Theme/Number: What might have been (59)
General Relationship: Jecht, Auron, and Braska. Their relationship is not intended to be taken in any particular way, although I maintain that whatever bond they share, it is a strong one.
Rating: PG/K+ for serious themes. Surprisingly, Jecht is in the (very general) vicinity but I don't think it merits a PG-13. Shocking, I know.
Warnings: None, I think.
Feedback: Yes please! I love concrit, and I don't bite, honest!
Notes: This was an attempt to flesh Braska's character out a little bit, since I love him but his characterization in the game is pretty flat. I give profuse thanks to heyheyrenay for being enthusiastic and very encouraging, to tairako for taking a look at the draft and helping with it so much, and to regann for being willing to discuss and speculate on canon in general and Braska and other pre-game issues in particular.
Summary: Braska has developed a high appreciation of irony, but when Jecht accepts the truths of their situation, and Auron of his actions, there are some ironies even Braska can't face. And then there are the ironies he holds most dear. Pre-game. Read the relationships between the three as you will.
The Fondest Irony
Braska felt uneasy as he watched Jecht mutter a vague excuse and get up to rummage in his pack. He took out a sphere -- the first one, looking battered and small in his large hand -- hefted his sword, and left, alone. Jecht's scarred back disappeared into the opalescent shadows of Macalania Forest, his wrap a startling burst of brightness until that, too, faded. Auron's gaze followed him. Braska noted it, watching Auron stare into the empty darkness.
The shadows, having swallowed Jecht's warm tones, were deep and cool and shimmering, the wood as beautiful as it ever was. It could be almost cruel, Braska thought. The woods stayed lovely and serene, unconcerned with the troubled lives that passed through them, fleeting. The forest was ancient, older than Sin, too far inland and too sparsely populated for the monster's ravages to affect it often. The trees remained, majestic and enduring, crystalline and a little eerie. Even the fiends were beautiful here, and Braska found irony in that. In one place in Spira, at least, all could see the how truly thin and shallow perception could be.
He had hoped that Auron would not need the uncompassionate prompting of the woods to remember that, but it appeared he did. The duplicity of the priests and their political maneuverings; the nature of the Al Bhed behind the fear-fueled misconceptions; even the careless callousness of the common people's attitude toward their pilgrimage, hopeful and encouraging despite the end they knew it held; all that he could accept. But to accept that he had wronged a man who was unworthy of it, and, more to the point, that it pained him deeper than he might wish...
Auron's face looked troubled, and when he spoke, his voice was subdued and guilty. "I've been hard on him."
Auron looked up, then, and Braska was silent for a moment, acknowledging the truth of it without further reproach. Auron had heard it often enough without being willing to listen; the exasperated, half-reprimanding "Auron, please" that had peppered so many of those earliest weeks together. The need for it had vanished gradually, and yet Auron was right. He had been harsher than he might have.
Braska temporized. "Not as much, recently." It was true. Auron's manner with Jecht had eased a little; he was slower to criticize or rebuke, and would even joke sometimes in his own acerbic way. Jecht accepted it readily enough, encompassing the strange camaraderie in his jests.
"But you misjudged him in the beginning."
Auron grimaced. "I'm sorry I doubted you."
Name of Yevon! Auron, always leaping to the same conclusions. "I've been wrong before," he said mildly, making an effort to suppress the twinge of impatience with Auron's blind persistence. Auron was quick enough to feel remorse at any implied lack of faith in Braska, but to admit that he himself had wronged Jecht... Auron might be stubborn, but he would come to it eventually. It was a night for honesty.
A beautiful night, too. Clear and calm, seeming strange after the relentless, roiling rumble on the Thunder Plains. Strange, that such soothing surroundings should encompass such turbulent developments in their small company. Strange, and ironic.
An irony, too, how Jecht had learned the truth of their journey's end; irony piled on irony. Bilghen the Al Bhed had built the towers on the Thunder Plains to make them safe, and died by a stray thunderbolt. The Al Bhed had always been practical; practical and rebellious and warm-hearted in their way despite the harsh prejudice against them. They had little patience for senseless death, and if Braska disagreed with their assessment of the pilgrimage and its purpose, he could not fault them for it. In such a spirit did Bilghen build the towers, to ward the people and challenge the ways of the world, and so did the inkeep at the Al Bhed waystation on the Plains speak less guardedly and with less blind reverence to Braska than anyone else they had met since Jecht joined them. A summoner spared death on the stormy Plains, condemned to it anyway. The comment had not been direct enough, not quite, but Jecht wasn't stupid, whatever Auron had maintained during the first turbulent weeks of their acquaintance. With everything else, all the other little clues over the long course of the pilgrimage, the stray remark by the frank innkeep had hit Jecht like the bolt that had killed Bilghen. A much worse blow than the lightning that had actually struck Jecht earlier. Braska remembered the old rhyme: Plains of lightning, plains of thunder, those who cross are torn asunder.
He had developed a high appreciation of irony, and could be amused by most of it. He'd remarked often enough upon the instance most immediate to them: the tale of the fallen summoner, the disgraced monk, and the raving drunkard that would save Spira.
Yet some ironies even he could find no gladness in.
That Jecht had learned it from a stranger, so late in their journey, while his companions had stayed silent. At that irony, Braska could feel nothing but remorse, and guilt at feeling relieved that the burden had lifted from his shoulders. Even though a new one had been placed upon them.
On the plains there had been no time to discuss it and they had hurried onwards. All of them tense, and Jecht unwontedly quiet. He'd learned the final folly at the heart of their quest, and Braska could guess easily enough what had followed. It was a hard truth to face, too hard to speak, and Jecht was never one to do things by half-measures. There were other hard truths that had been hovering around their small company, and Jecht had left tonight to face one of them alone in Macalania Forest.
In Auron's face, the bitter twist of his mouth and the slightly wild look around his eyes, Braska read the slow struggle of another such realization.
Oh, Auron, he thought with exasperation, though he couldn't help smiling. Just admit that it bothers you to have wronged him. That you care for him, just as I do. His smile turned wry.
Auron caught the look, and lowered his head on a similar smile, a trace self-mocking. They had known each other a long time.
"I should apologize." Auron's voice was soft, serious despite the small smile he'd allowed.
"I should, too." Auron looked up at that, startled. Braska shook his head at Auron's inability to grasp Braska's faults, so deeply did he marinate in his own. He would understand better, Braska thought, once the Calm came.
"For not telling him," Braska clarified. "It was unfair of us -- unfair of me -- to ask him to come without telling him. Without warning him. You have known all your life what a pilgrimage means." And still you have yet to harden your heart against it, though you know the end of it. As always, there were words unsaid between the loaded phrases, his own silent articulation twisted with the bitterness of their lot. Heavy words that should instead be said with hearts glad and full, and Braska wondered now, facing guilt at other words he'd failed to say, why he was silent. Whether they never passed his lips because to say them now, on this journey, would be a mockery, or if they were all simply afraid. It almost didn't matter, almost -- they had shown each other in a hundred little ways, protecting and guiding each other, joking and laughing, quarreling with easy smiles. Given what they'd been through, what they'd faced together, what they would face, it was enough.
And now, Jecht, who hadn't been warned, who having fixed his heart on something gave it wholly and gruffly, if awkwardly, with a laugh and a lewd joke, who hadn't known the folly that came with an offer of friendship, was alone in these cold woods, almost cruel with their sharp, relentless beauty.
Truly, Auron did not appreciate Braska's faults enough.
Braska stood up and got his staff. "I'll go talk to him."
"Wait." Auron had started at Braska's movement. He leapt to his feet at the announcement. His one bare arm had shot up, hand out to catch Braska's shoulder. "Wait," he repeated, softer this time, head hung low in a sigh.
Braska paused, and after a few moments, Auron's back straightened and he looked Braska in the eyes. Serious, as always, but with hint of rare ruefulness. "I'll go. I've... I've been worse to him."
Braska smiled at that, gentle and unmocking, glad that Auron had grasped the edges of his own need to set things right with Jecht. Even if he had yet to understand that while Jecht could shrug off Auron's past jibes easily enough, there was so little he could do in the face of what Braska had allowed him to fall into unwarned.
"I disagree. But I'm willing to wait." He lifted his own hand to Auron's other shoulder, a firm clasp and a little shake to emphasize his next words. "You two need to talk, my friend."
Auron slid his gaze away, discomfited. "My lord..."
"Ah, Auron. There's little enough left for you to learn from me." There is no time... "But there is much you can learn from each other. And right now, you have something to teach him." Though you've mastered it poorly yourself, my friend, by the way you watch me. "And he you." A last reprimand, as mild as he could make it.
Auron struggled with it, chafing at the silent spaces between Braska's words, chafing against the inevitability and the truth of it, at things said and unsaid. The facts did not sit easy with him, but in that his situation was like Jecht's, and probably it would be better for Jecht to hear that side of the story first. How to live.
Later, just a little later, soon, when Jecht had Auron to share the burden with more fully, Braska could teach him about the other side of the story.
Auron looked up again, unhappy.
"He probably went to the pool," Braska prompted gently. He pressed his hand low on Auron's shoulder, close to the heart -- reassurance, a soft push away -- and sat back down.
Auron let out a great breath and picked up his sword, avoiding Braska's eyes. "I'll... go apologize." No mention of Braska's earlier words. Some things are hard to say.
Braska watched him go, too, the forest's darkness again closing around a troubled friend's back.
But he was less uneasy for it.
If nothing else, Auron would be closer to peace with himself, with Jecht. And Jecht would have someone to share the burden of living with... and later, the burden of living bereft.
He was glad that Auron had found someone he could tolerate, however grudgingly. Few enough got along with Auron as easily as Jecht did, and fewer still were those from whom Auron would accept it. He would need someone, after...
And he was glad for Jecht, too, that he would have Auron to stand as steadfast by him as he had by Braska. Together, maybe, they would find a way for Jecht to go home, back to his wife and son. There was no time, now, but later, when Sin was gone, there would be peace, and those who would normally be duty-bound to fight the monster could pursue their own lives.
Auron could take Yuna to Besaid, where she could be raised in sunshine and laughter, away from the dark secrets of Bevelle, if not from all their prejudices. Braska would be proud to have them raise Yuna there, Auron to teach her duty and respect, and Jecht to temper both with laughter. A family. Something all three would be missing. Jecht could play with Yuna in the sea he loved, safe in the Calm. With his eyes closed to the chill night, he could see it; Jecht bare-chested and strangely graceful in the water, shouting half-mockingly at Auron who remained staunchly on the beach, watching for fiends. Little Yuna, her serious face bright with laughter, splashing along as Jecht showed her how to hold her breath, Auron sweating stoically on the white sand, maintaining a facade of stern disapproval, the water sparkling in the Besaid sun, green and blue like his little girl's eyes...
Braska shook his head at himself. Selfish thoughts, he knew. Better Jecht should find his way home to his own child than raise another's, and Braska must hope that one day he would. Jecht was broken now, the true depth of his plight having come to him at last, and too soon. But he would heal, with time. With Auron. Perhaps enough to look for a way. If nothing else, Auron would wallow in guilt over the unfairness until he stank of it enough to gall Jecht into action, and some day, when they finally held no duties but to each other, they would go. And they'd find it, and Jecht would show Auron his wondrous city, and maybe Yuna, too.
There would be the Calm; their Calm, the fallen summoner, the disgraced monk, and the raving drunkard, and perhaps in those sunlit days Yuna would learn, along with the rest of Spira, to set less score by hasty judgments.
He wanted those days to be full of laughter.
These were the truths that helped Braska pass the night in the woods, awake and watchful, while his guardians settled the long account between them. Things he knew to be true, things that would still be true after it was all over -- that Auron would have Jecht to show him merriment and acceptance, of which he had known little enough in his life; that Jecht would have Auron to show him steadfastness, when so many things had fallen away from him; and that Yuna would have them both, strange half-sons in spirit to her own father, raising her to be like them, like their memories of him.
It was the fondest of his ironies.
Notes and credits:
Since I hate visible references to footnotes in fics, I've made invisible footnotes here. If you can't recall the context, click the link and it will take you to where it is in the fic.
[Jecht's sphere] Jecht is going off to make the first Jecht sphere, the one you get from fighting the blob in Macalania Forest. Braska's pilgrimage started in Bevelle, moved down the continent and on to Besaid, then turned back to Bevelle and then on to Zanarkand. I think this sphere could be interpreted as either early in the game, when they set out, or late, right before they reenter Bevelle. Certainly the first two shots on it are early, but I have set it up here such that the last shot, where Jecht talks directly to Tidus, was made much later.
[older than Sin] Yes. I did find it amusing that I could say that in all seriousness here.
[such soothing surroundings should encompass such] Yeah, okay, that string of alliteration was totally accidental. I do that all the time. I found it too amusing to edit away.
[Bilghen the Al Bhed] Bilghen's story is canon, but it's relatively obscure canon, so I figured I'd note it just in case.
[Plains of lightning, plains of thunder] I did not write this! This is a piece of game canon. You can get Maechen to recite it for you when he talks about the Plains.
[Auron marinating] I must
[full of laughter] Yes, it's a canon reference. To one of my favourite Yuna lines, and one of the best-acted ones in the English version, I think.
This was my first FFX fic, so suggestions and feedback are very much welcome. I'm specifically interested in how my attempt to flesh Braska out worked out, whether he seems less flat but still in character from what we know of him. I've also always considered dialogue to be a particular weakness of mine, so any words on that would be appreciated.
I hope you enjoyed! Thanks again to everyone who helped me get this ready for publishing!
x-posted to: ff10, pyre_flies, ffx_yaoi, ff_threesomes, fic archives, my journal. Wow.