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[personal profile] enkaychi
Title: Potentia - Chapter 1: A Royal Wedding
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: YunJae
Length: Chaptered
Warnings: Dub-con, Mind Control
Summary: In records of the history of the Terran Empire, Emperor Yunho would be known in some records as the Light Bringer, in others he would be known as the Red Death, but before that he was just a prince with an aspiration for the throne, no different from any other. sequel to Selection
A/N: I promised I would post it this month!
-

Yunho leaned back in the shallow pool in the bathing room attached to his personal quarters on the ship. He closed his eyes as his attendants poured the floral smelling water over his hair. He had been scrubbed, washed, poked and prodded all day long and would have loved nothing more than to throw the entire lot of them out out an escape shaft, but he was too nice for that.

Yunho was not a typical prince. While he could have chosen to spend every day being pampered the way he currently was, the way many of his fellow royals chose to be, he didn’t. The near constant attention grated on him, he was perfectly capable of doing all these things for himself, and he considered the use of this pool an extreme waste.

Water was a luxury in space. The water used on a spaceship would be filtered and recycled but there was a limit to how much of it could be carried at once. Too much would create unstable weights even in a ship of such massive size as the Paradise and the recycling and purification units used nearly as much space as the engines driving the ship.

The twenty or so men and women responsible for making sure Yunho completed this ritual properly and in its entirety had probably not bathed in water since the ship had set out for his Seeking Journey three years ago. Most space travelers were unable to afford even the luxury of a small shower and made do with the sonic cleansing units that were built standard on all space ships. But Yunho was royalty and royals of the Terran Empire simply did not due without. He would hazard a guess that his parents and his sister had not used a sonic cleansing unit a day in their lives.

It was beyond luxury, it was decadence and Yunho couldn’t help but be uncomfortable with it when he thought about the billions of people in the empire who couldn’t afford regular access to clean water even though they lived planetside. He was only putting up with it now because it was a necessary part of the pre-wedding rituals.

The purification process was tradition and the empire took tradition very seriously. Any small deviation from the wedding traditions would be cause for talk and Yunho could not afford talk, especially not the kind that would suggest he was not respecting the empire’s religious traditions. The entire reason for this wedding was to show his dedication to the laws and traditions of the empire, something that would would strengthen his candidacy for the imperial throne. The current emperor was old and nearing death. Preparations needed to be made in order for the Council of System Lords to consider his claim, more preparation than many other princes would need.

Marriage was not necessary for consideration for the imperial throne but in Yunho’s case it would only help him.Yunho might be the Prince of Dragons and a system lord’s heir but his claim to the imperial throne was tenuous at best. His house, although far wealthier and much larger than most, had no direct blood connection to the imperial line making it unlikely that that the council would vote for Yunho without him legitimizing his claim. Marriage was one way to do this. He had had to at least have the appearance of supporting the current imperial edicts.

Each member of the ruling class had to take an Honored Spouse, a citizen of the second class whose marriage would raise his or her family’s status to the first class. Social mobility, at least the appearance of it, was important in keeping the people content and unrebellious. The only way to escape this law was to take the path of religion, in Yunho’s case he would have had to join the Order of the Dragon, but acolytes of the various orders were not eligible for rule.

Yunho had spent the last year on a social circuit of the Dragon system. Changmin, Yunho’s brother in everything but shared parentage, had told him to just pick someone off one of the first couple of planets and be done with it, the person really only had to pretty enough to fuck, but Yunho wanted a spouse he would be able to stand. During the Selection Balls Yunho had met a multitude girls who were good conversationalists and boys who turned his head for a moment but he hadn’t met anyone who kept his attention until he’d seen a skinny, black-haired boy with the fullest set of lips and the most striking pair of eyes he’d ever seen.

The sight had sent a bolt of lust through Yunho so strong that only Changmin’s firm grip on his arm had stopped him from carrying the boy off then in there. Yunho, in a fit of irrationality had nearly torn off Changmin’s arm that night thinking the other man wanted the boy for himself. Yunho had seen challengers in every gold and silver robe that night and the thought of anyone else having his boy had made his blood boil. He had been grateful for Changmin’s presence once his judgment was no longer clouded by lust. There was a procedure and protocol to this business, a tradition, and it had to be followed to the letter. It did not involve making off with his Chosen as if their people had never been civilized.

He’d informed his father that he had Chosen and arrangements had been made. The boy, whose name he’d learned was Jaejoong, had been delivered to the ship that same night. After all, it was not as if the boy’s family would refuse.

That had been a week ago and as per tradition, Yunho had not seen his Chosen since that night. Jaejoong had been left in the care of Boa, Yunho’s resident priestess of the Order of the Dragon, and her acolytes, Key and Woohyun. In that week the ship had traveled to Imugi III, the nearest of the Dragon system’s Ancestral Planets, where the wedding ceremony and Bonding process would be completed.

Despite it being an obligation he needed to fulfill, Yunho was actually looking forward to having an Honored Spouse. He had been somewhat jealous when Changmin had picked up Junsu at one of Yunho’s own Selection Balls. Changmin had been extremely relaxed for weeks following his marriage and Yunho could use that type of relaxation considering the stress and danger he put himself through when he was able to escape the Paradise and was out of his father’s presence.

Yunho was questing. It sounded ridiculous and outdated but it was an accurate description for what he was doing. He was on a quest to complete the Egg, the Artifact of the Dragon system. It was near legend and practically superstition but it was also nearly religion in the empire. Not all systems in the empire had an Artifact. The ones that did were said to be the systems where their Ancestors had settled when they had left the Homeworld. These were the original systems of the Terran empire, the others being groups of planets that their Ancestors had either acquired through treaty or through conquest. The Panther system, now absorbed into the Dragon system after the reckless actions of greedy system lord, had been one such system of planets.

Legend said that the Artifacts were the pieces of technology that their Ancestors had used to Merge with the species they had found on their new planets, records of their legacy. True descendants in the Dragon System had the DNA of the giant serpents that had lived in the waters of the Imugi planets. It made them faster and stronger than regular humans, enhanced their senses, and gave them varying degrees of ability in the psychic arts. Yunho himself had some talent in telekinesis. Changmin was a mindwalker, he couldn’t hear the thoughts of the people around him but he could transfer a part of his consciousness into their mindscape and interact with them on a deeper level.

These Artifacts had been lost millenia ago as the legend went. Anyone who could find a complete artifact would be considered blessed by the Ancestors and would have full right to the imperial throne as the new Progenitor.Yunho had proof that the Artifacts were more than legend. He had already found several pieces of what he believed to be the Egg since he had started looking for them ten years ago when he’d been sixteen. His Seeking Journey was a good cover for his real reason for wanting to travel to every corner of his system and he had found half as many pieces in the last year than he had in the nine years before. It would be more difficult now that he had Chosen but he would find a way to continue.

Yunho stood up in the pool when one on his attendants lifted his head indicating they were finished washing him. Beads of water ran down his body back into the pool. Two attendants took him by the arms and led him out of the pool. Several others dressed in plain gray robes were waiting with their heads bowed at the base of the stairs that led to the pool, holding large white towels.

Yunho held his arms out at his sides and let then pat him dry. They did not speak as they worked. Servants were to perform their tasks correctly and efficiently. They could be seen but they were not to be heard and for most nobles, their servants were beneath notice. Yunho would more often than not speak to his servants but the Purification process required silence, once again for no other purpose than the sake of tradition, so he stood quietly and let them work.

Once he was dry, his neck length black hair was combed out to lie flat framing his face and his skin was rubbed with a light cream, floral and effervescent, the same scent used in the bath. A long black ceremonial robe was pulled up his arms and settled on his shoulders. A row of silver clasps in the shape of a dragon’s tail adorned the front of the robe spanning from neck to ankles, each one was fastened carefully. The hood attached to the back of the robe was left to lie flat on his back, he wouldn't need to to wear it until he was transported down to the planet.

The style was odd to say the least, looking more like something an acolyte of the Order would wear for public ceremonies than something a prince would wear for his wedding but it served a purpose. Fully naked under the robe, Yunho would not need to remove a million pieces of clothes to consummate his marriage. It was efficient.

And traditional.

-

The transport bay was a large open room with large metal disk on the floor in the center of the room. The disc was one part of a machine that would allow teleportation from the ship down to the planet. There was a corresponding disc down on Imugi III. Each ship was outfitted with a teleportation disc, though varying in size, the one on the Paradise was large enough to fit fifty or so people at once. The teleportation discs installed on planet surfaces were large enough for several thousand bodies, the capacity usually used to keep traffic from traders and travelers from different ships flowing without delay. Each disc had a unique designation code used form the connection between discs. The only limit to the technology was distance. A person could be transported within the same planet but could not be directly transported to another and a ship needed to be within a planet's orbit in order for the deconstruction and reconstruction process to work properly. Otherwise a person risked having their molecules scattered across the universe, their consciousness left without a vessel, essentially, although not conclusively, dying.

The transporter bay was filled with people in black robes milling about, wedding guests consisting mainly of the nobles who rotated on and off the ship during Yunho’s Seeking and a few of the royals of nearby planets. The robes they wore were similar to the one Yunho wore but without the front clasps, most already with hoods covering their heads. It was all a bit silly and seemed rather ancient cult like to Yunho but he supposed that was something of the point. The wedding ceremony of a royal prince was considered sacred and would not have seemed out of place among some of the rituals of the more extremist ancient religions, bearing a great deal of resemblance to a human sacrifice ritual. No matter what anyone said that’s what this wedding was, maybe not in the literal sense but certainly in spirit.

Yunho could recognize his parents in the crowd, standing closely together, and knew his sister was somewhere in the room. He wondered briefly if Jaejoong would have liked his family to be here but the thought was dismissed almost as soon as it formed. It just wasn’t done. Honored Spouses did not have contact with their families after being Chosen. Besides, it was not as if Jaejoong would know whether his family was here or not and after their bond was solidified he would not even care. Yunho’s family would become Jaejoong’s family and as far as Jaejoong was concerned it would be as if they had always been his family. It was one of the many things Yunho wanted to change when he became emperor.

“Nervous?”

Yunho turned around at the question and was greeted by two figures with raised hoods, one with a broad frame standing with arms crossed over his chest. Kangin was the son of one of the planetary nobles in the Dragon System and had been one of Yunho’s best friends since they were teens. Most people assumed Kangin was a bodyguard due to his large size and the fact that he was never far from Yunho. The assumption had been given credence by the fact that Kangin had once snapped the neck of an assassin who had been sent to kill Yunho when they’d been at the Imperial Military Academy. It was a deception that suited them both. As a noble Kangin should have had other duties that would have kept him from Yunho’s side had Yunho been anyone but a royal prince. His protection was paramount.

The other figure Yunho recognized by his compact frame and the nervous bouncing he did on his toes. Junsu and Changmin had not been married long enough for their bond to fully settle and Changmin’s absence was a strain on Junsu, who had been left in Yunho’s care while Changmin was away. Yunho had in turn tasked Kangin with looking after him when Yunho was busy.

Yunho spared the teenager a worried glance before answering Kangin, “No.”

“You sure? No performance anxiety?” The words were teasing and Yunho didn’t have to have known Kangin for years to tell he was smirking under his hood.

“Why? Are you worried you’ll have trouble when it’s your turn,” Yunho retorted.

Kangin grumbled back but didn’t really answer. Although Kangin’s wedding, whenever it happened, wouldn’t be as ceremonial as Yunho’s it would still require a public consummation. Yunho wasn’t the least bit nervous but he knew Kangin had his own reservations about the entire matter. He would take great pleasure in teasing Kangin when it was his turn.

Yunho turned his attention back to Junsu who was still bouncing on his feet and had raised a hand to his mouth to gnaw on his fingernails. He rested one hand on Junsu’s head and pulled Junsu’s hand away from his mouth with the other. The bouncing stopped and Yunho could feel the tension leaving the teenager’s body. Neither he nor Changmin was sure why but Yunho’s touch had always relaxed Junsu, almost the same as the effect Changmin had on the boy. He suspected Boa might know why but she wasn’t talking. Priestesses of the Order did not spill their secrets lightly. It would be interesting to see if Changmin would have the same effect on Jaejoong.

Yunho took his hand off Junsu’s head but kept a firm grip on the boy’s wrist. “How are you doing?” he asked softly.

Junsu looked up at Yunho quickly, the hood raising enough for Yunho to catch a glimpse of Junsu’s eyes before he cast his gaze back to the ground. “I’m fine.”

Yunho hummed in response and looked to Kangin for confirmation. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Junsu, the boy was literally incapable of lying to him in his current state, but that state also meant that Junsu probably wouldn’t recognize if he wasn’t fine. He could have a broken arm and he would still say he was fine. It was a side effect of the unsettled bond and often made Yunho regretful that Changmin was separated from Junsu but it couldn’t be helped at the moment. Yunho needed Changmin to be doing what he was doing and Changmin couldn’t do that while he was still on the Paradise and it would have been dangerous to take Junsu along with him.

Yunho let out a soft sigh when Kangin nodded. “Alright,” he said, squeezing Junsu’s wrist lightly. “Stay with Kangin while you’re on the planet.”

Junsu nodded and Yunho let go.

There was one thing he needed to check before they transported down to Imugi III and wouldn’t be able to speak with anyone beyond the words required for the ceremony. He looked over the crowd and found Boa standing with her hood down, lips pursed and a stern look on her face. Her acolytes, Woohyun and Key, were by her side looking as uneasy as they had for the past week. There was something wrong with the three of them and Yunho needed to know if it involved Jaejoong. He didn’t think Boa would keep something that would affect the ceremony from him, but then their friendship was meaningless in the face of her loyalty to the Order. As a friend, he could trust her not to outright lie to him, but as a priestess, he could be certain that she would keep things from him. The Order had secrets upon secrets upon secrets.

He caught her eye and nodded his head slightly to indicate she should come to him. Her arms unfolded and Yunho could see her droop in a full body sigh.

“Is there a problem?’ he asked when she reached him.

Boa narrowed her eyes slightly. “Not a problem,” she answered, stressing the last word

Yunho raised an eyebrow, “But something?”

She looked around them and stepped closer to Yunho. It’s a physical closeness that would usually be considered rude but for this girl Yunho had known since he was five it was an indicator that she needed to say something she didn’t want overheard.

“Jaejoong had an unexpected reaction to the treatment,” Boa said, voice low.

In private Yunho’s eyes would have widened in alarm but this room was full of predators who would pounce on the slightest indication that something was wrong so he controlled the reaction, face remaining stoic. “What kind of reaction?”

The treatment was a series of injections for gene modification. They would give Jaejoong the enhancements that nobles were born with and allow him to bond with Yunho. If there was a problem that would affect the bonding process then Yunho needed to know.

“It’s nothing to be concerned about, I’ve already made the necessary adjustments. It won’t affect the ceremony.”

Kangin, who’d been silently observing their conversation, spoke up at that. “Then what’s wrong with those two?” he asked waving towards where Woohyun and Key were watching the four of them, looking one step away from full blown panic. “If there’s no problem, why are they so freaked?”

“Because they are idiots,” Boa snapped, glaring at him.

The two of them hadn’t gotten along since Boa left to join the Order at fifteen. Sometimes Yunho thought Kangin was the one who had been engaged to be married to Boa and not Yunho with the way he behaved towards her but then Kangin had never been able to tolerate what he considered betrayal. Boa was supposed to marry Yunho after they’d both found an Honored Spouse but she’d never wanted to be second to anyone and couldn’t tolerate the idea of being forced into not one but two unwanted marriages so she had joined the Order.

Kangin considered it abandonment.

Boa continued, “They tried to hide it but they’re young and stupid. No harm was done.”

“Maybe not this time but what about next time?” Yunho said, voice cold. He would have had them killed if they had been anyone’s acolytes but Boa’s. He would not tolerate anyone putting his Jaejoong in danger, whether intentionally or by negligence.

Boa looked back at Yunho. “I’m educating them. Thoroughly.”

He held her gaze for a moment and nodded at the resolve he saw in her eyes. It satisfied him for the moment but he wouldn’t leave Jaejoong in their care in the future. “What kind of adjustment?”

“There was an anomaly in his DNA. I had to make a small tweak to the formula.”

“What kind of anomaly?” Yunho asked. Jaejoong wasn’t any kind of noble. His DNA should read as pure human.

“I’ll explain after the ceremony. We need to go now. It isn’t anything that will affect your bonding.”

Yunho wanted to insist that she explain everything now but she was right. It was time for them to go. The first group was preparing for transport. Yunho would be in the last group to go down but there weren’t so many guests that it would be much longer before he needed to go. The look he gave Boa before pulling up his hood let her know that he would be expecting a full explanation when they came back to the ship.

Boa nodded and walked back to her nervous acolytes. As a priestess of the order she would need to go down earliest. He watched with slitted eyes as the three of them stepped onto to the disc and dematerialized. Boa had better pray to the Ancestors that this ‘anomaly’ wouldn’t effect his bonding. Friend or not, he’d hunt her down to the ends of the universe if something went wrong that she could have prevented or warned him about.

A light tug on the sleeve of his robe pulled Yunho out of his thoughts. “Are you okay?” Junsu asked, hand clenching black fabric, eyes still pointed to the ground.

Yunho face relaxed into a smile. “I’m fine,” he replied in an echo of Junsu’s earlier response to a similar question. The words were as much of a mistruth from Yunho’s mouth as they had been from Junsu’s. He was most assuredly not fine, but that was a matter to deal with after the ceremony.

Yunho took Junsu’s hand in his and the grip on his robe relaxed. He held Junsu’s hand out to Kangin. “Stay with Kangin. Don’t wander off.”

Junsu nodded his obedience, not making a sound of protest when Yunho’s hand was replaced with the larger man’s. It was worrying in a part of Yunho’s mind, but it was a part he refused to spend too much time thinking about. Junsu’s docility wasn’t abnormal by any means, a tempering in temper was a natural part of bonding for the non noble member of a bonding pair, and it was even less so because from what he could tell Junsu hadn’t been an aggressive person before he’d bonded with Changmin. Junsu’s behavior simply rubbed Yunho wrong because he’d never spent so much time with an Honored Spouse this early in a bonding and he was probably affected more than he would have been if this had been anyone other than Changmin’s Honored Spouse.

Yunho gave Kangin a hard look that said watch him, if anything happens to him I will kill you. Kangin nodded in acknowledgment and pulled Junsu to the Disk. Yunho would see him executed if he let anything happen to Junsu. Kangin might have been one of Yunho’s nearest and dearest friends but Junsu was Changmin’s and Changmin was…

He was Changmin and being Changmin was more important than being anyone or anything else to Yunho.

-

Yunho flexed his hands as he rematerialized, an involuntary reflex to make sure his parts were still working. Teleportation by disc happened in less than the blink of an eye and was, for the most part, perfectly safe but it was unnatural and for someone whose genetic ancestors had the ability to teleport through their own energy it felt unnatural, like being stretched across space and snapped back together again.

They had landed in a a large clearing surrounded by tall dense trees on all sides except the place where water a rush of water fell over a ledge of rock, behind which a line of black robed figures disappeared. In the distance Yunho could see a mountain range, large cones of stone decorated with greenery and capped with white snow. It was a rare sight. The Imugi planets were some of the few places in the Dragon System untouched by industrial development. Members of the Order were the primary residents of the planets, caretakers of their history. Outsiders, as the Order referred the everyone else, were only allowed on the surface on special occasions, like the wedding of the Prince of Dragons.

Behind the waterfall was a narrow, down sloping passage, the arches of the passage lit with synthetic blue lights. The journey through the tunnel was brief, leading to a large underground lake, one of the mating places of the giant serpents that had once inhabited the planet. The surface of the lake looked like a collection of small pools separated by stone pathways, but these pathways were a modification made to the interior of the cavern. Underneath them the lake was one continuous body of water. Black robed wedding guests were spreading themselves along these pathways, only avoiding a pool near the center of the cavern.

This pool, much larger than the others, was modified with a narrow bridge leading to a large circular platform and stone altar in the center of the pool. Jaejoong’s body was lying naked on the platform with a man standing behind it. The black robes with silver trimming and dragon embroidered on his chest marked him as a high priest of the Order of the Dragon. Two assistants in similar but less elaborately designed robes stood on either side of him, each holding a small, rectangular glass box. Around the edges of the cavern stood other members of the Order. Yunho knew Boa was somewhere in that circle, although, he couldn’t identify her by sight, each member resembling the others in their robes, with only height and body shape to differentiate them.

Yunho crossed the bridge to stand opposite the High Priest in front of Jaejoong. He scanned his eyes over the body of the boy he had Chosen.

He looked dead

Not sleeping. Not unconscious. Dead.

Under normal circumstances he should have been able to see the slow rise and fall of Jaejoong’s chest indicating the boy was still breathing but there was no movement. Yunho wondered if this was part of the ‘unexpected reaction’ Boa had spoken of earlier, but he didn’t have time to follow the thought as the High Priest had raised his arms up in a call for silence.

No one had been speaking but Yunho could hear the silence growing. Cloth stopped ruffling. Feet stopped shuffling. Bodies stopped moving. The lack of sound was deafening.

“We have gathered here in the place of our Ancestors birth to observe a sacred rite,” the high priest spoke with exceptional gravitas. “It is here where our people first became Dragons and it is here where we will birth another Dragon to share our history, our culture, and our blood.”

Yunho tuned the priest out. It was the standard phrase used to begin a royal wedding in the Dragon system. The other systems had variations of the same, all involving talk of ancestors and sacredness. Yunho had witnessed the weddings of royals in other systems twice before. Shortly after his completion of the military academy he had accompanied his father to the wedding of Prince Jihoon of the Tiger system. Another time shortly before he began his Selection Journey, he had attended the wedding of Princess Minzy in the Chimera system.

“Yunho, Prince of Dragons, are you prepared to accept the responsibility of an Honored Spouse? To care for him, nurture him, and protect him? To guide him in the ways of the Dragon?”

“I am prepared,” he answered.

The words were a joke. They were a necessity dictated by tradition but they didn’t mean anything. Honored Spouse was just a pretty label. If he were a different sort of prince, Yunho could bond with Jaejoong today and never speak to him another day in his life if he chose to. He could keep Jaejoong as a sex slave, nothing more than chattel in his home, only needing to ensure that the boy looked perfect when he appeared in public. He could lock him away never to be seen again by anyone outside of the royal family. It was Yunho’s political aspirations and his own honest character that would keep him from treating Jaejoong so poorly. The High Priest wouldn’t know either way how Yunho had chosen to treat his Honored Spouse but then it didn’t really matter much to the Order. Their job was to ensure the continuation of the genetic line, not to police whether or not nobles treated their spouses properly.

The High Priest turned to one of the assistants and opened the glass box. He lifted a long thin crystal dagger Yunho knew from experience was laced with a drug to stir Jaejoong back to consciousness, or something resembling consciousness. The High Priest held the dagger over Jaejoong’s chest and rammed it down into his heart.

It wouldn’t do Jaejoong any damage. Over the past week Jaejoong would have already developed the accelerated healing characteristic of Dragons. It was always the first ability developed during the transformation and the reason why weddings took place a week after a royal had Chosen instead of immediately.

Jaejoong woke with a gasp, his back arching off the altar before dropping back down. His eyes were blackened, pupils blown wide obscuring his irises. He didn’t speak and he didn’t make any movement beyond his initial reaction.

He still looked dead.

When the High Priest pulled the dagger out of Jaejoong’s chest it came out clean, as if it hadn’t just pierced through flesh and blood. The hole in Jaejoong’s chest where it had gone in closed quickly, leaving behind unmarked skin.

The High Priest placed the dagger back in it’s box and turned to the second acolyte. He removed a small vile of clear liquid from the second box and placed it on the altar near Jaejoong’s head. He then folded his hands in front of him and took a step back from the altar.

The next part of the ceremony was Yunho’s. He found the entire thing distasteful if interesting but he wouldn’t be considered married without doing it.

Yunho pulled back the hood of his robe and slowly unhooked the clasps over his chest, undoing enough of them to be able to easily slip the robe off his shoulders letting it slide down to the floor.

Naked, he climbed onto the altar, moving Jaejoong’s legs to settle himself between them. He picked up the small bottle the priest had left and uncapped it. The liquid he poured out into his palm flowed like water but it stuck to his hands leaving a thin glistening coat. He put the bottle down and and placed his hands on Jaejoong’s face. Yunho’s vision blurred, Jaejoong and all the wedding guests fading away.

Etherica was a psychic enhancer used to amplify the powers Dragons had inherited from their Ancestors. Mostly it was used as a bond facilitator for although most Dragons could claim at least a small skill in one of the psychic arts, there were very few who had the ability to walk in another person’s mindscape under their own power. Etherica helped with this, opening the centers of the brain where these abilities came from. It worked well enough that a Dragon could easily walk through the mind of a species that was for all intents and purposes psy null.

When his vision cleared, Yunho found himself in the same cavern, standing on the banks of one large lake. The pathways and platforms were gone. And although there was no lighting along the walls of the cavern the way there was in the physical world the entire place was brighter than it had been. There was a glow emanating from the lake illuminating the cavern. Lines of blue, green, and white lights streaked under the surface of the water. A closer look revealed the lights were in fact large water serpents.

Imugi.

Yunho had never seen one in person before. They were extinct.

Well, not extinct exactly, more evolved. When the Ancestors had come to this planet and the others like it they had been a dying race. The Imugi had saved them, merging with the bipedal creatures that had invaded their lands. It was from these creatures that Dragons obtained their superior strength and psychic gifts.

Yunho wondered if this was what all Dragons saw when they bonded, surely if it was someone would have spoken of it. The sight was—

“Beautiful aren’t they?”

Yunho looked to the side where the voice had come from. Jaejoong was sitting cross legged at his feet watching the lights dance around each other, a wistful smile on his face. Occasionally two of the serpents would twist their bodies around each other resulting in a blending of colors. When this happened Jaejoong’s lips would curl up in a radiant smile.

Yes, Yunho thought, beautiful.

Jaejoong turned away from the lake to gaze up at Yunho with large brown eyes. “What took you so long?”

Yunho huffed in amusement, raising one eyebrow. “Me?”

“Yes.” Jaejoong’s smile fell away forming a soft pout. “I’ve been cold and lonely here for days.”

The words should have alarmed Yunho — humans undergoing the transformation weren’t supposed to spend days in the mindscape, at most Jaejoong should have been here for a few hours — but all he could think about at the moment was how beautiful Jaejoong looked.

“You haven’t enjoyed the company?”

Jaejoong’s gaze was drawn back to the Imugi dancing in the lake. “They’re beautiful but they’re not you.”

The words were sad and longing, pulling at Yunho’s heart. Yunho knelt on the ground behind Jaejoong and wrapped his arms around the boy’s torso pulling Jaejoong back to settle against his chest. “I’m sorry.” He kissed the side of Jaejoong’s neck. “I’m here now. You’ll never be alone again.”

Jaejoong rested his hands on top of Yunho’s. “How can you be sure?”

Yunho squeezed him gently and tucked his chin over Jaejoong’s shoulder pressing their cheeks together. “Aren’t you mine?” he asks. “Isn’t your body mine? Your mind mine? Your soul mine?”

Jaejoong ran his fingers over Yunho’s arms and turned his head to nuzzle his nose against Yunho’s cheek. “Yes,” he answered. “Yours.”

At the sound of those words Yunho felt something locking into place in his mind. It was a warm rush of contentment that wasn’t his, the feeling of thoughts and emotions that weren’t his rushing over him. No one ever said it would feel like this, all soothing warmth. They talked about how the tether would allow him absolute control over his spouse, how it would prevent Jaejoong from acting against him, how it would allow him to know and manipulate Jaejoong’s thoughts, but nothing of what it would feel like to have another person’s conscious attached to his own, nothing of the single minded focus he felt coming from Jaejoong, love and devotion echoing through the bond.

Not even Changmin had warned him. The other man had always shifted uncomfortably whenever Yunho brought the subject up. Now he knew why. It was humbling to know that someone felt this way about him and he briefly wondered how Changmin could stand being away from Junsu. Yunho felt like he would kill anyone who tried to separate him from Jaejoong. He wondered briefly how some people could stand to abuse their spouses the way they did if this was what they felt from them all the time.

He chastised himself for the thought. It was naive and Yunho knew better than that. There were all sorts of people in the universe, most of them no where near as honorable as he was. He had met men and women who would revel in the idea that no matter how badly they beat or used a person that their love for them — even manufactured as it was — would never falter. He swore then that he would never treat Jaejoong so disrespectfully, never let him become one those Honored Spouses who looked at their abusers with helpless devotion, unaware that anything was even wrong with their relationship.

He turned Jaejoong around and pressed their mouths together, pushing the boy down onto the ground. He sealed his lips over Jaejoong’s, licking inside like it belonged to him — and it did now — and it was perfect.

Until it wasn't.

The pain jolted him out of the mindscape, a stroke of fire running through his spine pulling him out of Jaejoong's mind, Jaejoong's perfect, beautiful mind — Mine, mine, mine, Yunho thought — and back to reality, where he was lying on top of Jaejoong, moth attached to his the way it had been in the mindscape. Only this Jaejoong wasn’t vibrant and alive, eyes full of warmth and devotion, he was still the paralyzed shell he was when Yunho first merged their minds, immobile and blackened eyes dead like the night sky without stars. His skin was cold, burning, burning so hot felt cold. It was wrong, shouldn't have been happening that way but Yunho didn't have time to worry about that. Not when the the bright light of phaser gun fire was illuminating the cavern over his head and robed figures were rushing about around him. He spared a quick thought for his family but didn’t dwell on it, they were not his priority.

Yunho quickly shoved his arms under Jaejoong, ignoring the way his arms scraped against the stone, it was an irritant and nothing more, pulling Jaejoong's body tight against his and rolling them off the side of the altar opposite the entrance to the cavern. His back collided with the ground with a thud, the impact made harder by the dead weight of Jaejoong's body crashing on top of his. He was rolling Jaejoong's body off of his when Kangin slid next to him pulling Junsu behind him. Yunho couldn't help but notice that Junsu looked more alive than he ever had in the months since he and Changmin separated. Another wrong, but that was another thing he couldn't deal with at the moment.

"What happened?" He asked Kangin, crouching naked and gathering Jaejoong’s body into a ball in front of his

"We had some party crashers drop in for the free show," Kangin answered, wiggling his eye brows, and staring pointedly at Yunho’s crotch.

Yunho lips turned down in irritation but Kangin behavior wasn't any kind of surprise. He made light of serious situations when it was entirely inappropriate, but that was just the way Kangin was. Yunho might not have appreciated it now, not when Jaejoong might be harmed. Yunho had to take care of Jaejoong, he belonged to Yunho — Mine, mine, mine — but he had been thankful for it in the past when they'd gotten themselves in some trouble or other and Kangin smart mouth had distracted someone enough to get them out of it. It was the only reason he didn't shoot Kangin when the other man handed a gun to him with a shit eating grin on his face.

Yunho peered around the side of the alter, gun prepped at the ready in one hand. "Shit," he said as a laser bolt grazed over his cheek. It barely stung and he could already feel his skin pulling back together tight over the cut.

“What now?”

Yunho didn’t know what to tell Kangin. His mind raced through a hundred scenarios all coming up with dead Jaejoong, dead Junsu.

He and Kangin would have been able to make it out of the cavern on their own but not without Junsu, who despite the small sparks of fire in his eyes still sat where Kangin had put him with his back against the altar like a pet told to sit and stay, or with Jaejoong, who couldn't even move under his own influence, getting hit by phaser fire. And while they had both had their genetic makeup altered to resemble that of an imperial noble they were both still fundamentally human. They would able to heal from a few hits but the light show above their heads indicated they would not be able to make it back to the disc without sustaining more damage than either of their bodies would be able to handle, assuming the Paradise hadn’t been compromised. Yunho wouldn’t risk Jaejoong to that and Changmin would never forgive him for it either.

He stared contemplatively over the edge of the platform. These waters ran deep and he was sure they’d be able to lose the enemy in them, but he didn’t know enough about the layout of this planet to know how long it would take to to find one of the other caverns, or if they’d even be able to. They couldn’t breathe under water indefinitely. The Merging had combined the best aspects of the Imugi and the Ancestor’s but their new species wasn’t designed to function under water for extended periods of time. Dragons could survive for days if need be but eventually they would drown, it would take Junsu and Jaejoong less time than that. He cursed the Order and their need to keep secrets even from the royal families.

Maybe specifically from the royal families, a voice in the back of his mind whispered.

Yunho clamped down on the suggestion. The Order was secretive, not disloyal. He couldn’t afford to have thoughts like that running through his head. That sort of thinking started as a seed and grew into a tree with roots so deep he’d never be able to get rid of it. Those types of thoughts were what had started the last great war.

But they couldn’t stay where they were, it was too exposed and would get all four of them killed, or worse, captured.

And just when Yunho was preparing to tell Kangin that they’d have to take their chances in the water a dark haired head popped above the surface of the water on the side of the platform.

“Get in,” Boa said, hands holding the side of the platform keeping her afloat.

A part of Yunho bristled at the order, he didn’t kid himself trying to think it was a suggestion.

“You can’t stay here,” she said when neither Kangin nor Yunho moved to follow her directions. “Get in and follow me.”

“Follow you where?” Kangin asked, incredulously, like he couldn’t believe Boa would think he would follow her anywhere.

The glare she gave him wasn’t any less fierce for the water droplets running down her face, making her look just that little bit softer. “We don’t have time for this. Get in.”

“You are crazy if you think—”

“Kangin, get in the water,” Yunho interrupted. Most days he was grateful for Kangin’s overprotectiveness, it had saved his life more than once, but sometimes it was more trouble than it was worth. Yunho knows it was not needed where Boa was concerned, she wouldn’t hurt him, not permanently anyways. Kangin’s distrust of her was an irrationality all going back to her perceived betrayal. He half expected the other man to argue with him, but there must have been something in Yunho’s tone of voice or on his face that had Kangin pursing his lips and pulling Junsu away from the altar, gently herding him over the side of the platform where Boa was waiting.

Yunho pulled Jaejoong into his arms then swung his legs over the side of the platform and scooting forward to drop into the water. Jaejoong’s added weight made it more difficult to stop from sinking but he’d been trained to tread water and swim with more than five times his own weight so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Boa pushed away from the platform and started swimming down. Yunho swung Jaejoong onto his back, wrapping the boy’s arms around his neck and holding them in place with one hand. He made sure Kangin had a firm grip on one of Junsu’s hands so they wouldn’t lose him before following her.

The columns holding up the platforms on the lake were numerous and anchored far deeper than he could see, giving away their age. A similar structure built anytime in the last few hundred years wouldn’t need this kind of support to stay in place.

The waters grew steadily darker the deeper they swam but Boa weaved her way through the maze of columns with ease, never once faltering in direction. These were dead waters, there was nothing alive in them, not like the lake Yunho had seen in Jaejoong’s mindscape. These waters had been dead for thousands of years.

They exited the maze to encounter what looked like the wall of a building, a building that didn’t appear anywhere on the surface of the planet. Boa pressed both her hands against one section of the wall. A panel opened up in the wall and a bright blue light scanned over her body. The light was jarring in the darkness and Yunho looked away, raising one hand to cover his eyes.

When the light disappeared, he lowered his arm the see Boa swimming through a small circular entrance in the wide enough to fit at most two people a time. He followed her into a small compartment big enough to fit maybe ten people but no more. When Kangin and Junsu swam in after him Boa once again placed her hands on one of the chamber walls. Another light scanned her body and the entrance closed behind them, two doors sliding together with a rough griding noise.

The doors locked together with a loud thud and and the floor of the chamber began to slide to the side. Water drained out of the chamber through grates in the floor, leaving them all standing on a mesh metal floor. He couldn’t see where the water went, it just looked like and endless drop under the chamber.

Yunho transfered Jaejoong back into his arms, one hand under his knees and the other under his back. It was easier to carry him this way when they were on dry land. Jaejoong’s head lolled back and Yunho was more worried than he had been this entire day. Jaejoong should have been awake and responding by now, but his body hanged like dead weight and there was still no sign of life in his eyes. Yunho wanted to ask Boa if this was a side effect of having their ceremony interrupted or part of the ‘unexpected reaction’ since they were no longer in immediate danger but she was already opening another panel in the wall.

This scan opened a doorway on the opposite side of the chamber from the way they had come in, two doors sliding open vertically from the top and bottom with another grinding noise, indicating infrequent use.

“What the hell is all this?”

Yunho wanted to ask the same question Kangin did.

Boa grabbed one of the short black cylinders mounted on the wall outside the door. “Escape passage. They’re all over the planet.” She cupped her hand over the bulbous end of the cylinder. It lit up, bright and blue, illuminating a long tunnel. “Come on.”

“And what does one of the most revered religious sects in the Empire need escape passages for?”

The look Boa gave Kangin was half glowering and half annoyed. “We weren’t always revered,” she said before starting down the tunnel.

That was true, Yunho thought, hiking Jaejoong up more firmly in his arms and following her.

As the keepers and protectors of their genetic heritage, the various Orders were perhaps the most respected groups in the empire but they hadn’t always been. There had been a time when the ranks of the Orders had been filled with fanatics who advocated a return to the time before the Mergings. In and of itself that was not a bad idea, there were many nobles in the empire who would jump at the opportunity to transform themselves fully into the beings who had contributed to the changes in their DNA, but these so called Fundamentalists hadn’t wanted to become what they had half been changed into, thus preserving the species that had sacrificed their lives to save their Ancestors. They had wanted strip the DNA of all nobility of everything that was foreign and return them to what they had been when their ships had first ventured into this galaxy from lands too distant to remember. They had wanted to strip them of all their gained strength, intelligence, and unnatural abilities, to make them lesser.

The System Lords had gone to war against the Orders to purge them of the Fundamentalist sects. It had been a long and bloody struggle, with casualties numbered in the trillions on both sides.

“These tunnels served as a hiding place during the Purge when your kind turned against us.”

Kangin snorted. “Our kind? You are our kind.”

Boa said nothing.

-
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