Authors: black_goose & umberela
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 3,939
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: the next chapter is most probably the last chapter. yes you read that right ;;;; WAILS. because it's the last chapter though, we won't be updating next week, or probably the weekend after, because it's going to be long as fuck and we need to dedicate the time to make sure that it's p e r f e c t. also, just as a minor thing: the only pairings in this fic are the ones named in the pairing list. this chapter is a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. enjoy ♥
Xiumin stood silently watching the men around him carry the provisions from the dock up the narrow gangways to the ships. His pack was strangely heavy on his back, considering there was considerably less in it now than there had been recently, since there was no need to be carrying food or water. He’d thought earlier that maybe the pack was a metaphor for the weight of the duty that lay on his shoulders, and the thought had made him smile at how philosophical he seemed to be becoming.
There were a lot of people on the docks, not just the soldiers who were coming with them. There were a lot of commoners from the capitol come to see the Twelve off, hanging back and staring at them, whispering amongst themselves. It was very different to the behavior of the people who they’d met in the Fire Nation village, who had wanted to touch them, as if they thought that their supposed power could rub off on them. Truth be told, Xiumin much preferred how it had been in the Fire Nation. This made him feel like he was on show.
His superiors from his own nation were there too, wishing Suho a safe journey. They hadn’t said anything about a safe return, which Xiumin felt spoke volumes. He’d seen a couple of them glance his way, but no one had come to speak to him. He was of their nation, but he was part of the Shifter army, had no true title, and that meant it was Suho who they addressed. Xiumin wasn’t too bothered. The whole thing seemed exceedingly awkward, and many, most, of the others didn’t have anyone speaking to them either.
The Air Nation had sent a single Elder to see them off, the youngest one, who had insistently been calling for their heads on their return. That also spoke volumes. He addressed no one. He stood beside the Water Nation generals, arms folded across his chest. Once or twice Suho had tried to speak to him, only to be rudely rebuffed. For a Nation that prided itself on proper manners and position, the Elders didn’t seem like they enjoyed not being able to do whatever they pleased.
Xiumin dragged his eyes away from the sulking Elder, his gaze landing on where Kyungsoo’s father stood. Kyungsoo’s father, although an Earth Nation native, was tall enough that he was of a height with most of the men milling about them, and it took Xiumin a moment to realise that Kyungsoo was standing with him too. He’d only ever seen Kyungsoo’s father dressed fairly plainly, in the style that Kyungsoo had worn when he’d first came to the Air Nation, in dark, earthy shades, but right now he was dressed in something akin to robes, not nearly as flowing the Air Nation people’s, and he seemed more regal and eye catching than the Elder did in his white, elaborate robes.
As Xiumin watched, the King lay his hands on Kyungsoo’s shoulders, lowering his head so that he could say something to him, his face serious. Whatever he said was short and to the point because after a few seconds he straightened up again, his face closed off, imperial and stoic. Kyungsoo turned away from him, pulling the straps on his pack to tighten them, his face sad.
“What did he say to you?” Xiumin asked as he went past, his curiosity getting the better of him.
“He said goodbye,” Kyungsoo said softly. He brushed past Xiumin and walked over to Kai, who had been fussing over Luhan, because it gave him something to do rather than stare at the large crowd that had gathered to see them off. Crowds made Kai nervous, that much was obvious to even Xiumin.
In the end, it was Yixing who was the first of them to board the ship, bouncing up the wooden gangway happily. He was trilling something about an adventure and seeing more of the Fire Nation. There were times that Xiumin was convinced that he was quite mad.
Chen trailed after him. He, in comparison, looked completely miserable. “It’s not an adventure,” he said. “We’re going to a battle. And we’re probably going to die.” Yixing stuck his tongue out at him. “I will toss you overboard.”
“We’re still in the harbour,” Yixing pointed out.
“Later,” Chen insisted.
“I can swim,” Yixing said. “You’re the one who can’t swim. If you complain too much, Kris will throw you overboard.” It was the last Xiumin heard of the conversation before they were out of earshot.
Someone clapped him on the shoulder, and Xiumin turned to see Suho smiling softly at him. “You alright? You ready?”
Xiumin thought about it for a second. “Yeah,” he said, surprising himself with the answer. “I am ready.” He tightened the straps on his pack, bringing it higher onto his back, and then stepped onto the gangway ahead of Suho.
The wind whipped Kai’s hair around as he stepped out from under the deck, the air cold against his face. Luhan was leaning over the railing, his face that shade of pale that looked tinted green. Sehun was by his side, rubbing his back soothingly, but where Kai would expect Sehun to look worried, he mostly just looked fondly exasperated. As Kai approached them the wind blew snippets of their conversation to him.
“—if I die,” Luhan was croaking.
“You’re not going to die,” Sehun replied, rubbing at his face to keep from smiling. “Yixing can make you some more of that tea to settle your stomach.”
Luhan turned greener. “Augh, tea.” He retched over the side of the boat again, but he’d apparently already thrown up anything that could have possibly come back up. “Why can’t Yixing Heal me!” Luhan wailed at the water.
“Because it’s all in your mind,” Kai said, sidling up to Luhan’s other side.
Luhan slowly turned to glare at him, his expression very clearly stating that if he hadn’t thrown up the entirety of the contents of his stomach already he’d gladly throw up on Kai’s shoes. “Yes, thank you for your wisdom,” he said.
Kai sighed, rubbing at the back of his hair. He looked at Sehun. “I’ve been meaning to talk with you.”
“I’m a little busy at the moment,” Luhan retorted, spitting.
“Not you,” Kai said, rolling his eyes up to the sky.
“Oh,” Luhan said dumbly. “Oh.” He looked between them quickly, then seemed to regret it, the motion making him nauseous again. Nevertheless, he pushed himself away from the railing and tottered off. “I’ll go see if I can convince Yixing to put me in a coma. Bye.”
Sehun sighed fondly at Luhan’s back, and Kai tried to meet his eyes, but Sehun looked down at the wood of the railing, picking at the flaking paint.
It had been a long time. Kai had had a lot of time to think. Even before this, before being stuck at sea, before being locked up in the Air Nation. But now it was possible their time was running out, and there were a lot of things Kai wanted to say.
“You wanted to talk to me?” Sehun asked, still staring at the railing.
Kai nodded, then said, “Yeah,” because Sehun wasn’t looking at him. “There’s a lot, it’s hard to know what to say first.”
Sehun rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Yeah,” he echoed. “I guess I have things to say to you too.”
Kai wasn’t sure what to say to that; it sounded slightly ominous. In the end he blurted the only thing that came to mind. “I remember what happened the night of the ceremony. I remember that you came to see me.”
Sehun shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t—”
“You left the door open so that I could escape. I — you could have been punished for it, if they found out it was you. But you did it anyway. And I never got to thank you for it.”
Sehun shook his head. His eyes were wide, staring at Kai in mute shock. “I didn’t think you’d remember. You were so out of it.”
“I remembered. It helped, knowing that someone cared about me still.” Kai leaned against the railing, blinking rapidly. “I guess I just wanted to thank you. I know things have changed, we’ve changed, but I’ll always be glad for the friendship we had.”
Sehun mumbled something, too softly to be heard over the crash of the boat pushing through the water. “What?” Kai asked, frowning at him.
“Of course I cared,” Sehun said, blurting it out himself, a little too loudly now. “You were my best friend. I mean, we had Luhan too, the three of us were thick as thieves, but you were always my best friend. You don’t have to thank me for it.”
Kai swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice feeling like it was coming from far away.
Sehun braced his elbows against the railing, looking out over the water. “Why are you sorry?”
“For leaving you alone.”
Sehun jerked and lost his balance, grabbing the railing with both hands to catch himself. “Wha — why—?”
“Luhan was locked up but he had people looking after him, people who cared about him. And I was exiled but I found the dragons, it was hard but I made it work. I shouldn’t have left you in the Air Nation alone. None of us belonged there, really.”
“I belonged there,” Sehun said numbly.
“No.” Kai shook his head. “None of us have been happy these past five years, no matter how much we fool ourselves. I’m sorry, Sehun. I should have known better. I should have come back for you.”
Sehun scrubbed at his face, muttering something about the salt from the sea making them water. Kai let him compose himself, feeling remarkably shaky himself. “I used to resent you a little bit,” Sehun said quietly. “After you were gone. I didn’t know how hard it would have been for you, trying to survive on your own, and sometimes I wondered why you just left me and Luhan to deal with it. But, it wasn’t your fault. We were just kids, Jongin.”
Kai felt something break inside of him. If he wasn’t careful, he would genuinely start crying. “I didn’t blame you for hating me when I came back. I thought it was because you were scared of me, not because—”
“I was scared of you,” Sehun interrupted. “I was scared of what you’d become. And I was scared, of you and Luhan — he loves you.”
“He loves you too,” Kai said.
“I know,” Sehun said. “But you could have helped him escape, and all I wanted was to keep him locked up, keep him the Oracle, because I thought he was safer there. I’ve loved Luhan for a long time, maybe since we were still climbing trees, and the thought of you both, together, and me being left alone again — I hated that thought.”
“We wouldn’t have left you alone.”
“Of course you wouldn’t have,” Sehun said, a very slight smile on his face, one that Kai remembered from when they were kids. “I know that now, of course, but I was frightened before.”
“I wasn’t stupid,” Kai said, nudging Sehun in the side with his elbow, more playful than he’d dared be before. “I am pretty sure everyone knew you had a crush on Luhan. Well, everyone except maybe Luhan. I wouldn’t have done that to you.”
“I know,” Sehun said with a sigh. “I know.”
“So, what now?” Kai asked.
Sehun thought for a moment in silence. “Now I guess we go get some food.”
Kai burst into laughter. “That’s not what I meant!”
“I know,” Sehun retorted. “I’m not good with this stuff.”
“Poor Luhan,” Kai said, still laughing. He pushed himself off the railing, smiling. “Okay. We can leave the rest of the emotional stuff for another day.”
“Can’t we just get drunk together and be done with it,” Sehun grumbled, but he was smiling too. Kai felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, too happy to care even when the boat lurched suddenly as he crossed the deck and sent him stumbling into the mast.
Luhan wriggled out from under Sehun’s arm, rolling off the bed. His toes met the cool wood floor and he stumbled a bit, bracing his hand against the wall to steady himself. Sehun mumbled something and buried his face into the pillow, thankfully not waking up. Luhan took a few steadying breaths, willing his stomach to settle, at least until he’d made it up on deck.
For as much as he whined about his seasickness, it usually wasn’t too bad. Maybe the announcement that they were a few days off from the Fire Nation’s capitol had sent him even more off balance than usual. Still, he had to admit, it was nothing as bad as it had been when he’d been sick before.
He tripped across his and Sehun’s shared cabin, a small little space. They were lucky to have even this closet sized room to themselves. The door creaked when he opened it, but Sehun still didn’t stir, and Luhan slipped out into the hall.
Normally all the candles were blown out at this time of night. They didn’t want the ships to be seen by anyone in the Fire Nation, and they were taking every precaution. Their plan relied heavily on the element of surprise. Luhan was surprised, then, to see one of the doors along the hallway cracked open, a sliver of warm light seeping through. It was late, too late, surely, for anyone to still be awake, and he crept forward, wondering if someone had forgotten to blow out their candle before sleeping.
The door swung open when Luhan pressed on it, and by the light of a single small candle Luhan saw Yixing sitting on his shared bed with Chen, reading a book. Chen was buried under the blankets, back turned to Luhan. He didn’t move when Luhan came in, but Yixing did, looking up at Luhan blearily through the curtains of his loose hair.
“You shouldn’t be up,” Luhan whispered.
“I covered the window,” Yixing murmured, eyes darting to the wall. Luhan glanced over as well, seeing that Yixing had nailed a thick black cloth over his small round window, preventing the light from escaping and reflecting off the water. “And you should be sleeping too.”
“I don’t feel well, and I don’t want to barf on Sehun,” Luhan retorted primly.
“I still have some of that tea, the one for nausea, if you’d like some,” Yixing said softly. “It’s gone cold by now but it’ll still work, if you want.”
Luhan pursed his lips, but nodded, desperate at this point for some relief. Yixing jerked his head, indicating Luhan should come in. Luhan stepped in and shut the door gently, sitting beside Yixing on the edge of the bed. Chen was sleeping too near the center, hogging up most of the room. Yixing set his book in Luhan’s lap and shuffled to the nightstand, where the tiny kettle from earlier still sat, and he poured Luhan a small cup. He also picked up a leftover roll from dinner, and handed that to Luhan as well. “It’ll help,” he said, when Luhan made a face. Yixing took his book back and Luhan obediently sipped the tea and ate a few bites of the bread.
“What are you reading?” Luhan asked, nibbling the edge of the bread, feeling his stomach already beginning to settle. The stuff tasted awful but it worked, he had to give it that.
Yixing shrugged, flicking through a few pages in the book. “Just something I took from Vimera’s place. It’s nothing new. I just keep hoping I’ll find something relevant.”
“You’ve read them so much,” Luhan said skeptically. “I really don’t think you’re going to get anything more, at this point.”
“You’re probably right,” Yixing sighed. “But I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I could try to spend the time productively.”
Luhan stuffed the rest of the bread into his mouth and said, around it, “Why couldn’t you sleep?”
Yixing clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “For someone from the Air Nation, your eating habits leave a lot to be desired,” he said. Luhan stuck his tongue out at him. “I just — I have a lot on my mind.”
“Like what?” Luhan asked. “Our impending demise? The high chances of us being burned alive?”
Yixing, weirdly, didn’t even crack a smile at that. “No. I was thinking about what happened — what happened when I Healed you after the explosion.”
Luhan had just been about to take a sip of tea, but the anxiety in Yixing’s aura made him lower the cup back to his lap. “What do you mean? What happened? Are you alright?”
“Yes, yes, I’m alright, I think, I’m just—” Yixing took a deep, steadying breath. He scooted closer to Luhan on the bed so that he could lower his voice even further, as if someone was listening. “It’s just, Luhan, when I put my hands on you, you were dead.”
Luhan stared at him, for a moment not quite getting what Yixing was saying. “What?”
“You were dead. Your heart wasn’t beating. There wasn’t — your heart had stopped and I restarted it.”
“But that’s not possible,” Luhan said numbly. “I couldn’t have been— been dead, you can’t bring someone back from the dead. It’s one of the laws of Shifting.” The silence stretched on, Yixing staring at Luhan helplessly, slightly afraid, while Luhan waited for an explanation that was, apparently, not coming. “I don’t understand.”
Yixing shrugged, the motion jerky, sharp. “I don’t either, but that’s what happened.” He ran a hand through his hair, pulling it out of his face. “I was so frightened, Luhan. You’re my friend and I knelt beside you and put my hands on your chest and— nothing. Your heart wasn’t beating, and I was, was so angry and afraid, because I was too late and you were gone and I didn’t want you to be, I wanted your heart to be beating, and then it was.”
“You brought me back from the dead,” Luhan mumbled, feeling far away.
Yixing huffed. “I— I guess. I don’t— I don’t think it’s something that could be done again. It had more to do with the situation than with me, somehow. I think if I had taken another minute to get to you, or if the cause of your death had been something different, it might not have worked out that way. Something happened in that moment. Maybe you just weren’t meant to die like you thought.”
Luhan shook his head. “I don’t believe this is all— divine intervention. I mean, I think you’re right, and that it’s not something you’ll be able to repeat, but there has to be an explanation, somewhere.” His eyes darted to the book laying in Yixing’s lap, which made Yixing sigh.
“That’s what I have been hoping, but so far nothing.” He closed the book. “My best guess is that, when you, er, shocked me, it gave me a lot more energy than any of us had thought.”
“Enough to restart my heart?”
“I suppose but— Luhan, that’s not Healing. Healing is fixing things that are broken, piecing wounds back together. I could Heal away the cuts in your skin, on your heart itself, but I don’t know how I compelled it to begin beating again. That’s not— it’s not Shifting, it’s—”
“Magic,” Luhan finished for him.
“Theoretically, but I don’t know if it’s ever been done before, and I didn’t, didn’t—”
“I know,” Luhan said, more harshly than he’d meant to. The loudness of his voice made Chen snuffle, shifting a little, and Yixing looked down at him fondly, some of the anxiety in his aura giving away to the warm flickerings of that peachy color Luhan knew so well. Luhan sighed, putting his hand over his heart, which was beating so hard it felt likely to jump out of his throat.
Yixing saw, his eyes moving from Chen to Luhan’s hand. “I’m sorry, Luhan. Maybe I should have waited to tell you, but I don’t know if I am going to survive this fight, and I wanted you to know.”
“You haven’t told anyone else?” Luhan asked.
“I told Suho, because he kept asking, but other than that, no.”
Luhan breathed a sigh of relief. “For now, can we keep it between us?” Suho wouldn’t tell anyone, especially not if he hadn’t said anything already. Luhan didn’t want anyone else worrying about him. Not to mention the fact that this was getting into dangerous territory.
Yixing nodded readily. “Of course, but after this fight— after the war, I think this is something we’re going to have to investigate further. If we live.”
“If we live,” Luhan echoed.
Suho paced up and down the deck of the ship, trying to work off the restless energy that came from being cooped up for far too long. After being stuck in the rooms in the Air Nation, and then being stuck on the ship, he really was beginning to feel like he was starting to crack up.
It didn’t help that they were close now, so close that a blanket of tension had fallen over everyone, making any communication fraught and likely to cause arguments. He hadn’t seen Chen at all that day, the mood too much for him to handle, and as night had fallen, most of the others had retreated to their rooms rather than be part of any more fights.
At this point, it was just Suho out of them all still on deck, although a few members of the crew were milling around. Up in the crow’s nest, the watchman for the night was huddled into blankets, the wind up there making it chilly. Suho didn’t envy those who had that task.
Suho sighed and stopped, leaning against the railing, looking out across the water. At night it was terrifyingly dark, pitch black and more threatening than a body of water had any right to be. Suho was a Water Shifter, this was what he worked with, and even on nights like this, he felt the unpredictable nature of it all too uncomfortably.
They were so far out to sea, it made it seem like they were moving at a crawl, the land a distant smudge on the horizon. He blinked sleepily, then his eyes shot open properly, his spine straightening. A small, flickering orange glow was slowly coming into view, spreading out as the boat moved farther and farther south and they passed an outcrop of land which stretched out into the water.
There had been cities before, of course, much of the Fire Nation’s population lived on the coast. But the position of this one, set inside of a bay, and the size of it, lights still blooming in front of Suho’s eyes even from this distance—
Suho caught movement out of the corner of his eye, someone coming to stand beside him against the railing. He turned to see Kris, peering out across the ocean, and then looked back out at the city glimmering in the distance.
“Yes,” Suho said softly. “Yes, it is.” A chill ran down his spine. They’d arrived.