WhiteCollar-Peter with gun

More from the White Collar/Fallen London AU: Into the Wastes

Fallen London AU master list at Frith-in-Thorns' LJ.

Another installment in the sprawling fusion between White Collar and Fallen London that [personal profile] frith_in_thorns and I are inexplicably writing!

Story context for those not playing Fallen London: At the start of the game, you choose an "Ambition", which is basically a long storyline that you play throughout the course of the game, in between all of the minor storylines. One of the Ambitions involves hunting a mysterious monster called the Vake. We both thought this would be the perfect Ambition for Peter. :D What happens in this story is basically what happens during one section of the Vake-hunting storyline, more or less, except of course you're playing solo in the game; you don't have friends to help out. (So, some game spoilers here, but only for one storyline.)

Title: Into the Wastes
Word Count: 4000
Summary: Elizabeth didn't normally come around the Flit ...



Neal was used to Peter showing up unannounced at Mozzie's rooftop shack, usually just in time to catch the two of them in the act of either planning or having recently committed something dangerous and (in Peter's opinion) immoral. Elizabeth didn't normally come around the Flit, though. To Neal's eyes, she looked rather incongruous standing in the doorway, although she didn't seem ill at ease.

"Elizabeth! Come in." Mozzie used his foot to surreptitiously shove a bag of dead rats behind the gilt firescreen. (It was quite a well-appointed shack, inside.) Neal rose to offer her a chair. "Tea?" Mozzie said. "Wine? We just opened an excellent Greyfields 1868."

"No, thank you. I can't stay long." Elizabeth smiled at both of them. Seeing her more closely, Neal realized that she looked tired, with small lines of strain around her eyes. "I was wondering if either of you had seen Peter recently."

"Not that recently," Neal said. Actually, now that he thought about it, he hadn't been to Peter and El's cottage in some time. There were so many opportunities in the Neath; he'd been rather busy, of late. "Is something wrong?"

El frowned. "It might be nothing, but he hasn't been home in three days. That really isn't like him."

"He might just be caught up in a case. You know how he gets."

"I know," she said. "But what worries me is ... well. This note." She extracted a folded bit of paper from her sleeve. "Someone poisoned him recently with weeping nettle extract at Tyrant's Gardens; I don't know if you knew about that." Neal shook his head, and accepted the note from her gloved hand. "In any case, he wouldn't talk about the details. He was recuperating at home. I came home to find him gone and this note on the mantel."

Neal unfolded the note; the handwriting was Peter's bold scrawl. Neal read aloud: "Dear El, Have come upon a clue to the whereabouts of the Vake. Shall return shortly. All my love. Peter."

"That d--- Vake hunt," Elizabeth said. She swallowed the unladylike obscenity, but Neal caught a vestige of it anyway. "I've been asking around the Hill and the docks, his usual hangouts, but no one's seen him."

"You've come to the right place," Mozzie said firmly. "I'll put out word to the urchins and the Raggedy Men. They have eyes and ears everywhere."

Neal tucked a hand under her elbow. "We'll find him. Come on. When was the last time you had something to eat?"

They went for a bite in Veilgarden, seeking a quiet table in the back of a small cafe. A little color came back to Elizabeth's face once she'd eaten, and with it, a flare of anger. "I wish he'd never started looking for the Vake," she said fiercely. "I knew it was going to end badly. People die hunting the Vake, Neal -- die permanently, I mean."

"People die when they're not hunting the Vake too," Neal pointed out, and then frowned. "That ... sounded more comforting in my head. But what I mean is, London's full of hazards either way. And it's Peter. He's resourceful, and dangerous, and careful."

"I know." El sighed, and poured the dregs of the coffeepot into her cup. "I'd feel better if he hadn't just been ill."

"What happened?"

"I don't know the details, exactly. He met someone at Tyrant's Gardens, about the Vake of course, and ended up staggering home, poisoned. I was able to obtain an antidote, but he wasn't entirely well. And then I came home and he was gone."

"Have you tried talking to other Vake hunters?" Neal suggested. "Plenty of people are looking for the Vake. Someone might have an idea where he went."


***


It took a long afternoon of buying drinks for scarred, swaggering would-be Vake hunters, but eventually someone pointed them in the direction of the Prickfinger Wastes. From all accounts, a number of Vake-seekers had gone into the Wastes lately. And most of them had not come out.

"Black Wings Absinthe Nouveau," mumbled their stubbled informant. He wore an eye patch and was missing two fingers on his right hand. "That's what they're looking for now, I hear. Think it'll take them to the Vake, or bring the Vake to them. Fools. They're as bad as the Northridden."

Neal met El at the edge of the Wastes, decked out in her most dangerous garb. "I should buy a tiger," El murmured as they made their careful way through the glittering, crystalline trees. "I shall price them at the Bazaar as soon as this entire business is behind us."

Neal had never been to the Wastes before; normally he stayed as far away from the wilderness as possible. Lethal though it was, the place had an elegant beauty, like a museum filled with intricate crystal sculptures. The crystal wasteland caught the light of El's lantern and splintered it in a thousand directions; it was like being inside a chandelier.

"Look," El murmured, kneeling carefully; her skirt caught on a jagged crystal shard, and she gently pulled it free, then reached to touch something dark in the lantern's light. "Blood. Old -- a few days at least."

"It's not Peter's," Neal said quickly.

"You can't know that."

They followed the blood trail deeper into the Wastes, and then El made a soft sound in her throat and held the lantern high. Before them was a narrow ravine, with a body tangled in its depths. Neal hastily averted his eyes -- this person was dead. Very dead. Very, very dead.

"I know him," El said. She leaned over, holding the lantern as near to the shredded corpse as possible. Neal risked a peek. Still dead. "I'm not sure of his name, but I've seen Peter talking to him. He's another of those hunting the Vake."

"It looks like he found it." Neal didn't consider himself an expert on bodily mayhem, but even he could tell that whatever had done this was very fast, and very large, and very ... sharp. Seeking somewhere else to rest his eyes, preferably somewhere not covered with blood, he spied something lying on the ground, and took a step forward to pick it up. "What's this?"

It was a small crystal bottle, lying on the ground. It was unstoppered, but it had fallen very nearly upright, retaining some of the oily, bright-red liquid within. Neal picked it up carefully and held it near El's lantern, allowing him to read the neat copperplate lettering on the bottle: Black Wings Absinthe Nouveau.

"Neal," Elizabeth said in a strange voice. She was looking down at the glittering ground near her feet. A single leather glove, slightly torn, lay in a swatch of blood. El picked it up, moving slowly as if her bones hurt her. "This is Peter's," she said, turning it over.

"He was here," Neal said. That didn't seem good.

"He was here," Elizabeth said, "and he drank this." She tapped the bottle in Neal's hand; it rang out a thin, clear note. "And it took him somewhere -- somewhere he can't get back from."

"Or possibly he went back to the city and he's at the cottage right now."

Elizabeth shook her head. "It's been too long. He's gone somewhere, and he's in trouble." She swallowed, and looked at the bottle. "There's only one way to find out."

They both stared at the red liquid for a moment. Maybe it was only a trick of the lantern light, but Neal thought it seemed to move independently within the bottle.

"If we're going to do this," he said, and realized even as he said it that of course they were, "then let's do this back at your lodgings, at least, rather than in the middle of the wilderness."

"There's no time," El said. "It'll take us half the night to find our way back."

"Then let's do it." Neal raised the bottle to his mouth before she could stop him. He wasn't about to let her go first. Carefully he allowed a single drop to fall onto his tongue.

It was shocking. Like sipping starlight, like swallowing the pure concentrated essence of a honey-dream. He felt the bottle start to fall from his fingers; El must have caught it, because he didn't hear the crystal tinkle as it hit the ground, but the Wastes were already receding, falling away from him.

He'd experienced honey-dreams before, and he recognized the feeling of falling out of the world into somewhere else, somewhere that was very like the world and yet, not quite. Unlike the hazy warmth of a honey-dream, though, this was shockingly sharp and clear, like balancing on the edge of a knife. He was running, running through the Waste, the crystal wilderness whipping by with impossible speed. In the real world he would have been slashed to ribbons, but instead he was unharmed. Energy filled him like a rush of surface light, and he leaped, impossibly high and impossibly far, out of the Waste and into the carnival. It was dark, silent, deserted as he'd never seen it, and he was already plunging into the space beneath the Big Wheel. Down, down -- down to the places where sleeping monsters lived.

His feet hit the ground with a jarring shock, and he stood very still, trying not to breathe too loudly. It was completely and utterly dark, a clammy and oppressive darkness, like having a damp burlap sack wrapped around his head. Neal couldn't tell if he was dreaming or not. He felt wide awake and completely present. If this was like a honey-dream, then it didn't matter; he was here, and whatever happened to him here was really happening. For good or ill.

He thought of the Vake-hunter's body in the crystal wilderness, its flesh laid open to the bone, and swallowed heavily.

It was completely dark, but not entirely silent. Somewhere distant, he heard waves lapping on a far-off shore. Nearer, there was the soft dripping of water.

He thought he heard something move.

Then he definitely heard a thump and a startled, feminine gasp not too far away. The sudden thought occurred to him -- he hadn't thought about it before -- that he and Elizabeth might not have shared the same dream, or journey, or whatever was happening to them; they might have gone separately, and separate from Peter as well.

But if she was here, then Peter might be here too.

"El?" he called very quietly. His voice, though no more than a whisper, seemed terribly loud in the dark. It echoed faintly around him, giving him an impression of great height and depth. Whatever they were, it was very large.

"Ow," El whispered. "Ugh. What did I land in?"

Neal felt his way towards her. Something skittered out from under his boot, and his next step squished unpleasantly.

And then there was light, sudden and dim. Neal squinted, his eyes already adapted to the darkness. El had brought the lantern with her, muffled in a heavy woolen scarf, and she'd just lifted one corner to release a thin beam of light.

She was sitting, and he was standing, in a field of bones. One of Neal's feet was resting on the crushed, powdery remains of a skull. He nearly fell over in his haste to get off it, but there was nowhere to stand where there wasn't something that had once been ... someone.

The only movement, other than the two of them, was the rustling of rats and sorrow-spiders. They were standing in a charnel house. Old weapons, rust-edged, glinted dully in the lantern's light.

El's voice shook as she whispered, "I -- I think we should find Peter and get out."

Neither of them mentioned the possibility that Peter was beyond help. Neal gave her a hand up.

"Extinguish that light!" a voice rasped from not too far away. A very familiar voice.

"Peter!" they gasped in unison. El wrapped her scarf around the lantern so that only the barest gleam showed, and by that dimmest of lights they picked their way through the bodies of the dead.

Peter was slumped behind a heap of corpses that he appeared to be using for a crude shelter. Neal's stomach lurched at the sight of him. Peter was a bloody, ragged mess. If he hadn't been moving (sort of) and talking (weakly), Neal would have thought he was as dead as the Vake-hunter in the Waste.

"What are you two doing here?" Peter demanded. He was obviously trying to sound angry, but his voice was nothing but a thread. He clasped El's right hand and Neal's left with cold, trembling fingers, sticky with blood. "No, nevermind, I guess it's obvious. I'd tell you that you shouldn't have come, except --"

"If you're stupid enough to come here, of course we're going to follow," El said, and she knelt and gathered him into her arms, heedless of the blood and filth she was getting on her dress. "What are you thinking?" she demanded to the top of his head.

"I know," Peter said hoarsely. "Yell at me all you like later. But right now, put that light out." His voice cracked a little on the command. He'd been down here in the dark for days, Neal thought, and his grip tightened on Peter's icy, blood-wet hand as El muffled the lantern, plunging them back into that utter, Stygian blackness. Peter squeezed back, with only a weak shadow of his usual strength.

"I don't suppose you have any water," Peter said faintly. "The lake ..." He coughed. "Drinking from it isn't a good idea. There's some water that drips from the ceiling, but not -- not much."

"I have something better than that." There was a rustle as El moved in the darkness. "Tincture of Vigour. Neal, hold him up, please."

Neal slid an arm under Peter's shoulders. Peter made a faint sound deep in his throat. "Sorry," Neal whispered. There was nowhere to touch him that wasn't going to hurt him. Blood, fresh and hot from a reopened wound, trickled over Neal's arm. He supported Peter against his chest as El helped him drink.

One bottle wasn't going to do much for injuries as bad as Peter's, though. They had to get out, get back to London, where there were doctors and needles and laudanum and other useful things.

"So, Peter," he said, and felt Peter shift against him, tipping his head back. "How does a person get out of here, anyway?"

Peter cleared his throat. "I assume you have to kill the Vake." He sounded a little stronger, but not much.

"Which I suppose is what you've been trying to do," El said. She joined them on Peter's other side; Neal slid over a bit, letting El get her arms around Peter, too. Her shoulder was pressed together with Neal's; the three of them were linked in a human chain, with Peter the link that joined them, wrapped up tightly in their arms.

Peter made a noise that was almost a laugh, but perilously close to a sob. "I'm not too proud to admit that after the first couple of bouts, all I was trying to do was get away. There's nowhere to go. The Vake -- it's too fast, and I can't anticipate its movements in the dark."

"Where is it now?" El asked, her voice so hushed Neal could barely hear her.

"I don't know. It comes and goes. This place is huge."

"Shh!" Neal hissed. He'd heard something. The other two instantly fell silent.

Somewhere in the vast, cavernous darkness, there was a scrabbling sound: claws on stone. Over the charnel stink of the cave and the smell of Peter's blood, Neal caught a powerful whiff of something rank and strong -- animal musk and foul old blood.

"Damn it," Peter whispered. He struggled weakly in their arms; Neal realized that he was trying to put himself in the way. To protect them.

"No," El said. She pushed him down, moving in the dark. Standing.

In the dark, there was a voice, a ripping sawblade of a voice. It filled the blackness around them. "Hunter! Alone! Not alone! No matter! Kill! Kill you all! Crack your bones! Drink your blood!"

-- and there was more, a furious babbling shriek that filled the air until Neal's ears hurt and his skull ached. He didn't know what Elizabeth was doing; all he knew was that Peter had been alone, in the dark, against that, and he threw himself on top of Peter, even as Peter tried to claw free.

Elizabeth uncovered the lantern.

Light, full light, flooded the cavern. Neal got an impression of something huge and leathery bearing down on them, with eyes that were twin pits of firelight and madness. Its shriek rose to a crescendo of pain and fury, and then El whirled to the side, struck down with a glancing blow. The lantern flew from her hand and smashed on the cavern floor, splashing paraffin everywhere. It guttered but did not extinguish; instead the fuel caught fire and lit up the cavern with a flickering, eldritch glow.

Neal felt something tear across his face and forehead -- a blade or claw or wing. Blood ran into his eyes.

He no longer had a grip on Peter. Neal wiped the blood out of his eyes, struggling to his hands and knees, and saw that Peter was standing, somehow. At some point in the past days Peter had lost all his weapons, so he reached for a corroded and broken ravenglass knife from one of the corpses. The cracked glass lacerated his fingers but he gripped it anyway, blood dripping from his hand. Around his feet, burning lantern fuel flared with a wan blue flame. El was struggling to rise, a black swatch of blood bisecting her pale face.

"Stay away from them," Peter snarled, taking a shaking step forward.

Somewhere in the darkness beyond the circle of light, the Vake shrieked, "Kill you! Swallow you! Tear sweet meats! From tender bones!"

Neal made it to his feet, swaying slightly. Unless he wanted to try stabbing it with a set of kifers, the only weapon he had at hand was a prison shiv, left over from his last stint in New Newgate. He gripped the leather-wrapped handle so tightly that his fingers ached. On Peter's other side, El was holding out a poison-tipped umbrella.

We're going to die, Neal thought, as the Vake's scream shivered the air around them. A particularly stupid and pointless death, too. At least they'd go down fighting.

And together.

The great leathery shape of the Vake swept down on them -- and then a light flared in the cavern that washed out the dying flames of El's lantern. Fire and -- singing? Some kind of battle song, a chorus of female voices raised in a language Neal didn't recognize. Then the tip of the Vake's wing hit him and sent him sprawling. His head cracked into the cavern floor, and he spun down into darkness.


***


Neal awoke with blankets on top of him and something soft beneath. He blinked and squinted up at an unfamiliar painted ceiling. Somewhere in Veilgarden? Perhaps. Definitely not a cavern full of bones, though. And he was alive. He raised an arm and flexed his fingers just to be sure. Then he propped himself up on his elbows.

He was in a rather small but lavishly decorated bedroom. A heavy red curtain blocked the doorway. Peter was in the bed next to him, and Neal slid out of his own bed, bare feet sinking into thick carpet. Peter slept soundly, but it seemed to be a natural sleep -- not death, and not the drugged stillness of laudanum. Someone had washed and shaved him. A deep cut across his cheekbone had been stitched neatly.

"No Tomb-Colonies for you yet, I guess," Neal murmured. He brushed the back of his hand lightly across Peter's cheek. Then he picked up a gold dressing-gown which had been draped across the back of the chair between the beds, and went to find out where he was.

He recognized it as soon as he stepped out into the hallway. This was Sinning Jenny's establishment, the Parlour of Virtue. They must be somewhere very deep in the back, where he'd never been. He heard female voices, pitched low, and followed the sound as he belted the robe around him.

He found Jenny, Elizabeth, and a woman in a nun's habit and wimple all sitting around a low table with glasses of brandy. Neal felt instantly self-conscious as soon as he stepped into the presence of the three females, acutely aware of his completely inappropriate dressing-gown; however, Elizabeth was wearing a loose robe of an Oriental style, and Jenny wore her trademark scarlet stockings and a skirt that was cut scandalously high so as to reveal them. In this establishment, scandal was simply an accepted hazard, and Neal had never shied away from it in any case. Sliding into a more social persona, he beamed at the women and took a seat next to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth smiled at him, and Jenny poured him a snifter and handed it to him. Her fingers, with brightly painted nails, brushed against his. "I don't believe we've been introduced yet," she said. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Caffrey."

"And you as well." After touching his lips to his hostess's hand, Neal turned to look curiously at the third person in the room. The nun's complexion was dark, and the device that hung around her neck was a startling thing: heavy, large, and pointed, clearly meant for inflecting damage. Was that a bit of dried blood on the tip? "If it's you that we have to thank for our rescue," Neal said, "we are greatly in your debt."

The slightest of smiles touched the nun's lips. "Mostly luck, I would say," she said. "The sort of luck that protects children and fools." She rose, and dipped her head briefly to Jenny. "Thank you for the excellent brandy."

She unwound the cross's silver chain from around her neck, and placed the whole affair in Elizabeth's hand. Neal could see by the way El's hand dipped that it was heavy. "Please give this to your Vake-hunting friend when he is awake. For all the good it will do him."

"I will," El said. "Thank you, again, to you and your sisters for the help."

The nun did not respond to this; she merely turned away, lifted the beaded curtain draped over the doorway, and glided silently from the room.

Neal found that Jenny was regarding him with an amused expression. "Ah, Elizabeth," she said. "You have lovely friends. I look forward to getting to know this one better."

"You two," Neal said, realization dawning. "You know each other."

"We've met," Elizabeth said, and took a small sip of her brandy. "Is Peter awake yet?" A soft flicker of concern lit her eyes.

"No, but he looks a lot better than he did the last time I saw him."

"It would be quite difficult to look worse," Jenny said. "Please do try to stay out of Vake-lairs in the future."

El sighed. "For myself, I can certainly promise; for my husband, however ..."

"Maybe between the two of us, we can keep him Vake-free," Neal said quickly.

Jenny glanced between them, and then shook her head, with a slight and knowing smile, and topped off her own glass of brandy. "Well, should he wish to continue in his quest, the Sisters might be able to help him do it more safely. You'll have to zail to the convent to speak to them, however."

"Oh dear," El groaned. "He wanted to save up for a ship anyway. This will not help."

"At least it'll keep him busy," Neal pointed out. "While he's going through all the paperwork to buy a ship, he won't be wandering around the Wastes."

"I suppose." El reached for the brandy decanter. "However, just to be on the safe side, I am definitely purchasing a tiger."



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I have to admit I'm unfamiliar with Fallen London but this is the second story I've read in this universe that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Love how the WC characters are fitting into this world so well. Naturally Peter would be the one hunting the vake and naturally Elizabeth and Neal are following. Situation normal in an abnormal world.

I think I'm going to have to catch up with the rest of these stories.

Thanks for writing; I am missing my White Collar fix; this helps admirably. :)
Thank you so much! ♥ I'm glad you're enjoying these despite not being familiar with the game world. The lovely thing about this AU is that it gives us an opportunity to write the characters rallying together against outside threats, which is always the most fun anyway. :D
Awwwww, everyone!

I adored Neal and El working together to rescue Peter, finding all the clues to where he'd gone. And the description of drinking the absinthe and being transported was fantastic.

But my favourite bit was the whole section in the cavern, with them holding one of Peter's hands each and Peter trying to protect them and then Neal protecting Peter... so much love for all of this! ♥ ♥ ♥

I loved, too, the exasperation later, and the fact that Jenny and Elizabeth know each other. Which, of course they do XD XD *cuddles everyone*
Thank you! ♥ ♥ ♥ I do love this AU a lot (oh, and I should post the Mutton Island fic so that it can be added to the timeline in its proper place!). The part in the cavern was my favorite part to write, too. ♥
Aww, I loved this! \o/ There were not enough Peter-Neal-El interaction in Season 4, and this series is a nice fix for it! :) They're adorable together.

She joined them on Peter's other side; Neal slid over a bit, letting El get her arms around Peter, too. Her shoulder was pressed together with Neal's; the three of them were linked in a human chain, with Peter the link that joined them, wrapped up tightly in their arms.
I loved this image ♥

He didn't know what Elizabeth was doing; all he knew was that Peter had been alone, in the dark, against that, and he threw himself on top of Peter, even as Peter tried to claw free.
Awww, again ♥

Thank you!
Thank you very much! I am having way too much fun writing this series. ♥ They will always try to protect each other. :)
He's resourceful, and dangerous, and careful.
Ahahaha! Oh, I enjoy this! As a sagacious and sinister individual (not sure when I became sinister; I liked some of my previous attributes better, sigh), I applaud you.

I also enjoyed the insight into the Bag A Legend Ambition; I'm Heart's Desire, myself. Neal is clearly Light Fingers (I am ignoring all evidence towards Nemesis, ha) - all Shadowy and Persuasive. Especially Persuasive.

I love this game so much, and these characters. This is the best crossover ever.