A/N: Yay? New chapter. Really short. You guys deserve better, I'm sorry. If anyone is interested, there is actually a story for Rose; ask me to post it and I will. Thanks for reading. Sorry for typos. Reviews are love. Such slow progression... argh. I'm so sorry. But there are answers in this chapter! Lots. Or are they? Hm. -Taryn
I don't know what I was expecting when I entered District 10. Definitely not a welcome; I was in no mood to smile and put on my Mockingjay suit. I came as myself, as Katniss Everdeen – and she is not like the girl from District 12, she is half a mother, half an adult, half about ready to ignore Violet's orders and take District 10 by force. Boggs is there to halt any unwelcome entrance. He escorts me, keeps me well in line, and safe.
It takes three soldiers to carry the nailed wooden coffin that contains the bones of a man once named Frier March. Each hobbling a little over the slick and frosted streets of mud that run from the gate of District 10 toward the cobbled town square. Leading us there are two soldiers. They seem uncertain,yet, relieved. One smiles at me; a small fluttering thing.
There are no citizens outside, only those with guns. All the rest are hiding. Which throws aside any good hopes.
Six distinctive shapes appear in the distance; one of them stocky and blonde. I begin to pick up pace, but remind myself to be calm and collected at the last moment. I breathe slow and Finnick's hand grips my forearm momentarily for reassurance. One step after another we arrive; there is a small square awaiting us this morning, half ruined, most of the gray stones misplaced and removed, and a large fire pit in the middle of it all. Peeta is standing just next to that, and next to him, is a woman that I immediately write off as Mrs. March.
She is in her late years, but younger than President Snow. Hair white, twisted neatly to the side of her face, blue eyes that sting like ice, and a thin, short form that looks miniature next to Peeta. Mrs. March does not smile, but there are laugh lines around her eyes, and, after the shift of her arm, I notice the tattoos of swirling gray designs spreading along her fingers, hands, up her arms and over her shoulders. Once, those might have been appealing, or considered beautiful by the Capitol, but that was many years ago and now the tattoos are faded in her pale, aged skin, and more silly than pretty.
But there is nothing silly about the bundle of blankets in Peeta's arms.
I stop short of them by at least ten feet. Neither move to greet me; Rose is cool and Peeta is grinning. I blink for a few moments – waiting for someone to begin this strange gathering – but it is Finnick who nudges my side, and I force a breath into my lungs…
And Boggs is the one to step forward, gesturing to the coffin. "Frier March, as promised."
"Peeta Mellark," Rose said, and her hand touches him briefly on the shoulder. "As promised. Whole."
"And.." I say, eyes flickering to the blankets.
Rose stares evenly at me, then gestures for her armed men around us to come forward and take Frier. They collect the coffin and disappear into a building to the side of the square. I move closer to Peeta, in case she thinks to back out of the deal after taking what she wants. "Katniss.." Peeta begins.
"Later," Rose tells him, coolly. Then she turns to Boggs. "I'm willing to represent District Ten. We will accept your peace. But I will not allow you to recruit any of these people. They are loyal to their families and their farms not to your guns and your wars. They won't pledge themselves to die for strangers. You understand this?"
"This rebellion is about them, for them," I say, objecting. What she implied was that they were caught in some selfish crossfire they had no intentions of ever seeing."This is their rebellion, too. Not just ours."
"Those who wanted to fight for the rebellion can be found further out in the fields. You'll see that their graves have been turned to mush from last week's rain. The wolves keep digging them up, as well." She speak without expression, in such a coached and passionless way that I merely look to Peeta for some indication if she can be trusted. I know I dislike her, on principal, but he might not mind her. He might know more than I do.
The infant in his arm mewls. Peeta shifts and coos at it and bounces a forearm lightly.
I reach out for them, curious, cautious. Rose steps between us.
"Later," she says, again.
Peeta catches my gaze from behind her. "Are you mad?" he asks. "That I went to the gates anyway, when you said otherwise?"
"Yes," I say. Rose laughs, so suddenly, so girlishly for her composure, that I lean away. "What?" I snap.
"Nothing. Just that Coriolanus must really despise you. I wore my hair in a braid at our wedding, you know, he must remember that every time he sees you. Oh, I hope." Spite is dripping from her words. "He is angry at me, even now." She turns around, takes the infant from Peeta, and then offers it to me. "A gift, from me and my daughter, Cori. You met her, she said."
"I did," I say. Uncertainly, I allow her to settle the blankets into my arms; the weight is barely more than a game bag with a squirrel inside. I shift uncomfortably, not sure how to hold the child properly, but Rose's hands glide one of mine to the head. I'm sure that Finnick and Boggs behind me are trying not to laugh at my hunched pose.
I don't dare to hope. I don't move to shift the blankets away from its face. All I feel in the warmth that spreads over my chest where the baby touches me. "Cori," I say, raising my eyes to the woman.. "she isn't Snow's daughter?" I remember our phone call the other day. Illegitimate daughter.
"No. She is mine and Grier's. Born on the eve of the Thirty-first Hunger Games. Coriolanus took her from me a few years after he killed Grier for treason." I raise my eyebrows and Rose's face is a tried grimace. "Yes," she answers an unspoken question, "our marriage was always a game of murder. But we played a good husband and wife for the public, and Cori was presented as ours."
"You called Frier your step-son.."
"Not truly. He is a great-great-grandson. But I called him a son. Truthfully, I have not seen him since he was quite young. The Capitol is not a place I frequent. Except for when I came for you. Forgive me, again, for that," she turns to Peeta, addressing him, "you weren't meant to be there, and my granddaughter is more Snow than March."
"Granddaughter?" Cori spoke to me of her own daughter over the lunch we shared. I shift the bundle in my arms to pull it in closer and the infants smells of formula and a faint sweet scent I can't name. I look to Peeta; he is still smiling, and I wonder if his face will begin to ache soon.
"Kori, my granddaughter," Rose explains, bitterly. "She is loyal to Coriolanus to the last straw. He couldn't convert me to his will, nor my daughter, but his granddaughter was never allowed near her own mother, nor me, and she went straight to Coriolanus when we tried to safely pull her from the mansion. That is why he got away. He should have died that day." And underneath her words, I hear; I wanted him dead.
Carefully, I drum a few fingers along the infants back. It squirms and my stomach twists. "Who is this?" I ask, indicating with a chin toward the bundle in my arms.
Peeta moves as though to join me by my side, but Rose puts a hand in front of him, to stall him.
"That is my great-granddaughter."
"Look at her," Peeta says, quickly, as though afraid Rose will shut him up. "Just look."
And I do. Purple little face, so young and small, with cheekbones too fine and sharp, fuzz of dark hair, bowed lips, and her wide blinking blue eyes that seem curious and startlingly alert. "Why.." Why am I holding her? "I thought you said your granddaughter didn't leave with you and Cori when you tried to get her safety out of the mansion. That Kori tipped off Snow and that's why the plans went astray.. so why do you have her daughter?"
"It is a long story."
"I can hear it."
"She knows about our son," Peeta inputs, struggling to get words in.
"Yes," Rose says, when my eyes fling to her. "Come, sit." Moving toward the benches arranged around the fire pit, I make to hand the infant back to Rose, but she shakes her head and refuses to hold the child. Peeta slips it from my arms eagerly; I can not understand why he is so happy about this child, it is not ours.
A long, drawn out sigh escapes from Rose's lips. "Okay. The day of the rescue mission. I have never seen such a horrible mess before. Snow must be pulling his hair out over it." Just that breath of change to satisfaction in her voice is noticeable to me; "He's always hated messes."
I chill, because I realize, that I'm about to get answers I've been searching for, for months. I am looking at a woman who knows Snow.. for how long.. how personally? Who calls him by his first name and was married to the hateful snake of a man for.. how long? "..born on the eve of the Thirty-first Hunger Games.." There is a world of story behind this one person, especially in concerns of the man I have vowed to kill. But, it makes sense, that she had an affair – it must have humiliated Snow. Which brings me back to their peculiar phrase; Have you ever seen it Snow in March? I open my mouth and ask her about it now, right then. It had such a profound impact on my torture sessions that I had to know.
I lost two people to that phrase; it would be unfair for me not to find out what it really meant.
At the mention of the phrase, Rose's face cracks into a smile. "In my youth, people generally answered the riddle as this: 'Doesn't matter, Roses grow year round.' But truthfully, the phrase was more of an endearment. At least, for Grier it was. He was a strange sort of man." The man's name causes a haunted look to overcome her expression, momentarily, before she shakes herself. "I met him on my wedding day, in March, you know. I was terrified. Got married two months after I turned eighteen. Coriolanus corralled me into it. Threatened and hedged and blackmailed me until I gave in." She turns to me and is smiling ruefully. "I was stupid, then."
As strange it is to hear of Snow's past, I dive toward: "And the rescue mission?"
"Yes." Rose gazes thoughtfully at the designs on the back of her hands. "Leon was my man. Cori was on my side. Then there was me, myself, in the Capitol. Only the three of us, compared to District Thirteen's men on the inside, disguised as Avoxes and Peacekeepers. The only people District Three had was, to their knowledge, Leon, and Violet's older brother. I knew nothing of this when I arranged your escape. To me, there was only District Three and myself. Not Thirteen. If I knew.. I would not have had Cori plant those explosives.."
"Why do it at all? Help me?" I ask, truly curious. "I do not know you. I didn't even know you existed."
"There are a lot of reasons," she admits. "Mostly because I am old and dying soon and Coriolanus tends to forget me. Mucking up his life has ever been my job. So I had Cori set the mines. Leon arranged everything where you were concerned – he was the one to convince me to spare you of my plans. For his son or because he felt responsible, that's for you to ask him. I came to the Capitol to aid them once they got you out into the streets; I have friends there, still. Leon and I had you in the restaurant, before he swept you out. He was supposed to rendezvous with me ten blocks away in an old apartment."
"But I fought him," I say, remembering him saying something about an apartment.
"You fought him and escaped him, yes. But you weren't supposed to be so close to the explosion when it happened. The mines were set off prematurely. As I've said, my great-granddaughter, Kori, resisted Cori when she tried to pull her from the mansion and to the rendezvous point. Kori ran to Coriolanus and told him about the mines, about me, about you. He evacuated immediately. The mines went off just minutes too late."
"One of Coriolanus' men had caught you initially, knocking you out. Cori was there, left behind after Kori was taken away with Snow, and Cori was quick to wrestle you away from the Peacekeeper. But she was desperate not for your benefit. Snow had her daughter and she knows Coriolanus as well as I do." Rose turns her head, regarding the distant livestock fields. "I regret to tell you that it was Cori who cut you open and took your child. She meant to trade your child for her own. Unfortunately, or.. fortunately, for you, I suppose, before Cori could make the trade, leaving you for dead, Violet's brother came upon the scene. He shot her, hauled you somewhere to be healed and brought the child to Violet. From there, strings were pulled, deals struck, and all of the prisoners were returned to District Three and Thirteen in trade for the infant." A shuddering, broken breath. "My daughter is dead. My granddaughter is still in Snow's hands and your son is there as well." Rose turns to me, nods to the infant in Peeta's arms. "That is your key."
"My key to what?"
"To Kori. That is her daughter you look upon; I took her myself. When I heard what Cori had done.. well I could not just flee the Capitol without leverage to use. I know these games Coriolanus plays. I took her, because I know Kori loves her baby. Right now, she is stuck nursing your son. She does not want your baby, she wants her own.. and I.. now you, have it. Coriolanus won't trade out the infants, but Kori will, if I know her. She is but a girl, really. A year or two older than you. But Capitol raised, and pampered by Coriolanus, and horribly foolish."
Suddenly, I understand why Peeta adores the thing so much. Our key?
"Why?" I ask again. "Why do you care?"
"I told you." Rose's smile cuts. "Coriolanus and I have always shared a marriage full of deceit."
"Is that why District Ten doesn't act?"
"District Ten has always been my place of refugee. The people know who I am, have known for sometime. Some even believe I still have power, think I have some advantage that they can hope in. Believe I can help protect them." Rose once more examines the tattoos across the back of her hands. "Really, I'm not sure that's true... will you do something for me?"
I glance to Peeta, to Boggs, to Finnick. "What?" I ask the woman.
"When you kill Snow, make sure he knows how deep I was in this mess. Tell him you met me. Tell him I told you everything I know. Talk of his sisters, Larentia and Dorianna. Tell him he will never live up to Alexander, ever." There is a fever in her eyes, suddenly. "That will kill him more than anything. He always hated his older brother." But her face becomes serious for a moment, after that statement, and she looks at me, really looks and sees me. "Be careful, though, Katniss," she warns. "Call him Alexander and Coriolanus will likely forget himself and kill you no matter who you are. His family may all be dead now, but they are bitter in his memory and the Snow family was ever a pit of snakes biting each other's heads off, each waiting for their father to die."
Siblings. Snow had siblings. I think of Primrose. "How did he win?" I wonder. "If they were all competing."
"Poison," Finnick supplies quietly.
Rose's voice is sharp, open, unrelenting. "Yes, and no. I helped him, some," she admitted freely. "I killed his sisters for him, and then their children when they threatened us. Him, with presidency. Me, with my scandalous affairs. Coriolanus killed Alexander before I even knew him. The father was dying already, so he waited that out, killing off any competition that got in the way." Then, she stands, casts the infant one long look, sighs, and says, "Don't forget to tell him everything I said." And she turns to leave, taking with her all the appalling knowledge a wife to Coriolanus Snow can only know.