So. Here's another of the Victory oneshots. For those of you reading one for the first time, Caisha702 and I are teaming up to create a series of AUs where different characters have won. This is the fifth one – two can be found on my profile and two on hers.
This is the one I've been looking forward the least to posting, because out of all of them it's the least plausible. District Three was a really minor character but he had landmines, which trump all. Marvel was a Career. My other character is the most well known of all four I'm doing. But District Ten is a puzzle – he's barely mentioned in the books, and he's a cripple. How on earth would he be able to win?
Which is why I'm doing him. He was barely mentioned, but the little bits we did see of him intrigued me. And I wondered – if he was so crippled, how did he even survive the bloodbath, let alone make it into the top ten? (Which provides another reason I'm doing him – we needed a logical way to separate the characters we were doing from those we weren't. The top ten worked, even if we did extend it to include Glimmer.) That's how Cripple, my first HG multi-chapter fic arose. This character is the same Lucas from there, though hopefully you don't need to have read it to understand what's going on, just as you didn't need to read my other D3 oneshots to get Machinations.
This is in a different format from the others – all Arena – simply to address this implausibility. For the others, not writing the Arena was enough. Indeed, it was better, since it lets us explore all sorts of after-Games occurrences and impacts, and get in more backstories. But for Lucas, it wouldn't be believable if it began with the crippled boy from Ten waking up a victor without specifics of how he arrived there. So it's the way it is.
Oh, right - and it starts on the third day after everyone in the Arena with the exception of Rue, Thresh, and Lucas has been attacked by Tracker Jackers. It's in the fic, but just to give it a bit of context - the day Katniss blows up the mines, and the day he was killed in canon.
I know this has been a massive AN. I'm just trying to let you see my reasons for doing such an unlikely victor, especially a character originally 'created' to die. By the time you reach the end, maybe it will appear a touch more plausible to you, too.
When I wake up on the third day of solitude, there's a different atmosphere around. It's not something easily explainable – I just know, somehow, that where I am is not exactly the safest place to be anymore. Of course, it could just be my remembering that Tracker Jacker venom doesn't stay in the system for any longer than three or so days, and that if the things that had the Careers running were indeed them – and I don't see what else they could have been - there'll be a pack of bloodthirsty tributes after me soon.
Probably. Whatever the reason is, it wakes me up, and I spend the day on high alert. Luckily I had the presence of mind not to strip the bushes entirely, so there are plenty of berries for me to gather as I walk along. Not enough – there's never been enough food, not since the day I was put in the Arena – but it's still something to fill my constantly empty stomach.
This time I do strip the bushes. I'm not going to come back to this part of the Arena for a while. I might as well take all the food I can get, since it could be all I have all day. For that reason, most of my berries are wrapped in my plastic and tied around the stick for safekeeping. They aren't much, but the little pile grows taller with every bush.
This time my walking pattern is slightly different, too. The Careers are probably awake already. Even if they're not, you can't be too careful, not in the Hunger Games, so I head away from the lake and towards the burnt part of the forest. One I'm in the ruined forest I can cut back to the lake, since only those with a death wish would purposefully hide somewhere that barren. Which is exactly why it's such a good place for me to go.
Chances are I'm going to die anyway, sooner or later. What are the odds of a cripple winning the Games? Unlike most of the others, I have nothing to loose.
The second that though leaves my mind, I get angry at myself. If I think like that, then I've done exactly what they want me to do. Given up hope. That's the last thing I can do – if I think like that, then I will die. I'll probably die anyway, but I want to die as Lucas, not as some random tribute broken by the Games.
When I die, I want to be remembered for myself. Of course, that won't happen – I'll always be the Crippled Boy from Ten to most people. Still, that's better than dying in the bloodbath. The longer I live, the more chance I have of being remembered as someone unique. Even now, I'm not just the cripple, but the cripple who made it into the top ten.
I'm so caught up in my internal monologue that I almost walk straight past a bush loaded with berries. Almost suspiciously loaded, considering how many tributes in this Arena are living off only what they find. Oh well. It just means I get more food.
My stomach rumbles again, louder than the usual small ones I've learnt to ignore. Wow, those berries look good. Just like blueberries, only bigger and rounder and the nicest looking of all the ones in the arena so far. I pick one and bring it to my already-watering mouth.
I'm just about to pop the berry in when alarm bells go off in my head. Suddenly, I remember a conversation of a few days earlier.
"You don't want to eat that."
"Why shouldn't I? They're just blueberries, aren't they?"
"They're Nightlock. Poisonous. You don't want to eat them."
How could I have forgotten? The hunger must be getting to my brain, if it took me this long to realise that these berries were bad news. Idiot! I chastise myself. Of course they'd be poisonous. There's no way a bush that full of berries could have stayed like that unless the berries were poisonous – and other people knew it.
I lower the berry from my mouth, shivering slightly at the near miss. Before I throw it away, though, I'm hit with a brilliant idea.
"This looks very nice," I say as if to myself. Finally – my acting skills can come in useful again. "But I'd better keep it for later. Who knows when I'll be able to find more food?"
This is the first time I've talked to myself, but I figure that if I remember to say things seemingly to no one the audience will be fooled into thinking that the solitude is taking its toll on me. I hope. It's always good to have a plan B, especially if it's one no one knows exists.
I continue onwards, occasionally finding more berries or edible nuts, but nothing much happens all day. It's already nearing darkness when I find myself on the edge of the burned forest, so I find a bush to hide under and try to get some sleep. My food is going to be needed for quite a while so I limit myself to only a dozen of berries. It takes me a while to go to sleep with my stomach rumbling mutinously.
The next day continues much like the other did, only with far less pausing to search for food since there's nothing left in the black ashy trees of the burnt forest. I spend it heading in a direction I judge to be across the forest – it should end sometime, shouldn't it? – and towards the lake. My bottle's almost empty and I can't last too long without water.
The sun is high in the sky when I hear a resounding bang. It doesn't sound like a canon blast though. Almost… almost like a mine exploding. I remember watching a girl on TV years back. She dropped her District Token and killed herself – and condemned those around her to bits. Talk about a suicide bomber – those used to exist, back in the world before Panem. We learned about them in History – AKA 'Panem is the most glorious state ever created; we are a utopia compared to everything else'. Yeah right – I bet they just invented those to scare us.
Anyway, that's what the sound I hear sounds like; a mine, not a canon. It must be an illusion though. Maybe I've finally gone insane. No one would have access to mines here.
I stand there for a few minutes, waiting for a second blast, trying to determine if it was a trap of the Gamemakers – and if so, exactly where it was. This place has used up its trap quota, methinks, but it never hurts to be safe.
When no sounds come, I move on – until about fifteen minutes later, another bang is heard. This time it's a canon blast though. Interesting. I wonder who died. Oh well. I'll find out tonight. Time to move on.
I reach the end of the burnt forest in the afternoon, and the lake more or less at the same time. The golden glint of the Cornucopia is just about visible from where I stand, leaning on my stick for support. I must have gone almost halfway round the lake.
After refilling my drink bottle I wander still further away from the Cornucopia and back into the shelter of the forest, picking berries off suitable bushes as I go. When night falls I collapse to the ground, utterly exhausted, with the world beginning to spin. It's the last time I stand up for days.
Just before I drop off to sleep, I realise I won't be able to see who died today.
Days pass. They all look the same, now. I lie in the shade but the heat seems to get worse everyday.
Night falls countless times. I lie there racked by cold, shivering in my thin jacket. Sometimes I curl up into a ball; it helps, a bit.
I float in and out of consciousness. It makes no difference, anyway. Sometimes I catch myself reaching for the nightlock in my pocket. I catch myself in time, though. Somewhere in the back of my head is old Lucas, untouched by the exhaustion which wracks my body.
If I die then they win. If I'm alive, there's still a chance a miracle will happen.
More time passes. My stomach stops complaining. In return, I manage to ration the tiny amount of food I have left.
My mentor's voice echoes in my ears.
"Find water. You could probably live for the entirety of the Games on little food, but if you don't have water for three days then you're dead."
How did my Ando manage to project his voice into the Arena? And how aren't any of the others hearing this and looking for me? Then I realise I'm hallucinating. Or at least having very vivid memories.
My eyelids flicker and begin to close when I hear it again. It's stronger this time, almost a command.
My eyes jolt open. How long has it been since the last time I drank? My throat feels like sandpaper. I sit up, and the world spins.
Okay, so no standing suddenly. I need water, though, and it turns out my will to live is stronger than I thought.
Over time – I don't know how long; time is no longer relevant – I manage to get to my feet. The second my weight goes onto my crippled leg a sharp pain shoots through my body and I collapse onto the ground. I must have injured it somehow, and now it's back to how it was almost instantly after the accident.
I can't walk.
I sit there, plopped on the ground, for ages. Why move? There's no point. I probably won't make it to the lake, anyway. And even if I do, I'm almost out of food – and that's at about a berry a day.
Then: Memory, a ghost of a smile. A girl, Ren. My best friend. Maybe more.
"I don't want you to die either."
"Neither do I. I'll do my best to come back."
I can't die. I told her I'd try to come back. If I die, it won't be just because I'm giving up. If I wanted to give up, I would have given up ages ago. After the fire or when my name got called. If I was a quitter, I would never have learned to walk anywhere near as well as I could – can – now. So what's so special about now, that I'm almost giving in?
If I give up, I let them win.
So I switch positions, pull myself up on my knees. Slowly I crawl towards the direction of what I think is the lake. It's not easy, and I have to stop and rest several times. Finally, though, I make it.
Once I see the water I realise what I've been missing for so long. My legs finally give in and I collapse completely, flop onto my stomach on the edge of the lake. I unclip my empty bottle from by belt and fill it with water, then unzip my jacket bottle, pull out my small bottle of iodine and purify the water.
Now there's a half hour wait, but it seems far harder to resist the water now that there's actually some in front of me. I splash some water onto my face instead, to provide some relief from the incessant heat.
Once what I judge to be the correct amount of time has gone by, I gulp down some of the water. It's cool and refreshing and already makes me feel so much better. Slowly I finish off the bottle, not moving, then refill and purify.
I must've dosed off, because next thing I know it's dark outside and freezing cold. I'm stretched out on the slightly damp ground by the lakeside and shivering so much it hurts.
With great effort I climb to my knees – my leg still aches the second I put any weight on it – and crawl a few metres to the nearest bush. In the hope of finding at least some shelter I curl up underneath it, pulling off my jacket and wrapping it around me like a blanket.
Somehow I fall asleep again. When I wake up next it's either dawn or dusk, I can't tell which, and finally not too hot or cold. My throat is sandpaper again and I drain my drink bottle probably far too quickly. The last of my berries disappear into my stomach – they'll spoil if I leave them any longer.
It takes me time to gather enough energy to move the short distance to the lake. When I get there, I go through the now familiar routine of filling and purifying the water bottle. By the time I make it back to my bush I'm so tired I fall straight back to sleep.
I doze and wake and doze and wake, sliding in and out of consciousness. The hallucinations still come, more vivid this time. I think I see bright red berries which I know to be edible before realising the nightlock is halfway to my mouth. Maybe I should eat it – at least it would put an end to this state of constant fatigue.
No way. I want to live. I want to see Ren and Nan and maybe even Mum again. Maybe even Eoin – there's a lot left unresolved between us. And despite everything, he's still my brother. I'm not going to kill myself just because I can't take a bit of tiredness.
I force my hand back down and the berries back into my pocket. Really, I should throw them away, but somehow I can't. They represent my only hope of controlling my death.
Just before I slip into unconsciousness again I remember the element of surprise. If I use the berries for real, then the Capitol could hurt my family and friends if they suspect I'm killing myself on purpose. Better make it look like an accident if I do use them.
"Nah, I'll save them for later," I mumble, hoping that my acting skills are good enough for me to play someone going mad with hunger.
That's the last fully formed thought I have for quite a while. Time seems to elude me. I have no idea how long I've been in the Arena, and find I no longer care. It's just a routine – doze, wake up, drink, doze, wake up, drink, realise that the bottle's empty, laboriously refill it and doze again.
Once I am woken up by the anthem. My eyes jolt open, but there are no bodies in the sky. Oh, just another day with no deaths. The other tributes must be doing something really interesting, because the second they don't it'll be me, who has been lying weekly on the ground for god knows how long who dies. Yay. I close my eyes and go back to sleep, not caring.
"-Seven remaining contestants of the Seventy Fourth Annual Hunger Games."
The voice from the speaker jolts me awake again. There are only seven of us left? Who? How long have I been in this semi-conscious state for, and what have I been too out of it to notice?
"I am delighted to be able to invite you to a feast."
Oh well. I'm not going. It's not like I'm suicidal or anything, despite what my involuntary actions with the nightlock may have indicated.
"Now hold on. Some of you may already be declining my invitation. But this is no ordinary feast. Each of you needs something desperately. Each of you will find that something in a backpack, marked with your district number, at the Cornucopia at dawn. Think hard about refusing to show up. For some of you this will be your last chance."
Thanks for stating the obvious, Templesmith. Because of course I wouldn't have realised that I'm just going to get weaker and weaker before I die. Still not going. You know, because it's not exactly like I can walk there in this state. Someone else can grab my pack and have the food meant for me to sustain them. If you're still alive, I hope it's you, Lysandra. If I can't win then at least someone I respect as an equal should.
I lie awake for a while hoping for more announcements, but none come either. No images in the sky either, so I'm left to guess who's dead and who's not based on what I remember. I never did find out who died after that big explosion, I remember.
Last time I saw pictures in the sky was Glimmer and Varia, who knows how long ago. That left it down to me, Lysandra, the two from Twelve, the two from Eleven, the boy from three – Levi? – and the three Careers. Ten of us. So which were the three that died?
Maybe one or two from the Careers, if the pack's been split. If they kept it with the boy from One, two from Two and Peeta then Peeta's most likely dead by now. I'd say Rue, but from the little I've seen of her she seems able to hold her own at least as well as I can, and I'm still alive. Levi, too, should be dead – from what I saw of him in training, it was pure dumb luck he lasted this long.
I guess I'll have to wait and see what faces are in the sky tomorrow and extrapolate from there. For the first time in a while, a sliver of hope remerges. If they all kill each other off tomorrow, maybe I'll be simply the last one standing.
Sleep, which has been a constant for pretty much since I left the area with good food but far too close to the Cornucopia, eludes me. I lie awake staring at the sky, trying to ignore my rumbling stomach and wondering how many more will die tomorrow. And wondering, also, when the hunger will finally kill me off.
They said the feast would start at dawn. But it is dawn, and I don't hear any canon shots yet. Maybe no one bothered turning up. No, I think. Everyone had something they needed as desperately as I need food and a brace or something for my leg. They'll turn up – unless everyone is like me, lying in some far flung corner of the Arena starving to death. What a joke our Games will turn out to be if that happened. I almost want it to be the case, just to see the Capitol's reactions.
I doubt it, though. None of the people I think the other survivors are seem like the type to hide. They'll be at the feast – providing there really is one. Maybe I just hallucinated the whole thing.
Just as this thought crosses my mind the anthem plays. At the Cornucopia, a table will be rising out of the ground, just as it has every time there's been a feast. Original, these Capitol people are not.
Several minutes pass without a canon blast. Then there comes one, then silence. Lots and lots of silence. After what seems like an hour I decide nothing more will happen, and finally I get some sleep.
I wake up as it's getting dark. Just in time for the death recap. I can find out who died. Yay.
It's Clove's face which appears in the sky. That's it. So now we're down to six, whoever the other five are.
Cato will be one, methinks. If the Career pack was broken I can assume Marvel and Peeta were killed and District Two teamed up, leaving one more of the three for me to find. That would be Levi, I believe, or maybe Rue. That would leave Cato, Katniss, Lysandra, Thresh, myself and either Rue or Levi alive. Interesting – although not entirely unexpected, mostly.
I doze off and spend the next few days fading in and out of consciousness.
"Ando, are you listening?" I say one of the times where I'm feeling more awake than ever – and hungrier than ever, too. "Because if you are, I really could use your help."
I can almost feel the cameras switching to me, finally something interesting coming from this direction.
"You can't tell me we haven't got sponsors. I've made it to the top six, of course there will be some – right?"
I'd turn to face the cameras, but of course I can't actually tell where they are. Instead I look forward, sure they'll switch round to face me, putting on my best cripple in need of donations face.
"You don't mean to say we don't have any, do you? If I made it this far, of course I'm resourceful. And all the others will kill each other off, and it will take anyone else ages to find me. All I need is food, and I can win this thing."
Really, I don't expect anything to happen, so it's a surprise when a medium sized plastic box drops out from the sky about an hour or so later. It's crammed full of food – bread, cheese, crackers, some dried meat. Nothing too fancy, but it looks like heaven after days of subsisting on almost nothing.
I ration the food out carefully, and more time passes. It rains, and I get soaked. Oh well. The trees keep much of the rain off and I reassure myself with the thought that everyone else will be in a similar condition.
I go back to the doze off, wake up routine of before, only now my sleep is slightly less fitful and my awake state is more alert. It's amazing the wonders that a bit of decent food can do to a person.
Once the canon sounds. It's Thresh's face I see in the sky. Who could have killed him? The giant seemed more or less unkillable, but I guess everyone has their weak spots.
Days later another canon sounds. This time it's Lysandra who's dead. I spend some time in mourning – I only spoke to her a few times, but there was mutual respect between us. I fall asleep determined not to become another casualty of these Games.
The sound of howling wakes me up. I open my eyes and immediately recoil backwards in fear. Running towards me are what appear to be wild dogs, saliva dripping from their jaws.
I scramble backwards, cursing my leg. Normally, even after the accident, it would let me run, but now I can't even stand on it. I'm trapped. Now I will die. Surprisingly, the realisation doesn't bring as much fear as I thought it would.
The fear only hits once I see exactly what's attacking me. Or more accurately, exactly who. The monstrous dogs are tributes – I recognise Vince in a dark one with green eyes, Kyra in a smaller, lighter one with brown.
Then I lock my blue eyes with the amber ones of a red muttation, the brown ones of the smallest dark muttation, and I can see what I have to do.
"It's my foot that is crippled, not my brain."
"They're Nightlock. Poisonous."
"You don't have a monopoly on intelligence, District 5."
"You don't want to eat them."
"You're smarter than you look, Stonemason."
At least one of these mutations knows what nightlock is, knows that it will kill instantly. I'm guessing that means the others would too. Anyway, I'm sure they have to go kill the other three who are still alive. That means I can't kill them all.
Quickly, I reach into my pocket and pull out the (still intact, surprisingly) bundle of nightlock berries. I pull one out and squish it against my skin, staining myself blue. Matches my eyes, I guess.
"There," I say, staring the Rue-muttation in the eyes and smearing more nightlock over myself. "You eat me, you die. I die too, yes, but you die faster. Get it?"
It seems to work. One by one, the muttations growl at me then turn tail and run, heading towards the centre of the Arena. I guess that's where at least two of the other survivors will be having some sort of epic showdown, not knowing that it's about to be interrupted.
As for me, I don't care. I have bigger things to worry about – also known as getting the nightlock off me in case it's able to seep through pores. As I drag myself to the lake it occurs to me that if it did chances are I'd be dead already, having carried the berries in my pocket for so long, but it still doesn't fell right to be covered in poisonous berry mash.
When I reach the lake I roll unceremoniously off the bank into the water, not caring about how ridiculous I probably look. It's not like there are any cameras on me, anyway. Being in the Games helps you lose a lot of your sense of dignity.
I guess that shows how far I've come. Way back when these Games began – it seems like years ago now – I hated even faking my limp. Thought it was undignified. Now, I'm happily blue-stained, muddy, crawling on the ground and rolling into lakes without a care in the world. I'm still not sure if it's good or bad. Especially since I can't swim.
It seems like hours that I lie there, holding onto the bank, letting the nightlock wash over me. I could pull myself out, but I won't. Soon these Games will be almost over – the mutations will kill whoever's left, other than one, and then leave them to hunt me down. At which point the Capitol will probably arrange for my death and make them the Victor. You can't have one win purely by accident, can you?
Finally, I hear the bang of a canon shot. I wonder who it is.
Then silence. Then, the anthem plays. Huh? I think, then listen to the message.
"Greetings to the final contestants of the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games. The earlier revision has been revoked. Closer examination of the rule book has disclosed that only one winner may be allowed. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favour."
Huh? I think again. When was there a rule change? It must have been when I was sleeping, again. I swear I spent more of these Games asleep than awake.
I lie there, still in the lake, too weak to pull myself out. Waiting for the Capitol to kill me, for surely that is what they will do now there are two of us. They don't want an accidental Victor, do they?
Then. Two canons, almost simultaneously. Bang, bang. So there were three of us. Interesting.
Then the anthem, and a hovercraft picking me up and carrying me away to Victory.
So maybe they did have an accidental Victor, after all. I thought they didn't like them.
It is only later, when I am older and wiser and have seen the recap of these Games several times over, that I realise I was the backup plan. They let me live to avert what would happen if I had not. It was not the berries which drove the muttations away. It was not my pleading which gained me sponsors.
It was the Capitol, using me as a tool to avert a Rebellion.
An 'accidental' Victor was what they had wanted all along.