For Love in Power
Pre-FFX. Kinoc, Braska, expanded from Owlmoose's pairing prompt. This probably never happened.
It comes one day during services and when it does, Wen goes oh.
It's hot in Bevelle. Wen detests the heat; his muscles are prone to plumping when he's not exercising on a regular basis, so either way, he's doomed to sweat under his collar. The best he can do is shave his head when the sun gets too much. And then wear a hat.
But for once the temperatures are ignoring him entirely, because it feels like there's ice down his spine and in his face and in his brain, everywhere except for two hot points on his cheekbones, and he can't stop thinking about the Summoner in the front row of the 10:00 am lecture.
The one, he finds out later, that is named Braska.
The person who holds themselves with easy poise despite their thick-wool robes, and wears their hair long regardless of the heat. The person Wen thinks is a girl, and then discovers is male, and then discovers that he doesn't care because Braska has the most serene smile he has ever seen before in all of Spira, living and dead.
It's not hard to find calm faces in Spira. They outnumber everyone else. The survivors of Sin turn either resigned or fiery; those who rage for vengeance become Crusaders, and their Sendings are danced soon enough. Summoners are the archetype. The worst are typically the ones who have chosen Pilgrimage, who have acknowledged death along with the fact that theirs will not always be celebrated.
It's so common that the worth has become devalued, like gold worn on every ear. When he was younger, Wen used to become affected by seeing serenity fresh every day. He would try speaking to the Summoners; he would seek an answer to the problems that no one could solve. He would spout off theoretical ways to defeat Sin or build defenses around the coastal villages, each idea wilder than the last.
Now he endures it, ignores it. Now acceptance means nothing, when everyone puts on identical expressions in the morning, and again in the afternoon when they hear news of Sin.
But there is something new in Braska, in the way that man treats the preliminary grief on his face. There's sadness, only different; not hopeless resignation, but a benevolent understanding of life. Whatever it is, Wen is sure that he's never seen it before. Something about the way that Braska regards the world around him turns Wen abashed as a teenager, feeling as if he's brushing the edge of mystery and awe.
For the first time in years, Wen realizes that he might actually see the worth of serenity again.
He makes an effort to meet with Braska next time the 10:00 service rolls around. It isn't hard. The man does not linger overlong in the central cloister, keeping his conversations brief and dodging the social knots that are so vital to Bevelle's hierarchy. At least half the reason that most attend the lectures is to be seen there; the rest only show up to speak with other individuals who have bothered to appear. It's important, in a political way. It's how people build careers.
Wen normally finds Auron after services are up -- if the other warrior monk hasn't skipped out early, at least -- but today he moves with a purpose, exiting the main presentation hall into the smaller side passageways. Braska's robes are a slice of red disappearing through the green thicket of acolytes. One more second, and they'll be completely gone.
He manages to approach the other man just as there's a lull in the crowds, and before he knows it, his hand is touching the priest's shoulder to turn him.
Once confronted with that calm expression, though, that thing happens with Wen's brain again, where everything promptly shorts out. Oh.
Braska doesn't startle under his touch, though Wen is surprised by how thin the other man feels. Braska is of similar enough height, but under Wen's hand, he suddenly appears much smaller. And much more bony.
Braska inclines his head. "May I help you?"
"Wen," he answers first, without thinking -- an automatic answer for a question that was never asked. Then, as his brain kicks his mouth, cursing his informality, "Kinoc. Wen Kinoc, you can use either. You're Braska," he adds, hoping to recover some dignity, if that's even possible. "I've seen you around. I, ah. I wanted to talk to you."
Braska's mouth curves, but the smile is not cruel. "Then here I am, Wen."
They stand there together in the awkward hall, the noise of the other parishioners filtering around them, a familiar ocean of gossip and politicking that Wen suddenly finds stifling.
There's a faint glisten of sweat on Braska's forehead; ah, Wen thinks, so even he is affected by the heat.
"Are you taking the walk?" Wen stammers after a moment, picking one of the cleanest euphemisms; going on your Pilgrimage suddenly sounds gauche when presented with Braska's poise, almost as bad as chewing the short road. He drops his hand after another awkward second. Braska had been too polite to mention the prolonged contact.
Even more time goes by before the other man answers, and when he does, his voice is quiet. "No." His gaze moves away from Kinoc, tracing a secret shame upon the floor. "I'm afraid... I haven't found the right thing to die for yet."
To which Wen has no answer.
They part ways there, Braska slipping away from the cloisters like a summertime shadow hiding in the dusk, Wen standing mute in the hall.
"Take your time," he finally says, much later to the emptiness. The afternoon service has already begun; the shadows are long and fat on the carpets. Maester Mika's voice hums through the walls. "Take as long as you want."
- - - - - -
Seasons eat up space. One crop of warrior monks graduate -- then the next, and Auron doesn't laugh half as much anymore when Wen punches his shoulder, daring him to a round in the practice fields, egging him to stay up late and drink tea in the library while they talk about nothing and everything at all. As cadets, they remain in the delicate position of Bevelle's middle ground, able to move up or down the political ladder at a moment's notice. Maintaining rank takes skill, or at least half a dose of perception. Wen knows enough to keep himself out of trouble, and -- usually -- Auron too.
News comes back to them in gobs. Wen keeps track of the outside world occasionally; the public opinions of Spira only rarely pertain to Bevelle, though Yevon's influence is everywhere. It does not particularly matter what the prices of fish are in Kilika, not when there is a chance of training programs running in competition with each other, and what if the latest set of recruits shows more promise than the seniors?
Braska reenters his life as a surprise. Not the man himself, but tales of his transgression. The other warrior monks bring back gossip, saying that Braska has married an Al Bhed. Then marriage becomes a family, becomes a stable domestic life -- and it's fine, because Wen still can't clear his head of the cluttered impressions he's saved up over the years. Slim hands. Clear eyes. Braska is surreal. Everything that exists in the realm of that Summoner is as delicate as a pyrefly: everything is fine because it exists in a realm Wen could never compete in, and so he does not have to feel more than a passing jealousy.
Then comes the accident at sea, and Braska is brought back to Bevelle with his daughter in tow, and his eyes have become sadder than anything Wen has seen before either.
Wen wants to comfort that, but he does not know what to do. Braska lives apart from them all; he is untouchable, and that is the way it should be. His mourning makes him even more beautiful, like an exotic bird in a jeweled palace, and Wen watches from afar but knows not to approach.
There are things that make the balance of authority tolerable in Bevelle. Power is what rules Yevon; power is embodied in the branches of the government, with its acolytes and summoners, warrior monks and priests. Not everyone can be a maester. This is a fact of life.
Wen Kinoc knows that he is not the best candidate in the lists. He is not the strongest. He is not as physically attractive as some. He is not even the smartest on tests and drill maneuvers, which is customarily the saving grace of those who do not stand out in other ways; Wen is a second-rank student, and those are customarily doomed to mediocrity.
But he is determined, in his own way. Wen knows about patience, and also that in every pyramid, more stand at the bottom than at the top. That's how creatures like Braska can exist: because people like Wen are silently holding up the infrastructure, accepting that which is within their reach, and respecting what is not.
It all starts to fall down the day that Wen discovers that not only had Auron abandoned his obligations to Bevelle once because he did not love -- I cannot marry that girl for honor alone, his friend had rumbled back then, and Wen had yelled, because Wen always yelled at Auron when his friend was making stupid decisions and what about that time by the Moonflow and what about that time at Djose and what about that time they -- but Auron usually makes politically wrong decisions, and becoming a Guardian is one of them.
And not simply anyone's Guardian.
Before Wen even knew there was a chance to touch that grace, Auron had stolen it first.
The disillusionment is sudden, and merciless. Auron's violation of the unspoken divisions of power is all the more cruel for how he refuses to speak of it. Whenever Wen tries to think of a tactful way to bring up the question -- the demand, the what the hell are you doing Auron, you're my friend and he is, he is -- Auron only sidles away, claiming that supplies have to be packed for Braska's next trip or that there's a Sending in some distant town that must be attended to.
Each time, Wen is left with clenched fists and the sick, dizzying sense that he might have had that opportunity too. If only he'd reached for it. That his friend might never have played by the rules of propriety, or maybe those rules never existed at all. Maybe the careful separation of ranks in Bevelle is only a facade; maybe the pinnacles of reverence were illusions all along.
He is not there to see them off when they leave for the final walk. No one is there, really -- Braska has chosen to make his departure without fanfare, without even other Summoners nearby to witness the start of his trip. The man was disgraced once already by his union with an Al Bhed; Yevon will not acknowledge a second time. They are willing to let the incarnation of Braska disappear. They would prefer to have him erased from history as quietly as possible.
Wen knows the exact day that Braska goes. He knows the exact time that Braska steps out through the gates, but he refuses to let himself watch.
Fools, he tells himself, but as he closes his eyes, Wen does not know which side he is speaking to.
Wen moves on. He becomes leader of the warrior monks, because Auron is no longer there to receive the title. He becomes one of the four ruling officials of Bevelle. He discovers secret truths about the Maesters that should horrify him, or surprise him, or do something to him, but Wen finds he really cannot care anymore. That someone like him can make it to the top is a mockery, and Wen loves that fact, because if Auron can break decorum so readily, then Wen should be able to as well.
There are images of Braska everywhere in Bevelle within a year of the man's death. Suddenly Braska is a hero; Braska is a savior, a saint. Suddenly Braska is loved as he never was before by Yevon's masses -- now they claim to see his value, when it is much too late.
Mika says nothing when Kinoc goes through the inner offices, and destroys all the paintings in a single afternoon.
Wen becomes a man of glory. His word is law among the warrior monks. The triumph is bitter. There is nothing left to seize at the top; he has climbed the mountain only to discover a shrine left hollow, with the fayth gone missing long ago.