Though bitter about being cheated by Nathan and Casey, Lance returns to the green room to watch the final round with the rest of the eliminated contestants.
...and a surprise awaits him.
The Strongest Link
True to her word, Ronda let the emotional teenager have a few moments alone before he returned to the green room, and it made a world of difference. It must have been all the pressure, stress and tension that came from being on the set. With some peace and quiet away from the Hostess and the others, Lance was able to find himself again. It was easy to get lost out there, trying to decipher friend from foe and answering the broadest range of questions at a rapid-fire pace. With his head firmly back on his shoulders, he managed to laugh about the things he'd said to the camera still facing him and nervously covered his mouth with his hand.
That's not going to look good.
Ronda wasn't in the hallway when he left the small room behind, but he figured she'd know where he was when she came back from wherever she'd gone. The dancer slowly made his way through the big double doors to see the six people who had taken the walk of shame before him. Jamie and Alyssa sat together on one couch. Grace, Eliza and Cian sat tightly packed on another, whereas Bugeyes - Paul, Lance reminded himself - distanced himself from the others. They were watching round eight together on the monitor - Nathan and Casey's final chance to win money before the Hostess pitted them against each other head-to-head.
"Hey!" Eliza got to her feet to approach him when she saw him. "Are you alright? That was some BS."
"Yeah, that sucks majorly, mate," Cian added.
Lance smiled with appreciation and brushed his fluffy hair behind his ears. "I'll be okay. Though, I was probably the world's saltiest bitch in that interview." His admission drew laughs from all of his former rivals.
"You and me both," Jamie piped up, cutely stretching his arms over his head. "No hard feelings, guys. Don't hate me when the episode airs."
But he understood and made a silent vow not to let the revealing thoughts of stupid Jamie somehow sour their relationship when he watched them later. Alyssa beckoned to him.
"Do you want to sit with us?"
He exhaled and nodded. "That'd be great. Cheers."
It felt strange to sit down on the other side of Alyssa and Jamie, the two people he'd successfully voted off during the game when he wasn't busy throwing wasted votes at Casey. He would have preferred to hang out with the other girls and the athlete - who still seemed unnaturally cheerful - but it was nice to be forgiven. He turned his eyes to the screen. Though he was feeling much better now, it still upset him that there didn't seem to be any way he could have made it to this part of the game. Those two were going to vote him off no matter what he did in the seventh round. He turned his attention to the monitor, where he could watch the studio live from the camera's position high up behind the Hostess.
"Casey, in politics, what term starting with 'H' and meaning 'suspended' is used to describe a parliament in which no party has a viable majority?"
"Halted?" The girl shrugged.
Lance let out an immature giggle.
The Irishman still banked before every question without caring if there was money in the chain or not. He had no more confidence in himself. It was written all over his face.
"In language, the name of which type of oven used to bake clay is an anagram of the word 'link?'"
Nathan's answer made Lance cringe. "Nilk?"
Girl, you need to get a grip. Right now. Don't you dare let Casey win!
"Kiln!" The Hostess nearly shouted the answer at him. "Casey, in aviation, what 'T' is the usual term for the violent and unsteady movement of air encountered during flights?"
"In ornithology, all five species of swan native to the northern hemisphere have a plumage of primarily which colour?"
"No, white. Casey, in law and order, in a-- time is up, and I can't complete that question. You've banked six hundred and fifty pounds, which I will triple and add to the total. Tonight's bank is seventeen thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds - not only will the winner take home the prize money, but our studio will donate the same amount to the charity of their choosing. So, who will be crowned tonight's strongest link? Will it be Nathan, our charity founder who says he never forgets, or Casey, our critically important author who thinks she has a world of knowledge? Find out when we return on The Weakest Link."
With the crew returning to shift the set between rounds, Jamie blurted out the question everyone was thinking. "How the hell did it come down to those two?"
"Right? They're so stupid," scoffed Praying Mantis Paul, whose legacy would forever be the only person to never answer a question correctly and thus trudged down the walk of shame.
"I should have made it," the actor insisted, pointing to the screen as crew members shifted podiums around to place Casey and Nathan in the middle. "Me and Grace. It should have been us. We'd get over 20K easy."
Lance wasn't the only one who disagreed. Eliza, next to a coy, quiet Grace who kept her comments to herself, objected. "You? Why should it be you?"
"He was the strongest link in the first two rounds," Alyssa reminded her.
"Lance was the strongest link in three rounds," Cian had no trouble speaking over others with his booming voice. "That's why they voted him off. It should have been him and Grace. End of story."
"Oh, little old me?" Lance acted surprised, though he was genuinely pleased someone else brought it up. "I was, wasn't I?"
And no bitch will ever be allowed to forget it.
"Yeah, because he voted me off! I wasn't doing that badly!" Jamie shifted his body to cut both Alyssa and Lance off from the others. "He was only the strongest link because I wasn't there!"
"But you weren't. You lost," Grace finally spilt the tea from far over in her corner.
"You lost as well!" Jamie snapped at her. "So just shut up. I'm not in the mood to hear it from you."
Disagreements were to be expected, Lance supposed. To bring together nine successful teenagers and then crowd the seven who were voted out of the prize money, all frustrated and disappointed, into the green room together seemed like a recipe for disaster. Nobody here was used to losing - even Lance had been close to a public conniption when he saw Nathan and Casey's boards turn over with his name on them. Jamie, especially, mustn't have faced many defeats, having met so much success in his young life. He reminded Lance of his little sister - a spoiled, entitled little shit to the core. However, the way he spoke to Grace made the dancer's blood boil.
"Oh, sorry, sweetie! How inconsiderate of us. We didn't stop to think about how big a kick in the balls it must be to be the only person who isn't happy about how the game went," Lance spoke coldly to the back of the boy's head. That got Jamie's attention, and the pretty face snapped to look at him with an ugly glare. The younger boy tried to do what he did best, but Lance cut off his relentless prattle by raising his voice. "Good thing we're all in the mood to hear you bitch and moan, though. It would be super awks if any of us had anything to complain about, especially since you don’t feel like hearing it."
"Yeah, maybe you should shut up for a change," Paul echoed Lance's sentiment, something that surprised the dancer because he kept forgetting that the weedy programmer existed.
"You came last. Who cares what you think?" Jamie snapped back.
"Such a brat," Grace mentioned to Eliza, quietly enough to make it sound like a private comment but loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Ugh, I can't even with him," Eliza put her hand up as a barrier to block any more spoiled, egocentric actors from getting under her skin.
"Fine! I guess I won't say anything for the rest of the night, then!" Jamie cracked the shits and got up from the couch, moodily slumping over to another settee further away and dramatically throwing himself down in a huff.
Way to threaten me with the best possible scenario.
The dancer's eyes caught Paul, who still kept his distance from the rest of the group. Bugeyes and his miserable moustache had suffered a fairly bad night. Lance remembered the comments that Paul had made in this room some hours ago, but his pity spoke louder than the offense he'd taken. Surely there'd been enough pettiness and arguing between the teenage triumphs by now. The game was over - for them, at least. What more did they have to prove to each other?
"Paulie, come and sit over here with us."
Lance beckoned to the now vacant spot on the other side of the budding pop star Alyssa MacIntosh. Paul looked at him and to where he was pointing, then got up from his perch and did as he was invited. Jamie was sticking to his threat, not uttering a word as though the others were missing out somehow. It was sad to see someone he'd longed to meet act in this way. Would Lance ever again be able to relax in bed with an episode or two of Ember Seal on his ancient old laptop with less than a "terabyte" of space? Was Corey ruined for him? An irresistible, charismatic bad-boy image destroyed by the sulking, conceited lump on the couch. As Corey, he could have been eighteen years old. As Jamie, he could have been eight.
"You know, I predicted Grace and Lance for the final two in my interview," Eliza revealed.
"Really?" Lance beamed across the room at her.
"I did. I said that if the others didn't break the two of you up, you'd take the game and run with it."
"Funny. That's exactly what they did," Grace remarked from beside her, drawing out laughs.
"You jinxed them!" Alyssa accused her.
"Witch!" Cian shouted.
"I'm so sorry!" Eliza laughed.
Paul drummed his hands on his legs, covered in black pants much too big for him. "I thought Casey would go home after I did. I feel pretty dumb."
"I said the same thing!" Alyssa, both plump and gorgeous, grasped Paul's shoulder with a well-manicured hand. "I said she wasn't going to make it."
Cian laughed. "Me three!"
"So what the hell happened?" Paul asked, blushing after physical contact from a pop singer.
"None of you voted for her, you gooses," Lance pointed out. "Geese!" He fixed himself, almost expecting the Hostess' sharp voice to correct him.
"I should have!" Grace lamented, cross-legged on the couch. "But I chose Nathan at the last second because... well, you can see why."
Lance shifted and turned to her. "Nooo, I should have voted for Nathan in round six. That was my fault. We could have forced a tie and I would have saved you. Because I was the strongest link. Just saying!" He added cheekily, fluffing his hair with his right hand.
"Who's going to win?" Cian asked.
"Someone has to get a question right for that," Jamie piped up from far away, putting to rest his vow of silence the moment he saw an opportunity to tear someone else down.
He's right, though.
"I'd say Casey," Grace was the first to give her answer. "Nathan is way too rattled."
"Legit," Cian agreed.
"I don't want Casey to win, but there's not much I can do about it now," said Eliza.
"Casey. Hands down," decided Paul.
"Casey!" Alyssa echoed the others.
Lance pursed his lips as the others grinned at his silence. "Nope! I will not accept that Casey wins tonight. Never!"
"What would you have done with the prize money?" Alyssa asked the others. "I would have gone on holiday to Spain."
That does sound good.
"I need a car," Eliza stretched her long arms above her head. "A good one! With cup holders and power steering and that new car smell. Something that doesn't break down all the time."
"I'd buy a thousand steaks!" Cian decided. Lance giggled.
Such a beefcake.
"Education, I suppose," Grace gave a predictably dull answer.
"Same," Paul wasn't appealing either.
"I'd put most of it away, but I'd like some clothes, shoes and cute dates with Bobby," said Lance, combing his hair with his long nails.
He blushed at the thought of taking Bobby on a weekend in Wales and possibly seeing Eliza's show, then staying at a hotel with a hot tub and a great view of the Cardiff skyline. It was a beautiful fantasy, even if Mum and Dad would never let it happen until he was eighteen. Soon after, the set was ready for the final round. Nathan stood on the left and Casey on the right, and the Hostess stood back up to her screen to begin the final sequence of the evening.
"Welcome back to the Teenage Triumphs edition of The Weakest Link. It's come down to Nathan Saunders, founder of the charity All About Autism, and Casey Adams, author of The Glass Kingdom and Obsidian Arrowhead. As you both know, only one of you can win tonight, leaving with seventeen thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds, and the other will leave with nothing. I will ask alternate questions, five each, and whoever answers the most correctly in the best of five will be our winner, however, if there is a tie, we will play Sudden Death until we do have a conclusive victor. Casey, as the strongest link of Round Eight, you have the choice of going first or second."
"Nathan can go first," the novelist immediately chose.
"Why am I not surprised?" Grace didn't seem at all impressed.
"Why?" Cian asked her.
"I don't get it," Alyssa said at the same time.
"Seriously? He's about to piss himself," Jamie appeared behind the couch, putting his tantrum aside in his interest to see how the finals played out.
Lance had to agree. "Mm, it's a power play. It doesn't actually change anything, but she's trying to psyche him out."
She can't win clean, so she has to pull out every dirty trick.
"Well, it's working," Paul observed.
"Yeah. He's been nosediving since round six," Grace added, arms folded.
It did look very much like Nathan was ready to pack it in, forfeit and go home. He looked sweaty and scared. Casey looked as though she'd won it already, retaining the satisfied smile she'd added to her stony face since she voted Lance off.
"For seventeen thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds, let's play The Weakest Link," the Hostess moved on, and the fanfare sounded through the studio. "Nathan, in money, before decimalisation in the UK, which unit of currency was equal to two hundred and forty pence?"
"A pound," Grace answered immediately, as though it were her competing for the prize money.
"Spoilers!" Lance gasped at her.
"A pound," Nathan gave his answer after a long few moments, awkwardly tapping his hands on the podium in front of him.
"That answer is correct!" The Hostess paused while Nathan bowed in relief and moved to the girl next to him. "Casey, in nature, the three-spined and the nine or ten-spined are two species of which small fish commonly found in British streams and brackish waters?"
Casey's smugness left her face.
"I have no idea," Cian mumbled from his place beside Eliza.
"Gracie?" Eliza nudged her friend. "Tell us the answer."
"You think I go fishing?" Grace retorted to a chorus of laughs.
"Well if Grace doesn’t know, then obviously the question is broken," Cian's jest made Lance grin.
"Stickleback," Paul piped up, and the chuckles immediately stopped. People turned to look at him, and he shrugged. "I fish with my pop all the time."
"Salmon?" Casey answered, clearly upset with the question she'd been asked.
"Salmon?" Jamie repeated incredulously.
"That's what she said," Alyssa raised her hand to the monitor, as though she hadn't messed up on two questions that seemed as though they were in her area of expertise.
"I hate those pesky nine-spined salmon," said Cian.
"The correct answer is stickleback," the Hostess replied.
A few people, including Lance, cheered for Paul, and Alyssa gripped his arm once again. That was a nice turn of events! After the poor guy buckled under nerves in the first round and got both easy questions wrong, he proved that he did know things after all.
Paul smiled wide. "I got something right! Yesss! Shame it's not on TV!"
"Nathan, what is the usual name for the international agreement for the proper treatment of prisoners of war?"
"Geneva Convention," Grace, Eliza and Jamie all said the words at once. Lance echoed it half a second later, but the others were quicker.
"Geneva Convention?" Nathan narrowed his eyes.
"That answer is correct. Casey, in racing, which South American country produced the Grand Prix champion driver Juan Fangio?"
That's a Nicky or Dad question.
"Argentina!" Alyssa shocked Lance by throwing out an answer before anyone else did.
"Peru!" Casey shrugged on screen, now folding her arms across her chest. She was angry.
"The correct answer is Argentina."
"Was that like, a guess?" Paul asked.
"She probably doesn't know any other South American countries," Jamie joked, offending the pop princess.
"Juan Fangio won the world drivers' championship five times. I know he's from Argentina," Alyssa turned her head to scold him. "Maybe I'm not a brainiac, but I'm not an idiot."
"Alright!" Jamie whined in an irritating, flippant tone, but nobody paid any attention to him.
"Nathan, in literature, which late Swedish writer whose novels include The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was named in 2010 by The Bookseller magazine as Europe's best selling author?"
"Stieg Larsson!" Grace, Jamie and Alyssa MacIntosh all knew the answer to that.
"...Stieg Larsson!" Cian blurted out a second later, pointing at the screen with a grin. Lance laughed - the guy was funny. Were his heart not firmly attached to Bobby and Cian were not a total hetero, he would certainly be seeking out those digits.
"I'll take your word for it," Eliza added.
"Casey would have loved a literature question," Paul commented.
"Then it sucks for her that she chose the other set of questions," Jamie seemed happy to watch Casey squirm, likely because she stuck a knife in his back and voted him off.
Nathan, too, looked as though he were confident in his answer for the first time since round six. "Stieg Larsson!"
"Woo!" Lance clapped loudly. It looked like the game was blowing up in Casey's face.
"That answer is correct!" The Hostess confirmed, and an excited buzz went through the audience in the back rows. "Casey! You need to answer this question correctly to remain in the game. So Casey, for seventeen thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds, in film quotations, 'the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist' is a line spoken by Kevin Spacey in which cult 1995 thriller?"
"The Usual Suspects!" Lance, Eliza, Grace, Jamie, Paul, Cian and Alyssa all answered within the same two seconds, perched forward in anticipation of what Casey might reply with.
The girl's cockiness returned. She obviously knew the answer to this question too and indicated as such with a smirk in Nathan's direction. "The Unusual Suspects."
"HAHAHA!" Lance burst out laughing. Once others realised the girl's mistake, they joined him.
"The correct answer is The Usual Suspects!"
The music played and the lights flickered, signalling the end of the game. The audience applauded and cheered for Nathan, who turned to jelly with pale blue eyes moon-sized in his freckly face. He looked between Casey, who slammed her hands down on her podium in anger, and the crowd members behind him, some of whom were giving a standing ovation.
"That means, Nathan, you are tonight's strongest link! You and your charity, All About Autism, will both receive prize money of seventeen thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds. Casey, you leave with nothing."
Thunder crossed Casey's face and lightning stormed behind those furious eyes. She didn't congratulate her opponent - she didn't even look at him. He didn't feel at all bad for her. She scraped her way to the finals with tricks, double-crosses and dumb luck. She voted off those who could beat her and sought to destroy the weakest player in the end. She wasn't counting on the fact that without time limits and the pressure to maximise the pot, Nathan would be able to make a complete fool of her. With the game finished, the Hostess turned back around to the camera.
"Join us again for The Weakest Link. Goodbye."
It was about five minutes later that a tearful Nathan emerged through the double doors of the green room, likely having finished his post-game interview. Lance had forgotten his bitterness about the Irishman's strategic voting and whole-heartedly congratulated him. It was an impressive comeback.
"Well played mate. You did it! Eep!" Lance extended a hand to shake, but an emotional Nathan pulled him into a brief but tight hug instead.
"Hey listen," Nathan was so tall, almost half a head taller than Lance even though the dancer was wearing heels that added inches to his height. "Grace, can I say something?" He caught the very short girl's attention, and she turned to face him. Comically, she was almost two heads shorter than him. "I'm sorry I voted for you guys. I just-- I needed to win so badly tonight, and I didn't think I could beat either of you."
I guess... but I needed to win too.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Grace brushed him off. "I'll sleep well knowing that you would have won a lot more if you kept me on the team, but you didn't."
"Hah!" Lance grinned down at her and back up at him. "True! I'll just be flattered that the thought of going up against me had you quivering in your ugly grandpa shoes."
Nathan chuckled and hung his head in shame - real or pretend, Lance wasn't sure. "I totally deserved that. You guys were so scary. By the way, where's Casey? I don't see her around."
"Hmm?" Grace stood on her toes and craned her neck. "I don't think I saw her come in."
"She had her interview first. She should be here," Nathan frowned, turning around.
"She seemed a bit heated. Reckon she stormed off?" Lance wouldn't have minded rubbing the girl's face in her humiliating defeat, but he favoured the idea of never having to see her again.
"Who cares?" Eliza put in from three feet away.
Ronda barged through the double doors and clapped her hands to get everyone's attention the same way she had before the game began. "Alright you lot, we've got an announcement for you."
To Lance's joy, the Hostess, still dressed in black but having traded in her stilettos for much comfier looking slip-ons, sidled her way into the room. Was this the reason they had all been exiled to the green room rather than thrown out on the curb?
"You all played terribly, as I'm sure you're aware," the older woman sniped at them. "But, I lied to you all earlier. Contrary to the rules of the game, nobody is going home empty-handed tonight. Tonight, BBC Scotland is making an exception. For the UK's up and coming teenagers, by which I assume they mean you lot, the studio will donate to each of you two thousand, five hundred pounds for your hard work and determination. In addition--" she had to shout over the excited chattering of the former contestants, "each of you will receive an added tip equal to the amount of money that you personally banked this evening. The charities you have chosen to represent will also receive the same tip."
Maths had never been Lance's strong suit, but he knew offhand that he'd banked a substantial portion of the team's total tonight. In round three, he banked fifteen hundred pounds! In round six, he banked three thousand pounds!! He squeaked in joy. It wasn't the grand prize, but it was a minimum of seven thousand pounds!
"What about Casey?" Nathan asked her.
The Hostess shrugged. "If she can't follow simple instructions and find her way back here when the game's over, I suppose she doesn't get her bonus."
Lance wasn't sure if the woman was being real or not - it was impossible to know - but he liked the idea of Casey missing out on a substantial bonus because she'd bailed in a huff. She never took the game seriously until she fucked it royally in the head-to-head, so why should she be rewarded?
Oh well. I'm not going to dignify her by wasting thought on her.
"Why didn't you tell us earlier that we would get money even if we lost?" Paul asked the Hostess.
"Oh, that? Well, I may have stayed behind to record a message when you lot had left the room. If I told you, you wouldn't have been so desperate to win that way. I wanted you to squirm. It makes for better television, don't you think?"
Lance turned his eyes to Grace, who seemed happy, but he felt a little guilty. She never banked anything. Throughout the game, she only ever answered questions correctly to increase money in the chain for Lance to bank. He touched her arm.
"Hey, is your back sore?"
"Well, you carried my heavy arse from the first round. Do you want to split my bonus with me? I basically banked all the money you earned and I think it's only fair you get half," he offered her.
She looked horrified. "No way! I can't take your money. You earned it. Plus, I didn't carry you at all! That was all you. In fact, you were so good I wanted to keep you until the end. I think we could have run up the bank to twenty-five thousand together. That's why I only banked when we were running out of time. You made good decisions. Even when you got some answers wrong, I knew the money was safe in your hands."
He snorted. "Even though I don't know my oceans or fractions?"
"You knew Kiss, didn't you?"
"Honey, everyone knows Kiss."
She shook her head. "Not me! I didn't know the answers to several of your questions actually, but you did. You're smart, even if you don't think you are. I've never known anybody to know so much about pop culture. I mean, I called Madonna a bimbo!"
He laughed and managed to blush underneath his makeup. "Okay! You win. But when I'm in your neighbourhood or if you're in mine - may God have mercy on your soul if that's the case - I'll buy the coffee."
"I don't drink coffee!" She smiled warmly at him. "But orange juice and maybe another waltz would be nice. A real one."
Before Lance left BBC Scotland Quay with several thousand pounds to have his spine crushed by Dad's proud hug and his forehead assaulted by Mum's kisses until he ducked for cover, he'd added six new names to his social media accounts! Cian Millar, so he could admire the gorgeous athlete's endless supply of funny memes and gratuitous amount of selfies with his gorgeous athlete friends. Eliza Stacey Brooks, so he could create a long-distance but long-lasting friendship with her. Grace Ojomo, so she could get free ballroom dancing lessons and monster-sized juice cups for years to come. Nathan Saunders, so he could monitor All About Autism's progress, give donations and receive lengthy apologies for the "Round Seven Scandal Of 2012" until the end of time. Alyssa MacIntosh - her real account and not her fan account - so he could watch her get more fabulous by the year and listen to her music. Paul Russo, mostly because he didn't want to make him feel left out. He also lost a name from his account - he unliked and unfollowed Jamie Ceannaideach's official Facebook page on the car ride back to the hotel.
Bobby's so much cuter anyway, and only half the drama.
He decided to remain a part of Corey Channing's fan page, though.
There might yet be redemption for him.
Thanks everybody! This was really just something to force myself to write again after some nasty writer's block. I'm really glad some of you seemed to enjoy it I'm still working on other stories - two of them need major reworking and others just need some self-discipline. Have a great day! ❤️ I hope the ending was a halfway satisfying one after the BS I pulled.