kawuli (kawuli) wrote,

Burned by all our fears: Part 3/3

The call comes while Rokia’s eating breakfast. It’s Heidi.

“The baby was born late last night,” Heidi says. “They're calling her Ana, she's perfectly healthy, and Alima’s doing fine.”

“Oh,” Rokia says, dumbfounded. She knew it'd be soon, but… “oh, that's great, I…” she pauses, takes a deep breath. Heidi just waits. “How long till she goes home?”

“This afternoon, probably, unless something comes up.”

“Is everything set at the house, should I come help?” Rokia asks.

“We’ve got it all taken care of, babygirl, why don't you plan on coming down in a couple days, when they're settled a bit.”

It feels like cheating. “You sure?” Rokia asks. “I’m happy to help.”

Heidi chuckles. “Between us and her friends and Caleb’s family, we're liable to be tripping over each other, you got nothing to worry about.”

Rokia smiles. “Okay,” she says. “I…I'll give her a call tomorrow maybe, see when I should come.”

“Sure,” Heidi says. “I'll let her know.”

“Give her a hug for me,” Rokia says, a little bewildered. “Tell her…well, congratulations and I'm glad she's okay and I love her.” It comes out all at once, a little tangled.

“I sure will, honey, she'll be glad to hear it.”

Rokia hangs up, sits down on the kitchen chair, and bursts into tears.

“Rokia?” Sara's voice sounds worried. “Rokia, what's wrong?” she asks, coming into the kitchen. She pulls a chair up in front of Rokia, takes her hands.

Rokia blinks, swallows, takes a deep breath. “Allie had the baby—she's fine, everything’s fine” she adds, when Sara's face goes blank and scared. “I’m just…crying, apparently.”

“Oh, honey, c’mere,” Sara says, pulling Rokia up and hugging her tight. “Of course you are, c’mon.” Sara leads them over to the couch and Rokia curls up against her and waits for the tears to stop.

Then she sighs, sits up a little and rubs at her eyes. “I can't believe it,” she says.

“I can,” Sara says, smiling at her. “She looked like she was gonna explode last time I saw her, and that's been a couple weeks already.”

Rokia giggles a little, “I can't believe how big she got, I don't remember…” she stops, shrugs. “Guess either mom didn't get that big or I didn't notice.”

She catches the jump of Sara’s jaw and sighs. “Sorry.”

“Don't,” Sara says, flatly. “I remember Kadi was early, don't know about Allie but I wouldn't be surprised. But anyway Alima’s been taking care, and Caleb’s the size of two of you, so no wonder.”

Rokia snorts. “He's not that big,” she says.

“Girl,” Sara says, taking the deflection. “Just because he's not Lyme’s size doesn't mean he's ‘not that big’. You've been in Two too long.”

Rokia snuggles back against Sara. “Her name’s Ana,” Rokia says, shaking her head. It's still unreal to think about.

“That's a nice name,” Sara says.

“She's gonna be the safest kid in the damn country,” Rokia says, smiling. “Devon and Brutus and Heidi and Marc and them’ll all rain hell on anyone who looks at that kid wrong.”

“Not to mention you,” Sara says, “and Lyme, and Selene and D, and me and Matt and Kadi if mere mortals count.”

Rokia snorts, elbows Sara in the side. “Course you count,” she says, automatically. She subsides for a bit, then sighs and sits up. “I'm gonna go tell Lyme,” she says, a little reluctantly. She's got better things to do, but the familiar restlessness is starting to edge back up, and with Sara here trying to work herself out of it at the shop and on the trails is even less likely to work than usual.

“Good call,” Sara says, warm eyes holding Rokia's steady. “I'll be here.”

Rokia nods and heads out.

Lyme doesn't look surprised when Rokia walks in.

“Hey there, kiddo,” she says.

“Heidi called you,” Rokia guesses.

“Yep,” Lyme says. “How’re you doing?”

“Fine,” Rokia snaps, automatically. “My adult sister had a baby, everyone’s fine, it’s fine.”

Lyme raises an eyebrow.

“Look, can we just punch each other for a while and not talk about it?” Rokia says, exasperated.

That gets most of a smile. “Sure,” Lyme says, and heads for the back door.

“It’s just weird,” Rokia says later, while Lyme’s checking her over and she has a bag of ice held to her not-quite dislocated shoulder.

Lyme doesn’t say anything, pokes carefully at a bruse on Rokia’s side until Rokia hisses, then moves on, apparently satisfied nothing serious is wrong.

“I just can’t quit trying to remember everything so I can make sure she’s got what she needs, and then I realize she’s fine and Heidi already made sure she has what she needs, and then some, and then I get —ow!”

“You should tape that knee for a bit,” Lyme says, unperturbed, feeling around the kneecap, getting up for another ice bag. When she comes back she sighs. “Rokia, you’re talking to me. Drop the bullshit, or I’ll kick your ass all over again.”

Rokia starts giggling at that, even though it’s not really funny, and then laughing hurts, and she tries to stop because fuck, ow, and now that Lyme’s done poking at her, apparently, she should go home, because Sara will be waiting for her, except fuck, when she goes to stand up her knee almost gives out and Lyme grabs her arm when she wobbles. “I don’t wanna talk about it,” is what comes out, when what she meant to say was… well, not that.

Lyme rolls her eyes. “Did I say you had to?” she says. “C’mon, let’s get you settled and I’ll go get you some painkillers.”

Rokia lets Lyme lead her over to the couch, sits down. Carefully. Maybe on second thought she shouldn’t go home looking like she’s sure she does, Sara will worry. Lyme comes over with a glass and Rokia scowls, but she takes the stupid pills because she does actually know she’ll only feel worse in a couple of hours.

Lyme sits on the chair, lets Rokia have the couch to herself, so Rokia stretches out and tries to find some position that hurts less. “You can’t kick my ass again,” Rokia says, “Because I’m not fucking moving.”

Lyme snorts. “Okay,” she says, and picks up a book.

“It’s just shitty memories,” Rokia says later. “It doesn’t even matter.”

“Okay,” Lyme says again.

“I should be helping. I’m her sister.”


“I am.”

“Sure, but Heidi’s her ma, and she says it’s under control.”

That makes Rokia shudder. “Well, if her mom says everything’s okay, then I guess I got nothin’ to worry about.”

Heidi says it’s under control,” Lyme says. “Only reason the mom part’s in there is because I’m pretty sure ‘mom’ trumps ‘sister’ in that game you’re playing.”

“Oh sure,” Rokia says. “Mom’s never been in that game.” Why won’t Lyme quit pushing her, dammit.

“Well, Heidi’s pretty good at taking care of people, so I’d trust her,” Lyme says, back to her calm, reasonable self.

“Allie’s mom left her alone in the house when she was six months old because she forgot about her,” Rokia snaps. “So excuse me if I don’t trust she’s got what she needs just ‘cuz her mom says she does.” She scowls up at the ceiling. “But sure, she gets what she needs anyway, ‘cuz she’s Allie, she’s always got people lookin’ out for her.”

Now Lyme puts down the book. “She doesn’t have to figure out how a fucking diaper works, and she doesn’t have to buy baby formula and she doesn’t even need me anymore, because—“ Rokia stops. Her teeth grind, she should shut up, this is stupid, but— “She had me, and now she’s got a mom, and I’m just—oh who the fuck cares, shit.”

“Rokia,” Lyme says, softly.

Rokia’s crying again now. For fuck’s sake. “I know, I’m not… I shouldn’t be mad at her, I’m not mad at her, I just, I don’t even fucking know, I’m —“ she fists her hands in her hair and closes her eyes. So she feels Lyme come over before she opens her eyes to see, scoots down and half-sits long enough to let Lyme sit down before letting her head drop into Lyme’s lap.

Lyme loosens Rokia’s hands, scratches at her scalp. “You can be mad,” she says. “Fuck knows I am.”

Rokia scowls up at her. “You don’t sound mad.”

“No, because me being mad won’t help you.” Lyme pauses, looks down and smiles sardonically at Rokia. “Ask Brutus sometime, he’ll probably give you a bill for booze and doctors, because if you think you’re sore…”

Rokia snorts. She’s seen Lyme and Brutus fight. She’s even seen them when they don’t think she’s watching, and yeah, there’d be doctors bills after that all right.

“But it’s stupid to be jealous of Allie, I want her to have what she needs.”

“They’re two different things,” Lyme says. “She’s your sister, you want what’s best for her, but you’re allowed to be mad nobody got you what you needed.”

And that’s like…like someone cut the lines holding Rokia together. She forgets to breathe for a second. “Oh,” she says softly, and then she’s sobbing, and despite the fact that everything hurts she crawls into Lyme’s lap and curls up small.

Eventually she winds down, catches her breath, relaxes against Lyme and listens to Lyme’s steady heartbeat. Starts to uncurl, stops. “Oh, man, I feel like shit,” she says.

Lyme laughs, and even Rokia has to smile. She does feel like shit: her eyes burn and her head aches from crying, her shoulder and her knee lead a whole chorus of other screaming muscles, she wants to sleep for a week.

And somehow it’s still better than how she felt when she came over here.

“Lie down,” Lyme says, getting up. “I’ll get you a warm washcloth for your face, sleep for a bit and let me warn your wife before she sees you and tries to kill me.”

Rokia snorts. “She wouldn’t kill you.”

“Nah,” Lyme says, unconcerned. “I did say try, but in any case I’d rather save us both the trouble.”

When Rokia wakes up Sara’s sitting in Lyme’s chair, reading a book. Rokia starts to stretch, sucks in a breath and stops. Sara looks over with a crooked smile. “Hey,” she says. “Lyme says you should take that stuff.” She motions with her chin and Rokia manages to half sit up and see the water and pills on the low table. She reaches for them, takes them, drinks the glass of water, and lies back down.

“You’re not allowed to try and kill Lyme,” Rokia says.

Sara snorts. “I’m not suicidal, thanks,” she says, “And anyway you actually slept so I can’t be too mad.”

“I sleep,” Rokia protests.

“Right.” Sara says. It sounds like an argument but the word’s agreement and Rokia isn’t awake enough to argue.

Everything hurts, but Rokia’s brain feels like someone opened a window and swept out some cobwebs, echoing space where there’s usually all sorts of shit to trip on. And quiet.

So all in all, she feels great. Especially once the painkillers start to work.

She stretches toward the TV remote, but it’s out of reach. So she looks up at Sara, eyebrows raised. Sara rolls her eys, gets up and tosses Rokia the remote. Rokia flips the TV on and half-dozes while she listens to someone talk about mountain cats.

Rokia wakes up the next morning not entirely sure she can get out of bed, and even less sure that she wants to.

Sara chuckles. “I do not understand why you do this to yourself,” she says.

Rokia sighs. “You ever feel so shitty a hangover feels like an improvement?” she asks.

Sara laughs, startled. “Yeah, actually, because at least then there’s a good reason I feel like shit.”

“Exactly,” Rokia says. “It's kinda like that.”

Sara shakes her head. “C’mon then, get up and eat something so you can take more pills.”

Rokia whines getting up, but she's being a little melodramatic. Yeah, she's going to have to be careful for a few days, and yeah she’s gonna have to get Lyme to tape her knee if she wants to go running at all, and yes also she’s black and blue in all kinds of fun places, but whatever. She'll live.

She does let Sara make breakfast and coffee and bring it out while she sprawls on the couch though.

She finishes her coffee and looks over at Sara. “I need to call Alima and see when I can go visit,” she says.

Sara looks away. “You sure?” She asks. “Could wait a couple days.”

Rokia starts to shrug, winces instead. “It's not going to be easier later,” she says. “And anyway I want to see her, make sure she's really okay. You know how Allie is about asking for stuff.”

Sara gives her a very flat look. “Yes,” she says. “I do.”

Okay, she probably deserved that. “Anyway. Do you want to come along?”

“Like I'm letting you do that by yourself,” Sara says. “Of course I'm coming. You should probably get Lyme to come along too.”

“Lyme hates babies,” Rokia says. “And she doesn't even know Allie all that well.”

Sara just keeps looking at her. “What?” Rokia asks.

“Honey, I love you, but every time something's come up with Alima or the baby or anything, you've got knocked on your ass,” Sara says. “Bring Lyme along, she can fucking stay in the car if she wants to but I don't want you doing this without her close by.” Rokia scowls. “Pretty sure Lyme would agree with me too, and I will call her up if I have to to prove it.”

Dammit. “Fine.” Rokia says. “I will call Alima and ask when my entourage can take over her damn house.”

“Rokia,” Sara starts, “I'm not—”

“It's fine,” Rokia says. “I'm just bitchy today.”

Sara keeps quiet. Rokia manages to stand up without bending her right knee, and goes to find her phone.

It rings four times before Caleb picks up.

“Hello?” He sounds tired.

“Hi, Caleb, its Rokia,” she says. “Is Allie there?”

“Yeah, let me take her the phone,” he says, and Rokia takes the handful of seconds that takes him to breathe, try to be calm.

“Hey, Rokia,” Alima’s voice is tired, too, but warm.

“Hey, babygirl, how’re you doing?” Rokia asks.

“Okay, I think,” Alima says, amusement and astonishment in the half laugh that comes with the words. “I can't believe how…she's tiny, I'm half scared she'll break.”

Rokia blinks back memories. “She'll grow fast,” she says. “And you're not gonna break her.”

Alima’s deep breath hisses through the phone line. “She's gorgeous, Rokia,” she says.

“Well, I want to come see her,” Rokia says, “Sara and Lyme’ll come along, is there a time that works?”

“Oh, well, anytime you want really,” Alima says. “She seems like she's more awake in the mornings, I guess.”

“Tomorrow morning then, around 9?” Rokia suggests. “Anything I can bring you?”

Alima laughs, “Rokia, between Marc and Heidi and Caleb’s folks and Devon and Brutus and all, I don't even know what all is in this house anymore, our freezer is full and people keep bringing food and I haven't hardly left the couch since I got home.”

“Good,” Rokia says.

“So just come, don't worry about it, okay?” Alima says, “I'm serious.”

Rokia sighs. “Okay then, I love you, and I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Love you too,” Alima echoes, and the line goes dead.

Sara’s smiling at her. “Well, that didn't sound too bad,” she says.

Rokia sighs, scratches at her scalp. “Guess not,” she says. Sara steps up and hugs her, gently.

“I love you, crazy girl,” Sara says into Rokia's hair.

“Yeah, yeah,” Rokia says, but she’s smiling.

Of course Sara’s right, Lyme insists on coming, and she insists on driving them. Sara’s morning-grumpy, curled around a mug of coffee in the backseat the whole way, and Lyme keeps glancing over at Rokia when she thinks Rokia’s not looking.

Rokia pretends not to notice. Snapping that she's fine is pretty clear indication she actually isn't, so there's not much point.

They pull up in front of Alima’s neat little house, flowers in the front yard splashing color all up the walk. “I oughta come down and weed for her or something,” Sara says absently. Rokia looks up, and Sara looks sheepish. “Too much time out in the farming districts, I guess,” she adds.

Rokia knocks, then pushes the door open and calls hello, so Alima won't feel like she has to get up.

Caleb is sitting in an armchair, watching Alima, who's on the couch. Nursing the baby. Ana.

Caleb goes to stand but Rokia shakes her head. There's kitchen chairs dragged in by whoever were the last people to come by. Lyme sits a little behind Rokia, drops one hand to her shoulder.

“Hey, Rokia,” Alima says. “Hi Lyme, hi Sara.”

The other two nod. “Hey, Allie,” Rokia says, soft. The baby, feeling Alima shift, pulls away and cries.

When she doesn't seem to want to nurse anymore, Alima shifts the baby to her shoulder, and she settles, whimpering a little.

“D’you want to hold her?” Alima asks, shyly.

Rokia takes a breath, and nods. “Sure,” she says, coming over. Alima hands her the baby, and… and it's so familiar. “Hi, Ana,” Rokia whispers, tucking her up against her chest, a hand coming automatically behind the baby's head. The baby fusses a bit, and she shifts, swaying a little. “There,” she says, quiet. “See, I'm not so scary.”

She smells the same. The same surprisingly heavy, warm, tiny…person, quiet against Rokia's skin.

“She likes you,” Alima says. “She wasn't that quiet for Heidi even.”

Rokia shifts again and her knee twinges. She moves toward the couch, and Alima gives her some space. She moves carefully, slowly, till she's sitting, one arm keeping the baby pressed close against her chest.

Alima smiles at her. “Was I ever really that small?” She asks, incredulous.

Rokia smiles back. “Smaller,” she says. “This one’s big, as babies go.”

Allie shakes her head. “People keep telling me that,” she says, “and she sure felt big, but…” she trails off.

“Rokia was afraid you weren't getting pampered enough,” Sara says, when the silence has stretched long enough to feel tense. “You sure she can't, I dunno, build you a robot to change diapers or something?”

Allie grins. “Well, now that nobody has brought yet,” she says. “But I figure Caleb can be in charge of that end, since I have to be in charge of the other end.”

Caleb chuckles. “And I'm happy to do it,” he says. “You did all the work for 9 months, only fair I do my share now.”

Lyme looks at Rokia, with an expression she usually uses for particularly egregious Brutusisms. Rokia would maybe agree, if they were talking about anyone other than her sister. As is she likes Caleb’s position just fine.

They talk for a while, about Kadi and about the garden and about the weather, and the whole time Rokia’s listening to them, sure, but also feeling the baby’s weight against her chest, warm even breath against her skin. So she feels when the rhythm shifts, has the baby sucking on a finger before she even starts crying. That only works for a minute before the kid figures out there's nothing there for her, and Rokia passes her back to Alima.

Who's watching the whole thing, a bemused look on her face.

“Shhh, it's okay,” Alima says, shifting a little awkwardly to get the baby settled. “There you go.”

Easy as that. No bottles, no heating water, no formula to buy. Ana sucks greedily and goes quiet.

“We should head out,” Lyme says. “Let you relax.”

Rokia almost protests. But Lyme is right. And Allie really is fine, and they shouldn't wear out their welcome.

“Thanks for coming,” Alima says. She turns to Rokia. “I'd hug you but,” she gestures down.

“Of course,” Rokia says, standing up carefully. She bends over to kiss the top of Allie’s head. “Call if you need anything.”

Allie smiles. “Will do.”

Caleb follows them to the door. “You take care now,” he says. “Thanks for coming.”

It's quiet, on the drive back. Rokia watches out the window, not really paying attention, remembering the weight of the baby in her arms, the careful way you move when you're holding a sleeping infant, the way Allie smiled down at the kid while she nursed, the quiet comfortable house. She doesn't realize quite how faraway she is until they're pulling up to her house and Lyme kills the engine and gets out.

She blinks fast, opens the door, steps out. Sara gives her a concerned look and heads inside. “Rokia,” Lyme says, quietly.

Rokia looks up at her, and for a moment she's confused, and then the moment shatters and she's back here and she can't quite breathe right. Lyme comes over and puts an arm around her. “Come on,” she says, sighing. “Let’s go inside.”

Rokia crawls onto her lap on the couch, and it's stupid and she doesn't understand but she feels small and scared and this feels like the safest place. Lyme rubs her back, wraps loose arms around her. Rokia isn't crying, she just…doesn't want to move.

“You're a good kid, you know that?” Lyme says, softly.

Rokia sighs. It doesn't really feel that way.

Sara comes out with water. Lyme hands a glass to Rokia, watches her drink it. Takes another from Sara for herself.  Sara sits next to them.

“Guess you still remember how babies work,” Sara says. “You think you'd remember the layout of that old factory we had the maintenance contract for?”

Rokia swallows. “I dunno,” she says, tries to remember. “Didn't spend as much time there.”

“Oh sure,” Sara says. “Bet you still remember the El lines though.”

Rokia nods. “Blue line to Sal’s from that last place,” she says. “Red line to the Justice Building. Green from down by the Peacekeepers, when we had the house.” She can almost feel the cars sway, hear the wheels on the narrow track.

“And I know you can still find your way around Matt’s shop blindfolded,” Sara says.

Rokia takes a deep breath, and Sara watches, carefully. Another, and she sighs, shifts, slides off Lyme’s lap without ducking away from Lyme’s arm around her shoulders.

“I just… I remember how it felt,” she says. “I can't describe it, I just, I remembered.”

“You don't have to explain, kiddo,” Lyme says. “You're here now, and you don't have to go back.

“Yeah,” Rokia says, “I’m glad.”

Lyme looks at the clock. “What do you want for lunch?” she asks.

Rokia groans. “Okay,” Lyme says. “Sara?”

Sara gets up. “I’ll go see what’s in the fridge.”

Which means Rokia can stay right here. With Lyme, where it’s safe.

Lyme doesn’t say anything, just lets Rokia stay pressed against her, leaves one arm steady over Rokia’s shoulders.

Sara comes back with sandwiches, more water. Lyme eats hers one-handed without comment, and Rokia really should move so Lyme can use her other arm but it doesn’t seem to be a problem, really, so she doesn’t. “You wanna watch something?” Sara asks, once she’s done. “Or there’s cards, or—I dunno.”

She looks worried. Rokia’s not quite sure why, but she knows Sara won’t want to just sit here with nothing to do, Sara always wants to be doing something. “Watch something, maybe?” she says.

Sara flips on the TV, finds a list of movies. The one she picks they’ve watched before, it’s hovercraft hijackers as bad guys and usually Rokia spends half the time making fun of all the inacuracies. This time most of it doesn’t really register, but it’s something to settle on, while most of her brain still seems to be spinning blankly somewhere she can’t get to.

When it’s over Lyme looks down at her and clicks her tongue against her teeth. “C’mon,” she says, “we’re going for a walk.”

Rokia looks at her, confused, but okay, why not. Her body provides some answers to that one when she uncurls and stands up. “Ow,” she says, on general principles, and Lyme sighs.

“It’s better to keep moving,” she says. “We won’t go far.”

“Okay,” Rokia says, heads for the door and pulls on her shoes.

It’s cool and windy today, the air sharp against her cheeks, making her shiver through her sweatshirt. Lyme rolls her eyes and peels off her jacket.

It’s been a while since Rokia’s worn Lyme’s clothes. She lets the sleeves dangle past her fingertips, balls her hands around the cuffs, pulls the hood up, leans against Lyme’s side and smiles. Lyme’s hand comes up to rub her back and then drops back, and Lyme picks up the pace until Rokia’s breath and heartrate quicken.

They go up past the apple orchard and into the woods a bit before Lyme stops, turns back toward Rokia and settles into a fighting stance.

“Ow,” Rokia complains. The walk’s already pulling her brain back from wherever it went off to, and Rokia’s not sure she likes it. If they spar, Lyme’s going to pull her all the way back, and she’ll have to… be here. Think about stuff.

“I know,” Lyme says, and Rokia’s pretty sure she’s doing the mindreader thing again, and not just talking about the soreness. “We won’t go rough like last time.”

Rokia sighs with exaggerated annoyance and slips out of Lyme’s jacket, tossing it over by a tree. “Fine,” she says, and Lyme’s fist lashes out so fast she stumbles back, trying to get out of the way. She’s off-balance, reacting, unsure—and Lyme knocks her down, pins both her shoulders to the dirt for just the length of a breath, then rolls up to her feet, reaches a hand out to haul Rokia up.

It takes two or three more tries before Rokia can pay attention well enough not to get knocked down immediately. More than usual she’s feeling small and weak and pathetic, and finally all of that just makes her mad. Anger helps. She snarls at Lyme and circles to place herself uphill and now it starts feeling like a fight. She forgets they were going to take it easy, and it stops feeling so much like Lyme’s just playing with her, and it still ends up with her on her back in the dirt, leaves in her hair, Lyme standing over her or pinning her and then hauling her back up. Finally Lyme drops her, follows her down, and Rokia stays put, chest heaving. Lyme’s crouched beside her, eyes locked with Rokia’s. “You’re mine,” Lyme snarls, not breaking eye contact. “And I will always, always have your back. You hear me?”

Rokia nods.

“Tell me: you understand?”

“Yes,” Rokia whispers.

“Doesn’t stop just ‘cause you got older, isn’t just about the things you think I care about, you’re my girl and that means all of you. Got it?”

Rokia nods again, but Lyme isn’t satisfied. “Got it.”

And then Lyme’s hauling her up again, hugging her tight. “I got you, okay?” she says, quiet now.

Rokia steps back, looks around. Looks down at herself, and laughs. “Sara’s gonna kill me,” she says, brushing ineffectually at ground in dirt. And then she takes a step, puts weight on her right leg and sucks in a breath. “Fuck, I’m gonna kill me.”

Lyme shakes her head. “Come on,” she says, hauls Rokia up onto her hip, grabs her sweatshirt and hands it to Rokia. “Put that on before you freeze.”

Sara looks horrified when they walk in. Rokia laughs, and then she can’t stop giggling, goes over to the couch and pulls off Lyme’s jacket. Lyme follows. Now Sara looks bewildered, and Lyme just keeps being patient. She sits next to Rokia, checks her over, pushes up her pants leg. Rokia’s right knee is already swelling.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Sara says, and heads for the kitchen.

By the time she’s back with ice, Lyme’s decided that’s the only thing that’s serious, and Rokia has managed to stop giggling.

Sara drops the ice, hesitates. “3 PM is totally not too early for drinking, right? Because I want a drink.”

Which starts Rokia giggling again. “Not at all,” Lyme says, dryly. “Bring me one while you’re at it.”

They play slapjack, because why not, until Lyme decides it’s suppertime and heads into the kitchen to figure out what they’re gonna eat. Sara shifts to sit next to Rokia on the couch. Rokia sighs, lets her head drop against Sara’s shoulder. Fuck, she’s tired.

Tired, and with all the adrenaline and whatever the fuck else drained away, just sad and irritable and hollow-feeling, a jumbled snarl of feelings out of reach for now but sure to show up sometime. Sara puts another movie on after they eat, and Rokia should probably care that she’s wasted the entire day but she can’t really summon the energy to give a fuck.

When the movie’s done, Lyme looks down to where Rokia ended up curled against her. “Go to bed,” Lyme says. “Take a sleeping pill and just call the day over.” It’s half exasperated and half fond, and it’s possible some people’s mentors don’t talk to them that way, especially not ten years out, but Rokia gets it an awful lot.

And she still can’t really manage to care either way, and she really doesn’t see an advantage to being awake, so she sighs and sits up. “Alright, fine,” she says, gets up.

Lyme helps her limp up the stairs while Sara gets the drugs and a glass of water. Lyme tosses her clean sleep clothes and heads back downstairs.

Sara waits, while Rokia changes. She should shower. Oh well. Sara hands her the pill and the water and sits down next to her on the bed. Once Rokia’s handed back the glass Sara leans over and kisses Rokia’s cheek. Rokia smiles, but it comes out twisted up and strange. “I love you,” Sara says softly, taking Rokia’s hand and squeezing.

Rokia just nods.

Sara’s smile is sad. “Sleep,” she says, standing up. “I’ll join you in a bit.”

Rokia should say something. She’s just not sure what. “Goodnight,” is what she settles for, before Sara makes it out the door.

Sara turns back. “Goodnight, Rokia,” she says, turns off the light, and shuts the door.

When Sara gets downstairs Lyme’s leaning against the kitchen doorframe with a glass in her hand. She hands the glass to Sara and turns back to grab her own. Sara sips at it, feels the bourbon trail heat down her throat, and sighs. One corner of Lyme’s mouth quirks up and she goes to sit. Sara sprawls on the couch, her feet up on the coffee table. Everything’s been so tense and tight-coiled all afternoon it’s nice to finally stretch out.

“I hate this shit,” Sara says, emphatically, turning the glass in her hands.

“Yeah,” Lyme says, and sighs. “It’s rough.”

They’re quiet for a bit, until Sara realizes she’s trying to hear something from Rokia’s room and shakes her head, exhales sharply and looks over at Lyme. Who Rokia claims, usually complaining, is a mind-reader, but it wouldn’t take that to tell what Sara’s doing anyway.

“She’ll be asleep by now,” Lyme says. “She’s exhausted, the meds just let her realize that, days like this.”

Sara nods. “I just… I can’t do anything,” she says finally. “She pulls in and shuts down and I can’t fix it, she won’t talk to me, she just—“ Sara stops. Just what, she’s not even quite sure.

Lyme sighs, sets down her glass. “You’re there, and she knows it, and that helps,” she says. “Even when it doesn’t look like it,” she adds, when Sara starts to open her mouth to grumble.

Sara looks away. “She doesn’t want me, though, she wants you,” she says, and that’s stupid and she knows it and she knows it’s not fair and she shouldn’t say it but, well, it’s been a long day.

“She needs me,” Lyme says. “Wishes she didn’t half the time,” she adds, “but mentors are safe, we spend a lot of time convincing the kids of that, and she’s scared.”

“I’m not safe?” Sara asks, and it sounds whiny and defensive and she really does know better but…there it is.

“It’s different,” Lyme says quickly. “She doesnt want to put all that on you.”

Sara nods, sips at her drink. Takes a deep breath and feels her shoulders come down. “She’s always been like that,” Sara says. She pauses. “I guess that’s why it was so scary when she admitted she needed help, with Kadi.”

It wasn’t like today, in a neat house with family and friends and folks bringing food over. Rokia’d been half-dozing on the couch in Sal’s office, holding Kadi, Allie crawling around with a toy car at her feet. And when Kadi’s whimpers turned into insistent cries, Rokia’d blinked herself awake, looked down, and burst into tears.

Sara’d been fifteen. “I knew fuckall about babies,” she says, not looking at Lyme. “Didn’t really want anything to do with ‘em, but she was so fucking exhausted…” Sara shakes her head. “Matt’s sister wanted work, a couple guys wives’ watched kids anyway, I even gave it a shot sometimes.”

Now she looks over at Lyme, who’s wearing her blank face. “Of course Rokia wanted to use all that time for work, because fuck, baby formula is expensive, but at least when Magda wasn’t around Sal’d tell her to go sleep and pay her anyway.” Sara finishes her drink, sets the glass down. “And even back then…I knew it was bad because she wasn’t pissed at us for helping.”

Lyme’s face is still unreadable. Sara gets up, takes both glasses to the kitchen for refills. She maybe shouldn’t, she’s talking too much, but she’s going to anyway, because all of that leaves a bad taste in her mouth.

Lyme takes her glass and waits for Sara to sit before she says anything. “That’s probably why she’s trying not to ask you for anything,” Lyme says finally. “She realizes now how much you helped, she feels bad about it, so she doesn’t want to make you help now.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Sara says, looking up at the ceiling. “That’s crazy.” Not wrong, though, unfortunately.

“Yeah, well, nobody said this shit had to make sense,” Lyme says.

Sara snorts. “No fucking shit,” she says.

She goes quiet, after that. Finally Lyme chucks the remote at her. “See if there’s a game on or something,” she says. “Take your mind off it.”

There is, and it helps, sort of, and District Two wins, which is nice, and Sara’s drunk just enough that the alcohol dulls the worst sharp edges in her head. Lyme gets up to go.

“I’ll come back by in the morning,” she says.

Sara nods, stands up to walk her out. “Thanks,” she says.

“You’re welcome,” Lyme replies, catches her eye. “Go get some sleep.”

Sara heads upstairs, brushes her teeth, slides in next to Rokia. Who makes a small sound, curls tighter, but doesn’t wake up. Sara sighs, settles in, and goes to sleep.

When Sara wakes up, Rokia’s gone. It’s not surprising, really, since she went to bed so early, but it does startle her at first. Enough that she takes a minute to calm down and breathe before she goes downstairs, because the last thing anybody needs is for Sara to be on edge.

Rokia’s sitting at the table with her datapad and a notebook, scowling ferociously down at whatever she’s working on. Sara sighs. At least she didn’t disappear down to the hangar.

She looks up as soon as Sara gets close, and her expression turns shifty, embarrassed. “Hey,” Rokia says.

“Good morning,” Sara tosses back, heads across the room to the coffeemaker. Some things are constant, and if Rokia’s awake, there’ll be coffee.

It gives Sara a minute to figure out what to do next, and Rokia too, for that matter. By the time Sara turns around, mug in hand, Rokia’s settled into what has to be fake composure. “How’re you doing?” Sara asks. “Sleep well?”

Rokia gives her a very flat look, which Sara will admit she probably deserves. “I’m alright,” she says, glancing down at her work. “I’m behind on this stuff I’m supposed to send in on new cargo designs, though.”

Sara sips at her coffee, turns to open the fridge. “So you’re gonna work on that today?”

“Yeah,” Rokia says, a little defiant.

Sara lets it go. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll poke around and see what I can entertain myself with, then.”

“Yeah,” Rokia says, looking back down, and that’s apparently the end of that conversation.

Sara eats her cereal leaning against the counter, looking out the window over Rokia’s head. It’s a weekday morning, people have shit to do, she’s not calling around begging for entertainment.

She drops her bowl in the sink when she’s done. Rokia looks up at the noise. “I’m going to the gym,” she says, deciding practically as she says it. Rokia looks a little surprised. “What?” Sara asks. “Your kid sister keeps making fun of me, I’m gonna surprise her when she gets back from nerd camp.”

“Internship,” Rokia snaps. “In Three.”

“Honey, I’m joking,” Sara says, softly. “I think it’s great she’s out there.”

Rokia looks down. “Sorry,” she mumbles, picks up a pencil and starts scribbling.

Sara heads upstairs to change, calls goodbye as she’s walking out the door. If Rokia responds, she doesn’t hear it.

There’s nobody in the gym when she gets there, which Sara is grateful for. She knows her way around the place by now, and if any of the Twos had come over to critique her form or something she’d’ve… Well, gotten her ass handed to her pretty damn fast, which would only make things worse. So she concentrates on doing the stuff D and Lene have shown her, and doing it right, and switches to the machines when she’s too tired to trust herself to handle the free weights properly.

And she’s just about to give up and go home when Claudius walks in, looking around—for her, apparently, because when he sees her he comes straight over.

Sara just lets the weight drop and sits where she is. “What’s up?” she calls, when he gets close enough.

“Was thinking of asking you the same thing,” he says.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, did Lyme send you down here?”

He shrugs. “Hear you’ve had a rough couple days.”

“Not me, Rokia.”

He just looks at her. “Okay,” Sara says. “Yeah, it hasn’t been great, but I’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” he says. “Selene wants to go shoot things, if you’re interested.”

“Excellent,” Sara says. “I’ll just go change.”

She just wants to get in and changed and out, but she sticks her head into the kitchen and Rokia isn’t there, so she calls down the basement stairs.

“Yeah?” Rokia calls back, preoccupied.

“I’m going out with Selene,” Sara calls.

“Okay,” she gets back, and that’s that.

Claudius is refreshingly unconcerned with riding behind her on the bike. That’s the thing about the Two Victors: you’d expect them to be all hypermasculine and tough, and they are, kind of, but when Sara’d pointed it out about the bike, D had just shrugged and said that by the time you’d killed people on live TV you quit worrying so much about bullshit posturing. Which is fair enough.

Selene’s waiting outside, grinning, when they pull up. The rifles are on her bike, since she’s solo, and they don’t bother dismounting, just follow Selene out of town and up into the hills a ways.

There’s targets set up still from last time they were out here, in a clearing a short walk from the road, and Selene has a gadget she borrowed (or “borrowed” more likely) from the Peacekeepers that shoots up moving targets, because otherwise she gets bored bullseyeing everything.

And yeah, it’s probably scheduled for Sara’s benefit, but Selene at least always enjoys coming out here, and Claudius certainly doesn’t mind, and they eat slightly squashed sandwiches and get into their usual friendly competitions and tease each other back and forth and the whole thing devolves, as usual, into permutations of sparring: Sara against Lene, D against Lene, D against both of the girls when Sara gets tired of losing.

And it’s so nice, just for an afternoon, not to have to calculate everything. Not having to worry about how they’ll react and what’s the meaning behind every tiny gesture and facial expression, checking for warning signs and red flags, and Sara almost feels guilty for the sheer relief of it.

It’s Selene, surprisingly enough, who calls time, says she promised to be back in time for dinner, so they collect their things and head back.

Sara drops Claudius at his house and kills the engine. “Thanks,” she says, and he shrugs.

“Everybody needs a break sometimes,” he says. “Don’t worry about it.”

Sara takes a deep breath and heads for home.

She hears voices while she’s still in the garage. “I hate this,” Rokia practically yells, her voice tight. “I keep— it’s fine, okay, just let me do my job and quit making me have feelings about things.”

Sara doesn’t hear Lyme’s response, but she doesn’t need to. She doesn’t need to be here right now. So she walks up to the apple orchard and climbs a tree, watches as the sun starts to set, tries not to worry and mostly fails, until finally she figures she’d better go home before Rokia finds her bike in the garage and starts wondering where she is.

This time she doesn’t hear anything, so she pushes open the door. Rokia’s sitting on the couch, icing her knee again, and looking slightly less irritated than she sounded earlier.

“Hey,” Sara says, heading over.

Rokia looks up and sighs. “Hi,” she says, shifts over a little. “Sit?”

Sara does, and Rokia leans against her. “Lyme’s here,” Rokia says. “Making food.” That curls derisively in a way Sara doesn’t like, particularly since it’s not directed at anyone but Rokia herself.

“Okay,” Sara settles for.

Rokia sighs again. “I’m sorry,” she says, “for…y’know. Being shitty this morning.”

“It’s okay,” Sara says, “I get it.”

“Yeah, but it’s still shit,” Rokia says. “Thanks for putting up with me.”

“Rokia,” Sara starts, stops. “There’s no place I’d rather be. Honest.”

It’s true. For all the frustration and everything else, she’d still rather be here than back in Six, or wherever else she might’ve ended up.

Rokia doesn’t say anything, reaches down to adjust the ice bag on her knee.

“How’s that doing?” Sara asks, figuring it’s a safer bet than asking how anything else is going.

Rokia laughs, sharp. “It’d be doing better if I didn’t keep forgetting and trying to kick with it,” she says. “Or if I could go a day without needing Lyme to knock my damn brain into place.”

Sara smiles, because even though that’s self-deprecating and exasperated, it’s a lot less sharp than the rest of it has been. “Well, you know, any time you want me to kiss it better,” she jokes.

Rokia doesn’t respond, not right away. Then she snuggles closer. “I should remember you’re nicer than Lyme,” she says, as Lyme comes out of the kitchen carrying plates.

“I heard that,” Lyme says. “And here I’m bringing you dinner and everything.”

Rokia just grins back, and Lyme rolls her eyes before going back for her own.

Lyme leaves after they eat. Rokia seems content to stay on the couch with Sara, even if she does bring her notebooks over. Sara reads, glancing down occasionally—okay, more than occasionally, and it’s a good thing the plot of her book isn’t complicated, but whatever. Rokia’s still wound tighter than usual, but the scowl she’s got aimed at the pages in her lap is familiar, concentration more than anything that’d be a problem.

When Sara starts getting tired she stretches, jostling Rokia a little more than she’d really have to. Rokia looks up, glances at the clock, looks back at her work, and then sighs and starts collecting her things.

Sara helps her up, because Rokia really is sore, even if she won’t quite admit it. And for once Rokia takes the sleeping pills herself, tosses one back with water and then glares at Sara like she’s daring her to say anything. Sara’s not about to open her mouth, especially when Rokia crawls into bed, shifts close against Sara until their foreheads touch. Sara reaches for her, and Rokia pulls closer, her nose pressed against Sara’s throat, their legs tangled, Sara’s arms holding her tight. Rokia’s breath tickles against Sara’s skin, and something in Sara’s chest settles. She takes a deep breath, blows it out, traces circles on Rokia’s back with her palm, until Rokia sighs and rolls away.

“I love you,” Rokia whispers, catching Sara’s eye right at the end and then glancing away.

“I love you too, babygirl,” Sara says. “Goodnight.”

Rokia smiles. “G’night,” she says, drowsy already. It doesn’t take her long to fall asleep after that.

It takes Sara longer. She watches Rokia’s chest expand with each breath, the way her face smooths out and makes her look younger.

Sara’s belonged here for long enough she can hardly remember how long it’s been. Belonged wherever Rokia is, because for all that she’s never really wanted to settle down, this is what she means by home.

And it’s been a struggle longer than Sara wants to count, too. It’s not some fluffy romantic bullshit, the kind you see on TV where the girls find each other and that’s the end, flowers and rainbows forever. But they’re both fighters: stubborn and headstrong and unrelenting, and they know how to get up and keep moving. And just ask—Matt or Lyme or Claudius or anybody: one of them on their own is bad enough, but the two of them together—well. Hell or high water is nothing. Best not get in their way.

Part 1 Part 2
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