It’s finally warm enough that Claudius’ lungs don’t hurt when he goes out to run. So he stops in the yard for a minute first, swinging his arms and rolling his shoulders where they’re tense from sitting at the piano. And he’s on high alert a second later when he hears something from up in the trees, because he’s really not interested in a knife to the ribs today, so if Enobaria’s up there he’s just going back inside and running can suck it.
No one drops on him, so he looks up. Nobody in the low branches, and maybe it was just a squirrel, but he doesn’t see one of those either. And then he looks higher, and there’s Rokia, pressed against the trunk and trying not to move.
Lyme’s girl is weird, for sure, she’s got the Threes’ dedication to spending every waking moment building something but with an admittedly less confusing way of talking about it. At least Rokia doesn’t make up new words for things just for kicks—if Claudius doesn’t understand her it’s because he’s never been interested in what was under the hood of his car, not because she’s speaking in code. But there’s weird and then there’s sitting up a tree in his yard early in the morning, and giving people space to recover is one thing but he’s not sure he likes the idea of her spying on him in his house. Wait, no, he definitely doesn’t like that, at all.
So it might be a bad idea in the end, but he calls up anyway. “Hi Rokia.”
She looks down, and she’s way too far up to accurately read her facial expression but she uncoils a little and ducks her chin, and he’ll guess she’s embarrassed because it’s probably as good a bet as he’ll get.
“Hey,” she calls.
And now they’re stuck. He’s not going to order her out of the tree, and she doesn’t look like she’s coming on her own, and you know what, she’s not dropping knives or bombs or fuck, what do Sixes even do when they want to kill you? So he’s going running, and fuck it.
She’s not there when he gets back. Which is basically what he expected. But weird behavior means time to call Lyme, and he’s not snitching because he’d call anyone’s mentor if they were hiding in a fucking tree spying on people.
“Hey D, what’s up?” Lyme answers.
“Your girl, that’s what,” Claudius says, half amused and half irritated. “Up a tree in my yard this morning.”
A pause. “Huh,” Lyme says.
“She wasn’t doing anything up there that I could tell, but it’s a little weird.” Claudius hopes he doesn’t sound defensive.
“Hey,” Lyme says, sharp enough he’s being obvious, at least to her. “You’re right. I’ll talk to her.”
His shoulders come down a notch. “Okay,” he says.
“She’s out at the shop if you want to come over,” Lyme offers, “could swing some swords around.”
Claudius nods, which is stupid because he’s on the telephone, says, “Yeah, be right over,” and hangs up.
The next morning she’s sitting at the bottom of the tree when he comes out, so that’s an improvement at least.
“Hi,” Claudius says, and she scrambles to her feet.
“Hi,” she says, looking at her feet, his feet, over his shoulder toward the mountains before finally glancing at his face. “Sorry for startling you, yesterday.”
Claudius shrugs. “Enobaria likes to climb trees and then drop on people. Just glad you weren’t armed.”
Her eyes go a little wider at that. “Yeah, no, I was just listening,” she says.
“You were playing piano, I never really heard people play music.” She pauses. “Except—“ she looks away, shrugs quick, crosses her arms over her chest. “Never really paid attention. It’s nice.”
Okay. That wasn’t what he expected, not that he actually expected anything in particular.
“Anyway, sorry, I’ll stop creeping around.” She glances back at him with a mocking smirk he’s pretty sure is for herself, not him. She turns back toward the road, and that’s not really how Claudius wants this conversation to end so he calls after her.
She turns back fast, and she locks it down pretty quick but there’s just a second where she looks scared.
“If you want to listen it’s warmer inside than out here.”
She startles so completely her face goes blank. “I don’t wanna bug you,” she says, hesitant.
Claudius really doesn’t like people listening to him practice, as a general rule, but there are exceptions. He can probably stand to make one more. Anyway, some self-conscious ridiculous piece of his brain points out, she apparently doesn’t have anyone to compare him to.
“It’s fine,” he says. Her eyes narrow but hey, she’s actually looking at him for several entire seconds so that’s gotta be something.
“Thanks,” she says, looking away.
“No problem,” he replies, and this time he lets her go.
He waits till she’s out of sight before he sighs and rolls his eyes to the sky.
Lyme’s sitting at the table when he goes in, and she looks up fast when she hears the door but relaxes when she sees him. “She come by this morning?” Lyme asks, looking amused.
Claudius nods, drops onto the couch a little more dramatically than is strictly necessary. “Do I have a sign on my back that says ‘crazy girls wanted?’” he asks. “This is all your fault.”
Lyme laughs, but she comes over and sits next to him and tousles his hair. “Sorry, D,” she says.
He snorts, only a little pacified. “She was listening to me practice,” he says, shaking his head. He tries to think what it would’ve sounded like from outside, but the whole point is that when he’s practicing he’s not thinking about that so it’s a bit of a lost cause. Certainly it wouldn’t have sounded great.
“Yep,” Lyme says.
“She said she’d never heard live music—well, and I think she was going to say except in the Capitol but fuck knows that doesn’t count.”
Lyme sighs. “Yeah, D, I don’t know.” She pauses. “It’s damn near the first thing she’s voluntarily done that isn’t somehow work-related though, so…”
She doesn’t ask him, just lets that trail off. “I told her she should just come inside if she wants to listen,” Claudius says, and he doesn’t miss how pleased Lyme looks, out of the corner of his eye. “She can’t take the piano apart, though,” he grumbles.
Lyme musses his hair again. “Of course not,” she says. “Just listening.”
It’s a few days before he sees Rokia again. Then, just when he’s resigned himself to the fact he’s apparently managed to scare her off, he hears the door open while he’s practicing. It’s either Rokia or it’s Lyme, and either way he doesn’t have to stop, so he ignores it and goes back to the piano.
He’s just about forgotten by the time he comes out. Rokia’s sitting in Lyme’s chair with her chin on her knees, wrapped in a ball. She drops her feet to the floor when he comes in, stands up. She’s got a notebook held to her chest like it’s a shield, and she’s wearing Lyme’s sweater. On Claudius Lyme’s clothes are comfortably too-big but on this kid they’re ridiculous, the sleeves are rolled and her fingers still just barely peek out, the thing comes to her knees, and Claudius has to work to keep from laughing.
“Thanks,” she says, with that quick glance at him. Then she looks toward the door, and he realizes he’s in the way.
“No problem,” he says, moving to one side. She walks past, pauses at the door to look back like she’s going to say something else, then shakes her head and walks out.
Claudius stares at the door for a minute after she leaves.
And then makes himself oatmeal with extra peanut butter, because he deserves a treat for…whatever that was.