Marken saw him watching and smiled back.
Johannes was a sucker for a good fight. He loved old movies, the kind with noble knights and underdogs fighting for just causes. There was romance to battle, if one looked at it right. Sure, there was the clash of swords, or in their current case bats, but with that came sweat, exertion, determination, and will. The will to fight. The will to win.
It was glorious.
Hayner and Roxas paired off, circling the ring as they tested each other. Marken stepped back to the edge, out of the way.
Here, for example, Johannes could see both boys' ambitions. They wanted to win, for their friend Ollette, for each other, and for the glory of it all. Their senses sharpened. They were part cautious, part reckless. It was like the mating dance of two wild animals, circling each other, looking for both strengths and weaknesses, judging to see if they were a good match.
He'd met Marken similarly, years ago when they were both kids. They'd gone through the same dance, measured each other the same way. Watching Hayner and Roxas, his body remembered what it was like to be in that ring – the clash of bodies, the crossing of bats. He'd lost his battle with Marken, but in the same time he'd won.
They both shared a passion for the Struggle ever since that fated fight. They'd faced each other across the ring ten more times before finally retiring. Johannes had practiced endlessly, and he knew Marken had too, just for one fight. Sometimes Johannes won. More often, Marken did. In the end, it didn't matter. The battle itself was what counted.
As if on cue with his thoughts, the two boys sprung into action. They ran towards each other, shouting challenges seconds before their bats met. The thwack of rubber echoed through the suddenly silent courtyard, repeated frantically, almost rhythmically as the two friends fought.
He sighed. No matter who fought, he couldn't help but think how romantic the struggle was.
Roxas scored the first hit, pulling away from Hayner to collect spheres. Hayner chased after him and landed a lucky hit.
Both boys were good fighters. Johannes knew how hard they'd both trained. He'd seen them, in the alleys, sparring with each other and that boy Seifer in preparation for this day. Still, there were some things training alone couldn't teach. Hayner was good, but he'd never beat Roxas.
Roxas fought like he was born to it, like he'd spent his life doing it. He didn't know it, but there were abilities hiding in him waiting to be released. Johannes could tell just by looking. He'd trained a number of fighters, fought alongside others. He knew talent when he saw it.
There was talent in the way Roxas moved, in the speed that he raised his blade, and the instinctive way he followed his opponent – almost as if he was watching the fight from outside his body. Roxas could go far if he ever realized his potential.
The fight was over quickly. Roxas won by a bare margin. Hayner stormed off. He was upset, but he'd get over it. Good things could come from defeat. Johannes knew that from experience.
Seifer and Vivi squared off. Johannes would have bet money on the outcome, if he was the betting kind of man. Seifer was a favorite of the crowd. He'd won before, and he was the kind of fighter that could help Roxas bring out his talent. Apparently Vivi had been hiding something from them, since he had Seifer defeated almost before the battle even started.
Johannes shared a look with Marcus. In his head, he reviewed every second of the fight but he couldn't think of anything that was against the rules. It was surprising, but there was no rule about a contestant playing down their skills. Part of Johannes couldn't help but feel it was a bit unsportsmanlike. This was supposed to be a fair, open contest. They were all friends in the ring.
Regardless of how Vivi won, he still had won, which brought them to their final battle. Roxas climbed back in the ring and Johannes watched, a bit worriedly, as Marcus ran through the standard announcements.
Now this was a battle the ring was meant for. Vivi was powered up, almost brimming with fighting energy. Roxas' power wasn't at quite that level, not yet, but he had ambition.
Johannes watched with bated breath as the boys fought. They were unevenly matched and it seemed almost like Vivi was going to win. Then time seemed to hiccup. Johannes blinked and it was over.
None of them moved, not quite sure what had happened.
Marken was the first to react, declaring Roxas the winner.
The crowd roared to life, cheering. Johannes watched Vivi leave. He seemed almost a different person now, back to his normal self.
He'd seen the ring change people before, but never like that. He filed the oddity away in his mind for later contemplation.
Setzer stepped onto the ring. It was always a joy seeing him fight, and he was in fine form today. This was one battle Roxas couldn't win, even with his budding talent. He lost, though not horribly. A couple more years and Roxas could probably defeat Setzer.
Johannes couldn't wait to see that fight.
The crowd drifted away and Marken stepped down to join Johannes. "Good Struggle this year," he commented.
Johannes nodded, smiling as Marken stopped barely a foot away. "It was."
Marken leaned in and kissed him lightly, not caring if a few of the stragglers saw. "We'll have a better one next year," Marken promised.
Johannes returned the kiss with a wide grin. "Always."