Baralai's timing couldn't have been better; they'd just preached hope and unity to the people of Spira, and the leaders of the Machine Faction and New Yevon getting into an argument would obviously...
"You know I'm not Shuyin." Baralai wasn't smiling, not even for the crowd, and the hand gripping Gippal's arm was shaking. He didn't even look at Nooj; his eyes were on Gippal like he was willing him to say yes. "You know that."
Gippal forced a laugh, slinging an arm around Baralai's shoulders. "Of course I do."
He almost felt bad when he felt Baralai relax a little at the gesture. He felt worse when Lai looked over at Nooj, and the Maevyn nodded.
"We both know that." Nooj's smile wasn't exactly comforting - it was his little deathseeker grin, the one that didn't look right without a weapon. "You wouldn't be here if we didn't."
"It's either the pyreflies, or we're too late."
Gippal shook his head. He knew what Nooj was talking about - he could see the flickering shape around Baralai's body just as well as Nooj could. But they weren't too late. They still had time.
He didn't even realise he'd said that aloud until Nooj looked at him. "How can you be so sure?"
For a minute, Gippal just looked at him. They'd tried to speak to Baralai before, but it was like he hadn't even seen them. He was seeing them well enough now though - well enough to shoot at them at least.
And that was part of how Gippal knew they weren't too late.
"We're not dead yet. He's been aiming to miss."
Nooj chuckled humourlessly, gesturing with his good hand at the blood soaking into Gippal's sleeve where a bullet had clipped him. "His aim was worse than I thought."
Gippal clapped Nooj's shoulder - the real one, not the metal one. "Forget it Nooj. He knows dying'd just make you happy."
Gippal did know - he wouldn't have said it if he didn't, he wouldn't have helped drag Baralai out of the Farplane if he hadn't believed it.
And if Baralai had still been Shuyin, none of them would still be here.
It was just - well, Nooj didn't seem to sleep, so he'd always be all right, he wouldn't wake up from nightmares where they were always too late, where they lost. But Gippal had to sleep sometime, and that's what he dreamed about. That, and reaching Baralai only to find he - it wasn't him. They'd been too late, and Shuyin wasn't a flicker around him. Shuyin just was.
He might've mentioned it to someone - anybody, even Cid's girl, because even if Rikku was an idiot sometimes, she would understand. They'd borrowed her from the new missing-Yuna-and-Doctor-P Gullwings, and she was still waking up in the middle of the night muttering about Vegnagun and Shuyin and too close.
Then again, Gippal was a jackass sometimes, but he wasn't gonna tell someone with their own nightmares about the ones he was having.
Besides, the Machine Faction was suddenly taking up a lot of his time - the Gullwings had done a number on his Faction's favourite machina, and he was suddenly filled with the need to tell them exactly how stupid they were if they thought they could build something like that without him, and if those parts had been put together like that before Rikku and the others dismantled it then the lot of them were all going back to Bikanel Desert to learn about machina parts from scratch. And then there were a lot of orders to be filled. And then he had to go out to the desert himself because Nhadala was coming to Djose.
Basically, he didn't seem to be spending a lot of time near a commsphere. And when he did, he always made sure he was busy enough that someone else had to answer it for him - especially if it was a message from Bevelle.
Eventually, Rikku dropped down onto the sand next to him and started to help him unearth what looked like an Attack Assembly part, her mouth set in a not-entirely-happy line. Gippal didn't ask what was up - he had a feeling she'd tell him anyway.
All she said though, eyes on the rusty metal they were dragging out, was that Baralai wanted him to call when he wasn't busy.
Gippal laughed, blowing his hair out of his face as they slid the Assembly onto the hover. He'd forgotten what it was like not to live somewhere with lightning in the air - or at least somewhere where his hair didn't need any help to defy gravity. A couple of weeks in the desert though and he ended up with it all sticking to his face, something that usually cracked Rikku up. "He'll be waiting a while then - didn't you tell him how busy we were?"
Rikku nodded, and gave him a look that she must've learnt off Nhadala - the look she gave him when he had a job she thought he ought to be doing and he was dragging his feet. "I think you should. He looks even worse than you do."
And Gippal was left staring at her as she clambered onto the hover herself, trying to shout "What's that supposed to mean?" loud enough for her not to be able to pretend she couldn't hear him.
Baralai's hands were steady, Gippal's weren't. That was the wrong way round, wasn't it? Gippal was the one used to guns, the one used to machina - Baralai wasn't, and he was usually the one who got emotional while he was holding a weapon.
But for all Gippal knew, Baralai wasn't even in there any more.
The pyrefly-shadow was flicking around Baralai's body - now his sleeves were blue and purple instead of green, now there were gloved hands cradling the gun, now there was blond hair where it should be white, and anger on an unfamiliar face instead of the blank emptiness on Baralai's.
Nooj was coming - limping down the path as fast as he could manage, trying to get close enough to shoot. He just needed a little more time, time Gippal didn't have if the look on Shuyin's face was anything to go by.
"You were careless, coming down here on your own."
Gippal smirked automatically, trying not to let the shaking get any worse. It sounded like Baralai - but sounded like someone else as well. Two voices. Shuyin's louder than Baralai's. "I can watch my own back."
"It's not your back you should be worried about."
Gippal flung himself to one side, firing at the hand that Baralai'd been holding the gun with. But Lai had always been fast - fast enough to jerk out of the way and shoot at the space where Gippal's head had been before he rolled aside.
And then Baralai was gone, and Gippal was left to wait for Nooj with the image of Baralai staring at him - eyes wide and horrified and undeniably him/ - for company./
Gippal didn't call.
The nightmares didn't get any better.
"What are you doing?" Nooj asked without opening his eyes. "You're supposed to be on watch."
"And you're supposed to be getting some rest. Shut up and sleep, Noojster."
Nooj opened his eyes and looked at Gippal over the top of his glasses until the blond sighed and pocketed the three bullets he'd taken out of his gun.
"We're going through ammo pretty fast. If we catch up with Baralai and we don't have any left..."
Nooj studied him for a moment longer, then leaned back against the rock and closed his eyes. "Good plan."
Gippal prowled round their not-quite campsite, thinking that he should have expected that reaction from a deathseeker.
If it had been the other way around, if Gippal was the one lurking in someone else's office (or workshop; when Gippal did it, it was usually a workshop that everyone thought he couldn't get into) to scare the hell out of them when they showed up, he'd have put his feet up on the desk and started flicking through whatever looked most interesting.
(Or tinkering with any machina that'd been left lying around - paperwork was Nhadala's job.)
And he would have waited for them to show up of their own free will, instead of sending someone - Rikku - to lure them to him with some story about an emergency.
Then again, Baralai was sneaky, and he was supposed to have manners, so when Gippal stormed in, his feet were on the floor and the only thing it looked like he'd been flicking through was Gippal's sketchbook. The one that had ideas for machina mixed up with sketches of his friends that he'd deny ever drawing.
Baralai placed the sketchbook down on the desk with deliberate precision - managing not to knock over any of the untidy stacks of paper or scrap metal while he did it - and rose. He was wearing his Praetor-face, the professionally determined look he wore while he was going about temple business or holding people at gunpoint.
Gippal was already turning back to look at Rikku when she slammed the door shut in his face.
And locked it.
Behind him - and Gippal turned around pretty fast, because of the first things an Al Bhed learnt, right after which wire was live and which end of the gun you pointed at someone, was that you didn't turn your back on a room, no matter who was in it - Baralai said "Are you done avoiding me?"
"I wasn't." Gippal started, folding his arms behind his head. "We've been busy - I heard you've not had it too easy yourself."
Baralai's back was to the window, which meant Gippal couldn't see his expression. He'd been spending too much time in the temple if he was using tricks like that. "I've been speaking to Rikku."
That... probably wasn't good. Rikku had the room next to his - that was how he knew she'd not been sleeping right, so she probably knew the same about him. And Rikku was the one he usually sent in his place when it came to messages from Bevelle.
"She's under the impression that we need to talk," Baralai rubbed at his face with his hands, sounding tired. "Although I'm not sure I know what she thinks we need to talk about."
Gippal stepped forwards, and Baralai lowered his hands to look at him. Once he was close enough that he wasn't being dazzled by the permanent lightning flash outside, he could see the shadows under Baralai's eyes, and the exhaustion on his face. It made him feel old - Baralai looked as bad as he felt, which was saying something considering that Gippal had been spending his time digging and building since Vegnagun, trying to work himself to a level of exhaustion where he wouldn't dream.
"Don't give me that look," Baralai ordered, sounding scarily like Nooj. "You don't look any better."
Gippal snorted and leaned against his desk. A few papers that were undoubtedly important and probably overdue scattered across the floor. "If Rikku wants us to talk, we're not getting out of here until we do, you know that?"
A ghost of a smile flitted across Baralai's face. "I believe it was mentioned after I asked for her help - when it was too late to stop her."
Gippal shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. Typical. When he got out of here, he was gonna have to have words with Rikku - although whether they were going to be grateful or not depended on Baralai. "So. Let's talk."