A/N: Written for the prompt "Baralai, Nooj, libraries." Set between the games. Spoilers for backstory.


Research Assistant

The soft click of the heavy door broke Baralai's reverie. He looked up from the ancient text he had been reading and blinked a few times, and his vision refocused on the figure who had entered the room. "Lord Trema? May I help you?"

Trema closed the door behind him, then walked further into the library. "Baralai, is it? You are the one who maintains the collection of texts regarding the wars between Bevelle and ancient Zanarkand, are you not?"

Baralai, who had by now set aside the book and risen to his feet, bowed smartly. "Yes, my lord, that's correct."

Trema nodded. "One of the Seekers has discovered a sphere that seems to be from that time period, and he wishes to learn more about it. I'm told that you as familiar with that piece of history as anyone else here, and that you know more than anyone about which texts a researcher might consult. Would you show him the texts and provide any assistance he might require?"

"Of course, my lord." Baralai bowed again. "It is my pleasure to serve."

"Very good." Trema pushed the door open. "I will leave you to it, then. Nooj?"

Baralai's heart slammed into his ribcage. He whipped his arms around his back and clenched his hands together tightly, then froze in place as Trema stepped aside, making space for the last person Baralai had ever wanted to see again. Nooj filled the doorway, his tall frame bowed slightly. He paused there, and Baralai thought he saw a slight recoil. Shock? At seeing him here, or at realizing that he lived at all? Then the moment passed, and Nooj walked into the room, his face devoid of expression, his cane clacking against the flagstone floor.

Trema looked up at Nooj. "Someone will return for you in a few hours. Best of luck to you." He turned to nod to Baralai and then, burying his arms in his long sleeves, he disappeared, shutting the door behind him.

Baralai glared at the door for as long as he could stand it. Then he steeled himself to turn and look at Nooj, who gazed back at him, eyes impassive behind his spectacles. He had heard that Nooj was among the Seekers, looking for spheres that might unlock the keys to Spira's past. At least that was what anyone else might assume. Just like Baralai's nominal reason for working in the library was to help bring to light the thousand years and more of history that the temples had kept buried. He had admitted his ulterior motive to no one. Was Nooj here for the same reason? Or was there something more sinister behind his presence here today?

"Follow me," Baralai said, then instantly regretted it as he realized that he would now have to turn his back on Nooj. But there was no way out of it, and so he pivoted smartly on his heel, not waiting to see a nod or any other acknowledgement. Show no fear, don't let him have the upper hand, be strong, he's not armed, at least he doesn't seem to be carrying a weapon... Although if he really wanted to finish the job, do you really think the lack of a gun would stop him? Baralai closed his eyes for a moment and calmed himself with a deep breath. Picking up the candelabra that he'd been using as a reading light, he started across the room, attempting to move with an ease that looked natural, as though he'd never been shot in the back by anyone, much less by the man who now walked behind him, the sound of uneven steps and the dull thud of the cane on the rug the only evidence that anyone else was even there.

It seemed to Baralai as though it took them several minutes to walk across the room, pushing through air thick with history and things unsaid. When he reached the door of the proper archive, he pushed it open, then turned around, indicating the entrance with a sweep of his arm. "The books and papers on the machina wars are all in that room."

Nooj nodded. "Very good." With no apparent hesitation, he continued forward, walking through the door and into the darkened room. For a few steps, Baralai followed close behind, then stopped when he realized that he was fighting the urge to lift the candlestick high and bring it down hard against the back of Nooj's neck. Gripping it more tightly, he took a few more breaths, clearing his thoughts in the manner he had been taught so many years ago. He made his way to the reading desk in the corner and placed the candelabra in the center.

"Can you tell me how these are arranged?" Nooj's fingers tightened around the sphere he was carrying in his right hand as he looked around the room.

Baralai retreated to the doorway. "You'll find a catalog in the cabinet to your right, and there are signs on most of the shelves and drawers."

"Ah." Nooj continued his examination of the space, taking in the rows of books, then glancing over the drawers and cupboards that lined the far wall. When he was finished, he looked at Baralai once again, eyes still blank. "Thank you."

Yet another moment passed as Baralai scanned Nooj's face, searching for something, anything: a flicker of remorse, of anger, of satisfaction. But there was nothing. Nothing. Is that how little it all means to him, how little I... Baralai clamped down on that train of thought and responded with a curt nod. "If you need further assistance, I..." and then he stopped, choked by the rage that he hadn't managed to push all that far down below the surface after all. Unwilling to tolerate Nooj's presence a single moment more, he turned away again, lips pursed into a straight line, striding back into the main reading room without looking back. Not until he was a safe distance away did he dare turn around, and only seeing that the door to the archive room was closed allowed him to breathe freely again. Without thinking, he made his way to the servant's bell pull and tugged it. Someone else could come deal with Nooj's research needs; he would be getting out of this place as soon as he possibly could. Out of this library, and possibly even out of Bevelle. He wondered if even all Spira was large enough to house them both anymore.