Disclaimer/Note: I do not own Star Ocean: Til the End of Time, or any of the characters here, unless otherwise mentioned. I do not own Square-Enix, and no money is being made off of this piece of fiction. This drabble was written solely for entertainment purposes, and no copyright infringement is intended. Please, do not sue. All original ideas are original (duh) and belong to me, unless otherwise mentioned. I would like to share credit for this idea with my friend and beta, The Mad Poet, who helps me to flesh out and make sense of most of my stories. Hopefully, Poet will work on Thou Shalt Not, so that I can focus on other fics. Anyway, please enjoy.
"We don't. Push."
Maria sniffled, rubbing her runny nose on the back of one hand. Her blue hair was knotted and tangled from being left loose during a scuffle, falling into her face now and hiding her downcast eyes from the speaker's view. She had pursed her lips and bitten down onto her tongue to keep from screaming at him; her jaw was aching and she wanted to slink away into her room and never come out again.
She wanted to tell him that it was not her fault that it had happened. She had not been the one to start it, after all. It was Steeg's fault, she kept telling herself in her head, saying it over and over again like a mantra in the hopes that maybe if she thought it hard enough, the speaker would miraculously come to the same conclusion. Steeg had told her she was different. He had pulled her hair and told her it looked funny, fake even. And that was why she pushed him. That was why she shoved him back, tripped him, and then kicked him when he fell over.
And now she was getting that talk, and Maria hated getting that talk.
"You can punch him, kick him in the balls, break his damn arm for all I care, but you do not push anybody on my ship, and you sure as Hell don't hit anybody when they're down. Do you understand?"
Maybe it was the way the speaker was talking. Yes, Maria decided, that was absolutely it. He sounded like he was disappointed in her. Like he had been expecting so much more from her. It was that tone that made her feel so guilty, made her feel like she had let him down and should just crawl under a rock somewhere and die. Why did he have to say it so quietly, anyway? Why did he have to be crouched down in front of her with his hands resting so warm and so very heavy on her shoulders? Why—?
His grip tightened as he gave her a squeeze to emphasize his earlier question.
"I said, 'do you understand me,' Maria?"
She clenched her teeth, ignoring the sharp jolt of protesting pain from her tongue, and nodded quickly. The metal floor of the hallway seemed blurry between her feet as her eyes started to water.
But strong arms wrapped around her, pulled her close to a warm paternal chest that she gratefully fled to. She pressed her face against his muscular shoulder and cried, wailing:
"He started it! I-I'm s-sorry, Cliff, but he started it and I—!"
"Shh. . .Shh, it's okay, Maria. It's gonna be okay. . ."
He held her until she finally stopped and the sobs dwindled down into those painful, pathetically tiny hiccups.
When Klausians fought, Maria could not help but think that it looked odd. They never took brawls outside but instead brought them in, the two men waiting until the doors had closed behind them before throwing the first punch. When Klausians fought, it was an odd mix of barroom boxing and grappling: fists flew and bodies collided, but always one held the other up. They would slam each other into walls and tables, counters and consoles, but no one ever fell down. There was always a steadying hand on the arm, or a tight grip on the collar of a shirt, or legs and chests braced for the catch, to keep them from making contact with the floor. Klausian fights were very strange to watch.
Maria would often try to liken them to human fights on Federation stations and colonies, but she could never be sure which seemed more natural. When Earth men fought, they pushed and shoved each other away, each man for himself as he tried to maintain his footing. Every punch was made with the intent of laying the opponent "out cold" on the floor. The only contact made was violent. Each man wanted to put the other at a greater disadvantage in order to win. Neither one would allow the other to put him into a vulnerable position. Klausians, however, pulled each other in close when they fought, and gripped each other tightly as if letting go would have killed them both. Even in the aspect of fighting there was a sense of a shared fate, an understanding of brotherhood.
Then again, that assumption could have had something to do with the fact that Maria had seen very few fights between Klausian strangers. Most of the fights she had seen took place on the Diplo: in the cafeteria or cargo bay, usually, but once or twice spilling out into the hallways between the bridge and infirmary. The majority of those involved Cliff, either as the perpetrator or defendant, and always ran much the same way: the metal walls of the ship acting as both weapons and support for each combatant, the desperate clinging of hands as each man struggled to hold the other up.
When she was still small, Cliff had once taken her with him to Klaus IV. The atmosphere there was too heavy, and she had to wear a clear mask over her nose and mouth—hooked to a small filter that was strapped to one arm—to ensure that she was getting enough air. Cliff was very gentle with her on Klaus, as if he feared her delicate human frame would shatter under the weight of his planet's gravity. He let nothing touch her.
That was the one time she had ever seen him fight with a man he did not know, and they still held each other closer than brothers and never stepped outside. Maria wondered if it was like that for all Klausians, or if it was just Cliff's way of making sure that he never hit anyone while they were down.