FFX-2 is, let's face it, made of crack. This fanfic was spawned from the idea that, well, all it needed to have been super mega win crack was crossdressing, and that it was a real shame there hadn't been any. And also that Baralai would look mighty fine in a dress.
Thanks to my Nessy for letting me force her to read this halfway (and suggesting Yuna's POV), and to kj8673 for her "hypothetical" help with the actual logic behind it.
The Problem With Presents
The dress was cornflower blue. It was knee length, lacy trimmed around the cuffs and neckline, tight around the waist and torso with a slight flare at the hips, designed to make the skirt seem flowing. It was a lovely dress, a modest dress, and Baralai looked at Rikku strangely when he unwrapped it.
"Pardon?" he said, unsure what else to say. Why had he let her come to his birthday party, again? Oh, right. Because Paine and Yuna had been invited.
"It's your present," Rikku said seriously. "I wasn't sure what size you were, but I'll bet you look real cute in blue."
Pause. "Miss Rikku." Pause. "This is a dress."
"That's right." The girl was completely straight faced. Baralai glanced back down at the half-opened parcel in his lap, hoping it had changed forms while he hadn't been looking. No... it was still a dress.
"Miss Rikku," he said, trying again. "I am male."
Rikku blinked. "Oh, I know. You'd just look cute in it. Look, see, it's nice and long, so it's not like you have to worry about it being too revealing or anything--"
"I do not wear dresses," Baralai said, a touch testily. "I don't know what led you to believe I would." Not even Gippal would pull this sort of prank. Right?
"But you'd look sooo cute!" Rikku stepped closer to Baralai and, to his great alarm, touched at his hair. He whacked her hand away. "See, it would match and everything! Just let your hair down, and I'll turn around," like that was what the problem was, "and it'll be great!" Rikku looked Baralai over critically. "I'm sure I got the right size. You're pretty skinny under that coat, right? So see, it's--" she pointed at the dress, "--fitted, to show that off. Ain't much you can do for your chest," Rikku sighed forlornly, "but I guess I manage okay."
Baralai tried to think of a quick, easy way to solve this problem. And although he usually considered himself a quick thinker, a good planner... nothing came to mind. He restrained the silly urge to poke at the cloth. "Miss Rikku... I do not wear dresses. Do you know any other man that does?" He wondered belatedly if he actually wanted to know that answer.
"Well, no, but," Rikku scratched her head thoughtfully. "You're just pretty. I mean, I could try an' stick Gippal in a dress, and maybe he'd actually do it, but he's not girly."
"...And I am." Please be joking, he wanted to add.
"You look like more of a girl than Paine does," Rikku said bracingly.
Baralai paused, feeling a migraine coming on. "So I need to wear a dress."
"Well, you don't have to," Rikku said hastily, stepping away and looking disappointed. She wrung her hands. "It's just... I bought it for you... and..." Good lord, was she tearing up? "I just want to be friends, so I tried really hard to buy you a nice birthday present, and..."
Baralai told himself, very firmly, that he was not going to give into this.
"And blue really is your color, I'm sure of it," Rikku added. Like that was the problem.
"Miss Rikku," Baralai said tersely, "I am not going to wear a dress to my birthday party."
"But that's why I came early!"
"Everyone will be there," he said, struck by the terrible images of everyone he knew snickering at him in this dress. Forget about how his reputation as Praetor would suffer--Gippal in particular would never let him live it down.
Rikku sighed. "Well," she said reluctantly, "would you at least just try it on? So I can be sure it fits okay?"
"I think you are missing the entire point."
"Look!" Rikku said impatiently, snatching the parcel out of Baralai's lap with quickness and ease that could only have come from being a thief. She finished unwrapping it hastily, letting the brown wrapping paper flutter to the floor. Holding the dress up like she did only made Baralai want to wear it less. "Just try it on. Take off that ugly coat--"
"--I like my coat--"
"--and just pull this on over your shirt and pants, okay?" Rikku looked somewhat desperate. "Just for a minute?" She really was teary-eyed. Baralai looked at the dress, then at the girl. Then at the dress, and then his coat.
Baralai thought about it for a moment, really he did. Then he glared. "No." Rikku looked, just for a moment, calculating. Then she looked upset again, but Baralai had caught the fleeting earlier expression.
"Why do you want me to wear this--thing--to my birthday party so much, anyway?"
"You'd look cute," Rikku said, again. Baralai, however, was convinced he was onto something.
"So you spend money on this dress--one you claim should fit me--" Baralai was thinking aloud. "Paine's told me that you're usually pretty stingy with money. And, frankly, we aren't exactly friends."
"Well, we could be," Rikku grumbled, looking disgruntled.
"And then you come here, specifically to get me to wear this dress to the party." Baralai paused. "Unless you are actively trying to humiliate me publicly--"
"It's not public," Rikku blurted out, "It's just Gi..."
"Gippal?" Baralai finished. He thought back to his guest list--of course Gippal had been invited. And... Baralai frowned. It would be just like him to try and arrange something like... "Gippal put you up to this," Baralai said flatly.
Rikku winced. "No?" Baralai gave her his best death look, well practiced from his dealing with the other members of New Yevon. And Nooj. "Well, it's sort of the opposite, really," Rikku admitted with a sigh.
"Gippal bet me 10,000 Gil that I wouldn't be able to get you in a dress. I don't have that much money!" Rikku whined, "so I really have to do it, you know?"
The mystery was solved. Strangely, Baralai didn't feel much better. He stood up and crossed his arms. "Why on earth would you make such an idiotic bet?"
"Well... I said I could get anyone to do anything," Rikku said reluctantly. "I was just messing around! And Gippal said that I couldn't, so I was all, you bet I can, and he said, I bet you can't get Baralai in a dress and I said watch me, and..." She gave him a dashing smile, as if in apology. Baralai was not amused.
"I'll give you a cut of the Gil?" Rikku suggested brightly. "We can split fifty-fifty, what do you think?" Pause. "forty-sixty?" Pause. "My reputation is at stake here!"
"Your reputation?" Baralai said incredulously. "You expect me to waltz into a room--in a dress--a room filled with the likes of Nooj and Lady Yuna and--"
"And Gippal," Rikku said. "Paine knows about the bet too, she was on Gippal's side." Baralai hesitated for just a second, and she leapt at the chance. "She doesn't think you'll do it either, they're so sure they have you pegged. Paine said to me, he's not going to do it, 'cause he's just predictable, boring Baralai! She said I was stupid for agreeing to the bet to start with!"
Predictable and boring... Baralai grimaced. So he wasn't the loud, outgoing type. And maybe he didn't share in Paine's brand of impulsiveness either. But that wasn't a bad thing...
Rikku sensed her opportunity. And dived for it headfirst. "Come on, come on! I'll bet Gippal used to pull pranks on you all the time," she said cheerfully. "And Paine can be such a know it all, you know? Wouldn't it be awesome to one up them both? And picture the look on their faces as I--as we--win five thousand gil! Each!"
To his dismay, Baralai was starting to seriously consider it. He shot Rikku a look, and she smiled winningly. "Only a for a few minutes," she said bracingly. "The joke'll totally be on them. You just go in, say something, act normal, and go out. Then, while I collect our money, you change and come back! Easy-peasey!"
"...Just for a minute," Baralai said warningly.
"Just long enough for me--us--to win," Rikku said agreeably. She beamed at him and did a strange little hop in place. Baralai glanced at the dress she was still holding--oh god, it was so... ruffly--but--Baralai squared his shoulders and took the dress from Rikku.
She grinned and skipped from the room.
Had Baralai been the swearing type, he would have done so, violently and loudly and extensively. He had tried, really he had. He hadn't been able to bring himself to really put the dress on--but he had compromised. Baralai had taken his coat off, folded it over the chair back, and then pulled the dress on over his other clothes. This had taken longer then he would have thought (sure he had sisters, but it wasn't like he exactly watched them dress), but at last he was mostly confident that it was on correctly, or correctly enough for a quick judgement.
The judgement took only a second, and could be summed up in two short, tidy words: Hell and No. It was so--blue! And the ruffles, and the sleeves and the--even though he was wearing his trousers and shirt under it, he felt utterly exposed. "Think of the money," he told himself firmly, but of course that didn't work. "Think of the expression on Gippal's face," Baralai said, willing all his imagination towards that happy thought.
Okay. Slightly better. He imaged Paine, too, looking satisfyingly flabbergasted and then the added bonus of asking her for his winnings--well, Rikku's winnings, Baralai didn't care so much about the money, really, it was more the idea of it. Okay. He could do this.
Baralai steeled his jaw and suddenly realized that he couldn't do it after all. Not until he took off his trousers and long sleeved shirt. And--was that a sash? The sort that required an elaborate bow? "Oh good lord," Baralai muttered to himself. It took all of his willpower to keep from giving up right then and there, and he consoled himself with the frail thought that a lesser man probably would have given up by now.
The word "man" set off another vicious chain of embarrassment and angst. Baralai clenched his teeth and let his hair down and stared at himself one last time in the mirror, wanting to cry or, better, murder someone. Brutally. Instead, he counted to five, and reminded himself weakly how nice it would be to get one up on Gippal. And how that would make this all worth it.
Yuna was almost completely convinced that something was going on, some sort of sinister plot or--well, maybe not sinister. But a plot, certainly. Rikku had vanished earlier and just returned. She was putting on quite a show of nervousness and pointedly ignoring everyone, which was odd enough--but Gippal and Paine had been exchanging smug looks for the past ten minutes.
To make matters worse, none of them were interested in speaking to her right now--Rikku kept throwing elaborate sulking fits, Gippal kept ignoring Yuna completely when she tried to talk, and Paine had been saying "Just a minute, okay?" for the past twenty minutes.
Yuna was starting to feel left out. They were all waiting for Baralai, of course, seeing as it was his party--he was late, which Yuna found slightly unusual, but it hadn't been all that long. There were about twenty guests, including herself, and they all waited in a large parlor. Really, the party had already started just fine without their host, but Yuna had the distinct feeling of waiting all the same.
She wondered if Baralai's lateness was perhaps linked to the odd behavior of her friends? "Just a minute, okay, Yuna?" Paine said, again, when Yuna tried to ask. Feeling slightly put off, Yuna went to stand in the corner next to Nooj, who was the only other person she knew here anyway.
He said hello, and then seemed happy to ignore her. Yuna wasn't terribly close to Nooj, but she was so tired of all her friends ignoring her that she tried to strike up a conversation all the same. "Is it just me, or are those three plotting something?" Yuna asked.
Nooj made a sort of exasperated and amused sound. "I wouldn't doubt it." He said nothing more.
"I'd at least like to know what it is," Yuna said, pressing valiantly on. "I mean, they're being positively rude. Except for Rikku, I guess. She's being positively weird. And Baralai is late."
"Hm." Nooj obviously was not much of a conversationalist.
"Well, Rikku was sort of late, too," Yuna said, rambling slightly and feeling awkward. "Which is odd, because she came here hours before Paine and I--she said she wanted to give Baralai his birthday present. But Rikku only showed up here a few minutes ago. And that was when Paine and Gippal started acting funny, too. They keep looking over at her, and then exchanging looks with eachother... is Baralai normally prone to lateness?"
"No." Nooj was trying, and failing, to look politely interested.
Yuna struggled to put all the pieces in place. Baralai was late... Rikku had been late, even though she had gone to Bevelle early... she was obviously hiding something... Gippal and Paine acted like they knew what that something was... Yuna gasped. "Do you think that Rikku and Baralai are secretly dating?"
That got Nooj's attention, and he glanced sharply over at Yuna. He looked unnerved for a moment, then amused, then unnerved again. Then he seemed to remember that he wasn't supposed to be interested in this, and looked away. "No."
"Hmm," Yuna said, "I wonder." She considered asking Rikku, but before she could--
"Ah, sorry I'm late..." Someone entered the room. Yuna's first thought was that it must have been one of Baralai's sisters. Then she realized it was Baralai himself, his hair down, fists clenched, and wearing a very blue, very ruffly dress. It looked good on him, Yuna thought, before she realized that she wasn't supposed to think things like that about men in dresses.
A great many things seemed to become clear to Yuna, even as a great many more questions raised themselves. In the end, all she could do was stare as Baralai picked his way across the room, stubbornly ignoring everyone he could, but exchanging one quick look with Rikku, who was suddenly remarkably relaxed and cheery again, on the way. He stopped short when he was standing before Paine and Gippal, both looking impressively thunderstruck, and smiled.
Baralai's smile was wide and cheery and somehow very dangerous. "I do believe that you owe Miss Rikku and I some money," he said cheerfully.
"...you're wearing a dress," Gippal managed, looking horrified and at the same time vastly amused.
Baralai smiled at him, and Yuna--across the room--seemed to feel a chill. "Yes," he said, "that's right. Now, excuse me." Baralai turned and, fists clenched so tightly that his knuckles were white, left the room again.
The room was utterly silent until Rikku did a neat backflip off the couch she had been sprawled on. She took several bows, enjoying the dumbstruck expressions of everyone else, and skipped over to Gippal and Paine. "That'll be ten thousand Gil, if you please!"
"...he was wearing a dress," Gippal repeated, and then collapsed into very undignified giggles for the next ten minutes. Paine paid Rikku with a sour expression on her face, and then elbowed Gippal in the ribs to shut him up.
Yuna looked at Nooj, who seemed to be regretting every association he had with Gippal, Paine and Baralai. She knew the feeling. "Well," Yuna said, "that solves that mystery."
"I guess this means that Rikku and Baralai weren't dating after all!" Yuna said, pleased to have figured it out. Nooj shot her a Look, and she smiled back.
The dress was burned, to Rikku's dismay.
"I hope you learned your lesson," Baralai said to her, mentally vowing never to take off his coat again.
"Nope, not at all," she replied regretfully, as she divided their winnings. "I already made a new bet."
"...I am not doing anything for you, ever again," Baralai said dangerously.
"Oh, no, don't worry," Rikku said seriously. "Gippal's still in shock, and Paine's in a really bad mood. I think they know better now."
"...Good." Pause. Baralai hated his curiosity. "Then... who did you bet with?"
"Yunie," Rikku said cheerfully. "Say, when's Nooj's birthday?"
(Or... is it? Duh Duh Duuuuum!)