the golden bitch (umberela) wrote in inkin_brushes,
the golden bitch

EXO {various pairings ; Zodiac (25/30)}

Title: Zodiac (25/30)
Authors: black_goose & umberela
Fandom: EXO
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 7,014
Rating: PG-13
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."

Zodiac (25/?)

A bird flew overhead, squawking obnoxiously. Luhan forced the sound from his head, forced everything out, trying to reach for the level of meditation he had been able to achieve during his time as the Oracle, spending his days in reflection. After such a long time, he was pathetically out of practise, and besides, it was harder to do so outside like this compared to surrounded by pure white walls.

He was sitting cross legged in the shade of a sparse, drought resistant tree, in a courtyard on the edge of the village. It was better than being shut up in Vimera’s house, or at the inn where most of the others were. It was quieter here, more peaceful, even though the dry grass underneath him pricked at him through his clothes. The heat wasn’t so bad anymore, the days getting slightly shorter. He also sensed he was simply getting used to it. His skin, by this stage, was a golden brown and seemed like it wasn’t going to burn so easily anymore, but still, he was glad for the shade of the tree.

Kai sat opposite him, mirroring his pose. Rather than meditating, he seemed a little bored, watching an insect fly around his head while he waited for Luhan to get into the right mindset. Kyungsoo and Yixing were sitting against a different tree not too far away, their backs propped up against the trunk, sides pressed together, a book open across their laps.

“Are you ready?” Kai asked, smothering a yawn behind his hand. Luhan glared at him.

“I was almost ready,” he sniffed. “You broke my concentration again.”

“Sorry,” said Kai, not sounding sorry in the slightest.

Luhan scowled. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, reaching the kind of calmness that he associated with meditation, and it was made much harder by the fact that he felt slightly off-kilter thanks to the frog tea. It had a fancy proper name, but Luhan could never remember it. For all intents and purposes, it was the pickled frog tea.

Luhan didn’t even know why Kai was rushing him, it wasn’t like it mattered to him one way or another. After that first time, Kai had staunchly refused to drink any more of the tea. So now during their sessions he just sat, bored, as Luhan tried to get the hang of manipulating his dust, his energy. It took far more mental concentration than Luhan had thought he was even capable of.

He let out a deep breath, steadied his breathing, and focused his attention on the dust trail between him and Kai. The energy moved slowly, the direction of it obvious now that he knew what he was looking for. He stared at it so hard he began to feel himself go cross-eyed. He tried to will it to do something, trying to put into practise all the techniques that the others had attempted to teach him.

It took several second before the dust slowed, and eventually, stopped. He held it there, lips pressed together, frowning so hard his face actually started to hurt.

“You look like you’re about to rupture something,” Kai said idly, and Luhan huffed out a breath, his concentration falling away. The dust immediately began to move again.

Luhan slumped. “It’s been a week!” he said, tears of frustration in his eyes. “I can’t do anything! What point is stopping it when I can only do so for seconds at a time?”

“It’s just about learning to control it,” Kai said, his voice flat because of how much he’d repeated it. “Once you get the hang of it, it’ll get easier. Besides, you can do more than stop it. You can move it.”

“Yeah, to you,” Luhan grumbled. Fat lot of good that seemed to do. Any of Luhan’s energy that got too near to Kai seemed to simply get absorbed into the air around him. Luhan didn’t know if Kai was actually getting the energy at all. And none of them could explain it, either. They couldn’t explain why Kai’s energy was invisible, or why he was not only the one person Luhan couldn’t, and didn’t, siphon energy off of, but was also the only one who was taking energy away from Luhan.

“I appreciate it,” Kai said, in a tone of voice that was not at all appreciative.

“You can’t even feel it!” Luhan squawked. He was beginning to think Kai was some kind of void, which was why it was so easy to transfer energy to him. The connection was always there, the energy gravitating from Luhan to Kai. It was fairly simple, to push on it and add more to the flow. After hours spent unsuccessfully trying to give energy to Suho, giving Kai energy was a walk in the park.

“You managed to give some to Yixing, as well,” Kai pointed out, his tone of voice gentler.

“Yes, and I nearly killed him again,” Luhan said. That had been a fiasco. Luhan had anticipated that sending Yixing energy would be about as difficult as sending it to Suho. He’d underestimated the connection Yixing was able to make between them using his Healing abilities. He’d pushed too much over too fast, not expecting the energy to flow over so easily, and then Luhan had been able to see first hand what the others had meant about Yixing becoming a human firefly.

“I’m alright with it!” Yixing called. He’d put the energy to good use, Healing Kyungsoo, and then Healing him some more. And then Healing everyone else, even if they didn’t really need Healing. Then he’d tried Healing the dragon, although he’d never tried to Heal a non-human before. It seemed to have worked at least some, but the dragon had been most disturbed by it. “It was an experiment.”

Kyungsoo patted the side of Yixing’s face, drawing his attention back down to the book, and Luhan sighed. At least he hadn’t killed him, and at least Kyungsoo had been Healed from the whole debacle. Yixing was still recuperating from the renewed burst of energy as well as his own injuries but overall he was much better. As convenient as a suddenly overly powerful Yixing was, it made Luhan uneasy. Pouring that much energy into someone, someone who didn’t have Kai’s abilities, couldn’t be easy on that person’s body. Luhan didn’t intend to loan Yixing any more energy, if he could help it.

“Come on,” said Kai, drawing Luhan’s attention back to him. “Focus.”

“On what?” Luhan cried. “I’m not even doing anything. What am I supposed to achieve here?”

Kai paused, thinking. “Anything you can,” he said. “The more you try, the better your control will get.”

“Tell that to Xiumin,” Luhan muttered.

He shook his head to rid himself of thought, trying to bring himself back into his early mindset, the mental place where he could concentrate enough on the dust to actually do something with it. It took just as much concentration as before to stop it, and he held it for as long as he could, until he began to feel somewhat ill, but he was holding it, he was doing it --

“Ah!” Yixing yelled suddenly. Luhan jolted out of his semi-trance so suddenly he almost fell over. “This is so neat!”

“What is the point,” Luhan muttered, brushing dry grass from his clothing. He stood, walking over to where Kyungsoo and Yixing were sitting. Kai didn’t bother standing, simply teleported so he was sitting by Kyungsoo’s side. “What’s neat?”

“Magic,” Yixing said with a manic gleam in his eye. “Human sacrifice.”

“Uh,” said Kai, eyeing him.

“Well, it’s more to do with energy,” Kyungsoo jumped in, nudging Yixing in the side, then wincing as the movement jostled him. “It’s mostly a history, really, it deals with how energy worked before the Split.” Luhan nodded; Yixing had been reading his way through all of the books in Vimera’s house, most of them extremely old, and since Kyungsoo had been Healed, he’d been doing the same. They were trying to find something, anything, relevant to their current situation.

“It’s very dark stuff,” Yixing said, far too excited. “The specifics have been lost, but it’s so interesting!”

“There’s, uh, a lot of stuff about blood magic,” Kyungsoo explained.

“How does that help with my situation at all?” Luhan asked, his voice edging on whiny.

Well,” Yixing said, clearly in his element, “we’ve been reading about it because there were mentions of people, you know, exploding from too much energy.” Luhan waited. Yixing liked to pause for dramatic effect. “Blood magic and sacrifice were two ways of generating exceedingly large quantities of energy, some of the only ways to gather enough to cause the human body to crack under the strain.”

“I didn’t kill anybody,” Luhan huffed, outraged for no real reason.

“Obviously,” Yixing replied flippantly. “That’s not the point, the point is that this has happened before. People exploding from excess energy, and also--” he broke off to flip back a page, “people getting sick from it, and exploding as a delayed result.”

“Or liquefying,” Kyungsoo added, staring down at the page.

“Ew,” Kai said, reading over Kyungsoo’s shoulder.

“Is this supposed to comfort me?” Luhan asked, slightly shrill. “I am not comforted.”

“It’s nice knowing this isn’t entirely new territory,” Yixing pointed out. “It just hasn’t happened much since before the Split. The only instances we can seem to find of it happening afterwards are--”

“Are when Shifters started cropping up when there were still magicians around, and the magicians started sacrificing Shifters for their energy, or trying to transfer their energy to someone else, through sacrificing. Lots of exploding happening them,” Kyungsoo finished.

“Why bother?” Kai asked, looking a little green. Luhan could see there were some diagrams drawn on the pages, but he didn’t want to focus on them too hard. “I mean, the Shifters I get, I guess. They were trying to steal their powers, but before the Split, why bother killing normal humans?”

“I told you,” Yixing repeated, “it was for the energy.” Kai stared at him blankly. “Before the Split, before Shifters, a lot of one’s magic came from the surrounding area. Hence all the spell work and the invocations. Blood magic was the strongest magic there was, sacrificing something living, it didn’t have to be human, yielded vast amounts of energy, so more powerful spells could be worked. And the amount of energy any one person can pull to themselves is actually infinite, the only thing that holds them back is, well, their physical body. The soul can stretch to accommodate any amount.”

“And everyone’s body is different,” Kyungsoo added. “Hence why Luhan could go so long without exploding, but Yixing can barely handle a fraction of Luhan’s energy.”

“So if my body wasn’t so weak,” Luhan said slowly, “I could have held even more energy?”

“Your body is strong, stronger than mine,” Yixing said. “But yes, that’s the gist of it.”

“If they knew that back then,” Kai said, “then why did they keep sacrificing people and taking too much energy?”

Kyungsoo rolled his eyes. “Part of it was ego. Every magician thought, surely, they would be strong enough to handle the onslaught of power.”

“And part of it was that, with enough energy, anything is possible,” Yixing said softly, eyes on the pages in front of him but not really focused. “Literally anything.”

“It’s mildly terrifying,” Kyungsoo added.

“Makes me wonder what I could do, if I could actually, you know, use the energy I store up,” Luhan said with a sigh.

“I think some things are better left unknown,” Yixing said decidedly, something about that seeming to make him uncomfortable. “I just thought it was fascinating, that our capacity for energy is endless, and that without a cap on us, anything is possible. It’s truly amazing.”

“Well, I’m glad human sacrifice isn’t a thing anymore,” Kai said. “Let’s not give the Fire Nation any ideas.”

“Your squeamishness is endearing, Kai,” Yixing said. “But all the rites and spellwork around it have been lost. This book isn’t a guide, merely a history.”

“All the same,” Kai said with a shudder. Kyungsoo smiled and lay against his side.

Luhan shook his head. “But how does this help me?” he burst out.

Yixing blinked at him. “It doesn’t. It’s just nice knowing this wasn’t a totally isolated incident.” He moved his hand in a shooing motion. “You can go away now, go train some more.”

“Waste of time,” Luhan said, “everything is a waste of time.” He stood up and stomped off back to his tree but Kai seemed reluctant to move. Luhan stomped his foot. “Jongin, come over here so I can train!”

“No,” said Kai lazily. He carded his fingers through Kyungsoo’s hair. “All you do is make faces at me and then yell whenever I do so much as scratch my nose.”

“You’re a bad friend!” Luhan yelled. “Stop disobeying the Oracle!”

“I’ll do whatever I want,” Kai said. Kyungsoo’s eyes were fluttering shut. “You’re not the boss of me, I’m the Shadow Walker.”

“Argh!” Luhan screamed, turning and kicking the tree.

“Uh,” said a new voice. Luhan turned to find Kris standing at the entrance to the shaded area, staring at him like he’d lost it. “Did that tree do something to you?”

“He’s just high off the frog tea,” Kai said helpfully. “Ignore him.”

There were three small children trailing after Kris, none of them more than eight years old, standing a little behind him now that he’d stopped, giggling amongst themselves. He whirled on them, staring them down, looking like he had actually no idea how to deal with children. “What?” he asked.

The kids looked at each other, giggling harder, and then faster than Kris could react, darted right up to him, touched the closest part of him they could get, and then bolted off, screaming with laughter. “What?” he yelled after them. Luhan could hear one of them crowing about the witless one.

Luhan took a deep breath, stepping away from the tree he’d been assaulting. “What is it, Kris,” he bit out. “The Oracle is in a bad mood.”

Kris held up a small scroll of paper. “There’s been a raven.”


Baekhyun sat twiddling his thumbs under the table, the emotion around the room somber and serious. He felt a little bit like he’d just suffered whiplash, the mood had changed so quickly. Not fifteen minutes earlier he’d been sitting in the exact same spot, teasing Tao about how much time he spent in the baths.

Now, however, everyone was sitting in silence, trying to come to terms with what had just been read aloud to them from the scroll that had come with the raven. The news hadn’t been good, at all. It had come from a village quite a bit further north, from Taewoong’s brother who lived there. He had written of the Air Nation, as his village came fairly close to the border, but had managed to avoid any damage from either side, partly because of its position and also partly because of its very small size. According to Taewoong’s brother, it appeared that the Air Nation had all but lost the war.

It has been many days, he wrote, since we saw anything but plumes of dark smoke in the sky. The winds have mostly kept the ashes from falling on us, but it can no doubt be the work of Fire Nation Shifters.

Suho had his head in his hands, slumped across the table. Tao looked stricken, his eyes wide and his fingers clutching the edge of the table. “The Air Nation,” he said in a low, halting voice, “it can’t -- can’t fall--”

“We haven’t been here long enough,” Chen said. “There’s no way the Fire Nation soldiers have made it to the capitol yet.”

“The scroll didn’t say the capitol had fallen,” Suho said from behind his hands, “just that the war appeared to be lost.”

“So we still have time?” Tao asked, the hope in his voice ugly.

“We have to move, as soon as possible,” Kris said flatly. “Tonight, if we can.”

“How do you suppose we do that?” Chen asked. “The dragon is still injured, and not all of us are exactly at our best yet either.” He glanced at Yixing.

“I am well enough to ride,” Yixing said tersely.

Kyungsoo nodded. “I am pretty sure for me, this is as good as it’s going to get.” Beside him, Kai stiffened. Yixing had Healed Kyungsoo, but the scars on his body still remained. He seemed to have a lot of trouble with his hip, his left leg. He could walk but it was slow going. Yixing said he might get better over time, and he’d continue to try and fix him.

“Can the dragon even take us?” Suho asked Kai quietly.

Kai nodded, looking supremely unhappy. “Her burns are healing far faster than they would on a normal creature. Dragons do have a penchant for fire. She can walk, if nothing else for a while.”

“I don’t--” Luhan said, then turned and buried his face in Sehun’s shoulder. “I don’t want to go back,” he mumbled.

“I know,” Suho said gently. “But Luhan, if we don’t go back, the Air Nation will lose. Everything we’ve fought for so far will have been for nothing.”

“I know,” Luhan whispered. “But -- but I don’t want to go back. You don’t know -- don’t know what it’s like -- I don’t want them to lock me up again, Suho.”

Baekhyun looked between Luhan and Suho, frowning. The look on Suho’s face was heartbroken but resigned. Baekhyun knew that no matter what Luhan said, Suho would insist on going back.

“The Air Nation locking you up into your tower,” Chen said, “is a nicer option than being locked up in some Fire Nation dungeon somewhere. Believe me.”

“Luhan,” said Kai, reaching across and touching Luhan’s hand. “If they try to lock you up again, I’ll--”

“You’ll get me out?” Luhan asked, lifting his head. “But then they’ll just behead you. Or behead our friends as accomplices.”

“They can’t do that,” Taewoong said, aghast. “You’re--”

“We wouldn’t let that happen,” Suho said firmly. “Kai could teleport us all out if need be. He probably has the power to, after all the energy you’ve been giving him.”

Luhan sat back, and the room fell into a sullen silence. Baekhyun hadn’t really forgotten that they were in the middle of a war, it was hard to forget that when the reminders were carved into his skin, but it was so peaceful here. It was, at the very least, easy to ignore it.

“Kris and Suho are right,” Chanyeol said softly, the silky tone of his voice making Baekhyun nervous, “we have to move, with all haste.”

“If the Air Nation falls, it will be much harder to halt the Fire Nation’s progress,” Kris said.

“The Water Nation will be next,” Suho said, shaking his head. “We’ve already given so much manpower to the Air Nation, there’s no way we could win against the might of the Fire Nation alone.”

“We can’t lose now,” Chen said. He sounded like he was fraying at the seams.

“We won’t,” Chanyeol said simply. He seemed almost electric, held stiff with purpose. The sight didn’t make Baekhyun feel comfortable. It wasn’t a Chanyeol he was used to seeing.

“We might,” said Kris sharply, “if we don’t move soon. We can’t stay in this village any longer.”

“You’re right.” Suho stood up. His face was drawn, like the weight of the world lay on his shoulders. “If Kai thinks the dragon can take us, we’ll leave tonight. We need to get back the Air Nation capitol as soon as we possibly can.”

“I will come with you,” Taewoong said decisively.

Suho, Kris, Yixing, and Kyungsoo all chorused, “No,” at the same time, but Taewoong had made up his mind.

“I know you’re all concerned about the repercussions of what you did,” Taewoong said stubbornly. “I want to vouch for you. And I want to see how this all plays out. My wife can take over my place while I am gone.”

“And what if you never come back,” Tao snapped harshly.

Taewoong pinned a glare on him, and it was the first time Baekhyun had ever seen him slightly cross. “You underestimate yourselves.”

“Or perhaps you overestimate us,” Tao muttered.

“We cannot guarantee your safety, Taewoong,” said Suho.

“I am not asking you to,” Taewoong said. “I am simply going to come along. You will hardly know I am there.”

“I don’t think the Air Nation Elders will care what you have to say, Taewoong,” Kris said in a strained voice.

“He’s decided,” Luhan said softly. “There’s no point arguing. And you never know, he might be able to make the Elders pause long enough before executing us to give us getaway time.”

“Do not worry too much,” Chanyeol said. “I won’t let the Elders hurt any of you.”

“You’re probably the first one they’re going to try to behead,” Tao said.

Chanyeol shook his head. “They can’t. I won’t allow them to. I -- we have too much left to do, in the war. People still need to answer for what they have done, still need to pay for what they did to my family.”

Baekhyun stared at him, the fire in his eyes making him more uncomfortable than ever. He didn’t like this Chanyeol, it scared him, and he didn’t like being scared of Chanyeol, it was starting to get exhausting. “Our family,” he said, the words out of his mouth before his brain could form them in his head.

Chanyeol jerked. His eyes went to the table in front of him, hair hanging low enough to mask his eyes, like he couldn’t take the temptation, couldn’t stand the thought of meeting Baekhyun’s eyes. He said nothing.

“It was our family,” Baekhyun said, slightly louder, more conviction in his tone. And I’m not trying to burn the world to the ground.

Chanyeol didn’t look up, even though Baekhyun had leaned forward and was positively willing him to. He muttered something, something in the negative but too quiet to be properly heard. All of a sudden, anger swept through Baekhyun, flooding him. After everything, after all the loss and the destruction, Chanyeol owed him more than this dismissal.

“Look at me!” Baekhyun shouted, slamming his hands down on the table hard enough to make everyone jump. Tao spilled his drink on himself. “Stop ignoring me! Why won’t you look at me!”

Chanyeol jerked again, his knuckles this time knocking against the flagon in front of him. The ale spilled out over the table in a flood and began dripping down on the floor. There was silence, no one moving to clean it up. “After everything,” Baekhyun said, his voice quieter again, “you owe me that much, Chanyeol. Look at me.”

Chanyeol turned away. “I can’t.”

Chanyeol stood, stepping out from behind the bench, and was out the door before Baekhyun could form a reply. Baekhyun stood, frozen as a statue, for several moments, before his face blackened. Someone made to grab him as he began walking towards the door, but he wrenched himself roughly from their grip, not even bothering to see who it was.

Outside he could see Chanyeol in the distance, walking fast, apparently in the direction of the bathhouse. Baekhyun ran after him, aware that Chanyeol could easily outstrip him if he realised he was being followed. He also knew that Chanyeol’s observational skills were pretty pathetic, so he just boxed down his anger until he was close enough that when he said, “You coward,” he was able to grab Chanyeol’s wrist and hold him in place when Chanyeol stopped in shock.

“Don’t--” Chanyeol tried to pull his wrist away but Baekhyun held on tight. “Baekhyun, please--”

“No.” Baekhyun’s breathing was ragged, hot in his chest. His anger felt like a physical creature, clawing at his insides. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this angry. It was possible he’d never been. “No, if it hurts you, how much do you think it hurts me?”

“I’m not--” Chanyeol still wouldn’t look at him, his head bowed to the ground. “I don’t know what you want.”

“What I want?” Baekhyun asked, laughing shrilly. “I want you to look me in the eyes, Chanyeol. That’s all I want. And you can’t even do that. Why? Are you scared? Are you scared of me?”

“No, no, that’s not it,” Chanyeol said, desperately, “Baekhyun, please, let go of me.”

“I won’t, not so you can just run away from me again.” Baekhyun could feel the tears prickling at the back of his eyes. “I’m not running away, Chanyeol. I -- after everything, I am still trying, Chanyeol. Why can’t you?”

“It’s different,” Chanyeol whispered.

“Don’t make excuses,” Baekhyun told him. “Stop running away from me, Chanyeol, stop running away from this. What are you so scared of? If you just looked at me, you’d see--”

“I tried to kill you,” Chanyeol yelled suddenly, and Baekhyun almost let go of him in shock. “I wanted to kill you. You, who has only ever -- you’ve only ever been the best thing in my life, and I wanted to kill you. I can still remember how the urge felt, how badly I wanted to. Do you realise that, Baekhyun? Do you realise that I would have done it, if I’d been able to?”

“Yes,” Baekhyun whispered.

Chanyeol gave a laugh that was more of a sob. “Then why do you -- how can you look at me?” He paused. “How can you forgive me for it?”

“Because I know that wasn’t you,” Baekhyun said levelly. “I didn’t see you on that battlefield that day, Chanyeol. That wasn’t -- that wasn’t my Chanyeol, it was some other person, someone cold and destructive and broken. It wasn’t you.”

“It was,” Chanyeol said, shaking his head. “And I can’t forgive myself for it.”

Baekhyun sucked in an angry breath. “So are you just going to be like this?” he yelled. “A coward? Unable to meet my eyes forever and ever, dragging this out?”

“I dreamt about killing you,” Chanyeol whispered. “I fantasized about it. I thought about it, day and night, for months and months. You. You, who loved me at my best and worst, and I don’t understand, I don’t understand how you can keep loving me even now, little love, I don’t--”

He choked himself off as he realised what he’d just said. Baekhyun felt all the air leave him, until he felt hollowed out and empty. It had been so long since he’d heard the pet name that Chanyeol used to whisper into his ear at night, used to coax him awake in the morning. His anger disappeared as suddenly as it came. “You don’t?” he asked. “I do.”

For a few seconds they stared at each other. Chanyeol’s breathing was loud and ragged, his face twisted with too many emotions for even Baekhyun to read. Baekhyun raked his eyes over his face, drinking it in, drinking Chanyeol in. Maybe something had changed, maybe this could get better, maybe--

“I hurt you,” Chanyeol said eventually, breaking through Baekhyun’s thoughts. “Those scars will never fade. That’s all I think of when I look at you.”

Baekhyun blinked. The next second, Chanyeol wrenched his wrist from Baekhyun’s hold, too roughly for Baekhyun to keep his grip. Once he was free, he fled, disappearing into the shadows of an alleyway near them while Baekhyun stood still, watching him. He made no move to stop him this time.

He didn’t know how long he stood there, trying to process what had happened. He didn’t know what it all meant, didn’t know if they’d taken a step forward or if they’d ended up three steps back. His brain just kept returning to the way Chanyeol had said little love, the words falling from his mouth as easily as they had ever done. It hurt more than the pain of being burnt, in some ways. The promise of returning to that was dangling in front of his eyes but always, always just out of reach.

Baekhyun pressed his hands to his eyes, in an attempt to stop the tears that were beginning to form. He hadn’t cried, hadn’t shed a tear, not until he had walked into the blackened husk of what had once been his and Chanyeol’s home. Crying then had been inevitable, but he hadn’t cried before that, and he did not intent to cry after.

Once he’d gotten ahold of himself he turned around, heading back to the inn. His shadow had grown long, the sun near the horizon. It was going to be a long, tiring night.

Back in the inn, everyone was bustling around, the innkeep and his wife packing up provisions, presumably for them to take with them. Baekhyun was, once again, touched by the kindness of the people in this village. He knew the people of his own city probably would have been just as hospitable, it was, after all, the Fire Nation way, but after the harshness of their army and generals, it was a pleasant contrast.

Suho spotted him first, carrying a couple of the packages of food. “You’re back,” he said, his face softening as he took in the expression on Baekhyun’s face. “You -- are you okay?”

Baekhyun straightened his shoulders, trying to smooth his face out. “Yes,” he lied. “When do we leave?”

“As soon as we are all prepared.”

“Well, then,” Baekhyun said numbly, “I’d better prepare.” Suho opened his mouth and then snapped it shut again. “What?” Baekhyun asked, too weary for any games.

“I was just.” Suho scratched at the back of his neck, one of the food packages tumbling out of his arm as he did so. He scooped it back up, blushing. “I was wondering if you knew where Chanyeol went. He needs to pack up too. I was going to send someone to find him.”

Baekhyun closed his eyes, masking it as a long blink, fighting back against the sudden tears again. “No, I don’t know where he went,” he said quietly. “I’m going to go pack up.”

He went up the creaky stairs without looking at Suho’s face. He kept his eyes to the ground, walking on autopilot towards his room, fighting with his brain, trying to keep it on the thought of the journey they had to take and away from anything to do with Chanyeol. He was so lost in his thoughts that he walked right into someone.

“Ooof,” said Kris, peering down at him above the pile of clothing in his arms. “Watch out.”

“Oh,” said Baekhyun quietly. “Sorry. I was thinking.” He looked at the clothing Kris was carrying without any real interest but Kris seemed to take it as such.

“Taewoong found some more clothes for us to take with us,” he said. “He’s been so helpful that I still wonder sometimes if Suho wasn’t right and they’re all waiting to kill us in our sleep.”

“This is the Fire Nation way,” Baekhyun said with a shrug. “It’s very different to how things are done in the Air Nation.”

“You’re telling me,” Kris muttered. “He labelled them with our names, I don’t know if yours will be in here--”

He broke off, his eyes lifting from his search through the clothing and going to somewhere above Baekhyun’s left shoulder. Something brushed past him in the next second. It was Tao, walking past them in stony silence, his head held high and his shoulders pushed back. He looked, Baekhyun reflected, like he had done every time Baekhyun had seen him back in the Air Nation.

Kris watched him go with a frown on his face, twisting his head to watch him walk away, mouth moving like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. Baekhyun pressed his lips together. There had been an argument a couple of days before, late at night, loud enough that it had woken Baekhyun up. He had sat up in bed and listened to the yelling, at first afraid they were under attack; it had taken him a moment to realise it was merely Kris and Tao, shouting at each other. From what Baekhyun had heard before he’d heard the slamming of doors, the fight had revolved around Tao trying to kiss Kris, and being thoroughly rejected. By silent mutual agreement, nobody had spoken about it, though they’d all shot Tao and Kris curious looks in the days afterwards. Tao, for his part, seemed determined to not even look at Kris, never mind communicate with him.

Baekhyun, who’d seen the way Kris looked at Tao, knew everything would be resolved once Kris pulled his head out of his ass, so he wasn’t too worried about it. There was a bigger picture right now though, and Kris seemed to know this, so he wasn’t sulking over it like Tao was. Sometimes Baekhyun was horribly reminded of Tao’s young age, and this was definitely an issue that brought that to the front.

“My clothing?” Baekhyun prompted, bringing Kris’s attention back to the matter at hand. Kris’s head snapped back around to him.

“Oh,” he said. “Right. Yeah.” He resumed searching through, the effort hindered by him having only one hand, and eventually brought out a small bundle of black clothing which he passed to Baekhyun. “Here.”

“Thanks,” said Baekhyun and disappeared into his bedroom, shutting the door behind himself thankfully. He stuffed the new clothes Kris had given him into his pack, then piled in the rest of his meager belongings. He had a few trinkets that had been given to him by various villagers; a charm from a housewife, a reed bracelet from a small boy. They had no monetary value, but Baekhyun appreciated them. He had virtually nothing else in the way of personal belongings.

He pulled the pack up onto his back easily. It was a lot lighter than most of the others, he knew. He swept the room with his eyes one more time, making sure he hadn’t missed anything. Then he quietly let himself out of the room he’d called home for the last several days. The hallway outside was empty now, and so he made his way back downstairs without interruption.

Suho was still downstairs. He and Kyungsoo were busily distributing food parcels amongst the members. Kai, like Baekhyun, had quite a bit of free space in his pack, so they were able to maneuver more parcels into their packs than they were into others’, like Tao’s.

Chanyeol was the last one down. He must have returned when Baekhyun was in his room packing. Baekhyun didn’t know if he wanted Chanyeol to look at him now. Chanyeol didn’t, though, merely putting his pack down on the table for Kyungsoo to fill it up with food. His pack was as empty as Baekhyun’s or Kai’s. It made Baekhyun’s chest hurt in a way that his own empty pack didn’t.

Once the last food parcel was safely packed away, they all swung their packs back onto their backs, nobody saying much. It was heavier now that there was food in it, and Baekhyun was almost grateful for it. Taewoong pulled his own pack up onto his back, securing the straps on his shoulders. Out of them all, he looked the most positive about leaving. He didn’t know what the Air Nation was like. He’d know soon.

Luhan was so pale he looked like he was going to pass out. He was clutching at Sehun’s arm, staring at Suho like he could get him to change his mind through sheer will power. Suho kept his eyes resolutely away from him.

“Come on,” Suho said quietly, when they were ready. He lead them out of the inn, all of them trailing after him like they were being led to their execution. Perhaps they were, Baekhyun reflected.

The dragon had, for the most part, spent the last few weeks in the lake, swimming around. The coolness of the water seemed to soothe her burn. She got out some, but didn’t seem to have much desire to wander, especially since the villagers would pay homage to her in the way of livestock. She’d eaten more here than Baekhyun had ever seen her eat before. When she wasn’t happily setting sheep on fire, or dozing on the beach, she could sometimes be seen ferrying small children around the lake. After the first few days, no one seemed much afraid of her anymore.

There were people on the streets, more so than was usual for this time. Most of the light had gone out of the sky. Word had travelled fast that they were leaving, it seemed.

Kai must have sent a mental message to the dragon, because when they arrived at the harbor, she was in the water waiting, her head resting on a dock. Vimera stood beside her left eye, carrying a pack almost as large as herself. She looked very excited.

“No,” Kris said, before she could speak. “You’re not coming.”

“I must!” she said, shaking her stick. “I am important!”

“No,” Kris repeated, in a tone that brokered no argument.

Vimera looked as if she was going to argue anyway, but Suho jumped in. “Taewoong is already coming with us, you wouldn’t deny the town of both of its main leaders, would you? You must stay here, and make sure everything er, runs alright in his absence.”

Vimera squinted at him, her face turning thoughtful. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

“You’re the only medicine woman in town, you know, you’re very important,” Suho said fervently, and Baekhyun knew his tone was less from him actually believing what he was saying and more because he really, really didn’t want another tag-a-long.

Vimera thought about that particular point. “You may be right,” she said. Baekhyun saw Suho’s shoulder slump a little in relief. “There is no one else here talented enough to take my place as the village medicine woman.”

“Right,” Suho agreed. “You can’t leave them without anyone to take care of them.”

Vimera nodded, satisfied. She let her pack fall back from her shoulders and turned to rummage around in it. “Alright,” she said, “but I’ll give you this as a parting gift.”

She brought out a huge jar of the frog tea, complete with pickled frog floating on top. She held it out to Suho, who took it gingerly, like he thought it would maybe explode in his hands. “We’re so grateful,” he said, shoving the jar into Luhan’s hands.

“Are we?” Tao muttered.

Baekhyun turned towards the dragon, ready to begin climbing, and found Kai wrapping rope that he’d procured from somewhere around him and Kyungsoo, tying them together. Kyungsoo was cooperating by standing still, but the look he was giving Kai said he thought he’d slightly lost his mind. Baekhyun had to admit the amount of rope currently encircling the two of them was somewhat overkill, but after what had happened, he couldn’t say he blamed him.

“We’re not even going to be flying,” Kyungsoo said, laughing, as Kai produced yet another rope. “The dragon is going to be walking.”

Still,” Kai grumbled. “You’re still healing, you’re fragile. This is a rational precaution.”

“I’m not still healing,” Kyungsoo said, “and I’m not fragile. I’m not a-- Kai!” Kai had pulled out another rope, and Kyungsoo batted at him as best he could. He was somewhat restrained. “I can’t walk now.”

Kai paused. “Neither can I. Oops.”

“Shadow Walker!” Luhan snapped, shaking the jar at Kai.

Kai gurgled in a remarkably Kyungsoo-like fashion, and then teleported both himself and Kyungsoo onto the dragon’s back.

Baekhyun tentatively climbed up onto the dragon’s neck, balancing as he walked to a back spike. He heard Suho, one last time, trying to convince Taewoong to stay behind, but to no avail. Luhan had a bit of trouble getting to a spike, with the heavy jar in his hands, but Sehun helped him. Tao took a spike to himself, away from Kris, and Chanyeol in turn took one far in front of Baekhyun. Xiumin squeezed behind Baekhyun, and Baekhyun smiled weakly at him as Chen helped Yixing to a spike and then sat snugly behind him. Taewoong, at a loss, chose a spike sort of in the middle, and Suho went to his usual front spot.

The people on the deck were waving at them, little children gathered around the dragon’s head patting her one last time. As she lifted it from the dock, they cried out in delight, waving at her instead of the people on her back. Baekhyun lifted a hand and waved at the people that had gathered, feeling a little sad to be leaving them. It had not been home but it had felt more like a home than anywhere else he’d been recently. One day they’d return to repay all the kindness they’d received here. Hopefully.

“Thank you!” Suho called, waving himself, and a couple of the others joined in as the dragon began to move, turning in the water so that she could begin swimming along the shore of the lake, heading away from the village. A few of the children, both young and older, ran after her for a short while before admitting defeat, falling back, their calls of goodbye soon drifting out of earshot, and after some time, Baekhyun turned to face the front, no longer staring at the shrinking lights behind them.
Tags: !multi chaptered, au: zodiac, fandom: exo, pairing: baekhyun/chanyeol, pairing: kai/kyungsoo, pairing: sehun/luhan, pairing: tao/kris, rating: pg-13
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