them to pay attention to the survival stations in training, and the boy looks shyly at Rokia and asks if she'll show him some of the traps she used last year. Rokia gives him a brilliant grin that Phillips only knows is false because he knows her, and says sure, that she'll try to scare up some wire and they can try it out this evening.

Phillips takes the kids to training, and when he comes back Rokia's pushed the food away and pulled out her datapad. She looks up when he comes in. "Where do you think I can get some wire?" she asks, looking back at whatever it is she's working on. Phillips very carefully takes three deep breaths before answering. "I'll find you some," he says. "What's your schedule like today?"

She looks up. "I have a commission with the car company all this week. Mostly because they want to take pictures of me working on their cars, but at least that means I actually get to work on their cars." She shrugs. "That's a couple hours a day starting this afternoon, but I gotta look at their schematics." She gestures toward the datapad. "When are we supposed to meet with sponsors and stuff?" she asks, and she's wound up into work-mode, fingers tapping the table since he's pulled her away from whatever she was doing.

"I have a couple meetings scheduled with people I know," Phillips says, a little evasive. They won't amount to much, flattery and pillow talk and reminders that he exists, from people who know he won't waste their time on a hopeless proposition. "But it's all just wait and see, for tributes like ours." Maybe, he thinks, if he can make her see the whole thing for the brutal calculation it is, maybe then she'll realize.

"Do you want me to come along?" she asks, and he barks out his denial too quickly.

"Sorry, no." He tries to recover, but she's watching him. "They're people who know me. It's just business."

She glares, looks back at her datapad. "Fine, whatever," she says. "I guess just tell me what I can do." Her mouth tightens. "There's gotta be some way I can help."

Phillips refuses to even think about it, not for these kids, kids who he already knows should just go for the Cornucopia, better to end it sooner for everyone when he's got not even a thread of hope and when Rokia's already latched on too hard.

He's angry at the futility of it all, the way he hasn't been for years, and he's tired, and that's probably why he says it. "You can't." He can hear the acid in his own voice, and Rokia looks up and flinches. "You can't do anything for them, not this year." She's paying full, fearful attention now, watching his hands, clenched to fists without him noticing, and he opens them and forces himself to back down, back up, look away. He scrubs his hands over his face, tries again. "Rokia, I'm sorry. There's nothing we can do."

"Yeah," she says, flat. "You said." She picks up her datapad. "I gotta get this done," she says, goes into her room and closes the door.

She comes out a couple hours later, glances over at him. "I have to go do this thing," she says, "I'll be back before the kids get out of training." It's impersonal, information for a supervisor, and Phillips bites back the bitterness and nods.

"See you this afternoon, then," he says, and a corner of her mouth curls up as she nods.

He calls down to the Three floor to ask about wire, not sure where they hide something as ordinary as a hardware store in this glittering mess, not wanting to make an official request and glad for the excuse to get out. Beetee gives him an address, and the cabdriver raises his eyebrows when Phillips passes it along. They drive for a while, out of the center into the places that pass for ordinary. He walks into a cramped shop, walls covered in electronic components, and Phillips smiles as he realizes Beetee's go-to Capitol hardware store is the kind of tiny outfit Phillips could almost see in Six. There's a kid at the counter, doing something complicated to a circuit board, and his eyes go wide when Phillips comes up. "Hi," Phillips says, hesitant, "I need some electrical wire."

"You're Rokia's mentor, aren't you?" The boy's grinning. "She's so cool, I wanted her to win last year and I watched her on Capitol Motors and can you get me her autograph?" Phillips blinks in the onslaught. "I already have the whole set of Threes, Beetee got them for me, he comes here sometimes and buys supplies and he says we have the best stock of anyone." The kid beams, pauses for breath.

Phillips takes his chance. "I guess I can," he says, and looks around. "But do you have the wire?"

"What gauge do you want?" the kid asks, poking at a datapad.

"Um, what's standard?" he asks, "I just need it for…" he trails off.

The boy looks at him. "Oh man is it for making traps? I was arguing with Dad because I said she used 10-gauge and he said no it had to be 8-gauge because it was too strong to be 10, I'll give you both and you can ask her and then if I'm right Dad owes me a new soldering iron."

"Okay," Phillips says. "Sure."

The kid disappears into a back room and comes out with two spools. "How much do I owe you?" Phillips asks, opening his wallet.

"No charge, just bring back the one you don't need and get me that autograph and we're even." The kid's bouncing on his toes. "Here, I got the official 71st Games recap book, can you have her sign that?" He hands over a glossy book with Rokia's tribute photo on the front and Phillips stifles an unfunny laugh.

"Sure, kid," he says, gruff. "Thanks."

"See you soon, Phillips!" The kid calls after him as he leaves. In the cab back he laughs until his eyes stream.

Rokia comes home not long after he does, walks in the door and sighs, closes her eyes for a moment and lets her shoulders slump. She looks exhausted, and no wonder. But she opens her eyes, sees him, and visibly pulls herself together. "Hi, Phillips," she says, friendly like everything's fine. "I'm just going to drop off this stuff and change clothes."

She comes out a few minutes later in jeans, looking more like herself than she has since they got here, and she grins when she sees the spools of wire on the table. She picks up the thicker wire, tests it against her hand, and looks up at him. "How'd you know what kind?"

Phillips can't help but laugh. "Kid at the shop remembered you." Rokia's eyebrows go up. "He told me I didn't have to pay for it if I could get him an autograph." Rokia laughs, sits down at the table and runs her fingers through her hair.

"Sure," she says, "Why the hell not." Phillips shakes his head, goes to find the book, and hands it over to Rokia with a little trepidation. She looks at the picture on the cover, shakes her head. "Man," she says, quiet. "The things I didn't know then." She glances up at Phillips, then blinks and shakes her head. "Where should I sign it?"

He finds a marker, hands it to her, shrugs, points to a free part of the cover. "There's good." She's still shaking her head as she does it, flips through the book and hands it back.

"People here are weird," she says, leaning back in her chair.

Phillips laughs, harsh, at that. "Sure are."

The kids come back then, and the boy grins when he sees the spool of wire on the table. "I didn't think you'd remember," he says, ducking his head.

"Sure thing, kid," Rokia says. "Phillips helped."

"Thanks," the boy mumbles, sits down to eat. The girl's quiet, sitting as usual next to Rokia.

"How was training?" Rokia asks, soft, and the kid just shakes her head, biting her lip. Rokia turns back to her food, and she's moving it around her plate again more than she's really eating, but she doesn't push the kid to say anything more. When they're done Rokia grabs the wire and they spend the next hour in the living room tying triplines to the couches and by the end the girl's smiling. When she finally manages to tie together a snare she grins Rokia wraps her in a hug. Phillips has to look away, wishing he'd said no, that he'd said it was against the rules, anything but this.

After the kids are in bed and Rokia's off at the latest appointment Phillips isn't thinking about, the phone rings. "You still up for that drink?" Brutus is as direct as ever, and the wave of relief that crashes over Phillips is almost embarrassing.

"Yes, definitely," he says, and Brutus tells him to meet in the lobby.

They go to their usual place, and Phillips orders his usual, even though--or really because--after the day he's had he'd like a couple of shots of something strong instead.

He leans back in his seat, takes a deep breath, and feels himself start to relax. Brutus is watching him with a half a smile. "Kid giving you trouble?" he asks, and at least he didn't ask if she was okay when they both know full well the answer to that. Phillips huffs a breath of laughter and shakes his head.

"Man, I don't even know," he says, "Kid thinks she knows what she's doing and she's got no idea."

Brutus gives him a sympathetic look, and usually Phillips would hate that but it's far enough from pity to pass. "Kids these days," he drawls, smiling.

"I wanted to keep her home," Phillips says, and he probably shouldn't say anything but it's a relief to tell someone. "They wanted her here but I thought I could keep her out of it some. Except she won't let me."

Brutus shakes his head. "Gotta be tough, mentoring out of the gate like that."

Phillips sighs. "Yeah, I keep telling her she's gotta keep some distance but…" he shrugs.

"We all learn that one the hard way."

Phillips shakes his head. "I don't know what she's gonna do when the kid goes out." Brutus lets a breath whistle past his teeth. Doesn't bother suggesting anything other than what they both know will happen. Phillips goes on. "It'll be at the bloodbath, both of 'em, no point dragging it out, and I don't want her watching."

"Yeah." Brutus says, "Ain't no reason she has to see that."

"I can't stop her though," Phillips says, "If I get her to stay out of the control room she'll just watch it upstairs. Mandatory viewing, not like she'll have to look hard to find it."

Brutus nods, considering. "You could ask Lyme to sit with her."

Phillips raises an eyebrow.

"She's helping out this year, but she'd do it if you asked. She likes your girl."

"Didn't think you all babysat other people's kids."

Brutus snorts. "Don't let it get out."

It's crazy, but it's not actually a bad idea. Phillips remembers his first year, sitting in the mentor's seat watching the clock tick down and feeling the gut punch of adrenaline that burned out hard when both Six kids got killed in the first ten minutes. Rokia doesn't need that, not on top of everything else.

Brutus is watching, sees when he decides, nods.

Phillips takes a deep, relieved breath, and sips his drink. "Thanks."

Brutus smiles. "Not a problem."

When they get back, Lyme's sitting in the lobby with Callista, looking just casual enough that she might not've been waiting around for them. She comes over when they come in, says hello as though she hadn't pestered Phillips into setting this up.

"Phillips wants to know if you'll help him out," Brutus says, deadpan, "Because I know how you like to be helpful."

Lyme glares at Brutus, then turns to Phillips, eyebrows raised. "What do you need, Phillips?"

Phillips swallows. He didn't realize when Brutus told him to ask Lyme that he meant right then. "I don't want Rokia in the control room for the start," he says, "but I need someone to keep her from turning on the damn TV and watching it by herself."

Lyme's jaw clenches but her face stays neutral. "Yeah," she says, easy, "I can do that."

Phillips nods. "Thanks."

"Not a problem."

And now they're drawing attention, and that's not something anyone wants, so Phillips excuses himself and heads upstairs.

The next morning Linsea's there at breakfast, fussing over the kids until they leave, getting down to business after. "We need to talk about your interview today," she says, looking at Rokia. Phillips sighs. Caesar Flickerman and the Games marketing machine need something to keep people talking before the scores from the private sessions tomorrow and "Catching up with last year's Victor" is as good a draw as any.

"I have been talking with the producers," Linsea says, smiling and self-important. "They want to hear about how your family is settling into the Victor lifestyle, they put together pictures from the Tour and from the Reaping, your sisters are so lovely!" She pulls out a thin tablet, Capitol seal embossed in gold, and flips through photos of the house, Rokia's sisters, a couple of her Mom, clips from the Tour stops and Capitol parties and a few of her piloting a hovercraft, under the hood of a racecar, carefully curated, Phillips can tell, so that she looks young and playful and happy.

She looks none of those things now, even the usual bland smile she wears around Linsea has faded to a scowl. "I don't want to talk about my family," she says, sharp. "That's private."

"Oh, but sweetheart," Linsea says, "Everyone is just dying to hear about those adorable little girls, and your Mom's health concerns, it's just so tragic, you know, you having to take on so much responsibility, even though I know Phillips likes to help out."

"Linsea," Phillips says, sharp. "Give us a minute, will you?"

Linsea looks between them and she must finally notice the thunderstorm she's stirred up because she nods. "I'll just…I'll just be out on the balcony getting some fresh air."

Rokia turns her glare on Phillips. "What the hell, Phillips?"

He sighs. "I'm sorry, but we have to give them something."

"Like hell I'm telling them about my family, Phillips, come on!"

Of course they hand to bring her girls into it. Because she wasn't pissed enough already. "Look, not everything, but you can come up with some stories for them, right?"

She glares at him. "You know they watch," she says, tense and furious. "My Aunt won't let them watch the actual Games, but she loves all this stuff, you know she'll be crowing to everyone about it."

Phillips shrugs. "So mention her," he says, and maybe it's mean, but if the woman wants the Capitol to notice her, they may as well help out. "Say they still haven't been able to cure your Mom but your aunt is so helpful…" he waves a hand and Rokia laughs. It's harsh and unamused, but he'll take it for now.

A little later he calls Linsea back in for the rest of it, and by the time they're done talking Rokia looks wound up tight enough to snap. Linsea wants her to go right to prep but Phillips steps in. "You need a minute?" he asks. Rokia looks at him, grateful for once.

"I, uh, didn't get my run in this morning," she says, and Phillips isn't sure if it's true, but Linsea nods agreement.

"Oh, yes, well, I suppose we can give you an hour, it's so good you stay diligent, the stylists all say a lot of Victors let themselves go during the Games, there are so many temptations!" Phillips grinds his teeth but Rokia's already up and moving so he tries to smile.

When she comes back she's no longer vibrating like a high-tension line so Phillips calls it a win.

The actual interview goes well, she smiles and tells snippets of stories that offer everything and reveal nothing. When Caesar calls Phillips onto the stage and asks what it's like to have another Victor in Six after all this time, he does more or less the same, puts an arm around Rokia's shoulders for effect, smiles and smiles.

And then Caesar asks them about their kids this year. Rokia tenses under his arm and he responds. "Well, Caesar, we're just getting to know them ourselves, but they're both looking to follow in Rokia's footsteps."

Caesar, professional that he is, just gives them a blinding smile and says "And wouldn't that be so exciting for all of you!"

Rokia smiles, and the cameras cut out, and Caesar shakes their hands and tells them he's looking forward to meeting their tributes, and Phillips almost believes it isn't a lie.



Continues here
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