Song Suggestion: Ryder- "Pretty Little Gangster"

Grandchild of Evil

Coral

The next morning an old lady came into the room with a tray of eggs, bacon, fruit, and water. Coral had been on the bed, reading one of her favorites—an Ancient book about a young boy who fell into a world of magic. She'd read it before, but she always liked to reread it.

"Thank you," Coral said. "It looks and smells wonderful." The lady looked surprised, as if she expected a beast. But really, she'd never treat the housecleaners and chefs bad. They were treated like family at home and were paid more than most jobs in the district, especially the ones who had worked for them for a long time.

"It shameful they're keeping you so well fed, when the rest of Panem is starving," the lady hissed. It caused Coral to set down her book in shock without even putting in a bookmark.

"What?" She blinked in confusion.

"You're the daughter of a monster and a whore. The grandchild of evil. It runs in your veins, and you can't escape it. You don't deserve food when there are babies without."

Coral could barely fathom what she said. Many people thought her father a monster, but they didn't know him.

"My mother is not a whore," she hissed back. "She saved all of Panem. And my grandparents were hardly evil."

The old lady snarled, actually snarled. Coral had to remind herself it was frowned upon to disrespect the elderly, warranted or not.

"I'm not talking about the Mockingjay, you fool, though I would consider her a whore too. I'm talking about your real mother, the spawn of Snow. Your bloodline is a weed, and I'll be pleased when Thorn ends his use for you and puts you in the grave you deserve."

The lady smacked the tray down on the table beside the bed and vanished before she could formulate a proper response.

Coral

Vick entered later in the day. He looked worse for wear, tears in his combat pants, dirt on his cheek, hair out of place, finally back from some stupid rebel mission he probably thought important. He looked at her carefully. She was still in the same spot, eating the rest of the fruit, engrossed in the story.

"I like coming home to you in bed. I could get dangerously used to it."

Vick pulled off his black gloves one by one, set them on the dresser, and leaned back in the chair with a sigh. A splash of dried blood was on the upper part of his forearm, and she didn't think it was his.

"Your housekeeper is rude," Coral said.

He frowned.

"What did Marie say?"

"She called my father a monster, my mother a whore, and wished me dead."

One side of his lips quirked up, eyes sparking in amusement.

"Well, besides the last part, she's not wrong."

Coral bristled.

"My mother's not a whore. She's the Mockingjay and deserves respect."

Vick stilled, his head tilted to the side, studying her.

"She wasn't talking about the Mockingjay, princess."

Coral was tired of the convoluted thinking.

"They are one in the same."

Vick looked surprised, eyes widening.

"Did they…did no one ever tell you about your real mother?"

"Real mother?"

Coral hated something in her voice sounded breakable.

"Persephone."

The word felt like knives along her skin, conjuring up a woman with red hair kissing her cheek. She had clung to her in a hallway full of monsters. A giant gorilla growled at her with one eye, mottling skin, and patchy hair standing behind bars with a salivating grin. It had almost grabbed her in the darkness. At least she thought it did. By this point, it jumbled in her head.

"No," she said.

But it felt real. She'd never asked for her parents' history. Never asked prying questions. Why did she not resemble her mother like Max and Rory? Why did she have memories that didn't match up? Her mother's embrace was too warm, too comfortable, and she never wished to know the truth.

But now she remembered enough to realize the awful reality.

"Am I…" she almost couldn't say it. It sounded too terrible and vulnerable. "Am I Snow's grandchild?"

Vick didn't move for a moment, and then he gave a quick nod.

"Persephone stole you in the war," he said. "The Mockingjay killed her in Snow's underground tunnels and took you back… or so the rumors say."

She always suspected her father sheltered her from the truth, though she had never been one to seek it out. Her life was fine, comfortable, and she was loved. What did it matter what happened or what her family did to survive? But she'd heard whispers in school, mainly of her father. How he kidnapped her mother and raped her. But it wasn't true, just a malicious rumor. The public never saw the way they sighed while holding each other, how even after years of marriage they acted like newlyweds, constantly kissing and stealing touches. She used to think it gross, but now she wished to find something like it.

"That can't be true."

He shook his head, pulling out his phone. He tapped on it for a second.

"I think you're in denial." He turned his phone around to show a photo. "Look at this and tell me you aren't her child."

Coral withheld a gasp. The woman on the screen was dazzling in her beauty and matched the woman in her memories: blood red hair, green eyes, milky skin. It was like holding up a mirror. Coral had curlier hair, blue eyes, freckles across her nose and cheeks, a squarer jaw, and more curves, but other than that, the resemblance was uncanny.

Coral felt ill. The few memories she had of this woman were filled with confusion and fear. She had clung to her because everyone else had terrified her… especially Snow. Her memories now made the connection. The smell of metal and roses. She remembered sitting next to him with a crowd before her and swinging her legs in boredom, unsure how to act.

Snow's grandchild. She wished to vomit. No wonder everyone hated her.

"Do you think evil runs in my veins?"

He studied her in a way he hadn't before, as if he wished to bury himself in her mind and read her secrets.

"You're wicked, not evil, and I find I like it. You're nothing like I thought you'd be."

"And what was that?"

"Spoiled, vapid, and terribly pretty."

"I am spoiled though," she said with a warm smile. "The eggs were a little overcooked. The staff needs to mind their manners. The clothes are hideous, and the sheets are atrocious. Not to mention, if I don't get to take a shower soon, I'll throw a tantrum of epic proportions."

He gave a grin.

"Act a child, and I'll gladly spank you."

Heat sparked across her body, stronger than before. Her body begged to be filled again, but this time with more than the width of his fingers.

Vick must have seen the desire cross her face— that she wanted to start the game. He groaned and let his head rest on the back of the chair, before standing abruptly and walking to the door.

"Pause that thought, Princess." He gave a few lurching breaths as if he wished to turn around and return. "We don't have time. Get dressed in something nice, maybe one of those blue dresses."

"Why?"

"To video conference your father."

Cato

Cato waited in agitation, staring at the dark screen. Hannibal and Brutus sat on either side of him. Lux was busy running the audit, working nonstop since the night of her capture. Lorcan and Ace were busy training the soldiers they selected. Max and Rory hovered behind him, making him nervous. He tried to bar them from the room, but they refused, and he relented not having the energy to fight.

He did put his foot down with Prim. He wasn't sure the condition Coral would be in, how she was being treated, and didn't want her to see it. His wife hadn't stopped crying since the disappearance. She sat in the other room with Katla and Madge, clinging to them.

Cato braced himself as the screen flickered.

The man on the screen had a black mask that covered his entire face, besides his mouth and eyes. He couldn't be sure because the quality of the video, but the eyes might be grey.

"Thorn," he said.

"Carthage."

"I want my daughter," Cato demanded in a tone he used in the games, filled with blood and death. A promise of slaughter.

"You've met our demands," the man said coolly. "And I'm prepared to uphold our end of the bargain. Before you see her, I'd like to reassure you she's been treated with the upmost care. Not a scratch." Then the man leaned closer. "However, if you'd like to see her again, then you should probably listen to our next demands."

"Which is?" Growled Brutus. Cato was grateful because he could barely speak in his rage.

"Pull out of District 9."

"No," Cato said sharply. "You'd control most of the food supply then. I'm no fool. I already see the plans you attempting to make."

Thorn glared through the mask.

"Bart," he said. "Bring her in."

He heard a brief sound of struggle off camera, and Thorn gave a suffering sigh.

"Right now," Thorn barked again.

"I'm trying, sir, but she's refusing the ropes."

"You're fucking right I am." He heard Coral's voice off camera, and it was like drinking a glass of water. "Get your hands off me, you peasant, or I'll break your nose."

"It's fine," Thorn said. "Just let her walk here. Princess, you father is on. If you act up, I'll have no problem cutting it short."

"Daddy," she gasped, and then he saw her as she rushed over and sat in the awaiting chair. She looked the same as ever, but less put together. Her hair looked wilder than normal, curls defying gravity, freckles noticeable without makeup, blue eyes electrified with the raw energy she always possessed. Still so beautiful it hurt.

"Coral," he breathed a sigh. Just seeing her was enough. His nightmares had imagined her in terrible scenarios.

"Max, Rory," Coral said in a faux grave voice. "I hope this time a part has taught you some lessons. Mainly, that I'm the greatest person in Panem, and the world wouldn't be the same without me. You miss me, admit it."

The man in the mask gave a snort of laughter, and Coral twisted sharply to the side.

"You can shut it." She looked back at the screen. "He's just jealous I don't think of him that way."

Cato didn't like how she talked to Thorn, as if they knew each other. As if he didn't steal her away in the middle of the night. As if he wasn't using her for leverage. As if he wasn't the fucking head of the rebellion.

"We missed you yesterday," Rory answered. "But now that I've seen you again, I'm glad for the break."

Thorn snorted again. Cato's mouth twitched down. The boy did miss his sister. Both did, almost not getting out of bed in their grief. Under Rory's sarcasm was a fragile tone.

"We miss you too, little girl," Brutus said from the side. He was looking at her with a hard expression Cato knew he only reserved for the people he loved the most.

"I miss you too, BruBru." She looked at her uncle. "You too Hanny."

Hannibal made a noise that suggested he might cry again.

"Oh, don't be sad," she said. "I'm doing alright. In fact, they're a little scared of me because they haven't found all of Lux's toys. And they won't." She gave a smile that looked almost cruel, and he realized she directed it at Thorn. "You can tell Lux the knife, the spider, and the pepper spray worked great. Especially the pepper spray."

Lux was right. They were having a hard time with her, but it did nothing to make Cato feel better. If she kept it up, they might grow tired of her games. She was manipulative and stubborn, with a mischievous streak like Hannibal. She'd always been a handful, hard to raise, easy to love, a little ball of sunshine and energy. By the way Thorn lightly smiled at her, lips peeking out of the bottom of the mask, he found her to be amusing. Though one time she could go too far, and he feared what punishment they'd have in store.

"Alright," the man said. "This quaint family reunion is over. If your daddy wants to see your face again, he'll comply with the demands."

"What demands?" Coral asked.

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"I would actually." She gave a smile to him, in a voice that sounded like teasing, as if it was an inside joke. Coral should not be having inside jokes with rebels that kidnapped her.

"Maybe, if you're good, I'll tell you later."

The undertones to his voice suggested other things. Cato's vision turned black and then red in his anger, blood pounding in his ears form the pressure.

"Touch her," Cato said. "And you'll wish your bitch of a mother never birthed you. I'll make your death last days."

But, unlike the last time, his threats fell flat. He couldn't do a fucking thing. It was like watching his daughter fall into the Pit all over again.

The least she could do was respect his distress and not flirt with her fucking kidnappers.

"Only if you can catch me," Thorn said, unafraid. Cato wanted him dead, maybe more than he ever wanted Snow dead. "Pack it up, Princess."

"I just want to say one more thing," Coral said. Surprisingly, the man relented and stepped away. Coral looked back to him, biting her lip, looking suddenly forlorn. "I'm sorry daddy about what I said. I… I didn't mean it. I don't hate you."

"But I'm a tyrant?" He asked.

"Sometimes," she admitted. "But I love you, and even if I was angry, I should have never said otherwise."

Something in his chest twisted, hearing the words. He knew she didn't mean it, but they haunted him. He replayed their last interaction several times over the last several days, almost ill it might be their last.

"I promise I'll get you back."

"I know you will." She reached out and touched the screen, and he did the same, placing his fingers over hers.

The man cleared his throat.

"Bart, take her back to her room."

"But I wasn't finished," Coral complained.

"And I said you're done." Thorn gave a wave of his hand and stepped away.

"Just go," Cato said, knowing the look she gave—the one she had right before she dug her heels in.

Coral's face hardened. Bart came over with the ropes, wrapping them around her upper body, tighter than he should.

"Ouch! I said not to touch me!"

Coral leaned down and with a single snap of her teeth, bit the man in his hand.

Bart roared and punched her, hard enough she fell off the chair with a gasped cry. Both Rory and Max yelled in the background. Cato shivered with violence. The monster inside him had nowhere to go. Brutus grabbed his shoulder, so he didn't throttle the screen in front of him.

Before he could demand retribution, Thorn shoved Bart hard out of the way.

"Fuck, Coral." He dragged her up and undid the ropes. She whimpered as his hands cradled her cheek, more tenderly than he should, shifting it this way and that to inspect the damage. Her lip bled, and her cheek would bruise. Coral had been trained her whole life, but he knew this was the first time she'd been hit like that— a man's strength with the intent to injure. She still looked surprised, trembling.

"Coral, baby, are you okay?" Cato sounded breathless, and he wished to reach through the screen. If he could, he'd murder all of them. They'd understand why Panem still feared him.

"She's fine," Thorn said. He brushed her cheek in a way that made Cato's stomach tumble, as if he'd done it before. He had a horrid feeling about the way they interacted. "Tilly, come and take her."

A young woman stepped forward looking at the screen with a flinch, and Coral surprisingly didn't fight as she was led away.

Thorn fists clenched, eyes looking in a rage himself.

"You promised you wouldn't hurt her. Not a fucking scratch."

"I did," Thorn said, voice low, lips pressed hard together. "Bart, come here."

The man obeyed, but he looked frightened.

"Watch closely, Carthage, at what I do to people who piss me off." Like lightning, Thorn grabbed Bart on each side of the head, shoved him to his knees, and flicked to the side, snapping his neck with a reverberating crack. The dead body fell into his hold. The others in the rebel stronghold could be heard gasping in shock. Thorn twisted the man towards the screen, holding him up by his hair, giving Cato a good look at the dead man.

It filled Cato with a dark joy. For once, him and Thorn agreed on something.

"I keep my promises. Not a scratch, and if anyone disobeys that order, they'll find themselves in a grave beside this fucker." He shoved the head down. The body hit tile with a smack. "District 9, Carthage."

Thorn reached up and turned off the feed.