Jimin’s outburst caused the ducks he was feeding to visibly jerk, swimming away quickly. Jimin didn’t seem to pay it attention, turning away from the pond, phone pressed even more against his ears to check if he heard right.
“Yeah, Jimin-ah, I’m watching the news right now. Our country’s going into Chess, again,” Taehyung said from the other end.
“Again? Why does our country go through so much of the Chess bloodshed? I’ve seen it twice in my life. It’s happening again?” He complained, kicking some of the rocks away, a little angry. “Why is every new leader so prone to conflict? Ugh, is the Pieces List out?” He really hoped it didn’t have his name on it.
“Not yet. I’m heading home right now. Yoongi hyung sent me a text saying something happened but didn’t specify. I’m a little worried.”
Jimin’s heart dropped. Yoongi hyung?
“I’ll be right home, then. Tell me when you receive news of the list.”
“Of course. Be safe, Jimin.”
As the call dropped, Jimin shoved his phone into his pocket and quickly got out of there. He had to get home — to check if something happened to Yoongi. But, he wondered why Yoongi didn’t tell Jimin? They were in a relationship, after all, had been for two years, now.
Shaking his head, Jimin shook off his thoughts of doubt — it’s not the time for insecurity, there must’ve been a good reason he didn’t tell Jimin. For now, he should worry about reaching home, especially in a time of country conflict like this.
He hated the Chess system, hated that way of solving international problems. It was just killing, being killed, without mercy. Even if the killer wanted to spare, wanted to preserve their innocence, they’d still have to kill. It was as per the rules; if you don’t kill, the whole board dies; if you try to escape your death, the whole board dies.
The first time he’d seen Chess was when he was at the young age of four, the age of innocence. It had soon been lost.
His mother was one of the participators, playing as the white Bishop piece, the King had been a self-centered asshole who didn’t care for his pieces, and his mother died early on in the game. He had been in the audience, watching, crying with others who also lost their family members, crying into his dad’s arms, who was trying to comfort both of this sons while crying, too.
His dad. Before the second Chess, before the piece list was even out, he’d killed himself, driven himself to mental insanity ever since his mother had died. Jimin knew that he’d cared for them, but he died, just before Jimin turned thirteen, left alone with his brother in the world, with no other family. He didn’t blame his father, it was the world’s fault for such a cruel system, for no way to be comforted too.
Now, at the age of twenty-two, his brother living well off somewhere else, he was living in the outskirts of the kingdom with Yoongi, his boyfriend, and Taehyung, his friend ever since primary school.
When he got home, there was no sign of Yoongi.
“Yoongi? Are you in the bathroom?” Checking the bathrooms, Jimin looked for his boyfriend. But, no avail, he wasn’t there.
He heard the front door open, and then close as someone entered the house.
“Yoongi? Is that you?” He asked, hoping it was, but when he popped his head out to the living room, he saw it was Taehyung.
“No, it’s me.” Taehyung frowns. “He’s not home?”
Jimin shook his head, brows furrowing in worry. “Do you think something bad happened?”
Taehyung put a thoughtful expression on, “I don’t know. Did he leave anything? I tried calling him, his phone’s still dead.”
“Yeah, his clothes are still in my room, nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Wait, what’s that?” Taehyung pointed to the small piece of paper under the coasters of their coffee table.
“How did I miss this…” Jimin mumbles, grabbing the piece of paper, then reading it out loud. “Jimin, Taehyung, I’m visiting my family, sorry for leaving at such a short notice, something came up. I’ll be back as soon as I can. I’m really sorry. My phone is dead and I don’t have time to charge it. I love you, Jimin (you too, Taehyung), stay well. I’m sorry again. Yoongi.”
“Oh, he’s gone to his hometown? Well, that’s not as bad as I thought it was,” Taehyung said, signing out in relief. “I’m glad he’s okay.”
Jimin jutted his bottom lip out, still, an unknown fear looming in his head. “Yeah, me too.”
Dropping to the couch, Taehyung grabbed the remote, yelling out in anger, “ Ahh, why do we have to go through the Chess, again ? What the hell.”
Taehyung was actually part of another country before, but when the two sides went into Chess, the first Chess Jimin experienced, the winner was the new king of both countries united. And, Taehyung’s family had moved to the same city as Jimin’s. They watched the second Chess together, huddled, and scared, and so angry. They both hated the system.
“Breaking news, after the coin flip, it is officially announced that our nation stands as the black pieces. The Pieces List is arriving by tonight, they had some trouble this afternoon due to a computer error. We all hope that it turns out for the best, stay strong, everyone.” The news reporter also seemed scared. Well, it was natural. She could get chosen, too. Anyone could. It was all chance. The Universal Independent Monitoring And Resolving Organization (in short, UIMRO) randomized as to who would be chosen as the pieces. The list they choose from don’t include those without major health or mental soundness and people over forty, so the healthy group of people were the most likely.
The more he thought about it, the more Jimin got angry. He understood UIMRO was for the betterment; they monitor all countries for the maintenance of human rights. That was their major function, they didn’t care about other governing rules but human rights had to be provided to all who are human. And, being an organization outside of any nationality, above any nationality, they also decided the rules for solving international problems, like conflicts that could potentially lead to war.
He understood that this is just the method. A method to maintain peace, to resolve conflict. The sixteen people chosen from each country had to partake as their respective pieces of Chess on either side, fight the war they didn’t start. He understood why the pieces must kill, why they must not escape their death, and why the whole board dies if there was such cheating. It was to raise the stakes, to help people realize important of lives and become better, smarter leaders and citizens, to better the world by their fear of this method, to raise the world’s standards. So, that, in the end, due to fear of being killed through the method, nations would improve, no conflict would last. Once a side has won, the two who fought become one with the winning King being the new leader.
One might argue that this method would backfire once the world got to its ideal peace. Because, then, how would they choose their new leaders? Well, simply, it had not been yet achieved, but it had been bettered. The bridge would be crossed once they got there.
But, even with reason, Jimin hated it. It didn’t feel good knowing the last resort to solving conflicts was organized war.
“Jimin,” Taehyung started, looking at his friend sadly. “It’ll be alright.”
“No, it won’t. Don’t say things like that— it— it makes it worse,” Jimin chokes out, hands covering his eyes. “Taehyung-ah, what if I get — what if you get picked? What will you do?”
Taehyung, sadly watching the TV, glowered. “We’re all bound to die, anyway.”
Jimin sharply took a glance at his best friend, expression softening into sadness. “Would you kill?”
Turning to look at Jimin in the eyes, Taehyung shrugged. “I don’t know. I… really don’t know. I’d… have to experience it to know.”
Letting out the most tired breath, Jimin nodded. “Yeah… yeah.” He shut his eyes, listening to the news-reporter talk about a suicide of a past partaker in the Chess, heart dropping, chest tightening in helplessness.
“Come on, we have to eat. Even if we don’t have an appetite. You’re cooking,” Taehyung said, turning off the TV, getting up and offering his hand to Jimin, a small hopeful smile on his lips. Appreciating the sentiment, Jimin smiled back, accepting the hand.
“Of course, I’m cooking. Now that Yoongi-hyung’s not here, it’s gotta be me,” Jimin smugly said, patting his own chest as the two walked into the kitchen.
“I’ll be here to cheer you on.”
“But, I’m sure it won’t be better than Yoongi-hyung’s.”
“Breaking news, sorry to interrupt, but we’ve received news of the list. The Chess is said to occur in a week on Friday. The list says, King Kim Namjoon, 24; Queen Ryeok Jangho, 30; Bishops Han Sumi and Kook Bo—”
Jimin couldn’t hear the rest, eyes set on a name seen on the screen. The world around him turned, dizzying him, chest holding his momentarily stopped heart.
There it was, on the list, Pawn Park Jimin, 22 (Male), with his face beside it.
When Taehyung got to it, he looked at Jimin with the biggest eyes, full of fear. “Jimin…! Jimin!” he called, but Jimin couldn’t respond, his heart in his chest was too loud, loudly speaking the fear he felt.
“Jimin-ah! Snap out of it!” Taehyung said, holding Jimin’s face, sternly looking at him. Jimin finally did, turning to look into the eyes of his best friend, face contorting as tears spilled out.
“Taehyung-!” he gasped, collapsing his body against Taehyung, crying, sobbing, gasping for breath. “Taehyung, my name! My name is on there!”
Taehyung, crying too, held his best friend close and tight. “Jimin, fuck, Jimin. And, his… he’s on there, too.”
Jimin snapped his head, eyes still spilling fresh, warm tears, searching for the name he thought he heard earlier. Eyes widening, his heart thudded. “Fuck, he’s there, too? Him? Taehyung-ah, I’ll die. I’m dying in a week,” he cried, sounding helpless, like he’d given up. “He hates me, and he’s the King, he’ll let me die, sacrifice me, for sure. Surely. After I broke us off so badly, too. I’m dying, Taehyung, I’m dying.” The pure agony in his voice made Taehyung cry even harder.
“I’m sure that’s not true, Jimin-ah. He’s smart, he won’t let you die. He might hate you, but he isn’t a stranger to you, like everyone else is. It'll be okay, Jimin, it’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”
Jimin just cried harder, holding onto Taehyung for dear life. He just had a week to live. A week to emotionally prepare himself for war, to accept that fact that he’s going to die.
“Sh, it’s okay, Jimin. He won’t let you die, I promise. He might be angry due to the bad relationship, but he won’t let you die.”
“B-but, he hates me! You know it from how he treated me! And, after I just left after fucking insulting his face, kicking his stuff, I’m sure he—” Taehyung shut him up by just hugging him, sighing out and rubbing his back in comfort. Jimin just continued to cry, sob, breath hitching and hands shaking, curling into Taehyung.
Taehyung looked towards his phone, eyes wet yet with a stern look, a little worried, too. He wondered what Yoongi was up to.
It had been six days. Still no contact from Yoongi. Jimin guessed it was for the best, he didn’t want to step forward to reach out either. Now, that he found out he was a part of the list.
If he survived, he’d run back into Yoongi’s arms. If he didn’t survive, then that was it. His boyfriend would watch through national television. It was easier than saying goodbye.
Thinking about it, he did feel immense guilt for not properly saying goodbye, leaving with a last ‘I love you.’ It left him incomplete. But, Yoongi should know the list by now, so why wasn’t he contacting Jimin, either?
What if he’s in trouble? The thought haunted him, making his mind stutter, taking a step back to consider. Lips quivering, he grabs his phone, opening the chat with Yoongi to text him a quick ‘I love you, Yoongi. I’m sorry, but I love you lots, please never forget that’ even if he wouldn’t receive it under whatever circumstances. He felt so bad — what if Yoongi is dying? Diseased? What if he got hurt on his way back?
“Jimin-ah?” Taehyung called, voice weak, opening the door to his room. It was night, hours past midnight, what was he doing awake?
“Yeah, Taehyung-ah? You can’t sleep, either?” Jimin softly replied, worried.
Nodding, Taehyung’s eyes sadden and cast down.
“Do you want to join me in my bed? I know we haven’t done this since we were kids, but if it helps you… if it helps the both of us…?” Jimin offered, heart empty. Yoongi had been gone for a week, the empty bed was lonely. It had been hard for him to fall asleep each day.
Taehyung hums a yes, dragging his feet as he approaches the bed, entering the sheets and curling up. They spent a few moments in silence, Jimin’s eyes going out the window, the low crescent moon hiding behind the clouds.
“It’s tomorrow, huh?” Jimin breathes out, in disbelief, an almost bitter chuckle following after. The next day was the day; the day he’d potentially be a murderer and be murdered in the same place. He couldn’t cry. Not now, not after crying the whole week, not being able to part with Taehyung for the first two days, sobbing even without tears. He’d used up his tears, used up all his despair. He didn’t have any left in him, now.
Curling closer, Taehyung comfortingly put his arm around Jimin — who was still sitting up. He didn’t say anything. What was there to say?
“You know what happened yesterday? At the meetup with… the other pieces…” Jimin started. He hadn’t talked to Taehyung about this yet. And, before he went to face the real deal, he wanted to let everything off his chest first.
“Namjoon-hyung was there?” Taehyung murmured.
Jimin nodded. “Mm. He… when he saw me, he avoided my gaze. Didn’t talk to me except when telling me about my… position on the board.”
Taehyung tensed, sitting up, now, eyes a little wide. He seemed attentive, serious. “Which is?”
Sighing, Jimin leaned back, closing his eyes. “The one in front of the Knight. G7, the side of the King.”
Not saying, Taehyung just sat still. He seemed to be thinking about something. Eyes stern and forehead a little scrunched, he seemed calculative.
“You okay?” Jimin asked, opening his eyes to glance at him.
Turning around to look at Jimin, Taehyung gave him a pointed look. “I’m not… I’m not the one who’s not okay, Jimin,” his stern face fell, into sadness. “You’re… you’re the one that’s not okay.”
Jimin shook his head. “No. I’m dying tomorrow. Most likely that I will. You’re the one… who has to live through this… watch me die.”
Taehyung’s chest constricted giving him a heartache. He leaned towards Jimin, wrapping his arms around him to pull him closer. “Yoongi isn’t here… Do you want me to cuddle you to sleep?” He then muttered, “I hope that bastard doesn’t mind, leaving at a time like this…” He didn’t seem to mean the words, but he was a little frustrated at Yoongi for leaving Jimin without notice at a time like this.
Weakly, Jimin pouted. “Hey, don’t… say that. What if he’s… he’s gotten into trouble? At the hospital? In a coma?”
Taehyung’s heart hurt for such a pure and loving boy like Jimin. He sighed. “Yeah, I didn’t mean it. I was saying for the sake of saying it, Jiminie. I know he loves you. He wouldn’t treat you like this on purpose if it can hurt you.”
“Yeah… yeah,” Jimin mumbled, spacing out again. Gosh, he was the worst boyfriend ever. He didn’t even text Yoongi until today, to make sure of his whereabouts, to know if he was safe. All because of his selfish problems, so that he didn’t want to deal with the fact that he was going to die.
“—min? Jimin?” Taehyung’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts, humming in response. Taehyung looked at him with a caring gaze. “You should sleep. It’s… it’s a big day, tomorrow.”
Nodding, he slid down on the bed, lying down, with Taehyung following, not breaking their embrace.
“I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow,” Taehyung softly heard Jimin say before both of them fell into slumber. They’d had some tea to let them sleep easier, exhausted by all the emotions, tired from the grief.
“Jimin, we have to go, or they’ll come and get you. It’s better to go with will than by force,” Taehyung said, not really wanting to take Jimin to the arena. It was early morning, and the Chess would be taking place two hours from where they were. They were already on the outskirts, so the no man’s land between the two borders without forests wasn’t hard to reach.
Jimin had just been sitting up on his bed, eyes dead. He finally moved his head, meeting his eyes with Taehyung.
“Can’t I just… kill myself?” he muttered, wanting to give up, give up everything.
Taehyung looked at him, eyes filled with sadness and despair again. “You know you can’t. Or else it counts as cheating, and the whole board dies. With the Chess, you have a chance to live.”
Shuffling out of bed, Jimin walked towards his wardrobe to get the Pawn outfit he was given the other day, muttering under his breath, “Dying before that is more worth than being traumatized by living through it.”
There was silence as Taehyung left the room while Jimin changed. The whole atmosphere the past week had been gloomy, melancholic.
When Jimin was done, wearing his black tight slacks, simple black dress shirt with combat boots and a dagger knife for his attacks. He considered leaving his knife there so he didn’t have to kill, and he could just pretend he’d forgotten.
And watch as the whole board and you die because of you—? His guilty conscience spoke, keeping him from leaving his knife, and instead of shoving it on the small holster for it.
He exited his room, eyes still dead. “I’m ready.” He felt dead, too.
“Okay, let’s go. We can’t be late, or else… you know what happens,” Taehyung said, voice low as he grabbed the keys to the house and the car.
Nodding, Jimin headed out. “Yeah.”
Once they parked outside the arena, the air was silent. Neither had spoken throughout the ride, no music, too. There were a few people around; it made sense, as it was really early. The Chess wouldn’t start for the next three hours.
“Jimin— I—” Taehyung started, turning to look at his friend, who seemed to just look forward without a single emotion. Taehyung seemed crestfallen. His friend was broken. “Jimin?”
The said man turned his head to look at Taehyung, eyes holding absolutely no feeling. But, Taehyung knew this wasn’t Jimin. He knew his Jimin felt emotions, cared more about people than he was supposed to. It was just a wall, a defense mechanism to protect himself, to protect his sanity.
“I’ll… walk you there,” he offered weakly. Jimin nodded, exiting the car, looking around at the people who were here to watch, the people who were here to Chess, the families of the chosen pieces.
Taehyung got off as well, locking the car before offering his hand out as a form of comfort. Even if Jimin didn’t show any indication he wanted it, he slowly reached out to Taehyung’s hand, firmly grasping it before they started walking towards the arena — between every country’s no man land’s, UIMRO had built one for the sake of Chess, they were built when new countries formed, demolished when two countries united.
When they reached in front of the gates, Taehyung had to part with Jimin, giving him a long, tight, and warm hug before pressing a comforting kiss to his forehead, promising him that everything will be okay —what Jimin considered all as false hope.
As he arrived at the room with the rest of the pieces, he noticed he wasn’t here, yet. He internally snorted, probably late because he broke something again.
For the rest of the time, he just sat in the corner, ate a little - so they wouldn’t be too strong to die, but also not too weak to kill.
“Ah, sorry for being late, everyone,” Namjoon said, arriving breathless, just before the timer for the arrival would run out. “Is… is everyone ready?”
No one gave a vocal answer, just a few hesitant nods here and there, mostly just uncomfortable silence. Namjoon sighed, “It’s okay if you aren’t ready. I understand that everyone is scared. And, I… I’m really sorry for what I’m about to do. But, please understand, it is none of our choices. Or, we all just die, and then let other people finish what we never got to. We’re doing this, for the sake of peace, yeah? I’m really sorry,” he said, cowering his head. “I’ll… try to not let us down.”
Everyone gave him a glance, even Jimin, who wasn’t sure if this was all an act, or if it was real.
“I won’t ask you to believe in me, or tell you everything will be alright. But, I will promise that I’ll try my best to win for all of you.” Everyone in the room seemed a little comforted by that. It was better than nothing.
“Please come out to the board and take your positions. The Chess will begin in five minutes.”
Everyone nodded, against their will, picked their legs up and headed out. As Jimin was doing the same, he saw Namjoon waiting, giving him a glance of sorrow and guilt. Jimin looked away, wanting to walk past him without acknowledgment. But, he heard a small whisper of something, not quite catching it. He didn’t particularly care, though. He couldn’t care, now.
Without hesitation, he walked over, seeing the white side take their place as well. He looked around, watching all the people sitting on the benches to watch; they were here to watch this? How could they stand watching through something so inhumane? Jimin could never understand. But, in the audience was Taehyung, who was here to support him — although, it would really not do much. He tried to look for the familiar face in the crowd, but gave up when he couldn’t.
Looking around, he didn’t see much difference from nine years back. Cameras to broadcast this event in the nations, three of UIMRO workers on each side to pick and drag off the bodies, many guards of both kingdoms gathered to protect the scene as well.
“Chess starting in three minutes!” One of the UIMRO workers, the one playing as referee announced. Jimin’s heart jumped into his heart as he looked around at the people on his side, clothed in black, Kim Namjoon sitting on top of the throne, a shiny black crown on his head, his expression looking a little grave. Jimin looked around more, behind him to see all the people looking down to the ground, not wanting to face the reality they’re living right now.
Then, his eyes went over to the white side, seeing the opposite shade shine. This was one of the reasons he had no hope. The black side in Chess has a clear disadvantage of not starting first. His lips pursed as he looked at the identical clothing on the white side as well, just with white fabric, before something caught his eyes—
What the fuck? Jimin thought, eyes widening, heart dropping, soon rising back up again to thud and beat loudly in his chest. A white Pawn blocked his view, but to make sure, he stepped to the side, getting a good look to check behind her.
What the fuck?