Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy X-2, or any Final Fantasy game whatsoever. Sadly, Squaresoft has the credit and the money while I have nothing but dirty socks.

Please read:

A/N: Animatized is a writing duo between Kimiko Hiraki and myself, Natsue Arishima. Kimi will not be participating in this story, though it was her obsession with Gippalai that inspired me, so I thought that she deserved some credit.

This is my second story that I plan to work seriously on, meaning no distractions (though I can't say that I won't be drifting between updates), a good outline, and no forcing myself to write whatsoever, since that sometimes creates the opposite effect that I had aimed for. To be fair, as a pre-warning, I am sure that updates will be rather slow, but unless I state so myself, I will not abandon this story (hopefully…). Reviews really do make my day, so please drop a note of what you think. Constructive criticism will also help, since every author enjoys perfecting his or her writing, and flames will do nothing but warm my feet.

I will do my best for the characters to be believable in my perspective of them, though I cannot promise that this will appeal to every reader out there (stating the obvious). Also, for those people who enjoy reading nothing but smut and lemons with no plot whatsoever, I suggest you turn back and read another story, for the rating is just in case I get carried away, and if I do, it won't be in the first few chapters. I believe in introducing the characters completely before giving them any action at all. Yes, you too, Gippal.

You have been warned… (insert corny, maniacal laughter)

The Art of Deception
Natsue Arishima

Spurring Action

Gippal knew he was irresistible. Not egotistically either.


Gippal also knew that everything came with a price, some for the better and some for the worse. And because he was so irresistible, unwanted attention was often an unrequited gift. No, attention wasn't bad. He basked in the spotlight. But when this attention became so large and vast, it was quite understandable when he began to get the slightest bit edgy. Especially when said attention slowly grew to the potential of a mob.

It is a common thought that one so irresistible would be undoubtedly happy, and that was what Gippal was: in love with his life. But the word 'happy' has numerous meanings, two of which come to effect in this case. The first definition suggests a feeling of great pleasure and contentment. The second definition suggests a feeling of great pleasure and contentment with a soul mate.

A woman, in this case.

Which proved a difficult factor for Gippal.


Djose Temple. Previously the realm of Ixion, now the abode of the Machine Faction. Where summoners had once approached in apprehension and duty, Al Bhed now came to it with all the familiarity of Home. The temple still held its mysterious and grand demeanor, but the previous awe that it had once inflicted on visitors had somewhat diminished of late, with the constant static of electricity, the cries of the Al Bhed, and the clicks of machina.

Some people would call the effect rather degrading to the Fayth, a belief most likely spurred off of their hatred for the Al Bhed that had never passed away, despite the fact that the High Summoner herself and most of the inhabitants of Spira trusted them. The uniting speech between the Youth League, New Yevon, and the Machine Faction a year ago, however, had cut down the rumors and cooled doubt, especially on the female half after they realized just how charming the leader of the Machine Faction was.

Said leader was currently a sight to see, shirtless and drenched with sweat, thin pants hanging off of a surprisingly slim waist.

"Gippal! Nyz'm ud sylurk ecyrk?" (1)

Wiping the perspiration off of his brow with the back of his hand, Gippal looked up from his work, his other hand smoothly detaching an awkward piece of metal from the motionless machine, gleaming boldly under the rays of the persistent sun. Evident surprise graced his features, a clear, cerulean eye blinking quickly before his trademark grin tugged at his lips.

"Already gotten bored of that junky ship, Cid?" he asked smoothly, raising an eyebrow before jumping onto the ground. Dark stains of oil and grease had been boldly imprinted upon his pants where he had cleaned off his hands, not having bothered with a towel.

The older man's eyes narrowed. "Watch what you call junky, boy, especially compared to that piece of shit." Cid spat on the ground, punching Gippal's shoulder as he eyed the miserable yet surprisingly familiar pile of parts that the Al Bhed had been previously working on.

His eyes betrayed his rigid words, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards ever so slightly.

"Don't push it, old man," Gippal drawled, rubbing at his eye patch before heading for the temple. "She'll be a beauty once I'm done with her."

Behind him, Cid scoffed before following, his heavy boots thudding sharply on the firm, cracked earth.

Laughing as his disbelief, Gippal turned, running his hand through golden locks. "So, how's that pretty girl of yours been?" the man teased, resuming his usual stance with a hand on his hips. Cid grunted in reply, his harsh voice cutting sharply through the air. "Don't you get any ideas, or you'll fucking regret it, hear?" he snarled. Gippal held up his hands, still grinning his irritating smirk, and the other sighed.

"I promise I won't start anything, but if she hits on me, I'm afraid I won't be able to stop myself."

Dodging a wild blow, he was given a sharp glare instead. Laughing again, he pushed open the smooth, worn down doors of the temple and walked in, eyes quickly adjusting to the slight dim, a pale azure glow lighting the familiar corridor.

Every step echoed throughout the grand hall, despite the muffled results of the intricately fashioned carpet. Waving to several of his workers, many of whom were crowded around the base of the Cloister, Gippal made a beeline towards a slightly worn down statue of a past summoner in the left-hand corner of the hall, his room being directly behind it. Stepping inside, past the already open birch door, he snapped his fingers twice. There was a click and the room was bathed in sudden light.

It couldn't really be called a bedroom, being more along the lines of a study. It was his comfort zone, corny but true. Random articles of clothing and books littered the floor, while the walls were hidden behind bookcases and half-hung posters. There was a small bed on the far side of the circular chamber, and a desk had been placed at the foot of it, cluttered with papers, sketches and a small lamp, surprisingly bright, the only source of light within the premises. Boxes took up the remainder of the room, several opened while others looked untouched for years, dust growing on their faces, labeled with tags in countless languages.

Despite the lack of a window, the room seemed to glow and radiate a homeliness that was seemingly unfit for words. It may have been messy at first glance, but the scattered accessories did nothing but add to the comfortable and easy atmosphere until they were no longer scrutinized and were instead accepted. It was so… so like Gippal.

Cid raised his eyebrows. How sickening.

"Not the clean sort, I see," the man muttered near the doorway, blinking at a pair of earrings he spotted glinting off the desk. That was odd. Gippal grinned but didn't comment as he strode over to a wooden crate with different variations of the word 'danger' taped all over its sides, memories ringing throughout his mind of previous exclamations by countless people spurred on by the sight room.

Opening the lid of the seemingly dangerous box and tossing it carelessly to onto the partially buried carpet, a few seconds were spent rummaging through its many contents, pants riding precariously low, before Gippal straightened up again, a wrench held tightly within his grip.

Cid raised an eyebrow, glancing from the tool and the box as if following a blitzball rally. Gruff eyes finally focused back on the youthful face. "Danger? What the hell is up with that? Someone's been fucking around with your mind." Gippal gazed up at him with a mockingly indignant face. "What, you've never been hit with a wrench? Believe me, hurts like hell."

He distinctly heard Cid grumble something along the lines of "fucking asshole" under his breath.

"So, any particular reason that you're following me around, or have you been bound to my stunning looks like all the others?" the younger man questioned, a gleam to his eye as he struck a pose and Cid furrowed his brows, scoffing again. "Cocky bastard," he snarled, crossing his arms over a broad chest.

"At least you got something right."

Ignoring his comment, Cid pushed himself off the doorframe and stepped away. "If you see Brother and Rikku, tell them that they'd better come to me with a fucking good excuse over the damage or there'll be hell to pay."


"Mind your own business, zyler." (2)

Gippal blinked, the word taking several seconds to sink in before he registered its definition. Severely insulted, he barged out of his room, snapping out a string of curses and threats of a painful death while waving the wrench above his head. But Cid was already halfway out of the temple, grinning silently to himself. Sighing and rolling his eyes, Gippal smiled.

It had been a while.


Over the past year, Gippal had spent most of his time with the Machine Faction, reassuring his workers that there would be no peculiar stuff from then forward. No disappearances, no fighting best friends, no kidnappings and no reflecting on his former experiences again. Meaning no wallowing in self-depression. The list had been long and sudden, not to mention horribly tedious, leaving Gippal to believe personally that he had done a good job with it, despite the fact that most of the time, it wasn't his fault that he was constantly in trouble. Trouble usually came to him.

He had been disappointed when the six of them had gone their separate ways. He had been expecting more of a reunion instead, not a silent farewell. Yuna had returned to Besaid with that strange boy that had looked stunningly like Shuyin. Paine was still a sphere hunter, while Rikku… he didn't know what happened to her, but considering the afternoon's events, she was bound to drop by soon. Nooj had left for his Youth League, those bastards, but had most likely been unable to escape the grasp of that LeBlanc woman. Annoying as she was, she sure as hell was dedicated.

Poor guy, really.

Baralai though, he had been different. Despite constant calls from Bevelle, he had insisted on staying for a while. And, Gippal mused, his company had been nice. He was always there when needed, over work as well as stress. The man had a damn good massage as well…

Gippal smirked. They had spent so much time together that rumors had begun over their relationship. Gippal himself had flounced around for a whole week claiming Baralai as his wife. Said 'wife' had merely blushed and said nothing, though he hadn't punched Gippal for it either, so he assumed there had been no hard feelings…

The one annoying factor with Baralai was that the attention of the girls had split between the two of them during his brief stay. The praetor of New Yevon had also been rather naïve over the looks he had been receiving from the innocent yet unknowingly sexy movements that he had a habit of accomplishing, something that drove Gippal continuously to an edge.

He had finally informed Baralai of his actions after the two of them finished working on a particular rusty machina, where the praetor had been rather prone to bending over for the tools that the Al Bhed had requested. Another factor that hadn't exactly helped had been resulted by the white-haired youth wearing impossibly tight and holey pants (they had been a present to Gippal when he had turned fifteen, and even then had been a little snug). The man had merely blinked before laughing, claiming Gippal to have been acting and thinking a little too rashly before bending over again to fetch the screwdriver.

He had to admit, it really sucked when Baralai left.

He hadn't been the only person who had felt like that either. In fact, the whole of the Machine Faction had been affected by his leave, as had everyone else who had lived in the general vicinity around the temple, being unable to tease their leader anymore, or so they said.

Therefore, it was quite understandable when Gippal grew deliriously happy by a call from the praetor several weeks ago. It seemed as if Baralai, while having nothing better to do and claiming deathlike boredom from his work, was hosting a reunion for the anniversary of Shuyin's defeat.

Shuyin's defeat. Now that had been bizarre, though Gippal still strongly believed that the bastard should have deserved less than a happily-ever-after, despite what Yuna and Rikku claimed, gushing shamelessly over the sweetness of reuniting two souls lost for a thousand years. Eck. Okay, so it had been rather touching while witnessing the actual thing, and Lenne had been a babe, but there was just something about the guy that pissed Gippal off to no end. Perhaps it was his violent nature. Or perhaps it was because he had turned everyone against each other. He had been the cause of Nooj betraying them. He had also taken over Baralai, and that was something that infuriated Gippal even more. Why? He didn't know.

Sighing, the Al Bhed stared down at the machina that he had been working on since last night, unbearably hot from the sun. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, still uncertain about what it was. It was enormous, large enough to support three grown men lying spread eagle upon its back. Over the course of the day, it had slowly begun to take shape, more dog-like than anything else, though he couldn't be positive. Ah well. The lady, the name he didn't know, having not been present when she called, had promised a good one hundred thousand gil, and Gippal sure as hell wasn't about to pass that up.

His attention was diverted as a large crowd of people stepped off the stone bridge that linked Mushroom Rock Road to Djose, footsteps almost thunderous against stone as they headed towards the temple. Several members of the sudden party possessed familiar faces, mostly the women he had met from his brief dating spree a few months ago.

Sending a dazzling grin towards certain individuals he had taking an interest to during previous, short dinners, he wasn't surprised when some of them raised eyebrows and turned the other way, while the majority looked towards the ground with flushed cheeks, bashful by his partially nude appearance.

Yep, he still had it. Score.

Yet… Jumping down to retrieve a pair of pliers, Gippal frowned in thought, running his hand through his hair. Strangely enough, it seemed that the more outings he was engaged in, the further away his perfect woman seemed to drift. He truthfully couldn't remember the last time he had felt thoroughly love-struck. Sure, there had been that one time with Tera, and also that fling with Lani… But had that really been true affection?

He wasn't sure.

The irony.

A tanned hand hesitated prior to reaching for a water bottle instead of its earlier target.

Pouring some of the refreshing liquid onto his palm, Gippal rubbed the back of his neck gingerly, working out the knots. Hissing as a series of small cracks were emitted, the Al Bhed tried picturing a perfect partner to block out the pain, shutting his eyes and leaning on the machina behind him. It was so cool under the giant machine's shadow, almost as if he had stepped inside to the blessed invention of air conditioning.

She would have dark hair… no. Something about that wasn't right. A brunette? Or… light hair, short and smooth. Not blond; maybe silver. Yes, silver. Silver, with dark skin and darker eyes. Eyes with wits yet also capable of expressing emotions and sentiment, eyes that were never cold. A nice smile, nice lips. Nice, kissable lips…

Gippal smirked, stepping quickly towards the toolbox once more, only slightly regretting the sudden departure from his previous, cool sanctuary as his thoughts were on more important matters. Replacing his bottle with a pair of small pliers and several screws, he clambered back onto the machina again, fluently this time, having already memorized its strange curves and bumps. Because of this rather convenient factor, his thoughts were allowed to drift from the task currently at hand and continued to race through his mind as he completed the body of his angel. Hey, it was his mind! No limitations whatsoever.


Several hours were spent afterwards humming happily and working at an extremely rapid pace until his excitement eventually wore off, especially after he realized, to his great disappointment, that having gigantic breasts with a tiny waist wouldn't exactly be appealing. And for some strange reason, they looked awkward with the face he had pictured.


Actually, now that he spent time pondering on it, what was it of females that lured him? Their personality? It was surprisingly not that great, Gippal realized with a jolt. They were fun to be around, but when it came to even the most trivial affairs, there was always a little insight on a flailing temper. So then was it the body? Smooth, soft skin, breasts. The supposedly "hour-glass" shape. Sure it was nice, but besides that, was there anything else?

How would it feel, he wondered (perhaps a little too dramatically), to be single for the rest of his life? To be absolutely free, with no one holding him back. He wasn't saying that the company of a woman was bad; it was relatively relaxing and enjoyable (not counting the sex, Gippal thought with a grin), but even the most patient guy would snap after reassuring a person of their love five times a day.

Okay, so maybe he was exaggerating a little bit.

Gippal scoffed, beginning to confuse himself with how little emotion he was experiencing with these thoughts. It must be the damn heat, though to be honest, it wasn't the first time that these perplexing emotions had come to mind. And though he found interest in puzzles and riddles, this one he did not enjoy. Not only was it a blow to him mentally, it was also a blow to his reputation.

He was Gippal, the guy that girls literally fell for, able to look sexy even with the loss of an eye.

For him to lose interest in them would only mean disaster.

Wiping the sweat off his face, he shifted his position, lying on his back. He winced slightly, squirming as small pieces of metal jabbed sharply into his back. Minutes later, he sighed and relaxed, gazing at the faultless, blue sky, not a cloud in sight, the view soothing him somewhat. It was like a perfect ocean, so serene and untouchable…

He perked up suddenly, an extremely familiar voice drifting towards him from within the confinement of the small hut to his left. Propping up onto an elbow, he twisted his neck around, narrowing his eye towards the glass-less window, where he could distinctly make out the familiar shape of his secretary, who seemed to be in an animated discussion with a young woman.

From where he was, he couldn't make out her dress, but she was obviously an Al Bhed, the fluency she possessed of the code (3) quite apparent from the snatches of conversation Gippal caught. Her slim figure was outlined against the dark wall, a figure that he wasn't capable of easily forgetting.

The girl was waving her hands around as she spoke. Gippal watched with amusement, now certain who she was. Giving a final exasperated sigh and muttering something that suspiciously sounded like "neuha pemdeht" (4) (Gippal's lips quirked up at this comment), she stalked out of the hut, carelessly slamming the door shut behind her.

Now under decent light from the sun, her garb was easily visible, strange as it was. She was scantily clad, wearing a simple yellow bikini top, the bottom piece Gippal assumed was hidden under the pair of shorts. An amber scarf had been wrapped securely around her neck, though it wasn't nearly as random as her wild yet strangely attractive hair, golden locks adorned with stray, scattered braids.

Her verdant eyes, swirled like those of most Al Bhed (Gippal himself was an exception), were glowering with inner fury, lips that were usually up in a bubbly smile now pressed in a thin line. The man could have sworn that her nostrils were emitting smoke.

If there was anything that perturbed Gippal, it was things being altered, something in this case that he fortunately didn't have to worry about.

Nope. Rikku hadn't changed at all.

Smirking, Gippal twisting onto his stomach, pushing himself off the machina as he hollered towards the blond who had been quickly marching towards the temple. "Oy. Cid's girl!" The comment was followed by his usual pose, once more standing with his hand on his hip.

Rikku twitched visibly at the voice, inches away from the temple entrance, slowly turning while glaring daggers at the Al Bhed man she knew would be standing close by. "I have a name, you know!" she snapped back, and Gippal smiled. Her typical, childish response, though his words hadn't really been much better. Strangely enough, it was nice, knowing that there had been no shift between their, er… unique relationship (which involved taunts, death threats, screaming and teasing), despite the year that had passed.

He blinked in surprise when her emerald glare, one that would have sent anyone but himself and perhaps the other members of the disbanded YRP quivering in fear, suddenly cooled as they focused on something over his right shoulder. Then, to make things even more bizarre, she suddenly lunged forward, sprinting at a surprisingly rapid pace towards the stunned man, all the while blabbering something horribly like, "Maw! Mawly! I've missed you so much!"

Gippal wrinkled his nose.

Relief washed through him as the Al Bhed girl whipped past his frozen figure, his memories of his life no longer continuing their expeditious flashing before his eyes. Turning to see what had caused her sudden attention, he raised an eyebrow as he realized she had been conversing to the pile of shit he had been working on. Conversing, hugging, and kissing the pile of shit he had been working on, to be more precise.

"So you were the weird lady with the crapload of hopeless metal," Gippal mused, smirking as Rikku turned to glare at him again, her face plastered to bronze. "Just because you're jealous doesn't mean you have to insult Maw!" she replied, voice slightly muffled. Running a hand over… Maw… she continued whispering to the stoic machine, reassuring it that the "mean man" over there meant it no harm, and if he ever began an insult again, she would castrate him before the sentence was finished.

Her train of words stopped abruptly, a hand freezing on a point near the area Gippal assumed was Maw's head. Raising an eyebrow, Gippal was about to comment, strangely wary of his word choice (hey, he didn't want to lose an important body part), when the Al Bhed girl faced him and shrieked, "You dented him!"

Abuse quickly followed, the girl raining relentless slaps onto the stunned man.


Rubbing a most likely bruising back, Gippal stepped gingerly onto the circular platform, Rikku next to him, eyes misting over as she gazed at their familiar surroundings. Rolling his eyes but unable to hold back a smile, the man stepped on a projected tile in the center of the platform. There was a shudder and the ground below his feet began to shake as it slowly levitated the two of them up to the next level.

They were in a strangely shaped corridor, the light now so slight he could barely make out his hand. Nodding towards the dark outlines of several workers near the end of the hall, where he knew they would be examining the ring of pedestals that the room contained, he headed towards a small archway, Rikku for once silent and calm besides him. Motioning for her to go first, they slowly climbed the small flight of stairs, heading closer to the remains of Experiment, and the entrance to the fayth.

As they climbed upwards, sunlight began to creep towards them, increasing their facility and pace. Gradually, the steps widened and they found themselves in a circular chamber, amber rays of the day's dying sun stretching through slits in the stone walls. They illuminated the strange emblems on the walls, fragments of Experiment that hadn't been bothered with, and the mysterious door that led to where Ixion once resided, now nothing except a gaping hole.

In front of him, Rikku hesitated before stepping towards the center of the room, steps echoing dully as they bounced off stone. Watching her, Gippal swallowed, wondering how it must feel for her to return to such a place, having witnessed it in its former glory and returned to fight the very being it had possessed. Her emotions were most likely slighter than those of Yuna, but even so, Gippal had to pity her. He knew that if he were to, for some reason, return to the Den of Woe, he would also be experiencing feelings such as hers.

The silence stretched as the girl slowly spun around, emerald eyes unreadable under the mass of gold, almost red under the light of the rays. Shifting uncomfortably, Gippal remained near the entranceway, leaning on the wall. Clearing his throat, he winced when the silence immediately shattered. He mentally bashed himself, squirming under Rikku's glazed yet surprised stare.

"So… satisfied?"

"Y-yeah…" was the hesitant reply, though she didn't move from her position, looking almost wistfully yet painfully at the strange doors.

Gippal crossed his arms, eyeing the floor. "Wanna stay here a little longer?"

She gazed at him before whispering, "Yeah." A weak smile, so different from the one she had given outside, merely minutes ago when she had requested Gippal to show her the very room they were currently in.

It was weird, without her smiling.

Gippal didn't like it.

The girl suddenly sighed, turning to Gippal almost foolishly. "I'm being stupid, aren't I?" she asked quietly, not really expecting an answer. Eyeing a spot on the floor listlessly, she wrung her hands together. "Funny. I thought I'd have been over it by now. I don't even remember feeling this bad when I fought Ixion, but…" She scratched her head, giving off another fake smile. "Guess I didn't realize just how miserable it was until after I thought about it. Knowing how the temples previously were, and how they are now after Vegnagun…"

Gippal shifted again, stepping away from the wall. "You're not being stupid, Rikku," he snapped, swallowing as she tensed at his words. Quickly, he racked his brain for another topic to talk about and asking the first thing that came to mind. "Hey, you going to Bevelle next week?" It was a weak start, but Gippal would rather act the fool than stand around uneasily. And besides, with Rikku standing almost helplessly in the room, anything attempt was worth it as long as it destroyed the silence.

It seemed to work, however, when Rikku smiled, nodding vigorously. "Yeah! Baralai asked me to go. Though I was supposed to host a reunion! It was my idea, and that stupid Yevonite stole it!" She pouted playfully, crossing her arms and faking tears. The previous atmosphere faded almost instantly.

Rikku snapped her fingers, hitting herself on the head with her palm. A small smack echoed throughout the room. "Oh yeah! I was supposed to tell you earlier. A month ago, actually, but I kept forgetting… Remember Devon?"

Silence, and then, "Huh?"

"Devon! You two went out before!"

Gippal nearly crashed to the floor. Catching himself in time before he gave himself a black eye and, possibly, a bloody nose, the Al Bhed coughed. "I… I don't recall ever going out with a man."

Rikku stared at him.

Before promptly striding over and hitting him sharply upside the head.

"You idiot!" she muttered, pinching him on the ear. "The girl that you dated oh… two years ago. Before machina became your life…" She paused, as if suddenly aware how long ago it had been. Shaking her head, Rikku continued. "Remember? That tall girl? Black hair, blue eyes?"

He blinked.

Rikku groaned, using her last resource. "Big breasts?"

Recognition flashed across his face, quickly followed by a surprising amount of repulsion. "Ah. Your friend…" The word 'friend' was uttered with complete malice.

Gippal remembered her very vividly, her sudden image blazing across his eyes. Sure, she had been a looker, receiving countless numbers of stares from passerby. But she had also been the first girl to ever dump him. Okay, so he wouldn't have minded if she had called it off the way a regular human being would have done. But no… the supposedly innocent but truthfully damnable woman had to dump him in front of everyone, accusing him of cheating and backstabbing. And if that hadn't been enough, she had stepped over him like trash afterwards, which perhaps explained Gippal's loathing that always followed her memory.

He despised that woman who had flattened both his reputation and pride. No, she wasn't a woman. She was the devil.

Rikku didn't notice his malevolence.

"You men are all the same. So predicable. All you guys ever care about is sex," she snapped angrily as she continued her month-old message in monotone. "Anyway, you know that Devon moved to Bevelle, right?"

"Yeah…" Despite the hatred boiling through his veins, there was a bad feeling in his gut.

"Well, she wanted me to tell you that she misses you, and I told her that you missed her too. I also told her that we were going to Bevelle next weekend, and that you two could catch up there. She was also hoping that you'd be willing to go to a small get together with several of her friends." Rikku paused, staring expectantly at him for a reaction. When he just stared dumbly back, she scoffed. "Thanks for the appreciation," she voiced sarcastically.

Gippal was speechless, emotions of spite and shock winding throughout him. The minutes passed, and Rikku, evidently getting bored, turned back to the room, her eyes no longer containing the sadness that they had previously possessed. The man could merely stare blankly at her back. Damn that dense girl!

Her hair was too fucking blond.

At the same time, his hatred for the devil woman had doubled. Who did she think he was? A thing, a pet? Something that she could use whenever and wherever she wanted? He was Gippal, and he never took orders from anyone, no matter how pretty they were.

Fine. But that wasn't his point.

She had tricked him before, and he sure as hell wasn't going to fall for it again.

Sure, a small get-together with friends. She was probably just going to show him off, to prove that she knew and was going out with the leader of the Machine Faction. Now that he thought about it, he was pretty sure that she had attempted that the first time as well, but realized that he hadn't been famous enough for her liking.

Or something like that.

He wanted to kill something, or he might end up killing himself.

Gippal would rather die than meet with the devil again.

And yet, to his great frustration, he couldn't speak a single word in his defense.

Slowly, Rikku turned back towards him, raising an eyebrow. Her emerald eyes were gleaming patiently. Expectantly.

Gippal stuttered.


The digital clock beeped as it hit the hour, nested on it perch between two heavy volumes. A pair of dull yet placid, dark eyes glanced upwards towards it, tearing their even gaze away from a small stack of papers illuminated by an elegant lamp poised on a birch desk. They stiffened slightly at the time before ressuming their light skimming, a dark hand reaching up to brush away a lock of white hair.

2:00 AM.

For minutes, the only sound was of a pen scratching gently over pallid parchment and the rustle of fabric, rhythmical and horribly sleep alluring. That paper finished, it was transferred to the top of a larger pile on the left-hand corner of the desk, where it lay with other signed works. A moment of silence as the eyes slimmed the new parchment before the scratching began again.

Three sheets of paper followed the first before Baralai sighed, leaning backwards into his welcoming armchair. Shutting his eyes, he relaxed for a moment, easing heavy lids over tired eyes, enjoying the warmth and the faint calls of sleep, before righting himself again and placing his pen back onto the paper.

Holding back a yawn, the miniature pile before him slowly diminished while the other one grew. The pace of his writing and reading gradually grew slower as well. Gazing absentmindedly out of the large window to his right, he sighed. All of Bevelle was asleep.

Everyone, except himself.

He suddenly tensed, brows furrowed as he distinguished the sound of muffled footsteps, the noise turning to a crescendo as it neared him rapidly. That was odd. The only ones awake would be the guards, and they never came to his study. A hand clenched tightly onto a straining pen.

Baralai hesitated when the footsteps suddenly came to a halt. The silence stretched until it blared in his ears. About to get up and check the outer hallway, he nearly fell backwards when his door was slammed open with all the ferocity of a Dual Horn.

Gazing up at his midnight attacker, Baralai had to stifle a laugh when he realized who it was and the state they were in.


The man's garments were crinkled and mussed, once his pride and glory, looking like they had been carelessly thrown on. Blond hair was askew, flying every which way, framing a pale face. Indeed, the man looked as if he had been run over.

"Yevon, you look awful," Baralai murmured, dipping his head down as far as it would go to hide his smile behind his extremely high collar. The man stared at him before sliding onto the floor, and Baralai coughed hastily to disguise his chuckle.

Peeking around his stack of papers at the stoic figure sprawled across his carpet, Baralai raised an eyebrow. "Hey… Gippal? Are you okay?"

Gippal grunted in reply, slowly struggling back onto his feet.

Afraid that he would lose his balance and fall headfirst into his mountain of parchment, thus sending them flying to different corners of the room, Baralai quickly got up and transferred his day's work onto a nearby cabinet. He'd finish them tomorrow.

Turning, he paused, eyeing his sudden visitor, who was still rocking precariously on his feet, before fetching a glass of water, which Gippal took and chugged graciously.

"Damn," he gasped after the glass was empty, a hand on Baralai's desk to steady himself while wiping his mouth with the back of his palm. "This place gotten bigger or what? I spent two hours running around trying to find your place to dump off my stuff, and then when I opened your door, an old lady came running and whacked me with her cane for waking her up."

He glared sharply at Baralai. "You just had to move, didn't you?"

Baralai shrugged sheepishly. "I thought you knew." He continued quickly when Gippal continued to glare, deciding that being cocky wouldn't be smart right now. "Well, did you find it?"

"Yes," was the surly reply. "Though you're gonna have to pay for a new lock. I busted the old one."

Baralai sighed. "Gippal," he began in a warning tone, when the Al Bhed's hand suddenly slipped off the desk.

The praetor yelped as Gippal tumbled to the floor again, dragging the older man with him, being the only thing within reach to grab. Blushing and quickly disentangling himself from the other's limbs, Baralai scooted back up into a sitting position, Gippal cursing and rubbing his head on the floor.

"So…" Baralai voiced a few seconds later, crossing his legs. "What brings you here on such a short notice?"

Gippal slowly sat up, supporting himself with his arms, a bruise forming on his forehead where he had smacked it against the desk. "Your reunion thing."

"You're a week early."

Silence. "Yeah… well, I thought I'd come earlier…"

Baralai blinked, suddenly curious. For Gippal to abandon his Machine Faction just to come to Bevelle… He was missing part of the story. "And why?" he asked in his most innocent voice.

Gippal shifted uncomfortably. "There's no reason. I just wanted to visit a friend. Anything wrong with that?"

When Baralai raised an eyebrow at him, the Al Bhed sighed in defeat. Damn him. He was never able to hide anything from the praetor. Besides, he was bound to ask again sooner or later. Yet springing such a request on a friend he hadn't seen for ages seemed almost cruel.

Opening his mouth, he was about to protest again, but another look at Baralai easily stopped all other attempts. What the hell. "Fine," the Al Bhed muttered, finding sudden interest in the carpet. "I… need some help. You remember Devon, right?"

Unlike Gippal, Baralai recognized the name without the help of any physical descriptions, the girl having been almost neighboring him in his old apartment. How could he forget, when she had always bothered him to no end? He had almost gagged when he realized she had moved to Bevelle. At the same time, his face fell, but Gippal was too intent with glaring at the ground to notice. The praetor sighed inwardly. A favor. Of course.

He should have known anyway.

Even so, he couldn't help but feel used.

"Well…" the blond continued, brushing the folds out of his pants. "Rikku, being ever so brilliant (— at this point, Gippal was making rather violent gestures with his hands —), agreed to her that the two of us should go out on a date again. As if she hadn't already ruined my life enough." A shiver.

He looked up slightly warily, locking gazes with the older man. "God, I despise that woman."

Baralai smiled, raising an eyebrow before blinking, sudden suspicion lighting his face. Dark eyes narrowed.

"Hold up…" he said slowly, a smile creeping across his face as he stared knowingly at Gippal. "Don't tell me you flew over here right after you and Rikku had this conversation?"

Gippal's glare and curse were drowning out by Baralai's laughter, a faint blush staining tanned cheeks.

Yes, Gippal was blushing.

Recomposing himself, Baralai coughed lightly, eyes still continuing their silent spasm of laughter. "Poor little boy," he teased. "Has someone hurt his feelings?"

Gippal glared sharply at him again, his face red but no longer from embarrassment.

"Keep talking, why don't you," he growled, cracking his knuckles, and Baralai held his hands up in front of himself, still laughing but at the same time trying to keep a serious face. "I was kidding, kidding. The little boy doesn't need to punch his inconsiderate bully if he's afraid."

Gippal's face turned redder.

He had to admit, being in Gippal's company made everything seem so much… livelier. It made him miss the times they had spent together in the Crimson Squad, along with Nooj and Paine, where the four of them had lived and depended on each other. It could have even been called his small family, something he was sure that the others had also felt.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he shifted the conversation back to Gippal's original problem. "So? I don't see where my help comes in."

At this, Gippal took to staring at the ground again, the flush slowly disappearing from his face. Fidgeting and picking at his fingernails, he cleared his throat. "Yeah, well… I tried to get out of it, but Rikku wouldn't listen. You know how she is. I'm supposed to meet Devon this Sunday, and nothing I do can change it."

Gippal lapsed into silence again, and Baralai almost laughed. Stalling. As usual.

Tempted to prod Gippal with a stick or any other pointy object in his reach, just to see if he would react, the Al Bhed cleared his throat again, disturbingly loud, and swallowed, scratching his nose. Baralai choked. Real attractive there. And Gippal was supposedly a ladies man?

Uh huh. Okay.

The Al Bhed began to speak again and Baralai re-diverted his attention.

"I need to ask a really, really big favor. Can you help me?" It was barely audible.

"Depends on the favor," Baralai replied sweetly.

Almost sighing out of irritation and boredom as Gippal returned to scrutinizing his hands, Baralai's eyes started to drift out the window again. The Al Bhed was demonstrating an excellent example of the phrase "beating around the bush". The silence continued to stretch until he could take it no longer. "Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to threaten it out of you?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Gippal started, almost as if he had forgotten that he wasn't the only one in the room. Running a hand through his hair, he grinned sheepishly. "Okay, I know that this is gonna seem really fucked up and stupid, but it'll be doing me a huge favor."

"Yes, you've already informed me about that. Two times actually."

"Smart ass. And know that if I had thought thoroughly over it without blurting the first thing that had came to mind that I thought would convince her to cancel my date, I would have picked a different excuse."


"And know that I don't want any awkwardness between us after I tell you the favor I need you to do."


"And know that if I had known that she wouldn't have been convinced with me saying it, I wouldn't have said it in the first place and would therefore not be asking for a favor."



Straightening up, he looked boldly at Baralai and cleared his throat once more.

"I told Rikku I was gay."



(1) How's it coming along?
(2) Woman
(3) Yes, Al Bhed is actually a code, not a language. Thought I should add it to clear matters up… heh…
(4) Hairy bastard