This year just sucks more because - " he shakes his head. "Shit with Fury; last year everything was enough of a mess that a bit more didn't even make a ripple, this year stuff's better so . . . it shows. Hey, here, you feel better enough to really feel like shit about this now, you know?"
-- Feather, (you're still all over me) [like a wine-stained dress]
The Arena fell two years ago. Lyme wishes she could ignore the day entirely, but her kids need her.
Probably needs warnings but I am not quite sure what for, y'all know how these things go...
Lyme tried forgetting the date. Tried pretending she didn’t remember, last year when Claudius showed up with a bottle of whiskey he’d found fuck knows where, sat his ass down on her couch and didn’t leave even when she told him to, even when she got just drunk enough to snarl at him and disappear down into the weight room to try working herself to exhaustion since drinking wasn’t working.
She’s trying pretty hard this year as the summer creeps along, focusing on her unlikely girl and what she needs and ignoring the careful looks Nero and Claudius both slant towards her, and on the night of she decides that fuck it, she’s just going to drug herself into unconsciousness. Rokia goes to bed on time for once, hasn’t mentioned anything about the day or the anniversary or the Arena or fucking any of it, and probably Lyme should be pushing her to talk about it but she—can’t.
Never thought she’d say that about one of her kids. Never thought there’d be something they needed from her that she couldn’t give, but this? She doesn’t even know where to start. Doesn’t want to begin even thinking about it, as she says goodnight to Rokia, closes the door and goes to her room. Doesn’t want the hammering of Brutus’ heart flashing behind her eyelids and in her ears and the screen of the goddamn console telling her in excruciating fucking detail exactly what he was going through. Doesn’t want the image of his fist, spasming with poison, saluting her one last time.
She’s barely eaten all day, hasn’t been able to do more than go through the motions for her girl, and her stomach’s writhing and acid, but she’s going to sleep, anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Lyme swallows two pills, just in case, with a glass of water like a good fucking baby Victor, and curls on her side in bed while they drag her under.
Claudius wakes her up the next morning. She feels like shit warmed over, her head full of static and her eyes swimming into focus. “What is it, D?” she grits out, and her voice sounds rough even to her.
He’s got his worried face on, and fuck, Lyme needs to pull herself together. She sits up, scrubs her hands over her face and tries again. “What do you need?” she asks, and he shakes his head.
“Not me,” he says. “You seen Rokia?”
“I put her to bed last night,” Lyme says. “She’s probably down at her shop, she gets up early sometimes.”
Claudius raises an eyebrow. His fingers tighten just a little on his bicep where he’s crossed them.
Lyme glares at him, looks around, grabs her phone off the nightstand and dials Rokia’s. It rings for a while before she answers.
“Hi Lyme,” she sounds cheerful enough, slightly preoccupied, but that’s normal too, especially for getting interrupted at work. “You weren’t up when I left, sorry if you were worried.”
Lyme huffs out a breath. “Just checking,” she says, shooting Claudius a look. “You good?”
“I’m fine,” Rokia says, with her usual exasperation. “But this hovercraft they want me to fix is more rust than metal, so I might be a while.”
Lyme rolls her eyes. “Don’t forget to eat something once in a while,” she jokes, and Rokia laughs.
“Yeah, yeah,” she answers, and Lyme wants to know why that’s the thing her kids all parrot back at her, but fine. Today she doesn’t give a shit.
“See you later,” Lyme says, and hangs up.
“She’s fine,” she tells Claudius, and his posture loosens just a little. Since he’s already babying her, Lyme lets herself smirk. “You were worried about your little sister,” she coos at him. “Isn’t that sweet.”
Claudius doesn’t take the bait, just turns toward the door and calls back over his shoulder. “I’m making pancakes, if you don’t get your ass down here I’ll eat them all.”
Lyme has to laugh a little, if nothing else at the bald-faced attempt to cheer her up. She scrubs her hands through her hair and stands up, wills her brain to shrug off the last traces of drugged-sleep-drowsiness and get itself in gear, and heads downstairs.
Claudius has the TV on, and Lyme parks herself in front of it to try to wake up. “Is there coffee?” she calls, and Claudius comes out with a mug in each hand.
“Here,” he says. “Beat you to it.”
Lyme debates with herself about half a second before realizing it’s pointless. “You seen Brutus today?” she asks.
Claudius doesn’t even make fun of her. Dammit. “Yeah, he went out running like always,” he says. “Think he was at Petra’s overnight.”
That makes sense. Lyme’d figured as much or she might’ve given in and gone over to find him. And this isn’t as good as seeing him herself, but apparently even the deep-down core of her brain where the nightmares live trusts Claudius enough to relax a little. “Okay,” she says, stupidly, and Claudius gives her a funny little half-smile before heading back into the kitchen.
“You want yours with apple slices?” He calls back to her once he’s out of her sightline.
“Sure,” she calls back, settles in to drink her coffee.
Claudius goes home mid-afternoon, and then Misha shows up wanting to spar, and they fight for a long time before her girl relaxes, lets Lyme pull her into a bone-crunching hug. They don’t really talk, not today, but Misha stays for dinner and is extra-obnoxious about helping to cook, demands to eat while sitting in Lyme’s lap and making fun of the latest bullshit Plutarch has splashed onto the television. She stacks the dishes loud in the sink, throws raisins at Lyme’s head while Lyme is washing up and can’t get her hands out of the soap suds fast enough to catch them. When Lyme finally finishes she catches Misha around the waist and knocks her back into the wall. Misha pushes back, and they fight again in the middle of the living room and by the time they’re done there’s blood from Lyme’s nose on the wall and Misha’s walking funny from where she slammed her hip into the side table trying to take Lyme down with her.
This time Lyme just sits on the floor and waits for Misha to crawl into her lap and bury her head in Lyme’s shoulder. Misha head-butts her a couple times, halfheartedly, looks up into Lyme’s eyes with a wild, fresh-victor fierceness that hits Lyme harder than any of her punches.
“You left me,” she says, looks away. “I know—“ she waves a hand vaguely, a stand-in for all the good reasons that can’t not sound like excuses. “But you left me.”
“I know,” Lyme says, and it’s a knife in her gut. “I’m sorry, Misha. I’m here now.” She’s never leaving again, but somehow that sounds hollow when it’s an echo of the promise she broke already. Misha clings a while longer, then sighs and extricates herself.
“I should go,” she says, and Lyme bites her tongue on—well, anything she was going to say, really. “Devon will be back and he’ll wonder where I am.”
Lyme doubts that. But if Misha’s done here, then Lyme has to let her go.
But she does get another hug at the door.
Somehow the fucking day is gone, and it’s surprising at the same time as it feels like it’s been a fucking week. But even the late summer sun is down, and for fuck’s sake, Rokia’s been at the shop all damn day. And even odds whether she actually remembered to eat anything, and there’s something going on there that Lyme doesn’t understand, and one of these days she’s going to have to get into it but fuck, not today.
But the kid needs to come home and eat something and sleep, so Lyme pulls on her shoes and gets in the car to go drag her out.
And just by the music she can tell something’s off. When Rokia’s happy, she doesn’t put music on, the shop’s quiet except for the noise from whatever machine she’s using. When she’s slicing up hovercraft plating with a torch while listening to something harsh and angry-sounding at full volume, it means nothing good.
Lyme pulls the plug on the stereo and Rokia looks up, lowers the torch and flips up her mask. “What’s up?” she asks, and her smile has nothing to do with anything amusing. It’s brittle and hard and slick and meant to keep anything Lyme says sliding right off the façade so Rokia can keep doing whatever she’s doing.
“You must’ve been up early this morning,” Lyme says, glancing around as though she can tell.
Rokia shrugs. “Couldn’t sleep,” she says, looking down at her hands.
“It’s a shit day,” Lyme says, trying bluntness because she still doesn’t know this kid well enough to know reliably what to do when she’s off like this.
That gets her a jagged-edged laugh. “Yep,” Rokia says, flips the torch back on. “Might as well get something done at least.” She lowers her mask with a practiced flick of her head and cuts another section, steadfastly ignoring Lyme standing right in front of her.
Dammit. She should have come down here earlier. This morning, probably.
“Rokia,” Lyme has to yell over the torch, and while she’s pretty sure Rokia heard her, the kid doesn’t react until the third time she says it.
“I’m fine.” Rokia says, pulling her mask up and glaring. Lyme raises an eyebrow. “Go home, okay? It’s not my fault you said yes.”
And Lyme freezes, because Rokia’s mouth snaps shut and she actually drops the tools and walks away.
Lyme fists her hands in her hair and counts to ten before she follows. “Rokia,” she asks, and she’s trying to keep her voice level but it comes out sounding like a warning, and Rokia half turns around, wary. “What did you mean, not your fault?”
Rokia looks toward the back wall. Doesn’t turn around when she says, “It was me,” just loud enough for Lyme to hear. “I was a failsafe, for the forcefield, I was in the damn system and they’d been fighting about whether to try and get you, so when Brutus—“ she stops, takes a shaky breath. “I pushed the message through before your console went offline. Faked an order from Plutarch for the pilot. It’s my fault.”
As soon as she finishes Rokia walks back to the storage shelves in the back, starts pulling pieces of sheet metal out of a bin and stacking them on the floor, loud clangs breaking the silence.
This fucking day.
Lyme leans up against whatever piece of machinery’s closest and tries to figure out what she’s actually thinking right now. And then gives up, because it’s too complicated, and it’ll take to long, and she’ll think about it sometime when her kid isn’t throwing the weirdest goddamn tantrum Lyme has ever seen.
So she just sighs, walks up beside Rokia and takes a piece of metal out of her hands—spends a second being distracted by how heavy it is for a girl that little, and sets it down. Rokia’s gone still and calm, staring down through the floor.
“Hey,” Lyme says, and Rokia looks up at her and she’s wide open and vulnerable now, waiting for the hit to land. “I’m not mad,” Lyme starts with, because it needs to be said. “And you probably saved my life.” Because that needed saying too, given how it’s true.
Rokia rolls her eyes. Doesn’t say anything.
“Come on,” Lyme says. “We’re going home. When’s the last time you ate something?”
Rokia looks sideways, shrugs.
“Yeah,” Lyme drawls, “Wrong answer, come on.”
They’re silent the whole ride up. Rokia slips into the bathroom to wash her hands while Lyme warms up some leftovers, sets them on the table.
There’s an angry red mark on Rokia’s forehead from her welder’s mask, a handful of new scrapes up and down her arms, and her eyes are tired and red-rimmed. She picks at her food, takes a few bites, sets her fork down, looks out the window over Lyme’s shoulder. If she slept last night, it wasn’t for long. Lyme snaps off the guilt because it doesn’t do anyone any good and tries to figure out what to do next.
Eventually Rokia shoves her plate away, half the food still there. Lyme lets it go. She’d feel like a hypocrite pointing it out today.
“Come on,” Lyme says, heading for the couch. “Claudius brought over some more of that show about the ocean out west.”
Rokia gives her a skeptical look, like she knows what Lyme’s doing, but will allow it for now. But she follows Lyme out to the couch, sits down, lets Lyme put an arm around her shoulder and pull her close.
It takes all the way through the first episode for Rokia’s shoulders to relax, for her to let her head settle on Lyme’s shoulder. Midway through the second Rokia stares up at the ceiling and says “I wasn’t supposed to make it out,” low like she’s not sure she wants Lyme to hear. “I should’ve been down there with Phillips.”
Lyme very carefully keeps breathing slowly, deeply, deliberately. “How’s that?” she asks.
“Sara got me out,” Rokia says, her voice gone soft, almost sing-song. “She said if I didn’t go she’d come find me and make me wish I had.”
Lyme already liked this Sara kid, but it’s nice to have these things confirmed. On the other hand, “Plutarch and his gang didn’t have a plan to get you out?” she asks, carefully, carefully.
“Not a priority,” Rokia says it in Plutarch’s accent, and Lyme’s breath catches. Her hand tightens on Rokia’s shoulder, and Rokia looks up at her.
She’s smiling the way Lyme’s seen Misha smile after losing yet another kid. “It’s just how it goes,” Rokia says, resigned. Lyme can’t not haul the girl onto her lap after that, and it doesn’t take long for Rokia to bury her face in Lyme’s shoulder. The wetness soaks through Lyme’s shirt a few seconds later.
Lyme’s got nothing for that other than to hold Rokia close. Nothing’s going to come out of her mouth right now that isn’t a stream of epithets about fucking Plutarch and fucking Thirteen and their fucked-up fucking idea of priorities. And that’s not for right now, that’s for another time, with someone who can punch back.
Right now it’s edging towards midnight, the day’s practically over thank fuck, and Lyme gives up. Again.
“Come on kiddo,” she says, getting a better grip on Rokia and standing up. “It’s time for bed.”
Rokia doesn’t even protest, just curls tighter against Lyme's chest. Doesn’t even fight over the pills, just swallows what Lyme hands her, curls up in bed with her head on Lyme’s lap, and falls asleep.