I'm not sure how this turned out but I need to stop letting it eat my brain and go do some actual work. Lyme (and Brutus) get to meet the newest victor.
Summary: The Victory Tour comes to Two.
The day the Victory Tour starts, Brutus comes over to Lyme's house with a bottle of expensive bourbon, looking pissed off and something else--if Lyme didn't know any better she'd say he looked apologetic, but she can count the times Brutus has apologized on the fingers of one hand and all of them involved serious injury. She offers him a beer and they sit for a minute, drinking. Finally Lyme breaks the silence.
"What's up, caveman?" That gets her a glare.
"The Tour. Bad enough when it's Ones or Fours and they've got some kinda clue what they're doing. Terence'll be to messed up to give a shit, and that Six escort is even dumber than most of them. That much incompetence in one place, I'm gonna need help just to keep from punching someone." Brutus usually organizes the Tour stop in Two-it's the sort of thing he's good at, showing off the district, continuing the spectacle of the Games.
"And you thought of me, I'm touched."
Brutus snorts. "Figured your boy's gotta be involved, you'd probably want to make sure the whole thing's not a total embarrassment."
Lyme sighs. It's not that she's forgotten Claudius will have to play a part, last year's victor welcoming the new kid, changing of the guard and all that, it's just that she doesn't really want to think about it. But Brutus is right, she needs to make sure it's not a circus, which means managing the morphling addict mentor from Six and their escort and a fresh Victor. It's true, Career victors are easier. Outliers tend to be twitchier, their mentors clueless or addicts or both, and Lyme has seen Terence in the Capitol every year she's mentored but has never once seen him sober. Brutus, damn him, has a point.
The morning the train gets to Two, they walk to the station together.
"You're gonna owe me more than just a drink after this" she says, and he huffs a laugh.
"What, you want me to get my kids to clean your house?" The Six escort meets them on the platform, shakes their hands and hovers, fluttering behind them. Lyme's shoulders are already creeping up around her ears and Brutus's jaw is clenched so hard it looks painful. The escort sits them at a table and excuses herself to fetch Terence. She comes back a minute later making excuses, impatience showing beneath her bubbling chatter. They start going over the plans, starting with the staged welcome in a couple hours, through the public ceremonies and finally the private dinner with victors, blessedly free of cameras. They're just talking about how to stage the meeting between the two newest Victors when Terence comes in, pours himself a cup of coffee, and sits. He looks glazed and distant, slumped in his chair, watching the steam rise from his coffee and not making eye contact.
Brutus's hands twitch and Lyme says "Hi Terence" before Brutus can actually punch someone. Terence glances at her and blinks, slowly.
"Hi Lyme. Been a while." She's rarely seen him this out of it--like most of the mentors, he at least tries to tone things down while his tributes are still in the Games. Now she wants to shake him, ask him who's watching his girl, how he expects her to get through this if he's checked out.
The escort glances between them, her smile breaking for just a moment before saying, "We were just discussing the meeting between the new victors--It'll be so exciting! Nobody's seen much of Claudius since his Tour, we're all dying to know what he's been up to!" If that was supposed to improve things, it really doesn't. Lyme's jaw clenches and it's Brutus who manages to respond.
"Kid keeps pretty quiet. Not much excitement around here."
They've managed to get through the day's schedule when the escort asks,
"Don't you want to say hi to Rokia? I'll go find her, she keeps sneaking off to bother the crew."
Brutus raises one eyebrow and glances at Terence. "She does what?"
Terence smirks. "She likes helping out with the engine maintenance."
Lyme bites her lip to keep from bursting out laughing at the look on Brutus's face. Girls doing engine maintenance is even worse than girls carrying heavy things or opening their own doors. The six escort shepherds in Panem's newest victor, who's not exactly looking the part in jeans and a grease-stained sweatshirt. Her hair's grown out but she's pulled it back from her face, so there's nothing to soften the fierce glare she turns on everyone in the room. She's got a screwdriver in her back pocket, and Lyme, who without Remake would still have scars from unconventional weapons training, wonders who thought it was a good idea to let a stressed-out new victor near a toolbox. The escort keeps a careful distance as she introduces Lyme and Brutus. Rokia says hi, voice taut, hands clenching reflexively at her sides. Her eyes glance from Brutus to Lyme, darting from eyes to hands to feet and back up, alert for signs of movement. It's a reflex Lyme doesn't see often on the Tour. Careers have usually toned it down by this point, and most outliers never truly pick it up--if they're nervous they'll look everywhere, uncertain where the threats are. This is different--this kid is focused on the two of them, not sparing a glance for the escort or Terence or any of the other familiar things in the room. Lyme and Brutus share a quick glance and Lyme introduces them both.
"I'd shake hands," the girl says, glancing down at hers, "but mine are pretty greasy. I'll see you later?" The escort says goodbye to the Two victors and hurries Rokia to her room, clucking over the scrapes on her hands, the dirt under her short fingernails, how much work the preps will have to do. Once they're off the platform and headed back to the village Lyme runs a hand through her hair and breathes deeply for the first time in an hour. Then she grins and asks Brutus if she should invite the kid over to take a look at the transmission on his truck. Brutus just shakes his head.
Lyme's working her way through the whiskey Brutus brought her when she notices Rokia slipping out to the balcony. The kid has had the same tense, hyper-alert stance every time Lyme's seen her--she doesn't flinch or cower, but if someone comes too close she backs away, pulling in on herself just enough that Lyme notices. She picked at her food at dinner and answered questions in a clipped, flat tone that encourages nothing. Even now that the cameras and the escorts have left she's wary. Terence, who (unlike in 9 and 4) managed to get through the public events without any notable disasters, is slumped on a couch. Lyme thinks he might be asleep. Rokia doesn't seem like a suicide risk, but there's no forcefield here and it's not really a risk worth taking. So Lyme sighs and follows the girl out.
Lyme doesn't see her at first in the dark. But then she notices the deeper shadow in the corner and the light from the doorway catches the dark red silk of Rokia's skirt. She's sitting against the wall, knees drawn up to her chest, looking out towards the mountains. She's watching Lyme, who thinks of the mountain cats she sees sometimes, hiking in the mountains. The girl has the same coiled-spring energy, wondering whether to attack or flee or hide. Lyme takes a deep breath. Fuck, this is not her kid, not her job, what is she supposed to say to some scrawny girl from Six who's on her way to god-knows-what in the Capitol? She walks over to the railing and leans out, watching the lights in town and the mountains beyond, feeling the girl's eyes on her back.
"How'd you get them to quit making you wear dresses?"
The kid's voice is soft and almost vulnerable and Lyme's breath hitches.
"I mean, I've seen you in the Capitol and they let you keep your hair short and wear pants, but they told me I had to grow my hair long and wear all this ridiculous shit."
Lyme closes her eyes and hears Nero's voice telling her prep team "No dresses" and is breathtakingly grateful once again for him, for Two.
"It wasn't me, it was my mentor."
"They can do that?"
Can they? Lyme could, she knows, though she's never needed to. But the idea of any Six mentor telling the Capitol how to dress a victor is ludicrous.
"Sometimes. I guess I got lucky."
"The stupid escort tried to throw away my jeans and sweatshirts and stuff when we started the tour. I told her I was not letting them dress me in that ridiculous Capitol shit 24 hours a day for however long we have to do this."
It's been 18 years since she left his house, longer still since she let him have a say in what she wore, but his voice rings in her ears (…little girl…) and she's glad for the dark to hide her face.
"I guess you managed to keep them"
"Yeah, well, I told her if she didn't let me I'd steal Terence's clothes. And once she realized she wasn't keeping me out of the engine bay she figured I might as well get my own shit all greasy."
Lyme laughs at that. "You like the train?"
Now the kid's face lights up. Her voice is different, excited and young.
"I work for my uncle fixing stuff--machinery in the hovercraft factories mostly--but I'd never gotten to see the trains before."
Twenty minutes later Lyme knows more than she ever wanted to about the railway system and Rokia's trying to figure out an excuse to get on one of the intra-district Two trains, since they don't have those in Six. She's in the middle of explaining how they use electromagnets to keep the train floating above the track (Lyme will try to forget that she's floating the next time she gets on a train) when Brutus comes out. It's like a switch flipping off--the door opens and Rokia's mouth closes to that flat line.
"Escort called," Brutus says, "Train's supposed to leave in an hour."
Rokia stands up, and in the light from the doorway Lyme sees she's back to the same guarded, closed stance. Then she turns, smirks at Lyme and says "Thanks. Guess I'd better go drag my mentor off the couch."
Lyme sees red for a second before she says "Don't worry about him, I'll take care of it." Brutus looks like he wants to say something but she glares at him and he shuts up.
Brutus walks Rokia to the door while Lyme goes to find Terence. She hauls him up off the couch and sets him on his feet, waiting while he blinks himself a little more alert. He just looks at her, bleary-eyed, and she hisses at him. "You are supposed to help her." Lyme says, "Does she even know what's coming?"
Terence laughs at that, his face going mean and hard. "Course not. She already can't sleep, you want me to give her something else to have nightmares about?"
Lyme doesn't have anything to say to that. Terence smirks. "Yeah. You guys love to tell your victors they're safe. What am I supposed to tell her?"