Characters: Auron, Braksa, Jecht
Spoilers: Auron's backstory
Notes: Eleventy billion years ago, muggy_mountain was looking to write some fic, and I offered to exchange stories with her. She produced my request within two days. My response took, uh, a little bit longer. I hope I am forgiven?
The late morning sun blazed down on the Besaid docks as the gulls cried overhead. Auron paused on the wooden boards, shading his eyes with a hand to better see the birds gliding on the sea breeze. Then he dropped his hand and turned around. Jecht was already on the ship; he had bounded up the gangway ahead of them and was now prowling the bow in search of seats. But Braska hung back, standing on the stairs to the dock and staring at the beach. Auron returned to Braska and gave him a curious look. "My lord? Are you ready? The ship leaves soon."
For a brief moment, Braska seemed not to have heard him. Then he shook his shoulders and met Auron's eyes with a smile. "Look," he said, pointing to a cluster of children on the sand. "Can't you just see Yuna playing with them?"
Auron watched the boys toss a blitzball in a triangle pattern. They laughed and shouted as they ran into the water, splashing and knocking each other down. "I'm sure she'll be happy here, my lord."
"I want her to find a place where she can belong. A simple place." After one last look at the children, he turned away to walk down the dock. Auron followed him up the gangplank, nodding to the ship's captain as he passed.
The captain acknowledged them with a bow. "Welcome aboard, sir. We'll be shoving off soon; please take a seat."
"Thank you." Auron looked at Braska. "Would you like--"
"Hey! You there! Hold the boat!" A man's shout pierced the air, accompanied by sounds that Auron knew only too well: the jingle of armor and the rhythmic steps of men running in formation. He turned slowly, his hand coming to rest on the rail, to see a party of seven warrior monks approaching the boat: six in green, one in orange waving his arms above his head as he jogged toward the dock.
The captain cupped a hand to his mouth. "I see you. Hurry it up!"
The lead monk turned his head and barked something at his companions, who lagged several meters behind. They sped up in response, not breaking the discipline of their ranks, each man in step with the monk beside him despite their haste and the slippery sand beneath their feet.
Auron dropped his hand from the rail and turned away, returning his attention to Braska. "Let's get settled on deck, my lord."
Braska looked at Auron with concern. "Are you sure? We can retire to the cabin."
"Jecht has already found a place for us." Auron gestured toward Jecht, who was seated, his legs splayed over the deck, face turned toward them and wearing a quizzical expression. "Besides, you'll want to be outside on a day like this." He resisted the urge to glance over his shoulder and check on the monks' progress -- the creaking of wooden planks under heavy boots told him all he needed to know. "Come, Jecht will wonder what's keeping us."
"There you are." Jecht sat up straight and slapped the bench with an open palm. "What took you so long?"
Auron cast a sideways look at Braska; he smiled, then shook his head as he took a seat on Jecht's left. "My apologies. I was distracted."
"Hey, no skin off my nose. At least those monk guys were slower than us."
"Hmph." Auron turned just enough to see the monks making their way to the stern. "Sloppy, if you ask me. The boat leaves at the same time every day; there's no excuse for being late."
Jecht peered up at Auron. "Always the stiff, aren't you?"
Auron glowered down at him, then dropped down on the bench on his other side, the wood beneath him beginning to vibrate as the engines thrummed to life. Auron spared one more look for the warrior monks, gathered now in a tight circle, listening to their leader speak; Auron found himself straining to hear, but the monk's words were lost to the rising wind. He sat back and shook his head. If they were his squad, he knew what he would say about keeping to a schedule, and about proper care of equipment -- the tarnish on the short one's armor was a disgrace. In his day--
Auron exhaled sharply, then pinched the bridge of his nose. He had seen monks since his expulsion from the order, of course. But there was something more disconcerting about encountering them unexpectedly in the field. Too close to his memories of the good times, perhaps. He did not regret his choices, but sometimes he missed the discipline and predictability of the warrior monks. Once he'd gotten used to Jecht, Auron had found him a worthy comrade and a capable fighter. But he would never use the word "predictable" to describe Jecht.
Perhaps he would spend the rest of this boat ride in meditation. Auron looked away from the monks and, closing his eyes, took a deep breath, cleansing his spirit with the salty tang of the rising breeze. He focused on the gentle rocking motion of the boat as it began to ride the swells of the sea, felt the warmth of the sun on his face, let his hands fall into his lap, and started to allow himself to relax.
Then a shadow fell over him, and he opened his eyes to see one of the warrior monks standing there, feet planted firm, about a foot apart. "You're Auron."
Auron sat up, lifted an eyebrow, fought the urge to insist on proper address. "What of it?"
The monk glared at him. He was young, likely just out of training: his armor gleamed like new, and the buckles were fastened improperly. "You're the traitor who left the warrior monks to guard a madman and a heretic."
"Hey!" Jecht started to stand at the affront, but Auron stilled him with a glance. Then he rose to his feet, slow and deliberate, and looked the monk straight in the eyes, or at where his eyes would have been if his helm hadn't slipped down over them.
"You know nothing about me," Auron said. He noted the other monks gathering together on the other side of the deck, hanging back, but he kept his focus on the accuser, not even raising his eyes to acknowledge the rest.
"I know everything I need to know." The monk pushed his helm back into place, then crossed his arms with a defiant nod. "I know you defied a superior officer. I know you left the order rather than accept the Maester's wishes. I know you think you're too good to be the high priest's son-in-law. When really you're not even good enough to be on the same boat with us, much less a guardian. Even if you are guarding... that." His voice dripped scorn on the last word as he indicated Braska with his chin. Then he turned his head to the side and spat on the deck.
The unease that Auron had felt from the moment the warrior monks appeared in the distance shifted into anger, and his hands tensed into fists, nails biting his palm. "You know nothing about me," he repeated, his voice rising. "But if you're issuing a challenge, perhaps you'll learn something."
"A challenge?" The monk spat again. "That would suggest you were worthy of challenging. I..."
"No, Rann." The voice rang out over the rising wind and the mutters of the other monks. Auron looked up to see the lead monk step forward and shake his head. "Deserter or no, Sir Auron was one of us once. I concur -- you have issued a challenge, and he has the right to answer it." He met Auron's eyes and raised an eyebrow. "Do you wish to do so?"
"I do." Auron's fingers relaxed, and he pulled his shoulders back. "He has insulted a summoner and his guardians. This cannot stand."
"Very well. As the challenged party, you may choose your weapons. The sword?"
Auron considered, then shook his head. This boy was arrogant and foolish, but he deserved only humiliation, not death. "Barehanded."
The lead monk held his hand out to Rann. "Your weapons, please."
The challenger -- Rann -- whipped around to stare at his commanding officer as his jaw dropped. "Captain, you can't be serious."
"Are you questioning a direct order?" The captain stared Rann down until he looked away. "I thought not. Now give me your weapons."
Scowling, Rann unbuckled his scabbard and handed the sheathed sword to the captain, then pulled a dagger from his boot and passed it across as well. Then he turned back to Auron and spread his empty hands. "Your turn."
Auron complied, unstrapping the sword from his back and holding out his arm; Jecht took the weapon, then paused. "You sure about this?" he asked.
"I have no choice," Auron replied. "I anticipate no difficulty, but keep your eye out. Braska is your responsibility now."
Jecht nodded and stepped back. Auron turned back and took a moment to size up his opponent. Rann stood tall -- he had at least an inch on Auron, perhaps two, which gave him the advantage of reach. His shoulders were narrow and his build comparatively slight; on the other hand, Auron noted the efficiency of his motions as he removed his gauntlets. Quick, then, which would help balance out Auron's greater strength and experience.
So a fair match, in physical terms. But Auron reckoned on one clear advantage: by issuing this unintentional challenge, Rann had proven himself to be hot-headed, impulsive, not likely to think through the consequences of his actions. A set of character traits that Auron fully intended to exploit.
As he watched Rann's companions assist him out of his armor, Auron felt Braska come to his side. "You don't have to do this," he murmured. "Not for me. I knew what they would say when we undertook this journey. So did you." Braska laid a gentle hand on his forearm. "Let them."
"I'm sorry, my lord, but I cannot. Not this time." Auron shook his head. "Do you understand how serious it is for one warrior monk to insult another? And giving insult to a summoner or a guardian is nearly unheard of. This Rann is young, and he must learn that words can have consequences. Regardless of my personal feelings, I would never allow such a thing to simply pass." Even as he spoke these words, he wondered how much he really meant them, and he saw the same doubt in Braska's eyes. Was this a lesson, or revenge?
But then Braska lowered his hand, then his gaze. "Very well. Just be careful."
Auron bowed. "Of course. But I will be fine."
"Don't worry, Braska," Jecht called out from behind. "Auron'll wipe the floor with that kid."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Auron found himself repressing a chuckle. Discipline might not be Jecht's strength, but he had loyalty down cold. "You see, my lord?"
Braska sighed as he sat. "Good luck."
Auron turned and faced Rann, who had moved to the middle of the deck. He had removed his helm, and his short hair ruffled in the wind. After checking that the tie that held his queue in place was strong, Auron stepped forward, within arms reach of Rann. He looked his opponent straight in the eye, then raised his voice, speaking the words he had first learned in training, and had used in earnest only once since. "You have offered challenge with your words, and I accept with my fists. We fight to first knockdown or first blood. These are my terms."
Rann brought his arms into the prayer position and bowed. "On my honor as a warrior monk and in the name of Yevon, I accept your terms."
The captain stepped between them. "The challenge has been brought and accepted. Anyone who violates the agreed-upon terms will be anathema from this day forward. In the name of Yevon, I serve witness." He moved back; Auron raised his fists, and Rann did the same. "Begin!"
As he finished speaking, Auron was already moving to avoid Rann's first punch attempt. He ducked and stepped sideways in one smooth motion, then paused; Rann was dancing back in anticipation of a return throw, but Auron held himself still, hands up and ready, and watched Rann, looking into his pale eyes, trying to gauge what he might do next. A twitch of his left shoulder gave him away as he feinted toward the head with his right, then jabbed a left into Auron's stomach -- or where Auron's stomach would have been if he hadn't stepped back and to the left, out of Rann's reach. As he did so, he took his first strike, an uppercut at Rann's jaw; he missed, but not by much, Rann leaning away so fast that he stumbled but did not fall, taking a quick skip to regain his footing. As he straightened, he shot Auron a glare. "You think you can trick me?"
"You think that was a trick?" Auron replied, fists raised back into position. "I see you still have more lessons to learn."
"Shut up!" Rann reset into his stance and starting circling, moving counter-clockwise, Auron matching him step for step. He took three throws in succession; Auron dodged them all, then blocked a fourth, catching it in an open palm. He held Rann's hand still, trembling with the effort, and waited for the ship to pitch just right before heaving forward, pushing hard enough to throw Rann off balance. Rann flailed as his companions shouted, then steadied himself just in time for Auron's fist to connect with his jaw. His knuckles slammed into the hard bone, and Auron felt the impact rattling down the core of his arm, heard the crack of popping joints.
"Yeah!" Jecht whooped in the background as Rann's head snapped to the side, and Auron made to hit him again, pulling back his arm with enough force to knock Rann down, but then he was spinning through empty air -- Rann had crouched beneath the throw, and the next thing Auron knew was a fist pounding into his gut.
Pain lanced through his stomach and into his chest, knocking the air out of his lungs. Auron grunted and took a step back, shook his head to clear it, and turned back just in time to see a blow heading toward his face. He twisted his whole body sideways and felt the air from the punch whistle past his cheek. Rann's momentum carried him forward, and he stumbled into Auron, who caught at his other arm with both hands, fingers digging into flesh, and pushed again, hard enough to knock Rann's feet out from underneath him.
Rann scrabbled for purchase, but it was too late -- he was already slipping on the slick wood of the deck, and Auron stepped out of the way to let him fall, his head hitting the boards with a crack loud enough to be heard over the wind and waves and gasping bystanders.
Auron leaned his forearms against his thighs and bowed his head, resting a moment, just breathing. Then he stood up and looked straight at the captain. "My honor is satisfied."
"As is the honor of Yevon," the captain replied with a nod. "We are done here." He walked over to Rann and gave him a hand up. Auron did not stay to watch but turned on his heel, heading for the bench where Braska and Jecht sat. Before he reached them, Braska was already on his feet.
"Let me," he said, and he placed his hand on the place where Rann's fist had connected. Auron closed his eyes, allowing the coolness of healing magic to spread throughout him. A few more breaths and the ache was gone, although Auron expected he would still have a bruise in the morning.
"Are you all right?" Braska asked.
Auron opened his eyes, looked over Braska's shoulder and met Jecht's broad grin with a nod. Then he returned his attention to Braska. "Now I am. But perhaps I should spend the rest of the trip in the cabin. Excuse me, my lord." And he made his way across the deck, not looking back.