THG is set in a dystopian future America, some time after resource wars due to rising sea-levels have reduced the size of the land. The country is now controlled by the Capitol and divided into twelve Districts, each tasked with different resource production (coal, farming, textiles etc) and reliant on the Capitol for distribution of everything else.
To prevent unity between the Districts, each year a boy and a girl of ages 12-18 are selected from each District by random ballot, put into an arena, and forced to fight to the death (this is televised and a source of entertainment for the Capitol) until only one is left alive.
- - -
Title: life is fragile as a dream
Fandom: White Collar/Hunger Games AU crossover
Characters/Pairing: Elizabeth, Neal, Peter, Diana; Gen with hints of El/Peter
Genre/Rating: Action, angst; 15
Word count: 3000
Warnings: Graphic violence, character deaths
Notes: hoosierbitch and rabidchild encouraged me, and helle_d beta-read (and listened to my long, long spiels of canon-geek justification for everything in this fic). I blame all of you guys for this *g*
Apart from the context of the Games (see above), I don't think there are really spoilers for The Hunger Games in here. (This is an AU for both canons.)
Also, I've just realised that I can totally use this for the 10tropes challenge as my Beware The Nice Ones fic.
Summary: Elizabeth is no fighter. The only bets are on how soon she'll die.
- - -
Elizabeth is no fighter. The Gamekeepers' score for her is low; low enough that she'll get no sponsors. Even the other contestants don't take her seriously. She accepts this.
The only bets a soft girl from the textile District gets are on how soon she'll die, and how.
The Arena this year is a soggy, gloomy marsh with straggling clumps of trees like the ghosts of islands. There are leeches, and snakes, and the sensation of eyes in the warm mists, watching, always watching. El runs, as far as she can, and then she walks, and then eventually she comes to a patch of trees and decides that they will be hers. This is her place.
She spends the first day lying in the swamp, the mud and springy plants moulding to her body. There are no clever tricks she can use — she doesn't even know if she could bring herself to kill anyone. The gnarled and twisted fingers of her clump of trees stencil winding patterns against the lighter grey of the low clouds. And when the sky darkens, she sees the faces above her, the dead.
Maybe there is something to her strategy. She's still alive.
- - -
When it comes down to it, she finds that she can kill, after all.
He nearly steps on her without noticing, and she knows that in a moment he'll look down and she'll be dead. She reacts from fear, moves first out of a blinding urge to survive, grabbing hold of his leg and pulling. He goes down hard and his head cracks against the trunk of one of the trees.
She could run, while he is unconscious, but she doesn't. She presses his face down into the mud and water, keeps it there with all of her weight. Almost certainly, he never wakes up. Almost certainly. His body spasms slightly, but he doesn't fight back.
Elizabeth cries as she holds him there. His name his Clinton, she knows, and she doesn't want to kill him.
But she does.
When his heart stops and the cannon fires she drags him as far from her trees as she has the strength for, and turns him onto his back. He has food bars in his pockets and she takes them. She tries to clean the mud from his skin. "I'm sorry," she says, and hopes — no, she can't hope to be forgiven.
She cleans his blood from the tree which helped her, protected her. Its bark is stained and cracked, like her hands now, which she'd always kept clean and soft before.
There is something in the mists and mud which twists and weathers. It's happening to her.
- - -
They don't let her stay there, where she's begun to feel some semblance of security. The marsh bubbles and spews out gases which sting her eyes and make her cough and choke. She stumbles though the path of clear air they leave for her, the residue a cloying taste at the back of her throat.
- - -
Someone screams, and she turns towards the sound.
She doesn't know the other boy from her district well — they weren't inclined to talk much to each other, although Neal had talked at length to everyone else he'd encountered in the Capitol (trying to find an edge, an angle). She should ignore the sound and run in the other direction, thankful that her opponents are being winnowed down.
She runs towards him.
It's the Career from District Two. He has some sort of staff, and Neal is in the mud, dazed and defenceless. Then she sees the knife the Career has wedged into the top of the staff, and registers the dark blood trickling out between Neal's fingers, and knows that he's being played with.
"Matthew," Neal begs.
"You can ask nicer than that," Matthew says. Fixated on his game, he hasn't heard Elizabeth approaching.
He raises the staff and El flings herself at him, bearing them both down into the mud. He swings his fist at her and she claws for his eyes and he's trying to get the blade around to gut her. Then Neal throws himself on top of Matthew, holding down his arms.
El spots the second knife on Matthew's belt. She grabs for it and stabs him through the throat, flesh and tendons tearing, hot blood spraying out. The cannon fires.
"Neal?" she asks, frantically, rolling him over so that she can see now the deep stab Matthew had delivered to his stomach. He's already dead, for all that he's still breathing.
Neal tries to smile. "I'll be fine," he says. "You should go. Both of us being together is risky."
"I'm not going to leave you," she says, and the relief on his face is so raw that it almost breaks her. She cradles his head in her lap and strokes his hair, as he gazes up at her with wide blue eyes so unlike the sky here.
"I'd like to paint you," Neal whispers. "You're beautiful." And then, while she's trying to hold back her tears for his sake, "Elizabeth. Please, win."
What can she say to that? "I will," she promises. "For both of us."
He smiles at her then, dazzling, heartbreaking. And he dies with the ghost of it still lingering on his lips.
- - -
Matthew's staff makes walking easier. All the Tributes were given sturdy boots, but hers are already beginning to split and crack. She has lost the memory of how it feels to be dry. But at least it isn't cold, and she hasn't suffered ill-effects yet from drinking the water.
It would probably make it uninteresting, if everyone died of that.
When the faces of Neal and Matthew are projected onto the sky, along with a redhead she thinks was called Sara, El realises with a sense of surprise that there are only a few of them left. She hasn't been keeping count properly, not expecting it to matter — expecting to die quickly.
- - -
Another tangle of trees call to her, and she steps within their circle at the same instance as a boy does on the opposite side. The surprise on his face is equal to hers — he can't have seen her approaching, either.
He recovers first; holds up his hands. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Elizabeth nearly laughs. It's such an odd, pointless thing to say. "Are you telling me to let you go?" She's the one with the weapon to hand, after all.
He lowers his hands — slowly, so she's in no doubt about what he's doing. "There probably wouldn't be much point in that."
"Not really." She's prepared, this time, hardening herself. But — it's different. There's an odd kind of stillness wrapped around this boy, some sort of silent conviction. "What's your name?" The question slips out, startling her.
"Peter," he says. "You're Elizabeth."
"Why are you walking around telling people you're not going to hurt them?" As a strategy, it makes no sense.
Peter gives a half-shrug. His face is pale in the gloom, marred by streaks of mud. "I refuse to play," he says.
"You can't refuse. You're in the Games; you don't have a choice."
He has a nice smile. She thinks she might like to get to know him, to sit down and talk, and see if his eyes ever stop being so serious. If this were another time. Another place. "You sound like Reece," he says. "I don't care what the rules are, I don't care what anyone says. This isn't right, and there has to be another way."
Reece is the Mentor for District Twelve. Their other Tribute, Lauren, was one of those killed in the bloodbath at the Cornucopia on the first day.
"There isn't another way. We have to play the game — only one person gets to be Victor." She wonders suddenly if she's misunderstood. "If you don't want to kill me, are you asking to be allies?"
He shakes his head. "No. Elizabeth, I won't kill anyone, and I won't play along with their rules. I'm not giving the Capitol that satisfaction." He sighs, and she knows he's prepared for this. "If you have to kill me — I'm sorry."
"You're sorry." She stares into his eyes. And he is, he is. He's sorry for her.
"Go," she says. "Don't — I don't want to have to hurt you." Go and die at someone else's hand.
He presses three fingers to his lips; holds them out to her. And then he turns and walks into the dark and the mist. She wipes at her eyes.
There has to be another way.
She knows she isn't brave enough to look for one.
- - -
It's in the darkness before dawn that Elizabeth is jolted awake by a siren blast. She freezes, instantly on alert for danger.
The danger is in the sky, just off to her left. It takes her a few moments to work out what the circle she's looking up at is supposed to be. And then she realises that this must be the endgame, sooner than she'd expected. (Not that she'd expected to see it at all.)
It's a representation of the Arena, with five small labelled dots. Eight, that's her. Twelve, Peter, who's already travelled some distance from her. The two Careers from District One are clearly working together, and the last one left is the girl from District Eleven.
El thinks, the odds in my favour could be worse, and then her brain catches up and she realises that she has to move, now. She's the soft target, and they'll all be aiming for her.
Although — are all her movements going to be tracked in the sky from now on? No: she's barely had time to stand when the siren sounds again and the map disappears.
It must have been projected directly above the Cornucopia. El considers the position of the dots and decides that it's the right direction to aim in, despite being the most obvious choice. If she makes it there will be supplies. More weapons. And at the very least, it feels good to have a destination.
- - -
The knife comes out of nowhere, whistling past her ear. She spins, recognises in a glance the girl who threw it, her startling eyes. Then she runs.
She's in the open. She can't fight her like this.
Kate's laughter rings in her ears and El fleetingly wonders, why is she laughing? I'm getting away! Then Vincent rises from behind a low shrub right in her path and he has a sword, a sword.
Elizabeth levels her staff, Matthew's staff with the knife on its end. She's afraid. More afraid than she has ever been in her life. Vincent's smile is lazily cruel.
He swings the sword and she parries. His blade snaps the wood in half and she screams, then, and throws herself at him with her other knife already in his hand while he's still bringing his arm out of the swing. It's hopeless — even in the midst of her terror she recognises that — but she'll never outrun him, so she'll die fighting instead.
Her knife slashes against his chest and arm and then he gets the sword around and it bites into her thigh. Her leg buckles beneath her and she falls, and he raises the sword to finish her — and then something slams into him and the cannon fires as he hits the ground.
The girl from District Eleven puts her foot on Vincent's ribcage and uses it as leverage to tug the short throwing-spear out of his heart.
"Look out!" Elizabeth gasps, and the girl jerks sideways, so that Kate's knife only just nicks her arm.
She gets her spear up as Kate goes for her second knife, and they freeze like that, each with a weapon poised to throw. If either of them miss they'll be left empty-handed.
They aren't looking at El, who has her own knife. She hasn't much aim, especially when she's lying on the ground, weak from pain and shock.
But Kate's forced to dodge it, all the same.
She recovers almost instantly, throws her own knife a split-second before the spear buries itself in her throat. She falls, and the girl from District Eleven stumbles back a step, drops to her knees. She reaches up to the handle of the knife sticking out of her chest, just below her shoulder, touches it once, leaves it there, and looks at Elizabeth.
"You saved me," she says. Like she doesn't quite know what to do next.
"You did the same," El says. She waits, but the girl doesn't move.
The upper part of her broken staff is within reach. El uses its blade to cut Vincent's shirt into strips which she binds tightly around her upper leg. Her hands are shaking, soon slick with blood. She doesn't look up until she's finished, and sees that the girl still hasn't pulled out the knife. Blood is seeping out slowly around it.
"I'm Diana," the girl says. "Were you heading to the Cornucopia?"
"Yes," El says. "I'm Elizabeth."
Diana pushes herself to her feet, and then holds out a hand. El hesitates, and then takes it.
- - -
The mists blow away as they approach, and the first colours of sunset flush the sky with golden hues. There had been so little colour recently.
El and Diana cling to each other as they walk, arms tight around their shoulders. El isn't sure how she's managing to keep going. She'd thought she'd hit her endurance point long ago, and yet. And yet she doesn't stop, and nor does Diana.
And then Peter steps out from the side of the Cornucopia, and both of them tense.
"Oh," says Diana after a moment, "It's you," and she laughs brokenly.
Peter goes around to El's other side and helps support her, so that she can take most of her weight off Diana. He doesn't say anything until he's got El sitting against a supply crate and Diana lying on the ground with his jacket under her head.
"There're some medical supplies in here," he says, and fusses around them, bringing water bottles and ration packs. El eats and drinks as he redresses her wound with careful, steady hands.
Diana pushes him away as he reaches out to her. "Peter, don't," she says. "There's no point."
"They could save you in the Capitol," Peter says.
"So, what? I should stab both of you and wait for them to collect me?"
"You could," Peter says, deeply serious. Elizabeth finds herself holding her breath.
Diana laughs again. "You can't do this," she says. "You can't make this end the way you want it to. That's not the way this works. It's not the way the Capitol works."
"I don't care," Peter says. "I'm going to try anyway."
"But what are you planning to do?" El asks him.
"I want you both to live," Peter says. "I want this — this monstrosity to end and us all to live."
"They won't let us have that."
His face is set, determined. "They can do what they like, but they can't stop me wanting it."
Diana shakes her head, and chuckles a little sadly. Then she coughs, and keeps coughing. Blood flecks around her lips.
"Do something!" El demands, at both of them.
Peter bites his lip. "I can't. Diana, I'm really, really sorry."
She smiles slightly, between coughs. "It — would be nice if you were right." She reaches up to the knife-hilt, feels for El's fingers with her other hand. Her grip is weak, her strength fading, but she turns her head to look into El's eyes. "Please. Help me."
El nods. She closes her hand above Diana's, around the hilt, and pulls. Blood follows the blade in a rush, spilling its sunset-colour warm over El's hands as Diana's eyes flutter closed.
She dies quickly.
Peter lifts her and carries her body a little distance away, lays her out gently.
El takes a deep breath, and meets Peter's eyes. "Is this what you're doing? Waiting us out?"
He walks back slowly, sits down next to her. "Your wound's not fatal," he says. "You aren't going to die."
Somehow, she finds herself leaning against him while he puts his arms around her. "So what now?" she asks, into the warm skin at his neck.
"You can win," he says.
She pulls away. Stares at him. "You're telling me to kill you? Now?"
"I wouldn't ask you to. I'll do it."
There has to be another way.
"No," she says, surprising herself with the intensity with which she feels it. Her eyes rest on Diana. "No. You're right, they can't make us kill each other." She feels unbearably light suddenly, giddy with the sensation which is defiance.
He grips her hands tightly. "You're with me? You're sure?"
"I'm sure," she promises. Another way. A better way.
Peter looks up at the darkening sky. Stars are appearing. "Your move," he says.
- - -
It's announced just as dawn breaks. Two Victors.
Elizabeth, who has slept all night in Peter's arms feeling safer than she can ever remember before, reaches up to his face as the hovercraft appears overhead and wipes away his tears. "You were right," she says.
"Thank you," he whispers.
Peter's eyes never leave hers as medics bustle around her. Someone injects her with something, and his face is the last thing she sees.
- - -
They present her to the Capitol. Their Victor.
They tell Elizabeth that Peter had been hiding his injuries from her. To protect her. They repeat over and over how he had been feverish, confused. She shouldn't worry about what he had been saying — he probably hadn't known himself.
Someone decides that he must have fallen in love with her, and suddenly she's hearing the words star-crossed everywhere. "He sacrificed himself for you," they tell her. "He died for you."
She remembers the cool skin of his cheek against her forehead, the clarity in his eyes.
Elizabeth is paraded in front of crowds and at parties. She meets the eyes of those who speak to her, and some are filled purely with inconsequential things, and some slide away. But in some there is something she recognises. Something defiant.
She smiles for the cameras, but inside she is hard as flint.
Someone whispers in her ear, The country's a tinderbox.
She collects and passes on glances, gestures, words heavy with hidden significance.
We have to make another way.
Elizabeth will strike sparks.
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