Luhan/Kris, Luhan/Kai, one sided!Luhan/Lay
NC-17 | 18,260 words
The only thing harder than surviving the arena is living with the memories of it.
A/N: Hunger Games!au where the rebellion never succeeded
Warnings: violence, gore, character death
They stare straight ahead, face devoid of expression and head held high. They aren’t touching, but they’re close enough to feel the heat from each other’s arms and it is an anchor in a world that no longer feels real. The crowd drowns itself out, a muffled cacophony in the background.
He sees the lights flicker as they approach and he thinks, I don’t want to die.
Rewind and it all started very simple. A lumberjack, a carpenter and a papermaker grew up friends, because their parents were friends and when they have their own children, they too grew up together, branches of the same tree that stretches back generations.
Luhan couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing pranks with on Yifan with Yixing and all of them getting scolded by one of their parents for pulling some silly stunt. They were all family though, eating off each other’s plates and sleeping in one person’s bed as if it was their own.
When they were eight, Yifan had gotten the pox and his mother had just shook her head and bartered enough medicine for all three of them. Sure enough, Luhan and Yixing were both scratching at their skin within a day.
Yixing pouted a lot and Luhan kicked Yifan in the shin, before shoving him over on the bed and rolling himself into a cocoon with Yifan’s blanket. Their parents found them later all squashed on the single bed, Yixing lying half on top of Luhan and Yifan as he snored softly.
“Remember that time you got us both sick?” Luhan asks, prodding at Yifan with a mallet and Yixing laughs beside him, deft hands moving across a plank of wood with a marking knife and a sliding bevel.
“Compared to the hundreds of times you’ve gotten all of us in trouble, I’d say it doesn’t even rate a mention,” Yifan tosses back coolly, grabbing the mallet from Luhan, who just shrugs and picks up a hammer and waves it in his direction.
Yixing cuts in before Luhan can retort, “Pass me the hand saw and stop being a menace.” His voice is full of amusement though, his dimple deepening as he grins at his friends. “One day you two will stop fighting like cat and dogs.”
Luhan hands over the tool and makes a face at Yifan. “Yeah maybe when we’re dead and up in the sky.”
“Like you’d ever make it up there,” Yifan snorts, dodging as a rag aimed for his face.
Yixing shakes his head, putting on one of his haughty voices. “Alright children, stop fighting, think of your reputation.”
Yifan and Luhan exchange a quick glance and then they’re both grabbing Yixing, who shrieks as they pick him up and carries him out. “I have a hand saw and I’m not afraid to use it!”
They end up wrestling on the small hill behind Yixing’s house until the moon was high up in the sky and Yifan had to sleep in order to get up in the morning for work. Luhan drags his feet walking home so he can finish preparing the delivery for tomorrow and Yixing waves them off absentmindedly, already back in his little world of sculpturing wood into beautiful shapes.
Life wasn’t easy for them, wasn’t easy for anyone anywhere, but the three of them have roofs over their heads and they’re not well off, but they aren’t starving.
Most importantly, they have each other; a protective bubble against the harshness of reality better than a full table or extra clothes.
The light is just barely holding onto day by the time Yifan hangs up his equipment and strips off his sweaty shirt, pulling on another slightly cleaner one.
He waves at his workmates as they head back home, slipping in the opposite direction deeper into the woods. It’s a good five minutes before he notices Luhan’s presence fall in line with his steps and Luhan smiles to know that Yifan recognizes his footsteps without even looking up. The taller boy doesn’t stop until they reach the lake and he smiles to see the fish and bread waiting for him.
“Thanks,” he offers with a small smile and Luhan steps out from behind him with a grin.
“It took me forever to catch that, you better be grateful.”
Yifan sighs with mild exasperation. “You didn’t use the trap again did you?”
Luhan makes a face at him, kicks a rock into Yifan’s ankle. “Real men fish with spears.”
Yifan laughs and Luhan smiles, popping some berries in his mouth. Yifan doesn’t offer any of the fish, and Luhan is glad he’s finally broken the habit. It’s taken far too long to convince the other that he can feed himself as well as his friend, so Yifan needs to stop worrying so much about everyone.
They don’t stay out for long, because they both have work the next day, but they squeeze in a quick swim in the lake. Not many people from their district knows how to swim, having grown up rooted to the soil and the bark of the trees, but Luhan had been drawn to the water before they even discovered the lake and it didn’t take long for him to familiarize himself with the water after that. As with everything else in their lives, Yifan and Yixing had followed.
Yifan scrubs himself clean whilst Luhan, coming from a day of working indoors, spends the time chasing after frogs and splashing water at the taller boy. It’s dark by the time they pull their clothes back on and even without the light, Yifan seems shy about his body, compared to Luhan’s own carelessness with his nakedness. He strikes a pose and laughs when Yifan turns away abruptly and almost drops his clothes.
The other boy is quieter on the walk home, but Luhan knows better than to push and so he chatters on about his plan to prank Yixing on his birthday. He doesn’t notice the way Yifan watches him and pauses so they can walk in sync.
The moon is full tonight and it’s a little easier to climb with the additional light, but it still takes a good ten minutes before he gets Yixing to climb up high enough and seated steadily enough he doesn’t fall.
“Do you ever think of being apart? The three of us?”
“Way to start with the fun conversation topics, Xing,” Luhan grumbles as he settles in beside the other.
“Should we talk about how you burnt the bread and meat-”
“Okay, okay,” he cuts in, raising his hands in surrender. “We did say till we’re old grumpy men, remember? You made us promise when we were like twelve.”
“Eleven, but yes I did and it just seems-”
“Xing, what’s bothering you?” he asks. Yixing is always the optimistic one in their trio, shooing away their cynicism and grimmer thoughts. It’s worrying when he’s the one bringing up these things.
There’s a long pause as Yixing gazes at him thoughtfully. “Just wondering which way the scale will tip.”
Luhan frowns, confused. “What?”
“Which path will be chosen at the fork in the road?”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Luhan throws back.
Yixing makes a face. “What if you had to choose between two things you love, and they love you back, except maybe not in the same way as you love them and-”
He kicks at the other boy’s foot, convinced Yixing is messing with him and when the other breaks into a laugh, he assumes Yixing is just pulling his leg. Luhan throws a handful of leaves at Yixing and then pulls him into a headlock. They end up with their arms around each other and Luhan forgets to push Yixing for a real answer, because he’s too busy tickling his friend and trying to stay on the branch at the same time.
Their laughter echoes brightly in the woods and Luhan doesn’t see Yifan standing nearby and watching them with a melancholy expression. He also doesn’t see the way Yixing looks at him as they lean against each other, but Yifan does.
He’s not sure if he wants Luhan to choose, because he’s not sure if he can afford to lose.
The sun is dipping below the trees when Luhan excuses himself and leaves his friends still splashing around in the water. He declines their offer to come with him and walks towards the town centre for about half a mile before doubling back and veering off the path.
Sometimes he wants to tell Yifan. Yixing wouldn’t approve, but perhaps Yifan would and then they could do this together. It's not lonely now, but be likes the idea of Yifan fighting beside him.
It’s so very easy to get lost in here, even for people who have grown up in District 7. Far away from where the workers are and far away from the hundreds of intricate paths through the forest of their land, is this stretch of woods almost near the border of District 4. Its trees rise high and mighty, near identical and seemingly endless. If you could climb to the top branches and look down, one would feel as if they were an insect on a reed, with a pond misted over.
He moves into a small clearing and it’s less than a minute before the trees rustle and Luhan ducks, just in time for a spear to sink into the tree behind him.
Another spear sails past just as he launches himself forward, rolling quickly out of the way.
Hesitate and that’ll be the last thing you do.
Luhan throws himself to the side and dodges a throwing knife. Well the man sure has a way of drilling his lessons into people, he thinks dryly.
By the time the other man steps out from the shadows, Luhan’s muscles are burning and he manages a wry smile, before grimacing as he rubs his shoulder where he’d landed on a log before.
“Hello, Luhan,” comes the soft greeting. “Ready for Round 2?”
It’s on his seventeenth birthday when Luhan realizes what he wants.
The three of them are at Luhan’s house, squeezed into the small bed just like when they were younger and it’s sticky hot that day, all humidity and the faint buzz of flies.
Luhan’s pressed between Yixing and Yifan, their limbs tangled carelessly and the buzz of wine making his skin tingle pleasantly. He rolls over, because one of his arms is going numb and the shift puts him too close, his groin pressed against the thigh between his legs.
The jolt comes hard and sharp; visceral. It’s not something new; he’s a teenage boy and he’s dreamt of skin under his fingertips before, the way another mouth might fit against his. Hands on his stomach and down, down, down. It’s not the first time he’s had these dreams, but it is the first time there’s a face to his fantasies, and the familiarity of those features has his stomach knotting in fear and desire.
He’s used to touching, to being close, but the feeling is different now, too new and terrifying for him to grasp. He turns away, presses himself away as far as he can go and he’s terrified enough that the desire fades enough for him to fall into a restless sleep.
A girl whose father is probably one of the richest men in the district, likes to pop by Yixing’s workshop, even though technically it wasn’t really Yixing who made the more expensive items her father orders.
Seulgi is pretty, sweet if not painfully shy and she watches Yixing with something akin to awe as he works cutting and polishing. Luhan never misses the chance to tease Yixing mercilessly.
They’d always assumed it was a fleeting crush, until one day Luhan is on the roof and he sees her standing just around the corner of the shop. She’s fidgeting and nervous, and Luhan’s not quite sure what to think. Sure she still tripped over her words around Yixing, but she’s gotten a lot better lately.
Then he sees her raise her hand, two fingers to the temple then to the chest, just over the heart. She flutters her hands afterwards, embarrassed even when it’s just a practice run and Luhan can see her blush from the roof.
He knows that gesture, a gesture Yixing’s parents do, one that Luhan’s mother taught him to do for when he finds the love of his life. Never before, never anyone else, she always reiterated. Not friends, not family.
all that I think, all that I feel...is you
It’s corny and Luhan always teased Yixing for finding it so romantic. It’s not so funny right then though and when he imagines the way Yixing’s face would light up if Seulgi carried through with her confession. He thinks of Yixing and Yifan and him, the three of them and how everything is changing so fast and something sinks in his stomach.
He’s spared dwelling on what it all means though, because the next week, Yixing’s name gets called at the Reaping and Luhan is pushing and shouting before it even registers with some of the others.
“I volunteer!” he shoves past a boy so hard the other staggers. “I volunteer as tribute.”
A murmur goes up throughout the crowd. No one has volunteered in years and this year in particular, no one was expected to volunteer. Everyone knows better to volunteer for a Quarter Quell. They must all see me a fool, Luhan thinks distantly as he walks up to the podium. The bodies around him part quickly, as he was already tainted with death and they’d best stay clear else it touches them too.
He can hear Yixing screaming at him, yelling that he can go, that he doesn’t need a volunteer. Luhan doesn’t turn around and he doesn’t glance in Yifan’s direction either, just squares his shoulders and walks up to stand beside a girl named Tiffany, the first to be called.
The sounds become warped as he tries to focus. All he can think about is what they’d told the crowd before the Reaping had begun.
“For the one hundredth anniversary of the Hunger Games, as a reminder that rebellion will never succeed and unity is impossible even among the closest of allies, three tributes will be chosen from each district by way of preliminary games from an initial pool of six.”
Six initial tributes. To even get to the arena, they’d have to kill their way out of their own district, kill people they know, neighbours, fellow workers, friends even. Even if they won, the victor would have to come back and face the families of those he or she had killed. Luhan feels like throwing up.
They call out another few names, some he recognizes, some he thankfully doesn’t. He’s trying to focus through the rush of blood pounding in his ear and it’s a horrible thing to think of, but Luhan is hopeful of his chances among this crowd. The two new girls are already crying and the other boy is shaking like a leaf.
He sees Heechul fishing around the bowl for the final tribute and Luhan tells himself he can do this. He’ll have to spill innocent blood, but maybe, just maybe his friends won’t have to cry over his dead body before he even makes it to the Capitol. Maybe he’ll get to-
“Wu Yifan!” The name cuts clean through Luhan’s thoughts and he gasps, disbelief and horror rushing, thick and sharp through him. No. No it can’t be.
And yet, Luhan is rooted to his spot as he watches the crowd part to let Yifan through, Yifan who walks tall and with his head held high. Luhan sees the way his hands are clenched though and then he’s beside Luhan. There are three people between them but Yifan is standing on Luhan’s side, the one time he needs the other not to be.
May the odds be ever in our favor, he thinks. The only thing he feels as they escort him offstage is numbness.
His mother comes in, crying and bringing Luhan his favourite boots, soft rabbit skin, and Luhan doesn’t cry. He lets her hug him tight and his fingers clench in her dress, but he doesn’t cry. He kisses her on the cheek when her time is up and he doesn’t say anything, because his throat is so tight he can barely breathe in and out.
Yixing’s parents come in, painfully grateful, clearly ashamed at their relief of having their son spared in such a way. He can also see the fear in their kind faces, true, overwhelming fear for him and he feels his heart swell. He’s never been more sure of his decision. They were kind people and they have already lost so much.
When it’s his turn, Yixing walks up to him, fear etched into his features and eyes blazing. The first thing he does when he gets close enough is punch Luhan straight in the face. “You asshole.”
Luhan rubs at his jaw, raising an eyebrow at the reaction and he’s about to crack some joke, when Yixing’s face crumples and he throws his arms around Luhan’s shoulders.
“Why did you do it, Luhan? How can you do this?”
Luhan doesn’t reply, simply pulling the other boy closer and patting his back soothingly as Yixing cries.
“Promise me you’ll come back, you and Yifan both.” Yixing is a mess by now, hiccuping violently and face wet. He wipes his nose and he can barely get the words out. “Promise me.”
“Promise me!” Yixing nearly screams at him, voicing rising and hands tight around his arms.
Luhan flinches slightly and says with as much conviction as he can muster. “I promise.”
He doesn’t feel bad about lying when it means the last image of Yixing he sees is the other boy’s face breaking into a small hopeful smile.
They’re taken to an isolated facility to prepare for the preliminaries and with its bars and heavy doors, it seems a glorified jail.
As soon as they’re dismissed, Luhan runs to find Yifan. If they wanted to get out of here, they had to work together. He knocks on Yifan’s door and waits impatiently for it to open. He doesn’t expect to be pulled inside and pushed against the wall.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” Luhan hasn’t seen Yifan this angry since the time Luhan has slipped off whilst climbing and broken his leg and his right arm.
“What else would you have me do, huh?” He shouts back, getting right in Yifan’s face, because he’s pissed off and terrified and it was easier to scream at his friend than to dwell on his feelings. “Let Yixing die? You know him he wouldn’t even make it to the Capitol!”
Yifan looks like he’s about to punch Luhan as well. “So you’ll die instead?!”
“Better to have a chance and go down swinging! Would you rather we just killed Yixing now and get it over with?” he throws back.
Yifan looks like Luhan just slapped him. “Of course not! He’s my friend too! I would’ve volunteered if you hadn’t!”
“Exactly! We’re all friends, so what’s the difference?! What makes me so special?”
“It’s because I-“ Yifan cuts himself off abruptly, deflating as he struggles with something.
“Well?” he snaps.
“What about your mother?” Yifan switches tracks. “You’re her only son, you’re all that’s left, what is she going to do if you don’t come home?”
“Don’t bring my mother into this,” Luhan snarls. “And by the way, Yixing’s all his parents have left too. Or have you forgotten that along with your common sense?”
He storms off before Yifan can say another word and he makes sure to slam the door extra hard on the way out.
He lies awake for hours thinking of the look in Yifan’s eyes and what he had been about to say.
He’s on the way to Hangeng’s room to ask about the Culling tomorrow, when he sees the older man by the dining room windows with Heechul, the man’s bright blue hair and silk robe a stark contrast next to Hangeng who is in a plain white shirt and loose trousers.
Luhan makes sure his steps are extra careful. He knows how alert Hangeng is.
“I admit, I wasn’t expecting a volunteer,” he hears Heechul say. “Although I’m not sure about the kid, he looks a little too fragile. At least the other one was a carpenter.”
Luhan feels insulted to be underestimated by some Capitol man in a robe, but he’s slightly mollified when Hangeng replies, looking incredibly amused. “Don’t underestimate Luhan, he’s tougher than he looks. Plus, Yixing may handle tools and have a bit of muscle, but he’s not a fighter.”
“And this Luhan kid is? Do you know him well?”
There’s a pause and Luhan knows Hangeng is thinking of a way to explain without revealing their secret. “He’s special to me.”
A longer silence follows and when Heechul speaks again, his tone is guarded and more human than Luhan has ever heard. The extravagant clothes and hair suddenly seem a mask. “The last time you said that, it was about Donghae.”
Donghae, Luhan thinks, heart heavy. It’s been a long time since anyone has brought up Donghae.
Luhan was twelve when Donghae’s name was picked from a bowl and everything had changed. Yixing’s older brother who never minded when Luhan climbed up his back and demanded piggybacks, not even when Luhan had just eaten and proceeds to puts his hands all of his face. Donghae who had taught him how to shoot with a slingshot, showed him how to climb the tallest trees and how to tie the best knots. He had treated Luhan like his own brother and Luhan had adored him so much, it made Yixing and Yifan jealous.
Donghae who had refused to kill his friend and died with an arrow in his chest and his eyes full of sadness.
When Luhan had finally stopped crying days later, he ran all the way across the village to find Hangeng and he had begged to be trained. Hangeng had laughed bitterly, eyes bloodshot and breath rank with the aftertaste of wine. The laughter had died when Luhan had told him he wanted to be able to protect those he love, that he would save Yixing the way Hangeng couldn’t Donghae.
That had earned him a broken arm and two broken ribs, but Luhan told no one what happened and came back every day until Hangeng handed him a wooden sword and they’d never stopped since.
It’s been twenty-five years since the Mockingjay rebellion and it took nearly half a decade for the districts to crawl out of the dark days that followed and the wasteland that was once home.
One small difference. There is no more District 12.
Luhan finds himself thinking about this as they wait to begin. A part of him wants to act out, to deny them the pleasure of watching them lose themselves, but he thinks of his mother, Yixing and his parents, Yifan.
The Capitol knows how to hurt him.
So Luhan plays their twisted game. He’s in an unfamiliar, unnaturally dense forest, waiting for a signal, so he can go hunt down an innocent person for their entertainment.
He can’t see or hear any of the others, but he knows they are out there. They were given no weapons, but he picks up a forked stick, pulls out a strip of elastic material from the layers around his wrist and picks up some decently shaped rocks. He turns slowly, trying to pick up any noise, but hears nothing.
A siren goes off and Luhan takes off at a jog, keeping his ears peeled as he tries to survey his surroundings.
It feels like hours before he sees the others, Yifan and the other boy circling each other warily. Yifan has a small branch in his hands, the other boy two shorter ones. The other boy may be bulkier, but Luhan knows he’s got no chance against Yifan, who had strength and accuracy on his side.
He relaxes slightly, but then he sees the boy make almost an indecipherable nod and Luhan’s eyes widen, darting around until he sees her, one of the taller girls up in the tree. She’s got a sharp, jagged rock in her hands and she looks ready to leap down.
Luhan doesn’t hesitate, holds up his makeshift slingshot and aims. He shoots, once at the girl and again at the boy. The stone hits the girl right in the nose and she falls from the tree screaming. Without Yifan to cushion her fall, she hits the boulder about a meter behind him and her head cracks with a sickening sound.
The boy on the other hand, had fallen to his knees, the stone catching him in the back of the head and Luhan looks away when he sees Yifan swing. The sound of the branch connecting with his head echoes dully in the silence that follows and when Luhan feels familiar hands at his back, he spins and grabs Yifan in a tight hug, fingers tightening in the other’s shirt.
He doesn’t know how much time has passed, but then a second siren sounds and Luhan gasps in relief, staring up at Yifan in shock and relief. He’s not sure what happened with the other two girls, but clearly one of them was now dead.
The Culling was over and they all have blood on their hands they can never wash off.
They board the train the next day with little fanfare, although Hangeng tells them the whole preliminaries were broadcasted live and Heechul has been fielding calls ever since about the Finalists.
“You’re the talk of the Capitol,” Heechul exclaims, wine glass tipping dangerously as he waves his arm.
“How wonderful,” Hangeng remarks dryly, partly disgusted, partly relieved with what this will mean for their sponsorships.
Luhan finds himself detaching from the conversation and excuses himself from the table not long after. His feet lead him to not his own compartment, but Yifan’s.
Yifan lets him in without a word and sits wringing his hands. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn't have yelled at you. I was just scared and-”
“I’m sorry too,” Luhan cuts the other off. “I was scared too, Yifan. I was scared and angry and I lashed out at you.”
Yifan looks so startled that Luhan smacks him on the arm and they’re just standing there smiling stupidly at each other.
That night, they sleep like they used to, squeezed onto one bed and legs loosely tangled, body weary but heart lighter than they have been for days.
On the way to the Capitol, they watch the Reaping together, followed by a montage of the Culling and Luhan can’t help, but notice how different the Finalists are.
District 1 and 2 are hard to watch, those unfortunate enough to be chosen alongside the Careers didn’t stand a chance and Luhan watches as tall boy from 1 drop his opponent within 30 seconds. A girl from 2 didn’t change her expression throughout the entire battle, blankness breaking only afterwards, a scowl at the blood splatter on her cheek.
Each district had its own flavour of games. Whilst District 1 and 2 were set in a small enclosed space with an array of weapons wrapped around the wall, District 3 had their tributes sitting down in specially made chairs and a computer in front of them. Luhan still isn’t sure what exactly they were doing, but as soon as the buzzer sounded, fingers flew across the screen and one by one, three people were electrocuted and slumped dead.
Only one boy with soft eyes glanced back at the fallen; the other two walked out without a pause. There wasn’t a drop of blood shed, but somehow it was all the more gruesome for it.
District 4 had the battle on a small ship with limited space and weapons. Luhan recognizes two of the boys as volunteers, one for his sister and the other, a twin brother. 5 involved a laboratory and poison of some kind, 6 set a stage of moving compartments with victory relying heavily on strength and endurance and 8 was a complicated maze that forced people together. 9 was set in a booby trapped factory and both 10 and 11 had their tributes out in the open fields armed only with basic farming tools. A boy from 11 with wide eyes had lodged a sickle into another boy’s throat and he must have sliced the artery because blood squirted him in the eye.
A few of finalists stays with him, either due to their brutality or their humanness. He doesn’t bother learning names though. Luhan wasn’t planning on making friends in the Games.
It’d only make it more difficult to kill them in the end.
“Does it make me a terrible person that I’m part glad you volunteered for Yixing?” Hangeng asks the second day they are on the train, the tightness around his eyes betraying his casual tone.
Dinner’s long winded down and Heechul had dragged Yifan off to measure for some clothing he’ll need in the Capitol. Luhan had gone before dinner, maneuvered this way and that, measured every way and the whole process sapped his energy. By the time he had sat down at dinner, he had been famished. The others had drifted away from the table and now it was just him and Hangeng.
“No,” he replies, truthfully. He swallows down a mouthful of mashed potatoes before continuing. “It makes you a smart person. And I sure as hell want a smart person watching my back in the arena.”
“You’re my student, though. I shouldn’t want you here,” Hangeng retorts. “I don’t want you here.”
“You want Yixing here even less.”
Hangeng rubs at his face harshly. “I care more about you than Yixing.”
Luhan allows himself a small smile at that. “Yixing can’t hurt a fly. I can.”
“Yes, I won’t be able to keep him alive,” Hangeng whispers. “And I’ve already failed Donghae. I’m sorry Luhan-”
Luhan stops the others with a hand on his shoulder. He sets down his fork, his appetite gone. “Stop beating yourself up about it. This is what I wanted; this is why I came to you all those years ago.”
A pregnant pause and then Hangeng sighs, his shoulders slumping and jaw tightening. “What am I going to do with you, Luhan?”
“Help me keep Yifan safe.”
Hangeng mouth twists. “What about you?”
Luhan shrugs, picking up an apple and pushing his chair back. “I’m a fighter, you know better than anyone.” With a wave, he turns and walks down the carriage.
“You’re a protector, Luhan,” Hangeng murmurs to the empty table. “What’s going to happen when you don’t have anyone to protect?”
The 76th Hunger Games had been one of the most sickening and horrifying things to ever been shown even in Panem. There had been no Reaping, simply a broadcast to announce who would be participating in the Games.
Johanna Mason, Annie Cresta, Beetee Latier, even former President Alma Coin and Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee. Anyone with a significant role in the rebellion, such as Commander Paylor of District 8. And of course, Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Gale Hawthorne and Haymitch Abernathy from District 12.
So many former victors, some dearly loved by the Capitol public before the uprising. Even they were divided into those bloodthirsty for a good show and those too weak hearted to watch such an end come to their favourites.
Coin and Heavensbee died before they even reached the Cornucopia, shot down by the Mockingjay who had gotten there first. Johanna Mason made good of several former allies from other districts, Gale falls victim to deadly poison and Paylor to flying mutts. In the end if was just the six former victors who had laid down their weapons and refused to fight each other. The Capitol sent in more mutts, poison, boiling lava and countless other horrors until only Johanna and Katniss remained breathing. They had then stood together, shouted out two sentences of defiance before the mutts descended on them and the screen went black.
There was no winner that year, but no one dared protest.
Hangeng has them reviewing footage of past Games, footage that they’ve both watched before, but watching it as a passing obligation and watching it to prepare yourself are two very different things.
Luhan remembers a stunning, leggy girl called Nana winning her Games, remembers even that she used her beauty to its full extent to build alliances and garner sponsors. He doesn’t remember the hard look in her eyes as she stripped off her shirt. He doesn’t remember the way she sinks the knife into the boy’s neck, the near exhilaration with which she put both hands on the knife and cuts down his spine.
“Don’t ever get fooled by someone’s appearance,” Hangeng lectures. “You don’t know when they’ll stab you in the back.”
“Literally,” Luhan mutters, but there was no humour in his voice. He can’t imagine ever finding such a thrill in the act of taking a life, even that of a stranger.
Yifan shifts beside him, looking a little ill, but he doesn’t say anything.
They continue through Game after Game and Hangeng points out strategies, tactics and fighting styles; things to watch out for, whether it be the weaknesses of certain fighters or how to tell if someone is lying.
Yifan and Luhan would ask questions here and there, but they were mostly silent. It was hard to chit chat with the endless carnage onscreen.
They don’t watch Hangeng’s Game or Donghae’s. No one comments on the omission.
By the time they reach last year’s Games, it’s nighttime and Heechul comes to call them to dinner. Luhan is feeling decidedly not hungry at this point, knows Yifan has also lost his appetite hours ago and they urge Hangeng to go without them.
“So what do you think?”
Yifan chews on his lower lip. “There’s no set formula. Sure the Careers win more than the others, but it’s not just about training and brute strength. Look at the girl who spent half the time being protected by the boy from her district. Or Dongwoon who couldn’t actually fight, but managed to sell the act so well he found himself in an alliance with the Careers.”
Luhan nods slowly, thinking it over. “Yeah, or the boy who was the sweetheart of the Capitol with his gentle demeanor and then poisoned everyone in the camp.”
“I don’t want to become like that,” Yifan spoke slowly, the paused footage on the screen the only light in the room and casting shadows across his features that hide his expression. “I don’t ever want to stoop that low.”
Luhan gazes at him and wishes he could see the look in Yifan’s eyes. He settles for shifting closer so their arms touched. “You won’t.”
“How would you know?”
“I know you,” Luhan replies. “I know what kind of person you are, Wu Yifan.”
Yifan reaches out and for a moment, Luhan thinks he’s going to cup his cheek. There’s a minute hesitation and then Yifan’s hand lands in his hair, ruffling softly. “I’m a killer.”
“We’re all killers,” Luhan retorts calmly. He shakes off Yifan’s hand, but places his own on the other boy’s knee. “It doesn’t make you a bad person. You would never do it if your life didn’t depend on it.”
On screen, a girl named Hae Yi from District 2 is pinned down on the ground by a much larger boy. He’s smirking down at her, clearly confident of his victory. She knees him in the groin and quickly twists her arm around his in a way that traps his movements.
Then she sinks her teeth into his neck and his screams are so horrible that Luhan turns away. He catches Yifan staring at him. “What?”
“Nothing,” Yifan mutters. He picks at a loose thread on his shirt. “It’s just...I might surprise you, you know.”
The camera zooms in on Hae Yi as she pulls away, pushes the boy off to the side and when she looks up, her mouth and neck is dripping blood and there’s a feral pleasure lighting up her eyes.
“You’ll never be like that, and I wouldn't want you to,” Luhan replies matter-of-factly. “Even if I need you to be a killer to survive.”
“I will to keep you safe,” Yifan says earnestly.
Luhan looks at him sharply. “I don’t need you to keep me safe.” At the look on Yifan’s face, he softens. “I just...I need you to keep yourself safe, okay? I need you to do that more than anything.”
Yifan catches his wrist as he begins to turn away. Luhan tenses up. He’s already said too much and he’s feeling too raw around the edges to delve into what he means by those words.
“Stay with me tonight.”
Luhan hesitates, heart jumping and he turns slowly. Yifan looks weary, hopeful and vulnerable all at once and Luhan wants to close the space between them.
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” is all he manages, before he’s pulling away. He lies in his own bed and thinks of being in Yifan’s.
He doesn’t sleep for a very long time.
The Tribute Parade is no longer as extravagant as they used to be, the lack of individual flare perhaps born of the fear of birthing another girl on fire.
They still arrive in chariots, one for each district, only now everyone is clad in identical black costumes. The only leeway allowed is the makeup on their faces.
The tributes from 5 have elaborate forks of lighting painted over their faces, the ones from 1 are adorned with tiny, glittering gems; waves for District 4. Some of the others are more unfortunate. Luhan can see silhouettes of wheat on the faces of the District 9 tributes. He’s pretty sure 10 have animal prints on their cheeks.
Luhan has a leaf on his cheek, done to make it appear as if in the middle of falling. The pattern continues at his jaw and circles down around his neck, disappearing into the collar of his shirt. A thin branch wraps around his forehead like a band and curves out just below his ear.
His eyes are lined with black and brown, heavy and striking. Beside him, Yifan and Tiffany are similarly made up.
Luhan forces a calm, blank look to stay on his face, even though his mind is screaming. The lights loom bright ahead and he leans into Yifan unconsciously. Yifan reciprocates by laying a hand at Luhan’s nape and he’s too caught up in the warm comfort of the moment to hear the crowd go wild.
People take notice of Yifan. It’s hard not to with his height and broad shoulders, the muscles visible even under his clothes and the intimidating set of his eyebrows. The towering lumberjack from District 7 whose axe seemed an extension of his hand. People take notice of Luhan too, but for entirely different reasons. No one expects much of Luhan, smaller and delicate looking, a papermaker with wide eyes and an almost too pretty face.
Even with the preliminaries, they underestimate him and it was exactly the way Luhan want it.
When they enter the training room, Yifan nods at him, accompanied by a discrete squeeze of his hand behind their back. Then he’s moving away, walking up to the District 10 group. Luhan breathes in deep and scans the room. Many of the others had glanced up to look at them, but almost all had turned back to whatever they were doing immediately.
Some eyes linger longer and Luhan isn’t sure if he wants to know the reason for their interest.
He’s acutely aware that everyone here is a competitor, but Hangeng had insisted they make allies, if not friends.
“Mingle at least,” he had told them, rolling at his eyes at the face Luhan made. “It won’t kill you to get to know them.”
At Luhan’s raised eyebrow, he had grimaced and thrown up his hands. “At the very least you might find out something to help you later on.”
Get to know them, find their weaknesses, Luhan chants in his head as he tries to find a place to start.
He stays away from the Careers by principle and because he can still remember the lack of expression on most of their faces as they took down people from their own districts. The field is too large to get to know everyone anyway, so most of the tributes are splintered off into groups of three or four.
Luhan feels someone watching him, but when he looks around no one meets his eyes. He shakes it off as nerves.
There’s a group by the camouflage table, the two boys from 6, the twin from 4 and the tomboyish girl from 5. They all seem relatively harmless, personality wise at least and he’s proven right when he’s greeted with- albeit tentative- smiles when he sits down next to them.
“I’m Luhan, District 7,” he offers. He thinks belatedly that perhaps he should’ve asked if they minded him joining them.
“Hey,” the boy from 6 spoke up, offering a hand for him to shake. His grip is firm, but there’s no aggression behind it. “I’m Jongdae, and this is Minseok, we’re both from 6.” The boy beside him watched him steadily before offering his hand as well, along with a nod.
“I’m Amber,” the girl beside him pipes in, much more relaxed and friendly. Her grip is surprisingly firm. “I’m from the realm of power.”
She laughs freely as does the final person at the table, who holds out a hand as well. “Daeryong, from the much more impressive district of fishing.”
His grin is self-depreciating and Luhan finds himself smiling back and picking up some of the paints in the middle of the table.
They chat idly and Jongdae is pretty much the only person still trying to actually learn some camouflage. Luhan has paint all over his hands and a soft chuckle makes him look up. Minseok, who has been nearly silent the whole time, is smiling at him, cheeks puffing up. It transforms his entire face.
“You look like a bun,” he blurts out, before kicking himself. Him and his big mouth. “Sorry.”
Minseok’s eyebrows go up, but his smile doesn’t slip. He elbows Jongdae firmly in the ribs and the boy stops laughing to yelp softly. “Show some respect to your elders, Princess.”
Luhan glares, launching into an explanation of why he’s the manliest of them all before Daeryong holds up a hand, with an apologetic look in his eyes. “Sorry Luhan, I think that title’s already taken.”
“I could take you,” Luhan huffs.
Daeryong sits up straight, squares his shoulders. “Are you challenging the clear champion?”
Luhan frowns, because he didn’t want to start a fight over something so trivial, especially when they were making such good grounds, but his pride won’t allow him to back down. “What if I am?”
Daeyrong stares at him and then with a completely straight face, he says, “I wouldn’t take that if I were you, Amber.”
Luhan blinks, bamboozled and then he’s laughing, all the tension leaking out of him and the others join in when Amber socks Daeryong in the arm hard enough to drawn a visible wince.
The call for lunch breaks them up and when Minseok gets up, he flashes a sweet smile at Luhan. “You’ve had paint and a small leaf stuck to your face for the past half an hour.”
His eyes widen in disbelief as he touches his face, cursing as the others laugh.
He’s sits with a different group during lunch, the others having broken up into different circles as well. It wasn’t too good to form a clique. You make yourselves targets. You also get attached.
The group he eats with is much more subdued, a lot more distant and wary. In a way it was better, this was the way it was supposed to be and Luhan walks away at the end of it having only positive impressions of Joonmyun from District 3, who was polite and smiled at him a lot and a girl from 11, Yoona who cracked a few jokes that Luhan laughed at.
He can’t shake off the feeling he’s being watched though, not throughout lunch and well into the afternoon. It isn’t until minutes before they’re dismissed for the day that he pinpoints who it is. There’s a boy with tanned skin and dark eyes by the wall, chatting with a beautiful girl whose hair fell in waves down her back. District 4, Luhan thinks. The other two tributes alongside Daeryong.
The boy doesn’t stop talking as Luhan watches him intently, but he’s looking across the room at Luhan and something about that gaze makes him shiver.
He’s the first to look away.
It’s Yifan who comes to his room. Luhan was never a heavy sleeper and so by the time the door cracks fully open, he is already awake. He sees the way Yifan hesitates in the doorway.
“Hey,” he whispers and Yifan startles momentarily, but something in his tone must’ve been enough before the taller boy steps fully into the room and shuts the door.
Luhan pushes back the covers and scoots over without another word. He keeps his eyes on the plain white ceiling and resists leaning into Yifan as the bed dips with the extra weight.
“How did you go today?” he asks.
Yifan shifts, trying to get comfortable. “I liked the look of some of them. Joonmyun and that kid, Tao from District 5 are good people, Henry from 9 as well. That tall guy from 10, Chanyeol, is strong and he’s friendly enough if you want allies.”
“We don’t need allies,” Luhan says firmly.
“I agree,” Yifan replies easily and Luhan is surprised. He had thought Yifan would want them to team up with others, to make friends they can rely on.
He doesn’t push the matter though, simply glad for it. “Okay. Just you and me, Yifan.”
“Just you and me,” Yifan echoes. Something in his tone makes Luhan to towards him; something almost wistful and the action brings them close together.
There’s a charged moment when Luhan thought he saw Yifan’s breath hitch, but it’s so brief that Luhan convinces himself it’s all in his head.
He turns away and tells Yifan about Jongdae and Minseok, Daeryong and Amber, even Joonmyun and Yoona.
He doesn’t mention the silent boy with the dark eyes.
They lie side by side, arms touching and the bed is made for one, but neither of them move closer. They’ve slept much closer than this before, limbs tangled and hair in each other’s faces, but Yixing isn’t here right now, Yixing with his cold feet and soft snoring.
It’s just Luhan and Yifan, hyper aware of each other and the bed is too empty and too full at the same time.
Despite not wanting allies, Luhan finds himself bonding with some of the others. He becomes fast friends with Jongdae and Minseok by the end of the week, as well the wide eyed boy from District 11, Kyungsoo.
Kyungsoo’s good with a bow and arrow, has a dry sense of humor once you get past the initial shyness. He’s got a sweet smile and coupled with his deer in the headlights look, Luhan had almost written him off.
Then when they’re training on the mats, Kyungsoo had faced off with Daeryong, and looking so lost, Luhan almost felt sorry for him. Kyungsoo moves faster than Luhan expected, certainly faster than Daeryong expected and a moment later, when the taller boy is flat on his back, Kyungsoo smiles, a slow lift of his lip and his eyes are anything but innocent and Luhan decides he likes this kid.
He meets Tao too, so much a kid still that Luhan’s heart pangs as he tries to cover up his fear with bravado. Chanyeol is all inappropriate jokes and hearty laughter and he’s harmless enough even though Luhan has seen how much he can throw.
It’s easier than Luhan expected, getting attached, given that they’d all have to kill each other in a few days. Despite how much harder it will be now, as he watch Jongdae try to mimic Minseok behind his back and try to keep a straight face, he’s glad to have met them.
The night before they go into the arena, he thinks about going to see some of the others, his friends despite his initial aversion to seeing them as that.
Jongdae and Minseok will probably be together and Luhan walks past, telling himself it’s because he doesn’t want to disturb them and not because he can’t bring himself to say goodbye. He uses the same excuse for Daeryong and Amber, but they fall short for Kyungsoo and the others.
In the end he makes peace with the fact that he is a coward and Luhan climbs into Yifan’s bed without a word. Yifan doesn’t say anything either, turning on his side and instead of making room for him.
They lie there side by side, listening to each other's breathing.
"Is it terrible that a part of me is glad you are here beside me?"
Yifan chuckles. "Yes, but I'm also glad I am not alone. I am so lucky to have you."
Luhan elbows Yifan slightly. "Please, I bet everyone thinks I'm the lucky one to have you as a partner. I'm just the pretty papermaker who nobody looks at."
He's half joking, but Yifan turns so he can look Luhan straight in the eye. He leans in, pulling Luhan into his arms. "Sometimes it's hard to look at you. You're so bright."
He doesn't know what to say to that, so he says nothing, hoping the other can't see the colour on his face.
They lie like that, Luhan’s cheek against Yifan’s collarbones and his heart pounding hard.