Chapter 1 |Chapter 2 |Chapter 3 | Chapter Five
A lingering feeling bubbled within Taemin even after his eyes had diverted to looking at the pair from District 11 in fake interest. He quickly pushed aside the interest in tribute 9 and trained his eyes on the doors in front of him, watching as one by one the districts tributes set off. As he heard the cheers increase with each time a chariot made its way out of the doors and down the great hall, anticipation and nerves began to build up. The feeling surprised him a little, for he had remained emotionally impartial, or rather, insulted by nearly everything so far. However the cheers of the crowds outside, chanting to the districts and the microphone playing out the names of the tributes, the celebratory feel of the Capitol’s people was rising excitement in him.
He glanced to Jieun, who was practically shaking and squeaking with elation. Her coal eyes flickered up to his, her smile spreading slightly.
“Excited?” She asked and Taemin shrugged a little, but he couldn’t deny that inside he was feeling a mixture of trepidation and exhilaration as the chariot lurched forward. He felt shaky at first, never having travelled on anything but foot before. He held onto the side and wondered how Jieun could be so at ease on this thing, waving her slender arm in the air, gasping behind her other hand as they entered the hall, greeted by the applauds of the thousands of Capitol’s people cheering.
He looked up at them, trying to take in as many of their faces as possible. Some were throwing flowers, some were waving their arms and banners and all sorts of peculiar accessories. It was as though every colour on the spectrum had been formed into people in the stands, a far cry from the monotonous clothes and drab feel from District 12 and it’s dark mines. Everyone here had a uniformed individuality in their eccentric looks. As Taemin watched them all screaming over him, his picture moving on the screens hanging over the walls of the building and tapestries, the commentators describing his costume, he could feel the buzz of excitement. He could almost understand, in this short moment, how easily drawn into the celebratory feel of the hunger games it would be for these people in the Capitol, who’s children are safe. The feeling was snatched away quickly, as he saw one of these children waving a foam axe. All the previous euphoria disappeared, replaced with an irreplaceable disgust for these people.
He swallowed it back and tried to plaster on a polite smile as Donghae and Joon had warned him to, prior to arriving. As President Snow stepped up to introduce the 54th Annual Hunger Games, Taemin’s discomfort grew. Each word from the despicable man’s cracked lips sent tingles down each standing hair on Taemin’s skin, though none stuck in his mind. The echoey voice made no sense in his ears, like a constant buzzing that he wanted to stop. A pounding in his head, Taemin wanted to rip the microphone away from President Snow, yell at all the crowds cheers to stop, make everything stop. He wanted to turn, to run, to run home to his family, to Taesun, to Kai, to Luhan and Sehun, but his legs were frozen in place. He knew he couldn’t, imaginary shackles keeping him in place.
His jaw tightened anxiously, hands balled into fists. He did not relax until he was back behind the doors, away from the crowds, and Joon was helping him down from the chariot, muttering something about looking too tense. He could feel Key shooting Taemin glares whilst he helped Jieun down beside him. The only humble smile that made Taemin feel at least a small bit comforted once again came from Donghae, who gave him an understanding pat on the shoulder. Of course, Donghae had been through this, so perhaps he would understand how Taemin was feeling. His hand remained on Taemin’s shoulder as they were guided to the cars, sliding in the back and sitting beside him.
Donghae of course kept up a continuous conversation, discussing the other costumes with Joon, throwing compliments and criticisms back and forth, but he didn’t make any attempt to include Taemin this time. Taemin was grateful for this; he needed the short time in the car to absorb where he was. He lent his head against the window, watching the streets of the Capitol’s night city stream by. Crowds of more citizens lined the streets in their bright clothes and extreme make up, their foreign accents springing the city to life. He watched the excitement etched into each of their faces as they discussed this evenings show.
Donghae nudged him slightly, warm eyes meeting his for a moment of reassurance before they slid out of the car and made their way into the tall building that Taemin, and the 23 other tributes would be staying in. Jieun, who had ridden in the front with Key, squeaked a little as she admired the size of the building. It was tall, and as Key explained, our rooms were at the very top. Once again, Donghae’s hand was on Taemin’s back, comfortingly guiding him to the elevator. It whisked them up instantly to the top floor, opening up to the grand floor of District 12 Tributes.
It was an apartment that Taemin would have dreamt of staying in under any other conditions. Everything was modern, except for an authentic fireplace, a large television screen hanging on the wall above it. A black leather sofa was lined in front of it. The floors and walls were clinic white, which did make Taemin a little uncomfortable, but also felt strangely clean. There were no coats of coal dust layering over everything. None of the Capitol’s people’s disgustingly eccentric bright colours except for the odd flash of red flowers or place mats and a red rug. Jieun ran forward, admiring everything and turning around and around in happiness.
“It’s beautiful!” She exclaimed, as Key approached her with pure glee. It seemed those two were hitting it off pretty well. Taemin’s jaw tightened again.
“Do you like it Taemin?” Donghae patted his back. Taemin nodded stiffly.
“Come on, it’s time for our meal.” Joon mumbled, slipping into one of the white chairs at the dining table as a pair of Avoxes set down plates of food. Taemin had intended to escape eating and go straight to his bedroom, but now that the glorious meal was glowing before him, he couldn’t help but settle down into the seat beside Donghae, loosening his tie a little. Key passed him a brief glare for it but Taemin was too tired to care.
“Taemin,” he said shortly. Donghae’s movements suddenly slowed down beside Taemin, who didn’t look up when answering Key.
“You should learn from Jieun, you know.” As Taemin look up at him, Key was smirking almost maliciously. “Learn to show some energy, no one’s going to want to back someone who looks miserable all the time.”
Taemin stiffened a little, his eyes becoming cold.
“Don’t you think you should leave mentoring up to Donghae, Key?” Joon quickly cut in before Taemin could answer with any of the spiteful comments balancing on the tip of his tongue. Key shrugged.
“Just giving a bit of friendly advice.” He smiled innocently.
“How can you stand it?” Taemin was suddenly looking straight at Jieun, who’s eyes widened in shock as he spat the words coldly out at her in a raised voice, “how can you stand to even pretend to be happy about any of this? Are you stupid? Don’t you understand?”
Donghae rubbed Taemin’s arm soothingly, trying to quieten him as Joon and Key both froze.
“Don’t you understand?” Taemin repeated, a little louder, tenser. Jieun remained silent, her peaceful demeure replaced with shock at Taemin.
“You’re going to die! We both are!” He finally shouted, slamming his hand on the table and raising to a stand, sending a tremour down Jieun’s body. Nobody knew what to do. There was a passing moment of silence as the words hung in the air, wrapping them around everyone, until finally Donghae rose next to Taemin, taking his arm.
“I’ll take him to his bedroom.” He said calmly, pulling Taemin by the wrist away from the table.
As they came into what must be Taemin’s bedroom, he let out a soft sigh, sitting on the edge of a double bed in the center of the simple room. Before Donghae had to say anything, Taemin broke. His legs gave way, causing him to fall onto his knees, closing his eyes and scrunching his face up pathetically.
“I’m scared,” he whimpered, and Donghae was immediately there, his arms around Taemin, hushing him.
“I know, Taemin, but you have to believe you stand a chance in order to actually stand one.” He rubbed little circles around Taemin’s shoulders, lifting him and guiding him to the bed.
“I just don’t see how I can possibly stand a chance. You saw them, half of them have muscles thrice the size of mine. Even the guy from district 9 had muscles!” He shook his head quickly, trying to erase that stupid image of the smiling district 9 guy.
“You’ve got muscles too, Taemin,” Taemin looked at Donghae doubtfully, but as Donghae raised Taemin’s upper arm, inspecting it, he began to notice.
“They’re not bulging with strength, but they have something. You had to work a lot with your arms in the mines, but even so,” Donghae’s fingertip traced over Taemin’s arm, “do you do sports, Taemin?”
Taemin shook his head, and then quickly stopped.
“Sometimes for entertainment, me and the guys do a bit of dance. It’s nothing serious.” He shrugged a little. Donghae nodded thoughtfully, then pointed to the space in front of them.
“Dance for me.” He ordered. Taemin cocked his head, raising an eyebrow. “I want to see something, so do it.”
Taemin blinked and nodded, standing up and slowly at first, for it felt odd without music, but soon Donghae started clapping a steady beat and Taemin’s body reacted before he had to think. He didn’t really recite much in his mind, he let his body move on it’s own graceful accord, and it was only for a few minutes. Yet his arms moved powerfully in coordination with his legs. It wasn’t, in his own opinion, one of his best dances by far, yet Donghae’s bright smile and sudden applause took him off guard.
“This is excellent.” Donghae nodded as Taemin sat back down. “You’re surprisingly athletic. You’ll have good stamina within these muscles, and that will get you further than anything. If you can avoid as much conflict with people as possible, let them kill the majority of each other off if you can, and use your feet, you’re a fast mover. With good training you’ll be able to climb efficiently, and I’m sure your arm will be good since your execution and coordination with your body is trained. All you have to do, is survive.”
“When does training begin?” A small flicker of hope began to flame within Taemin. Donghae made it sound as though he could actually win this. Donghae really believed that Taemin could win this. If Donghae thought he could win, then why couldn’t he?
“Tomorrow, we’ll talk about it at breakfast. Get a long night’s sleep now though, Tae, you’ll need it.” He patted Taemin’s knee before leaving him alone in his room. He laid back against his bed, gazing out the window and up at the first star, shining through the pitch black cover of the sky. It was unlike District 12’s starlit sky, it almost felt lonely. Yet that one hopeful star glimmered brightly enough that even in this place, Taemin could see it. He smiled to himself as the new hope of possibly going home a victor filled his body with warmth. Possibly going home. The hope of winning for Taesun was enough to beat all other fears or hatred down, replacing his previous hopelessness with determination.