Authors: black_goose and umberela
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 4,932
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: we realised that we hit 90k while writing this chapter and there is seriously so much left to happen. like. guys. this fic is too long.
Also we suck at replying to comments ;; we're so sorry about that! we read every single one of them and we appreciate all of your support! it's just that sometimes we don't get time to reply.
Luhan hunched over behind a tree, trying desperately to be silent as he retched violently. The voices of the others drifted to him, unbroken, so he supposed he had been moderately successful. He wiped at his mouth with his sleeve delicately, trying to decide if the bout had passed.
“Luhan?” a voice said, and Luhan bit back a moan as he looked over to see Xiumin staring at him with an expression of concern. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” Luhan said unhesitatingly, eyes wide and guileless.
“Are you sure? Because you were just throwing up.” Xiumin eyed the patch of ground behind Luhan with an unsure eye.
“I had one too many fish, I think. Don’t worry.” Luhan smiled, trying to radiate well-being. “Do me a favor and don’t tell the others? You know how Sehun worries.”
“It was nothing,” Luhan said, very pleasantly but with a hint of steel underneath. “There’s no need to get everyone in a tizzy about things that don’t really matter, is there? Suho and the others have enough on their plates right now.”
“I suppose,” Xiumin muttered, and Luhan beamed.
“Come on, let’s go back.” Xiumin helped Luhan over the uncertain terrain, Luhan grateful for the help, even if he tried to not show it. The way was bumpy and uneven; the new spot they moved to had no grass, just sharp, jutting grey rocks. The bit of vegetation there was here was tough, growing out from between the cracks in the rocks. Sometimes while walking the rocks would wobble, so Luhan always had to go slowly to make sure he was stepping onto a sturdy one, and not one that would roll out from underneath his feet and send him plummeting down the slope.
“Where did you go?” Sehun asked when Luhan settled beside him.
Luhan stuck his feet out, hoping their meager fire might warm them a bit. There was no real shelter here, and the wind cut through him like glass. “I had to pee. If you must know.”
Sehun actually blushed. Probably he thought the Oracle didn’t do such things. Luhan sighed and slumped against Sehun’s side, knowing that Sehun would take it as a sign of him being cold and would distract him. In reality, Luhan no longer felt capable of sitting upright on his own. It was like throwing up and the careful journey back had taken all the strength out of him. It was likely that the faint feeling would pass in a short while but for now he was happy to just lean against Sehun and try to stay warm.
The sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon, and the wind just seemed to get colder. Luhan hated it here, but it was a spot that was nearly impossible to get to on foot. They wouldn’t have made it up here if not for the dragon, so this is the place they’d chosen, in the hopes that they wouldn’t be found again. They had needed a place like this, not just for security, but also where they could recover from the previous attack. Kyungsoo had been Healed physically by Yixing, but he remained weak, sleeping a lot more because of his injuries. And then Yixing himself seemed drained, also sleeping an abnormal amount. In the end, Suho had paired their watch partners up together, so Kris and Tao had once again found themselves sharing a watch schedule, a fact Tao seemed rather pleased about.
There was the sound of stones skittering, and Luhan looked up and up to see Kris and Suho descending from the rocks above. They had to climb upwards now to be able to see into the valley the Fire Nation army was marching through. Towards the bottom Suho slipped and skid the rest of the way down on his behind.
“I think I broke my tailbone,” Suho whimpered. “Ow.”
“I am not Healing it,” Yixing grumbled.
Kris hopped down without incident. “They’re right below us.”
“What?” Kai asked, pausing in the midst of feeding Kyungsoo soup. Kyungsoo leaned the rest of the way forward to get at the food, chomping down happily.
“The Fire Nation army has stopped and made camp right below us. It’s more perfect than we could have asked for. This is it.”
There was the sound of everyone shifting as they sat up to attention and looked around at one another in surprise. “But,” Luhan said in a weak voice, “I still can’t sense Chanyeol.”
“Maybe you need to get closer,” Suho suggested.
Luhan frowned. “I could sense Chanyeol from miles off before, he’s like a beacon of power.”
“You weren’t feeling crappy before, like you do now,” Kai pointed out.
“That’s true,” Luhan murmured, but he didn’t really think that would make much of a difference. It wasn’t so much a case of how he felt, so much as how strong the other person was. Sensing Chanyeol shouldn’t be a difficult task whatsoever.
“Maybe being able to see the camp would help,” Kris said, and Luhan glared at him.
“Maybe,” Luhan grumbled dubiously. That involved moving, something he really didn’t feel like doing at that point in time.
“I want to see too,” Baekhyun said, standing. Luhan made an unhappy noise but stood as well, and several of the others followed suit. Kyungsoo stayed where he was as he couldn’t make the climb up to the overlook, and Kai stayed beside him. Yixing didn’t even budge a little.
Sehun came to help Luhan up, and in a single file line, they began to climb upwards. The rocks were rough against Luhan’s palms, and soon his fingers were feeling numb from the cold. He felt tired and miserable, forcing himself to keep going just because it was easier than telling the others he wanted to turn back. He was determined to show as little weakness as possible, and he knew this was important.
Finally they were where they needed to be, and Kris stopped. Baekhyun scrambled up so he could see better, and Luhan too tried. All he could really register was that they were too high up now, and that he felt like if he fell he’d just fall forever.
“That’s a big army,” Xiumin said shakily, and Luhan silently agreed. The sun was still up, but the sky was dimming, and there were torches and fires by the thousands beneath them, flickering in the growing darkness. He had seen it in the distance with Sehun, but up close it was far more breathtaking, and terrifying.
“There,” Baekhyun said, pointing a slender finger out. “Chanyeol’s tent is the big red one, right?”
“The one with the giant golden phoenix on it, yes,” Chen said, and Luhan could tell he was rolling his eyes.
Luhan saw it. Almost all the other tents were yellow or cream. He tried to reach out with his senses, but he still couldn’t find Chanyeol. He could sense a few of the other more powerful fire Shifters, glowing like tiny stars, but none of them were Chanyeol. “I still can’t feel him. I can feel others, but not the Phoenix.”
“Maybe he’s not in his tent,” Suho said. “Sweep the rest.”
Luhan frowned, and did so, but it didn’t yield any better results. “Guys, I don’t think he’s here.”
“How can he not be here?” Baekhyun asked, voice slightly high-pitched.
“I don’t know, but he isn’t.”
“Then where is he?” Baekhyun asked, now sounding like he was on the verge of hysterics.
“I don’t know,” Luhan said tiredly. “I can’t just find people like that, what do I look like to you?”
“The Oracle,” said Kris, deadpan. Luhan side-eyed him.
“Are you sure he isn’t here?” Suho asked, sounding desperate. “He has to be here, where else would he be? Maybe you just are missing him.”
“Don’t question the word of the Oracle,” Sehun snapped. Luhan lay a hand on his forearm, rolling his eyes a little.
“No, he isn’t here. I’d definitely be able to sense him.”
“That is not good,” Xiumin said.
“Thank you, oh Master of Understatement,” Chen retorted.
Luhan registered a spike of emotion behind him, and turned around quickly. “We need to get Baekhyun down, he’s panicking,” he said sharply.
Suho muttered a curse and Luhan attempted to take hold of Baekhyun’s aura and settle it, but it didn’t do much good. “Do you think they killed him?” Baekhyun whimpered.
“No,” Chen and Suho said at the same time, but Luhan sensed that Suho wasn’t very sure about it, while Chen was.
“I can’t see them killing Chanyeol unless it was an absolute necessity, he’s too strong to just dispose of,” Chen continued. “They’re not going to get rid of him unless he turns out to be a liability.”
This didn’t seem to reassure Baekhyun all that much. “But he — they — he’s not—” He cut off, suddenly gasping for breath.
“Okay,” said Suho, wrapping an arm around his shoulders, suddenly all haste. “Time to go back down. We need to get you to Yixing.”
He began helping Baekhyun back down, murmuring softly to him to try to calm him down. The way wasn’t really all that wide enough for two people so Luhan sensed that the going was going to be even slower than their journey up. The thought made him feel exhausted, and he suddenly felt dizzy, enough that he sat down on the ground with a thump.
“Luhan?” Sehun blinked down at him, his face first surprise and then complete concern. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I feel too shaky to go down,” Luhan admitted. “I’m not sure I can stand up right now.”
“I know you’re scared of the heights,” Sehun said, “but once you’re moving it’ll not be so hard.”
“No,” said Luhan. “You don’t understand. I am not scared—” Luhan checked that statement “—not that scared, I just feel really weak, and I don’t want to pass out while climbing down.”
“Here,” Kris said, having come up behind them. “I can carry you.”
Sehun opened his mouth and then shut it. Luhan was grateful for that, at least; he didn’t want to deal with Sehun kicking up a fuss about anything right then. Kris and Sehun somehow managed to help him to his feet and hold him upright for long enough for Kris to pull him up on his back. He lay his head on Kris’s shoulder, feeling too tired to even hold that up.
“I’m touching the Oracle,” Kris said, mostly to Tao who was watching them with an unreadable expression. “Do you think they’d take my other hand for it?”
“Please don’t joke like that,” Tao said shortly, and he turned and began picking his way back down the pass.
Kris was surprisingly surefooted, but the journey still felt lurching, and Luhan kept his eyes screwed shut tightly. By the time everyone was back around the meager fire, the sun had gone from the sky.
Yixing was fixing some tea for Baekhyun, who was sitting with his head between his knees and breathing deeply.
“What do you mean he wasn’t there?” Kai was asking, and he turned to face Luhan as Kris let him slide off his back.
“I mean the Phoenix is not in the camp,” Luhan snapped. Kai raised an eyebrow at him, and Luhan flopped on the ground close to the fire, unable to work up the energy to care any longer.
“So, where is he?” Kyungsoo asked, and Luhan might have kicked him, but Kai was blocking his way.
“If he isn’t here,” Chen said slowly, “then they probably took him back to the capitol.”
“Here,” Yixing said roughly, pushing the tea into Baekhyun’s hands. “Drink.” Baekhyun took a sip and Yixing shook his head. “All of it.”
Baekhyun took a deep breath and quickly downed the rest. He made a face as he stared at the empty mug, and then, without warning, keeled over. Suho made a noise of alarm, and Kyungsoo squawked.
“What did you— Yixing,” Suho said, shaking at Baekhyun’s shoulders. He didn’t stir.
“Oh my god, did you kill him?” Xiumin asked.
“He’s fine, it’s just a sleeping tea. We need to talk about the very likely possibility that Chanyeol is dead.”
Suho rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Chen doesn’t think he is.”
“I don’t think he is,” Chen sighed. “Chanyeol is many things, but he isn’t stupid, if he began to suspect the Fire Nation’s motives he would not outwardly show it. But after what happened with me, they’re going to be on high alert, and if they thought he was going to flip sides...”
“They’d kill him,” Suho finished.
“What other reason would there be for him not being here?” Tao asked.
Chen was silent as he thought. “You all weren’t really supposed to know the extent of the Phoenix’s power until it was too late for you to retreat, but Chanyeol blew that when he came out fighting in the first battle. They weren’t mad at him over that exactly, but it definitely showed that he was a bit of a loose cannon. A useful, powerful cannon, but a loose one nonetheless. It’s possible they wanted to separate him from the fighting, but still make use of him by having him in the capitol to guard it. He’s more useful than ten thousand ordinary soldiers would be.” He paused, then added, voice lower, “It will also be easier to keep an eye on him in the capitol.”
Suho groaned. “There’s no way we can get into the Fire Nation capitol. That’s a suicide mission.”
“I believe I said the same thing about this before we even left,” Yixing said.
“We can’t go back,” Kris pointed out. “What would we do, just hand Luhan back and say that we’re sorry for running off and kidnapping the Oracle? They’d execute at least half of us.”
“Kris is right,” Kai said. “And besides, we started this mission because Chanyeol is the only way we have a chance of winning this war, we need him.”
“So, what, our plan just went from ‘wait for the Fire Nation army to pass by and snag the Phoenix,’ to ‘fly across the giant Fire Nation desert without being seen, walk into the Fire Nation capitol, and then somehow escape with both the Phoenix and our heads’?” Sehun asked, tone scathing.
“I don’t see what else we can do,” Tao said slowly. “We can’t go back. The only way to go is forward.”
“We don’t even know if Chanyeol is still alive,” Sehun replied. “There’s a tent down there meant for him, and yet he’s not in it, what does that say?”
“That they’re using a decoy,” Chen replied, “because they don’t want their troops, or us, for that matter, to know Chanyeol isn’t with them.”
“And why would they do that if he was still alive? I think they killed him and are trying to cover it up, and you just don’t want to admit it.”
“That would make sense too,” Yixing sighed.
“But we have to know for sure,” Suho said. “And the answers are clearly not here.”
“We could just head south, toward the Capitol, and see if we can find any answers along the way,” Chen mused. “If Chanyeol is dead, we’re going to have to figure something else out, because like Kris said, we can’t exactly go back to the Air Nation as we are now.”
“We’re just chasing dead ends,” Sehun said.
“But there’s nothing else we can do,” Suho said forcefully. “Any plan is better than no plan at all.”
Sehun fell quiet, looking supremely unhappy. “Luhan is sick, he needs to be taken back, at least.”
“I am not sick,” Luhan protested, not even blinking at the lie. “And I don’t want to go back.”
“You’re not sick?” Sehun asked disbelievingly. “Luhan, you couldn’t even walk ten minutes ago.”
“Don’t question the Oracle,” Luhan said weakly, trying to make Sehun laugh but instead just succeeding in making Sehun look like he wanted to shake him. “Sehun, I can’t go back. I won’t go back.”
Sehun turned on Kai, who was watching Luhan with a very thoughtful expression. “You,” he said angrily, “teleport him back.”
“Are you kidding me?” Kai asked, gaze snapping to Sehun. “Do you want me to die? Wait, don’t answer that.”
Sehun threw his hands up in frustration. “I don’t understand either of you. Luhan is the Oracle, he needs to be protected against all else. And we’re just heading further into enemy territory and he keeps getting sicker, this isn’t— it isn’t right.”
“And it’s not right to expect me to just go back quietly,” Luhan snapped. “I hated it there and I won’t be locked up again. So stop treating me like a child, Sehun.”
Sehun bit hard on his lower lip, face twisting. Back rigid, he left the camp, stalking off into the darkness. Were Luhan normal, he would have just seen Sehun leaving in a huff, but he was a Seer, and he could see the despair swirling around Sehun like a miasma. It made Luhan want to cry and call him back, but he knew Sehun wouldn’t listen right now.
“He’ll be back,” Kai said softly, accurately reading Luhan’s expression. He moved so he could put an arm around Luhan’s shoulders, and Luhan leaned against him, feeling a bit better.
“Should we pack up and leave, then?” Chen asked.
Xiumin blinked. “Huh?”
“We can’t travel during the day, not over the desert, it’d be too obvious.” He gestured around themselves. “The sun only just went down. We could pack up and leave now, and then sleep when morning comes.”
“I suppose so,” Suho said haltingly, like he was unsure. Luhan was hoping he would disagree, because the thought of packing up and leaving right now made him feel like crying.
“Time is of the essence,” Kris pointed out. “We need to find Chanyeol, sooner rather than later, otherwise we’ll fly back here only to find everything’s been burned.”
Kyungsoo shivered. He started standing up, and Kai looked torn between helping him or staying by Luhan. Luhan gently pushed him away, and Kai gave him a look that was both grateful and worried. Luhan tried to smile reassuringly, and slowly got to his feet himself, glad to find that he could do it without help.
Suho heaved a heavy sigh. “Someone slap Baekhyun awake.” Yixing happily obliged as the others began to roll up their pallets and collect their belongings. Sehun came back shortly after. He didn’t say anything, just mimicked the others and packed his own things up.
Despite feeling a bit better now, Luhan still couldn’t get onto the dragon by himself, so Kai teleported him. Luhan felt a pang of guilt when Kai’s nose immediately began to bleed. Kai stumbled slightly, looking a little surprised. “What is it?” Luhan asked.
“I don’t know,” Kai muttered. “You just felt heavier than usual, I guess I’m tired.”
“We all are,” Luhan said softly, and Kai nodded shortly before teleporting away to get Kyungsoo.
Luhan waited, and then finally Sehun was there, settling in behind him. Luhan could feel his upset, not just in his aura but also in the rigidity of his posture. Luhan wiggled, turning his torso a bit so he could look at Sehun’s face. “Sehun,” Luhan murmured, but Sehun resolutely kept his eyes forward, “Sehun.” Luhan reached up and touched his fingertips to Sehun’s cheek before leaning so he could press his lips to the corner of Sehun’s mouth.
Sehun turned to look at him then, eyes wide. “Luhan?” His cheeks were red.
“I’m sorry,” Luhan whispered, “for everything.”
Sehun’s expression softened. “I know, I just worry about you.”
“I’m alright,” Luhan said, the lie familiar but no less acidic on his tongue for it. “I am.”
Sehun wrapped his arms around Luhan’s middle. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, I promise.” He half sounded like he was promising himself.
Luhan gave a small smile, his lips feeling numb, and then turned back around and felt it slide off his face. He screwed his eyes shut against the guilt sitting leaden in his stomach. It wasn’t alright, he wasn’t alright, but he couldn’t say it aloud, didn’t want anyone to know. It would do no good to worry them, and it wasn’t like any of them could do anything anyway.
He was sick, but he wasn’t sick, with a cold or a flu. There was something coming, looming over him like a storm, and every night he saw it, every night in his visions he felt his head splitting apart and the life flowing out of himself. It was coming, and he couldn’t stop it, whatever it was.
He fell asleep while they were in flight, leaning against Sehun’s chest. And he woke in a cold sweat hours later, having watched himself die for the dozenth time.
Chanyeol sat in the window alcove of his rooms, staring out over the red brick and roof tiles of the Fire Nation capitol. Somewhere down below him he could hear the clash of swords and yells as the men of the palace guard performed their drills. It had been going on for some time now, and there was nowhere he could escape from the sound, so horribly reminiscent of the battle that it made him feel tense and on edge.
A sharp knock on his door startled him, and he called out weakly, “Come in.” A servant entered bearing a tray of food. He set it down on the table, bowed low, and left. He was one of General Hwang’s servants, Chanyeol knew, and it made him nervous. There were so many eyes around him.
Chanyeol approached the table and eyed the food. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it. They had been so suspicious of him, their smiles too saccharine when dealing with him as of late, that he feared they knew the doubts swirling around his mind, and were just waiting for the moment when he confirmed their suspicions to pounce. He was afraid of doing anything out of the ordinary, even something as small as eating the wrong amount of food, because it might tip the scales against him.
He was so hungry, but he forced himself to eat only half of the food given to him, as he knew he hadn’t been eating much lately. If he suddenly regained his appetite it would cause questions. If there was one thing he wanted to avoid, it was questions, because he wasn’t entirely sure of the answers he would give at this point in time.
He was being torn in two different directions, neither of them a direction he particularly wanted to go in. It was at the stage now where he felt like he might go crazy from the delicate dance he was caught up in. He had thought he had hated treading carefully when it came to politics before, but that was nothing compared to now. He wasn’t built to be subtle and careful, watching his every move, and watching everyone else’s move to work out if they were friend or foe.
He pushed the food around on his plate for a couple more minutes before he pushed his chair back abruptly. The smell of the food was making him feel hungry again, and the clash of weapons that he could still hear beginning to drive him to distraction. He needed to get out of the room before he actually did lose his mind.
He poked his head out the door, finding a servant standing there. “I’m done with the food. Clear it away.” He worked to make his voice sound imperious. The servant scuttled to obey, and once he was out of sight Chanyeol tiptoed out of the room himself. He just wanted to walk around a bit, but he didn’t want to be followed, which happened more often than not. It made him feel horribly like a prisoner. This time he managed to ditch any followers, walking quickly away from his rooms and soon losing himself in the maze of corridors that made up the palace.
He found himself on a small balcony eventually, and he could no longer hear the guards practicing, and he breathed a sigh of relief. There was a gentle breeze blowing, and it smelled like the ocean. He tilted his head back and inhaled, trying to let some of the tension flow out of himself.
“I don’t want to be here,” he whispered to the sky, then looked around himself as if someone might have heard. He wanted to go home, back to his lakeside village, back to his villa, but it was all gone, and so were the people that had lived there. The thought of living the rest of his days in this snake pit made him want to cry.
For a moment, he thought the wind was whispering back at him, but then he realized they were actual voices; someone was coming down the hall the balcony was attached to. Chanyeol floundered a moment before realizing he was, in fact, skinny enough to hide behind a pillar, so he did so. He plastered himself against the side of it, practically holding his breath in case they heard that.
“—He’ll be around the palace somewhere,” said one of the voices, finally coming into earshot. It was a vaguely familiar voice. “We’ll find him eventually.”
“I assigned servants to him so I’d always know where he was,” a second voice said, and Chanyeol definitely recognized it as General Hwang’s. His stomach lurched, and his fingers dug painfully into the stone of the pillar. “I ought to have them flogged if they can’t do their damned jobs.”
“He’s just a boy,” the other said, and Chanyeol thought it might be the older, greying General that had come back from the battlefield with them. General Jung, if he remembered correctly. “He’ll have run down to watch the soldiers fighting, that’s all my sons ever did when they were his age.”
“No,” said General Hwang, sounding exasperated. “That’s not what the Phoenix does. If it was, I wouldn’t have assigned a watch over him. That would be normal, and I think we all know that the Phoenix isn’t normal.”
“Do you think he’s run away?”
“I don’t know what he’s doing. He’s not been acting like himself at all. Ever since the battle, ever since I caught that damned Lightning Shifter talking to him, he’s been acting very strange.”
“He’s been remarkably preoccupied with the Lightning Shifter,” murmured General Jung. “It’s starting to get a little worrying.”
“It’s downright unsettling. We need the Phoenix on our side. We can’t afford for him to start having any doubts at this stage.”
“What do you suggest we do? If he thinks we’re lying about the Lightning Shifter, what can we—”
“He’s only useful so long as he’s on our side. If he starts to become a problem for us, we have no choice but to eliminate him.” Chanyeol bit down on his lip to stop himself from gasping, hard enough to draw blood. He fought to stay perfectly still. General Hwang continued, “The Lightning Shifter better be praying day and night we never get our hands on him, because if we do I’ll...” Chanyeol didn’t get to hear what plans General Hwang had for Chen, because the pair were walking out of earshot, and their words had become indistinct.
Chanyeol waited, trembling, until he was absolutely sure the corridor was empty, before he slipped out from his hiding place and fled back to his rooms, managing to run into no one. He pulled the door shut behind him, snapping the lock shut and then, after a moment, flicking the lock back up, knowing that would only draw more suspicion, and that was clearly one thing he was already drawing in abundance right now.
He sank down onto his bed and stuffed his fist in his mouth to stop himself from letting out any of the fear he felt. His entire body was shaking, skin clammy and cold despite the heat in the air. After a couple of minutes he felt calm enough to draw his hand away from his mouth, pulling one of his pillows to his stomach and curling around it on his side on the bed.
“It’s okay,” he whispered to himself. “They’re just scared. Chen betrayed them and now they’re worried that you’ll do the same. They’ll only kill you if they think you’ve turned traitor, and that’s not going to happen.”
I wish Baekhyun was here, he thought, and then sobbed, tears springing easily to his eyes. He slapped a hand to his face, trying to scrub them away, feeling like he couldn’t breathe, chest heaving.
“No,” he said, out loud, voice weak. “No, you don’t. He betrayed you. He killed your family and he should die for it. Don’t — you can’t doubt yourself now, Chanyeol. You can’t.”
The terrified roiling of his stomach and the tears still in his eyes suggested otherwise. Doubting himself, doubting everything he’d been told, meant death for certain, and yet he couldn’t seem to stop himself, couldn’t stop thinking of Chen and Baekhyun. But he had to. He had to.