I know I change the cause of Gippal's eye in all my stories, so please try to forget about that. Otherwise, feedback is appreciated! I am a concrit junkie. Feed my habit.

"You look kind of… lonely."

Gippal didn't answer. Baralai sat down beside him, his robes fluttering in the icy night winds. "I hope you don't mind," he continued, "but… I couldn't sleep, and you seem to have a nice fire going here. I just thought…"

Gippal sighed. "Shut up."

Baralai obediently shut his mouth, with a set to his jaw that hadn't been there before. Gippal pulled the faded, thin blanket tighter around himself, pretending not to notice how Baralai was shivering.

"What do you want from me?" Baralai burst out at last, a note of frustration to his voice. "See, you've made me lose my temper, and I don't do that often. I've apologized for my cold greeting when we first met, because I have since learned that Al Bhed or no, you are a good man, and I am trying to be your friend, Gippal."

"I don't need a Yevonite for a friend," Gippal muttered resentfully, staring resolutely at the fire.

"Doesn't that make you just as bad as them?"

"No," Gippal snapped. "It doesn't. I didn't take out anyone's eye."

Baralai started, peering curiously at the eyepatch. "That's how you—oh." He looked uncomfortable and guilty. Gippal found the expression was not as satisfactory as he'd thought it would be. "I'm sorry for that, too, then, but I've done nothing to you that is worthy of such… rudeness."

"Maybe not, but you have depth perception," Gippal replied bitterly. "I got over the loss a long time ago, but I still got a grudge against them that did it. Make friends with some other Al Bhed, 'Lai, I'm not bitin'."

" 'Lai'?" Baralai repeated with puzzlement. Gippal flushed.

"I couldn't remember your full name for the longest time," he said sheepishly, but still with a touch of hostility to it. "I mean, what the hell kind of name is Baralai? In the end, I just started thinking of you as ''Lai'."

"Oh, I see." An impish smile danced round the corners of Baralai's mouth. "You gave me a nickname."

"It is not a nickname," Gippal snarled, but Baralai wasn't intimidated. "Friends give each other nicknames. I called you 'Lai because you have a stupid name, and that's that."

That was that, for a while. They sat in what Baralai might have said was companionable silence (despite the Al Bhed's lingering hostility) and soaked up the fire's warmth. At some point Gippal put a pot of water over the grill, muttering something about hot chocolate helping people sleep. Baralai was careful not to comment on that.

"Why are you still wearing it?" he wanted to know abruptly. Gippal raised an eyebrow. "The eyepatch," Baralai elaborated. "You're scratching at the skin beneath the strap every now and then. It can't be comfortable to wear it all the time."

Gippal looked wary. "No," he said slowly. "But I was wearing it in case any of you came out – like you did."

"Why? Why should it matter if we see you without it?"

Gippal scowled, looking away determinately into the fire, and Baralai could have sworn he saw a touch of self-consciousness in the usually brash, extroverted young man. Sometimes it was easy to forget this was a boy of sixteen. "It's not a pretty sight," Gippal said at last. "Look, the hot water's boiling."

Baralai ignored the water, touching Gippal on the shoulder to make the blonde look at him. "How do you wash it? Sand must get under it all the time, and…"

"What do you mean, how do I wash it? Like any other part of my body," Gippal retorted defensively.

"Can I do it?"


But it was clear that Baralai wasn't joking in the least. Gippal stared incredulously. "You're crazy, kid." The older boy didn't point out that he was two years Gippal's senior. "You don't really want to wash my scarred-over eye."

"Yes, I do." Baralai met his gaze steadily. "I have seen plenty of scars," he added unwaveringly, a glint of determination to his amber eyes. "I am sure I can handle your eye."

Gippal didn't say anything, but tugged his sleeve over his gloved hand and took the pot off the fire, setting it in the sand before digging in his pack for the powdered chocolate that he had smuggled in. Baralai told him to stop.

"I could use that water," he pointed out. "Hot water would feel better than cold, right?"

Gippal shook his head obstinately. "You don't want to wash my eye," he repeated.

"Call it penance. For my people. It was not my hand that delivered the blow, but… if it was a follower of Yevon, then I will repent for him." Baralai pulled a washcloth from his own pack and dipped it in the slowly-cooling water. "Please."

Gippal sat, frozen, neither aiding nor hindering Baralai as the uncomfortable leather patch was slowly peeled away. And to his credit, the Yevonite made no noise of horror or surprise, or even of sympathy. He took the scars in stride - the eyelid slightly sunken in to prove that behind it there was no eye. The lid was sealed shut with scar tissue, the flesh immediately surrounding it slightly mottled. The outside corner of the eye drooped down a bit.

Gippal was right, that it was not pretty. But neither was it the worst Baralai had ever seen, and it made the young Al Bhed no less handsome on the whole.

"Badly-aimed Poison spell," Gippal muttered, startling Baralai from his reverie. "I know you're dying to ask."

Baralai said nothing as he put the cloth to the scarred flesh. Gippal shuddered a little. The water felt wonderful; more than warm, but no longer searing hot. It sent heat to the tips of his fingers and toes, trickling down his spine and making a sleepy haze settle over him. He struggled through his foggy mind to say, "Thank you."

Later, he would probably deny that.

So close to the elder, Gippal could smell Baralai. He could have teased the Yevonite for perfumes, because although there was a bitter tang of sweat which came from so long in the desert, underneath the saltiness was the warm, spicy scent of cloves and some other kind of herb – cinnamon, perhaps? He wouldn't put it past Baralai to carry a pouch of spices in his pocket just to smell good.

But then he remembered being told that some Yevonites carried spices with them as part of their religion – herbs with supposedly special properties that were to bring them closer to Yevon. And he realized it had nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with Baralai as a person. Baralai was a man of unwavering faith and undying loyalty. Gippal had a feeling that once you had him as a friend, it was hard to lose him.

Soon the grit of sand and dust was gone from his scars, and Baralai was rinsing the washcloth off in the slowly-cooling pot of water. Gippal was reaching for his patch, a flush high in his cheeks at having let down his guard so completely – and feeling such a fool for giving his thanks to the man whose people had taken his eye – when a soft brown hand landed on his shoulder and a pair of even softer lips ghosted over the ruined flesh. Gippal was surprised to find it felt as nice as the warm water, and somehow just as cleansing.

"I'm sorry," the Yevonite breathed against the scars, and slipped the eyepatch back over the eye.

The Al Bhed allowed a little smile – wordless forgiveness.

The lips slid down to press against a tanned cheek, and then they were both falling asleep. It was side-by-side and just slightly tangled up that Nooj and Paine would find them the next morning, sharing one faded, thin blanket.