Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six| Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve
Taemin shuddered slightly under the drips of icy cold snow floating delicately around him. Small flakes slipped down the back of his neck, crawling down his spine beneath the cover of his clothes and sending cold shivers through his body. He winced slightly as it breached the injury on his arm, now covered in a small handful of ice to help the healing. After they had eaten, Jinki had suggested they head towards the cornucopia, to get snow on Taemin’s wound and find what supplies might be left, if any. They had been walking most of the day, making steady progress until a heavy blizzard of snow attacked them in the late afternoon. Taemin had supposed it was the work of the gamemakers, since the rest of the day had gone by so quietly. His jaw tightened, teeth gritting slightly as he stared down at the ground, imprinting his shoes against Jinki’s trail of footsteps before him. He let out a soft sigh, watching the cloud of vapour swirl in the air before him.
“It’s getting colder.” Taemin grumbled, just loud enough for Jinki to hear. He nodded slightly in agreement.
“The tree’s are thinning out too. We’re getting higher. The Cornucopia should be near by.” His voice trembled slightly and Taemin realised he wasn’t the only one feeling the bite of the snow.
“Maybe we should stop somewhere for the night, it’s too cold.” Taemin frowned slightly, eyes squinting against the wall of snowfall that hit his face when he looked up. Jinki was just a black figure against the blizzard. He glanced around himself; little birds darting through the wind to find somewhere warm to settle down. Taemin thought to follow them briefly before Jinki cut his thoughts off.
“There’s a cave, just up here to the left, I saw it about half an hour below. We can settle there for the night, okay?” Jinki called and Taemin nodded, despite Jinki not being able to see, afraid to speak again. He imagined the wind, whistling the snow around so easily, would carry their voices all over the mountain, and take them to another tribute. The rest of the walk remained silent. He wondered momentarily where the other tributes would be, whether this blizzard took up the whole arena or just where Jinki and himself were walking. It seemed never ending to him.
Taemin’s body trembled slightly, he could feel the energy in his legs slowly draining out of him. He was desperate to ask Jinki to stop, just for a moment. The words tingled on the tip of his tongue, but every time he opened his mouth to speak them, they evaporated in the cold air. A strange sense of nerves twisted in Taemin’s gut, that he didn’t quite understand yet. He felt nervous to talk to Jinki, nervous to break the silence. But it wasn’t fear, it was worry; he was worried about becoming a burden onto Jinki, this man who had become nothing short of his own superhero.
He battled internally, chewing on his lip anxiously and waddling along the path of footprints Jinki left behind, the thick snow abruptly melted away into wet stone. Taemin’s eyes snapped up, looking over in wide wonderment at the deep cave. The slick black stone walls seemed wide and tall to Taemin, but as he stepped forward, he realised his eyes were mistaken, an illusion by the sudden darkness within the cave and the strip of light by it’s entrance reflecting on the wet granite. The cave was slightly narrow and he found himself ducking his head slightly, although there was no real need to. The blizzard outside howled through the cave ominously, and he didn’t take any longer observing the cave, shuffling quickly over to Jinki. He stood awkwardly next to Jinki for a few seconds, who was perched on a natural rocky ledge, unpacking his back and placing his water bottle next to him, where water dripping down from the ceiling of the cave into the bottle accurately, filling it slowly. After a few awkward seconds, Taemin slung his own bag off of his shoulder, dropping it a few inches from Taemin’s feet and sitting onto the cave floor beside his bag. He cringed slightly at the wet stone beneath him, earning a small chuckle from Jinki, who was watching him quietly.
“We’ll sleep here for the night, right?” He asked, voice quietening immediatly as his words echoed, wrapping his arms around his knees loosely.
“Yeah I think that would be a good idea,” Jinki nodded, “I didn’t see any signs of anyone else finding this cave so far outside so I’m sure we’ll be safe. Keep your knife within reach though.”
He wrinkled his nose a little and nodded quickly. The conversation died there, leaving silence hanging in the air again. Yet for the first time, Taemin felt slightly discomforted by the silence. Again he found himself conflicted between wanting to talk to Jinki but afraid of breaking the silence. He wasn’t sure how long they were in the cave, making only small snippets of conversations before the first yawn escaped. It had grown darker within the cave and Jinki’s attempts of making a small fire had been futile, leaving the boys in a damp darkness. At some point, Taemin had heard a canon in the distance, and he pondered shortly over whether it was the blizzard that had claimed this tribute’s life. A few hours later, the tribute’s name was announced, but as curious as Taemin was to go and see it on the screen, he was afraid. He found himself frozen in position on the floor of the cave, away from the rest of the arena, and safely next to Jinki. Jinki didn’t seem concerned himself, absently throwing small pebbles against the stone floor.
“Tired?” He asked quietly, side glancing as Taemin yawned. Taemin blinked a little and looked to Jinki, shaking his head in a lie. He was tired; he’d been tired all day. But part of him half expected the cave to collapse on him the moment he closed his eyes.
Jinki raised an eyebrow doubtfully and Taemin expected the conversation to end here, surprised when those plump lips of the man beside him began moving again.
“We should settle down anyway, just in case,” he chuckled softly, leaning over to ruffle Taemin’s hair briefly and standing up stiffly to turn to his backpack. Taemin watched him for a moment before looking into his own backpack, pulling out the sleeping back. He groaned a little at the thin material meant to protect him from the cold, clearly not meant for blizzards. Jinki appeared to be thinking the same thing, holding his own sleeping bag in his hands with an unimpressed expression. He shot Taemin a pitiful look before laying out his sleeping bag a few feet away from Taemin, and so Taemin copied him, crawling into the bag quickly. He shuddered slightly as he laid down, the cold immediately finding him again and encasing him so much more than the sleeping bag was.
“It’s really cold,” he mumbled, more to himself as he curled himself up, fitting his thin arms between his chest and his legs and trying to bury his face into the sleeping bag, shivers rattling his poor body. Lying down, with his back to the entrance of the cave, Taemin felt vulnerable as the wind howled through the cave again. A small whimper escaped his lips, his heart dropping slightly in embarrassment as Jinki rolled over to find the source of the pathetic noise. Their eyes met for an instance and Jinki’s deep brown eyes grew wide with realisation of the fragile Taemin.
“Are you okay?” Jinki asked, trying to shuffle over to Taemin in his sleeping bag. Taemin nodded quickly but it didn’t stop Jinki’s awkward advances towards him. Eventually Jinki gave up having made only centimeters in progress and Taemin thought that he would stop there, but instead Jinki crawled out of his sleeping bag. Taemin watched him, biting his lip slightly to hide the curious warmth burning from within his chest as Jinki stumbled his way to Taemin, crouching down before him. Taemin nodded again to try and reassure Jinki that he was okay, that unfamiliar sense of unease from before stopping him from talking again.
“You’re freezing!” Jinki exclaimed as he lent forward, the backs of his fingers pressing slightly again Taemin’s soft cheek, which were beginning to warm with a red glow under his touch.
“I’m o-okay,” Taemin stuttered and Jinki shook his head.
“I didn’t risk my life several times to have you freeze to death under my care.” Jinki muttered, the soft blush beneath Taemin’s cheeks burning an embarrassing crimson as Jinki’s thick arms slipped under his slim body and the sleeping bag, scooping him up.
“What are you doing?!” Taemin protested weakly as Jinki held him tightly and carried him back to where his own sleeping bag was. For the short few seconds he was pressed up against Jinki, he felt the warmth he had been yearning for, and clinged almost desperately to Jinki’s clothes, hoping he wouldn’t notice too much. Disappointment flooded him as Jinki laid Taemin down and the cold wrapped itself around him again. He could barely contain the unhappy pout that formed on his bottom lip. Jinki noticed it, chuckling softly as he does, slipping back into his own bag. Once settled, Jinki turned back to Taemin, who held a sudden intake of oxygen for a moment.
The sudden proximity of Jinki’s face had taken him off guard. He’d watched Jinki a few times already, studied his expressions and spent a lot of time with him alone, yet somehow Taemin was surprised. He hadn’t thought of Jinki as being particularly attractive before; he had this cute wonky eyesmile, an innocence about him, and a strong physic, yet Taemin hadn’t thought much of it. Yet this close to him, with his deep eyes reflecting the slither of moonlight gazing back down at him, with his lips curved into a gentle smile, and his slightly wet hair dripping down in messy directions over his face, Taemin couldn’t deny that Jinki looked strangely beautiful. He swallowed a little and dropped his head, uncomfortably aware that not only was he staring at Jinki but feeling ashamed of himself as Jinki stared back at him. How could such a beautiful man look at him?
There was an odd tension gripping the damp air surrounding them. Taemin felt nervous; his throat was closing, his stomach was twisting, it was like the morning before entering the arena all over again, yet this time he knew he wasn’t in danger. This time, he didn’t want to run away, he wanted to stay, in this cold and uncomfortable cave. He hadn’t even noticed that he had been chewing his lip again until a soft round thumb gently swiped over it, pulling it out from under his teeth. He shyly glanced back up at Jinki.
“You shouldn’t bite your lip so much, Tae,” he said so softly that his voice melted all over Taemin. Taemin found himself shuffling absently towards Jinki, closing the few centimeters gap that had been between their sleeping bags. Jinki let out one of his gentle chuckles, eyes warm as he carefully wrapped his arms around Taemin, bringing him closer. Their bodies pressed up against each other’s sleeping bags, the thin fabric slightly feeling in the way to Taemin. Jinki seemed to be thinking the same thing as he moved back slightly, holding up his sleeping bag and patting the space next to him.
“Hop in,” he offered and without hesitating Taemin kicked himself out of his own sleeping bag and slipped in quietly beside Jinki, mumbling a ‘thank you’ as he settled back down against Jinki’s chest. His arms tightened around Taemin, bracing the boy against him tightly, hands gently stroking along his sides in soothing patterns and resting his chin on the top of Taemin’s head. Taemin felt unsure; his stomach was flipping, throat tightening. It was as if he needed to cry, but couldn’t, his whole body poised for something dangerous, but he knew that he wasn’t in danger. He didn’t understand why his heart was racing like it did when he was scared, he couldn’t understand that the way his gut was twisting wasn’t in fear, he didn’t know what butterflies were. He didn’t understand any of the reactions his body were having to Jinki’s subtle, gentle touches. All he understood was this painstaking need to be closer to Jinki, brushing his cheek against his chest, fingers clasping to Jinki’s clothes to lightly pull him closer. The way he automatically smiled and calmed as he felt Jinki’s body shake lightly with one of his chuckles and his arms tightening around Taemin’s thin frame. He felt so secure, so safe here. He forgot about the blizzard, the tributes, the arena, the people watching him, and listened only to Jinki; his uneven breathing, the soft murmur of his heartbeat beneath his ear.
Taemin froze slightly, feeling the pressure on his hair change. He bit his lip sorely, closing his eyes tightly under the new hammering of his own heart in response as he felt it. Jinki softly laid a small kiss on the top of his head. Slowly the veins between his body connected to his mind, he processed what was happening to himself. What had been happening this whole time since the moment Jinki had stepped forward and looked after him in training. He squeezed his eyes closed, gripping slightly onto Jinki’s clothes a little tighter. He tried to reason with himself, that maybe he was only seeing Jinki this way because he had protected him. Because he was the only comfort he had received since leaving the district. But even if it was like that, Taemin couldn’t escape the way he was suddenly aware of every feeling inside of him. He slowly tilted his head, finding Jinki’s eyes once more.
Within a quiet moment, where Taemin’s eyes roamed over Jinki’s face slowly, memorising every detail of him in this precise moment, something silently clicked between the two of them. Tentatively, Jinki bent down and caught Taemin’s lips with his own in a gentle kiss.