Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four |
Chapter Five | Chapter Seven |
The following morning, Taemin woke up to an unfamiliar weight on one side of his bed. He squinted his eyes open, allowing them to adjust as Donghae came into focus. His honey warm eyes were soft, but there was a flicker of deep concern behind them, which unsettled Taemin. He sat up, propping his torso on the weight of his elbows.
“Donghae?” He asked blankly, a drowsy yawn escaping. “What’s wrong, am I late again?”
“No, no..you’re not late Taemin, ah.. it’s the rankings today, you remember that right?” There was no trace of his usual smile on his worried features. Taemin’s jaw tensed up as he nodded.
“Yeah…I remember…” How could he forget? He’d been watching the games consistently every year since he could remember.
“You’ve been training hard, right? You haven’t told me much about your training…I’m a bit worried about what you were planning on showing them.” It slowly started to sink into Taemin why Donghae was concerned.
“I’ve been training to survive.” He stated mentally adding not to kill and Donghae nodded once.
“How?” He prompted and Taemin bit his lip, nervously.
“I’d been studying things like what’s safe to eat out in the wild, how to set up traps. Perhaps I could set up a human sized trap today?” Taemin’s stomach dropped slightly as Donghae’s worried eyes fell to the floor.
“I don’t think that will do. Do you remember what I said, about you dancing? Your precision in your movements is good, remember?” Taemin frowned a little, unsure where Donghae was heading but nodded anyway.
“I want you to start focus what training you have left to putting those skills to use. No more reading books Taemin, you have to start learning how to climb, climb up whatever equipment they have today, if you fall, just keep going, perseverance might get you some points, always keep your determination up okay? Don’t let them think you’re giving up. If you think you can do it well, throw a knife. Remember, you’re a dancer, throw the knife as if it’s part of your dance. If it fails once, don’t try it again today and practise it later, okay?” Taemin could see how worried Donghae was. The rankings were so important in getting support from sponsors. From the desperation in Donghae’s voice, Taemin knew that he was doubtfully going to catch anybody’s eye, he wasn’t going to get any sponsors based on his skill.
The worry flooded his entire body and didn’t leave him for the rest of the day. As Joon prepared him to face the sponsors, he had to keep clicking his fingers in Taemin’s face to get any response from him at all. Both Joon and Donghae had a reassuring hand over Taemin’s fragile shoulders as they led him to the waiting hall, where the 22 other tributes were waiting for Jieun and his arrival.
In the far corner by the buffet of food, the careers stood in a group, joking obnoxiously. Jonghyun would throw grapes at anyone who ventured too close to them. The other tributes either stood alone, going over the plans in their heads, or with their district partner, talking in quiet voices. Taemin stood alone, his back against the wall and watching his own shoes, trying to come up with some plan that would get him through the ranking. Nothing came to him; his mind was entirely blank with nerves. As the tributes began disappearing one by one, the hall grew quiet, especially once the careers had gone quickly. It was as the female tribute from district 8 was leaving that someone tapped Taemin’s shoulder, causing him to look up.
“Don’t over think it.” The male district 9 tribute smiled in that way that caused his bright eyes to almost disappear again. Taemin blinked at him uncomprehendingly.
“Pardon?” He asked.
“Don’t over think it, 12, you’ll do just fine if you look confident.” He continued to smile at Taemin, despite the confused frown that covered Taemin’s own expression.
“Oh.. thanks?” He raised one eyebrow suspiciously staring at 9.
“No problem. You’re kind of cute, you’ll probably win a lot of people’s hearts for being a volunteer, so don’t feel under too much pressure. Just do your best, and as I said, look confident, and no matter what, don’t give up.” He patted Taemin’s shoulder lightly before his name was called. Taemin missed it since it was unfamiliar to him, but it must have been his name, for the boy nodded once before walking away calmly.
He stared after 9, not quite understanding what that was about. It seemed like genuine advice, as though he were his mentor or even his…friend? But why would he want to make a friend like Taemin in these games? And did he call him………cute?
Taemin blinked a little, severely unfocused until he realised only he and Jieun were the last tributes left in the room. As his own name was called he jumped skittishly, taken aback slightly. Suddenly his heart rate was so high he barely even noticed the amused smirk from Jieun as he walked shakily out into the training arena. He noticed the sponsors, so busy with their meals and their drinking that they hadn’t seen Taemin yet. He took the moment to catch his breath before walking to the center of the room, closing eyes and speaking up with the loudest voice he could manage.
“Lee Taemin, District 12.” He announced, bowing to the sponsors. They stopped for a moment, all of their eyes on him. His courage was suddenly lost in his voice as he turned and looked around. Where was he even going to start? The climbing ropes hung loosely from the ceiling; it seemed like a good place to start.
As he clasped his already sweating hands around the rope, he realised how little he actually knew about climbing. He hoisted himself up, surprised by the weight of his own slim frame. Nonetheless he tried to hide the surprise, beads of more sweat slowly making their way down his temple as he pulled himself slowly higher and higher. He heard a little laughter flow through the crowd of the sponsors, and as he glanced up to them, he felt his heart stop in his throat. Most of them weren’t paying any attention any more, and those that were, were just laughing at him. He swallowed and climbed back down the rope, wiping the sweat from his forehead and flicking his hair back, scanning the rest of the arena.
He toyed with the idea of building a large trap, but the memory of Donghae’s conversation struck him quickly. His eyes found the shining objects laid out precariously on the table before a few targets. He nodded to himself and with fake confidence, stepped to the row of knives, lifting one in his hand. It was a little heavier than he expected, he ran his finger along the silver steel point, surprised by how sharp the training object was. He bit his lip, closed his eyes once and hoped for all he had.
He span around quickly, throwing his arm out with such strength and speed that he heard the wave of air rippling past his ears as he opened his eyes in front of the target, releasing the knife a fair distance away. The knife span through the air in an unsteady angle, barely even clipping the edge of the target and falling to the floor with a humiliating clatter. Taemin’s heart stopped. He felt the urge to run away once again, as he did in the stadium the day he had faced the crowds in his chariot. As the thought of giving up ran across his mind, the guy from district 9’s words quickly replaced them.
‘Don’t give up.’
He thought for a moment about what Donghae had said about the dancing. He remembered one move that he had learnt; it required a lot of physical strength in his arms that before attempting it he wasn’t aware he had. He stepped back a little, not quite sure on what was possessing him to do what he was about to do, but before he could doubt himself, he gave a little cough for attention.
In the next fleeting moments Taemin was moving through the air. Everything around him was a blur in his motion, the only thing in focus was his body, flexing and popping into positions in quick, fluent motions, and the target, of which his determined eyes did not move from. He only broke that vision during quick spins as he let the imaginary music fill his body and he danced, danced as though he were in the mines, and his friends were singing quiet songs during their short breaks. He lurched forward, executing the move that he had thought of before. Standing the weight of his body on one hand, he extended his legs perfectly straight into the air for a brief moment before pushing himself up, flipping his body into the air and landing perfectly. In the next second he had spun, grabbing the knife off of the table in one slick movement and turned around with one fluent motion, like before, turning to release the knife. It sped out of his sturdy arm, in the direct line of his focused gaze. It span, slitting through the air, smashing into the target on point.
He stood up straight, a small smile toying at the edge of his lips as he turned to face the audience, who by now had been extremely intrigued by the peculiar session. No doubt, no one would have danced before, and Taemin knew it would be something controversial. Perhaps he would fight with his dancing in the arena, which would make for great entertainment for a little while. Perhaps he could survive like this, or perhaps he was nothing more than just a dancer. There was a flurry of mumbles and whispers as people discussed the possibilities of Taemin, as he bowed and made his exit.
They sat around the TV that evening, Donghae sat anxiously leaning forward, his leg shaking, Jieun smirking cockily knowing that she had done well with Key grinning like a fool beside her. Joon came by and sat beside Taemin just as the rankings began to be called. Most of the scores didn’t shock Taemin. The careers all achieved high numbers, the lowest being an eight from the girl from district one, and the highest, regrettably, being an eleven from Jonghyun in district 4. The lowest scores of all people up until district 12 was a poor five from the girl in district 9, yet to Taemin’s surprise, the boy did pretty well. As the girl from District 8’s ranking was announced, Taemin began to pay a little more attention to the screen, knowing the familiar smile of the District 9 boy would come up. An odd feeling buzzed in his stomach, almost a sense of happiness when he saw the number ten flash up on the screen beside the name; Lee Jinki. Perhaps he wished him well, for Jinki had helped Taemin, probably more then he ever had intended to.
The next person to catch Taemin’s attention was Jieun, who’s face fell a little when she only scored a seven. He selfishly admitted that as she scoffed and shook her head, and Key’s face suddenly turned stern and disappointed, he felt a little happiness bubble away. He had to look away to keep from smiling, but in doing so his eyes crossed over Donghae. His mentor was now literally shaking with anxiety. It occurred to Taemin that Donghae was genuinely worried about Jieun and himself. It made sense; Donghae was extremely caring and soft. How he had survived at all in the arena was far beyond Taemin, but as he looked at him now, he suddenly felt an odd surge of new determination to win not just for the people back home, but now for Donghae, too.
His jaw tightened as he heard his own name being called out on the TV. He could barely bring himself to turn his head and face the TV, but as he did, shock fell over his entire body. He was expecting the lowest score, but instead, flashing on the screen was a nine. Donghae flew into the air, standing straight and turning around to face Taemin, eyes bright and Joon patting Taemin’s shoulders with excitement. Taemin didn’t really know what to make of it, he could only stare up at Donghae and smile.