The days start to blur together, a haze of parties and interviews and strange bedrooms and she stops trying to keep track, it's too hard to remember, just goes where she's told. There are fewer wild parties now, but at another official sponsors' event Finnick finds her again. "Eye of the hurricane" he says, and when she looks up at him, confused, he explains about the coastal storms, the strange calm at the center before the wind hits again. It makes sense, the whole city's in a sort of keyed up anticipatory excitement, just waiting for something to happen to set them off again. The Games are everywhere, flashes in the background, favorite moments repeating in strange bedrooms, live carnage or long slow days on screens in the Training Center, the main squares. Rokia goes to a Games-watching party as special guest, sits quietly horrified while people watch children die and eat popcorn, getting drunk and making bets--how many cannons today? Will any of the Career boys get any action, or will the girls keep it all to themselves? Will the Ten girl finish starving to death or will someone kill her first?
When her brain isn't too scrambled she sits with Wiress on the Three floor, studying hovercraft schematics and trying to follow the designs Wiress is sketching in wireframe on her datapad. Some days she sits on the couch on the comfortably quiet Three floor and reads the same page of maintenance instructions over and over and still nobody pushes her, they bring her tea or crackers and leave her be.
She keeps crossing paths with Lyme in the gym, even though her schedule hardly allows for regular times. One day, early morning or late night, Rokia's not quite sure, she's wound up and tense and there's too much awful buzzing under her skin to hold still. They train forms like usual and Rokia pushes and pushes and she's getting better, knows the rhythm by now, and after they've been working for an hour Lyme steps back, looks at her with a sharp grin, and says "Okay, kid, see if you can hit me." Rokia laughs out loud at that, Lyme is twice her size, not to mention training since she was a kid, it's ridiculous. But what the hell, if she's going crazy she might as well have some fun while she's at it. She's awkward, uncertain, and doesn't come anywhere close to landing a hit on Lyme, but it doesn't actually matter, Lyme just blocks and lets her keep trying until she starts tripping over her own feet and breathing hard, then steps away and calls a stop.
They sit, afterwards, while Lyme shows Rokia how to stretch her shoulders so they won't be so sore later, and when Rokia stands up again she has to reach for the wall while her vision goes grey and her head spins. "Woah, there," Lyme says, and she grips Rokia's arm, steadying her. Rokia blinks fast until her head clears, and Lyme lets her go. Her mouth tightens to a thin line and her eyes flick up and down, asessing. "You've dropped weight," she says, and Rokia wraps her arms around herself. It's not accusing though, like the prep team's incessant comments on one way or another she's not up to standard.
Rokia shrugs. "Maybe," she says. "Why's it matter?"
Lyme raises an eyebrow. "Because you just about passed out from standing up." Rokia just shrugs again. "Sit back down," Lyme says, in a voice that has Rokia's legs obeying before she's actually given them permission. Lyme walks away, shaking her head a little, comes back with something from one of the machines. "Drink this," she says. Rokia takes a sip. It's chalky and unappetizing, and she must have made a face because Lyme smiles again. "It's not fancy," she says. "But it's good for you. Can't train if you don't eat, kid."
"What am I training for, anyway?" Rokia asks, but she keeps drinking. "No more arenas to be ready for."
Lyme shrugs, a quick lift of one shoulder. "For fun," she says, like it's just that easy. "C'mon, you," she says, once Rokia's finished, holding out a hand to haul Rokia to her feet. Her vision still swims a little, and Lyme doesn't let go of her arm until she's taken a deep breath and is steady on her feet. Rokia would be embarrassed, would cover it if it was Phillips, worrying and asking if she was okay. But Lyme just waits till she's ready, follows her into the elevator, punches the button for the Two floor and nods to Rokia when she's getting off. "You did good today," she says, and Rokia can't help but smile.
"Thanks," she says, as the doors close.
Phillips wakes her up one morning, calling her name from the doorway. "What?" she asks, once she catches her breath.
"I'm sorry," he says, and he looks it, "but Caesar Flickerman wants you in the studio, he thinks something's going to happen today and he wants you to comment."
Rokia groans, still not quite awake, flops onto her back to stare at the ceiling. "When?"
"Soon as you can, your stylist is here now."
"Shit." She looks at the clock on the wall. "It's seven in the morning, Phillips," and she sounds like a whiny Capitol brat and she hates herself for it, but lately she's more likely to see this time of morning as she's heading for bed. She didn't see the time when she went to sleep but it can't have been more than a couple hours ago.
"I'm sorry," he says again, still standing in the doorway, waiting for her to get out of bed.
"Okay," she says, taking a deep breath, "I'm coming."
Licina looks just as unhappy to be awake as she is, and he works quickly, rough, braiding her hair with the thin silver wire he's told her he's making a theme for her this Games, short skirts and high heels always since she's really far too short otherwise, makeup and complaints about the calluses on her hands, the alterations he has to make, and can't she take better care not to come back with bruises, there's no time for Remake so he'll just make do with concealer. Rokia's used to tuning it out by now, and she's about to head out the door when Phillips puts a glass in her hand. It's the same crap Lyme fed her the other day.
"What's this?" She asks, and he looks down for a second, almost like he's embarrassed.
"Lyme came to talk to me," he says. "Said this might help."
Rokia raises an eyebrow. "Did she." Phillips is still standing there, watching her, and the easiest thing to do is to drink the whatever it is so she does.
"See you when you get back," he says, and Rokia nods.
"Bye Phillips," she says, and heads down to the car.
The studio is bustling even at this ungodly-for-the-Capitol hour. "Oh, perfect," someone says when she comes in, and the stylists fuss over her for half a minute before sending her into the studio. Caesar and Claudius are watching the screens intently, whispering to each other and pointing, and they turn when she comes in. Caesar flashes his trademark smile and tells her to sit.
She looks at the screen and he points out the trap the Sevens have built, set to drop someone off the side of the cliff to where the girl is waiting with a selection of rocks. The Seven boy is out making noise, and the Careers are hunting nearby. It's easy to see how it will play out. The microphones and cameras go on, and Caesar turns to Rokia. "Well," he says, "it looks like someone's taking a page out of your book, setting traps, hiding places, does it bring back memories?"
Rokia freezes for a second but she has a job to do and imagining the whistle of the Four Boy's spear as she ducked past it is not going to help her do it. "Well Caesar," she says, "as you know my Arena was quite different, but yes, I suppose there are some similarities."
He smiles again, nudges her with his elbow, leans close, conspiratorial. "So in your expert opinion, is this a good strategy at this point in the Game? If I recall you saved your traps until quite near the end." It's a hint if she wants to take it, and she's grateful for it.
"It's dangerous taking on the whole Career Pack at once," she says, and of course it's obvious to Caesar but if they want her to be the one saying it she will. "They'll have to get out of there fast."
"Indeed," Caesar says, serious, and the cameras cut back to the Arena, where the pack is closing in on the Seven boy. Four Girl is out in front, and Claudius speculates she's jealous of the attention the other girls have gotten. She sees Seven boy and takes off after him, the others following close behind. She sees the trap just as the boy dodges around a seemingly innocuous piece of ground, but it's too late, she falls, and Seven girl flings fist-sized rocks into her head until it's a mess of red and white.
The Sevens run, after that, but before long they both go down, looking up at the ring of faces surrounding them. The One boy flashes a wild, toothy grin, bloody from where the Seven boy landed a punch that split his lip. Four Boy is shaking, furious, and he's the first to step up, kicks the boy hard in the side.
Caesar clicks his teeth and turns to Rokia. "Well, as you said, dangerous to take on all six Careers at once." Rokia blinks and tears her eyes away from the screen to look at Caesar. Caesar whose smile tells everyone it's just a game, it's not really real children getting the shit beat out of them before they're killed, it's all in good fun. She swallows bile, smooths the scowl off her face.
"Yes, Caesar," she says, and her voice doesn't shake even though her hands do. "Unfortunately for them it looks like the gamble didn't pay off."
That gets another serious nod, and then Caesar turns towards the camera. "And speaking of odds, let's check in with the latest from the betting office."
He looks back to her, speaks in an ordinary voice, or as close as Caesar Flickerman has to one, "Thank you, Rokia, that was just fabulous, we won't take more of your time." Rokia gets up, looking away from the monitors that show the clearing where the One Boy is taking a turn, hauling the girl to her feet and belting her across the face. Two girl is spinning a broken piece of metal around in her fingers, looking bored.
Rokia escapes to the lobby where Linsea is waiting for her. "Well wasn't that exciting!" She chirps, "I got here just as you were going on, you were very good, dear, just a little slow sometimes but we can't expect you to keep up with the experts your very first year, now, can we?" Rokia just looks at her, suddenly out of things to say. "Come on, dear, into the car," and Linsea herds her out the door, past a crowd asking for autographs to where the driver is waiting.
"Where are we going?" Rokia asks, and it comes out flat but Linsea doesn't seem to notice.
"Quick stop for you to change, then the Transportation Minister has invited you to a private viewing party. We'll be a bit late, but I phoned ahead to explain and I'm sure he'll understand."
It's a whirlwind rush and then they're back on the road, and Linsea ushers her into the party and acts flattered when they ask her to stay. It's not long past noon but the drinks have been going around for a while and the laughter is sliding and vicious. "I bet they make it last till the anthem," says a boy with blond curls, lounging sideways in a chair with a glass in his hand. "They look pretty pissed, and you know those boys have to be getting tense." He looks up, sees Rokia, and smirks. "Well, look who daddy brought over," he says, sitting up and looking her up and down. "Come sit." He pats the seat next to him, and the kid he's talking to rolls his eyes.
"Come on, man," he whines, pushing lank dark hair out of his eyes, "we were talking about the Games, not your toys." Rokia pulls out her Capitol smile and sits, and the conversation continues around her. "Anyway they'll want the cannons before the anthem, better get the kills counted today for sponsorship."
"No way," the first kid puts an arm around Rokia's waist and leans past her to argue back. "This is entertaining, they'll keep it up as long as they can."
"Okay, but who d'you think gets the kill credit?"
"Oh, they'll let Four Boy take one of 'em, looks good if he's avenging his partner. I say it's Two boy gets the other one, he seems like he'd fuck up and end it too soon."
The cameras are locked on the rocky clearing where the Sevens are bleeding into the scrub. They're not screaming much anymore, but they're still conscious enough to flinch away when the hits come. She hears Phillips' voice, harsh in her ears, warning what could happen if the Careers caught their tributes late in the game.
"You know you're being a total dick," the dark haired boy says, and the blond one squawks in protest, his hand tightening around her hip. "You are, you're all over Rokia and she doesn't even know your name!"
Rokia looks over at him. "Fine, whatever, so I'm a jackass," he says, "it's been a very exciting games." He smirks at Rokia, lip curling. "I can't be expected to be at my best by now."
"Oh for fucks sake. He's Julius, I'm Cassius, you may notice we've been drinking, don't mind him he's always like that."
Rokia laughs as though it was funny. "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you both," she says, and they subside back into snarking each other.
Linsea comes to get her a little later, shows her around, introduces her to the host, and finally claims a late night and an early morning and leaves, leaving Rokia with a kiss on the cheek and an admonition to take care.
It's nearing evening when Cassius yells out "I fucking called it, pay up, jackass." Rokia looks over as a cannon fires, followed shortly by another. She lets out a shaky breath--she's long since lost track of the hours, and most of the other guests have lost interest in the bloody spectacle playing out on the screen. The anthem plays not long after, and the recaps show clips of Rokia in the studio, calmly describing the risk these poor stupid kids took. Julius and Cassius are rapt still, flushed cheeks and wide eyes, and when the recap is over and the guests start leaving, Julius comes up and takes her hand. "Dad said you'd stay," he says, pulling her to his side, possessive fingers digging into her side. She glances over at the minister, and he nods to her before climbing the stairs.
The Games are still on, and Julius guides her to the couch and pulls her into his lap, nuzzling her neck and watching over her shoulder as One and Two girls pull at each others' clothes, kissing harsh and desperate. Rokia has seen the footage on screens in living rooms and nightclubs and bedrooms but this time somehow the desperate gasps from the screen, the hands on her skin flash hot and cold and she wants to scream. It's too much, all at once, and she takes the only escape she has left, turning towards the boy and pressing into a kiss and pushing it all away as he spins to pin her on her back and paws hungrily at her clothes.
She can't stop shaking, in the car back to the Training Center, and there's nothing in her stomach to bring up but it's heaving anyway. Phillips is asleep when she gets in, and she took her shoes off in the elevator so she can slip into her room without making enough noise to wake him up. A quick shower and a change of clothes and she slips back into the elevator and up to the roof, the sky overhead and the street noise and she slides down into the corner and tries not to shake apart.
She's not sure how long it's been when the sound of the door opening startles her alert, the sound of footsteps coming across the roof makes her looks up. Lyme's coming towards her and she pulls in tighter, she's too tired to run away and Lyme's hands are empty but she wouldn't need weapons--and what the fuck, that's stupid, this isn't the Arena and it isn't a back alley in Six and it isn't even a Capitol bedroom where she's not allowed to fight back when they pin her down. It's nothing dangerous, not really, nothing to be scared of, but Lyme's a Victor and a Two and it isn't the Arena now and Rokia wasn't born yet when Lyme won her Games, but everyone knows the Twos are the best fighters when it comes down to it and she's glad she never had to fight one really. And all that play fighting they do, Lyme never says it but it's training for how to hack someone to pieces with a sword, and maybe it's better they know that, better a quick ending than those Seven kids, screaming and then crying and then nothing and nothing and hours until the cannons. Better than Two, Male, bleeding out into the mud and looking up at her with desperate eyes that fluttered closed, as though he was just exhausted, when her knife severed the blood vessel in his throat, blood pulsing hot over her hands until it slowed and stopped. Better than spinning, knife in hand, slashing towards the points Uncle Sal had pointed out one afternoon behind the shop for only if she really had to stop someone fast, dropping that girl from Nine and running before she even stopped to think about what she was doing. That cannon only came hours later and she's just as bad as any of them, isn't she, stupid and cruel, and of course she lets them do whatever they want to her, she deserves it, there are four kids who don't get to go home to their families because of her and if this is the price for keeping hers safe than so be it.
And this whole time Lyme's been moving closer until she stops, well out of reach, and sits, looks out towards the city. "So," she says, soft, easy. "Saw you come in a while ago, thought you might need some company." Rokia opens her mouth to--what? Not sure of her voice, she closes it again, looks away because she's been staring. The windchimes jangle in the breeze and she realizes the air is cold on her face. When she glances over, Lyme's not looking at her, she's looking up towards the mountains, looming dark behind the lights of the Capitol. "The mountains go all the way to Two, you know," she says, "Always seems wrong looking east to find the mountains instead of west. Turns me around the first day every time, until I get used to it." Rokia follows her gaze out beyond the city lights, to where the sky is just starting to lighten enough that the peaks stand out against it. "They're closer in Two," Lyme continues, "Don't know if you remember but the Village is right up in the mountains." Lyme slants a quick glance toward Rokia. "Guess there aren't mountains in Six, anyway." Rokia stirs a little.
"Up North," she says, and her voice sounds harsh in her ears but she swallows and keeps going. "Aren't like here, but they call 'em mountains. It's where the ore comes from."
Lyme nods, looks away again. "I only ever saw Six on the Tour," she says, "Just the city."
"Yeah," Rokia says. Her throat's tight. "Safiatou was from up there," she says, and suddenly there are tears running down her face because it's real, all of it, and there's a family up in the north country that's been mourning for going on two weeks while she goes to parties and laughs on television and Caesar Flickerman's smile might be fake but all those kids are real and so, somehow, are the people drinking and eating and betting on when they will die. She's been trying so hard to make it not-real because--well. Because now she's crying, messy sobs that shake her whole body.
Lyme shifts closer, and her voice is kind when she says, "C'mere, kiddo," and reaches out an arm that Rokia slides under because she's too tired to be either scared or strong. Lyme just holds her, rubbing a hand over her back while she cries. It takes a long time before Rokia manages to stop enough to realize she's gotten snot all over Lyme's shirt and that this whole situation is pretty much absurd. She shifts to sit up, and Lyme's arm stays heavy around her shoulders and she's glad of that, but for fuck's sake.
"Sorry," she says, still sniffling and she must look pretty pathetic, because Lyme just glances down and shakes her head. They sit like that for a while as Rokia catches her breath, and she's wrung out and exhausted like she just ran halfway across the city, and finally she gives up and leans into Lyme's side as her eyes start to slide closed.
She wakes up to the sun in her eyes, fingers combing through her hair, and Rokia sighs, contented, turns to bury her face into--wait. She tenses, moves to sit. "Woah there, kiddo, you're okay, we're at the training center."
Lyme. The Capitol, the Games, right. And oh, fuck, she was crying all over Lyme, wasn't she, and then she just passed out with her head in Lyme's lap and instead of waking her up Lyme let her sleep. "I'm sorry," she blurts out, sitting up. "I didn't mean to bother you I just--"
"Hey, kiddo, it's okay," Lyme says, dropping her arm around Rokia's shoulders, and Rokia leans toward her, lets her head drop into Lyme's side, and she didn't even mean to, she must still be half asleep, but it feels good when Lyme brings her arms up to hold Rokia close for a minute. "It's fine, Rokia, you aren't bothering me."
They stay that way until Rokia feels herself sliding towards sleep again and she's not going to pass out on Lyme again so she shifts and Lyme lets go. "I should go downstairs," she says, pressing fingers into her eyes.
"Okay," Lyme says, and hauls herself to her feet. "Come on then," she says, reaching out a hand. Rokia gets up slowly, she's learned her lesson by now about moving too fast, but still she's unsteady. Lyme keeps a hand on her back, guiding and grounding, until the elevator opens on the Six floor.
"Thank you," Rokia says, and it's not really enough, but Lyme nods.
"No problem, kid," she says, and a corner of her mouth twists up. "Sleep now, okay?"
Rokia nods. "Yeah."
Phillips is waiting in the common room, looking worried and halfway to furious, and Rokia was struggling to keep her eyes open but now she's alert. "What is it?" She asks, glancing around.
"Where were you?" He's trying not to be angry but it's there, in his shoulders, in the way his hands twitch, in the jump of a muscle in his jaw.
"I was on the roof," she says, fisting her hands in her sweatshirt and looking at the floor. "I fell asleep, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I'm sorry."
Phillips face goes strange when she glances back up. "Rokia, it's okay," he says, puzzled. "I was just worried, I didn't know where you went." Rokia nods, swallows. "Do you want to eat something?"
She shakes her head. "No it's okay I'm not hungry."
"Okay," Phillips still sounds confused. "You want to sleep some more? It's still early, nothing scheduled for a few hours."
Rokia nods. Maybe, now she's mixed up and scared but she was sleepy, a minute ago in the elevator. "Yeah, I'm going to sleep I think," she says, and Phillips nods.
"Okay, that's good," Phillips says. "Sleep well, Rokia."
Rokia runs her fingers over the soft sheets. It's stupid and strange and wrong and exposed, this bed. She curls into the corner again instead and stares at the wall for a while until she falls asleep.
She wakes up to Phillips, calling to her from the doorway like usual, and her brain still feels shaken up like the can of loose bolts in the shop, mismatched pieces fitting nowhere.
"Rokia, Linsea's here," Phillips says. "She says she needs to talk to you."
Rokia wants to stay where she is, hidden and quiet and wrapped up warm in blankets, but too bad. "Yeah," she says, while she tries to get her brain to connect properly to her mouth. "Tell her I'm coming."
She splashes cold water on her face, tugs at her hair, and goes out. Phillips hands her a glass of Lyme's concoction and she can smell the coffee brewing.
Linsea beams, wide and false. "You were great with Caesar yesterday, Rokia, everyone was just so impressed." Rokia raises an eyebrow. How anyone could be impressed by that is beyond her. "They think we're approaching the endgame," she says, serious and self important. "The Career Pack split early this morning, and the One, Two and Four boys are already out. They may want you starting tomorrow, Caesar said it depends on the angles. And there's a very prestigious viewing party tonight, very influential sponsors, they want you there in time for the recap."
It takes a second to process. "Oh." Rokia says, "okay." It comes out flat and Linsea gives her a worried look.
"Come now, it's very exciting, you can't be so jaded already."
"Sorry, Linsea," Rokia says. "I guess I'm just tired."
Linsea's expression changes like she's flipped a switch. "Oh you poor dear, of course you are! Well, I have just the thing!" She snatches up her purse, flips open the clasp and ruffles though it before coming up with a packet of small red pills.
"Absolutely not." Phillips voice rumbles from behind her.
"Oh, Phillips," Linsea giggles. "You are so old fashioned. Everyone uses these at Games time!"
When Rokia looks back at him his face is thunderous. "She's seventeen, Linsea, you are not getting her hooked on amphetamines before she's legally old enough to drink."
Linsea flushes. "Well I never," she says. "She's not a child Phillips, she's a Victor, with a very busy schedule, it's okay to have a little help managing it."
"No." They're standing close now, Linsea almost as tall as Phillips in her ridiculous heels, hands on her hips, and Phillips has his hands balled into fists and Rokia has never seen him this angry before. She escapes into the kitchen to find her coffee, lets the heat sear her palms through the thin ceramic mug, leans against the wall and watches the clock tick out the seconds.
Phillips comes in later, the coffee's cooled to where she can drink it fast, so she does, as much to avoid seeing his face as because she needs the caffeine to get her brain working. "I'm sorry about that," he says, and he's keeping his voice even if it's because he's working at it. "But you can't start with that stuff, Rokia, I won't let you get caught up in it." Rokia nods. It's a little absurd that they've come to this, silences and apologies, and she hates it but she can't make it better.
Phillips is still looking at her, waiting for an answer, so Rokia shrugs and says, "it's okay Phillips, I get it."
After some eggs and toast, another cup of coffee, and a shower, she feels halfway human, so she takes her things and heads down to the Three floor. All four of them are there today, and when Beetee lets her in, Rokia sees Eibhlin sitting on the floor between Wiress's knees, while Wiress weaves her hair into braids. Eibhlin looks up, wary, and Wiress gives Rokia a small smile. It's Beetee who offers her a cup of the Three tea she's grown used to and offers her a seat. She's trying to bury herself in the hydraulics designs again when Wiress comes over. Eibhlin, hair neatly braided, is curled on the couch next to Lumina, nose in a book.
"If I'm in the way..." Rokia starts, trails off.
Wiress gives her a sad half smile. "You're not," she says, simply, "now, where were we with trying to make this more responsive?" The design is mostly thanks to Wiress, an electronic boost to what remains a hydraulic system, so pilots used to the small craft won't have as much to get used to. It's all Rokia can do to keep up, much less contribute, but Wiress doesn't seem to mind. She explains, drawing out circuit diagrams on Rokia's copy of the schematics, demonstrating on the wireframe model she's built on her datapad, and Rokia leans close and forces herself to concentrate.
She wants to stay there forever but it's not long until Phillips calls down to say she's needed in prep. Rokia sighs and collects her things, exhausted, frustrated tears threatening to spill out. She swallows hard, and Wiress hesitates, reaches out to put a hand on her shoulder. "Take care, Rokia," she says, and Rokia just nods and turns to go, not trusting herself to speak.
The party is dizzying, excitement and bloodlust an almost tangible thing in the room. Everyone's talking about the odds and who's left and who can bring it home. "I've got money on the One girl," Rokia's client says, leering. He laughs when the Two girl swings her mace and takes out the boy from One, pulls Rokia close when the One girl runs away, kisses her as the cannons fire. When the recap ends Caesar is back in the studio with Mags and the Four boy's mentor, a man named Tyde who towers over her but somehow still seems deferential. "Son of a gun," someone says, turning up the volume. "I thought she was done for sure." Mags speaks slowly, working to make herself understood even though her mouth twists the words, and Tyde sometimes repeats things if it isn't clear. Even Caesar seems a little awed by her, he's quieter than Rokia's ever seen him. Rokia stays as long as she can, watching this woman who somehow even through the television radiates calm.
Linsea wakes her up early the next morning and she sits in the back room of Caesar's studio, watching with a handful of Victors from various districts. Caesar calls her once, early in the day while Two girl is hunting the girl from Eight. When it's clear the showdown will be One against Two, someone tells her she can go, and Linsea appears to hustle her off, twittering about how she's glad Rokia won't be stuck in the studio for the final.
Instead she's in an open square, screens on every side, surrounded by Capitol strangers who press close and scream when the anthem plays, haunting in a minor key, and both girls collect their weapons to head towards the Cornucopia. Linsea giggles, high-pitched and nervous, as the stream of autograph-seekers trails off and everyone watches the screens, transfixed. It's bloody and brutal and all Rokia can think as she watches the girls slide in the mud is that if this had been her Arena she would be dead. When the girl from Two screams and swings her weapon, when the One girl falls to the ground, when the hovercraft descends fast as the trumpets blare and the Two girl collapses onto the ramp while the One girl's body lies broken, wide eyes staring, when the fireworks erupt from behind the screens and the crowd, gone silent as the final blows landed, screams its excitement--all Rokia can think through the screaming static in her head is that she should be dead. That it's a ridiculous fluke, an obvious error, that she's standing here now.
When Linsea shrieks and leans down to kiss Rokia's cheek, Rokia flinches back so violently that Linsea stumbles and almost falls. "Rokia!" she gasps, shocked. "What's going on?"
Rokia stares at her for long seconds before she can bring herself to respond. "Sorry," she manages, and it comes out strangled and gasping. "I guess I…" she pauses, trying to think. "I got caught up in the moment."
Linsea pats her shoulder and Rokia holds very, very still. "Oh, dear, of course!" Linsea says, and Rokia inhales, exhales, and smiles as people keep coming up to talk to her, to have her sign things, to shake her hand and tell her where they were when she won, and it's hours until the square starts to empty and Rokia can make her way back to the Training Center.
Phillips is waiting for her. "You saw," he says, his tired, sad eyes on hers.
"Yeah," she says, and shivers. He gets a blanket and she wraps it around herself, sits next to him on the couch, knees pulled in to her chest.
"I wouldn't have made it," she says, after a while. "I shouldn't be here."
"You damn well should," Phillips says, fierce, and Rokia startles. "You fought hard to be here, you're still fighting, Rokia, you--" he stops, takes a breath. "Don't start with the what ifs," he says, finally. "Nothing good ever came from it."
Rokia nods. They sit in silence for a while. Finally Phillips stirs. "Can I get you something?" Rokia shakes her head. "You want to sleep?" She blinks. Might as well try, or at least pretend.
"Yeah okay," she says, getting up and heading for her room.
She's not sure if she's slept, but it's morning when Phillips calls her name. "They're asking for you," he says, and Rokia drags herself out of bed.
Linsea's there, excited and impossibly energetic, and she's back to the studio where they're interviewing Victors about their impressions of the Games. Phillips comes along for once, and he's interviewed seperately before they bring her in, she barely remembers what she's supposed to say about the excitement of her first Games as a Victor, the disappointment of losing tributes what seems like ages ago, the opportunities she's gotten in the Capitol, the strategies she's never known anything about.
The official closing won't be for a while: not until they can stabilize Petra, which the doctors say will take some time, but the Capitol isn't waiting. Rokia follows while Linsea takes her to change clothes and out to a mansion where lights and music and people are spilling out of the doors, where Linsea introduces her to a man named Fabricius who is apparently the organizer of the biggest betting and sponsorship ring in the Capitol. He's expansive in every way, cornering one person after another with loud laughs and bear hugs and slaps on the back, hands heavy with rings, drinking and eating and watching the clips they're playing with an arm around Rokia's waist and eyes that flash away from the screens to watch her hungrily. He pulls away from her to take calls, growls into the phone about odds and return on investment, and when he finally pulls her into a quiet room he looks her up and down with the same judgemental gaze he used to watch the tributes on the screen.
When she collects herself to leave, he slips something into her hand, pats her on the cheek. "Sweetheart, you were an excellent investment," he says, "Damn if I didn't call that one right." When she opens her hand in the car there's a cluster of sparkling stones on a thin chain, flashing in the streetlights.
She throws it on the table in her room, shakes in the shower, and storms out finally to where Phillips is sitting, as usual, in the common room. "You have a list of my sponsors?"
Phillips looks startled. "I could get one, why?"
Rokia looks at him, not sure what to say, and she sees him think for a second before figuring it out on his own. "I didn't--Rokia, I would never--that wasn't part of the deal."
Rokia shrugs. It doesn't matter what Phillips thought the deal was, it probably never did. "Can I just have it?"
Phillips looks at her. "I don't know if that's a good idea," he says, hesitant.
"Dammit, Phillips," she says, and she's about to cry out of sheer humiliated frustration when he gives in. He sighs, goes into his room and comes out with a printed sheet, a bare handful of names and dates and amounts, and she snatches it away from him and ducks back into her room.
They're familiar names, she thinks, but Capitol names all bleed together so she gets her datapad, pulls up the schedule Linsea's been nagging her to use for months. They're all there, the one after the Victory Tour who held her hands in his and told her he'd show her exactly what to do, the one who pinned her shoulders down so she couldn't move and left hand-shaped bruises the Remake staff tittered over, the woman who tore at Rokia's skin with her nails and licked the blood off her fingers, Fabricius leaning back and telling her he wants to see what she's learned.
She takes a breath, shaking and sick, pulls on running shoes and walks out. Phillips is waiting, of course he is. "Rokia--" he starts, and she spins to face him.
"Don't," she says, and it's not his fault and he did what he had to do and somewhere she knows that's the truth but right now she can't look at him without thinking about the price she didn't know she was paying.
She keeps moving because she has to, straight past him and down the stairs because the elevator is too closed in and she'd have to stand still, and even on the treadmill she can't get away from it, and she'd run on the street but someone would want to talk to her, would ask questions or make her stop. Here she runs until she can't and then she walks until she catches her breath enough to run again, until every step shoots pain, until her vision tunnels in and her heartbeat pounds in her chest and behind her eyes and she still wants to scream.
"Hey," the voice is sharp and commanding and she stops, slides off the treadmill and turns to see Lyme, standing in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest.
"What?" Rokia gasps out, voice harsh between breaths.
Lyme walks towards her. "You can't run back to Six, sorry kiddo."
Rokia just glares. Her fingers find the hem of her shirt, pull and twist the fabric that's soft and sweat-damp and there is still something buzzing under her skin and she can't make it stop.
Lyme's standing close now, watching, assessing. Rokia wants to curl up and cry on her again, but that's stupid so she turns away, walks over to find a bottle of water. "How'd you know where I was?" she asks.
"Phillips called me," Lyme says, running a hand through her hair. Rokia sips at her water and tries to calm down, and when she really looks, Lyme is tired and worried and Rokia's sure she has a hundred better things to do than this.
"He shouldn't have bothered you, I'm fine."
Lyme snorts. "Sure you are," she says, and Rokia looks down. "You wanna tell me what's up?" Rokia shakes her head, quick, and Lyme sighs. "Okay, sit."
Rokia does, lets her head knock back against the wall. "Here." Lyme hands her a glass of the usual sludge. Rokia sips at it, obedient as always.
The silence stretches out until Rokia finally breaks it. "What's going to happen to her?" she asks. It's not really what's bothering her but it's the question she can get out.
Lyme lets a breath hiss through her teeth, doesn't ask who Rokia's talking about. "Don't know," she says. "Doctors say she'll probably never walk again."
Rokia shudders, even though that wasn't exactly what she meant. But maybe it's an answer, anyway. Surely nobody would make a girl who can't walk do Rokia's job. She would have believed that, a month ago, but today she's not sure.
She's not sure of anything, really, not sure what it is that's got her jumping out of her skin, it's not like she didn't know she was just another piece of the Games machine, not like she didn't know she won out of luck as much as anything, not like any of it is new, she just can't get her head straight. She can't but she has to, because it'll be morning soon if it isn't already and there's sure to be someplace she has to go.
Lyme waits until she's finished drinking. "Wanna hit something?" she asks, and Rokia is so tired she isn't sure she can move, but yes, yes she does.
It's slow and sloppy and she ought to be embarrassed but when Lyme calls a stop Rokia can't even care that she's about to fall over or that every part of her body hurts, because that was already true and at least now she's past the point of caring about it. She's stumbling like she's drunk, though, and when Lyme slings an arm around her shoulders she can at least let herself be glad for the support.
Lyme actually walks her to her room, waits until she's curled into the bed before she says goodnight and walks out.
When Linsea finally says they've scheduled the closing ceremonies, Phillips looks relieved. Even more so when she complains about Petra's mentor fussing about the events schedule. "Typical overprotective Twos," she grouses. "They're just no fun, I mean really." Phillips actually rolls his eyes at that, and it's been so long since he reacted to anything Linsea says with more than cold fury or bitter resignation that Rokia's startled into a smile. She guesses she's glad, too, ready to get away from all of this but she can't even think about home beyond a sort of bafflement that her house in Six and the Capitol can exist in the same world.
And anyway, in practice what it means is that events have been compressed into a few short days of whirlwind activity, everyone in the Capitol getting a last hurrah before the Games end and they go back to doing whatever it is they do when they don't have this for entertainment.
It means at least that Rokia doesn't have time to think about anything, and when Linsea brings her to meet with someone from Victor Affairs she can nod and smile and practice the photo-op meeting she'll have with this year's Victor without wondering if she'll see Petra at these parties next year, what price she'll be paying for her win.
Rokia sits next to Phillips with the other mentors as Petra talks to Caesar, watches the recap without really seeing. The applause fades to a dull buzzing in her ears and Caesar calls her up to congratulate this year's Victor.
"So, Rokia," Caesar says, smiling, "no jealousy, passing on the torch to a new Victor?"
Rokia glances over at Petra, who's sitting ramrod-straight, her eyes glassy and pupils drawn down to points. It could be the lights, but Rokia knows morphling when it's staring at her. Jealousy? It's a bizarre idea. Who would want to be a Victor?
But what she says, with a practiced smile, is, "Well, you know, I've had my fun, let someone else have a turn." Caesar laughs, and Petra gets to her feet carefully. They shake hands while the cameras flash, and Rokia walks away so the President can give Petra her crown.
Even if their Victor puts in only a token appearance, the party that night goes on until dawn, and Rokia doesn't get back until mid-morning. Nobody needs her, not today, so she goes to the Three floor to say goodbye. They're packing up, books and tools and what Wiress will refuse to admit are toys, and Wiress gives her a quick hug before stepping away. "Keep in touch," she says, quiet, and Rokia nods.
"Sorry I wasn't more helpful," she says, because she was supposed to be working, Wiress asked for her help and she can't pretend she was anything like useful.
Wiress shakes her head. "Don't worry about it, Rokia," she says, "You did fine." Rokia nods, embarrassed, waves to Beetee and Eibhlin and Lumina and heads for the door.
She's dozing on the couch when Lyme calls. "I'm leaving with Brutus and Petra in a couple hours," she says. "You wanna go one last round?"
"Yes," Rokia says, simply, and heads for the gym.
It's still strange if she thinks too hard about it, but Rokia's good at not thinking too hard about anything, just lets it feel good to spar with Lyme while she has the chance. This, well, this she'll miss. When they wind down Lyme hugs her close, just for a second, and tousles her hair, and says "Take care of yourself, okay?"
Rokia nods. "I will," she says, and they stand close and comfortable in the elevator until Lyme gets off at the Two floor.
Finally it's just her and Phillips, standing in the empty, echoing rooms. The few things she brought from home are packed into her duffel, one of the Avoxes already took it to the car. Phillips' mouth twists in a half smile. "Ready to go home?"
Home. When she lets herself think about it, finally, about sleeping in her own bed and sitting on the floor with Allie and Kadi playing trains, about Sal's shop and tools in her hands, it threatens to choke her. Phillips sees it, shakes his head. "Come on," he says, turning toward the door, careful like always to leave enough space not to startle her. She follows, to the car, to the train. Gets to her room, and she should go see which crew's on today, say hello if it's Joe and his guys, but she's rooted to the ground. Mandatory television, and she's been on it for weeks and she never once thought what people would think back in Six. Now she does. Now she thinks about what it must look like, as though two dead children couldn't matter less, as though she's nothing but another Capitol whore, dressed up and parading across the screen as though any of it fucking mattered. Shudders to think what the girls have seen, what Aunt Magda will have told them, what Uncle Sal thinks of the endless parties and useless nonsense when he's always liked people who pull their weight. How is she supposed to go back, now?
She's curled on the seat by the window, watching the mountains disappear into the dusk in the west when Phillips knocks, comes in. He sees her face and crosses the room, long strides eating up the space. "Rokia, what is it?" he asks, alarmed.
She doesn't know where to start. "I don't know how to go home," she says, finally.
Phillips steps up next to her and puts a hand on her shoulder, hesitant at first but then heavy, comforting somehow, like she's not alone. "It'll be okay," he says, and he's never said that, not once since they left Six nearly a month ago, so if he's saying it now than maybe it's for real. She looks up at him, and he's watching her, serious. "Not saying it'll be easy," he says, "But you'll do fine."
They get in late at night, Phillips calls a car to take them home. Her house is dusty, shut-up and stuffy, but it's familiar. She walks through the rooms, dazed, amazed that everything's just where she left it. Phillips moves to leave and he must want to sleep in his own bed, too, but the house is huge and echoing and empty and Rokia bites her lip and asks him to stay.
"Of course," he says, quick, before Rokia has time to feel guilty for asking. He smiles, tired but real for the first time in a long time. "We can get the girls in the morning."
Rokia's lying in bed, staring at the ceiling when she hears it, the wail of a train whistle, the screech of brakes just on the edge of hearing, and she sighs. Now she's home.
She wakes up when Phillips opens the door to what was supposed to be her Mom's room, slips out into the hallway, and he's trying to be quiet but she's alert anyway. He looks around, guilty, when she opens the door. "Everything okay?" she asks, and Phillips sighs. "Why are you sneaking out?" Rokia asks, suddenly suspicious.
"Nothing, I--" Phillips stops, and his shoulders slump. "I need to see to the coffins."
Rokia freezes, forces herself to take a deep breath, to nod, and in a second it's all swirling around in her head again, everything she thought she'd left behind. "Let me get dressed," she says, and turns back to her room. Phillips starts to say something but doesn't quite get the words out before she's pulled the door shut behind her. She hasn't picked out her own clothes in a month, stares blankly at the things in her closet before sighing and pulling on somber black pants and shirt. Black for a funeral, right? And it's all too fancy but it's not dresses and not Capitol so it'll have to do.
Phillips watches her as she comes out. There's a truck waiting downstairs, driver tapping impatiently, and he drives them to the station where the Peacekeepers check their identification before letting them load one of the coffins into the back. Just one.
Just one, because Safiatou's family is somewhere up north, the mother whose name Rokia never knew would've gone back after the Reaping and retrieving coffins apparently doesn't count as essential travel.
"They sent it by train," Phillips says, soft. "Should be there by now."
There's tears pricking behind Rokia's eyes and her limbs feel like they're made of lead as she walks back to sit in the car.
When they get to Ryan's house the windows are closed, shades drawn, quiet. Phillips knocks on the door and Rokia forces herself to stand straight instead of hiding behind him. The knock echoes, and it's a long time before the door is pulled open. Rokia saw Ryan's father for all of a minute in the Justice Building but she recognizes him. His eyes narrow when he sees them.
"I'm sorry about your boy," Phillips says, simply.
The man glowers at both of them, steps outside. "That him?" he jerks his chin toward the pine box in the back of the truck.
"Yes." Phillips hands the man a paper sack. "His things."
"Fine," the man says, "Now give me my boy and get out."
Rokia would feel better if he'd been angry, but his voice is flat and even the glare he shoots her way doesn't have any heat in it. She searches for something to say, but there's nothing, nothing about this boy she could tell his father, nothing to make it better. So she stays quiet, while the driver helps carry the box into the house, next to Phillips who's watching with his hands clenched to fists at his side.
They get back into the car and the driver runds to Phillips and asks where they're going next. Phillips twists to ask Rokia. "Should we go get your girls?"
Rokia's breath catches. "Yes," she says, barely more than a whisper.
They pull up outside the apartment where Magda and Salif moved when Magda decided their place above the shop was too small, too noisy, not good enough. Rokia climbs the steps with a mixture of anticipation and dread, and knocks on the door.
Magda pulls it open against the chain and looks out, suspicious. When she sees Rokia and Phillips she puts on a smile and opens the door wide. "Come in!" she says, turning toward Phillips. "I'm so pleased to finally meet you--" She stops when Allie and Kadi peer around the corner into the sitting room, and Rokia barely has time to brace herself before Kadi's jumping up to wrap her arms around Rokia's waist and clinging until Rokia manages to lift her to rest on her hip. Allie follows a little slower, a little careful, but she presses up against Rokia's side and stays close. Phillips is watching with a half-smile playing around his mouth but Magda shakes her head, laughs a little, ruefully. "Well, so much for manners," she says. "Kadi, you'll ruin your sister's nice clothes pulling like that." Rokia could care less about the clothes but she needs her aunt's good will so she says nothing. "Can I get you something?" Magda asks, looking at Phillips, and Rokia knows she should be nice, should stay for tea or whatever Magda wants to do to show off but she just wants to take the girls home. Phillips glances over at her but she says nothing.
"Thank you ma'am," Phillips says, apologetic, "But we really ought to get these girls back."
Magda nods, disappointed. "Well, I have their things packed," she says, and Phillips follows her back toward the bedrooms.
"Hi Rokia," Kadi whispers into her neck. "I'm glad you're back."