There is basically no plot here, it's just almost 4000 words of ~feelings~ and Lyme picking up strays. Which is why it was just sitting in my drafts until xanify told me to post it.
Rokia calls every so often, chats about whatever project’s on her mind at the moment, asks about the supply runs to Two, about Claudius, about the Village, talking fast and never for long, rushing off to the next emergency.
It takes Lyme longer than it should to realize what’s up, but looking around at the rebuilt homes of the Victors Village is all the excuse she needs not to beat herself up too hard over it. So the next time Rokia calls she pulls the one dirty trick she knows to get under the girl’s skin.
“Just wondering,” she says, keeping her voice light, “have you gotten any word from your sisters?”
Silence. Then Lyme hears Rokia’s deep, shuddering breath even across the hacked-together connection and kicks herself for waiting this long.
“Nothing.” Rokia says, her voice flat. “Nobody knows where they are, I’ve been calling everyone I know and nobody can tell me anything except that they’re supposed to be up North in one of the mining towns. I didn’t want them to tell me where they were going in case…” her voice gets rough and trails off, her brittle composure cracking.
“You gonna go track them down?”
“Can’t. Too much to do, it’s too dangerous, they won’t authorize me to go out there yet and we don’t have hovercraft available. Supposed to be a team going out in a couple weeks to get production back up and running, they’ll look.” She’s back to the clipped, matter-of-fact tone she uses to talk about technical stuff, where Lyme would be smashing heads together to get someone to take her out there.
“You’re going to wait?”
“I can’t just commandeer a hovercraft to go look for two little girls. There was a war. A lot of people are missing family. I’ll find out soon enough.”
“When are you coming out to visit us? Even Claudius wants to see you.”
Rokia sighs. “There’s a lot of work to do. I can’t really just take a vacation.”
“When’s the last time you took a day off?”
“Dunno. Been a while.”
“I’ll bet. When’s the last time you got a good night’s sleep.”
Rokia huffs a laugh. “I’m fine, Mom. God. You’d think I was twelve.”
It’s not an answer, but it is. Lyme winces. “You work too hard, isn’t there someone who can help out?”
“Everybody’s busy. You guys sure blew up a lot of useful stuff.”
The girl’s a master at deflection, and Lyme pushes back the irritation she knows Rokia’s triggering on purpose, jokes right back. “Hey, I’m pretty sure you can’t dodge blame on that, you were the one outfitting the bombers.”
That gets her another one of those laughter-breaths. “Fair enough. Still, lot of stuff needs fixing, not a lot of people to fix it. I can’t just take off.”
Lyme glares at the wall. Her kids aren’t the workaholic type, but she’s known Brutus long enough to know that there’s busy and then there’s busy, and she knows Rokia well enough to know that this is the kind where Rokia’s not sure what’ll happen if she stops moving long enough to think.
“Alright.” she says, calm, “but you really ought to come by and say hello sometime.”
“I’d like that.” Rokia says, and she sounds honest, for once, wistful and tired. “Talk to you soon.”
Lyme isn’t sure if there’s anyone to hand this off to in the new world they’re living in so she comes up with a reason to go to the Capitol the next day, supplies that aren’t making it through, a meeting about logistics she’s been putting off for weeks because she’d like to stay out of the Capitol for as long as she can.
Rokia’s easy to track down, a recognizable figure in the Rebellion and the only Victor who’s still in the Capitol. She’s apparently set up shop in the old PK hangar, her office tucked in behind the mechanics, and when Lyme arrives Rokia’s in the shop, a cell phone in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, a socket wrench in her back pocket.
“Yeah, I know the manufacturing isn’t up and running, but look, Matt, we gotta have the parts or we’re gonna need to ground more of these craft and we can’t afford to do that, so get a couple guys who can work a lathe and turn me out a dozen, for the love of…Yeah, I know. Yeah, I’ll send the schematic just as soon as I draw it up. Yeah, Sal’s place, there’s two…no, I can’t come, there’s gotta be a couple competent machinists still hanging around. Yeah. OK, say hi to Mai for me.”
She shoves the phone into her pocket and turns, catches sight of Lyme.
Her smile’s genuine, if a little tense, but her eyes are tired, red-rimmed and bruised underneath. She’s thinner than Lyme remembers since just after her Arena, her jeans hanging off her hips and stained with grease.
“Hey, Lyme, what brings you up here?” Caught off guard Rokia’s voice is a little more strained than on the phone. Her eyes shift around the work room, flick back to Lyme.
Lyme smiles. “I had a meeting, thought I’d stop by.” She shrugs. “Wanna grab some lunch?”
Rokia’s glance flicks to the clock on the wall. “It’s 2:30 in the afternoon.”
“Have you eaten yet?”
A pause. “No.” Rokia shrugs. “Not that hungry.”
Lyme’s not surprised, exactly, that Rokia’s reverted to this: jumpy, overworked, needing reminders to sleep and to eat and to go outside. It’s what Lyme remembers from Rokia at the Games, why she tried to pull herself away from her tributes long enough to offer a sparring partner or a shoulder to cry on when the girl’s mentors couldn’t. But it grates; the fact that nobody in this new, supposedly better Panem has taken the time to look out for the kid.
“Come on, there’s got to be something around here worth eating.”
Rokia’s quiet over lunch, picks at her food and talks about her projects and smiles at all the right times, and when Lyme walks her back to her office she says goodbye and dives back into work, pulling out her phone and poking at something on her computer and working five or six things at once. Lyme shakes her head.
She stops by again the next morning before her train leaves and groans. Rokia’s there, leaning back in her chair drinking yet another cup of coffee and doing something Lyme doesn’t understand to the wireframe model hovering above her desk. She hasn’t changed clothes since yesterday and doesn’t notice Lyme until she’s practically in front of her.
“Oh,” Rokia looks startled, glancing around. “Hi.”
Lyme hasn’t really tried to use any mentor authority with Rokia, she’s not sure it’d be appropriate or appreciated, but enough is enough.
“You’re coming back to Two with me.” Lyme says, putting as much ice in her voice as she dares. “You can fix the world from there, we’ll get Beetee to connect anything that needs connecting, but you’re going to stay with me for a while.”
Rokia scowls. “Why?”
Lyme looks her up and down, pointedly, and Rokia looks down, shrugs. “Nobody cares anymore whether I look pretty.”
That hits Lyme like a punch. “I don’t give a damn whether you look pretty, but you look like you just came out of the fucking Arena.” It’s not quite what she meant to say, but it’s true. Sleep deprived, wild-eyed, she’s covered in grease instead of mud and blood but it’s not that different. How many times have they compared the war to the Games? And Rokia hasn’t clawed her way out yet, the last cannon fired but she’s still combing the ruins for something before the hovercraft descends.
Rokia’s eyes flash, and Lyme wants to see her angry, wants anything that’s not the mask of jokes and work, but Rokia bites her lip and smothers it. “I can’t just run off. I have to ask…”
“What, ask permission to cross district boundaries? Pretty sure that department’s not really up and running.”
Rokia scrubs both hands across her face, fingers digging into her eyes. “Fuck.” Her voice is quiet and shaky now. “I don’t even know who can tell me…” Lyme walks over to her, and when Rokia looks up she drops a hand to her shoulder.
“Kid, you gotta take a break.”
Rokia sighs, leaning just a little into Lyme’s hand. “Yeah, I just…I can’t.”
“Yeah you can. Come on, let’s go. Trains are running to Two.”
Rokia hesitates, then looks around, starts collecting papers, electronics, shutting down the computer. “Okay. Once the shop techs get in, I’ll give them this and then we can go tell the transportation secretary, and then we can go.”
It takes an hour, including the funniest meeting Lyme’s seen in the capitol: Rokia, in grease-stained work clothes, haphazardly cut hair, explaining to the secretary of transportation, a confused-looking Capitolite, what he needed to prioritize.
“Spare parts, right? Assembly for new stuff can wait but plants 8 and 11 have to be top priority. The supervisors know what to do. I’ll have my phone, I keep telling you people I can go to Six, just call me if you need anything.”
Finally she finishes and turns back to Lyme.
“OK. Now we can go.”
Rokia’s on the phone or tapping out messages all the way to the train station, onto the train, hunched in on herself and blocking out everything. But when they get to the train she checks the engine number and grins. They stow Rokia’s duffel at their seats and Rokia heads for the engine before they even leave the station. When she walks into the control room, her shoulders relax and she stands a little straighter, greeting the crew with rough hugs and handshakes and wide, easy smiles.
“Lyme, this is the best damn train crew in Panem,” she says, “Joe and his guys were in Eleven when the forcefield went down and managed to get control of the track there before the Peacekeepers could shut it down. They’re the reason we had fruit and vegetables last fall.”
Lyme smiles. “Glad to meet you,” she says, and takes a seat on the bench by the wall. Rokia sprawls on a chair, accepts the cigarette one of the guys hands her, and banters back and forth with the crew like the old friends they apparently are. Her vowels stretch into the flat Six accent she hides expertly in meetings and interviews, she’s relaxed in a way Lyme’s never seen her, shooting comments back and forth about the engine mechanics and problems with track tolerances in the areas they’ve had to repair and blowing smoke out the window into the slipstream. She starts looking sleepy instead of exhausted and manic, head leaned back as she watches the room from half-lidded eyes.
The crew boss motions Lyme out with a jerk of his head. They step into the corridor. Rokia glances over as they leave but doesn’t ask. Joe is as tall and broad as Lyme, and his dark eyes bore into hers.
“You gonna take care of her?” he asks, not threatening, but more possessive than Lyme would’ve expected. She lets her eyes narrow just a little.
“Yeah,” she says, keeping her voice calm. “I’m planning on it.”
“Good. We all know she won’t ever step back from a job, but they been giving her too much. Someone’s gotta ask them to back off ‘cause she won’t.”
Lyme smiles, not entirely nicely. “I wasn’t planning on asking them anything. I told her she’s coming home with me, we told them she’s taking some time off.”
Joe nods. “Okay. She’s Six though. She ought to come home.”
Lyme sighs. “Yeah, I know, but all the Victors are being consolidated right now, the Threes are in Two, a bunch in Four and Twelve…it’s complicated.”
“You know she hasn’t been able to find her sisters,” Lyme says, “she says they’re supposed to be up north somewhere but she can’t get up there to look because of the security problems.”
Joe’s face goes dark. “Those fuckers,” he says, “they’re the only family she’s got.”
“Yeah,” Lyme says, “it’s bullshit. But I can’t go up there either, so maybe you know someone…”
“Oh, I know a couple someones. We’ll get it sorted. Damn kid, why didn’t she ask?”
Lyme’s face twists. “She told me a lot of people were missing family, she didn’t want to take advantage—”
“’Course she didn’t.” He scowls. “Well, we’ll see what we can do.”
Lyme pulls a pen from her pocket and scribbles her phone number. “Here. Call me if you need anything, or if you find—if there’s bad news. I don’t want her hearing that if she’s alone.”
He nods, solemn and furious but not denying the possibility. No one can. Then he turns, and they go back into the control room.
Lyme is amazed at how different Rokia seems in this room. She’s seen the kid fresh-out and wild, seen her command a roomful of soldiers, seen her dressed up for appointments and wrung out afterwards, but the closest she’s seen to this image was the handful of times Rokia made it out to Two for consulting work and spent her nights curled up on Lyme’s couch, watching movies with Lyme and Claudius and talking the whole way through. This, though, is the first time she’s seen Rokia look at home.
By the time they get to the station Rokia’s mask is back on, and she stands on the platform in Two with her duffel bag over her shoulder and her arms crossed over her chest against the cold wind from the mountains as the train pulls away. But something’s slipped enough that Rokia can’t hide her exhaustion, doesn’t even protest when Lyme takes her bag, opens the door to the car Claudius has brought to pick them up. She’s not even heckling him, just says “Hi, D” with a little smile and sinks into the backseat, looking out the window. Claudius gives Lyme a look as she climbs into the front, laced with worry—for Rokia, sure, but Lyme knows it’s as much for her. They ride to the Village in silence, walk into Lyme’s house, and Rokia stands just inside the door, looking around at everything familiar, eyes lighting on the repaired window frames, the new furniture to replace what was broken.
It’s Lyme who finally breaks the silence. “Come on, kids,” she says, smiles, “Let’s get some lunch.”
Rokia picks at her soup and bread, answers Claudius’s hesitant questions about her work, the Capitol, the trip, only coming awake when she talks about Joe and the crew. Her tired smile just reaches her eyes when she mentions them. Finally Lyme pulls blankets out of a cabinet and turns on the TV. She knows better than to send Rokia to bed like a child—because, like a child, Rokia will stubbornly refuse to be babied—but she puts a movie on and, as she’d hoped, Rokia curls up against her and is soon asleep.
They make it two hours before Rokia’s heartbeat starts racing, her breathing turns rough, and she jerks awake, pushing Lyme away and scrambling to the end of the couch. Claudius raises his eyebrows and bites his lip. It’s been years since he’s had nightmares this bad. Lyme keeps her face calm.
“Rokia,” she says, softly, “You’re safe, kiddo, you’re here with me, you were having a nightmare.”
Rokia looks up at her, wide-eyed, tensed to run or to fight, then slumps, drops her head in her hands. Lyme watches her shoulders rise and fall.
“Shit.” Rokia scrubs her hands through her hair, drags them down her face.
“Rokia—“ Lyme starts, but Rokia shakes her head.
“It’s fine. You got a set of sockets?”
“Yeah, I think so?” Lyme’s invested, literally, in never having to borrow tools from Brutus to fix things around the house, so there’s a decently well-equipped toolbox in the garage.
“Good. Claudius’s brakes were making noise on the way in.”
Claudius raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah, you’re losing efficiency in the braking system.”
“So I’m going to take your cylinders apart and fix it.”
Claudius glances over at Lyme. “She’s worse than the Threes.”
“I am way better than the Threes. Beetee doesn’t know shit about regenerative braking.”
“Are you sure?” Claudius is grinning now.
“You want to call him and ask? He’ll tell you I designed a better regenerative braking system for Tesla last year but they were too cheap to put it into production.”
“Now, kids,” Lyme says, amused despite herself. “Nobody’s getting into a pissing contest over automotive design.” She pauses. “At least not in the house.”
Rokia grins, and if Lyme hadn’t just watched her come out of a nightmare she’d be tempted to think everything was fine.
She sighs and gets up. “Come on, I’ll show you what I’ve got.”
When Lyme goes out a couple hours later Rokia’s talking on a headset to someone about hovercraft repairs while disassembling the brake cylinder of Claudius’s car, components spread out in rows. Lyme shakes her head and goes back inside.
Rokia emerges for dinner, barely, then goes back into the garage. Claudius gives in and walks home around ten, and Lyme decides it’s time to intervene. Rokia’s back on the phone, she’s stepped away from the car to pull up maps of railroad lines on a projection screen, talking fast, tracing power supply lines with one hand and spinning a pencil in the other.
“Look, Hector, I know Five is stretched but we have to get fertilizer into Nine by next week or we’re going to be in real fucking trouble… No, but I believe the agronomists when they tell me—of course—look, if I thought we could transport a couple hundred tons of di-ammonium phosphate by hovercraft, I’d be doing it that way, but… Come on. You like bread, right? And not starving, you know, generally? OK then, stop bitching about too much attention being paid to the outer districts. So you’ll send a team? That’s great. We’ll have the trains ready to go from Three as soon as it’s up and running. Thanks. Yeah, we’ll send the hovercraft tomorrow. Bye.”
Rokia hasn’t looked up from her computer, doesn’t seem to have noticed Lyme, so Lyme walks over.
“Hi.” she says.
Rokia looks up. “Hi.”
“Are you sure you should be coordinating the national transportation priorities right now?” Lyme asks, “You should get some sleep.”
“Can’t.” Rokia’s using the same clipped, flat voice she’d used on the phone. “Shit to do. We can’t move the train till the track power’s fixed, I’ve got to call over to Six to get them to send a hovercraft to Five and a train to Three, then I have to call the guy in Three at the fertilizers-and-explosives plant---hey, did you know they make fertilizers and explosives at the same factory? Turns out it’s all more or less the same chemistry—and then I have to make sure the guys in 9 know they’re coming so that they’re ready to unload, and then I have to call Paylor back and tell her it’s sorted out. Oh, and I still haven’t finished Claudius’s brakes.”
There are neat lines of parts laid out next to each wheel of the car. Notes scribbled in cramped, hasty handwriting, on a notebook, the rail grid projected up on the wall.
Lyme’s still trying to figure out how to respond when the phone rings again, and Rokia’s sending trains and hovercraft around the country.
Lyme settles into a chair in the corner and watches, as the clock ticks through the hours. Fertilizer transport crisis resolved, Rokia finishes whatever she’s doing to the brakes on the car, gives it all a once-over, then opens the garage door. Lyme gets up.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Rokia looks over as though she’s forgotten Lyme was there, which is entirely possible. She blinks a couple times. “What
do you mean?
“Rokia, there’s no way you should be driving right now.”
Rokia looks at her, astonished. “Seriously, come on. It’s—“ she looks at the clock “—three o’clock in the morning. I’m not going to hurt anyone, nobody’s going to even be around.”
Lyme scowls. “OK, but I’m coming along.”
Rokia shrugs, then gets in the car. She drives, fast but not reckless, testing the handling and the brakes on the winding road down from the village into town, through a few, yes, empty streets, then back up. Finally she parks the car at Claudius’s house, pulls out her notepad, and scribbles something she leaves on the dash. She locks the car, slides the key under his front door, and walks back to meet Lyme.
“OK,” Lyme says, “You did everything on your list.”
“Yup. It’s all set.”
“So now it’s time for bed.”
Rokia flashes her a wild-eyed grin. “But Lyme,” she says, widening her eyes, “it’s almost morning! No point going to sleep now.”
Lyme curses everyone from Snow to Coin to Plutarch to whoever else took Rokia’s hard-working obsessiveness and strengthened it to their own purposes, curses the idiots in Thirteen who refused to serve coffee but handed out stimulants to “essential personnel,” whoever in Paylor’s government has been handing off enough work for three people to a traumatized 21-year-old, herself for not realizing how far this has gone.
“Rokia,” she says, the voice she uses on new Victors, “you have to sleep.”
“I slept this afternoon.” Rokia’s got her arms crossed over her chest, looking for all the world like the rebellious teenager she almost is.
“For two hours.” Lyme’s not going to humor her by getting mad.
Rokia just shrugs. “Yeah?”
“I can give you something for the nightmares.”
Rokia glares at her. “I’m fine.”
It’s all Lyme can do to keep her voice even. “Come on, Rokia, don’t give me that. You get nightmares, it happens. There’s meds for it, they’ll help. This work-till-you-drop thing you have going doesn’t seem to be.”
They’re silent all the way back at the house. Rokia follows Lyme in the door. “You really have drugs that will make me not have nightmares?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
“And they’re not going to screw me up?”
“No, kiddo, they’re not. I took them, Claudius took them, everyone in the damn Village took them, so despite whatever Phillips may have told you it’s really okay.”
They’re standing in the doorway, Rokia’s arms wrapped tight around herself as she worries her lip with her teeth. Lyme holds herself still, fighting years of mentoring instincts that tell her she should pin the kid to the ground. She’s only ever made that mistake once.
Finally Rokia nods. “I guess it’s worth a shot.”
Lyme exhales, says “Wait here.” She finds the pills, makes some guesses about dosage, and comes back with a glass of water. Rokia swallows them.
“Good.” Lyme says, “Now come sit on the couch with me.”
Rokia drops onto the couch, her head on the arm away from Lyme, and wraps herself up in a blanket. Lyme just sits, pulls out a book, and reads until Rokia falls asleep. Once she’s sure Rokia’s down, she lifts the girl in her arms and takes her upstairs. Lyme watches for a few minutes as Rokia curls in on herself and then gratefully finds her own bed.
ETA: If you got here from Lora's Canon Divergence Masterpost and want more Rokia, masterpost is here