(Lyme is not even a little bit convinced)
Rokia hasn’t heard much about the Victors, since the consolidation. No news is good news, really. She gets the occasional message from Beetee about work stuff, Phillips checks in once in a while, and that’s plenty. It’s not like she knew most of them anyway, so she’s not exactly thinking much about it.
Which means it's more than a little surprising when Lyme calls. Not for long, nothing serious, just checking in. Rokia doesn't think too hard about that either, until Lyme fucking walks into the shop on one of the days she couldn't stand to leave overnight so she's a mess, slept in clothes and machine oil on her face and trying to do too many things at once.
“How's it going?” Lyme asks, faked nonchalance that's almost believable except that Rokia knows better.
“Oh, fine,” Rokia gives as good as she gets. “Trying to keep some semblance of national transportation up and running, you know.”
Lyme does know, Rokia knows she knows, because it's her name on the transport requests from Two most of the time. Her name on the demands for information when someone fucks with the schedule, pulls rank somewhere to get their district bumped up and someone else's bumped down, up and down the line until nobody wants to stand up for the district they all love to hate lately.
It's idiotic, and Rokia tries to lock down the scheduling system but it's a losing effort when so many people think they have a right to make the calls.
Lyme snorts, and Rokia blinks fast to clear her head. She's got too much on her mind, she's getting distracted again.
“Come get some lunch,” Lyme says, and the way she says it it isn't really a question.
Rokia looks at the clock. “It's almost 3,” she says.
Lyme shrugs. “Have you eaten yet?”
Rokia shrugs right back, trying to remember what she had for breakfast, when that even was.
“Come on,” Lyme says, and turns to leave, and for a second Rokia wants to plant her feet and cross her arms and refuse on principle, but eventually she follows.
They go to the sandwich stand down the street, because it isn't like there's much open in the bombed out city. Rokia eats mechanically, because it's probably a good idea but she doesn't feel hungry, not really. “You really should come to Two,” Lyme says, between bites. “We've got the Village repaired, you could stay with me, take a break.”
Rokia laughs, harsh in her own ears. “Are you kidding?” She asks, “I have a backlog of shit that's supposed to be ready to fly last week, there's no way I can just leave.”
Lyme gives her a hard look, and Rokia looks right back. Two can play at that game. It's Lyme that looks away first, runs a hand through her hair and stands up. “Okay,” she says, balling up her garbage and tossing it into the trash. Goes in perfectly, of course, just another example of the kind of unconscious skill all the Twos had, good without even having to try. “See you around, Rokia,” Lyme finishes, and walks away.
Rokia's annoyed when she gets back to the shop. She's not even sure why, just that everything anybody does is pissing her off, so she disappears into the corner office she commandeered with a list of measurements and starts drawing up part files for the CNC.
By the time she's ready to start the machine, it's late enough everyone has left, and she loads up the files and watches it start cutting, then goes over to the craft in the middle of the hangar and starts checking it over.
She's on her third cup of coffee and fifth welded patch job and the CNC is still running when Lyme comes in. Nobody else is here yet, but when Lyme opens the door there's sunlight streaming in, so it's early but not early enough she can really give Lyme shit for it.
Lyme gives her a long look, up and down. “You look like shit,” she says, solemn.
“Didn't think anybody gave a fuck if I looked pretty anymore,” Rokia snaps back.
Lyme almost flinches at that. “When's the last time you slept in a bed?” she asks. “For that matter, when's the last time you slept, period?”
Rokia doesn't answer. For one thing, she'd have to do the math to make sure, for another she's certain Lyme wouldn't like the answer.
Lyme lets the silence stretch long enough to be uncomfortable. “Yeah,” she says, drawling, “see, that's not a good answer. You need to come with me, just for a couple days.” Her voice gets less sarcastic, a little nicer. “You're gonna burn out, kid, and then you won't be any use to anybody.”
As if on cue, the CNC beeps to tell her it's done. She walks over and pulls out the fuel pump nozzle, spins it around to check for flaws, but it's fine.
Going that direction takes her to the office, and she sits, looks at the list scrawled on a receipt for scrap aluminum. None of it is actually critical. It could wait a couple days, probably. Her head throbs, as though she needed a reminder she's been wearing a welding mask for going on 12 hours, and she sets it down on the desk beside her. Fuck it. Looks like she's going to District Two.
Rokia hasn’t really paid much attention to the rebuilding and re-zoning and everything else, she’s pretty sure someone moved into the place one floor up from her, and she thinks they’re District not Capitol from the couple times she’s seen them. Other than that, well, she’s got her job to do, just gotta hope other people are doing theirs.
And apparently they are, or trying to. All the rubble’s gone by now, most of the half-destroyed buildings demolished, a few new ones going up. Feels a little more like a city and a little less like a war zone. Which is probably a good thing.
And now she’s getting distracted and has to hurry to keep up with Lyme. Who looks over at her with the kind of expression Rokia uses for malfunctioning machinery, probing and careful and concerned. Rokia hitches her duffel onto her shoulder and looks away.
“Let me take that,” Lyme says, reaching, and Rokia’s instinct is to jerk away but that’s stupid, this is Lyme. She’s not going to steal the damn thing.
So Rokia hands it over and shoves her hands in her jacket pockets. It’s cold, and that’s the other reason she’s been crashing in her office instead of going home lately, it’s hard to care enough about beds to want to go out in this, especially when it’s not like she sleeps that well anyway. If she’s going to crash for a couple hours and toss and turn for a couple more and then give up and go to work, she can do that anywhere.
She shivers, and Lyme gives her that look again. “We should find you a real coat,” Lyme says, like she’s talking about calling up Victor Affairs and telling them to send one, instead of—fuck knows who’d be selling winter coats or where the money’d come from to buy one.
Rokia shrugs. When Lyme keeps glancing over she coughs a little, says, “Yeah, prob’ly, but I got no clue where to get one.”
Lyme shrugs one shoulder. “Shouldn’t be a problem,” she says. “Someone’ll have something in Two.”
The train station’s weird, all fancy still for Victor trains and Tribute trains and Capitol folks going on vacations, but it’s mostly cargo moving through now, the passenger tracks took less damage and anyone who needs to get between districts can hitch a ride with the cargo. Rokia heads for the front of the train to see who’s driving, and when she sees the locomotive code she smiles.
“C’mon,” she says, ducking into the first car, and then through to the crew car.
“Hey, Joe!” she calls out, and Joe looks up from the banks of indicators, startled until he sees her.
“Lyme, this is the best damn crew in Panem,” she says, because it’s true. “Guys, this is Lyme.”
There’s some mumbling along the lines of “pleased to meet you,” and Rokia finds herself a seat in back. Lyme stands, leaning against the wall and watching.
“How’s it going?” Rokia asks, and Joe waves someone else to the controls and comes over.
He shakes his head. “Lotta work to do,” he says, “but we’re making progress.”
“Hey Rokia,” Tom calls over from the other side of the car. “It true they’re running hovercraft for cargo out to north Seven?”
Rokia rolls her eyes, lets her head drop back against the wall. “Yes,” she groans.
Tom laughs, cracks a window and lights a cigarette. “Sounds like that’s going well,” he says.
“Gimme one of those and I’ll tell you about it,” Rokia says, and Tom tosses her the pack and the lighter.
“You know those things are going for crazy prices,” Tom says, once she’s got hers lit.
Rokia blows smoke out into the slipstream and shrugs. “Good thing you guys are the ones movin’ em so you can just snag a few.”
Joe laughs, and Tom looks affronted. “Hey now,” he starts, but Joe just shakes his head.
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Joe says, “I know what’s up, but it’s fine.”
Tom relaxes a little, sighs. “Shit’s crazy,” he says.
Rokia laughs at that, coughs, swallows. “Yeah that’s the understatement of the year,” she says. “You gotta have some good stories, c’mon.”
Tom thinks, starts talking about opening the track through Ten, guys herding cattle on horses, going swimming in the water for the animals, the kind of fun the crews can get up to now there’s nobody keeping them confined to the loading docks.
Rokia relaxes. It’s comfortable here, and fuck, she’s tired. Tired like she should sleep, yeah, but tired of the fucking endless stream of demands and requests and priority whatever and tired of people asking for things. She’s half-asleep when Joe pulls Lyme back toward the passenger cars, and he must’ve stopped between cars because she can just make out his voice, even though the only word that rises loud enough to make out is “shit.” It’s a little amusing.
It doesn’t take long to get to District Two. Rokia almost wishes it were longer, wishes she could go with them all the way to Six, sleep in the bunkroom like she used to on her Victor trips. But no, Six is too dangerous and even Joe told her she shouldn’t go back just yet, so when they get to District Two she hauls herself upright and awake and follows Lyme out.
Claudius is there with a car, so must’ve been not everything got destroyed here.
Lyme opens the back door, tosses her duffel onto the seat, and Rokia climbs in after.
She barely knows Claudius, just that he’s Lyme’s Victor and he doesn’t come to the Capitol much. He looks back at her in the rearview mirror, says “Hi Rokia,” and starts the car.
“Hi, Claudius,” she echoes back, and sits back to watch as they climb up into the mountains.
It’s fucking freezing when they get out, and Rokia’s clamping her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering by the time they get inside.
“There’s soup in the fridge,” Claudius says, pulling off his shoes and walking through to the kitchen.
Rokia stops just inside, looks around. It’s nice, but her house in Six was nice. Her house in Six, though, was exactly like all the others in the Village, Capitol furniture that was fine, was better than fine, but—well. This house has personality, the furniture is sturdy and looks comfortable more than it looks nice.
She must be tired, she’s standing here thinking about fucking furniture instead of…doing something. She drops her duffel and pulls at her boot laces. She hadn’t bothered changing when they picked up her stuff, and she hadn’t even thought about it until she considers the fact she’s probably going to leave machine oil and metal shavings and who knows what else any place she sits down.
She steps out of her boots, and wow, nice to be out of those finally.
“Can I take your jacket?” Lyme asks, and Rokia laughs a little.
“I should probably shower and change clothes before you let me in the house,” she says, “I’m pretty dirty.”
Lyme shrugs. “I don’t mind,” she says, and Rokia thinks she actually means it. And it’s easier to just agree so she does, follows Lyme into the kitchen. Claudius is heating up soup, Lyme finds a loaf of bread and cuts slices, and Rokia just stands there because she doesn’t know what else to do. Finally Lyme glances over.
“You can go sit on the couch if you want,” Lyme says, “We’ll bring this in a minute.”
Rokia goes, because it’s the easiest thing.
The couch is huge and soft and cozy and Rokia curls in the corner and she’s trying not to fall asleep when they come in with food. She takes the bowl Lyme gives her, stares at it for a minute. It’s the size of her head. But okay. Lyme sits at the other end, Claudius takes a chair on the other side of the room, and Lyme tosses him a remote. “Put on one of those nature shows you like,” Lyme says.
It’s relaxing, some guy with a calm voice talking about forests, and Rokia’s never thought much about forests other than places she’s got to get fucking cargo hovercraft out to in Seven, but they’re kinda pretty.
She can’t eat more than half of what’s in her bowl. She leans over to set it on the low table. “Sorry,” she says, “not that hungry I guess.”
“It’s fine,” Lyme says, just leaves the bowl there.
She should get up, do…something. But it’s comfortable, especially when Lyme tosses her a blanket, and she’s tired, and…
She’s trapped, crushed under concrete, can’t breathe, can’t get out, can’t find the girls, can’t move, can’t— Rokia jerks awake, scrambles out from under the blanket she’s tangled in, sits up and—
“Rokia, you’re okay, you’re safe.”
Rokia stares. Lyme. Lyme, District Two, Lyme’s house, she’s fine, the war’s over, she’s not trapped, nobody’s keeping her anywhere she doesn’t want to be—but the girls are gone, she can’t go home, Phillips is in Nine, Mom’s dead and Sal’s dead and everything’s a mess and she needs to do something.
Rokia scrubs her hands over her face, fists them in her hair and pulls. Inhale. Exhale.
“Do you have a set of sockets?” she asks, dropping her hands and looking at Lyme.
Lyme blinks. “Yeah, should be in the garage. Why?”
“Claudius’s brakes were making noise on the way in, they need adjusting.”
Claudius looks startled. “They were?”
“Yeah, you’re losing efficiency in the regenerative braking system.”
He raises one eyebrow. “She’s worse than the Threes,” he says, looking at Lyme.
Lyme glares at him, but Rokia just stifles a laugh. “I am way better than the Threes, Beetee doesn’t know shit about regenerative braking systems.” Wiress would. Wiress is dead though, so it doesn’t count. She knows better than Beetee, and anyway bitching about Threes is a fun pastime anytime.
Claudius’ other eyebrow joins the first one. Lyme gives her a flat look. “Yeah, alright,” she says, getting up. Rokia hops up to follow her, half-giddy with the flood of unnecessary adrenaline.
Lyme’s garage is a lot less full of random crap than Rokia’s used to, but there’s a decent set of tools in a metal box in the corner. Claudius pulls the car in, and then heads home while Lyme waits in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest.
Rokia ignores her.
There’s no blocks to put the car on, but that’s okay. There’s the emergency jack, and Rokia’s used to squeezing into tight spaces. She’s pretty sure she could fix the noise with a couple minor tweaks to the brake shoes, but really she might as well take the cylinders apart just to make sure. No point sacrificing efficiency because she got lazy.
And then her phone rings, and someone wants to know when the cargo craft in her shop are going to be ready to fly to Five to get parts and people to go to Three to fix the fertilizers-and-explosives plant, and someone else calls because actually they think someone’s paying too much attention to the industrial districts when Eleven hasn’t had new equipment delivered for greenhouses, and that is nothing like Rokia’s job but everyone wants to call in favors, and it takes five different calls to five different departments to sort out that yes, Eleven needs materials, but also yes, Three has to be the priority because if they can’t get fertilizer to Nine by spring apparently there’s not going to be anything to eat next year. And the stuff in the shop will be done in a couple days, and—Rokia hesitates—no it can't be any sooner.
And then once she’s disassembled and cleaned and reassembled the rear brakes, she might as well double check the front ones, and she’s got the disks and the calipers and the rest of the brake assembly sitting out in neat rows when Lyme comes in.
Or, at least, that’s when Rokia notices Lyme, standing in the doorway watching, hands in her pockets.
“Hi, Lyme,” Rokia says, picking up a rag and looking over the disk for nonexistent scratches.
“You about done in here?” Lyme asks. “It’s late.”
There’s lights in here, why would that matter? “I gotta finish this,” Rokia says, gesturing to the parts lined up.
“Okay,” Lyme says, goes back inside.
Rokia’s still checking everything when Lyme comes back with one of the kitchen chairs, which she sets down near the door and sits in. And watches.
Rokia ignores her. Whatever the fuck game Lyme’s playing, Rokia’s not interested.
But there’s really only so long a brake job can take, so pretty soon Rokia’s crawling out and looking for the button for the garage door.
Which is behind Lyme’s head, of fucking course.
Rokia walks over, reaches past Lyme, hits the button and heads back to the car, trying to ignore the blast of cold air that rushes in. Fuck, it got colder.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Lyme asks, standing up.
Rokia stops with her hand on the door. “To test the brakes.”
Lyme raises an eyebrow. “You really think you should be driving right now?”
Rokia blinks. “What? I’m fine, you think I’ve been drinking in here?”
Lyme sighs. “Alright, but I’m coming along.”
Rokia shrugs. Whatever. She slides in and starts the car while Lyme gets in on the other side.
It’s a good car. Solid, not fancy, durable. Figures.
With the brakes adjusted it’s more responsive on the turns, she speeds up down the switchbacks toward the station just to see, zigzags through a neighborhood, then heads back up before Lyme decides she’s trying to escape. She pulls into the garage and turns the car off, climbs out. When she gets inside she heads for the kitchen.
“Where d’you keep your coffee?” she asks, turning to glance at Lyme.
“No way, kiddo,” Lyme says, walking past, standing in front of Rokia just a little closer than is comfortable. “Bedtime.”
Rokia steps back. It’s annoying how far up she has to look. “What? It’s basically morning.”
Lyme just stands there. Okay, Rokia can play that game too.
“Look, kid, I can give you something for the nightmares,” Lyme says.
Rokia looks down. “I’m fine,” she says. She wishes it sounded more convincing.
Lyme snorts. “Sure you are,” she says. “Look, it’s not a big deal—I took this stuff, Claudius took it, everybody took it. It’s not going to—whatever Phillips has you paranoid about. It’s fine.”
Rokia scowls, crosses her arms. Thinks about Mom, passed out on the couch with a baby screaming next to her. Thinks about Phillips’ fury the first time Linsea offered her stim pills at the Games.
Well. She caved on that one, in the end.
And she’s got nobody to look out for now.
She swallows. “Fine,” she says, still staring at the ground.
Lyme nods, Rokia sees out of the corner of her eye, moving past Rokia and up the stairs.
Rokia’s still standing there when Lyme comes back. “C’mon,” Lyme says, holds out a glass, a single round white pill.
Rokia glances up. Lyme holds her gaze, steady, and Rokia sighs. Tosses the pill back, sips at the water, hands the glass back.
Lyme shakes her head. “Drink it all,” she says, and there’s a hard edge in there underneath that Rokia pays attention to, so she drains the glass before handing it back again. Lyme nods, takes it. “Go sit on the couch,” she says. “I’ll be right there.”
There’s no reason not to do it, so Rokia does.
Lyme comes back, pulls a blanket off the back of the couch and hands it to Rokia, goes to sit in the chair. Rokia only just has time to worry about how groggy she’s feeling before she’s asleep.