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
The arena this year is terrifying from the very start.
Instead of the deceptive, yet still beautiful expanses of ocean or stretches of meadows, standing on the launch plates waiting for the time to tick down, they seem to have been dropped in the middle of a nightmare.
Aside from the golden Cornucopia in the middle, everything else appeared dark, as if light and colour had been stripped away.
The remnants of what appeared to be a ruined city dwarfs them, hollow burnt out skeletons of skyscrapers, twisted frames of buildings unlike anything Luhan’s ever imagined stretch out around them as far as they can see.
Further out, the ground seemed to have been split open, ripped apart from within by enormous trees, trunks and branches wrecking havoc; vines with deadly hooked thorns and dripping with some unknown substance. Gaping holes in the streets revealed some sort of water source that seemed to smoke slightly and the whole city seems to be alive, whispering and groaning around them.
The air smelt of decay and as the final few seconds counts down, Luhan glances at the Cornucopia, eyeing the abundance of weapons- knives, bow and arrow, axes, spears- and what appeared to be high tech gear clearly meant for the District 3 tributes.
There’s a pack much closer to them and he can see at least two knives in there and he meets Yifan’s eyes, five plates down and the warning in them is clear.
Do as we planned and run away from the Cornucopia. Don’t try anything stupid.
3, 2, 1…
He knows he should, that they’re strong together, but there’s only so much they can do without weaponry and supplies.
Luhan runs for the pack.
He gets there just after a boy from District 8 does. The boy has a sweet face and he’s about as much a killer as Yixing.
He sees Luhan coming too late, holding up the pack as a shield and Luhan grabs it from him easily, sliding and swiping at his ankle, knocking the boy to the ground hard. He grabs a knife peeking out the top and shoulders the pack, but he doesn’t use it on the boy still on the ground.
Luhan doesn’t have a gentle heart, but he’s not cruel either. He leaves the boy unharmed.
He scans quickly for Yifan, but before he can move, there’s a horrible strangled cry close by.
Luhan watches in shock as the tall gangly boy from 10, Zhoumi get a knife lodged in the back of his head as he reaches desperately for a small pack not five meters away from Luhan and he catches sight of one of the younger Careers standing behind him, a handsome boy with cold eyes.
Luhan wonders briefly why he’s not with the other Careers at the Cornucopia. He can already hear the screaming from that direction.
Before the boy has the chance to retrieve another knife, Luhan is on his feet, the backpack over his shoulder and he’s sprinting towards Yifan who has managed to get his hands on some weapons of his own.
Leaving the sound of the cannons behind them, they disappear into the underbelly of the fallen city.
They don’t stop until the sun is barely holding onto the sky and they make camp in a small, but strategically advantageous location,
“That was stupid as hell,” Yifan growls as they settle down.
Luhan throws him an exasperated look. “So you’ve said half a dozen times already. I know okay? But I stand by it. We have food and weapons now, we’re stronger.”
“That’d do us no good if you were dead!” Yifan snaps and Luhan sees the way his large hands shake slightly as they try to unfasten the string tying together some type of sausage.
He softens and sits down, taking the parcel. When he speaks again, his voice is soft. “I’m sorry. I know it was risky, I won’t do it again.”
Yifan rubs his face wearily and looks at him apologetically. “I’m sorry too. I just can’t bear the thought of you getting hurt.”
They cut slices of the sausage with a knife and tear off a bit of bread, washing the food down with sips of water. By the end, neither of them is full, but until they find more, it was best to conserve what they have.
They’re arguing over who should have the first shift when the faces appear in the sky.
The two other tributes from Joonmyun’s district. The girl, Seohyun he remembers Joonmyun introducing them and the boy he doesn’t know. Tiffany comes as a shock, because whilst she has always kept her distance from them, they still knew her. She was still from 7 and no matter how stoic she had appeared, Luhan remembers the fear in her eyes at the Reaping. There’s also a tall girl with short hair from 9, Ara and Zhoumi who Luhan had watched die earlier.
His hand finds its way instinctively to Yifan’s and they clutch at each other tightly.
Twenty eight remaining.
They map out their surroundings as best as they can and Luhan thinks that they’re at an advantage compared to some of the other districts, all the more so due to their little adventures in the woods growing up.
He wonders if Yixing is watching at home and glad they didn’t listen to their parents and ran off whenever they could, or if this was too much for him to sit through.
He stops thinking about Yixing when the ground starts trembling.
They grab what they can and sprint away from the ominous rumbling from one of the large buildings near their camp. They hear the explosion, before they see it and they smell the acidic, sharp heat of the lava, before they feel the heat searing at their backs.
Another explosion rocks the ground nearby and Luhan blanches when terrible screams erupt not too far behind them.
“Climb up, climb up!” he shouts at Yifan, as the bubbling avalanche of lava descends on them.
There was no telling if the trees would be able to stand the heat of the lava, shouldn't be able to by any means, but nothing’s for certain here in the arena, and they have no more time.
Luhan is only halfway up when the lava reaches them and he scrambles against the bark in panic before a hand circles around his wrist and pulls him out of danger’s way just in time.
The lava sears the tree trunk where it touches, but the tree holds and Luhan sinks down against a branch as soon as Yifan helps him up higher.
He reaches for the other boy and that’s when the ground below them splits open and Luhan’s falling.
He lands not on the hard ground below, but in water and he flounders as the water gushes up from the new canyon below them. The current is vicious and Luhan tries to find Yifan, but there’s no sight of the other boy.
He panics, taking in mouthfuls of water and he’s trying to orientate himself in the harsh current when he slams into something hard and everything goes dark.
He wakes up and it’s already dark. He finds himself in a bed of sorts, an abandoned vehicle of some sorts and he groans as he sits up. His head is pounding and when he reaches up, he finds it bandaged. Luhan looks around quickly, looking for Yifan, but there are no signs of anyone else, though a faint scent of eucalyptus and sea salt lingers.
He steps outside and it looks like the end of the world happened and nature took back its space. Many of the buildings were broken and rubble among the trees. The water had rescinded, but the devastation remains.
Luhan wonders how many people the fire and the water had taken. He refuses to think about if Yifan might have been among them.
He walks for hours in the dark, head throbbing with each step, but he refuses to stop until he finds Yifan.
They’ve lost their supplies and the flood has thrown him off direction. Luhan is starving and aching and he grits his teeth when he hears a sound nearby.
The faces go up in the sky and there’s the boy he had taken the pack from, the tiny blonde girl with short hair from 9, and the girl from Minseok and Jongdae’s district, Sulli. He is glad to not have known her and glad that his friends did not seem close to her either.
It’s horrible, but the relief is overwhelming. He moves forward with renewed strength.
In the end, it’s Yifan who finds him though. Drops down from an overhanging branch and nearly gets Luhan’s knife in his throat. Facing down the blade, Yifan only looks incredibly relieved.
Luhan finds himself swept into a hug and he crumbles into it with a small cry. He’s not crying, but his eyes are wet.
The announcement comes as they’re huddled together, sharing a piece of dried fish. They had been talking about the tributes that have died, how it’s thankful that they did not know them and Yifan had looked troubled. Luhan understands why, because reprieve now only means more heartache later.
The longer they all stay alive, the higher the likelihood of having to kill their friends.
The speaker clicks to life and Luhan jumps at the unexpected sound. Something has happened.
The announcement goes on for a couple of minutes, but the only thing Luhan can process is that there can be two winners.
Two winners. He drops the fish he’s eating and turns, wide eyed to stare at Yifan who is also looking gobsmacked. He can’t quite believe it, what with the fiasco with Katniss and Peeta all those years ago, but he doesn’t question it, doesn’t allow himself to doubt. Luhan flings his arms around Yifan’s neck, holding on with perhaps a little too much force, but the arms that encircle his waist are just as tight.
They could both walk out of here if they played their cards right. For the first time, Luhan feels his heart swell with hope.
The third day is harsh, sharp changes in temperature leaving them sweating and panting, then mere hours later, shivering so hard their teeth clatters.
The rain comes down hard in the afternoon, searing against bare skin on contact and developing into a dreadful itch. All through it though, Luhan and Yifan stays positive, holding each other close and still reveling on the high of last night’s announcement.
Their good mood dissipates when they find out the day has taken away both Joonmyun and Henry. Luhan deflates, feeling sick in his stomach. The losses are finally starts to feel personal and he’s not sure how he’s going to be able to handle what’s to come.
By the time the sun rises on the fifth day, Kyungsoo is dead and Yifan has to make sure Luhan eats and re-bandage his wound. Luhan moved through last night and this morning robotically, the grief dull and heavy.
Yesterday had brought mutts, gruesome and ferocious, eagle and snake hybrids, giant alligators, giant mountain lions with vicious claws and jaws that unhinged to an unnatural degree.
They had managed to escape two encounters with only minor injuries and they’d heard the cannon during the day, but Luhan had been so content that they’ve survived so well that he didn’t think about what exactly they meant.
It wasn’t until Kyungsoo’s face appeared in the sky, impassive and wide eyed, not smiley and playful the way Luhan remembers him. Luhan can’t imagine Kyungsoo not running around with his bow and arrow, twinkling eyes and his soft voice spinning stories about growing up in the golden fields.
They are down to fifteen when the second announcement comes and Luhan walks away from Yifan without a word, because he thinks if he opens his mouth, he’d start screaming and he doesn’t know if he’d be able to stop.
They should’ve known better. A small part of him did know better. The Games were never so generous, especially not for a Quarter Quell. They had wanted it so much, they had shoved all that away in the blind desperate need for them to be okay, for them to be together.
He knows what they’re doing, a cold, logical part of him knows the effectiveness of such a move, but his throat is burning and Luhan is scared he’ll throw up. Allowing the duo victory, but not letting two people from the same district win is as cruel a twist as any in the Games’ history and Luhan can see it already.
Having people from different districts form tentative alliances is a hard enough feat as it is with the general distrust between districts. Keeping it intact when it may dissolve at the first signs of possible betrayal is near impossible. Worst of all, would be coming face to face with the other tributes from your district, friends, lovers, previous allies.
“Hey,” Yifan speaks quietly and Luhan flinches nevertheless. “We don’t have much time left.”
Fifteen minutes. Or at least that’s what they had, before Luhan walked away and tried to get a hold of himself. He turns, feeling guilty at taking up so much of their remaining time.
Yifan shushes him and pulls him into another hug, this one desperate, intense and seeming horribly like goodbye.
He’s not sure how long they cling to each other, but then all too soon, their collars start beeping, shrill and ominous. Yifan pushes him away and Luhan pushes down the urge to reach out. They step back, one step, then another, until the beeping stops and they’re left standing five meters apart.
They walk parallel to each other, keeping just enough distance between them to avoid their collars detonating. They keep their eyes on each other for as long can, before Yifan darts across quickly and takes out a thin piece of metal, the razor blade they had found before and slips it into a side pocket against Luhan’s vest. It wouldn’t be much of a weapon, but it was still deadly if wielded exactly.
With the beeping speeding up, Yifan drops a kiss on Luhan’s forehead and then he’s gone.
Luhan is truly alone.
He makes camp with heavy feet and a heavier heart and just when he thinks he’s hit rock bottom, the faces appear in the sky and he stops breathing for a long moment.
Minseok is there, bright eyes and a crooked smile and Luhan chokes back tears as he thinks of how they managed to bond in such a circumstance and the grief is overpowering. He breaks down in his corner and the walls seem to close in on him.
It’s nearly dawn when he gathers himself enough to keep going. Losing Minseok made him realize something important, that if he gets killed, Yifan would see his face in the sky and Luhan knows what that would do to the other.
He needs to stay away from Yifan, but he also needs to stay alive.
It’s harder to do then think and not even a day later, Luhan’s hobbling along, nursing a swollen ankle and a nasty gash in his shoulder.
He’s making his way to the other side of the city, trying to find one of the Careers. He knows their original plan would be messed up now with the second announcement. If he can get one of them on his side…he can help Yifan win. It doesn’t even bother him anymore what he’s willing to do.
Then the screaming starts and Luhan feels the ice spike through his body, because he knows who that voice belongs to. He’s sprinting faster than he thought his ankle would allow and there are sparks of pain every time he hits the ground, but Luhan grits his teeth and keeps going.
He rounds a corner, the walls broken by a giant tree root and its branches and he has to close his eyes for a second to gather himself.
Two of the Careers are standing by the far wall, standing over a prone body bloody against a large tree trunk. His eyes are shut, one swollen badly and there’s blood all over his face and one of his legs is at an awkward angle, most likely broken.
The worst of it though are his hands, pinned to the tree with a dagger through one and a broken pipe through the other.
They’ve crucified Jongdae.
Luhan sees red, rage bubbling up inside him and for the first time since this all started, he wants to kill. He wants to kill the people that did this to his friend.
Resisting the urge to just rush in, Luhan moves back, doubling around so he could get up high into the tree above them. As cruel as they may be, Careers don’t play with their victims after they’re dead, which means Jongdae is still alive. And if he’s alive, Luhan can help him.
He wishes desperately that Yifan was here, Yifan with his axe and strength, his precise throw that would take out Minho and the smug look on his face.
Yifan isn’t here though and Luhan has only one knife.
It’s suicide, Hangeng’s voice rings in his head. You alone with a busted ankle and one knife against two Careers? Not a chance.
Luhan shakes off the warning, even if he knew it to be true and he doesn’t stop climbing until he’s almost right on top of them.
The other Career, Yuri presses her boot into Jongdae’s knee and he shudders, letting out a hoarse scream. “Come on scream louder, or else your partner might not hear you.”
That’s why they’re torturing him, Luhan realizes with horror. It finally makes sense, why they’re keeping him alive instead of killing him. They’re trying to draw someone else out, whether it is whoever he teamed up with or one of his friends.
Just like me, Luhan thinks, stomach churning. They’re setting a trap with Jongdae as bait. It’s so sick he has to dig his fingernails into his palm to stay calm.
He tightens his grip on his knife and let's himself drop from the tree.
Luhan manages to stab Yuri in the chest, but he’s yanked off by Minho, before he can make a second hit.
Minho lands two blows to Luhan’s face, before he kicks back, knee in the stomach and a solid hit to the windpipe. He manages to get the upper hand, but before he can deal another blow, a sharp pain rips through his side. He loosens his grip on Minho, and gets thrown back roughly. He cries out, rolling away as Minho advances menacingly. Turning his head, he can see Yuri staring lifelessly, her hand still on the crossbow.
At least he took her out.
Luhan knows he’s a better fighter, but Minho’s got weight, height and an edge of cruelty on him, targeting Luhan’s injured ankle and the new gash in his side and Luhan’s struggling to hold his own.
The knife comes out of nowhere and Luhan gasps to see the blade glide across Minho’s throat. The Career drops like dead weight and Luhan gapes to see the boy with dark eyes standing above him.
Kai from District 4.
He’s too shocked to remember to defend himself and he can only let the other help him up. He’s not sure why, but he knows the other won’t attack him.
“No worries,” the other replies, voice deeper than Luhan imagined. “I’m Jongin.”
Before he can say anything back, there’s a soft, hoarse “Luhan…”
He whips around, stumbling over to where Jongdae is, horrified to have forgotten his friend for even a moment. He fumbles to remove the knife without hurting Jongdae more. He doesn’t question it when Kai- Jongin- comes up to help.
They get Jongdae down, the younger boy’s cries of pain has Luhan grinding his teeth and flinching every single time. He has nothing to stem the flow of blood, but he tries, grabbing Jongdae’s hands and pressing them against the fabric of his shirt.
“Shh, it’s okay Jongdae, it’s going to be okay.” He pulls Jongdae tighter into his chest and rocks the boy slightly, trying to offer what comfort he could.
“No, it’s not,” Jongdae gasps out breathlessly. “But thank you for saying it.”
“Jongdae, no. I will not let you die.” He clutches tightly at the younger boy. “Do you hear me, you are not dying on me.”
Jongdae smiles, a shadow of his usual feline grin and he turns his hand around, squeezing Luhan’s in return, even though it must have hurt a lot. “Luhan, thank you for coming back to save me.”
“Of course I would. We’re friends, Jongdae. We’re friends,” Luhan murmurs, voice cracking. “And I couldn’t even save you.”
“Friends,” he whispers with a soft smile and a squeeze of his hand. “I’m glad to have met you.”
Then his eyes close and Luhan’s left shouting his name and clutching at his still body, until Jongin pulls him away.
The sun was setting and the world feels darker than ever.
Luhan’s running solely on instinct and adrenaline, disorientated after the fight and the subsequent landslide. He pushes himself through the debris and the fallen buildings, his breathing loud enough to drown out his footsteps. The sun is bloody and unnaturally bright in the hazy evening sky.
Jongin’s moving much more quietly next to Luhan, more graceful and light on his feet even though he’s clearly favoring his left side, right arm tucked in close.
He wonders if Jongin knows where he’s going, if he’s canvassed this particular area during the first few days or if the other boy is just as lost as he is. Perhaps they’ll just wander until they collapse or someone attacks them.
They’re both bleeding and bruised and by the time they slow down near the mountains, Luhan’s swaying on his feet. It’s a good place to rest though, high unscalable walls behind them, half the city spread out low in front, the skeleton of what looked like a ship tucked into the trees and rock. Defensive wise, it’s superb and he’s impressed by Jongin’s choice.
“Why did you help me?” he asks much later, when his head stops swimming and Jongin’s breathing is less shallow.
The other boy pauses as he bandages Luhan's ankle, before shrugging and continuing on.
“I want you,” Jongin says, without a hint of embarrassment.
Luhan tenses, but he doesn’t comment, letting Jongin continue. “I want you because I need you to get out of here.”
Jongin shrugs again. “You’re strong. Smart, fast, more deadly than almost everyone thinks and people love you.”
Luhan blinks. Yifan and Yixing and later, Hangeng had been the only ones who didn’t underestimate him. He’s not sure what to do when a stranger tells him such a thing. He deflects, “You watched me during training.”
“Yes,” Jongin admits, unabashed. “Often. You are…interesting.”
Luhan busies himself with inspecting his injuries, noting the use of the present tense. He’s by no means shy, but he’s still taken aback by Jongin’s straightforwardness. “I didn’t say I’d be partners with you.”
Jongin doesn’t look surprised and merely nods and carries on. It’s not the reaction he expects, but Luhan lets it go. He's too tired to try and figure out the enigma that is his new companion.
Outside, a storm is brewing, dark, angry clouds gathering and as they settle down to sleep, Luhan is glad to not be alone.
It’s nearly a day later, when the storm finally breaks, the lightning and thunder giving way to the rain which still fell heavily outside, the air heavy and humid. “I’m sorry about Soojung.”
He sees the way Jongin’s eyes shutter. “Me too,” comes the hushed reply. “At least I didn’t have to kill her.”
“You wouldn’t have,” Luhan says, with a certainty that he’s doesn’t understand.
Jongin clearly feels similarly, turning to look at him in disbelief. “How would you know? I don’t even know what I would’ve done.”
“You love her.”
Jongin laughs bitterly. “I’m selfish.”
Luhan watches the other boy for a while. “So am I, selfish I mean. That’s why we’d save the people we love. We don’t want to be the one left alive to remember, to mourn.”
The other is silent for a long time and when he looks at Luhan, there’s a new light in his eyes and they settle into a comfortable silence.
Jongin tells Luhan more about Soojung, about how the two of them grew up together, about how she likes hunting and blades and how Jongin has a younger sister. Luhan in turn opens up about Yixing and Yifan, his mother and how he likes climbing trees and swimming in the lake.
They speak, soft and easy, until they both nod off in the early hours of the morning.
The two of them finally venture outside, reluctantly abandoning their camp. No matter how comfortable it was, they could not stay in one place any longer.
It was only a matter of fact before the Gamemakers retaliated for their lack of excitement.
He’s right, because they don’t make it two hours before they walk right into a trap.
One moment he’s trailing behind Jongin and the next there’s a sizzle of electricity and the screaming starts.
The first voice he recognizes is Jongdae, too similar to the sounds Jongdae made at the hands of the Careers and even though he watched the other die, he shudders and slaps his hands over his ears in horror. It doesn’t stop though, Minseok and Kyungsoo’s voices quickly adding to the mix, followed by Hangeng and Yixing. They save Yifan for last and by that time Luhan is screaming himself hoarse, trying to drown out the horrifying sounds.
Through it all he hears another voice, not as familiar, but still recognizable and he’s wondering why it would be there when he sees the other boy stumble into the clearing.
Luhan’s seen Tao during training- fast, precise and more deadly than most with just a stick in his hand. Long legs, lean with hard muscles and enviable flexibility. He’s even spoken to the other one or two times, the younger boy following Yifan around like a puppy, albeit a ferocious looking one.
Now though, with his hands over his ears and terror wild in his eyes, Tao has never looked more like a child. Luhan wants to help, but the screaming is still drilling into his head, Minseok, Jongdae, Kyungsoo, Yixing, Hangeng, Yifan and he can barely keep himself from hyperventilating.
He watches in horror as Tao pushes himself into a series of complicated defensive moves, sharp kicks and sweeps of his legs. Luhan’s not sure if he’s trying to distract himself with a familiar routine, or if he’s trying to fight against an invisible enemy.
It takes him a long time, before he notices Jongin pounding against what looks like empty space. It takes even longer for him to realise Jongin is mouthing something at him, only he can’t hear at all,
“Jongin!” he rasps, running up to the other and he jerks when the force field throws him back.
The other boy has finally stopped pounding uselessly and Luhan sees him reach into his belt for his dagger. His eyes widen when Jongin slides it across his finger. The screams pick up in intensity and loudness and Luhan crumples to his knees, heaving as he tries to block it out.
Not real. I’m here. Look at me and breathe.
It’s harder to do than it sounds and Luhan’s there, panting and flinching with each scream, but he tries to listen to Jongin, sucking in deep breaths of air and forcing his breathing to slow a little. He keeps his eyes on Jongin, dark orbs not quite calm, but enough to steady him.
He doesn’t know how long it takes, but suddenly the screaming stops, echoes ringing in his ears and the sounds of the trees and Jongin’s voice rushes in. The force field disappears and Luhan’s falling.
Jongin catches him and pulls him away, half dragging, half carrying him back and arms tight around Luhan as he trembles violently.
“It’s okay, it’s okay now. I’ve got you,” Jongin murmurs.
Luhan sinks boneless into the other boy’s arms and he opens his mouth to thank him, when he realizes Tao was still screaming.
“Tao,” he croaks. “Tao, it’s over. Tao!”
The younger boy jerks sharply at Luhan’s shout, eyes swinging up, wide and mad, manic as his hands clutch at his own throat. Luhan’s heart sinks.
Tao seems to register something, perhaps the fact that Luhan was with Jongin and he jumps up, running away from the clearing and none of them sees it in time.
The fine wire between the trees trunks, the weapon hidden in the bushes. The crossbow bolts hits him dead on, one in his thigh, one in his shoulder and another straight through his chest.
Luhan screams hoarsely, knowing there was nothing he could do, but still feeling guilty at watching another person he knew die in front of him.
It takes too long, Tao still trying to breathe through the hole in his lung, each breath drawing a ghastly whistling sound that made the hairs on the back of Luhan’s neck rise.
Jongin cups Luhan’s jaw and slowly, but firmly turns his head away and Luhan gladly buries his face in the other’s neck.
Jongin smells of eucalyptus and ocean waves and Luhan didn’t think anything could surprise him anymore, but this knowledge sends his head spinning.
Just how long has Jongin been watching over him?
It takes Luhan a few hours before he’s steady again. Dusk comes and goes and Luhan wakes up as the sun is rising, knowing that there’s only four of them left.
It was unlikely they’d survive to see another sunrise.
He looks over at Jongin’s sleeping figure, years younger in slumber than when he’s fighting. There’s a gash from his cheek to just above his jaw and his eye is swollen, but Jongin still looks peaceful somehow.
Luhan’s heart twinges. He wishes Jongin can walk out of here, safe and sound, but he can’t allow that if he wants to save Yifan.
It’s almost dark again when they stop being alone.
A rustle in the bushes is all it takes; the quietest crunch of leaves against concrete and Luhan’s jumping up, dagger in his hand.
Then Yifan is there, much like Luhan’s envisioned countless times during the last few days, but unlike those times, he’s not smiling.
“Yifan, what are you doing?”
Yifan doesn’t reply, doesn’t even look at Luhan. He takes a step forward, but Jongin’s there, pushing himself up to stand between them. The younger boy’s shirt is stained red and Luhan can see the blood trickling down his arm through the gash in the material.
His hand holding the knife is steady though and he shoots out his other arm to stop Luhan from going forward.
“Put the axe down,” Jongin orders, voice hard. “It’s two of us against one of you.”
Luhan sees Jongin chance a look in his direction, uncertain that Luhan would stand with him despite his words and he feels terrible, not least because he knows he can’t hurt Yifan.
He senses the other presence before he feels the tackle, but the action still takes him by surprise. He lands with a thump and a scream, a dagger sunk into his shoulder. Distantly, he can hear Yifan and Jongin shouting, but he can’t worry about that now, not when Sehun’s leaning over him, twisting the dagger deeper.
He’s losing blood from his shoulder and his old gut wound which has opened up in the tussle, but Luhan’s not an easy opponent by any means. He grapples with the taller boy then scrambles backwards, as if terrified and Sehun lets his guard drop, thinking he has this in the bag.
Luhan edges back until his hand closes around a metal length, a pipe by the feel of it and he thinks of the way Sehun had cut Zhoumi down near the Cornucopia. There’s no hesitation when he whips the pipe around and jabs it into Sehun’s thigh. It’s not as effective as a stomach hit would have been, but at the angle he is at, it’s the best he can do.
He follows that up quickly with a sharp kick to his head and he’s pleased to see the way Sehun’s head snaps to the side.
Sehun snarls, furious and vicious like an injured animal, a hand pressed against the gushing wound. There’s a gash above his brow where Luhan’s kick had landed amd a trickle of blood dribbles down over his eye. He’s still less disorientated than Luhan though, whose vision is starting to swim from the blood loss and pain. He manages to pin Luhan down on the ground, one knee hard against his throat. The dagger is yanked out of his shoulder and Sehun smirks down at him.
Luhan closes his eyes, not wanting to see the plunging blade sink into his chest.
The blade bites into his arm, but there’s barely any force behind it. Luhan looks up in confusion, just in time to catch Sehun’s bewildered expression, before the blood drips onto Luhan’s face and he blinks away the red. Sehun’s body lands heavily on him and when he pushes it off himself, he sees the axe lodged in the back of Sehun’s head.
His head jerks up and he sees Yifan on the ground, tackled there by Jongin and he makes no effort to fight against the younger boy’s hands tight around his throat.
“Stop,” he shouts, forcing his body up and moving. He half runs, half falls over to where the other two are and he pulls Jongin off.
Jongin tries to hold him back, but Luhan’s kneeling beside Yifan, arms around his neck and face buried in his neck. He doesn’t care what people must be thinking watching this play out.
“Don’t ever leave me again,” he forces out and his heart speeds up involuntarily when Yifan pulls him in tighter, hands digging into Luhan’s vest he’s hugging him so fiercely.
He doesn’t realise what Yifan’s done, until the blade is already slicing through skin. Luhan feels the blood hit his skin and he’s jerks away, eyes widening in disbelief.
The now empty pocket in his vest and the red gash across Yifan’s throat tells him all he needs to know. It doesn’t stop him screaming, guttural and raw, trying to stem the flow with his hands. Just like with Jongdae before, the blood simply wets his hands and Luhan refuses to think of what happens next.
Jongin’s trying to pull him away and distantly, Luhan hears the beeping of the detonator, distorted as if he was submerged underwater.
It all seems so insignificant when Yifan’s blood is pooling around his fingers.
“Let go, Luhan,” Yifan rasps out and Luhan shakes his head furiously, grip tightening on the torn fabric.
“Shut up,” he bites out through his tears. “Shut up and stay awake. If you’re not okay, I’m going to kill you.”
Jongin’s shouting in his ear now, but Luhan pushes him away, shoves him hard enough to send the younger boy sprawling and he hopes Jongin has the sense to move away so he doesn’t get caught in the explosion.
At least one of them deserves to get out of this hellhole.
“I killed Minseok.”
Everything goes hollow, the sounds, the words Yifan is gasping out. The inside of Luhan’s chest. “What?”
Yifan chokes on the blood in his throat, but he forces the words out. “I killed Minseok. He trusted me, because of you and I cut him down as if he was a branch.”
“No,” Luhan gasps out. “No! I don’t believe you, I know you Yifan, you wouldn’t do something like that. Not to Minseok-”
“Why?” Yifan grits out. “Because he was kind? Because he trusted me?”
“Because he was my friend!” Luhan screamed. “He was my friend…”
“I know,” Yifan says quietly. “I killed him, because he was your friend. I knew you couldn’t do it, so I took care of him for you.”
Luhan freezes, each word hitting him like an arrow. “Why?” He asks brokenly. The world paints itself in red and the edges are fraying. He doesn’t even realize his grip on Yifan has loosened, until Jongin is hauling him around the middle and dragging him backwards.
He struggles, but there’s no fight left in him.
“You want to save everyone, Luhan,” Yifan chokes out, breaking off in a sickening gurgle. “I just want to save you.”
The blood gushes from his throat and Luhan wants to reach out and make the life stop flowing out of Yifan, but they both know it’s too late.
What do you say when your heart is dying?
Yifan struggles to open his eyes and he lifts one hand slowly, as if it weighed a ton. Luhan watches the other man curl his hand half into a fist. He taps two fingers against his temple, then with immense effort, drags it down over his heart.
He doesn’t quite make the final tap, before his hand goes limp and Luhan screams until he passes out.
Hallucinations of the arena break through everywhere, even when he’s in the most ordinary places.
The faces in the sky, the smell of decay, Jongdae’s crucified, the whistling of Tao’s pierced lungs, the mutts, the lava, the screaming. Yifan bleeding out, bloody, skin split open; lifeless eyes. The waves of red unrelenting and unforgiving.
None of it makes him feel like he’s actually alive.
It takes a long time for his head to clear enough to realize.
“You were right after all,” he says humorlessly. “Making friends did save me.”
Hangeng smiles sadly. “You care about others more than yourself. I needed you to need to live, even if it’s for someone else and not yourself.”
Everyone seemed to have Luhan figured out and dissected down to elements he himself didn’t even understand. Because, Yifan was right, of course. Luhan would never have been able to kill Minseok nor would he have been able to kill Jongin. He would have willingly given up his life so his friends could live.
It still doesn’t make it easier to forgive though.
It haunts him until Jongin saves him again, just like all those times back in the arena.
Jongin tells him much, much later, when Luhan isn’t high on morphling and the hallucinations have faded enough that he can tell he’s not actually in the arena anymore.
His voice is soft, gentle and had it been anyone else, Luhan would have lashed out somehow, but he can’t do that to Jongin, especially when he knows the other wouldn’t joke around with something like this.
Luhan demands to see the footage immediately, despite everyone’s attempts to sway him.
The sight of the arena alone is enough to make him shake. The broken concrete and twisting trees, the blood splatters on the wall.
Jongin holds onto his hand and Luhan squeezes hard enough to hurt, but Jongin says nothing, nor does he pull away.
Minseok is stronger than both girls, but he’s got nothing on him except a rusty pipe he yanked off a nearby wall and both Jessica and Sooyoung are armed with multiple knives from the Cornucopia.
A throwing dagger through the thigh, another in his shoulder and Minseok is down on the ground long enough for the girls circling him to pounce. Sooyoung grabs him in a headlock and pulls her arm tight. He gets her with the pipe right in the hip, but not before Jessica has a long dagger lodged in his abdomen. The look on her face as she yanks the blade upwards and Minseok’s strangled scream makes Luhan almost wish he was back in the arena so he could kill them himself. Neither girls let up though and Luhan watches as Minseok chokes to death, hands clutching his open stomach.
“Turn it off,” he whispers. “That’s enough.”
“No,” Jongin cuts in, voice tight. “There’s more.”
What more can there be? Luhan thinks weakly. Even so, he doesn’t argue. If he couldn’t trust Jongin, there was nothing left.
He watches them drop Minseok like a bag of flour, and Jessica pull the knife out, sidestepping the puddle of blood on the ground as if she wasn’t responsible for causing it.
Sooyoung reaches down to pull out the two throwing knives. She doesn’t quite make it upright. She staggers, grabbing at Jessica with clawed hands, eyes accusing and spiteful, the dagger lodged halfway in her back.
She manages to get her hands on Jessica’s throat, but there’s no strength behind it and she crumples to the ground, mouth twisted with hate.
Jessica smirks for one triumphant moment, before her eyes widen in fear and Luhan inhales sharply at the axe that lodges itself in her chest a second later.
Yifan steps into the clearing and calls out to Sehun, who approaches without fear. Luhan watches them talk, sees how Sehun glanced at the dead girls, one of which he had obviously wanted to team up with and he watches them shake on an alliance. Sehun doesn’t even look back and it’s clear he simply wants the strongest ally.
Yifan pauses though, leans down to shut Minseok’s eyes and he whispers a “I’m sorry" so quiet Luhan barely hears it. It’s there though and Luhan doesn’t realize he’s crying until Jongin turns off the television and pulls him into a hug.
“It doesn’t matter,” Luhan ekes out against Jongin’s shoulders.
“It matters,” he says softly, a hand on Luhan’s nape, solid and comforting.
He just watched one of his closest friends get murdered on screen and a twisted part of him is glad to have seen it, because it means he doesn’t have to hate the one person that matters most to him.
Jongin pulls him in closer and Luhan cries freely for the first time since they left the arena.
He still hates Yifan after that, albeit in a way that isn’t so destructive and without the edge. He hates him for letting Minseok die like that, hates him for lying about killing him, and hates him for sacrificing himself so Luhan can walk away.
Luhan feels Yifan in his old wounds and each one brings up so much memories, he physically shakes from the weight of them.