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2010-09-30 02:50 am (UTC)
Coward Heart (FFX) (Auron & Braska & Jecht) (PG) (3,700 words) [1/3]
The caves cast light back at them, fractured reflections and the rock's own native glow: the water was still and star-littered, pinpricks of light beneath a surface so motionless that Auron could barely tell where water ended and the pressing dark of the caverns began. All the light should have illumed the air, but the icy breath of the place seemed nearly solid, swallowing the light before it could reveal more than it hid. Auron had drawn his sword long ago, its rasp loud and echo-inhaled. Even the fiends glowed, here, great gelid flans with galaxies glittering inside them, dissolving into pyreflies like gentle novas.
Auron's gaze slid to Braska. In the gloaming, Braska's eyes seemed wide and white, his robes silver-edged black, all the careful distinctions of colour — red, for mourning; purple, for hope; blue, for seas and skies — lost in the half-light. Jecht was a suffocated flame beside him, the leaping fish on his sarong like the empty spaces between licks of fire as he shrugged off the wool-lined jacket Braska had finally convinced him to wear.
Braska's hand came up to touch the rock blocking their path. He murmured under his breath, and Auron strained to hear over the slither of Jecht's disrobing and muttered curses. He drifted closer.
Hearing his approach, Braska turned his head briefly before resuming his examination. "A cave-in, or a deliberate obstacle? I wonder." His voice seemed to loud in the unmoving air.
Something extremely bad-tempered about summoners and crazy pilgrimages drifted over from where Jecht was hopping on one foot, trying to remove the other boot — he'd looked ridiculous in his too-small jacket, baggy shorts, and snow boots, and Auron suspected it had not helped his mood, whatever its intended effect on impending frostbite. He turned his attention back to his summoner. "Obstacle?"
"I would not be surprised if this place is meant to test us."
." Jecht, grumpy in the dark and cold, joined them and glared at the obstruction. "After everything they're asking, they'd—" Jecht bit the rest of the sentence off — and this was new, Jecht swallowing down his words, and it clotted Auron's throat: sympathy and his own helplessness. Braska turned to watch Jecht, quietly, the spaces between them still awkward and half-angry and thick with Braska's solemn gratitude for Jecht's efforts. Jecht met Braska's eyes and Auron had to look away from the intensity of their shared gaze —
say these things for me, Jecht, tell him what I can't...
Jecht huffed, sharp exhale of breath. "Yeah. Of course they would," and by the time Auron looked at them again the stare was broken, and Jecht had gone over to the water's edge where the cavern's other branching lay submerged, sword left behind and blitzball in hand.
Jecht poked the water with his toe.
—" and a hiss of indrawn breath, three quick round-cheeked blows of exhalation, and Jecht sank into the freezing water, imprecations echoing continuously across the cave until his black hair was swallowed under the surface. Auron was left by Braska's side, alone with the dense dark and the water that stilled too quickly.
Auron blew out a long breath, empathy and released tension.
"Well," Braska said, and stopped a moment before continuing. "Let's have some warmth ready for him when he returns. And," he set down his pack and rummaged within, drawing out a fire gem, "it would not hurt us, either, I think, if we're to be here a while." He looked at Auron over the gem's faint internal glow, like a small beating heart in his hand: sad-smile on his face, and tired eyes. Auron wanted to look away, again, his own heart clenching like that was what Braska's palm held — so many silences between them all now, after Jecht had learned of their journey's end, and Auron's faith crumbling too soon to stop Jecht's desperation infecting him. His jaw clenched unhappily, but he nodded, and cleared some ground with sweeps of his foot as Braska sank to the cavern floor.
Braska fiddled with the gem a moment — some Al Bhed trickery he'd learned; Auron surely had no idea how Braska used half the things they picked up and traded for — then set it down in the cleared space. It burst into silent flame, burning without apparent source; the heat it threw on Auron's face felt like a flush of anger, or shame— and Auron realized it was no illusion as the fever filled his veins, sluggish and poisonous and— "My lord—"
"Auron." The gentlest interruption, firm as stone. Auron's jaw snapped shut in automatic obedience. Braska put his head in his hands for a moment, drew them slowly down his face and looked up at Auron and he looked so tired and— old, and Auron's heart beat thick and hard and fast at the thought. Braska's voice was soft in the dark. "I'm sorry. But... please, don't." He looked steadily up at Auron, like a supplicant: it felt so wrong, observing this moment of weakness seemed obscene, and Braska kneeling before him, sacrilege.
Auron fell to his knees. Braska's words had done nothing to stop the thick roil in his blood, his belly — not as they once had, wisdom and kindness balming his spirit and his teeth ached, breath hissing between them: did he demand consolation from this man, like a child? It was Auron's duty to give — and Braska's also, but not to him.
He stared into the fire and the silence. "I don't know what to believe anymore. My lord."
A touch, on his hair, and he nearly flinched — but it was Braska's fingers, a light brush that made Auron think of the way Braska comforted Yuna. He swallowed, torn between contempt at himself for deserving this child-comfort — and yearning for it, for some shred of relief, of belief, of
, selfish wants in this late hour. Auron sat stiffly, not leaning into Braska's touch but not recoiling from it.
Braska drew in breath, to answer—
A splash jarred through the quiet and Auron was on his feet, turning with sword in hand — only Jecht, returning too soon, dripping and shivering and calling, "Br-assk-ka," teeth clattering across the consonants. Auron tore off his belt and robe, throwing the garment around Jecht's shoulders as the cold crept in across his own; Jecht jerked a nod of thanks. Braska had risen too, fingers aglow with healing magic at the ready, but Jecht waved it away, huddling over the fire and trying to talk. "Braska— think you need to come see this."
"Did you find a clear passage?"
"Maybe, but there's someone— something there. Hell if I know. I didn't like the look of it." Jecht frowned down into the flames, the flickering light turning his fierce glower ugly, leaping across his scars.
Auron didn't like the way this sounded — nor the way Jecht hadn't stopped to joke or brag, bring back tales of brashly tackling the threat himself. "My lord. If there's chance of passage, we should all go." His grip tightened on his sword.
Jecht's eyes flicked to him with a grimace of agreement. "Yeah. Bring everything. We're getting outta here."
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