sexychocobo ([personal profile] sexychocobo) wrote in [community profile] fuckyeahfinalfantasy2010-09-27 01:43 am

FYFF: MISSION ONE, ACCEPT Y/N?



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Coward Heart [2/3]

(Anonymous) 2010-09-30 02:52 am (UTC)(link)
———


Braska took longer than necessary to pack his heavy robes away, such that Jecht was dry and nearly warm by the time everyone was ready: swords in oiled wrappings, heavy fabrics stripped away for swimming, more fire gems stored within easy reach.

The delay seemed somewhat in vain as Jecht plopped back into the water, apparently immune to it after his first exposure. Braska made no sound as he stepped into it, in breeches and undershirt, but Auron hissed at the cold: it bit at his bones, like all his muscles had turned to cutting shards, ice in his veins. He waded in, dragging all their packs behind them: the worst swimmer, he was relegated to ferrying their baggage and staying close to the surface while Jecht and Braska cleared the way.

Jecht knifed through the water like one of the fish on his wrap — the bright fabric streamed alongside him in the currents but Auron was in no mood to appreciate that it looked alive, underwater: he was up to his chin now, and, with a purely internal sigh, set to the laborious task of swimming. The sound of his splashing echoed hollow from the cavern walls; underwater, when the low ceiling turned entirely to tunnel, it was all distorted and thick and even darker. The sense of isolation seemed utterly complete within the pressing depths.

Auron swam on, determined discipline keeping his limbs moving in the cold — it left no room for thought. He was grateful.

He could not know what time had passed when Braska swam up to him in one of the completely submerged stretches, a ghostly shape in his off-white undergarments: they bloomed around him in the slow currents. Braska motioned him on: just a little farther, and a jab of his fingers upwards, a tap to his chest, air up above just ahead. Auron nodded and pulled harder against the stubborn resistance of their dragging packs, fighting for calm against the tightness of his lungs. There had been so little time; he'd barely learned anything from Jecht and Braska on Besaid before they'd had to leave.

Air came like daggers to his lungs, freezing on wet skin, and then Jecht was beside him, taking the packs, shoving him along to shore where Braska had another fire, and this time it was Jecht throwing Auron's robe around him from inside the waterproof bag. Auron's numb fingers scrabbled at the tie in his hair until it came loose and he could wring it out, shivering over the fire. Braska was already merely damp, short-sheared hair drying faster than either of theirs — it had not stopped being strange, seeing Braska like this, bare-headed and without his summoner's surplice. Auron finger-combed his hair apart for something else to concentrate on. "Jecht," he called, his voice feeling overloud as the cavern walls threw it back at him. "Where did you see it?"

Jecht was unwrapping his sword and just indicated the direction with a jerk of his head, down where the passage continued. Braska turned to look and Auron squinted into the distance — and realized he could see far, too far in the dark. He hadn't noted it at first, disguised in the cave's glow, but something spilled a faint light far down the passage.

It was utterly motionless. Auron's bones hollowed with the knowledge that it was watching them.

Jecht stood up, sword cocked over his shoulder in the way that so irritated Auron, and joined them in observing the faint smudge of light. He handed Auron his own sword; Auron took it without looking.

They were stepping forward when Braska flung out a hand.

Silence ticked by before Braska spoke.

"My staff, please."

Auron's stomach sank.

Jecht threw them a confused look as Auron hurried to obey. "What the hell is that thing? Braska," more sharply as Braska stepped ahead of them, "what are you doing?" Old habit prickled up Auron's spine in offense at addressing a summoner in that tone; he ignored it.

"Nothing to endanger myself, do not worry," Braska murmured, absently accepting his staff, and Auron understood belatedly why Jecht's tone had turned so sharp.

"Great, but what is it?"

"An unsent," Auron bit out.

"What?" Jecht's brows drew together, voice heavy with puzzlement; Auron saw him shift his sword to the ready.

"One who died but has stayed on, without a Sending." Braska's voice was quiet; he had not stopped watching the distant creature. It had not stopped watching them.

"You have got to be kidding me." Jecht shuffled his feet apart into a wary stance, starting to advance. Auron touched his arm, stopping him in exchange for a thin-lipped look. But Jecht nodded reluctant assent, stilling. "How the hell does that happen?"

"Sometimes, if the will is strong enough, and a purpose remains..." Braska trailed off, and took another step forward; Auron stirred. Braska seemed to contemplate the unsent for a long empty moment— the hair on Auron's arms rose in the silence, all memory of cold washed away by wariness. Braska's hands shifted on his staff, firming into a solid grip. "Follow close, please, but make no threat. I want to see... if this can be done quietly."

He stepped towards the unsent.

Auron swallowed thick and bitter like bile, and followed, sword held low but ready, Jecht at his side. The tassels on Braska's staff swayed with his slow, steady steps; Jecht's feet, still bare after their swim, rasped against the stone. The unsent made no move as they approached, still as stone, and Auron's heart beat thready-hollow: its face seemed blurred, like it was forgotten. Pyreflies misted off its shoulders, its head, like living steam in the cold. Utterly silent under the discordant shuffle of their steps.

Its eyes were blank and black and empty as it regarded them, hazy behind the pyreflies and its slipping sense of self.

Braska came within a few yards of it, and stopped.

"Oh." It escaped him, a soft accident, out of place and vulnerable and Auron's heart clenched.

Braska simply looked at it, and Auron was suddenly filled with a wild need to see what was on his face, capture the play of emotion, clutch every last moment to his chest. His feet were rooted to the ground.

"Braskaaa..." Jecht drew it out, question laden with impatient wariness.

Braska took another step forward, one hand coming free of his staff like a halting greeting.

"She was a summoner," he said.

Auron felt it like a blow, the sympathy in Braska's voice for this unholy creature of cowardice and selfishness, the tone soft and sad; words boiled up inside him — and he bit them down because he could not interrupt this for the world, could not intrude on the way Braska looked and sounded, so many things Auron could not name held in the moment: raw and open like the secrets of their long silences spilling out at last.

Braska bowed to the thing — Auron could see the faint half-forgotten flutters of summoner's robes around it, now, this close — Braska sank to his knees before it and tension thrummed through Auron's body at this reckless abandonment of battle-readiness — at this show of supplication before such a thing, and an ugly though fluttered across his mind: was this how Braska knelt before the fayth?

"My lady." Braska's voice was solemn with respect, the title entirely sincere. "Did you mean to finish your pilgrimage? Is that what kept you from the Farplane's peace?" The words were dry in the sound-still air; Auron swallowed and tasted metallic-wet thickness, like tears, and blinked at himself.

The unsent stirred.

Auron watched its face with a horrid fascination: it pulsated faintly, emotions stealing across it, features fading in and out like clouds scudding over sky, memories flickering to the surface and then lost — fear, loss, anguish, puzzled curiousity, and pain pain pain—

Its hand rose — Auron's nape tightened in alarm — and then a nauseous roil of confusion, as the unsent's hand came up to its chest, blurred face surprised and the gesture was like a mirror-echo of Braska's soft exhaled "oh" of an identity recognized; Auron breathed, breathed, shallow.

And then the unsent nodded, face a mask of grief, and the summoner's robes bloomed bright, vividly remembered — and Auron thought, bitter: where are your guardians, then? why did they not stay with you in this damned existence?

Braska's head bowed; the nape of his neck looked obscenely vulnerable in the cold dimness as he knelt, the unsent's light like a touch upon it: unholy, wrong.

When Braska looked up again, it was with another question quiet on his lips. "Was it a rockfall?" Auron remembered the blocked passage that had sidetracked them here, and Braska's fingers pale upon the rock.

The unsent nodded.

"How cruel," Braska whispered.

And the unsent sank her face into her hands and wept, soundless, and Auron's throat clotted in unwelcome sympathy, dry and sick-sweet in his heart and he could not look away.

Braska allowed her her bitter grief, now while some echo of her could still feel it, before Braska Sent her away, and Auron breathed in the silence, too loud and traitorously unsteady, Jecht's breaths deeper and lower beside him and the moment was so naked, this intimacy between summoners that was beyond Auron's understanding: Braska's eyes were on the unsent like a sharp thirst was suffocating him and Auron thought, no, no, my lord, if you search for dignity in the face of death do not look there — do not look at me— and shame flooded him, up his neck and into his fingers and he was too close to weeping and didn't know who for.

The unsent summoner's garments fluttered, sudden like a gasp of wind — but the air was still, and Auron's attention snapped sharp, tripping over the muddle of his mind— Jecht was already alert and fierce beside him and Auron's heart thudded with confused fear — would she turn, after this? give in to hatred at her cruel fate— was the shudder of her shoulders pain or—

"Wait," Braska's voice cut soft across the small flurry of their movements and Auron jerked to a halt, Jecht settling slower and more reluctant at his side. "She will not turn. Watch." An edge of something like tired laughter in his voice, shared understanding Auron could not read; he watched the unsent warily. But the shivering flutters settled into a slow transformation, and when she looked up, Auron saw her face, clear and remembered, for the first time.

She had been so young.

Auron stared — a round face, like the villagers' near the Moonflow, almond eyes — he shivered at the memory of seeing them black and hollow, holes of empty depth, bottomless.

"Are you ready?" Braska's voice rasped — Auron didn't know why, but it still seared across his heart.

The girl nodded.

Braska rose, and held up his staff. His back was straight and tall — and it did not matter that his robe was drying by the fire behind them, that he stood barefoot and in breeches, that no mourners crowded beside them: honesty breathed out of the dark, and appearances fell away. Auron felt sick.

A creak: the wrappings on the hilt of Jecht's sword, under Jecht's clenching fist. "This is messed up. I can't watch this." His voice scraped the silence.

Neither of them moved as Braska began his dance.


———