Chapter 1: Snapshots from the Districts
They get on the train in the evening, ready to start the long trip out to District Twelve. Rokia's sisters are at her aunt's house, her mom still in rehab, both their houses locked tight against whoever thinks they're fair game. Everything's ready. Rokia's nervous, of course, but it's Phillips who fights off dread that leaves his mouth dry and his stomach roiling.
The Capitol press doesn't quite know what to do with a Victor whose talent consists of mockups of hovercraft wing shapes and who talks about weak points in welded seams and wind shear. It's almost as if she's from Three except she doesn't really know the jargon so it comes off strange. Her sisters posed for pictures and talked about how much they liked their new house and Kadi showed off some of their toys while reporters cooed, and Phillips explained how Rokia's mom was undergoing medical treatment and couldn't give comments just now.
And now, finally, they're on the train headed out for the start of the tour in District Twelve and weeks of close quarters and public appearances and fancy clothes all culminating in a grand Capitol reception and Phillips would honestly rather go back to the Arena than drag his girl through this but here they go.
Linsea is fluttering around, excited because it's her first Victory Tour and she's never seen the outlying districts, and this is going to be just wonderful. Rokia sits quiet at the table and picks at her food and occasionally lifts her head enough to make faces at Phillips when Linsea says something completely absurd.
They both escape to their rooms as soon as they can manage it, and Rokia gives him a small smile from the door to her room. "Glad you're along," she says, "I think I'd kick her off the train if it was just me."
The joke's a little strained, but Phillips smiles back. "Hopefully we can hold each other back," he says. "Goodnight, Rokia."
District Twelve is unchanged from what he remembers from his own tour, with the exception of Haymitch Abernathy. Haymitch won just two years after Phillips and he's still never pulled a kid out. It's hard not to feel sorry for the guy, bringing tiny, hopeless tributes year after year and watching them bleed out. Phillips hasn't had much better until this year, and he looks at Haymitch now and sees what would happen if he'd let the fatalism get to him and decided he just couldn't keep caring anymore. He's thought about it, late at night in the Games Complex after his tributes are killed again or when he's sitting in his house looking at polling data that won't matter unless he's phenomenally lucky. It's easy to see how Haymitch would decide it's easier to throw up his hands and pick up a bottle. But when Phillips looks at Rokia, when he manages to make her smile or let down her guard just a little, it's all worth it.
She's not smiling now, she's wound up and tense as the prep team makes their final checks and Linsea fusses over her. Phillips sends them all out of the room and shuts the door. Rokia's watching him carefully as he comes to stand in front of her, wide eyed but otherwise outwardly calm. "Hey, Rokia," he says, and she holds his gaze, steady. "You're going to do fine. I'll be right there with you" She nods, takes a deep breath, and smiles for him--it's not real but he almost believes it--and they head out into the cold.
He stands behind her as she reads the speech, and her voice is steady and clear. When he glances over the crowd they're watching her with bored expressions, shuffling a little to stay warm, and when she finishes there's scattered applause. She turns to look at him and he nods, and they file into the justice building for their dinner.
They enter District Eleven just after dawn. Rokia watches from the window as they pass the armored gate, treasuring the last minutes of quiet before the prep team descends. Sara always said she thought Rokia should see the other districts but neither of them ever thought it would be like this. Rokia pushes the echoes of memory away because she doesn't want them tangling with nightmares and fear and the roiling frustration of people making her into someone she's not. Rokia-the-Victor wears fancy dresses and elaborate hairstyles and makeup and smells like flowers or something. Rokia-the-Victor is going to give eleven more speeches about honor and duty and gratitude and sound sincere while she does it. Rokia-the-Victor smiles for the cameras and shakes hands and chokes down the food they give her and waves as she gets back on the train. Rokia-the-Victor has nothing to do with Rokia who sneaks out to the railyard when Sara's in town to smoke cigarettes on the fire escape and watch the sun come up. Rokia who's sitting in her room in the dark because she can't sleep is somewhere in between, as though the cords holding her to herself have stretched and frayed as the train flies through the night, leaving her untethered, balanced between Rokia from Six and Rokia-the-Victor, up in the rafters without a harness.
But those are thoughts for sleepless nights, overdramatic in the light of day that's starting to come in the window, and she can't be falling apart already, there's a job to be done. By the time Phillips knocks on the door and takes her to prep she's pulled herself together. Rokia-the-Victor smiles and heads out to face the day.
It's strange, passing through the wide-open farming districts, expanses of land that leave Rokia feeling vulnerable, exposed. It snows through the night as they travel to Ten and when the sun comes up the whole landscape is bleached of color: grey sky, white snow, the occasional bare, black tree. When they get closer to town the feedlots start, pens of cattle that stretch for miles, steam rising in the cold. Ten's central town is low and sprawling and it's the smell of all those animals that hits Rokia first when the train opens, overpowering at first but fading into mere annoyance by the end of the day. The crowd is bored but not hostile and the Victors shake her hand and congratulate her and Phillips and demand nothing and Rokia counts off one more district done.
It's late and Phillips has gone to bed and there's nothing to do and nowhere to go and Rokia can't sleep. At least this time she knows why: tomorrow they're in District Nine, and the girl from District Nine was the first person in Rokia's life she ever killed, and she's not sorry she did it but she still feels like shit. And there's no way she's going to sleep with her brain spinning the way it is, so she might as well give it something to do. She's wanted to meet the crew since she got on the stupid train in Six, but she knows Rokia-the-Victor doesn't get to hang out with train crews and she doesn't want to disappoint Phillips. But Phillips is asleep and so is everyone else and if she has to sit in this room until morning she won't be able to play nice tomorrow, so fuck it.
She pulls on her old jeans and a sweatshirt and boots and heads to the front of the train. The door's open just a crack and she can hear voices behind it. She pushes the door open and walks in, and when every head turns towards her she crosses her arms and says "So how does this thing work, anyway?" with a smile that's half-joking and nothing of the Victor except, maybe, the confidence she's mostly faking. But it breaks the silence, and the night crew boss laughs.
"C'mere and I'll show you around," he says, motioning to an empty seat next to him. When Rokia sits he holds out his hand. "I'm Joe," he says, "glad to meet you."
"Rokia," she says, taking his hand. "But I guess you knew that." He laughs, but it's friendly, and for the rest of the night she sits next to him, drinking cheap district coffee, checking running temperatures and fuel levels and engine power readouts, until the crews get ready to switch shifts. She follows the night crew out, goes past their bunkrooms and into the lounge, where Phillips is sitting at the table looking tired.
"Hi Phillips," she says, and she should by rights be exhausted, but she feels better than she has since they left Six.
He looks up, surprised. "I thought you were asleep," he says, "Where've you been?"
"Don't worry," she says, because Phillips always worries too much, "I was hanging out with the engine crew. They're great, I'm going to help next time we stop for maintenance checks." Phillips' expression goes from worried to confused to resigned, and Rokia just grins.
"Glad you're having fun," he says, watching her in that careful way he has, as though he's checking her over for loose wires. And sure, she's probably got a few, but it's okay, she's fine, she might not have grease under her nails but she's at least felt useful for a few hours, and she tells Phillips about diesel-electric engines and maglev track tolerances and lets that carry her until Linsea comes in to tell her she's late for prep.
Phillips probably shouldn't be surprised that she snuck out to talk to the train crews. He definitely shouldn't be surprised that that leaves her happier than she's been since they left. And yeah, it's part giddy relief and it's thin paper over the mess underneath but he's not going to question it if it means he gets to see her smile for real.
It doesn't last long, anyway, by the time she's back from prep she's back to the withdrawn, careful mask she wears for events and appearances, tired eyes hidden under makeup, dresses to make her look feminine and just a little dangerous. It's so different from the teenager she looked like this morning, coiled-spring tension and quick bright smiles, small and strong and comfortable in worn-thin jeans. She looks like a Victor, and Phillips hates it. But she looks at him for approval and she's trying hard to do everything right so he smiles at her and they go over her speech.
It's different, here, and Phillips knew it was coming but how do you prepare someone to look out at the family whose kid you killed? Rokia's first kill was District 9, Female, who tried to sneak up on her while she was collecting water. Phillips held his breath in the control room, noticed what D9F hadn't: that while Rokia hadn't turned around, she'd frozen, just for a second, at the sound of footsteps behind her. By the time the cannon fired, Rokia was halfway across the ruined city with the girl's knife in blood-stained hands and Phillips let the whisper of maybe, maybe grow a little louder in his head.
D9F, Clover Geisel, 17. Exsanguination. It's starred on his list, death in black and white and clinical descriptions and seared into his mind and Rokia's in excruciating detail.
She's silent and exceptionally still as they leave the train and head for the stage, and when she smiles at him before they get out of the car he almost flinches because her eyes are blank and her smile is perfect and she's hidden herself deep down somewhere and he's not sure how he'll manage to pull her out after. She stands on the stage and reads from her cards and it's just the right degree of somber without showing guilt. The girl's family is standing out in the audience, mother and father and two little boys, all with that same honey-blond hair and blue eyes, stoic and silent and watching her. Rokia glances at them once, and on the huge screens flanking them he sees a flicker of something behind the mask that disappears when she looks away.
She barely speaks at dinner, and the Nine Victors don't press. She's not eating either, poking at her food and watching the others until Phillips makes excuses and takes her back to the train. He walks her to her room and stops at the door. "Thanks, Phillips," she says, and her voice is still strange and faraway and he puts his hands on her shoulders and looks at her until she meets his eyes, reluctant.
"Hey," he says, soft but firm, "Take a shower, change clothes, and come back out." She frowns, confused, then nods, just a little.
She swallows hard, takes a deep breath. "Yeah," she says, "Okay," and when she meets his eyes again she looks a little more like herself.
He takes a quick, cold shower himself, letting the shock steady him, and pulls on the rough clothes he brought from home.
When she comes out to the lounge he's sitting on one of the couches. She comes over half-reluctantly and sits next to him, lets him put an arm around her and leans her head on his shoulder. "You with me?" he asks, pulling her close. She sighs.
"Yeah," she says, soft. She's silent a long time before she says, "I didn't even mean to kill her." Phillips doesn't know how to respond so he stays quiet. "I just wanted to get away."
"I know," Phillips says, because he saw it, she'd reacted like it was a street fight, disarming and disabling the girl and then running away while she bled out.
"I wasn't sure until after," Rokia says, "I didn't know if the cannon was for her." Phillips didn't realize that, didn't prepare her for it, and when he realizes Rokia apparently found out about her first kill on the televised recap he wants to go back in time and kick himself for not warning her. Some mentor he is.
Rokia's drifting a little now, it's late and she didn't sleep last night and her eyes keep fluttering closed and then jerking back open. "You want to go to bed?" he asks, and she nods. He follows her into the room and tucks her in, and when he turns to go her eyes follow him and he hesitates. "Do you want me to stay?" he asks, and she's silent, uncertain. "I'll stay right here," he says.
She relaxes a little, then, and whispers "Thank you," and Phillips settles in on the couch and watches her fall asleep.
Eight is strangely familiar. Phillips looks over the crowed streets and hears the hum of factories and smells sewage and it's missing the sharp tang of burning coal from the casting plants but other than that it's not so different from Six. Rokia seems more comfortable here, past the uncomfortable openness of the prairies and back in city streets. A fair number of people watching have hard, satisfied smiles: they see the familiarity, and if it wasn't going to be their kid who won, it might as well be another hard-nosed city kid bringing it home.
Rokia chats with Cecilia at dinner and fusses over her kids and actually smiles, and Phillips takes the good day for the gift that it is.
It's bitterly cold in Seven. The only thing that's outdoors is Rokia's speech, and she's wrapped up in layers and layers of wool and still she looks cold.
When they go inside the stylist whisks Rokia off to change and Phillips is left standing alone in a hallway in the cold, drafty Justice building. It's beautiful, the grain of the wood panelling almost hypnotic to his tired eyes, and he stands there leaning against a wall for a while until Johanna Mason appears. She's freshly styled for the cameras, eyes flashing as always, and she looks him over carefully, arms crossed over her chest and eyes narrowed.
"Well," she says, "You look like shit."
Phillips laughs a little despite everything. It's what passes for friendly conversation from Johanna and the bluntness is refreshing.
"Thanks," he says, "I'll tell the stylists you approve."
She flashes him a quick smile before her face goes serious again. "So," she says, "is Snow just dying to get his hands on her?"
She's not the first to ask, but she's the first to put it that bluntly. Not like she has anything left to lose, Phillips knows the story as well as everyone else. "I don't know," he says. "Haven't heard anything."
Johanna studies him. "She's cute," she says, like it's a condemnation. Pauses, rare hesitation, then meets his eyes. "He told me at the end of the tour." She shrugs, looks toward the door where Rokia's getting ready. "Don't get your hopes up."
She turns then, walks away, and when he sees her at the reception she's all brittle sharp smiles and blood-red fingernails and the weight in Phillips' stomach gets just a little heavier.
When they get back on the train Rokia's shivering, her lips blue-tinged under the makeup. Phillips tells her to take a hot shower, then pulls a blanket off his bed. When she comes out in her sweats he pulls her next to him on the couch and wraps the blanket around both of them, holding her close until she warms up.
They skip Six, of course, rolling into Five in the early hours of the morning, and they spend half the day touring a hydroelectric plant, which pulls Rokia out of her exhausted haze and leaves her animated and energetic until she's pulled into prep again for the public appearances. The crowd here, like the one in Eight, is glad to see her, and Phillips isn't sure if that's a good thing, but Rokia doesn't seem to notice the crowds much and he says nothing. By the time they get to dinner she's back to silent and withdrawn, and none of the Five victors put much effort into engaging. They leave early.
They get to Four the next evening, and Rokia spends hours with the crew running maintenance checks and climbing into access panels, and Phillips watches for a while before giving up and finding his bed. He can't help her if he's exhausted himself, and there's nothing he can do to make tomorrow easier. She'll sleep or she won't, he can't do anything about it either way. District Four, Male, was another of Rokia's kills--and it's the one they keep playing on the recaps, fast and bloody and deliberate. Phillips remembers it as the moment he first thought she could actually win.
She doesn't sleep. He's not surprised.
Four is a beautiful district, the town set up for Capitol tourism, and they've taken advantage of the cameras to show it off. They go out on a boat, tour the harbor, and Linsea laments the cool temperatures that mean they can't swim. Rokia stands in the prow with her face toward the sun and the wind while cameras flash and looks lost. They've put her in a sundress and it's warm but not that warm, and by the time they get back to the dock she's shivering. He finds her stylist and tells him she needs something warmer. The man gives him a dirty look but digs into the racks in the car to find a soft wool shawl. Phillips drapes it around her shoulders and she wraps it tight, fingers twisting in the ends.
In the outer districts there'd been a few cameras but here they swarm around Rokia while she gives her by-now-memorized speech, a few token gestures to the district and barely a mention of the kid she killed. With every district it gets a little easier for her to slip into the mask and a little harder for him to pull her back, and her prep team howls about the exhaustion in her eyes and the weight she's losing and the broken fingernails from working with the crew but nobody has a bad word to say about her performances, so Phillips sets aside his worry and their whining and hopes for the best.
Four is the first district with more than a handful of Victors, and the reception is friendly, despite everything. Phillips is dragged into conversations and clapped on the back and congratulated and it's genuine, not the flashy smiles of Capitol escorts or the faint resentment of some of the other outliers. Mags comes up to him and he bends to meet her embrace. "She's lovely," Mags says, and she's smiling but there's a note of worry in her voice, in her eyes. "You take care of her, now." There's cameras and microphones everywhere and they both know better than to say more, but he takes the warning for what it is. Mags squeezes his hand and he looks down at her, then over to where Finnick is flirting outrageously with Rokia. She's looking away, face flushed, and even the discomfort is a welcome change from her usual blankness. But when Phillips looks back at Mags her lips are pursed tight and she shakes her head, just a little, and his throat closes up again. Rokia is seventeen and Finnick is twenty and in a different world this would be funny and casual but here it is anything but.
Finnick notices them watching and flashes a smile, guides Rokia towards them. "Don't worry," he says, with that same shit-eating grin, "I'm bringing her back just as I found her." Rokia moves close to Phillips and Finnick laughs. "See you around," he says, and saunters off.
Mags shakes her head and looks over at Rokia. "It's good to meet you, my dear," she says, and offers her hand. Rokia takes it, still quiet. "You've made Phillips here quite happy." That gets a smile out of Rokia, a real one, and Phillips is grateful.
"Thank you," Rokia says, polite, and Mags pats her arm and smiles before heading toward where Finnick wandered off.
"They don't hate me," Rokia says, surprised, when they're back on the train afterwards. "I killed their kid and they were nice to me."
Phillips sighs. "It's just how it goes," he says. "It's the Games, they won't hold it against you."
"Oh," she says, soft. "I just--oh."
"Come on," Phillips says, "You should try to get some sleep."
So far as he can tell, she does.
District Three is all tall buildings and narrow streets and after too much time flying through wide-open spaces it's a nice change. There are four victors here, and they all sit quiet on the stage behind her while she gives the same tired speech to new, bored faces. It's all autopilot by now and Rokia goes through the motions without letting any of it touch her.
The reception, though, that's actually interesting. The oldest Victor and the youngest disappear together after a brief introduction and handshake and Rokia smiles, polite, as Beetee shows her to a table where he's been sitting with Wiress. Phillips trails behind and Rokia frowns and tries to concentrate on what Beetee's saying.
Wiress looks up and smiles at her. "Oh, hi!" she says, "Did you bring your design notes?"
Rokia looks around, surprised. "Um, no?" she says, "they're on the train." Phillips is smiling, a little indulgent, and trades a look with Beetee.
"I can have someone go get them," he offers, and Wiress beams.
"Oh, excellent," she says, "What they showed on TV was really not sufficient…" she shrugs and trails off.
Beetee pulls out some kind of datapad and lays it on the table, then hands Rokia something that looks like a pen. He presses a button and pushes the tablet towards her. "In the meantime, maybe you can sketch it out for us?"
Phillips has gone off to confer with Linsea, the rest of the guests are circling around the food tables, but Beetee and Wiress aren't paying any attention to them, they're watching Rokia, asking about things that actually matter, and Rokia shifts in her seat and starts sketching.
She's never used a computer before but with both of the Threes helping they've got a wireframe mockup sketched out before long. Wiress spins the model carefully, looking at the changes Rokia's made, adjusting the shapes and talking in half-sentences. "If you just--" she'll say, and stretch the curve from nose to wingtip, just slightly, and then "It should--" and another quick adjustment.
Rokia nods and follows along and occasionally chimes in. "You can't do it that way," she says once, surprising herself, "That'll block the air intake." And by this time Phillips has come back with her notebooks and she unfolds the schematics and lays them out on the table, and Wiress pulls them toward her and hums as she traces the airflow.
When Rokia looks up, Beetee is sitting back, watching, and Phillips has been pulled away and is arguing with Linsea about something, but nobody's telling her where to go or what to do so she looks back at the papers on the table and grins.
Phillips has to pull her away from the reception in Three, and that's a first, but it's late and they're supposed to be in Two tomorrow and Linsea is already annoyed enough that Rokia spent the night talking engineering instead of playing nice and posing for pictures and talking to the rest of the guests. She's talking fast, waving her hands and telling him something he can't understand about guidance systems and air turbulence and he nods and lets her because she hasn't been this excited since she first met the train crew. It's disconcerting the way she can go from blank-faced exhaustion to this kind of keyed-up focused energy and he's not sure what to think about it, so he just tells her to get some rest and finds his bed.
The next morning she's back to tired and withdrawn, as the train snakes through the mountains toward Two and the third of Rokia's four official Games kills. District Two, Male, had been well on his way to bleeding out when Rokia almost literally tripped over him. She'd slit his throat and watched until his breathing stuttered out and it might have been a mercy kill but it's still another death. So he's not surprised when she's closed-off and silent and picks erratically at her breakfast.
Actually, Phillips is nervous--not the creeping dread of what might go wrong, but nervous because they'll be in Two in a couple hours and he hopes he doesn't embarrass himself in front of Brutus and the whole Village full of experienced, competent mentors. It's stupid. Phillips hasn't worried about something as benign as embarrassment in ages, but there he is, checking over Rokia's speech one last time, sighing at the stylists as they get him ready, fidgeting like he's some kind of kid. He's annoying himself, and Brutus would smack him upside the head if he knew, so Phillips takes a breath and tries to calm down.
It's all unnecessary, Rokia might be checked-out but she gives her speech just fine and smiles for the cameras and they leave the escorts and the prep teams in town and head up to the Village. Brutus finds Phillips as they're heading out, shakes his hand and claps him on the shoulder and invites them to ride up with him. Rokia's silent by Phillips' side and Brutus turns to say hello. He watches her carefully, doesn't get close, doesn't even shake hands, just says "Hi Rokia, I'm Brutus," and when Rokia says hello he nods, turns back to Phillips, and walks them over to his truck.
The Two victors village looks nothing like the one in Six, it feels like an actual village, and as the line of cars enters the gate it comes more alive. Brutus shows them in to what's clearly someone's living room with the furniture pushed against the walls to make more space. It's a friendly sort of house party, and they're not there 5 minutes before Phillips has a drink--apple cider--and other Victors shaking his hand and clapping him on the shoulder and congratulating him. Rokia sticks close at first, watching silently, when a woman who Phillips can only describe as "terrifying" comes up to say hello. "I'm Callista," she says, and when Rokia doesn't react immediately she sighs. "I was Creed's mentor."
"Oh," Rokia says, and bites her lip. "I'm sorry, I--" Callista waves a hand and interrupts.
"Nothing to be sorry for," she says. "Congratulations." She shakes Phillips' hand, and Rokia's, and walks away.
Brutus comes back over after that with a woman Phillips recognizes as his first Victor. "I'm Emory," she says, pleasant, shaking Rokia's hand "I was Myrina's mentor. Congratulations."
"Um," Rokia hesitates. "Thank you?" Emory smiles, and it's sad around the edges but it's for real.
"It's good to meet you," Emory says, "And we're all happy for Phillips, too." She smiles at him and Brutus's face cracks into a grin and they go to sit and Phillips feels more comfortable here than he has in a very long time.
Two is weird.
There's too many people and all of them Victors, but they're acting like some kind of big family and they've kicked out all the reporters and they're letting her be. She sits next to Phillips at first but she's too antsy to sit still the whole time and so after a bit she wanders off, stands by the window and looks down at the lights in the town, coming on as it gets dark.
She notices someone coming up behind her and spins, but the woman stays well out of reach. She's smiling, holding a couple of mugs. "Hey there, kid," she says. "Just thought you might want something warm to drink." It's warm in the house but Rokia's usually cold these days so she nods.
"Sure," she says, "Thanks, um--"
"Lyme," the woman says, holding out a mug. "Good to meet you."
It's hot chocolate, warm and rich and indulgent, and Rokia wraps her hands around it and leans against the wall, watching Lyme. The name's familiar, strange enough that Rokia remembers she's heard it before, but Rokia wouldn't have recognized her on sight.
Rokia realizes she's staring and looks down at the mug in her hands. "Sorry," she mumbles, and takes a sip.
"No problem," Lyme says, easy, "you want to sit?"
They sit on the couch and Rokia tucks her feet up under her skirt--she left her stupid shoes at the door and her toes are cold. It takes a minute to get properly untangled so she can sit comfortably. When she's done she glances over at Lyme, in short hair and pants and looking comfortable without seeming sloppy and she sighs. "I hate these stupid dresses," she says, half under her breath, and she shouldn't complain, especially not to strangers, but it's been two weeks of this shit and she's so fucking tired of it.
Lyme smiles a little. "Yeah," she says, "I bet."
Rokia looks over. "Did they make you get all dressed up?" She can't really see it, but it's not like anyone ever asked her what she wanted to wear.
Lyme actually laughs at that. "Oh, no," she says, "My mentor told them no dresses, right from the beginning."
"Oh," Rokia sighs. "I guess it's different." Maybe she should have asked Phillips, but she gets the sense it's not always him calling the shots about that kind of thing.
Lyme doesn't say anything to that, so Rokia shrugs. "Whatever, at least I have my own stuff on the train."
"That's good," Lyme says, and Rokia nods.
"Um…I'm sorry about Creed," Rokia says. "I mean--" She stops, because the next words of that sentence are "I'm not, really," and she knows that's a dumb thing to say, however stupid she's being.
"Hey, no," Lyme says, and her voice is kind for all she's twice Rokia's size. "You did him a favor, everyone here knows that."
Rokia glances over at her. "Oh."
Lyme sighs, runs a hand through her hair. "Yeah, oh." she says. "Look, kiddo, you don't have to apologize for what happened in the Games. Not to me, not to anybody, okay?"
Rokia nods, but Lyme's still watching. "Okay," she says, and sips at her cocoa.
They sit there quiet for a bit, until Phillips comes over. "Hi Lyme," he says, and Lyme smiles, friendly, and says hello and congratulations. And then Phillips tells her it's time to go, they have to head back to the train to get ready for tomorrow.
Rokia climbs to her feet. "Bye," she says, "Thanks for the cocoa."
Lyme smiles. "Bye Rokia," she says. "Take care."
District One makes Phillips' skin crawl.
He tries to push it back because Rokia can tell when he's antsy, if she's bothering to pay attention. She's had a good couple of days, but he's not naive enough to count on that meaning anything.
Her stylist is showing off for District One--when Phillips checks on the prep team they're braiding thin silver wire into Rokia's hair, rubbing something shimmery into her skin, chattering on like they always do, while Rokia stares into the middle distance and lets them manhandle her body like something mechanical. She doesn't notice him come in, doesn't notice him leaving a minute later, frustrated and disgusted and wondering if he shouldn't have tried to do something different.
District One gets special mention for having the second-place tribute, the media people are all off their train already, along with special reinforcements from the Capitol interviewing people about how it felt to come so close. The outer districts love the underdogs, but the Capitol knows District One, considers them and their oh-so-refined tributes just a step below them, loves it when they win for reasons beyond the one Phillips is refusing to let himself think about. So of course Janus, with his golden-boy looks and vicious grin, was the one they were pulling for. Phillips doesn't care, he got his girl out and they can bemoan it to District 13 and back and it won't make a damn bit of difference, but if they force Rokia to listen to their whining he--well, he'll grit his teeth and bear it, and so will she, because what choice do they have?
They don't, because apparently some things are in poor taste even for people who sew diamonds under their skin, but they do drag her around to visit the workshops that produced the jewlery she's wearing today, and she smiles and thanks people and as soon as they're back in the car she shudders and leans against Phillips and doesn't say a word. The crowd listening to her speech is stone-faced, they know better than to show obvious disappointment but they're not going to fake enthusiasm either. The cameramen snap pictures and titter at the contrast between Rokia, small and dark and dressed in brushed steel, and the tall, golden-haired One Victors and Phillips is more than usually glad when it's over.
Only a handful of Victors stay for the reception, it's subdued compared to the circus earlier and less horrible than Phillips was expecting. Rokia seems to have used up all her energy being polite for the cameras, and when those disappear she shrinks down, pulling her flimsy shawl closer around her shoulders. The One Victors don't press her to talk, but Phillips catches them giving her frank, appraising looks when they think he's not paying attention. There's none of the pity he's seen in other mentors' eyes, just matter-of fact assessment. He catches someone's eye--Dexter, he's one of the longest-running One mentors--and gets a shrug and a half-apologetic smile in return.
They leave as soon as they can. Rokia doesn't say anything on the return to the train, disappears into her room only to come out dressed in work clothes and pass through toward the engine room.
Phillips doesn't sleep either. Tomorrow, they'll be in the Capitol.
Chapter 2: The Capitol
As much as Phillips wants the Tour to end, he's not ready for what's waiting for them in the Capitol.
The morning they arrive in the Capitol, Rokia's whisked off and put through a full Remake that takes hours. While she's in an Avox comes to Phillips with a message: a time for their meeting with President Snow. Phillips takes a breath, lets it out slow, fighting the knot in his throat, and waits.
She comes out ready for the party later, dressed in something flimsy and white, her skin polished and painted and she looks utterly strange. He tries to smile and she looks at him strangely.
"The President wants to meet with us," he says, and her eyes go wide.
"Oh," she says, soft and scared, and she never told him what he said to her after she won, but she doesn't sound surprised. There's a car waiting to take them to the Presidential mansion and they wind their way through the corridors until they're standing outside President Snow's office.
The President wants Phillips first. He squeezes Rokia's hand and walks into the office and tries to remember how to breathe.
"Mister Phillips," the President says, "Welcome back."
"Thank you sir" Phillips says.
"She's done well," Snow says.
"Yes sir." Phillips says, uncertain.
"Brutus gave you some good advice," Snow continues, and Phillips freezes.
"Yes sir." Of course inter-district phone calls between Victors would be monitored. Phillips runs through every conversation he's had with Brutus and can't come up with anything dangerous but his blood still runs cold at the thought.
"I have gotten some requests," Snow says, smiling, snakelike, "from her sponsors and a few other highly placed officials. She will be requested to provide certain services." Snow looks at Phillips with that sly smile, and Phillips' mouth goes dry. "I trust she will perform her duties in service to the Capitol. You understand the consequences of disobedience."
"Yes, sir." Phillips chokes out.
"Good. Now send her in."
Phillips walks to the door and has to pause for several long seconds until he can breathe normally and school his face into something neutral. He steps out and sees Rokia standing, back to the wall, face blank. "The President wants to see you," he says, and his voice doesn't crack but it's a near thing. Rokia looks at him, puzzled and faraway, then blinks quickly and pulls herself together, curling her fingernails hard against her palms and turning towards him. Phillips takes a deep breath, puts a hand on her shoulder and squeezes just a little. "I'll be right here when you're done," he says, and she nods, squares her shoulders, and goes in.
When she comes out Phillips isn't sure if it's been seconds or hours, his mind shying away from everything, his breath rasping in his ears. She leans against the wall opposite him, presses her hands back against the wood panelling, and he can see her chest rise and fall as she breathes, eyes fixed somewhere faraway.
He doesn't know what to say. "Rokia?" he says it soft but she still startles a little, drags her eyes toward his. He moves toward her and she shies away, eyes dropping to the floor, shoulders hunched in. She's shivering. "Rokia, come on," he says, and he can barely keep his voice level, "let's at least get out of here." She nods, looks up at him again and steps forward to follow him out to the car. It takes him a minute to realize they're not going back to the Training Center, and when he asks, the driver says he was told to take them to the end-of-tour reception. It's dark out, already, and Phillips isn't sure when that happened, and all he wants to do right now is hold his girl and take her home, but here they are. Phillips tastes bile in the back of his throat, forces it down. Rokia laughs, harsh and bitter, and when Phillips looks at her her mouth is twisted into a parody of a smile.
"Of course," she says, "we have to celebrate." It's the first thing she's said since she came out of that room and her voice is knife-edged sarcastic and she looks back at Phillips, sets her shoulders, and tucks a thin braid behind her ear. "Don't worry, Phillips," she says, in that same taunting sarcastic tone, "I can take care of myself."
They've arrived. She steps out of the car and meets Linsea and her face sets into the pleasant mask from the Tour and they walk into the ballroom as though the world isn't falling apart around them.
Phillips hates these parties even under ordinary circumstances, and tonight it's insufferable. He watches Rokia smile, polite, shake hands, watches her freeze momentarily anytime someone touches her, grits his teeth when she takes the drinks she's handed and sips at them, nibbles at things people bring her and smiles, smiles, smiles with those wide, scared eyes nobody else notices under the makeup.
There are other Victors at the party, making small talk, eating and drinking and telling stories, and Phillips shakes himself loose to say hello to a few people, tries to be nice. Brutus comes up to him, friendly, and Brutus has two Victors and all Phillips can think is that neither of them will ever, ever have to stand in Snow's office and listen while the President tells them how he's planning to sell their bodies. So when Brutus asks "How's she holding up?" Phillips clenches his fists at his sides and bites his tongue hard enough to taste blood.
He opens his mouth, closes it, unable to string together anything like an answer to that question that won't get him killed. Brutus gets it, backs away, and Phillips schools his breathing back to normal and waits, watches as Rokia gets passed around the room, from Gamesmakers to government ministers, to all kinds of people he doesn't recognize, all of them smiling and congratulating her and complimenting her. She's polite and keeps smiling but he can see the tension in her shoulders and the moments when someone touches her arm and she freezes, just for a second.
Finally, Linsea comes to tell him they can go, and he finds Rokia standing with a drink in her hand and a strange man's hand on her back and he tries not to glare when he tells Rokia it's time to go. She has interviews tomorrow.
She leans against him in the car, lets her head fall against his shoulder as her eyes slide closed. There's alcohol on her breath and his jaw clenches, but what is he going to do, take the drinks out of her hands? She was still steady enough on her feet, so she can't have had much, and of all the things to worry about Phillips can't focus on this right now.
She comes out to the common room once she's showered. She looks like herself again but it makes the fear on her face stand out clear. She sits on the other end of the couch and pulls her knees up to her chest.
"What if I can't?" she asks, barely loud enough for him to hear. "I don't know how."
Phillips freezes, takes long breaths because the alternative is putting his fist through a wall or throwing up and he can't do either.
She huffs a quick almost-laugh. "Nevermind," she says. "Shit." She drops her chin onto her knees and stares out the window at the lights of the Capitol. Phillips looks at her, really looks, and she's all sharp elbows and knees and she looks so, so young, curled into herself like that, until she looks over at him and her mouth twists up and her eyes drill into him. "People always said I was going to grow up just like my Mom," she says, and when she reads Phillips' confusion she looks away. "Forget it," she says, and goes quiet. He's not sure she really knows what she's saying, weeks of bad sleep and whatever she was drinking and the President messing with her head. Her voice is soft when she finally continues. "He said it's because people here love me so much," she says, "he says if I'm good we won't have any problems." He has to strain to hear her. "He showed me pictures of the girls. Says they were real good while I was gone." She looks up at him again, lost and scared and alone, and Phillips reaches out towards her. She curls against him, lets him put an arm around her, and she's shaking and wrung out and there's nothing, not a damn thing he can say to make this better. She's quiet for a long time, curled up against him like a child, and every time he looks down he hopes she'll be asleep but she's just staring out toward the city. Finally she stirs, sits up, presses the heels of her hands into her eyes. "Sorry," she says, in something like her normal voice.
"Don't be," Phillips says, surprised at how fierce he sounds. She notices, gives him a tired smile.
"I'm going to bed," she says, and he nods.
"Goodnight, Rokia," he says, and she looks back over her shoulder.
He stares at the ceiling a long time before he manages to fall asleep.
Linsea bubbles in with the schedule for the day at breakfast, just like she has every day since the Tour started. Interviews, packed one after another, promotional photos with a company that makes fast cars for Capitol buyers, another party and then--Linsea's eyes go wide and Phillips hopes for half a second that she's developed some kind of conscience, but no. "Oh my!" she says, excited, "Rokia, you have a personal appointment with Gaius Luna!" Rokia's been staring at her plate, pushing the eggs around with her fork, and she stops to look up at Linsea, no sign of recognition on her face. Linsea shakes her head. "He's an Assistant Gamesmaker. Very handsome! Well, isn't that something!" Rokia's looking back at her plate, shoulders hunched.
"Is that all, Linsea?" Phillips snaps.
She glares back at him. "Well!" she says, "There's no need to be rude." Phillips just keeps watching her. His ability to be polite will stretch as far as keeping silent instead of yelling profanity, but not much farther. "Yes, fine," she says, flustered. "I'll just go and--check on things. Don't be late!"
Rokia looks up at him, pushes her plate away and gets to her feet. Before he can say anything she shakes her head. "Don't worry about it," she says. "It's fine."
The only advantage to the whirlwind they're dragged through is that it doesn't give him much time to think, until they're in the car on the way to the next party. The first one was the President's Ball, this one is the Stylists Guild Ball, there's a Mutt Designer Society Ball and an Arena Architects' Society Ball, and a Citizens' Ball (all proceeds to benefit a cause Capitol Citizens can vote for at the door), all culminating in the Sponsors' Gala where the Victor has the opportunity to thank her sponsors face-to-face. Phillips has always rolled his eyes at the whole thing but staring down the barrel of days of nonstop activity when it's his girl getting dragged through it makes it less funny and more like elaborate, gilded torture.
Rokia sits close beside him in the car over, not leaning against him, just close enough that their shoulders touch. Her fidgeting fingers are the only sign she shows of nerves, tugging at her hair, then pulling away, fingering the hem of her dress, dragging silver, pasted-on fingernails down her arm.
It stops when they arrive, she climbs out of the car only to be blinded by flashbulbs as she greets Linsea. Linsea's fairly vibrating with excitement as she introduces Rokia to Gaius Luna, who is a tall, well-built man who looks about 25--but who knows, in the Capitol. His smile sets off the photographers' flashbulbs but Phillips can only see it as predatory. The man kisses Rokia on both cheeks, one arm around her. Phillips forces his hands open at his sides and breathes deep, nearly choking on the perfumes everyone around him seems to have bathed in. There's only a few cameras pointed his direction but he needs to look like he's having a good time. That might be impossible, but he manages something that he hopes is at least appropriate, and follows the rest of them in.
The Presidents' Ball is always fairly dignified, as Capitol events go. Here, less so. The music is loud and pulsing, the lights dim, the bar packed and dim corners occupied by people discreet enough to look for an out-of-the-way place before sticking their hands down each others' pants. There aren't any victors he knows here, Brutus and the other, more sober-minded mentors he knows stay as far away from these kinds of events as they can. So he finds a barstool, orders a club soda, watches to make sure nothing gets dropped in it and tries to keep an eye on Rokia. Linsea is having a great time, some of the prep team are having drinks bought for them by jealous-looking colleagues, and Rokia is pulled away from what's-his-name to dance with a parade of men and women in costumes that are elaborate even for the Capitol.
It's well after midnight when Linsea brings Rokia and Gaius by "to say goodnight," as Linsea says, giggling, a little drunk. Gaius shakes his hand and gives Phillips a blinding, cinematic smile. "I'll make sure she gets home safe," he says, pulling Rokia closer to him. Phillips bites his tongue to keep his jaw from spasming too tight, and looks at Rokia, whose face is flushed and won't meet his eyes.
"See you later, Rokia," he says, the words like ash in his mouth, and she glances up at him. Her eyes go wide and scared just for a minute before she blinks and smiles, saccharine-sweet.
"Don't wait up," she says, and Gaius chuckles low in his throat while Linsea gasps in mock-surprise and giggles.
Once the two of them have left Phillips looks at Linsea. "I assume I can go now?" he asks, and Linsea sighs.
"You're always so serious, Phillips, you should have some fun!" Phillips just glares at her until she shakes her head. "Yes, I suppose it wouldn't be uncouth to leave." Phillips nods, heads for the door, and finds the car to take him back to the Training Center.
He sits on the couch in the common room and stares at the wall for a while. It's too quiet, and he can't stand the idea of seeing the entertainment shows talking about her and the cheesy romances the Capitol shows late at night are almost as bad. He tries looking at the papers on his desk, gives up, thinks about calling Brutus for about half a second before dismissing that, and ends up back on the couch, watching the lights of the Capitol out the window until to his own surprise he drifts asleep.
He's awake instantly and on his feet when he hears the door slide open, and Rokia pads in, barefoot, her shoes in one hand and her clothes and makeup mussed. She holds her hands up toward him. "Don't," she says, flat. "Just don't." Phillips stops dead as she ducks into her room, and he hears the shower run for a long time.
She comes out in her clothes from home, smuggled from the train against Linsea's admonitions, curls into a chair with one of her notebooks and starts sketching something. She won't look at him. After a few minutes she gets to her feet, paces restless, over to the window, back through the strange, cold Capitol rooms. The sky's just starting to turn grey when finally she spins to face him.
"I need to get out," she says, and her voice is rough and desperate. "Just--I need to walk around, run for a while, something, I can't stay here."
Phillips nods, thinking. "I don't think you should be out on the street on your own," he says, and she glares at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "They probably won't let you anyway," he says, trying to keep his voice mild, not sure what the rules are here. Tributes can't leave the building, mentors can come and go as they please, more or less, but fresh-out Victors on Tour? Probably shouldn't be out on their own, and whoever makes the rules likely knows that.
"Phillips, please," she says, and he sighs. She never asks him for anything, and it figures the one time she does it's something he can't give her. "I think there's treadmills in the gym," he says, compromising. "Down in the basement, I can show you."
Relief washes over her. "Lemme get my shoes," she says, and disappears into her room.
He takes her down in the elevator to the mentors' gym. It's deserted, not surprising for this hour of the morning, and once Rokia figures out the settings on the treadmill he leaves her to it. Doesn't go upstairs, just sits outside on the floor, half-asleep and miserable until he hears the door open and she comes out.
She laughs a little when she sees him, shakes her head. She's sweaty and breathing hard but there's a little more light in her eyes when she reaches a hand down to pull him up. "Come on," she says, "Linsea will be looking for us soon."
She's not wrong. It's another packed day and Phillips is exhausted, sucking down cups of horrible coffee in the green rooms at every entertainment studio, and Rokia is jittery and closed-off and pulls away from him in the cars between meetings, curling against the door and letting her eyes slide closed. There's another party, another "private appointment" and this time despite the coffee he's asleep when she gets in. When he jerks awake, sore from sleeping on the couch, it's full daylight and she's sleeping curled into an armchair in her running gear, shoes on the floor beside her.
He didn't realize how much he'd gotten used to the late-night moments when Rokia would drop her guard a bit and talk to him. There's none of that here, when she's not in front of the cameras she's half-asleep or jittery-tense and even if he is awake when she comes in she ducks away and heads for the gym, sometimes coming back in time to collapse for a couple of hours, sometimes not. She manages well enough in public, keeping her Games-face on despite everything. Until finally, finally, the last morning arrives and they get on the train. She gives a last speech on the platform, smiles for the last pictures, and there, just at the last, she stumbles as she turns to walk toward the train. Phillips is standing close enough he can reach out and catch her elbow, then keeps a hand on her shoulders, steadying, as he walks her to her room.
He hesitates there until she looks up at him. "It's okay, Phillips," she says, exhaustion leaving her voice flat. "I don't need a babysitter." He sighs, turns and heads for his room.
When he comes back out one of the crew foremen is standing in the lounge. He's taller than Phillips, broad-shouldered and tough and his arms are crossed over his chest and he's glaring, thunderous, at Phillips.
"She's sleeping in the crew bunks," he says, as Phillips scans the room for Rokia. "She looks like hell."
Phillips is too tired to mince words. "I know," he says, "I don't make the schedules."
"Ain't you supposed to be the one looking out for her?"
Yeah, he is. And a hell of a job he's done too, but somewhere under the guilt is a spark of fury he's been burying a long time. Just now he doesn't care enough to keep it hidden. "There ain't a damn thing I can do" he says, fists clenching at his sides. "I'd keep her home if I could."
The man looks at him, eyes narrowed, assessing now instead of angry. "Yeah," he says, "I guess you would." He turns to go, then looks back. "We'll be in Six tonight. I'll keep an eye on her till then, go get some sleep."
Phillips nods, hesitates, then reaches out to shake the man's hand. "I'm Phillips," he says, as though it wasn't obvious, but the crewman takes his hand with a bemused smile.
"Joe. Crew boss."
"Thanks," Phillips says.
Joe's mouth curls up. "She's one of ours," he says, solemn. "We look out for our own." He leaves, and Phillips, exhausted, finds his bed.
Chapter 3: Aftermath
Eventually, the Tour ends. Going home isn't exactly easy either.
The one good thing about the Victory Tour is that finally, after an age, it ends. Rokia has never been so glad to get on a train in her life. Phillips follows her into her room and leaves her alone only after Rokia promises him she’s—well, not that she’s okay, but that she can take care of herself. She forces herself to look him in the eye.
“Phillips. Go to bed, I don’t need a babysitter.” He shakes his head and leaves. All of her things from the Tour are still here, and she sheds her dress, showers, and pulls on the soft, faded jeans and oversized sweatshirt she brought with her when the Tour started what seems like forever ago. Then she heads to the crew cabin.
When she comes into the crew breakroom Joe’s there, playing cards with Alou. He looks her up and down, eyes narrowed.
“You look like shit,” he says.
Rokia can't bring herself to joke, just now, so she just shrugs and says “It's fine, I'm just tired," wrenching her mouth into a smile she knows doesn’t help her case.
Joe nods, mouth flattening into a line that says exactly how much he doesn’t believe her bullshit, and says "Go sleep. Room's open."
Rokia nods, leaves, not quite trusting her voice. On the thin, hard bunk, smelling of machine oil and cigarette smoke, she sleeps better than she has in weeks.
She wakes up when the train slows, looks around blearily. The room’s empty, everyone getting ready for their arrival, and she’s wondering why no one’s dragged her off to prep when Joe comes in. “Hey, kid,” he says, “they’re looking for you.”
Here, in this room, Rokia lets herself groan and scrub her hands over her face. “Yeah,” she says, and after days and days of being too keyed up to sit still she suddenly wants nothing more than to stay in bed for the next week. Joe shakes his head, holds out a hand, and she lets him haul her to her feet. He doesn’t say anything but he knows—she can tell he knows—that none of this is her, this person who goes to parties and stands on stages and wears dresses, and it’s comforting somehow, that even if she’s doing her job well, it’s not just Phillips who sees the person behind it all.
“Last one,” he says, as she leans against the bunks, waiting for her head to clear.
“Yup,” and oh, that means she won’t be back on this train, with this crew, until who knows when. “Hey, thanks for the ride,” she says, looking up at him.
It’s surprising to see the sunset out the window, she’s mixed up and fuzzy-headed after sleeping all day, but she knows how to do this by now so she zones out while the prep team fusses over her, then looks over her speech cards with Phillips over coffee.
He’s watching her, careful, keeping a little distance between them now, and Rokia hates it. But there’s nothing to say, is there? It's a new game, new rules, and the President warned her there’s no free rides in Panem, not even for victors. If it means Phillips stays away, well, that’s just the price you pay.
She’s ready to get it all over with, just one more stupid speech, like the others but no mention of the one dead kid here. Here it’s a party, a celebration for the girl who went through the bloody mess of the games and returned to them Capitol-pretty and smiling on their television screens. She steps off the train, smiles for the cameras, Capitol-approved expressions and nothing touching her, until she looks over to see Kadi and Allie sitting at the side of the stage, fancy dresses and braided hair just like when she came home the first time. And just like the first time, her Mom’s there, cleaned up and smiling, bemused. Phillips glances over at them and his lips purse just for a second and Rokia aches to take her sisters and just go home, and she almost trips when she steps to the podium.
She can’t just give her speech on autopilot, not when she can look out into the crowd and search for Sal or Matt or Sara, not when her sisters are watching her with wide eyes, not with everyone she knows watching—and sure, they were probably watching before, but she didn’t think about it. Now she’s self-conscious about the fancy dresses, the long painted nails, everything about her that says “I’m not like you, not anymore.” Phillips is standing behind her, and when he puts a hand on her shoulder she realizes she’s frozen, breathing fast. She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes for just a second, and—okay. This isn’t real, any more than the rest of it, just don’t think about it. She opens her eyes and reads the words they gave her.
Afterwards, after the Mayor congratulates her and a group of schoolkids present her with a plaque and a thank you for all the Parcel Days she’s brought them and Phillips thanks the District Six citizens who gave sponsorship money, then and only then does she get to walk over and wrap her arms around her sisters. They’re less scared this second time than they were when she came home from the Games, but Kadi still refuses to let go of her hand. Mom hugs her, stiff, and she looks anxious and unhappy, which probably means she’s sober, so there’s that. Phillips leads them to the table set out for them and they sit through dinner and music and go outside to watch fireworks burst over the skyline and then finally, when Kadi’s asleep on Rokia’s lap, a car takes them home. Mom stays in the car when they get out, glances up at Rokia. “They let me out special for this,” she says, “I gotta go back tonight.” She looks sad and tired and Rokia wants to say no, stay here, wants to imagine them that kind of family, but Phillips is watching, arms crossed and face serious, so Rokia just says goodnight and lets him close the door.
Once they’re in the house Allie grins and flops on the couch and Kadi wakes up enough to smile against Rokia’s neck and curl in tighter. She’s heavy, but when Phillips offers to take her Rokia’s arms tighten and Kadi holds on tighter too and maybe they both need this. They go upstairs to the girls’ room and Rokia extracts herself long enough to get Kadi to change into pajamas, while Phillips helps Allie find hers. They curl up on the bed together, but when Rokia moves to get up Kadi whimpers, grabbing her hand. Rokia sighs, sits back down on the bed. Phillips says “I’ll wait downstairs,” and Rokia nods.
She leans back against the head of the bed, running her hands over the girls’ hair, rubbing their backs, reminding herself that they’re here, they’re real and this is real and this is home, and she waits until they’re sound asleep before climbing out of bed. She’s still wearing her dress from earlier, and she showers and changes before going down to see if Phillips is still there.
He is, and she watches him for a second, sitting on the couch looking just like he did months ago when he first brought her here, like he did when he told her he could help her mom, like when he told her she could actually design hovercraft if she wanted to. If only things were really the same. It hits her, suddenly, that this isn’t like the Games, isn’t something she can push to the back of her mind because it’s over and she’ll never have to do it again. It’s part of her life now, this Capitol person, and it’s taken her and twisted her up for whatever use they want to make of her and she doesn’t get to get rid of it, not ever. Someone could call next week and tell her she had to come in for a design meeting or a publicity stunt or a personal appointment and she’d have to go. No wonder her stylist was so excited, he’s got enough work to keep him busy until forever now, making her into Victor-Rokia whenever someone wants to pull her out of the box.
Phillips looks over at her. One corner of his mouth curls up in a tired half-smile as Rokia goes to sit in her chair. “Don’t you want to go home?” she asks.
Phillips looks hurt, and she realizes what he must think. “No, I’m not—I’m not saying you need to go, I don’t know, I thought you’d probably be tired.”
Phillips shrugs. “Slept on the train,” he says.
“Girls are sleeping?” he asks, with a little smile.
They sit in silence for a while. Finally Phillips looks over at her. "You need anything?" he asks.
Rokia smiles. Typical Phillips, always worrying. "Phillips, I'm fine."
He narrows his eyes, watching her, unconvinced. "Okay, kid," he says, getting to his feet. He hesitates, looks back at her. "You'll tell me, though, if there's anything I can do."
He feels guilty, poor guy. "Yeah, Phillips. It's okay."
He nods, then. "Goodnight, Rokia."
"Goodnight Phillips." She locks the door behind him, leans against it, and closes her eyes.
Rokia's lost track of the weeks, so it's a surprise when Sara finds her on the roof of the old place a few days later. It's been a while since she needed the escape but since she came back from the Tour she's having nightmares again, been jumpy and anxious and it's impossible to sit still, so once again, here she is.
She's not sure she wants to talk to Sara. Yeah, the Games were awkward and horrible and she didn't want Sara to think of her like that, but the Tour and the Capitol and the fancy clothes and the parties--that's not her, that's the girl they're making her into and it's not the girl who's been Sara's friend since they were kids and who was just starting to relax enough around her to see whether maybe things could work out after all. And really, how naive. They'd told her, she knew: it's never over. It's always another Game.
Sara's watching her, assessing, careful, as she climbs up and crosses to where Rokia's sitting. "Welcome back," she says, and her voice sounds strange, guarded. "How was the tour?"
Rokia looks over, quizzical, as Sara sits, leaving space between them and staring out over the skyline. She should probably say something polite, but too bad. "It sucked," she says, pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them. "I hated it."
She can see Sarah's quirked eyebrow in the dark. "You looked like you were having a great time, all those Capitol parties." Rokia's not sure if she's being sarcastic or what. "There were pictures of you kissing like six different people."
Rokia feels sick. Part of her wants to scream, to lash out because what right does Sara have to be mad about her kissing anyone. Part of her wants to jump off the damn roof just to keep from talking about it. Part of her wants to vomit up the whole story just so someone else knows.
Absolutely no part of her wants to burst into tears, but fuck if that's not what happens. And when Sara moves closer and goes to put an arm around Rokia's shoulders, she pulls away hard, scrambling to her feet and retreating, turning to rest her hands on the rough wall. Sara's behind her, she can see out of the corner of her eye, can feel her coming close but hanging back, waiting and watching while Rokia lets the rough concrete dig into her too-smooth palms and tries to get herself under control. Finally she turns and looks at Sara.
"Fuck, Rokia," Sara breathes, "What in the twelve districts is going on?"
"It's nothing," Rokia says, instinctive. Nobody is supposed to know, there are consequences for talking about this, Snow's voice whispers in her head. "I'm fine." She rubs her hands over her eyes and forces herself to relax, hopping up to sit on the wall.
Sara looks at her, eyes narrowed. "Bull shit," she says, crossing her arms over her chest. She looks Rokia up and down. "What in the hell did they do to you?"
"Nothing!" Rokia's shaking now. She can't tell. She's not allowed, sure, but more than that, she doesn't even know the words to use to explain. "They dressed me up and sent me to parties, like you said."
Sara hasn't moved. She's giving Rokia a look that's scared and confused and disappointed all at once. "Why are you lying to me?" she asks, and Rokia wants to cry all over again but she can't so she bites down on the inside of her lip until she tastes blood.
Rokia's not sure how this went so wrong, she wants to tell Sara about Joe and his crew and about the districts--the cold in Seven and the sea in Four but Sara's looking at her, scared and sad and disappointed and who knows what. "I'm not lying."
Sara moves closer and Rokia forces herself not to flinch, to make eye contact, to act like everything's fine. "Rokia, I don't--I'm not mad at you, okay, I just--it was so strange, you looked so different out there I didn't know what to think."
Rokia drops her head, hugs her arms across her chest. Sara's standing close, looking at Rokia like she wants to kiss her, and the panic wells up in Rokia's chest and she hops down and walks away, pacing across the roof.
"You shouldn't be here," Rokia says, her voice low. "You shouldn't let them see you around me." Rokia startles with one bright realization: Snow doesn't know about this. Maybe. There's no point taking anything for granted but he mentioned her sisters, Sal's shop, her Mom, but not Sara. Sara who spends most of her time out of the district anyway, who's rarely come into the Victors' Village, who spits treason through her teeth up here on the roof of a building with no power before going back to the trains to collect information against someday being able to change things. There is someone in her life that Snow might not know about, and in order to keep it that way Rokia has to make Sara leave.
She spins, bracing her hands behind her on the concrete, and Sara's watching her, openmouthed. "Rokia, no," she says. "I don't know what the fuck's going on but I'm not going anywhere."
It hurts like hell, but Rokia has to say it. "Then I am." She turns so she doesn't have to see Sara's face, and swings herself over to climb down the downspout, ignoring the tears that spring to her eyes.
She stays away from the old house for a week, until she knows Sara will be gone again. When she goes back she finds a note, wedged between the bricks.
I talked to Joe. Still not going anywhere.