Author's Note 1:

vi·chys·soise n. A thick creamy potato soup flavored with leeks and onions, usually served cold.

Author's Note 2:

Apparently the three words from the title and that are used throughout this story, "definitely", "not", and "vichyssoise", all belong to Orson Scott Card. Funny, I thought "vichyssoise" belonged to the French. Also apparently, I have seriously offended some people who feel that by putting these three words together, I am stealing from this author. Firstly, I was not aware that Mr. Card had patented this phrase, and secondly, absolutely nothing in this story has anything to do (as far as I know) with anything Mr. Card has written, save sharing these three words in sequence and probably some others like "but he thought" and "and this was". It was not my intention to offend Mr. Card or his followers - sometimes you just get a series of words in your mind (incidentally, this particular phrase was the subject line of a spam e-mail I got some time ago), and it winds up as the title of a fic. If you want to flame someone for "stealing" from Mr. Card, head on over to the "Ender's Game" section, and leave my title alone.

Definitely Not Vichyssoise

Gippal woke up in a haze. His vision was blurry, but he thought he could make out a concrete floor.

It seemed he was still face-down. What had hit him? Had something fallen and knocked him out? He was lucky, in that case. He twisted himself around to sit up, reaching to feel the back of his head. Was he bleeding?

Clink.

Chains? Gippal looked down at his hands. Why was he in chains?

For that matter, why was he in a jail cell? There were definitely bars in front of him, and this was definitely concrete surrounding him. There was also a distinct lack of a window.

How had this happened?

He leaned his head down and rubbed his eye with the closest hand. His vision slowly cleared, but he still felt quite groggy. This tended to happen when he got whacked on the back of the head and lost consciousness.

This was the reason that Gippal assumed he'd been attacked. Someone must have found him in the temple – yes, he remembered, he was checking out the closets – and attacked him from behind and dragged him here.

-\/-

Gippal stared at the old Yevon temple at Djose, wondering how he was going to convince his people that it was a good idea to move in and take over the abandoned property. The Machine Faction needed a place on the mainland, and this temple was an excellent location. Ships from Bikanel went by here all the time, and there were many ruins from the old Machina Wars nearby.

And here, Gippal knew, they could keep an eye on both New Yevon and the Youth League. It wasn't that he wanted to be part of the political game that was always happening these days; rather, Gippal wanted to make certain that his people weren't left out of it.

So here he was, claiming the temple of Djose for the Al Bhed. The loss of the aeon inside meant that the lightning surrounding the temple grew out of control, which quickly scared away the priests who always hung about. He knew that all of the electricity running through the place would make a great source of power, and that his people could easily build a system to contain it. Additionally, Gippal couldn't deny his own lingering wish to get inside of Yevon, dig around in its secrets, and take bits of it for his own. Who knew what secrets remained hidden in this temple?

Now if only he could figure out a way in. Nhadala had refused to come, which Gippal now thought was a mistake, because with her help he certainly could have reached that high window that looked like it was cracked open.

He put his hands on his hips. What now?

Maybe there was a back door. Gippal made his way around the side of the temple, looking for an alternate entrance… and found nothing. Not even a side door from a kitchen or a ventilation shaft. No wonder the priests were always so stuffy, Gippal thought.

The windows? Gippal poked at a few of them, but soon discovered that the glass seemed to be several inches thick and not openable from the outside. He pulled out his gun from its holster and considered firing a shot through the pane, but knew that he would certainly be heard by someone if he did that.

Gippal sighed and looked around near his feet. Trap doors? Temples had trap doors, didn't they? He scouted the ground, pulling aside tall grasses and occasionally stirring up some static electricity, but found nothing that looked like a door. He did find an old sandal, which he quickly discarded, as well as what looked like fishing hooks tied together with a blue silk bandana.

His fingers traced the fabric, remembering the first and only person he ever stole such a bandana from. He had lost Baralai's headband while he was sneaking around the docks looking for passage home – Gippal idly wondered if this was that bandana.

He turned it over and discovered bloodstains. He certainly hoped this was not Baralai's.

Back to business. Gippal pocketed the bandana and hook contraption, stood up and went back around the front of the temple to see if there was a way in that he'd missed. Of course, there was the front entrance, but that was too dangerous. It was likely alarmed or something that would instantly alert someone that he was here.

No, Gippal thought, Yevon wouldn't have alarms. Not these days. If they ever did, they'd be in disrepair now, and there probably wouldn't even be anyone paying attention to them.

He tried the door in the front. Static crackled at his fingertips as he touched and turned the knob, and the doors swung smoothly open.

Huh. Well, he should have thought of that before.

Electricity sparkled around the entranceway, leaping from pillar to pillar. This place wasalive and Gippal could feel it deep in his body, running through his bones. He had to bring the Al Bhed here – think of all the energy they could tap, and everything that they could make theirs.

Gippal walked quickly to a set of stairs on one side, peeking in. Old flags and banners were piled on the floor; staring at the sacred symbols of Yevon, Gippal thought they would make good oilrags.

Then he felt a sharp stabbing sensation on the back of his neck, immediately followed by his face hitting the floor.

-\/-

Now, Gippal had to find out where "here" was.

Gippal negotiated the chains that held his feet to his hands, eventually managing to sit up properly. He couldn't move his arms more than a handlength away from his feet, but at least he wasn't facedown on the concrete any longer.

He was also hungry. Gippal couldn't guess when he'd eaten last – first, he didn't know how long he'd been unconscious, and second, he wasn't quite certain whether he'd eaten before going to the Djose Temple or if his last meal had really been that salty meat he'd snacked on during the boat ride from Bikanel. Either way, his stomach was growling.

"Hey," he called in Spiran, just in case someone was listening. "Can a guy get some food?"

Gippal listened, but there was no response, not even the shifting of a body. Gippal guessed that he was all alone in this concrete basement jail cell, which meant that there was a distinct possibility that he could escape. On the door, he could see a keyhole – what was this, some antiquated place from days before real civilization? Who used a key on jail cells anyway?

Well, Gippal had to admit to himself that he'd never been in jail before, so he wasn't entirely certain what they looked like. The Al Bhed jails, which were never used except for Spirans who caused trouble, were elaborate mechanical contraptions – mostly because a trapped Spiran would never bother to try to figure out the simple mechanical locks.

Okay. Gippal could do this. He rocked his body up into a crouch, and then realized just how difficult it was going to be to get over to the lock on the door. His hands were shackled together at the wrists, and that chain was connected to the chain binding his feet together at the ankles. Only a few large chain links separated his hands and his feet, which made it nearly impossible to walk.

He could hop. Yes. No one was here to see him and make fun of him, so hopping - in what he knew would be a most undignified manner - was not a problem.

Having decided to try, Gippal hopped once and immediately lost his balance upon landing and fell sideways. His right shoulder slammed into the ground, and Gippal heard and felt his bones and sinews complain at this violation.

Gippal's new position was even worse than his old one, and now his shoulder was complaining at him with a strange splitting sort of pain that made parts of his brain feel numb. Gippal mentally marked the feeling as unpleasant, and then realized that label was a gross understatement.

Curled up in a pseudo-fetal position was embarrassing enough, but when Gippal heard the lock on the cell door clink open, he wished he could disappear. He hated people seeing him in weakness, and here he was in chains in a pathetic curled up ball with what was most likely a self-inflicted broken shoulder.

"Get up," said an unfriendly voice.

"Would if I could, man," said Gippal. He wasn't entirely certain how he was able to say such a thing without his voice cracking. His head throbbed.

"You think I'm going to unchain you?"

"Would you rather I unchain myself?" False bravado always worked. If ever it didn't work, the memory of it was probably stored in the part of Gippal's brain that was currently attending to the pain in his shoulder.

The other man grunted. Gippal wanted to try to twist his body to have a look at his captor, but figured that would betray his own self-assured confidence. "You're going to see the Grand Maester; you had better be presentable for him."

Although Gippal knewthat the faith of Yevon was dead - that their god had been killed by one of Yevon's own, that they had no real power anymore - he still flinched. He couldn't help it. A thousand years of training had taught his people to fear Yevon and their people, as though the religion's hatred of the Al Bhed had become an inborn trait on both sides.

His heart was racing. He'd been sneaking around in a temple of Yevon, which just a few short months ago would be grounds for death. What had he been thinking? Why did he think he could get away with it? And if he was seeing a Grand Maester, Gippal figured that what he had done was really really bad and he was about to be killed.

He didn't want to be killed. Not after surviving the horrible trials that the Crimson Squad put him through on Bikanel, not after the ordeal in the Den of Woe, not after escaping Yevon soldiers shooting at him and the other three, not without knowing why Nooj had shot him…

"I will go peacefully," he lied, "if you'd just unchain me."

His jailer paused for a moment, which Gippal hoped meant that he was thinking it over. After a few moments of waiting, Gippal wished that he would think faster. Typical Yevon, really, taking days to decide anything.

Finally, finally, Gippal heard the distinctive rattling of keys, and then felt the shackles on his feet loosen. He had a crazy thought about grabbing his jailer by the head and slamming him into the floor, but quickly realized that he would probably get in more trouble that way. He would have plenty of opportunity to escape.

But none as good as this one, he heard his consciousness say to him.

Gippal told his inner daemon to be quiet and pulled himself into a standing position. At least now he could be somewhat dignified, even if it appeared that his hands were still shackled and he was now dragging a length of chain and empty feet shackles along with him.

Still, this was better. He nodded at the guard, who grunted and motioned to the door of the cell. In silence, they walked along halls that steadily gained more color, past the signs and symbols that reminded everyone of the horrible past – and an unwanted memory rose unbidden to Gippal's mind.

-\/-

Cid spoke quickly to Gippal. "Sit still, Gippal, he'll be here soon."

Gippal's stomach threatened to turn itself inside-out again. It had been doing this ever since he had been led, blind, onto the boat. You've lost a lot of blood, he had been told, no wonder you're sick. "Yes," he said, his voice sounding too meek and childish even in his own ears. With his eyes covered in bandages, his sense of hearing became even more attuned. "Ihlma Cid, where are we and what are they saying?"

There was a long pause. "We're on the mainland, near Kilika," Cid, Gippal's ihlma – a relative by ties if not by blood - said quietly. "Spira. The people around us aren't speaking the Al Bhed language. They're speaking Spiran."

"They sound funny," Gippal said, but then he listened more.

"You'll learn that language soon – you already know your numbers. Now be quiet." Gippal felt Cid's arm around his shoulder, and then another wave of nausea hit.

An eternity later – though it was probably only a few minutes – Gippal felt another hand on his shoulder. People, including Cid, spoke in that language that he couldn't understand – though he recognized his name and the number five, which was his age and so he knew that number in Spiran very well – and a certain urgency in Cid's voice. Even Gippal could understand what that tone meant.

Then, a man with a kind voice said in Gippal's language, though horribly accented, "Gippal, my name is Braska, and I will heal your hurt."

Gippal replied, perhaps too quickly, "Can I see again?"

"Afterwards," Cid said. "Now come on."

Cid's hand took Gippal's, and again Gippal was being led blindly. His bare feet felt cool coarse stone, remarkably different from hot shifting sand or smooth metal, as he struggled to keep up with the adults walking near him. Eventually, he was told to sit on what felt like a bench with big, fluffy cushions. Gippal spread out his hands around him to feel the material of the cushions – it was soft to his fingertips, like his mother's hair.

Thinking about his mother, Gippal almost cried. She was dead, he'd been told, and his two big brothers. Sin had gotten them, and it had almost gotten him too.

"Stay still now," the man who called himself Braska said to Gippal. Gippal obeyed, trying to force himself not to cry, and listened to the now-familiar sound of bandages being unwrapped. His skin felt the warm air, but his vision was hazy and lopsided. He thought he'd have to practice eye exercises to make up for this disuse.

Then, he felt someone put hands on his face. He was used to this too, after all his poking and prodding over the past few days. But then, Gippal saw a light, white and beautiful, take over his whole vision.

The nausea and the lingering pain from his injuries were gone. He blinked open his eyes, looking around at the place around him. He couldn't see quite right, but he made out many colored fabrics hanging from the walls, and strange symbols on them that he couldn't recognize. His eyes focused on the man before him, draped in colorful robes to match the place they were sitting. He had a kind face and eyes, but he was definitely Spiran. His strange eye color captivated Gippal for a moment.

"Should we wait before taking him back to Bikanel?" Cid was asking.

A woman was standing behind the robed man – Braska, Gippal presumed – and she was an Al Bhed, with swirled eyes and long blonde hair. "He should be fine to travel. The sooner you get out of here, brother, the better."

"Thanks," Cid said, nodding at the woman. "You really saved my ass. And his. I swore to his mother—"

"I know. You did the right thing." The woman patted Gippal on top of his head. "Hey hon, you'll be okay now, but sleep a lot and eat everything you can get, alright?"

Gippal nodded distractedly. He was still transfixed by the colors and symbols everywhere – things that he would grow to hate in his adulthood.

The adults spoke more in the Spiran language, and Gippal saw the woman hand over something black and shiny to Cid, who unfolded it. Gippal didn't recognize what the object was, but a few days later, he was using it to cover up his dead, useless right eye.

-\/-

"Hey listen," Gippal said to the guard who was leading him around. "Can I get some food? Seriously, I'm starving—"

"Shut up," the guard said. "Don't speak unless you're spoken to. That's not proper conduct before the Grand Maester."

Gippal wanted to tell him precisely where he could shove the Grand Maester, but thought that would probably get him killed. "Can I at least get unchained all the way? I could walk faster that way."

"Unchaining your hands won't help your feet move. Now walk."

"But I won't be dragging—"

Gippal stopped speaking when the guard pulled out what looked like a pistol. Not only did Gippal assess that a guard with a pistol was markedly more dangerous than a guard without one, but he was also relatively shocked that someone from Yevon would be carrying such a thing. Wasn't machina still forbidden by these people, even though their god was dead?

"That's better," the guard said pointedly. "Now wait here to be summoned before the Grand Maester."

Gippal looked around. He appeared to be in a hallway somewhere, probably in a Yevon temple. Bevelle, he guessed, since he was apparently on the schedule of the Grand Maester.

People in robes walked by, appearing to be on important errands. The hems of their garments fluttered around their feet as they passed, and Gippal bit his lower lip.

Was Baralai here somewhere, in his long green robe, fluttering around him?

-\/-

"Can you fight in that thing?"

The dark-skinned man looked sternly at the other. "Can you fight in that thing?"

Gippal sat idly, watching the two Spirans verbally circle each other, feeling out the power roles each would hold. To him, it was obvious – the older one, the one with a half-machina body, would definitely claim leadership of this little squad. Even though the robed Spiran was nearly as tall and strong-looking as the other man, it was no contest. And they were only making each other look foolish.

"Hi," Gippal said to the two. "I'm Gippal. Are you two done comparing cocks?"

"Comparing what?" The white-haired one obviously disapproved of Gippal's suggestion.

"Cocks. You know, that thing that dangles between our legs. Or don't you have one?" Gippal pretended to look.

The other folded his arms and turned away. The machina man appeared to be slightly amused. "The recorder will be here soon," he said simply.

"Kay Nooj," Gippal replied, flopping onto his back in the dust.

"You know this man?" the other one asked.

"Yeah. He's only the most famous soldier in the world," Gippal replied, lifting his head. "And you are, what, a crossdresser?"

"This is a robe I'll have you know."

"Looks like a dress to me. Besides, how else should I address you?" Gippal raised his eyebrow. "You're hardly famous."

"My name is Baralai."

Gippal grinned. "Crossdresser Lai then."

Baralai was obviously getting flustered. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Do you?"

"Gentlemen," Nooj said suddenly, although he still sounded slightly amused, "save that for the battlefield and the enemy. Like it or not, we are comrades here, and we have our first orders."

"Already?" Baralai asked, spreading his hands over his robe. Gippal vaguely wondered if he was trying to remove the filth inflicted by the heathen Al Bhed.

"Yes. To the mess hall, for a meal not caught and cooked over a campfire. Enjoy it." Without another word, Nooj left them and stamped off toward the common areas of the camp.

"Maybe there'll be a chick there, and you can compare outfits," Gippal said snidely to Baralai before following Nooj away.

The mess hall was not far away, and once Gippal entered, he realized that no one else was there. He said as much to Nooj, who responded, "We were closest to the building. We got the message first, and had the shortest distance to go."

Gippal wasn't certain that he believed that, but he retrieved some food and followed Nooj to a table and sat across from him. He thought of engaging the other man in conversation about his machina parts, but was quickly dissuaded when Nooj refused to make eye contact with him.

Baralai, however, had no such limitations.

"This is the worst excuse for a meal I've ever had," Baralai informed them as he sat down on the third side of the rectangular table.

"Cold soup," Gippal said, lifting his spoon and letting the liquid fall into the bowl.

"Some kind of vichyssoise," Baralai suggested after tasting it.

"Definitely not vichyssoise," Nooj answered. "But better than what we'll be eating in days to come. Shut up and eat it."

Baralai tossed a look of amusement at Gippal, and Gippal couldn't help but to smile at it.

-\/-

"It'll be a while," Gippal's captor informed him. "Stop complaining and eat this."

Gippal hadn't been paying attention, and was suddenly handed something that looked like a withered apple. "Gee, thanks," he said, sniffing it. "Definitely not vichyssoise." His heart hurt, thinking of Baralai and Nooj. His back hurt too where he still had the remnants of a bullet wound.

"What, did you expect a five course meal?"

Gippal eyed the guard. "Well, yes, actually. Like you guys don't have the money for it."

"Not for you," the guard said.

"Mind if I call you Kaka?" Gippal asked, taking a bite of his cuisine. It tasted like rotten flan droppings.

The guard looked at him curiously. "Why?"

Gippal shrugged. "Just to have some way to refer to you. I like to think that even Yevon guards have personality."

"You're lucky I don't kill you."

"You're lucky I'm not demanding a five course meal before I'll let the Grand Maester into my presence," Gippal corrected him.

"I have no qualms with killing you," Kaka informed him.

"Sure you do," Gippal replied. "Or else I'd be dead by now. Someone's told you not to do it. Probably the Grand Maester."

"Likely he wants to kill you himself."

"Nah," Gippal said. "Probably wants to invite me to dinner."

Kaka ignored him, and Gippal continued to eat the flan droppings disguised as an apple, doing his best to make the most noise he could while eating it.

He thought of Baralai. He could be here, Gippal thought. The medic at the Travel Agency had said that Baralai would pull through just fine, but the Yevon patrols were coming and Gippal would undoubtedly be taken into custody for what had happened. Gippal had fled to Bikanel, stupidly. He should have stayed.

He knew he should have stayed, if only to know what had happened to the others. He'd seen Paine, that much was true, flying about with Brother and Buddy. He had wanted to talk to her, ask her what she knew, but she pretended like she didn't hear him.

Gippal desperately wanted someone to hear him. And now he was probably going to die at the hands of Yevon, or what was left of it.

He didn't know how long he sat there. Memories of the Crimson Squad, of Baralai, of Paine and Nooj and the shooting and the Travel Agency – all of these things came to his memory, and Gippal just knew he'd been found out and now he was going to die for escaping from Yevon before.

A door nearby opened. "The Grand Maester will see you now," said a man from inside.

"Come," said Kaka, pointing his pistol at Gippal. "And be reverent."

"Yeah right," Gippal replied, standing slowly and trudging forward. He poked his head in the door, feeling the pistol pressing into his back.

And there he was.

-\/-

One night during their training, Gippal woke up for his watch shift. He stretched inside the tent, seeing the light of the Bikanel moon shining in through the opening he'd left in the top.

After a thorough stretching, Gippal opened the tent flap and crept out through the piled sand along the rock wall that served as their shelter that night. The other squads were smart and moved during the night when it was cooler – but Nooj's squad was smarter and moved during the day when the other squads were asleep.

Gippal rounded the corner and saw Baralai sitting on a small rock outcropping, watching the sands. His robe fluttered around him in the wind, sending streams of orange and green behind him against the night sky.

His elbow rested on his knee, and his chin rested on his palm. Baralai's eyes were half-closed, perhaps from tiredness or from soreness from the sand blowing. The moon shone through his hair, making him look like he wore a small glimmering halo.

Gippal was spellbound. In all his life, he had never seen a more picturesque setting. Some large sandworms reared up in the distance, providing an eerie backdrop to Baralai's ethereal presence in the desert night. Gippal stood there, back near the tents, watching the scene and memorizing it. Then, struck by a hint of luck and genius, Gippal stepped back to Paine's tent and picked up one of the empty spheres from her sphere recorder pack. He pressed the record button and pointed it at Baralai, capturing his moonlight majesty for all time.

Gippal pocketed the sphere and watched Baralai for a few more moments, then stepped forward silently through the sand.

Baralai suddenly perked up, hearing someone approaching. "What's for dinner?" he asked.

The code. Gippal grinned. "Definitely not vichyssoise," he answered – a response code for It's safe, we're friends, all is well.

Baralai turned and, as his eyes met Gippal's, he smiled. "You're late."

"Sorry. Slept in," Gippal lied.

"Don't do it again," Baralai warned him.

"No sir," Gippal teased, watching Baralai jump down from his perch. He looked tired. "Sleep well."

"I will," Baralai replied. "Goodnight Gippal."

"Kuuthekrd Baralai," Gippal replied. He watched Baralai go back to his tent and seal the flap.

Gippal sighed and climbed up to Baralai's perch. Before settling in, he pulled out his carving knife and the wooden chocobo figure he was working on, but then pulled out his sphere.

He put the half-finished carving down next to him and hit the play button on the sphere.

-\/-

Awesome. That was the only word Gippal could use to describe what he saw.

It was a throne in essence. Jewels covered the back of the chair and the arms, and upon dark blue velvet cushions sat a man draped in white linen. His feet were bare, standing out dark brown against the pure white.

Light shone in from the colored windows, sending shadows cavorting around the room, crashing against each other and sending prisms of light vaulting across the air.

The man sat straight, his robe falling in a pool behind his feet. Gippal couldn't help but to stare as the so-called Grand Maester rose from the throne, standing now before him in majestic glory, seeming to command the light of the room to fall upon him and make his power manifest visually.

Gippal wanted to kneel. Something in him wanted to force him down – or maybe that was the pistol at his back.

"Leave us," said the Grand Maester.

The others in the room – all except for Gippal in his dirty, torn clothes – left, closing the door behind them.

"Will you dine with me?"

Gippal heard the question but didn't register it. All he could think about was the code that Nooj had taught them in the desert, a way to protect themselves and recognize friend from foe.

"What…" He stopped, caught off-guard as the Grand Maester approached him. He felt vulnerable with the chains on his hands, even with his supposed enemy standing a breath away. He tried his question again as the Grand Maester reached for the lock under his wrists. "What's for dinner?" he asked, feeling stupid even as he felt the chains on his hands release.

Baralai smiled and, over the clatter of chains on the floor, said, "Definitely not vichyssoise."

It's safe, we're friends, all is well.

Gippal instantly unfroze. He stepped forward, daring to approach the Grand Maester – but, more definitively, happily approaching his friend.

Baralai embraced him, seeming to not care about his white draping robe against Gippal's dirty clothes. "Gippal," he whispered, his voice dead in the chamber, leaving nothing to be overheard. "I knew you were alive."

"I had hoped you were," Gippal replied, his arms around Baralai, clinging onto him and never wanting to let go.

"Are you sorry for poking around in my property?" Baralai said, his voice strong and teasing.

Gippal wasn't letting go of Baralai just yet. He couldn't. "Not really," he replied. "It brought me to you."

"Yes, well," Baralai pulled away, and Gippal forced himself to let go. "Things have taken an unexpected turn. And I'm sorry about the chains - they thought you were dangerous."

"I am dangerous," Gippal pointed out. "Grand Maester? What happened?"

Baralai shrugged. "I was here. No one else was. They needed someone, and I positioned myself properly. Out of nowhere, dressed in white, their savior." He smiled wickedly, an expression he had borrowed from Paine. "Next order of business is to get rid of this ridiculous title."

Gippal was stunned. Baralai, maneuvering in politics? He could hardly walk through the desert without getting attacked by something or another – how could he survive the minefield that was a dying religion? "You set this up?" he asked lamely.

"Quite," Baralai replied. "I waited for Seymour to die and for the religion to collapse. I could see it coming."

"You…?" Gippal gaped. Baralai? A political mastermind?

"Yes, me. Now, I have something for you," he said, putting his arm around Gippal and guiding him toward a door near the back of the room. "And let's talk about your recent activities in Djose."

"It was abandoned," Gippal tried to explain. "I figured I'd check it out."

"You think the Al Bhed can use the lightning for energy?" Baralai opened the door and gestured for Gippal to enter.

The next room was much simpler, all wood and white curtains drawn shut to keep out prying eyes, bookshelves with manuscripts and relics encased in glass. No jeweled throne here, just a few simple chairs. Gippal happily sat in one. "Definitely," Gippal replied. "The possibilities are endless. We just need the access to harness it."

"Then it's yours," Baralai said. "I'll draw up the papers later. We can't figure out what to do with it. I was just waiting for it to draw you in."

"You're going togive it to me?" Gippal was incredulous.

"That was the plan. Leave it vacant so it would be bait for you. I knew you'd come, if you were out there." Baralai opened a drawer in a cabinet in the corner of the room and pulled out a few scraps of fabric. "In return, you help Bevelle find energy to keep what machina we have working. Since we lost the power of the aeon, we've lost a lot of energy – we have stockpiles, of course, reserves saved up, fuel and the like, but we're running out. We need the ingenuity of the Al Bhed."

Gippal watched him dig through the drawer curiously. He stood up and started to cross the room. "You'd let filthy Al Bhed in your temple?"

"Of course," Baralai replied. "Yevon is gone. New Yevon is, of course, just something for people to believe in, since we've never gone without such a powerful force in our lives. The people of Spira need something – aha." He produced a sphere from the drawer. "We'll discuss the terms of the deal later. This, I believe, is yours."

He handed Gippal the sphere.

"What's this?" Gippal asked.

"I found it outside the Travel Agency in the high grasses." Baralai stood behind Gippal, and Gippal had to turn his head to look at him. "After I recovered from my injuries, I went back to find any clues I could about what happened there. I found this."

Gippal looked at the sphere, and pressed the play button.

A tiny image appeared above the sphere. It was fuzzy, just as the small previews on the spheres were, and the image he recognized immediately.

Baralai in the moonlight, silhouetted against the Bikanel sky.

"I expected you to deny it was yours," Baralai said simply.

"Is it too late?" Gippal suggested, tearing his gaze away from the image and onto the real person next to him.

Baralai just smiled. "I thought it might be Paine's, but then I remembered when this was taken. It could have only been captured by you, watching me from camp during those nights in the desert."

"You're right," Gippal admitted. "So?"

"So why did you keep it?" Baralai asked.

"Just because." Gippal was trying to deflect the question for which he had no answers.

"I've been waiting for all these months for an answer like that?" Baralai folded his arms.

"Well," Gippal said, looking back at the preview image. "I… worried that we'd be separated. That I'd forget you, what you looked like, that time in the desert when we were a team. Those were the best days of my life."

"When we were safe and all was well," Baralai agreed.

"Definitely not vichyssoise," Gippal added. "I can't believe you remembered that."

Baralai shrugged. "I hate vichyssoise." He looked at Gippal, and said, "I hate how we are now."

Gippal nodded. "Then let's fix it. We can start with you giving me that temple."