"Gippal? Is something the matter?"

Gippal didn't come here with the intention of getting distracted by the tousled state of Baralai's hair – loose from it usual bandana, falling in his eyes and curling around his cheeks – nor the disarray of his robes, rumpled after a sixteen-hour day.

Gippal cannot allow himself to pay too much attention to the rectangular, black-rimmed eyeglasses that he seldom sees Baralai wearing because they are such a nuisance, but which really do complement the praetor's face.

Above all, Gippal really has to stop staring at Baralai's lips and the way the are moving, and focus instead on what's actually coming out of them.

"—even listening to me?"

"I–" Gippal blinked helplessly.

Baralai smiled wearily. "Come in." He stepped aside and gestured Gippal into his office. "It wasn't important. What was it that you wanted?"

"Have you looked at a clock lately?" Gippal asks, staring quite determinately at a painting of what looks like Mount Gagazet – because that, at least, will not distract him the same way Baralai does.

"I'm sorry?"

Gippal raises an eyebrow, risking a glance at him. "The time, 'Lai, d'you know what time it is?"

"Ah – half-past midnight, I think." Baralai looks faintly guilty, but he is sitting back down at his desk and picking up his pen. That won't do.

Gippal snatches the pen from Baralai's hand, noticing as he does so that Baralai's fingers are covered in ink stains, and he can't help smiling at that, though he's not sure why.

"Your dedication is admirable and all that," Gippal says, putting the pen behind his back when Baralai makes a half-hearted grab for it, "but this is just… at this rate, you're going to work yourself to death. Your body can't handle all this. And even if it could, you know what they say about all work and no play."

Baralai sighs and puts a hand to his temple, closing his eyes. Gippal wonders if he has a headache. "I – I have to get this done, Gippal. It's important."

"What happened to 'One thing at a time'?"

"When dealing with the general population, yes. But I will do as much as I can and as quickly as possible, and if that means losing a few hours' sleep, then so be it."

Gippal sighs, too. "It's not just a few hours, 'Lai, it's late nights and early mornings all the time."

"I can take care of myself perfectly well, thank you." It seems Baralai is starting to lose his temper, and that alone would be indicative of something wrong with him – Baralai is patient to a fault. "I am not a child, Gippal."

Gippal shrugs. "I didn't say you were. Damn it. I… this isn't how I meant it to go. I miss you, okay? I never see you anymore, and we sleep in the same goddamn bed. You don't see a problem with that?"

Baralai is silent for a while, and Gippal starts to wonder if he's said something horribly wrong. "Baralai—?"

"I'm sorry."

"I – what?"

Baralai smiles wryly. "I said, I'm sorry. You're right, for the most part. You do realize, though, that my work is important, and I'm not going to just drop it completely to—"

"Yeah, yeah." Gippal grins and drops the pen back onto Baralai desk. "Does this mean you'll come to bed, now?"

Baralai casts one last rueful look at the stacks of paper that litter his desk, and then smiles back, tired and stressed, but warm with affection. "Yes."

Gippal slides the glasses off Baralai's nose, folds them, and places them carefully on the desktop. "No more than ten hours a day, 'Lai. Ten hours is plenty."

Baralai looks as though he might object – strenuously – but Gippal, hoping to put off the inevitable argument and simply revel in the fact that Baralai will at least consider taking breaks, tugs him close by his collar and kisses him, gently and carefully (but not exactly chaste, because Baralai tastes far too good for him to resist). Baralai lifts ink-stained hands to Gippal's face, and Gippal feels his lips curling in the kiss, fighting a smile. Smiling right back, Gippal dives deeper into the taste of peppermint and coffee.