Gippal has always hated the cold.

The cold robs him of his strength; it rips to pieces the casual exterior that he is so used to and leaves him feeling vulnerable and exposed. The cold makes him shiver violently; it makes him feel as if he can no longer control his own body, and he despises that. When he is cold, he stays quiet in order to conserve his energy. In the Macalania Snowfields, Gippal seems to be an entirely different person.

Gippal has always hated the cold.

He remembers Home fondly. Whilst most people would be unable to stand the intense heat of the desert, Gippal was used to it, and he adored it. He remembers how he would simply lie for hours on the warm sand, his eye – only one eye even then, he can no longer remember a time when he had both – half-closed, simply feeling the heat of the sun beating down upon him.

Baralai, on the other hand, seems able to resist even the most extreme of icy temperatures. He can walk through the frozen wilderness of Macalania without so much as visibly shivering; he never complained when the four of them were forced to set up camp in the middle of a blizzard. Gippal has often wondered whether Baralai would be able to stand unshaken under the pure coldness of a Blizzaga spell. He would have alleviated this curiosity, but for the fact that casting the spell would cause the temperature around himself to drop several degrees as well, and Gippal really hates the cold.

...That, and the fact that Baralai is his friend.

He asked Baralai how he could endure it, once. Smiling slightly, the blue-haired man admitted that he didn't like the cold either.

"How can you just ignore it, then?" he had asked, surprised.

"Some places may be cold, but they are beautiful as well, and it is worth it just to see them. And also... when people are relying on you, you have to seem strong. It has to look as if nothing as trivial as weather matters to you, even when it does. If you appear weak, they will lose faith in you."

Gippal had smirked. "'Cause we're all relying on you to save us, right?" Mock terror. "Oh no, look at Baralai! Our only hope – but what's this? He's shivering? We're all doomed! If he can't stand a little cold, what's he going to be like against a monster?"

But by then Baralai was laughing far too much to respond.

~~~

The woods of Macalania are cold tonight. The woods of Macalania are always cold.

A young Al Bhed man lies quietly on the forest floor, staring up at the frost-rimmed trees. Usually he would be making lighthearted comments to the man who accompanies him, but Gippal is in awe. He never really looked at Macalania before, and only now is he starting to feel regret at its inevitable fate.

"You were right, Baralai," he breathes. "It is beautiful."

He runs his hands through Baralai's white-blue hair. Baralai is lying with his head on Gippal's chest, also gazing at the star-filled sky. At this admission he smiles a little. "I told you, didn't I?"

"I hate to say it, but you were absolutely right." A pause. "Still not as beautiful as you, though."

"I'm flattered, but that's completely untrue. You always were a terrible liar, Gippal." Gippal doesn't look at him, but he can hear in Baralai's voice that he is grinning. For himself, he simply continues to lie contented and stargaze. The cold always seems less bitter when Baralai is with him.

"Gippal?"

"Mmm?"

"Can you not shiver so much? I'm kind of trying to get to sleep."

He smirks. "I'm only shivering 'cause I'm cold."

Baralai smiles. "Ah, I see." He shifts slightly and rolls over, wrapping his arms around Gippal and closing his eyes. Gippal smiles as the heat of the other man's body warms him, shielding him from the cold.

"Better?" the Praetor asks softly.

He lets his own eye drift slowly closed, still smiling. "Yeah. Thanks."

The two men lie together on the forest floor. And it is still cold, but they have found a way around the temperature.

Perhaps Gippal can grow to like it after all.