Baekhyun swings his feet back and forth from his seat on the roof of the Cathedral, munching happily on a loaf of a bread he’d swiped from the bakery. The air’s warm today, a small breeze tangling his hair and the glow from the sun just beginning to crest over the skyscrapers, making them glint. Baekhyun can’t feel the metal, or the wood, or even the glass, but he feels the light. Bored, he lets it reflect off the palm of his hand and the trinkets sewn into his clothing, flashing the beams against the sides of buildings until he’s swallowed his last mouthful of bread, warm butter making it slide down sweet and easy.
The First World is beginning to wake up beneath him, and he stares down at the streets, watching people mill about, buying morning papers, warming up the taxi airships, bartering for coal, the street children like Baekhyun running between people and walls, snatching coins dropped onto the cobblestones in haste. Baekhyun would be with them if it isn’t the day the Dragon Ship drops papers with news from the Second World.
Honestly, Baekhyun couldn’t care less about the Second World. It can have its oceans and deserts and whatever else it contains that First World does not.
Baekhyun only cares about the Dragon Ship.
The first time he’d seen it, it had been the day of his parents’ funeral. Sopping wet from the rain, Baekhyun had heard the roar of wind as the orphanage master had reached out for him. Baekhyun had looked up and been held in rapture as a flash of black, red, and gold had soared above, the eyes of the dragon head on the front of the ship seeming to glow yellow in the gloom. It had been the first time Baekhyun had been able to feel the light of anything, and he’d followed it, running through the muddy streets until he couldn’t anymore, staring as it disappeared into the clouds, still radiant.
He’s lived watching it since then, cultivating his power of light, watching the skies for the ship that had opened up his mind to a whole different world: a world filled with flashes of color, a world that allows him to be invisible and create illusions.
Today’s not the day, but it’s soon. Soon, Baekhyun will attach himself to the ship and get on board. He will fly with it. He will sail through the skies perched on the dragon head and he will thank its Captain for everything he’s done. And sitting atop the Cathedral, Baekhyun’s so close to attaining his dream, he can taste it.
He sees the shadow before he hears the wind.
He grins, standing, and starts to run, practiced now at balancing against the tiled roof, sliding down one side of it just as the ship melds into the sky, steam billowing, blades cutting through wind, the gold dragon glimmering in the sunlight.
The banner at the front, held by two golden claws, reads in careful calligraphy: ECLIPSE NEXT WEEK, and just as it dips down over the street, the papers from the Second World flutter down. Baekhyun ignores them, chasing down the ship as fast as he can, laughing as he throws his hand up, bouncing light off the tail of the dragon, bending and refracting it, watching it sparkle and glow and shoot rainbows up into the blue sky.
It heads over the mountain towards the villages and Baekhyun heaves himself up into the tower clock to watch until the last glint of gold is gone.
Next week. Next week he might be able to sneak on board. They always send someone down during the Eclipse, though why Baekhyun doesn’t know. But they use an airship—one big enough for Baekhyun to hide himself on easily, and he knows, finally, that he can do it.
During the Eclipse, he’ll be able to do it. For sure.
Yifan’s dragon mimicry abilities have been passed on from generation to generation until Yifan met Zitao and his power over time. Becoming immortal had proven a lot easier than finding a girl to marry and having a child, especially since Yifan doesn’t like girls all that much (in terms of marriage and having babies, anyway.) He’ll be turning one hundred and three this year, and he thinks his family would approve of his interpretation of his inherited duties: he’s nearly ready, and just in time, too. He’s seen maybe seventy Eclipses in his life time and he’ll be seeing more; they all will be.
The Eclipses have been inching closer in proximity to one another and the one occurring in a few days (hours, according to Second World) will be the third this month. If Jongdae’s calculations are correct, there will be a fourth and possibly a fifth before the new moon, which means Yifan has to start worrying. He hasn’t yet found all the people he needs for the Melding. Earth, water, and wind are just a few things his people don’t have control over and he’d very much like someone with more of an adept ability with fire than himself.
His contact on the ground in the Second World—the only person Yifan’s ever met that is able to travel between the two worlds without the help of Zitao—assures Yifan he knows wonderful candidates for these last few positions. But Yifan still hasn’t met them and that makes him nervous, hence why there’s a permanent frown etched into his face.
“I will seriously start calling you sourpuss if you don’t smile.”
Jongdae’s charting stars and planets in his astronomy tower. His pen is poised over maps, held perfectly as he eyes Yifan from behind a brass telescope set on a wooden tripod. It actually looks rather rickety and Yifan makes a note to buy a new one once he’s returned from his jaunt into the Second World.
“What’s the look for this time?”
“Jongin worries me,” Yifan says, and rubs a hand over his face, thinking maybe it’ll smooth out his expression, though it isn't that he cares about his crew's opinions of him so long as they follow orders.
“I thought we liked Jongin,” Jongdae says. He adjusts the telescope a few millimeters, peering through the eyeglass piece before scratching a few notes down onto a note pad.
“We do. But I’ve never met these people he knows. He only just found me a wind manipulator last week. What if he sucks?”
“I think you mean blows,” a voice behind Yifan says, "although I’ve never met a wind manipulator that doesn’t use his hands.”
Jongdae’s laughing. “Maybe he does both.”
“What do I need to pay you so that you’ll shut up?”
“I’ll make a list,” Yixing says, coming into Yifan’s peripheral vision.
“Maybe I’ll just…have Zitao deteriorate your vocal cords.” Their time wielder can do that: age a part of a body (or a whole body) until it withers and decomposes.
“But then I can’t speak my spells. What will you do when Zitao accidentally runs his sword through you? Time won’t save you then, oh Captain my Captain.”
“Could you not,” Yifan begins, but then sees the dimple poking into Yixing’s cheek and the mischievous glint in his eye and he stops. “I guess it’s good you don’t actually need your magic to heal.”
Yifan sort of wishes Yixing had risen to the bait, but neither of them have ever liked to start battles they might lose. “Zitao says the butterfly went through his time rift unscathed. We’re shifting in ten.”
Zitao keeps his dome of butterflies underneath Jongdae’s observation rooms. It is constantly swarming with the creatures of all sizes and colors, and he keeps them only because he needs to test his time rifts before he sends people—the ship, his friends—through them. It’s mostly to make sure his power isn’t deteriorating, but also with the Eclipses so close together, time between the two worlds may not remain as stable as it has always been and re-calculation is occasionally necessary.
The air in the dome is warm, and through his enhanced senses, Yifan can hear the gentle flitter of thousands of wings as they duck in between tree branches and tall grass growing on the ship. Zitao is in the center of it all, watching a butterfly that’s come to rest of on his staff. Yixing calls it his Pole of Doom, and Jongdae occasionally dubs it a walking stick, but Yifan knows better than to rib about it and they all know better than to underestimate its power.
Zitao doesn’t need the staff to make time rifts, but with the symbols he’s burned onto it (and a little of Yixing’s magic,) the staff makes it safe for the entire Dragon Ship and crew to pass from one World to another, and when the Melding of the two worlds finally takes place, it’s the staff that will ensure everyone’s safety.
He’s tracing the symbol for light when Yifan reaches him. “We’re ready.”
“Did you see it?” Zitao asks him, face soft as he stares at the etching, “Did you see all that light as we were passing through the city?”
“No,” Yifan says. He had been focused on steering the ship through the mess of skyscrapers. The First World has changed a lot since he’s been alive, though he supposes that’s to be expected in over a hundred years.
“It was beautiful,” Zitao murmurs, “and someone was making it.”
Yifan has no idea what Zitao wants him to say.
“We need a light manipulator,” Zitao hums, and Yifan thinks he hears a strain of disappointment, “but I doubt it’s the same one Jongin has picked out.”
Time between the two worlds is different, which is why Zitao can slide them into one or the other with ease. A week in the First World is equal to two hours in the Second, and as Yifan watches Zitao close his eyes, only minutes have passed since they left the Second World. The only indication that the rift had been successful is the change of the light passing in through the windows from outside. It becomes insufferably dark, and Zitao begins to trudge around the dome, turning on lanterns that the butterflies and moths flock towards immediately while they orient themselves.
“Minseok was fixing the airship earlier,” Zitao says, smiling at a butterfly that lands on his forefinger. He meets Yifan’s gaze evenly over the tips of orange and black wings. “It should be safe to fly down.”
“I’ll keep you updated.”
“No need,” Zitao shrugs, smiling, “Luhan can just poke at your mind now and again if we start to worry.”
“That’s so reassuring.”
Another butterfly comes to rest on Zitao’s staff, this one with purple and green wings, three times the size of the one on his finger and he coos at it, eyes crinkling.
“You love them more than us,” Yifan sighs, mostly to himself.
Zitao laughs. “Eclipse in two hours,” he reminds Yifan, turning away and walking down a path, butterflies following him.
An earth manipulator’s home to anyone but an earth manipulator is rudimentary at best. It’s not as though they have dirt floors, or walls of mud, but there’s quite a bit of stone and wood with a scent of nature that never quite goes away.
But it’s orderly, though this is mostly because Kyungsoo likes things to be immaculate. The cotton linens on his bed are pressed and his mahogany countertops and bookshelves wiped of any dust. The windows are clear, his curtains falling in just the right way, and his bathroom doesn’t go long without a good scrubbing. Even then, that it’s mostly all made of stone and metal and wood indicates to anyone walking inside that he has a very specific set of abilities.
The metal ornament fashioned into an Eclipse hanging over his doorway is a sign of another ability, a far rarer one, and one that only a few people know of: lunar manipulation. There’s not much he can do with the power, seeing as the Second World is quite far away from the moon, but he can feel it sometimes like he can the Earth, and according to Jongin, it’s something that’ll come in handy during the Melding.
Jongin’s currently grinning at him from across the table, half dressed, chin propped up by his left hand and chopsticks held firm in the other. “It’ll be the greatest,” he saying, “you’ll say yes, right? Because I have no one else but you.”
Kyungsoo’s tempted to say several things, things like “is this why we’re together?” or maybe, “are my abilities my only worth to you?”
He actually says: “you’re spitting rice out onto my table.” Besides, what he wants to say would only be applicable if they hadn’t already been sleeping together for years.
Jongin eyes the grains. “Oh. Sorry.”
Kyungsoo tries not to shudder when Jongin takes a few moment to nab them with this chopsticks and put back in his mouth. He swallows before he speaks again. “So. The Dragon Ship. You’ll come? Because Yifan will be here soon and I already told him you would.”
“Jongin,” Kyungsoo beings, with a pained expression, “You’re asking an earth manipulator to fly around on a ship. In the air.”
“Minseok built a stone room just for you! So that even if we crash you’ll be able to manipulate it and save yourself! And the rest of us, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Maybe it’s meant to be reassuring, but Kyungsoo does not at all find it that way. He’s never even met Minseok—how is Kyungsoo supposed to know if the stone had been placed in the right way? But he manages to smile. “Are you sure you need me? I know several earth manipulators—“
“Kyungsoo,” Jongin purrs, in that way that makes Kyungsoo suddenly need to swallow, “You are the best. And you’re a lunar manipulator as well. Yifan was very specific about finding someone who can feel the moon. We need you.”
“So basically you’re shit without me.”
When Kyungsoo blinks, there’s a sudden weight on his lap and Jongin’s straddling it, grinning down at him. It’s totally unfair, because after the incident with the soup and the cat, Kyungsoo had banned Jongin from teleporting inside the house. But with his face inches away and his tongue poking out of his lips and his thighs sliding hot against Kyungsoo’s, it’s difficult to think of much else.
“Was that a yes?”
“Yeah,” Kyungsoo says, trying to find his breath, “Yeah, it was.” To be perfectly honest, Kyungsoo would have to be insane to say no. A chance to see First World before the Melding is not something lightly turned down.
Somewhere in between Jongin leaning forward and Kyungsoo completely forgetting the food on the table, the rice gets flipped over and flies everywhere. Jongin’s laughing, sticky white grains stuck to his skin and a bit on his nose that makes him wrinkle it and Kyungsoo can only sigh.
They’re cleaning the table when the whir of an airship engine sounds overhead and Kyungsoo glances out a window in time to see a black blob of metal land in his front lawn and a person that can only be Yifan step out of it carefully, even as the metal blades slow to a stop. The tail pipe spits out something thick and black that makes Yifan wince but he carries forward resolutely.
Jongin meets him at the door.
“Good to see you,” Yifan says, and his eyes slide over Jongin’s shoulder to Kyungsoo. “You must be the earth manipulator.”
“That’s me.” He wipes his hands on a towel, coming forward to stand just behind Jongin.
Yifan eyes the Eclipse hanging above the doorway. “Lunar?”
“Dirt, rock, and moon,” Kyungsoo nods. “Magma if there’s a fire manipulator handy.”
“Magma?” Jongin says, “Really? You never mentioned that to me.”
“I would have thought it’s obvious,” Kyungsoo says. He tries not to sound aloof but Jongin’s eye roll tells him he’d failed.
“Did you find a fire manipulator?” Yifan asks, apparently pleased with Kyungsoo’s resume of abilities.
“Yeah,” Jongin nods, “he runs a hot air balloon business. Kind of crazy, actually, and not really terribly developed in his power, but the only other one that didn’t flat out refuse me could barely light a candle. So we’re sort of stuck with balloon boy.”
“And the others?”
“Does anyone want tea?” Kyungsoo asks. They apparently do not, but he’s kept from being upset over it by Jongin’s fingertips smoothing the inside of his wrist.
“Sehun’s in the desert,” Jongin says, “Sorry, I mean the wind elemental.”
“And who did you find for water?”
“Junmyeon. Actually, he found me. I was walking down a street in First World and he came right up and said, ‘My name is Junmyeon and I’m the water manipulator you need for the Melding. Please let Yifan know where I am.’ We can go for him after we get Sehun and Chanyeol.”
Kyungsoo assumes Chanyeol is the fire manipulator.
“Actually,” Yifan says, “We’re in a bit of a hurry. Jongdae’s mapped out the next few Eclipses and they’re really close together—days, according to the time here. You’ll need to get Wind and Fire yourself, if that’s alright, and I’ll pick up Water in First. Is Light also in first?”
A sign that something is making Jongin uncomfortable is that his ears turn red, and as he squirms, Yifan’s face starts to scowl unattractively enough to prompt Kyungsoo resting a supportive hand on Jongin’s lower back. It doesn’t seem to help. “Er. Well. The light manipulator actually—he lived here at the lighthouse, but. There was a this girl, see—“
“He eloped and no one can find him,” Kyungsoo offers. “So you’re out a light manipulator, at least from here.”
For a moment, Kyungsoo wonders if Yifan has swallowed something particularly nasty. “How unfortunate. Well, I guess it can’t be helped. I’ll poke around in First. Maybe Junmyeon knows someone.”
“It’s possible,” Jongin allows. He’s shifting on his feet. “Sorry.”
“You can’t keep people from falling in love,” Yifan says, though he looks like he wishes Jongin actually could. “We’ll find someone. Are you fine to teleport people to Zitao or should I leave the airship for you?”
“I can handle it,” Jongin nods.
“Fine, then.” He glances back at Kyungsoo, “We’ll have that tea on my ship. Sorry for the short notice.”
And then he’s gone, stalking back to his airship and hopping up into it with ease. Black smoke coughs twice from the exhaustion pipes before it lifts up into the air and it’s gone, disappearing into the clouds.
“I guess I’d better pack,” Kyungsoo says, and he thinks his voice sounds a little faint.
“In a bit,” Jongin smiles, and he’s invaded Kyungsoo’s space again, hand curling around his shoulder. Kyungsoo finds himself unable to look away. “We’ve got something important to finish first.”
Seconds before the Eclipse, Kyungsoo sees white.
The Dragon Ship arrives a day before the Eclipse, and Baekhyun’s ready for it.
He’s refracted the light around himself since an hour ago, bent it, bounced it until he’d been able to look in the mirror and see nothing but the wall behind him. Satisfied, with a rucksack of his measly belongings slung over a shoulder, he’d struck out onto the street.
Snagging breakfast is easy, and he takes a bottle of water as well, in case he might need it, and he waits on the rooftops, staring up at the sky as the day lengthens. It’s just before five when it finally shows; Baekhyun knows because he can see the bell ringer climbing up the tower to sound the clock. The ship swoops down over the city easily, no leaflets because while it may have been a week in the First World, it’s only been a few hours in the Second.
Hours of stake-out over the years have given Baekhyun the exact location of where the Dragon Ship always lands its airships when they send someone down the ground. No one ever greets them (at least not since the that one time a few years ago when the sheriff had nearly been killed because the Dragon Ship thought he had been there to steal their air ship,) so it’s quiet, save for the whir of blades and spitting of exhaust. The smell of the black smoke makes Baekhyun wrinkle his nose.
The man Baekhyun knows as Yifan, jumps out of the airship’s hatch easily, and he dusts himself off, muttering under his breath. He keys in some sort of locking mechanism that Baekhyun knows he’ll never be able to crack, and starts out towards the city. Yifan’s given a wide berth in the streets, not because people recognize his face, but because they recognize the golden dragon head emblazoned on his black cloak. It’s just a big enough bubble for Baekhyun to huddle in so he doesn’t lose the Dragon Ship captain.
Not that it’s hard to figure out where he’s going. There’s only one manipulator Baekhyun knows of that lives on this street and its a no-brainer that Yifan’s going to visit him. He’s going to have to be careful. Junmyeon’s one of the few people that can, if alert enough, detect Baekhyun while he is invisible. Though Junmyeon’s never turned him in, he’s caught Baekhyun pick pocketing a few times. Not with his sight, but with his ability to manipulate water, and considering how much water is in a person’s body, sensing the presence of anyone within his vicinity is an easy task unless he’s preoccupied. Baekhyun hopes Junmyeon being focused on Yifan will help in his concealment.
Junmyeon lives on the top floor of an apartment building whose windows are reflective on one side and clear on the other. Baekhyun barely manages to scamper into the elevator before it shuts behind him and he presses himself against the metal walls as far away from Yifan as he can. He’s learned to be careful; invisible does not at all mean invincible.
When the bell dings, Baekhyun sticks as close as he dares, trying not give in to his nervous habit of rocking back and forth on his feet as they wait outside Junmyeon’s apartment door. Thankfully the wait isn’t long.
Junmyeon answers with a smile, like he had expected Yifan to show up (maybe he had, Baekhyun thinks,) and opens the door long enough for Yifan to slip inside. Baekhyun almost catches his backpack between the frame and knob.
They greet each other pleasantly, albeit cautiously, but after Junmyeon gives an demonstration of his ability to not just manipulate water but break down atoms and create it, Yifan is a lot more friendly with him. Baekhyun can’t blame him. Manipulating water isn’t a rare ability, but creating it is, and a little part of Baekhyun hopes maybe the light manipulator they found sucks and if he makes it on board, he can show them that he too, can create light and not just manipulate it.
There’s a moment when they’re in the elevator heading back down that Junmyeon’s gaze rests on him, but if he knows Baekhyun’s there he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even quirk an eyebrow, continuing his conversation with Yifan smoothly.
Baekhyun can’t keep himself from bouncing a little as they walk back up the street, following the other two manipulators close, but even as they get to the airship and Yifan shuts all three of them inside of it, Junmyeon stays silent.
The air ship has four, old leather chairs stuck in rows of two, Yifan sliding easily in the pilot’s seat and Junmyeon plopping down beside him. Baekhyun’s about to think he’s actually gotten away with stowing aboard, when Junmyeon turns around, looking directly at Baekhyun while Yifan bends down to fiddle with his accelerator and gives Baekhyun the evilest eye he’s seen in years. It’s not terribly scary-looking—Baekhyun thinks Yifan’s face in general is more unpleasant—but the fact that Junmyeon is sure Baekhyun is there gives him the chills.
Why isn’t he saying anything? Baekhyun decides it’s not worth fretting over. He’s on the airship which means he’ll soon be on the Dragon Ship. And he’s fast when he wants to be—he thinks he has good odds of getting away from Junmyeon before his cover is blown or at least before Baekhyun wants it to be blown; he wants to stay on the ship and not have to be invisible all the time.
Baekhyun has only ever been in an airship once before in his whole life, when he was five. He has vague memories of it, being one of those things you just never, ever forget, even if it’s mostly just blurred pictures of landscapes sweeping by in his head. So for the ride up into the clouds, he presses his face against the window, careful not to cause it to fog, and watches.
The city escapes them quickly, Yifan flying them up into the hills and over the forests, following a stream sparkling underneath the sun. Baekhyun plays with the light a little, bouncing it off the waves, watching it tumble and spill into crevices and it makes him smile.
They ascend into the sky and clouds before Baekhyun sees it in the distance: the distinct red and black panels, the gold creeping around the edges. His heart picks up speed, pounding loudly by the time Yifan steers them sharply around the head of the dragon, the one eye Baekhyun can see glowing fierce.
The courtyward’s a lot bigger than Baekhyun had imagined, but yet not quite big enough.
Junmyeon snags onto his wrist before he can bolt. For someone as slight as Baekhyun himself, Junmyeon’s grip is viselike, and no matter how much he tries to twist out of it, Baekhyun finds himself stuck. Junmyeon hides his hand behind his back as he follows Yifan, Baekhyun tripping over his feet as he tries to keep his balance. He’s waiting until we’re alone. Then he’s going to kill me, he’s going to toss me over the edge and oh my god. Why didn’t I learn to make my light a weapon? Why didn’t I—
“Hey! Are you the light manipulator? Yifan’s not going to do anything crazy.”
Baekhyun nearly runs into Junmyeon’s back.
Junmyeon whips Baekhyun around, fingernails digging into the Baekhyun’s skin and making him wince.
“This is the water manipulator,” Yifan says. Junmyeon angles them so Yifan can’t see Junmyeon grasping an invisible wrist, “Junmyeon. Has Jongin brought the others yet?”
The new man is thin, with a bright smile and doe eyes that suck Baekhyun in and hold him hostage. “Water?” he says, sounding confused, and tilts his head, “Oh. Oh, I see. Yifan, I’m not sure we can trust him.“
“Uh,” Junmyeon says, looking very confused.
Before Baekhyun can process what’s happened, something solid and smelling a little of coal slams into him and breaks Junmyeon’s hold on his hand easily. He’s pinned to the ground, nose pressed firmly into the cobblestone and he chokes, dirt coating his lips.
“What is that?” Yifan asks flatly.
“I’m sorry. I saw him following you and I was going to confront him privately. You don’t have to worry. It’s just Baekhyun, he doesn’t mean any harm, at least not that I know of.”
Just Baekhyun. Like he’s not even worth thinking about, like—Baekhyun huffs, coughing as dust gets into his lungs. Doesn’t mean any harm? Well he hadn’t meant any, originally. He’d just wanted to look around. But he has his pride to think of now and it feels quite bruised.
“Should I let him up?” The person sitting on Baekhyun asks. “Hey. Are you listening? Can you talk? If I let you go will you tell us why you’re here?”
It’s true that he hasn’t quite figured out how to make his light a weapon, yet. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a formidable opponent when he wants to be.
“Minseok,” Yifan says, stiff and unkind, “I think you’re pressing his mouth into the ground.”
“Oh. Oh, right.”
“Baekhyun,” Junmyeon says, “I know it’s you. We’re not going to hurt you just—“
Baekhyun’s captor—Minseok—let’s up on Baekhyun’s head and he spits the dirt out, not bothering to hide it and takes the opportunity to flee. He bounces the light right into their eyes, and as Minseok reels, Baekhyun dives. If they’re going to talk, he wants an even playing field. And he says this right into Junmyeon’s ear as the water manipulator covers his eyes and tries to blink through the spots circling his vision.
But Baekhyun runs, dashing as quick as he can towards the nearest door. He sees one right in front of him, huge wooden panels slightly ajar and he slips through them easily as the doe-eyed man shouts something from behind him.
But as soon as he passes the threshold he can’t hear anything.
He has to pause just inside, to catch his breath. He’s in a forest. A actual forest of trees, sheltered by a cathedral ceiling, arched windows at the top allowing light inside, coming to rest on grass.
And it’s quiet. So, so quiet, and peaceful that Baekhyun almost feels bad for invading. It feels separate from the outside, almost as if it’s in a completely different world in and of itself.
As he walks through, feet crunching quietly on the gravel path, he starts to see them: butterflies. Some resting in the trees, or on the flowers, some fluttering lazily across his path and he swallows when he realizes where he is. He’s heard stories about the time lord’s butterflies, heard tales that he nurses and cultures them only to turn around and send the insects across rifts of time to make sure it’s safe for himself. Most people speak ill of him, but Baekhyun knows it has to be done. Time is a rickety thing, he’s sure, and with the Eclipses so close together, you can only ever be careful, or that’s what the stories say, anyway.
Baekhyun wonders if the time lord loses butterflies frequently or if he creates his rifts without any trouble. Baekhyun’s always thought of him as perfect.
He walks a little farther, finding a knoll and he sits down on it, satisfied that he could direct the sunlight whichever way he wants when he’s confronted—which he knows will be soon.
But it’s not a human that finds him, initially. The first butterfly, one with orange and black wings comes to rest on his hand, quickly followed by a second and then a third, and stunned, Baekhyun barely breathes as butterflies and moths of all sizes and colors land on him, even though he’s invisible. One rests on his nose and he goes cross-eyed trying to see it.
“It’s your body heat,” a soft voice says behind him.
Baekhyun’s so shocked he loses hold on the light he’s controlling and within moments is visible; he’ll have to work on that.
The butterflies take off, some leaving, clearly miffed at his sudden appearance, but a few settle back down and Baekhyun swallows as the owner of the voice comes to stand in front of him, dressed all in black, arms crossed over his chest and around a staff with symbols burned onto it. The time lord, Baekhyun realizes. He swallows, fearing the worst as the time lord’s face scowls at him. “You must be the intruder Yifan wants to rip apart.”
Oh god. He’s going to turn me into dust. “Uh,” Baekhyun says, “I don’t really want anyone to rip me apart, thanks.”
“But you are the intruder,” the man says, taking a step forward.
“Um. I didn’t mean for anyone to see me. I just wanted to look around, I swear.” Baekhyun starts to gather light in his palm, ready to blast it out if he must.
“Why don’t you come outside?” the time lord offers, looking like someone had forced him to say it and he’d rather just toss Baekhyun overboard, “and then Luhan can tell us for sure.”
Sending Zitao in had been the right idea.
Just the sight of the stowaway makes Yifan want to toss him over the side of the ship, but then Junmyeon whispers to him that the stowaway’s a particularly skilled light manipulator. He can’t make weapons, Junmyeon says, but that’s okay because we don’t need him for that. And apparently he’s a good kid, so long as the stealing and sneaking around can be overlooked.
Yifan’s not entirely convinced it can and one look at Zitao confirms that Yifan’s not alone in his reservations. The kid shouldn’t have gone poking in Zitao’s butterfly dome; that’s like an automatic death sentence as far as the time manipulator is concerned. Baekhyun’s lucky Zitao owned their telekinetic a favor or the light manipulator would be crumbling into dust right about now.
Luhan sits him down, smiling invitingly, eyes boring holes into the kid’s skull. “Baekhyun,” he says, and the edge to his voice is chilling, “that’s a nice name.”
“I didn’t tell you that.”
“I pulled it,” Luhan tells him cheerily, “from your mind. Now. Don’t try to fight me, or you’ll get a headache.”
From unfortunate experience, Yifan knows the headaches can be excruciating, but thankfully (or perhaps not,) it seems as though the light manipulator catches on quick and he stays perfectly still as Luhan shifts through his memories. It doesn’t take long.
“He’s not here to hurt anyone.”
“That’s what I said,” Baekhyun crosses his arms.
“You snuck on here invisible,” Junmyeon points out.
“You hid him,” Yifan mutters. “I’m still not sure I understand that.”
Luhan turns to Junmyeon expectantly, but Yifan stops him, “I didn’t mean I don’t trust him.”
“I wanted to confront him privately,” Junmyeon frowns.
“Like always,” Baekhyun says under his breath.
There’s an awkward pause. “Okay then,” Yifan breathes, “Fine. You pass my test and you can stay as a light manipulator.” He doesn’t have much of a test because light manipulation isn’t something he knows well. But, Yifan muses, some one else might, and waits until the thought is grabbed from his mind.
Minseok steps forward without Yifan saying anything and he would be a little weirded out if he wasn’t already used to it. Luhan and Minseok have telepathic communication, at least on Luhan’s part, down to a science. It might have something to do with the fact that they’re sleeping together, but Yifan tries hard not to judge. To each his own.
Crystals (possibly diamonds) are procured from Minseok’s pocket, and he holds them out, directing Baekhyun to bend the light through them and refract it. Colors explode across the stained wood and cobblestones of the ship, waning and waxing as Minseok tests him, and then they move past the crystals, Baekhyun pulling light out of thin air and bouncing it with scary precision.
It’s everything Yifan could have wanted in a light manipulator and more; Baekhyun just looks ecstatic.
“Exactly what were you planning on doing here, once you snuck aboard?” Yifan asks, simply out of curiosity.
“I just wanted to see it,” Baekhyun says, “I just. The first time I saw this ship was the first time I was ever able to feel light, to manipulate it. This ship is important to me.”
Yifan crosses his arms. “Do you even know what the Melding is?”
“Of course I’ve heard of it,” Baekhyun says, “It’s—the,” he gnaws his lips, “Eclipses.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Zitao asks. He looks as skeptical as Yifan feels.
“Not really,” Yifan says, “It’s probably terrible, but unfortunately it can’t be helped. We need him. Get the light manipulator a room, Zitao, and once Jongin gets here with Wind and Fire we’ll get started.”
“Why me?” He doesn’t need to look to imagine the annoyed expression on Zitao’s face and he turns away before it can become some sort of puppy dog pout that will sway Yifan’s decision.
“Because he walked into your butterflies.” It’s a stupid of an explanation as it sounds. Luhan and Minseok are laughing as Yifan beckons for Junmyeon to follow him and ignores the sounds of Zitao’s protests. If Luhan hadn’t found any malicious intent, then Yifan has no reason to worry, and he turns his thoughts to other problems.
There are rooms all over the ship, the galley and hall near the front, bedrooms and wash areas on the sides, save for a few adjacent to Zitao’s dome that he and Yifan occupy. Minseok stays down near the engine with Luhan, Jongdae in a room by his observatory and Yixing has several rooms near the galley, since he doesn’t have much healing to do and so cooks for them, in his spare time. “You can have these rooms for now,” Yifan says, sliding a door open to a room on the side of the ship near one of their water wheels, “but if you find something you like better feel free to move. Just let me know so if I come looking for you I don’t think you’re kidnapped or something.”
“These are lovely,” Junmyeon assures him, and his eyes tell Yifan he appreciates being next to their well of water.
“Well, look around, anyway. Just stay out of Zitao’s dome unless you’re suicidal.”
“Baekhyun was lucky, then?” Junmyeon asks. The way he looks at Yifan makes him think the water manipulator is wise beyond his years. It’s comforting to think that maybe there’ll be someone on this ship besides Yifan that might act their age.
“Yes,” he nods, “and that’s why Zitao is showing him around. I’ll be in the courtyard waiting for Jongin if you need me.”
It had taken Jongin awhile to figure out how to teleport onto something moving. Jongdae had to actually help him chart it after Jongin had gotten tired of accidentally teleporting into a washroom. He’d once narrowly missed teleporting into the engine and one time had landed on top of Yixing in the bath—Yifan remembers that one more fondly than he lets on, mostly because anything that ruffles Yixing’s calm composure makes Yifan very happy.
So now Jongin has an equation that allows him to teleport himself and anything he’s touching (so long as it isn’t any bigger than five times his own size) right into the courtyard. While it’s certainly not completely free of any unpleasant incidents, Yifan gets tired of waiting for him; the courtyard is his least favorite place in the entire ship, especially with Luhan and Yixing bickering next to him.
“I don’t understand,” Yifan sighs, “You sifted through Baekhyun’s mind. Why don’t you trust him? Should I be worried?”
“It’s not him,” Luhan says, frowning, “It’s that he doesn’t know what the Melding is. How is that even possible?”
“He’s a street rat,” Yixing says, not unkindly.
“But he should know what it is,” Luhan frowns, “If he doesn’t, then how many other people don’t? I mean, we fly between worlds and pass on information and we just know. We intuitively get that sometime very soon, the two worlds are going to merge into one. But what if not everyone does? What then?”
“Then we have a problem,” Yifan acknowledges, “But that’s not now, not yet. Go bother Minseok, Luhan. Go get rooms ready, or something. We’re expecting guests.”
And that’s when something thumps into his back and even when he tries to compensate by floating, he’s only dumped unceremoniously onto the ground.
“Oh my god, your shirt is on fire! I’m so sorry,” a voice is shrieking right next to Yifan’s ear and with an annoyed snort, Yifan pushes up into the air, extinguishing the small flames creeping down his clothes without a second thought. Dragon mimicry has its benefits and invulnerability to flame is definitely one of them.
“Jongin,” he growls, setting eyes on the spatial manipulator.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry, I forgot to correct the calculation to include three other people and I got all mixed up. I’m so sorry, Yifan.”
Yifan supposes they’re lucky they set fire to him and not someone else. He sighs, landing carefully back on his feet and tugging off his ruined shirt, throwing it at Jongin. “Do something with that.”
He turns, intending to find whichever fire manipulator clearly has control worth shit and tell him to get lost—because what they need is someone who doesn’t accidentally set fire to things—but the face in front of him stops his mental tirade in its tracks.
Yifan blinks, realizing he’s actually looking straight at someone else that isn’t Zitao. Someone that’s as tall as he is with a wide, nervous smile.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve never teleported anywhere before, ever, and it was kind of a shock; I didn’t mean to set your shirt on fire. Wait, were you just hovering?”
Someone snickering behind him kickstarts his brain.
“Fire can’t harm me,” Yifan says, “I have dragon mimicry.”
“Oh,” Chanyeol says, and then his eyes light up with a fire all their own, “Oh, that’s really cool. Wait, so you can control fire? Can you teach me? Because I can make swaths of it but I can’t really control it. Hey, your ship design makes so much more sense now.”
Yifan blinks. He should be upset, because Jongin was supposed to have found professionals, people who are so good at their manipulations they could be called masters. Like Minseok, who can crystallize anything from water to rock and make ice and diamonds. Or people like Luhan with exquisite mastery of psychotelekinesis. Not this. Not children that accidentally set people on fire, no matter how attractive Yifan might find them. And this one is very attractive.
Hold up, what was that? Luhan asks. He has a grin Yifan decides to ignore, mostly for the sake of his sanity. “Jongin,” he says, “You have five seconds to run.”
“Don’t be like that,” Jongin whines, “I did the best I could, I swear. No one else wanted to help.”
“Why not?” Yixing asks, sounding exasperated.
“Because they didn’t believe me!”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Yixing snorts, “What does ‘they didn’t believe me’ even mean? Yifan, chase him off the edge of the ship. This is going to be so fun to watch.”
Yifan thinks so as well, and he raises up a bit into the air. He’s the only one that can move fast enough to catch Jongin, even if he teleports, because Yifan can fly faster than Jongin can calculate distance on a moving object. No one can catch Jongin on the ground, so they like to tease him when he’s not in his element.
“What’s going on?”
Junmyeon’s tone sounds a lot more authoritative than Yifan is comfortable with it being. This is his ship. It’s always been his ship. Maybe having another sane person isn’t such a grand idea after all.
“I’m not so sure,” Chanyeol says, his smile becoming nervous, “But you sound like a voice of reason.”
Yifan chooses to not be offended.
“What is going on?” Junmyeon asks again, just as Yifan scoots forward a bit towards Jongin, mostly just to scare him.
“I swear!” Jongin crosses his heart, “Yifan, I swear I asked every manipulator I could find. Please understand, there aren’t a lot of people that still think the Melding is going to happen. There just aren’t.”
This time, Yifan’s landing is a little ungraceful and he wobbles, mostly from his sudden apprehension. “Is that a joke? Because I’m not laughing.”
“No,” Jongin insists, “No, it’s not.”
“But the Eclipses—“ Luhan starts.
“You don’t know,” Jongin says, shaking his head, “You don’t know because you mostly stay up here on your exotic ship and fly between worlds and don’t spend time talking to people on the ground. But no one thinks like that anymore. The Eclipses aren’t anything special to either world anymore. They mean nothing, not even when they started to get so frequent.”
Yifan bites his lip, thinking hard. If it’s true, and he thinks that at this point it is, because even Jongin wouldn’t drag something so serious out for so long, then they have a problem. They have a terrible problem, and one they’re going to have to explore at length.
“Okay. Alright. Luhan, find rooms for everyone. We’ll meet in Jongdae’s tower in an hour. Everyone needs to be acquainted and we’ll talk this through. I’m going to go get a new shirt.” He lifts off easily, and shoots towards his room.
He hears Chanyeol whoop excitedly from the ground, “That is so cool!” before Yifan nearly slams into wooden siding accidentally.
He lands easily on the floor of his room and takes a moment to center himself.
Show off, Luhan says into his mind.
Yifan rolls his eyes, and very pointedly does not think about tall Chanyeol or happy Chanyeol or Chanyeol at all.
And I do not show off.
Well, at least not usually.
“I’m sure it’s disconcerting to not have earth underneath your feet,” the psychotelekinetic is saying.
Disconcerting is not exactly the word Kyungsoo would have picked. Hell, maybe: torturous, unending hell. Jongin pats Kyungsoo’s shoulder like he’s the psychic one.
“It’s not as good as you doing it yourself, but Minseok has a room entirely made of stone with some earth packed underneath. That will hopefully make you feel better. And he’s a crystallizer, so it should be set up a lot better than if Yifan had made it for you.”
“A crystallizer?” Kyungsoo asks. He’s only ever heard of a few of them. Most can only make ice, and there are few whose abilities enable them to do things like make honey (under the right circumstances) or snow, if they’re delicate enough with the power. But stone…he glances at Luhan’s ears and see the diamond studs winking at him. Luhan touches them, smiling. “He can make diamonds?”
“And gems,” Luhan nods, “Though I’m the only one that doesn’t have to pay for them. If the process for making something is crystallization, then Minseok can do it. Diamonds take the longest, of course, as they require a lot of care and attention. But they’re beautiful.”
Kyungsoo is duly impressed.
“Here we go.”
Luhan slides a door open. Without even trying, Kyungsoo knows there’s at least two feet of stone beneath his feet and a good eight feet of compacted dirt. It’s not home, but he feels better standing on it and he finally smiles. It definitely isn’t how he’d make it, but Luhan is right—Minseok had done a fine job and Kyungsoo thinks he’ll be able to sleep easy.
“You’ll stay here with me?” he asks Jongin, who smiles at him in a way that’s a far cry from the man who was just outside trying to save himself from being thrown overboard. Not that he’d die from that anyway, as he could have just popped right back onto the ship.
“You know your way to the observatory?” Luhan asks.
“Great. I’m going to make sure Chanyeol hasn’t set anything on fire.”
“He’s really not that bad.”
Luhan pauses, hand outstretched. “What?”
“Chanyeol,” Jongin says, “It’s true he doesn’t have a lot of control, but he’s very good at what he can do. And he’s the only other person besides Yifan that I’ve seen not just create it, but be able to extinguish it without batting an eyelash. He really was just frightened earlier.”
“Well then we need to work on him not being frightened, especially if he’s as good as you say,” Luhan says, still with a smile that Kyungsoo’s not sure he actually means. “See you in a bit.”
“Why did I let you talk me into this?”
“You’re the best earth manipulator ever.”
“We need you.” Kyungsoo looks up, swallowing as Jongin steps in closer. “I need you,” he corrects, softly. “There isn’t anyone else.”
And Kyungsoo can only sigh because he knows Jongin’s right. There really isn’t anyone else.
The hour passes quickly, as Kyungsoo strengthens the stone and dirt a little more to his liking without messing up too much of Minseok’s work. He tries not to think about how it just ends and the miles of air beneath it.
His new room is at the tail of the ship, and to get up to the observatory, Jongin takes him past a three tiered building he says houses Yifan and Zitao on their respective floors. Stairs to the observatory are squished between the building and the dome and disappear into the wall halfway up to go through it and pop out up top. There are two floors of buildings to climb through, one of which Jongin says is Jongdae’s quarters before they finally arrive at the observatory.
Kyungsoo wonders if Yifan flies up instead of walking; he certainly would.
Yifan is there when they arrive, leaning in close to someone that can only be Jongdae as they examine star charts together, Jongdae making careful notations in a leather book. The tower itself, Kyungsoo notes, is full of brass instruments, things he’s never seen in his life that he assumes are from First World. Diagrams of the skies are drawn across the walls, with the one closest to him specifically for Eclipses, the time and dates of each one written out methodically. It at least looks impressive, and Kyungsoo hopes the Dragon Ship crew is as skilled as they appear.
Zitao comes up next, Baekhyun following him closely with a broad smile plastered on his face. It’s not hard to guess that he’s ecstatic at being here and Zitao is not at all ecstatic at having to escort him around. Jongin snorts next to him, as he stretches and lets an arm rest against the back of the chair Kyungsoo’s occupying.
After that the floodgates open and Kyungsoo makes a mental note of the names and powers Jongin whispers into his ear as the twelve of them try to find space in the tiny room among all of the instruments and books. He knows the ones they’d arrived on the ship with: Chanyeol has fire, Sehun wind. Kyungsoo makes a point to nod in thanks to the one Jongin tells him is Minseok. The crystallizer gives him a thumbs up before settling in easily beside the psychotelekinetic, who’s absentmindedly twirling a pair of silver balls in the air.
The magician is the last to enter, hopping up onto a table and ignoring Jongdae’s frown as he sits on a pile of books.
“Well,” Yifan starts, “we’re all here. Baekhyun wasn’t really planned but as we needed a light manipulator anyway it seems to have all worked out well. But unfortunately Baekhyun, we just wanted to be clear on a few things. Do you really know what the Melding is?”
“I,” Baekhyun frowns, “Well. It has something to do with the Eclipses. Right?”
There’s a pause.
“Wait,” Jongdae says, “that’s all you know?”
“And it’s…important and meaningful?” Baekhyun tries.
“Important,” Jongdae says, suddenly looking pale, “You have got to be kidding me. You can’t be our light manipulator if you don’t know anything!”
“I can too,” Baekhyun argues, “You just have to tell me. I can do anything. Except hurt people with it.”
“We can work on that,” Yifan says, cutting in, “If you feel like you need to learn, but that’s not really the problem.”
Not really, no. Kyungsoo pats Jongin’s knee as he shifts uncomfortably.
“Problem number one,” Yifan says, ticking off a finger, “We are not all educated on the Melding, so Jongdae is going to give us an overview. Problem two, obviously the people aren’t educated about it anymore either, so we’re going to have to first assess it and then fix it within a very short period of time.”
“How short?” Jongin asks, “Because it’s kind of a huge number of people that just don’t know.”
“Maybe you should have said something earlier,” Jongdae hisses, “and this wouldn’t have been a problem at all.”
“There’s no need to get mad,” Junmyeon says. He’s leaning against a wall next to Yifan. “Jongin’s job was to find all of us and that’s exactly what he did. What’s problem three?”
“I didn’t say there was one,” Yifan grinds out.
“Problem three,” Zitao says quietly, “We all need to like each other. We’re all going to be on this ship, working in close contact. We have to get along.”
“Okay,” Junmyeon says, “fine. We’re all adults here and I think we can all be professional. And we all recognize this ship belongs to Yifan. While we’re on it, we listen to him. Agreed?”
Kyungsoo finds himself nodding.
“He has been around awhile,” Zitao says wryly, “and he knows just as much as Jongdae about the Melding.”
Yifan looks slightly pleased with himself. “Okay. Jongdae, if you’ll refresh our minds, please.”
Kyungsoo knows most of it. Two separate worlds, the sun and moon, that pass across each other’s paths and cause the Eclipses. What should be general knowledge is that two worlds will eventually meld into one, First World’s trees and mountains and rivers merging with Second’s oceans and deserts, aided and protected by the twelve of them: people with abilities to shape nature itself. The Eclipses, as they grow closer together, are a sign of the impending melding. What Kyungsoo learns is that once an Eclipse happens and doesn’t end, the twelve of them have twenty-four hours to Meld the worlds together or everything will implode.
He glances at Baekhyun after Jongdae’s finished and finds the light manipulator is drained of all color and gripping Zitao’s arm hard. But he looks determined and Kyungsoo takes that as a good sign.
“Now,” Yifan says, “I know some of you need to work on your power.”
“Yes, please,” Chanyeol says weakly.
“I can help with yours,” Yifan tells him, “and you’re going to need to work with Kyungsoo so the both of you can control magma.”
Kyungsoo meets Chanyeol’s eyes and nods encouragingly.
“I’m going to need help,” the wind manipulator says quietly.
“We’ll work together,” Jongdae says, “I’ve picked apart enough storms because of my lightning to be able to guide you a little with wind.”
“I can give you a few pointers as well,” Yifan says. “Jongdae and I can both help all of you funnel your powers into what we need them to be. We also have plenty of books not just in here but in the library as well that should be helpful.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of calculations,” Jongdae says, “and we really don’t have long.”
“Worst case scenario?” Junmyeon asks.
Jongdae shrugs. “Hard to say. It’s best if we treat it like the next Eclipse could be the last.”
“It’s that close?”
“Yeah,” Jongdae says, fingers rubbing the edge of a book, “It’s that close.”
Zitao fascinates Baekhyun.
He mostly frowns at everyone the first few days they’re on the ship, and he gets extremely upset when Chanyeol blasts the side of his dome with fire while dueling with Yifan. Zitao tries to banish fire manipulation practice to outside the ship after that, though it’s obvious to Baekhyun that Chanyeol and Yifan do it all the time; though maybe it’s because he’s sensitive to the light the fire throws.
Baekhyun sneaks back into the dome a lot when he’s not being made to read about the intricacies of light and how he’s now responsible for it. Zitao usually huffs when he finds him covered in butterflies but he doesn’t kick him out, learning quickly that Baekhyun doesn’t care if it’s not allowed—he’s going to come inside anyway.
The first time he smiles at Baekhyun is when one particular butterfly starts to follow him around, even latching onto him and sitting on his shoulder as he walks around the ship following Zitao as he does…well, Baekhyun’s not really sure what he does.
“What are you doing?” He asks, leaning in close. Zitao smells like his dome, like pine needles and crisp autumn air, and the butterfly on Baekhyun’s shoulder flutters as they get closer.
“Equations,” Zitao says, not looking up from his piles of paper, “in order to be able to meld the two different time periods. I’ve been working on it a long time and I’ve mostly figured it out but I have to be sure. I’ve been double checking for weeks now. I’m copying it for Yifan to check.”
“Can I help?”
“Not really. Don’t you have stuff to do?”
“I’m waiting for Minseok. He’s going to help me work on my light so I can cut things with it if need be. But he’s tinkering with the engine right now.”
Zitao just nods, going back to his numbers, gnawing on his pencil every once and awhile.
“How old are you?” Baekhyun asks. “You look really young but you’re, you know, the time lord, so.” He coughs awkwardly.
“I’m not a time lord,” Zitao frowns.
“But that’s what everyone calls you.”
“I’m a time manipulator.”
“The only one that anyone’s ever heard about in the history of forever. That sounds very lordly to me.”
Zitao puts the pencil down, eyes flicking to butterfly still adamantly stuck to Baekhyun’s shoulder, wings folded together, the swirls of red and black imitating the eyes of a predator. “How old do I look?”
Like a teenager, but Baekhyun’s positive that isn’t right at all. He knows what he’s heard are just stories, but there has to be some truth to them and Zitao himself had alluded earlier to Yifan being experienced in terms of number of years lived. Baekhyun’s hypothesis is that the two of them have been flying around in this ship for a very long time. But he’s not interested in guessing.
“How old are you?”
The butterfly flits from Baekhyun’s shoulder to Zitao’s extended finger and he watches it a moment before meeting Baekhyun’s eyes carefully. “One hundred and thirty.”
One hundred and thirty years. Baekhyun stares, suddenly feeling his chest seize up and his heart race before he realizes it’s just because he’s forgotten to breathe. His gulp of air is loud in the quiet of Zitao’s study.
“Yes,” Zitao agrees, nodding. “Does that freak you out?”
“A little,” Baekhyun says. His hand shakes as he reaches out carefully and touches Zitao’s face, hand smoothing down a cheek. “You’re really just young? It’s not an illusion?”
“It’s not an illusion,” Zitao nods. “I just make time move past me, not me move in time.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
Zitao takes Baekhyun’s hand away from his face, holding it steady. “Imagine that your arm is time: a fixed plane if you will, that just continues on forever.” He makes a fist, placing it in the crook of Baekhyun’s elbow. “This is me. Normally, I would move across time, my form and shape changing as I age.” He slides his fist up the skin of Baekhyun’s arm, slowly stretching his hand out until their palms press together. “Like so. But what I’ve done, is made it so that time travels by me. I keep myself a fist.” He takes his other hand, grasping at Baekhyun’s elbow and slowly drags it past his fingers, still clenched tightly together. “I move time, rather than time moving me. Does that make sense?”
“Time is a stream of consciousness. Everything happening all at once and everything it in leaving a trail. I can manipulate each of these: speed them up or slow them down, infinitely or instantly, and once I do it, it lasts until I die.”
“You have to maintain everything? Doesn’t that take a lot of energy?” Baekhyun can’t imagine keeping himself invisible for more than a few days; he’d collapse from the exhaustion of holding onto each particle of light for so long, so precisely.
“No. Once I do it, it’s done, and I don’t have to think about each thing I extend or shorten the life of,” he looks significantly at the butterfly, “But it’s still tied to my existence and if I go, then they start to age again.”
“Yifan,” Baekhyun begins hesitantly, “He’s…old too, right?”
“Yes, one hundred and three. And you will be too.”
“Me?” Baekhyun asks, blood thundering in his ears.
Zitao frowns. “Well, for awhile. We have to be sure, once we remake the two worlds, that it will be self-sustaining. That may take awhile.”
“Everyone?” Baekhyun asks, aghast.
“Since they arrived on the ship,” Zitao nods, “I’ve stopped them from aging. We just need to make sure no one’s stabbed or anything. It’s not that we can’t die—we just can’t age. There’s a huge difference.”
Just like how invisible is not invincible, Baekhyun reminds himself. And now he understands why Yifan wants to be sure he can use light as a weapon.
“I’m going to find Minseok,” He says, standing.
“Take her back first,” Zitao says, nodding at the butterfly which is fluttering happily around the warm glow of his lamp.
Baekhyun gathers light at his fingertips, swirling it into a ball and tempting the butterfly away until she lands on his palm. It’s still tingles from when Zitao’s hand had rubbed against it.
“See you later,” Zitao says, smiling, and he looks soft, gentle, without his poker face in place.
Baekhyun’s stomach flips. “Later,” he agrees, and spins on his heel before Zitao can see his blush.
Yifan thinks Chanyeol is mostly useless. Sure he can control huge sheets of fire at a time and extinguish them just as fast, but little fires he has a problem containing, concentrated blasts either fizzling into nothing or ballooning out of control. It’s a very, very, good thing both of them can’t be burned. It’s also good that Junmyeon’s around to put out fire when neither he or Chanyeol notice one’s started.
It’s also very good that Yixing is a healer.
“I protest the practice of flame throwing while on this ship,” Luhan grits through his teeth, gripping Minseok’s hand hard as Yixing concentrates on his shoulder. The burn there is actually horrific, and Yifan can’t look at it for long without feeling sick.
Chanyeol’s kneeling on the floor, blubbering apologies and profuse declarations of servitude for the rest of his life in compensation. Luhan is ignoring him in favor of burying his head in Minseok’s shoulder and screaming as Yixing starts to heal a particularly charred area of skin. Junmyeon has a hand on his ankle, squeezing it encouragingly and handing Minseok tissues to wipe at Luhan’s face. There are no drugs to dull the sting of sorcery, a burn that only makes the pain of the wound worse.
“I’m sorry, Luhan. I should have…done something.” He’s not sure what. Technically this is all Chanyeol’s fault; he’d been practicing without Yifan or Junmyeon there to watch him and put out any flames that are misdirected.
Fuck all of you, Luhan says into his head, clearly. It hurts.
“I know,” Yifan murmurs, “I know it does.”
“You have no idea what a burn feels like and you never will. Don’t patronize me.” Yifan bows his head in apology for lack of a better response. While Yixing is a doctor and has a little power with healing, he more commonly uses magic because it’s accurate and faster than anything else even if it hurts like a bitch. But as someone with dragon mimicry, Yifan is impervious to magic of all forms, and so Luhan is correct in that Yifan will never, ever be able to understand his pain.
“Just a little longer and the hard parts are over,” Yixing soothes, “Ready?”
Minseok tucks a rag into Luhan’s mouth for him to bite, fingers stroking his cheek for a moment. Go the fuck away, Luhan thinks fiercely.
“Come on,” Yifan says, tugging a sniffling Chanyeol off the floor of the galley.
They exit to the sound of Luhan screaming into the gag, and Yifan can picture it: Minseok holding him tight as the burned skin and bone is scraped off and regrown by Yixing’s magic, Junmyeon holding Luhan’s hands and murmuring soothingly to him as the pain starts to make him shake.
Jongdae’s hovering outside the door. “Don’t worry,” he tells Chanyeol, “It’s just like pregnancy; once he’s healed he’ll forget all about the pain and love you again!”
“This is nothing like that,” Chanyeol practically wails, “I hurt him. How am I supposed to do this?”
“We just need to be more careful. We’ll take the airship down to the desert or to the beach to practice. That’s all.”
“I hurt him,” Chanyeol whispers, eyes wide, mouth quivering.
“And Yixing is there to heal him,” Yifan says back. “Luhan understands that. He’ll forgive you.”
They wander out of the galley a little aimlessly until Yifan catches sight of Sehun practicing. He’s balanced precariously on the head of the dragon, eyes narrowed as he spins a tornado off in the distance. Yifan is glad he has enough sense to do far away enough from the ship so as not to cause any damage. At least one of them is using their brain.
He lets Chanyeol rest against a pole, patting his cheek gently, and letting Jongdae try and distract him with stupid stories of Luhan when he was still trying to learn to use his power. Yifan propels himself up to Sehun, making sure he doesn’t startle the wind manipulator and watches. “Looks good,” he says, “and a bit bigger than the one yesterday.”
Sehun nods. “What you said about currents and air flow really helped. It makes a lot more sense now. I’m going to try doing two tornados at once, as soon as I can—“
Sehun frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Your control,” Yifan challenges, “Drop it and dissipate the tornado.”
“Just do it. You need to be able to end tornados, Sehun, not just start them.”
“I can end them,” Sehun says, starting to pout.
“Over a period of time, yes. But I want you to do it all at once. Just stop the wind completely.”
If he does it right, the dust and leaves and whatever else the tornado had picked up should fall into a heap on the ground. “Take your time. Think about how you might do it.”
The tornado spins for a good ten minutes as Sehun’s eyes get even narrower as he watches it, thinking. Then suddenly it shudders and starts to slow, becoming skinny before expanding suddenly and dissipating. The resulting breeze hits them a few minutes later and Sehun sneezes.
“Not bad,” Yifan says, “Keep trying. Don’t make two tornados until you can stop one.”
“And take a break. You’ve been up here for hours.” He doesn’t want Sehun falling off and no one knowing. Not even Yixing can fix death and they don’t have time to find replacements.
Chanyeol’s still moping when Yifan gets back down, but Jongdae’s horror stories of Luhan seem to have made him realize that screwing up is something they all go through and he manages a smile when Yifan pats his head. “Come on. Let’s check on Luhan.”
The after effects of magic are always sluggishness and dizzy spells, so Yifan knows to go straight to Minseok and Luhan’s rooms, pleased to find Luhan curled into bed with his head in Minseok’s lap, hair being stroked away from his face.
“Don’t hate me,” Chanyeol whimpers from behind Yifan. “I’m so sorry. I promise it will never happen again.”
“I don’t hate you,” Luhan mumbles, unable to open his eyes, “We both know what it’s like. But you did mention servitude earlier…”
“He’s kidding,” Minseok says, as Chanyeol stumbles forward in his need to please.
“As long as you’re okay,” he says, dropping down next to bed anyway to peer at Luhan’s shoulder. The skin is exposed, still pink and angry, but not black and eaten away. It’s healing, Yixing’s power still soothing it, and Yifan holds Chanyeol back from running his fingers over it. Yifan finds Chanyeol’s hand warm, his heart beating double time when Chanyeol grips him hard and refuses to let go.
“I’ll be fine. Just perfect your control, that’s all.”
“Not by practicing on the ship.”
“No!” Chanyeol says adamantly, “No, I won’t.”
“Fine. Now go away. I want Minseok to cuddle me.”
Yifan has to pull Chanyeol away again, but there aren’t tears this time and he looks marginally happier. “I think that’s enough practice for today,” Yifan tells him.
“Go read something in the library.”
Chanyeol’s nose scrunches up as he thinks about it and Yifan desperately wants to rub the bridge of it with his finger until it smooths over.
“Fine. I’ll see you later.”
“Later,” Yifan agrees, swallowing, and resolutely does not watch Chanyeol walk away.
You’re such a coward, Luhan’s voice says into his head. Acknowledge that you like watching him. Or I’ll remain mad for a long time and I really will make him my servant.
Yifan has to grit his teeth and take several deep breaths in order to stop himself from walking back down to Luhan and blasting another hole over the newly healed skin. He does not deign Luhan with a response, and decides to go find Zitao. Maybe crunching numbers will help to clear his head.
But he only finds Baekhyun, sitting happily in Zitao’s dome, surrounded by his butterflies. “I hope you realize how ridiculous it is that he allows you to sit in here without him present.”
“Not really.” Baekhyun smiles at a butterfly that zooms too close to his face.
“Baekhyun, no one but me is allowed in here.”
“Well, ask him about it. He got tired of waiting for you, though, so he took an airship into town. He said he’ll be back tonight.”
Yifan sort of wants to strangle Baekhyun. His face must have shown it because Baekhyun says, “I’m just a messenger. Now go away if you’re going to sulk. You’re upsetting them.”
Yifan has no idea how Baekhyun knows what the butterflies are feeling, but he can’t think of a decent comeback because he’s still flabbergasted that Baekhyun is in here alone and Zitao is actually okay with it.
We’re all going insane, he thinks faintly, and decides to go take a nap.
Junmyeon’s the first to feel the storm brewing a few miles south of them.
Kyungsoo had taken up kitchen duties while Yixing tended to Luhan’s injury, serving the food onto dishes, rice and meat and vegetables placed on a table when Junmyeon careens into the room, Sehun hot on his heels, both of them white as sheets.
Jongdae’s chopsticks pause halfway to his mouth. Kyungsoo wants to push them the rest of the way; Jongdae’s too skinny. They’re all too skinny. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s a storm,” Junmyeon says, “and we need to get out of here now.”
Jongdae looks confused at the reactions. His eyes glaze over for a moment, and Kyungsoo knows he’s feeling out the storm as well, sifting until he can tell if there’s lightning or not. Jongdae’s face suddenly paling tells Kyungsoo all he needs to know. “Shit, it’s huge. Where’s Zitao? He can shift us out of here and into Second.”
“He’s went into town,” Junmyeon says. “Where is Yifan?”
“Shit,” Jongdae says and Kyungsoo frowns as his food is forgotten, most everyone pushing their plates away, and Jongin pops off as soon as Kyungsoo untangles their ankles.
Yifan slams the door to the galley open a second later, rage face on. “Jongin?”
“Just left,” Jongdae said. “Junmyeon, come with me! Sehun, you too.”
Everyone follows them out, Yifan stalking ahead, his long limbs swinging angrily, half hopping into the air without realizing that he’s doing it. Kyungsoo kisses his dinner goodbye.
Outside it’s gotten darker and in the distance, he can see the storm: huge cumulonimbus clouds almost black in color with lightning dancing inside of them. He can feel the earth below, raindrops hitting it like pellets of ice and it’s not pretty. This is not the sort of storm you watch in wonder; it’s one that makes you want to cower in fear.
Luhan’s waiting for them in the observatory courtyard, shoulder still wrapped in gauze. “The storm will get here before Zitao,” he says gravely, “We need to deal with it.”
“I’ll take care of the lightning,” Jongdae says, and Kyungsoo thinks he’s had to do it several times before.
“I am not confident about doing anything at all,” Sehun says, and he swallows.
“Just try your best,” Yifan tells him.
“Keeping us away from that,” Yifan says and points to the craggy mountain range they’re hovering beside and even if Kyungsoo had been admiring them hours earlier, they’re suddenly rather ominous. Especially the bits that are pointy and look as if they could easily spear the ship and break it apart.
“Oh god,” Sehun says, paling.
Luhan pats his shoulder. “Don’t worry. Minseok will keep the engine roaring and between that and leader’s unfailing steering, your work will be minimal!”
“You can do it,” Junmyeon says, “I’ll keep the water off of us so we can focus and Jongdae’s going to direct the lightning away. It will be fine. And if we’re lucky Zitao will get here before it and we’ll be able to slip away from it into Second. Alright?”
Sehun looks green.
“Where the hell did Jongin go?”
“To find Zitao,” Luhan says. “Though he’s not having much luck. Someone go into the dome and get Baekhyun. I have a feeling we’re going to need a little light.”
No one moves, so Kyungsoo decides he’s the man for the job, skipping a little anxiously through the huge double doors. Jongin had snuck him inside earlier without Zitao knowing so Kyungsoo knows his way around, even if it takes a few minutes to find Baekhyun.
“Hey. Uh, we need you outside. There’s a storm coming.”
Baekhyun stands carefully, gently urging the butterflies that have landed on him to transfer to stalks of flowers or up in the air towards the trees. “Zitao’s not back?”
“Not yet. Jongin’s gone to find him.”
The last butterfly he has to place firmly on a flower three times, its reluctance to leave him clear. “It knows you?” Kyungsoo asks.
“Mm. Because Zitao keeps them alive like how he does with us, and so they get attached, you know? This one really likes me, for some reason.”
Kyungsoo actually has no idea what Baekhyun’s talking about at all. His face must have shown it because Baekhyun gives him this secretive sort of smile that makes him look a lot older than Kyungsoo originally thought he was. “He didn’t tell you yet? I guess it’ll come out in time, then. Come on. Let’s go see what we can do.”
Didn’t tell me what? Kyungsoo wonders but he follows Baekhyun out anyway, standing next to him as he watches the storm draw nearer.
“It’s pitch black in there, save for the lightning.”
“We’ll be alright. They seem to know what they’re doing, so let’s assume they’ve made it through before. Besides, they didn’t have Sehun or Junmyeon.”
“But they had Zitao,” Baekhyun frowns, “so they’ve never had to weather it out for a long time.”
“How do you know?”
Baekhyun gives him a look. “I know a lot about this ship. I’m going to find Yifan.”
And then he’s gone, the little trinkets sewn into his clothing glimmering as he races away and up to the observatory deck where Yifan’s at the helm. Kyungsoo sighs, casting an eye out at the mountain range and decides the best thing he can do is familiarize himself with it, just in case Baekhyun is right.
He’s mapping the first mountain when Jongin pops into his vision to the right, stumbling a few steps. He’s soaking wet when Kyungsoo catches him, yelling for Yifan. The wind is chilly as a gust blows by them and Jongin shivers violently.
“Sehun!” Kyungsoo screeches, “Keep the wind away!”
There’s no answer but the air is dead a second later, not even a hint of a breeze when Yifan nearly crashes swooping down on them. “Need a little fucking wind,” he mutters. “Where’s Zitao? Why are you all wet?”
“Storm’s over the city,” Jongin says, shivering now violent, his lips turning blue. “Couldn’t find him. Shit’s not natural. I mean it is, but I’ve never been in a storm like that. Not in either world. This is not a good sign.”
Yifan’s swearing, taking off and shouting over his shoulder, “Get him down to the engine. That’ll warm him enough.”
“M’fine,” Jongin tries to say but Kyungsoo flicks his forehead before hauling him up onto his back.
“Shut up. You’re going to break your teeth chattering them like that.”
“There was hail. Have to tell Minseok.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
Minseok’s shoveling coal into the engine rigorously, face smudged with grease, sweat already dripping down him in sheets. Apparently Luhan had already passed along to him what had happened because he doesn’t ask when Kyungsoo arranges Jongin on the floor, shoving a blanket under his head for a pillow.
“Can I do this?” Kyungsoo asks. “There’s hail and they’ll need you up there.”
Minseok swears, pausing to throw a couple of levers and spin a few dials before going back to the coal. “No, not in a storm you can’t. So long as Junmyeon can focus enough and keep the water droplets away from the colder air we should be fine. Tell him that.”
Kyungsoo nods, strokes back Jongin’s hair. “You’ll be okay?”
Jongin cracks half a smile.
“Alright. I’ll see you later.”
“Later,” Jongin agrees, curling in on himself.
Kyungsoo bolts out the door.
Wind is whipping around the ship, rain smashing against the barrier it’s creating, lightning coming eerily close to striking the dragon’s head. Yifan’s hands are white on the helm as he holds the ship steady, his teeth clenched, lips pressed in a line so thin his mouth is disappearing all together; Baekhyun’s glad he’s not the one steering.
Providing light is easy and he holds several balls of it around the ship so those that need to see (or want to,) can. After the first few minutes, Baekhyun focuses his gaze on the stones of the courtyard. Seeing the thundering mess of storm illuminated in front of him is somehow a lot scarier than being in the pitch black of it and unable to see anything. So he just waits and hopes that Jongin will soon be well enough to teleport away again to look for Zitao.
Baekhyun’s worried about him. Their time lord hadn’t said why he needed to go into town, just leaving with a huff and a request to sit in the dome to make sure no one tried to sneak in while he was away. Baekhyun hadn’t told Yifan that. Now no one knows where Zitao is and there’s a storm the likes of which Baekhyun’s never seen before in his life threatening them all with a strong possibility of death because they aren’t as ready for this as they thought. As Yifan had thought, anyway.
Baekhyun hears the wood of the ship creak, loud even in the howl of the gales, and he knows Sehun’s slipping. Yifan’s panicked shout confirms this, though enough diction is lost so that Baekhyun can’t make his brain form the sounds into a sentence.
He holds his light steady, watching Yixing scramble up the helm to take hold of it, Yifan shooting off from the deck to where Sehun has himself perched carefully, sweat dripping off of him. But Baekhyun’s not sure what Yifan will do besides give Sehun encouragement. Yifan only understands wind because be can fly—he can’t do what Sehun can do with it, not even on a smaller scale, so Baekhyun thinks the breakdown of Sehun’s control is inevitable.
He doesn’t find any satisfaction when he’s proven right.
It happens in stages, a blade sheering off a propeller and nearly skewering Junmyeon to the side of the dome. Another two are lopped off moments later, shattering against the courtyard stone, tiles flying off the roofs and slamming into the first things they encounter before Sehun collapses, spent. Baekhyun grabs onto something solid just in time, glad they’d stowed away any loose cargo.
Thankfully, Junmyeon still keeps the rain away, so it’s just biting wind that tears at all of them, but that’s enough of a problem for everything to go to hell and back twice over. Yifan deposits Sehun at Baekhyun’s feet and Baekhyun sits on him to keep the wind manipulator from being flung overboard. Yixing tries desperately to hold the ship steady, but he’s not as strong as Yifan and not as experienced and Baekhyun feels the ship start to tilt and jerk as it’s buffeted closer and closer towards the mountain range.
Kyungsoo pops up suddenly beside him, held tight by Jongin before the teleporter transports himself away. “Are you okay?” Kyungsoo screams at him, eyes wide as saucers as he clings to a rope.
Baekhyun nods but points to Sehun at his feet. Sehun is obviously not okay, and Kyungsoo trips as he latches his arms around Baekhyun’s middle and presses up against both of them. A particularly loud clap of thunder near splits Baekhyun’s ear drum and as his concentration breaks, his light flickers; he’s not the only one. A stray bolt of lightning slashes through Jondgae’s control as the ship heaves suddenly to the right and a fire springs up, flames licking at the side of the dome.
Chanyeol’s there almost immediately, and Junmyeon (who’s control is honestly flooring Baekhyhun at this point) directs a stream of rain water at it. But even between the two of them, embers are flaring as Yifan bolts towards them. Baekhyun’s happy to see that he isn’t stupid enough to try and fly.
“I need you to push us up against the mountain.”
Kyungsoo gapes. “What?”
“The rocks,” Yifan shouts, his voice in danger of being carried away no matter how much he strains, “Fucking plaster us onto them now!”
“Are you out of your mind?” Baekhyun shrieks.
“I don’t have time to explain. Do it now!”
Then he’s gone, back up to the helm to wrench back control from Yixing, who wastes no time scurrying down to where they are, fingers already prodding at and unconscious Sehun.
“Is he fucking insane?” Kyungsoo asks.
“He’s captain,” Yixing bites out, ducking as a piece of a another propeller blade nearly slices his skull open, “and you should do as he says; I don’t care how crazy it sounds.”
Kyungsoo looks petrified for another minute before he turns to Baekhyun. “Give us some light”
The first two mountains Baekhyun illuminates near perfectly. It doesn’t look like day—can’t, no matter how Baekhyun would like it too—but it is as if every inhabitant of First is pointing a spotlight at the craggy rocks. Kyungsoo actually closes his eyes as he nears the mountain, and Baekhyun watches as he feels through them, fingers twitching as Yifan tries to steer the ship nearer to the mountain. Tiles were raining down on them now, even with Junmyeon spraying jets of water at the ones he can see in order to direct them away. Luhan is blasting a few both telekinetically and with a piece of plywood he’s started swinging around. Even Chanyeol has starting incinerating flying debris into ash.
It’s a complete nightmare. Junmyeon is a one man thunder-storm fighting machine, but Baekhyun can tell he’s getting tired, even if there’s still no rain that’s sneaked through the barrier. They’re all tired.
Kyungsoo’s eyes shoot open a moment later and as he focuses, Baekhyun looks out to see the mountain moving. Not the whole thing, but the side shifts, slowly, mirroring a bead of sweat sliding down Kyungsoo’s throat, one dripping off the edge of his nose as he concentrates. There are rules to manipulating, rules that make it impossible to alter nature unless it doesn’t upset the normal flow of the habitat and Baekhyun’s heard stories of how earth manipulators have it the worst. He knows that Kyungsoo’s thinking of the wildlife as he shifts stone and dirt, keeping everyone, even the smallest worm alive and its home intact.
As Baekhyun watches, still giving Kyungsoo light to see, a dip begins to form and it soon turns into a ledge, the side of the mountain hollowing out and Baekhyun thinks this is a fine interpretation of Yifan’s request. The ship wobbles a bit before Yifan steers right at the formation Kyungsoo had made, clearly approving of the plan as the two of them try to maneuver everything exactly so that the ship can stay attached to the side of the mountain and all they’ll have to worry about is the rain.
It only half works. Baekhyun hears a pop and then Kyungsoo shrieks, losing his control as Jongin and Zitao land on top of him.
The ship slams into rock beneath them and Baekhyun can hear wood splinter and metal grind as Yifan tries to compensate.
Baekhyun keeps the light steady for Yifan, even as he dives for Zitao and untangles him, freeing Kyungsoo.
All he sees is blood.
Everything is a complete wreck.
Kyungsoo’s hollowed out ledge of the mountain holds the ship well enough, long stretches of stone reaching out cradle the broken ship, Junmyeon only having to half heartedly arch some of the leftover drizzle away. They don’t even have to worry about the wind. But the ship is smashed to all hell. Yifan doesn’t even have the strength to find someone to blame. Truthfully, it’s his fault; he thought they were all ready, and maybe a few of them are, but not everyone. Definitely not most of them.
Junmyeon finds Yifan gathering the splintered wood of their propeller, careful of the twisted metal attached and the pins and nails clinging to it. “How’s Zitao?” he asks.
“Still unconscious but Yixing says he’ll come out of it soon. Baekhyun hasn’t left his side,” Junmyeon says carefully, as if he is testing to see how Yifan will respond to that.
Yifan thinks he responds well enough. “I know he hasn’t. Baekhyun never does; we’re lucky it was only Zitao that left for the city.”
“You really don’t know why he did?”
“I really don’t.” Yifan chucks a piece of deformed metal into the air and watches as Luhan flicks it into the pile in the center of the courtyard; they make a good team. He can be as far away as he wants and Luhan can be sure anything Yifan chucks doesn’t land on anyone. “Once Zitao wakes up, we’ll find out.”
Yifan pauses, thinking of the damage. Jongin teleporting on top of Kyungsoo while he had been making the cavern in the mountain had wrenched the doors of the dome open and nearly half of Zitao’s butterflies had escaped, getting caught in the wind of the storm. Only Baekhyun’s quick thinking had saved the butterflies—or at least what is left of them. Zitao isn’t going to take well to that at all.
“He’ll survive,” Yifan says finally, “he doesn’t have a choice. We just need to worry about fixing the ship. How’s Jongin?”
“Actually he’s woken up. Wants to talk with us.”
Then what the fuck are we standing around for? Yifan tosses a final piece of wood. “Let’s go.”
Jongin’s in Kyungsoo’s room, curled up in his bed and deathly pale. Kyungsoo’s stroking his hair back, looking a lot less frightened than he had been a few hours earlier—he’d thought the blood had been Jongin’s. Not that it being Zitao’s is any better.
Yifan drags a chair over to the bed, wood scraping over the stone Minseok had laid down, and tries very hard not to look apprehensive. But Junmyeon’s the only one that manages to smile.
“How are you feeling?” Junmyeon balances on the edge of the bed, though he’s careful not to touch Jongin; someone must have mentioned how much he doesn’t like contact after teleporting unless it’s Kyungsoo. Something about disassembling his body and then reassembling it makes him uneasy. Yifan thinks he can imagine that well enough; the thought alone is enough to squick him.
“Terrible,” Jongin croaks, eyes closing as Kyungsoo pats the top of his head.
“What happened?” Junmyeon asks.
Jongin snorts, peers at Yifan through one eye. “For the record, I warned you that not everyone thinks the Melding is a good idea.”
“What happened?” Yifan demands.
“I don’t know why he was there,” Jongin admits, “But he was wearing his cloak, you know? The dragon one.”
They all have them, Yifan had been sure of that, so they’d be recognizable. Black with a dark grey dragon embroidered at the bottom edge, eyes gold and red fire creeping out of its mouth and up one side.
“Anyway, he’d been harassed.”
“Zitao can handle himself against a few thugs.” Hell, he can handle himself against a whole army of thugs. “Say something that makes sense.”
“Not thugs,” Jongin shakes his head. “It was the guard.”
“The guard?” Junmyeon asks.
“There are warrants out for us, or at least the ones they know. Definitely for you and Zitao and Luhan. Some asshole decided we were radicals and has convinced First world that the Melding is a hoax. Zitao didn’t fight them because he didn’t want to hurt them. He was trying to convince them otherwise.”
“By himself?” Junmyeon asks, horrified.
“He didn’t have a choice,” Jongin whispers, “I teleported him out of a fucking torture chamber; they had him hanging there like…with…it was horrible. He could have gotten out. He could done anything but he was trying to talk to them, trying to…”
It’s Kyungsoo that hushes him, wipes his tears, and it’s okay, because Jongin doesn’t need to continue. Yifan gets it. Zitao didn’t want to hurt anyone, didn’t want to scare them with his power because he’s Zitao, who cries when one of his butterflies doesn’t make it through a rift and can’t say no to Baekhyun who loves the butterflies like Zitao does. He wouldn’t have done anything to them no matter how much pain he was in.
It makes Yifan very, very upset.
“What do we do?” Junmyeon asks.
“We have to go talk to them,” Yifan says, through gritted teeth.
“It doesn’t sound like they’ll take to that very well.”
“We have to try. We have to give them fair warning, we have get them ready for the Melding. We don’t have a choice. Rest,” he tells Jongin, “when you feel better you’re going to have to get us supplies from Second; a lot of the wood we can only get from there.”
Jongin nods, eyes closing tiredly, and Yifan’s hyper aware of Junmyeon following him out.
“Wait a second,” Junmyeon frowns, grasping at Yifan’s elbow. “Wait.”
“What?” Yifan snaps.
“Do you have a problem with me? Because every time I try to help, you look like you want to toss me overboard. I’m here to help you. To help everyone. I said I’d follow your lead.”
Somehow, and Yifan’s mind is sort of boggled, Junmyeon had managed to hit the nail on the head. Yifan’s protective, not just of the people on his ship but of his position, because this is his project. It’s been his project for as long as he’s been alive and before him, it was his mother’s, and before her his grandfather’s, and as far back as history has been recorded, his family have given their lives to see the completion of this moment. And Yifan refuses to let anyone else weasel their way into any sort of position of power.
Except that Junmyeon’s right; they are all following Yifan’s lead and he’s just very emotional. So he can only sigh. “No. No, you’re a great help, I’m sorry. This is just not going how I planned.”
“Nothing ever does,” Junmyeon reminds him. “You look like you need to sleep. Go rest, at least for a few hours. We’ve filled our quota of crises for the day.”
He’s probably right. Yifan is tired, and suddenly the thought of a few hours rest is incredibly appealing, and he trudges up the stairs to his room, eyelids weighted down, only stopping when he realizes someone is sitting in his path.
“Oh,” Chanyeol says, “Hey.” His smile is tentative, even as he twirls strings of fire across the tops of his knuckles.
“Hi,” Yifan says, feeling his adrenaline rushing back into him, and not in the places he wants it. “What are you doing?”
“Yixing said this might help with my control, and these flames are too small to do any real damage, so,” he shrugs, grin wide. “One of us needs to get better—by which I mean me and Sehun. You’re perfect already!”
Yifan can appreciate praise, and he makes himself return the smile. “Thanks. I’m uh—going to rest for awhile. Junmyeon’s orders. You keep at it.”
His hand almost reaches out to ruffle Chanyeol’s hair, but stops himself in time because he gets the feeling that if he touches Chanyeol, he isn’t going to stop, not with how tired he is.
Chanyeol scrambles to his feet as he passes though, and the skin on Yifan’s arm tingles where Chanyeol grabs it—Yifan wonders if it’s because Chanyeol’s always warm or if Yifan’s hyper aware of his touch. Or maybe both. “Hey um—Yixing said I should ask you—“
I bet he did, Yifan thinks, keeping his smile plastered on his face.
“Can you…fly with other people?”
Yifan decides that Yixing is due for a stint of deck washing. “I can glide low to the ground with someone on my back, yes. But I can’t fly up in to the sky; it’s too much weight and any passengers don’t have the accompanying abilities that I do: dealing with low and high pressure, lungs able to acclimate to thinner air, other atmospheric adaptions. So just…gliding.”
Chanyeol’s hand slides up to cup Yifan’s elbow, smile soft, and if Yifan looks close, there’s a faint blush across the bridge of Chanyeol’s nose. “Would you—take me? Gliding,” he clarifies. The blush spreads to his neck.
“Sure,” Yifan says, “Fine. Some time soon.”
“Soon,” Chanyeol nods. “Great. Thanks.”
King of awkward, Luhan says into Yifan’s mind.
Yifan decides that Luhan and Yixing can both be deck washers. For a whole month.
Kyungsoo is sleeping on the observatory deck, waiting patiently for Jongin to get back from Second with a delivery of supplies when Yifan flies past, dirt and sawdust whirling behind him. Luhan’s jogging to keep up.
“Zitao’s awake!” He says brightly, and Kyungsoo’s on his feet before he realizes it.
Zitao is pale, lips chapped and his body bandaged heavily, but somehow he still manages to smile. Baekhyun’s sitting on his bed, a few butterflies flitting between the both of them, sometimes landing on their heads or their hands, which Kyungsoo notes are intertwined.
Yixing’s kneeling by the bed, peering cautiously underneath the bandages and nodding to himself. It’s actually lucky Zitao had lost consciousness and did not have to be awake for the pain of Yixing’s healing. He does seem okay, though, and Kyungsoo breathes a lot easier as he’s able to talk and pat Yifan’s arm awkwardly, assuring them all that no, he’s not insane, and no, he’s not going to need some sort of counseling.
“Jongin told me where he found you,” Yifan says, face grim, “You can’t just be okay after that, Zitao.”
“Well, I am,” Zitao says. “Thanks to Yixing.”
“What were you even doing down there?”
“Checking stuff,” Zitao says vaguely. Kyungsoo gets the impression they’re not going to get it out of him so easy. “What’s important is that no one believes in the Melding anymore. Let’s focus on fixing that.”
“Easier said than done,” Kyungsoo mutters.
“We have to try,” Zitao says, firm. His eyes are steady. “We have to.”
“They hurt you,” Baekhyun says quietly, and Kyungsoo watches his fingers brush the ridges of Zitao’s hands.
“Can you shift time?” Yifan asks, “because we’re not going anywhere or doing anything with the ship like it is now.”
Zitao cocks his head, then turns to Baekhyun. “Get me a butterfly. One of the smaller ones; it’ll be easier to test with those rather than these big ones.”
It’s a little disconcerting, the way Baekhyun’s hands are gentle as he removes a one of the larger butterflies off his shoulder and onto Zitao’s. He maneuvers himself carefully around Zitao’s body and then darts away towards the dome. No one says anything while he’s gone, Zitao’s eyes falling shut as he focuses, tests out his power. Two minutes pass and Baekhyun’s back, a pink and green butterfly resting in his palm. Zitao’s eyes don’t open, even as Baekhyun sits down and transfers the butterfly to the tip of Zitao’s pinky finger; it’s exactly the same size of his fingernail.
Zitao takes a deep breath and then lets it out; the butterfly slowly fades away. Another beat or two and a tear runs down Zitao’s cheek. It’s answer enough, and Yifan pats Zitao’s head. “It’s alright. You’ve had a big shock to your system, you just need to recover your strength. Jongin can get us supplies for now.”
“Sorry,” Zitao croaks. Kyungsoo wonders if the apology is directed at them or the butterfly he just killed.
“What about the rest of us?” Baekhyun asks. “Are you still controlling our age?”
Jongin had mentioned just yesterday to Kyungsoo that he is now basically immortal. It had taken a lot of convincing before Kyungsoo believed it wasn’t just a joke. He has to admit, now having had time to think it over, that it’s pretty damn cool, and losing it after only a few days of having it would be terribly sad.
“No,” Zitao finally says, “that’s still in place.”
“I wonder,” Luhan muses, “if it’s just the time between the two worlds that’s different. That if maybe the storm and the Eclipses have changed the equations you use.”
Zitao looks hopeful.
“I’ll run some numbers with Jongdae,” Yifan says, standing, “We’ll figure out if that’s a possibility. You just rest for now, Zitao. Luhan can stay with you.”
“I’ll be staying with him,” Baekhyun says, chin raised in something that looks a lot like a challenge, like just try to tell me no Yifan. Kyungsoo wishes he could do that.
“Okay,” Yifan says, face impassive as always, “as long as someone’s here. I’ll be in the observatory if anyone needs me.”
Kyungsoo stays a moment, after Luhan follows Yifan out, resting an tentative hand on Zitao’s ankle until he gets a smile in return. He’s half tempted to tell Jongin to just randomly pop in on them once and a while, just to make sure of—well, Kyungsoo’s doesn’t know, really. He would just like constant updates about their activities; it will make him feel better.
“No way,” Jongin says, when Kyungsoo asks. “Have you seen the way they look at each other sometimes? No way in hell, Kyungsoo.”
“That doesn’t mean—“
“Yes, it does. That’s exactly what it means. Maybe not right now but eventually,” Jongin draws the last word out a bit too long, “something will happen and I refuse to be present for it. If you’re so worried, check up on them yourself.”
“I sleep with you,” Kyungsoo mumbles, as Jongin walks away. Maybe it’s a last ditch effort.
“And you will continue to,” Jongin says over his shoulder, with a grin that makes Kyungsoo’s stomach fold in on itself. “Want to come into town with me? Yixing needs some medicinal shit.”
He knows Kyungsoo won’t say no. The alternative is to lie around here some more, pondering why the mountains feel so strange, and he really doesn’t want to do that. He hasn’t been to the First’s capitol city yet and he latches onto Jongin’s hand in response, swallowing down the sick sensation of being broken down and then rebuilt in nanoseconds. When he opens his eyes, he’s on a street, lights harsh and unfriendly, skyscrapers lit up despite the storm that had ravaged it not long ago.
And there’s a line of guards in front of them, guns pointing menacingly. Kyungsoo almost immediately has a headache. Goddamn.
“Oh, shit,” Jongin says, not sounding a bit worried. In fact, he’s grinning at the headlights illuminating them. “I need a new landing spot.”
“Is smiling the appropriate expression here?”
He turns, hands still grasping Kyungsoo and runs. Five minutes later, lungs burning as he tries to heave in air, he can’t take it any longer and as they hurtle down the asphalt Kyungsoo screeches, “Just teleport us.”
But what Jongin does is move Kyungsoo, and he finds himself in the shadows of the buildings, Jongin illuminated in the headlights of the airships. He can feel the ground underneath Jongin’s feet and is just about to make a shield when there’s a roar and Yifan’s black airship hovers over them, Minseok jumping out of it and striding purposefully towards Jongin. Their high five is particularly irritating and Kyungsoo rolls his eyes. No wonder Jongin hadn’t been worried. It also explains the headache, and Kyungsoo resolves to never again be exasperated when Luhan pokes around in his mind.
There’s a beat, and then something clicks in the back of Kyungsoo’s brain when the energy around him shifts. He looks at the sky the same time Jongin and Minseok do: it’s an Eclipse.
It’s quite possible Jongin planned this. Or Minseok, the clever mother fucker. In retrospect, it doesn’t make any sense that Yixing would need herbs.
Kyungsoo reaches them, face still tight, ignoring the voice screeching at them over the loudspeaker to get down on the ground. He thinks scaring them is a good idea and lifts his foot, slamming it down and cracking the asphalt, forming crevices eight feet down into the dirt and cement. He knows exactly who’s flying the ship when the cracks spark and glow red. But a second later he realizes that he’s wrong, Chanyeol’s voice coming from the air rather than Yifan’s, telling the guards to piss off. It makes Kyungsoo grin because it means that Chanyeol’s learned a lot in the last few days and that’s rather reassuring.
“Get on the ground!” the voice is still shrieking.
Kyungsoo puts his hands on his waist. “Are you that afraid of the Melding?” he asks. “It’s going to happen, whether you believe it or not.”
The voice’s response is so frantic and high-pitched Kyungsoo can’t actually make out what it says.
“Okay,” he says, “Whatever. You continue to believe that.”
NOT THE TIME FOR HEROICS, Luhan screeches into his head, Yifan SAYS “SHIP. NOW.”
Jongin’s huffing which means Kyungsoo’s not the only one that heard that, and he clasps onto Kyungsoo and Minseok, all of them suddenly transported into the airship in the time it takes Kyungsoo to get a proper lungful of air. Minseok looks a little green, but he takes the controls from a grinning Chanyeol.
“Nice trick with the fire,” Kyungsoo says, buckling himself in tight.
“Thanks. I’ve been practicing.”
“It shows,” Kyungsoo nods.
The guard outside is going ballistic, random bullets shooting at the ship and bouncing off harmlessly, voices shouting obscenities at them and Kyungsoo sighs as Minseok guides the ship up into air. He’s not sure they actually accomplished something besides showing off.
Yifan is probably going to be pissed.
Two days, five moths, and three butterflies later, Zitao successfully completes a time shift. Baekhyun’s so proud, so happy, he leans forward on the bed presses a featherlight kiss to his cheek. The imprint leaves a flush of red racing down Zitao’s neck; Baekhyun smiles, bends a bit of light through the crystal stud in Zitao’s ear. It had Minseok’s designs imprinted all over it.
“I,” Zitao starts, blinking rapidly, “um. Thank you?”
It’s not really the response Baekhyun wants. He slides forward again, this time pressing their lips together because Zitao makes him happy and Zitao takes care of him and Zitao has butterflies and Zitao is one hundred and thirty and Zitao fights really well and Zitao lets people beat him up because he doesn’t want to hurt them and Zitao…
Zitao is not kissing Baekhyun back.
“Oh,” Baekhyun whispers, flushing in embarrassment, “I’m sorry. I’ll go…bother Sehun.”
He doesn’t reflect light against the shiny baubles in clothes like he usually does, fleeing Zitao’s rooms and passing Yifan’s, only vaguely aware of Yixing trying to get his attention as Baekhyun heads towards the dragon head. The metal of the dragon is warm from the sun, the breeze cool and it takes a moment for Baekhyun to realize that there’s wind because Sehun is making it; the ship isn’t actually moving.
“Are you alright?” Sehun asks. He looks dubious.
“Not particularly,” Baekhyun admits, folding his arms and drawing his knees up to his chest. He likes sitting in the mouth of the dragon, able to curl up against a shiny lip and peer around a tooth at the ground. It calms him and he hopes that even though he sort of screwed up, Zitao will still allow him into the dome.
Footsteps echo on the stairs and a moment later, Junmyeon appears next to him, nudging aside Sehun’s foot so he can sit at Baekhyun’s feet. “Luhan said something happened.”
“I’m just an idiot,” Baekhyun shrugs. “I really—I just rush into things. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? Because Luhan said Zitao sounds panicked.”
“Well, I don’t know why,” Baekhyun replies, and feels the first sting of tears. He must have been temporarily insane.
“Zitao’s very adamant about all of us getting along. We’re going to be on this ship, collaborating, for a very long time, Baekhyun. If there’s an issue you should work it out.”
Issue, Baekhyun thinks sourly. Well, yes, he supposes it is. But he doesn’t think talking to Zitao is going to fix anything; Baekhyun just needs to be alone for awhile. He just needs to clear his head.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Sehun says, eyes trained out to the grassy knolls. Wind is rolling over them, and Baekhyun admires how much Sehun’s improved in just a few days.
“I’ll be down in a little while,” Baekhyun tells Junmyeon, settling more comfortably against the golden tooth.
A gentle squeeze to his shoulder tells him that while Junmyeon’s not really impressed with his show, he at least respects Baekhyun enough to let him be. Baekhyun thinks he can get behind a man like that; he also thinks it’s lucky that Junmyeon came to talk to him and not Yifan. Yifan would have taken Zitao’s side and probably not walked away until he had answers.
“You’ve really gotten better,” Baekhyun tells Sehun, watching him start and stop tornados. He counts intervals of a minute between storms, thoroughly impressed. He’s not offended when Sehun doesn’t give him a response.
Really, he should have thought it through. He doesn’t know how long he’s been on this ship; going back and forth between First World and Second World has him thoroughly confused; he mostly just runs on Zitao’s time, whatever that is, but he thinks it can’t have been too long since he’s been with everyone. Definitely not long enough for Zitao to look at Baekhyun the way Baekhyun wants, and he doesn’t think he’s being stupid about it. Zitao had been painfully clear.
“Maybe you should go find Minseok,” Sehun suggests, reaching down to pat Baekhyun on the shoulder, squeeze it momentarily, “and practice fighting with your light.”
“Maybe I should,” Baekhyun sighs. He’d at least be able to get out some of his sudden aggression.
Honestly, Yifan can’t be bothered right now. He knows that something’s wrong with Zitao and that something is Baekhyun but internal affairs seem inconsequential in comparison with the information Kyungsoo is laying out in front of him.
“Are you certain?”
“I couldn’t put my finger on it at first,” Kyungsoo admits, “But I sat on the ground and just felt everything for a good hour and I’m telling you: this mountain is about to blow.”
“Like smoke and ash and lava?”
“Asking me again is not going to change my answer.”
Yifan would very much like it to do exactly that. He knows his face is scrunched with thought and that Jongdae would laugh if he saw it, like he always does. “How long?”
“I don’t know. I need to get closer.”
“See if Minseok will take the airship out with you. I’d rather Jongin not go popping around a mountain if we don’t know how stable it is.”
“I’d rather Jongin not go popping anywhere,” Kyungsoo mutters under his breath. After a moment of thought, Yifan agrees, nodding. But they both know better than to order Jongin to stop. Yifan certainly wouldn’t stop flying if someone asked him, even nicely.
He walks down, sliding a bit more into panic mode, and isn’t even placated when he finds Chanyeol waiting for him by the dome. “Hey,” Yifan says, “Uh. We have a problem I need you to assess. Up for that gliding session?”
Is Chanyeol ever. Even when Yifan explains that it’s because their downed ship is sitting over a volcano, Chanyeol’s grin splits his face in half. I don’t understand you, Yifan thinks, and it’s a scary thought, because Yifan can analyze and understand everyone, especially after having lived for a hundred years.
Yifan thinks he’s a much more reliable flier than an airship, and convincing Minseok to take it out (especially when Yifan knows Luhan has the crystallizer tucked away some where warm and cozy,) will take Kyungsoo hours.
They need answers now.
Chanyeol fits against him easily, stomach and ribs stretching against Yifan’s back, arms around his neck, and he laughs breathlessly, quietly, as Yifan lifts him, gliding easily over the edge of the ship. He tries not to let Chanyeol’s breath in his ear distract him too much as they head up the mountain. They don’t speak, but Yifan can feel Chanyeol’s heart thundering against his back, and when Yifan (purposefully) swerves too close to a tree branch, or brushes against the side of a cliff, the little gasps Chanyeol makes are thrilling.
“Land,” Chanyeol murmurs, suddenly, “Here. This is it.”
Turns out, Chanyeol has been paying attention to their mission; Yifan may have temporarily forgotten.
“It’s a murky feeling,” Chanyeol says, “because it’s not actually the earth, you know? But the heat. I can feel heat.”
Yifan feels heat too, a strip of it down his back and against his legs, still tingling. He clears his throat. “What’s it…doing?”
“Just…gathering,” Chanyeol says, and he has his eyes closed now, hands pressed against the dirt, white skin stark against the dark brown earth, “Rising a little. Roiling. I’m not a scientist, but I’m also not stupid enough to think that’s anything but lava. It’s hot.”
“How long do we have?”
Chanyeol shrugs. “Maybe Kyungsoo can figure that out, or Jongdae. I don’t know how long it takes for heat like that to escape up through the cracks of rock. All I can tell you is that it’s fucking hot and it’s coming up and I don’t want us to be caught in it. Not when we’ve just become immortal,” he grins again. But neither of them are laughing.
“Alright. I’ll have Kyungsoo fly out here with Minseok. Between the two of them they should get a decent picture.”
Chanyeol’s grin is a bit more genuine now, and Yifan suddenly doesn’t want to go back to the ship just yet. Junmyeon can sort out their problems for awhile. “Want to fly into the city?” he hears himself ask, before his brain processes his mouth moving, too entranced by how the light of the sun filters in through Chanyeol’s hair and makes his skin glow. God, he thinks, is this how Baekhyun sees the worlds? Yifan’s not sure he’d be able to stand it. Just this, just Chanyeol, takes his breath away.
“Yes, please,” Chanyeol says.
It’s dark by the time they reach the towering skyscrapers, and Chanyeol’s a lot more comfortable on Yifan’s back now, only his left arm plastered around Yifan’s ribs while his right is stretched out, sometimes resisting against the wind, sometimes grabbing Yifan’s fingers, squeezing tight as they soar.
They’re careful about being inconspicuous, but it’s hard; Chanyeol’s never seen the city, not like this. Yifan’s afraid he’s going to forget to blink.
“It’s huge,” he gasps, “Yifan, it’s so beautiful.”
“It’ll will be even more beautiful when it has Second’s oceans and deserts to go with it.”
There aren’t too many people about, but even so Yifan employs some of his enhanced senses to make sure no one suspicious is following them or calling out the guard. It’s not until they’re deep into the city that they see the posters: Zitao’s face plastered six feet high on walls, red lettering describing height, weight, and physical attributes. And when they see one of Yifan and Luhan that they realize coming into the city was a very, very bad idea.
“Let’s go,” Chanyeol hisses.
“I didn’t think,” Yifan says, “I can’t—what is this?”
Thankfully no one sees them. They don’t know why, but Yifan doesn’t care, not breathing easy until he’s up in the air and heading back towards the ship.
“What are we going to do?” Chanyeol asks him; they’re not flying fast enough to make conversation impossible.
There’s only one answer. “We have to talk to them. I have to, anyway.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“Not as dangerous as a city full of people ill prepared for the Melding.” It would be chaos. Mad men running through the streets, no one knowing what to expect, or even what had actually happened. People that don’t know an ocean is deeper than a lake and a desert is often without water is too big a risk.
“Yifan, you can’t,” Chanyeol insists and he’s tense against Yifan, breath still hot in Yifan’s ear, and maybe Chanyeol doesn’t intend for it to affect Yifan the way it does, but he wobbles uncharacteristically until he gets a handle on the air currents.
“I have no choice” Yifan says, “we can talk when we get back.”
There’s a sigh—not one of resignation—released against his neck, and both arms come around him; he can feel Chanyeol rest his head on one side and imagines him looking out at the land as they go by it. It almost feels comfortable between them until they get the ship and Junmyeon is waiting with Luhan, both with serious expressions on their faces.
Yifan thinks he should have known Luhan had been monitoring them and with a roll of his eyes, flies past them and up to his rooms, ignoring Luhan’s indignant shouts behind him.
“They just want to talk,” Chanyeol mumbles, as Yifan sets him down carefully.
“I know. But I can land where I want. We all have a lot to talk about. I’m not going to go into the town without anyone knowing. I’m not stupid, Chanyeol. We need to meet and we need to do it now.”
Chanyeol’s cut off from a retort by Yixing banging on the door and demanding that they both come out or he’ll make them. “Thanks for coming,” Yifan says, ignoring the problem at hand for one moment more.
Chanyeol smiles, happiness genuine, “Thank you for taking me. Maybe—maybe we can again, sometime, when there are not so many problems.”
Yifan squeezes Chanyeol’s hand; he’d like that quite a bit.
Somehow, and Kyungsoo’s a little foggy on the details, between Yifan convincing all eleven of them that he needed to go into the city to talk with the guard, and him actually taking off alone to do it, everything has gone to hell.
Luhan’s the first of them to swear, a continuous stream of curses falling from his lips and it takes Zitao threatening Luhan with his life to get the story out. It’s not unexpected; the guard isn’t listening.
“He’s hurt,” Luhan’s screeching, at a level Kyungsoo’s never heard out of a human being in his life. “Jongin, you have to go and get him! They’re hurting him and he can’t move. Jongin!”
Jongin is thankfully keeping his head, standing warily off to the side as Luhan flails within the circle of Minseok’s arms and makes pieces of wood and metal fly behind him as he rages. “I can’t just go get him, Luhan. I barely made it out alive last time and they for sure have a plan in case I come this time. It’s going to take careful thought.”
Thoughts which they can’t have if there’s so much screeching, Kyungsoo thinks, feeling his oncoming headache and groaning.
“We don’t have the time for that!”
“Luhan,” Junmyeon says, “We don’t have a choice. We have to be ready for anything.”
It doesn’t seem to help, and finally, Minseok picks Luhan up, oblivious to the fists beating against his back and carries him out, shouting helpfully over the din, “We’ll be back once he’s calmed!”
Without the screaming, it’s unnervingly quiet.
“Okay,” Jongin says, “How do I teleport in without getting shot?”
Also without getting Yifan shot, if he isn’t close to death already. “I have one idea,” Junmyeon says, turning to Baekhyun. He’s more subdued then normal, his smile half-hearted and it’s hard not to notice that Zitao’s been giving Baekhyun nervous glances all through their meeting like he might explode. “Can you make someone else invisible?”
“I can make anything invisible,” Baekhyun says. “But not from far away. I have to be able to see it to maintain it.”
“So theoretically,” Junmyeon says, “You could make yourself and Jongin invisible, teleport to Yifan, and then teleport back?”
Baekhyun thinks it over for awhile. “Theoretically, yes. I don’t know if I can maintain invisibility while we teleport, though.”
“That’s fine,” Jongin says, “We can get into the outskirts of town just fine and go invisible afterwards.”
“You’re not leaving without medical supplies, just in case,” Yixing says.
“We need some time to prepare,” Junmyeon nods, “But not too long. Get those supplies. Ten minutes. And someone get Luhan. He should feel better about consorting with us mere mortals now that we have a plan.”
Technically, none of them are mortal anymore, but Kyungsoo knows what Junmyeon means. Luhan’s never been mean to them, none of the original occupants of the ship have, but sometimes there’s a sense of division between them that isn’t easy to overcome. Kyungsoo hopes time will solve that, and apparently, Junmyeon does too.
“He’ll be alright,” Junmyeon says to Chanyeol, who’d been pale enough the last hour for Jongin to actually start worrying. “He’s basically a dragon, Chanyeol, there’s not much that can actually harm him; they’ll find that out soon enough.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. Are you sure I can’t just…go burn things to get him back?”
“We can’t actually hurt people,” Junmyeon frowns, but still pats Chanyeol’s shoulder. “Jongin and Baekhyun will manage just fine.”
Kyungsoo feels a little bad, not being able to help, but really they’re all worried; the ship is a shell of itself without Yifan, and Kyungsoo for one will feel a whole lot better when their captain’s back on board.
Preparations are quick, Yixing throwing a few bottles of salve into a sack along with bandages, instructing an attentive Baekhyun on procedures should any wounds Yifan might have incurred require immediate attention before teleporting. They could just ask Luhan, but Kyungsoo’s a little afraid of setting him off again, so they just leave him be, brooding next to Minseok. Baekhyun also takes a moment to demonstrate that he can use his light now, as a weapon. Minseok had crafted him a device for his hand that looks more decoration than weapon because of the diamonds. But they’re diamonds with very specific cuts. If Baekhyun refracts light through them a certain way (that Kyungsoo still doesn’t understand the mechanics of, exactly,) then he can not only burn things but cut through them as well. Baekhyun spends time waiting by slicing through feathers and pieces of paper he later disintegrates into a smoldering pile of ash. Zitao, looking on from a ways away, looks vaguely disturbed.
“Do you know why they aren’t talking?” Kyungsoo asks Jongin, tightening the straps of his pack.
“I have a suspicion,” Jongin says, “but I could be wrong. They’ll work it out—Zitao was the one being insistent about us all being in love with each other, or whatever.”
“That’s not at all what he said,” Kyungsoo frowns. But he knows whatever Baekhyun and Zitao’s argument, neither of them will let it drag on for long, and it’s better to just let them work it out. They’re all adults, or at least, that’s what Kyungsoo hopes.
“Don’t get caught and die,” he says, “or I’ll be really upset with you.”
Jongin snorts, but his hug is just this side of desperate. “I get to be invisible,” he scoffs, “I’ll be fine.”
“Invisible is not invincible,” Baekhyun says, appearing next to them. “Ready?”
Kyungsoo’s not, suddenly having to swallow his fear, but he can’t do anything, Jongin grabbing ahold of Baekhyun and suddenly disappearing from view. He takes a few deep breaths, turning expectantly to Luhan, who gives him a nod. “They’re fine. Going invisible now.”
Zitao comes to stand next to him, thumb worrying one of the symbols on his staff, lip bitten into a dent.
“What does that mean?” Kyungsoo asks him, as Luhan relays in the background that they’re in the city.
“It’s us,” Zitao says, “This is your symbol—earth. Yifan’s, Luhan’s, Jongin’s. This one is light,” he touches the same symbol again, looking ready to burst into tears.
“Are you two okay?”
“He,” Zitao pauses, “kissed me.” He glances furtively at Yixing and Jongdae, clearly afraid they’d heard. They seem to be too preoccupied with making fun of Luhan, probably to distract him. “I haven’t…it’s been awhile, since I’ve had someone. It’s hard. I sort of froze and he…freaked out and I freaked out and we haven’t really talked about it.”
“You should do that,” Kyungsoo says, resting a hand on Zitao’s arm, “when he comes back.”
“If,” Zitao chokes.
“When,” Kyungsoo insists, and squeezes Zitao’s hand, “when they all come back.”
Baekhyun focuses completely on the mission at hand. He holds onto Jongin’s pack from behind, mind entirely bent on refracting light to hide them both as they hurry across cobblestones. The guard’s headquarters is in the heart of the smoke and steam, a huge brick building hunkered down on the asphalt. They make it through the iron gate without incident, Baekhyun following Jongin’s lead silently since the teleporter had been there before.
A few months back, when Baekhyun’d still been on the streets scrounging for food, he would have been dragged here had it not been for Junmyeon stepping forward to insist on his innocence—even though Baekhyun had been anything but. Perhaps then (perhaps always,) Junmyeon had known that Baekhyun would be needed for the Melding.
Jongin leads them down a brightly lit corridor, something which Baekhyun is glad of because it means more light he doesn’t have to create it to conceal them. The doors are brown, stark against the white walls and when they get to the end of it, they have to press against one of them to avoid a patrol that stalks by in pressed cotton uniforms and flashing steel.
The stairs down to the prison get progressively dirtier, and when they reach the bottom there’s a splatter of dried blood that roils Baekhyun’s stomach. Jongin squeezes his hand like he understands, which maybe he does, and they both listen cautiously at the door before entering. The hinges squeak loudly and Baekhyun has to hold his breath to keep out the stench as they creep through the black of it, passing prisoners and guards alike.
Luhan had said that Yifan isn’t in a cell and Jongin apparently knows exactly what that means, because a moment later they find him, and Baekhyun has to look away because there’s so much blood. Too much.
Yifan’s passed out, that much is easy enough to tell and Baekhyun tries not to retch as Jongin pulls them closer, wrapping a shaking hand around Yifan. “Can you get him out of the chains? I don’t want to teleport them as well.
Can he ever. Baekhyun points his newly designed weapon at the metal cuffs and focuses a line of light as Minseok had taught him, slicing easily through metal, burning it white hot. He doesn’t have to worry about them scorching Yifan, and that at least is a relief.
“Even with all his dragon mimicry, they still managed to hurt him,” Jongin whispers, catching Yifan as he collapses.
Baekhyun can’t answer because the door bangs open. He starts at the sight of two guards blocking the light of the hallway. In his surprise, his illusion drops, and with a yell, the guards charge, faces twisted angrily, the barrels of their guns coming to point at the three of them and Baekhyun doesn’t hesitate, raising his hand and blasting both of them. He doesn’t see the result but he feels something wet and warm splatter sideways across his face and clothing, and before he can process it, Jongin’s grabbed his hand and they’re teleporting away.
Baekhyun lands on top of Junmyeon, grunting, and he hears Luhan shriek something awful, Yixing yelling for someone to help him lift Yifan.
“Baekhyun,” Junmyeon says, “Baekhyun are you alright?”
Honestly, Baekhyun is not. He’d just hurt someone, maybe killed them. “Baekhyun, it’s okay,” Junmyeon whispers, “Baekhyun!”
Arms lift him off up, and he lets them, allows himself to be carried because he’s just too weak to keep himself upright. He realizes it’s Zitao when his he finally gets a good look at the face and doesn’t know what to think because Zitao isn’t talking to him. Zitao hasn’t been looking at him.
“M’sorry,” Baekhyun whispers, as Zitao sits him on a bed, starts to pull off Baekhyun’s coat.
“Kissing you,” Baekhyun says. Zitao still won’t look at him and it’s probably because Baekhyun’s so dirty, so covered in Yifan’s blood and maybe that other man’s blood. Zitao has to yank his clothes, they are so stiff; Junmyeon must have wrung them out without Baekhyun realizing.
“Don’t be sorry for that,” Zitao says, “I should be sorry. I just sat there.”
“I won’t again,” Baekhyun finds himself promising, tears coming unbidden as Zitao wets a cloth and starts to wipe at his skin, washing off the dirt and grime and sweat, “I don’t want to not talk or not get to be with your butterflies or not watch you write out your equations or swing that stick around. I won’t make you uncomfortable!”
“But you like me,” Zitao murmurs.
He drops the rag into a trash bin, reaching for another, and wipes at Baekhyun’s face, not letting him speak. The cloth is soft, warm against skin that feels raw, and when he’s done, he cups Baekhyun’s cheek. “You like me,” he whispers, and Baekhyun watches in fascination as the light coming in through the windows settles against Zitao’s face as he smiles.
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve liked someone,” Zitao says, “I don’t really remember what to do. You’ll have to help me.”
There isn’t a moment where it clicks, exactly. One thought stretches into another and into another, like the way sunlight creeps across the ground, swallowing up shadow, and by the time Zitao leans forward and presses their mouths together, he likes me too has permeated every pore of Baekhyun’s body.
“Kissing me back is a good way to start,” Baekhyun breathes, happy.
“Noted,” Zitao says and slides a few inches closer.
Baekhyun’s butterfly, the one that follows him around, flutters in between them, but he doesn’t see where it lands because Zitao’s leaning in again and he’s content to just close his eyes.
Yifan wakes up to something cool on his forehead. He stays perfectly still, thinking what next, what now, and tries not to be surprised when nothing happens. Something else, fingers, maybe, trace the side of his face and then settle lightly on his shoulder. He realizes after a beat that he’s lying down, not still hung up, that he’s in a bed, that it’s soft, and he can’t help himself; he opens his eyes.
Chanyeol’s face swims in front of him. “You’re awake! Yixing! He’s awake!”
A little bubble of hope springs up in Yifan’s chest. Had they actually managed to rescue him? He wonders if he’s a terrible person for thinking they might not.
The cold thing on his face is taken away and Chanyeol is pushed aside, Yixing filling Yifan’s vision. “Asshole. I couldn’t use my magic on you and it took so long to heal all your stupid wounds because you’re so stupidly full of pride and had to go stupidly into the enemy’s death trap like a stupid person. All alone.”
In retrospect, Yifan wonders what he had been thinking. “I’m glad to see you’ve been working on your vocabulary,” he responds wryly, and winces because he sounds like he’s swallowed a frog.
“Just shut up,” Yixing hisses, “you’re insufferable.”
But there’s something suspiciously wet rimming Yixing’s eyes and Yifan smiles, relaxing as he’s prodded. He’d been rescued. Who would have thought?
Like we’d just leave you, Luhan says in his mind, and then appears by the bed a second later, Chanyeol next to him and rocking side to side on his feet anxiously. “But I understand your doubts, however silly. Jongin and Baekhyun were surprisingly…useful.”
What’s it like outside?
“Dangerous,” Luhan admits, “But Sehun’s control has like, quadrupled just in the last day. And there isn’t much more Chanyeol can learn. He’s even flying the airship better than you can.”
Yifan cracks as much of a smile as he can. I’ve got a blue bottle in my top drawer. Can you get it?
“What is it?”
The bottle has a crack down the side that had been there since fifty years ago, when he’d dropped it accidentally, and the cork is still terribly hard to pull out, though Yifan doesn’t mind it as much today because it causes Chanyeol poke his tongue out of his mouth in concentration as he works it free.
It’s a tonic. A dragon tonic. Yixing can heal my human parts but not the dragon blood. That’s what this is for. Yixing looks less angry when Luhan relays this, and he helps Yifan sit up, tipping the bottle to his lips while Chanyeol supports his head. Yifan only swallows a few drops, before settling back easy. He can begin to feel the burn in his stomach. You’re right about me never knowing the pain of Yixing’s magic. But this is a magic none of you will ever feel either. Someone’s going to have to hold me down.
Luhan pales. “You could have said that earlier.”
Tell Chanyeol not to freak out. But if he wants to stay he can.
The first initial pounding starts in his heart, blood rushing and Yifan grits his teeth. He knows he’ll eventually pass out, but until then his life is going to suck, and he takes what comfort he can as Chanyeol’s hands wrap around his own.
And then Yifan screams.
When he comes to, Chanyeol’s lying beside him, eyes staring up at the ceiling as he thumbs the back of Yifan’s hand. Zitao is stretched out over Yifan’s legs, passed out. Zitao is the only one that’s ever seen Yifan take the tonic, and Yifan’s glad someone had the good sense to figure that out and fetch him.
“Hey,” Chanyeol says, “You’re back. Wow.”
“How long was I out?”
“A few hours, but you screamed and thrashed for just as long. A warning would have been nice.”
“I warned you,” Yifan said stretching his neck, “but alright, maybe I should have mentioned that before I drank it. I couldn’t exactly remember how long before it took effect—it’s been awhile since I needed it.”
“That’s what Zitao said.”
Speaking of which, Yifan would really like for him to get off. He can feel his feet starting to fall asleep, the annoying prickles starting to edge into uncomfortable. He nudges as best he can, Zitao blinking awake dizzily before crawling up the bed to pet Yifan’s face. “You should have gotten me before you took that. Glad you’re awake, though! There was another Eclipse while you were sleeping.”
“Get off,” Yifan says, “or I’ll end up having to take more tonic.”
Zitao laughs, swinging his legs off the bed. “I’ll be in the dome with Baekhyun if you need me. Eat something; that stuff always makes you ravenous.”
He leaves, staff in hand, and Yifan has to work really hard to keep the smirk off his face when he sees Zitao’s thumb rubbing against the symbol for light.
“Are you hungry?” Chanyeol asks, looking dubious.
Yifan is. “Help me up. I’m going to eat everything I see in about five seconds and I’d rather it be food than you.”
Chanyeol’s eyebrows twitch, his nose scrunching like he’s trying to figure out if he should laugh or not. Yifan wishes he would. “Food,” he urges gently, prodding Chanyeol’s cheek and it earns him a smile, a shoulder to steady himself on while he tests his legs.
“I’ll make sure Yixing doesn’t feed you anything nasty,” Chanyeol assures him.
It makes Yifan feel marginally better, because he knows Yixing really would.
Jongin has his tongue down Kyungsoo’s throat when Kyungsoo feels the rumble, a roiling mass of melted rock boiling closer to the surface and he feels the world shake. He breaks away with a gasp as it suddenly gets dark and he and Jongin press up against a window, looking out at a second Eclipse of the day.
“Shit,” Jongin swears, “The last one was only a few hours ago.”
“The next could be minutes,” Kyungsoo says. He casts an eye over Jongin’s shirtless torso, contemplating for a moment, before sighing. “Damn. Alright. That mountain is going to blow today, I can feel it. I better find Chanyeol.”
“I think he’s with Yifan,” Jongin says, throwing his shirt back over his head. “Want me to find him?”
“No, you need to find Junmyeon. Actually maybe Jongdae.”
Someone pounds on the door. Minseok. “Meeting, now! Jongdae says there’ll be another Eclipse in a few hours. Let’s go!”
“Shit,” Jongin says again, diving for their shoes, “Shit.”
“Yes, you said that,” Kyungsoo tells him, feeling like saying it himself when he can’t quite get his belt buckle fastened. He has to slow down a moment and think about what sticks where and which part folds over the cool metal. He’s glad Jongin doesn’t laugh at him; it’s not really the right time for amusement.
They join Baekhyun on his way up to the observatory, and he’s got a sort of glow which tells Kyungsoo that Zitao carrying Baekhyun off when he’d gotten back from the city had been a good decision. Jongin gives him a grin that’s blinding, and Baekhyun says sourly, “If you continue to be such a grease ball Kim Jongin, I’ll make Minseok replace your teeth with ugly crystals.”
“I’m terrified,” Jongin says, in a way that means he’s not at all, but he does turn back to Kyungsoo, tossing an arm around him.
“You don’t have to tease him.”
“Teasing people gives me life,” Jongin tells him, “and it distracts me from our impending doom.”
“Let’s hope that’s not what it is.”
Yifan is sitting in a chair, propped up by pillows and looking very pale, but he manages to snap at them for being slow so Kyungsoo thinks he’s doing just fine. In comparison, Jongdae is the one that looks most ill, clutching a telescope in both hands like he’s a little lost as to where he is.
“So how much time do we have left?” Junmyeon asks, once they’ve all settled.
“You don’t seem to understand,” Jongdae says, tone harsh, “so listen carefully because if I have to repeat myself again you may have to put me in a mental hospital.”
“We’ve already discussed that several times,” Yixing says, “don’t worry.”
Jongdae’s jaw twitches. “This is happening. I said a few hours ago this Eclipse would occur, and the next could be one hour or it could be half an hour. It could be minutes. This is fucking it. The end. Or the start, as long as we do this right.”
When one minute stretched into two into three without anyone saying anything, Kyungsoo pipes in quietly, “The mountain’s going to blow soon. I don’t know how soon, but if we can move, we should.”
“How are we on repairs?” Yifan asks Minseok.
“Nearly there. I could use come help with the propellers. Once those are replaced we’ll be able to fly.”
“Alright,” Yifan says, “priority one, propellers. Who do you need?”
Apparently just Luhan. Kyungsoo is amazed that no one cracks a joke. He sort of wants to, but thinks better of it. Jongdae still hasn’t let go of the telescope.
“Priority two, the city. I know,” he holds up a hand when almost everyone in the room opens their mouths to object, “I know. But we have to at least tell them.”
“We don’t have to convince them,” Junmyeon chimes in, “or look for acceptance. It’s happening and they’re just going to have to deal with it. There are a few people that believe us, that I know for sure, so if anything, we need to warn the city for them.”
“They’ve been consulting each other,” Jongin mutters under his breath, but he doesn’t sound like he’s actually upset.
“Priority three, the mountain,” Yifan continues.
Kyungsoo starts. “I’ll monitor it. That’s all I can offer you.”
“I’ll help,” Chanyeol offers, smiling, “Between the two of us we should be able to keep a close eye on it.”
Sehun doesn’t offer to do anything and no one asks him; he going to be practicing, that much is clear. Though Kyungsoo knows Sehun’s nearly as good as any wind master. Kyungsoo doesn’t know what Yifan and Jongdae have been telling Sehun, but it’s clearly been working. Chanyeol’s also become incredibly fantastic; Kyungsoo’s seen him leaving balls of flame, in place of the lanterns they’d lost, burning indefinitely and if that doesn’t speak to the immense control he’s gained over fire, Kyungsoo doesn’t know what will.
They’re as ready as they can be.
Baekhyun’s woken out of a deep sleep by a sharp jolt, propellers whirring. The ship’s repairs are done, then, he surmises, and stretches perhaps a bit more languorously than he should, given their circumstances. Zitao stirs next to him; the nap had been his idea in order to conserve their energy until they are needed. Baekhyun strokes his cheek.
“Is that Yifan?” Zitao mumbles at a loud noise outside, words caught half into the pillow.
“He hasn’t bothered us yet, but we should get up. How’s your time shifting?”
“Sent a whole slew of butterflies to Second and back before I napped.”
“Knew you would,” Baekhyun says, and then blushes when Zitao lips graze his cheek. “Let’s get up, in case Yifan sends Yixing or Jongdae to get us.”
They won’t survive an encounter with either of them, not tucked underneath covers with their legs tangled and cheeks a little too red. Also Zitao doesn’t have a shirt on; that’s something of a death sentence if anyone sees, not just Yixing or Jongdae.
“I wish it could just…wait a few more days,” Zitao says.
“Me too,” Baekhyun nods. “But we have a lot of time, right? Afterwards.”
“As much time as we want,” Zitao whispers, “And then some.”
It’s cold as they stumble for their shoes (Zitao for his shirt,) and they take a moment, Zitao’s hand curling against Baekhyun’s neck. He pulls insistently, but perhaps a little shyly, until Baekhyun gives him what he wants: a gentle press of lips that becomes something more until there’s a quiet cough from the doorway.
Luhan’s grinning at them; Baekhyun inwardly groans. He’d been so preoccupied with Yixing and Jongdae he’d forgotten Luhan, who is just as bad as Yixing and Jongdae put together. Actually, probably worse.
“This looks like fun,” Luhan says, “but Yifan wants you. There’s been like four Eclipses since I last saw you. Maybe you were too busy to notice.” His teeth gleam against the light bouncing off the reflectors in Baekhyun’s shirt.
“We were sleeping,” Zitao says, but he’s blushing furiously and Baekhyun’s pretty sure his life is over.
“If you dare,” Baekhyun starts, trying to be assertive.
Luhan just laughs, “Like the whole ship doesn’t know already. Come on, I’ll think of some juicy one liners along the way so we can get past them early on.”
“Or you could not,” Baekhyun says. Their boots are clicking a lot more ominously than he would have liked. The Melding is not at all a big deal in comparison with—
“Yixing,” Luhan coos, abandoning the both of them when the healer comes into view, “guess what?”
Zitao half picks up Baekhyun in their haste to get away. “We can kill him later,” Zitao says, “I’ll take away their immortality for awhile and then we’ll see if they’ll stop teasing us.”
Not entirely convinced that’ll work, Baekhyun can only nod, sticking to Zitao’s side and avoiding Jongdae’s curious glances as he tracks them across the floor. Yifan looks like he knows perfectly well what’s going on but tactfully doesn’t say anything, smiling tightly at them both. He’s standing on his own, color back and Chanyeol’s next to him, grinning, clearly very pleased about something. Baekhyun wonders if maybe he can transfer Luhan’s teasing to them instead.
“What are we at?” Zitao asks, bending over to look at a chart on the table. Baekhyun can’t make sense of it at all, strange characters and equations mapping out stars.
“Three minutes,” Yifan shrugs, “Give or take. It’s been wobbling back and forth.”
“What does that mean?”
Second moves slowly, slower than Baekhyun’s ever seen it, and he holds his breath as the Eclipse stretches into minutes before revealing the sun again, sliding off to the side. But it doesn’t go far, shifting back slowly and causing another Eclipse, back and forth, swinging across the sky like a pendulum, and Baekhyun hears someone behind him whisper, “This is it.”
And then they’re running. Yifan to the helm, the rest of them following, planting themselves in a circle on the observatory deck, Zitao in the center.
The world shakes, though Baekhyun doesn’t feel it, soaring through the air. But he sees the mountain erupt, lava exploding from the top, ash blotting out the Eclipse, now unmoving and it gets dark to the point where Baekhyun has to shoot rays of light out of his palms. Zitao holds out his staff, waiting with his eyes closed, fingers tracing the symbols and as Baekhyun looks on, they start to pulse. He feels it, when the his symbol thrums, glowing with a light he’s never seen in his entire life.
Then, the light starts to spread. It’s warm where it slides across his skin, slick and easy, like how his fingers feel against Zitao’s muscles. It envelops everything, and Baekhyun’s sure it’s magic because he can’t move it; if it were real light he’d be able to push it away. So he watches, shakes, as both worlds start to bend.
The ship is in the center of it all, in the middle of time, the two worlds on either side, and as Yifan guides the ship carefully, the twelve of them sew the rift up like a zipper, mountain and valley, ocean and desert sliding together. Wind whips around them, creating currents, oceans and lakes reforming under Junmyeon’s careful touch. Jongin and Luhan move things, careful of the others’ small errors. People and animals are transported to ground that’s not disappearing under their feet.
The lava’s forming a new crust, staying out of the way of people as Chanyeol’s brow creases and Kyungsoo focuses on the moon, setting the flow of tides with its gravitational pull. Yixing’s giving them all strength, hands on their shoulders, their faces, whispering encouragement and giving out magical stamina.
It’s not easy. It’s probably going to take several more hours. “Baekhyun,” Zitao whispers, sweat breaking out on his brow, “I can’t see.”
Over the hills and grasslands that are literally rolling underneath Kyungsoo’s ministrations, light breaks forth, powerful and strong; it illuminates the whole world, dazzling, white, and pure.
Yifan, Junmyeon, and Yixing are the only ones that don’t collapse after it’s done. Chanyeol doesn’t pass out, but Yifan tells him not to move, arranging his limbs comfortably. Zitao also remains conscious, but he catches Baekhyun as he falls to the wooden planks and they stay that way; Yifan lets them.
“You were amazing,” Yifan tells Junmyeon.
“I was a lot more prepared,” Junmyeon says back. “I’ll watch them; you and Yixing get what you need.”
“They’ll come to in a few minutes,” Yixing says. “We need to get into the town as fast as we can.”
They’d combined a lot of the city, about ninety percent of the buildings were saved, not counting what had been added from Second. Where there had previously been a craggy mountain range now stands fields and grasslands leading out to a desert, and on the other side an ocean, waters lapping calmly at a sandy shore. The mountains themselves have moved miles beyond it, purple in the distance, sun setting behind them.
“There will be panic.”
“Well, I don’t think they’ll attack us now,” Yifan says. “We’ll go city by city. Village by village.”
They have to map their new world anyway, even though they made it and it’s in their heads (every crevice, every stream, every blade of grass.)
“I’m going to just do a perimeter check. Tell Minseok to get the airships ready once he wakes up. Or you can do it,” he tells Chanyeol, brushing some hair away from his skin; it’s a little pale, sweat matting his frizz, but Chanyeol smiles, nodding.
“I’ve got it. I’m sure Minseok will want to be on the ship and check the engines.”
“Alright. Once Luhan gets up, let him know. Junmyeon, you should come along, Jongdae as well; I’m sure he’ll want an up close look at all the electrics and whatnot to be sure he held them together alright. Zitao you should stay here.”
“We will,” Zitao nods, and Yifan can’t help but notice the way his arms tighten around Baekhyun ever so slightly.
“Tell Jongin to bring Kyungsoo when he feels up to it.”
“Can you carry me?” Yixing asks, “I’ll bring some medical supplies along in case we see anyone in dire need.”
Injuries are inevitable, and as much as Yifan hates to admit it, so are deaths. But they should be minimal. As far as he can tell, there aren’t any major glitches. Yixing wraps his arms around Yifan’s neck and they take off, flying through the galley to get Yixing’s medicines and then out towards the city.
The scenery’s changed immensely, the mountains moved off, accented with valleys now, dipping down into fields and tapering off towards the ocean. Yifan can’t help but notice the way he sees bits of the twelve of them reflected back in nature: the way the light bounces off the water looks a lot like the way Baekhyun’s face blossoms when he smiles, and the way the hills arch up and spill down look like Jongin (or how Kyungsoo sees Jongin, anyway,) when he stretches, when he squishes Kyungsoo underneath him. The wind as it rushes past Yifan’s ears sounds like Sehun’s laughter and the water is calm, relaxed like Junmyeon’s steady hand against the small of Yifan’s back or soothing on his shoulder. There’s a strength there, behind it all, a warmth holding it together that feels like Yixing.
A little like you, Luhan’s voice adds.
“It’s beautiful,” Yixing breathes. “Absolutely breathtaking.”
Yifan hopes the people of the new world think so too.
Jongin teleports them to Kyungsoo’s house, first thing. Kyungsoo wants to just flop onto his bed and not get up for awhile but it’s unfortunately cracked down the center.
“Sorry,” Jongin said sheepishly, “Uh, I was moving it just fine but then some lady was about to be accidentally cut in half by a sharp object and I had to abandon your house to save her.”
“I’d prefer you save lives,” Kyungsoo says, smiling, “it’s fine. I’ll just get a new one, it’s not a big deal.”
They nab a few things, stuffing them into a sack, before Jongin takes his hand and they’re suddenly back on the ship. Junmyeon smiles at them from where he’s watching Baekhyun stare up at the sun, brow furrowed. “He says Zitao’s messed the days up because he thinks the light’s gone funny.”
“Well, it has,” Baekhyun says, sounding irritated, “I just can’t tell whose fault it is.”
“Let me know if you need me,” Kyungsoo says, “for anything lunar.”
He has no idea how Baekhyun can look straight at the sun like that and not damage his eyes, but he assumes it’s part of Baekhyun’s power because he’s sure Junmyeon (never mind Zitao) wouldn’t be allowing him to do it if it were harmful. “I need Jongdae,” Baekhyun huffs, “but he’s still unconscious.”
“Making all that electricity was exhausting for him,” Junmyeon says.
“Making light was exhausting,” Baekhyun snaps, but he stays put.
“Has he considered that the light being wrong is his fault?” Kyungsoo asks, once they’re out of earshot. He’s not trying to be funny, but Jongin snickers.
“Yes,” Junmyeon smiles, “And that’s why he’s upset. He can’t just fix it. It’s probably just leftover magic. It will fade with time, but he’s being a little impatient. He probably won’t believe it until Zitao tells him anyway. But Zitao’s temporarily banned him from the dome while he works, so…” Junmyeon shrugs.
“They’re cute,” Kyungsoo says offhandedly, “They sort of happened fast.”
“Well, they have a long time to figure it out. We all do.”
Baekhyun is kept from supper because of an earthquake. He can hear the rumble over the din of the engines but by the time he dashes outside, Kyungsoo has it under control, sweat dripping off of him in effort, Jongin holding him up by his waist for support.
“Minor miscalculation,” Kyungsoo grunts, “but it’s fixed now.”
Baekhyun nods. The magic in the light had eventually faded away and with it Baekhyun’s discomfort. Zitao is still spending incalculable amounts of time in the dome with the butterflies, sending them back and forth in time, testing his abilities now that there’s only one world. He assures Baekhyun that his control over time is the same. It just feels concentrated now. Baekhyun knows exactly what he means. Somehow the joining of the two worlds has made Baekhyun’s control of light a little more precise, a little more connected than it has been. Baekhyun loves it.
There haven’t been too many mishaps. A few random things out of place: desks and chairs sitting in the middle of a swamp and the tar craggy and cracked. Baekhyun knows Jongdae’s organized lists where people can write down their missing items and Jongin and Yifan go out to look for them.
“Come with me,” Zitao’s voice says suddenly into his ear and Baekhyun only just manages not to jump.
Zitao’s hand is warm on his elbow as he leads Baekhyun away, tugging him into the dome. “I made something for you. Well. I had Minseok help because he’s better at this sort of thing. You never really…got a room. You just stayed with me and so I thought you’d like a place. I don’t mind you with me, of course, but if you need to be alone, or we want a space that’s not—“
“Just show me,” Baekhyun says, sure he’s going to love it, sure it’s going to be the best thing he’s ever seen in a really long time.
The dome smells amazing and Baekhyun’s missed it; he’d been a little miffed that Zitao had banned him, but knowing now that he was making something has erased that. “What is it?”
The light hits Baekhyun first, square in the face. “What—“
Zitao pushes him forward.
Underneath the windows, exactly where the most light comes in, there’s a house suspended between two pine trees, branches weaving in and out of each other, stone pillars holding up each side. Crystals are hanging in the windows, some definitely diamonds, and it throws patterns across the the floor of the dome, catching and holding the light in the walls so it glows and Baekhyun wants so badly to get his hands on them, to direct them the way he wants.
“Oh,” he breathes, “Oh, Zitao. I love it.”
“You haven’t even seen all of it.”
Baekhyun decides he’ll do that before he kisses Zitao, because if he starts, it’ll be awhile before he sees the house.
The stairs are grand, and the stone steps look a lot more like Kyungsoo’s work than Minseok, but Baekhyun’s not going to harp on the details. “You built me a house.”
“Commissioned,” Zitao corrects, “But yes. I did. And look. The butterflies approve.”
The curtains of crystals aren’t quite as garish as Baekhyun would have thought, tucked into cloth like he does with his clothes, and they keep the butterflies out, but they do rest on them, wings fluttering as they are drawn to the light. “I don’t know what to say,” Baekhyun murmurs, taking in the bed and the tables and the desks, bookshelves built into the walls with crystals everywhere. As many as he could ever want.
“You can take some down, I just—wanted you to know you can have them. All of them. More, if you want.”
“I love them. What did you have to give Minseok for this?”
“I had to give Luhan and Yixing their immortality back.”
“You really took it away?” Baekhyun frowns.
“No,” Zitao says, eyes twinkling, “I just said I did. Not that they need to know that.”
“So basically you got it for free.”
“Basically,” Zitao nods.
Baekhyun laughs. “Everyone says Luhan and Yixing are the tricky ones but I no longer think that’s true.”
“I’ve always been tricky.”
The butterflies start to gather like they always do when Baekhyun’s around, and he watches as they flutter just outside the window, some on the crystals, some on the clapboard and he imagines they’re on the roof as well. If anyone ever looks for him they’ll know if he’s inside because of the butterflies.
“I made it so they can’t come in unless you want. It’s not easy to sleep in here, for fear of squishing them as you roll around.”
Or if you’re doing anything, really. Baekhyun’s grateful and decides that the kissing should happen now. It’d be rude not to thank Zitao properly. Baekhyun thinks it’s the best thank you he’s ever said and he didn’t even have to use any words. Intelligible ones, anyway.
Chanyeol’s a comfortable weight on Yifan’s back as he glides out over the city, keeping to the shadows so no on recognizes them. It’s odd, how they’ve suddenly gone from being villains to superheroes in one day (or several, depending on how you look at it.) Yifan prefers it this way. Safer, easier, and no one in peril of dying, at least by someone else’s hands.
“There’s a stream running in the middle of that street,” Chanyeol says suddenly.
“Make a note,” Yifan says, “we’ll tell Junmyeon when we get back.”
“He’s here in the city,” Chanyeol says. Elbows dig into Yifan’s back as Chanyeol props himself up to write, but it’s not uncomfortable; it’s more like a massage than anything else. Yifan’s gotten used to it and flying with Chanyeol’s easier than flying with anyone else, even Yixing, who’d been the best flying partner since Yifan had found him healing wounded animals in the woods all those years ago.
Chanyeol lays back down, settling easily, and starts to play with Yifan’s shirt collar as they steer around a glass building.
“You’re going to make me crash,” Yifan says, swallowing whenever Chanyeol’s fingers brush against the skin of his neck.
“So then land,” Chanyeol whispers.
Yifan does, hurriedly dropping them onto the nearest ledge and Chanyeol pushes him up against it, determined face on as he leans in and drops a kiss onto Yifan’s cheek.
“I’m not interested in being Baekhyun and Zitao,” Chanyeol tells him, “at least not yet. I just. I like flying with you. I like being around you.”
“Leeching off me,” Yifan corrects but he’s smiling. He knows what Chanyeol means. Neither of them are ones to throw themselves head long into something without a care in the world. At least, Yifan isn’t. He thinks Chanyeol might, depending on who he’s with, but being with Yifan makes him a little more cautious, more thoughtful, and that’s a good thing. “Me too,” he says, before Chanyeol can misunderstand him, “me too.”
“They like him,” Kyungsoo comments, watching as Junmyeon listens to the village heads and city mayors as they try to reorganize their lives. He’d become something of an impromptu leader for them, and it’s a little surprising how fast everyone clings to him.
“Well,” Jongin says, “if you’re given a choice between talking to Junmyeon or talking to Yifan…”
His grin makes Kyungsoo snort. They unload a few more bags of random possessions, lining them up carefully and watching as Jongdae sorts through them all, trying to match them with descriptions left by the citizens.
“Are you staying?”
“What?” Kyungsoo asks, confused.
“On the ship.”
“You’re asking an earth manipulator if he’s going to stay in the air on a flying ship?”
Jongin only looks slightly crestfallen. It’s not like any of them were going to be living away from the ship until they were sure they’d be safe, so Kyungsoo knows Jongin’s only slightly upset. If Kyungsoo wants to he can always use his stone room—Yifan had made it very clear any of them were welcome on board at any time.
“Jongdae says he might stay down here to help Junmyeon with all these people. And I think Sehun’s staying down here as well, once everything’s settled.” Though, Kyungsoo knows, they can’t all remain on the ground forever. People are bound to notice if they don’t begin to age, but that’s another problem for another day. They’ve enough to worry about for the time being.
“We aren’t half bad,” Jongin says, flopping back against the bench that they’d found hanging precariously from a street light. It’s old, threatening to go moldy if they don’t move it indoors to dry out a little but Kyungsoo plops down on it anyway.
He looks up to the ship, watching light spilling out of it’s mouth that means Baekhyun is observing everything from up above, following Yifan as he flies down, Chanyeol supported on his back and balancing baskets of supplies.
Yixing helps them unload, handing out food and medicine, directing the more severely wounded into a tent to heal them himself. Luhan’s helping him, using his skills to lift people and hold broken arms and legs in place while Yixing binds them together.
“We did good,” Jongin says again, and his arms tightens around Kyungsoo, pulling him close.
Kyungsoo’s eyes fall shut, feeling the warm sunlight on his skin and the wind tousling his hair, the world echoing the twelve of them.
“Yeah,” Kyungsoo whispers back, “Yeah, we did.”