Braska will summon the Final Aeon in the morning. He has little time left to show his appreciation to his guardian.
Ah. Now the mood was getting to /him/, too.
"It's a beautiful sunset, isn't it?" Braska asked, as they came to the top of a gentle rise.
"It is, my lord," Auron answered, even though he was studying the ground, not the sky. Still watching for fiends, Braska supposed, though they'd both noticed how the fiends avoided them, now that Braska was carrying this new burden.
"Let's make camp here," Braska suggested.
That got Auron's attention enough to make him look up. "You don't want to continue to the inn, my lord?"
Braska shook his head. "The evacuation order has gone ahead of us. It'll be empty. It feels like it's going to be warm tonight, and I'd like to sleep under the stars."
If he wanted to, he could pretend not to see the pain in Auron's eyes. "As you wish, my lord."
"Auron." Braska set down his pack, ether bottles clinking softly. "We are a long way from Bevelle. I would be honored if you would call me by name, my friend."
"You are a summoner and I am your guardian," Auron replied, kneeling, beginning to unpack their bedrolls. His movements were stiff, but his hands didn't shake. "You are the High Summoner, my lord."
Braska tried to smile. "Is it that much to ask, truly?"
Auron rose, and offered him a perfect temple bow. "I will go and gather wood for the fire, my lord."
"Thank you," Braska said quietly. That was answer enough: it was too much. Perhaps this entire pilgrimage was too much to ask -- of anyone, in truth, but most especially of Auron, whose faith was matched only by his devotion. Braska watched him walk away, the resolute set of his shoulders under his coat. It was cruel, even for Spira, the fate that had fallen to Auron. At least Braska and Jecht had known love, known family, before they came to the point of sacrifice; Auron had only his vows. And Braska.
A hot wind, like the kind driven before a wildfire, stirred and curled around Braska, tugging at his robes, his hair. The Final Aeon flexed in the back of his head, a vague impression of glory and passion and unbearable strength -- and from inside that vortex, somewhere, a voice that still sounded almost like Jecht's: so what are you going to do about it?
"There isn't much I can do, is there?" Braska asked softly. "It's too late for me to turn back." He suspected Auron knew it, too; now that the Final Aeon burned in Braska's heart, waiting for release, there was no way for him to change his course, even had he been willing to forsake his own vows a second time for love. "I can't give him what he wants."
The presence inside him that was no longer entirely Jecht made no answer in words. But the restless shifting of the Aeon was clearly impatient.
And it was right, Braska admitted to himself. Perhaps he couldn't give Auron what he /wanted/, but neither could he give Auron nothing at all.
Auron returned with an armload of wood, dry gnarled branches from the hardy shrubs that grew in patches in the Calm Lands between the encounters with Sin. He broke branches and built them into a careful pile to burn. Braska watched him move, paying attention to the quiet strength of his resolve, the careful precision of his efforts. "Will you do the honors, my lord?" Auron asked, stepping back from the prepared wood.
"Of course," Braska murmured, stretching out one hand. The fire flowed easily from his fingertips now, more easily than it ever had, with the heat of the new power he bore. It would consume him, whether he summoned the Aeon or not; now that he carried it within him, there was no way to avoid that.
When he looked up, Auron was watching him, firelight dancing warm across his face. "Shall I prepare some food?" he asked, the question clipped and cut off as though he had caught himself just in time to avoid using Braska's title again.
And that spoke volumes about him. No matter how much Braska asked of him, no matter how little he wanted to give, he would do anything in his power for his summoner. The unsettled heat of almost-Jecht waited in the back of Braska's mind, watching.
"No, thank you," Braska said gently. "I'm not hungry."
"You'll need your strength," Auron said, and long habit let Braska hear the strain almost disguised in his voice. "In the morning."
"I have strength enough for what I need to do," Braska promised. "I wouldn't ask any more of you tonight."
"My lord, I don't mind," Auron protested. "I am your guardian; it's only right --"
"Auron," Braska interrupted. "Please. I am grateful for all you've done. I don't need a meal right now. I need --" and then he wasn't sure how to continue, how to say something that would be both true and also what Auron needed to hear.
Auron stared into the fire, and his voice was barely above a whisper when he said, "Only say the word, my lord."
"What I need most," Braska said slowly, "I already have." Auron looked up at him sharply, and he went on, "I've been able to come this far -- I've been able to succeed in my pilgrimage -- because of your love."
"My -- Braska," Auron said. His voice was hoarse, his expression so vulnerable now it hurt to see it.
Braska thought of Mirra, her kindness, the warmth of her smile. The way she steadied him, and made everything easier to bear. He'd see her tomorrow, on the Farplane. That poor man/, she would say. /Giving his whole life to Yevon, and for what?
She wouldn't hold this against him. "I can't give you what that's worth," Braska said, holding Auron's gaze. "But I can give you tonight."
Auron bowed his head, and Braska could barely hear his reply: "I -- I don't deserve...."
"No," Braska agreed, and continued when Auron flinched -- "but I'm afraid I have given too much of myself to Spira already. I hope you can forgive me, my friend, for not being able to give you as much as you deserve."
"You are too kind," Auron murmured. He looked up, his eyes hungry and longing. "Braska."
Braska could feel the attention of almost-Jecht focused on him, could almost hear what Jecht would say: This is the part where you kiss him, you know.
There wasn't much else left to do, was there? Braska shifted, and leaned over to press his lips to Auron's. For perhaps the space of two heartbeats, Auron held deathly still, and then his resolve crumbled all at once. His mouth opened, his tongue pressing between Braska's lips, and he moaned low in his throat. It had been a long time since Braska had kissed anyone at all, and far longer since he'd kissed anyone with this kind of urgency, this need overpowering all the rules against it.
He thought again of Mirra, and his heart ached -- he'd at least had a few years with her, had the joy of seeing their daughter born; Auron clearly felt as strongly for him as he ever had for Mirra, and this pleasure would be far too fleeting.
But perhaps it would be better than nothing. Braska reached down to unbuckle Auron's coat, to push it back. "This is -- something you want, isn't it?"
/He's going to worry about you now/, the shadow of Jecht predicted, but even if there was still guilty and tension in Auron's face, all he said was, "Yes, yes, yes." His hands were shaking, clumsy, as he fumbled with the strings and sashes of Braska's robes, and at one point Braska thought he heard silk tear, but that didn't matter now -- he wouldn't need his fancy robes much longer. Right now, all that mattered was the fevered heat of Auron's skin, his harsh gasping breaths, this last private night before the dawn took all they had to give.
And Auron was so handsome, stripped bare, young and strong, tempered by the trials of the pilgrimage into a perfect warrior. His voice seemed to have deserted him as they lay down together, skin sliding on skin, Braska's robes beneath them to cushion them from the ground. But his hands were warm and needy, reverent, sliding over Braska's skin as though he wanted to feel as much as he could. It was easier than Braska had expected to respond to that desire, to move with it and feel his body lean into the touch. Feeling pleasure meant they were still alive, still had things to feel, and perhaps there was an echo of hunger in the presence that waited inside him, too.
It was definitely the influence of Jecht's remnants that helped Braska with the practicalities, with that slow and careful -- well, as slow and careful as they could stand -- preparation for the act itself. Braska had never done this before, and he suspected from the way that Auron arched and trembled, from the look of lost surrender on his face, that it was new for both of them.
"Oh," Auron managed, when Braska settled carefully between his thighs and pushed, and the rest of Spira stopped mattering for just a moment -- just for now, this heat and closeness, Auron's hands splayed across Braska's back, Braska's hair spilling loose like a curtain around them. "Yes," Auron breathed, when Braska reached down between them. "Yes, oh -- Braska --" and the sensations were strange but the rhythm was as familiar as Spira's own tides, and they'd followed each other from one end of the earth to the other, so it seemed only right that they should follow each other now to this peak, this single moment where the whole spiral found its center in heat and light and shuddering, breathless pleasure.
The sense of warm, basking satisfaction from the Final Aeon afterward was so intense that Braska couldn't help but smile.
Beneath him, Auron shifted awkwardly, and tried to smile back, though it was brittle. "Thank you," he said hoarsely. "I wish --"
Braska waited, but Auron didn't continue. "You wish?" he prompted at last.
Auron shook his head. "I wish things were different," he said, and the absurd understatement of it made them both smile wryly. "But they aren't, and -- and I'm glad for this, at least."
Braska shifted his weight and slid free, lying down beside Auron. "Defeating Sin," he said softly, looking into the fire, "will make -- will make happiness possible for the people of Spira. I...hope that will include you."
Auron nodded once, his eyes closed. "Eventually," he murmured. "My lord."
Braska flinched. "Auron." He took Auron's hand in his own, holding on until Auron responded, fingers lacing tightly with his. "If I could --"
Auron turned, pressed his mouth to Braska's to silence him. Without the urgency of the first one, this kiss was slow, deep, resonant with too much feeling for words. They were both breathless when Auron pulled back at last, and rested his forehead against Braska's. "Don't apologize," he said. "Just -- don't let go."
"As long as I have breath," Braska promised, and for all it must have hurt him, Auron bowed his head, and smiled.