Baralai/Isaaru, for Jurhael. Consider this coming somewhere in the middle of Replacement Options.

He has been studying him all through breakfast by now. Pursuit of little things for the time being, minor details that can be collected later like the pieces of a vase for reassembly. The way the man rests his fingers upon the spoon. The cup. The edge of the ceramic plate with a nick out the edge, a casualty of the dining hall wars now graced by the laurel of one individual's hand.

"More coffee, Praetor?"

Baralai is jerked out of his reverie at the sound of his title spoken, badly enough that his elbow nearly hits the maid in the stomach. Hasty apology and Baralai is trying to catch the woman's eye for the sole purpose of keeping her from glancing in the direction he'd been staring. The last thing he needs is gossip. Or more gossip; Baralai has not been unaware of all the talk that has gone on since his return from the Farplane. As he doesn't remember a great deal of it, he supposes that what he has heard could be worse.


The attempt works. Barely. Or maybe it doesn't, maybe she's caught a look when she craned her neck to look over Baralai's head despite how straight he'd sat up to prevent such a thing. Baralai isn't sure. He resorts to standing, smiling, physically blocking the rest of the view. No, no, he'll be all right. He can get a refill, please don't worry. Everything's fine.

She leaves. Reluctantly, one final glance on her part, and then Baralai is letting loose a breath he was unaware was being held.

He should be better at this than fumbling like a teenager with a first quivering infatuation, but Baralai is twenty and his last two years have been spent thinking about death. Namely, how to avoid it, quite unlike his Deathseeker counterpart. So maybe it is forgivable that he is not perfect at this yet, that he turns the awkward stand into a walk for more cream, forgetting when he is two steps away from his table that not only did the serving maid already deliver some, but he has also left his cup behind.

Very well then. A person could always use more sugar. Yes, sugar, Baralai decides, nudging his own feet forward one step at a time. His legs feel stiff, jangled as a puppet with its strings tangled, and Baralai knows this is because he is in all actuality--despite his self-control, better intentions, and numerous mental reminders to the contrary--acting like an idiot.

But by now Isaaru has finished with his toast and is occupied in avid discussion with one of the younger acolytes. The priest-in-training is a close-cropped man whose jawline smacks of the Mushroom Rock region. Isaaru is moving his hands as he is trying to express a specific point, restrained gestures that speak mainly from wrists and arched fingers. The acolyte is nodding.

Baralai watches them converse as he walks down the trestle-tables, all the way to the stand near the kitchens. There he scoops up a bowl he assumes is sugar, or butter, or something else so entirely unrelated that the Praetor cannot find it in him to be interested in what he is holding in his hand, as opposed to what is encompassed in his eye.

Because Baralai is a quiet man, he only observes the acolyte with curiosity, studying the simple grace of the conversation between the two like a painting, or a piece of statuary. Or one of those strange imports from the Kilika region that Trema so enjoyed, brass-bangled wall hangings that they kept finding tucked away in corners of Bevelle, down one hall or inside another, even decorating one of the Vias once.

Much like those objects, Baralai isn't sure just how to respond to Isaaru. He can reposition the summoner around Bevelle's chambers like one of Trema's keepsakes and have the same problem. Isaaru with the acolytes. Isaaru with the elder priests. Isaaru with Baralai himself, talking about jurisdiction and import laws, about arguments with the Youth League, and Baralai still does not quite know what to do.

Does he like it? Does he mask his displeasure behind a well-balanced demeanor, and then discard it when everyone's backs are turned? Baralai is not certain about what his own reaction entails just yet, so in the meantime, he appreciates the situation as another man might consider a dust-thickened bottle of wine.

Opening the container to taste the contents inside comes later. Sometimes, not at all.

Gippal has told him that this very reluctance to act without forethought is what has lost him such things as Paine's notice in anything save as a friend.

As Baralai has already let himself come to terms with this, he tries not let it bother him particularly much. Instead, he observes for the moment. Isaaru, he decides, is an enigma. The summoner is a pleasing thing to watch and study, feeding the Praetor's taste for complex objects packed inside an amiable demeanor. The age is brushed off the bottle's label; Baralai reads Isaaru's history at night when his mind is already wandering, taking in the information of the man's life like an ingredient list.

Baralai does not know just how he will react to the summoner and this riddle that New Yevon is sleeping on through the months, but he is suspecting that Isaaru is the type of person who will wait until the Praetor himself knows just what to do. If not, if it turns out that Baralai is wrong, the Praetor believes he can accept that as well.

Because that is a part of who Baralai is, and is also why he is so good in New Yevon.

It seems that Isaaru is the exact same way.

In the meantime, the Praetor will participate in the mystery of this man in the same fashion that he will partake of the air in the gardens, the moisture of growing plants flavoring the air. This replacement that New Yevon has found to stand in for Baralai in so many ways; the Praetor does not know the summoner fully, and so cannot decide which room to put him in so that the sun strikes Isaaru just right.

He needs to learn more.

Isaaru always speaks softly, but Baralai has heard mention of differences. Something about Zanarkand tour guides. Bullhorn cries, a charade's mischief. Monkeys. He notices that kind of tone in Isaaru's laughter sometimes, which is a thing Baralai has only heard occasionally, but would like more of already.

The Praetor knows by this that there is a secret inside Isaaru that is quite likely never shared. And Baralai thinks that it might be something he would like more of too.

For now as he walks back to his seat through the breakfast crowd, Baralai counts up the vase-chips of impressions he has gathered from Isaaru so far, debating which ones he thinks should be increased. Conversations buzz and swim; the summoner's voice is a low hum through it all, drowned out by louder throats, yet persisting. Baralai knows he will be able to hear Isaaru talk if he ever wishes it. All he has to do is approach and speak a greeting.

Whether or not he will, the Praetor still is not sure. These events progress as a good pace for them both because it is relaxed, and because Isaaru is patient. That is how Baralai knows this matter will unfold as it is needed. One step at a time, just like New Yevon's motto. Easy.

So Baralai is aware that he will have as long as he needs to find all his current questions and many more, however large the number that happens to arise. He will have time.

He cannot ask for more.