Authors: black_goose and umberela
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 5,711
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: apologies for the minor delay in this chapter, I've been working all week so there has been no chance to write at all. ngl, writing this chapter actually made me tear up a little, while writing the previous chapter just made me go WHYYYYY.
It wasn’t long after Suho had woken up that an attendant came to his door, urgently telling him that the Elders had called a new meeting because some new information had come in. He’d dressed quickly and headed down to the meeting hall, afraid to hear that the Fire Nation had mobilized and was marching.
It’s too soon, he thought. Last we’d heard they were still gathering troops, they can’t have marched yet.
In the meeting room, Kyungsoo was sitting on one of the chairs that lined the walls, his hands pressed against his knees. He looked pale and unsure. “Do you know what’s happened?” Suho asked, taking the seat next to him.
“No,” said Kyungsoo. “They wanted to wait until everyone had arrived.”
Suho tried not to fidget while he waited. Finally the last of their generals and nobles had trickled in, the large doors shutting them all in. Suho was surprised to spot Baekhyun, standing with his head down beside the door. He was not allowed a seat, and no one seemed to be paying him much mind. For a second he thought about going over to speak with him, but before he could make up his mind, one of the Elders stood and called the meeting to session.
“We have just received news from one of our spies, and called this meeting so quickly because the news is, by now, several days old.”
“Are they marching? Do we need to prepare for battle?” Suho asked sharply.
“Not yet,” said the Elder, frowning at him for interrupting. “But soon. The news is that most of their outlying territories have sent troops to the capitol, and that they are undergoing military training there.”
“Most of the territories?” Suho said. “What about the ones who haven’t agreed? Could they perhaps be swayed to our side?”
“Only one has not sent troops, and it is now gone, much like the cities on the Fire Nation’s border.”
“Just like the slave told us,” said another Elder.
“Baekhyun,” interrupted Tao, from his usual position near the Elder’s table.
There was a slight pause. Suho stared.
“So,” Kyungsoo said softly, tentatively, “the Fire Nation destroyed them because they refused to help?”
“We can only assume so. There is no information about who or what razed the city. It was there one day and then it was smouldering ash the next.”
“But,” Kyungsoo said, looking around at Baekhyun, “would they do that? Is that common practice?”
Baekhyun shook his head and began to open his mouth but an Elder cut him off; “It is not necessary to address the slave, he has already told us all that he knows.”
“Baekhyun,” said Tao again, a little more forcefully. “And I would like to hear what he has to say.”
Baekhyun looked mildly panicked and Suho couldn't say he blamed him. He glanced at Kyungsoo before saying, “The only time I have ever heard of this happening before was if an outlying territory was threatening rebellion, but to the best of my knowledge it has never been done to a territory just for not agreeing with the capitol. Our government can be strict but not like this.”
Kyungsoo sat back in his chair. “This is all so odd.”
“Do,” Baekhyun said in a small voice, “do you know which territory it was, by any chance?”
One of the Elders glanced at a sheet of paper on the table in front of him. “The Lightning Territory,” he said, “in the West.”
“Oh,” said Baekhyun, like something had just clicked, before he snapped his mouth shut and lowered his head again.
“Baekhyun?” asked Suho gently. “Do you know something?”
“Just that it makes sense that they wouldn’t send troops. They have always been very pacifist in nature, and haven’t got many soldiers anyway.”
“Seems foolish to me, you need soldiers to at least defend yourself,” one of Suho’s generals said.
“Their Head Shifter is really strong,” Baekhyun murmured. “They have never needed many troops in the past, their Head Shifters have always been more powerful than those of the territories surrounding them.” Baekhyun trailed off, going silent once more.
“Yes, well,” said one of the Elders, giving him a disapproving look, “even without that one territory, the Fire Nation now controls a number of troops that threatens to overwhelm us all. We must be prepared if we are to beat them in this war.”
“Can we defeat them?” Suho asked. “Perhaps we should attempt to negotiate. As much as I dislike the idea of surrendering land to them and am not afraid of a battle, I would really rather we avoid any fighting where the chances of us losing are high.”
One of his generals glared at him. “We should not turn away from a battle,” he said. “There is always a chance of losing, even if we outnumbered them greatly.”
“Yes,” Suho muttered to himself, “but a chance and a certainty are very different things.”
“We have talented Shifters on our side,” said one of the Elders. “With their help, and with the knowledge of the Fire Nation that the slave‐”
“Yes, yes, Baekhyun, with the knowledge that Baekhyun can give us, the situation is not hopeless.”
Tao looked smug, and Suho thought it was interesting how his face could be transformed when he wasn’t scowling. He looked almost approachable. “So, the Fire Nation is obviously preparing for battle, what does this mean for us?”
“We will integrate our troops,” an Elder said in Suho’s direction, “and have them train together so they may fight better as a unit. You will send your Shifters to our training area for the same reason. And as for us, we shall begin to discuss war strategy in more detail. We must be prepared to mobilize when the time comes.”
“For now, we will adjourn this meeting until tomorrow morning, when the training will begin.”
Suho stood up, stretching his back. The stone chairs were particularly uncomfortable. Kyungsoo stood up next to him. He looked tired, and Suho wondered if he wasn’t sleeping well. “Are you well, Kyungsoo?”
“As well as can be expected,” Kyungsoo said with a shrug and a weak smile, “under the circumstances.” Suho blinked, unsure what exactly that meant. “I need to go down to the ground to train a bit. I’ll see you later.” He positively bolted out of the room.
“I think he’s antsy,” a soft voice said by Suho’s ear. He turned to see Tao staring at Kyungsoo’s receding form. “It must be hard to be an Earth Shifter in a floating city.”
Suho was first shocked by Tao’s talking to him, and then shocked at how much sense his words made. “I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I imagine it is.” He made a mental note to look in on Kyungsoo later, just to check.
There was silence for a few beats, people milling around them. Suho expected Tao to walk off without saying anything, as was his usual habit, but instead he just stood there, staring at Suho in what was almost an expectant manner. “Can I,” Suho asked nervously, “help you with something?”
Tao looked around himself. “Too many people. Come with me.” He headed to the doors, and Suho sighed slightly and followed. He couldn't help smiling a bit though, as such behavior was very decidedly Air Nation, and it was a tad reassuring to see Tao acting normally in that way. For a moment Suho had been decidedly thrown off by him.
Once they were away from the meeting room, walking down sunlit corridors, Tao spoke again. “I wanted to apologize for my behavior, and to tell you that you’re right.”
“Right?” Suho asked, when no further explanation was forthcoming. “About what?”
“About how we refer to Baekhyun,” said Tao, who was staring ahead and not looking at Suho. “It was wrong to call him the slave. He deserves more than that.”
“Oh.” Suho studied what he could see of Tao’s face, not garnering much from his expression. “May I ask what changed your mind?”
“Something that a friend said to me,” Tao said, “opened my eyes.”
“I’d like to meet this friend,” Suho said, smiling slightly. He wondered what kind of Air Nation native would be so forward thinking.
Tao stopped dead and turned to stare at Suho. “Would you?” he asked. There was something in his face Suho couldn’t decipher, something almost vulnerable. It reminded Suho that Tao, despite his outer appearance, was still very young, especially for a Head Shifter.
“Yes?” Suho tilted his head, trying to figure out why Tao was suddenly nervous.
They began walking again, Tao talking softly. “He’s been my friend for a very long time. We met when we were kids.”
“Is he a Shifter?”
Tao paused for a bit before answering that. “Yes, he can Shift.”
Suho sensed the unspoken implication there, that just because his friend could Shift, he wasn’t necessarily a Shifter. Probably low-born, Suho thought. The Air Nation was so caught up in their bloodlines that they often didn’t allow commoners into the elite force that was their Shifter troop. They missed out on a lot of talented people because of their snobbery.
Suho watched Tao out of the corner of his eye. He was positively fidgety. Suho wanted to tell him that it didn’t matter if this person was low-born or not, that Suho wasn’t about to judge him or Tao for associating with him, but for all he knew bringing it up would be an insult. Tao seemed to get even more nervous as they got closer to where they were going, and Suho was mildly side-eyeing him. He shouldn’t be ashamed of his friends, no matter their parentage.
They finally reached a door, and Suho knew they were more on the outskirts of the city by this point. Tao knocked, and after a few moments the door was answered by a tall man with a face very nearly as fierce as Tao’s. He frowned and said, “Taoz‐,” he stuttered when he caught sight of Suho, “Lord Tao.”
“Can we come in?” Tao asked, and even as he did so he pushed past the man into the room. The man sighed and stood aside for Suho, closing the door after he was inside.
“Lord Suho,” Tao said, “this is my friend, Wu Fan, but he prefers to be called Kris.” Tao was actually wringing one of his sashes at this point. Kris was watching the movement curiously. “Kris, this is the Water Nation’s Head Shifter, Suho.”
Kris had begun to bow but Suho stuck his hand out, and after a moment Kris shook it. Tao seemed relieved by that, and Suho couldn’t figure out why. In the silence that followed Suho took in the way Tao kept glancing nervously around and eyeing Suho like he may suddenly attack. Tao was actually standing slightly in between Kris and Suho, like he was trying to protect Kris, and that was when it clicked.
He isn’t nervous because he’s a Head Shifter and is admitting to another Head Shifter he’s friends with someone low-born, Suho realized. He’s afraid I am going to look down my nose at him and shame his friend. Suho squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then smiled. “It is really great to meet you,” he said, trying to inject as much sincerity as possible into his voice. “Tao told me you, er, had words with him about certain terminology that has been used at the meetings. I was curious as to what Air Nation native would be so forward thinking.”
Tao scowled at that, and Suho realized too late he had implied that Tao hadn’t been forward thinking. But then Kris chuckled, lips barely turning up. “We can be rather stuffy at times, very caught up in formalities.” He rubbed Tao’s forehead with the heel of his hand, the ease of the gesture implying it was something often done. “Speaking of formalities, would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please,” said Suho, with a grin, and Kris gave him a look back that was not quite a smile, but friendly enough, and motioned for Suho to take a seat. Tao still looked unsure as to whether Suho was going to continue being nice, but sat down too, tentatively, like he was ready to jump up at a moment’s notice. As Kris poured the tea and handed them both cups, Tao relaxed a little, his shoulders not so tense.
“I hear that the journey from the Water Nation takes many days,” Kris said, as Suho blew on his tea slightly to cool it down. “I cannot imagine being stuck in an enclosed space like that for such a period of time.”
Suho smiled; the Air Nation did seem to have a natural aversion to anything closed in. They also, he had noticed, seemed to have foregone corners in their architecture. “Water Nation soldiers live in small barracks anyway,” he said. “It was the seasickness which caused the most problems.”
“Excuse me,” Tao interrupted, “but would anyone mind if I take these robes off?”
Kris rolled his eyes. “If you must,” he said, “and if Lord Suho won’t mind.”
“No?” Suho was a little unsure as to whether there was some cultural significance to Tao taking his robes off, but he’d always thought they looked particularly uncomfortable. Judging by the sigh that Tao let out when he removed the outer layer, leaving him in a white shirt and cotton pants, he felt the same way.
Kris was staring at Tao in a mildly patronizing way and Tao balled up one of his sashes and threw it at Kris’ face. “If you had to wear them, you would understand,” he said, mildly petulant, and Suho couldn’t help himself; he laughed.
Kris picked the sash from his shoulder with affected grace and dropped it onto a side table. “I don’t see Lord Suho stripping.”
“Lord Suho isn’t wearing robes embroidered with poison ivy masquerading as silver thread.” Then Tao turned to Suho looking solemn. “Although I don’t know that for certain, so I am sorry if I am mistaken.”
“No poison ivy,” Suho assured him. “Though the fur can be a bit aggravating at times.” Tao smiled, a real, wide smile, and Suho couldn’t help but smile back.
He could feel Kris watching him, and he flicked his gaze towards him for a second before looking at his cup of tea. His intent was written all over Kris’ face, and Suho didn’t think he had to worry. Tao was not the prim, repressed Air Nation poster boy that Suho had taken him to be, and like this, Suho was almost certain that they could become good friends in the future.
Kyungsoo kept his eyes half-closed as the gondola made its way down to the ground. Somehow it was much worse on the way down, seeing the ground slowly make its way towards you and knowing that only one man’s control of air currents was what kept you afloat. He let out a slight sigh of relief once they touched down onto solid ground, and jumped out of the gondola quickly, just in case they decided to take off with him still in it the next second.
He glanced at the forest that he’d entered last time, before turning and striding decisively in the other direction, heading for a small hill. He was sure it was a hill and not a dragon because it was covered in grass and he was certain that it wasn’t possible to camouflage a dragon like that. Fairly certain. He sincerely hoped so as he had made a very concentrated effort to not run into the shadow walker again. He hadn’t seen him since that day in the meadow, but he had heard rumors of him flitting around the capitol, sometimes with the dragon in tow. Kyungsoo wasn’t sure how he could be so stealthy with that giant creature following him around, but he clearly managed somehow.
He paused at the base of the hill, then, with a small thrust of power, changed the side of it into steps that he could easily climb to the top. As he walked, the steps behind him faded back into the hillside, slight ripples in the grass the only signs that he’d been there. He made his way halfway up the hill before he stopped and turned, surveying the landscape around him.
He’d known that the Air Nation was grassy and not as mountainous as his own Nation ‐ he’d been able to see that during his trip to the capitol ‐ but like this, he was a little awed by it. The hills seemed like mere blips in a flat landscape, totally unlike what he was used to. Walking out of the main entrance of his capitol meant being greeted by the side of yet another mountain. Here he could see over the canal that led to the ocean, pretty far into the distance.
He’d never had a chance to work out just how far his power could run; living in mountains meant that it was hard to Shift in a straight line without having to bend around some obstacle. Even Earth Shifters couldn’t force their way through a whole mountain. Also, trying to move his power through a mountain ran the risk of rockslides. Earth Shifting was the least precise of the Shifting abilities, and you couldn’t always control the consequences of it.
Kyungsoo fixed his eyes on a collection of rocks in the distance, before he focused his Shifting sense and sent it down into the earth, feeling through the ground between him and the rocks, like nerve signals passing along synapses. It took a couple of moments before he hit the rocks, and he smiled without really being aware of it as he realised that if his senses could reach that far, then there would be no doubt of his Shifting power being able to reach.
He took a moment to breathe in deeply, before he lifted his foot and slammed it down onto the ground, sending out a focused blast of his power travelling towards the rocks. The ground trembled, the trees in the path of his power quivering slightly as it blew past the ground under their roots. A second later, the rocks blasted apart in an explosion of dust and fragments of stone. Kyungsoo grinned as he watched the dust settle.
“Impressive,” said a voice behind him.
Kyungsoo gave a small shriek and whirled around. Kai was standing behind him, arms folded across his chest and a slight smile on his face. His eyes were fixed on the obliterated rocks in the distance. “How long have you been standing there?” Kyungsoo gasped.
“Not long,” Kai said with a shrug. “Since just before you destroyed the rocks. Do you know how long your power can travel? Most Shifting abilities get weaker over a distance like that.”
“I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to try throwing it very far,” Kyungsoo replied weakly.
“You should practise it,” Kai suggested.
That’s what I was trying to do before you interrupted, Kyungsoo thought. He squinted a glare at Kai before turning to look for another large boulder he could focus on. He saw one, a bit further out than his original target, but when he tried to send his powers down he found he was too distracted by the presence of an audience to manage it. He shot a nervous glance over his shoulder to check, and Kai was indeed still there, hip cocked and arms crossed, waiting. Kyungsoo muttered under his breath about nosy people and brought his foot down onto the ground again, sending a jolt of power towards the boulder. It didn’t get very far, fizzling out just over halfway to its intended target. Kyungsoo hadn’t really expected to make it.
“Do I make you nervous?” Kai asked, a little too close. Kyungsoo took a step back and Kai’s slight smile flickered for a second. “I can leave if you need to train.”
Kyungsoo wasn’t sure if telling the shadow walker to leave was a sensible thing to do. He still didn’t know if Kai was capable of causing pain, and if he offended him, maybe Kai would take revenge. Kyungsoo opened his mouth to reply, not quite knowing what he wanted to say, and a strange gurgling came out.
“That wasn’t really an answer,” Kai said, with a grin. “You make the strangest noises.”
Kyungsoo blushed. He really did seem to have a habit of making ridiculous sounds around the shadow walker. All that screaming. It wasn’t really helping to establish a reputation as a fearsome Earth Shifter. It was even more embarrassing considering he was supposed to be the representative of the Earth Nation itself. “You,” Kyungsoo began, “make me nervous.”
“I should, I am the shadow walker,” said Kai, “and I’d be a pretty bad one if I didn’t intimidate people, I guess.”
“Is that why you gave me a headache last time?” Kyungsoo asked, then wanted to bite his own tongue off. He really didn’t want a repeat.
Kai winced. “No,” he said. “That was... the dragon. I’m sorry.”
Kyungsoo squinted disbelievingly. “Your dragon can send out headaches?”
“Not exactly. She won’t do it again, I promise.” His tone was intense, and Kyungsoo blinked. “I came by myself today, just in case though.”
Kyungsoo had never heard of a dragon having any kind of special ability besides the obvious fire breathing. Then again, not much was known about dragons in the first place. As a general rule they shied away from humans. In the end he just nodded uncertainly.
Kai sat down on the grass, crossing his legs. “Does anyone know you’re down here?” he asked. “Or do you just keep running away?”
“I came down here to train,” Kyungsoo pointed out. “I wasn’t running away.”
“It’s okay,” Kai said. “I’m not technically part of the Air Nation, so you can complain about it if you want. I know what they’re like.”
Kyungsoo hesitated for a moment before he said, “They’re just so stuffy. The way they all speak is so stilted. I’m not used to speaking like that, and I’m a Prince. I think I offended three of them today because I didn’t use the right greeting phrase.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Kai said. “We ‐ the Air Nation children are given special training in formality and etiquette, you just need to pick it up.”
“It’s not just that,” said Kyungsoo, feeling all his pent up frustration boiling over. “You know that they call Baekhyun ‘the slave’? Baekhyun, the lover of the Phoenix! It’s a disgrace.”
“Yeah,” said Kai, voice suddenly gentle. “That’s what they’re like. Everything with the appropriate title.” He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Everything in its appropriate place.”
Kyungsoo looked out over the hilly landscape. “I don’t belong here.” He really didn’t, he felt so out of place and he wanted to go home. The only thing stopping him was the fact that it would be admitting his father was right; there was nothing he could offer these people they didn’t already have.
Kai laughed, a horrible self-deprecating sound. “Have you looked at who you’re talking to?”
Kyungsoo sucked in a breath because in his frustration he had actually momentarily forgotten who he was talking to. Suddenly he was worried he’d said something he shouldn’t have.
“I should go,” Kyungsoo said hurriedly. He looked down at the ground.
Kai stood. “No. You need to train, feel the earth. Maybe it will help you sleep. I’ll go.”
Kyungsoo choked a little. “How do you know I haven’t been sleeping well?”
Kai rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Earth Shifter in a floating city. Also you look like crap, so there’s that.” Kyungsoo was making stupid gurgling noises again. “Besides, I just came over here to‐” he stopped himself, frowning.
“What.” Kyungsoo snapped. “To what.”
“I don’t know.” Kai brushed his backside off, stray pieces of grass falling. “Let you know I wasn’t going to unleash some kind of evil wrath on you.” Kai met his eye. “I am not evil.”
“You’re a shadow walker,” Kyungsoo mumbled, and Kai’s lashes lowered.
“I am.” Kai turned and Kyungsoo couldn’t describe what he did, a strange shift, and then he was gone, the air where he had been cracked.
“But no,” Kyungsoo said to the cracks as they slowly receded. “Not evil.”
Later in the day, Kai was sitting on springy grass, back leaning against his dragon. Her wing was thrown over him, turning translucent red as the dimming sunlight filtered through it. He was waiting for the sun to completely disappear from the sky.
It had been days since he’d first arrived, and he had finally decided that by now the Air Nation would have relaxed security on Luhan once again. He knew when he first came into the city they had doubled his guard. It wasn’t like it mattered much, guards couldn’t exactly stop Kai, but a higher number of them meant a higher risk of being caught. He didn’t much care about the Air Nation’s ravings, but he didn’t want Luhan to be scolded.
Once it was dark out he stood, patting the dragon’s side. She rumbled at him, sending warm waves of encouragement, and Kai was thankful for it. He didn’t know what to expect tonight. He couldn’t be sure of how much Luhan had changed in the years since they had last met.
He closed his eyes, sensing the rifts in space, and stepped through. When he opened his eyes again he was in a large round white room. It was sparsely decorated, stone walls interrupted by a single window letting in minimal amounts of moonlight.
Kai looked to the bed where there was a lump under the blankets. “Luhan,” he called softly, knowing the other boy probably hadn’t had a chance to fully drift off yet.
A slight figure sat up suddenly. “Who’s there?” he called, slightly fearful. “What do you‐” He broke off with a gasp as he managed to make out Kai in the moonlight. “Jongin!”
Luhan scrambled out of the bed, shoving the covers away from where they had been threatening to tangle around his legs, and ran to Kai, throwing his arms around his neck and hugging tightly. Kai stumbled back, not expecting that reaction. After a moment he laughed, hugging Luhan back.
“Why didn’t you come sooner?” Luhan asked accusingly, face still buried in Kai’s shoulder. “I was waiting for you, and why were you in the Bonelands for so long, you know I can’t normally See that far! And how did you get the dragon to come with you! What’s her name? It’s a she, isn’t it? Where are you staying?”
“Slow down,” Kai said, laughing, while he tried to hold in the tears that were threatening to fall. He wasn’t succeeding all that well. “I can’t answer all your questions if you just throw them at me like that.” He lay his cheek against Luhan’s hair, the sensation of hugging, and being hugged, so strange after all this time. Even in his most hopeful daydreams about this scene, he hadn’t expected something like this.
Luhan squeezed him tighter. “It’s been a long time for me too.”
“Hey, no Seeing allowed, it’s rude to snoop.”
“I don’t have to See for that,” Luhan said, stepping back and smiling at him. “I just understand.” He grabbed Kai’s wrist so he could hold his hand, thumb running over his skin like he’d forgotten what it could feel like. Maybe he had. Kai knew the laws about touching the Oracle were very strict. “Answer my questions.”
“Pick one first.” Kai scrubbed the back of his hand over his eyes, unhappy with the wetness there.
“Okay,” said Luhan. He walked to the side of his bed and lit a lamp, before he sat down, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Okay,” he said again. “What have you been doing for the past five years?”
“That wasn’t one of your previous questions,” Kai said as he sat down next to him.
“I don’t care,” said Luhan, grabbing his hand again and threading their fingers together. “Answer that one.”
“Didn’t you say earlier?” Kai teased. “I’ve been in the Bonelands.”
“Yes, but,” Luhan said eagerly, “what were you doing there? Were you training?”
Kai stared down at their interlocked fingers. “Yes,” he said softly. “I was training, and looking for dragons.”
“You found them, I guess,” Luhan said with a smile. “Are you a dragon tamer now?”
Kai laughed a little. “Not exactly.”
Luhan tilted his head to the side. “They’re very smart, aren’t they?”
“Sometimes overly so,” Kai murmured. “She understands me more than anything else on the planet.”
“How can you tell? Do they communicate with you?” Luhan’s face was full of open curiosity.
Kai shifted uncomfortably, and he knew Luhan could See it. “In a manner of speaking,” he said.
“It’s okay,” Luhan said, pressing Kai’s hand firmly between his own. “We can talk about other things, there’s plenty that I want to ask.”
Kai felt pinpricks of tears against the back of his eyes. “Thank you,” he said.
“Do you know anything about the war?” Luhan asked. He was leaning against Kai’s side, playing with Kai’s fingers now. “No one will tell me anything.”
“I know a bit,” Kai replied. “I have been eavesdropping.” He grinned a little.
“Some things never change,” said Luhan with a smile. Kai took a deep breath, fighting to control himself, because so much had changed between them, so much had happened and tried to ruin their friendship, and he had never been more grateful for a reminder of the past, that indication that Luhan would always know him like this.
Kai cleared his throat, hoping to diminish the lump forming there. “No one really knows what is happening with the Fire Nation. All we can see is they are amassing troops and preparing for war. They haven’t made any effort to communicate, deliberately burning their own cities in an attempt to seal themselves off.”
“I saw that,” Luhan murmured. “Bits and pieces of it. It was horrible.”
Kai nodded. “We can’t figure their logic out. Well, they can’t. I haven’t exactly been included in the meetings.”
“Which hasn’t stopped you from attending in your own way,” Luhan said mock-accusingly. “What about the other nations? What are they like?”
Kai thought about it. “Much like you’d expect. The Water Nation came with their full cavalry, and the Earth Nation sent a single Shifter.” He scoffed.
“Tell me about the Earth Shifter,” Luhan murmured.
Kai stiffened. “Why?”
“Because you like him.” Kai very nearly yanked his hand out of Luhan’s grip and Luhan sighed heavily. “Alright, fine, different topic.” He took a minute to think and then said, “I know you saw Sehun.”
“Yes,” said Kai after a pause. “He came to see me. He wanted to know why I was here.”
“How is he? He won’t talk casually with me anymore, and won’t tell me about his life.”
“He called you the Oracle instead of using your name,” said Kai, shaking his head. “They worked him over, I guess.”
“They work everyone over, Jongin,” said Luhan gently. “It’s been hard for Sehun too. He’s not a bad person. Don’t think worse of him for it.”
“I don’t,” Kai protested. “It’s just... frustrating.”
Luhan laughed softly, the sound slightly bitter. “I know, believe me. I have been stuck in this bubble for years. They think they’re pampering me but this isolation‐” he broke off. “It’s awful,” he whispered. “It’s not as bad as what they did to you but it is still awful.”
“Just because it isn’t the same as what they did to me,” Kai murmured, running a hand through Luhan’s hair, “doesn’t mean it isn’t just as bad.”
Luhan curled into Kai’s side. A silence fell, comfortable and thoughtful. Luhan continued to play with Kai’s fingers while Kai stared at the tiny window set high in the wall.
“Want to go outside?” Kai asked suddenly.
Luhan pulled away a bit to look Kai in the face. “What?”
“I can take you outside,” Kai said, suddenly eager. “I can transport you alongside me, it’s not that difficult, I can do it with the dragon sometimes.”
Luhan gaped. “I didn’t know you could do that. You can move the whole dragon?”
“No, half the dragon.” Kai rolled his eyes. “Yes, the whole thing. I can take you outside if you want to go.”
Luhan hesitated. Kai could see the desire and hope all over his face. Then it dimmed and disappeared, replaced by a forced smile. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m very tired. I don’t think I’m up to it.”
Kai nodded. “I understand.” He hesitated a moment before pulling Luhan to himself, giving him a fierce hug. “But the offer is always open, alright?”
Luhan hugged him back. “Thank you.”
Kai pulled away. “I’ll let you get some rest.” Before standing he gently brushed his lips over Luhan’s forehead. “I’ll visit again soon.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Luhan said quietly, just before Kai Shifted his way through the air and was standing in front of the dragon again.
She sent him a curious mental prod, and he tried to reassure her, because really, that had gone so much better than anything he could have dreamed, but he couldn’t gather himself to do so. He sank to his haunches and began to cry, trembling with the force of it. She curled herself around him, bringing her wing over him protectively.
“I’m happy,” he said through the sobs, trying to shove his emotions at her well enough for her to know she didn’t have to go ripping heads off.
The emotion that she sent back said that she knew, but that didn’t mean he didn’t need protection.